A Ranma ½ fanfic
Disclaimer: the Ranmaverse characters owned by Rumiko Takahashi, and all that obligatory stuff. This story based on the anime, not the manga.
---------------------------- denotes the beginning or end of a flashback.
Chapter 8: In the Name of Love
A scuffling footfall on the roof behind her announced his presence. Kodachi didn’t look around. She remained facing stiffly ahead, her posture a clear sign that she didn’t wish to be disturbed.
It took him some minutes of fidgeting, but he eventually worked up his courage. He cleared his throat, preparing to speak.
The frozen hostility in the single word would have been enough to scare off someone less stubborn, but he held his ground. He gulped, then said, “Look, I know you aren’t happy with what’s happened. But we need to talk now! We can’t just leave things like this!”
In a heartbeat, Kodachi whirled to face him, rising from a seating position to standing fully erect faster than the eye could follow. She produced her ribbon and channeled every last erg of energy she could into it, not caring that it was now shooting out sparks which were scorching her clothes and the rooftop. “I… said… LEAVE!!”
Mousse stared in shock at the incandescent display before him, then turned and fled.
The White Rose glared after him, then turned back and resumed her earlier position, looking up into the night sky. Less than a minute later, she sensed the approach of another individual. Once again, she waited for her visitor to speak before reacting.
Tatewaki stood there for some minutes, regarding his sister with a stoic expression that did little to hide the pain he was feeling on her behalf. Eventually he spoke. “Sister… was that justified?”
“Quite justified,” she answered evenly, without turning around.
Kuno gulped, but rallied his courage. “I fail to see how,” he replied. “In what way is he responsible for… the situation?”
Kodachi sighed, and some of the tension left her. “I hope that I am fair enough not to judge someone for something that was beyond his control, Tachi. I am not blaming Mousse or anyone for what has occurred.” Then she growled, “But the timing most definitely IS his fault! He brought things to a head! I was not ready for this… not yet…”
“Would it really have helped if it had taken longer?” Tatewaki asked softly.
“Yes!” his sister answered emphatically. Then, after a long moment of hesitation, she said quietly, “I don’t know.”
There was silence then, for a while. Eventually Kuno spoke again. “I still have yet to hear more than the barest details, sister. Do you think it might help if you related the whole story to me?”
“Perhaps,” said Kodachi slowly. She still felt a bit like a helpless chip of wood riding along in a raging river. Perhaps relating the whole story would help her regain some measure of balance. She frowned, trying to decide where to start.
As beginnings go, it was comparatively mild. But perhaps it wasn’t accurate to call it a beginning at all. Events had already been set in motion, and this new happening only served to create a new direction in which they might progress. So in one sense it was a beginning, the point from which a particular future became possible, but from another perspective it was just another point on the journey.
Such questions are better left for the philosophers. Shampoo wasn’t feeling very philosophical as she entered the Nekohanten, and she wasn’t really thinking about beginnings. It was the afternoon of the day after her cousins had defeated Ukyo. The Amazon had been very relieved to see the chef had made it back to school the next day, but she didn’t think it would be a good idea to let things continue as they had begun.
“Nihao, big sister Shampoo!” Ling-Ling gave a cheerful wave, but didn’t get up from the couch on which she was reclining. She hadn’t yet learned the proper type of chi control to significantly boost her healing- she still needed a few days for her ankle to get back to top form.
On hearing her twin’s greeting, Lung-Lung poked her head out of the kitchen. “Big sister Shampoo, you just little too late. Great-Grandmother help me fix too, too delicious sweet and sour chicken, but we eat all before you get here. Then she leave to go run errands.”
“Is okay,” replied Shampoo. She pulled a chair up next to Ling-Ling’s couch. “Shampoo not hungry. Just came to talk with you.”
Lung-Lung decided the dishes could wait. She came in and sat down as well. “You hear good news, big sister? About we find Airen and beat outsider girl what try keep him away from us?”
Shampoo sighed, glancing at the black-and-yellow bandana her cousin was still wearing. “<Yes, I heard about it,>” she replied. “<But the way I heard, he wasn’t your Airen yet.>”
Ling-Ling waved her hand dismissively. “<It won’t be much longer. As soon as my ankle gets better, we’ll fight him again, and lose, and give him the Kiss of Marriage. We already beat our competition, so there’s no real problem left.>”
Shampoo frowned slightly. “<And what did you think of her?>”
“<The spatula girl was a surprisingly good fighter for an outsider. But not good enough!>” Lung-Lung grinned triumphantly.
“<That isn’t true,>” Shampoo replied as soberly as she could. “<She’s already beaten you two, and you don’t even realize it. The worst part is she did it by letting you defeat yourselves.>”
“<W- what do you mean?”> At first Ling-Ling had thought her cousin was joking, but one glance at her eyes dispelled that impression.
“<I mean you’ve already made the same mistakes I did. You heard from Great-Grandmother how my former Airen won free of his obligations, right?>” Shampoo pinned the twins with an intense stare. “<Do you think I wanted that? For him to reject me and say I wasn’t good enough? I loved him very much, at least at first. And I tried very hard to win his heart. But everything I did just pushed him further away, because I never stopped to realize that he didn’t understand me or my ways. Just like I didn’t understand his. I tried to fight my way into his heart, but the girl who was already there beat me without using a single attack.>”
Lung-Lung frowned. “<So why didn’t you scare her off? I never understood that part, when Great-Grandmother told us what happened. She just said we should ask you.>”
“<I tried! I was threatening enough for them to think I might seriously hurt or even kill her if she didn’t get out of the way. All they did was meet in secret, when I wasn’t around. So then I used the Xi Fang Gao, and that only made Tatewaki colder and angrier at me. If I had gone further, I would have nothing now! Probably not even my freedom… Tatewaki’s family is powerful, and if I had angered them enough, they could have had me deported or worse.>”
“<Great-Grandmother could overcome that obstacle easily,>” Lung-Lung pointed out.
“<Maybe, but it wouldn’t have made any difference. Tatewaki’s heart would be just as out of reach as it ever was.>” Shampoo placed one hand on a shoulder of each younger girl. “<The Japanese way of thinking is very different from ours. They don’t respect strength in women nearly as much, for one thing. At least, not a warrior’s strength. When you beat up Ukyo, all you did was make Ryoga feel sorry for her and want to protect her from you.>”
“<Ukyo? Ryoga? Big sister, do you know our Airen?>”
Shampoo sighed. “<I know both of them. And he’s not your Airen until he beats you in combat and receives the Kiss of Marriage. Which I can tell you now is not going to happen. He’ll just run if you challenge him again.>”
“<Do you mean we should just give up? I won’t!>”
Shampoo regarded the stricken expressions on their faces. “<You don’t even know Ryoga, or how good a husband he would make. Why are you so set on him?>”
Ling-Ling shook her head. “<You’re wrong. We know enough. He’s brave, and kind, and honorable, and a great fighter. He thought we were in trouble, and took a risk to defend us, just because it was the right thing to do. Maybe we don’t know his parents’ names, or his favorite color, but we know a good man when we see one. And I am NOT going to give him up to some insulting, lying outsider!>”
“<Me neither!>” Lung-Lung agreed.
Shampoo looked at her ‘sisters,’ and realized there was no way she could change their minds. The best she was going to be able to do was give them some advice. It might keep them from suffering as harsh a rejection as she had. “<I know you don’t want to hear this, but if you attack Ukyo again you’ll just push Ryoga farther and farther away. If you want to have any chance with him, you need to make him want to choose you. And he doesn’t care at all whether you’re better fighters than she is.>”
“<Then what should we do?>” Ling-Ling pleaded. “<If you know him so well, tell us what he does want!>”
“<Ryoga has been hurt before; he loved a girl who didn’t want him. I think what he wants more than anything else is for just for someone to love him. But he’s also really shy- if you come on too strong, you’ll only scare him off.>” Shampoo regarded the twins intently. “<The best advice I can give you is to become friends with him. Don’t push him, don’t try to trick him or trap him, and don’t threaten Ukyo.>”
The twins gave identical sour grimaces. “<So we should just take it when she starts insulting us?>”
“<If you want Ryoga to think you’re better than her… yes.>” With any luck, they’d decide pursuing Ryoga was more trouble than it was worth and look for someone else, Shampoo thought.
Ling-Ling sighed. “<I guess we shouldn’t have expected things to be too easy. ‘A thing worth having is a thing worth fighting for.’ I just wish we could fight her for real.>”
Shampoo inclined her head. “<Love is never simple.>” She bid her cousins goodbye, and left the restaurant.
The Amazon walked slowly back toward the Kuno mansion, showing no trace of her usual smile. ‘<Why do these things have to keep happening?>’ she thought to herself. ‘<Why do they have to endure the same pain I did? And why did it have to be Ryoga?>’
“Yo, Shampoo! What’s the matter?”
Shampoo looked up. “Ranma? Kodachi? Why you not wait for Shampoo at home?”
“I realized it was as good a time as any to ask your great-grandmother for more details about the Heart Link,” Kodachi responded. “Then, on our way here, Ranma sensed that you were feeling pain and guilt. What’s wrong?”
Shampoo hesitated, then walked over to a nearby bench and seated herself. Kodachi sat at the other end, and Ranma upended a trashcan to serve as a makeshift stool. “Shampoo talk to sisters about leave Ukyo alone. Feel guilty for taking her side over theirs.”
Ranma frowned. “No kiddin’? You really told them to leave Ryoga to Ucchan?”
“Not come out and say it, they no would have listened anyway. But would have if it come to that. Is hard thing to have to face, Ranma.” Shampoo studied the ground. “I feel like traitor, for thinking Ukyo has better claim on Ryoga than own Amazon sisters.”
“A traitor? Come now, that’s much too harsh. After all, he didn’t actually defeat them in combat.”
“If he had, I would support them! And that make me feel like traitor to Ucchan! Is no way to win!”
“So what did you tell them?” Ranma asked sympathetically. Shampoo related a condensed version of the conversation, and the pig-tailed martial artist gave her a reassuring smile. “You know what? I think the best thing you could do is not take either side. Don’t worry about who has the better claim, Shampoo… I mean, it’s all Ryoga’s choice anyway as long as nobody’s honor is on the line, right? All you hafta do is just sit back and let them work it out.”
“Is good advice, but bit late, Ranma. I already get involved.”
“Yeah, but it sounds to me like what you did so far helped both Ucchan and your cousins. So you’re even. Just don’t do any more, and you’re okay.”
“Exactly,” Kodachi agreed. “The reason you support Ukyo is that she has had such a difficult time up till now, correct? Your compassion for her in no way makes you a traitor to your sisters. They’re younger and have more time to find someone.” Then the White Rose nearly bit her own tongue as she realized that comment hadn’t been very considerate of Shampoo’s situation. She breathed a quiet sigh of relief as the Amazon didn’t seem to make the connection.
“Ranma… Kodachi… thank you. Shampoo do feel better now.” The Amazon gave them each a smile, then got to her feet. The others joined her.
As Shampoo started to walk back toward the Kuno mansion, Kodachi spoke up. “Wait, Shampoo, we were going to go see your great-grandmother, remember?”
“Aiyah, that right. But she not there now. Left to go run errands. Is no telling when she get back.”
“Surely it won’t take that long?” Kodachi asked.
Ranma chuckled. “Depends on what she meant by ‘running errands.’ If she just went shopping, it probably won’t take more than an hour or two. But if she meant to go shake down some Yakuza, she won’t be back till nightfall.”
The White Rose stared at him, wondering if that had been a joke. “Shake down the Yakuza?!”
Shampoo shrugged. “How you think we get money to run restaurant at a loss? Great-Grandmother not spend own treasure, that for sure.”
Kodachi sighed, more than a little annoyed. It seemed as if every time anyone remembered to go ask their questions about the Heart Link, something came up to distract them. Well, this time it wasn’t going to happen. They were going to go back and wait as long as it took to…
At that point, a barrage of chains snaked out and wrapped around a telephone pole several feet away from Ranma, effectively distracting her from the thought.
“I have you now, Saotome!” The White Rose could only gape as a tall boy in loose white robes, with long black hair, jumped down and landed in front of the offending pole. “I’ve been waiting for this moment ever since I learned it was really a man who knocked my beloved Shampoo off the challenge log! It’s your fault she had to leave our village. And that means it’s partly your fault she had to endure a travesty of an engagement to that scum Tatewaki! The only thing saving you from my full wrath is that you didn’t try to force yourself on her. For that, I’ll let you off with just a few bruises!”
Kodachi hitched her mouth shut, and glanced to her companions. Ranma was just shaking his head in disgust and anger. Shampoo was registering dismay, and pinching herself repeatedly as if trying to wake up from a bad dream.
“What, no pleas for mercy, Saotome? Just as well. At least you can face punishment like a man!” The White Rose turned again to stare at the newcomer, just in time to see him rear back and slam his fist into the telephone pole. “OWWW!!”
“Same ol’ Mousse,” Ranma muttered disgustedly. Then, louder, “I’m over here, you moron!!”
Mousse retrieved a first-aid kit from the interior of his robes, wrapped his injured hand, then pulled his glasses down over his eyes and turned in the direction of the voice. He walked up to Ranma and scrutinized the other’s face closely. Then with a grimace, Mousse brought one knee up forcefully, intending to strike Ranma’s chin. Ranma just swayed to one side, then dropped and swept the Chinese boy’s other leg. Mousse crashed to the ground, then picked himself up, even angrier than before. “How dare you!”
“You’re one to talk about daring,” Ranma sneered. “What do you think you’re doing here? Her Great-Grandmother gave you a direct order to stay away from Shampoo. You got a lotta guts coming here after that, considering what happened to the last person to defy a Matriarch’s edict.”
Mousse paled and put one hand over his throat reflexively. Then he seemed to shake off the sudden chill. “The Council of Elders rescinded that order. Even the Matriarch doesn’t have unlimited power. The only thing that gave her the right to tell me that was because Shampoo’s honor was compromised, having two men for her Airen. I couldn’t have done anything about it, so she could tell me to stay away.” Mousse turned from Ranma to Shampoo, his expression changing from hostility to hangdog shame. “And she didn’t even send word back when that conflict was resolved. I’m so sorry, Shampoo. I’d have been here a lot sooner if I’d known.”
Shampoo glared at him. “Mousse say that like it would have been good thing. Is not so!”
“Come on, Shampoo, don’t be that way…” Kodachi marveled that anyone could so quickly go from the extreme decisive anger Mousse had shown toward Ranma to this craven pleading. “You don’t have to be stuck with these outsiders any more. I’m here now. We can go back home together.”
Shampoo just stared at him, temporarily at a loss for words at the depths of his cluelessness. Ranma glared at the half-blind boy. “Listen, jerk, how about you just once ASK her what she wants, instead of tryin’ to force yourself on her!”
“Shut up! As if an outsider like you could ever understand our ways!”
“As if a clueless blind idiot like you could understand anything!!”
Kodachi sighed, then stepped between the two of them before violence could erupt. She turned and glowered at Mousse. “I believe Ranma made an excellent point. Why DON’T you ask Shampoo what she wants instead of assuming you know what’s best?”
Mousse directed another glare at Ranma, then switched to puppy-dog eyes as he turned to face Shampoo. “Shampoo, wouldn’t you rather come back with me? We can finally be married and start a whole new life together in the village.”
Shampoo gave him a level stare, and concentrated. “I would rather be boiled alive,” she said evenly, in the best Japanese she could manage.
“That sounded fairly conclusive to me,” Kodachi remarked. “I don’t think she’s too excited about your offer.”
It should be mentioned here that Mousse was not completely clueless. After experiencing years and years of rejection from Shampoo, he hadn’t really expected her to jump into his arms now. Hoped, yes, but not expected. He wasn’t that far out of touch with reality. But he was very, very good at denial, unrealistic hope, and wishful thinking.
“That’s just because she doesn’t realize what a strong fighter I’ve become!” Mousse turned back to face Shampoo. “Shampoo, I’ll prove my worth to you.” He gulped. He’d envisioned this moment hundreds of times over the past few weeks, as he’d formed his plans and waited for the Matriarch to leave, so his own grandmother could argue the Council into rescinding the order. But it was still no easier to get the words out. Mousse screwed all his courage to the sticking place, and managed to say, “<I make formal challenge to you, for your hand in marriage.>”
Kodachi saw Shampoo’s glare become replaced by an expression of shock, and wondered just what the Chinese boy had said. Then she glanced at Ranma, and frowned in puzzlement. Her boyfriend was wearing a similar expression of shock, as if he’d understood the foreign words.
Shampoo blinked, then a humorless grin replaced her disbelief. “Is about time you give me chance to get you off my back for good. Shampoo accept.” She pulled out her bonbori and assumed a fighting stance.
“Not now,” Mousse said, holding up his bandaged hand. “It kills me to have to wait even longer, but I guess I’d better give this some time to heal. We’ll have the match two days from today.” He bowed deeply to Shampoo, gave Ranma one last glare, then walked off.
“So what did he say?” The White Rose broke the silence.
“He made a formal marriage challenge to Shampoo.” Ranma’s expression was a strange mixture of anger, grim satisfaction, and worry. “The good news is if he loses, Shampoo has the right to reject him for good. He’d have to leave her alone after that.” He sighed. “The bad news is, if he wins somehow, she has to marry him.”
“Ranma-kun… how exactly did you understand what he said?”
Ranma gave his girlfriend a strange look. “The Heart Link, Dachi, how else? I got all Shampoo’s memories up to a few weeks back, and she speaks Mandarin. I ain’t ever tried to speak it, but it’s not too hard to understand when I hear it.”
“Just like I can speak good Japanese if I try real hard.” Shampoo frowned a little… something hadn’t seemed quite right about that sentence, but she couldn’t find anything in her copies of Ranma’s speech patterns that explained the feeling of wrongness. Shrugging off the issue, she dropped back into her normal mode of speech. “Is not easy, though, have to wrap Ranma memories around own thoughts to do. Much easier to talk like this and go on learning on my own.”
“Hmmm, I’m jealous. Each of you gained knowledge of a different language from the Heart Link. I wish I could have as well.” Kodachi had only meant to tease Ranma; she was quite surprised at the look of sadness that spread over his face at her words.
“Yeah, I know.” Ranma looked off into the distance, temporarily forgetting the encounter with Mousse. “What good did it do you to get my memories, Dachi-chan?” he asked softly. “From you, I got to see even more of how much there is out there in life. You have martial arts and your skill at painting, and you’ve got a great imagination and a lot of knowledge from reading so much. I’d already been learning to like some of that stuff, and now I got even more of it.” He sighed morosely. “I just wish I’d had something to give you.”
Kodachi gulped. She knew what she wanted to say in response, what she needed to say, but actually getting the words out was going to take a LOT of guts. As she was trying to work up her courage, Shampoo shifted from one foot to the other. The movement drew Ranma’s attention back to her and her situation. He pushed aside his melancholy thoughts, putting on an expression of determination instead. “Come on, guys. We need to get back home and start getting ready.”
The White Rose sighed a little as the moment slipped past. “Ready for what?”
“Trainin’ Shampoo so there’s no chance at all she loses to Mousse.”
The Amazon in question glared at Ranma, though there wasn’t any real anger behind it. “Ranma have no confidence in Shampoo?! Thank so very much!”
“Don’t give me that! With the stakes what they are, you expect me to believe you aren’t gonna do everything you can to prepare? I mean, this is Mousse challenging you to a marriage duel! There’s no such thing as overkill when it comes to you beating him!”
Shampoo inclined her head. “Ranma have point.”
Ranma watched with a critical eye. “Okay, that’s enough. Time for a rest break.”
It was music to Shampoo’s ears. The lavender-haired one bowed to Kodachi, using what felt like the last of her reserves to keep from falling on her face. The girls walked over to the wall and sat down near Ranma. Actually, in Shampoo’s case it was more of a controlled collapse. Ranma was one harsh taskmaster when he got serious, she thought faintly. This was the hardest she’d trained in a long time. The Amazon suppressed a twinge of envy at the sight of Kodachi, who wasn’t even winded.
“Shampoo, I do believe you’re ready.” Kodachi was impressed. Though Shampoo lacked Ranma’s intense speed, she had managed to dodge or block all the White Rose’s attacks for thirty minutes straight. “There’s no way he’ll be able to defeat you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, you’re gonna make that jerk sorry he didn’t get a clue years ago,” Ranma affirmed. “All his stupid Hidden Weapons tricks and ranged attacks aren’t gonna be worth a bent yen piece against someone good enough to dodge Dachi’s best shots.”
Shampoo finished getting her breathing under control. “Thank you again, Kodachi, for help train against those type attacks. Thank you both.”
The three sat quietly for a few moments. Eventually Kodachi broke the silence. “I still find it hard to understand how Mousse thinks he can win. Even if he should defeat you in combat, and obligate you to be his wife by your people’s laws, to be forced against your will would only drive your heart farther than ever from him.”
“Shampoo not pretend to understand how Mousse think. But ask self this… do he really want my heart?”
“What do you mean?”
Shampoo’s eyes seemed to be focused far away. “He say he love Shampoo, but I no believe. Probably he not even know what love is. Can count on fingers of one foot number of times Mousse give up on own desires for my sake. If love someone, want what best for them. Should be willing to sacrifice own happiness for that.
“Shampoo realize this about love from watch you and Ranma, Kodachi. Lesson I very grateful to have learn.” Suddenly the Amazon laughed. “Is ironic. When I finally try use pearls on Tatewaki, to take his heart by magic, you know what real reason was?”
“I couldn’t say,” replied Kodachi. Ranma could have, of course, but he kept quiet, curious to know where Shampoo was going with this.
“Was because I finally have to face own feelings for Ranma. Had not let self realize until then.” Shampoo turned and looked Kodachi in the eye. “It scared me, very much. Was afraid to see just what I had let sneak up on me. And Shampoo find strength to use pearls, not because suddenly want Tatewaki again, but so there be no chance I cause trouble between you two, not even by accident.
“It no work out like Shampoo hope, though. Almost backfire really bad. When Ranma swallow pearl and turn away from you to Shampoo, I feel like worst person alive.”
Kodachi arched one eyebrow. “Do you mean to say there wasn’t even a moment in which you felt joy, that Ranma would choose you?”
“You trying make Shampoo feel bad all over again?!” The Amazon gulped. “For less than one second, yes. Shampoo do feel joy. Then I remember that in turning to Shampoo, he turn from you, and I see you crying. Happiness turn to ash before Shampoo can even start to feel for real.”
The White Rose felt guilty then. “I’m sorry for sounding like I was accusing you, Shampoo. I remember very well that you immediately pushed Ranma back at me then. And I also remember the last words you spoke to Ranma, just before the Heart Link. You told him to make me happy, and to tell me I was the sister you wished you could have.”
She paused, then continued. “That meant a lot to me, Shampoo. More than you might think. I have always wanted a sister. B- but my parents decided not to have any more children after I was born. I almost didn’t survive the delivery, and they were afraid to risk that again. And so Tatewaki and I are the only two children my parents will have.”
“Why they no adopt?” Shampoo queried.
“Too busy giving me extra love and attention, mostly. Also, Father was gone for two years, searching for a cure for me. It’s always bothered me. I know it’s not rational to blame myself, but at least a little, I do.”
“And you shouldn’t,” Ranma said forcefully. “By the time you were twelve or thirteen, they had more than enough free time to adopt if they wanted to. Heck, they’re still young enough. It’s their choice, Dachi. They might not even have wanted another kid after you anyway.”
The White Rose gave him a mock glare. “Thank you so very much for that wonderfully thoughtful comment, Ranma-kun.”
Ranma blinked. “What’d I say?”
Shampoo snickered, then turned serious again. “I glad to hear it mean much to you, Kodachi. It very important to Shampoo as well. Ranma ever tell you about…” she swallowed, “ …about Shampoo’s mother?”
Kodachi shook her head in negation. Ranma spoke up. “I figure that kinda personal stuff ain’t my place to talk about, Shampoo.”
“I would no have mind you tell her, Ranma. But maybe is better I do.” Shampoo looked down at the floor. “Mother… mother die in childbirth, with twins. She not strong woman, and no could handle two babies. Not all Amazon lore could save her, or Shampoo sister and brother, Sugar and Spice.” Shampoo closed her eyes, and a few tears trickled down her cheeks. “Still hurt, even so long past.
“So you see, is no small thing for Shampoo, when call you sister.” Shampoo wiped the tears from her eyes, and looked intently into Kodachi’s. “So much of what Shampoo have now is gift from you, or Ranma. Even my life, after you two bring Shampoo back from point of death. Already mention to Ryoga, and I tell you now. Would die before I betray you… sister.”
After another long moment of silence, Ranma spoke up. “Could we maybe talk about something a little less mushy now? Like strategies for the fight tomorrow?”
Shampoo and Kodachi gave identical grimaces at the pleading tone he’d used. “Is for sure Ranma never win title of Mr. Sensitivity, right, Kodachi?”
The White Rose grinned. “You said it… sister.”
All was quiet the next morning, as the three walked toward the park where Mousse had specified the match would take place. Not only the martial artists, but Nature herself seemed to be waiting expectantly.
Then again, it could just be that Nature was tired out from the furious thunderstorm that had taken place the previous night. The deluge had actually brought some measure of relief to Ranma- he’d begun to get seriously concerned by the length of time that had passed in Nerima without any sudden rainstorms. Another week without any rain, and he’d probably have begun working on plans for an ark.
They reached the site of the match with some time to spare. Shampoo busied herself with warm-up stretches, but she seemed distracted, and kept shooting glances around the area as if something she’d expected to be there wasn’t.
Ranma noticed this. “Looking for Mousse, Shampoo? I’m kinda surprised myself he ain’t here early.”
Shampoo shook her long lavender mane. “Not for Mousse. Is very strange feeling, Ranma. Shampoo keep expecting to see many, many people here to watch fight, with sneaky mercenary girl have sold tickets.”
“Actually, she made some mention of that to my brother, when he explained to her why the three of us missed class yesterday and would again today. But she decided not to ruin her perfect attendance record.” Kodachi gave the Amazon a puzzled look. “Why aren’t your great-grandmother and cousins here?”
Shampoo shrugged. “She say she too busy, but tell us to come back to Nekohanten afterward, for victory feast. Ling-Ling and Lung-Lung helping prepare it.”
Ling-Ling consulted the recipe card again. “<I thought Great-Grandmother was going to be helping us cook this,>” she griped.
Her twin grimaced in displeasure. “<I wish she’d just tell us why she didn’t want us to let anyone know she left us with all the cooking so she could go watch the fight. It sounds suspicious to me.>” Lung-Lung brooded a bit. “<I bet she’s going to secretly interfere, to get rid of Mousse once and for all.>”
“<I’m not so sure about that. I think she just wanted to see Shampoo kick that idiot’s butt for good. She probably told us not to tell anybody so Shampoo wouldn’t think Great-Grandmother didn’t have confidence in her.>” Ling-Ling idly tried to work out how she could have expressed that last sentence in Japanese. After getting lost in a maze of negatives, she concluded she probably needed more practice with the language. She smiled. Definitely she needed more practice. And who better to practice with than Ryoga? Now that her ankle was almost completely healed, it was about time she and her sister made a delicious lunch and took it to their soon-to-be-Airen as an apology for their earlier actions…
Lung-Lung poked her sister in the arm, shaking her from her distraction. “<I know it’s called Egg Drop soup, but I don’t think you’re supposed to drop the shell in as well.>”
Not a bent twig nor a stirring leaf betrayed the presence of the Matriarch. She was perched in the branches of a nearby tree, watching the scene unfold before her. None of the youths present would have noticed her presence, even if they had chanced to look directly at her position.
Now that he was here, faced with the culmination of all his dreams of the past decade and more, Mousse was finding it very hard to fight off a case of the shakes. Shampoo, by contrast, stood proudly and disdainfully still. Kodachi regarded the Amazon’s stance, and suspected Shampoo would rather be beaten with a rod than show any emotion which could conceivably hint that she had even the slightest measure of respect for Mousse as an opponent or as a person.
Ranma didn’t have to look at Shampoo’s posture, and he didn’t suspect. He knew it was true.
Mousse took a good look at Shampoo. ‘<It’s now or never,>’ he told himself. ‘<I’ve got to earn her respect.>’
Shampoo was surprised when Mousse gulped, then seemed to draw strength from her coldness. “Shampoo, the winner of our challenge match shall be the first to force his opponent to unconsciousness or submission.” Mousse turned and looked at Kodachi, who wondered idly just how thick his glasses were. She couldn’t make out any detail of his eyes with the spectacles in place. “If you would give the signal for the fight to begin, Miss Kuno?”
Shampoo arched her eyebrows. “You not going to beg first for Shampoo to give up without fight?”
“You could do that as soon as she signals, and let me win by submission,” Mousse pointed out.
Shampoo responded with a glare that actually knocked the Chinese boy back a pace or two. She sniffed and produced her bonbori, drawing herself into a ready position.
Kodachi studied the tableau arranged before her. Shampoo was obviously prepared for combat to begin. As for Mousse… he didn’t seem to be in any particular stance, but then the White Rose didn’t know much of anything about the Hidden Weapons style. She couldn’t tell whether Mousse was ready or not.
Deciding that she didn’t really care if it caught Mousse off-guard, she raised her hand, then dropped it with a cry of “Begin!”
Immediately Mousse sprang into the air, leaping backward and to his right, even as he shot a set of weights on chains toward Shampoo. She tucked and rolled, and the missiles passed harmlessly to one side of her.
Ranma noted that the weights on the ends of the chains had been well padded. They wouldn’t really have hurt Shampoo if they’d hit. He frowned. What did Mousse think he was going to accomplish like that? With padding that thick, Shampoo’s Bakusai Tenketsu training pretty much guaranteed she wouldn’t even have felt the attack if she’d let it connect.
His question was answered as Mousse continued the maneuver. The myopic martial artist had not let go of his end of the chains. As Shampoo rose to her feet, Mousse touched down from his previous leap, then kicked off again. He shot at forward at an angle, intending to wrap the chain around Shampoo and immobilize her.
Shampoo realized his intent, stored her bonbori, and grabbed the chain, yanking hard in an attempt to get the grounded end moving. Her eyes widened in disbelief when it didn’t budge. Even as the flying figure of Mousse rocketed past her, and the chain began to tighten around her, she gritted her teeth and pulled with all her might.
The fact that the padded weights still didn’t release their hold on the earth did credit to the super adhesive with which Mousse had covered them. However, Shampoo’s desperate strength was not to be denied- a huge chunk of the ground itself ripped out, and the weights and attendant soil shot into the air. The chain slackened around Shampoo, who took advantage of the sudden release to bound forward. She bounced with one foot off the mass of dirt as it flew past her position, and soared into the air with a grace nearly worthy of Ranma.
Mousse realized by the sudden lack of tension on the chain that his attack had failed, but as he was still flying through the air he was unable to do anything about it just then. Meanwhile, at the height of her arc, Shampoo whipped out a gymnastics club and threw it. It smacked Mousse in the head just as he landed. Shampoo touched down as well, frowning a little at herself for the error. She’d used a gymnastics club rather than a bonbori because she was carrying a number of the smaller tools, with only two of her preferred weapon. But it had been pointless to throw something so flimsy at her opponent’s head. He wasn’t even fazed by the impact. Shampoo told herself she should have remembered how thick-skulled he was.
Mousse didn’t let his disappointment show on his face. He’d hoped that attack would be enough to defeat Shampoo. But apparently it was not to be. The Master of Hidden Weapons pulled a bo staff from nowhere and began to spin it, sidestepping toward Shampoo.
Shampoo pulled out her bonbori and began sidling toward Mousse as well. The two circled each other like a pair of alley cats, each looking for an opening in the other’s defense. Mousse tensed up, took the first step toward her… and his foot caught on a stone.
As her opponent stumbled, Shampoo dashed forward, bonbori swinging in a blistering offensive. Scrambling backwards with a desperate series of swings from the staff kept Mousse from taking any hits, but it looked more and more like the fight was about to be over.
Meanwhile, Mousse was struggling with a sense of disbelief. His attack had gone perfectly, up to a point. He’d meant to trick Shampoo into over-committing herself to an offensive by seeming to stumble. Then, he would have separated his staff into two halves connected by a monofilament wire, which he would have used to sever one of her bonbori where the haft met the ball of the mace. Unfortunately, Shampoo’s skill was just too much for him- even in the midst of her attack, there were no exploitable holes in her defense. Mousse desperately searched for options, as the bonbori continued to miss him by increasingly smaller increments.
The only thing that saved him was that Shampoo wasn’t really out for blood. Had she been striking at full strength, she would have quickly broken both the staff and Mousse. But she was holding back, not a lot, but enough that Mousse was able to slip past her by sacrificing his hold on the bo.
Shampoo spun and charged after Mousse, not wanting to let up the pressure and give him time to recover. She barely had time to let out an “Aiyah!” as a giant iron ball seemed to materialize in front of her.
Kodachi stared in amazement to see Mousse drop something that huge from nowhere, then winced as Shampoo ran headlong into the iron ball with a resounding clang. She hoped her friend had been able to toughen herself enough before the impact.
Mousse turned, and folded his hands into the sleeves of his robes with a look of triumph on his face. This almost immediately faded into panic as Shampoo stood up, a murderous gleam in her eye.
“Play time over!!” the Amazon snarled. She dashed toward Mousse again. The Master of Hidden Weapons desperately launched another set of chains. The weights on the ends of these weren’t padded, though- he was running out of the special attacks he’d prepared for this battle, and had to make do with whatever non-lethal weapons he could bring to hand.
Once again the bonbori disappeared. Once again, Shampoo grabbed the metal lengths. This time, though, she directed her fury against Mousse’s end of the chain. She yanked the half-blind boy into the air.
Mousse released his hold, but that didn’t immediately help him. Much of the chain was still concealed inside his robes. Letting go only served to relinquish what little control he’d had over his flight.
Shampoo grinned triumphantly as she began spinning her unwilling passenger. She picked out a particularly solid-looking tree to cushion his landing.
Mousse gritted his teeth, and took the best of a bad set of options. Tensing himself against the upcoming strain, he reached into one of his robe’s subspace pockets and withdrew the largest object he had on him. It phased into the ‘real’ world, and he dropped it as quickly as he could.
The mass she was spinning was only increased for a split-second, but it was such a huge jump that Shampoo lost control anyway. The chain slipped from her hands, and Mousse went flying. He managed to make a more-or-less controlled landing, though he was still aching from the strain of briefly supporting a Volkswagen Beetle in midair.
“Is time for finish!” Shampoo once again raced toward Mousse. He pulled a pair of nunchaku out of his robes and braced himself for her charge. But as she reached a point only a few steps away from him, her form seemed to waver, then vanish from existence.
Mousse gaped. “Shampoo? What… how…?”
“Splitting Cat Hairs, Revised!” With that cry, the real Shampoo dived from the cover of the Volkswagen. Mousse tried to recover, but the attack had caught him too much by surprise, from too awkward an angle. The nunchaku were dashed from his hands, then a flurry of bonbori blows crashed into him. Shampoo made sure not to hit any vital areas, but her attack was more than fierce enough to smash Mousse to his knees, leaving him barely able to move, much less manage a counterstrike.
Shampoo looked down at him, and her expression softened just a trifle. “Mousse… give up now. No want have to knock you out.”
“I… I…” Mousse gasped in pain, and clutched at his side. A sudden bulge under his robe heralded the extraction of a small device from subspace, though his hand hid this from Shampoo’s sight. Through the fabric of his robes, Mousse’s fingers sought the button on the remote controller, and pressed it.
Without a sound, the large iron ball Mousse had dropped earlier split along its equator. The top half folded back on hinges, and a horde of tiny ‘Spruce Goose’ model airplanes rose out of the interior, winging toward Mousse and Shampoo.
The whir of their engines, combined with Kodachi’s gasp, alerted Shampoo. The Amazon spun. Recognizing her peril, she darted forward far enough to hopefully prevent Mousse from attacking her from behind, and began spinning her bonbori in a storm of flying wood and metal.
It was her first real mistake of the fight.
The planes had been homing in on Mousse- he’d never had an opportunity to plant the beacon device on Shampoo during the fight, as he’d planned to do. Had Shampoo just gotten out of the way, she’d have been fine. As it was, she managed to destroy all the planes. None got through her defense.
But since upon destruction each released a cloud of knockout gas, which in sufficient quantities could be absorbed through the skin, it didn’t really matter.
Shampoo crashed to the ground, unconscious. Mousse struggled to his feet, the widest grin he’d worn in years stretching from ear to ear.
The sounds of commotion outside the restaurant reached Ling-Ling’s ears. She looked over the victory feast once more, feeling more than a little uneasy. She and her twin had taste-tested the food already, and most of the dishes didn’t seem nearly as good as when Great-Grandmother made them. The Matriarch had gotten back only a minute ago, but she hadn’t seemed too concerned when Lung-Lung nervously said she didn’t think the food was really fit for a victory celebration. When the twins had asked for details about the fight, the ancient Amazon had given them an inscrutable glance and reminded them that, as far as they were concerned, she had been in the restaurant with them for the past hour.
The door opened. Mousse was the first inside. He was as battered and bruised as the twins expected. He was also fuming, tight-lipped with anger even as he limped into the restaurant. This was a little surprising- the younger Amazons had expected depression and black despair at his loss, not fury.
Then Kodachi walked through the doorway, carrying their unconscious ‘big sister’, and the twins felt their hearts stop beating.
Ranma followed close behind Kodachi, who gently set Shampoo down on a couch. One look at him, and Lung-Lung realized she’d only THOUGHT Mousse was angry. Here was the real thing, a fury that made her very glad she wasn’t standing between the two young men.
Mousse deliberately turned his back on Ranma, a thing Lung-Lung privately knew she’d never have done in his position. The half-blind boy shifted to face Cologne. “Matriarch, I have defeated Shampoo in lawful marriage challenge. By our laws, she is now my wife.” He took a deep breath, and seemed to get a better grip on his temper. “I ask that you send these outsiders on their way now.”
“No way!” snarled Ranma. “We ain’t gonna let you drag her off to be miserable for the rest of her life! Besides, she has to stay near me for a while longer.” It was odd, one tiny detached corner of his mind thought. He’d never particularly minded that the Heart Link forced the girls to stay near him so much of the time, but he’d also never expected to feel grateful for that fact. But now he thanked whatever powers were listening. It was the perfect excuse to buy them some time.
Mousse whirled, his face contorting in anger. “Has to stay near you?!” he hissed. “No. I don’t think so, Saotome.”
“He’s telling the truth,” Kodachi said coldly. “Ask the Matriarch if you don’t believe us.”
Meanwhile, Cologne had moved to Shampoo’s side. After examining her and making sure there was no danger, the ancient Amazon had tapped a few shiatsu points. Shampoo began slowly rising from deep unconsciousness toward wakefulness. As her great-granddaughter began to stir, the Matriarch turned back to face the main group.
Ling-Ling looked on in dismay. The Matriarch had always seemed to be so strong, even unassailable, more like a force of nature than a flesh and blood person. But she was suddenly showing every minute of her three-hundred-plus years. The younger Amazon, who only a minute previously had felt that things couldn’t get any worse, suddenly realized that, somehow, they had.
Cologne took a deep breath. “I’m afraid that isn’t true anymore, child. The ‘separation anxiety’ phase of the Heart Link lasts only ten days at most. I thought you would discover that for yourselves.”
Ranma and Kodachi just stared in blank horror. They had only experienced the sensation in question once, when they’d been trying to figure out just how much time apart was too much. The experience had been far worse than any of them had been prepared for, due to a natural mistake- Kodachi and Shampoo had both deliberately stayed away from Ranma at the same time. This hadn’t doubled his discomfort. It had squared it, and that same level of discomfort had fed back to both girls. After that, the three had made absolutely sure never to risk feeling that again. And so Ranma was caught completely by surprise with the news that all their precautions had been unnecessary for the past fortnight. Not to mention the fact that his ace in the hole, his one sure way to keep Mousse off Shampoo’s back until they could figure out what to do, had just been wiped out.
“What are you talking about?” Mousse asked the Matriarch.
“Shampoo was very badly injured about a month ago. Both Ranma and Kodachi donated some of their life force to heal her. But a side effect of the process is that both girls needed to stay in Ranma’s physical presence most of the time, or they would all be overwhelmed by feelings of pain and anxiety.”
Mousse just stood there, trembling, for a moment. Then he whirled to face Ranma, and even as battered and bruised as he was, he still managed to manifest a battle aura. “You scum! How dare you treat Shampoo like this! It’s YOUR fault she was hurt! She’d never even have been in this miserable country if it weren’t for you!”
Ranma flinched back, amazed that Mousse had actually made a charge with some sting to it. Then he pushed aside the guilt- the situation was too tense for him to indulge in self-recriminations. “She made her own choice, Mousse! Even after Tatewaki got out of being her Airen, she still wanted to stay here, rather than go back to China… and you.” Ranma’s voice, which had started as a shout and fallen to a softer, more controlled tone, lowered further to a deadly growl. “She doesn’t want you, moron. She never has. She never will. And I won’t let you force yourself on her.”
“Ranma.” Before Mousse could launch himself at the pig-tailed martial artist, Cologne placed herself between the two of them. Balancing atop her staff allowed her to look Ranma in the eye. “You witnessed the fight. You should be as familiar with our law as Shampoo is. Tell me, did Mousse win fairly?”
Ranma thought as hard as he could, trying to work out what to say in answer. He’d gotten as far as ‘Hell, no!’, but hadn’t yet managed to come up with a reason that might hold water, when a quiet voice spoke.
“Y- yes, Great-Grandmother. Is fair victory.”
Everyone turned to stare at Shampoo. “Sh- Shampoo… you can’t…!” Ranma said in desperation. Kodachi gazed helplessly at the devastation on the Amazon’s face, and the tears which were slipping down her cheeks, and felt a moment of bitter anger at whatever evil fate had cursed Shampoo. Was her friend never to know any good fortune in this life?
Shampoo desperately clung to every scrap of strength she had, to keep from breaking down completely into sobs. “H- have no choice, Ranma. Shampoo accept challenge. D- didn’t h- have to do that. C- could have refuse. Must live now with choice I make.”
“Stay out of this, Saotome!” Mousse walked up to Shampoo. “Shampoo, don’t cry. I’ll make you happy, I promise.”
“Mousse make promise he no can keep,” whispered Shampoo, looking away.
Kodachi looked around helplessly. Ranma was clenching his fists, staring murderously at Mousse, but seemed unable to do anything more constructive. The twins were just standing stunned, looking as if a pillar of their world had been kicked out from under them. Kodachi turned to Ling-Ling, who was standing near her. “We can’t just let this happen! Why is she going along with this travesty?!”
“Have no choice,” Ling-Ling said in a choked voice. “She accept marriage challenge, is bound by result. Had right to refuse. Now big sister is bound by Amazon law to be wife to Mousse.”
“I don’t care about Amazon law! I don’t want to lose my sister!!” exclaimed Kodachi. Then, like a shard of poisoned ice, the thought slipped through her mind, ‘But Shampoo cares. What right do you have to make the choice for her?’
Lung-Lung spoke then. “Us neither.” For a moment she scowled furiously at Mousse. He didn’t flinch under the assault of her gaze, and it was the young Amazon girl who looked away first. “But is nothing we can do.”
“Maybe not. Maybe you can’t. But I can.”
Kodachi drew her breath in sharply as she turned and looked at Ranma. She hoped he knew what he was talking about- she was fresh out of inspiration.
In point of fact, Ranma had been doing more than just standing in silent, frustrated fury for the past few minutes. He’d been wracking his brain, trying to find some proviso of Amazon law that would give them a way out. It had only taken a second to come up with one. A few more minutes of furious thought had failed to bring any others to light. And so he called on all his courage, reminded himself that it was absolutely vital to buy time for Shampoo, and spoke up.
“Mousse…” He took a deep breath. “I say you ain’t worthy to be Shampoo’s husband. I say she deserves a stronger man than you. I… I challenge you for the right to her hand in marriage.”
There was dead silence in the room for several seconds. It seemed like an eternity to the heir to the Anything-Goes school. He kept his eyes riveted on Mousse, not brave enough to look around the room and see how anyone else was reacting to his words.
Slowly, Mousse’s face curved into a sneer. This was definitely not what Ranma had expected. “I knew it. I knew you really wanted her. But I’ve got some bad news for you, Saotome. You can’t make that challenge.”
“The hell I can’t! Any other guy who knows about the law can challenge you for her until she says she actually wants you as her husband!” Ranma snarled back.
“Any other guy… except Tatewaki and you.” Mousse allowed himself a scornful laugh. “You already had your chance, and you threw it away. You don’t have the right to even THINK about winning Shampoo back after that!”
Ranma paled as he realized there was in fact a basis in Amazon law for the other’s argument. He scrambled desperately for a counter, found one, and returned, “You’re wrong, Mousse. That ain’t how it happened. I didn’t throw nothing away. Shampoo chose Tatewaki over me, and I could live with that. But I ain’t gonna give her up to you. And I say I never lost my right to challenge for her.”
If possible, Mousse’s sneer became even more pronounced. “You think you understand our ways, just because Shampoo might have told you a few things?! Please. I learned to read using our copies of the law books. I know what I’m talking about. And I’m telling you, you lost your chance at Shampoo.”
“And I’m telling you you’re full of it!!” Ranma turned to face the Matriarch. “<Honored Elder, I ask for your judgment on this disputed point of law.>”
Mousse felt a qualm of uncertainty on hearing Ranma give a formal request to an Elder in the correct manner, even in Mandarin that was decidedly badly-accented. It was the first gap in the confidence he’d been feeling since his victory over Shampoo. With a scowl, he forced the hesitation aside, and said, “<Yes, Matriarch, please inform this outsider that the law is as I described it.>”
Ling-Ling and Lung-Lung stared breathlessly at their great-grandmother. The tiniest flickerings of hope had awakened in their hearts with Ranma’s challenge. Now, seeing the Matriarch was once again looking inscrutable, rather than merely old and tired, that hope began to grow.
Cologne took out a pipe, lit it, and took a long drag. “Speak Japanese, boys, it’s only polite.” She blew a smoke ring. Ranma began to calm down. He knew very well that the Matriarch didn’t consider Mousse a suitable suitor for her great-granddaughter. For the old one to be this much at ease, she had to have decided in his favor.
Not that that was without its own problems. Ranma tried and failed to get up the nerve to turn and look at Kodachi, to see how she was taking this. He told himself that it should be okay- after all, she had to have learned by now how he felt about… dammit, that he LOVED her, right? Surely the Heart Link would’ve settled that once and for all. Dachi was smart, she’d realize this was just a tactic to get Mousse off Shampoo’s back. Everything was gonna be okay.
Cologne gazed at Ranma with half-lidded eyes. “Boy, I’m afraid Mousse has a valid point. The fact that you once had a legitimate claim on Shampoo, and allowed her to slip from your grasp, does weaken your position considerably.”
Ranma’s mouth dropped open. Desperately he recovered enough to reply, “O- oh, yeah?! The way I remember it, once she made the choice my claim was gone. That’s what YOU told her, anyway!”
“True enough,” Cologne answered calmly. “But the fact remains that you didn’t protest or fight the decision.” As Ranma looked like he was revving up for another outburst, she held up a hand. “However, you are correct in that it need not completely disqualify you from pursuing Shampoo now.
“My judgment as the Matriarch of the Joketsuzoku is this. You, Ranma, may challenge Mousse for Shampoo’s hand in marriage… but only if you swear an oath upon all your honor that you are serious about the marriage, and will not change your mind or cast her away as her previous Airen did.”
Silence loud enough to deafen. It seemed to Ranma that the restaurant was filled with a noiseless roar that was about to burst his eardrums.
And then, Mousse broke it. “What kind of meaningless condition is that?!” he exploded. He was too far gone in his anger to realize he was shouting at someone who could have him stripped from his family and cast out into the world with nothing. “It’s obvious he means it. Who wouldn’t?!” He turned to face Ranma. “I will NOT let you…”
Mousse’s voice choked off as he really looked at Ranma. The pig-tailed martial artist was pale, trembling like an aspen tree in a high wind. And the expression on his face… once, Mousse had stood on one side of a massive canyon in the midst of a forest. A forest fire had been raging on the other side, but Mousse hadn’t been in danger- the chasm was large enough to form an insurmountable firebreak.
However, on the cliff opposite Mousse, a man had been trapped by the approaching fire. The expression on his face had been terrible- the indecision of a man forced to choose between certain and nearly certain death. To stand frozen, and be overtaken by disaster… or to cast himself blindly into the abyss.
Mousse didn’t know what the man had eventually done. In fact, Mousse hadn’t even seen him, or been aware of his existence. It had been late evening at the time, and he hadn’t been wearing his glasses anyway. But if he HAD seen that man, he would have instantly been reminded of that time by the look on Ranma’s face now.
“You don’t mean it, do you.” Mousse spoke in a sort of frozen calm. “All this is just… just you trying to keep me away from my beloved Shampoo. What right do you think you have to interfere?!” With an effort, he grasped hold of his temper just as it attempted to run away. “Never mind. I don’t care what your reasons were. Get out of here, Saotome.”
Ranma paid Mousse about as much attention as he did the housefly buzzing against a window two buildings away. I.e., none at all. Desperately he turned to the Matriarch. “<Why… why are you doing this…?>”
Cologne looked him in the eye and answered in Mandarin as well. Kodachi was dimly aware of twin gasps from Ling-Ling and Lung-Lung, as well as Shampoo gulping, then seeming to forget how to breathe.
Ranma flinched back, not quite as badly as if she’d shoved a cat in his face, but not far from it either. He stared desperately into the Matriarch’s eyes, silently willing her to take back her ruling, and her last statement. No such luck. Cologne simply met his gaze calmly. Ranma turned to look at Mousse, who didn’t seem to be having trouble with his temper any more. The Chinese boy’s anger had shifted from hot to cold, and was tinged with more than a hint of gloating triumph.
Ranma didn’t trust himself to look at Kodachi, or Shampoo. He didn’t dare use the Heart Link to sense what they were feeling.
They were the hardest words he’d ever spoken. They were the hardest he’d ever speak.
He turned to Cologne. “The oath you asked for… I swear it. On all my honor.”
Kodachi lapsed into silence. Her brother waited a minute, then asked, “How did you feel when he said that?”
“I…” Kodachi shook her head. “I didn’t feel anything, at first. I couldn’t feel anything. I just… froze.” She drew a shuddering breath. “Then I made what might or might not have been a mistake. I concentrated on the Heart Link, trying to understand what Ranma was feeling then.”
She gazed off into the distance, but it was clear the Nerima skyline wasn’t really registering on her eyes. “So much hurt, Tachi. His soul was like a maelstrom. I couldn’t even tell you all of what I sensed then. Pain, desperation, intense shame, confusion, anger at the Matriarch, blazing hatred toward Mousse, despair warring with his natural defiance of despair.” She gulped. “He was hurting so badly, brother. It was all I could do not to grab him in a hug and break down and cry. But the situation was a little too intense for that.”
“Damn you, Saotome! I won’t let you do th- unnh!” With that, Mousse collapsed into unconsciousness.
The Matriarch lowered the staff with which she’d tagged Mousse’s Instant Unconsciousness shiatsu point, and turned to the twins. “I need to have a private discussion with these three. Please take Mousse somewhere far away from here, and keep him there for the next hour or two.”
Lung-Lung grimaced. She wanted to watch what happened next, not sit on Mousse in some out-of-the-way hole and wonder what was going on! Still, there was no getting around the fact that the Matriarch had given her a direct order. She scowled as she picked up one of Mousse’s legs. Ling-Ling grabbed the other, and they dragged Mousse out, taking extra care to bump his head on the doorframe.
Shampoo ignored the sound of the twins arguing whether the bottom of the ocean or the top of a smokestack would be a better place to leave Mousse. She’d done the same thing Kodachi did, and used the Heart Link to sense Ranma’s feelings. Like the White Rose, she was struggling against the urge to try and comfort the man she loved. Of course, there were more reasons for her hesitation than there were for Kodachi’s.
“That was a brave oath, sonny boy.” Cologne blew one last smoke ring, then put the pipe away. “I trust you have considered the ramifications?”
Ranma didn’t respond. “I don’t doubt that you’ll defeat him handily,” the Matriarch continued. “Just as you’ll defeat anyone else that would fight you for Shampoo’s hand in marriage. Of course, once you, as an outsider, have a valid claim on Shampoo, Mousse can no longer be one of those challengers.”
“What? I don’t understand. Why not?” Kodachi wasn’t sure what difference it made, but her curiosity was aroused. And it was easier to deal with inconsequential things first.
“For the simple reason that Ranma is not yet part of our tribe. The marriage laws are intended to bring in new blood, individuals who have proven their strength. Since Mousse is already one of us, he cannot legally challenge Ranma once he is Shampoo’s legitimate Airen.”
“I not think that stop him,” Shampoo muttered.
Cologne ignored the statement, though she thought with grim amusement that it was technically correct. That point of law wouldn’t be what stopped Mousse. “Only another outsider could challenge Ranma over Shampoo, and even then only with her permission and as long as the marriage remains unconsummated.”
Ranma twitched slightly, but still didn’t say anything. The Matriarch continued relentlessly. “I’m glad to see you’re finally coming to terms with your true feelings, son-in-law.”
“Now wait just a minute!” Ranma exploded. Everyone in the room waited. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, but couldn’t think of anything to say.
After a moment, Cologne resumed speaking. “You started out disliking Mousse because of what you saw in my great-granddaughter’s memories. But now you despise him, far more than Shampoo herself does… because he is threatening to take her away from you.
“You’ve spent virtually all your free time with her these past several weeks. Have you even once in all that time resented it, or felt a desire to get away from her presence?
“And finally… the most telling point of all…” Cologne pinned Ranma with her most intense stare. “In order to protect her from Mousse, you swore an oath on all your honor… an oath you had every intention of breaking once you could find a way to do it without hurting Shampoo.”
Ranma gasped, staggered backward, and collapsed into a chair. “How… how did you…”
Cologne ignored the question. She pogoed forward until less than two feet separated her face from Ranma’s. “Your honor is the one thing your father was never able to take from you, the one thing of value you’ve held for all your life. But you were willing to cast it aside, for the sake of helping my Shampoo.” The intensity of her expression softened then, into sympathy. “I know this is hard for you, Ranma. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I didn’t want things to happen this quickly. But that fool Mousse has forced matters to a head.”
“What you mean, this quickly?” Shampoo told herself that it was still too soon to assume her suspicion had been proved correct.
The Matriarch bowed her head. Shampoo just stared then, forgetting suspicions and hopes alike at the sight of her great-grandmother appearing almost… humbled. “Shampoo… Ranma… Kodachi. Although I spoke no word that was not true, the fact remains that I misled you. Kodachi, I told you that you would know the Heart Link has worn off when you could no longer sense Ranma through it. That’s technically true, or at least not false.
“But the fact of the matter is that the condition is quite permanent.”
Kodachi paused, and looked at her brother. “We then spent some time learning the specific details of the Heart Link. Do you particularly care to hear them, or would you rather I summarize and skip to the aftermath?”
Tatewaki considered, then decided he might as well hear the full details. Perhaps telling him might help his sister come more fully to terms with whatever she’d learned that afternoon.
Besides, he was curious.
Shampoo’s eyes widened drastically. THAT she hadn’t been expecting!
Needless to say, neither had Kodachi nor Ranma. “P- permanent?!”
The Matriarch nodded gravely. “Have a seat, Kodachi. This is going to take a while.
“The Heart Link was developed by the greatest mistress of chi our tribe, and perhaps even the world, has ever known.”
“Mi Razh?” asked Ranma.
“Yes, yes, don’t interrupt. She is responsible for well over half of our secret techniques. The Splitting Cat Hairs and the Fist of the Ice Bear, to name two examples you’ve heard of. Her legacy has helped keep our tribe strong over two thousand five hundred turbulent years. And yet most of the outside world doesn’t even know she existed, or the miracles she wrought.” The Matriarch turned her gaze on Kodachi. “I’ve often wondered, child, whether the man that empowered you has had a similar, secret impact. I would dearly love to meet him someday.
“But getting back to the subject… Mi Razh developed many devastating attacks over the course of her lifetime. As she grew older, she began to desire to leave a legacy besides newer and more lethal attack techniques. And so she turned her contemplation from the path of the warrior to that of the healer.
“A technique for prolonging life was already known to the Amazons at that time. Mi Razh revised it and greatly increased the efficiency. You can thank her that I’m still around to interfere in things, instead of kicking the bucket a century ago.
“But even though she had done that, it wasn’t enough for her. Few individuals have the strength of will and talent for chi-manipulation to learn that technique in the first place. For all that she made it far more powerful, Mi Razh was completely unable to make it easier to use. And so she began to study how one who could control her chi might be able to manipulate another’s.
“She had only the best of intentions, or at least that’s what the stories say. Of course, I doubt seriously that any of her peers wanted to speak ill of one who’d given so much to the tribe. Anyway, the fact remains that she made some terrible discoveries when she began studying how to manipulate the chi of others who couldn’t control it themselves.
“Mind control. Absolute chi absorption. Halting the flow of chi in another’s body, simply by manipulating the flows in the air around them. These techniques are all sealed, known only to the Council of Elders of the Joketsuzoku. Over the centuries, revised versions have been developed, ones that are much less powerful and thus safe to be taught. The Xi Fang Gao, for instance. But Mi Razh’s own techniques, including the Heart Link, are forbidden to be used at all.”
“But Great-Grandmother, you use technique,” Shampoo pointed out.
“So I did,” returned the Matriarch. “Believe me, the Council was unhappy about that. But it was a choice between that and your death, child. In such circumstances, rules are inevitably going to get bent. The actual law is that if a Council member, even the Matriarch, makes use of a forbidden technique, she must inform the rest of them of her action. The Council members may then challenge her over it, if they feel the action was unjustified, but unless the judgment is unanimous such confrontations must be one-on-one. Only two were foolish enough to challenge me over my decision.” The Matriarch grinned humorlessly. “They may even be able to walk unaided by now.”
“What I don’t understand is why the Heart Link was developed in the first place.” This was Ranma. “I mean, ok, it let you transfer Dachi’s chi surplus to Shampoo and save her life. But there ain’t anybody else with that kinda power to spare. So what was the point in making up the thing in the first place?”
“And what if ten warriors should donate their energy, to bring back one wounded ally?” the Matriarch returned.
“Umm… good point.”
“That was what Mi Razh had been aiming for, when she developed the technique. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that easily. For one thing, there are basic differences between men and women. And I’m not talking about the obvious physical ones, either. As I’m sure Ranma can appreciate, the spirit, the yin and yang, is even more important. That is one critical detail of the Heart Link- it relies on the complementary nature of those differences. It is simply not possible to Link a woman to a woman, or a man to a man.”
“Well, that’s one question answered,” muttered Kodachi, still concentrating on the smaller things.
The Matriarch sighed. “As the story goes, Mi Razh was good enough to work out some of the theory involved, but it wasn’t until the Heart Link was actually used that most of the rest became apparent. Her young grandnephew was caught in a rockslide. He survived, but would never walk again. Or he never would have, had Mi Razh not used the Heart Link to transfer chi from ten volunteer warriors to him.
“Because she was guiding the transfer of chi, she did not notice the side effects. There was another Elder present, who did realize something of what was happening, but this was the first of the forbidden techniques to be developed. At that time I suspect there was nobody who trusted their own judgment over Mi Razh’s. And so the witness said nothing, probably even told herself she was imagining things, as the spirits of those involved in the Heart Link twisted and reconfigured themselves.”
“What?! Whaddaya mean by that?!” That hadn’t sounded at all good to Ranma.
“Relax, sonny boy, it’s not nearly as bad as I made it sound. To put it simply, a man and a woman connected through the Heart Link are changed. It’s the same thing a scientist named Heisenberg discovered millennia after we Amazons did… the act of observation changes the thing which is being observed. But Heisenberg didn’t realize the counterpoint, or at least not its significance. The one doing the observation is changed as well.”
“I… I remember…” This was Kodachi. “As I was nearing the ends of Ranma’s memories, I felt as if I was both pulling back and drawing closer at the same time…”
“Exactly. Your spirits had been immersed in absolute union. That couldn’t continue if you were to regain your individuality, but it couldn’t completely end either. And so you drew apart, somewhat. But that degree of closeness, of wholeness, is something that no one can relinquish once they’ve experienced it. And so your soul and Ranma’s both shifted, in order to remain connected.”
The Matriarch laughed then. “I don’t suppose you noticed much difference after that, child. You already loved him with all your heart. But if there had been some basic incompatibility between the two of you, it would have been erased. He and you would have literally met halfway. You could have been strangers or the bitterest of enemies before the Link, but you would still have eventually come to love one another just as much as you loved yourselves.”
“So you’re sayin’ I got no choice?!” Ranma demanded.
“Choice about what, exactly?” the Matriarch inquired smoothly.
“About…” Ranma seemed to have some trouble with whatever he’d started to say. He clenched his jaw shut, looking helpless.
The Matriarch sighed. “And here you have the reason that the Heart Link is a sealed technique. Ranma, I’ll be blunt and say what you, due to your absolute unwillingness to hurt Kodachi, cannot. Yes, the Link made it inevitable that you would grow to love Shampoo. She’s a part of you now, boy, just as you are of her.”
Ranma wanted to deny it. He wanted to yell that he had a choice, that he’d never betray Kodachi like that. But even as that thought rose up, another side of his soul snarled back, demanding that he swallow those words, or even his own tongue rather than say something that would hurt Shampoo so much.
Kodachi didn’t dare to focus on the Heart Link then. She was already feeling enough pain of her own at the sight of Ranma, groaning with his head buried in his hands. “Ranma-sama…” she whispered. The White Rose still felt oddly disconnected, and knew instinctively that she was going to need a long time to come to terms with the revelations of the day. But that could wait for later. Right now there was a more pressing need.
She pulled her chair next to Ranma’s. Draping one arm across his shoulders, she pulled him to her in a tight hug. “Ranma… it’s all right. No matter what,” deep breath, “I love you.”
Ranma trembled, returned the embrace. They just sat there for several long moments.
When the Matriarch judged that he’d regained enough composure, she spoke again. “Ranma, unless I am seriously mistaken, the reason you’re tormenting yourself is partly that you feel you are betraying Kodachi. Am I right?” He shuddered, and nodded. “But you cannot lie to yourself any longer about what you’re feeling for Shampoo. The conflict is tearing you up inside.
“Shampoo, Kodachi, listen very closely to me. It falls to you to resolve this conflict. Ranma cannot forsake either of you. Oh, he could try, I’m sure his will is strong enough for that, but it would destroy him and the both of you as well, since you’re connected to him.”
“WHAT?!” Ranma’s head shot up, and he stared in horror at the Matriarch.
“Yes, boy, what affects you affects the two of them, and vice versa. Not as quickly, perhaps, but just as surely.” The Matriarch gave him a sympathetic look. “If you think this is bad, consider the poor boy who was the first male to experience the Heart Link. He suddenly had TEN women tied to him.”
“Yeah, but in his culture it was okay for a man to have more than one wife!” Ranma countered.
Cologne snorted. “Not until then, it wasn’t. Where did you think that law came from, sonny boy? The struggles that group had to settle down together are legendary.” She pogoed to the door of the restaurant. “That’s really all the important stuff. We can talk again later. But the best thing you three can do now is work this out amongst yourselves.” She permitted herself a grim smile. “One other thing… it’s a secret of the council, but inclusion in a Heart Link nullifies all marriage laws.”
“What?! Then why didn’t you just come out and tell Mousse he had no right to Shampoo?!”
“I’d as soon not tell him any more about the Heart Link than I have to, thank you very much,” the ancient Amazon answered acerbically. “But I’ll give you whatever aid you need in dealing with him.” It still wouldn’t make up for her lapse in judgment during the fight, when she’d assumed Shampoo had everything under control. Cologne had refrained from interfering, had missed her chance to ensure Mousse lost, had failed to buy more time for the children to get used to the Heart Link before revealing the truth. But perhaps things would still work out all right.
The Matriarch left them, then, and there was a long silence in the restaurant. Eventually Ranma broke it. “What’re we gonna do?” he asked helplessly, looking from Kodachi to Shampoo and back again.
Shampoo swallowed. “Ranma…” she said softly, then turned to face Kodachi. “Kodachi, I mean what I say about not betray you. Ranma, I not ask for more than you can give.”
“It’s all very well and good to say that, Shampoo, and I’m sure you mean it. But what do you WANT?” Kodachi asked, trying to sound nonconfrontational.
The Amazon took a deep breath. “Remember, Shampoo grow up with idea that is okay for one man have more than one wife. Ranma… l-love Shampoo too, no mean you has to love Kodachi less. What Shampoo want, more than anything else, is marry you. But only if can do without hurt Kodachi. Only after both you know you not love each other less because of me.”
Ranma gave her a long, scrutinizing look. At last he said, “I believe you. I can feel you’re telling the truth.” But then his look changed to a challenging stare. “But I can also feel some guilt lurking back there, Shampoo. I think you better explain that.”
The Amazon gulped. “Is guilt I tell self I no should feel. But no can help it. Ranma, I guess already that you starting to feel more to Shampoo than just friendship. Not say nothing, because not sure. But I see how you get so angry when boys challenge Shampoo. Is intense anger, and seem familiar to Shampoo. Then I realize why. Is much like what you show when Kodachi threatened.
“It start Shampoo thinking about Heart Link, Ranma. Some of what Great-Grandmother say, I already work out on own. Part about be so close to someone else, know all someone else’s whole life, seem to Shampoo like it would have to change anyone. And also after that we spend so much time together, only make the closeness go deeper. More for you and Kodachi than for you and me, since you already know you love her anyway. But it still there for me.”
“You guessed all that, yet you didn’t say anything?!” Kodachi demanded.
“How could I?! Not know for sure. What if I wrong? Then say something is really big mistake. So Shampoo keep quiet and wait to be sure.” The Amazon sighed. “Stupid Mousse,” she said bitterly. “Never anything but trouble. Like Great-Grandmother say, this too soon. Ranma, please, stop looking like you is on torturer’s wrack. Shampoo already say she not ask for more than you can give.”
“And what difference does that make?” Ranma muttered. “This ain’t about you asking for too much anyway.”
“It’s about me, isn’t it.” A flash of insight made everything clear to Kodachi. “You feel like you’re betraying me, but you can’t deny the fact that you… you do love her too.”
Ranma shuddered, and nodded. “It… it ain’t the same, Dachi. I don’t feel the kinda fire for Shampoo that I do for you. But it’s still there. It’s kinda quiet, protective, maybe… maybe more like the early stages of love than the full-blown deal. Still small enough that I could ignore it until her great-grandmother shoved it in my face.
“But you…” he gulped. “I love you. So much. I wish I’d said it sooner. I just… I knew you knew, after the Heart Link an’ all. So I just let it ride. I wish I hadn’t done that. I just… I just wish…”
Kodachi felt something release inside her then. She reached out and gently placed two fingers over Ranma’s lips. “Shhh. It’s okay, Ranma-sama. It’s okay. Like you said, I knew.” She leaned in and rested her head on his shoulder. “Ranma… do you remember, a few days ago you said you wished you’d had something to give to me in the Heart Link?” She felt him sigh and nod. “But you did. More than you could imagine.
“You know better than anyone else how often I’ve experienced rejection, how often others have distanced themselves from me because of the accident of my birth. I told myself it was their problem, not mine, if people were too stupid to give me a chance and see what kind of person I really was. But somewhere, deep inside, a part of me had truly come to believe that I was not good enough, not as a person, not as a woman.
“That wounded piece of my soul was why I believed the insinuations of that miserable witch Daikokuji. What you did then helped shed some light into that dark corner, but it wasn’t until the Heart Link that it was healed completely. I saw then how you saw me, as beautiful, and desirable. As someone worth all the love you could give. Even if you were too shy to say anything yet.
“I think maybe that’s the reason I didn’t work out any of the things Shampoo did, about the Heart Link. The revelations from your memories had so much impact, I just didn’t see anything else. And I certainly didn’t need any changes to my soul in order to love you. I did then, I do now, and I will forever.”
Ranma hugged her tightly, a gesture she returned with enthusiasm. After a few minutes passed, she pulled back a little, enough to turn and glance at Shampoo. The Amazon was sitting quietly, with her head bowed. “Ranma… I won’t pretend that it’s going to be quick and easy for me to come to terms with this. I don’t have the advantage of having grown up in the Amazon culture. But… but if you love her too, it’s okay.”
Kuno gave his sister a piercing glance. “Can you truly accept this? Just like that?” he asked.
Kodachi sighed. “Weren’t you listening, Tachi? No, I can’t just snap my fingers and swallow the idea that Ranma loves her too. It’s going to take time. Probably quite a lot of it. But I’ve made my choice.” She sighed. “The only choice I could make.”
Tatewaki just looked at his sister for a minute or two. “He owes you so much,” he said at last.
The White Rose smiled wryly. “So speaks my elder brother, always concerned and protective of me. But this once I think you’re wrong.
“I love him, Tachi, with all of myself. And he loves me. I would sacrifice ANYTHING I have for our happiness together.” She paused, then said softly, “Even my expectations that it was just going to be the two of us.”
“If you say so.” Tatewaki’s face curdled into a sour grimace. “I dearly hope this will be the last time our lives are disrupted by that Amazon.” Then he started in surprise as his sister glared at him.
“Brother, dear, in case you have forgotten, the alternative to the situation as it stands was Shampoo’s death. If time should somehow turn backward, bringing me back to the moment before the Heart Link and giving me a chance to choose differently, I would still take this path. If the price of Shampoo’s life is that she remains part of mine and Ranma-sama’s, then so be it. And if I can accept this without resentment, then you have no room to complain.”
The kendoist hung his head, ashamed. “I suppose I deserved that.” He gulped. “I spoke out of pain at my guilt, sister. Forgive me.”
Kodachi arched one eyebrow. “Guilt?”
“As you described the Heart Link to me, my foremost emotion was not outrage at what had been done to you. And it should have been! I should have been concerned only for you! But… but the greatest thing I felt at first was relief that the Matriarch had not used that technique to bind me to Shampoo.”
“Well, it IS a forbidden technique. I don’t suppose she could have justified using it, since in your case nobody’s life was at stake.”
“I suppose.” Kuno sighed. “Sister… I don’t suppose there’s any point in bringing up impossibilities… but what would you do if time should turn backward to a point prior to Shampoo’s injury? Would you still let things progress as they did?”
Kodachi just sat there for several minutes. At last, as her brother had begun to think she wasn’t going to answer at all, she said, “I don’t know. I don’t know if I could bear to give up the closeness I have to Ranma-sama now. And remember, Shampoo called me sister and said she would never betray me. I cannot but feel that if I could prevent the Heart Link, that would be just about as great a betrayal of her as I could come up with.”
“I rather doubt that,” Kuno protested.
“Nonetheless, it is true. Regardless of how or why it happened, Ranma now returns her love.” Kodachi stared challengingly at her brother. “The man to whom she gave her heart has let her into his own. Would I rather she had fallen in love with Ryoga instead? Yes. But that didn’t take place. And since things happened as they did, there’s no point in speculating about might-have-beens. All that is left to do is go forward, and play the hand that fate has dealt us.” She ran out of determination then, and sighed again. “Easy enough to say. It remains to be seen how difficult it will prove.”
“And so that is why you’re here, now? By yourself?”
The White Rose grimaced. “Yes. I sent them out on a date, if you can believe that. It was easily one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And what’s worse, I’ve been focusing on Ranma. He simply wasn’t ready for it. I thought I was doing the two of them a favor, but their evening has been nothing but awkward and uncomfortable so far. Right now he is wishing I hadn’t insisted on it.”
Her brother gave her a quizzical look. “That sounds like a little more detail than you normally get through the Link, sister.”
“How right you are,” she said. “We spoke again with the Matriarch, later in the afternoon. She told us one last detail about the Heart Link. Namely, the closeness of the connection only deepens over time. That’s why after the first ten days we could have safely spent time out of each other’s presence, without going into a panic attack. It’s because, on a deeper level, we would still be together.
“As time goes by, it becomes possible to sense more and more of your partner through the Heart Link. Eventually it’s quite likely that he and I will be able to communicate our thoughts directly, more or less like telepathy. And of course, the same goes for him and Shampoo. However, I think that, because we loved one another even before the Link, the process was accelerated for Ranma-sama and myself. Once the Matriarch had told us this, I tried to sense more detail than I had before. It took a slightly different mindset… I don’t have any words to describe it. But after she had given me the idea, I found it easy to do.”
“Hmmm.” Kuno changed the subject. “By the way, you never did tell me what the Matriarch said to Ranma, just before he swore the oath.” He frowned. “For that matter, I’d like to know how she figured out that at first he didn’t mean to keep his word.”
Kodachi gave him a wry smile. “When I asked her that same question, she pulled out her pipe, put it in one corner of her mouth, and said, ‘Elementary, my dear Kuno, elementary.’ She then confessed that she hadn’t been sure he didn’t mean the oath, but was guessing, knowing that if he had meant it then he must have already admitted the truth of his feelings to himself. But knowing Ranma, she didn’t think it likely, and of course it turned out she was right.
“What she said to Ranma earlier was simply this: ‘I just want you to tell the truth… son-in-law’.”
“I… see.” Kuno thought of something else that needed explaining. “And what of Shampoo’s would-be husband, Mousse? It seemed from his actions tonight that he has learned something of what has transpired.”
“The Matriarch told him an abridged version of the truth. Namely, that his actions had forced Ranma to come to terms with his feelings for Shampoo, and that Shampoo preferred Ranma over him.”
“So what was he doing here, talking to you instead of challenging Ranma?”
The White Rose shrugged. “Presumably he’s familiar enough with Japanese culture to know I wasn’t expecting to share my husband. I suppose he came here looking to challenge Ranma, found that he wasn’t here, and saw me on the rooftop instead. It wouldn’t have taken any great deal of perception on his part to see I was struggling to come to terms with this. I suppose he had some notion of enlisting my help to pull Shampoo away from Ranma-sama.”
Had Shampoo been able to hear Kodachi’s words, they might have afforded her a brief moment of ironic amusement. Because she wasn’t feeling very close to Ranma just now.
‘<I knew this was a mistake,>’ she thought glumly. ‘<It was a nice thought of Kodachi’s, but it’s just too soon for Ranma. And with as hard a day as I’ve had, this evening was no time for a first date for me either.>’
They had eaten dinner, with minimal conversation. Now they were taking a walk in the park. The silence stretched, and stretched, becoming more and more awkward by the moment. Shampoo was wracking her brain for something to say to break the ice, when suddenly a completely natural and unforced conversational gambit sprang to her lips.
Ranma jumped. His companion had just stumbled over a shadowed hole in the ground. He’d walked right by it without even noticing. “Oh, jeez, Shampoo, you okay?”
Shampoo rubbed her ankle. “Yes, Shampoo think so. Should have been watching where going.” He reached out and gave her a hand to get back to her feet. Shampoo accepted the aid, squashing the momentary urge to pull him in for a kiss. It was WAY too soon. “Ranma, I very tired. Has been long day, thanks to Mousse.” Identical expressions of disgust flitted across their features at the name.
“Yeah, I hear that. Come on, let’s head on home.”
The two were quiet again as they walked back. After they’d gone a few blocks, Ranma spoke up awkwardly. “Um… sorry this wasn’t much of a date, Shampoo. It’s just…” he let the statement fade away unfinished.
“Shampoo understand. No feel bad, Ranma.” Suddenly, unexpectedly, she gave him a grin. “Not nearly as bad as first date with Tatewaki.”
Ranma surprised himself by laughing a little at that. “Yeah, I guess not.” He sobered then, as the memory surfaced in his own mind, bringing a phantom remembrance of pain with it. That occasion had been nothing but heartache for Shampoo. Ranma glanced sideways at her, and felt a new measure of resolve. This might not have been much of a date, but at least he could give her a little something. Gingerly he reached out and took her hand in his own. Shampoo smiled at him then, the biggest smile she’d worn that day. They walked the rest of the way back like that, each thinking quietly about beginnings.
To be continued.
Author’s notes: This chapter in its final form is a bit different from how I originally envisioned it. Chapter eight was originally intended to be longer, covering more time, allowing the characters to come more fully to accept the situation.
It also was going to be the final chapter.
That’s right, folks, you’ve reached the end of the primary story arc. But, since I’ve gotten enough people writing in and saying they like the fic, I’ve decided to continue it with a secondary arc. However, don’t be surprised if the chapters are a little slower in coming out. I don’t have more than a bare minimum of the plot developed yet.
At this point I suppose there are some people disappointed that this isn’t going to be a strict Ranma-Kodachi pairing. I hope that’s not a common feeling, or at least that the number of people glad to see Shampoo find happiness too balances it out.
A few things to clear up here… way back in the prologue, did the old Kodachi expect things to turn out like this? I shouldn’t have to say it, but no. She made the best plan she could based on what was likely to happen. For the record, she expected that it would be Ranma who defeated Shampoo in the first place, not Tatewaki. This would have led to a direct confrontation between Kodachi and Shampoo, which the White Rose would have won. She would not have run upon receiving the Kiss of Death, thus becoming an Amazon in her own right. With that, though Shampoo might still WANT to marry Ranma, she would no longer have the law on her side as Kodachi would be an Amazon with a better claim. Although that in itself wouldn’t make Shampoo give up, it would give Kodachi and Ranma the option of contacting the elders of the Amazon tribe to remove Shampoo from the picture for good. Oh well. A poet said something once about the best laid plans…
Speaking of the quality of the Black Rose’s plan, Kodachi only THINKS she almost didn’t survive being born. The last scrap of power that eventually set a geas on her father had another function: keep her alive through the stress of birth and the critical first few weeks afterward. She was in no real danger.
It may seem that Shampoo is treating Mousse much worse than usual. That was my intent. Here she isn’t a lonely girl with minimal contacts among people her own age- no longer desperate enough for a friend to put up with Mousse. Plus, she’s learned what real love is by now, and is frankly disgusted with Mousse’s mockery thereof.
So why is she willing to go along with the marriage? If it were just her choice, she would reject him in a heartbeat. Nor am I of the opinion that she cares enough about Amazon law to abide by it no matter the cost. But consider this. She’s a direct descendent of the Matriarch. As I already mentioned in a previous chapter, that puts her under more pressure than many other Amazons. Remember for a moment what happened in the original series: Shampoo received a Jusenkyo curse for sparing Ranma-chan. That’s quite a harsh punishment, especially when you consider that the only member of the Joketsuzoku involved was Shampoo herself. So how much worse do you think things would be for her, if she broke the law by refusing to give herself to her lawful husband, a legitimate member of the tribe, after agreeing to the marriage challenge? I think that could be seen as a worse transgression by far, a betrayal of the whole tribe, and with a worse punishment. That’s the angle I’m taking in this fic, anyway.
I only have one more point to make on my interpretation of Amazon marriage laws. Since the way I’ve outlined things means that Mousse cannot legitimately win Shampoo away from Ranma, why then does he challenge him all the time anyway, in the original series? The answer isn’t very pleasant, I’m afraid. Those laws only apply… as long as Ranma is alive. I don’t think Mousse would slit Ranma’s throat while he’s asleep, but killing him in battle is acceptable (if you disagree, try reviewing the episodes where Mousse reappears with his Jusenkyo curse).
Thanks to Jim Bader for C&C. Next time: Adjustments, and a resolution or two.
Comments? Criticism? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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