Ranma 1/2 belongs to Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan.
A Not so Simple Wish
by Ebiris ()

Chapter 21

"This looks like a good spot to set camp." Ranko turned to her companions as they
entered a cosy little clearing in the forest.

Ranma looked around and nodded silently, while the third member of their party spoke
up

"Oh yes, this is a lovely spot!" Kasumi agreed, twirling around to take in the view before
dropping her backpack and sitting on a large rock. A small chipmunk descended from
the branches to alight on her outstretched hand in a sickeningly cute display as a
sunbeam seemed to penetrate the canopy just to illuminate her with it's heavenly
radiance.

After shaking herself out of admiring the eldest Tendou sister, Ranko grimaced. She had
chosen not to protest when Soun and Genma had insisted that Kasumi accompany
Ranma and her on their training trip, but now she was starting to have second thoughts.

While she wasn't tired in the least from their hike up the mountain, Ranko was still rather
dirty and smelly, she and Ranma both wearing their martial arts dogi, which looked to
have seen better days. Kasumi, on the other hand, looked as fresh and pristine as she had
upon leaving the train station, dressed in khaki shorts and vest, set off with a wide
brimmed floppy hat and looking all for the world as if she were simply enjoying a
pleasant stroll in the park.

"It's been such a long time since I went camping. I was actually surprised when father
said I could come along with you." Kasumi surprised Ranko by favouring both her and
Ranma with a warm smile.

"Huh? He seemed pretty gung ho about the idea ta me," Ranma replied.

"Yes, it was rather odd, since he wouldn't even let me go on the school camping trip
when I was at Furinkan."

"Why not?" Ranko asked, being drawn into the discussion.

Kasumi sighed wistfully. "Well, we used to go camping as a family quite often when I
was younger... it was always so much fun to sleep under the stars, even if Nabiki never
stopped complaining about the bugs trying to eat her or how she missed her cartoons... I
always thought it was a wonderful experience to be so close to nature, even if just for a
few days." Kasumi frowned slightly and her expression became pensive. "I think I was
seven when we went on our last camping trip. We were near the Higo forest in an area
called... um... something-zawa..."

"Ryuugenzawa," Ranko put in, having figured out where this story was going.

"Yes, that's it." Kasumi nodded gratefully. "Have you been there?" Ranko nodded, but
chose not to elaborate, instead prompting Kasumi to continue her story. "Anyway, it was
a long time ago, but I recall Akane managed to get herself lost in the forest. She did come
out unharmed, but after that, father decided that camping was too dangerous for us. Such
a pity, I really loved camping, but father always was prone to overreact to little things..."

"Yeah, your old man is a bit high strung," Ranma said before giving Kasumi a nervous
look and adding, "uh... no offence."

Kasumi smiled beatifically. "None taken, Ranma-kun."

"Anyway," Ranko said in an attempt to change the subject, "I guess we should put up our
tents. Sleeping under the stars is nice, but with all these clouds I think it'll rain tonight.
We'll probably have enough light to set up camp; we can start your training tomorrow,
Ranma."

All three teenagers went into their backpacks and started retrieving camping supplies,
only to stop when Kasumi gave a small gasp of alarm.

"What is it?" Ranma went over to see what was wrong.

"Someone has cut up my tent!"

***

"Boy, it sure was a good idea to make Kasumi go along on that training trip before the
other girl could get her claws into Ranma, eh Tendou-kun?"

"I don't know, Saotome-kun. It seems like Ranko and Ranma will spend all their time
training together and leave my poor baby all by herself!"

"Not to worry, old friend, I've taken care of it! Even if my ungrateful boy and that too-
cunning-for-my-own-good girl spend time training in the day, Kasumi will have Ranma
all to herself in the night. I've seen to that."

"How so?"

"Well, when they discover that Kasumi's tent has suffered an unforunate accident, my
boy will volunteer to let her share his. And then nature will take its course."

"Oh, my darling Kasumi will finally become a woman! We can hold the wedding when
they get back! You're a genius, Saotome-kun!"

"Quite so, Tendou-kun, quite so. Oh, I believe it's your round?"

***

Ranko observed the jagged rows of cuts down the fabric of Kasumi's tent. Carefully
examining the rips, she saw all the evidence that was needed. "Panda fur," she
pronounced as her judgement.

"You mean Pop did this?" Ranma demanded angrily. "What the hell for?"

Ranko looked between Ranma and Kasumi with a half hidden smirk. "Gee, I wonder.
Anyway, Kasumi, you can have my tent and I'll just sleep out here tonight."

"You can't sleep outside! Kasumi can have my tent and I'll sleep outside!" Ranma put in
quickly, after all, it was the man's place to make such sacrifices.

"Oh, there's no need for any of that, you two," Kasumi remonstrated them gently.
"Ranko's tent looks easily large enough for us both to share. No one has to sleep outside
tonight, and it'll be like a slumber party for us girls!"

Ranma nodded, seeing nothing wrong in the two girls sleeping in the same tent, but
Ranko jolted as if she had been hit with a cattle prod. "Sh-share? Uh, no! Really!" she
started waving her hands franticly in a negative gesture. "It's fine, really! I've slept
outside in far worse conditions than this, so don't worry about it!" Intellectually, she
knew there was no chance of anything untoward happening between herself and Kasumi,
but somehow this situation seemed like it was teetering over the precipice of a slippery
slope to disaster. Heck, most of the time nothing untoward ever happened with her and
any other girl, but that didn't stop everyone from drawing the worst possible conclusions.

"Well if you sleep outside then so will I," Kasumi declared with an air of finality that she
had used to end more than one sibling squabble involving Akane and Nabiki.

With a heavy sinking feeling in her heart, Ranko agreed.

***

"Oh crap! That's too much salt!" Nabiki groaned at the large pile of white salt crystals
that were slowly dissolving in her simmering stew. She had begged Kasumi not to leave,
but it was to no avail, and so the middle Tendou was stuck doing the cooking for her
remaining family.

It could have been worse. Nabiki had fully expected Akane to volunteer for cooking
duties, but her little sister was acting rather moody today and chose not to share her
culinary skills with everyone else. Soun had fully expected Akane to cook and had made
himself scarce right after Kasumi left the house, leaving just the two youngest daughters
in residence.

Scooping up as much of the salt as she could before it dissolved, Nabiki emptied it in the
sink before pouring a little water in the pot, hoping it would weaken the salty taste, but
forgetting it would also weaken the taste of everything else in the stew.

Nabiki considered adding some pepper at this point, but decided that she was starting to
fall into Akane's pattern of relentlessly spicing up simple recipes; and if she started that,
she would soon be adding soap crystals and rat poison. Giving the pot one last vigorous
stir, she took it through to the family room and set it on the table. "Dinner is served."

Akane scooped some onto her plate in a painfully lethargic manner, and started eating,
chewing with interminable slowness. After eventually swallowing, she pronounced
judgement. "I miss Kasumi."

"You and me both. What are we gonna do when she moves out for real?" Nabiki asked
miserably.

"We could be her pathetic mooching sisters who visit every day at dinnertime to
scrounge up a free meal?" Akane offered.

Nabiki sighed. "Sounds like a plan."

The pair ate in silence for several moments before Nabiki spoke up in a conversational
tone. "I heard you dropped by Dr. Tofu's today. You don't look hurt..."

Alane's chopsticks snapped in her suddenly much tighter grip. "Don't talk to me about
that... that idiot!"

"Ah, so my little sister has been disillusioned over her first crush. How's it feel?" Nabiki
smirked cruelly, thinking it was far before time that Akane gave up on the good doctor.

Akane growled angrily. "I can't believe I used to respect him. He's just as stupid as those
boys at school. In fact, that's an insult to boys everywhere!" Akane's voice was starting to
rise sharply. "He's the most moronic imbecile to ever walk the earth!"

Nabiki chuckled at Akane's theatrics. "Come on, what happened? Tell big sis all about
it," she cajoled.

"He just refuses to accept reality. I've told him about Kasumi's engagement hundreds of
times, but he always just goes a little nuts and then acts like he never heard anything. I've
tried writing notes, but he always shreds them into little bits then pretends he never read
them. At least I hope he's pretending; I'd hate to think my doctor was that delusional."
She wrung her hands in exasparation. "I just can't deal with his nonsense anymore."

Nabiki quirked an eyebrow at that. She hadn't visited Tofu's clinic in a while, but she
thought he at least knew Kasumi was now off the market. "Oh well, now that you've seen
there's no such thing as the perfect man, maybe you'll relax your standards a bit? Plenty
more fish in the sea, as they say."

"Name one," Akane challenged flatly.

"Er..." Nabiki floundered at that one. There was a shortage of decent guys in Nerima, it
seemed. "Um... I guess Ranma isn't that bad, in a kinda clueless way..."

Akane stared at Nabiki incredulously. "He's a two timing jerk and is engaged to our
sister. Any other great recommendations? Perhaps someone who is better than 'not bad in
a kinda clueless way'?"

"Uh... there's a lot more to the world than Nerima, I'm sure you'll find someone. Heh..."

Akane didn't look convinced.

***

Ranko tried to keep from blushing at the close proximity she was in with Kasumi. Even
though they both had their separate sleeping bags, their faces were barely more than a
foot apart as they lay in her tent.

"So what will you and Ranma be doing tomorrow to train?" Kasumi asked.

"Well, I'll have Ranma stand under a hornet's nest while I chuck rocks at it. Dodging
them will improve his speed a lot."

Kasumi opened her mouth in a little 'o' and stared at Ranko for a minute before speaking.
"Isn't that a little... harsh?"

Ranko waved off her concerns. "If I could do it, so can he."

"If you're sure..." Kasumi replied dubiously.

The pair lay in silence for a few more minutes as Ranko brooded. She hadn't thought
Kasumi was any serious competition, really, but seeing the way Ranma and the eldest
Tendou sister interacted, it was obvious that they had far more chemistry than she had
ever had with her own Kasumi.

It was strange, really, to see Kasumi was so much more lively and... happy than she
remembered. Kasumi had never seemed depressed, but the difference was plain to see. If
it wasn't for Ranko, would Kasumi and Ranma already be on their way to getting
married? Or if she hadn't been cursed, would she have been married to Kasumi?

It was starting to make her head hurt. She had never expected it would be so hard to
make Ranma fall in love with her. Everyone else seemed to fall in love at the drop of a
hat. Kodachi, Kuno, Ryouga, Shampoo, Ukyo... all of them fell in love almost instantly.
It seemed everyone she knew was like that... at least, everyone except from Akane.

She was really starting to miss that uncute tomboy. She hadn't really cared about the
harm she was doing to the Akane in this world, but with no end to this trial in sight, she
had felt compelled to try and mend fences with this Akane, even if she would never be
anything like Ranko's own fiancee Akane.

It was probably a mistake. Yet another chain holding her to this identity as 'Ranko
Xiawang' which would make it harder to leave this life behind. If she ever did at the rate
it was taking for Ranma to fall in love with her...

"Ranko, are you still awake?"

"Yes, what is it?" Ranko propped her head up a bit to look at her companion.

"Well, I was just thinking... are we friends?" Kasumi's voice sounded surprisingly
hesitant.

Ranko blinked. "What kinda question is that?" she asked in surprise.

Kasumi bunched up the lip of her sleeping bag in her hands. "Well, we are rivals for the
same man, and normally that makes people enemies... but I think you're a nice person,
and we don't seem to be fighting like enemies should..."

Ranko averted her eyes. She wasn't a nice person. She'd done a lot of things she was
ashamed of in her life, and this mission to manipulate Ranma into loving her was
probably one of the worst. She was resolute in doing it, but it felt less and less good with
each passing day. Being called 'nice' by Kasumi only made her feel even lower. "I'd like
it if we were friends, Kasumi," she said at length.

Kasumi sighed in relief. "I'm glad to hear that. I've never had a real enemy before, I
wouldn't know what to do," she said before giving a small giggle.

Ranko managed a wan smile. It was odd, but she couldn't recall ever hearing Kasumi
laugh like that. She had a nice laugh, and Ranko found herself wishing she could hear it
more often. Feeling some of the tension dissipate, Ranko decided to try and find out the
answer to something she had been wondering about for a while. "Kasumi, what made
you decide to accept the engagement with Ranma?"

The other girl chewed her lip and looked thoughtful for a second before answering.
"Well, one of us had to accept it, but I suppose that isn't much of an answer. I could have
easily refused and put the engagement onto one of my sisters and no one would have
thought less of me. I suppose the main reason is that I'm lonely; I haven't had a date since
junior high, and those were all disasters."

"So you didn't really care what he was like?" Ranko asked, her voice was slightly
strained, but only someone who knew her well would have noticed.

"Not exactly. I didn't really have time to find out much about him before I accepted,
remember. Still, from my first impression he seemed nice enough, maybe a little rough
around the edges, but that's hardly a glaring flaw. I suppose if he'd been some sort of
freak or something I would have dumped him off on Akane. It would have been funny to
see her try to deal with an arranged marriage, especially to someone she couldn't stand."
Kasumi giggled again and gave Ranko a mischievous little smile, as if she was feeling
rather naughty at sharing that with her new friend.

Ranko suddenly wished she hadn't asked. She had always known Kasumi and Nabiki
had passed her off onto Akane because she was a worthless transgender freak, but
somehow that knowledge didn't compare with actually hearing the confirmation from
Kasumi herself that was like a crushing blow. She felt hot salty tears starting to collect on
her eyes, and desperately tried to blink them away. When that failed, she rolled over to
face away from Kasumi so she wouldn't see her shameful crying.

She was a horrible, manipulative person, and even sweet, gentle Kasumi thought she was
a freak.

Kasumi stared at the cascading waves of red hair which now occupied her vision instead
of the cute and expressive face of the younger girl she had been talking to. "Ranko, are
you alright?" she asked worriedly.

"I'm just tired. I'm going to sleep," came the choked reply.

Kasumi didn't buy it, but had no idea what she had said that had upset Ranko so much,
so instead she simply lay there, wondering what had went wrong while Ranko feigned
sleep and struggled to deal with her ever-growing self-loathing.

It was a long time before either of them went to sleep that night.

***