Chapter: 25
Jia dao fa guo
(Obtain safe passage to conquer Guo)

*Married?* Nabiki looked blindly at the front of the
doujou, flinching at the shriek of laughter coming from the
interior. The massive foundations shuddered as something
crashed into a support beam and Nabiki could hear muffled
cursing from the inside.

*Married!*

Shouting from inside was followed by a body hurtling
through the doors and skidding across the ground for a few
meters. *She's lost her pants again* Nabiki noted absently as
Akane bounced to her feet and charged back inside the
doujou. *At least she isn't naked* Nabiki supposed she
should be thankful for small favors as she touched the joystick
on her wheelchair and sent it bouncing across the yard with a
faint electric whine.

*Dammit, I go to the hospital for six or seven weeks
and the whole world goes to hell!* There was another shriek
from inside the doujou, and it wasn't laugher this time. Nabiki
shuddered. She'd gone into the doujou once, shortly after she
got back home, and found Ranma hanging upside down from
the wooden-man while her baby-sister . . .*oh god!* she
flushed remembering. Martial artists were so _very_ flexible.
Nabiki hadn't been back inside since, and she slept wearing
her stereo headphones with the volume turned _way_ up.

Things were happening too fast. All these strange
people showing up, all mad at Genma and Ranma. People
breaking into the house, Ranko appearing and disappearing.

Nabiki had looked, had other people looking for
Ranko, but if it weren't for some of her stuff still in Akane's
room, it would have been as if she'd never existed.

WHAM!

Nabiki choked, waving away a cloud of dust as two
bodies hit the ground, where the koi pond had been, and
bounced apart.

That was another grievance Nabiki had. Ranma had
filled in the koi pond, claiming they needed the space for
training. Some of those koi were over a hundred years old!
Kodachi had taken them, built a bigger and better pond for
them too, but that wasn't the point! Those were Tendou fish,
that was Tendou water, she thought peevishly.

Ranma was slowly taking over, acting as if he were
the head of the Tendou household, and Akane wasn't making
a move to stop him.

With a shout the two figures clashed, exchanging a
brief flurry of savage kicks and punches. Ranma, bare-
chested, was sporting a massive bruise along his right cheek
and his lip was split.

Akane, wearing Ranma's shirt and apparently not
much else, was favoring her right side and her leg was a line
of ugly blue-black bruising while blood ran down into her
eyes from a cut across her forehead.

*She's _laughing_!* Nabiki's lip curled in disgust.

A savage side-side kick doubled Akane over and she
barely managed to fade from a one-two combination below
the heart that would have put her down. She grabbed for
Ranma's arm, but lost her hold on his sweat slick skin,
continued her motion and spun out of his reach.

"Too slow!" Ranma taunted, "that was pretty clumsy,
too."

"I'm going easy on you," Akane panted, a little
winded from trying to keep up with her quicksilver husband.
"You wore out so quick last night, I thought you needed a
rest."

"Me?" Ranma feinted with a right hammer-fist, then
hit her with a leg sweep, that changed to a scissor-kick from a
hand-stand. The heel of his right foot caught Akane just under
the chin and down she went. "I remember someone beggin'
me last night." He flipped Akane on her back, kneeling on
her shoulders and pinning her arms above her head.

"Oh yeah?" Akane gasped, turning her head and
spitting dirt. "Who would ever beg you for anything?"

"I think you might . . ." Ranma started to run a teasing
finger along her ribs, when Akane jerked her arms straight
out, pulling Ranma slightly off balance, at the same time she
brought her knees hard up against his butt with pile-driver
force, launching him like a torpedo across the yard. Rolling
to her feet she paused, grimacing in pain.

"Hey," Ranma's face was a mask of concern as he
trotted up to her. "Are you alrigh - - " A solid right closed his
mouth with a snap, dumping him on his behind.

"H . . .hey!" He lurched to his feet, fingering his jaw
to make sure it was still attached. "That's not fair!"

"Funny," Akane buffed her nails on her shirt, looking
insufferably pleased at having put one over on her husband.
"That's just what I said when you tricked me into that bare
bottom spanking, tied over a chair."

*Errrrp!* Nabiki swallowed hard, feeling her face
blaze. She really didn't need to hear this.

"An important lesson in situational awareness,"
Ranma replied pompously.

"Right . . ." Akane agreed sourly, "when your husband
asks you to touch your toes, check to see if he's got
handcuffs in his back pocket first."

*oh god*Nabiki had a sudden vision of her baby-sister
doing things baby sisters had no business knowing how to do.

"I made it up to you later."

"Yeah, but they're never going to let us come back to
McDonald's."

Nabiki's head shot up. *Whaaa!*

A big grin split Ranma's face. "That manager sure did
look funny, yelling an' screaming, didn't he?"

"I wouldn't know," Akane said dryly, carefully staying
beyond Ranma's reach. "I wasn't in a position to see anything
except my toes."

Suddenly suspicious, Nabiki stared closely at Akane
and thought she detected a glint of suppressed laughter in her
eyes. * Why, that sneaky little . . .* With a savage twist of the
joy-stick she sent her wheel-chair bouncing over the yard and
out the gate. *They're pulling my leg!* She hoped. She didn't
really like McDonald's anyway.

"Where are you going in such a hurry?" Ukyou
stepped from the shadows and grasped the handles of her
chair.

"Go away Ukyou," Nabiki said tiredly. "I don't have
time to play with you today."

"That's Okay," Ukyou said cheerfully, flipping a lever
on the side of the chair to disengage the electric motor. "It's
on my way."

"You don't even know where I'm going," Nabiki
fumbled with the lever, until Ukyou moved her hand back into
her lap with a sigh of exasperation.

"Save your battery," he started pushing the now free-
wheeling chair briskly down the sidewalk "and I'm sure you'll
tell me where to go." he added teasingly.

"Park." Nabiki snapped, giving in to the inevitable.
She slumped in the chair and silently watched trash float down
the drainage canal that ran beside the street. Faintly she could
hear shrill feminine laughter from the direction of the doujou,
that abruptly cut off. The silence seemed more suggestive
than all the noise and Nabiki buried her burning face in her
hands, hoping she wouldn't see anyone who knew her.

"I bet you'll be Auntie-Nabiki in seven months."
Ukyou said casually.

Nabiki jerked as if she'd been shot. No, oh no! Not
her baby sister!

"Yep," Ukyou twisted his shoulder to work out a kink
in his back from sleeping in a tree outside the Tendou home.
"Pretty soon you'll be hearing the pitter-patter of little
perverts all around the doujou."

"My sister is _not_ a pervert," Nabiki automatically
defended. Then she remembered going into the kitchen late
one night for a snack to find Akane and Ranma . . .

Her face burned at the memory. They were still finding
red-bean jam in odd places around the sitting room or under
the furniture. And she never had been able to explain to
Kasumi why she'd insisted on installing new counter tops.

"What are you doing hanging around!" Nabiki decided
a quick change of subject was the only safe course. "You're
like a boil, annoying, unsightly and always on my butt!" She
turned her fiercest 'move-or-die' glare on the Okonomoyaki
chef.

"You look like an angry kitten," Ukyou flicked the
end of Nabiki's nose, causing her to hiss in anger, which made
the beautiful young man laugh. "Well," he considered the
bandage on the shaved half of Nabiki's head, and her fragile
appearance, "a kitten that's been run through a dryer full of
gravel, anyway."

"Listen you - - " Nabiki started to lurch out of the
chair and Ukyou hastily pressed her back down.

"Sorry. I'm sorry," he apologized, frightened at how
Nabiki suddenly went bone-white. "I won't tease anymore.
It's just that you bring out the worst in me, for some reason.

"Huh!" Nabiki snorted, a little mollified, "Idiot." she
muttered.

"I shouldn't have left you alone." Ukyou said, and it
took a minute for Nabiki to realize he was answering her
original question.

"What? That's stupid. You're not responsible for me."

"I know what a bastard Genma is - - -"

"Kunou," Nabiki said with exaggerated patience, "It
was Kunou that did this."

"And he was with Genma." Ukyou said, as if that
made everything clear. "Anyone who would work with
Genma is either insane or crooked. And insane." he added for
good measure.

"You couldn't have known - - "

"We're here," Ukyou interrupted. "How about this
spot?" Without waiting for an answer he maneuvered
Nabiki's chair to a shady area next to an ornamental pond. It
was relatively quiet there, while elsewhere around the park
children were flying kites and playing games. A particularly
active group were chasing each other with water balloons and
'Super Soakers'. "Here," he handed Nabiki a bag of bread-
crumbs, "you can feed the ducks."

"Why haven't you tried to go after Ranma?" Nabiki
asked after a moment, scattering another hand full of crumbs
on the water. A goose tried for a particularly large chunk and
was immediately mobbed by half a dozen angry mallards.

"Your _little_ sister would try to rip my head off,"
Ukyou replied. "I'd be willing to risk it, but I don't think I
could take her _and_ Ranma together. Plus if I get seriously
hurt, Genma would get away and I might never find him
again."

"So . . ." Nabiki said after a moment, trying to lure a
baby duck to eat from her hand, "you're giving up?"

"I heard what happened to Kunou, and it occurred to
me,"Ukyou swung his uber-spatula out of the way and settled
on the arm of a wooden bench, "that it might be kind of fun to
see the same thing happen to Ranma." He smiled, as if
looking at something only he could see, swinging one leg
back and forth "I figure it's only a matter of time before
Akane-san finds out what a thieving, crooked, lying son-of-a-
bitch Ranma is, and rips him a new arsehole or three."

Nabiki felt a chill run through her body, wishing she
could disagree. She kept trying to convince herself that it was
just that Akane was so _young_ to be married. But Genma
seemed to attract enemies, the way garbage attracted rats, or
maybe it was the other way around. All she really had to go
on was a lot of suspicion, and the fact that Genma made her
stomach clench whenever he was around. And Ranma was his
son.

"Why do you hate Genma so much?"

"Hate?" Ukyou considered the question, "I don't hate
Genma."

"Now, wait a minute . . ." Nabiki started to object.

"Hate . . .despise . . .loath . . .detest . . .none of those
really describe how I feel," Ukyou's voice was mild, but there
was a mad fire burning in his eyes, and he was absently
paring large flakes of wood off the bench with his thumb-nail,
seeming not to notice the smear of blood he was leaving
behind.

"I want to peel Genma like an onion, salt his hide and
make a pair of gloves and a nice coat. I want to break his
bones, pull his joints apart and roast what's left over a very
slow fire, until the bones crack, like a suckling-pig, and the
marrow runs out and sizzles on the coals, then feed him a
broth made of his own organs. And after he's dead and
burning in hell I want to piss on his grave, then bring him
back and do it all over again." He smiled serenely at Nabiki,
"so you see, hate doesn't really describe what I feel."

Nabiki blinked. In this age of plastic and fast-food,
there was something charming about that sort of old-
fashioned attention to detail. Lunatic, but charming. However,
he still hadn't answered her question.

"Why do you . . .uhhhh . . ." Nabiki searched for the
right word, "what makes you so dedicated?"

Ukyou looked at Nabiki for a moment, then seemed to
come to a decision. "I grew up in a small village in
Kansai - - "

"I don't think you're in Kansai, anymore." Nabiki
deadpanned, then sighed when Ukyou just stared at her. Only
her second bilingual pun ever and no one around to appreciate
it. "Never mind, just go on with your story."

"In Kansai, where my father had a yatai, next to the
train station . . ."

@@@@
@@@@

"Umi wa araumi. Mukou wa Sado yo."

Using his grill as a percussion instrument a child of
about six or seven tapped out a rhythm with his spatulas as he
cooked and sang.

"The sea is rough. Over the sea is Sado."

Beside him, another child mixed more batter with one
hand, plucking the strings of an antique dragon-shaped Koto
with the other.

"Suzume nake nake. Mou hi wa kureta."

The young, husky voice was filled with sadness and
loss, the sizzling of okonomoyaki cooking on the grill,
accompanying the song like the sound of winter rain.

" Sparrow, sing and sing. It's getting dark."

"Wonderful Kuonji-kun. Simply wonderful!" A
balding man, well muscled body just starting to run to fat,
applauded as he approached the train-station from the
direction of the village.

Kuonji Kyoden, looking like a hairy beer-barrel
dressed in a faded and work-stained samue or work-robe,
rose from where he was seated on a low stool.

"Saotome-kun!" Kuonji lumbered forward, his
bearded face split in a wide grin. "You've come at last. What
do you think of our young idols?" He waved a hand at the
two children who had stopped singing, but were still making
and serving okonomoyaki to the small crowd entering and
leaving the rural train station.

"Wonderful progress," Saotome Genma straightened
his silk tie and smoothed a non-existent wrinkle from his new
suit. "There is no doubt that soon the Kuonji Enka-nomoyaki
franchise will conquer all of Japan and then the world."

"Do you really think so?" Kyoden asked hopefully. "I
had such high hopes for my automatic-okonomoyaki-
cooler - -"

"A notable invention," Saotome agreed."

"But people kept complaining about electric fires.
Then there was my head-mounted-Okonomoyaki-on-a-roll-
dispenser for all-you-can-eat-buffets - -"

"Truly a wonder of the age." Genma nodded solemnly.

"And with time, I could have solved the insect
problem - -"

"Genius does not punch a time clock," his friend
offered.

"I was positive that my self-cooking-okonomoyaki-in-
a can was the answer - -"

"Inspired," was the admiring response.

"There were only a few _tiny_ explosions, and no one
was actually killed."

"A minor setback."

"But now," Kyoden's face lit with the fire of true
genius as he reached into a box at his side and removed a
perfectly round, exquisitely browned okonomoyaki, "I have
perfected my ultimate invention, Stereo-Ko-nomoyaki!" With
a flourish he bit into the edge of the crust and the Japanese
National Anthem began to play.

"Marvelous. Beautiful," Genma said, teary eyed as a
tinny voice singing 'Kimi ga yo wa' emanated from the still
warm crust. "I have no doubts that once our young stars," he
nodded in the direction of the two youngsters who were
rolling in the dirt, fighting over a freshly baked okonomoyaki,
"make their debuts as Idols, and once your chain of Enka-
singing-okonomoyaki-yatai's stretch across Japan . . .well you
will have no problems funding your invention!"

"Yes, yes," Kuonji-kun said feverishly, "money. I need
money to solve the miniaturization problem," he frowned at
the box beside his foot, containing batteries, amplifiers and
portable phonograph, all connected by wire to the tiny
speaker buried in the pastry in his hand. "But with money,
with the proper funding, it's only a matter of time. Why, with
my limited resources, I've already got the apparatus down to
only forty-two kilograms. And I've almost entirely eliminated
the choking problem. And the electric shocks."

"And that's why I'm off to Tokyo," Genma said
jovially." Enka Singing Okonomoyaki Idols is a concept
whose time has come. In a few weeks, you'll be turning
investors away."

"All of my hopes, all of _our_ hopes," Kyoden's
swept his arms in an expansive gesture to indicate the small
village behind them, "rest with you!" He took a deep breath.
"You have all of my money, almost the entire village
treasury is invested - - "

"And a heavy responsibility it is," Genma replied
solemnly, patting the heavy money belt around his substantial
middle, "but unfortunately necessary when dealing with major
record companies. There are many fees that must be paid for
permits. And the other expenses, such as costumes, stage sets,
recording studio fees. And, I'll have to take producers to
dinner, and it would be fatal to appear cheap or needy, for
nothing attracts money like money."

Kyoden nodded vigorously, mesmerized as always by
Saotome-kun's eloquence and easy manner when he talked of
dealing so smoothly with the sophisticated men of Tokyo.
Everyday he said prayers at the shrine and burned incense to
bless the day he'd met Saotome Genma.

"Of course, of course friend Genma. It's just that I've
never tried something as big as . . .I'm just a little nervous."

"Genius such as yours is ill suited to such crass and
mundane things as money. You should not sully your hands
but let lesser minds like mine take that burden from you."

Embarrassed, yet pleased that his talent was finally
being recognized, Kyoden could only bow.

"All right, back to work," he ordered briskly as the
train rumbled down the track, carrying Genma to Tokyo.
"Let's try 'Futuna' this time. We need something with a
properly serious and dignified tone for our debut. The two
idol-wannabe's took their positions as Kyoden began beating
time on a wood-block. The boy on strings took up the tune, a
cross between bosanova and the blues, while the child at the
grill tapped out the base-line and started to sing . . .

"The sake is tepid, grilled squid is good enough"

The string player took up the verse, adding a
complicated, almost baroque quality to the tune.

"Women should be quiet, a dim lamp is enough light."

The base-line became slow and sad, while the strings
wept like a funeral dirge.

"I am drinking full of pain, and a painful memory is
going by . . .

@@@@
@@@@

"A tear drops , and I start singing 'boatman's
song' . . ."

Ukyou's eyes were closed as his voice trailed off with
a long vibrato warble, not quite a yodel, and tears ran down
his cheeks.

Nabiki stared, stunned.

"I know what you're thinking." Ukyou said, opening
his eyes and seeing Nabiki's expression.

*If you did, I'd be wearing that spatula!* Nabiki
thought, biting back hysterical laughter.

"What happened to that magnificent vision?" Ukyou
scrubbed tears from his face with the back of his hand.

"Uhhhhh . . ." Nabiki answered, intelligently as three
boys chased two girls around in the trees behind them,
shouting and laughing.

"It was _stolen_," and the venom in his voice could
have cut steel, "by that dammed Saotome Genma and his little
bastard son!"

"W . . .what happened," Nabiki asked, a little
unsteadily. She wondered if she'd ever be able to eat
okonomoyaki again, without having hysterics.

"Three days later we got a telegram from Genma,
saying Sony Records wanted to hear us sing. Father had to
stay and run the yatai, so Ranma and I went alone. The day
after we met Genma in Tokyo I woke up in the hotel room
alone. Genma and Ranma had skipped. He didn't even pay the
damn hotel bill." Ukyou's voice trembled with suppressed
passion, his anger and humiliation fresh in his mind after a
decade.

"I'd still be working off the bill if I hadn't found some
money stuffed in my good shoes. I guess mama hid it there
for me. Anyway, it was exactly enough to pay the bill, with
some left over for a train ticket back home." He ground his
teeth in frustration. "But it took me so long to get back home
and let everyone know what happened, that bastard was long
gone, and all our money with him."

There was a moment of silence, broken only by faint
shrieks from the children playing around them in the park.

"What happened then?" Nabiki asked, sobered by the
bewildered anguish in Ukyou's voice at Genma and Ranma's
betrayal.

"We couldn't meet our debts at the new year. Worse,
the entire village was bankrupt." The humiliation in Ukyou's
eyes was more than Nabiki could bear and with a sudden
surge of sympathetic understanding she squeezed his hand.
She knew, all too well, the stares and whispers that followed a
family that couldn't meet it's obligations.

"Mama went back to her family. Father gave up the
clan name and seal to his younger brother and retired to a
monastery."

"And you?"

"For my failure, I was cast out, nameless, clanless."

"That's insane!" Nabiki was outraged. "You couldn't
have been more than . . .six, seven?"

"Giri," Ukyou replied, "as eldest son of the clan head
it was my duty to protect my fathers honor. I failed and have
to accept responsibility for my failure."

"That's why you're chasing Genma and Ranma?"

"Until I avenge my father, I can never go home. As
long as Genma is alive, I am dead to my mother, father,
everyone I ever knew."

Nabiki felt chilled at Ukyou's words. "Are you
saying," she asked very carefully, "that you're going to have
to kill Genma? And Ranma?" She didn't much care about
Genma, or Ranma for that matter. But Akane . . . she did
_not_ want her baby sister involved in something out of a bad
Samurai movie.

"I'd kind of like to bring back Genma's head, properly
washed and mounted," Ukyou replied seriously, "but I'll settle
for a return of all our money, plus interest, and a public
apology from Genma. On his knees. And flogging him around
the village. Maybe some hot tar and feathers. Castration. It
would really cheer Papa up to see that."

"Oh, well, if that's all . . ." Frantically Nabiki's mind
started working. The only way Ukyou was going to get
money from Genma was by robbing his corpse of loose
change and then selling his organs on the black market. Which
wouldn't be so bad if she weren't positive Ukyou would do
such a sloppy job of it that there might as well be a sign
painted on the roof of their house saying 'Look Inside for
Clues to Unsolved Murder!'

Which meant she'd better come up with some
contingency plans in case she woke up one morning to find
Ukyou had left Genma's body under the stair, like a cat
bringing a dead mouse home as a present.

Genma was a fat bastard, but if you could remove his
head, then logically you could remove other parts, reducing
him to handy travel-sized bits. A quick train trip to the beach
- - she'd have to remind Kasumi not to buy seafood for a
while after - - and the Tendou house could get back to
normal.

A sudden shriek brought her out of her reverie and she
looked up to see a _huge_ red water balloon heading straight
for her.

"Look out lady!" A small boy in grubby jeans yelled,
before turning tail and running.

*oh hell* Nabiki's hand flashed to the wheelchair
controller, knowing she was much too slow. *this is going to
be _cold_* she thought, closing her eyes and bracing for the
shock. Which never came. Cautiously she opened her eyes a
crack, to see Ukyou braced over her, eyes wide open, inches
from her own. His beautiful long hair was plastered to his
head, and water trickled down his face to drip in Nabiki's lap.

"My hero!" a burble of laughter forced it's way past
Nabiki's tightly pressed lips.

Ukyou looked sourly at her, them moved back,
running his pony-tail through his hands, squeezing out as
much water as he could. His hands went to the buttons of his
soaking shirt, then paused.

"Go ahead," Nabiki said wryly. "I'll try not to swoon
at the sight of your manly chest."

"Are you sure?" Ukyou flipped open the buttons and
shrugged out of the sodden shirt, revealing another, heaver
garment beneath.

"I live at a martial arts doujou." That's clever, Nabiki
thought. Body armor. "You haven't got anything I haven't
seen . . ." She watched Ukyou flip his shirt over a tree
branch, then pull off the vest with a rasp of velcro.

" . . . before."

Her voice trailed off with a squeak, as Ukyou twisted
the vest in his hands, producing a stream of water, before
hanging it beside his shirt.

"You're the eldest son?" Nabiki asked, her voice
slightly strained.

"Yeah." Ukyou turned, sightly alarmed at her tone.

"The eldest . . .son?"

"The only son. I'm an only child. Are you Okay?" he
asked, looking in concern at Nabiki's white face.

"Yeah," Nabiki said faintly, fascinated by the gentle
motion of Ukyou's . . .chest, as he walked toward her.

*He?* Nabiki thought wildly. *_He_ is better built
than I am.*

"Have you got a fever?"Nabiki looked flushed.
Bending over her, Ukyou put a hand on her forehead.

"I . . .I may be coming down with something," Nabiki
said hoarsely, controlling with sheer force of will an almost
irresistible urge to poke one of the soft, white breasts that
bobbed gently in front of her face.

"I think I'd like to go home now," Nabiki said with
only a light tremor. *I'll just lie down, quietly, in the dark.
And when I wake up, all this will make sense.*

*****
*****


It didn't make sense.

"Look Noriko, are you sure the school has Kuonji
Ukyou registered as a boy?" Nabiki pressed the bridge of her
nose with two fingers as something solid banged into the side
of the house. She wished someone would explain the
difference between foreplay and a mugging to Akane. From
the corner of her eye she could see her sister and Ranma slam
into each other with a flurry of kicks and punches. Springing
apart, Akane wiped a smear of blood from a cut-lip and said
something to Ranma that made him laugh. She stuck out her
tongue, then tried to brain him with a short heavy staff.

"Okay, I don't doubt . . .Look Noriko," she was
beginning to get a headache. "Is this Kuonji Ukyou from
Kansai? He is? What's his father's name?" She scribbled
rapidly as her friend spoke. "He doesn't have a father? He's
got to have a father!"

Nabiki flipped through her notebook as Noriko spoke.
"Ask about a heavyset man . . .what do you mean 'he doesn't
have a father, but she does'? Listen, No-chan, Ukyou's either
got a father or he doesn't. You can't have it both . . ." She
jerked the phone away from her ear and stared at it for a
moment, the put it to her other ear. "Say that again, slowly."

Nabiki jotted a few notes, then let the pen fall from her
hand as she listened. "Are you telling me," there was an edge
to her voice that was instantly recognizable to anyone who
had ever seen Akane angry, "That they held a _funeral_
for . . . I don't give a shit about Giri!"

Nabiki's knuckles whitened as she tried to crush the
hard plastic phone, "Ukyou was nothing but a _baby_! And
they declared her _dead_ ! Just like that? Didn't anyone
comment on the fact that there was this little _living_ person
running around . . ."

Nabiki fumbled for the bottle of painkillers in her
pocket. "Wait a minute," she mumbled into the phone. With
the edge of her thumb she flicked off the top and tumbled a
couple of green and white tablets into her palm. "I need to
take a couple of pills. Keep talking." She popped the
painkillers in her mouth and washed them down with water
from the tumbler beside her as Noriko talked.

"And then what?" Nabiki asked after the pain killers
went down. "Well thank Buddha or someone for that," she
said with heartfelt relief. "Even a crazy hermit knew it was
wrong to abandon a six year old child. Find out where he
lives. I want to do something nice - -dead huh?" Nabiki
rubbed the bridge of her nose, wondering when the pills were
going to kick in.

"At least Ukyou had _someone_ to take care of her
for a few years. What. Oh right, someone to take care of
_him_." Nabiki snorted derisively. "The Christians are
impressed simply because their god raises the dead. The
Japanese Bureaucracy, with a stroke of the pen, kills,
resurrects _and_ changes she to he. So, what did _he_ do,
living with the hermit for all those years?" Nabiki listened,
eyes going wide. "The raging sea, huh? Well, I've heard of
stranger training techniques. Not many, but some."

Nabiki nibbled on the end of her pen. "Okay, here's
what I want," Nabiki flipped to a fresh sheet, writing as she
spoke.

"I want Ukyou's identity nailed down tight. Is 'he' the
Kuonji daughter? Or a ringer? And how dangerous is
she . . . uhhh he?"

Nabiki scribbled as Noriko talked. "No, really. She
_really_ doesn't seem to realize she's a girl. I want to know if
she's dangerous. Criminal record, hospitalization , that sort of
thing. Finally, tell Akimoto-san that I've got a lead on two
Fuji Series Three machines." She yanked the phone from her
ear as her friend squalled like a scaled cat. "I'll let him have
them if he gets what I want. Yeah . . . and add Hibiki to the
list. No first name. No, I don't know the Kanji. Birth records
about sixteen years back. But check a couple of years on
each side."

Nabiki crossed off part of her list "Also check
marriage, death and relocation records going back about
twenty, thirty years for all the names on the list. Thanks."
She took a deep breath. "And, No-chan? I'm sorry I yelled.
Things have been kind of . . .thanks. I owe you one. And the
rest of the gang too."

Sighing, Nabiki used her walker to limp over to the
refrigerator. She was supposed to be using it for two hours a
day now and the doctors told her what marvelous progress
she was making. But she was always so _tired_. Grabbing a
can of coffee, she popped the top and went to sit where she
could look out over the garden and think.

She was an oddity in the convoluted world of
Pachinko. Almost all of the machines and parlors were in the
hands of retired policeman. Over the years it had become their
traditional retirement income. Nabiki had spent a _lot_ of
time being cutely helpful and adorably helpless until she was
thought of as a cross between a little-sister and a mascot.

Now, she was risking her business, pushing these
retired cops to do cop-stuff on her behalf. She was
sweetening the pot, recklessly trading them locations,
customers and now some incredibly hard-to-get-very-in-
demand machines for information. There was a real chance
she would come out of this with her business gone, but if it
was a choice between family and money - - she'd give it all
away and walk naked through the streets for her sisters.

Nabiki watched Ranma and Akane trade 'love taps'
that would have gotten them arrested for human rights
violations in most third-world countries, before they bounded
over the wall in what Nabiki could only assume was another
of Ranma's 'training' sessions. The last of which had resulted
in two calls complaining abut indecent behavior, six proposals
of marriage and an offer from a producer of questionable
movies.

Moving her walker aside, Nabiki settled back on the
new couch with a sigh. It made getting up and down easier,
but she sometimes hated it as a reminder of her semi-invalid
status. Shifting restlessly she tried to find a more comfortable
position, biting back a groan at a sudden twinge in her lower
back. It was kind of lonesome, stuck in the house with
Kasumi at cram-school and Akane always with Ranma. She'd
even be glad to see her father.

At least Souun was still alive. One of her pachinko
'spies' had spotted him prowling around the Jinan district of
Shibuya-ku ward, tired and dirty looking, but apparently
sober. Nabiki had spent a few sleepless nights trying to figure
out what Souun was doing and finally decided he was looking
for Ukyou or Genma. Maybe both. She just wished he'd take
a few minutes to call home. But the better part of Tendou
Souun had been buried in the grave with his wife. What was
left behind drifted through a Samurai dream that didn't
include mundane things like doujou's or daughters or calling
home so people who loved you didn't worry . . .at least he
wasn't drinking.

Relaxing, Nabiki let her unfocused gaze wander over
the garden. In the periphery of her vision something flickered
in the shadows beyond the doujou. Frowning she reached for
her walker, to go investigate.

"Is sitting in the dark some sort of 'Tokyo'
thing?"came a voice, directly behind her.

"Gaaaaa!" Nabiki's hand went to her chest as her
heart tried to crawl up her throat and run out the door.

"Woah!" Ukyou put a hand on her shoulder to steady
her. "Didn't mean to scare you."

Panting from fright Nabiki watched a shadowy figure
move across the room and switch on the lights. She been so
lost in her thoughts she hadn't realized it was dusk. " What
the _hell_ are you doing?" She paused, sniffing the air.
"What's that?"

"My Deluxe International Y2K Compliant
Okonomoyaki!" With a flourish Ukyou whipped the top off a
flat box to reveal his creation.

"Y2K . . ." Nabiki closed her mouth with a snap. No,
don't ask, she thought, it's probably better not to know. Her
stomach rumbled, embarrassingly and she suddenly realized
how hungry she was.

"Why are you here?" Nabiki snapped, partially to
cover her embarrassment. "What are you doing?"

Instead of answering the barked questions, Ukyou
simply handed Nabiki a plate and napkin.

Since it would be offensive to the kami, and probably
unlucky as well, to turn down a gift of food, Nabiki
graciously accepted the largest piece when Ukyou offered it.

"Keeping an eye out for Genma,," Ukyou answered,
as soon as Nabiki's cutting tongue was safely occupied,
"practicing my okonomoyaki skills, wondering how many
dates we should go on before I ask you to marry me. HEY!"
Ukyou pounded Nabiki gently on the back, "Chew before you
swallow. There's plenty."

"Mmmm . . .marry?" Nabiki stared at Ukyou with all
the fascination she'd give a bomb with a smoking fuse.

"Well, yeah," Ukyou chewed thoughtfully on a slice of
of his Y2K, "you're not bad looking, even banged up like you
are."

"Gee, thanks," Nabiki glared at him, frustrated that he
wasn't curling up and dying like a spider in a flame.

"And I don't really know any real girls . . ."

"HEY! What am I, chopped liver!" Nabiki snapped,
then caught herself. *Waitaminute, why am I encouraging this
fish-ball? And why are there never sharp pointy things
around when you really need to kill someone?*

"But I guess the main reason, is that I think you've
got the kind of cold, calculating, devious mind necessary to
make father's dream come true."

*I'm still in the hospital, and this is an anesthesia
induced hallucination* Nabiki thought. *no, I died and this is
hell* her shoulders slumped. *I didn't do anything _that_ bad,
did I?*

"After I finish with Genma it will take a while to get
father back from the monastery and get reinstated in the clan."
Ukyou went on, oblivious to Nabiki's internal conflicts, "but I
figure you can use the time to set up a deal to make us Idols."

"Us?"

"Well, Ranma and me. The act works better as a duet.
Unless I have to kill him too." Ukyou thought a moment,
"Can Kasumi sing?"

"You are _insane_, Nabiki whispered, wondering if
she could make it to the phone and call for help.

"She's that bad, huh? Oh well, it was just a thought."

"NO!" Nabiki grabbed Ukyou by the shoulders and
shook him . . .her! "NO, Kasumi is not going to sing. NO, I'm
not going to help you start a stupid string of Enka
Okonomoyaki shops to promote an even more stupid singing
okonomoyaki!" Nabiki was trembling, she was so angry and
scared. Why the _hell_ was every lunatic in Japan stopping at
her house.

"Father was just a little ahead of time. Hallmark has
done very well with the concept using computer chips. And
you can't even eat a greeting card." Ukyou thought a minute,
"I've got it!"

Nabiki jumped.

"Okonomoyaki invitations and business cards! We can
make a prototype for our wedding and get some free publicity
as well as a field test!" He looked at her like a puppy looking
for approval after doing a particularly clever new trick.

"There is no way in _hell_," Nabiki carefully
enunciated, biting off each word, "Christian, Buddhist or
Shinto, take your pick, that I'm ever going to marry you."

"Why not?" Ukyou appeared genuinely puzzled.

"Why? For one thing, you're a lunatic. For another, I
do not like girls!" She knew where Souun kept the arquebus
he used in re-enactments. The question was, could she get this
idiot to stand still while she charged an eight-bore muzzle-
loader with ball and powder and lit the slow match?

"Well, what's wrong with that?"

"What's wrong!" With a small scream of outrage
Nabiki yanked down Ukyou's pants. "That's what's wrong!"
She pointed out Ukyou's rather obvious deficiencies as a
future husband.

"Awwwwk!" Ukyou fell backward on the floor,
pulling up his trousers. "Hey! None of that until after the
wedding!" Red-faced Ukyou scrambled to _his_ feet, glaring
at Nabiki until she felt like _she_ were in the wrong. Thinking
about it Nabiki blushed, realizing she'd just depantsed a girl in
her living room.

"Sensei warned me about Tokyo girls . . ." Ukyou
started.

"Now just a darn minute!"

"But I forgive you."

"You forgive me!" Nabiki's voice cracked.*Forget the
arquebus* Nabiki fumed, * There's a crossbow in the closet!*
She fumbled with her walker.

"Hey, I'm sorry!" Ukyou moved the walker out of
reach and pulled Nabiki down beside him on he couch. "I
shouldn't be bothering you with this stuff while you're sick."
Ukyou snuggled Nabiki onto his lap, rubbing her back in
large, gentle circles. "Now you just take a nap, and we'll talk
about this later."

"There isn't going to be any later!" Nabiki groused,
struggling against Ukyou's implacably gentle embrace. "I
want you _out_ of my home!"

"Shhhhh," Ukyou pulled Nabiki against his side,
rubbing her back and rocking her as if she were an infant.
"Just relax and I'll take care of everything."

"Nnnnnn," futilely Nabiki pushed against Ukyou's
encircling arm, then gave up, exhausted. Unwillingly she felt
her eyes close and she snuggled into his - - _her_, embrace. *I
am NOT getting involved with this nut. I don't like girls
. . .that way. Stupid singing okonomoyaki. Hallmark had
done pretty well with greeting cards that played music,
though. Edible, singing business cards? Maybe as a
promotional gimmick . . .? Might be some money in that.*

Nabiki's eyes closed and she drifted off to sleep,
dreaming that a pony-tailed Godzilla was cooking Tokyo-
konomiyaki on a giant griddle, while Mothra sang Enka
ballads with the JDF on drums and Ultra-man on guitar.

Unnoticed, the shadow of a fat, bald man seemed to
flow over the wall, turning to glare back at the two within the
Tendou house.

*************************************************

1