Matchmaking (and Moneymaking)

The Birthday (Day 2-3)

"Geez, ya must be slacking, Pork Breath." Ranma said, as she, Akane, and Ryoga walked away from the school. "I can't believe ya took that long ta deal with Kuno!"

"Shut up! He must have been training a lot recently, that's all." Ryoga snapped back. As much as Ranma's comments annoyed him, he was even more frustrated at himself. Despite what he said, it was still embarrassing not to have taken care of the kendoist more quickly.

"Ranma, stop picking on Ryoga! He was helping you out by taking care of Kuno, after all." Akane chided the redhead.

This did nothing to deter Ranma, however. "Yeah, if Kuno gives him trouble, my teasing might just be too much for him." Ranma said, before she realized something. "Come ta think of it, why did ya get in Kuno's way? I mean, it's nice not having him grab me, but I coulda taken care of him myself."

Remembering what Nabiki had told him, Ryoga simply told her, "I've got my reasons, Saotome."

Ranma raised an eyebrow at that, before shrugging it off with the thought, 'Kuno must of done something ta piss him off.' Out loud, she said, "Whatever. Just let me take care of him next time. I won't take so long ta do it."

"Grr, shut it, Saotome!" Ryoga shouted, this time swinging his umbrella at her. Ranma easily ducked under the swing, letting the deceptively heavy object collide with a light post that happened to be behind her. However, both of them froze as a sharp cracking sound rang out, and Ranma was caught off guard as the upper half of Ryoga's umbrella fell, landing on her head.

Ryoga and Akane both stared dumbly at the broken umbrella shaft still in his hand, while Ranma sat rubbing her head and glaring at the other piece of it that now rested on the ground beside her. "Damn, I guess Kuno really has upped his training," Ranma grumbled. "'Cause after everything else ya've slammed that thing against, I doubt a lamppost woulda broke it."

Ryoga nodded silently. 'Kuno must have managed to crack it...' He thought sadly.

Noticing the aura of depression forming around him, Akane said, "Don't worry, Ryoga. I'm sure we can get you a new umbrella if you want." Seeing that it did little to lift his spirit, she went on. "Come on, let's get home and have dinner, and then we'll figure out what to do about it."

Ryoga nodded, still silent, and let Akane lead him off. Still rubbing her head where she got hit, Ranma stared after him in confusion. "What's up with him?" She mumbled. "It's just an umbrella, ain't it?" Getting back to her feet, Ranma was about to follow after them. Glancing down at the broken umbrella top that had been left behind, she considered leaving it herself. On impulse, however, she decided to bring it with her before heading back towards the dojo.

Akane was starting to get worried, as she led Ryoga into her family's living room. All the way back, he had kept staring at the broken shaft of his umbrella, and even though she tried to distract him with conversation, his responses seemed subdued.

Sitting down at the living room table with him, Akane said, "Don't worry, Ryoga. We can get you a new umbrella after school tomorrow."

Ryoga sighed dejectedly, before saying, "Thanks, Akane, but it just wouldn't be the same."

Curious about that, Akane asked, "I know it was really heavy, is that the problem?"

Ryoga shook his head. "That made it a great weapon and training tool, it's just... I got this umbrella on my twelfth birthday... and that was also the last time I saw my dad in person."

Akane gasped, and asked, "Oh no, did something happen to him?"

"Huh?" Ryoga was surprised by her tone, until he realized how what he had said must have sounded to her. "OH! No, no, no, my dad's fine. It's just that we both have trouble finding our way around, and his job keeps him overseas a lot. I still get to talk to him on the phone from time to time, though, and I run into my mom occasionally, too."

"Oh, I see." Akane said with relief. "Still, not getting to see your father for years..."

Ryoga nodded sadly. "My dad gave this weighted umbrella to me as a gift, since I was interested in martial arts. I've added more weight to it since then, of course, so I suppose it isn't exactly the same as when he gave it to me." Ryoga sighed and finally set the broken handle aside. "Still, I'm going to miss it." Then he gave a ruthful chuckle. "It's kind of funny that my umbrella broke today, though. It means that it lasted exactly five years."

Quickly doing the math in her head, Akane said, "So, you're turning 17 tomorrow then? We'll have to throw a party for you. I'll even bake you a cake myself!"

"Uh, thanks, but that's really not necessary." Ryoga said nervously. He would never insult Akane's cooking like Ranma did, but he was not exactly eager to eat it either.

"Nonsense!" Akane said happily, before getting up and heading to the kitchen. "Hey, Kasumi, do you know if we have the ingredients to make a cake?"

Ryoga just sighed. 'Well, today just keeps going downhill.' He thought. With another sigh, he turned on the television and waited for dinner.

Meanwhile, in the stairwell where she had been listening in on their conversation, Nabiki grinned, thinking, 'One man's misfortune is a smart woman's opportunity. Now, let's see if I can find Ranma. Hopefully, she should be getting back soon.' Heading out to the front entrance, Nabiki found the redhead returning as expected. What was surprising was what Ranma was doing.

"Why the Hell is this thing so heavy?" Ranma grumbled, as she passed through the gate, reduced to dragging the remains of the umbrella due to its weight.

Stepping out from the front door, Nabiki called out to the martial artist. "I take it that that's the rest of Ryoga's umbrella?"

Looking up in surprise, Ranma stood up straight and stretched her back, letting the heavy object fall to the ground. "Yeah, I'd been planning ta give it back ta Ryoga the same way he gave it ta me; by dropping it on his thick skull. But its way heavier than the last time I picked it up, so I'm gonna wait 'til later on that." Rubbing her spine, Ranma mumbled, "What's up with my back? Better see Dr. Tofu, and make sure nothing's wrong."

Nabiki grinned at Ranma's last comment, thinking 'I've got a pretty good idea what's giving you back pain, but I'll give it a couple days more before saying anything. I'm sure you'll be more receptive to the obvious solution by then.' Out loud, she addressed a more immediate issue. "Good thing you brought it back, it'll save you a trip."

"Huh, what d'ya mean?" Ranma asked, realizing Nabiki must want her to do something else.

"I mean I would have sent you back to get it if you had left it." Nabiki said. Before Ranma could say more, she went on. "Let's just say, things may go better for me if Ryoga has his umbrella later this month, and wouldn't he be happy if someone got his umbrella repaired as a gift for his birthday tomorrow?"

Ranma nodded, thinking, 'That makes sense. I didn't know it was his birthday, though.' To Nabiki, she said, "So d'ya want me to get it fixed so ya can give it ta him?"

Nabiki shook her head. "No, I want you to get it repaired, and then you give it to him. He'd get suspicious if it was a gift from me."

"Alright, but where am I supposed ta find someone that can fix weighted umbrellas?" Ranma asked.

Nabiki's expression turned contemplative. 'That's right, Ranma doesn't use much training equipment.' Nabiki thought. Then an idea came to her. 'Maybe the same person who made Akane's mallet?' To Ranma, she said, "I have an idea about that, wait right here." With that, she headed back inside.

Sitting down next to the damaged umbrella, Ranma glared at it and thought, 'Well, today just keeps going downhill.'

A few minutes later, Nabiki came back out with a smile on her face and a note in her hand. "Alright, Saotome, head to this address." She handed the redhead the note and continued. "It's a shop that specializes in custom martial arts equipment. If anyone can fix that umbrella, they can."

Ranma looked at the note, and saw the address was in Nerima, so she wouldn't have to go far. There was one issue, though. "Uh, how much do ya think this'll cost? 'Cause I don't have much yen right now..."

Nabiki frowned, thinking, 'I suppose sometimes you have to invest money to make money. Oh well, I'll be making much more than this will cost if everything works out.' "You'll likely have to leave it there overnight for them to fix it, so I'll send the payment with you tomorrow when you go to pick it up."

Ranma nodded, with the thought, 'This is gonna be a pain, but I suppose it won't hurt ta get him a present.' Looking down at the weighted umbrella, she sighed and said, "Well, I better get started then, if I wanna make it back for dinner." Grunting as she picked up the damaged item, she headed out.

Ryoga smiled as he walked with Akane after school. Sure his umbrella had broken the day before, but apparently it had been for a worthy cause. It turned out that Kuno had stayed home to recover that day, meaning that Ryoga didn't have to deal with the kendoist coming for revenge on his birthday.

'And to top it all off, Ranma isn't even here to ruin my walk with Akane!' He thought joyfully. However, his elation receded slightly when he realized the problem with that. "Wait, where is Ranma, then?" He mumbled.

Apparently he was loud enough for her to hear, as Akane responded. "No idea. As soon as our last class let out, he said something to me about making sure I got you back to the dojo, and then took off. The jerk wouldn't even tell me where he was going!" Then she turned to Ryoga with a smile. "Never mind. It's your birthday, so let's not let him ruin it, especially when he's not even here."

Ryoga nodded with a smile, thinking, 'Saotome hasn't been quite as bad the last couple of days. Maybe this is his idea of a birthday present?'

The duo continued to chat politely until they got back to the dojo, though as usual, Ryoga let Akane do most of the talking. When they got back, Akane immediately headed to the kitchen to get started on Ryoga's cake.

Deciding to wait in the living room so he would not get lost, Ryoga set his pack against the wall, and was about to turn on the television, when he noticed something was off. While he could no longer use his umbrella, he had kept the handle for its sentimental value, sliding it through the straps on the top of his pack. However, it was gone now.

"Damn, I must not have tightened the straps enough, and it fell out." He said sadly. Heaving a sigh, he sat down to watch TV until dinner, and tried to come up with a way to avoid eating Akane's cake without offending her. 'I can understand why Saotome won't train her in martial arts. After all, she could get hurt! But couldn't she at least help Akane with her cooking?' Ryoga thought, not noticing his mental slip in regards to Ranma's gender, as his attention got absorbed by the show that was on.

Ryoga was happy. It had been several years since he had been able to celebrate his birthday with others. He had just finished eating a delicious dinner made by Kasumi, and without Ranma there, it had been even more enjoyable.

'Come to think of it, it's not like Ranma to miss Kasumi's cooking, so what is he up to?' Ryoga wondered.

As the rest finished eating, Akane said, "Since we just ate, we should wait a bit before having the cake. In the mean time, here's a present for you, Ryoga!"

Reaching down to her side, Akane picked up a wrapped box Ryoga had seen her set down there just before dinner. 'Judging by the way she's holding it, it must be pretty heavy.' Ryoga thought. Taking the package, he amended his thought, as he found the weight fairly easy to hold. 'Well, heavy for most people.'

Out loud, Ryoga smiled and said, "Thanks, Akane!" He opened up the package, and immediately saw the reason why it was so heavy. "Training weights!" He exclaimed in surprise.

"Yep!" Akane said happily, giving him a friendly smile. "I figured you must have used your umbrella for that kind of thing, since it was so heavy."

"Oh, thanks, Akane." Ryoga replied, returning her smile. 'It's a nice thought, but it's a shame it's not enough weight to do me much good.' Ryoga thought to himself. 'Still, I'm glad Akane got me something.'

"Oh dear," Kasumi spoke up with a frown. "I'm afraid I didn't have a chance to get you anything."

Hearing the guilty tone in her voice, Ryoga quickly said, "Don't worry, Kasumi. This wonderful meal was more than enough. Thank you."

That brought a smile back to the young woman's face. "Why, it's the least I could do." Kasumi said.

Akane turned to Nabiki and asked, "Did you get anything, Nabiki?"

Ryoga was not expecting anything from the mercenary girl, so he was mildly surprised when she said, "I got him some peace and quiet. Why else would Happosai just happen to drag our father and Genma off today?"

"Huh, I guess that's why I haven't seen any of them." Ryoga said.

As the Lost Boy turned back to talk to Akane, Nabiki smirked and thought, 'Of course, that's not the only reason I got rid of Father and Saotome for the weekend, but it does make a convenient excuse.'

After a little longer of Akane and Ryoga talking, they heard the sound of the front door opening, followed by the noise of something being dragged across the floor. "I guess Ranma's FINALLY getting back," Akane said in annoyance. "What is that sound, though?"

A mount later, Ranma entered the room backwards, dragging a box with her. As soon as she got it into the room, she let the box fall to the floor with a loud thud. Stretching her back, Ranma said, "Man, I'm glad that's over. Carrying this thing around is killing my back."

"What's that?" Akane asked, drawing Ranma's attention to the others in the room.

Turning around, Ranma nodded to the box, saying, "It's a birthday present for Ryoga." Shaking her head she went on. "I doubt anyone but that musclehead could lift the thing anyway."

Annoyed by the insult, but still curious what Ranma would have gotten him, Ryoga went over and asked, "What is it?"

Rather than elaborate, Ranma just said, "Go ahead and open it."

Kneeling down and looking at it, the box was less than impressive from the outside, being just a plain wooden box, without any wrapping like Akane's gift had. Finding a latch on the side, he opened the lid, and gasped in surprise at what he saw.

"My umbrella!" Ryoga cried with joy, a goofy smile on his face as he pulled it out of the box. Opening it up, he looked it over. While the top of the umbrella was the same, he could see no sign of the dents and scratches that had accumulated over the years, and the razor edge looked like it had been re-sharpened. Moving on to the shaft, it looked like it had been replaced, but the original handle had been re-attached.

Closing it up, he gave it a few test swings. "It's a bit lighter, but other than that, It's as good as new!"

Ranma nodded. "Apparently the guy I got ta repair it was the same guy who made it in the first place. He was surprised it broke, so he made the new shaft out of titanium."

Ryoga nodded, before an idea came to him. "Wait, I got it!" Going back to the table the Tendo sisters were still sitting at. Picking up one of the training weights Akane gave him, he grinned when he saw they were the type that came with straps to tie them around the arms and legs of the trainee. Putting the weights around the shaft of his umbrella, he swung it a few more times, before declaring, "Perfect!"

"Glad ya like it. It was a real pain ta carry across the ward." Ranma said. Turning to Kasumi, the redhead asked, "So, what's for dinner?"

"I'm afraid we already ate." Kasumi said. "There was some left over that I can heat up for you, though."

"Guess, I took too long. Thanks, Kasumi." Ranma said, sitting down at the table.

"Oh! While you're eating, I'll go get the cake I made for the rest of us!" Akane said happily.

"Or maybe I took just long enough." Ranma muttered as Akane went into the kitchen. Turning to Ryoga, who was still examining his newly repaired umbrella, she said, "Happy birthday, Pig Brain."

Ryoga was about to snap at the redhead for calling him that, but noticed that despite her words, her tone did not sound like she was insulting him. Deciding to let it slide for once, he said, "Thanks, Saotome."

To himself, Ryoga thought, 'Today really was pretty nice. Maybe my life's finally starting to turn around...'

"Here's the cake!" Akane said happily as she brought out her... creation.

'...maybe.' His thought concluded.

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