Taking a moment to catch his breath, Ranma slumped to lie on the Tendo roof. Nabiki was keeping him busy... He supposed he was actually grateful that Ukyou had vanished after her initial bid at him -- though, six thousand yen seemed a bit low. At least she hadn't resorted to violence after that.

As it was, three busy days protecting the apparently oblivious Nabiki from Shampoo's half-hearted scare tactics and Kodachi's trickery had left him exhausted. "Damn it, Akane," he muttered. "Why can't you just make up with your sister already?"

He heard a knock echo across the house from the front door, but ignored it, scrambling lower on the roof to a point just above Nabiki's window. He could hear her speaking faintly inside, and wondered if he could glean anything useful.

"Oh, you musn't, Ranma! We shouldn't do things like this until we're married!" she exclaimed.

Nearly losing his grip, Ranma shifted to one side of the window, hanging by his ankles from the gutter and peeking in cautiously. Nabiki's back was to the window and she was alone.

He swung back out of view as her door slammed open. "Ranma!" Akane bellowed from within.

Nabiki chuckled and said, "I can't believe I'm related to someone so gullible."

Ranma didn't hear Akane reply, and wasn't willing to expose himself by peeking.

"Well," Nabiki continued. "Since you can't seem to catch a clue, I'll spell this out for you. I'm going to keep treating Ranma like this until you buy him back from me."

Ranma nearly lost his footing and crashed to the ground again.

"You... You wouldn't!" Akane protested from within the room. "You honestly think you can get away with-"

"And if that weren't bad enough," Nabiki continued, "I won't part with him for less than ... five thousand yen."

Ranma twitched.

"I'm not giving you any-" Akane's protest was cut off by a loud knock at Nabiki's door.

Risking being caught, Ranma peeked in long enough to see Nabiki open the door, and Kasumi step in. She said, "Nabiki, there's a guest here for you. Come in, Ukyou-san."

Ranma swung back out of the way, frowning. Of course, he shouldn't have expected Ukyou to stay gone. Oh well, at least she wasn't trying to intimidate Nabiki this time, dressed in that formal kimono she was wearing. Though ... why would she do that?

"I understand you're having ... problems with Ranchan?" Ukyou asked, the smile on her face carrying into her voice.

"What's she so happy about?" Ranma mumbled quietly.

"Oh," Nabiki said after a moment of pause. "Well ... yes. I was just putting him on the market, since I'm not really interested... Akane gets a bonus because she's my sister, of course, but-"

"One million yen for Ranchan."

This time, he did slip, crashing to the ground and landing on his head.

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Finder's Fee: Prologue

A Ranma 1/2 divergence fanfiction

By Brian Randall

Disclaimer: The paints used in this work are the property of Rumiko Takahashi, Viz video, and other respective owners. I am merely a peasant with an easel.
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Akane goggled at Ukyou, her mouth hanging open. Nabiki looked somewhat shell-shocked, her eyes wide and her hair inexplicably frizzed. Kasumi looked slightly dazed, her eyes not seeming to quite focus, and managed a quiet, "Oh, my..."

Swallowing, and regaining her composure, Nabiki said, "That's an impressive offer, but I'm going to need to see you ... put your money where your mouth is, as they say."

Nodding obligingly, Ukyou reached into the sleeve of her kimono, and took out a sizable envelope, sealed with tape and marked with official looking signatures and bank stamps. Nabiki reached for it, but Ukyou stowed it quickly, producing a sheet of paper and a pen. "Sign first," she said, offering the items to Nabiki.

"No way," Akane breathed. "You can't... How did..."

"Nabiki," Kasumi scolded gently. "You really shouldn't sell Ranma-kun like a household commodity."

"I'm not," Nabiki protested, scanning the contract Ukyou had offered her. "It's kind of an auction scenario, because he's really just not super-market material." Frowning, she looked up at Ukyou. "So, that's it? I sign this, Ranma's yours, and you give me a million yen?"

Ukyou nodded and Nabiki shrugged, putting pen to paper. "No!" Akane protested, charging, one hand reaching for the writing implement. She found herself held back by Ukyou, and the two went down in a tangle of limbs.

"Done!" Nabiki exalted. "I give up my claim, and Ranma's yours, Ukyou. Now, where's my money?"

Pushing Akane off herself, Ukyou climbed to her feet and shot the shorter girl an annoyed glance before producing the envelope again. Nabiki snatched it and tore it open, pulling out a rather impressive stack of bills. "Ah," she sighed. "It's real. One million... Wow, I can go to all sorts of concerts now!"

"Nabiki!" Akane wailed. "How could you?"

"Oh, cheer up," she said, smirking. "Think of it this way: since I can afford my own nice clothes, I won't need to borrow any of yours anymore."

Standing up, tears in her eyes, Akane fled to her room. How could her own sister do such a thing? It was bad enough when she was just toying with Ranma ... but to give him up like that?

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Lying in a dazed heap beneath Nabiki's window, Ranma stared up at the night sky, and tried to make sense of things. Nabiki ... was using him? Toying with his emotions? Was going to ... sell him?

"Well," he growled, climbing to his feet. "I'll show her!"

A small voice in the back of his mind warned him that he was missing some minor details from his blow to the head, but he ignored it. He had revenge to plot.

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Kasumi sighed, and shook her head. "Now, this simply is not proper, Nabiki. You should be ashamed."

"I've got a million marks of shame in hand, Sis," she replied dryly, hefting the money. "And-"

Ukyou snatched the contract from Nabiki. "I'll just go make some copies of this," the okonomiyaki chef said, smiling. "I'll give you one later." With that, she trotted to the doorway, pausing and calling back over her shoulder, "I'll pick up Ranchan tomorrow, okay?"

"Done deal," Nabiki replied with an absent wave, before thumbing through the thick stack of bills.

Kasumi sighed again. "Nabiki, you can't speak for the family and make such a choice. Taking Ukyou-san's money was dishonest."

"Nope," Nabiki replied with a grin. "That's her mistake. So I get to keep the money, and now the fight's between Akane and Ukyou, so I don't have to worry about it."

"You really think it's that simple?"

"Why wouldn't it be? What could go wrong?"

Ranma appeared in the doorway, looking somewhat absent. He brightened, seeing Nabiki. "Just who I was looking for!" he cheered. "Nabiki, my ... lovely fiance... I was thinking, since we're engaged and all, why don't we go out on a date tomorrow? There's no school, right?"

"Actually, Ranma," Nabiki began, before frowning thoughtfully. "You know what? That's a great idea. Where do you want to go to date?"

"Well... That park with the garden maze would be perfect, wouldn't it?" Ranma asked brightly.

"I think so," Nabiki agreed, smirking.

"Great! I'll see you there at ... oh ... one o'clock?"

"Looking forward to it," Nabiki replied, as Ranma grinned, and then dashed out of the room.

"Really now, Nabiki," Kasumi said in a disapproving tone. "Didn't you just sell Ranma-kun to Ukyou?"

"Yes," Nabiki agreed, nodding. "But I bet you she's already home by now. Watch this."

Nabiki grabbed the phone from beside her bed, and dialed quickly. After a moment, she said, "Heya, this is Nabiki." A brief pause. "Yeah." A much briefer pause. "No, of course not. Look, Ranma wants to take you out on a date tomorrow." A longer pause. "Completely! Why would I lie? I got my money so I'm good for it." Another pause. "Tomorrow, like I said. The park with the big hedge maze, at one o'clock." Pause. "Great! I'll meet you there and hand him over to you."

She hung up the phone and shrugged. "So, problem solved."

Crossing her arms over her chest, Kasumi gave Nabiki a stern look.

"Oh, come on," Nabiki protested. "Ranma doesn't like Ukyou. I'm sure the date will be a disaster, and then he and Akane will try and patch things up. Aside from which, that contract only invalidates me as Ranma's fianc?. It shouldn't have any bearing on our family."

Still not satisfied, Kasumi shook her head and turned away. "I suppose you'll do what you think you must, Nabiki-chan," she murmured.

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After waking up early and washing, Ranma had run to a remote park to practice his revenge technique. The speech he was certain he could handle, as it would be very brief. The harder part would be the martial component, which he'd had plenty of experience with, but only as a target.

He almost wished he could ask Shampoo how it was done. Though, Kodachi seemed reasonably adept, as well... He pushed those thoughts from his mind, and concentrated. Arms out, raised, ready to capture your opponent in a hold... Then a forward lunge, sweep your arms together, elbows out as it's not a crushing maneuver...

After an hour he was certain he'd gotten it down, and nodded in satisfaction. He returned to the Tendo home, still early for his date for Nabiki, and peeked in through her window, spotting the outfit she had chosen for the date laying on her bed. He made a note of the colors -- a dark brown skirt and a white blouse, with a cr?e colored coat and a black purse.

Now there was no way she could escape his wrath!

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"Well," Nabiki said, stretching, and glancing at the clock, "I suppose I'd better go finish my handoff."

"How's that?" Soun asked, looking up from his paper.

"Oh, I just found a way to get a million yen," Nabiki said dismissively. Her father blinked at her in surprise.

"Do I want to know?" he asked cautiously.

Nabiki considered for a moment, and then decided, "No, you don't. But I've got to get ready for a date!"

She heard her father burst into tears as she was on her way up the stairs and paused, yelling, "Not like that! I'm getting other people together! Sheesh."

That mollified him, and she continued into her room, quickly dressing and then heading out. As she'd expected when she got to the park, Ukyou was already there. Nabiki frowned in dismay. Ukyou may have been a girl, but obviously needed more practice dressing the part. The ankle-length skirt and long-sleeved blouse weren't exactly bad, but they seemed a bit ... matronly.

"Nabiki!" Ranma exclaimed from across the street, rushing at the pair.

"This isn't going to work," Nabiki decided, grabbing Ukyou's hand, and hauling her into the hedge maze.

"Hey!" Ukyou protested. "That was Ranchan! What's the big idea?"

"I kind of tricked him," Nabiki said with a wink. "Now, come on, let's trade outfits."

"Tricked him?" Ukyou asked in surprise. Then Nabiki found a women's restroom and pulled Ukyou inside. "Why did you have to trick him?"

"Because it's faster than trying to tell him what to do," Nabiki answered. "I'm in a good mood, and you gave me one million reasons to help you. Also, my outfit looks better."

"Hey!"

Nabiki rolled her eyes, unbuttoning her shirt. After a reluctant moment, Ukyou sighed, and began to strip as well. In short order, the girls were redressed in one-another's clothing, though Ukyou looked somewhat doubtful, trying to pull the hem of her skirt below her knees. "Is this right?" she asked anxiously. "I don't think it covers enough -- oops." In her rush to adjust the skirt properly, Ukyou pulled it down past her slightly narrower hips. "Gah!"

"Yes, it's supposed to be a mini-skirt," Nabiki replied, frowning as she hitched the mini-skirt back up to its proper position for Ukyou. The okonomiyaki chef immediately began trying to figure out how to get it to cover the rest of her legs. "Now go out there and get Ranma."

"What about you?"

"I'm going shopping," Nabiki replied with a grin. "Now that the deal is closed, I think I can accept my reward."

"Well, I'm still having trouble here," Ukyou grumbled, fumbling with the skirt. Rolling her eyes again, Nabiki shoved the distracted martial artist out the doorway.

"Over here!" she yelled, before ducking back inside.

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There! He'd heard her that time! Leaping over one of the hedges, he saw her spin, recognizing the important features -- that was the skirt, though she was still trying to adjust it. That was the same blouse and vest. But she didn't look up, so he couldn't see her face. Some part of his mind warned him that he was making a mistake, as some things didn't match up, but he ignored those. He'd heard her voice, and he was seeing her clothes. Committed to his plan of action, he tried not to let himself think about the details. As he landed, he lunged, sweeping her into an embrace and nearly crushing her into his chest.

Toy with me, he thought, and learn what happens! "You think I'm that easy to get rid of?" he growled. "You'll never be free of me! I'm going to stick with you forever!"

Then he released her slightly, enough to look at her face. Ukyou peered up at him, her eyes large and watery. "Oh, Ranchan!" she exclaimed, pulling him into a tighter embrace than the one he had just released. "Do you mean it?"