This story came to me while chopping up a particularly pungent onion
for a pork okonomi-yaki. I never believed that old wives' tale about
onions making one cry, but I'm starting to change that. Especially
when I have something to cry about...

Ranma 1/2 is the property of Rumiko Takahashi, et cetera, and is used
without permission.

Special thanks also go to Laura Esquival


ONION TEARS

a Ranma 1/2 fanfiction
by Ukyou Kuonji

Part I. Introduction


Four o'clock in the morning is a rather unusual time to be receiving
produce deliveries; as a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure Ukyou-sama
was still asleep upstairs in her apartment. But when Park-san arrives,
somebody has to answer the door. So I crawled off my futon in the
corner of the kitchen, slipped on a yukata, and answered the door.

"Ohayo gozaimasu, Konatsu-chan." Park Roe-Chi was a Korean immigrant
who'd been living in Tokyo for over fifty years by now, I imagine.
He was known as the finest produce supplier in Nerima and in several
surrounding wards. And such a friendly and cheery fellow, too --
his greeting was as good as a cup of hot coffee for a pick-me-up.
I always looked forward to chatting with him.

"Ohaya gozaimasu, Paruku-san. I notice your Japanese is improving."

He grinned. We kid each other a lot about our various foibles; he
about my lesbian tendencies toward Ukyou-sama, I about his accent.
It's all done in fun.

"Thank you, Konatsu-chan. Is your girlfriend in?" My turn to grin
now.

"Yes and no, sir. She's upstairs, but she's probably still asleep.
Speaking of which, if I may say so, you're rather early this morning
with your delivery, aren't you?"

"Well, I have a special delivery for her, and, to be frank, I wanted
it off the truck before it contaminated any of the other produce."

"Contaminated?" Horrible visions ran through my head. It occurred
to me that it was a little late for Ukyou-sama to try using Shampoo's
techniques; besides, they never worked for *her*, after all. Then I
considered that she was going to kill herself through food poisoning...

Park-san waved his hands in front of him. The things I was thinking
must have been written all over my face. "No-no-no. Nothing like
that, Konatsu-chan. I have a shipment of onions for her, and let me
tell you, they're strong! Their scent is going to flavor all my other
vegetables if I'm not careful. But I'm definitely going to save a
box for the missus to use in her kimchee recipe."

"Onions? What's so special about these onions?"

"Not just any onions, Konatsu-chan. Bayankala Onions. Strongest
onion known to man, so I'd been told. And at this point, I believe
it."

Bayankala... where had I heard of that name before? "Really? Wait a
minute.. 'so you'd been told'?"

Park-san nodded somewhat sheepishly. "Yes. Unfortunately, I haven't
had the opportunity to try them yet. But I only heard about these
onions a month or so ago, myself. These things are supposedly grown
only in a certain mountain range in China, and somehow this gives
them an incredible amount of strength. Well, when I heard about
these, I immediately thought of Kuonji-san. After all, she's never
been one to pass up an opportunity to experiment with new ingredients.
So I called her up and told her about them -- even offered her an
exclusive on them, actually -- and she ordered two boxes of them,
sight unseen. They just came in this morning."

Ah! Now I remembered! The Bayankala Mountain Range was where
Jusenkyo was located. And... the Joketsuzoku village. "Uh... what
about Shampoo and Cologne? You said you gave Ukyou-sama an
exclusive?"

"The Neko-Hanten? Feh. Toughest customers I've got in Nerima. That
old widow-maker's always trying to talk the price down on me. I'm
running a business here, lady, not a bazaar! And then she has the
gall to pay as much as a month late! I tell ya...

"And the kid's cute and all, but she's just... well, I don't know
about you, but I don't think she's playing a full set of tiles, if
you get my meaning. Now, you guys always pay on time, you're always
friendly and smiling; I'm serious, you're among my best customers.
Sure, some places order more stuff, but I like stopping at the Ucchan
more than any other customers I've got. And anyway, those two Amazons
*come* from there -- if they really wanted those onions, they'd know
enough to have asked by now. So I'm not gonna tell 'em about it."

I smiled. 'Well, I'm sure Ukyou-sama will be pleased to know how
highly you think of her." and how little you think of Shampoo,
I added mentally.

Park-san's grin faded somewhat. "By the way, how is Kuonji-san?
I understand the wedding's coming up again, right?"

"Ranma and Akane? Yes, sir. Tomorrow, in fact."

"Oh, man, that's rough. How's she taking it?"

"It's hard for me to say, sir. She's loved Ranma from long before
I ever knew her, so in some ways, things really haven't changed since
then. It's got to be wearing on her, and it hurts me to watch it,
but she's also pretty good at keeping herself in check. The more she
gets into her work, the more she's trying to repress, I think. And
she's been working awfully hard these last few weeks."

The old man sighed and shook his head. "Life is just not fair
sometimes. I don't know what else to tell ya."

"Neither do I, sir." We stood there for a moment, staring at our
feet. Then Park-san clapped his hands together.

"Well... I guess I'd better get the goods, huh? That's what I'm here
for, right?" He wore an I-might-as-well-get-back-to-work type of
smile, and I followed him back to the back of his truck. I slowed
down as I approached the double doors; the aroma was indeed quite
powerful. I could only nod as Park-san turned around and asked
"Smell that? That's the Bayankala Onion. Strong, huh?

"Here, lemme hand you the other stuff first, if you'd rather." He
jumped into the back of the truck. Boxes of cabbage, mushrooms,
carrots and daikon flew out into my waiting arms. Well, actually...
I had to rush around to catch them.

"Can't you be a little more careful with these? They're perishable,
aren't they?" Park-san's head poked out from the truck, grinning
mischievously.

"Hey, it's good training, isn't it? You're a kunoichi, you can handle
it." He had me there.

As I walked back to the restaurant loaded down with comestibles,
Ukyou-sama appeared at the door. Her face looked haggard; she
hadn't gotten much sleep last night, I could tell. Her eyes were
red, too; I knew what she'd been doing instead of sleeping.

"Konatsu, what's all the racket? Oh, Park-san!" At the sight of
his truck, Ukyou-sama's eyes lit up. I stood in the threshold of
the restaurant while she ran to the back of the truck. "Are my
onions in yet?"

"Yes, they are," Park-san grunted as he hoisted a couple of boxes
down to her. She bore them in her arms as if they were light as
a feather.

"Wonderful. Hang on a moment while Konatsu and I put these things
in the kitchen, okay?" Park-san nodded, and she darted ahead of me
into the restaurant.

When I walked into the kitshen with my boxes, she had already set
hers down outside of the walk-in cooler and was about to return to
Park-san's truck outside. "Mistress... aren't you going to put them
away?"


Her face was like that of a child on Christmas. "I don't think so.
I've gotta take a good look at these as soon as Park-san leaves.
This is so exciting..." And out the kitchen door she went. I
shrugged to myself as I opened the cooler door with my foot and
set the other vegetables down inside. Well, she's happy, I guess...

By the time I got outside, Ukyou-sama was discussing the arrangements
with Park-san. "So it's okay if I advertise my exclusive on these
onions, right?" Park-san's expression was one of benign wonder.

"What's the purpose of an exclusive if not as a promotional gimmick?
Sure, advertise all you want. If it goes over well, I expect I'll be
getting orders from other places, though..."

"Fine. As long as I've scooped the competition. This should give
me one more leg up on the others."

"I regret to admit I have not tasted your wares before; I have heard
tell that they are the finest of their kind."

Ukyou-sama beamed, albeit tempered by an of-course-they-are smile.
"Well, anytime you wanna drop in, Park-san, the okonomi-yaki's on
the house, ya know."

Park-san bowed. "I am honored, Kuonji-san."

Ukyou-sama's smile turned rather pained. "Please, don't call me that.
If I'd wanted to be known by my last name, I'd've called the place
'Kuonji's,' now, wouldn't I? How much do I owe ya?" She reached
for a pouch on her bandolier.

Park-san turned to me with a wink and a 'What did I tell you? Best
customer I've got' look on his face. "Seventy thousand yen. That
includes the special boxes of onions, so it's a little more than
usual." Ukyou-sama merely nodded at that, and counted out seven
10,000-yen notes into his hand. "Domo arigato gozaimasu, Kuon-"

Ukyou-sama held up a finger. "Ah-ah-ah. 'Ukyou-san,' if you must."

I had to throw in my two yen, too. "And it's 'gozaimashite.'
Past tense."

"Konatsu!" Ukyou-sama glowered at me. I did my best to look
abashed.

"Gomen, Ukyou-sama."

Park-san placed a hand on each of our shoulders. "It's okay, Ku...
I mean, Ukyou-san. We kid around a lot. Besides, I still need
the practice, eh?"

"Well, if you don't mind..."

"Nah. It's between friends, isn't it, girlie?" I nodded, smiling
sheepishly. He clapped me once again on the shoulder. "Well, on
with the rest of my rounds. So much t'do, so little time, huh?"

Ukyou-sama nodded as he climbed into his truck and drove off. I
couldn't help staring at her as she waved goodbye while he drove
off. It was one of the first times in the last several weeks that
I had seen her smile. When the truck was out of sight, she rubbed
her hands together. "Well, let's go see what he brought us, eh?"

I followed her back inside while she continued: "First thing, I want
you to post a sign in the window; 'SPECIAL FEATURE, An Ucchan
Exclusive: Our okonomi-yaki are made using Bayankala Onions.' Got
that?" I nodded. By now, we were in the kitchen, and Ukyou-sama
opened the top box. She picked out an onion and inspected it
thoroughly: holding it up to the light to examine its color and
translucence, rubbing it to get a feel for its shape and texture,
and finally, bringing it up to her nose and inhaling its mighty
fragrance. That last hardly seemed necessary; from the threshold
of the kitchen, I was assaulted by the pungent aroma. I could feel
the juices stinging my eyes, but refused to let Ukyou-sama see this
weakness. Then I looked at her face once again, beatific with joy
over this new and exotic ingredient, and yet...

"Ukyou-sama... are you going to be all right? You're crying." Now
she looked up from the onion to return my unsteady gaze. To call it
crying was dramatically understating the case. Tears were pouring
from her eyes in nearly-inhuman quantities. Her mouth still smiled,
but her eyes were infinite sadness personified.

She took a deep breath and collected herself. "I'll... be fine,
Konatsu. It's... it's just onion tears, that's all. Yeah..." Any
other day, I would be prepared to believe that. Even from the
distance I stood at, my eyes smarted such that I could barely keep
them open to look upon my mistress' face. But there was more to
those tears than just onion juice; I was sure of that. But what
could I say...?

"Yes, Ukyou-sama. I'll go make that sign, then."

I dug out a large roll of rice paper, a brush and some ink and
proceeded to paint a sign as Ukyou-sama had specified. Once the
ink had dried, I took it outside along with the entrance curtain (it
was getting on toward six a.m., when we should be opening our
doors), and hung them both up. No sooner had they been set in place
when I heard Hasegawa-san's voice.

"Bayankala onions, eh? How spicy are they, Konatsu-chan?" Hasegawa
Seiumon was chairman and chief executive officer of Mitsui-Makino
Limited, a large multinational conglomerate based in Tokyo. He was,
as they say, a captain of industry. He was also a regular customer
of ours; always showed up just as we would be opening for business
-- evidently so he could then catch the early train downtown.
Additionally, he considered himself a bit of a samurai type -- very
macho, unflappable, stiff-upper-lip type. And to prove himself to
us, he would always order the spiciest items on our menu, load it
up with plenty of wasabi mustard, and then attempt to eat it without
drinking anything until he was done with his meal. It was a comical
sight to watch, as sweat would often be pouring off of his beet-red,
bald head, while he tried desperately to maintain an air of being
completely under control. The old proverb is true: in shallow water,
the dragon provides amusement for the shrimp. It was all we could
do not to laugh as this powerful businessman was rendered so weak
by a plateful of pepper-pork okonomi-yaki. But he was a good customer,
so we did our best to pretend he was the samurai he thought he was,
and refrain from laughing until he had paid his bill and left.

"Ah, Hasegawa-san. Irrashaimase." I getured for him to enter the
shop, and I followed him in. "I couldn't say, sir. We just got
our first shipment of them this morning. I will say that they have
a powerful aroma..." and I pushed the door to the kitchen area open.
Hasegawa raised his face toward the kitchen, took a deep sniff and
nodded approvingly.

"Promising, indeed, I must say."

"Yes sir. We're incorporating them into our regular batter to see
how the customers like it. If it's too much, I think we might cut
back -- personally, I think one of these things would season as much
batter as five regular onions would --"

"No-no-no. I don't want it diluted... you know that." I did, and
bit my cheeks to keep from smiling too hard. "The usual, sweetie-
pie. And plenty of wasabi on the side, if you don't mind." He
always flirted with me, too.

I nodded. "Yes sir. Let me see if Ukyou-sama's got the batter
ready..." I turned on the grill, and headed for the kitchen, eyes
squeezed shut, bracing myself for the acrid sting of the onion
juice.

Once inside, I took a few breaths, each one deeper than the last, to
acclimatize myself to the scent. Then I slowly opened my eyes.
"Ukyou-sama... Hasegawa-san is here for his usu-"

If Ukyou-sama had looked haggard at four-thirty this morning, she
was looking infinitely worse now. Her clothes were disheveled and
damp (especially her sleeves), her hair dangled limply around her,
and her face was streaked from the eyes down. It was plain that she
had been crying for the entire time she had been in the kitchen. It
couldn't possibly have just been those onions.

"Ukyou-sama... are you *sure* you're all right? Please... forgive
me for saying this, but you look terrible."

A wan smile crossed her face. "No, Konatsu, maybe I'm not all
right. But I've gotta carry on for now. You deal with the customers,
and I'll mix the batter, okay?" It was the first time I'd heard her
admit that things were not as hunky-dory as she always tried to
make me believe.

"Okay, Ukyou-sama. But if you like... it's Hasegawa-san. Maybe
you could use a smile...?"

She snorted. "All right. I guess I could use a break from this..."
She handed me a large stainless steel mixing bowl with plain okonomi-
yaki batter. I say 'plain' -- this was the stuff with the Bayankala
onions, as well as the usual vegetables and seasonings, so it was
really anything but. "Let's go."

Hasegawa-san smiled as the two of us took our places behind the
grill, but did a double-take at Ukyou-sama's appearance. "Ukyou-
san... I take it you're not feeling well today."

"Well, I'm not exactly sick, if that's what you mean..."

"Oh, that's right. I'd forgotten." Ranma and Akane's wedding was
pretty big news in Nerima, after all, considering the couple's
notoriety. Fortunately, Hasegawa-san had the good graces not to
mention names. "Perhaps you should take some time off... take a
vacation or some such. I have faith in Konatsu-chan's skills..."
and he tossed me a sly wink. I blushed as best I could.

"You're too kind, Hasegawa-san."

"And I couldn't do that, sir. Not when I'm experimenting with such
an exciting new ingredient like this..."

"Yes, Konatsu-chan's told me all about it, and I can't wait to be
the first one to try it."

"Well, there's no sense in keeping you waiting, now, is there?
You've got companies to acquire, dontcha? What'll it be, then?
The usual?"

"But of course."

"Pepper-pork okonomi-yaki. All right, Konatsu... let's see what you
can do with this." Despite her demurral to Hasegawa-san, she was
going to turn over the responsibility of cooking this one to me! It
was enough to make me quite nervous, but I had seen her do it
enough times that I figured I could manage. I took a ladle from the
rack, and poured out one large measure of batter onto the now-hot
grill. I knew where both the pork and the pepper mixture were kept,
and I brought them out. A handful of each sprinkled onto the
congealing batter, and then to flip the creation. I saw Ukyou-sama
nod out of the corner of my eye; so far, so good. A moment later,
I turned it again; brown on both sides... finished. I brought out a
plate, and set the okonomi-yaki upon it. I spooned out some wasabi
into a small bowl, and set both bowl and plate before Hasgawa-san.
He smiled.

"Well done, Konatsu-chan. Ukyou-san, I can see you've trained this
girl well. She'll be a credit to the Ucchan's reputation yet." He
smeared the wasabi all over his okonomi-yaki. We looked at each
other and grinned, both at his use of the feminine pronoun in
referring to me -- he really had no idea! -- and the scene we knew
we were about to witness, a scene that we had seen every business
day for several years now, and yet it never failed to amuse us.

Sure enough, after the first few bites, his bald head turned a very
interesting shade of carmine red, and began shining like a well-
polished apple with sweat, as he began his morning battle with the
peppers and the onions. It occurred to me that perhaps this was a
deliberate thing on his part, not only for pride's sake, but for
intimidation purposes -- I pictured an underling or a rival coming
into his magnificent office for whatever reason and being felled
by breath that could probably kill a cow at ten meters.

"It's... it's magnificent! Ukyou-san..." Hasegawa-san gasped,
"you've outdone yourself!" He was starting to get short of breath.
I figured I'd better get a pitcher of water together -- he was about
to really need it.

By the time I got back to him with the pitcher, he had downed the
entire okonomi-yaki. It was always tempting to ask if he wanted
a second one, but that would be tantamount to baiting him, so I
refrained once again. I handed him the pitcher, and with tears
cascading down his face, he took it and chugged it down.

By the time he set the empty pitcher down, his head had assumed its
normal healthy color, although he was still bathed in sweat. His
eyes, on the other hand, were still flowing. "Ukyou-san... I don't
know what you've done with this dish, but I surrender. For once.
This packed more power than I could handle. Well done, girls."
He stood up, still crying, paid his bill and left. Both of us
watched his departure in amazement.

"Wow. For him to admit defeat like that..."

Other customers started to filter in. As they did, Ukyou-sama
managed to get a good look at herself in a mirror and agreed that
she was in no condition to deal with the general public; so she
returned to the kitchen to continue working on mixing batter, while
leaving me to attend to the waitressing and the actual cooking.

I took orders from a cluster of salaryman regulars that had taken
their customary booth near the door. A couple of early-bird
students dashed in, and I made up a few orders to go for them.
While I prepared the okonomi-yakis, I chatted with some other
regulars who'd positioned themselves by the grill to watch the usual
show. I did my best not to disappoint, but I'm sure I fell short in
comparison to my mistress.

A few even asked: "So, Konatsu-chan... where is Ukyou-san today?"

"She's working in the kitchen," I had to tread lightly. "She had a
rough night last night and all, so she decided to stay hidden for
today." Some nodded sagely; again, Ukyou-sama's feelings for her
'Ran-chan' were no secret among the regulars, and they might imagine
how she was feeling these days under the circumstances.

On the other hand, some had no clue: "Well, I hope it's nothing
serious or contagious."

I could only smile sadly at the remark. Would that it was only
that simple! And as far as contagious, well... every girl seemed to
fall in love with Ranma-san at some point in time or another.

"It's not likely to contaminate the food, if that's what you're
wondering about.." I said as I tossed three okonomi-yaki in rapid
succession. Plate, plate, plate... flip, flip, flip. "Here you go.
That'll be sixteen hundred yen for the three of you."

As I rang up the sale at the counter, one of the salarymen from
the table by the door came up to me. "Excuse me miss, but do you
have a phone here that we could use?" I indicated the pay phones in
the back corner, and he nodded his thanks and began to walk toward
it. Then he paused: "Oh, and can you bring six sakes to our table?"

"Sure thing. Hot or chilled?"

The man laughed weakly at that, and it dawned on me that he too
had been crying. "Chilled, of course. It's the middle of June, for
Kami's sake!" and he turned once again toward the telephones. Was
he in pain or something? Maybe he was going to call in sick. Such
a pity, too, on a beautiful day like this...

I was wiping down the grill, preparing for the next order, when I
noticed one of the customers at the counter was sniffling over her
okonomi-yaki. I leaned over to her. "Is something wrong, Miyami-
chan? I know I'm not as good a cook as Ukyou-sama, but..."

She looked up at me, face grooved with tear stains. "No, it's not
you, Konatsu-kun. The food is wonderful, as always. Better than
usual, in fact. It's just... I don't know... I..." and she broke
down again.

As much as I wanted to comfort her, I had other customers to attend
to. I opened the refrigerator and pulled three small sake bottles
out with each hand. I carried them over to the table with the five
salarymen, all of whom were bawling like babies. I did my best to
appear cheerful as I set the bottles down in front of each of them.
"Here you are, gentlemen. Ozeki Sakes all around, as requested.
Can I get you anything else?"

Just then, their companion returned from the telephone. "All right.
I've called the boss and told him we're going to be late in to work
today." He looked around at his fellows. "Come on, men! Let's
drink up! To Tanaka-san, and better luck next time!" He swept up
his bottle and raised it in salute before opening it and downing the
contents at a single draught. The other disconsolate men watched
as he did so, and followed suit.

"To Tanaka-san." all but one of them chorused. I assumed that the
silent one was Mr. Tanaka.

I pulled up an empty chair, and straddled it as I set down amongst
them. "Would I be too inquisitive if I were to ask what happened
to you, Tanaka-san?"

He did not answer, but merely lowered his gaze as a larger companion
explained. "Poor guy. Wife left him last night. Got home from
work, and she was gone. No note, no nothing. All her stuff had
been cleared out, though."

"Oh... I'm so sorry, Tanaka-san." He looked up at me as I offered
my condolences. Even through his tears, he looked more embarrassed
than sad.

"You know, I don't know why I even said anything to you fellows.
I mean, I was going to just head to work and bury myself in that
-- that's what got me to this point, after all -- but something
came over me while I was sitting here eating... I just realized...
the pain of losing someone you loved. I just had to get it off
my chest."

"And it's good for the soul to come clean now and again," his burly
friend interrupted, clapping him on the back. Then, turning to me:
"Miss... another round of sakes, if you would be so kind."

"Okay," I said as I stood up and replaced the chair at its original
table, "but I wanna know who's paying. I'm not going to have you
fellows boozing it up and getting too drunk to find your wallets,
understood? Ukyou-sama would definitely want me to collect payment
in advance."

The gentlemen who'd gone to place the phone call to their employer
slapped a ten thousand yen note onto the table. "That should take
care of breakfast and the first round of drinks." I nodded in assent.

The burly man followed suit: "And this'll cover the next round.
Keep the change, honey." I bowed in thanks, and headed over to the
fridge. As I made my way from their table to the service counter,
I realized that all our customers were weeping to one extent or
another. This was really strange. Was everyone feeling sorry
for Tanaka-san? Could everyone have possibly even *heard* his
story?

I got a chance to find out. A high-pitched squeal nearly caused me
to drop the sake bottles I was conveying to the shirking salarymen,
and then *she* came bouncing in. Inane and energetic as ever,
Shiratori Azusa had mellowed only slightly over the past couple
of years. Nowadays, she would at least *pay* for what she would
take -- money, apparently, wasn't considered 'cute' in her book.
I quickly set the bottles down with the businessmen and hurried back
to my place behind the counter; no sense in getting her interest
piqued in the sake, after all. A drunken Azusa... oy, as if she
wasn't scary enough as it was.

Naturally, she was oblivious to the mournful crowd surrounding her.
"Good morning, Konatsu-sama! Azusa thinks this is a beautiful day,
don't you?"

I shrugged noncommittally, "I think I've had better. What'll it be,
Azusa-chan?" Konatsu-SAMA?

She wasn't ready to answer my question. "Azusa hears you have a
special today..."

"Yep. Bayankala Onions. Just got 'em this morning. Ukyou-sama's
very enthusiastic about them."

"May Azusa see one?"

"Well... they're in the batter. Minced, to be sure, but they're
there..."

"No, Azusa wants to see a whole one. Can you get one for Asuza,
pleeeease, Konatsu-sama?"

"Okay, okay... sheesh." I headed for the kitchen, but not before
tossing "And don't call me that!" over my shoulder.

Ukyou-sama was sitting on the floor next to the top box of onions.
She looked kind of dazed. "Ukyou-sama?" She turned her head up
to face me; the tracks worn from her eyes had dried and crusted
over with salt.

"I've run out of tears, Konatsu. I didn't know that was possible."
Her voice was cracked and strangled.

I picked her up by her arms and hoisted her over my shoulder.
"Ukyou-sama... I think you've done enough to yourself already today.
Maybe you ought to call it quits for now..." I carried her out of
the kitchen and up the stairs to her apartment. I'd never been up
here before. And all at once, I realized this might not be such a
brilliant idea.

No, not because people would talk, seeing me haul her up here.
People already talk; that's nothing new.

It was... her bedroom. She'd turned it into a virtual shrine to her
beloved 'Ran-chan.' Photos, posters, all manner of pictures of...
him. And her, for that matter. Kami-sama... how the hell was she
expecting to sleep peacefully with that face staring down at her...
the face of a man she couldn't have? And who she *knew* she
couldn't have?

I carried her back downstairs and set her in a chair in the corner
of the kitchen. "You try and get some rest, Ukyou-sama. I'm going
to put these away for now..." And I carried the onions into the
walk-in cooler; I slipped one out as I set the boxes down.

"Here you go, Azusa... one whole Bayankala onion."

"Ooooh! Marie! Marie! It's soooo..." she got a whiff of it. She
blinked: once, twice, three times. Then her face screwed up. "So
smelly!" She dropped it onto the counter.

I couldn't help but smile. "Guess I shoulda warned you. They're
supposed to be *really* strong. Would you like an okonomi-yaki
now?"

Her head bobbed up and down. "Okay, Azusa ready now! Could you
please give Azusa a beef okonomi-yaki, Konatsu-sama?"

I winced. "Please don't call me that..." I poured the batter onto
the grill.

"But Konatsu is so cute! Azusa wants to take him home and..."
I set my utensils down for a moment, reached over and grasped
Azusa's hands.

"Azusa-chan... that's very sweet of you to say so. But I belong
here... at the Ucchan, with Ukyou-sama. She needs me, now more
than ever. And I'm going to stay here for her, okay?"

Azusa looked up at me with eyes that could melt butter. But I
wasn't about to let her melt me this time. "Do you understand?"
I repeated. We stared into each others for a while; I was waiting
for some kind of response... I don't have a clue what she was
waiting for. Until...

She blinked. "AIEEE!! Konatsu is burning Azusa's okonomi-yaki!"

Oh, shit. And I hadn't even added the ingredients yet. I scraped
the half-burnt creation off of the grill and flipped it into the
nearby trash can.

"It's okay, Azusa-chan. We can start over..." as I poured a second
measure of batter.

Her eyes widened, and I realized I'd phrased that last sentence all
wrong. "Konatsu will come back to Azusa?"

"No, I'm not coming back to you... I never was yours to begin with.
I told you, I belong here." I sprinkled beef strips and mushroom
pieces onto the sizzling batter, and turned it over. "Here... take
Elise here, and enjoy her." I set the finished product on a plate
in front of her. She ate in slightly sullen silence. "Look, Azusa-
chan, there are other guys out there. What about Mikado-kun, anyway?
You two were quite a couple once, ne?"

"Mikado-chan..." She finished a bite, and looked up at me again.
It was happening again. Her eyes were starting to moisten, and one
by one they began to overflow. She took a few coins out of her
purse, and nearly threw then at me.

"MIKKI-CHAN!!" She stood up and charged out of the restaurant,
eyes streaming. I could only stare after her as the curtains
shivered from her flight. I was jarred from my reverie by the
salarymen.

"Miss? Anotherrr rrround, please, woodja?" A reedy man with thick
glasses was waving a ten thousand yen note at me. Evidently, this
was his round to buy. And they were still crying...

"Coming!" Something was really strange here. Even the perpetually
upbeat Azusa reduced to tears like that... this just wasn't normal.
Of course, I had to admit that I had a bit to do with that, but what
kind of reaction was that? She hadn't taken it that hard when
they'd broken up -- heck, it was her idea to do so. But now, just
the mention of her old partner's name was all it took to set her off...

Wait a minute... she'd left behind a few bites of okonomi-yaki.
Could this be the problem? I took a fresh pair of chopsticks to
her plate and stuck a morsel into my mouth.

Two waves washed over me as I chewed my bite. The first was
amazement at how good it tasted. Ukyou-sama had chosen wisely:
this onion had given the batter a flavor stronger than anything I
had ever eaten. It was a spicy little slice of heaven on earth.

Then, a wave of emotion crashed over me that felt like hell on
earth. I could feel the stinging growing behind my eyes, as if the
onion juices were assaulting me from within. And as the tears
flowed, I wept for Ukyou-sama. How she would never know Ranma's
love... and how I would never know hers... or anyone else's...

Somehow, even as good as this okonomi-yaki tasted, I knew this
would be bad for business; but I had to seek out the opinion of an
expert to confirm my suspicions. I poked my head into the kitchen --
all at once, it seemed a much more pleasant place to be, what with
the onions safely inside the cooler -- and informed a now-ambulatory
Ukyou-sama that I needed to step outside for a few minutes, if that
was all right with her. And with her blessing, I hung a sign out in
front "Back in ten minutes" and left...

...for the Tendo dojo.

When I knocked at the door to the Tendo residence, I was greeted --
if you could call it a greeting -- by Akane, resplendent in what
would be her wedding kimono. All manner of pins were sticking out
of her from various angles; evidently the kimono was undergoing
alterations so as to properly fit her. She scowled at me, I don't
know why; maybe to her, I still represented her rival. "What do
*you* want?"

"Akane-san, I'm really sorry to bother you like this. Especially
today... I know how busy all of you are and all that. But may I
speak with your sister?"

After a brief double-take -- she must have expected this to have
something to do with Ranma -- Akane replied, "Kasumi's busy with
the preparations, too, you realize."

"No-no-no. I'd like to speak with Nabiki, if it's at all possible."
Now she arched her eyebrow; evidently Nabiki rarely received callers.

"I'll see if I can get her. Wait here, okay?"

I nodded. "Of course, Akane-san. And may I say, that is a gorgeous
wedding dress you have there."

She turned pink from the compliment. "Thank you... it was my
mother's, actually."

"I might have known... she would have been proud of you, Akane-san."

The way praise can tie a person's tongue... Akane stood there,
speechless, for a few moments, before shaking herself. "Let me go
get Nabiki for you," and heading back into the house.

It really wasn't that long before Tendo Nabiki was standing before
me, looking down at me from the porch of the house. "Okay,
'Natsu-chan, let's hear it. And this better be good."

"I was telling your sister how sorry I was about disturbing you,
especially on a day like this, but --"

"Yeah, yeah. Cut to the chase, already..."

"-- anyway, I've got a business-related problem. At least, I think
it is. Something's wrong at the Ucchan. Now, I don't have much
in the way of inducements to obtain your assistance; I suppose you're
not as easily persuaded by a free meal the way Ranma-san is."

"Ahh, hell. I'll take it. I need to get outta here for a while,
anyway. All this wedding stuff is startin' to get on my nerves.
I wanna get some air before Daddy starts coming up with some
guy for *me*."

As we walked to the Ucchan, I explained the predicament, such as
I understood it. Nabiki could only shake her head in disbelief,
until we actually got to the Ucchan. Once inside, she took a look
around at the customers. By now, the salarymen were thoroughly
sauced, and singing some sad old songs about lost loves. The folks
at the counter had their heads in their hands and were crying their
eyes out, and a couple in a booth were holding each other tightly
and bawling, begging each other not to let go of them. Nabiki let
out a long, low whistle, the sort of reaction you might get while
passing a really bad accident. "Whoa. You guys catering a funeral,
or what?"

"That's what I've been telling you. This is how the customers have
been all day. Everybody seems to love the okonomi-yaki like this,
but they all wind up... I don't know... depressed or something."

"Geez. I'd hate to see what'd happen if you served Daddy one of
those things, huh?"

I had to smile as I tried to picture Tendo Soun even more tearful
than was his usual wont. "And I can't shake the feeling that this
isn't going to be good for business, at least, not in the long run.
That's why I wanted to ask you to try one, and let me know what
you think; if it'll hurt sales for an ingredient to cause this kind
of reaction."

She arched her eyebrow as she looked at me. "What is this?
You gonna try and drug me or something?"

"Please, Nabiki. If I do, it's entirely accidental. There's nothing
different about this recipe except these onions. I can't figure it
out, and I know you're the one person out there that I could turn
to on a business question like this." I handed her a menu, which
she scanned quickly.

"Hmm." She closed it with a muffled snap. "Shrimp okonomi-yaki,
if you don't mind."

My eyes rolled. "Nabiki-san, if you don't mind my saying so, is it
necessary to select the priciest item on the menu?" She shrugged;
oh well, I sighed to myself, what else did I expect from her? I
poured the batter out onto the grill, added the shrimp, some nori,
and a few special seasonings Ukyou-sama tended to use for her
seafood dishes, flipped it over to brown the top side, and slid the
finished okonomi-yaki onto Nabiki's plate.

Nabiki bit into the okonomi-yaki, and a smile creased her face.
"Damn, but this is good stuff, 'Natsu-chan. Looks like you've
learned the art pretty well."

I blushed coyly. "Thank you, Nabiki-san, but I had the greatest
of teachers, after all."

Then, it began. That reaction I'd been seeing all day. Her eyes
went wide and moist, and soon they began to overflow with tears.
Shortly, I knew, even the calm and cool Nabiki would be overtaken
by wracking sobs.

But this time, the reaction was different. Nabiki's face took on a
horrified look of realization. Somehow, she knew exactly why she
was experiencing these feelings. She quickly stood up and charged
into the kitchen with a cry of "Ukyou!"

Ukyou-sama barely had a chance to turn around from her preparations
before Nabiki fell upon her like a lost soul. "Ukyou-san... I never
knew... I'm... I'm so sorry," she was blubbering.

Ukyou-sama was completely baffled. She turned to me. "*What*
is going on?"

"I don't know, Mistress. She just had a bite or two of the
okonomi-yaki, and bolted for the kitchen. I didn't have a chance
to stop her."

Nabiki grasped Ukyou-sama by the shoulders and looked her straight
into her eyes. "I swear this to you, Ukyou-san... I'll do whatever
it takes. I'll get this wedding called off. I... I can't bear this
pain of yours." And she started sobbing again.

Ukyou-sama's eyes grew large. "You mean that? Honto ne?" Nabiki
gulped back more tears and nodded vigorously. "Oh, Nabiki! You
don't know what this means to me!" Now Ukyou-sama began to cry,
and she clasped Nabiki tightly to herself.

"Actually, I think I do..." I heard Nabiki murmur. The girls held
each other tightly and sobbed. I think Ukyou-sama's tears were
tears of joy, but something inside of me told me that no good
would come of this...

***

More to come shortly... until then, ja!

Itsu mo,
Ucchan ^_^


Visit the Ucchan at http://members.aol.com/ukyoukwnji/index.htm