March 9th, 1989, Present
The world slowly back into focus as Nabiki's senses began to turn themselves back on, one by one. The first thing she notices was that instead of the desk or the floor, she was now lying on her bed. The second thing she noticed was Ranma to her side with a concerned look on his face. Ranma? Concerned? After The Note? Her mind disgarded the complex topic in favor of a simpler one her hazy brain could comprehend more readily at the moment.
"Only five minutes." Ranma replied. "A few more and I would have had Doc in here. You oughta warn me next time."
Nabiki tried sitting up. "If I had known, I would have…" She wiped her eyes clear and noted her muscles felt strained. Then as she continued to take stock of her faculties, came across a horrible, wonderful realization. "The memories! All of her memories!" Ranma simply looked at her in confusion, but otherwise waited patiently for her to explain. "Remember I told you that I was told all this information by a future me?" Ranma nodded. He didn't like these conversations. They tended to go way over his head way fast. "Well, she just returned to the exact moment she left… Seven seventeen p.m."
"Five minutes ago?" Ranma asked with an arched eyebrow, then looked around the room. "Um, where is she then?"
Nabiki tapped her skull with a finger. "We're right here.' She slid off the bed. "If you change the past and return to the only place where two of you won't exist- the present you left –all of you and the changes get mashed into one body." Ranma looked confused, and rightfully so. "Don't worry… I'm barely keeping up with myself here."
"I saw your aura go insane, Nabs." Ranma stated. "I may not understand it, but I'll take your word for it on that alone."
Now she got right down to business. "Ok, things are bad for us in the future. Worse than what was explained to me earlier. You're dead. Your dad is too. I'm crippled for life. Ukyo is scarred, the Amazons went on the warpath and the Dojo was so badly destroyed by Happosai that I opted to sell the property outright instead of fixing it as a last ditch measure to keep the family finances intact."
"'Bad' isn't the word." Ranma noted dryly.
"Just think how I felt. I saw the aftermath first hand and me in a wheelchair." She replied bitterly.
"Ok then, plan of action time." Ranma nodded and Nabiki watched as the tactical mask clicked into place. Ranma was gearing for war, and she couldn't help but to feel proud that he would be willing do it for their sakes. "We've got three months. I've been kicking the problem around all night last night and all day today and only have one conclusion… That is to assemble as many allies as possible to present and overwhelming front when Happosai and this thing come back. Obviously me alone wasn't enough. Or rather I was, just don't want to die in the attempt."
"That's going to take some serious bowing and scraping, Saotome." She pointed out carefully. "The fiancées are probably a lock, but most of them aren't the power players and by calling the girls in, you automatically…"
"…Get the guys pissed off, yeah, I know." Ranma admitted grimly. "And I'll be lucky if I don't haul off and say something stupid in the process."
Nabiki thought on the matter a moment, and smiled. "Then I'll be your interpreter."
"Since when will I be speaking Chinese?" He retorted with some amusement. Her look cut him down immediately. It wasn't anger, just a forceful reminder of the facts of life and his mouth. "Ok, ok. You handle the negotiations with the guys. Do whatever it takes." Nabiki nodded, but he rested his hand on hers now and she blinked with mild shock. It wasn't that the touch was overly friendly, but that combined with the hard edge in his eyes meant there was no room for interpretation on the matter.
"I mean it, Nabs. Blackmail 'em, extort 'em and threaten their lives if you have to… This dojo stands."
Explaining the matter to the family was a lot easier than even she had originally hoped, and Nabiki realized that it was in no small part due to Ranma. He had transformed into warrior and it showed in every action. Protests that she would have had to take time and effort to circumvent were instead immediately cut down by Ranma and his no-nonsense attitude. By the time they were done tag teaming the family, there was no argument. Anybody who disagreed with Nabiki's logic- primarily the parents –were instantly put in their place by Ranma, who had or all intents and purposes assumed decisive control of the dojo. Not even demon-head Soun or a quip about the boy's honor from Genma was getting through the glacial mental plating he now mounted.
If those conversations weren't indication enough of the martial artists' change in attitude, the ones with Akane were, the middle Tendo noted with equal parts shock and awe. Akane had failed to grasp the very essence of his handling of this very dire situation, which was basically that you were either with them in solving it or you were in the way. Akane's constant attempts to goad him quickly landed her in the latter category.
It was now seven fifteen p.m. Nabiki knew the sharp rap on her door could only be one person. "Come in Ran-chan." He stepped in with a courteous smile, not the war mask he now wore regularly around the dojo. War mask or no, he was here for one reason and one reason only: To get night two of their strategy session underway. He sat on her bed and Nabiki considered their next course of action from her desk.
"Ok, I think we have the dojo well in hand thanks to you." She winked and was awarded the slightest blush. "So I also think we can safely assume that we'll do whatever it takes to do the rest, right?"
Ranma nodded with a thin smile. "Can't stop now. This is just getting interesting."
"And since neither of us will stop until this dojo continues standing, I think its time we go check on our progress." She pulled out the Tablet, it's display still glowing idly.
"Mmm, what should I do while you're gone?" Ranma looked at her skeptically.
Nabiki punched something into the Tablet and smiled. "You shouldn't even know I'm gone." With that, she punched a button and Ranma watched through ki-enhanced senses as her aura flickered, though not so violently as before. It continued for less than five seconds before dying away and Nabiki shook her head as if to clear it. Then the smile faded into an angry scowl.
March 9th, 1990, The Future
This time Nabiki was standing as the whirlwind disapated around her and she was silently thankful she was standing this time since the bed would have been a problem, There wasn't one, to be more precise. In fact, her room in the future was as barren as she left it last time. The trip down stairs was faster, but there were noticeable difference over the last time. The living room itself was now in complete upheaval, as if one of the major battles had taken place from within. She looked into the kitchen to find it utterly in ruin. Hell, there wasn't even a door on the front door hinges anymore. A quick tour around the property showed more damage, not less, while the practice hall was completely destroyed this time around.
Nice to see Shu-mart will still be going up, she thought bitterly as she passed the sign outside the dojo and made a direct line for Doctor Tofu's place at a healthy jog. At least something is a constant, she mused and stepped in the open clinic. Kasumi was manning the front desk, and she turned at the sound of the door chime.
"Hello and how may I—Oh my!" Her eyes widened suddenly before promptly passing out.
Damn. I really, really got a bad feeling about this one Nabiki grumbled mentally.
It took her husband and some smelling salts to bring Kasumi back to the land of the living, and even as he was doing it, Doctor tofu eyed Nabiki warily. Kasumi's eyes fluttered open from the couch they had moved her to and she focused on the middle Tendo once more, a small gasp escaping her lips.
"Na- Na- Nabiki?" She asked so hesitantly and softly as to send shivers strait into the girl's soul. Nabiki nodded. "But you're… you're dead!"
"Um, right. Not today, sis." She told the trembling Kasumi and made a decision. "Doctor, I need to ask some very pointed questions and I don't think that Kasumi can…"
He nodded. "Step into my office. One moment. I think we'll close for the rest of the day."
Through the impromptu interview with Doctor Tofu, she found out their plan had indeed worked, but the devil was always in the details. Tofu explained how they did provided a united front against Happosai and his demon, though it still destroyed the dojo in the process. Maybe if the group had more teamwork and coordination, they would have been able to get away with a minimum of property damage, but the dojo was a free fire zone. That, and temporal mechanics was apparently a tricky beast. They had arranged for all noncombatants to be evacuated the day before his arrival, but the perverted old master arrived three full days ahead of schedule in this future, and Nabiki herself had been one of the first to fall.
While the casualties had been lighter this time, the fallout was not. Ukyo took a critical hit and Ranma stayed at his best friends side throughout her recovery, driving Akane into a senseless rage. That rage against his wounded best friend was the wedge that would severe Ranma's ties to the family completely. Last Tofu had heard, they were living in Okinawa together, married. Without Nabiki's financial wizardry, the property sold for a substantial amount less and the family as a whole was barely making ends meet. The situation was no less dire than what she last left it except for that minor detail…
…She was dead now.
Nabiki didn't bother explaining the whole time travel bit to Kasumi and merely said she was glad to see her doing so well. Who knows. Maybe she would assume the mysterious Nabiki was the Ghost of Christmas Past or something. Regardless, it was obvious that she had taken her death pretty hard and was in no condition for technical babble-speak.
With a final kiss and goodbye, she hit the Release Anchor key. With any luck, they'd never know the pain of that existence.
March 10th, 1989, Present
Ranma listened as Nabiki relayed the story. To him it looked as if she had never left the room, but her eyes and voice told a far different, more tragic story. She collapsed onto the bed beside him and he drew her close, comforting her as she explained the end of the world as she knew it for the second time in so many days.
After a space of thoughtful silence, Ranma began running through the tactical options and Nabiki was sure he wasn't even aware of his mumbling aloud, but she listened from his arms intently. Normally his arms wer the last place she'd want to be, but the situation… She needed it this time.
"We've got the people… But the destruction of the dojo appears to be inevitable. How to safeguard it… Won't be able to train those jokers in close group tactics in three months... no common ground. Too much focus on me." Nabiki watched his eyes as they flickered back and forth and she recognized them. They were her eyes. The eyes she had when she was dissecting a particularly intricate problem. The only difference was that she dissected people and information with those eyes. He dissected battles. "Amazons maybe…? Instant teamwork there… No. Cologne has too much invested for me to say here… She'd find a way… Maybe worse."
Ranma lapsed into silence for a few more minutes before withdrawing his arm from Nabiki, a light shade of pink accompanying his face. Regardless, she smiled gratefully. Dealing with your inevitable crippling and demise tends to wear a person out emotionally. Whatever embarrassment accompanied the action, however, quickly faded against the determination on his face.
"We don't have enough time." He stated with certainty and Nabiki reeled. He was just admitting that… "The dojo will likely be destroyed no matter what we do at this point. We're too close to that day to whip up an effective defense against what we appear to be facing. We can minimize casualties… probably even prevent them. But I think the dojo is a loss one way or the other."
"One way or the other?"
Ranma nodded somberly. "I'm sure we can save the dojo… but only by selling one, if not all of our souls to the Amazons. They're the only group with enough skill and discipline to keep everything from being destroyed, but we both know their asking price."
"You." Nabiki acknowledged. It was the only coin Cologne had been willing to deal in for the past three years.
"And for what we're asking, I wouldn't doubt her price goes up." He sighed. "Not sure what she'll ask, but it might very well be just as bad."
"Agreed." Nabiki admitted with resignation. "I guess we could start funneling funds toward the rebuilding of the…"
"What'd happen if you go back further?" Ranma asked suddenly, eyes glittering for the first time since their meeting.
"Further?" Nabiki's eyes widened. "I guess it would give us more options to deal with the situation," She saw where Ranma was heading and there was a specific reason why she hadn't already broached the topic yet. "But there is the risk of changing things so radically we'll never come in contact with the Tablet in the first place and loose our ability to make further changes, or so I'm told."
"I told you Nabiki… Whatever it takes." Those eyes now contained the warriors edge she had seen earlier.
"You're serious…" She breathed. "But why?"
"Because," Ranma hesitated, but pressed on, "I haven't really had a home for the last decade. My life has been one non-stop training exercise after another. Half that time I didn't have a roof over my head. The other half I didn't have food in my belly. I came here and it was like a slice of heaven. My first real home to stay in literally years. Sure there are problems," Nabiki noted silently that she was probably one of them, "but through it all, you've all tolerated our gluttony, idiocy and whatever. If this is the only way I can pay you all back, then this is what I do."
Nabiki stared at him as if she had just discovered a new Ranma Saotome. He was right. He didn't have much. Couldn't teach the art to make money. Was a continual drain on the resources of this house …But he was doing the what he could. Help Kasumi cook and defend his home and extended family. For the first time, she began to see… See that despite the loss of her legs why the future had her smiling all the time.
"Ok, then we need a key event to turn this thing around. We know it involves Happosai bringing back a large demon."
Ranma nodded sharply. "Last time we saw him was about five months ago?"
"Aside from the party, I think that's about right." Nabiki confirmed. The Ranma-Akane's pre-wedding party would not be a good confrontational choice. "Maybe we can talk some sense into him?"
"That's your department, not mine." Ranma said with a smile, then a frown. "But let's be realistic. We're talking about the old master here. When has he ever listened to a damn thing we've said? You'll need backup."
"One person per time machine is what my future self told me." Nabiki stated. "Besides, the more of us running around, the more ways things that can go wrong."
"Okay, but trust me when I say this," He replied, but stated in no uncertain terms. "If it comes down to using force on Happosai, I've got about a fifty-fifty shot at taking him out today. My odds weren't quite that good five months ago."
Nabiki looked at him and his brutal honesty thoughtfully. She realized better than anybody that negotiations can and will break down, and if you don't have any other tools to negotiate with… "Alright, Saotome, what's your plan?"
"Give me some time to think of one." He grinned mischievously,
"Let's say a week." She decided and grinned right back. "That'll give me enough time to consider all the angles as well."
March 14th, 1989, Present
"Going to spend more time with Nabiki, huh?" Akane's barb cut through the post-supper air, finding its mark with eerie precision.
"Yeah, so what?" Ranma bristled as he picked himself up from the dinner table to follow Nabiki up to her room.
"Oh, just that you're a two-timing baka pervert!" The youngest Tendo caught Ranma in a withering gaze.
The bark of laughter caught those remaining at the table by surprise. "Are you even listening to yourself?" Ranma chided, stepping back up to Akane. "You're saying that Nabiki and I are dating!"
Akane had been expecting an insult in kind, not a logical, razor edged question. "Well.. uh…"
"That's right! The Ice Queen of Furikan High takes in the Baka-Pervert of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts!" His sarcastic laughter cut through the air now, and with it, any and all self-control. It had been a long week for Ranma Saotome and he had spent that self control fending off her insults and accusations throughout it. She was seeking a confrontation and so far he had denied her one. Until now.
"Can you possibly think of a more ridiculous scenario to get jealous over!" Ranma continue and for the first time, the rolls were reversed. It was now Ranma's temper spiraling out of control and Akane taking the figurative, if not literal beating. She stepped back in shock. "What we're are doing is planning the survival of this god damned dojo, not pining over one another like school kids! Why can't you—"
A hand touched his and he stopped in shock, his anger draining away into it. Nabiki Tendo agreed. Enough was enough. She took his hand and led him away from the table. "Come on Ranma. We don't have time for this." She stated simply and quietly. It had been primarily for him, but there was no doubt everyone else had as well. At this point, she didn't care what the others thought of her unorthodox tactics in disarming Ranma. Tommorow was the day. Akane's temper tantrums would have to wait.
The moment of shock passed and Ranma's head nodded in agreement. The fact that she led him all the way up stairs by the hand was not lost on anybody.
October 2nd, 1988, The Past
Nabiki was thankful she had been mindful of the season as she walked across the Tendo property. The cold autumn wind knifed around her, cutting the few remaining leaves from their already barren branches. Now they now tumbled across her path. She had picked this day for two reasons. First, the old pervert was known to be here at the dojo at this specific time and date. Second, she wouldn't get home until late. Nabiki had to consult an archived daytimer to remember that fact, but it did indicated she would go out tonight and thus would not run the risk of running into herself here an now. She stepped in the door and surprised Kasumi, who was taking a break from her house chores.
"Oh my, you're home early." She observed with cheerful surprise. Granted, it was the obvious, but it was also out of the ordinary. She should have been in uniform and at school. She was, in fact. At least her past self was, still attending class.
"I have important business to take care of, Sis." The tone of her voice made it clear she would find out the nature of that business soon enough. "Are the parents home?"
"They seemed to have… Um, stepped out." Kasumi admitted, and both sisters knew exactly why they had stepped out. On average, she had nothing to fear from the old master. If he wanted fed, he'd leave her alone, but Nabiki's attitude was worrying and Kasumi knew the face she wore a mile away… Crisis mode. "Is there anything I can do?"
The middle sister shook her head. "Just stay out of the way." With that, she stepped into the guest room to find the squat old pervert humming a happy little tune and ironing his pile of women's undergarments. He looked up to find the sister smiling that "I got a secret" smile.
"Why Nabiki Tendo, shouldn't you be in school?" He piped up cheerfully.
"Today I have business." She stated simply. "With you."
Now that intrigued the old master. Normally females stayed as far away from him as possible, and business with Nabiki? This was worth hearing. He set the iron aside. "What sort of business child?"
"The business of you trafficking demons." She replied and noticed him twitch visibly. She heard a slight gasp from behind and knew Kasumi was eavesdropping.
"And what would you…know of such matters?" Happosai inquired carefully. He had known this one was observant and devious, but the depths of her knowledge into his activities were quite impressive.
"When, exactly were you going to tell us of your plans to destroy the dojo, Happosai?" Debate tactics 101—Always answer a question with a question Nabiki chuckled inwardly. Of course, there was no such plan to destroy the dojo, but it would definitely get his attention.
"What?" He came fully alert now. "I have no such plans to--!"
"Then why are you fishing for demons?" She cut him off with a cool gaze. It was really her that was fishing. She had no idea just what his activities were at this point, only their eventual conclusion. He stared at her defiantly, and she considered that stab in the dark a hit. "Now why in the world would you be using them in the first place?" It was a rhetorical question, but one that would continue to put him on the defensive. He remained silent. Time to drive the knife home, she thought. "Maybe because you're not confident of your ability to maintain your hold on the dojo anymore?"
'Watch your tongue, Nabiki Tendo." He growled, and Nabiki silently scored more hits.
"Or what? You'll steal my panties?" Nabiki issued a laugh that had the consistency of tiny razor blades. Then she switched her gaze on him to match the laughter. "Or maybe you'll summon the demon to teach us all a lesson."
Happosai was at a total loss now. She knew far more than a person of even her substantial capabilities should know. That was exactly the reason why he was getting the demon. Ranma was getting too powerful and it wasn't his time yet. In a few months the boy will have a legitimate shot at me, the master reasoned. Can't have the upstart take over quite yet. But Nabiki… How did she know? Threats wouldn't work so maybe a different tact...
"What is it you want, exactly?"
Nabiki smiled inwardly. All that witty banter had been simply to lead Happosai by the nose to ask that question and the first step in negotiations. "I need your help with a problem."
Very curious, Happosai thought. "And what problem might that be?"
Time to lay the cards on the table. "Sometime next year you will lose control of your demon and it will kill those in this dojo and destroy the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts Legacy."
Happosai's eyes widened. What? Impossible! "When did you become a scrye, Nabiki Tendo?" He managed with dry humor.
"Six days ago, to be exact." Happosai's chuckling stopped suddenly. The child was serious. "You will lay waste to this dojo, and depending on the future, cripple or kill me, possible Ranma and Genma. But in every future I've seen, your legacy is broken because of your own arrogance." Then she smiled wickedly. "But at least Kasumi is happily married to Ono Tofu." She was rewarded by another small gasp from around the corner. What good was time travel if you couldn't have a just a little bit of fun with it?
The old master eyed Nabiki warily, looking for any sign of falsehood. There was none. "It's not the boy's time yet."
"Then why do you need a demon to hold control of the dojo?" She asked neutrally.
"I warn you Nabiki Tendo…"
"Yes, yes. We've been through that already." She waved his threat aside. "The terms of this negotiation are simple. Abandon your quest for power and relinquish your hold when Ranma defeats you in combat. Until then you may remain the undisputed master of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts." The terminology had been chosen by Ranma and edited by Nabiki to be forceful, but not outright insulting.
"How dare you--!"
"The demonic arts have no place in this Dojo, Master." She cut him off decisively. "You have about forty-five minutes to decide."
"And what happens after forty-five minutes?" The perverted master sneered.
An evil glint passed through Nabiki's eyes. "Ranma comes home and finds out something very unpleasant."
The moment he stepped onto the property, Ranma felt it. Not battle auras, but hostile intent. It wasn't hard to deduce the source, as there was only one person that could produce such animosity currently residing at the Tendo residence. The Old pervert. Ranma crossed the property, sampling the ambient power floating through the air. Yes, the old fart is pissed, but I'm not here, so who could he be pissed at? Ranma opened the door and padded in slowly, senses fully primed. He found the guest room with Nabiki and Happosai in a staring contest. How had she beat him home? And changed clothes already?
"Time's up." Nabiki stated. Happosai simply stared, those waves of animosity cascading forth from him. "Make your decision. Accede to our demands or face the consequences."
Nabiki? Making demands of Happosai? That must be one hellva blackmail marker she has out on—
"I think I'll roll the dice." Happosai snorted with contempt. "If you're relying on Ranma to carry out your demands, you've been wasting your time here."
She nodded with something close to a smile, but never quite making it. She looked at Ranma for the first time since he walked in and pulled out one folded sheet of paper and one sealed envelope. The folded paper she had come to know by heart. The envelope was forbidden for her to view until opened by this Ranma, and only to be given if negotiations broke down. It was her Ranma's way of giving her the backup he couldn't provide personally. Her Ranma… How funny that sounds, Nabiki realized with some measure of regret. She was gaining insight into her future crippled-self daily, and not all of it was pleasant.
She walked over to him and there was no mistaking the questions in his eyes. "I'm sorry Ranma, we didn't want to have to go this far." Nabiki? Apologizing for what? She handed him the envelope and the paper. "The envelope first, please." Those were the instruction she had been given, so she gave them to this Ranma as well. He opened the envelope with care and even the old master was curious now. He unfolded the letter and began reading.
Nabiki saw the change. It was tiny and imperceptible, but all movement in his body stilled. Ranma shuffled the paper under and moved on to the next one, the one she knew all to well. Like the Ranma before him, this one's face drained of all blood as well, leaving a white and hollow mask. Both arms dropped to his sides and the letters fell to the ground. After what seemed like several minutes, life returned to the martial artist and a thin emotionless smile crept along his face.
"So that's the way it is."
The words no sooner escaped his mouth then a bright blue battle aura flashed into being around Ranma and his head pivoted to track on the old master, who was now somewhat shocked by the developments. Two letters did that?
"So tell me Ranma, my boy, what was—"
The first ki-blast caught the old master by surprise and the next thing he knew, found himself smoldering in a well dug crater outside on the Tendo property. That hurt! The old master got to his feet and found the boy stepping through the hole he had just created in the house wall. His entire demeanor was deadily ice.
"Boy, you're really push—"
Two more ki-blasts augured him deeper into the earth before he could finish, Ranma favoring him with his Moko Takabisha Double technique this time. The master's mind was racing now. What the hell was wrong with him! He wasn't holding back! Happosai jumped out of his crater now, no longer willing to engage in small talk. The boy was out for blood, no doubt about it.
The first bolt came as a shock to Nabiki as well. What the hell did Ranma write to himself? She thought she was going to have to explain—The next two cracks jolted her again and Ranma was now outside pressing the surprise attack. In the entire three years she had know the martial artist, there was never a time when he hadn't given some formal warning before starting a match. After it had begun was a different story, but never an outright attack. Then a voice answered back form deep inside her… Because this isn't a match. Saotome is playing for keeps.
Three pineapple bombs popped out of the smoke and Ranma deftly deflected them away before their fuses sizzled down. They exploded harmlessly away and he continued his advance on Happosai's position. The old man nodded at the boy. Fine. Happosai's movement was too fast to track as he blurred from sight and appeared three feet over Ranma's head, wielding his smoke pipe menacingly. He came down with a hard swipe, but Ranma had already flipped out of the strike and was in the air now himself, launching into a series of timed kicked that the master easily deflected. The pipe found a leg and countered, sending the pigtail boy tumbling through the air and across the courtyard. Regardless, the landing was graceful and Ranma switched stances to meet the incoming attacker who was literally bouncing toward him. The bounce turned into another blur and the Master was in front of him, smoke pipe working furiously to find a hole in Ranma's defense.
"Katchu Tenshin Amaguriken!"
Happosai's probing attack instantly turned into a desperate defense as his guard began to be overwhelmed by an onslaught of super-speed fists. Damn Amazon techniques! He fumed and found himself being pushed back across the property. He was keeping up with them …Barely. Ranma's fingers stretched out and the change in techniques took Happosai by surprise. What began as the Chestnut Fist instantly switched to the Haku Dato Shin Sho, and two fingertips found the old pervert with pinpoint accuracy. Pain cracked through Happosai as they strikes cut through his Ki fortified body and strait out the other side. The good news for the Pervert was that the area of damage affected by the strikes was relatively small. The bad news was he wasn't getting any taller.
The old man broke contact and flipped away, favoring an arm painfully. Even so, he smiled and counted down from five. …two …one. Ranma's left leg simply went numb and buckled, and the boy silently cursed, remember the one attack that had gotten through with the pipe.
A moxibustion point then, Ranma realized and Happosai renewed his attack. He was not happy. An arm for a leg was not a good deal in his book and an old rule of combat came to mind: Limiting your opponent's mobility is eighty percent of the battle. And now Happosai used that to his advantage. The old pervert bounced around Ranma attempting to lure Ranma out of his defensive crouch so he could finish the boy. Even as he flipped in for another attack, Ranma rolled onto one hand and pushed up, extending his good leg strait into the air, connecting solidly with the Master. It had been one of the simpler techniques and with his options limited, Ranma had not expected him to fall for the Yakitoi Gamati.
The Master bounced away once more and shook the impact from his head. Careless for falling for such a basic technique, he chided himself. Still, with his limited mobility I'll be able to pick him apart before the moxibustion point wears off. He watched Ranma jump into a swan stance, balancing on one good leg with arms high for attack and defense. It was a good strategy, but too limiting. Happosai blurred in once more to prove his point. While his first three attacks were deflected, the forth scored a ribcage and sent the boy flying into the dojo wall with a sickening thud. The dent in the wall was exceptional, but the boy was not out. Not yet at least. The Master charged his own ki blast and sent it downrange into the wall, promptly obliterating the section. Probably not the boy, he amended. Broke him maybe, but he was the heir, after all. He just needed a lesson in— Something screamed at the back of his head and Happosai looked skyward in time to find Ranma dropping in from directly above, riding a supercharged ball of ki to the ground.
Happosai barely cleared ground zero before the blast hit, producing a massive crater that blazed fire and ash. What the hell was the boy's problem! Happosai fumed in equal parts anger and amzement as Ranma limped from the dead zone of fire and debries. "Boy, I don't know what's gotten into you, but if you want to play rough—"
"Rough?" Ranma sneered as he painfully closed on Happosai. "I'm going to kill you."
Nabiki, watching from the hole from the house froze. Ranma had only taken one fight to that level and this Ranma hadn't seen that fight yet. That had been Safferon and he wasn't due to fight that battle for another three months. Even with that battle, the words 'Ranma' and 'kill' simply didn't find themselves in mutual company. He had only done it for Akane and she hadn't even gotten home from school yet. Nabiki ducked back into the living room to find the envelope, only to see Kasumi already holding and reading it. The look of absolute awe on her face was telling enough.
She mumbled an apology to her sister and snatched the letter from her hand, reading what had previously been forbidden to her for the first time.
"Hey Ranma, this is you writing this letter five months from now. Yeah, it has me confused too. The handwriting should be proof enough, but I'd still be skeptical. Hell, I was skeptical. So just in case, remember that night camping outside Zhan Quon? All alone with your girl-type? Enough said. You know damn well not another soul knows about that night.
Convinced yet? Good. Let's have a talk.
Our future sucks. Not just the run of the mill day in and day out sucks that we usually have to deal with. Things have gone very badly and it's all the Old Pervert's fault. He has refused to relinquish control of the Dojo and is using demonic forces to maintain that control. One day he will lose control of those demonic forces and destroy everything. The home we've strived so hard to keep. The friends we've tried to make. Us and Pop will die. Akane will be savagely wounded. Uuchan will take scars that will be with there for the rest of her life …And be alone. Nabiki will be crippled. Ryoga… Well, that's the only bright spot. He gets his. But the legacy is destroyed. Clan Saotome has been shattered. The Tendos are broken.
This is our future.
The Nabiki that gave you this letter is from the future as well. She's here to negotiate a truce with Happosai before he gets stupid, and she has my complete trust. I know, I never thought I'd be saying it either. She's our friend, Ranma, one of the few we have left. Listen to what she says.
If you are reading this letter now, it means that Nabiki believes that further negotiations with the Pervert are a waste of breath. It means that he's still blinded by his own ambition and it means everything we cherish will be destroyed. If I could, I'd be there too, but apparently only one person can go back to us, and you know how great we are with negotiations anyway. In either case, those negotiations have failed and it's up to you to set things right. The other letter Nabiki will be handing you is our future as well. We lose everything in it. Everything that matters.
Whatever it takes, Ranma Saotome. Those are the stakes.
March 14th, 1989."
Even as the sounds of combat echoed around her, Nabiki stood stunned, then dropped to her knees. Two concepts raged for supremacy in her mind and she struggled to come to grips with everything she had just read. The first was the fact that her Ranma wasn't just providing back up with that letter. He had handed out a declaration of war, a war he knew his past self would willingly carry to the knife. The pig tailed boy sure didn't believe in half-measures. The second was the fact that she was his friend and she knew damn well exactly how many of those he had. About the same number as she did. Ranma neither made friends easily or lightly, but the fact that he had… With her… And trusted her of all things! What kind of fool could he possibly be to do that! Damn you, Saotome! Damn, damn, damn!
The Master had other things to worry about. The boy wasn't taking no for an answer. The loss of his leg and the blow to his ribcage had done nothing to deter the young martial artist from his assault and Happosai was finally beginning to realize that Ranma was playing for keeps. What had Nabiki given the boy? Ranma arced in for another attack and Happosai easily evaded it and retaliated with a few blows from his pipe, sending Ranma into the ground hard. The master watched as Ranma shook it off and the cold blue eyes came to bear on him once more. Killing eyes, the Master noted. Whatever she had given the Boy had him utterly convinced that there was only one way to end this battle. Happosai lept in for another strike and was met by a flying roundhouse kick, barely assembling his guard before the impact. The leg! The point has worn off and he's been biding his time then. Sneaky. The master rolled across the ground, recovering gracefully.
"Alright, boy. Playtime's over." Happosai growled and began to smolder with ki energy, his battle aura became visible for the first time. "You're so eager to kill me? Take your best shot." The battle aura intensified suddenly and grew in size. Ranma watched as the aura topped six feet and continued to push higher.
The martial artist steeled himself. Two, maybe three broken ribs. Various cuts and lacerations. Ranma coughed and blood trickled from his lips. Add internal bleeding to the list then, he noted coolly. He had taken a beating, but this was it and it was time for the old man to fall. Ranma knew if he goaded or pressed him hard enough, this would be the fallback; His massive battle aura threatening to flatten anyone and anything in its way.
But he had been counting on that since the battle's first ki-blast.
Timing was critical and Ranma streaked in for his for his final attack. A giant battle aura fist slammed into the ground to intercept, but Ranma had shifted right suddenly, leaving a pulverized crater in his wake. The battle aura had cleared fifteen feet and continued to gain power as Ranma began to circle his opponent, picking up speed with each revolution. There was no hope in assaulting the pervert directly now, but this scenario was one the martial artist had been toying with for some time. It wasn't the first time he'd been exposed to the aura after all, but it hadn't been until Cologne's teaching of the Hiryu Shoten Ha that Ranma had something of equal power work with. Against the battle aura of the Master, the base technique was useless. The opponent had to be led into a spiral in which Ranma had to be at the center to initiate, and there was no chance- no need even –for Happosai to commit to such a chase. That, and he had already been a victim of it once. Fat chance he'd be again.
But this time The Dragon would be different. Ranma continued to whip around Happosai and the Aura climbed over twenty feet. He knew the Hiryu Shoten Ha worked on the ki differential between the respective combatants. The soul of ice was at the center and the rage of anger at the perimeter of the spiral, creating a deadly tornado effect that would brutally compress the victims on the outside and blow them skyward. Since Happosai wasn't likely to commit to such a spiral, Ranma initiated the untested tactic he had long since devised for this very contingency. The roles were reversed, Happosai the burning pillar of ki while Ranma circled him with the soul of ice. Another fist came down and missed. Now all Ranma had to do was feed the super-cooled whirlwind.
Happosai was pissed now. What did that upstart think he was doing? He had absolutely no chance of penetrating the Aura, which he could hold for hours if need be. It looked like that stupid Amazon dragon strike, but there was no way he'd step into that spiral. Besides, all Ranma was doing was circling him! The ice had to be at the center, but he was already there, so the technique would be impossible to— The whirlwind reached critical mass and Happosai sensed the change immediately. The air pressure slapped against his aura and began to compress it. What the hell! Happosai fed more power into the aura and the pressure intensified with the action. He spared a glace at the boy, who still streaked around him. What the hell had the boy done!
The theory was a simple one: The standard Hiryu Shoten Ha focused all it's power in the circling whirlwind. Reversed, it focused all that power into the center, sucking in the spiraling air and blasting it upwards out the center in what amounted to a miniature nuclear pillar of fire. It would be absolutely useless against multiple mobile opponents, but today, he only had one and as long as Happosai kept feeding his battle aura, the catalyst would be sustained. Ranma smilled grimly now. He was trapped. To keep the technique from harming him, he had to keep the battle aura up. But if he kept the battle aura up, he continued to feed the raging pillar of ki like a fire consuming raw gasoline. Unless he had miscalculated, keeping that barrier alive was probably consuming his reserves at an exponential rate, and when it dropped, he was screwed.
But there was a catch.
The whirlwind Ranma had initiated was now self-sustaining and Ranma was trapped as well. If he slowed down even for an instant, he'd be sucked into the old master's vortex with deadly consequences. Likewise breaking free, he noted as the vortex sucked air into the effect quite greedily. And like the master, he couldn't hold out forever and now his survival depended on him outlasting Happosai's aura. Once it was gone, there'd be nothing to fuel the pillar and it would die out naturally, allowing him to escape. All that mattered now was who would falter first.
Happosai strained against the pressure building up around him and he could feel the technique burning his aura away at an unbelievable rate. The Battle Aura he had mastered with an endurance of hours would be expended in minutes, and for the first time in a long time, fear began to creep into his perverted psyche. There was a counter to every technique and his mind raced to formulate one for this one; only there wasn't enough time. He had reasoned the physics behind the attack easily enough and applauded the boy darkly. Here he thought his battle aura impenetrable, and here he was being crushed by its own power. He had come up with exactly one way to counter it, but that way required a gradual decrease in his power levels in order to equalized the pressure. Unfortunately it was far too late for that and he was losing ki too damn rapidly for the smooth transition. It would be a total collapse and in all likelihood, a fatal one. He nodded silently at the boy, who continued to blur around him. Well played. It'll probably kill you too, Ranma but I shouldn't have been so blind. Happosai smiled evilly now and fed his reserves into the aura. Time to see which of us dead men walking will fall first.
Akane had seen the pillar of light from the school and instantly knew where it was coming from. The dojo. She broke off from the theatrical club at a dead run and found herself joined by Nabiki, who was running home along the same path home.
"What the heck is going on?" Akane yelled as the two cut through an alley. Her sister usually knew everything that was happening, but this time she was awarded a shrug.
"No idea! But it looks like Saotome's playing rough." Nabiki replied and the two rejoined the main street to their house.
Rough was an understatement, Akane thought. That pillar could be seen for miles. The power expenditure had to be enormous and it continued to persist! Even as they rounded the corner, the thing continued to jet into the air like a beacon! The pair muscled past the crowd gathered at the gates and were greeted to an impossible sight—Ranma blurring around the old master, who stood in the center of the ki vortex that shot hundreds of feet into the air. Whatever it was was keeping the Master truly immobilized and the strain on the Pervert was obvious.
Ranma? Fight the Happosai? That wasn't a sparring tactic he was using! Akane had no idea what it was going to do on completion, but even she could feel the energy build-up. It was going to hurt. Bad. Nabiki nudged her sister, and Akane looked. Her eyes weren't on the attack, but on the dojo. The hole in the wall. The person standing there was… Nabiki! Akane looked from one to the other; identical in every way that mattered except for the school dress the Nabiki with her now wore. The new Nabiki made eye contact with Akane and her sister briefly but turned her attention back to the fight as did they.
Even as they watched, Happosai's concentration faltered. It was a small lapse and under any other condition, a forgivable one. But at the center of the vortex where the air pressure alone could crush steel, even a second's destabilization in his aura was all it took to upset the balance. The collapse was spectacular and the sisters watched as the Old Master's Battle Aura was instantly squashed back into the diminutive form that spawned it. The compression didn't stop there. Happosai had only a moment's worth of horror as this bones were crushed by a solid wall of air pressure and sucked upward into the burning pillar of ki that he himself had fed. When it was all said and done, the only thing that would hit the ground would be his ashes scattered to the wind while the pillar dissipated into a lazy glowing spiral.
The whirlwind broke suddenly and blew outward in explosive overpressure. Without its fuel source to bind it, that elemental genie now turned on the person who had put it to work and Ranma, tired beyond belief, bore the full brunt of that force. By itself, the shockwave might have been manageable. The stone property wall, parked car and two houses Ranma blew through were another matter. The watching crowd was also pushed back several feet, but nothing like being trapped in the whirlwind itself. Two sisters were the first from the crowd to stumble back to their feet, staring at the crater the technique had created. It was an inward spiral, sharpening to a skyward point at its center. Beyond it was the hole in the dojo wall that Ranma had exited and they followed the trail of destruction. The car's roof and doors were caved in and they picked their way through one devastated apartment, then another.
What they found at the end of the destructive trail defied belief and horrified them simultaneously. A lone girl knelt over the broken martial artist, who had been stopped by a buckled brick wall.
"Damn you, Ranma!" the girl was obviously distressed, sobbing. "Why did you have to go and be so damn selfless!"
Akane took a step closer and Nabiki stopped her suddenly with her arm. It was a gentle move, but there was no yielding in her eyes. Akane was about to protest when she took a closer look at the girl sobbing over him. It was… The Nabiki! The other Nabiki!
"Dammit Ranma…" The sob came softly this time. "Why… did you push it so damn far..?" A cough issued from Ranma but it still wasn't clear whether he'd regain consciousness or not. "Do we really mean that much to you…?"
The pair of sisters could only stand by and watch. Akane desperately wanted to run over to her fallen fiancée, but it wasn't just Nabiki's arm holding her back. It was morbid fascination. What in the heck was this new Nabiki doing here…? Crying over Ranma, of all things!
"Damn you…Why did you have to go and be my friend, Ranma…?" It was so soft that the standing Nabiki almost missed it, but she heard, and a small gasp escaped her lips. The Nabiki crouching over Ranma turned slowly to find the pair watching her. Nabiki observed her patented impenetrable mask envelope the other girl's face as she stood up, walking toward the pair.
"He's hurt. Badly. I've already called the paramedics." Both stared at The Nabiki as if she were a unicorn or some other mythical creature. With a final look at them both, she brushed by, walking back down the line of destruction.
Akane's Nabiki finally found her voice. "Wa- Where are you going?" The new Nabiki stopped short and turned on them, the edge of steel returning to her eyes.
"I'm going to make sure this never happens again."
Nabiki retrived the tablet from its hiding place among Akane's bricks behind the practice hall, the property being deserted as everyone focused on Ranma two blocks away. Even sirens were wailing through the air now from the paramedics she had called on her cell. Nabiki's mind was burning in overdrive now, washing away the grief with tactical foresight and scheming.
"Damn you, Saotome, what were you thinking…?" She muttered to herself, leaving the Dojo property and started in the opposite direction of the disaster. "You had to have suspected the outcome… You knew the odds!" One thing was for sure now: She didn't dare release her anchor on this timeframe. God only knew what she would find in her present now that Ranma was all but crippled for life, while Akane and the other Nabiki saw me together. They were going to start asking Kasumi some pointed questions who had read Ranma's letter himself, which told the whole story. She was sure their future dojo was safe now, but the price had been very, very high. Too high. Especially now. Damn you, Ranma! Does it always have to be like this for you? Every single goddamn scenario we come up with gets you hurt!
Nabiki had been willing to settle for the dojo when this started. As long as it stood at the end of the day, she'd be happy. Whatever it took to keep her home safe. But then Ranma had taken up that charge as well and it became personal for them both. Akane had become hysterical with jealousy. The parents were worthless. All she had was Saotome, who swallowed everything she had done to him over the years and trusted her. Worked with her. And declared her his friend. Her damn friend. Damn you Saotome, why is there never anybody to watch your back? You bumbling, arrogant jerk! A single tear dripped onto the sidewalk. My friend.
She stopped on the sidewalk now, tactical mindset kicking into high gear. The dojo was no longer enough. It wasn't just a problem with the time required or even a finding a key event to neutralize Happosai. The problem was the dojo's environment as a whole. It was a spinning wheel of self-destruction in and of itself. Everything from Ranma and Akane, to his rivals and the fiancées of doom. There was no foundation to adequately deal with a crisis, and Nabiki finally realized one crystal clear truth: The continued festering therein would ultimately lead to its destruction, be it by Happosai's hand or something else.
It had to change.
All of it.
But how? Akane was the key, Nabiki realized. That relationship created a fault line through the dojo so huge as to undermine every other effort anybody might take to strengthen it, let alone their meddling in time. If that relationship could be strengthened- hell, if it could actually be made to work –it would probably nullify half the dojo problems easily. Finances. Conflicts. Everything. She considered Ranma and decided against interfering in his life. Akane was the known quantity in this equation. She had grown up with the girl. Most of Ranma's life still remained in the shadows after three years under their roof and it was just too risky to start pulling strings in the dark like that. Akane then. Where to start?
That's when the full weight of what Nabiki was actually considering came to bear on her. The girl was a project. As if I'm any better, she admitted, but Akane had deep-seated issues concerning Ranma. First there was his girl-type, and she remembered full well the sister's first reaction when she found out about his curse. Doomed from the start, and something tells me that wouldn't change without massively influencing her development, and not just from one point. It would be like a damn time warp therapy session, Nabiki thought grimly. Dammit, dammit, dammit. I'm a mercenary, not a matchmaker and the more I screw around with the past, the easier it becomes turn our quaint little nightmare into a full-blown apocalypse.
Whatever it takes…
Easy for you to say, Nabiki answered the small voice that bubbled up from the darkeness. Everything we come up with gets the dojo destroyed or you killed. What's your answer to that?
Whatever it takes…
I can't change Akane, Ranma. You know that. It'd blow up in our faces faster than your father shoveling down a meal. But the status quo can't keep going on like this. It's crippling the dojo.
Fine! I heard you the first time! Neutralizing Happosai is no longer an option. He's only a symptom of the problem. You and Akane make it worse. Nabiki paused in her mental dialogue and was answered with silence. Ok, let's take this logically. Happosai is a threat, but he isn't the problem. The problem is the stability of the dojo. The stability- or lack thereof –is a consequence of your life and your engagement to Akane. The reason why the engagement is such a problem is because you two simply don't get along. You both try. And sometimes it works. But it doesn't last. Akane has no self-control and you need somebody who can manage you when you're being stubborn and arrogant. Akane can't. The dojo cannot stand on a foundation like that. Nabiki paused once more, frowning on where this logical conclusion was taking her.
She brought the Tablet up from her side and stared it. Yes. That was it. If the dojo was going to stand at the end of the day, there was only one person she could trust with the job besides Ranma. Nabiki punched her target time into the Tablet and her finger hovered above the red execute key.
All right, Saotome. Whatever it takes.
July 22nd, 1977, The Past
The family was gathered around the gravestone, and a single tear rolled down Soun Tendo's cheek. Their friends had gone home and they were the only ones who remained, his daughters Kasumi, Nabiki and Akane, whom he held in his arms asleep. He was almost happy she would be too young to clearly remember the details of her mother's passing, and in some ways wished she could have known more of that light in his life. He looked over to his eldest daughter, who was enduring like her mother would have. Nabiki's face was a mask devoid of emotion. Soun sighed. She would come to terms with it in her own time.
The crunch of a twig cause Soun Tendo to glance behind him, finding an older teenager who first looked at him, then the grave they were gathered at. The two girls stared at her curiously. "May I help you…Miss?"
The stranger produced a small smile, one appropriate for the gravity of the moment. "I… I'm sorry to disturb you. We… Natsumi Tendo and I would shop together on occasion…"
Soun nodded in understanding. A friend of his wife would always be welcome here. She stood with them in silence for a few minutes, then looked down at the closed-up Nabiki Tendo at her father's side.
The woman considered her thoughtfully for a moment and knelt down to her height. "You're mom was a very special person, you know that?" The girl looked up at her and surprise broke through the mask. "And I just know that one day you're going to meet a boy as special as your Mom is." Soun watched the two and couldn't help but to smile softly now as the woman tried to cheer his daughter up.
"I… I will?" The little Tendo ventured out of her shell.
The woman smiled brightly now. "I know you will. He'll be handsome and strong. Honorable and selfless… He'll be the best friend you'll ever have, Nabiki Tendo."
Seven-year-old Nabiki looked at the stranger with wide eyes now. "When do I get to meet him?"
"Not for a bit yet." She replied. "Both of you have some growing to do before you can meet somebody that special."
"You mean I'm special to him too?"
The woman nodded. "Very. Trust your father, Nabiki. He'll find the right boy, okay?"
"Okay!" The little girl said with spirit.
The stranger started to draw herself to full height, but paused as if remembering something, settling back down to her crouch. "Want to hear a secret?" The girl nodded enthusiastically. She loved secrets! The woman whispered in her ear, "He loves martial arts." A silent 'Oooh…' formed on Nabiki's face and the woman finally stood back up.
She looked at Kasumi for a moment. "I know you'll have a wonderful boyfriend too." The girl blushed but held her peaceful smile. The woman turned back to Soun. "Thank you for letting me stay. It means… A lot to me."
Soun Tendo nodded. "Any friend of my wife is always welcome." He offered his hand and she shook it warmly. "What did you say your name was, Miss?"
She withdrew her hand and smiled. "Thank you, Mister Tendo," And simply walked away.
She rounded the corner out of sight and slumped against the wall with a heavy sigh. That was much harder than she thought it was going to be, Nabiki Tendo thought with a hint of saddness. That memory had been on the edge of fading away entirely, but one step onto the cemetery grounds brought it all back in vivid detail. Of course, there had been no mysterious woman to cheer her up and give her hope in those memories. But pretty soon it wouldn't matter either way and she absently noted that daddy looked better without a mustache.
The cemetery had been her last stop in this timeframe, and she pulled the Tablet from her book bag for what would probably be the last time. Nabiki smiled now. She had planted all the seeds she dare plant in the little Nabiki, and if there was one thing she knew for sure, it was that the little child would never forget a secret. God, who would have ever thought I'd end up ruthlessly manipulating myself? Of course the little added insurance she had mailed off earlier was probably overkill too, but Ranma was right. Whatever it takes.
Even as she hit the Release key on the Tablet, she knew one thing with certainty… Her home would be standing when she returned.
March 15th, 1989, 6:15pm, Present
A sledgehammer crashed through Nabiki's head and she clutched it, collapsing onto her bed under the onslaught as eighteen more years of memories seared themselves into her brain, vying for space. The world shuddered around her and the torrent continued. The pitch of the onslaught spiked and Nabiki's world went black.
She knew that voice… She liked it… But it was so far away and the blackness surrounded her…
The voice was very insistent… I want to rest… go away…
Nabiki's eyes fluttered, the name bringing her fully awake. "Don't call me Nabs…" She state with groggy determination. Her vision began to clear and she felt a strong arm around her body. It was familiar. Comforting. She looked up and found Ranma with a concerned look on his face.
"If you would have woke up the first time I wouldn't have had to use the 'N' word." He quipped, feigning disinterest. But she knew him too well to be fooled and his mask broke into a concerned smile. He gave her a light kiss on the forehead. "Are you Okay?"
"How long was I…" Nabiki's face paled suddenly. Ranma was… She knew him too well… Biki-chan…! She looked up at Ranma in shock. The arm around her. How it felt so natural. Like that place was reserved for it and it alone. She gasped.
"But you said you would teach me!" The little girl exclaimed with indignation, none too happy with her father's decision.
"Now Nabiki, little girls don't need to learn martial arts." Soun Tendo admonished the daughter that stood before him. She had outfitted herself in a gi, ready to practice. "You should take up cooking like Kasumi!"
"I don't want to cook!" She countered. "I want to learn martial arts like you!"
Soun considered the little seven year old carefully. It had only been one month after the death of his wife and the girl was becoming quite insistent on the topic. But it brought back too many memories of Na-chan… "Now why would you want to learn The Art, Nabiki?"
The girl's eyes sparkled now. "Because my boyfriend loves martial arts!" She practically swooned with the word.
The father's mouth fell open. "Your… Boyfriend?" Little Nabiki nodded enthusiastically. "Which boyfriend is that?" Had she met somebody at school? Because she couldn't possible mean…
"The one you'll find me!" She beamed with pride.
Soun Tendo face planted into the floor. How could she possible…! True, He and Genma had entered into that arrangement with his boy as well, but they had been keeping that a secret! The kids weren't supposed to know that yet! And how had the little girl known he was being trained in The Art! Soun blinked. He was at a total loss of words for his daughter.
So she supplied some in his place. "Akane wants to learn too!" With that, a little girl bounced into the room with a smile and took up a position next to her taller sister.
"Yeah! I wanna learn!" Soun took a second face plant into the wooden floor. Was this a conspiracy!
"And why do you want to learn, Akane? Wouldn't you rather learn to, um, cook?"
"Cooking?" She was absolutely aghast at the idea. "I wanna have fun with sis!"
"Daddy's boyfriend is mine." She reminded her little sister in no uncertain terms.
Soun Tendo studied the two carefully. This was more than a slight deviation from the plan, which said nothing about his daughters becoming full-fledged martial artists. Marry a martial artist, yes. Become ones themselves? And so soon after… Na-chan. It was a chapter of his life he just wanted to close.
Even at seven, Nabiki had a quick wit about her and saw the indecision in her father's face. It was time for some ruthless daughterly wheedling.
Akane latched onto her plea quickly. "Yeah daddy, Pleeeeeeaaassee!"
"Pretty Pleeeeaaassee! We promise to be good student!"
Soun clutched his head. "OKAY! Okay!" He looked at the two intently now. "It won't be easy. You have to practice every day! Miss once and the training stops." He warned them. That last clause oughta get him out of it.
"Every day!" Nabiki confirmed with glitter in her eyes.
"Not once!" Akane confirmed brightly.
Soun watched the pair with a sense of dread. Oh, what have I gotten myself into now, Na-chan?
A seventeen-year-old Nabiki Tendo lay on her bed engrossed in a colorful teen tabloid magazine. Truth be told, she was having a hard time concentrating on anything lately as the day of Ranma's arrival was close at hand. She chuckled, remembering how daddy had tried to keep it a secret, but failed miserably in the attempt. Not that it could have ever been a secret from her, just that he was so bad at keeping one. Besides, she had been waiting on this Ranma a long time. It was about time daddy's boyfriend got around to showing up and the estimate was sometime this month.
"Nabiki! Letter here for you!" Kasumi called from down stairs.
"Just put it on the table." She replied.
"I can't. You have to sign for it!" Kasumi answered.
Sign for it? A letter? Was it certified or something? She hoped off the bed and trotted down stairs in her cutoffs and tank top, finding Kasumi at the door with a deliveryman. He handed her a clipboard which she promptly signed, then received the letter. She took it carefully because it looked old. The deliveryman waited expectantly.
"Any reason you're still here?" Nabiki asked casually and the man snapped out of his trance.
"Oh! Sorry! Just a bunch of us at the office were curious as to who would get that letter and what was in it." The man smiled now. "After all, it's not often we hold a letter from 1977 with specific instructions not to be delivered until this very day."
Both sisters looked at one another, then to the old letter in Nabiki's hands. On hold for nearly ten years? Nabiki simply walked back into the house, deliveryman forgotten. Kasumi politely waved him farewell and joined her sister in the living room. Chores could wait for something like this. The middle sister sliced the envelope open easily with a nail and gently pulled out the letter inside, unfolding it. Nabiki read it and for once, Kasumi had no respect for her privacy.
"Nabiki Tendo, I hope this letter finds you in good health. If you remember your mother's funeral, you will also remember the secret I shared with you that day, and I know you never forget a secret. I do not bring this up lightly, but only to refresh your memory of that day and who I am.
Assuming this letter is delivered on the exact day and time I have specified, Ranma Saotome, heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts will be arriving at your dojo tomorrow, sometime in the early afternoon. It is also tomorrow that everything I told about that special boy so many years ago will pass. He has endured many hardships through the years just to get to you, and is only nowfinding out about the arrangement his father made with yours. In understanding that, be patient with him. Ranma also has a secret, but remember that he is everything I told you: Handsome, strong, honorable and selfless… And he'll be the best friend you'll ever have.
I wish I could be there to watch your meeting because I know it will be wonderful, and in a way, I will be there. Unfortunately my next contact with you cannot be until March 15th, 1989 at exactly 6:15pm, assuming all goes according to plan.
Until then, I wish you and Ranma happiness and prosperity."
Nabiki sucked in the breath she had been holding as she re-read the letter for the third time. What in the world…? Of course she remembered the secret and the woman quite clearly, but a letter from ten years ago? She turned to Kasumi, who was reading the letter over her shoulder. The older sisters eyes were quite wide now.
"Oh my." She stated with a slight edge of disbelief. "I might have to snatch him from you after a letter like that." A playful scowl crossed Nabiki's face and Kasumi smiled. "Of course you have had dibs on him since you were seven."
Nabiki smiled as well, producing a confident nod. "Besides, if I remember the lady correctly, she mentioned something about you having a wonderful boyfriend too."
Kasumi thought back to the day through the haze of memory. "I think you're right. But I just have one question…" Kasumi pointed to the letter in Nabiki's hand.
"Why is it in your handwriting?"
"Wow! China!" Nabiki Tendo exclaimed. Yesterdays mysterious letter had forewarned her of Saotome's imminent arrival today, but she had not expected them to have journeyed to China, of all places. Clearly this Ranma was a man of the world, much to her delight.
"What's so great about walking to China?" Akane Tendo grumbled and brushed a lock of her long cobalt blue hair aside in annoyance.
Nabiki ignored her. "Is he cute?"
"How old is he?" The eldest sister, Kasumi Tendo wondered with idle curiosity. "Younger men bore me." Especially younger men already claimed by her sister at age seven, she thought with mild amusement.
Niether sister could stand it any longer. "What kind of guy is this Ranma?" Both Nabiki and Kasumi asked simultaneously. Aside from those contained in the letter, they were sorely lacking in details and curiosity was eating them alive.
Soun Tendo shrugged. "No idea."
Nabiki leaned forward, trying to confirm what she had just heard. "No Idea?"
"I've never met him." The father had indeed said it.
All three sisters were about ready to protest when the sounds of close quartered combat erupted from outside, followed by somebody saying something about letting go of something. It was obviously a brawl and the family leapt from the table to get a better view.
"Ooooh! It must be Ranma!" Nabiki ran outside with anticipation, the father following close behind.
He instinctively knew who it was. "Saotome, my friend, we've been waiting!"
Even as Kasumi and Akane reluctantly joined their sister and father, they were surprised to find them retreating just as fast with a Giant Panda in hot pursuit.
"Hey! YO!" the redhead slung over its shoulder exclaimed suddenly. "You're scaring 'em spitless!"
Chaos erupted from the Tendo sisters as they press their father for information, who clearly hadn't been expecting a Panda to take up residence in their dojo. The bear stopped short, planting the redheaded stranger promptly in front of the four.
After a few seconds, Soun Tendo pointed. "You …wouldn't be…"
"Ranma Saotome." The newcomer confirmed shyly. "Sorry 'bout this,"
Soun had no idea what the boy had meant by that last comment but was clearly overjoyed regardless, grasping Ranma by the shoulders. "At last! You've come!"
Nabiki leaned forward. "Ooo! He's cute!"
Soun pulled his future son in-law into a hug and suddenly froze. He was remarkably soft in the chest area. The father pushed him back to confirm what was becoming a growing sense of horror. Soun looked the boy over, as did the daughters upon seen his reaction.
Nabiki poked at the boy's ample chest as if to believe it herself.
"Um, could you please stop that?"
For Nabiki, there was only one inescapable conclusion. "He' Is a GIRL."
Soun Tendo simply passed out.
"This is all your fault, Daddy!" Nabiki laid into her now semi-conscious father, clearly upset that her cute guy had turned into a cute girl. Especially after getting the letter that was on hold for nearly a decade! What kind of practical joke was this! "You should have made sure!"
"Well he said he had a SON!" The father protested from his futon where he'd been dragged after passing out.
Nabiki grasped one of Ranma's breast and gave it a few good squeezes to prove her point. "Do you see a son here? Hmmm? DO you?"
The redhead was clearly uncomfortable now "Um… I really wish you'd stop that."
Nabiki sighed. Well, no reason to be inhospitable I guess... "Sorry about that. Hey, join me in the practice hall." She smiled. "I'm Nabiki. You want to be friends?" She led the girl to the dojo practice hall and smiled brightly.
"You do karate, don't you?" Nabiki pressed the question as they stepped onto the mat. A legitimate question in her eyes, since every other piece of information on Ranma Saotome appears to have been wrong so far.
Akane had tagged a long just so she could see how good this newcomer was. She would have loved to take a crack at the new girl herself, but Nabiki was pulling rank, much to her dismay.
"Then let's have a little match, Okay?" Nabiki smiled. "Just for fun. Don't worry, I won't hurt you."
Nabiki stepped in for her first attack, which tagged nothing but air as the redhead jump to clear it. The Tendo responded by throwing up a kick, which was also immediately dodged as well. Ranma landed lightly and Nabiki was already there with another punch-kick combo, both of which were promptly evaded.
"'A little' my butt." Nabiki retorted with a smile and Ranma did so in kind. The girl was fast, and Nabiki was pleased to find at least one aspect of her information on the Saotome was correct. She nodded. "For real then."
Akane smiled. This was going to be fun. Nabiki 'for real' was always a joy to watch and spar with. She wasn't quite as powerful as the youngest sister, but she was fast and beat her on a regular basis. Of course, Akane wouldn't be caught dead sparring in cutoffs and a tank top like her was doing now, but different tastes and all that.
Nabiki slid in and tumbled into an aerial roundhouse kick that took the redhead by surprise, and she barely cleared the strike zone in time. She was pleased to see a look of surprise register on the girl's face. The surprise was quickly replaced by a wider smile. Now you'll take me seriously, Nabiki mused and continued the offensive, spinning off the leg that had just touched the floor into a series pinpoint kicks, a few of which Ranma was actually force to block as she sidestepped. The blocks were clean and efficient, Nabiki noted, deflecting the point of impact just to where they hit air and nothing else. She fired off another kick and the redhead used it as leverage to flip behind her. Nabiki instinctively dropped low to guard against any strike and spun into a low leg sweep. The redhead hopped out lightly, but had to block the hard kick that Nabiki carried upward, having shifted her balance from one leg to the other. Nabiki flipped up from her crouch to strike but Ranma was already up and away and… She froze as a light finger tapped her on the back of the head.
She turned to find the red head looking at her with a small grin. The grin turned into a cheerful giggle. Nabiki couldn't help herself and found herself smiling and laughing in spite of herself. "Whew… You're pretty good." She complimented as she left the practice hall. "I only hope my boyfriend turns out to be as good as you."
Nabiki stripped out of her sweat drenched tank top and shorts. Even if nothing else had gone right today, Ranma impressed her. She had to go all out just to get the blocks out of girl, let alone scoring even a single hit. Definitely holding back, Nabiki decided, and was glad the girl hadn't gone on the offensive. She tossed her clothes into the waiting basket and slid the bath door open…
…And found a naked boy stepping out of the tube. The moment that passed seemed like an eternity. While under normal circumstances a naked boy stepping out of her bath wasn't exactly a bad thing in her opinion, it might have helped if she knew the naked boy in question. Unfortunately, she did not. Without a word, she stepped back across the threshold and slid the door shut.
"Is there a good reason why I shouldn't just kill you now?" She asked icly through the thin door. She could do it too. Of course, Akane would probably have just run out and drowned him with a heavy stone, but different tastes and all that.
"I'm Ranma Saotome." The embarrassed reply was muffled, but clearly audible. "Sorry 'bout this."
The entire family now sat in the family room, the Tendo sisters facing the two Saotomes. Soun made introductions.
"I'll explain it once more." He began, sitting beside the newcomers themselves. "This is my dear old friend…"
"Genma Saotome." The older man with glasses and a white handkerchief around his bald head supplied. "And this is my son…"
"Ranma." The boy rounded out the introductions.
The tree sisters questioned the pair in disbelief. Genma decided a visual aid was in order and expertly grabbed his son and flipped him into the koi pond outside. What broke the surface was quite female and quite upset. Not only that, she took offense to his expressions of humiliation over his son's condition, which promptly earned him a one way kick to the koi pond courtesy of the girl herself. The resulting splash produced one giant, irritated panda. It took several minutes and two cups of hot water for things to settle down enough so that a reasonable explanation could be had.
That explanation was Jyusenkyou and its cursed springs as Ranma's father detailed the salient points of their adventures abroad in China. What should have been a fifteen minute tale lasted a half an hour as the recounted story opened some not so old wounds. The ensuing battle turned father to Panda and Son to girl. Having straitened things out, Soun Tendo turned the panda back into his old friend with a kettle of boiling hot water while Ranma declined the invitation to second-degree burns.
"No sweat." Soun Tendo declared, having a firm grasp of the situation now. "Your problem isn't so terrible after all!" Ranma looked at the Tendo with doubt as he presented his daughters. "My daughter Kasumi. Ninteen. Nabiki, Seventeen and Akane, Sixteen. Pick the one you want and she's your fiancée."
Kasumi and Akane instantly looked at Nabiki, who had already staked her claim a full ten years ago. Nabiki kicked the matter around in her head as all the pieces finally clicked into place. Now that Ranma's secret was known, the mystery letter written in her own handwriting had proven correct on every single claim. It had predicted the secret, the date of his arrival, his hardships in China and of course, the fact that he was handsome If his naked psyche were any indication, strong too. She'd have to take the 'honorable' and 'selfless' part at face value, as he hadn't any chance to demonstrate those facets of his personality yet… Now if he had some brains behind that cute face…
Well, maybe not the cute face 'she' currently wore, Nabiki amended. That was another consideration. At least he's cute as a girl, I guess. All things considered, there were a lot worse things than turning into a cute girl every now and then. Of course, if it was me that wrote that letter, which was alien concept in itself. It would seem I knew quite a bit about Ranma Saotome… And still recommended him. To me. Or something like that.
She gave the girl in front of her a long, penetrating look, who still looked to be in a state of semi-shock. It would seem that the letter was right on that account too. He clearly wasn't prepared for this situation. Of course, if I hadn't, I probably would have pushed him off on Akane. Damn this is confusing. Well, I doubt I shouldn't start second guessing myself… And he did have a great body, she smiled mentally, remembering their bathroom meeting.
She let the smile cross her face too. "I would like to accept the engagement, if Ranma doesn't have any objections."
The girl blinked in surprise. It was clearly the last thing he had been expecting after their previous encounter, and a light shade of red crossed his face.
"N- No objections." Ranma's heart skipped a beat. Who was he to argue? Nice and cute to boot.
The memories continued to pour into eighteen-year-old Nabiki's mind as Ranma held her close, strengthening her. There was less chaos and turmoil, but there were so many…
There was the first meeting with Ryoga, in which she helped negotiate a cease-fire between the two rivals that would eventually turned both into good friends thanks to her efforts. There was Ukyo, who took some time and battles to convince that Ranma neither abandoned her and that he was off limits as a fiancée. With some luck and smooth maneuvering on her part, Ryoga and Ukyo were now going steady. Shampoo of course, remained a thorn in their side, but once Ranma began teaching Nabiki his side of The Art, Shampoo couldn't touch her, let alone press the claim as a fiancée. Ranma did prove to be the honorable and selfless type, immediately striking out to find a job when Nabiki's explained to him that her income wouldn't support everybody. He found himself working as Doctor Tofu's apprentice given his detailed knowledge of martial arts anatomy and was becoming quite accomplished with pressure points and moxibustion technique. With an accepting fiancée, he was also coming to terms with his girl-type and could walk around in it quite naturally anymore. It was still tough to get him in a dress for obvious reasons, however. The courtship between the Doctor and Kasumi had began much earlier than expected and was proceeding at a fine clip thanks to Ranma's coaching of his Sensei, steadily decreasing the Doctor's anxiety attacks at the mere mention of the sister's name. Meanwhile, Akane seemed to have finally taken a fancy to Kuno as of late, whose flowery prose always seemed to disarm the girl's healthy head of steam… Late bloomer, Nabiki decided.
Any threats to the dojo were quickly countered, as Ranma could not only rely on a skilled and level-headed fiancée for back up, but Ryoga and Ukyo as reliable friends, who were no slouches themselves. As Nabiki improved at Ranma's hand, Ukyo did with Ryoga. The added benefit to that relationship was that Ukyo kept the man on a leash at almost all times, preventing him from wandering off and getting lost. Threats like the Musk Dynasty were dealt decisive blows and even the pervert Happosai had learned not to push his luck. Individually, none could guarantee a win against him, but together they provided and effective counterbalance that greatly subdued his ambitions. And while Ranma still faced Saffron alone, he wasn't distracted worrying about his fiancée, who could easily hold her own now. Once again, he defeated the demi-god, this time using his own techniques and none of Amazon origin. In a few months, Ranma would get his teaching license and…
Nabiki blinked past the memories and stared into Ranma's warm and concerned eyes. He would never know how much they both had to go through just to get to this point, but she now knew without a doubt why that Nabiki from the future- crippled and all –smiled so much for Ranma. The Tablet had not returned with her from that final trip, but she didn't care. It was no longer necessary.
She was in the arms of the man she loved and the dojo had stood at the end of the day, just like they had promised one another.
I was honestly thinking about scrapping this story at around page three because there were already so many good Nabiki+Ranma match-ups out there. It didn't start out as a time-travel tale either, but the more I thought on the idea, the more I liked it. One thing I did not want to do was fall into the trap where Nabiki is mourning the original fiancée decision and goes back solely for that purpose. I wanted there to be a thicker plot and develop that romance as a byproduct and ultimately a tactical necessity instead of merely a girl's whim. I especially liked how it was only through their continued failure could Nabiki begin to see Ranma as a real person and not a means to an end. Anyway, I hope you like it too.
Time travel: Oh, don't even ask me questions on this, because I have trouble keeping my own temporal mechanics strait as it is. Yes, I know there are holes. It was just the best way I could find around some of the sticky and inevitable paradoxes.
Snatch and Grab: Some may notice that I outright copied and pasted some of the text from my fiction Bits of China, simply because I didn't want to re-write the manga dialogue from scratch in Chapter 6.
Natsumi Tendo: Yes, Na-chan. Best I can come up with, so not another word :p I didn't get into the her death in detail, but I had to fudge the ages of the daughters a bit due to the total lack of information here.
Times and Ages: This is where I'll get hammered the most as I don't have a proper timeframe in which the books took place. I used the actual dated the series was published as the baseline, circa 1987. I have assumed a year and some change has passed since Ranma's arrival, thus the story takes place in 1989 and Nabiki's future 1990. Since Nabiki is seventeen years old at the start of the series, we estimate her birthday to by 1970 and I decided her mother's death will take place at age seven, thus 1977.
Back to the Future: If chapter 6 smacked a little of Back to the Future II with the mystery letter, that's ok. I thought it would be the most logical plot device to use when contacting a person at a specific date and time from the past. That, And I loved Back to the Future.