Chapter 22



"Would you quit following me!" Nabiki glared at
Ukyou, sauntering alongside her as they left the gates of
Furrinkan.

"Hey," Kimoko chirped from Nabiki's other side, "if
you don't want him, I'll take him."

"Yeah," Noriko seconded, "he's cute."

"Kinda skinny," Moeko opined. "I like a little meat
on a man."

Ukyou's ears turned pink, but he otherwise ignored
the discussion.

"Ladies, if I wanted a pet, I'd get a dog." Nabiki
groused, irritated that her 'friends' couldn't seem to find
anything to talk about but Ukyou, and 'their' relationship.

"I bet he'd look cute in a collar and leash." Noriko
stage-whispered.

"Trainin' 'em is half the fun." Moeko added
authoritatively. "What!" she said defensively as the other
girls stared at her. "That's what my mom said!"

Nabiki tuned out the conversation when Moeko
started a discussion on her new Doujinshi "Sinful Rose
Garden." Manga about pretty boys doing pretty things to
each other against a flowery background didn't appeal to
her. She supposed she'd been spoiled growing up, since
Akane was always surrounded by very athletic boys in
various states of undress.

"What are you thinking about?" Ukyou asked softly,
startling her out of her reverie.

"Just thinking about you holding a leash in your
mouth for 'walkies'." Nabiki stifled a laugh at Ukyou's sour
expression. He really _was_ good looking, she thought
looking him over with a critical eye. Nice build, not too
bulky, good skin, clear eyes. Her eyes strayed lower. Nice
butt, small and tight, powerful things. Good calves. The
pretty one's were always selfish, though. They expected a
woman to give up her carrier, her life, _, just to take care of
them. Marriage retirement, the office ladies called it. Slavery
was a better term.

"NOW what?" Ukyou snapped, exasperated at the
way the stupid girl kept going off into a world of her own.

"Nice butt," Nabiki drawled, neither impressed by his
physique nor intimidated by his growl. Especially since she
could still see him sprawled on the ground after she slammed
him in the head with her book-bag.

"What?" Ukyou squeaked, then flushed as he realized
they were now the center of attention of Nabiki's minions.

"I said you have a nice butt," she replied calmly.
"Small, well defined. Not flabby like a lot of guys."

"Yeah?" Noriko moved to take a closer look at
Ukyou's assets. "Some guys are all gross and wrinkly."

"And hairy!" Moeko added, shuddering. "I like 'em
smooth and tight. They make a better sound too."

"Sound?" Ukyou gulped as the girls began to circle
him like sharks smelling blood in the water.

"When ya spank 'em." Moeko answered, the 'stupid'
very obviously left unsaid.

"Spank?" Kimoko's eyes went wide. "Have
you . . .?"

"Heh . . ." Moeko smirked. "I keep _telling_ you that
Doujinshi are educational.

"Ladies, Ladies," Nabiki took pity on Ukyou and
moved between him and her girls. "You're going to make
Ukyou-chan think you're amoral beasts with insatiable
appetites," she paused a beat, "you _are_ of course. But
keep your energies focused on the _important_ things in
life."

"Compound-interest" Moeko said coming to
attention.

"The house percentage." Noriko chimed in, lining up
beside her friend.

"Never give a sucker an even break!" Kimoko slid
into place and all three snapped a crisp salute.

"You make me so proud," Nabiki wiped away an
imaginary tear.

Ukyou watched the four girls share a laugh, then
separate at the next intersection.

"You're all crazy." He muttered, glancing nervously
over his shoulder as they walked. "Yeeeek!" The young
martial artist seemed to levitate four-feet straight up, his
hands flashing behind his back to cover his fundament.

Nibiki looked at him guilelessly. "Something wrong?"

"You _pinched_ me!" Ukyou gasped in outrage. "On
the BUTT!"

"Moi? You must be imagining things."

Ukyou glared and Nabiki stifled a grin as the martial
artist fell back into step with her, well beyond arms reach she
noted. If he wanted to swim with the sharks . . .

Nabiki whistled a cheerful pop tune while Ukyou
maintained a stony silence all the way back to the doujou.
Rolling her eyes as Ukyou followed her into the house, she
decided to ignore him for the moment. Punching a button on
the answering machine she turned to rummage through the
refrigerator.

"This is Fujimoto," a gravely voice came from the
machine. "Uhhhh . . .I think I can use another machine after
all. Uhhhhh . . .if you don't mind. Sorry . . .sorry about what
I said about . . .bratty . . .what I said. Please call me. When
it's convenient."

The machine beeped and a light blinked, waiting for
the erase or save command.

It'll be convenient when hell freezes over, Nabiki
thought savagely to herself, burning with anger as she
remembered the condescending way the old fart had treated
her. She only wished she could afford to give up his business.

"Do you hate all juice?" Ukyou asked gravely, "Or is
it a personal grudge against grape?"

Nabiki stared in confusion, then looked down at the
plastic bottle she was crushing in her hands. "Sorry," she
flushed at being caught in an unguarded moment.
"Ummm . . .would you like something?" She discreetly
shoved the mangled bottle to the back of the refrigerator and
decided on a can of tea instead.

"Some of the same," Ukyou accepted a can of
Oolong and popped the top, drinking from the can while
Nabiki opted for a glass. Taking a sip she walked to the
machine and hit he save button, and waited for the second
and last message.

"Hello?" Kasumi's breathless, almost sultry voice
came slightly distorted from the small speaker. "I . . .stop
that!" A loud smack coincided with a muffled squeal. "I'm
staying at a friends," did neechan just _giggle_ Nabiki
wondered, "so don't worry----Don't do that, you'll just
make the knots tighter-----don't worry about me. There
should be plenty to eat in the pantry, and Nabiki knows
where the checkbook is," another thump and a sound as if
something were bouncing . . .hopping frantically? across the
floor, "Ohhhhh, _naughty_ girl. When I get my hands-----"
Kasumi's voice cut off and the answering machine blinked,
asking save or delete. Automatically Nabiki hit save, staring
at the machine in fascination. What in the _world_ was
neechan up to?

"Junk, bill, bill JMAJ . . .must be for Kasumi," Ukyou
tossed the Journal of the Medical Association of Japan on
the table.

Nabiki looked over her shoulder to see Ukyou
flipping through their mail. "Junk, another bill, Toyama
Prefecture Power Lifting Monthly . . ." he started to toss that
aside, then did a double take. On the cover, under a banner
that shouted 'We Have the POWER!', Akane held a can of
'Ginko Super Complex' in her right hand. With her left, she
straight-armed a small-block V8 engine. Thick cords of
muscle bulged in her arm and the cut-out midriff shirt framed
a granite-hard abdomen. But it was her eyes that caught and
held your attention; a look that said only death would ever
make her let go.

"And they called _me_ crazy for training against the
raging sea?" he muttered to himself, tossing the magazine on
the table.

"An an, Josei Jishin, WITH, Hanako, MORE! " He
shot Nabiki a sly look, waggling the thick bundle of women's
magazines. "Yours?"

"Give me that!" She lunged for the mail which he
held tauntingly out of reach. "You have no right----"

"Hmmm . . . nothing from Genma or Ranma," he
finished looking and tossed the mail on the table, except for a
copy of the best selling Non non. On the cover was a young
model posed with right leg flexed at a perfect ninety degree
angle, left arm pointing to the sky, right hand under the chin.
She looked like some bizarre sculpture; so perfectly
coiffured, outfitted and accessorized that the human
underneath was almost incidental. Merely a convenient rack
to hang the latest trends in clothes, watches and bags. He
glanced at the dozen or so weekly and monthly women's
magazines spread across the kitchen table, then back at
Nabiki.

"I get the feeling that Akane-san's idea of high
fashion is matching barbells, and your big sister seems to be
neat and tidy, but I don't see her as a fanatic about house-
keeping, " He paused, appearing to ponder a complex
problem. "So, unless your father . . .?" He smirked at
Nabiki's fulminating look. "Hmmmm . . .does that mean
Yen-dou Nabiki' has a secret homemaker fetish?"

The skin around Nabiki's eyes tightened, but that was
the only sign of strain as she stared coldly at Ukyou. "They
were my mothers." she said flatly, holding out her hand for
the magazine.

"Oh, hey I'm sorry," Ukyou sounded genuinely
contrite as he handed the magazine to Nabiki. He watched as
she ran a finger over the glossy cover, a sad smile on her
face.

"Your mom, huh?"

Nabiki glared at him, prepared to peal a strip off his
hide if he were being sarcastic, but saw only honest
sympathy.

"She must have been the perfect homemaker," he
commented, looking at the array of magazines covering
everything from gourmet cooking to home-crafts and sewing
your own clothes. "What's so funny?" Ukyou asked, as
Nabiki began to laugh.

"Y . . .you have _no_ idea!" She gasped, tears
streaming down her face as Ukyou's words took her back in
time and she could almost see her mother standing at the
stove . . .


****
****

"Now, this is the critical part," Little Kasumi nodded
solemnly as Tendou Kimeko stared at the page in her
notebook with the same concentration Enrico Fermi might
have had in the Chicago University squash courts in 1942
when he tamed nuclear fire. "First we add just a _dash_ of
sake." Nose still in the notebook she held a bottle over a pot
of water. Deftly Kasumi plucked the bottle of soy-sauce from
her mother's hand and replaced it with one of sake. "Now
for the salt," with the ease of long practice the eldest Tendou
daughter replaced soap-flakes with the required sodium-
chloride and lunch preparations proceeded apace.

"Hmmmmm . . ."Kimeko tapped her chin
thoughtfully, "Now, where are the strawberries?" As Kimeko
looked through the ingredients set out on the table, Kasumi
gasped and lunged for the notebook, flipping frantically
through the pages while her mother was distracted. With a
sigh of relief she found the page Kimeko had somehow
strayed from, just as her mother gave up her search. "Let's
see . . .strawberries" she peered at the recipe ". . . that's
funny. I could have sworn . . ." A brief frown marred her
normally sunny features, then vanished. "Take the strips of
crab-meat and wrap them in cotton cloth-----I wonder if a
paper towel would work just as well?" Behind her mother's
back Kasumi hurriedly rummaged through a drawer, found
the required material and slipped it onto the counter beside
the crab-meat while Kimeko's attention was diverted.

"No paper-towels," Kimeko held aloft a box
triumphantly, "but I found some handy-wipes!"

Kasumi paled and her eyes darted frantically around
the kitchen, looking for inspiration when there was a knock
at the door and she slumped against a counter in relief.

"I'm coming in!" Nabiki's voice came down the hall,
followed moments later by the middle Tendou daughter, and
a middle-aged man in an ill-fitting blue suit and string tie.

"Tendou-san?" The man bowed and held out a card.
Absently Kimeko took it, looking fixedly at the mans arm.

"I am vice-principal Honda . . ." he paused, noting
Kimeko's distraction. "Is something wrong?"

"You have a loose thread!" She sounded positively
pleased. "Kasumi-chan, run get my sewing kit." Kasumi
paused, torn between obedience and fear. Obedience won,
but fear for the well-being of her beloved kitchen lent her
wings as she dashed from the kitchen and up to her mother's
room.

"I'm glad you stopped by Honda-san," she paused to
pour half a bottle of cooking oil into a pot and slide it into
the over, twirling the temperature control like the dial of a
safe, " we don't see nearly enough of you."

"We've never met before." the vice-principal looked
bewildered as he was ushered into the next room.

"And you've come back at _just_ the right
moment----"

"I've never been here before," Honda stated, just a
little doubtfully this time. After all, Tendou-san seemed so
positive.

" -----because there was a wonderful article in Nan
nan . . .or was it MORE!," she shook her head, "No matter.
It was a wonderful article on how to handle just this kind of
emergency." She stripped the jacket from the bewildered
principal just as Kasumi came back in the room, handing the
sewing kit to her mother.

"I've come to you about a very serious matter,
Tendou-san." Honda tried to regain his dignity, sitting in his
shirt sleeves while a pretty young mother fixed a frayed cuff
on his jacket. "Your daughter," he stared sternly at Nabiki
who quailed under his look, "broke a window at school.
_and_, she _lied_ about it." He finished with relish.

"This is serious!" Kimeko exclaimed.

"I'm glad you understand the gravity of the
situation." Honda replied, prepared to be gracious now that
the full majesty and authority of his position had been
reestablished.

"There's a button missing from the pocket!"

Honda opened his mouth to announce he was not
here to discuss buttons, when a shrill alarm split the air. At
almost the same instant Kasumi dashed through the room,
and out the doors into the garden, trailing smoke and flame
from a furiously burning pot she grasped between industrial
oven-mitts,. There was the sound of a splash, followed by a
harsh sizzling sound. Kasumi returned, minus the pot, but
soaked with water, aquatic plants hanging from her hair and
a small koi flopping sadly in her apron pocket. She looked at
the koi, looked at Honda, bowed and retraced her steps,
returning again without the fish and reentered the kitchen.

"A . . .about the window," Honda tried to ignore the
sounds of running water and a turbo-charged garbage
disposal on overload. "And the lying." There was a hissing
sound and a white cloud from a cee-oh-two extinguisher
floated from the kitchen.

"How did you break the window?" Kimeko patted
her knee and Nabiki crawled into her lap.

"I hit a foul ball." Nabiki whispered.

"Well, good for you," Kimeko encouraged.

"What!" Honda was outraged and even Nabiki
seemed surprised.

"What should she have done?" Kimeko said
surprised. "Nasty thing."

"A foul ball in softball," Honda said cautiously,
feeling his way. "The game." he added helpfully. "You throw
a ball at someone and they try to hit it."

"Ohhhh," Kimeko said, the light of understanding in
her eyes. "And did you make a touchdown?" she asked
Nabiki.

"Touch . . ." Honda decided to press on to the more
serious matter. "The fact is that Nabiki-chan did break the
window and then she lied about it when asked."

"Why were you playing Fowl-ball?" she rummaged
through her kit and came up with a button for the jacket
pocket. "I feel sorry for the poor birdies."

Honda's eyes lost focus as he tried to puzzle that one
out.

Faster on the uptake, and with the advantage of
experience Nabiki smoothly made the correction. "Softball.
It's a P.E. class."

"This is a class you're taking?" Kimeko snipped off a
bit of thread.

"Yes," Honda interjected. "PE is required of all
students."

"Well, it's certainly nice of you to come by and
apologize in person," Kimeko examined her handiwork and
appeared satisfied with repairs to his coat.

"A . . .apologize!"

"Yes. It's so nice to see old-fashioned manners these
days." She looked down at her daughter. "Honda-sensei is
_very_ sorry he had people throwing stinky birds at you. That
doesn't at _all_ sound like the kind of thing you should be
learning in school. I'm sure it wasn't your fault," she added
kindly to Honda. "But I'm going to bring it up at the next
parent-teacher meeting."

"But . . .but . . ."Honda stuttered, automatically taking
his jacket and somehow finding himself outside the Tendou
compound, promising to come back soon and bring his lovely
wife and children.

"But I'm not married." He muttered dazedly to
himself, pulling on his jacket. And finding Kimeko had sewed
the sleeve to the pocket.

****
****

"You're kidding?" Ukyou couldn't repress a laugh
over Nabiki's recital.

"The first chapter in her notebook was 'How to boil
delicious water'!" Nabiki sighed. "Not exactly the 'Iron
Chef'."

"Then . . ." Ukyou pointed to the vast array of
women's magazines.

"Mama . . .lived in her own little world . . .she
_created_ worlds, and invited you to live there with her."
Hands jammed in her pockets Nabiki paced the kitchen. "She
couldn't cook, but read all the cooking magazines. Couldn't
balance a checkbook or keep house. But she devoured the
women's journals. I use to _dread_ the mail, because I never
knew what she'd try next. Mama would celebrate your
birthday three time in a month, the _wrong_ month," Nabiki
emphasized, "and tell you she loved having you so much they
should celebrate your birthday _every_ day." Nabiki's tidy
book-keepers mind was revolted at that, "If it was a hard
winter she'd say how pretty the frost looked, if the roof
leaked, she'd make up games about the rain-drops. Every
_damn_ thing in the world made her happy! If the weather
was bad, she'd interrupt class to take everyone on an
_indoor_ picnic, or stop in the middle of the street to watch a
butterfly." Nabiki dashed angry tears from her eyes.

"You miss her, don't you." Ukyou said
sympathetically.

"She never grew up!" Nabiki snapped. "She got sick
because she liked splashing in the puddles when it rained."

"She probably didn't get sick deliberately." Ukyou
comforted, not really sure why, except he understood loss.
His mother was alive in body, but dead to him unless he
could restore the family honor.

"She never grew _up_!" Nabiki's voice cracked. "She
died and she almost killed Akane because she was a little kid."
Her whole body trembled with barely suppressed emotion.
"What the hell business is it of yours!" she suddenly lashed
out, needing something to vent her emotions on.

"None," Ukyou began, embarrassed at intruding
where he shouldn't. "I just thought-----"

Nabiki wrenched around at the crashing sound of
something falling.

"What----?Hey, wait!" Ukyou shouted as Nabiki
dashed from the kitchen and up the stairs.

"Kuno! What the hell?"

Ukyou hit the top stair to see Nabik framed in the
doorway to her fathers room. His hand went to the hilt of his
uber-spatula as he heard Nabiki's shocked exclamation.
"OK," he slid to a stop beside her. "What's goin-----
GENMA!" He was halfway across the room, weapon in hand,
before his furious shout died out.

"DIE, you son-of------"

Genma was amazingly quick for such a big man.

"Get back here you bastard!" Ukyou shouted as he
followed Genma out the window.

"What's going on Kuno?" Nabiki's voice was icy as
she stomped across the room. "What the hell are you doing in
my house?" She waved a hand at shredded bedding and
overturned furniture. "What----"

"None of your business, Tendou Nabiki," Kuno
replied, coldly. As if he were in his own home, not standing in
the middle of the wreckage of Tednou Soun's room.

"None----" Fury choked her throat and her mouth
worked soundlessly. "L----listen to me," Nabiki stuttered,
"you arrogant son of a pigs arse!" She poked him in the chest,
so fast and hard that he took a step back. "All the little
fascist-sons-of-Nippon at Furrinkan might goose step in your
shadow, hoping for a chance to kiss your royal behind, but I
remember when you were six years old and making puddles
on the floor."

Kuno flushed angrily at the reminder of their shared
child-hood.

"What's going on? What are you doing here? With
Saotome Genma?"

"I do not know any Saotome Genma," Kuno replied,
honest confusion in his eyes.

"Dammit, the fat, fast, bald SOB that just did a header
out the window."Nabiki stamped her foot angrily. "What
were the two of you doing?"

"The affairs of 'The Society of Patriotism' are none of
your concern." Kuno replied haughtily, heading for the door,
the lightweight walking-cast on his leg making him move
somewhat stiffly. Nabiki moved to stop him and discovered
anger and guts didn't make up for mass and skill. One instant
she was reaching for Kuno's sleeve, the next she was
watching the floor and ceiling swap places until she slammed
into the wall. A few minutes passed while she lay dazed on
the floor. Finally she pushed off the floor and pulled herself
up, using the wall for support. Dizzy and sick she made her
way to the stairs, every step sending shooting pains up her
back. Making her way to the phone, she punched the speed-
dial and sank to the floor, leaving a smear of blood on the
wall. Leaning against the wall with her eyes closed, she
listened as the phone rang.

"Noriko," she whispered as her friend came on the
phone. " 's N'biki. Stuff's hit the rotary impeller. Got t' find
'em fast. Plan nine."she chuckled weakly at Noriko's
response. "Yeah, from outer space. Jus' do it. An' No-chan?"
she strained to hear Noriko, who sounded as if she were
shouting from the bottom of a well. Why couldn't the girl
speak up? "Doub . . .double th' reward too." Two- hundred
free plays would have every Pachinko player within three
hundred kilometers looking for Genma and the others like
flies on garbage. " 'riko-chan? Call 'mbulance," she slurred,
"think K'no give m' con . . .con . . .broke my head." Slowly
Nabiki slid along the wall to rest on the floor, the receiver
falling from nerveless hands, Noriko's frantic voice a tinny
buzz from the receiver as she hammered questions at Nabiki.
*I'm going to pass out, just like* Nabiki thought, amazed as
blackness closed in. * I'm a martial artist, too.* was her last
disgusted thought.

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