Breakfast At Ucchan's
'Spawn of darkness! In the name of holy Skuld, you shall /pay/ for your countless crimes!'
'So that's Happosai...' Anji said eventually.
'Perverted little troll.' Ukyou muttered.
'He isn't a troll. Trolls are big, and strong, and they have horns.'
The others /looked/ at Anya.
'What? I know what a troll looks like, and he is /not/ a troll.' She shuddered slightly. 'I am so glad he never became a demon.'
This time, Ukyou /stared/ at her as if she'd grown a second head.
'He's /not/ a demon?'
'The way I heard it at the time...' Anya began. 'he was offered the opportunity to become a demon-'
'What? The Patron of Panty Thieves?'
'More or less. He was offered the opportunity, but turned it down.'
Anya smirked. 'Can /you/ imagine that pervert actually working for anybody? Even stealing panties? He does not do /anything/ for /anyone/ else.'
'I thought he would have recognised you. You were a vengeance demon... and he's /certainly/ earned more than enough vengeance.'
'I was the patron of scorned women,' Anya pointed out. 'No woman ever hung around him long enough to /be/ scorned by him... No, that would be the patron of those women who have had their panties stolen.'
Anji stopped dead in the middle of the street. 'The patron of /what/?'
'Junior of the patron of those who have been robbed,' Anya continued. 'Very busy, I always thought...'
Ukyou closed her eyes. 'Okay, so what vengeance /did/ ...that demon... wreak?'
'He never said,' Anya sniffed. 'When he came back from the assignment, he had been given such a big wedgie, he-'
'That's a little /too/ much information, Anya.'
'And anyway, he's such a junior demon, he doesn't even have his own /ritual/.'
'Who knew? Demons are snobs...'
'Well, how does he expect to pick up any choice assignments if he can't even be /summoned/?' Anya said, her voice dripping with disdain.
'Got me there, sugar.' Ukyou said. 'Got me there...'
'He's a master of Anything Goes Martial Arts. And for him, /anything/ goes...'
Anji thought about that. And shuddered.
'He's harder to put down than most demons.' Anya chipped in. 'Is it any wonder they made him the offer?'
Anji's jaw hit the floor.
The line stretching out of Ucchan's Okonomiyaki Restaurant stretched as far down the road as the eye could see. That wasn't what was making Anji boggle, though - this /was/ Tokyo.
'Oh my gods...' she breathed.
'Ucchan's gets a lot of business,' Ukyou explained. 'This /is/ anime side, remember - and there're a /lot/ of anime series... Besides, where else're they gonna get good okonomiyaki, huh?'
Anya's eyes sparkled. 'You have to tell me how you do that. If I could make the Magic Box /that/ popular, it'd be like living in the world of gold...'
'Oh my gods,' Anji repeated. 'Oh my gods.'
'Oh yeah. Hiya, guys!'
'HIYA, UCCHAN!' the line chorused.
'Some of my best customers,' Ukyou commented. ' 'Specially that Lina Inverse...'
'You /are/ aware that Godzilla Junior is standing outside your restaurant?!'
'Godzuki? Yep. Technically, it wasn't an anime... but what the hell, he pays like anyone else.'
Anji looked back at the mini-Godzilla.
Godzuki waved back at her.
Shaking her head, Anji followed Ukyou.
'This should be interesting,' Compassion said, moving into step with her.
'Mm-hm.' Anji said. 'Being quiet, lately...' She left the unspoken question in the air.
'I suppose so.' Compassion said.
Her mouth quirked upwards into something resembling a smile.
Inscrutable again, Anji noted. Compassion hadn't been that emotionally responsive even before she'd become a TARDIS... at least according to what the others had said. Now she /was/... were her emotional responses anything like what a human's would be?
She wondered, sometimes.
Ukyou opened the door.
The figure standing behind the counter looked up, sweeping the long brown hair back. 'You're back!'
'Yep, Tsubasa. The boss' back in town.' Ukyou paused. 'Where's Konatsu?'
'In the back, bringing in the supplies.'
'Mm-hm. We're gonna have to sit down, see how Ucchan's been doing while I was on sabbatical...'
'I know, Tsubasa.' Ukyou said, her voice gentler. 'That's why I came back. Ranchan made his choice... so I came back. Got to see this through, make sure the uncute tomboy doesn't poison him before he makes it to the altar.'
'You're not... angry?'
'I'm angry as /hell/, what do you /think/?! Don't worry,' Ukyou said, seeing the nervous look on Tsubasa's face. 'I'm not going to take it out on either of /you/. It's that stupid, arrogant, egotistical /baka/-'
'Ahem,' Anji said. 'Could I try a pork okonomiyaki?'
'Coming right up,' Tsubasa said.
'Ranchan was right...' Ukyou muttered quietly. 'This isn't like him.'
'It isn't?' Anya said, frowning.
'Nope. A shirt and trousers? /Definitely/ something up...'
'He wears shorts?' Anya suggested.
'It's a /little/ more complicated than that, An-san.' Ukyou began.
'Oh, I get it! He's a cross-dresser!'
The others blinked. 'You /know/?'
'Of /course/ I do.' Anya said, stiffly. 'Especially after that cult of drag queens back in the Seventies...'
Anji tried to push the image in her mind that popped up at Anya's words out, but it kept coming back.
'Besides, Xander showed me Tootsie.'
The others breathed out.
'And as for Mrs Doubtfire... I'd have found something /much/ worse...' Anya continued.
Tsubasa placed the okonomiyaki in front of Anji. 'There you go.'
'Drag queens?' Ukyou said disbelievingly.
'It /was/ Las Vegas,' Anya said, as if it explained everything.
'Ah.' Ukyou said.
She frowned. Something was up. /Normally/, when someone called Tsubasa a cross-dresser, he'd retort that he was just a boy who liked to dress up. He hadn't said a thing...
A girl entered from the back room. She was wearing a simple kimono, which almost buried her slim body. Her long black hair was tied in a ponytail.
And the plates she was carrying had fallen out of her hands when she'd seen Ukyou.
Faster than the eye could see, before any of the plates could fall to the floor, she'd retrieved them and placed them on the counter, then joined Tsubasa behind the counter.
She bowed. 'Hai, Ukyou-sama.'
Ukyou twitched. 'Hai, Konatsu-san.'
'Ah,' Compassion said, quietly. 'Bishoujen.'
'Tactful as ever, Compassion...' Anji said, equally quietly. Compassion didn't react.
Konatsu blinked. 'I'm /not/ a man...'
'It's a long story,' Ukyou sighed. 'Go along with him... her, 'kay?'
Anya frowned. 'What's a bishoujen?'
'It's a term used to refer to men who look feminine - at least physically. That's not quite the meaning, however. A bishoujo is the female equivalent - a woman who can pass for a man physically.'
Anya blinked. 'Wait... your employees are /both/ bishoujen?'
'Gaijin...' Ukyou muttered. 'What they choose to dress as is /their/ business, okay? And so is how I choose to dress.' Her voice indicated the distinct undesirability of taking this any further.
'Anya...' Anji said quickly, noting the look on the ex-demon's face. 'This is one of those topics we /don't/ talk about publically, okay?'
'Ah.' Anya frowned. 'I see. I would have thought their position in society meant they might find it easier talking about their gender roles and sexual nature in public, but...'
'We tried...' Anji sighed. 'By the end of the week, /we'd/ learned far more about what she and Xander do in the bedroom than anyone should, and she'd stopped quoting the Kama Sutra...'
'She's been a demon for over a thousand years,' Compassion said. 'She's only been human for the last three years.'
'Although-' Anya began.
'I know, I know. No promises of vengeance, either. /Another/ of the things we do not talk about. Honestly, I cannot even discuss /business/ here!' Anya complained. 'How am I supposed to learn more about human issues if we do not /talk/ about them? The books can't tell you everything!'
'Learning how to be human isn't everything it's cracked up to be,' Compassion said, the tiny smile tugging at her mouth. 'But then, it wasn't what I ended up becoming, in the end.'
'Mm.' Anji murmured.
'I'm not human. I may learn what it's like to be human, or what it means... but learning what it's like to be /myself/ is what is important.' Compassion said. 'Especially since there are very few of my kind around whose society and environment I can learn from.'
'And especially since that society and environment won't happen now.' Anji said coolly.
Konatsu looked from one to the other. 'Hai? You're time travellers, but... her society won't happen? Isn't that a contradiction? You became something... something that now won't come into being? Hai?'
'Yours or mine?' Anji said.
'Yours.' Compassion said.
Anji sighed. 'All right. Compassion is a living time machine.'
No one blinked an eyelid at that.
'Almost forgot where I was for a minute,' Anji said to herself. 'Bigger on the inside than out - she doesn't become bigger, she /is/ bigger inside. She was supposed to be the first of a new type of time machine.'
'From my kind's perspective,' Compassion said quietly. 'they /existed/ in this set of dimensions. I was the first who could /live/ here - a mindset that could relate, could /understand/ better, could interact directly with you. A mindset that gave me conscious control over the majority of my functions, without needing a pilot. And, unlike the rest of my kind, I can take the form of a living being... the others take the form of inanimate objects.'
'Ships. Time machines. I would have been the first of the next generation,' Compassion said. 'From the perspective of those who /thought/ they built us, from our pilots' perspective, I was also the first of a new generation - a new generation of machine, of tools, of /weapons/. And they needed weapons.'
'The pilots had looked into their future,' Anji said quietly. 'Seen events from their future - it gets complex, but because they could time travel, the events of that future could happen in their present.'
'And that future... that future was prevented from happening?'
'Temporal spiral,' Anji said, looking to Compassion, who nodded. 'The events from that future had become part of their present, so they survived - but the future that produced those events no longer happened.'
'And I thought Ai had it bad...' Tsubasa said. He blinked. 'Did I say that out loud?'
'It no longer happened - which meant that no more of Compassion's generation would ever exist.' Anji closed her eyes. '...Because she would have been their mother.'
'Their brood mother. I would have been the foremother, their ancestor. By stopping that future - I prevented that from happening.'
'Why did...' Konatsu closed her eyes. 'Why did you want to stop it?'
'Because...' Anji hesitated. 'Remember what happens to a brood sow?'
'That was what they wanted. They would have imprisoned me, and forced me to produce children. But not children, to them. Weapons.'
'That...' Tsubasa said, his face twisting. 'takes ecchi to a whole new level.'
'Almost. Think 'naughty tentacle' scenes. In ten dimensions.'
'/That/ would have called for Anyanka's services.' Anya muttered. 'Something truly /original/ for them... The Pythia's Curse would have been a cakewalk compared to it.'
'Considering that future got wiped from the timelines...' Compassion observed.
'Oh, I could think of a few things worse.'
'And now the pilots are gone.' Compassion said. 'There will probably be no others like me - I know how I came to be, but whether I would want to replicate it in the hopes of companionship...' She shook her head. 'I don't think it would work.'
Konatsu looked as if she would have been more than willing to let Compassion cry on her shoulder when she heard that.
Compassion sighed. 'Now, my future is no longer set in stone, and I'm free, once more...'
'So you're a time machine? You... travel in time?'
'That pretty much sums it up, yes.' Compassion said.
Tsubasa looked thoughtful. 'What do you do with that?'
'I'm a traveller.' Compassion half-smiled again. 'Everyone spends their life learning about their universe - and I have a wider range to learn from. To see the little jokes, the little tragedies, woven into it. Not doing good... just learning and appreciating things. Experimenting within my limits.'
'You /have/ limits?' Anji wondered.
'Obviously. The Ship does, and so do I.'
'Okay, okay...' Anji said.
'For example,' Compassion continued. 'I can only change history - or try to change it - Inside. Outside...' The tiny smile crept across her face.
'What happens Outside?'
'I create alternate timelines.' Compassion said. 'I cannot rewrite or erase a timeline - but I can create new ones, if I alter history.'
Tsubasa's thoughtful look collapsed.
'It's because of the 'only changes Inside are permanent' rule,' Compassion explained. 'If I tried to change history, another timeline would be created. Another example... if I took someone back in time to Jusenkyo, tried to cure them - shortly afterwards, they'd end up recursed. Perhaps the same curse, perhaps a different one - the curse was imposed Inside, so there's little I could do Outside about it...'
Ukyou looked down at her hands. No one noticed.
No one but Tsubasa and Konatsu.
'Do you know what's going to happen Outside?'
'I can /see/ what may happen...' Compassion said. 'What /may/ happen. Outside's timelines aren't as... fixed... as Inside's can be. So I see what may happen - but Outside has so many random factors that it's effectively useless.'
'Random factors?' Anji repeated. 'Changes optional... wait...'
'/As far as I know./' Compassion said.
Anji looked Compassion in the eye. 'Could you choose to change... then nullify the change and reactivate it?'
'Is there an On/Off switch for Outside changes?' Tsubasa helpfully translated. 'Switch a change on, switch it off, switch the change on again...'
'Had it on my mind recently. After Ceres Alpha.' Anji said.
'Temporary /Inside/ changes... can't be kept. Those that last for a story.' Compassion said. 'Outside...' She trailed off. 'Things are different. Think of Nyssa.'
Anji nodded. 'Thanks.'
'Although, since you've never been changed Outside...'
Anji nodded again.
'Ever have that feeling you were missing a hidden subtext?' Tsubasa said, in a low voice.
Konatsu nodded. 'Even when there /was/ no subtext. Do you think...?'
'I think Ucchan /did/ ask about... him.'
'Ahem.' Ukyou said.
'Tsubasa? Mind if I have a word? In back? Konatsu, you're on the counter.'
'You're good at this,' Anya said.
'Anya. Anya Jenkins.' Anji supplied. 'I'm Anji, and this is Compassion.'
'Hai, Anya-san. My stepmother and stepsisters ran a teahouse, and I put in a lot of work there.'
Anji started to get a sinking feeling in her stomach. 'Like cleaning, cooking, that sort of thing?'
'Hai. But I was also supposed to be a sort of one-in-a-generation ninja prodigy.' Konatsu said. 'Silly, I know...'
'Uh-huh...' Anji said.
'Then Ukyou-sama came along, and saw how they were treating me.' Konatsu said. 'After that... I decided to come and work for Ukyou-sama.'
'Uh-huh.' Somehow, Anji suspected that the decision to employ Konatsu hadn't exactly been voluntary on Ukyou's part. Konatsu seemed to /need/ someone around...
'All right, Tsubasa. What's up?'
'This. You wearing a shirt and trousers. No dress, no elaborate disguise... you didn't even react when Anya said you were a cross-dresser, and you /always/ say something. What's up?' Ukyou stepped back. 'This isn't about Ranchan's wedding - he said you were like this before he announced it, so... What's going on?'
Tsubasa looked down.
'This is about me leaving.' Ukyou guessed. 'After... well, the /last/ time Ranchan and Akane tried getting married.'
'Ucchan...' Tsubasa began.
'He... Tsubasa, he was my fiancee. Was. I /loved/ the thoughtless baka! But afterwards... I couldn't be around him or Akane, not after what I did, and after he chose... her. I didn't... I just couldn't trust myself. I had to get away for a while, take some time out. And then... when they sent the letter, that was it. It was over. Really over. And that uncute, flatchested tomboy was the one Ranchan chose. Her. The violent one, the one whose cooking could poison an /army/... Her, and her "RANMA NO BAKA!!"... I never had a chance.'
'I /never/ had a chance.'
'Ucchan, you did.'
'You had a chance with him,' Tsubasa repeated. 'You /were/ best friends - since you were kids, you were friends. There was always the /chance/ he might... that he might choose you.'
'He could have chosen you.'
'What do you think I am?' Tsubasa said. 'Okay, so I was a /little/ attracted to him when I thought he was a girl...'
'Most boys are,' Ukyou observed.
'But come on! It was only for a few seconds. /You/... Ucchan, he's known you for most of your life. Okay, it took him ten years to work out you were a girl...'
Ukyou blushed furiously.
'But he knew...' Tsubasa's voice trailed off.
'Tsu-chan...' Ukyou said softly. 'I love him. I always will. But he didn't love me. He loves her. I could go Fatal Attraction, try anything - /anything/ - to turn him to me... but that's Kodachi, not me. I couldn't... not ruin his life. I /love/ the baka - he's an arrogant, egotistical jerk, but he's brave, he's courageous, he's stubborn and persistent, he's loyal - even if he does speak before he thinks. Or even /acts/ before he thinks. Real Attention Deficit, that guy...' she said wryly. 'He's bright, if he'd let himself realise it, he expresses his feelings...' She trailed off. 'I love him...'
Tsubasa hugged her.
Ukyou sobbed quietly, noisily, into his shoulder.
Eventually, she took a deep breath, and stepped back.
'What was with not dressing up?'
Tsubasa shrugged. 'Without you... Without you, there didn't seem to be much point. You... you were out there somewhere, breaking your heart over him, and he'd come round and ask if I knew how you were doing, whether you were all right.
'And I knew you /weren't/ - I'd /seen/ how you were when you left. I couldn't tell him you were okay, not and feel like myself. I told him we'd heard back from you, that you were still thinking about things... he was still worried, he kept coming back... and Konatsu was nearly tearing himself apart over what had happened...
'It wasn't /right/, not so long as you were breaking yourself to pieces... and we had to keep something in place, keep it ready for when you came back, so you had something that'd hold you together that little bit more, that little bit longer...'
Ukyou leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.
Tsubasa began to raise his hand, then stopped.
'You're one of the good guys, Tsu-chan. You and Konatsu.' Ukyou said. 'Both of you. Don't forget that.'
She leaned forward, bent down to his ear.
A low whisper, almost imagined.
'Come on. We've got starving customers out there waiting for their okonomiyaki! Can't let them think we're not in business, can we?'
A small smile found its way onto Tsubasa's face.
'No. No, we can't.'
'Then let's get out there! Hup hup hup hup...'
'Compassion-san?' Konatsu said, her voice soft.
'Will... Will Ukyou-sama be alright? Now?'
'The future's uncertain, Outside...' Compassion said. 'But... she has many futures leading from now, and more of those are bright than those that are not.'
Compassion's mouth twitched. 'And both you and Tsubasa are present in those futures, your lives interlinked with hers.'
'Thank you, Compassion-san.' Konatsu said softly.
Ukyou bustled out of the back room, followed by a beaming Tsubasa.
'Right, Anya. Watch and learn. /This/ is how you run a business...'
Anji sat forward, a small grin on her face, her arm on the rail that ran around the counter. 'Hmm. Wonder if I could suggest a couple of stock options, give the business a little boost...'
'You /could/,' Compassion said. 'You could.'
'Hmm.' Anji said. 'And what's in our future?'
'Magic. Mayhem. Mysteries. This is Nerima, after all - it's virtually a prerequisite...'
'Somehow, I wouldn't take that bet.'
'DIE, MONSTROUS SPAWN OF EVIL!!'
'We're not going to end up like that, are we?'
Outside, an enraged bokken master attempted to pound seven hells out of an elderly and deeply perverted martial artist.
'...You didn't say how we /would/ end up.'
'No, I didn't, did I?'
'Magic. Mayhem. Mysteries. The usual sort of thing.'
Anji sat forward on her stool, taking in the restaurant around her, taking in what Compassion had said to her.
Unseen by anyone else, a quiet smile played around her mouth.
And Compassion grinned.
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat