I am a poor starving artist with no intentions of making money off of this. I own absolutely none of the characters herein, and have created this sheerly for my own enjoyment and the enjoyment of anyone who reads it. Please don't sue me.
This Side Down
No Need For Fiancees
Nerima was the FIRST place you'd expect to see weird things happening. As it was the home of both Tomobiki High School and Mishima Heavy Industries, its residents had long become used to the odd goings-on that seemed drawn towards Nerima like iron filings to a magnet. However, the sight of a giant panda chasing a small red-haired girl through the market was a new one.
The girl was tiny, even considering her age. Her hair was cropped very short, save for a small rat-tail at the base of her neck. She wore a red Chinese silk shirt and black loose-fitting pants, tied around the ankles. She leapt into the air as the panda pounced, and as she landed, pulled a wooden bokuto from the top of her pack.
By now, a small crowd was forming. Murmurs filled the air.
"Big one, too."
"Who's the girl?"
The panda assumed a combat stance.
"Your move, old man."
The panda growled, and lashed out. The girl parried the attack.
"You've got no right." She swung the sword, and was parried. "Trying to pick my fiancee for me! I don't even wanna get married." She lashed out again, and knocked the panda down.
"You can forget about it, old man. I'm going back to see Grandfather." She sheathed her bokuto and turned to leave.
The panda dropped the signpost it had just used to brain the girl, scooped her up and proceeded on his way.
Hi! Bringing my son from China!
Soun Tendo, his eyes tearing badly, stared at the postcard he held in his hand. "At long last, Genma is bringing his son! Now our families can finally be united!" He grinned. "I must tell the girls! Kasumi! Nabiki! Akane!"
Akane concentrated on the three cinder blocks placed in front of her, raised her hand, and brought it down as hard as she could. The impact shattered the top two blocks.
"Ah! Not bad!"
Akane glanced up. Her sister Nabiki was at the door of the dojo, camera in hand.
"There, you see? That's exactly why all the guys at school think you're weird."
"So who cares, Nabiki? Not everyone thinks the world revolves around BOYS!" The amount of venom Akane put behind the word was astonishing.
"No? Then I guess this won't interest you."
"Daddy's got some news. He's called a family meeting. Apparently, he make some kind of promise to an old friend of his. Dad just got a letter from him saying he's back in town, and apparently they'll be coming here sometime today."
"Yeah. Daddy promised to engage one of us to this friend's son."
"WHAT? I'm gonna kill him! I mean, who does he think he is?"
"He thinks he's our father. Happens he's right. Anyway, I'm gonna get changed for company."
"What's wrong with what you're wearing?" Akane glanced at Nabiki's shirt and shorts.
"I want my good kimono. After all, this guy might be cute...or rich."
The three Tendo sisters sat at the table across from their father. Soun glanced at the postcard he still held in his hand, then looked up at his daughters.
"My old friend Saotome Genma is coming here, and bringing his son. If one of you were to marry him, and carry on the dojo, then the Tendo legacy would be secure."
"Hold it." Akane looked angry. Not that this was new. "Don't we get a say in who we're gonna marry?"
"Akane's right, Father." Kasumi looked concerned. "We've never even met this boy."
"Well, that's easily fixed. I got a phone call about half an hour ago, and they'll be here any minute."
"They live nearby?"
"No, no. Genma's wife, Nodoka, resides in Juuban, but Genma and his son have been on a voyage of training. They've just come back from a trip to China."
"Wow!" Nabiki leaned forward across the table.
Akane scowled. "So what's so great about walking to China?"
"Is he cute?"
"How old is he? He'd better be older than me." Kasumi was scowling. "Younger men bore me."
"What kind of person is this boy?"
Soun grinned. "I have no idea."
Nabiki frowned. "No idea?"
"I've never met him."
"Let go of me, you old fool!"
The shout came from the gate of the Tendo compound. Kasumi jumped to her feet.
"We have visitors!"
"It must be the Saotomes!" Nabiki ran to the front door. "I can't wait to meet--" She stopped dead in her tracks.
Framed in the front door was a panda. A huge panda. A panda of truly frightful proportions. A panda currently carrying a small red-haired girl thrown over his shoulder.
Soun and Kasumi rounded the corner, and were also brought to a complete halt.
"Ummm...Father, this isn't your friend, is it?"
Soun, rendered speechless, could only shake his head.
"Oh, so a panda just decided to stop in and visit! Happens all the time, right?" Nabiki had managed to find her tongue.
Soun again shook his head.
"Hey, put me down! You're scaring them spitless!" The girl was yelling at the top of her lungs and flailing ineffectually against the panda's grip. The panda, obligingly, set her down.
Soun stared at the small person before him.
She gazed back uncomfortably.
"You...you wouldn't be..."
"Masaki Tenchi. Sorry about this..."
"At last you've come!" Soun seized the girl in a bone-crushing hug. A puzzled expression crossed his face, and he stepped back. "What--"
For the second time in as many minutes, Soun was struck dumb.
Nabiki glanced at Tenchi and frowned. She stepped up to the girl and poked her chest.
"Um, could you stop that, please."
Nabiki stepped back and turned to her father.
"'He' is a girl!"
Soun, who had only just realized this, nodded dumbly, just before he passed out.
"Poor Daddy. He was so disappointed." Kasumi wrang out the facecloth and placed it on Soun's forehead. The Tendo patriarch was stretched out on the family room floor, covered with a blanket. At the cool contact, he stirred, and his eyes fluttered.
"HE's disappointed? What kind of fiance is this?"
"Nabiki, behave. He...she is our guest."
Nabiki scowled down at her father. "This is all your fault, Daddy. Why didn't you make sure?"
"Saotome told me he had a son, and it is traditional for a son to be a boy!"
Nabiki reached over and grabbed Tenchi's breast. "You see a son here? Hm? Do you?"
"Um...I really wish you'd stop that."
Akane stepped in to save their guest from further harassment--Nabiki was no fun at all to be around when she was torqued about something. "Hey, Tenchi. Wanna see the dojo?"
"I'm Akane. You want to be friends?"
The smaller girl smiled hesitantly back at her. "Sure."
"So, do you practise kempo?"
"Not really. I do a lot of kendo, mostly."
"Huh? But I thought your dad trained you."
"He did, some, but most of my training was done by my grandfather. I know some kempo, and the musabetsa kakotou, but normally I practise kendo."
"I REALLY hope you're not some kind of samurai wannabe..."
"No. Actually, I want to work at a temple." The girl had come out of her shell and was proving an animated and spirited talker.
"Well, if your kenpo isn't up to snuff, you could probably do with a bit of practise. Wanna spar?"
"Don't worry, it'll just be for fun. I won't hurt you."
"If you say so..."
The two girls bowed to the dojo's shrine, then to each other. Akane assumed a basic stance. Tenchi just stood there, hands clasped in front of her.
"Ummm...Tenchi, you gonna get ready?"
"Okay..." Akane stepped forward and launched a punch. Tenchi parried it quickly and efficiently, with a slight twist in the wrist. Definitely a kendo-ka, Akane thought. She kicked, aiming about chest level, and Tenchi leaned to the side, avoiding the attack altogether. Akane threw a flurry of punches at her, and each time, Tenchi evaded the attack, dodging to the side, downward and once leaning backward.
Akane was starting to get frustrated. Is she reading my moves? And why isn't she hitting back? She threw another blow, and again Tenchi simply avoided it.
"What's wrong? Swing at me!"
"Um...okay." Tenchi threw a shot, aiming at head level...and Akane realized why the girl hadn't attacked earlier. The shot left her horribly off-balance and unguarded. Akane reflexively blocked the shot, and counterattacked, sending the smaller girl sprawling.
"Oh! Sorry, Tenchi."
"It's okay, I guess." Tenchi picked herself up and dusted herself off. "I kinda suck without weapons, y'know?"
"Your defense without a sword is excellent."
"Yeah. Grandfather used to make me practise defense without a sword. Said I'd need to be able to stay alive without one long enough to get to one."
"Well, I'm just glad you're not a boy."
"It's just...you're so much better than me on defense, and I'm betting if you'd had a sword, you'd have beaten me easily. I'd really hate to lose to a boy."
For some reason, Tenchi looked extremely uncomfortable.
"Hey, sis? Who's that guy in the front room with Daddy?"
"No idea. But could you take these to them?"
"Sure." Nabiki took the beer bottles Kasumi was holding out to her and went back into the family room.
Kasumi placed a pot lid on the pan of stir fry she was cooking, picked up the small pile of bath supplies, and went in search of Tenchi.
She found her sitting on the front porch, staring at the garden. She knelt beside her.
"Dinner will be ready soon. Wouldn't you like to take a bath before you eat?"
"Um, no, that's okay..."
"No, it's not. Here's a towel and some soap. The bathroom's over there. Enjoy yourself."
Akane stepped into the laundry room and and unbound her hair. She noticed Tenchi's red shirt in the laundry hamper.
Looks like Tenchi's already in the bath.
She stripped down, grabbed her towel, and stepped into the bathroom.
And froze at the sight of a young man getting out of the furo.
Both of them stood there for a second.
Then Akane slowly closed the bathroom door. She pulled on her gi jacket, stepped outside of the laundry room, and closed the door behind her.
She ran through the house until she came to the family room, where her father and his guest were sitting. She ran into the garden and grabbed a statue.
"I'll weigh him down! I'll drown him in the bathtub!"
Nabiki had just come into the family room. "Akane, what's wrong?"
"There's a pervert in the bathroom!"
"So why didn't you flatten him?"
"I was surprised, okay? Get out of my way!"
"That's odd." Kasumi looked puzzled. "Tenchi was in the bath just now."
A male voice broke into the discussion. "Excuse me..."
The three sisters turned towards the new voice. Nabiki was the first one to find her tongue.
"Ummm...who are you?"
The newcomer was a thin young man, with close-cropped brown hair, and he was wearing the clothing that Tenchi was wearing when she had arrived.
"I'm Masaki Tenchi. Sorry about this..."
"This is my old, dearest friend..." Soun gestured towards his guest, a tall, bulky, bespectacled man dressed in a white gi.
"Saotome Genma." The man gestured in turn to the boy seated next to him. "And this is my son."
Akane, now wearing a summer dress, scowled at Tenchi.
Nabiki looked puzzled. "What's this all about?"
"Are you really her?" Kasumi leaned forward. "The same girl?"
Genma touched a finger to his forehead. "Where should I begin? Ah, I know..." He turned and grabbed Tenchi and tossed him into the fish pond.
The red-haired girl surfaced with a pained expression. "Come on, Pop. There had to be a better way to explain!"
The three girls just stared at her. "Now he's a girl!" exclaimed Kasumi.
Genma was in tears. "My own son...so humiliating, so humiliating!"
"Who are you to talk?" Tenchi growled. "At least I don't turn into a panda!"
"Of course." Nabiki nodded thoughfully. "You're the panda that brought her...him!...here. Right?"
Genma nodded. "It happened about two weeks ago. We had travelled to the Qinghai province of China, to an ancient training ground called Jushenkyo - a place filled with small pools. There we battled, jumping from pole to pole, until we fell into the pools. Now we are cursed."
Soun entered the room, carrying a kettle. "If I understand the curses, cold water makes you take your cursed form, and hot water changes you back to your normal self?"
"Yes, that's right, Tendo."
Soun turned to Tenchi with the kettle. "When doused with cold water, you become a girl. But hot water turns you back to a boy."
Tenchi raised a hand. "Ummm...hot water, not boiling."
"All right then! Your problem is not so bad after all!"
"My daughters. Kasumi, age nineteen. Nabiki. Age seventeen. And Akane. Sixteen. Pick the one you want. She'll be your fiancee."
"Now wait a-"
"Oh, he wants Akane," said Kasumi.
"Huh?" Akane stared at her older sister in surprise.
"Definitely," added Nabiki.
Akane went from surprised to enraged. "You must be joking! Why would I be-"
Nabiki grinned. "Well, you hate boys, right?"
"So you're in luck. Tenchi's half girl!"
"There's no way I'm marrying that pervert!"
Tenchi recoiled slightly; Akane's glare could melt tool steel. "Ummm...it's obvious that none of you three want to be engaged to me. And I don't blame you. I don't want to be engaged to any of you either."
Akane's glare intensified. "Why not? Aren't we good enough?"
"That's not what I meant! Look, I just met you three. I don't really know any of you. So I'm not gonna pick a fiancee blind. Pop tells me we'll be here a while, so--"
"No, Tenchi." Genma adjusted his glasses. "You must choose now."
"Ummm...Tendo-san? Could I borrow your phone? I'll pay the long distance charges..."
Genma paled. "On second thought, Tenchi, you are right. Get to know the girls better first. Yes, good idea."
"Trust me, Tendo. It's better this way..."
"Quick thinking, Tenchi."
"Thanks, Akane." Akane and Tenchi - now restored to male form - were sitting in the garden. Akane had calmed down from her earlier rage.
Though, though Tenchi, I'm willing to bet that anger is never far below the surface with this girl.
"But why did your dad bail so quickly?"
Tenchi grinned. "Has to do with the fact that he's thoroughly terrified of my grandfather."
Akane snickered. "Ahhh...So, mind if I ask you a few questions?"
"Isn't that what I was arguing in favour of?"
"Right. So why is your name Masaki and not Saotome?"
"Well, my mother, Genma's first wife, died when I was very young, six months old. Genma remarried, but grandfather insisted that I be kept in the Masaki family records. Nodoka was very kind to me, but she never failed to remind me that she wasn't my mother."
Akane stared at him in shock. "You call that kind?"
"No, no...Nodoka was a very good friend of my mother, and I think distantly related. She grew up with her, and she told me so many wonderful stories of what Achika was like when she was still alive."
Akane sighed wistfully. "I wish I'd had someone like that..."
"What do you mean?"
"My mom died when I was seven. I remember what she was like, but I have none of her stories. Daddy can't talk about her without breaking down, and Kasumi knows only a little." She pulled her knees close to her chest and rested her chin on them. "So I really know nothing about her."
"Don't be. At least you know what your mother was like."
"At least you remember yours."
Akane smiled slightly. "True. I guess we got evenly shafted."
Tenchi grinned. "Guess so. So what else do you want to know?"
"What's your grandfather like?"
"Ah. Grandfather Masaki Katsuhito. He's a wise and crafty old man, but he has odd ways of showing it. If you don't know him, you'd swear he was an idiot. He taught me kendo, and helped me adapt Anything Goes to swordplay. He is a bit odd, though." Tenchi grinned. "I've caught him talking to trees once or twice."
"Well, one tree in particular. There's this big old tree that grows behind the shrine. I'm not even sure what kind it is. There's nothing else like it in the forest."
Akane's eyes had drifted to the horizon, and she hugged her knees closer to her chest. "Tell me about the shrine."
"Well, the shrine was built to protect a cave where a demon lies sleeping..." Tenchi broke off suddenly, turning pale.
"Tenchi? What's wrong."
"...nothing. Bad memory, I guess."
Tenchi finished unpacking and stepped back to examine his work. He'd packed for a training trip to China - mostly gis and Chinese outfits, including a Maoist uniform - but had brought along a couple of pairs of jeans and some t-shirts, just in case. He grabbed a change of clothing and pulled himself into them. He'd just finished changing when there was a knock at the door.
Kasumi opened the door and stepped in. "Tenchi, do you have any laundry that needs doing? I'm putting in a load of towels, and there's still room."
"Um, sure, Kasumi-san. And I can help you with that, if you want." He grabbed the clothes he had been wearing and handed them to her. "Thank you for asking. I have some more, still in my pack..." He reached over and pulled the clothing out of the pack. As he did so, a small, heavy metal object fell from the pack and landed on the floor.
"Oh, my. I hope that's okay."
"Hm? Oh, don't worry." Tenchi picked the object up and held it out to her. "Here, your one and only chance to hold a holy relic."
"Relic?" Kasumi's hand flew to her mouth.
"Yep. This is the pommel from the hero Yosho's sword."
"Really?" Kasumi took the pommel and examined it closely. Despite the patina of rust that covered the surface, the pommel was still quite beautiful. It was formed of three strands of braided steel that met at quillons at one end. At the other end were three tiny beads arranged in a triangular pattern.
"How is it you're carrying a relic around with you?"
"Grandfather told me that I was heir to Yosho, that if I could get the keys to the cave away from him, whatever I found inside was mine. Well, I found Yosho's sword, but the blade had rusted away to nothing."
"Keys to the cave..."
"Yes. There was an iron fence across the front. Grandfather carried the keys with him everywhere he went. But I managed to get them away from him last time I was there, at the beginning of the summer."
"So he knows you have this, then?"
"No, I didn't tell him. But he could probably do the math. I left the keys on his dining room table right before we left. But don't tell Pop, okay? He probably'd have a heart attack."
"I think I could understand that. After all, I nearly did."
Nabiki sat at the table across from Tenchi, keeping one eye on him and the other on the stopwatch in her hand.
"Hi, Grandpa. It's Tenchi."
"Not bad. You?"
"Good. Listen, Pops and I are at the Tendos'. He wants me to marry one of the girls here..."
"Well, if you're sure about it...Listen, could you pack up some of my clothing and send it out here?"
"Yes, thanks. You have the address here?"
"Yeah, I've got it."
"What do you mean, I'll need it?"
Nabiki glanced up. Tenchi seemed very upset about something. He stared at the phone in shock. "He hung up on me! Crazy old man..."
Nabiki clicked her stopwatch. "Looks like you owe about a hundred and thirty yen, Tenchi."
"Hm? Oh, sure. Here." He passed her a couple of hundred-yen coins. Nabiki counted out his change.
"So what did you grandfather have to say?"
"He's supporting this engagement thing. He said that I have to marry one of you three." Tenchi shook his head in disbelief. "At least he said that I don't have to actually marry any of you until I'm thirty..."
"Wow. He sure plans in advance."
"...but he definitely wants me to pick one of you three before the end of the year."
Nabiki glanced at the calendar. "Well, that gives you about five months of grace."
"Guess so." He shook his head again. "I can't believe he's making me do this."
"Could be worse, I suppose. Though I don't see how."
"So, Tenchi. Got any income?"
"Not at this time. Why?"
"Well, I'm not gonna be too happy if I have to support two freeloading houseguests."
"What do you mean?"
"You do eat, don't you?"
"Yeah...but I thought...why would you have to support us?"
"I take care of the dojo's finances."
"All right, fair enough." Tenchi sighed. "I hate to admit it, but I'm broke. Pop could probably get a job in town, and I can help out around the house."
"Kasumi handles most of that."
"But what about the garden?" He gestured out the kitchen window. "It's obvious that whomever does the gardening, it's starting to get away from them. I kind of have a green thumb, I could help out there. Plus I'm fairly handy with repairs."
She chuckled. "All right, you've sold me. Labour in exchange for room and board. But don't worry, I shall keep you quite busy."
"Say twenty hours a week. Slightly less than a part time job."
He nodded. "Sounds fair."
She blinked. "I was expecting you to bargain down."
He grinned. "No problems. I'm used to work. I used to help out at Grandfather's shrine, remember?"
"A good point." She leaned forward. "Can I ask you a...personal question?"
"What does the change feel like?"
He shrugged. "It's barely noticeable. Just a ripple, and I'm through."
"Hm." She frowned. "I would have thought it'd be painful. I mean, you must lose about twenty kilograms, just like that."
"Nope. No pain at all."
"So do you mind it?"
"The curse?" Tenchi scowled. "It's a real pain. Always ends up going off at the wrong time. Not to mention that since I'm smaller and thinner in female form, I tend to...fall out of my clothing..."
"I could see that being a problem." She grinned. "But do you mind being female?"
"That's kind of odd..." He scratched his head. "Not so much as I though it would. I mean, it throws my center of balance way out of whack, so I sometimes trip over my own feet. But I've found I can understand women more when I am one." He grinned. "Not that that makes any sense to me. I mean, I'm only female physically after the change. Not mentally."
"So, Tenchi. Have you chosen one of the girls yet?"
Genma and Tenchi were currently inverted in the dojo. Tenchi really didn't see the advantage of meditating while balanced on one's head, but...
"C'mon, pop. I've only had a couple of hours to get to know them. Grandfather said I had five months. And I'm gonna use all five befure making a choice. Understand?"
"What I understand is that you are delaying, boy!" Genma rolled to his feet. "Are you trying to dishonour the clan?"
Tenchi shrugged as well as he could while upside down. "All I'm saying, pop, is that if I've gotta marry one - and apparently I do, even Grandfather insists - then I wanna make sure it's the right one. I've got until the end of the year. I'm gonna spend that time getting to know the girls better. You see a problem with this?"
Genma saw several problems with this, but in light of the fact that Tenchi was at least accepting the idea of marrying a Tendo, and in light of the fact that Katsuhito had backed him up on the delay - and in light of the fact that Genma was terrified of Katsuhito - he kept his peace.