Warning; This fic will be traveling into lemon territory in a few chapters. Why? Because I can.
"I don't like it, Tendo. Not one bit."
Soun Tendo nodded, but schooled his own concern into the passive mask all but perfect through years of raising three daughters. Instead, he took a sip of tea and contemplated which tile he was about to sacrifice to Genma. "Perhaps your son is negotiating his departure?"
Genma Saotome cast another sidelong glance into the room where his black haired son and the old gnome were talking, the contents of their conversation little more than murmurs from his vantage point. The father adjusted his spectacles nervously, eyeing the pair calmly chatting. The master took a puff from his pipe and nodded in what looked to be an agreeable manner. Genma shivered. "I'm telling you, Tendo, this can't be a good thing. The Master isn't even upset."
Soun removed his finger from the shogi tile that was about to meet an untimely demise and turned to study the pair further. Like his best friend, he frowned at the sight. Genma was right. By this time the Master should have been attempting to ply panties to Ranma female body while Ranma should have been attempting to beat the old pervert into the ground. On one hand, their relatively peaceful conversation meant no household destruction. On the other, other hand, the quiet was a foreboding omen in and of itself.
"It does look ominous, doesn't it, old friend?"
"Indeed it does, Tendo." Genma nodded gravely. Putting the Master and his boy in the same room was generally akin to mixing high explosives with a high speed blender. The fact that they weren't mutually ensuring the other's destruction at this point of their conversation reeked of bad karma. "I don't suppose the emergency closet is still stocked?"
Soun nodded and took the cue from his friend, standing up. Genma joined him and both made their way to the closet off to the right of the stairway. The mustatioed martial artist took a discreet glance over his shoulder and opened the closet. Within hung two fully loaded hiking packs, several bottles of saki, water and various other implements of wilderness survival. He nodded with satisfaction and hefted one of the packs from its hook shouldering it while his friend did likewise. The Tendo adjusted a strap for comfort and turned to Genma. "Both packs should have some emergency cash for—"
"We raided that for drinks a few months back, remember?" Genma pointed out, bringing the Tendo's explanation to a halt.
"Ah, yes." Soun frowned, remembering back to what had not been one of his brighter moves. The failed wedding had brought about that particular binge. Still, it was of little consequence. They had seen worse back when they were on the Master's training sojourn, and with any luck—
Soun's eyes widened and Genma stiffened suddenly. Both father's heads rotated around ninety degrees and pivoted down another twenty to find their worst nightmare incarnated at their feet. Said nightmare was no more than three feet tall and nearly three hundred years old. It went by the name of Happosai.
"M-M-M-Master!" Genma flinched as his brain sacrificed crucial seconds to shock. It was a condition his psyche was used to and recovered with amazing quickness. "We were just going… Shopping!"
"Yes!" Soun chimed in, sliding the backpack off his shoulders as if the huge budge attached to his back wasn't immediately obvious. "We're… giving Kasumi a break!"
Kasumi happened to stop out of the kitchen at that very moment, pausing with the statement. "Why that's very kind of you, father! I'll go and prepare a shopping list for you and Genma."
"Excellent." Happosai nodded, then turned sharply on the balding half of the martial arts duo. "Genma!"
The Saotome's eyes widened. "Uhhh, yes Master?"
"I just wanted you to know what a fine job you've done in raising that boy." The old master smiled with approval, then took a puff from his pipe. "I have to say, I really didn't think he had it in him, but you've proved me wrong."
"I…did?" Genma's brain went through another reboot. Still, he couldn't show weakness, especially not now. "I mean of course I did!"
"A worthy heir to the anything goes dynasty." Happosai continued as if his student hadn't spoken. For Genma, this was an optimal outcome. "I expect great things, Saotome! Great things!"
The old man turned and bounced into to living room with the proclamation, leaving both parents gaping. That hadn't been simply a grudging endorsement and both men couldn't help but to feel something was seriously amiss. Ranma stepped out of Happosai's guestroom with neutral mask and both men assailed him almost immediately.
"What was that about!?"
"Are you nuts?!"
Ranma simply leveled a dispassionate stare at them for a second then shrugged. "Just askin' some advice."
"Advice? From the MASTER!?" Soun gasped, gawking at the young man as if he had been diagnosed with an incredibly lethal communicable disease. "You must understand the dire ground you now walk upon, Son!"
"Tendo is right, boy." Genma agree sternly, taking a moment to look back over his shoulder to ensure they were alone. "No good can come from associating with the master."
"He ain't that bad." Ranma shrugged. "Had some pretty good stuff back there."
"Stuff?" Ranma's father singled out the word with slight trepidation. "What sort of… Stuff?"
"Say, where's Nabs?" The pigtailed boy asked, looking around while taking the distraction as an opportunity to disengage himself from the parental interrogation.
Genma and Soun watched their mutual heir pad up the stairs, then sent questioning looks at one another. Soun managed to recover first. "Did your son just sidestep the question?"
Genma nodded faintly, staring back up into stairway. "Not good, Tendo. Not good at all."
Nabiki Tendo tilted her head up from the fashion magazine she had been browsing, analyzing the sounds vibrating off the door. Her sisters didn't knock and her father was more discrete. Genma never darkened her doorstep which left for a pleasant surprise, as her primary source of income hardly ever came looking for her. Normally it was the other way around and she almost frowned having been denied the thrill of the chase. The middle Tendo shrugged mentally. There was always next time.
"Come on in, Saotome." She replied to the knock, her eyes never leaving the magazine as the door clicked open and the martial artist admitted himself. The second click broke her attention from the article she was feigning reading, and she noted with some curiosity that he had closed the door behind him. A private meeting then? She couldn't help but to smile. "Psychiatric advice, ten yen."
Ranma blinked. "Um, I don't need—"
"An old joke, Charlie Brown." Nabiki chuckled, closing the magazine entirely as Ranma puzzled over the reference. "Come to make an early payment on that loan?"
The financial talk seemed to focus Ranma and he dug down into his pocket. "Uh, kinda. How much do I owe you?"
"Two thousand." Nabiki smiled sweetly, sitting upright on her bed. The smile vanished the instant he pulled out a massive wad of money.
"No, I mean the whole thing."
Nabiki began to blink rapidly as the martial artist tugged at the rubber band straining to confine the roll of cash. The righteous indignation at treating money with such disrespect barely even registered for the Tendo as he began to thumb through the light tan bills.
"Two hundred and thirty three thousand." She responded automatically as incredulity began to kick a few neurons out of play. "Two hundred and seventy with interest."
"Not as bad as I thought…" Ranma murmurer, his attention focused on extracting the requisite amount from the wad. He fingered a few more bills and pulled them loose from the maw as Nabiki gaped, then snapped her mouth shut, fixing him with an accusing glare.
"You're enjoying this."
Ranma looked up cluelessly, but dropped the mask as she continued to glare at him. "Hey, gotta take what I can get."
Nabiki gave him once last withering glance before relenting. "Okay, spill it."
"Need some help. Financial help." Ranma leaned on the closed door and tossed Nabiki a miniature version of his roll. She caught it eagerly, not bothering to count it. There really was no reason to as the Saotome had proven he'd kill himself before defaulting on anything he considered honorable. She watched as his roll disappeared into his front pocket, but failed to produce the massive bulge its mass implied. Stupid martial arts tricks, she grumbled before turning back to the more important topic at hand.
"It looks like you have that matter well in hand," She commented, rocking off the bed to face him. "Needless to say, I'm quite curious as to where you got such a sum. Pit fighting?"
"Eh…" Ranma stalled, shaking his head.
"Marry Kuno?" His glare answered that question outright. "Save a rich princess? Playing vigilante?"
"Look, ain't important." Ranma cut her off, eliciting a slight, if manufactured frown from the girl. "I just need help doing stuff with it."
"Stuff." Nabiki chewed on the word. "Well, I am very good at disposing income. Why, I just saw this dress—"
"Investment stuff." Ranma cut her off again, bringing a halt to her teasing banter. The humor drained away from the middle Tendo as she realized the thrust of his visit and how big of a departure it was for the Ranma Saotome she knew.
"Okay, investment stuff." Nabiki clicked into fully business mode with Ranma's nod. "Advice isn't free and my advice comes at a premium. Don't expect me to hand walk you through it either. I'm not a tutor and those services cost extra." She paused, emphasizing the previous statement. "A lot extra."
Ranma nodded as if it were all a given. "How much per hour?"
Nabiki simply stared, speechless. After a minute of trying to determine whether or not the martial artist was serious, a coherent thought finally found its way to her mouth. "It sounds like you're offering me a job, Saotome."
"Well, yeah." Ranma pushed off the door and began pacing the length of her room. "I figure you're the best person I know when it comes to money, and I need the best. God knows I'm getting tired of carrying it all around. Let somebody who enjoys it play with the stuff."
"That would be me…" Nabiki murmured, then focused on Ranma once more. "First, I need to know if this is worth my time. How much are we talking about?"
Ranma cocked his head and began to count off on his fingers. The display wasn't encouraging to Nabiki. Any number that could be counted on ones' fingers probably wasn't worth bothering with.
"About five million, give or take."
Nabiki nearly choked. "Five million?! Pesos, right?"
"Pesos?" Ranma blinked. "Who uses pesos in Japan?"
The thud of her own heart flooded Nabiki's ears as she fought to calm herself. Where the hell had he gotten five million yen?! It took a good minute for the sister to recover, all the while Ranma waited patiently. Nabiki fell back to sitting on the bed. He hadn't gotten it fighting… maybe an inheritance from a distant, yet here to unknown relative? "What… do you want me to do with it?"
"Aw, I don't know." Ranma shrugged, and the slightest edge of frustration seeped into his voice. "You're better at this stuff than I am. Make more money with it. Maybe set up some medical accounts. College tuition. Hell, retirement funds for all I know. Isn't that what companies do?"
"But… but…" Nabiki's logic centers were quickly shutting down under the assault of surrealism they were being confronted with. "You don't even own a company, Saotome, let alone have employees to give benefits to!" Ranma's pensive look caused her cheek to twitch "…do you?"
"Eh, about that…"
"You've got to be kidding." Nabiki smacked her forehead as she considered the sheepish admission. Ranma Saotome, heir to the anything goes school of martial arts and CEO of his own company. She took a deep breath in order to bleed away the frustration. "Okay, Saotome. From the top—Who, what, when, where and why?"
Ranma nodded. "You know that after school job I got?"
"Mmmhmm." Nabiki replied. She remembered the job. It was the ramen place in Juuban he was working at as a girl to pay off his loan. "Let me guess, you bought it out."
"Nah," he waved off the guess. At this point she was willing to believe anything. "Damn magical girls burnt that place down chasing after some Jadeite of something. Looked it up too and couldn't figure out why the hell they'd torch a noodle joint over a stupid rock."
Jadeite, semi precious stone, little in the way of commercial value, Nabiki recalled the relevant geology and how it related to her profit margin. Damned if she could figure out why a group of magical girls would destroy a noodle shop for it either. "Maybe it was cursed?"
"God only knows." Ranma shivered, but returned to the explanation. "That was about four months ago. Found another place, made some money and here I am."
Nabiki cast a skeptical look at him. "You're leaving out a few key details there, Saotome. I think we're still missing the who, what, where, when and how part."
Ranma let an exasperated sigh loose. "Look, can ya do something with the money or not?"
"Would love to," she returned sweetly. "But now you have my curiosity up and I can't invest your money for people I don't even know. If there are health plans, retirement funds and college tuitions, I need names. For all I know, I could be laundering money for the Yakuza."
"Nah. We have an understanding." Nabiki's eyes widened with the admission and Ranma winced with the slip.
"No way, Saotome." Nabiki shook her head emphatically now. "No way am I dealing with anything remotely connected to organized crime. I may run gray occasionally, but I'm not stupid enough to deal with them."
"Dammit, I ain't dealin' with the Yakuza, Nabs!" Ranma pushed back. "We just came to an agreement."
"What sort of agreement?"
Ranma smiled grimly and Nabiki couldn't help but to feel sorry for whoever the smile was meant for. "They leave us alone, I don't gut their entire organization from the top, down."
The middle Tendo blinked. All in all, that was actually believable and in line with the martial artist she knew. "Okay, then, but who are 'we'."
"I…" Ranma was about to answer, but stopped short, looking around as if somebody else were in the room. "Look, not here. If ya really need to know, you can come with me to work tonight."
"Okaaaay." She replied hesitantly. "You usually leave at around six, right?"
"Yep." Ranma nodded, turning to the door. "See ya in a few."
Nabiki scowled at Ranma as each and every guess she plied to the martial artist turned up nothing. The train shook slightly as it rounded a curve and dove into the darkness of a tunnel, prompting her to grip the overhead strap tightly. Ranma stood close by, but somehow managed to remain separate from her person despite the crush of evening commuters crammed in around them. Each shift in the rail car produced a wave that seemed to ripple with the occupants and stop with Ranma Saotome as if he were the breaker.
She had been monitoring their stops for the last ten minutes and it was becoming increasingly obvious as to their final destinations as their choices narrowed. "Roppongi?"
Ranma simply nodded as the train came to a stop, once more allowing the crush around them to slacken as the people exited the car. Nabiki considered their destination carefully. The area was well known for its nightlife, be it gambling, drinking, whatever. She had even visited on occasion but hardly had enough business in the area to make a habit of it, let alone the want to deal with the rumored heavy yakuza presence. Two more stops and another ten minutes found the pair stepping off the train and onto the bustling Roppongi platform.
Nabiki followed Ranma's lead through the mass of bodies and over to an anonymous water fountain where he promptly splashed himself into a she. It was an action that went largely unnoticed and even the middle Tendo shrugged it off. It was, after all, standard operating procedure for the redhead to use her looks to obtain any number of part time jobs in the past, though what part this played in carrying a few million around in hard cash was still a mystery. As if sensing the question, Ranma turned around to her and frowned.
"Don't like ridin' the trains as a girl." The she supplied and began to lead Nabiki out of the station. "Almost had to kill two gropers last time I rode one down here."
"Let me guess, you usually roof hop." Nabiki returned dryly and Ranma nodded as the pair fed the turn style their stubs, which were sucked up by the machine greedily.
"Better exercise, less crowded."
Now clear of the station, the crowd relented and the girls were able to move with freedom, Ranma leading the way onto the main boulevard of Roppongi Crossing. The redhead seemed to weave through the crowds of tourists and salary men until Nabiki was sure she had singled out a single person loitering on a street corner not twenty feet away. Unlike the pedestrians around him, he stood out in a unbuttoned black suit, white shirt and wore black sunglasses that molded to his face like they had been grafted there. All in all, the dark skinned man stuck out and apparently didn't mind doing so. Chinese, she observed now that Ranma was taking the direct route to the man who indicated they had been spotted with the slightest of nods. Ranma came up beside him with slight smile.
"How's it goin', Da?"
The spiky black haired Chinese looked down at the diminutive redhead with the barest of his own smiles. "Pretty quiet. Dako had to break up a couple of drunks, but other than that, no action." Nabiki found that the low, basey rumble of his voice was rather pleasant, then noticed his attention fix on her person. "New girl?"
"Nah." Ranma shook her head, smirking for some reason Nabiki had yet to fathom. "She'll be handling the money. Be nice to her if ya want your dental."
"Mmm, dental." He rumbled, then smiled, causing the middle Tendo to start as her eyes caught the tiny glints embedded in his teeth. Diamonds, she decided, remembering to breath. Had to be diamonds.
"Oh, yeah. Nabs, this is Shang Da. Da, Nabiki Tendo."
The large Chinese looked from Nabiki to Ranma, then back to Nabiki. "I like Nabs better."
"I don't." Nabiki returned frigidly and the man merely shrugged. "And what's his title? Henchman?"
Shang Da frowned. "That hurts."
"More along the lines of demolitions." Ranma stated matter-of-factly, leaving Nabiki to wonder if the girl had even perceived the joke. Shang Da smiled with the remark and the martial artist turned fully to her suit. "Try not ta eat any of the tourists."
Nabiki arched an eyebrow, but Ranma was already pulling her away and down the street. "Nice company you keep, Saotome."
"It gets better." Ranma snorted as they continued down the street and past the various clubs.
The middle Tendo was just about to question what better was when her guide made an abrupt right turn and dived into one of the narrow side streets branching from the main artery. She quickly led her through another left and two quick rights before emerging onto a more frequently traveled road. Nabiki froze as her brain caught up with their new location, allowing Ranma to take a few more steps before realizing her charge had stopped completely. The redhead simply cocked her head curiously and waited for Nabiki.
"What are we doing here?"
"It's where I work."
"You work here."
Nabiki stared at the redhead waiting for her patiently, then turned to the scene around her. On average, she would never be caught dead in the section of Roppongi she now stood whose main business establishments consisted of bars, gambling and sex, all in mass quantities. She took a deep breath. "You work in Roppongi's redlight district?"
Ranma shrugged. "People gotta make a livin'. Come on."
The redhead was off down the street again and Nabiki trailed hesitantly behind her as the martial artist passed the neon of cheesy clubs and sex shops alike as if they were barely a footnote on her nightly commute. Somehow she managed not to gawk at the district's blatant advertisement of all things immoral and indecent and follow Ranma's easy stroll down the street who amazingly seemed well within her element.
"What's up the haps, Madame Saotome!"
Nabiki's attention was immediately diverted by a tall, stocky man standing guard at an entrance to one of the better looking clubs they were passing. Unlike the henchman from before, this one was considerably less professional in appearance, wrapped in a simple white T with a lightning bolt printed across a well muscled chest. There was no doubt in her mind that everything about his appearance was deliberate, more than likely to keep the crowd clamoring to gain entrance in check.
Ranma slowed her pace and meandered over to the bouncer. "Just headin' in. You?"
"Bored." The man admitted, looking down the line of chatting patrons. "Everybody's behaving."
The redhead bobbed her head with sympathy. "Don't worry. It'll pick up." She motioned skyward with a thumb. "Full moon and all that. Say 'hi' to Mak for me."
The hired muscle grinned, nodding. "Will do. Might pop over to your place over break if it gets that bad. Maybe you and I…"
Instead of landing the man in a full body cast for the not-so subtle innuendo, Nabiki was mildly surprised as Ranma snorted with amusement as she turned to walk away. "You couldn't handle it, man."
"You'd be surprised at what I would handle!" he called out after her, eliciting another minor chuckle from the martial artist. Nabiki quickly stepped up beside her.
"What the hell are you doing here, Saotome?" She hissed as the pair resumed their trek down the street. "This is pretty damn weird, even for—" Her mouth stopped working as the conversation played over in her mind, suddenly finding complete clarity. Nabiki grabbed her guide's shoulder, pulling her back. "He called you Madame."
Ranma shrugged. "Probably. Didn't notice."
"'Madame', Ranma." She emphasized, as if explaining the word to a small child. "As in a mistress of a whore house."
"Now I wouldn't go callin' The Gilded Rose a whore house, Nabs." The martial artists favored her with a slightly perturbed- if exaggerated –look. "Might hurt my feelins'."
"And here we are." She stopped in front of what looked to be a fairly antiquated establishment wrapped in wood with lines that bore the vaguest resemblance to a Shinto temple. Soft lantern light lit the outside creating a sight totally at odds with the rest of the bustling red light district. She walked up to the entrance where a girl waited with a smile. She was garbed in a light weight version of a full kimono and bowed to the Saotome as she approached.
"Welcome to the Gilded—" The brunette started, but found broke out into a wide grin mid greeting. "Obaasan!"
"'Sup, Hiroko?" Ranma returned warmly while Nabiki stared incredulously.
The brunette's locks shifted as she turned to look at the gawking Tendo, a curious expression spreading across her face. "Who's she, Obaasan?"
"Nabiki Tendo." The redhead stated, brushing the sister's reaction off. "Don't mind her. She'll be looking like that a lot tonight."
Hiroko looked from Ranma to Nabiki with skepticism. "As long as she doesn't scare away the clients."
Ranma failed to stifle the resultant chuckle and stepped by the pink kimono girl. "C'mon, Nabs. I'll show you around."
Nabiki took a step and hesitated. Ranma Saotome, the clueless martial artist was about to show her around a whorehouse. By all accounts, a whore house she ran and everything with it. "Ranma, are you telling me…?"
"I didn't break ya, did I?"
Nabiki regained her composure after the realization and adopted her own confident posture. "That'll be the day, Saotome."
Ranma grinned. "Still got plenty of that left, Nabs.
It wasn't what she was expecting.
The word elegant came to mind as Ranma led her to the main lobby where another woman, this one in her twenties, greeted them with bright smile upon catching site of her host. Nabiki fared slightly better this time as she was introduced to yet another member of Ranma's menagerie, this one similarly clad in a pastel green kimono, braided black hair and striking green eyes. Just behind her stood a monolith. The monolith was actually a pale bald headed suit two Nabiki's wide and immaculately dressed in a grey suit, indigo tie combination. His beady eyes seemed to measure every inch of the Tendo in a manner that made her shiver. It wasn't as if the hulk was leering at her. In fact, she severely doubted he was contemplating anything even remotely sexual, just that it professional. Highly professional.
Ranma broke from her idle chit chat with the girl and turned her attention the enormous man. "Stop playin' with her, Dako." Dako arched a single eyebrow at the redhead then shrugged, assuming a less imposing demeanor for which the Tendo to look upon. "Don't mind him. D loves his work."
Dako simply nodded.
"And he's such a good listener!" The black haired hostess suffused, earning another nod from the silent guard.
Nabiki simply sent a leaded glare at Ranma, who shrugged. There was little doubt in her mind that the walking brick wall before her was a man of few words, regardless of the topic. "Anyway, this is Nabiki." Ranma continued introductions. "She'll be handling the money."
"Oh, thank God." The hostess breathed a sigh of relief. "You would not believe how much Obaasan gripes when she has to sit behind the desk and count the nightly take."
"I'm not that bad."
"Uhhhhh…." Nabiki turned her head, finding the giant behind the hostess shaking his head in disagreement.
"You're fired, D." Ranma sniffed, prompting Dako to roll his eyes.
"You fired me yesterday."
Ranma arched a thin, red eyebrow. "But I mean it this time."
Dako simply nodded and remained rooted to his post. Ranma turned back to Nabiki. "C'mon. let's get inside. See you in a bit, Asuka."
The girl nodded and the redhead brushed by Dako and through another curtained doorway, revealing the softly lit interior of the Gilded Rose. On the surface, Nabiki couldn't help but to be impressed. It was simple, yet elegant, consisting of several booths focused on a center stage. The room was far from crowded and only five of the ten booths were occupied by what she assumed were male clientele and their female hostesses. One of the four was entertaining another woman. Small rice paper lanterns were interspersed evenly across the space, providing an intimate flickering to accompany the soft murmur of conversation. Ranma led Nabiki around the edge of the room through the shadows and up towards a well stocked bar. Along the way they were occasionally caught sight of by the women, who all invariable flashed subtle looks of acknowledgment or smiles at Ranma who in turn nodded encouragingly back.
The bar was bathed in stronger artificial lighting manned by a blond male of medium build, sporting a grey hamak. He ran a cloth across the oaken bar top, relieving it of a few minor droplets before noting their arrival. "Ah, Obaasan. How does the night find you?"
"Long as it doesn't have the word fiancee in it, not too badly. Yourself?" Ranma smirked, earning gentle nod from the barkeep.
"Quiet, which I mind not." The man replied softly.
"An odd attitude for a barkeep." Nabiki observed pointedly. Said barkeep simply looked looked at as if she were little more than a passing curiosity.
"The bar isn't here for people to get drunk, Nabs." Ranma commented cryptically as the man ducked under the counter momentarily, pulling out a notebook and handing it to the redhead. She began to flip through it, noting the contents as she continued. "Ain't opposed to a little blurring though. Rekki says it helps the ambiance, so why the hell not."
"Right. People come here for other services." Nabiki commented dryly.
"Mmhmm." The redhead nodded in a sufficiently absent manner as she flipped through the final pages of the notebook she had been handed, then returned it back to the blond. "Have Negumi cover for you when Ms. Taka comes in. Doubt she'll mind the tips." The man nodded, retrieving the pad and sliding it back under the counter top. Ranma ticked a nail against the counter top. "Keep Nabiki here company while I change. Introduce her around to the crew as they're free."
All alone in the heart of a Roppungi district brothel wasn't exactly what she had planned for the night, and slight form of panic bubbled within the girl as her escort began to step away from the bar. "And exactly where are you running off to?"
"Gotta a business to run, Nabs." Ranma returned moving toward the back of the establishment. "Talk ta Toshi if you need anything."
Nabiki's cheek began to twitch once the girl disappeared through a back door, and she turned back to the bar where Toshi waited patiently. His calm reserve only fueled her irritation. "What?"
"A drink may do well to relax your agitated state." Toshi noted, turning away from her and scrutinizing the wall of multicolored liquids. he glanced back to her over his shoulder, as if memorizing her details before deciding. "A rich brown cognac. Martin Louis the Thirteenth, I think."
Words failed Nabiki Tendo. While she wasn't the drinking sort on average, she did have an image to uphold. That image was intended to project mastery of all things money and intimate knowledge of the finer things in life, even if she came into contact with those things rather sparingly given her relative income. Thus Nabiki could converse on anything from Armani gowns to seventeen thousand yen a bottle cognacs…
…Which the drink Toshi was now pouring from the ornate crystal pitcher just happened to be.
Aside from the fact that the Martin Louis the Thirteenth batch was seven digits a bottle and aged a good century, the man behind the bar had accurately deduced her tastes, which was a feat considering few would ever associate her with a bottle of cognac. That she didn't -- couldn't -– partake of the beverage regularly not only made the hosts divination all the more incredible, but incredibly tempting as well. Her own purchases hadn't even breached the five hundred yen a bottle mark. The molasses brown liquid sitting before her was a cool ten thousand a glass.
"It's on the house." The host added upon noting her hesitancy.
"Right." She glanced skeptically at Toshi, then back at the glass. While father was a rather 'hands-off' parent and certainly had no inhibitions concerning alcohol himself, Nabiki was all but certain he'd go into conniptions if he realized that his baby girl was drinking. Not just drinking, she snorted mentally. Drinking beverages that could run us all into the ground financially.
Another thought occurred to the middle Tendo, one that ran a slight chill through her even as she fingered the brown tainted crystal class. The cognac represented more than just a luxury, it represented leverage; Leverage that Ranma could ply at a later date if she were so inclined. The middle Tendo rolled the idea around in her mind and shrugged, pulling it up and to her lips. A single glass of alcohol was a poor substitute for what she could bring to bear against the martial artist if it ever came down to it. All things considered, her regular arsenal was downright mundane compared to the knowledge that Ranma was running a brothel. Not that she was one to claim the moral high ground when it came to using people, just…
Secure in her knowledge and tactical superiority, Nabiki Tendo allowed the liquid fire into her mouth wear it rolled smoothly down her throat and into her stomach where it smoldered in a most satisfying manner. Oh, damn, this is good stuff, she thought, taking another sip.
"Seducing the chicklets so soon, Toshi?"
Nabiki glanced to the right to find a taller than average woman approach the bar, smiling mischievously. There was no doubt as to the fact that she was a hostess herself, as indicated by the light blue kimono wrapped in elegant sky blue leaf designs. Even given her profession, her general appearance was an order above what the sister had seen thus far from the elaborate makeup to the complex coils of jet black hair. While the hostess may have only been Kasumi's age, she carried herself with an exotic air that the eldest Tendo couldn't hope to match.
Toshi diverted Nabiki's attention with the slightest of chuckles. "While she is quite delectable, I accompany her at Obaasan's behest."
"Of course." The woman's eyes twinkled before turning away from the man and to Nabiki. "And you must be Nabiki Tendo. I am known as Rekki. Ranma informed me that she might be bringing somebody to help out with our finances."
"That is still open for negotiation." The Tendo returned pointedly. "Especially now that I've been introduced to where Ranma works."
"Works?" Nabiki was surprised to find the woman blinking curiously. "Oh! Not if she can help it, I assure you."
The sister chewed on Rekki's reaction as she tried to divine just how deeply Ranma was involved in the shadowy world of prostitution. Did she service clients? Decide who slept with who? How much was she making? And yet a more important question:
"You know Ranma is a boy, right?"
Nabiki was disappointed as neither host or the new woman batted an eye. Rekki smiled softly. "A pleasant irony I myself have commented upon on numerous occasions, I assure you."
Pleasant, Nabiki mused with dark amusement at the innuendo laden statement. Yeah, what could be more pleasant than being a boy and a girl in the sex industry? Unfortunately, the new information only served to generate more questions. The Ranma she knew wasn't the most outgoing person. While he was by no means an introvert, adventure usually went out of its way to find him, not to mention the number of women looking to marry him or worse at the drop of a hat.
Repressed sexual tendencies indeed, Nabiki mused. But what had changed? How did it affect the Saotome-Tendo pact? A small part of her psyche cringed. While she wasn't necessarily opposed to a business on the side, the reaction of her little sister was an unknown quantity at this point. Akane was obviously fond of Ranma and would go through the roof with the news, but what else? Would she be sad? Depressed? Just how far had Ranma descended into this decadent night life? Ranma hell, she scoffed silently. Do I even want to be part of it?
More movement off to the right caught the middle Tendo's attention and her head turned to find an impossible sight- She was dressed in a liberally cut crimson red cheongsam whose length was wrapped in black dragons and embroidered with diamond-like sparkles. The pigtail was gone, having been annihilated with flair by the french braid held in place by jeweled hair pins whose tassels trailed down with the occasional fiery wisp of hair. The martial arts gait was gone now, she noted, that confident graceful strut replaced by suggestive sway that allowed the high cut of the cheongsam's slit to reveal a well toned leg, accentuated further by the jeweled, dark red stilettos they bore.
Nabiki blinked, as if the act were libel to dispel the vision before her. Ranma dressing up his female aspect was nothing new, as the boy-girl had donned a dress for the greater good on numerous occasions. The girl- no, woman –before her, however, pushed that envelope to the extreme edge of her accepted version of reality. Makeup, earrings, jewelry, heels, revealing dress and hair, all altered her in such a way as to make the redhead she knew barely recognizable.
In short, she was dressed not just to kill, but maim and slaughter as well.
"How we looking for tonight, Re-chan?" Ranma sidled up to the bar with a friendly smile and got straight down to business.
"Saiya, Makato, Mika, Ai and Tsuba are with clients. Yoko and Nanako are freelancing the bars, Asuza is sick and everybody else is free." Rekki outlined precisely, giving Nabiki the impression that the Gilded Rose's operations not only ran like a well oiled machine, but that Ranma was just as well integrated into it. And if Ranma was approving the schedules, that made her…
Ranma nodded, taking the vital information in. "Sounds good. Negumi is gonna cover Toshi when his nine-thirty arrives."
"She won't mind the tips." Rekki confirmed, her coiled locks swaying with the agreement.
"That's what I said." Ranma snorted softly, then moved on. "If you can take the floor, I'll be showin' Nabiki around."
"Of course, Obaasan."
The exchange continuing on before Nabiki, answering several questions within the space of seconds. There could be no doubt about it: Ranma was fully in charge of the day to day operations of this particular pleasure house, which apparently included such niceties as who slept with who. it was something that she would have never thought the martial artist capable of but was happening before her eyes.
She simply couldn't help herself as her next words left her mouth. "So you're all good with this?"
"The sex trade. Selling flesh. The pimp thing." She elaborated.
Rekki adopted a bland expression and even Toshi's face went blank. "Our new coworker is rapidly losing her appeal."
Ranma's pleasant demeanor began to fade. "Nabs… Don't."
"I mean… The manly martial artist…" Nabiki continued heedlessly as thoughts began to spill from her head at random. "And what about honor? Akane? Do you pay for personal service or force your 'employees' to do it for—"
The tone was more than enough to snap the Tendo from her rant, her eyes finding glacial blue ones boring into her. They were eyes she recognized easily but they were normally turned upon opponents several times more lethal than herself. That instant of shock was quickly replaced by resentment. Clueless martial artists didn't push her around, especially when they were at a severe deficit of moral high ground and leverage.
"Right. Don't think this is over, Saotome." She belted back coldly, bringing her famed Ice Queen persona to bear. "A few choice words to the wrong people—"
"I'll bury you."
"—and you can… you'll what?" Nabiki stalled at the uncharacteristic interruption.
"The Gilded Rose services lots of people. Some of them are very important." Ranma continued to allow her gaze to bore into the Tendo, all but forcing the confidence out of the sister by sheer will alone. The redhead's next words were more than enough to shatter it completely. "They're lawyers, judges and government officials, Nabs. They're people who wouldn't think twice about squashing threats to their extracurricular activities."
Nabiki paled. "You… you wouldn't."
Cool eyes confirmed the answer. "All I do is have to drop your name to the wrong person."
Ranma shook her head, denying the girl any chance to insert herself into the conversation. She turned away from the middle Tendo and toward Rekki. "Show Ms. Tendo to the door. I need some time alone."
Her orders relayed, Ranma was gone toward the back of her establishment, disappearing through the back door with the same suggestive sway by which she arrived. A stunned Nabiki stared, then turned to look at the waiting Toshi and Rekki who stood by impassively.
"I think it's time to go." Rekki said, indicating the direction to the door. The middle Tendo simply nodded and began her stunned walk to the establishment's exit while her brain continued to chew away at the new impossible facts before her. Things weren't adding up. The Ranma she knew held honor above all else. That same Ranma wouldn't even lift a finger against most women, but had somehow come into possession of a whore house, become its manager and was intimately involved in its day to day activities, namely counting the money and scheduling who slept with who.
Rekki escorted her through the reception area and past the giant Dako and curious Asuka, though she scarcely noticed until she had passed through the outer layer of curtains and into the cool night. Rekki gave her a final nod before retiring back into the interior, leaving her alone.
"Oh man, what'd you do to make Obaasan so mad?" The teen next to her asked looking first to her, then back through the curtains. Hiroko returned her attention to the still shell shocked Tendo.
Of all the thoughts vying for attention, only one made it to her lips upon noticing the Gilded Roses' teen greeter. "You're fifteen. Does Saotome make you work too?"
Hiroko blinked, then a gasped as she realized the thrust of the question. "Are you kidding?! Okaasan would have a fit for even suggesting I—" She covered her mouth. "No wonder you got kicked out!"
What the hell is up with this place?! Nabiki pushed through the logical disconnections with mounting frustration. Ranma was, for all intents and purposes, a pimp. She sold flesh, an occupational low in society. And the screwy thing about it was that none of the 'employees' seemed to mind, which meant either they didn't see her her as a threat or they were so intimidated that they don't dare move against her. While she could achieve the latter, Nabiki knew that the former was more in keeping with the Saotome's personality. The middle tendo took a long breath and looked at the teen staring at her, making a decision.
Hiroko watched as Nabiki Tendo opened a small pocket book and pulled out several sheets of yen. "I need to know who, what, why, when and how."
The girl shrugged, taking the money and disposing of it within one of her kimono's many folds. "So where do you want to start?"
"The beginning is as good a place as any."
Six Months Ago...
The place was destroyed.
Ranma Saotome stared at the establishment as flames billowed from the front windows. The first firefighters were just now arriving, but it was already too late. The structure had already taken the maximum limit of damage, and while she hadn't seen the fight that caused it, she knew battle damage when she saw it. This one had been swift, intense and completely without regard to property damage
"They… they destroyed my restaurant…." The hunched man beside her whispered in a hoarse voice. "My beautiful restaurant!"
"Who the hell would nuke a noodle joint?" Ranma mused, breaking the old man out of his trance. Another waitress simply continued to stare off to the side.
"Ah, Ranma-chan…" The owner adjusted the spectacles at the tip of his nose. "The Senshi were fighting some monsters. They kept screaming something about 'Beryl'. Thank God we got everybody out alive!"
"Beryl?" Ranma rolled the word around on her tongue, resolving to find out exactly what a Beryl was and why a group of magical girls would torch her now former place of employment. "Well this sucks."
The owner nodded somberly. Streams of water were now being aimed into the inferno. "I'll be happy to put in a good word for you... but Chu-Chu Ramen won't be serving Juuban anytime soon."
Damn right it wouldn't, Ranma mused acerbically as she handed her uniform over. The place was a total and complete loss. On one hand, she was happy that she wouldn't have to wear the frilly pink waitresses skirt anymore. It did bad, bad things to her masculinity, especially when her ego knew just how good she looked in it. On the other, those magical girls had just toasted the only source of income she had. Better hope I don't learn their secret identities any time soon, she grumbled to herself.
Between her own property damages -- most of which not her fault -– and Nabiki's extortionist activity, a part time job was a must. Much as she would have liked to have kept one closer to home, nobody wanted to hire Ranma the Martial Arts Chaos magnet besides Cologne, and she'd learned early on that was the fast track to marrying Shampoo no matter how many cool techniques she had to offer. School during the day had all but limited her job hunting to the evening and few establishments had use for a teen with little more than martial arts back ground.
Sure he could bounce for bars as a guy, but when compared waitressing in her female body, it wasn't even a contest. The money she made off tipping was insane. Sure it usually involved a short skirt and wrapping guy around her pinkie but the money was easy and most of the owners like old man Osko didn't driver her nearly as hard as Cologne. In fact, they treated her pretty damn well for pulling in the business she did.
Better than bustin' up drunks all night, she snorted to herself then sighed. "Alright, old man. Keep in touch."
The owner nodded. "I'll be sure to call once things are less…" He cast a glance to the smoking flicker that had once been his restaurant. "…fiery."
Ranma smiled as she sauntered away. "I'll give those magical cheerleaders a good ass kickin' if I happen across 'em for you."
"…." The owner stared at the redhead's back and the magnificent figure that accompanied it, not sure if her statement was such a good idea. His concerns were quickly diverted by the grace of her martial arts gait and how parts of her anatomy swayed unconsciously with it.
Ah, if only I were a few years younger…
Another siren sped down the street Ranma had stepped onto, undoubtedly bound for the same place as the first three. The redhead stared after the pulsing lights for a moment, then silently curse magical girls everywhere yet again. It wasn't as if she couldn't find another waitressing job easily enough. The work was easy and she was good. She was also good looking, and when they caught a glimpse of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts Waitressing, were well and sold.
She just didn't want to go through the hassle of doing it all over again.
The redhead mentally drew up a mp of the area and began to run down the list of employment prospects. Two noodle joints within a kilometer's walk, the crown arcade was just down the street… That weird American pizza joint… Could always try my hand at the high class sushi place in the business district…She briefly considered a Chinese restaurant near by but the very idea left a bad taste in her mouth after the Amazons and the sushi place was probably too stuffy. Pizza was probably better suited to her talents, but she could do the noodles pretty damn well too considering her recent employment… Not the Arcade though. She'd been by there a couple times. Far too many chatty school girls for her taste. But then again, chatty school girls don't grope...
By the end of the night, Ranma Saotome, heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts was slinging pizzas. It wasn't quite okanomiyaki, but the stuff was good and easy to make. The fact that her best friend slash fiancée was a consummate okanomiyaki chef helped and after a token demonstration of her skills, Ranma was once again employed.
And in a skirt.
Ranma sighed as she untied her lacy apron, hanging it on a hook in Can-Can Pizzeria's back break room. Deceptively delicate fingers pulled a wad of yen from said apron flipping through it with a slight smile. As much as she wanted to bitch and moan about the skirt, there was no denying the results. Her pride reared its massive head for a moment, knowing that she not only had the figure for it, but the customers simply ate it up. The fact that she had the skill to back up the looks was merely icing on the cake.
The fact that she was a man was conveniently ignored.
Smirking, the redhead unsnapped the short pink skirts first button just below the small of her back and pulled the zipper down cleanly, stepping out of the article as it fell down her legs. Next came the frilly white blouse, accompanied by a name tag reading 'Ranma', leaving her wearing nothing but a low cut bra and white bikini panties. She barely considered either. Boxers didn't exactly go with tight mini skirts and it wasn't the first time she had worn either. With a quick glance around, she slid out of the remaining garments and pulled a pair of boxers and her Chinese silks from the locker assigned to her, quickly changing into them with a mental sigh of relief.
The first night hadn't gone badly at all. The manager seemed nice enough and was more than receptive once she had demonstrated her well honed skills at the arts of food service and assigned her to shadow Umi in order to learn the ropes. By the end of the shift, Ranma was weaving around the tables on her own with a flirty smile, pizza trays balanced on a single finger in one hand and drinks in the other. The guys ate it up and even the women were clapping with some of the antics she had pulled, though she nearly gave the manager a heart attack by flinging three pizza laden trays across the room at once, each unerringly finding their target tables without so much as a crumb out of place.
While impressed, he privately discouraged any further heart stopping pizza tosses.
A cool night's breeze caressed her cheek as she stepped out the door with the manager's praise at her back. Nights, part-time, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays. Not a bad start, I guess, Ranma decided as she inserted herself into Juuban's late night pedestrian crowd. The place seemed to get enough traffic and the small wad of cash in her possession assured Ranma that it wasn't a complete waste of her time. Stash some away, keep a bit in plain sight for Nabiki…
Ranma turned down a darker alley and hopped up to rooftop level once the shadows had properly obscured her. Of course, she could take the train, but her attempts at normal transportation ended with her hand locking a pervert's wrist in a vice after an attempted grope, twisting it until he was squealing with pain on his knees. That wasn't so much a problem. The stares and the one meter zone of exclusion she had received from her fellow passengers after that were a tad uncomfortable, however. From that point on, it was roof top hoping unless necessity required otherwise.
"Stupid pervs…" Ranma grumbled in reminiscence and took an easy leap to the next building top, then another, picking up speed at a lethargic pace. It was fifteen minutes by train on the blue line but she could make the trip in ten by roof if she pushed it. Be that as it may, there wasn't any driving need to do so tonight and Ranma contented herself with her modest efforts, enjoying the night and the twinkling lights of the Tokyo skyline as she hopped from rooftop to rooftop. It was generally a silent affair, save the whisper of wind or the occasional grate of a police siren or car horn. Her footsteps, her breath, her time alone.
Lord knew she got so little of that; yet another reason she favored the roof tops and the easy pace.
"No! Get off!"
Ranma skidded to a stop atop building number thirteen on her trek home as a young girl's distressed cry echoed from an anonymous ally directly below, piercing the night. the scraping shuffle of struggle could clearly be heard from her vantage point, prompting the redhead to step over to the ledge and peered down.
"Struggling will only make it worse, girl!"
Ranma Saotome was a veteran of numerous high powered martial arts duels. He had more rivals at seventeen years of age than most people had in their lifetimes. The number of women he had been engaged to in that time was equally ridiculous. Yet none of it fully prepared her for the sight playing out in the alley below; Two men, one girl. She couldn't have been more than fourteen. The facial bruising and trickling blood told Ranma everything she needed to know about the situation and she dropped in behind the men as insubstantial shadow of the night. One already had his belt unbuckled and pants unzipped, the other brandished a folding knife.
"Just like your sister," The man Ranma mentally labeled 'Knife' sneered. "A goddamn whore."
"Here's how it's going to be," The other laid down the ground rules. Ranma named him 'Pants' and stepped into position behind the thug. "You're going to suck me off like a good girl, then give Osh-kun here his due. Scream and we'll—"
The whisper drifted in the narrow confines of the ally and Knife whirled around with the word, finding two glittering blue eyes and a tufted of red hair; the only details afforded by the insubstantial lighting from the buildings above. Pants also executed an abrupt about face, though substantial less graceful in it's execution as his pants hung about his knees.
Rapist. Ranma's heart hardened with the damning judgment. Her duty as a martial artist was to protect those that could not protect themselves. Rapists such as the ones before her represented the complete anti-thesis of that philosophy, and while the concept wasn't exactly foreign to her, it was intellectual at best. She had never had to deal with rape in any way shape or form. Nor did she know of anybody who had. Sure, there was the occasional groper, but…
Cold blue eyes flicked over took in the girls detailed from the periphery of their vision. She didn't have any muscle tone, was obviously untrained and yet these assholes had worked her over like she was some kind of threat. A busted lip. A black eye. Her shirt was already savagely ripped and hanging loosely off her torso, revealing a shoulder and bra strap.
Ranma tightened her grip on the Soul of Ice and stepped into the dim lighting.
"Might wanna start beggin' for mercy."
Knife blinked as if he hadn't heard her properly, then smirked, discarding her words entirely. "Now would ya look at that…"
The other man took the recommended look. "Damn, that's a fine piece of—AHHHAAARRR!"
His leering statement was transformed into agony as Ranma stepped calmly in and targeted his kneecap with her foot, displacing it with a lazy snap-kick. The joint buckled with a hollow pop. The foot flashed out again as Pants fell to the earth, connecting with his face brutally. His head jerked around with the impact, pulling the rest of his body into unstable spin before depositing him into the brick wall a meter to the right.
Ranma didn't even bother to watch the bone crushing impact and focused instead on Knife. Tactics dictated she should have gone for the armed opponent first, but the gulf between her skill and theirs was simply insurmountable and Knife posed no creditable threat whatsoever. Her step forward finally jarred Knife from his incredulous trance and he jerked the blade up on reflex, only to have the wrist grabbed. Ranma pulled the arm through the thrust on its own momentum while her left palm found the thug's elbow joint.
Knife's shock turned to shrieking pain a moment later, his elbow now bent at an unnatural angle. The redhead continued to follow the momentum through as the weapon clattered to the ground, locking the shoulder joint up and flipping the man wide through the air and flat onto the ground with a jarring crunch. For all intents and purposes, the fight was over, but that didn't stop Ranma from forcing the joint into hyper extension, neatly popping it out of place. Knife's shriek of agony made her smile as she recovered from her crouch, kicking the blade away. He was unconscious before it came to rest in the shadows beyond.
Ranma stepped back and surveyed her handiwork. Both thugs now lay inert on the ground as if they were no more than sacks of rice. One would retain a limp for the rest of his life; the other similarly forfeiting any dexterity his left arm had possessed. The entire engagement had taken less than twenty seconds, leaving herself and one battered, wide-eyed girl alone in the alleyway.
"You okay over there?" A silent, decisive nod answered Ranma's question, but left no clear avenue of conversation in and of itself. Lacking one, she pressed forward, hoping to elicit a real response from the girl. "Who were they anyway?"
The bruised girl remained in her huddled crouch, but eyed Ranma more openly now, as if passing some sort of judgment. Her eyes turned to the unconscious form as she slowly drew up to a height only a few inches shorter than Ranma herself. "Otouto."
"Little brothers…?" The word rolled across Ranma's lips and it took a moment to make the connection. She stepped back to Knife and used her foot to push aside his black leather jacket. Beneath was a white tank-top, skin and tattoos. Lots of tattoos. She frowned, her suspicions confirmed. "Yakuza."
The girl nodded again.
Little brothers, Ranma spat mentally. Low ranks on the Yakuza feeding chain. She knew Yakuza. Not that she was looking to advertise the knowledge, but the old man had his share of run-ins with the clan. She was all but certain that the Panda had done an odd job or two for them during their training voyage, but that was a while back. And Rokudaime Yamaguchi-gumi by the look of his tats…
Ranma shrugged. She had dropped them so hard that they'd be lucky to remember their own names, let alone admit to a cute redhead kicking their ass. She turned back to the girl, favoring her with a confident smile. "You got somewhere you need to be?" Another nod from the girl and the martial artist held out her hand. "Then let's get you there before it gets any later."
The black haired girl stared at the hand then smiled herself, running over to take it with a fierce grip. She paused as they stepped over Knife's body and gave it hard kick to the ribs before leaving him behind entirely.
Author's Notes: Every once in a while, I get the urge to lemon and this is my on again, off again outlet toward that end. Not sure how lemony it'll get but I may have to move it to the adult section later. Worst case scenario, i'll keep two version to read; Limey and lemony. I'll also apologize belatedly for spelling and grammar as I'm the only one who has really gone through this and wouldn't have even posted it now if not for MageOhki's pestering. Since the project is low priority, it likely won't get better than it already is in that reagard, so nyeh :p Also, this fic aims squarely toward the balance end of the spectrum concerning Ranma's gender. Just thought I'd make that clear from the outset because my other Ranmachan stories usually produce sweet mage tears amongst some of the population reading these works. Rlease times will be sporadic at best, but I hope you enjoy it.
Ranma vs. Senshi; No, this will not be a senshi fic. They're just mentioned to provide an amusing backdrop for the plot.
The Guilded Rose; Ranma's "establishment". Bonus Points if you didn't need google to recognize the reference, thought you were probably better off not knowing.
Ranma vs Barfights; At first glance, Ranma's skill set would be ideal toward a profession of violent activities, leading one to believe that he would fit well into a life as a bouncer or some other pit fighting like environment. After some thought, I think he would shy away from activities in these forms. First, Ranma is a high caliber martial artist. Bouncing would bore the hell out of him I suspect. That, and you deal with drunks and risk getting puked on. Don't see Ranma enjoying himself. There is, of course the age old plot device of pit fighting. One could, of course, write in opponents challenging enough for fighting in the Tokyo underground, but I don't see him being thrilled about dealing the darker side of fighting, bookies and dumbasses seeking revenge because they couldn't cut it. Again, it can (and has been) written the other way around so its not an impossible plot. On the other hand, Ranma is an attention whore (no pun intended) in his female form, loves food and can use her looks with brutal effectiveness to get what she wants. Canon easily supports such activities, which is why I'm using it over the fight club plot.