Nabiki? … Impossible!
With A Lot of Help from My Friends…
In a darkened room just outside of Nerima, a young woman sat beneath the dim glow of a lamp scribbling down the final words to a long and lengthy letter, praying that it would be enough to produce the results she so desperately needed. With deliberate care, she folded it up sealing it in an envelope to join the small pile near the phone.
"Okay," whispered Nabiki Tendo, heaving a light sigh. "Let's get phase two started"
She placed a large brown leather portfolio down in front of her, thumbing through several photographs. Carefully, she would pull one out and set it aside until she reached the last page and closed the portfolio. Nabiki then cleared a space and began arranging the photos into groups, shifting pictures as she made adjustments to their role in the battle soon to come.
"There," she said, satisfied with the final outcome. Fourteen familiar faces stared up at her, faces she had known through out the many years living in Nerima. Fourteen people who now held the key to her salvation from the evil blighting her lifestyle. It was all she had, the last chance to end this misery and gain revenge upon Okura Maeda and his associates once and for all.
A devious smile formed on Nabiki's face as she mentally reviewed her plans for the umpteenth time. It was almost midnight and there were still task to do before the morning. It would be a long night for sure, but well worth the efforts. If they were successful by next week it would be she calling the shots, grinding the sharpest spiked heels she owned into that bastard's back…
The Hibiki Farm, Outskirts of North Nerima;
A police car rolled to a stop in front of Ryoga Hibiki's country-side home, and he stepped out, ready to call it a day. Ryoga stretched with a yawn and pulled his lunch bag from the back seat closing the door.
He came around to the driver's side of the car and leaned down. "Thanks Ranma," he said to his partner. "Going to be good to have the day off tomorrow, eh"
Ranma agreed. "Yeah it is. So what are you and Akari planning to do, huh"
"Not much really. Spend some time together, maybe watch a video"
"She's not going to drag you out back to tend to her prized pigs"
"I ask if she wants help, but you know her… all spunk and crazy-like"
"That's why you married her," said Ranma with a laugh.
Ryoga smiled. "What about you"
"Oh, same'ol stuff. Fend off Akane, try to get some sleep, fend off Akane, read a good book, fend off Akane"
"She's still trying to give you an heir"
"Yep, and I keep telling her we're not ready yet"
"Well, don't keep putting her off to long. She might do something drastic and slip some Viagra into your meal"
Ranma smirked. "Not a chance… and she already tried that"
"Ooookay," replied Ryoga stepping back. "Well I'll let you get home to your activities"
Ranma threw the car into gear. "Right. See you"
"Later… oh one more thing. Why do you always get to keep the car"
"Are you kidding?" answered Ranma. "If I let you drive yourself home, you'd probably end up in Nagasaki, or worse; China"
He drove off, leaving Ryoga standing dumbfounded. "No I wouldn't," he said then thought again. "Okay, maybe," he finally said and headed up the walkway.
"Akari!" called Ryoga as he entered. He could hear the television from their living room, and then the patter of steps as Akari Hibiki dressed in her evening yakata trundled out to greet him.
"Ryoga-sama!" she said.
The sight of his young bride brought a smile to Ryoga's face, and they embraced in a passionate kiss. Even after two years of marriage, the couple still acted like newlyweds, never shy about expressing their feelings about the other.
"Yes," said Ryoga as they drew apart. "This is why I work so hard every day. The evening homecoming"
Akari giggled. "Just the evening homecoming?" she asked.
"No, not just that, dear! I mean I miss you every moment of the day"
"You'd better, Mister Hibiki. Otherwise I'd start to think you and Ranma were doing more than just patrolling the streets"
The couple laughed walking inside. After a welcome soak in the furo, Ryoga now dressed in his evening attire relaxed at the table as Akari cleared away the remains of their dinner. He sat going quietly through some of the mail, tossing junk mail into one pile destined for the rubbish heap, regular correspondence in another, and bills in a third.
"Akari!" he called holding up one in front of him.
"What's this bill for 'inoculation fees"
"That's for Katsunisheki so he can participate in the upcoming Sumo tournaments next month"
Katsunisheki, their champion sumo pig. Sometimes he wondered if it was worth having a farm full of pigs and livestock.
"But 10000 Yen?" he called back.
Akari stuck her head out into the room. "Now, Ryoga, you know we must take good care of Katsuni and his family. They are very delicate animals"
"Huh? But dear, 2000 Yen"
Akari rolled her eyes and ducked back in. She finished putting away the dishes as Ryoga grumbled, returning to the table. Ryoga sat speechless as she gathered up all of the bills placing them on the floor.
"So they're going to get done all by themselves?" he asked her.
"Oh stop, Ryoga," Akari replied giving him a light swat on the head. "You only have one day off, so try to enjoy it"
"I do enjoy it, Akari, but I'd like to have some peace of mind first"
"Work, work, work, work, work! Ryoga-sama, for a change you and I are going to forget all about work, bills and even the farm"
"We are?" he said, surprised by Akari's statement.
She nodded and broke out in a wide grin. Akari came around and sat down straddling his lap. She gave him a kiss, working her way down around his neck.
"Wow! Akari… honey… dear… wh-wh-why don't we take this into the BEDROOM!" Ryoga said.
She stopped abruptly, sitting back. From out of her kimono Akari produced what appeared to be a letter. "What's that?" asked Ryoga.
"This is what we are doing tomorrow," she replied. Akari slipped to one side and opened the letter up, reading off its contents.
"To the Hibiki Family… that's us… You are cordially invited to spend an afternoon with the Furinkan Junior Kabuki Troupe tomorrow at twelve o'clock. From the Board of Directors, Furinkan High School"
"Yes, you know. Art and culture"
"Eeh? I don't want to go see some Kabuki show"
Akari thumped Ryoga's chest, frowning at him. "Ryoga Hibiki, don't be such a stick-in-the-mud"
"I thought we were going to spend time together tomorrow"
"And this is the perfect way to spend an afternoon instead of watching 'The Bourne Identity' again for the fifty-billionth time"
"Hey, what's wrong with that"
She thumped him again. "No, arguments! Besides, it would be rude to turn down such an offer, not to mention make us look bad to the rest of the community"
She had him there and as a police officer that would be almost the kiss of death, not to mention draw the wrath from the entire department. Ryoga gave in. "Okay, okay, we go to the theater tomorrow"
Akari gave him a firm hug. "We'll have a great time, and afterwards we'll go out for dinner, maybe a little dancing, a stroll through the park"
"No." replied Ryoga.
A sly grin appeared. "I have something better in mind. Want a sneak preview"
"This better not have anything to do with Tom Cruise or Matt Damon," answered Akari, leaning back.
Ryoga shook his head and then in a flash scooped Akari up rolling to the floor. She squealed in surprise then started giggling as Ryoga nibbled playfully on her neck.
"Oh…ooo… I can't wait," she gasped. "There's only one thing I can't understand.
Ryoga leaned up thinking about that for a moment. "Friendly gesture?" he said with a shrug.
"That's very thoughtful of them then"
Ryoga smiled. "With that settled… where was I? Oh yes"
Apartment of Ranma and Akane Saotome:
Ranma tip-toed down the hallway of his apartment complex, hoping and praying that he could sneak into his home and past Akane before she even knew he was there. His keys were clutched tight in one hand, tension drawing beads of sweat to his brow.
She's just got to stop hitting me like this, he thought nearing the door to their apartment. Look at me, I'm terrified too even open this door. I'm supposed to be head of the house and I feel like a mouse hiding from a cat.
That last word made him shudder, and he paused sliding the key into the lock. With a slow turn, Ranma carefully pushed the door open just enough to peek around. Nope, no sign of his overly active wife at least from this view, Ranma walked in.
He could hear the television on in the next room, but oddly nothing on the stove to signify that diner was being prepared. Strange, Ranma removed his shoes and walked further in. Something's not right here, he thought. Not like Akane to not have my dinner at least halfway done. A peek into the living room found it empty. There on the table was what looked like today's mail and it appeared that his wife had stopped in the middle of it for some unknown reason.
Worry pushed aside his fear and he called out Akane's name. There came no reply from the bedroom and Ranma scratched his head. "Where could that woman be?" he wondered.
"Bang," came a voice from behind and Ranma leaped in the air with a cry spinning around. There stood Akane, wearing her yellow summer dress and low shoes, carrying several sacks of grocery in one hand.
"Oh, Akane, you had me there," he said, dropping to his knees.
Akane arched a brow, neutral to his reaction. "Yes I did," she replied. "Too bad I wasn't prepared for it"
Akane went off into the kitchen leaving Ranma staring dumbfounded at her. "Well this is a change," he said, crawling over to the nearest zabuton.
"What? I'm not pressing you, or that you got as far as you did without having to fake being tired"
"I don't fake being tired"
Akane stuck her head out from the kitchen. "Yes-you-do," she curtly replied.
Damn, she's on to me, Ranma thought. "So what's the reason that dinner is late tonight?" he asked.
"I got so tied up preparing my traps for you that I completely forgot what time it was"
Akane peeked out again. "Kidding, Ranma-chan," she said.
Ranma desperately gasped for breath trying to settle down as Akane laughed. He sighed slumping across the table. His eyes drifted over to the stack of mail, particularly one that lay open on top. I looked like something formal written on fine parchment paper. Ranma grabbed it, sitting up to read its contents.
"Kabuki show?" he shouted.
"You found it," replied Akane.
A bell chimed from the kitchen, some cabinet doors opening then closing and Akane entered carrying a tray of steaming ramen and two dishes of shabu-shabu, placing it on the table.
"Just the thing for your day off tomorrow," she said, taking the zabuton beside him.
"A Kabuki show?" Ranma said again.
"At Furinkan High School no less." Akane let out a sigh, gazing staidly up at the ceiling. "It'll be nice to see our old stomping grounds again"
"I see them at least three times a day, Akane," replied Ranma. "I don't want to go back there, especially on my day off"
"Oh, stop being such a baby," countered Akane, taking the lid off the bowl of Ramen. She scooped out a portion for Ranma unfurling several of the delicious beef strips on his plate. Open," she said, pushing a clump of noodles and meat into his mouth.
"I haven't been there in some time, and I want to see what they have to offer," finished Akane.
"Buft (smack), Akanepht!... Its mphf day offpht"
"Don't talk with your mouth full," scolded Akane. "I know, but I want to get out of the house, and we haven't been on a date in a long time"
Ranma swallowed, stopping to look at his wife. "A date?" he asked her. She nodded and he sat back thinking.
"You still call it that when you're married"
Akane laughed. "Silly. Yes! You are so out of touch with things"
"Hey, I'm not out of touch. I'm a cop, remember"
"Then we should show our support for the community and go see the show"
"Okay, since you put it that way"
They ate on in silence, finishing their meals. Ranma let out a satisfied grunt, leaning back as Akane cleared the table.
"Got to hand it too you, Akane. You might have some difficulties with the stove, but you're a mean cook with the microwave," he said patting his stomach.
"Why thank you, Ranma"
Strange, thought Ranma. Normally she would have something more sarcastic to say when he joked about her cooking. Maybe she's finally come to grips with reality and has learned to adjust? He glanced back in the direction of the kitchen. No, not her. Something is up.
"You are in a strange mood tonight"
"Yes. I mean, normally you'd be pressing me about our future offspring, if you know what I mean"
There came a short pause, and then Akane could be heard giggling from the kitchen, picking up as she returned to the living room. Her body suddenly pressed up against him from behind and Ranma jumped slightly as Akane began rubbing his neck and shoulders.
"Nope. Tonight I want you well rested for tomorrow. You're not going to fall asleep and embarrass me during the show"
"Oh." Ranma almost sounded disappointed. "Guess I should be thanking Furinkan then for the peace and quiet I'm getting"
"It is only temporary, my reluctant husband," said Akane. "Believe me"
Ranma gulped, tipping his head back to her. She smiled a devious glint in her eyes. "Yikes," he muttered, staring forwards again. A thought hit him.
"You know, Akane, I don't recall Furinkan ever having a kabuki club. Do you"
Akane pondered a moment. "No," she answered. "But it is good to see the school supporting this. Better than having our next generation break dancing in chikamatsu plays"
"Ah, so true, so true," agreed Ranma.
The Nekohanten Restaurant:
A long line of people stood waiting for the next open seat in front of the Nekohanten Café, while inside several waiters and waitresses rushed from table to table trying to satisfy their customer's needs. Over the years the restaurant had grown from a small establishment to a full-sized fare featuring the best local and Chinese food this side of Nerima.
Its two elegantly decorated floors were packed this night, a good thing to the Hatten's current owner and manager standing at the second floor railing looking down on the restaurant. Shampoo's long tresses of purple hair were tied neatly into their usual ponytails, a well fitting knee-high purple cheongsam dress accenting its rich colors. However, the reigning mistress of the Nekohanten was not pleased about several things as she barked orders and gave out withering stares at her staff.
"Momoi! You not fill table three's order yet, and they been waiting ten minutes! Get food now!" she shouted to an unfortunate waiter, stamping an angry foot on the floor. She planted her fist on her hips turning towards another pair of waitresses trying rapidly to clear several tables for the next party.
"They have eight guests in group not six!" Shampoo hammered at them, "We need two more chairs, chop-chop"
One of the girls scurried off to the back room; Shampoo rolling her eyes up with a frustrated sigh. Things were settling down and she decided to take a break, heading to the stairway leading up to the managers office. She went in and flopped down on a small couch, heaving another long sigh.
"I swear we need to hire new evening staff," said Shampoo.
At the desk, a dark haired man sat typing on a computer, making occasional looks at the pile of letters and receipts spread out on it. Mousse flicked down his glasses when he heard Shampoo speak, swiveling the chair around towards her.
"Are they not moving fast enough for you again?" he asked.
"All moving like they have lead weights tied to feet! We have customers waiting outside, and more coming every minute"
"A good night it's going to be then," he replied. "So now do you think we should put in the outdoor patio"
"You tell me," said Shampoo, "You keeping books"
Mousse turned back to the computer and called up one of their ledgers. "Well, this quarter is not looking bad at all. We've already turned some considerable profit"
"Is good," said Shampoo with a smile. Anything that increased their wealth was good news to her. She came up behind the chair peering over Mousse's shoulder at the screen.
"Can we support overhead and extra salaries though?" she asked him.
"Hmm," sounded Mousse. "It might be tight, depending upon how many tables we put in and how many more employees we hire"
For such an annoying man in their younger days, Shampoo could not help but thank the stars for Mousse and his surprising skills at accounting. Once Ranma and Akane were wed, Cologne called it quits and decided to retire and let Shampoo takeover running the Nekohanten. It was difficult at first, several near run blunders almost costing the girl the restaurant, but with his help, and a substantial loan from Nabiki, she was able to salvage things. Now, although still not married, the couple ran a most lucrative business that showed no signs of slowing down.
Shampoo smiled, leaning down giving Mousse a peck on one cheek.
"Uh, does that mean you like the idea," Mousse nervously asked.
"It mean we do it whenever you feel necessary," she answered.
Mousse pulled his fogged up glasses off and wiped them clean. It promised to be a good night for him, he thought. Just wish I could get her to commit to marriage. Then I can really show her what I could do with this place.
A crash from downstairs brought both of them around.
"Damn!" exclaimed Shampoo. "They drop more dishes each day than all of dayshift combined"
She was about to go and thrash whoever had the mishap, when Mousse suddenly grabbed her by the hand.
"Hold on, Shampoo," he told her. "It's okay, we've enough stock to cover any loss, and accidents happen"
"But it cost us money"
"Let it go, Shampoo. Relax; the stress is starting to show on your face"
Shampoo gasped, placing her hands to her cheeks. She scrambled over to the mirror on the wall and let out a tiny squeal.
"No! Face getting all wrinkly!" she said.
"Because you're letting trivial things get to you. Now sit down for a moment, I've got something to tell you anyway"
Shampoo looked puzzled at him and sat back down on the couch. Mousse picked one of the letters up from the desk and started to read.
"'To the Manager and Assistant Manager of the Nekohanten. In appreciation for all of the charitable contributions you have provided our fair community, you are cordially invited to attend a special showing of dance and music by the Furinkan Junior Kabuki Troupe tomorrow at Noon. We will be honored by your presence"
He set it down and looked at her. "What do you say"
"Lunchtime," answered Shampoo.
"It during lunchtime! Who going to watch restaurant then"
"And that's why you're developing crow's feet before your time too," replied Mousse waving an accusing finger at her.
"What you say about Shampoo"
"I'm saying that you need a break and this is a good time for it"
"But what about restaurant"
"We can get Cologne to watch things for us. After all, she's not doing much of anything right now"
Shampoo thought about the idea for a moment then shook her head. "No. Shampoo not go. I need to be here and watch restaurant"
"Aw, come on, Shampoo!" exclaimed Mousse. "We haven't been anywhere together since you took over this place. Let's go out and forget about managing and money for just a little while"
"Shampoo need to be here! Stress not hurting me"
"That's not what your face is telling me"
"Fine, you go then, but Shampoo stay here"
Another crash of dishes made Shampoo hunch her shoulders, wincing as it passed. She opened one eye and peeked around spying Mousse watching her with a bemused expression. Her fingers felt along the creases wrinkling her furrowed brows and then along the sides of her face.
"Okay," she said after a moment. "We go to show"
"Great," said Mousse. "You will not regret it"
She stood up, straightening her dress and went for the door. "I know. After I get done trouncing help, I will need to take long break"
Shampoo left, her angry yells echoing loudly through the hallways. Mousse heaved a sigh, returning to his work.
"It looks like we'll have to put that expansion off after all. Too bad…"
A long day, thought Ukyo Kuonji as she cleared away the last of the utensils from the service counter. Business had been brisk and continuous and she was eager to close the doors and get home for some long needed sleep.
Times had been very good for her now ever since completing school. Free of distractions, Ukyo concentrated on making Ucchans a first rate restaurant in town, and that she more than succeeded. Not as large or as luxurious as the Nekohanten, still Ukyo's reputation as a fine cook drew in more than her fair share of customers both near and far.
But there were times when she wondered if it was all worth it. Still single, the day Ranma finally slipped from her grasp was indeed a bitter event. It was the only reason she came to Nerima in the first place. Still, she remained good friends to 'Officer' Saotome, and wished he and Akane well in their futures. There was nothing left for her but Ucchans, the only family she had left.
The scraping of tables shifting in the dinning room drew her attention and she looked over to where Tsubasa Kurenai worked sweeping the floors. Ah, the ever present Tsubasa, Ukyo thought with a light smile. His help and comfort during all the times of trouble was greatly appreciated. His infatuation for her rivaled the goodness in his heart, but Ukyo could not consider him as a potential mate in the near future. No, Ranma would always hold that spot, not that Tsubasa wasn't handsome when he decided to wear men's clothing instead of skirts.
"Okay, I bear a little responsibility for that," she said to herself, thinking back on the times when she used to disguise herself as a boy in school. Tsubasa naturally countered trying to win her love in any way, responding with a disguise of his own with unfortunate consequences.
The doors leading to the back opened and the second part of her hired help appeared carrying a small tub full of clean dishes. And then there's Konatsu, the other half of the love triangle Ukyo found herself tangled up in. Another man interested in her, Konatsu approached his situation with patience and calm preferring to observe from a distance but always there when Ukyo needed assistance. He too preferred to disguise himself in woman's clothes, passing ably for one without effort. Konatsu also was a highly trained ninja and more than once were his unique services called upon to settle occasional problems in the restaurant when they arose.
Right now he had shed his usual kimono for long pants and tank top shirt, his skin glistening with sweat from all the washing and cleaning of dishes and pans. Setting the tub on a table, Konatsu sat down in one of the counter stools.
"Well, the back is spick and span for tomorrow," he said with a tired sigh.
"Good," replied Ukyo. "All that's left is to set the tables, take out the garbage and go home"
Tsubasa stopped from his work taking the stool next to Konatsu. "And I can use a long soak in the furo right about now too," he added.
"You both worked hard today that's for sure," said Ukyo. "We really made out income wise"
"So that means bonuses in our next paychecks?" asked Tsubasa.
A narrow frown from Ukyo made him draw back.
"Maybe we can hire additional help with the excess," suggested Konatsu.
"Now that could happen," said Ukyo.
"Shoot! And I was hoping for a raise too," Tsubasa said.
"Patience, my lovelorn apprentice. Christmas is approaching and if things turn out better during the next quarter, you should see more yen in your wallet"
That did not satisfy Tsubasa, smirking slightly as Konatsu laughed beside him. "Yeah, almost a whole year," he mumbled to himself.
Ukyo was not blind to his dissatisfaction, but even though they were showing profit the bills still had to be paid. She secretly pondered expanding Ucchans much like Shampoo did with the Nekohatten and that required more money than they had on hand now. The notion of dealing with Nabiki Tendo for some support did come to mind, but somehow it did not feel right at all. The woman may be a long time friend, but when it came to business Nabiki Tendo mutated into another person altogether.
Of course she could speak to Ranma about it.
"Say guys," she said breaking away from the current topic. "What say instead of opening up tomorrow, we do something else"
That shocked the two men and they traded looks. "You mean not open up Ucchans?" asked Konatsu unsure of what he heard.
Tsubasa reached out, carefully placing the tip of a finger on the surface of the grill. "Nope, it's not the heat," he said, drawing back.
"Stop it you two," snapped Ukyo. She pulled a letter out from one of her pockets, opening it up. "I've got a little surprise for both of you"
"You mean there's more?" questioned Tsubasa.
She paused; shooting him another dark look then began reading the letter.
"'To Miss Ukyo Kuonji of Ucchans Restaurant. We, the faculty of Furinkan High School would like to meet with you and discuss arrangements for your services in the upcoming Ten Year Class Reunion. Your foods and skills have been rated par excellence above all the other restaurants considered. Please come to the Furinkan Auditorium tomorrow at noon so we may discuss fees and menus for this joyous occasion. Signed 'The Furinkan Faculty Board"
Ukyo placed the letter down and smiled brightly at them. "So, what do you think about that?" she asked them.
"An honor," replied Konatsu.
"A chance to maximize our income," said Tsubasa.
Barely did the flat end of Ukyo's spatula miss Tsubasa's backside as he dived out of harms way.
"Money is not all we work for!" she shouted at him.
"No, but it will get me a raise sooner," he replied.
She let out a huff looking to Konatsu. He held a bemused smile on his face wisely remaining silent. "You better not be thinking about encouraging him either"
"What, me? No, no, no, boss lady. I like being able to sit down in a chair"
Tsubasa cautiously retook his seat and Ukyo stared at them.
"So?" she asked.
They thought cutting occasional looks at one another. Konatsu arched a brow, nodding slowly. "I think it will be worth our while," he said.
Tsubasa shrugged. "Okay by me if that's what you want to do"
"That is what I want to do," said Ukyo. "We get out of this place for a while, conduct some business, and then take a long stroll around town. I'll even spring for dinner"
"Up! I'm sold now!" exclaimed Tsubasa, banging a fist on the counter. "Two free meals is alright by me"
"It takes a meal to win you over," said Ukyo. "I'll keep that in mind next time you ask for more money"
"Starting to sound like Ranma Saotome," added Konatsu.
Tsubasa tensed at the remark, sitting up straight. "Nothing can compete with his appetite," he said.
Ukyo laughed at them, shaking her head in disbelief. "Alright, then it's settled. Tomorrow, we go set up this catering deal and then take the rest of the day off"
"With a free dinner," Tsubasa reminded her.
"With a free dinner," echoed Ukyo. "Now both of you get off your butts and finish setting up the restaurant"
Konatsu and Tsubasa scurried off to finish setting up. Ukyo looked down at the letter again rubbing her chin thoughtfully. "Strange, I wonder why the Furinkan Faculty is planning a reunion. Normally the last student class leaders were responsible for that."
Furinkan Auditorium, the next day:
Ranma and Akane stood outside Furinkan High School's Auditorium staring at the closed doors with some trepidation. If there was to be some sort of kabuki show, it must be a well kept secret. The couple looked around, noting the lack of other attendees, a parking lot half empty and worse, no signs of life coming from inside.
"I thought the letter said at noon?" Ranma finally said.
Akane opened her purse pulling out the invitation and re-read it. "Yep, that's what it says"
He glanced at his watch. It was ten minutes to twelve.
"We are a bit early, but that does not explain why this place looks dead"
"Maybe they're running late?" questioned Akane.
"But the school is open and I have not seen any kids coming from or going to gym classes either"
They stared at the doors again.
"Let's go in anyway," suggested Akane.
"What? Akane-dear, something tells me we've been made the butt of a practical joke"
"Ooo, maybe television!" Akane gazed excitedly around searching for any hidden cameras.
"Listen to you. (Sheesh!) Akane, we need to go." Ranma's voice rose up a few decibels. "And if this is a television joke, I will be around tomorrow to bust everyone involved!" he shouted.
"Will you stop being such a policeman"
"I don't like being made fun of"
Akane laughed, gabbing hold of one arm. "Listen, let's go inside and wait a few minutes. If nobody shows up, we'll continue our date and go down to Ukyo's for lunch"
Mentioning food reminded Ranma how hungry he was. He might have been upset, but the prospect of enjoying some of Ukyo's fantastic cooking sounded real good to him.
"Okay. We'll give them twenty minutes, and if nobody shows up, we leave"
Akane agreed with him and they went to the doors. Ranma grabbed the handle and pressed down hearing the latch slide back. He pushed it open and they found themselves staring into the dimly lit auditorium. The stage was bare, every chair empty with no signs that anyone had been there at all today. Trading lost looks, Ranma took the lead with Akane huddled close behind him.
"Hello!" he called out. "Anybody here"
Still no reply.
Halfway down the aisle Ranma stopped. "Akane, this is not a good idea," he said.
Akane looked nervously around at the empty seats. "We said we'd give it some time," she replied.
He shrugged and led her into one of the row of seats. They sat near the middle of the auditorium and quietly stared up at the vacant stage. Suddenly, Ranma chuckled to himself.
"What's so funny?" asked Akane.
"The stage. Remember when Gosunkugi tried to impersonate you and sent me that note saying you had been taken prisoner"
The memory of Hikaru's insulting impersonation sent flames rushing to Akane's temples. Such an embarrassment then she recalled the events that followed, laughing herself.
"Yeah, yeah and then we found out you are such a 'fraidy cat of cats"
The humor in Ranma died away, eyes cutting down at her as she continued to laugh. "Don't remind me 'Hikaru-chan"
They went silent again hoping that somebody would show up soon. From the doorway dim voices could be heard growing louder as they got closer to the auditorium. At the doors a figure appeared, shadowed by the sunlight outside. Ranma squinted trying to make out who it was and then the voices returned.
"It said noon, didn't it, Ukyo?" Tsubasa's girlish voice said.
"Yes it did, Tsubasa. I can read"
"There's nobody here"
"Maybe we're early?" said Konatsu.
Ranma rose up. "Ucchan?" he called.
Ukyo froze in her tracks shocked to see Ranma sitting there. "Ranma-chan!" she cried out rushing down the aisle.
"Ranma?" said Tsubasa, following with Konatsu close behind.
Ukyo was half way to Ranma when she spotted Akane sitting beside him. All of her joy died away as bitter thoughts resurfaced. They were married now and Ukyo had to fight the urges inside her. "Oh, hello, Akane," she said.
"Hi, Ukyo," replied Akane. "Hey, we were thinking about coming by Ucchans if this Kabuki show turned out to be a dud"
"That would have been nice. It's been a long time since we— Kabuki show? What Kabuki show"
"The one that's supposed to be happening here now," answered Ranma.
Konatsu and Tsubasa joined in from the seats behind them. "You must be mistaken, Ranma," said Konatsu. "There's no Kabuki show being preformed here"
"But we got a letter!" shouted Akane, pulling it out from her dress pocket.
"So did we," countered Ukyo, drawing out the one they received. "But there are supposed to be representatives from the Furinkan Faculty here to discuss our catering a class reunion"
Ranma took the letter and read it over. An awkward silence followed as the two parties found themselves at a loss wondering who or what was going on.
"I knew it sounded too good to be true," Tsubasa said.
"Hush! You're just upset because you might not get that raise," snapped Ukyo.
"Ranma thinks this is some kind of joke on us," said Akane.
"If it is, somebody is going to pay dearly for it," he said.
"And I closed up just for this!" grumbled Ukyo.
"We can always go back and open up, Ukyo," suggested Konatsu. "There is still the rest of the evening"
"Hey will you stop trying to put us back to work," said Tsubasa. "I want my free meal"
"Lets not worry about food right now, Kurenai," Ranma said. There was a dark look on his face, clearly not amused by the implications of the situation.
"No show, Ucchan says she's here for a meeting… I wonder if anyone else has fallen for this twisted joke"
"Yes," came a reply from behind them. At the doorway Ryoga stood with Akari watching them. Apparently he heard much of their conversation and did not like it one bit.
"Let me guess, you got a letter too?" Ranma said to him.
Ryoga nodded, leading Akari down to join them.
"Hello everybody," Akari said. "Long time no see"
"In any other circumstances I'd be glad to see you too, Akari," said Akane. "But this is not one of them"
"I don't get it? Who'd want us all here?" asked Tsubasa.
"There is a central theme," said Ukyo. "We all know each other, and we all are mostly friends"
Ryoga smirked trying to remember anything that would explain the situation. "I don't recall straightening out any malcontents, do you, Ranma"
"Nope, not that I can remember. How about you, Ukyo"
"It's been quiet the last few months around my neighborhood"
Another pair of voices approached the auditorium doors then in walked Shampoo and Mousse; bickering about something.
"I told you this not good idea!" said Shampoo.
"They're just not set up yet, that's all! Geesh! Will you give it a chance"
"Only chance I give is headstart for you! Shampoo think"
When the Amazon Woman spotted Ranma, all of her anger died away. "Ranma-chan!" she cried, that was until she spotted Akane moving protectively next to him. The anger returned.
"So! Ranma and sneaky Akane play bad joke on Shampoo, eh"
"Now calm down, Shampoo," begged Ranma, raising his hands up before him. "Nobody here is playing jokes on you"
Shampoo spotted Ryoga and Ukyo, realizing that something else was going on. "We supposed to be seeing silly Kabuki play during lunch rush! All Shampoo see is old friends and annoyances"
"You hear her, Ranma?" said Ryoga, "They got an invite for a Kabuki show too"
"So they did"
His eyes cutting suspiciously around the auditorium, Ranma tried to make sense of this sudden calling of his friends. "Whoever is luring us here, I'd bet they're hiding somewhere close by"
"You'd think," added Ukyo, looking at the dark corners of the upper tiers.
"Bah!" exclaimed Shampoo, "No time for silly bad jokes! Shampoo go back to restaurant"
"Hold on, Shampoo," Mousse said, stopping her. "We might want to find out who's doing this. Remember the last time somebody gathered us together suddenly"
She grimaced, recalling the dark days he referred to. "You think it him"
"No. An associate maybe, who knows, but if this is a trap it's too simple"
"Traps do not have to be elaborate to work either, Mousse," Ukyo said.
"Trap? What trap"
Everyone spun around surprised to see who it was standing in the doorway.
"Kasumi!" cried Akane, rushing up the aisle to greet her elder sister. Doctor Tofu stood waiting for someone to answer his question as the others came up to join them.
"Doc, what are you doing here?" asked Ranma.
"Was going to ask you the same thing, Ranma," he replied. "But I'd like to hear more about this trap someone was talking about"
Quickly did Ranma tell Doctor Tofu about the invitations they all had received. He let out a hum, thinking a moment.
"So who called you down here?" Akari asked.
"We were asked," answered Kasumi.
"By who?" said Mousse.
"NABIKI!" everyone exclaimed.
Ryoga suddenly clutched his lower right side as if in some pain. "Ryoga-sama, what's wrong?" Akari asked trying to help him.
"It's my wallet! It's trying to hide in my spleen"
Ranma rubbed the brief tension from his temples. "Doc," he continued, "Why did Nabiki ask you guys to come down here"
"She said she had something important to show us"
"In an auditorium?" said Tsubasa.
Kasumi shrugged. "We wondered that ourselves, but before we could get an answer, Nabiki ran out the house"
"Hmm, that's weird. Nabiki normally doesn't do things out of the ordinary unless it benefits her," said Akane.
"Well she's been under a lot of stress lately," Doctor Tofu pointed out. "Ever since she started working"
Several startled gasp echoed around him, looks of awe locked on Ono.
"So that rumor is true," Ukyo finally said.
"Wow… Nabiki Tendo working… inconceivable!" said Mousse.
"And it's not for herself or Tatewaki either," added Kasumi.
"I would've expected her to own Tatewaki and the Kuno Industries by now the way they've been going," said Ukyo.
Kasumi sadly shook her head. "No. Tatewaki found out who she's working for and got quite upset. I think he's disowned her"
"And now she's gathered us all together," said Ranma. He paused, eyes widening as a thought hit him. "Uh-oh, the job must not be paying well and she's trying to collect on past debts"
"Ranma!" shouted Akane. "How dare you accuse your sister-in-law of such a thing"
Skeptical looks fell on her, and Akane nervously chewed on her bottom lip thinking about her comment as well.
"Come, Mousse," Shampoo said, taking him by a hand. "You right, this is trap. Nabiki Tendo want money we owe her"
"But we can handle it, Shampoo," replied Mousse, but his words were futile as she dragged him along. The rest of the group traded looks then joined them in a hurried dash for the auditorium doors. Before anyone could exit though, a tall dark figure suddenly blocked their way.
"Tatewaki Kuno," gasped Shampoo staring up at him.
Tatewaki stood silently, am imposing figure dressed in a dark suit and shades. He took in the surrounding emptiness of the auditorium and walked in, forcing them back. Another look around, Tatewaki pulled off his sunglasses and said, "Is she here"
"Is who here?" said Ranma "Why Nabiki of course. I did hear you all mention her by name"
"Yeah, and we were just about too leave, so if you'll excuse us," Ukyo said.
Tatewaki remained in their way, and then another person came in from behind him.
"Dyahh! Kodachi!" cried Mousse.
Kodachi Kuno smiled deviously as if she was about to set upon some hapless prey. Excitement filled her eyes when she spotted Ranma amongst the group letting out one of here irritating titters.
"Ranma-darling! So is this a surprise gift from you, brother-dear"
"Not-hardly," Akane said with a sneer, placing herself between Ranma and the conniving Kuno. Kodachi reacted like a vampire facing a cross, letting out a hiss.
"It is the harpy who has possessed my beloved"
"You're just a sore-loser, you witch"
Tatewaki pulled his sister away, telling her to behave herself. "So," he continued, "Why are you all here"
"Well it's not to celebrate your greatness if that's what you are thinking," said Ryoga.
"Nabiki must be getting us all together for some reason," Ono said.
"But why?" wondered Ukyo. "I don't owe her any money"
"We do, and that why we leaving," Shampoo said.
Ranma patted her gently on one shoulder. "Hold on Shampoo," he said. His curiosity was thoroughly aroused now. "Tatewaki, what did Nabiki tell you"
"She didn't actually tell me anything. She just left me an extensive note on my desk this morning"
"How, I don't know," added Kodachi. "I could have sworn I cleared all of her access to our offices"
Tatewaki laughed while reaching into his jacket. "She only allowed you to clear the codes you thought were the right ones, sister," he said, pulling out a letter. "You underestimate our chief accountant"
"You fired her, remember"
"Not after reading the first part of this," he replied.
"That's nice of you, Tatewaki," said Kasumi. "Nabiki will be so happy"
Kodachi's mouth dropped open. "Is that why you dragged me down here, brother!" she shouted at him. "To force me to watch as you rehire that intruder into our firms"
"No, Nabiki asked me to bring you along. Incidentally, sister, you might enjoy this letter"
"Something good in there?" asked Ranma.
Tatewaki laughed again. "It reads like she is begging for forgiveness"
"I have heard it all now," said Konatsu. "Nabiki Tendo working, and now begging? This is not like her at all"
"No kidding," Ukyo said. "What else does that letter say"
Tatewaki did not answer as he rescanned the letter in his hands. The suspense grew as they waited then Ryoga let out a cry startling them.
"What does it say?" he exclaimed.
"Hold on… ah yes here it is… it says 'be patient, Hibiki"
"No, I added that to hold you off until I finished reading"
Ryoga smirked, narrowing an eye at the man.
Finally, Tatewaki finished rereading the letter. "Well, Nabiki wants to explain everything to me about her unfortunate situation with Maeda and her employment by him"
"Who's Maeda?" asked Akari.
"An opponent of mine"
"Who thankfully relieved us of Nabiki's foul manipulations by employing her," interrupted Kodachi.
"Will you stop being so thrilled about that!" snapped Tatewaki much to everyone's surprise. He noticed their reactions, clearing his throat nervously. "Ah… It hurt our corporation, yes that is it"
"Sure it did," Kasumi said with a giggle.
"Anyway," continued Ranma, "what is she going to explain too you, and why here of all places"
"She did not say in this letter"
Tatewaki reached into the other side of his jacket, pulling out another one. "If I recall correctly, I was to read this one once I have arrived here"
The rapid steps of somebody running up the walkway suddenly drew their attention and in through the door burst Hikaru Gosunkugi, gasping for air like he had just ran a marathon. Barely did he manage to avoid barreling into Kodachi, stumbling into the row beside her. After tussling about between the chairs, Hikaru slowly peered up.
"Am I late?" he asked.
"Late?" asked Tatewaki, "Gosunkugi, what are you doing here? Who let you out of your cubicle"
Hikaru flinched recognizing his current employer. "Gahh! The boss!" he said and ducked back down.
"Hikaru is not a lab rat for you to abuse," Akane said to Tatewaki. She went over to where Hikaru cowered and peered down at him. "Hikaru, please sit up"
Gosunkugi uncovered his head, gazing up at her. All of his terror melted away and he beamed at her gushing with joy. "Akaneeee," he trailed rising up towards her.
"Hey, hey, hey, hey!" said Ranma.
That broke Hikaru from his mood and he snapped up straight to his feet. "Uh, I mean, I am honored to see you again, M-M-Mrs. Saotome," he said, bowing.
The years had not changed much of Hikaru's looks or creepy complexion and Akane swallowed her fear, drawing slight back from Hikaru.
"Uh, it is nice to see you again, H-Hikaru," she replied.
"But what are you doing here!" shouted Tatewaki again.
"It lunchtime, silly Kuno!" said Shampoo.
"Our employees are fed intravenously at their stations! (Heh, Heh, Heh) An idea Nabiki came up with to maximize production"
"Maybe that's why she took the job with this Maeda guy," Tsubasa whispered to Konatsu.
"So let me guess, Hikaru," Ukyo said, pausing to shoot questioning glances at Tatewaki, "Nabiki told you to come here, right"
"No. I received a call… from Akane"
"I did not call you!" Akane cried, retreating back over to Ranma.
"But it was, I swear"
"Had to be Nabiki," said Ukyo. "When did you get this call, Hikaru"
"Half an hour ago"
"Not likely," said Ranma, "We've been here— Hikaru, you said half an hour ago"
"You work halfway across the city, Hikaru. How'd you get here so fast"
"I kind of ran"
"You ran?" said Ono. "That's physically impossible"
The warm blush colored Gosunkugi's cheeks as he gazed at Akane again. "But it was Akane," he told them.
Mousse, Doctor Tofu, and Ryoga held Ranma away from the love-struck fiend as he fought to get at Hikaru. "You haven't got over that yet have you, Hikaru?" he shouted. "I'm going to have to kick your ass after all"
"Ranma, please calm down," said Akane. "Tatewaki, what does that other letter say"
"Ah, yes." Tatewaki opened envelope and pulled out the letter. "Strange," he said. "There's only one sentence here"
"What does it say?" Ukyo repeated.
"It says, 'Go up onto the stage"
"Go up onto the stage?" questioned Mousse. "That's all"
"Then what does the rest of it say, man"
Tatewaki looked up. "'Please"
"No, that's the rest of it. 'Please"
Nobody knew what to make of the request. They all turned and stared at the dimly lit stage wondering what Nabiki had in store for them if they did comply with her request. Nervous looks were traded but not one person made any attempt to move.
"Oh look at us," said Akari. She let out a huff, walked around behind Ryoga and started pushing him down the aisle.
"Akari, what are you doing?" he cried.
"She's being polite so we should go and find out what it is she wants"
"But why us"
Ranma grinned at the couple. "You go, Hibikis'!" he called out encouraging them on. A swat on the arm from Akane startled Ranma and he found her glaring up at him.
"You should be going with him too," she said. "He is your partner"
Curse this woman! Ranma grimaced reluctantly agreeing. He cut his eyes back at her and grabbed Akane's hand.
"Hey I didn't say I was going with you!" she shouted in protest.
"He's my partner, so that makes Akari your partner. Let's go," replied Ranma, pulling her along.
Ono and Kasumi shrugged and followed their siblings.
Mousse knew they would get involved. "Okay, let's go," he said, heading after them.
"It still trap," muttered Shampoo but followed him.
The rest of them figured they might as well play along and soon everyone stood around the stage. Still no sign of Nabiki left them confused why she would want them all up there.
"This is silly," grumbled Kodachi. "I feel like a fool"
"Nabiki doesn't play games like this for nothing," said Ukyo. "Must be serious if she went through all of this trouble"
"Well I hope she appears soon," Tatewaki said. "I am starting to get very hungry"
"So am I," added Akane. "How about you, Ranma"
He did not answer her, and Akane turned to find him looking oddly up at the ceiling. He appeared to be squinting at something, no more like sniffing the air. She called him again and he looked at her.
"What is it"
"I smell food," he answered.
"That's your stomach talking to you," Ryoga said.
"No, no, wait," Tsubasa chimed in. He paused sniffing the air. "He's right, I smell food too"
Kasumi let out a hum, closing her eyes. "Mmm, soba noodles…, shrimp boiled in a light rice vinegar sauce…, water chestnuts"
Ono drew in a breath, also humming with pleasure. "Almost smells like your cooking, dear," he said.
"It is close, but lacking in a few areas"
"Where is it coming from?" asked Akari. "It's making me hungrier"
"A better question is who's doing the cooking," said Ukyo.
Ranma made a few more sniffs everyone watched as he moved first over to the front of the stage, turned, took a few more sniffs and then slowly walked towards the back stopping almost dead center.
"It's coming from around here," he told them.
They gathered around trying to pinpoint where the source of the aroma was.
"I don't see any vents," said Konatsu trying to pierce the darkness above.
"I'm getting tired of all this!" said Tatewaki. "Nabiki are you up there? If you're teasing us then stop and show yourself"
The crackle from a speaker echoed above them, and then Nabiki's voice called down.
Okay, Tatewaki, but I'm not up there
There was an audible click and then the floor beneath them opened up, swallowing their cries as they plummeted down into the abyss…