I Want a Refund!

Chapter 1: A Simple Solution

………

………

It was the last day of spring vacation. Nabiki was sitting in the living room, filling out orders for her business when she heard the front door open.

"We're home," Akane said in a tired voice.

"Welcome back sis," Nabiki said. "How was the honeymoon?"

Akane dropped the suitcases with a thud. Her eye was twitching. "Don't ask."

"Why, what happened? Were you and Ranma fighting again?"

"Ranma wasn't the problem. For once," Akane said

"Then what—?"

Wham! Ranma dumped the rumpled form of Tatewaki Kuno at her feet. He was facedown, but Nabiki recognized him by his kendo clothes, which were thoroughly splattered with mud. Kuno's wooden sword was broken and his hair was sticking up.

"So," Nabiki said. "Is that my souvenir or Kasumi's?"

Strings of hair poked out of Ranma's pigtail. "Whoever wants him can keep him as far as I'm concerned," he said.

Shouts of congratulations came from outside. Akane had gone out by the carp pond where Soun, Genma, and Kasumi were. Ranma didn't move. His hands were clenched into tight fists, and he stared at Kuno like some sort of bug he'd clearly like to squash.

Nabiki crawled over to Kuno, and pushed him with a finger, so that he was front side up. Not that his front side was any better. There was a red mark across his face and several bumps across his head. He still clutched at a bunch of thorny stems, and red petals were stuck to the front of his shirt.

"Who was he after this time, you or Akane?" Nabiki said.

"Me," Ranma said. "Definitely me. Or the pigtailed girl, I should say. What rotten luck, running into him there. And it was raining all week."

"Hm," Nabiki said.

"I can't take this anymore!" Ranma said. "Everyone else, they get it. Me and Akane are married now, so they leave us alone. But he—" Ranma kicked him. "He just doesn't get it. How long is this going to go on? Forever?"

Kuno stirred. "Oh… pigtailed girl…"

Ranma wacked him, and Kuno went unconscious again.

"Well, it seems you have a problem," Nabiki said. "Maybe I can help."

Ranma's face lit up. "Really?"

"Yep. How much money do you have on you?"

"I have to pay? Come on, Nabiki!"

"How much?"

Ranma took out his wallet. "1500 yen."

"That's it?"

"It was our honeymoon."

"Did you bring me any souvenirs?"

"Uh…"

Nabiki crossed her arms. "Not much of an offer Ranma. If Kuno learns the truth, I lose my best customer."

"Nabiki, can you really do it?" Akane said. She was standing in the doorway, looking hopeful. "Please, can't you just get rid of him for us? It's hard enough being married without having a third person always tagging along."

Nabiki sighed. She was really getting to be too nice.

"Fine," she said, snatching Ranma's 1500 yen from his fingers. "Consider it a wedding present, then. But the next time you go on a trip, you'd better bring me back something good."

She dragged Kuno the rest of the way into the living room.

"All right," Nabiki said. "Akane, I need a pitcher of ice water, a kettle of hot water, and the tea and cookies Kasumi made. Ranma, be ready to come in when I call you. I need space and total privacy. Got it!"

They nodded and moved. When everything was prepared, Nabiki shut the doors.

Kuno groaned. He was really pitiful, now that she thought about it. All bruised and dirty like that. She felt sorry for him. Maybe she should let him sleep a little longer.

"Pigtailed girl…soon you will be mine…"

Okay, she didn't feel that sorry for him. Nabiki smacked him with a slipper.

"Kuno-baby. Time to wake up, now."

………

Through the shadows and the pain came a light tapping. Above him, a girl. His pigtailed goddess! But no—for when she turned away, her swishing hair was shorter and of a different color. Someone else. No doubt some other gentle maid who had fallen in love with his defeated yet still magnificent personage.

"You have my thanks..." Tatewaki Kuno said. "I shall not forget this noble gesture… nursing me to health…"

"Yeah, no problem, Kuno-baby."

Nabiki? Kuno rose from the floor, flinching for but an instant as a wave of vertigo split his head. Indeed, now that his eyesight had stopped swimming, he could perceive that it was in fact Nabiki. Not his love, nor some mysterious beauty, but his classmate, the mercenary of Furinkan High.

"Nabiki Tendo, what are you doing here?" he said.

"Where else would I be?" she said. "It's my house."

So it was. "How did I get here?"

"That's not important right now," Nabiki said. "What's important is that you listen to what I have to say. There's something I need to tell you about the pigtailed girl."

"You know where she is?" Kuno said. "You know where the villain Saotome has hidden her, what foul curses he has used to ensnare her? The fiend! He has married Akane Tendo, my lovely Akane, fair and mild as the dawn, and yet he refuses to relinquish the pigtailed girl. My poor pigtailed girl, like a beautiful rose crushed beneath the heel of a savage. I will vanquish the sorcerer! I will free her, once and for all, and claim her as my own!"

Nabiki took a cookie from a plate and munched on it.

"And now," Kuno said, "you will tell me what has become of my love."

"Promise you won't interrupt?"

"You have my solemn oath."

"Okay." Nabiki put the rest of her cookie down. "The pigtailed girl is Ranma. Whenever he gets splashed with cold water, he changes into a girl. Hot water changes him back."

Kuno waited patiently for the words Nabiki spoke to make sense.

"Did you get that?" she said.

" 'The pigtailed girl is Ranma. Whenever he gets splashed with cold water, he changes into a girl.' " Kuno repeated. "I cannot for the life of me fathom what you are talking about. Where has the sorcerer Ranma hidden my pigtailed girl?"

"You want to see her?" Nabiki stood up. "Okay, I'm going to show you the pigtailed girl. But I want you to watch very carefully, Kuno-baby. Just watch. If you try to hug her or whatever, you'll never learn the secret."

So there was a secret. Kuno felt himself tremble with excitement. He had waited long for this, so very long. How many nights he'd dreamt of freeing the pigtailed girl that they might date together in blissful love, to then be woken by the harsh sunlight and know that for another day she belonged to Ranma. But now it would change. Soon, she would be his.

"Very well," Kuno said. "Though true love such as ours demands action, I shall this one time restrain myself for the sake of our future together."

"Good." Nabiki picked up the pitcher in one hand and the kettle in the other and walked over to the door. "Ranma, you can come in now."

"Yeah, Nabiki?"

Nabiki tipped the pitcher, and a stream of water landed on black head of Ranma Saotome. But no—now the water landed on the head of his beloved pigtailed girl. Though dressed in the same clothes as Ranma, her figure was soft and feminine, a Venus made to flesh. When she shook out her glossy pigtail, beads of water splashed onto Kuno's skin.

"Geez, that water's freezing," the pigtailed girl said.

There was such vigor in her words, such strange and wonderful strength. Passion swelled in Kuno's chest, and had not Nabiki held up a finger in warning, very likely he would have run to her. But he remembered—if he did not learn her secret now, they would never be together—and so, with great regret, Kuno held himself back.

Nabiki held up the kettle and poured hot water onto the pigtailed girl's head. In a swirl of steam, she vanished, and there stood his hated rival, Ranma.

"Ouch! That's hot!" he said.

"Sorry Ranma," Nabiki said. "You can go now."

Like a dog, he shook out his pigtail and sent water flying, before exiting the room.

"Do you get it now?" Nabiki said. "The pigtailed girl is Ranma."

Kuno frowned. Although he had watched Nabiki's demonstration with the utmost care, he still did not understand the pigtailed girl's secret, and Nabiki's cryptic words were just as incomprehensible. Yet something pulled at the back of his mind, something dim and hazy and troubling. A memory of some sort. What was it?

Nabiki sat down again. She poured hot water from the kettle into a tea pot and swirled it around. A kettle? Nabiki took out two small porcelain cups and put one in front of him.

"You look tense, Kuno-baby," she said. "Would you like some tea?"

Tea. Kettle. To the Kettle-Borne Pigtailed Girl, he wrote in his first love letter to her. The day he met his future love, she was hanging upside down in a tree, struggling for some reason to hold a kettle. She was wet. That same day, he had chased Ranma out the window of the school building and they fell into the pool below. Kuno reached out to grab Ranma, only to find himself grasping a struggling young woman instead. His pigtailed girl. But where had Ranma gone? Where had the pigtailed girl come from? He had never figured that out.

The pigtailed girl is Ranma, Nabiki had said.

The pigtailed girl… is Ranma?

The pigtailed girl… is Ranma!

In an instant, the nature of Ranma's sorcery became clear: Ranma had not been hiding the pigtailed girl, he had been turning into the pigtailed girl.

Kuno had been chasing a boy the whole time. Not a girl, a boy. And no ordinary boy, but his hated rival, the villain Saotome. The blissful dates he'd been on with the pigtailed girl had been dates with Ranma. The times he had embraced her, it was Ranma he held close. The photographs he'd purchased and gazed at long into the night. Ranma, Ranma, Ranma.

Kuno burst into laughter. "Hahahahaha!"

He felt a sense of elation, as though it was the most beautiful day, and the sky was blue and the grass was green and the birds twittered happily in the sky above. Kuno was as light-headed as the birds. He felt like he could fly. He was flying! No, he was falling! But when his head smacked the table, Kuno didn't feel any pain. Just a pleasant tingling and a smattering of rainbows.

Splash.

Kuno opened his eyes. Hot water dripped down his face. Nabiki stood before him, an empty teacup in her hand.

"You all right?" she said.

"Nabiki Tendo, I just had the most amusing dream. You told me the pigtailed girl was Ranma. Imagine that. My most dearly treasured love and my most cursed nemesis the very same person."

Nabiki sighed. "Okay, let's try this again."

………

To Kuno's credit, he didn't faint this time. For that matter, he didn't laugh, cry, or destroy the house in a fit of rage. He sat stiffly in a formal position with his hands on his thighs like a samurai from a drama, his face utterly expressionless. Nabiki wasn't sure if he was in shock or just clueless.

"So…you understand the situation?" she said.

"You have made your point abundantly clear," Kuno said. "The pigtailed girl is Ranma. Ranma is the pigtailed girl. They are the same."

"Then you understand why Ranma and Akane would appreciate it if you stopped your…er, courtship…of the pigtailed girl."

"You may tell Akane that I will never pursue her husband again," he said. His hands were balled up so tightly into his legs it was wrinkling the fabric of his kendo outfit. "Was there anything else you wished to inform me of, Nabiki Tendo?"

"No, Kuno-baby, that was just about it," Nabiki said.

"Then I will take my leave."

Kuno stood up and strode out the door. Except for the small fact that his complexion was a few shades paler than usual, he seemed fine. She would even say, composed. Nabiki underestimated him. Once it sunk into his head, Kuno had actually taken the news very well.

From outside came a scream. "RANMA SAOTOME, SHAPESHIFTING SORCEROR, YOU WILL DIE!!!"

Nabiki smiled. Yep, very well. She poured herself a cup of tea. In a way, it made her feel a little sad. She wouldn't be able to sell Kuno any more photographs, so now she had no reason to talk to him during the school day. And when she thought of all the money she was losing, her steadiest source of income, it made her want to cry.

………

Author's note: Why isn't Kuno mad at Nabiki? Don't worry, he will be. It's coming in the next chapter….

By the way, 100 yen is roughly a dollar, so 1500 yen is the equivalent of 15 dollars. The Japanese school year ends in March and starts in April, after a brief (two week) spring vacation.