Where I Belong

By The Unseen Watcher

Chapter 10

Fast Food and Second Impressions


Ranma wandered around Tokyo. At least, he thought it was Tokyo. A lot had changed in the past century. There had been a few old style buildings in Nerima. The Kuno estate being one of the more extensive ones still surviving in the modern world of skyscrapers and subways. But here, everywhere he looked there were conical-shaped roofs and dirt roads. The people walking on them were relatively sparse, and for the most part walked casually. The part of him that automatically noted things like body language reported that the kimonos of both persuasions were worn comfortably and without any hint of self-consciousness for being dressed in something so out of date to a boy raised in the late 20th century. To them, it was casual wear and didn't rate a second glance unless it was exceptionally fine cloth. Not so his own clothing, which he had already received several strange looks for as he ambled by.

He didn't notice the lingering glances cast him by every woman in the vicinity. He didn't realize that his natural, gliding walk, the way he held his head high was a magnet for female attention. His lithe, muscular body was completed by a thick, blue-black mane of hair and a face that was just starting to move beyond the 'cute' phase and into the 'handsome' category. All in all, his passing rated more than second or even third looks by the citizens of Meiji Tokyo.

But as stated earlier, Ranma was completely oblivious to that aspect of social life. He was too busy taking in the sights, mentally tracing routes along the rooftops, and . . . his stomach grumbled . . . looking for a place to eat!

Two girls passing by in brightly flowered kimonos giggled at the loud noises his stomach was currently making. He patted it sheepishly, looking up at them with a sheepish grin on his face and his hair falling in front of his overcast sapphire eyes. The girls had stopped temporarily, still giggling, a slight blush now touching their cheeks as he smiled at them.

Finally one managed to get up the nerve to speak to the handsome stranger. "Are you hungry, young sir?" She asked. Her companion, considerably less daring, peeked around the first's shoulder from her position behind her.

Ranma rubbed the back of his head ruefully, his grin widening and their blushes correspondingly deepening. "Yeah, I haven't eaten since yesterday. I'm . . . kinda new here. He resisted the urge to scuff the ground with his feet in embarrassment. Seeing so much traditional wear was making him uncomfortable. Such clothing had always meant formal occasions to him, and he felt the urge to be polite.

The second girl piped in. "You could try the Akabeko. It's a great place that has wonderful service and the best Beef Pots in town." She boasted, coloring and ducking behind her friend again when she realized she had his full attention.

Ranma brightened at the description. It sounded great! Eagerly, he asked directions, remembering to thank them with a quick bow before he took off in the way indicated. He left behind two very disappointed young girls and a number of confused people as he wove through the crowd, intent on his goal of food.

The girls could only look after him and sigh. One turned to the other. "He was so cute, don't you think?" The other agreed. "Oh, yes. Strange clothes, but did you /see/ his eyes?" She sighed longingly. They continued to gossip, giggle and blush long after the incident.


Meanwhile, Ranma had caught wind of what must be the Akabeko. Even without directions, he was sure his nose would have eventually led him to it. Wonderful smells brought him to a red Noren bedecked doorway. The scent here was nearly overwhelming, and he had to swallow constantly to keep his mouth from openly watering. Looking up, he read the kanji on the sign. "'Aka-be-ko'. This is the place, all right." He went in, parting the sectioned canopy so that it wouldn't block his view.

Stopping in the entranceway, he looked around, taking in the lamp lit corridor and the booths sectioned off for some slight privacy between groups. He found the warm wood tones and hushed atmosphere to be strangely relaxing. There were only a few customers here this time of day, mostly sipping sake and talking quietly. On the table in front of them all he could make out rather a large dish of what must have been the famous Beef Pot he had heard of. At sight of them the smell hit him anew, and he inhaled an appreciative breath. He couldn't wait.

"excuse me sir." A small voice said in the general location of his waist. Nearly jumping out of his shoes at the unexpectedness of someone coming so close to him unawares, he looked down. Warm brown hair and two large dark eyes peered at him over a tray held up in front of the person like a shield.

Ranma blinked, and then realized that the apparition was a young girl. His surprised start had clearly scared her more than she already had been. The tray wavered slightly as she visibly trembled. She looked as though she was going to bolt at any second, resembling nothing more than a wide-eyed fawn.

Ranma gifted her with his warmest smile, the gesture making his brilliant blue eyes seem to shine in the dim light. He didn't want to frighten the shy little thing.

The girl hesitantly responded to the friendliness of the handsome new customer. There was something about him, the way he tilted his head maybe, that reassured he that despite his strong appearance that he was very gentle

The young girl slowly lowered her barricade to reveal a cute face and a timid smile. Pale cheeks were quite noticeably red and her chocolate brown eyes met his only for an instant before darting immediately to the floor.

"would you like me to take you to you seat, sir?" She asked hesitantly, as if expecting him to refuse her offer.

"Yes, thank you." He said, trying to be as polite as possible. The gang back at the Tendo Dojo would have gaped in disbelief at how well mannered he was being.

As he was led to a booth he looked at the hunched figure scurrying just in front of him.

"My name's Ranma, what's yours?" He asked curiously as he sat down in a nice looking spot, his politeness already stretched as far as it could go. He had never been shy about asking questions. Sometimes, protocol just got in the way of answers. He smiled at her timid glance and renewed blush as she ducked her head further behind her tray shield. She was certainly a cute little thing.

He thought for a moment she wouldn't answer, but she seemed to take a hold of all her courage for and whispered "Tsubame."

His smile grew. "Well then, Tsubame-chan, I heard you have great Beef Pots here." Her face reddened even more as she bobbed her head, the tray moving with her.

"Then I'd like whatever some of that. Just bring me what you'd give a bunch of people, alright?" he asked, the idea of all that food nearly making his stomach growl audibly.

Her warm brown eyes widened further at the size of the order, but she simply bobbed in another bow and took off, presumably in the direction of the kitchen.

Ranma chuckled and settled back against the wooden wall separating his booth from the next one over. He'd been lucky to get one with a street view, and absently watched the various foot and carriage traffic that went by. He sighed. This was his first chance in a while to just sit and think. So much had happened at once, it still felt more than a bit unreal. Well, by the looks of it he had plenty of time on his hands to let it sink in. He had no real destination in mind and the lack of purpose was making him twitchy.

Maybe he'd go on another training journey, he mused. It's not like there were any other options open to him. But that would have to wait until he'd asked around a bit. His knowledge of the Meiji Revolution was sketchy at best. He didn't even know where most of the fighting had taken place. When it had been covered in class he had probably either been fighting challengers, escaping the fiancé brigade, or most likely asleep from sheer boredom in the first few minutes of the lecture. Though Pop had lectured him endlessly on past battle tactics, he hadn't bothered to provide many place names. Ranma didn't have the first clue where to look for his birth father. He didn't even have a name or general description to go by.

His gloomy thoughts were cut short and his attention was brought back to his present by a loud argument that had erupted across the way and a few booths down. From the slurred sounds of the voices, at least four men, heavily drunk, were having a bit of a disagreement. Looking for any distraction, Ranma tilted his head slightly to get a better view, arms tucked behind his head as he stretched his senses for hints of any possible trouble.

There were for all right, all swaying so much that they looked like they would fall out of their booth at any second. Their faces were flushed from the alcohol and the argument that seemed to be steadily heating up between them. Ranma didn't bother to listen to what they were saying. His attention was suddenly riveted to their hands as they lurched to their feet, nearly overturning their table in the process as they reached for hidden weapons. The young martial artist tensed as blunt seeming wood was quickly revealed to be concealment as the glitter of metal suddenly shone in the dim lighting.

But of far greater concern to him was when he caught sight of two little feet carrying a large tray precariously, the little waitress trying with obvious fright to inch past them. One wildly swinging arm swept out, and tray and contents went everywhere, punctuated by the girl's terrified shriek of terror and then pain.

Ranma was up and by her side before the last dish shattered. She was covered head to toe by hot juices and food, just starting to sob as the pain hit her, burying her face in her hands at the absence of her tray.

Not that long ago, Ranma would have given her a glance before plowing straight into the cause of the problem. In this case, the drunk jerks who hadn't even noticed what they had done with the exception of the man with the now bruised arm throwing a curse at the injured little waitress.

However, after the point-of-view altering journey with Dr. Tofu, his first priority was checking the young girl for possible injuries. The doctor had been quite firm on that point. Pounding jerks could always be done later if he was the only one around to provide first aid. He had discovered to his surprise that is made him feel rather good to fix something instead of breaking things apart.

Now he crouched down, examining the crying girl and trying to murmur reassuringly to her at the same time. Most of the hot stew had hit her clothing, but she had been splashed on the arm she had raised to protect her face. The skin was already turning an angry red.

There was the sound of running feet. Only a few seconds had actually elapsed since the start of the fight. Ranma looked up from his patient to see a worried-looking brown haired woman hurry up to them. She must be the hostess of the place, Ranma thought as he picked up the huddled little girl carefully, and gave her into the arms of the woman. "You need to get her some different clothes and soak that arm in cold water right away." He said gravely, meeting her startled gaze.

Startled by his firm, almost professional tone she nodded, carrying her shivering charge back toward the curtain draped kitchen door.

As the two left, Ranma was then free to focus on the start of the whole mess. Turning on the balls of his feet, he surveyed the men coldly. "HEY." He said, speaking loudly to be heard over their continuous shouting. "I'm talking to you, you morons!" He yelled when he failed to get any attention.

Heads finally turned at the unexpected interruption. What they saw was a strange boy in outlandish clothing that dared to interrupt their important debate. Those able openly sneered at him. "What do you want, boy?!" One demanded, his eyes trying to focus on the object of his irritation.

Ranma calmly pointed to the mess still decorating floor and booths. "Your stupid fight ruined my dinner. What's worse, you hurt a little kid." His eyes narrowed as he folded his arms over his chest. "Now apologize and pay up. You owe me a meal." He said.

He wasn't really all that surprised by their reaction.

"Get lost, kid. What the hell do we care about some drudge or the mess she made." The one with the bruised arm spoke up, snarling. "It was her own fault for not being more careful. She got in the way of our business." He sneered, trying to lean over the shorter boy menacingly.

Ranma grabbed the front of his haori, using the slight momentum of the man's own move to throw him over into the booths behind him, where he landed with a yelp of pain and a satisfying crash.

"One last chance. Apologize." Ranma said flatly.

The last three blinked at him, then grew angrier. "Get the brat!" Taken with this new idea, his 'friends' drunkenly blundered forward.

The fight wasn't much. Four drunken men of moderate to mediocre skill against a martial artist trained hard all his life by choices and circumstance. Ranma wasted no more breath on them. The first man had managed to get to his feet and Ranma once again grabbed him by the collar, using him as leverage as he swung a kick at the head of the first in line of the three, putting the weight of his body behind the move. Letting go mid-swing he twisted in the air, landing on one foot on their table, scattering discarded sake bottles in the process. Crouching , he took out the other two on either side with both fists, sending them out cold to the floor. Pivoting, he turned to the initial guy whose brain still hadn't caught up to recent events and drove his forehead into his.

The man's head snapped back and his eyes crossed, hitting the floor just moments behind his three companions. The fight had taken less than three seconds from start to finish.

Ranma hopped off the table, straightening his shirt and dusting off his hands. He looked up as the hostess returned, looking around her in wide- eyed astonishment. Which was quite an accomplishment since her eyes appeared to be closed. The aura of gentle helpfulness about her reminded Ranma a bit of Kasumi.

Ranma suddenly realized that he had made the mess worse. Taking in the shattered dishes and groaning bodies he smiled sheepishly, putting an arm behind his head in embarrassment. "Sorry about this." He said. He indicated his former opponents. "You can take the cost for any damages out of them."

The hostess looked around and agreed. "I suppose you're right." She said in a strangely lilting voice, covering a slight smile with her hand. Then she seemed to remember herself and looked at him seriously. "I came to ask how long she should keep her arm under water, sir." She said, speaking of the departed waitress.

"About 5-10 minutes. Longer if it still burns." Ranma replied. "And the name's Ranma. I feel kind of funny with you calling me 'sir'." He said, shifting uncomfortably.

She nodded, the small smile returning. "Okay, Ranma-san. Thank you for your kind help. I'm for the loss of your lunch."

Ranma waved away the apology. "S'okay. I'm used to not being able to get through a meal in peace." He smiled wryly, then looked at her. "So, who are you?"

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry. How rude of me!" She explained, quickly kneeling and bowing formally. "I am Tae, the owner of this restaurant." At that moment two teenage girls in waitress uniforms came up, ready with cleaning supplies to take care of the mess. They kept their eyes lowered, though they couldn't help but sneak glances at the handsome boy as their boss got to her feet and invited Ranma to come to the kitchen with her. He agreed, stepping past the curtain and greeting Tsubame as he caught sight of her in a corner with her hand in a bucket of water and a dressed in a fresh kimono. Those kitchen staff not completely occupied by tasks hovered around her in concern.

Ranma went up to her and squatted down to her eye level. "Hey, how you doing?" He asked gently. She didn't look up, but managed a small "ok".

Ranma pushed back his wariness of the cold water as he carefully lifted her arm partway out of the water. Though still slightly red, he could see no blistering and sighed in relief. She probably wouldn't get an infection then. He reassured her of this as he lowered her arm again.

Standing up, the onlookers parted before him. There was nothing more he could do there. He was still hungry but it would have to wait. Someone calling his name stopped him before he reached the back door leading out into a small yard.

"Ranma-san!" Tae said, quickly walking to him. "I want to thank you again for your help. Is there any way we can repay you for your help?" She asked anxiously. Ranma opened his mouth to decline when a loud rumble sounded from his stomach. His mouth closed in embarrassment amidst giggles from the staff. Tae smiled. "Well I believe we owe you a meal at least." She said, trying not to laugh along with the rest of them.

Ranma was seriously tempted. A free meal sounded great! He was leaning forward to eagerly accept when he stopped himself. No, he reminded himself firmly. No more freeloading for him. He'd earn what he had. Digging into his pockets, he held up the loose yen he found there. "I'd rather pay for my food, thanks." He said quietly.

Tae looked down at the coins, her brows knitted in confusion. "What's that?" She asked.

Ranma blinked in stupefication. Didn't she know what money looked like?!

Then the answer came to him and he mentally smacked himself. Of course the yen he had wouldn't be good here. He was over one hundred years before it had even been made! Embarrassed anew, he dropped his hand.

"How about if I work for my food then?" He asked carefully. He felt like he had to be careful or he would say or do something stupid again. "I can do lots of stuff. I'm good at cleanin' and cookin' and when I deliver takeout you can be sure it arrives hot. . .!" He said confidently. He trailed off at the renewed look of confusion on her face. What had he done now?

"Take out? Take out what?" She asked, completely puzzled now. For a nice young man, he certainly had some strange quirks.

Ranma stared back in an equal amount of surprise. They didn't know what takeout was? He looked around, noting all the blank looks he was getting. He suddenly grinned.

"Takeout is when you have someone deliver your food to their homes, so they don't have to come all the way here." He explained. It must not have been used much yet in this time.

Tae thought the idea over, finding it more than a little intriguing. Think of all the customers they could get! But then she shook her head. "It wouldn't work." She said regretfully. "It would be far too cold by the time it got to them."

Ranma grinned. "Just leave it to me."


Yahiko walked into the Akabeko a few days later. Busu had been keeping him busy lately, so he hadn't had the chance to come see Tsubame and help out. Walking into the kitchen, he was startled by the noise that hit him. Everyone was talking excitedly and bustling about. Grabbing the sleeve of the nearest waitress, he demanded to know what was going on.

"Oh, hi Yahiko-kun. I can't stop now, I have to get this order of take-out ready to go before he comes back!" the young woman said, flushing slightly much to Yahiko's bewilderment. "Who comes back?" he asked.

"The new employee- whoops, gotta go!" she said, speeding off and leaving Yahiko more bewildered than before. Spotting a familiar face, he called out "Tae!" and managed to make his way to her. His mouth was open to ask just what was going on when all heads turned toward the back entrance.

"I'm back!" The dark haired youth in the doorway called, his blue eyes sweeping over them.

Yahiko gaped. "YOU!" He exclaimed. Ranma glanced at him. "Hey, Yahiko right? Nice to see you. Bye!" He called, taking a rectangular box from a worshipful looking young waitress as he darted out the door he had entered just a short while before.

Yahiko blinked, then scowled. He hated being kept out of the loop. Turning to Tae, he demanded to know what was happening. She smiled happily, explaining the delivery idea that was starting to catch on throughout the city.

Yahiko was suspicious. For a new guy, he sure was popular. He only half- listened as Tae bubbled on about how great he was, abruptly coming back to attention at the mention of the incident with Tsubame.

"Tsubame!" He exclaimed, all else forgotten as he darted away to find his injured friend.


Kenshin, Kaoru and Sanosuke were headed to the Akabeko for lunch. Kenshin had suggested it, hoping it would help bring Kaoru out the slight melancholy mood she had been in of late. They encountered Megumi in the marketplace. She and Sano exchanged insults, and caused Kaoru to flush in rage with her attention toward Kenshin. All basically normal. When the preliminary teasing was finally taken care of, she asked them where they were going. When Kaoru stiffly informed her she smiled.

"What a coincidence, I was heading that way myself. I'll go with you." She purred, sidling closer to a sweat dropping Kenshin as they walked, pretending not to notice the glare Kaoru sent her way. Kaoru's fists tightened as she walked along in her kimono. She wished now that she hadn't left her bokken behind at the Dojo.

Kenshin tried to diffuse the tension he could practically touch building around them. "Ano, were you going there for lunch too Megumi-dono?" He asked politely.

Megumi shook her head, her predatory look fading to be replaced by her professional one. "No, I'm going to check up on a patient of mine. Tsubame-chan got burned three days ago, and I want to make sure that she's healing well."

Kenshin smiled. Most doctors would have made a patient come to them, but Megumi knew just how hesitant Tsubame was to travel an distance from the relatively safe confines of the Akabeko. Megumi-dono was a good person.

Megumi caught the look and smiled back, a rare real smile. It was amazing how appreciated Kenshin could make anyone feel.

Kaoru grumbled, but latched onto the what was important in the exchange. "What happened? How bad was it?" She asked, jealous possessiveness shoved into the background behind her concern for a friend.

"She's fine." Megumi replied, teasing forgotten as she looked at her younger friend. "Someone there knew what they were doing so it didn't become more serious."

Kenshin nodded. "Good."

They finally got to the Akabeko, all but Megumi who continued on into the kitchen were seated and ordered the usual. While they waited, Tae came up to their table, smiling at sight of her friends and most frequent customers.

"Tae-san." Kaoru greeted her, smiling at the older woman. "How is everything going here?"

"Oh, it's great!" Tae replied enthusiastically. "We had a fight in here a few days ago, but other than that business has never been better! Business has really gone up since we started our delivery service."

"'Delivery service'? What are you talking about, Tae?" Kaoru asked, while Kenshin and Sano exchanged glances at new of a fight.

Tae beamed. "We have this new employee that came up with the great idea of delivering food to people's homes hot and ready! I may have to hire more cooks at this rate!" She explained happily. "I didn't think it would work, but somehow that boy can even make it to the other side of the city without a drop being spilled and still warm!"

They listened with varied reactions as she continued to enthusiastically tell them about the increase in business. Kaoru speculated on trying out this 'Take-out' herself, while Sano grinned over the idea of having his food brought to him. Megumi soon joined the discussion after pronouncing Tsubame nearly healed.

Kenshin was silent, listening to everything. He remained thoughtful the rest of the week. When Yahiko told him what he had seen, Kenshin quietly advised him not to tell Kaoru yet. He had the beginnings of an idea forming. Yahiko listened and nodded, willing to go along with whatever Kenshin planned.

When Kaoru commented that it was about time to visit the Akabeko again, Yahiko innocently piped up that they should try take out. Kaoru agreed, not noticing her student and houseguest exchanging glances.


- - - - - - - - - - - -

I know. Takeout was probably invented when a cavewoman walked out of a cave and handed some food to another the next cave over, but WHO CARES!! Hee hee. Historical accuracy must not get in the way of having fun!

*whimpering* I'm mean! I'm bad! I have a procrastination streak a mile wide!

Be warned, I'm not quite finished with this chapter left (not too much left though). Just to further stun those who've given me up for dead, we're about to run into some pre-written clips! (aka scenes I wrote ages ago that I have to connect together to make a story). Also have to write the next SIC chapter before /they/ murder me too. Forgive any errors. I haven't edited this yet. Also discovered the wonderful -//- for emphasis. A lot less confusing than capitalizing the first letter in the middle of a sentence! Oh, well. Hope you like it.