Warning: These characters are not mine. I like them but they're not mine at all.
Akane growled at her fiance. "For crying out loud, Ranma," she chided him. "Don't you think I've had enough of your insults already?!"
Ukyo knew she was chiding and not mallet-ready through almost a whole year of observation.
"You've had enough?" Ranma returned. "What about me?"
"Children, children," Nabiki scolded, emerging onto the back stoop. Ukyo raised an eyebrow from her position behind the bushes. It was seldom if ever that Nabiki involved herself in an argument between anyone, much less between Ranma and her sister. In fact, if Ukyo didn't know any better (and she did not, really) she would think that the mercenary girl encouraged the two, sometimes.
Ukyo's beautiful fiance and that tomboy turned to face Nabiki as one. "What?" Ranma demanded.
Nabiki shrugged, the motion langourous and almost sinuous. "The two of you sound like a broken record," she informed them dryly. "Invent some new insults or move someplace else. Where I can't hear you."
Grumbling, the two wandered off into the street to go for a walk. A romantic walk in the twilight! There were all sorts of terrible things that might happen. Ukyo wanted to follow, but she had to wait until Akane's clever sister moved inside before heading after the pair.
"You might as well stand up," Nabiki said conversationally, "since I already know you're over there."
Ukyo sat perfectly still, resting on her haunches, not even breathing, willing her heart itself to slow and be silent.
"Kuonji, lurking in bushes does not become us."
Ukyo sighed and stood, brushing leaves off of her black boys' uniform. "How'd you know it was me?" she demanded, trying to sound as though she was not put off, not one bit.
Nabiki smiled. "So I am even more talented than you'd previously imagined – hard as that may be to believe. What about it?"
Ukyo grumbled something under her breath about tomboys and mercenaries (not, of course, able to say a word about homemakers – Kasumi was, as always, immune.)
"Come and sit," Nabiki ordered, beckoning towards the porch with an imperious hand.
Ukyo's gaze swept longingly in the direction of Akane and Ranma and her mind flew along ahead of her, speaking of date-destruction in tones of the greatest anticipation. Her eyes only flickered for a moment, but Nabiki caught it, of course.
"Come on, Ukyo, dear, you know I can easily make your life a living hell," Nabiki told her pleasantly, arranging herself comfortably and spreading a blanket over her knees. It was almost summer, but there was a chill wind in the air.
Sighing, Ukyo joined her, surprised when Nabiki threw the rest of the blanket over the chef's knees. She offered Nabiki a tentative smile, which Nabiki returned in her own, sharklike way. "You're a decent sort, Ukyo," Nabiki told her in an everyday voice that confused the chef to no end. The mercenary looked her up and down, then, not in a way that a boy might do, but in a way that was something like the way a dealer in horseflesh looks at a horse.
Ukyo blushed, somewhat embarrassed by Nabiki's close scrutiny. "What're you looking at?" she demanded.
Nabiki offered up a half-smile. "You're always saying that you're the cute fiancee. I was wondering if you were honestly cuter than my little sister or Shampoo. They're both awfully cute, you know."
Ukyo was puzzled by the strange direction the conversation was taking, but still felt her heart fill with wounded pride. "It's that Ranchan said I was cute," she replied stiffly. "Sure, we're all cute, in our own ways," she continued, picturing her rivals' faces for a moment and actually considering the matter, "but I'm the cutest." She paused. "Besides, 'kawaii' is mistranslated as 'cute'; the meaning is really closer to 'desirable'. And I'm the most desirable for sure."
Nabiki blinked. "Goodness! Where did that fourth wall go?" She chuckled. "By the traditional definition of the word, then, you are the cutest. You can cook, you're sweet most of the time, and you're a successful businesswoman. Quite the catch. In fact, if I happened to run that way, I'd snatch you up myself."
Ukyo blushed, finding herself all too aware of the fact that her left knee was in contact with Nabiki's right. "Yeah?" she queried.
"Oh, sure," the other girl replied readily. "It's really too bad you're not a boy for real." She smiled crookedly. "But you're still not the cutest."
Ukyo found herself someplace between frustrated and unbearably curious. The curiosity won. "And why's that?" she delivered woodenly, with a whoosh of breathy resignation.
"Oh – it's pretty simple, really. My sister's smile."
"Her... smile? But I have a nice smile..."
"Yes, of course you do, but it's not... hn, blinding. And you don't have to be a boy to fall for it, either. How else do you think Akane has over half the male population actually fighting her physically for a date? It's like the really old days, when the male version of romance was to bonk a girl over the head and drag her home by the hair. She excites something very primal in men, even when she doesn't smile. Why d'you think Ranma gets so weird over her?"
Ukyo wasn't sure if Nabiki was actually joking or not. But... "Well, I always did wonder why none of the girls at Furinkan got super-jealous of her, Ukyo replied carefully. "She IS rendering all of them dateless and all of their former boyfriends incapacitated."
Nabiki nodded, once. "Of course. But no one's ever even challenged her on it. She's the most popular girl in school, and she never even tries. It's like low-level enchantment, or something."
The word 'enchantment' did something to Ukyo. She barked a laugh. "Aw c'mon, what are you trying to do? Get me to give up Ranchan?" she scoffed. "What do you take me for? I was NOT born yesterday, y'know!"
Nabiki shrugged, a rather wicked look coming into her eyes. "Want to make that a bet?"
Ukyo viewed the middle Tendo daughter warily out of the corner of her eye. It was NEVER wise to be against Nabiki. But this was such a stupid kind of game, and Ukyo was awfully good at small games. Nabiki was only trying to make a fool of her, anyway. "Fine then," Ukyo said, steel in her tone. "Let's hear the terms."
"If you actually withstand the force of the 100-megawatt smile, I'll get you a date with Ranma," Nabiki stated firmly.
"And what do you get if I don't?" Ukyo felt like giggling. There was no WAY she'd fall under the spell of a girl's smile, of all things.
"YOUR IMMORTAL SOUUULLL!!!!" Nabiki cried, as lightning flashed and thunder rolled in the background.
"Aiiieee!!!" Ukyo articulated.
"Just kidding, just kidding," Nabiki assured her, waving her hand placatingly. "Nothing so... intangible. 10,000 yen."
"Ten thousand?!" Ukyo growled. "Well, it IS an impossible bet. Fine. Fine. But how should I get her to smile, anyway?"
Nabiki shrugged. "That's your business. But it has to be you who makes her smile, of course."
The next morning, Ukyo grilled Nabiki, finding out what Akane liked. The list was pretty simple. Home-baked cookies. Respect. A certain pig-tailed martial artist. Respect. Sincerity. And Respect.
Ukyo caught the dark-haired girl at lunch. Akane was sitting under the oak tree by the gym and biting into the contents of her bento with unwonted intensity.
"Mind if I join you?"
Akane's startled gaze met her own, and she offered a tentative smile. Too bad Nabiki had specified that it had to be her hundred-megawatt, or the game would be over. "Sure," she said, and patted the grass next to her.
"The bento didn't do anything wrong, did it?" Ukyo queried lightly. It was a bad joke, but it was a joke, anyway.
Akane's smile turned bitter. "Nothing you'd like to hear about," she replied, rendering her sandwich gone with such ferocity that Ukyo actually felt bad for it.
"Lay it on me, sugar," Ukyo told her firmly.
Akane blinked at her in surprise, looking almost impossibly kawaii. It was the first time Ukyo had ever called her that. "Okay."
Ukyo shook her head to rid it of the image of Akane looking up at her so innocently. It was just not right to feel sorry for sworn enemies.
"Ranma and I had another fight. But it was bad, today. He actually said he never wants to see me again."
Yesssss!!! Ukyo thought to herself. "That's too bad," she replied sympathetically.
Akane raised an eyebrow at her. "Don't patronize," she warned.
"Don't be silly, sugar. I'm sad that you're upset. Of course I want Ranchan for myself, but that doesn't mean I like so see other people unhappy." I'd like to thank the Academy, she thought triumphantly.
The other girl seemed duped, ashamed, actually. "I shouldn't have said that, Ukyo... I know you're a nice person," she replied. "Without this whole Ranma mess, you and I might have been good friends."
Ukyo stared blankly at her for a moment. Could the schoolgirl have possibly given her a better opening? She didn't think so. "We still can," she said almost breathless, picturing her coming date with Ranma. "Would you like a cookie? I made them myself."
A very smile smile twitched at the corners of Akane's lips. "R-really? Yeah! Sure!"
Ukyo drew forth a batch of her best chocolate-chip cookies and handed several of them to Akane. She would have given the other girl the whole bag, but it looked best if she kept some for herself. Giving them all just screamed 'set-up'!
Akane took a bite and closed her eyes in sheer bliss. "These are... fabulous, Ukyo," she said in between munches. "Sooo nice."
Ukyo's eyes followed the movement of the other girl's lips as she finished the cookie. Nabiki was right, there was definitely something about her. She just couldn't put her finger on it. Akane certainly wasn't the most attractive girl she'd ever seen, although she was someplace between pretty and beautiful. Ukyo wondered what it was.
Ukyo's eyes latched onto Akane's as fast as she dared without seeming nervous. "Yeah?" Had Akane caught her staring?
"I'm afraid I don't have much to give you... I ate most of my lunch already." Akane looked mournfully down at her demolished bento. "But tomorrow, okay?"
Tomorrow I'll have my date with Ranma for sure. "No problem," Ukyo replied.
"Thanks, anyway. You made me feel a whole lot better." Akane nodded at her and walked back towards the school building, her skirt stirring faintly in the breeze.
Ukyo stared after her. "There is something," she said to herself. "Hm, this bet just gets more and more interesting. But still, I'd better speed things up. Wouldn't want to get too attached, or anything."
"You might want to keep that internal monologue more internal next time."
Ukyo jumped a foot into the air. "Nabiki!!!" she exclaimed, turning to view the lounging girl sitting on the other side of the great oak, her eyes more than halfway closed.
"I'm serious. If Ranma thought you were going to try to harm Akane, he'd kill you."
"Don't be silly," Ukyo chided her. "Ranma would side with me – of course." Her mind went back to certain 'incidents', but she pushed them away.
Nabiki snorted. "My advice, when given, is always good. Especially where my family is involved. One would have thought a clever girl like you would understand that by now."
The next morning, Ukyo found Akane sitting on the bleachers during lunchtime. Ukyo basked; Akane was making things easy on her. She'd get that smile in no time.
Akane smiled tightly, and presented Ukyo with a small box.
Ukyo eyed it. Strange smells were emerging from it in low wafts. "Let me guess – you made it yourself."
Akane nodded eagerly, but there was some sort of repressed emotion to her movements.
Ukyo cautiously opened the box. An odd liquid was in it; several bits of unidentifiable... vegetables?... floated on top. "Soup?" she queried.
Akane winced. "Ham," she replied.
"Ham soup," Ukyo confirmed.
"Ham," Ukyo repeated, incredulous.
Akane's eyes welled with tears. "Yup." She slumped down on the bleachers next to Ukyo. "You don't have to eat it." She paused to give the box's contents a resigned, disgusted glance. "I wouldn't." She put her head in her hands.
Ukyo glanced down. She wasn't crying – over soup – was she?
Ukyo took the soup out of her hands and managed a sip.
"Don't—!" Akane cried, but it was too late. Ukyo had swallowed.
"It's... bad," she said.
"How bad? Do you need a doctor?"
"Possibly." Ukyo turned green and leaned over the bleachers. "Well..." she said at length. "Not anymore."
Akane's eyes were really shimmering now. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!" She grumbled to herself, as though filling in for Ranma in his absence. "Can't cook – can't sew – can't even do martial arts..."
Ukyo frowned, wiping her mouth. "You can so. At least the last thing, anyway."
"Not as well as you or Shampoo," Akane protested, as though this was some kind of well-advertised, one-hundred-percent certain fact.
It actually surprised Ukyo, who had pegged Akane for the conceited type. "No, but that doesn't mean you couldn't be."
"Ukyo... I know we haven't gotten along, but... I'd really, really like it if you could train me. That way I could get better, and..." Akane bit her lip almost angrily, then continued bitterly. "...and not be such a burden," she finished miserably.
Ukyo couldn't stop her mouth from dropping open. "A what?"
Akane lifted her head slightly to meet Ukyo's eyes and offer her an apologetic shrug. "I used to be the best, but now everyone's better than me! Dad must think I haven't been lifting a finger, even though the opposite is true. Ranma says I'm too slow... he's right, but he won't train me to be faster! Just one time I'd like to beat off somebody from the kidnapper of the month club. Then he might not treat me like a china doll anymore."
Respect, Ukyo thought dizzily. It really is as important to her as Nabiki said. A strange thought accompanied that, pulled along by the one before it. Having everyone talk about her and Ranma must drive her nuts. "Sure," she replied easily. "After school every day, then, alright?" Ukyo thought she'd get the Smile for sure this time, but Akane's features almost immediately schooled themselves into hard, determined lines.
"Alright, sensei," she said, perfectly serious. Her dark eyes were wide and trusting.
Ukyo bit her lip. She knew that she, herself, was a compassionate girl. She couldn't take much more of this. Akane was right. She was a nice person who really did not like seeing people suffer. She almost wished Akane would yell at her, or that Ranma would walk by to bring out the Tendo girl's bad side. Away from Ranma, she was almost halfway normal. "You really look depressed, sugar," she said sympathetically. "What you need is to go out on the town. What do you say you and I go to the mall later and see if we can't spend a lot of money?" Konatsu could take care of the restaurant, she told herself firmly.
Akane blinked. "Yes, of course. If you want." Her voice was monotone, and in Akane, that was scarier than when she screamed.
"D...don't worry about the... ham, honestly," Ukyo stammered.
Akane blinked again, and shook her head. "I'm fine, really," she replied stiffly. She carefully stepped off the bleachers and walked off towards the school.
For a full five minutes, Ukyo sat staring straight ahead, trying to puzzle the other girl out. The promise of training had meant a lot to her, and Ukyo had thought she'd forget about her failure as a cook. She'd been so sure, but then Akane had gone all quiet and reserved. Just the moment she'd mentioned...
Money. Money! Of course! Akane had to be lacking it on a rather grand scale. But that was ridiculous; all she had to do to rule that out was look at the house the Tendos owned, complete with pond and dojo. Ukyo paused as her train of thought switched tracks. Nobody had been taught in that dojo since she'd arrived in Nerima. What if... what if the Tendos were really... poor?
No wonder Nabiki gouged Ranma constantly for everything he had. The Tendos, poor already, had recently taken on two extra people who ate like ten men. And Mister Saotome without even a part-time job, ever since Tofu-sensei had moved away. Ranma ought to take a job, at least. Akane and Nabiki had school to worry about, but Ranma never did a lick of homework anyway. It might actually be good for him, really, what with the lack of martial-arts fighting that occurs, say, in a picture-framing shop or a department store.
Or an okonomiyaki shop. Ukyo filed the plan away for further consideration.
Well, meanwhile, she'd just have to buy Akane something nice. That would cheer her up for sure.
The mall was only mildly crowded on a Tuesday, a fact for which Ukyo was almost blindingly grateful. She was a country girl, herself, which meant she had a pretty big aversion to large, pressing crowds. Akane still seemed morose, and kept trailing behind her.
It was too bad Nabiki hadn't been more specific about her little sister's likes and dislikes, or she might have been able to point things out that Akane might enjoy looking at. She tried to judge what clothing the other girl might wear, but Akane wore such a bunch of mix-and-match, she had no idea.
It dawned on Ukyo that Akane probably wore hand-me-downs, a mix between Kasumi's and Nabiki's old clothes.
"Hey, Akane, would you like to get some ice cream?"
Akane brightened considerably. "Okay."
Probably within her budget, Ukyo decided. The two made their way to the ice cream counter. Ukyo ordered a double-fudge sundae.
"Scoop of vanilla, rainbow sprinkles," Akane said happily.
"That's all you're going to get?" Ukyo demanded. "It's on me..." she added temptingly.
Akane brightened even further, a smile tugging at her lips. "O...okay. The same as her, then." She offered the teenager behind the counter that smile after she spoke.
It was the first time Ukyo had seen it, so she may be forgiven for being totally shocked. Not only did it transform Akane's features until she lapsed from someplace between pretty and beautiful straight to stunning, her smile had that affect. The boy who had been in the midst of scooping their ice cream was frozen as sure as the confection he was serving. He straightened slowly, gaping at the short-haired girl.
Ukyo's jaw slid up with an audible snap. "Well, I'll be," she said aloud, forgetting herself. "Nabiki was right."
Akane shot the man a confused glance before turning to Ukyo. "Why? What did she say?"
Ukyo blinked a moment. "Uhm... that the people here are totally incompitent." She turned towards the dazzled teenager. "Come on, we don't have all day."
The boy blinked at her and shook his head free of cobwebs. "I'm sorry, what was that order again?"
Ukyo repeated the order quickly as Akane giggled. They sat down to wait.
"Did you see that guy? He was staring at me. Pervert!"
Ukyo shook her head. To top it all, the girl didn't even know what she was doing. How ironic. And how utterly typical of the youngest Tendo to be perfectly oblivious of it all.
The man brought them triple-fudge sundaes. Akane commented on how nice that was in her best Kasumi voice. Ukyo giggled to herself, happy Akane wasn't so upset anymore.
After the ice cream sugar-rush had passed, Ukyo shook her own head dazedly, realizing how easily she had spoken with Akane. Well, she had gotten the power of a peripheral Smile... but her actions had nothing to do with that! She'd simply gotten caught up in the moment and realized, just a little, what a nice person Akane-san was.
Akane successfully cheered, they window-shopped for awhile before Akane began to recount a story involving boy-type-Ranma, underwear, and a white sundress. Before Ukyo knew what she was doing, she found herself laughing so hard she was forced to sit down.
Akane winked at her. "Ranma said never to tell anyone about it, 'cause he was so embarrassed, but you can keep a secret, right Ucchan?" She flushed. "I mean... Ukyo..."
Ukyo shook her head, pleased. "No, that's okay. You can call me whatever. We're friends, right?"
Akane nodded, suddenly appearing troubled.
"What is it? Ice cream not sitting well?"
Akane shook her head, then looked up, that determined, fierce glint in her eyes. "I have a confession." She bit her lip. "I... well, yesterday, I thought you were tricking me." She lay one hand atop Ukyo's, seemingly unconsciously. "I thought there was some sort of scheme to do with Ranma. But... you've been so nice to me, Ucchan. I can't think now that you're going to trick me. I can't believe I even thought of it in the first place, but I guess with all that's been going on, I must be getting a little paranoid. I even..." She paused, as though this last part was hardest for her to say. "I even thought that maybe, if I was really nice to you, I could figure out what you were doing and maybe turn the tables on you."
Ukyo shook her head, struck dumb. "I... I..." Ukyo shut her mouth when she realized she had no idea what she wanted to say.
"You think I'm awful, don't you," Akane said, as though Ukyo's stutters had confirmed what she had already known. "When you said we were friends just now, I couldn't let it sit. I started to believe maybe you were serious when you ate my food... and agreed to train me... That was when I knew you weren't trying to trick me. I felt awful! Besides, you haven't even gone near Ranma in the past three or four days, so it can't have anything to do with him."
"I... I haven't, have I?" Ukyo said to herself.
"Would you... consider... forgiving me?" Akane queried hesitantly.
Ukyo nodded. "Y-yeah, of course..."
Akane frowned slightly at her. "But I'm not normally so nice as I've been to you lately. You probably don't want to be friends with me! I'm violent, I'm a tomboy—"
Ukyo bit her lip, a strange, defensive anger forming within her. "Look, Akane, you are nice. Quit letting other people tell you what you are! You've been repeating that stuff back at me ever since we started getting closer. Not all that stuff's true! And Ranma only says that sort of thing because you make him uncomfortable sometimes."
Akane's brain had apparently only latched on to one part of Ukyo's declaration. "So you do still want to be friends?"
"Well – yes, of cour—" Ukyo began.
One hundred mega-watt smile. "Oh, Ukyo, thank you!"
Ukyo's neurons quietly, happily drowned in an endorphin sea. She could not move, could not blink, even, as Akane practically leapt at her, throwing her arms around the taller girl.
"I haven't had a friend who didn't want something from me in so long," Akane whispered sadly, burying her face in Ukyo's shoulder. "I guess I'm just really suspicious by nature, too..."
Ukyo was not even remotely hearing her. She was still caught in the web of the Smile. Her arms fell reflexively around Akane, then stroked her back gently to calm her down. Akane really was the cutest. By far. Nabiki was right. Nabiki was...
"About what this time?" Akane asked, and Ukyo realized she'd spoken aloud.
When Akane drew back to gaze questioningly into her eyes, Ukyo almost reeled from the loss of her. And the concerned expression in those eyes hurt her, like a physical pain. "That you're really a nice girl," Ukyo managed somehow to say, still staring at her. "And very cute."
Akane crossed her arms over her chest angrily. "Don't make fun of me," she admonished. "'Akane's a very nice girl; she's just a violent maniac.' You sound like my other sister."
Ukyo's empty arms ached for Akane's form, and she wondered idly if there was anything she could do to produce that smile again. "No, really. It's a wonder Ranchan hasn't..."
Akane blinked at her curiously. "Are you okay?"
Ukyo nodded. "Fine, fine. Just... never mind it, Akane-san."
"Mm. If you say so, but you sound kind of funny, like—" She looked up at the window next to them, suddenly distracted. "Hey, a dress shop!" Akane exclaimed. "You know, I'll just bet blue is your color..."
Ukyo grimaced as she staggered under the weight of what seemed like a hundred packages. She didn't have the money to do all of this, but she simply hadn't wanted the day to end. So they'd gone shopping, and then to the amusement park, and then to watch the sun set, and then for a walk in the park at twilight, and then...
And then they'd picked up their packages from the nice man at the dress shop to bring home. Ukyo sighed. She'd bought some pretty risque outfits simply because Akane thought they made her look very good. And one had actually earned a 25-megawatt Smile. That one had gone in the bag so fast it might have burned up a bit on re-entry.
Ukyo realized that the two of them were now inside the Tendo walls, and placed her packages down at her feet. Akane was Smiling at her, but the Smile had less affect on her now (thank heavens, she thought) since she was becoming used to it. Her arms still ached, though, and not because of how heavy all those boxes had been.
"Thank you so much," Akane told her softly. "I had the best time. It was almost like a date!" She sighed. "If only a boy I knew was as nice as you."
Ukyo's heart lurched.
Akane approached her, put her hands on the other girl's shoulders and kissed her gently on the cheek, a friendly kiss rather than one that promised more.
Ukyo froze utterly.
"Thanks again. I'll see you tomorrow in school, okay?" Akane disappeared inside the Tendo household with her one bag.
"B-bye, Akane-san..." she finally managed.
Nabiki swished her curtains closed, a wide grin splitting her own face.
"One down, two to go," she said, rubbing her hands together. She slid to the telephone on her computer chair and dialed.
"Moshi moshi?" a sleepy voice answered.
"Shampoo," she said. "Have I got a deal for you..."
When I first wrote this story I felt bad for portraying Ukyo so OOC, but on second thought I can't apologize for that. It's that Akane is so much kinder here than she is in most fanfiction, not that Ukyo is meaner! Keep in mind that the both of them are trying to fake one another out basically up until Ukyo decides to train Akane and Akane decides Ukyo isn't tricking her at all.
A lot about Akane is over-emphasized in the anime as opposed to the manga and in fanfiction as opposed to the anime. One particular thing that shows up two or three times in the manga, often in the anime and in every single fanfiction of any length is Akane's mallet. Akane's mallet is practically nonexistent in the manga, but it's everywhere in fanfiction, and she pulls it out of hammerspace frequently and at the slightest provocation. (Akane's temper is pulled out the same way.) I decided to do something similar with the Smile. Whenever Akane does that smile, Ranma does go all funny, but so does half the male population of Furinkan. I find that kinda startling. Shampoo is cuter physically in my opinion, but she has one guy who likes her. Ukyo is... more impressive is possibly what I'm looking for?... but she has two admirers. Akane has four admirers who are recurring characters, and that doesn't count the princes and various abductors who simply must have her. Since it obviously can't be because of her incredibly womanliness (desirability?) or her rapier wit, there must be another reason!
Preferably a very silly one.
Send e-mail, death threats and lovings to Kirinin@aol.com. Visit my new website! I'm all kinds of de-virginized-html proud of it. It has most of the stories archived here plus one or two that haven't made it to ff.net yet.