Nabiki sighed as she watched the scenery pass through the train window, the tree passing as the railcars rattled along.

Normally this would be relaxing. Heck, she had been looking forward to this. She had been planning this trip for MONTHS. One last hurrah before graduating; Every spare yen she could scrape together for a single weekend of the kind of life she wanted for herself. Just her. The normal one. No martial artists, or water-borne transformations, or ancient demons, or ghosts, or curses. No grudge matches, or chinese amazon tribes, or toxic food, or ANY of it. Just a normal girl, at a normal beach hotel, enjoying a normal summer weekend. Maybe meet some normal guys, have some fun… who knows?

Thanks, Akane. Thanks a whole lot. A dark cloud seemed to gather around her, blotting out even the bright summer sun. Sitting next to her was Ranma. Her fiance, Ranma.

It wasn't the first time Akane had blown a gasket and called off the engagement. Last time had been entertaining and mildly profitable, though she hadn't actually gotten the two of them to acknowledge their feelings for each other. They HAD gone on a date, though, which she counted as a mild win, but things had quickly and frustratingly gone back to the status quo.

THIS time, however… Events had conspired in the worst possible way. One of the hottest summers on record had left everyone exhausted and sleep-deprived. There had been a couple of new martial artists who had shown up to cause havok. Skateboarders this time, interestingly enough, part of some touring American group. Amusingly the pretty girl of the duo seemed more intent on pursuing AKANE than Ranma. The Fiance Brigade had smelled blood and tried to move in. And Ranma… oh ever so diplomatic Ranma… had characteristically not known when to keep his mouth SHUT.

Akane didn't snap like she normally did. This was worse. She had been calm when she broke the engagement. She didn't blame it all on Ranma, but cited all the OTHER, perfectly reasonable external factors for running away VERY quickly from a relationship with him. And then she went to stay with Auntie Nodoka for awhile.

Nabiki glanced at Ranma. He was studying his hands, the same blank, empty look on his face as he had had when Akane held his hand, and very gently and calmly ripped out his heart. She remembered him panicking, begging her to hit him over the head so things could be normal again… he even handed her a mallet.

"I can't do this anymore, Ranma. I love you, but i don't like myself when I'm with you. I don't like what I become. I'm sick of being jealous and angry and violent all the time, and the only time I'm not… is without you. It's not your fault."

Nabiki rolled her head back against the wall and sighed. The only time she can just spit it out, and it's when she's breaking up with him. No wonder the poor guy is destroyed. Nabiki didn't often feel much sympathy for Ranma… or anyone, for that matter. But then again, she hadn't often seen him take a hit he hadn't been able to shrug off a few minutes later.

Of course, being the paragons of caring and understanding, as soon as it became clear that Akane was deadly serious and unwavering this time, their fathers had very quickly and unilaterally switched the engagement to her. AND forbidden her from going on her long-planned trip unescorted.

I could have just gone anyway. It's not like Daddy forbidding me to do something ever stopped me before. It's MY money, not his. She thought glumly. Ranma certainly didn't seem inclined to follow, even with his father kicking him about and ranting about 'manly duty' and such. In fact she had practically had to drag him to the train station.

So why didn't I? She glanced at Ranma again. He hadn't moved his gaze. His eyes had that glassy, dead look to them. He knows she was serious. So what now, Saotome? What do you want? Do you even know?

She took a deep breath. "Alright, Saotome. Ground rules time."

"When we get to the station, I'll take off." He mumbled softly. "I'll meet you back here when it's time to head back, so they think we spent the weekend together. You don't have to OW!"

He yelped as she gave his pigtail a hard tug. She released it as he turned and glared at her, a little of that old fire flickering in his eyes.

"Paying attention? Good. FIRST rule is you listen to me FIRST. Second rule is, no disappearing into the woods. You're staying where I can see you this weekend."

His eyes narrowed, but then the fire in them guttered out, and he looked away. "Look… Nabiki, whatever you've got planned… I'm not in the mood for the usual crap. Just… figure out whatever you'd be making having my girl side pose on the beach for photos or whatever and I'll pay you back later."

She sighed. That idea HAD occurred to her. But… given the circumstances she knew the kind of trouble that sort of thing attracted, and she had gone to great lengths to AVOID it this weekend. As mouth-wateringly profitable as it might be. "That makes two of us, Saotome, which is PRECISELY why you're staying where I can SEE you." She poked him in the chest. "You go wandering off, and you'll trip over a new fiancee in the forest, or sneeze wrong and get a new rival out for your blood, or SOME cascading disaster that will end up rolling back down onto my beach."

"Yeah, well, you think that'll be different if I stick around?" He looked past her, out the window, that dead look returning.

"Yes, because I've made arrangements to make sure it is, but they'll ONLY work if you stay in the little 'safe zone' I've set up." She pulled up her purse and dug around a moment, pulling out a paper-wrapped bar of soap. "Here."

He blinked, looking at the label on the soap. "This is…"

"Waterproof beauty soap. Take a shower before you hit the beach." She said. Catching his skeptical glance, she paused her continued rummaging. "... What?"

"How much?"

She smirked. "You couldn't afford it. So I'm offering it as… payment, let's call it." She held up a hand to forestall his protest. "I said I wasn't in the mood for the usual crap, and I meant it. This is purely a... cooperative venture so we both get what we want."

He raised an eyebrow, idly flipping the soap in his hand. "Oh yeah? And what's that?"

She winked. "A little normalcy."

"So, why am I pretending to be your boyfriend again?" He grumped as he hitched his backpack on his shoulder.

"Cover story, 'dear'." She grinned. "Less awkward than the engagement mess, but close enough to the truth that you don't have to whip up an elaborate backstories."

"Huh." He sounded unconvinced.

"Best lies are mostly true, with a couple of details changed around to suit the situation, Saotome." She patted him on the shoulder. "Think of it like another martial art technique."

THAT seemed to get some mental traction as he got a thoughtful look.

"You don't have to be too dutiful… or even pay much attention to me at all. Probably better if we're a bit distant." She said cheerfully. "Relationship on the rocks, failed last vacation to try and patch it up, you know?" She glanced over at him and mentally cursed, realizing she had just crossed into the WRONG topic. "I mean… Don't feel too honor bound to stick by me. The boyfriend/girlfriend thing is mostly to keep the rabble behaving themselves just a little better, that's all. You get a girl pestering you, just let her know you're with someone."

"And if she doesn't care?" Ranma asked.

"If she's cute, and you like her, go for it. Which leads to our next ground rule; Nothing… and I mean nothing that happens this weekend leaves this place. Got it?" She turned and stopped to face him. "It's all off the table. No blackmail material, no photos, no anonymous tips to your fiancees. As long as I get the same courtesy, and you don't blab to Daddy or Kasumi if you spot me having fun with some guy I found I liked. Fair deal?"

"Yeah, but about that…" Ranma stopped. "How can you be sure they're NOT gonna show up? Even when they don't know where we are, they've got a habit of appearing."

She pouted. "Ranma! After all we've been through, you still doubt me?" She smiled as he scoffed at her cute hurt routine. "Relax. The key to THAT is knowing where they're at." She pulled out her smartphone. "Custom app someone in the computer club whipped up for me." She tapped the screen. "Right now Ukyou, Shampoo, Mousse and Kuno are headed for Okinawa…"

"Okinawa? Why Okinawa?"

"Because that's where the rumour I started three weeks again SAID you were going… And Ryouga is in… Colorado?"

"Hang on, this all only started a couple of days ago!"

She sighed and stuffed the phone back into her purse. "Yes, but I've been planning this vacation for the better part of a YEAR, and getting your omnipresent cloud of destructive hangers on as FAR away as possible was a little insurance policy to make sure you didn't 'accidentally' end up popping up!"

"That seems a little paranoid…"

"Is it?" She raised an eyebrow.

"... No, I guess it's not." He pondered a moment. "Hang on, what about me?"

"Just after we left Daddy and Mr. Saotome will have been delivered a set of free day passes for the Okinawa ferry, prizes in a contest they don't remember entering. One for everyone, including you and Akane if either of you were there." She shrugged. "Bit of a waste, but it seems even I can't call EVERY dice roll." She gave him a sideways glance.

"You were gonna send me to Okinawa. With an ambush waiting for me." His eyes narrowed.

"I provided Daddy and Mr. Saotome the opportunity to go to Okinawa. Which, since it was free, I knew they wouldn't pass up. And I sent the brigade there because I knew they'd head that way ANYWAY. And you all get to have your fun little martials arts adventure weekend far, far away from me and my beach, boys, and cold drink with an umbrella in." She waved off his bristling with her hand. "I didn't set up anything, I just moved all of the pieces to a different board." She sighed. "Except it seems I accidentally pocketed the king."

They made their way to the hotel. It was an older building, catering more to the vacationing student than the upscale lifestyle she really aspired to, but she had gotten a killer deal booking at just the right time, and it was beachfront. She noted a little glumly that there was no bellhop service as they checked in, and the carpets were a bit worn, but it was clean and bright and well kept, and ideally they wouldn't be spending much time here anyway.

She noticed Ranma had been silent the whole time, still turning over that bar of soap in his hands. She opened the door to the room and tossed her suitcase on the bed. "You're going to wear the wrapper right off that thing if you keep playing with it like that." She noted as she flopped onto one of the two double beds.

"Oh… uh…" He awkwardly stuffed it in his pocket. "So… where's my room?"

She rolled onto her side, propping her head on her hand, giving him a heavy-lidded look. "Don't tell me you find me THAT unattractive Saotome."

He blushed briefly, then clenched his fists. "Don't start that crap with me!"

Woah, nerve there. "Easy, easy!" She quickly placated. "I had to change the booking at the last minute. Two beds was the best I could do on short notice."

He sighed. "I'll sleep on the balcony then." He started to walk past her towards the sliding door leading to the balcony overlooking the beach, but she caught his arm.

"No, you won't. You'll sleep in a bed like a normal person." She said. "Normal weekend, remember?"

"Akane'd mallet me out the window for even thinkin' it." He muttered.

"Well, I'm not Akane. I trust you." She said. She didn't notice his startled look, occupied with digging in her suitcase. "Here. I didn't think you'd think to bring a pair, what with the curse and all." She tossed him a pair of men's swim trunks.

He caught them. They were simple black trunks. He pondered examining them for some sort of Nabiki booby-trap, but then he remembered her words "I trust you." "Uhh… thanks."

"I also brought some less distinctive clothes." She started laying out a couple of shirts, pants and shorts, all in his size. He noted that she had chosen darker colors than he typically wore.

"What's wrong with my regular clothes?"

"Nothing." She lied. Truth was most of what Ranma owned was road-worn, faded, and either too big or too small. She suspected he had gotten most of his clothes from backyard laundry lines back in China. "But 'chinese shirts plus pigtail plus martial arts' is kind of distinctive. I'm just shifting your profile a bit so your smarter fiancees don't catch wind you were here. Just try and avoid any towering pillars of ki or gigantic craters, 'kay?"

"I'll try and restrain myself." He muttered, picking up a dark grey shirt, making a face. "Not exactly my color."

"That's the point. Now go take your shower and get cold-water proof. I want to get down to the beach while there's still some daylight."

Nabiki surveyed the beach with some distaste. It wasn't as crowded as some, but this late in the day there were hardly any prime spots left.

She was wearing her burgundy one piece, with a light cotton shirt overtop, her towel tucked under her arm. She had hoped to get a little sun before the end of the day, get a good feel for the beach crowd, and decide if the local male population warranted breaking out her two piece bikini tomorrow. So far it was looking good, but she still wanted her sun time.

"So… we just gonna sit on the beach?" Ranma asked, already sounding bored. He had a beach umbrella shouldered, and was carrying a lunch basket under his other arm. He had switched to the black trunks, and opted to wear the grey T shirt as well, not quite trusting the soap enough to go bare chested around this much cold water.

"There's a beach volleyball court down a little ways." Nabiki replied. "You can go check it out if you like. They don't know you here, play it right and you might even make some pocket change off the jocks."

"Always with the hustle, huh Nabiki?" Ranma replied. He looked like he was considering it a moment, then sighed. "Nah. Not today."

Nabiki watched him a few moments more. He looked… tired. His shoulders were slumped, and the umbrella and lunch basket seemed to weigh him down, even though she had seen him carry far larger loads without any apparent effort. You needed this vacation even more than me, didn't you Saotome? She quietly resolved to get him good and drunk at some point during the weekend.

"Over there." He pointed to a spot near the breakwater. I would have been shaded in the morning when most of the crowds gathered, so had been avoided, but now with the sun on the other half of the sky it looked rather inviting.

"Good eye, Saotome!" She picked up the pace a little, her sandals slipping in the loose sand. She snapped her towel out and laid it down, anticipating a few good hours of sun and snoozing. She slipped on her mirrored shades, folded her hands behind her head and closed her eyes.

Ranma opened the sun umbrella and set it nearby, setting down his own towel and the basket and sitting down in the shade. He drew his knees up to his chest and sighed.

Nabiki heard ther morose sound and rolled over to glance at him. Can't have him moping his way through the weekend. She thought, though exactly WHY that mattered escaped her at the moment. "Hey Saotome, toss me a Lychee soda from the basket?"

Ranma robotically opened the basket and casually tossed a can to her, without even looking at the contents.

She caught the can, still looking upwards at him as she lay on her towel. "You can have some of the sandwiches in there if you like."

"Not hungry." He muttered, still staring out at the ocean."

"Kasumi made them."

"Maybe later."

She sighed and sat up on her knees, putting her hands on her hips. "Alright, now I KNOW you're in rough shape. So… what exactly happened?"

"I don't wanna talk about it."

Nabiki sighed. She didn't really want to play therapist, but she didn't want to drag around a sulking martial artist either. She had hoped he'd perk up, find an audience to show off his physical prowess to like he normally did, but it seemed more was needed. Besides, she was curious what had sent things so seriously wrong so fast, and she WAS going to need to know eventually if she was going to get things back to normal. "No, but you're going to be a downer until you do." She sighed. She didn't want to drive him off either for… reasons, so she needed to soft sell it a bit more than usual. "Look… no pressure. And no strings. The deal stands, right? What is said or done this weekend stays here. I just think you'll have a better chance of enjoying yourself if you get it off your chest."

He was silent, and Nabiki knew better than to press any harder. She shrugged and moved to lie back down to catch what sun was left in the day.

"It wasn't even anything big."

She paused and sat back up, slipping her sunglasses off to look at him. He wasn't looking at her still.

"It was just a date… you know? After that whole mess at Jusenkyo, and the wedding fiasco, we thought we'd try and just have a normal date. Just dinner and a movie." He picked up a scallop shell on the sand nearby and turned it over in his fingers, brushing the sand from it. "It started right away. The usual crap. Kuno showed up first, tried to muscle in on the date. Then the fiancee brigade. I got splashed. We never even made it to the restaurant. Akane's ankle got twisted, we had to hole up in an old tool shed."

He tossed the shell away, skipping it across the sand. "She asked me if it was always going to be like this… like just trying to be together would always be this fight for survival. She asked me… she asked me why I could kill a god for her, but I couldn't tell a bunch of obsessed fangirls to take a hike. She… I tried to explain but…" He closed his eyes. "It wasn't like the other fights. She wasn't MAD. She was just… tired. I can deal with mad. I can deal with her hitting me. But…" He took a deep breath. "She asked me what I wanted. What I REALLY wanted, cuz… cuz she said I SAID I wanted her, but then I was always leading on these other girls. I tried to explain…" He clenched his fist. "I asked her what I'm supposed to do. How do I just ignore all these honor debts? How do I tell someone to just ignore their laws, or that Pops stole from 'em? And then I gotta be a 'Man among Men', so I gotta deal with the curse and keep Mom happy…"

Nabiki listened. Her first instinct was naturally to tell him he was being an idiot. Because he WAS. But it occurred to her that in all of his messed up upbringing and the craziness of his life, no one had actually told him WHY. "You know what I think Saotome?"

"That I'm an idiot?"

She chuckled. "Yes, but you knew that." She took a sip of her lychee. "No, what I think is that Akane has a point. You DON'T know what you want."

"What?!" He uncurled, scowling. "I just said…"

She held up a finger to stop him. "No, what you were talking about is dealing with what OTHER people want."

"Well, yeah! You gotta deal with that before you can deal with what you want, right?"

Nabiki blinked, and then studied him. There wasn't any duplicity in his face. He was serious. No WONDER even Kuno could take advantage of him. "No, Ranma."


She considered a moment. Yeah, I can see Mr. Saotome raising him that way. Always gotta uphold the family honor before you own. Gotta make sure everyone ELSE is satisfied before you can have what YOU want. That way you can sit back and just let your kids take care of all of your problems and fulfill all of your obligations for you. "Ranma, have you considered that there's no way you can make everyone happy?"

"Yeah, that's the problem." He slumped again. "What with all the engagements and promises Pops made…"

She shook her head. "No, that's not it. I mean, you've got an extreme case of it because your Dad is profoundly greedy and stupid, but I'm talking in general. You know, regular life? You CAN'T make everyone happy, and you CAN'T hold yourself to dealing with what THEY want before you even get to DECIDE what YOU want. Otherwise you're just spending your whole life reacting, and never going anywhere or accomplishing anything."

"Hey, there's plenty of people I don't try to make happy…" He muttered.

"Yeah. Flat-out ENEMIES. But anyone short of that? Even if you're not trying to give it to them, you're concerned with it, justifying why you SHOULDN'T be trying to get them what they want. You spend so much time dealing with what your Dad wants, or what your fiancees want, or what Happosai wants, or what your Mom wants, or what Daddy wants… What do YOU want, Saotome?"

"I want… Well, I mean, Akane is my fiancee…"

"Engagement arranged by Daddy and Mr. Saotome."

"There's the curse…"

"Mostly because of the whole 'Man among men' thing. I've noticed that when you aren't getting chided about THAT half the time you don't even notice which form you're IN anymore."

"There's the Art…"

"... Carry on the School of Anything Goes Martial Arts, which was something your Dad laid on you pretty much when you were born and you never had a choice about."

Ranma scowled. "What else am I supposed to do, huh?"

"That's the trick. It doesn't MATTER what you're SUPPOSED to do. You figure out what you WANT first, what's really important to you. THEN you figure out how to get TO it. What you're SUPPOSED to do is number three on the list at BEST."

"Well, what a mercenary attitude. What a shock." He muttered, giving her a tired look.

"Not at all. What do you think everyone ELSE is doing? Mr. Saotome knows what he wants. Daddy knows what he wants. Akane… maybe not Akane. But your other fiancees? They all know what they want. That's what drives them forward, gives them purpose, and makes them dangerous. Even Ryouga, as clueless as he is, knows what he wants. Just… not how to get there."

Ranma snorted slightly at that, and Nabiki scored herself a minor victory. Even if Ranma dismissed what she said out of hand, the gloom had been broken, and he at the very least had something more productive to ponder than "Why am I such a screw up?" Maybe she could actually coax him into having FUN this weekend.

Wait… why was that important?

Because it's hard to have fun when a friend is being miserable, even if they're the ones MAKING themselves miserable. She took another sip of her lychee to mask the momentary internal discussion.

Ranma is a friend?

She considered that a moment. Turned it over in her head. Is he? She turned the concept over in her head a bit. He was clueless… but given who his parents were, maybe that wasn't 100% his fault. He was arrogant, brash, and constantly had to shore up his fragile, over-inflated ego… but when things went bad, he would go to the wall for you. If you fell, he would catch you. And despite what Akane constantly accused him of, he was probably the LEAST lecherous male she had ever met. Yeah, I trust him. She decided. She ignored that that wasn't really answering the question.

She felt the shadow blocking the sun against her back before she was aware of the presence. "Well… What have we got here?" She turned, and everything that she saw about the group of young men screamed 'thug'. There were five of them, in trunks and light shirts, the leader wearing an open jumper over his bare chest with his hair in a fauxhawk. "What an adorable couple. Who can't read, apparently."

"Read?" Nabiki was caught up short a moment.

Fauxhawk thumbed towards one of the larger rocks on the breakwater. There was something spray painted there that she had taken for the usual graffiti. She squinted at it this time, realizing it was actually meant to be a crude, badly spelt attempt at an english word. "Re… 'Resoived'?"

"Yeah! As in this spot is reserved!" He crossed his arms. "Get it? This is OUR spot! Trespasser will be violated and all that."

Ranma stood up smoothly, his expression neutral as he cracked his knuckles.

Fauxhawk noticed and laughed. "What's this? Some scrawny middle-schooler gonna start something over this"

Nabiki quickly stood. "No, we were just leaving. Come on Ranma." Naturally it wasn't like a bunch of beach thugs were a threat to Ranma, or likely to even be a major inconvenience, but she wanted to avoid any spectacles. It was her 'normal' weekend, after all. Even if that meant letting a bunch of bullies have their way.

Fauxhawk stepped sideways to block her as she moved to walk past. "Now now now… Now that I get a good look at you, you're kinda cute. How about you stick around? We can have some fun." He leered at her, looking her up and down in a way that made her feel like she needed a shower. "Your boyfriend is free to take a hike."

"Yeah, in fact, we insist." Two of the larger thugs moves to flank Ranma. "Scram, kid."

Nabiki's eyes narrowed. "Thanks, but no thanks. We should get going before we're missed, right Ranma?" She moved to slip her sunglasses back on, hoping that the lack of concern on her part, as well as the subtle hint about there being others looking out for them would be enough.

It wasn't. Even as her hand moved, she could see Fauxhawk's brow knit, and his hand snapping out to grab her wrist, as if in slow motion. She felt his fingers brush, coming up short as she reflexively completed the motion, slipping her sunglasses on.

He came up short because his wrist was now quite firmly gripped by one pig tailed martial artist. She silently marvelled that Ranma had managed to move that fast without kicking up any sand at all. The two heavies who had been flanking him were glancing about in momentary confusion about where he had gone. It was like he had teleported.

Maybe he did? Was that one of the techniques he knew? She wondered. She had long since lost track of all of his tricks.

"Hey! You little…!" Fauxhawk tried to jerk his arm free, but came up short as Ranma's seemingly casual grasp didn't budge an inch.

Ranma glanced at Nabiki over his shoulder, and she realised he was looking for confirmation. She smirked a bit, enjoying that he was giving her the lead still. "Bruises, contusion, scrapes and such are fine."

"Why you…!" Fauxhawk, realizing his arm wasn't coming free, tried to throw a punch. To be fair, it was actually a fairly impressive wind up, putting his full weight behind it. Ranma didn't even spare a glance as he caught it, still looking at Nabiki as he started squeezing, Fauxhawk yelping and struggling almost comically.

Her grin widened. "Keep the broken bones to a…" She heard the bones in Fauxhawk's hand pop. "... Reasonable level." She finally decided on.

Ranma nodded silently, then vaulted over the now-kneeling Fauxhawk, split kicking the two cronies rushing to help their boss and sending them spiralling in opposite directions into the sand. Fauxhawk crumpled onto all fours, cradling his partially crushed hand.

The two heavies rushed past her to engage the martial artist. Ranma dodged the straight punch from one, ducking under it as he rapidly poked and twisted various points on the thug's body. Pressure points Nabiki realized, having seen Dr. Tofu do something similar, although in less violent circumstances. The thug's body suddenly went rigid, stuck in place as his eyes frantically looked about, the only part of his body responding to him. Ranma ducked around him, deftly deflecting the punch of the second thug, snaking his arm around his as he slipped in behind him. The other two cronies had recovered and charged. Ranma hooked the legs and arms of the thug with his own and turned him, manipulating him like a marionette as he used his body to fend off the attacks of his friends.

He's copying 'Drunken Master'. Nabiki realized, remembering the classic Jackie Chan flick. Ranma could have ended the fight instantly, but he was having fun with it instead, making the toughs look like idiots with complex choreography that he had masterfully trapped them in. She silently marvelled at the skill he was showing. He's doing a fight sequence that took four skilled martial artists working together to pull off, with four untalented thugs who aren't trying to do anything but pound him, and making it look good. She shook his head. You should honestly be doing movies with that kind of skill, Saotome. Why are you wasting all that talent and flair on a two bit dojo with no students?

Ranma kicked away his thug puppet into the other two, sending all three stumbling. The fourth was still locked in his punch pose, his eyes wide and terrified. Ranma walked into the middle of the three as they stumbled to their feet, folded his arms behind his back in the same way he did when Akane tried to spar with him, and started casually ducking and weaving around their punches and kicks. Eventually he managed to arrange them that all three punched each other in the face, toppling over comically.

Nabiki giggled in spite of herself. She supposed it wasn't as much fun for the thugs, but it was always entertaining to see him being playful. Her focus on Ranma's antics, however, caused her to forget about Fauxhawk until he was already behind her.

She felt the cool metal of the knife lightly brush her neck. Her eyes wend wide, but Fauxhawk had already wrapped his other arm around her, his injured hand pressed into her shoulder, holding her firm. "O-okay… you… you just back the hell off! Back off, or your girlfriend gets cut!"

Ranma's movements in response were so fluid and fast she could barely follow them, and it was only after the fact that she realized he had flipped a stone from the ground up into his hand with his foot and thrown it. Fauxhawk yelped in pain, then knife dropping from his fingers. Without the threat of the knife Nabiki was able to twist enough to elbow him hard in the ribs, and when his other arm slackened, let her legs simply go out from under her, dropping straight down.

The impact of Ranma's foot with his face was hard enough to flip the thug over backwards. Nabiki was able to hear the crunch, guaranteeing at least a broken nose, maybe worse. To his credit, Fauxhawk didn't immediately lose consciousness, scrabbling and lurching a few extra feet like a beached fish before passing out face down in the sand.

Ranma immediately dropped down next to her, taking her gently but firmly by the shoulders and giving her an intense scrutiny that otherwise would have been a little embarrassing. "Are you okay?"

She rubbed her throat… thankfully he hadn't actually cut her. "Yeah. Yeah I'm good." She tried to ignore how her hands were shaking.

Ranma nodded, turning to fish around in the sand a moment before coming up with the knife, a nasty looking little switchblade. He scored the blade against a nearby rock a few times to ruin the edge, then snapped the blade off and tossed it into the rocks. He then got up and walked over to the paralyzed thug, who's eyes were wide, showing the whites, his breathing ragged and terrified as Ranma advanced on him.

Ranma brusquely stabbed a couple of spots on his body with his finger, clearing the paralysis. The thug collapsed in a heap on the sand, scrambling as he suddenly regained control, backing up frantically. "Look… LOOK! I didn't know he had a knife! I swear! Please don't…!"

Ranma grabbed him by the front of his shirt and lifted him with one arm. "Pick up your friends and leave." Ranma growled. "And if I hear you ever came around this beach again, I'll put all of you in the hospital. Are we clear?"

"Y-yessir!" He stammered, then yelped as Ranma unceremonious dropped him to the sand. He scrambled over to the other cronies as they stirred, and Ranma ignored them all as he turned back to Nabiki.

"Let's get out of here, Nabiki."

Nabiki was already gathering up her things. She noticed with some dismay that her sunglasses had been crushed underfoot in the scuffle. She picked up the broken frames and sighed.

"Hey, are you guys okay?"

She looked up to see a couple running towards them, a sandy-haired young man, and a dark haired girl. They stopped short, seeing the thugs limping away, carrying their boss between them.

"Woah. Looks like Ryusei bit off more than he could chew this time." The girl said, glancing at Nabiki. "You did this?"

Nabiki crossed her arms. She still felt a little unsteady, and needed to keep her hands from shaking. "No. That was my uh… my boyfriend." I hope Ranma remembers the cover story. She thought glumly.

"They friends of yours?" Ranma thumbed in their direction, coming up next to Nabiki. She noticed that he was placing himself protectively just a little in front of her as he sized up the newcomers. Like he always did with Akane.

The sandy haired boy scoffed. "Ryusei?! Are you kidding?! You have no idea how happy I am to see that jerk hobbling away for once!"

"Ryusei and his gang are a huge problem to anyone who comes to the beach." The girl said. "They set up little 'traps' like this one…" She waved at the graffiti on the rock. "... Then come out to extort tourists and locals for 'premium location fees'."

"We came running when we saw him on the beach up to his usual tricks. This is a bad spot to be caught by him, kinda secluded." The boy said. "Looks like you didn't need us, though."

"I'm Chiyako." The girl extended her hand, smiling brightly. "This is my boyfriend, Asahi."

Nabiki hesitated, then certain her hand was steady she accepted the shake. "Nabiki. This is Ranma."

"Yo." Ranma said, raising a hand in a wave.

"You guys here on your own?" Asahi asked.

"Yeah. Just a romantic little getaway for the two of us." Nabiki smirked and leaned a bit against Ranma, who immediately stiffened. She knew she was pushing their agreement a little, but she couldn't help but tease him a bit.

"We've got a small group of us from the local college just over those sand dunes. We staked out a spot with plenty of room. Would you like to join us?" Chiyako asked. "Ryusei and his jokers don't bother with big groups."

"I don't…" Ranma started.

Nabiki cut him off. This was EXACTLY what she was looking for right now. "We'd love to!"

True to their word, the group had what looked like a whole campsite on the grassy verge overlooking the beach, complete with a fire pit and a few tents.

"They're okay with campers here?" Nabiki asked, following their new friends.

"Not really, but you can tell from Ryusei and his friends that the local beach patrol is kinda lax." Chiyako said. "We WOULD have stayed in a hotel, but SOMEONE forgot to make the reservation in time!" She glared at Asahi.

Asahi crossed his arms and lifted his nose. "That's a filthy truth! I won't have you sullying our relationship with these vile verifiable facts!" He shrugged. "Besides, saved us a few yen, even WITH paying off the beach patrol to let us stay here."

"And with the added benefit of sand in literally EVERY article of clothing…" Chiyako said dryly.

"Free exfoliant!"

"ASAHI!" A sounds came from one of the tents. Another man, mid twenties this time, with a scraggly stubble and shoulder-length, unwashed hair was dragging a large cooler out from behind the tent. "Where have you been?! I've been scrambling to keep these coolers out of the sun all day all by myself!"

"That's Yuto. He's… different." Asahi said. "He takes care of the beer."

"No one else is going to, apparently!" He roared. He fixed Nabiki and Ranma with a critical glare. "You! You two! Do you drink beer?"

Nabiki blinked, and Ranma opened his mouth, but didn't get a chance to respond.

"Rhetorical question! Of course you haven't! There isn't a real beer within a thousand miles of this place. Except here!" Yuto continued, working himself up into a good rant. "It's all Kirin Ichiban or Asahi Super Dry or Sapporo Light…"

"Hey, I like Sapporo Light…" Asahi interjected.

"PHILISITINE! Begone from my SIGHT!" Yuto roared, pointing dramatically towards the ocean. "No… no, such things will NOT besmirch this refuge… this oasis I have lovingly crafted!" He smiled, turning to look at the large cooler and patting it. "I will show all of you the fruits of TRUE brewcraft!" He scuttled back behind the tent to tend to another large cooler.

"Yuto is kinda big on imported microbrewed craft beers." Asahi explained. "He's also a freshman at our college."

"A freshman?" Nabiki blinked.

"He's currently on his fifth year of first year classes." Chiyako replied. "His Dad is super rich, but never around. We think Yuto just goes to college to avoid having to go home and take over the family business."

"We've got a few more friends who will be showing up later tonight. We'll be having a fire and bemoaning our upcoming return to bondage and servitude and the like." Asahi said. "You two are welcome to join us, if you haven't got anything else planned."

"Well, I don't…" Ranma rubbed the back of his neck. He wasn't exactly feeling sociable at the moment.

"We'd love to! Right Ranma Dear?" Nabiki smiled and grabbed his arm. She could practically HEAR his teeth grate. Suck it, Saotome. This is EXACTLY what I came out here for, and I'm not missing out. Besides, you need some quality time with NORMAL people for a change.

"Asahi!" Yuto roared from behind the tent. "The ice you brought me is disgraceful! THIS BEER DEMANDS A HIGHER QUALITY OF COOLING!"

Okay… A different brand of weird people then.

Ranma sighed, jabbing the fire with his stick as the flames began to rise. He had volunteered to get the fire going while the others made a run to the local grocery for some snacks (After discovering Yuto had neglected that part of his duties). Which had resulted in Nabiki, Chiyako, and another girl, Asami, along with Asami's boyfriend Itsuki, taking off in Itsuki's little convertible.

"Itsuki must be absolutely loving this." Asahi said, dumping another armful of driftwood next to the fire pit. "Running around with three cute girls in his car."

Ranma snorted. "Not all it's cracked up to be. Trust me."

"Oh? You a ladykiller back home?" Asahi smirked.

"Not by choice." Ranma replied. Realizing he was straying a bit from his and Nabiki's established cover story, he tried to bow out gracefully. "It's complicated."

"It usually is." Asahi sat down on one of the logs they were using for seating around the fire, a beer in each hand. He wound back to toss to Ranma, then paused. "How old are you, anyway?"

"Seventeen." Ranma said, and smirked. "Not my first drink, trust me. Dad has a thing for sake."

"Well, then it would be irresponsible of me to give this to you!" Asahi said, feigning shock. "He looked away from Ranma as he tossed the beer at him. "Why, giving alcohol to someone below the state-established drinking age is tantamount to tearing down the very fabric of our society! Whoops! It seems I have lost my grip, I can only pray it does not end up in the hands of some bright eyed teenage toddler who's life the taste of a lightly alcoholic beverage will surely destroy."

Ranma snorted and popped the top on the can. "Do you take ANYTHING seriously?"

"Nope!" Asahi stated proudly, opening his own beer and taking a swig. "Too many people spend too much time worrying too much about things that don't matter. Like, at all. 'Do I look good?' 'What do others think of me?' 'How can I get more money, or things, or whatever it is I think I need?' It's stupid and pointless. Only things that really matter is taking care of yourself and the people you care about, and trying not to be a dick about how you do it."

"Like being a 'man among men'?" Ranma asked dryly, sipping at his own beer. In truth he had only had beer on one or two occasions; His normal experience with alcohol was a very drunk Genma or Soun insistently pouring him cup after cup of cheap sake. He wasn't sure he liked the bitter taste, but it was certainly more drinkable than most of the rotgut he had been exposed to.

"Exactly! I mean… how do you even define that?"

Ranma cocked his head. "You don't seem to mind Yuto and his obsession."

"Hey, that's different. Beer matters." Asahi said sharply, then grinned. "Okay, MAYBE not as much as Yuto makes it out to, but I'm trying to rehabilitate him before he ends up an alcoholic."

"How're you doing that?"

There was a curse from behind the tents where the coolers were, followed by loud retching and swearing.

"Well, to start, I slipped a couple of 'One Cup Genki' from the vending machine down the street into Yuto's box of microbrew." He nonchalantly sipped his beer as Yuto loudly and violently expelled the contents of his stomach somewhere nearby.

Ranma shuddered. 'One Cup Genki' was a rather infamous 'beer' loaded into most vending machines in Japan. The rumor was that the company that made it had actually gone out of business a decade ago, and the vending machines were still full of it because no one would willingly drink the stuff. "That's cruel!"

"He won't bug me about the quality of ice I get him for a while." Asahi replied, smirking. "Don't get me wrong, when my ass has been in a sling Yuto has always had my back. But surely you've got that one friend who has that obsession that needs to be reigned in now and then when it starts getting obnoxious?"

That describes Ryouga PERFECTLY. Except the stuff that isn't about the obnoxious obsession. Kuno too. Oh God, and MOUSSE…! "You… could say I know a few guys like that, yeah."

"Oh god. Trekkies?" Asahi gave him a sympathetic look. "Gunpla maybe? Whatever, you have my sympathies." he sipped his beer. "Nabiki seems pretty nice, though."

Ranma choked on his own beer.

"Pretty, smart… I mean, I woulda thought she was already in college unless you guys had told me different. Not allowed to gush about her more though, or Chiyako will hit me." He smiled, momentarily losing focus as he thought about his girlfriend. "So, you two been together long?"

"Not long." Ranma said, truthfully.

"Well, I tell you what, if you two can stick together through college? Marry her." He pointed at Ranma. "See so many couples just crumble to dust after the first semester."

Ranma flushed. "I'm… ah… not really thinking about marriage." He muttered. BECAUSE LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE IN MY LIFE IS DOING THAT FOR ME!

"Fair enough. Just sayin'... I hope you two make it. You're a cute couple. And from the thrashing you gave Ryusei and his crew, you obviously care about her a lot."

Ranma blinked, then gawked at the older boy, wondering how anyone could be so far off base. I mean… Nabiki is cute and all, but… NO! He shook his head, hastily shutting down that line of thought before it got him in trouble. He needed to turn the conversation around. "So what about you a Chiyako? Been together long?"

Asahi chuckled. "Met in cram school. And if a girl who is after a medical degree gives you the time of day in cram school? You KNOW it's love." He smiled fondly. "I mean, neither of us was at our best… last push to exams and all. But… There was just that 'spark', y'know?"

Ranma slumped a little more, and took a long drag off his beer. Yeah… I know that spark. And I watched Akane snuff it out in my face. He scowled. "You got any more of this?" He held up his empty can.

Asahi blinked. "You finished that fast." He got up, just a set of headlights illuminated the camp. There was a whoop, and Itsuki sprinted over the grassy dune, carrying a couple of overfilled shopping bags. He was a shorter young man with jet black hair, dark eyes, and wore a light scarf as a half-joking, half-serious attempt to affect a more sophisticated air which the rest of him mostly failed to support. "Asahi! Ranma! We've got everything we need!"

Asahi relieved him of the bags, dropping one to the sand and opening the other. "Junk… junk… TERRIBLE junk… There isn't a SINGLE ounce of nutrition in any of this!" He smiled and clapped the shorter boy on the back. "Well done! You have learned my lessons well!"

"You boys COULD help with the rest." Nabiki said, carrying a couple of bags herself, Chiyako and Asami flanking her, similarly laden. Asahi and Itsuki sighed and trotted off to the car, but Nabiki intercepted Ranma. "Not you. There's only a few bags left, and you've done your good deed for the day." She winked. "Don't want my boyfriend to get TOO altruistic, or other girls will get ideas."

Ranma scowled. Nabiki was getting WAY too into her 'girlfriend' act.

She sat down to his right on the log. A little too close for comfort, but about right for a 'girlfriend'. He took comfort that at least she wasn't plunking herself down in his lap or glomming his arm like one of the fiancees would.

"So, what were you chatting about while we were gone?" Nabiki accepted a beer that Chiyako handed her, popping the top and taking a sip as she glanced at him impishly.

Payback time. He waited until she had a good mouthful before taking a page from Asahi's book. "Debating which of our girlfriends had bigger boobs."

The snort from his right was satisfying, even as he calmly tended the fire. He wondered if expensive important Canadian microbrew was as bad for the sinuses as domestic beer?

Nabiki coughed and glared at him.

"To be fair, our discussion did stray along those lines too, much to poor Itsuki's chagrin." Chiyako said, something resembling an evil smile. "Though I'm SURE Nabiki-chan was exaggerating. Love can make certain endowments seem so much BIGGER, can't it?"

Ranma froze, his head turning slowly, like his neck joints were suddenly made of thousand kilo granite blocks. "... When?"

Nabiki smirked and sipped her beer, winking at him.

"Actually, even with the… embellishments, I'm quite impressed with what she told us, Ranma-kun." Chiyaki said brightly. "Not just a professional martial artist, but a male model to boot!"

"Male model…?"

"You know, those photo spreads she said the two of you sold to help make ends meet for her family? It's VERY noble of you to put yourself out there for them! I can barely pose for a vacation photo without blushing! Plus, it shows a lot of trust for her to be able to let other people see so much of you without getting jealous!"

Ranma ground his teeth so hard we was afraid he was going to wear them smooth. He could feel Nabiki shaking next to him, trying to stifle her laughter. "Yes… Well I've had issues with jealous fian-girlfriends before. I'm SO LUCKY that Nabiki isn't like that." I will GET you, Tendo!

Chiyako giggled. "Oh, don't be so embarrassed. It's obvious she thinks very highly of you."

"What?" Ranma said, momentarily losing the train of thought where he was planning some appropriate revenge on Nabiki.

"What?" Nabiki sounded equally surprised.

"Well, what with all that talk about how your talents are wasted, and how you would make a great actor, if you decided to pursue it?" She smiled. "Though she seemed to be mostly concerned with figuring out what YOU wanted most. And she got this ADORABLE faraway look in her eyes when she talked about you."

Ranma looked at Nabiki, scrutinizing her. She was intently studying her beer. Was she blushing? "Really."

Nabiki hunkered down a little more, and Chiyako giggled. "Asahi, hurry up! We need something better to discuss before I embarrass these two into breaking up or getting married!"

Asahi's idea of 'something better' was a game of Truth or Dare.

Ranma wondered if Asahi was secretly related to the Hibikis. He seemed to have Ryouga's stunning flair for bad ideas, and the masterful application of them towards ruining his life.

"So, Ranma." Chiyako said, having one the coin toss to go first. Ranma found he didn't much like the mischievous glint in her eye. "You're my first victim. Truth or Dare?"

Ranma winced. He was already regretting the beer; The pleasant buzz had certainly taken the edge off, but at the same time he wasn't sure it was the best time to be answering questions while they had a cover story to keep straight. But then again, Dares had NEVER been safe for him. They always resulted in him being forced to take someone on a date, or dressing up as a girl, or something else supremely uncomfortable.

"Best lies are mostly true, with a couple of details changed around to suit the situation, Saotome."

"Truth." He said, hoping he didn't regret it. He could almost feel Nabiki's eyes burning into his skull as she watched him for a screw up.

Chiyako beamed. "Okay, I'm gonna go easy on you, since you're a first timer."

Oh thank Kami… Ranma relaxed a little.

"Who was your first kiss?"

Ranma's face froze. Immediately. Nope, nevermind. Thanks for nothing. The image of Mikado Sanzenin's face was already filling his mind, the memory of the male figure skater leaning in to…

Nabiki burst out laughing next to him, mercifully snapping him out of his recollection. He turned to glare at her, ready to let her have it with both barrels for her amusement at his pain, but she was grinning up at him, and gave him a look that said. 'I'll take care of this for you, Saotome, but it'll cost you.'

He caught himself reflexively reaching for his wallet.

She winked at him and grabbed his arm, which did NOTHING to reassure him. "Oh please… PLEASE let me tell the story, Ranma?"

"Uhh… sure?"

Nabiki turned, and Ranma shuddered and tried to ignore that she was STILL hugging his arm, in a way that reminded him WAY too much of Shampoo. It didn't help that he was now acutely aware of certain parts of her anatomy pressed against his arm.

"Okay, so you'll have to forgive poor Ranma, because he was mortified at the time, and it TOTALLY wasn't his fault. But it was a guy."

"WHAT?!" Chiyako and Asahi said in unison, staring. Asami and Itsuki leaned in closer, and Yuto started laughing hysterically.

Ranma flushed deep scarlet and wondered why he had EVER trusted Nabiki Tendo.

"No… now be nice!" Nabiki scolded, holding his arm tighter. "To be fair, the guy was a whack job, and Ranma was trying to protect my little sister."

"Oh? Noble hero Ranma defending the damsels from the perverts by intercepting their kisses?" Itsuki snorted.

"Something like that." Nabiki replied. "Anyway, Ranma was out at the local skating rink with my little sister. Ranma travels a lot with his Dad and never learned to ice skate, so Akane offered to teach him. This was before he and I started dating, of course. I have to admit, it takes a real man to suck up the embarrassment of looking like a goof on skates his first time."

She rested her head on his shoulder. Ranma stiffened a bit, but then realized from the view of the others, it was meant to look possessive and supportive. Still, he wasn't sure he was willing to let the crack about 'Real man' slide, considering Nabiki knew damn well he had gone skating with Akane as a GIRL.

"Anyway, so he and Akane are making progress, and then this guy named… what was it, Ranma? Mika-something?"

"Mikado." Ranma grumbled.

"Right! Anyway, he starts skating around… and this isn't an empty rink, mind you… and starts doing some of his figure skating moves to impress the girls. So he sees my little sister and decides to zero in on her, and 'accidentally' bumps her and Ranma, and 'graciously' scoops Akane up to keep her from falling. Except… he's so busy being dramatic, with his eyes closed and all he didn't realize he didn't GET Akane."

Ranma blinked. That wasn't how that went… He glanced at Nabiki, then noticed the reactions of the others around the fire. There were still grinning at the story, but it wasn't the mocking sort of reaction he was used to. She's making Mikado out to be an idiot. He realized. Well… MORE of an idiot.

"So, he rattles off this line about having saved her, and asking only a kiss in return or some tripe, and before Ranma can do ANYTHING, he leans in and plants a big old kiss right on his lips."

Asahi, Itsuki and Yuto all winced visibly as the girls twittered.

"What happened after that?" Asahi asked. "Don't tell me you let him get away with that?"

"'Course not. I beat the crap out of him." Ranma grumbled.

Nabiki smirked. "Oh no… no no you have no idea." She giggled. "Ranma didn't just hit him. He knocked him out while he was still on his feet. And then every guy in the place ran out and started doodling on him. You know, like graffiti? With permanent marker."

"Seriously?!" Chiyako asked. "He was just standing there. On ice skates. Out cold? And people vandalized him?!"

"He had a lot of bad sentiment built up at that place." Nabiki said. "I think maybe Ranma wasn't the first time he 'missed', if you know what I mean. Still, it really pissed Ranma off. Not just the jerk kissing HIM, but he kept going after my little sister too." She looked up at Ranma as he glanced at her. She gave him one of those sly looks. "Don't worry Ranma. I'll make this one up to you later, okay?" She gave him another wink, this one for the others to see.

He knew that was just part of the act, and if anything he was going to owe HER for this, but he knew what she was implying to the others, which put a mental image in his head that was PROBABLY not the best to have while she was still sitting so close to him, hugging his arm and smiling up at him. He knew he was blushing visibly, he knew she had planned it that way with the look she was giving him, he knew that she didn't actually mean any of that, and he knew his hormones didn't really CARE and… Damnit Nabiki!

"Ranma, your turn." Chiyako said.

"You sure we should interrupt them? This looked like it was about to get interesting." Asahi said, making Ranma realize he and Nabiki had locked gazes a little too long.

He ALSO realized that it was now his turn, and who his next victim was going to be. "Asahi." He said, lazily turning his gaze from Nabiki. She smirked and mirrored him, resulting in them both levelling their gaze on the older boy with disturbing synchronicity. "Truth or Dare?"

"Well… Crap." Asahi's face fell as everyone else snickered at him. "I shoulda seen that one coming. Uh… Truth!"

"Tell us about YOUR first kiss."

"Oh come on! That's not fair! You can't just re-use it right away like that!"

"Yes he can." Yuto piped up. "International Truth or Dare rules have nothing forbidding using a question or dare that was used on you the previous turn, as long as the target is different."

"International Truth or Dare rules!?" Asahi turned on him incredulously. "Since when are there International rules to Truth or Dare!?"

"Since the Truth or Dare League went professional in '86. Come on man, open a newspaper once in a while!" Yuto said gravely. "This was covered in the ruling on Takemoto vs Wait in 1992. Everyone knows this!"

Ranma wasn't certain if the beer otaku was serious, but he was willing to go along with it since it supported his revenge. "Yeah. Literally EVERYONE has heard about that one. So spill it already. First kiss, go."

"Aww come on, Asahi. It's a cute story!" Chiyako prodded him.

"It's embarrassing. And not, like, epic contest-winning embarrassing like Ranma's story over there. Just… plain run of the mill dull embarrassing."

Ranma pressed the attack. "Am I gonna hafta ask your girlfriend to tell it?"

Chiyako waved her hand. "Oh no, I'm not a part of this. This was well before my time."

Asahi sighed. "I was four, okay?"

Ranma frowned. "I'm not sure that COUNTS, man…"

"She was twenty-two."

Itsuki snorted his beer. Yuto started howling with laughter again. Chiyako covered her mouth, grinning, obviously already aware of the story, and Asahi simply hung his head.

"Okay, THAT requires some elaboration, don't you think, Ranma?" Nabiki grinned up at him, and he found himself grinning back. It was kinda nice to have Nabiki on his side and helping to make someone ELSE squirm.

Itsuki coughed as he recovered. "Jesus Christ Asahi! I knew you were a player, but…"

Asahi closed his eyes as if in pain. "She was my preschool teacher, okay? She was pretty, and I told everyone I was going to marry her one day, and I was supposed to give her a kiss of the cheek, but I had snuck downstairs while my parents were watching this romantic movie, and I saw the kiss scene, and I figured that's how adults are supposed to kiss, and…"

"Oh, that's not even the worst bit…" Chiyako added.

"Chi, no, please…"

"You have to finish it! Finish it or I will!"

"... You're a cruel, cruel woman."

"So you see, Asahi met up with her a few years later…"

"ALRIGHT! Okay, okay… Yeah, so I didn't know any better. Never thought I'd see her again outside of preschool, right? Well, about twelve years later mom decided to bring home her new shopping friend…"

"Asahi was about sixteen by this point…"

"... And it was HER. My old preschool teacher."

"And she remembered you."

"Of COURSE she remembered me. The universe hates me after all. So naturally the first thing she does is tell my mother the story. And then ask me if I had been practising since then!"

"Which of course he hadn't."


Yuto had fallen off his log laughing at this point, and Itsuki and Asami were not far behind. Ranma found himself a little more reserved, feeling a bit more sympathetic after his own story, though he noticed Nabiki was laughing her head off, leaning against him for support. He realized he almost never saw Nabiki laugh like this; unrestrained. Not her usual evil chuckle or knowing smirk or mocking laugh… just Nabiki, enjoying a funny story.

"So… Asahi… was she your second kiss, too?" Itsuki asked, pursing his lips.

He got an empty beer can to the face for his trouble.

"Okay, okay, had your laugh? Good? Everyone having fun? Great!" Asahi said, then fixed Ranma with a piercing glare. "Now to deal with YOU. Ranma Saotome, prepare to die!"

"Wha…?" Ranma blanched a bit, and for a moment was terrified he had gained another rival as Asahi levelling his finger at…

… Nabiki?

"Nabiki, I Dare you to 'make that kiss up to Ranma' right NOW. On the lips, two minutes minimum." He grinned proudly.

Ranma throat tightened with panic. He looked around wildly for a Panda in the bushes, then back to Asahi, then down at Nabiki, frantic denials and visions of being suddenly stuffed into a tuxedo flashing through his mind, before he noticed Nabiki was smirking, her arms crossed in that casual way that said she was unconcerned.

"Asahi-chan, aren't you supposed to ask me 'Truth or Dare', first?" She inquired sweetly.

"Fuck!" Asahi swore without breaking his dramatic pose, setting off a fit of giggles from the group. "Uh… Truth or Dare, Nabiki?"

"Foul." Yuto said casually. "You blew your turn, Asahi. According to the rules, it's Nabiki's go now."

Asahi deflated, slumping back to his seat on the log. Chiyako patted his arm consolingly.

Nabiki smiled, and turned her attention to Yuto. "Thank you, Yuto. How about an easy one, as thanks? Truth or Dare?"

Yuto snorted. "I'm not kissing Ranma either. Truth!"

There was more snickering at that. Even Ranma found himself chuckling a bit.

"Alright." Nabiki cocked her head. "Indulge my curiosity. How does one end up a 'Beer Otaku', anyway?"

"NO!" Chiyako, Asahi, Itsuki and Asami all cried out in unison, but it was too late.

A wide grin spread across Yuto's unshaven face, a wild gleam twinkling in his eyes. "At last… someone who seeks to know the true path!"

"You don't know what you've done, Nabiki!" Asahi cried.

Yuto spread his arms wide. "It is time, dear children, for me to once again recount the tale of how I came to be the defender… nay, the HIGH PRIEST of the nectar of the gods themselves!"

"Settle in." Itsuki said glumly. "This is gonna take the rest of the night."

"For I cannot tell my tale without telling the FULL story, the TRUE story!" Yuto continued, the firelight giving him a maniacal look. "It is TIME, heathens, for you to learn the TRUE STORY OF BEER!"

The 'True Story of Beer' lasted a number of hours, and involved starting with a somewhat fanciful retelling of how beer was created that was likely not wholly historically accurate (Yuto's version involved a war between African Gods and Norse Frost Giants), followed by a retelling of his birth (Which apparently cribbed a few notes from the Dragonball manga) and an alien invasion in the 50's where the aliens were deathly allergic to hops, which was covered up by the government despite 70% of the world's population dying.

The story took up most of the rest of the night, and by the time Yuto had wrapped up his story with a re-enactment of his solemn vow to the Beer Gods to serve the Will of the Hops, everyone was about ready for bed. In fact, Itsuki and Asami had retired halfway through the story, and Chiyako was dozing against Asahi's arm.

Ranma and Nabiki bid them farewell, with a solemn promise to come by the next night. Most of Ranma's buzz had worn off by that point, and the night air and smell of the sea further cleared his head as they walked along the waterline back to their hotel.

He was a little surprised when Nabiki took his arm. He glanced back to the campsite, but Asahi was already ushering a sleepy Chiyako into their tent, and was not looking their direction. He glanced back at her, wondering if maybe she had had one too many. "Nabiki…?"

"Shhh…" She said softly. "Normal weekend, remember? I might not get a chance to enjoy a evening walk on the beach with a cute guy for a while. Let me enjoy the fantasy, would you?"

"Cute guy…?" He blushed a little. Nabiki had called him that before, but it was always part of some manipulation ploy.

She sighed. "Don't be dense, Ranma. You know for a fact you're the best looking guy at Furinkan. I've got the picture sales to prove it." She looked up at him and grinned. "Don't go getting ideas, though. You've got WAY too much baggage to be worth it. But… as a pretend boyfriend for the weekend…" She leaned against him a little. "... I guess you'll do."

"Gee, thanks." He said dryly. They walked silently for a few minutes, the waves lapping at their feet, before he spoke again. "You sell pics of my guy side?"

"They're actually my best seller." She chuckled. "Girl side sales are split between you and Akane, but not much competition for your guy side, aside from the few snaps I can get of Ryouga."

"You sell pics of Ryouga?!"

"Oh, and Mousse. He's got a fairly rabid little following. Can't seem to catch him with his shirt off much these days though." She giggled. "What, did you think it was just the MALE side of Furinkan that was a bunch of horny freaks? Trust me, the hormones were carbonated in that place BEFORE you started attracting the hottest male martial artists in Asia to come have sweaty guy-on-guy clothes ripping contests."

Ranma shuddered at that. "Ugh… You have a gift for making literally ANYTHING sleazy, doncha Nabs?"

"Not all of us get to fly like you, Ranma." She muttered. "Some of us gotta muck it out in the mud you kick off your shoes as you leap from rooftop to rooftop like it's a totally reasonable physically possible thing to do." She grumbled.

Ranma frowned a bit, trying to parse that, then deciding she was making some kind of metaphor. "I could teach you."

"That's not the…" She looked at him sharply, then trailed off, eyes widening a bit. "... Teach me?"

"Well, yeah. I mean… It's not like you'd be able to do any of that stuff tomorrow or anything… Probably take you years, but… It's not like you COULDN'T learn it if you stuck with it." Ranma cocked his head in confusion at her look of shock. He didn't MIND astonishing Nabiki… in fact he kind of liked disarming her like that, but he'd like it much better if he knew WHY she was so upended by it.

"Just like that?" She asked, her brow knitting. "My baby sister rages because you won't even spar with her seriously, but… you'll teach me? Just like that?"

Ranma sighed. "Akane doesn't want me to teach her."

"What?! Ranma, she complains all the time…"

"No." He cut her off, his expression hardening. "She wants me to SPAR with her. Fight her as an equal. Fight her 'seriously'. She doesn't want to learn from me, she wants to beat me." He shook his head. "If I thought for a second she could get her ego out of the way long enough to actually listen to me, I'd have been tryin' to teach her from day one."

"Wow, you're really good. I'm just glad you're not a boy…" The memory hurt, a little. Even now. Of sharing a moment, bonding… then having it turn sour instantly.

His eyes drifted down to the sand as it squished between his toes, only to be washed away by a warm ocean wave. "Ryouga had some luck with her, but he'd not around enough. Mebbe she'd do better if all the other female martial artists weren't out to get her 'cuz of me. Mebbe if I actually had any experience teachin', or could get Pops or Mr. Tendo to continue her trainin'... I can't have Akane as my first student. There's too much risk of her getting hurt."

"Alright." Nabiki said softly.

"Alright what?"

"Alright, you can teach me." She said. "I'll be your first student."

He stopped walking, and as she was still holding his arm she was drawn up short as well.


"I'll even knock some of your tab off for it." She said. "But keep it quiet, okay? I don't want the Fiancee Brigade getting jealous and trashing the dojo because they think I'm getting alone time with their object of obsession."

"Yeah, sure. Umm… When did you want to start?" They started walking again.

"Don't wanna think about it now. Sounds like a lot of sweating and exertion, and all I want to think about right now is that sort comfy bed waiting at the hotel." She yawned. "Ask me again after the weekend is over."

(Author's Note: So apparently my first attempt at this ate ALL of my formatting AND breaks, so it looked a lot crappier than intended. Secondly, my proofreader has informed me that I have NOT, in fact, invented the idea of a Beer Otaku, and in fact I have significantly lowballed the insanity in Yuto's case when compared to real-world examples. I NEED to visit Japan someday.

More soon!)