Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ What's New, Pussycat? ( Chapter 11 )

[ 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

"But Nabiki…"

"Go away, Saotome," Nabiki growled as she removed her shoes and entered her house, "I don't want to talk about it any more. If that take-out lady wants to claim you for her fiancé, then who am I to stop you?"

"But that's not fair!" Ranma protested as he removed his own shoes and persisted in following her into the house, "You know I didn't ask to have that Kaori get affianced to me! That was my stupid father's doing, trading me for a bowl of rice and some fishcakes! You can't hold that against me…?"

"Can't I?' Nabiki whirled about, her expression causing Ranma to halt in his tracks and even take a half step backwards, "I warned you about dragging me through the mud like that again! After the fuss we had with Shampoo, the last thing I need is for you to humiliate me in front of everyone again by getting yourself engaged to yet another woman!"

"But-but…I never agreed to the whole deal…" Ranma sputtered.

"Of course not," Nabiki snorted, "You were just a baby, but your father was your legal guardian then, which obligates you to fulfill his agreements. You raced against Kaori in that competition and won, which means you're now effectively engaged to yourself, only Kaori and her big-eared father don't know that. What happens if they find out and try to press their suit on you again?"

"I'd think of something," Ranma said defensively, "You know I wouldn't deliberately do anything to embarrass you, Nabiki. I…I wouldn't betray you that way, I…"

"Give it up, Ranma," Nabiki said as she started to turn away, "Save it for somebody who likes being your patsy."

"Wait!" Ranma called out with an edge of desperation in his voice, "Don't go away mad, Nabiki-chan! I mean, I…I don't want you to go. I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings, but it wasn't deliberate. Please let me make it up to you. I…I'll…do whatever you ask."

Nabiki hid a smile as she kept her face averted for several seconds, but by the time she had turned around she was entirely sober again, "You mean that, Ranma-kun? You'd do anything I ask of you? Anything within reason?"

"Uh, yeah," Ranma squared his shoulders a little, "I'm a guy, and guys are supposed to keep their word. Just tell me what to do and I'll…"

"Take me on a date."

It took several seconds for Ranma to show a reaction, and then he gasped, "Nani?"

"I said a date," Nabiki replied with a totally serious expression, "You know? The kind of thing boys do with girls they like, that sort of thing?"

"But I…um…that is…" Ranma hesitated, then swallowed, "I don't have any money…"

Nabiki smiled, "No problem, Ranma-kun. I'll loan you something, you can pay me back as soon as you do have money."

"Loan?" he blinked twice.

"At five percent interest," she smiled, "After all you do want to take me somewhere nice, and you'd rather pay for everything yourself rather than have me pay for it, right?"

"Uh…yeah," Ranma swallowed, "Right."

"Then it's settled," she eyed him coyly, "I'll even pay for the rental of a tux so you can look nice for our date. Of course I do expect you to treat the material right so that it can be returned for a full deposit, which means no fighting. Think you can do that for a single night, Saotome?"

"A tux?" Ranma wondered if he had heard right, but from the look in his iinazuke's eyes he decided not to ask any more questions and just nodded, "Uh, sure…at least I can try…"

"Then be ready at seven sharp," Nabiki smiled as she turned around with a sultry look before heading back up the stairs, "And ask Daddy to help you pick out the restaurant so it can be a surprise and we can call for reservations. Then maybe we'll go for a movie after it's all over."

"Oh sure," Ranma swallowed, "That'd be swell…" he waited until she was out of sight before turning to lean against the nearest wall with a sigh, which then turned into a gasp, "A date? Oh boy…"

An image filled his vision of Nabiki when she had given him that look before turning away. He knew that he had been out-maneuvered by her again, but for some reason he did not resent her manipulations. If anything he actually found that he was looking forward to their date…if only she had not mentioned the tuxedo. That made it sound so…formal…

"Nabiki," he sighed once again, "I'm never gonna understanding women…"

Nabiki's Journal Resumes:

My fiancé can be so charmingly self-centered, right up to the moment when I ask him to try and do something that any normal person might take for granted, like relax and have a good time in a reasonably formal setting.

My date looked so handsome in that tux I rented for him, though I could tell the collar made Ranma very uncomfortable. He seemed as out of place in it as if I'd asked his other self to wear a formal ball gown, yet I could tell he was struggling to keep up appearances, putting on a good show for what he thought was my amusement.

And he was right, but not for the reasons he probably imagined.

I'd expected Ranma to tear into his food like the barbarian he usually was at our dinner table, fighting over every little scrap and morsel with this father, which the old panda insists is all a part of his training. Instead I saw Ranma struggle to restrain his appetite by eating at a more leisurely pace, eyeing me covertly and sometimes even copying my moves in the best (and to date the only) attempt he could muster towards behaving like a civilized person. I was privately amused by the whole thing but tested my theory that he was mimicking me by dipping a hot pepper into some horseradish that I'd poured onto my dish and pretending to eat, then seeing him actually do the same with the result of his eyes bulging out as he at once tried to put out the fire with several glasses full of water.

I was genuinely touched that Ranma was making such an effort to behave himself on our date, knowing how he usually likes to have his own way in everything, which is why I often have to resort to trickery and manipulation. I think it's a sign of the maturing of our relationship that I do that less and less often now, having found the right buttons to push, and Ranma actively trying to stay on my good side for whatever imagined reprisals I threaten him with whenever our ways do cross.

After the restaurant we took in an American-made movie, and that's where we had some difficulty agreeing on what to see. I expected Ranma to go for something with action and adventure, and I was pretty sure he would fall asleep in anything less than action oriented. To my surprise Ranma offered to watch a lengthy character drama that he knew I'd expressed an interest in seeing, and I don't get out to see many movies as a point of note. I'm pretty frugal when it comes to spending money, and extravagances like entertainment are something I put a premium on.

Still I thought he deserved to watch something he would like since, in effect, he was actually the one paying for the whole evening. I had neglected to inform Ranma that the very money I had loaned him for our date came from earnings on the bets I'd taken on that Takeout race, and from selling about a crate worth of the ramen that had been the first prize to a local restaurant that was opening up in the neighborhood, which still left more than enough ramen for us to keep Kasumi happy in the kitchen until we're all old enough to have grandkids.

Turns out we settled on a compromise and watched that American-movie about a famous ship disaster. Turns out the movie had a lot of action, a nice plot and some reasonably good performances from a young bunch of actors who did not look that much older than ourselves, though I could have spent the rest of the evening critiquing the flaws. I can see why it made a lot of money, but from where I sit the initial investment was far too risky for them to think about making a sequel.

Anyway, it was getting late when the movie was over, but we didn't feel like ending it on time, so we wandered over toward the fairgrounds and toured the carnival sector, where Ranma had to go and show off for me by winning me a stuffed animal…

All right, a bunch of stuffed animals, and they're now all gathered about my room looking at me with these goofy expressions. I don't know why I took the bloody things, they were a real armful to handle on the way home, even with Ranma helping out. Guess maybe I'm just making up for never having stuffed dolls like this when I was a kid, or something…and anyway it's not like I asked Ranma to prove me wrong when I said those contest things were rigged. You should have seen the expression of the Carny barkers, though, they were priceless! I don't think they'll ever let us back in there if they see Ranma's face again or even anytime soon.

Well, to put it simply, the evening was a blast and I had a marvelous time…right up until we got home and the two of us seemed to realize that there was something we were forgetting about. Took me a few moments to realize what it was, and then I turned to see Ranma's face in the moonlight with our gate framing his handsome profile and I suddenly knew what it was. I think he knew it too, because he looked at me as if dumbstruck and the two of us just stood there maybe five or ten minutes without saying a word. We both knew what was needed to make the evening perfect, and neither one of us was ready to make the first move giving a goodnight kiss to each other.

I stood there wondering what the hell was wrong with me just then. I was feeling happier than I can remember feeling in a very long time, and here was a man I honestly cared about returning my anxious look with a nervousness that I was sure we both felt. I was scared, and here in the privacy of my own room I feel free to admit it, but right then I was just struck numb by the sight of him, of Ranma, a guy I had known only a few months but who had come to mean a great deal with me. So why was I hesitating at the simple idea of us kissing?

I thought of Shampoo instantly, of how she had easily kissed Ranma, and told him that she loved him, even though I'm sure the first time she said that it was merely pro forma, the reciting of a few ceremonial words that were expected of an Amazon who had been beaten by an outsider man in battle. It was not until later that she could say the words with any real conviction, but say them she did, over and over again until I'm sure she believed them sincerely. Why did she, a wild woman from the remote Chinese Provinces, find those words so much easier, or a kiss so much more simpler than I did, who has an even firmer grasp of my feelings towards Ranma?

Hah, might as well ask why the baka's so nervous about kissing me back. I know he thinks I'm pretty, but compared to Shampoo I might as well be a dishwater. I could never have hoped to compete with her in the looks department, and there's no sense fooling myself about it either, but when Shampoo kissed him I'm sure his head swam and his pulse pounded quicker. So why would he, a guy who regularly exchanges blows with a (nominally) human wrecking machine like Ryoga, be afraid of a pale little slip of a girl like me who couldn't land a blow on him if he were bound and gagged and dangling by his ankles from a tree? I kept hoping he'd take the initiative, but instead he stood there staring at me as if he were rooted to the spot and thoroughly tongue-tied.

And that's when-after maybe ten minutes of us doing nothing more than standing in the moonlight like a couple of lawn statues-we heard a noise that caused us to turn our heads to see a group gathered on the porch in relative darkness and trying not to disturb us. When they see that we see them my father goes and spoils the mood by saying, "Well, son? Are you going to kiss her or not?"

To which his father added, "Well, boy? Are you going to be a man about it and kiss your iinazuke? We haven't got all night, and we want to preserve this moment for posterity, so Akane, take that picture."

I do a slight double-take as I realize that Akane is kneeling there holding my camera with Ryoga helping to steady her arm, and I'm about to protest this intrusion in not only my privacy but my property rights when the flash goes off in our faces and blinds Ranma and me for the next several minutes.

"Oh my," I hear Kasumi remark, and I remember thinking privately that I was going to kill my younger sister as soon as I could see straight. There was another flash as Akane took another picture of us before asking who the guy was standing next to me, and that pretty thoroughly wrecked the mood for us both, so without further preamble me and Ranma headed into the house to change out of our clothes and get ready for bed…

Hmmm, maybe I should change the phrasing on that last paragraph. When I say "change and get ready for bed" I'm not implying it to mean what it sound like. I mean it ought to be obvious that if Ranma and I can't even manage a simple goodnight kiss we're sure as the kami not about to go that far at this point in our relationship!

Anyway, it's late and I need to get ready to bed. It's nice my first date with Ranma turned out so well…now all I need to do is think up a good angle for getting him to take me out again. Maybe this time I won't charge him for the pleasure of my company since I'm the one who'd be willing to pay…just as long as his male pride lets him accept the idea that I'm the one with all the money.

Not that Ranma needs money to gain my interest. He has something else I value quite a lot and it's worth more to me than all the Yen in the Treasury. His smile can make me feel like a billion or so, I just hope that when we do kiss it that won't be a disappointment…

"Package for the Tendo residence," said a man bearing the logo on his shirt of some delivery service that called itself the "Coal Black Cat Shipping and Receiving" outlet.

"Oh my," Kasumi said as she accepted the small box that was handed to her by a postal worker, "Do I have to sign for this? Is there any postage due?"

"No, ma'am," the postal worker replied as he bowed to the nice, well-mannered lady who reminded him a lot of his older sister, "Postage has all been taken care of. Have a nice day and enjoy your package."

"I wonder who it could be for?" Kasumi murmured aloud as she saw that the label for the address only read "Tendo Residence," with their street number and Nerima Province. As she walked back into the house she had the strangest feeling that something very odd was about to happen, and then she saw the name on the return address and almost faltered.

"Oh my!"

"Who is it, Kasumi?" she heard her father call out from the dinner area.

Kasumi entered with the package and said, "It's from Shampoo, father, mailed all the way from China."

Instantly there was a flash of exchanged glanced all around the table. Nabiki paused with her chopsticks poised before her mouth while Akane gave an angry look and said, "From Shampoo? What is it, a bomb or something?"

"That isn't very nice, Akane-chan," Kasumi chided, when she started as the package in her hands began to vibrate, "Oh-it's moving!"

All at once the package seemed to explode out of her hands, and then a figure blurred, bouncing from one wall to another before coming to rest atop the China Cabinet. Everyone turned to look and saw the pink furred animal looking down at them with a curious expression.


"It's…a cat," Akane said with some surprise.

"Oh, how cute!" Kasumi smiled, "It has little ornaments, like the ones Shampoo wears in her hair…"

"Let me see," Nabiki got up, eyeing the cat with a dubious expression. "Why would Shampoo mail us a cat? I don't remember reading anything in Amazon culture about the Cat meaning anything symbolic…"

"Oh?" Kasumi eyed Nabiki curiously, "You mean during the research you did when Shampoo was visiting with us?"

"Well," Nabiki shrugged, "I've kind of kept up that research on the side, you know…I mean, Amazon culture's pretty fascinating stuff after all, and when Shampoo left in such a hurry…you know…"

"I see," Kasumi said brightly, "You've been worried about her, so you continued your research to see if there is anything more that could help if she shows up again?"

"Ah, well…" Nabiki replied, shuffling a bare foot on the floor, unaware that the cat was eyeing her with a peculiar interest.

"Here, kitty, kitty!" Akane said as she stepped closer to the cabinet and held out a hand for the animal to sniff.

To their amazement the cat hissed at Akane, then it launched itself at her face. A brief tussle ensued, and then the cat leaped away, landing on the floor several meters behind her.

"Oh my," Kasumi remarked, "It doesn't seem to like you very much, Akane-chan."

"Stupid animal!" Akane growled, "I was trying to be nice!"

"It definitely must be from Shampoo," Nabiki said in her usual droll voice, "It doesn't seem to like you very much, little sister."

"We're home!" the voice of Genma called out from the front of the house.

"It sounds like Ranma and his father are back," Kasumi said brightly, "And just in time to have dinner. Now aren't you glad we saved those extra portions for the two of them?"

"Who?" asked Akane.

At the mention of Ranma's name and the sound of his voice in the hallway Nabiki brightened up, as did the cat, which turned around with an expression almost of anticipation.

"Stupid old man!" Ranma was calling out over his shoulder, "You don't got nothing to teach me! I'm not listening to another one of your dumb ideas for-!"

All at once the cat leaped up to pounce on him with a cry that almost sounded happy, "Mew!"

"Wha-?" Ranma started, then suddenly found a cat clinging to his shirt, almost in his face, and his reaction was a very surprising one. Ranma backed away and started screaming!

"Calm down, whoever you are!" Akane urged, "There's no reason to panic, it's just a harmless kitten."

"Gah!" Ranma cried, lurching back to the wall with a look of terror as the cat stared at him with wide-eyed confusion.

"Ranma?" Nabiki blinked, amazed at seeing her iinazuke in such an obvious state of distress. Ranma was normally so indomitable and fearless, but to be frightened this severely by so harmless a creature?

"What is wrong, son?" Soun asked, "Why are you behaving this way? Speak up! Has the cat got your tongue?"

A sudden growlfing noise drew their attention towards the panda form of Genma Saotome. Kasumi at once went into action fetching the ever-ready teakettle and passed it along to Ranma's father, who changed back to his human self, complete with martial arts gi, bandana and glasses.

"I'm afraid the cat literally has got Ranma's tongue," the older man replied, adjusting his glasses, "He has a rare condition called alurophobia…"

"Alurophobia?" Nabiki repeated, "What's that?"

"It means fear of cats," Kasumi answered brightly, then blinked before remarking, "Oh my…!"

"What's he afraid of cats for?" Akane asked, glancing with disgust at the cowering Ranma, "Whoever he is."

Genma sat down with a heavy sigh then said, "It shames me to admit it, but the boy has had a deep fear of cats since the age of eight. The mere sight of such an animal triggers a basic, deep and instinctive terror over which he has no control or resistance."

The cat made what sounded like an inquisitive noise, then turned to look quizzically at a Ranma who was cowering before her.

"Oh my," Kasumi said for the third time in as many minutes, "So Ranma really does have a weakness after all. Who would have imagined?"

"But that's such a dumb thing to get upset about!" Akane protested, "Whoever heard of a fear of cats?"

"See for yourself," Nabiki turned a worried glance in Ranma's direction, then something clicked and she turned back to Genma, "Since the age of eight, you said?"

Genma nodded the sighed, "It was all a part of his training, but who would have believed that my son would turn out to be such a coward…?"

"What are you talking about?" Ranma protested, rallying his courage the minute he heard his father call him a coward, "It's your fault I have this stupid problem! You and your training exercises-yah!"

The cat had eased up closer to him and was looking at him curiously, seeing the fear in his eyes, and if anyone had looked closely they might have seen something like pain pass through its expression.

"Saotome-san," Nabiki said evenly, "Do you know what caused Ranma to have this fear of cats?"

Genma hesitated for a moment before replying with a sigh, "It was the training…the Nekoken."

"The Nekoken?" Nabiki whirled to look at her prospective father-in-law with confusion.

"Yes," Genma sighed, "Sometimes called Cat-Fu, or free style Cat Fist training. The technique was deceptively simple…first wrap the initiate in Jikua fish sausages and throw him into a pit full of hungry cats…"

"WHAT?" Nabiki was suddenly very angry, "You did that to Ranma?"

Genma nodded his eyes, missing the lethal look his prospective daughter-in-law gave him, then reached calmly into his gi and pulled out a booklet, which same he handed over to Soun, "It's all in there, the ancient Saotome secrets of Anything Goes Martial Arts Ryu. Look on page thirty-seven."

Soun flipped the pamphlet until he came upon the page indicated then read off the title, "The Nekoken…an ancient method for perfecting the invincible freestyle Catfist, mastery of which will make one the greatest of all fighters. First wrap the candidate in Jikua fish sausages and toss into a pit of hungry cats….amazing!"

"Amazing?" Nabiki all but exploded, "In some places they call that criminal child abuse! How could you put your own son in that kind of danger?"

Genma sighed, "I didn't know that there would be negative side effects as a result of the training. Turn to the next page, Tendo-kun, and see why the technique was discontinued."

"Ah?" Soun replied, flipping the page from left to right and reading what was hand written on the back, "I see! The use of this technique has been banned for causing severe psychological damage to the initiate. Apparently the experience has been known to cause an acute fear of exposure to cats…"

"Well, what did you think was going to happen?" Nabiki all but shouted at her father before whirling back to Genma, "Mister Saotome, did you even think about what you were doing? What possible benefits could this training bestow that would make up for what Ranma must have suffered in that pit? I don't believe you two! Is all you ever think about the dumb training?"

"N-Nabiki," Ranma's voice trembled, and when she turned back to him she saw him trying to rise up from where he had been cowering, "It's not all about the training…a guy's got to do certain things if he's to be any good to himself and…"

"Meow?" the cat seemed to be inquiring, and Ranma jumped back in dismay with a new cry of utter panic.

"Oh really, Saotome?" Nabiki asked with narrowed eyes, "Tell me that again sometime when you can look her in the eyes without flinching…"

Nabiki's Journal Continues:

Ranma's father is such an idiot, I can't even believe the two of them are related! Not that Ranma doesn't act stupidly himself from time to time, but at least he tries to behave like a civilized human being. Imagine throwing your son into a pit of hungry cats…not once but several times! Small wonder Ranma panics at the sight of a cat…I'm surprised he isn't traumatized by the smell of fish sausage!

I got the full story from Mister Saotome, though it was like pulling teeth out of a panda…and I was tempted to do just that, let me tell you! The old man's been such a poor role model for Ranma that it's amazing my iinazuke can even function as a human being and isn't locked up somewhere in a Psyche ward.

Another full day and night at the Tendo household, and what great fun it is learning more new stuff about Ranma's past and his training mission. I've almost gotten used to the weird stuff that gets dragged onto our doorstep as a consequence of the innumerable follies of Saotome Genma. First this whole engagement business, then that clueless pig winds up being adopted like a pet by my equally clueless sister, then that thing with Kodachi and the martial arts rhythmic gymnastics tourney, and that's not even counting that business about Shampoo and her dumb Amazon rules!

I wonder why Shampoo mailed us that cat? The fluffy beast is kind of cute for a little furball and it behaves like it was trained or something. Maybe it's some kind of intelligent pet that the Amazon sent as her way of making an apology for almost killing me, Ranma and my sister. I don't know what her motives are, and that's got me slightly more than worried just to think about it. I mean, suppose Shampoo's vengeful streak includes sending a booby-trapped pet? Not that I really think she'd stoop that low, but after the way Ranma and I tricked her I can only imagine that she's annoyed with us on some level.

Anyway I wound up adopting the cat for the night, and now it's sitting there curled up on my bed eyeing me like I was fish sausage or something. It won't go near Akane at all, but it seems to adore my older sister, Kasumi (which isn't all that surprising), while with me it behaves fairly indifferent. Akane suggested naming it C-chan, like that dumb name she gave to Ryoga, but I about barfed when I heard her say that. I decided to call her Sham-chan, after her probable owner, and yes we have determined she's female. At least she doesn't have fleas, and she seems to be house trained.

Yeah, I do think the little ragamuffin is sort of cute, a lot like Shampoo when you come down to it. I used to hate and resent the Amazon, now I feel like I did that girl dirty and it kind of depresses me to think of what sort of trouble she got into on our account. Not that I thought I had any choice at the time, but in retrospect it was thoughtless cruelty hooking her up with Tatewaki Kuno.

The amazing thing that came out of that whole mess was that it pretty much confirmed in my mind that I'm serious about Ranma. I've gone from just liking the guy to feeling seriously jealous when any other girl even looks in his direction, and that business with Kaori the other day just proves my point that any woman coming between us is-as Shampoo would say-"an obstacle for removal."

There I go about Shampoo again! I mean, so she's built like a brick house with a body most men would kill to possess. She's stronger than an elephant, as cunning as a tiger and as dangerous as a shark, but when she wants to be cute she can turn on the charm like a neon banner. Compared to her I'm just a limp dishrag, so is it any wonder if I felt a bit threatened around her when she set her sights upon Ranma?

Well, now I've got her cat, and I suppose that means she'll be turning up one of these days to reclaim it. I guess that business between us isn't really done yet, and I can't say I find that surprising. Those Amazon rules don't exactly give her a lot of options about what she should do concerning either Ranma or me. So maybe mailing me her cat was a kind of peace token to show that she wanted to resolve our differences without violence. Now that she knows the truth about me and Ranma there won't be any fooling her again, so if she wants to talk that sure beats having her bust in here to do that Xi Fang Giao Shiatsu mind-wipe thing. I think the concept scares me even more than the thought she might try to kill me!

Hey, my memories are my life, and I don't want anybody messing with what's in my head. I've always relied on my brain to get me out of the kind of trouble that Ranma blunders into without using his (beyond modest limits). If Shampoo made me forget some significant part of my existence, like him, it'd be a form of living death and I'd always know in my heart that something very important was missing. I'm well beyond the stage where I ever want to go back to the way I was before I knew Ranma.

Maybe the cat is a good faith gesture on her part. I sure hope so, because the alternatives are even less pleasant. The one bad thing about having the cat sleep in my room is that it pretty much eliminates the chance of Ranma paying one of his nocturnal visits. I've come to enjoy seeing him hang upside down outside my window wanting to talk or ask me a question, or just see if maybe I want to do something fun the next day. Maybe one of these days I'll even be able to talk him in for something fun we can do at night, if I can only figure a way to sneak that one by Kasumi.

Hah! Listen to me talk like a flirt! The idea that I can talk Ranma into doing something that brazen and naughty seems ludicrous in the face of his extreme shyness. The boy will open up with me just so far before he puts on this "manly" act of his and tries to be stoical, like it's really going to help him by keeping things bottled inside rather than share them. Some day he's going to have to learn that we have emotions for a reason, and it's not like he's got anything to be nervous about around me.

At least not yet…

Well, time for bed. I'll check back here same time and station tomorrow…

Nabiki powered down her computer, then turned her head in surprise to find the cat standing there looking at her…or was it looking at the monitor to her computer? Of course that implied that it could read the Japanese symbols, which was patently ridiculous, so she chalked it up to proverbial curiosity and smiled as she looked down at the fluffy creature.

"Well, time for bed, Sham-chan. You don't mind if I call you that, do you? That's a girl…just remain still and calm and I'll see about talking Kasumi into giving you a special treat with your breakfast tomorrow."

"Mew?" The creature asked with renewed interest, as though it somehow got the gist of that statement. The idea made Nabiki laugh as she wondered at how easy it would be to bribe a cat into good behavior. She picked up the animal and held it close to her bosom, and after a moment the cat began to settle in and made a throaty noise of approval.

"You like me?" Nabiki asked in puzzlement, "Can't imagine why, but if it makes you happy, feel free to tell me all about it, that's what I'm here for."

"Mew?" the cat said inquiringly, then suffered to allow itself to be carried off to bed as Nabiki petted its fur, trying to find that special place that would please the cat and allow her to hold it in her lap as she sat down with a sigh, finding it oddly comforting to hold the animal so closely.

"You sure are a pretty little thing," Nabiki said, then laughed softly to herself as the cat turned to look at her inquiringly, "You look a little like your owner. It's those ornaments in your fur, I guess, but Shampoo is also kind of cute in her own way…when she isn't trying to kill you."

The animal looked away, and if Nabiki had been paying enough attention she might have caught what sounded like a sigh as it assumed an almost thoughtful, cat-like expression. At the moment, though, Nabiki was looking off into space and recalling a memory, then she flopped back onto her bed, swinging her feet off the floor as she positioned the cat to rest atop and between her bosoms.

"Yeah…Shampoo sure was something. When I first saw her I thought I was looking at some kind of circus act, and the way she talked with that baby-doll voice, and then she asked about Ranma, after putting a big hole in my father's dojo. I mean, can you blame me for thinking she was some kind of a nut who got loose from a mental ward? Only I found out later that she…was actually kind of a nice person, just a little barbaric in the way she goes about things."

The cat looked down at her with the oddest expression, and for a moment Nabiki felt it flex its claws, barely felt through the thin fabric of her nightie.

"You don't like it when I talk about your mistress with less than full respect, do you?" Nabiki chuckled, "What a smart animal you are. Okay, then maybe I should also say that the more I got to know Shampoo the more I…found that I liked her. I mean, she really did have a sensitive side that it took me a while to appreciate, though Kasumi-chan seemed to pick up on it right away. I was so angry at her for using that memory blocking technique on Akane, but when I heard the full story…it just took away some of my anger and made me appreciate her side of things. I mean, blocking memories isn't as bad as killing her after all, and Akane is a lot easier to live with when she's not beating up my Ranma for all the rude things he says about her."

The cat seemed to accept this and submitted itself to being further petted. It even started to purr for the first time since its arrival and seemed to close its eyes to savor the moment.

"Poor little thing," Nabiki smiled, "How did you manage to cope with being cooped up in that tiny little box all the way from China? Sure, it's a great way to save on air fair, and it beats swimming, like Ranma and his father did when they went to China."

The cat made a small noise that sounded like curiosity, and Nabiki was so much enjoying the experience of having a pet that she decided to play along as if the cat had asked a question, "Oh, you didn't know that? Well, Genma's probably too cheap to afford plane tickets, and he never seemed to have that much money before he started to work for Tofu-sensei. He calls it training, I call it unbelievable, like sticking his own son in a pit full of hungry cats while wrapped in fish sausages."

The cat lowered its head and seemed to agree with that assessment.

"You know, Ranma is pretty unbelievable himself at times," Nabiki gazed up at the ceiling, finding it easy to unburden herself to a furry animal in ways she never had to another living person, "I sometimes wonder how somebody like me could ever have gotten mixed up with him, let alone engaged by our fathers. But now…I can't imagine what life would be like without him…and I don't want to either. He's become the most important thing in my life and I never want to see him hurt or lonely, like he was when Shampoo was around, feeling so guilty about everything, like it was all his fault for incurring her wrath in his girl form."

The cat made another inquiring noise, and once again Nabiki absently responded, "Yeah, he's a guy all right…a real man among men, just like his father says he always wanted him to be. Then they go to those stupid training grounds of Jusenkyo, and the next thing you know his father is a panda and Ranma gets in touch with his feminine side everytime he gets wet. They're both cursed in a lot of ways, but…you want to know a secret, you promise not to tell anyone if I tell you?"

The cat made a noise as if nodding in assent.

Nabiki smiled then said, "I like him in his other form just as much as I do his male version. I mean…he is so cute either way, and when he's a girl…well…it's like we can do girl stuff together, only he's more like a tomboy so dressing up and using make-up are out. I mean we can hang out at the mall and he can use his looks to con people into giving us both extra portions on our ice cream. At first I thought he was demeaning himself, but now I can see the advantage. I just wish I had half his charm when he's pretending to be so feminine…it's like he's a whole different person that way! He'd never act like that when he's in guy form."

The cat seemed fascinated as it listened to her continue on this way, well into the night before both drifted of to sleep together. Unbeknownst to either one, however, the topic of their conversation was sitting outside Nabiki's window staring up at the stars with his own thoughtful expression.

"Oh man," he murmured softly, "Why'd they have to let her keep the…cat…up in her room?"

He wanted very much to talk with her, and in spite of the lateness of the hour he knew Nabiki would let him in to talk. They both felt comfortable that way around one another, and it wasn't like he was going to do anything improper with her or nothing. Not that she'd let him, of course, it's just…well…

He thought to himself about it and wondered just what the heck it was he did mean. He knew that she was a very pretty girl, and he liked being with her a lot, but…what exactly was it that people were afraid he was going to do with her when they were alone anyway? That was a part of his education he had never quite gotten abreast of.

Were they afraid he'd catch her off-guard while she was dressing? He never would do that to her! He respected Nabiki, and the last thing he wanted to do was earn one of her patented icy stares, the kind that always made him feel small and insignificant. He wanted her to like him, to enjoy being with him, and maybe someday when they did feel comfortable enough they might…

Ranma felt a cold sweat break out on his forebrow. What the heck was he thinking about anyway? Was he actually looking forward to seeing her naked? Not that it would be a bad thing, he felt certain, since she did have a great body, and he had started to notice little things about her that…well…weren't all that proper for a guy to notice. For one thing she tended to show off a lot of leg, and he appreciated how fit and trim they were with just the right muscle tone for…

He swallowed. Maybe it was not such a great idea to catch her in the buff that way. He had seen Akane naked that one time and he still smarted from the way she slapped him down for that. He absolutely did not want to earn that kind of slap from Nabiki, and she had a much better body, he was certain, maybe not as well developed in the chest as his female side, but…

"Oh man," Ranma groaned softly to himself. Maybe Akane had been right about him after all, maybe he was some kind of a pervert if he could start to feel this way about his own iinazuke. He knew that staying where he was outside her room was asking for all sorts of trouble, and maybe it would be better if he returned to the dojo and the tatami mat waiting for him there, right beside the sleeping panda, who tended to snore a lot in both his forms, and sometimes even roll over…

As soon as Ranma thought this he realized that he had absolutely no desire to move from where he was at the present. He decided that keeping vigil outside Nabiki's window was an all right thing since he had no desire to intrude on her, and would not dare while she had that…animal with her. There was no danger, therefore it could not be improper. Nabiki would sleep peacefully with Ranma standing by to watch the night like a protective kami. Nothing would disturb her rest so long as he was around, and he was pretty comfortable reclined where he was at the moment. It was a warm enough night so he did not need a blanket, and being this close to Nabiki made him feel better somehow. It was a good kind of feeling that made him feel all warm and protective.

Almost unbidden the image came to mind of Shampoo, and of his last impressions of her as she had threatened both of them in a fit of anger and betrayal. He had come so close to seeing Shampoo kill Nabiki, and now the Amazon was sending her a pet that Ranma could not stand to be around. Maybe it was some kind of a trick or something, but in any case it would not matter. No one would get close enough to Nabiki to harm her. Ranma silently swore this in the name of his long lost mother just instants before sleep finally took him…

In the Kuno mansion a lone voice was laughing in hysterics worthy of his younger sister. He had just heard a striking bit of news that made him feel much lighter in mood as he contemplated his revenge.

"Saotome, your reckoning is at hand!" he cried with giddy glee, considering what he would do the next morning as he had his faithful Sasuke dial up the number for the local pound, to be followed shortly thereafter with a second call to the zoo to request a little "favor…"


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