Nabiki looked at the ledger in front of her with a smirk on her face. She raised her left hand and moved as if tapping on an imaginary calculator. She then wrote an answer on the ledger. She closed the book and stretched her body. "Another possible financial mess has been averted"

She leaned back on her chair, with the pencil then stuck behind her ear and hands behind her head. Nabiki closed her eyes and thought about her family. She, a walking bank cum loan shark cum bookie cum information counter, all rolled into one. Her father, the crying demon head. Akane, the probable lesbian martial artist. Ranma the 'wild horse', whose mouth was faster than his fighting reflex. Genma, the... panda. Nabiki smiled as she wondered how on earth did Kasumi managed cope up with them. Kasumi must have been goddess reincarnated.

A faint tingling sound caused her eyes to open to see a burst of light appearing above her desk. The light faded, leaving a black envelope in its place. The brown haired girl sighed and took the envelope. As her hand came into contact with the envelope, it disappeared, leaving a letter that Nabiki promptly read.

As she lowered the envelope, she shook her head slightly, as if disbelieving what she has read. It has been a long while since she received such instructions, that she almost forgot that she led a dual life. A payment, no, a liability in return of the abilities she received.

"Yuko-san" A name from escaped her lips. A torrent of memories flood through her mind and she looked down, her bangs covering her eyes. "Is it time?" She whispered to no one.


Ranma was running away from his angry fiancee who was chasing him with a mallet. As usual, his tendency to talk before thinking has landed him into hot water as usual when he commented that Akane's soup reminded him of sewer waste. The appearance of Shampoo who latched herself to him didn't help matters. Of course, Ryoga appearing at a perfect time to kill him for making the boy 'see hell' and Happosai wanting to put on a new designer bra on 'Ran-chan' managed to make it worse.

In desperation to get away, he ran toward a door, opened it, entered the room and closed it, all less than a second. As he stood with his back to the door, panting, he realized that a pair of brown eyes was looking at him, sizing him up. Ranma groaned. He would pay dearly for his mistake against Akane, literally. Of all the places he could go, he went to the lioness' den. The mercenary girl in front of him will squeeze him and put him out to dry.

"You made a comment about Akane's cooking and at the same time managing to attract troubles from the others?" it was more of a statement than a question.

"Ha...ha... yeah" Ranma laughed nervously at Nabiki. Then he realized that Nabiki was dressed a bit different than usual. Instead of a pair of shorts and a round neck t-shirt that she liked so much, she was wearing a black kimono, with a head gear resembling those worn by Chinese bride during wedding, except that it was black in color instead of red. "Nabs?"

"It seems that destiny dictates that it's you who will come to me, after all, Saotome-kun"

Ranma blinked. Nabiki was always an enigma, more difficult to understand than the hardest martial techniques he has came across. Not knowing how to respond to her words, his hand reached into his trousers' pocket and brought out his wallet, holding it in front of her.

"Keep you wallet, Saotome-kun"

Whoaa. A demon has kidnapped Nabiki and has taken her place. Ranma opened his mouth to say something when a ledger was shoved into it.

"Here. You are to balance my operation's weekly budget" A calculator and a pencil were handed to him as well.

Okay, that Nabiki he knew how handle. "What makes you think that I will do it?"

"Makes sure that all the calculation is correct" The calm voice carried more threat than it normally does, making Ranma squirmed a bit. Admitting defeat, he sat down on the floor. Meanwhile, Nabiki opened a musty book and began to read it.

An hour passed before Ranma tiredly scribbled the final figure. "Done. Can I go now?"

"No. And despite my reminders, you still made three errors, all of them on the first page, and in turn, it messed up all calculations"

"Hey! I checked twice, you heartless woman! And there is nothing wrong here" Ranma complained while showing her the first page.

"Check the zeros," was the reply he got. "I was looking when you made the calculations"

Ranma looked at the first page and groaned. It looked like he had to start all over again.

"Never mind the budget, Ranma. It has served it purpose"

Irritation at being tricked crept into the pig-tailed martial artist. "And... what... would... that... be...?" he said slowly through gritted teeth.

"What do you think?"

"What do I think? WHAT DO I THINK? I risked being caught alone with you for the past hour and you asked me what do I think!"

"Now, don't you think that under normal circumstances, they would have found you by now?"

"Yeah... Like that day..." Ranma trailed off.

"You see Ranma, I asked you to do the budget here to prove to you that somehow, your fate brought you to me, to this particular place, and this particular time"

"Huh?"

"Hitsuzen. A naturally foreordained event. A state in which other outcomes are impossible. A result which can only be obtained by a single causality and other causalities would necessarily create different results. So reads the Kodansha Japanese Desk Dictionary, Second Edition"

"Ara?"

"Sigh. Each of us has a different thread of fate. When the threads converges for a moment, we will meet, despite the situation"

Ranma blinked in confusion.

"Think for a second. You sitting here with me alone for an hour, and no one has found out yet. Isn't it abnormal, by your standard? Shouldn't Ryouga or other weird martial artists appear here to challenge you? Or maybe you haven't considered the possibility that Akane would make a mistake of entering this room instead of hers? "

The boy nodded.

"So, humor me and assume that you coming into this room not an accident. Instead you're here because you have an unfinished desire, a business to settle"

"Okay"

"Good. We'll start with the event that occurred recently"

"Oh. You mean your sabotaging the wedding?"

"Close. But that's not what bothering you now, isn't it?"

"Huh?"

"Ranma. I'm nowhere as good as that mind reading boy Satori. But I've known that lately you've a lot on your mind. That's why our fathers managed to jump on you and forced you to agree to the wedding, am I right?"

Ranma didn't answer her.

"It's because of what happened during the trip to China" Nabiki supplied the answer to the question herself

Ranma's eyes widened. "How in the world... Did 'Kane told you?"

"No" Despite what she would reveal to Ranma, Nabiki was calm. Earlier, she has thought about telling Ranma a different version of the story, but realized that it was out of question as she needed Ranma's trust, at least for the moment. "Ranma, what I'm about to tell you is a secret not many people know. Even Kasumi doesn't know the full extent of it"

Ranma frowned. Whatever she's about to tell him, it wouldn't be good. If not, why wasn't Kasumi told about it?

As if reading Ranma's mind, she smiled. "I'm not a Yakuza. You see, apart from the 'activities' in school, I also run another business. I run a part-time wish shop"

"A wish shop?"

"I help people to get what they wished, for a price"

"Of course, that's not very surprising, considering that you're involved"

Nabiki ignored the insult. "I can use magic to help"

"Uh... huh"

"But in my case, my power is very weak compared to my mentor, Yuko-san. So, I mostly use my brain to help. So, back to our story" Nabiki's finger traced an imaginary line in the air.

"According to what I see, you and someone's thread of life converge" She kept quiet for a moment. "The other person's thread of life ended. Is it Saffron's?"

Upon hearing what Nabiki said, Ranma's face darkened. "Yeah, that not to surprising, isn't it? With me killing him coz of what he did to 'Kane" He laughed bitterly. "I killed a god" His shoulders shook. "Yeah, Saotome Ranma is a killer"

"I agree. You're a killer"

"Thank you, sister in-law" he said sarcastically.

"Hmm... aside from Saffron, you killed Shuriken, Kunai, Beshimi, Hie Pin, Hie Kue Rim, Hie Dao Ria, Shizuka... need I go on?"

"What the !# are you saying? I never knew them"

"They are all your children, you killer. Don't you have any mercy inside you?"

"Huh?"

"Well, They 'would have been' your children. Shuriken and Kunai are your children by Kodachi if you married her. And if the pigtailed goddess marries Kuno, Beshimi is the result of such union"

Ranma blanched.

"Hie Pin, Hie Kue Rim and Hie Dao Ria would be your daughters with Shampoo and so on"

"That's crazy. I ain't marrying them"

"Right. That's why the children would never see the light of the world"

"So you're saying that I have to marry Kodachi and the others?"

"Would you?"

"No"

"Don't you feel guilty for letting them die?"

"Stop messing with my mind. They don't exist"

"Yet, in parallel timeline they probably exist"

"Not in this one. Heh, if what you said is true, in those time line, I married them, so they exist in those time line"

"Very perceptive. I knew that you're more than just a dumb jock"

"Hey!"

"Now, what if I tell you that in another time line, Saffron still lives?"

"Yeah, but he's still dead in this 'line' and I killed him"

"True. But in that time line, Akane is dead because Ranma in that time line didn't kill Saffron. So what do you think that Ranma wishes for?"

Ranma opened his mouth to say something but stopped. He thought about what Nabiki said to him. "He probably wishes that he killed him"

"Here we have you mopping about killing Saffron and there we have another version of you so embittered for not killing him"

"Ahh..." Ranma's head began to hurt. "I don't understand where this is leading to..."

"What I am saying that whatever you do, even small things, would have an effect on another person's life. Any action that you take, any action, even though as mundane as throwing a banana peel on the road, would probably lead to the death of some people, and the birth of others. The difference with Saffron's case is you took a proactive approach to kill him, instead of affecting his life in different ways. Do you get what I am saying, Saotome-kun?"

"I guess"

"Now, I want to ask you a question. Answer it truthfully. Would you do it again if the same circumstance repeats? Or would you rather risk Akane's life while trying to find another way to defeat him?"

"Yeah, I would do it again"

"Are you sure? And you killed Saffron not because you're angry with what he did to my sister?"

"Yes, I'm sure. And if I knew that there's another way..."

"So, Saotome Ranma, despite what you're saying and feeling, you don't really regret killing Saffron"

"But I..."

Nabiki stopped him by putting a finger on his lips. "Hush. What you really feel at this moment is guilt. Not for killing Saffron. But guilt for going back on your martial artist code of honor to protect lives. Am I right?"

Ranma thought about it for a few minutes and discovered that what she said was true. He felt better, a bit. "Yeah, now that you said it, it feels like it. How do you know?"

"I run a part time wish shop, remember?"

He smirked at her, still expressing his disbelief.

"Your face is screaming to me that you don't believe me. That doesn't matter. By the way, for your information, Saffron didn't die"

"Yeah, right. In another time line"

Nabiki brought out a crystal globe and chanted an incantation. Then she held it out for Ranma to see. The pig-tailed martial artist saw an infant that vaguely resembles Saffron. "Do you know that phoenix will regress into an egg after it has exhausted all of its energy? Then from the egg, it will reborn. In the same way, every time Saffron exhaustes his power, he will revert to infancy. You, Ryouga and the others managed to cause that whole process to take place prematurely. Without your intervention, the process will take place anyway, maybe in another ten years"

"You mean..."

"Yes, in other word, he is alive. You can only kill him if you do it while he is still an infant, using a special attack"

A few minutes passed in eerie silent before Ranma began to laugh, with tears streaming his face. The he began to sob. "Damn it! A real man shouldn't cry"

Nabiki patted his back. "But it feels right, isn't it? Just let it out" She said soothingly.

"I feel", Ranma said between sobs, "relieved"

The tears continued for a few more minutes before Ranma wiped the last one off his face. "Why didn't you tell me about Saffron earlier?" he said hoarsely. "And why the crap about timelines with me marrying Kuno and others?"

Nabiki took out a handkerchief and wiped the damp spot on his cheek. "You have learned a lesson that most people would never even know exist, Saotome-kun. It is important for your own growth that you go through it. Besides, would you believe me if I told you earlier?"

"I guess not" Ranma looked at a poster on the wall. "So, how much I owe you for your service? A week's allowance?"

"I don't work for peanuts, Saotome-kun" she said coolly.

"Yeah, almost got you with that one huh?" He chuckled, something he hasn't done without faking for a long time.

"Not by a close chance. Actually, it's free of charge, as long as you don't go trumpeting my side job to others"

"And I thought I already had the ol' Nabiki figured out"

"An order from my higher-up. Considering that Yuko-san isn't as kind-hearted as I am, that is a very special privilege accorded to you"

"Yeah. I guess"

'Of course, anything to keep you from cracking up and believing yourself to be Saffron is something to be executed with great urgency. And that is payment by itself, Saotome-kun'

"Wait. Since Saffron's still alive, wouldn't he..."

"No, since his guardians wouldn't make the same mistake. Of course, he wouldn't take revenge on all of you because his memory of the battle with you was erased by them"

"But that..."

"Is precisely what they need to do if Saffron is to become a good leader to them. So, unless you're itching to fight him, you should be grateful" Nabiki raised herself and gestured toward the door. "Now my work with you is done. Off you go"

Ranma walked toward the door. As his hand turned the knob, he turned toward her, "Nabiki, I really appreciated what you did for me. If only you can show your good side to everyone more often"

"Now don't you go around spreading good words about me" she hissed jokingly before smiling.

Ranma laughed as he closed the door.

Nabiki's smile fell as she gave the door with a serious look.


1


Author's note (27th December 2005)

1. I hope to update this story every forthnight, with no promise given. My main aim is to finish my ongoing Gundam Seed story.

2. Sorry for crappy summary, but I can't think of any

3. Ranma 1/2 and everything else belong to their owners. But, since you're at this side, I guess you know that already

4. Yuko-san is from XXX-Holic, a story about a normal teenager by the name of Watanuki who can see ghost. He was 'enslaved' by Yuko-san, a powerful magician who owns a wish shop. XXX-Holic is published by Clamp, the girls who brought you Card Captor Sakura.

5. Hmm... Pretty short for author's note.