Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Bitter Allies ( Chapter 9 )

[ 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 Tendo sat staring out the window of her bedroom at the night sky with a very wistful expression. She had been that way for the past hour, but finally she stirred enough to turn to her computer and open a certain file she normally kept tightly locked with a password.

"A wise poet once said that we can never foresee the outcome of our actions. In my case this has proven true in a very strange sense, now it's finally time to put my experiences down where I can think of them in detail..."

From the Journal of Nabiki Tendo:

Going to face Kodachi was not just risky on my part but a calculated maneuver similar to using fire to fight fire, or-in this case-one nuisance to combat another. Another old saying is that it's better to deal with the Oni you know than the Oni you don't, but in this case I wasn't just bartering my soul to achieve release from my nightmare, I was bartering with the happiness of both my family and Ranma.

Sasuke naturally admitted me into Kodachi's presence, and while I'd been to the Kuno residence before the analogy to a Lioness's den might aptly describe the sort of cool reception I got from Kodachi. She was sitting by an ornately carved wooden table playing with a folding fan in a manner very much like a Geisha girl, though there was little else about her that was Geisha. She sized me up then told me to take a seat on the floor opposite to her while Sasuke poured hot tea for the both of us. These domestic concerns did little to reassure me, of course, but it was interesting to see that Kodachi was intent on keeping things civil...if only for the moment.

Apparently she was still smarting over her defeat at the hands of Ranma's female half and was covertly blaming me as the convenient target for her first recorded defeat at martial arts rhythmic gymnastics. The only reason she even bothered to see me, she explained ominously, was that she was intrigued that I would even think of going to her for help in the first place. She was curious to learn what sort of problem would cause me to turn for aid to a rival for Ranma's affections.

I let her have her delusion that Ranma somehow belonged to her this time, knowing better than to make a fuss over technicalities such as the fact that Ranma was afraid of her, remembering to keep my cool as I calmly tried to explain to her the current situation, hoping she would volunteer her aid when she knew that her "Darling Ranma" was in danger.

My terse explanation had the desired effect of piquing her interest, but--mad though she is, Kodachi was not so stupid as to go rushing off on the presumption that I was somehow telling her all of the facts as I knew them. She had a few questions she wanted answered, such as why I came to her in the first place, and what was I really after.

This was the part I was carefully working up to. Telling Kodachi point blank what I intended to do would only earn me a rude rebuff. I had to explain what led to my decision that she was the best ally for this situation, and I had to coach my words just right or I would give too much away and wind up turning her actively against me. I began by asking her what she knew about the Amazons of China.

"Not a whole lot," Kodachi admitted, "There was a report on the news about them the other day, some cultural piece of filler material about a three thousand year old culture that preserves its traditional ways against the conformity that is typical in so-called Communist China. They are supposed to be a society of women warriors who compete every year in a big tournament to decide which of them is to be the reigning Champion of the younger generation. This friend of yours who hails from there is the current Champion, am I right, and that unspeakable tramp who lives at your place dared to best her before her own people?"

"Ranko and Ranma were touring through China at the time," I explained, "They stopped off in her village, ate the prize meal and ticked Shampoo off, so she challenged Ranko and the two of them fought with Ranko turning out the victor. Shampoo then chased them all the way to Japan, but when Ranma fought with her he seems to have automatically become her husband."

I heard the fan in Kodachi's hand snap as I said this but that was Kodachi's only display of irritation. With more calmness than I'm sure she felt she said, "Go on. He was protecting his cousin at the time, wasn't he? Very foolish, and now he is trapped up in the laws of her culture."

"He doesn't want to be," I said, "Shampoo can be pretty overpowering, and for her to go from being homicidally inclined towards Ranko to becoming all affectionate around him..."

"Yes," Kodachi said airily, "I suppose that would disconcert some people. So Ranma has not actually consummated this...marriage?"

"He's not likely to, either," I said with a firm conviction, "And as long as he doesn't sleep with her or acknowledge her as his wife there's still a chance of preventing him being permanently attached to her."

I saw her interest increase though she tried to conceal it as she said, "You have a plan to send this girl packing?"

I nodded very slowly, "The only way to prevent an Amazon marriage from being formalized is for Ranma to be defeated by another man laying claim to Shampoo's hand, someone who's also good enough to defeat Shampoo and claim her."

"I see," Kodachi said just as slowly, "And you have such a person in mind?"

I took a deep breath and sighed, "Unfortunately there's nobody that good in Nerima. Ranma is the best, except maybe his father," or mine I silently added, though I was not about to entertain that thought on the conscious level. Daddy was not only past his prime but had not studied the art as intensely as he had in his younger days, so I doubt he even has the stamina to go one-on-one with Ranma.

"Yes," Kodachi allowed, "I do see the problem. My darling Ranma is a man among men, and he makes challengers like even my brother seem weak by comparison."

"Not if Kuno had a little help from the sidelines," I said, carefully noting her reactions as I let my words settle in for her perusal.

Kodachi gave me a very odd look, "You intend for my brother to take this girl off of Ranma's hands? That is a bold maneuver, and why on Earth would you come to me to propose this?"

"Because you could deal with Shampoo on your own terms better without Ranma being in the picture," I replied, "And...to be quite blunt about it...your brother hasn't exactly been having too much luck with women lately, has he?"

"Indeed," she mused in a low voice as she studied me with the expression a cat might give a mouse, "And you think he might be desperate enough to earn a bride this way? I don't think I would approve of this, but I do admit that concept has it's...entertainment value."

"I'm not saying Tatewaki should marry the bimbo," I growled, "I just think she'd be more inclined to go back to China where she belongs if she saw what the alternative is like. You have to admit your brother does have that affect on some people."

"True," I saw Kodachi's eyes twinkle with amusement, but she still was not sold on my notion, "So how would you have Tachi deal with Ranma? He has tried almost every day to defeat him with his Kendo, and so far all he has done is make himself the laughing stock of his high school."

"But Kuno could do better on the short term with a little assistance," I said simply, "While Ranma might be off his feed during their fight and do a little less well than normal."

"And what is to keep my brother from doing Ranma-sama serious injury?" Kodachi asked in what almost sounded like genuine concern for her part, "He has threatened to-as Tachi puts it-send him to Hell on more than one occasion."

"Your brother does have a sense of honor, right?" I asked, "Would he strike a foe who was on the ground, already defeated?"

"There would be little honor and not much point in...ah!" understanding lit up Kodachi's eyes as she gave me a look almost of respect, "You think Ranma should be drugged to appear to be in a state of less than perfect health. If this Shampoo person believes he is no longer worthy of her affections..."

I nodded, "Of course we first have to convince her that Tachi's good enough to defeat Ranma, which means we hope she hasn't heard the stories about them. I think, for the sake of creating the right atmosphere, we should have your brother fight and defeat Shampoo first, then she'll believe he's good enough to deal with Ranma."

"Clever," Kodachi said with what looked like sincerity, "For a peasant you show potential. Very well, I will consider your proposal, but on two conditions."

I was prepared to negotiate anything, even my Immortal Soul, if it would rid me of Shampoo, so I said, "Such as?"

"One," Kodachi smiled, "You arrange a date for me and my darling Ranma."

I paled a bit, but refused to offer comment other than to tighten my voice as I forced myself to say, "And the other is?"

Kodachi started to rise from her seat, "I want to see this girl with my own eyes to determine if she is as much of a threat at you seem to think she is. After all, we do have different standards for out threat levels."

That one made me smile very faintly, "No problem. I'll take you right to her."

Of course by the time we got to my place it was almost dinnertime, and Shampoo was once again trying to hand-feed Ranma. No sooner did I admit Kodachi through the front door then we were greeted by the words, "No, dammit! I told you I've had enough! Why can't you listen to me for once, you crazy Amazon?"

"Airen no like Shampoo cooking?" I heard Shampoo pout, "Shampoo work hard to make Airen good meal to make up for other meal stupid girl spoil. What Shampoo do wrong?"

"Nothing," I could hear Ranma's exasperation war with helplessness in the face of his one weakness as Kodachi and I made out way to the living room and could witness first hand the way she was leaning up against him with proffered chopsticks at the ready, "And about Akane...you shouldn't have done what you did to her..."

"But Airen, she cause trouble," Shampoo said with a sniff in Akane's direction, "Now stupid girl leave us alone, we happy."

Akane was presently feeding Ryoga in her lap and turned an angry glare towards Shampoo before frowning at Ranma and saying, "Who is that? Would somebody please tell me who that is eating at our table?"

I could feel Kodachi's confusion at my side as we both took this peculiar scene in with silent attention to the details. Daddy and Ranma's father were off on the porch playing their near-endless game of Shogi and took little notice of us as if ignoring the whole bizarre exchange. I could still remember how Dad reacted the night before when Shampoo had torn up the yard chasing Ranma's female form, and now that Akane was suffering memory problems he seemed to have gone into full denial, shutting out the details that probably most upset him as if by pretending that they never happened was the same thing as willing them out of existence.

Kasumi wandered in with a tea tray at the moment where Ranma was reaching the limits of his exasperation and she said, "Nabiki-chan, you're home at last, and you've brought a guest over for dinner?"

I barely acknowledged the question while Ranma turned a desperate look of appeal towards me, only to have that look freeze in horror when he saw who was beside me. Akane also looked out way then glared before saying, "What is SHE doing here?"

"Ah," I managed to finally get out, "Kodachi was just...helping me out with my homework, isn't that right?"

"Homework?" Akane frowned skeptically, "You need help with that?"

"Gym practice," Kodachi managed to say as she recovered her own bearings, "Your sister decided that she is in need of improving her grace and bearing, so came to an expert for advice," and she punctuated this remark by giving us a sample of her trademark laugh, which had the singular positive effect of causing Shampoo to glance her way in some annoyance.

I bristled somewhat at the sly way Kodachi had inferred that I was a clumsy wallflower, but before I could say anything to qualify her remark Shampoo resumed her assault on Ranma's dignity by glomming onto him, causing him to topple over onto the floor while she happily cried, "Ranma no need help with exercises. Shampoo here to help Airen!"

"Hey, get off!" Ranma protested as he wiggled out from underneath her then got to his feet and started running. Shampoo at once got up and gave chase, laughing girlishly as she went about resuming the game of tag that had gotten to be very old around our place in the week since her arrival.

Kodachi and I watched as the two raced from one end of the house to the next before Ranma managed to slip past her and attain the gardens, after which the chase became a free-for-all with Shampoo in hot pursuit while Ranma tried desperately to stay far as away from the koi pond as he could manage.

"Who was that?" Akane asked in the ensuing silence that was occasionally broken by the desperate cries of Ranma while Shampoo carried their chase beyond the walls of our garden.

Kodachi and I stood silently where we were for maybe two full minutes before she finally came out of her daze and growled, "Why that...that...Trollop!"

"My sentiments exactly," I responded as the both of us continued to stare at the retreating silhouettes visible against the sunset.

"The nerve of that hussy!" Kodachi declared, "Who does she think she is anyway?"

"Ranma's wife," I replied in deepening depression.

"Who does she think she's fooling?" I glanced to see Kodachi's eyes narrow, "That baby-doll voice, those clinging mannerisms, that cutesy pose she was assuming..."

"Disgusting," I consented.

"And did you see what she was wearing? It was practically nothing!"

I remembered very well indeed. Shampoo had been wearing a very short, short mini-dress that exposed a lot of leg and quite a generous amount of cleavage. It made her look, in my eyes, not unlike a hooker, both brazen and daring.

"Yeah," I said with a faintly wistful edge coloring my depression a deeper shade of gloom, "Almost less than nothing..."

"That ridiculous hairstyle and that awful color...and those...implants she must obviously be carrying," Kodachi said in growing disgust, "Those cannot be natural! She must be incredibly top-heavy!"

"Definitely have back problems when she's older," I agreed, then the two of us said almost in tandem, "I hate her!"

Kasumi looked from one of us to the other then tried to put on her best smile as she asked, "Will you be staying for dinner? I'm sure there's time to make extra proportions."

"Thank you, no," Kodachi said as she turned around, "I've quite lost my appetite."

She was heading for the door, so I hurried to catch up with her, and once we had put our shoes back on and had stepped outside we got only partway to the gates before Kodachi froze in mid-stride and said, "Your plan is a good one. We shall put it into effect immediately tomorrow."

I looked at her profile and carefully noted, "You realize, of course, that in effect you will be setting up your own brother."

"That hardly matters anymore," Kodachi turned as we both heard Ranma vaulting by along the edge of the fence with Shampoo still in hot pursuit and I could hear the acid in the Black Rose's tone as she added, "My brother is a small sacrifice to rid us both of...that sort of competition."

I was in total agreement, so the two of us conspired right then and there to arrange everything the next day to suit out little plan of deception...

Nabiki paused at the computer, re-reading the last paragraph that she had written, then she glanced up at a faded photograph that showed her family at a different time when she and her sisters were much younger and a beautiful woman stood beside their proud father, the only legacy she had to show for the pain of a lifelong absence.

"Mother," Nabiki murmured faintly, wondering in silence if she would approve of what her middle daughter had done these last few days in order to secure the family. She turned back to her monitor screen then heaved a sigh and resumed working at her keyboard.

Nabiki's Journal Resumes:

All right, so the planning phase looked good, and the execution of the first two phases was nearly flawless. All I had to do was wait until I was in class the next day then I sought Kuno's attention and made some oblique hints to pique his interest. I managed to wrangle about two thousand-yen out of the guy before I "volunteered" the information that his "beloved Ranko" had been threatened by a dangerous outsider who had even frightened the great Saotome Ranma.

Naturally Kuno was alarmed at hearing that this stranger was out to kill "Ranko," and his foolish ego would not let him admit that anyone who frightened Ranma was someone of whom to be wary. I could see by the glaze in his eyes that Kodachi had made good on her promise to pack his lunch with those extracts that she had claimed would bolster his confidence and fighting ability for several hours, so I arranged a place and time after class where I had told Ranma to be in his female form. Ranma had also told Shampoo to be there at the same time, so come three that afternoon everything was set and in motion. I'd even managed to wrangle some tickets from our fellow students as they heard that Kuno was finally going to best "that insolent Saotome!"

Actually defeating Ranma was not on the immediate itinerary. Kuno was too impatient to wait that long and at the first sight of his "Osage no Onna" he went into a mad spiel about his undying devotion, a spiel that was thankfully cut short by Shampoo's arrival.

One glance at Ranko and Shampoo drew a tulwar-sized scimitar from somewhere on her person and began to flash it at Ranma while simultaneously holding one of her bonbori in the other hand as she came rushing up to attack him. Kuno-true to my predictions-immediately drew his bokken and thrust himself in Shampoo's way, and I could see that he was not hesitating this time but fighting with a reckless energy that no doubt would burn him out in a matter of minutes.

I doubt he would have lasted ten seconds if Shampoo had not paused to size up her new opponent, only to swat herself as she felt something like a mosquito bite on the back of her neck right before Kuno attacked her. Now ordinarily Shampoo would have rolled to the side and brought her mace up to the side of his head while her sword could have cut the bokken in half, but to everyone's surprise Shampoo moved slower than usual and so got clipped on one arm and was forced to drop her bonbori. Kuno rushed before she could recover and with a series of lightning attacks drove Shampoo on the defensive, disarming her with one casual maneuver before his wooden blade thrust home and tapped her on the breastbone as Shampoo tried desperately to avoid him. While she was sucking air that sword came in and rapped against her jaw, and that finally sent the Amazon to dreamland.

Everyone was stunned. They had heard that Shampoo had bested Akane the day before, yet here was Kuno fighting like a man possessed while Ranma-chan looked on in wide-eyed amazement. Kuno flashed his sword triumphantly then declared to everyone that he was the victor. I turned in time to see Kodachi casually stepping out from the bushes to congratulate her brother on his "brilliant" victory. We exchanged knowing looks and a faint nod of satisfaction before turning to the heartwarming sight of a defeated Shampoo. Our plan had worked brilliantly and now all that was needed was to revive her and watch her acknowledge Tatewaki the victor.

That was when I got my first surprise...before either of us could get to Shampoo somebody had already knelt down and was attending to the Amazon, and to my complete amazement I found it was Kasumi!

"Oneechan," I gasped, "What are you doing here?"

"Shampoo was with me on a shopping trip," Kasumi replied as she gently felt along the girl's neck and came away holding a tiny dart between her fingers. I thought she was going to say something at that point but instead what she said was, "Imoutochan, help me carry her to Doctor Tofu's. She needs attention for these bruises and the mild concussion Kuno-san gave her."

"Ah...sure," I said, "Ranko...would you mind helping?"

"Why do I have to do it?" Ranma-chan asked as she started to step forward when Tatewaki accosted her with open arms thrown around her from behind.

"Fear not, fair maiden! I have rescued you from this..."

"Ranko" did not even wait to hear the last part of his declaration before she caught him in the jaw with a back-over-head palm strike that picked the taller boy up and knocked him sprawling as she angrily declared, "Back off, you jerk! I ain't in the mood for you to go pawing me..."

I felt instant irritation for Ranma's actions. Didn't the baka realize by now that the idea was to make Kuno look good so that Shampoo would see him as a viable husband? Displaying her superiority like that would only enflame Shampoo's already jealous obsession and return us back to where we started in the first place with her trying to kill him...or so I firmly believed anyway. In any event, Ranma helped us by picking up Shampoo and carrying her with great ease over to Tofu's clinic, even in spite of the fact that the Amazon was larger and heavier than herself, leaving me to wonder once again at the curious power of my sex-changed iinazuke, finding it hard to credit that a simple thing like martial arts could turn someone so young almost superhuman.

I had Kodachi remain behind to tend to her brother and prepare him for what we knew he would have to face once Shampoo revived and acknowledged him her airen. I promised her that Ranma would hear about what she had done on his behalf and that seemed to inspire a schoolgirl glee in her eyes and dissuade her from realizing that I didn't want her along to see Ranko transform back into Ranma. I'm not exactly sure why I don't share that little secret with her as I'm pretty sure it would turn her off to him completely, but I needed her help for later on when it came time for her brother to challenge Ranma.

That was the part of my plan that I knew I would have trouble with because Ranma's obsessive pride made him balk at the idea of letting anyone think that Kuno was his better. Even to rid himself of Shampoo he tended to think the price was too high so I figured a bit more persuasion was in order.

In any event we convened at Tofu-sensei's place while Ranma used the hot water to become himself while Tofu examined Shampoo's wounds then touched a few nerve centers and promptly revived her. To insure that she did recover in good order I made certain that Kasumi waited with me in the sitting room, out of sight and mind of the good doctor, and that she did not do anything to make her presence known, though I think she was a little vexed with me for not explaining to her my reasons.

That was when I got my second surprise of the afternoon...finding that Tofu and Shampoo not only knew one another but that she was his assistant, having taken a job as a nurse, a fact I had somehow failed to obtain from his other assistant, Genma.

"I told her that it would be a good way of helping us out," Kasumi murmured to me as we waited until Ranma came out in male form to assure us that Shampoo was regaining her senses, "She was eager to bring in more money once I explained our situation, and since she knows a lot Chinese herbal medicine I thought Ono-san could use another assistant."

I turned a wide-eyed look towards Kasumi, hearing a faint note of what sounded like disapproval in her voice and I said, "Oneechan? You helped get her a job here?"

"Yes," Kasumi returned my look with an expression I found almost unreadable, "After all I've spent a great deal of time talking to Shampoo the past week while she's been helping me tend to the house chores. She really is a nice girl, once you get past those tribal laws that have caused so much trouble between her and Ranma. She has a lot of energy and many talents and she was eager to use them on behalf of Ranma, and while I don't approve of what she did to Akane, it really was preferable to what those laws of hers would have had her do. I asked her as a personal favor not to hurt either one of you, and she agreed with me. I think blanking Akane's memory was her idea of being merciful."

Then she held out the dart that she had found in Shampoo's collar. I stared at the thing as if it was a smoking gun, and I think I swallowed a little.

You have to understand something about Kasumi. Between the two of us we've been keeping the dojo solvent and have been doing everything that we can to make up for our father's near-retirement from active pursuit of the art. Mother's death really hit all of us pretty bad, and for the last nine years I think we've all been pretty much running in place just trying to keep up with the bills while providing food on our table. I'd discovered that Kasumi was the one who talked Genma into getting a job with Tofu to earn some outside income, having convinced the basically job-phobic man that it was either that or starvation. It was also her idea that got Ranma thinking about helping to restart the dojo.

Most people think Kasumi is an airhead because she seems too vacuous and nice all of the time. That's just her way, though, and I really get annoyed that people think it's all just an act somehow, that nobody could be as nice as she is all of the time, or that she must be mentally defective. It's true Kasumi doesn't strike me as rocket scientist material, but she has her own list of talents, just like I have mine, and what other full-time domestic do you know who keeps a current stock on ancient Chinese literature on her book-shelf. She's always borrowing medical texts from Tofu, along with classics of Chinese literature, and it never occurred to even me until that moment that most of the books I'd seen her reading in her spare time did not have Japanese translations.

I guess that's why it shocked me even more when Kasumi went into Tofu's office and to Shampoo's side and began to speak to her in Mandarin, a language I barely even recognized since I studied Cantonese in my foreign Language classes, alongside English. Tofu went into his babbling act, of course, and had to be led out of the room by Ranma before he hurt himself, but as usual Kasumi did not seem to notice how different he was when she was around him. She really is funny in that way, observant of small details, but totally missing the big picture.

Shampoo and Kasumi spoke in low-voiced tones, then to my great surprise I saw tears forming in the Amazon's eyes as comprehension of her situation dawned there, which she then tried to hide by turning away from us before sitting up on her pallet. I stood to one side feeling very odd about that moment, as if there were some critical element of the picture that I was missing, and I never like being left out on the gag. I asked aloud what was bothering her, or if being defeated by Kuno was that humiliating.

Kasumi gave me a very mild reproving stare while Shampoo went into a brave act that was so astonishingly like the way Ranma tries to hide his own feelings, then she said, "Shampoo know she beaten by boy. Shampoo very sorry she so weak she lose again to outsider. Great Grandmother very angry that Shampoo no live up to training...but Shampoo also very happy."

"Happy," I repeated, wondering why I sensed that I was not going to like hearing the rest of this explanation.

"Yes," Shampoo turned a smile our way that made the room seem a little brighter, "Boy who defeat Shampoo very handsome. Is great warrior, yes? Shampoo hear him speak, think him full of bluster, but no expect him to be so good. Great Grandmother approve of second airen, almost as much as she approve of first one."

"Second Airen," I numbly repeated, realizing then and there that I was definitely not going to like hearing what followed.

"You mean you plan to keep both of them?" Kasumi asked with that charmingly naïve tone of hers, which really was no act on her part but simply her way of stating aloud her grasp of the situation.

The Amazon nodded her purple head then said, "Shampoo is tribal champion, best warrior in village. Strong male fighters very hard to come by in tribe, is usually only one for two womans in tribe, but Champion allowed to have two husbands, or more if they very good. Only best warrior defeat Champion of Nyanchiczu, strong man make good babies for tribe, so Shampoo very lucky, have two strong men, both make good fathers for Shampoo children."

I kept a stoical face but inwardly I was groaning. I had assumed it was just a matter of deciding which male candidate was the better one for her to take home to her village and it never even occurred to me that Bigamy-or to be more precise Polyandry-might be a factor in the Amazon culture. Fortunately Kasumi's next question helped to further clarify the matter.

"But what if the two boys you're now compelled to marry don't like each other?" my oneechan asked with greater perception than even I would have allowed her, "I understand that Ranma and Tatewaki Kuno fight a lot between classes and they've been rivals since the day that they met."

"Shampoo put end to that," Shampoo said very forcefully, "No have husbands fight each other. Understand if they have much warrior pride, but is good if family stand united, like nice girl's family. Shampoo wish she get along with own family as well as you and sisters."

I thought a moment about that, how Akane and I used to tease each other mercilessly, how Kasumi had virtually been like a mother to the both of us and always tried to keep down the fighting, especially after it became plain that Akane could have pounded me into the dirt on one of those more recent occasions. I wondered just what sort of impression we had been giving this foreign girl since she had stared living with us, or whether Shampoo got along at all with her own sisters...assuming she has any.

"But," I began in a desperate attempt at salvaging my plan, "Isn't there a rule about two boys fighting each other if they don't want to share in a marriage?"

"That very true," Shampoo looked thoughtful, then glanced at me and said, "You know law of Amazons? Shampoo not know you Loremaster. Shampoo would have been nicer to you if she had known this."

"Loremaster," I repeated again, finding that I liked the sound of that for some obscure reason, then I assumed my gravest tones and said, "I don't think Ranma and Kuno could put aside their differences enough to share you. I think that they'll insist on settling the matter with a challenge match. If they choose to fight will you accept the outcome?"

"Yes," Shampoo lowered her eyes and nodded, "Shampoo no like husbands choosing to fight, but Shampoo obey law. Law is all Shampoo have. Shampoo no want to go home to face Elders and family if she no bring honor to name with strong husband."

"Don't you want to go home eventually, Shampoo-chan?" Kasumi asked in an entirely too friendly manner.

The Amazon heaved a very deep sigh before she said, "Shampoo miss village, miss China. Japan very strange place, all full of rules very different from ways of Amazons, but...outside world also very nice. Much bigger place than Shampoo ever imagine. Shampoo...she feel like very small child with so much to learn. Shampoo want to please Airen, be good wife, learn to be like womans he used to. Shampoo not know what she do wrong to make husband run away from her. He very strange boy...you think maybe he no like women?"

"Ranma?" I chuckled a bit too nervously, but the question did strike home to my own concerns. Was that the reason Ranma was so nice and shy around women? I didn't think he was that way, but if he liked boys more than girls then it could explain why we get along so well together...

"I'm sure Ranma likes you very much," Kasumi reassured her, "He's just not used to having a girl who comes onto him the way you do. I think he would prefer a girl who had more modesty and knew how to behave in public, not that there is anything wrong with the way you behave, of course."

Shampoo turned and looked at my sister, "You mean Shampoo act more like you, maybe Ranma like her?"

"I wasn't thinking about me," Kasumi smiled, "I was thinking that you should try to be more like Nabiki. In fact if the two of you spent time together and got to know each other properly I think you'll even become good friends. At the very least you will learn how to make Ranma pay you more attention."

I stood there with my mouth hanging open. What in the kami's name was Kasumi thinking? But I closed my mouth again as I saw Shampoo's crimson eyes turn towards me with interest, then Shampoo stood up and said, "Shampoo like that. Maybe shorthaired girl know things besides Lore of Amazons? Shampoo like to learn new things, you teach Shampoo how to make Airen like her?"

And that's how I got roped into becoming Shampoo's special tutor. Don't ask me why I didn't say something right then to try and get out of this mess, or what exactly Kasumi had on her mind in making me spend more time with the purple-haired bimbo, but now I'm stuck with a major revision to my plans and I can't shake this awful feeling that I'm missing something very significant here. I know Shampoo was making me very angry yesterday where I made my bloody vow to seek vengeance for what she had done to my sister, but...

Nabiki paused at her keyboard, hearing a light tapping on her window. She looked up fully expecting to see Ranma's face hanging upside down like a bat, as was his usual ways of announcing his presence, but instead she saw Shampoo hanging there with her purple hair dangling below the window sill. Without missing a beat Nabiki quickly saved her document and then exited from the program before getting up out of her chair and going to said window.

"What do you want?" she asked, "It's very late..."

"Shampoo knows," the girl replied with a particularly cute expression, "Kasumi ask Shampoo to tell you that she plans to go on shopping trip and invited you along because you good with money. Also she think we need more time for you to teach Shampoo what she need to know to make Ranma like Shampoo. After you go school Shampoo be ready meet with you and Kasumi."

"Ah, sure," Nabiki said reluctantly, "No problem."

"Good," Shampoo said brightly, "Because Shampoo want nice things to make Airen like Shampoo so he no avoid Shampoo. Shampoo also need make good impression on second Airen when she tell him good news that he got Amazon bride. Will he be at school tomorrow you think?"

"Uh, yeah, I'd pretty much count on that," Nabiki said, cheering up only slightly as she considered the kind of reaction that would probably manifest with the usually clueless Kuno when Shampoo declared both him and Ranma as her "husbands." With great hesitation on her part she said, "See you tomorrow, then?"

Shampoo made a cute girlish sound and replied, "Tomorrow is good. You nicer person than Shampoo thought you were. Is good to find people in strange Airen land who help Shampoo find two strong husbands."

With that the Amazon flipped away into the night, leaving Nabiki to stand where she was feeling both confused and helpless, as though events were spiraling way beyond her ability to control. She closed the window at last and leaned her head against the frame as she murmured, "Kasumi...what were you thinking?"

A gentle rapping on her door caused Nabiki to whirl around in surprise, but she managed to hold her voice steady as she said, "Yes, who is it?"

"Nabchan, are you all right?" said a familiar voice with an edge of desperate worry.

Nabiki crossed the room in three heartbeats and opened the door partway, "Ranma!"

It was very odd seeing him standing there outside her room like a normal person instead of his usual means of nocturnal visitation, especially in light of the way Shampoo had just copied his movements. It was also very reassuring to see the look of relief in his expression as he said, "Are you...all right? I thought I saw Shampoo outside your window and I..." he hesitated, "I was kind of...well..."

"Worried?" Nabiki smiled, "Thanks, Ranchan, but I wasn't in any danger this time...at least not yet. Are you still ready for your fight tomorrow?"

"Ah, yeah..." Ranma glanced to the side before he continued, "About that...are you sure this is the only way? I mean...losing to Kuno is bad enough, but from the way I heard things back at Tofu's office, it sounds to me as if she wants to keep both of us. Is that crazy or what?"

"Which part do you mean?" Nabiki said drolly, "The whole thing sounds crazy, but as near as I can tell this is our only way to kill two birds with one stone. Kodachi's promised to help out again, and so far she's been as good as her word, but I'd still be on my guard around her if I were you."

He gave a very nervous chuckle at that, "You don't have to tell me twice. Well...I guess you'll be all right for tonight then?"

"Sure," Nabiki replied with a shadow of her normally crooked smile, "You know me, I always manage to avoid danger. You should worry about yourself...Shampoo's still out to get you in your girl form."

"I think I can avoid getting wet for at least one night," Ranma gave her a faint smile as he added, "Unless somebody wants to take some illicit pictures when I'm not looking."

Nabiki could not help wincing at that. Was she ever going to be able to make him forget about that incident? He said he had forgiven her, but he could still tease her about it whenever the mood was on him.

Ranma made as if to go, but rather than turn away he stood where he was staring at her in silence while Nabiki held her ground, still not closing the door on him as that silence hung in the air between them. He shuffled his feet slightly then looked up at her as Nabiki felt her breath catch, wondering if he was going to come in or...something...and wondering what kind of reaction she might have if he gave into the impulse. Nothing happened for the longest while, so at last Nabiki said, "We...um...can't do this all night. If you've got something more to say, Ranma..."

"Ah..." Ranma hesitated when of a sudden Akane opened the door to her room and said, "Hey, who are you, and how did you get into our house, and what are you doing talking to my sister at this time of night? Some of us are trying to sleep, you know!"

"Huh?" Ranma said, then reflexively his eyes went to the pig cradled in her arms and he thought he could almost see Ryoga look back and forth between them and Nabiki in dull confusion.

Nabiki smiled, "Sorry if we woke you up, Sis. We'll talk more at school tomorrow, Ranchan."

"Ranchan?" Akane blinked, giving Ranma a puzzled look, "Are you her new boyfriend? You look just like that other fellow who was with her..."

Nabiki closed the door and sighed, then glanced at her computer again and murmured very faintly, "It's going to be a very strange day tomorrow morning..."


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