Standard Disclaimer: Don't own. All for fun. No money. Don't sue.
Ranma was cheating on her. Akane was sure of this. For past month and a half, he was always sneaking off at least one night a week, usually on a Saturday since they didn't have school the next day. On two such nights, he had returned within an hour. His clothes would be torn and disheveled, indicating he had been in some kind of altercation. Akane, of course, attributed it to doing something perverted with whatever floozy he was with.
Now she just had to figure out who it was he was seeing. One thing Akane was sure of was that it wasn't Shampoo or Ukyo. On the two occasions, she had actually been able to place them at their respective restaurants with a couple of phone calls. The first time she had called Ucchan's pretending to need their homework assignment from Ms. Hinako's English class. The second was to place an order at the Nekohanten. It had cost her what little yen she had left that weekend, but it had also proved that Shampoo was working that night. Since the delivery was to the Tendo dojo, she knew it would be the bubbly Amazon making the delivery, hoping to be able to spend time with her Airen. Shampoo's look of confusion that Ranma wasn't there confirmed she knew nothing of his weekly escapes. Kodachi was out as well. Despite Akane's self-perceived notions of her fiancé, it was obvious even to her that Ranma wanted nothing to do with the crazed gymnast.
With all the usual suspects eliminated, Akane realized that she had reached the limits of her investigative capabilities. She needed help, she admitted to herself, from someone who was good at tracking down people, could stay out of sight, and could be trusted to deliver the information she wanted. The answer came to her in a moment.
Nabiki. Akane knew beyond a doubt that she was perfect for the job. She was an expert at gathering covert intelligence. All her profits from her blackmail schemes were proof of that. The fact that she hadn't been beaten down by any of her victims meant she could also distance herself from the acts. As for trust, well, that came down to two things. One, this involved family and, despite her obvious desire for material things, family always came first if only for a reduced price. Two, Nabiki had a reputation to keep. Whenever she accepted a job, she always saw it through to the end. To do otherwise was just bad business. Her mind made up, Akane walked out of the dojo after another round of brick breaking. After a quick bath in the furo and fresh clothes, she headed upstairs to see her sister.
Nabiki looked up from the manga she was reading when she heard the knock on her door. She knew who it had to be and, quite frankly, she was surprised it had taken so long for this to come about. The only people in the house who didn't know about Ranma's little getaways were the two bumbling idiots who called themselves fathers. Akane was too proud to ask for help, at least at first. Sooner or later, though, Nabiki knew that she would finally swallow her pride and come to her. Setting down the manga, she sat up on the edge of her bed.
"Come in, Akane."
The look on Akane's face was precious as she walked into the room and closed the door behind her. "One of these days you are going to have to show me how you do that."
Nabiki gave her sister on of her patented 'Are you kidding?' looks and shook her head. She knew her sister was a little slow on the uptake, but this was really getting ridiculous. Looks I'll have to spell it out to her.
"Akane, please, it's not really that hard to figure out. If the smell is any indication, Kasumi is busy preparing dinner for tonight. Our father is usually playing Shogi with Ranma's dad on the porch, and our resident cursed martial artist is training out in the yard unless of course that's you making those battle cries. If that's the case, I'm the one who needs to learn from you how to be in two places at once."
"Speaking of that baka, that's why I'm here." Akane was slightly upset with her sister for pointing out her shortcomings, but she would never show it. It was never a good idea to get Nabiki upset and besides she still needed her to follow Ranma the next time he snuck out.
"Let me guess," Nabiki told her. "You want me to follow Ranma the next time he sneaks off and find out who he's been seeing."
Rather than act surprised at this, Akane merely nodded and prepared to enter what she already knew was going to be a losing proposition: negotiating the cost of this endeavor with her sister. She knew it could be worse. After all, she was family and Nabiki always gave her family a significant break off of her usual prices.
"So how much is this going to cost me?" she asked, pulling out her wallet.
Nabiki thought for minute before making one of the most difficult decisions of her life. She gave her sister a small smile. "You can put that away, at least for now. Seeing as how you're my sister and all, I'm going to give you a special deal. I'll follow him to every place he goes with his date and the only thing that you'll have to do is reimburse me for whatever expenses I incur. How does that sound?"
Akane could only nod at these words. It wasn't like her mercenary sister to be this generous. Rather than say anything that might make her change her mind, she immediately took the hand that Nabiki was offering her and shook it.
"Well, then if you'll excuse me, I'd better get ready for tonight."
"Please, little sister, you don't really think I didn't expect this now, do you? I've had my people looking into this for the past few weeks. They discovered his reservations for dinner tonight."
Akane grinned. She should have known that her sister would have already taken steps to do this job. After all, if there was anything that Nabiki couldn't stand, it was not knowing what was going on. She turned to leave and was almost out the door when Nabiki spoke up.
"Oh, by the way, just in case you thought you were getting off cheap with this, I think I should tell you that the reservations he made were for La Chaison, that new French place that opened up last week."
Akane's triumphant smile disappeared as she left her sister's room and went to check the balance of her savings account. She just hoped there would be enough to cover everything.
Nabiki smirked as she watched her sister retreating down the hall and into her own room. Out of all the people in the house, she was by far the easiest to manipulate. Ranma was a close second behind her, but at least he knew how to keep his emotions under control. Well, most of the time, that is. Turning back into her room she immediately went to her closet and selected an ensemble appropriate for the evening. After all, she reasoned that if she was going to all the places Ranma was, it would be prudent to blend in perfectly. She pulled down a white silk blouse and dark jacket. Laying them on the bed, she then opened up her dresser and rummaged around inside for a minute before removing a black knee-length skirt. Nabiki noted the time and hurriedly grabbed her bath supplies. Ranma would be finishing with his workout in about a half-hour, so she needed to get in a bath now. That way she could get to where she needed to go to intercept him later on. As she headed downstairs and down the hall to the furo, she stopped and told Kasumi she wouldn't be eating dinner at home that night.
Ranma finished his final kata and bowed. He picked up his nearby towel, wiped his brow, and then headed back into the house. Despite his workout, his mind was still troubled, but then again it always was on the nights he snuck out for his dates. Despite the fact that he had been successful in avoiding everyone for the past six weeks, he knew it was just a matter of time before they were discovered. Looking at the clock in the dining room, he realized he was running late as it was. He would have to hurry in the furo. Unfortunately, it also meant he would have to change into his clothes at the house rather than at his usual spot at Dr. Tofu's clinic. Thankfully for all involved, Dr. Tofu had agreed to keep the secret. That last thing he wanted was several cases of battle injuries all at once.
As Ranma entered the washroom, he made sure to turn the sign, telling everyone else that the furo was currently occupied. He placed his clean clothes on top of the dryer and stripped off the clothes he had just been working out in. Placing these in the hamper, he picked up his bath items and entered the furo. Immediately he noted that someone had been in there ahead of him. Judging by the lingering fragrance, he figured it had been Nabiki. She's the only one who can afford the really good quality products.
Setting his bucket on the floor, he removed his soap and shampoo items, then filled it with cold water. Pouring it over himself, he felt the familiar sensation as his curse was triggered. As Ranma went about cleaning herself off, she thought about the turn her life had taken recently. It still amazed her how she had found someone who loved her not only when she was a guy but also when she looked as she did now. That had always been the problem with all the other girls. Even with Shampoo and Ukyo, who were undoubtedly the most affectionate of the fiancées, he could tell they were still unnerved and somewhat reluctant to get close to him as a girl.
Akane was the most obvious of all. After all the time she had spent declaring her hatred of boys, the rumors had been quite persistent around the school that she must have only been attracted to girls. This was, of course, not true, but it still had a profound effect on the youngest Tendo. She did almost everything she could now to keep the same rumors from starting again. That included avoiding any kind of affection towards Ranma when she was in her cursed form.
Now, though, Ranma was seeing someone who claimed not to care about her curse. In fact, she had often told Ranma how lucky she was to be able to have the best of both worlds wrapped up in a tight little package. That had made Ranma a little uncomfortable at the time, but since then she had come to appreciate all the pleasures she could experience as both a guy and a girl. Not that she and her girlfriend had gone 'all the way' but what they had done had felt pretty good. It was the acceptance she was shown that allowed her to know what her love's true feelings were.
As she finished rinsing off the soap and shampoo, she got up and stepped into the furo. Immediately the curse was reversed and she became a boy once again. Ranma didn't stay in for too long, though. He was already running behind and still had to get dressed. After about five minutes, he rose out of the water and stepped out. Quickly he dried himself off with his towel and opened the door to the washroom. After donning his boxers and undershirt he quickly grabbed his bath products and raced for his room.
It was a good thing he had already picked out his outfit for the night. He quickly pulled on his shirt and buttoned it. He loved the fact that it was one of those new collarless shirts that had recently come into style. He hated ties. With this shirt, all he needed was a small decorative clasp that he affixed to the top button. The one he chose was very appropriate for him. It was a small ying-yang with faux diamonds surrounding it. He quickly pulled on his slacks and buckled the dress belt. Finally, he shrugged into his dinner jacket and looked himself over in the mirror.
Not too shabby if I do say so myself. Just one thing left, however. He pulled off the string he now used to bind his pigtail. Now that the effects of the dragon's whisker had worn off, he could tie it off with anything. Ranma combed his hair out and then pulled it into a ponytail which he bound with a hair band topped with an ancient Celtic symbol that stood for good fortune. He figured he could use all the help he could get.
After finally deciding there was just no way he could look any sharper, he started to head for the door. Just as he was about to open it, however, he heard the one voice he had desperately wanted to avoid. Listening at the door, he heard Akane call for Nabiki and open the door to her room. After a minute or two, Akane came back out into the hall and headed downstairs. As she passed Ranma's room, he heard her laughing about the pounding she was going to give him after her sister brought back the proof that he was cheating on her. Ranma sighed.
So she finally hired Nabiki to follow me. Took her longer than I expected. Looks like the game's over, then. Ranma smiled. Oh well, if I'm going to get the mallet treatment, then I might as well make it worth it. I'll just have as good a time as I can and not worry about what I can't stop.
With that, Ranma headed to his window and climbed onto the roof, careful not to mess up his clothes. Bounding over the rooftops of Nerima, he finally made it to the movie theatre where he was meeting his date. When he got there, he saw that she wasn't too happy. Not that he could blame her. After all, the movie was supposed to have started five minutes ago.
"You're late," she told him, a cross look on her face.
"Yeah, I know. Sorry about that." Luckily, Ranma had purchased the tickets over the phone the day before so they were ready for him when he got up to the ticket counter.
"Are you alright?" He loved it when she showed concern for him. Unlike Akane, he always knew it was genuine and she didn't ever try to pretend otherwise. Ranma merely nodded.
"Akane nearly caught me leaving my room, so I had to use the roof to get away."
The girl by his side began to laugh at this as they went inside. Luckily the only thing they missed was the previews for the coming attractions which neither one of them minded. They both hated those things anyway.
"So what are we seeing, anyway?" she asked him.
Ranma just grinned. "You'll just have to wait and be surprised." No other words were spoken as the movie started and Ranma put his arm around his date.
Nabiki was genuinely shocked as the title for the movie appeared on the screen in front of her. She never would have thought that Ranma would be one for cultural arts. Yet here he was watching a film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Phantom of the Opera'. Nabiki had heard that it was supposed to follow very closely to the stage show. The fact that she was going to be paid for seeing a movie she had wanted to go to for a while was just an added bonus. Sitting back she lost herself into the film.
As she watched the film, she began to see what might have made the story appeal to Ranma. Nabiki was quite certain he could identify with the heroine in the story, although she was a bit better off than he was. She only had two suitors at each others throats. She became so engrossed in the music and romance of the movie that she forgot all about Ranma. It wasn't until the lights came up that she came out of her reverie. She quickly followed Ranma as he left the theatre.
"So what did you think of the movie?" Ranma asked as he walked beside his love.
"It definitely was not what I expected," she replied.
Ranma turned to her in surprise. "What are you talking about? Didn't you tell me you had the entire score memorized when you were five?"
She turned and swatted his arm playfully. "That's not what I meant and you know it. I mean who would have ever thought that the great Ranma Saotome would even consider a movie that didn't in some way deal with martial arts."
"And who said it didn't?" At his date's incredulous look, he continued. "Well, it did have the swordfight even though it was uncoordinated. Plus, if you think about it, every kata I ever do is a form of dance. It's a little more violent, but it's still all about grace, balance, and coordination." Ranma looked over to his girlfriend and saw her nod. She had to admit she could see the logic behind his words. The few times she had been able to watch him as when he was practicing all of his movements seemed to flow as if it really was a dance that he was doing. She remembered how many times she would become hypnotized by his smooth forms to the point that she would lose all track of time. She snuggled up closer to his shoulder as they walked down to the restaurant where they were going to have dinner.
To call La Chaison a nice place to eat would be like saying that the emperor's palace was a modest home. From the first step inside, you knew that you were in the epitome of high class dining. Lush plants adorned the foyer reaching up to the ceiling. String quartet played off to the side, their music filling the air with a melody that couldn't help but relax you. Only the soft conversation of the diners and the occasional pop of a champagne bottle being uncorked could distract you from the sweet harmony. All in all, it was the kind of setting that made you feel like you were a member of royalty. It was all so overwhelming to the young lady on Ranma's arm as he walked confidently to the maitre'd. The tuxedoed man gave them a cautious that seemed to ask if they were lost. That, of course, changed when he read Ranma's name on his reservation list. They were led to a table surrounded by plants positioned in a way to afford them some measure of privacy.
Dinner passed in a somewhat subdued manner. It was obvious to the young couple that each of them had something on their minds. The conversation was just too forced. The problem was that both of them were a little too reluctant to show when they had a problem. When dessert finally came around, Ranma decided that enough was enough.
"Okay, spill it. What's bothering you?"
"Now what makes you think that something is bothering me?"
"Well, for one thing, you ordered the second most expensive thing on the menu. That's not exactly your style."
His date shrugged. "So maybe I felt like a change." She looked into his eyes to see how well she covered up. All she met was a hard look.
"I'm not buying it. I thought we agreed that we weren't going to keep things from each other."
She sighed, looking down at her plate as she picked at her dessert. When she raised her head, Ranma could see the tears that had formed in the corner of her eyes. For the first time in his life, he could see genuine fear in his eyes. He reached across the table and took her hand in his, marveling at the softness he felt that he knew hid an inner strength stronger than any he had ever known before. His touch seemed to give her a new confidence that sparkled in her eyes.
"I'm afraid the others are going to find out about us soon. I know Akane already suspects something." She took a drink of her champagne. Despite the fact that they were both underage, Ranma had been able to convince the waiter that an exception should be made. She was glad of it, too. It was helping to calm her down. "Let's face it. Even with the training you've been giving me, there's no way I would survive against any of them for five minutes."
"Aw, come on. You're not giving yourself enough credit." Ranma smiled when he saw her eyes light up. "It would take Akane a good ten minutes, at least."
Ranma laughed. "Seriously, though, you know I wouldn't let anything happen to you. Besides, I've almost come up with ways to settle everything."
"Come on. I'll explain on the way to the park." After getting the check and leaving enough cash to cover the bill plus a generous tip, Ranma and his girl left walking arm in arm.
Nabiki had to hand it to Ranma. He definitely knew how to plan things out. The park was nearly empty at this time of night and the fountain he stopped at afforded the young couple an extra measure of privacy. Her ears perked up as he talked about his ideas for the various suitors. Kodachi was easy enough. He was trying to find a way for her to be committed due to her dependency on the various drugs she created from her roses. Kuno he could stand kicking into the stratosphere every day. It was actually a good release for him.
Ukyo, Ranma finally had decided, was his father's problem and not his. It was not his fault that his father had decided to engage him to someone who had been his best friend. After all, Ranma hadn't even known that she was a girl at the time. Still, Ranma couldn't just leave her with her honor shattered. To that end, he had searched his father's pack while Genma had been passed out from a night out with the Tendo patriarch. After having searched for a few minutes, he had finally come across the original agreement signed by his father and Kuonji-San. What he found within was the mother of all loopholes. The document did not state specifically that Ukyo would be made Ranma's wife but merely that she would be made a Saotome. That meant that the agreement could be fulfilled with adoption rather than marriage. For Ranma, it was the perfect solution. Although he cared greatly for her, Ukyo could never be more than a dear sister to him. He knew she felt more for him, but it just wouldn't be right to take her into a loveless marriage. In the end, the hurt would be even worse and, more likely, irreparable.
Shampoo was not as easy. Through several searches on the internet, Ranma had found that the kiss of marriage was not really valid unless there had been an actual formal challenge by one of the two parties. It seemed that due to several misunderstandings that had turned particularly bloody, the ancient laws had been revised to ensure that all involved knew what they were getting into. Unfortunately, it was revealed that all Amazon laws were also subject to the interpretations of the current Matriarch. Based on his experiences, Ranma knew that Cologne was far too set on him strengthening the tribe to just let him go on a technicality.
It seems nothing in life will ever be simple for him. Nabiki came out of her thoughts as she continued to hear what Ranma was saying.
As Ranma told his date about his solution for the Tendo engagement, he watched her eyes light up. It was the simplest of all the engagements to solve and yet it would also be the one that would take the longest time to implement. In the end, though, it didn't matter to her. She would eventually get what she wanted: to spend the rest of her life with the man that she loved. Unable to resist anymore, she wrapped her arms around Ranma placed a gentle kiss on his warm lips. It wasn't full of passion yet it was clear to any who could see it that the love behind it was one of the purest kinds that one could ever find. After the kiss was broken, Nabiki decided it was time for her to speak up.
"Looks like for once Akane was right about you cheating on her."
Ranma regarded her and smirked. "I was wondering when you were going to reveal your little job to me." His smirk grew wider as he saw her blanch. "I overheard Akane laughing about the beating she was going to give me when you gave her the proof she needed. So what can I offer you to keep her from knowing who I'm seeing?"
Nabiki laughed and kissed him once more. "I think that will about cover it. Besides she hired me to follow you tonight; I never agreed to tell her who it was you were seeing."
"Sooner or later, we are going to have to deal with them."
"That's true but we have a good start to that. You've already figured out how you can settle things with Ukyo and still keep both your honor and hers. I'll keep looking into things with the Amazons. There's got to be a solution somewhere that doesn't involve me getting killed by Shampoo."
"We knew this wasn't going to be easy, but we agreed to get there together. Things will work out in time."
"I hope so. I must admit I didn't think your engagement to Akane would be so simple to overcome."
Ranma shrugged. "It's not my fault that nobody remembers that I was given the option of who to choose or that I never got a chance to before you and Kasumi threw her at me." He saw Nabiki's eyes darken at his last words.
"I never did tell you that I was sorry about that. I just didn't think that a boy turned girl was what I needed in my life." She raised her head to regard the man before her. "I am thankful, though, that I was able to have the chance to find out how wrong I was."
"It's getting late. You'd better get home before anyone figures out what's really going on."
Nabiki shook her head. "Not this time, Lover Boy. I'm the one who's supposed to be following you tonight, remember?"
Ranma smiled. He turned to leave before he remembered one last thing he had to do. Turning back to Nabiki, he reached inside his jacket and pulled out a jewelry case and opened it. Nabiki gasped as she saw the gold charm bracelet inside. Attached were the Chinese symbols for love, hope, health, good fortune, and, of course, wealth. Ranma took the bracelet out of the case and attached it around Nabiki's wrist.
"I didn't think it was the right time yet to give you a ring, so I thought this would be the next best thing." He gave her a kiss on the cheek as he headed back to the dojo.
The next morning, Akane was in a fouler mood than usual over her sister's refusal to reveal what had happened the night before. She never even noticed the bracelet that Nabiki now sported on her left wrist.
I know I said I wasn't going to do anything new until I wrote more on Trials of Love or Dark Descent, but this came to me when one of the reviewers for Trials lamented the fact that I didn't describe one of Ranma and Nabiki's dates. I figured this would be a fun way to write it. This is entirely a one shot or, truthfully, a small side story to Trials of Love. We will see the bracelet in the Trials Of Love story. I hope you enjoyed this.