Chapter 10

Making Pace

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Akane looked at the room that she would be staying in until she got better. It wasn't that bad of a room; far from what she would have been able to afford had Kodachi not offered to foot the bill.

The room was about the twice the size of her room at the Dojo, the decorations near lavish; but such was to be expected for the prices involved. After all, it was a rich person's retreat from reality. And it just made good business sense to cater to what they expected.

After putting her bags away, she went to the window, opening the curtains, and spotting the manicured lawn.

"You know," a voice came from behind her, "the view really does help."

Akane turned slowly, seeing Kodachi walking towards her, motioning towards a tree. "I remember when my Mother was asked to help design the lawn to offer the serenity of nature. I helped her plant that tree right there. Just looking at it reminds me of the times I had with her."

Akane numbly nodded, still a little unsure how to take a "sane" Kuno.

Kodachi smiled, as she opened the window, allowing the air to circulate. "You may wish to leave the window open. The flowers that are blooming now produce a very appeasing scent."

Akane took in a deep breath, and found the odd mixture of scents pleasant and somewhat relaxing. "How?"

Kodachi gave a light giggle, far from what was the famous and shrill cry of the Black Rose. "Mother was perhaps one of the best in her field. She taught me almost everything that I know of plants. And while I may have ... wandered from her chosen path for me, I will endeavor to be a worthy successor for her."

Akane nodded, trying to remember anything she could in which she could claim to be her Mother's successor. Kasumi took over the kitchen like their Mother, and Nabiki took over the finances. "I guess I decided to be my Father's successor."

Kodachi nodded. "Better than my own Father, I hope."

Akane found herself giggling. "I be da big kahuna someday, keiki!"

Kodachi pretended to look faint. "How will the world survive two of them?"

The giggles soon evolved into a conversation about the grounds, as Kodachi showed Akane around, sharing tales of her Mother and their work on the grounds.

Ranma grunted as he put more power into the kick of his kata than he had intended, nearly loosing his balance.

It had barely been two days since he had moved out of the Tendo Dojo. So far, none of the girls had come over, only mostly calling, asking how he was. School had yet to return, so there was little chance of running into two of his three prospective wives.

This invoked another pain in his life: his Mother's discussions about which girl or girls he should marry. While Ranma did love the woman, he was finding it harder and harder to separate that love from the growing anger at how she was treating him as nothing more than a commodity.

He knew she was hoping he would choose the fourth option and marry all three. And while to most males such a decision would seem obvious, he was far from such males.

Such males didn't get constantly beaten for even looking at a female, no matter her state.

But his mind was still in turmoil over such ideas. Despite the fact his Mother had made it appear both legal and honorable to do so, he was still having trouble accepting the concept of polygamy.

For almost a year, all he heard was that he was supposed to marry Akane, and nothing else mattered.

Then for ten years before that, all he heard was that girls were weak little things that constantly needed protection, and were generally distractions from the Art.

Now, he had yet another parent telling him to bed and wed three women.

Shaking his head, he stopped his kata and moved over to his pack in the park, having felt the need to practice away from his Mother.

Things were changing too fast for him, and his Mother's proclamation had given him too little time to make sense of things.

Nabiki had done a one-eighty on their relationship, seeing him more as a friend after the trip to that college, and quickly as a possible love interest after the engagement was shifted to her once again.

Then Shampoo's secret punishment if she failed to return with him as husband, having been revealed to him, now negated if she failed to bring him home.

He hadn't been around Ukyo enough to decide how she felt about things now.

Then of course, he was drawn to Akane's strange attitude. The girl, who had hounded him for a year about her definition of perverts, now giving him up without as much as a fight.

Then there was Cologne, who instead of pressuring him to choose Shampoo alone, was pushing for the fourth option.

He knew he was missing something; too many people were acting out of character, for this to be all simple coincidence. Cologne supporting all the girls might be viable, if she realized it was Shampoo's only chance. He had no doubt the woman cared for all of them, and he seriously doubted the elderly Matriarch would kill the others.

Akane's change could even be partially believed, if for nothing else than a delayed reaction to nearly dying due to Saffron's stupidity. He knew the girl would have to grow up sooner or later, as she was always putting herself in danger, believing she was good enough to get out of it.

Hiroshi called it a Lois Lane complex.

But both to happen at once? And added to Kodachi knowing his Mother and "deciding" not to pursue him as well, Nabiki's decision he was worth her now; and others...

"What am I not seeing here?" he asked, as he sat down on the ground, his chin in his hand as he thought.

He tried to think of it as best as he could.

If Cologne was supporting polygamy, then she had to honestly believe Shampoo had no other option to win him.

So that meant either Nabiki or Ukyo had a definite way to win the marriage alone.

But what was it? If either had it, why not simply use that trump card and end this?

"I'll be there with you, Ranma. And I won't let her hurt you in any way."

Nabiki's line still rung in his ears. She had stood up for him—not in a way that she was stating that he belonged solely to her, as the other fiancées had constantly done, but as a supporting voice, a person who would support him and help him make it through the day by his own rules.

It further added to his suspicion. Was she now in some sort of long-range plan? Was this another trick?

His instincts said it wasn't; that Nabiki was being honest and open with him.

So, does this mean Nabiki's the holder of the trump card?

Sighing, he resumed his katas. He didn't know how to play this out. A fight, he could win; Nabiki and Cologne working a mind game on him, he'd be defeated almost every time.

He'd have to discuss this with his Mother, and hope she kept her baser instincts in check to help him through this crisis.

After all, how could he marry any of these girls if he couldn't trust them?

Nabiki sighed as she got up in the morning, realizing that today was the day she would head to school, and see Ranma once again.

She didn't fully understand her reasons, but wanted to blame the weird shifts in hormones in her system for her recent actions.

Her heart still ached for him to be near her. Without Akane or Ranma, the house soon felt too empty for her tastes.

The last few days had been hectic, the girls spending more time together to try and determine if the polygamy idea of Nodoka's was even worth it. After all, it made poor sense to be married if you couldn't understand each other.

Of course, they quickly moved onto topics, such as would they be expected to be intimate with each other, besides Ranma.

Nabiki had to snort at that. Being married to Ranma at least required you to be bisexual. After all, your husband could also become your wife at a moment's notice, and it was far from fair to Ranma to withhold affection if he was a she for the moment.

Hell, she had already kissed Ranma-chan before Nodoka had arrived and started this mess. Ranma knew she cared for him, no matter what his outward form.

But, she could understand why Ukyo might pose such a question. After all, the woman was often torn between her birth gender and what she had adopted as part of her quest of vengeance against Ranma. So, it was no wonder the girl had gender issues, not unlike what Ranma was being forced to experience due to his curse.

Nabiki had no doubt Shampoo was capable of trying it; she had no doubt that the Amazon had undoubtedly been able to sneak dozens of kisses from Ranma.

But the real issue wasn't a kiss; it was the other things that could occur after a kiss, at least inside the bedroom.

Of course, that was the truth: if you couldn't accept that, then why marry Ranma? Did you not think that eventually, he might want or desire to see if you could accept that part of him in a marriage?

Of course, before her drunken encounter with Ranma, she had been just like them; only caring for what they themselves wanted, and no care for what he may have wanted or needed. How many times had she been guilty of that sin?

"No wake up, let Shampoo sleep, Great Grandmother."

She blinked, looking at the sleeping Amazon on the floor, both of the others having decided to spend the night.

Well, one more photo won't hurt. She grabbed her camera, snapping a silent photo of the Amazon warrior cuddling with the cross dressing chef.

Setting the camera down, she headed off to the furo to take a cold bath. Thanks to the pregnancy, she couldn't enjoy the furo anymore.

Of course, she had already begun to consider ways to thank Ranma for her impending months of cold baths.

Kuno stood before the school, his mind focused on the task at hand.

While he was truly grateful that the Gods had no longer seen fit to test his mentality against his sister, he still found their wisdom confusing.

While he may have wished to visit the fiery Akane Tendo at the hospital where she had apparently gone to rid herself of the false delusions plaguing her due to the foul sorcerer, he would only be allowed to visit with his sister; the rules stating that he couldn't visit anyone outside of family or unless they had him on a pre-approved list.

Surely the foul sorcerer is responsible for the fair Akane's neglect to add me to the list of approved visitors. How else may we share our feelings of love, if I cannot stand beside her and hold her lovely form while we work to remove the foul ministrations placed upon her by the scourge?

And to think that those rouges at the hospital dare assume to prevent me from seeing her.

He had already made several trips out there to see Akane, but each one met with the staff forcibly removing him from the grounds.

He would have tricked them using his sister's stay as an excuse, had she not failed to add him to her list.

In fact, his sister had expressly forbid any relative of hers from appearing to visit her, save the woman whose appearance so reminded him of his beloved pigtailed girl.

Ah, perhaps she is the beloved mother or perhaps an elder sister of the pigtailed girl. I shall have Sasuke seek information on her. If they are related, she can tell me how Saotome doth betwixt the lovely maiden, and offer my services to rid them of the horrible blight.

I fear I must take such actions, since the Mercenary Nabiki Tendo hath refused my inquiries.

Seeing his prey arrive, Tatewaki Kuno prepared to once again banish the foul mage.

"So, Konatsu is okay with this?" asked Nabiki as she and Ukyo made their way to Furinkan.

Ukyo nodded. "I know he loves me, but he told me he isn't sure what type of love it is. He just wants me to be happy, and said he'd be okay with being my sister."

Nabiki blinked. "Maybe we should send him to stay with Akane and Kodachi. I think he needs a few good sessions as well."

"We all do, Sugar," said Ukyo. "But it ain't like we got things we can talk to one about—not without getting locked up or worse."

Nabiki nodded. "Well, Doctor, I have abandonment issues, am engaged to a man with a curse that changes him into a girl, and he has a mother who wants us knocked up before the wedding. Oh, did I mention that she wants him to marry three girls, and will probably have several mistresses planned for him before the honeymoon ends?"

Ukyo started chuckling. "That ... would so happen."

Nabiki nodded; glad once again a possible fear of discovery had not become reality. It was bad enough with the fathers scheming to try and make Ranma choose only her. And while she doubted they would leave the stoop and their game to engage in such things, since Ranma was now half a ward away, their desire to act on such impulses died before they passed a second bar.

She was certain they would still badger her at the home. But she had been lucky that they had gone drinking last night and passed out while playing shogi.

The girls all did enjoy a nice laugh with Soun passed out on the board, several tile imprints still on his face, while Genma had somehow gotten two up the nose of his panda form.

It did keep him from snoring, so the girls let them be.

"So, think Shampoo will come over for lunch today?" asked Nabiki, changing the subject.

Ukyo nodded in agreement. "If I learned one thing last year, is that nothing will keep her apart from Ranma, be it door, wall, customs, or miniature perverts. Hell, we did plan to make something for him."

Nabiki nodded, holding the second lunch that she had helped Kasumi make for him. She was nowhere near as good in the kitchen as any of the other girls, but she could help and learn.

Besides, she didn't want to raise her kid on takeout alone. Even a business woman needed to know how to cook for herself. "And the one thing we can count on is his appetite."

Ukyo nodded as they approached the main gate, and spotted the imbedded form of the self-proclaimed defender of females; Tatewaki Kuno.

Ukyo sighed. "I can't believe that idiot is in my class," said Ukyo.

Nabiki smiled. She was very glad that Kuno's grades had been so low due to his incessant need to fight Ranma, that even his father had been unable to pass him to the twelfth grade.

Not that Nabiki bought the idea of Principal Kuno helping his son to graduate. If nothing, she believed he did it to torture his son more by putting him in Ranma's class.

"Look at it this way, judging by how far he's in the ground, I doubt Kuno-baby will be in your classroom until after third period."

Ukyo paused to consider. Let's see; that places him arriving during physics, which means he'll challenge Ranchan, followed by ending with the idiot being tossed out the window.

So he'll be in the office till lunch ends, followed by gym, which means Ranchan will use the blowhard as an example not to be changed in the showers again.

And the school did get those heavy duty lockers for the boys' gym...

"Hell, I might only have to spend five minutes with him today."

"See," said Nabiki, "our day is already looking better."