Chapter 93 Facets of Forgiveness
Ranma opened the door to the lavishly furnished office in the heart of downtown Tokyo, and watched as his wife, his brother and his wife, entered, before joining them in front of the enormous mahogany desk situated in the center of the room.
The young woman manning the desk was as decorative as the room. "May I help you?" she asked, in polished tones, her eyes looking hungrily at Ranma as he approached.
"Yes, we are the Saotomes, we have an appointment with Watanabe-san," Ranma replied, courteously, quite glad that they had taken his mother's advice and dressed in their best.
"Of course, he has been expecting you," the receptionist replied, "He is set up in the conference room. If you would follow me, I'll show you the way." The attractive young woman rose from behind the desk, and led them down a short hallway. Stopping in front of a highly carved door, she opened it and showed them in. "I'll let Watanabe-san know that you are here. Could I get you anything? Anything at all," she almost purred, smiling brightly at Ranma.
"Some tea would be nice," Akane said, politely, though the ice in her eyes belied her pleasant tones.
"Please make yourself comfortable, I will return shortly with the tea," the young woman said, bowing politely, though her bow to Ranma was noticably deeper, allowing him an glance at her impressive cleavage. That is, if he had been so inclined.
Akane's eyes narrowed as she watched the receptionist sashay away, her hips moving in an exaggerated manner, until the door shut removing her from view.
"Someone was very impressed by you, Ranma," Konatsu said.
"Yes, with that 'Could I get you anything?' question, and she practically shoved her boobs into your face," Akane nearly snarled.
Ranma looked at her, a puzzled expression on his face, and he said, "Well, she might have been fishing, but I'm not interested in the bait she is using. She's attractive enough, but she isn't you. I was ignoring her come-ons, so why are you angry with me?"
Akane sighed, and answered, "I'm not, not really, I just, well, I don't, never mind."
Ukyo arched an eyebrow and said, "That answer didn't even make any sense. I suggest we sit down, and wait." Suiting her action to her words, she promptly sat down in one of the overstuffed chairs parked at the long, highly polished, cherry-finished table, and sank down several inches in the plush leather. "Ooh, these are nice," she sighed, "I want one."
"It wouldn't go with your furniture," Akane said, with a grin, as she and her husband sat down.
Konatsu sighed a long-suffering sigh as he sat next to his wife.
"What was that for?" Ukyo asked.
Fortunately for Konatsu, the door opened and the receptionist entered, pushing a small trolley. On the trolley were several dainty cups, as well as a matching teapot, all made from the finest porcelain. A wisp of steam rose from the spout of the teapot, and the delicate scent of jasmine filled the room. "Watanabe-san will join you shortly," she said, as she quietly closed the door behind her.
No sooner had the door to the hall shut, then a previously hidden door opened, and a familiar elderly gentleman entered the room.
The four youth began to rise from their chairs, only to subside at a gesture from the old man.
"Ah, Watanabe-san," Ranma said, "Thank you for rearranging your schedule so quickly and agreeing to meet with us. You've already met my wife, but may I introduce you to my brother Konatsu, and my other best friend, his wife Ukyo?"
Watanbe laughed a rusty laugh and said, "I'm always glad to be introduced to a lovely woman."
Ukyo blushed prettily, while her husband said, "It is indeed an honour to meet you, Watanabe-sama," bowing from his seat.
"Enough with the honourifics," Watanabe said, as he moved toward the trolley to pour himself a cup of tea.
Akane quickly joined him at the trolley and filled the five cups. To her surprise, the elderly attorney added a large dollop of honey to his tea before he sat down. She handed cups to her family, and taking the final cup, returned to her chair.
"When you get to my age, dear child, you'll discover that there are fewer pleasures in life. A little sweetness in my tea has become my weakness," Watanabe said, in grandfatherly tones. He sipped his tea, and then set his cup down. Suddenly the kindly old man disappeared, and in his place was a man that ancient samurai would have recognised as a kindred soul. "Shall we get down to business?" he asked.
"Of course," Ukyo replied. She opened a small valise that she had brought, and pulled out a large ledger. She slid that down the table to Watanabe. "I assumed you would want to see our books; that is everything from the day I opened the restaurant. When you examine them, you'll see that I've earned a profit in every month."
"Thank you, Mrs. Saotome, it's good to have this, but since I am very good at what I do, I have done my due diligence," Watanabe said, with a genial smile, "I agree, you are ready to expand, assuming, of course, that you can get a decent price for the property next to you."
"Nabiki was going to talk to the owner," Akane interjected.
"Miss Tendo is good, almost as good as she thinks she is," Watanabe said, "And I am sure that she will get you a good price."
"I am sensing a 'but' in there somewhere," Konatsu said.
"She is still very young," Watanbe said, "Perhaps one of my associates should assist her."
Akane bristled for a moment, but subsided as Ranma chuckled. "I think she would learn a few things. She has been a very large fish in an extremely small pond for many years, and when she leaves Nerima she is likely to be nothing more than a minnow in a very large pond," he said, "And since we want our family to prosper, it would be best if someone should take her under their wing, so to speak."
"Especially considering the unfortunate impact of her gender in our business world," Watanabe said, sadly, "Though things are slowly getting better. She will need a mentor who is respected by the men who are the titans in the industry, and even then she will have to work twice as hard to get any where near as far as she should based on the intelligience and talent that she has shown." He sighed and said, "Now that we have that settled, after hearing from young Ranma, and understanding the basis of what he wanted, I have to say that he won't be able to give you the money that you need for the expansion."
"Then why did you ask us to come?" Ukyo asked, crestfallen.
"Ranma can't access the money in his trust account, not fully enough to do what needs to be done," Watanabe replied, gently, "However, I am the trustee for his account, and it is my responsibility to see that it is invested wisely." He smiled at her then and added, "And I've noticed that his portfolio is not quite as diversified as it needs to be."
"Now I'm confused," Ranma said, though that was obvious from the expression on his face.
"It seems that I have managed to neglect building up the food service industry portion of your portfolio," Watanabe said, "And therefore I believe your account would best be served if it were to loan a small amount of money to the restaurant called Ucchan's for the purpose of expanding said business. One of the conditions of that loan would, of course, be that the trustee of your account, namely myself, would act as a silent partner for the business, with a certain percentage of the profit returning to the trust, as well as a modest repayment of the loan. Also, I would recommend that there be an option for your brother and his wife to buy out the trust's interest in the restaurant, after a suitable period of time."
"That sounds like a good plan, and lord knows, I really don't want to be in the restaurant business," Ranma said, with a grin, "I like eating in them but I wouldn't know the first thing about running one."
"When you say a small amount of money, exactly what did you mean by that?" Ukyo asked, cautiously.
"Certainly enough to buy the adjoining space, and help toward converting the combined space into a larger restaurant. I also understand that you wish to convert most of the second into a larger flat for your family, as well as a flat for a Miss Ropponogi, your other new partner, whilst leaving the ground floor for the expanded restaurant space," Watanabe said, smoothly, "And as for you, young Ranma, if you actually intend to run the combined dojo, you need to know how to run a business."
"I've been extensively trained on how to do that, Watanabe-san, at least as far as a dojo is concerned," Ranma said, not taking offense, "That was one of the things Pop was insistent on, though I still plan on getting some business courses once we get to college, as does Akane. Since I do know enough to know that what Pop concentrated me on is too narrowly focused to succeed as well as we would like. At least some real accounting, marketing, business management, that kind of thing."
"While we love Nabiki, we would prefer to keep our own books, for example, even if she gave us the family discount," Akane added drily.
"Not sure we could afford her," Ranma continued, with a grin, "But I also know my limits, and running a restaurant would be beyound them."
"I see that you have given some thought about the family business, good," Watanabe said, "And you can rely on me for help once you get ready to start it up again. Your mother's family name will still open some doors, even after her father's demise."
"And you aren't without some small amount of influence, either, right?" Konatsu asked, his eyes dancing.
"I do have a small amount, that would be true," Watanabe admitted lightly.
Akane grinned then, and said, "Well, then it sounds like Ukyo and Konatsu need to stay here and work out an agreement with Watanabe, and since Ranma and I can't really contribute anything to the conversation, we can leave."
"Leave?" Ranma asked, baffled.
"Yes, unless you really want to sit here for the next several hours while they talk about boring contract language, when instead there is something much more fun to do," Akane replied.
"What would that be?" Ranma asked, eyeing her suspiciously.
"Why shopping, of course," Akane answered, "I rarely get to this part of the city, and there are several nice shopping areas."
Ranma groaned, and asked, "Are you sure you don't need us here, Watanabe-san?"
"Quite sure, young Ranma," Watanabe replied, grinning, "But if it will help, I will loan you my driver."
Ranma looked at him, and sighed. Rising to his feet, he turned to his wife and said, "You so owe me a good dinner."
"I'll even throw in a massage,"Akane whispered, huskily.
Ranma's eyes lit up as they left the room, closing the door behind them.
Akane eyed him suspiciously and asked, "What was that all about? You like shopping with me."
"Guys aren't supposed to like to shop. It isn't manly," Ranma replied, straight-faced, in an extremely portentous tone.
Akane stared at him for a moment, before starting to giggle.
Ranma attempted to keep his composure, but finally cracked a smile.
Watanabe quickly skimmed through the sheaf of papers in front of him and nodded. "This is what we agreed to, is it not, Mrs. Saotome?" he asked, passing the contract over to the young woman.
Ukyo read each page carefully, noting all of the terms and conditions. "Yes, this is what we discussed," she said, taking a pen and signing each page before handing them to her husband.
Konatsu merely signed the forms before handing them back to Watanabe, who then signed them as well.
Once the contract was signed, Watanabe rose slowly to his feet, and said, "I'll have Miss Mitarashi make copies."
Ukyo rose from her chair, bowed politely to her opponent and said, "Thank you, Watanabe-san, for several things. One, going easy on me during these negotiations, and two, teaching me how to be a better businesswoman."
"The pleasure was all mine, Mrs. Saotome," the elderly gentleman said, returning the bow, "You are a worthy opponent, and I expect to hear great things about you and your endeavours in the years to come. Please, follow me."
The three of them left the conference room, moving slowly in deference to the elder man's years and entered the reception area.
"Yes, Watanabe-san, what may I do for you?" the young woman asked, her eyes wild.
"We need two copies of this document made, one copy for Mrs. Saotome, and the second copy for Mr. Saotome. The original should be returned to me for my files," Watanabe replied, handing her a thick sheaf of papers.
"Of course, Watanabe-san," the receptionist said, as she quickly fled her domain.
"I wonder what is wrong with her," Watanabe said quietly, "I've never seen her so flustered."
"That's probably my fault," a pleasant soprano replied from near the door, an amused note in her voice.
Watanabe turned to find Akane and a red-haired girl sitting quietly on the overstuffed leather couch next to the door, their arms around each other's waist, with the red-haired girl's head nestled on Akane's shoulder.
Ukyo snickered and asked, "What did you do, sugar?"
Ranma replied, "I simply told her that I had noticed her checking me out and wondered if she wanted to spend the afternoon with me and Akane, that's all." She smiled evilly and added, "And then I poured some cold water over my head to force the change."
"That wouldn't be enough to do that," Watanabe muttered.
"Oh, then I bent over and kissed her cheek and said she would be just fine now that I had changed," Ranma added with a smirk. She chuckled for a moment, and added, "She suddenly lost interest in me, imagine that."
"Serves the bitch right," Akane muttered.
"Behave, Akane," Ranma said quietly.
Watanabe asked in a slightly high-pitched voice, "Was your shopping trip unsuccessful? I don't see any bags."
"Ah, we stopped by the station before we came here and put everything into a locker," Akane said, "Didn't see much point in bringing everthing here."
"And it was only a 'few' things, anyway," Ranma said, grinning, as she batted her eyes at the somewhat disconcerted attorney.
"It's one thing to hear about the change, as your mother called it, but it's quite different seeing it for oneself," Watanabe finally managed to state with some aplomb.
Ranma giggled and said, "You should have seen it from my side, the first time it happened."
"I don't even want to imagine what you were thinking," Watanabe admitted.
"Well, actually, I had a yearning for some panda steaks," Ranma said, with a smirk.
"I bet that was the fastest your father had ever moved, when you came out of the water after him," Akane added, slyly.
"Naw, not even close. I remember one time, we were walking down a street in a small town one day, and he spotted a guy wearing a signboard reading, 'Free food and beer for the first ten customers' outside a small restaurant," Ranma said, "Talk about fast. I swear he broke the sound barrier."
"Now, that I can believe," Watanabe said, chuckling.
"Best part about it was he was customer number eleven," Ranma said, with a wicked grin.
Akane slouched gracelessly in the comfortable lounger, idly twirling one foot, while she watched her eldest sister glide amidst the rooftop garden. With a heartfelt sigh, she took a sip of wine from the glass in her hand, relishing the sweet taste of plum.
Kasumi smiled indulgently at her sister, and clipped a flower from one of the plants, sliding the stem into her hair. "While I am glad that you came to visit, why are you here?" she asked.
"What? Can't I just wish to visit my sister and see how she is settling into her new home?" Akane asked in return.
"Of course you could," Kasumi replied as she sank down daintily onto the other louhger, and picked up her glass of plum wine, "But that's not why you are here."
"I'm shocked. Shocked and appalled that you would think that I have an ulterior motive," Akane retorted, a touch of colour in her cheeks.
"And you're a lousy actress," Kasumi said, straightfaced.
Akane stuck her tongue out and drew down one eye at her sister.
"That extremely mature response still didn't answer my question," Kasumi said, grinning at Akane.
Akane smirked back at her sister and then sighed deeply. "I'm concerned about Nabiki, actually," she finally replied.
"Why is that?" Kasumi asked, sipping some more of her wine, and then topping off her glass. She raised an eyebrow at Akane in silent enquiry, and then topped off the offered glass.
"She's had several setbacks lately, I guess is the best way to put it," Akane admitted, "First, you and Tofu leaving, without her even having an inkling of an idea that you had that planned, much less the work that had to go into getting this flat redone. She missed all of that, and it struck a large blow to her self-image. You know how proud she is about knowing everything of importance that goes on in Nerima, and you snuck this past her. And she also doesn't handle change very well, it seems. She never expected you to leave the house, and while she won't admit it, she misses you a great deal."
"You know why we left," Kasumi said, sternly.
"Of course I do, and I understand your reasons. The two of you need a chance to finally get on with your lives, without the interference from all of us. There are times when I wish Ranma and I could simply disappear for awhile, for much the same reasons. And Nabiki actually understands why you left, but it still bothers her," Akane replied, "And while she will get over that, then she had the misfortune to work with that agent of Watanabe-san, and found out how little influence she really has in Nerima. Another blow to her self-image, since she obviously thought she was a real mover and shaker. She thought she was getting Ukyo a good deal for that new building, but the agent walked in and showed her what a good deal really is. The only bright spot in my opinion was that the agent was another woman, so Nabiki can't use gender as an excuse for why her deal wasn't as good."
"A little humility will do our sister a lot of good," Kasumi said, "She has fancied herself a rather large player in Nerima business circles for several years now, so it should help her to see what a real operator is like."
"It still upset her a great deal, though," Akane said, her eyes dancing with ill-hidden mirth, "And then, of course, the final blow to her self-esteem. She tried to redeem her self-image by attempting to arrange for the remodeling crews for the new space, only to find out that Konatsu and Ukyo had more to do with getting the workers to start working as soon as they did. In fact, a large portion of the work has already been done, enough that Akemi's flat is almost ready for occupancy. She couldn't even expedite the permits for the work, until the clerk down at the town hall realised that she was your sister."
"Oh dear, she has had several bad weeks, hasn't she," Kasumi said, unsympathetically. She smirked at her sister and then asked, "So why come tell me all that? What do you expect me to do?"
"Oh nothing really, unless you have some suggestions for what we can do to get her to feel better about things," Akane replied.
Kasumi shook her head and said, "I imagine Souta would be the best medicine for what ails her, unless things have gone sour on that front."
"No, not that I am aware of. He's been pretty busy between school and helping his grandfather around the shrine, so they can't get together as much as either of them would like, but that's about all," Akane replied, thoughtfully.
"In that case, there is something that I can do to help," Kasumi said, "I believe they should come here for dinner one night, just the two of them."
Akane looked at her for a moment, and then nodded. "I like that, they could use a little 'us' time that they can't get eating at our home what with all of the crowd," she said.
"And how about you, little sister? Are you getting enough 'us' time with Ranma?" Kasumi asked.
"I think so, we spend a good deal of the day together after all," Akane replied, "And he has been good about giving me time to be with my friends or by myself."
"And I won't bother to ask about your nights," Kasumi said, with a serene smile, "That's another reason why I'm glad we built this place. Those walls between our bedrooms were just too thin."
"Sound travels both ways through those walls, big sister," Akane said, her cheeks reddening.
"Now that we've been moved out for a few weeks, how are you doing?" Kasumi asked, quickly.
Akane snickered for a moment, and then said, "It's okay to tease me about my sex life, but it bites when it's on the other foot, doesn't it?"
"I have no idea what you are talking about," Kasumi said, with great dignity.
"Oh please, 'take me, take me!' does that ring any bells?" Akane asked.
Kasumi stared at her in shock
"You know, it's always the quiet ones, you never suspect them of being a pervert," Akane added, straight-faced.
The two women looked at each other and then burst out in laughter.
Finally, Kasumi managed to sober up and said, "Okay, little sister, I won't tease you about your sex life and you won't tease me about mine. But, my last question still stands, how are you doing?"
"Fine mostly. I'm doing well in school, our students are doing well. I must admit I was surprised with Nodoka, after she found out that Ukyo was expecting. I anticipated some pressure for us to join Ukyo in the pudding club, but even Daddy hasn't pushed for an heir. So from that standpoint things are good," Akane replied, "On the other hand, while I understand why you and Tofu had to leave, I'll admit to being selfish, and that I miss you. And I do insist that you come by for dinner at least once a week. I'd ask for more, but I don't want to be greedy."
"We don't intend to be strangers by any means," Kasumi said, draining her glass, "And I miss you and Ranma, too. Why don't we trade evenings? You and Ranma could come over once a week and then we could do the same."
"I'd like that," Akane said, "And Ranma misses your cooking."
"That sounds like the beginning of a plan, then," Kasumi said.
Ranma gazed around the crowded dojo in satisfaction as she watched the various students run through the kata she had just shown them, only to frown slightly as she realised that two of her students were missing once again from the training session.
Akane stepped over to her husband and asked, "What's bothering you, Ranma?"
"Where are Hinako and Kurumi?" Ranma asked, "This is the second time this week they've missed a session, and the sixth time in the last four weeks."
"I'm not sure," Akane admitted, "All Sayuri said was that they had told her they had something come up after school and they wouldn't be here. In fact, they said they wouldn't even make the evening meal."
"What could they possibly be doing?" Ranma asked.
Akane frowned at her and replied, "Is it really any of our business?"
"Kurumi is my sister, and Hinako is more or less yours," Ranma retorted.
"Kurumi is sixteen, and Hinako is physically the same, though I'm not sure where she is either emotionally or intellectually," Akane shot back, "And, in any case, they are both old enough to take care of themselves. Heaven knows, they did that for long enough before we took either of them in."
Ranma raised both hands, palm forward, and said, "Okay, I get the picture. Doesn't mean I'm not going to worry about them though."
"And you wouldn't be Ranma if you didn't," Akane said, relaxing.
Ranma smiled ruefully and replied, "Yeah, I wouldn't be Ranma if I didn't."
"And on a different subject, what was in that note that Ukyo slipped you after class?" Akane asked.
Ranma chuckled, and replied, "I only skimmed it, but it was just a status report on our investment, basically."
"And?" Akane asked.
"The work crew has worked miracles. Akemi's flat is now complete, and she's ready to move in. The additional bedrooms and bathroom for Ukyo and Konatsu are nearly finished, and the rest of the first floor is roughed in. The downstairs remodeling has started, with the furo being the first priority," Ranma replied, "They expect to finish the ground floor in another month, and then they'll cut out the doorways in the common wall to combine the space."
"Sensei?" Sayuri called, "What should we do next?"
"That still sounds weird, being called sensei," Akane said as she moved over to that group of students.
"Better get used to that, and it's appropriate in this place," Ranma muttered.
Konatsu swept the last of the debris into the street, and took down the banner indicating that the restaurant was open. Re-entering the restaurant, he closed and locked the door behind him, and carefully folded the banner and stowed it away in its cubby by the door. Setting the broom aside, he moved over to his wife and gave her a gentle hug from behind.
Ukyo leaned into her husband, enjoying the brief respite, before sighing heavily.
"What's wrong, Ukyo?" Konatsu asked, quietly, "I thought things went rather well for the first day."
"Actually it did," Ukyo admitted, "Aside from the normal bumps and bruises that come with bringing a third person with an entirely different brand of cooking into the mix, it went much better than I expected. I'm just tired, my feet hurt, my back hurts, and I haven't even started showing yet."
"I glad you think it went well, as I did too," a third voice said from the kitchen, as Akemi joined them, shrugging out of the apron she had been wearing, "But right now, I think you need to let that cute husband of yours take you upstairs and get you into a hot bath."
"But there's still all of the cleanup to do," Ukyo objected.
"So there is, and Konatsu and I can take care of that. For now, take your cute arse upstairs and start soaking," Akemi ordered.
"Should I be worried that you think my wife's arse is cute?" Konatsu asked, semi-seriously.
"Well, not really, I think your's is cute too, now get her upstairs, and comfy. I'm going to go to my room and change into something more comfortable, and then I'll start washing all of the dishes," Akemi retorted.
"I can't leave it all to the two of you," Ukyo protested.
Akemi growled, "None of that missy, you need to get off your feet. While you don't look like you're carrying a bowling ball around yet, since it's still too early for you to show since it is a first pregnancy, you've been standing up far too long. And don't give me any nonsense about you being pregnant, not sick, you do need to take care of the two of you. I'll also have something for the three of us to eat after you soak for awhile."
Ukyo looked at her husband and saw that he was in total agreement with the bossy redhead. "I'm not going to win this one, am I?" she asked plaintively.
"Not in this lifetime," Konatsu said, smugly.
"It was easier living with when you were still subservient," Ukyo muttered.
"That may be true, but then you wouldn't be in this condition either," Konatsu said, smugly, as he helped her up the stairs.
Akemi chuckled lightly as she followed them up the stairs.
Konatsu moved gracefully into the kitchen, and then screeched to a complete stop as he spotted Akemi washing dishes in the large wash basin. "You know, when you said you were going to get into something a bit more comfortable, I sort of figured on shorts and a jumper," he said, "Not knickers and an apron."
Akemi turned her head and said, "Didn't want to get my robe dirty, and beside I'm most comfortable in just my skin, so get used to it."
Konatsu shrugged and said, "I was raised as a kunoichi, this really doesn't faze me at all. Now, Ukyo, she may have a comment or two when she comes back down."
"I thought you had gotten her soaking in the tub," Akemi said, rinsing another dish and setting the plate in the large drip rack.
"She remembered that she needed to do the books," Konatsu said, walking over and grabbing a towel to begin drying the dishes that were in the rack, "So she was going to change, come back down and get that done first."
The two of them worked in companionable silence for a few minutes, until Akemi asked, "A kunoichi? Why were you raised as a female ninja?"
"Long story, but basically that is how my stepmother and sisters raised me after my father died, and it was a family tradition," Konatsu said, after a moment.
"But you're a boy!" Akemi exclaimed.
"True, but I didn't know that then as they carefully never explained the difference between boys and girls, and since I never saw my step-sisters or step-mother without their clothes on, I just thought I was a bit underdeveloped compared to them," Konatsu explained, calmly, "I honestly believed that I was a girl until I came to get my vengeance here in Nerima. Still a bit uncomfortable for me to dress like a boy."
"So I guess that's why you still dress up female when you wait the tables," Akemi said.
"Yes, that's why," Konatsu replied.
"Wait a minute, sparky, vengeance?" Akemi asked, "What have I got in the middle of?'
Konatsu chuckled grimly for a few minutes, while Akemi stared at him nervously. Finally, Konatsu replied, "I came to Nerima to find whoever had destroyed my family inn and kill them. I came here and was taken in by Ukyo, who I mistook to be a boy because of how she dressed and acted. One that I fell in love with because of her kindness towards me. But still my need for revenge drove me. Unfortunately, that meant I came up against Ranma. I will admit that I am a genius kunoichi, the best in generations, but he was able to defeat me. He simply refuses to lose. And because of him, I discovered that there was no need for any vengeance, I was just being used by my step-family, and also by that time, I had realised that Ukyo was female and I believed my love for her was forbidden. My step-family tried to attack us, and in the attack, it became apparent that I wasn't female, but a boy."
"Just a classic story of the little country girl that comes to the big city and finds true love, then," Akemi said, with a grin.
"Something like that," Ukyo said from the entry. She stopped and stared hard at Akemi, noticing her lack of attire.
"I didn't want to get any clothes dirty while I was cleaning up," the other woman said, defensively.
Ukyo snorted in amusement and then shook her head. "That almost makes sense," she said, finally, "I can see that it will take some time to get used to you, but I expect I'll end up benefiting by your choice of casual wear."
Akemi snuck a look at Konatsu who was trying to avoid looking at her, and said, "I suspect you may be right."
Ukyo shot a grin at her, and then added, "But I hope you intend to dress for dinner."
"I brought a robe with me," Akemi said, pointing with her chin at the table.
Ukyo snorted in amusement, and said, "Not much of a robe, though. At least it looks translucent instead of transparent." Shaking her head, she moved to the table, dropping the heavy till onto it, before collapsing into one of the chairs. She began counting the various coins, stacking each of them in groups of ten as she did so. Meanwhile Akemi and Konatsu continued with the dishes, though Akemi did take off for a brief moment to turn on the radio, and dialed it in to a station she liked. After several minutes, Ukyo began counting the bills, stopping in surprise when she found several ten thousands. "Did we have a big party that I missed?" she asked.
"There was that one group of ten that ordered quite a lot of alcohol," Akemi replied, "Fortunately they were well behaved."
"Ukyo's reputation sort of ensures that," Konatsu said.
"Your's too, sugar," Ukyo retorted, "Not to mention that Ranma and Akane are our relatives. That tends to keep the rabble quiet."
"That reminds me, Ranma is supposed to be teaching me tai chai, starting tomorrow," Akemi said, "So I'll need a little time in the afternoon."
"That shouldn't be a problem until I start looking like I swallowed a bowling ball," Ukyo said, with a shrug. She added some figures into the small ledger and bundled up the paper bills and most of the larger denomination coins, and swept them into a bag. "We'll need to do an inventory before we go to bed, so that you two will know what needs to be ordered from the suppliers," she said, "But this was a very good day. Looks like everyone enjoyed the expanded menu, though we'll need to keep an eye on what is the most popular over the next few weeks."
Akemi said, "I know I made a lot of stir-fries, and I could barely keep up with the demand for yakitori. I kept good records for today, and I'll keep maintaining them until we know what is working."
"Sounds suspiciously like a plan," Ukyo said, "Now, I think I'll find that bath someone was threatening me with earlier, and get a load off."
"Be back down in about an hour, we should be done in here, and have something ready to eat besides the leftover soups," Akemi said.
Ukyo waved in acknowledgement as she made her way out of the kitchen, taking the till and the bag of money to secure them in the safe.
Konatsu finished drying the plate he was working on and stacked it with the rest of the clean plates. "That's the last of the plates," he said, "And all of the bowls are put away."
"Still have the cups and all of the cooking utensils we used left to do, not to mention all of the soup spoons and the handful of forks because of the few foreigners that came here and couldn't handle chopsticks," Akemi observed.
"Twenty more minutes on the rest?" Konatsu asked.
"Sounds about right, then you can sweep, and such, while I throw something together for the three of us," Akemi replied, "But you need to keep an eye on her. Make sure she eats enough and gets plenty of sleep."
"Always do, Akemi, always do," Konatsu replied, "Ever since I came to work here, I've looked after her. Getting married and her carrying our child didn't change that."
"You're a good man," Akemi observed, setting the last cup in the rack, before starting on one of the pots.
Konatsu reddened, and muttered, "Perhaps."
"So how many people did we have today?" Akemi asked, handing him the pot, and starting on the next one.
"Well, there's a total of twenty tables, of which four seat two, and the rest seat four, then there's the eight stools at the grill, so max capacity is eighty people. We started serving at 11:00, and most of the time we were packed during the noon meal, then it tapered off about 2:00, and then picked back up again at night starting at 4:30 until we closed at 8:30. So figuring eighty people, staying about 45 minutes on average, between eight and nine hundred guests. Yes, that feels about right," Konatsu answered.
"And we're about to what, triple the size of the restaurant when we open up the new space?" Akemi asked.
"Pretty much, to about three hundred people," Konatsu replied.
Akemi shook her head and said, "The three of us were busy just keeping up with this space. How are we going to handle it when it gets much larger? Especially when Ukyo has the baby!"
Konatsu chuckled for a moment and then replied calmly, "We've thought about that. I'm a little surprised it hadn't worried you before now."
"I didn't realise exactly how much work there was involved. I mean I did some of the cooking and serving at the strip club, but I wasn't the only one, so it didn't occur to me until just now what I have gotten myself into," Akemi replied.
Konatsu grinned at her and replied, "Well, I expect that the family will chip in. Natsume and Kurumi have already said that they would come back and help, though we'll have to keep an eye on Kurumi to make sure she doesn't eat more than her help is worth, so we'll have more wait staff at least. Ranma told me that he would cut back on their training during the week so they could help out. Mom was going to join us in the kitchen once the new space is opened, at least until the baby comes, then she'll mostly baby-sit. Ranma or Hinako will help out as well if we find out we need more help."
"A real family affair then," Akemi said, with a chuckle.
"Pretty much," Konatsu said, agreeably, "Of course, we will still have to do a lot of the prep work in the morning before we open up just as I was doing before. Start the soups, get the rice cookers going, chop up the veggies and meat, that kind of thing. That'll fall mostly on you and me while Ukyo finishes class, obviously. Luckily, she was able to convince the school that she didn't need to take home economics, or gym, so she's off in the afternoon about 2:00, so she'll be able to help us get ready for the evening rush."
Akemi glanced around the small room, and said, "That looks like everything except the leftovers simmering on the stove."
Konatsu nodded as he put the last pot down where it belonged, and added, "I'll be glad when we expand the kitchen, and get some more space."
"Yes, we definitely could use more preparation space," Akemi said, agreeably, glancing around the small space.
"And the industrial dishwashers will be more than appreciated," Konatsu added, looking at his companion's wrinkled hands.
Akemi smiled ruefully and said, "I know that I'm looking forward to that as well. Shame that's almost the last thing that gets done before we open up the new space."
Konatsu carefully folded his towel over the drying rack, and found his broom. "Well, I have my next assignment well in hand, so I'll leave you to yours," he said, slowly beginning to sweep front dining area.
Akemi washed her hands and then dried them carefully, before heading toward the large refrigerator tucked in one corner to see what was available to go with the already prepared soups.
A hulking figure moved through the shadows in one of the seedier parts of Nagawa, avoiding the street lights that were attempting to light up the area until it reached its destination, a small, poorly maintained tavern, in what probably was the centre of the crime district. An area where the local police refused to patrol in anything less than eight man teams, it was so dangerous. Slipping through the door, the figure, now covered completely by a cloak, walked quickly to the bar, and asked, in a quiet voice, "I am here to meet Kawajiri."
The blowsy barmaid pointed to a table discretely located in one corner where a somewhat menacing person sat staring at a snifter of amber liquid, and said, "He is over there."
"I'd like an Asahi Super Dry," the anonymous figure said, "In a clean glass." A few minutes later, the figure left with a glass of beer and a few yen poorer, and stood next to the table it had been directed to. "Kawajiri, I assume," a quiet voice asked.
"Yes, I am Kawajiri. Please, take a seat and let us finish this business, a most bizarre charter I must admit," the formidable figure said.
The mysterious figure sat down, took a sip of beer, and then asked, "Bizarre, or not, were you able to complete the first part of the task?"
Kawajiri glared at the shadowy figure and said, stiffly, "I take great pride in completing my assignments, so if I had not completed that task, you would have not received the note."
"Fair enough," the figure said, sliding an envelope across the table, leaving a hand holding it down. "As we agreed, half now, half when you provide proof of completion."
"That was the agreement, and I, at least, am a man of my word," Kawajiri said, as the envelope was relinquished to him. Without any sign of embarrassment, he opened the envelope and counted through the bills within.
"It is all there," the figure said, slightly affronted, as the beer slowly disappeared.
"I'm sure it is my friend, but you do have a reputation as well, one that says you aren't as honourable as one might wish," Kawajiri said smoothly.
"That was in the past, as it happens, I am attempting to turn over a new leaf, as it were," the figure retorted.
"Can a leopard really change its spots?" Kawajiri asked, rhetorically, as he placed the envelope smoothly inside his jacket, a hint of amusement in his voice, now that he had determined that the requisite amount of money was in place.
The figure slammed down the now empty glass, and said, "I expect to here from you soon." The sound of the glass shattering stilled the otherwise noisy room, as the mysterious personage rose from the table.
"If all goes as planned, the transaction will be complete in the morning, actually," Kawajiri said, evenly, waving one hand at one of the bruisers sitting a few seats away, who had also risen.
The figure glanced over at the alleged muscle, and shook its head. "You need a better class of bodyguard," was all that was said, a palpable sense of menace arising from the cowled figure. Then the moment passed, and the figure swept out of the bar without a backward glance.
Konatsu finished mopping the floor of the dining room, and placed the mop into the bucket, then turned to glance around the now spotless area. All of the chairs were upside down on the otherwise spotless tables, the wood floor glowed from the cleaning he had just completed, and the grill sparkled. Well, except for the small area where his wife did most of her cooking, which had turned from the heat and now had hints of red and yellow in the stainless steel. As he headed toward the kitchen, his wife pushed through the curtains which blocked off the view of the stairs leading to their rooms, and stopped as she entered, dressed in her red nightgown.
Ukyo glanced around the room, and nodded to Konatsu, while she looked at the small pile of spatulas that she still needed to clean for the next day's cooking. While she was appreciative of her husband's help, and now Akemi as well, cleaning her tools was still her job, something that had taken her husband longer than it should have to realise.
As Ukyo slinked into the room, Konatsu smiled in appreciation as he realised that his wife had taken a leaf out of Akemi's book, and indeed was likely the only thing under her gown, based on how it hung on her figure. "You look like you are feeling a bit better," he said, moving toward her, pulling the mop bucket behind him.
"Yes, getting out of that uniform helped, and then soaking for all of that time," his wife replied, "Though, unfortunately, I had to get out before I started pruning up."
"Akemi and I have the rest of the kitchen cleaned up, and she was banging around in there a bit, so I imagine we have some food to get wrapped around before you need to worry about your tools," Konatsu said, "And I'll bring them in, so you just find a place at the table and rest for a little longer."
Ukyo gave him an irritated look and snapped, "I'm just pregnant, you know. I'm perfectly capable of getting my own tools and cleaning them."
Konatsu rolled his eyes and repeated the tired old argument. "Yes, I know you are merely pregnant not an invalid, but you are also the only child of your mother, who had several miscarriages, and then died giving birth to you, or don't you remember telling me all of that?" he growled, surprising her with his forcefulness, "So, we'll follow the doctor's orders, and make sure you don't strain yourself. Now that I've found you, I'm damned if I'm going to lose you. You can still wash those blasted spatulas, I won't keep you from that, but I will make things as easy as possible for you when I can. And you will have to take things easier when it is a school day, since you don't need to do a part day of class, work in the restaurant, do your homework, and still try to do most of the cleanup. Bloody hell, that's what you have us for."
Ukyo sighed for a moment, and then slumped against him, trusting in his reflexes to catch her, which, of course he did. "I'm trying, but I was on my own for so long," she said, only to yelp as her rear was swatted lightly.
"How many times are we going to have this discussion?" Konatsu asked, with a grin, as she moved away from him and towards the kitchen, where she had to admit, interesting aromas were wafting toward her.
"Obviously at least once more," Ukyo retorted, as she reluctantly sank down at the table.
"I assume the patient is not following her doctor's orders," Akemi said, as she turned from the cooktop.
"Not you too, it's bad enough that I have to endure Konatsu's mothering," Ukyo said, with a sigh.
Akemi grinned at her and said, "Unlike your husband, I actually have the correct gender to mother you, and unfortunately for you, your husband told me what Yoshida-san said to the two of you at your last appointment, so get set for a lot more mothering."
Ukyo rolled her eyes, and muttered to her husband, "Next time you get to carry them."
"Fortunately for me, I'm not like Ranma, since I don't have the appropriate plumbing, even if only occasionally. Therefore, I'm afraid that you'll have to have however many children we decide to have. And I'm perfectly willing to reconsider the number," Konatsu said, with a grin, "After all, I was going to be content with merely two. You were the one talking about a football team."
"Hey, only child here, didn't want our kids to grow up that way," Ukyo retorted, with a matching grin. She sighed for a moment and then added, "Well, if you can't have them, you get to have the midnight change of nappies, and feeding." She sniffed the air, and finished, "Something smells good."
"Thanks," Akemi replied, "I just grabbed some of the leftover meats, shrimp, chicken, pork, whatever, and did a stir-fry. Plus, there were a handful of yakitoris left over in the refrigerator as well. I tossed a small salad also, since we can't have too much green vegetable."
"Looks like you were planning of feeding a small army, or is Ranma coming over?" Konatsu asked.
"No, this is just for the three and one-half that are here," Akemi replied, "As I said earlier, I remember what you told me about that last visit. I remember you telling me that the doctor wasn't real happy with Ukyo's weight gain, and wanted her to eat a bit more, so I made a little extra for her."
Ukyo sighed heavily, resigned to the fact that she now had another meddling female in her life.
Akemi smirked at her and said, "Face it girlie, Konatsu and I are in violent agreement. We want you to sail through this pregnany without a hiccouph, cause I like spoiling little children, and can't wait to see the two of you as parents, and, well, frankly he'd be completely lost without you if something went tits up."
Ukyo raised her eyes to the ceiling for a moment as if to seek inspiration, not incidentally stretching her robe tightly against her body, and then sighed once more. "Okay, I give," she said, "I can't fight you both, and even if I could, you'd probably bring Mother Nodoka in on it, anyway. I swear, that woman, much as I care for her, can wear me out."
"By the way, it looks like you've come over to the dark side," Akemi smirked.
Ukyo looked at her in surprise.
"No bra," Akemi explained.
""I certainly wasn't going to put one on after that long bath," Ukyo retorted, "I don't much like wearing them in the first place, and even though it isn't really time for it to have happened, I've noticed that my breasts have gotten very sensitive."
"Bigger, too," Konatsu said, with a grin.
"You would notice that," Ukyo said.
Konatsu waggled his eyebrows at her and said, "I have very well-trained hands."
"And I have something for the sensitivity," Akemi added, "Though I'm not sure if I should give the cream to you or to Konatsu."
Both Ukyo and Konatsu rewarded her with a blush.
Ukyo recovered her composure, as Akemi placed a large plate of food in front of her, and pointed her chopsticks at her husband. "You need to take Akemi around the marketplace tomorrow and introduce her to all of our suppliers. Just because we are going to be expanding our menu, I don't want to shortchange the locals if we can at all help it. Even if we have to go shopping every morning, I want to continue to have as much fresh ingredients as we can," Ukyo said, "And don't forget to drop off that deposit at the bank."
"Did you leave enough in the till to make change?" Akemi asked.
"I left about the same as usual," Ukyo replied, "So unless we have something odd happen, things should work out okay."
Sayuri giggled, and said, "Hands above the waist, Hiroshi. You know what I promised mom."
"Can't blame a man for trying," Hiroshi said, completely unabashed, as they continued to ignore the movie playing in the darkened theatre, but then they were not alone in following the honourable tradition of making out in the back of a movie theatre.
"Not really, but you aren't going there until we are married," Sayuri shot back with a smile.
Hiroshi gave an exaggerated sigh, and then raised his hands above his head. "I promise, my hands will not go where no man has gone before, at least until we are married," he said.
"You goof," Sayuri said, swatting her intended, "Only you would use a Trekker reference like that. Should I ask you what your five year mission is, James Tiberius Kirk?"
"Besides getting you out of your pants?" Hiroshi quipped, waggling his eyebrows.
Sayuri rolled her eyes, and shot back, "Since we are intending to get married after we graduate from Furikan, that's not much of a goal. Still leaves you about four more years to do something."
"Aside from us not becoming parents, since that would make it a bit more difficult for both of us to get our degrees," Hiroshi said, sobering up, "That's really all I have, going to school, learning to live with each other, that kind of thing. That's about all I've got, at least right now."
"I can live with that, at least for the next few years, but we do need to eventually develop something resembling a long range plan," Sayuri said, only to sit straight up as a couple a few rows in front of her got her attention.
"What is is?" Hiroshi hissed.
"Isn't that Kurumi and Hinako?" Sayuri asked, pointing to a pair of heads.
Hiroshi looked for a long time and then replied, "Maybe, it looks like them. So what about it?"
"They sure look pretty comfortable with Hinako laying her head on Kurumi's shoulder, and that sure looks like an arm around Hinako," she replied.
"Is it really any of our business?" Hiroshi asked.
"Hinako is more or less my sister," Sayuri replied.
Hiroshi shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Still doesn't make it your business, though. If that's what makes them happy, should you interfere? Or even let anyone else know about what may or may not be going on with them?"
"Doesn't mean I shouldn't worry about it, though," Sayuri replied.
"No, of course not, but it's not like they aren't the only same sex couple in this theatre, assuming, of course, that they are a couple," Hiroshi pointed out, " And your family isn't the most traditional one in the world, anyway."
"What do you mean by that?" Sayuri asked.
"Not that is anyone's business but their own, but don't you think Ranma and Akane have explored things with him as a girl. And Ukyo and Konatsu aren't terribly normal, either," Hiroshi pointed out, "Not that it makes any difference to me one way or the other. I'm pretty much a live and let live kind of guy, myself."
"I suppose," Sayuri said, "Though are you sure the idea of girl on girl action isn't appealing to you."
Hiroshi took quite a long time to consider his answer, in fact long enough that Sayuri was starting to get a little worried. Finally, he said, "I'm pretty sure about that, since I've never really considered sex a spectator sport."
"Good answer," Sayuri said, as she moved closer and pulled him to her.
The young doctor opened the door to his clinic, and chuckled at the somewhat sour expression on the face of the two girls standing at the door, though only one of them was soaking wet. "Hello Ranma, Akane," he said, "Looks like you could use some hot water and some dry clothing, Ranma."
Ranma sighed, pushing her red hair away from her face, and said, morosely, "Yeah, Doc, I sure could."
"What happened this time?" Tofu asked.
"I don't want to talk about it," Ranma said, glaring at her wife while sliding her shoes off with a squelching sound. Sourly, she placed the shoes next to the cubby that was dedicated to his sister-in-law, and also peeled out of her socks.
Tofu shook his head and said, "I'm sure I can find something for you to wear, a gi at least, but we need to get you out of those clothes as cool as the night has gotten."
"Sounds like a damn good plan to me," Ranma said, "I can already feel my sinuses clogging up."
Tofu stepped away for a second and returned with a large towel, which he handed to Ranma, who promptly wrapped herself up. "I can toss everything in the washer when we get upstairs and get you changed, so at least you'll have something to wear back home," he said, leading them up the stairs to the new flat. He pushed open the door, and allowed Ranma and Akane to walk in before following them into the main room of the flat.
"Oh my," Kasumi said, from the small kitchen that was tucked in one third of the room, "Looks like someone had a bit of misfortune."
"If you'll show Ranma where the washroom is, I'll find some dry clothing," Tofu said.
"Of course," Kasumi said, glancing at what she was cooking.
"I know where it is," Akane said, knowing that her sister really didn't want to abandon her preparations for dinner. She pushed Ranma toward a door in the wall opposite, while Tofu headed up the stairs toward the bedroom, and his wardrobe. After Ranma entered the room, Akane joined her sister and plopped down on a stool.
"What happened?" Kasumi asked, as she adroitly tossed the stir-fry she was making.
"It's sort of embarrassing," Akane replied, "And it's basically my fault." She sighed, then, and continued, "We were running down the street paralleling one of the canals, with both of us up on the chain-link fence, when I stumbled. Well, Ranma, of course, managed to grab me before I fell, but all he could do was push me off the fence toward the street. Well, that would have been the end of it, except I wasn't quite expecting that either, and I hit the sidewalk wrong and stumbled again, and fell hard against the fence. That was enough to shake it just as Ranma ran by there, and it moved the wrong way on him, and he slid down the embankment and into the water."
"Oh my," Kasumi replied, barely hiding the amusement in her voice, "So is he upset with you?"
"No, not really, he knows that this kind of thing happens," Akane anwered, as Tofu walked by and handed a bundle of clothing through the partially opened door, and received a corresponding damp bundle, now wrapped in the towel.
"I'll take this upstairs and put them in the washer," Tofu said, "Good thing we bought the matching dryer." He promptly disappeared up the stairs, but quickly returned, while Ranma joined them, now dressed in a gi.
"Did everything fit?" Kasumi asked.
"More or less. I did have to tighten the belt on the trousers a bit, since my waist is apparently a little smaller than Doc's," Ranma replied, "And, of course, he is taller than I am." He grinned at the mock glare that Tofu sent his way, and then said, "Thanks for inviting us to dinner, it's sure not the same without the two of you at home. But I can certainly understand that the two of you want your own place. And I'm looking forward to the guided tour later."
"So what all did you do to the flat?" Akane asked.
"Well, several things," Tofu replied, sitting on the other stool overlooking the kitchen, "Originally, the flat only occupied one half of this floor, consisting of a small kitchen, bedroom, and bath, with the rest being convalesent rooms. The upper floor was all convalesent rooms, for longer term care. Now, this space is a larger kitchen and living area, while we converted all of the upper floor to bedrooms, and a study, plus added a full size bath, and a laundry space. Then we redid the balcony area that was connected to what once was the bedroom, and converted the roof to a garden area."
"So you did what, triple the size of the flat?" Ranma asked.
"About that, I guess," Tofu replied, "Instead of the one bedroom, it now has four, and three full baths, counting the one down here."
"And I like the study since that gives us both an area to work in, and then the garden is something that I am sure that I will enjoy," Kasumi added, as she tasted the soup. With a slight frown, she gave a negligent shake of salt over the pot, and then tasted it again. The frown disappeared at that taste. "I think everything is ready now," she added, "So if you would sit at the table, I'll bring everything over."
"Are you sure you don't need a hand?" Ranma asked.
Kasumi smiled and replied, "I suppose I could use a little help. If each of you take a bowl of soup to the table, I can plate the stir-fry and bring that over on a tray."
A few minutes later found the four of them sitting at the table, bowls of soup, another of rice, and plates of stir-fry in front of them. After giving thanks for the meal in front of them, and spending a few minutes of silence feasting on the bounty in front of them, Kasumi asked, "So how are things since we've moved out?"
"Well, as you probably expected, Yumi, Sayuri, and Hinako basically stepped up and took over the household, not that I am really complaining," Akane said, with a grin, "Even though I've gotten better, I'm still not as good a cook as any of them, much less you. And, to be honest, neither Ranma or I really have the time to spend taking care of things, what with the classes we are teaching and the training that we are doing outside of that."
"You do need to be careful with that, after all, it is your house now," Kasumi chided.
Akane glanced at her husband and then replied, "It's just the day to day things that they take care of. Anything major comes to us for decisions. We know this is a short term solution, and hopefully something that will only last until we get most, if not all, of our college education taken care of."
"Though if I am reading things correctly, Yumi may have something else to occupy herself in a few months," Ranma said, with a wide grin, surprising all of them.
"What?" Kasumi asked, for all of them.
"Well," Ranma said, blushing slightly, " I would rather she see her doctor first to find out if I am right. But, if I am, she wasn't the one having issues with getting with child, instead it was her ex-husband."
"I still don't understand," Akane complained.
Ranma replied, "I can sense ki, not to Doc's level, but reasonably well, something that you are getting close to doing. And today, when I was with Yumi in the kitchen, I could sense two different ki's. And while I haven't been around any woman who is expecting, that's the only thing that makes sense to me."
"That would be nice if it is true," Kasumi said, "She has been very good for Daddy, but I could tell he was still sad. This will perhaps allow him to finally forgive himself for Mommy's passing."
"That would be nice," Akane added, "Especially if it gives him something else to focus on instead of me or Nabiki."
"The other piece of news is that Ucchan's is beginning to expand. Our new partner, Akemi Ropponogi moved in a few days ago once her rooms were ready, and they have already begun to grow the menu beyound okonomiyaki," Ranma said.
"Ropponogi, you say? I knew a family by that name," Tofu said, "Mother, daughter and son, if I remember correctly, lived near my home as I was growing up. I wonder if they are related. Mother died about the time I headed off to college, and I never heard what happened to the children."
"Akemi is a little younger than you, I think," Akane said, "With red hair, looks a little like Ranma when he's a girl."
"Don't think it's the same girl, I would have remembered red hair, I think, since it isn't all that common," Tofu said, "Where'd she come from, do you know?"
"Well, Pop found her performing as an exotic dancer in some bar," Ranma said.
"A dancer, I didn't know that. Maybe she can teach me some moves," Kasumi said, innocently.
"Um, Kasumi, an exotic dancer is a stripper, someone who takes their clothes off while dancing," Akane, "It's pretty erotic."
Kasumi stared at her for a moment, her eyes wide, and then said, "Akane, I do know what an exotic dancer is. I'm not that naive."
"B-but," Akane began.
"Always the quiet ones, right Doc?" Ranma asked, grinning at his friend.
"So, I suppose she's shaken up Ukyo and Konatsu a bit then," Tofu said.
"Not really, according to Ukyo," Akane said.
"Well, Ucchan did snicker a little when she described the first night after they closed. Apparently Akemi thinks that knickers and an apron are the best things to wear while washing dishes," Ranma said, with a grin, "Plus, her robes apparently don't hide much of anything, either."
"I'm surprised Ukyo didn't have a fit, then, with Konatsu working with a mostly nude woman," Tofu said.
"Naw, she just said that she'd probably be the one who benefited the most from him being 'bothered' by Akemi," Akane replied.
"Have they finished the conversion already?" Kasumi asked.
Ranma replied, "No, they haven't even touched the ground floor at all, and still need to finish the expansion of the flat on the first floor. The plan was to get Akemi's rooms done first, get some of the expansion completed, and then start the ground floor conversion, before getting back to finishing the first floor. They want to get the restaurant expansion done, so they can have a big opening before Ukyo gets too far along in her pregnancy, and they don't really need the extra space upstairs until near the due date."
"I hope they didn't schedule things too tightly, babies come when they are ready, after all," Kasumi said.
Akane replied, "I think the plan was to have everything completed about six weeks before."
Ranma corrected her, "Actually, it was eight weeks, to complete the living space. The private dining rooms, and small office, those I think were the six weeks."
"That should be safe enough," Tofu said.
Kasumi still looked concerned, and made herself a mental note to talk to the foreman.
Ukyo finished giving Konatsu a set of unnecessary instructions, especially since they were mostly a repeat of what she had been telling him for months, while he masterfully avoided rolling his eyes at her. With a heavy sigh, she glanced over at Akemi, who was grinning at her. "Hush you," Ukyo said, "Try to keep each other out of trouble while I'm at school."
"I'm sure we'll manage," Konatsu said, straight-faced. Then he bent down and kissed her, giving her a full body embrace. "There, that should get you off to school in a good mood," he added, as she looked at him slightly dazed. He handed her school bag to her, and then gently turned her toward the front door.
Ukyo shook herself and looked back over her shoulder. "I'm sure you're proud of yourself now, aren't you?" she asked.
"If you don't get going, you'll be late," Konatsu commented.
"I'm going," Ukyo said, opening the door, and stepping through, only to cry out in shock.
Konatsu burst through the opening, followed closely by Akemi, to see Ukyo staring at a yatai. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"It can't be," Ukyo said, as she knelt to the ground and looked beneath the cart. "Oh my God, it is. There's my name, and Ranma's right where we put them!" she exclaimed.
"There's a note," Akemi said, as she stepped forward and grabbed the paper that was pinned to the okonomiyaki cart. Glancing at it quickly, she handed it to Ukyo, saying, "It's for you, of course."
Ukyo rose to her feet, her hands shaking too badly to read the paper.
Konatsu snatched it out of her hands, and read the note aloud, "Ukyo, while I know that we have satisfied your honour with your marriage to my son Konatsu, I decided to return your dowry to do with as you will. Genma Saotome."
"What should we do with this? We can't just leave it on the street," Akemi asked.
"Why would he do this?" Ukyo asked.
"I haven't a clue, but Akemi-san has a valid point," Konatsu replied.
"I can't deal with this now, maybe you can take it into the alley behind the restaurant for now, and then when I get home from school, maybe I can think about it then," Ukyo said.
"This doesn't change anything, you know, you are still my wife and the mother of our children, so don't let this get you in a frenzy," Konatsu said.
Ukyo stared at him uncertainly, and then nodded. "I'll see you this afternoon, and now I really have to run," she said.
"Not this many months pregnant," Akemi warned, "You'll go safely, or I'll walk you to school."
"But I'll be late," Ukyo complained.
"Tell them you had a pre-natal checkup," Akemi suggested, "They'll cut you some slack when you tell them that. If your homeroom teacher is female, she'll likely sympathise, and if it's a male, then he'll want to get as far away from that subject as he can."
"You're a bad girl, aren't you?" Ukyo asked.
"As bad as I want to be," Akemi agreed, watching as her young friend headed down the street.
"Should I follow?" Konatsu asked, after a moment.
"If you can keep her from seeing you," Akemi replied.
Konatsu looked at her affronted.
"Oh, right, forget I said anything," Akemi said, shamefaced.
Konatsu literally vanished from her sight.
Author's Note: Another chapter in the ongoing saga. Yes, I FINALLY update. Sorry for the delay, real life decided to interrupt. On the good side, I did manage to get a far piece into the next chapter of Am I pretty. As always, comments and constructive criticisms are welcomed and encouraged.