Matchmaking (and Moneymaking)

The Fortuneteller (Day 4)

"Is it not enough that I must work tirelessly to defeat the Sorcerer Saotome, but that you must attempt to worm your way into the hearts of the Pigtailed Girl and Akane Tendo as well!?"

Ukyo stopped at the sound of Kuno's cry. She was in a hurry to get back to her restaurant, as there was usually a rush on Friday afternoons, but Kuno's words brought her up short. 'Wait, isn't the 'Pigtailed Girl' actually Ranchan? Who is he talking to?' The okonomiyaki chef thought as she went back to look through the school gate.

Ukyo blinked in surprise as she saw that the swordsman was confronting none other than Ryoga Hibiki. As the two started to fight, she walked away, thinking, 'Well, if it was Ryoga that Kuno was talking about, then Ranchan must have just been tricking one of them for some reason. Maybe that's why he's been acting odd...'

Suddenly, Ukyo stopped in her tracks, as another thought struck her. 'Wait. Now that I think about it, I haven't seen Ranchan in his birth form for a couple days either... I know! Ranchan's curse must have gotten locked, and one of those two has the cure!'

Stopping by her restaurant, Ukyo asked her 'assistant' Konatsu to keep minding the establishment, while she dropped off her school bag and headed back out with the thought, 'I better get to the bottom of this. If I can help Ranchan unlock his curse, he'll be so grateful that...' Her thoughts transitioned into a fantasy of a future together with Ranma, as she continued on her way.

A short while later, Ukyo was approaching the Tendo Dojo, when a familiar voice called out to her. "Hello, Ukyo. How are you today?"

Looking towards the source of the voice, Ukyo saw that it was Kasumi that had addressed her, with Akane and Ryoga right behind the elder girl. "Hi, Kasumi," she responded. "Is Ranma back from school yet?" Ukyo gestured to the nearby dojo as she asked her question.

It was Akane that answered, though. "He left right after school, saying something about seeing Dr. Tofu. The jerk wouldn't even say why!"

"I knew it!" Ukyo said in triumph, "Ranchan must have gone to see if he had a cure!"

This brought confused looks from the others, and Akane asked, "A cure? For what?"

Kasumi cut in. "I'm sorry, Ukyo, but we really must be going if we're to get back in time for dinner. You're welcome to walk with us if you'd like, though."

Ukyo did not have any reason to go to the Tendo dojo if Ranma wasn't there, and she knew if she went with these three she could likely find out for sure if her suspicions were correct. After all, Akane's reaction had shed some doubt on her previous certainty. Nodding, she said, "Alright."

As they moved on to the market, Akane reiterated her question. "Ukyo, what would Ranma need a cure for?"

Ukyo frowned. "I thought Ranchan's curse had gotten locked again," she said, "but if you don't know about it, I guess I was wrong…"

"Oh my, if Ranma's curse is locked again, I better make something special for dinner to cheer him up." Kasumi said.

Frowning, Akane said, "He hasn't said anything to me about that."

Turning to the only male of the group, Ukyo asked. "Do you know anything about that, Ryoga?"

Ryoga asked in confusion, "No, why would you ask me?"

"Well, you're the one Ranchan's been acting weird around." Ukyo said. "Not to mention he's been in cursed form so much, I thought there must have been some magic involved."

"Magic…" Akane said under her breath, as a similar incident came to mind. Hesitantly, she asked, "Ryoga… you didn't get another Koi Rod… did you?"

Ryoga's eyes widened as he realized how it must seem to Akane. Ukyo spoke up first, though. "Huh, what's a Koi Rod?"

"Hey! Don't worry about! It's nothing important! It definitely has nothing to do with whatever's going on now!" Ryoga said quickly, not wanting to relive that event.

As embarrassing as the event in its entirety had been, there was one part in particular that he hated. As much as said he wanted Ranma dead, he knew he would never go so far as to actually kill his rival. And yet, one night while Ranma had been under the Rod's influence, Ryoga had very nearly crossed that line. It was one of his darkest moments, one of his greatest shames. He was just glad no one had been witness to that part, as Ranma didn't seem to remember anything that happened while under the Rod's effects.

Ukyo was not so easily dissuaded, however. Rather, she was even more curious after his fervent denial. Turning to Akane, she said, "Alright, now I have to know. What is this Koi Rod thing?"

Seeing Ryoga violently shaking his head from behind the chef, Akane was reluctant to answer. Ukyo looked between the two in annoyance, before saying, "Fine! I'll just go ask Ranma about this Rod."

That caused Ryoga's attitude to do a complete turnaround. The last thing he wanted was for Ranma to remember what he had almost done. Although he would not admit it out loud, he was actually enjoying the friendlier tone their relationship had taken the last couple of days. 'Besides,' he thought, 'I don't want Ranma making the same mistake about what happened that Akane did. I don't want to think what Ranma would do if she thought I used it on her on purpose.'

Out loud he said, "No need for that Ukyo." Now that he had her attention, though, he found himself nervous. Talking about it would be awkward enough, but he didn't want to accidentally say something around Akane that she did not already know. Seeing Kasumi buying something from the market stall they were at, he came up with an idea. "Uh, actually, can you tell her, Akane? I'll help Kasumi with the groceries."

Akane was about to protest that she didn't know the full story either, but Ryoga was already moving over to her sister. Turning to Ukyo, she started the story, or at least what she knew of it. "Well, it happened several months ago, when Ryoga got this magical fishing pole called a Koi Rod…"

Shampoo looked up as she heard the door to the Nekohanten open, hoping that it was Ranma coming to see her. She was surprised to see that it was Nabiki that had just arrived. Finishing delivering the food she was carrying to the waiting customer, she hurried over to the new arrival, asking, "Mercenary Girl here for too, too good ramen, or want sell information?"

"Hmm, I could go for some ramen right now, but I also need to have a word with Mousse. Can you see if he's available for a moment?" Nabiki replied.

Shampoo glanced at Nabiki suspiciously, before leading her to a table and taking her order. Then, she returned to the kitchen, where Cologne was cooking, and Mousse was washing dishes. Looking to the former, she said in her tribe's dialect of Chinese, *Great-Grandmother, the Mercenary Girl just arrived, and she requested to speak to Mousse.*

Cologne had told Shampoo to only speak Japanese until she mastered the language, and was about to scold her, when she realized what the teen said. Mousse was surprised as well, instinctively replying in the same language as he said, *Nabiki's here?*

'She's probably just selling him some picture of Shampoo. I suppose there's no harm in letting him go,' the old woman thought, before saying aloud, "You're supposed to be speaking Japanese, you two. Boy, go ahead and take the Tendo girl her order." Cologne deftly dished up Nabiki's order, and handed it to Mousse. As he left the kitchen, she called out, "Don't take too long, there are still plenty of dishes that need to be done!"

Mousse grumbled as he left, and walked over to where Nabiki was sitting. As he set the bowl of ramen in front of her, he said, "What are you doing here, Tendo? I thought we were supposed to be making sure not to draw attention to ourselves?"

"Of course," Nabiki said as she broke apart the chopsticks for the meal. "And Cologne won't expect us to discuss anything major right under her nose. She'll likely think I'm just selling you pictures, or something." Taking a bite of noodles, she made Mousse wait a moment before she went on. "As for why I'm here, I came to see if you had come up with anything for what we talked about."

Mousse sighed, thinking, 'Of course that's why she's here.' Glancing over his shoulder, he made sure Cologne was still in the kitchen and Shampoo was with another customer, before he spoke. "You're lucky the Shampoo and the old mummy are too busy to eavesdrop. And no, I still don't know of any way to keep Cologne from interfering with us."

"It wasn't luck at all," Nabiki said with a smirk as she laid down her chopsticks, deciding to let her ramen cool off a bit as they talked. "I knew if I came during a rush, they'd be too busy to come eavesdrop. More importantly, we need to figure out a way to keep her from getting suspicious. It'll be the end of us if she finds out."

"I realize that," Mousse said as he leaned against the table. "We would be foolish to think the old mummy would accept this. However, she is surprisingly perceptive for her age, and I'm sure she would see through any distraction we might try."

"Hmm, what about slipping her some potion? You Amazons seem to have enough of those lying around." Nabiki offered.

"It would never work." Mousse said with a shake of his head. "We couldn't trick her into drinking it, and that mummy would no doubt notice if I tried to add something to her food." Mousse thought for a moment before suggesting, "Do you have any blackmail that could actually work against her?"

Nabiki shook her head sadly, saying, "I wish I had something like that. What about…"

The two continued to exchange ideas, but neither could come up with a way to successfully eliminate the threat Cologne posed to their plan. After a while, Nabiki sighed in frustration, before declaring, "There has to be a way to make this work. We just need to keep this a secret, I suppose. That seem to be the only way we can make this work."

"You know that's going to be harder than it sounds," Mousse said with a frown. "Nothing seems to stay secret long in this ward, and as soon as one person knows, everyone seems to."

Before Nabiki could respond, another voice chimed in. "I hate to interrupt this rendezvous, but you have work to do, Boy."

The pair looked up in surprise to see that the rush of customers had ended, and Cologne had arrived at their table without either noticing. Nabiki's thoughts raced in panic. 'Dammit! How much did she hear!? I was sure she would be too busy to come over here. Did we take too long? How can I turn this around? Will she-'

However, her train of thought was brought up short as Cologne continued in a mischievous tone. "You two can continue your secret date later." The old woman turned away with a cackle, but halted immediately when she heard the last things she expected.

"Please don't tell Shampoo!"

Cologne looked over her shoulder in surprise at Nabiki's panicked whisper. Seeing the worried look on the teenage girl's face, she turned fully around. "What was that?" She asked, still not sure she had heard correctly.

"Please don't tell Shampoo," Nabiki said in a worried tone, an equally nervous expression on her face. "I know she claims not to like Mousse, but I'm worried about what she'd do if she got jealous. After all, I'm not a martial artist like all of you…"

Mousse opened his mouth to protest, but snapped it shut as he felt Nabiki's foot impact on his shin. Luckily for Nabiki, Cologne missed this, as she had closed her eyes in thought. 'Well, that was certainly unexpected. Still, if Mousse has taken an interest in this girl, then he'll no longer get in the way of getting Ranma to marry Shampoo. His persistence was almost admirable, but perhaps having someone return his affection will help him become more a bit more level headed.' Grinning as she looked back up, Cologne said, "Alright, I won't say anything. Don't blame me if my granddaughter's more upset about you keeping it a secret, though."

As she left, Mousse hissed at Nabiki, "What the Hell was that about!?"

Nabiki smirked at him, no sign left of the expression she showed Cologne. "Think about it, Mousse. If we can't convince Cologne that we're not hiding anything, we just have to make her think we're hiding something else."

"Fine, but what if Shampoo really does find out? It would break her heart if she thought I was cheating on her!" Mousse fretted.

Nabiki sweat dropped as she thought, 'I doubt that's how she'd feel, but if I can use his obsession to get him to cooperate, then all the better.' Out loud she said, "Once we've succeeded, you can just tell her I forced you to help me. I know my reputation. Besides, I'm sure Shampoo will be so distraught about losing her 'airen', that she will forget all about this trick, and need someone to comfort her."

"Of course!" Mousse said with a grin, before a thought occurred to him. "You WILL back that up she is still suspicious, though… right?"

"I have no reason not to." Nabiki said. "Now, you better get back to work before Cologne has second thoughts about what I said, 'dear'."

As Mousse rolled his eyes and returned to the kitchen, Nabiki left the restaurant, thinking, 'That turned out much better than expected. Now Cologne shouldn't get suspicious if I have to contact Mousse at some odd time, and I might be able to get a few free 'gifts' out of Mousse to keep up the act. However, even if everything works perfectly with that, I know the hardest parts of this plan are yet to come.'

Ryoga sighed in relief, as he heard Akane's laughter behind him. He'd been worried earlier, but after Akane had finished telling Ukyo about the Koi rod, the two girls had continued talking, leaving him to carry the groceries for Kasumi. Ryoga really didn't mind, though, just happy to be passed the awkwardness from earlier. From what he could hear now, Ukyo was telling Akane about what Ranma was like as a kid.

Ryoga's attention was diverted, along with that of the girls behind him, when Kasumi suddenly spoke up. "Look there, a fortuneteller! It's been a while since I've seen one of them."

The older girl walked over just as another group was leaving the fortuneteller's table, and the younger teens followed behind her. Ryoga could not help but roll his eyes at the clichéd set-up, complete with crystal ball. He had seen plenty of fortunetellers in his travels, and most were obvious frauds.

The Fortuneteller looked up as they walked up to her. Frowning, she said, "I'm afraid I'm feeling a bit tired, and was just about to pack up for the evening. I could probably muster the energy for one more fortune, but couldn't do one for each of you."

Looking to her sister, Akane suggested, "Since you spotted her, why don't you get your future, Kasumi?"

"Don't waste your time," Ryoga spoke up with a shake of his head. He didn't want the kindly Tendo to get conned out of her money, after all. "Most of these just tell you what you want to hear, and don't end up coming true, anyway."

"HEY! I'll have you know that my Romance Fortunetelling has never been wrong!" The seer cried indignantly.

"Romance Fortunetelling?" Akane asked, never having heard of such a thing.

"That's right," the fortuneteller confirmed. "All I need is a person's name, and I can flawlessly predict who they will end up with."

"Wait, so can you tell someone's fortune even if they aren't here?" Ukyo asked. Receiving a hesitant nod in response, she continued. "Well then, since we can only get one prediction, why don't we get Ranma's fortune, and find out who will marry him?" Not getting any objection, Ukyo fished the fee out of her pocket, and said, "All right, tell us Ranma Saotome's fortune."

The Fortuneteller focused for a moment, before beginning to speak. "I see a beautiful woman, with a fiery temper. Independence fills her being, as she denounces any desire for a male in her life. Beside her, I see a handsome man of incredible power. He claims to despise the woman's presence, but always chases her when they are apart. His voice resounds with distaste for her, but he is always by her side in times of need."

The seer paused for a moment before going on. "Hatred and Love are often said to be opposite sides of the same coin, but this is a coin that lands on its edge far more frequently than it should. Love will be found in the last place it is sought, but from a source that has been there longer than any other."

Silence reigned for a moment, as the four that knew Ranma realized that, of the girls in his life, there was only one that came close to fitting: Akane.

Scowling at that thought, Ryoga said, "See? Just cryptic nonsense. If she really knew who Ranma would marry, she'd just name them."

"Yeah," Ukyo agreed, not wanting to believe the alternative. "Let's just go."

Frowning, Akane said, "You're probably right."

As the three moved away, Kasumi stood in thought. 'I know it sounds like it's about Akane more than Ukyo or Shampoo, but she doesn't quite fit it either. I wonder who she could have meant?'

As she moved to follow the others, Kasumi stopped at the sound of the Fortuneteller's voice. "Excuse me, Miss? Do you know the person that they asked for a fortune of?"

"Yes, Ranma lives with us." Kasumi replied, wondering why she asked.

The Fortuneteller held out a piece of paper with the fortune written out on it, saying, "While I can tell fortunes about people not present, I don't like to. Would you please give this to that Ranma girl? I think she deserves to know it, too."

Kasumi took the paper wordlessly, and blinked at it in surprise. The seer's words echoed in her head, as the way she referred to Ranma completely changed the meaning of the fortune. After a moment, she could only think of two words to express her thoughts.

"Oh my."

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