Green Tea
Ellen Kuhfeld



This isn't really a chapter – it's more of a meditation on the story. But it happens around here in story time, and I've been re-reading a very strongly-flavored fanfic (Eric Hallstrom's Ranma and Akane: A Love Story) that's dragged my head so far away from my normal style that I'm not quite back yet. So I thought you might like to see this while I re-center myself.


School was out for the day, and since Ranma's life had gotten much less hectic of late, she was strolling through the business district. Ranma-cat had been exploring Nerima at night. Now Ranma-human wanted to explore during the day. It helped bring their two souls together.

She noticed, with half her mind, a businessman leaving one of the newer office buildings. The fellow was short and stocky, with salt-and-pepper hair and an immaculate suit. He was carrying an expensive-looking attach้ case. Ranma's eyes wandered on – nothin' to see here – but then she caught the man's scent.

Ranma's eyes widened, and her attention was riveted. The man, obviously alert and attentive, noticed. It wasn't a stumble, but two steps were a hair out of their proper rhythm. Confirmation! Ranma sped up a little, and soon was walking by the man's side. "Sasuke?"

Sasuke sighed. "Ninjutsu was never intended to work on cats, I fear," he said. "Would you take some tea with me, Saotome-san, so I can satisfy your curiosity? You're becoming a friend of the Kunos. And I'm aware of your secrets and abilities. It's only fair."

Soon they were in a private space in an elegant teahouse, with tea and an assortment of cookies before them. After Ranma had eaten the cookies and had a bit of tea, she cocked an eyebrow at the familiar-smelling stranger across the table.

Sasuke smiled. "Not quite the silly little man in the ninja suit you're used to, hm?"

Ranma shrugged, spread her hands, and quirked her mouth.

"You practice a very straightforward martial art," Sasuke said. "Even with the 'anything goes' aspect, you know when you're in combat. That's not ninjutsu.

"Some people think ninjas can turn invisible. And some of us can, but it's not much use being invisible in a crowd. You spend more effort avoiding collisions than you do spying, and that's not efficient.

"Wiser people think we are simply very good at hiding, at not being seen. That's closer. The truth is, we're very good at not being noticed. Or, perhaps, at being discounted when noticed. People see the 'silly little man in the ninja suit'. They snicker, but at the same time they know the Kuno family has protection. And they don't bother wondering what I'm doing when they don't see me. They figure it's something silly.

"They don't realize I'm also an, erm, expeditor for the Kuno family enterprises. I make things go more smoothly, make problems go away. That's what I've just finished doing today. I have other existences I can wear, but we needn't go into that now."

"It's not just a disguise, then?" Ranma asked. "I mean, I can turn into a girl. That's a pretty complete disguise. But I get noticed, and most always people connect the new me back to the old me."

"Ranma, a good disguise is a whole alternate life. For that you need two things beyond appearance: skill, and comfort. You can look like a girl, and dress like a girl, but it won't count unless you have the skills of a girl. You can pick those up – I've seen how good you are at learning a new martial skill, and ninjutsu is martial. But until you're comfortable being a girl, people will always know there's something funny going on. Then they start picking at your disguise until it unravels. If you're comfortable, then you aren't wearing a disguise – you're just showing them a different face. That doesn't set their curiosity off."

"Are you tellin' me that bein' comfortable as a girl is a martial art?"

"Not quite what the panda would have you believe, is it?"

"Next thing I know, you'll tell me Kodachi has a life where she's sane and sober."

"Instead of just being a silly girl in a gymnastics suit?"

Ranma shrugged. "Sasuke, I don't know what to believe any more."

Sasuke smiled. "Ninjas do that to people. You've been underestimating me – that's why I wear the ninja suit and the whiskers and the teeth. I'm making it easy for you to underestimate me. But with the helicopters and all, that dodge won't last.

"Trust your nose. It caught me. Fooling a cat's sense of smell is not a customary part of ninjutsu, though we've had some practice on dogs. And when you're sure you know what's going on, be specially careful. Ninjas are good at that, too."

Ranma twitched her nose, smiled, then sipped her tea. "I use my nose ev'ry time I take a cup of tea or a bowl of soup. I've had too much funny food."

Sasuke nodded. "Experience is a stern teacher, but you don't forget her lessons."

"Just like a grizzly I know."

"You're different since you came back from your time with him. For one, you're doing much better as a girl. How did studying with a grizzly bear teach you comfort as a woman?"

"I wuz sorta wonderin' that myself. But these days, I'm not even sure what species I am. Not bein' sure what sex I am ain't as big a deal as that. An' bein' a tomcat can get uncomfortable in a classroom full o' girls. 'Member when you were a teen? Ever'body gettin' horny all the time? With my sense o' smell, bein' a guy around horny gals is … distractin'. Bein' a gal is less uncomfortable. That's kinda like bein' more comfortable, I guess."

The well-dressed ninja smiled. "The West calls it the law of unintended consequences. You work for something to happen, and if you do well, it does. But other things happen too. When you begin to drain the swamp, you have no idea you'll end up knee-deep in alligators."

Ranma sipped and sighed. "Learn to get along with my inner cat, and find it helps my inner woman? I can see it. It's not the strangest thing that's happened lately. All I wanted was for Kuno-sempai to stop tryin' to date Akane and the Pigtailed Goddess, an' stop tryin' to kill the foul sorcerer Saotome. Next thing I know we're friends and I'm sittin' at his dinner-table with Akane, watchin' him make eyes with Kasumi. Now that is unintended consequences. Not that I'm complainin'."

"Nor I," said Sasuke. "I think the past few weeks have been very good for Kuno Tatewaki."

"An' they've been busy for us all. Thanks for watchin' over the fathers, by the way; and thanks twice over for pullin' the sisters out of that mess about the lottery prize."

"What can I say?" Sasuke shrugged. "I'm a full-service ninja." He pushed a discreet button on the table, and one of the hostesses came in. "More cookies, please."

Ranma raised her teacup to Sasuke. "To full-service ninjas!"

Sasuke raised his teacup back. "To catgirls!" Ranma winced a bit, then began to smile.

They drank, and waited peaceably for their cookies.


Thanks to Agramahad for comment.