Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ A Fateful Disclosure ( Chapter 10 )

[ 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

"Wode Airen!"

"Unhand me, woman! The great Tatewaki Kuno…"

"Wo ai ni!"

"I said let go! This is undignified! I…stop that!"

"Why you so stubborn like other Airen?" Shampoo complained, "You no like Shampoo? Why you challenge if you no like her?"

"But I didn't-help!" Tatewaki cried as he broke free of Shampoo's grasp and started running. After only a very brief pause Shampoo took off after him and the race was on from one end of the schoolyard to the other and back again.

I stood by the wall of the front gate watching the entire exchange with a sense of growing ennui, seeing yet another key element of my great master plan come unraveled before my eyes. I only faintly took note of the approach of my partner in crime, Kodachi, who showed up right on schedule, in time to see her brother go rushing past the gate with Shampoo following very close behind him.

"What in the world…?" the self-styled Black Rose remarked, "Is that what I think it is?"

"You got it," I said dryly, "Amazon courtship rituals in motion."

"Stay away from me!" we heard Tatewaki cry as he went rushing by in the opposite direction from last time.

"But Airen, you no give Shampoo chance…!" said a purple-haired blur that streaked by a half second later.

Kodachi stopped full in her tracks and watched the whole affair and I took note of her non-plussed expression before remarking very softly, "I don't think your brother is very happy for some reason."

Kodachi recovered from her surprise and said, "I believe that you are right. This is something I would normally pay money to see: Tachi running from the affections of a woman! If it wasn't so pathetic, I would almost feel like laughing."

I was just as glad not to hear her trademark laughter, so I sighed and added, "I'm beginning to wonder if this plan of mine was such a great concept…"

"My brother is an idiot," Kodachi snorted then added, "I wonder if he would flee this hard if he were being pursued by his Osage no Onna."

This time I did laugh, but it wasn't from humor and came out pretty bitter, "I doubt if Ranko would demean herself this way. In point of fact she is laying low for the time being since Shampoo over there has repeatedly expressed a desire to kill her."

"Help!" Kuno cried as he rushed past us again, kicking up a breeze that stirred both our hair as we watched Shampoo closing the distance between them.

"A good enough reason," Kodachi remarked as we both turned out heads to watch Kuno stumble and fall into some bushes where Shampoo was able to pounce on him once again for a clincher, "And my darling Ranma-sama?"

I kept my tone as even as I could manage as I replied, "The minute Shampoo showed up he cleared out. You don't think Ranma-kun would be foolish enough to stick around and watch this?"

"I might," said a voice from directly over our heads.

We both craned our necks to look directly up where we found Ranma reclining on the wall overlooking the schoolyard. He had evidently been watching Kuno's discomfiture, but rather than gloat over the plight of his sometime rival, the expression he wore was unusually thoughtful.

"Ranma-sama," Kodachi said brightly, "Are you enjoying the show? Does not my brother put on a remarkable performance? You would almost think he doesn't appreciate the attention."

"Yeah," Ranma said, "I've noticed that. Hey, Nabiki…why do you think that is? I mean, he chases-my cousin and your sister all the time, but I think Shampoo actually scares him."

"Hard to say, Ranma-kun," I sighed, "I'm not a clinical psychologist, but if I had to guess I think I'd say that Kuno there likes to be the aggressor in a relationship…either that or he's actually very shy and only chases after women he knows will refuse him."

"That sounds like Tatewaki," Kodachi sighed in sisterly exasperation, "He finally finds a woman who willingly throws herself at his feet and what does he do? Turns tail and runs like a scared little rabbit. Of course that Chinese whore's technique does seem to overwhelm his normal composure."

"At least he's not composing anything poetical about this," I remarked, looking for the silver lining in this cloudbank.

"There is that, true," Kodachi noted with conspiratorial amusement.

"Hello," hailed Kasumi in her usual pleasant dulcet tones as we turned to regard her approach, "Are you and Shampoo ready to go shopping, Nabiki-chan? Oh my, is that your friend from the other night?"

"Kuno Kodachi," Kodachi said as she turned to favor my sister with cunning appraisal, "Captain of the Saint Hebereke women's team of martial arts rhythmic gymnastics, called the Black Rose by some and a rising star of athletics."

"Oh my," said Kasumi pleasantly, "That is an impressive title. I remember seeing you compete with Ranma…"

"Ranko," I hastily corrected, giving Kodachi an apologetic look, "She sometimes gets the names confused. Kodachi, this is my older sister, Kasumi."

"Charmed," Kodachi said in a sultry voice, "I can see where all the grace has rested in your family. Tendo Kasumi, 'Hazy mist of the way to Heaven,' a very poetical name. It is a pleasure to greet you with more propriety than I was sadly able to convey upon our previous encounter."

"Then perhaps you might like to pay us another visit," Kasumi replied with genuine warmth, leaving me to wonder just what the heck the two of them were saying as my attention focused back towards Shampoo at that very moment.

It seemed that Kuno had passed out after tripping and being glommed, but once he had revived he had made another break for it, and this time managed to get clean away before Shampoo could tighten her grasp. Rather than pursue again I saw her heave a very weary sigh and look dejectedly at the ground as though it had finally sunk in with her that her attentions were not wanted.

She brightened up at once when Kasumi called out to her, and I saw her smile with genuine enthusiasm as she called out, "Nihao! We go shopping now for nice things?"

I reflexively looked up and found-to no surprise-that Ranma had taken a powder before she could mark his presence. Shampoo came trotting up to join us with her usual perky enthusiasm, showing no trace of that momentary look of bereavement I thought I had observed in her eyes, then the three of us left together with Kodachi tagging along on a whim, no doubt as curious as I was at observing our unsuspecting rival from close quarters.

I was finding it more than a little disconcerting to be sandwiched between a certifiable sociopath and an obsessive-compulsive and wondered what in the Kami's name Kasumi was thinking to have arranged this whole bizarre engagement. I decided to play along and soon we three found ourselves in-of all things-a lingerie shop, the very last place I would have imagined Kasumi going. My confusion was only added to when my Oneechan contrived to get Kodachi's attention focused on a question of propriety concerning an item that made my sister blush just to handle. That left me alone with Shampoo in what had to be one of the most awkward moments of my life, answering questions from the Amazon concerning some frilly unmentionables that she was thinking to purchase.

Some of her questions were astonishingly naïve and I got the impression that she had never seen anything like it in her home village. I asked her about that point blank and she informed me that in China they use silks rather than nylons and that the elastic feel of this modern fabric was far superior to anything that the government supplied, or was found on the black market. It was with some astonishment that I learned that she had no idea about the proper use of a bra, considering how generously endowed she is and what that will probably mean further down the line when her boobs start sagging.

I explained the concept as carefully as I could and found-to my astonishment-that Shampoo readily absorbed my explanations and asked more intelligent questions once I had established the basic principle behind a halter. I had already discovered that she had very little modesty regarding her body but I had assumed until then that this was all part of her generally arrogant personality. It was quite a jolt to discover that she was entirely unselfconscious about her own beauty, reckoning that she must not be all that attractive if she failed to gain the interest of either of her two husbands.

I began to realize at long last that the girl beside me was not as stupid as I had supposed, only culturally ignorant and lacking in many basic social skills to an extent very much like Ranma. She informed me that she had been in training for most of her young life and had never really been given much time to learn how to behave around other people. Where she grew up the only thing that mattered was being the best warrior of her generation which meant regarding other children her own age with suspicion if not outright hostility. She had grown up knowing few friends, only rivals, and that had given her little incentive to learn self-restraint and modesty in her behavior.

"But," I reasoned as I watched her examine some very scandalous items that I knew Kasumi herself would never think of wearing, "Surely you must have had some friends, even sisters you got along with."

"No have friends when very little," Shampoo replied, "Had friends a few years back, one girl who no good as fighter, other girl who become adopted cousin and train to be village Enforcer. Other girl…she make Shampoo think she friend, but she betrayer who want only get close to Shampoo to learn how Shampoo fight. No see her for two year. After that Shampoo decide no have friends in village."

"And the girl who was a poor fighter?" I asked and saw her tense slightly without looking my way.

"She…gone," Shampoo replied with a hint of great sadness, "Shampoo miss her…very much. She only one who ever true friend to Shampoo. Cousin try be friend, but we train often, no have time be friends. Other girls in village Shampoo fight all time, very hard to be friends when you beat up other girls you age. No have any real friends till Shampoo come here and meet you sister."

"You mean Kasumi is your friend?" I asked, glancing covertly at Kasumi and finding to my surprise that she and Kodachi were getting along like a couple of old school chums despite the difference in their ages.

"Yes," Shampoo smiled, turning a look towards me that compelled me to look back in her direction, "Not know anyone like Kasumi in village, except maybe father. You very lucky girl have sister who so nice. Shampoo never have time be close to family like you, Shampoo only train," she sighed with a sad expression, "Kasumi only girl speak Shampoo in own language, make Shampoo feel less like outsider. Shampoo try to be nice to repay kindness by help out. She help Shampoo get job with nice Healer who act funny when she around. She also help Shampoo try learn better Japanese. No like feel stupid, no can speak language of Airen."

"You mean Ranma?" I asked, hearing the way she pronounced the word "beloved husband" with a magical quality that lifted her sadness and made her face light up from within.

"Ranma," Shampoo nodded, then frowned, "Odd he named like Shampoo enemy, sound good on him, no good on her."

"We call her Ranko," I carefully explained, wondering if she was going to catch on prematurely to Ranma's little secret.

"Ranko," Shampoo frowned, "Is good she name different, but she call Ranma in village. Very arrogant girl, eat Shampoo prize. Shampoo decide teach lesson, but Ranko defeat Shampoo easy. No good lose face in front of village, but Shampoo very glad it happen."

"Huh?" I blinked, "What do you mean by that? I thought you hated her for stealing your title."

Shampoo smiled and shook her head negatively, "No hate girl Ranko, she very good fighter. Shampoo very foolish underestimate her, and Shampoo tired from fight all day, not know better. Shampoo very surprised she kicked off log so easy, but when Shampoo recover she think this good thing because it mean she get to chase girl out of village. Shampoo give Ranko kiss of death but allow time to escape so she hunt her out into country. Shampoo chase all way from China, always come close to girl to make her run faster, no try actually kill her."

"What?" I gasped in astonishment, "You mean…all this time you've let her lead you on?"

Shampoo nodded her head and I asked her why, so she smiled and replied, "No want have kill girl, even though law say kill girl. Shampoo never leave village before, except train in country. First time Shampoo ever long away from home, and Shampoo get to see world for first time. Very big outside, much more big than Shampoo ever realize, and more she chase girl more she see of world. Shampoo never have chance to see so many people, only hear stories of outside world. Shampoo father come from outside, so Shampoo very curious, want know if everything she hear true or just stories."

"And you never thought about seeing it for yourself without having to chase somebody like a rabbit?" I asked, discovering with great reluctance that I was finding it easy to identify with this girl's hunger for knowledge and experience.

Shampoo heaved a great sigh, "Shampoo no have permission of Elders. Shampoo Great Grandmother no allow Shampoo to leave village. Shampoo is warrior, must obey Elders, train hard to keep traditions in family. No have reason to go outside until she chase girl, now even Great Grandmother no object if Shampoo remain outside while hunt Ranko."

"But sooner or later won't you have to catch up with her and finish this?" I asked, wondering just what kind of evil old crone held such a tight tether around this girl's slender neck.

The sadness filled Shampoo's eyes again, "That true…and then Shampoo must take Airen and go home to village to resume training. Good thing she find two strong husband, it much please Great Grandmother and bring honor to family and village."

"That's assuming you can convince them to come with you," I noted very slowly and saw the sadness deepen.

"Why Shampoo no like by Airen? Shampoo try hard be nice girl for handsome, strong Ranma but he no want Shampoo with him. Now new Airen even worse, no let Shampoo hug…is Shampoo so repulsive?"

"Ah…it's not your looks," I said carefully, "It's how you act. Some guys don't like it when you jump all over them. You've got to learn to show your affections in a different way, not be so overwhelming…"

I saw puzzlement in her eyes and belatedly realized that I was probably using words that she did not understand, so I tried again and said, "Some men are shy…do you know about shyness?"

"No," Shampoo replied, and I for some reason that response did not surprise me.

I struggled to find the words, then at last I said, "Warriors like Kuno and Ranma are used to being alone. They're not accustomed to having people jump all over them. They like to feel as if they're in charge. You go jumping all over them and threatening to kill Ranko and it won't make a very good impression."

She seemed to be having some trouble interpreting my words, but after a moment I saw comprehension in her crimson eyes, "Oh, you mean they not like be grabbed in open? Why they no like? If warrior show she like boy, it sign he have high status in tribe."

I was about to give up at that point when curiosity prompted me to ask, "You show affection like that to the boys back home?"

She nodded, this time understanding the question, "Hiyaa, but it make boys at home feel good to be acknowledged by strong warrior. Shampoo see many boy act like he walk on cloud when warrior hug him."

"And have you ever hugged a boy like that yourself?" I asked, playing on a hunch that I saw immediately confirmed by her change of expression.

"Shampoo no find boy worthy of her notice," she said in slightly deflated tones, "There one boy who say he like her, but he blind idiot, no listen to Shampoo when she say no touch her."

"So you don't like to be touched?" I asked, hoping to find an angle I could use to gain her understanding.

She shook her head and replied, "It no that. Shampoo very much want somebody who hug her…same way she like to hug back. If girl no refuse be hugged, it mean she like one who hugging her. Shampoo always defend when stupid boy try to grab her. If Shampoo want him to grab she let him, but boy no take hint, so Shampoo beat him senseless, tell him leave her alone…" she sighed, "He never listen."

I had a sudden flash of comprehension and I said, "You mean when Ranma doesn't fight back with you and lets you grab him…?"

"Ranma," I saw the light come back on in her eyes as she smiled in a way that made the room grow noticeably warmer, "He no like any boy Shampoo ever see, and he no refuse be hugged, so he must like Shampoo deep down. Shampoo no understand why he no say words Shampoo long to hear. Maybe he…what word you use? Shy? Is very strange Japanese custom."

"Ah…something like that," I said, now at last cottoning onto Shampoo's odd behavior, and why she never seemed to notice that Ranma was avoiding her rather than accepting her advances. In her culture when a boy accepted a glom he was tacitly accepting her proposition, so Ranma disinclination to fight and hit Shampoo was taken for a sign that he actually liked her! I was beginning to see just how big a hurdle I was going to have to overcome if I was to make her leave him completely, and-more to the point-Ranma had undermined my position while unwittingly encouraging Shampoo's interest.

I decided to deflect Shampoo's attention from noticing how depressed I was by showing her several more displays of the type of lingerie she had never before encountered. For a complete novice at the very idea of frilly things used to attract the interest of a man, I must say she wasted little time in grasping the basic concept.

"Shampoo," I began after a pause of several minutes, "What do you really think about Ranma?"

I saw her smile that way again and she replied, "Him very strong, very powerful fighter. No see anyone fight like him. He very brave, very confident, no hesitate in fight against other boy…but him seem very…shy…about fighting Shampoo, even when we sparring."

"Ranma doesn't like to fight with girls," I explained, "He thinks its unmanly."

"Unmanly?" Shampoo blinked, then sweet laughter like that of a nightingale rang out as she replied, "Him most man Shampoo ever meet! Why he think woman no worth fighting? Him think he so much better than us?"

"Actually he doesn't think it's right because most women can't fight back like an Amazon," I explained, then tried to sound idle as I added, "Ranma would never fight with me because he knows I'd get hurt…"

"Shampoo know that too," the Amazon chuckled, to which I instinctively bristled, but then her next words flattened me, "Shampoo see you practice. You have talent, but you no have training. Kasumi-friend say you no practice after death of mother. Shampoo understand you no have training, no have reason to train, so you no great fighter like you mother."

"Like…my mother?" I repeated in a daze, wondering what else Kasumi had told her.

"Kasumi say she learn many basic things when little," Shampoo replied, "Only practice little of what she know, but it very powerful…what is word for method?"

"Ryu…Technique?" I replied, then watched her repeat the word several times in a low voice as if to memorize it.

"Yes, technique," she finally nodded, "Ryu practiced by mother what we call Lore Mastery in village. You apprentice Lore Master, no have full training, or even half training like Kasumi. Shampoo respect Lore Masters of village, think maybe they teach you as mother should teach daughter, is way to preserve traditions."

"Ah," I said intelligently as I digested this, "These…Lore Masters, are they anything like wizards or special kinds of martial arts teachers…?"

"No," Shampoo shook her purple haired head and said, "Shampoo learn from War Master, greatest Elder of village, three hundred year old and very powerful fighter. Lore Masters practice different art, know ways of power even greater than great fighter. It hard explain, much better you meet Elder and see for self. You be powerful Lore Master if you raised in village, that why Shampoo respect you, even if you no powerful fighter."

I was becoming more confused by the moment as I talked with this girl. She was so totally unlike my initial impression of her that I was having to drastically rethink everything I had thought I knew just trying to keep up with her explanations. More alarming to me was the fact that the more time I spent listening to her the harder it was to actively dislike her. She was a very lonely, sheltered person, raised to believe that her entire well being was dependent on being a great fighter, and totally dedicated to the art, exactly like Ranma.

I got angry at myself just then for starting to warm up to the Amazon and forcibly reminded myself that this was the monster who had manipulated my sister's memories as a direct consequence of her pursuit of my boyfriend. Steeling my self not to be swayed by her obvious charms I tried to say, as levelly as I could, "This…Lore Mastery of yours…is it like that stuff you used on my sister?"

Perhaps my tone betrayed my anger because Shampoo turned a look that was almost apologetic my way, "You no like I make her forget Ranma? Shampoo no hurt angry girl. It was best way make her forget Airen. Shampoo promise Kasumi she no hurt anyone, so Shampoo no hurt sister, even though she deserve it for challenging Shampoo in front of Airen."

"You mean…you used that Xi Fang whatever technique because you were honoring a promise made to our sister?" I asked incredulously.

"Shampoo know many thing," Shampoo replied, "Angry girl very clumsy fighter, very slow, no very good fighter. She have strength but nobody teach good form, so fight with her no even challenge. Shampoo know she better fighter, girl know too, have too much pride admit this. Shampoo decide it better use Xi Fang Giao Shiatsu technique so no cause injury to angry girl. It…how you say Ranma call it? No worthy of great Warrior status."

I had to admit at that point that what she said made a lot of sense. I mean, from a practical standpoint it was probably better to give Akane selective amnesia than, say, to break both of her arms and legs, which I fully believe Shampoo could have done to her without breaking a sweat. My sister really had gotten off lucky in that fight, and all because of a promise made to Kasumi!

Of course I know Akane would bristle at the suggestion that her technique was flawed, but even I could see that she was barely at novice level next to the Amazon and her training. I began to lose more and more of the edge of my anger the longer I thought about it, so I tried one last desperate tact by reverting the conversation back towards Ranma.

"Shampoo," I said, voicing aloud a question even I had trouble contemplating, "What happens to you if you don't get Ranma?"

"What you mean?" I could hear the edge in her voice as she looked at me in confusion, "No get Ranma? Ranma first Airen, he boy Shampoo promised to. She no weak girl who no can get husband…"

"Nonetheless," I said with gentle insistence, "If it were possible that Ranma chose not to go back to China with you, would you try and force him to come with you?"

Confusion ruled in her eyes for another few seconds before she suddenly smiled and said, "You no have fun with Shampoo this way. Shampoo no in hurry go back to China. Want time to get to know Airen, see more of Japan. Shampoo never have people she just talk to before, even if in other language. Shampoo also understand if Airen need time before leave family. Shampoo no cruel that way, she see boy honored member of Home and need time before go back with Shampoo to other home in China."

"I see," I said, "But if you went home without him there'd be no problem right? You don't really want to kill Ranko, so you can just tell them she's dead and they'll believe you, right?"

Shampoo looked away, "Elder…want proof Shampoo avenge herself. In old days it mean take head of enemy home to show Elders. Shampoo no think that needed these day, but…Shampoo no want to go home without Airen, or other Airen. Shampoo no same if return alone, be worthless girl, only shame to family if she no can win her Airen."

It was then that I began to understand that there would be consequences for her if she could not return home under the conditions that she favored. Failing to kill the red-haired girl who had disgraced her was one thing but failing to bring home a man who had defeated her in battle was probably like the final straw as far as it went with her tribespeople. I wondered if Shampoo might make up some kind of story to cover for her disgrace, but I doubted if she had that much dissembly in her since the impression I got was that she was totally devoted to returning home with honor. Rather like the ancient Spartan Warriors, now I think on it, sworn to return with their shield raised high in victory, or to return home on them.

I decided not to push my luck any father at the point out of concern that she might then question my curiosity and interest in these matters, but I had just gotten enough from my discussion with her to realize that there were more serious flaws in my plan than I ever would have imagined. As soon as I was able to I sought Kodachi and had to work to get her to part company with my sister. I was really quite amazed to see that the two of them had hit things off but was too distracted by the Shampoo question to pay this more serious notice.

Instead I got Kodachi by myself while Kasumi rejoined Shampoo and started making selections for purchase, and once I was sure we were out of earshot I whispered to the Black Rose, "We have a problem."

Kodachi raised an eyebrow at that but otherwise gave no hint of sharing my alarm as she replied, "What sort of problem? Don't tell me you're having second thoughts about avenging your sister?"

"It's…not that," I replied, "It's Shampoo. I think she may not be as easy to dupe with the next phase as I'd been expecting."

"I see," Kodachi purred in a thoughtful tone, "So the little tramp isn't totally without a brain. That does complicate things considerably. I still think we should go ahead anyway, but perhaps I might suggest a few additional guarantees to aid in the outcome?"

"You're not planning on drugging Ranma, are you?" I asked her with suspicion.

To my surprise she appeared genuinely horrified at the suggestion, "Drug my darling Ranma-sama? Why, the very suggestion is offensive! You must have a very low opinion of me if you think I would stoop so low as that…"

"Good," I said, "Because the idea is to make Ranma lose to your brother in a convincing way, and if he fights at less than his full edge Shampoo is going to notice."

"Then I trust you will help Ranma give a convincing performance," Kodachi smiled at me sidelong, "Leave my brother to me. His performance will be flawless."

I had my doubts right then and there, and if I were laying the odds on our chances of success I would probably have given three to one against our pulling this off, but we were committed so there was no question of pulling out, regardless of the danger. Kodachi seemed to radiate confidence of our success, but I now had a sense that Shampoo was more on the ball that either of us had imagined, and if this plan fell through it was very likely that the two of us were in for some Amazon retribution. I couldn't make Kodachi see just how dangerous Shampoo could be if fully aroused, but I had a pretty good grasp of the sort of damage she could inflict, and I'm rather fond of my memories, thank you very much. The risk factor was just too great to leave anything to chance, so after we got home from our shopping I immediately went in search of Ranma.

I didn't think I'd find him in the dojo or the main house, but there was one place he was almost guaranteed to turn up sooner or later, so I headed for my room intending to go through the window out onto the roof when I heard a shushing noise and turned around to find Ranma poised on top of my dresser. He peered past my shoulder as if to make certain that I was alone, then hopped down onto the floor and looked me over as if expecting me to be covered in cuts and bruises.

"Are you all right?" he asked, "You still remember who I am, don't you?"

In spite of my sour mood I had to smile at that and said, "Know you, kind stranger? Afraid not, but if a handsome boy turns up in my room, who am I to object."

"What?" he said in surprise as I shut my door behind me, then proceeded to come onto him as though the last few days of holding back had never existed. The poor boy had that "caught in the headlights" look again as I threw my arms around him to reassure myself of his existence, but I did not keep him in the dark for very long as the warmth of my embrace must have betrayed my full remembrance of his identity. He seemed to relax slightly as he sighed, "So…I guess you do remember me after all, huh?"

"What do you think, dummy?" I smiled as I stood back to look up into his blue eyes and suddenly felt all my doubts about tricking Shampoo disappear like magic, "Nice of you to check up on me, Ranma-kun, but Shampoo and I are getting along a lot better at the moment. She doesn't yet know about us, so you can relax and just tell me that you're ready to go through with the plan."

"Uh, yeah…about that," Ranma began when he suddenly tensed, and then we both heard the pounding of feet heading up the stairs and down the hallway. Ranma moved like a shot back to his place atop the dresser then vaulted up to the ceiling, which he clung to like a spider as my door was flung open, admitting Shampoo in all her bright and bouncy glory.

"Hiyaa!" she cried happily, "You help Shampoo try on nice things so she look good for Ranma?"

"Uh, sure thing, Shampoo-san," I replied, hoping my extreme nervousness of the moment wasn't about to set off any alarm bells with her, or that her warrior senses would not make her look up to see Ranma clinging there above our heads with a look of sudden panic, "Did Kasumi send you here? You are supposed to knock first before entering a lady's chambers."

Shampoo clutched her hands together and nodded with a big smile as she said, "Shampoo do what Kasumi-san tell her to do, but no knock this time as she say repair of doors and walls cost money."

I mentally kicked myself as I remembered that this girl's idea of making an entrance was literally just that. I'm rather fond of my privacy, so having an open frame where my door used to be was not my idea of home improvement. Very foresightful of Kasumi, even if sending her to my room to change was pushing it a bit. Once again I was amazed at how easily Kasumi could work her miraculously moderating influence over this human wrecking ball, and now I had the little problem of keeping her distracted while Ranma made a very strategic exit.

How we both managed to pull that off is a wonder even to me because Shampoo obviously had ears like a cat and could pick up the tiny tell-tail sounds Ranma made when moving as she turned around barely in time to see the blur that marked his passing. I thought we were both as good as dead when I heard a startled cry from Kasumi as Ranma appeared to surprise her on the stairway. As Shampoo turned with a puzzled expression and said, "What that?" I had a sudden hunch who would be found in a very awkward tangle with my sister. History does sometimes repeat itself you know…

"Oh, that was Ranko," I replied, "She wanted to talk with me, you know? Girl stuff…"

"Ranko?" I saw a very feral expression cross Shampoo's cute face as she smiled with anticipation, "That very good. Need to work off some energy before dinner. I go make like I kill her, you explain later I only have fun pretending."

"Oh sure," I said with more relief than I felt, "I'm sure she'll be happy to know it's not all that serious. You two kids have fun now, and don't play too rough."

I had sudden mental image of the way I sounded right then, picturing me turning into Kasumi! Shampoo just smiled, and suddenly those bonbori were in her hands again as she grinned, "Play rough half of fun. Good thing she fast or this be too easy. Shampoo come by try on nice things with you later."

She said the latter part over her shoulder as she went stalking out the door, then gave a shrill cry of, "Ranko-I KILL!" which was punctuated by a high pitched scream as Ranma started running.

I really think I would have burst out laughing right there and then as Kasumi came by my room, slightly wet, and glancing back over her shoulder with her usual idle comment, "Those two do have so much fun together, it's almost a shame she doesn't know about the curse."

"Oh yeah, like that would improve things, Sis," I snorted, "She's pledged to kill Ranko and marry Ranma. What happens when she finds out the two halves are one in the same guy?"

"I don't know," Kasumi seemed to think about that for a moment, "I guess it would all be up to her Great Grandmother, the Matriarch. It's usually the Elders in her village who decide the fine points about their tribal rules."

"Sis," I looked at Kasumi with a very puzzled expression, "Just how much do you understand about what's going on around here?"

"Not enough to help you, I'm afraid," Kasumi gave me a sad little smile, "I don't know everything about what you're planning to do, but I wanted you to have a chance to get to know each other better. I thought if you could both sit down and talk things over you might find out that she's not such a terrible person, and was I wrong about that?"

"No," I sighed, "She's not quite what I imagined her to be. I've got a lot to think about now, and we've got a big day ahead of us tomorrow…"

Kasumi came into my room and stood before me with that gentle smile of hers and I tried thinking of her the way Shampoo described her, as a Lore Master. It almost fit, considering how much this household revolves around her and how everything would long ago have fallen apart if not for her calming presence. She looked at me with those large sandalwood eyes of hers and said, "I know how hard it is for you to admit your feelings sometimes, Imoutochan, but you know I'm always here if you need me."

"I know," I replied and I think my eyes must have got something in them because they got awful misty at that point. I thought of what Shampoo had also said and had to agree, my sister was sometimes like a hazy mist that covered the gateway to heaven…

Okay, skip ahead to the next day. I know I could cover all the little stuff that happened later that night, how Shampoo stopped by my room after we ate supper and tried on all the frilly stuff she and Kasumi had purchased, how I showed some of it off on myself and demonstrated the kind of sultry poses I thought most guys would go for, and how she picked up on the basics as fast as she seemed to learn everything else. Yeah, it was just like having a girlfriend over for a slumber party, and I actually had a good time as we talked about all kinds of silly things, which is one of several reasons why I didn't make an entry last night and only now am catching up on all that happened.

Kami, I feel like such a heel going on that way, pretending to be her friend and actually starting to like her a little while knowing that the next day I was setting her up big time. I look back on last night and I have to say that Shampoo was behaving like a nicer person than I was. I haven't felt so guilty since that camera incident a few weeks ago, or the way I conned poor Tofu-sensei when I offered to help him out in getting his mother off his back…but I'm digressing.

The point is that today started off with everybody from our schools gathered about to watch the big fight between Ranma and Kuno. By now most people expected an early victory with Saotome walking all over the poor sap, who never learned that Ranma was the better fighter. Kodachi was there as well, assuring me that she had taken all the "necessary preparations," and Shampoo was there with Kasumi. It was a Sunday so there was no school to distract us. Simple word of mouth had gotten the message to all the usual interested betting parties and I had one of my girls, Ryonami, taking bets and keeping a record on her account book.

In case I haven't mentioned it before, Ryonami is the closest thing I've got to a friend among those students I usually hang around with when trying to con our fellow alumni out of money. Ryonami's in the Freshman class, about Ranma's age and very nice looking with long brown hair and a friendly personality. She's also a pathological gambler, willing to bet on just about anything, and a wiz with mathematics and accounting, which is how she got to be my assistant. She handles my bookie accounts while Suzuki is in charge of loans and debts. The both of them were out circulating among the crowd giving them odds and spreading all the rumors I told them to seed. If nothing else we looked to clean up on the point spread.

The only thing that held my enthusiasm for my usual business in check was that I was concerned about Ranma. He had the most peculiar expression as he was looking at Kuno, and I remembered how he had wanted to talk with me beforehand on that subject but for the interruption of the 6:15 Shampoo Express.

I had feared he would back out of his part in the fight, knowing he both had to make it look good and somehow contrive to lose to Kuno. Either aspect held no great appeal for either one of us, and not just because I made a point of betting on him for appearances sake, expecting the loss I would take would help me feel some of his wounded pride later. Out of the corner of my eye I kept glancing at Shampoo, seeing more obvious anxiety there. I then sought Ryoga's eyes and saw him covertly nod while he hovered protectively between Shampoo and Akane. If all else failed I had my own backup plans to set in motion.

"Airen," Shampoo said with clear regret, "Why you must fight over Shampoo? Is not Shampoo enough for both of you?"

"Fear not, gentle maiden!" we heard Tatawaki call out to her, "I will free you of this enchantment that foul Saotome has put upon you, then you will be able to return home to your people."

I wondered at this sudden change in Kuno's tone and glanced towards Kodachi before murmuring at the level of a stage whisper, "What's he going on about now?"

"It took some doing on my part," Kodachi replied, "But I was able to convince brother dear that the girl's obviously eccentric behavior was caused by an enchantment she was under. He doesn't really know or understand about Amazon laws, I'm afraid, or I doubt very much that he would have even had the courage to show up here. Tachi is very shy about some things, I have discovered."

I sniffed at that, then turned my attention back towards Ranma. He had not moved when Kuno went into a samurai posture and prepared to attack but I saw him clench his fists, which was more of a display of emotion than he usually showed in these situations.

"Kuno," he finally said aloud, "I'm…I'm sorry."

The gasp that was heard through the yard was like the tearing of rice paper. No one, especially not me, had ever heard Ranma apologize to Tatewaki before, and that was when I was afraid he was about to throw the fight, but it turns out that I had greatly underestimated my iinazuke.

Kuno himself looked surprised as he raised his gaze and frowned mightily, "You acknowledge at last your base sins against the whole of womankind, Saotome?"

"No," Ranma looked down, "I mean about us having to fight all the time and everything. I know I started this when I came between you and the tomboy, but you shouldn't have also said those things about Nabiki."

"What are you going on about?" Kuno frowned, "You think this is some kind of a game, Saotome? You toy with the affections of these women, cast your evil magics upon them to enchant them, then you expect to be forgiven?"

"I'm just saying there's no real reason why we should fight or be enemies," Ranma said, "I…kind of know what you've been going through all these years. It's not easy being by yourself, having just the art and your teacher-which in my case is my Pop-and no real friends or anybody who can understand you or nothing."

I was no less stunned speechless than the rest of the crowd at this point, and I caught a puzzled look in Shampoo's eyes while Kodachi stared with wide-eyed astonishment at the calm and level tone Ranma was using. Was he trying to defuse the fight before it got started? And that's when Ranma really surprised me and everyone else who was present.

"You think I want your understanding, Saotome?" Kuno seemed ready to attack but hesitated for some reason as though anticipating some ploy to lure him off his guard.

Then Ranma said the words, which were almost a sigh yet carried very far in the sudden silence that surrounded him, "I also lost my mother when I was very little. I never even knew her, so I can only guess what it feels like…to lose your mother the way you did."

Total dead silence. I heard Kodachi's sharp intake of breath as she clutched a hand to her breast with a pained expression that showed more torment and anguish that I could ever imagine her experiencing, while Shampoo blinked her eyes and seemed to only vaguely understand what was going on all around us. I knew and I was holding my breath like every other Furinkan student, even the ones who did not hear the rumors about Kuno's mother. Ranma had just spoken the unthinkable, and in doing so he was offering the olive branch to an enemy, telling Kuno that he felt sympathy for a fellow traveler who had experienced loss. I found I couldn't breathe for another moment myself after this as I looked at him and finally understood the weight of tragedy that had hung around him these last few days. I thought of my own mother, and then the tears started to form as I realized that Ranma had not even known his long enough to remember what she looked like!

But the effect his words had on Kuno was unlike what anyone had anticipated. Tatawaki went pale, and then he became incredibly angry, unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Suddenly all trace of humanity was gone from Kuno's face as he cried, "DIE!" and rushed headlong at Ranma.

Right then my worry was compounded by the fact that Kuno was going all-out this time, holding nothing back in his first thrust, which seemed to be backed by all the fury of a beserker. It missed Ranma cleanly, but the slash cut through the air with a sound that's indescribable, and I had no doubt at all that if it had even come close to connecting it would have left Ranma on the ground in two very large pieces. Instead Ranma took to the air and performed a classic Saotome maneuver that carried him beyond Kuno's reach and far behind his back as Kuno recovered from his lunge and spun around to reorient in his direction.

This was not like any of their earlier fights as Kuno fought like a literal madman, attacking with more speed and power than I had even suspected him of possessing. Ranma still managed to avoid each and every thrust of his bokken but by a much shorter margin than was normal, and the speed of both their movements was so far beyond inhuman that the rest of us had trouble even keeping up on the fundamentals of their mutual techniques.

It was plain enough before too long, however, that Ranma had to take the fight more seriously, so he got aggressive and counter-attacked, briefly putting Kuno on the ropes while holding back enough to still make Kuno look better than he was. Tatawaki was beginning to tire, however, and fighting all out in a beserker rage was bound to burn him out that much more quickly, so Ranma began to edge back and encouraged him to attack. It seemed that Ranma was finally prepared to lose the fight when Tatawaki suddenly stumbled, then fell over on his face. It was so sudden and unexpected that for a second nobody, not even Ranma, appeared to know what had happened.

Then Shampoo calmly stepped out into the open and approached the two boys, glancing down at Tatawaki with a look of open contempt before turning a very strange and more difficult look over to Ranma. She glanced down at the bokken still gripped in Kuno's hand then kicked it loose as it flipped up into her own. She extended the sword towards Ranma and said pointedly, "Why you no show stupid boy you much better fighter? You think Shampoo no see through you action?"

"Uh…Shampoo," Ranma said with raised hands held out deflectingly, but to his surprise she tossed the bokken at him and he reflexively caught it.

"She's onto us," I heard Kodachi murmured, "That witch did something to my brother. Time for my backup plan," and with that I saw her raise a blowgun to her lips with a very terse "Thwip" noise signaling a dart being ejected.

To our mutual astonishment Shampoo's hand came up and she plucked the dart out of the air with great ease then held it up to her nose and sniffed the point before her expression grew hard and she slowly turned to look in our direction.

"Ryoga," I said in a harsh, low voice, "Take Akane and get out of here, now!"

"But…you…" Ryoga started to protest, seeing Shampoo was focusing in our direction.

"I suggest we leave," I said to Kodachi as I turned to follow my own advice, but the Black Rose instead drew out her trademark ribbon and looked on with defiance.

"I'm not afraid of her," the Black Rose growled, "She may intimidate you, but I'm the Champion of Saint Hebereke."

Normally I would have said "Fine" and let her try to take on the Amazon by herself, knowing that Kodachi wold buy me a few moments, but for some reason I just could not do that this time, so instead I grabbed her by the wrist and said, "Run!" I must have been pretty convincing because Kodachi decided not to argue with me as we cleared the way through the rows of students and made a dash for the open.

My fellow students were looking at us with evident confusion, but they scattered like rice chaff in the wind once Shampoo started after us. It was not a very long chase, we barely got maybe a block before she caught up with us, at which point Kodachi made her stand and tried to use her ribbon against our pursuer. Shampoo merely plucked it out of the air, as Ranma had during their tournament, and used it to yank Kodachi off her feet so that she could dispatch her with a backhand blow. She barely broke stride in doing this as she caught up to me with four quick strides, and about that point I decided that running away was no longer an option.

I'm not a very brave or heroic person, so putting up a defense held very little appeal to me at that moment. It would have only served to aggravate Shampoo beyond where she was, so I stood my ground as a powerful hand closed about my wind-pipe and then I felt myself slammed up against the nearest wall with my head bouncing roughly off the stones there. My ears were ringing as I gaped like a fish at the Amazon, unable to breathe as I dangled there at arms-length, totally helpless.

I could feel her anger and the power of that hand and knew I was as good as dead, expecting at any moment that she would snap my neck like a chicken's. Instead I heard her ask a single complex question, "Why? Why you do this to Shampoo? Why you betray her to stupid girl with ribbon?"

I gasped, not able to answer her for the moment, so she continued on, fighting against her own rage as she bore into me with her eyes, even shaking me for emphasize as she said, "You rig fight, you make Shampoo think she lose to boy, but Shampoo see boy fight, know he never beat Shampoo unless you cheat! You get stupid girl to use dart to drug Shampoo so she lose to boy with stick! Why you hate Shampoo so much you do this thing? He like Mousse in village, no worthy of Shampoo's interest!"

I found the tension on my throat east by a fraction, permitting me to finally gasp, "For Ranma."

Her grip slackened even more as her eyes grew wide, "Ranma? You want Ranma Airen?"

"He's not your Airen," I managed to choke out, figuring that if I was about to die I would at least tell her the truth this one time rather than die with her ignorant of the fact, "He's my iinazuke!"

"Iinazuke?" Shampoo repeated slowly, then leaned even closer to me as she added, "You claim him for self? Why you think you right more than Shampoo?"

I couldn't think of any way to explain it to her just then except to say the words I would never have said under any other set of circumstances, "I love him!"

"You…love?" that caused Shampoo's grip to slacken even more as she stared at me with a mixture of confusion, dismay and horror.

Then Ranma's voice cut in, "Let her go, Shampoo. I won't let you hurt Nabiki."

Shampoo slowly turned to look at him with the same expression she had given me, "Airen? You mean you…?"

"I'm sorry, Shampoo," Ranma said in all the sincerity he could manifest, "I never meant to hurt you or deceive you or nothing. None of this was ever meant to happen, you just got sucked into everything, but I can't let you hurt Nabiki. I…I…care what happens to her."

Shampoo had already let me go by this point, so I stood there nursing my bruised throat as she stared at Ranma with the strangest expression. I saw the pain that was there warring with pride as she softly murmured, "Tell Shampoo why…why you reject her."

"It's got nothing to do with you," Ranma insisted, "Our parents arranged our engagement, and when we started out Nabiki and I were just a couple of strangers, but then we…got to know each other and…and now I think I want to be with her…as a friend or…whatever. Then you showed and attacked her and I…I was trying to defend her, not beat you up or nothing. It was an accident, it just…happened."

Shampoo continued to look at him in confusion, then very softly said, "Is law, Ranma. It no matter if you defeat Shampoo by accident, you better fighter, you natural Airen, unlike stupid boy you fight who no listen when you try make peace. Shampoo only lose to him because…girl and stupid girl cheat…"

"Shampoo," Ranma sighed, then held up a canteen flask as he said softly, "You don't really want to marry me. I'm not the guy you think I am. You've lived in China…you must know about Jusenkyo."

I saw recognition and a return of horror in Shampoo's eyes at the mention of that name, but for my own part I tried to call out to Ranma not to do this, fearing that the results would be far worse than he imagined. I could barely get my vocal chords to work right at that moment, though, so I watched in fatalistic dismay as Ranma poured the water over his head then almost instantly began to change, growing noticeably smaller as his hair changed to a crimson color.

"Now do you see?" he said with tired disgust, "This is what Jusenkyo did to me. Some guy, huh? Not exactly the kind to turn heads at your village."

Shampoo stood rock still for several moments, and then she suddenly came alive with an explosion of rage and attacked Ranma, who barely had time to defend himself before she was all over him, going all-out this time in a more controlled form of beserker rage than the animalistic pattern that had been adopted by Kuno. The results here were instantly more telling as Shampoo had Ranma on the ropes and pressed her advantage. I saw Ranma stumble and fall as Shampoo produced her broad sword and prepared to deliver a fatal blow that could not be avoided. Ranma stared up at Shampoo in the nearest thing I had ever seen on her to a blind panic, but rather than receive the fatal blow the Amazon hesitated.

"Shampoo!" I at once recognized the voice of Kasumi and looked up to see that my Oneechan had finally caught up to us, as had the rest of the student body. These late arrivals did not fully comprehend what was going on just then, but I knew that Kasumi did, and then I heard her say something very terse in Mandarin Chinese that I later interpreted to mean, "You promised!"

Shampoo stepped back, lowering her sword, and slowly her eyes lost their glint of rage and madness. She looked from the terrified Ranma to the gentle concern in the face of my sister, then slowly turned to regard me with a look not of hate or anger but of overwhelming sadness.

The sword disappeared, and Shampoo turned fully towards me, attempting a slight smile as she bowed, then turned and left us at a dead run. She vanished in several powerful leaps that carried her well beyond my line of sight, and somehow I knew she would not be returning.

And she did not return afterward, not since the fight, not even around dinner. Ranma and I sat around half expecting to hear her come crashing through the walls, but there was no sign of Shampoo or that she had even been there in the first place (unless you count the damage done to walls and structures, all of which are in desperate need of some repair work). Even those items that Shampoo had bought for herself had vanished with the rest of her belongings, and by that I guess she means to take a long trip to try and get her head back on straight. I wish her luck, and I mean that sincerely.

The resolution of this whole matter has left a sour taste in my mouth, it's bitter sweet, not a true victory at all. I cheated an innocent girl of her one true chance at love and happiness for the most selfish and basic of reasons. What kind of a person does that make me, I wonder? At least Shampoo had the decency to leave something in token lieu of repayment…

Nabiki paused in her writing, hearing a gentle tap at her window and turning half fearful, half hopeful eyes in that direction. To both her relief and disappointment she saw Ranma's face hanging upside down there, a very familiar and welcome sight, all other things being considered.

She got up without turning off the monitor this time and allowed Ranma to enter. Once the boy was standing in her room once again she said, "What's on your mind, Ranma-kun? No trace of Shampoo?"

"Nope, no sign of her," Ranma replied, "Even Tofu-sensei hasn't seen her all evening. I guess she's really gone after all. Seeing me change must have freaked her out something awful…"

"It…wasn't that, Ranma," Nabiki said with some hesitancy, "Seeing you change was just the clincher. I think what really made her leave was the way you looked at her when you were on the ground and she was about to kill you…"

"I wasn't helpless!" Ranma immediately insisted, "I was just, uh…catching my breath. I could have gotten out of the way in time, it wasn't like I was really in any danger."

Nabiki had to smile, even though she was tempted to slap him for his silly macho pride, "Whatever. The point is you were rejecting her pretty obviously about then, and that's when I guess she realized that she had lost you. You were her main excuse for remaining on the outside, and finding out that she could neither kill nor marry you must have left her without an honorable way of saving face. My guess is she's halfway on her way back to China and won't stop until she's back in the Qing Hi province."

"Oh," Ranma said, "You…think she'll be in any kind of trouble? Those Amazons and their rules…"

"She's a bright girl with good survival instincts," Nabiki reasoned, "She could probably think up a good excuse that she knows they'll buy. In any event I think it's safe to say that you're in the clear…at least for the moment."

"I sure hope you're right," Ranma seemed to relax slightly, "Y'know…in a funny way I think I'm gonna miss her being around. I don't wanna marry her or nothing, but she sure made things exciting."

Nabiki had to smile at that, "She did at that. What's the matter, you miss all the attention?"

"No way!" Ranma protested, "I think I aged five years when she was around! I just mean…well, she could be awfully cute, and she wasn't really a bad person, unless you count what she did to Akane, and I have to say it's sure been a lot easier to live around here without her always calling me a pervert."

"True," Nabiki admitted, "But I still think we should give her those memories back. Doctor Tofu had a good idea, but…"

"Yeah," Ranma said, and they both let it go unspoken about the incident with the scroll. Tofu had found an ancient Shiatsu chart that he said showed the exact pressure points that were used in the Xi Fang Gaio, along with a recipe for making the various Shampoo formulae needed for each of the various attack styles, but when he came by the house intending to show it Kasumi had greeted him and…instant confetti!

Nabiki looked at her iinazuke for several brief seconds then smiled at him shyly, "Ranma…when you and your father traveled to places like China…did you have many encounters like the one at that Amazon village?"

"Uh…some," Ranma replied after thinking about it for a long moment, "Nothing that bad, though. Why?"

"I'm just hoping we don't have to go through this too many times during our engagement," Nabiki replied, and then with both hands she grabbed Ranma by his shirt and drew him close enough to eye him with a particularly feral stare, "And if I have to go through another day like this you can bet that I'll make you regret it for the rest of your days. You may be a great fighter, but if you provoke me the results for you will be most unpleasant. I trust I don't have to elaborate on the details?"

"Uh, no," Ranma said nervously, "I…pretty much get the message."

Nabiki looked into his blue eyes and very slowly the smile returned to her face as she contemplated the look of helplessness in his expression. She had Ranma completely at her mercy and for a moment she wondered if she would have the courage to take advantage of the situation. Eventually she let him go, though, then turned away as she said, "Just as long as we understand each other, Saotome. Put me through that again and you will regret it. Now you'd better leave and let me get back to my homework. We'll talk again early tomorrow in the dojo. That is, if you still feel like training me in the martial arts."

"Huh?" he blinked intelligently, then said, "Oh, yeah…sure, It'd be an honor."

"Good," Nabiki smiled as she turned back to face him, backing him up towards the window as she added, "I've lost a week of practice with you, and we still need to develop a special tutoring system to help you with your school work. I also think I ought to have a few words with Kasumi about your diet, I don't think you've been eating properly with that Amazon trying to force-feed you her cooking. We've got a big day ahead of us tomorrow, so I'll see you when I see you, Ranma?"

"Uh, yeah, I…" he suddenly fell back through the window as she pushed him outside, then close it on him with a smile as she watched him scramble to avoid falling off the roof, inevitably to land again in the koi pond. Nabiki then turned back to her computer and resumed where she had left off in her writing:

I wonder at myself sometimes, what it is that makes me hesitate to show people how I really feel about them, like Kasumi or Ranma. Shampoo had no problem expressing herself, so what makes her so at ease and me tense up at the mere thought of acting like I feel?

I admit that Shampoo intimidated me with her looks and body, and the easy going way in which she could come onto Ranma, hugging him and telling him that she loved him. Why can't I be that free? Why do I balk at telling Ranma what I feel? Why is it the only time I can admit to having feelings is when I'm afraid of dying? It's all so very confusing…

Like Ranma himself, always so full of surprises, so unpredictable. I think I feel like crying when I remember how he confessed to Kuno that he knew what it was like to lose a mother. Funny that his father never mentioned that his wife was dead, but I did kind of assume it. I guess the absence of a parent is just one more thing I share in common with Ranma.

Funny when I think of Shampoo now all I can remember was that haunted look she had given us before leaving. In spite of what I said to Ranma, I worry that her village might exact some kind of harsh penalty for coming home empty handed. The oddest thing is that I don't want anything bad to happen to her…I almost feel a kind of kinship with the Amazon, and I'll bet if we'd had more time to spend together we'd almost become as close as sisters.

Well, regardless of the melancholy resolution, the good news is that I've got my fiancé back. Ranma and I can hang out together and be like the friends we were becoming before this whole Shampoo mess happened. I can hold his hand or be carried in his arms and not have to worry about having my skull crushed by a bonbori. I can even go back to flirting with him to see if he really does like girls, and maybe someday test out the equipment...

Well, anyway it sounds like I'm getting tired and losing my focus, so it'd probably be a good idea to wind this up and start again later. There's no telling what tomorrow holds so long as Ranma is living under my roof. In a way I'm actually looking forward to some new excitement, and I even get to check out the quality of a number of the stones that Shampoo left behind to repay our hospitality.

If they turn out to be worth as much as I think they are, then that wacky Amazon actually overpaid us. There should be enough to not only effect repair but also to salt away for future concerns. In a way we've actually returned a huge profit from this mess, which does not take back all the pain and hassle but sure makes it easier to endure the memories of my week of constant torment.

Wherever Shampoo is now I hope that she's all right. Kodachi might be a little less forgiving after that headache she gave her, but all things considered, at least we have our heads attached in the right places. She may have been our rival, but in the end she was a woman in love, trapped up by circumstances and doing things the only way she knew how. I may never see her again, but I'll never forget that haunting smile of hers, and somehow I think I don't think I'll ever want to…


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