Ranma 1/2: Catalyst
Part Six: Friends
The characters in this story were not created by me and do not belong to me in any way, shape or form. They are the creations of the one and only Rumiko Takahashi. All hail!
I have attempted in this part to make a very bad joke using the same puns that gave us the names of Mu Shu (Mousse), Xian Pu (Shampoo) and Cu Lon (Cologne). However, I don't know any Chinese at all, so I've just made a bunch of sounds that I think will work. I apologise profusely if I've screwed it up beyond all belief, but I just couldn't resist.
Ukyou sat behind the cold griddle of Ucchans and stared at the letter in her hand. Left. She... _he'd_ left! She could hardly believe it. Konatsu had left, to _find_ himself of all the lame reasons. What sort of half-assed dumb moronic thinking was that? Again she was on the verge of screwing up his resignation letter and using it to relight the griddle with, but again she stopped herself. It was dark outside now and very cold. Her last customer had left over an hour ago, so for an hour now she'd been sitting in the empty room, alone. Talk about pathetic, she snarled at herself. It wasn't as if you were even interested in the guy, he was just a friend!
Just a friend who'd left. Like Ryoga had left. Like Ranma had left her, all those years ago.
Ukyou rested her head in her arms and tried to get up the motivation to stand up and start cleaning and closing up. None came. Instead she started remembering some of the fun she and Konatsu had had... the time Konatsu had tried to put highlights in his hair and turned it green. Last Christmas, when they'd nearly killed themselves setting up a life-size brightly lit model of Santa Claus and all his damn reindeer on top of the restaurant. Standing on his shoulders to put up ribbons celebrating five years of Ucchans being open... Getting into that huge snowball fight with Akane and Ranma.
Good times with good friends.
A large tear rolled down the side of her nose and dripped onto her arms. *For goodness sake girl, what the heck it with all this self-pity and depression? You have plenty of _other_ friends... There's... uhm... Akane! And... Heck, you have a fiance! You don't NEED friends!*
Ukyou sat up sharply. "That's right," she said aloud. "I have Ranma-honey. I don't need ANYBODY else!"
There was a loud CRASH from out the back of the restaurant. It sounded as if yet another drunk businessman had wandered out there and fallen into the garbage cans. Ukyou sighed and grabbed her giant spatula. *I swear, if it's that guy from Toei again, he's toast!* She went out the back door and flipped on the outside lights. "Okay buddy, we're closed and this is NOT a hotel so why don't we just move you on down to the police station and they can take you ho... Mousse?"
Mousse stared upwards at the angry face. "Hello there, *hic*, you have comfortable floors."
"Mousse what are you... are you _drunk_?!" Ukyou was incredulous. She put her spatula down. "What happened? Lose to Ranma again?"
"I'm sho... _so_ sorry... but do I know you?" asked Mousse. "I'm afraid I'm blind you see... and I think that the third bottle of sake is interfering with my hearing."
"You... sake? Mousse? What the hell happened to you?"
"Enlightenment," Mousse croaked out. Then he rolled over, threw up into one of the tipped over rubbish bins and then passed out.
"Oh good grief," said Ukyou.
"So what do you think?" Nabiki asked Dr Tofu. "Is she a hopeless case?"
Dr Tofu frowned at her briefly. "Nabiki, _noone_ is ever a hopeless case." He pretended not to hear her muttered comment. "However, I will admit that Kodachi-san is not well at all."
"Can you help her?" Kuno asked anxiously.
Dr Tofu paused to think and assess the situation. He'd been very surprised when Nabiki and Kuno had come to visit him this late at night, but when he'd heard their story, he'd decided it was best to see the patient at once. Although he was not a qualified psychiatrist, he was appalled by just a brief conversation with Kodachi Kuno. She was clearly unstable, and he was ready to tentatively diagnose her as seriously depressed and on the verge of a complete personality split. He also strongly suspected that she was addicted to at least one of the drugs she was taking to "calm herself".
"I think she can be helped," he said slowly. "But it will take time. The first thing I'd like to do is find out _exactly_ what she's taking and the various dosages."
"Sasuke might know," Kuno said thoughtfully. "He's always kept an eye on us."
"Then I'll need to talk to him," Dr Tofu said. "Also, I think we need to consider bringing in a trained psychiatrist..."
"I told you, they only give her more drugs!" Kuno said. "Can't you treat her?"
"I'm not really qualified..."
"Yes you are!" Kuno interrupted. "You're perfectly qualified! You're the first doctor in ten years she hasn't beaten up, tricked in some way or outright poisoned!"
Not that she hadn't tried. Fortunately Dr Tofu had always had a lot of hidden depths when it came to martial arts, wasn't easily fooled, KNEW his poisons and, most fortunately, his antidotes as well.
"Alright, alright, calm down," he said gently. "If you're adamant about this, I'll do my best to treat her. But I'm going to need YOUR help."
Kuno looked panicked. "Me?"
"Don't worry Kuno-baby," Nabiki put in. "I'll help."
Kuno thought about her help so far, and the pain and humiliation it had caused him. "Uh, thanks, I think."
"Hey, ignorance may be bliss but it's not going to help your sister," Nabiki said with a glare. "Do you want to help her or not?"
"She's my little sister." Kuno said slowly. "I... I want her to be well again."
"Excellent!" Dr Tofu said. "Why don't we go sit down and talk about what happens next."
"Just let me ring Kasumi and tell her I'll be home late," Nabiki said.
"I understand," Kasumi said into the phone. "Well, take care coming home. Alright. Good luck!" She hang up the phone, gave the table beside her a final wipe and looked around to see what needed to be cleaned next. The main room appeared to be clean so she headed into the kitchen.
"Hey Kasumi, I'm just about done!" Akane dried the last dish and put it away in the cupboard beside her. "Whew!"
"Thank you Akane," Kasumi tried to hide her surprise. "But you didn't need to do that," she said, smiling somewhat nervously.
"Oh no! I'm the one who kept you from getting to the housework, so it's only fair that I help you get caught up," Akane said firmly. Then she grinned. "Besides, I'm not really doing my fair share of the chores anyway. I'm sorry about that Kasumi, I'll try to kick in more around here."
"But you do lots of things Akane," Kasumi protested. "You keep the dojo clear, you chop ALL the wood, and you're always happy to help when I ask."
"Yeah, but you shouldn't have to ask." Akane looked down. Then there was a blur and Kasumi was stunned to find Akane hugging her fiercely around the middle.
"Akane?" She found herself repeating.
"I love you sis," Akane mumbled, and then released Kasumi and sprinted off over to the dojo. Kasumi stared after her younger sister in surprise. Then she looked around the spotless kitchen. It appeared that there was no more cleaning to be done here. Maybe she would get a head start on tomorrows work then. That would be nice.
"Urgh...." Mousse opened his eyes and blinked. Everything was a white blur, and he was soaked. He shuddered and shut them again, wishing for once that he was _completely_ blind, so that the bright light would stop sneaking round corners and into his eyes. He swallowed hard to fight back nausea.
"Ooooooooooohhhhhhhh... my god... So this is what being drunk is like. How do people DO this to themselves?" He curled into a fetal roll. "I want to die..."
"Are you awake?"
"No..." Mousse pulled his robe over his head. "Please, let me die in peace."
Ukyou rolled her eyes at the pathetic sight he presented. "You can't stay here all night. Get UP you imbecile!" She put down the pot of hot water.
Being faced with an unconscious Mousse, her first reaction had been to do what she normally did with drunks, throw cold water over them to wake them up and hand them over to the local police to deal with. However she'd forgotten about his curse, and so had wound up carrying the unconcious duck into the restaurant and boiling some hot water to return him to his human form. (Although she had had to struggle a bit with the part of her that suggested that roast duck with an alcoholic marinade would be a wonderful addition to the menu.)
"Nooooooo..." Mousse moaned.
Ukyou sighed and slumped into a sitting position next to him. "Listen to me you great hulking twit, you are lying in the middle of the floor at my restaurant. You're still a little drunk and your clothes are soaked. If I leave you here you'll die of hypothermia."
"Argh!" Ukyou threw up her hands. "I've had enough! I'm calling Shampoo and Cologne to come pick you up!"
"NO!" Mousse shot upright and grabbed her arm. "Please don't!" He squinted at her and tried to cudgel his sozzled brain into thought. *Restaurant... knows who I am... UKYOU!*
"Please Ukyou," he pleaded. "Don't call the Nekohanten. I'll go on my own. I'll be fine. I'm very sorry about this."
He blinked a bit and his eyes teared up as the lights above caused his head to start throbbing. "I'll just..." he struggled to his feet, and then slumped back down as his knees gave out.
"Oh for heaven's..." Ukyou snorted. "You can't even stand up by yourself! Why me god, why me?" She sighed and put her hands on her hips. "Alright, I'll help you up to my room if you don't want to go home. You can stay here overnight, on the floor! And if you try anything, ANYTHING AT ALL I swear to God I'll..."
"I promise," said Mousse. "Thank you, thank you so much. You're so very kind."
"Yeah yeah yeah," said Ukyou. "I'm a real sweetheart." *Why am I doing this?* she wondered as she helped him to his feet. *_He's_ not even a _friend_!*
Eventually they made it up to her room, where she gave him a towel and a spare blanket and told him to sleep on the OTHER side of the room. Then she went back downstairs to close up the restaurant.
Mousse dragged his sodden robe off and towelled himself off. Luckily his trousers hadn't gotten much water on them and were mostly dry. He squeezed as much water as he could off of his robe, then rummaged in it, eventually coming up with a small pillow stuffed with throwing knives, which he removed before placing the pillow on the floor, and a couple of aspirin, which he took. Then he unlaced his shoes, tucked them into a corner, hung his robe on the chair by the window, rolled himself up in the blanket, put his head down on the pillow and closed his eyes. A second later he sat up to take off his glasses and put them next to him. Then he lay down again.
An hour later, Ukyou dragged herself upstairs. She'd forgotten how much work it was closing up by herself. *I'm going to HAVE to employ an assistant,* she thought glumly. She checked on Mousse. He seemed comfortable, lying still, properly facing the wall. But still... She slipped past him to change in the privacy of the tiny bathroom, then quietly unrolled her futon and wrapped some blankets around herself.
*God I hope noone finds out about this,* she thought to herself as she turned out the lights. She waited for her eyes to adjust to the dark and stared at Mousse's body. There didn't seem to be any movement, and he'd never seemed interested in anybody but Shampoo, so she was probably okay. But... she fingered her spatula, conveniently lying by the bed, there was no point in taking chances.
She closed her eyes.
"Ukyou?" Mousse asked quietly.
"Wha?" her eyes snapped open and she tensed. "What?!"
"Thank you," he said, staring blankly at the wall. "I really owe you for this."
"I... that's alright. Shouldn't you be getting some sleep? I want you out of here before anyone sees you," Ukyou said harshly.
"Mmmm," said Mousse. "I just wanted to apologise for being a bother."
"Oh," Ukyou relaxed. "That's okay, you're no more trouble than the rest of this crowd." She rethought that. "At least you weren't until tonight."
Mousse winced. "Don't worry, this won't happen again - ever!"
Ukyou closed her eyes. "Fine, now stop worrying about it and go to sleep."
Ukyou listened to him breathe a bit and then sighed and opened her eyes.
"Why did you get drunk? I don't think I've ever heard of you drinking before."
Mousse replied glumly. "For the first time, instead of staring forward into a happy, clear future, I looked back at my past. It didn't encourage me."
He rolled onto his back and stared upwards at the ceiling. The view was no different from his previous one. Blurry.
"I suddenly realised how futile my entire life has been. Chasing endlessly after Shampoo... at least, whoever I thought was Shampoo... trying to defeat Ranma..." He sighed.
"I've had a bad day Ukyou. First I attacked and nearly hurt an innocent child, who I had mistaken for Ranma. Then Akane Tendo filled me in on a few home truths, Shampoo rebuffed me again, the old crone bullied me ALL afternoon, and I suddenly realised that my near-sightedness, a problem that I had always considered merely a mild handicap, wasn't as mild as I had thought it was. I took a good, long, hard look at myself and couldn't see much - of anything! Just a worthless waste of space."
Ukyou waited but he seemed to have stopped for the moment. "And then you went and got drunk," she added.
"And then I went and got drunk," he agreed. "And managed to make myself look like even more of an idiot than I usually do."
"Ummm... I think you're being a bit hard on yourself," said Ukyou, trying to be nice.
"Do you really?" Mousse asked tiredly.
"Thought not," he continued to stare blindly upwards. "I've made a decision though, so at least something's come out of all of this."
"What's that?" Ukyou asked with interest.
"I'm going home."
"Huh? Back to the Nekohanten? NOW??!!!"
"No, not back to the Nekohanten. Back to China. Back to my hometown - the Amazon vill... actually maybe not. Back to China anyway. Maybe I could find a job in Beijing. I have a cousin who lives there. He can put me up," Mousse crossed his arms. "Yes, that seems like the best idea."
Ukyou listened to him and felt her teeth clench. So now Mousse was leaving too. Damn them all, didn't they have any consideration for her feelings? Konatsu, Ryoga, Ranma, Mousse... Damn them anyway!
"So you're just going to run away?" she asked scornfully. "Isn't that a bit cowardly?"
"I'd prefer to think of it as retreating with anything still remaining of my self-respect intact," said Mousse. "But you can call it what you like."
Ukyou's face twisted into a snarl. "It's not going to solve anything you know," she spat out spitefully. "You'll still be as blind as a bat, no matter where you are."
"I've written to my father to ask him for some money," Mousse replied calmly. "I want to get my eyes surgically corrected."
"You... what?" Ukyou was shocked.
"I'm tired of relying on glasses, they don't seem to make them strong enough. And I know it's weak but I CAN'T stick contact lenses in my eyes, I just can't! The whole idea creeps me out," Mousse confessed.
"But then I suddenly thought about corrective surgery. They can do a lot with lasers these days. The only problem is that it costs a lot of money. I know I should have written to my mother instead of my father if I needed cash, but I disgust her so much with my failures that she hasn't spoken to me in years," Mousse said. "Dad might have some money saved up. It's unlikely, but worth a shot. If he doesn't, I'll try my cousin. We were always close when we were children."
Silence. "You've... er... never mentioned your family before," said Ukyou.
"Well, neither have you," said Mousse. "But, if you're interested, my father's name is Loofa, and my mother's is Soapy. I have three sisters, all younger than myself, and another brother, older than me, who just married last year."
He sighed, "I really miss him. My older brother Gel, and my cousin Hair Spray, we all used to hang around together."
Ukyou bit her lip and tried to control her giggles. "Mousse, Gel and Hair Spray. I can see you must have had some good times together."
"How nice it will be to live again in a country where my name is not an object of ridicule," Mousse said in a cold voice.
Ukyou giggled. "I'm _sorry_, really! It's just!" She hiccuped. "Sorry, I'm wound pretty tightly today too - first this whole thing with Ryoga's kid and all, and then Konatsu quits..."
"Konatsu quit?" Mousse said in surprise. "I thought he was dedicated to you."
"Yeah," said Ukyou. "So did I, but," she shrugged. "He decided he needed to go off and find himself."
"I can understand that," said Mousse.
"Well you shouldn't!" Ukyou sat up. "The whole idea is stupid! Why does he have to go away to find himself? Why can't he do it here? How dare he leave me like this? And now you're going too. It makes me sick!"
"Ukyou..." Mousse sat up. "It's important to me to do this," he said. "And I'm sure it's important to Konatsu too - he wouldn't have left you for anything less than vital! Until we know who we really are we're just vagabonds, blowing in the wind."
"Stupid stupid stupid!" Tears flowed down Ukyou's face. "It's not logical... you don't travel much so it's not as though you lost yourself in a hotel or at a beach or something. You're still right there! I can see you!"
"I can't," said Mousse quietly.
Ukyou sobbed a bit longer and then took a deep breath. She was sick and tired of people leaving her, and she was damned if she was going to let one more person walk out of her life. "Okay, let's look at some other options. What about your job at the Nekohanten?"
Mousse laughed harshly. "The day I make that old crone part with any cash for my wages I'll eat my robe! Weapons included! 'We feed and house you don't we boy? We give you all the hot water you need and anyway Mr Part-time, I'm letting you be near my sweet Shampoo - so get back to work!' No, she'll never help me."
Ukyou bit her lip. There had to be another option. There had to be! Too many problems crowded her mind and she tried hard to concentrate. Then, enlightenment dawned.
Mousse decided it was time to end this conversation and get some sleep. "Thank you for thinking of me Ukyou, but I'll be fine..."
"I've got it!" Ukyou interrupted. "You can work here!"
"_Here_??!!" Mousse repeated incredulously. "At Ucchans? ME??!!"
"You," said Ukyou smugly. "Konatsu's gone; I need another helper, and you need a job. You can have Konatsu's old job. It's perfect! I won't even have to train you! You did wait tables at the Nekohanten right?"
"Of course!" said Mousse. "But..."
"Then it's settled." Ukyou beamed. "You can start work tomorrow. You can sleep here for a couple of days until we find you a flat you can afford. The pay isn't much, but it'll go up if you work hard and learn how to cook okonomiyaki so you can take turns at the griddle. It's a full time position. There are three shifts - morning, afternoon and evening. You'll work two out of every three, or all three if you think you can handle it. Whichever shift you work, you get that meal free. So if you work morning and afternoon shifts, you get breakfast and lunch free. You're not pretty like Konatsu, so you won't get the salarymen in..."
"Thank you for that at least," said Mousse, annoyed.
"But you're not too hard on the eyes either, so we might get some girls coming in for you."
"So, we're all set," said Ukyou happily.
"You seem to be forgetting something," Mousse said quietly.
"And, as part of the deal, I'll advance you the money for your eye surgery," said Ukyou, equally quietly. "We'll make the arrangements tomorrow. You'll pay it back as you work for me. Don't worry, I won't take all your pay. Once we've sorted out your flat we'll work out a budget so that you can be free and clear as soon as possible."
Mousse was silent for a moment. "I... I don't know what to say."
"Say yes," said Ukyou. "Please. I'm sick of watching everyone I know leave me behind."
Mousse closed his eyes. "What about Shampoo?" he asked.
Ukyou leant back and closed her eyes too. "Your private life is none of my business," she said. "All I ask is that you keep her and Cologne out of Ucchans."
Mousse let out a long, lingering sigh. "Deal."
Ukyou smiled and rolled over. "Now get some sleep. Night Mousse."
"Night Akane," Ranma closed his bedroom door and frowned. "Is it just me or has Akane been acting weird tonight?"
"You don't really expect me to answer that, do you?" Ryoga asked with an arched brow.
"No, I mean... she didn't yell at me once. And she seemed really preoccupied. And then she sprinted off to get to the dishes and then chopped so much wood that we'll be set for the rest of the week!"
"Maybe she just wanted to blow off some steam," Ryoga yawned.
Ryoga glanced at Ranma. "Whenever Akane's really upset about something, she goes and chops wood. Or practices martial arts. I thought you would have noticed that."
Ranma looked guilty. "I knew about the martial arts, but I missed the wood. I guess I never really paid attention."
Ryoga didn't say anything, but his silence spoke volumes.
Ranma sighed. "Am I ever going to get a turn at telling _you_ off for something?"
"You already did, remember?" Ryoga said. "The whole business with my wife, an accidental shi-shi-hokodan and guilt. Now it's my turn again."
"Payback's a bitch," Ranma grumbled.
Ryoga grinned, then yawned and smiled fondly. "Awww... Tenjou's dropped off already. He's such a little angel when he's asleep."
"He's a little angel most of the time," Ranma opined. "He's the most well-behaved kid I've ever seen. Are you sure he's human?"
Ryoga glared at him. "Not funny Ranma."
"Sorry, sorry." Ranma looked over at his desk and made a face. "Mind if I have the lamp on for a while longer?"
"I, uh, have some homework to do." Ranma confessed. "Quite a lot of it really." *And it's all late.*
"How _is_ the whole college thing working out?" Ryoga asked curiously. "I'm kind of surprised you even bothered to go. Aren't you supposed to inherit the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts?"
Ranma snorted. "Oh yes. And that and 500 yen will get you a cup of tea."
"Yeah," Ranma said bitterly. "Martial arts are fun and all, but a guy's gotta eat. And I won't steal food. Not again, not anymore." He sighed. "I know I need a job, but I don't know what as. I mean, can you see me as some kind of salaryman?"
"Well, what do you want to do?" Ryoga probed.
"That's the problem, I don't know," Ranma sighed. "But I figure that whatever it is, a college education can't hurt my chances."
Ryoga grinned. "Good call. So what's college actually _like_? How are you doing?"
Ranma shrugged. "Okay I guess. I'm... not the world's greatest student though. I miss too many classes, I don't hand in assignments, I skip tests. It's pretty much the same as in high school."
Ryoga gave him a look.
"Yeah, yeah, nothing's changed since you left, we're all a bunch of idiots. I got it already." Ranma said, holding up his hands to ward off any more lectures.
Ryoga blushed. "I don't mean it like that."
"No, but that doesn't stop it from being true," Ranma said. "It's a shame, but I don't think anything can be done about it."
Ryoga looked thoughtful. "I'm not so sure about that."
"I mean that you can never tell about this kind of thing." Ryoga said. "Besides, if you just give up like that, nothing WILL ever change. Do you REALLY want to be doing this for the next six years?"
"Ummmm..." Ranma stopped and thought about it for a few minutes. Finally he answered. "Not really," he said quietly. "But I don't know where to start."
*I think you already have,* Ryoga thought. "How about with that?" He said instead, pointing at Ranma's towering pile o'homework.
"Urgh," Ranma groaned. "Cruel Ryoga, cruel."
Ryoga smirked at him. "Like you said, payback's a bitch. Night Ranma!" He lay down on his futon and closed his eyes. He could hear Ranma sigh and begin to rustle through the papers on his desk, and he smiled briefly as he heard the first scratchings of pen on paper, before allowing sleep to take him away.
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