DARKNESS RETURNS

Chapter 1

A/N: Set sometime between episode 49 (Ranma thinking he is a girl) and 64 (introduction of the Nanban Mirror). Ranma has not yet met his mother, nor has Nabiki yet been his fiancée. Neither Ranma nor Ryoga have Ki attacks. Chapter 1 & 2 are roughly based on the storyline in which Nabiki becomes Ranma's fiancée, but takes place well before that event occurred in canon.

The combat swirled around Nabiki Tendo as half-seen figures fought around her. An indistinct spider shape came at her back but one of her… teammates? Yes teammates, just a metallic blur who fired a beam of blue light, knocked the attacker out of the sky. Out of the sky. Looking down, the middle Tendo realized she was flying,

Something zipped past, trailing green light, while another shape ran along the ground, morphing with each stride. Everything was out of focus, vague, but she could feel an ache in her heart that she had not felt since her mother died. She landed and someone in a red shirt with a shock of black hair ran up, saying...something. She knew this person. R- Ro- Ranma? That didn't quite seem right, but she knew she could trust him like Ranma. She knew she could trust Ranma like this person.

The Almost-Ranma soundlessly shouted and pointed behind her. Spinning, she saw something heading towards them. Raising her hands she chanted words she couldn't hear and blackness engulfed her vision. The shock woke her up.

As Nabiki snapped awake, she desperately looked around room, telling herself it was just a nightmare. But it wasn't, in spite of the fragmentary nature of the dream. The middle Tendo hugged herself as she tried to hold onto the warm feeling and ignore the ache of loss. Ranma. Ranma would help her, help her make it the way it should be.

Shaking her head, Nabiki took in a deep, calming breath. She had to be cool and collected. Nobody seemed to understand that terrible things could happen if she lost control of her emotions. Well, maybe Ranma did a little. The brunette paused. She had never considered it, but just what would happen if she lost it? She shook her head. Nabiki just knew it would be bad.

Streaching, the brunette noticed the time on her bedside clock. 6:17 AM. Nabiki groaned until she realized that she actually felt pretty good. Even stranger, she felt sharp and alert. Pulling on a robe over her pajamas, Nabiki went downstairs, too full of energy to try to get back to sleep.

Gravitating to the kitchen, the middle Tendo peeked in and with a thrill of panic saw the long-haired redhead rummaging in the cabinets. She can't cook, Nabiki told herself, she barely understands what normal food is! The brunette took a step forward, stubbing her toe and bringing her to her senses. What was she thinking? She could understand if it had been Akane, but Ranma couldn't be that bad. Right?

"You're up early," Ranma announced without turning around. "Kasumi made some coffee before she went back to bed."

"Thanks Saotome. How did you know it was me?"

"I've gotten kind of used to you creeping around, you know?" the redhead answered, facing her and giving Nabiki a good view of her water-stained silk shirt. Nabiki smirked a bit, but let Ranma's apparel pass without comment. She settled down on a tall stool after grabbing a cup of coffee.

"So, why are you in the kitchen this morning Saotome? You said something about Kasumi going back to bed?" Ranma shot her an admonishing look, then sighed.

"Yeah, I think she wasn't feeling very well. I guess she does do a lot around here and doesn't seem to get a lot of time for herself," Ranma said, shrugging. Nabiki rolled her eyes.

"She doesn't do a lot, it's more like she does everything," Nabiki snapped. "So why are you in kitchen? Don't tell me you're going to try to cook something?"

"Nah," Ranma said dismissively. "I'm just scrounging a bit and taking off before Akane tries to-"

"All right," Akane said cheerfully as she entered the kitchen, tying up her apron. "Since big sis is under the weather, I'll take care of the cooking today." She looked puzzled as she noticed Ranma and Nabiki at the counter. "What are you two doing in here?"

"Just grabbing my morning coffee," Nabiki answered hastily, holding up her cup as proof.

"I- uh, I didn't think Kasumi was going to be able to cook breakfast, so I thought I'd just grab some fruit or something before heading out to school," Ranma stuttered.

"Well now you won't have to," Akane said, shooting the pigtailed girl a warning glance, before doing a double take. "Why are you a girl?"

"Kitchen has a lot of water," the redhead mumbled. Both Nabiki and Ranma had identical looks of nauseated fear on their faces.

"I better get to it, I have to make lunches as well. You two can wait in the dining room."

"Akane, I don't think this is such a good-" "Look, Tomboy, you know you can't-"

"OUT!" bellowed Akane, good mood evaporating. "I'll make something simple, honestly, you don't have to get all dramatic about it!"

As the two teens retreated from the kitchen, Nabiki reached over to stroke the redhead's mane. "You look good like that, you should leave you hair down more often. At least you'll look good in the hospital." The redhead shook her head with a sickly grin.

"Oh man, don't remind me," Ranma moaned. Studying the brunette, the redhead tried to change the subject "So, Nabiki, what has you up so early and not imitating a zombie?"

"I had a weird dream. I mean a really weird dream…" the older girl hesitated. "Almost like a memory, but I can't remember anything like that ever happening, you know?"

"Could it have been from a past life?" the redhead wondered, sitting down at the dining room table, a resigned look on her face. Nabiki snorted.

"Come on Saotome, there's no such thing as reincarnation." The brunette looked at the shorter girl and swallowed, remembering who she was talking to. "Is there?" Ranma shrugged.

"I don't know Nabs. I mean I've encountered a bunch of ghosts and stuff. Look at Jusenkyo, isn't that a kind of reincarnation? And we both know ghosts are real." The brunette slowly nodded.

"You make a good case, Saotome. But why would I be dreaming of a past life? Has it ever happened to you?" The redhead was quiet for a minute.

"I don't think so, but I don't remember my dreams very much. Doc Tofu thinks it's a side effect of the Cat Fist. But I do know that dreaming stuff like that is important. What was the dream like? If you don't mind talking about it," Ranma added hastily.

"It was really fuzzy, but I know I was in some kind of battle. And I could fly! There were people, friends, fighting along with me, it felt really good to be with them, but I felt sad too, like I had lost them. The last thing I remember was everything going dark." She caught Ranma's sad grimace. "What?"

"It's only a guess, Nabs, but I think you may have been re-living how a past life ended." Nabiki blanched as the redhead looked thoughtful. "Still, you having a warrior's spirit would explain your abnormally high Ki."

"Huh? What are you talking about?" The pigtailed girl gave her a lopsided grin.

"You have a ridiculously high Ki for a non-martial artist. More than Akane. Almost as much as Shampoo." Nabiki's jaw dropped. "That's why you can sneak in and take pictures of me."

"You're sure? I guess you would be. Anyway, I'm just feeling a little down. I guess the people fighting with me were important to me."

"Well, if you get any more dreams like that, let me know, okay. They may be important."

"Sure, Star," Nabiki agreed, missing Ranma's startled look as she stretched. "So what are we going to do about breakfast?"

"I guess, I'll try a bite or two and persuade Akane that her latest effort was no good," Ranma sighed. "I want you to promise me that you won't touch anything unless I say it's okay. You're just a regular girl. Who knows what Akane's cooking could do to you?"

DR

As the various members of the household filed in, it promised to be a tense breakfast. Soun took his regular place as Genma came in, human and grumpy. Ranma and Nabiki sat across from each other, casting fearful glances at the kitchen door.

Speak of the devil, and she will come. In this case, bearing a large tray. "All right, I made something simple just like I promised, scrambled eggs," Akane declared proudly. The smoking heap on the platter was grey-green and gave off a noxious odor. With practiced ease, Soun smiled at his youngest.

"I'm afraid Saotome and I over-indulged a bit, Akane-chan. All I think the two of us could keep down is some rice. Sorry sweetheart. At least Ranma was talking about how hungry he was." Ranma shot him a look of betrayal. Strangely, so did Nabiki.

"That's right, you were in the kitchen earlier, weren't you Ranma?" Akane said cheerfully. "Let me just get Dad and Uncle Saotome some rice and then I'll fix you a plate."

"Why are you cooking, Akane-chan?" Genma asked gruffly.

"Oh, Kasumi wasn't feeling very well this morning, so thought I'd fix breakfast today so she could lie in." Akane told him as she opened the rice cooker and began spooning uncooked rice and water into a bowl. Even Akane could notice this. "What in the world?"

"Akane, you have to turn on the rice cooker, not just put rice and water in it," Nabiki said, exasperation in her tone. Akane flushed and dumped the uncooked slurry back into the cooker. She turned it on and cranked up the heat so it would cook faster.

"I'm sorry Dad, Uncle Saotome. The rice should be done in no time. Here Ranma, let me fix you up a plate." Ranma looked with haunted eyes as the youngest Tendo heaped a plate high with the scrambled egg concoction and passed it over to the pigtailed boy. Soun, Genma and Akane all watched him expectantly.

Ranma had a fine tactical mind and it came into play as he weighed his options. He could gobble the stuff super fast. Pros: Pretty much avoid the taste. Cons: High probability of screaming intestinal agony. He could eat so slowly that before he had to ingest much, it would be time to head to school. Pros: Probably not eat enough to cause more than indigestion. Cons: Have to taste every horrible particle. He could refuse to eat the slop on the grounds of, well, just look at it and smell it. Pros: Avoid toxic food. Cons: Get malleted into next Tuesday. He was still debating when the choice was taken out of his hands.

A slim hand holding a pair of chopsticks reached over and snagged a bit of concoction. Ranma looked up and joined Soun in horror as Nabiki put the morsel in her mouth. The middle Tendo chewed for a few moments and with the same calm expression, spat the glob into a napkin. "Akane, that was vile."

"What?" cried the muscular girl. "It's fine, I followed the recipe!"

Greatly daring, Ranma followed Nabiki's example, even managing to swallow his mouthful. He immediately drained his tea in one long gulp. "Nabs is right, Akane. That was awful." Nabiki and Ranma began tag teaming the younger girl.

"Simple doesn't mean good."

"And that wasn't simple. Or good for that matter."

"Did you even try it before serving it?"

"Listen Tomboy, I wouldn't feed this to P-chan."

"That's right, cruelty to animals is illegal."

"I wish cruelty to food was."

"On the other hand, Ranma-kun, my little sister has invented a sure-fire diet food, so some good came out of it."

"And no animals were harmed and only one martial artist and one Ice Queen were nauseated."

During the duo's rapid fire back-and-forth, Akane was getting redder and redder, but the pair's perfect synchronization kept her off balance enough that she couldn't act on it until they finished. "Ranma, you jerk! Teaming up with Nabiki to make fun of me!" Her uppercut sent the pigtailed boy flying though the paper doors and into the yard.

"Nice one, Akane," Nabiki said sarcastically. "Way to wreck the house after wrecking breakfast. And don't jump to conclusions, little sister. Ranma-kun and I weren't teaming up, we were making fun of your, and I use the term loosely, food. We were doing it at the same time because we both tried your garbage." Nabiki looked out through the shattered doors worriedly. "I hope Ranma-kun is okay. He swallowed the stuff."

"You like him so much, he's yours! You can marry the perverted freak! I'll even gift wrap him," Akane bellowed. Her fury increased as she noticed Nabiki was looking past her, ignoring her. "What's so important behind-" A dripping Ranma stared at her, looking like the redhead had been punched in the gut by Ryoga. Shaking her head, Ranma assumed a neutral expression and walked up to Nabiki.

"You okay, Nabs?" Ranma asked quietly. "I appreciate the thought, but you're a normal girl. Pulling off stunts like eating the Tomboy's cooking can get you killed." Akane blanched white and without another word ran up the stairs. The slam of her door resounded through the house.

Soun was still in shock, but Genma was quicker to rally his presence of mind. "Boy, how dare you insult your fiancée? Go apologize to her at once!"

Ranma seemed to consider this order. "Okay Pops. Sorry Nabs, I shouldn't have let you taste the Tomboy's cooking. I'll try to make it up to you."

"Nabiki is not your fiancée, Akane is! Now go upstairs and apologize!" Genma roared.

"Sorry, Pops, you heard her. Akane transferred the engagement to Nabs. Agreement was just to marry a Tendo, doesn't matter which one."

"So help me boy, if you don't-" Genma cut off as something flew into his mouth. As the taste registered, he spat it out, but lightening quick, Ranma threw three more chunks of Akane's attempt at scrambled eggs into his father's mouth. Choking, the older martial artist staggered into the yard.

Soun looked from his daughter to Ranma, then shrugged. A Tendo-Saotome wedding was all one to him and retreated behind his paper.

"Oh my, what happened down here?" a haggard looking Kasumi inquired of the room at large.

"I'm afraid our little sister took it upon herself to fix breakfast since you weren't feeling well," Nabiki said flatly. "Both Ranma-kun and I tried the stuff she said was scrambled eggs and we let her know what we thought of it. It seems we got a little clever. Little Akane took it personally and now I'm engaged to Ranma-kun." She giggled slightly. "I guess it's true, eating Akane's cooking is dangerous."

"Thanks, Nabs." Ranma said sourly, still managing a wan smile.

Kasumi gingerly poked at the grey-green mass. "She said they were scrambled eggs?" The eldest Tendo daughter looked a little green herself.

"Yep. Any idea what she did to them?" Ranma wondered with morbid curiosity. Kasumi hesitated and sniffed the concoction. She swallowed convulsively.

"If I had to guess, Akane added the ingredients for miso soup to her eggs, put in far too much vinegar and then tried to correct the mistake by adding sugar." Both Ranma and Nabiki were nauseated all over again.

"And you have the nerve to tell ME to apologize after she feeds us this crap!" Ranma yelled out the door. "But really, sorry about this Nabs." The middle Tendo surprised both her sister and fiancé.

""Not at all, Ranma-kun. We should be apologizing to you, with my little sister treating you like a broken toy," Nabiki replied. The morning paper rustled as Soun nodded in approval.

"Are you all right, little sister? You're looking a little pale." Nabiki snorted.

"Have you looked in a mirror lately Kasumi? I'm fine." Seeing Kasumi look skeptical, she added. "Better than ever actually." The middle Tendo began hurriedly scraping Ranma's plate back onto the serving platter. "I better get going soon, I have to get to school early. Why don't you get changed back to a boy and maybe we can pick up something on the way to school." As Kasumi watched Nabiki bustle out, Akane could be heard stomping around her room.

Kasumi was getting up to tend to them when Ranma said, "Tendo-san, could you take care of the dishes? I have to get to school and Kasumi should rest."

The older man studied his daughter for a moment before nodding. "Quite right, son. I will take care of the kitchen as well. Kasumi, I want you to take it easy the rest of the day."

"Oh, but Father-" Soun cut her off with an upraised hand.

"I want you to rest, Kasumi. It's clear that we've run you ragged."

"But what about dinner, Father?" the tall girl objected, biting her lip. Ranma grinned.

"I know a certain brunette who I might be able to coax to spring for takeout," the pigtailed boy declared, having changed back before leaving. "Don't worry about it Kasumi. You just relax."

"Wait, what about your lunches?" Kasumi cried anxiously.

"We'll grab something at school. Ukyo at least usually has her portable grill," Nabiki assured her sister, ducking her head back into the dining room. "And if not, the school canteen usually has something."

"Well, all right," Kasumi said uncertainly. "Let me give you some lunch money. I confess I could use some more rest."

The newly fledged couple saw neither hide nor hair of Akane the entire walk to school.

DR

Ranma sat peacefully under a tree, eating his lunch and contemplating the sky. Akane had either pointedly ignored him during class, or had made loud, obnoxious comments during the break about how the engagement was over. A number of girls had received the news with more interest than the pigtailed martial artist was comfortable with. He looked up as a shadow fell over him.

"Hey Saotome, how was your morning? Sorry about how breakfast turned out." Nabiki settled next to the pigtailed boy, unwrapping her school lunch. Ranma grinned lopsidedly.

"It wasn't your fault Nabs, though I got to warn you again about just up and eating the Tomboy's cooking. As for Akane getting bent out of shape, well we were doing a number on her." The middle Tendo took a bite out of her rice ball before answering.

"So Akane made it official about breaking off the engagement and telling everyone that I'm your fiancée I see." Ranma quirked an eyebrow. "I've already had several inquiries on availability of renting you out for a date."

"You haven't-"

"No, of course not Ranma," the middle Tendo protested. Ranma gave her a look. "No really. No one should be forced to do something like that," she muttered bitterly. She looked at the rice ball she was eating. "While this is a lot better than anything Akane or I could do, if I couldn't have one of Kasumi's lunches, what I really wanted was pizza, but it's pretty hard to get around here."

"What the heck is pizza Nabs?" Ranma asked, finishing his lunch and hovered a hand near one of Nabiki's rice balls. The brunette nodded and the food disappeared.

"It's kind of like western okonomiyaki, but with a crisper pancake and tomato sauce and cheese."

"I didn't know you liked that sort of thing. I've never heard you mention it before today."

"I didn't know I liked it until today," Nabiki replied, artfully rescuing a bit of carrot from Ranma's clutches.

"That dream?" The brunette nodded. "Well, I'll keep on my toes, stuff like that always means something." The black-haired boy stopped speaking and scooted away from the middle Tendo, leaving the remains of her lunch alone. Nabiki blinked at him and Ranma just pointed with his chopsticks while trying to look unconcerned.

The middle Tendo sighed as she spotted Ukyo, Shampoo and Akane all bearing down on the two of them. The three girls stopped a few feet away, forming a semi-circle around Ranma, who had finished eating. The first two girls alternated between glaring at their rivals and giving the pigtailed boy entreating glances. Akane just settled for glaring at everyone. All three girls spoke at the same time.

"Ran-chan how could you have lunch with Nabiki instead of your cute fiancée?"

"Airen take Shampoo on date?"

"What are you doing to my sister, you jerk?"

Before Ranma could reply, Nabiki stood up, moving between Ranma and the other girls. "In no particular order, ladies, Ranma likes to have lunch with interesting people. Second, I doubt Ranma is going to cut class to date you Shampoo. Third, Ranma and I were talking, a pastime you should try sometime Akane." The three fiancées were taken aback, giving the brunette a chance to continue.

"And since you broke off the engagement with Ranma, I don't think you have any grounds to complain about Ranma's actions especially after that breakfast garbage you served. Agreed?" Unfortunately, Akane heard what she wanted to hear.

"Has that pervert been making fun of my cooking again?! Ranma, you jerk!" The muscular girl leapt forward before either Ukyo or Shampoo could react and smashed Ranma up into the tree with a tremendous uppercut. As the other two fiancées shouted at an indifferent Akane, a palpable dark atmosphere sprang up. All three girls stopped and turned to look at Nabiki.

The middle Tendo was regarding them with cold anger, her arms crossed in front of her. "A- az," she began. "Az-, a-, azer-" She breathed out gustily in frustration. It was right on the tip of her tongue. She settled for glaring at the younger girls. "Just leave him alone." The three fiancées watched in bewilderment as Nabiki stalked away.

DR

The afternoon classes were a forbidding affair as Ranma ignored Ukyo and Akane, Akane fumed at the black-haired boy and Ukyo was staring daggers at the youngest Tendo. In the second period after lunch, Akane was sent into hall after screaming at Ranma to stop behaving like a child.

The atmosphere became even more intense when Nabiki dropped by between classes to inform Akane that it was she that had insulted Akane's cooking not Ranma, that Akane owed Ranma an apology and wasn't Akane going to hit her?

It was with great relief that the teachers and other students finished the day with the building and their sanity intact. To no one's surprise Ranma jumped out the third story to leave as quickly as possible while Akane grumbled as she gathered her books. What was shocking was when Nabiki showed up looking to walk Ranma home and not having one word to say to her sister.

Ranma was to the first to arrive at the Tendo compound. He smiled as he noted Kasumi, feet tucked up under her, reading one of the historical fiction novels she was so fond of. She looked up as the pigtailed boy entered the dining room, "Welcome home Ranma. Did you have a good day?"

"Well, aside from a little time at lunch, no not at all," the black-haired boy responded cheerfully. His smile dimmed a little as he noticed his father and Soun at the shogi board. "Did they do anything today?"

"Oh my, yes Ranma-kun. Father did the dishes, and the vacuuming while Uncle Saotome swept the yard and they both cleaned up the kitchen. It was kind of nice to have a day to myself," she finished wistfully. "Although I should go do the shopping." Ranma quelled her attempt to get up with a look.

"If you're feeling well enough cook, I'll make you a deal. I'll do the shopping while you rest a little more and then you can fix dinner. Anything to keep the Tomboy out of the kitchen." Kasumi looked troubled.

"Did you and Akane quarrel today Ranma-kun?"

"No, she just hit me after Nabiki insulted her cooking." The eldest Tendo sighed. Ranma smiled fondly. "It was a pretty good zinger, too. I think Akane had it coming after… what she did." Kasumi sighed again. A call from the foyer alerted them that the youngest Tendo had returned.

"Welcome home, Akane. How was your day?" The eldest Tendo called back.

"It was rotten, Ranma was really being a jerk," the muscular girl said as she entered the room. She stopped short, staring angrily at Ranma. With a snort she smiled at her older sister. "I'll take care of dinner, big sis."

"Oh my, that's all right Akane. Ranma-"

"No, I don't think so little sister," a cold voice from behind Akane informed the room. "You cook worse than me. Heck, you cook worse than Starfire and that's saying something." The youngest Tendo bristled as a visible aura erupted around her.

"So I was right to give you the pervert. You're always siding with him! Some sister." The brunette's stunned look fanned her fury and Akane pushed her sister backwards. "I'm never taking the jerk back, never! He's all yours dear sister. Thanks for the early birthday present." With a last push, Akane stomped to the dojo, where soon the sound of bricks being atomized was heard.

"I- I thought she loved him," Nabiki told no one in particular. "I guess I was wrong." Ranma looked like he wanted to cry and turned away from the two older Tendos. Nabiki's eyes filled with guilt. "I don't love you either, but we could be friends. I promise treat you better. What do you say, Rob- Ranma, want to be engaged to the Ice Queen?"

"You know she doesn't really mean that, Ranma. I'll talk to her later when she calms down. You two did tease her, but this is all out of proportion." Kasumi hesitated. "Perhaps you two could apologize?"

"Well, I guess-"

"No!" exclaimed Nabiki forcefully. She took a deep breath to calm down herself. "No. We did tease her, but trying to force a breakfast like that on Ranma-kun was worth a lot of teasing. She never follows the recipe and she never tastes her cooking unless someone collapses. If anything, she owes us an apology."

"Oh my, it did take Father all morning to clean the kitchen. I tried to help but he wouldn't let me," Kasumi admitted, wringing her apron hem. "I know her food doesn't taste very good, but she means well."

"If she meant well, she'd taste her food before serving it," Nabiki ground out. "If she meant well, she wouldn't have lied to us. Ranma-kun and I tried to stop her from cooking. Of course she got all upset and promised she'd make something simple. Miso eggs are not simple. I don't even know if they exist!"

"I suppose you're right," Kasumi sighed. "I think getting you out of the house will help a little Ranma and you did offer to do the shopping."

"Sure Kasumi," the pigtailed boy replied equitably.

"I'll go check the list of what I want and get some money. I have a bad habit of not making complete lists because I do the shopping and I know what I need." As the eldest Tendo retreated to her kitchen, Nabiki turned to Ranma.

"Sorry about this Ranma," the middle Tendo said. The black-haired boy shrugged, trying to hide his pain as usual.

"As long as you don't rent me out or nothing, it's fine Nabs. I'd just like to know why you'd even want to be engaged, instead of just letting it go. I know I ain't your ideal husband or nothing."

"Don't worry Ranma, I promise I won't sell you off." Nabiki studied her slippers for a few seconds. "As for why, well, it's kind of a favor to you."

"Huh? What do you mean, Nabs?"

"As long as you're engaged to a Tendo, Ukyo can't claim you. I know you don't really want to marry her. As long as you've got two Japanese fiancées, it keeps Shampoo at bay. The status quo isn't good, but at least it's stable and keeps your options open. And maybe with a little breathing room, little sis might calm down."

"Um, okay. Thanks I guess." Ranma moved into the kitchen with Nabiki following. A little cold tap water and Ranma-chan was adjusting her clothing. "Let me know when the list is ready Kasumi, I'm all set."

"Hmmm, we could use a bag of rice and a bottle of oil, we're getting low. All right Ranma. This should be enough." The tall girl looked towards the dojo as the sounds of violence intensified. "I'll talk to her."

"Thanks Kasumi," the redhead said, counting the money. "This should be more than enough. Good luck with the Tom- Akane." As Ranma was slipping on her street shoes, she turned to check out the footsteps behind her.

"Nabiki? What do you want?"

"Well, I thought I could go with you. We need to talk." The pigtailed girl studied her new fiancée carefully before nodding.

"Yeah, I think we do. Come on."

As two teens made their way to market, Nabiki was the first to speak. "How do you feel about this engagement, Ranma?" The smaller girl shrugged.

"Doesn't really matter, does it? I have to marry a Tendo. Of course, I have to marry Ukyo. And according to the Amazons, I'm already married to Shampoo. So it don't matter what I think about, well about anything," she said indifferently.

"That's sad, Ranma. Don't you even want to make a choice?"

"How, Nabs? I ain't allowed to get to know anyone except Akane, she was the Tendo you and Kasumi picked, so I guess that's who I was supposed to marry, only I guess that ain't going to happen no more." Ranma rubbed her eyes. "Stupid dust. Only Ukyo don't see it that way and tries to break up me and Akane. Only that's stupid, because I sure ain't the one to make a choice. I'm just glad Shampoo isn't going around trying to 'remove obstacles'."

"Well, you're engaged to me now, not Akane. I promise at the very least not to treat you like Akane does." Ranma chuckled.

"I'll be honest with you Nabs, I'd rather be on your side then against you, but you know the engagement will go back to Akane sooner or later. Your dad and Pop want me to marry Akane, probably 'cause that's the only way she can get a husband." Nabiki shook her head,

"And you wonder why Akane hits you."

"Because she has the self control of a five year old? She calls me names, but I don't hit her. And you were teasing her too and she didn't hit you."

"Definitely a point, Ranma. But she would learn that self control a lot quicker if you kept the smart-ass comments to yourself. They don't help. As a big sister, I can get away with it,"

"Hold that thought Nabs, it's show time," the redhead ordered, gesturing to the shop they had come to. The two teens operated like a well oiled machine. Between Nabiki's calm but intense haggling and Ranma flirtatious come ons, they spent considerable less than retail on the groceries. By the time they finished, the couple had a substantial fraction of their starting funds remaining and both were in a considerably better mood.

"Hah, not bad, Saotome," Nabiki gloated, counting their leftover yen. "I think we deserve a little something for our hard work. What do you say to some ice cream?"

"Sounds good to me Nabs, but it will have to be cones. I got to get back so Kasumi can start supper." The middle Tendo detoured into an ice cream shop. They soon emerged with a triple scoop cone each. Their sly smiles intimated that they had paid for single scoops.

"The team supreme, Nabran, has finished for the day!" crowed Ranma, taking a bow to an imaginary audience. Nabiki chuckled.

"Okay, I have to admit, that was both impressive and fun," Nabiki conceded, taking a few licks from her ice cream cone. "This could be the beginnings of a beautiful friendship." Both girls smiled evilly.

"So anyway Nabs, you were making a point about Akane before we started shopping."

"Yes. I know it's not entirely fair, you having to make the effort, but Akane has been so stressed and is so stubborn, that I'm afraid the change has to come from your end. If you could rein in the insults, maybe Kasumi and I can get her to rein in the violence. That would help you both."

"And you and me being engaged? Especially with us being friendly?" Nabiki opened her mouth then closed it. After a minute she answered.

"It will be good for her to see how she should treat her fiancé," the middle Tendo said a little uncertainly. "And if she doesn't come around, at least you'll be off the hook, Ranma."

"What do you mean, Nabs?"

"You'll still marry a Tendo," Nabiki said softly, cheeks coloring. Seeing Ranma's dubious expression, the brunette hastily added, "Look, Ranma, there's no way we'll get married until after high school. That's more than two years and a lot can happen in two years." The redhead tilted her head in agreement.

"Yeah, I guess. That's why I want to talk about your dreams, Nabs." The brunette arched an eyebrow. "You probably haven't noticed, but you're changing, both the way you look and the way you think."

"What? That's preposterous, Ranma!" Seeing the other girl's confused expression, Nabiki amended, "Hard to believe." The redhead grinned, subtly thrusting her chest out, to the brunette's chagrin. "Okay, I accept there's magic in the world, but that doesn't mean that anything is happening to me." Ranma shrugged.

"Look at how we're getting along, Nabs. We're engaged and you're talking about marrying me. That's not the attitude I remember." The brunette looked away. "Plus your eyes are getting darker and your skin paler. Didn't you notice?" Nabiki shook her head. "So how do you feel?"

"Like I'm becoming me again," the middle Tendo whispered. "Although I still like money," she said sharply. "Do you think it has something to do with the dreams?"

"Yeah, I do. I don't know what's going on, but your Ki is changing too, getting stronger and…" It was the redhead's turn to look away.

"And what Saotome?"

"And starting to feel a little demonic," the pigtailed girl finished softly. She paused, looking a bit puzzled. "I know this sounds weird, but your aura feels a little demonic, but not in a bad way? You scared, Nabs?"

"I don't get scared, Starfire," the brunette stated flatly. Ranma stopped dead. "What?"

"You did it again. When you saw me in the kitchen this morning, you called me Star. That's English for star. Just now you called me Starfire, which I guess is the full name. What's up Nabs?" Nabiki stared at the shorter girl. This time it was Ranma's turn to protest. "What?"

"First of all, since when are you fluent in English?"

"Pop took me to train with the American Marines in Okinawa when I was nine. Toughest soldiers in world. They didn't teach me much about martial arts, but I learned all about winning and sticking up for your mates and how to be strong. We were there for five months, Pop got a job as an instructor, so I learned how to speak English."

"Then how come you have such trouble passing English in school?" The redhead shrugged.

"I can speak it, but I can't read it. I don't even know the American alphabet. Never needed to, you know? That's beside the point, Nabs. Are the dreams taking you over?"

"I… don't think so, Ranma. I think they're showing me who I am." Both girls suddenly realized their ice cream was melting and hurriedly licked their cones and hands clean, "Really Ranma, thanks for the concern, but I'm sure I'm going to be all right."

"Okay, but I'm going to be looking out for you Nabs. I want you to tell me if you have any more dreams."

"Sure S- Ranma, that's what teammates do. Come on let's get these groceries home." The coiuple hurried to the Tendo compound.

DR

Upon returning home, the two girls split up, Ranma to the roof and Nabiki going upstairs to her room. Sitting in front of her vanity, Nabiki Tendo took stock. After a few minutes of perusal, she could see nothing changed. In fact she liked her looks. However, being the careful person she was, she compared a recent photograph with her current appearance.

The middle Tendo immediately understood what her new fiancé was talking about. Her skin was paler, while her eyes and hair were darker, gaining an almost purple sheen. Putting down the photograph, Nabiki peered into the mirror. She still wasn't worried. More like she was excited.

DR

If breakfast had been tense, dinner was like the trenches of World War I. Akane was primly occupying Nabiki's usual place at the table, leaving the spot next to Ranma's normal spot empty. With a sigh the brunette started to slide into the place until she caught Kasumi admonishing gaze. She rotated over and sat in Kasumi's usual place as the eldest Tendo knelt next to Ranma.

Both fathers watched with hard eyes as the middle Tendo waited to be served. She snuck a peek at Ranma and found her fiancé red-haired and buxom. "What happened to you, Ranma-kun?" Akane sniffed imperiously. "Ah, I understand."

The table was silent as Kasumi began bringing in dinner. As she knelt beside the pigtailed girl and checked the rice cooker, she smiled at Ranma. "Thank you for doing the shopping today Ranma, it was a great help. And you came back with so much money!"

"Yeah," Akane growled, not meeting anyone's eyes. "For someone who professes to be a guy, she sure has a great bimbo routine. And he's still a two-timing jerk."

"Oh my, Akane, that was most uncalled for," Kasumi gently chided her younger sister. Akane kept her head down, staring at her chopsticks while grumbling under her breath.

"Boy, why are you still a girl?" complained Genma. "Go change back at once!" His order might have been more effective if he hadn't had his eyes fixed on the chicken stir fry Kasumi was serving. In any case the redhead ignored both her father and Akane's rising irritation.

"Don't worry about it, little sister," Nabiki said smugly. "I still think it's neat that my fiancé can turn into a girl."

"I don't, but thanks Nabs, it's nice having a fiancée who cares." Ranma replied earnestly, He caught wind of Akane's anger going to molten lava and wisely shut up. Nabiki, sensing her sister's mood, joined Ranma in silence. This seemed to make the youngest Tendo even madder. She quickly finished her dinner, mumbling a grudging thank you before bolting from the table. The others quickly finished and Ranma began clearing the dishes as Nabiki headed upstairs.

Akane ignored the knock at her door until it slid open. Outraged, she turned over on her bed. "Ranma, you jerk, how dare you… oh," she finished lamely as Nabiki entered the room, closing the door behind her. "What do you want, Nabiki?"

"Nothing much. So you've been thinking about Ranma, huh? Are you sure you want to switch the engagement?"

"Like I said, you can have the perverted jerk! If I never see him again it'll be too soon!"

"Akane, people think the opposite of love is hate. It's not, it's apathy. To hate someone, you still have to care about them on some level." Akane snorted as Nabiki sighed. "All right, Akane. As a present for my sister, I'll take care of Ranma." The youngest Tendo paled.

"What? You don't love Ranma, Nabiki… do you?"

"No, not really, but I like him well enough. Well enough that I'm not going to let him get caught in a loveless marriage. As long as the Tendo and Kuonji claims balance out, conflicting with Shampoo's barbaric laws, Ranma won't be forced to do anything. So tell me sister, do you love Ranma?"

"Why would I love that stupid crossdresser?"

"That's not really an answer, little sister, is it? So Ranma and I will stay engaged, taking some pressure off you. Don't worry, I'm a much harder nut to crack than you or Ranma. Daddy won't force me to do anything. Let me know how you feel, but don't take too long sis. Things are happening." As Nabiki left the room, Akane threw herself down on the bed. It promised to be a long night.

DR

Akane Tendo staggered down the stairs, stifling a yawn. She had skipped her morning run after a sleepless night that had brought no answers only questions. Was Nabiki in love with Ranma and how did Ranma feel? What did Nabiki mean about taking off pressure? The Tendo heir hoped Kasumi was cooking, since her temper was shorter than usual from lack of sleep and she didn't think she could take anymore comments about her efforts in the kitchen.

To the youngest Tendo's relief, she heard Kasumi's voice coming from the kitchen. Wandering over to the doors out to the yard, Akane idly looked out, wondering what Ranma was doing, since he and Uncle Saotome were not sparring today. Her blood began to boil as she saw her ex-fiancé sitting in a lotus position almost knee to knee with an unfamiliar girl. She had short, dark purple hair that was almost black in the morning sun. Throwing open the door, Akane stalked out into the yard.

"Rrrraaaanma, who is this girl, another new fiancé? How dare you cheat on me?!" Ranma looked up in annoyance, which was the last straw as far as Akane was concerned and slugged the pigtailed boy in the face, sending him careening into the pond The indigo-haired girl stood and gracefully faced the irate Tendo. Akane's jaw dropped.

"It's true that I'm rather new to the fiancée game, little sister, but you don't have to rub it in," Nabiki replied. "Besides, even if I was a new fiancée, you know that wouldn't be Ranma's fault, but his father's. Why don't you get mad at Saotome-san? Oh and by the way, please refrain from hitting my fiancé."

"N- nabiki, what happened to you?" Akane stammered, taking in Nabiki's changed appearance. Her purple hair was still cut short, but her bangs had been combed back revealing a widow's peak. The middle Tendo's once chocolate brown eyes were now the same indigo as her hair, while her skin was sallow, almost grey. The rest of her face seemed unchanged, but her body seemed slimmer, more fit.

"I don't know, that's why Ranma was checking my Ki while we meditated, before you slugged him for sitting next to his fiancée." Reaching out a hand Nabiki helped the sopping redhead out of the pond. "Come on, beautiful, let's get you into some dry clothes before we continue."

The pigtailed girl colored at Nabiki's last comment, but still looked annoyed. "What'd you do that for Akane?" The muscular girl floundered for a moment before counter-attacking.

"If you weren't such a pervert, stringing girls along, I wouldn't have mistook Nabiki for one of your floozies!" Both Nabiki and Ranma stared at her in disbelief.

"Whatever. I'm going to change and then come back down. Nabs, we should probably go talk to Cologne after we see Doc Tofu."

"Okay, Ranma." As the redhead stalked off, Nabiki fixed her younger sister with a steely gaze. "And I mean it Akane, stop hitting my fiancé." As was to be expected, Akane got angry.

"I thought you were just doing the pervert a favor, Nabiki."

"And I'm doing you a favor as well, but I'm serious. If you continue to hit Ranma, steps will be taken. You've been warned." The indigo-haired girl followed her buxom fiancé.

Breakfast was again tense. Nabiki and Ranma sat together, while Akane ignored them. Kasumi and Soun were dismayed by the middle Tendo's changed appearance. "Little sister, did you dye your hair? And what happened to your skin?" Kasumi fretted.

The engaged teens exchanged looks. Ranma shrugged and nodded when Nabiki tilted her head. "I had nothing to do with the change in my looks," the middle Tendo began. "We're not entirely sure what's happening, but Ranma says my Ki is changing and getting stronger. For the past couple of nights I've had weird dreams of a previous life, or at least a different life. One where I have close friends who are my teammates. I think we're the good guys." She paused. "Kind of like Ranma." Her voice sank to a whisper. "I'm not even sure I'm really Nabiki Tendo."

"Nonsense," Soun said with false heartiness. "Of course you're a Tendo and that's why now that you're Ranma's fiancée, you two will unite the schools. Right, Saotome?"

"Of course Tendo," Genma responded without enthusiasm. Akane looked as outraged as Ranma felt.

"Are you that selfish, Tendo-san? You daughter is going through a life-changing experience and all you can think about is uniting the schools? What kind of father are you?" Ranma scolded. Soun looked shamefaced, but Genma rallied.

"It's a matter of honor, boy. You should have married Akane, but your weakness forced Nabiki to assume the duty. You two will marry and marry right away." Ranma jumped to his feet with a hot denial on his lips. To the surprise of all, he kept his mouth shut and turned to look at Nabiki, who had laid a calming hand on his forearm. Akane's aura sprang to life as her gaze switched from Ranma's face to Nabiki's hand.

"So you want to play hardball, Saotome? Let's play," Nabiki murmured in a deadly monotone. "First you realize that you have no legal right to make Ranma marry anyone?"

"What?" screeched Soun Tendo. Nabiki closed her eyes briefly.

"Of course, Father," Kasumi told him serenely. "It was due to women's emancipation and was enshrined in the current constitution. I learned that in middle school. I'm sure that's why Uncle Saotome didn't just change the two families' registers." Genma refused to meet Soun's betrayed gaze.

"So this so-called joining of the schools has always been about honor commitments," the indigo-haired girl continued. Both older men nodded, Genma greatly relieved. "And Genma betrayed that commitment with his numerous engagements, especially the Kuonji obligation. As soon as the panda offered Ranma to the Kuonji's, from an honor stand point, both promises were nullified."

"I'm sure Saotome knew what he was doing," the Tendo Patriarch muttered, looking like he wanted to find a hole to crawl into. Nabiki's cool scorn was hard to take.

"So you two really don't have any grounds to criticize anyone as far as honor goes. Akane and Ranma put up with the engagement because of the love and duty they felt towards you. I wish you two were half as honorable." The middle Tendo took in a deep, cleansing breath. "Come on, Ranma, we should get going to Tofu's clinic. We don't want to keep him waiting. We'll see you later Kasumi." The three teens left the two uneasy men.

DR

Akane walked with the couple for several blocks, since Tofu's clinic was on the way to school. The troubled girl asked, "Is it true the engagement isn't valid, Nabiki?"

"Yes and no, little sister. Daddy could insist on it as he has in the past, and threaten to throw you out of the family if you don't marry Ranma. Same for Ranma and Genma, with the addition that Daddy could throw him out of the house as a halfway measure. That's another reason I accepted the engagement when you had your little temper tantrum." Too tired to argue, Akane just nodded. "The question is, do you two want to get married?"

"Why would I want to marry a per-"

"Who'd want to marry a sexless tom-"

"Hold it right there!" Nabiki's voice cracked. "You two need to learn some self control. Remember what we talked about Ranma?" At the black-haired boy's sheepish nod, the older girl relaxed a little. "I don't entirely blame you guys. If anything proves how clueless our fathers are about relationships, this engagement is exhibit number one."

"What do you mean, Nabiki?" Akane inquired meekly. This new and improved Nabiki had bled a lot of the anger out of the youngest Tendo. The indigo-haired girl began ticking off points on her fingers.

"They kept it secret, so it blindsided both of you. They expected you to marry immediately without getting to know one another. They wanted you to be adults about the arrangements, but treated any objections as if you were elementary school kids. Need I go on?" Both younger teens shook their heads. "Even if you two were the perfect couple, that kind of treatment would go a long way to breaking you two up. Add Ranma's curse and the pressure of the Pervert Brigade, and well, it's a miracle you're even friends."

Akane watched as Ranma and Nabiki took the cross street towards the clinic. She grabbed Ranma's sleeve. "Thanks, Ranma. Please take care of your fiancée." The pigtailed boy nodded as Akane took off towards the high school at a brisk trot.

DR

It was still early enough that the normal press of older patients had yet to materialize, they preferring the late morning and early afternoon, before Kasumi did her shopping and thus were less likely to risk torment by Kasumi-itis. Doctor Tofu ushered the two teens into his office. After an explanation of the dreams, Tofu began his examination.

"I see what you mean, Ranma. These are fairly extensive physical changes," Tofu remarked to Ranma as he examined Nabiki's eyes and tongue. "And you say they've occurred in the last two days?"

"That's right Doc," Ranma said. "Not only that, there have been some mental changes too."

"Ranma!"

"Nabs, you have to be straight with your doctor."

"What sort of mental changes?" the physician asked reasonably. The couple exchanged looks.

"I can't really tell, Doctor. Heck, I didn't even notice the physical changes until I compared my current appearance with an old photo. Everything seems completely normal and natural to me. I feel good."

Tofu sighed as he cleaned his glasses. "Ranma, could you elaborate on these mental changes?"

"She's calmer and cooler in her emotions," Ranma began in a clinical tone. "While she's less emotional, Nabiki is friendlier. We've been getting along great. She's more loyal, she defended me against Akane and didn't ask for money. In fact, she hasn't bilked anyone that I've seen in the last two days." Nabiki appeared thunderstruck.

"I haven't?" Ranma nodded.

"You see, Doc, she didn't even notice. Also she's referred to my girl side as Star or Starfire a couple of times, I think that's a person from her dreams." Tofu was scribbling furiously on a pad of paper.

"And her Ki?" Tofu asked, beginning his own examination of Nabiki's life energies.

"Growing by leaps and bounds. She's stronger than Shampoo, maybe as strong as Ryoga." Ranma's clinical detachment faded as he gave his fiancée a worried look. "And there's a real strong demonic feel to her Ki." However, Tofu smiled.

"But still basically human, I think. At least that's the feeling I get from her." The black-haired boy nodded. "That's not as worrying as it could be. While demons are bad news, many of humanity's greatest defenders were half-demons. There is a widely held notion in the mystic community that the Royal House's divinity is based on the blood of a half-demon"

"So bottom line, what's happening to me?" Nabiki asked. The physician shook his head.

"It does not appear to be possession or anything like it. If I had to say at this point, given your Ki patterns it's more like a butterfly awakening from a cocoon. If you are a half-demon, this is not unnatural, at least according to my reference works. It would imply that Soun is not your father."

"We were going talk to the Old Ghoul, to see if she knew anything, but I know the Amazons ain't too fond of demons."

"I think you two should go to the Cat Café. Better for Cologne to learn about Nabiki's heritage under calm and controlled circumstances."

"Good idea, Doc, but if we wait for those, we won't never talk to Cologne."

DR

The two teens decided to lunch at home and to tackle the Amazons in the early afternoon after the noon rush was over. Neither Ranma nor Nabiki were surprised when they were confronted by Soun and Genma as soon as they entered the house. The elder Saotome loomed in front of his son.

"There you are, you worthless boy! You must beg Akane to take you back, not that you deserve it, but the schools must joined. Although it pains me to say so, Akane is the girl for you. Nabiki doesn't even look Japanese!" A thin blue aura sprung up around Ranma as the rest of the room darkened slightly.

"Oh, what a tragedy that has befallen my daughter, Saotome!" Soun wailed. "Perhaps it would be best if Akane resumed the engagement."

"In other words, she's too smart for you two," Ranma growled. Genma snorted.

"No more delay, you and Akane will be married tomorrow!"

"Why?" interjected Nabiki coolly.

"The schools must be joined!" the two men chorused.

"Why so quickly?" amended the middle Tendo. "What's the rush to marry them? You know they're too young, Akane and Ranma are both freshmen. In fact, Akane's too young to bear an heir, it wouldn't be healthy, so what's the rush?"

"Honor must be satisfied!" Genma told her self righteously.

"You two go on about honor and tradition, but you ignore both when it suits you. At the very least you should wait until they've graduated." The icy indigo eyes fixed Genma in place. "Or is it something else? I've already proved how you trampled honor in this case, but I wonder if it's something else. After all, the dojo is Akane's dowry and since both she and Ranma are below the age of majority, you would control the dojo. I wonder, Saotome, do you plan on selling the dojo as Ranma's guardian and taking off with the money?"

"That's absurd, Nabiki," Soun scoffed. Genma was silent. The elder Tendo turned towards his friend. "Saotome?" The burly martial artist shook himself.

"Of course not! The thought never entered my mind!"

"Then why? Even you have to realize this pressure is killing any feeling between them. At this rate it won't be a loveless marriage but a marriage of resentment. It wouldn't surprise me if they were divorced in a few years. It could even cause a permanent rift between the two families." Soun and Ranma had become silent witnesses to this clash of wills.

"It's for the boy's own good!" Genma thundered, sweat trickling down his face.

"How is a ruined marriage in Ranma's interest?" The elder Saotome was now sweating profusely. "Are you worried about all the fake engagements you made for Ranma, is that it? Did you swindle someone important or for a lot of money?" At Nabiki's last sally the fire in Soun's eyes would have daunted a braver man than Genma.

"No, no, nothing like that. It's for the boy's safety! If he isn't safely married before she finds-" The bald man bit off his sentence like it was a piece of Kasumi's prime sushi.

"Before who finds what, Saotome?" the indigo-haired girl demanded. She looked at Ranma who was looking unusually thoughtful.

"For as long as I can remember, Pop has been harping about me being manly and a man. I remember once when these temple girls dressed me as a little shrine maiden because they thought I was cute. Pop found out and beat me to within an inch of my life, as if a seven year old boy could stop three teenagers. Anyway, I guess getting married is pretty manly."

"And of course Ranma is half girl now," Nabiki mused. "And that terrifies you. Something about Ranma's curse has you so desperate that you're undermining any chance he has with Akane. What is it Saotome?"

"It's- it's not something I can explain to the boy at this time," Genma replied slumping in defeat. "All I can say is that you don't know the risk you're taking by defying me."

"It sounds like another stupid scheme to get Ranma married," growled Nabiki. "Do as I say or terrible things will happen. I swear, I almost feel like marrying Ranma right now to save him from you two." Seeing the older men's hopeful looks, she added sweetly, "and then divorcing him so your stupid so-called honor pact would be fulfilled and we would get back to being friends and teammates." Kasumi was thoughtful as she noticed Ranma's faint blush, before the pigtailed boy covered it up with bluster.

"This is stupid anyway. The important thing is what's happening to Nabs, not some stupid crap that you're most likely making up, Pop. I ain't marrying anybody, I'm going to help Nabs. Come on let's eat lunch and get out of here."

DR

As they entered the Cat Café, both Ranma and Nabiki were suffering from a case of nerves. Neither could anticipate how the Amazons would react as Cologne pogoed out of the kitchen to meet them. "Son-in-law, to what do I owe the pleasure? And who is this, a new fiancée arranged by that clod of a father of yours?"

"Elder, you wound me, I thought we were on better terms than that," Nabiki said in mock-hurt tones. "Although it is true that I'm a new fiancée." The old woman peered at her.

"Nabiki Tendo? What happened to you child?" The two teens immediately launched into an explanation, with Ranma handling the more technical parts concerning Ki. Cologne's frown at the end of their story was not reassuring.

"So you are a half-demon, or least have demonic blood and have taken over the Tendo engagement," the old woman summarized. At Nabiki's nod, she sighed. "The Amazons are well aware of the double-edged sword of the demon born. If you were in the village, we would train you, but you would always be watched."

"But we aren't in the village," Nabiki pointed out. "And with all due respect, I think that's something you Amazons tend to forget." Cologne ignored the jibe.

"So what are you going to do Tendo-san?" The indigo-haired girl shrugged.

"At the rate this is happening to me, it'll be over before Ranma and Tofu can figure it out. I'm not too worried. This feels right." A shout from the door interrupted them.

"Great Grandmother, Shampoo just find out Kitchen Destroyer make Sneaky Girl Airen's fiancée. Is obstacle, yes?" Nabiki and Ranma turned to face the bubbly Amazon. "Airen!" Shampoo cooed with delight, then looked at the middle Tendo. "Who this? Is obstacle?"

"Why Shampoo, I'm hurt. You don't recognize me?" Nabiki said sweetly. Shampoo looked shocked.

"What happen to Sneaky Girl?"

"Oh this and that," Nabiki replied breezily. "We'll be going now, Elder. Try to keep your kitten on a tight lease, all right? We wouldn't want me to get upset." As Nabiki glided out of the restaurant, the ceremonial Amazonian sword over the door shattered. A befuddled Shampoo and a worried Cologne watched her leave.

DR

The two teens retreated to the Tendo dojo for the rest of the afternoon to meditate in peace, a peace that held for several hours until Akane returned home. The youngest Tendo tarried long enough to discover her sister's whereabouts from Kasumi and to make a beeline for the dojo.

"What are you doing in here Ranma?" Akane bellowed, throwing the sliding door off its track. Seeing her sister sitting across from Ranma, both in the lotus position and with knees touching infuriated the short-tempered girl. Charging in, she screamed, "Leave my sis-"

Akane's battle cry was cut short as one of the padded hassocks slammed into the back of her knees, sending the muscular girl backwards. As she picked herself up, Nabiki loomed over her.

"I warned you about attacking Ranma, didn't I Akane?" Nabiki half-whispered icily. "He's trying to help me and all you can do is interfere. Trying to eliminate the competition?" Akane's hot retort died before it left her lips. She was staring at Ranma's resigned expression and defensive posture. He was waiting for her to hit him. He wasn't going to defend himself, he was just going to take it.

"I hit him a lot, don't I?" Akane whispered. Nabiki nodded. "Why do you let me hit you, Ranma?" The pigtailed boy shrugged.

"Well, sometimes, I don't Akane. Me and Shampoo may be better fighters, but you're still damned good, especially with weapons. The other times, well, Pop says I deserve it." The youngest Tendo nodded and left without a word. "What the heck was that?"

"That might be my baby sister starting to grow up."

DR

The girl watched the sun rise from her bedroom window, running a slim hand through her dark hair. In some ways, she still thought of herself as Nabiki Tendo. She had lived the same amount of time as a Tendo as she had her first life. The mechanics of time travel were strange enough to make her head hurt, she wondered what kind of daze Beast Boy would go into.

The thought brought a stab of anguish. The Titans were gone, no, worse, they had never been. Staring blindly at the dawn, a steely resolve filled the indigo-haired girl. She would fix this. She would bring them back. She knew Ranma would help and she would need that help. With one last look at her room, Raven ghosted through the floor in search of her ally.