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RANMA SAOTOME: PROFESSIONAL PANTY THIEF

"Hey you old pervert! Come back here!" An outraged female voice rang out against the slick tiles of the bath house walls. "Come back here, I said!"

A few men paused in shampooing their hair. Female?

Suddenly, a wizened figure wearing an old-fashioned bathing costume bounced past them, twirling a towel and cackling merrily. Several wooden stools flew past his head, but he didn't even duck. "Haha! You're too slow for this old man, sonny!"

Moments later, a young girl slipped into view. She was apparently too caught up in chasing after the lecher to notice her nude state, or the ogling men around her. With her ample chest heaving and her red pigtail up in a rage, she clenched her fists and taunted angrily, "Running away like that – are you scared or something?"

Still giggling, the shrimp tossed back, "No - I just enjoy seeing a lovely young maiden run after me."

The girl seemed to blow a fuse. She grabbed some nearby bars of soap and flung them at her adversary, who dodged them casually.

He landed lightly on the floor, facing away from her, and waved his hand dismissively at the girl. "Really Ranma, you think your weak attacks can harm me?" He turned back around only to have the redhead's foot planted on his face.

"Oh yeah? Well how do you like this?!" Ranma-chan ground Happosai's head into the tiled floor, feeling immensely satisfied. "It's just my luck! Every time the dojo busts a water pipe, I have to watch after you at the public baths," she snarled from behind gritted teeth.

"And it looks like you're doing a pretty good job Ranma," Nabiki called from the top of the wall dividing the men's and women's sections of the bath. As the men around Ranma yelped and scattered, she continued blithely, "After all, you've only destroyed three sinks and two walls this time. I do believe it's a record!"

Next to her, Akane snorted. "Ranma, you only have yourself to blame. You were the one who destroyed the pipes -- again. And would you mind covering yourself up? It's embarrassing how you flaunt yourself like that!"

Ranma straightened indignantly. "Hey, it isn't my fault this old pervert grabbed my towel and dunked me in cold water!" She stamped her foot emphatically, eliciting another groan of pain from the crumpled martial artist beneath her. "And besides, at least -- "

"—at least you've got something to flaunt, unlike some tomboy you know, right?" Akane interrupted dryly with a hard smile. "Come on Ranma, it's getting old. I can see where this is leading from a mile away."

Ranma was a little startled but quickly regained her composure. "Heh, you think you know everything. I'm just stating a well-known fact!" She put her hands on her hips and gestured grandly to herself. "I mean, look at me, -- even in my girl-form, I've got a better body than you, Akane. Everyone can see that! I can't help it if you're jealous, but if it makes you feel better to make fun of me, go ahead!" Then she waited for her fiancée to either scream her little head off, or to engage in some serious verbal fighting.

However, the insults seemed to have no effect on Akane … besides the occasional twitching of her eye. She rested her chin on a hand and drawled, "Honestly Ranma, you take so much pride in your girl form that I'm beginning to think you actually like being a girl …" she trailed off suggestively and smirked. "Do I have a real man for a fiancée, or a girl?" Then she and Nabiki exchanged knowing grins and disappeared behind the wall again.

Ranma stared at the wall, stunned. Akane wasn't yelling or throwing blunt objects at her. She had just given her an enormous insult, and yet, Akane didn't seem to mind. In fact, she had looked almost … amused! Does she really think I'm not a real man? Inwardly, Ranma felt something akin to panic rising in her chest. Nah, she was just kidding about that. She said before that she likes me the way I am. She's joking … right? She stood there staring darkly at the floor, so engrossed in thought that she totally missed the enraged squealing coming belatedly from the women's side. Then Ranma was suddenly brought back to consciousness by an evil feeling all along her back.

"Girl troubles, Ranma?" A regenerated Happosai clung to her, rubbing his cheek lasciviously against her skin. "Let Happy take your mind off your problems! We can have fun without those spoilsports!"

"Augh! Get offa me, you sicko!" Happosai's little figure slammed against the ceiling and stuck like a human spitball. "And stay off!" Still shuddering from the creepy feelings, Ranma upturned a bucket of hot water over his head and grabbed a nearby towel, wrapping it protectively around his waist. Then he spun on his heels and began to stalk off, quietly cursing the dojo water pipes, the perverted martial arts master behind his, and most of all, his completely irrational, suddenly unpredictably, and totally confusing fiancée.

Happosai landed on the wet tiles with a soft plop. "You know Ranma my boy, I was going to help you out in your romantic situation, but just for rejecting my moment of compassion and generosity, I don't think I will anymore."

Ranma's hair rose at the word "romantic." He spun back around, ready for a fight, ready for anything that would take his mind off his chaotic thoughts. "It's not a romantic anything, and it's none of your business, old man!" Then he checked himself, mentally going through what else the old guy had said. "Wait a minute. How exactly were you going to 'help me out?'"

Happosai folded his arms and looked away, his nose in the air. "No, I don't think I'm going to tell you now."

Ranma ground his teeth together. He hated when Happosai chose to act like a junior high kid ... which was always, actually. "Come on old man, I've looked after you all these times we've had to go to the public baths -- don't you think you owe me something?"

Happosai arched his eyebrows superiorly. "Hmph. You think keeping me away from my lovely ladies is a favor? And didn't you just say this old man has no business in your affairs? Taking that into consideration, the Manly Man Lotion is no concern of yours either."

"Manly Man Lotion?!" Ranma felt a reluctant curiosity growing in him. "What's that? You said it could help me. Could it help me not be a girl anymore?"

The small martial artist opened his eyes and peered at Ranma. Seeing he had a rapt audience, he then whipped out his pipe and started puffing. "Ah, the famed Manly Man Lotion, with its awe-inspiring power and its potentially terrifying effects. How one chooses to use it may result in horrible tragedy or glorious triumph. I was but a young lad of twenty when I chanced upon it in a remote jungle of Japan …"

Ranma rolled his eyes. "I think we can skip the ancient memories."

Happosai glared at the pig-tailed boy, who had the audacity to butt in on one of his stories. "As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted, the notorious Manly Man Lotion, when used correctly, has the power to increase a man's manliness. It can make you more virile, more attractive to girls, more tall, dark and handsome, and well, more of a MAN!" He fluttered his eyelids and smiled modestly. "I've been using it for several decades now. Couldn't you tell?"

The bath was filled with the sounds of men face faulting.

As Ranma peeled himself off the slippery floor, his eyes met a pair of feet in a growing puddle of hot water. He looked up and saw Ryouga standing over him, still steaming from his bath. He straightened and grinned. "Oh hey P-chan. Haven't seen you in a while. You just missed your pwecious Akane -- she went home."

Ryouga ignored his jibe with a dismissive snort and turned to Happosai with an intense expression. "Tell me Master, is it true what you speak of? Is there such a lotion that could make me more of a man? That could cure this cursed body?" He clasped the small wrinkled hands in his fervently.

He was sent spinning through the air to splash back in the hot water bath. "And who said I was your master?!" Happosai lowered his pipe and began puffing again. "But yes, if you must know, the Manly Man Lotion does indeed have the power to negate the effects of a Jusenkyou curse."

"What?!" He was suddenly hauled up by his tank top straps to see Ranma's angry face. "And why the heck didn't you tell us this before, ya freak?"

Happosai ignored this rough treatment and continued to puff contentedly on his pipe. "Now, now Ranma, trying to be nice won't get you anywhere." He sent the pig-tailed boy flying to join Ryouga. "Do you really think I'll give you any information about my precious lotion?"

Ranma surfaced and wiped his face casually, then held up a pair of drenched lacy pink panties. "Yes, I do."

Happosai jumped up and searched his pockets frantically. Finding them empty, he began quivering with rage. "Ranma! How dare you steal my favorite panties!"

Ranma smiled and spun them around his finger, whistling. "Well, you just give me this manly lotion of yours and I'll give 'em back to you."

The little man clenched his fists and narrowed his beady eyes. "Ranma, you had better return them to me, or I will be forced to punish you." A silvery blue aura rose like mist off his small frame.

Ranma sloshed around in the bath, waving the panties like a red flag before a bull. "No way. You can't hurt me - not when I got your panties. Give me the lotion first."

"Ranma … " Happosai growled menacingly.

"Nope nope nope."

"Ranma … " Happosai whined peevishly, the aura dimming.

"Uh-uh." He tugged the underwear over his head and stuck his tongue out at the old man.

"Ranma my boy, come on! Let's make a deal!" A note of desperation entered his voice. "I'll give you a hint to where I keep them. I can't possibly just give it to you. Why, it'd be like giving away my best secret martial arts technique! One hint. How about that?"

Ranma paused in his whistling to consider. Suddenly, his head was grabbed in a headlock as Ryouga hauled him over. "Ranma, this is the best deal you'll be getting from him. You'd better not lose my only chance at becoming a real man!"

He easily slipped from Ryouga's grasp. "Your only chance? What are you talking about pigboy -- I'm getting that lotion for myself!" He called over to the waiting lecher. "All right, old man. Spill the beans."

Happosai glared sullenly at him, then relented. "You know, it's quite unfair of you to be taking advantage of a helpless old man," he began.

Ranma waded closer, holding up the panties tantalizingly. "Come on, quit your grumbling and tell me."

Happosai snatched for his silky darling, but Ranma was too quick for him. "Oh all right. But know that I am very displeased with you, Ranma," he said with a dark frown. "I keep the Manly Man Lotion near a major source of my power at all times. There. That's all I'll tell you. Now let's see if you've got the smarts to figure that one out, sonny." He leaned back and watched Ranma's confusion with satisfaction.

"Arrgh! Ranma, how are you supposed to figure that riddle out? If you only waited a little longer, he would've told you more!" Ryouga snarled, clutching his head in frustration. His moaning was interrupted by a whap to the head.

"Shaddup, will you? I'm trying to think!" As the silence stretched, Ranma scratched his head with the hand that held the panties. His eyes caught sight of the pink scrap of lace in his hand and he stilled, his mind going into overdrive. "Your … source of power …?" He looked at Happosai. Then at the panties. Then back at Happosai. A broad smile appeared on Ranma's face and he tossed the underwear at the old pervert negligently. "I got it! Thanks for the hint, old man," he called as he ran towards the dressing rooms.

"Ranma, I don't know where you think you're going, but I'm getting to that lotion before you!" Ryouga yelled and scrambled after him.

"Ranma, you don't get off so easily! Stealing my favorite panties! Mocking your master like that!" Happosai clutched the pink lace in one hand as his battle aura flared up all around him like a pillar of blue flames. His aura grew until it touched the high ceiling of the bath. His rage filled the room and his suddenly deep voice echoed off the tiles. "Now you'll PAY!!" The cold blue fire of his aura shot out like a snake towards Ranma, who was still running for the lockers.

With one graceful motion, Ranma swiftly grabbed Ryouga, who was close behind him, and tossed him into the approaching fireball. "AIEEE!" The bandanna boy was completely charred, with only the whites of his dazed eyes showing in his blackened face.

"Thanks Ryouga! I owe you one!" Then with a cheerful wave, he disappeared beyond the locker doors.

His energy spent in his battle aura, Happosai wilted to the floor, clutching his pink panties protectively.

Despite being thoroughly toasted, Ryouga picked himself up and staggered after the fleeing martial artist. "Ranma, how dare you use me like that! I'm not going to let you take that lotion all for yourself! I'll get to it before you, just you wait!"

As the sound of his footsteps pattered out, the rest of the bath occupants crawled out, once they were sure it was safe. "Mmm." One man twitched his nose and licked his lips. "Smells like bacon


Ryouga ran out into the darkened streets, looking wildly for any trace of Ranma. Night had fallen while they were in the bath, which didn't make matters any easier for him. He squinted and spotted Ranma a block away, his bright red Chinese shirt and pigtail easy markers in the dusky distance. "Ranma!" He took off after the other boy.

Ryouga ignored the passing scenery, focusing totally on the figure he chased. Was Happosai telling the truth? Can this lotion actually make me a real man again? And if I do become a real man, then …

… Akane wouldn't make fun of me no more, Ranma thought, feeling a growing excitement. She wouldn't think she has a girl for a fiancée. She'd have a real guy. And she wouldn't have to be ashamed of me. His pace sped up unconsciously. Now all I gotta do is find that lotion.

Suddenly he sensed something speeding toward his head from behind. He ducked and a few razor-sharp bandannas sliced through the air above his head. He spun around on his heels and somersaulted backwards to avoid Ryouga's kick. Ranma noticed the lost boy's blackened clothes. "Whoa, I didn't think you'd be able to walk so soon after that pervert's attack."

Ryouga gave a small laugh. "Heh. I survived the Breaking Point Technique training. I can live through that old man's firebomb." He cut through the small talk with a jab of his elbow. "Ranma, you aren't getting that lotion for yourself!"

Ranma dodged his punch, leaning inhumanly backwards. "Come on Ryouga, I don't have time for this. I gotta go find that Manly Man stuff!" He barely managed to block another punch, then rushed in close, spun around, and heaved Ryouga over his shoulder, tossing him into a wall.

The bandanna-clad boy stood up as the dust settled, then thumbed his nose. "Hah! You think that'll get rid of me? I think not." He readied himself for another attack.

But Ranma just stood there, his hands behind his back, rocking on his heels and smiling widely. "Oh, I think so." Suddenly, Ryouga became aware of the ominous rumbling sound behind him. He turned his head slightly and saw the remains of a drinking fountain seconds before water exploded in his face.

P-chan shook the water droplets from his eyes and glared at the suddenly huge Ranma that stood over him. "Bye widdle piggy. I guess the next time I'll be seeing you, I'll be a real guy again!" With a smirk and a wave, he bounced out of sight.

Why does this always happen to me?? P-chan let out a squeal of pure frustration and struggled to disentangle himself from his baggy clothes.

Suddenly, a rectangle of yellow light flooded over him as the door behind him opened. "Ran-chan?" A familiar female voice called out hopefully. He turned around and saw Ukyou looking out the door and down the street. Seeing no one, she bit her lip and lowered her eyes in disappointment. Then she spotted the little black pig on her doorstep. "P-chan! What on earth are you doing here?!"

He just looked mutely up at her, then sneezed delicately, still enveloped by wet clothes.

Instantly, Ukyou's maternal instincts kicked in. "Oh you poor thing!" She scooped him up and cradled him in her arms, then noticed the clothing he had been sitting in. "That's strange. Those clothes look like Ryouga's …" She didn't feel P-chan suddenly tense up next to her. Then she shrugged and took his things inside as well.

She gently placed the relieved little pig on her counter. "Now you just wait right here. I'm going to close up for the night." She went outside and in moments reappeared with her curtain in hand. Ryouga watched curiously as she tidied up the restaurant efficiently, wiping down the counter and grill, placing the chairs neatly on the tables, and sweeping the floor. She does this every night all by herself? I wonder how she manages to do this and still go to school. And devote so much time to Ranma.

Then she turned her attention back to the quietly waiting piglet. A little flushed from her closing activities, she wiped her brow and put her hands on her hips, smiling cheerfully. "Now, what are we going to do with you? I suppose it's a little late to be going to the Tendo Dojo to give you back to Akane." She picked him up. "I guess I can just give you back to her tomorrow at school."

She began walking up the stairs at the back of the restaurant to her second-story rooms. "But right now, what I need is a bath!" Immediately, Ryouga began struggling to escape her, a slight blush already on his snout. She glanced down at the frantic piglet. "What's wrong with you? Hm, I guess you've had too much water for one night, huh sugar?"

Ukyou smiled sunnily down at him and he was taken aback at how -- well, how girlish she looked. Then she blinked and rolled her eyes. "Geez, look at me, talking to a pig. And I always thought Akane was silly for doing that. I really do need to relax."

Oh Akane, how I long for your gentle smile, Ryouga thought dreamily. You wouldn't think speaking to your P-chan is silly. A wave of wistfulness washed over him as he thought of Akane -- her soft brown eyes, her affectionate smile, her warm bosom …

"Hey what's that?" He found himself face to face with Ukyou. "Is that --? It is! How weird! You've got a nosebleed!" She took a napkin and gently wiped his snout. "Really, you're almost as bad as Ryouga - he can barely contain himself whenever Akane's around."


Great! Akane isn't around. Ranma peered into his fiancée's bedroom and stealthily snuck in. After getting back from the bath house, he had been pleasantly surprised to find that all three Tendo daughters were out for the night: Kasumi was visiting a sick neighbor, Nabiki was out watching a movie, and Akane was studying at a friend's.

That lotion had better be in here, Ranma thought grimly as he tiptoed through the sainted carpet of Akane's room. The old pervert said he kept it near his source of power. I figured it was panties, but maybe I was wrong …

Ranma had already visited Nabiki's and Kasumi's underwear drawers - with a furiously red face. He had searched thoroughly, alert for any noise in the hall or any sliding of the front door. But there was no trace of the lotion in either drawer. And now he crept through Akane's bedroom, a little self-conscious and extremely nervous. Oh man, if she finds me here, I'm dead.

He headed straight for her dresser and slowly reached out a shaking hand. His entire body was tense, and his throat was closed up. Why am I so nervous? It's just that tomboy's underwear. No excitement there. I've seen it plenty of times. But sweat continued to pop out on his forehead and his palms remained damp. This is stupid. I'm not looking cause I want to or anything. I'm not doing anything wrong. This is for my manhood. With that thought, he nodded shortly to himself, drew in a deep breath, grabbed the handle, and pulled -- a little too hard.

Panties and bras flew out and landed all over him like freshly fallen snow. "Gyeee!!" Ranma leapt five feet into the air, his pigtail standing on end. He shook himself frantically, and the underwear scattered off him and onto the floor. Breathing heavily, he clutched his chest and tried to calm his racing heart.

He clenched his jaw then quickly knelt on the floor, running his hands through the abundance of underwear on the floor. Okay, gotta look for that lotion. As his fingers skimmed over smooth silk and cotton, he felt his face turning red again. "Stop that, you dummy," he muttered to himself, annoyed at his lack of aloofness. "Where's that lotion? Gotta find it, gotta find it," he murmured softly. He felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. No lotion. Then his hands ran over something that wasn't lacy or silky. "Huh?"

He parted a layer of panties at his knees and saw his name looking back up at him. "Hm? What's this?" He pushed aside a couple more frilly garments to reveal a small worn notebook. The pages were curled and bent, as though someone had read this particular book many times. His curiosity growing, Ranma picked it up and sat down with a thump among the lacy underthings. He read aloud, "Today Ranma and I got in another fight --" He shut the book with a sharp motion and looked at the cover, his eyes widening. "Th-this is Akane's … diary??!"

Suddenly, a little Ranma-devil sprouted to his left. "Go ahead, no one will find out. Let's see what that tomboy has got to say about us." He grinned and bared his fangs, leaning casually on his pitchfork.

Ranma's eyes went to the little figure. "B-but --"

"But you know it's wrong." A Ranma-angel appeared on a cloud to Ranma's right. "Akane would be very mad at you, and maybe even hurt, if you read that."

Ranma-devil straightened and yelled, "Yeah, but only if she finds out!" He nudged Ranma's cheek with his little elbow. "And we'll just make sure she doesn't find out, right? Heheh."

Ranma hunched down a little, temptation battling with his conscience. "I- I'm not sure …"

Ranma-angel shone a little brighter and clasped his hands together. "Ranma, I have faith in you. I'm sure you'll do what's best."

Ranma-devil poked Ranma-angel in the cloud with his pitchfork. "Come on dummy! This is our chance! We can finally find out what she really thinks of us!" His scratchy voice lowered. "We can see if she really thinks we're too much of a girl to be her fiancée."

"All right, stop it!" Ranma yelled suddenly. The figures disappeared in a poof. "Talking to myself. Seeing things. I'm going nuts," he muttered darkly as he eyed the diary. He cracked it open and hesitated. "Well … I did see my name. It would only be fair to see what she said about me. After all, since it's about me, it's my business, right? … Right." He opened it again and began reading avidly.

"'Dear Diary: Today, Ranma and I got into another fight. It seems that's all we do. He always manages to do something or say something so stupid -- '" Ranma snorted in disgust "' -- that I get so mad! He's always going off with other girls, like Shampoo, or Ukyou.'" Ranma rolled his eyes. "That's because they can cook, unlike some girl … I … know …" His voice trailed off as his eyes caught the next sentence.

"'And he's always insulting me! He constantly makes fun of my cooking. He calls me a tomboy all the time -- a shapeless, unfeminine, tomboy that any guy would be out of his mind to like!'" Ranma sat back a little and smiled uncomfortably. "I guess I'm finally getting that fact through to her." He continued, so absorbed he didn't hear the front door sliding open downstairs.

"'And he says it so much that I'm starting to think …'" Ranma broke off and swallowed hard, his smile faltering. "' … that I'm starting to think that he means it. Am I such a bad cook? Am I such an ugly, uncute tomboy? Does he really mean it? And if he does, why am I still his fiancée?'" His voice trailed off and he stared at the pages, not really seeing them. "Akane …"

"Ranma? Is that you in my room?" He turned his head to face the door just as Akane stepped in, backpack in hand. "Ranma? What --?" She broke off abruptly as she surveyed the scene. Her underwear drawer lying on the floor, its contents spilled all over the room. Her fiancée sitting comfortably in the middle of all of it. And her open diary in his hands.

Ranma giant-sweated when he saw Akane's face turn a murderous red. "A-Akane." A maelstrom of confusion, guilt and concern swirled wildly within him, all trying to emerge from his gaping mouth. Guilt won out. "Akane, I don't mean any of it. I-I'm sorry."

She advanced and cracked her knuckles, her eyes sparking with flashes of lightning. "Oh, I'll give you something to be sorry for."

"A-Akane, you aren't … I think you're … I don't think you're ug --" He stammered, unable to get the right words out.

She didn't seem notice his pathetic efforts. "How could you?! Reading my diary, things I don't tell anyone --" She lashed out with several punches and kicks, all of which he dodged.

"Akane, omae kirei da." Ranma blurted out.

"-- things I don't even tell my sisters --" She checked herself. "… Wha-?"

Seeing that he finally had her attention, he scrambled to his feet, still holding onto her diary. He was crimson. "I don't think you're ugly. And .. and I - I don't mind … if you -- if you're my fiancée."

Akane snatched the notebook from his hands, her color high. "Well! I must say, I feel honored! You really don't mind being my fiancée, huh?" She smiled angrily, pivoting away from him. "Oh well - I must be the luckiest girl alive! Imagine, the great Ranma Saotome, doesn't mind being engaged to me!"

Her tirade was interrupted by a pair of heavy hands on her shoulders. "Akane. Stop it." Ranma gently turned her around and continued in a low voice, "You know that's not what I meant."

Her eyes wide, Akane looked at him and stilled completely. "Ranma…"

He hesitated again, his hands tightening imperceptibly on her shoulders. Then he looked directly into her eyes. "Akane, I --"

Nabiki popped her head through the doorway. "Hey sis, could I borrow -- whoops." She watched with amused eyes as the other two leapt into the air, bug-eyed and big-sweating. "Sorry. Did I interrupt anything?"

"No --" Akane began.

"Yeah --" Ranma began.

They both stopped and looked at each other. Then Akane started again hastily. "Yeah, I was just, uh …" She looked around for divine inspiration. "--letting Ranma borrow some of my underwear! Yeah!" She scooped up an armful of panties and bras and dumped them into her fiancée's arms. "For when he turns into a girl, you know. And he's one so often he's going to need some … support! Yup." She smiled brightly at her older sister, missing Ranma's sudden twitching.

He glared at her and muttered, "Yeah, but since she's so much smaller than me, they probably won't fit. Thanks anyway, Akane."

It was Akane's turn to twitch. "DIE, RANMA!" She kicked him out the window, a trail of lacy underwear following him.

Nabiki turned back to her room, smirking. "I guess I came at a bad time."


Ranma trudged to his next class, his forehead wrinkled in thought. He muttered under his breath, "Where else could that lotion be? I'm sure that pervert keeps it with panties. But I've already checked at home --" he shuddered at the memory "-- and there was nothing! Now what?"

A hand tapped him on the shoulder. He looked up blankly to see the smiling faces of his friends Hiroshi and Daisuke. "Uh hey guys. What's up?"

"Ranma, how could you forget?" Hiroshi smiled and closed his eyes in bliss. "Today's swim day for P.E.!"

"Yeah, all those girls in their swimsuits, and to think -- it only happens once every week!" Daisuke chimed in on Ranma's other side, tears of joy escaping his eyes.

"Aw man, you guys are sick." Ranma rolled his eyes and began waving them away, then stopped, a thought occurring to him. "Hey … the girls put all their clothes in their locker room when we go swimming … right?"

Hiroshi nodded slowly, unsure of where this was going. "Yeah, just like the guys. Why?"

"Including their underwear?"

Daisuke started coughing violently. "Geez Ranma, and you call us sick!"

But his pig-tailed classmate was already zipping down the hallway, leaving a dust cloud behind. The other two watched him, big-sweating. "Is he going to sneak into the girls' locker room … again?" Hiroshi asked.

"He must be learning from Happosai," Daisuke commented.

All right! Why didn't I think of this before? All those girls, all that underwear! That Manly Man Lotion has got to be in there! Ranma ran down the hall eagerly, bouncing past his fellow students. Once he got to the locker room, he slowed down and tiptoed to the door. He cracked the door open and peeked in. The girls had all finished dressing, thankfully, and were all outside already. He smiled and slipped in, closing the door silently behind him. Then he stopped in his tracks. There were rows and rows of lockers. Oh man, I gotta look through all of those?

He cracked his knuckles and rolled his shoulders. "Let's go."


It was the end of an extremely bad day. As his schoolmates passed by, chattering and laughing, Ranma leaned against a tree in the front yard, frustrated and grumbling to himself. He had gone through every single locker and found nothing. Just a lot of panties that were beginning to look all the same to him. How can Happosai still stand looking at those things? It's only been a day, and I'm already sick of 'em. And it hadn't helped matters that Akane and the rest of the girls had returned just as he was in the process of searching through the last locker.

Ranma winced as he recalled the cacophony of screeching and the flurry of shoes that had met him. After the first couple shoes had bounced off his head, he had decided to beat a hasty retreat, but it was too late. Akane had slammed the door into his face - repeatedly - which had given time for the rest of the girls to catch up. He sighed and looked up as a shadow fell over his feet.

"What on earth do you think you're doing, Ranma?" Akane stood by in front of him, her arms folded and her mouth tight. "Are you training to take Happosai's place as number one pervert or something?"

He shot to his feet and yelled defensively, "No, I'm not! There's a perfectly good reason for why I'm doing all this!"

Akane arched an eyebrow, obviously doubtful.

"It does have something to do with Happosai. Last night when we were at the baths, he told me of some 'Manly Man Lotion' that could get rid of my curse." Ranma felt a bit of hope as his fiancee's stubborn expression was replaced by surprise.

"He has a cure?"

"No, that's the thing. He told me that he keeps it near 'the source of his power,' and that's all he said about it."

Akane nodded slowly in understanding. "… So you think he keeps it near girls' panties. And that's why you've been looking through everyone's underwear like a big pervert."

Ranma leaned forward eagerly. "Yeah! Exactly – wait a minute --"

"Well Ranma, that certainly explains your extra-perverted actions lately, but why would Happosai want to help you, let alone tell you a secret like that?!" Akane's eyes began glowing red. "And why would you have to read my diary to find out where that lotion is?!!"

He eyed the entrances of the classroom nervously. Uh-oh. Guess she still hasn't gotten over that. He started backing away. "A-Akane, hold on! I'm telling you the truth! Y-you gotta believe me!"

She kept advancing, backing him up against the stone wall that surrounded the school. "Oh, I believe you all right. But you aren't getting away with reading my diary!!"

She punched the spot where he had stood, then looked up angrily. "Ranma you come back here!"

He crouched on the wall and glanced at her. "Come on, Akane, do you think anyone would really go back to take more of your abuse?" Sure that he was at a safe distance away, he couldn't help taunting, "And I only read a little bit cause I saw my name. Who would really want to read about your boring life anyway?" While she spluttered with incoherent rage, he took the opportunity to "bii" her before jumping off and running down the street as fast as he could.

Akane glared at the ground. "Ranma, you – you baka!" He had insulted her again, and it hurt. He was always saying dumb, careless things like that, and although she knew he didn't mean most of them, just hearing the words from him was bad enough. She clenched her fists and forced the feelings back. Then she punched a hole into the nearby tree.

"Akane?" The hesitant voice was familiar.

She turned around, hoping her eyes weren't too bright. Her expression faltered when she saw one of her rivals standing before her. "Ukyou! What's up?"

The okonomiyaki chef was dressed in her usual boy's school uniform, her hair held back in a ponytail and her spatula on her back, like always. "Boy, I've been looking for you all day! I needed to tell you: don't worry about P-chan. I've got him at my restaurant – somewhere. He showed up on my doorstep last night and it was too late to bring him over to you, so I decided to bring him to you today, but I couldn't find him this morning and well, I was late for class so --" She took a deep breath to continue, but stopped when she noticed Akane's forced smile. She looked at her with a hint of concern in her large brown eyes. "Akane, are you … okay?"

Akane smiled cheerfully and nodded. "Sure I am! Why wouldn't I be?" Her voice sounded fake, even to herself.

Ukyou placed a light hand on her arm. "It's Ran-chan, isn't it." She grinned at the other girl's startled expression. "Join the club, sugar. He just has this natural ability for putting his foot in his mouth, doesn't he?"

Akane looked at her rival curiously. "If that's the way you feel, then why do you still go after him?"

Ukyou gave her a sly grin and nudge. "Don't pretend you're blind! He's a babe! Plus, he's a great martial artist – he fights for what he cares about. Sure, he may have a slight problem expressing his feelings --" Akane rolled her eyes and snorted. "—but guys like him don't come around everyday! Come on Akane, why are you still his fiancée, even though you guys are always fighting?"

Akane flushed and said defensively, "Hey, it's not like I want to be his fiancée! Don't forget, this entire thing was arranged by our parents!"

Ukyou glanced sideways at her as they began walking off the school grounds. "… Then you wouldn't care if I married him instead? After all, I am the cute fiancée." She giggled at bit as she remembered that lovely moment.

A slight red glow was the only indication of Akane's temper. She smiled sunnily. "Go ahead Ukyou. You're welcome to that pervert. Anyone who wants him has to be nuts anyway."

Ukyou walked on a little ahead, then spun back to face the short-haired girl. Her face was lit up in a knowing smile. "Then I guess we're both nuts, huh?" While Akane gaped at her, she looked at her watch and yelped. "Oops, gotta run! My restaurant calls! Ja ne!" She raced down the street, her spatula bouncing on her back and her ponytail flopping in the wind.

Akane stared after her for a moment, a sweat drop adorning her head. Then she spun around and headed back to the dojo. She kicked at a hapless stone in the road. "Nuts."


Okaaaay, I've checked at home, and at school, and gotten nowhere. This is almost my last chance. Ranma grabbed the ledge of the roof and flipped himself neatly feet-first into the bedroom, landing soundlessly. He crouched there for a moment, waiting for any noise that would indicate someone had detected his presence. Everything was clear. Releasing a breath of relief, he straightened and padded across the wooden floor to the waiting dresser drawer.

All right, let's see if that old freak put the lotion in here! Ranma slid open the first drawer. No underwear - just a lot of expensive-looking Chinese pajamas. Another drawer full of capri pants. Yet another one devoid of panties.

Where's all her underwear? Ranma shuffled through the drawers again, his frustration mounting. Maybe it's in her closet.

Nothing.

Under her bed?

Again nothing.

His patience reached its boiling point. He clutched his head in exasperation and yelled, "Arrgh! Where the heck are Shampoo's panties??!" Then he froze, suddenly aware that someone had opened the door behind him.

"And just why are you looking for my darling Shampoo's underwear?" A dangerous voice intoned darkly from the doorway. Ranma turned his head slowly to see Mousse standing there, all the fires of hell lighting up behind him.

"Oh, h-hey Mousse. How's it going?" Ranma surveyed the other boy and felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. The Amazon was practically smoldering in rage. Mousse was usually pretty much a pushover, but in rare moments of extreme anger - like now - he could be formidable. "Nice day for a walk, isn't it? In fact, I think I'll go take one right about now --"

A wicked-looking spearhead imbedded itself into the wall in front of him. "Or maybe not." Ranma turned back to eye Mousse warily.

"You have not yet answered my question, Saotome. For what reason are you in my love's bedchambers, sniffing around like a dog for her undergarments?" Without waiting for a response, he attacked, his outrage apparently too strong for him to stand idle. "You fiend! You have violated Shampoo's private sanctuary! For that, you will pay!" He suddenly clawed out with his hands, which were now armed with foot-long blades.

Ranma jumped against the wall behind him and vaulted over Mousse's surprised head. "Wait a minute Mousse. I didn't do nothing! All I did was come to visit Shampoo, and excuuuse me if I decided to come in through another way!" He lied smoothly, putting just enough ridicule in his voice to make Mousse doubt his own hearing.

As the Chinese boy was still digesting this information, a violet-haired blur sped into the room and flung herself against Ranma. "Ai-yah! Ranma come to see Shampoo?" The bubbly Amazon rubbed her cheek happily against his. "Shampoo so happy!" Then she turned her head slightly to see Mousse peering down at her. "Why stupid Mousse in my room?" She asked crossly.

The long-haired boy drew back, as though repulsed. This got her attention. "What you want?" She sounded slightly more annoyed.

"Sh-Shampoo? Is that really you? Wh-what happened to your hair?" Mousse stuttered.

"What you talking about?" The Chinese girl released Ranma from her death-grip to look at him curiously.

"Your hair … is blue!" He spat the word in horror.

He received a violent thwack on the head. "What? You color blind now too? Is always blue!" She whacked him again for good measure. "Stupid Mousse! You grow up with me and still not know?!"

"S-sorry Shampoo!" He alternated between hasty bows and reflexive cringes.

Ranma watched this exchange in bewilderment. Then he remembered his reason for coming. "Uh, yo, Shampoo?" He put up a hesitant finger, but she was still too busy yelling at the poor Amazon boy to notice. "Hey Shampoo …?" He wasn't used to being ignored by this girl, who had chased him all the way from China just to be near him. Man, all I gotta do is find out where her underwear drawer is -- then I can see if the lotion is here. He felt his impatience rising with every heated word between the other two.

"Please forgive me, Shampoo. It's just that your hair looked so normal before --"

"What so not normal about blue? Fine color for hair -- you think Shampoo's hair is strange?! What anout you, lonh hair fool!"

Ranma's frustration reached its peak again and, as usual, he spoke without thinking. "Yo Shampoo - where the heck are your panties?!"

The Amazons silenced and turned to stare at him in amazement. As he flushed under their astonished eyes, Mousse abruptly returned to his state of rage. "Saotome, again, you dare to ask such an impertinent question? This time, you will pay." His words ended in a low snarl and he leapt at an unprepared Ranma with his claws extended.

Suddenly, Shampoo's bright voice chirped, "To tell truth, Shampoo no wear underwear." She blushed becomingly.

With heavy thumps, Mousse and Ranma face-faulted to the floor.

Well, only one more place to hit then, Ranma thought as he lifted himself off the wooden boards with a groan. "Okay then, I'll see you later Shampoo." He jumped to the windowsill and glanced back to see Mousse vainly trying to rise, but the Chinese boy was fast losing blood through his nose. "Later Mousse." Then he flipped back up to the roof, and raced towards his next destination.


Ukyou wiped down her counter briskly, then placed a menu in front of her next customer. "Here you go sugar. I'll be back in a jiffy to take your order." She bustled over to her grill and flipped several okonomiyaki onto their waiting plates. "Hey Ryouga," she called to the boy perched quietly on one of her stools. "If you're just going to sit there taking up space you might as well be of some use to me. Here." She tossed the plates in front of him. "Take these over to table four."

The lost boy blinked and stared blankly at the dishes. "Huh? What did you say, Ukyou? I didn't catch that."

"Dreaming of Akane again, huh?" Ukyou smirked, then repeated herself slowly, trying to get her request through to that idiot in front of her. "Take these plates over to table four, that table in the corner, okay? And try not the get lost."

Ryouga tossed her an annoyed glance. "I don't get lost that easily, you know." He picked up the plates and unfolded himself from the stool and walked over to the couple in the corner. "Here you go. One Seafood Special and one Deluxe." A mini spatula bounced off the side of his head.

"Not that corner, you idiot! Over there!" Ukyou pointed him in the right direction and muttered to herself. "He really is a directionless jackass. And he still hasn't explained what he was doing upstairs." She had come back from school - and her little talk with Akane - and had found him wandering around in her rooms. After trying to listen to his stuttering explanations, she had simply led him back down to the restaurant and firmly told him to sit still until she could lead him to the Tendo Dojo.

And sit still he did. For a wanderer, he certainly knew how to stay in one place. Still, it was nice having some company, and she was always aware of his presence at her counter, even though he was so silent. Probably thinking of Akane. She shook her head exasperatedly. Really, he isn't going to get anywhere unless he tells her how he really feels. He's got it so bad for her, I can't believe she doesn't notice. I know I would, if Ran-chan paid that much attention to me. Ukyou sighed. She was so used to guys seeing her as "just one of the boys." Ranma, her childhood friend, had always thought she was a guy. And even Ryouga, who got a nosebleed if Akane so much as touched him, acted normally around her.

"Ouch!" Suddenly a sharp pain in her finger brought her back from her musings. Ukyou had burnt herself, an extremely rare occurrence, and she cursed herself for not paying attention. She hurried to the sink and ran some cold water over her finger.

"What happened?"

Ukyou looked up to see Ryouga standing next to her, a frown on his face. "What does it look like, Sherlock? I burnt myself!"

He let her sarcasm slide, already immune to her caustic attitude. "Here, I've got some balm that could heal that pretty quickly." The bandanna-ed boy stepped back around the counter and dug through his enormous backpack, then returned with a small jar. Before she could say anything, he handed her the salve with a smile. "I got it in China some time ago." At her questioning glance, he explained in a halting voice, "I- ah - I seem to get a lot of hot water burns. But it really does work."

Once she recovered from her surprise, Ukyou smiled warmly at him. "Thanks sugar. I don't get gifts a lot. I appreciate it."

Ryouga blinked, then reddened a little, about to stammer out some kind of denial, but just as he opened his mouth the door slid open and a familiar figure filled the doorway. Ukyou turned to see her newest customer and lit up like a star. "Ran-chan!" In her excitement, she dropped the jar of balm and bounced over to her fiancée, glomping his arm affectionately.

Guess her burn isn't bothering her anymore, Ryouga thought sourly as he picked up the discarded jar and stuffed it into his pocket.

Ranma sauntered in and waved casually to the lost boy. "Hey Ryouga. I thought you'd be lost somewhere in the forest again."

Ryouga gave a snort of dismissal. "Heh. Of course I'm still in Nerima. My everlasting love for Akane will insure my return to her side, even though I may wander at times."

Ukyou paused in her cuddling to cast him a derisive look. "Oh yeah? So if your love is going to lead you to Akane, then why bother waiting for me to guide you there?"

"Hey lady - I've been waiting because you kept threatening me with that giant spatula of yours if I so much as moved a muscle! I can find Akane just fine on my own!" With a superior sneer, he slung his backpack on and proceeded to march into the storeroom.

Ukyou released Ranma's arm and smiled sweetly at him. "You just wait right here, okay Ranma honey? I'll be right back." She turned to stomp after the lost boy, muttering, "That arrogant jackass!"

Ranma stood alone in the restaurant, baffled by the strange turn of events. Then a grin slowly crept over his face. This is great! Now all I gotta do is sneak up to her apartments. He tiptoed near the storeroom and heard the sounds of a giant spatula repeatedly slamming into a human body. He winced in sympathy for his quasi-friend. Ouch. That has got to hurt. But it works out for me!

Ranma quickly crept up the stairs, making sure no one noticed him. He checked the first room, and seeing only a television and some bookcases, moved on. The next door was the bathroom. Finally, here it is! Ranma entered Ukyou's bedroom and hurriedly shut the door close behind him. He scanned the room quickly, taking in the no-nonsense bedsheets, the clean desk and okonomiyaki-cooking awards, and finally the large wooden curio.

He crept over and found her panty drawer on his first try. And his second. And third. "Whoa," Ranma couldn't prevent the amazed whisper from escaping his lips. All three drawers were filled with lacy scraps of cloth, in a variety of colors, textures, and patterns. "Ukyou wears all this?!" He couldn't imagine the boyish chef wearing such, well, feminine underwear. A determined expression crossed his face. "Okay, well let's find that lotion - it's got to be in here!" He pushed up his sleeves and dug in, his hands searching.

Suddenly the door behind him opened. Ranma let out a sigh and dropped his head. I should've been expecting this to happen.

"Hey, this isn't the exit! Argh! Where am I now?!" Ryouga paused in his angst-ridden cry and noticed Ranma standing there, up to his elbows in frilly underthings.

Ranma rolled his eyes at the lost boy's blank expression. "This is Ukyou's room, you dolt."

Ryouga staggered back a little, shocked. "Ra-Ranma? Wh-what are you doing in Ukyou's room?" His eyes fell to his rival's hands, still immersed in lace and silk. A storm of anger began brewing across his face. "And what are you doing with Ukyou's underwear, you pervert?! How dare you betray Akane like that! You call yourself a man?!" He struck out with his hefty umbrella.

Ranma split-jumped over the thrust and landed lightly on the weapon. Ryouga growled and heaved the umbrella up, forcing the pig-tailed boy to jump off. "Hey Ryouga, wait a minute - I can explain!" He dodged a couple spinning bandannas. "Wait, I said!" But the other boy continued in his blind attack. Ranma sighed. "Okay, I didn't want to take advantage of your weakness, but you asked for it!"

He tossed a pair of gauzy white undies into his opponent's face.

"Gyah." Ryouga stopped in his tracks and fell to the floor with a thump, a small trail of blood escaping his nose.

Ranma crouched on his chest and whacked him on the cheek a couple times. "Yo Ryouga, listen up! I ain't here to steal Ukyou's underwear. Remember how Happosai gave us that hint about his Manly Man lotion last night?" He waited for Ryouga's faint grunt of understanding. "Well, I figure he keeps it with girls' panties, since a lot of his power comes from perverted stuff like that. So that's where I'm looking."

Ryouga sat up abruptly and wiped away his nosebleed. "You think that lotion is in here? The lotion that will enable me to become a real man again?"

Ranma frowned. "The lotion that'll make me a real guy again."

The lost boy looked confused. "B-but why Ukyou? She's the last girl I'd think of."

Ranma jumped up and walked over to the drawers again. "Well, maybe that's why. Or maybe that old freak knew what a stash she has." He pulled open the drawers and gestured. "Take a look."

Ryouga padded over curiously, then had to pinch his nose again. "Wh-what does she do with all this?!"

The pig-tailed boy lifted up one garment with a hooked finger. "I don't know, but she sure has a lot more than all the other girls I checked out." They both peered closely at the piece of black lace in confusion, scratching their heads.

Ukyou chose that moment to walk in.

Silence.

Ranma and Ryouga looked at the garment, then looked at Ukyou. At their intense scrutiny, she began blushing furiously and resisted the urge to cross her arms. Then something occurred to her. "Okaaay, what the hell are you two perverts doing in my room?!!" She drew out the Spatula of Doom. "And just why are you holding my underwear?!" She advanced, and the two boys shrank back, sputtering incoherently.

"W-wait Ukyou, I didn't - your panties - NO! S-sorry! I - Ranm-- aghhhhh …" Ryouga, with his usual manly cool, fainted.

"U-Ucchan, hold on! It's not what it seems!" Ranma waved his hands in front of him, still holding the scrap of lace, then finally noticed it. "L-look, look, I'm putting it away now - no reason to be mad! Here, I'll put it back, nice and neat." He thrust his hands into the drawer, an anxious eye on the red-hot Ukyou, and his fingers suddenly brushed against something smooth and round. He tensed and grabbed the object out of the drawer. Lights glinted off the glassy container he held in his hands. The label read "Manly Man Lotion: Be a Real Man."

"Alright!! I found it!" Ranma leapt up and pumped a fist into the air. Triumphant tsunami waves crashed behind him.

"Oh, you've found it all right," a grim voice sounded by his ear. The next thing he knew, white light exploded in his vision as Ukyou slammed him out the window and into the clear blue sky.


A couple seconds later, he fell with a huge splash into the clear blue pond in the Tendos' backyard. Ranma-chan was still too elated to feel any pain. She burst out of the water, clutching the bottle in one hand. "I can't believe it, I've finally found it! Even after all that torture, it was worth it! The Manly Man Lotion is mine! YATTA!!" Suddenly, she was whacked on the back of her head by a large wooden board. A furry paw snatched the bottle from her nerveless grasp.

"But son," the sign read, "it also says here that you should handle the Manly Man Lotion with extreme caution." Another sign popped up. "As your loving father, I will take it into my own hands to make sure this lotion is safe for you to use."

Ranma-chan leapt out of the pool and kicked the enormous panda across the jaw. "No way, Pop! That lotion is mine!"

Genma-panda continued to dodge her punches, moving amazingly fast even in his bulky form. He whipped out another sign. "But Ranma, I've known about Master's lotion for quite some time now. I've just been trying to protect you from its deadly effects."

"Protect me, huh? You probably just couldn't figure out where that old lech hid it!" Ranma jumped off the sign and kicked Genma in the head, catching the bottle as it flew out of his claws.

In the living room, Akane watched the action with a disinterested eye. She had come home feeling slightly blue, so she had plopped herself down in front of the television and treated herself to some shaved ice. "Hmm, fighting again." She mumbled from around the spoon in her mouth. "Don't they ever let up?"

A second later, Genma-panda crashed into the wall next to her, but she didn't blink an eye. Ranma-chan followed soon after, and the two engaged in a flurry of punches and kicks. "That's mine, I tell you! I went through all sorts of hell to get that! There's no way I'm letting you have it!"

Without any paws free to reply with his signs, Genma resorted to growling out his anger. He swiped out at his son, and something flew from his hands to land by Akane. She looked at the object and snorted in disgust. "Hey are guys fighting over milk again? Honestly, you're such big babies." However, they weren't paying her any attention, to caught up in their fight to notice. She shrugged. If they weren't going after it, then she would have it herself. She popped open the bottle and poured the thick milky substance over her shaved ice. She felt her spirits immediately rise. "Ah, shaved ice and sweet condensed milk - yum! Itadakimasu!" She took a heaping spoonful and gulped it down happily.

Little lightening streaks appeared behind the frozen Akane. "GuRk." She scrambled to the kitchen, gagging all the way.

Ranma and Genma looked at her now-vacant seat curiously. "Hey Akane, what … ?" Ranma-chan's voice trailed off as she spotted the empty bottle of lotion. "Oh no! She couldn't have!" She took off after Akane and skidded to a abrupt halt in the doorway of the kitchen. Genma, taken by surprise, crashed into her, but Ranma was too horrified to notice. There was Akane, frantically washing down the rest of her shaved ice - and the lotion - down the drain.

"AugghhH!!" Ranma rushed over to save what remained of the lotion, desperately rubbing her face against the scummy surface of the sink, but she was too late.

Akane turned to her, grimacing at the terrible taste still in her mouth. "What on earth are you doing you, dummy? That milk was completely spoiled! Ugh, that tasted horrible!" She made a face. "You should thank me for getting rid of the rest of that stuff!"

Ranma and Genma face-faulted.

Ranma-chan groaned against the floorboards, "I should have known."


The next morning, Akane woke to the familiar sounds of fighting below her window.

"Hey old man, if you hadn't interfered, I could have used that lotion and everything would be okay!" Ranma's voice echoed through the backyard.

Akane sat up and stifled a yawn, then suppressed a sneer of disgust. "Ranma, you wimp," she muttered under her breath.

She threw back the covers and stretched, rolling her shoulders and scratching lazily at her stomach. Then she padded over to her full-length mirror and smiled at the sight that greeted her. She ran a finger along her jawbone and grinned at her reflection. "Akane, you are one fine-looking member of the male species."


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