Konatsu was more than happy to pass along a brief, somewhat edited story of her history after the meal, covering the basics of her history to her redheaded benefactor and the chef.
"I don't get it." Ranma stated at the end, as Ukyou sniffled theatrically. at the semi-cinderella tale. "According to the old freak.... er, Happosai... you're some kind of once every other generation genius super-kunoichi. Couldn't you have just ditched them at any time?"
"You're too kind!" Konatsu gushed, then paused to decide whether to simply dodge the question. Then her toe nudged something on the ground, and she recalled the failed opportunity to show trust in her benefactor. With that, her resolve firmed.
"The simple fact is, though, that I'm essentially kept dependent on my step-family for survival. I could escape at any time, yes, but without any particular skills my only options would be homelessness or entering the same line of work as the tea-shop my step-family runs. Either way, I'd not get far."
"Dependent, huh?" Ranma's eyes narrowed. "Konatsu... before I ran into you, how long had it been since your last meal?"
"Days." Came the unflinching answer. "Perhaps a week. Maybe more."
Ranma cursed softly under her breath. Even at Genma's absolute worst, withholding meals for the sake of training, he'd done his best to ensure that Ranma got at least one full meal a day before he'd gotten to the point he could adequately defend his food.
"So. No help for it then. We'll just have to confront your stepmother, and force her to let you go." Ranma decided aloud.
"What's this we, Ran-chan?" Ukyou interrupted, cutting off Konatsu's gaping.
Ranma blinked, the thought apparently not having ever occurred that Ukyou would have objections to the plan.
"You don't want to help?"
"Sure, I'll help. But I'm a businesswoman. I'm not going to do something for nothing, and wasted time is wasted money. You should get some repayment for your help too, sugar." Ukyou said, with a very Nabiki-ish overtone as she sent an appraising eye Konatsu's way.
Ranma shook her head. In all honesty, she would normally have no problem taking the advice, as the unofficial golden law of Nerima seemed to be 'Screw Over Others Before They Screw Over You'. Still... in this case, Konatsu really had pretty much nothing Ranma needed that much, which put it far too close to picking on the weak for Ranma's peace of mind.
"I'm not doing this because I'm getting something out of it, Ucchan. It's just... the right thing to do."
Konatsu's eyes started sparkling in the background as Ukyou snorted unfemininely.
"Geeze... sometimes you're a total jerk, and then there's times you just have to be too nice for your own good. You need someone to take care of you, Ran-chan." Left unsaid, but heavily implied, was that she felt she was the best person available to fill that role. "Fine. You, Ninja-girl. I'll help, but on one condition. You've been hassling Ranma Saotome, and I want you to knock it off. Do that, and we're square."
Ranma went very quiet as Konatsu, who still hadn't gotten any more than the obvious nickname of her benefactor, pondered the strange request.
"Very well. From this point on, I consider the debt of vengeance against Ranma Saotome nullified. My stepfamily may not agree, of course."
"Great." Ranma grumbled, ignoring the smug look Ukyou sent his way, heavily suggesting that Ranma simply hadn't thought of extracting the promise herself, and Ukyou had done the redhead a great favor by doing it herself.
Ranma hated it when other people tried to solve her problems, as the solution almost always was modeled after what they wanted out of the situation. Even something like this, which was just an attempt to gain an advantage over 'love-rivals'.
"I'm sure he can deal with your step-family just fine, Konatsu. No need to worry about that."
"Oh my yes. He seemed quite powerful. I hadn't particularly intended to press things much longer myself."
Ukyou grunted in disappointment.
Ranma slammed the door open.
"Alright, evil step-family, listen up! I'm taking Konatsu, and there's nothing you can say or do to stop me!"
The Kunoichi in question flushed and swooned lightly at the choice of words, as Ukyou calmly introduced her spatula to the redhead's skull. The room itself was, naturally, empty, with a brief coded note pinned to a pillar. Konatsu read it and then began leading them to where the stepsisters had relocated themselves to, apparently out of boredom.
"Dummy. You say something like that, people will get completely the wrong idea, Ranchan. Are you trying to pick up another-"
"Was it.... that bad?" Ranma mumbled.
"Oh, my no." Konatsu hastily corrected. "You sounded very dashing and heroic."
Ukyou sent a suspicious stare the Kunoichi's way as Ranma preened from the compliment, but decided not to start anything while the love-interest was watching. Later, though, she'd have to catch the newcomer alone and explain some little facts of Neriman life. Such as 'thou shalt not flirt with the pigtailed one if ye happen to not be suicidal'. Wouldn't be any good for someone new to start trying to put hooks in while she was trying to pry the ones from three others out.
"Here we are. The Imperial Dragon, in the Penthouse Suite."
Ukyou looked up, and up, and fifty more stories of up, and then raised her hand slowly.
"Is it too late to change my mind? It's just, I'm not comfortable with picking a fight someplace where if I accidentally broke something, I'd be working a year to pay it off."
"We'll just have to be very careful." Ranma decided, also visibly unsettled. "Let's go then."
Just getting in the building took a little effort, but fortunately the doorman was more than willing to let three lovely young ladies with an appointment with one of the occupants. The lucky, lucky son of a-... no problem at all.
Then it was just an elevator ride up, and the confrontation, take two.
Ranma slammed the door open.
"Alright, evil step-family, listen up! I'm taking Konatsu, and there's nothing you can say or do t-wait, I'm not supposed to use that line. Can I get a do-over?"
There was no verbal answer, but the shuriken that the redhead had to quickly swat out of the air probably constituted a pretty emphatic 'No'.
"Right to the fight scene, then? Fine, I'm not much for chatter anyway. From this point we decide the matter with our bodies!"
Once more, Ukyou was forced to smack the redhead for unintentional innuendo.
For her part, Kotetsu had quickly glanced around the room for escape routes, not particularly interested in a fight, especially one which could go so badly if she lost. The only one not blocked was the floor to ceiling windows opposite of the door which, if taken, would result in a long drop and a quick stop.
Or so the intruders thought.
The cloud of smoke was expected, to cover any attacks or movements. The smashing noise of glass was not. By the time the smoke billowed out and Ranma rushed to the window, she could easily see the hideous trio gliding down on the back of the biggest one, not going very far distance-wise in the funny squirrel costume, but slowing the fall more than enough that they would land pretty gently and be long gone by the time they ran back down the stairs.
"Well, guess that was a bust." Ukyou stated flatly.
Ranma grimaced and walked a few steps back before shaking her head and turning back to the window.
"You don't have to follow me."
"Ran-chan, no, wait, don't do anything-" Ranma had already gotten a running start and leapt through the shattered window.
".... Stupid." Ukyou finished glumly.
Konatsu had quickly dashed forward and jumped after the redhead without a word, and Ukyou shook her head in disgust as she got her own running start.
"I gotta be CCCRRRAAAAZZZYYYY!" she yelled, finishing in a wail of mingled terror and excitement as she plummeted rapidly after the others.
Ranma's slamming down into their midst hadn't been at all expected. And was, in Kome's case at least, excruciatingly painful.
"Did you really think you could just dodge me so easily?!" Ranma spat, moving into a stance.
"Fool!" Kotetsu shot back, as Konatsu slammed down as well, doubling the agony for Kome, who dropped straight down another half dozen feet before bracing herself back into gliding position. "Fight here, and we could all die!"
"Feh. Cowards. I told you... there's nothing you can say or do to stop me from taking Konatsu." Ranma said, prompting another quick blush from the kunoichi.
"Stubborn." Ranma countered.
"-CRRRAAAAZZZYYYY!" Ukyou interjected, slamming her own way into the by now heavily battered Kome, and then gasping for breath on her hands and knees, covered with sweat and obviously both grateful and surprised to be alive.
Ranma spared her a surprised glance before pressing the attack, Kotetsu and Koeda hard pressed to dodge in the very small amount of footspace available to them, Konatsu exuberantly tossing a shuriken into the contained fray whenever there seemed to be a clear shot, though the stepfamily was more skilled than they'd seemed, as they always barely dodged. Ukyou just remained in the position she'd landed, life still flashing before her eyes.
"Stop, Stop it!" Kome grunted, acutely aware that they were still somewhere between thirty and forty stories up. "You're messing up my flight pattern! We're gonna FAALLL!"
Perfectly coinciding with the last, screamed word, someone's foot pressed into a particularly painful spot, and the larger stepsister's entire body spasmed, crumpling the false wing-flaps and sending them all plummeting to their deaths.
"If by some miracle we all survive!" Kotetsu howled past the wind. "We'll make you pay for this outrage, you crazy redheaded bitch!"
Ranma didn't bother to answer, instead pushing away to grab hold of Konatsu and Ukyou, who had been thrown completely free of the area with the shock. Ukyou screamed her head off as he took hold, while Konatsu just latched on gratefully as she looked up to where the step-family had righted themselves and were once more drifting down at a much slower rate.
Ranma thought quickly, searching for a way for them to survive the unfortunate turn of events, tuning out Ukyou's terrified rants, confessions, and simple incoherent screams. For a moment, she thought she had it as she shifted them to her shoulders and fired a double Moko Takabisha straight down.
It slowed the descent but, unfortunately, nowhere near enough to matter for long. Again kicking her brain into high gear, she developed a variation of the technique on the spot, a controlled and steady blast from both hands. It bled off fairly quick, and wouldn't be much of any use in actual battle because of it, but it was definitely doing the job of propulsion to oppose gravity's inexorable pull.
The ground was still getting really close, really fast though, and so she quickly thought up a variation on the variation, firing the same jet-engine-like blast from her feet as well.
Her shoes were trashed, and the quadruple-moko-takabisha variation was draining her reserves away really freaking fast, but it was doing the job properly now, and by the time they passed the twelfth story they were no longer falling at terminal velocity. By the second, they had slowed to a near-stop... and then the technique had spluttered and died as she cut it off, not having enough ki in reserve to keep it running without risking death.
Ukyou was more than happy to ignore Ranma softly collapsing as she jumped to the ground to kiss the earth, leaving Konatsu to gather up the exhausted martial artist and help her stagger out of the street.
"Ground.... sweet ground... I'll never leave you again, no precious, I promise, not never..." she mumbled, still possibly slightly delerious from sheer, overwhelming terror. Then she stood, and pointed at Ranma, fires of misplaced rage burning in her eyes.
"You! Saotome! Never, never, neverevereverever! Ever! Again! You owe me big for this, Ranma!"
Then her jaw snapped shut as her brain caught up with her mouth and she noticed Konatsu's gaze turning slowly and curiously between the two of them.
A.N. Artistic license, butterfly effect, whatever. I just didn't feel like rehashing everything from the manga and just switching lines here and there. The opportunity to give Ranma a semi-flight technique a la 'Iron Man' played no part in it.
Not at all. Though it'll take a lot of work before Ranma can put it to any real use without suffering possibly dangerous exhaustion, and Herb and Saffron can already fly so why the heck not.
And hey! Looks like Ranma's little secret is out. Have to see how that goes later.