|The Saotome Sisters
Author: Richard Ryley PM
Ranma refuses to abandon Ukyo when they are six, and they grow up as brother and sister. They arrive at the Tendo Dojo with an unusual shared curse. AU, not a three way shipping - Chapter 74: Still reeling from the emotions brought out by the play, Akane feels ready to take a big step.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Ranma & Akane - Chapters: 74 - Words: 422,882 - Reviews: 535 - Favs: 144 - Follows: 147 - Updated: 04-18-13 - Published: 05-21-10 - id: 5986618
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Saotome Sisters
Nabiki hummed happily to herself as she went over her income from the bikini rentals. This had been a profitable week. It looked like Kodachi was no longer going to be in the market for information about her "Ranma darling", but she hadn't really been a reliable customer to begin with. Her school was too far from Furinkan for her to be actively involved in Ranma and Akane's life. Her brother, on the other hand, had already made two payments to support her "investigation" and was likely to continue to pay for a long time to come.
Her introspection was interrupted by a knock at her door. "Hey, it's Ukyo. Mind if I come in for a moment?"
"Of course not." Nabiki opened her desk, placing the ledger next to a spiral bound notebook. On top of that was a moderately sized, leather bound book that she knew contained some VERY valuable information. She shut the drawer. "Come on in."
Nabiki swiveled in her chair as Ukyo entered the room, turning to face her visitor. She crossed her legs, relaxing as she smiled in her usual confident manner. "So how can I help you, Kuonji?"
Ukyo returned her smile with the same confidence. "Actually, it's how you can help Ranma and Akane. Or rather, STOP 'helping' them..." She put just enough irony in her voice at the word "helping" to emphasize it, while still maintaining a hint of amusement.
Nabiki smiled wider. She was a woman who appreciated tact. "Your brother is an interesting fellow. People want to know about him. I can't help that, but I can make a profit off of it."
"I understand that. But your little... investigation almost wound us up in some serious trouble. If Kodachi hadn't seen reason..." Ukyo blinked and then shook her head. "... as incredible as that sounds, and Shampoo didn't already know how far Ranma and Akane have come, there could have been a real fight."
"Does that bother you?" Nabiki looked honestly curious. "I thought you could protect your 'Ranchan'."
"I can, but I'd rather not," Ukyo answered. Her expression turned a bit sour. "And I don't want to have to be looking after your sister, as well. And if there had been any trouble it would have been on her head. Akane can take care of herself, but I'd think you'd be more concerned for your sister's safety."
"As you say, Akane can take care of herself." Nabiki studied her for a moment. "Not that she normally has to deal with such things. After all, Akane and I haven't been dragged all over the world by a crazed martial artist who would do anything in the name of training. If anything came along that Akane couldn't handle, it's not like I could be any help to her."
Ukyo looked chagrined. "I suppose you have a point. But you ARE able to handle things that don't have anything to do with fighting, that it's a lot harder for Akane to deal with. You could make things easier for her at school if you wanted to." She shook her head. "It's just, I can't see myself making money off a brother or sister like that. Sure, Ranchan's not really my brother, and technically I'm an only child, but still..."
Nabiki waved a hand. "Look, it's not like I blackmailed Ranma and Akane to keep the secret about their relationship from our fathers. And I considered it, believe me I did. But then I realized Kuno would be a lot better source of cash, and with the proper incentive, I could make him JUST as willing to pay. Kuno is happy, Ranma and Akane are happy, and the fathers remain in the dark. All the better for me to continue to turn a profit.
"And you know, if you hadn't been quite so secretive about all of this, I might not have gotten suspicious in the first place." She leaned forward, to waggle a finger at Ukyo. "It cost me a pretty penny to get the story of Akane and Ranma's kiss, not to mention your little feud with Ryoga in the woods, out of the Amazons. It's not that I expect you to trust me, but the way I see it, you owe me, for not thinking I'd be interested in the 'juicy details'."
Ukyo laughed a little. "You may be right. Actually, the truth is, I've kind of come to the same conclusion myself. It's obviously too dangerous to keep you in the dark, because then we can't control what you find out, and what you do with that information."
Her expression turned pensive. "The bathhouse, for instance. We got lucky, but if Ranchan turned into me on the guy's side, you know all everyone would be talking about tomorrow at school would be how Ukyo the cross-dressing pervert showed off her body to all the men at the public baths."
There was a moment of silence while Ukyo wrapped her arms around herself, too caught up in her disquieting thoughts to continue. Then Nabiki spoke up. "Well, at least we foresaw the possibility, and you brought along a bathing suit for him. Like you, I was hoping we wouldn't have to use it, but I suppose we'll know better next time. And Ryoga did come through for you."
Nabiki paused a moment, looking a bit uncomfortable as well. "I'll admit that there are some things that even I am not willing to sell. We would've come up with an explanation. I don't know if the other students would have bought it." Nabiki then grinned, her smug confidence returning. "But I would have sold it."
"Thanks." Ukyo didn't smile, but she did nod. "I'll try to keep you more in the loop from now on. However, I might have another idea. You've already proven that you're good with money, and you've got a drive to turn a profit. How would you like to put that drive to work... for me?"
Nabiki sat up straight in her chair. "Oh? You're thinking of going into business?"
"More like... buying into one." Ukyo did smile, now. "It's a bit late for me to be starting off with my own shop, learning how to cook again, and all the details of running a restaurant. However, Shampoo and Cologne have expressed an interest in my coming to work for them. I figure that's the best way for me to get on my feet again, to become the chef that my father was... that I was starting to become, before Genma took me away from my home.
"I'm not gonna just be some waitress, though." Ukyo shook her head. "If I'm going to start my okonomiyaki business, I'm going to have a stake in it... and I'm going to make okonomiyaki, not Chinese dishes. I don't mind learning whatever Cologne has to teach me, just so I can become a better chef, but okonomiyaki is my life."
"So that's why you're thinking of buying into it," Nabiki guessed. "You're thinking of buying... what, fifty percent of the business? So you can have an equal partnership with Cologne?"
"Well... that's where you come in." Ukyo smirked, knowingly. "I need you to find out just how much the Cat Cafe is worth, and how much I need to invest to match it. There's an empty shop right next door to the Cafe. I was thinking of buying it up, tearing down the walls between them, and joining the two shops. It'll have its own entrance, and I can set up an open griddle where I can make okonomiyaki, for lunch. Then, when the dinner crowds come in, we can close down the grill, and open up the tables to the Cat Cafe's customers. I can help out Cologne in the kitchen, or wait tables, or both."
Nabiki's eyes had grown brighter and brighter as Ukyo spoke. She now sat on the edge of her chair. "And how do you expect to pay for this?" she asked. "I hope you don't think *I* have a lot of money. Most of what I deal with is chump change. I've put some aside for college, but not a lot, and it would be quite a risk to invest that in something that could take years to turn a profit."
Ukyo's grin grew wider. "That's why I was thinking that we need an investor. Someone with a LOT of money, just sitting around. Someone that you deal with on a regular basis, so you know how to... interest him in a purchase. And it wouldn't hurt if he's a bit stupid. And if this person, that happens to have a whole lot of money, just might so happen to have a CRUSH on me... ?
Her grin was now positively diabolic. "Do you think we might know somebody like that?"
Nabiki's grin matched Ukyo's perfectly. "Oh, I think we might."
The two girls broke out laughing, and then Ukyo turned more serious. "I've got a little money myself, that I've saved up on the road. I had to keep it away from the Old Man, so it's not much. But I always intended to use it to help me start my business. I figure with that, with what you can provide, and a lot of help from Kuno, we can go to the Amazons with a really good deal. Something they would be stupid to turn down."
Nabiki studied her face for a moment. "Are you planning to try and make Shampoo give up on Ranma?"
"More like Cologne, but yeah, I hope to work with Shampoo as well. She likes me, and I think she trusts me. She doesn't want to give up, but hopefully I can talk to her about it. And Mousse, too. I'd kind of like to see those two together."
"You sure did well with Ranma and Akane," Nabiki said with a chuckle.
Ukyo blushed and looked at the ground. "Well... I didn't do that much."
"You did more than you think you did. I know my little sister, and between smoothing things over with that jackass of a brother you've got, and teaching her how to REALLY be a martial artist... you've made her happier than she's been in years."
Nabiki paused a moment. "Which, I guess, I owe you for."
Ukyo continued to look embarrassed, but she smiled.
"All right. I think the first thing we need to do is draw up a contract." Nabiki turned back to her desk, and began to pull out paperwork. "For you and me, of course, but also for the Amazons. We'll want to make clear that we're buying up half ownership of the Cat Cafe. I also recommend you make an offer to buy up the other half in total, should they decide to return to China. That will give them a quick out, and make it easier for them to decide that way."
Ukyo's expression turned serious as well. "That sounds good. I do want to make clear, though, that you're a silent partner in this business. While you'll be helping me to negotiate with Cologne, *I'm* the one that's buying interest in this restaurant. I don't want you looking over my shoulder, or trying to tell me how to run inventory or set prices. That's my job; it's what I was born and raised to do. You may know your way around money, but I'm guessing you don't know your way around a kitchen. And unlike Akane, you don't wanna know."
"You got that right." Nabiki turned back and eyed her, coolly, over her shoulder. "But you're essentially jumping in with both feet, here. Are you sure you're ready for that?"
"I'd better be," Ukyo said, unflinchingly meeting the older girl's gaze. "If I'm not, I'd better find out now, and not later. But there are some lessons you never forget. I may have been out of the business for ten years, but working for Cologne I've found a lot of it coming back to me. And I've really missed it...
"If nothing else, I'll have Cologne to help me out. Which is the other reason I don't want any outside interference, I'm going to have enough trouble dealing with her. That means I don't want Kuno coming around thinking he can order me around or anything either. I'll make sure both you and he continue to get good returns on your investments, all I ask is that let me run things the way I want to."
"You seem pretty sure of yourself. You're taking a big risk, you know."
Ukyo nodded. "I'll put it this way. If you want to invest your college money, I'll make sure you get it back after a year. I'll take a loss to make sure you get it back, with interest."
Nabiki turned back in her chair. "Somehow, I don't think it'll come to that. Between you and Cologne, I'm betting my money's safe. If you'll cover my college tuition, I believe I can spare the whole thing. And I'll get you a good rate on Kuno-baby's investment as well."
Ukyo grinned. "So when you wanna tell the Amazons?"
"I think we can set up an appointment tomorrow, if you like. If you're serious about working with the Amazons, though, you might want to see this."
Nabiki turned in her chair and opened her desk drawer. Then she pulled out the book. She handed it to Ukyo, who studied it closely.
"What is this?" Ukyo asked.
"The Laws of the Amazons", Nabiki answered with a grin. "And not that abridged version with the Japanese translation that they give to the tourists. No, I had some contacts help me find the real thing, direct from the Joketsuzoku."
She pointed at the book. "You'll notice it's written in Mandarin. I've been working on translating it myself, and my contact gave me some suggestions on the best places to look. It's rough going, but this is what I've got so far." Nabiki pulled out the notebook, and handed it to Ukyo as well.
"So you've been trying to help Ranma find a way out of the Kiss of Marriage?" Ukyo asked her.
Nabiki folded her hands, steepling her fingers. "Well, if I could find that information, it would be worth a lot to both you and Ranma. But unfortunately, I haven't found anything like that so far."
Ukyo gave her a guarded look. "So what are you giving this to me for? You expectin' a finder's fee?"
"Not at all." Nabiki waved a hand. "I just figured with our new... partnership... you might like to know I have it. And in the spirit of good faith, I might be able to give you some information that could help you."
"Well, Shampoo's claim isn't nearly as strong as she and Cologne have led us to believe. I found that out from a little conversation I... overheard, between her and Cologne. That it was Kuno that defeated her and not Ranma puts her claim on somewhat shaky ground. It's nothing they can't get around, as long as Shampoo is set on having Ranma, but it does make it a bit better for us if we have to challenge it to the Council."
"Of course, to do that, we'd have to go to China." Ukyo was flipping through the pages of Nabiki's translation.
"And that's if the Council will even listen to us. It would likely come down to a battle between one of you and Shampoo, in a challenge over Ranma." Nabiki's expression soured a bit. "Akane likely wouldn't be allowed to challenge as she's an 'outsider', or if she did win, it would most certainly be grounds for the Kiss of Death. You might have a chance, since they consider you a 'Shield Sister', but I'm not really sure what that means..."
Nabiki blew out a breath as she considered. "I'm not sure if it helps in any way, but supposedly there is a way to counteract the Kiss of Death. It is possible for one warrior to challenge an Amazon as a replacement for another, who is unable to answer the Kiss of Death."
"In other words, someone else could sacrifice their life to satisfy the Kiss of Death." Ukyo scowled. "That's not very helpful. Ranma doesn't seem to be subject to it now that they know he's male, and neither Akane nor I have actually received a Kiss of Death."
Nabiki nodded. "It's a good thing Akane got Shampoo to kiss Ryoga instead - although I overheard Cologne say that doesn't count as a Kiss of Marriage. Too bad, because I can't think of anything funnier than either Kuno or Pig Boy getting stuck with Shampoo."
"I don't know about Ryoga, but I don't think even Shampoo deserves to get stuck with Kuno," Ukyo said. "Even I don't want to do something that horrible to her." Both girls laughed, at that.
"Well, I will keep looking into it," Nabiki said, taking the booklet and notebook back from Ukyo. "I'm not sure there is a way out of the Kiss of Marriage, but it can't hurt to look."
"No way! Forget it! I'm not doing it!"
"But Akane! You're our only chance to win the drama contest! Please, you're the only one who can play the lead!"
Ranma studied the two weird actors that had approached Akane while they were cleaning the classroom. He couldn't help but laugh to himself. One of them was dressed as some sort of clown, while the other was wearing a Godzilla costume. Ranma, of course, didn't know what a Harlequin was, but he did think they looked pretty ridiculous.
"Me? The lead role?" Akane asked, her tone scornful. "Let me guess. A warrior princess. Or maybe a girl hiding out as a samurai in an army troop." Her eyes narrowed. "Or even worse... some jungle queen in a skimpy bikini. Is that what you're thinking?" She shook her fist, as the two actors backed away, warily.
Ranma laughed again. "You'd be perfect for it, Akane!"
She turned to glare at him, although there was a hint of pink to her cheeks. "Oh, you'd like to see me in a skimpy bikini, huh pervert?" Although she sounded mad, there was a bit of a hopeful look in her eyes.
"Of course not!" Ranma protested, the reflex almost automatic. "You're just such a gorilla it's the perfect role for you."
"Ranma!" She swung her broom at him, and he jumped over it.
"What's the matter, Akane?" Ukyo asked, coming up to join them. "It sounds like it'd be fun."
"You think so?" Akane grabbed Ukyo by the shoulders, and turned her around to face the two boys. "Here! Here's your lead actress. She's strong, she's agile, she does her own stunts, she's even the one who trained me! She'd be WAY better at it than I would."
Ukyo looked a bit caught off guard. "Hey, Akane, I don't know if I'd say I'd be better just because we trained together..."
"Look, I hate plays, okay!" she said, to Ukyo. "You do it!"
"But she's a cross-dresser," the Harlequin shot back. "We need an actress that's willing to wear a dress."
Ukyo snarled at him. "CROSS-DRESSER? I AM NOT A CROSS-DRESSER! I just... I just find pants more comfortable, that's all..." She looked down, blushing and pushing her fingertips together.
Akane stared at him in surprise, completely ignoring Ukyo's response. "What do you mean... you need an actress that's willing to wear a dress?"
The actor glanced at Ukyo, then back at Akane. "What Juliet wouldn't be wearing a dress?"
Akane gaped in astonishment, her eyes suddenly shining. "Juliet? Did you say Juliet? As in Romeo and Juliet?" She suddenly grabbed the boy's hands. "I'll do it!"
Ukyo gave her a sidelong glance. "I thought you said you hated plays."
"That's before I found out it was Juliet." She turned back to the Harlequin, almost begging him. "Please, you've got to let me play Juliet!"
"So you'll do it! Great!" The boy looked relieved, as did his reptilian partner. "Now all we need to do is cast a Romeo."
Akane suddenly turned beet red. She looked at Ranma, while at the same moment the Harlequin eyed Ukyo suggestively. Ukyo stared back at him, and then turned red herself as she realized what he was thinking.
"NO WAY! THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY!"
Akane glanced at her and, amazingly, her blush grew even deeper. Her uncomfortable moment was interrupted as Kuno popped up in front of her. She drew back, disgusted, as he took her hand.
"Alas, poor Juliet, I knew her well. Let me kiss again those lips I have kissed I know not how oft."
"Eh?" Akane stared aghast at Kuno for a moment, then frowned. "That's Hamlet, Kuno. You're confused."
"Wouldn't be the first time," Ukyo commented.
"And who said that you could try out?" the Harlequin asked him.
Kuno looked disdainfully down on him. "I could call my father to have him send me permission."
The Harlequin turned even whiter than his makeup. "I don't think that'll be necessary."
"Wait! Wait! I was promised the lead role!" Hikaru Gosunkugi rushed in, and tried to impale Kuno with one of his voodoo spikes. Instead, Kuno sidestepped him, and he just hammered it into one of the desks.
"At my age, playing Romeo isn't going to be easy." All eyes turned to see Happosai, posed in a spotlight that had somehow appeared around him. "But for the chance to do a love scene with my sweet Akane... I'll do it!"
He leaped at Akane's chest, but Ranma stomped on him. Akane looked up to give him a grateful smile, then swallowed and looked away. Ranma became a little concerned, as Akane wrapped her arms around herself, and blushed very deeply. He was worried that the old pervert had embarrassed her or something, but as Akane looked into his eyes he saw something there. It was a look he had seen before, whenever she was getting up the nerve to get closer to him. Most recently, he had seen it when he was staring at her, while she was wearing nothing but her bra and gym shorts.
Akane took a deep breath to steel her resolve, although her heart was pounding. Looking up at the Harlequin, she took on a determined expression. "I think Ranma should take the role of Romeo. Not that I care about the baka or anything but... he IS my fiancé. And I think I trust him not to go too far in our scenes together."
Ranma was really worried, now. "Whaddya talkin' about, Akane?"
Kuno did not let her answer, however. "That fiend?" he asked, pointing at Ranma disdainfully. "Play Romeo, to your fair Juliet? Surely you must jest, my love. It must be some foul spell that compels you to say otherwise, that the lead role should be played by anyone other than the great Tatewaki Kuno, the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High."
"If this Romeo is a pompous windbag, Kuno, you'd be perfect to play him," Ukyo said, causing Akane to shoot her a dirty look. Ukyo then added, "But I don't think Akane wants you to play Romeo." Akane's frown faded as she blushed and looked away.
"But... but..." Gosunkugi stuttered, putting his hands to his face. He looked like he wanted to protest, but was too timid to speak up.
"Of course Akane wants me to play Romeo," Kuno said, sweeping Ukyo into his arms. She slugged him in the face. "As do you, and if you were not under the spell of that fiend, you would say so. But do not worry, my love, I know the thoughts of your heart."
"That'll be the day," Ukyo said, and she sent Kuno sprawling with her second punch.
"I don't think there's any reason for tryouts," Happosai said, with a challenging sneer. "Why don't we all just settle this, right here and now?"
"Hey!" Ranma cut in. "I haven't agreed ta do nothin'!"
Kuno pulled himself to his feet. "A Battle Royale, over the part of Romeo? I accept!"
"Battle? Wait, no!" Akane tried to interrupt, but nobody was paying attention to her. She swallowed, trying to regain her focus. "I think Ranma should..."
"Hold it, hold it!" The Harlequin finally cut in, as he was also feeling his control over the situation slipping. "If we do not hold auditions, how do we know who is best for the role? Do any of you even know the play Romeo and Juliet?"
"Of course," Kuno said coolly. "It is a samurai drama, is it not?"
Gosunkugi stared at them with his wide, unblinking eyes. "I am in the Drama Club, of course I know it," he said. He then bent over, making his voice hoarse and high-pitched. "Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble..."
"That's Macbeth!" Akane shouted. Although she sounded angry, she just felt overwhelmed. She almost said "Taming of the Shrew".
The Harlequin turned to his partner in the Godzilla suit. "Oh, this is a disaster. We are never going to win that Community Theater prize to see China."
"China!" Ukyo suddenly perked up, as did Ranma. But while she turned to him, excited, he just looked thoughtful. "We could get you your cure, Ranchan!" Ukyo said.
Ranma looked at Akane, who just stared back at him. In the inside, the black haired tomboy felt like her head was spinning. She didn't know whether to be angry, embarrassed, frightened, flustered, or what. A cure? There was a cure for him in this?
"Nah," Ranma said, "I don't wanna be cured, but we could give the ticket ta Ryoga or somethin', right Akane? Or I could go along with him." He stared at her for a moment, as he noticed the unfocused look in her eyes. "Akane, you okay?"
Akane tried her best to concentrate on what Ranma was saying. She knew Ranma didn't want to be cured, but she remembered how unhappy he was when he thought his cure was lost. Did she want him to be cured? That's not important right now, she told herself, I've got the chance to play Juliet, but that means... that means Ranma and I...
"It is obvious she is overwhelmed by the thought of her love for me," Kuno said. With that, he strode boldly forward to embrace her. This startled Akane out of her stupor, and she shoved him away from her, snarling.
The two Drama Club students were looking at each other. "What are we going to do? We can't just let them fight it out, but what choice do we have?"
"Leave Akane alone!" Ranma grabbed Kuno and pulled him away. "All right, Kuno. You wanna fight me, I'll fight ya."
"No!" Akane protested.
"That's the spirit, my boy!" Happosai chortled. He and Ranma both fell into a stance, as Kuno drew his sword.
"I've got a better idea!" Gosunkugi suddenly yelled. He paused, and gulped when the others all looked at him. Then he swallowed. I can't possibly fight them, he told himself. I've got to come up with something else.
"Why don't we wait until the day of the play, and settle this on stage! We can all four fight, as Romeo, and let the AUDIENCE decide!" That might give me a chance, he thought. I don't have to fight, I just have to make it LOOK good for the audience.
This seemed to interest the Harlequin. "Yes, that might work! Four Romeos, all fighting for the hand of Juliet! It's so new, so exciting! The audience will love it!"
"What?" Akane seemed to no longer be confused, having settled on anger as her prevailing mood. "You can't possibly be listening to these idiots!"
Ranma, unfortunately, had not noticed. "That sounds good to me," he said, eyeing Kuno and Happosai with a smirk. "We'll wait until the play, and then we'll see who the best Romeo is."
He was surprised as Akane grabbed him and spun him around. Then she slapped him across the face. "You're ruining everything! This is a LOVE STORY, not a brawl!"
Ranma felt his heart sink in his chest. "I thought you cared about me!" Akane cried, tears streaming down her cheeks. Her face was scarlet with anger, but it was the hurt in her eyes that made Ranma swallow and look away. "I thought you understood! But you're just fighting over me, like I'm some sort of prize again! This was my chance! And you've... and you've... YOU'VE TURNED IT INTO SOME SORT OF GAME!"
She turned away, putting an arm over her face to hide the tears. "Just leave me alone, Ranma! Do the play yourself if you want. I don't care anymore..." With that, she ran out of the classroom.
"Now look what you've done!" Kuno snapped, as Ranma stared at Akane's retreating back. "How dare you toy with my fierce tigress' affections, you cad! Have you no shame?"
Ranma looked back at him, now growing mad himself. "I didn't do nothin'! You're the one that messed everything up! I didn't wanna be in no dumb play anyway!"
"But now who can play Juliet to my magnificent performance as Romeo?" Kuno asked, melodramatically. "Who, I ask you?"
He turned to Ukyo. "Come, my ponytailed goddess. Agree to be Juliet and we can proclaim our love on the stage." He took her hands. "It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!"
If Ukyo had realized Kuno had finally chosen the right play, she might have laughed. As it was, she just kicked him into Happosai. She then turned to Ranma. "You'd better go after her, Bro. I don't know what's goin' on, but I think this was really important to her. She may be mad, but I think she needs you to tell her not to give up."
She paused a moment. "And you'd better tell her you're sorry."
"Hey, I didn't..." Ranma cut himself off as Ukyo just stared at him. Then he hung his head. "Okay." He turned and walked out of the room.
Akane wasn't anywhere to be seen in the halls or the courtyard of Furinkan, and so Ranma headed out the gates and down the street towards home. Sure enough, he found Akane stalking along on the sidewalk, her shoulders hunched over. From time to time she would sniffle and wipe her eyes. Ranma hurried up until he was just close enough that she would know he was there. She straightened up and tried to wipe her tears away.
"What do you want?" She finally asked.
"Uh... um..." Ranma finally just sighed. "Sorry, Akane."
She snorted, and turned to face away from him. "Sure you are."
"Hey, I am! I didn't wanna be in no dumb play!"
Akane shot him a glare that, if it were an Anything Goes technique, would have reduced him to ash in seconds. Then she looked away again.
Damn it. Ranma put his hand behind his head. "Sorry. Again. Um... I just meant..." He sighed again. "It's not a dumb play... I guess... if you wanna be in it. If you don't want me to be Romeo, then I won't be."
She turned on him, her eyes flashing. "IDIOT! MORON! JACKASS! So you think I'm just going to let Kuno or Happosai kiss me!" She slapped him again, with enough force this time to knock him sprawling to the ground. "No one touches my lips but you! Got that?"
Ranma's eyes widened in shock, even as he rubbed at his cheek. "KISSING? NOBODY SAID NOTHIN' ABOUT KISSING!"
Akane's scowl grew even more intense, her eyebrows drawing together. "Do you even know who Romeo and Juliet are to each other?"
"Um..." Ranma swallowed, hard. All of a sudden he remembered Akane saying "This is a love story". And Happosai's comment about doing a love scene with her. "Um... no?"
The angry expression relaxed slightly, but only slightly. "Well. Fine then. Come on." With that, Akane grabbed Ranma's hand, and began to drag him down the street. Ranma tried to protest, but Akane ignored both his complaints and his attempts to break free. By the time they reached the Tendo home, Ranma had nearly stumbled and fallen on his face five times, and he would have, if Akane's momentum hadn't carried him along.
She dragged him in the front door, without even making a greeting, and up the stairs. She finally came to a stop in her room, and let him go. Ranma rubbed his wrist to try and get the circulation going again. Meanwhile, Akane began to dig in her wardrobe, and began moving things around in the very bottom drawer.
Finally moving a bunch of her older clothes aside, she pulled out a stack of papers. Ranma could see the title "Romeo and Juliet" typewritten on the top page. She walked over to Ranma, still frowning, and smacked the papers into his chest.
"Here," she said, wrapping his arms around the pages. "Read it. Baka." She then grabbed him by the shoulders, and forcefully shoved him out of her room. Her door slammed behind him with a bang.
"So who is this Romeo guy, Pops?" Ranma asked his father.
The panda held up a sign. "I think he's from the planet Krypton."
Ranma shook his head, walking past Genma into the family room. "Shoulda known he'd be no help."
"Didn't Akane give you that script?" Ukyo asked him, pointing at the stack of papers that he had been struggling with all evening. "Why haven't you read it yet?"
"I can't make heads or tails of the fool thing!" He complained. "It's written like Kuno talks!"
"What? Let me see it." Ukyo took the script away from him, and leafed through a few pages. "Geez, you're right. It's like readin' some of those old technique scrolls we used to find on the training trip. Sounds like it was written a hundred years ago."
"Is Akane doing Romeo and Juliet again?" Kasumi asked, coming in from the kitchen with a tray holding several cups of tea. "Oh, I hope she gets to be Juliet this time..."
"This time?" Ukyo looked up, interested.
"Yes, her elementary school did the play, when she was younger," Kasumi said.
Ah, Ukyo thought to herself. So that's it. She missed her chance to be Juliet. "Did the other kids not think she was good enough to play the lead role?" she asked out loud.
"No, actually, they all wanted her for the lead. The other children all praised her and said she would do a very good job. But..." Kasumi smiled brightly, but with a hint of discomfort. "They asked her to play Romeo."
"Romeo?" Ukyo looked back at the script. "That's the guy's role! Right?"
"Yes. She was so athletic and knew martial arts and Kendo so well. The other children all insisted that she play Romeo."
"Heh." Ranma grinned widely. "I can just see the tomboy. She musta really looked the part."
Ukyo slapped him upside the head. "Shut up, Ranchan. That's obviously it. It was Juliet that she really wanted to be."
"So what?" Ranma rubbed his head, while he scowled at his sister. "It's her own fault for bein' more of a boy than the boys in her class."
"Jackass. Listen, Ranma, how would you feel if that Drama Club guy had asked you to play Juliet? Say, you were in girl form, and he thought he was asking me."
"I ain't gonna play no silly girl!"
"Yeah, and I don't wanna play no stupid guy, either. And neither does Akane. I'm a girl, and I'd rather play a girl, thank you."
Ukyo scowled, remembering the way the director had looked at her, like he was considering her for Romeo. So I wear boy's clothes, she said to herself, that doesn't make me a boy!
"You'd feel pretty bad," she told Ranma, "if everyone talked about what a great girl you were and how pretty you were and what a perfect Juliet you made. I bet you'd be pretty mad."
He was. Ranma clenched his teeth, growling as he considered it. "Yeah, I'd be pretty mad all right. I've punched guys for less than that. Ryoga, for one."
Suddenly, Ranma remembered his conversation with Ryoga in the equipment shed, and telling him that Akane wanted him to say she was pretty. His mind shot him an image of the look on her face when he called her cute, when she was standing there in the girl's locker room.
Ukyo continued, not noticing his change in mood. "Now say you get your chance to play Romeo instead. You get to show what a big man you are. But me, and Akane and Shampoo all start fighting over who is going to be Juliet. And who's gonna get ta give you a great big, sloppy smooch..." She winked at him.
"Ew!" Ranma shook his head, his thoughts returning abruptly to the present. "Thanks a lot, Sis! I didn't need you to say that!" He shuddered again, his mouth twisting into a grimace. "But I get the point. Akane finally got her chance to be Juliet. And I turned it into some kinda joke."
Ukyo smacked him across the head again. "'Bout time you got it, jackass."
"All right, all right. But I still don't even know what the play's about! Or why it's written in all this flowery stuff..."
"You've really never heard of Romeo and Juliet?" Kasumi asked him. "It's a very famous play by William Shakespeare."
"I've never heard of it either," Ukyo said. "Or at least, I've never seen it. I think I may have heard the name. The Old Man didn't take us to many plays or shows. I thought it was some American movie."
"Romeo and Juliet are the original 'star-crossed lovers'," Kasumi said gently. "But their fathers are enemies. So they have to hide their love."
Ranma looked surprised. "Huh. That's funny. It's kinda like us, only the other way around. Our fathers want us to get married." He then suddenly started to turn pink. "Um, not that I... uh... you know, not like I wanna marry Akane or anything."
Kasumi smiled at him. "I'm sure you'll do fine, Ranma. It's just a school play, after all. Just have fun and enjoy yourself."
Ranma blushed and cut his eyes up at Kasumi. "I'm gonna have ta kiss Akane, ain't I?"
"Maybe." Her smile grew wider. "But Akane must really trust you if she's willing to do a scene like that with you. I'm sure that you won't go too far."
"No, no, of course not!" Ranma waved his hands, nervously. "It's just a play, like you said! It's just pretend! Right?" He turned to Ukyo for her confirmation, and although she grinned impishly at him, she nodded.
"Whaddya say, Ranchan?" she asked him. "Why don't you go tell Akane you'll do the play with her? In the meantime, I'll hold onto this, and see if I can figure it out for you." She indicated the script.
Ranma looked thoughtful for a few minutes more. Then, his mind made up, he stood. "Okay, Sis. I'll go talk to Akane. Although I hope she's not still mad..."
He walked upstairs to Akane's room. There, he hesitated before knocking on the door, staring at the wooden duck that held Akane's name. Despite his determination, he still wasn't sure if Akane had calmed down. Taking a deep breath, he knocked.
"Come on in," Akane said. Her voice was soft, and a little regretful, which seemed like a good sign.
As he opened the door, she turned over on her bed, and sat up to look at him. He could see that her eyes were still red from crying, but the tear stains were gone. As he stared at her, she studied him for a minute, her expression serious. Then she patted the bed next to her. "So did you read it, Ranma?"
"Not yet," Ranma said, a little sheepishly. "But Kasumi explained it to me." He walked over to the bed and sat down. As he did, her eyes widened, and she grabbed his head, turning his face to look at the welt she had left on his cheek.
"Oh, Ranma! Did I do that?" She sighed deeply, and then winced as she traced the mark with her fingers. "I really lost it, didn't I? I'm sorry..."
"Nah, it don't bother me," he said. "Besides, I was bein' a jerk. I'm sorry too, Akane. This was your fight. This was your chance to show everyone that you can be a really great Juliet, and I just messed it up."
Akane's eyes widened in shock. Then she suddenly put a hand to her face, to wipe away an unexpected tear. "Well, it may not bother you, Ranma, but it bothers me. It's a weakness, Ranma, and I've just got to keep working on it."
She paused a moment, then continued, a little of her old contrariness returning. "So, if you haven't finished it, what did you come in here for?"
Ranma stared down at the bed, blushing. "I just wanted you to know that, um... I think you'll make a really... pretty... Juliet. An' I'm sure you'll do a great job."
Akane turned just as red. She found she couldn't look at Ranma, either. "Oh. Thanks."
Finally, Ranma worked up the courage to turn back to her, and took her hand. Akane jumped a little, surprised. "I also wanted ya to know, I don't know nothin' about plays, and I may not know how to say all that flowery stuff, and I don't know how I'm gonna remember all those lines." Ranma frowned to himself, and Akane giggled a bit. "But I'm gonna try and be the best Romeo I can for you."
Ranma stared at her. "If this is important to you, then..." Akane found her breath catch in her throat, her heart pounding. "Then it's important to me."
He then looked away again. "Even if I have ta... you know... kiss ya."
Akane folded her hands in her lap, also looking down at her bed. "Well... Ranma... you don't really mind kissing me. Do you?" She sounded uncertain.
"Of course not! Just... not in front of an audience."
"Yeah, I know." When Ranma looked back at her, she wrapped her arms around him, drawing him into a tight embrace. "I feel the same way. As long as we're alone, right?"
After a few moments, Akane released him, and sat back. "We really don't have to kiss," she said. "No one will ever know for sure with us up on stage, we'll be too far away."
Ranma looked relieved, but at the same time disappointed. She smiled at his expression. "All right, Ranma," Akane said. "Tomorrow I'll tell them that I'll do the play, on two conditions. The first is that you will play Romeo. If they won't accept that, then I won't play Juliet. There's not going to be some free-for-all over me and who is going to play Romeo.
"The second is that you won't kiss me for real. I'll say that you're my fiancé, which is the only reason I'm even considering it, but we're really just friends and you're the only one I trust to make it look real without actually kissing me. As far as everyone knows, including our parents, our lips won't actually touch."
Her cheeks turned pink, and she lowered her head a bit, to look out at him through her eyelashes. "Although... if, in the heat of the moment, well, you really want to... I'll give you permission to kiss me. As long as I say it didn't really happen - and Nabiki doesn't take any pictures - they'll have to believe me."
"Okay." Ranma swallowed, and tried to figure out whether that meant she would be more disappointed in him if he didn't try. Akane's coy but embarrassed expression didn't seem to tell him either way.
She smiled brightly at his agreement, and Ranma grew even more nervous. She just looked so cute when she was happy like that.
Akane didn't seem to notice. "Hopefully," she said, "once they learn I'm not willing to kiss Romeo for real, Kuno and Happosai will give up on it. Otherwise, I was thinking Kuno would be perfect for the role of Paris. We can tell him he's the other man fighting for Juliet's heart."
"Ugh. Don't ya think he'll just cause us more trouble?" Ranma asked her, shaking his head in disgust.
"Not really." Her grin turned impish. "In the end, Romeo kills him!"