Ah My Goddess Fan Fiction / Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction / Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ A Tale of Two Wallets ❯ Delinquent ( Chapter 57 )

[ 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

Comb worried about what might be going on inside the dojo, wishing desperately that she could excuse herself from helping out in the kitchen, but for the desperate need to keep Nodoka away from whatever was going on in there until it was actually over and done with. Comb hated to sit on the sidelines, relegated to background status while the real action was taking place elsewhere, but without knowing for certain if anything was being positively resolved she had only to trust that her grandmother and the Lore Master could manage without Comb's direct involvement.

It was not a very reassuring concept.

She trusted the Elder Lotion well enough, but her grandmother was a different matter altogether. True Cologne was the most formidable of all the War Masters who presently sat on the Council, and her experience in dealing with difficult matters was impressive, but Comb knew from first hand experience that the old biddy was anything but infallible and that the mistakes she had made in her life were of such an extreme character that they almost rivaled her accomplishments, such as the events that had convinced Comb to renounce her status as both Warrior and heir to Cologne's position. Pride in family had little to do with her current opposition to the Matriarch, for-rightly or wrongly-Cologne had a tendency to believe that she had a right to meddle in other peoples' affairs where it concerned the business of the Amazons, and her high-handed behavior had definitely shown itself in her handling of the matter regarding the younger ex-warrior, Lotion.

Comb personally liked the girl for the child was quick and adept in her lessons, and as an apprenticed Healer she had shown much promise. Comb fully expected the child to one day become an even better Healer than herself, for she had a winning charm and a sensitive nature that exceeded Comb's somewhat awkward bedside manner. Any Healer worth her salt knew that the best medicine of all was the positive outlook of her patient, and she had seen Lotion demonstrate that ability time after time during her apprenticeship as Comb's assistant.

Comb could hardly have missed the budding attraction between Lotion and her daughter, which reminded Comb in a way of her own on-and-off affairs with Silk, though the two girls did not spend half their time sniping at one another. Unlike her grandmother, Comb had never entertained any fears that it would prove to be a permanent attachment such as might preclude marrying a worthy male since Cologne fretted about have great-grandchildren someday. Why that onus would have to fall upon Shampoo alone was not a subject that Comb wanted to think about, but that was entirely the problem with the Matriarch in that she would go too far beyond her proper role as concerned Elder of their household.

When word of Lotion's death had reached Comb's ears she was no less devastated than Silk, the child's aunt and legal guardian, though Comb's first concern was how Shampoo would react to the loss of her first love. Comb had fretted that it would destroy Shampoo's peace of mind, reducing her happy-go-lucky child into a bitter reclusive who would avoid similar hurts by eschewing relationships all together. Comb had watched with anxiety as Shampoo went through various stages or remorse, from blaming herself to self-destructive behavior, but in the end Shampoo had pulled through and rallied herself back into a semblance of the person she was before the tragedy had happened. Comb had wanted to be there for her daughter, to provide what support a mother could for her oldest offspring, but she was forced to hold back due to her promise to Cologne. In the end it had been the old woman who gave Shampoo's life purpose and direction, to become champion of the tribe, the very ideal to which Comb herself had once been taught to aspire.

But no more! Comb was through sitting on the sidelines watching another raise her warrior daughter. It was time Comb told Shampoo the truth, the full and unvarnished story of why Comb did not get along so well with their family Elder. It was nothing less than Shampoo deserved, and out of token respect for the pride Comb felt towards her eldest she would endure whatever reaction Shampoo would have in learning how she had wound up in the care of the old hag. If she believed that Comb, too, had betrayed her, then it was nothing less than Comb deserved, for Shampoo had proven herself worthy of that truth several times over.

Comb turned her mind back to the conversation being held between herself and the other current denizens of the kitchen, having heard her name being mentioned, "Excuse me? I'm sorry…what did you ask, Nodoka-san?"

"I was just complimenting your husband for being such a talented chef," Nodoka replied, "The selection of herbs and seasonings that he has added to the Ramen has created a most savory and delicate flavor. You must share the recipe with me, sometime, Hairbrush-san. I would consider it a great privilege and an honor."

"Oh, no trouble at all, Nodoka-san," Comb husband smiled back, "Cooking is more of an art for me, something I do intuitively, feeling my way to achieving the right balance of ingredients. It's much like working with machines, you have to understand and respect the equipment in order to obtain the best results. Many people just dismiss objects as an inorganic means to an end, but a true mechanic knows that the means are as important as the ends. I think of it as 'Zen Cooking,' but in truth there is no formal structure to what I practice…"

"Hairbrush is one of the most talented chefs in our village," Silk remarked, "A real prize among men, and you can see where Shampoo takes a lot after him, unlike Comb-san here, who couldn't bake a loaf of bread without setting fire to the kitchen…"

"At least I put out my own fires," Comb growled back, restraining herself from a more acid remark aimed at her best friend and longtime companion.

"It's true that my wife has only moderate talents in the kitchen," Hairbrush flashed a smile her way, "But then her strongest arts are to be found in other arenas, and no one holds a candle to her in those arts in which she flourishes, eh Airen?"

Comb felt an irrational flush of emotions color her handsome features as she looked away, trying to avoid the smile that she felt like showing for some damnable reason. He always did know just what to say to her to get that sort of reaction, and the very fact that he was taking her defense while putting down her meager cooking skills was enough to make her want to drop everything and do something inappropriate for the time of day, given that there was no where private to act upon such impulses.

"Well now," Kasumi announced as she surveyed their handiwork laid out on the kitchen table, "This should cheer up father greatly. A feast like this is more food than we usually consume in a week. It almost feels like we're having a party."

"It does at that," Kodachi said brightly, "But then the accumulated skills arrayed here have combined to work true magic. I am pleased that my contribution in purchasing and having all this food delivered will insure this feast does not put an added strain upon your family's modest budget."

"You're so thoughtful, Kodachi-chan," Kasumi complimented, "I must remember to thank Sasuke again for remembering to add the tube roots to the list of items I gave him…"

"Don't mention it, Mistress," the little man groaned from where he had collapsed in one corner by the rear exit, having played the pack mule for the wealth of food he had purchased at Kasumi's bidding.

Comb had to shake her head as she looked away from Kuno Kodachi. There was just something about that child that reminded her a little too much of the girl's mother, Hitome.

"Well then," said Nodoka, "Now that everything is almost ready, perhaps I should go tell everyone in the dojo to wash up for dinner…"

"No, I'll do that!" Comb spoke up before she had a chance to think on what she was saying. Once the words were past her lips, however, she saw an opportunity in volunteering and added, "I'm sure whatever it is that they're doing in there must be nearly concluded. I'll just be a moment, the rest of you can lay out the dishes."

"Good," Silk smiled, "And once that's finished we can all test out that surprise you and Atsuko were working on together."

"Oh?" Nodoka asked with curiosity, "You two were both working on a project?"

"Ah…yes," Comb replied, turning around and heading out the exit as she said, "A little favor we arranged for Soun-san as token repayment for all the trouble we have caused him."

"Indeed," she heard Silk call back, "And what a rare thing for you two to work on something constructive together for a change."

Comb winced, counted to ten and stormed angrily out the back porch, her expression causing Soun to not even ask if dinner was ready as he did not think it prudent to risk his heath over such a trivial subject.

Comb was half way across the yard when she met a figure coming the opposite way, dressed in Amazon clothing with long blue-black hair and a scowl that belied her otherwise handsome features. Comb was about to question the stranger for her identity, not recognizing her from any of the Amazon villages that she knew of in her travels, but as soon as she parted her lips to speak the other woman growled back, "Not now, granddaughter, I have other, pressing business."

Comb froze to the spot where she was and blinked her eyes several times, then after half a minute to process the data she asked, "Granddaughter?"

She turned to look but the stranger had vanished. Comb wondered where she had met the stranger before, for there was something…impressive about the younger girl's bearing, almost familiar in a haunting sort of way, and that golden gown that she was wearing looked as though it could have adorned a village Elder, being both old and incredibly expensive looking. She briefly thought about chasing after the stranger, then decided against this course of action. She shrugged her shoulders instead, thinking to herself that there sure were a lot of strange people hanging out these days at the Tendo dojo…

Nabiki's Journal Resumes:

How to describe that dinner? Well…there was a lot of food to eat, and all of it pretty good tasting, and there sure were a lot of hungry mouths around to make most of it disappear into a very warm place, and I'll even admit I had more than my share of the caloric intake.

But it was also quite strange, and not just because of the odd company we were keeping. Aside from Uncle Genma's wife and ex-girlfriends there was Kodachi sitting with Kasumi-a little too close for my liking-and Shampoo's former playmates from China. Kuonji was sitting beside Akane with Ryoga next to my sister, and Ranma sitting beside me sharing my concerns about the lack of elbowroom around the table.

Oh yes, and there was my new older sister, Kachu, sitting beside her husband, Tofu-sensei, chatting pleasantly with Shampoo's father, a fact which had me groaning inwardly as it meant that I had lost my bet with Lotion, and now I owed the old woman a favor. Kami knows when she's going to collect on that marker! I couldn't quite bring myself to believe that this was the same girl who had fought like a real terror outside of his office, but I guess Tofu really can charm the socks off of anybody. I had to silently compliment my sister on making such a good catch, but I also prayed his insurance premiums were paid in full because that girl reminds me a little too much of Akane!

But most of all there was Nodoka, being pleasant and chatting with Ranma and me while alternating questions with Shampoo. The incident in the dojo was a subject we avoided by mutual consent, having only partially resolved the matter of Jusenkyo as Cologne was away fetching the last bottle of Nanniichuan water for Ranma.

I was more than a little surprised that Shampoo had decided against immediately drinking the Nyaniichuan water that alone remained of Kuonji's personal supply. Her stated reasoning that it was not fair to take the bottle when Akane had refused it for herself had to be a cover for her understandable nervousness at what the waters might do to her, given the complex nature of her cat-form. Ryoga's example proved the folly of tampering with forces that we barely understood, and I could not really blame her for not wanting to find out the hard way just what the water might do to her, or Akane for that matter. Besides, I think Shampoo was secretly hoping Kuonji would keep the water for herself, though I'm a little unsure about whether or not Kuonji wants to do away with her own curse.

After all, she had briefly demonstrated for us what she looked like in her other form, and I had caught Akane sighing in a way that was most disturbing, a feeling I could hardly blame my sister for since my own reactions (involuntary, I assure you) was altogether favorable. I'd suspected it before, of course, but as a real guy, Ukyo's Bishonen looks are magnified to heart-stopping levels. Even Shampoo was visibly affected, while Ranma…I guess maybe the idea of his friend turning out to be "more guy" than himself was enough to put an added strain upon their friendship.

Ukyo, of course, protests that she has no interest in women, even though her new "killer" looks are bound to make her an object of lust with the female half of the population at our school. Personally I think Kuonji is kidding herself if she thinks she can escape falling prey to the female counterparts of the drooling legions who once flocked to Akane's doorstep. If there is even the least degree of Bisexuality in her (and I suspect that there is more than a fair amount) then it would be a minor miracle for her to survive the semester and still remain a virgin!

Of course that doesn't equate a ringing endorsement from me that she should be dating my sister anytime soon. I might have made an issue out of it, but I was already walking on eggshells with my little sister, so I'd have to let Akane settle her own life issues. Kuonji better not play with her feelings, though, or I'll…hmmm…I'll sick Shampoo on her! That ought to put the fear of the kami into anyone! I don't even think Sham-chan would need much coaching to avenge Akane's honor.

Of course some portion of my attention was directed away from the table discussions to the unvoiced issue that had been raised about Sham-chan, or-to be more accurate-that girl who was also named Lotion the Younger, the very girl that her great grandmother had described to me as reportedly deceased, yet who appeared very much hale and hearty and as lovely as a spring flower that blooms on an April morning.

I can't quite describe my reactions to meeting this girl for the first time in the flesh. The blue-haired Lotion was a rather shy and self-effacing thing who smiled a lot and often demurely. She was charming, polite, very cordial without seeming formal, evidencing a sensitive and compassionate nature worthy of Kasumi. The brown-haired Perfume hovered at her side with doting affection, but there was also an easy familiarity that I could read between her and the pink-haired Ambergris, signifying that she had a charming effect with both girls but was not the least bit self-conscious about it. Shampoo kept staring at her too from time to time, and in her expression I read a great deal of affection, even longing and some regret. It was obvious from all of this that the girl was the sort of person who connects with other people and forges strong bonds of emotion based on trust and mutual respect, a person for whom you'd gladly jump off a cliff into a raging waterfall in order to save, as Ambergris is alleged to have done, and without hesitation.

I hated her on sight!

I know I'm not being fair to the girl since she is obviously a very sweet person, but she symbolizes a part of Shampoo's past that I've only just started to become conscious of, and it's galling me to know that she was first in my Amazon girlfriend's affections. When she was a memory, a mere ghost, she was just a haunting shadow of something sweet and innocent who taught Shampoo a lot about life and made it possible for her to turn her affections towards me, an outsider female. Alive and well she represents a potential threat, a past come back to haunt us all and maybe even create conflict with Shampoo over past and present loyalties and affections.

Okay, so I'm not being fair, but how else can I describe these weird feelings that were aroused in me as I stared at the blue haired girl and felt a sudden urge to declare, "Back off, she's mine!" about Sham-chan?

Back to Nodoka. She was very much doting on Ranma, displaying a degree of loneliness and longing for her son that almost made me forget that she had sworn out that awful promise that he commit seppuku if he did not prove to be sufficiently "manly." I just smiled and answered her questions while silently praying that Cologne would hurry back with the Nanniichuan water. I was determined to personally force-feed the bottle to him if he gave me any argument about it, anything to keep his mother from finding out about his curse. As it was, every time someone lifted a glass of water I was on edge, ready to throw myself into the path of potential danger. I kept expecting the roof to cave in and a miniature storm cloud to appear over Ranma's head, or any of a thousand different ways that he could get wet all of a sudden. I think it would have embarrassed Ranma to know the lengths that I was prepared to go in order to protect him, and I'm certain Shampoo felt the same way because we were both hovering near his elbows looking tense enough to string a bow with our combined nerve endings.

For the most part Nodoka was pleasant company, but I kept noticing how Genma-the-panda was hovering back on the porch stealing glances her way while pretending to be interested in the bamboo shoots that had been provided by Kasumi. He was also glancing periodically at Atsuko and Comb, but I think his concern there was the obvious fear that the two of them might be planning violence against his wife should it come down to the matter. I almost-ALMOST, mind you!-felt a tinge of sympathy for the blockheaded baka, for even though these events were largely of his making I don't think any halfway sane individual would have intended to put his son's life (and not inconsequentially his own) in peril, and with so many things that could go wrong I don't think he could have enjoyed his dinner, any more than the rest of us who were in the know did, of course.

Of course the fact that I had one ear on conversation, the other ear cocked for any sign of Cologne's return, didn't prevent me from catching one word in passing that almost made me forget about everything else as I swiveled back to her with full focus.

"Say…what?" I gasped, wondering if I had heard her rightly.

"I was asking when you would want to start having children, dear," Nodoka repeated with that same pleasant smile that she might wear when asking about the weather, "Your sister tells me that you're planning to be a business woman when you get older, and that you hope to go on to college after you graduate high school. I think it's a wonderful idea that you want to work towards a career, but I was wondering if you mean to put off having children for a few years? I'm asking because I would love to know how soon I can count on having grandchildren."

I almost choked on the food that was in my mouth and had to swallow some tea while Shampoo thumped me on the back. Ranma covered for me with a blush as he gave a typically male remark, "Mom…do you have to ask that stuff now? It's embarrasin' to Nabiki…"

"Oh?" Nodoka inquired with an innocent expression that I don't think was coached as it reminded me a little too much of Kasumi, "How is that, Ranma? I was just wondering what Nabiki's plans are. She seems like a very nice, intelligent girl, and I'm sure she's given some very serious thought on what she wants to do after you marry."

Shampoo-bless her cuddly hide-came to my rescue once again by saying, "Ranma mother no have to worry about having grandchildren…Shampoo more than happy give Ranma strong daughters who be good heirs to clan Saotome. Ranma much-much man, he make Shampoo much-much woman, and Shampoo give him lots of children to train to be strong warriors. No try to keep Shampoo mother waiting long, start right away making babies for Airen."

"My, you certainly are full of enthusiasm," Nodoka said with approval while the rest of the dinner conversation remained noticeably silent, "I wish you well in your efforts, Shampoo. What a lucky man my son is to have someone like you for an iinazuke. You remind me so very much of your mother when she was nearly your age."

"Oh?" Silk spoke up idly, "What part is that?"

I saw Comb glare at her friend from across the dinner table and grip her chopsticks as if they were a much sharper object.

"Heh," I heard Akane comment from her side of the table, "Don't worry about Shampoo, Auntie Saotome. If I know her she'll have her kids in litters."

"Tell Shampoo when you want hatch yours," Shampoo sweetly commented back, adding the particularly barbed comment, "Nestling."

"Ch-children?" I heard Ranma gasp at our side, "Ah, Mom? Doncha think it's kinda soon to be talkin' about that stuff? We haven't even graduated high school…"

"Now Ranma," Nodoka said in a manner that sounded like a more pleasant version of one of Uncle Genma's favorite pitch lines, "I know you feel it's too soon to worry about these things, but it's important to be prepared than you can possibly know. I had to learn a lot about having you on my own, and it can be pretty overwhelming the first time, but there's no reason why it should be as hard for you as it was for me. You have a great wealth of adult experience to draw upon that wasn't available to me when I was, ah…a few years older than you are now. I think it's very important to plan out everything that you can prepare for, so that when one of your wives does become pregnant you won't be caught off guard like your father. Don't you agree with me, Comb-san?"

"Oh…absolutely," my other prospective mother-in-law agreed, "Having a baby is a large commitment, and you can never have too much preparation to make it easier…"

"I'm sure Shampoo will manage well enough," Hairbrush gently insinuated, earning a grateful look from Shampoo, who obviously appreciated her father's vote of confidence, even as Comb turned a questioning look towards her husband.

I turned to look at Ranma, who still seemed fairly stunned at the prospect that he might one day wind up a father. I fully sympathized with that feeling, having pretty much the same reaction when the subject had been raised, but now that I started to think on it…I began to wonder what it would be like to have a child with him…a little baby that had bits of him mixed with bits of me. I caught myself wondering what our son or daughter would look like, and then I suddenly had an urge for something a lot stronger than tea. Too bad Dad's collection of sake was being saved until well after dinner.

A baby…the idea still makes me gasp. I mean, think about it…having a miniature person grow inside your body, sacrificing months of your life where you have to watch what you eat and drink, and then you put on weight and your (in my case) perfect figure goes zip while you balloon like a beached whale, and after nine months of puking your guts out when not having peculiar cravings they wheel you into the hospital, either to sweat in labor while passing a four-kilo bowling ball out of your hips, or they cut you open and pull the kid out to whack it, which I guess is supposed to let the poor baby know what it's in for during the rest of its life. Not a very romantic picture…

So why does the whole idea make me tingle all over? To hold something in my arms that will call me its mother, something that belongs to both me and Ranma…it's a little more than I can imagine! And yet Shampoo seems willing to go through the whole process without hesitation, and now I'm starting to wonder what her baby will look like? I mean…what do I call her kid? Or what does the kid call me? Am I its aunt or its other mother?

Like I said before, I could use a good shot of sake!

Okay, so Ranma was sitting there wondering how the subject of his life had come to be planned out in detail by his mother and Shampoo's, and then Daddy has to go and join in by insisting that I'll be the one who provides Ranma with the heir to the Anything Goes school! I think it was about the time that they were debating what sex my first kid would be that I finally slammed my hand on the table, getting their attention. I very coolly looked them all in the eyes and then announced without hesitation that they were to back off immediately and stop trying to tell me how I was going to live my life with Ranma!

"First off," I growled, "Shampoo can have Ranma's first child because she deserves the honor, and she wants it so badly that I wouldn't think of saying no to her," I turned to see Shampoo's astonished expression, so I smiled at her before I continued, "Shampoo's already legally married to Ranma according to Amazon law, so as far as I'm concerned she has first call in making a baby."

"Nabiki?" it was Ranma's turn to look dumbfounded.

"I'm marrying Ranma to unite our families and fulfill a pledge made by our fathers, right?" I continued, "The fact that I also WANT to marry Ranma just makes the whole thing more convenient. Ranma's started teaching classes in our dojo and Shampoo's been helping him out, and they will continue doing so while I'm taking courses at whatever college will accept me. As much as it would flatter me to have Ranma's first kid, the truth is that I'm not quite ready to give up on my education until I at least get my first degree in accounting, but after that's done I'll be Ranma's happy little brood mare and give Shampoo a run for who has the most number of babies. Until then, BACK OFF! You're all starting to sound like bunch of middle-aged parents!"

That comment from me earned some mighty strange looks from around the table, but I was adamant in my disposition. It was when Lotion the Elder spoke up in my support that the tableau began to relax, "Well said, apprentice. I was half afraid, for a moment there, that you were going to allow them to micromanage the rest of your existence."

It was Kodachi who added in one of her disturbing laughs while made the others glance at one another, and then a few joined in, finding humor in the moment.

"I'm with you, Sugar," Ukyo nodded to me, saluting with her teacup, which same gesture I returned with my own.

"I guess it is premature to be deciding these things," Daddy reluctantly conceded.

"As long as Shampoo's claim is recognized, I have no problems," Comb nodded in approval.

"How nice to see that your iinazuke has a good head on her shoulders, Ranma," Nodoka commented to her son, "I only wish that I had as firm a grasp on what I wanted to do with my life when I was her age."

"You ask me, she's a fool to let Comb's kid have the first crack," Atsuko grumbled, then winced as if somebody had pinched her under the table. I saw her glare murderously in Comb's direction.

I was just starting to relax from my tense posture when I saw Kasumi entering the room with a fresh pitcher of tea set on a tray, and while I was not immediately alarmed by this I did react when I saw a figure appear from behind her to grope Kasumi without proper warning.

"Gotcha!" cried the now-young seeming Happosai, "Just feel them firm hooters!"

Kasumi gave a startled cry and threw the pitcher into the air as involuntary reaction. I stared in horror as it went sailing directly towards Ranma, who sat staring just as stupidly as me as the thing was about to nail him. I caught Shampoo moving out of the corner of my eye but knew she'd never have time to throw herself in the path of the pitcher or its contents, but just as it was a meter away from our iinazuke a hand snatched out to grasp the pitcher by the handle, right it and cause all of its contents to flow back into the container.

"Dear me," said Aunt Silk, "It would be a shame to waste perfectly fine tea," and she set it down upon the table while the rest of us sat stunned and speechless.

Kasumi turned to glance over her shoulder at the man still fondling her chest, and in a politely inquiring voice asked, "Excuse me…but have we met?"

"Eh?" the formerly old man blinked, seeing the opposite reaction from the one he would have reasonably expected in my older sister.

All at once a ribbon snaked out and found Happosai by the throat, and with a single yank he was made to let go of my sister and go sailing across the room, to be caught up by Kodachi, who rose to her full height manifesting a pretty impressive battle aura.

"YOU…DARE…TO LAY A HAND ON HER???" the black rose cried as if pronouncing a death sentence.

"Ah…" Happosai gasped, choking as he was with the ribbon around his neck, but rather than attempt to free himself the conventional way he took advantage of being within arms reach to grasp at Kodachi's "hooters," which caused her to start back with a yelp as she released her grip upon the ribbon.

Like a shot he spun about, cackling as he did, "Two for the price of one! Seeya-OOFF!"

The latter part was voiced as he ran smack dab into a wall of fur that was suddenly in his way, causing the no-longer little man to back up a half step and turned a surprised look up into the face of an angry panda.

"Ah…Genma, old buddy?" Happosai squeaked in surprise.

In response the panda held up a sign that read, "Even I have my limits."

And with that he backhanded Happosai, knocking him across the room to hit the far wall and land in a heap as if he had been struck by a literal sledgehammer.

"Whoah!" Ranma exclaimed in surprise, "Way to go, Pop!"

"Pop?" Nodoka asked in some confusion.

"I-I don't believe it, Saotome!" my dad also said without thinking, "You actually hit the master!"

The panda blinked his eyes, then reversed his sign, which now read, "I did, didn't I?"

"Interesting," Lotion the Elder mused, "This confirms something that I have suspected."

"Suspected?" I asked.

"It would appear that the cursed water he drank has had an unforeseen side effect upon Happosai," she revealed, "You see…there is another curse already at work upon him, one that bolsters his formidable fighting talents to make him the reputedly Most Evil Martial Arts Master in the world, as he is so often proclaimed."

"A curse, Elder?" asked the blue-haired Lotion.

"Interesting," the one-eyed Ambergris mused, "So the legends are true…Happosai did gain his abilities from a contract he once made with the Demoness, Ganglot."

"Oh sure," Atsuko confirmed, "Grandmother made a deal with Happy to make him the most powerful fighter of his generation. That's why even Cologne can't beat him. Plus the fact he's sorta possessed by this spirit that helps keep him around a lot longer than most mortals."

"A contract?" asked Kodachi.

"Demon Master make pact with Demon?" Shampoo further added.

"You mean the old freak got his stuff from magic?" I heard Ranma growl in obvious resentment.

"Indeed," Lotion hopped over to where Happosai was just starting to regain consciousness and eyeing him as though he were some new species of pond life, "It would see your edge is gone while you wear your cursed form, Uncle. Your skills remain formidable, but you are no longer invincible as long as you are like this."

"You mean…" Daddy's voice began to rise in volume as he lurched to his feet with an almost demonic expression of his own, "He can be beaten as long as he is in a young body?"

I saw the kanji symbols for "opportunity knocks," appear on Genma's sign as my father joined him in looking appropriately vengeful.

"Uh oh," Happosai said, "This could be a problem…"

"You bet your ass it is, old freak!" Ranma cried as he lurched to his feet and made the appropriate clenching motions with his fists, "This is where payback starts, especially after the way you must molested Kasumi!"

"Oh, but I didn't mind that much…" my sister started to say, only to see the looks everyone turned on her, which prompted her to amend, "Ah…that is…it was a rude thing to do without asking…and not at all proper…"

"She can't be Kimiko's daughter," I heard Comb aver to Silk, "Your kids must've been switched at birth or something…"

"Ano?" I heard Kachu ask them blankly.

Happosai, being less of a fool than I would have rated, saw the peril he was in and took advantage of the momentary distraction to lash out at the nearest available target, Ranma. Before my iinazuke had time to react he was shoved by the fast-moving pervert so hard that he went flying out the door while Happosai made a dive for the dinner table.

The young-seeming man grabbed up the pitcher and upended it over himself, reverting at once to the old wrinkled fart we all knew and loathed for the family embarrassment that he is. He then turned an appropriately evil stare at our fathers and said, "Well boys? Wanna try your luck with me now?"

"Ah…" both Genma and Daddy only stood firm for a moment, and then they were groveling on the floor at once as Daddy wailed, "Forgive us, Master! We meant no harm! We were only joking!"

"I thought as much," Happosai cackled, only to look up as he saw another figure enter the room, dripping wet and mad as a hatter, "Ah, Ranma my boy, back for more?"

"Ranma?" Aunt Nodoka tore her eyes away from the old man and turned an astonished look towards the main door, only to gasp, "Oh…Ranko? When did you get back? I was wondering what became of you…"

"Not now, Mom," Ranma-chan growled as she assumed a fighting crouch.

"Mom?" Nodoka blinked her eyes again, looking more confused than ever.

"Uh…" Ranma-chan shot her a glance, then saw the reproving glare that I was fixing upon her, and the more nervous regard of Shampoo, and hastily she said, "Auntie Nodoka! I'm sorry, can't talk now, I gotta deal with this freak of nature!"

"Look whose talking," the old man cackled, "You want to tell her or should I? You know, it's not really a nice thing to play games with your mother."

"What's going on?" Nodoka asked, looking from one party to the next with a particularly blank expression, "Would somebody please explain…"

"Sure thing, cutie," Happosai grinned as he leaped to the opposite end of the table and picked up a bowl of hot miso, "This should do rather nicely!"

Before anyone there could stop the old pervert he launched the miso right at Ranma-chan, who looked ready to dodge as fear crossed her expression. Before it could hit, though, a blur brought Genma's panda form into the way, catching the miso full in the face and triggering his transformation back into human form, much to our mutual astonishment.

"Oh gee," said Atsuko from behind where Genma had been standing, "How did that happen? Oh well, guess some things can't be helped. Look, Nodoka-chan, Gemi-chan's back, and there's your son with him, perfectly normal."

I blinked my eyes and had to do a double take, for Ranma was back to being male again while Genma rose to his feet with a bowl of miso half-poured over his face. He turned a fearful look towards Nodoka, who had risen from her table at the sight of him.

"Genma?" she gasped.

"N-Nodoka-chan," the fat man gasped, making warding motions with his hands, "Now I can explain everything…!"

She moved around the table with as much haste as the kimono she was wearing would afford and threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly to her chest as she cried, "My husband! It's so good to have you back! Where have you been all of this time? Do you know how long I've been waiting to hold you in my arms like this…?"

Genma stood rigidly where he was until he almost reflexively brought his meaty hands around to return her hug. Ranma stood where he was blinking his eyes while feeling himself over with a very confused expression. I saw Ryoga approach his mother and murmur very softly, "Mom…what did you do?"

"Posh, it's just a simple illusion," I heard her say back at the same low level, "People never suspect what they expect to see anyway, and you think I'm going to let anything bad happen to your father?"

"Pretty neat trick," I heard Happosai say as he nodded with approval, "Even I'm having trouble seeing through the boy's disguise. Of course just clouding Nodoka's senses like that won't totally throw her off since you seem to be trying to keep her in the dark about the curses."

I turned a glare that I'm sure would have frosted a dinner mug his way, as did Shampoo, who reached out a hand and gripped the little man by his weathered gi as she declared, "This all you doing! You try to kill Shampoo's husband?"

"Kill him?" the old man blinked his eyes, "What are you talking about? I'd never do anything to permanently harm the lad. He's my heir after all…"

"He's also dead meat if you don't lay off with the hot water," Comb murmured in his ear, "Genma swore his son would be manly…or else."

"What?" the old man scoffed, "The boy's as manly as they come, thanks to that little talk we had that prompted him to bed your little cutie. I know Genma's done some stupid things in his time and all that, but if he promised he'd raise the boy to be manly, then he'd-Oh my!" comprehension suddenly dawned in his eyes, and he turned towards Ranma with a particularly owl-like expression.

Nodoka had finished hugging her husband and was looking at him with an endearing fondness that made her radiate her happiness while Uncle Genma continued to stare at her with miso soup dripping over his face. She clasped his hands and said, "You did well, Genma-chan, raising our boy to be as manly as it's possible for him to be. How could I ever have doubted you?"

"Ah…well…Nodoka-chan…" the man gasped as if completely befuddled.

"Oh, Ranma," Nodoka turned from him and threw her arms around her son once again, "My boy, my…"

Her voice trailed off suddenly, and she began to pat her hands down through the illusion, seeming to feel up an object that was not visible from beneath it. Her hands vanished into Ranma's manly outline and seemed to be describing a different shape that was somewhat smaller. All at once she took a step back and gasped, "Who are you?"

"Mom…" Ranma's voice did not even sound masculine, and I realized that the jig was up big time.

"Uh oh," Atsuko murmured, putting a hand behind her head as some of us glared in her direction, "I…ah…didn't expect her to do that…"

The illusion faded and Ranma-chan stood revealed, prompting Nodoka to ask, "Ranko?"

"Not quite," Ranma-chan seemed to sag as she replied, then resignedly she headed towards the table where we had kept a kettle of hot water on hand should it be needed, and before I could think to stop him she poured it over her head then turned around and said, "Now do you see the full story, Mom?"

"R-Ranma?" Aunt Nodoka gasped, and then Genma caught her as she fainted.

"Oh my," averred Kasumi, and for once I couldn't think of anything to add to that statement.

It looked to me like we were all suddenly in very hot water…


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