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Cooking Lessons

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Nabiki had thought coming home for the weekend to spend a bit of time with Kasumi and away from her roommate would be a good idea. Somehow she’d forgotten just how chaotic life at the dojo could be after just a few months of university life. As such Nabiki was now groggily nursing her coffee as the lecturer rambled on for her Monday morning class.. She half wanted to just sleep, but still wasn’t over her high school habits of paying attention to classes.

“You look exhausted, Tendo. Went partying all weekend?”

Nabiki turned to her classmate and sort of friend Ayako, trying not to glare. “I was visiting home. I thought it would be a nice change of pace. Forgot just how noisy it is.”

Ayako nodded. “That’s family for you.”

“My family’s a bit worse than most... little sister is a disaster in the kitchen, and her fiance is never going to let her live it down. And then you get the fun of all the property damage that ensues when she tosses frying pans,” Nabiki sighed, sinking into her chair.

“Isn’t your older sister a good cook?” Ayako asked, with her soft accent. “Can’t she teach her?”

“She gave up on teaching Akane years ago. Ranma’s mom tried too, but she wasn’t a very good teacher. Patient, but can’t manage any discipline,” Nabiki explained, having given up on the lecture.

Ayako nodded, growing lost in thought for a few moments. “Y’know, my little sister has a classmate who runs a restaurant. He’s always giving cooking tutorials to his classmates. He might be able to help.”

“He’d have to be a miracle worker,” Nabiki replied.

“From the crazy stories my sister tells me about him, I think he has to be,” Ayako replied confidently. “I’m sure he can teach her. I’ll give you his number tomorrow.”

Nabiki double checked the phone number again before dialing. After a few rings, someone picked up.

“Heyo, Hinode Eatery, what can I do for ya?” a boy with a pleasant voice said.

“Hello, is this Ajiyoshi Youichi? I was told you might be able to help me out,” Nabiki said.

“I might be able to. What did ya need?”

“My sister needs cooking lessons. Badly. I was told if anyone could teach her, it would be you,” Nabiki explained.

“Huh. I mean, I probably could, but I don’t usually do just do lessons casually. Just to help out friends an’ stuff.”

“My dad has pretty decent cash flow. We could definitely make it worth your while,” Nabiki replied.

“Oh? We might be able to negotiate something.”

Ranma was wandering from the kitchen to the dojo, enjoying a cold and sugary popsicle, when he spotted Akane chatting happily on the phone.

“Really? A tutor? I... Oh it’s over in Taito ward? That’s a bit of a commute,” Akane said. “Hm, yeah. Friday’s after 7pm? Sure. Thanks Nabiki! Oh, yes, I’ll go get dad.”

With that, Akane ran off, leaving Ranma a bit confused. As he debated picking up the phone to try to get (free) information out of Nabiki, a melted bit of popsicle dripped down onto his chest.

Ranma’s eye twitch when she realised she’d changed from that. Sometimes Jusenkyo felt extra sensitive.

Akane appeared again, shoving her father towards the phone. Confused, Soun picked up the phone.

“Hello? I-oh, Nabiki! It’s good to—how much money?” Soun said, colour draining from his face. “25K per lesson?”

“Please daddy,” Akane said, giving her cutest puppy eyes.

Soun quivered a moment, before letting out a sigh. “Alright. I’ll pay.”

Once Soun hung up, Ranma took the chance to ask what was going on.

“Okay, what’s goin’ on?” the redhead asked.

Akane lit up with a grin. “Nabiki found me a cooking tutor! He’s out in Taito ward, but apparently he’s one of the best cooks in Japan! And Nabiki managed to get me private lessons.”

Ranma’s jealous tendencies flared up. Akane alone with some guy? It was a recipe for disaster.

“I’ll come along with ya,” the redhead said authoritatively.

“Pardon?” Akane replied, glaring at Ranma.

“Well, this cook guy’s a, er, guy, right?” Ranma asked. “As your fiance, I should be there ta keep an eye on him.”

“An excellent proposal,” Soun declared, placing a hand on Ranma’s shoulder. “It’s good to hear you taking responsibility my boy.”

Ranma winced a little, her worry for Akane making her not think through just what she was saying in front of Soun.

Akane let out a tired sigh. “Alright. But behave yourself for once, Ranma.”

Ranma and Akane hopped off the train and did their best to follow the directions Nabiki had given. The neighbourhood was definitely a bit rougher than Nerima, and Ranma felt a little nervous about just how girly she was dressed for a moment.

“Dang, I really think like a girl sometimes these days,” Ranma muttered as they walked. “Gettin’ nervous about wearin’ heals in a rough part of town. Even though I could beat the snot outta any mugger who tried anything.”

Akane smiled and took Ranma’s hand. “Girly or masculine, I like you either way.”

Ranma replied with a grin that filled most of her face. “Of course ya do. I’m a hunk and a babe.”

Suddenly Akane’s grip on Ranma’s hand tightened to a vice-like level. Ranma’s grin turned to a grimace. She followed Akane’s eyes, and realised they’d arrived at the restaurant.

“Nervous?” Ranma asked, trying to ignore the pain in her hand. “We don’t gotta do this if you don’t want to.”

Akane shook her head. “No. I’ve got to prove that I can cook.”

Akane began to march off, and Ranma felt a shiver down her spine. There was a fire in Akane’s eyes, and Ranma worried there might end up being more fire to come. The redhead realised she was starting to fall behind and hurried ahead again, catching up to Akane just after the taller girl had finished knocking on the door and waited for an answer.

Ranma felt herself wondering what this chef lad would be like, and was sure Akane was thinking similar thoughts. They knew he was around their age, which was half the reason why Ranma was dressed so cutely right now (she’d rather have any boy eyeing herself than Akane), but beyond his age and Nabiki reporting he had a nice voice they had nothing.

Her curiosity was sated when the door opened a few moments later. The boy had a soft face (he was baby faced, really), dark brown hair that would have gone a bit past his shoulders if it hadn’t been stuck back in a low ponytail, and the combination of an innocent large smile and soft blue eyes that were currently pointing at Ranma.

“Ah, hello. You must be Akane?” the lad asked.

“I-I’m Akane,” the actual Akane blurted, her nerves apparently not handling the mistaken identity well.

“Oh. I’m sorry! I just thought wit de red hair... sorry ‘bout dat. Anyway, I’m Ajiyoshi Youichi. Ya can just call me Youichi. Or ‘sensei’ if you like. I won’t stop ya,” Youichi said, chuckling a bit as he stepped to the side. “C’mon in.”

Akane walked in, looking nervous. Ranma followed her, side eyeing this chef boy. She was getting the impression the lad had something of an ego... and she was not impressed.

“So, I guess we’ll head straight back to de kitchen?” Youichi asked as he closed the door behind them.

“Right. Yes,” Akane said quickly, turning and marching off to the quite visible entrance to the kitchen.

Ranma followed casually, letting the young chef pass her as she looked the restaurant over. It certainly didn’t look like the sort of place one of the top chefs in the country would work. She caught up to find Akane looking around in wonder.

“So, I think we’ll do a quick test ta see what your skills ahe like,” Youichi said. “Let’s try an egg stir fry.”

“Right!” Akane replied with a quick salute. “Um... a pot. I need to find a pot...”

“That stuff I’ll help ya with,” Youichi said with a smirk. “Since ya don’t know the kitchen.”

He then produced a large lidded pot a moment later. Akane thanked him and took the pot. She then went off to the sink and filled it up about halfway, before hurrying back to the stove and turning the burner on to a high heat.

“Slow down and breath. Ya don’t got to rush yet,” Youichi said, his voice calm. “You’re mostly just wastin’ time until the water boils.”

“I, um, I guess that’s true,” Akane muttered. “Ah, but I should pick my seasonings out.”

“Sounds fair,” Youichi said, though Ranma noticed him eyeing the pot.

“She never measures anythin’,” Ranma whispered to the ponytailed lad.

“It’ll be part of the lessons den,” Youchi replied quietly.

Akane used the time she had while the water heated to gather garlic, ginger, onions, a few eggs, a couple tomatoes, a carrot, and an eggplant (she was sure it would add fun colour and had ‘egg’ right in the name).

As the water boiled she scooped out some rice to toss in, before covering the pot and setting the timer to twenty minutes.

“Alright, now I need a frying pan,” Akane said, looking around. “Or maybe a wok?”

“Ahem,” Youichi coughed, gesturing back to the stove.

Akane stared at him, her face confused. Ranma glanced over and noticed just what was wrong in an instant. She then joined Youichi in trying to subtly direct Akane’s attention back to the stove. Between the two of them, Akane figured out what they were doing, and turned to look over her rice.

“I put the lid on. It’s steaming—Oh! The temperature! I forgot to turn it down, right!” she yelped, quickly dropping the burner to its minimum. “Aah! I was busy worrying about everything else.”

“It can happen,” Youichi replied, though Ranma could hear strain in his voice.

Akane found herself a wok a moment later, and tossed some olive oil in. She then headed off to the chopping board, grabbing a meat cleaver, and began to chop of the vegetables. She started with the ginger, and then the carrot.

“Kasumi said she usually adds two or three cloves to her cooking,” Akane said, picking up one of the heads of garlic she’d gathered. “That seems like a lot... well, her food’s tasty. So it’s got to be right.”

Ranma’s eye twitched as she realised Akane had mixed up heads and cloves, and proceeded to dump a good 10 or 12 cloves of garlic into the wok.

A glance over at Youichi revealed the blue eyed chef was looking deeply concerned.

“Don’t tell me she’s another Mitsuko,” the lad muttered under his breath, Ranma just barely able to hear standing right beside him.

Akane, meanwhile, was slicing up the eggplant she’d grabbed. She then stirred them into the wok (finally actually stirring the food frying there in). This was followed by the egg proper, which she cracked open into the wok.

There was a bit more stirring before the timer for her rice went off. After jumping slightly, Akane took the lid off and looked down into the rice.

“Oh... too much water,” she muttered. “I... I’m sure it will cook out.”

With that she dumped the rice into the wok and stirred some more.

“Hmm... I’m missing something,” Akane muttered as she poked the dish she was cooking. “Right, some soy sauce.”

Ranma watched as she poured far too much into her stir fry, at this point well past worrying about the dish.

“I didn’t... I didn’t think there could be two of them,” Youichi mumbled, Ranma guessing he was still referring to that Mitsuko from before.

After a few more minutes of frying, Akane seemed satisfied enough moisture had cooked out and turned the stove off. She then turned to grab a plate and scooped some of what she’d prepared before turning to Youichi.

“It, uh, it probably isn’t all that great, but... I hope it’s okay?” Akane said.

“A good cook tests their food before serving it,” Youichi replied.

Ranma could tell he was trying not to look scared.

“Oh, um... but I cooked it for you?” Akane said.

“Arguing with your sensei, are ya Akane?” Ranma asked, an eyebrow raised. She wanted to tease, but... Akane also seemed so genuine right now she couldn’t bring herself to needle any worse than that.

Akane swallowed nervously before grabbing a mouthful with some chopsticks and tried it. The look of disgust as the garlic hit her was almost comical. Tears began to run down her face, at first seeming to be a response to the flavour. Then, however, Akane half dropped the plate onto the counter and had her shoulders slump.

“I haven’t made any progress,” she muttered, staring at the floor. “All my effort, and no progress at all.”

“I’m happy to cook,” Ranma said, walking over and putting a reassuring hand on Akane’s upper arm. “You don’t have to try ta prove anythin’ here.”

Akane looked up at Ranma and the cursed teen felt her heart fall a bit at the sadness in Akane’s eyes. “But I do. I swore I’d master this skill. I’ve got honour at stake.”

“Akane, don’t drive yourself crazy tryin’ to do the impossible,” Ranma replied, trying to sound kind rather than judgmental.

Akane’s reply was interrupted by a sudden reddish glow. Ranma turned, following Akane’s eyes and saw Youichi glowing with a competitive red chi.

“Impossible means nottin’ to me,” Youchi declared, a fist raised confidently. Two quick strides had him in range to take Akane’s hands into his own. “I sweah, I will teach ya to cook. And not just cook, you’ll be good enough ta open yah own restaurant by the time I’m done teachin’ ya.”

Akane stared into his sparkling blue eyes, and... was that a blush Ranma saw on her cheeks. “R-really?”

The redhead’s mind leapt into a panic and she shoved herself between Akane and the young chef.

“There’s no need ta get all physical, pal,” Ranma blurted, glaring up at him.

“Heh, sorry. Sorry,” the ponytailed boy replied, nervously scratching the back of his neck.

Ranma’s eyes narrowed, not falling into this lad’s efforts at boyish charm.

“Well, uh, it’s time ta start de intesive trainin’,” Youichi said. “We’ll get dis stuff off ta de side, and den I’ll show ya how ta cook up a propah egg stir fry.”

Ranma was amazed by how quickly Youichi had cleaned the area up. Now he was running Akane through proper rice cooking ratios (a touch over a 1.5:1 ratio). He also recommended adding just a little teriyaki sauce to soak into the rice as it boiled.

Next it was on to discussing what a clove of garlic was, as well as showing her how to peel the cloves efficiently (smacking it first with the blunt side of a knife ... though not as hard as Akane first assumed). Tied to this was giving Akane a proper knife.

A short time later they were working on slicing some onions (telling Akane to tuck her fingers in and lead with her knuckles), and Ranma’s pigtail shot up when she saw Youichi slip his arms around to guide Akane’s hands.

“Woah! Woah! Yer gettin’ physical again!” Ranma blurted.

Youichi turned to her with innocent blue eyes. “Well, I have to show her de motions somehow? Do you have anothah idea on how ta do it?”

“Er... I, uh...” Ranma stammered.

“I don’t... I don’t mind,” Akane said, blushing a bit (and driving Ranma deeper into feelings of jealousy).

The rest of the cooking lesson saw similar levels of physical contact at several points as Youichi showed Akane how to stir the wok from flipping the whole thing. The cooking was mostly Youichi, but he’d found ways to let Akane participate at key moments.

When the meal was finally finished Ranma couldn’t help but breath a sigh of relief. She was sure the ponytailed chef wouldn’t be able to find any other ways to get too close to Akane while they ate.

She was also glad that they’d made enough for three. Taking her first bite of the dish, Ranma found herself staring in amazement before taking another bite.

“This is incredible,” Ranma said. “I... this is, like, on Ucchan’s level. Or Cologne’s. Wow.”

“It really is,” Akane said before taking another bite herself.

“And you helped,” Youichi said with a grin.

“I... I did,” Akane said, lighting up with her knockout grin that Ranma loved so much.

Only it was directed at Youichi rather than Ranma.

“Thank you so much,” Akane continued.

“Heh, no problem,” Youichi replied with a large innocent grin.

Ranma’s eye twitched.