This, folks, is a complete rewrite. The old story? Yeah, it's gotten a face-lift. And a plot-lift. And just about any other lift you can put on a fiction. Read and review, alright?
Oh yeah, any second now. The moment he had stepped inside the house Ranma could tell that there was a storm brewing somewhere with his name on it. It was coming! His number was up!
"Ran-ma, you idiot!"
Yup. There it was. Despite knowing full-well what he had done, Ranma felt it wise to play dumb. "What'd I do this time?! I just got back!"
"Well, they seem to be getting along well…" Nabiki sarcastically snipped as she sipped her tea. The oh-so-happy couple, Ranma and Akane, had actually managed to remain civil to one another at breakfast that morning but now that school was over the peace was shattered. Especially since Ranma had came in over an hour after Akane.
Ranma's answer obviously wasn't what Akane was looking for as she started letting off even more steam. She was already in her training gi and had no doubt been slaughtering some bricks in the dojo. Now she was eager for a live target.
"You know exactly what you did! You were at Ukyo's, probably hanging off of her, begging for food. Don't you have any self respect?" Akane's attempt at not seeming jealous was transparent, though, but no one would call her on it for fear of falling into the kill zone.
"That's what's got you all angry? I just wanted some cooking that wouldn't kill me since you said you were gonna make something!"
Okay, that was the wrong thing to say. Nabiki grabbed her cup to steady it as Akane belted Ranma so fiercely that the house shook. Best martial artist of his age in the city and he couldn't dodge the worst. Akane was still grumbling as she stormed off back to the dojo, leaving Ranma face down on the floor.
Nabiki demurely sipped her tea as Ranma scraped himself up, not bothering to help. "You have a way with words, Saotome. I'll give you that."
Ranma finally managed to get to his knees and shot a glare at Nabiki. "Stupid tomboy taking out her crummy cooking skills on me. I wouldn't even wish that on Ryoga."
"Ranma, you really are an idiot."
"Oh yeah? Why's that?"
Nabiki didn't answer with words. Rather, she simply pointed to a spot behind the boy as she finished off her tea. Unfortunately for Ranma, Akane hadn't gone far enough away before he had started his rant and was now looming over her prey like a seagull swooping down upon a helpless baby ocean turtle. He did open his mouth to say something that would forestall righteous vengeance, but he seemed to think better off it and sighed in defeat a moment before the mallet hit.
Soun, who had joined Nabiki after getting home from a city counsel meeting, sighed; these kids were going to be the death of him yet. He almost choked on the tea as Akane stomped up behind him and flopped down at the table, roughly grabbing a cup for herself.
"Idiot. I can't believe he said that. He knows that my cooking isn't that bad!" the short-haired girl huffed. Nabiki and Soun exchanged looks and the former sagged her shoulders. She loved her sister but sometime Akane could be a bit thick.
"And look at the direction he took off. The pervert is headed right towards the Nekohanten and Shampoo! Can you believe him, you guys?" Akane restlessly got up from the table and vaguely motioned at the direction where she had launched Ranma. By this time Nabiki had disappeared into her room and Soun was pretending to be very interested with something in the dojo, leaving a fuming Akane to rant to anyone who was still in earshot.
"Aiya. Shampoo work too-too hard today."
A familiar purple-haired girl was spending the early afternoon hours of the day sweeping the front porch of the most authentic Chinese restaurant in Nerima. She stopped for a moment and sighed, looking back inside at her great grandmother and her idiotic childhood friend, wishing that there was someone else around to liven up her day.
Usually, of course, wishes do not come true but in this case a "shooting star" was hurtling towards her direction signed, sealed, and delivered by Akane Tendo. Shampoo did live in Nerima, after all. If there was any place in the world where random things happened, it was here.
Just as the Amazon was about to step inside and see what her great-grandmother was doing, a certain pigtailed martial artist landed with a deafening boom right across the street from her. Skipping over to her husband, Shampoo hummed a happy tune and thanked whoever was looking out for her up in heaven for such a lucky break. Well, maybe next time they could deliver Ranma conscious, but that was just the fine print.
Inside the restaurant another Chinese woman was having a good day. The small owner of the Nekohanten was sitting atop a vacant table, hunched over a pile of glittering jewelery like a mother hen watching its eggs. Cologne's mood was not one of greed, however. Instead, there was an easygoing smile on her lips as she dutifully looked over and cleaned every piece in her collection.
"I haven't seen some of these things in ages." The Grand Master of Joketsuzoku ran a weathered thumb over the surface of a jade pendant, lost in its white luster. "So many decades have gone by..."
"Old Ghoul, what's this?"
Cologne absently swatted the taste out of Mousse's mouth while she looked over what he had been pointing at. When what it was clicked, she snapped her fingers and laughed., "Oh, that old thing! How could I forget this?"
Mousse, who had just managed to scrape himself off the floor, adjusted his glasses. In Cologne's hand was a small broach with what looked like two faces on either end. "What is is?" he repeated. Mousse considered himself to be a decent-enough Amazon and he had never seen a trinket like it back in the village.
"It is called the Reversal Jewel. A small party prank from my childhood," the elder explained. "You pin it on someone's clothes with the sad face up and the jewel's magic turns love into hate. Likewise, if you place the happy face up, their feelings of true love will be amplified. We used to have so much fun with this."
"Sounds annoying," Mousse replied in mock-indifference. Cologne's response to this was to crack him with her staff yet again before Shampoo caught her attention. Said great-granddaughter was dragging in a battered and, by now, semi-conscious Ranma. At the sight of her unofficial apprentice, she promptly forgot the bauble she was reminiscing about and hopped over to the pair.
Unfortunately, Mousse was not quite out of it enough not to notice Ranma's arrival. His hated rival was within striking distance and there wasn't anything he could do about it. Shampoo and Cologne would come down on him like the wrath of god. Well, at least he could ignore the other teen and mumble. No one could take away his mumbles, damn it! Now, though, Shampoo was patching Ranma up and with such a smile that Mousse would have given an arm to have it directed him him. It was too much to bare. If only there was some way to just get it to stop!
But what? All of Mousse's old ideas hadn't exactly panned out. True, he had been more of a hindrance than that idiot Ryoga or the dozen other martial artists that would meander through Nerima in an average week, but there was no mistake that he wasn't a big physical threat anymore. Well, that just meant it was time to use the one thing Mousse did have over Ranma; brain power. The Chinese boy slowly let his eyes wander over to the pile of trinkets and zoomed in on one in particular. The Reversal Jewel...that could work! If he were to somehow get it onto Shampoo, she would chase Ranma off! Of course, there was always the chance that the exact opposite would happen. If Shampoo was hiding her feelings for him, which Mousse was sure she was, then she'd probably beat him up instead.
Wait, how was that any different than usual? Right. On with the plan!
"…and then Airen fall from sky and hit pavement." Shampoo recapped the incident that was responsible for the young Saotome's visit. She was putting on the last bandage and was just happy to have Ranma around.
"I still don't see how Akane manages to hit him, let alone knock him this far," Cologne mused. Well, never look a gift-horse in the mouth, right? Getting Ranma to visit was like trapping a wild animal; give it shelter, food, and attention and it will stick around for awhile. "Mousse, get us some ramen! And I'll know if you do something to it!" For once, the boy snapped to attention and did as he was told. Cologne idly watched him for some ulterior motive, but was distracted by Shampoo.
"Aiya…Akane beat on husband far too much. Shampoo need to teach her lesson about abusing people," Shampoo said in her usual broken Japanese. She knew it would only be idle talk, however. Ranma would probably get mad at her if she were to challenge her rival over some feeling of obligation.
Indeed, Ranma would get mad, but he knew Shampoo was just blowing off some steam. "I guess I kinda had it coming. You know how she is about her cooking," he defended.
Cologne interjected before Shampoo could disagree. "Indeed. I can appreciate a pride in one's art, but then again, some people take it a bit too personally."
Mousse was just coming back from the kitchen and he set the three bowls of ramen out for Shampoo, Cologne, and Ranma. He was just about to slip the broach on Shampoo when Ranma leaned over and blocked his view. He fought down a wave of anger at the boy, but kept himself in check while his rival argued with Cologne to swap their orders. He maneuvered around and finally spotted an opening. Subtly lunging with his arm, he almost shouted in joy when he felt the pin slip into fabric.
Unfortunately for Mousse, Ranma had chosen that moment to get to his feet to argue more with the old crone for her beef ramen and had gotten in the way. He paused mid-shout and blinked, seemingly forgetting what he was saying. It was an odd thing for him.
"Huh? What was I...saying?" Ranma asked himself. He looked around and, seemingly noticing the slightly confused looks from the two Amazons, grunted and sat back down. "Nevermind. This is fine." He began wolfing down his own miso ramen without another word, seemingly eating it as fast as possible.
Shampoo shared a look with her great grandmother. "Shampoo can cook Ranma more ramen if he want," she offered. Again, Ranma only grunted and the purple-haired girl dropped the conversation. Maybe he was upset about something else?
Cologne, however, was mildly annoyed at the abrupt attitude change. She had been playing around with the boy earlier, but if he was honestly upset about something as silly as what type of free ramen he got then there was some correction in order. "You should be thankful that you are spared leftovers at the Tendo Dojo," she reminded.
"At least they wouldn't annoy me so much," Ranma mumbled. Finishing, he got up from his chair and dug out some yen from his pocket to pay for the meal. "There. Now ya can't say I owe ya anything." Before anyone could comment on his abruptness, he started to walk out of the restaurant with a sour expression.
The elder Amazon shook her head at her son-in-law. She knew he was upset at being knocked half way across Nerima, but that was no excuse for being so difficult. It seemed like whenever Ranma warmed up to the two of them something would go wrong and make the entire situation worse than it was before! Really, the elder had never seen such a well of bad luck.
Shampoo, on the other hand, was looking at the money like it was something dirty. Never before had Ranma ever paid for anything and it was an unspoken agreement between anyone that would feed him that money really wasn't needed. It was just something they'd do to make life a bit easier on him. Even Kodachi understood that much.
"Are you alright?"
The uncharacteristic softness in Mousse's voice did little more than make the girl feel worse. "Is fine. Shampoo go put in register." With little more reluctance, she scooped up the yen and made her way into the back.
Although it hurt to see Shampoo upset like that, the plan had worked out better than expected! In fact, the mistake had just made it better than the original. Now it was Ranma who was to blame for everything! Eventually Shampoo would wake up and use Mousse's shoulder to cry and then...and then...
"You're looking very happy at my great granddaughter's discomfort, Mousse," Cologne snapped. She was still trying to figure out why Ranma was acting like a brat all of a sudden and she didn't need another headache to deal with. "Go put away my affects and then get started on the dishes. I have business to attend to." Without further adieu, Cologne pogo'd out of the restaurant and left the perpetrator at the scene of the crime.
Oh yes, today couldn't get any better Mousse imagined as he quickly got rid of the evidence. "Stupid old woman! You just handed me everything I wanted on a plate!" The broach box was placed at the bottom of the box of babbles and it was hastily scooped up to be put into storage. Chances are that the old bat wouldn't check it again in a few centuries.
So caught up in his victor was Mousse that he didn't notice the unimpressed eyes of a small animal lurking around the corner of the room. After all, who would notice a tiny lost piglet? It would be easy to miss even if it was wearing a bright orange bandanna...
"I'm back!" Ranma called out from the door of the Tendo home. He slipped off his shoes and stepped into the kitchen where Kasumi was starting dinner.
Kasumi was just putting the finishing touches on dinner when the boy had walked in. She washed off her hands and welcomed him home with a smile. "Hello, Ranma. Did you have a good time at the Cat Café'?"
"No way. Bad food, bad service, bad company – as usual, " Ranma answered. His voice was laced with annoyance but he perked up upon smelling Kasumi's cooking. "Man, I'm starving!"
A snort from behind denoted Akane walking in on the spectacle. As usual after one of Ranma's outings, she was in a bad mood and let everyone know it.
"And just where have you been?" she demanded. Not that Akane really had to ask, though. It was obvious by his mood he'd been at either Ukyo's or Shampoo's place. The pervert.
"Come on, I just want to eat, Akane," Ranma griped. "Look, I'm sorry for this mornin'. Even if your cooking is pretty bad, you're way better company than Shampoo."
Although it wasn't the ringing apology Akane would have liked, at least Ranma was making an effort. Despite his barb about her cooking, she stiffly nodded and grabbed the plates she had originally came into the kitchen for. "Come on, help me set the table." She was still pretty mad, but when Ranma was bearable he wasn't so bad.
In the living room, Nabiki was lounging around on the couch, watching the stock reports. On the pillow beside her, P-Chan was doing much the same. He had finally found his way back to the Dojo earlier and Akane had quickly ushered him inside and placed him on the best pillow they had. That was probably why Nabiki was glaring at him every time she changed positions.
As Ranma and Akane set the table, Nabiki just stayed out of their way, enjoying the lack of arguing for once. Usually, after one of his jaunts around town, Akane would be screaming up a storm and probably beating him with anything not nailed down. Well, whatever. One less headache.
The smell of food also drew Genma and Soun into the house from the porch. Like always, they had been playing Shogi and waiting for the argument that never came to be over with.
"Is it safe?" Soun stage whispered to Nabiki. "Akane didn't cook to make up for lunch, did she?"
Said bad cook was still within hearing distance, though. Wasn't she always? Soun grunted when a paper fan impacted the back of his head.
"My cooking isn't that bad!" Akane growled. She was really getting sick of this. "If you're so scared of me cooking, why don't you all just go to Ukyo's or something! I'm sure Kasumi wouldn't mind having lots of leftovers for once!"
Before anyone else could talk, Ranma pipped in, "No way! I would eat your stuff over go to Ukyo's place any day of the week." What was most peculiar is that he actually said it with conviction, like he would actually subject himself to such horrors to stay away from his friend-turned-fiancée'.
Soun and Genma sent each other questioning, but happy, glances. Akane, though curious over the sudden change, had instantly perked up and was now chatting with Ranma about how he would like a dinner should she ever try to make him one again and he seemed to actually put a little thought into it. This was a good sign for the Dojo!
Not a block away, someone else was watching this rare little moment in the Tendo household. Unlike the two men, this watcher was not happy in the least.
Cologne sat quietly upon the light pole she had been using as a vantage point. So, not only was Ranma still upset about whatever had happened at the Nekohanten, Miss Kuonji was also seemingly in his bad graces. At this rate it really did seem like those two buffoon fathers were starting to get their wish.
"Taking an afternoon stroll, eh?"
Cologne cringed, knowing to whom that crackly old voice belonged to. "Happi…how pleasant to see you." She was getting careless in her old age if the old pervert could sneak up on her so easily.
Ignoring the lack of enthusiasm in the Amazon's voice, Happosai hopped up beside her and stole a peek at what was going on inside his residence. "So…what do you make of the boy's turnaround?" he asked. "Things aren't looking too good for your sweet great-granddaughter."
"We have our ways, Happi," Cologne promised. If Ranma seriously thought such a slight would go unchecked, he was truly his father's son. "You must be in good spirits. If things continue like this Genma's and Soun's ill-begotten plan will have come to fruition."
"Wait, wait, wait! This isn't my plan at all. My poor disciples thought this up all by themselves. I was locked in a cave, remember?" Happosai didn't want any credit for this situation.
As if Cologne trusted him. "Then you won't try and interfere when I inevitably try and...derail...this development? I do not wish to get into a fight over something so trivial."
The other ancient master agreed. "So long as you don't try and take the boy back to China without his permission," he stated. "Same agreement as always, really. Can't have you running away with such a looker until he's sure of it!" The old pervert let out a raunchily cackle at that.
Well, this was a favorable turn of events. Though Cologne didn't know why Happosai cared so much about her future son-in-law's personal freedom, it freed her up to take a more direct role in things. For sure being able to harass Ranma's female half wasn't the only reason the old master would go so far as to hint at a battle of epic proportions that would most likely kill them both.
"Perhaps you are not as idiotic as I first believed, Happi," Cologne murmured. "At the very least, you have layers."
"Comparing me to an onion! I'm sure I made the cuties cry in my day, but that's still a bit harsh."
Despite herself, Cologne was enjoying the chat. She didn't have time to sit around, though. "Perhaps I can do something to nip this irritating balance shift in the bud. If only I knew what caused Ranma's sudden change in mood," she mused aloud. One moment Ranma had been laughing and playing around, the next he was cold and irritated. She knew his attitude could change at the drop of a hat, but there was usually always a good reason.
"Maybe your cute little granddaughter got too grabby with the goods?" Happosai was rewarded for his suggestion with a swift twap on the head. He bounded out of the range of Cologne's irksome stick and rubbed his sore noggin. "Damn, woman! It was just a suggestion!"
"Get your mind out of the gutter," Cologne hissed. Not that she hadn't thought of Shampoo doing something like that. Oh no. It was just that Ranma would have acted much differently. "He's angry with Miss Kuonji as well and I doubt both of them would try something in the same day."
Oh, well, that was true. "Well, it's your problem! Don't ask me to fix it," Happosai grumbled as Cologne hopped past him. "Hey, where ya going?"
"Are you bored or something? Go harass some women. I have work to do." Before the other senior could respond, Cologne had already bounded off towards someplace that might hold a few answers. If there was a missing link in all of this, Cologne expected it to be squarely in Miss Kuonji hands.
Across town, said cross dresser was having problems of her own. At the moment, she was on the phone with none other than Kasumi, trying to get to Ranma. Her best friend/fiancée' hadn't stopped by for dinner like he usually did and she had missed him at school. Trying to get him on the line, however, was proving to be harder than pulling teeth.
Kasumi tried once again, at Ukyo's behest, to call Ranma over to the phone and once again she got the same answer. "I'm sorry Ukyo, but Ranma says he doesn't want to speak to you." It was obviously distressing to the oldest Tendo to be caught in the middle of...whatever this was. "I'm sure it's just that he's tired."
Ukyo sighed and thanked the other girl for trying before hanging up. She didn't know what had gotten into Ranma, but it put a wet blanket over her mood for the evening. She had only wanted to ask him over for lunch tomorrow. Hell, Akane could even tag along like usual and she wouldn't have minded.
The bell over her front door rang and Ukyo reluctantly put thoughts of Ranma's mood out of her head. It was close to closing time, but a customer was a customer. "What can I get for you?" she called out.
"You can tell me why son-in-law is avoiding you."
Great. Just great. The icing on the cake, it seemed, was sitting in the empty restaurant. The chef walked up behind the grill and sized up the shrimp of a woman. Given how strong the old woman proved when Ranma had lost his strenght, all assumptions based on Cologne's stature had to be tossed out.
"He's probably busy. You shouldn't get so excited in your old age; it's bad for your blood pressure." Ukyo knew that wasn't the case, but she wouldn't give an inch. "If you think that I'll give up this easily-"
Cologne held up her hand to forestall any pointless posturing. "I am not here to bicker over such mundane things. We have a mutual problem that needs to be corrected. After that, you and my great granddaughter can squabble all you like."
"And what problem is that? It's probably because Akane is standing beside him with a mallet hovering over his head that he can't talk." That would be more like it.
The matriarch shook her head. "Then why wasn't he here after school? He was at the Nekohanten and acted in such a way that even Mousse looked like a decent human being compared to him. At the very least, I believe we should speak with my great granddaughter and pool our knowledge."
"Unless, of course, you think you still think there isn't a problem. After all, it is completely within Ranma's personality to simply turn you down. To be purposefully cruel to one of his suiters."
Although Ukyo knew she would regret it, the old woman had a point. Ranma just wasn't mean. At the very least he'd shout a hello if she were on the phone. To just blow her off like that...
"What did you have in mind?"
"You can't be serious. You want us to work together?" Ukyo asked. The chef looked over at Shampoo with a scowl and dismissed the idea out of hand. "No way, no how. I don't need dead weight from someone Ranchan likes even less than me." Ukyo knew the old mummy was off her rocker! And to think that she had even thought this would be productive.
"Shampoo have exactly same thought! Weak Japanese girl who no even look like woman make Airen run for hills." That remark threatened to start a fight if Cologne didn't step in.
The old Amazon shut both teens up with a glare that would have killed lesser mortals. Shampoo especially had an appreciation for the look as she had seen it too many times during her life. Being in Japan must have dulled her sense of self-preservation if she could no longer tell when her great grandmother was getting angry.
Cologne hopped up onto a nearby table so she was eye level with the two women. "I hope you are not under any delusions here. If Ranma decides to cut you completely out of his life, for whatever reason, then any chance either of you ever had is gone. He lives with Akane Tendo and her family already and has been for the last year. If you are cut out of his life, exactly why wouldn't he simply fall in with the youngest Tendo?"
Ukyo sobered very quickly at that kind of logic. Cologne was right; Ranma and Akane practically acted like an old married couple anyway so without anyone else to rock the boat, they might just go along with it in every way...
"Oh god, she's right!" The chef wheeled around to grab Shampoo by the shoulders and shook her a few times in desperation. "What are we going to do?! That-That-hussy is going to steal Ranchan!"
It was odd seeing Ukyo loose her cool like that. Usually, from what little exposure Shampoo had from just being around her rival when they weren't at each other's throats, the chef was calm and collected and always had a plan at the ready. Now, though, it really did seem like she was spooked. All that did was make Shampoo more worried and soon both girls were alternately shaking each other in complete hysterics.
If she had been a few centuries younger, Cologne would have probably face-faulted at the ridiculousness of it all. "Listen up! We must first find out what exactly made son-in-law so hostile in such a short span of time. You said that you haven't spoken to Ranma for an entire day, correct?" The Amazon was addressing Ukyo as the girl tried to compose herself. "What was his mood when you last saw him?"
"He was just...Ranchan. Hungry, chatty, and happy," Ukyo responded.
"Nothing you can think of at all?"
"No. He spent about an hour at the restaurant day before yesterday and left just as happy as he had been when he came in."
So, it wasn't something that Ukyo had done; why, then, was Ranma mad at her? It made no sense. If he hadn't spoken to her for over a day there shouldn't be anything he could possibly be angry over.
"What about you two?" Ukyo cut in. She was glaring mostly at Shampoo, her arms crossed in a huff. "You were the last ones to see him. How do I know you didn't do something to him that backfired? You're always trying to drug him, Shampoo! Maybe you mixed up something that had an unexpected result."
Shampoo bristled at the suggestion. "Ukyo not know when to keep mouth shut! Shampoo no hurt Airen!" Mindful of the reproaching gaze Cologne was giving her, the teen tried to calm herself and slipped into her usual smug attitude, bottling the rage. "Why Ranma be mad at Shampoo anyway? Airen come to Shampoo for food that not kill him and maybe get some variety." Her smirk grew when Ukyo's eye twitched.
Clearly these two weren't going to be any help at all. If anything was going to get done, Cologne would just have to do it herself.
When the two teens looked up from their arguing, Cologne was nowhere in sight. The main door was just closing and it was obvious what had happened.
"Ukyo drive great grandmother off!" Shampoo accused.
"Me?! If it's anyone who's being too difficult it's you, sugar!" Ukyo shot back. "You had to have done something to Ranchan! Now he probably hates anyone who's not Akane."
Shampoo wanted to shout back, but the insults died in her throat. What if Ukyo was right? Ranma had only started to act weird when he came to the café. What if it was something she had done? Try as she might, Shampoo couldn't think of anything, though. Perhaps Ranma didn't like her cooking? Not wanting to look weak and be bandaged? Whatever it was, Shampoo was at her wits end.
A loud cough came from Ukyo that was probably to snap the Amazon out of whatever funk she was in. Truth was, the other teen didn't like how upset Shampoo looked at the moment. Even though the hussy probably deserved whatever it was that had happened to her in regards to Ranma now wasn't the time to brood over it.
"Look...I'm sorry. Your grandmother was right; we should be working together on this." At the very least Cologne would be helping so long as Shampoo was kept in the loop. "Since she took off, why don't we have some dinner? If I can use your kitchen, I'll fix some okonomiyaki."
The purple-haired teen looked skeptical at the sudden change of attitude, but there was no denying that she was pretty hungry. "Ukyo leave gunpowder flakes at home? Shampoo no want stomach to blow up."
That actually elicited a laugh from the chef. "Yeah, they're in my other pants. Promise."
Half a city away, Cologne was back on the trail of clues and not in the best of moods. Those two ungrateful children hadn't even properly listened to her! Now she was stuck doing all this legwork herself for the sake of her great granddaughter. If that girl thought she was going to get her full wage this week she had another thing coming.
Hopping back up on her usual perch atop the Tendo yard wall, and after looking very hard for Happosai, Cologne settled in for a night of quiet observation. For an elder of Joketsuzoku this was hardly a worthy task. If she were back in China the woman would have delegated such a thing to one of her seconds. Still, it had been decades since Cologne had personally been on a sentry mission. The last time had been, oh, back during World War II. She only did so then because she didn't trust anyone else to watch for the Japanese.
How things change. Now she was going out of her way to help her only great granddaughter get a Japanese husband. Shampoo's father had plenty to say about that when his daughter wasn't around. Mostly he stayed out of the way like any non-fighter should, but sometimes he was a downright mother hen. He honestly didn't like being in Japan; Cologne couldn't blame him, though. His father had suffered a lot during the years leading up to the War and afterwards.
None of that mattered now, though. Cologne took a deep breath and focused more on information gathering than the past. One day Ranma would probably meet Shampoo's father and have to deal with some bitter feelings. Sad, really, but it would be needed to clear the air. Perhaps Shampoo could talk to her father and scare him into behaving himself?
That future, of course, relied on overcoming the current crisis. Ranma was sitting in the living room with the rest of the Tendo herd, watching television. Nothing seemed overtly out of place. Well, other than the fact everyone inside seemed to be getting along. No arguing, no violence, no repair work. It was just...quiet. Uncharacteristic of the maelstrom that swirled around this humble dojo.
All was well...except for one thing. Ryoga, or P-chan as he was known to Akane, was watching Ranma with a close eye. Not the usual glare that the idiot usually reserved for his rival. It was almost as if Ryoga knew something was wrong as well. The question was how to get the boy alone and get him to talk. Better to try and get him now while he wasn't half way across Japan.
Inside the house, no one noticed a small pebble slam into the side of P-chan's head. Instead of knocking out the pig, it simply hopped down from the couch and marched out the door while Akane was busy talking with Ranma. It hopped out into the yard and, avoiding the koi pond, kept walking until it ran into the wall where it was scooped up by Cologne.
Ah, remote control acupressure. One of the better Amazon techniques if Cologne didn't say so herself. Scooping the idiot up, she quickly bounded off into the night, hoping that the two teenagers she had left behind hadn't killed themselves by now...
"Does Ukyo know where everything is?" Shampoo asked as the pair walked into the expansive kitchen of the Nekohanten. She pointed out the various cabinets where the pots, pans, and, of course, different-sized spatulas were kept. "Ingredients in freezer and on shelf."
The chef went right to work and tried to acclimate to this strange kitchen. It was very organized, though. Probably Cologne's doing. She couldn't imagine Shampoo doing anything but mucking up a kitchen. Probably tossed her utensils around, didn't clean them, used her cutlery for common utility knives, didn't-
Shampoo gracefully weaved around Ukyo, reaching between her arms to reach various ingredients like the other teen was nothing but a piece of ungainly furniture. Not skipping a beat, pots, spoons, and bowls flew from the shelves and soon there was the smell of cooking spices and ramen filling the kitchen.
"Is Ukyo just going to stand there?"
Had she really just zoned out like that? Ukyo frowned at herself and blamed it on being tired. So Shampoo could actually cook. Big deal. She worked in a restaurant, after all. Well, if the Amazon felt like putting on a show, so would Ukyo. The Chef twirled her giant spatula over her head as she
tossed ingredients onto the grill with her free hand. Out the corner of her eye, she could see Shampoo pausing to look at her.
Of course, though she could appreciate fellow skill, Shampoo wasn't going to let herself get upstaged. She flipped plates and pots into the air, twirling them around on her feet and arms as she kept her balance. By now the two weren't even keeping with all they were cooking. It had become something of a battle with neither wanted to back down first.
The sight that greeted Cologne when she hopped in was something out of a bad teen comedy. There was food everywhere; filling the tables, the counter tops, and every spare space in the kitchen. Not that the matriarch didn't want a nice dinner, but there was no way she could eat all this! Then she noticed the cause of this culinary catastrophe. If she didn't know better, Cologne would have swore that it was two idiot men in the kitchen and not her great granddaughter and the usually subdued Ukyo Kuonji.
Both teens were still trying to one-up the other, paying no heed to the newly arrived elder. Shampoo was holding several plates on the tip of her foot while Ukyo was balanced on top of her large spatula and using her mini spatula's to tend to several okonomiyaki at the same time. Truly, it was as if a three-ring circus had set up camp in the Nekohanten.
"What. Is. This."
The high stakes cooking match skidded to a halt as Cologne's rising battle aura washed over the two teens. It was only then that they took stock of just how much food they had cooked...food that had come from the Nekohanten's pantry. That's not good. Ukyo looked over at Shampoo who had her eyes closed, brace for some kind of attack. Would Cologne really do that, thou-
"Oww!" Ukyo yelped when the old woman's staff cracked her on the head. She heard Shampoo squawk a few seconds later and knew that this was probably a standard thing with Cologne. "We made you dinner and this is the thanks we get?"
Cologne snorted. Shampoo didn't even try to get in on the lie so at least her great granddaughter still had some sense. "And how am I supposed to consume a half week's worth of food? Not even son-in-law could clear this!"
At the mention of Ranma, Shampoo looked up, chastisement forgotten. "Great Grandmother find what wrong with Ranma?"
Snorting, Cologne produced the unconscious Ryoga and tapped the revive pressure point. The little pig stirred and lazily opened his eyes only to start squealing when he saw the surroundings.
"Ryoga here seems to know something about what's going on. However, I shall get the information from him myself. Perhaps he will be more willing to talk if he has a good meal?" Cologne noted how the pig perked up upon hearing that. "Wasn't it Akane Tendo who cooked tonight? I can't imagine that you could be...full...after that."
Although he was still wary, Ryoga quieted. The old ghoul had a point; Akane had hand-fed him most of the night. Seeing his change, Cologne produced a kettle of hot water.
"Now, you two go to Shampoo's room. I will call for you later."
Ukyo wanted to argue, but her rival was already dragging her back into the residence part of the restaurant. Granted, Shampoo didn't look very pleased herself. It must just be an Amazon thing, Ukyo decided. Cologne probably wouldn't keep them out of the loop too long.
The house wasn't really what Ukyo had imagined. It was a humble thing with many, many pictures hanging on the walls. There were a few of Shampoo sitting at a big feast with other women around her, happily chatting. It was an odd thing to see as Shampoo didn't have any friends in Japan as far as Ukyo knew. From the pictures, it looked like she was pretty popular back home.
"Who took all these pictures?" Ukyo asked. Cologne and Shampoo were in quite a few together so it couldn't have been the other woman.
Shampoo paused in her walking, seemingly wondering if she should say anything. She didn't see the harm in saying a little to her rival, but anything could possibly be used against her later on. "Shampoo father take pictures," the Amazon carefully replied.
The chef nodded and picked up a picture from a small table nearby. "Is this him?" In it, a lanky, middle-aged man in a black silk uniform and dark sunglasses was smiling broadly at the camera with Shampoo in his arms. "He looks like a nice guy."
"Why, thank you Miss."
Ukyo whirled around and came face-to-face with the Chinese man from the picture. Sans his sunglasses, he looked about the same as he did from the picture.
Ignoring Ukyo after the initial greeting, he walked around to Shampoo. "Daughter, how are you? I hope the elder is not keeping you too long."
Shampoo just shrugged. "Great grandmother have other business right now. Shampoo going to room." Amazingly, to Ukyo, the man was the one who got out of the hallway to give both Shampoo and Ukyo room to pass. The female Amazon didn't even give her father another look as she passed, either. Deciding not to bring it up, the chef just quietly followed. Who was she to talk about someone else's father issues?
What if it wasn't just family issues, though? What if that was how Amazon men were expected to behave? Well, Mousse was obviously an exception but it might explain why he's not treated very well. Ukyo couldn't imagine Ranma acting so subdued like that. Whatever. Not like Shampoo would ever be able to get her hooks that deep into Ranma anyway.
The Amazon ducked into a side room and Ukyo followed suit. From the look of it, this was Shampoo's bedroom. There was a modest western-style bed in the corner with a large vanity mirror on the wall beside it and a television in front of a throw pillow. In contrast to the rest of the house, there weren't any pictures or decorations in the room. The only thing Ukyo could really see that attested to Shampoo's personality was few cosmetics sitting on the vanity and the closet full of clothes.
While Ukyo just stood there, dumbly waiting to be invited in, Shampoo flopped down on the pillow and flipped on the TV. The show, a soap opera by the looks of it, was in Chinese so obviously Cologne had springed for cable. With nothing better to do, Ukyo just milled around. She couldn't watch TV with Shampoo. Something in the closet caught her attention so she walked over and opened it up a little more.
"Wow, this is a beautiful dress."
Shampoo looked up from the television to see which dress the chef was talking about. Cursing, the teen saw that her closet was open and the one thing she didn't want seen was in open display.
There, on a modeling mannequin, was an elaborate dress made from several layers of bright, colorful fabrics. Upon its head sat a large silver tiara and several other pieces of silver leaf. Around the neck was an even larger block of metal that looked more like a piece of armor than a necklace. Nevertheless, Ukyo had never seen something so beautiful or intricate.
Her view was abruptly cut off as the closet was slammed in her face. "No go through Shampoo things!" the Amazon growled.
"Well sorry for giving you a compliment on your fashion sense," Ukyo mumbled. Not that there was much else to do in the small room. Shampoo had gone back to watching some Chinese drama and was all too happy to leave the other girl alone until her great grandmother got finished with whatever it was she was talking to Ryoga about.
Unfortunately, Shampoo had not visitor-proofed her room. A single glimmer off something hanging on her vanity mirror caught Ukyo's eyes and she walked over to it, making sure not to draw the Amazon's attention. It was a worn golden cross on a silver chain; a lot like the ones European tourists would wear when they visited. Ukyo glanced over at Shampoo. Although the chef had never spent any time thinking about it, she didn't know if the Amazons practiced any kind of religion. If they did, Ukyo doubted it would be something like Christianity. Maybe the Chinese girl had just thought it looked pretty and picked it up somewhere?
Upon further inspection of the cross, Ukyo was sure she had found some Chinese markings engraved on it. Considering how old it looked, it was doubtful Shampoo had picked it up somewhere and not recognized what the letters said. While she couldn't read Chinese, Ukyo was sure that her rival would have spotted them at some point.
A stern poke on her shoulder alerted Ukyo she'd been caught again and she slowly turned around to endure another awkward moment with Shampoo. To her surprise, it wasn't the youngest Amazon but the eldest and she looked more sad than angry. Slowly, even lovingly, Cologne eased the cross out of Ukyo's hand and replaced it back on Shampoo's mirror. She gave it one last glance before her face shifted back into it's normal enigmatic state and she bounced over to the television to switch if off.
"Alright. The fool of a pig has finally eaten his fill and I've tied him to the refrigerator to make certain he doesn't wander off." Down the hall, both girls could hear someone shouting all manner of curses, most of them very, very colorful. Cologne didn't seem to mind, though. "Can I trust you two to work together long enough to find a solution to this mess? It would seem that there is a real problem if what he's told me so far is any indication."
Shampoo and Ukyo glanced at one another, sizing each other up. Shampoo was the first to look away and she shrugged. "Shampoo act like Amazon warrior."
"If she'll be civil, I'll be civil," Ukyo promised. She didn't know how long the truce would last, but if Ranma was honestly in some kind of trouble then they'd both have to grin and bear it.
Amazingly, Ryoga was still in one place when the trio went back to the kitchen. Other than somehow managing getting stuck inside the refrigerator, that is. After extracting the hapless idiot from the deep freeze, Cologne sat him down in a spare seat between Shampoo and Ukyo so he couldn't get away.
"Now, tell me what you saw. Don't leave anything out."
"Like I told you, I didn't see anything!" Ryoga defended. "I just heard Mousse saying something!"
Shampoo slammed her fist into a nearby table, nearly splitting it. "Mousse! Shampoo should have known!" The blind idiot had been hanging around earlier, right before Ranma started acting strange.
"Regardless of his involvement, we must first find out what Mousse did to son-in-law. What did you hear him say?"
Cologne sighed and brought out the big guns. "You realize what will happen should the trend back at the Tendo home continues, do you not? Son-in-law and Akane Tendo will only grow closer. It will only be a matter of time before-"
"Don't say it!" Ryoga yelled. He jumped up from the table and almost started weeping right then and there. "That wouldn't happen...they hate each other!"
"But for how much longer?" Ukyo caught onto Cologne's ploy and started to pile it on. "You know how much Akane hates it when Ranma-honey visits me. Unless she's hitting him for coming to my restaurant, what's there to get mad about? She gets rescued by Ranma almost once a month; eventually she'll cave in and...well, you wouldn't want to be a fly on the wall, or a pig by the bed, when that happens."
"Shampoo think she going to be sick." The younger Amazon knew what was going on, but the thought of Ranma and Akane...doing that... "Too, too sick. Ukyo have point, though. Ranma and Akane get together if Ryoga no help Shampoo fix groom. No even know what they doing right now."
Ryoga was silent for a second as he composed himself. He could only imagine what Ranma might be doing to poor, defenseless Akane without someone there to watch out. "Mousse said something about the old woman giving him everything he ever wanted. He was messing with some box over in that closet, too."
Given him everything he wanted? What was that fool talking about now. Cologne hopped over to the storage closet Ryoga was pointing at and looked around. Nothing jumped out at her as being odd, but if Ryoga said Mousse was doing something in here she wasn't going to dismiss it out of hand. Finally, she spotted a glimmer from the very back of the closet. It was one of her necklaces hanging out of a cardboard box. Oh no, she had told Mousse to put away her jewelry.
Ignoring Shampoo's questions, Cologne bounded over to the table with the box and started looking through it. Sure enough, the box that used to contain the cursed jewel was empty. "Mousse, I didn't know you were that clever," she quietly sighed. Perhaps the fool was worth a reevaluation. That could be done later, though.
Now, what to do with this information? She was the one who had invited the Kuonji girl over in the first place, after all. If what she had heard was correct, Ranma had been treating her nearly as rudely as Shampoo. This wouldn't bode well if either found out right away.
"Perhaps it would be best to call things a night," Cologne cut in as she secreted the empty box into her sleeve. "We shall track Mousse down tomorrow and find out what he has done with son-in-law. He is most likely staying out of dodge until his plot, whatever it is, comes to fruition."
Ukyo didn't look very convinced. "What are you hiding from us?" she asked. In defiance, she sat down on a chair beside Ryoga who also looked pretty resolved to stick around. "I'm not going anywhere until I get some answers."
For a moment, Cologne seriously considered simply tossing the two out. Who was this little slip of a girl to be ordering around a three hundred year old elder? It wasn't until Shampoo touched her shoulder that the old woman reversed course. With a sigh, Cologne pulled out the box and laid it on the table so everyone could get a look.
"Inside here was a broach that was used for pranks and other types of mischief. Depending on how it is worn, it can either enhance feelings of love or reverse them. It seems I underestimated Mousse's ability to come up with plans quickly and he somehow got it onto son-in-law."
"So...when Ranchan was mean to me, it means-"
"-that Ranma really-"
"Likes us?" Ukyo and Shampoo excitedly looked at each other and nearly started a little victory dance before they caught themselves. After all, Ranma was cruel to them both.
They composed themselves as best they could with varying degrees of sucess. Shampoo, who was having the most trouble not simply hopping up and down, realized something that sobered her up. "Ranma no get mad at Akane. Why that?" Even though she would like to think otherwise, there was no denying that Ranma had gone to bat for Akane more times than Shampoo could count.
Ukyo was just as confused. "Is there some other trick to this thing? Are you sure you're not off your rocker?"
"Of course I'm not. The jewel only works on romantic feelings. I wonder what son-in-law actually thinks of Akane Tendo to fool the jewel like this." She had a few thoughts, but now wasn't the time to share them. "The broach is very distinctive, you can't possibly miss it," Cologne said despite the fact that she had missed it earlier. She was the adult here, though, so she was excused. "I suggest you two go and get it back while son-in-law is sleeping. Chances are the jewel will be off of his person."
The silence in the room was almost painful as Ukyo and Shampoo battled internally over what to do. If they were to go it alone, they could possibly turn the situation to their advantage. On the other hand, if they were to to as a team they could probably fix this situation before it got any worse, even if it meant they were constantly going to be looking over each other's shoulder.
Finally, Ukyo broke the silence. "Shampoo, we should go together." She didn't sound terribly happy about it, though. "Look. Thanks to this we know that Ranchan l-likes us both, right? That's a pretty big step-up in a single day. We should just get Ranma back to normal. We can deal with everything...else...later."
The Amazon considered this. Truthfully, she had just been about to reject the notion that she should team-up with anyone. "Ukyo too, too loud to sneak into Airen's room. She just get caught," Shampoo decided. Even though her great grandmother might not like it, Shampoo was certain she could get anything out of that house even if Ranma was on alert. "Elder, Shampoo go now!" She gave a little salute and dashed off into the night without waiting for any chastisement that could come her way.
"Not without me you aren't!" Ukyo grabbed up her spatula and ran off after her rival, leaving Cologne and Ryoga alone in the restaurant. A second later the lost boy ran off after both of them, screaming about not leaving Akane alone with a bounder like Ranma.
And so, Cologne pulled out her seldom-used pipe and lit up a small bit of medical weed she saved for really, really bad headaches. At least things were in motion now and not just trudging along like they had been. Whatever the case, a critical part of her job here was done; just give Shampoo a real chance. If she were to muck it up herself then she would face more training and discipline; if she managed to actually get somewhere then the glory would be all hers.
Well, at least Cologne would have some entertainment to make up for all that investigation earlier. Maybe if the show was good enough Shampoo wouldn't get her pay docked after all...