Disclaimer:We don't own any of the characters or anything else from Ranma 1/2. If you sue us all you'll get is a couple of computers full of useless crap and more fanfiction. ~Chesna and Rhiannon
Nabiki Tendo glared at the perky bright red bow that adorned her hair. She hated bows. Specifically hair bows. Especially specifically perky bright red hair bows.
She jerked out the velvet ribbon, certain some higher power was laughing their nonexistent ass off. Pathetic Nabiki Tendo, dolling herself up with a little red bow. She could just hear announcers in her head, giving the play-by-play.
It seems that she's warming up before she goes to bat. She appears to have chosen a different strategy. But I don't think she's very happy with it – do you, Hank?
No, she doesn't look pleased at all, Tim. And, personally, I don't think she has any reason to be. That bow was not a wise maneuver.
Nabiki pulled a comb through her hair, setting the plain brown locks back into their usual place. Hers simply wasn't the type of prettiness that could be decorated.
A sour frown twisted her mouth. Hers wasn't the type of prettiness people termed 'pretty'. Her mother had been pretty. Her sisters were pretty. Nabiki was…Nabiki.
She set the comb down with a sigh. Nabiki leaned on the bureau, examining her face in the glass, nails digging into the polished wood. She occasionally wished for Kasumi's angelic features, or Akane's classic beauty. The best thing said about Nabiki was that she was "striking".
As Ranma liked to point out, that adjective better described Akane's temperament than her looks.
But Nabiki did have one advantage over her dear sisters. For all their sweet looks, her sisters were tiny. Tiny bones, tiny hands, tiny…chests. Nabiki's figure, on the other hand was – pleasing.
Nabiki laughed. Who the hell was she trying to kid? She was mouth-watering.
Nabiki smoothed her hands over her shirt. And using it to her best advantage. The pants were snug, her neckline was low… Nothing to give Daddy a coronary, but enough to draw attention.
I must say, Hank, Ms. Tendo has defiantly chosen the correct attire. Subtle, yet attention-grabbing. She wants attention, and she's going to get it – there's no doubt about that.
I'm with you all the way, Tim. If he doesn't recognize something by the time the day is over, I'll personally sign him up for a mental institution.
Nabiki fiddled with the ribbon. It was a lovely ribbon, and coordinated so well with her outfit.
Feeling the same naughty thrill she got whenever she thought about getting her way, Nabiki slipped the length of velvet round her neck. Red really was one of her colors.
And – she smiled as she fastened the ribbon like a choker – it drew attention to her neck, and then invited the eye to travel lower.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, Hank. It looks like Ms. Tendo is taking this one step further.
And yet she's still regaining her dignity and class. She's sure to score a run that way..
With a glance at the clock, Nabiki headed downstairs for breakfast.
Today was going to be a good day.
Today she, Nabiki Tendo, was going to 'seduce' Kuno.
"…I will personally distribute each and every one of those pictures from last week. I'm sure I could get a hefty price for them. And if it should slip to Akane that a certain gender changing young man was the cause…"
Nabiki took a step forward, causing Ranma to squeeze even tighter into the corner. "I am not playing around, Ranma. This is my party. And if you or Akane start fooling around and mess it up – mess any of it up – if you even look like you're going to mess my party up – " Nabiki slammed her hands on either side of Ranma's head to emphasize her point. "You will regret it."
Ranma nodded, blue eyes wide and terrified.
I have to say, he actually looks frightened, Hank. This surprises me, because Mr. Saotome – as we all know – is a big tough macho man, with strong glistening arms and rippling back muscles. He could twist Ms. Tendo into a pretzel without breaking a sweat.
Well, I'm not surprised at all, Tim. Mr. Saotome would recognize, as I do and – I believe – the viewers at home do, that Ms. Tendo is completely serious. She might not be trained in the martial arts, but this girl is not something you want to mess with.
"Oh, my." Kasumi halted on her way to clear the breakfast dishes. "Is everything…alright, Nabiki?"
"Everything is wonderful," Nabiki replied, smiling at her sister. "Do you need some help with the dishes?"
"No, thank you." Kasumi began piling the empty breakfast dishes on a tray, her worries over Ranma slipping away with her curving lips. "The guests should be here soon."
"I'll greet them." Nabiki moved away from Ranma and helped Kasumi pile dishes despite her sister's protests. "Then could you start setting out what you need to cook? As soon as Ukyo gets here I'm going to send her in to help.'
"Of course." Kasumi headed towards the kitchen, humming a Christmas tune.
"Ranma, dearest," Nabiki purred, turning back to him, "would you fetch Akane? I believe she's trying to catch a quick workout in the dojo before the help starts arriving."
"Yeah. Sure thing." Ranma wedged himself out of the corner and shuffled outside.
Kasumi's clear voice drifted in from the kitchen, over the sound of running water. Nabiki smiled to herself as she pulled out her schedule.
All these years and Nabiki could still remember the way Mommy would sing as she washed dishes. When she heard Kasumi, it always reminded her.
Nabiki checked her watch. 10:00 am. The guest should be arriving shortly.
"Now, if everyone would quiet down, I'll assign jobs."
The room slowly silenced as Nabiki began speaking.
Nabiki checked her list one more time, and then began. "Ukyo, as you have undoubtedly guessed, you shall be slaving away in the kitchen."
The talented chef rolled her eyes. "You know, I had hoped to get away from the stove for one day."
"Alas. Maybe next Christmas." Nabiki grinned. "Ryoga and Dr. Tofu. You're going to be making decorations for inside the house. Garlands, popcorn strings, paper snowflakes."
"The weathermen said we might get real snowflakes tonight," Dr. Tofu said.
"That would be nice." Nabiki loved snow, but in spite of the bitter cold the ground remained dry. "Oh, you two come here." She trailed a length of gold tasseled rope through her fingers. "I have something for you."
Ryoga didn't budge. "What are you going to do with that, Nabiki?"
"Provide an extremely time efficient solution to a problem you seem to have a lot. Get up here."
Dr. Tofu offered himself up to her will with no complaints. Ryoga came more reluctantly, but in the end he allowed himself to be tied to Dr. Tofu.
"And here – " Nabiki slipped a Chirstmas bell on a red cord around Ryoga's neck. "just in case. You find yourself lost, stop moving immediately and ring the bell. Someone will find you."
"What if I get lost outside the house? Outside the grounds?" Ryoga asked.
"Outside the city?" Ranma added.
Nabiki sent Ranma a look that quieted him down. "Don't worry, Ryoga. This is my Christmas party and you are a guest. Someone will find you.
"Next," Nabiki said, turning to the diminishing crowd. "Akane and Ranma, you will be doing outside decorations."
"You want us to go outside?" Ranma asked, disbelieving.
She titled her head. "Startling concept, isn't it?"
"It's cold outside," he said, as if speaking to a small idiotic child.
Nabiki looked at him, unblinking.
"Well, it is. It's freezing."
She chose the easiest way to solve this. "Have you any complaints, Akane?"
Her sister shook her head. "I'M not afraid of getting cold."
"I never said I was afraid of it, Akane," Ranma defended himself.
"Then why were you making such a big fuss over it, Ranma?" she asked.
"Akane, Ranma. Enough." Nabiki cut them off. "Daddy took the outside decorations out of the attic today. All you have to do is put them up."
Kuno looked around. "What is to be my assignment, Nabiki Tendo?"
Hey, Hank. Have you ever noticed that Mr. Kuno tends to use a person's full name when he's speaking to them?
No, Tim. I've been too busy marveling at his complete and stubborn ignorance for the obvious to analyze his speech patterns.
Nabiki said, "You and I shall be decorating the tree."
"I would prefer to assist the beauteous Akane," Kuno protested.
Nabiki put a hand to her mouth in mock-astonishment. "Is that so? Well, I never would have expected it! I know that we've only seen you unceasingly harass my sister day in and out, but it never even crossed my mind that you might want to be partnered with her!"
She threw up her arms. "That changes everything! Let me tear up my schedule. Who cares that I spent a great deal of time planning out every excruciating detail?"
Nabiki stopped. "No, wait, I have a better idea. Seeing as I am in charge of this Christmas party, it doesn't really matter what you want."
He crossed his arms. "Where is thy Christmas Spirit, Nabiki Tendo?"
She favored him with a charming smile. "Why, it's right here, Kuno Baby. Now everyone get to work."
The crowd dispersed to their separate tasks, and Nabiki snagged Kuno's sleeve as he exited. "One last thing."
He gave her a look of pure disdain, which made her smile all the more. "I am at your command, Nabiki Tendo."
"Go home and change."
"I beg your pardon?"
Nabiki leaned against the doorframe and laughed. "I love it when they beg."
Kuno averted his eyes, a distinct sign that he was uncomfortable. "Why do you wish me to change my attire?"
"I see you in this…dress thing everyday. It would be nice, just once, if I could see you in something else."
"It's a hakima, not a 'dress thing'."
Since he would undoubtedly be prepared for bullying, Nabiki tried a different tactic. "Please, Kuno? Consider it my Christmas present."
"I already have your Christmas present."
"Then save it in case the Pig-Tailed Goddess makes an appearance and give this to me." She caught his arm. "Please, Kuno."
What's this, Hank? Mr. Kuno appears to be blushing.
I don't think he was prepared for Ms. Tendo being nice, Tim. That could unsettle anyone.
Kuno nodded. She let her hand linger on his arm until he moved away.
As she heard the door close, Nabiki smiled to herself and checked another slot off her list.
Everything was going beautifully.
"Oh – watch out – "
Kuno scraped a clump of tinsel from his hair and face. "Thank you for the warning."
Nabiki's brows lifted. "I apologized. Did that tinsel injure you?"
The ladder rocked on unsteady hinges. "You should let me do this, Nabiki. This thing" – 'ladder' wasn't the appropriate term for such a rickety piece of wood and screws.
"I'm fine." Nabiki stretched precariously far, snagging a string of tinsel on an upper branch. "Akane wanted a big tree."
"I am not complaining about the tree, but – rather – the state of this stepladder."
Nabiki sat on the top step, untangling a mess of silver strands. "Afraid I'll fall and go splat all over the nice clean floor and ruin the party?"
"No." He was afraid she would fall and break her neck. She was scaring the hell out of him. "Come down from there, Nabiki. Let me do it."
"I am almost finished." She tugged gently on several strands, smiling at him when the knot unraveled. "You know it's been an hour since you've called me by my full name?"
"What do you mean?" Kuno asked. This was an odd change of subject.
"When you speak to someone, you usually say a person's full name. 'Ranma Saotome'. 'Akane Tendo'. And you typically put their name in every sentence."
"I apologize, Nabiki Tendo, if I have been remiss in my usual speech patterns." But it was hard to pay attention to what he was saying when he was worrying that she would drop to her death any minute.
"I don't mind. In fact, I like that you're not spouting 'Nabiki Tendo' every five minutes."
"Then I will endeavor to continue as you like."
A malicious light of enjoyment came to her eyes. With a slight wiggle, she sent shudders throughout the rickety ladder.
Kuno gripped the ladder so hard the worn wood bit into his palms. "Nabiki!"
"Opps. Sorry." Nabiki tossed the remaining tinsel down on his head. "Guess I slipped."
"Either get down from there and let me do it or – "
"I'm terribly sorry, Kuno Baby, but I don't think this feeble excuse for a ladder could handle your weight."
"I'm surprised it could handle yours," he lashed out viciously, thinking if she came down to hit him she'd at least get off the damn ladder.
Instead she cocked an eyebrow and tossed him a wry smile. "Your insult cuts me to the quick. How will I ever recover?" She swung her legs around so she straddled the top and reached her hand down. "Give me the star, will you?"
"You won't jiggle the ladder if I let go?"
"I won't jiggle the ladder if you let go."
"Swear to me, Nabiki Tendo."
Her rich brown eyes blinked innocently. "Don't you trust me?"
"I trust you as far as I would throw you."
"You can throw me a decent distance," Nabiki returned.
"I did not say 'can throw you', I said 'would throw you'."
A satisfied look came to her face. "So chivalry is not dead."
He grinned up at her; it was not the first time he had ever smiled at Nabiki, but it felt like it. "You've seen me everyday and you still need to ask that?"
"Does your chivalry extend to handing me the star?" she inquired in a sweet tone.
Kuno turned away and got the star for her, because it was hard for him to look at her just then. Because looking at her was giving him squiggles inside and he wasn't sure he liked it.
They went away when he dug through the boxes for the star, but came on full force when he turned back to her. It was as if they only paused in their Mexican hat dance to turn up the volume of the stereo.
Nabiki gave him a smile of thanks when she took the star from him.
"You're in a good mood today," Kuno said.
"I love Christmas," she replied.
He wished she didn't. He wished Nabiki was in a terrible mood, and that she'd set to ripping him apart. Or that she'd offer him memorabilia from Akane or the Pig-Tailed Goddess. Anything to get his mind of the way her mouth curved when she smiled, or how her clothes stretched and pulled against her body when she moved.
"Help me down?" Nabiki drew his attention back. She eased down the first top steps, obviously not trusting the ladder.
Kuno, gentleman that he was, reached up and grabbed her wrists.
He was not prepared for her to leap off the ladder, straight into his arms. Or the way she settled there, suspended above the ground, with her arms around his neck.
"Thanks." The words slid off her tongue, from between lips just touching his ear. "I always thought it would be nice to have a big strong man around the house." The mischief in her shone through. "And since Ranma's busy outside, you make quite a nice replacement."
Aware that the squiggles were turning into something more dangerous – and uncomfortable – Kuno tried to set her on the floor.
Which was a mistake, because Nabiki sensed what he was doing and beat him to it. She slid out of his hands, letting – forcing his fingers to drag over the length of her.
That was about the time things became distinctly uncomfortable. Kuno made bare excuses before he dashed off to the bathroom.
It was five minutes before the water got cold enough to help. Kuno stood there with his fingers under the running faucet in mortal fear someone would come by and ask what was wrong. He did not want to answer that question.
He cupped water onto his face. The cold water sent shivers down his skin. It helped his problem – if not rectified it.
Kuno left only when he was certain that he could face Nabiki again.
He expected teasing or subtly comments. Maybe some not-so-subtle comments. Nabiki had always been clever. She would know what had happened. Kuno would never live it down.
He was beginning to understand that today was the day for surprises.
Nabiki said nothing. She was sitting on the floor with the plug to the tree lights twisting in her fingers. "I thought I'd wait to light it up. We decorated it together, we should see it together."
"That was very thoughtful of you."
Nabiki hooked the plug in, and the tree glowed in the rainbow lights. It cast winking green, pink, and blue lights over her face, and she smiled and her tongue touched her lips as if she could taste the colors.
Kuno felt uneasy standing there, admiring the tree with his sworn enemy. Admiring his swore enemy. So, in a 'tactic' defense maneuver, her brought up the first thing that crossed his mind. "You're in a jolly mood today."
Nabiki nodded. She seemed content to leave it at that.
"Not going to present me with new photographs for my album?"
Nabiki didn't look at him. "I've been rather busy with the party. But give me some time and I'm sure I could scrounge up something." The smile that crept across her face now had bitterness. "I was wondering when you were going to mention them. Of course, I'm going to have to double my price. What with the holidays and the rush on things."
"Actually," he said, sitting beside her, "I wasn't expecting a price at all."
She looked at him as thought he were crazy. He probably was. "I'm not that jolly."
"So I keep hearing."
"Don't I get a Christmas present?"
"Oh," she replied on a laugh, "you get a Christmas present."
"What is it?"
"You'll find that out tonight."
He watched the lights twinkle. A question came to his mind. It was odd he never thought of it before. "Nabiki, what do you do with all the money you make?"
She cocked her head and looked at him. "What do you mean?"
"Because you never seem to spend it. At least," he clarified, "I've never seen you spend any of it. You never have to buy snacks – all your customers are kind enough to take you out to eat. I've never seen you with any trinkets or fancy clothes – "
"You see how I spend it," Nabiki told him.
"How?" Kuno asked.
"My father doesn't teach, Kuno. He hasn't for years. Neither of my sisters work.
"Yet they still have food to eat, and new clothes when they need them. And all our bills are paid every month."
Scales fell from his eyes. "You…"
"My mother once told all of us that the key to success is finding what you're good at and doing it the best you can.
"I'm good at making money." She shrugged. "That's all I have going for me. I'm smart and I can make money."
"I never knew," Kuno said.
"You never asked," Nabiki responded. "No one has. And I'll tell you something else," she added. "I am very lucky for your fiery passion for the vibrant Akane and the beauteous Pig-Tailed girl is as…fiery as it is. With your help I have had no trouble keeping my family in the manner to which they are accustomed."
There was something behind that remark Kuno couldn't quite place his finger on. So he answered without much thought and a nagging suspicion he was saying the wrong thing. "I'm not sure you should count on it. As bounteous as my passion for those perfect images of womanhood is, and as long as it will burn within the depths of my soul – it is nothing to stake a life on."
Nabiki looked mildly surprised. It was the mildness about it that spurned Kuno into talking. "I don't mean to disgrace my feelings for them in anyway – "
Nabiki shook her head in concurrence. "No, of course not."
"But I am not so much of a fool that I cannot recognize what it is."
"And what is it?"
What was it? It was passion – that was a large part of it. And at some level he liked to think he cared for them. Liked to think that it wasn't just physical.
It was just…life…and his parents…it was that everything was really hard. And it was easier to pretend what was happening to him was because of a raging passion he had for these beautiful girls, and that he wasn't one in a long line of…
Forcing himself to stay on the subject, Kuno said, "I am not so far gone that I do not understand that my obsession for these girls is an exaggerated, twisted – "
" – sick, demented, perverted – "
" – warped, abnormal, depraved – "
"Okay, we get the point."
" – crazy, psychotic…" Nabiki stopped and smiled. "I had to get a last few in."
He could kill her for smiling like that. He hated it when she did that.
"I'm surprised you kept it up for so long," she added. "What with your honor and everything."
"What about my honor?" Kuno demanded.
"Well, you're always talking about your honor. You're going to do this for your honor and that for your honor."
Kuno didn't like where this was going – wherever it was headed. "My honor is very important to me."
"I know it is. Which is why it's so shocking to see you chasing after two girls. Specifically when both of them have made it abundantly clear that they don't appreciate your attentions."
"Are you insinuating that my honor is – "
"I'm not insinuating anything." Nabiki paused.
"No – wait – I am. Tail-chaser."
Tail-chaser? He was a tail-chaser, was he? Well, she was no better. "Blackmailer."
"Stalker." She leaned closer, grinning.
"Man-whore." Nabiki was really enjoying this, and she didn't seem to notice that her close position gave him a perfect view of her…down her…her neckline was really low. "Kuno…"
And the next thing he knew, he was kissing her.
She made a sound of surprise as their lips met, and her shoulders stiffened.
He pulled away before seeing if the surprise turned to pleasure.
Nabiki looked flabbergasted. It was the first time he'd ever seen her beyond speech.
"You're right," he said, getting to his feet abruptly.
Nabiki blinked several times. "Wha – what?"
"I might have no honor." Confused, Kuno turned to anger. The best defense and, until now, the most readily available emotion when Nabiki was involved. "But what about you?"
"What do you mean?"
He felt proud at her lack of verbal functions. "You sell out your own sister. You sell her out and rake in the cash."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Nabiki slowly stood, each tiny movement seeped in rage.
Perhaps she wasn't as dazed as he thought.
"YOU go near ballistic when I tease you about your honor. And then you go and challenge mine?"
She came towards him as a tiger narrowing for the kill. "How dare you. You torment those two poor girls, you kiss me, and you question my honor?!
"Yes, I sell you pictures of Ranma and Akane. I'll tell you something else – they know all about it."
"They KNOW?!" He was a sick, sick little boy.
"They're not stupid. They ask me and I have no reason to lie."
Nabiki grabbed Kuno's shirt and jerked him down to her eye level. "I do what I have to in order to support my family. I would rob, cheat, blackmail, torture, and kill for them."
Her eyes were murderous, and the hand that gripped his shirt shook – though he had a feeling it was more from anger than anything else. "Don't you ever question me again."
"Nabiki – "
She pushed past him and headed upstairs.
Kuno kissed her.
She hadn't planned for that.
Nabiki touched her mouth.
That kiss was an unexpected maneuver. Did you see it coming, Hank?
No, I certainly did not, Tim. I had no idea things were going so well.
However, we must bare in mind the penalty points taken away for that nasty argument he started afterwards. I don't care what he was feeling, that's no way to treat a lady, Hank.
"Nabiki! How is everything going?"
A genuine smile broke out on her face. "Daddy, everything's going perfectly." She gave her father a swift hug. "How are you and Mr. Saotome getting along?"
Daddy puffed up his chest. "Very good. I think this show is going to be even better than last years. Would you like to see it?"
He put a hand on her shoulder as they walked to the room where he and Mr. Saotome were practicing. "This isn't disturbing your schedule? I know how you like to plan everything out."
"I'd hate to think any schedule would be so inflexible that I could not find time for my Daddy."
Lunch was a noisy affair. Ranma and Akane, through what Nabiki recognized as a mutual fear of her, discovered the pleasure to be had in civilized conversation. Kasumi was aglow with the Christmas spirit, and Dr. Tofu preformed the Herculean feat of complimenting Kasumi on her lunch.
Mr. Kuno has not looked at Ms. Tendo during the entire meal, Hank. Do you believe this to be unintentional, or a deliberate tactic?
I would say deliberate, Tim. Mr. Tatewaki was clearly embarrassed by the entire tree-decorating incident. I'd say he wants to forget the whole thing ever happened.
She let the meal stretch for two hours. All were enjoying themselves, and they had worked hard. Nabiki felt they deserved a reward.
After the table was cleared she gave out assignments – all but Ryoga and Dr. Tofu continued with their previous tasks. Those two finished the decorations, and commenced stringing them about.
Nabiki motioned for Kuno to follow her. She led him to the stairs, past the room where her father and Mr. Sautome were practicing loudly, to the attic.
"What are we doing here?" Kuno asked.
Boxes towered all around them. Warm afternoon light spilled in, highlighting soft dust drifting through the air. The room had the fragile smell of mothballs, and tiny paths slipped through the mountains of boxes.
Nabiki danced around the obstacles, to the back by the window. Ten minutes of digging uncovered treasure. Nabiki let out the breath she had been holding. "Here they are."
Kuno eyed the worn dusty boxes she tugged free. "What are they?"
She didn't speak. She couldn't. The words caught in her chest. Nabiki brushed away the dust.
Her mother's peculiar looping scrawl faded over the years, but it still marked the tops. Nabiki touched the words. 'Christmas Decorations'. She spoke them out loud, half-remembering Kuno needed an answer.
"Why were they not laid out with the others," he asked.
What is going on? Mr. Kuno sounds far too serious to be discussing Christmas decorations, Hank.
That's right, Tim. I believe we're entering a whole new ballpark right about now.
"What must I look like for you to sound like that? It's as if you're telling me my puppy died," Nabiki said with a slight smile.
"I've…never seen you like this," Kuno said, his eyes darting anywhere but on her. "You're serious. It's scaring me."
"I didn't realize I was typically such a jovial person."
"I do not mean that. I do not know of anyone who takes you as if you are joking – "
"Heavens – now you're saying I have no sense of humor?" Nabiki taunted.
"It is not that. You…" He sighed. "What are these things?"
"Christmas decorations." Nabiki eased back the flaps and lifted an intricately embroidered wall scroll. The beautiful threads hadn't weathered over the years; it still looked as it had when Mommy first hung it up on the wall. "These are Mommy's decorations."
Kuno lowered himself onto the floor beside her. She released the scroll from her embrace to his view. "It's beautiful."
Nabiki nodded. "I remember her making it. It was a long time ago – and I was very young – but it's one of my clearest memories."
Her eyes closed, and the memory came back to her in a rush. "I remember sitting on the floor, and Kasumi and I played with Akane. Akane was just a baby then, and we would talk to her like such grand adults. And she would watch us with her big eyes.
"Mommy and Daddy sat together, and her needle flashed in the light as she worked…"
Nabiki heard her words melt into silence. She opened her eyes and blinked several times, for her lashes were damp.
That was such a beautiful story. *sniff*
Here, Tim. Have a tissue.
Thank you, Hank. You know, I need to call my Mama. I don't think I've told her how much I love her, and –
Tim, hate to cut in on you, but they're talking.
"You miss her."
She laughed. "You state the obvious."
Nabiki's smile softened at his troubled eyes. "Yes. We do miss her very much.
"I think it's easier on us girls. We only had a few years with Mommy. Daddy had the makings of a lifetime."
Kuno laid a hand on the boxes. "Why are these up here? I would think you'd want them downstairs."
"I do," Nabiki confirmed, nodding. "But Daddy and Kasumi find it a little hard. Christmas was Mommy's favorite season, and it's always been much more apparent that she's not here at this time."
Nabiki leaned against Kuno's shoulder and he didn't pull away. "I think it's time to bring her memory back. We hardly talk about her, and that's not right."
With her hair brushing his cheek, he murmured, "I envy you."
She turned an inquiring gaze to him.
"I'm jealous of your family."
She grinned. "You're more than welcome to join us."
"I thank you, but…" Kuno shook his head.
"Come on." She nudged him. "There's plenty of room. And you can torture my sister all night long."
He refused again. "I wouldn't want to put that on your family."
"Put what?" she asked.
"Nothing." Kuno got to his feet, grabbed a box and headed for the exit.
Nabiki dashed over to him and snatched the box back. "What are you talking about?"
"Nothing, Nabiki. We have to get back to work."
"What do you mean?" She jerked his arm so he had to face her. "Put what on my family?"
Well, this is quite a twist from what we had a moment ago, Hank.
It sure is. You never know what to expect from these two, Tim.
"You're smart. You've probably suspected something."
"I thought I could handle it – I thought I was handling it – but then something will happen and I won't be able to sleep for days."
She gripped his hands. "Kuno, what are you talking about?!"
"Look at my family." His voice was hard and bitter. "My mother is non-existent. My father thinks he lives on a different continent. And my sister – you know my sister.
"And I'm just waiting for the day when it gets to me."
Nabiki touched his face. "You are not going insane."
His fingers bit into her wrists. "I can already feel it happening. I took kendo because I thought the discipline would help, and it has. But some days I can feel my mind slipping. And I know it's a matter of time."
"No. You won't. You're stronger than that."
He let go of her. Nabiki's fingers twisted around his sleeves. "Trust me. I have known you since I was a child. You are not going to go insane."
"You can't promise me that."
"I'm Nabiki Tendo. I can promise you anything."
He brushed her hair back. "I want to kiss you again, Nabiki."
"I want you to kiss me again, Kuno."
"Instead I'm going to take the decorations downstairs."
She stepped back to let him leave, albeit reluctantly. "Damn. Rain check?"
He didn't respond as he went down the stairs.
After the decorating was finished, all but Ukyo and Ryoga left. There was still cooking to be done, and no one wanted to risk Ryoga losing his way and not being able to make it for the party.
So Nabiki led Ryoga to the kitchen and tied him to the counter where he could assist the weary chefs.
Nabiki didn't bid Kuno farewell. When she first wrote out her schedule, she designed a seductive good-bye. However, with all that happened she rethought her tactics.
What do you think about Ms. Tendo deciding against seeing Mr. Kuno off, Hank?
I can't say whether I think it to be a good idea, or a bad, Tim. While I would have enjoyed seeing it, ultimately the decision was up to Ms. Tendo. She's been doing beautifully so far, and I'm willing to trust her on this one.
She sought solitude in her room and needed time to think.
Things were not going as she planned.
No – that was not right.
The events she planned went off without a hitch. But the emotions behind them…
Nabiki hadn't expected to get into a conversation about family honor. Or talk about her mother. Or kiss him.
Technically, he kissed her.
But Nabiki hadn't understood how deep her feelings went for him. She hadn't expected it to ache like this. Or how he could make her feel wonderful and miserable at one time. Of course, this was the first time she'd ever explored something between them.
She sighed sharply and pushed herself off her bed. Her feet took her to her closet, where her costume for tonight hung.
Nabiki played with the white furry lining. They were going to put on a show, like last year. Daddy had written up a skit for him and Mr. Saotome. It concerned Santa Claus facing legal trouble after firing an elf that was too tall. She laughed so hard it was hard to breathe.
She ran her hand along the red velvet. Did she really want to do this? She never really cared about what other people thought of her, so the public humiliation factor was nix. Ranma would harp on it for a while, but she could get Akane to throw a table at his head. School might become difficult. Nabiki shrugged. She was one of the few people who went to school to learn.
Daddy's head would explode.
That presented a problem.
Then Nabiki recalled the kiss. Kuno caught her by surprise, or else she would have kissed him back.
Nabiki tugged on the costume's impossibly short skirt.
I have to tell you, Hank, I cannot believe Ms. Tendo is going to go through with this. That costume is…well, I cannot believe she is going to –
Oh, hush up, Tim. We're trying to surprise the readers.
Yes, it was defiantly worth it.
The party started without a hitch. The house was beautiful, there was more food than anyone could eat, and Daddy's skit was so funny several people had to run to the bathroom.
The exchange of presents came late in the evening. A good number of people had gone, but the party was going strong. Nabiki, Ranma, Akane, the their crowd gathered in a corner with their gifts. Nabiki arranged a Secret Santa, to save both time and money.
She dictated how the exchange of presents was to be held, and excused herself. Nabiki had let Kasumi in on her plan enough that her sister could set up.
A sense of euphoria bubbled through her as Nabiki as she stepped into the lacy lingerie that she purchased specifically for this occasion. Next came the little Santa dress. It barely covered the important areas, and looked fantastic.
It looks like she's actually going through with it, Hank.
Consider yourself, lucky, Tim. Most fictious internal announcers are turned off by this point.
Adrenaline zipped through her veins. Nabiki couldn't wait to do this.
She snuck to the back of the stage. During the next few minutes, she tried to keep from laughing and strained to catch a specific voice over the noise.
A group of voices drew nearer. And Nabiki heard Kasumi urging Kuno to take a seat.
"My present is on the stage?" he asked. The words were muffled through the curtain.
"I'm doing what your Secret Santa told me to do," Kasumi replied. She sounded as if she were walking off to start the music.
The first brief notes reached her as Kasumi turned on the stereo. Nabiki covered her face with her hands for a second and schooled her face to be perfectly serious. She couldn't believe she was doing this.
It was time.
Nabiki slipped her leg through the curtain. The masculine cries of approval proved the torture of her daily exercise regimen was worthwhile after all.
She moved through the curtain opening like satin. Nabiki could place the exact moment people recognized her, for the catcalls and whistles died in the same instant. It was right then she started singing.
Just slip a sable under the tree
Nabiki voice would never win awards. Her sisters had fresh sopranos to match their faces. But Nabiki did utilize what she was given, rolling her alto into a low sultry purr.
"Been and awful good girl.
So hurry down the chimney tonight."
She glided down to the stairs, taking them down with intent. She knew the pitiful excuse for a skirt shifted higher. If that was possible.
A '54 convertible too
This looks like a good sign, Hank. It seems as if Mr. Kuno's eyes are about to burst from his skull.
"I'll wait up for you, dear…" Nabiki pulled the word out to a moan. Ryoga tripped over Ranma's feet in an attempt to sit down and Daddy started crying.
So hurry down the chimney tonight."
I have to say, this tactic is defiantly working. Mr. Kuno appears to have no remaining brain function, Tim.
I can concur with that, Hank, but we must bear in mind that he did liberally partake of the punch – which our sources have reason to believe was doused with illicit liquor.
And we must take into account his mental faculties when he is in full possession of them.
"Think of all the fun I've missed." Nabiki paused by Makado and let her hand trail about his neck. "Think of all the fellows that I haven't kissed…"
With a playful shove, she got rid of him. "Next year I could be just as good,
If you check off my Christmas list." She was nearing Kuno.
I want a yacht
And really that's not
Exactly how much blood can rush to a human head before serious medical problems arise, Hank?
I don't know, Tim, but judging from Mr. Kuno's sustained beet-like complexion, I would hope one of his friends has at least partial medical training.
Nabiki got to Kuno's chair, and went with the downward movement of her step to kneel by his feet. "Been an angel all year…"
Ms. Tendo must have a very strong attachment to this male if she is willing to kneel at his feet, Hank.
Are you blind, Tim? Have ya'll seen what she's wearing?
Sorry. It slipped out. I happen to come from Louisiana, USA, did you know that, Tim?
Yes, I did, Hank. But I've never heard your accent before.
It's faded away for the most part, but it pops up now and then.
Tell me, Hank, what does Japanese with a Southern twang sound like?
Unfortunately, we'll never know, Tim, because this story – though it (and therefore we) takes place in Japan – is being written in English.
So hurry down the chimney tonight."
She put a hand on his ankle, then let it slither up wards.
"Kuno – honey
One little thing I really need
To a platinum mine."
Taking pity on him, Nabiki removed her hand and curled around his legs, so her back rest on them. She stretched into the next lines, letting the dress work it's magic.
So hurry down the chimney tonight…"
Take a look at her hands, Hank.
Trust me, I am, Tim…Pour me another glass of eggnog.
Sure thing. Look – that's what I'm talking about. The way her hands move down her body – I don't think it's a chimney she's talking about. See there –
Shut up, Tim.
And fill my stocking with a duplex
Nabiki's hands crawled up Kuno's pants, gripping fistfuls of clothe.
"Sign your name on the line,
Kuno was refusing to look at her.
"And hurry down the chimney tonight."
Nabiki drew herself up the farther her hands went, and gradually climbed into Kuno's lap.
"Come and trim my Christmas tree,
With some decorations by" –her head fell back as she gasped – "Tiffany.
"I really do…" She put strength behind her voice.
"Believe in you."
Nabiki leaned closer to whisper in Kuno's ear.
"Let's see if you
Believe in me…"
When she drew back, Kuno was looking at her. That was one victory at least.
Forgot to mention one little thing
Nabiki climbed off of him and headed back to the stage. She hopped up on the boards and tossed him a grin.
"I don't mean on the phone
So hurry down my chimney tonight."
She backed up to the curtain.
"Hurry down the chimney tonight."
Nabiki slipped back through the curtain, letting her last line echo throughout the stunned room.
I really liked that, Hank.
So did I, Tim. So did I.
Heavens, it was cold outside.
Nabiki tapped her foot impatiently. He was late.
Course, she did grant him some leniency. After all, Kuno had been very surprised. But even with a large grace period – giving account to how long it would take a normal person to come to a decision – he was very late.
It wasn't as if she was expecting much. Simply for him to run after her (after the shock wore off), sweep her in his arms, and beg her to be his queen and mistress forever.
Nabiki laughed. That was a bit of an exaggeration. But she had planned for him to at least follow her outside and speak to her.
Exhaling sharply, she pounded the wall she leaned against, and stalked towards the house.
He hadn't come. He wasn't coming. She would have screamed in frustration, but someone would have heard her. Nabiki was really not in the mood to deal with people other than Kuno at the moment.
"You know what?" Nabiki muttered, jerking off her red velvet boots, "I don't really feel like dealing with him either. That jerk. That fucking jerk." She held her boots in her teeth and headed up the trellis that she used to sneak out many a night. "Dat mufar uccen urke. Aim guna kel'im."
She hefted herself onto the slope of shingles and padded along until she reached her bedroom window. Nabiki climbed in and repressed another cry of frustration. She could hear the party from her room, and the walls in her house were notoriously thin.
Nabiki tore off her costume and tossed it in the closet. The lingerie followed. She was not in the mood to think about what his reaction to that might have been.
Her composure nearly crumbled as she yanked on her jeans. Nabiki felt the pressure build behind her eyes, and her throat tighten.
She would not cry, she would not cry, she would not cry.
It looks like things are not going well, Hank. Such a pity; she planned so hard.
Oh, shaddup, Tim. Nodbowdy cares.
How many glasses of eggnog have you had, Hank?
When she changed, Nabiki ducked out the window and down the trellis. The party would last for another couple hours, but she wasn't in the mood. Everyone would be happy.
Nabiki was not happy.
She started to walk. She had no particular destination. Walking, and the cold, helped clear her mind.
Nabiki had trouble accepting this. She planned so hard. Sure, some things went awry, but the core of it had gone according to schedule.
"That bastard. How dare he?"
Ms. Tendo appears to be upset, Hank, but channeling most of her emotions into anger.
Jinga bezzz, jinga bezz, jinga all da wayyyy…
Hank - get down from there!
"And now I'm talking out loud to myself. And I never talk out loud to myself." Nabiki kicked a stone. "Isn't that a moronic statement, what do you think you're doing right now, Nabiki?
"Okay, so I do talk to myself…but that just means that…
"You seem upset, Nabiki Tendo."
Nabiki turned around. "Kuno."
Uh-oh, this does not look good, Hank.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
"I hoped we might talk," he answered cautiously.
"About what? About how I humiliated myself in front of dozens of people for you? I dress up like – "
"I know what you dressed up like."
" – and I sang – "
"I know what you did."
" – and YOU. What did I have to do, staple a sign to your forehead? No, I wouldn't do that. You're not stupid, Kuno. You can figure it out for yourself, and still you're forty-seven minutes late. Forty-seven minutes! My plans have gone completely out the window."
Kuno's mouth quirked into a smile. "You planned all this?"
"Of course. I leave nothing to chance, and it gets messed up anyway. You know, it would have been one thing if you actually got the message and decided against me. But that you sat there, in the party, after I left, for almost half and hour, is inexcusable!"
He put his hand on her mouth, and she considered biting it off.
Instead she jerked away. "And I made my father's head explode? How can I face him after this? If you had gone with my schedule, instead of deciding for yourself like the shmuck you are, then it would have been different. I would have had something to make it worthwhile. Now I have nothing. I have all this planning, and nothing to show for it!"
"Nabiki." Kuno tried to silence her again. " I – "
"What? You're sorry? You're angry? Come on, surprise me."
"I would date with you."
Yes, she defiantly looks surprised, Hank……Hank?
This, she hadn't planned. "Okay – I'm surprised." Suddenly Nabiki felt hot. "Are you – are you serious?" she asked, fanning herself.
"Perfectly." He took her hands. "I would date with you."
"You're not joking." She was having trouble believing this.
"Let me check something." Jumping up, Nabiki wrapped her arms around Kuno's neck, her legs around his waist, and kissed him.
And the feel of his arms on her back, the way he warmed her, his cool delicious scent – it was everything she'd planned on.
Nabiki sighed with contentment as she drew back. Smiling drunkenly at Kuno, she murmured, "Merry Christmas."
He smiled back at her. "Merry Christmas, Nabiki Tendo."
I love happy endings, don't you, folks? This is Tim signing off…tell the people good-bye, Hank. Hank, I don't care if you're throwing up. Then you shouldn't have guzzled a bottle of cognac…No – you do this every Christmas; you should know better…