"Welcome to Ucchan's-- oh, it's you Ranma-honey!"
Ranma waved as he ducked under the curtain. "Yo, sup."
"Your usual, I take it?" Ukyo guessed as she got a fresh okonomiyaki started, while Ranma took a seat.
"Might as well but hey, can we talk?"
"Well, sure I guess?"
Ukyo was not, in fact, entirely sure. Something was off about her Ranma today. She wasn't sure if it was the understated but flattering summer dress that he wore, the way he didn't have his hair in his usual braid, or the glimpse of honest-to-god bra straps under the dress' straps. As far as Ukyo knew, all three of these things were suspect.
She didn't think much at all about how Ranma was in his girl form, though.
"Umm, Ranma-honey?" Ukyo cautiously asked as she pulled out a jar of particular toppings and sprinkled them onto the rapidly-forming treat.
"Are you... are you okay?"
"I feel pretty good actually," Ranma answered. "Haven't run into any of the usual bullshit today -- so far, so good."
Ranma's rough word choice did little to assuage Ukyo's troubled thoughts. "Ranma... you're wearing a bra. Blink twice if you're in distress."
Ranma looked straight at Ukyo, smirked, and very deliberately blinked once.
"I'm just... you know, getting used to things, I guess? Probably gonna haveta wear the damn thing more often in the future, I dunno."
He promptly cupped his breasts in his hands and jogged them a little. That sort of behavior certainly was some relief to Ukyo, as was the simple fact that they were, at that time, alone in the restaurant.
"Ya wanted to talk, though?"
"Ah yeah. Ya heard about how Akane gave the Tendou engagement to Kasumi?"
"I caught something 'bout that in school, I think," Ukyo confirmed as she flipped the savory pancake. "Was a little too busy catching up on my studies to catch up on the latest gossip, if ya know what I mean."
"Yeah, I gotcha. Well... I don't think there's any use to beatin' round the bush here, might as well say it. Ukyo, how d'ya feel about me?"
"What kinda question 's that?"
"A relevant one. Y'know I care 'bout ya, Ukyo. But you also know that... geez, this ain't easy. I feel real bad about what my old man did, trickin' your dad into gettin' us engaged even though he already had that engagement deal with the Tendous 'n all that... Honestly, I feel like absolute shit when I think about how your life got fucked over when Pops ran off with your dad's cart."
"Don't really see why you would feel bad when we both know it was yer dad who's most at fault," Ukyo shrugged off as she placed the finished "Ranma special" in front of her best friend.
"Precisely because Pops don't feel bad about this kinda stuff. Sometimes I wonder if his moral compass is broken or somethin'." Ranma unwrapped a pair of chopsticks and cut off a piece, slowing down only to speak. "A fucked-up youth can't be restored, but someone oughta pay ya back for the cart, at least."
"Can't be you, Ranma-honey. I know you ain't got that kinda money on you."
"Hence the moochin' on your cookin', right? Well, that at least I can pay for... 'n starting today I'm gonna!"
"Really? You know you don't--"
"No, Ukyo," Ranma interrupted, halfway through the meal. "I know you give me these for free cos you love me, but I'm getting my relationships in order and there'll be no more leadin' you on like this."
Ukyo silently gasped. What Ranma just said was tantamount to "I don't love you back."
"I realized earlier that's what I've been doin' ever since ya came back, and I'mma tell ya two things."
Instead, Ranma cut another piece off of his okonomiyaki and ate it, leaving a somewhat confused Ukyo waiting.
"One, I'mma pay for these from now on," Ranma enumerated, indicating the pancake with his chopsticks, "and specifically brought the cash to do so."
"Okay... and the other thing?"
Ranma's serious expression dropped, replaced by an easy smile. "You got any need for a part-timer?"
"Between Konatsu and myself... I think I could use an extra pair o' hands, yeah. Why?"
"Cos it's the least I can do to repay you for your dad's cart."
Ukyo stopped to consider the offer, a hand to her mouth, as she watched her somewhat-former love interest finish off the meal she'd made for him.
"I dunno, Ranma. I can be a pretty harsh taskmistress."
Ranma scoffed. "I wait tables for Cologne. How hard could be it possibly be to work for you?"
"Well, if that's what'll make you feel better... keep your money, Ranma-honey. I'll just take it from your earnings."
"Thanks, Ukyo. When can I start?"
"Lunch rush is in ten. Why don't you go see Konatsu?"
"Hello Ms. Kuonji," Kasumi called as she came into the restaurant. "Have you seen Ranma?"
"Welcome, welcome! Don't see you 'round here often, Ms. Tendou! Ranma-honey's on break out back," Ukyo answered in the middle of wiping down her grill.
"On break from... does he work here now?"
Ukyo smiled and nodded.
"Oh my. Between training, school, helping me, and moonlighting at Neko Hanten, I have to wonder how he still has any free time."
"Probably by not working for both places on the same day," Ukyo guessed. She only got Ranma as a waitress on certain days of the week, and could only assume the same held for Cologne's restaurant. She pointed at the door behind her, marked employees only. "But hey, can we talk?"
"Any time, and please call me Kasumi."
"Only if you call me Ukyo," the chef countered as she lead Kasumi through the door. From outside the room, they could hear Ranma and Konatsu train.
"So what was it you wanted to talk to me about, Ukyo?" Kasumi said, sitting down with her usual smile.
Ukyo pondered how to best phrase her question and settled on just being blunt about it. "Why the hell's Ranma wearing a bra?"
Kasumi almost smirked, or as much as she'd let herself. "Oh my, do you usually look at other girls' underwear, Ukyo~?"
"Oh shut up," Ukyo laughed. "You know damn well what I mean. Ranma never wears a bra if he can avoid it, 'less there's some kinda wicked plot goin' on. An' I'm pretty sure there isn't any wicked plots goin' on for the past three weeks."
"Maybe he hit his head?"
"Haah, don't even joke about that. But at least he still used 'ore' when he duhhh... oh damn."
"What is it, Ukyo?"
"It only just registered to me that I just got dumped. I think?"
Kasumi nodded in understanding. "He has been working on cleaning up the mess that is his love life. He already made up with Shampoo, and Akane was right there. I'm told she didn't even hit him," Kasumi finished with a hint of sisterly pride.
"Okay, now I'm impressed."
"You shouldn't joke about that though. Akane's really a sweet girl. She's just a violent maniac sometimes."
Ukyo raised an eyebrow at the observed hypocrisy. "How can you tell me not to joke about Akane being violent 'n then say shit like that?"
"Whoever said I was joking?" Kasumi retorted with a smile.
"Still dunno why he's wearing a bra though."
"I'm not entirely sure what to call it," Kasumi admitted, "but from what I can tell he's getting more used to his... unique situation. I think, mentally speaking, he's growing to be something in between man and woman, maybe? Finally discovering what he... is, I guess. I'm sure there's a word for it."
"Y'mean like how Konatsu's physically a man, but thinks of herself as a woman, dresses and acts the part?"
Kasumi nodded. "And yet not quite like Konatsu. Ranma's starting to... not care, I suppose, about whatever his current form is at any given moment. He's not 'boy-type Ranma' or 'girl-type Ranma' anymore. He's just Ranma."
"Sounds t'me like that's how it oughta be. But y'know what I noticed, Kasumi?"
"I noticed that Ranma didn't act sexy at any time on the job."
Now it was Kasumi's turn to raise an eyebrow. "Act sexy?"
"Yeah. Act sexy. Play up his female form's assets and all that. It's something Ranma-honey does when he tries to act like a girl instead of his normal charming self?"
"Ah yes, that."
"Well, he didn't. He was just being nice and professional all day and I gotta admit, he actually makes a damn cute waitress like that."
Kasumi giggled at the thought.
"But y'know what? I guess as long as he don't start referring to himself as 'watakushi' or some shit like that, I won't worry."
"That goes both ways, Ukyo. If Ranma ever says 'ore-sama', you have my blessing to knock him out," Kasumi giggled.
"Well, break time's over. You want an okonomiyaki before you go, Kasumi?" Ukyo asked as she stood up and signaled to her staff.
"I think I'd like that. It's been too long since I've had one."
The two girls made their way back to the restaurant proper, quickly followed by the waitstaff. The restaurant being devoid of other customers at this hour, Kasumi took a seat at the grill and watched Ranma and Konatsu clean the tables.
"So what kinda toppings y'want, Kasumi?" Ukyo asked as she put a load of batter on the grill.
"Oh my, I honestly have no idea."
"No problem, we'll just do a plain 'n simple one then. That sound a'ight to you?"
"That sounds just excellent."
Not fifteen minutes later, just when Kasumi was about halfway through her meal, an irate Genma barged in and grabbed his son by the collar of his uniform.
"Boy! I've tolerated you playing the housewife, I've endured you wearing a dress, but to find you playing waitress in two restaurants? You're growing soft, boy. It's high time someone set you straight."
"Yeah, Pops? How 'bout we make it a challenge?" Ranma smirked as he deftly removed his father's hands from his collar. "Just to prove to you that I can still put your panda ass down."
"We'll see, boy. State your terms."
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