Disclaimer: The playground is by Rumiko Takahashi, I'm only swinging on
the monkey bars. Remember to leave the grounds cleaner than you found
them and please don't feed the Trolls.

This story is archived at http://www.kawaiikunee.com/slp/

Release 0.1 (January 15, 2001)

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Ninjoubanashi
(just a few old-fashioned love stories)

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Ukyou get's a lot of bad press, and from both sides. When you think
about it, the plaster saint that some of her less discerning admirers
profess to believe in is not much more desireable than the grasping
demon shrew that seems to be one of the commoner negative
characterizations. (Of _all_ of the girls, really.)

Which is not to say that she doesn't have her problems, of course. But
then, if she didn't have _something_ wrong with her, she'd be Kasumi,
and Ranma would _really_ be out of reach.

In fact, she has _two_ problems. One relates to her getting married to
Ranma, and one to her getting married to _anybody_. Taking them in
order:

First, she's a guy. Socially, I mean. She's legally a man, she dresses
in drag, she has a male economic role, she acts male most of the time.
Yes, this is a big problem. Particularily when you're trying to marry
Ranma, who has problems with anything that might make him look
'unmanly'. (And especially when their relative economic statuses
indicate that _Ukyou_ would probably be seen in the dominant role.
Ranma is many things, but submissive is _not_ among them.) Big problem.
Bigger problem in a culture which frequently regards the surface mask
as _more_ important than what's underneath.

(And, biggest of all, as a man she is the heir of her family. And so is
Ranma. So, if they get married, _which_ clan/family gets precedence?
And what about the other?

Second, and complicating the first, Ukyou is not a person with a
terribly strong central identity. In fact, of all Ranma's fiancees,
Ukyou is the most conflicted. Observe how fast she changes from
'avenger' to 'fiancee' when Ranma mentions that she's cute. Observe how
often she acts according to 'what a _cute_ fiancee would do', or
similar. Often, she seems to be taking off and putting on masks. (A
not-uncommon theme in Japanese culture, by the way.) Letting a person
who tends to let other people tell her who she is get married to
someone who is nearly always _certain_ about who he and everyone else
around him are might be, shall we say, fairly perilous.

Fortunately, both problems can be fixed at one stroke. All she has to
do is decide. Decide on one identity. Decide on a long term goal.
Choose _one_ of all the things she _could_ be, and _be that thing.

Tough thing to do. Better have a good idea of what you want. Speaking
of which; what _does_ she want?

Of course, this story is one in which she gets it right, and gets
Ranma, too.

All a matter of ...

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(8 years after the manga)
(Ranma + Ukyou)

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Family Values

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Earlier, there had been noise and confusion. The bleed-over from the
arena had rocked the walls, and the hustle of rapid cookery had filled
the small service kitchen. But that was earlier.

Now, Saotome Ukyou practiced her Art in another manner. With loving
care, she was preparing what would later be okonomiyaki. In all solemn
truth, this was what she preferred to the hustle and bustle.

Once she had taken considerable pride in how fast she could prepare an
okonomiyaki from scratch, in how many things she could make into
okonomiyaki toppings, in the many secret sauces and recipes she had
mastered.

But that, as they say, was then. And this is now.

They were a simple recipe: her basic batter, onions, cabbage, pork and
squid, with a simple soy sauce. But when she got done they were going
to be _perfect_. If you're good enough, you don't need the secret
sauce. And nothing but perfection was really good enough for her Ran-
chan or the kids.

That was Then. And this is Now. And never the twain shall meet.

Except sometimes, when Then walks through the door.

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"Ukyou-san?"

Ukyou looked up in startlement. Hardly anyone came except Ran-chan and
her kids came down here to begin with and that had sounded a lot like
... "Akane-chan! How are you, sugar? Come in."

"Umm." Akane looked around nervously, "I hate to intrude, but I was
looking for Ranma. I don't want to be a bother ..."

Ukyou stood uneasily for several seconds. She was all too aware that
the kawaii-factor had shifted. Drasticly. Akane had shed her baby-fat
and was in, basically, the best shape of her life. Once, despite Ran-
chan's protests, she had been very cute. Now she was stone cold, drop
dead _gorgeous_. Whereas Ukyou herself ... guiltily, she resolved to
spend more time in her kata and lose the incipient chubbiness that
working her Art had brought.

If Akane was here now in some kind of plot to lure Ran-chan back ...

But no, she thought. Tendo Akane might have been many things, but
sneaky and dis-honorable were not among them. And neither was her Ran-
chan. She wouldn't dishonor him by not trusting him.

Without a lot of evidence, anyway.

"No problem, Sugar. Come in and have a 'yaki," she said with a smile.

Akane smiled a little weakly as she crossed to the counter, "Actually,
Ukyou-chan, I'd just like a little tea, please. I had some food," she
waved a hand vaguely, "earlier."

Ukyou raised an eyebrow as she fixed the cup, "Nervous, Sugar?"

Akane suddenly gave her old sunshine smile, "Actually, yes. But not a
lot. I'll be _really_ nervous before the finals."

"Confidant, huh?" Ukyou said, teasingly.

"I've seen the seedings," Akane smiled, "no problems 'till then, unless
someone from the unseeded challengers makes it ... which is why ...."

Akane bit her lip, "Actually, there was a question I wanted to ask you,
too, now that I think of it."

"Shoot."

"Why are you ... why are you _here_? Like this? You're almost still
living out of your yattai, and back in Nerima ..."

"... I had a restaurant?"

"Yeah. I would have thought you'd have a whole chain by now, as good a
cook as you are. What happened?"

"Well, I don't deny that I'd thought about it, Sugar. And I think that
I _could_ have had a chain by now if I'd tried. But ..."

Ukyou shrugged, "I _am_ a cook, you see? _That's_ the core of my Art.
And if I wanted to run a _chain_ of restaurants I wasn't going to have
time to cook in them.

"Worse than that, I wasn't going to have time for Ran-chan, or to teach
Ichiro or Ranji-chan, either.

"And then, Ran-chan, you know, _needs_ to go on the road every so
often, or he gets stale about the Art."

The door opened. "Whose Art get's stale, Ucchan? Heya, Tomboy."

Akane turned around as Ranma and a pair of small blurs came in. Ukyou
looked up from the boys at her feet, and caught the smile Ranma gave
_her_, as it shifted from the one he gave Akane. It was number three
(Just for Ucchan, 'cause I love her) and nearly melted on the spot.

The hug she gave him wasn't _quite_ an Amazon Glomp, but it was close.

And if Akane's smile was somewhat pained for a moment neither of them
was watching her to note it.

Ukyou came back to the counter, followed by Ranma, "In the end, I
didn't want to take the time away from my family. The money wasn't
worth it."

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As Ukyou finished, Akane sat silently for a time, sipping her tea. The
two children got their okonomiyakis and went off to sit and eat, while
Ranma sat with Ukyou. He was finishing his meal when Akane said, "So,
what about you Ranma, are you going to be competing, today?"

Hastily, he swallowed the last of the food, "Nah. No reason to."

Looking down into her cup, Akane softly asked, "But why, Ranma? You
were the best. You could have gotten _here_ a lot sooner. Why did you
give it up?"

Looking up, she saw Ranma's face darken briefly, and hurried on, "I'm
not questioning _what_ you did! It's your life. But I ... I guess I'm
just at the point that I need to look back. I know a lot about _what_
happened, but I don't know why."

Ranma bit his lip briefly, "Mmm. It's hard to explain. But ... this
tournament out there. 'World's Greatest Martial Arts Tournament.'
Supposed to find the World's Greatest Martial Artist, ne. But th' thing
is, back then, I already _was_."

Akane raised an eyebrow. Ranma reddened, "I mean, not _literally_
maybe, but as far as _I_ was concerned. I mean, sure, there was maybe
people out there who were better, but _I_ didn't know who they were,
and they didn't know me, so as far as _I_ could see .... You see?"

Akane nodded and Ranma went on, "An' ya know what? I didn't care,
really, either. I still loved the Art. I still _do_ love the Art. But
bein' the best had stopped bein' the important part of it, ta me.

"And y'know, marriage is ... it's about family. It's about makin' a
family an' keepin' it together. An' it's a lot easier ta keep together,
if you're all goin' the same way.

"So what did you all want in a family? Kasumi wanted Dr. Tofu. Nabiki
wanted ta make a lot of money. You wanted ta be a better martial
artist, which is why you're here, now. Shampoo wanted me ta be a
fighter for her village. Kodachi wanted ... well I don't know, but I
doubt I'd have liked it.

"An' alla that's fine an' good, but what _I_ wanted was a family. The
family that I never got before 'cause Oyaji an' me were on the road so
much. An' I wanted the Art.

"An' that, it turned out, was what Ucchan wanted too, so ..."

Ranma tugged at his pigtail, "I guess you could say that I got hit with
a case of family values."

Akane and Ukyou giggled in unison, and there was silence for a while.

Then Akane said, "Okay." and got up to go.

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As she reached the door, Akane turned and said, "Ranma? Do you have any
... regrets? About what you could have had?"

Ranma gestured, encompassing Ukyou and his children and the fittings of
his life, "Do you?"

Akane's eyes took on a far look for a moment, "Not seriously, no. But
maybe small ones." She gestured with her fingers a tiny space apart, "A
little."

Ranma nodded, "Yeah, that's about it. Small ones." His fingers too,
were a small space apart, "A little." As Akane turned to the door he
spoke again, "Hey, tomboy. Good luck."

As she went through the door, Akane looked back over her shoulder and
winked, "Not luck. Skill."

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As the door closed behind her, Ukyou looked at her husband, "Family
values, huh?"

Grinning impishly, Ranma gazed, back, the look in his blue eyes causing
her to catch her breath.

With a slow grin of her own, she said, "Y'know Sugar, business won't
pick up for another couple of hours. If we hurry we should have _just_
enough time ..."

Ranma scopped her up in his arms, "Lets hurry."

They did.

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As the door closed behind them, the older boy, Ichiro, said, "Mush!"

His younger brother, Ranji, looked up from a small toy horse,
"Oniichan?, I thought that when they talked about 'Family Values' on
th' TV it meant _not_ mush?"

Ichiro looked down at his sibling from the security of a whole ten
months greater age, "Dope."

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I don't really know what to say about this one. I sort of wrote it
backwards.

Perhaps someday I'll think of something.

If anyone wants to do anything else in this universe, by all means do
so, just end me an email first.

'Till next time,
Eric Hallstrom, 01/22/2001