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The Wind and the Rain

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- three days after that-

 

    Kasumi pressed her cheek into the surface of the table, letting it draw some of the heat from her face as she held her book out in front of her. It had been billed to her by a friend as a period romantic comedy, but it had suddenly started to feel a little more… spicy. Which wasn't exactly a problem- she was just glad she had the house mostly to herself. She was pretty sure Nabiki was still upstairs, but it was vacation right now, so she probably wouldn't be leaving her room except to eat today. 

    She smiled, biting her bottom lip as she flipped the page. The heroine, in disguise, was caught between her two would-be lovers in a deliciously absurd love triangle, one of them claiming that she and the heroine were already married, something the leading lady had no memory of, and the other accusing her of having fought a duel against one of the other characters, which she also hadn't done. Of course, Kasumi knew this was all the work of the heroine's foolish long lost twin brother, for whom both her love interests had mistaken her. She was pretty sure that any moment now, probably once the drama was at its peak, the man would burst onto the scene, breaking the tension and resolving the conflicts all at once, freeing the main characters to collapse in on one another in a glorious bisexual threesome, at which point Kasumi might have to move the party to her bedroom, depending on how much detail the book was willing to get into.

She was about to turn another page and see the suitors' reaction to their mutual love's body double, when a sound from behind her made her jump. She whirled around, hiding the silly book behind her, expecting to see Akane or one of the fathers coming in through the backyard, but… there was nothing. She looked around for a few seconds, wondering if it could have been a mouse or something, before slowly turning back to her book. 

She smiled to herself at her own overreaction, leftover from teenage years of trying to hide the much trashier romances she'd been reading at the time. Looking back, it seemed so ridiculous, being so worried about something like that in a house like this.

Still, that didn't keep her from jumping again when the noise happened a second time. She looked up, now realizing it was definitely coming from the ceiling. A second later there was another, and another. They seemed to be moving. Her eyebrows knit together. This was an old house, and it tended to make all kinds of noises, but this didn't sound quite like any she'd ever heard.

Keeping her eyes on the ceiling, she tucked the corner of her current page inward and got to her feet, following the sound as it moved out of the living room and into the hallway.

 

By coincidence, Nabiki happened to have just left her room for the first time that day, on a doritos run to the kitchen. She had her headphones in, listening to an old man on the radio explain in a droning voice how the climate was all about to go to hell and civilization-as-we-know-it probably wouldn't last longer than the next couple decades. Kinda freaky, but it sounded like the science was pretty well nailed down. All the more reason to accrue some power now, she figured- hard to steer a sinking ship, but all the worse if you didn't even try.

She got her chips and a glass of orange juice from the fridge (for nutrients), and was about to make her way back upstairs when she noticed Kasumi out of the corner of her eye.

"Uhh…" she said after a moment of watching her wander back and forth, eyes on the ceiling, "watcha doin, sis?"

"Oh!" Kasumi said, almost tripping over her own feet, "Nabiki! I was just- wait, that wasn't just you walking around upstairs, was it?"

"Um" She said, stepping out into the living room towards where her sister was looking at the ceiling, "was what?"

As if on cue, the noise started up again- a muted, metallic echoing. Nabiki squinted.

"The hell is that?"

"I don't know!" Kasumi replied, hands on her hips, "that's what I was trying to figure out!"

" Sounds like something got in the vents," she said, setting her food down on the table.

"Right, like a squirrel or a bird," Kasumi nodded, "Oh, I hope they're all right! I suppose we should try to help whatever it is out, then."

Nabiki quirked her mouth to the side.

"I dunno. Could be rats or something. Wouldn't want them running all over the house, right? Maybe best to just set some traps."

Kasumi looked conflicted at the idea of a bunch of rats dropping down on them, but also definitely didn't like the idea of traps.

"I wouldn't want to do that. What if it's just little P-Chan up there? He could lose a leg!"

Kasumi snorted.

"It'd serve the little creep right."

Just then, the noise started to migrate back down the hall, towards the bathroom and Ranma and Genma's bedroom. The girls followed it. Nabiki noted with a frown that there were now some other noises being mixed in. They were too quiet to make out, but they sounded suspiciously like… hm.

They rounded the corner into the bedroom and looked up at the vent in the middle of the ceiling, expectantly. The noises were now coming from directly above it, and more rapidly than ever. Nabiki and Kasumi exchanged a look.

"...I'm going to do it." Kasumi said. Nabiki frowned at the vent, then said,

"Hang on."

She ran out of the room, leaving Kasumi standing there anxiously, eyes darting back and forth between the door and the ceiling. Nabiki returned a moment later holding a shovel and the little stool from the bathroom. She held them out to her sister.

"Use these."

Kasumi nodded and placed the stool a few feet from the vent while Nabiki held back in the doorway, watching with interest. She got up on it and, quivering only slightly, tried to wedge the shovel in between the vent's rim and the ceiling to shimmy it out. It took a few fumbling tries, but then she got it and the vent's grate came tumbling to the floor with a crash, followed closely by it's screaming inhabitant- not a squirrel, bird, pig or rat. 

A girl. 

Wait…

" Kodachi??" Nabiki asked incredulously, stepping back into the room.

"Who??" Kasumi asked, brandishing the shovel like a club, still standing on the stepstool.

"Kuno's little sister!" Nabiki said, pointing accusingly at the girl who was now rolling back and forth on the ground, clutching her shin and cursing under her breath.

"Ohhh my gosh, right, of course!" Kasumi said, relaxing her stance slightly, "are you alright, Kuno-San?"

"Who cares!?" Nabiki cried, "what was she doing in our vents?? How do we have person sized vents but no heating system??

Kodachi managed to steady herself enough to hiss at Nabiki, who bared her teeth back at her.

"Gimme the shovel, Kasumi" she growled, holding out a hand, "I'll teach the little home invader."

"Oh, come now, Nabiki," Kasumi scolded, stepping down off the stool and offering the young Kuno a hand, which the girl clung to defensively, as if actually scared of Nabiki.

"Thank you, Tendo-sama," Kodachi said, hiding herself halfway behind Kasumi.

"Yes, well," Kasumi said, gripping the shovel a little tighter, "I wouldn't want you to get hurt , but I suppose I would like to know what you're doing sneaking around in our home. "

"E-eeuh…" Kodachi said, releasing her grip on the elder tendo's sleeve and taking a precautionary step back, "Y-yes, I suppose you would…"

Nabiki narrowed her eyes.

"Start talking, girly," she said, taking a threatening step forward. Kodachi looked affronted, and seemed to change tacts.

"O-or what?" She said, crossing her arms and sticking her chin in the air, "I don't believe either of you have been trained in your family's primitive martial style, so I'm quite sure I could handily defeat you both if it came to it!"

Nabiki stared at her for a moment. Then pulled out her pager and started typing.

"Hey!" Kodachi yelped, "what are you-"

"I'm texting your brother," she replied flatly. Kodachi blanched.

"I-I really don't think that's a good idea-!"

"You gonna talk?" Nabiki asked, not looking up.

"I-I-I-" Kodachi stuttered.

"Oops, too late," Nabiki said, hitting the final key and smoothly shoving the machine back in her pocket, like a cowboy holstering a pistol. "Now, you can either explain, or run away, and when he gets here I'll just-"

Suddenly, a new sound came floating down from the vent, stunning Nabiki into silence.

The beeping of a pager. 

Nabiki stared up at it speechlessly, while Kodachi hid her face in her hands. After a few seconds of noisy fumbling, the pager was silenced, and a moment later, Tatewaki Kuno swung gracefully down from the ceiling, eyes cast down.

"I… apologize." He said, his face a mask of regret, not daring to meet his classmate's gaze.

"Tatewaki-kun!" Kasumi exclaimed, stepping forward and slapping him lightly on the shoulder, "what were you thinking?"

"I-" he started, doing his best impression of a wounded puppy, "I am truly sorry, Kasumi-senpai. I merely wished to visit my fair Akane, but-"

"Your fair Akane?" Nabiki interrupted derisively, regaining her composure, "dude, are you still on that? You just graduated high-school! It was cute a few years ago but you seriously fucking need to let it go! She really doesn't like you!"

"I know!" Tatewaki replied, too loudly, startling everyone, "I… I know. That's precisely why I'm here! I wanted to, to…" he looked away again, steeling his jaw, then continued in a lower voice and without as much of the rich-boy affect, "To say goodbye. And to wish her well. I would have done it before, but with finals and college prep and everything-"

"So you decided to break into our house??" Nabiki asked, fixing him with the kind of glare one might use on a piece of chewed gum found on the bottom of a chair, or maybe a dead pigeon.

"Well, what else could I do??" He replied helplessly, "I haven't seen her around town at all since school let out, and we all know she wouldn't have let me say more than three words if I'd just knocked on the door!"

"God, you are such a loser. I can't believe we used to be friends," Nabiki said, massaging her forehead. Apparently unable to continue looking at him, she turned her attention to the younger Kuno and said, "And what about you? What's your sob story?"

Kodachi scoffed, her arms crossed.

"Nothing so pathetic as that, I assure you," she replied. "I was simply taking advantage of my brother's infiltration scheme as an opportunity in my ongoing romantic seduction of Ranma-sama."

"Ongoing?" Nabiki asked, raising an eyebrow, "weird how it feels like I haven't seen you around him in, like, months."

Kodachi puffed out her cheeks.

"I was…" she replied slowly, "recently forced- against my will - to spend some weeks… visiting family abroad." 

Nabiki grinned evilly.

"Abroad as in… Hawaii?"

Kodachi scowled and refused to answer, much to Nabiki's amusement. Kasumi just looked concerned.

"You two…" she said, looking between the Kunos, "you don't have many friends, do you?" 

Both siblings looked over at her in shock, then at each other, before each starting to ramble about being the Black Rose/Blue Thunder, and how they were therefore the most popular and well loved kids in their school, and how furthermore-

Kasumi shook her head sympathetically. She didn't want to reward such awful behavior, but this display was really pulling at her heartstrings. 

"Well, be that as it may," she interrupted them, finally setting the shovel aside and clasping her hands together, "Neither Akane nor Ranma is actually home right now!"

Both Kunos cursed in frustration.

"Do you know when they'll be back?" Tatewaki asked.

"I'm afraid I can't say," she replied, frowning, "They've both been spending a lot of time out of the house, lately. I'm honestly not sure where. But… maaaybe you'd like to spend some time here, anyway?"

"What??" Nabiki protested immediately, "Kasumi!"

"What?" Kasumi replied innocently, "they're already here, and neither of us were doing anything important, there's no point in kicking them out! Besides, you and Tatewaki used to be such good friends! Remember in elementary school, you'd run around the backyard all day hitting each other with those funny plastic swords-"

" Lightsabers ," Kuno and Nabiki corrected at once, then both looked away in annoyance and embarrassment. 

"And now you're both going off to college! Don't you want to spend some time reminiscing? This should be a nostalgic time for you!" 

Nabiki glanced at him, then glared at her sister, gears turning in her head. Kasumi looked back at her, smiling hopefully.

"Fine," she said eventually, "you're at least right I wasn't doing shit today. But if I ever see this little bitch on the premises again, I'm siccing every martial artist we know on her, got it?"

Kodachi stuck her tongue out at her and Nabiki responded in kind, before saying,

"C'mon, Kuno-baby, we can hang out in my room."

"Now hang on a moment, I never-"

" Now, Kuno."

Tatewaki frowned deeply, but got to his feet and bowed to Kasumi.

"It was, um… a pleasure as always, Tendo-senpai." 

"Likewise." Kasumi said, restraining a giggle. He followed Nabiki dutifully out of the room, and Kasumi turned her attention back to Kodachi, who was looking rather like a cornered animal.

"Now then," she said sweetly, "Would you like some tea?"

 

-

 

Kuno was mentally kicking himself as he followed Nabiki up the stairs. No, actually, that was too charitable, he was mentally inventing a time machine and mentally using it to mentally strange himself a few hours in the past, mentally putting an end to his sorry existence before it could reach this detestable point.

Nabiki opened the door to her room and plonked down on her bed as he stepped inside, looking around.

"Wow," he said, "it has… been a while."

"Since you've been in a girl's room?" She asked, smirking.

"N-no," he replied, then amended, "I mean- well, yes , but, I meant this room, um, specifically." 

"Relax, Kuno" Nabiki replied, "that was obvious. So, does it live up to memory?"

"It's…" he said looking around the room with barely disguised distaste, "...messier… than I had recalled."

It was. There were clothes strewn about the floor, with more than a few snack food bags and wrappers lying around, and even some dirty dishes. The only table surfaces were a computer desk and a large dresser, both of which were covered almost entirely in detritus of makeup, tapes and cd cases, and loose papers, both schoolwork and otherwise.

"Yeah," Nabiki said, looking around with a frown, "I guess it's gotten pretty bad, knowing I'll be out of here in a few months and all."

"I… suppose I can understand that," he said, carefully picking his way through the mess to the chair at her desk and stiffly lowering himself into it, "still, that won't be until fall, right? You might consider picking up a bit before then."

Nabiki made a face at him.

"So is this what you do now? Break into peoples houses and critique their interior decorating?"

"I hardly think a half-eaten can of ravioli qualifies as interior decorating ," he said with a grimace. She stared at him, and for a second he worried he'd crossed yet another line- but then she barked out a laugh.

"Yeah," she said, "That's fair I guess." Despite this, she ripped open the bag of doritos she'd gotten and popped one in her mouth, then offered the open end to her guest. 

"Um. Thank you." He said, picking a single chip out between his forefinger and thumb, feeling he was in no position to refuse, and taking a little nibble from the corner. "Mm. Zesty." 

"So what about you?" She asked, sitting back in her bed against the wall and munching more chips, "Fall semester too?"

"Um, yeah," he said, "University of Tokyo."

" You got into Todai?" She asked, shocked and annoyed- though not more than Kuno himself.

"Of course I did!" He replied, some of his usual bluster returning, "The Blue Thunder of Furinkan High's grades and academic record are among the elite of the elite! He could gain access to any institute of learning he so wished!"

"Oh, I don't doubt that," Nabiki replied sarcastically, "with a little help from daddy, of course." 

Kuno's face went red.

"W-well, who are you to judge!?" He asked, "you're guilty of the exact same thing, only through blackmail instead of family!"

"Hey, at least I did something other than just chasin' girls for three years," she said with a roll of her eyes, popping another chip. "Really though, I'm just surprised you'd even wanna go there."

"And why wouldn't I?" He asked, "it's a very prestigious school- any serious student would be honored to be accepted."

"Yeah, exactly, it is a prestigious school," she replied, "which means lots of work, high expectations, and no fucking larping as a samurai and challenging people to fights. You think you're up to that, Blue Thunder ?"

There was laughter in her voice. Kuno swallowed, looking at his lap.

"I…" he said quietly after a moment, "...it's not... 'larping'"

She snorted.

"Yeah, have fun explaining that to the nouveau riche brat who sues you for assault in  your first two weeks there."

Kuno could only stare at his knees in response. Nabiki leaned her head back against the wall, tilted toward the ceiling, expression unreadable.

"...So…" he said after a few moments, "you're going to a more… common school, then, I take it?" Nabiki looked up at him in surprise.

"Huh?" She asked, "why would I do that?"

"Uh," he said, "if I would be expelled simply for utilizing The Blade, surely you would too for practicing your… set of skills . So, what university are you going to?"

Nabiki stared at him for a moment, then looked away in annoyance.

"...Also University of Tokyo."

"Wh-!" Kuno exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air, "then for what are you chastising me?"

"Oh, whatever, it's still true!" She said, "and you're definitely worse than I am. At least I can turn it off."

"Can you?" He asked, leaning forward, hand on his knee, "I don't recall ever seeing you 'turn it off'"

"Easy, Kuno-baby," she cautioned, giving him a look halfway been a smirk and a sneer, "talk like that might give people the wrong impression. Wouldn't wanna sound unfaithful to your little underage non -girlfriend."

 Eyes flaring, Kuno made as if to stand up and stomp out of the room. Nabiki rolled her eyes and waved a pacifying hand at him as she took a sip from her drink.

"Sit back down," she said, "my sister'll kill us both if we don't at least pretend to make nice for a while longer."

Kuno's face twitched, but after a moment he fell begrudgingly back into his seat, arms crossed.

"I highly doubt that fine woman would or could do anything that might 'kill' either of us," he muttered. Nabiki smiled.

"You'd be surprised," she said, "she's got her own ways. Different from me or 'Kane."

"Different how?" Kuno asked skeptically.

"Smarter. Scarier. Honestly, if I were you, I'd be worried about leaving your sister down there alone with her."

Kuno scoffed.

"I think you'll find my own sister to be rather a tough piece of work as well. I doubt yours will be able to get the better of her, no matter the arena."

At this, Nabiki grinned widely, swinging her legs off the bed and leaning forward to face him.

"Care to bet on that?"

 

-

 

"I'm sorry for before, I do remember you, of course!" Kasumi said as she poured hot water into their teacups, "it's just that it's been a while since you last stayed over! How have you been?"

"Ah," Kodachi said, only just now realizing that she hadn't been immediately recognized earlier, "that… that is okay, Tendo-sama. I have been doing very well as of late, thank you for asking."

"Oh, that's good, I'm glad to hear it!" Kasumi replied, beaming as she sat down opposite her at the table. Kodachi smiled back, with some amount of strain.

This woman made her… uncomfortable. When they'd first met, she'd taken her for something of a simpleton. After a few days living and doing housework with her though, back when she was first courting Ranma, she'd come to realize that wasn't quite true- but it also wasn't what was making her uncomfortable. It was just that she was so damnably genuine all the time. All Kodachi could ever do in response was be as overly polite and formal as possible in an effort to deflect.

"So," Kasumi said, "you're about to be a third year, right? Are you excited? Nervous?"

"Haha, excited, yes," Kodachi replied, groaning internally at this impossibly boring line of adult questioning. "Very excited."

"And you're attending Saint Hebereke's, aren't you?" Kasumi asked, tapping her chin thoughtfully.

"That's… correct, Tendo-sama," she replied, a little surprised that Kasumi had apparently remembered that better than her face. Kasumi smiled.

"I have friends who went there," she explained, "to be honest with you, I never heard very many good things. They seem to have gotten a good education, though!" 

"Ah, well, that's catholic school for you, I suppose," Kodachi said dryly, eliciting a short bout of musical laughter from Kasumi.

"You sound just like them!" She said, making the tips of Kodachi's cheeks go pink for reasons she didn't quite understand. When she was done laughing, Kasumi asked, "but is your family particularly religious? I never got that impression."

"No, not- not exactly," Kodachi replied, wishing she could steer the conversation away from this topic. "Daddy, um… didn't want me to go to his school, so he picked one out he thought would be better for me."

"Why's that?" Kasumi asked, cocking her head to the side, then said with a start, "Oops, wait, hold that thought, just… three... two... one- okay! The tea should be done steeping now, sorry, please continue." She took a sip from her cup, waiting intently for Kodachi's answer. 

Feeling it would be rude to waste Kasumi's apparently very precise timing, Kodachi took a sip as well, and…

"...Ah…" she said after a moment, exhaling deeply, her shoulders falling, "I had forgotten, Tendo-sama. You make the most perfect tea."

Kasumi waved a dismissive hand.

"Don't be silly," she said, smiling from behind her cup, "it's just from the supermarket! All I do is follow the instructions on the label."

Nevertheless, in all her years of stuffy ceremonies, high class parties, and etiquette courses, Kodachi had never tasted its equal; from the temperature, to the depth of flavor and fragrance, even down to the way the taste complimented the mood of the sunny spring day blossoming in the yard behind her- it was perfection. She took another sip, her eyes closed. Kasumi watched her, doing a very good job of hiding her grin.

"Kuno-san?" She asked after an appropriate amount of time, "you were saying?"

"Hm?" Kodachi asked, coming out of her reverie.

"About your father's choice of school?" Kasumi giggled.

"Oh!" Kodachi replied, "Yes, of course! Well… for a long time I believed it was just what he thought was best for me, but… I recently learned, it may have been more a method of disguising his… eccentricities ."

Her gaze fell, wondering why she had brought this up in the first place.

"Ah," Kasumi said, knowingly. "Yes, I remember. Your father is an… interesting man."

Kodachi bit the inside of her cheek, her face reddening. To her great surprise, Kasumi laughed .

"Don't feel bad!" She said, reassuringly, "my father is an interesting man as well! He can be very silly, sometimes!"

"B-but," Kodachi protested, "your father is a member of the town council! And the heir of a very old family! And a martial arts master with his own dojo!"

"He also cries when someone else eats the last pickle in the jar," Kasumi said, leaning across the table conspiratorially. 

"Wh-what??" Kodachi asked, seeming downright scandalized by this information. Kasumi nodded.

"And he cheats at Shogi when he thinks you aren't looking, and then acts like he was kidding when you call him on it! And he tells the same terrible jokes over and over because he forgets he's already told them! And he once engaged Akane to a girl by accident!"

"What!!"

Kasumi gave another dainty laugh and sipped some more of her tea. After a moment's thought, she said,

"I don't know if everyone's father is that way, or if that would even make it okay for them to act so foolishly sometimes, but at the very least, we can't let ourselves feel bad about their faults, can we?"

"I… I suppose not," Kodachi replied, brow furrowed.

They sat quietly for a little while, sipping their tea before it could get cold. Kasumi had opened up the doors to the back patio, and occasionally a cool, soft breeze would blow in, gently rattling wind chimes all over the neighborhood. it was… nice.

After a while, Kasumi said pleasantly,

"This is nice, isn't it?"

"...yes, it is," Kodachi said, unable to keep a flash of genuine smile off her face, "thank you for your hospitality, Tendo-sama."

"You can call me Kasumi, if you like," Kasumi said, "though I supposed I don't really mind 'Tendo-sama', either. I don't get it very often!"

"In that case, I think I will continue using the latter," Kodachi replied, earnestly, "it suits you well."

"I like that about you," Kasumi said with a grin, "so polite and formal. It's refreshing."

"Y… you think so?" Kodachi asked. "Usually people… well, people our age, don't tend to see it that way."

Kasumi quirked her mouth to the side.

"Well, I hope I don't sound too ancient, but, when you have to take care of an entire household, I suppose basic manners do start to feel a little more… valuable ." She took a sip from her cup and finished, more quietly, " especially in a household like this."

Kodachi had to stifle a giggle. Kasumi cocked an eyebrow at her.

"Of course," she continued, " no one can be entirely polite all the time."

"No?" Kodachi asked curiously.

"No," she replied gravely, "sometimes, unfortunately, one finds oneself accidentally breaking into the home of the object of one's affections, out of some strange and twisted concept of romance, and then threatening to 'defeat' its inhabitants because they never learned their family's 'primitive martial style', and then drinking my tea and never apologizing."

Over the course of a few seconds, all the color in Kodachi's face seemed to drain away. Kasumi continued to sip her tea, as if she hadn't just committed a murder.

"I-I-" Kodachi stuttered, trying to remember how letters were supposed to go together to form words, "I… I'm… sorry, T-tendo-sama, I j-just, I didn't think-"

"No, it really seems like you didn't," Kasumi said curtly, setting her cup down, but still not looking Kodachi in the eye, "if you had you might have realized how stupid, improper, undignified, indelicate, shortsighted, selfish, rude, and quite frankly all around unimpressive you were being." Her eyes flicked over to the stairs for a fraction of a second and she amended, "and that goes double for your brother."

Kodachi's eyes were squeezed shut by this point, the back of her throat constricted, wishing she could make herself implode into nothing and be out of this moment.

 The worst part of it all was how off her guard she had been. If Kasumi had just acted mad from the start, that would have been one thing- she was more than used to being reprimanded and belittled by the grown-ups at her school- but having this gentle, friendly woman turn on her so suddenly, it... she was… it was...

"-On the other hand though," Kasumi said, her voice sounding as sweet as ever, "It does sound pretty fun, doesn't it?"

It took her a few seconds, but when Kodachi opened her eyes again, she found Kasumi's smiling face beaming up at her, chin resting cutely on the butt of one of her palms.

"Was it fun crawling around in there? I've always wanted to try. Just like an action movie!"

For a moment Kodachi was too stunned to respond. When she spoke, she did so without thinking about the words.

"Yes I… I felt like… Bruce Willis…"

"Aaa! I knew it!" Kasumi squealed, "The rational part of my brain always said it would just be dirty and cramped but I knew it would be fun!"

"B-but-!" Kodachi spluttered suddenly, "Tendo-sama! Aren't you m-mad at me?"

Kasumi stared at her, then tilted her head to the side, thinking.

"Mmm… yes, I was mad that you broke in. It felt very invasive and… well, all of those things I said before! But, you know, for some reason... I get the feeling you might try to be a little more considerate in the future?" 

Kasumi smiled at her, and Kodachi realized this was probably her cue.

"Y-yes!" She blurted out, "of course! I won't do anything like this ever again!"

"To anyone?"

"To anyone!

"Pinky promise?" Kasumi offered one of her pinkies, which Kodachi took immediately.

"Pinky promise!"

Her serious voice made Kasumi giggle.

"Well, I'm glad to hear it!" She said, "you're very nice girl after all, Kuno-San!"

"I-" Kodachi said, her cheeks filling with color, "thank you Tendo-sama, I feel the same about you!"

Kasumi giggled again, and held up the teapot.

"Would you like a refill? I'd love to keep talking, if you're up for it!"

Kodachi didn't respond verbally, as she was busy choking down a sob of relief, but held her cup straight out, gratefully. 

She was so distracted in fact, that she didn't even notice when Kasumi's eyes flashed towards the front hallway, nor the millisecond wink that followed.

 

-

 

"Woah," Tatewaki said from his place on the stairs, his eyes wide, peaking over the railing at the scene in the living room.

"Yyyyup," Nabiki said, leaning back against the stairs and examining her nails. "She's the devil. That'll be 15 thousand, please."

Kuno scoffed.

"I hardly think that display constitutes a victory , nor does it make your sister anything remotely resembling a devil!"

Nabiki looked almost offended.

"Dude, were you watching? She almost cried."

"So? My sister is in touch with her emotions, as all young maidens should be, and she was genuinely sorry for what she'd done!" 

"So, what," Nabiki said, "if I made you cry, you wouldn't consider that a failure?"

"Of course not! A real man never hesitates to express the contents of his soul! Does crying make you feel like a failure?

Nabiki clicked her tongue.

"Alright, well, gimme the 15 thousand anyway," she said, ignoring his question.

"What?? For what reason!?"

"You broke into my house, you thought your sister's apology was nice, I know you've got the cash, I want fifteen thousand yen, so if you're so sorry, either cry right now or give me fifteen thousand yen!"

She crossed her arms. He set his jaw angrily. Then, scrunched his eyes shut, balled his fists and screwed up his face. Nabiki's eyes widened.

"Oh my god are you actually trying to-"

"Shut up I can't do it if you talk."

She watched in amazement as he stood there for several seconds, subtly vibrating with concentration. 

For a brief moment, Nabiki actually thought he might do it, but then his body went slack, and his expression returned to exasperation.

"Oh for goodness- fine, whatever, have your money," he said, reaching into his back pocket and tossing her his whole wallet, which she gladly snatched as he marched back upstairs.

"So what happened to 'a real man always vents his feelings' or whatever?" She asked, following him back to the bedroom whilst pilfering his wallet.

"I suppose I'm just not feeling sorry enough," he replied sourly.

"Yeah, that tracks."

She fell onto her bed, picking her way through his cards, having already taken all the cash. He sat back down in the chair, looking only slightly annoyed.

Suddenly, Nabiki started, almost dropping the wallet.

"Christ!" She exclaimed.

"Hm? What happ- oh."

They both stared blankly for a moment at the offending articles: a small stack of small photographs which had fallen out of the wallet into Nabiki's lap- each depicting one of two girls.

"Uh," Nabiki said, "...huh. You, uh… kept all these, huh?"

"N-not all of them!" Kuno insisted defensively, though he wasn't sure why, considering to whom he was talking. "I've thrown out all the… less tasteful ones." 

Nabiki nodded, still looking at the pile. It seemed to be true- to an extent. They were both at least wearing some clothes in all of them.

"That's good... I guess…" she said, not sounding entirely convinced of her own words. "Man though, some of these are… really old. Akane couldn't be more than, like, 14 here," she said, looking at a picture of her sister stretching in the dojo. "Have… have we been doing this that long?"

Kuno looked uncomfortable. 

"I… I suppose so," he said, "though, I don't believe any of the ones from that long ago are particularly, um… scandalous."

"Yeah, I didn't start on those till she was 15," Nabiki replied, her forehead creased. "...Are these all you've got left?"

Kuno didn't say anything, but his grimace betrayed him.

"You've got some at home?" She asked.

"A… few," he replied, trying not to think about how many that constituted. Their eyes met, both frowning.

"Maybe… you should get rid of those," she said slowly.

"...All of them?" He asked, "even the ones of Ran- o-of... the Pigtailed Girl?"

"Uhhhh," Nabiki said, apparently thinking hard, "Maybe? I dunno, seeing these old ones," she said brandishing a few pictures in each hand, "... It's kinda skeevin' me out, to be honest? I mean, I haven't taken any new pictures since, like, October. Maybe it's time we both, uh… moved on?"

To her surprise, Kuno scoffed.

"You make it sound like something-" He started, "listen, it's not dirty, alright? I just- they're keepsakes! Lots of people have pictures of their first true loves!" 

Despite herself, Nabiki snorted.

"Oh yeah," she said, holding up a picture of Akane wrapping herself in a towel, taken from a very low angle. "This shit's downright wholesome! Maybe you should start a scrapbook, she'd love that!"

" You're the one who took the picture!" Kuno fumed. Nabiki clenched her teeth.

"Yeah," she said, scowling, "Yeah, I did. And for whatever reason, I didn't feel like it was too weird at the time, but now I do. Sorry."

Kuno seemed to deflate a little bit, looking at her face. They were both silent for a moment, avoiding eye contact. Finally, he said,

"You didn't really answer my question."

"Huh?" 

"Do you want me to get rid of just Akane, or both of them?"

Nabiki stared at him.

"...If I said both of them, would you do it?" She asked. After a few seconds, he shrugged, arms and legs both crossed, still avoiding eye contact. Nabiki sighed. 

"...Just Akane, then." 

As she said it, she ripped the picture she'd been holding in half, then in half again. For a moment it looked like Kuno might protest, but he managed to keep himself in his seat, his mouth shut tight.

"If it helps," she added as she started tearing into the others that were scattered around her, "I've still got a little stash in my closet. I was saving them for a rainy day, but I'll destroy them too. Neither of us get to benefit from this shit."

Kuno drooped, watching the photos he'd treasured for so long turn to confetti before his eyes. After a moment, he hung his head.

"...Thanks, Nabiki," he said, "I… I guess I knew it was wrong for… well, the entire time, but… I probably would have never gotten rid of them on my own."

Nabiki tried not to let her disgust show on her face.

"No problem Kuno," she said, tearing the last of the Akane pics and neatly gathering the Ranma ones to put back in the wallet. "I mean, you're hardly the only guy I sold these to. There's probably hundreds of em still floating around town. Figure this is the least I can do, for 'Kane's sake."

"Right," Kuno said, looking at the floor. Then, more quietly, almost as if he didn't want Nabiki to hear, "so… you're sure she doesn't like me, right?"

"Jesus, Kuno," she replied, massaging the bridge of her nose.

"What??" He asked, "you told me she did!"

"When did I say that?" She asked.

"I don't know, several times! Last year when I first met the, uh, Pig-tailed girl-"

"Oh my god you clearly know she's Ranma give it up man,"

" When I first met the Pig-tailed Girl , you said that if I 'cheated on your sister', you would kill me!"

Nabiki opened her mouth to respond, then closed it again and rubbed her forehead harder.

"Goddammit," she muttered, "okay. Okay. maybe I did say that. I'm sorry. It was mainly so I could keep selling to you."

"...Right," Kuno said, sounding more tired than angry at this point, "of course it was. When is it ever not about trying to sell something with you?"

"In my defense, it's fucking ridiculous that it took you this long to figure it out," she said. "I mean, she was only telling you she hated your guts face-to-face literally every day for two years ,"

"I just thought…" he said, sadly, "that that was how she showed affection… I thought she was being 'tsundere'..."

Something about this sentence seemed to snap something in Nabiki, and she shook her head, as if just waking up.

"Ok," she said, "Wow. Just like that, we suddenly need to talk about literally anything else."

"...I'm not sure if I can…" Kuno said, sounding sadder by the minute.

"No, hey, stay with me Kuno-baby, you can do it," she said, hopping off the bed and grabbing him by one cheek while slapping him lightly on the other, "c'mon, lets…" she said, quickly scanning the room for something to distract them both from this train-wreck of a conversation, "uhh… oh, shit!"

She dashed across the room to her dresser, sliding on her knees and reaching underneath to retrieve a battered old blue cardboard box, which she quickly blew a thick layer of dust off of and spun around to show to Kuno.

"Remember this?" She asked, grinning widely.

 He squinted at it, and she saw recognition spark in his eyes.

"Is that…?"

"The second gundam board game, hell yeah it is!" She said excitedly. "Wanna play?"

"Uhh," Kuno said, "I'm not sure. Didn't rounds of that usually take several hours? I'm not sure I'm up for that."

"Nahhh… well? Actually," Nabiki said, thinking about it harder, "did we actually, like, know how to play it when we were kids? I think we kind of had the basic idea down, but I'm pretty sure we weren't really following the rulebook. Maybe it's completely different to how we remember?"

She was already clearing a space on the floor and opening up the box. Unable to fight his curiosity, Kuno got down on the filthy floor next to her.

"Let me see the rulebook," he said, holding out a hand. She passed it to him as she pulled out the paper game board, unfolding it carefully so as not to tear it anymore than it already was. 

A few moments later, they both paused and looked up at each other, suddenly realizing they'd already set up half the game. They locked eyes.

"...I'll get us more doritos and OJ," Nabiki said.

"Ill set up the rest of the board," Kuno replied, already working on it.

 

-

 

By the time Kasumi and Kodachi had finished their tea, Kasumi had said she needed to start preparing dinner, and Kodachi offered to help.

"It really is quite an interesting story," Kasumi said, chopping radishes as she spoke, "A woman in the guise of a man comes to a new country and finds herself the object of two minor nobles' affections- one a man, the other a woman."

"Uh… wow," Kodachi said, trying to be charitable as she chopped garlic, "sounds… progressive…"

"That's just it, though!" Kasumi replied, "it was written such a long time ago, I'm not entirely sure exactly what the intention was. I mean, technically speaking, in the language of the time it's a 'comedy', though that doesn't mean exactly what it does today. Still, it's clearly a farce, and the characters are very silly, but in some ways…" she paused her chopping for a moment, thinking.

"In some ways it almost feels like it's not so much a parody of them as it is of the systems that surround them? They all just want to love, and to be loved, but the rules of their society force them into this ridiculous dance! It feels like, unless they learn to break those rules, there's no way any of them will ever be happy- and I seriously doubt such an old story would end on that radical of a message! Traditionally, classic comedies like this always end in a marriage- but if it's a marriage that no one will be happy with in the long-run, is it truly a comedy at all?"

By this point, Kasumi was facing away from her cutting board altogether, absent-mindedly propping up her chin on her fist, which still held her knife, in a way that was making Kodachi nervous.

"Um… I'm afraid you may have lost me, Tendo-sama," Kodachi said, staring warily at the blade.

"Hm?" Kasumi said, as if just remembering she wasn't alone in the room, "oh! I'm sorry! I just- I really liked my world literature class in high school, sometimes I slip right into essay writing mode!" she smiled sheepishly. Kodachi smiled back.

"If it helps, it sounds like you know what you're talking about! I think you're probably right about all those things, whatever they were." 

This got a laugh from Kasumi, which made something in Kodachi's chest glow with warmth.

"Do you have a favorite subject, Kuno-San?" She asked as she returned to her work.

"Ah," Kodachi replied, "I… suppose I like my English literature class as well! It's all so pretty and romantic. Buuut… the only thing I really love is gymnastics practice."

"Mm, right, I saw one of your matches once," Kasumi said, "you were very good!"

"Thank you Tendo-sama. It is…" she held up a fist dramatically in front of her face, "my greatest passion." She stood like that silently for a moment, before something seemed to occur to her, and she said, "oh, except for Ranma-sama of course!"

Something in Kasumi's face changed at that, but she was still smiling when she said,

"Of course."

"Speaking of Ranma-sama," Kodachi said, hopefully, "do you know if he'll be home for dinner?"

"It's… hard to say," Kasumi replied, with some hesitation, "he's out with friends, so they might get dinner together."

"Hmph," Kodachi said, turning back to her work. " Friends . He sure seems to have a lot of those."

"That he does," Kasumi said, some fondness slipping into her voice. "Ranma can be very outgoing, when he wants to be."

That only made Kodachi's expression grouchier. 

"Wish he'd 'out go' with me once in a awhile," she grumbled.

"Really? Why is that?" Kasumi asked, making Kodachi jump. She hadn't expected to be heard.

"W-why is what?" Kodachi replied, hwe cheeks turning red.

"You really seem to want to pursue a relationship with Ranma," Kasumi said plainly, "I was just wondering why? You don't have to answer if that's too personal, of course."

"I," Kodachi replied, flummoxed. "Well, I… because… because he's my one true love!"

"Oh," Kasumi replied, still chopping vegetables. "Really?"

"Y-yes, of course!" Kodachi replied, setting her knife down and turning back around, "you knew this! It's why I'm here today!"

"I suppose I did…" She said, "it's just, well… a little hard to believe if I'm being honest."

" Why??" Kodachi asked, her voice cracking a little, fingernails digging into her palms.

"It's just…" Kasumi said, "don't you think you can do better?"

" No I don't thi-" Kodachi started, but faltered, "...w-wait, what?"

"I mean, don't get me wrong, I love Ranma," Kasumi said, smoothly scooping her chopped veggies into a bowl with her knife, "he certainly has some… good qualities…" She didn't sound entirely convinced, "I just think you'd do well to find someone a little more your speed, is all."

"M-my speed?"

"Yes of course!" She replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, "Ranma is nice enough, but I'm sure you'll agree he's rather lacking in direction. When you go off to college, or whatever it is you plan on doing after high-school, do you really want a boy like that hanging around your house, refusing to get a job or clean up after himself? Running around with his friends all the time and never paying you the respect or gratitude you deserve?"

"I…" Kodachi replied, "I want to take care of Ranma-sana after high school… to make a home with him…"

Kasumi shrugged.

"That's fine, of course. Taking care of a household can be very rewarding!" She said, turning towards the stove with her bowls in hand, before adding under her breath, "maybe not quite as much where people like Ranma and his father are concerned, but you do you, I guess."

"Wh-" Kodachi said, looking distressed, "Do you really think they're that bad?"

"Oh yes," Kasumi replied, "hand me the garlic, would you?"

Kodachi did so and Kasumi poured it into an oiled pan, letting off a soft sizzle.

"I mean, I know he can be a little rough around the edges," Kodachi continued, "but surely he's a gentleman at heart, right?" 

Kasumi pulled a face and made a 'so-so' gesture with her hand, much to Kodachi's horror.

"He's… a handful. I wouldn't want to marry him, that's for sure. But then, maybe you should give it a few years, I'm sure by then you'll be much better at all this than I am!"

As she said this, she threw several more things into the pan she was holding, then a splash of some alcohol Kodachi didn't know the name of, which produced a large pillar of flame that startled Kodachi, but didn't even seem to faze Kasumi. A second later, a heavenly smell hit Kodachi's nostrils that made her want to fall over and cry. Kasumi turned to her, wearing that trademark oblivious grin of hers, the absolute picture of maternal grace.

"Are you feeling alright, dear?" She asked Kodachi, "you're looking a little pale."

"I…" Kodachi said, wobbling a little, "I'm fine. I think I'll go set the table now though, if that's alright…" 

"That would be lovely, thank you again for all your help, Kuno-San!"

Kodachi nodded blankly and fumbled through the cabinets for a moment before leaving the room to fulfill her task. Once she was gone, Kasumi let out a sigh of relief, then clapped her hands together in front of her face in a prayer position and whispered,

" Sorry about that, Ranma-chan. You'll thank me later!"

 

-

 

Nabiki and Tatewaki never came down for dinner, as they had just entered the really exciting portion of their game by the time Kasumi came up to get them. She brought up some plates loaded with food, which mostly sat next to them getting cold while they played.

(Ranma did show up in time, and had a very uncomfortable meal sitting across from Kodachi, who hardly spoke, but stared at them intensely the whole time. They ended up eating as quickly as they could before retreating to their room, where they were confused to find the grate from the ceiling vent lying in the middle of the floor.)

By the time the sun had set, and Kodachi had already broken down and given Kasumi a hug goodbye, Nabiki and Tatewaki were just reaching their game's final stages.

"Ha!" Kuno exclaimed as Nabiki's fingers left her piece, "you fool, Tendo! You've fallen for another simple trap!" 

He quickly rearranged several of his own pieces into a new formation surrounding some of hers.

" Fuck!" she cursed under breath, "you're good at this! Why are you actually good at this??"

"War is the supreme masculine art," he replied, crossing his arms smugly, "to a mind such as mine, this is not simply a game to be won, but a performance to be experienced! Like kendo, a sublime dance of souls seeking dominance! Your 'mathematics' and 'logic' may be of some use to you in other arenas, Nabiki Tendo, but in the heat of battle, instinct reigns supreme!"

He had his arms raised over his head in celebration of his apparent victory. She stared at him dully.

"You're sitting on one of my bras."

"What? Wah!" 

He jumped about six feet in the air and spun around to see what she was talking about. While he had his back turned, she switched two of their pieces around.

"What are you talking about? I see no brassier!"

"Oh, my mistake, that's just the stain from when Akane threw up in here as a baby."

"Ew," he said, wrinkling his nose, "that's almost as bad." He sat back down, avoiding the stain, and frowned at the board. Containing a smirk, Nabiki made her move. His frown deepened, and for a moment she bit her lip, expecting him to call her on it, but then he moved as well, and she breathed a silent sigh.

Five moves later, the game was over, with Nabiki as the apparent winner, and they both sat back.

"Good game, Kuno," she said, grinning as she held out a hand to shake.

"Hrmm" he grumbled, returning the gesture, "I still don't know how you did it, but it certainly was. I suppose I… underestimated your skills. A little."

"A little," Nabiki agreed, "but... I guess I could say the same to you? I thought I'd be able to predict you, but you made some moves there I never saw coming. Good job, Kuno."

This seemed to improve his mood a bit.

"It's been a long time since we last faced each other on the field of battle," he said. "It seems we've both forgotten things about the other in that time."

"Yeah, guess so," she said, scratching the back of her head, "if I'm honest… I wouldn't mind doing it again sometime, if you're up for it."

"Ha! You think I'd let this end with your victory? Name the time and place, Tendo, I'll be there!"

"Oh god," Nabiki laughed, lying back and rubbing her eyes, "I've unleashed the monster."

"You're damn right!" Kuno declared, brandishing one of the little plastic robot figures as if it were a sword, "this war has only just begun!"

He swept the game-piece back and forth as if fencing with an invisible opponent, to Nabiki's amusement. 

"Ugh," she grunted after a moment, stretching her back, and then pushing herself upright. She frowned down at their half eaten plates of food.

"You gonna eat the rest of that?" She asked.

"Hm?" Kuno asked, distracted from his imaginary duel, "oh, uh, no thank you, it was delicious but it's gone cold now."

"Same. I'm gonna go put them downstairs in the fridge, you clean up the board, okay?"

"Affirmative," he replied, setting his piece down and getting right to it. She smiled, shaking her head at his supid way of speaking as she left the room.

Downstairs, all except the kitchen lights were turned off, which surprised her. She looked at the clock on the oven, and raised her eyebrows when she saw it was already past eleven. 

Shit , she thought, that really is a long game . She'd have to kick Kuno out the minute she got back up there- didn't want him to get any ideas about this being a slumber party.

She dumped their food into plastic containers and went to put them in the fridge. While she was doing so, however, the sound of the front door opening made her jump. 

Who wasn't home yet? She was pretty sure she'd heard her father, Genma, and Ranma talking at dinner, which only left… ah. Shit.

She'd been worried about Akane coming home earlier, but had figured she'd have Kuno out by then. If Kuno knew she was here, he'd definitely still want to talk to her, but…

...Actually…? she touched her chin, thoughtfully. Would that be such a bad thing? He had been acting, sort of, pretty… okay -ish today- at least, relative to how he normally was. Maybe it would be good to have him talk to Akane for a minute, if only to apologize for all the shit he put her through in school. Maybe it could be, like, the first step towards forgiveness, or whatever. Screw it, she was doing it.

She popped out of the kitchen just as Akane was starting up the stairs.

"Hey! 'Kane, wait up!" She said, running up beside her. Akane looked startled for a second, then said,

"Oh, hey Nabiki."

Her voice sounded tired, and Nabiki realized she looked it as well.

"I… jeez, 'Kane what the hell happened?"

Akane looked down at herself, and her cheeks flushed red. She was wearing her training gi, and both it and her face were streaked with dirt- plus a little bit of blood. Her hair was a mess as well, and she generally looked sweaty and worn out. She set her jaw.

"Why does everybody have to ask me that?" She asked irritably, "training, obviously, Nabiki. Sorry it makes me so disgusting."

"Hey, no, I'm sorry," Nabiki replied, holding up her hands defensively, "if it helps, it's not actually that much worse than your usual."

Akane shot her a venomous look, and she kicked herself a little internally for misreading the room.

"I'm goin' to bed," Akane grumbled, continuing up the stairs.

"Woah, hey, slow down," Nabiki said, running up to the top and blocking her path, "I've got somebody here who wants to say something to ya."

"Huh?" Akane asked, her brow furrowed. Nabiki held up a finger.

"Stay right here, I promise this'll only take a minute." 

She rushed off to her room before Akane could protest. She shut the door quickly behind her to find Kuno putting away the last of the game pieces.

"You know," he said, a thoughtful look on his face, "towards the end of that game, there was a moment where I was quite certain-"

"Akane's back."

His head whipped around to look at her, his face suddenly deadly serious.

"Really?"

"Yeah," Nabiki said, "and… agh, fuck, I don't know anymore, but I already told her you wanted to talk to her."

For a moment, Kuno's face lit up, then darkened again.

"Oh," he said, "oh no, I'm not sure I'm ready anymore."

"What??" Nabiki said, "you got here like eight hours ago! What happened??"

"A lot of things!" He replied, nervousness written across his face, "I spent all morning psyching myself up to talk to her, and now i've forgotten everything I was going to say!"

"Just say you're sorry for being such a dipshit and then get the fuck out!" She said, dragging him to his feet and pushing him towards the door. He paused in front of it, heaving a deep breath.

"You're right," he said, "you're right. I just need to say what I feel. And then… never see her again…"

"Exactly, now go!" 

Nabiki shoved him out the door. As they both stumbled out into the hallway, Akane looked up in surprise, which quickly turned to shock, then horror, and finally rage.

"Um…" Kuno said, stiffly holding up a hand in greeting, "Hello… Akane Tendo…"

Akane looked to Nabiki, eyes wide with anger.

" Him??" She demanded, " this is who you wanted me to talk to??"

"Uh…" Nabiki said, "yeah?"

"Why was he in your room?? What's he even doing here? Were you just waiting around to ambush me?"

"Woah, hey, Akane," Nabiki replied, quickly, "listen, I'm not too sure about my decisions either right now but just, like, hear him out, alright? I promise, it can't be that bad."

Akane gave a single, humorless, disbelieving laugh at that, but turned her attention to Kuno nonetheless, arms crossed expectantly.

"Okay! Fine! I'm listening!" She declared, "What do you have to say for yourself?"

"...Um," he said, eyes darting back and forth, feeling about one tenth his usual height under Akane's glare. This was not how he had envisioned this going. "I just… I'm… um... sorry?"

Akane's eyebrows shot up.

"You're… sorry? " She asked, as if she must have misheard.

"Y...yes!" He said, gaining at least some semblance of confidence, "I am! Truly sorry for… um, well… all that… stuff I did…?"

Akane stared at him incredulously. After a few seconds though, she started to giggle. Kuno and Nabiki exchanged a look, both surprised and slightly alarmed at this development.

"Uh," Nabiki said, unsure of herself, "you alright, 'Kane?"

"He," she said between giggles, "he doesn't even know what he's supposed to be sorry for!"

"Th-that's not true!" Kuno insisted, "I know what I've done! I...I've hounded you, for years, relentlessly, when you've shown little-to-no interest in me! I tried to fight you, to physically hurt you, and your friends! I even kidnapped you, on several occasions! I thought… I thought that anything I did would be justified if you saw the way I felt about you in the end but- I've done horrible things to you, Akane! I… I even…"

He swallowed, clenching his fists, tears forming at the edges of his eyes. Nabiki looked down at him, suddenly worried about what he was about to say.

"If I hadn't talked to your sister today, I might still be wronging you, without you even knowing about it!"

"Kuno-" Nabiki started to say, cautiously, but Akane held up a hand to silence her, her giggling having long since stopped.

"What do you mean, Kuno?" She asked steadily, eyes boring holes in his skull. 

"If I hadn't talked to Nabiki, I would still be carrying around all the pictures of you I bought from her!" He cried, wiping tears and snot away on his sleeve, "I would still be using them to, to m-m-"

"Kuno, no!"

"M-Masturbate!!"

He collapsed into heaving sobs on the floor at the word, kneeling a few feet in front of her. Nabiki stared at him wide-eyed for a long, horrible moment, before looking up at her sister. She wore a similar expression..

"Akane, I…" Nabiki said, white hot shame filling her belly. She didn't have any words to follow.

Akane didn't look up at her. Instead, she took a step towards Kuno's prostrated form. Suddenly, she reared her leg back, and Nabiki realized with panic that she was aiming for his head. Her eyes widened, bracing herself, but- no. After a second, Akane lowered her leg to the ground, her face dark . She turned, and walked off in the direction of her room.

"Akane, I-" Nabiki tried again, "I didn't… I didn't know…"

Akane paused in her doorway, and turned her face to the side, so Nabiki could just see the tears in her eyes.

"Yeah, you did. And I did too."

She closed the door behind her, leaving Nabiki standing in the hall, next to the crying form of her worst friend.

After a few seconds, another door opened, and Soun Tendo stepped halfway out, still in his pajamas.

"What, ah…" he said, yawning, "what's going on out here? I thought I heard… something."

"N...nothing, dad," Nabiki said, a pained expression on her face, "just… y'know… teen drama?"

Soun glanced down at the boy sobbing on his floor. 

"You're sure?" He asked.

"Yeah dad," she said, "I can handle it."

"...O...kay…" he said, not looking very sure that it was okay at all, "if you're sure… goodnight, I suppose…"

"Good night, dad."

He shut the door. After a moment, Nabiki sighed, and stepped towards Kuno.

"C'mon, man," she said gently, "let's get you out of here."

She helped him to his feet, down the stairs and out the door. Once they were there, she said to him,

"I… think it would probably be best if you… didn't come back here. Like… ever."

Kuno sniffled and wiped away the last of his tears, cheeks still burning red.

"R-right," he said, nodding. "B-but, we'll hang out at c-college, right?"

Nabiki looked him in the eye, her face drawn, then looked away.

"Yeah," she said, truthfully, "We probably will." She stepped back through the door.

"Good night, Kuno."

"G-good night Nabi-"

She closed the door on him before he could finish. She looked around the darkened house, feeling numb, before stumbling back up the stairs.

She was headed for her bedroom, planning to collapse the moment she got there, when suddenly, another door swung open. Before she could react, a pair of surprisingly strong arms grabbed her by the shoulders and yanked her into a different room.

"If I just heard" Kasumi seethed, pinning her terrified form against the wall, "what I think I heard, then you and I are about to have a long fucking discussion!"