Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters in this story. They are the property of Rumiko Takahashi and whoever she sold the rights to.
"That will be 700 yen, please."
Cologne accepted the money from her customer and with practiced ease rang up the order on her register. Within seconds the money was put away and the customer was given his receipt. The man gave a quick bow of thanks and left to continue with his daily routine.
Another satisfied customer and just another day at the Cat Café.
With that transaction out of the way Cologne, oldest member (by far) of the local Chinese group that lived in Nerima, Tokyo, looked over the dining room of her restaurant. Currently it was almost empty which may lead some to believe that the business wasn't very popular. In point of fact, the Cat Café was one of the top restaurants of the district and the best Chinese restaurant by far. It was just a slow day for customers.
Cologne was proud of her achievement of running her business and rather enjoyed the challenges that came with it. It was a pleasant break from her usual duties back in her home village in China and it gave her a chance to view all the changes that Japan and the rest of the world had gone through since her last visit many years ago. More importantly, the restaurant also acted as a base of operations in helping her great-granddaughter, Shampoo, win over the affections of her reluctant groom, Ranma Saotome.
Thinking of Shampoo made Cologne realize that she hadn't seen her for over an hour. Since it had been a slow day Shampoo had asked Cologne for some time off. Cologne had allowed it and Shampoo had headed to the back of the restaurant where a back alley was located along with her bike. Surprisingly though Cologne had sensed that Shampoo had not left to go in search of Ranma, which she had assumed had been the reason for wanting to leave work. Instead she could feel that Shampoo was still in the alley.
Deciding that she should check up on her great-granddaughter, Cologne entered the kitchen area to address one of her cooks. "Mr. Song, watch over the restaurant for a while. If Mousse comes back from the shopping trip I sent him on tell him to start getting ready for closing. I don't believe we will be having too many more customers today. I will be in the back if you need me."
"Yes, ma'am." Song replied. He finished up the chicken he had been preparing and made his way to the front to take over Cologne's position at the register.
With business taken care of, Cologne began heading towards the back to figure out what Shampoo was up to.
With a battle cry, Shampoo let loose a punishing punch combination against the straw dummy that was her opponent. Each blow nearly bent the solid iron support beam connecting the dummy to the ground in half. After several seconds Shampoo ended her combination and finished with a high kick to the dummy's head. This time the beam did break and sent the dummy flying then crashing into the wall at the far end of the alley that she was working in. As the dummy fell it took part of the wall with it and was soon covered in a thin layer of masonry and paint chips.
Shampoo grimaced at the unintended damage. Great-grandmother would be taking that out of her paycheck for sure.
"Glad to see that you've been keeping your strength up."
"Aiyaa!" Shampoo whirled around to see that Cologne had come up behind her on her usual perch on top of her staff. "No sneak up on me like that, great-grandmother!"
"Then you should be more aware of your surroundings," Cologne said with a chuckle. She declined to mention that she had deliberately hid her presence. She just loved getting that surprised and indignant reaction out of people.
Shampoo humphed but otherwise didn't comment. She didn't need a smack to the head to go along with her higher blood pressure. Instead she asked, "You need me, great-grandmother?"
"I had noticed that you hadn't left when you asked me for time off earlier. I expected you to go see son-in-law." Cologne looked at all the strewn weapons and other workout equipment in the alley. "It appears though that you've been training since then. I'm curious as to why."
Shampoo gave Cologne a look that indicated that it should have been obvious why. "Shampoo is warrior. Need to keep fighting edge. Don't want to have Akane or Ukyo catch up."
Cologne noticed a more aggravated tone when Ukyo's name was mentioned. On a whim Cologne looked down the alley to the fallen dummy. Even from this distance Cologne could make out a white bow on the head and a small spatula sticking out of one of its arms. "Perhaps, but lately you haven't passed up a chance to go see son-in-law. I'm wondering why now you choose to train and with such intensity. Is there something you are not telling me?"
Shampoo fidgeted while coming up with an answer. 'Why does she have to be so nosy', Shampoo thought. "Just want to make sure that Shampoo ready for any challenges. Ranma in school right now so thought I'd get extra training on nice day. Maybe impress him during next battle."
"Son-in-law being in school has never stopped you from going to see him. In fact I think you like showing up there and making a scene. Why don't you stop trying to con me and tell me the real reason?"
Sighing, Shampoo realized there was no dodging the issue. Cursing her great-grandmother's ability to read her so well, Shampoo answered, "Shampoo tell you of band-aid that Ranma wear over week ago. One that make him flirt with girls." Cologne nodded at Shampoo's pause. "On that day Shampoo fight with Ukyo but unable to beat her. Only when distracted did I get opening." And she beat her with forks no less! Ashamed, Shampoo continued, "Not like how close fight was. So Shampoo is thinking that she needs more training so can beat Ukyo easy next time."
Shampoo stopped and waited nervously for Cologne to respond. After several moments of Cologne looking at her with a thoughtful expression, Shampoo began to get worried. Several moments after that she began to wonder if she should take a page out of Genma Saotome's book and begin the "Crouch of the Tiger" to plead for forgiveness.
Thankfully for Shampoo's pride Cologne spoke up, "I see. Clean up your mess here then clean up yourself and meet me in the dining room." With nothing more to say, Cologne turned and used her staff to hop back into the restaurant.
Now more worried than ever, Shampoo scurried to do what Cologne had bid. Just as she was bending over to pick up her weapons she heard her great-grandmother's voice from inside. "By the way Shampoo, that wall is coming out of your paycheck."
A half hour later found Shampoo sitting with Cologne in a now empty dining room. As Cologne had predicted the flow of customers had dwindled to nothing. Since there were no customers to attend to and she wanted to speak to Shampoo alone, Cologne had sent her cooks home for the day. Mousse had yet to return and Cologne was hoping he wouldn't be back before she had finished her talk with Shampoo.
Taking a sip from the tea she had prepared while waiting for Shampoo to join her, Cologne studied her great-granddaughter. She was obviously nervous and probably expecting Cologne to chastise her on her performance against Ukyo. Cologne put her cup down and began. "So, the Kuonji girl has finally caught up to you. I'll say right now that I'm not surprised. As I said outside you have been spending all your free time trying to woo son-in-law and I have seen little in regards to your training. So, how do you feel about this?"
"Shampoo say outside that she no like how close fight was. Shampoo is Joketsuzoku and should not have such hard time with silly style of okonomiyaki. Should be able to wipe floor with all rivals!" Each point she had made caused her voice to rise until she was almost shouting. With her confession out went most of her anger. Feeling drained and ashamed she waited for Cologne to start laying into her.
Waiting a few seconds for Shampoo to calm down Cologne responded, "Hmm. Well it's good to see that you didn't just mope around about this. And speaking of moping, stop that right now. I'm not angry or disappointed in you."
Deciding she had let her great-granddaughter sweat it out long enough, Cologne continued. "I myself have been concentrating on running this restaurant, not to mention helping you with son-in-law. I suppose I'm partially to blame for neglecting to push you along in your studies though you yourself haven't shown much interest in them lately. Until now that is. Our priorities just haven't left us much time for such things.
"Plus there's living here and not in our village. Back home you were constantly challenged by your fellow peers which forced you to keep your skills honed. Here there are far fewer challengers for you around your skill level. And let's not forget that most of the challengers that do appear tend to migrate towards son-in-law. He has a tendency to hog all the fun." Cologne gave a small laugh at all the fun she herself had gained in watching, and sometimes participating in, son-in-law's adventures.
Shampoo gave a snort at the mention of people around her skill level to fight. The immediate name that came to mind was Akane Tendo, the supposed heir to the Tendo School of Anything Goes. Shampoo could step all over her on her worst day and yet Akane was a constant thorn in her side when it came to gaining Ranma's affections. It frustrated Shampoo to no end that she just couldn't challenge Akane and show Ranma just how much better she was for a wife.
A staff smack to the head brought Shampoo out of her musings. "Pay attention Shampoo! I'm trying to give you advice here," Cologne admonished. Shampoo gave a quick apology and said she should continue while rubbing her now sore head.
"As I was saying, the quality of rivals for you here is poor. It's unfortunate that the rivals you do have are for the heart and not for the body. Otherwise, I would suggest you continue challenging Kuonji even though her style is rather unorthodox. Just because a martial arts style is odd doesn't mean it shouldn't be taken any less seriously than another. That way of thinking leads to defeat and complaining about it is a show of weakness. Look at how often son-in-law gets involved with all these different martial arts styles. I've seen him be defeated by the most ridiculous attacks, but what does he do about it?"
"He learn style or train to counter it," Shampoo answered, remembering that Ranma had told her once that he had participated in Martial Arts Tea Ceremony.
"Very good. By doing so he's more prepared for any future fights he may be involved in as well. Unfortunately this doesn't help you since Ukyo Kuonji or even the Kunos don't strike me as the type to accept a challenge just for the sake of bettering themselves. Mousse is also out of the question because of his feelings for you and would only hinder you because he would be too afraid to hurt you. The Hibiki boy is also out since he's missing too often. The only one that would qualify would be Akane Tendo and she's too far below you to consider."
"What about Ranma?" Shampoo asked with hope coming into her eyes.
Cologne sighed at the obvious road Shampoo was planning to take. "Regrettably, son-in-law has even more complications than the others. If you were to ask him to help you train he might agree but that would mean all the other suitors would want the same thing or more likely, try to stop you. Then you would end up fighting the others like you always do instead of spending time with him bettering yourselves in the art."
Just as quickly as it came, the hope fled from Shampoo's eyes. Feeling like the whole world was against her Shampoo pleaded, "Then what I do? Training by self get boring and only relearn what I already know. It's not fair!"
"No it's not fair. And I thought I told you to stop whining."
"Said no moping. OW!"
Cologne removed her staff from Shampoo's head. "Keep talking back to me like that young lady and I won't help you at all." Seeing that Shampoo was once more in her place she continued. "What I'm suggesting is for you to leave town for a while." Cologne held up a hand to silence Shampoo's protest to that. "I know that would mean for you to leave son-in-law but this is a decision you are going to have to make. Either stay here and only get a few hours a day to train while you chase son-in-law and everyone else around or leave to concentrate fully on strengthening yourself. If you decide to leave I will do what I can to keep the status quo around here but considering how chaotic son-in-law's life can get I can offer no guarantees."
"Why can't you train me here, like always do?"
"Because the training I have in mind for you will require more space than we have in the back. Plus, in order for you to push beyond your current limits you need someplace more durable. You already nearly put a straw dummy through a wall. I don't need you leveling the entire restaurant."
Something else Cologne had said caused Shampoo to ask, "You not coming with me?"
"No. I would like to see you accomplish this on your own. I will provide you with materials and instructions so that you can train effectively. When you return and if I am satisfied with your progress then I will teach you directly again." Hopefully by then Shampoo would be advanced enough to get into the real secrets of their style. Things that would make son-in-law seek out Shampoo's training rather than the other way around.
Unaware of Cologne's future plans between her and her beloved, Shampoo thought about the offer being made. Like her great-grandmother had said to get the edge that she wanted meant leaving Ranma for who knows how long. It meant that the other fiancées would have open advantage of any opportunities that came along to get Ranma for themselves. If she were to succeed in her training only to come back to find Ranma in love, or worse, married, she'd never forgive herself. However, right now she was just wasting time with her current routine while rivals like Ukyo were steadily creeping up to take her place as the top female martial artist in town. If the trend continued and someone like Akane suddenly came up and defeated her, without any tricks like with the Super Soba Noodles, Shampoo wouldn't be able to live with it.
Love or pride. Which was more important to her?
Looking back up to Cologne, Shampoo asked, "How long you think I be gone?"
A small smile creased Cologne's wrinkled lips. "It depends on how dedicated you are willing to be in making yourself better than what you currently are."
Not the answer she was looking for but Shampoo wasn't surprised by it. Cologne could be a taskmaster when she wanted something done but when it was up to the student there was never a concrete timetable. Rising from her chair Shampoo said, "Then Shampoo swear she leave to come back more than what she currently is."
"Well said great-granddaughter. Let's get you ready."