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Ranma fan fiction

Started - 2 January 2000

Completed pending

Last revised - 26 April 2006

Reason - typos

Disclaimer: Ranma and all associated characters are the property of Rumiko Takahashi. This fan-fiction isn't intended for commercial use but is rather a tribute to the 'ranma-universe' idea.

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Nabiki's Honor by Cloud Dreamer

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Story starts over a year before Ranma & Akane graduate from high school, a few months after the aborted wedding attempt and the end of the Ranma manga.

. . . . . book one of story arc . . . . . .

Ranma sat down at the table, looking for a clear place to put his bowl of ramen. There were stacks of college catalogs everywhere. He started to push them aside only to hear, "Don't you dare Saotome. I'm using the table so go away until I'm done," hissed Nabiki.

"What cha doin Nabiki?" asked Ranma, barely hiding his disinterest.

"I'm shopping for a college; evaluating the course offerings, the living arrangements, the costs and available scholarships," calmly replied Nabiki not even taking her eyes off the material spread out in front of her as she read and made notes.

"Aww, watcha wanta go to college for. You're already an expert at blackmail and extortion," Ranma grinned at her.

Nabiki turned icy eyes to him, "Oh I don't know, maybe a little more practice would be nice," as she speculatively eyed him.

Ranma blanched and started to rise only to have a pair of hands rest on his shoulders and hold him down.

Akane spoke sharply to Ranma, "Ranma, that wasn't a nice thing to say to my sister!"

Ranma scratched the back of his head. In a puzzled voice he asked, "But isn't that what you said about her last night after she charged you . . ."

Wham! Splash.

That was as far as Ranma got before Akane tossed him into the pond.

"What'd ya do that for?" mumbled Ranma tiredly.

"Sometimes you don't know when to keep your mouth shut. And why were you heckling Nabiki about college anyway. You are planning on going to college aren't you?" asked Akane.

"Nah," lazily replied Ranma. "Don't see how it has any bearing with me teaching martial arts at the dojo."

"Oh, I see," hissed Akane. "You do realize don't you, that if it wasn't for daddy wanting you to teach at the Tendou dojo, you would have almost no chance in hell of getting a sensei job? You have no teaching experience or credentials. You know nothing about running a business, heck, you can barely even read and write. How do you expect to keep up the business records of the dojo? How do you expect to keep up the student records? Or maybe that is something you're going to 'hire' out because you're too busy. Busy my ass, lazy and ignorant like your old man more likely. Probably end up just as worthless."

Akane stormed off with one last parting shot, "That is NOT who I'm going to marry."

"Ouch!" winced Nabiki as she saw the color fade from Ranma's face.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

"Stupid tomboy," murmured Ranma as he sat on the roof and watched the sun set.

An hour later Ranma spoke again, "Sigh, she's not the stupid one. I guess I am. What do I do now? I wonder if there is some sort of exercise that makes you smart." Ranma sat there watching the stars for another hour. "Nabiki might know. She's the smart one of all of us. Hate to go to her though. Kami knows what she'd have me do to pay her back."

An hour later Ranma made his way back to his room and quietly went to sleep. His rest was troubled with dreams of Akane walking away as he struggled to read signs that told him how to reach her; signs that he couldn't read, doors and windows that he couldn't open.

Ranma woke suddenly midmorning Sunday as he was splashed with cold water. Ranma sighed and looked up at the stormy face of his fiancée. "Yes, Akane? What have I done now to offend you? Looked too peaceful sleeping? Failed to kiss your ass this morning? Maybe just my mere existence is a bother to you?"

Akane backed up. This sarcasm was new and she didn't like it at all even though several of the comments struck home with her. "Damn you. How dare you say such things to me!" She advanced on Ranma who merely sighed and closed her eyes, resignation evident on her face.

Akane stopped. She was about to pound Ranma, but her lifelessness made Akane hesitate. It was all his fault, wasn't it? Sleeping late, being a smartass and hurting her. Ok, so she shouldn't have thrown the cold water, still. Maybe she was out of line. Akane turned and left the room; pounding someone who didn't care merely seemed mean.

"Ranma,"

Ranma turned her head and saw Nabiki standing at the door.

"If you ever say such things to my sister or anyone else in this family, I promise that I will make your life a living hell," hissed Nabiki.

As Nabiki turned to go, Ranma wearily asked, "Would I notice any difference Nabiki? Given the way you, Akane and our dads not to mention my other various suitors treat me, tell me truly Nabiki would I really notice it getting any worse?" Ranma sighed as Nabiki turned back to her. "Some days, some days I really regret that my mom found me manly." With that Ranma rolled over on her wet futon and turned her back to other girl. But not before Nabiki saw the tears start.

Nabiki hesitated, a sense of foreboding making her reconsider their conversation. In the end she simply went downstairs, but resolved to watch Ranma a bit closer. This melancholy was not typical and it bothered her.

Ranma waited until she heard Nabiki start down the stairs before she got up and quickly dressed. She looked at herself in the mirror again and slowly unbraided her hair and brushed it out. Hesitantly at first, but then with hands made firmer by sadness that craved a break, she opened up her closet again and studied the 'other' clothes; clothes that she once used to wear to fool Ryouga or to be Ranko for her mother. Ranma stripped again and dressed in feminine undergarments followed by a sleeveless sky blue dress that featured a knee length full skirt. She finished it off by tying her hair back into a loose ponytail with a matching blue ribbon low against her neck.

Ranma carefully made her way out of her room. First out the window, to the roof, then to the dojo roof and over the back fence, unseen, so she thought. Nabiki saw and wondered.

Ranma made her way to the University library. For part of the past year she had been teaching Nabiki a little bit about how to use her chi but several months ago Nabiki had asked some questions that Ranma had no answers for. That had frustrated Ranma, so he had started looking for some of the answers. He had stumbled onto the esoteric section of the university library during one of his attempts to hide from his pursuing fiancées. Not surprisingly, they had not thought to look for him there.

Ranma had looked over the books but had been having problems finding what he wanted. He had tried asking one of the staff for help but was brusquely brushed off. Ranma had retreated to the hallway and splashed himself with cold water from a drinking fountain.

When she had returned to the shelves, she had several young men, all only a few years older than herself, vying to help her. Ranma had discovered several things that day. One, the library really did have some answers. Two, the guys who hung out at libraries didn't tend to be jerks to girls, maybe they were nerds but they were nice nerds. Three, sometimes, any attention was better than being ignored, but there were even better ways of getting attention than having Akane pound him. Hanging with the library crowd as a girl was a bit dishonest, but it was safe and sort of fun. And sometimes it was what Ranma needed. It was time for Masaki Ranko to go meet with her college friends for a bit of research, a little bit of fun and hopefully a meal too.

Tofu saw Ranma approaching the library files and faded back. He didn't want the young martial artist to spot him so he carefully erased all sense of his presence and watched as Ranma greeted her friends. He had seen this several times and it still puzzled him. But he had struck up conversations with several of the students and found that Ranma didn't flirt, she just seemed lonely and wanted to talk when she wasn't researching chi or magic. Tofu had steered several of the young men to books that would help answer some of Ranma's questions. They in turn had been rewarded by her bright smile. Two had passed out as a result.

Tofu had noticed that Ranma wasn't cocky when she showed up at the library. She didn't appear to want anything more than acceptance. It saddened Tofu to realize that being a girl was the only way that Ranma could gain any measure of happiness at present. In his opinion, Ranma's life sucked. When lunch rolled around, each of the young men shared with Ranma part of the lunch that they either purchased or carried with them. Ranma ate carefully and quietly, not showing any of his father's tendencies toward gluttony. She smiled and gaily talked with each of the guys but carefully shielded herself so that none of them had a chance for a grope or kiss. She did this skillfully in such a way as to not offend them and not seeming to make an obvious effort at it either. In a way, she was the nucleating agent for this little clique of students interested in magic and chi.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Nabiki wondered where Ranma had gone. Several times a month since returning from China and the battle with Saffron, Ranma vanished; sometimes on Sunday like today, sometimes Saturday afternoon. But she always eluded Nabiki and her helpers.

Nabiki did notice that Ranma always returned happier and frequently had an answer for one of Nabiki's questions. Nabiki sighed to herself. Right now, Ranma was her teacher. Nabiki had started studying magic and later chi shortly after Ranma had appeared.

Ranma's curse had shattered Nabiki's reality based world view. As a result she was reconsidering some things that she had once summarily dismissed. Like 'good' and 'bad' luck not to mention karma and the possibility that Kami really did exist and that she would eventually be held responsible for her actions.

For almost a half year she had studied in secret. Only Gos had any inclination that Nabiki was interested in magic and he thought it was for another of her clients that she had raided his library.

But about six months after Ranma arrived from China at their house, Nabiki had finally surrendered to the obvious and quietly asked Ranma to begin teaching her about chi. With some effort she could now form a small ball of chi for a few moments. But the effort left her tired and she didn't seem to be developing any power.

Ranma, on one hand was amazed that she had been able to develop chi at all. On the other hand, him being her teacher did shield him somewhat from her. He was no longer quite as scared of her as he had been before starting to teach her. In some ways they had even become a bit closer, in a business like sort of way.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

When Ranma returned that evening, she did so with chaos intended. She quietly entered and seated herself on the couch and began watching TV. Eventually Akane noticed that Ranma was there and wearing a pretty dress as well.

Akane notified the others of Ranma's return in a too typical manner. She screamed, "RANMA you pervert," and attempted to nail her with a mallet. For the first time anyone could recall, Ranma caught the mallet head with one hand, jerked it out of Akane's grasp and tossed it into the pond. She did this without taking her eyes from the TV screen. She ignored Akane. Akane was beyond mad, but she was also stunned. She sputtered, and finally stomped upstairs after screaming "We are NOT engaged, there is no way I could ever marry a pervert like you. I hate you."

Nabiki was the only one to hear Ranma's whispered reply, "I know."

"Ranma," asked a shaken Nabiki, "where were you all day, and why are you in full girl form?"

"None of your business Tendou," calmly replied Ranma. "Not now, not ever again."

Nabiki slowly rose, this was not good. This was very NOT good. She made her way to Akane's room and entered after a brief perfunctory knock. Akane merely glared at her but Nabiki said nothing, she just stared guilelessly at Akane.

Akane finally sighed, "Ok, Nabiki, why are you in my room?"

"I'm just wondering why you are being so hateful to Ranma. You've been mad at him even before he woke up. Are you on the rag today or something?" asked Nabiki quietly.

Akane flushed, "No, it's not that time of the month thank you. He just makes me so mad and I really hate him."

"He knows," whispered Nabiki. She looked into Akane's eyes. "This time he really knows. You've lost him with your temper today. I don't think he cares anymore about how you feel or anything else. I've never seen him so sad. He has taken your hate into his heart and accepted it as fact. You have truly lost Ranma with your stupidity today." With that she turned and left the room, quietly shutting the door behind her.

"No, no," brokenly cried Akane. Suddenly she bolted down stairs and saw Ranma still on the couch watching TV. There was a battered panda struggling to get out of the pond and her father was passed out, a fist mark evident between his eyes.

Kasumi was standing in shock looking at her father. When she saw Akane she whispered to her, "Oh, my! Ranma nailed daddy's demon head. I didn't think that was possible."

Akane hesitated; this Ranma was different than the one she was used to abusing. This one was dangerous. "Ranma, we need to talk."

"No, not anymore; I'm tired of hurting you. I'm tired of being hurt by you." Ranma sighed and continued without turning to look at her, "Let's just leave it as it is. There is nothing between us except your hate. We are not engaged and tomorrow I'll haul the panda out of here and get out of the Tendou's life."

"I don't hate you. I'm sorry that my temper made me say that," softly stated Akane.

Ranma looked at her without expression. "Akane, tell me. Do you think that Ukyou and Shampoo love me?" Ranma gave her no chance to answer but continued, "They say that they do. Perhaps you've noticed a difference in how they treat me as opposed to how you do. I know you don't love me, and based on the evidence, I'd say there was little doubt that even if you don't hate me, you at least strongly dislike me."

She looked down at herself, "Maybe, I really am a pervert. Kami knows I've heard you and the others saying it often enough, so maybe it's true." She giggled, "You know what's really funny, I'm not even sure what a pervert is."

Akane blanched, "Ranma, it's not you I'm really mad at. It's this forced engagement. It's not having a choice. I really hate that. I feel like something to be bartered, unimportant in myself, a second class citizen. I took it out on you hoping you'd go away, that way I wouldn't have to deal with this engagement."

"Akane," sighed Ranma, "why take it out on me. I didn't have any choice either; at least until today." Ranma stood and looked Akane in the eyes, "Your wish is my command, I renounce the engagement." Ranma's chi blast nailed both fathers as they started to protest, "And I will go away like you wanted me to do."

Ranma turned and walked up the stairs, returning shortly to enter the bathroom with a change of clothes.

By the time Ranma had bathed and dressed, dinner was ready and the family ate quietly for the first time in a long time. Both fathers were still unconscious.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Ranma noticed a change the next morning. His father refused to spar with him saying he'd have nothing to do with an honorless son. A few moments later, Ranma had laughed himself into hysterics, trying to envision his father as a man of honor. His father had angrily attacked him and Ranma had promptly pounded him.

Ranma had sat down at the table only to have Akane happily set . . . something in front of him. Ranma had quietly studied Akane's face, looking for signs of malice. Finally he had shaken his head and taken the plate that Akane had offered. Instead of eating, he had reached over and grabbed Akane's empty plate. He then put half of the contents of his plate onto hers and passed it to her.

"But Ranma, I made that for you!" she protested with anger incipient in her eyes.

"Akane, I have a question for you," catching her eye, he continued, "You've made a lot of meals for me, but not once have I ever seen you taste your own cooking. Why is that?"

"I'm a good cook; I don't need to test my cooking. Now eat this before I get mad," she hissed.

"Ladies first," Ranma smiled as he handed her back her plate.

Akane looked at the stuff on her plate and slowly started to sweat. She raised a portion to her lips and began chewing. The pain was excruciating as she passed out.

"Ranma," chastised Kasumi, "that was mean."

Ranma smiled sadly at the oldest sister and calmly passed his plate to her. "Perhaps you'd care to try what you seem so eager for me to eat." As Kasumi's face blanched, Ranma remarked, "So that's how it is. A façade of caring over a heart callous to those outside the family."

Kasumi's face briefly suffused with anger, the first emotion that Ranma had ever seen on the eldest sister's face. "You cause nothing but chaos in this family, ah, oh my. I'm sorry Ranma," she blandly finished; her face blank, a pleasant smile gracing her lips.

Ranma slowly stood, "I think it's past time that I packed and left this place." He bowed low, "Thank you for your hospitality."

Nabiki had taken Akane to the bathroom and now both emerged; Nabiki angry and Akane shaken. "Ranma," yelled Nabiki but she got no further as Akane pulled her back and placed a hand over her mouth.

"Ranma," Akane wheezed, "was it always like that?"

"Yeah, pretty much," he replied.

"You never told me . . . oh, I guess you did. I just hit you didn't I?" Akane seemed to gather herself. "I'm sorry. I seemed to have screwed up our whole relationship. I would like to try again. This time really try, I don't want a failure like this to haunt me. A sort of 'what if' that no one can really answer. Ranma, I don't hate you. I really do sort of lik . . . like you." She continued even as her face blushed, "I know I have a temper, and I'm sorry I took it out on you. Please, let's try again. Please, I really do sort of like you."

Ranma stood there stunned. He was strongly tempted to reject the appeal but somehow he didn't have that much anger in him. He saw Nabiki behind Akane, her stunned face nodding to Ranma, mouthing 'yes, yes' over and over.

Ranma sighed, ok, for the sake of honor, he'd try once more. "Ok, Akane. But no more temper or cooking. I'm pretty much fed up with both," he quipped.

Ranma made his way to class, for once not on the fence but walking on the sidewalk between Akane and Nabiki.

The morning confrontation with Kuno was also atypical for Ranma. Kuno barely had time to strike a heroic pose and start his morning spiel when Ranma kicked him over the school building and into the pool. That would not have been that unusual except that this kick was to the groin. Ranma said not a single word, he just casually continued on his way to class.

A third of the guys who saw the fight passed out. Even the girls who saw the exchange winced in sympathy for Kuno.

Ranma's schoolmates also noticed another change in Ranma as well. He actually tried to pay attention in class. Several times his eyes momentarily crossed with the effort but for the most part he managed to stay awake. Maybe not aware but awake at least.

That evening after supper, Ranma hesitantly knocked on Nabiki's door. He entered at her answering call and sat on her bed as she turned her desk chair to face him. "Yeah, Saotome, what do you need now?"

Ranma paused, he still wasn't sure this was a good idea. Then he remembered, this was his choice, nobody was forcing him and it was something he needed. "Nabiki, will you teach me how to learn?" He blushed at her dumbfounded stare, "I mean it. I don't have any trouble learning martial arts, but when it comes to school stuff . . . well it just doesn't make any sense and I don't seem to remember it. I . . . I want to try for college but I need some help. Will you help me, please?"

Nabiki grinned, "So what do you have to offer in exchange to make it worth my time?"

Ranma smiled slightly, "You already owe me Nabiki. A year's worth of chi training. A year's worth of silence about your new hobby. But I can offer one more reason. It increases the chances that you won't have to support your sisters or dad for the rest of your life if you help me to become a successful sensei."

Her grin faded into a wince as his words hit true. "You got me there Ranma." She sighed, "It seems that Akane is finally taking the engagement seriously, so I'll take you seriously too. Ok, every evening after supper from now until I leave for college this fall, I want you in my room for training. Got it?"

"Yes, sensei," lightly laughed Ranma as he rose.

"Ranma," replied Nabiki. She waited until she was sure she had his attention. "I want you to stop by and see Cologne. Ask her to check out your chi flows and stuff. Tell her you are having trouble learning and that you think your dad or Happosai may have done something bad to you."

Ranma stopped, his mouth half opened to argue with her. He stood like that a few short moments, "Not a bad idea. In fact there is a possibility that he actually has done something like that to me." Ranma grimaced, "Kami knows he's done enough similar things, why not that too."

"Nabiki," hesitantly began Ranma, "Do you think I should trust her that much though?"

Nabiki paused as she marshaled her thoughts, "Ranma, I know you've had troubles with the amazons, but I can't think of one mean or dishonorable thing that Cologne has done to you. She's caused you all kinds of trouble, but everything she's done has somehow been related to training to make you a better catch for Shampoo."

"Yeah," replied Ranma, "I'd come to that conclusion too. I just wanted to check it out with someone else though." With that he left the room leaving Nabiki staring blankly at the spot he'd been standing.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Ranma watched the Cat Café until he saw Shampoo leaving on a delivery. He then went to the back door and quietly entered.

"So son-in-law, what do I owe this visit to?" asked Cologne as she kept cooking, her back still turned to Ranma.

"Hello old gho . . . ah, elder Cologne," began Ranma, only to be brought short as the wizened old woman began to snicker.

"So, you want a favor from me. Well, it's going to cost you. Shampoo wants a holiday but I need her here at the shop. On the other hand, if you were to work for her this coming Saturday, then . . ." The elder martial artist looked at Ranma expectantly.

Ranma sighed, "Ok, Cologne, you've got a deal."

"So, what's the favor you need son-in-law?" she asked.

Ranma whispered embarrassedly, "I'm having trouble learning. I think maybe my old man or perhaps Happosai may have messed up my chi flows or something. Could you give a 'spiritual physical', and no perverted stuff either!"

Cologne momentarily stopped stirring the pot before her, "Son-in-law, once again you have managed to startle me. If I had known what you wanted I would have demanded a weeks worth of service. It's probably going to take me at least a couple of hours maybe even as much as a day to do as you ask. But I made the deal blindly so I'll abide by it." She paused a few minutes and just as Ranma was turning to leave she continued. "I don't have time to do it now. Skip school and breakfast Saturday morning and come to the café back door very early in the morning. We'll do what you want then."

Ranma nodded, and then paused to say before leaving, "Thanks Cologne, I appreciate the help."

That evening Ranma softly knocked on Nabiki's door. She opened the door and they sat down at her desk. Nabiki had brought down a second chair from the attic earlier in preparation for this new endeavor. Before she could ask, Ranma filled her in on what Cologne had said. Nabiki nodded and then began reviewing Ranma's homework with him.

Ranma was puzzled though, "Nabiki, I appreciate the help with the homework, but, well, I wasn't looking for a tutor."

"I know Ranma," she sighed, "trust me on this. I first need to establish how you learn. I'm sort of establishing a baseline on you now. To do that I want to quantify what you do know, how you process this data, how much effort it takes and how long it lasts."

Nabiki watched and helped Ranma study for almost forty minutes before Ranma closed his books quietly. "Ranma, we're no where done yet," firmly protested Nabiki. This was a challenge and she did not back down from challenges any more than he did.

"I know Nabiki," calmly replied Ranma. "but it's my turn to teach. Cup your hand and show me just a little of your chi. Don't exhaust yourself; just let me see a flash."

"Let me turn the lights down," said Nabiki resignedly. Leaving only the small desk lamp on, Nabiki shielded her hands with her body, focused herself and brought a small ball of chi into being for less than a second. She was sweating despite the brevity of the effort.

"I never noticed before, but your chi is red. That's usually associated with love. Oh, well, must be your love of money," absently remarked Ranma. He paused, "Nabiki, I think I might understand why you seem to have so much trouble generating much power. Emotion, strong emotion is the basis for chi power. Ryouga is depressed and his dark chi blasts can be grim. I, on the other hand use my martial arts confidence to fuel my chi blasts and they can be deadly." He looked embarrassed as he continued, "You're the Ice Queen, you pride yourself on not having emotions and that has crippled you when it comes to chi power I think."

"Damn," muttered Nabiki, "I came to the same conclusion not very long ago. I hoped it wasn't so."

Ranma paused, "I'd hoped that your business confidence reflected a strong emotion. But apparently that whole part of you is very tightly controlled. No emotion, more like my 'soul-of-ice' that I sometimes use. You could use these techniques to generate cold chi but you first have to be able to generate chi in order to use it well. And you aren't there yet." Ranma looked hopefully at her, "Any strong emotions that I don't know about?"

Nabiki blushed, and thought to herself, 'just one, but I'll be damned before I tell him.' Aloud she said, "Well, I care for my family; and of course, money. But other than that, no, I'm pretty neutral to the rest of the world."

Ranma grimaced, "This is going to be tough, love of family may be strong, but it's just too disperse to really focus very well. I guess we'll have to work with both the money love and the soul-of-ice thing I reckon."

"Well, I saw the hot chi, let's teach you about generating cold chi," began sensei Ranma. "First empty your emotions, focus on calmness. When you've got that, hold it and try to generate chi."

Nabiki struggled for the next ten minutes. Every time she started to draw red colored chi, Ranma stopped her with a sharp but gentle word and she would begin again. Finally as she was near exhaustion, a small ball of nearly translucent chi began to form.

Ranma grinned, "You got it Nabiki, you got it!" He paused, "Nabiki?" The Tendou in question was passed out. Ranma smiled and picked her up off her chair. He lifted her into bed and pulled her blanket over her before exiting to his own bath and bed.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Ranma knocked on the back door of the Cat Café. Cologne promptly opened the door and gestured him inside. She smiled as she heard his stomach growl. "I heard that. I'm glad you remembered my instructions." She led him upstairs to her study. "Ok Ranma, strip to your boxers." She motioned to the futon laid out on the floor. "I'll start by examining your sleeping chi flow patterns."

"Str . . . strip?" began Ranma anxiously.

"Come on Ranma, do you think I'd want to cop a cheap feel at my age?" She paused as she looked him up and down, "Ok, so you're right, I would. But this is professional, think of me as a doctor for now." She sighed regretfully, "I promise, Ranma."

She left the room and made breakfast for Shampoo and Mousse. Shortly the two younger amazons were off. Shampoo to a large amusement park she enjoyed; Mouse flapping angrily behind her. Shampoo had vowed to ride the huge roller coaster standing up at least once. She had tried twice before and had fallen both times amid squeals; squeals of fear from the other patrons and squeals of glee from her.

Ranma shrugged, stripped and made himself comfortable. It took a little while, but eventually he dosed off.

Cologne carefully erased all evidence of her presence as she entered the study. As she looked down at the sleeping boy, she smiled quietly. This was one of the few males in the whole world that she respected, if she had a son, this was her ideal for him. She softly crept around him in the darkened room, carefully studying the flow of his life energy. Her face darkened as she studied him and she began to softly curse both Happosai and Genma in Mandarin as she looked at the knots in Ranma's life energy.

She tapped a sleep spot on Ranma. What she needed to do required him to remain asleep, despite the pain she was about to cause. Slowly she worked her way around him. At one point she pulled his boxers down. She paused in admiration before hitting the several points she needed to release.

After an hour she stopped and rested. The strain of exerting her chi to map and manipulate Ranma's flows had taxed even her reserves. She then laboriously turned him over and began again. After finishing, she paused and made herself a snack to regain some energy. Nearly two hours after starting and she was almost half done. All that was left was to do his waking chi. Fortunately the rest 'should' go easier. Knowing Ranma that wouldn't happen just the way she anticipated.

"Damn," she muttered to herself. "How in the world did I forget about that?" She tiredly carried a glass of cold water back up to the study. She splashed the still sleeping Ranma and began again. Fortunately it wasn't as bad as she feared but there were definitely some changes between the two forms and that included additional problems.

She removed Ranma's boxers altogether and woke her up. She snickered at the young martial artist's efforts to hide herself. "Ranma, I'm almost done, I just have to do the waking chi, now stand still. Cologne began to circle the young girl intently studying her active chi flows. She smiled to herself, impressive! She poked a few more spots before jumping on the desk and motioning for Ranma to turn slowly before her. She saw a major problem and hesitated a few moments. "Ranma, I need to hit you just above the groin, it's going to be painful, very painful. I need to do this, but I also need your permission if I'm going to retain your trust."

Ranma grimaced, "Since you ask, then I trust you. Do what ya gotta do old ghoul."

"Thanks Ranma," Cologne grimaced, "I feel better about doing this now." With that she hit Ranma sharply twice near the groin and once just under the belly button.

As Ranma collapsed in agony, Cologne muttered, "You really should be more respectful of me."

"Damn, I didn't expect it to hurt that bad, Cologne," gasped Ranma. "Are you done torturing me now?"

"Almost child, but unfortunately, not quite." She sighed, "As soon as you are able, we need to finish."

Ranma nodded and stood shakily before the desk that Cologne was perched on. Cologne scanned, pushed and prodded. Fortunately none of the rest were as bad. That was until Cologne gestured for Ranma to use the kettle of hot water.

Ranma blushed as she looked down at her nude figure. A nude girl in front of Cologne she could handle, barely. But a guy, NO way!

"Ranma, trust me," tiredly asked Cologne.

Perhaps it was the fatigue in her voice that convinced him, but Ranma steeled herself and poured the hot water over herself. He stood before the desk; vainly trying to hide himself as Cologne clinically scanned him again and pushed a few spots.

"Better, much better," she nodded approvingly. "DAMN!" she cursed again. "Damn that Happosai."

"Huh?" started Ranma. "What'd the old freak do now?"

"Ranma," blanched Cologne, "That old pervert, hit a couple of deep shiatsu points on you that tended to keep you remaining juvenile. I guess he didn't want your girl form growing up. It also has a side affect of slowing down your learning a lot. I fixed it on your girl side. But I'm sorry Ranma, it needs fixing on your male side too." The Amazon elder paused and looked at the young man in sympathy. "I won't kid you; this is really, really going to hurt, maybe more than anything you've ever felt."

Ranma blanched, "I'm going to kill him, I swear it, I'm going to kill him." He sighed, "Thanks Cologne, give me a moment and then do what you have to do."

Ranma focused his chi and steeled himself for the pain. He closed his eyes and nodded to Cologne. 'Kami!' he thought, 'how can anything hurt that much?' as he passed out and collapsed.

Tears in her eyes, Cologne finished clearing Ranma's chi before she covered the young man with a light blanket and left him to recover. An hour later she returned with a very large breakfast.

She brushed a lock of hair out of his eyes and patiently waited for him to sense her and the food. She didn't have to wait long. Ranma woke suddenly, seeing her he gasped in surprise before obviously recalling why he was there.

"Kami, you were right, Cologne," Ranma hissed, still in pain. "I wouldn't have believed I could hurt that much."

"Sorry Ranma," sighed Cologne, "the good news is that everything settled out all right. The pain should fade before you finish the breakfast I brought you. When you are ready, I'll open the café."

With that she placed Ranma's waitress costume on the floor, and then left him to eat and dress in peace. About ten minutes later Ranma came down. She formally bowed to Cologne, "Elder Cologne, I thank you for the care you have rendered me. I am ready to pay my part of the bargain."

"You can start by smiling, Ranma," she grinned though it was somewhat forced.

Ranma smiled, a smile that was even echoed in her eyes, "Yes elder."

Ranma was as good as her word. She laughed and smiled the whole long evening from noon to nearly midnight. The café was crowded for most of the day as word of mouth spread that the really cute waitress had returned.

Both Shampoo and Mousse had returned in the early evening, but Cologne had preempted anything that they might have wanted to do and forced them to both help with the near record evening rush; Mousse in the kitchen and Shampoo bouncing with joy to be so close to her arien.

Finally, Cologne released Ranma and told her to go home and get some rest. Ranma wearily nodded and stumbled away. Mousse attempted to sneak out the door to ambush a near dead on her feet Ranma but Cologne splashed him and stuffed him into a cage for the night.

As Cologne and Shampoo cleaned the café together, Cologne explained what she had done for Ranma that morning. "Shampoo, one of the things I discovered was that Ranma's sexual maturity was repressed, inhibited both by an old injury before puberty and more recently, deliberately by Happosai. That is one of the reasons that he has been able to resist you this past year. On the good side, I fixed the problem. On the bad side, it will take at least a year before he comes anywhere near normal in that area. I suspect that is part of the cause for some his 'foot-in-the-mouth' problems as well. Other people cannot believe he is really as innocent as he is and thus ascribe perverted interpretations to his comments."

"Oh," grinned Shampoo, "Like kitchen destroyer!" She paused, "But if Ranma going to start to notice girls, that mean Shampoo have to get Ranma away from pervert girl."

"Yes," sighed Cologne, "That could be a problem. Oh well, we'll think of something. It won't become urgent for months yet. In the meantime though, go easy on the groom. He's going to be really confused at first and you don't want to alienate him at this point."

Shampoo nodded in understanding and went back to scrubbing.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Akane was about to toss a bucket of water on Ranma when she found herself blocked by Nabiki. "I thought you learned your lesson about this last Sunday. Is your memory that short?"

Akane blushed, recalling Ranma's response. "But . . . but he's just sleeping. And it's late. And he didn't tell me where he was all day yesterday." She sighed, "Ok, so I forgot." She looked over at the sleeping girl. "I wonder why Ranma's in girl form, humm, she hasn't worn that outfit since she last worked at the Cat Café."

"Yeah, you guessed it," smirked Nabiki, "Ranma owed Cologne a favor and she called it in so that she could give Shampoo a day off. That old lady worked Ranma all day yesterday right into the ground."

Akane chuckled, "I wondered where he was all day. Oh well, I guess he didn't have a chance to get into trouble yesterday then did he?"

Nabiki echoed her sister's chuckle, "I suspect that yesterday was a blur for Ranma. Come on; let's let him sleep himself out. That doesn't happen very often for him."

Akane sighed and whispered as she turned to go downstairs, "Baka."

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Nabiki noticed the difference almost immediately. "You understand this?" When Ranma nodded 'yes' in an annoyed manner she continued, "Ranma, last week I explained this to you twice and you still had problems."

Ranma shrugged, "What can I say? Tonight it seems easy to understand to me."

Ranma had explained to Nabiki what Cologne had told him about what Happosai had done that blocked his ability to both mature and learn. Yet still, his focus, comprehension and raw ability nearly rivaled hers presently. This was scary. This wasn't the dumb jock she was used to dealing with. She shook her head and began to explain some of the learning techniques she had found to be most effective for herself. Ranma caught on surprisingly fast; especially some of the mnemonics and other memory enhancing methods. Then again she thought, maybe his ability to learn and memorize shouldn't have surprised her considering how he almost literally absorbed martial arts techniques.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Nabiki sighed, high school was finally over. She'd ended up with a nearly perfect GPA and her college entrance scores had enabled her to enter Tokyo University with a modest scholarship.

She saw her sister struggling with a trunk, "Are you about packed, Akane? It wasn't easy getting you into this six weeks long home-economics summer school camp. It wasn't cheap either, but on the plus side, it did come with a double your money guarantee," Nabiki smirked."

"You are NOT going to collect. I swear I can cook. I just need . . . a little bit better focus. That's all," snarled Akane.

Nabiki grinned and called for Ranma to help carry the trunk to the waiting cab.

That afternoon Nabiki sat down next to Ranma on the open veranda, "Saotome, remember how I said you needed to develop other interests besides martial arts? How are you doing there?"

Ranma blushed with embarrassment. "Ah gee, Nabiki, I spent all my free time catching up on my school work. I got mostly B's even two A's. For me that's awesome. Now I just want to relax."

Nabiki sighed in frustration as she got up, "I didn't figure you for a quitter. Guess I was wrong. One little bit of success and it goes to your head. You were just wasting my time I guess."

Ranma watched the clouds a few more moments before getting up and following Nabiki into the front room. "Sorry Nabiki, I guess you had me pegged there. I thought I had succeeded, I forgot what the goal really was. So what is next on the agenda sensei?" he asked lightly.

"Am I your sensei?" asked Nabiki.

Ranma nodded and Nabiki continued, "Then you follow my directions without argument until I release you. Got that? Otherwise go do it yourself, because I'm not going to waste my time on some half way measure."

"Ok, so what's first," asked Ranma.

"Three things," replied Nabiki. She tossed two textbooks into his lap, "Tonight I start teaching you Mandarin and then we give you advanced lessons in English. But first, you're going to take me rollerblading."

"But I don't have . . ." Ranma started to protest before she cut him off.

"You can use Akane's stuff," Nabiki stated. "You'll have to do it in your girl form for everything to fit right. But that's tough unless you have the loot to buy your own."

Ranma-chan soon appeared in the rollerblades. Nabiki stared at her and irately tapped her foot. "Ranma, the whole getup; that means helmet and pads. I don't want to be stopped every five minutes by someone demanding that you dress appropriately. Besides, there will be little kids seeing you do your acrobatics eventually and you do want to set a safe example. The lesson here is that your macho pride takes a back seat to social responsibility. So move it."

Ranma shortly appeared in proper attire, almost. Nabiki looked her student over one more time. She sighed quietly, "Ranma, you also need a sports bra so that your nipples don't stick out and the whole thing doesn't bounce."

"Now, WAIT a minute," yelled Ranma, before Nabiki cut her off.

"NO, DAMN IT, YOU SAID you'd follow my directions, so GO and put on a bra!" yelled Nabiki back so loud that Ranma's hair stuck out backwards.

"Yes sensei," Ranma meekly replied.

Nabiki turned out to be right. The bra did help with the balance as Ranma gained confidence on the skates. In a week she had eclipsed Nabiki's expert skill level and was incorporating her airborne martial arts and gymnastics skill in mid air flips as the two of them cruised the streets and several of the local practice areas.

Nabiki also took Ranma dancing as well as horseback riding. Ranma ended up working the initial dinner rush for Cologne most summer evenings in order to pay for these lessons. But Ranma had to admit that he really enjoyed them all.

Now the English and Mandarin Chinese lessons were another story. But he kept his part of the bargain and soon he and Nabiki spoke nothing else except English for most of the day. Ranma practiced his Chinese while he worked at the Cat Café. His rapidly increasing proficiency amazed both Shampoo and Cologne. Though Nabiki was not pleased that Ranma let the Amazons discover that she spoke it so well. Her ability to speak Chinese was something she had kept hidden from the Amazons since their arrival. This discovery prompted Cologne to study the middle Tendou daughter a bit closer thereafter.

This idyllic summer came to an abrupt halt with the arrival of a trunk to the Tendou front gate. It was Akane's trunk. She had been gone five weeks. She was bound and gagged inside it and there was a death threat from the camp staff should they ever hear she was near their kitchens again.

Nabiki couldn't look at Akane for the first couple of days without giggling. However, she did remember to collect on the guarantee, though she convinced the camp director that her silence was worth a triple payback instead of double.

Akane was in a very bad mood. The only thing that saved Ranma from disaster was that his waitress work and the studies with Nabiki kept him so occupied that he wasn't around Akane enough to become the prime focus for her anger.

Unfortunately, from the fathers' perspective, he was around too much or rather his mother was. Nodoka witnessed several weeks of Akane's violent responses and decided a week before school started that Ranma and Genma were moving back to the recently rebuilt Saotome family home in Yokohama for Ranma's senior high school year.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

By the time Akane has returned, shipped home early bound up in a trunk and a death threat from the camp staff should she ever return (Nabiki turns the double your money guarantee into a triple her money), Ranma has the language basics down. But more importantly, he has learned how to learn. He has adapted the lessons from Martial arts and Nabiki together into a method he can apply. He appreciates the need for daily application (practice) and concentration (focus) as well as a through understanding of basics before being able to go to higher levels let alone realize there are higher levels. That analog allows him to see that perhaps the fact he can see no use for something such as mathematics could be a result of not mastering the basics instead of being correct in his assessment. That makes it a challenge to him.

As a result, he takes his senior year as a challenge to understand what each class is basic toward. A light comes on when he realizes that solid state geometry and physics describe his airborne martial arts and math is the interpretation tool. Then history, languages and social sciences become tools to interpret his opponents. Sometimes trivia contains vital information.

At the start of his senior year, his mother, disgusted with the way his life is going, forces him & his dad to move back to her house. Things are a lot quieter. He spars some with his father and his mother insists on teaching her daughter some of the family martial arts. Genma attempts to intervene once, but only once after a large area of his panda belly is shaved by a katana wielded too fast for him to see or dodge. The display also convinces Ranma that his mother may have something to teach him after all.

She also requires Ranma to at least begin to appear like a proper girl when using his girl form. A bra is a required part of her practice clothes she discovers. The bouncing causes some loss of balance and after her mother's bokken hits the tits a few times Ranma begins to realize that a little support and padding would be a good idea. Of course, Ranma refuses to wear dresses and panties regularly despite library visit history.

The new school away from the original madness along with Nabiki 's lessons enable Ranma to focus on school for the first time in his life. As a result, Ranma's grades go way up and his scores on the resulting college exams are not at all shabby. On the down side, while Akane misses him somewhat, he is too busy to really notice. Not to mention appreciating the absence of abuse. They do get together a few times each month but each time Shampoo or Ukyou are able to intervene and Akane ends up pounding Ranma. The few times that Soun suggests that maybe it would be a good idea to have Ranma back at the home are shot down by both Akane and Kasumi. Akane because she is mad, Kasumi because she doesn't want any chaos.

Genma tries to get Nodoka to let Ranma (& him) return to the Tendou's but she has the bit in her teeth in that 'damn it, it's her time to train Ranma' and she's not letting Genma take him anywhere. The second time he starts whining about it, she starts sharpening her katana and he permanently drops the subject.

As a result, Akane and Ranma grow further apart even as they start to miss each other. In his new school, Ranma had joined the gymnastics team and with his skills, leads them to a national title. As a result, when he graduated he was given a full scholarship to Tokyo University based on his entrance scores, senior year grades and gymnastics skills.

Akane didn't do as well. She partially blames Ranma for this because he wasn't there (ignoring the facts that it wasn't his choice and she also didn't want him to come back the few times that the option was mentioned). She goes to a much smaller school about two hours away by train. Close enough to visit only on weekends.

She & Ranma visit each other a few times over the summer graduation break, sometimes spending the night at each other's house. These go well for the most part at Ranma's house as his mother uses her katana to discourage other guests to their surprise and dismay. Not because she doesn't appreciate her manly sons 'talents' but because she will not tolerate damage to her house again nor discourtesy to her guest (Akane). Shampoo fails to use the door only once at Nodoka's house. The flat of a blade across her ass, the shredding of her clothes, destruction of her bonbori, loss of a lock of hair and the blade at her throat leave a lasting lesson concerning doors. Cologne happens to witness this and calls Nodoka a weapons mistress, someone for Shampoo to respect. Cologne orders the house to be repaired. At Akane's house, not so well. Ranma is frequently a target for Akane's anger, but he still cares deeply for her. All the changes he's making in his life are for 'them'.

Then college starts. Akane finally has some peace. She has some tender thoughts for Ranma and private (finally) phone conversations help nurture their feelings for each other. Akane is also a bit confused because she has an unknown admirer. At first she thinks it's Ranma being romantic, but when she discovers that it is a shy classmate who is NOT a martial artist, she is not sure how to refuse. Especially since he is in one of her theater classes and has made her laugh a few times. She has told no one about her engagement because she wanted some freedom.

Ranma has found a study partner, rather she grabbed him. She was disappointed when she found he was engaged but stuck with him anyway just because he was cute.

Then disaster. Confused because of her friend's newly found interest, Akane decides to make a midweek visit to Ranma. Seeing his study partner exiting his apartment, she jumps to the conclusion that Ranma is cheating on her 'again'.

She cries into her friend's arms. He takes advantage of her weakness and seduces her. The next morning they agree to marry, soon. Soun protests, but Akane, in a moment of confusion, protests that she may be pregnant. Soun and Kasumi are furious but make immediate (two weeks) wedding plans. Nabiki just smiles.

Ranma hears about the turn of events second hand as the Tendous, especially Akane, are too embarrassed to tell him. His father is the one to tell him, just two days before as he was making plans to visit Akane, something along the line of 'you're so little a man that your fiancée had to go somewhere else to get laid'. Major panda pounding. Ranma, sigh Ranma destroyed. Thinks, Why did he change, if he hadn't, maybe Akane would have stayed with him.

Marriage occurs just after finals. Ranma commits suicide in his apartment during ceremony. His mother and father discover him next day and carefully do their best to hide what happened from public knowledge, police are helpful.

Nabiki changes and founds charity and continues to study natural energy and magic. She actually develops some good theory and weak talents in both chi and magic. Her goal is to somehow get Ranma back.

Amazons leave, Ukyou suicides too. Kasumi trapped. Akane has two good years of marriage, third year stormy husband hurt a few times. Akane becomes pregnant in effort to salvage marriage, when baby is 4 months old, puts child in hospital due to 'cooking'. A week later husband intervenes as she is again cooking for family and she puts him in hospital, in a coma that lasts almost a year. Authorities don't have enough evidence to charge her but do have enough to remove child. When husband recovers, he divorces her and his family mostly prevents her from seeing her child. Akane ends up teaching in family dojo, mostly women's self defense classes.

After divorce, Kasumi wonders if Ranma still available, Nabiki blows up quietly and lets them know for the first time that Saotomes are dead. Mild shock only. This further angers Nabiki and when Soun pressures her to marry, she finally loses it. All through this, Nabiki continues to study chi and magic.

Somewhere along here, book one ends

Then comes 'rewrite, which is book two'. Nabiki saves Ranma and manages to marry him too. Eventually Ranma becomes a doctor. But martial arts are also developing. Seems that Nabiki is one major sensei due to previous life when it comes to chi and magic even though she can't do much of it at first. Ranma ends up having lots of talent that Nabiki brings out.

Beginning of book two, the main book.

Nabiki yawned as she struggled awake. She looked about herself and sighed, 'yep, same old room I grew up in . . . same old, same old.' Walking downstairs, Nabiki smiled grumpily at her older sister Kasumi. 'Kasumi, trapped in domestic duties taking care of our father's house, never to have a life of her own.' Nabiki sadly thought to herself.

Akane ran in from her morning jog few minutes later and smiled at her older sisters. "Morning! How are all of you today? I think it might snow. Wouldn't that be nice?" She cheerily burbled. "Happy Birthday, Nabiki! Wow! Fifty-two years, and you still look great! It's so nice to have you home for the weekend."

Nabiki merely smiled at her and nodded thinking to herself, 'I wonder how much of that cheer is real and how much is merely a façade. Divorced after five years of marginally happy marriage after she put her husband in the hospital. Her only child growing up without her. Even now she is rarely allowed to see either her son or his daughter, her granddaughter. Now her whole life revolves around the women's classes she teaches in the dojo. Yes, how much of her apparent happiness is only a substitute for the real thing she lost?' Nabiki mused absently to herself.

Nabiki looked around herself at her so familiar surroundings. She sighed, 'When the three of us pass on, this family ends. I wonder who will end up with all of this. It certainly means nothing to me anymore; I take no pride in being a Tendou and don't regret never marrying.'

She smiled sadly to herself recalling the arguments that she had had with her father on that topic. Arguments that had permanently ended when she had finally lost it and screamed into her father's face, "How can I ever marry? The Saotomes are DEAD! As a TENDOU I have NO honor. I have only my work, my lousy work." She had stormed out of the house and had not returned again for over eight months. The topic had never been mentioned again.

Nabiki fondly glanced over to her elder sister. Only Kasumi had ever even alluded to it again. A few weeks after Nabiki had abruptly cut her visit short; Kasumi had shown up at Nabiki's house and quietly cried in Nabiki's arms. At first Nabiki had been startled but then she had just held her sister and said nothing; she just smoothed her hair and allowed her to weep for them both. Neither had said much afterwards, just made small talk about the day to day trivia that both realized now comprised their respective days.

Nabiki smiled sadly at the memory. They had both been barely in their thirties then. So long ago. To have both given up hope so early in their lives. So long ago. Nabiki got up and responded to the memory by giving Kasumi a warm hug and asked. "Anything I can help you with sis?"

Kasumi smiled and said, "No, sit down and let us wait on you. It's your special day." Her sunny smile echoed happier days.

The following day, in a modest office at the top of an older building in one of the more rural outskirts of Tokyo, Nabiki sat at her desk and looked over the gray winter landscape of a cold Monday morning. As she nibbled at a piece of the belated birthday cake that her staff had surprised her with, she mentally reviewed her life to that point. She grinned slightly to herself as she remembered her plans for her life the first couple of years she attended university. She had felt poised to take the business community by storm and had vowed to be a billionaire by the time she was thirty.

As she finished up the cake, she remarked to herself, "Yesterday was my birthday and I celebrated it with my family, but somehow this second cake from people who work for me means a whole lot more than cake from my family does." She massaged her temples as she pressed her nose against the window and her eyes glazed over momentarily as she remembered yesterday's events. She sighed sadly at the lack of emotional content in the memory.

Her eye fell on a folding two-photo-display frame that was always with her no matter where she went. It held two photos that anyone would have a hard time believing were of the same individual. On the right side was a photo of a dark haired and well-developed young man caught in a moment of battle. He was airborne, legs extended in a kick against an unseen opponent. He was so vibrant and alive, his face shown with the joy of his Art. On the left-hand side, a grinning buxom but petite redheaded girl was toweling herself off. The scene was at a beach and her red bikini left no doubt as to her gender or beauty.

She picked the photo frame up off her desk and held it in her lap. A tear trailed down her cheek as she whispered, "Ranma, I'm so sorry. I miss you so much."

Nabiki leaned back in her executive chair, photo frame clasped to her breast and thought of the changes this one individual had wrought in her life by his mere absence. 'Over thirty years ago', she thought to herself, 'nearly thirty-three years since Ranma committed suicide in despair over my sister Akane's wedding to a boy she met while she was going to a different college than what Ranma was attending'. She remembered how Ranma's folks had almost successfully hidden the news of Ranma's death. They had told a few of Ranma's college friends that he was going on a long training journey and provided no details, leaving their construction to the rumor mills.

Nabiki remembered how she had found out the truth. About a month after the wedding, she had wanted to see how Ranma was taking the news. She had discounted the rumors she had heard especially after she had talked with Ranma's landlord. He was grateful that the Saotomes had replaced the bloodstained tatami mats. With a chill in her heart she had then checked the police records and found the truth.

Such a long time ago but she remembered the heartbreak. She had cried for hours. A transfer notice for Ranma's body that she had found in the file had led her to a private graveyard in a small rural town in southern Japan. Tears ran down her face, echoing those she had shed the day she had found Ranma's grave marker. Ranma's grave was flanked by those of both his parents, their dates of death less than a week after Ranma's. Nabiki looked at the photo again and murmured, "Ranma, maybe the Saotome family ended that week, but it died with its honor intact. Sadly, the Tendou honor is lost and our family is also on the verge of ending."

Her musings were interrupted by the telephone; it was one of her thousands of executive volunteers; men and women who gave a few hours of their time each week and kept her organization successful. She now raised several billion yen every year for charity and turned an amazing 95% of it directly over to those who needed it. Her modest salary and tightly controlled overhead costs were a matter of public record as she kept all her financial records as open files on the Internet. It was really such a little thing to her, but it caused the other charities to grind their teeth in frustration and made becoming a volunteer worker for her a thing of honor. The call was brief - A reminder of a dinner date for a fundraiser tonight; the nearest thing to a social life that she had anymore.

She grinned wryly at the photos as she set the frame back on her desk. She remarked under her breath, "Ranma, you changed my life! After I found out about your death, control over other people became one of the last things I wanted. Instead I wanted to help other people and do it in your name. It was a way of carrying on a piece of your life and keeping your memory alive somehow." Nabiki chuckled, "Now, I make more money every year than I dreamed was possible and give it almost all away . . . something else I would have thought was impossible for me to ever do."

Nabiki heard a slight noise behind her and turned to see a young woman with nearly unearthly beauty standing there though she had not heard the door open. Nabiki glanced at her daily planner and saw that she was scheduled to meet with a reporter for an interview about her life. Nabiki smiled warmly, "Hi, sorry I didn't hear you come in. Can I get you any refreshments?"

The girl smiled back and said, "No thanks" She then observed, and "I was watching you as you looked at the pictures. You seemed so sad and I was wondering, if you could have any wish, but just one wish, what would it be?"

Nabiki glanced back at the photos, "A wish? If I could have just one wish, what would it be? I answered that question for myself decades ago and have prayed it a thousand times these past thirty years. I'd wish that 'I'd somehow been able to save Ranma's life and have his children'. But that's impos . . ."

Nabiki was interrupted by a flash of brilliant light and as she drifted into unconsciousness in the glare, she heard the girl exult, "Wish granted."

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Nabiki picked herself up off the floor and looked around in confusion. She started checking things off to herself, "Yep, lost it finally; back in my own room at my childhood home, yep. Seems like I'm a teenager again, oh shit. And I'm wearing the dress I hated the most in the entire world, my bridesmaid dress for Akane's wedding; yep, definitely lost it to grief finally. Odd, the mirror shows that strange girl's reflection instead of mine. Yep; bonkers. Oh well, I hope they find somebody to take over the organization for me and they put me in a nice home."

The girl leaned out of the mirror and lightly tweaked Nabiki's nose, totally derailing her train of thought. "Nabiki, your wish was granted so that you have the opportunity to make things happen differently. Right now, you remember them happening in the pastbut now they haven't happened yet. But because of the good you've done in so many other people's lives, Kami-sama gave you this wish. But he only gave you the 'opportunity' to make things different; you have to DO the rest. A couple of words of advice--run, don't walk or knock--as Ranma's time is short." With that her image faded out, leaving a startled Nabiki staring at her own teenaged visage.

Abruptly, decades of experience came to her rescue and she snapped out of her confused daze. With a shriek, she kicked off her heels, grabbed some flats and her purse and fled the house at a flat-out run, ignoring questions flung at her by her family, who were in the midst of preparing for Akane's wedding in a few hours.

"Taxi, taxi!" yelled Nabiki at the first such vehicle she saw. Fortunately it was empty, beginning the fastest trip to the university that Nabiki had ever made.

At the university train stop, Nabiki paused a few seconds to get her bearings, trying to recall where Ranma lived and the fastest route there. She saw Shampoo get off her bike to make a delivery and quickly grabbed the bike while Shampoo was inside the apartment building. She heard a shriek of dismay behind her but only pedaled harder, quickly losing Shampoo in the twisting streets.

Nabiki dumped Shampoo's bike at the police box on the corner near Ranma's apartment and quickly ran up the street a short way before racing up the stairs into the building. Huffing and gasping for breath, Nabiki made her way up the two flights of stairs and momentarily stopped outside Ranma's door.

Nabiki opened the door, grateful that it was unlocked. She quickly entered and looked around for Ranma, hoping she wasn't too late. Her eyes suddenly widened as she saw Ranma facing away from her, carefully dressed in white ceremonial clothing, pouring purifying water over a tanto blade held in his right hand.

"Ranma, NNOOO!" Nabiki screamed as she launched herself and grabbed his right hand in both of hers. Ranma tried to twist his hand out of her grip but she held on with desperate strength. As they wrestled for the blade, it sliced a shallow but long and very bloody cut in Nabiki's scalp just above her forehead hairline on one side. As the brown locks of cut hair cascaded between them and blood covered her face, Nabiki only moaned and held on for dear life, her dear Ranma's life.

Ranma stared at Nabiki's bloody face and quit struggling with her for the blade. In shock, he slowly released the tanto and let it fall to the floor between them. In a flash, Nabiki grabbed it and threw it across the room, where it imbedded itself into the wall. A small drop of blood made its way down the blade and slowly traced a path down the wall.

Nabiki threw herself into Ranma's arms, embracing him and sobbing, "Ranma, don't leave me again. Please no. Please no, don't do that again. I couldn't live without you a second time. I swear that there will be two bodies on this floor if you don't listen to me!" She sobbed and held him in a grip that rivaled Shampoo's glomp as she ignored both her revised hair cut and the bloody cut that was staining both their clothes.

In shock, Ranma could only put his arms around Nabiki and loosely hold her even as he tried to disengage her. Finally, he pulled her back from him as her desperate strength ebbed. "Nabiki, what are you doing here? Kami, but I'm sorry about the cut. I'm really, really sorry. It doesn't look too bad but it's bleeding a lot and you might need stitches."

As Ranma recovered from his shock, he seemed to realize what had just happened, sagged back and fumed at her, "Damn it, it's your own fault! It's my life, my honor! What right do you have to interfere?" He yelled this last question at her and continued "I'm going to do this anyway! You can't stop me; no TENDOU has the right to stop me, not now." This last was said with a catch in his voice as tears brimmed his eyes and emotion choked his throat.

"I don't want to be a Tendou," Nabiki softly said. "I want to be a Saotome and I want to marry you," and clearly drew the battle lines so that even someone as clueless as him could not mistake her intentions.

Ranma snorted, "Yeah, right! How much do you have riding on this? I'll bet this is just another scam."

Nabiki's face blanched as she absorbed the insults. "I've got a lot riding on this; just my entire future life, and yours too. Ranma, there's no scam, there is just me." She hung her head as tears welled up. "Ranma, I'm sorry. I know I'm not much to look at. Not in the things that really matter to you; the non-physical stuff."

She had been sitting back on her heels where Ranma had pushed her. Now she leaned forward, cocked her head slightly and looked directly into his eyes. "I know it's not much, but all that I am, all that I ever hope to be, I offer to you. No conditions. No demands. Just me. For as long as you'll let me, I'll stay with you. Please." She murmured again as tears retraced their tracks down her cheeks, "Please Ranma, live. Please Ranma, let me live too."

Ranma looked disbelievingly back at her. He shook his head violently in denial of her plea. "No, NO! You have no right to ask that of me. Not after the way you have treated me. Not after what Akane's done too!" He paused as a memory surfaced, "I thought Akane was getting married about now. Weren't you supposed to be a bridesmaid?"

Nabiki was grateful for the distracting question. Maybe she could convince him if she could keep him talking. At least he wasn't attempting to retrieve the tanto. "I hate this dress." She offered, "I hate it because it's a bridesmaid's dress for the shame that Akane's wedding represents. It deserves to have Tendou blood shed on it."

Nabiki continued, "I'm glad to be here instead of at Akane's wedding. You are so much more important to me than her feelings even. Ranma, please, please believe me. You are so much more important to me than any of my family. You really are my life."

Ranma shook his head again, but still he reached out and touched her forehead drawing her closer as she bowed her head and allowed him to look closer at the wound just above her hair line. "Nabiki, I'm really sorry about the cut. I should not have permitted you to be hurt." He sighed, "Typical Ranma stuff again I guess. As usual, it's my fault even if I never wanted it to happen. At least it seems to have stopped bleeding."

Nabiki reached up and clasped his hand between both of hers, brought it down to her lips and kissed his hand. "No Ranma, this isn't your fault. I would rather shed my blood instead of you shedding yours."

Ranma tried to pull his hand from hers, but she clasped it tightly to her cheek as she continued to cry. Flustered, he mumbled, "Please don't cry. Don't do this to me. Please don't make it hurt more. I don't need your pity and Akane can keep your damned dojo. I don't want it or you or her!" With this he managed to jerk his hand free and swiftly made his way to where the tanto was imbedded in the wall.

"No Ranma" shrieked Nabiki, "please no," as she clumsily rose to her feet to follow him, momentarily awkward from sitting on her knees so long.

But Ranma made no effort to grasp the hilt. He was tracing a finger down the wall paralleling the path Nabiki's blood had traced on the wall. "Why Nabiki? This isn't the Nabiki I met a few days ago between classes. This isn't the Nabiki who sold my services the few weeks she was engaged to me. That Nabiki wouldn't have done any of this. Who are you really?" Ranma turned a measuring eye to her as he assessed her, looking closer now, as if seeking openings in her disguise that would give him a clue as to her true identity.

As she walked toward him, he noted the additional poise she seemed to possess. Her eyes met his with undisguised warmth instead of the chilled aloofness she previously had exhibited to him. "No, you aren't the Nabiki I knew. Who are you? Why are you here?"

Nabiki stopped next to him and dropped her hands to her sides as he avoided her tentative attempt to touch him. "The Nabiki you knew died when I saw the tanto in your hands. She was a hollow shell who would sacrifice anything for a semblance of control."

"Nah, I don't buy that. The old Nabiki would have sold tickets maybe, but . . . nah, I don't buy that story. It doesn't explain why you are even here, why you would skip out on Akane's wedding. It just doesn't make sense for you to hurt your sister that way no matter how much you might disagree with her." Ranma grimaced self depreciatingly, "Not that you ever considered me much of a catch for anybody, let alone your family."

"Ranma, I . . ."

"No Nabiki, I've learned not to trust anything you say. Maybe you do always strictly tell the truth. But you are the most skilled liar with half truths and misrepresented truths that I've ever encountered." Ranma sighed as he took another step back from her. "I don't know who you really are." He hesitated, then continued, "I wish I knew, I wish I could trust you but . . . I just don't understand. Look, whoever you really are, this isn't going to work so just go away."

As Ranma turned to walk toward the kitchen, Nabiki quickly blocked his way with her outspread arms. "Ranma, damn it Ranma, how am I to convince you?"

"The truth, the WHOLE truth usually does wonders," Ranma smirked. "But how could I ever believe that of you?"

"Oo . . k, I guess I could try that. You of all people should have no problem believing in magic." She sighed, "The story is kind of long, how about we sit down while I tell it?"

"The truth?"

"I promise, the truth, the whole damned bitter truth." Ranma flinched back from the bitterness evident in Nabiki's voice as she said this.

"Ok," Ranma replied. "Let me get a wash cloth and some water and I'll clean your face as we talk. That blood all over your face don't exactly look all that cute."

"Baka, thank you, I'd appreciate that, "Nabiki answered as she moved toward the couch in the sparsely furnished front room of the apartment.

Nabiki settled herself on the couch. As she heard Ranma rummaging about in the kitchen, she slowly began to massage her temples. She thought to herself, 'I was doing this earlier wasn't I? Earlier? Do I mean about four hours ago or do I mean thirty-three years from now? What do I say? The truth, no matter how unbelievable, can't be worse than trying to weave a story he's sure to see through.' She sighed to herself, "Yes, the truth. It's time for the truth."

"I'm glad to hear that!" Ranma startled her as he appeared suddenly beside her.

Ranma seated himself beside her and gently began to clean her face. "So what is this truth?" He asked.

Nabiki paused and touched his face tenderly with her fingertips before answering. "The truth, the truth is that it's not been a few days since 'I' last saw you. It's been over thirty years since THIS Nabiki last saw you. No, I'm not lying and no, I'm not from the future, not at least in the conventional sense of time travel."

Ranma paused, his faced tightened as if to dispute her but she continued. "I promised Ranma, the truth, the whole damned bitter truth, and it was bitter indeed," she emphasized.

Nabiki dropped her hands to her lap but kept her eyes on his face, drinking in the sight that she had so missed for so many years. "Ranma, this morning, I mean in MY morning; I was sitting at my desk eating some birthday cake. It was the day after my fifty-second birthday. For me, that was about four hours ago."

She tilted her head and again reached out to caress his face. He captured her hand and she was content to just let him hold her hand. "I was given the chance to change my past. In my past, you were successful in committing suicide. You reclaimed your lost honor but both families ended up being destroyed."

Anticipating the objection before he could voice it, she placed the fingers of her other hand on his lips. "No Ranma, the fault was not yours. The entire fault lay with my family. All of us, even Kasumi, shared in the blame and all of us paid dearly." With tears starting again she emphasized, "You were the only one blameless in this whole affair. Clueless, insensitive and sometimes a jerk, yes, but blameless nonetheless."

She caressed his face as she continued. "Your folks managed to cover your death pretty well. It took me over a month to find your grave. Your family's grave, as both your parents joined you in death just days after your funeral."

"Akane's wedding was very beautiful and they seemed to be off to a wonderful start. I resolved to not tell anyone about your deaths as I didn't want to destroy my sister's happiness." Nabiki smiled sadly, "I do love my family, but I came to hate what they had done to you. No, not just they, me too." She took a deep breath and blinked back the tears again. "Eventually Akane's temper destroyed her marriage. Unfortunately, he wasn't as tough as you and she put him in intensive care, in a coma that lasted for almost a year. The authorities couldn't pin it on her definitely, but his family took steps to gain custody of Akane's son and her husband divorced her soon after he recovered."

Nabiki grimaced. "I think I've actually seen more of my nephew and his daughter than Akane has. Akane's life now centers on the classes she teaches at the dojo. She claims to be happy, but Kasumi says that Akane cries herself to sleep most nights even though almost thirty years have passed now. I mean then or will have. . . whatever."

"That's sad," Ranma whispered. "I wouldn't have wanted that for her, no matter how much she hurt me."

"I know, Ranma. We all knew that. Not that it made much difference." Nabiki sighed and continued with her story. "Remember, I said that I kept the news of your death a secret until I felt it was time to reveal it? Five years! Five DAMNED years before anyone even asked! I couldn't believe it. It was just after Akane's divorce that Kasumi casually commented about whether or not you were still unmarried."

"I was ssoooo pissed!" she spat. "Kasumi turned to me and asked if I knew where you were, so I gave her my most pleasant smile and said, 'Why yes, Kasumi, I visited Ranma last week. Would you like a photo?' When she said yes, I tossed a photo of the grave markers on the table and went upstairs to take a nap." Nabiki sighed, "I locked the door and refused to speak to them the rest of the day."

"Kasumi . . . Kasumi was OK, wasn't she?" asked Ranma with an edge of worry in his voice. "She was always so nice. I wouldn't have wanted anything sad to happen to her."

"The only thing that happened to Kasumi was that nothing happened to her." Nabiki lowered her eyes to her hands that were now both in her lap. "Daddy sort of fell apart after Akane got married. There was no way to join the families together, not after Akane had dishonored you so, and the death of his dream was really hard on him. Taking care of him became Kasumi's life. . . and her trap. She had no life of her own. She had no life, no spark, just a daily existence; day after day."

Nabiki looked up again at Ranma and scooted closer to him. This proved unfortunate as she spilled the basin of water and triggered Ranma's curse. "Me," she paused and grabbed the redheaded girl in a hug, "Of all of us, I was the one who was changed the most by your death."

Nabiki paused again as Ranma disengaged herself but allowed Nabiki to hold both her hands in hers. "I cried for hours when I found about your death. I cried more in the following days too. I cried away the old Nabiki. I learned that there was nothing I could do; no measure of control that I could exert that would change what had happened. All that was left was the memories of what we had collectively done to you to make your life miserable. But even more important, there were the memories of what you had accomplished in your short life."

Nabiki grinned at the other girl. "Even thirty years after your passing, you were still vividly remembered. There were young warriors trying to emulate your exploits."

"You're putting me on," grinned Ranma back at her.

"Nope, promise," Nabiki swore. "Ranma, I can't fully explain what happened to me. It wasn't instantaneous, but it happened over the months, maybe years after I learned of your death. You cared about other people, it was part of your martial arts code, it was part of who you were. I wanted to become like you, to keep your memory alive. I began to care about people too. Such a simple thing, but it changed me completely." She sighed, "Odd how it turned out. My dream was to become a billionaire by the time I was thirty. My reality was to found one of the top charity organizations in Japan. By the time I was thirty, I gathered and gave away over a billion yen that one year alone."

"Nabiki," Ranma paused and continued hesitantly, "This is a sorta interesting story, but it doesn't explain how you got here. I mean, I know you promised to tell the truth, but still . . . I mean . . ."

"I know, it's hard to believe." Nabiki added, "I experienced it and I'm not sure I really believe it. Though I hope it's true with all of my being. If this is a dream, then I don't ever want to wake again."

Ranma smirked and reached over to pinch both their rumps at the same time. "Well, we both jumped so I don't think it's a dream for either of us." Suddenly realizing where she had touched the other girl, she quickly began apologizing. "Look Nabiki, I didn't really mean to touch you like that, I mean I did, but I really didn't. Oh, man!"

Gaily laughing, Nabiki reassured the other girl. "Oh Ranma, I've missed you so much. Little things like that, how I've missed them."

Ranma sighed in relief that Nabiki wasn't mad at her as Nabiki added, "How I got here is simple in the telling and almost impossible to believe. I was my office like I said before, when this girl was suddenly there with me. I thought she was a reporter there to interview me. She asked me about your picture that I keep on my desk and wondered what I would say if I could have a wish, any wish but only one. I had to laugh at that. Long ago I had wished to save your life and marry you. I had prayed that particular wish a thousand times over the lonely years, so it was on my lips before I even thought about it." She added shyly, "At least part of my wish is coming true. I prevented your suicide. Now all I have to do is marry you."

Nabiki shook her head in exasperation. "I really, really should have asked who she was. I think she was a Kami as the next thing I know she says, 'Wish granted,' and everything fades out in a blaze of brilliant white light. Then, I'm back in my old bedroom about thirty-three years in the past. That was about five hours ago now. The Kami was still with me, well kind of, I mean she was in the mirror and told me I had to hurry to save your life. So here I am. I hurried and still almost didn't make it."

Ranma quietly looked at her. "But why? Why are you here?"

Nabiki returned her level gaze. "Because I love you. That was one of the things I learned over the years. That was why your death had such a profound impact on my life. I think that was also one of the reasons that I didn't object very strongly when Akane broke off your engagement. I must have wanted you for myself. I just didn't know it at the time."

"No" Ranma repeated, "No, I don't belong to you or any Tendou. If I chose to live, then I will choose who to share my life with too." He paused and added softly, "If I were to choose to live . . ." Tears welled up in Ranma's eyes. "Nabiki, if that is who you really are, it hurts. Kami, but it still really hurts." Ranma placed her hand on Nabiki's shoulder, "Nabiki, I've GOT to do this, it's the right thing to do and it just hurts too much not too. Please don't stop me. If I have to, I'll just tie you up and put you in the bedroom so you can't interfere. Please don't, OK?"

Nabiki looked into his eyes and slowly, almost woodenly, nodded.

Ranma rose and went into the kitchen as Nabiki silently followed. Ranma chose another blade from those available; somehow Ranma couldn't stand the thought of touching the tanto again, not with Nabiki's blood on it. Ranma laid the knife on the table and turned the hot tap on. When the water ran hot enough, she poured a glass of the hot water over her head to regain his natural form again.

Ranma seated himself again, knife in hand. He was surprised when Nabiki seated herself opposite him, tanto in hand. "Nabiki, what are you doing? What are you doing with that tanto?"

"Ranma" she quietly answered, "Kami-sama himself gave me a chance to save your life. I wasn't worthy. I failed. My life is forfeit also." With tears in her eyes, she asked. "Ranma, I'm scared. What if I don't do this right, I don't want to suffer. I've already suffered for thirty-three years. I don't think I can stand the thought of slowly bleeding to death or maybe even worse, NOT bleeding to death. I would have no choice but to try again. Ranma, can I go first? Will you please be my second? Make sure I don't suffer, please?"

Ranma's face slowly drained of all color as an expression of disbelief came over his features. Nabiki wasn't bluffing. Not when she asked to go first. That was not a bluff.

She looked up at him. "I can't prevent you from doing this, Ranma. You also can stop me right now. Yeah, you can stop me now but not after you're gone. But Ranma, I WILL NOT survive you again. This I swear!"

Ranma laid down the knife he had been holding. Wearily he passed a hand over his face. "Nabiki, no, I won't be your second. I don't want you to do this. It's my honor, not yours. Please knock this crap off. I don't believe you."

They sat there for long moments merely looking at each other before Nabiki spoke. "Ranma, now what do we do? I promised to tell you the truth. I have. And I will do as I have said."

"Nabiki? I can't convince you otherwise?"

"Can I convince you?"

"No, Nabiki." Ranma hesitated and renewed the argument. "Nabiki, it's dumb for you to do this based on my decision. I mean, it's MY decision. Not yours and so you shouldn't hold yourself responsible for what I decide." Ranma smiled as he said this, he figured he had a telling argument.

"I don't understand, Ranma" Nabiki asked with a quizzical expression. "Isn't that exactly what you are doing concerning Akane's decision?"

Ranma's hand slapped his forehead in both frustration and exasperation. "NO, it's not the same, it's different because . . . because, well, just because!"

Ranma looked over at Nabiki and noted how tired she looked. Not to mention that her clothes would probably never be wearable again. He let out a deep breath. "I see that we aren't going to get anywhere tonight. You look like you could use a soak. I don't have any girl clothes that will fit you, but you can use my robe if you want. That OK?"

As she hesitated, Ranma reassured her. "I promise not to kill myself while you're in the bath."

With a smile Nabiki replied, "If I thought I could do it, I'd live the rest of my life from the bathtub." She grinned at his credulous face; "After all, Ranma Saotome always keeps his word."

"Baw Hawwwaw" Ranma nearly fell over laughing at this exchange. He just waved her over to the bath as he went to his room to get his robe.

In the outer bath, Nabiki slowly undressed. Naked, she laid the bloody dress over the clothes hamper and then fumbled in the medicine cabinet for some aspirin.

As she leaned over the sink, Ranma opened the door, fully expecting her to be in the bath by now. He got a very full view. His eyes bugged out and he stuttered, "Sorry, sorry, I didn't mean to walk in, I didn't see anything, sorry." He tossed the robe on the floor and started to back out when Nabiki turned to face him. He stopped when he saw the obvious pain she was feeling. His apprehension vanished in the face of his worry over her. "Nabs, you OK?"

"No Ranma," she replied. "I'm afraid, I hurt and I hope I don't faint."

"Nabiki, anything I can do?"

"Ranma, would . . . would you, would you help me bathe? You don't have to take a bath with me, but could you help me? Please? I promise to be good." She reluctantly sighed this last phrase.

"Nabs? You sure?" He added, "I mean, that would mean 'touching' you."

Nabiki looked down at herself, 'I have no modesty at all with him', she mused. She chuckled to herself, 'thirty years of erotic dreams about him did have some impact, I guess'.

She looked up at him, "Ranma, I don't have anything you haven't seen a hundred times. Nothing new that you haven't already touched on yourself. Ranma, I really do love you. I don't mind you seeing me naked or touching me any way you want. But, for now, I hurt and need some help. Will you do that for me? Whatever you decide, it's OK, Ranma. But I could use the help and maybe we could talk some more too."

Without waiting for his answer, she turned to the door of the bath; turned and stumbled. He caught her before she fell and raised a single eyebrow as he looked into her face.

She blushed bright red, partially from his arms on her bare skin, but mostly from embarrassment that he might have misunderstood. "Ranma, I'm so sorry. I really did slip. It wasn't a ploy to get you to do this. I'm so embarrassed; I'm trying so hard not to manipulate you like I used to do." Tears began to leak out of her wide-open eyes. "You don't have to do this, I'm sorry."

Ranma grinned at her, his first truly humorous grin that evening. "Now that I've got my hands on you, I'm not so sure I want to let go of you. What do you say to that?" as he grinned lecherously at her.

"Damn!" exclaimed Nabiki. "I already promised to be good. Ranma, will you release me from that promise? I'll show you why I'm asking that." She grinned. "With a little luck, I might even get pregnant tonight," she leered back at him.

Ranma almost dropped her to the floor. As it was, he settled to the floor with her still in his arms, her legs casually spread, as she sat cross-legged in his lap looking him levelly in the eyes. "Nabiki! That isn't funny!"

Nabiki reached up and grabbed both his ears and pulled him into a deep kiss. He faltered then hesitantly put his arms around her and kissed her back. Nabiki eventually tore herself from the kiss and smiled warmly at him. "No, it's not funny. But I was serious though. I would be honored to have your child, with or without marriage, I would be honored. However," she sighed wistfully, "I did promise to be good and I really do need a bath. Carry me?" She asked whimsically.

Ranma sat there stunned for a few minutes, his eyes absently roving over her.

She merely sighed in pleasure as if his eyes were actually caressing her.

Ranma suddenly shook his head as if clearing a fog. "Ok, Nabs, you win. I'll help you bathe, but I'm not getting undressed!"

'Nabs' nodded and put her arms around his neck so he could pick her up.

Ranma sat Nabiki on the washing stool and hesitantly stood there. Nabiki closed her eyes and sagged in on herself, seemingly ignoring him and the bath as well. Ranma filled a wash pail with warm water and gently began to scrub her. She obediently lifted her arms, stood and turned for his ministrations as if she were a small child. Not once did she open her eyes. She had hopes of being a Saotome, she kept her promises too.

Ranma found it easy to focus on Nabiki's need for help in bathing as Nabiki made an effort to make it impersonal by keeping her eyes closed. At the same time, he could not help noticing just how beautiful she really was. And it felt so, so . . . awesome to touch her like this. Somehow, she became more defined as a person in her own right. Before, she was just Nabiki, Akane's conniving sister, one of many obstacles to be avoided or 'negotiated' in his troubled life. Now he was aware that she was wholly a woman, a woman who had offered everything she had to offer. She had offered it to him; to him, unconditionally. Somehow that was different from what both Ukyou and Shampoo wanted and offered. With them, he felt as if he were a trophy or prize, no particular value in who he was as a person.

As he scooped her up in his arms and settled her into the water with her head in his lap, he thought about it some more. He sat in the tub, fully dressed and gently washed her hair, being careful to not reopen the scabbed over wound. He ministered to her as he mused to himself. Both Ukyou and Shampoo praised his skills and took advantage of his naiveté and lack of social skills. For that matter, so did Nabiki and with a vengeance too! Well, the old Nabiki did. Not this one. This one seemed to respect the person he was inside. She wanted to know that person. She made no bones about wanting that person with all her being either. THAT really, really scared him, but at the same time . . . he could also deal with it. It didn't threaten him. She didn't threaten him. Ranma suddenly realized that he knew, KNEW without any doubt that she loved him, loved him as he was unconditionally. Unconditionally, it was a term he hadn't understood before. It felt humbling somehow to know that the woman asleep in his arms would do anything for him, well anything except let him die alone.

Asleep! Ranma just about panicked. Now what was he supposed to do? He had counted on her to get herself to bed so that he could change out of his wet clothing. How was he supposed to carry her there in his sopping wet clothes? Suddenly suspicious, he glanced at her face and whispered, "You better really be asleep." Her even breathing did not even pause and her face remained relaxed, without any sign of a blush at being caught. Sigh. 'She must really be asleep,' he thought to himself.

Balancing her head on his legs, Ranma carefully disrobed in the tub. He picked her up and carried her into his bedroom, catching up a couple of towels as he went. Ranma loosely draped her arms about his neck as he sat in a chair with her balanced in his lap and carefully toweled her dry. At a loss for pajamas, Ranma finally pulled out one of his soft old red silk shirts and slipped it over her as she laid on the bed. Then he gently tucked her in and went to finish his own bath and sleep on the couch though it was barely past sundown.

As he closed the door, Nabiki slightly opened one eye and thought to herself. 'How the hell could Akane have given that up. Kami, he's gentle, honorable and a real hunk. Damn, I wish I wasn't alone in bed just now. Sigh, damn that promise. Wait-a-minute, that was just for the bath! I'll just get up . . . I'll.' A soft snore filled the room as emotional exhaustion claimed her finally.

As Ranma cleaned up the bath and front room, he thought to himself. 'Was she really asleep? Sigh, I almost wanted to crawl into bed with her. Maybe I really am a pervert like Akane always said.' He picked up the knife and tanto where they had dropped them on the floor. He looked up at the opposite wall where blood marked the hole the tanto had made when Nabiki had thrown it. With a weary shake of his head, he resigned himself being alive another day and cleaned the tanto.

Ranma sat on the couch in his nightclothes as he watched TV. It was still too early in the evening for him to go to sleep and anyway the excitement of the day just wouldn't let him get to sleep. A couple of hours passed as he watched shows he really had no interest in.

Ranma was just starting to doze off when he felt a soft hand on his cheek. "Can I watch TV too?" Nabiki softly asked.

Ranma gazed up in awe at her standing there above him. He noted that the shirt was not really long enough and she really needed to wear panties with it. With a deepening blush as he realized his thought train, Ranma sat up and motioned for her to sit next to him.

Nabiki slid onto the couch and gently took his blanket and wrapped it about the both of them as she casually leaned against him. "What's showing? Say, that's our university gymnastics team isn't it? Who are they competing against? China! Well, I guess there isn't much hope for a win is there?" She burbled happily to Ranma.

Ranma sighed, "Yeah, they're competing against China. They've never won against them, but they keep trying. It's hopeless but they don't give up." He shook his head in sympathy. "Sort of like all the various situations in my life. I want Akane, she doesn't want me. You, Ukyou and Shampoo also want me but I don't want any of you. I want to die. You want to live or die as I choose, but I can't accept you dying just because I hafta." He grimaced sadly. "No solution to any problem; it's part of the reason I just want out. If life is a game, then it's all a 'no-win' scenario as far as I'm concerned."

With tears in his eyes he faced Nabiki, "Please, Nabiki, please let me go honorably. I hurt too much to stay, but I can't accept your death as part of the cost. Please give me a way out so that I don't hurt so much."

Nabiki watched the competition as the athletes began to warm up. Well, she tried to watch, but tears made everything so blurry. Something nagged her memory about what she was seeing. She focused on the program, ignoring Ranma as there was nothing she could say or do for him just now other than snuggle a little closer and whisper, "I'm sorry Ranma."

As one of the Chinese athletes made his appearance in a rather distinctive costume, the memory of this event, so long in her past, returned in full force. She had lost a BUNDLE on this match; she'd never forget the results. She chuckled to herself. 'Should she?'

Her thoughts were interrupted by Ranma. "Nabiki, look, maybe there is some way to resolve this impasse, a competition or something; something that would allow honor to be met on both sides?" Ranma's meaning was clear. 'Nabs, set it up so that one of us has to give preferably you lose so I can die in peace.'

"Ok Ranma, but only if you are as truly willing to accept defeat as you expect me to be." She looked him levelly in the eyes; "On your honor, no second thoughts or chances. No hesitation."

A suddenly nervous Ranma abruptly recalled that this was Nabiki, the mercenary, the bookie who had supported her family for nearly ten years. "Ahh, it depends on what you're proposing. I won't accept being tricked, not in something this important to us both." As she raised an eyebrow at him, he quickly added, "If the competition is fair, and I lose, you have my word that I'll pay up."

Nabiki nodded. She seemed lost in thought. "How about this Ranma, we negotiate the terms beforehand. One of us chooses a sporting event and if the other agrees to it then the second person has the privilege of selecting the side she or he wants. That work for you?"

Ranma carefully thought it over. Yeah, his chances were as good as hers, especially if he got to pick the team. That meant she got to pick the event though. He grinned. 'But only if he agreed. Gottcha!' He thought happily to himself. "Ok, I think maybe that is about as fair an offer as I've ever heard you give. So what are the terms you were thinking of?"

Nabiki cutely pursed her lips together as she thought. 'I'm going to win. How far can I push him on this? Hummmm, might as well go for broke.' She looked up at him, "We both aren't going to like the terms; you know that, don't you?"

At Ranma's nod, she continued, "Ok, what do you want if I lose?"

Ranma didn't answer immediately. His college study efforts were showing through. "First, you will be my second. Then you will do everything you can do to keep my parents alive, even if you must offer to be their daughter, their OBEDIENT daughter. Then you will also do what you can to make your sister's lives happy instead of the misery you described earlier. By the way, I still don't believe you. Oh, one last item, you will also marry before your thirtieth birthday." Ranma figured that with all his demands, some he considered outrageous, he had some negotiating room to counter Nabiki's demands whatever they were.

Nabiki's grin nearly split her face. Yessss, go for broke indeed! She said though, "Humm, those are rather significant obligations. Well, let me think a moment." She paused, getting ready to go for the kill. "First, you live, you live until fate demands your hide and even then you fight tooth and nail before being defeated. Second, we get married in a small civil ceremony tomorrow. Oh yes, you make every effort to get me pregnant tonight. I want lots of babies by you, so that will be an ongoing obligation for the rest of our lives." She grinned up at him, "Well, you got the 'balls' to call my bet?"

Ranma sat there frozen in shock. 'Shit, she was serious, very serious!' He thought about it. He was pretty sure she wouldn't give on the first item any more than he would. So, if he lost, that meant, "Ah, Nabiki, about the marriage . . . "

He got no further as she said, "Ranma, I want you to live. And I mean LIVE, not just exist as a shell, enduring life. This is a package deal. And I'm the package."

Ranma sat back again. His feeling of foreboding was back, he had the thought that he was forgetting something critical. Then again, it occurred to him that losing this particular bet wouldn't be all that bad either. However, all he said was, "Ok, Nabs, you've got a bet. Now what do we bet on?"

For an answer, Nabiki just pointed to the TV. "That's the competition I choose, Ranma. Our university against China in a gymnastics meet. Choose sides Ranma; choose life or death, Ranma. It's really your choice. Please choose with your heart Ranma." The tears in her eyes were real. She was sure Ranma's choice would hurt.

Ranma looked in disbelief at Nabiki. He thought to himself, 'She can't be serious. We both know China never loses these types of competitions. I had sorta hoped maybe she would really put up a battle for me. Wait a minute! This is some mental ploy on her part! She wants me to deliberately chose her by picking the side I know will lose? Does she think my honor is so weak and my pain so trivial?' Sadly Ranma made his choice; he had hoped that Nabiki was past trying to manipulate him. "Nabiki, I don't like you trying to manipulate me like that. Do you think my dishonor and pain so small that you could seduce me away from honor's path?"

"Ranma, I'm giving you what you wanted; an honorable resolution to the dilemma between us. Do you accept it? If so, do you agree to this match, and on which side do you place your heart?" Nabiki asked.

Ranma sadly replied, "I agree to this match, Nabiki. I believe China will win. I'm sorry Nabiki. I know you had hoped that I would choose to deliberately lose, but I really, really do hurt and just want out." He sighed softly, "Maybe if I had been engaged to you from the first, maybe, just maybe it could have worked out between us. But now, well, it's just too late." He hugged her close and added, "Nabiki, thanks for trying though. It's made things a lot easier. When we do this, I won't hold you to the promise to be my second. That would just hurt you too much more. It's enough to know that you understand and were here for me."

Tears welled up in a constant flow from Nabiki's eyes. She had been right. His choice had hurt. She had offered everything she had and he had chosen death instead. She softly sighed. When China lost, as she remembered that they had, he was NOT going to be happy; now to close the noose. Nabiki looked Ranma in the eyes and stated flatly, "I will abide by ALL the conditions of the bet. Can I count on the same from you?"

Stung by the sharpness of her answer, Ranma sat back and replied tartly. "I gave my word." They sat back to watch the match, but just before it actually started, when Ranma got up to get some refreshments for them; Nabiki rushed to the phone and placed several bets of her own on the match using her little black book to recall the numbers. Each time she bet considerably more than she had to cover it. But her reputation was good with the other bookies; so much so that the odds actually shifted a bit solely based on her bets.

The match ended just after midnight. Ranma's face had grown steadily whiter as the outcome had become clearer and clearer. Finally he turned to Nabiki and whispered hoarsely, "You really did come from the future. You really did. But that means you cheated! You already knew the outcome."

Before he could say words they would both regret, Nabiki placed her hand over his mouth. "I told you I came from the future. I told you I had already experienced all these events. I told you, I TOLD you! It's not my fault that you chose to not believe me. I didn't hold back anything. Well, anything other than the final score of this event and I let you choose your side. But I told you I knew what would happen. That should have given you a clue that the obvious choice was probably not the right one." She looked him questioningly in the eye. "So, what now? Is your word and honor real Saotome, or is it just another panda mask?"

Ranma snarled at the obvious reference to his father's notorious questionable honor. As he looked at her tear streaked face, he thought, 'my first assessment was correct. She was serious; she was going to fight me with everything she had. She gambled everything she held dear to win. She gambled that I would forget that she already knew parts of the future.' He studied her face. 'She's scared! Scared of the bedroom? No, she's scared that I'll reject her even now!'

Ranma gently wiped the tears from her face. He continued to caress her cheeks softly. The thought occurred to Ranma that he was actually kind of glad that he had lost, she was kind of cute and she was being awfully nice. Finally, Ranma leaned into her embrace and whispered, "You win, I fully surrender . . . 'dear'."

If there was any chance he could have misunderstood the seriousness of her intentions; that vanished when she nuzzled his neck and whispered, "Carry me to bed, I fully intend to collect on my earnings tonight, all night."

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Nabiki woke up again, this time she decided to be considerate and let Ranma continue sleeping instead of waking him again for what . . . the fifth time tonight. She didn't really recall. But she knew she felt great. Poor guy, he looked so exhausted. She snickered slightly to herself as she carefully got out of bed.

'Owie,' she whimpered as she started moving around. She hadn't gotten off easy herself. She grinned, remembering that her flexibility and enthusiasm had surprised Ranma.

She dressed in Ranma's robe. She looked for some panties, but . . . oh well; it wasn't really surprising that he didn't own any even if he was a she sometimes. His girl stuff was probably at his folk's house she guessed.

She made her way to the kitchen and was surprised to realize that it was nearly noon. She stood at the window and sipped her tea as she tried to recall what her life was like at this time of her past life. Hopefully, she could pick it up pretty easily.

She noticed a once familiar couple making their way up the street and thoughtfully wondered what she needed to do to preserve both Ranma's happiness and their sanity in the face of this pair of most obstinate of obstacles.

She sighed as she hurried to prepare the stage for the next scene of this particular play.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Nodoka knocked on her son's door even as she tried the knob. Not waiting for an answer, she quietly ushered herself and Genma into the small apartment; once inside, she stopped, stunned.

"Nabiki!" she gasped in surprise. "You're here! Everybody was worried when you missed Akane's wedding. If it was on purpose, then that was probably one of the rudest things that I could possibly envision."

Nabiki smiled at them and then knelt and momentarily bowed. "Mother Nodoka, father Genma; I was here. I was here all yesterday and all night too. I had a choice of either preventing Ranma's suicide or being a bridesmaid at an event that stained the honor of both families. Tell me truly, which path would you have had me choose?"

Nodoka sank to her knees, "Ranma, suicide?!? Please, he didn't, did he?"

Nabiki motioned Genma to sit also. She waited patiently until he reluctantly complied. "Ranma's fine. I'm the only one who shed any blood yesterday," as she gestured to her head and the bloody bridesmaid dress that was pinned to the floor with the tanto.

Both parents quickly arose to inspect the dress and then knelt beside the girl to inspect the scabbed over cut on her head. Anticipating their question she added, "I got cut when I wrestled the tanto blade out of Ranma's hand." She continued, "I think it was the shock of seeing my blood that actually caused him to come out of the trance he had put himself into. I'm not sure anything else would have worked. I don't regret the cut or the blood."

Nodoka wondered how to delicately put this. "Hah, Nabiki, you said you spent the night here. Aah, how did you convince my son to not commit suicide?"

Nabiki gave both parents an earthly grin. "I seduced the baka, what else would possibly have worked so effectively." She patted her tummy. "With a little luck, we'll even get a kid out of it to keep him interested in life on a more permanent basis."

Both parents promptly fainted. The respite was short however. On coming to, Genma made a beeline for the phone and was talking to Soun for twenty minutes before he noticed that the phone had been dead the entire time.

Nodoka just sat there with a silly grin on her face the entire time.

About the time that Genma noticed the phone was sabotaged, Nodoka started showing signs of sentience again. Nabiki then arose, grabbed Genma's ear and dragged him to sit next to his wife. "Mother Nodoka, father Genma," she started and paused to get their attention. "Mother Nodoka, father Genma, I only told you the conclusion to the story. You really need to hear the whole story. It is NOT pleasant, but you owe it to both me and your son to hear me out. Will you? Will you promise no interruptions? I'm going to tell you the whole bitter truth. I'm going to do this because we all share a love for the same person, Ranma."

They both nodded, but Nabiki wasn't satisfied. "Do you both give your word of honor to listen and NOT act on what I am about to tell you until I give you permission? Please believe me; I do not make this request lightly. Do you?"

Nodoka turned her head and narrowed her eyes at her husband. He immediately noticed this sudden attention and his shoulders slumped as he murmured, "Yes, dear."

Nodoka nodded to Nabiki and said, "Yes Nabiki-chan, we both promise."

Nabiki flushed at the by-play and pet name. She slowly began to retell her story and the events of last night. These people had died of grief for Ranma. She felt that they deserved to know the truth. It might make it easier for her plans to happen if she had their active participation instead of unwilling compliance.

Nabiki forgave them for their interruptions as there was so much to tell and some details meant more to them than to her. At the end of almost three hours, she was nearly hoarse and both Saotomes were fuming.

"It took Soun five years to even ask about ME. Why that ungrateful . . . " Nabiki was glad that Genma's voice had trailed off as she was sure that she would be obligated to take offense at the insults even if she agreed with them.

Nodoka's response was even more frightening. She was slowly and carefully sharpening her katana as she murmured, "How could they do that to Kasumi; Kasumi of all people. How could Kasumi be so oblivious almost to the point of insult? I thought better of her than that, but still she didn't deserve what happened to her."

Nabiki coughed lightly to draw their attention back to herself. "Ranma and I are going to get married today in a small civil ceremony as soon as he gets up. Now before you argue with me about this, consider. If we have a formal ceremony, we have to invite my family and I certainly don't want to do that. Do you?"

Both parents sighed in defeat as they acknowledged their agreement with her logic.

Nabiki continued after a few moments. "That leaves only one more unresolved issue; your gift to the bride." She smiled at the suddenly nervous expression that both adults exhibited as they recalled who they were dealing with. "The gift I want is both simple and painful. I want you to both promise me to have no dealings with my family. As far as Akane, Kasumi and daddy are concerned, they are 'dead' to you." Seeing the shocked expressions on their faces she hurriedly explained. "I want to help them, not punish them. But I need space to do this. Yeah, I also want some peace and quiet and a little bit of revenge too. But mostly, they are my problem and it's going to be hard enough to try and restore their own sense of honor and self worth without the two of you intervening. Well meaning as you both are, let's admit you were both stellar class failures as parents. And being a parent to my family is just what I have to try to do." Unbidden tears came to her eyes, "Please, this is really important to me, please promise."

Genma surprised both women when he knelt to Nabiki and bowed to the floor. "We owe our son's life, our very family to you. What you ask for, is yours, daughter-Nabiki, this I swear on my very life." He smiled at her, a very rare expression. Apparently his joy for Ranma was making him giddy. "Nabiki, you saved Ranma's life, right now I'd do anything for you." With a wry grin he added, "in fact, I swear it on my hope for my next meal as well."

Both women burst out laughing, knowing that Genma could make no stronger vow.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

The smell of a late lunch woke Ranma and he stumbled bleary eyed into the dining area. He froze in shock as he saw his parents talking with Nabiki. His thoughts were a jumbled confusion, 'Nabiki! What in the . . . it wasn't a dream? Nabiki . . . Nabiki?' Ranma couldn't move as his eyes were fixed on Nabiki and his face drained of color as tears brimmed his eyes.

Seeing the tears, Nabiki intuitively understood and quickly rose to fold Ranma into an embrace and whisper. "Yes, it was all real. It's ok. I really do love you. It's ok Ranma. Please, Ranma, don't retreat again. Stay, live. Please Ranma, for those who love you, live."

"You love me?" Ranma hesitantly asked. "But why? And last night, why? We both know I don't love you. I mean . . . I," Ranma stuttered to a stop in embarrassment.

Nabiki reached up and smoothed his hair as she continued to hold him close. "I know Ranma. You loved my sister Akane. Your love is not easily given and doesn't simply vanish overnight. I know you don't love me yet. Yet. That's the basis for my hope, Ranma-chan. 'Yet.' That maybe tomorrow or next week or next month or next year, you will love me. I'll wait and hope and love you anyway with everything that I am until then." She leaned back to look him in the eyes and gave him a warm grin that seemed to make her eyes sparkle with life. "Until then," she repeated. "You are mine as my gambling earnings and this is one bet that I mean to fully collect on."

Ranma's face flushed a deep crimson as both his parents started chuckling at this point. Nodoka and Genma embraced the pair from opposite sides.

"Boy! How could you even consider . . ." he sputtered to a stop as Nabiki elbowed him in the gut.

Nodoka was slower but relentless. "Ranma, oh Ranma. You make me so proud yet at the same time I'm so very glad that Nabiki stopped you. Oh Ranma, I would've missed you so much that I couldn't . . ." She was unable to continue as her sobs began to overwhelm her. Nabiki disengaged and subtlety encouraged Ranma to comfort his mother. Lunch cooled as Ranma held his mother while she cried and he reassured her that everything would be OK from now on.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Genma had started acting nervous. Ever since they had returned from recording Ranma and Nabiki's marriage earlier that afternoon, he had become secretive and nervous. It wasn't a good sign, and it bothered Nabiki as she struggled to recall what its significance was.

Fortunately Nodoka had noticed the signs as well. Several times Genma had attempted to sneak off and she had interrupted whatever it was that he was trying to hide. She eyed her errant mate and wondered. As he walked to the bathroom, her eyes tracked him. When he passed the phone, something clicked and as he entered the bathroom she hurriedly checked her purse.

"Genma!" She yelled as she ran to the bathroom and slammed the door open to find him dialing on her cellular phone just as she had suspected. She grabbed the phone and glared at the number he had nearly completed dialing. "You miserable panda! You promised!" And with that she proceeded to play pound the baka; one of Akane's favorite games.

Before the marriage, they had stopped at Nabiki's apartment so that she could change out of Ranma's borrowed clothing and pack a suitcase for herself. As Nabiki settled her clothing into the room she now shared with Ranma, Nodoka began to prepare a lavish wedding celebration supper.

When it was ready, she called her family. 'Family', what a wonderful word, she thought as she called them to supper.

Ranma and Nabiki came down the stairs, both flushed and grinning, again. Genma hurriedly seated himself but suddenly found Nodoka's katana imbedded in the floor between his crossed legs.

With wide eyes he watched the blade as it slowly oscillated before his nose. Nodoka leaned over so that her face was next to the hilt. "To quote one Genma Saotome: 'I swear it on my hope for my next meal as well'." She grinned maliciously, "Your self discipline could use some help. We will start on your training, NOW."

With that she pulled the katana out of the floor and motioned Genma toward the bathroom using the bared blade as a pointer.

Genma protested, "But I didn't actually call. Besides, I was just too excited about the wedding. Soun and I have been planning on joining our schools for over twenty years now. He has a right to know about our dream coming true!"

Nodoka glared at him. "Yes, you are right. BUT," she added at his smug look. "Nabiki has the right to tell him; when she is ready; not you, and you promised!" With that she drove him at sword point into the bathroom. Nodoka emerged a few moments later with a panda in tow; a muzzled panda; a muzzle made of chain with a heavy padlock.

The panda whimpered as he watched all the food, all that lovely food, slowly disappear. Everyone, even Ranma, ate leisurely, obviously enjoying the meal. Nabiki glanced at the pleading panda and whispered to Nodoka, "Isn't that begging getting to you?"

"Yes," replied Nodoka. "Genma's behavior is starting to annoy me." She glared at him as he listened hopefully. "I am seriously considering having him miss breakfast as well, AND maybe putting him on a diet too." The panda fainted.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Two weeks later, Nabiki called a family conference with her new family; fortunately Ranma's folks were visiting again. All of them nervously eyed her. She sighed. She had forgotten just how bad her mercenary reputation had been at this point in her life. "First, the good news; I'm pregnant."

Ranma and Genma both fainted. Nodoka began giggling uncontrollably as visions of grandchildren began dancing in her head. Nabiki got up to prepare lunch.

The smell of food on the table roused the men and their stirring brought Nodoka back to this world. As they ate, each of them slyly glanced at Nabiki, wondering if it had all been a dream.

As they sat around the table, finishing dessert, Nabiki continued the family conference she called an hour ago. "As I said, I'm pregnant and that is going to cause all sorts of problems for us. But I think I see a way out if you all agree." She checked to see if she still had their attention. The guys were obviously trying to figure out what the problems could possibly be.

Nodoka offered, "It's going to interfere with your classes, both during the pregnancy and after the baby comes. Do you have insurance?" She grinned again, "I would be more than happy to baby-sit."

"Yeah, we have insurance through the university, so that's not a problem for Ranma and I. Finances might be though." She continued, "I was able to sublease my old apartment, which helped. But I was thinking that it was time we looked into buying a house; a house large enough for us to live together as an extended family."

Nodoka looked puzzled. "That's nice dear, but how are you going to afford that and what will we do with our home?" She paused. "I suppose we could rent it out." She added, "I have a small stock portfolio that I could use to loan you some money, I guess." It's how I managed to support myself all those years when I was alone."

Nabiki shook her head. "No, that won't do it. What I had in mind was for you to do was to sell the house and pass the funds and the stock portfolio to me to manage for us from now on."

Ranma eyes squinted as he studied her and thought, 'This sounds like the old Nabiki. Take the Saotomes for everything they were worth and vanish?' He smiled to himself at the thought. 'No, that was the last thing she'd ever do.' Besides, he'd seen the pregnancy test kit in the bathroom garbage just a few minutes ago. She was definitely pregnant.

Nodoka's face tightened and she was obviously about to summarily refuse when Ranma placed his hand on hers and asked, "Mom, for me, please do this."

Nodoka turned and studied her son's face. "But that's everything I have. That's my security!"

"No mom," he calmly replied. "A family is what you truly have. Nabiki is this family's financial wizard and she is the security for you, pop, our baby and me. She's not just asking for your money. She's really asking for your trust. I think she deserves the chance. She's earned it. Mom, please, for me, trust her."

Nodoka turned and studied Nabiki again. Finally she nodded and said, "I think Ranma's right. Ok, Nabiki, I'll make arrangements to turn the titles over to you. We'll make it a wedding settlement and hopefully avoid some taxes that way."

With tears running down their faces, the two ladies embraced for a few silent moments. Nabiki wiped her face and added, "That will help, but it won't quite be enough." She turned to Genma. "You are going to have to bring in some income."

'Where in the world did he get the water,' she wondered as she stared at the panda.

Genma raised a sign, 'I'm a cute panda and pandas DON'T work.'

Nabiki grinned, Genma shuddered.

"Actually, I'm glad you decided to change," Nabiki smirked. She handed a list of appointments to Nodoka. "Here is a list of children's parties that I've scheduled a trained panda to show up for. You are listed as his trainer. The two of you will have to work out some sort of act, but I'm sure you can handle that." She grinned again at Genma. "You're lousy with kids. Think of this as training for when your first grandchild shows up."

Nodoka's grin got wider and wider as she thought over what Nabiki had proposed. She blocked Genma's efforts to get hot water and used a broom handle to start the 'training'. She was going to enjoy this.

Nabiki and Ranma used some of their 'pillow-talk' time together to figure out what to do about the remaining fiancées. Neither of them considered Kodachi in this category. "Nabs," remarked Ranma as he slowly massaged Nabiki's shoulders. "I'm worried about what either or both Shampoo and Ukyou might do to you when they find out we're married." Worriedly he added, "I don't think I could stand to have either you or the baby hurt." He hurriedly clarified, "I mean it's because you aren't a martial artist, not as if I love you or anything like that yet. I mean . . ."

Nabiki had shut him up by the simple expedient of turning in his arms and kissing him passionately. After a long while, she broke the kiss and held him quietly to herself. "Don't tell me what you don't feel. Tell me what you do feel, lover-boy. OK?" Ranma nodded as he closed his eyes and enjoyed her attention.

As Nabiki absently caressed him, she struggled with a thought that was on the edge of her awareness; a vague memory that she had once found a solution to the Amazon problem. With a sigh, she got out of bed and brought her laptop to bed.

As she opened it up and plugged in the phone cord, Ranma moaned. "Ah Nabs, I thought we were going to go to bed." Nabiki replied by kissing the tip of his nose as she logged onto the Internet. In a few minutes she had located a dozen hits with all the keywords 'amazon + laws + china + marriage'. As she opened them up one-by-one, she had the feeling that she had seen several of the pages before. Ranma was reading over her shoulder. His head propped on her shoulder. She looked closer at him. He seemed to be spending about equal time looking at the screen and her breasts. She blushed with pleasure even as she gently whapped him on the head. "Baka, the screen; watch the screen."

He kissed her ear and murmured, "Yes dear," even as his hands moved to cover up the distractions. As she giggled, Ranma pointed to a particular paragraph currently displayed. "Say Nabs, does that say what I think it says?"

Nabiki leaned forward to read the page carefully. "Yes," she squealed, "yes! I thought that I had remembered something like this from a long time ago." Her eyes narrowed at him, "I didn't think you were actually paying attention to the screen. Getting tired of me already I see." Ranma sighed; he had already learned that some arguments were lost before he even had a chance to start. He immediately surrendered by tickling her before she could continue in this vein.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

"DIE, RANMA SAOTOME" screamed Ryouga as he launched his assault. With incredible quickness, Ranma scooped Nabiki up and placed her well out of harm's way before he turned to face his attacker.

"What's your problem Ryouga?" he said in an icy voice.

The lack of emotion, with neither bantering nor angry words coupled with the absence of an appended insult sounded an urgent warning bell in Ryouga's mind. 'This Ranma was not the normal one he usually encountered'. However, with his usual stubbornness, he managed to ignore it and continued on. "Damn you for two-timing Akane with her mercenary sister. You will pay Ranma."

"I case you've forgotten, she dumped me and got married to someone else about a month ago," calmly replied Ranma.

"And that's your fault too, you honorless cur!" snarled the lost boy.

Before he could launch an attack, Nabiki, who had wandered over during the exchange, stepped up to Ryouga and backhanded him across the face with all her strength.

"Don't YOU dare say the word 'honor' to my husband!" she hissed. "YOU!, you, the one who slept in my sister's bed, the one who was four, not one or two or three but FOUR flaming days late for a duel you set up and then had the audacity to blame Ranma for your stupidity and inadequacy. You have so little honor that you should already BE in a grave. And don't you dare ever mention my sister's name again, especially not in my presence. While she has damned little honor left, she doesn't deserve the shame of having you speak her name."

Seeing Nabiki so close to tears, stirred something in Ranma's chest. Not the usual panic of seeing a girl cry, but something more primeval and deadly. As Ryouga opened his mouth for an angry retort Ranma walked over and placed himself in front of Nabiki. "Ryouga, she cries, you die," calmly asserted Ranma in a voice made more deadly serious for its lack of emotion.

The warning bells in Ryouga's mind had been replaced by hundred decibel sirens that went into overtime as Ranma's battle aura became visible. Instead of gradually growing as usually happened, this time it flashed into incandescence with a strength that Ryouga had never seen before. Not even when Ranma had fought Saffron, and he had more or less killed Saffron then. The color gave Ryouga pause as well. This was a dark purple as the red fury that Ranma was obviously controlling merged with the usual blue of Ranma's cocky confidence. For the first time in his life, Ryouga felt fear. Ranma was serious, he would kill him. Kill him just for making Nabiki cry. It didn't help that Ryouga knew that Ranma also had the necessary skill to do exactly as he said as well.

"Ahh, sorry Nabiki? I didn't know . . . ahh . . . you're married?" stuttered Ryouga. "You're married? When did this happen?" asked Ryouga as Nabiki's comments began filtering into his consciousness as angry thoughts of Ranma vanished in a gesture of self-preservation.

"The day after Akane soiled the Tendou and Saotome honor. That's the day I married him," answered Nabiki.

"But why, I mean I thought you really didn't like him. I mean he's a jerk and a poor jerk at that?" asked Ryouga in honest puzzlement.

"Well," began Nabiki, "I have at least five reasons that I can think of right off the top of my head."

"Huh," replied Ryouga obviously trying to think of even one.

Nabiki leaned into Ranma's embrace while looking to the side to face Ryouga. "First, I love him, second, I owed it to him, third, I love him, fourth, I need him, fifth, I love him . . ." she paused and Ranma took the subtle hint and kissed her. Nabiki almost fainted for joy. Sure, it was a quick kiss, but it was in public and on the lips. But most of all, Ranma had initiated it. And in front of Ryouga too!

Ryouga fainted.

Ranma and Nabiki continued on their way to class together hand in hand. The new semester had begun just a few weeks after their marriage and Nabiki had hurriedly rearranged both of their classes slightly to enable them to spend more time together. They even had one class together now and Nabiki was a regular member of Shana and Ranma's study group. The fact that she was a year ahead didn't hurt. If she hadn't already taken the class, she was very adept at finding study notes for them all.

Shana was a girl that Nabiki had remembered from nearly thirty-three years ago. She was one of the few who had also found out the truth about Ranma's suicide in that former time-line. She had not taken it well, but had made a good recovery from her grief. She had eventually married in medical school and the pair had become a respected couple in the community. Nabiki had known them socially for decades.

Shana had gracefully accepted Ranma's marriage, especially after Nabiki had asked her to please not dump Ranma as a study partner. Nabiki had quietly cornered the girl after class one day the first week of school and confided to her that she was someone that both she and Ranma trusted and liked a lot.

Six weeks after Akane's wedding, Nabiki walked into the 'Cat-Café'. Cologne and Shampoo had moved to the university district earlier in the year when Ranma had first enrolled there. At Nabiki's request, though Ranma had spoken with both girls several times since getting married, he had delayed telling either Ukyou or the amazons anything about marrying Nabiki until she was ready. She was ready now. She'd had thirty years to prepare for this particular confrontation and girl, was she finally ready.

Nabiki chose a table near the kitchen where Cologne was working.

"What mercenary girl want?" piped Shampoo suspiciously.

"A bowl of ramen and for you to leave my husband alone," casually responded Nabiki.

"I do hope for your sake that you are joking about Ranma being your husband," Cologne quietly remarked as she set a steaming bowl of hot ramen before Nabiki.

"Nope. Happened a month and a half ago. Good ramen," Nabiki added pleasantly.

Shampoo's sword was suddenly in her hand. "Amazon warrior kill woman what steal Shampoo's husband!"

Nabiki raised an eyebrow and continued eating the ramen. "Not if you ever want to return home," she calmly replied.

Shampoo hesitated, obviously not expecting this response.

Cologne blocked Shampoo with her staff and sighed. "Over a month you say. I suppose you aren't . . ."

"Yep," interrupted Nabiki. "Knocked-up, with child, pregnant! By your own laws, laws that you have repeatedly stated apply to Ranma and anybody associated with him, I am his lawful wife. We were married in a public civil ceremony with a clan elder in attendance, Ranma's mother in this case. There was no challenge for a full lunar cycle AND I am pregnant. Both of you will become not outcasts, but outlaws to be hunted down if either of you causes me or my child any harm."

"But, bu," sputtered Shampoo.

"I erred," sighed Cologne. "I didn't expect Ranma to be capable of any romantic interest so soon after Akane's wedding. So we have been deliberately giving him breathing space. I guess it turned out to be breeding space instead."

She turned to Shampoo, "It's over, we can both go home now."

Cologne asked Nabiki, "How?"

Nabiki gazed at her with hooded eyes. She had debated whether or not to tell the two the truth or not and hadn't yet made up her mind. Shampoo's quiet tears helped her decide. 'Truth, some of it anyway.' "The day of the wedding, I received a foretelling of Ranma's death by suicide. That was why I missed Akane's wedding; I was busy saving Ranma's life." She leaned forward and pointed to the faint scar above her hairline. "I got that wrestling the tanto blade from him." She grinned. "Once I got the blade from him, it was all verbal after that and he never stood a chance."

Nabiki left payment on the table and calmly walked out of the café. Neither Amazon hindered her departure and the café closed a week later. Nabiki received a short note from Shampoo that said,

'Shampoo sad to lose Ranma. Glad Ranma not dead though. Thanks for saving Ranma.'

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Ranma was showing Nabiki some of the simpler kata of their family art style. She on the other hand was protesting weakly against his insistence that she begin retraining. "Ranma, I'm pregnant, I'm a girl and I have no interest in learning this"

"Nabiki," he smirked, "this is for your own good. You've used that excuse on me. This time I get to use it on you."

"But I'm in shape! I don't need to learn martial arts," she snapped at him.

Somberly he replied, "If you are to be my wife you do. Nabs, about a month ago when Ryouga attacked me . . . you could have gotten hurt. Craziness seems to be part of my lifestyle." He hesitated a few moments before adding, "I want to protect you but I know that I can't always be there no matter how hard I try. I know there is no way to make you an expert, but maybe, just maybe what you do learn will slow them down long enough for me to get there or help you to protect yourself long enough to get away. Nabs, it's a long shot but, well, I'd like to take out all the insurance I can with you."

"Besides," he grinned as he slid his hands down her sides. "It gives me more time to spend with you. Though I have to admit, you really should come with a doctor's prescription?"

"Oh?" she replied archly, "You mean because I'm unreadable and expensive?"

"No," he sighed as he gently kissed her neck. "You're habit forming."

Not surprisingly, Nabiki soon called a halt to the martial arts practice and hauled Ranma off to bed for some marital arts practice. On the other hand, she didn't protest Ranma's retraining program for her thereafter.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Nabiki smirked to herself. With the knowledge she had already amassed while at the university plus what she remembered from her previous life, she had managed to purchase options on several key properties. She had managed to turn the money she had gotten from Nodoka and her own gambling assets into a sizeable nest egg using these short-term bonanzas.

Now to find and buy a house; it was really crowded in Ranma's apartment for now with the four of them there. Thank goodness Genma was on a diet, it cut down on the daily shopping a lot. Genma had gotten so good at begging food from the children at the parties, that Nodoka began to worry she might have to start rolling him home afterwards. On the other hand, the old panda was beginning to get along with the kids pretty well. At least as long as food was involved. But it was a start.

Nabiki rubbed her back a little. According to Nodoka, backaches would eventually become more common for her as she moved into the later stages of pregnancy. She was secretly thankful that Nodoka had insisted on Nabiki and Ranma taking the bedroom and bed while the parents used futons in the front room. In any case it was more convenient as Nodoka was usually the one who made breakfast each morning anyway.

Genma had tried to ambush Ranma for a morning sparing match in his bedroom just once after they had moved in, but after seeing Ranma's fury at Nabiki's scared face, he had vowed to never do that again when he finally regained consciousness. Being able to move again took a little bit longer.

The young couple managed to spend a lot of time together even though they only shared one class. They often studied together even though it was for different classes. Nabiki was frequently surprised at the depth of Ranma's general knowledge in some of the oddest of topics as well as the speed and ease with which he absorbed knowledge.

On weekends, Ranma and Nabiki were usually out walking, cruising the neighborhoods, and trying to get a feel for the atmosphere or health of each area as they looked over various properties that were for sale near the university. Something about the sight of the young couple, laughing with each other and casually strolling about hand in hand encouraged the housewives to respond pleasantly to Nabiki's casual questions. It was not uncommon for Ranma and Nabiki to be offered refreshments while spending a casual hour discussing who had what for sale or what was really wrong with a particular neighbor's house and how little they might accept for it.

Ranma was in a foul mood. It was raining, the hot water heater was temporarily out in the apartment building and his mother was making supper and couldn't spare a pot to heat water so Ranma could change to the proper gender.

As Ranma sulked, Nabiki came up behind her and hugged her close. "Nabs, I'm a girl! We're the same sex. We shouldn't do that," fumed Ranma at her spouse.

"Oh, like you have a lot of experience being a girl?" retorted Nabiki. "Besides, I really don't mind this aspect of you. You're really cute."

"It's just . . . well; I'm just getting comfortable feeling good hugging you as a guy. This bothers me," she sighed. "Not to mention that Shana's coming over to study pretty soon. I know she knows about my curse. But I don't think she's really all that comfortable with me when I'm like this. I like her. I don't want to offend her if I don't need to."

Nabiki idly stoked her husband's hair as she thought about what Ranma had said. "Ranma, you're still not all that comfortable as a girl yet are you? I mean you've been cursed for almost four years and locked in your cursed form at least three times. But you're still not comfortable are you?"

Ranma looked up at Nabiki and sighed, this switching heights was one of the many things about the curse that kept disorienting her. "Nabs, if you mean 'do I hate my curse', the answer is no. I don't hate it and sometimes I don't even notice that I've changed when transition is smooth and has no affect on what I'm doing. But sometimes, sometimes the transition isn't so smooth. I'll be reaching for something and all of a sudden, it's out of my reach again as my legs and arms shorten. It's just inconvenient now mostly."

"Ranma," began Nabiki hesitantly as if knowing this idea was not going to go over easily. "Ranma, I hate to see you like this. I have an idea that I hope you'll at least consider. Will you listen? Please, for me?"

Ranma turned and looked into Nabiki's pensive eyes. She reached out and absently hugged the other girl and tiredly said, "Sorry to worry you. Go ahead, tell me your idea."

"Well, part of the problem is that you still fight the curse even if you do mostly accept the fact that you're stuck with it," began Nabiki. "What if you were to start deliberately scheduling time to spend as a girl doing girl things. And conning ice cream doesn't count," she added.

"Nabs? What do you mean?" asked Ranma. This time SHE was the pensive one.

"Ok, try this idea on," Nabiki suggested. "One day a week from evening meal to the next evening meal. You ARE a girl. You dress as a girl and you do girl things."

"WHAT! Are you crazy?" yelled Ranma. She would have said more but the hurt expression on Nabiki's face quieted her immediately. Somehow, Nabiki's feelings mattered a lot to her anymore. "Sorry, didn't mean to yell," she whispered contritely. "But I just don't see why you would want me to do this."

"Are you ever going to be cured?" asked Nabiki quietly.

Puzzled at this odd change of direction, Ranma merely shrugged her shoulders as she answered, "No, probably not; though I would if I could."

"Then this curse is likely to be a permanent part of your life." Nabiki sighed as she took Ranma's hand and began stroking the girl's soft skin. "Ranma, being a girl is a lot more than what changes in the underwear. Minor things change too, such as the texture and sensitivity of the skin. Your hormones change too, though, sigh, at least you're spared the 'monthlies' the rest of us girls have."

Noticing Ranma's bright red flush, Nabiki was momentarily shocked before she began chuckling. The chuckles grew into laughter as Nabiki began to envision this man among men having periods.

"Ranma, No! How do you cope?"

Ranma sighed, being married to her as 'he' was; she really didn't think she'd be able to keep it a secret forever. At least Kasumi had never mentioned it to anybody after she had helped Ranma that first time when Cologne had trapped Ranma in girl form with the full body cat tongue. Ranma opened her backpack and whispered as she showed Nabiki the contents of a small opaque plastic bag. "My cycle is a little irregular and with the curse, all I can use is pads. If I can't change back immediately I use this." Inside the bag was a simple sanitary belt and a few pads. "I try to keep it with me as much as I can," she sighed.

Nabiki opened her purse to reveal a couple of tampons in the bottom. "Many girls do something similar, even the pregnant ones, just in case." Still chuckling a little, Nabiki continued. "Ranma, if you are cursed to become a girl, why not make use of it as an opportunity. You know, it could become an alternate identity like you used to do with your mother. But, well, you could really use some practice in some of the finer points. Not to mention that there are some really fun things you could do that are somewhat unique to girls. Why not have some fun being a girl other than just eating ice cream?"

"Huh," mumbled Ranma puzzledly.

"Well," Nabiki thought for a few moments, "Take sleepovers or slumber parties. Guys don't do that, well, I take that back, they do but they call them camping trips or something else. I've done both and unless the camping trip is a lot different with just guys, there is no real comparison between the two." Nabiki got a bit excited as an idea occurred to her. "Why don't we have a slumber party? We could invite, ah, well I guess Shana is about the only one we know well enough who also knows your curse. Hey, that would work out neatly as she is due to come over tonight anyway."

"Ranma," pleaded Nabiki, "please, can the three of us have a slumber party. You'd have to stay a girl all night. But that's likely to happen anyway. Please?"

Ranma smiled to herself. She wouldn't have admitted it, but seeing Nabiki happy and excited gave her a good feeling. She was becoming more and more aware of Nabiki's mischievous nature. Something she had more or less kept concealed from others before. But now she was letting the real Nabiki show through almost all the time for Ranma and trusting Nabiki had almost become second nature to her. Sigh, "Ok Nabs. But only if you can convince Shana."

Nabiki immediately hurried to the phone and called Shana, hoping to catch her before Shana started her trip to Ranma's apartment. Shana was a little reluctant but since it was Saturday night, she was finally convinced that she could spare the time for a little girl fun. Nabiki asked Nodoka to swap 'bedrooms' for the evening too. Nabiki had a feeling that Shana wouldn't be very comfortable sleeping in Ranma's bedroom even if Ranma was in girl form. The front room was more traditional for a sleepover anyway.

Nabiki badgered Ranma into wearing proper girl's pajamas for the evening including undergarments. Nabiki noticed Ranma shifting uneasily as they waited for Shana to arrive. "Ranma, the underwear is uncomfortable?"

"Nah," sheepishly answered Ranma. "Not uncomfortable, just different. It actually FEELS a lot more comfortable than what I usually wear as a girl. I don't get it?"

Nabiki smiled, "It's part of what I was trying to tell you earlier. There is more to being a girl than you've discovered yet. Girls clothes feel more comfortable to your girl form because they are designed to accommodate both the different contours and the more sensitive skin."

[Add sleepover scenes] ..

Four months after Akane's wedding, Ranma Saotome carried his wife Nabiki over the threshold of their new home. It was on the 'backside' of Tokyo University. The area was slightly run down just now but the property she had purchased was enormous. Until recently, it had been a small family owned quarry; the land area was easily eight times larger than the Tendou compound. Fortunately, the quarry had been in the hillside rather than a pit so there was room to build a dojo after all the rock debris was removed.

Nabiki hugged Ranma tightly as he carried her into their first house. She was so proud of herself. She had gotten a great price and a marvelous bank loan. By taking out a loan instead of paying for the property outright, she had acquired enough money to start investing. She recalled several stocks that had impressed her with their performance in her previous life and had wasted no time in investing those funds in them. She also had changed the Tendou dojo stock portfolio while she was at it. The resulting mix of stocks ensured that neither Kasumi nor her father would ever want for anything monetarily again.

It was just after moving into their new home that Nabiki finally convinced Ranma to spend one day a week as a 'real' girl. This meant trying to understand girls from their perspective in addition to dressing and acting as one. Oddly enough, Genma had provided the final convincing argument. He had overheard Nabiki and Ranma discussing the topic and had adamantly forbidden Ranma to agree to Nabiki's request. After pounding Genma, Ranma had reluctantly agreed that perhaps the idea had some merit to it after all.

Thereafter, Ranma would change into feminine clothing late Saturday afternoon, help Nodoka prepare dinner and spend the remainder of the weekend until Sunday evening as a girl. Since it was intentional and not forced by either circumstances or foes, Ranma actually began to allow herself to enjoy the experience. Ranma was initially rather adamant though about refusing to wear dresses. Blouse, slacks even short shorts, but NO dresses or skirts. On the other hand, Nabiki was equally determined that Ranma would wear appropriate undergarments. Both won their particular battle, but the war continued. Ranma eventually surrendered his position when Nabiki revealed that she knew of 'Ranko Masaki's library club activities in high school.

After a series of talks with both Ranma and Nodoka, Nabiki finally felt ready to deal with Ukyou. Ranma had wanted to be the one to do so but both his mother and wife had finally managed to persuade him that this was a really bad idea. Ukyou was not likely to be very rational with him around while receiving the news of his marriage to Nabiki. Nabiki at least had a history of negotiating with Ukyou and this might come in handy.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

It was early morning in Nerima. Ukyou looked up and smiled as she saw Nabiki sit down at the counter just in front of the grill. "Hiya sugar, long time no see, what'll you have?"

"World peace would be nice. But for now I'll settle for peace between you, me and my husband Ranma." Nabiki blandly stated.

"YOU, YOU married MY Ranma. I ought to pound you. In fact, I think I will and there isn't a thing you can do to stop it," steamed Ukyou as she unlimbered her battle spatula.

"True," admitted Nabiki with a touch of fear in her voice. "But Ranma has already done something that should stop you." She stood up and pulled her loose blouse tightly across her tummy. "I know you could hurt me. But can you risk harming Ranma's baby?" At four months, Nabiki's pregnancy was already showing.

Ukyou froze in shock. "No, no . . . No." As she started sobbing, Nabiki came around the corner of the grill and embraced her. She held her as Ukyou cried for several long minutes.

"Get out. Get out!" screamed Ukyou as she dried her tears.

Nabiki stood there, knees quaking and simply shook her head no. She couldn't endure a repeat of what had happened to Ukyou last time.

Ukyou tried to push her out but Nabiki wouldn't budge and Ukyou was afraid to harm Nabiki by being too forceful.

Frustrated and worn down by Nabiki's obstinacy, Ukyou finally asked, "Ok, what do you want of me? And don't give me that 'peace' crap again."

Nabiki fixed her with a measuring eye, trying to determine whether Ukyou was ready to hear her proposal. "You."

"Huh," Ukyou numbly responded, "You ain't making any sense, honey. Ranma has already tossed me aside for the second time. And I'm not really interested in becoming his mistress." She paused. "I don't think so anyway. Is that what you're offering?" she asked with a puzzled tone.

This time Nabiki hesitated as she thought. This was not something she had even considered. She held up a hand to forestall further comments from Ukyou as she considered it in more detail. She didn't want to do this. Not only was there an honor debt, but there was no doubt that Ukyou loved Ranma with a passion rivaling Nabiki's own. Nabiki knew that Ranma loved Ukyou as a friend, but it could become more. She certainly hoped it would become more in her own case. She didn't want to do this but she could live with it if that was the only way to resolve this mess that Ukyou's father and Genma had created of Ukyou's life.

Nabiki looked Ukyou levelly in the eyes. "That wasn't my intention. But I could live with the idea if that's what it takes. That's how much you mean to both me and Ranma, Ukyou. What I came to offer was family. I talked to Ranma's parents and they are willing to adopt you. I would be willing even to have you live with us. But I would hope that you would not 'pine-away' for Ranma. That would hurt him and he's already been hurt too much in my opinion. It would make Ranma incredibly happy Ukyou, to see you happily wed with a family."

Now it was Ukyou's turn to pause. Finally she spoke, all heat gone from her words. "Let me think about it, Ok?" She leaned over and hugged Nabiki briefly. "Thanks for caring. That's a bit uncommon around here anymore."

[add scenes of Ranma as girl flirting with Nabiki] .

When Nabiki was not in class at the university, her mother-in-law was giving her classes in childcare and both of them were slowly remodeling the house. Preparing a nursery was the first order of business. Nabiki's pregnancy was actually pretty uneventful. Only a slight bit of morning sickness and that failed to dim any of Nabiki's obvious excitement over the coming baby.

[add scenes of Ranma and Nabiki studying] .

It was the start of the summer break. Nabiki had 'aced' her classes. The additional thirty years of experience had given her insights far beyond her apparent training and years.

Surprisingly, Ranma had actually done even better than she had. Most of the credit was Ranma's. He had developed incredible study habits once he had decided to approach the education problem with the same intensity he usually gave to martial arts. Of course, some credit would be due to his study partner Shana as well.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

"Nabs? What are you doing! It's 3 in the morning and you're six months pregnant, I mean . . . we shouldn't do this anymore should we? Oh? The doctor said it was still ok!" Sigh. "Ok. Humm, Nabs? I've got something to tell you. It's 'yet'. You've forgotten haven't you? I'll give you a clue. I love you. 'Yet' has arrived. Yipe! Nabs, be careful! That's permanently attached to me. Ok, so I said it belongs to you, but I'm only letting you use it."

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Nabiki descended the stairs in a dazed and warm glow. She saw that Nodoka had set out breakfast. As Ranma came in from his morning workout with his father, she grabbed him and hugged him close. She whispered, "Ranma, did you really mean it?"

Ranma scooped her up and sat down with her in his lap at the breakfast table. "Yeah, I meant it. I love you. I really, really do love you Nabs. It's different from what I felt for Akane and a whole lot sweeter too."

Nodoka looked on approvingly, her eyes slightly misty. She had come to love Nabiki much more than she ever thought she could ever love anyone else besides Ranma.

"Thanks Ranma," Nabiki cooed. "I love you too." She sighed, "More than life."

Nabiki ate breakfast sitting in Ranma's lap that morning. Afterwards they sat there and held each other for awhile. Finally Ranma asked her, "What'cha got planned for today? I mean you're sure thinking a lot this morning."

She lazily smiled up at him. "Got a couple of ideas banging around in my head today. For instance I wonder what your plans are. I mean why are you going to school? I know what I plan on doing. Besides being your wife and a mother as often as I can, I also plan on getting a law degree. I think I would like to continue helping people; but how about you? What are your long-term plans?"

Ranma was surprised at this sudden outpouring of thoughts and questions from his lovely, somewhat plump presently, but lovely nonetheless, wife. "I don't know. My original thought was to get a degree in physical education as part of becoming a sensei and taking over the Tendou dojo. To tell the truth, I'm not too hot about studying PE anymore. I wouldn't mind teaching the Art but the university has opened my mind and I want more now I guess. What, I don't know though."

Nabiki snuggled closer and pulled one of his hands around so that his palm was on her tummy. "I've noticed that you've been doing some extra studying about babies. Do you have any interest in medicine perhaps?"

Ranma gently hugged her closer, "I'm only curious. And the only baby I'm interested in is this one right here," as he patted her belly.

Nabiki idly nuzzled his neck as she thought about his words. "You know Ranma; a part of your martial arts creed is helping the weak and helpless. People don't get much more helpless than a baby or a pregnant woman. I wonder what kind of doctor a martial artist of your caliber would make. Tofu was pretty impressive."

Distracted, Ranma commented, "Yeah, he was pretty neat. Did I tell you that I saw him a couple of days ago?" When Nabiki shook her head with interest evident in her eyes, he continued. "Turns out that when he disappeared, it was to take a teaching position here at the adjacent medical school. I did a little quick research and found that he lives about a klick from us and is still not married."

"Really," purred Nabiki. "Ranma, I'd like to do something about Kasumi. It will involve giving some of our money away. Is that OK?"

Ranma absently leaned over and kissed the top of her head. "No problem Nabs. Do what ya gotta do. It's turned out pretty good so far. You've really impressed me and the folks with how you've managed stuff."

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Kasumi idly swept the front steps and pondered her life. Next week she would turn twenty-three. Her last date was at least five years ago. Sigh, she guessed that her next date was so far in the future that she had doubts of it even existing.

She smiled brightly at the mailman and cheerily returned his greetings. She looked through the mail. 'Oh my, there is a rather thick one for me from the Jusenkyo Foundation. How odd, I so rarely received any mail at all. What could this be?' she wondered.

She placed the rest of the mail on the table for her father to see. She sighed. She'd have to be careful and make sure that he didn't just discard it. Ever since Akane's wedding, his mind had sort of faded into constant melancholy.' She smiled sadly, 'Nabiki wasn't speaking to the rest of the family except for one short call seven months ago to let them know she was Ok. Nothing since. And Akane was not speaking to Nabiki, not that anyone could find Nabiki to let her know.'

Kasumi took her letter to her room. She looked it over in disbelief. She'd won a medical scholarship. It included all fees and pre-med-college. She couldn't give it away or cash it in. It expired in three months unless she was enrolled in Tokyo University this coming fall! She fainted.

Kasumi crying! Now that was an unusual sound. Soun stood hesitantly outside her door, wondering what to do. Finally he peeked in the door and saw her on her bed. Clutching a letter to her breast sobbing, "It's not fair, it's not fair. When do I get to live?"

He rushed to embrace her going immediately to full 'cry' mode in just under a second.

Startled, Kasumi hurriedly pulled some carefully positioned plastic covers over her bed and other items that were subject to water damage from the Tendou Patriarch Waterworks (TPW).

While she was distracted, Soun quickly grabbed her letter and scanned it.

"Daddy," Kasumi remonstrated, "That's my mail!"

"Kasumi," Soun asked in confusion, "I thought a secret lover had jilted you." He held out the letter to her. "I don't see why this should make you cry. I mean it's obviously somebody's prank, and anyway you can just turn it down. What's the problem?"

"It's not fair daddy. It's almost everything I ever wanted. It's not nice for someone to tease me like that. Especially since you wouldn't let me go." She wiped a tear as she absently remarked, "it's not as if you'd let me go anyway. I'm going to be trapped here forever." She collapsed into her father's arms and began sobbing again. "I want to go so bad but I can't, I can't. It's not fair."

It was a new experience for Soun. Someone had stolen his gig. He held Kasumi until she finally cried herself to sleep. As he gently laid her on her bed, he picked up the letter and carried it with him. He had some thinking to do. Sigh, it was going to be a long night as Kasumi hadn't fixed dinner yet either.

Back to her normal oblivious self, Kasumi cheerfully came down the stairs the next morning to find her father asleep at the table, his face lying on her award letter. Scattered family photo albums revealed that he had spent his evening reminiscing. Quiet as she tried to be, he woke almost immediately. "Kasumi, I'd like you to try and do this," was all he said in the way of a greeting.

"But daddy, who'll take care of you?" Kasumi weakly argued. "Who'll do the laundry and the shopping and fix the meals and . . ."

"Somebody else," Soun gently replied. "Kasumi, I survived before I met your mother, I'll survive after you leave." He rubbed a hand across his face. "It'd be nice if at least one of us was happy," he remarked sadly.

"No, daddy, I couldn't do that!" Kasumi protested hopefully.

Soun smiled weakly at the hopeful tone in her voice. He hugged her. "For me and your mother, Kasumi, do this for us, please."

He shrugged his shoulders. She had stolen his gig once again. 'Oh well, I needed a bath and clean clothes anyway.' He thought to himself.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Akane hugged her sister Kasumi, "Oh, Kasumi, I'm so proud of you! It was great that your old entrance exam scores were still valid and they let you enroll in Tokyo University. Did you find an apartment yet?"

Kasumi nodded. She was so excited. She was going to be doing something different. She might even meet a cute older guy. 'Whoops, better not say that' she thought to herself giddily. "Yes! Nabiki still has a lease on her old apartment and she's willing to transfer it to me. It's very reasonable. And she didn't even charge me!"

"She better not!" Akane spat. "She still owes me and the family for almost ruining my wedding like she did." Akane's brow wrinkled in thought for a moment. "Did she ever say what her reason was for missing my wedding? Did she have a rendezvous with some yen or was it just spite because nobody paid her to be a bridesmaid?"

"Well, no," Kasumi paused in thought momentarily. "Other than that one call about eight months ago, nobody has talked with her. I found out about the apartment only because Nabiki dropped me a postcard congratulating me on the scholarship and telling me to contact her old landlord if I was interested in the apartment; nothing more." Kasumi continued in a quieter tone so their father would not overhear. "I guess she was a lot more upset about your wedding than we thought."

Akane's face blanched with immediate anger. "It was my right to make that decision. Who the hell would want to marry that two-timing pervert?"

"Two-timing, you mean Shampoo and Ukyou?" asked Kasumi.

"No," Akane replied. "I was used to them. I meant his latest hussy. Some girl named Shana that I saw coming out of his apartment one evening about a month after we both started colleges. That was the last straw. That was when I decided I wanted nothing to do with him, ever!"

"Shana," mumbled Kasumi. "That name sounds familiar. I know! She was Ranma's study partner. Nabiki told me about her at midterms just before your wedding. She was one of the reasons that Ranma was doing so well. Apparently Nabiki knew about her and confided to me that Ranma and Shana were becoming good friends as well."

"Good friends! Yeah and who'd believe that about that baka and his harem." Groused Akane halfheartedly, a seed of doubt planted in the midst of her self-righteousness.

Kasumi enrolled in the University but was dismayed to find that both Ranma and Nabiki had unlisted addresses and phones. She dismissed the problem of her sister as one of Nabiki's quirks. She tried to ask Ranma's parents where he lived but discovered that their house had been sold and no forwarding address was available anymore. 'Oh well, if the Saotomes and Nabiki wanted to be that way, ok. It's too bad that I don't know how to contact any of their friends,' she thought to herself.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Nabiki was in labor. For the first time in a very long time she was having second thoughts about this particular dream of hers. She clenched her jaws and ignored Ranma as he tried to remind her to breathe like they had been taught in the Lamaze classes.

Ranma was getting desperate. Not only was Nabiki crushing his hand, she was ignoring everything they had studied together about childbirth. He debated, 'Kiss her, nah, she'd likely bite me literally at this point.' He had an idea. He snuck a hand down the covers and pinched her rump.

She jumped and swung a fist at his face as she let his hand go. He caught both her hands in his and quickly kissed her. She stilled and looked questioningly at him.

"It's my baby too." He said with a smile. "Now do it right, Nabs. You're a perfectionist so go with the techniques. It's why we studied them."

She grimaced at him but obediently began to pant. The delivery room was a relief though the pain seemed unreal at the time. Nabiki looked at the wrinkled newborn son nursing at her breast. She couldn't tear her eyes away. She had wanted this for so long. She had dreamed about it for so many years when she thought it was impossible. Tears dripped in a slow but steady flow as she simply watched.

"You Ok, Nabs" Ranma asked as a soft hand touched her cheek while a softer voice let her know she wasn't alone.

She smiled up at Ranma. "Everything is just about perfect right now, Ranma. Nah, it IS perfect now that you are here with us." She looked down at the nearly asleep child. "Isn't he just perfect!" she cooed.

"No," said Ranma as he kissed her cheek. "I use you to measure perfection. He's close though. Problem is, he seems to resemble me." Ranma smiled at her.

"Baka, sweet baka," Nabiki smiled tiredly. "Maybe you don't appreciate the effort that goes into making one of these." She grinned mischievously, "humm, maybe if you were the one to give birth? I wonder if I could arrange that."

Ranma's face blanched and his eyes widened in panic. This was Nabiki, nothing was impossible with her. "Ahhh, Nabiki, no, gaaa." Ranma quieted down as Nabiki shushed him, reminding him of the sleeping baby. His panic subsided further as he heard Nabiki's chuckles.

Ukyou stood in the hall outside the nursery. She was watching all the babies but one held most of her attention. A steady line of tears silently traced a path down her cheeks.

"Ucchan, you Ok?" Ranma quietly asked at her elbow.

"He should have been mine, Ranma. He should have been mine." With that she turned and buried her face in his chest. She sobbed for a long time while he held her and gently rocked her in his arms.

Ukyou knocked on their door about a week after Nabiki came home with Kenji. She briefly hugged both Nabiki and Ranma and said. "I need to talk with you." She glanced meaningfully at Ranma's parents. "All of you."

Nodoka came over and hugged Ukyou. "Why don't you help me with supper and we can talk afterwards?" she asked.

Ukyou nodded. "As long as nobody asks me to cook Okonomiyaki," she wryly responded.

The table had been cleared and Genma was caught twice trying to sneak out. Ranma and Nabiki didn't hurry Ukyou. They gave her all the time she needed to start the discussion. Finally, Ukyou looked over at Nabiki. "I've been thinking about what you told me almost six months ago." She looked sadder still. "I talked with my dad about restoring my honor since it was his stupid promise with Genma that started this mess. He disowned me, threw me out of the house." She looked at Genma, "That hurt, it hurt a lot. I could really, really hate you." She sighed, "But I've gone that route before. Don't see that it got me anything. Certainly didn't get me Ranma," she said bitterly.

"So what do we do now?" asked Nabiki softly.

"Don't really know." She looked at the girl who had everything she wanted. "I still want to marry Ranma but . . ."

"No," yelled Genma. "He's married to a Tendou just as Soun and I promised each other."

Nodoka stared in shock at the flattened visage of her husband under Ukyou's battle spatula. "Do you think you can teach me how to do that?" she asked.

Ukyou grinned. "Takes lots of practice; think he'll survive?"

Puzzled, Nodoka scratched her head. "Is that something we should be concerned about?"

"You I like," commented Ukyou.

Ukyou turned to Ranma and Nabiki. "I came up with several different options. Can I explain what they were and why I don't like them?" At their nods, she continued. "At first I considered just stealing your son. The Saotomes ruined my life, so I'd ruin yours. Only problem was, I couldn't hurt the innocent people in this like that." She sighed, "Besides, what do I know about raising a kid."

She glared at Genma, who was finally starting to stir. "Then I thought about demanding Genma's head, demanding the privilege of being his second and taking the Saotome honor sword home as a trophy." She looked at Nodoka, "I think you would agree that I have that right wouldn't you?"

Nodoka sadly nodded and laid the katana on the table before Ukyou.

Ukyou picked it up, unsheathed half the blade and admired the craftsmanship. "But Ranma's friendship meant too much to me," she said as she laid the re-sheathed blade before Nodoka. "If I took his father away, as useless as he is, our friendship would be over. I couldn't take that. I know for Ranma, he's considered us to be friends since we were six years old. That's a long time. I couldn't give that up."

The panda fainted in relief. 'Where did he get the water,' wondered Nodoka.

"Sister," Ukyou glared at Ranma. "SISTER! Did you think I could do that? To see you every day and know you were forever part of my family but permanently out of reach?"

Ranma smiled sadly. "I hoped you'd say yes. It's how I think of you. It's how I love you too. We all hoped to keep you a part of our lives and this seemed to be the only way to make you family. Is it really such a bad idea?"

"No," Ukyou replied. "It's a great idea. It's just one that I can't accept. Not without eventually going crazy." She sighed, "I love you too much to accept it. I'm sorry Ranma. Thanks, but no thanks."

Nabiki placed a hand on Ukyou's knee. "Does this mean you want to be Ranma's mistress?" she asked.

Ukyou picked up Nabiki's hand and held it in both of hers. "Thank you for making the offer. I couldn't have done it if I were in your shoes you know." Ukyou shook her head in denial. "Maybe I could have accepted your offer when we first talked. But not after the way things went between my dad and me. That's not a choice anymore. If I had a kid, I wouldn't even have a name to give him. Besides, somehow I don't think I could settle for second best. I want to marry Ranma. That's the only thing I can accept."

"Damn it Ukyou," fumed Ranma, "I'm not going to divorce Nabiki and it's illegal for a guy to marry two women in Japan. It ain't gonna happen."

Nabiki placed her hand on Ranma's shoulder as she turned to look at her spouse. "Ranma, I didn't hear Ukyou ask for either of those options. She obviously knows you well enough to know how you would feel. Let's let her finish, OK?"

As Ranma nodded in acquiesce, Nabiki turned her attention back to Ukyou, worry evident in her face. She thought to herself, 'no, oh no. I remember what happened to her last time so many years ago. I don't think either Ranma or I could take that again.' Nabiki cocked an eyebrow at Ukyou, inviting her to continue.

"Thanks, Nabiki," nodded Ukyou. "I do have another idea. It's sort of a hybrid idea from a couple that have already been proposed." She shyly glanced at Ranma. "You know my dad modified my records to show that legally I'm a guy?" She asked. When everybody nodded, she continued. "Nodoka, would you be willing to formally adopt Ranma's girl side as Ranko? I mean we could get Nabiki to create a false identity for her . . . I think, anyway?" She glanced hopefully over at Nabiki.

Nabiki was grinning as she had immediately deduced the whole of Ukyou's plan from the few clues already given. "Yeah, I think I could do that. Wouldn't stand up to any sort of security investigation but it would be pretty solid otherwise."

"Well, I suppose I could," mumbled Nodoka thoughtfully. "I'm not sure what purpose it would serve except to give Ranma's girl form some legal identity."

"That's what I want," whispered Ukyou. "Give Ranma's girl side a legal existence separate from his boy side. Since I'm legally registered as a boy, Ranma's girl side and I can get married LEGALLY." She exulted quietly, "I'll finish second, but not second best." She turned pleading eyes to Ranma. "Please Ranma, please do this for me. I don't think I can stand to live otherwise."

Before Ranma could reply he felt Nabiki place a hand on his arm, arresting his attention. "Sounds familiar, doesn't it. She can't stand to live without you either and you don't love her right now as a wife either." She smiled at her spouse; "Could turn out the same too."

Ranma looked at her thoughtfully. "You wouldn't mind, Nabs? Really, I mean you would really be Ok with it?"

Nabiki smiled and nodded yes. "BUT I do have a couple of conditions," she said as she fixed a grinning Ukyou with a mischievous grin.

Ukyou gulped nervously but still grinned vacuously at Ranma. She really couldn't believe that they'd really said yes.

"First condition," stated Nabiki. "You will take the Saotome family name. I don't want your kids and my kids. I want our kids. Second," her grin got wider, "Ranma spends his entire wedding night in girl form and you consummate the marriage that way."

"What!?!" screeched both Ranma and Ukyou in near perfect harmony.

"That's the deal, Ukyou," grinned Nabiki. "I get a bit of revenge for having to share my husband. But you get Ranma. Take it or leave it."

"Don't I get any say in this? Ain't no way I'm going to sleep with her as a girl!" grumbled Ranma.

Nabiki narrowed her eyes at him and said, "I WON you. I can share my earnings if I choose to. No, you don't get any say." Her face smoothed out. "Humm, you don't seem to be getting into the seriousness of this fun situation; nor the humor as well. OK, there is now a third condition. Ranma wears the wedding dress and we will have a formal ceremony at the house as well."

Ukyou leaned over to Ranma, "Ranma honey, If I were you, I'd quit while I was merely losing. I know I am." Ranma's mother silently urged him to take Ukyou's advice. Well, as silently as she could through her giggles. The panda still hadn't figured out what everybody was talking about.

Ranma looked over at his mate and studied her. 'Yep, in full mischievous mode; better go with the flow,' he thought. He grinned at a whimsical thought of his own and turned to Ukyou. "Well, whenever you have an engagement ring for me, let me know and I'll think about accepting your proposal. I do expect dinner, the bent knee, the whole nine yards." He grinned as all three women fell over laughing.

Ranma stuck his tongue out at Nabiki and remarked, "Since you aren't a 'maiden' anymore, I guess I'll have to ask someone else to be my 'maid-of-honor'."

Nabiki picked up a pillow and swung it at his head. "Well, if the groom can be a girl then I can be 'best man'!"

Ukyou quietly remarked, "You know, the bride's family pays for the wedding."

"Shit!" cursed Nabiki. She fixed Ukyou with a glittering eye. "The best man has the job of arranging for the groom's bachelor party. Yours is going to be interesting. Trust me." She snickered.

Nabiki turned to Ranma. "So, any ideas for a maid of honor yet".

Ranma's face turned serious for a moment; at least it seemed that way at first. "I wonder if Kodachi is around," he said aloud.

Three pillows pounded him simultaneously as all three women let him know their opinion of that idea.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Both Nabiki and Nodoka were moving along in formalizing the legal existence of Ranma's girl side as Nodoka's adopted daughter. Nabiki had hacked into the government files using a server at the university. She had nearly been caught but . . .

"Nabs?" Ranma reflexively held her as she glomped onto him. He could feel her shivering in his arms. "What happened, Nabs? Some muggers bother you or something!"

"I almost got caught, Ranma." She whispered. "I was so frightened. I picked the lock on the door to the main server complex." She looked up at him, eyes wide with emotion. "It was late and a holiday weekend. I didn't expect anybody there. I found a terminal that was still logged in and I was nearly done creating a 'history' for Ranko when I heard a key in the door." She shivered. "I couldn't leave yet and I couldn't stay either. I hid partially under the table and peeked out while I finished the file." She started crying. "What if they figure out that I was there? My baby might grow up while I'm in jail." Ranma held her quietly as she cried. He trusted Nabs, she was careful. She wouldn't get caught. "Shuu, that won't happen sweetheart. I'll say it was me before I let them take you. It's ok. It's ok." Ranma picked her up and carried her to their bedroom. He put her to bed and comforted her until she fell into an uneasy slumber.

Nabiki's worry didn't ease until she tapped into the semi-public university activity logs and found that her presence in the restricted area hadn't been discovered. Nabiki was a bit more restrained in her more clandestine activities after that.

Nodoka believed that the adoption paper work would be done in a matter of days; clearing the way for a formal wedding to happen between Christmas and New Year's Day. That left about six weeks for Ukyou to pull up stakes in Nerima and set up a new restaurant near her new family.

Ukyou sighed to herself. Both Ranma and Nabiki were serious about the proposal, wedding and wedding night conditions. She wasn't sure if they were laughing at just her or themselves too, but she was sure that they were laughing. They were just enjoying this whole ridiculous situation just entirely too much. So what if she was a female groom.

Ukyou looked around at her restaurant. She smiled at the memories she had made during the four years it had been open. She had debated whether to sell the business outright or hire a manager to operate it for her as a start of a franchise attempt. In the end, she had decided to sell as she hoped to start a family soon and didn't anticipate having time to supervise the operation, let alone find and train a new chef before her upcoming marriage.

Today, she decided. Today she'd go shopping for an engagement ring. Now if only this latest in a long line of buyers would only make something other than a 'yard-sale' offer for the place. It seemed that these jerks took one look at her bust and decided that the 'sweet-young-thing' was an idiot when it came to real estate.

Ukyou finally sold her restaurant for a hefty profit; more than enough to enable her to open a new place with a much smaller mortgage. But where? She hesitantly approached Nabiki for some advice, as she really wanted to relocate near her new home. Might as well as take advantage of the fact that Nabiki had already scoped out this area.

"Nabiki," carefully began Ukyou. "I was wondering if you would be willing to help me find a new location for Ucchan's."

"So what kind of finder's fee did you have in mind?" casually responded Nabiki.

Ukyou studied her for a few moments. "I was remembering something you said about kids. You didn't want a 'yours' or 'mine', just an 'ours'." Ukyou dropped her checkbook on the table before Nabiki. "Just an ours, Nabiki. Ours. It's the best I can do."

Nabiki picked up the checkbook. Ukyou's gesture was only symbolic of course, but still. Sigh, Ukyou had a point. "Our new house is corporate property. Property of 'Saotome Associates', Ranma and I own equal shares of the company with right-of-survivorship between us both. I presume you are interested in purchasing some shares; possibly a third of the company on a similar basis?" As Ukyou nodded, Nabiki continued, "I think that maybe the company will shortly have an opening for an Okonomiyaki chef for a new restaurant that they will be opening." Nabiki smiled. "Interested?"

Ukyou grinned. It felt like the happiness originated at her toes and rose in a surging fountain through her whole being. She was part of a family. "Thanks Nabs."

"No problem Ucchan." Nabiki gestured for Ukyou to follow her. From the window Nabiki pointed to a 'mom & pop' restaurant that occupied a large corner lot at the other end of the block from the house. "The couple that operate that place don't have any kids and they are getting on in years. I think they might listen to an offer; especially if the offer included a clause allowing them to continue to live in their home on the second floor." Nabiki grinned. "Care to open negotiations with them as a new vice-president of 'Saotome Associates'?"

"Vice-president?" asked Ukyou.

"Yeah, only the two vice-presidents have signature authority in this company." Nabiki grinned, "I keep the company stud on the books only as a figurehead CEO."

Ukyou grinned. "Sounds like a good deal to me, since you and I seem to be the only ones with any business sense. Speaking of Ranma, how about coming with me to shop for an engagement ring? I looked around in Nerima but haven't found anything yet. Want to help me look?"

'Huh oh, Nabiki's grin has that mischievous tinge to it again,' thought Ukyou.

"I think that might be kind of fun." Nabiki hesitated, watching Ukyou as she braced herself for the zinger she was sure was coming. 'Can't disappoint her,' thought Nabiki to herself. "But only if you dress 'butch.' After all, we are shopping for a ring for you to give to my 'sister-in-law'," she snickered.

Ukyou didn't even try to argue. She had moved into the Saotome home the day after she had sold her restaurant. Her belongings were now in one of the guestrooms while a third master bedroom was being renovated near Nabiki's. She made her way to her room, bound her breasts and dressed in casual masculine attire.

Shortly she made her way downstairs and found that Nabiki had just finished nursing the baby to sleep. Ukyou pirouetted for Nabiki. "Butch enough for you?" she asked.

"Almost," grinned Nabiki as she replaced Ukyou's white hair ribbon with a string. She grabbed Ukyou's elbow and announced; "Now we're ready."

Nabiki stopped to talk with Nodoka on her way out. "Mom, I just put Kenji down, so he should be asleep until we get back. Ok?"

Nodoka hugged her. "Not a problem dear. I promise to not let Genma wake him for 'training' this time." She chuckled with an undercurrent of mayhem. The first and so far only time that Genma had done that had resulted in Nodoka practicing Ukyou's battle spatula techniques for an extended time. She hadn't acquired a proper spatula yet so Nodoka had used a snow shovel. It seemed to work pretty well, though it was hard to get the proper follow-thru. Oddly enough, Kenji had seemed to really enjoy the spectacle.

Ukyou had promised to get her a custom spatula for Christmas. Genma had vanished for the rest of the day when he'd overheard that remark.

Ukyou and Nabiki idly strolled down the ginza, window shopping for the most part. They entered a few of the jewelry stores for closer looks at some of the rings but the results were disappointing for the most part until the end.

Ukyou stretched, "Nabiki, you about ready to call it a night?"

Nabiki considered for a moment looking around at the stores she could see. "Let's go to one more and then give it up if we don't see what you are looking for. You know, I think maybe you are being too picky, we've seen some really nice rings."

"Yeah," agreed Ukyou, "only trouble is they seem to fall into two categories; either not good enough for Ranko or gaudy as hell."

Nabiki paused as they turned a corner and she caught sight of another jewelry store. The name was vaguely familiar; the memory positive was all she remembered. "Ukyou, let's try this one, I think I've heard of them before."

Jill sat at the counter of her parent's store. She really wanted to be out there doing some shopping but she had promised her folks to help. They on the other hand had promised her a commission on any large sales she made. She was hoping for some bonus money to use on her Christmas shopping.

Nabiki and Ukyou entered the store and slowly walked along the counter looking at the jewelry displayed there. Jill hopefully eyed the young couple as they paused and studied the engagement rings. "May I help you?" she asked politely.

Ukyou smiled, but it was Nabiki who answered. "This baka is picking out a ring to give to my sister-in-law." She snickered as she said, "Show us your most expensive rings please."

"You're the baka Nabs, now knock it off. Try to be serious, this is important to me. Ok?" whispered Ukyou to her tormentor.

Overhearing the whispered conversation, the salesgirl giggled. 'It's looking good for a sale. He's serious instead of just looking,' she thought. She quickly smiled and gauged a quick estimate of price range from his apparel. As she offered a tray for their inspection, the young lady's smile confirmed her guess.

"I still want something with blue to match Ranko's eyes" murmured Ukyou to Nabiki.

Nabiki nodded and pointed out several turquoise rings.

"No," whispered Ukyou, "I've never liked that stone. No life to it."

"Ahh," responded Jill as she wordlessly brought out another tray of rings. This tray featured a number of sapphires and opals.

"Nice!" muttered Ukyou appreciatively. "I really like the opals. Somehow there is a fire that just seems to echo what I see in my fianceés eyes."

Nabiki pointed out one particular ring. The opal wasn't the largest displayed but the stone was a dark fire opal of exceptional quality. The opal was clasped by two opposing dragons whose entwined tails formed the ring itself. "I like that one Ucchan," she whispered. "So will Ranko."

Ukyou studied the ring and then asked to see it. As she watched the play of light off the stone she could see why Nabiki had pointed it out. In some paradoxical way, it was always changing without really changing; kind of like Ranma. "I'll take it," Ukyou decided.

"Wait!" interrupted Nabiki. "Aren't you even going to try to barter first?"

"Nope, I've been shopping for a ring for over a month now. This is a very good price for this quality and the only way to knock the price down is to cut into her commission," said Ukyou as she gestured toward the salesgirl. "She was very helpful and she has to make a living too." She concluded, "I'm satisfied."

"Ah, Nabs," grinned Ukyou; "How about if I put it on the company credit card?"

"How would you like the wedding night conditions to be extended for a month or so?" retorted Nabiki.

Laughing, Ukyou wrote out a check. 'Now to deliver it' both girls thought to themselves, Nabiki with mischievous anticipation and Ukyou with understandable trepidation.

Ranma eased himself out of the bath. Kami, but that had felt good! He and Shana had studied long into the evening yesterday. But it had been worth it. Both believed that they had done well on the three final exams they'd had today. A spray of icy water drenched Ranma as he reached for his clean clothes. Screeching shrilly with shock, 'Ranko' nearly jumped halfway across the room. "Did you HAVE to put ice cubes in it?" she complained.

Smiling, Nabiki wordlessly picked up Ranma's clothes and then laid down a velvet green dress with all accessories in their place. As she turned to leave, Ranko desperately cried out. "NO, ain't no way I'm gonna wear that dress. I'll go naked first," she threatened.

Nabiki looked thoughtful for a moment then shrugged her shoulders. "Well, tonight you ARE going out on a date with your 'boyfriend' Ukyou. If that is what you chose to wear, well, it's up to you."

As she reached for the dress, Nabiki was not surprised to find that Ranko had already hurriedly retrieved it.

"Ahhhh, Nabs. Do I gotta?" whined Ranko.

Nabiki grinned and nodded. "Ranko, you were the one who set this condition. And if it is worth doing, it's worth doing well; especially something like this." She turned half-serious for a moment. "Ranko, I know we're treating this like some huge practical joke we're all mutually playing on each other, but, it's serious too. This is likely to be a very important moment in Ukyou's life. Please do what you can to make it a good memory. OK?"

Ranko thought for a moment. "Yeah, I can see what you mean. It kinda scares me too. Scares me and gives this incredible warm feeling all over at the same time. There's something sorta intoxicating about the thought of what's gonna happen tonight."

Ranko looked at the clothes in her hand and sighed. "Nabs, ah, I'm not sure how to put on all this stuff. Could ya . . . like, maybe give me a hand perhaps?"

Giggling, Nabiki towed the naked Ranko to their room and introduced her to the feminine tradition of girls helping each other to dress for dates. It seemed that Nabiki had a dinner date with her sister Kasumi that evening as well.

Ukyou fidgeted as 'he' waited for 'his' date. She was dressed in a semi-formal suit of light colored silk and looked masculine with slightly feminine features. Damn, did ALL girls make their dates wait for them? She certainly had no idea as she'd never actually been on a date before.

When Nabiki had pronounced Ranko finished, Ranko had just sat there starting at herself in the mirror. "Ranko? What's wrong? We're done; it's time to go down stairs. Why are you just sitting there staring at yourself?" Nabiki had asked.

"Nabiki," said Ranko softly. "I was just remembering when Akane knocked me for a loop and I ended up thinking I really was a girl. Seeing me like this," as she pointed to her reflection in the mirror, "somehow I have similar feelings again. It's not bad anymore, just different that's all."

Nabiki had hugged her and surprised her by saying. "This is the first 'Ranma' that I always remember so vividly. I love both your forms. I think of you as not half a man and half a woman but as both a man AND a woman." Nabiki kissed her lightly on the forehead, "Tonight, be a woman. Let it be a sincere evening for both Ukyou and you. Tonight she's your old buddy, a guy just as you believed for so long. For her, you're willing to be a girl so that the two of you can legally be married. There is sacrifice on both parts. Hopefully happiness will result."

Nabiki swept down the stairs and halted Ukyou's pacing with her arrival. Forestalling any questions with an upraised palm, Nabiki wordlessly pointed back up the stairs where Ranko was gracefully descending. "Awesome" breathed out Ukyou. And she was. Nabiki had carefully curled Ranko's hair into ringlets that hung to her shoulders. Shoulders that were bare in a full velvet green dress that stopped just at her knees. Nabiki had used all her considerable experience in applying Ranko's makeup. There seemed to be no makeup though the effect was startling in that while Ranko was normally very pretty, now she was gorgeous.

Ukyou wordlessly offered a corsage box, and amazingly blushed as if she was a teenaged fella on prom night.

Ranko smiled gently and opened the box. The mix of small red roses and green leaves was stunning. Ranko lifted it to her nose and slowly inhaled, enjoying the simple pleasure of sensation. Or was it the sensation of pleasure? Either way she was grateful for Nabiki teaching her to enjoy the moment. Ranko held the corsage out to Ukyou.

Confused, Ukyou looked to Nabiki for help. "Baka, you're supposed to pin it on her. It's a chance for the guy to feel up the girl. Schees, haven't you ever been on a date?"

Ranko laid a soft hand over her mate's mouth. "Be gentle Nabs, truth to tell, I don't think that Ukyou has been on a formal date before. Don't spoil it, OK?"

Surprised, Nabiki looked at the rising tide of crimson engulfing Ukyou and put a hand to her forehead. "Virgins! They don't know anything." Giggling she watched both Ranko and Ukyou blush even more.

"Damn it Nabiki, YOU personally know I'm not a virgin. Oopps," stuttered Ranko in embarrassment.

"Ranko, in case you've forgotten, you're female. Are you sure you're not a virgin in this form?" teased Nabiki. She clapped them both on the shoulder and apologized. "Sorry, I just couldn't help myself."

Ukyou leaned in and loudly whispered to Ranko as she pinned the corsage in place. "Listen babe, let's ditch the old bag and elope. What'ya say?"

Ranko stood on tiptoes and quickly kissed Ukyou on the cheek, "Believe me, I'm considering it right now. After all she IS an older woman."

Nabiki just chuckled. She was too secure in her own happiness for their return jibes to have much effect. "Come on, let's go. I planned this so that I would meet Kasumi at the Bon-Pot about 15 minutes before you two were to stage your entrance.

"So go," countered Ranko. "I want mom to take some pictures of me and my date and I don't need no older woman hanging around."

Still chuckling, Nabiki hurried out and soon encountered her sister waiting for her just inside the entrance to the restaurant. "Hi, Kasumi, how are you doing?" neutrally asked Nabiki.

Kasumi embraced Nabiki hungrily. "Nabiki, it's been almost a year! How can you be so cold? How have you been? Why have you been hiding from all of us? Are you coming home for the holidays? Isn't school great! I've never had so much fun in my entire life!"

Nabiki pushed herself out of Kasumi's embrace and looked her over. "School seems to agree with you. I'm glad that Ranma decided to finance your schooling. Come on let's go eat." With that Nabiki pulled her sister up to the matre'd and asked for her reserved table, effectively forestalling any questions for a short while.

By the time they had been seated and given menus, some of Kasumi's exuberance had vanished as she thought over what Nabiki has said about Ranma.

"Ranma paid for my fees? But I thought the Jusenkyo Foundation funded my studies?" asked Kasumi.

"Ranma IS the Jusenkyo Foundation," calmly replied Nabiki.

"That can't be true! He doesn't have the money," retorted Kasumi.

"He sold his parent's house to fund the Jusenkyo Foundation. I know. I helped him with the paperwork. Didn't even charge him for the help because he did it for you," said Nabiki.

Tears running down her face, Kasumi quietly asked. "But why, I mean, I didn't even try to protect him from Akane. I didn't care much what happened to him as long as our family and house were safe. Why would he do something like that? I'll have to turn down the rest of the money. Somehow I'll pay him back." She started to cry. "Daddy was right, it was all a trick; a mean trick. It's not fair."

As she struggled to get to her feet to leave, Nabiki jerked the waistband of her dress and pulled her off balance so that she fell back into her seat. "I reserved the table so that the two of us could have supper together and visit for awhile. Are you so tired of my company already?"

Startled by the coolness of Nabiki's reaction; Kasumi sat glaring at her for a moment before acquiescing to her sister's manner. She signed; yes this was Nabiki, the Ice Queen. She'd better check that Nabiki was treating; she didn't think she had that much money with her.

Noticing Kasumi covertly checking her purse, Nabiki smiled. "Kasumi, tonight's my treat. You're my guest. I'm not that mad at everyone still."

Nabiki refused to talk about Ranma instead recalling shared memories from their childhood. As Kasumi calmed down, she began looking over the other patrons. She was frankly 'rubber necking' as this was the first time she'd ever been out like this. She was the first to catch sight the lovely red haired girl and her date.

Kasumi pointed and whispered, "Nabiki! Isn't that Ranma-chan? And she's with a guy! He sort of looks familiar but I don't recognize him. Do you know what's going on?"

Nabiki made a pretense of studying the couple. "Yeah, I think I recognize him. He was in Akane's class as I recall. Oh, Ranma has legally changed his name. SHE is now legally a GIRL named Ranko Saotome. Nice dress too," added Nabiki as she turned back to her sister obviously implying that Ranko in a dress was a somewhat common occurrence.

As the sisters ate their meal, Nabiki noticed that Kasumi seemed very distracted. Several times Nabiki had to repeat a question that Kasumi hadn't heard because her attention was on the other couple. 'Phase one, puncture oblivious, check;' Nabiki smirked to herself.

At the other table, Ukyou had noticed the Tendou sisters. "Ranko, why did Nabiki want Kasumi to witness my proposal to you tonight?"

Ranko looked over her shoulder and momentarily caught Kasumi's eye on her before the older girl looked away with a deep blush. "Don't know. She wouldn't tell me other than to say that it was really important to them both. I've learned to trust Nabiki when it comes to family. Right now that includes you and me and maybe Kasumi as well." Ranko snapped her fingers, "Damn, almost forgot; last minute instruction for you from Nabiki. Don't tell Kasumi your real name. She wanted you to use the nickname 'Spats' if you're asked."

"Spats, huh." She turned to the red head. "Do you think that is short for spatula or maybe 'trivial argument'? Kami knows that is about the best I can do with her from my side. You sure she considers me family?"

Ranko chuckled. "Feeling a little insecure are we? Look at me. I'm her husband, the father of her child and she's got me here in a public restaurant in a dress. Yet I know that she'd give her life in a flash if mine or the baby's were threatened."

Ranma and Ukyou gradually became the center of attention in the restaurant without realizing it as her beauty and gay laughter and their obvious concern for each other attracted the attention of the other patrons.

Ranma understood the anxiety that Ukyou had felt when Ukyou had thought Ranma beyond her reach. The anger, the hopelessness was something Ranma remembered so very clearly from almost a year ago. In the last few months, Ukyou had slowly lost those dark emotions as Ranma and Nabiki prepared to accept her into their family. The time had been one of expectation rather than of a contest as in past years and the two childhood friends had slowly and willingly opened up to each other.

Now there was true friendship, perhaps even more than that on both sides. Ukyou saw a friend willing to abandon his gender temporarily but completely to be with her rather than allow her to be hurt. Knowing now that she could hurt Ranma had tempered Ukyou's demands and insecurity as well.

Ranma knew that his best friend had been hurting, maybe as much as he had when Akane had gotten married. Knowing that he really did matter to her that much curbed his insensitive tongue somewhat and made him a bit more aware of her moods and needs. Ranma had promised to make this an evening Ukyou would not forget and Ranma Saotome kept his promises, no matter what her present gender.

Laughing about the humor that Nabiki was forcing into their lives, the two friends didn't realize that it left little room for the darker emotions as they enjoyed their leisurely meal. Soon it was time for the main event.

Kasumi wanted to leave but Nabiki was adamant about staying for a leisurely dessert. Just as Kasumi was about to demand that they leave immediately, her little island of self-control received another blow.

Across the room, Ukyou slowly stood up and carefully walked to Ranko's side. Taking Ranko's left hand in hers, Ukyou held it while sinking to one knee and pulling a ring box out of a pocket with her other hand.

Noticing what was happening, a hush swept across the restaurant and the young couple's words could be clearly heard by all as Ukyou took the ring out of the box and slipped it on Ranko's finger while asking. "Ranko, I've loved you for so long. I think you are just about perfect and I don't think I could live without you. Will you marry me?"

"Humm, only 'just about perfect', huh, well . . ." Ranko's brilliant smile illuminated the entire room just before she pulled Ukyou into a deeply, deeply passionate kiss that had many of the other patrons blushing and fanning themselves with the memories that the sight kindled. Long moments later, just as Ukyou was beginning to turn blue, Ranko broke the kiss and simply said "Yes."

Cheers and clapping echoed loudly as the newly engaged couple stood to leave. When Ukyou signaled for the check, the Matre'd simply held it up and tore it in half to the cheers of the other patrons as the young couple blushed crimson. As they slowly made their way to the door, they were obliged to stop at nearly every table as well wishers hugged Ranko and shook Ukyou's hand. At the door the Matre'd handed them a bottle of champagne. "With our best wishes, good night and a good life as well."

Kasumi sat at the table crying. She just couldn't stop crying. Nabiki rubbed a hand across her sister's back but offered no comforting words. Finally she sniffed a few times and mumbled. "I wish there was something I could do for him . . . I mean her."

Nabiki smiled sadly. "There is . . ."

Kasumi looked at her sister somewhat more calmly. For long moments she just studied her leaving the conversation hanging. "Nabiki, you knew this was going to happen, didn't you?"

Nabiki nodded. Like she thought, Kasumi wasn't a slouch in the brains department when one could get her to let them show. "Yeah, I knew in advance. I helped Spats pick out the ring."

Kasumi sighed, "What is the favor that Ranko wants?"

Nabiki took both of Kasumi's hands in her own. "She wants you to be well, to be happy. She wants you to be her maid of honor so that you will know that you are forgiven and that she is happy too."

This time Nabiki held her sister in her arms and rocked her as they both cried. After awhile, they felt up to talking some more and Kasumi agreed to not tell either her father or Akane about Ranko. She was pretty adamant about returning Ranko's money until Nabiki took a rather firm stance with her and convinced her it wasn't a topic Ranko wanted to discuss. Nabiki did suggest that Kasumi seek additional scholarships to cut the load down though. It was a compromise that Kasumi eagerly embraced.

Later that night as Nabiki cuddled with Ranma, she said, "Thanks Ranma, between you and Ukyou, I think Kasumi got a good start on getting her life together tonight. Oh yes, I asked Kasumi to be your maid of honor. Is that OK?"

"Thanks sweet heart that sounds 'just about perfect' to me" whispered Ranma as he hungrily muzzled his wife.

"Baka, sweet baka, come here," she murmured as she turned the light off.

Nabiki called a family conference early the next morning. As she sat nursing Kenji, she gathered Ranma, Ukyou and the Saotomes' attention with her eyes. "OK, the wedding is set for a week from tomorrow and Kasumi has agreed to be Ranko's maid of honor. There is a small problem with logistics that we need to get straightened out before Kasumi arrives here about noon."

She shifted the baby to the other side and continued. "I don't think it would be wise to burden Kasumi with the knowledge that Ranma and I are married and have a child, at least, just not yet. Last night I led her to believe that Ranma was unmarried and had abandoned his male gender. She also doesn't know that Ukyou and I live here."

"Nabiki! I'm shocked, how could you lie to your sister like that?" chastised Nodoka.

"Actually," replied Nabiki, "I didn't lie. I just didn't tell her everything, lots of half truths and allowed her to jump to the wrong conclusions all by herself."

"But . . . bu . . ." stuttered Nodoka.

"Mom," sighed Nabiki, "You promised that I could deal with the Tendou's as I felt I needed."

Nodoka sighed her acquiesce but Ukyou asked, "Why?"

Nabiki cooed as she burped the nearly sleeping baby and then continued. "I want to heighten her guilt before I break the truth to her. That way she'll be more likely to help me with the rest of my family."

"Ok, ssooo, what is it you need from the rest of us?" asked Ranma.

"Whenever Kasumi is here, Genma and Kenji will be hiding in the nursery. It's at the end of hall well away from the other bedrooms so we should be OK. Other that that, don't mention the baby or our marriage," Nabiki continued, "Oh yeah, Ranma, you'll have to stay in girl form all the time too and it would be a good idea if Ukyou made herself scarce as well; perhaps she can help Genma with the baby when she's not needed downstairs. Actually, it would be best to minimize contact between Kasumi and Spats so that Ukyou's identity isn't blown."

"Ahh, why do I have to hide?" asked Genma.

"Two reasons," answered Nabiki. "First, you couldn't keep a secret if your life depended on it. Second, Kenji will need a baby-sitter when we are downstairs with Kasumi. If she asks, we'll say that you are on a training journey."

Kasumi hesitantly knocked on the door.

Nodoka smiled at her as she opened the door and ushered her inside where Ranko and Nabiki sat talking.

"Hi sis," waved Nabiki as she patted a pillow next to herself.

"Hey, Kasumi. Long time no see," smiled Ranko at the tall willowy girl.

Kasumi knelt and hugged Ranko, "Thanks Ranko," she whispered in a voice heavy with emotion.

"No problem Kasumi," grinned Ranko as she patted the other girl's back. "I always did like you a lot; sort of a cross between a mom and a big sister. But if you could find some scholarships, well, let's just say my feelings wouldn't be hurt."

"Ok," whispered Kasumi.

Ranko turned to her mother and her best friend Nabiki. "Well, the four of us are going to have a busy week. Fortunately mom has already got the wedding invitations all ready to mail. That leaves decorating our house for the wedding and sewing dresses for both me and Kasumi." Ranko turned to Kasumi, "You weren't planning on going home for the holidays, I hope?"

Kasumi sighed, "Well, yes. But I guess not anymore."

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

"Dammit, Ukyou!" moaned Nabiki. "I CAN'T bind my breasts as tight as you. There's milk in there. Look, I'll nurse the baby now. That way I'll be Ok for maybe four hours before the binding becomes painful. That'll work won't it? It should give us plenty of time for the ceremony."

Embarrassed, Ukyou nodded her head and went to fetch Kenji. As she watched Nabiki nursing him she sighed, "I wish I could nurse someday too."

Nabiki looked up at her with a mischievous grin. Deliberately misunderstanding, she shrugged her shoulders and said. "Well Kenji doesn't seem too hungry right now; I suppose you could have the other side if you really wanted to nurse."

Blushing deep crimson, Ukyou hissed, "Nabiki, you know that wasn't what I meant!"

Nabiki just grinned at her and finished up but just couldn't resist a parting remark. "Oh, I don't know. Ranma doesn't seem to mind; says that it's pretty sweet though."

"Uhhh, Nabiki have you seen Ranma today?" asked Ukyou. "I mean she got pretty toasted last night at that bachelorette party you insisted Shana, Nodoka and Ranko attend with you and I at that little hole in the wall club." She paused and asked quizzically, "And just where the hell did you find a male belly dancer? I don't think I've ever seen Ranma so embarrassed in his, ah, her life. And who would have thought his mother would react like that. She seemed so . . . hungry. She actually scared the poor guy when she asked for his number. Of course, she was three sheets to the wind by then, but still."

Nabiki laughed and assured Ukyou that her bride would appear on time.

Several dozen of the Saotome friends and family were in attendance as the wedding started in the main room of the Saotome home. Several stared quizzically at the best man. 'He' didn't quite look the part somehow. But the bride and maid of honor were gorgeous and the groom very handsome in a delicate sort of way.

"Do you Ranko Saotome take Ukyou Kuonji to be your lawfully wedded husband . . ." intoned the minister. He finally drew the ceremony to a close after Ranko had eventually broken the wedding kiss for lack of oxygen. "I present to you, Ukyou and Ranko Saotome"

Nabiki had grown tired of dodging Kasumi and left the reception early. As she slowly eased the bindings off her aching breasts, the nursery door slid open and a furious Kasumi eased into the room, stopping suddenly as she spied the sleeping infant.

"Nabiki!" she hissed. "Whose baby is that? What's going on here? I finally recognized the groom! He's a girl, one of Ranma's old fiancées! And what were you doing up there dressed as best man? What the HELL is going on?"

Nabiki smiled tiredly and picked up the newly awakened baby and began to sooth him. "Sit down sis. You're in for a shock, a series of shocks." She sighed as she nestled the sleepy baby in her arms. "Let me see if I can take the questions in order. This is Kenji. He's mine and my husband Ranma's baby. We were married the day after Akane got married after I stopped him from committing suicide. With her dowry stolen and disowned by her parents, Ukyou's situation was becoming desperate so the three of us hammered out a solution whereby I created a legal identity for Ranko and Nodoka then adopted her. Since Ukyou's dad had screwed up Ukyou's life by registering her legally as a boy, that gave her the opportunity to legally marry Ranko. That was why I was best man, to give them both the assurance that this solution was acceptable to me."

"But, but why fool me? I feel so stupid," whispered Kasumi.

"Actually," commented Nabiki, "almost every invited guest, whether family or friend is much further in the dark than you were and nearly every one of them will remain so. I don't intend to tell dad and Akane yet either. We did deliberately fool you in order to get your attention. Hopefully the shock value will keep you from withdrawing into your oblivious shell again."

"But why, I was happy. Now . . . now I don't know," sighed Kasumi as she sank onto a chair.

"Because you are the only one who can help Akane and daddy," said Nabiki as tears brimmed her eyes. "Both need to get into counseling and neither would ever listen to me. Not now and not in the past either, not about this. But you can do it. Kasumi, they won't resist you! You can save them, please. Please, when you go home, and any time you see them or talk with them, nag them into counseling. Ranma and I will pay for it even. Just please get them to go before it's too late."

As Kasumi took her sleeping nephew into her arms and studied her sister's tear streaked face, she came to a reluctant decision. "Ok, Nabiki. I promise."

Ranko and Ukyou never said anything to the others about their wedding night. Their grins the next morning were never explained though Nabiki tried very hard to get the information from both of them. Their silence turned out to be a most effective revenge against her. The second morning they didn't come out of Ukyou's room at all till late afternoon.

By prior agreement, Ukyou had Ranma all to herself that first week. The honeymoon ended when Ranma and Nabiki started attending classes again. Thereafter, the two girls would meet with Ranma and gamble for him each evening. They deliberately set the rules to help curb his ego.

"Ok, ready Nabiki?" asked Ukyou. At Nabiki's nod, they started, in unison, "a one, and a two, and . . . damn! my scissors cuts your paper."

"Ahhh, wait Nabs, Ukyou won! Quit pulling me! Nabiki! Ukyou beat you!" stammered a confused Ranma as a grinning Nabiki towed him into the bedroom. It had been a long week from her perspective.

One round of paper, rock and scissors, loser 'had' to sleep with Ranma. They still played the game even after the first month when it became apparent that all it determined was whose bed the three of them ended up in.

Kasumi was a frequent visitor. She suggested that perhaps she could save costs by moving into one of guestrooms and was obviously shocked when Nabiki vetoed the idea. "Kasumi, NO! The idea for you to go to school was to get you away from domestic duties. Much as I'd love to have you here living with us, I can't take the chance of you falling into that trap again here. Kami knows there is enough to do here with the baby, both Nodoka and Ukyou trying to get Ucchan's going again and Ranma and I both going to school full time too."

Kasumi sighed resignedly, she knew she couldn't promise that Nabiki's fears wouldn't happen. So she changed the subject. "I know you are doing well in school, how's Ranma doing?"

Nabiki grinned. Ranma was one of her favorite topics. "You know how I'm ranked in the genius category and you are about 5 points ahead of me. Care to guess where Ranma and his study partner Shana rank in raw intelligence?" asked Nabiki.

"Well," Ranma didn't do all that well in high school at first as I recall and I've heard the prof's speak highly of Shana," mused Kasumi. "So I'd guess that Ranma was well below you and Shana maybe just above me. Am I close?"

"Not even," smiled Nabiki. "Ranma is about 12 points above you and Shana one point below me." She chuckled, "my man was even better at hiding his brains than you were. His ole man told him that being a smartass was manly but being merely smart wasn't. So he hid his genius."

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

"But Nabiki, it's so large!" protested Ukyou as she looked over the remodeling plans Nabiki and she were discussing for the new Ucchan's. The new floor area was easily five times larger than her old restaurant and she had barely kept up with that at peak times.

"Ukyou, think small and small you'll stay. Look," Nabiki urged, "This is the right time to do this since we own the building now. Expanding later will cost two or three times what it will cost than if we do this now. If the space is too large at first, we'll use movable partitions to reduce it temporarily."

Ucchan's was an instant hit with the nearby university; so much so that Nodoka started helping out during the rush periods. Not surprisingly for such a good cook, Nodoka seemed to have a natural talent for cooking Okonomiyaki as well. Under her urging, Ukyou also started offering other selections as well and she ended up having to hire a dozen college students as part time help to keep up with the business. She paid her mortgage off in the first year.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Ukyou glumly came out of the bathroom. Nabiki hesitantly stopped her by putting a hand on her arm. "Down in the dumps? What's wrong?" she asked the other girl.

Ukyou sighed, "It's that time of the month again. Once again, I'm NOT pregnant. Oh, Nabiki, you got pregnant your first try and here I've been trying for nearly a year. What's wrong with me?" she asked forlornly.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

[Ukyou and Nabiki pregnancy, Nabiki one month later than Ukyou] [Saotomes build dojo]

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

"Ranma, Ranma!" excitedly called Nabiki. "Look, look at these bills," she said as she thrust them in Ranma's face.

Ranma looked them over, 'scheese, shrinks sure charged a lot' he thought to himself. "Ahh, is there a problem? I mean, I think we have enough money don't we?"

"Ranma," she said wiping tears from her eyes, "you don't understand. These are counseling bills for my dad and Akane. Finally, they are starting to get help." With that she broke down and started crying from happiness for her family.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Soun starts to teach again, not much but some as part of his therapy.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Ukyou was tired, so very tired. But it didn't matter as she looked at the small girl muzzling her breasts. She had a daughter. The tears just wouldn't stop. This time, Ranma didn't ask how the new mother felt. He just softy stroked his mate's hair and whispered. "She's beautiful. She looks like her mother. By the way have I told you yet today that I love you?"

Ukyou smiled, "Twice, but who's counting."

Two days later, Tofu came out of the operating room, sadness masking his features. Wordlessly he enfolded Ranma in a hug. "Ranma, I'm sorry. The strain of labor the day before yesterday was just too great I guess. Ukyou suffered an aneurysm. She bled to death internally in a few minutes." As he held the sobbing young father, he sighed mostly to himself. "Maybe if I had been a surgeon or if the emergency physician had been a martial artist like us . . . maybe, just maybe she might have had a chance. As it was, she had none."

Ranma looked up puzzled, "What?"

Tofu added, "If the doctor had only had our chi skills, he might have been able to detect the break sooner and with our enhanced speed, perhaps he could have repaired it as well." He shook his head, "In a way, Ukyou had everything going for her if this had to happen to someone. She was in a hospital and the doctor was right there checking her condition when it happened to her. But it wasn't enough."

Later, Ranma and Nabiki awkwardly held each other close as they cried together. "I killed her Nabs, I killed her. If I hadn't gotten her pregnant she wouldn't have died!" he sobbed into her shoulders.

"Hush Ranma, hush, don't diminish her life like that." She sadly added, "She herself would tell you that given a choice between living and having a child, she'd take the child every time. Besides, it's so much better than what happened the first time."

Ranma quietly pushed back from Nabiki enough for them to see each other's tear streaked faces. "What happened 'before'," asked Ranma. "Please tell me, I think I need to know."

Nabiki embraced him again, though it was a bit uncomfortable since she was near full term. She couldn't stand to watch his face as she told this story, it would hurt them both too much as it was. "About two months after you committed suicide, Ukyou stormed into my apartment at the university. Her face was dirty, hair disheveled and her eyes wild. 'Where is HE?' she demanded, Ranma, she scared me. But I was hurting too and some how it didn't matter all that much. I told her that I would personally take her to you and all it would cost was two round trip tickets."

Nabiki paused for awhile, "She actually calmed down a bit, especially when I offered to let her crash with me. We talked a little bit before going to bed. I was worried about her and tried to feel out how she felt. The next morning we caught an express train to a city that was near the town where your grave was. We caught a local train there and then walked the rest of the way. I could sense her panic rising as we neared the graveyard. When I pointed out your grave, she collapsed into tears. I held her for a long while. She wouldn't leave. When I left to find some help, she was gone when we came back. Nobody ever saw her again. The city eventually sold her restaurant for past due taxes. But nobody ever found a body; she just completely disappeared as if she never existed. And only me, the mercenary Ice Queen, I was the only one who even missed her. It hurt, it hurt a lot. I'm sorry Ranma. Brief as it was, the life she had this time was so much fuller than what she had before. This time she married you. She held her daughter in her arms and nursed her." Nabiki started sobbing harder, "This time she had a life and left friends and family behind to miss her. I miss her Ranma, I'll miss her forever but I don't regret a single moment of our life with her."

The funeral was somber, even Genma cried a bit though he tried to hide it. Ranma quietly held his daughter Ukyou as they said goodbye to Ukyou, husband and mother.

With tears in his eyes as he caressed Ukyou's grave marker, Ranma asked. "Nabs, I don't want anyone else to hurt like we do because of something like this if I can prevent it. Nabiki, can we . . . will our budget allow me to go to medical school?"

"Yeah Ranma, that can happen. Change the courses you take next year a little and with your grades, getting into medical school should be easy," whispered Nabiki.

A week after Ukyou's death, Nabiki went into labor. Tofu found it necessary to sedate Ranma, but Ranma's worry was needless. Nabiki gave birth to a lovely blue eyed daughter that she named Kimiko after her own mother. She nursed both Ukyou and Kimiko who they raised together as if they were twins.

Kasumi frequently helped with the baby-sitting and was entranced by her nephew and two nieces. So much so that she didn't even think of trying to do housework while watching them.

Nodoka took over running Ucchan's full time and often requisitioned Genma's help keeping the place clean. The place was well on its way to once again becoming another mom & pop restaurant as it had once been as its popularity continued undiminished under her care. Trust Genma to throw a monkey wrench into the works.

Bam! Smack! "But No-chan, what'd I do?" plaintively asked Genma.

Nodoka stopped baka pounding and began to sob onto his shoulder instead. After a few moments she whispered, "I'm pregnant."

Fortunately she landed on top of Genma as she lost her balance when he unexpectedly fainted in her arms. Unfortunately, they were in the hallway of the house.

Ranma came out of his bedroom, looked at his parents on the floor in the missionary position and sighed tiredly, "Schees, mom, dad, you guys DO have a bedroom for that kinda stuff." With that he stepped around them and made his way downstairs never to realize how close he came to death at that moment.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

[Ranma Genma confrontation over teaching at dojo, Ranma agrees that he has obligation to become sensei at dojo but also demands right to become physician as Ranko since both have separate legal identities.]

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Nodoka gives birth to daughter, Kikuko.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

[Kasumi has been in school for almost three years in this interval and she has met Tofu several times. But it is not until he starts to freak out around the small Saotome children that she finally puts a stop to it. Slaps him silly and points out that his behavior was totally unacceptable as it endangered the kids. The shock cures Tofu, starts to court Kasumi]

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Akane read the headlines in the sports section again, 'Ranma Saotome leads gymnastics team to another victory, clinches all Japan title in time for graduation!' She sighed wistfully. "I wonder if he'll invite me to his graduation. It's hard to believe that he's still mad. I mean, it's been over three and a half years now. I wish I knew his address so I could write him."

As she carefully bottle-fed her five-month-old son she murmured to herself sadly, "Even Ryouga is still mad at me and I haven't seen P-chan in years. I've seen Ryouga, what, maybe eight times since the wedding and he's deliberately run from me each time he sees me. I thought he was my friend."

A month later, Kasumi watched as Akane and Akane's husband, Bubba, walked across the stage and received their college diplomas. Afterwards, Kasumi hugged Akane while Soun shook Bubba's hand proudly. "I'm so glad that you were able to stick it out and graduate Akane. I mean the baby is just six months old now. This last year must have been tough for the two of you."

The couple nodded agreement to that.

"So, I hear from dad that you and Bubba are moving into the dojo," prompted Kasumi of Akane.

Bubba grinned happily, "Yeah, Akane and Soun are going to start team teaching martial arts classes and I've got permission to set up a small real estate office in the house."

Kasumi looked around and saw Bubba's parents approaching holding their grandson. As Akane took her son and snuggled momentarily with him, Kasumi asked. "So, what are your plans for the rest of the day?"

Akane grimaced, "My husband and his father are going on a deep sea fishing trip to celebrate. As far as their wives go, well, we agree that we hate it and are staying home. We don't really have anything planned though. Why?"

Kasumi paused, wondering if she should do this. She hadn't cleared it with Nabiki but she did feel that it was time plus this was a perfect opportunity. 'Oh, well,' she thought to herself, 'sometimes it's easier to get forgiveness than permission.' She smiled at Akane and suggested to her father and Akane, "I wondered if you two wanted to attend Nabiki's college graduation with me about two hours from now."

She smiled at Bubba's mother, "You're welcome to come too if you'd like." Kasumi hated to admit it but she was relieved when older woman declined saying she needed to rest.

"Why should I?" stormed Akane. "She didn't attend my graduation or even send me an invitation to hers. "I haven't seen her in over three and a half years, why should I make an effort to see her now when she totally ignores my existence?"

Kasumi sighed; it was hard to believe that Akane had been in therapy for over two years now and still had so much trouble with her anger. "Because you wronged her and she will not do anything to reach out to you without an effort on your part first."

"I wronged her! Just what the hell do you mean?" fumed Akane. "She's the one who tried to ruin my wedding by vanishing at the last minute!" Meanwhile with a grateful sigh, Bubba allowed his parents to pull him away with themselves. The fellas had a boat to catch and none of them liked this particular side of Akane.

Soun sighed wistfully, "I wouldn't mind seeing my daughter again."

Distracted for only a moment, Akane returned to the fray. "She owes ME an apology. Not the other way around."

"Sorry," calmly stated Kasumi, "I know all the facts and I agree with Nabiki. But only she has the right to explain it."

"But," started Akane again.

"Just decide Akane," snapped Kasumi, "is your pride worth not seeing your sister for another three or four years, or do you perhaps have some affection for her hidden inside all that anger."

Kasumi's irritation derailed Akane's anger long enough for her to reflect a bit more calmly inside. Finally she sighed as if making a huge sacrifice and said, "Ok, I'll make the effort. But I promise you. When I talk to her, I'm going to give her a piece of my mind!"

Soun was startled to overhear Kasumi mutter under her breath, "Yeah, yeah, just as if you had any to spare in the first place." Kasumi had definitely changed in the last three years.

"Kasumi," asked Akane, "Why is Nabiki only graduating now?"

"Oh, well, Nabiki decided to get a multiple major degree," responded Kasumi. "As I recall, she has majors in business, psychology and pre-law so that took an extra year."

Soun, Kasumi, Akane and her baby were fortunate to get seats that gave a good view of the podium. As the graduation ceremonies started for Tokyo University, the adults noticed one major difference immediately. Despite the added prestige of the institution, there was a definite increase in the level of boisterousness among this group of graduates.

As soon as the ceremony started, Akane noticed Ranma sitting on the stage next to a girl that looked somewhat familiar. She hissed, "Kasumi, look, on the stage, there's that two-timing Ranma with the hussy I saw at his apartment when I dumped him!"

"Oh there! Oh, thank you Akane. I was wondering where Ranma and Shana were," calmly replied Kasumi.

"But . . ." sputtered Akane.

"Just shut up and watch the ceremony, Akane. Believe me, things are a lot different than you assume them to be," exasperatedly responded Kasumi.

After a short welcoming speech by the University president he introduced the class salutatorian. Akane and Soun gasped as Ranma confidently strode up to the podium amid waves of applause from the gathered students. Ranma made a very short welcoming speech and introduced the class valedictorian. "Hey, now it's time for one of the main speakers. Here's Shana Deji, one of my best friends and my main study partner, now and next year in medical school too."

Swapping places; Shana and Ranma hi-fived as they passed each other amid thunderous applause. Soun and Akane were momentarily stunned as they previously had no idea at how well Ranma had been doing in college. "Ranma's going to be a doctor?" mumbled Akane in surprise.

After she spoke, Shana and Ranma made their way down the stage to sit with the other graduating students while the main speaker spoke. Afterwards the students came forward to receive their diplomas as their names were called alphabetically.

Akane was surprised to note that Nabiki was sitting with Ranma. "There must not be very many 'S's' since Tendou Nabiki is next to Saotome Ranma" she whispered to Kasumi and added, "I wish we had been able to get a graduation program."

Kasumi just grinned to herself. She had a couple of programs but kept them hidden.

As Nabiki stepped onto the stage to receive her diploma, the University president motioned for a pause in the smoothly functioning lines handing out diplomas. Placing a hand on Nabiki's shoulder, he spoke to the audience, "Every once in a while, there comes a student who distinguishes herself in non-traditional ways and deserves special recognition. One such is Saotome Nabiki. She balanced a college education, a husband and two children while establishing a charity, the Jusenkyo Foundation that has helped dozens of her fellow students pursue their dreams."

Once again the auditorium rang to thunderous applause. Meanwhile, Ranma came up behind the crimson Nabiki and hugged her to the added cheers of the assembled students.

Just as Nabiki had received her diploma and was about to step down, another student called out loudly, "Hey Nabiki, when's the next one due?"

With hardly a pause, Nabiki patted her tummy and yelled back, "In about 7 months." Then she lifted her fist into the air in a feminist salute and yelled "Hoo Raa" Almost immediately several hundred other girls echoed her "HOO RAA, HOO RAA!" Nabiki grinned and waved as she made her way back to her seat. Meanwhile, about 5 meters behind her, Ranma was blushing as he slowly shook his head and followed Nabiki back to his seat.

Akane was blushing, "I can't believe her. Nabiki is shameless. Did you see how she embarrassed poor Ranma in front of all these people?"

Kasumi mildly asked, "Is there something shameful about a young married woman being pregnant? And as for Ranma, he already knew about it. He really doesn't mind when Nabiki does something like that. In fact, it's part of what he loves about her."

"I have two more grandchildren?" mumbled Soun, "and Nabiki's pregnant again and married to Ranma!" With that he fainted.

Kasumi studied Akane's face as they waited for the crowds to clear a bit before going to greet Nabiki and Ranma. She could see the anger bubbling, with a sigh, she motioned Akane to sit next to her between her and their Father. "Akane, you still don't understand do you?" Seeing Akane's puzzled look, Kasumi continued, "When we go down to congratulate Nabiki and Ranma, I want you to take a close look at Nabiki's hair. On the right side, just above the forehead, you'll notice a thin streak of white hair. There's a tanto scar there, one that she got when she wrestled a tanto blade away from Ranma while your wedding ceremony was happening. She stopped Ranma from committing suicide. Nabiki feels very strongly that you wronged Ranma and herself with your cavalier treatment of the honor engagement between the Tendous and Saotomes."

"But he . . ." sputtered Akane.

"NO!" spoke Kasumi sharply. "Not once, not even in his mind did Ranma ever betray you. In the end, he changed who he was to fit your demands and then you . . . you just threw him away." With tears in her eyes, Kasumi continued. "Nabiki is the only reason the Tendous still have their honor Akane. And thanks to her, we may even end up being healthy and happy too. Tell me truly, without counseling, would you still be married?"

"Well," 'sigh' . . . "probably not," she whispered. "But what does that have to do with Nabiki?"

"Remember the Jusenkyo Foundation?" queried Kasumi, "the one that Nabiki and Ranma founded with their own money initially. They are the ones who are funding my way through school and paying for yours and daddy's counseling, just in case the significance of the name has slipped your mind," she added sarcastically.

Akane sat there a long time. After a while, tears began to slowly drip from her eyes. Finally she rose and wiped her eyes, "I have some apologies to make." She hugged her son to herself for comfort as she made her way to where Ranma and Nabiki could be seen in the midst of numerous well wishers.

Ranma was the first to notice Akane's approach. His face stilled and he pulled Nabiki in front of him but facing Akane as if to shield himself from Akane's approach. Hesitantly, Akane paused and then looked behind herself seeking Kasumi's reassurance. Seeing Kasumi's warm smile, Akane took heart, and after a moment's thought, handed her son into Kasumi's care.

A meter from Ranma and Nabiki, Akane stopped, knelt and bowed to the floor before her sister and Ranma. Painfully, she spoke, her face still to the floor, "Almost four years ago I shamed my family honor and your honor as well, I humbly ask forgiveness."

Ranma felt the tension in Nabiki, softly he spoke to her. "I would like to see an end to this Nabs, please. She is family after all."

Nabiki turned within Ranma's encircling grasp, briefly hugged him and kissed him quickly. "Thanks Ranma, in the end, that's what's truly important isn't it?"

"Yes," whispered Ranma, "It was only when we two became a family ourselves that we saved each other."

Another quick hug and then Nabiki knelt beside Akane, "We both forgive you, Akane." Kasumi smiled gently and ignored her own tears as she watched her two younger sisters hug each other tightly. Her family was whole again.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Akane sat at one end of the room marveling at what she saw before her. Ok her father and Genma playing shogi, that wasn't new, it just hadn't happened in some years. But on the floor there was her three year old nephew Kenji, the year old twin nieces Ukyou and Kimiko, her own six months old son Doha and one month old Kikuko, Genma and Nodoka's daughter. Five small children all related to each other, and just this morning she didn't even know that four of them existed! Her family had gotten a lot larger in just a couple of hours. While she knew the story behind Ukyou's birth, she felt as if this was truly her niece as well because she also knew the love the story represented.

She sighed as her son began protesting, it was time for a nap. Just as she was about to ask Nabiki where she could lay Doha down, Nodoka came out of the kitchen with a glass of water. "Genma," she called as she sat the glass next to him, "the kids are becoming cranky."

With a put-upon sigh, Genma moved a few pieces and won the game. Even as Soun was protesting, Genma upended the glass and moved to the center of the floor where the panda laid down on his back as if to take a nap.

Almost immediately the three older children were all over him. Crawling up his sides by grabbing handfuls of hair to pull themselves upward with. There they bounced and giggled and rolled around, though Genma was careful to catch them before they hit the floor if they rolled too far. The two younger children watched spellbound. In less than ten minutes, the three older children were curled up in a ball on the panda's broad warm soft tummy, fast asleep. Just as Genma was dozing off himself, he felt two other children laid in his arms, a sleeping infant on each shoulder. 'What a come down for a master martial artist, now a bed for babies,' he thought. Somehow the smile on his face and the contentment he felt didn't make that seem like a bad thing.

Akane watched awestricken. "Wow, and here I thought he was useless."

She continued to watch for several minutes until Nabiki spoke to her as if understanding her unspoken concerns. "Not to worry, Akane, even in his sleep, Genma is aware of the children. Without even knowing it, he'll keep the kids safe. On the down side, if it is a down side, they will all sleep at least four hours, probably longer."

Nodoka smiled warmly at Akane, "Want to help in the kitchen?"

Akane hung her head but the others could see her face blanch, "No, I don't try to cook anymore. Not after the first time my son had to go to the hospital because I couldn't even mix the baby formula correctly. Please, don't ask me again."

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Kasumi marries tofu and moves into his house. Tells him in no uncertain terms, that she fully intends to continue her education even if, or rather when she becomes pregnant. Lovingly tells Ranko to stuff the rest of the 'scholarship' as her husband can pay her way now. Not that the foundation was paying all that much anymore anyway with all the scholarships she had earned.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

RANKO as a medical student with Shana Deji, one of her best friends and her main study partner. Shana meets another medical student and marries him just as Nabiki predicts [remembers]. All three become obstetricians and agree to go into private practice together.

This time Ranko is first and Shana second when graduating. Tofu teaches Ranko some magic medicine as well.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Nabiki was . . . well she wasn't sure. She was nervous, anxious, excited and definitely hoped that Ranma wouldn't say no to her plans. Ranma on the other hand was vaguely aware that Nabiki was not her usually confident mischievous self. But he put it down to the fact that both of them were just finishing up their professional degrees. In three days, he would be fully certified as an obstetric physician and she as an attorney. Both were ready to go into practice.

When the elderly couple above Ucchan's had passed away several years ago, Nabiki had preempted their floor wide apartment as office space for their charity and now she had set up a legal assistance office as part of the Jusenkyo Foundation office she had been running from there.

At the opposite end of the Saotome compound from where the new dojo sat, Ranma and Nabiki had had built a multistory medical clinic that included a suite of offices for Ranma and his two partners, Shana and her husband. The three newly licensed physicians were in the midst of setting up the offices and hiring staff, though they were having an easier time of it than others in a similar situation as Ranma and Nabiki were covering all the startup costs.

It was Sunday morning, a week and a half later. As Ranma attempted to rise from bed, Nabiki pulled him back. "Ranma, can we talk a bit, please?"

Ranma smiled, "So you're finally going to tell me what's been bugging ya, huh?"

"Am I that obvious?" she asked shyly.

"Too me ya are," he replied with a kiss to her nose, "but only because I've made a hobby of Nabiki watching."

"That's sweet, flattery will get you everything," she cooed.

"Got everything I want already," Ranma remarked as he loosely hugged her to himself.

'Perfect opening!' she thought to herself. "But there is something that I've wanted for almost eight years that you haven't given me yet."

Obviously puzzled, Ranma thought for several long minutes before scratching his head and giving up. "Ok Nabs, I give up. What ever it is, it's yours if possible." With a smile he added, "heck I'll even try a couple of the impossible ones for you too if that's what you want."

"A honeymoon," Nabiki said quickly. "A honeymoon where there are no other obligations, no kids, no bills, no friends or parents; just us. A honeymoon where what we want to do, we can do. Someplace where we can be as kinky as we want. Whether it's dance naked on the roof or make love in a meadow."

"But the office . . ." started Ranma. He hesitated as he noticed the fire starting to leave her eyes, "can wait a few weeks I guess," he finished. Sigh, "What about the kids?" he asked.

"I've already talked to mama-Nodoka and she's all excited about it whether it's for a couple of days or months," grinned Nabiki happily. "She's already got a couple of people in managerial and chef training at Ucchan's. She said she'd just put them on their own a little earlier is all."

"So," whispered Ranma in her ear. "Any ideas on where we are going and for how long?"

"Yeah," snickered Nabiki, "I have the reservations already made, for TWO months."

"Two months?" Ranma was surprised. "You've been planning this for that long?"

"No, baka," Nabiki answered quickly, "I've been planning this for a year. Two months is how long I want to stay."

"Oh," replied Ranma quietly. "Two months . . . you sure?"

"Not long enough?" wondered Nabiki. "I think I can extend it if that's what you want."

"Nnooo, no, that's fine, just fine." Ranma wondered what he was going to do for two whole months. "Did you say there was a training dojo or a big library nearby?"

Nabiki grinned, "Actually, I haven't said anything at all. The place is a small island off the southern most coast of Okinawa. But no, the only school is a grade school. There is no dojo, no library, in fact there isn't much of anything. Some of the places don't even have electricity. Waiting for Ranma's look of dismay to peak, she then added, "In fact there isn't anything to do, except snuggle." As she watched his face as he tried to hide his panic, she finally confessed, "I did sign us up for scuba and horseback riding lessons though."

They caught a flight to Okinawa that afternoon and by evening were in a modest home that Nabiki had rented for the summer. As they luxuriated in the hot Jacuzzi, Nabiki sighed, "Ranma, I think I'm going to miss this."

"Huh," responded Ranma, "I thought we were going to stay here all summer? Or is the tub broken somehow?"

In answer, Nabiki pulled out a package Ranma had last seen over eight years ago. It was a package of instant Nanniichuan. It could temporarily cure Ranma's curse or give a temporary one-time curse of drowned boy spring to someone or something else.

With a feeling of panic, Ranma studied the package and Nabiki's broad mischievous smile. Ranma bolted from the room hissing, "NO, not that, never that!"

Ranma hurriedly dressed, fully intending to go outside and sulk. He paused in the hall as he heard Nabiki softly crying in the bathroom. The sound caused his heart to tighten and he slowly slid open the bathroom door. At his feet laid the package where it had fallen after Nabiki had thrown it against the wall as he left.

With tear reddened eyes, Nabiki looked up at him and sobbed. "I'm sorry; it's just that I love all of you. Even 'her', I just wanted a chance to love her too. I'm sorry Ranma. I didn't mean to offend you. I just wanted something to make this time together really special. I'm sorry."

Ranma's heart filled with warmth for this vibrant woman who had made his life so exciting and worthwhile. He picked up the package and then scooped her up out of the tub, heedless of his dry clothes. "Well, I guess we better turn off the hot water, heh, Nabs?" he whispered in her ear as he hugged her tight.

That night, the initial pain, though slight startled Ranma, ah, rather Ranko. Nabiki hesitated, "Sorry Ranko, I forgot about that," he said.

"You and me both honey," Ranko chuckled. She grinned, "It's ok now Nabs. In a sort of kinky way, it's fun."

Ranko was surprised at how unbored she actually was those two months.

Events the first couple of days set the tone for the remainder of their stay in a way. A tropical storm moved in and isolated the island. Ranko and Nabiki were sorely tempted to just stay indoors and explore their new relationship. They probably would have done just that if they hadn't realized that there was no food in the house.

Making their way slowly down the street to one of the few markets that were open, Ranko complained, "I thought you said this was a 'paradise' type spot." Ranko unhappily struggled to hold the umbrella against the gusting wind that persisted in periodically dampening her by blowing rain underneath it.

Ranko was uneasy as she and Nabiki moved along the isles and made their food selections. There was something barely heard that was putting all her senses on alert. Just as they were in the process of paying for their groceries, a middle-aged woman came out a back door and stood with her back against it crying into her hands.

Ranko was instantly at her side but before either said anything, a muffled scream could be heard behind them. "What's wrong," demanded Ranko in quiet but very firm voice.

The shopkeeper sternly replied, "Nothing that is any of your business unless you happen to be a doctor."

Ranko looked at the two troubled faces of the strangers before her and simply said, "Yes." She turned to Nabiki, but he was already disappearing out the door at as fast as he could.

The shopkeeper asked, "Ahh, where is your husband going?"

But his wife clutched Ranko desperately, "You're a doctor?"

Ranko reassured them, "My wi . . ahh, husband has gone to fetch my medical bag. Now where is my patient?"

Stunned, the shopkeeper sagged back, but his wife, still clutching Ranko with one hand hurried through the door and up the stairs behind them. In a back bedroom on the second floor, Ranko found a half dozen women assembled around a young woman obviously in labor. And not doing well either.

"Move away, give me room," snapped Ranko impatiently. A quick exam and Ranko asked, "Why isn't her doctor here and why isn't she in a hospital?"

"I'm Juna, the girl's grandmother. Her doctor is elderly and had to be hospitalized on the mainland a couple of days ago. The storm has cut us off so that we can't get help, can you help?"

Ranko nodded as she looked the assembled women over carefully, paying especial attention to what their chi looked like during this family crisis. "Juna, I may need to operate, please set up a hard table, about waist high, and gather all the clean sheets that you have. If you can, sterilize them by zapping them in the microwave after damping them slightly." Ranko then pointed to two other women who had also radiated calmness. "I'll need the two of you to assist me, the rest of you either leave or help Juna." Without waiting for replies, Ranko turned her back on the rest of them and focused her attention on her first patient, a young mother-to-be named Yuka.

Cries of outrage alerted Ranko to Nabiki's arrival. "Let my husband enter, I will need his help," snapped Ranko.

"Help?" queried Nabiki nervously as he was allowed to enter.

As she quickly opened up her bag, Ranko nodded, "Remember when you were in the lab and watching as Shana and I practiced putting each other under momentarily?" she asked. "Well, I need for you to do that for Yuka," as she pointed to the young woman in labor. "Don't worry Nabs, I'll guide you."

"Ok," shakily replied Nabiki.

After carefully scrubbing up using tepid water, Ranko was ready to operate. Apparently not only was the child in breech position, but the cord was tangled as well, a potentially lethal condition for both mother and child. The mother was already bleeding heavily and the baby's heartbeat was showing signs of distress.

It turned out that the two women Ranko had selected to help were also experienced midwives, perhaps that explained their calmness. With their help, Ranko and Nabiki quickly performed the emergency Caesarian and delivered a great-grandson into Juna's care. Ranko spent extra time and care doing repair work on the torn womb of the young mother, though at amigirkin speeds, it did not really take long. Ranko used her chi to reinforce Yuka's life force and repair the damage as well.

Less than an hour after the baby was delivered, Ranko was done. Three minutes later, she was asleep on the floor exhausted. Nabiki quickly gathered his spouse into his arms and retreated with her into a bedroom that Yuka's mother Shori led them to.

In tones of hushed awe, the midwives confided to the other village women what they had been privileged to witness. "Her hands were moving so fast that I couldn't see them at times. And she was glowing. Glowing a deep blue and sometimes so was Yuka too. Maybe it was magic or something, but I've never seen a doctor that good before!"

Five hours later, a groggy Ranko sleepily protested as Nabiki carried her to the supper table. "Aww, I wanted to sleep some more." That was until she saw the food and her stomach loudly grumbled.

With shy smiles, Juna and Shori, set full plates before their two honored guests. Dumbstruck, they watched Ranko's plate of food seemingly vanish, but grinned knowingly when Nabiki calmly swapped plates with Ranko as she hungrily glanced around the table. Apparently this appetite was nothing new to the young doctor's spouse. As the second plate was emptied in a somewhat more decorous manner, Nabiki held out his plate to be refilled. As soon as Ranko finished the second plate, Nabiki again calmly swapped plates. Refilling the plate again, this time Nabiki ate as well while Ranko, embarrassed, cleaned up her third helping.

The shopkeeper, who introduced himself as Yuka's father Togi, chuckled, "The only other people I've ever seen with appetites like that are martial artist."

As Ranko grinned, Nabiki remarked with pride. "My wife is a grandmistress of her family's martial arts style."

Juna gasped, "So that's how you were able to move so fast." She bowed, "I have consulted with my family and we would like to give you the honor of naming my great grandson."

A meditative but sad look came over Ranko's face. After a few moments, she spoke, "If you are serious in this request, then I ask you to name him after my first husband, Ukyou." She sighed before continuing quietly, "He gave his life for our only child together and it was his death that made me decide to go into medicine. In a strange way, his death saved the life of Yuka and her son."

"His name is Ukyou then," quietly replied Toski, Yuka's husband. "Thank you for saving my family."

Nabiki scooted over closer to Ranko and wiped away the solitary tear he saw just before it fell. "Still hurts, doesn't it?"

Ranko hugged him, "Yeah, but somehow, somehow maybe Ukyou's death wasn't completely a waste," she sighed sadly.

"Wherever Ukyou is right now, I'll bet he's grinning ear to ear even as he's calling you a jackass," smirked Nabiki. Ranko just grinned up at him.

The following morning dawned clear and bright; a harbinger for the weather for the rest of their stay. As they made their way down to the dock to check on their scuba lessons, they noticed a line of people waiting outside the local clinic. Ranko remarked to Nabiki, "The local doc must have made it back."

However as they came abreast the waiting crowd, several of the village officials motioned for them to stop. One of them, Togi the storekeeper whose daughter and grandson they had saved the previous day, spoke hesitantly. "Dr Saotome, I know you are here on your second honeymoon, but well, our clinic has been closed for a couple of weeks now. I was wondering if you would be willing to see some of our people." He explained embarrassedly, "It's a long way to the mainland, and with the waiting, the ferry schedules and all, sometimes it's a two day trip to see the doctor. A lot of us can't afford that."

Ranko smiled gently and asked who had the key to the clinic as she nudged Nabiki onward toward the dock and the market.

That became the pattern for next two months. Even after the old doctor returned from the mainland hospital, Ranko still helped him an hour or two each morning. Though his medical training was a half century in his past, the older doctor still had some wisdom to pass on to the young woman. Ranko and Nabiki were accepted into the community completely, and though they did decline the offer of establishing a medical practice there, they did accept the idea of spending future vacations there. Next year, they promised, next year they would bring the rest of the family.

Ranko and Nabiki were packing up to leave, debating whether to finally change genders again here or surprise Ranma's folks. Nabiki was frankly eager to change again though he was little concerned about how the townspeople would react if they were discovered in their true genders. On the other hand, cool baths just didn't compare to what a Jacuzzi offered he thought.

Ranko on the other hand, wasn't too concerned either way. After a dozen years living with the curse and nearly an equal time living on the road, she didn't mind either the bath temperature or being female all that much to tell the truth; especially now after these two glorious months living as Nabiki's wife. Plus she had had a great time scuba diving and horseback riding.

Ranko paused as she picked up a small opaque plastic bag. She didn't need to look inside to recall that it contained her emergency sanitary supplies. That wasn't what caused her to pause. Ranko paused because she abruptly realized that she hadn't once used it these last two months.

"No, no . . . no," whispered Ranko.

Nabiki decided that he couldn't stand being like this anymore and approached Ranko. "Hey you, I've decided I want to be a girl again, wanta go soak in the Jacuzzi with me?"

Too panic stricken to speak, Ranko wordlessly handed the small bag to Nabiki. Nabiki opened it, looked inside and looked back at Ranko with a puzzled expression. "Ahh . . ." suddenly it dawned on Nabiki and he sat down. "We're a couple of idiots. You're a doctor and I'm a mother. We should have both known to take precautions. We're idiots. What do we do now, Ranko?"

Wordlessly, Ranko curled up in Nabiki's lap and began to sob, truly scared by what she faced for once in her life. Nabiki could only enfold her and whisper, "It'll be Ok, I'm sorry. It's all my fault," over and over to his sobbing spouse; a pregnant woe-'man among men'.

Eventually Ranko calmed down, the two finished their packing and quickly left for home. There were plans to be made.

Nodoka was surprised when Ranko walked in the door with a strange man. She was even more surprised to discover that it was Nabiki! She was scandalized, what had the two of them been up to these past two months. She had little chance to ask them though as Ranko had immediately hugged her and started crying, again by the look of her reddened eyes. "Ranko . . . Nabiki what's wrong?" she asked.

"Sorry mom," sighed Nabiki, "we can't say for sure until she sees a doctor. Ranko," she paused to get her attention, "Come on Ranko, let's go see Shana. Maybe she can help."

Pausing only long enough to put on some fresh clothes, Nabiki and Ranko made their way over to the clinic where Ranko practiced medicine with her partners.

"Ranko! You're back!" exclaimed Shana as the young couple made their way back to her office where she was using a tape recorder to make notes that would later be typed out and entered into the patient's records by her staff.

The nurse had tried to stop them, asking fool questions about appointments and such until she belatedly recognized Dr Saotome. But Nabiki had ignored her and simply walked back. Shana waved the nurse away and closed the door as the couple sat in her office.

"What's up, Ranko and who's your friend?' she asked.

"Shana, it's me, Nabiki," softly answered the husky man with the curly chestnut hair. "This form is only temporary, unlike Ranma's curse. One shot of hot water and it's gone forever. But . . . well, I think Ranma; I mean Ranko may need an obstetrician," she finished as both his and Ranko's faces flushed deep crimson."

Shana looked at her two friends. She had known them for almost eight years and had known of Ranma's curse almost that entire time. But this . . . this, she started grinning, then chuckling. Eventually she fell off her chair laughing so hard.

Nabiki and Ranko just sat there waiting; knowing that they really didn't have much choice.

Finally, Shana calmed down and turned to Ranko. "First things first; let's see if you really are going to be a mother. Ahh, you do plan on keeping the child instead of aborting, I assume? Well, presuming you are pregnant, if you plan on practicing during your pregnancy, you'll have to let the staff know about your curse." She sighed, "if only there was a way to prove it to them."

Nabiki chuckled, "Well, I guess it's a good thing that I haven't changed yet again; if it comes to that point. Of course, we could also use pops as an example."

Shana opened the door and waved to a nurse, "These are my very good friends, Nabs and of course you've met Dr Ranko Saotome. There is a chance that Dr Saotome is going to be a first time mother, so let's start a file on her and get the preliminary work done as soon as possible. I'll examine her when that is done." With that she turned Ranko over to the nurse with a grin, "so you get to be one of my first patients."

The results were in shortly, yep, very definitely pregnant.

Shana giggled, "I'll get the staff together." Shana and her husband were shortly assembled with the entire staff. I believe all of you met both Dr Ranko Saotome, her brother Ranma and his wife Nabiki who is our business partner, when you were being interviewed for this position as we were first setting up the office several months ago?" At their concerted nods, she continued, "What I'm about to tell you is not to go outside this office. It is a personal secret concerning Ranma Saotome. When he was a teenager, he traveled widely as part of his martial arts training. One place that he stopped at was in China, a place called Jusenkyo. Magic does exist, and very strongly at that place. There are over a hundred springs there and if you were to fall into one, you would be cursed; cursed to take the body of the last being to drown in the pool every time you were splashed with cold water. The curse is temporarily reversed by hot water. In Ranma Saotome's case, he fell into the spring of drowned girl."

Shana pointed to Ranko. "This is Dr Ranko Saotome and it is also Ranma Saotome, grandmaster martial artist, unfortunately, his curse cannot be demonstrated without killing the baby and perhaps her as well. BUT, his wife, Nabiki Saotome stumbled onto a temporary version of the curse that works only once. Apparently she used it to liven up their second honeymoon and somehow 'she' got her husband pregnant." She chuckled at the Saotomes bright red faces. "As Nabiki's version of the curse can only be demonstrated once, I going to ask Nabiki to remove 'his' shirt so that you can be sure that this is not a mirror trick."

She turned expectantly to Nabiki. Blushing red, Nabiki removed his shirt so that all could see his bare chest. Ranko smirked at Nabiki's nervous attempts to cover the breasts that weren't there. "Ready?" asked Shana, just before her husband poured the hot water over Nabiki's head. Nabiki gasped and froze as the change came over her. She froze long enough that the staff was fully convinced she was mammalian.

"Beginning next week," continued Shana as Nabiki hurriedly dressed, "Dr Saotome will begin seeing patients. SHE will need all your assistance to protect her life against hot water. That means no tea pots or other hot beverages in the office."

Ranma spoke up at this point. "I know that some of you are curious about the split between Ranma and Ranko. Both of my genders have a separate but legal identity, thus as a woman, I'm always Ranko Saotome, physician; and as a man, Ranma Saotome, sensei of the Saotome dojo." With a deep sigh, she continued, "But I guess HE is going to be gone on a long training trip."

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

a bit after this, book two ends

book three is just basically an adventure, not fleshed out very well and it would require that support elements be written into the first two books to prestage it.

.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.

Author's note: Additional Ranma fan-fiction can be found on my Web Page.

C & C to cloud dreamer

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.o0o. .o0o. .o0o.