Most of the Furinkan High students waiting at the gate felt somewhat confused when Ranma arrived with the wrong Tendou sister. They'd naturally expected him to be with Akane, but instead it was Nabiki. Naturally, the obvious rumor took form almost immediately.
"D'ya think Akane dumped him again?"
"Passed him onto Nabiki, poor girl."
"She doesn't look too worried about it."
"She will soon enough, mark my words."
"Ranma doesn't look very worried about it either, I don't think..."
"Akane certainly seems angry about something."
"Hey, if she's not engaged to Ranma any more d'ya think...?"
"No use losing teeth now, better confirm it first."
Near the gate, as usual, stood Tatewaki Kuno, the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High, seventeen years old but quickly going on eighteen by now, bokken in hand and confusion on his face, though he did his utmost to mask it.
"Hark, yon sorcerer has decided one fair Tendou is not sufficient to slake his moral depravity."
As Ranma took a moment to decipher what the upperclassman had said, Nabiki stepped up. "Kuno-baby, rest your blade. As many fiancees as Ranma's got, I assure you I'm not one of them."
"You speak truth, my favored purveyor?"
"On my honor," Nabiki swore, dubious as her honor was, "I am not engaged to Ranma Saotome in any way, shape, or form."
The audience murmured.
"Big sister is," she revealed. A well-timed thunder cracked.
"Oh shit here we go," Ranma mumbled, dropping his bag in eager anticipation of a fight.
"What!? You would tell me that this vile cur would despoil the fairest and purest Tendou of all?" Kuno cried out, then dropped the dramatic speech. "And you let him?"
"Well Kuno-baby," Nabiki explained after taking a second to process how normal 'Tacchi' could sound, "I don't know how you and sis can be so blind to the facts -- not that I'm complaining -- but I've known Ranma for almost a year now and I can tell you and Akane right now with full conviction that he is not a vile sorcerer nor a pervert."
"Truly, even with so many fair lasses under his thrall?" (ah, 'Tatewaki' was back!)
"Sis how can you even think that?" Akane cried out. "He was practically fondling Kasumi!"
"I was practically unconscious!" Ranma defended loudly.
Nabiki merely facepalmed. "Sometimes I have to wonder who's stupider," she muttered to herself. Only she knew if that comparison included Ranma or not. "Ranma, just come here and knock Kuno out already."
"Ah, finally something that makes sense! Thanks, Nabs," Ranma called out as he happily jumped up to deliver a kick to Kuno's numb skull.
All good things must come to an end, of course, and that included the idea of a school day in Furinkan making sense. Even accounting for the angry glares Akane kept giving Ranma during class -- those were really nothing new when one thought about it. During lunch however, Akane found herself accosted by Kuno.
"Oh beauteous Akane Tendou," the insane swordsman crooned. "Now that you are free from the foul sorcerer Saotome's enthrallment, come to my arms and embrace me! We may finally elope in peace!"
It was almost like the guy had no ability to produce long-term memory, or at the very least a very selective ability.
As Akane valiantly fought off her wanna-beau, Ranma sat on the lawn with his sorta-kinda buddies Hiroshi and Daisuke.
"Give it to us straight, Ranma ol' buddy, ol' pal. What actually happened?" Hiroshi started.
"Y'really wanna know, huh?"
"Wouldn't ask if we didn't," Daisuke confirmed.
"Okay, but I'll only tell ya once. I woke up early, found Kas already up and about'a make breakfast, so I thought I'd offer to help. It was nice, y'know?"
"From what I know of Kasumi Tendou, I think I can imagine how nice that might've been," Hiroshi agreed, then quickly amended, "I didn't mean that in a perverted sense."
"Good, I'd have to bop ya otherwise. Anyway, 'Kane thought I had... ulterior motives, I think they're called?"
"Posterior?" Daisuke jokingly 'helped'.
"No man, 'ulterior' is right. Please, continue."
"Heheh. So Pops and I get our morning spar in, and well, y'know that koi pond we got?"
The boys nodded.
"The absolute tool bashed one a' those rocks against my head! Like he'd forgotten that one time."
"Horrifying thought right there," Hiroshi shivered.
"So the next bit's just what I pieced together afterward but apparently I stumbled into Kasumi's arms 'n she hugged me."
"And then of course Akane went ballistic and dumped my ass onto Kasumi," Ranma finished. Seeing a raging swordsman running up to his lunch spot, Ranma considered how the overall day'd gone and made a decision.
"Fuck this, not gonna let him ruin my day. Guys, if the teachers ask where I'm at, tell 'em Akane helped make my lunch."
"Harsh, Saotome," Daisuke scolded with sarcasm written all over his face, and watched Ranma Saotome run from a fight.
"I'm back!" Ranma called out as he entered the Tendou home.
"Welcome back~" Kasumi replied as expected. "You're early."
"Wasn't gonna let Kuno ruin my day," Ranma summarized as he entered the kitchen. "Y'need anything, Kas?"
"I was actually about to go grocery shopping, but thanks."
"Hold up, Kas," Ranma stopped her. He stood and considered his options for a moment. "How much d'ya usually get?"
"Oh, enough for one or two days, depending. A good bag or two," Kasumi answered, holding up a shopping bag.
"A'ight. How many bags y'got?"
"Five, I think. Why?"
"What if I came with? With me along you could carry all five and last like... almost a week in one trip," Ranma offered with a smile, then frowned. "Did I do that math right?"
"Close enough. Thank you for the offer," Kasumi said in acceptance, finding herself reaching for the boy's bare arms. He didn't flinch or step back, or say anything at all when she prodded his biceps, remarkably firm even at rest. "Yes, you probably could carry four bags."
Handing four empty shopping bags to Ranma and keeping the fifth for herself, Kasumi turned to leave. "Shall we be off then, dearest?" she teased.
"Yer killin' me here, Kasumi."
The actual shopping was uneventful enough, save for some of the shopkeepers remarking on how Ranma was there to help carry the goods. Some of them seemed a little sad that Kasumi wouldn't have much reason to come back as soon as usual, but most apparently had some awareness of how busy she was and understood what Ranma secretly had in mind with his offer all along: to give Kasumi more free time.
On the way back, another good time decided now would be an excellent time to demonstrate that history repeats for many things, including such abstractions as "good times".
The only warning the happy shoppers got was a sharp ring-ring before a certain bicycle, belonging to and ridden by a certain Chinese girl, embedded its front tire into Ranma's forehead, and Ranma used that warning to drop his bags.
"Ni hao, airen! You help carry food for Nice Girl? Is good training for married life!"
Shampoo hopped off her bike, leaving it balancing on her love interest's head as she moved to give him her usual tight embrace.
"Erk, Shampoo, would you mind?" Ranma struggled to say as the busty warrior waitress rubbed herself all over him in public.
"Oh my. Dear Shampoo really should learn to appreciate her beloved's feelings," Kasumi pondered out loud as she watched Ranma try not to touch Shampoo inappropriately, yet Shampoo kept trying to place her body such that Ranma had to.
"Nice Girl stay out of Shampoo business," Shampoo retorted, then realized she was talking to Kasumi. "Please?"
Kasumi put down her shopping bag, reached deep into Shampoo's mass of silken hair, and firmly grasped her by the neck. Dormant instincts, deeply buried in the back of Shampoo's mind, flared to momentary life as her whole body went slack in Kasumi's grip, releasing her hold on Ranma. With a soft mew, Shampoo let Kasumi pull her away from her airen.
"You'll be good, right Shampoo dear?" Kasumi asked as she gently manoeuvred Shampoo into a sitting position on the street.
Shampoo nodded as an impressed Ranma removed the bike from his head and picked up his bags.
"We'll be off then. Nice meeting you, Shampoo dear."
When the new couple disappeared around the corner, Shampoo realized her position.
"What just happen?"
"Ranma?" Kasumi said as she put the kettle on while Ranma put away the last of the groceries.
"How do you feel about Shampoo?"
Ranma nearly dropped a leek. "What a question."
"Just be honest with me. I won't be angry."
As if it's possible to be dishonest with her, Ranma thought. "Well," he started as he joined Kasumi in the living room, "Shampoo is... well, she's nice, I guess? Looks good, smells great. Excellent fighter too, real important."
"Of course it is," Kasumi interjected, not a hint of sarcasm on her lips. Being an excellent fighter was an important trait for Ranma's friends to have.
"I just wish she wasn't so... clingy, y'know?"
"I think I know, yes."
"She's got tight embraces down to an art. I don't wanna give her any wild ideas about how I might feel towards her, but the way she holds onto me I can't grab her and push her off without a handful a' boob," Ranma explained as the kettle went off.
"Oh my yes, I thought I noticed as much." Kasumi quickly retrieved the kettle, returned to her seat, and poured them both a cup of tea. "How do you feel about her though? Anything romantic?"
Ranma took a deep breath and stretched in his seat, reminding himself that Kasumi wouldn't get angry. "Oh, that's a good question, really. There might be something there, but I wouldn't say I love her in a romantic sense... not really. I mean sure there's a bit of manly pride in there--"
"A bit?" Kasumi interrupted with a smile.
"Okay, a lotta male pride, in 'having a hot girl on each arm'," Ranma finger-quoted, "but I'd chalk that one down to machismo, to the whole 'man among men' thing."
"Ah yes, that," Kasumi lightly scoffed as Ranma took a big swig of his tea.
"I'll admit it. I know it's wrong ta think like that. Ever since I got back I've been learnin' otherwise. But between my own damn pride and Pops' acceptance 'n shit, it's hard to be even a little sensitive."
Ranma took a small, measured sip of his tea.
"So yeah, if there was no other engagements and maybe she didn't wanna murder my dumb ass for defeatin' her back then, Shampoo and I might've been lovers, I guess? Like, if I hadn't been a girl at the time? I figure that sorta thing could really sour a relationship."
"Would you take her out on a date if she wasn't so clingy?"
"I dunno. Can friends go out with friends, as friends?"
"I don't think it'd still count as a 'date' then, but yes."
"I think I might like that. Just take her out every now and then as friends. Maybe bring the others along... if they don't kill each other."
"Wouldn't that be nice," Kasumi imagined as she nursed her cup of tea.
"Yeah. Too bad the old ghoul's so set on those laws. I figure Shampoo could be talked into not callin' me 'airen' but good luck talkin' Cologne outta callin' me 'son-in-law'," Ranma half-joked as he slammed back the rest of his tea.
"Or at the very least use it as a nickname," Kasumi offered. "I quite like the sound of it, to be honest... airen."
Ranma blushed. "Don't even think of it... not yet."
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