Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Family Affairs ( Chapter 44 )

[ 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

"I don't get it, boss," Otomu said to his employer, the Obuyan known as Tomoku, "Why'd you let that runt make off with fifty thousand yen like that?"

"Simple," Tomoku replied, "He's a Hibiki. They're always good for a few laughs, but it's dangerous when you cross one."

"Huh," said the tough-looking Largo, "Dangerous like any clueless, directionless moron who's as strong as an ox with the brains to match. You should have let me plug him."

"Now what would be the fun in that?" asked rival Yakuza gang-boss Nakusai, "You shouldn't be so impatient to use force, young man. How often do you get to see a boy holding a duck break through a brick wall just to get to deal himself in on one of our Sunday poker matches?"

Tomoku chuckled as he looked at his fellow Obuyan and smiled, "The poor boy's missing a few more wits than the last time I saw him…oh, must've been a month or so back. Imagine calling the duck his girlfriend?"

There were generally amused chuckles all around as the subject of the Hibiki clan was always a favorite one to tell at Clan meetings.

"I once heard that boy was found coming out of a bath house stark naked," mused Iatsu Jingori, a minor boss who handled shipping and transport for the other clan lords, "Caught him on the monitors, we did, over at Boss Karuba's castle."

"No way!" Nakusai responded, "How'd he get past the security there? The place is tighter than a fortress!"

"It is a fortress," he was gently reminded by Iatsu, "And I'm damned if I know. All we caught going into the thing was a little black pig with a bandana like his, probably his pet or something since he seems to have lost that dog who used to follow him around everywhere."

"More like he was following it," replied Tomoku, "The black and white dog was like a Seeing Eye for him, really very devoted to his master. Wonder what happened to it?"

"Hell if I know," Iatsu shook his head, "Never did find the pig…or the dog either."

"But I don't get it," Otomu said stubbornly, "Why's this clown able to just walk around and bust up our games and stuff? Aren't you ever tempted to just, y'know, pop him one, like Largo here suggested?"

"You're joking, aren't you," Nakusai said blandly, "Do you know what happened to the last guy who tried to interfere with a Hibiki?"

"Yeah," Iatsu replied, "Shame about poor Yuba. They ever take him off life support?"

"Last I heard he was showing some brain function," Tomoku replied, "Which is a good thing, isn't it? And then of course there's the example set by Kingo when he tried to take the Hibiki boy for a ride. Never could figure out how he wound up in that part of Jersey."

"Coming out of a Gay bar no less!" Nakusai chuckled, and the other men around the table joined in at the good humor, only they abruptly stopped laughing as the wall-which had just been recently bricked back up by their underlings-exploded inward, having been broken down once again by yet another intruder.

Largo and Otomu drew guns while the lesser Yakuza bodyguards produced more traditional weaponry and turned to confront the new intruder. They all stood around with stupid expressions on their face when they got a good look at who it was that stood amid the rubble where the wall had been. The three bosses sitting around the table sat upright and grew collectively as pale as ghosts as they took in the sight of this stranger.

She stood very tall for a woman in Japan, just under six feet in height, and though she was very good to look at there was a rugged wildness about her lovely features. Long brown hair fell loosely around her shoulders as she scanned the occupants of the room with crimson eyes, then in a sultry voice she asked a single name, "Ryoga?"

"Uh…" Otomu looked to his boss for guidance here. The woman was dressed casually in a pair of worn jeans and tank top, and she had a large backpack draped across her shoulders with a folded umbrella on top, just like a certain other fellow known to these gangsters.

"He's not here!" Tomoko hastily declared, "He visited last night but left early in the morning!"

"Oh," she replied, then held up a curious pendant in one hand and glared at the thing in resentment, "Stupid pendulum! You're supposed to lead me to where he is now, not take me on some merry goose chase! I ought to take you back to Momma and have her get a refund!"

The woman turned around and took her leave without a backward glance, but only after she was completely out of their sight did the three Obuyan heave a sigh of relief, then Iatsu, the oldest present, whispered in tones of dread, "That was her! What's SHE doing back in Nerima?"

"Hell if I know!" Nakusai declared, "Last I'd heard she was boarding a boat headed for China!"

"Better get the word out to our people," Tomoku said with total seriousness, "The Fox is definitely back in the henhouse now! As of this moment everybody is to steer as far away clear as they can from that woman!"

"How come?" Otomu asked, surprised to see his boss get so worked up about a woman…even if the woman in question was built like a brick house and could break bricks down with one fist.

"She's a Hibiki, boy," Iatsu responded, "That's reason enough, and the boy who played last night is her son!"

"You mean…?" Largo gasped.

Tomoku nodded, "That's right…she's none other than the legendary Hibiki Atsuko!"

At the pronouncement of that name all the Yakuza within earshot experienced a collective shudder…

"Okay," Ranma said, "Let me get this straight, Old Man…you made a deal with mom that you'd make me into a 'man among men' or we'd both commit seppuku?"

"It was necessary, Boy," Genma replied sternly, "Without signing our names to that contract she never would have let us go on that training mission, especially considering how long we were gone on the last one."

"Only you signed for me," Ranma growled, "You put my hand-print on the damned paper because I was too small to know what this was all about! And then after taking me away from my home for ten long years, telling me that she was dead, making me think that the lady who sometimes showed up to follow us all around Japan was some kind of crazy stalker, and dumping me in that cursed spring so I turn into a girl when I get wet, you suddenly decide that I ain't manly enough for her and that she's gonna kill both of us because of your error!"

"Don't pretend you had nothing to do with it, Boy," Genma folded his arms and sat like a statue of the Buddha, "Things don't just happen, you have to be a part of them, which means some of the responsibility is on your head…"

"Oh yeah?" Ranma growled, "Then explain about Ucchan!"

"Ah…well…that is…" Genma began to show signs of nervousness.

"You engaged me to her without telling me about it!" Ranma was practically shouting now, "Ten years later I find out I've got YET ANOTHER FIANCEÉ besides the ones I'm still trying to deal with!"

"Now Ranma," Genma said patiently, "I've explained to you before how it really was your decision to leave her behind and take the yatai…"

"You say it was my choice because you asked if I liked okinomiyaki better than Ucchan and you call that making a decision?" Ranma started to get up with a menacing look on his face.

"Ah…well…" Genma glanced to the side, "You sure you really want to discuss this in front of them?"

"And why not discuss it around us?" Nabiki asked.

"Stupid panda think he exclude Shampoo from talk about Airen?" the Amazon at her side seconded.

"Yeah, Pop," Ranma growled, "They're as involved in this as Ucchan, only we've got a deal going that really is our choice and not something you came up with Tendo-san over a jug of sake! If it was just me you were screwing with I'd probably just deal with it, but you insult them and that really makes me mad!"

Genma blinked his eyes and said, "Son…don't tell me you really are planning to marry both of them, are you? What would your mother say about having two daughter-in-law instead of only one?"

"You heard what she said last night," Nabiki growled, "Go for it."

"Aiyaa…" Shampoo's eyes narrowed, "Is Ranma father try to weasel out of agreement with Shampoo mother?"

"Uh, I mean…I didn't mean it like that…" Genma hastily amended.

"Oh no?" Ranma grabbed his father by one arm then wrapped his legs around his neck and started squeezing, "That's it, you pompous windbag! I'm not taking any more of this out of you! Now apologize at once to Nabiki and Shampoo!"

"Gah!" Genma tried to wrestled free from the grip his son had on him and failed, "Apologize? What for? I didn't do anything!"

"Try pretending you gotta clue," Ranma growled as he redoubled his efforts.

"Help!" Genma wheezed, "You don't really want to fight like this in front of your two brides, do you?"

"Why not?" Nabiki challenged.

"Is good entertainment," Shampoo seconded, "Ranma mind if Shampoo help?"

"Wait your turn," Ranma growled, "I'm gonna bend you in half until you apologize for putting us all through hell, Old Man! Don't bother trying to get free, I know all the counters!"

"Ah," another voice said, "Did I come just in time to watch the floorshow? This looks like it could be most entertaining."

"Oh," Nabiki turned to glance at the new arrival, "It's you."

"Indeed," Lotion smiled, "I trust you've had time to complete your business for the day, because it's time for another lesson, Apprentice."

"Now?" Nabiki responded with surprise in her voice.

"No better time for it," Lotion tapped Nabiki on the shoulder with her staff, "I let you have time off to deal with personal matters, but there's no sense in allowing you to become complacent. How do you expect to become a decent Lore Master if you neglect your studies?"

Nabiki sighed, glancing apologetically to her two respective mates, "I'll check back later on you guys. Oh, and Ranma-kun?"

"Yeah, Nabiki?" Ranma asked from where he still maintained his lock-grip on his father.

"Please let Uncle know that I am very cross with him, and if he wants to continue living in this house he had better learn to behave…or else," Nabiki growled with no uncertainty in her tone to imply that compromise was an option.

"Sure thing," Ranma smiled grimly, "I'll 'explain' it so he gets the point even through that thick skull of his, right Oyaji?"

"And if Ranma get tired, Shampoo take over for husband," Shampoo added with enthusiasm.

"Help!" Genma softly pleaded.

"I knew I could count on you two," Nabiki said with real affection before turning to follow the old woman as they left the dojo and headed out towards the garden…

Nabiki's Journal Resumes:

I had been wondering when the old woman would come to fetch me back to her training program. That business with the date, Akane getting cursed and the shock of Ranma's mother showing up alive and crazy had distracted me from thoughts about this Lore Master business, but once reminded I found myself oddly enough actually looking forward to getting back to my lessons. It was like that whole training business in the hills that took us away from our normal lives and showed me a world of possibilities that I'd never even suspected existed was a kind of magic that I found much more appealing than the harsh realities that had been faced with lately, the conflicting loyalties and misguided attempts at deceiving people who were close to me. There was something appealingly honest about the ancient Lore Master and what she had to offer that actually made me look forward to one of her lectures.

Of course this one stared out unexpectedly with Lotion calling over her shoulder, "So tell me, child, what do you think of your future father-in-law?"

"Are you kidding?" I snorted, "He's as bad as that old lecher who taught him and Daddy. He's like the complete opposite of Ranma! He's a coward and a liar and so incredibly stupid and treacherous…"

"Yes, he is all of that and more," Lotion replied, "And yet there was a time when he held such promise. I knew him twenty years ago, and while I had a sense even then of what he would turn out like, I also knew of the path that he would not take, the one that could have made him into a better man if only he had heeded the angels of his better nature, his conscience."

"Conscience?" I snorted, "I'd be surprised if he even has one!"

The old woman gave me the oddest smile and said, "Really? And would it surprise you to hear that there are people in this town who say the same thing about you? I understand that, before you became Ranma's iinazuke, you had a reputation for ruthless profiteering, bribery, blackmail and extortion. Pray tell what changed you into a person who feels fit to cast aspersions on another?"

I couldn't answer that right away because what the old woman said hit a little too close to home for my liking. It was true that I was a pretty ruthless type before Ranma came into my life. What changed me was the thought that Ranma would not approve of my more extreme ventures, and without really meaning to I had begun to curb my extortion activities almost from the beginning. I had to wonder about this because I couldn't believe I would alter long-established patterns of behavior so easily without considerably more prompting than knowing some guy would frown because I happened to exploit human weakness to make a living.

As I was pondering this I could hear the sounds of mayhem increasing in pitch and volume back in the dojo and decided that there were some things much worse than being the family mercenary. Being a shiftless old braggart who used people justify his own worthless hide was a step I'd never taken, and one I sincerely hope I never have to.

The old woman looked away from me and gazed off into the distance while I in turn studied her profile. We both were about fifteen meters away from the dojo and the house in a part of the yard that afforded us some privacy-especially given the racket we could hear behind us-so I knew that it was just the two of us when she began speaking again on matters of a highly personal nature.

"You have spent your life living behind a wall of denial," she said softly, "You erected this barrier around your heart to shut out the pain of a loss so great that you did not want to feel close to anyone like that again. You thought you could live your life safe and secure away from emotions that would distract you from basic survival. Perhaps it was a necessary phase that you had to go through in order to be where you are now, but for the longest part of your life you have been living a lie based entirely on self-deception."

She turned to study me and said, "But that wall, hard as you formed it, is as nothing when compared to the wall that Genma has erected around his very soul to shield himself from the grief he feels towards his own honorless behavior. He is in a denial so deep that it is difficult to reach him, let alone make him accept what he knows to be the truth in regards to his own conduct. He is far worse than you at hiding from himself the truth that he dares not face for fear that self-loathing will utterly consume him. He is not truly a stupid man...he is a desperate one who clings to the facile illusions that give him comfort against a reality he will not allow himself to accept. He knows better than you, better than anyone else that he is to blame for making a mess of his son's life, but he feels helpless to alter those circumstances that were brought about by his own actions, and so he lies to himself and pretends that he is an innocent victim of another's evil…Happosai."

"Happosai?" I said, "You mean the old leach is his excuse for all the horrible things he's done to poor Ranma?"

"Consider the story of his life, which I know in far greater detail than even he suspects that I know," Lotion replied, "It begins even before my time back in the village of Joketsuzoku when a young man happened upon us…a wandering student of the martial arts by the name of Happosai.

"Young Happosai was a very small man of slight build, quite unpromising for a candidate who would go on to become the greatest martial arts master of our age, Cologne notwithstanding. He had been picked on mercilessly by the people of the village of his birth, so as a youth he fled his homeland to wander the world in search of knowledge. He thought if he could master the arts taught to him by his father in Okinawa he could return home one day in triumph. So it was he found himself in the lands of the Nyanchiczu, tired, hungry and exhausted, to collapse almost literally at the feet of a young warrior named Kho-Lon, our current Matriarch."

"What's the deal there?" I asked, "How can she still be alive after three hundred years, or Happosai for that matter?" Or you, I silently added, though I wasn't about to venture that thought aloud as I listened to her explanation.

"Cologne," Lotion began, "Is the daughter of a very unusual mating between an outsider male known to us simply as Yo-Sho, and a woman of our village named Bha-Alm. He came to us a generation before Happosai, defeated our best warrior in combat and stayed with her for a season before vanishing abruptly one day with no word or explanation. Cologne was the result of their brief union, and her twin-brother, Ro-Ghan. When Balm died in battle they became the wards of our then-Matriarch, who taught Cologne the lore of the Amazon War Masters. Cologne had a gift that even then was not well understood, one that marked her for greatness, and so it was almost fated from the time of her birth that she would one day become our Matriarch. Of course circumstances would cause great pain and tragedy in her life, and in time make her once-gentle heart bitter, beginning with the day when she lost her brother to a demoness and culminated in her doomed romance with Happosai."

"Wait, wait a second here," I urged, "What was that about her having a brother who was killed by a Demoness?"

"Not killed by her," Lotion corrected, "The demoness loved Rogaine and had a child by him, a son named Ra-Zor, who bore an incredibly mixed nature. Rogaine went to live with the demoness over Cologne's fervent opposition, so she blamed the demoness for coming between them, and when he died in battle against an enemy she held that as well against the demon, known to us as Ganglot. Cologne was actually being quite unfair to the demoness, but that's another story entirely and only peripheral to what I wish to explain here…"

At that moment a crash resounded from the dojo, and I glanced back to see Uncle Genma rising up into the air like a human blimp, only to end his trajectory shortly as he came crashing back down, creating a second hole in the roof of the dojo. I sighed inwardly, already adding up the expense for making yet more repairs to the place, not that I didn't rate the cause as justifying the expense, of course.

"You see," Lotion continued as if never having been interrupted, "When Happosai came to live with Cologne she saw a side to him that few others even knew existed, the part that he keeps hidden in his own heart, the part of him that identifies with small and helpless things that need a protector. Cologne saw kindness and generosity where others saw only a warped little man with a twisted nature. It soon came to light that Happosai had a dark secret in that he had a strong love for…shall we say…improperly fondling and ogling at women? Being shunned by the women in his village, he compensated for the absence of feminine interest in his person by stealing trinkets and copping a feel towards any woman who came within grope range. Cologne was the only one he did not molest in such an improper manner, and I suspect it was because she loved and did not reject him, whereas it was the rejection of others that fueled his perverted obsessions."

"Oh, I get it," I said, "You mean if a woman rejects him he treats her like an object…"

"Whereas a woman who accepts him and shows kindness is treated like a princess," Lotion replied with a firm nod, "Transference, the tendency to respond in kind to perceived rejection, to make small those who make him feel bad, and to laud on a pedestal anyone who treats him like a person. It's how he copes with the knowledge that he is smaller than other men and not very attractive, though in denial of the obvious he pretends that he was a true ladies man in his heyday. It is like the rest of his reprehensible conduct and generally selfish behavior, something to be justified on the grounds of his insecurity. In his mind he is neither a villain nor a victim but simply a man who does what he needs to do in order to satisfy his baser appetites. Of course this sort of self-justification and indulgence is the reasons why the Council of Elders banished him to the peripheral territory outside our village."

"I'm surprised they were so mild about him," I said with some surprise, "If the guy was anything like he is today I'd have thought you guys would have killed him."

"Do you think we are such barbarians?" Lotion replied, "Granted we do have harsh penalties for serious transgressions, and I would be the first to point out that the ones applying to outsiders are among our most ancient and barbaric, but Cologne spoke out on his behalf and her word carried weight even in those days. She was a young girl in love, and Happosai was kind to her as he was to no one else, just as she was the only one who showed him any kindness. What a pity he could not control his wicked compulsion to bother and molest the rest of our village or he might have been redeemed by that love. Such a waste of such a one with so much vast potential," she shook her head sadly.

"Yeah, well," I said, "Not to be insensitive or anything like that, but it sounds to me like the old fart made his bed and slept in it. I take it he didn't remain very long in the old ghoul's good graces?"

"Indeed," Lotion replied, "And once he lost the good graces of his only protector it was the loss of his one chance to be redeemed. After that he went on to a life of perversity far greater than merely stealing the treasures of the Amazons and leaving Cologne embittered and heartbroken…"

"Treasures of the Amazons?" I asked, seeking greater clarification.

"Indeed," Lotion replied, "At first he was content to steal the undergarments of the women he coveted, if only to smell the scent of their bodies and thus feel closer to them than he could get in real life, but then he began to gain a lust for more personal objects of adornment. Like a magpie he started to covet the artifacts and objects of power that were created by the Lore Masters and Mages of many previous generations. Every house had its own object of power that was venerated by the daughters of the most prominent families of Amazon society. In Cologne's case it was a mirror that can be used to transverse the boundaries of time, one she prized very much but was willing to sell to pay for the food Happosai stole from other members of the village. It had been the legacy of her mother, and when Happosai stole it from her, it was like stealing a piece of her heart…which, come to think of it, is probably why he took it."

"Why that…PERVERT!" I exclaimed, horrified that any man could do something so callously cruel to a woman who so adored him.

"Ah yes," Lotion sighed, "Truly perverted, the taking of something that should have been beautiful and twisting it around against its very nature. Such a tragic loss that one so young should become so embittered, and thus was lost a promising Lore Master…"

"A what?" I blinked, "Are you saying that dried up old blemish is a…?"

"Lore Master?" Lotion replied, "He could have been the greatest of us all, but he failed the test of character and his gift was wasted. Before you judge him, though, consider yourself to be in his place while young Ranma could well have been in the place of Cologne…"

"No way!" I insisted, "I could never do anything like that to my Ranma!"

"Perhaps not now," Lotion smiled at me in a peculiar way, "But consider what you might have been like if you hadn't become involved with him and only considered the boy as your personal plaything to toy with and abuse for your own profit."

"Eh?" I gasped, "What are you saying?"

"Just consider the possibility," Lotion turned away with an enigmatic expression, "If Ranma had been engaged to…say, one of your sisters, and you were the one left out to continue to practice those things that you used to do for money. You once tried to sell pictures of his girl half to that Kuno boy, am I right?"

"Uh…yeah…" I reluctantly admitted, "But I was just…"

"Trying to distance yourself from Ranma," she finished for me, "To break off your engagement before you got too deeply involved with him. And then there were the betting pools you established at first to wager on your sister's ability to defeat the horde of admirers who used to fight for her attention. I believe you had something to do with young Lord Kuno's declaration that only a strong man could date her."

I was forced to look down rather than answer. The old woman clearly knew a lot more about me than I'd ever thought possible, but then I'm prepared to believe that she really does know everything. I tried to imagine what things would have been like if I hadn't started to have genuine feelings for Ranma and found that I couldn't bear to be parted from him. All I could do was recall that at one time I had been pretty bored and isolated, a pariah at our school on account of the way I used and discarded people. I told myself it was for a good cause, that I was only providing a service that others paid for, that I didn't need to worry about minor things like principles and ethics, even as I insisted that I wasn't cheating anyone but dealing in good faith, and was it my fault if other people suffered on account of their own folly?

I could not imagine Ranma getting engaged to Kasumi, and I absolutely refused to think of what a disaster it would have been for him to get mixed up with Akane considering how the two of them were like oil and water, possessing many of the same faults without enough of the same strengths to make each other happy. What if it had gone that way, though, and I was the one to sit on the sidelines and watch the whole affair happen to somebody else besides me? Would I still have stood back and let Akane sleep with her pet pig, or sold photos of Ranma-chan to Kuno, or politely yawned when Shampoo showed up and made hash out of my sister? If I had been the sort of uncaring bitch everyone always assumed me to be I'd probably have found the whole thing amusing and merely viewed it for the profit potential. The fact that nothing like that did happen did not relieve from me the nagging sense that I was living in a fool's paradise to think that I would be all that much better than Genma or Happosai!

"Okay," I sighed, "So the old fart had the potential to be a Lore Master. What went wrong?"

"Beyond the fact that he stopped caring about anyone but himself and allowed the dark side of his nature to emerge triumphant?" Lotion said dramatically, then in a milder tone replied, "Not much. But as I say, he left the lands of the Amazons with our artifacts in tow and began to wander the world in search of other young ladies that he could bother. In time he returned to Japan, already quite old yet greatly changed in essence, made almost immortal by his quest for personal power and glory. He was rather set in his ways and by then used to being misunderstood by others, but a curious thing happened one day some seventy or eighty years back when he was on one of his usual panty raids, cruising through the suburbs of then-modern Tokyo in search of new women to harass…he met and fell in love with a woman who would become his one and only wife, a lady named Nanamiya Shinko. She bore him a daughter who went on to become your husband's great grandmother…"

"Whoah, back up a minute!" I pleaded, "You're telling me that old fart actually found a woman who was willing to go to bed with him?"

"Shocking isn't it?" Lotion mused, "But then Shinko was a very unusual woman, a widow to be precise. Her husband was a soldier who took part in one of Japan's early military forays onto the mainland, years before hostilities broke out in Manchuria and the Empire began its aggressive expansion. Shinko was a young and lovely thing who felt incredibly lonely and had a widow's pension as her staple source of income. She was bored and in search of diversion when Happosai came into her life and gave her all the excitement that she was craving."

"I'll bet!" I snorted, but more seriously I said, "He must've been, what? Two hundred and twenty years old at least! You're saying she could actually love that guy in spite of his perversity?"

"Dear child," Lotion smiled, "It was because his perversity appealed to her that Shinko became interested in him in the first place. He brought excitement into her life, and she-in turn-gave him something new in his experience…a woman who did not run away from him, who accepted him for what he was and wasn't out to change or remake him for the better. It wasn't an easy courtship by any measure…at first Happosai could not accept her love as genuine, even after she began joining him in his nocturnal raids, defying conventions for a woman of her station by acting like a sorority prankster. In time she finally won the old Master over and Happosai did come to accept her. It was the one time in his life when I think he was really and truly happy…" she sighed, "But such happiness does not last forever, and when the war came Shinko became a casualty in an allied bombing raid. Happosai was devastated and found himself alone once again with a teenaged daughter to care for, which was more responsibility than he was prepared to handle."

"And that daughter was Ranma's great grandmother?" I asked, by now drawn into fascination at learning so much about the family history of Ranma.

"Nanamiya Junko," she said, "A precocious sprite who took a lot after her father. She was the apple of the Master's eye, and against his wishes she learned the martial arts that she would pass along to her son after she met her husband, Saotome Shiryo, a man of ancient Samurai stock and a firm believer in the old traditions of Bushido. Talk about mixed marriages," she softly chuckled, "He was the very opposite of Happosai, a man of strong principles and upright moral character. In a lot of ways I see young Ranma taking after him. They had several children, among whom was Saotome Kurima, who in turn was the father to Genma and his older brother, Honima."

"Honima?" I asked, surprised to learn that Uncle Genma even had an older brother.

"Yes," the old woman replied, "The rightful heir to the Anything Goes school until he brought shame upon the family honor by eloping with your Aunt Mariko…"

"What, what, what?" I shook my head in disbelief, "He did what with who?"

"Forgive me for dropping that one out of the blue," Lotion eyed me sympathetically, "As I said, it was a family scandal. Honima was supposed to take over the Anything Goes school, but instead that dubious honor fell upon Genma's shoulders by default, so when Happosai went looking for an heir he selected Genma and your father to be his apprentices to pass along the family legacy. In a curious way your father and Genma did not immediately hit it off, even though they had known each other since childhood, but in the end they became as close as any two brothers, which is why they proposed uniting the families to honorably to heal the breach created by the elopement…"

"I don't understand," I admitted, "Are you saying that Ranma and me…?"

"Are already related?" Lotion smiled, "In point of fact you are second cousins."

I think I needed to sit down about that point, mainly because I was taking one too many revelations in a massive download and it was threatening to fry my mental circuits. Ranma was my cousin?? And we both were descended from Happosai??? I felt a little ill about that last point, but given everything that I had heard so far I was starting to suspect that a great deal had been kept from me my entire life, which meant that both Ranma and me shared something else in common. I began to suspect that my dad had more than his share of ulterior motives for insisting upon our engagement, and I wasn't really sure if I needed to know anything more about it.

Of course I had to say aloud, "I don't believe Daddy would keep something like this from me! Doesn't he think I have a right to know about my own iinazuke?"

"Well, he didn't want you to worry about such things," Lotion replied, "And besides, he wanted a son who could carry on the art, and by passing along the dojo as your dowry helps to keep the house in the family for another generation…"

"To say nothing about skirting the tax and inheritance laws," I added darkly, feeling a little bit like a commodity that my father had chosen to use for barter.

"At any rate," Lotion continued, "Your father, when training alongside Genma, shared the unique distinction of being a somewhat ethical man trapped in an apprenticeship that was designed to wear down and slowly eliminate any sense of propriety that he might at one time have possessed. Happosai's idea of motivating his students was to conduct raids and then be chased out of town by angry mobs of furious women. He would go to restaurants and eat like an elephant, then skip out and force his boys to pay the tab with physical labor. In time they learned the martial arts as a simple means of defending themselves against the righteous anger of the people Happosai went out of his way to offend. Their fathers weren't much help to either one of them and in fact egged Happosai on in so abusing their children…"

"And why was that?" I asked.

"Because Happy did the same thing to them when they were young, and the only way they could escape his wrath was to pass him along to their children," she replied matter-of-factly, "Then one day two Amazons appeared in Japan, sent by Cologne and the Council of Elders on a rumor that the thief who had stolen their treasure could be found in the area of Nerima. Comb and Silk were very promising young warriors in those days, but when they confronted Happosai they found to their chagrin that they would have to wade through his apprentices in order to get to him. To their surprise both warriors were fought to a standstill with no clear resolution"

"And that's how they met, huh?" I asked, amazed to learn that Daddy had been such a stud in his youth.

"Indeed," Lotion smiled, "And if circumstances had been a little different it may well be that Ranma and Shampoo would have been born siblings. At the very least you and your sisters would have been born Amazons, albeit to a different house altogether."

I found that notion not only improbable but difficult to imagine, but I listened as the old woman continued, "The fact that there was no clear victor daunted the two young warriors enough that they decided to try a less direct tactic in order to achieve the fulfillment of their instructions. Instead of fighting with Genma and your father they wound up befriending them and began learning about the world outside the lands of the Nyanchiczu. In those days Comb was particularly provincial in her outlook and wanted very little to do with the world outside, and the last thing she needed was to get a husband like Genma…or so she insisted. Silk, on the other hand, was very much intrigued with your father. This was before either of the two men had even met their future brides, so you need not imagine that your father was cheating on your mother, or Genma on his wife. It was all part of the strange mixture of circumstances that colored events in those frantic times. I was a bit of a late arrival on the scene, and I only caught the tail end of their adventures, but from what I've been able to piece together since, your father and Uncle had some pretty wild escapades and broke more than a few hearts before they at long last settled down to start families with Nodoka and Kimiko, the woman who became your mother."

"Okay," I said, "That's the part I want to hear more about. Who besides Comb and Silk were after Uncle and Daddy?"

"Dear me, how much time do you think I want to spend dwelling on the past, child?" Lotion sniffed, "I can't give you the full list, but I can mention the more significant contenders. Of course it would be best if your father were willing to own up to this himself, but I somehow doubt that he would want to have to explain the sort of problems he got into between the Sorceress and the Ninja."

"So Daddy was playing the fiend in those days, huh?" I sniffed, "So what's the story with Uncle Genma?"

"No difference," Lotion replied, "Save for the identity of the players."

I could sense she was only taunting me with hints at that point, and I'm pretty sure that she was daring me to come out and overtly ask for the names and descriptions of the women who had once been after Daddy. I was having a hard enough time accepting the notion that anyone would have taken that serious an interest in Uncle Genma, but I guess it requires all types to make your average real-life soap opera.

"Care to drop any names?" I asked, doing my best to hide my slight exasperation.

"One name stands out above all others," she replied, looking away, "Atsuko. At one time she was even more of a potential rival for Nodoka than Comb herself. Ah, the clashes those two had fighting over a man…" she shook her head in what sounded like amusement, "Of course the difference being that Comb denied that she was interested, while Atsuko made no secret about her interest."

"Atsuko," I murmured, feeling oddly that I had heard that name before, though from just where I wasn't able to say then and there. It took a few more minutes before she really landed the bombshell.

"Of course neither one had Genma in the end," Lotion continued, "He was already pledged by an arranged marriage to Nodoka, and once the two of them met he was overwhelmed by her charm and poise, her excellent cooking talents, and the fact that she came from a moderately wealthy family, which he thought would insure a handsome source of income. It was only after he married her that Genma learned that Nodoka's inheritance would fall upon his son and heir when he reached his eighteenth year of maturity…"

"Huh?" I blinked my eyes, "What was that? Did you just say that Ranma…?"

"Is due to come into a lot of money when he gets older," Lotion smiled at me and added, "And Genma will not see a single yen-piece unless Ranma himself decides to share the wealth of this trust fund set up for him by a prosperous Great Uncle."

I took a moment before I finally asked, "How much money are we talking about here?"

"Surely you don't expect me to know the actual amount of his inheritance?" the old woman gave me a coy expression, "But I can tell you that the Tsukino fortune is most substantial, including a large number of shares in such corporate holdings as Mishima Heavy Industries."

I actually blinked as I slowly took this in. All along I've operated under the assumption that my iinazuke has no fortune of his own, that all he brings to the table is himself and his martial arts training. I was the one who was supposedly supplying the big dowry by Daddy's gift to him of the dojo. I was well aware that it was a convenient tax dodge to avoid the confiscatory inheritance laws of Japan that are a legacy of the days when the Shoguns had sought to keep Samurai families from accumulating too much wealth and property. In principle I have nothing against such an arrangement, but I have at times chaffed a little over the thought that I was being used by my father like a barter chip in a business transaction.

The idea that Ranma might actually be worth something monetarily has simply never occurred to me before this. I literally did not know how to take this revelation since all along I've believed that I was marrying for emotional and not material reasons.

"So," I said at last, "Uncle Genma wants a piece of that pie, but he can't get it unless Ranma lives to see his eighteenth birthday?"

"Yes," Lotion replied, "But that is not the entire reason for why he has invested so much of his energy to seeing that Ranma achieves his full potential. If it were just a matter of letting him live to reach full adulthood then he would never have risked his son through so much intensive training. The real reason for why he has done everything that he has done to Ranma isn't just his selfish desire to make Ranma into a man that other men may envy. In his eyes and mind his son is the ticket to personal redemption, a way of proving to himself and to all others that the sacrifices he has made were ultimately worth something."

"I don't get it," I said, frankly having difficulty attributing anything to Uncle Genma but selfish motivations.

"Recall what I said before about Genma once having principles and a rudimentary sense of honor?" the old woman asked pointedly, "His father was the same way when he was a young man, but both of their lives were badly affected because of Happosai and his training. Genma's father became a selfish, compulsive, dishonorable wretch, and for a time Genma swore he would never be like him, only to find himself becoming EXACTLY like his father over time when he took up the mantle of the Saotome school from his older brother. He was forced down the same path of shame and degradation from which only the hard lessons of expediency and opportunism would emerge, along with a deep sense of guilt that would harden into self-denial and myopia until he became the compulsive, stupid, self-centered wretch that you see today. The one good thing he has had going for him in this life is Ranma."

"He sure has a funny way of showing it," I groused.

"Indeed," Lotion agreed, "But in his mind he has used Ranma to deflect his guilt by telling himself that his motives are actually altruistic. He became obsessed with raising a son who would become the very model of a martial artist, a warrior without peer who could be everything that Genma felt that he could never become. As long as Ranma is fated for greatness he feels his own life has been justified and rendered some meaning. To that end he has worked and slaved, suffered hunger and privation, even pledged his life and honor to see that Ranma would have the chance of one day surpassing Happosai. To ensure this happened he did the one thing that his own father never had the courage to do and joined with Soun to lock Happosai away for ten long years, thus preventing the ancient Master from interfering in Ranma's earlier training."

"What's the deal there?" I asked, "How can that old fart still be alive after being locked in a cave for years without food or water? It's just not human!"

"Human limits do not apply to us, my dear," Lotion explained, "A Lore Master sets his or her own limitations. Besides which, Happosai is not-as I've already implied for you-strictly within the definition of entirely human. His quest for power and greatness extended his life far beyond all so-called 'natural' limits, and it is not for nothing that he is referred to as the 'Demon' Master."

I shivered without knowing precisely why. That old fart had given me the creeps since he first showed up on our doorstep, and now I had an even better reason not to trust the old fossil. Learning about his origins and past gave me a pretty good idea of why Daddy would want to try and kill him, but it seemed that Gramps is harder to rub out than a cockroach, and ten times as annoying!

"You see," Lotion continued, "Happosai believes that adversity challenges one to tap into their latent potential. The more harsh the adversity the greater the effort that is made by a martial artist trying to stay alive and conquer the odds. That is why he forced your father and Genma to suffer those trials that broke down their wills and badly tarnished their honor. It doesn't matter if this training makes one a social pariah, all that matters is the training itself and the will to fight. In that respect he has already set his sights upon young Master Ranma."

"No way!" I said as I felt a real anger well up from within me at the thought that Ranma could ever wind up the mirror image of his father.

"It is a serious concern," she replied, "And one to be steadfastly guarded against with forethought and eternal vigilance…wouldn't you agree, young Master?"

I followed the line of her gaze and whirled about to find Ranma and Shampoo peering at us from the entrance to the dojo where they had clearly been eavesdropping. I looked back at them and said, "How long have you guys been there?"

"Ah…" Ranma felt the back of his head and said, "Long enough. You really meant what you just said…about Pop and the old fart?"

"A Lore Master does not lie about such things, young War Master," Lotion replied, "Your father views you as his redemption, the proof that everything he has endured has been for a worthwhile cause. Happosai, on the other hand, would like nothing less than to groom you as his heir, to make you into his likeness. You must resist his attempts to pull you down and break your spirit as he did to your father and his father before him. The Saotome line was once as proud and honorable as your mother claims it was, and more, which means that you are the promise of redemption to your family. This is the cause that prompted your mother to take her rather eccentric and extreme views that you be manly."

Ranma seemed to be absorbing that when Shampoo piped up and said, "Evil Demon Happosai was once in love with Hiibaachan? Aiyaa…Shampoo no hear that from Great Grandmother."

"Hardly surprising," Lotion mused, "It's not one of her favorite old memories. She'd much rather dwell upon her relationship with your great grandfather. Now there was a match that made for some interesting times," the old woman chuckled, obviously thinking about that other metaphorical "Chinese Curse."

"And what about that stuff about my Pop having lots of other girlfriends?" Ranma asked, "I heard him mention that lady you said before…Atsuko…what was her family name anyway?"

"Oh, didn't I mention that part?" the old woman smiled in a calculating manner, "I believe you already know her son, who shares many of her more-shall we say-quixotic features?"

"What?" Ranma blanched.

"Aiyaa!" Shampoo seconded in equal dismay.

"Are you serious?" I gasped, though I had already suspected the connection.

"Completely serious," Lotion replied, "And her full name is Hibiki Atsuko, the child of Razor, son of Ganglot and Rogaine. In other words, young War Master, the lost boy is, indeed, your estranged half brother through your mutual father, Saotome Genma."

I don't think anyone said a word for at least two full minutes, but then Ranma growled out the word, "OYAJIIIIII!!!"

With that he stalked back into the dojo, and in another moment the beating resumed, punctuated infrequently with a father's heartfelt pleas for understanding and mercy…

Kachu glanced down at the snacks that were set upon the table, then in a voice that was wholly uncharacteristic for the contriteness it contained she said, "It's good."

"I know it's good," Tofu replied, "It was made by Kasumi."

Kachu looked at her new husband, hearing the wistfulness in his tone, to which she replied, "I had no idea that my sister could cook like this. Even my own mother does not craft confections with such loving skill and perfection."

"I think it's because she takes a kind of joy in the act of cooking for her loved ones," Tofu replied, "I can't explain it, I just know that she has a talent for making other people feel better."

Kachu continued to eye the man sitting across from her before she finally sighed, "You would rather be married to her instead of me, is that it?"

He returned her stare, hearing not accusation in her voice this time but a sad kind of acceptance, as if she had expected nothing less.

"Is that what you really think of me?" he asked, "Maybe at one time, but that was before I knew you…"

She heaved a sigh and glanced away, "You don't have to pretend with me…I understand. I think I've known it from the beginning when you said that there was someone else that you wanted. I know I am not the prize that she must be, my sister, even if she cannot fight or perform the tasks that I was trained to do, just as I cannot cook or clean house or do anything else that a wife is supposed to be able to do for her husband…"

"Hey," Tofu reached across the table to take her hand in his own, "That's all right, I don't expect you to take care of me. I can do that for the both of us…heck, I've been taking care of myself for so long, I guess it really won't be any burden to take care of somebody else for a change…and aren't the men supposed to be the ones who do that sort of thing where you come from?"

"Y-Yes," Kachu reluctantly conceded, her brown eyes seeking his out once again as she formed a hesitant question, "You don't mind doing that? I mean…you are Japanese, not Nyanchiczu…"

"I don't mind," Tofu smiled a gentle smile that warmed her heart immeasurably, "And as long as you don't mind that I intend to keep my practice here, I don't see why I should object to you having me take care of you like a domestic. Or are you telling me that you're having second thoughts about this again?"

Kachu felt herself smile, an act that was so rare for her that it almost made the muscles of her face ache in protest, and with equally uncharacteristic gentleness she replied, "No…I'm not having any more doubts…my husband."

The word gave her unexpected pleasure and conjured up memories of their first night of love, when the both of them had been incredibly awkward and hesitant about the whole affair. It had been pure reflex when he drew her close to him, and she had begun trembling in such a way that she almost feared that she had caught a fever from the previous evening. When he took her into his arms it was like no experience that she had ever felt before, as if the strength she so depended upon had deserted her in that moment, to be replaced by a different sort of intense need, one equally a stranger.

Their first kiss had been magic, and when he had drawn her with him to his bedchamber she had gone unresisting, entranced as if under the compulsion of a spell. She had no memory of shedding the clothing that he had purchased for her, only of her own frantic need to tear the clothing from his body so that she could experience full contact of flesh to skin as the heat he radiated warmed her like no fire she had ever coaxed to life. From there it had been a somewhat awkward affair as both novices tentatively felt their way into a different sort of personal arrangement than when two combatants faced each other in the arena of challenge.

Still and all, his knowledge of anatomy and pressure-point techniques came to his assistance when it came time to stimulate Kachu in the ways of wanton physical pleasure, and she in turn discovered new ways of using her own complex school of spiritual training to return the favor with interest. It had been a learning experience for them both, but in the end they had achieved a kind of spiritual, physical, mental and emotional gestalt that wound up transporting them both to the realm of Nirvana. Kachu felt her cheeks flush just from the memory of that moment of intensity, and she yearned to experience again in the intimate embrace of her now-beloved husband.

"I'm glad," he said, and his hand closed on hers to squeeze with gentle passion, "I know the last couple of days have been hard on the both of us, but I don't think I would have wanted it any other way."

"Truly?" Kachu marveled, then hesitated again before she added, "But…what of my sister?"

"Kasumi," Tofu sighed, "I don't know what to do about that. I had no idea that seeing the two of us together…was going to upset her. I didn't even know if she was as interested in me as…I've been about her."

"Obviously she is," Kachu sighed, "Only I'm the one who wound up with you…not her."

"Maybe it's for the best," Tofu sighed, drawing a puzzled look from his companion until he looked her in the eyes and said, "I feel a lot more relaxed around you, and I can hold a normal conversation, and I don't shy away from your touch," he added the latter part with another gentle hand-squeeze.

Kachu found smiling was growing much easier with practice, but still there was a sadness in her heart as she replied, "But my…happiness…comes at her expense, and I don't know if I can live with that guilt. I've only known that I had sisters for the last two days, and so far I have given them little cause to cherish our kinship. I feel as if I have taken you from her, and…I find myself wanting to do something to make it up to her, to prove to my family that I am not a bad person."

"What do you have in mind?" Tofu asked.

"I don't know just yet," Kachu glanced down, unconsciously running a bare toe over the floor as she became unusually thoughtful, "But perhaps I will find a way. It…it is possible…I don't know if you would consider it or not…but under Amazon laws there is a custom that permits two warriors to share a man between them…"

"You mean…" Tofu hesitated before continuing, "Like Shampoo and Nabiki share Ranma?"

Kachu glanced up at him before she said, "Is that how it is? I thought Shampoo was unusually close with my sister. In a way I'm glad…it must be very good for her to find someone to care about that way again, after the sad loss of Lotion…"

"The Lore Master?" Tofu asked with lifted eyebrows.

"Her great granddaughter," Kachu corrected, "Another Lo-Xion, the younger."

"So, Shampoo had a girlfriend back in China?" Tofu asked, then blinked his eyes before adding, "And…you think that maybe…you, me and…K-K-Kasumi…?"

"It is one possible option," Kachu sighed, not bothering to comment on his tendency to stutter her sister's name on occasion, "I have no qualms about sharing you with her if it will restore peace between us. I might be less inclined to share if it were anyone but her…but if it allows me to come to know my sister-twin all the better…then I think it would be to our mutual advantage."

"Oh?" Tofu said blandly, then with wider eyes he repeated, "Oh…!"

"As I say it is one possible option," Kachu added by way of elaboration.

"Well," Tofu sighed, "I don't know about that one. I mean…I think I'd count myself a lucky man if I could have both of you, but I'm more than happy with…ah…our current arrangement. As for Kasumi… well, I don't think she'd go along with that. She's a very traditional girl, and most people in Japan tend to have only one mate, and besides…I don't think she could quite go along with what you're suggesting."

"Oh?" Kachu arched an eyebrow, "And what do you think I am suggesting…husband?"

"Ah…" Tofu gave a sheepish little smile as he said, "Never mind…forget I said anything about it. I think what I really mean to say is that I've made my bed, and I'm prepared to sleep in it."

Kachu gave him a smile and glanced back to the room, "The bed wasn't made the last I checked."

"It's just a figure of speech, Kachu-chan," Tofu smiled, drawing her by the hand as he stood up and making motions back to the bedchamber, and without hesitation she got up to follow…

Kasumi felt emotionally drained as she finished relating her full story to Kodachi, this time having left nothing out of her narrative as her friend had patiently sat with her and listened to the whole perplexing story. It had been a near endless torrent of words that had poured out from her, things she had kept inside for so long that it felt odd to share with someone else, but in the end she felt washed clean by the experience as Kodachi had not drawn away and had only asked an occasional question for clarifications sake but had not otherwise interrupted.

If anything Kodachi was actually stunned at the sheer volume of material that Kasumi had volunteered to share, things that she had until now only suspected but never actually had known for certain, while other revelations were a shock altogether. Not least of the surprises were the discovery of Ranma's curse and the connection between him and the impudent redhead who had thwarted her on occasion. She felt like laughing out loud when she at last realized that it was this same redhead for whom her brother had such a powerful crush, yet this Ranko was the same as Ranma, even given the gender reversal.

"Oh my," she mused at last when Kasumi had gotten to that part, "Poor Ranma, having to cope with a curse like that. How he must have suffered."

Kasumi nodded agreement, not having picked up on the wry grin and subtle hint of malicious amusement in Kodachi's tone. She had then gone on to explain about the other curse victims, including her Uncle Genma and Shampoo, then added as if in afterthought about Ryoga's curse, and she was mildly surprised to see Kodachi break out at that point into a near-hysterical peal of laughter, which the Black Rose hastily stifled before pleading that Kasumi continue.

"Oh my," Kodachi had stated again after another minute, "Your sister must have been very cross at discovering how she had been misled about her 'P-chan.'"

Kasumi had agreed with this and continued on until at last she ran out of material to divulge. She at last came to the subject that had caused her to seek out Kodachi's council, and it was only at this point where the Black Rose began to frown and look much less pleased, though it was clear from her manner that she was sympathizing with Kasumi.

"So," she said at last, "Tofu has proven himself to be a man after all. I cannot say that I am too surprised by this, but you would think he would at least wait until after they had a more formal declaration of marriage."

"Hai," Kasumi sighed, feeling at last as if she had just discarded ten kilograms off of her shoulders, "I only found them together a little while ago…and I can't explain why I reacted that way. I should be happy for my sister that she and Tofu are getting along…but instead…"

"Instead?" Kodachi hung breathless on the word, studying the face of her friend for the slightest nuance or hesitation.

Kasumi looked away before she could collect her thoughts again, "Oh…I don't really know. I guess maybe I felt as if…as if he thought my sister were really me…or perhaps that he was with her because…" she paused, "I've never really known if he…if I…oh my…"

She was silent for a time, then she dabbed her eyes with her fingers and said, "I…I'm just being silly. I don't know why I behaved the way I did…"

"Because you wanted him for yourself?" Kodachi asked into the gap provided by that latest hesitation.

Kasumi looked up with a startled expression in her eyes as Kodachi continued, "You found your sister sleeping with a man whom you have known for many years, and who you thought might potentially one day be your husband, and it hurt you."

Kasumi continued to stare, but there was a flash of recognition in her eyes, and then she glanced down once again and did not contradict this assertion.

"You knew that it could happen," Kodachi pointed out as gently as she was able, "A woman as beautiful as you, trapped up by those Amazon laws of hers to marry a man that you wanted for yourself. I'm sorry it had to be this way, Kasumi-chan, but you must have known that it could happen."

Very softly, almost as a whisper, Kasumi responded, "Hai."

Kodachi felt a strange mixture of feelings as she heard the unvoiced pain in the voice of her lovely companion. On the one hand it infuriated her that Tofu-sensei could behave with such little restraint and thus cause harm to Kasumi, but on the other hand this created an incredible opportunity for her to rush into the gap and console her…but still she found herself, for some odd reason, reluctant to do so.

After all, this was her friend…perhaps the first real friend she had ever had in her life. Kodachi could not recall ever feeling so close to another living person as she did to Kasumi, not even her brother, and certainly never her mother or her father! It was a friendship that she was still discovering, still feeling her way about through the confusion of emotions that were aroused whenever she was in the presence of the older Tendo sister. Kasumi made her feel so warm inside, so utterly close and yet so relaxed and unintimidated. Could she dare to risk this closeness on the possibility that they might become yet closer? For the first time in her life Kodachi felt doubt and uncertainty cloud her thoughts and inhibit her actions.

Whatever plans she had entertained in her thoughts for this moment were forgotten as she gently reached out to caress Kasumi's hand with her own. With more boldness than she had thought possible, Kodachi gently turned the older girl's chin until their eyes could meet, and then she softly said, "You deserve better than him, my friend. You deserve more than to be treated like yesterday's laundry."

Kasumi gazed back at Kodachi with no little surprised, hearing a quiet intensity in those words that she had never expected to find there. She watched with growing surprise as Kodachi leaned forward until their faces were almost touching, and then Kodachi breached what little space there was between them and brought her mouth up to cover Kasumi's unresisting lips, even as her body pressed up against the taller girl and her arms held Kasumi firmly by her shoulders.

It was perhaps the first kiss of her life that was passionate in any sense of the world, and it was with no little surprise that Kasumi found herself returning that kiss, though for what reason her mind simply could not fathom. She began to fall back as Kodachi leaned forward, and then she lost her balance altogether as Kodachi fell atop her, pressing Kasumi back upon the couch as their kiss persisted for several heartbeats longer.

Out of sheer reflex Kasumi put out and arm to catch herself, only to brush up against a table lamp, which she inadvertently knocked to the floor, startling her out of her moment of intense confusion.

"Oh…I'm so sorry," she gasped as Kodachi's kisses began to rove down her cheek towards her neckline, "I didn't meant to do that…"

"S'no problem," Kodachi replied in a slightly slurred voice as she refused to break contact with the unresisting Tendo girl, considering the lamp as barely worthy of attention.

"No really, it was clumsy of me," Kasumi pleaded, gasping slightly as Kodachi flicked her tongue under one earlobe.

"Forget about it," Kodachi said in a muffled growl as she continued down the length of Kasumi's bared throat in search of the hollow spot between the neck and shoulder, flicking her tongue against skin to an effect that met with a soft moan of approval.

"Oh my!" Kasumi gasped aloud, then resumed, "I'm sorry about the lamp, I'll pay for it if you like…"

"Would you forget about the kami-blasted lamp!" Kodachi groaned fiercely as she was too much far gone in her desire to let a petty thing like a lamp continue to distract the object of her intense ardor.

"Oh…!" Kasumi gasped as she felt Kodachi's mouth begin to roam even lower than before, "O…oh my…oh my…OH MY…!"

"Mistress!" Sasuke called from a far off place that neither one of them was connected to at the moment, "Mistress! Where are you! I must warn you-OH MY!!!"

Kodachi lifted her face from where it had been nestled to turn the scariest look she had ever turned his way upon the hapless manservant, who cringed in dismay as if confronted by a demon.

"What," she asked with deceptive calm, "Is it???"

Sasuke swallowed thickly and fervently thought a silent prayer to the Kami, {Not the Teletubbies tapes…for the love of humanity, NOT THE TELETUBBIES!}

Aloud what he managed to squeak out was, "Ah-uh-Mistress…he is here! The Master has returned! I spotted the limo pulling up in the driveway, and lo, he revealed himself to me, your humble family servant!"

"What, Tachi?" Kodachi asked, amazed that her idiot brother was returning for once in the limousine instead of the ambulance in which he so often wound up riding.

"No, Mistress," Sasuke replied, "Not the young Master…the old one! After all these many years the Lord of the Manor has returned to the House of Kuno!"

Kodachi turned pale and slowly pushed herself off of the much-confused Kasumi, whispering a soft, "No…not now of all times…!"

"Who?" Kasumi asked, remaining where she was, still too disoriented from the way her head was spinning to trust the effort of sitting upright.

"Who else," Kodachi said melodramatically, "But my father?"


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