A Ranma ½ story
by Adrian D. Moten
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. No disrespect intended by this simple fanfic.
Chapter 4: Operation: "B"-Sting
Morning slowly rose over the Tendo home, seeping its way into every available facet of the house. Nabiki stirred unusually easily today, her mind aflutter with the latest string of curses laid upon her head. In the end, Kodachi had the tape — a tape, which, as her suspicions led her to believe, Kuno and others paid Gosunkugi to make in the first place. "God damn them," she muttered under her breath, angrily balling up her hand and thumping it on her mattress.
Mattresses usually don't talk back.
Looking where her fist rested, another thought came to mind; she did not have black and/or red bedsheets, either. Then Nabiki became more alert of a sturdy weight across her back, looping partway around her waist, and a firm presence against her side. That could only mean one thing.
She quickly detached herself from under Ranma's arm, jostling the martial artist into a more wakeful state. While he overcame sleepiness, a quick essay of their state of dress gave Nabiki some comfort, but it did not dissipate her mood. She must have fallen asleep on Ranma early that morning after viewing the blackmail tape — after a bout of crying, she mused angrily to herself. They were both sitting up and dressed at the time, so nothing else could have happened. Still, things have gone too far with this marriage situation. She let things go too far too long. It had to stop, and now.
However, Nabiki was not about to do things Kodachi's way. Divorcing Ranma, while it would make the most sense — even wanted to a degree — was not an option. First off, there was no guarantee of the blackmail footage disappearing once the Bitch Rose's demand was met. That video footage would loom over her head for potentially years on end, and its revelation at the wrong time would have a devastating impact on her personal and professional life. Crippled career options, public shame, family and personal life rent apart, driven to whoring herself out in Shinjuku's notorious red light district just to eek out a living… Every scenario that came to mind made her shudder coldly. The tape would make her Kodachi's personal bitch, and Nabiki was damned if she was going to let that happen. She had a lot of pride in her independence, making her own way in life, and taking no one's shit. In fact, she would stay married to Ranma forever, just to piss off that annoying gymnast.
Nabiki winced at herself for that last thought. She really had to do something about Ranma as well. He may have given up on patching things with Akane, but her mind was still attuned to extricating herself from his heroic tendencies, the leading cause of his cocky, affable charm. She had no desire to be another notch on his egotistical belt. She would not allow herself to be swayed and swoon over him whenever he came to her aid. He flew into the face of everything she stood for, and letting her world be shaken any more than it had been was, like divorcing Ranma, not an option.
Nabiki needed a plan and fast. The clock was ticking, and she couldn't afford to waste seconds in indecision. Dealing with Kodachi and getting rid of those tapes right now took precedence over everything else. Perhaps she could use Ranma not for his muscle, but as a simple decoy while she alone completed her goal and reasserted herself as the independent, self-sufficient young woman she took pride in being.
"Yo, Nabiki," Ranma said, standing in her line of vision. "You okay? Looks like you're spacing out on me."
She looked at him for a moment or two, a slow smile spreading across her lips. "I'm better than okay, Ranma-baby. I'm doing just fine."
He couldn't help but feel a cold shiver skip down his spine. "Um, all right, cool. So, you got—?"
"Got to go, Ranma-baby," Nabiki said abruptly. "The day is already looking up, and I don't have time to waste." Grabbing her bath stuff, she skimmed out of the room.
The martial artist cocked an eyebrow, wondering aloud. "What was that all about? She already come up with something about the tape?" Shrugging to himself, he knelt down beside his undisturbed tatami bed and burrowed into his backpack, pulling out his road-weary kempo gi and changing into it. Then he went downstairs, bypassing Kasumi who was heading towards the kitchen, and made a beeline for the dojo.
Beginning his warm-ups, Ranma let his mind wander. Something's up with Nabiki. I don't know what, but I can just feel something is just… just wrong. He mulled over a few things mentally. The foremost thought was about the blackmail tape. Kodachi using it as leverage against Nabiki? That could have been expected. Finding out Kuno had invested into its making? That was new. Then again, not really. He was a pervert anyway. Spying on Nabiki like that, though… Was there no end to his obsessions? Wasn't he content with Akane and his girl-half?
Reality came back to Ranma quickly, as his train of thought affected his leg, sending him off-balanced from one practice kick. Quickly reframing his thoughts, he focused on his practice and deigned not to visit his concerns until after breakfast. Somehow, he needed to do something about Kodachi, but he wasn't nearly as good in thinking up a plan. He'd have to ask Nabiki if she had something up her sleeve.
Meanwhile, Nabiki had finished her bath, humming a little as she donned her school uniform. She had come up with a plan. "A bit brutish, of course," she spoke to herself, making sure everything was in place and immaculate on her. "But I'm not going to be another damsel in distress for him." One quick glance in the mirror gave her reason to smile. "Done right, and he'll be the one that'll need saving." She chuckled to herself. "Oh yes, Nabiki, you'll be back on top of things very soon. But first, I need something."
Coming down the stairs, Nabiki made a beeline for the kitchen. Her eyes lighted upon Kasumi cutting up a vegetable near the stove, and for a moment, a simmering pot of resentment and anger began to boil in her belly. However, she forced the feeling down, and smiled. "Hey, sis," she said, breezing into the kitchen, approaching her older sibling.
Kasumi paused in her work, looking up. "Oh, hello, Nabiki. How are you feeling today?"
"Never better." Stopping just before Kasumi, Nabiki cleared her throat. "Look, I just wanted to apologize about yesterday. I was pretty bitchy, and…" Trail off, let her bite.
Setting the knife down, Kasumi spoke. "No, it's all right. I suppose if our roles were reversed, I would have every right to be angry at you, too. I only wanted to help Akane have faith in the strength of love."
Nabiki involuntarily winced as the verbal knife was jammed into her back and twisted sharply. "Look, we all do some stupid things some times. But we… we…" She looked away, unable to face up to her sister as the recent blackmail effort gave Nabiki a fresh reminder of what her "stupid things" had resulted. "We just gotta deal with it."
Sighing sadly, Kasumi spoke again. "I'm so sorry for interfering, Nabiki. Will you forgive me?"
The move surprised Nabiki, clearly not expecting an apology, especially this early on in the game, especially one that seemed so heartfelt and sincere. What the hell's going on? she wondered to herself as she worked into her response.
"Hey, it's all right, sis. You just thought you were doing the right thing, that's all." A moment's hesitation later, Nabiki leaned in and gave Kasumi a quick hug, careful not to get herself dirty on Kasumi's apron. "I forgive you."
The older woman beamed. "Thank you, little sister."
Quickly changing the subject, Nabiki said, "Oh, I saw Daddy a little while ago. I think he wanted to see you about something."
"Yeah. Might have been urgent. Who knows with him, though?"
"Oh, my, I better see what he wants, then," Kasumi said, removing her apron.
"By the way sis, if you see Ranma this morning, tell him I'll see him later at school. I'm going to take care of a few things before class."
"All right, Nabiki. I made your lunch just before you came in."
"Have a good morning, little sister."
"You, too, sis."
On that, Kasumi exited the kitchen. Sighing in relief, Nabiki grabbed both her lunch, and the one item she really came down for. She carefully tucked it away into her bag, then quickly left the house before anyone could stop her. A few minutes later, Kasumi returned to the kitchen puzzled, as her father had not been seeking anyone this morning. Pushing it aside mentally, Kasumi finished her kitchen work, and made Ranma and Akane's lunches, then began cleaning up. As she breezed by the cutlery block, her eye caught something. Pausing, she took quick stock over her kitchen supplies, counting and remembering everything where she puts it. Then she recounted, since the numbers did not add up. Her brows knitted together, placing a frown on her face.
"Oh, my. What did I do with that paring knife?"
After his workout, Ranma took a quick bath, then entered the dining room, where Kasumi had breakfast on. Nabiki wasn't there, he noticed, but he shrugged mentally and sat down to partake of his fill. She was probably soaking herself into a Japanese prune or something.
"Oh, little brother," Kasumi said. The title 'little brother' still took some getting used to, he realized, as he forced himself to cough up pieces of rice that tried to pay his lungs a visit. "Nabiki left for school early, but she said she will see you there later."
"Oh, okay, thanks, Kasumi." Nabiki already has a plan? Cool. I just hope I don't have to do something stupid again.
A few moments later, Akane wandered into the dining room, cleansed and ready to eat breakfast. However, one look at Ranma's face, and her appetite waned. "Oh. Morning, Ranma."
He looked up at the mention of his name. "Um, hey, Akane."
The only sound made in the next several seconds was Soun rustling his morning paper when he flipped to the business section.
"Akane," Kasumi said at last. "Have a seat. Your breakfast will get cold."
Eyes darting everyway but in Ranma's direction, Akane sat down at the table and start to eat slowly. Again, silence reigned supreme, chopsticks clacking against porcelain in erratic, staccato rhythm being the only freedom of sound enjoyed. Finally, she pushed away her dish half-eaten. "I'm sorry sis, but I better go to school now."
"All right," Kasumi said. "Ran—" She cut herself off suddenly.
The teen looked up a little puzzled. "Hm?"
After a second of indecision, Kasumi shook her head. "It's nothing now."
Grunting, Ranma returned to eating. However, one eye kept looking in Akane's direction as she walked away. A few minutes later, he pushed his mostly-empty bowl away. "Hey, I better run to school, too, Kasumi."
She nodded. "Don't forget your lunch."
"Okay." He took a quick detour to the kitchen. Noticing there were two lunches sitting there — one for Akane, no doubt — he collected both of them, then darted out of the house. Akane hadn't gone very far, as he could still see here from the house gate. Tightening his grip, he started off, intent on catching up with his ex-fiancée.
Nabiki stood by the gate of Furinken High School, scanning the sparse early morning crowd. "Where is he?" A couple of seconds later, her eyes lighted upon the target of her desire: Tatewaki Kuno. Pulling away from her perch, she made a beeline towards the kendoist.
Halfway there, Kuno noticed Nabiki's approach and turned to face her. "Good morning, Nabiki Saotome."
She smiled sweetly. "Good morning to you, Tatewaki."
He perked an eyebrow at the sudden familiarity. "Is there something the matter?"
"What makes you say that?" Taking his arm, Nabiki pulled him around the corner of the school, away from prying eyes.
Before Kuno could respond, he felt something sharp and slender pressed hard against his crotch.
"Try anything, and I'll lop off your little sword. And don't ever call me Saotome again." For emphasis, she jerked the paring knife a little, making him wince at the thought.
"What's the meaning of this, Nabiki?" He wanted to shout, but circumstances forced him to be more discreet. "Has your marriage to that foul sorcerer finally driven off your sanity?"
"Possibly, though we wouldn't be here at this point if not for you paying a certain person to do some spying on me in a most personal moment."
"I have no idea what—"
She almost cut him off. "Don't play games with me, bitch. I know you had to invest in Gosunkugi's scheme to videotape me in my room."
"Oh, that little issue." Relaxing as much as one can with a blade threatening to make him less than a man, Kuno spoke. "Of course, I provided money to that spooky boy to give me verification of the validity of yours and Ranma's marriage. How he did it, I was not privy to the knowledge, nor did I want to be as such."
Her eyes narrowed. "You expect me to believe that?"
"Nabiki, in all honesty, I would rather face Emma-oh naked and weaponless that to expose myself to whatever perversions that foul sorcerer may want to perform on you, and to look upon you dressed in anything less than your school uniform is disrespectful to your honor… not to mention you do nothing for me in the first place."
"Hmm. I'm not sure whether I should be flattered or insulted. But your sword may yet remain intact."
"Your sister has the tape. I thought you were in on it, too, but I may be wrong now."
Kuno closed his eyes and leaned his head back. "That would explain why she has remained in the video room since I arrived home yesterday. I believe she was there this morning when I left for school."
"I thought it was strange, but I did not inquire on the matter. As long as she remains out of trouble, it matters little to me."
"Nice family life," she said dryly.
Kuno ignored that comment completely. "I will aid your cause as much as possible, Nabiki. Without you in that foul sorcerer's path, he may well seize hold over Akane Tendo's mind and bewitch her once again, and there's no telling what's to become of my fiery pigtailed goddess." He cleared his throat once before continuing. "Also, I will not let word of my sister's misdeeds concerning you, nor of this incident slip through my lips, as per my paying homage to your pure and noble selflessness to marry the fiendish Ranma for the greater good."
He was quickly getting on her last nerve with all his spouting about her "sacrifice" to get married to Ranma, but it wouldn't do to renege on his cool willingness to help her keep her name unsoiled by lobbing off his two nutty friends. "All right." Nabiki slowly removed the blade, tucking it into her bag.. "Tell me about the layout of your home."
"What would you need with such information?"
Nabiki gave him a half-lidded look. "Why, I'm going to pay your little sister a visit later, Kuno-baby."
Akane, for her part, was lost in her own thoughts, mostly oblivious to the world. Idly, she kicked a rock off the painted brick wall that separated the houses from the immediate view of passersby. In a way, she felt the same way; separated, isolated from everything.
How could things get so out of hand in just a week? One day, she was engaged to Ranma, the next, he's now married to Nabiki. Nabiki, of all people!
What happened between the two beforehand? She was so sure it was just another one of her malicious pranks, but the more she tried to get Ranma back, the more she ended up propelling him away. Was she the cause of their union? Was there something going on between them from the beginning? Was Ranma just getting back at her for throwing him away in the first place?
Akane wanted to cry again, like she did every night since Ranma and Nabiki got married, since she heard them consummate their marriage, listening to their wild, carnal desires and groans like one would watch a train wreck — horrified and rooted in a sickening curiosity to see it through, no matter how many tears were shed for the loss of others. It just didn't feel real, like a scene from a science fiction movie, but it happened all right. And now, she had to live with that day for the rest of her life.
But how the hell can I live with that, when I see him sitting there like nothing happened?
"Boy, you're really slacking off on your training."
Startled, Akane whirled around and found herself face-to-face with Ranma. Her heart pounded in her chest, a thousand different feelings shooting through her body in a second. "Um, ah, hi… Ranma."
He stood there, his mouth slowly working up words. "You… forgot you lunch." He thrust the box towards her.
"Thanks." She took it from him tentatively, then started to turn around.
She tried to will her legs to continue forward, but they stopped of their own accord, feeling heavy as lead. She didn't turn around, though. "Yeah?"
The silence that strode between them was heavy, foreboding, blotting out everything but the other. Finally, Ranma cut through the quietude with his blunt tongue. "Look about the wedding, I don't—"
Surprised by her outburst, Ranma fell silent.
Akane was just as shocked at herself, but her mouth began working out her thoughts into words before she could stop herself. "It doesn't matter, anyway. What's done is done. Too late to change anything now."
Ranma took a step forward. "Look, Akane, what—"
So caught up in his attempts of trying to right wrongs, he was caught flatfooted when she suddenly whipped around and grabbed the front of his shirt, yanking him forward. For a split second, it seemed like Akane was about to either hit him, or make out with him in broad daylight. Neither scenario happened. Instead, he saw her eyes, rimming with tears, flashing anger and sadness at the same time.
"Don't try to make me feel better, Ranma. I messed up. I know that, and I'm going to accept that, much as I don't like it."
She sighed, looking down. "Look, if you really want to make me feel better, promise me you will never — and I mean never — hurt Nabiki or let her get hurt like me."
His brows shot up in surprise. "What?"
"Promise me that!" Her fist holding his shirt trembled, though her grip was just as firm.
"Okay, okay! I promise!"
Sighing in relief, she slowly looked at him again. "I'm going to hold you to that, Ranma. Break your word, and I'll kill you myself."
Straightening his shirt, he just looked at her in mute shock.
The rush of fear and adrenaline that flowed through her limbs dissipated, and Akane felt lightheaded and sick. "I'm going back home. I don't feel well now."
"Well, let me help you back."
She shook her head. "No, I'll be fine. Just hurry to school, and remember your promise."
He reached out a hand to her, but after a few seconds of hovering, he withdrew it without touching her. "Yeah… all right, Akane. That's what you want, you got it."
"Thank you, Ranma."
He grunted in response, turned away from her and started running towards the school. Akane's eyes stayed on him, watching his form gradually shrink until it disappeared around a corner. Then she started going back home, her legs turning into rubber, refusing to support her weight several times. But she forced herself to go on, ignoring the scrapes and bruises each fall served her.
They hurt a lot less than what she felt in her chest.
In short order, she barreled through the front door, not bothering to take off her shoes, and ended up crashing into a bewildered Kasumi who was just coming into the den, toppling the older sister backwards and onto the floor, Akane laying on top of her haplessly. The younger girl broke into tears dammed for too long.
"Akane! What's the matter?"
"Oh God, Kasumi! It's really over this time! It's really over between us…" She blubbered into Kasumi's blouse, clutching her tightly.
Kasumi only held her in response, letting her younger sister cry everything out. Soun came to the dining room door to see what the commotion was, his eyes spying the two heaped on the floor embracing each other. Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply, then moved away from the door.
"Let me get this straight," Ranma said to Nabiki as she changed out of her uniform and into a pair of jeans, his back turned to her. He could see her shadow as she danced with her clothes thanks to the afternoon sun, but did not feel the need to mention this for one reason or another. "You want me to go over to Kuno's house, and keep Kodachi busy while you sneak in from another side and find the tapes?"
"Of course," Nabiki responded, tugging a black t-shirt over her head, then fluffing out her hair. "Tell her that I demanded a divorce and threw you out, leaving you with no place to go, and that she was the first person to come to mind. Once you're inside, keep her distracted in the living room. Don't let her go anywhere else until I give you the signal. Oh, you can turn around now."
He shuddered slightly, thinking about having to keep Kodachi busy, then looked in her direction.. "And what kind of signal is that going to be?"
"You'll know it when it comes." Truthfully, Nabiki hadn't thought of anything in that manner. Not her problem, though. Her whole life and future were at stake, and she could not afford to waste time trying to make everyone as comfortable as possible. Besides, Ranma would probably flee the house in short order, with Kodachi hot on his trail, making her task a whole lot easier.
"Wouldn't it be easier to just fight back with fire? I mean, we got her on that tape she sent you. Can't we do something with that instead?"
"Like what? Go to the police? Blackmail her back, threatening to ruin her family name and honor with the tape, and everyone that was in on it?"
"Well, I guess something like that."
Nabiki gave him one of the coldest, most intense stares he had ever experienced. He literally shivered unconsciously under her eyes, his legs refusing to respond for a moment. "First off," she started off slowly, each word measured. "I have more faith in the Yakuza than I do in our own government and the police. How do you take an organization seriously when its members constantly try to shame criminals into submission? Secondly, I don't want anyone else to see the tape. I don't want anyone to even know it exists. Lastly, trying to entrap Kodachi in the same manner is futile. Even if we were successful, she'll be like a cornered animal. Having nothing else to lose, she will strike out with every bit of fury and power she has before she goes down in flames, hoping to drag us down with her."
He huffed. "I don't like it." He had wanted to say something to Nabiki about Akane when he got to school, but he didn't see her until lunch. By then, he couldn't think of a way to bring it up, and the more he thought about it, the more he decided to just handle it himself. It was the manly thing to do, surely.
"Look, Ranma. This is the best way. If I approach Kodachi, she's likely to try and kill me before—"
"Like hell! Ain't no way I'm letting that happen!"
Nabiki stared at Ranma's set facial features for a moment, her heart skipping a beat. Smacking herself mentally, she recovered from his impassioned outburst. "So, you will have to go in and keep her busy while I dig up the tapes."
He sighed. "Okay, whatever. Just be careful in there, okay?" Ranma couldn't help but feel he was forgetting to mention something important. However, every time he tried to grasp that wild strand of thought, it would flitter away, hide behind something else in his mind. Mentally, he shrugged. If it were important, he would remember it soon enough.
Nabiki smirked. "Yes, dear." Snuggling up on Ranma suddenly, Nabiki made a motion to kiss him.
His eyes bugged out, and he jerked away. "Whoa, whoa, hey! Cut that out!"
She snickered into her fist. "Oh, Ranma, Ranma…" Clearing her throat, Nabiki continued in a more serious tone. "Stop worrying so much. You do as I say, and we'll be back home in no time. Now let's go. Do whatever it takes to keep her distracted."
Ranma gave her a look, then shrugged. "Okay, okay. Let's just get this over with." On that, he left Nabiki's room.
Watching his back, Nabiki frowned deeply to herself. Then she walked over to her desk and opened a small drawer. Pulling out a small, high speed camera from within, she checked to make sure it had a fresh roll of film properly loaded, then stuffed it into her right pocket. This had better work. I can't take much more of Ranma's doting concern. As an afterthought, she rummaged in her closet. "Now what did I do with that bag?"
Ranma found himself sneezing violently once as he was coming down the stairs.. "Man, is it dusty or something?" he said to himself, waiting in the den for Nabiki. A few moments later, she stepped onto the landing as well. She had a large, empty brown gym bag slung over her shoulder, the strap pulling tautly across her body. Instead of heading towards the front door, she turned in the direction of the kitchen.
"Go on ahead. I'll be out in five minutes, to keep her less suspicious."
He shrugged again and walked out the front door. Nabiki, popped into the kitchen, grabbing a small plastic container and filling it up with water. Another few steps, and she had obtained bleach from the laundry room. Pouring a little of the overwhelming cleanser into the container, she carefully placed the paring knife in the liquid. Setting the bleach in front of the sink — Kasumi should get the hint, though she'd probably be confused as hell — Nabiki mentally prepared herself one last time, then trekked out of the house to reclaim her life.
Thirty minutes later, Ranma found himself standing in front of the massive, black-painted Kuno Estate gates. Here goes nothing. He buzzed the house from the intercom. A few moments went by, then an older, masculine voice broke through the speaker.
"Kuno Estate. With whom do you wish to see?"
"Hey, my name is Ranma and I—"
The speaker crackled again with a much more energetic and decidedly female voice. "Ranma dearest, is that you?"
Kodachi, the martial artist thought to himself. "Yeah, it's me, Kodachi."
"Oh, please come in, Ranma dearest! Pardon me, I will be there shortly!"
There was a heavy buzzing sound. A tingling sensation of foreboding crawled down his back as the gate yawned before like a giant mouth, but he forced himself to plod forth. Hopefully, this whole event would be over and done with inside of ten minutes.
Moments later, he was standing at the front door. One ring of the bell, and a tall, slight man appearing to be in his thirties answered the door immediately, looking immaculate as the Kuno family butler. He gave the martial artist a slow once-over, eyes narrowed, fingers purposefully adjusting his silver-rimmed monocle. After the silent inspection, he asked, "Ranma Saotome?"
Ranma nodded, giving the butler a critical eye. "That's me."
"Enter." The butler stepped to one side, holding the door open for the guest. Ranma padded into the lion's den called a house, eyes darting to and fro, checking for anything that would spell his doom. That meant everything in this case.
Seconds later, the first and largest threat to his safety appeared, cresting down from the top of the stairs. "Ranma dearest! How nice it is to see you! To what may I owe your unexpected visitation?"
Unexpected my ass. I bet she was banking on it.. "Well, Kodachi, it's like this…"
"Hmm… Ranma should have since drawn Kodachi out of the video room," Nabiki said to herself as she strolled to the intercom. Adjusting the bulky bag with one hand, she ignored the buzzer. Instead, she punched in the code to the gates — a nice, late wedding "gift" from Kuno in addition to all his reverent worship. As expected, the metal structure swung open for her, and she quickly made her way over to the left side of the house, checking for the second window on that side. Peeking in, she saw Kuno in the small study room reading a book at the desk. Hagakure, she noted, Book of the Samurai. How appropriate. Checking the room for any other occupants, she then tapped out the code he gave her.
Taptaptap. Tap-tap-tap. Taptaptap.
Without looking up from his book, he stood up, walked over to the window, unlatched it, and pulled it up. Nabiki hoisted herself up and pulled herself through, landing on a pillow left just underneath the sill. How thoughtful of Kuno…
"What a noisy bird," he commented to himself, still reading his book as he closed the window, re-latching it. Then he sat back down at the desk. "Almost as noisy as my dear sister's guest. At least she's in the living quarters, away from here."
Nabiki smiled to herself. Kuno would give some aid, though he'll look the other way. Literally, in this case. At any rate, he said all she needed to know. Ranma had made it in, and got Kodachi away from the video room. Quietly, she opened the study room door, checked to make sure the coast was clear, and slipped out, making her way to the video room.
In the living room, Kodachi was cooing over a dejected-looking Ranma as he sat on an expensive-looking couch. Hors d'oeuvres, which he suspected his hostess made herself, remained on a small table close by undisturbed. "Poor dear, that heartless wretch of a woman did all that to you, my dearest?"
"Yeah…" His acting was bad, but somehow, it made him look more defeated and dejected. "I should have known I meant nothing to her."
Kodachi smiled even more broadly "Do not worry about a thing, my dearest, I will take care of that harridan for you. Tea?"
He looked surprised, but fought down the urge to shout. "No… don't concern yourself with her. I wouldn't want to… trouble you, yeah."
"Oh, it will be no trouble at all, Ranma dearest. In fact, I have already constructed the means to her personal destruction."
The term "personal destruction" confused the young Saotome. "You have? How's that?"
"You said she seeks divorce, correct?"
"Yeah…" He was getting a bad feeling about this.
"What if you were to pre-empt her by filing for divorce yourself, on grounds of infidelity?"
"What? That's crazy! I could don't that!"
"You're right. You need proof, and that I have for you."
She smiled and, though it was meant to be heartwarming, it chilled Ranma almost to his soul. "I do, all on tape."
There have been few times Nabiki has ever been at a loss for words. Strangely enough, almost each one of those times has involved Ranma in some way. And now, she needed to tally up another moment of wordless response. Involving Ranma, and yet… not.
Upon entering the room, Nabiki noted a stack of unwrapped, unlabeled tapes in one corner of the room next to the pile of freshly bought and unopened ones. An expensive computer slept on nearby, surrounded by various cords, some running into the back of a set of two VCRs and television monitor close by. In one of the VCRs, another unmarked tape had been rewound and ejected, but not removed. Out of curiosity, she played the tape in the empty, top VCR.
She expected the unmarked tape to be a copy of her and Ranma's infamous wedding. What came up on the screen was a complete shock, though. Sure, she was present in the video, but… who the hell was the guy shen was kissing?!
"You did what?!" Ranma said, almost squeaking in stunned shock.
"Just a little video editing, overlaying another man's face over yours. It pained me to cover up your exquisite features, but it was necessary. Not the full tape, mind you, only about ten minutes' worth, but it'll be more than enough to destroy her and anything she may hold over you, including any chance of you impregnating her."
Ranma's mind was blank for several seconds, his face stuck in an open-mouth gape.
Kodachi blushed under his stare. "Oh, my, Ranma dearest… the way you look at me so…" Still blushing, she turned away from him slightly, covering her mouth. "We should wait until divorce proceedings are finalized, which shouldn't take long in family court."
"Nabiki ain't gonna like this…" he mumbled, the first lines of thought coming to him after his mental server crash and reboot. "Akane's gonna kill me…"
Kodachi shyly looked at Ranma. "Oh, do not let your become so worried over those… peasants. You are more than welcomed to stay here with me." She suddenly blushed again, turning away demurely. "Well, not with me, not yet." Looking up, she quick rose to her feet. "Come, Ranma dearest, let me show you that harridan's downfall."
Remembering Nabiki, he shot out of his seat, grasping Kodachi by her shoulders firmly. "No!! Let's not!"
"Oh, my…" Kodachi's eyes changed into a half-lidded desirous gaze, her face flushed. "You're so beautiful when you're forceful…"
Suddenly too aware of his predicament, Ranma quickly let Kodachi go and returned to his seat. "C-come on. L-let's just sit here a while longer…" he said, patting a spot an arm's length away from him.
She cleared her throat. "Y-yes… I almost forgot myself, Ranma dearest." She slowly sat down, looking away as to cool her flustered cheeks. However, she was now sitting much closer to the young Saotome, a detail he could scarcely overlook.
Dammit, Nabiki, were the hell's your signal?!
"Dammit, Kodachi, where the hell's your screwdriver?!" Nabiki's teeth were gritted so hard, they could powder granite between them.
She had quickly tallied up and bagged about 30 possible copies of the doctored video she needed to destroy. Kodachi's computer hard drive had to go as well; unfortunately, she could not find a screwdriver lying around the room, nor did she have the strength to just yank it out. Kuno wouldn't assist her in this, she already knew, so somehow she had to get Ranma in the room. But he was busy keeping that spoiled rich bitch busy. Plus she was bound and determined to save her own ass, so he was already dismissed from her mind. However, she had more pressing concerns on hand than inflating Ranma's macho ego.
She had yet to find the master tape.
It was nowhere in the room so that could only mean she either hid it, or she has it on her person. Banking on the smarter thing to do — hiding it — Nabiki quickly peeked outside the door. Seeing no one around, she stealthily stole her way upstairs, making another beeline directly to where Kuno said Kodachi's room would be.. Thanking the gods for small wonders — as expansive the Kuno mansion was, they had very few people catering to their whims, whether it was on purpose, or by sanity's design she did not care to speculate — she crept into the lavish room without being spotted.
She did not have far to search. Lying open on her desktop was a book. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be Kodachi's diary, an entry penned in today. Nabiki spared a moment to read it.
Dear Diary. I finally completed my special project. That damned Nabiki Tendo will not dare bother Ranma dearest and I ever again, so long as I having the original version. For now, my pet green turtle will guard it well. I suspect she will try something to gain it back. Peasants never learn.
"She has a turtle guarding it?" Nabiki chuckled. "Does it know ninjitsu and swing nunchucks too?"
Downstairs, Ranma was doing his best to keep Kodachi from leaving the living room. Most of them usually involved grabbing her and making her sit down again, but the effect that had upon her creeped him out more. He could almost feel the heat of her desire flood the room by now, and he desperately wanted out. It was a small wonder she hadn't used any paralysis powder or something of the like on him already. Then he reconsidered that thought — he had neither eaten, nor drank anything Kodachi offered, though it all looked very appealing, and his stomach was starting to get at him, reminding the martial artist that he hadn't had any food since lunch. However, the idea of the diabolical Black Rose having her way with him while he could do nothing frightened off any urge to eat within throwing distance of her, and he ccould throw pretty far, indeed.
Speaking of which, he really wish he could throw her pretty far, too. She all but lived in his lap now, the way she invaded his personal space. Plus she kept glancing at him with those soft bedroom eyes. Her mouth may have been saying "no" and "we must wait," but if he made the slightest motion for it, she would take him right then and there on the couch, and to hell with whoever came around to watch. The last few times, he resorted to talking her back down, which wasn't nearly as dangerous as grabbing her, but it made matters even more complicated for him. The lack of touching her now seemed to make her want him even more than before! Truly bizarre.
Shit, Nabiki! Gimme my fucking sign!
Then he saw her outside through the glass doors, though his brows furrowed as she knelt in front of the large pond in the Kuno backyard. What the hell is she doing down by the water? He tried to see more, but Kodachi noticed his averted gaze.
"What is it, Ranma dearest?" she asked, her head starting to turn in the same direction.
Without thinking, he grabbed her head and yanked it back to face him. A huge mistake, he realized right after he done it. The burning lustful gaze returned at full strength, heralding something else.
"Oh, Ranma dearest, I can't take this torture anymore!"
"Wha—" His words were smothered back down his throat, her lips crushing against his hotly. Completely floored, he flailed his arms and legs wildly, trying to get up, get out, and get free from the Black Rose as she entwined her arms around his neck and shoulders, holding fast to him.
"Jackpot!" Nabiki said to herself, lifting up one of the numerous stones outlining the huge backyard pond. This chosen one had been recently moved, she observed. Underneath it laid a small green strongbox. No combination lock on this brand, only a small clasp, which she hurriedly popped open and looked inside.
The gods must be smiling upon her now.
There was still a chance the tape she just found may well be a fake, so she would be quick in verifying it before she left the Kuno estate. She didn't come all this way to be tricked and sent home empty-handed. But she really wanted to shout for joy. Somehow, she just knew this was the real McCoy.
Straightening up she was about to flag at Ranma, but came up short as he was busy making out with the person responsible for all her current woes. A flare of anger blew through her as she reached into her pocket for the camera she put there, just in case she got a chance to put Ranma and his heroics back into their place: out of her life. She raised the unit to her eye, then lowered it, feeling a sudden wave of shame and guilt wash over her. She was just put in the same predicament not more than thirty minutes ago. What kind of message would that be sending if she turned around and paid good fortune with ill?
She debated with herself for a second or two, deciding her answer to that question. It soon was clear what kind of message she wanted to send, especially to Ranma: I don't give a damn. Again, she raised the camera to her eye, readying for a shot.
Struggling to break free of the Kiss of Death, Kodachi style, Ranma caught a glimpse of Nabiki standing at the glass door, but he never noticed the camera; the huge thing rising out of the pond behind her had his attention. And suddenly he remembered what he had forgotten about much earlier.
"GREEN TURTLE! RUN!"
Both young women halted in their current actions to look at him bewilderedly.
That was when Nabiki noticed the monstrous shadow on the ground, heard the guttural, inhuman declaration. Dread filled her stomach as she dared to look behind her. All she could see was a rapidly darkening tunnel of red rimmed full of sharp teeth, reeking of rotting death and scum, the "voice" echoing in her soul the same sentiments. She never had a chance to get a thought into her head, only watch the cave of death and damnation close in slow motion, taking her into its depths.
A heartbeat later, the jaws of the huge alligator snapped shut, cracking the air forcefully, the heavy sounds of snapping and crushing plain and sickening to the ears. Especially to Nabiki's; that could have been her being snapped and crushed, she dully realized instead of the gym bag of dubbed tapes she was carrying. Her world opened up more, showing that she was not standing on her feet; the way she felt at that moment, she would not have had the strength to do so.
"Whew, that was too close! You all right, Nabiki?"
"Huh?" She almost didn't recognize who was talking to her, but it all came crashing back to her. Her head tilted up to face the owner of that voice. "R-Ranma?"
"You didn't get hurt or nothin', right?"
"I… I think I'm fine." She did a customary body check, making sure everything was where they were moments before. Then she saw she still held onto the original tape. "I got the tape. Wow."
"Yeah, that's nice. Time to go!"
Ranma didn't have time to hear her protest. He immediately sprang to his left, dodging the mammoth reptile's lunge, then hopped back a few feet, avoiding its jaws.
Nabiki clung tightly to her savior. "Where's Kodachi?! We have to get back to the video room, quickly!"
He grunted, clearing a low-swinging tail sweep, then dove over to his right. "Threw her off me. I think she's knocked out, or something. Didn't have time to check!" He barely dodged another swipe. "Damn, Nabiki, we gotta stop meeting like this!"
"Forget that! We need to get her hard drive now!"
He paused for a split second. "Get her what?"
He saw it coming in, and again, he tried to dodge. However, with Nabiki in his arms, coupled with his hesitation, he wasn't fast enough. Green Turtle's giant tail caught him, snatching him out from underneath the young woman and sending him bodily into its watery home.
Nabiki landed hard on her rump, grunting in pain. She knew any moment the cutely-named monster was going to turn its sights on her. However, her body refused to respond to her commands. Fear had paralyzed her completely, even before the gleaming, reptilian greenish-yellow eyes bore hard into her soul, designating her as its next meal. Its massive jaws started to swing open.
"Oh no, you don't!" came a shrill, feminine shout. Ranma, changed into his girl form, zipped over Nabiki, both hands together as he brought then crashing down onto Green Turtle's snout. He got the desired effect. The alligator recoiled from the sudden blow, snapping its mouth shut. While still in the air, he ripped open his Chinese shirt and swooped down on it like an eagle, managing to slide its closed mouth into the opening between his shirt and back. Twirling his female body forward, his arms jerked out of the shirt, though he held fast to the sleeves, and planted both of his too-small bare feet firmly on the underside of its jaw. Rapidly, he yanked and tied the sleeves together tightly, preventing the huge reptile from opening its mouth, then bracing himself against the floor, he thrust his legs up forcefully, pitching the gator's head back and exposing its soft underbelly for a few moments. It was more than enough time for Ranma. Bodily propel himself up to his feet and, in the same fluid motion, drive his fist home into that vulnerable flesh with the force of a thousand punches compressed within the span of one second. The monstrous animal's body flew across the living room, crashing through one side of the open doorway and shattering the bottom of the stairs into splinters.
He flicked up the middle finger of his punching hand at the unconscious beast. "Suck on that, you overgrown suitcase."
The immediate threat taken care of, he spared a look around the room. One glance to his left informed him that Kodachi was, indeed, slumped against the wall, unconscious, but breathing. A spiderweb indention marked where her head had impacted, and from the look of it, she hit the surface very hard. Most likely she would not come to for a few hours. Another scan gave him view of the butler from earlier poking his head out from one room, joined by a maid.
Ranma held out his hand in their direction. "Want some?" he said, glaring down his arm, his fingers beckoning.
Their reply was to duck back into the room, slamming the door shut quickly.
"Smooth," Nabiki said, forcing herself to stand erect. "At least you're wearing an undershirt. Let's get that hard drive and get the hell out of this madhouse." She walked unsteadily towards the wet pile that once was her gym bag. She started to reach for it, but on second thought, she picked up a couple of the table doilies nearby. Stuffing the original tape into her right pocket, she wrapped the decorative cloths around her hands, then grabbed the sodden mess. Turning back to Ranma, she said. "This way."
Ranma held her no argument. He followed her to the video room, and extracted the hard drive Nabiki wanted. He knew nothing about computers, but even he was pretty sure that Kodachi's computer would never work again under any circumstances.
It must have been after eight, Ranma mused, as the sun had fallen beneath the horizon, making way for the moon. The two newlyweds did not speak since they left the Kuno estate, unless Nabiki had a command on her lips. Every now and then, Ranma glanced in her direction, but she was completely unreadable, even as they were watching the pile of tapes burn up into ashes and slag.
He wandered around the miniature inferno devouring the perverted memories of something he wasn't even sure he wanted to remember. It hadn't even been a week they were married, and already it felt like it had been months since they had received that late "gift." Now that everything had been taken care of, all the parts of the tragedy-in-the-making gathered and destroyed, Nabiki should at least be relieved. But as he studied her profile, she still wore that blank expression. Then he noticed something in her pocket.
"Hey, Nabiki, isn't that the original tape?"
She didn't seem to even register his presence at first, but slowly she looked down. Her hand pulled free the tape, then transferred the unlabeled item into her other hand and dove again into her, fishing out a slim camera. She studied the latter item for a long time, turning it over and over in her hand like a child studying an alphabet block.
She swore quietly. "Damn you…"
He perked a brow. "What's that you said?"
She looked directly at him for the first time since that afternoon. "If you weren't there today," she began. "I'd probably be dead by now."
He shrugged. "Yeah, probably so. Kodachi's—"
"Is this how things are always going to be?"
"I come up with some plan, something goes wrong, you come to my rescue, and we do it all over again. Is that my fate? To fall and swoon over your heroic acts? To become weak and pathetic and unable to do anything on my own like I've always done until now?"
Ranma furrowed his brows. "Whoa, wait, what's going on here?"
Nabiki looked away from him. "You want to hear something funny? I thought I could do this on my own. I had to get uncharacteristically aggressive with Kuno this morning. I mean, I risked getting dismissed from Furinken and probably some jail time just having a knife on my person, not to mention threatening to use it on Kuno — but I didn't want your help. I wanted you out of my life so badly, I—"
His eyes grew wide as Nabiki poured out her soul to him, telling him everything he never wanted to know about her life since their wedding. He wasn't even sure she was aware of the tears dripping down her face as she uncharacteristically made herself naked and vulnerable before him. He guessed she was under strain some time before, but this was nothing like he expected.
"—and I couldn't even take that photo without worrying about moral ramifications. I tried to embarrass you, sell you, get rid of you, destroy you, and yet, you continue to come to my rescue, risking your own life to do so. Is this how I will always live? Dependant on you to wipe my nose every second? Is it?!" Her voice cracked with raw emotion on the last sentence, her eyes cutting at him.
"I…" Ranma started to say, then trailed off. What would the man do at this point? No answer fell from the stars and graced him with the knowledge. He wondered if there was even such knowledge in the first place. So he fell back onto his training over the years for the solution. However, the only one that he could think of was the Saotome Secret Technique, and running away wouldn't— Wait a second. He quickly recalled what his father had told him while teaching him the maneuver, then he rapidly whipped up a plan of attack based on that one scrap of true wisdom quickly launched it at Nabiki, hoping it'll do the trick.
"I think you're cute!"
For a few moments, no other sound could be heard for miles around. A page of old newspaper gently blew through the lot. Then she uttered a single word very quietly.
"What?" She blinked and shook her head in disbelief. "You think I'm—?"
Ranma released the breath he wasn't even aware of holding and smiled, pressing his advantage. "Yeah, real cute! And smart! Smarter than anyone I know!"
"W-well, I am, but what—?"
"So what 'cha worrying about? You're Nabiki. You think of really smart plans and they go off without a problem most of the time. So this one didn't work out like you thought. Big deal. Even the best like me screw up once in a while. You know what I do, though? I don't worry about it and keep on doing as I've been taught and raised. The world ain't gonna end over one mistake. Just don't make it again, and it's all cool. You know?"
She had a blank expression on her face for a little while, but then a smirk slowly crept across her face. "You realize that I'm going to go back to being a cold-hearted, money-grubbing bitch. This moment of weakness will never happen again."
"Phft! Please. Like I'd want you to be so damn needy and dependant on me all the time. I like you just the way you are."
"Heh. You're a glutton for punishment and suffering."
"Hah! Bring it on."
"All right." She stepped into his personal space and slipped her arms around his neck. "And thanks for saving me," she said and, before Ranma could react, she planted her lips on his for a second. You know," Nabiki started as Ranma's brain went offline. "This whole marriage thing gives me a whole new latitude of ways to torment you." She withdrew her arms and started to walk back home.
"No fair…" a stunned Ranma said weakly.
She grinned over her shoulder at him. "Who says I play fair?" Looking down at her hands, she called back to him. "Before I forget, dump this into the fire as well," Nabiki said, flicking her right towards him.
Ranma snapped out of his bewildered state and caught what Nabiki threw him. He started to toss it into the fire, then noticed what he was holding. "Hey, wait, are you…?"
"Very sure. Have to get rid of the last bit of evidence of today's exploits, you know."
"I… guess so," he said, more to himself, as he dumped Nabiki's expensive-looking camera into the burning barrel. "So, ah, what are you gonna do with… that?"
"Watch it, what else? After all, it's my wedding night."
"What? You serious? I thought you didn't want any—"
"Things change. Besides, I have to take notes, too, so I can exploit all the new and interesting ways I can embarrass you and make you miserable."
"You're gonna do what?! Get back here with that tape!"
Nabiki smiled as she slipped the tape down her shirt. "Frisk me for it."
"Urk! Dammit, that's not fair!"
"All you have to do is reach down between my…"
"Argh! Damn you!"
"Oh, Ranma. You're so easy to tease!"
To be continued.
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