Matchmaking (and Moneymaking)

The Beginning (Day 2)

"It's time to get up, Boy!"

While Ranma was well accustomed to waking up to such a cry, it left Ryoga confused as he awoke. Sitting up and looking around the room, he saw Genma jumping out the window, leaving him alone in the Tendo's guest room. A splashing sound from outside, accompanied by a cry of "Damn you, Pop!" told him what happened to Ranma.

Ryoga stretched, as he stood up and started getting ready for the day. The night before, Akane had invited him to spend the night, and thus he had slept in the guest room with the Saotomes. Surprisingly, he got less sleep than he had on the roof. For someone used to falling asleep to the sounds of nature, the snores of Ranma's father had kept him awake for quite a while.

Dressing quickly in his usual outfit, Ryoga quickly left the room, in order to give himself plenty of time to find the living room before breakfast. However, the moment he left the guest room, he heard the last voice he wanted to, coming from beside him.

"Good morning, Hibiki. I need to have a word with you before you head downstairs." Nabiki said, glad that her decision to wait for him had paid off. She had made sure to stay by the door, so that she could hear if he followed the Saotomes out the window, but that turned out not to be the case, as luck was on her side once more.

Turning around in surprise, Ryoga asked warily, "What do you want, Nabiki?"

"It's about our little deal." Nabiki said. "I have something I want you to do for me today." Not giving him time to respond, she went on. "If Kuno goes after 'his pigtailed girl' during this next month, I want you to step in and take care of him yourself."

Ryoga blinked in surprise. 'I don't know what I was expecting,' he thought, 'but it sure as Hell wasn't that.' Once he got over his surprise, he said in annoyance, "Why should I do something that helps Saotome?"

Nabiki narrowed her eyes at the Lost Boy. "You'll do it because I told you to. Or do you intend to go back on our agreement?"

Ryoga gritted his teeth, wanting to tell her what he really thought of their 'agreement', but he knew that his relationship with Akane was on the line. Heaving a sigh, he said, "Fine."

"Good boy." Nabiki said with a grin.

Resisting the urge to growl over being talked to like a dog, Ryoga brought up an issue with what she asked him to do. "But what should I say when people ask why I'm doing it? You know Ranma and Akane will want to know, at least, and you said not to tell anyone..."

"Your problem, not mine." Nabiki said with a shrug. Seeing his glare, that told her he was less that satisfied with her response, she went on. "Alright, fine. Just tell them that you've got your own reasons for doing it, and leave it at that. Chances are, anyone curious enough to try and find out more will come to me, and then I'll deal with it."

A look of realization spread across Ryoga's face. "Oh, you want me to get people curious, so that you can charge them for information."

That was not Nabiki's reason at all, but she saw no reason to correct him just yet. "Well, if we have that settled, how about we head down to breakfast?" She turned to leave, only to say one last things over her shoulder. "Oh, and you only have to do it while Ranma is in his cursed form. If Kuno attacks Ranma in his male form, you can do whatever you want."

Ryoga nodded and followed her down stairs, wondering to himself, 'Why doesn't she want me to help Ranma as a guy? Wouldn't she make just as much money?'

Once more, Ranma, Ryoga, and Akane arrived at school with Ryoga trying to smash the redhead's face in. The trip to school had gone much as the previous morning had, with Akane getting annoyed at Ranma being in his cursed form, Ranma making a rude comment back, and Ryoga attacking Ranma on Akane's behalf. As such, Ryoga and Ranma had fought their way to school, Ranma entering the school grounds by backflipping away from one of Ryoga's attacks.

"Heh, you'll have ta do better than that ta get me, Bacon Breath." Ranma said with a smirk.

Ryoga charged forward, intending to wipe said smirk off her face, but pulled up short, in order to avoid the bokken(1) that came down in his path. Ranma and Ryoga both shifted their attention to the one holding it, Ryoga glaring and Ranma groaning.

"How dare you attempt to strike the fair Pigtailed Girl, foul wretch! I, the great Tatewaki Kuno, shall defend her honor!" Kuno declared, turning to face Ryoga squarely.

Ranma was about to kick the kendoist out of the way and resume the fight herself, when Akane interrupted. "We don't have time for this! If we're late again, we'll get detention, and if Ryoga's late for both his first days here, who knows what the Principal will come up with!" Turning to Kuno, she said. "Can't you leave this until later, Kuno-senpai?"

Kuno lowered his bokken for a moment as he thought, before pointing it at Ryoga's face. In his usual overdramatic tone, he said, "Very well! Since Miss Akane Tendo has pleaded for me to grant you a respite, I shall grant it! However, know that your reprieve shall be brief. I shall wait for you at this gate upon the cessation of our schooling. Should you manage to work up the courage to face me, cur, I shall defeat thee, and prove myself to the fair Pigtailed Girl once and for all!"

Ranma and Ryoga were both about to attack the foppish teen, when Akane grabbed both of them and started dragging them towards the school, saying, "Hurry up!"

Ranma glanced at her in confusion, asking, "What's up with you, Akane? Why not just let us kick Kuno's ass and be done with it?"

As they entered the school, though, Ranma and Ryoga noticed someone waiting in the doorway for the first time. It was Furinkan high's disciplinarian, Hinako Ninomiya. After passing the strict teacher, Akane said, "You two were too busy fighting, to notice, but Hinako-sensei was watching to make sure none of you actually fought on school grounds. If she'd drained you two, we'd definitely have been late!"

Neither of the other two were eager to feel the teacher's ki draining technique again, and mentally agreed that dealing with Kuno later was a good idea after all.

When lunch time came around, Akane took Ryoga to the roof, so that they could put off dealing with Kuno until after school. Taking out the bento Kasumi had made for her, Akane asked, "Do you have a bento(2), Ryoga? If not, I can share some of mine."

Telling at a glance that it was Kasumi's cooking, Ryoga was about to happily accept the generous offer, when another voice called out. "Heads up, Pig Breath!"

Years of practicing martial arts and travelling through dangerous wilderness meant Ryoga's reflexes were more than good enough to catch the object that flew at him. Glaring at the one who threw it, he yelled, "What the Hell, Saotome!"

The redhead shrugged as she walked towards them, saying, "Just thought you'd be hungry, Pig Brain. 'Course, if ya don't want it, I'll be happy ta eat it for ya."

This caused Ryoga to look at the object he had caught for the first time, revealing it to be a container similar to one the Saotome was still holding. Ranma sat down near them, and started digging into her own lunch. Opening his, Ryoga started to eat as well, but noticed something was off pretty quickly. "That's odd..." he mumbled.

"What's wrong?" Akane asked, as she looked up from her own food.

"It's the food," Ryoga said. "I mean, it's still good, but it's not up to Kasumi's usual standard."

Ranma glared at him and said, "Well, excuse me for not being a five-star chef!"

Ryoga and Akane both blinked in surprise, before Akane said jealously, "You cooked it? It can't be that good." Without bothering to ask for permission, she reached out her chopsticks and snapped up a bite from Ranma's lunch. Ignoring the redhead's indignant cry, Akane's eyes widened as she thought, 'It is good! Why is Ranma better than me at cooking!?'

Before she could voice her question, though, Ryoga did. "How did you get this good at cooking anyway?" Then the Lost Boy smirked as he continued, "Been spending too much time as a girl maybe?"

Ranma rolled her eyes at him and said, "It's not my fault. When I was pretending ta be Ranko, my mom insisted on giving me cooking lessons. Along with all the times Pops was too lazy ta cook on our training trip, and I got plenty of experience."

"Alright," Ryoga said, while Akane brooded over the reminder that there was yet another person better than her at cooking. There was one more question on his mind, though. "I get why you made one for yourself, but why did you make one for me?" Suddenly, an idea hit him. "Is this suppose to make up for the bread you stole from me in middle school? 'Cause it's going to take more than one lunch to make up for that."

"Uh, yeah, that's it. Plus, it helps out Kasumi, since she's already makin' lunches for Akane and Nabiki, so I suppose I can keep doing it 'til you manage ta get lost again." Ranma said. To herself, she thought, 'I wonder if that's the reason why Nabiki wanting me to make him lunch and try to keep him in town this month.' Nabiki had talked to her about those things before she went to bed the night before, but had failed to explain why. 'I mean, helping Kasumi out is always good, and I suppose if Ryoga and I are on better terms, she saves money on house repairs, if nothing else.'

Ryoga nodded silently as he kept eating. He was reluctant to admit it, but he really was enjoying the food Ranma had made him. Plus, if Ranma was going to give him food, it would save him from spending money or being a burden on the Tendos. If Ranma kept this up for long enough, maybe he could forgive the whole bread issue. Besides, there were plenty of other things for him to be mad at his rival for, he could afford to let that one go.

With that resolved, they finished their lunch in silence, and went back to class.

After school, Kuno could be seen waiting at the gate, as promised. Ryoga went to stand in front of him, while Ranma and Akane watched from the side. Akane was confident Ryoga would beat Kuno, but wanted to stay to make sure he didn't get hurt. Ranma, on the other hand, did not even consider Ryoga losing. She just wanted to watch the swordsmen get beaten, and to make sure Ryoga didn't wander off afterwards.

Ryoga went to stand in front of Kuno, and waited for whatever corny speech he knew the kendoist was going to make. Kuno completely ignored him, however, in favor of turning his attention on the two (currently) girls nearby. "Ah, how my spirits soar that such beauties should be present to witness my glorious victory!" Moving towards Ranma, he continued. "Pigtailed Girl, fear not, for I shall defeat the scoundrel that attempted to lay his hands upon you. Please, spur me to swifter victory with a sign of your lo-"

Ranma raised her fist to knock Kuno backwards, but stopped when he was cut off before she could strike. Blinking in surprise at the red umbrella that had collided with the top of Kuno's head, she turned her head to the one holding it, and said in annoyance, "Hey, I can deal with him myself, Pig Brain!"

Kuno's head snapped up, and he glared at the Lost Boy as he spoke. "Foul wretch, do not think that I can be defeated by a sneak attack. How dare you interrupt my moment of love with the Pigtailed girl!"

Ryoga just glared back and said, "Hands off. Did you come to flirt, or fight?"

"Have at thee, cur!" Kuno cried as he raised his weapon.

As Kuno charged, and Ryoga met the incoming bokken with his umbrella, a thought crossed Ranma's mind. 'Why did Ryoga tell Kuno 'hands off'?'

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