Subject: [PMFFML] [FFML-R] [Ranma][Fanfic][WAFF] Saido: A Miss/Fortune Side-story
From: Brian Randall
Date: 3/28/2001, 6:31 AM
To: FFMLR

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    My first attempt at WAFF, I hope it's decent. :\

Saido

 Disclaimer: Takahashi created the paints, property of Viz video, while
I am merely a peasant with an easel.

 Saido -- Second

 A Ranma 1/2 Fanfiction, and Miss/Fortune Side-story



 The grill was hot. Simple to test. A drop of water flung from one
finger skittered across the grill nicely, telling the experienced that,
more than being hot, it was hot _enough_.

 The chef gave a critical nod, then wiped the grill once with a special
heat resistance cloth. Not truly necessary, but this was going to be
special.

 ******************

 Ranma stood gasping for breath, hand clasped over one of the numerous
bleeding wounds on his arms. "Now you see?" he grated out between
breaths. "You see how stupid this all is? How foolish..." frustrated, he
spun around, groaning with pain, and shook his head. "Futile. There's no
point. If you don't understand, there's no point."

 He took a halting step away from the mound of earth and rocks that had
half buried Ranma's challenger, dressed in his fatigues, and easily as
badly beaten as Ranma, if not worse. "Wait..." he called out weakly.
"What are you trying to say?"

 Ranma dropped his head, turning away from where Ukyou, Nabiki, and
Shampoo stood next to Soun. Genma had run off, citing the need to
distract Nodoka.

 Straightening again, he strode back to the earthen pile, and crouched
near Ryu, whispering intently.

 Ukyou bit her lip and exchanged a nervous glance with Nabiki, who
shrugged confusedly. Shampoo watched intently, mouthing occasional words
and nodding to herself. Soun merely frowned, not understanding. Shampoo
paled after a moment, her eyes darting from one moving pair of lips to
another. "Oh..." she whispered, eyes watering. "So sad..."

 The other girls rounded on her instantly, intently grilling her with
their eyes, if not spoken words... but Shampoo simply shook her head.
"No..." she said after a moment. "Shampoo-- I should not have listened.
Is Ranma's story to tell."

 Ukyou turned back, as Ranma smiled down at Ryu, the first smile she had
seen on his face in far too long, and offered a hand to his fallen foe.

 The other boy stared at the hand for a long moment, then nodded weakly,
and reached his own hand out to grip it. Straining for a moment, Ranma
heaved Ryu out of the ground, setting the other martial artist back
down, where he wobbled unsteadily.

 Ryu stared at his feet for a long moment, then looked away. "I'll
apologize to her, then. And... Maybe I'll see you around again, or
something."

 Ranma nodded curtly, and whirled towards the girls, still limping
slightly.

 Ukyou licked her lips, as Ryu made his way towards the temple steps,
obviously still in pain. Ranma stopped near the girls, unmindful of his
horribly bloodied clothing. "I'm going to need to see Tofu-sensei, I
think. I feel kind of dizzy."

 Shampoo nodded slowly, not meeting Ranma's eyes. "Will... see you
tomorrow. Great-grandmother has some salves we can give you..."

 ******************

 A bit of oil -- not much, that was the secret -- quickly spread out,
and was further aided by a swift sweep of the spatula. Simple.

 The chef stood still, waiting... it would be safe to pour the batter
now, but it wouldn't be _perfect_ and that's what the situation
required. Perfection.

 ******************

 Ukyou sat in a seat at the Ucchan's, nothing more than a box with a
cushion on it, truth be told, and stared contemplatively at the grill.
How different and alien everything seemed from this side.

 She furrowed her brow in thought, and considered, not for the first
time, closing the shop. In the grand scheme of things, she made money,
but what was the real point? Shaking her head, she considered things.
She didn't get Ranma; she had given up on him that day when he told
her...

 She shook her head again, and considered what she did have left.

 Ranma? In a sense, yes. She had Ranma's friendship, and three weeks ago
when a gaki had tormented her restaurant, Ranma had come over and
battled with it -- no questions asked. And he didn't seem to mind... he
did stop by occasionally when he wasn't fighting, and he did just visit
with her, but there was so much of him that was just... distant...
waiting for word of Akane through Nabiki, no doubt.

 When she really stopped to think about it, she knew it wasn't that
bad... she would have liked to have him as more than just a friend, but
as time went on, she was more and more glad that she'd made the choice
she had _when_ she had. If she hadn't, then she ran the risk of becoming
bitter, and even if it wasn't as 'fiance,' he was all she had left.

 Shampoo knew better than to chase after him, after Cologne's stern
admonishments and a few badly failed attempts at winning his
affection... and her honor would be restored after failing to catch
Ranma for more than a year and a day. Until then, they ran the
bookstore, content, it seemed.

 Ukyou knew that Shampoo, too, would have been happier with Ranma, or at
this point, just without Mousse... but not everything was that perfect.
Shifting slightly in her seat, she noted that the cushions were wearing
thin, and would need to be replaced soon.

 Heaving the weary sighing of those who must shoulder their burdens, she
rose to her feet, pasting a smile she only half-felt on her face and
greeting as someone stepped in from the rain, "Hello! Welcome to
Ucchan's!"

 She was behind the counter, spatula in hand before she took in the
newcomer's appearance. Worn fatigues, various bruises, disheveled, and
very wet, dripping from the current downpour. Ryu swallowed, frozen
where he stood with the curtain held in one hand over his head.

 After a moment, he flinched, and turned away, mumbling an apology.

 "Wait!" Ukyou blinked, catching a surprisingly vulnerable Ryu's eyes
with her own. It wasn't like she was going to get any other business
anyway... "Come on in..."

 Hesitantly, the boy nodded, and stood in the entryway, still dripping
as he kicked his shoes off, and sat his pack down. Ukyou watched as he
retrieved a towel from the pack and briskly rubbed himself dry. "Thank
you," he managed, in a quiet and subdued voice.

 Ukyou watched him, then smiled. "So, what'll it be?"

 He fumbled in a pocket for a moment and counted some change before
nodding to himself. "Uh... I'll have a pork okonomiyaki."

 Ukyou gave him a curt nod and poured the batter carefully, watching Ryu
carefully as he gingerly took a seat with exaggerated care. He watched
the batter on the grill for a moment while Ukyou prepared the bowl of
toppings she was planning on using, and un-lidded the jar of sauce.
"So," she began, struggling for something to say. "What's your story?"

 Anger flashed in his eyes, and he sat up straight for a moment before
slumping forward. "Dunno... It's a sad story... But I'll tell you
anyway." He sighed, sounding put-upon, and said, "When I was about 4
years old... a man came to my father's dojo. He gave my father a scroll
that he said... my father said would let us rebuild our dojo."

 Ukyou sighed, and shook her head. "And?" she prompted, testing one edge
of the sizzling batter, despite her instinct telling her that it wasn't
ready yet. Her instinct was right, too. Frowning, she smoothed the edge
back out with a spatula, and locked her eyes on his. "So?"

 Ryu frowned darkly. "I spent twelve years of my life... twelve years
with no family and nothing more than the scroll that my dying father
left me to guide me. Twelve years looking for the other half of this
art, and then..." he slumped even further. "It doesn't have a point.
It's an empty art."

 Ukyou raised en eyebrow at that. "How do you mean?"

 Raising his head, he started weakly, "Ranma... Ranma told me what the
arts were really for, and why they're so pointless... and I promised not
to use the Yamasen-ken anyway. So twelve years of my life wasted, and I
got nothing for it." Scowling bitterly, he dropped his head again.

 The brown-haired okonomiyaki chef stared at the defeated martial
artist, slumped over his stool and looking almost... empty. Then she set
down her spatula, very calmly, nodded serenely... and laughed.

 Laughed so hard that she knew the okonomiyaki on the grill was going to
burn before she recovered herself enough to cook properly. Laughed so
hard that she fell onto her bottom, her back striking the base of the
sink that sat behind her. Laughed so hard that her sides ached, and
tears ran from the corners of her eyes, leaving to clutch at her sides.

 Ryu clenched his fists, gritting his teeth and scowling. Who was this
woman to mock him, to mock his pain and his suffering? How could she
possibly hope to understand what he had gone through, and more
importantly, why was she letting his dinner burn? The indignity of the
situation was nearly unbearable, and he stepped to his feet, snapping,
"What makes you think it's so funny!?"

 The girl was on her feet in an instant, reflexively sweeping one hand
out, flipping the burnt okonomiyaki into the air where it spun for a
moment, before landing in the trash bin behind her. "Look, sugar, have a
seat, and I'm going to explain a few things here."

 Mollified, Ryu set back down, watching sullenly as she scraped the
grill clean, applied a bit of oil, and poured another okonomiyaki.

 After a few seconds of staring at the bubbling edge along the
okonomiyaki batter, as the oil sizzled away, Ryu cleared his throat,
fumbling in his pocket again. "Can I get some sake?" he asked
plaintively.

 "One moment, sugar." With that, she spun, traversing the small kitchen
area and retrieving a jug of sake from under the counter, along with a
smaller, empty bottle, better known as a tokkuri. "I'm not usually much
for drinking, myself," she said conversationally, as she poured the sake
into the tokkuri. "But I suppose you have to do what you have to do,
huh?"

 After the tokkuri was filled, she sealed the jug and returned it to its
place beneath the counter. Placing the tokkuri in a pot of water on the
stove, she set about warming the sake. "It's not anything special," she
informed Ryu. "But, like I said, I don't drink much, myself."

 Ryu watched, puzzled and confused as to why she was making such a
production of things. Where was his explanation, anyway?

 Ukyou caught his glance, and smirked. "Look, you'll understand better
in a minute." Ryu said nothing, simply nodding as she effortlessly added
the toppings and flipped the okonomiyaki. "There ya go... one pork
okonomiyaki."

 Ryu mumbled thanks as she served the okonomiyaki to him, along with a
pair of chopsticks. She smirked, then shook her head, retrieving the
tokkuri, and grabbing a choko along the way, then setting them across
the grill on the narrow expanse of counter near Ryu. "Not the best, but
there you have it," Ukyou stated, already pouring another okonomiyaki.

 Taking the choko in one hand, Ryu studied it for a moment, noting the
generic logo on the bottom of the white, ceramic, drinking bowl. Shaking
his head, he set it down, and poured himself a drink. "Thanks," he
muttered under his breath. A little louder, he asked, "So what are you
going to tell me?"

 Ukyou sighed, shaking her head, and staring off into space for a moment
to collect her thoughts. "You know Ranma... a little... don't you?"

 Ryu scowled and took a mouthful of his dinner. "Yeah," he said after he
swallowed. "Kinda. I know you're his friend or something."

 Grimacing, Ukyou nodded, pouring another bit of batter onto the grill.
"Yeah... something like that. Anyway... you spent twelve years on the
road looking for the other half of something that you thought was
meaningless, right?" Ryu nodded, mirroring Ukyou's gesture of just
moments ago. "Well, I chased after Ranma for ten years. Ten years I
chased him, and was forced to live as..." she trailed off. "Well, let me
just say this. You only had yourself to blame for everything. You could
have found something else to do in twelve years. I had to do what I did
in the name of my family's honor."

 Ryu scowled, quaffing his sake in a single gulp and refilling the choko
before replying, "So? At least you _have_ a family."

 Ukyou's eyes flashed dangerously, but she said nothing at first, merely
flipping the cooking okonomiyaki over. "Yeah? Isn't that great?" she
said, voice dripping with venom. "My father made me live as a boy to
hide my shame for ten years. Aren't _I_ the lucky one. At least your
father cared for you."

 Slumping forward again, Ryu set down the choko. "Okay," he said evenly.
"Maybe that does suck, but look at the crap I had to deal with. Do you
know how hard it is to survive on your own? What it's like to be without
any family?"

 The okonomiyaki chef snorted, and flipped the finished okonomiyaki onto
a plate. "You think?" she said, gesturing to the restaurant around her.
"I had to do everything pretty much by myself, and I've been pretty much
cast out of my family until I can restore my honor. Is that much
better?"

 "Yeah? Well... well..." Ryu frowned, staring down at the choko he held
loosely, as though it were going to back him up in his arguments as to
how much he had suffered.

 Ukyou smirked, handing Ryu the okonomiyaki she had finished a few
minutes ago. "On the house. I can respect someone who's fallen on hard
times."

 Ryu hesitantly reached towards the plate then stopped, raising his eyes
from the okonomiyaki to meet the chef's. "Wait..." he said tiredly. "I'm
not taking handouts from you."

 Ukyou shrugged, but didn't move to take the plate back. "If it stays on
the grill, its going to be too hot for you to pick up soon," she
admonished.

 The boy stared sullenly for a long moment, then nodded. "Grab another
choko," he said, waving his own. "I'll give you a drink for it."

 "Sounds fair enough..." she said, retrieving another of the small
drinking bowls.

 ******************

 A small dollop of batter struck the grill, spreading quickly into a
perfect, concise circle.

 Nodding in satisfaction, the chef poured another, larger splatter of
batter onto the grill, watching as it too expanded, and absently scraped
the smaller bit off to discard.

 ******************

 The first sensation he was aware of was the hard wooden floor beneath
him; oddly comforting after the memories of nights on a soft futon that
he was all-too-aware that he did not deserve. The second sensation was
the slightest of headaches, and a minor chill.

 Sitting up and scratching his head, he stared around himself blearily,
noting that he had managed to fall asleep on the floor of someone's
okonomiyaki restaurant. He scratched his head again in befuddlement,
wondering at the lack of a more noticeable hangover.

 Ukyou stumbled down the stairs, already dressed, and smirked at him
from across the grill as he sat, leaning against the far wall. "Told ya
so."

 He nodded weakly, recalling how she had insisted he drink a great
pitcher of water before he finally passed out. Standing up, he gathered
the blanket that she must have thrown on him up, and an apology sprang
to his lips, dying as she set about preparing breakfast. "I'll go ahead
and make you something," she called out, her back to him. "Need
something for myself, and I'm guessing you still don't have anywhere to
go."

 Nodding again dumbly, he folded the blanket and took a seat at the
counter, dropping the blanket to one of the stools next to him once he
was done with it.

 He frowned thoughtfully, considering the situation. She had given him
something for nothing, letting him stay through the night on a dry
floor. Unlike any other situations, he hadn't paid her, or had to do
something for her first... Or like his most recent venture, posed as her
son. His frowned deepened at that, leaving him to wonder. "Um..." he
ventured nervously. "Can I ask you a question?"

 She turned towards him, and quirked an eyebrow. "Yeah?"

 Feeling a very faint embarrassed flush form on his face, he asked,
"Where's your bathroom?"

 After that, he ended up leaving with a stomach full of food and a head
full of thoughts.

 ******************

 Gingerly, the chef unscrewed the lid to the jar containing the sauce,
and tasted it slowly, rolling a thin bead of the sauce around the tongue
before nodding in satisfaction, and turning to the carefully arrayed
bowls of ingredients.

 Taking a deep breath, the chef set the entirety ingredients aside.
Ground pork, first. Then some shrimp, which needed to have the tails
removed, but were already washed. Then perhaps a touch of onion... this
okonomiyaki was going to be made with _care_ and the chef was going to
make it show.

 ******************

 Ryu perched on a rock, peering down at the surf below him, surging up
and pounding against the base of the cliff to send droplets of salt
spray upwards, defying nature and according to it all at once.

 He sank to his knees, placing one hand against an outcropping to steady
himself, and really truly _looked_ at the sea. It pounded the rocks some
twenty meters and more below him, then retreated with a certain
irregular symmetry. The heartbeat of a world, he had once been told.

 He frowned, shifting himself to lie flat against the rocky surface, and
bring his face that much closer to the sea. Entranced, he lost himself
in the timeless, eternal rhythm, thinking, not for the first time, of
what he was going to do with his life.

 His martial arts were the sum of his existence, and those had been
taken away, leaving him... nothing. He had his own family's martial
arts. Kumon. 'Official's Style,' as it was.

 In the dim recesses of his memory, his father told him of their clan's
grandeur in their heyday, teaching the nobles of the emperor's court the
finer points of unarmed combat. But it was a weak style, suited best for
fleeing and calling for help, in all truth.

 The thrill on his father's face when he had held aloft a scroll that he
said would allow them to rebuild their dojo to it's former glory was
easily remembered, as it had been nearly the last time Kumon had seen
his father alive... But those wounds were old, mostly healed. His father
was really not to blame...

 So he was left with his rusty memory of his father's style, and the one
that Ranma had taken away from him. And he knew that Ranma was right to
seal away the Yamasen-ken, because it simply wasn't an art that one
should live by... He had higher standards than those of a petty thief.

 But then Ranma's whispered conversation with him after that humiliating
defeat... It always returned to him, reminding him that there were those
that had suffered worse than he himself had. And the pain... the awful
hurt he could see echoing in the man's eyes, the chilling aura of abject
failure that seemed to hang to him like a sick, cloying perfume...

 Shaking his head, he twisted around to look up towards the sky,
squinting at the harshness of the noonday sun.

 He turned back towards the sea, crossing his arms beneath him, and
laying his chin on the back of one wrist. The sunlight made the
individual drops of water sparkle like jewels in the air, glittering
their promises of whimsy as they fell down, only to be swallowed once
more into the sea.

 Ryu closed his eyes briefly, wondering what he would do with himself,
and where he would go...

 Unbidden, an image came to him, one that had haunted him a lot. Ranma's
friend, that girl whose name he hadn't even learned... U... something.
Her restaurant was called 'Ucchan's', so her name probably started with
a 'U.' But... the image refused to leave him, returning every time he
closed his eyes. Why was she nice to him? She hadn't even let him pay
for the okonomiyaki and wine he had taken...

 He grumbled, closing his eyes again from his study of the sea, and was
rewarded with a wet spattering against his face as a strong wind briefly
combined forces with a particularly fierce wave. Sighing, he
automatically licked his lips, grimacing at the taste as he edged away
from the cliff, and stood again.

 Maybe he could go back? He needed to repay her kindness somehow... and
she had to be special. He remembered her saying that she was supposed to
be engaged to Ranma... but that didn't seem right, because Ranma had
mentioned his girl's name, to Ryu in their whispered conversation, and
that was different... it hat started with an 'A.'

 He walked away from the coast lost in his thoughts, and didn't notice
as his feet turned towards Tokyo again.

 ******************

 Another deep breath, and scan of the ingredients. Yes, everything
looked to be in place. The bowl was swept above the grill, then released
to spin in the air for a single moment over the batter as a spatula came
down to tap against it, sending it hurting downwards. It rotated as it
fell; spraying the ingredients in neat circles atop the okonomiyaki
before another tap of the spatula sent the bowl flying back towards the
chef's hand, empty.

 Flipping the okonomiyaki over, the chef cringed, knowing that while it
was good, it could have been _better_... and if it could have been
better, then perhaps the batter was flawed too, and if the batter was
bad...

 ******************

 Ryu stared openly, seeing Ranma standing impassively atop a chain-link
fence, watching a construction site with interest. Frowning, the
short-haired boy bounded towards him, alighting nearby. "What..." he
began, confused. "What the hell is that?" he managed finally, staring.

 Flicking a partially amused glance towards Ryu, Ranma managed to dryly
explain, "Ucchan's fighting off some squid-ball chef. Some old grudge."

 Ryu watched as the girl leapt over a volley of octopus balls,
deflecting a few more with her spatula, as her arc carried her halfway
across a yard filled with haphazardly strew construction equipment,
steel bars and tubing scattered seemingly everywhere. She rebounded near
a pile of discarded piping, leaping back into the fray with a savage
cry, while her opponent, wearing a freakishly silly octopus mask, dodged
and countered with an attack of his own.

 The fatigue-clad martial artist narrowed his eyes, studying. She was
obviously toying with her opponent, and was far more skilled. Keeping
his eyes on her, he asked, "What's her name, anyway?"

 Ranma broke off his observations to study Ryu for a moment before
answering, "Kuonji Ukyou." There was a long moment of silence, Ranma
watching Ryu observe Ukyou before he spoke again. "I haven't seen you in
a while, Ryu. Has everything been well for you?"

 Ryu jerked his head to turn to Ranma, then shrugged, wilting slightly.
"Yeah... I been okay, I guess. Mostly just trying to figure out what to
do. I mean... my only skill in life turned out to be..." Sighing, he
shook his head. "Okay, I'll admit it. It's sucked. I do odd jobs here
and there to get by. Mostly travel the coast and unload stuff at the
docks. It's about all I can do, really."

 Ranma frowned at that, then sighed. "I'll tell you what... I've been
thinking that... it would be good to have someone... to spar against."

 Blinking, Ryu studied Ranma closely. "What do you mean? All I got is
the Yamasen-ken, and that's... I can't use that anymore, so..." he
trailed off lamely, turning to watch Ukyou beat the masked chef over the
head repeatedly with her large spatula. "What are you really asking me
to do?"

 The pigtailed man frowned, shifting uncomfortably. "I'm willing to let
you unseal the techniques if you will be my ally."

 Ryu's face contorted in a scowl, and he opened his mouth to retort,
only to be cut off by a shout from Ukyou. "Yatta!" she exclaimed loudly.
"I did it!" Releasing a loud whoop of laughter, she turned towards
Ranma, who smiled crookedly. "Thanks for the help, Ranchan... I probably
couldn't have done it without you and Shampoo..." she trailed off with a
frown, turning towards Ryu.

 The boy swallowed, suddenly nervously uncomfortable. What did her
shampoo have to do with anything? "It looks great," he called out,
seeing her hair settle across her shoulders like fine silk. "What brand
do you use?"

 She colored slightly, while Ranma just held one hand across his face,
groaning. "Not this again..."

 ******************

 Mentally going over the batter preparations, the chef studied the
okonomiyaki on the grill. The cabbage had been cut into strips, not too
small, not too large, then there was the dried shrimp... not much, just
a hint for flavor... flour was in correct proportions. Chinese yam,
too...

 Eggs? Yes, those were right. And some onions, of course... and the
sauce had already _been_ tested...  so what was the problem? What had
been forgotten?

 ******************

 Ukyou watched Ryu bemusedly from her corner, kneeling at one side of
the dojo, near the door. Ryu staggered towards Ranma, finally slumping
to his knees. "Damn," he groaned. "You're good. How the hell did you get
so much better since last time? And why?"

 The okonomiyaki chef caught Nabiki's wince, and held back a sigh. Ranma
said nothing, turning away for a moment. Nabiki coughed politely, moving
from her relaxed posture against the doorway of the dojo to step
forward. "Well," she began slowly. "The mirror clones, usually... I
guess you could say he fights against himself."

 Ranma nodded, dropping his head. "I'm... I'm going to be on the roof,
if you need me," he called out, bounding out of the dojo and leaping
skyward.

 Ryu shook his head slowly, rotating one arm slowly, and rubbing at his
shoulder. Ukyou stood up, clicking her tongue. "Tell ya what, sugar,"
she said warmly. "I'll give you a place to stay tonight. I think I'm in
the mood for a little sake again."

 He nodded at that, and Ukyou smiled, dazzling him, as she gestured for
him to follow. The two walked in silence for a moment, Ryu again
overcome with her kindness. He grabbed her shoulder, forcing her to
stand still and look at him. She jerked her arm away from him and
scowled, as they stood together on the darkened street. "What?" she
asked, sounding more annoyed than she looked.

 For a long moment, he simply stared at her dumbly, then he managed,
"Why?"

 Ukyou shook her head, her long hair rippling and managing to catch a
hint of the moonlight, stealing his breath away even as he tried to
resent her charity. "We both had it bad in the past, you know? But I
have something you don't, and I think it's something you need."

 He shook his own head in response, frowning sullenly. "What is it?" he
asked, upset at something that he didn't truly understand that still
managed to frighten and intimidated him.

 Ukyou cocked her head to one side and frowned. "You mean you haven't
guessed yet?"

 He shook his head again, his eyes captured by hers. "I... I don't know
what it is." What _was_ it about her that had drawn him back? Back to
the site of his biggest failure?

 She sighed, and placed a hand on his shoulder, her expression solemn.
"I have something you didn't, and I thought I would share it with you. I
have friendship, Ryu. I know what it's like to be alone. Now c'mon,
let's go back to my place and have a few more drinks, huh?" She smiled,
swatting him on the shoulder playfully, adding, "And this time don't
take so long to visit us."

 He followed her in silence then, their soft footfalls echoing against
the night air, as the screeching brakes of a very distant train sounded.

 Mulling it over, he considered. Friendship? Was that what that strange
feeling was? He smiled slowly at that. He'd never had... any... friends
before. The closest thing was his father, and _he_ had died when Ryu was
only a child.

 Ukyou was handing him a choko before he realized that he'd followed her
all the way back to her restaurant. He shook his head once more, smiling
at his lack of attention. This wasn't really bad. Ukyou was a nice
person, and... Ranma seemed nice too, when he wasn't letting his own
problems eat away at him from the inside.

 He raised the drinking bowl to meet Ukyou's, then said, "To
friendship?"

 The girl smirked widely, then nodded. "To friendship."

 And then in one voice, they called out, the traditional cheer,
"Kampai!" With that they gulped down their sake, Ukyou refilling Ryu's
choko first.

 Maybe, he reflected to himself. Maybe this friendship thing was pretty
good...

 ******************

 The scent from the okonomiyaki wafted upwards to the okonomiyaki chef,
who then belatedly reached out with the spatula, pressing the
okonomiyaki against the grill -- not too hard -- to make sure it cooked
evenly.

 It wasn't too late, though, the scent of the pork and shrimp were
saying that it wasn't ready yet... there was still time.

 ******************

 When Ryu woke on the floor, he spent a moment reflecting on his lot.
Truly, it wasn't so bad visiting his... friend. He smirked, noting that
she had thrown a blanket on him after he passed out again.

 The hangover was more severe this morning, but he was used to that. He
cracked his neck, and wondered what he could do to make it up to her.
Again, despite his reservations, she had given him a place to sleep,
food to eat, sake to drink, and asked for nothing in exchange.

 With a sigh, he folded up his blanket, and plunked himself down at the
counter, mulling it over. Ranma was right though, he only ever learned
to break things, with the Yamasen-ken. He needed to learn how to make
things, somehow.

 He frowned slowly. Who could he get to teach him to make and create,
though? Not Ukyou, as nice as she was, he didn't like the idea of taking
any more than he already had... Maybe Ranma? It was a thought...

 Ukyou slumped down the stairs; her eyes only just barely cracked open.
"Ugh..." she groaned. "You drink with the best of 'em... Morning,
sugar."

 Ryu nodded politely, not sure how to respond.

 She set about preparing a glass of some concoction involving various
ingredients, including a raw egg, while muttering to herself. After a
moment, she paused, and turned around to stare at Ryu. "Did you... did
you mean what you said last night, or was that just the sake talking?"

 Not remembering, Ryu frowned, and shook his head. "What did I say?"

 She turned away, but not before Ryu caught a slightly hurt expression.
"Nothing important... you just said that you liked me, is all..."

 That stunned Ryu, and he blanched. Had he said that? "Uh..." he managed
after a moment, fighting off the turmoil that threatened to drown him,
brining him back to the sea spray again. "I don't... It wasn't the sake
talking."

 She turned back to look at him again, the hurt in her eyes fading. "Is
that so? Heh... okay then. Here you go... Ryu-chan, have a glass of
cure. My father used to use this stuff... Anyway, it really works."

 He accepted the concoction, swallowing it as swiftly as he could, and
made a face. "Ugh... nasty... Hey! It does work..." He stared at the
glass in front of him, mystified. "Huh..." Then what she had said caught
up with him. "'Ryu-chan'?" he asked, regarding her frankly.

 She smirked, nodding. "It's a start."

 "Oh..." he said, feeling at a loss. "Ucchan? Then... heh... I'll... I
gotta go, but I'll be sure to visit sooner next time, okay?"

 ******************

 Almost time... but not quite. Another half-heartbeat, and the scent of
the okonomiyaki on the grill changed _just_ enough to indicate that it
was ready.

 A quick motion of the spatula, and it was flipped back over, exposing
the perfectly cooked ground pork and shrimp again.

 ******************

 Ryu eyed the effeminate ninja before him, confused by the slow,
yearning ache in the pit of his stomach. What was it about Konatsu that
bothered him? The kunoichi had done nothing wrong, but something about
him just unsettled Ryu...

 It wasn't the cross-dressing, Ryu knew he wasn't that shallow, but he
wasn't sure what it _was_ and it frightened him. He shook his head,
clapping the ninja on the shoulder. "Okay," he said brusquely. "You
check on Ucchan, and I'm... I'm going to make a phone call."

 The ninja nodded quickly, darting up the stairs with a speed Ryu almost
envied. His voice echoed down the stairs, "Hai! I'll check on
Ukyou-sama."

 Ryu waited until he heard the fusuma panel that was the door to Ukyou's
room slide across the floor before he bolded towards the phone. He
didn't know Ranma's number, but there was a small list of names and
numbers next to the phone, and he swallowed nervously, finding an entry
labeled, 'Tendo dojo.'

 The phone rang a few times, before a polite, feminine voice answered,
"This is the Tendo dojo, can I help you?"

 Ryu swallowed nervously again, wondering how he was going to explain
this to his sparring partner... "Um," he began slowly. "This is... Kumon
Ryu, and..."

 "Oh!" The voice answered serenely, "Then you'll want to talk to Ranma.
Just one moment."

 There was a soft, muffled clicking noise as the receiver was set down,
causing Ryu to break out in a nervous sweat. What if Ranma wasn't able
to help him? Or wasn't willing?

 The receiver clicked again, more sharply than before, as it was picked
up. "Yeah?" Ranma's voice sounded tired, making Ryu wonder at the wisdom
of interrupting him, but...

 "Ranma? I need your help... you see, Ukyou's sick, and... and..." Ryu
fell off, fumbling for words.

 Ranma's voice cut through the silence like a whip, terse against the
stillness "What's wrong?"

 Taking a deep breath, Ryu blurted out, "I can't make okonomiyaki." Ryu
swallowed as a deafening silence surrounded him, cutting off even the
faint sound of Ranma's breathing. "Ranma? You there?"

 Releasing a sigh that gusted across the receiver and made a horrid
static-like noise, Ranma responded, "Yeah... I'll be there... I'll help
you out." And with that, Ryu was left holding a phone with no one on the
other end. He swallowed nervously, looking back towards the grill with
trepidation.

 ******************

 There was a trick to making the perfect okonomiyaki... actually, there
were hundreds, but one of the important ones was to make sure that the
inside was still moist when it was done cooking, leaving the outside
pleasantly crispy.

 The chef quickly picked up a small brush, dipping into the sauce with a
practiced gesture, then swiftly painted a pair of kanji on the surface
of the okonomiyaki with it. The kanji spelled out the clan name of a
long line of okonomiyaki chefs, 'Kuonji.'

 ******************

 Ukyou sat up and blinked blearily, noting that Konatsu was fretting
over her, his eyes moist with worry. "Ukyou-sama! Are you feeling
better?"

 She groaned, falling back to her futon and sighing. "I hate being
sick..." She bolted upright in alarm, despite her illness. "The
restaurant! I have to run..." she trailed off weakly, grumbling as
Konatsu helped her stand. "Damn it... I'm tired, not dead..."

 Stumbling to the stairs, aided by Konatsu, she fought back a feeling of
dread, not knowing what to expect.

 The sight that greeted her was one she would not soon forget; Ranma, in
a waitress outfit as possibly the world's most sullen okonomiyaki chef,
and Ryu frantically running back and forth, serving okonomiyaki and
wringing his hands. She stared, wondering at the relative lack of chaos.

 "Ranchan? Ryu-chan?" she asked, dazedly. Ranma glanced towards her and
managed a very weak smile. "What's going on here?"

 Ryu zipped behind the counter towards Ukyou, and stuttered, "Ah, and
then, the uh... ack..."

 Ranma snorted, rolling her eyes and absently flipping an okonomiyaki.
Not Ukyou's quality, Ukyou noted, but then the brown-haired okonomiyaki
chef had years of experience over the redhead. The customers didn't seem
to mind too much, and it seemed things were going better than they had
with just Konatsu trying to run the shop...

 Konatsu hesitantly offered, "Ranma-san and Ryu-san said that they could
manage things, and I should keep an eye on you while you were
recovering.

 Ryu nodded quickly, stark concern showing on his face. "I've never done
this before," he said hurriedly. "I kept thinking I was going to screw
up, but Ranma showed me how to... uh..." Trailing off, he took a deep
breath, assuming his more casual demeanor. "So... you feeling better,
Ucchan?"

 She nodded, watching as Ranma managed the cooking, snapping out over
her shoulder, "Step to it, Ryu!" Jumping, the only currently obviously
male martial artist glided back around the grill, returning to the
arduous task of collecting trays and being pleasant to total strangers.

 Ukyou blinked again, expecting to see flames, rampaging destruction, or
angry customers. Konatsu sighed plaintively, "They didn't like my ideas
for making okonomiyaki... but Ukyou-sama, aren't they great?" He
enthused, "Now you can rest, while they manage the shop!" Stumbling,
Ukyou allowed herself to be led up the stairs, and back to her room.

 Konatsu tucked her back into her bed, preparing a fresh cold compress
for her, and she mumbled, "I'll have to thank Ryu-chan in the morning...
And Ranchan, too..."

 ******************

 From the grill, the okonomiyaki was transferred to a fresh plate, with
no small show of reverence. The presentation, too, was part of the
ceremony, and everything _had_ to be perfect for this occasion.

 The plate was then spun so that the kanji were facing away from the
chef, and it was then presented to another figure, sitting across the
gleaming expanse of grill. The judge of this okonomiyaki, and the one
that it had to be perfect _for_.

 ******************

 Ryu poked at the grill under Ukyou's advice, managing to make a
passable okonomiyaki after a few stuttering attempts. "Heh," he said. "I
never thought I'd be doing this... I always thought that the Yamasen-ken
would be the real answer, and once I got the Umisen-ken..." he trailed
off, frowning, staring at the grill before him.

 "Anyway," he said, shaking his head. "I gotta thank you for letting me
help out around here."

 Ukyou smirked, swatting him on the shoulder in her roughly
companionable manner. "Nothing to it, sugar. I can always use the help."

 Ryu rolled his eyes, noting Konatsu idling in a corner, having already
scrubbed every surface short of the grill itself. "Yeah," the martial
artist said, smirking. "I'm sure. Anyway, Ranma asked to meet me for
some training... then... uh... I'll come back and say goodbye, you
know... Then I'll probably be hitting the road for a bit."

 Ukyou nodded, peering intently into the batter mix. "I gotcha,
Ryu-chan. Go ahead, don't keep Ranchan waiting, okay?"

 Ryu grinned, then seized by a sudden impulse, took Ukyou's hand in his
own. "Hey," he said, squeezing gently. "I'll be back to say hi before I
head on out, Ucchan. Don't worry 'bout me." He winked, adding a slightly
greater bit of bravado than he felt.

 Ukyou flushed, but didn't pull her hand back. "Y-yeah... I'll see you
later, then, Ryu-chan."

 He winked again, vaulting effortlessly across the room and landing
before the door. Blowing her a kiss, he whirled, and vanished out the
door.

 Ukyou slowly began to flush, unable to fight down a smile. Konatsu
interrupted her reverie, as she pondered Ryu again, the diminutive
kunoichi shouting out, "Ohhh! Ukyou-sama! It's sooo romantic!"

 ******************

 The judge expertly cut a piece of the okonomiyaki off with a pair of
chopsticks, lifting it to sniff at it, and test its aroma before
tasting. Giving the slightest of nods, the morsel disappeared into the
judge's mouth.

 The chef swallowed, fighting back a wave of nervous tension, and tuning
out everything but the judge and the okonomiyaki.

 ******************

 Ryu limped away, occasionally leaning on Ukyou for support. "Damn," he
grumbled. "Next time, we're fighting closer to a hospital."

 Ukyou grunted, having to support him suddenly as his ankle gave way on
the unsteady ground alongside the deserted railway. She shook her head,
glancing over to a bemused Shampoo. "Ryu-chan, shut up. That was really
important to Ranma, and you know it."

 Cringing from Ukyou's mere annoyance in a comically over-dramatic
manner, Ryu prostrated himself on the ground, crying out, "Oh, please
forgive me, Ukyou-sama!"

 Groaning, Ukyou hung her head, complaining, "You know, I liked you
better when you were shy."

 Ryu rocked back to a sitting position, taking his ankle in one hand and
feeling it over. "Yeah," he said after a moment of probing. "Sorry, but
you know... the entire thing... I gotta admit though, I don't think I've
ever seen Ranma looking that happy before. She's a nice girl. He's got
good taste."

 Shampoo snorted, kneeling to examine Ryu's ankle. "See?" she said,
prodding experimentally. "This is why I always say that men are stupid."

 Ryu made a face, unable to hide a smirk. "Yeah, Ranma's got great
taste..." One eyelid twitched as Shampoo twisted his ankle slightly,
while she gave him a nearly apologetic smile. "But I've got better."

 Ukyou flushed slightly, smiling. "You going to be staying around for a
while, then?"

 He met her eyes, over Shampoo's head as the amazon fretted over his
injury. "I'd like that," he responded levelly. "I'd like that a lot."

 ******************

 The judge chewed slowly, making no sign of approval, rolling the morsel
of okonomiyaki around like a fine wine to be tested thoroughly.

 Waiting patiently, the chef focused intently on not paying too much
attention as a single bead of sweat formed, and began working it's way
downwards, starting near a temple, and journeying slowly downwards.

 ******************

 Ryu hesitated on the road, looking at the shop only a short distance
down the street from him. Should he go? More importantly... Could he?

 He swallowed, seeing the curtain bearing her nickname ripple in the
breeze. He knew how he felt about her now, despite his previous
confusion... but did he deserve her? What did he have to offer her that
she didn't already have?

 The overly effeminate Konatsu could do everything almost as well as he
could, if not better. But... Drooping slightly, he managed a slight
smile, and wended his way down the street, away from the okonomiyaki
seller's. Ukyou was a friend... a very good friend, and everything was
just so... nice... the last time he had stayed with her, after Ranma's
big fight with Ryouga and Herb.

 And there were tentative moments of real affection between them, too.
He teased her a lot, but more out of fear of getting _too_ close than
anything else... after all, he was ronin. All he really had was a last
name, and it didn't account for much when he remembered more of Ranma's
family's style than his own.

 He nodded, quickening his pace. To visit Ranma, then. He was also a
friend, and he had no worries about what he could offer Ranma, though
Ranma's interest in sparring had dropped markedly after the last
battle... But he was a friend at any rate.

 He came upon the dojo, haphazardly vaulting over the wall to land near
the koi pond, startling a pair of the Tendo sisters. He grinned
rakishly, remembering Nabiki vaguely, and Akane more firmly. Akane
rolled away from him, somersaulting and landing on her feet in a ready
stance while Nabiki just looked stunned.

 Ryu took a half-step back, putting his hands in front of himself in a
placating gesture, loosing some of his rakish grin. "Woah," he said.
"Sorry about that. Didn't think I'd surprise you like that."

 Akane relaxed, while Nabiki settled for scowling at him. The youngest
Tendo sister righted the lawn-chair she had tumbled out of, and shook
her head. "I shouldn't be surprised," she said apologetically. "Shampoo
does that sometimes, too."

 Nabiki's scowl deepened, as she climbed to her feet. "And it irritates
me just as much," she snapped at Akane. Shaking a finger to admonish
Ryu, she said, "I'll remind you that the house is equipped with not one,
but _two_ completely functioning doors. There's the front gate, and if
you must, the door for challengers."

 Ryu cringed, watching Nabiki stride into the house, and stared at his
feet while Akane scrutinized him. "Sorry," he mumbled.

 She shrugged, then gestured to the seat that Nabiki had vacated. "I'm
not too worried. She's just a little on edge because of her classes."
She shook her head slightly, smiling in a welcoming manner. "We haven't
seen you in a few months... how have you been?"

 Ryu picked up the proffered seat and set it down a short distance away,
facing Akane. Slumping into the seat, he shrugged. "Fine, I guess. Just
busy, mostly..." he trailed off, thinking it would be rude to ask to
talk to Ranma and ignore her.

 She smiled at him slightly, trying to cover it with a faked yawn. "So,"
she asked, after the traitorous smile on her face was straightened out.
"How are things with you and Ukyou?"

 Ryu grimaced, shaking his head. "Not so great..." he admitted after a
moment. He could trust Akane, after all, she was Ranma's girl, and Ranma
was... well... Ranma was Ryu's only real friend, all things considered.
Not counting Ukyou, but that was a real problem... "You see... I..." his
carefully crafted mask crumbled, and he dropped his face to his hands.
"I'm so used to... being alone, not having other people to worry about,
and people to worry about _me_... I don't have any family, and I only
have Ranma and Ucchan as friends...

 "But... I think I... I think I really like Ucchan, but this is all so
new to me, still." He shook his head, rubbing at his temples, pausing to
strip off his gloves and tuck them into the ever-present waistband. His
callused fingers worked into the skin above his face, as he tried to
make sense of things. "I... I don't got anything to give her, even. All
I really have is... Ranma's martial arts. My own aren't worth garbage,
and there's nothing I can do for her that Konatsu can't already do,
probably better..."

 Shaking his head, he raised his eyes, meeting Akane's understanding
gaze. Whispering, he asked, "You know what I mean?"

 Akane nodded solemnly, pausing to wipe at her eyes. "I... I understand
what you're saying, but I know that Ukyou really likes you..."

 Ryu shook his head, smacking one fist into his opposite palm. "But
that's just it! I don't have anything to give her!"

 The girl bit her lip, raising a hand to her mouth while she considered.
"Well..." she began, considering carefully. "There... might be
something... but we'll have to ask Ranma about it..."

 He blinked at that, surprised. "Where is Ranma, anyway?"

 "Er... talking to his mother."

 Ryu couldn't help but smile at that. "Oh yeah? She's a nice lady."

 Akane winced, looking away. "Well," she stated. "Sometimes."

 ******************

 Swallowing, the judge finished the morsel, then locked eyes with the
chef, stern gaze revealing nothing. The chopsticks descended towards the
plate again, separating another tidbit from the main portion.

 The chef swallowed nervously. This _had_ to be perfect, the judge _had_
to approve, or... or...

 ******************

 Ranma stood, adopting the somber visage he typically wore before
recovering Akane. Ryu tugged uncomfortably at the edge of his haori,
then subsided at a gesture from Ranma. The pigtailed man frowned, and
took a step forward, reaching out to adjust the edge of Ryu's formal
coat back to the way it should look. Marked with the Kumon kanji, on the
back, it was the finest clothing that Ryu had ever owned, and he
intended to make the most of it.

 Schooling himself, he managed a weak smile towards Ranma, who smirked
in response, clad in his own formal attire.

 Trying to distract himself, Ryu glanced around slowly. The Kuonji
clan's meeting hall was large, and presently abandoned with the
exception of a single steward, at Ranma's request for a more private
audience. Locking his eyes on a tapestry, he willed mastery over his
frayed nerves. He was going to get something to give Ukyou, one way or
another.

 Ranma smiled encouragingly, patting Ryu's shoulder in a companionable
manner before slipping back into his 'formal' expression. Ryu swallowed,
then emulated it, drawing on his past, as a pair of footsteps drew near.

 The two martial artists turned to watch a burly man in his own formal
clothing approach. He glanced between the two men wearily, standing in a
relaxed and informal posture. Clearing his throat, he asked, "You wanted
to speak to me privately?"

 Ranma nodded solemnly, intoning, "I come bearing a request for Kuonji
Akira."

 Akira frowned, then nodded stiffly. "Thatís -- That is I. What do you
wish?"

 Kneeling on the floor, Ranma pressed his forehead to the wooden floor
at Akira's feet, and Ryu did the same after a mere second of hesitation.
Speaking clearly, and not raising his head, the pigtailed martial artist
announced, "My name is Saotome Ranma, and I am here to ask to settle a
debt of honor that my family owes..."

 ******************

 The judge sighed, pushing the plate away and finishing the morsel.

 The chef's heart nearly stopped, until the small, nearly hidden smile
on the judge's face became visible.

 "You pass," the judge announced gravely. "I am willing to accept you in
lieu of Saotome Ranma, as you are a student of his own school."

 Ryu released the breath he hadn't known he was holding, unable to hold
in a huge grin. "Thank you, thank you so much, Kuonji-san!"

 Akira grinned broadly, his teeth showing through his bristly and
graying bears, as he waved a hand. "Call me 'Father,' Son. I'd be
overjoyed to adopt an heir as worthy as yourself."

 Ryu heaved another grateful and happy sigh, glancing around the room at
the assembled well wishers. Akane and Ranma stood near the back, Ranma
giving his all-too-familiar 'I told you so' grin, while Akane clung to
him and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief, sniffling through her
own smile.

 Then there was Ranma's father, looking more than a little relieved at
Akira's announcement, and next to him, Konatsu, wailing his eyes out
into the edge of Genma's gi. To the side, smirking at someone behind
Ryu, Shampoo nodded knowingly, her arms crossed beneath her chest. And
of course, most importantly, behind Ryu, Ukyou.

 He turned to face her, a nervous smile flitting from his lips to hide
briefly. "Ah... Uch... Kuonji, Ukyou," he declared formally. "I would
like to request your... your..." he cut off suddenly, as Ukyou
frantically fought back laughter, clad in her own kimono for the
occasion. "Stop that!" he whined, provoking another round of laughter
from everyone in the room.

 After catching his breath, he lay a finger on her nose pointedly,
trying his best to glare. "Kuonji Ukyou, will you marry me?"

 She fanned herself with a hand blushing fiercely, then turned to her
father, who nodded, still smiling. "You'd best be good to my little...
girl... Ryu."

 Giggling, she flung herself into his arms, kissing him -- their first
kiss -- exuberantly.

 It was a good start for both of them, giving them each something more
than friendship. Even without Ukyou's father, and the rest of her clan,
she would have had him. And that meant family. And it would have been
enough for her anyway.

 He was just happy to finally have given her something, making their
relationship more equal. Breaking the kiss, he whispered, very
seriously, "I love you, Ucchan..."

 Flushing all over again, she gave a giddy laugh as he spun her in a
circle. "I love you too, Ryu-chan."

 ---------------------
 Author's notes:

 Because... sometimes, true love wins out over everything else. And
sometimes when you win, you win big.


 Yeah, I left Shampoo alone, but not every character needs to be matched
up every time.

 I know that this was probably the last thing anyone who's read
Miss/Fortune would have expected, and it didn't answer any more
questions (probably created a whole lot more), but... it was one of
those things, where my muse just couldn't be denied.

--
Haiku of my lament:

Forgive my spelling,
my U.S. education,
is the source of blame.


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