Innocence of Mine
By Douglas Helm and "Tuxedo" Will Wolfshohl
Those characters that are original and the story "Innocence of Mine" are copyrighted ©2006 ShoujoFiction .com by Douglas Helm and Will Wolfshohl. Ranma ½ characters are copyrighted by Rumiko Takahashi.
This story and our many other stories reside at our Shoujo Fiction dot com domain. Comments are welcomed and encouraged.
Chapter 15 - Breaking and Mending Fences
Akane Tendo wearing her gi paced impatiently across the polished wooden floor of the Tendo Dojo. With each step, the sixteen year old martial artist grew angrier, her battle aura flaring brighter periodically as surges of anger cascaded through her. She turned sharply at the wall causing her father and Genma to scramble out of her way. She made her way along the wall scowling and muttering to herself.
"This does not look good, Saotome-kun," Soun commented to his longtime friend. Both men had been watching Akane pace about for half an hour now.
"I'm glad we grabbed a snack first, Tendo-kun," Genma replied and then in a lower voice continued, "I wonder where the boy went though?" His son and Nabiki had not yet returned from the market.
This particular set of events meant that Kasumi had delayed supper, much to their fathers' distress. Kasumi earlier had appeared unconcerned about the delay. She was confident that since Ranma was with her sister, they could handle any situation that might arise.
Of course, this just provoked Akane into a rant about HER missing supposed fiancé. Akane froze in mid-step then pivoted as the door to the dojo opened. Soun and Genma both prepared to flee but they relaxed when instead, Kasumi entered. "Minna, Tofu-sensei called. Ranma and Nabiki are at his clinic."
"Kuso! Did Nabiki pull that baka little kid stunt again?" Akane hissed, restarting her pacing. 'What is Nabiki's scheme?'
"Nabiki is fine, Akane-chan," Kasumi countered while frowning slightly. 'She sounded excited but concerned. Tofu said it wasn't Nabiki that needed tending to.' That had been relief. She wasn't near as anxious over Ranma's possible injuries as she would have been if had been her sister. She knew that Ranma had an extremely resilient constitution. "Tofu-sensei asked if we could come over and pick Nabiki up. Ranma-kun won't be going anywhere tonight." 'Although I get the feeling that Tofu-sensei wasn't telling me everything.' That bothered her for some reason. "Are you all right, Otou-san?" she asked.
"Of course, Kasumi-chan," he answered, "Did the good sensei say what happened?"
"Not really except that they met up with Shampoo on the way back from the market." The coed was startled when her little sister let out a shriek of fury and drove her fist through the dojo wall leaving a nice-sized hole behind. "Akane..." Kasumi scolded. 'Oh my... Now I'll have to call out the handyman again to fix it.'
# # # # #
Dr. Tofu Ono was descending the stairway from the upper story of his clinic when Akane and Kasumi Tendo stepped inside. He went over to them as they took off their shoes. "Arigato for coming, Tendo-san."
"Ne, Doc, are Nabiki and Ranma okay?" Akane questioned then complained. "Kuso! They were supposed to go to the market."
"You mentioned Shampoo as well, Tofu-sensei," Kasumi interjected as she stripped off her coat and hung it carefully on a nearby hook.
The young physician nodded. "Unfortunately, I had to admit Shampoo to the University Hospital. They are much better equipped to care for her. Her condition is stable. Cologne and Mousse have already been notified." He paused as if considering how to continue. "Nabiki is holding up remarkably well all things considered. She had a fright and was in shock when she arrived. I have her lying down right now resting."
Akane looked worried as she hung up her overcoat. "And Ranma?"
Tofu sighed. "Is a stubborn mule, Akane-chan." When both girls blinked, the young doctor sighed again before explaining, "He was lucky that Shampoo didn't completely sever his subscapularis muscle or worse. As it was, he took a deep laceration to his right shoulder that goes from the front to the back. He needed stitches, a unit of whole blood, and a tetanus shot but he refused to go to the hospital." He ended up sedating Ranma as a compromise to keep him from aggravating his wounds.
"Do you know what caused the fight?"
"I do," chimed in a new voice. Dr. Tofu whirled around and as the Tendo sisters moved forward to look. They saw Nabiki coming down the stairs wearing one of Dr. Tofu's hospital gowns. Her face pale and drawn. It was easy to tell that she had been crying.
"I told you to stay upstairs, young lady," he admonished his patient gently pointing his index finger at her.
Sniffling, Nabiki ran over and hugged Akane before bursting into tears. "Akane-oneechan!" she sobbed on her younger sister's shoulder. Akane hugged her back.
"It'll be okay, Nabiki," she soothed, trying to sound comforting.
After a little bit, the sniffling teen pushed herself away. "Gomen. I shouldn't be crying. I'm a big girl." 'Gomen Na-chan. I need to be strong for Ranma.'
"That's okay, Nabiki. I understand," Akane said soothingly. 'Maybe it's not an act.'
"You should be lying down, Nabiki," Dr. Tofu interjected. Then he handed her a tissue.
"I can do that at home, Sensei. Arigato." She wiped her eyes then blew her nose. "I'm okay now."
"What happened, Nabiki?" Akane asked, "I mean it seems strange that Shampoo would go after you."
Before Nabiki could answer, Tofu suggested, "First, minna, come and sit down before Nabiki falls down." He helped her over to one of the chairs in the waiting area. "I'll put the kettle on for some tea."
"Na-chan, are you really okay?" Kasumi asked hugging her sister.
"It... it was just really scary, Onee-chan," Nabiki said in a near whisper, looking like she might burst into tears at any moment. Letting go of the hug, she recounted, "One minute, we're walking home with the groceries talking and stuff and the next minute, Shampoo's running at us with a sword screaming 'Husband belongs to Shampoo.'" Kasumi and Akane exchanged glances but didn't speak. "Sha-Shampoo wanted to fight me to the death." 'I still don't understand what I did.'
"NANI?" her sisters squeaked.
"Why would she want to do that, Na-chan?" the coed inquired.
"Shampoo knows you don't practice martial arts," Akane commented. "There'd be no way that you could take her in a fight." 'Even I couldn't beat that bimbo.' The youngest girl's eyes narrowed. "Didn't you try and talk her out of it, Nabiki?" That had always been her sister's forte.
Nabiki cast her sister a look of hurt indignation before answering, "Of course, I did, Akane! I couldn't get her to listen though. She was just going on about how I had dishonored her and her village and how 'Husband' was hers and she wouldn't let Ranma-kun be married to a Tendo." She sniffled and her eyes misted over again.
Before Kasumi or Akane could think to ask anything else, Dr. Tofu came back carrying a tray. He handed cups of tea around and then sat down. "Do you have any idea what provoked Shampoo?" he asked his young patient. "Gomen but it's my understanding that Shampoo tends to ignore you pretty much. She must've been pretty angry to attack you and Ranma."
Nabiki considered, gave Akane a wary look, and then answered, "I think she thought Ranma was going to marry me." The others in the room blinked. Nabiki blushed.
"Why?" was Akane's only question.
The seventeen year old sipped her tea and considered how to tiptoe around the issue. "Me and Ranma were talking. I asked..." She blushed again. "I asked him if we could be friends."
"And what did he say, Nabiki-chan?" Kasumi asked before Akane could say anything.
"He said that we COULD be friends. Then we got talking about all the fiancées he's got and all. He pretty much said that he wished Shampoo would take off because he wasn't interested in her body and her cat curse creeped him out."
"He wasn't interested in her body?" Akane demanded with a snort, "Oh please." She hated to admit that the busty Amazon had her beat in that department. Nabiki was pleased to see the stunned expression cross her little sister's face when she told them how Ranma had responded to a similar comment.
Then the middle sister decided now was the time to drop the bombshell. "I think what got Shampoo mad was that Ranma-kun told me that he's made a decision about who he's gonna marry."
"Oh my!" Kasumi exclaimed, her teacup clattering to the floor. Dr. Tofu seemed just as surprised because his own cup joined Kasumi's an instant later.
"It's you!" Akane accused.
"'Fraid not," was the seventeen year old's reply, "It's you, Akane-chan." 'I wish it was me.'
"Just how do you figure that, Nabiki?" Akane demanded shooting to her feet.
"Listen, Imouto, Ranma-kun saved my life. He saw that Shampoo wouldn't leave us alone so he accepted her challenge in my place. Both of them went all out. Shampoo must've been completely out of her mind or else Ranma would've had an easier time. Anyway, he got hurt. I'm not sure what happened next. I think he was trying to get the sword away from her but the pain from that cut made him overpower his Ki attack and it stopped Shampoo's heart."
"That's what I suspected, Nabiki-chan. Then you got the heart going again and brought her here."
"Hai. I remembered some from a CPR class I took after school back in junior high." 'Thank the Kami she didn't die.' How could she fault Shampoo for liking Ranma anymore than her own sister? "Then Ranma and I carried Shampoo here."
"That's all well and good, Nabiki, but how does that make me the one that Ranma is gonna choose?" the youngest Tendo asked curiously.
"Simple really," Nabiki explained like she was talking to Na-chan, "You remember the match with the Golden Pair?" Akane nodded. "Well Ranma-kun said that you were his fiancée and if what's-his-face touched you again, he'd kill him. Ranma's one of the very few people I know that would go to exceptional lengths to keep their word, Imouto-chan." Akane sat down abruptly appearing stunned.
"Akane-chan, perhaps you should reconsider what you had planned for today?" Kasumi suggested.
"Nani?" was all Nabiki could think to ask.
"I challenged Ranma to a match yesterday and..." The teenager looked slightly vacant. "Gomen, Nabiki. I was mad at him." Akane sighed. "Do you think I could see him, Tofu-sensei?"
"Hai, I'll show you the way." He got up and led Akane upstairs.
Nabiki squirmed as Kasumi gave her a long calculating look. "Nani?" the teen finally demanded.
"Na-chan, how do you know Ranma made a decision?"
"He told me, Onee-chan."
"Did he happen to tell you what that decision was?" Nabiki shook her head. 'This could be very good, or very bad.' Kasumi rose. "I'll see Ranma and then, we'll go home."
# # # # #
A short time later, Kasumi and Nabiki walked home together. The sun had set for the day. Akane had decided to remain behind at the clinic so she could talk with Ranma after the sedative worn off. They were perhaps halfway home when the coed asked out of the blue, "Na-chan... Nabiki, would you like to marry Ranma-kun someday?" Nabiki blushed and nodded. "You know if he does choose Akane..."
"I know, Kasumi-chan. We'll be friends. I won't try to stop them," Nabiki assured her sister. Then to get some revenge, she offered with as much innocence as possible, "'Nee-chan, did you know that Tofu-sensei fancies you?" The high school senior was pleased to see her older sister stumble and stop walking.
"Honto? Are you serious?"
Nabiki nodded. "You never noticed? Why do you think he goes all goofy around you?" Kasumi was giving her a look of disbelief so she added, "And if you touch him..."
"Nani?" Kasumi asked, eyes growing wide in alarm.
"Well, you know his skeleton 'Betty-chan?'" Her sister nodded. "He starts dancing all over Nerima with it on his back."
"You're making that up, Na-chan!" Kasumi exclaimed, although she couldn't hide her blush.
"Gomen, Onee-chan," Nabiki began feeling bad for teasing her sister, "I just... I wasn't sure if you knew is all." She scuffed the ground feeling foolish.
"Arigato for telling me," Kasumi said smiling softly then winked at her sister. As they continued to walk, she inquired, "Ne, Na-chan, care to share any other juicy tidbits?"
"Errr... There's something else, Onee-chan, but I think I'd better not blab it, in case it lands Ranma-kun into even more hot water with Akane."
"Do you think I'd be that indiscrete, young lady?"
"Well no... But..." Nabiki sighed, took a breath, and declared, "Okay... P-chan is really Ryouga-kun."
"I see," was the only comment the eldest Tendo sister made.
# # # # #
Soun was poring over the morning newspaper enjoying the quiet of the household for once. 'I do feel bad for the boy,' he thought as he turned a page, 'But not having him and Genma hopping around shouting at the crack of dawn is a blessing.' The patriarch of the Tendo household glanced up as the panda beside him gave a deep weary sigh of despondency. "Missing the boy, Saotome-kun?"
"Iie!" read the sign. Genma-panda twirled it and the other side read, "I'm despairing at ever having the boy amount to anything!"
Before Soun could even think of a response, Kasumi glided into the room. She had a slight smile on her face. "Otou-san, I think you might want to step out to the dojo."
"Akane hasn't put another hole in the ceiling?" Soun speculated. The happiness that he had felt a moment ago drained away. A tiny spark of hope lingered however as she shook her head. "Well, what is it then, Kasumi-chan?"
Kasumi smiled a little more. "Oh, I think you should come and see, Daddy."
"Do you know anything about this, Saotome-kun?" Soun asked his longtime friend and was immediately suspicious when Genma somehow produced a large tire and started playing with it while holding up a sign that read, "I'm just a kawaii panda!" Snorting, Soun followed his eldest daughter from the room. As he approached the dojo, he became puzzled. "Is that Akane?" The coed nodded. "What is she doing?"
"Wait and see," Kasumi told him.
'Can't be that bad, ne?' Soun wondered and then regretted asking himself that. To stop his imagination from picturing anything horrendous, he said, "It sounds like she's teaching."
Kasumi only motioned him to go quietly up the stairs of the dojo. Upon reaching the top, he took a deep breath, held it, and then carefully slid the door open. He stood slack jawed at the sight of his middle daughter in a combat stance wearing a gi. The air in his lungs went out with a whoosh. Nabiki was sporting a blue belt that he hadn't seen in years and two small pigtails tied with white ribbons. Stepping up fully into the dojo, he spotted Happosai sitting off to one side observing as Akane also wearing a gi and black belt circled around her sister.
"Throw a punch!" Akane barked out. Her sister complied. Akane reached out, grabbed her older sister's arm, and made some adjustments. "Don't hide your thumb inside your fingers or you'll break it," the youngest of the Tendo Sisters remarked, "Kami-sama, Nabiki, you're really out of practice."
"Gee, really?" Nabiki asked, giving her sister a sidelong look, "And what does that make you compared to Ranma-kun?" Soun winced and started looking for new holes in his walls as his youngest swelled, turning red, and appeared ready to spit fire. "That's one of your weaknesses, Imouto," Nabiki offered in a neutral tone.
Remarkably, Akane deflated. "Nani?"
"She's right, Akane," Happosai agreed. He got up stretched a bit and then glanced to the door. "Ohayo Soun, Kasumi-chan."
"What do you mean 'she's right', ojii?" Akane asked then added as an afterthought, "Ohayo Dad!"
"Ohayo Daddy," Nabiki echoed. She waved.
"You want to tell her?" Happosai asked and then when the seventeen year old shook her head, the old man continued, "Akane, anyone who has studied you as an opponent knows that you let your temper get to you." He smiled slightly as the young woman glared. "An opponent would take advantage of that. This is one reason that you have not advanced further in 'The Art.'"
"Ojii-san's right," Nabiki agreed. "Look at Kuno. He goes berserk unless you show him the honor and respect he THINKS he deserves."
"And I suppose you don't have any faults, Onee?" Akane hissed acidically.
Nabiki blushed and shuffled her feet. "Hai, I have them, Akane-chan. They just wouldn't affect the outcome in a fight with me 'cause I know the people who come after you and Ranma are completely out of my league. I also know my forte is words."
"Gomen, Nabiki-'neesan," Akane mumbled and bowed. Nabiki bowed back. "Is breakfast soon, Kasumi-'neechan?"
"It's almost ready, minna. You should come in, clean up, and get changed for school, Akane." The eldest Tendo sister gave Nabiki a long inquiring look. "And you?"
"Oh I'm staying put, Onee-chan," Nabiki replied. "I might go visit Ranma today later with you." The seventeen year old then bounced across the floor and gave her father a hug. Then she giggled. "I had to borrow one of Akane's gis 'cause mine didn't fight right." She was still in elementary school when she had last worn it. She found her gi neatly folded in the back of her bottom dresser drawer. Maybe she could donate them to a needy student for a charitable deduction. At least, her blue belt was still useable.
"How are you feeling, Nabiki-chan?" her father asked.
"Why did you need a gi anyway, Musume?"
"Oh, 'cause I was going to take up Ranma's challenge..." Nabiki gave her father a sheepish look. "Akane-'neechan was nice enough not to take me seriously. Lucky thing too." She giggled. "I don't think I would've lasted ten seconds."
"I formally withdrew the challenge and have told Saotome-san as much," Akane explained. She and Nabiki bowed to each other and then she headed out the door to cleanup before breakfast.
"So you were practicing?" Soun inquired. When his middle daughter nodded, he smiled. "So you're taking up 'The Art' again, Musume? I'm so happy!"
"Well, I'm going to start. I don't plan on being able to pull moves like Ranma-kun or Happosai-sensei or even Akane does but NOT having any skill in the way of martial arts, especially around Nerima, is just plain silly." Soun grunted in agreement, gave her a hug, and left the dojo. "Onee-chan," Nabiki said to Kasumi, "Please I'd like to talk with Happosai-ojiisan alone." Kasumi nodded and left the dojo sliding the door shut behind her.
"What did you want to talk about, my dear?" the old master asked while taking a seat on the floor.
She sat beside him cross-legged and gave him a long look. "Happosai-sensei, this is a dojo and we need to start having students to provide positive cash flow."
"Indeed... I have had similar thoughts," Happosai offered. "Passing 'The Art' to the next generation so on and so forth."
"Sensei, we have three issues though that are preventing this from coming to fruition."
"Nani?" the old man asked, looking nervous.
"The first is the simple weirdness factor. That'll take the longest to sort out." The ancient panty-thief grinned. "The second is the fact that we need Ranma-kun to teach. Otou-san is under the impression that you need to explicitly give Ranma permission."
"If he wants to teach the Anything Goes School, then I do have to as its founding master."
Nabiki bowed deeply. "Happosai-sensei, I ask that you grant Ranma Saotome the right to teach in the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts."
"What's in it for me, girl?" the old master asked, his eyes narrowing.
"Besides the fact that you eat, sleep, and use this place as refuge during your frequent crime sprees without contributing anything?" Nabiki remarked, eye cocked. The old man squirmed as the silence stretched. "Nothing."
"I won't then," Happosai stated and cross his arms stubbornly.
"That's fine, Sensei. I'll find him another school," the teenager mused. "He'll be happy to be out from under your thumb." She was pleased to see the ancient martial arts master get a look on his face as if he'd just bitten into a lemon.
"That brings us to the third issue - your groping of young women. If we want to have as wide a customer base as possible, Sensei, we need to attract both men and women students. Having you trying to grope anything over twlevewith a skirt and steal their lingerie will keep a significant demographic away."
"An old man has to have his pleasures, Nabiki," he grumbled then eyed her nubile figure lustfully.
"YOU WILL STOP," Nabiki replied sternly.
"Oh yeah," Happosai demanded, "Who's gonna make me?" He became alarmed when Nabiki gave him a feral looking smile. "You have to be reasonable, Nabiki-chan... I mean your father and Genma owe me! I taught them a lot!"
"I WILL protect my family, Happosai," Nabiki said dangerously. "You WILL stop your dishonorable activities or else, you will not be welcomed to remain under our roof anymore."
"And if I don't go?" the old letch asked, 'What's wrong with her? We had a decent business arrangement going.' "Well?" he sneered as Nabiki continued to look coolly at him.
"Oh, I won't stop you. You know that I don't possess the physical or martial arts skill to compete with you," the teen declared almost lazily. "However... I know somebody who would... for me."
"Who?" the old man demanded. His brain was frantically trying to think of someone who was powerful enough to pose a real threat to him.
Nabiki leaned in close and uttered one single name, "Kaji." The reaction was all she could hope for. Happosai leapt away shouting in terror as if he'd just been confronted with a set of smelly men's boxers.
"How, how..." Happosai stuttered looking wildly around.
"We're business partners, Happosai. Me and him. I won't force you to give me an answer right now since I'm hungry and breakfast is likely ready. But I promise you on my honor as a Tendo and a martial artist, I will do anything, make any deal he wants, if it means protecting my family and its future from you. You can stay here in this house as a guest, but you will be expected to act as a proper guest and martial arts master and not bring us dishonor."
"By all means go to Daddy," she interrupted. "I don't believe he'd support you over me in this matter." With that, Nabiki Tendo bowed to him then exited the dojo, all the while humming softly to herself.
# # # # #
Later that morning, Kasumi and Nabiki left the Tendo residence and started walking towards the clinic. As they walked, Nabiki kept nervously glancing over her shoulder. Finally, Kasumi asked, "Na-chan, what is it?"
"I don't know... I get this funny feeling that we're being followed, Onee-chan," Nabiki commented, "Not a creepy feeling. Just like somebody is... well... watching us."
The coed stopped and slowly turned, looking about; the street was deserted. "I don't see anybody." Even so, they increased their pace.
Some distance behind them, two figures stood on a rooftop watching the two young women move down the sidewalk. "Don't worry, little business partner," the old man mused, "I wouldn't hurt you for the world." The mass of dark tentacles next to him lifted and waved in a sad sort of way. "Stop being sentimental!" the demonic arbiter snapped sharply, "You're a demon, Mamoru." Mamoru made a rude gesture before asking a silent question. Kaji sighed and seemed to grow older. "Back to work for us, my old friend. This next case is going to be very ugly." The tentacle demon appeared concerned. "It's a rather grisly business, Mamoru-kun, very grisly." He glanced once more towards Nabiki. "Nabiki-chan seems to be all right now. Our employer seems happy enough."
And with that, both demons vanished.
# # # # #
Ranma Saotome was not happy. "Come on, Doc!" he complained as Dr. Tofu was redressing his wound, "I'm fine!"
"Ranma, stop being so pig-headed," the physician declared with some exasperation, "You're restricted from doing any sort of martial arts or other strenuous physical activity for at least a week, probably two." The young man gave him a sour look. "If I can't have your word of honor as a martial artist on that, then I'll ship you off to the hospital and make sure they keep you there under sedation until it heals properly."
"I never get any breaks in my life," Ranma complained and winced as the good doctor hit a rather tender spot.
"Gomen nasai, Ranma-kun. I'm almost done."
Both men turned their gazes towards the door of the examination room to find Nabiki and Kasumi standing there. Nabiki started to move over to give the young man a hug but froze when she realized that he suddenly wasn't where he was supposed to be. She giggled at the sight of a teddy bear in Tofu's hands. Dr. Tofu just stared.
Ranma gave a nervous look towards Kasumi and then a pointed look at Tofu. "You know that I can be professional, Saotome-kun," the young doctor groused. Looking sheepish, the pigtailed martial artist gracefully sat back on the bed. Nabiki giggled again when Tofu made Ranma hold the teddy bear.
"How is he, Tofu-sensei?" Kasumi asked coming over to stand beside the doctor. She was mildly amused to see the wary look Ranma kept giving the other man.
"He's the bestest, ne?" Nabiki asked, hugging Ranma so she wouldn't get in the way of Tofu's work.
"You seem in good spirits, Na-chan," Ranma commented to the young woman.
"Hai! Akane-chan was practicing with me out in the dojo this morning," Nabiki reported happily, "I'm so out of shape!" She struck a pose and giggled as Ranma stared. "Not there. I mean when it comes to 'The Art', silly." The seventeen year old resisted the urge to tweak Ranma's nose. "Gomen." 'Arigato Na-chan.' She giggled again and then sobered. "I'm just... It feels good to be back to something that I recognize as normal."
"Maybe YOU'LL be able to help keep Ranma away from martial arts for at least a week."
"He threatened me with the hospital, Na-chan," Ranma complained as if he was a little kid who'd just been told off for doing something wrong. "That's not nice, ne?"
"Not even training, Sensei?"
Tofu considered. "Perhaps, after three days or so, you can do some very basic stuff that doesn't require any use of your right arm or shoulder. But... Well, Ranma? Three days minimum. Nothing before that and I check you out again before then."
"I'll be good!" the young man protested, "Um, Doc, what'll happen to this when I change into a girl?"
The doctor considered. "Worse case due to your change in body mass and proportions, the bandages fall off and the stitches come out. Hopefully your wound won't reopen. I would recommend avoiding cold water for a while, Saotome-kun."
"Are you ready to go, Ranma-kun?" Nabiki asked.
"Hang on. I have to get dressed first, Na-chan. I ain't going home in this thing," was the young man's reply pointing to the hospital gown.
"Ranma-kun, you and Nabiki head home. I need to speak with Tofu-sensei for a moment." The two younger people exchanged knowing glances, and then Nabiki blushed, giggled, and looked thoroughly embarrassed at having done both.
# # # # #
Nabiki walked quietly beside Ranma. His left arm was through the sleeve of his shirt and the right sleeve was missing completely. His right upper arm was wrapped to restrict movement. She wanted to hold hands but it didn't seem appropriate considering what had happened. After a few minutes of silence, she said almost softly, "Ne, Ranma-kun?"
"A-Are you going to tell my daddy what you decided?" He gave her a puzzled look and then after a moment nodded, looking serious. "Ca-can... I mean would you tell me now?" He regarded her and as he did so, she squirmed uncomfortably. "I'm not gonna spread it around. I promise. If I didn't go home, Kasumi would skin me alive." She looked around nervously for a moment. "Ne, Ranma-kun, I'm a little worried. I thought somebody was following me when me and Onee-chan were walking to the clinic. Now that I think about it, it might've been Mousse."
The pigtailed young man glanced about for a few moments and then shook his head. "I don't see anybody, Na-chan. I don't feel nothing either. I think Mousse is staying with Shampoo though." They walked in silence for a few more minutes and then the young man regarded at his companion and sighed. 'Na-chan is so different than Nabiki.' He had developed a new rapport. "Okay... I guess I can tell you. Just don't go blabbing it to anybody 'til I get our dads together, ne Na-chan?"
"Hai!" Nabiki felt her stomach twist into a knot. 'Here it comes, Akane.'
Ranma took a breath, started to speak, sighed, and then after taking another breath, declared, "I decided that I won't seek Kasumi's hand in marriage."
"Oh that's su... Nani?" The seventeen year old stopped dead in her tracks and stared wide-eyed at her companion.
"I figure this way, Na-chan. Kasumi can get herself hitched without having to wait around for me to make up my mind." He shook his head in resignation. "I just know it's gonna come down to Akane but I don't think either of us wants it."
Nabiki, after collecting her jaw from the ground, started walking again. "So you don't ever want to get married, ne Ranma-kun?"
"Oh I'll get married some day. Hopefully after I'm declared the best martial artist in Japan," Ranma mused. "Besides, I ain't ready. Pops don't even get the fact that I can't marry until I'm eighteen."
Nabiki blinked and then frowned slightly, "I thought that you only needed to be sixteen."
"That's for girls, Na-chan. You could..." She blushed. "But you gotta be eighteen if you're a guy." He cocked his head and gave her a quirky smile. "Besides, technically he needs my mom's okay if I'm under twenty." He gave her a hard smile then. "I don't really want my parents telling me who or when I should marry. Telling Pops we need Mom's permission keeps him from getting silly most times."
"And how do you know so much, mister?" the young woman asked him. "I mean you sound like you're pretty studied in this."
Here the young man beside her looked sheepish. "Otou-san gave me a book. Said I needed to know what the law in Japan would let me do once I got married." The brunette rolled her eyes at this. "My reaction too, Na-chan. But I read it to make him happy."
"Seems to have stuck," she offered dryly.
"If you were engaged, would you have read it?"
"Technically, Ranma-kun, I AM engaged."
"Honto? To who?"
"Ranma Saotome." He stopped in his tracks. "Well look, Ranma-kun, until you make your ultimate choice... whether it is one of us Tendos or not, I'm MORALLY obligated to keep myself available, ne?" 'That sounded good, ne Na-chan?'
"Oh..." He seemed surprised. He never believed that Nabiki actually took the marriage contract their fathers made seriously. "Guess I could tell Tendo-san that I don't plan on marrying either you or Kasumi, Na-chan."
'Iie!' "Which amounts to saying it'll be Akane, at least in their books."
"Agrrr!" Ranma growled as he gripped his head, "This is frustrating!" He considered. "I s'ppose I could just tell 'em I won't be seeking you as my wife. That would get you off the hook at least, Na-chan." 'I owe you that at least.'
Nabiki tried not to wince and then thinking quickly, she grinned. "Oh, don't do that, Ranma. You'd rob me of the chance to play matchmaker with Kasumi-chan."
The pigtailed young man snorted. "Not much work there. Doc Tofu's interested in her."
"I think," the young woman ventured, "That what Tofu-sensei and Kasumi have is something like you and Ukyo. You are her friend since childhood. She just doesn't get that you're currently not interested in her as a wife."
# # # # #
Nabiki Tendo entered the grounds of Furinkan High School on Monday morning feeling in fine spirits. The cold and wet weather had vanished over the weekend so that by the time the sun came up Monday morning the temperature was hovering around something like early spring.
The young woman looked around the schoolyard and spotted her friend Yuriko. Smiling, she walked towards her. When Yuriko spotted Nabiki, she came over quickly. "Are you okay, Nabiki-san?" her best friend asked. Nabiki nodded. "Is something up, boss?"
"Nani?" Nabiki asked as the two fell into step heading for the entrance.
"You seem awfully happy. Did you cook something good up?"
"I did help with breakfast, Yu-chan," Nabiki admitted serenely, "It was pretty good, although not as good as Kasumi-oneechan's. I need some more practice."
Yuriko gaped for a moment. "I didn't mean that, boss!"
"Nabiki-san, I mean what new bookmaking scheme are you working on? It has to be huge for you to be smiling like a great white. Whatcha think it's gonna net us? 25000 yen?" Nabiki frowned slightly. "50000?"
"Kami-sama, can't I be happy without having a scheme going?" 'Was I that bad a girl?'
"I guess..." Yuriko responded doubtfully.
The teenager shook her head. "It was a very nice weekend." Seeing the concern in her friend's eyes, she explained, "I just had... Well, I had a lot of pressure on me before, um... certain issues to attend to. Things are much better now."
"Sugoi!" her friend declared. "Running the pools without you was hard. We didn't turn much profit, boss. Gomen nasai."
Nabiki waved it away and made a hard left towards the club bulletin boards. "So what clubs are you in, Yu-chan?"
"Yours," Yuriko commented, "It's the only one that brings in money that I can spend. My parents are such yen pinching misers." After a heartbeat, the young woman asked, "Why?"
"Because... I want to join a club."
Yuriko brightened. "Brilliant. Then we can charge membership dues and room and equipment rental and have a steady source, ne Nabiki-san?"
Nabiki stopped in her inspection of the Kendo Club poster to give her friend a hard look. "You need a visit with Kaji."
Yuriko perked up. "Who's he? Your new boyfriend?" One eyebrow rose inquiringly.
The teenager snorted, "He's a very old, VERY powerful BUSINESS acquaintance. My most recent dealing with him was quite profitable." 'Ain't that the truth, Na-chan?' Nabiki frowned then and added, "That reminds me, Yu-chan, what are the odds we have on the Shampoo pools?"
Yuriko looked stunned. "Why? What happened?"
"Let's just say that Shampoo isn't a contestant anymore. She's out of the running completely. But not before she drew first blood on Ranma." 'We should've turned a tidy profit.' Fights were determined by first blood or first fall. No one would have suspected it would go on much after that. Most bet on Ranma in a fight with Shampoo, even with the odds and her ten percent booking fee. When the young woman before her paled, Nabiki asked, "Nani?"
"Well..." Yuriko licked her lips and shuffled nervously, "Um... Nabiki-san, with the way that Ranma and Akane have been acting, I shifted the odds that Ranma would take Shampoo or Ukyo up. We have a lot of stuff spread out."
The young woman nodded. "Reasonable."
"I tried to call you, boss..." Yuriko complained, "Really I did."
Nabiki frowned. "I didn't know that. I would've been happy to talk with you, Yu-chan. Didn't anyone answer the phone?"
"Hai, someone answered all right," Yuriko grimaced. "Gomen, Nabiki, but your sister nearly took my head off... She's scary."
"I see... Akane can be that way."
"I was talking about Kasumi," Yuriko commented.
"Well, I think you should go take care of your little problem... NOW!" Yuriko vanished in the blink of an eye. Satisfied for the moment, Nabiki turned back to the club posters.
Her thoughts were interrupted a few minutes later when a new, unfamiliar voice intruded on her. "Sempai, are you gonna join a club?" The seventeen year old turned and saw a petite student before her. 'She must be a first year. She can't be more than 4'7" (140cm),' Nabiki guessed. 'And as skinny as a beanpole.' Both eyes and hair were mousy brown in color. Her hair was cut in a pudding bowl fashion and her eyes were hidden behind thin-rimmed glasses.
"I was. Have any suggestions?"
"Well..." She seemed nervous.
Before the poor girl could go on, Kuno's voice rang out, "Nabiki Tendo-san, I wouldst speak with thee!"
"What do you want, Kuno?" Nabiki asked, putting as much annoyance into her voice as possible. As usual, Kuno completely missed it.
"I wouldst speak with thee about photographs of my..."
"Camera's broke, Kuno." He blinked.
"I will purchase thee a new one, dear maiden."
"Kuno, the source has dried up." The look on Kuno's face was priceless. "I hate to break this to you, Kuno-chan, but your 'pigtailed goddess' is engaged." The upperclassman looked as if he was going to have heart failure.
"Who is the black-hearted fiend?" He pulled out his Kendo sword. "I, Tatewaki Kuno, the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High, will smite him."
Nabiki shook her head. "You can't defeat him, Kuno-chan. It's tradition."
"Eh?" the young Kendoist asked.
"Her parents arranged the marriage just after she was born. It's family obligation." With that, Nabiki walked away. She sighed when she heard Kuno starting to blubber like a baby. Then she remembered the young woman. "Ne, come on and I'll walk you to class and we can talk about clubs."
Mousy brown eyes widened as their owner took in the imposing form of Nabiki Tendo. "Y-You're Tendo-sempai..." the girl exclaimed nervously. She had rapidly heard of this girl's ruthless reputation.
"That's me. Just call me Nabiki. I'm in 2-A. I didn't catch your name?" 'Kami-sama, she should be in junior high.'
"Oh... I'm... Aino... Yuzuyu Aino, Class 1-D." She bowed.
"Any relation to Sailor Venus?" Nabiki wondered. 'Na-chan!' she scolded herself and blushed slightly. She was thankful when she heard a giggle from Yuzuyu and the younger girl started walking down the hall.
"Only the kids ask me that, Nabiki-sempai." 'I wish I looked like Minako.'
"I'm a big kid, Aino-chan," Nabiki admitted.
"My friends call me Yuzu." 'They were wrong about her. She's nice.'
"Yuzu-chan, what's this club?"
"Oh, it's the Mentoring Club, sempai. I'm in it. Some of us who want to be teachers or social workers think that any practice we can get will help. I wanna become a teacher; the competition is pretty steep though."
"Honto?" Nabiki asked.
"Hai... Well if you want to work at a really good school it is," Yuzuyu explained. "So we worked out a deal with couple of the local elementary schools. We mentor the kids in subjects that they're having trouble with and go on their field trips and stuff, if it won't cause too much trouble for us."
Nabiki smiled. "Sounds good. It looks good on a resume, ne?"
Yuzuyu shrugged. "I asked around a couple of the sensei but they weren't so sure. I think that it'd be good practice for when I'm a teaching assistant. Besides, the kids are great. I don't have any younger siblings and it can be fun being their 'onee-chan.'" She giggled.
"Yuzu-chan, how many members do you have?"
"Five, sempai. We're trying to get more members though when the new term starts in April."
Nabiki grinned, "It sounds fun. What schools do you have arrangements with?" The seventeen year old had to stop herself from bouncing with delight when she got the answer. "I don't suppose I could join early, Yuzu-chan?"
"You'll have to ask the president but I don't see why not, sempai."
# # # # #
Despite having a massive amount of schoolwork to catch up on, her day went rather well. She had been concerned at first that Ranma was absent but Akane had assured her that SHE had gone to the clinic after getting accidentally splashed with water. Nabiki had been worried until Ranma had shown up at the lunch break, looking annoyed but other than the sling around his right arm, no worse for wear. Although several students were annoyed that it confirmed Ranma did lose to Shampoo in his most recent fight.
As the day ended, Nabiki, Akane, and Ranma left the school building together. As the trio headed towards the entrance, Nabiki described the club that she had just joined. Ranma was looking bored but was paying attention. Akane was looking dubious and when Nabiki paused for breath, she asked, "I didn't think you wanted to be a sensei, Nabiki."
"I don't want to work in a school, Akane, but you can teach on the job."
As they reached the entrance to the schoolgrounds, Ranma declared, "Ne, Na-chan, we were going to go to Ukyo's. You wanna come?"
"Why are you going there? Didn't you get full at lunch, Ranma-kun?"
"Ranma's gonna tell Ukyo that he wants to be friends," Akane supplied. To tell the truth, she wasn't going to miss Ukyo or Shampoo chasing Ranma around.
"I thought Tofu-sensei said no fighting."
"That's why I'm bringing Akane along," the young man replied.
'Talk about an ego boost,' Nabiki thought but only shook her head, "Arigato for the offer, Ranma-kun. I think I'll go visit a shop or two first."
"You better call Kasumi," Akane warned her sister. "We don't want her sending the whole JDF after you just because you're a little late."
Nabiki rolled her eyes but pulled her cell phone from her school valise. Moments later, Kasumi's voice came on the line, "Moshi moshi, Tendo residence."
"Hi Onee-chan!" Nabiki greeted her sister. "Listen, I'm going to go antique hunting. I'll be back in time for supper."
"Are you sure that's okay, Na-chan?" Kasumi asked.
"Shampoo-tachi have gone back to China and as far as I know, nobody else is after me. If I don't show by suppertime, you can send Ranma-kun after me."
"Well just be careful."
"I will, 'Nee-chan. Ja!"
# # # # #
When Nabiki Tendo reached the address where Kaji's antique shop should have been, she found only a vacant storefront with a large "For Lease" sign taped on the window. She peered inside but couldn't see anything - it was empty. 'So you really have gone.' The young woman felt a little sad. She tried the door handle but found it locked. She was about to turn away when she noticed a white envelope that was addressed to her stuck on the inside of the glass door.
"Well, how am I supposed to get that?" Nabiki demanded. She gave a little yelp of surprise as the glass rippled and the envelope shot out as if it was fired from a cannon. She caught it with her hand and after glancing around to make sure nobody was paying any attention to her, opened it. Inside was a neatly folded piece of paper. It read:
I'm sorry to leave in a hurry but it's back to work for Mamoru and me. Gomen. I'm sorry that I won't be around to watch you grow up into a fine young lady, little partner. I would much rather do that, then what I must do now.
She could almost hear him sigh.
I suppose you would like to know why I did what I did. The short version is I was hired by someone who loves you and was concerned about your future. I owed this person a debt, a rather large debt, so I agreed.
"Me, too," the teenager whispered to the letter. She blinked. "Must be dusty. It's making my eyes bleary."
The longer answer, I am not able to supply. My employer demanded strict confidentiality. I'll miss you, Nabiki-chan (and little Na-chan too). I think Mamoru will miss you both as well. Enjoy life, Nabiki-chan, listen to your inner child, and have a good life.
It was unsigned but Nabiki didn't need to have one to know it was from Kaji. A few moments later, the letter vanished.
Sadly, she started walking home but smiled when in her mind a little girl about eight years old crawled into her lap and exclaimed, "Onee-chan! Let's play!"
"You bet," Nabiki answered the little girl and skipped the rest of the way home.
# # # # #
The single drop of rain plunged downward and smacked Nabiki dead center of the top of her head just as she had lowered her umbrella. The seventeen year old turned her gaze to the clearing sky and glowered at the cloud daring it to try the same trick again. Sighing, she tucked her umbrella under her arm, shifted her school case to the same hand, and then using her free hand scrubbed at the top of her head.
As she continued walking down the sidewalk towards the elementary school, the mid-May sunlight decided to come out from behind a cloud and sparkled on the water puddles scattered about the street.
Her stomach growled reminding her that it was lunchtime. 'You can just wait,' she told her tummy, 'It's Saturday and we're going to eat at home.' She smiled and looked up at the rapidly clearing sky as a stiff, slightly damp breeze pushed the clouds away. "The girls will be happy. They can play after they get their homework done."
Joining the Mentor Club at school had reaped a larger reward than she had suspected. The biggest bonus of course had been that she got to tutor Minako and Ruri in their school subjects. Both had turned eight since her time as little Na-chan. 'I wonder how Minako did on her math test this week?' She hoped the little blonde did well. It wasn't that Minako hated math, rather she just didn't have the attention span it took to really study the subject. For Ruri, it was just a matter of getting started but once the little girl got started, she'd plowed through it until it was done.
The middle Tendo daughter smiled proudly at the thought of her two little friends. 'It's paying off though, ne Na-chan?' she asked herself, 'Not only are you helping them out and getting to spend parent approved time with them, it's also helping out at school.' She felt herself smirking. 'Ranma is sweet though...' Nabiki had thought it prudent to explain Ranma's curse to Minako and Ruri's parents after the girls had witnessed Ranma's transformation firsthand, thanks in no small part to Happosai. The parents took it in good stride, although Nabiki suspected they chalked it up to Ranma being an exceptional stage magician. The teenager knew that's what Minako thought it was. Ruri however took it as fact. She had seen plenty such things in anime.
Nabiki was roused from her reverie by a small blur slamming into her legs. "'Nee-chan!" Minako cried, hopping up and down, and still hugging Nabiki's legs, "'Nee-chan, guess what!"
"Nani?" Nabiki asked, crouching down to look at the little girl.
"Look!" Minako squeaked, shoving a paper at her, "I got perfect 100!"
"Sugoi!" the teenager replied, "Well, you deserved it and worked really hard."
Minako nodded and then said, "And guess what else?"
"Sensei put an extra question on the paper and said we could try it if we wanted to."
"And did you, Minako-chan?" The girl nodded. "And?"
"Sensei said I got it half right," the blonde replied happily.
"Well, that's really good." The teenager stood and moved down the short distance to where Ruri was waiting. "And how did you do, Ruri-chan?" Nabiki asked squatting down to see Ruri's face.
"Okay, Onee-chan, I got most of them right." Nabiki smiled.
"I told Ruri I'd help her," Minako commented, bouncing around. "Are we going to your house, Onee-chan?"
"Hai!" Nabiki stood and the girls fell in on either side of her as they walked.
"Nabiki-chan?" Ruri began, "Do you have an imouto?"
"Un, you met Akane."
"Iie, I meant... like us," Ruri clarified, tapping her chest.
"Just you and Minako... Why?"
"'Cause... you're cool, Nabiki-'neechan," Minako piped up. "She just doesn't wanna share."
"Do too!" Ruri protested. "But you know stuff about us." Stuff that only a close friend should've known.
"Ruri-chan, I told you. She's a grownup."
Nabiki thought Minako deserved the look Ruri sent her friend. Before the two third-graders could get into a fight over it, she confessed, "Well... To tell the truth, there is a reason. See a little while ago, I was in a different place and I was really little." The blonde snorted but her friend only stared wide-eyed. "And you and Minako were my bestest friends in the whole wide world."
"Honto?" Ruri looked up wide-eyed. 'I wonder if we were in the same class?'
"Oh come on!" Minako protested to Ruri after a few moments, "Nabiki's pullin' our legs!" She put her hands on her hips. "Just because we're kids, don't mean we believe everything we hear."
"Are you pulling my leg, Onee-chan?" Ruri asked. Doubt showed but she looked as if she wanted to believe.
The blonde snorted. "Oh come on, Nabiki-chan, how can a grownup be a little kid? My obaa-san is always wishing to be little again but it don't happen. Besides, we would remember it."
"Magic," Nabiki stated simply.
"Yeah, Saotome-san changes into a girl," Ruri pointed out and then giggled. She always found that funny.
"Oh please," Minako said while waving her hand dismissively, "He's just a really good allergist."
"I think you mean illusionist, Minako-chan." The little girl shrugged.
"Magic doesn't exist." 'I wish it did.'
"Girls, I can prove that magic exists," Nabiki offered after a few moments of thought. 'Arigato Na-chan.' When her young charges regarded her questioningly, she continued, "I'll need some time to prepare but when I'm ready, I'll ask your parents if you can come do a sleepover on a weekend." 'Na-chan owes you one.'
"That'd be awesome!" Ruri exclaimed happily.
"Pinky swear it, Onee-chan," Minako demanded and then grinned at Ruri's annoyed look but Nabiki swore to do as she had told them.
# # # # #
A little shy of three weeks later after the Saturday morning session, Nabiki, Ruri, and Minako stood in Nabiki's room in their respective school uniforms. Minako was looking dubiously at the mushroom that Nabiki was holding while Ruri was wrinkling her nose in mild disgust. Behind the trio on Nabiki's bed lay a girl's size 8 summer outfit and complete with underwear. She had found it in a box in the attic with Kasumi's help.
"Well, shortly, minna," Nabiki told her two friends, "I'll be eight years old. The same as you. We can spend the entire weekend playing once we finish up our homework." Minako rolled her eyes in disbelief.
"Onee-chan, whatcha gonna do with that?" Ruri asked, pointing at the mushroom.
"Eat it," the teenager answered.
"Eew!" Ruri remarked then stuck out her tongue and making a gagging sound, "Mushrooms are gross."
Ignoring this commentary, Nabiki opened her mouth, took the thin mushroom eight centimeters long that Akane had acquired for her, and quickly ate it. The girls watched in marked anticipation. Nothing seemed to happen at first, and then their eyes grew wider as Nabiki started to shrink. Her arms vanished up the sleeves of her high school uniform, the fabric loosening as her chest deflated then shrunk. Her face started sinking towards the ground as her legs shortened only stopping when the top of her head was the same height as Minako's. Her face softened, taking on some baby fat. Her short pigtails grew longer to her shoulders. Although the younger girls could not see it, Nabiki's curves melted had away as she reentered childhood.
When it was done, a pigtailed eight year old grinned at her friends out of the pile of clothing. In a high-pitched voice, Nabiki Tendo declared, "Well, girls, whatcha think?"
"KAWAII!" Ruri exclaimed.
"Is it real?" Minako asked. She walked completely around Nabiki. There had to be some kind of trick to it. Only babies believed in magic.
"Yep!" Nabiki replied and wiggled free of pile of her school uniform leaving her naked. She kicked it out of the way and stomped on the floor. "See, minna," she chirped, "No trapdoors." She then went over and started pulling on the clothing she had laid out earlier.
"So what you told me and Ruri before was real?" Minako squeaked inquiringly. The cute former teen nodded. "Man!" She seemed disappointed but once Nabiki had dressed, the little ribbon-wearing blonde asked the former teen who could pass for their classmate, "Do we gotta do homework, Onee-chan?"
"Onee-chan? Call me Na-chan... As for homework..." Nabiki folded her arms and gave this some thought, "Well..."
"PLEASE, NA-CHAN?" both girls asked.
Little Nabiki grinned. "I know what we can do!"
"Nani?" Ruri asked.
Nabiki darted forward, tapped the two third-graders on the forehead, and shouted, "TAG! YOU'RE IT!" and then ran barefoot from the room.
"Come back here!" Minako shouted but Ruri was already running out the door. "No fair, Na-chan! We can't both be it!"
"You're right!" Ruri agreed. Quickly doubling back, she tagged her friend and then ran giggling from the room, an enraged Minako in hot pursuit.
'I think,' Akane thought as she heard Minako, Ruri, and her new little sister frolicking through the house, 'This is going to be a very noisy weekend.'
Of course, Akane forgot that when she implemented her own age reduction adventure during the summer break. Kasumi enjoyed playing the role of mother to a nine year old Akane and a five year old Nabiki... but then, that's another story...
# # # # #
Epilogue - Five Years Later
Twenty-two year old Nabiki Tendo paused for a moment just inside the gate of the Tendo home and looked around. Nothing had changed since her last visit. She was clad very conservatively in a navy blue power suit over a white blouse and knee-length skirt. Her brown hair, which she kept in her now trademark pigtails, had grown almost midway down her back in the intervening years. She was well on her way to completing her MBA. Attending graduate school at a university in another city was a disadvantage because she couldn't stay at home. While Nabiki didn't mind it so much now, she enjoyed coming home during breaks and holidays. If she had time, she'd look up Minako and Ruri and see how junior high school was treating them.
Shifting her overnight bag to her other hand, she started walking up the familiar pathway that led to the front door but paused when she heard a noise. Listening, she could hear something that sounded faintly of giggling.
Puzzled, she pushed open the side gate that led to the yard and found the dojo ablaze with light. She was even more puzzled at the noises. She wandered over to the steps and was glad to see a recognizable person standing in the doorway.
"'Nee-chan," Nabiki called out.
Kasumi whirled about, grinning. "Oh Nabiki-chan!" she exclaimed and came down the stairs to hug her sister. "Gomen! I didn't know you had come in."
"Caught an early train... What's going on, Onee-chan?" Nabiki asked, trying to peer past her sister. Before the woman could answer, several shrieks of delight erupted through the open doorway.
"Um... Maybe you should just go see," Kasumi giggled.
Nabiki left her suitcase on the path, mounted the steps, and peered into the dojo. She felt her eyes widen and her mouth open slightly as she took in the sight of row after row of children sitting on the floor with adults lining the walls. All the kids were staring at the people on the raised platform, which was tucked into a corner. On it stood Ranma Saotome dressed in apparently authentic samurai armor and Akane. Upon seeing her younger sister, Nabiki bit her lip. Akane was dressed up in a white bunny outfit complete with long ears.
The room quieted as her father's voice started to speak, "And so, Sparkle-chan the Bunny stomped her great hind paw..." Here the kids provided the sound effects. "And the bad samurai fell down and was never seen again." Ranma, although no professional actor, knew how to make a fall look good and by the time he was done with his death throes, the children were cheering.
Shaking her head, the pigtailed woman turned around and regarded Kasumi. Her older sister grinned. "Go get unpacked, Na-chan. Once this lot is gone, we'll have some tea." Nabiki nodded and headed for her old room, occasionally snickering.
# # # # #
Nabiki was halfway through unpacking when Ranma showed up, still clad in his costume. Grinning, Nabiki walked over to him, wrapped her arms about him, and declared, "Konbanwa, tall, dark, and ancient."
"Hello yourself," he remarked, giving her a hug, but not escaping before she gave him a kiss. "You should have called, Na-chan."
"I'm a big girl, Ran-chan. I can get from the train station on my own." She grinned. "Now don't change the subject. Whose idea was that?"
"Your dad's," Ranma sounded pained, "He was trying to prove that not all martial arts is about beating people up."
"Hai, it's about big bunnies too..." she snickered.
"I suppose," Akane-bunny drawled from the doorway, "That I'm never going to hear the end of this, ne Nabiki?"
"You are kawaii but I think teasing Ranma is more fun," Nabiki commented and then gave her baby sister an evil grin, "Besides, I heard a rumor, USAGI-CHAN."
"Ne? Ne?" the twenty-one year old "bunny" asked, eyes narrowing.
"A-ka-ne's got a boy-friend!" the college coed sang.
"Baka! You promised you wouldn't tell!" Akane accused Ranma.
"I didn't!" he protested, holding up his hands, "Honest!"
"Well if you didn't, Ranma, who did?"
"Kuno," Nabiki supplied with annoyance. "He showed up at my dorm mourning your loss. The way he was talking, I thought you were dead or dying."
"I'm not but he'll be!" Akane raged.
"Oh don't worry, Imouto-chan. I took care of him for you."
"Um... Maybe I shouldn't really know, 'Nee-chan, but my sick sense of humor wants to so ne, what did you do?"
Nabiki grinned. "I told him that Azusa wanted to date him because she thought he was the coolest guy."
Akane cackled. "Oh, you are cruel, 'Nee-chan!" One of her ears drooped. "Oh, well I guess I should go change out of this baka thing. I'll see you both downstairs later." She winked and with that, she left the room.
'She's changed for the better.' Since Akane hit her second growth spurt and filled out, her attitudes matured as well. Nabiki smiled. "Is he a nice guy, Ran-chan?"
He nodded. "Very nice. One of the advanced students. Your dad introduced them." Ranma grimaced. "I had to protect him from Ryouga though."
"Speaking of old flames, Ran-chan," Nabiki turned to regard him. "Did you ever find anything out about Shampoo? We haven't heard anything from her since what five years ago, when they went back to China?"
"It's in limbo." The young man shook his head.
"Don't worry. I'm sure things will work out. No news on the Kasumi front, Ran-chan?" The young man shook his head. "I wish she'd find somebody."
"She's happy," Ranma commented while stoking one of Nabiki's long brown pigtails.
"Are you happy?" He just gave her a silly grin. "It's a beautiful evening. Can we go for a walk later?" Nabiki asked him.
"Good, Ran-chan, I want to talk about a couple of things."
"Ne, like what?"
"Oh... Like, how much I miss you and how I can sneak you back into my dorm room." She giggled impishly as Ranma blushed. Then before he could say anything, she took his head in her hands and kissed him gently, softly. 'Go to sleep, Na-chan.'
Nabiki snuggled against him and sighed in sheer bliss. It was nice having a fiancé.
The End of "Innocence of Mine"
# # # # #
Authors' Afterwords: (Doug Helm)
Firstly, a large thank you to those who took the time to comment. We appreciate them greatly!
An exceptionally long story, longer than we had initially planned actually. Ranma is generally blamed (fairly or not) for the chaos around him. I suggested to Will one time a story idea in which Ranma was not only blameless but quite unaware of most of the events.
I suppose Nabiki morphed to be the central character in this piece because I wanted to see Ranma take some revenge. Of course, it would have been too easy just to plunk Nabiki down into a super-brat kid and let Ranma be the disciplinarian of the family. We both found the way that we did this much more satisfying.
If you notice that our plots wander, well they do. We have a basic rough outline of where we're headed and then hand the reins over to the muse.
We're going back to our open concept original series to let our brains take a break.
Authors' Afterwords: (Will Wolfshohl)
Like Doug, I would like to thank those of you who read the story especially those who took the time to comment. "Innocence of Mine" is our second Ranma ½ story. Our first being "Just A Little Time".
When Doug presented the kernel for this story after we finished "The Storm" (a Sailor Moon story), I was instantly hooked. How would the normally cool and calculating Nabiki Tendo cope with Kaji, a demonic arbiter, who could alter her and reality itself? What was his ultimate purpose?
Doug and I like to put characters through hell and then let them get out of it using their intellect, attributes, and wits leaving room for plenty of character development and a little fluff. We write the outline but the characters tend to have a mind of their own. We try to interfere as little as possible and act as conduits to relay their thoughts, feelings, and adventures to you. We hope we did a good job.
Thanks again and please read our many other stories at Shoujo Fiction.
"Tuxedo" Will Wolfshohl
Shoujo Fiction™ and the Shoujo Fiction™ logo are a Trademark of Douglas Helm and Will Wolfshohl. Copyrighted ©2002-2003, All Rights Reserved.