"Ah, my vibrant Pigtailed Goddess! To what do I owe thy honor of your divine and radiant presence?"
Ranma, Akane and Nabiki stopped and turned around. Nabiki withheld her chuckle in deference to a poker face while Akane growled and Ranma simply sighed. "School, maybe?"
"Indeed, for it is a necessary evil, but I suspect that the true reason is so that you may bask in the glow of my noble presence." Kuno suffused in a manner that was entirely too full of himself.
Nabiki almost felt sorry for Ranma, who had managed to get splashed on the way to school. Normally they would have made a pit stop at Doctor Tofu's, but they were already too close to school to even consider the walk back. 'Almost' was the operative word in this equation, however, as Nabiki happily collected the morning wagers. Those consisted of not whether Ranma would win the inevitable fight against the deranged kendo practitioner, but how long it would take for Saotome's patience to expire and how far Ranma's can of whoop ass would send Kuno across the schoolyard.
"Back off, Kuno. Not in the mood." There was no room for interpretation contained within Ranma's ultimatum, but if you were an eighteen-year-old kendoist with a tendency to hold reality at arms length, there was plenty of space to read between the lines.
"The wretched Saotome's magics are indeed potent!" Tatewaki huffed indignantly. "Very well! I shall date thee and purge you of his fowl influence!" From that moment on, things happened like clockwork. Kuno lunged for a glomp, only to be intercepted by Ranma's foot, which catapulted the upperclassman across the schoolyard. Nabiki nodded to one of her lackeys and a girl ran out with a tap measure, marking the distance from liftoff to touchdown.
"Honestly, Ranma…" Akane rolled her eyes and Ranma shrugged. Nabiki began to dole out money to the winners, yet something tugged at her thoughts. Something was missing. She looked up from the stack of money she had collect and over to Ranma and Akane, who were now walking off to class unmolested.
It was a textbook Ranma-Kuno engagement, so why is my brain ticking over like there's something wrong? Nabiki wondered, finishing her transactions. Then it clicked. It was a textbook Ranma-Kuno engagement… If Ranma had been a boy at the time. Ranma's actions were Standard Kuno Response Package 'B'—Remove Kuno from the general vicinity in the least amount of time possible. Response Package 'A' was normally reserved for him as a boy; toying with Kuno a bit before removing him from the general vicinity. But Kuno… Kuno was missing something. Something that could affect her financial future.
"What's wrong, boss?" Seiya stepped up to her employer, noticing the look of intense concentration. It reminded her of a calculator crunching numbers.
"Notice anything unusual about the fight?" Seiya shook her head. "Akane. He didn't favor Akane once during the entire exchange."
The girl blinked, replaying the incident in her mind. "You're right… Not one word."
Nabiki contemplated the ramifications and decided that it was probably the single biggest event for Furikan behind Ranma actually choosing a fiancée. Kuno? Settle on one girl? And Ranma no less? The middle Tendo savored the irony and sprung into action. "Seiya, I want his schedule for the next week. The more specifics you dig up, the bigger your bonus." The long haired brunette nodded enthusiastically.
"And keep this quiet."
"The Park at Seven."
Nabiki stared at the note for probably the hundredth time since Seiya had dug up the information two days ago. Their search had turned up remarkably little information, save the time, date and location she now held in her hand. Her associates bonus hadn't necessarily been a large one, but had been sizable enough to ensure her continued silence. Normally the Ice Queen would have contracted one of her helpers for stakeout work, but this was priority stuff. You don't trust priority stuff to henchmen… or henchwomen, for that matter.
So where was he? Nabiki squinted in the diminishing light that was the dusk sky. The days were getting longer and the park was popular in the evenings, which meant she had some work ahead of her. Or maybe not, she thought as her searching eyes locked onto a shadowy figure. No mistaking that profile. But there was somebody with him? Definitely female, but there wasn't enough contrast between her form and Kuno's to get an ID. The middle Tendo skirted the edge of the park now, determined to attract as little attention as possible while getting close enough to find out who this woman was that Kuno was apparently familiar with, and what- if anything –she had to do with Akane and Ranma.
Nabiki crept behind a nearby bush and palmed the recorder in her pocket. The two remained silent for a moment, evidentially simply content to enjoy the other's presence. That's okay. The Tendo was patient. Not that she had long to wait.
"The movies tonight, my Goddess?" Nabiki smirked. Typical Kuno. The girl's reply, however, drove a wooden stake straight through the Ice Queen's brain and destroyed reality as she knew it. Turned it upside down. Shook it sideways. Then ate it for lunch.
"Nah, let's just walk around for a bit, Tachi." It wasn't that there was anything offensive in her reply, it was just… Impossible. She recognized that voice. Its characteristic lilt. They were words that should have never been uttered by that voice. Nabiki had to be certain, and tailed them as they walked slowly through the park as lovebirds were wont to do. She shivered. Just not these two particular lovebirds. Finally, they had progressed to a better lit area of the park and Nabiki's suspicions were confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt. A slight gasp escaped her lips, enough to earn the attention of Tatewaki Kuno and his date. Red hair. Blue eyes. A full head shorter…
Tatewaki's face took on a perturbed expression and Ranma's turned similarly bland. "Don't you have something better to do, Nabs?"
The middle sister recovered from her shock quickly. There was, of course, a logical explanation to this. With that thought firmly fixed in her mind, she took on her characteristic mercenary smirk. The situation was obvious now. Ranma wanted something from Kuno. A cure. A map to a cure. Something big. Big enough for him to cozy up to the upperclassman using her female form. And she was playing the part too, with his unbound hair and feminine blouse/dress combination. Even jewelry. "This is so going to cost you Saotome."
Kuno dug his wallet out of the casual jacket he wore and Nabiki absently noticed that he cleaned up fairly nice when he wasn't running around in his kendoist idiot mode. Slacks. A nice button down shirt. It was almost enough to make her reconsider her opinions of him… If he wasn't already patently insane. Nabiki was about ready to name the amount when the redhead's hand reached out, gently blocking Kuno's progress. He eyed her with an arched eyebrow.
"Not tonight, Tachi."
Kuno was only slightly surprised. Nabiki was even more surprised. They had all played this game enough times. Money bought Nabiki's silence. No money, no silence. And if the rumor ever spread that Ranma was going out with Tatewaki…
He seemed to comprehend the dynamic as well. "Are you sure? It's only a minor inconvenience."
Of course it was, Nabiki thought. He could burn thousand yen bills and it'd still be only a minor inconvenience, if that. Granted, she could charge more, but there was a fine line to be walked between public servant and public enemy. Still, the fact that it was Ranma blocking the natural order of things was...
"You do realize what would happen if news of your little date here got out…?" Ranma shrugged and Nabiki nearly staggered.
"You're going to tell them I'm going on a date with Kuno?" Nabiki nodded, trying to look all business despite the uncertain footing she was on. "And who would believe you again?" Nabiki pulled out a disposable camera from her purse and snapped a picture, to which Ranma sighed. "Right."
"You're refusal doubled the amount, Saotome." Kuno simply watched the pair debate. "You might want to let your boy toy pay up." The calculated sting her words were designed to invoke never hit home.
"Double of nuthin' is still nuthin', Nabs."
Nabiki did a mental double-take. What the hell was going on here? Ranma should be defending his masculinity to the hilt and using Kuno's blind spot concerning the pigtailed girl to do it, yet neither was happening. Time to break out the big guns. "What would your father say if he found out?"
"I believe you already threatened that, Miss Tendo." Kuno pointed out with a hint of amusement. Those words did more to turn Nabiki's gut to ice than any anomaly in Ranma's attitude. They hinted at something that should have been absolutely impossible. More impossible than finding Ranma here tonight.
It was Kuno's turn to smirk. "Of course, Miss Tendo. I'd have to be insane not to."
This comment earned him an elbow to the ribs courtesy of the smaller redhead. "You still are."
The upperclassman sniffed with amusement. "Quite possibly. But suffice to say, yes I do know."
"But if you know…" Nabiki's head began to spin as the ramifications landed on her like a ton of bricks. "And Ranma is a girl…"
Ranma leaned into Kuno a bit and looked up at him "I think she's getting it."
"Verily." He agreed.
She shook her head as if to clear it… "You… And Kuno… An item?" One really couldn't blame the incredulity seeping into her voice. After all, Nabiki Tendo had started this week going after the second biggest story in Furikan High. Now she had both the first and second right here in front of her. Screw the blackmail; the amount of money this information could be sold for would be insane by itself! She checked the tape player on reflex, ensuring it was still running. Good. Nabiki blinked and the recorder was gone from her grasp. "Hey!"
Ranma tossed the offending device into the air and obliterated with a tiny ki blast that shot from her fingers like a pistol. Sparkles rained down in contrast to the darker evening sky. "Oops?"
"Oops?" She squealed, then glared at the diminutive redhead. "That was a top of the line DAT recorder! I hope you realize that how much you owe me just jumped. Big time!" Ranma simply gave her a bored look and it took her a moment to figure out why. Oh yeah, she thought with dark irony. Her boyfriend is Mister Money Bags. Her boyfriend. Nabiki kicked the thought around in her head. That was just so many ways to wrong it wasn't even funny.
"I believe we should leaveth Miss Tendo to her conundrum." Kuno commented and began to pull a smirking Ranma away from the girl.
"Indeedth." She quipped with amusement and followed his lead.
Nabiki stood there in muted shock as they walked away before finally regaining her composure. "WAIT!" The couple paused. "Okay, you win! But I have to know!"
Kuno seemed to consider this before looking to Ranma. "It is your date night, Ra-chan. It is up to thee."
Ranma pursed her lips, trying to decide if they should even waste the time. "Hell, why not? Otherwise she'll be stalking us all night long. But over something to eat. I'm starved."
"So for how long…?"
Kuno had picked a nice seafood place by the river. While he could have gone more expensive as he usually did on their dates, he recognized the delicate balance between Ranma's hunger and her patience. Besides, he had learned a while ago that she didn't necessarily care for such niceties. He did, however, and made it a point to take her to the finer establishments. He looked at Ranma, who was greedily sucking down some breaded shrimp. "Three months?"
Ranma nodded and finished off another shrimp. "Sounds about right."
"You're like this after only three months?" Nabiki fought hard to keep her cool. Manly man Ranma Saotome in a blouse, makeup and jewelry in three months? The sister really began berating herself for having missed the boat so badly.
"No, no, of course not." Ranma returned, pausing in her mass calorie intake. "'Cides, it's date night."
Kuno answered the obvious look of confusion plastered on Nabiki's face. "She only partakes of the finer raiments when we go out. As for our relationship, it commenced approximately one year whence."
"But only got serious three months ago." The redhead clarified.
Nabiki nibbled at the plate of shrimp Alfredo pasta she had ordered. The whole situation was just… Alien. "But how… Even better, Why!"
"If Tachi here didn't already have gobs of money, I'd be chargin' ya for that info." Ranma sniffed, again clearly amused.
"Perhapse you still should." Kuno commented with a smile. Come to think of it, Nabiki never recalled seeing a real smile on his face. A maniacal insane grin that indicated nobody was home upstairs, yes. But a genuine smile? Uh-uh.
"Nah." Ranma waved the suggestion away. "'Cides, you know what I think of money."
"Indeed, my fiery Goddess." Kuno smiled warmly "It is one of your nobler traits. So where would Miss Tendo like us to start?"
Nabiki barely suppressed a shiver. "Uh, I guess the beginning?"
Author's Notes: How to get Kuno and Ranma-chan together without the use of drugs, koi rods, mind altering magic, bumps on the head, locking Ranma as a girl from the very beginning, pressure points and any other similarly used plot device…? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is the challenge. Your first question might be "Exactly why are you taking time away from Ah! My Ranma ½ and The Best of Times, Ozz?" Well there's a perfectly good explanation for that.
Ferrets stole my brain.
It's the honest to God's truth. That, and I've had this itch to do it for some time, partly because there are so few out there to begin with. TriMatter, on the other hand keep his safe in tubberware. Brains, not ferrets.
Special Thanks to TriMatter, as the brainstorming we came up with has really resulted in a better fic.