Standard Disclaimer: I created none of these characters. I make no money. I only have fun.
TRIALS OF LOVE
Nabiki breathed in the fresh air as she made her way across the bridge stretching over the canal below. She marveled in the feeling of serenity that it brought to her. Nerima may have been a small community but it was still a pretty close to Tokyo, so its air was somewhat polluted. Not by much but it was still noticeable.
Not like it was here. All around her, the air smelled crisp and clean. Looking beyond the few buildings in front of her, Nabiki could see the pristine beauty of the mountains and forest. The sight was more than enough to fill her with a deep sense of peace.
Peace. Now that was a feeling she hadn't known in over two years, not since one Ranma Saotome and his father arrived at her family home and dojo. The chaos that followed was like something out of one of those weird Anime shows her sister, Akane, enjoyed watching from time to time.
Nabiki shrugged off the memories as she continued across the bridge. Instead she thought back to her task at hand: looking for a place to stay while she pursued a business degree from Tokyo University. It was still a breathtaking thought to Nabiki that she had been able to get in to such a prestigious institution. Of course, it was what she had been preparing herself for ever since she had first started high school. Now those long nights of studying had finally paid off.
When she reached the end of the bridge, she looked around, trying to get her bearings and recall the directions she had gotten from her student advisor. He had told Nabiki that there was a large inn in this area. It used to be a hot springs resort but now it was being used as an all-girl's dormitory. That was the big thing that appealed to her. In this place she wouldn't have to worry about being reminded of HIM?
Nabiki sighed as she sat down on a bench she found at the end of the bridge. Normally, she prided herself on keeping her emotions hidden. After all, she was the Ice Queen of Furinkan High. It was a skill she had worked very hard to perfect and one that had served her well over her high school career. Truth be told, it was the secret to her success as a "mercenary girl". It had also probably saved her life in the past twelve months as well.
It was a time in her life that Nabiki would never forget nor would she ever want to. For the first time in her life since her mother had died, she had truly felt loved. As she rested herself, she thought back to the day after the failed wedding, back to the day that had changed her life forever.
Nabiki cringed. She had known that sooner or later he would come looking for her. There was no way she could keep what she had done a secret even with her resources. Sooner or later, one of the many wedding crashers would tell who it was that had let them know about the wedding. The only thing that she could do was try to talk her way out of it. She would have to think fast, she knew. Judging by the footsteps coming up the stairs, she only had about five seconds
Placing her mask of neutrality on her face, Nabiki pretended to be interested in the manga in her hands. When Ranma burst through the door, she only spared him a fleeting glance. This, of course, only served to increase his already intense irritation towards her.
"I do hope you have a good reason for barging into my room without knocking," Nabiki said casually. Ranma was not impressed.
"Why did you do it, Nabiki?"
Nabiki set down the manga and faced him with the intent of staring him down like she always did. This time, however, something was different. Maybe it was the genuine guilt she felt inside. Maybe it was the fear over what he might do to her because of her role in the wedding fiasco. Perhaps it was even the thought of what her sisters would think of her when they learned of the part she had played. For whatever reason, when her eyes met Ranma's, her Ice Queen expression melted away until tears began to form in her eyes.
Ranma had really not known what to expect from Nabiki for an answer. To that end he had resolved himself to be ready for anything and not let her talk her way out of the situation. Unfortunately, Nabiki crying was the one thing he could never have prepared himself for. All the anger that he had been carrying evaporated at the sight of the open and exposed girl in front of him. Not knowing what else to do Ranma closed the door and sat down on the bed beside the middle Tendo daughter.
"Hey now, there's no reason to cry," Ranma said nervously. "It's not like I was gonna hit ya or nothin." He saw that this wasn't helping and, being Ranma, just continued to talk. "I mean it's not like I wanted to get married or anything. I just wanted to know why you did it, that's all." Ranma stopped rambling when he realized that Nabiki's cries had quieted. He looked up to find Nabiki looking right into his eyes.
"Do you really mean that, Ranma?" she asked, her eyes still red.
Ranma began to panic as he stuttered to get words out of his mouth that made sense. "Well I…That is…I mean I…" He didn't get much further before Nabiki brought her hand up and slapped him across the face. It seemed to do the trick as Ranma focused on her again.
"Hey, what was that for?"
"I needed to snap you out of it because I want an honest and straight forward answer. DO YOU LOVE AKANE?" Nabiki gave Ranma a look that left him with no doubt as to how serious she was. Finally, he swallowed hard and looked down.
"Yes, I love Akane." As he was looking down, he was unable to see Nabiki's face fall into a look of despair, so he continued without pausing. "I also love you and Kasumi."
Nabiki's eyes went wide with shock. This was not an answer she had been expecting. "What exactly are you saying, Ranma?" She was sure she wasn't going to like his answer.
"Well, this is the first real home I've ever had. To me, that makes you all my family." Ranma raised his head and looked at Nabiki. "I know it's not what our dads want, but there's just no way that I could ever feel anything more than that about Akane?"
"What about me?" Nabiki asked him.
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"You wanted to know why I stopped the wedding, right?" Seeing Ranma's nod, she continued. "It wasn't just because I didn't want to see you married to Akane. It was because I couldn't bear to see you married to anyone. At least, anyone but me." Nabiki bit her lip and waited for Ranma's reaction.
Ranma, for once, didn't have anything to say. He just sat there looking at Nabiki with a neutral expression on his face. Finally, he got up and walked over to the window. He stared at the stars for a few moments and then finally found his voice.
Nabiki just blinked in confusion behind him. "I don't understand, Ranma."
"How long has it been since you decided that you were in love with me?"
Nabiki thought for a few minutes. It had never really occurred to her before just when it was she realized what her feelings were. When she had first met Ranma and learned about his curse, she regarded him as a freak. She had, of course, recognized the potential for making money off of him early on but that was as far as her interest in him had extended. She remembered when she had tricked Akane into switching the engagement over to her so she could further exploit him. She also recalled how Ranma had ignored Akane to save her when the railing they were standing on had given way beneath them. Nabiki's eyes opened at the realization.
"Do you remember when we were engaged for awhile?" Nabiki asked him.
Ranma frowned. "I remember you sold my 'services' to so many people that I barely had the energy to make it home each night."
"What about when you caught me after the terrace broke?"
Ranma's look softened as he thought back to that incident. "Yeah, I remember. What about it?"
"I think that's when I started to fall in love with you. It was the first time in a long time that I actually felt safe. It was like I knew as long as you held me, nothing could hurt me." Nabiki got up and walked towards Ranma. He saw her coming in the window and turned to face her unsure of what he was supposed to say or do. He was further stunned when Nabiki caressed his cheek with her hand.
"Ranma, I know I'm not a martial artist like Akane. I can't cook like Ukyo nor do I have Shampoo's strength and fighting ability. I don't have much that I can offer you other than myself which I am willing to give to you completely. I won't push you into anything you don't want to do. All I ask is that you give me a fair chance at your heart."
Ranma reached up to take Nabiki's hand from his cheek. He noticed how warm it felt and realized that it did feel kind of good to hold it. At the same time, though, he recalled all the times in the past when Nabiki had acted like she cared about him only to find that it was just another one of her money-making schemes. Finally, he spoke to her as he released her hand.
"I don't know, Nabiki. It's kinda hard to forget all the things that you did to me. I really need to think about this." He walked around her and headed for the door. Just as he reached it, though, he turned around to face her.
"Tell ya what," he said. "Why don't we try starting out as friends tomorrow? That's something me and Akane never got the chance to do. After that, we'll see what happens."
Nabiki smiled. "I'd like that, Ranma," she said as she watched him leave for the night.
Over the next two or three months, Ranma found in Nabiki the friend he had always needed. She was there to listen whenever he needed to talk to someone. In public, she always made of show of charging him outrageously for her time, but once they were alone, she always gave back the money. Even though he knew that Nabiki's feelings were for something stronger than a friendship, it was still nice to have someone he could talk to who didn't try to push her intentions on him.
For Nabiki, she finally discovered what it meant to have someone like her for who she really was instead of the person her reputation made her out to be. Most people who claimed friendship with her did so because of what she knew or could do to them if they upset her. While the attention was nice, it did nothing to alleviate the loneliness she felt deep down inside of her. Having Ranma around was nice because it meant that someone was finally willing to trust her and see beyond the Ice Queen, albeit grudgingly at first.
That isn't to say there weren't problems or arguments. There were plenty of times when Ranma would demonstrate his mastery of the Saotome Foot in Mouth Technique, mostly having to do with Akane. Whatever else may be said about Nabiki, family meant more to her than anything else, even money. There was also the incident when Nabiki had once again been secretly taking photos of Ranma in his girl form to sell to the various boys at school, particularly one Tatewaki Kuno. Unfortunately, Nabiki wasn't as careful as she thought and inadvertently snapped a twig as she was backing away. Ranma heard this and immediately caught her in the act. His yells could be heard on the other side of Tokyo. By the time he finished, Nabiki's heart was broken as she ran up to her room, tears streaming down her face. She cried herself to sleep in a matter of minutes and did not wake until that afternoon.
When Nabiki woke up, she was surprised and a little scared to find Ranma, sitting against the wall under her window, asleep. She still hurt from the pain she had caused him and the fear that she had forever lost her chance to be with him, but she knew that she had to deal with this. Slowly, Nabiki crossed the room and knelt down in front of him. Gently she reached out and shook his shoulder. When Ranma raised his head, he found himself staring into Nabiki's bloodshot eyes.
"Ranma, I…" Nabiki started, but she was interrupted when Ranma raised his hand. His eyes were focused in a serious gaze that Nabiki had never seen before.
"Just tell me why," he said. Nabiki winced; even his voice sounded cold. She opened her mouth to answer when Ranma interrupted again. "And I want the truth."
Nabiki lowered her head and sighed. She hadn't planned on lying to him this time, but hearing him say that conveyed to her just how much he was hurting. It hurt her too to know that he didn't trust her enough to tell him the truth. Nabiki knew that he had begun to trust her and she had now betrayed that trust. She also knew that it wasn't going to be easy to regain it.
"I sell them, mostly to the boys at school and yes, that includes Kuno." She knew that he really wouldn't like that last part, but he had wanted the truth. "The money's not for me. I use it to pay for food and the bills that this household incurs. There's also the occasional damage to the dojo and property to consider. If there's anything left after that, I divide it out between Daddy and my sisters."
"How long have you been doing this?"
"The pictures or the finances?"
Nabiki sat down on her bed and reached for the tissues box on her nightstand. This was going to bring back some hard memories for her. She had been trying to forget most of them, as painful as they were. She was surprised to find that Ranma had sat down beside her and put a hand on her shoulder. The truth was he already knew why she did all the things she did. Kasumi had told him when he had mentioned how Soun didn't seem to be teaching or had a job to bring in any income. At first, he had found it hard to believe that anyone so young could handle the responsibility of keeping her family off the street. That was before he had gotten to know Nabiki the past few months. Ranma had learned that she carried a strength within her that rivaled his own outer strength. It was that strength that had begun to make Ranma see her as more than a friend. He knew, however, that if a relationship was going to come of it, he had to get her to open up to him. She had to know that she could tell him anything she needed to. Ranma felt that this was finally the time for that, but she was going to need a little push.
"Nabiki, I know this has to be hard for you, but I think I deserve to know the whole story about what is going on." He squeezed her shoulder gently to reassure her.
Nabiki sighed, but resolved herself to what she needed to do now. Deep down, she knew she had needed to do this for a long time.
"Daddy really took my Mom's death pretty hard. I'm not sure why that was. She had been sick for a long time, and we all knew she wasn't getting better. I guess he just didn't know how to cope with the loneliness. He stopped taking new students and eventually lost the ones he already had when they realized his heart just wasn't into it anymore. I took over the family finances and kept us afloat any way that I had to. That was when I became the "Mercenary girl". I started by giving out loans at high interest rates and taking bets on the school sporting events. Later I progressed to blackmail and information gathering when the first two didn't bring in enough.
"When Akane started high school, she was still feeling the effects of Mom's death. Mostly she felt anger all the time over the fact that Mom was gone and Dad had stopped teaching her. She kept to herself and didn't socialize at all. For some reason all the guys saw her as a challenge to be conquered and started hounding her for dates. Over time as her popularity with the boys grew, I saw an opportunity to bring in more income off of it. I began taking pictures of her and selling them to the boys.
One day, Kuno made the mistake on approaching her on a particularly bad day for her and demanded that she go out on a date with him as he was the only one worthy of such a fierce tigress as her. This sent Akane over the edge and she proceeded to knock him into the school wall. After that, Kuno became obsessed with her and used the speech contest to issue his challenge to all the guys in school about only being able to date her by beating her in a fight. You know what happened after that."
Ranma nodded. "And when I arrived and Kuno became obsessed with my girl side, it presented another opportunity to fleece him for some more money."
Nabiki's eyes widened as a suspicion hit her. "You already knew the truth, didn't you?" Seeing Ranma nodded, her grief immediately turned to rage as she began pounding on his chest. "Why did you make me do that then? You knew how much it would hurt me. Damn you, you jerk." Her punches lost steam as she finally collapsed, sobbing into his chest. It took her a few minutes to realize that Ranma had put his arms around her and was now holding her tightly. Slowly she lifted her head and met his eyes.
Ranma smiled. "I needed you to know that you could open up and talk to me. I wanted you to know that you could trust me, so I could finally do something that I've been thinking about for a while."
Nabiki's heart stopped as she spoke. "What is that?"
"I wanted to ask you if you'll meet me for dinner and a movie Saturday night."
Nabiki was sure her ears were playing tricks with her mind. She could have sworn that Ranma had just asked her out.
"Ranma, did you just ask me for a date?"
Ranma grinned and scratched the back of his head. "Yeah, I did. I think it would be a good idea if we met somewhere rather than leave together though. It would be safer I think."
"What do you mean it would… Oh, that's right. I guess the other fiancés wouldn't like the idea of another person getting your attention. Alright, we'll keep this between us for now."
"Thanks, Biki." He grinned when saw her blush at that. "Meet me at that new Italian place at 7:00 tomorrow night. Since I'm picking the restaurant, you get to pick the movie." Ranma decided it would be a good idea to leave through the window so that no one would harass him about being in Nabiki's room alone with her for so long. Just before he jumped out, he turned around and smiled at her. "By the way, the next time you need some more pictures, let me know. We can agree on what kind of poses and outfits to use. Maybe I'll even let you do that calendar idea I know you've been toying with." With that, he climbed out of her window and headed for his room.
Nabiki just sat on her bed in shock. "How in Kami's name did he know about that?" she thought.
Nabiki smiled as she thought about all the months that followed that night. They had actually managed to get through that first date without an incident and he had even kissed her goodnight outside of the theatre. Over time, they got together whenever they could. At night, Ranma would take her up to the roof where they would spend hours just staring at the stars and talking. When the weather didn't permit, Ranma would sneak into her room through her window. As the weeks passed, Nabiki opened up more to him, telling him her fears and dreams, while Ranma would do the same. There were still a few close calls from the other girls, and every once in a while a date would have to be cancelled or cut short when they happened to corner Ranma. Through it all, it just made Nabiki's resolve stronger that she was not going to lose the man she now loved with all her heart.
Unfortunately, it had a different effect on Ranma as he began to get more and more frustrated with his life in general. It finally had driven him to the point where he did the one thing Nabiki swore he would never bring himself to do.
No one back home knew the pain she had felt three months ago when Ranma left without any warning… at least without any warning to everyone else. Nabiki was the only person who knew that he was going to take off and why. Tears began to run down her face as she thought back to the last night she had talked to the man that she loved.
"Damn it," Nabiki swore to herself. She was going over her book of the family's finances. Having already gone over the math twice in the last hour, she did so a third time, knowing full well that it wouldn't change the final total. They were well over budget for their monthly expenses. Even doubling her blackmail prices hadn't helped in the last two weeks. Unless she came up with a large amount of yen or dramatically cut their expenses, the Tendo family was in serious danger of losing their home. This, naturally, did not set well with Nabiki Tendo.
A tapping at her window brought her out of her musing, as well as a frown to her face. Right now, he was one of the last people she wanted to face despite how she felt about him. Nabiki huffed as she got up from her desk and moved to her window. Unlocking it, she stepped back as a certain pigtailed martial artist leapt into her room. Moving back to her desk, she sat down again and stared down at the bottom line of her ledger. Finally she turned towards Ranma and opened her mouth to speak.
"We need to talk."
Nabiki's mouth just hung open as she heard the very words she was going to say to him. She finally recovered enough and gestured for him to continue. The anger that she had been feeling towards him and his dad began to melt away when she saw the troubled look on his face. The fidgeting that came a moment later confirmed for her that she was not going to like what he had to say.
"Biki," Ranma started, using his pet name for her. "I know that there's not enough money in the Tendo account to cover the monthly expenses. I also know that me and Pops are a big cause of that with all the food we eat and all the damage that happens from our fights."
From the moment he had said Biki, Nabiki's anxiety had grown. Normally, hearing that would cause her whole body to feel light and warm. Now, as she was watching Ranma, his nervousness was starting to make her scared. Slowly, she got up and slid next to him on her bed. Wrapping her arms around is waist, Nabiki looked deep into his eyes.
"How did you know about the money, Ranma?"
"You left the book open three nights ago. After you fell asleep in my arms, I laid you down in your bed and went to straighten up your desk. That's when I saw it." Ranma leaned in and rested his forehead against hers. "I've been doing a lot of thinking since then and I decided I gotta do something."
Nabiki stiffened in his arms. "You're leaving, aren't you?"
Ranma just lowered his head. "Yeah, I am," he said softly.
Tears began flowing from Nabiki's eyes as she clutched him tighter. She knew that once Ranma Saotome made his mind up there was no way to change it. Nabiki buried her face in Ranma's chest and cried harder as all her emotions finally came pouring out.
"It's not fair. After all we've been through, it's just not fair." Ranma, still unsure of what to do with a crying Nabiki, decided just to hold her tightly in his arms as she sobbed. "It took us almost a year before we admitted how we felt about each other. That wedding idea of our father's nearly ended our life together before it even started."
"I know, Nabs, I know," Ranma whispered as he ran his fingers through her hair. Gently, he reached up and wiped the tears from her cheeks. Sniffing, she raised her head to look into the blue eyes she loved so much.
"I can't convince you to stay, can I?"
"No, Nabs, and I know what you're going to ask. I can't let you come with me right now. I need time to get away and try to find an answer, so we can stop hiding how we feel about each other. Besides you're about to graduate and then you have to study for the entrance exams. You still plan on going to Tokyo University, right?" Nabiki nodded. "Well you're going to be studying real hard for the entrance exam. You can't stop now and you don't these distractions anymore."
"When are you coming back?"
Ranma lowered his head. This was the one answer he knew was going to be hardest on her. "I don't know. Like I said I need to sort out all the complications in my life and I just can't do that here. I know you don't like this and, believe me, neither do I, but I can take care of everything Pops messed up, there's no way we will have any peace. I promise we'll be together."
Nabiki smiled. "I trust you, Ranma. After all, everyone knows that Ranma Saotome always keeps his word. It still hurts, though."
"I know it does, but I do have one more thing to tell you that might help."
Nabiki's pulse quickened as did her breathing as she watched Ranma get down on one knee in front of her. "This is a dream," she thought. "He can't really be doing what I think he's doing." Reality hit her when he took her hand in his and produced a small box from behind his back.
"Nabiki Tendo, I love you and I always will. That being said I just want to know one thing. Will you marry me.?"
For a moment, Nabiki was speechless even though her mind was racing. "His hands are shaking," she thought. "He's actually scared about this. I can't say that I blame him. So am I." Finally she knelt down beside him, and put his arms around him.
"You better believe I will."
Ranma grinned and opened the ring box. Nabiki gasped when she saw what was inside. Not only was there an exquisite engagement ring, but also a gorgeous gold chain that it was hanging on. At Nabiki's puzzled expression, Ranma chuckled.
"I wanted you to have a ring, but until things get settled, I thought it would be better if you wore it on this chain for now." He unclasped the necklace and fastened it around her. She smiled when she saw that the ring was positioned right over her heart. She hugged Ranma and kissed him with all the passion she could muster.
"When are you leaving?"
"Tonight after everyone is asleep. I've already got my pack up on the roof."
Nabiki rested her head on his shoulder. "Ranma, can you stay here and hold me for a while before you go. Just until I fall asleep."
Ranma bent down and kissed her forehead. "Of course I will, Biki."
After a few hours, Nabiki finally fell asleep in his arms. Ranma gently lifted her up and put her in her bed. Pulling the covers over her, he leaned over and gently kissed her lips. He was rewarded by a small contented sigh. Finally he turned and walked over to the window. Turning back one last time, he climbed out and onto the roof to grab his bag. After that, Ranma jumped off into the night and left the Tendo dojo behind.
Nabiki wiped the tears from her eyes and looked down at her left hand. After she had left home, the first thing she had done on the train was take the ring off the chain around her neck and place it on her finger. She smiled at no longer having to hide the fact that she was engaged. As she was drying the last of her tears, she felt a shadow over her and heard a soft voice.
"Why are you crying?"
Nabiki looked up to see a petite little girl in standing in front of her. She was wearing a school uniform and looked to be in junior high. Nabiki smiled as she wiped the rest of her tears away. "I was just thinking about someone. I'm okay."
"Were you thinking about the person who gave you that ring?"
Nabiki quickly covered her hand before she realized it wasn't necessary to hide her ring any longer. She had become somewhat paranoid about the other fiancés seeing it back in Nerima. Coming up with a reason for why she was wearing an engagement ring around her neck would have been very difficult for her to do on the spur of the moment. Even after three months, Nabiki still hadn't been able to think of anything believable. Thankfully, that part of her life was now behind her. Nabiki was about to answer the little girl in front of her when another voice chimed in.
"Hey, Shinobu, who are you talking to?"
Nabiki look became one of amusement as a bubbly blond-haired girl jumped beside Shinobu. The grin that the newcomer had on her face seemed to radiate sunshine as bright as it was.
"I don't know who she is, Su," Shinobu told the other girl. "I really only just met her a few minutes ago."
"My name's Nabiki. Say maybe you can help me. I'm looking for the Hinata Apartments. Do you know where that is?"
Su smiled as she turned to face Nabiki. "Sure, that's where we live." She took Nabiki's hand and began to pull her in the direction of the inn. "C'mon. Su will show you where it is."
Nabiki laughed as she felt herself being dragged toward the Hinata Apartments. She looked back to find Shinobu running behind her trying to keep up. As she faced the direction they were heading in, she sighed and prepared to face her new life.
THE END (or is it?)
OK I decided to take a small break from my Ranma/Matrix fic when this idea popped into my head. Truth be told, I was getting kind of burnt out on the other one and starting to get writer's block because of it. That is not to say it is discontinued. Far from it. I just have some other ides that have been striving to come out. Expect the first chapter of yet another Ranma fic soon though that one will be a bit darker.
Congartulations to Innortal. He was the only one that correctly guessed the main character in this story. I have always felt that if anyone could break Nabiki out of her shell, it was Ranma. He just has that knack. I also feel that should they ever combine their talents, there would be no one or nothing that could oppose them.
Now for this story, it was originally intended to be a multichapter story but a part of me is saying that I should leave it as it is in the form of a one shot. I think I will leave it to the reviewers to help me decide. If you want to see more, then let me know in your reviews.
Anyway I hope you all enjoyed this little tale. Look for the first chapter of my third fic "What Lies Within the Soul" to be up in a bout a week.