Thanks again for all the comments, the majority of which are very positive. It's most gratifying. Over 500 now, in six months!

This chapter is fairly short, but seemed to work better like this.

"She seems to be getting quite good," Nabiki said to Genma, who was standing watching Akane and Shampoo spar, as were the afternoon class of advanced students. They were taking bets on which of the girls would win their match. The martial artist nodded slowly, intently inspecting the two young women as they bounded around the yard.

"She is indeed. I'm very impressed how your sister has turned her life around in the last year. Since those two magical girls fixed her... brain parasites," he still had difficulty saying that phrase, looking somewhat disgusted, "she really has come on much further than I would have expected." He looked at her for a moment. "I understand from Soun that you are going travelling with those two friends of yours in a few days. Going anywhere interesting?"

"I think it will be interesting, yes. They're going to visit an old family friend and invited me along. I've met them before, nice people. Then, perhaps go somewhere else for a while. We're going to play it by ear. I expect to be back in three to four weeks." She smiled at him, making him look slightly nervous. "Don't do anything silly while I'm gone."

"I am more than twenty years older than you, Nabiki," he replied, seeming slightly offended. "I would hope that by now I knew how to live my life without doing anything silly." She laughed gently.

"So would I." While he was rolling that around in his head, sure he'd somehow been disparaged but not quite sure how, she nodded to him, took one last look at her sister and the Amazon, who seemed to be heading to a tie, then went back into the house. Genma followed her with his eyes for a moment then shrugged and went back to watching the two women fight.

Entering the kitchen the middle sister smiled at Nodoka, who was preparing a late lunch. "Would you like some help, Auntie?"

"That's not necessary, Nabiki, but thank you anyway. I'm nearly done. You could set the table, though, if you wouldn't mind."

"Of course." Quickly and efficiently performing the task, she was soon done.

"Thank you, dear. It will be about five minutes. Would you like to call the others?" As she spoke, there was a knock on the door. They exchanged glances then laughed. "Or you could see who that is." Grinning, Nabiki headed to the front of the house, opening the door to find Ukyo and Konatsu standing there looking pleased, yet slightly nervous.

"Hi, Ukyo, Konatsu, how are you two? I haven't seen you for weeks. Sorry about that, I seem to be busy all the time. Come in." She stepped aside and waved them inside. "We're just about to have lunch. Care to join us? I think Auntie made enough."

"If it's no trouble, Nabiki," Konatsu said quietly. "We wouldn't want to be a bother, we can come back later."

"It's no trouble. Come on, let's go into the living room." She led the pair inside where Nodoka was placing food on the table. The older woman looked up and smiled at the sight of the okonomiyaki chef and the male kunoichi.

"Hello, you two. How nice to see you."

"Thank you, Nodoka," Ukyo said, uncharacteristically quiet. She was normally a very confident and outgoing woman but at the moment she looked positively shy. The elder Saotome woman looked at her curiously.

"Would you like to stay for lunch?" she asked. They both nodded. Nabiki was already setting two extra places. "Sit, please." Both of the visitors sat down, while Nabiki called out into the yard for the others. Moments later Soun came in, followed by Akane and Shampoo. Genma arrived a little later having dismissed the class for an hour's break. They all looked surprised to see the two sitting at the table, but all welcomed them

"Hi, Ukyo," Akane said, grinning at the long-haired brunette. "Sorry I haven't been around much the last few weeks, I've been with Shampoo all my free time learning and practising. We were saying just the other day we should stop by and say hello, and get some okonomiyaki."

"Please do," Ukyo replied, smiling back. She glanced at Konatsu, who made a slight nod back. Looking around at the other occupants of the room, she took a deep breath. "Konatsu and I are getting married." There was dead silence for several seconds. Eventually, Nabiki grinned.

"I thought that would happen eventually. Congratulations." With the sound of her voice, the floodgates opened, a babble of voices coming from everyone else there. While they were talking, she quickly commed both Ranma and Kasumi, allowing them to watch and listen in on the proceedings, then waved her hands. "Quiet, you guys. Let them speak." Ukyo smiled thankfully at her.

"We wanted you all to know first. Even my father hasn't been told yet." She looked at Nodoka. "Mrs Saotome, we were hoping you might be able to help us arrange everything. Neither one of us knows much about it, and we don't really have anyone to ask. My father is... difficult, and Konatsu doesn't have anyone he trusts." Nodoka looked very surprised, but after a moment smiled broadly.

"My dear, I would be honoured to help. Do you have a date and a location in mind?" The two visitors looked at each other again. Ukyo held Konatsu's hand.

"As soon as possible. I know it will take a while to get everything ready though, so we were thinking perhaps about six weeks from now?" She looked at her intended, who nodded. "We haven't thought of somewhere yet. That's one thing we'd like some help with." Nodoka nodded thoughtfully.

"Six weeks is tight, I think, but it should be possible. We'll have to give a suitable location some thought." She pondered the thought for a few more moments. "I'm sure between us we can come up with a nice location. You want your marriage to be something memorable." Looking around, she waved at the table. "Come on, let's eat, and discuss it." They all sat and began eating, Akane and Shampoo talking happily to the couple while Nodoka served, clearly thinking carefully about the task in front of her. Genma and Soun were discussing the whole thing quietly, while Nabiki watched and listened.

"How nice for them," Kasumi said to her. "I wish we could attend. I've always liked both Ukyo and Konatsu."

"It's a shame, I agree, but it would be difficult I think." Ranma chuckled slightly sadly. "Of all the people still in Nerima I kind of miss Ukyo. I've known her for a long time. Konatsu is a good man, though, he'll look after her and she him. I think they'll be very happy."

"I'm slightly surprised there was no announcement of an engagement for a while first, but I guess they may well have kept that quiet," Nabiki replied, watching as Shampoo hugged Ukyo, looking very pleased for her. "It's weird, I knew this was pretty likely to happen at some point, but looking at the three women who were chasing you so hard for years together like that is... odd." The martial artist laughed inside her head.

"You're telling me? It's damn surreal! But I'm glad for them."

"Did you tell Nodoka about when 'Yori' and 'Chou' said they could come for an afternoon, sister?" Kasumi asked, sounding amused.

"Not yet. I was going to at lunch, but this seems to have become more important. I'll tell her later. Right after we get back, correct?"

"Yes. I think that would probably be best. The weather will be nice, hopefully nothing serious will be going on, and it means we have time before we go to arrange for people to cover for us while we're away. We leave in four days, it would be a little complicated to get away before we go."

"OK. Pity the others can't come as a group."

"Unfortunately we can't simply remove six of the most effective community defenders for three weeks all at the same time, it would leave our areas under protected. Tamiko and Fumiko will come for the second week, then swap with Aiko and Misaki for the third. We can get back quickly if something critical happens, but we still need someone on the ground to hold everything until we could return."

"I've talked to some other groups I trust, not that there are all that many." Ranma sighed a little. "But there are some. One or two are very competent. They'll be on standby in case the girls need help, but I don't expect it to get that bad. There are a few mages around who could help out in a pinch as well, and one or two demons I'll ask. Minato will be safe enough from external threats, but if something odd happens, the internal damage could be... interesting... to say the least. Some of the people I trust to help like us, but not each other. Life can be pretty complicated around Minato sometimes." Both Tendo sisters giggled.

"This would be a lot easier if we worked in an office or something," Nabiki said with an internal grin. He snickered a bit.

"Probably. But not as much fun."

"Uthryyl has taken some time off from his business as well, to match when we'll be there. He sounded quite pleased about that. Apparently he hasn't had a vacation in twelve years. We're a convenient excuse, I think." Kasumi sounded like she found this very funny. "He said he knows some very interesting places that we would find fun. Some on his world, some on others. His people do a lot of portal travelling so we could end up almost anywhere. Bring your camera and lots of film."

"I'll buy a few dozen rolls tomorrow. I got a nice medium format Pentax SLR the other day, it was just released. I've been wanting to try it out. The thing is heavy and pretty damn big but the images are amazing."

"In a few years you'll probably find it's obsolete, what with the way those new digital cameras are starting to come out with good results." Ranma sounded interested. "I've seen some quite impressive ones recently."

"They're still a long way off film resolution and colour quality," the middle sister replied. "It's going to be quite a while before they can beat a six by seven medium format slide for quality." She paused, then asked curiously, "I just thought of something, do portals cause problems with film?"

"No. They don't seem to really affect anything. Some really sensitive electronics apparently get a little upset, but only for a while. They're safe."

"Good. It would be annoying to come back with loads of film that didn't work." She finished her meal, pushing the plate to one side and picking up her cup of tea, while half-listening to the conversation that the rest of the people around the table were having. "I should probably get back to talking to everyone before they think something is wrong. I'll let you know what happens about all of this, OK?"

"Thanks, Nabiki. Talk later."

"Goodbye, sister." Both of them disconnected. Nabiki redirected her full attention back to the conversation in front of her.

"I think the first thing to do is to work out a list of people you want to invite, Ukyo," Nodoka said, making notes on a pad she had retrieved from the book-case in the corner. "Once we have that we can pick a location the right size and look into everything else. I don't know if you want to hire something spectacular or just make it quiet." Ukyo and Konatsu looked at each other.

"We were thinking, fairly quiet, but nice. Somewhere up in the mountains, perhaps. As far as people, well, all of you, obviously. Cologne and Mousse, I suppose, I've had my problems with them but I still think they're basically good people." Shampoo looked pleased, as Akane giggled. "Um, Sayuri, Hiroshi, my father, the waitresses from the restaurant, my grandmother..." she was ticking names off on her fingers. Nodoka wrote them all down. Konatsu added a couple as well. By the time they were finished, the pad had about thirty names on it. Looking over it the elder Saotome woman smiled.

"This isn't too bad at all. Fairly small, which makes it easier. And cheaper." Ukyo laughed.

"We can afford it. The restaurant is doing pretty well and we've been saving up for quite a while now." She smiled at her fiancé. "This has been building for some time." Nabiki looked at them, amused, she'd suspected as much for a couple of years.

"I'm very pleased for you both," she said. Raising her teacup she grinned. "A toast to the happy couple." Everyone laughed and followed suit. "I'll be back by then. Don't get married until I am, OK?" This led to them asking where she was going, then how her life was doing, and Akane's training, which took up a large amount of the afternoon in explanations amid considerable good humour.

Later that night she helped Nodoka clear up after dinner. "I'm very pleased for Ukyo and Konatsu," Nodoka said, closing the door to the dishwasher and turning it on. "And honoured that they would ask me to help. I hope I can do them proud."

"I've got no doubt about it, Auntie," Nabiki replied, smiling. "I'm sure it will work out well. I'm glad it will happen after I get back, I wouldn't want to miss it." Wiping the counter down she glanced at the older woman. "Oh, by the way, I managed to contact Yori." Nodoka turned and looked interested. "She was quite pleased about the invitation. Unfortunately she and Chou are very busy at the moment, so they don't have any spare time for around a month, but after that she said they'd be very happy to come over for an afternoon some time. It works out well, I'll be back by then."

"Ah, very good. I'll have to work out a menu. We can pick a date closer to the end of the month. I suppose we'll probably be into August then, perhaps the first week. It will be quite hot, but we could put up some big sun umbrellas for shade in the garden." The older woman thought for a moment. "Yes, it should work out very nicely." Glancing at Nabiki who was just putting the saucepans away, she added, "Perhaps you'd like to invite Rika and Maiko as well?"

The middle Tendo didn't miss a beat, having expected something like this to come up sooner or later. "I'll ask them, certainly. After we get back I think they were going to visit their families, though, so they may not be able to make it."

"All right. It would be lovely if they could but that time of year is always difficult, everyone is trying to do different things. Did Yori say whether her friends would be able to come as well?"

"She thinks they can. They'll let us know later. I think magical girls are a little like doctors, always on call, though, so you never know if some of them might need to suddenly leave." Nodoka smiled, laughing gently.

"Yes, I understand. Those ones more than most if everything I've seen on the television over the last few months is to be believed." She shook her head in wonder. "Such remarkable young ladies. I'm very glad to have met them."

Cologne grinned as she spotted Nabiki walking towards her down the street carrying a back-pack in one hand. "Hello, Nabiki Tendo. I understand you're off to see the world." The middle sister laughed at the comment.

"Not quite, Elder, it's only a three week trip, maybe four, but I think it's going to be a lot of fun."

"Heading to the station, I suppose?" the Amazon enquired, falling in beside the brunette. Nabiki nodded.

"Yes. I'm meeting Rika and Maiko in a couple of hours, we're staying overnight at their apartment, then leaving first thing in the morning." She glanced at the ancient woman. "Akane seems to be very pleased with the special techniques you've taught her. She keeps playing with the speed techniques, seeing what she can use them for." Giggling for a moment, she added, "I wouldn't recommend brushing your teeth with that method. It's quick, but the friction burns seemed painful." Cologne stared, then nearly fell off her staff with laughter.

"Oh dear," she said weakly when she'd recovered. "I've never heard of that one before. New students always push their limits but that's... different." They grinned at each other. "Your sister has become a good student. I do wish we could have laid hands on her some years earlier, she could have been exceptional, I suspect, but she's still likely to become very good. More slowly than certain people we both knew, and nothing like as good as that, but then, no one is. She actually beat Shampoo fair and square the other day, which impresses me considerably. My great-granddaughter is very skilled even if a little rusty."

"That is impressive." Nabiki smiled slightly. "I've watched them sparring and even I can tell she's gotten much better. But I also know how good Shampoo is. I'd never have thought a year ago that Akane would ever be able to take her on without being in one of her funny moods."

"Neither would I, I admit. I'm pleased to be proven wrong. She's pushing Shampoo to improve as well, which is very satisfying. One day I think it might be in her best interests to spend some time in our village, there are things she could learn there that may well stand her in good stead." Cologne fell silent while Nabiki shot her a curious side glance. That certainly wasn't something she'd expected to hear. The old woman almost sounded like she was actually fond of her sister.

"Elder, if you don't mind me asking, what is the situation with the Amazons?" She was very curious, even having learned over the years that Cologne, Shampoo, and Mousse seemed to prefer Japan to China. "I know you're the ranking elder there, but you've stayed here all these years, even after Ranma vanished. Shampoo told me some of why she and Mousse seem to like it here, but I've always wondered..."

Cologne was silent for a few more meters, although she was smiling very faintly. "It's complicated, Nabiki, like everything to do with my people. I love and am loyal to my village, but I have to admit that I was getting very irritated with them before the first time Ranma showed up. Some of the ruling council are... far more difficult than I'd like. Being several thousand kilometres away is a positive relief." She looked at the woman beside her. "Not that I said that, of course."

Nabiki giggled and shook her head. "Said what, Elder?" Smiling, Cologne nodded.

"Exactly." She paused for a moment. "I came to rather enjoy Japan, or more specifically, Nerima. It's a pleasantly insane place that reminds me of some of the things I got up to when I was a lot younger. The modern world is so different from what it was when I was growing up, even taking into account the cultural differences, but at the same time it's a lot of fun. It makes me feel young again." She cackled for a moment. "Like I was a mere hundred and fifty years old."

Stopping for a moment, Nabiki studied the ancient woman, then grinned. "I hope I even make it to your age, never mind manage to be so active." Laughing, she resumed walking.

"Now that the boy has been missing for close to five years, there have been a few people on the council who said I should go back, but several more who want me to keep looking." Cologne sighed a little, while Nabiki listened to the very rare event of the old woman opening up. Unique, in fact, in her experience. "I'm just as happy to stay here for the moment, although to be honest, as you did some time ago, I've stopped actively trying to find him. If he hasn't turned up by now with all the resources we both brought to bear, he won't, except possibly either by accident or of his own accord. Assuming he's even still alive. I hope he is, I admit. Despite being a nuisance I rather liked him. I've never met anyone who could learn like he could." She sighed again. "I made some bad mistakes all those years ago. We all did. I wish we had done otherwise, things might have turned out very differently, but it's far too late now. Oh well."

"If he did by some miracle appear some day what would you and your people do?" Nabiki asked, knowing it was a slight risk but desperately curious to find out directly from the source. Cologne didn't reply for some time.

"I don't know. If it was just me, I might well just wish him all the best. Looking back on it I can see how badly he was treated. It was not honourable, our intentions were... selfish, I suppose. But, it's not just me. Shampoo is still, deep down, somewhat obsessed with him. Several in the village would try anything if they thought they could get him, I fear, although after that night..." She trailed off, looking worried. "I fear that would be a bad mistake." Nabiki nodded, sighing.

"That's more or less what I thought. Thank you for being honest with me, Cologne. It's something I've wondered about for a long time."

"You've matured well, Nabiki. You do your family proud." The Elder stopped, looking at the Metro station fifty metres away, then the brunette woman. "Have fun on your travels. Take care, I expect I'll see you on your return." With a nod, she bounded away, leaving Nabiki to enter the station, musing on the conversation. A quick trip to the bathroom and she stashed the backpack in ki space, having had it to make it look good when she left the Dojo, then climbed on board the next train, still thinking.

"Interesting," Ranma said slowly, going through a kata with his wife, while Nabiki stood with her back to them, admiring the painting on the wall again. She eventually turned to the pair.

"Isn't it? I've never seen her that chatty. She's changed as much as anyone. Teaching Akane seems to have given her something to do she missed in some way. I think she really did like you, you know, despite everything." He sighed, folding into a position that still made her wince to watch.

"To be honest in some ways I liked her as well. Not as a friend, like you and the girls, or Uthryyl, more like a respected teacher. And I do respect her. I may have a hell of a lot more power and know a lot of things she doesn't, but there's no denying she's still got the best part of three hundred years on me. You learn an awful lot of things over that sort of time." He snickered a little.

"I can't say I miss her all that much, she was a pain in the ass at the best of times, but like she said, I wish things had been handled differently. I think, if it hadn't been for the whole Shampoo thing, learning from her would have been a real joy. Except for the pain..." Kasumi giggled, glancing at him, then blurred into a high-speed exercise with no warning, making him grin and respond. Shaking her head in amazement at how phenomenally good they were, inwardly sure she'd never be anywhere near capable of even a fraction of it, Nabiki watched for a while, before heading up to the roof garden to enjoy the evening.

Feeling a familiar ki signature in the undergrowth, she made her way to where Tamiko was sitting on a bench looking out over the city with a smile on her face. The auburn-haired girl glanced at her then went back to staring out over the roof-tops. "Hi, Nabiki," she said quietly.

"Hi. You look pleased."

"Not so much pleased as content. I was just thinking back on the last year or so, thinking how much everything has changed. You finding Ranma and Kasumi, all of us moving in here, the demon bombs, that sort of thing. Big changes in a small amount of time." The middle sister nodded slowly, gazing out over Tokyo with her friend.

"Too big?"

"No. Not at all. Almost everything that happened is something I wouldn't have any other way. I think that goes for all of us. I could have done without Halleckton and those fucking portal bombs, but even there we met some very nice people and did things I, personally, am rather proud of. Meeting you is something I'm extremely pleased about as well, as is you joining our insane lifestyle." She grinned at her friend. "All the extra training, the way we seem to have integrated into the same group, I love it. Like you said a while ago, and Ranma has said, we're a family. But every now and then it kind of shoves itself in my face, so I have to think about it for a while."

Nabiki sat for a while, thinking about the other woman's words. Eventually she stirred. "I understand. I feel the same way sometimes. There have been times I woke up in the middle of the night wondering, 'What the fuck am I doing?' She giggled a little, sounding almost worried. "It still hits me on occasion. When we got back from Canada was the worst. Took me two weeks to decide whether I should just run like hell, or stay. I knew if I stayed, that was it. It was the only chance I'd ever get to back out." She shrugged. "I stayed. No regrets, not really. Like you said, there are good and bad points, but the good ones far outweigh the bad ones. If I fell over dead tomorrow, I'd have no regrets about the last year."

"Hopefully that's not going to happen," Tamiko giggled.

"It would be an awkward start to a holiday," Nabiki agreed with a grin. Her friend looked at her, then put her arm around her shoulders and hugged her for a moment.

"I'm very glad to have met you, my sister. Let's go swimming. The others will be up later."

"So, what's the plan?" Nabiki asked Kasumi, as they lay in the shallow end watching their friends swimming around and talking. "When do we leave?"

"Tomorrow afternoon, I think. Ranma has spent most of today sorting things out with various people who needed to know we'd be away for a while. I talked to a few as well, there are some people who are, well, terrified of Yori." She laughed. "Chou is slightly less scary. Everyone who needs to know is aware that we won't be around except in an emergency. Also how to get hold of us if it is an emergency, like a medical problem. They know we'll drop everything and come back under those circumstances, but won't be happy if it turns out to be nothing serious."

Nabiki giggled. "I can imagine no one really wants an annoyed Yori looking for them because they interrupted her holiday."

"Not even slightly." The sisters glanced at each other and grinned. "Tomorrow morning he's going to tell Sergeant Harada and Agent Naito as well. They can contact us if it becomes necessary through one of the others. The SI systems can call between close worlds, so the people here can relay phone calls to us. I've asked Nao to set it up so it's automatic. It thinks we should arrange to get a relay system installed here to make it easier in future, apparently the makers could supply one if we contact them. I suppose we should do at some point, I'm very curious about them, I admit. There may also be some useful upgrades we could acquire."

"I'm damn curious about these mystery people as well. Jun has run every test it could come up with and is pretty sure it's not compromised, something I think it probably true, but I'd still like to talk to them." Nabiki shook her head slightly. "I still find the circumstances of getting the SIs very strange. But I guess that's basically normal for us."

"Very true." They lay in silence for a while, just relaxing. "I even talked to Ami, you remember her?" Nabiki nodded, slightly surprised.

"I thought her group and you two weren't exactly friends." Kasumi smiled slightly sadly.

"Not entirely. Ami is actually a very intelligent and very responsible person, who is somewhat trapped in a situation I don't think she completely enjoys. I really must find out the details one day. She's dropped hints every now and then, the story sounds very odd, even by magical girl terms. There's something not quite right about it but I can't put my finger on what. I suppose I don't have enough information." She sighed a little. "Poor girl. She has considerable power and more common sense than any of her friends, but sticks with them due to loyalty more than anything else. I get the impression there's something she doesn't like about it all but I don't know what. Not yet. Anyway, I trust her, even if I don't feel that way about the others, mostly, and I asked her to help if it becomes necessary. Hopefully it won't, there isn't any threat I know about at the moment, but we may as well get everyone ready if something does go peculiar."

"It's kind of weird that basically you two are the only thing keeping a lid on this insane ward, to the point that you're worried about going away for three weeks in case the end of the world or something happens." Nabiki glanced at her sister with a small smile, which the older woman returned.

"It is a little strange, but that's essentially the way things have worked out. Not what we intended, but there you have it." Kasumi laughed for a moment. "I'm not expecting anyone to really take the opportunity to start trouble because we're not around, mainly because the others could now do a fairly good job of shutting it down, but also because they know very well that we'll be back." Her grin turned dangerous. "That would be unpleasant for troublemakers."

Her sister chuckled. "I can well imagine. I suppose there isn't much likelihood of anyone interfering with the building either?"

"No, very few people outside this room even know about it, aside from being an insanely powerfully warded building near the university. There isn't much reason to risk poking around from the point of view of anyone who can tell the wards exist, which is only a fairly small number of magic users in the first place, they hide their presence quite well, and trust me, the system can look after itself. It may not currently be allowed to act outside the building, but inside, I don't know of anything that could really last very long if it needed to do something. We put a very large amount of time into making sure of that and the system has a simply appalling amount of energy stored away. Unless we get hit by an asteroid or something like that, nothing could scratch it, and even then I suspect it would survive. The strength of the wards is just astounding now, since we added you all to it the whole system has grown exponentially."

Nabiki nodded, feeling the system lurking at the back of her mind. It was always there, watching protectively over everyone it counted as it's own, a feeling she rather liked. Not intrusive but ready at a moment's notice to do something extremely final if it was attacked. Even she could tell it seemed to have become far more complex and somehow 'larger' in the last few months.

"Have you had time to look at that subsystem you deactivated a while back?" Kasumi shook her head.

"Unfortunately not. It's irritating, but not really vastly critical at the moment. I'd rather make sure we get it right even if it takes a while than risk it going wrong. The system has so much power that 'wrong' would be very wrong indeed. We need to be extremely careful to make sure we don't make a mistake, the results would be catastrophic in that case. It's grown rather larger than we ever planned for, which makes it much more complicated. We'll start looking at it when we get back, I think."

Smiling at her sister, Kasumi pushed off and ducked under the surface, disappearing. A few moments later her currently female, currently mer-form husband let out a yelp of surprise and a cloud of bubbles as she disappeared below the water, making Nabiki laugh.

Sergeant Harada looked around as a familiar figure fell in beside him, grinning. "Hi, Sergeant," Yori said, looking pleased to see him.

"Hello, Yori. I haven't seen you for a few days. How is Chou? Got that painting hung somewhere nice, or hidden away safely?" The black-haired girl snickered.

"She's fine, thanks, she passes on her best wishes to you and your wife. And we've got the painting up where we can all enjoy it. I must arrange to visit Mrs Whitworth and thank her at some point. How are you? And your wife, Emiko, isn't it?"

"Yes, that's her. We're both fine. The baby is doing well too, the latest scans came back showing nothing is amiss."

"Do you know if it's a boy or a girl yet? Do you even want to?" Yori smiled at him. He grinned.

"Too early to tell yet. She's only about five weeks along." He glanced at her with an amused look. "I suppose you could probably tell." The girl nodded, smiling.

"Yes, the gender of a child is fairly easy to determine through reading the ki. Any time after about three weeks will work."

"Amazing. I think we'll wait to find out, although we might change our minds later."

"Fair enough." They walked along for a little while. "We're going away for a little while. Partly a holiday, partly meeting some old friends. I wanted to let you know so you wouldn't get worried if you didn't see us around." Yori looked at him for a moment. "We've arranged cover for us while we're away, and we can be reached in an emergency and would come back immediately in that case. The number on my card will still work. If I don't answer one of the others will, Aiko and her team will be around most of the time. I've talked to several of the other groups as well, if anything bad happens they'll fill in until we get back." She grinned. "I made it very clear that any damage would cause me to become irritated and would be dealt with appropriately." Harada chuckled.

"I'd pay good money to see that. OK, I understand. Thank you for telling me. From what I saw on the news and Agent Naito told me, I'm not surprised you girls want to get away for a while. You deserve it, considering everything you've done and continue to do for us."

"Thank you, Sergeant, that's very nice of you to say. We do what we can and we like this place." He laughed a little.

"I can't see why you'd stay if you didn't. How long are you going for? Anywhere interesting?" Yori looked at him, amused, then nodded.

"It should be interested. Visiting Uthryyl for a while at his home, then wandering around a little. Probably for about three weeks but it might be longer. No more than a month." He looked at her, his eyebrows up.

"Going to one of the demon worlds? Amazing. Say hello to Uthryyl for me, he seemed a decent fellow when I met him during that serial killer unpleasantness."

Yori nodded. "He is, a very good person, and a good friend. I'll tell him you said hi. Could you do me a favour and pass this on to Agent Naito, please? He should know in case he needs us. Hopefully he won't but you never know."

Sergeant Harada smiled at her. "Of course I will. Have fun, look me up when you get back." With a nod she stepped back, then from a standing start jumped three stories straight up and disappeared over the roof of the library next to them. He watched her go with an amused look then went on his way.

"Nabiki, are you ready yet?" Kasumi's voice came down the hallway from the practice room. Dropping her camera bag into her ki pocket having just double-checked she had everything, Nabiki left her room and headed towards the back of the apartment.

"Yes, sorry, I just needed to be sure I packed all my film. I suddenly thought I might have left some of it back in Nerima, it's all here though." She stopped next to her sister, who was inspecting the portal in the middle of the room carefully, before nodding, satisfied. "Everything OK?"

"Yes. We made some slight efficiency refinements to the portal spell and I was just checking how it was working. By the looks of it it's reduced the power requirements by exactly the predicted amount. Very pleasing." Kasumi smiled at her. Ranma walked around from the other side of the rip in space-time, looking at it, then nodded.

"Yep. Not bad at all, Kas. Good work."

"Thank you, dear."

Aiko and the other three girls appeared a few metres away, then walked over. "Ready to go?" she asked.

"I think so." Kasumi hugged each of them in turn. "We'll see you two in two weeks, and Fumiko and Tamiko in a week. Take care, call if you need us."

"We'll be fine, Kasumi. Go and have a nice week with just you three." The short brunette grinned at her friends. "I'll make sure the roof garden is watered and trimmed as well."

"Thank you." Kasumi looked pleased.

Ranma looked at his friends, smiling. "Try to keep a lid on this nuthouse, guys. See you later. Come on, Nabs, demon worlds await." Kasumi giggled and stepped through the portal, vanishing with a slight crackle. Nabiki followed Ranma as he did likewise, grinning with excitement.

"Don't call me Na..."

The portal hung in the air for a few more seconds, then disappeared with a pop. Aiko laughed, turning to her friends.

"Come on. Let's go swimming again." Misaki pulled out an apple and munched it as they went up the stairs to the pool.