Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Confronting Your Choices ( Chapter 105 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]

A Tale of Two Wallets

(An Altered Destiny)

Written by Jim Robert Bader

Proofread by Shiva Barnwell

Nabiki awoke to the peculiar feeling that she was not alone in her bed…if her bed it actually was, that being left in doubt by the fact that said bedding felt as hard and unyielding as a futon. There was also a strangely familiar presence nestled up on her left side, and a small furry bundle to her right, framing her like a secondary blanket, the more so as a masculine arm was draped across her chest in an almost protective manner.

Nabiki's eyes flew wide open, alarm bells ringing in her mind. She had not slept with anyone this close to her since she was six and Akane had crawled into her bed during a lightning storm. She had always been alone ever since getting a room to herself, and that was how she liked it. The idea that someone could be in bed with her was more than alarming, it sent shock waves passing all through her body, bringing her to full alertness with a jolt that was nearly electrostatic.

The arm, she discovered to no little surprise, was attached to Ranma, and as she turned her face to her left she saw him sleeping there, cuddled up at her side, his handsome face relaxed and more at peace than she could ever remember seeing in his expression. Nabiki's face was only inches away from his and the close proximity of the boy was unnerving her far beyond anything she would have preferred to admit to. If Akane found them like this…well…it would not be a pretty picture.

Her second jolt came when she heard a kittenish noise to her right and turned her head to find that Shampoo-neko was its source, the cursed Chinese girl curled up in a ball with nose-to-tail, making soft little noises as if enjoying dreams of fields and butterflies to chase. Nabiki saw her flex her claws in her sleep while her tiny muzzle made suckling noises and she wondered if that were the only thing currently passing through her furry little mind at the moment…

Shampoo the cat…and Ranma in the same bed, with Nabiki between them…NOT A GOOD COMBINATION!!!

Nabiki considered her options carefully, not being the impulsive sort by nature. Screaming seemed like a pretty good idea at this point, certainly preferable to fainting, although that might spare her the ordeal of having to be conscious when the fireworks inevitably happened. Crawling out from her bed seemed like the least complicated means of escaping her predicament, and far better to play the innocent should anyone ask what she was doing sharing a bed with Ranma and one of his fiancées. She could always cry rape if the worst came to the worse, and her clueless little sister would naturally buy that argument, her first tendency always being to blame her baka boyfriend.

Prying herself loose from these two without waking either one of them, however, was likely to be something of a problem.

Ranma could sleep like a stone when he was good and thoroughly exhausted (jokes about having a head like a rock naturally prodded her imagination to wonder what else about him was rock-like, but she squelched that thought before it could start a riot), but she doubted that Shampoo was nearly as light a sleeper. Questions on what these two were doing sharing a bed with her (wherever the heck here was as it most certainly was NOT her bedroom) would have to wait until she could figure out how to escape from the space between them, but to her surprise, once she started to move, Ranma relaxed and seemed to come partially awake. To Nabiki's complete surprise he leaned his face closer to hers and began nuzzling her cheek, murmuring softly, "Mornin' sleepy head…have a good night?"

Nabiki lay rigid as she mulled that one over. Did she have a good night? That depended on if she still had her clothes on, and why the heck couldn't she remember? It wasn't like Ranma was in the habit of sleeping around with women (she knew, she had checked up on him ever since he came to their house and never once had he demonstrated an interest in women that would conform to her scenario of them renting a cheap motel to have a passionate fling together). Ranma seemed to have one of his sleeveless T-shirts on, and a glance down the length of his lean body showed her that he was definitely wearing his boxer shorts. Nabiki felt beneath her covers and found (to both her relief and disappointment) that she was wearing a negligee, so it did not seem likely to her that they had just experienced a night of passionate whoopee.

Of course if they had, then Shampoo's presence might explain her inability to remember. That Fang Gao Shiatsu thingie could block a person's memories of even an intensely pleasurable event, though if that was the case, then why would she even remember about Ranma? This whole set-up made no sense and was so utterly unlike anything that she was even prepared to cope with in the morning, the unearthliness of the situation itself being enough to make her wonder if Rod Sterling were somewhere lurking in the background.

Ranma noticed her lack of emotional response (except for the going stiff part) and said, "What's wrong? You feelin' all right, 'Biki? If it's that gambler creep, don't worry, I'm sure you'll do just fine against him."

(WHAT?) Nabiki's mind reacted, but outwardly she refrained from answering, deciding to listen in and discover what else she could that was wrong with this overall picture.

"You know Shampoo'n me'll be rootin' for ya all the way," Ranma said encouragingly before adding with a hint of his usual arrogance, "Of course if you wanna leave 'im to me I'll be happy to demolish that joker. No way am I letting him have the house and your dojo."

(MY dojo?) Nabiki once more mentally reacted, adding after a slight pause, (Okay, so this doesn't really clarify things all that much…I mean, "SHAMPOO AND ME'LL BE ROOTING FOR YOU???")

"Ah, Ranma-kun," Nabiki decided a neutral approach would be the best way of resolving this confusing situation, "I wonder if…?"

"Oh?" she saw him lift an eyebrow, then reluctantly withdrew his arm from around her chest, "You need to go, huh? Well, it's out that door and just down the hall, you can't miss it. Even a Hibiki could find it."

Nabiki blinked her eyes at this, wondering when Ranma had turned into "Mister Sensitivity" all of a sudden. Somebody had definitely been working to house train the poor boy, and she wondered who in the heck that could be because it almost certainly was NOT his father!

Of course his misunderstanding of her intentions provided her with just the convenient excuse that she was looking for, so she gratefully got out of the bed, noticing how Shampoo became awake from the way the kitty stretched her furry limbs and yawned, then gave a cheerful, "Meow!" that Nabiki half feared would send Ranma into a Neko panic attack.

To her furthering astonishment she saw said cat pad up to Ranma, who lazily stretched out a hand to stroke the soft pinkish fur of the animal without the least sign of concern in his expression. Nabiki watched them both with rounded eyes as if she had just discovered that they had been replaced with Pod People. NO WAY could that be the same Ranma and Shampoo whom she was used to, which meant that EVERYTHING about the situation was completely changed beyond recognition, and her without a clue or a program!

Fainting was beginning to look like a pretty good idea. She resisted the temptation by taking up the bathroom option.

It did not take her too long to realize that they were on the second story of an office building somewhere in the Furinkan Financial district, but at the moment the place seemed to have been converted to a kind of hostel with people sleeping in various rooms, half of whom Nabiki could not even identify on sight, though she did take note of the unmistakable lump that was her "Uncle" Genma…and if Nabiki were not hallucinating it all, that looked like Saotome Nodoka laying beside him!

What in the name of the Tokyo Stock Market was going on here??? And who was that woman with the headband sleeping next to RYOGA???

In the next room she found something even more puzzling still…Ukyo laying on a futon to one side, Akane laying on a separate futon with an empty futon laid out between them. The sheets looked somewhat ruffled, and not far removed from them was a blond haired woman whom Nabiki would not know on sight from Eve. Apparently whoever used the middle futon was up and active, about the only other person besides herself who seemed awake this time in the morning.

But a greater shock even than this was yet to await her, for as she passed by yet another room with a closed door she heard muffled noises from within, and from the sound of things someone was getting it on early in the morning. She was wondering whom it was when one muffled groan took on a familiar timber and with a jolt of complete disbelief on her part she recognized it as coming from her father!

Her daddy…with someone other than their late mother???

She was about to rush into that room with intent on discovering who the other offending party was when a voice softly murmured from behind her, "I wouldn't do that, little one. It's impolite to butt in on your elders."

Nabiki's head spun around with such haste that she threatened to give herself a case of whiplash. The woman (after a moment's consideration she decided on that) looked like an older and larger version of Ukyo, only her face was harder, leaner, and her frame was much more muscular on top. She resembled a female body builder more than anything else, and it would not surprise Nabiki in the least to suspect her of taking male hormones. She also had a nastier, more world-wise look about her face as she gave Nabiki a sympathetic-but-chiding leer, then in casual Kansai drawl she added, "What are you doing away from your own loved ones, Sugar? Ain't nothing wrong with you having a little fun on the day before you three make it official."

"Huh?" Nabiki blurted, right before she hear a soft cry from the other side of the door say, "Ooohh…Soun-chan…!"

"Sounds like they're gonna be at it for at least another hour," the strange woman sighed with what sounded like badly concealed resentment, "Well, tell you what, after you freshen up and get dressed, why don't you come downstairs and make yourself useful. I could use a hand setting the place up for morning business, and it's the least you freeloaders can do to pitch in. After that you should be ready for your card game, and then you guys can move back to your own place…all except your little sister, of course. I think she doesn't mind at all the excuse to stay with my niece for a couple of evenings. A cute kid, but don't let her anywhere near my kitchen."

"Niece?" Nabiki asked after a long moment's pause, but by then the strange woman had withdrawn as silently as she had walked up behind Nabiki. The way the big woman moved was more than slightly disturbing…it almost reminded her of the way Ukyo could move, so purposeful and determined!

What the hell was going on here? Was she going mad and dreaming all of this, or had the world around her just gotten a whole lot stranger than even what she was used to being around Ranma? Her mind was a whirl with questions that needed answering, but before she could frame even one of them her bladder made its presence known and called her excuse for getting out of bed into question. She decided to relieve herself as recommended, followed by a good hot bath and a change of clothing, after which she would try and make sense out of the contrary bits of information that were warring against what had been the certain bedrock-grounded pillars of her previous existence.

And why was she so certain that she was not going to find any peace when she learned those answers…?

"Hmmm…" Lotion mused as she examined the brawny Razor, "Well, for three hundred and two years old you are in remarkably good shape, dear fellow. A touch on the care-worn side, some old scars that never properly healed, and of course your Battle God tattoos, but other than this you don't look a day over thirty."

"I do?" asked Razor as he submitted himself to the curious old woman.

"My genes and Jurai's do make for an interesting combination," Ganglot mused, "But what about my son's mental state? What can you tell me about this?"

Lotion heaved a sigh, "Your son has about as many curses laid upon him as there are islands about Japan. He seems to have acquired them like travel stickers from the many places he has visited in his wandering career. I can't begin to fathom the complexity of pattern-magic woven about him like a tapestry…about the only curse I can say with reasonable certainty that he doesn't suffer from is Jusenkyo."

"I wonder how he managed to avoid that," Akiko mused to one side without further elaboration.

"Clean living of course," Ryomi answered with a girlish grin, "Just like the rest of us Hibikis, right Grandpa?"

"Ah…I guess," the handsome man replied, turning to Lotion again before adding, "Do I know you?"

Ganglot sighed, "Please tell me you can do something about his memory problems at least. I could grant him a wish to restore his memory, of course, but not unless I know for certain that there won't be…residual complications."

"You mean like having three hundred years of memory come crashing down on him all at once?" Lotion sighed, "I think even he would go mad if he had to experience the total amount of what must be stored in that rock-hard head of his. I can do what I can to ease his memory problems by a fraction, enough so that he won't constantly be asking your names and identities every five minutes."

"That would help a lot," Akiko averred with a nod of her head, "As much as I like the guy, there are times over the past two weeks when I felt like strangling him on general principles."

"Assuming you could," Ryomi teased, "Admit it…you got the hots for the old guy, which I'll admit is pretty gross, but seeing as he's a cool buff dude…"

"Why don't you stick it in your ear, Shrimp," Akiko teased back, and the two girls stuck their tongues out at one another in good-natured sisterly fashion.

"Hold still, lad," Lotion urged Razor as she set two withered hands to either side of his temples. After a moment's long pause a warming glow appeared around his head, then Razor gasped as his eyes briefly lost focus. When he uncrossed them again his pupils dilated, then grew to pinpricks, briefly turning yellow before resuming their previous reddish-brown coloration.

Lotion withdrew her hands and said, "Now…how do you feel, lad?"

"Ah…better, I think," the man glanced around and then his eyes locked their focus upon Ganglot and in a hesitant voice he asked, "M-Mother?"

"My son…!" Ganglot's beautiful features broke out into a beatific smile, and then she rushed forward, kneeling down to draw the man's face into her bosom, "My dear, sweet, wonderful boy! How I've missed holding you in my arms again, my darling Razor…!"

"MmphjmphMph!" Razor responded.

"Geez, don't kill the guy, Grandma," Ryomi urged.

"Let him come up for air at least!" agreed Akiko with a smirk.

"I think air would do him some good," Lotion nodded towards her erstwhile patient, "No need to smother your long lost son with your affections."

"Eh? Oh…of course," the Oni Princess eased up on her pressure, and Razor gasped as his face emerged from the otherwise tempting softness of two lush "pillows."

Lotion turned her amused glance over two the nervous pair of teenagers standing off to one side and finally acknowledged their presence, "You both are looking splendidly well. I see life in the outside world appeals to you greatly."

"Ah…" Romeo said nervously.

"Elder," Julian began to say, "We did not…"

Lotion raised a hand to stay the rest of his sentence, "It gratifies me to know that you are well, but do not fear that I will report your whereabouts to the rest of the Council. There is no need to complicate matters by bringing the troubles of your two families to Nerima. I will relate that you are both hale and hearty to your family and loved ones, but no more than this is necessary. Go in peace and be kind to one another, that is all I can ask of anyone who chooses to make their own way in the world without the blind hate of your Elders."

Romeo heaved a sigh that made her look two years younger, "Thank you, Elder."

"Your wisdom is exceeded only by your kindness," Julian bowed his head with more respect than even a male was supposed to accord to an Elder.

"Would that it were so," Lotion sighed, only to turn her head with a sharp expression, and after a moment of deliberation she said, "Curious…something is happening out in the world…I feel great distress surrounding my young apprentice…?"

"You mean Tendo Nabiki?" Ganglot looked up from where she was still embracing Razor, turning her own face outwardly as her tattoos flared to light, at which point she softly swore, "Oh no…that IDIOT Peorth! What has she done this time?"

"No doubt it was with the best of intentions," Lotion remarked, "Which is what I hear the road to Hell itself is paved with. I must take my leave of you sooner than I would have wanted, Morrigar's child."

"I understand," Ganglot waved a hand and caused one of the pictures lining the wall to expand until it formed a full sized doorway, "Go in peace until the next time we can speak together. I'll see to it the rest of my guests are treated well or seen back to their own respective places, and I will contact you in regards to a certain pair whose activities are of interest to us both."

"Inform me the moment anything remotely interesting happens with those two," Lotion allowed herself a sly smile before moving forward and exiting through the portal.

"Count on it," Ganglot replied, sharing a leer, "And I'll remember to tape the good bits for replaying later…"

"What happened?" Cologne wondered, "Why did the picture become so fuzzy all of a sudden?"

"I don't know," Siren frowned, "Perhaps something interfered with the reception. Oh wait…it's back again! Now we can pick up where we left off, spying on your family and what they're up to during your absence."

"How odd," Cologne frowned, "That appears to be the Tendo estate, but last I checked the place was currently occupied by the Gambler King and his henchmen."

"Doesn't appear to be anyone there but your family," Siren pondered, "Or at least the Saotome and Tendo branches. There's Shampoo's husband and wife…but no sign of Shampoo, and I don't sense the Hibiki presence in the area of the dojo…"

"There must be something wrong with the adjustment," Cologne mused, then sat more upright as she added, "Well now…this is a curious arrangement…"

Nabiki's Journal Continues:

Okay, about this point I was beginning to clue into the fact that I was a stranger in a very strange place…one that looked like my home and had people who I knew to be my family, but other than this the whole setting was alien, bizarre beyond belief, which I finally figured out when I had Kasumi ask me why I was flirting around with my sister's boyfriend.

To put it charitably, I did not react to this news with the grace such a situation might well have demanded.

"SAY WHAT???" I said in lieu of something less polite that might have earned Kasumi's disapproval, "Ranma-kun….and Akane??? You've gotta be kidding me!"

"What would make you say that, Nabiki?" Uncle Genma asked with a clear lack of comprehension in his expression (okay, that's normally the way he looks, only this time he was moreso than usual, okay?).

"Yes," my father said with stern pronouncement, "Ranma will marry Akane and that is final. It was determined before any of you were even born…"

"No way!" I shouted, "There's no way I'm standing back and letting you do this, Daddy! Not to me! He's mine and I'm not letting anyone have him, especially Akane!"

"Sister," Kasumi said the word softly, but for her it sounded like a disapproving shout.

"W-What is the meaning of this?" Daddy blinked his surprise, "What are you saying…?"

"He's MY iinazuke, Daddy," I declared with hands to my hips in my most no-nonsense manner, "Or did you forget this when you were out drinking with 'Uncle' Saotome?"

All right, you may note by now that I was acting as if this was my own regular timeline and dimension, but I still wasn't ready to face the fact that it was a parallel world and I was no doubt screwing things up for my counterpart who lived here. I was just too mad and disgusted at the thought of Ranma being engaged to my bad tempered younger sister, especially in light of the way she had been treating her not five minutes ago, and were it anyone but Ranma I would have suspected her of suffering the lingering effects of a severe concussion.

We had laid out my currently female iinazuke (I'd prefer to call her this even if it's not really my dimension, thank you) on her bed with an ice pack over her forehead and Ranma was still out like a light, which distressed me more than words could convey here. I may not have read as many medical texts as Kasumi but I know perfectly well what the possible consequences of a concussion are. A person could suffer brain damage and internal hemorrhage, wake up mentally crippled or not at all, either prospect of which terrified me more than I can possibly explain. The very idea that this version of Ranma suffered through this sort of thing on a fairly routine basis had me almost at the point of hysterics, and I was doing my level best not to go on a rampage against any idiot who would think that Ranma and Akane could make a good and stable union.

Of course my declaration had the effect of being told that I had just married the Elephant Boy, because Daddy did a good imitation of a fish sucking air while Kasumi was too surprised to even say, "Oh my" for this occasion.

"Your iinazuke?" surprisingly enough that level headed question came from Genma, "When did this happen?"

"Since I agreed to marry him," and I flashed up a hand that I was relieved to see was sporting an engagement ring (for some reason I'd half been afraid that it would not be there), "See? Ranma gave me this ring after he rescued me nine days ago! So don't try and talk me out of this, Daddy…I'm marrying Ranma and that's final!"

"It is?" I heard a groan voice from a semi-conscious Ranma.

I was kneeling at his side at once saying, "Don't try and talk or sit up, Ranma-kun. Everything will be all right, I won't let anyone hurt you, I promise."

"You…?" I saw her blue eyes focus on me, and then she sat up in spite of my warning, "Who are you, and what have you done with the real Nabiki?"

I suppose I should have expected this response, but it still hurt that she had to go and act like I had just turned into one of the Pod People.

"I'm Nabiki, Ranma," I said, allowing a little of my hurt to show in my voice, knowing full well the effect that would have upon her chivalrous nature, "I'm the one who loves you. Don't you remember?'

Okay, the moment I said those words I reacted about as astonished as anyone. Had I finally said the "L" word without stumbling this time? It was a pretty astonishing revelation!

"Love?" Ranma repeated the word as if it were foreign, then surprise turned to disgust as he backed away and declared, "No way! You love only money!"

Now that hurt, let me tell you, but rather than react on my pain I instead chose to give him my most frank expression, and in tones of deep emotion I said, "You're wrong about me…I don't know whatever I've done or said in the past to give you that impression of me, Ranma-kun, but I assure you I'm not all about money. There's something I value a whole lot more, and that's you, so before you accuse me of lying, ask yourself one question…are you a virgin?"

"H-Huh?" I saw blank incomprehension replace the fierce accusation in her eyes, followed by a fearful nervousness as she asked, "W-W-What are you asking me that for?"

"Because I know you've never done it with anyone…besides me," and Shampoo of course, I thought in silent amendment, but I wanted to deal with one stage of the matter at a time, knowing better than to rush things with the full dramatic revelation.

"You WHAT?" Daddy reacted predictably, "Ranma, is this true? Did you sleep with my daughter?"

"What? No way-I…!"

"Why deny it, Ranma-kun?" I asked him slyly, "You know you were the first man who ever rang my chimes, the way you snuck in through my window late at night and claimed me in my bed, the way you did it with me in both your forms…don't try and pretend it was anyone else. You know you're the only man for me, a real 'Man among Men,' and I can definitely vouch for that!"

"SAOTOME!!!" Daddy demanded hotly, "How dare you raise your son to have such loose morals…!"

"Hold on a minute, Tendo," Uncle Genma came to my rescue, just as I had predicted, "If the boy did sleep with one of your daughters…"

"Eh?" Daddy took a moment to think on that, then instantly changed his tone and demeanor, "Why, you're right, Saotome! It doesn't matter which of my girls he has to marry to unite the houses, and if the boy has stated a preference and even given her a ring…"

"And not just any ring, Daddy," I straightened up and showed it to him, "Recognize it now?"

My father blinked, then his eyes filled with tears and he cried, "Th-That's the ring I gave your mother…oh…Saotome!" Daddy then manly turned to Genma and started weeping against his shoulder, almost enough to trigger his panda-curse.

"Oh my…" Kasumi studied the ring, "That belonged to our mother? Ranma-kun, where did you find it?"

"Huh, what, hah?" Ranma's eyes were wider than the proverbial saucers as she stared from one of us to the others, then back to me, "No way…!"

"RAN-MAAAA!!!" you guessed it, that came from Akane, who had just then come down the stairs after having cooled down from her earlier tempest, only to suffer a relapse as she caught the last part of our exchanges.

"EEP!" Ranma-chan backed up into the wall with the look of a condemned prisoner about to be read her last rights.

I wasn't having any of that, though, and so I turned to my sister and said, "Akane…butt out of this! It doesn't concern you!"

"The hell it doesn't!" Akane raged, "Where do you get off talking like that to me, Nabiki? Now stand aside and let me pound some sense into the baka."

This times I gave her no warning at all, I just froze time all around us, moved forward, seized Akane by the waist and carried her (well, dragged her more like) out into the yard where I promptly tossed her into the koi pond. I allowed time to resume its normal flow just as she landed in the water, sputtering indignantly like a wet hen…

Only, to my surprise, she didn't sprout a pair of wings and turn into an angel!

"Nabiki!" Akane cried indignantly, "Wh-What…?"

"Cool down, Sis," I said as evenly as if I were not about to freak out at the implications of this latest bit of proof that I was not on my own timeline, "You're hotheaded enough without having to push things."

"What the…?" Genma gasped from the porch.

"Such moves…did you see it, Saotome?" Daddy asked in amazement.

"Oh my," Kasumi said, "How did Nabiki do that?"

"I don't believe it," that from Ranma-chan, who had followed us out onto the porch and was looking from me to my sister, then she called out to her, "Akane…!"

"Just-stay away!" Akane hotly declared as she climbed up out of the koi pond, glaring at me with obvious resentment, "You-You traitor! How dare you do that to me! I can't believe you just did that!"

"Believe it, Sis," I said, "And if you don't want to have more of the same then I suggest you back down now and stop picking on poor Ranma."

I've never seen Akane lunge for me like that, not even when we were kids and I often subjected her to the but of many a cruel prank. Kasumi and I have always been off-limits to her rages, and for her to take a swing at me must show how pretty upset I was making her, coming between her and the true target of her mindless rages.

There was a time when an enraged Akane would have been a serious concern for yours truly, but this version of my sister did not evidence signs of Amazon training and her attack was both slow, crude and predictable. I easily flowed around her thrust and got in behind her with great ease, allowing my instincts to guide my hand as I sought out the point in the back of the neck that I'd heard described as a "Sleep Spot," a place I'd seen Ranma use on several opponents. The touch of my finger had the desired effect and Akane collapsed to the ground like a stringless puppet.

"Akane!" Ranma surprised me by rushing forward to try and catch my sister before she fully hit the ground.

"Did you see that, Saotome?" Daddy asked in mild dismay.

"Incredible technique, Tendo-kun," Genma remarked, "The two schools will be well joined by such a union, but I never even suspected that you'd trained Nabiki to such a level."

"Neither had I," Daddy admitted, no doubt wondering how I had managed to become so proficient.

"Ranma-kun?" I asked, surprised to see the tenderness with which he cradled my sister.

"You keep away from me!" Ranma snapped, much to my dismay and horror, "I don't know who you are, but you're not Nabiki! She'd never do this to her own sister!"

"Sure I would," I said, steeling myself against the unexpected pain of her rejection, "If she stood between me and what I know is mine. You may not know what I'm talking about, Ranma-kun, but you can't possibly prefer her to me…"

"And why not?" Ranma challenged, "I don't even know who you are! You can't be the Nabiki I know, there's no way she could do stuff like that…whatever it is you just did!"

I suppose I should, in retrospect, have expected her to react this way, but it still hurt to feel any version of Ranma treat me like a pariah, even granted that I had done nothing so far to truly earn her trust or get on her good side. I resolved that this was a hurdle I had to win over, so I sighed and said, "Let's go somewhere and talk this over, okay? I know somebody who could help confirm my credentials."

"Like who?" Ranma wanted to know.

I was about to say Lotion, but the fact that nobody here had ever seen me use my skills before meant that the version who lived here never trained as a Lore Master, so went with my instincts and took the second best choice, "Cologne, Shampoo's great grandmother. She'll know who I am…one way or another."

By now I was fully with the program that this was an alternate universe, but the fact that they clearly knew whom Cologne was meant that the Amazons were at least here in Nerima. I was guessing what else was different about this world, which clearly was the timeline that had been here before the alteration that had made me Ranma's girlfriend. A plan was forming in my mind, one I hoped would win me a way back to my own version of events, and if it didn't work exactly as I'd hoped…well…

If it turned out that I was stuck in this world, then I damned well wasn't going to sit by and watch Ranma marry Akane, not by a long shot!

Which of course brings me to the question of what that other me was doing back on MY timeline, and what I'd do to her if she messed things up similarly between me and MY Ranma…

Though Nabiki was normally loath to engage in physical labor for any reason, she saw no practical reason for refusing to help set up tables in Ucchan's Café, especially as if afforded her a good way of ferreting out information from this oh-so-helpful (and previously unheard of) Aunt named Kuonji Yumi, who seemed amiable enough to get along with just so long as Nabiki nodded her head and agreed at the right moments. It was helping Nabiki to become acquainted with the lay of the landscape, even if what she was learning about her other life was raising more than just her eyebrows.

Apparently she had been engaged to marry Saotome Ranma for the better part of two semesters, just somewhat shy of a year that she had known him, and that Akane had never even been under consideration, having expressed a strong distaste for the very concept of an arranged marriage. Somehow her other self had managed to survive being Ranma's girlfriend and seemed even to have prospered quite a bit in the process…enough so that the dojo was a thriving concern and marginally profitable at that.

Even more astonishing than the idea that she was helping Ranma to run and manage the dojo was the fact that Shampoo appeared to somehow be a part of the equation. Not only was she NOT trying to kill anybody at the time but she was even helping to teach classes and seemed to have gotten it into her head that Akane was one of her students!

Just what exactly her relationship was to either herself or Ranma was something that Yumi hinted rather broadly about, but which Nabiki did not dare to imagine might mean what it sounded like. She could not quite believe that in any world she would be willing to share a boyfriend with another woman, ESPECIALLY a notorious man-trap like the amorous Amazon, against whom other women were at a competitive disadvantage when it came to the looks department!

The identity of the woman currently sharing her father's bed was another area that Yumi seemed to be deliberately avoiding, though that appeared mainly to be a desire to avoid dealing with the subject than any intent on keeping the information from Nabiki.

What was rather astonishing by itself was the fact that Akane appeared to be pursuing a relationship with Ukyo of all people…a not entirely unbelievable concept seeing as Nabiki had long nursed suspicions regarding her little sister's sexual orientation. That Ukyo herself might encourage such a relationship was only a little less surprising…after all, Ukyo never minded Ranma's curse, and she not only dressed like a boy but insisted on being treated like one, in spite of her frequent protests that she wanted to be acknowledged as a woman.

Something else that interested Nabiki very much was how Genma and Nodoka had managed to reconcile, let alone that Nodoka had clearly accepted Ranma's curse as Yumi had made a passing reference to the fact that Nabiki's future husband was both a man and a woman. (The idea that she was supposed to marry the guy in the morning was strangely disturbing in and of itself, though exactly why even she could not say as she had tried for most of a year to avoid thinking of the guy as a marriageable prospect).

One final thing that disturbed Nabiki almost as much as all of the other confusing information was when she had asked where Kasumi was in all of this and received the puzzling answer that she was probably still out at the Kuno place with Kodachi. Kasumi and Kodachi??? What the heck was that all about?

Just as they started to get the place fit for the customers there came a tapping at the front door, and Yumi, curious to see who it was, went to the door and had a look, then returned a moment later in the company of a tall woman who rivaled her for height but without being quite as broad-shouldered and bulky. What caught Nabiki's eye immediately was the color of her hair, long and distinctly purple with features unmistakably like Shampoo, only sporting an expression of intense worry and concentration.

"What's up?" Nabiki asked, wondering who this woman was who was so obviously on the warpath.

"Trouble," said woman replied in fluent Japanese, "I need to find Atsuko at once, it's an important matter of family business."

"Well, if you're going to have another fight, take it outside in back, I won't have you messing up my niece's restaurant," Yumi noted.

"Hahah," the purple haired woman replied sarcastically, "It is to laugh, but this is more serious than anything between me and the Oni. This one's big, maybe even bigger than Cybelle herself, and that means setting aside any personal business until we get it sorted…'

"What's that?" yawned the brown haired figure who descended the stairs, followed by the blonde and Ryoga.

"We got trouble," the purple haired woman replied, "Grandmother went off of her own with Siren and both have vanished. Whoever did it is a Master of Illusions whom Grandmother knows personally and considers her mortal enemy, so dangerous in fact that she didn't want the rest of us to follow her into danger. Now who do you know, other than your mother, who could inspire such terror in the leader of my people?"

"Who could scare your grandmother?" the brown haired woman paused to reflect this, even as Ryoga and the blonde haired girl regarded her with puzzled expressions, "Now who could that be…wait, did you say illusions?"

"Powerful enough to make an entire building just up and vanish," the purple haired woman replied, "My daughters will confirm this because they showed me where it happened."

"And you say Siren was with her?" the brown haired woman frowned, "Oboy…that might mean…no…it couldn't be…"

"You know," Yumi remarked, "In my experience, whenever someone says something can't be it usually means it is. Must be a pretty touch customer if even an Archmage can't handle her…so who are you thinking?"

"Only one person I know has that kind of power and specializes in illusions," the brown haired woman said, "But the reason it can't be her is because my grandmother's locked away in a temple deep in China. Cologne herself helped seal her away close to three hundred years ago, and even if she got out she'd be unable to pass through the wards around the temple…"

"Just assume for the sake of argument that she could do this," the purple haired woman made a gesture, "Just how dangerous would she be if she somehow got to Nerima?"

"Ah…pretty bad, really," the brown haired woman said, "Grandmother won't be too happy about being locked up, and it's not like I could blame her for that. She's not the worst person you could want to have for an enemy, but I can't really think of anybody who could cause more trouble if she has a mind to…"

"Wait!" the blonde made a hand-gesture, "Time out! How about explaining to those of us who don't measure their lifespan in the multiple decades just who the hell you guys are talking about?"

Nabiki felt a surge of silent gratitude to this blonde, for she had been wondering the same thing but was afraid to ask for fear of exposing her ignorance of these people.

"Yes, Mother," Ryoga urged, "Tell us who this is who's causing trouble this time, and what we can do about it?"

"Oh, well that would be your Great-Grandmother, Ryo-chan," the brown haired woman replied, "Ganglot the Oni, the founder of our entire line through my father, Razor."

Unnoticed by these others, Nabiki was silently mouth the word, "Mother?" in regards to Ryoga.

"You mean…she's my grandmother too?" the blonde asked, helping Nabiki to clarify her relationship to these others.

"Sure is, Sis," Atsuko replied, "Of course I can't believe that Grandmother would be able to get out here. She's not really as evil as your Amazons make her out to be, Comb. I've only met her in spirit a few times when she's contacted me as a disembodied spirit."

"You just said yourself that she's got a grudge with the Matriarch," Yumi noted, "And she is an Oni, a powerful one if I remember right from twenty years ago when you explained your relationship and where you got your power over illusions."

"What's this all about?" Genma asked as he and Nodoka joined the party on the staircase.

"Did you say something about an Oni who's your grandmother, Atsuko-chan?" asked Nodoka.

"Ah, yeah…my grandmother," the so-named Atsuko replied, "Ganglot. She helped me out a long time ago when I was trying to get free from my mom, and it's because of her that I've been able to stay clear and protect Ryo-chan from his grandmother. If it wasn't for her your son would have been her pawn and I'd never have been able to warn you guys the first time when she made a move against the dojo."

"Sounds pretty serious," Ranma said as he and Shampoo descended down the stairs, followed in close order by Akane and Ukyo, "Ryoga may be clueless, but I wouldn't wish his grandma on a Kuno."

"Oh, like you'd do any better if she had her way, Ranma," Ryoga snapped.

"Hey, chill it you two," Ukyo said as she vaulted the rail to get around the crowd blocking the stairway, "Last thing we need is another display of brotherly affection out of you two…"

"Huh?" Nabiki gasped from where she stood with her head awhirl with one too many sudden revelations.

"Nihao, Mother!" Shampoo called out cheerfully, then in a couple of bounds she came up to Nabiki's side and embraced the astonished Tendo sister before Nabiki had time to brace for the impact, followed by a kiss that took her breath away and left her mind in a total shambles.

"Is Nabiki ready to grind stupid Card Player face in dust?" the Amazon asked cheerfully, even as Nabiki grasp of the situation went totally out of the window.

"Hey, ease up on her, Sham-chan," Ranma called cheerfully as he came to join them at a more leisurely stride, "Give her a little air or she won't be able to concentrate, and besides, I want some of that action."

"Huh?" Nabiki was starting to reconsider the wisdom of fainting. When Ranma slipped an arm around her waist and that of Shampoo it put total paid to everything she had ever thought she had understood about Saotome Ranma. It felt…weird being held by him with such warm affection, but…nice at the same time too, and the inclusive presence of Shampoo…well that just threw everything else right out through the roof! Two women and one guy…and she was supposed to be all right about this?

"I'm sure you'll ace that Gambler weasel," Ranma said encouragingly, "But I wish you'd let me have a crack at the guy…I'd like to bust him wide open for trying to steal the dojo."

"Yeah, like you could hold a card next to my sister," Akane snorted, sliding an arm around Ukyo's waist as the okonomiyaki chef looked towards her with a vaguely troubled expression.

"So, what's this about an Oni again?" Ranma asked as he ignored the taunting from Nabiki's kid sister.

"Not just any Oni, Son-in-law," the one named Comb replied, "Ganglot…the bogey woman feared by Amazons of legend, who is said to predate even the migration of the Amazons into China."

"Aiyaa," Shampoo exclaimed, "Is true? Shampoo hear many tale about strong warrior who got up against Demoness and never heard from again. Is loose in Japan now?"

"We think so, little one," Comb replied, "I told your father and sisters to return to the restaurant and wait in case they hear word from either Archmage Siren or your great grandmother. No news is not necessarily bad news, but unless we know for certain…"

"A good point," Yumi nodded, "Maybe we'd better contact Kachu and see if she can help us out. This is her area of specialty after all, and what she trained for, right?"

"Do we have to include her?" Atsuko frowned, "I'm sure if it is my grandmother that I can talk to her and get this straightened out…"

"We need a Devil Hunter," Comb said flatly, "And she's the best we've got, and loyal to the Amazons. If we tell her grandmother is in trouble, she will answer the call."

"What's this?" Nabiki turned her head as she heard her father's voice, and sure enough he was descending the stairs along with a woman whose very appearance drove the breath from her lungs as her veins turned to icewater, "What's going on here?"

"We're planning another War-council, Soun-chan," Yumi replied in a semi-facetious tone of voice, "Care to join in? Oh…and you too, Silk-san."

"So charming of you to remember me," said the graceful woman whose very presence was giving Nabiki such troubling moments, "Another War Council? I thought we were agreed on what to do about the Gambler King last night or…is this something else more serious to which you are referring?"

"Ganglot," Comb responded.

"Oh," Nabiki saw the woman's eyes go wide as they momentarily lost their focus, "Oh dear…I see…there is a presence not far away…one that was shielded from my senses…but the name spoken aloud…I can almost see her face…"

"If you can give us a description we could possibly know whom we're up against this time," Soun said with an arm around this woman's shoulders.

"Of course, Dear," the woman said with a smile, "Anything that I can do to help out. Eh? Nabiki?" she turned and finally paid notice to the way Nabiki was staring right at her, "Is there something wrong, dear? You look like I've grown a second head."

"Yeah, what gives?" Ranma asked in obvious concern, "You look like you've seen a ghost or something."

"M-M-Mother?" was all Nabiki managed to get out before she finally gave into temptation and fainted, hoping when she opened her eyes again it would not turn out to have been entirely a nightmare…


Comments/Criticisms/Cross Parallel Exchange Fiancees: Shadowmane@msn.com