Tarou 1/2
A Fanfic by Intrasonic

Chapter 13: Curtain Call

The vice-principle smiled weakly. All things considered, this was going better than he'd expected. "Well, we discussed the issue, and all things considered, we decided that it would be for the best..."
Tarou slammed his fist down on the desk, making another fist-shaped indentation. "I never discussed the issue! And I think it's a stupid idea! It's just a disaster waiting to happen!"
But that didn't mean that it was going well. The VP put on his most solemn face. "That is why we hired you, wasn't it? We have the utmost confidence that you're more than capable of handling it."
Tarou sucked in a breath. That didn't work, so he sucked in one more before replying. "I can handle a bunch of a kids putting on their little production. It can be at this school for all I care. But where the hell do you get off making ME the director?!?"
"Why, it would be ideal for you, really. Rather than have to dance around the demands of another director, you can simply decide how the entire thing is arranged yourself. Very efficient, hmm? And to simplify things even more for you, we thought that we'd do a fairly easy play. It's quite popular, and I'm certain that you'll have no shortage of volunteers for parts. It's simply a matter of supervising everything and breaking up any arguments."
"And why would there be any arguments in the first place?"
"We at Furinken High pride ourselves on our unrivalled competitive spirit, you realize. That can... occasionally extend to our dramatic productions as well."
A book was set lightly upon the desk. "At any rate, we're glad to have your cooperation, and we even took handled the matter of choosing the play. Romeo & Juliet. We expect the presentation in two weeks from today."
Tarou looked the book in much the way he would viewed the Necronomicon. Except with a little more disgust. Finally, he snatched it up and headed towards the door. "I had better get overtime for this garbage."
The VP breathed a sigh of relief once the door had shut again. He needed to get overtime for this job. But right now, the only thing worse than having Tarou angry at him was having Nabiki angry at him. And she'd already outlined what she wanted...

"Romeo and Juliet," Nabiki mumbled, her mouth presently full of sandwich. "The VP is going to 'decide' that it should be presented in two weeks."
The other girls blinked. "In only two weeks? Do you really think he's going to agree to that?"
"Oh, that's just the beginning. Guess who's going to be directing the entire thing. Our favourite disciplinary teacher."
Now they were staring. "The VP will never agree to that. Or Tarou."
"I gave the VP... some motivation, that's all. And Tarou, well, I think he needs this job, doesn't he? So everything is just fine. Feel free to audition for the play if you want."

"Good morning class. We have two new students today, so let's be sure to give them a warm welcome!"
I'm going to kill that bastard for this. >
Don't look so mad, sister. Some of those boys are kind of cute. >
"They're transfer students from China, and they'll be staying here with us for awhile. Why don't you two introduce yourself?"
The two individuals in question nodded obediently.
"Hi!" LinLin greeted. "My name is LinLin!"
"RanRan... nice to meet you all."
Did I say that right? I practised all morning for it. >
Yes, yes, you said it right. Nice to see you working so hard for this school. >
You could at least sound more cheerful about this. >
I'm not cheerful. I'm going to rip Tarou's head off for making us do this. We don't have time to play 'school' here. >
"So you two ladies may take whatever empty seat you want, alright?"
LinLin nodded obediently, taking a seat. By coincidence, this happened to be right next to where Ranma was sitting. "Hi Ranma!" she greeted, giving him a wink.
He smiled weakly. "Uh... hi, LinLin."
Quit flirting! > RanRan muttered, taking a seat two spaces across. Do it at lunch! >
Geez, you're no fun at all, sister. >
The teacher coughed pointedly. "Now, if we could all turn to page 453 of our math text books, we'll continue with our discussion of multi-variable graphing..."

I hate Japan. >
This was said to no one in particular, the reason being that the speaker was presently outside of the class, holding a bucket of water in each hand. And doing so by herself.
I HATE Japan, > the speaker repeated, in case the absence of people in the room had failed to understand the statement the first time.
This time, someone heard. Looks like you got into trouble already, bitch. >
RanRan spun to face Tarou, who was wearing one of his trademark smirks in full force. You! >
You really should watch your language, RanRan. As disciplinary teacher, I can't let students call their teachers such disrespectful names. >
She glowered. I called her 'teacher'! How the hell could she possibly take offense to that? You paid her to throw me out, didn't you? >
Tarou shrugged, reverting back to Japanese. "I didn't do anything. Maybe you should recheck that guide to learning Japanese. You must have misread something."
"I didn't misread anything! The guide says that the proper name for teacher> in Japanese is pronounced 'whore'. It couldn't be any more straight-forward than that!"
Tarou smirked again, continuing down towards his office. "Of course. Well, don't let me keep you from enjoying yourself out here. I have lots of important things to do. But remember, I've given specific instructions to the teachers that if you or your sister become a problem, that they should contact me immediately."
"Go to hell," she invited, returning to staring at the wall opposite her, determined to wait out the next ten minutes until the next period. Several minutes into the next period, it suddenly dawned on her that Tarou couldn't have known about the reasons
surrounding her punishment. Not unless...
A quick examination of her 'Guide to Learning Japanese', coupled with an in-depth analysis of some of the handwriting, resulted in a lot of spontaneous swearing and speculation over Tarou's ancestors. Which, despite the fact that it was in Chinese,
resulted in another hallway eviction.

Romeo and Juliet.
Ye gods, was this ever a STUPID play.
And the Vice Principal actually thought students would volunteer to be in this play?
Tarou refrained from putting his fist through the wall, but only with a considerable amount of effort. Coupled with the knowledge that he would be damaging his own office, and not someone else's.
Two weeks to organize a play for the entire school. Two weeks for people to volunteer, to make props, to learn their lines, to practice and rehearse them. Two weeks that could otherwise be spent trying to hook up Ranma with a fiancee.
And instead, he was stuck trying to organize a play that involved two semi-retarded people falling in love with each other despite having a host of completely dysfunctional people constantly interfering...
...wait a minute.
Tarou paused, suddenly looking at the book with newfound respect.

"Only two weeks?!?"
His sentiments exactly, Tarou agreed inwardly. Outwardly, "That's what the VP said. This play has to happen in two weeks."
The head of the drama club nodded cautiously. "The club can supply the supporting talent. But this would be much easier if we could have certain people playing certain parts... and certain other people not playing certain parts."
"Well, for starters, a strong female lead would be desirable."
"How about someone like... Akane Tendou?"
"She would be excellent, assuming she can be convinced..."
"I'll take care of it. What next?"
"Well, this is a romance, of course. And 'Juliet' is in love with 'Romeo'. And the male most skilled at Shakespeare at this school would be..."
"Kunou," Tarou finished. He'd only been in Nerima two weeks, but he'd learned that much. Not that it was surprising - he should have known that Kunou was too stupid to make up that poety by himself.
"Correct. I don't believe Akane would take well to having to... kiss him. Or even act with him."
That would be a problem, Tarou agreed. But only a small one. "So we'll find someone else to play Romeo that doesn't make her sick. Kunou... is going to miss the auditions. Trust me on that."
"That would be a big assistance. But who else would be willing to play Romeo and kiss Akane Tendou... On second thought, I suppose we'll have no shortage of volunteers there. But she'll probably punch them out..."
"I'll find someone who'll work," Tarou stressed. "Trust me. What else do we need?"
The head of the drama club was beginning understand how things stood for the moment. And no sane club would ever turn down a blank cheque. "A permanent place to rehearse and set-up. If we can have a food budget, we can spend more time practising through meal-times. If some people could be excused from class during the day at times..."
Tarou stood up. "I'll arrange for those things. Get working. This play needs to go perfectly."
The assorted members of the drama club looked at each other cautiously after the school's disciplinary teacher had left.
"D'you get the feeling he's more concerned about the play than we are?"

It was fifteen minutes later that Tarou left the administrative office with a satisfied smile. Whatever could be said about Furinken's leadership, its existence would never be brought into question.
Because it did NOT exist. In any meaningful way, shape, or form.
Which meant that it had been child's play to demand exclusive rights to the stage for the next two weeks, on behalf of the drama club of Furinken. And to purloin some funds to handle in-school eating, which would allow students to stay at school instead of wasting valuable time going home for supper.
Considering the speed at which the Vice Principal had agreed to these requests... Tarou was beginning to strongly suspect that this business hadn't been the man's idea in the first place. Which meant that someone else was putting him up to it... which opened up a whole new can of worms... which he'd just as soon ignore for the time being.
In retrospect, Tarou was wondering if it would have been smarter to simply refuse the play outright, but the particular play seemed like something of a godsend. With a little push, it could be just the thing he needed to get Ranma and Akane together. While he still had a hunch that some brute force and violence would be necessary in two weeks, he would at least give the peaceful approach a brief try. He was heartless, cruel if necessary, but not sadistic.

One advantage of being the Disciplinary Teacher was the fact that he had access to all the students' records. Including their addresses. So on the rare occasion that he actually wanted to find a student, he never had to search very far.
Actually, he hadn't had to yet. After seeing what he did to Kunou, the extreme majority of the student body had taken his suggestions to heart. Which meant that all he had to do was sit around and exist as a reminder for the student's to behave. This was probably what a government job was like, he thought. Although in China, you probably didn't keep the job very long unless you spent your free time watching your back.
At any rate, he needed to arrange for food. And he now had school money to pay for it with. And thanks to his position, he knew exactly where to go to arrange for it.

Six blocks from the school, he arrived at his destination. And was henceforth surprised.
"Hey, Tarou!"
Tarou blinked as he briefly looked between the building and the speaker. "Ukyou?"
She nodded, tossing a bag of garbage into the can outside the building. "I didn't think I'd run into you out here!"
He shook his head as he took in the building again. "'Ucchan's Okonomiyaki'?"
Ukyou smiled proudly. "What do you think? I've still got some cleaning up to do inside, but I figure I can be up and running within a week or two."
"I thought this building was abandoned?"
"It was, but I tracked down the owner, who gave me a guaranteed 1-year lease for cheap money. He couldn't believe I actually wanted it. That should be plenty of time to get established."
"This building looked like shit," Tarou elaborated.
"It still sorta does inside, but I've fixed up the outside. Now that it looks nice, people are going to get curious. By the time I open, they'll be swarming in to try my cooking! And once they taste my cooking, they'll be back the next day! And before you know it, I'll be rich!"
Tarou felt something very close to fear. "And what about you?"
"What about me? I'll be rich."
"Yes, but..." He pointed at her clothes in general. "You don't look like a guy anymore."
She shrugged, giving herself a brief once-over and coming up satisfied. It wasn't exactly feminine, but no one would be mistaking her gender any longer. Unless they were blind (or Ranma Saotome). "Hey, I kicked Genma Saotome's ass, right? And you were right, Ranchan was clueless for the entire thing. It's time to move on with life, and that includes embracing my femininity!"
"Are you on drugs?"
She actually laughed at his expression. "Get a grip, buddy. Haven't you ever had a big load taken off your life in general? That feeling that no matter how lousy your life has been, you've just come out on top, and now nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams?"
"Besides, after that skating match, the whole school knows I'm girl, anyway." Ukyou laughed again, sobering up a little. "Hey, get your butt inside. I'll cook you up one of my famous okonomiyaki. Best in the world, and then some! Call it a lunch break or something. You're supposed to be in school aren't you?"
Tarou gave a dismissive shrug. "Anyone makes trouble, they know what I'll do to them."
They went into the building. True to Ukyou's word, the inside wasn't nearly as tidy as the interior. But there was a semblance of a cooking grill and cupboards, and a large number of stools were stashed in one corner.
"It's not much now," Ukyou was saying, "but you'd be surprised what a little hard work can accomplish. The grill works, so grab a seat and I'll serve you up a special. Hope you don't mind vegetarian. I haven't had any meat shipped yet, because I don't
have enough refrigeration to hold it."
Within minutes, Ukyou had produced a pair of spatulas, and was rapidly flipping a mess of ingredients on the hot grill. "So how're things with you?" she inquired. "I haven't run into you in a few days."
"They're not going to let you skip school like this," Tarou pointed out.
"You're not?" she inquired.
He acknowledged the point. "I don't care either way. But I can only ignore it for so long, you know."
"I know, I know. But I've been on a high for the last few days, y'know? So really, what's new?"
"Not much. You ever hear of 'Romeo and Juliet'?"
"The play? Of course I have, it's a classic. Why?"
"The school is putting on a production in two weeks."
Ukyou nodded, putting the finishing touches on the meal. "That sounds pretty neat. You thinking of trying out for a part?"
"I'm the director."
She stared for moment. "You can't be serious. You volunteered to be the director?"
Tarou gave her a look that should have ignited anything flammable. "Trust me, volunteering had nothing to do with it."
With expert ease, Ukyou flipped an okonomiyaki into the air, where Tarou caught it. "So you got shafted, huh? So I suppose you're going to tell me that you've always had a secret love for the stage?"
"Like hell." He took a large bite, nodding approvingly. He had a hunch that no practitioner of the Okonomiyaki Arts, or whatever Ukyou's style was called, had ever died of starvation.
"Didn't think so. So what are you going to do about it?"
"Nothing I can do about it. I'll work with it. I think the VP was put up to it, because he's scared stiff right now. I practically have a blank cheque to make the play happen."
"Better'n nothing, I guess."
"Sure. Do you want a chance to advertise your cooking?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Advertising?"
"We're having our meals at the school so we can get more practising done. And I've got a food budget. You feel like working evenings there?"
Ukyou's face lit up. "Are you serious?!? It'd be perfect! All I'd need is my portable grill, and I could rake in a fortune! And it would let the whole school know about my restaurant in advance! You're the greatest!"
Tarou rolled his eyes. "I know that."
"Hey, seriously, I'll owe you for this one. You just leave the food to me, and I'll make sure those actors get all they need to eat. Anything else you're having problem's with?"
"Everything?" he muttered.
"Besides that. You've still got business in this city, right? I bet this play is going to be a real pain for you."
"I'm making it work for me."
"I guess that's good to hear. What are you trying to do, anyway?"
"None of your business," he immediately replied.
She held her hands up soothingly. "Hey, don't get touchy. I'm just asking, alright? I mean, that whole ice skating business was for your 'business', right? So whatever you're doing, you're back on track now, right?"
"Something like that, sure."
"Well, let me know when all the practising happens, and I'll be there with food. Besides, I'll be able to say that I had a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the play."
"Whatever works for you," Tarou agreed, finishing off the remainder of his meal. "I'll let you know as soon as I've confirmed the dates. Now I have to go find 'Romeo' and 'Juliet'."
"You sound like you already know who they are."
"I do. They don't."
"Well, good luck."
"I make my own luck."

Tarou shook his head as he headed back to the school. Another point on his list taken care of, which was definitely a good thing. But Ukyou-
He made a face. If he didn't know, he'd have sworn she'd been replaced with a brain-washed version from another planet. Her demeanor, her appearance, her outlook... completely different from the person he'd known only a few days ago.
How someone went from being a revenge-obsessed, cross-dressing, spatula wielding martial artist to a cheerful, easy-going, normal-dressing/feminine, budding entrepreneur... was completely beyond him. Somehow, the hard-edged, no-nonsense, potentially-dangerous attitude had been bleached right out of her.
It was probably because she had no reason to be that way anymore, he supposed. If he had taken a list of the potentially difficult/dangerous people in the area, he would have come up with a short list. But it would have included people like Nabiki, LinLin, RanRan, Shampoo, and Ukyou. These people all had something in common, and that was that they had focus. Just like himself, they had the ability to shut out the rest of the world and direct all their efforts, time, and resources towards one single goal. And at the same time, just like himself, they were capable of doing anything they thought necessary to accomplish that goal.
As of today, Ukyou had just been removed from that list, Tarou decided firmly. She'd become... normal, for lack of a better word. Just another girl going along with life without a real care in the world. No more devoting her life to chasing after someone, no more training to defeat someone who'd ruined her entire life. For her, the focus was gone.
Almost a shame, really.

But at the same time, it was hard not to feel a little bit of envy.

Annoyingly enough, things had already begun to degenerate in his absence. Apparently the students were capable of telepathically sensing when he wasn't around. Or else a non-student had happened to arrive to stir things up...
"Ranma Saotome! Come out and face me!"
Definitely option number 2, Tarou decided.
The umbrella and backpack were a dead giveaway. More specifically, Ryouga Hibiki had managed to find the school, and was once again challenging Ranma to a duel. And giving Tarou an potentially excellent chance to work a few frustrations out to boot.
"Whaddaya want now, Ryouga?"
And lo, Ranma had finally managed to arrive.
The bandana'd boy fixed upon Ranma immediately, setting his backpack down and hefting his umbrella with one hand. "It's time to finish this, Ranma!"
Ranma didn't tremble in fear. "Yeah, yeah, bring it on, Ryouga. Anything's better than goin' back to math class."
Several of the students had noticed Tarou's arrival with the appropriate amount of disappointment. Discipline was all very well, but this was entertainment. Some others began to speculate on the possibilities of a three-way fight ocurring.
"You think this is a joke!?!" Ryouga snarled. "I'll send you to HELL for what you've done!!!"
Ranma continued to not tremble in fear. "You still ain't told me what I've done to you!!!"
Tarou had reached Ryouga. "What's up, Pen-Pen?"
Ryouga choked, spinning around to face the greeter. "H-how-"
"Be a real shame if you somehow got wet, wouldn't it?"
"Hey, we gonna fight, Ryouga?" Ranma demanded, too far away to hear. "I don't wanna miss gym class next."
Tarou ignored him, continuing to face a suddenly nervous-looking Ryouga. "There are some people around here with nothing better to do than waste their entire lives chasing after cursed people, you know. And you don't want to know what they do to the people they catch."
"Who are you?" the bandana'd boy demanded, carefully keeping any hint of threat absent for the moment.
"None of your business. But have business here, and I don't need you getting in the way."
By this time, Ranma had gotten sick of waiting and had decided to join the group. "Hey, what's going on here? I've only got fifteen minutes before gym."
"Bird-brain here," Tarou offered, "was just deciding that whatever he's angry about probably wasn't that big of a deal anyway. Right?"
Ranma blinked in surprise. "Really?"
Ryouga swallowed. "Ah... that is... sorta..."
This seemed to register as an affirmative for Ranma. "Oh. Well, we might as well have a duel anyway, right? I mean, no point in going back to math class now, right?"
"No fighting at school, Fem-boy."
Ryouga was still eyeing Tarou, and noted that the dangerous stare hadn't disappeared at all. "Ah... we can... have a match later on..." he slowly decided, slowly backing away. "IgotplacestogoBYE!"
Ranma watched Ryouga actually find the school exit and disappear around the bend. "Man, he'll be missing for a week now. What'd you say to him?"
"None of your business, Fem-boy. No fighting at the school, remember? Go knock each other stupid after school for all I care."

Mealtime at the Tendous was, as always, a unique affair.
"That's MY food!"
"Not anymore, boy!"
"Yeah, well eat THIS-"
"So, Akane," Tarou began, putting on his most casual tone of voice. He failed miserably, but at the dinner table, everything was relative. "Have you ever tried acting before?"
Her face lit up like a police search light. "Have I? HAVE I?"
Tarou leaned back a little. "Well... it just so happens that I've been chosen to direct a play called 'Romeo and Juliet'-"
Nabiki immediately placed some distance between herself and her sister.
"ROMEO AND JULIET!?!" Akane demanded, a strange glow coming into her eyes. "WHERE!?! WHEN!?!"
Tarou smiled weakly. "At school. In two weeks."
"They pushed back the schedule recently," Nabiki filled in, still eyeing her sister warily.
"And what would you know about that?" Tarou demanded.
"Oh, you know how I hear things, Tarou-baby."
"...wherefore art thou Romeo..."
"...you've seen the play before?" Tarou inquired, somewhat rhetorically.
"Oh, Akane knows the play very well," Nabiki assured him, smirking.
Akane came out of her play-induced stupor. "Nabiki!"
"That's right," Kasumi agreed. "Why, I remember when she played the part of Romeo. The class agreed that she played the part perfectly."
You couldn't actually snap at Kasumi, but Akane looked like she was coming close to the point. "I'm not playing Romeo!" she muttered.
She probably did do an excellent job, Tarou agreed inwardly. Outwardly, "Well, I'm sure there will be many people wanting to play Romeo. But I'll need someone to play the part of Juliet, of course-"
"I'LL DO IT!" Akane insisted. "I'll be the best Juliet you ever saw!"
One down, Tarou decided. "I'll get you a copy of the play. Rehearsals begin in two days. I'm sure you'll do great."

Ranma cursed, more than aware that he'd just lost almost half his body mass in less than a second. He also cursed at the lady tossing water into the street, although he did that part silently. Re-focussing, he immediately scanned the surroundings, looking to make sure no one had seen him change.
The coast seemed clear for the moment. The old lady hadn't even looked in his direction, and there were no other passer byers at this particular instance. Best of all, Shampoo was nowhere to be seen...
A quick leap took Ranma to the fence, followed by two more which placed in him in the back yard of the Tendous. Act casual...
Ranma froze, but quickly relaxed upon noting the lack of any foreign accent. Right now, there was no telling when Shampoo might show herself. The sooner he got his hands on some hot water, the better... "Ah, hi Akane."
The aforementioned Akane looked to be heading towards the dojo. "I was just going to practice for awhile, but did you want to spar for a little bit?"
Ranma briefly debated between sparring with Akane and heading for the safety of the hot water tap immediately.
Akane looked mildly downcast. "If you're busy, that's okay."
To hell with bloodthirsty Amazons, the redhead decided. "Nah, let's spar."
"I'm wondering where you were recently," Akane noted. "That Shampoo girl looks dangerous."
Ranma shrugged. Dangerous, yes. Better, no. "I'll be okay."
"I haven't seen you since before the gymnastics match," Akane continued, doing a few preliminary stretches. "I actually beat Kodachi!!!"
"I kn-I mean, I heard."
"I had to improvise at the end, but that's what Anything-Goes is all about. I think even Ranma was impressed. He actually made it there to watch the end of the match!"
Well, Akane had gotten somewhat better, Ranma admitted inwardly. "That's good."
"I think so," Akane agreed. "But I'm going to have to keep practising. You ready?"
Ranma shifted into a combat stance. When going up against Akane, half the fight was making it look like he wasn't holding back. But he was getting good at it, and he was slowly becoming convinced that the look on Akane's face afterwards was worth every bit of effort. "Let's go."

Despite her resolve, it was almost two hours later that Akane found herself leaning against one of the dojo walls, gasping for air.
"That was good," her opponent judged, looking considerably less winded. "You're gettin' the idea of attacking more than once in the air now."
Jasmine, Akane decided, had apparently mastered the art of attacking half a dozen times in the air. And how to do it without actually getting tired. "I've been practising a lot lately," she agreed between breaths.
"Your endurance is gettin' better too."
After the training she'd been doing recently, Akane decided, her endurance had better be improving. She wasn't sure she even wanted to know what Jasmine had undergone to possess the talent she had. "I need a break," she admitted, her legs sending thank-you messages as she sat down against the wall.
"Okay," Ranma agreed, taking a seat as well.
Actually, Akane decided, she wouldn't mind sitting here for a much longer period of time. Her legs certainly wouldn't. "So are you going to be going to school again, Jasmine?" she inquired.
Ranma made a face. As far as he was concerned, Jasmine was going to disappearing very shortly. Not that he minded sparring with Akane, but his next stop was definitely going to be a hot water tap."Ah... I dunno."
"I guess you'd better worry about Shampoo for now, but you'll never believe what's just come up!"
Ranma raised an eyebrow. He didn't remember hearing about anything at school recently...
"They're putting on a production of Romeo and Juliet!"
Blank look.
"You've never heard of it?" Akane inquired in surprise. She immediately chided herself. Jasmine's life probably hadn't lent itself to doing things like reading plays, so of course she wouldn't know. "It's a really popular play. We've done it a few times over the years, and it's always a hit with the students."
Ranma attempted to ask an intelligent question. "Does it have lots of fighting in it?"
A giggle. "Just a little bit. It's a romance about two people from opposing families who fall in love with each other against their parent's wishes. Eventually, they try and run away to get married, but things go wrong and they commit suicide together."
Ranma's mind began to figuratively smoke from the process of trying to come to grips with the play's theme. "Ah... okay..."
"It's so romantic," Akane agreed. "And Tarou said that I could be Juliet!!! I've been waiting my whole life for something like this."
"I've a got a lot of reading to do in the next few days, but I think it's going to be great."
"You like acting?" Ranma finally managed, his mind slowly managing to get a grasp over the topic. Somehow, he'd never looked at Akane as an actress before.
"Well, not as much as martial arts. But it's a lot of fun pretending to be someone completely different. Do you think you might like to try?"
"Ah, I dunno..." Ranma stammered
"Are you sure?" Akane inquired. "I think you'd be good at it."
She had absolutely no idea, 'Jasmine' decided inwardly. Time for a quick topic change. "Um... how much fighting is in the play fight in the play?"
Akane shook her head. "Actually, there aren't any females fighting at all. But some of the male characters do. Like Romeo, Benvolio, Tybalt, Mercutio..."
Weird names, Ranma decided. "I guess it's okay, as long there's some fighting in it. What kinds of martial arts do they use?"
"It's all sword fighting, actually. I don't think they were very interested in unarmed combat when the play was written. It was originally written in some strange form of English."
It figured, Ranma decided. Not only did the English language butcher the words, it had resorted to messing up the fighting styles as well. But all things considered, Akane seemed to do well in her classes, so she'd probably do well at acting.
"Do you think you might want to try a part?" Akane asked again. "I think you'd really enjoy it if you tried."
Damn. Ranma averted his gaze, attempting to muster the willpower to refuse. He wasn't entirely sure why it was so hard, but he knew that, somehow, it was. Something about her voice and face and the combination of the two...
The fact that she'd recently confessed to 'Jasmine' that she thought she might like Ranma might have had something to do with it too. Possibly. "Uh... maybe I could... try and do one of the fighting roles? Like that Romeo guy or something?""
Akane's expression was of the variety that you made after seeing Ghandi doing air guitar for 'Master of Puppets', especially when you knew that he had died in 1948. "Romeo?!"
Ranma abruptly remembered a crucial little detail. 'Romeo', being male, required certain qualifications that he lacked until he got his hands on some hot water. "Ah, I mean..."
Akane groaned inwardly. And here she thought that she'd ended the problem before. Yet Jasmine was still looking at her that way, to the point where she was actually thinking about playing Juliet's lover. Either the redhead was severely love-struck, or she really hadn't gotten the hint. Hoping that it was the second, Akane decided to make one more attempt at subtlety...
"I'm hoping that someone will volunteer to play Romeo," she began. "Because otherwise Kunou's going to get the part."
Ranma made an appropriately disgusted face, and did so quite honestly. He could believe that having to work with Kunou for anything would be a royal pain. A romantic play, even more so. "Um... there must be some other guys who want to try?"
"I hope so," Akane agreed honestly. "But most of them would be too scared to try and go against Kunou. And Kunou is good at Shakespeare, if nothing else."
Knowing absolutely nothing about Shakespeare himself, the first point was latched onto. "You mean, he'd fight them so he could be Romeo?"
"Well, it hasn't actually happened, but you must have realized what Kunou can be like. You, Ranma, and Tarou and the first people to arrive that can outfight him like I can."
"Still, maybe Ranma will want to try," Akane continued.
Like hell. "Ah... I dunno. I... don't think Ranma knows any Shakespeare stuff."
"Maybe, but I can hope, can't I?"
Ranma swallowed. "Hope?"
A nod. "I mean, Ranma could obviously handle any fighting scenes. But he could probably memorize his lines well enough. And I'd much rather do the play with someone like him than Kunou. It would make everything so much nicer."
"You... really think so?"
No turning back now, Akane sternly told herself. "Of course. I mean, who would you rather do a play with? A perverted, deluded, idiot like Kunou, or a nice... uh, nice guy like Ranma?"
"Still, I might get lucky. Tarou's in charge of the play, and it would make things so much easier if the director, Romeo, and Juliet all lived in the same place. This could be the best play ever!"
Ranma slowly nodded. "Um..."
Akane laughed, seeing Jasmine's expression. "Hey, don't look so worried. If worst comes to worst, I guess I'll just have to grin and bear it. Even if that means getting stuck with Kunou. If I want to be an actor, I can't always choose who I'm acting with, right?"
"Anyway, why don't we call it a day for now? You want to go wash up?"
Ranma barely had the presence of mind to catch the question, immediately turning red. "Ah, n-no... you go ahead. I'm gonna... practice a little more. Yeah, more practice."
Akane rolled her eyes, but only once she knew Jasmine wasn't looking. Really, the redhead's sense of modesty bordered on absolutely ridiculous at times. Still, it was probably just reflective of how the girl thought of Akane. And in light of that, considering the hard life she must have lead on the road, it was rather commendable that she would still hold herself to such a rigid code of honour. "Okay, I'll let you know when I'm done."

Once Akane had left the dojo, Ranma didn't start practising. He probably wouldn't have gotten much practising done, had he even tried. Fortunately, all he tried to do was to sit in one place and think.
Fact 1: Akane was in a play called 'Romeo and Juliet'.
Fact 2: Akane was playing the part of someone named 'Juliet'.
Fact 3: The play was a romance between 'Romeo' and 'Juliet'
Fact 4: There was a very strong chance that Kunou was going to be 'Romeo'.
Fact 5: If someone else wanted to play 'Romeo', Kunou would quite possibly oppose them.
Fact 6: Akane would rather have someone else play 'Romeo'. Perhaps even Ranma'.
Conclusion? By this time, Ranma had left the dojo to track down some hot water. But in his mind, a conclusion had definitely been made.

The beauty of civilization was the existence of hot water taps.
Certainly there were other nice things as well. Such as penicillin and the wheel and 24-hour takeout restaurants. But the hot water tap was special beyond anything else. Because hot water came out of it.
At least, that was Ryouga's personal opinion on the matter. And having just recently reverted to his normal human self, he was uniquely able to appreciate that sort of thing. Now to figure out who's hot water tap he'd just been used, and quite possibly be ready to make a break for it when he was caught.
"Hey, Ryouga!"
Ryouga froze, quickly placing the voice and identifying it as friendly. Exceptionally friendly, he had recently learned. "Ah... J-Jasmine," he greeted weakly. "Fancy m-meeting you here!"
"Duh, I live here, remember?" Ranma mock-punched Ryouga in the shoulder. "So what's up lately?"
Ryouga looked briefly thoughtful. Best that he not relate that embarrassing restaurant incident in Hokkaido yesterday... "Just... travelling around."
She seemed to take it in stride. "Same old, huh?"
"Ah... yeah, sort of." He desperately thought for a conversation topic. "I saw Ranma this afternoon."
"I know-I mean, I saw." Stupid curse. Grabbing a glass of water, Ranma quickly filled it up with hot water. Now to find somewhere to change without being seen...
"Really? I didn't see you there," Ryouga ventured.
"Um... I was definitely there. You must not have noticed me." Fortunately for the explanation, Ranma abruptly realized something. "Hey - your bandana! It's just like Pen-Pen's!"
Ryouga choked. "I-I-"
"Surprised I didn't notice it before," Ranma mused. "He's your penguin, right? That explains what he's doin' in Japan."
A gasp of relief. "Y-yes... he's my bird."
"Boy, you must have really found an out-of-the-way place that time, huh?"
Jusenkyou probably counted as that, Ryouga reflected disgustedly. "I guess so..."
"The bird can probably never keep track of you most of the time," Ranma concluded, oblivious to Ryouga's expression. "Considerin' the way you get lost all the time."
Ryouga might have wondered how Jasmine was so well-informed about his sense of direction, but an overwhelming sense of relief was presently occupying the majority of his thinking process. "Uh... something like that..."
"You shoulda said something," Ranma continued. "I'll keep an eye on him, okay? He seems pretty friendly, so he can just hang out in my room whenever he's around here."
Ryouga's brain finally shut down altogether. He was actually being offered a place to stay (even if it was for his cursed form). And the person doing the offering was, quite possibly, the most kind and benevolent person in the entire world.
"Anyway, I gotta... um, go somewhere," Ranma was saying, carefully holding the glass of hot water. "Catch you around, okay?"
One thing was for certain - he was so much dead meat if Jasmine ever found out about 'Pen-Pen'. But then again, weren't some risks worth taking?

"Hey, Tarou!"
The aforementioned person grunted in a way that indicated that he was willing to spare 0.1% of his attention towards whoever wanted it. The rest was devoted to far more important matters.
Ranma skidded to a halt, absently shaking a few remaining drops of hot water from his hair. "You're in charge of that 'Romeo and Juliet' play, right?"
"Yes." Tarou was thinking of more important matters. More specifically, he was trying to think of a way to get Fem-boy to play 'Romeo' in the upcoming play. It would be perfect, he knew. With Akane playing 'Juliet', and Fem-boy playing 'Romeo', not only would they be forced to work and act together for an extended period of time, it would be in a romantic setting.
"Can anyone be Romeo?" Ranma persisted.
"Sure." And surely, with so much exposure, they would come to like each other. Hopefully enough that they would agree to the engagement business, henceforth giving him his stupid location.
"What do I have to do?"
"For what?" Sure, there would be other complications before long, Tarou was certain. After all, plays were probably difficult things to direct. But the threat of physical pain could solve most the disagreements, he was sure. The application of physical pain would solve the rest.
"To play Romeo," Ranma elaborated.
"Right." Unfortunately, those threats wouldn't work on Ranma, since he was already used to martial arts. And threatened to hurt anyone else would just make him distrustful. So he needed a non-violent way of convincing Fem-boy to play Romeo-
"So what do I have to do?" Ranma persisted impatiently.
Tarou glared daggers at Ranma. "I'm trying to think, Fem-boy! Just because you've never done it yourself doesn't mean-" He stopped, trying to replay the last few sentences over in his head. Had he actually heard...? "You... want to play Romeo?"
"Geez, I already said that. So what do I have to do?"
Tarou forced a book into Ranma's hands. "This is the play. Memorize all the lines with 'Romeo' in front of them."
New doubts began to surface in Ranma's mind as he looked at the thickness of the book. "The whole thing? How many lines have 'Romeo' in front of them?"
"Lots of them. Romeo's the main character, idiot. You want to screw everything up like you always do, Fem-boy?"
Ranma bristled. "Hah! I'll show you 'Romeo'! I'll memorize the whole book!!!"
"You've got two days. Talk with Akane if you need any help."

Tarou didn't start chuckling until Ranma had left the room. In a few short moments, his problem had been solved for him. He didn't know HOW it had happened, but 'Romeo' had just been provided on a silver platter. Not only was Ranma going to play the part, he was going to do it willingly! Perhaps some nameless god had finally decided that twenty years was enough hell for anyone to go through and finally given him a break.
Despite his not being a believer in luck, except for the bad variety, Tarou couldn't help but feel that it was about damn time.

end chapter 13