NeeP Productions Presents:

A Thing About Blondes
By Niki (NeeP) Paradis
Chapter Two: The Hunt for the Perfect Man.

     A young woman stood on the street of Furinkan.  She had waist long black hair and vivid green eyes.  Around her, trying to look unobtrusive and commonplace were four tall muscular women in everyday clothes.  The girl herself was wearing a school uniform for the local high school.  She looked around at the still sleeping town, and smiled to herself.  She snapped her fingers and a small, yet physically fit woman in a trench coat came out of an alleyway and approached the young woman.
     "Yes, your Highness...?"
     "Misha, you are my most trusted servant and confidant.  I would like your opinion about this little operation of ours."
     "May I speak freely, your Highness...?"
     "As always."
     The small woman took a deep breath.  "This operation does not make sense.  I really can't see how going about like a commoner will produce the results that you desire..."
     The young woman listened patiently.  "Go on."
     "It might be easier to announce your presence and desires and let the right man come to you."
     "Except for one thing, Misha," explained the young noble woman.  "That method won't bring in the right man.  The right man wouldn't go for that kind of thing."
     "But please understand, your Highness...  It will be difficult for myself and the rest of your loyal retainers who came with you to provide you with adequate protection."  Misha was very concerned.
     "Perhaps...  But who would try and attack an innocent schoolgirl within a place of learning?"
     "I don't know.  But please, your Highness, do be careful."
     "Of course, Misha.  But remember to address me by my given name..." the young woman smiled warmly at her most trusted servant--and friend.  "I AM going incognito here."
     "Of course... Celeane."

     It was six AM in the morning and Ryouga Hibiki woke up to the soft buzz of his alarm clock.  He reached over and after about five minutes, he managed to find the clock and turn the alarm off.  He yawned, rubbed his eyes and sat up.  He felt along the wall beside his futon for the rope that was pinned there.   Having found it, he got out of bed, and followed the rope out of his small bedroom towards the washroom.
     Ryouga usually got up a half-hour before the girls, and an hour before the restaurant opened.  That gave him time to find his way to the washroom and do his morning toiletries while the water was still hot.  The other advantage about the hour is that there were no snide remarks about his lack of a sense of direction from the peanut gallery.
     He was still half-asleep, so it took about twenty minutes, even with the rope to guide him, to reach the washroom.  He yawned again as he fumbled for the light switch.  He flipped it on in time to see a blonde-hair stranger in the same room as he was.  Without thinking twice, he let fly with a punch.
     "Hiiiiiyaaaaa!!!" he shouted as he attacked.

    Ukyou woke up to Ryouga's yell and the sound of glass smashing.  She shot out of bed slammed open the bedroom door and ran towards the washroom.  She heard the sound of footsteps on the stairway that indicated that Jiro was on her way up as well.  She reached the washroom and looked inside.  At first she was startled to see a strange young blonde-hair man sitting among the debris, then she remembered that the young man was her fiancé.
    Ryouga was sitting on the floor among the pieces of the washroom floor, in shock.  His now-blonde hair was a total mess and one of his hands was bleeding with bits of glass stuck into it.  He cradled his injured hand as he looked around at the damage that he just caused.
    "Ryo-chan?!?"  asked Ukyou anxiously.  "What happened?"
    "Oniichan?" asked Jiro behind her.  "Are you all right?"
    Ryouga looked right at her with uncomprehending eyes.  Ukyou was then aware of the fact that she was still in her nightgown, which was no longer than an oversized T-shirt.  But Ryouga wasn't really aware of it.
    "I forgot that I look different," he said as he raised his uninjured hand to touch his hair.  He gave a small self-loathing smile as he continued.  "I came into the washroom, turned on the light and saw some blonde-hair guy.  It wasn't until after I made contact with the mirror when I realised that I saw my own reflection."  He sighed.  "I'm sorry about the mess..."
    "It's okay, Ryo-chan," sighed Ukyou as she went over to him and helped him up.  "Let's get you downstairs and clean that hand up."  She looked to Ryouga's little sister.  "Jiro-chan?  Could you clean this up, please?"
    "All right."  Jiro looked towards her brother.  Ukyou could see the concern in her eyes.  But the blonde girl didn't say anything as she went out of the washroom to get a broom.
    Ukyou tugged gently at Ryouga's wrist.  "Let's go, Ryouga," she said softly to him.  Ryouga nodded and went with her quietly.

    In the kitchen of the restaurant, Ukyou was gently removing the last of the glass splinters from Ryouga's hand.  Ryouga sighed, then stifled a cry as Ukyou yanked out a sliver with a pair of tweezers.  He knew from experience that Ukyou was as fast with her huge spatula as Jiro was with her bucket, and that neither of them had any problems knocking him out if it would keep him still.
    Ukyou pulled out the last sliver and turned to get the rubbing alcohol to disinfect the hand with.  Ryouga shuddered.  The slivers were bad enough, but the alcohol was going to sting like hell, and he knew it.  When Ukyou turned back towards him, he braced himself for the worse.
    "So tell me why you attacked the mirror again," requested Ukyou as she dabbed an alcohol-drenched cotton ball to the cuts on his hand.
    Ryouga hissed as the cuts stung.  He took a brief look at Ukyou, who seemed to have paused in her ministrations for a moment.
    "I just didn't recognise my reflection," he muttered.  "And I was half-asleep.  I saw a face that I didnít recognise, and I attacked.  --I mean, who wouldn't attack if they found a stranger in the washroom?"   He sighed.  "The rest you know..."
Ukyou chuckled.  "Well, you do look a bit different...  And those people definitely did a thorough job..."  She peered closely at his face.  "Even your eyebrows are blonde."
    "I know.  I heard that it was that Hanako's idea.  It's just that I don't like the fact that I don't even recognise myself.  It's a little awkward."
    "But you don't look bad at all, you know..." Ukyou said as she resumed treating the cuts.
    "I know, I know.  I look 'pretty'."  Ryouga made a face, partially at the comment, and partially because of Ukyou's treatment.
    "It's just for a little while."
    "Yeah, a little while...  I take it that you think that I should go through on the follow-ups, right?"
    "Well, since you've already gone through the worse of it..."  Ukyou was bandaging the hand, as she gave her opinion.          "And it is just for two months..."
    "I suppose..."
    "We'll talk about it later, Ryo-chan.  We got a business to run.  Now, let's get you back upstairs and into your uniform, before it's time to open."
    Ryouga nodded listlessly.  "Right," he muttered.

    Ranma Saotome was hiding from his wife.  And the breakfast that she made.  Whoever it was who said that married life was bliss, has obviously never tasted Akane's cooking.  He grimaced.  Kasumi moved out shortly after she married Dr. Tofu, and Nodoka was teaching Akane the fundamentals of cooking.  But even with his mother's help, he could not expect miracles --especially when it came to Akane's meal attempts.
    He stepped out from behind the phone-pole where he was hiding and realised that he was in the market district and not far from either the Nekohatten or Ucchan's Okonomiyaki.  Considering that he had grabbed a free meal from Shampoo the day before, Ranma figure that it would be an excellent day to grab a bite from Ukyou.  Besides, Shampoo's temperament was decreasing as her abdomen grew.  She was not taking her pregnancy well.  Mousse, on the other hand, was ecstatic, and he let everyone know that he was looking forward to raising a strong girl.
    Ranma passed Jiro, who was on her way to school.  She was wearing her modified girl's uniform, which had slacks as opposed to a skirt.
    "Good Morning, Ranma-san!" she chirped in greeting.
    "Hey, Jiro!" called back Ranma.  "Is Ryouga there, today?"
    "Yep!  But don't tease him, he's very sensitive about his appearance today."  Before Ranma could ask why, Jiro had turned a corner and had disappeared from sight.
    Ranma scratched his head in confusion.  Why would Ryouga be sensitive about the way he looked?  He didnít think it was the 'ear' thing again...  Of course, Ranma teased Ryouga terribly when he first acquired the ears, or at least he did until the day Ryouga left him mashed into the ground, with many threats for more of the same treatment until Ranma promised to stop.  By then, Ryouga was accustomed to the new shape of his ears.  To be honest Ranma was hoping that Ryouga wouldn't be around --that way, he would be able to get more to eat and without comments of his 'lack of faithfulness' for avoiding his wife's food.  He sighed.  Maybe he'd be able to get the 'Lost-Boy' to leave before he made his order.
    Ranma walked into Ukyou's restaurant.  He noticed that the place was busy, and that there was some new guy taking orders from the customers.  He walked up to the counter where the owner was busy cooking and sat down.
    "Hi, Ranchan..." greeted Ukyou.  "I see that you're hiding from Akane's cooking again."
    Ranma grimaced, "It's that obvious?"
    "Only to those who know you, Sugar..."  Ukyou flipped a cooking okonomiyaki with her spatula.  "So what are ya having today?"
    "One of your specials, Ucchan."  Ranma looked around the room.  "So where's Ryouga?"  He then jerked his thumb towards the new blonde guy.  "And who's the Fabio-wannabe, over there?  And does Ryouga know that he's wearing his uniform?"
    "I've got news for you, Ranchan," said Ukyou as Ranma felt a hand yanking hard on his shirt collar.  "That is Ryouga."
    "Erk!" was Ranma's intelligent reply as he was hauled off of his seat.  He turned around quickly to see deep hazel eyes glaring into his own.
    "Ryouga?!?  What the hell happened to you?!?"  Quickly, Ranma looked over his rival's appearance; the thick blonde hair and the eyebrows.  Ryouga glared at him, not answering.
    "Is it a magic spell?"
    "No."
    "Is it another curse?"
    "No."
    "Tell me, man...  I know!  You fell into the Spring of Drowned Beach-Bum!"
    "NO!!!"
    "Get serious, Ranchan!" snapped Ukyou as she levelled her spatula on Ranma's head.
    "What is it, then?" he asked as he rubbed the newly raised bump on his head.
    Ryouga growled.
    "If you really need to know, it's hair-dye."  Ryouga looked away embarrassed, while keeping his tight grip on Ranma's shirt.
    Ranma was flabbergasted.  "Hair-dye?!?" he asked.
    "Hair-dye," confirmed Ryouga.
    "It seems so... uh, so..."
    "Prosaic," supplied Ukyou.
    "Yeah, that's it.  Prosaic.  Waitaminute!  Hate to tell you this man, but you can't dye dark hair blonde."
    "It's a new type," Ryouga sighed.  "They're testing it on me...  So far, it seems to work."
    "I'll say..." was Ranma's reply.
    "Here's your okonomiyaki, Ranchan," said Ukyou as she placed the dish on the counter.
    "Which I see that you're eating instead of the breakfast that your wife had probably made you," muttered Ryouga.  "You do realise that you're scum, don't you, Saotome?"
    Ranma wrested himself free from his rival's grip and sat back down.  "Shut-up, Blondie.  I'm eating here."
    Ryouga was about to retort again, when Akane Saotome stomped into the restaurant and up to Ranma, who didn't noticed her presence until after she yanked him off of his seat.  He landed flat on his back.  The remains of his okonomiyaki landed on him, covering his shirt.
    "Akane...?" he asked flabbergasted.
    "Ranma?!?  What are you doing here?!?  And I got breakfast on the table too!!!"  Akane stood glaring down at the prone form of Ranma.
    Upset over the loss of his okonomiyaki, Ranma made a very stupid reply.  "That's why I'm here..." he muttered.          Unfortunately for him, Akane heard him.
    "Ranma no Baka!!!" she screamed, as she pulled her mallet out of nowhere and raised it to bring it down on her husband.
    "Akane, wait!  I'm sorry."  Ranma tensed up for the on-coming blow, leaning against the stool.
    The mallet started to come down.
    "Akane!  Wait!"  Ryouga reached over and grabbed the mallet from his former beloved.  "We just replaced the seats."
    Akane was stunned as she allowed the mallet to be removed from her grip.  No one has ever interfered between her and Ranma like that before.  When the shock wore off, she became bewildered.  Then bewilderment turned into annoyance.  Then annoyance became rage.  She turned to the liberator of her mallet and was ready to rant.
    "What's the big idea?  Coming into an argument between a woman and her husband..."  She stopped as she looked at the person holding her mallet.  "Do I know you...?" she asked.
    Ryouga blushed.  "H-hi, Akane-san..." he said as he smiled shyly.
    "Ryouga-kun?!?"  Akane could only gape at the blonde man in front of her.  "What happened to you?"
    "Hair-dye," was all that Ryouga said.
    Akane just stared.
    "Hair-dye...?" she asked.
    Ranma got up slowly as Akane was distracted by Ryouga.  "Hey, man.  I owe you one."
    "He didnít do it for you, Ranchan," said Ukyou as she served another okonomiyaki, as she was doing throughout the exchange.  "Those new stools were expensive."
    "Oh."
    "We can't afford to buy any more..." she continued.
    "I ... got ... it," Ranma replied.  He pulled on his wife's wrist.  "Let's go home, Akane.  I gotta change."
    Akane turned away from staring at Ryouga.  "And breakfast is still on the table as well."
    Ranma grimaced.  I forgot about that.  "It must be cold by now, Akane...  It won't be as good."
    "Don't worry.  I had all the dishes covered before I came to get you.  They should be just fine."
    "Urk."  Ranma was at a loss for words as Akane dragged him out of the restaurant.
    "Good-Bye, Ranchan!" called Ukyou after them.  "Bye Akane!"
    "Bye Akane-san!" said Ryouga.  "See you around Ranma."
    "Bye Ryouga-kun!  Bye Ukyou!" replied Akane.
    "See ya, Ucchan!  Bye Blondie!

    Jiro was on her way home after school.  Walking with her were some girls from her class, Miyuki, and Mariko.  They laughing, giggling and talking about boys-- or at least Miyuki and Mariko were.  Jiro just listened and provided the occasional comment.  Jiro never had time to make friends before.  Before she met Ryouga-Oniichan, she was always on the run from Jakku.  After she met him, she met quite a few people, but after she started going to school, she found that she had the opportunity to make lots of friends, so she did.
    They trio reached the door of Ucchan's Okonomiyaki shop.  They paused at the entrance and Jiro asked the girls if they would like to come in.  The two girls agreed each hoping that they would be able to see Jiro's cute older brother.  They went in, and towards the counter.  The business was slow at the moment and wasn't expected to pick up for a half-hour.
    Ukyou poked her head up from behind the counter and saw them immediately.
    "Welcome back, Jiro-chan!" she said.  "Come sit down and have something to eat.  Your friends too."
    "Thank-you, Ukyou-san," replied Miyuki.
    "Where is Ryouga-san?" asked Mariko whom immediately clapped her hands over her mouth and blushed.
    Ukyou grinned knowingly.  "He's washing dishes in the back.  He'll be out front when he's done."
    Mariko blushed again.  "Uh, thanks for telling me, Ukyou-san..."
    "No problem, kiddo," said Ukyou.  "Now what would you like on your okonomiyaki...?"
    After Ukyou managed to cook up three orders, the three girls went back to talking as they ate.
    Mariko sighed.  "Ukyou-san is sooooo lucky to be engaged to your brother."
    Jiro chuckled.
    "Did you guys hear about the new exchange student?" asked Miyuki, trying to change the subject.
    "Who?  Celeane?" asked Mariko.
    "What did you hear?" asked Jiro.
    "I hear that she's actually a princess form an island in the Pacific," chimed in Mariko.
    "No way...!"  Jiro didn't believe it.
    "Really!  And get this!  The rumour goes..." Mariko's voice trailed off as she stared at Ryouga who had just entered the restaurant, carrying clean plates.
    "Hey!  Why are you stopping...?"  Miyuki's voice stopped as well, upon seeing Jiro's brother.
    Ryouga stopped in front of the girls, suddenly aware of their staring.  Jiro was tapped on the shoulder.  She turned to face Mariko.
    "Um, Jiro-kun?  Isn't your brother's hair usually dark?" she asked in a whisper.
    Jiro just laughed as she watched her brother blush.

    It was later in the evening of the same day and Ranma and Akane both came over for a snack of okonomiyaki and some conversation with Ukyou.  Jiro was doing homework at one of the empty tables and Ryouga was taking orders from some a couple of businesswomen who just wanted a quick bite to eat.  Ranma was not unaware of how the two were staring at Ryouga as he made his way to the counter.  They chuckled and made comments in a low voice that Ranma couldn't hear, but by the way Ryouga's face began to redden, he could figure out the type of comments they were.
    "Uh, Ukyou, two beef specials, one with extra yakisoba," he said in an embarrassed voice.
    Ukyou simply raised an eyebrow, looked at Ryouga's red face, grinned at him and then proceeded in cooking up the order.
    Ranma wasn't jealous of Ryouga.  Or so he kept telling himself.  After all, he was a married man, and Ryouga was engaged.  Why would he jealous, that a couple of unmarried women thought that blonde-hair Ryouga looked hot?  Why would he be jealous, just because that they were the fourteenth and fifteenth to do so since he and Akane entered about an hour ago?  He was only wearing his damn working uniform, for crying out loud!
    Ukyou finished the two dishes and handed them to Ryouga.  She called out directions as Ryouga headed, in the wrong direction, towards the right table.  When he finally reached the right table, the women gave him the change and whispered something to him.  Ryouga's ears went brilliant red, and he quickly backed away.  But unbeknown to him, the bucket of water that he was using earlier (and forgot about its whereabouts) was right behind him.  He went down with a splash.
    The two women looked up from their meal momentarily.  The only saw Jiro doing her homework and the spilt bucket.  They didn't seem to notice the wet pile of clothes or the movement from within them.  But Ranma did.  He walked over to the pile of clothes to see if he could fish P-chan out.  He was more than a little surprised when he pulled a yellow piglet.   Ranma almost dropped the pig in his shock, but he quickly recovered and laughed.
    "I never seen a blonde pig before!" he chuckled as he carried P-chan over to the counter.
    "Say, what?!?" asked Ukyou incredulously.
    Ranma dropped P-chan onto a stool.  "Take a look for yourselves."
    Both Ukyou and Akane looked over the yellow piglet, which seemed to be trying to shrink into himself.  Even Jiro got up from her homework to take a look.
    "Kawaii!" she chirped as she got up behind Ranma.
    Akane sighed.  "Poor Ryouga-kun...  You look so silly."  She reached to give the piglet a reassuring scratch behind the ears.
    P-chan's ears perked up, and he stiffened.  Huge tears came to his eyes.  He blinked them back, then jumped off of the stool and ran into the backroom.
    "Oniichan!"  Jiro dashed after him, after pausing long enough to grab a kettle that was sitting on the stove.  Moments passed as there were sounds of a scuffle in the backroom, then Ryouga burst out.  He was now wearing his usual clothes and his face was red.  He grabbed Ranma by the collar of his shirt and then headed towards the front door.
    "We'll be right back," Ryouga called to the ladies in passing.  Ranma had no choice but to comply as he was dragged along.
    Once outside, Ryouga let Ranma go.  Ranma immediately spun around to yell at the Lost Boy.
    "What the hell do you think you're doing?!?" he yelled.
    Ryouga clapped his hand over Ranma's mouth and growled into his ear.
    "You're going to take me to the pharmacy," he said.
    "What for?"
    "I'm not gonna stay like this for another minute.  I need to buy some hair-dye."
    "Uh, Ryouga?  Didn't you just get your hair coloured?"
    "I want to change it back."
    "What for?"
    "So I don't have to face those preying eyes of all those women."
    "And I bet that Akane had something to do with your decision."
    Ryouga hung his head.  "She said that I looked silly."
    "You do anyway, P-chan."
    "Shut up."
    "Okay, I can accept that.  So why do you need me to take you there?"
    "Do I have to spell it out?!?"
    Ranma laughed.  "I guess being a blonde is making you even more a ditz in the direction department than usual..."
    Ryouga replied by planting a fist in his rival's face.
    "Shut-up and take me there!"
    Dazed, Ranma could only reply: "Sure thing man, whatever."

    Ukyou was puzzled by Ryouga's sudden departure.  "Where do you think they're going?" she asked the others.
    "I have no idea," replied Akane.
    Soon enough, the boys came back, carrying a small paper bag.
    "Excuse us," said Ryouga as he and Ranma raced by them and up the stairs leading to the living quarters.  Ukyou shook her head.
    "Excuse me for a sec," she said to Akane and Jiro.  "I'll be right back."  She left the counter and went up the stairs after the boys.  On her way up, she heard the two of them talking.
    "Hey, Ryouga?  What happened to the bathroom mirror?"
    "I don't want to talk about it.  Just read the directions, okay?"
    "Okay.  Um, 'First remove cap from bottle 'A' and pour in contents of bottle 'B'.  Shake well.  Apply directly to hairline...'"
    Ukyou blinked.  What the hell...  Shaking her head, she went back downstairs.
    "I have no idea what they are doing," she said to the girls.

    Twenty minutes later, Ranma was rinsing Ryouga's hair.  He shook his head in amazement as he did so.
    "I hate to tell you this, Ryouga, but it's not working."
    "What do you mean that it's not working?!?"  The running of the tap muffled Ryouga's voice.
    "The dye isn't sticking.  It's rinsing off into the sink."
    "No way!"  Ryouga lifted his head from the sink and grabbed a lock of his hair.  Except for the stream of dark liquid running form it, it was just as blonde as it was before.  He groaned, and shook his head.  Dark droplets were sprayed everywhere, hitting the walls and Ranma's outfit.
    "Hey!  Hang on, Ryouga!  I gotta get the rest of this gunk outta your hair!"  Ranma reached up, grabbed Ryouga at the top of his head forced it into the sink.  On its way down, Ryouga's head cracked solidly into the tap.
    "Shit!!!" Ryouga yelped.  "What are you trying to do, Saotome?!?  Kill me?!?"
    "Let me get this crap out at least!"
    "Watch what you're doing, Ranma!" yelled Ryouga as his head hit the tap again.

    Ukyou heard the commotion from upstairs.  "Excuse me again," she said to the others.  She ran up the stairs and threw open the washroom door.  She stared in amazement at the mess of her washroom.  Black dye stained the walls, and ran down the shirts of both boys.  There were cracks in the surface of the sink.  The whole room was a disaster.  She took a deep breath and looked at the faces of the two boys.  Guilt and embarrassment covered both.  She decided to ask them a simple question.
    "What the hell have you two Jackasses been doing?!?"

    One week later...

    Ukyou was preparing for the after-school rush.  Earlier that day, the last of the repairmen had left after repairing her washroom.  Both Ranma and Ryouga worked extra hard to earn the money to pay for the work.  She sighed.  Those two     idiots, she thought as she shook her head.
    Two days after Ryouga came back with blonde hair, she noticed that the business was picking up--mostly in the form of teen-age girls who wanted to watch the confused young man.
    It was a mixed blessing.  Good, because the schoolgirls knew that they would have to buy something to be allowed to stay, so they would.   It was bad because those same girls would giggle even though they knew that the 'pretty blonde boy' was not available.  There were lots of these girls coming in, but they would only make small orders and sit around and eat slowly, and try and linger for as long as they could, while taking up space that could be used by more serious patrons.
    Ryouga was at a loss, or so it seemed to her.  He tried to keep up with the bussing of the tables while Jiro concentrated on taking the orders, but the girls' giggling chatter kept distracting him.  It was true that the schoolgirls were only talking in whispers, but Ryouga heard almost every word as if it had been shouted.  Everyday, after the 'open' curtain was brought down and the doors closed for the night, Ryouga would be standing with a ridiculous red flush on his face and having difficulty meeting Ukyou's eyes.
    Ukyou sighed.  She had the feeling that it would be another day like that.  The only difference in today was the fact that the object of the schoolgirls' infatuation would be away for the first of the follow-ups that he agreed to.  Jiro had gone with him, to make sure that he actually got to the appointment on time.  Oh, well, she thought to herself.  At least I'm not alone with the crowd.  She looked to her help of the day.
    "Everything ready, Konatsu?" she asked.
    "Yes, Ukyou-sama," replied the effeminate ninja.  "You and I can handle the crowd, just like we did in the old days."
    Ukyou smiled.  "Thanks, sugar.  That's real nice of you, considering that I know how you feel about my engagement to Ryouga..."
    "Please, Ukyou-sama.  I owe you my well being, if not my life.  At least let me serve you anyway that I can..."  He smiled as he bent down to remove a bit of lint from the hem of his kimono.  "I'm glad that we're still friends, and if Ryouga-san can make you happy..." he trailed off.
    "All right, sugar, whatever you say."

    Ryouga snorted as Jiro and he left the Kira-kira no Kamenoke building.
    "That's it?!?  They just run their fingers through my hair, wash and dry it, and run their fingers through my hair again?!?"
    "They were checking for things, I'm sure, Oniichan."
    "What do you mean?  I wash my hair regularly."
    Jiro chuckled and shook her head.  "I asked the head technician about it and she said that they were checking for structural damage to the hair shaft and seeing if dark roots of your hair was showing.  They were also testing to see if your hair is still soft, or if the colour that they were using was starting to go brittle."
    "Okay...  I guess."
    "At least you got a check for letting them play with your hair."
    "Yeah, you're right."  Ryouga felt the check in his pocket, and smiled as he thought how it was going to be put to use for his and Ukyou's future.  "I seems a little stupid to me, but I guess I can put up with it."
    "That's the spirit, Oniichan."
    Ryouga changed the subject.
    "How's school going?" he asked his little sister.
    "Pretty good, actually."  Jiro grinned.  "Considering this is the third year of school that I have actually attended, I'm surprised that I'm doing as well as I am."
    "You're not stupid, Jiro-chan."
    "Thanks Oniichan."
    "Anything new happening?"
    "As a matter of fact, there is a new exchange student at Furinkan High," Jiro looked thoughtful for a moment.  "Rumour has it that she is princess of some sort of tropical island."
    Ryouga looked sceptical.  "A princess?  Really?"
    "That's the rumour.  And she does seem to have some bodyguards with her."
    "Oh?"
    "Yeah.  And they're women.  Tall, strong women who try to blend in with the crowd, except they're way too big."
    Ryouga shook his head.  "Sounds too unreal...  Why would a foreign princess come to Japan and attend a public high school incognito?  What kind of agenda would she have?"
    "Beats me.  Maybe she's looking for something."
    Ryouga and Jiro walked on towards home, unaware that they were being watched by a sinister-looking figure in the shadows of an alleyway.

    Misha was standing in the alleyway, just overlooking the crowd.  She had little clue to who exactly her liege-lady was looking for, but she promised to keep her eyes peeled for anyone who met the princess' requirements.
    She looked through out the crowd on the street.  Nobody in particular caught her eye.  Then the setting sun flashed off of something golden.  She turned her head to look.
    A young man and a young woman were walking down the street.  The sunlight had apparently reflected off of their blonde heads.  The girl she dismissed almost immediately, but not without noticing that she could easily pass for one of the warrior women of her own people.  The young man was a different story.
    Misha watched and noted the young man's appearance, his build, and his walk.  She figured that the young man was either a body-builder or a fighter, only a closer examination and continued watching would distinguish which.  She wondered if this particular young man met all of the princess' requirements.  She decided to see if she could get a little closer.
    Moving from shadow to shadow, the small woman approached the two young adults.  As she got closer, Misha was able to catch phrases of their conversation.  The girl was talking about a new student in her class, and the boy was asking details.  She couldn't hear everything, but Misha was pretty sure that she heard the word 'princess' in the speech of both people.  She frowned.  She did not look forward to telling Celeane that her cover was in jeopardy.
    Suddenly the young man stiffened.  "I think we're being followed," he said to the girl.
    "Yeah, I feel it too, Oniichan," replied the girl.
    Misha dashed behind a corner before the two managed to turn around.  She cursed at herself for being so careless. Damn! she thought to herself.  Both of them are warriors-- and experienced ones.  The two young people looked for their trailer, and at finding no one, they turned back and went on their way.
    Misha waited for a couple of minutes, then climbed up the wall of the building she was hiding behind and onto the roof.  She watched the two until they disappeared into the market district of Nerima.
    I'll track these two later, she thought to herself.  First, I have to report my findings to the princess.

A couple of days later...

    Ranma Saotome was on his way to Ucchan's after he had done his shopping for Akane and had attended all of his interviews.  There was still time before the schools let out for the day, so he knew that the restaurant would be rather quiet.  He still had an hour to kill before his wife was expected back home, and besides, Ukyou was his friend and she was a very good conversationalist.  Plus there was the free okonomiyaki.  And if Ukyou was too busy to talk, there was still Ryouga.
    Ranma chuckled.  He was having the time of his life.  He had figured out a way to get his daily exercise.  He teased Ryouga until he got so enraged that he would challenge Ranma to a fight.  Which worked for Ranma.
    He sighed.  He couldn't bring himself to spar with Akane, his father was becoming less of a challenge, and with everyone who was formerly his rival, was paired off, either married or engaged.  There was no one left to fight with, except for     Ryouga.
    However, Ranma found it difficult getting the Lost Boy to spar with him.  The thing was that Ryouga was often too busy either trying to help Ukyou with her business or trying to earn money.  And even if he was interested in a fight, he had other priorities that often came first.  So the challenge was to A: find the moment when Ryouga was not busy, or B: Get him enraged enough that all the other responsibilities would be forgotten.
    And that was harder.  Teasing him about Akane didn't work anymore. And all of the old insults; calling him a pig, teasing him about his sense of direction, twitting him about his ears, just didnít work unless it was one of those moment when Ryouga was not busy.  But since that morning two weeks ago, when he found Ryouga with hair of another colour, Ranma has been teasing Ryouga with as many blonde jokes as he could think up.  And it seemed to work.  Ryouga would then grab Ranma by his shirt and drag him outside, to proceed trying to pound his face in.
    Ranma lucked out.  Ryouga was taking a break.  He was sitting outside the restaurant with his back against the wall of the building.  He was twiddling with a small stone and trying to ignore the catcalls of the passing women.  He was wearing his tank top and had hung his uniform wrap inside the building.
    Ryouga looked up as he heard Ranma approach.  He stood up and stretched.
    "I thought that you'd never get here, Saotome," he said.
    "Huh?  You were expecting me?" asked Ranma.
    "Let's say that I was sort of hoping you would show up."  Ryouga proceeded with cracking his knuckles.
    "Really?  Usually, I'd have to bug you until you'd attack.  What brings this on?"
    Ryouga smiled, letting his fangs show.  "I thought that you wanted to fight, Ranma...  Let's get to it, shall we?"
    "Why?"
    "Just shut up and fight!"  Ryouga charged at Ranma.  Ranma side-stepped and put out a foot to trip his opponent.
    "C'mon Blondie, What's with you?!?"
    Ryouga fell and rolled and got back to his feet.  "Tell you later.  Just fight!"  And he charged again.
    Ranma somersaulted over the Lost Boy, and spun around.  Ryouga stopped in mid-charge and spun around as well.
    "Okay, if that's the way you want it, P-chan," muttered Ranma as he jumped up at Ryouga aiming to place a kick squarely in the other youth's face.  Ryouga side-stepped and grabbed Ranma's ankle before it connected.  Using his strength, he heaved and started to throw Ranma into the ground.  Ranma tucked into a ball before he hit the cement, and managed to kick his leg free.  He recovered quickly, and threw a series of  punches at Ryouga's face.
    "Tenshin Amagurikan!"  He shouted.  Ryouga blocked some of the punches and took some of the others without getting ruffled.  He then dropped down and lashed out with a low kick, succeeding in knocking Ranma's legs out form under him.  Ranma went down hard.  But he quickly scrambled to his feet as Ryouga came at him again. Ryouga was actually grinning as he came.  Briefly, Ranma thought about using the Rising Dragon Ascension.  Then thought better of it.  Ryouga wasn't actually trying to kill him, he realised.  He was just sparring for the fun of it, or so it seemed.  And that suited Ranma just fine.  Fighting can be more fun if one is not struggling to save his own life.
    So the boys kept at it for about twenty minutes, then they called it a draw, and sat down with their backs to the wall, panting slightly.
    "That was a great fight," said Ranma as he wiped his brow with the sleeve of his shirt.  "You're a fun guy to fight when you're not trying to kill me, P-chan."
    Ryouga gave a lopsided grin.  "Thanks, I think..."
    "So what brought that on?" Ranma asked.
    Ryouga shrugged.  "I just felt like it, today.  Besides I got tired of people telling me how pretty I am.  The girls treat me like I'm different.  But you don't treat me any different.  I guess I just wanted something to take my mind off of this!"  With a grunt, Ryouga tugged at his blonde ponytail.
    "So why don't you go and have those people remove the colour, if it bothers you so much?"
    "They pay me ¥100 000 every week if I go in for the follow-ups."
    "Oh."
    They sat panting for a few moments more.
    "Hey, Ryouga...?"
    "Yeah?"
    "Since you've been blonde for a week or so, I wanna ask you something."
    "What?"
    "Do blondes have more fun?"
    "Not that I noticed.  But then, I'm engaged."
    "Oh."  Ranma had the decency to blush.

The second week...

    It had been two weeks and Princess Celeane was still confused by the peculiarity of the place.  All of her research had shown that schools in Japan were well run, orderly educational institutions.  That wasn't the case with Furinkan High School.  She rested in the shade of a cherry tree while she contemplated the peculiarities of that particular school.  The headmaster was a certified nutcase and the teachers weren't much saner.  Fights in the schoolyard were common and the most bizarre competitions were held almost everyday.  And the school was really big on martial arts.  But the techniques and styles were at best described as unique and at worse described as plain weird.  She had been told that a few years ago the fights, competitions and challenges were even more weird, frequent and more varied, but she found that hard to believe.
    But one fighter stood out form the rest.  A young woman in her senior year was to be considered the best.  This girl was striking in her height, her brilliant blonde hair and her slightly pointed ears.  Celeane had the opportunity to watch her in action from time to time.  Every single challenger that this girl faced was soundly defeated, whether female or male.
    Celeane found herself wondering from time to time about how this young blonde warrior woman would fair against her own retainers.
    In the midst of her contemplation, she noticed that Misha was approaching her.  She realised that her most trusted advisor had something urgent to tell her by the look on her face.  She sat up immediately.
    "What is it, Misha?" she asked.
    "I believe that I have found the one that you are looking for, Prin--I mean, Celeane."
    "You have?!?"  Celeane jumped to her feet.  "Show me where!"
    "Perhaps we should wait until after school, so that we won't draw attention," suggested the small woman.
    "You're right, Misha.  That's why I value your friendship, you have such good common sense."
    Misha grinned.  "Thank-you, Celeane."

The third week...

    The crowd of teen-age girls was starting to get on Ukyou's nerves.  At first she welcomed the increase in business.  She was hoping that they would come to watch and stay for the food.  Then as the days went by, the profits went down as the girls were buying less and less, even sharing meals as to just be able to sit and stare at her fiancé.  They occupied the tables for incredible lengths of time and their constant giggling filled the air.  She realised then that the average schoolgirl did not have the money to but a meal of okonomiyaki everyday.  They were just coming to stare, and daydream.  Ukyou didnít quite understand it, everyone knew that Ryouga was her fiancé.  Why did these little girls come to watch someone they knew was off-limits to them?
    She watched Ryouga as he wiped down a counter and picked up the empty plates.  She tried to see him through the eyes of a dreaming young schoolgirl.  It was hard for her, though.  Ukyou never had the typical life of a schoolgirl.  She dressed as a boy and attended boys' schools, where competition was the norm and training was her life.  She never had the chance to dream about boys, and fairy-tale relationships.
    But she did have a chance to read a few girls' comics, once to see what the fuss was all about.  The stories featured beautiful young men with fair hair and beautiful princesses.  They had wonderful romances.
    She watched Ryouga as he worked.  He had the grace of a martial artist and a wonderful build that came from his training.  That combined with his usual hazel eyes, fangs and  slightly pointed ears made him look a bit exotic.  But the addition of the blonde hair raised him rise up in the eyes of the girls to the status of Bishounen-- beautiful young man.  No wonder why the girls were staring.  She still didn't like it though...
    But one girl was really starting to get on her nerves.  She wore the uniform of Furinkan High, and had beautiful long black hair.  She had started coming in about a week ago.  She always bought the most expensive dishes, but she stared at Ryouga with an intense look that Ukyou didn't like at all.  The girl's green eyes were filled with determination, that Ukyou had a feeling that will cause her trouble later down the road.
    She watched as Jiro served the unusual girl, and they talked.  Ukyou listened to the conversation.
    "Are you related to that young man?" the girl asked in an oddly accented voice.
    "Yep," Jiro answered cheerfully.  "He's my brother."
    "Could you introduce me to him?" asked the girl.  "Please, Jiro-kun?"
    "Um, sure.  Why not?"
    I could give dozens of reasons why you shouldn't introduce Ryo-chan to that overly young hussy, Ukyou thought.
    "Oniichan?" called Jiro.  "Please come and meet a classmate of mine..."
    Ryouga walked over to his sister.  Jiro did the introductions.
    "Celeane-kun, this is my brother, Hibiki Ryouga.  Oniichan, this is my classmate, Celeane... Uh, what is your last name again?" asked Jiro embarrassed.
    "I don't really have one," replied the Celeane-girl.  "But I am very honoured to meet you, Ryouga-san.  You're very handsome, you know."
    Ukyou's temper almost flared as she watched Ryouga gulp, blush and stammer a reply.
    "No I'm not," he said quickly.  "I'm not handsome really at all..."
    "And modest too..." purred Celeane.
    She's actually flirting with MY Ryo-chan!!!  Ukyou seized her spatula and marched from behind the counter and towards the conniving teen-age girl.  One of the women that were sitting at another table got up and placed herself between the pest and Ukyou.  The woman was even bigger than Jiro, but that didn't deter the young okonomiyaki chef.
    "Outta my way!" she shouted.  "Young girl or not, that hussy's gonna pay!"
    The girl looked at Ukyou and her face turned thoughtful.  "I guess we overstayed our welcome.  Thank-you, Jiro-kun.  It was nice meeting you Ryouga-san."  Celeane winked at the still blushing Ryouga.
    "Bye..." was all he said.
    Then the girl and a bunch of women placed money on their respective tables and left.

    Outside, Misha, who was keeping watch outside, approached Celeane.  The small woman in the trench coat retied her sash before asking her liege-lady, "Well, what do you think?"
    "I believe that you found him, Misha," the foreign princess smiled.  "I want the preparations made so we can leave in three days," she told her retainers.
    "Of course, your highness..." replied one of the tall women.
    "Misha, I want you to keep track of this Ryouga Hibiki.  Do not lose him."
    "Of course, Celeane."
    The dark-hair girl smiled at them all.
    "I can't believe we found him.  But we did.  The perfect man."
    The women all nodded in agreement.

Three nights later...

    Ranma and Akane were sitting at the counter at the Okonomiyaki restaurant one evening.  It was almost closing time and business was slowing down as it usually did towards the end of the night.  They were chatting with Ukyou would was taking a breather during the lull.  Jiro was bussing the few tables that were not occupied by eating customers.  In fact, there was only one customer left, a small dark woman, wearing a trench coat.
    Akane was closely examining the diamond engagement ring that Ukyou had received form Ryouga.
    "It's beautiful, Ukyou...  But where did Ryouga-kun get it?  I mean, the ring is just one piece, a round diamond with a hole in the middle.  It must have been expensive..."
    "It's just a rock..." muttered Ranma.
    Both girls turned on him at once.
    "Excuse me, Ranchan?!?" asked Ukyou coldly.
    "How can you say that?!?" gasped Akane.  "I never got one at all."
    Ranma then realised that he was in deep and serious crap.
    "I'm sorry, Akane..." he apologised sincerely.  "I know that I should have gotten you one..."  A brilliant idea occurred to him.  "I promise that if I ever come across the means, I will get you a beautiful ring--even better than P-chan's."
    "Really, Ranma?  You will?"
    "I really promise, Akane."
    "That's gonna be tough Ranchan..." smiled Ukyou.  "The way I understand it, this ring is pretty unique."
    "Yep," chimed in Jiro.  "Oniichan had it specially made."
    "Oh my," murmured Akane.
    "Where is Ryouga, anyway?" asked Ranma.
    Ukyou raised an eyebrow.  "Why do you ask such stupid questions?" she asked him.
    "Sorry."  Ranma grinned in mock apology.  "I actually forgot who I was talking about."
    "R-right.  Like I can believe that."  Ukyou shook her head.
    "Actually, he went for his weekly appointment at that hair-care company," supplied Jiro.  "I was able to take him there, but Jakku showed up."  She grimaced.  "Oniichan said that he'd be able to find his way home, and so I left him there."
    "And so, we're still waiting for him to show up," sighed Ukyou.
    "Figures," muttered Ranma.
    Akane elbowed him in the ribs.
    There was the sound of someone staggering up to the door of the restaurant.  Ryouga grabbed the door frame and hauled himself through it.
    "I...made...it," he gasped as fell through and landed face-first onto the floor.
    "Ryouga-kun?!?" asked Akane, alarmed.
    "Don't worry, Akane," laughed Ukyou.  "He's fine.  He does this every time.  Get up, Ryouga."
    Ryouga propped himself up on his elbows.  Though exhausted, he looked up at everyone and grinned.  "Your constant concern for my welfare touches me deeply, Ukyou," he said wryly.
    Everyone laughed, including the slight woman at the table.
    Ryouga sat up and reached for one of his martial arts slippers that came off when he fell.  "It wasn't easy trying to get back here, you know."
    "You probably found your way to Nagano on your way here," suggested Ranma.
    "Was that the place where they held the Winter Olympics?  That would explain the ski-jumps..."
    Ranma, Akane, Ukyou and Jiro all face-faulted.
    Not noticing, Ryouga continued.  "Anyway, I been walking all day and I'm a bit hungry.  Ukyou, would you mind...?"
    "Not at all, Ryo-chan," replied the chef as she started another okonomiyaki on the grill.
    Ryouga stood up and was about to make his way over to the counter when all of a sudden four tall women wearing some sort of battle amour came crashing through the door and headed directly towards the blonde boy.  Ryouga spun around to face the noisy intruders.  Ranma got off his stool and did the same.  Akane sat a little shocked and Ukyou quickly flipped over the okonomiyaki that she was cooking, then reached for her battle spatula.  Jiro was coming around from the side.  Before any of them could say anything, the small woman in the trench coat jumped onto the table that she was sitting at and pointed imperially to Ryouga.
    "That's the one that the Princess wants!" she shouted.  "But what ever you do, don't hurt him."
    They want me?!? thought Ryouga to himself.  Whatever for?!?
    "What the HELL is going on here?!?" challenged Ukyou.
    The amour-clad women made no reply as all four of them reached for Ryouga.
    "Answer me!!!" shrieked Ukyou, as she threw some of her little spatulas.  The woman that she aimed at deflected the sharp projectiles with some sort of energy shield mounted to her wrist.  The others held Ryouga in such a way that he was almost immobile.  They have some sort of power-suits, Ukyou then realised.
    "Ranma, do something!" yelled Akane from her stool.  But Ranma just stood shocked, he still couldn't bring himself to battle women.  Jiro had no such problem, as she charged and aimed a low lick towards the legs of one of the women who held her brother.  The woman went down hard and Ryouga's struggles became more aggressive.  He managed to knock down another of his captors, using sheer brute strength.  Ranma snapped out of his stupor and leaped into the midst of the fight.  He was easily knocked aside by a power-enhanced blow made by one of the women.  While heading towards the wall of the restaurant, he recovered, spun around and used his feet to catapult himself off the wall and back to the big woman who struck him.  He barrelled into her and his weight combined with the momentum was more than sufficient to knock her down.  Ukyou was trying to distract the women by using all of her diversionary techniques, like the flour mixed with gunpowder and the glue-coated yakisoba noodles.  Jiro managed to kick the legs out from another woman, and there was a huge crash as woman and battle-amour landed on the floor.
    The small woman in the trench coat watched as the struggle continued.  She shook her head, pulled out a small object from within her coat.  She barked out orders to her troops.
    "Initiate Plan B, now!" she shouted.  All of the women immediately stopped fighting.  While their young opponents stood around confused, the women quickly placed gas masks over their faces.  So did the smaller woman standing on the table.      She then threw the small object that she was holding into the middle of the women and 'kids'.  Once it hit the floor, a thick gas came oozing out.  Jiro and Ryouga, who were in the middle of things, were the first ones to fall.  Too late, Ranma realised what he was dealing with.
    "Akane!  Ukyou!  Get back!  It's knock-out gas..."  Ranma slumped to the floor as he was being overcome by the gas.
    But the warning came too late as both girls grew dizzy and slumped to the floor--Ukyou barely missing her still hot grill.  The last thing that Ranma remembered was a dark-hair teenage girl coming through the door of the restaurant.  She was wearing a gas mask as a precaution, but that didn't disguise the triumphant look in her eyes as she looked over Ryouga's prone form.

    Ukyou woke up to the smell of burning okonomiyaki.  She stood up, while still dizzy, pulled the offending dish off the grill with her over-sized spatula and threw it into the sink.  After she turned the tap on to put out the flames, she took a quick look around the restaurant.  Jiro and Ranma were unconscious in the middle of the restaurant floor.  Akane was slumped over a stool, drooling slightly onto the new cushion.  Nowhere in sight was Ryouga.  She wondered briefly if he woke up and immediately got himself lost.  But she doubted it.  He would have stayed until he knew that at least Akane, Jiro and herself were all right.  She spotted a piece of paper pinned to a table with a large exotic looking knife.  She stumbled over to the table, removed the knife and read the note.  Her face became whiter than it was before.  Her body shook in rage.  She then gave an inhuman howl of anguish.
    "What happened, Ukyou?" asked Jiro as she slowly sat up.  Without a word, Ukyou shoved the paper at the blonde girl.      Jiro looked the note over.

It read:

In the name of Princess Celeane of the Island of Fumei have
hereby taken Hibiki Ryouga to become the consort of
Her Royal Highness.  Any attempt of retrieving of said consort
Will be dealt with most severely.

    "What are we gonna do, Ukyou?" asked Jiro as she put the note down.
    "I don't know about you, sugar," said Ukyou calmly.  "But I'll be damned before I let that teen-age hussy marry my Ryo-chan!"
 
 
 

Chapter Three

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