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A Ranma ½ story
by Brian Randall

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ belongs to Rumiko Takahashi and Viz Communications.

"Nice day," Hiroshi remarked, looking around the street.

Beside him, Daisuke nodded, hands stuck in his pockets. They both walked with a relaxed, casual gait, enjoying the last few pleasant days of spring before the heat came out in force. Ahead of them was their destination, Okonomiyaki Ucchan's.

"So," Daisuke asked, breaking the silence, "do you think Ranma's caught the panty-thief by now?"

"Most likely," Hiroshi said after a moment of brooding. "Bet you fifty yen he's already gotten himself into some other mess, though."

Daisuke raised an eyebrow, glancing at his friend with a grin. Before he could reply, both teenagers heard the shrill piercing laugh that usually preceded one of Ranma's more… enthusiastic suitors. Both shuddered and glanced up as Ranma appeared at the edge of the restaurant's roof, backpedaling frantically for a moment before slipping off and landing before the entrance, narrowly missing the curtain in front.

"Hold that thought," Daisuke said, his grin widening as the shrill laugh drew nearer. Ranma blinked at the two boys in front of him and opened his mouth to say something, but Daisuke simply grabbed his left shoulder and walked forward. Hiroshi fell into step immediately beside him and seized the other shoulder. Bemused, Ranma allowed the two to push him through the door before Kodachi's arcing leap took her above the street, where she would have spotted him.

"Ranma-sama!" she called, as Hiroshi released Ranma and closed the door after Daisuke flipped the sign to 'closed'. "Don't hide from me, I'm perfectly willing, and was merely surprised!"

The two teens shared a high-five, and then turned to the proprietor, who had observed the entire exchange with an arched eyebrow and a smirk. "Heya, Ukyou," Hiroshi said cheerfully, as Kodachi's pleas for Ranma to come out faded into the distance. "Can I get two deluxes to go?"

"Ah, I'll take two seafood combos," Daisuke contributed.

She snorted as Ranma ambled over to his seat and sat down. "I guess it's on me," he sighed. "Forgot where I landed. What are you two up to?"

"Gambling, mostly," Daisuke replied, his grin managing to deepen to levels that would give Nabiki pause.

"Yutzes," Ukyou opined, but not without a quiet giggle. "On the house. I'll consider it a delivery fee."

"What?" Ranma protested with mock indignation. "I'm worth a hefty tip, too!"

Hiroshi and Daisuke had fled out the back door with their okonomiyaki in take-out boxes, claiming the need for subterfuge. Ukyou had no doubts whatsoever that it was an excuse, but played along, deciding to close the shop early to spend some time with Ranma and try not to think about what the gambling duo were up to.

For his part, Ranma seemed perfectly content to lounge in his seat, not moving towards either of the exits. After she'd brought in the curtain, she frowned, seeing that Ranma had moved behind the grill and was already in the process of cleaning it.

Shrugging, she put the curtain away and set about sweeping. Then Ranma washed all the utensils that Ukyou had used.

She raised an eyebrow and asked, "What's up, Ranchan? You seem…." She was about to say distracted, but that wasn't true. He had been, if anything, very distracted lately, ever since that kiss some weeks ago, which the entire school had witnessed. She knew that Akane was upset, but mostly flustered by Ranma's sudden change in attitude, seeming distracted and aloof. She'd only hit him once and then Ukyou was under the impression that neither Akane nor Ranma had discussed it again.

She certainly hadn't wanted to discuss that moment with Akane.

And now that attitude had gone, and Ranma was… well, not quite back to his old self, but she couldn't complain. The sooner the chores were done, the more time they could spend together. But distracted wasn't the word.

"I seem?" he asked, grinning.

"Well, I'm just having trouble putting it into words," she said, shrugging. "You're a lot like that, Ranchan."

"I've just been thinking for a long while," he said, waving a hand dismissively. "Have a seat, Ucchan. I've got a question for you."

She felt herself suddenly growing dizzy, and her face reddened. Was that was it about? He'd said he wanted… well… her. Was this a proposal? She sat down, beaming him a hopeful and nervous smile. He grinned and hopped over the counter, sitting in the seat next to hers.

"Now, like I said," he warned, his smile lighting in his eyes, "I been thinking about this for a long while. So I mean what I'm asking."

"Okay," she managed tremulously, her voice quavering with nervous energy when he didn't ask his question immediately.

"I was gonna ask in a week or two, but you know what happened today?"

"Er…." She furrowed her brow in thought briefly. "Something with Happosai?"

"Well, after that," he said, waving a hand. "Mousse decided to attack me. Him and Ryouga teamed up with Tatewaki. Not on purpose, it was really just timing. Kind of ironic; I look up from finishing off the old pervert in a bath-house, the next thing I know, I got those three goons bearing down on me screaming bloody murder." He grimaced. "One splash of cold water later, I run into the women's side. Perfect escape — the women throw washbuckets at the thugs, I make for the exit."

"That doesn't sound so bad," she reasoned.

"I hit the hot water on my way out, on accident," he remarked. "And for whatever reason, Kodachi decided she was gonna take a bath there. So I land on her, Tatewaki flips out, and all hell breaks loose. Next thing I know, I'm running clear across the city, and Happi's laughing out behind me calling the entire thing his revenge." His frown faded to a bemused look. "Then I landed here. So… why wait?"

"Why not?" Ukyou asked cautiously, now entirely clueless as to wherever Ranma was trying to lead the conversation.

"So… Ucchan? You wanna elope?"

Her reaction wasn't entirely what he'd expected, but he'd had a long series of weeks to plan out possible scenarios. This one called for him to be silent and watch her, which he found he was enjoying quite a bit.

She had first blinked, and then looked incredulous. He couldn't help but admire the way she showed her emotions; almost as plainly as he was told he did himself. Openness and honesty….

And then she was delighted. Her eyes glowed with that same spark that had ignited, however dimly, and then brightened, ever since he'd called her cute. Devotion and a willingness to forgive….

And then furious. The reaction she had when she thought (however briefly) that Akane had somehow seduced him during his training for the Hiryuu Shouten Ha. Ah, he thought to himself. What a great training trip.

"How the hell do you expect me to sell the shop by tonight?" she growled. "You are so inconsiderate!"

"So, that's a 'yes,' then?" he drawled, still grinning.

She blinked in surprise and blushed. "Well, duh," she mumbled. "But I was kind of expecting… well… any kind of warning at all!"

"Yeah, but don't worry, I'm not thinking we gotta do it tonight," he said with a wink. "I was thinking maybe the end of the month. Is two weeks enough for you?"

She stared at him, dumbfounded. "Yeah," she said, shaking her head. "That's enough time." She paused, then, just staring at her fiancé, and contemplating not the specifics of the plan, which he had yet to reveal, but just the essence of it. "We're going to elope?" she asked, not quite squeaking the question out.

"I sure hope so," he said, raising a hand to brush his fingertips across her cheek. "So. You wanna hear the plan?"

"Yeah," she replied, nodding vigorously, while images of a tiny cottage in some secluded village around Kyoto began to fill her head. A tiny cottage with room for a few children, a nice kitchen….

"First, I'm going to try and figure out how to settle everything honorably. Well, as honorably as I can," he said slowly. "So…. The way I see it, you're the first girl I was engaged to. And if you aren't, well, Pop already took your dowry. The dojo's still there, and it ain't got my name on it, so…. I figure I'm just going to leave a note telling Tendo that I'm sorry."

"You're serious," she breathed, the enormity of the situation still leaving her reeling.

"Oh," he said, nodding gravely. "Completely. I hate to do this… but I'm asking you to get me out of trouble with a few things, too. Help me get a clean slate, so to speak."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"'Fore we do this, I figure we should probably get everything straight between us," he said, smiling softly. "See… Saotome Ranma has a lot of obligations, and like I told you a while back… I'm really not that keen on living his life anymore."

"What are you saying?" she wondered. "I mean, you can't mean all of it if you're leaving with me."

"Well, I'm thinking. Your parents aren't around anymore, so it's just you, right?"

She nodded.

"Even though she hasn't seen me or the old man in a couple years, I've got both of mine. I don't see any reason why they can't just have another kid or twenty to settle Pop's debts — I'm hoping that I can just cut to the chase, and keep my promises, and you'll save me the rest."

"Wait," she said slowly. "Are you saying you want to take my family name?"

"You remember that little contract I signed with my mom?" Ranma asked, grinning. "Guess which name is on it."

She could feel the grin coming to her own face. "Finally, I get to rescue you," she murmured.

He snorted. "You've done a better job of managing to avoid trouble than most people around this crazy town."

Her grin began to fade. "But, Ranchan, you're just going to ignore your family honor?"

"Do I got a choice, really?" Ranma asked, shrugging. "When you get right down to it, I don't think there's a way to get this done without messin' up honor. We can argue about that all day — I tried thinking of ways to talk through it. But look at just what's between me and you!

"So, it's Pop's fault that he accepted the engagement. That's the family. It's my fault your dowry was stolen-" He broke off with a frown and gave her a very intent look. "You gotta believe me, I don't remember choosing okonomiyaki over you when I was a kid. An' that will never happen again, I promise." Ukyou nodded at the seriousness in Ranma's voice, and only then did he relax very slightly. "Anyway, it's also my promise that said I would take care of you forever. Even that alone ain't getting sorted out. So I broke it down to just the stuff that's my problem."

"Well, that still leaves you with a lot of issues," Ukyou noted, frowning. "If you just go by what you did… you're still in hot water over that Reversal Jewel incident."

Ranma grimaced, nodding. "And worse, too," he admitted. "But Akane's said a bunch of times our engagement isn't valid, even if I did tell the world she was my fiancée. So really, it's just you and Shampoo that I owe." He hedged for a moment, and admitted, "Cologne's not that bad. I finally just went and asked her. She told me there's a way out — that's part of what let me decide what I wanted, just before I…. We…." He trailed off, blushing, and looked at the grill. "Well, you know."

"Nope," Ukyou chirped. "Gonna need specifics, Ranchan!"

His blush deepened. "Before I decided," he said, raising his eyes to meet hers, ducking his head slightly in bashful nervousness. It was all she could do to restrain herself from grabbing him right there and holding on forever. "Ever since before… our kiss."

"How's that go?" she asked, feeling her face heat up.

He hesitated for a moment, and then they both moved, joining in a tentative embrace and sharing another cautious kiss. When he broke it, he pulled her into his lap, and she put her arms about him, unable to hold back a cheerful giggle. "I love you, Ranchan," she whispered.

His blush intensified, and he tried not to stare at her. She prodded his nose with a fingertip, and he flinched, admitting, "I love you too, Ucchan. Or else I wouldn't be crazy enough to ask you to pull this off with me."

She thought, briefly, of removing herself from his lap, taking his hand, and seeing if she could get him all the way to her room before he asked what she had in mind. She held that temptation in check; this was the revelation of his plans, and there would be plenty of time for…. Well.

He looked at her curiously. "You okay, Ucchan? You look like you're about to catch on fire."

"Gah," she mumbled, covering her face with her hands. "I'm just so happy!" She controlled herself by the simple process of sliding back out of his lap and back onto the stool she had been using before. At his disappointed expression, she said, "Time for that later tonight." Then his eyes shot very wide, and his face darkened in embarrassment fit to match what she had felt while being held in his arms.

"Well, um. I wasn't planning on getting started on that right away," Ranma managed, his voice cracking once or twice before he got the entirety of the statement out. "But, Cologne said that married people aren't subject to the Kiss of Marriage. Though, the only proof of marriage they care about is… erm… havin' kids. I think she knows what's up, too. I mean, I didn't tell her, but she's not that dense. She mentioned that if I promised to help out her tribe in times of need, she might be so busy training Shampoo that she can't leave the Nekohanten for a few months. I think that's her way of sayin' that if I behave, she'll give us some time to have kids and get out of this."

Ukyou blinked, raising an eyebrow, and Ranma waved his hands in a warding gesture.

"I wasn't even thinking about that until we'd had a few years together, though," he said quickly.

"No cuddling until after marriage?" Ukyou pouted, causing Ranma to flinch.

He looked briefly puzzled, then shook his head, clarifying, "I mean, if Shampoo can't find us, there's no problem. And if I take your name, we should have plenty of time before she catches up with us. Um… maybe not tonight… but there's no reason to wait for… uh… some stuff."

"You certain?" Ukyou asked, smirking.

"Totally," Ranma said, nodding. "Anyway. I've got a plan, Ucchan. Just like I said. There's a lot I haven't figured out yet, like… where we're going to go. Or what we're going to do. I figure I can wait tables anywhere. If you open another restaurant, that'll work, too. Mostly, I'm just focusing on getting us out of here."

Ukyou nodded contemplatively. "Have you thought," she asked slowly, "about what this might do to your mother?"

Ranma's smile faded, and he stared at the floor for a long minute. "Yeah," he said quietly. "I have. But…. I don't know if I can handle a mother that can turn into an executioner if I get splashed with cold water," he admitted. "Remember, I want to leave this all behind. I just want… well… me and you, Ucchan. Some day in the future, once everyone's had a chance to explode and calm down…. But I don't see a way out of this I really want to deal with. Except for the one I'm hoping you'll still agree to with me."

She felt her face warm with the glow she was sure it was shedding, and she stared at her feet, unable to find a word for the moment.

Ranma took one of her hands in his, and offered a reassuring squeeze. "Are you going to tell her before we leave?" Ukyou asked hesitantly.

Her fiancé nodded slowly as she looked up from the floor. "I'm leaving her a letter," he mumbled. "It's not perfect. It's even a gamble, since she might not forgive me. But…." He sighed, and looked at the grill, as though it might offer a suggestion.

"You're not…. If she decided that you're unmanly, you're not going to abandon me again, are you?" Ukyou suddenly asked, a spike of nervous fear shooting through her heart.

"No!" Ranma protested, shaking his head. "Of course not — that's part of me taking your name."

"Okay," Ukyou agreed, deciding to focus on more important aspects of the proposed elopement. "So, then…. You're not twenty yet. How are we going to be married without your parents' permission?"

"I only need Pop's," Ranma said reassuringly, pulling a sheet of paper from his schoolbag. "He keeps a dozen of these around. I spilled his sake on 'em, and when he started filling more out, grabbed one before Tendo could put his name on it."

Ukyou looked at the marriage certificate in surprise. All she'd need to do was sign her name twice, as she was her own legal guardian. Ranma would need to sign it once, since Genma's signature was already on it.

"Wow," she breathed, considering what the contract in front of her meant. "Wait a minute," she said with sudden realization, "if you used this, you'd be taking…. If this was for Akane, you'd be becoming a Tendo?"

Ranma shrugged uncomfortably. "Yeah," he mumbled. "Don't get to keep the name Pops trashed the honor of."

"Oh, Ranchan," Ukyou sighed, leaning forward and hugging her fiancé again. "Two weeks…. I guess we need to be quiet about this whole thing until we're out of town?"

He hugged her back tightly. "Yeah," he said. "I'm… sorry I can't plan a ceremony or anything, but I do my best planning on my feet, and well…. That'll get me by, and out of here. But it won't really let me do much else… yet. I'm hoping once things settle down, that'll change."

Ukyou snorted, releasing him from the hug, and staring him in the eyes. "I get you," she said flatly. "That's everything I could ask for. But once we're out of here, it's not what you can manage, it's what we can do together. Right?" She smiled as he nodded.

And then he kissed her again, and she had a great deal of trouble thinking clearly. He seemed to be affected the same way, and broke the kiss after a moment, mumbling apologetically, "I… should get back to the Tendo place before anyone realizes that something's up." Then he grinned. "I'm supposed to be out of town on a training trip for the next two days," he whispered. "Tomorrow… you want me to come by, so we can talk?"

Ukyou was positive she was going to need medical attention for the heat her face was putting out, and Ranma looked like he was just short of bursting into flame himself, his skin matching his girl-side's hair-color. But she managed to nod and squeak out, "Sure thing, Ranchan!"

He smiled shakily and stood up. "I'll go out the back," he said. "See you later, Ucchan."

Kasumi hummed happily to herself as Ranma returned from his after-school activity. She'd asked him a few weeks ago what was keeping him busy outside of class so often lately. He explained that it was part of his 'Survival Club', though when Kasumi asked Akane if she were going to be joining, the younger girl had only laughed.

Nabiki had said that there was no such club, and Kasumi hadn't

remembered one from when she had attended classes herself. She assumed then that it wasn't a normal club at all, and was instead some form of martial arts training that Ranma was working on with his friends. "Are you still practicing your survival, Ranma-kun?" she asked as he kicked off his shoes in the entryway. Ranma's friends were so helpful to practice with him during all hours of the day.

"Yep! I'm almost done," he said, nodding. "I figure I'll be ready for the ultimate move in a week or two. I'll be heading out on a training trip tomorrow."

"That's nice!" she encouraged him. "Who will you be using your new technique to fight?"

"Fight?" he asked, blankly. "Oh! Nah, no fighting. If I pull this one off, I'll just win." He flashed her a bright smile and said, "Anyway, I've got some homework to finish. I'll be in my room if anyone needs me."

As he strode up the stairs, Nabiki opened the front door. "Hey, Kasumi," she greeted, glancing around as she slipped out of her shoes. "Anything exciting going on?"

"Not for a few weeks, it seems," Kasumi answered.

Alone in her room, Ukyou spent a few minutes staring at the papers Ranma had left her with. She'd signed her name once already, but paused before sealing the deal.

She knew that Ranma cared about her ever since that Christmas Eve. She'd known that Ranma actually liked her since that kiss…. But now, this, more than his words, told her that he really loved her. Somehow, she simply hadn't expected things to turn out that nicely. But they had, and best of all, she hadn't had to use scheming or trickery to get what she wanted. She felt bad enough about the fake tears when she had moved in with Ranma and the Tendo family briefly.

"I wonder what it'll be like living with Ranchan this time," she mused, vowing to never use that trick on him again. "Better than that!" she decided, smiling as she signed her name one last time.

Then she put the papers away in a drawer. Tomorrow, he could sign it, and then they could take it to the city hall. Until then, she surveyed her room, calculating what could be stored, what she would take… and how much she could get for selling her building with only two weeks to arrange it.

She frowned slightly at that. Two weeks wasn't much time… She brightened immediately when she thought about who it was all for. And he was certainly worth it.

After a slow day at school, thanks in no small part to Ranma's absence, Ukyou hurried back to her restaurant, somewhat surprised to see Tsubasa waiting for her. "You," she said in a slow drawl, seeing the boy in merely a frilly dress, instead of disguising himself as the sign at her entrance. "I thought you gave up!"

"Oh, I could never forget about you, Ukyou-sama!" Tsubasa chirped, causing Ukyou to blink. That wasn't Tsubasa's voice… and come to think of it, that hair looked like a wig. And Tsubasa hadn't padded his chest that much, not to mention he'd been the slightest bit taller. In fact….

Biting down on her tongue to avoid laughing aloud, Ukyou instead forced a pained sigh. "Let's go inside and talk this over in private."

"Okay!" 'Tsubasa' cheered, drawing both hands together beneath his chin and blinking cutely.

After Ukyou unlocked the door, both entered, and she closed it behind her. "Ranchan?" Ukyou asked cautiously, sighing in relief when the redhead pulled off her wig. "Nice!"

"Thanks," Ranma said, smirking.

"So, what about your training trip?" Ukyou asked. "Is that how you're going to hide from everyone?" She couldn't help but snicker at her fiancé's disguise, as effective as it might be.

"For today," Ranma said with a grin. "Now how much do 'I' owe you for the damage to your place the last time through?"

Ukyou nodded slowly. "Well, I think you'll probably be working for me for a day or two to pay it off," she replied.

"I think that works," Ranma said with a wink, putting her wig back on. "You ready to open?"

"Almost," Ukyou decided, stepping closer to Ranma and inspecting the disguise critically. "Here," she announced, giving her fiancé a peck on the lips. "Tsubasa should look stunned when I tell 'him' that he's working off some debt."

Ranma indeed looked appropriately shocked, but Ukyou opened the door before she could form a protest beyond, "Aaaaah…."

After recovering from the kiss, Ranma tried to pretend to be Tsubasa. It worked well enough, as no one who would actually recognize Tsubasa showed up, so Ranma was able to simply wait on Ukyou's customers. Thankfully, things were busy enough she didn't really need to think about things until it was time to close.

Then, of course, Ukyou locked the door and grinned at Ranma, and she felt the slightest bit worried. "Um, Ucchan?" she asked quietly.

Her grin faded, and she looked concerned. "Something wrong, Ranchan?" she asked, peering at the smaller girl worriedly.

"Uh… I just… wasn't expecting you to kiss me when I was a girl," Ranma mumbled, looking at the floor.

Ukyou waved a hand dismissively. "Your curse has never bothered me, Ranchan," she said. "I know you're a guy on the inside. Now it's late, and we were busy today. Why don't we clean up and then go to sleep in my room?"

Ranma twitched slightly at that.

"Silly!" Ukyou chastised, swatting Ranma's shoulder playfully. "If you're so worried about it, just sign that marriage contract, and we can turn it in tomorrow."

Ranma felt her face blushing deeper red, but she nodded. "Okay," she managed shakily.

"Until then, we can just both be girls. Then it won't bother you, right?"

"Yeah," Ranma said, relaxing. "Nothing can happen between two girls."

Ukyou snickered and shook her head. "Sure, Ranchan. Where's your stuff, anyway?"

"On the roof," Ranma answered, her blush only just beginning to fade. "Um, I should probably get it."

"Use the back door if you're still worried about the sneaky part," Ukyou warned, winking.

Another boring day at school, though Ukyou was hard-pressed to keep her enthusiasm in check. This time, she knew, Ranma would be waiting for her when she got back. And when she opened her restaurant, there she was, sitting at the grill dressed as Tsubasa, writing a letter.

"You haven't finished those already?" Ukyou asked, closing the door behind her.

"Nah," Ranma said, shaking her head. "Didn't want anyone to find 'em, so I only had time to start writing today."

Nodding, Ukyou sat down next to her, just watching the other girl write. After a minute or so, Ranma looked up curiously. "Something wrong?"

"Nah. I'm just thinking about what we're going to do next."

"Well, there are other jobs I can do, too," Ranma said, shrugging as she organized a small pile of loose papers into a tidy stack. "I doubt I can cook nearly as well as you, but…." She shrugged again. "I could do something, I'm sure. The point is, I won't just do nothin'. This whole marriage thing is a partnership, right? You get me out of Nerima, I stick with you for the rest of my life?"

"You don't need to worry about that!" Ukyou protested. "I can take care of both of us!"

"That don't seem to be what I promised," the redhead countered with a grin. "If we're gonna have a family, I ain't gonna be like Pops."

Nodding to herself, Ukyou allowed, "I think I understand. Okay, if we both work, maybe…." She trailed off and smiled. "We'll be able to buy a house faster that way."

"And the sooner we finish that, the sooner we can work on a dojo," Ranma said with a grin.

"We're going to need a lot of land to fit a house, an okonomiyaki-ya, and a dojo," Ukyou mused. "That's not going to be cheap." The rest of the evening was spent in rumination over the future they would build together. Somehow, all of the problems that Ukyou knew lay ahead seemed something to look forward to instead of an obstacle.

Ranma woke slowly, the unfamiliar yet comforting weight of Ukyou's arm across her chest rousing her some time after the sun rose. The room was about the same size as the one she usually shared with her father, but the futon was much more comfortable… and quite a bit warmer, too.

Ukyou made a noise in her sleep, and then a face, and pulled Ranma closer. The redhead blinked, not quite sure how to react until the alarm clock began to buzz a moment later. Ukyou sat up like a shot, dragging Ranma with her. "Whaza…" she mumbled, then looking at the slightly smaller girl in her arms. "Oh, er…." She blushed, and let Ranma go. "Hehe…. Sorry, Ranchan."

She turned the alarm off and stretched while Ranma yawned and climbed to her feet. "Didn't you used to have two futons?" she asked her fiancée suspiciously.

Ukyou nodded and smiled.

"So we could have each had our own bed last night?"

Smile widening, Ukyou nodded again. "Are you complaining?"

Ranma thought about that for a moment. "Not really," she admitted.

"Well, I was too tired last night, so let's go to the bath down the street," Ukyou said, smiling.

Ranma shook her head. "I can't," she said apologetically. "You've got school today, and I need to write some letters."

"You mean the letters you're planning on leaving behind when you vanish aren't even finished yet?" Ukyou asked in surprise. "I thought you had this covered!"

"Hey, the last thing I want is to have evidence that blows everything away lying around," Ranma protested.

Ukyou blinked. "Point," she acquiesced. "Okay, then. Why not stay here? You can hide in the shop while I'm closed."

Ranma nodded, and then on a sudden impulse, hugged Ukyou. The taller girl hugged her back without reservation, and then gave her a brief kiss. Then she made a face and said, "Time to brush my teeth."

Giggling, Ranma nodded her agreement. After the two had finished the morning cleansing, Ukyou splashed Ranma with warm water from the sink, and swept him into a much deeper kiss. "Bwah," he managed, once she released him. "Wow. That's going to take a long time to get used to."

"Good!" Ukyou said, blushing brightly. "Since you're still going to be here, I'm going to shower instead of going to the bathhouse." He fled from the bathroom, even though she hadn't said anything about him leaving. After he got to her room, he quickly folded up the futon and blankets before looking around.

His plan wasn't very complete, just dealing with the trickier issues of escaping the life he'd let himself get trapped in. Ukyou's additions rounded out the escape with a nice follow-up. His vague ideas were given concrete foundations, and his hopes for a dojo had become a promise that both of them would work together for it. Life without a dojo was something he could deal with; adaptation was the name of the game, and he did want to escape the insanity of Nerima. But that didn't mean he wanted to forget about martial arts completely.

While he was ruminating, he heard the squeal of pipes as water pressure surged, and then a yelped curse before a quiet giggle. He froze, listening intently, and was able to make out the sound of running water and soft singing. Try as he might, he couldn't keep the grin off his face at that. Heading down the stairs to the restaurant's first floor, he quickly splashed himself and put on his Tsubasa disguise.

A few minutes later Ukyou came down the stairs in her school uniform, no longer singing, but humming to herself. "Ah!" she said, snapping her fingers after she finished tying the ribbon in her hair. "Sign this." She reached into a drawer and pulled out the marriage contract, setting it and a pen before Ranma on the cold grill.

"All right," Ranma agreed, taking up the pen and setting it to paper. She hesitated, looking at the document, and rethinking what it all meant…. And then she smiled and signed it anyway. "Hey, Ucchan. Guess what?" Ranma said, handing the paper to her fiancée.

"What's that?" Ukyou asked, accepting the paper and glancing over it to see that everything was in order.

"I think we just broke the law, since I was a girl when I signed it."

Ukyou snorted and rolled her eyes. "Just for that, you can file this for me," she said, handing the paper back. "You owe me, 'Tsubasa'."

"I will do as you command, my Ukyou-sama!" Ranma chirped in a falsely higher voice. Then she winked and fled out the door, paper in hand.

After he'd come back from his training trip, he'd been chuckling to himself and sporting a wide grin. Akane thought it was suspicious, but he'd been so quiet and careful to watch his words that she wasn't certain if she should be upset.

Maybe he was just in a good mood.

Clearing her throat loudly, she called his attention, and he broke off mid-kata, turning to look at her from the center of the dojo. She stepped in through the entrance and slid it shut behind her. "So," she began mildly, "how was your training trip?"

"Awesome," he replied, flashing that same grin at her again.

"Can you show me what you learned?"

His smile vanished instantly and he gave her a thoughtful look. "Maybe. I'd like to, but…. Well, I've got the basics of my new technique perfected. I need to work on the follow-through."

"What is it?" she pressed, frowning. For his smile to fade so quickly, he must be hiding something.

"You remember how Pops created those two schools 'for living'?" he asked with a smirk.

"Yes. But that was thievery. You're not…." She sighed. "Will you just tell me what it is you're up to?"

"It's a surprise," he assured her. "Just give me… oh… two weeks. Then you'll see."

"Will I?" she asked skeptically.

His voice was full of conviction when he replied, "I'll make sure of it."

Hiroshi glanced at the trees as a passing breeze rattled their branches. "Something's up," he said. "You can smell it in the air."

Nodding thoughtfully, Daisuke flipped a fifty-yen coin into the air. "What's good?"


Snatching the coin out of the air, Daisuke slapped it onto the back of his left hand, covered with his right. "Uh-oh," he murmured, separating his hands and showing that the coin had caught between two fingers.

"Mixed blessing." Hiroshi contemplated, and then decided, "That coin's destined to end up in a pachinko parlor. Might as well help it along."

"And then?"

"Look for the fight."

"What fight?"

"This is Furinkan, Dai, there's always a fight. And if there isn't, we'll ask Ranma why not and he'll fix it."

Daisuke nodded. "I can't disagree with the truth of that statement. Pachinko, then the fight. Onward!"

"Tomorrow," Ukyou murmured to herself. She'd let the stocks for her restaurant run low in preparation of abandoning it, but had tried her best to leave no obvious signs that she wouldn't be there shortly. Her room was neatly packed, but no customer would see that.

Ranma straggled in through the entry, yawning. "Heya, Ucchan," he called in greeting.

"Ranchan!" she replied, a quick glance showing the coast was clear. "Ooh, you got something on you."

He froze before the grill and looked down at his clothing in dismay. "I do? Where?"

"Here," she said, stepping around the counter and brushing at his cheek with her fingertips. He waited patiently until she planted a swift kiss on his lips. Then he fell backwards, blinking in surprise. She released a giggle, which died in her throat as she saw Daisuke and Hiroshi in the doorway.

"Oh, no," Ranma said, turning around to look at the pair.

"Well, this situation seems to have a clear two-point response plan," Hiroshi said, though his eyes were wider than usual.

"Agreed," Daisuke added, his eyes equally wide. "First of all: Dude! You told us you didn't get it on with your girls!"

"I don't!" Ranma protested. "It's just…. Er…. I'm really in trouble, aren't I?"

"Which brings us to point two," Hiroshi said with a smirk, turning his gaze to Ukyou. "Which is… free okonomiyaki for life!"

"Me and my impulses," Ukyou sighed. She stamped one foot irritably and grumbled, "I should have closed the door!"

"You won't tell anyone, will you?" Ranma asked.

"Nah," Daisuke said with a shake of his head. "Well, I won't, anyway."

Hiroshi looked mildly affronted. "I won't either!" he protested. "Probably. On an entirely unrelated note, recent studies show that seafood okonomiyaki is highly successful at quashing rumors."

Snorting, Ukyou shook her head and began pouring batter. "So, were you just stopping by for the food?"

"Well, if you must know," Daisuke said with a sigh, "we're here looking for a fight."

Ranma raised an eyebrow and cracked his knuckles menacingly.

"Not for us," Hiroshi added quickly. "And not against either of you. It's just that the fights seem to follow you, and my gambling-senses tell me that the big bet is coming up."

"So, what, you think you're going to hang around and I'll start fightin' someone?" Ranma asked doubtfully.

"In fewer words: Yes!"

Ukyou sighed. "You know, you two—"

"Could really help me out," Ranma interjected with a grin. "As it turns out, there is a big mix-up planned for tomorrow. You two could pass messages to some people for me… that'd give you a front-row seat."

"Not something I'm sure I want," Hiroshi said slowly.

"But something we can do for our friend, whom we owe," Daisuke said pointedly, kicking his classmate's shin. "Especially since we really do want that front-row seat. Will there be seating? I know there's usually Chinese food or okonomiyaki, but seating isn't a given."

"Furinkan's field," Ranma replied absently. "No special seating."

"Aw, man…. Will you use your girl-body and mud-wrestle someone?"

"I think it's time for you two to be on your way," Ukyou said primly, serving the okonomiyaki directly into take-out containers and handing them over. "Now, take care of yourselves."

The two boys chuckled good-naturedly and accepted their boxes, quickly dashing out of sight.

"Are we busted?" she asked Ranma worriedly.

"Coulda been," he said thoughtfully. "But they'll keep their word 'til at least tomorrow."

Shampoo balanced precariously on a bamboo pole, though the end was only resting flat on the ground, not planted or otherwise anchored. "How much longer am I going to do this?" she asked, her arms rising from her sides briefly to adjust as a low breeze picked up.

"Until you learn it," Cologne answered, peering upwards. "You think this is just for show?" She hopped up to balance on her staff and snorted. "You'll learn the value sooner or later, so why not get it taken care of now?"

Shampoo sighed, nodding absently and then shifting her footing to rest on a single toe.

"Good," Cologne murmured, hopping to the ground and scurrying through the alley to the side of the Nekohanten, halting just before Ranma. The boy had been about to enter the restaurant and blinked at her in surprise. "Ah, I was wondering when you would show up."

"Er…. Yeah," the boy mumbled, scratching the back of his head nervously. "Um, listen… I wanted to talk to you about—"

"I'm not an idiot," she replied, cutting him off. "I know you don't plan on marrying Shampoo. I know you'll eventually find a way to try and do the honorable thing, too. I feel sorry for that Kuonji girl, once you marry Akane, but you're an easy read."

"Uh," he answered after a moment. "Yeah. That's it."

She rolled her eyes again. "Did you think it was going to be that simple?"

He shifted his shoulders and looked away. "I kinda… kinda hoped that, yeah."

"Hah," Cologne snorted. "I know what you're planning. You know what I'll tell everyone else I thought. Now, how do you repay this and your other debts?"

"I don't want to live in China, but you said if I promised to help you out whenever… if… you know… I had to," he said, shrugging his shoulders and looking away. "But how can I do that without Shampoo knowing where I am?"

"That's the catch," she replied with a grimace. "So tell me where you go — or I'll find you. I won't let Shampoo know where you are… but if you don't assist when summoned, I'll tell her. Behave, and I'll convince her to want to be your friend by the time she catches up with you and your okonomiyaki girl.

He sighed in relief, practically sagging in place. "Okay," he said. "That sounds good. I…. I know I owe you for this…."

She raised an eyebrow.

Swallowing, he added, "And I know I owe Shampoo worse."

"Good," she answered. "Otherwise I'd have beaten you. Now run along and leave a forwarding address when you leave. Shampoo hasn't properly talked to you in weeks. Don't give her a chance to make this more painful than you must."

"Gotcha. Thanks… Cologne."

"You won't be thanking me when I call in those favors, Boy," she warned. "You remember that much."

"We'll see," he said with a grin. "If I get enough out of life, maybe I will thank you. Later!" With a cheerful wave he shot down the street, swiftly vanishing from sight.

"Maybe he isn't as dense as I thought," the old woman mused thoughtfully.

"I honestly didn't think that Ranma would ever write this much," Hiroshi said to himself slowly, flipping through the stack of envelopes in his hands.

Daisuke cocked his head to one side and considered before glancing across the yard. "You're right. Now, we're not going to open the things on pain of beatdown, so let's parcel them out and see what destruction Ranma has wrought."

Hiroshi raised an eyebrow and glanced sidelong at his friend. "That word-a-day calendar is turning you into Kuno."

"Thusly have you named the first of our targets," Daisuke decided with a grin. "Once more unto the breach!"

"Have I mentioned lately that I hate you?"

"Not as much as you will once we watch Kuno melt down from whatever's inside this envelope. I bet you it's good."

"You're on — five hundred yen for an explosion and a fight."

"Four to one in my favor, and I'll bet you're wrong."

"Done deal."

The two boys took a simultaneous breath and shared a decisive nod. "Kuno! Saotome sent you a letter."

Akane set the letter down and glanced across the school yard. In the ensuing panic that Ranma's… unexpected departure… had put the students in, she had been overlooked. For the moment, she was glad for that, as she didn't particularly feel like discussing it with the regular gossips.

Nabiki drew near, a handful of papers clutched tightly in one fist. Her expression was decidedly upset. "Akane," she said tightly, nodding and coming to a halt. "So."

"So," Akane said back, picking up the pieces of paper and carefully folding them back into their envelope. "It's a nice day out today. Warm. Gentle breeze."

"Ah…." Nabiki shook her head. "Well, I can only guess what he wrote to you, but my letter was somewhat less than flattering. Do you want to talk about this at all?"

"Not really," Akane said with a shrug. "But if you'd like."

"If I'd like?" Nabiki asked, raising an eyebrow. "You know… your fiancé just…. Well, he ran off with another girl."

"Signed the letter with her name, too," Akane noted. "I think really, if you want to talk about it, the worst part is that I'm just not surprised."

"You…." Shaking her head quickly, Nabiki glanced around to make sure no other students were in earshot. "Are you saying you expected this?"

"Well, it seemed obvious to me," Akane said with a shrug. "He'd been acting a little weird since Christmas, when he went to go see Ukyou.

I pretty much was waiting for it since he kissed her. I'm just glad we can stop pretending now."

"Pretending? But Akane, Ranma…. He…." The elder sister paused, considering for a moment. "I thought I could read people. But I got him wrong, so I guess if you're really not bothered by this, I should just ignore it. It's not like we're going to see him again, are we?"

"Oh, maybe," Akane murmured quietly, turning to look at the gathering storm clouds on the horizon, the last sweeping rains before summer claimed the calendar. Shrugging, she tossed the letter into a rubbish bin. "Let's ditch school and get some ice cream."

Nabiki turned to watch Tatewaki come out of his letter-induced shock, bellowing, "The vile Kuonji Ranma has absconded with the lovely pigtailed goddess! I must away to Hokkaido in pursuit immediately!"

"Well," she murmured, "he threw up that distraction for you, at least. Sure. I have a two-for-one coupon for sundaes."


He jerked upright from where he had been dozing, sitting cross-legged on one of the massive upright pylons on the pier, looking out across the sea. "Yeah?" he asked, turning to look at a man in a clean blue worker's uniform and hard-hat. "Sorry. Was just waiting for another shipment. What's up, Boss?"

"Just wanted to say thanks for the good work," the foreman said, smirking. "I keep tellin' you, we don't got any bonus, so don't work yourself so hard. But thanks all the same, you know?"

"Oh," Ranma said, shaking his head and climbing down to the slats of the dock's surface to stretch. "Well, a job's a job, and you gotta take care of your family. In my mind, that's the test of being a real man, ain't it?"

The foreman nodded, frowning slightly. "You work on the docks because you want to be manly?"

Snorting, Ranma shook his head again. "I just want to work for my family," he clarified. "My… well, my mom had a thing about me provin' my manliness. I maybe didn't do what she was expecting, but I think…." He trailed off. "Ah, it's about time for lunch, right?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Ah, Ucchan said she'd come by."

"Oh! Will she bring—?"

"She always does," Ranma laughed, walking sedately away from the pier's end, towards the small office that the workers crowded around to enjoy their meals. "She loves it when the guys come in for the evenings."

"Oh, well, dinner's good, but I'm tellin' you, the boys are all there 'cause they got a thing for your sister."

Ranma snorted with another wry shake of his head. "Anyway, the reason I mention that thing with my mother is that I'm thinkin' of seeing her in a few months. Might need some time off."

"Ah," the foreman said, falling into step behind Ranma and nodding wisely. "So that's what this is about. Well, how soon will this be?"

Another voice broke into the conversation. "Ranchan!"

Ranma grinned, throwing his arms wide and catching his wife in an embrace as she charged from the crowd around her portable grill. He spun around to throw off the excess force from the impact. "Careful," he admonished with a grin, setting her down gently.

"Humph," she sniffed, looking away. "I'm not made of glass, Ranchan. I'm just pregnant."

The foreman missed his next step and went down in an untidy pile. "Right," he said weakly from where he landed. "I'm guessing you'll want some time for paternity leave?"

"Er… yeah," he chuckled, scratching the back of his head nervously with one hand, the other slipping to a comfortable position around his wife's waist. It would probably be another month or two before she started to show.

"Ah," the foreman sighed. "You know, for a couple that married so young, you two sure seem to have things worked out pretty good."

"Thanks," Ranma said brightly. "We worked at it pretty hard."

"Ranchan got it started, really," Ukyou giggled.

"Well, until we got this far that's about all I could do," he admitted. "But things are working out great!"

"Almost," the foreman agreed. "Say, if you two ever need privacy as a young couple, don't be afraid to ask my wife to watch over the baby for a while."

"Er…. Thanks," Ranma said, blushing slightly.

"And I'm sure that any of the other boys would be more than willing to take care of your sister, if you know what I mean, Ranma."

"Oh…." Ukyou frowned. "Well, that's something to keep in mind," she said after a moment. Winking, she added, "But I think I can keep her occupied on my own."

Ranma nodded, waving to the crowd of his coworkers as Ukyou returned to the grill she'd briefly abandoned.

"Heh," the foreman chuckled. "Too bad your wife has an entirely different idea of what it means to take care of a girl."

Ranma looked away, blushing intently, but remained carefully silent. Sometimes, things really did work out in the end, he thought, smiling.


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