Disclaimer: I don't own the characters from any anime series found within this Ranma 1/2 – Mystery crossover. Ranma and the other series (you'll find out what it is in the next chapter) both are licensed by Viz Media in America and are copyright their respective owners.
By Dr. Suekeiichi Kaiton
It was always dead in the middle of the day. People were at work or school or cleaning house and so were not aimlessly wandering around in a mall and certainly not browsing the frilly black dresses and leather bondage wear in a gothic Lolita shop. The thin girl behind the counter leaned over the thick glass panes of the display case and sighed into her hand. Beside the skull rings and talon finger coverings below her elbow were the skull-and-crossbones belt buckles, beside those a selection of Grateful Dead illustration temporary tattoos. The tall pink-haired girl perched precariously on a black stool and waited impatiently for something to happen.
She'd been working in the store for a year but still wasn't used to the mid-afternoon lull, but then again for a normal boutique a lull would be one or two customers instead of twenty, for Dark Designs the usual pair sank down to nil. And so she waited while American horror rock blared on the speaker system and Ozzy, Gene, Alice, and Rob started down from the t-shirt wall. Frankly she had things to do but hadn't the urge to do much of anything save muse on how bored she was waiting.
The girl wore a tight mauve and black striped long-sleeved turtleneck and black jeans. Her hair was a shockingly dyed pink cropped close to the nape with pointy bangs. Her eyes were cerulean orbs floating in shadow as she watched the door. Creeps and freaks were the norm but sometimes, just sometimes, average people with strange tastes walked in, they were few and far between but they did shop and sometimes flirt. She didn't appreciate it when fat hairy men with long hair, smelling of BO and grease tried to pick her up, or when overweight or just downright ugly or rude lesbians came in and tried to accost her in the changing rooms. She just wasn't interested. She already had a boyfriend and wasn't looking for anything more than the occasional bump-and-grind routine every few nights, maybe some oral for variety; she didn't want commitment, just sex. It was a testament to this philosophy that she didn't live with her boyfriend of nearly a year. Instead she lived in a crappy one-room apartment above an Indian restaurant down the street from the mall when she could have moved into his larger house in a quieter district.
She'd stayed many nights at his house but never broached the subject of moving in together or advancing their relationship beyond the almost casual-sex agreement between them. He was nice, caring, passionate, but she wasn't looking for commitment. She really wasn't looking for a job either but necessity demanded she pay her rent and eat so she took a low-level job in a dead-end store. She didn't really want to live, just exist; that was enough for now. The manager was out again but trusted her enough to leave the keys to lock up at closing, it wasn't like there was much money in the till to steal or anything she'd want to wear in the store. The girl wore black eyeliner and no lipstick, a black lace thong but no bra; if anyone wanted to ogle her they could feel free. She frankly didn't care.
Across town, Ranma Saotome looked up from the puddle of drool spread across the table in front of him only to find the entire lecture hall empty, the professor wiping clean the blackboard. The professor made no move to chastise him or punish him for sleeping through his lecture, he wasn't in high school anymore, but Ranma still felt chagrined to know that he'd drooled all over the desk. Collecting his notebook and bag from beside the chair, he sped out the door and through the sunlit halls of the cram school. Due to extenuating circumstances, i.e. the Tendo Situation as his mother termed it, he'd failed all his entrance exams his senior year in high school and studied part time ronin while working at a dojo down the street from his house. If his mother felt shame that he was ronin she didn't show it, for which he was very glad. Still, at least he didn't have to listen to her bitch and moan about being manly since he started dating. True, The Tendo Situation made romance complicated for the pigtailed martial artist but with his mother's help he'd avoided the bigger problems associated with cheating on no less than two fiancées.
The only girls with claims on his honor any longer were Shampoo and Akane, Ukyo having been adopted, and Kodachi committed. Shampoo was, according to Amazon law, already married to him, which did complicate matters since he hadn't consummated their vows, but after the Saffron incident Cologne was smart enough to keep her away from his business. As lawful as her claim was she hadn't pushed it in over a year. The Tendos on the other hand were on the phone day and night demanding that he return and marry Akane, despite the fact that Akane had no desire to marry him and he had no desire to marry her. Hell, she was already fucking Shinnosuke just before he left and Nabiki knew better than to bug him at home. However benign the fiancée situation had become in the year, the weight of honor pressed down on him. Going out drinking with Hiroshi and Daisuke and screwing around with his girlfriend seemed the only release he ever got between school and work.
It was funny he thought that only a little over a year ago the idea of fucking a girl wouldn't caused him to pass out but now he did all kinds of kinky things without batting an eyelash. He supposed that his mother had something to do with it since her long and embarrassing lectures on sex and women when he moved in began the slow desensitization process. How he'd hooked up with a weird girl like Ena still seemed strange considering where she worked, he still couldn't remember exactly what he'd been doing in Dark Designs. Still, he had met her and they were a couple…sort of…she still didn't want to stay more than a night at the house and showed little interest in anything other than eating, sleeping, working, and fucking. She was a strange one, a bit cool, definitely had some significant baggage in her past given the scars on her body. Had she been beaten in childhood? It probably wasn't since her emotional scars didn't seem bitter and old but rather raw and fresh. A boyfriend perhaps? That was a distinct possibility given the type of character a store like Dark Designs catered to, hell, it could have been a lesbian for all he knew.
He stopped off at a take-out beef bowl and bought two with four eggs and several cans of tea. Carefully laying the food in his backpack he bought a single rose from a street vendor and made his way towards the mall. It seemed unnaturally busy for a Thursday afternoon, there were a lot of high school couples walking hand-in-hand down the boulevard window shopping or eating in the many cafes. Ranma couldn't quite put his finger on what seemed so off, almost like the ground was moving under his feet even though he knew it couldn't possibly be moving fast enough to produce the subtle vertigo effect. He hid the wrapped rose in the back of his waistband and strolled down past the fountain into the open-air mall. Dark Designs stood in a short little alley off the beaten path between a piercing palace and an arcade.
Ena was still leaning over the counter when he entered and paid him no attention until he was standing in front of her. Recognition lit behind her eyes and she blinked into focus, noting the strange way he was standing. She sniffed the air and knew he'd brought lunch. Motioning for the new girl, Sara, to watch the counter while she took lunch, the couple ducked into the backroom and cleared a sewing table. Ai, the owner, made all the clothes and alterations herself in back, so fabric and thread scraps were strewn all about.
Ranma pulled out their lunch and dropped the knapsack beside his stool, setting the rose down on top. Ena hadn't noticed, too intent on mixing her egg. The two didn't say much of anything, there was very little to talk about and they rarely had long conversations but this was not to say they were distant with one another, rather they had the ability to sense the other's mood and respond without words. Sometimes it felt they held entire conversations through touch and proximity, conversations so deep that Ranma serious wondered if he imagined their bond. He watched her eat the ribs and suddenly felt a stabbing pain in his heart, as if he'd lost her even though she sat right before him. He really wanted her to move in with him and get out of the stinking hellhole her apartment was, it was part of the reason they always went to his place. She really spend more time at his house than her own but she didn't want to acknowledge the depth of her relationship with him and so rejected any discussion of moving into the house.
They ate for the next twenty minutes, saying nothing but speaking volumes through a touch, a breath, a glance; once they finished Ranma brushed back her bangs and cradled the hinge of her jaw. With the other hand he plucked the rose from the floor and presented it to her with a smile. He didn't miss her wince or the way her jaw clenched when the red rose came up, she always seemed to have the same reaction – was she that against having a meaningful relationship? He knew that their interaction was the first true relationship he'd had with a woman in an intimate manner, he felt more comfortable in her presence than in his mother's and could overlook any of her faults. Even her scars, he'd never asked about them, simply let them be like an elephant in the room until she was ready to tell him who had cut her up so badly. He hoped that someday he could give her a rose and not have her flinch.
"You shouldn't have." Her voice was light and high, girlish despite her appearance, and it was not so unbelievable that she was only seventeen.
Ranma smiled and pressed the wrapped stem into her hand. "But I did."
"I don't have anywhere to put it, it'll just die. Why don't you take it home with you?"
"It won't die, just put it in a cup of water. This is for you, I know it's cheap but I want you to have it."
Ena turned away and got up off her stool. "I have to get back. I'll see you tonight." She pressed the rose back into his hands.
Ranma shook his head, cleaned up the mess, and walked out without so much as a goodbye kiss from his girlfriend.