Chapter 3 - Settling Down

Nabiki sat at the table with her father and Kasumi. Ranma and woken up early that morning and insisted on going for a run. When she complained of sore muscles, he pulled out two asprin and a glass of water. It was hard going at first, but Ranma stayed beside her, extorting her to take the next step.

An hour later, and after taking a soak, she had to admit that the run did loosen her muscles and relieved her soreness. She still hurt, though. Most excruciating was bending over to reach her cup of tea.

"Are you alright, Nabiki?" Kasumi mothered.

Nabiki put her cup down on the table and winced in pain.

Her father looked up from the newspaper. "Are you sure about this, Nabiki?" he asked. He put the paper down and looked at his daughter and continued. "You know it doesn't matter to me which of my daughters marry Ranma. I only want you to be happy with your decision."

"I..." Nabiki started to answer before Kasumi interrupted.

"Father, Nabiki has said that she wants to sell the Dojo and live off the profits."

Soun Tendo rushed to Nabiki and grabbed her shoulders and looked her sternly in her eyes. "Nabiki! You must renounce your engagement to Ranma!"

"No, Father. I won't. I am going to marry Ranma."

"I forbid you! If you sell the Dojo, the school will disappear! That must never happen!"

Nabiki looked into her father's eyes and saw fear and terror in his eyes. She tried to remember when she said she'd sell the dojo, and failed. It wasn't like Kasumi to bring something like that up unless she did make such a statement in the past, so she reasoned that she really might have said that she would sell the Dojo. The circumstances now are certainly different than that of the time she made the offending statement; now she was engaged to a top martial artist who would need the Dojo, and she had just started training after a many year absence. For the moment, she needed it.

She was certain that Ranma would never sell the Dojo unless there was something to replace it. And even then, she doubted that he would sell it even in that case; more than once he called the Tendo compound "home." No, he wouldn't want to sell it, and she doubted that she could convince him if his roots set any deeper.

"Daddy, I'm not going to sell the Dojo. Ranma needs it, and so do I. And if we are ever to start teaching again, we'll need it."

Soun took his arms off his daughter's shoulders and looked at her. "You sure."

"Yes, Father. I promise I will not sell the Dojo." She was happy she left the loop-hole of Ranma possibly selling the Dojo if it became absolutely necessary.

Soun sat back down in his place and grabbed the newspaper. "Good."

* * * * * * * *

Nabiki and Ranma were in her room. Ranma was replacing the bandage on her forehead and making sure there weren't any signs of infection.

"So that whole thing yesterday was set up by Akane?" Ranma asked.

"I think so. I'm almost positive she created the flyers, and I'll bet she made sure that Kodachi and Shampoo knew of Ukyo's challenge."

Nabiki looked at him and saw that he had a crushed look on his face. "You liked her, didn't you?"

"What?!" He paused a moment. "That tomboy? No way!"

Nabiki noticed that Ranma wasn't as vehement as he normally was. "That's okay Ranma, I think I know how you feel."

Ranma put a band-aid on her forehead and back away a little. Nabiki brushed a lock of hair away and curious, leaned up and peered into the mirror. Satisfied that the bruise wasn't too visible and that the band-aid didn't make her look too much like a misfit, she sat down again.

"Ranma, what do you think about our engagement?"

"I dunno. I was engaged to Akane for so long, I guess it hasn't really sat in yet." He looked at the older girl and continued after a pause. "You haven't hit me yet. This is the longest time I think I've ever gone without being hit by a fiancée."

Nabiki smiled.

"And you haven't yet taken all the money I have."

Nabiki looked at him with a hurt face. When Ranma panicked, she smiled at him. "Well, I think that would be pointless. Once we're married, I'll have it all anyway."

"Huh?"

"Oh, come on Ranma. You did know that the wife is responsible for all financial matters in the household, didn't you?"

Ranma scratched the top of head. "Uh. I guess I do now," he said. Ranma finished putting the first-aid kit back together and then asked, "You're serious aren't you?"

Nabiki captured his eyes, "Didn't my getting you up in the middle of the night for a talk convince you? Or the fact that I'm actually practiced the art for one day mean anything?"

Meekly, Ranma responded with, "I guess you are."

Nabiki grabbed a towel and stood up. "Come on Ranma. You said you were going to show me how to kick this morning."

* * * * * * * *

Bored in class the following Monday, Ranma tossed a note to Akane that simply said, "You still mad?" A moment later it came back to him. He unwrapped it, and read the one word reply, "Idiot!" Being trained that an insult requires a response, he scribbled his response of, "Who's the idiot, idiot?"

The return message was a book thrown at Ranma's face. Inside the book was her reply, "Idiot!" written several times inside its cover.

Ranma slammed the book on his desk and shouted, "Damn it, Akane! Will you quit being so stubborn!"

Akane stood and answered the challenge, "So what! You want to fight about this?"

A moment later, they both found themselves standing the hallway, holding buckets of water. Neither of them looked at each other.

"This is stupid," Ranma said. "You're the one with the hate thing going on."

Akane kept her eyes on the far wall as she responded. "What's wrong? Don't you like Nabiki?"

Ranma looked at Akane as he considered his answer. It was not only what she said, but also how she said it. It almost sounded as a challenge, so he responded in kind, "As a matter of fact, I do like her. She's been nice to me so far, and she isn't prone to strange mood swings. And now that I think about it, she's kinda pretty."

Akane turned to see Ranma looking at her, and he continued, "So still want to fight about it?"

The expression on Akane's face softened a little. "No. It's not worth fighting over."

Ranma thought the expression on Akane's face was kind of cute. "So, are you going to make up with her?"

Akane's face hardened a little for a second and then it relaxed into sadness. "I don't know if I can. What I did was pretty harsh."

"I think Nabiki would forgive you if you asked."

"Me forgive her? She should give me the apology! She took what is mine!"

"But you took them all back. And she promised not to do it again."

"Augh!" Akane threw her bucket at Ranma. "You IDIOT!"

Ranma, now a girl, watched a tear form in Akane's eye. Akane turned and dashed down the hallway.

* * * * * * * *

Ranma met Nabiki under a Sakura tree at the end of lunch. "What did you say to Akane?"

Ranma turned around in embarrassment. "Um, well..." He tried to collect his thoughts for the moment. Nabiki's question meant that Akane ran up to her. "I asked her to apologize to you."

"You mean when you told her that you like me?" The whole school either head Akane calling Ranma an idiot, or had heard about it via an incredibly accurate grapevine.

He liked all the Tendo girls, but he actually said he liked Nabiki, and the whole school knows he said it. He didn't like her in a romantic sort of way, and he certainly wouldn't call her a "best friend". But he did like her. Could he fall in love with Nabiki? Could she be a good wife? He didn't know, but now that he was engaged to her, he had the opportunity to find out. From his point of view, he was still very leery of Nabiki and her mercenary and Machiavellian view of the world, but that was the public persona she had; she may (he hoped) had a more personable side to her in private. At least this time, he had the experience of making mistakes with Akane.

Akane. A pang of regret washed over him when he thought of her. He really did like her, but if his father or her father ever heard that, they would have been married within hours of his admission. He acknowledged his feelings but soldiered on. His father taught him that regrets don't fix the past and that it's better to do better in the future. Eventually, he intellectually knew, he'd get over it.

He quickly looked at Nabiki from the corner of his eye and turned away again. Ranma at the ground and rubbed his hands together in nervousness. He moved his mouth, but he couldn't get his vocal cords to work.

"I didn't hear you, Ranma."

Ranma peeked back towards Nabiki and saw that she was looking away. He guessed by her body language that she had an emotional investment in his answer. Ranma started sweating. "Yeah. I said I like you."

Nabiki came up to Ranma and stood very close to him. She peered up at his face stared into his eyes and asked, "You like me?"

"Yeah. Uh, I like you...."

Nabiki's eyes brightened and she broke into a smile. "Oh! I'm so happy! Nobody ever said they liked me before!"

Ranma stood there, afraid that she was going to give him an Amazon style hug, but when she stood there with a goofy smile on her face and her hands holding her cheeks, he figured he was safe for the moment. The expression on her face changed to something a little more serious, but she still smiled.

"Stay here for a moment, Ranma. I'll be right back."

Ranma leaned against the tree and watched Nabiki run off to a group of boys under a nearby tree. He was trying to make sense of what he said earlier when he made his confession to Akane. It was amazing how so few words could change a person's life. He started to worry that his comment was going to taken out of context. He did like Nabiki, and he hoped that Nabiki wouldn't turn into another Ukyo, Shampoo, or Kodachi.

He turned around and saw Nabiki standing next to him with her hands behind her back. "Hey, um, Nabiki?"

"Yeah?"

Ranma saw some papers drop behind Nabiki. "Oops!" she said

It was easy to see that they were photographs of his girl form. He picked up a few and looked at them. "What are these, exactly?"

Nabiki closed her eyes as she responded, "Oh, Ranma. How would it look if I didn't carry pictures of my fiancée?"

Ranma looked at Nabiki and wasn't fooled. She had a long history of selling pictures of him half naked. He became angry and called her out, "You were selling them."

Nabiki put on a hurt look. "Only the duplicates."

Ranma looked at the photos. On one level, he didn't consider that the girl in the pictures was really him. Ranma Saotome was a male, and the female part was just a curse he had to bear until he could find way to get rid of the damn thing. But, it was him. Everything that happened to her was in his memories. Her life was his. This was one of those situations where he had to accept his curse and deal with his feminine side.

Many of the pictures were of him running around the house, a few were of him in some fight with an unseen opponent. He noted that most of the pictures were of him without a top on, but that didn't bother him, as modesty wasn't something he cared much for. What bothered him was that Nabiki was now his fiancée, and this was something he didn't think that his fiancée should be doing. When Nabiki was the sister of his fiancée, it wasn't an issue; Nabiki was Nabiki, and at best, a future sister-in-law. He wasn't going to have to live with her for the rest of his life.

He didn't mind it when she "rented" him to the Martial Arts team on Friday, but there had to be a limit.

Being engaged to her changed his perspective. He wasn't sure if he wanted a wife that worked, much less one that worked in a darker side of society. He was going to have to come to an agreement with her if they were going to get married.

Get married. It wasn't even a week yet, and he was already thinking about being married to her. She sure had a way of drilling in a simple concept into his head.

"Nabiki..."

Nabiki crossed her arms and put on a stern face. "How am I going to make a little spending money? Do you know how much money those pictures bring in?"

Ranma knew. He had overheard many different negotiations. It was astounding how much money she could bring in when she tried. It was still wrong to do it.

"Nabiki..."

Nabiki relaxed and broke her eye contact with Ranma. "Ranma, we need to work this out."

The bell rang, and lunch was over. Everyone, including Ranma and Nabiki, started walking back to the school.

Nabiki continued as they walked in. "We'll talk about this at home. Okay?"

"Yeah. I guess."

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

Chapter 4 - Not Ready, but Getting Ready

Nabiki and Ranma arrived to a silent house when they arrived at home after school. They walked past the kitchen and saw that a small flash of something in the tea-room. Ranma took the lead and carefully entered the room, ready to defend himself from an attack. Nabiki took her place at the entrance, ready to bolt for the front door if she needed to.

"Surprise!" The doors to the engawa opened revealing Soun, Genma and Kasumi. Behind him a banner unfurled that said, "Congratulations Ranma and Nabiki!"

Nabiki noted that the name "Akane" was crossed out and her name was written above it. She knew where this was going, and immediately tried to take control of the situation before something bad happened.

"What are you congratulating us for?"

"Your impending wedding!"

"What wedding?"

Nabiki grabbed Ranma by the shirt and pulled him into the hallway. She didn't let go of him when she started talking, "Saotome, listen to me. Do not say a word when we go back in there. Let me do all the talking."

"I ain't getting married," he protested.

"Ranma, what did I say? We are, I repeat, we are, getting married." Nabiki let go of his shirt but kept his attention by maintaining eye contact. "But we aren't getting married until we say we are getting married." Nabiki brushed a lock of hair away from her face, and smiled at him. She took a step away and indicated that he was to follow her back in.

After nearly falling on top of the eavesdropping family members, Nabiki crossed her arms and waited for her father to say something. The wait was a little longer than she expected, as he was crying again, but she wasn't sure what for. Eventually, he spoke, "Nabiki is going to get married!"

"And when do you think I'm getting married?" She tried to keep her voice level and even. Although this was very personal, it was also a business negotiation.

Soun looked at his daughter and stopped crying long enough to say, "This weekend! We have everything planned! It'll be so beautiful!"

Nabiki looked at Ranma and put on a smile that reeked of conspiracy. "So, Ranma, what do you think? Should we get married one year from this weekend?" She winked for good measure to let him know that she expected him to play along.

"One year? Yeah, I guess that'll be okay."

Nabiki walked up to the platter of food on the table and sat down. "Great!" she started. "Now Daddy, tell me about the wedding you have planned?"

Soun's eyes dried and he stood in front of daughter. "Nabiki," he sternly said, "the wedding is this weekend. Not next year."

Nabiki nonchalantly took a cookie and handed it to Ranma before taking a bite of her own. "Don't you think we should get to know each other before we get married? We haven't even been on a date yet."

Soun looked at the fat man in the dingy white gi for support, and true to form, Genma was there for his friend.

"But Ranma already said he liked you. Why wait?" Genma said.

Nabiki shoved a cookie in Ranma's mouth to prevent him from answering. The action wasn't missed by anyone on the table. "Just because," she said, "he said he likes me doesn't mean we're ready to get married."

Nabiki handed Ranma a cup full of milk so he could wash the massive cookie he was still chewing. "And just because I kind of like him too doesn't mean I'm ready to start having babies or anything like that."

Ranma spewed the milk and cookies all over the table. Soun and Genma dropped their mouths in shock. And all Kasumi could do was say "Oh, my!"

* * * * * * * *

After everyone recovered from her "like" and "baby" remark and the table was cleaned, the wedding negotiations began in earnest. At first Nabiki made good progress in making sure that the wedding wouldn't be until Ranma graduated at the earliest, and kept the cost of the wedding and reception down. Then there was the discussion of families, and the "baby" remark came back to haunt her.

When told that she actually made the remark, she lost her objectivity and her father slipped in her name instead of Ranma's. The final agreement was that she and Ranma would get married after she graduated.

Luck was on their side however, as Ranma spoke up and corrected Soun. He said that his daughter agreed to getting married after she graduated. Ranma caught him in a trap of words and pointed out that the agreement was "after", and not "when" or "as soon as". Ranma also pointed out the fact that the discussion was based upon his graduation.

Nabiki recovered herself at this point, and said that the agreement is based upon graduations, and it wasn't specified which graduation. If one of them went to college or to trade school, the agreement applied to the final graduation, not the graduation from Furinkan.

Kasumi spoke up at that point and asked what if they wanted to get married before then. Nabiki said if she and Ranma wanted to get married earlier, then they will.

* * * * * * * *

Ranma was in Nabiki's room, supposedly studying but really was reflecting on the day's events. He sarcastically muttered to Nabiki, "That was a great job negotiating."

Nabiki put her elbows on the desk and hung her head in her palms, "I can't believe I made such a stupid mistake."

"And now you know our fathers are going to come up with every stupid plan in the book to make us want to get married soon.

"If you think Akane and I had it bad, you just wait and see." Ranma shivered at the memory of the look of his father's and Soun's eyes when Nabiki said they might get married sooner.

They both studied for the next hour or so. Ranma wasn't sure how much time had passed, but he noted that Nabiki changed the tape in her player twice before she called it quits for the night.

She stretched lazily and leaned back in her chair. The workout that afternoon after the negotiations was very hard. It was obvious to her that Ranma was using the session as a way to work out the stress he just went through. As a result, he pushed her a little harder than he had the previous two times.

"Ranma?" she asked sleepily, "Can you give me another back rub?"

And it ended with another cry of, "Pervert!"

* * * * * * * *

"So, son. When are you going to take her out on a date?" Genma and Soun were sitting at the shogi table and were looking at the board hoping the color of the pieces would change to their liking.

"Yes, Ranma. My daughter said she had not been on a date with you yet. You don't want to disappoint her, do you?"

"Uh, no. I dunno. This weekend, maybe?"

"Excellent!" the father chorused.

* * * * * * * *

Nabiki's first date with Ranma was about to start, she found herself standing in front of a hedge-maze, waiting for her fiancée. She took a deep breath and felt the strap of the purse she held in her hands, reminding herself that she vowed that she wouldn't look at her watch to find out what time it was. Nabiki had arrived at the park a little early to scout out potential escape routes if they were interrupted, and since that took less time than she anticipated, she had a bit of free time on her hands.

The afternoon in the maze wasn't she wanted on a date; she would have preferred to be taken out for dinner and dancing, but that may have been asking too much of Ranma. As it was, he probably was pressured to ask her out. She was a little surprised when he did ask her, she was almost willing to bet that she was going to have to ask him to go out with her.

She pulled the compact out of her purse and checked her hair and make-up one last time. She was taught that first impressions were important, and that was why she wore the kimono when Ranma first arrived. Even though they've known each other for a few months, she thought that they were starting all over again, and she wanted to make sure he had a positive impression of her.

She took her time getting ready for the date that morning, not because she was excited about going out with Ranma, but because she used the time to plan what she was going to do with him. She had to be careful that she didn't push him away, but she didn't want to turn him into a lovesick puppy dog either.

She had to plan for the other fiancées as well. She knew she had a tough battle keeping Ranma from straying to Ukyo or Shampoo. In the race for Ranma, the other girls had a head start, and as a latecomer, she has a lot of catching up to do. She knew she had a chance, simply because the other girls often became too possessive and demanding of his attentions. If she could find the balance between possessiveness and freedom and avoid getting into battles with everyone else, she figured she could quickly catch up and possibly pass the other girls.

Nabiki had a basic plan that she was going to follow: she was going to gain Ranma's trust and confidence. She was experienced in gating a person's trust; it was one of the most important tools in her line of "work." She knew how to get a person to open up and to listen to her ideas and accept them. She had the patience to work her way through a person's defenses and find the necessary catches for her hooks. But what she needed was time.

She wasn't under the illusion it was going to be an easy task. It would be easy enough to drive him away or to keep him at arms length; she's been doing that for months now. But now she was the hunter and he was the prey, and she wanted to bring him in carefully so that he wouldn't know he'd been bagged.

She had another worry as well. Did she like Ranma enough to stick to her resolution? And if she did, was there a danger of falling for him? It was possible that she could, for he did have that rough edge that made him attractive.

In the back of her mind, in an unconscious corner, one incident replayed itself over and over again -- Ranma said she liked her, aloud and never denied it that she knew of. She knew his admission wasn't because of romantic feelings, but it was sincere. It touched her, and she didn't know how much until she accidentally said that she liked Ranma.

And now her date was about to start.

"Nabiki!"

She turned around to see Ranma approaching with a bouquet of flowers in his hands. It looked to be roses from the distance. As he closed in, she saw that the wrapping was badly wrinkled. It was obvious that he had a rough time making it to the date.

"Hello, Ranma." Nabiki said. She ignored the flowers in his hands with the hope that he'll try to do it right. Maybe he learned something about courting girls from Akane.

Ranma looked a little nervous and his eyes darted to the sides before saying anything. His "hi, Nabiki" was a little uneasy. Nabiki watched his face turn a little red.

"Sorry about these roses I brought for you. I had a run in with Shampoo, and she thought that they were for her."

Ranma sheepishly held out the bouquet. Nabiki gracefully took it and looked at the roses. Several of the stems were obviously broken, but the buds themselves were still in perfect shape. Given Ranma' story, she was impressed with his determination to protect her flowers. She smiled and nodded her head, "Thank you, Ranma!"

Ranma quietly led her to the entrance of the maze and took one last look around before letting out a sigh.

"What is it, Ranma? You look nervous." Nabiki said as she stepped into the maze. It was the first time in it for her, and she was curious how long it would take the two of them to come out the other side.

"Just making sure nobody else is following me."

Ranma and Nabiki stepped out of the maze to see Ukyo and her portable Okonomiyaki cart. Ukyo was waving enthusiastically at them, so the two strolled over.

"Hi, Uc-chan! I'm surprised to see you here today."

The chef put on a happy face and wiped her hands on her apron as she said, "Oh, I thought I needed a change of scenery."

Nabiki's voice lacked warmth, but was at least polite. "Hello, Ukyo."

Ukyo didn't even acknowledge Nabiki. Instead, she started talking to Ranma, saying, "How could you go out with that heartless woman?"

And without missing a beat, Ukyo then turned to Nabiki, "And you should give up. My Ran-chan will see whatever cruel plan you have in mind for him. And when he does, he'll come running to me."

Ranma started to sweat. Ukyo was challenging Nabiki, and if it escalated to violence, the more experienced Ukyo would easily beat Nabiki. He had to ensure that the battle stayed verbal.

"I doubt that will ever happen, Ukyo. You see, I'm not Akane. I won't go hitting him whenever he makes a mistake. And if we ever fight, I hope we can work it out like two civilized people."

Ukyo regarded her opponent for a moment before responding, "I don't know what you see in this ugly, old woman anyway. I'm your cute fiancée."

Nabiki looked at Ranma and saw an opportunity; Ukyo made a very bad tactical mistake. She put on a hurt face and started to force tears into her eyes and started to sob, "You think I'm too ugly and old for you?"

As Nabiki predicted, Ranma started to go into hysterics. Ranma waved his arms and stuttered, "Eep! Aaaah! Errr. No. No. I don't care about age."

Nabiki looked up at him, and egged him on, "You don't?"

Ranma gained enough composure to not stutter, "Nope. Not at all."

Nabiki stepped away and stared at Ukyo in defiance for a moment before looking at Ranma again. It was time to play the second part of her plan.

"Ranma. She was mean. She said I was ugly." Again, she put on her hurt puppy-dog look that was irresistible to Ranma. She wasn't disappointed in the results. His voice, though, was surprisingly confident.

"You're not ugly, Nabiki. You're pretty. I said that before."

Nabiki noticed that Ranma was actually looking at her when he made the claim. She knew that she was honest when he said that, and it was an ego boost that she didn't expect. Nabiki looked over to Ukyo and saw that Okonomiyaki chef was hurt.

Knowing that she had won this round, Nabiki took Ranma's arm and escorted him away, saying, "Since you've been so nice to me today, I'm treating you to ice cream."

---------------------------

I'm not sure if I'll ever get around to finishing this thing. I may end up merging it with another story that is also stalled.

Whatever.

I hope you enjoyed it...