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Obligations: Chapter 7

 

When Akane and Ranma got home from school, it was very quiet in the house. After they poked around for a bit, they finally found Nabiki upstairs in her room.

"Where is everybody?"

"Well, according to the notes I found, the dads are off visiting an 'old friend' – and I really don't want to know who or what that might be – and Kasumi and Miyuki have been at Dr. Tofu's all day. I was rather afraid of what I might find there, so I haven't checked on them yet."

Akane and Ranma looked at each other. "Kasumi's been at Dr. Tofu's?" "All day?" "That must be hard on his clients." "Think we better check?" "I don't know – I'm afraid also." 

Nabiki threw a book at them, "Oh, just go, already."

 

"I don't hear anything," Akane waited at the door.

Ranma leaned in, "Neither do I… Maybe it's safe."

"Well…"

The door opened and Miyuki waved them inside with a raised eyebrow that was plainly saying, 'are you two going to stay out there all day?' Ranma and Akane looked guiltily at each other and came in, looking all around them, ready to dodge out of the way if they needed to.

Miyuki shook her head at them. "Kas'sumi and Tofu are at the park."

"At the park?"

"I s'sent them out for a bit so I c'could get s'some wor'rk done."

"Oh, well, there's a solution we never thought of," Ranma grinned.

Akane rebuked him, "Probably because you can't take over Dr. Tofu's office!"

"True…" Ranma turned to Miyuki, "You've been taking care of Dr. Tofu's patients?"

She shrugged. And glanced up at the clock. Walking to the desk, she sat down and starting writing on the notebook that was open there.

Akane and Ranma hesitantly hovered for a bit, then finally Akane shook her head and went to make some tea. Ranma found the cookies on the counter, recognized them as Kasumi's, and started eating them. Akane glared at him. He mumbled through the sides of his mouth, "Hey, they're good! I can just let them sit there and dry out, can I?"

Akane started to snip at him, then let it go. She reached out and took one also, "They are good!" Kasumi's special batch… she makes them for Dr. Tofu, because he said once, when we were young, that he liked this type.

The front door opened and they heard Kasumi's cheerful voice, "We're back, Miyuki. Are we on time?" Miyuki's musical laugh was Kasumi's answer. Ranma and Akane walked back into the front room. Miyuki was sitting at the desk with Kasumi standing next to her. They were both watching Dr. Tofu, who was holding hands with Betty. Miyuki shook her head then looked up at Kasumi, who glanced down at her friend then walked out the front door with a last look at Dr. Tofu. Miyuki glanced at the clock again. "Tofu – your next patient will be here soon."

Dr. Tofu looked up, "Where's Kasumi?"

"She'll be back after—" Miyuki choked, then grimaced in annoyance.

As he unhooked Betty from her stand, and started a slow waltz, Dr. Tofu absently asked, "Are you drinking that tea I made for you?"

Miyuki's eyes crinkled in amusement as she glanced over to the pot sitting on the desk and she didn't answer. Ranma leaned over and sniffed it, "Yuck! It smells like something Akane would make!"

Akane bopped him with her mallet. Then she also sniffed the tea, "Was Kasumi here when he made it?"

The younger girl nodded, still grinning.

With a rustle of curtains, the door opened again and their neighbor from across the street hobbled in. Ranma backed behind Akane, who gave him a disgusted glance.

Dr. Tofu put Betty back on the stand. "Good Afternoon, ------san! How are you feeling today?"

The old lady stared at Betty, "Kasumi-chan hasn't been over today, has she?"

Miyuki coughed discreetly, "S'she j'just left."

The lady peered at her near-sightedly, "Oh, you're that child visiting with the Tendo's."

"She's helping me out today," Dr. Tofu put in, smiling at them both.

"Well," she looked between Miyuki and Dr. Tofu, "It seems to be alright." She addressed Miyuki, "You'll keep anything from happening, won't you, dear?"

Miyuki nodded, her eyes dancing.

"Please, come on back," Dr. Tofu led the woman back to his office. Miyuki followed, after a wink to Akane and Ranma.

Ranma looked at the closed door, "You know, I don't think he even noticed we were here."

"I don't think he did."

"It looks like Miki has everything under control."

"Miki?"

Ranma shrugged, embarrassed. Akane started to grin, "So, just what were you and Ryoga talking about last night?"

Ranma walked out the door, "I'm hungry – let's go get something to eat."

 

As was usual when they were between school and dinner, they ended up at Uc-chan's.

"Ran-chan!" Ukyo greeted him with enthusiasm, and nodded hello to Akane. She immediately started putting the ingredients together for Ranma's usual. "And what do you want today, Akane-chan?"

Akane sat down next to Ranma and gave her order.

Ranma glanced at the textbook that Ukyo had put down when they came in. "Say, Uc-chan – did you actually understand what Professor Sentaki was saying in class today?"

Ukyo grimaced, "No. He was being more obtuse than usual. I figured I'd look at the textbook – it's usually easier to figure out than he is."

Shaking her head, Akane looked at the textbook. Chemistry, of course. Ukyo and Ranma were in the 4th class in Chemistry – Akane was in the 1st. But Akane had Professor Sentaki in other classes – Ukyo was right about him. "What was the lecture about?"

Both Ranma and Ukyo turned to her with identical hopeful expressions. Akane grinned.

 

"And if you put the potassium chloride in, then it'll react with the sodium nitrate…"

 

The kitchen spiraled smoke and Ukyo hurried to disconnect the fire alarm. Akane looked at the column of smoke thoughtfully, "I guess that wasn't a good substitute. Need the pure thing from lab class. Otherwise, the carbons will burn off every time."

Ranma coughed, and waved a hand, "But did it work?"

"Should have…" Akane swirled the flask around and held it up to look at it. "Yep. See the red color? That's… Well, actually, that's just because I know it did. For a real test…"

 

"Elements in this column have one free electron—"

"But which level?"

"Well, that would depend on the element, but going by rows, you only really have to worry about the first level, with only space for two electrons. The second and subsequent levels…"

 

They finally closed the textbook, all three munching on okonomiyaki.

Ukyo looked at Akane strangely, "Akane-chan…"

"Yes?"

"How come you can do Chemistry, but you can't cook?"

Akane turned bright red and Ranma was sure he could see smoke starting to steam from her hair. He backed away, cursing Ukyo under his breath.

"No, no," Ukyo held up her hands hurriedly, "I mean it – I mean really – it's the same basic thing – combine the right ingredients to come out with the right solution."

Akane paused. And thought about it. "That's not what you do in cooking."

"Yes it is."

"No – 'good cooking is an art form', not a science." Akane was positive about that – she'd heard it many a time from people.

Ukyo opened her mouth, than closed it again. She shrugged, "Well, you just might want to think about it." She turned to Ranma, "Say, Ran-chan – I've heard of a good show that's opening tonight, would you like to" her eyes flicked to Akane "get a group together to see it?"

Ranma shook his head regretfully, "Sorry, Uc-chan. I promised Miyuki I'd take her to the movies tonight." He looked to Akane, "Do you know she's never been to one before?"

"Never?" Akane blinked, "Well, I guess she wouldn't, at that, growing up in a small village. How about television?" Miyuki hadn't seemed too interested in the one at their house.

"Well, they do have one, which is kept in the main hall, and the whole village gathers in once a week to watch the movie specials and the news."

"Oh. No wonder Miyuki doesn't care for television." Akane had noticed that Miyuki didn't like crowds. She was comfortable with their family individually, but when all of them were in the same room together, the younger girl started hovering around the exits.

Ukyo finally got a word in, "Who is Miyuki?" Then Ranma's first statement registered and her eyes narrowed at him, "And what is she to you? Taking her to the movies…"

"Hey!!" Ranma held up his hands, "She's a friend! Okay? A friend!!" He muttered under his breath, "Geez…"

Akane burst out laughing and Ranma turned to her, annoyed. She gasped out, "You would not believe what Nabiki was thinking…"

Ranma's eyes widened, guessing it immediately, "Oh no!" He glowered, "I had enough from Ryoga the other night. Can't I just have a friend as a friend?"

Ukyo grinned sardonically, "Gee, I don't know, Ran-chan, can you?" From the moment he'd said she was cute, all the hatred she'd held for him all the years had changed to caring, and her heart was given in that instant. Ranma can't have friends – he's too good and too nice. We all want him, because he'll make us complete. And Ran-chan, I'd make you happy, I really would…

Ranma started to glower at Ukyo's comment, then he noticed the expression in her eyes and gulped audibly, looking decidedly nervous. Akane watched for a moment, thinking rather more seriously about the comment, then intervened, "The movies? Should we go get Ryoga, do you think?"

"You know," Ranma started to grin, "that might not be a bad idea."

"Oh, and my ideas are normally bad?"

"No!" Ranma ducked, "Geez, tomboy… I didn't say that!"

Ukyo's eyes narrowed, "Ryoga?"

Akane left off menacing Ranma, "Miyuki likes him. I think they'd make a good couple." Ranma nodded in agreement.

Ukyo looked at their united front, the way they instinctively moved together, the grin they had shared after the teasing, and she sighed. Ryoga… Have you given up? She looked at Ranma with hungry eyes, I won't. I won't ever. Ran-chan – what would I do without you? I've only lived for you for the last ten years. How could I ever give you up now? To somebody who treats you so badly? She turned away and started cleaning the grill, "Well, have fun, then. I'll see you tomorrow in school."

Ranma and Akane both turned to look at her, and Akane's eyes were mixed with sympathy and embarrassment. Ranma was just plain puzzled. Then he snapped his fingers, "Oh, hey, Uc-chan – how much do I owe you for the last couple of weeks?"

Ukyo blinked as she straightened up, Ran-chan has money? Akane was giving Ranma the same look.

Ranma looked between them both and rolled his eyes, "Oh come on…"

"So how'd you get it?"

"Is Nabiki charging you interest – I mean how much is she charging you?"

"Oh geez…" Now Ranma was really embarrassed.

Akane's eyes narrowed, "Ranma… you didn't work at the Cat Café again, did you?"

"No!" Ranma sighed. Oh, geez. Do I have to tell them? He looked at their expressions and sighed again. "I told Ryoga I'd check on the puppies every other day from now on whenever he's gone. He insisted I take some money for dog treats, and then he gave me the rest as a loan."

The two girls looked at each other. And carefully didn't at Ranma. Then Ukyo said, "If you were taking your friend to the movies, you'd better get going."

Ranma looked at the clock, "Yikes! Akane, we missed dinner," and he bolted outside.

Akane followed him, saying, "I think we just had it."

Ukyo watched the curtain as it swished through the air from their passing. Watched until the motion stopped. Then she finished cleaning the grill.

 

Ranma knocked at the door again, tapping his foot impatiently. Finally it swung open. Ranma blinked, not seeing anybody. Then a bark directed his attention downwards. "Oh, Checkers. Hi. Is Ryoga home?"

The dog was greeting Akane enthusiastically. Ranma shook his head and peered inside the house. "For that matter, where are the puppies?"

Checkers was on her back getting scratched by Akane. Ranma looked at her, "I guess that means Ryoga isn't home." He sighed, "I guess it was too much to hope for, that he'd spend a day at home without getting lost. Akane, we've got to go if we're going to catch that movie."

Akane reluctantly stopped petting Checkers and stood up, "Okay." The dog walked back into the house and barked happily at them. Ranma closed the door, still shaking his head. "Leave him alone for a half-a-minute and he'll wander off…"

"I wonder where he is this time?"

"We've got to hurry to pick Miyuki up in time for the movie."

They ran back to the Tendo dojo, taking all of Ranma's shortcuts on the way.

 

Ryoga ate his bowl of rice quietly. "Thank you," he said as he handed the bowl back to the townsman, remembering what the old woman had said about his manners.

"Are you sure ya don't want to settle down here with us?"

The surrounding group of townspeople and the boar all nodded.

Ryoga gritted his teeth. "No, thank you."

"Are you still looking for Tokyo?"

"No."

"So why don't ya stay with us?" "There's an empty room in my cottage." "I could use some help out on the fields." "My roof needs some repairs." "The youngin' needs taking care of – he can stay with me and I'll feed him proper."

Ryoga closed his eyes as the debate ranged on over his head. "I don't want to settle down anywhere."

That silenced them. Ryoga shook his head. Then he lifted his pack. "Thanks for the meal." And he walked out the door.

The townspeople watched after him. "I told my cousin Emmy 'bout him last week. She's thinkin' of coming for a visit to see for herself." "My sister Yui lives o'er in Kachate. She an' her husband will be over in a couple of weeks." "Too bad we can't predict 'em." "If we could, 'ee wouldn't be a tourist attraction, now would he?" "Do you think we should charge?" "That'd be a bit obvious." "What's this make it – his tenth visit here?" "But he's not looking for Tokyo or that…" "Furinkin High." "Yeah. That. 'Ee's not lookin' for them any more." "But he's still showin' up." "We should 'ave axed him where 'e was going." "Keep a record." "Yeah." "Next time." "That roof of mine still needs fixin'."

 

Kuno tapped his chopsticks thoughtfully, "I see. And you, Hitako-san? What is your position in this matter?"

The villager bowed her head to the mat, "Kuno-sama. My thanks for your thoughtfulness in hearing my humble story."

Kuno sighed without making a sound or letting his face change expression. It was going to be a very long night. Next to him, Spots whined softly. Kuno fed him the fishcake on the top of his raman without looking down. The other puppies stirred but didn't voice their complaint. They were the only ones. Kuno listened to the villagers, growing more dismayed by the moment. I wonder if I can hook up my laptop modem to their telephone wires… I'm going to have to ask for help on this one. Now how can I ask without loosing any more points?

 

Ukyo closed up her shop and went to her room above it. She dealt herself a hand of solitaire and tried to concentrate. 'She likes Ryoga – I think they'd make a good couple.' Ukyo sighed. How can anybody like Ryoga when Ran-chan is around? And then she thought about it. Ryoga? 'You're more of a couple than those two!' The cards fell to the ground. I never noticed before… but… Ryoga was just as strong as Ranma, just as nice, just as handsome – okay, Ranma is handsome, Ryoga is cute. And they worked real well together. But… but he's never told me I'm cute. And he was hung-up on Akane anyway. Now there's devotion. The type of solid, absolute devotion any girl would love to have. Any girl but Akane – who only sees Ran-chan. Ran-chan…

Picking up her cards again, Ukyo absently sorted them and frowned at the tabloid. The three of spades was on the upper left – and she needed it on the lower right. This wouldn't be an easy game.

 

Shampoo and her great-grandmother watched television, talking about the town back home and the upcoming festival that would be held. Shampoo was betting on her 'sisters' Ling-Ling and Lung-Lung.

^But you forget,^ Cologne reminded her, speaking in their native language, ^They won't be allowed to fight in the festival as a team. And they've never fought apart.^

Shampoo reluctantly acceded, ^Xiang fights well.^

^But she hasn't been granted her Name yet – and won't unless she gets her act together. An Amazon must know more than just fighting. Xiang has yet to master even the simplest of any other art."^

^All she does is fight – and she's still nowhere as good as me!^ Shampoo's pride was evident, and Cologne indulgently smiled at her.

 

Mousse sat in his room and watched the glowing ball of light in front of him. Slowly, he raised his left hand. The ball rose a few inches, then it popped out, leaving him in darkness. "Damn." He turned on the overhead light and pulled out a thick tome. He licked his finger and turned the pages until he found the one he wanted. "Oh yeah. That's how Salve said to do it!" He turned out the light and concentrated until a glow had gathered in front of him again. Slowly, he raised his hand. The ball rose to the ceiling and hovered there. He lowered his hand and it didn't move. "Yes!" he yelled. "I finally got the light spell right!" He adjusted his glasses and flicked through the book again. "Let's see, what to study next…" With a pop, darkness fell in the room once more. "Damn."

 


 

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