An APCCG Nuku-Nuku/ Ranma ½ crossover story
by D.B. Sommer
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings © Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. All-Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku-Nuku © Movic/King Records, Yuzo Takada, and Futaba Sha.
All comments and criticisms appreciated. You can contact me at email@example.com
Happy birthday, Shampoo.
Those were the last words she heard in the dream before she woke up. The morning sun streamed through the pink curtains of the single, small window in her bedroom at the Nekohanten. Light poured into her eyes, prying them open and rousing her for a new day. She tried to remember the dream she had just had —it had left a pleasant feeling with her— but she failed. It had faded with the new day.
That really wasn’t important. Shampoo went to her window and gazed at the world. To everyone else, it was a day like any other, but to her it was a special day; her favorite time of the year, ever since she was a little girl. It was her birthday. At long last she was seventeen. Like a fine wine she had gotten better with every year, and this one was no exception. Her martial arts had improved, though not as much as she would have liked. She had grown more beautiful and graceful; she could see that every time she looked in the mirror. And she was happily married… almost. It was a time for celebration. At long last, this year was going to be the one where she would get Ranma to admit that she was his one and only wife, no matter what it took. Ranma was going to celebrate her birthday with her, even if it killed him.
Figuratively speaking, of course.
Shampoo jumped out of bed and quickly threw on her most attractive outfit to impress her husband. She was going to start his day right by giving him one of her patented morning glomps to get him going. Ranma was always so excited to see her, yelling out with a great deal of energy whenever she surprised him. And since today was so special, she felt like treating him extra nice as well.
Running down the hall, she paused in front of her great-grandmother’s bedroom. She was about to knock when she remembered that Cologne had gone back to China two days earlier for some sort of council with the other elders. A soft sigh escaped Shampoo’s lips. Her great-grandmother was going to miss her birthday. Come to think of it, she hadn’t even left a present for her favorite great-granddaughter. That was odd. In all her years, Cologne had never once forgotten Shampoo’s birthday. Never. Shampoo considered that. Perhaps the meeting with the council had been far more important than her great-grandmother had let on. It was possible that that was what had distracted her and made her forget Shampoo’s birthday.
The idea that her own great grandmother had forgotten the important date was depressing, but Shampoo wasn’t going to let a little fact like that ruin her day. In order to cheer up, she was going to march right over to Ranma’s house and get him to celebrate with her immediately. It would not be as though it was a surprise. Earlier in the week, she had dropped several hints that her birthday was coming up and gave him a couple of ideas on what to get her. Since it wasn’t likely he would run off to China with her (the first choice) she had given him an alternate gift idea of a pair of pretty earrings that she had seen in a store the other day. The best part was that the jewelry was dirt-cheap. Even Ranma, as broke as he usually was, could afford to get them for her.
As Shampoo exited the Nekohanten, she finally noticed that Mousse wasn’t present. That was a bit odd. He tended to be almost as enthusiastic about her birthdays as her and was as reliable as clockwork. Not a year went by that he didn’t prepare for her birthday weeks in advance. She still remembered when he had assembled a handful of his friends to form a chorus and sing to her for on her birthday last year. Of course, she had flattened him for embarrassing her in front of so many people, but at the same time she had been really flattered that he would actually go to those lengths for her. But this year seemed different. Perhaps he was simply waiting until later to give her the surprise gift. Still, it was sort of sad that Mousse had seemed to break with tradition and not at least offer her a happy birthday when she had gotten up.
That depressing thought triggered others, and that horrible wedding fiasco was at the top of the list. That incident had almost literally blown up in her face. Ranma hadn’t talked to anyone for almost a week before eventually forgiving all of them for their behavior at the wedding. Actually, offering to repair the damage went a long way to that forgiveness. Shampoo had not wanted to destroy Ranma’s house, but she also didn’t want to see her husband forced into a sham of a Japanese marriage that he obviously didn’t want either. When Shampoo had at last managed to talk to him and explain the motives behind her actions, he seemed to accept the answer. Still, he seemed so sad upon hearing them. Ranma was an impossible man to understand sometimes.
She prepared to hop onto her bike and race down to the Tendous when she remembered that given its current shape, she would have been better off walking. She became depressed again as she forced herself to look at it. It had served her admirably in the year since she had come to Japan, but now there was nothing left but a crumpled lump of metal that looked more like a modern art sculpture than a bike. Using it as a weapon to run down Tarou in his monster form had not been such a good idea. True, it had bought Ranma the time he had needed to get some hot water and change the arrogant ass back into his human form. That had allowed Ranma to beat the hell out of him, but Tarou had managed to get his hands on the bike first and crumpled it into the twisted metal ruin before her eyes.
Her luck had been running that way lately. Mousse had offered to fix it, but somehow he had never gotten around to it. That was downright bizarre. In the past, Mousse had always immediately dropped everything he was doing to help her, but this time he hadn’t. Now that she thought about it, he had been behaving very strangely the last few weeks. The blind idiot hadn’t even tried to ask her out on a date in almost a month. Maybe he had found some other girl to obsess about. That was a laugh; neither of them could be so fortunate.
Having no other alternative, Shampoo began the short walk to Ranma’s house. It was a nice day for walking, and she whistled a little tune as she strolled down the road. She watched out for the little old lady that threw water out in the street for no apparent reason other than to make life inconvenient for Jusenkyou-cursed people. The old creature had nailed Shampoo twice in the last week alone.
Remarkably, she managed to arrive at the Tendou home without incident. It was peaceful at the house, with only the sordid sounds of silence surrounding the house. That meant Ranma hadn’t done anything to anger Akane, yet. That was good, it meant he would be physically able to give her the present himself, and then the brute would hammer his skull for it. But at least Shampoo would get her present.
It took Shampoo a moment to decide whether or not to make one of her spectacular entrances to impress Ranma (i.e. destroy a wall) or just go in through the front door. Deciding she had destroyed enough building material for the next few months, she entered the quiet way. Today would be memorable enough when she received her gift from her husband.
Shampoo knocked on the door. After only a moment, Kasumi answered and smiled pleasantly at Shampoo. “Hello, Shampoo.”
“Nihao! Shampoo come to see Ranma.” She gave Kasumi the bubbliest greeting she could muster.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Ranma isn’t in right now.”
That annoyed Shampoo slightly. It was still early in the morning and not a school day. He should have stuck around, waiting for her to come by and collect her gift. “Where Ranma go?”
“I believe he and Akane mentioned something about going on a training trip, alone.”
Shampoo nearly fell over, stunned. They had gone training together? Alone? She had to put a stop to that immediately. “Can Shampoo talk to Nabiki?”
Kasumi nodded. “Of course. Come right in.” Kasumi ushered her inside and led the Amazon straight to Nabiki, who was sitting down, watching television.
“What is it?” Nabiki asked in a tired voice.
Shampoo cut right to the chase. She pulled out a wad of money and plopped it down in front of Nabiki. “Where Ranma and violent tomboy go to train?”
Nabiki shook her head. “They managed to keep that particular tidbit of information a secret from me. Believe me, if I knew where they were going to train, I’d be the first to sell… I mean tell you where they went.”
Shampoo nodded her head sadly and let herself out. Nabiki had been her best bet for finding Ranma. If she didn’t know, it was unlikely anyone else knew. Her birthday was off to a wonderful start.
She briefly thought about going over to Ukyou’s. Surprisingly, she and the chef had gotten along a lot better since they had to team up to stop the wedding. Part of the reason for that new partnership was that they were both able to openly acknowledge that they were losing in the ‘Ranma Fiancée War’. Ranma and Akane had seemed to be getting closer lately —as though the idea they were going on training trips together wasn’t evidence enough of that. It was taking all of their combined resources to keep the two apart, and it still felt like they were slowly losing ground. If they had not teamed up, there was no telling what would have happened by now.
With this new glimmer of information, it appeared that she and Ukyou were going to have to plan something together again, and soon. On the bright side, Ukyou would have a chance to wish her a happy birthday. Shampoo silently hoped the chef had gotten her a present, even if it was only an okonomiyaki with “Happy Birthday” written on it. It may have been a bit much to wish for —they were still rivals after all— but they were getting along, maybe even good enough to be called friends. That was one thing Shampoo had never had an excess of.
Shampoo eventually made her way to the restaurant and entered Ucchan’s. She gave yet another bubbly greeting, though this one wasn’t as joyful as the other. Ranma’s absence was really bothering her, but Ukyou would be able to cheer her up. As Shampoo entered she saw there was only Konatsu behind the grill, busily making okonomiyaki. That was more than a little surprising; Ukyou had never let anyone other than herself cook at the restaurant.
“Nihao, Konatsu! Where Ukyou?”
“Hi, Shampoo-sama,” Konatsu greeted in return. He had taken to calling her that since she dropped by so often. Shampoo didn’t really mind it. It made her feel wanted.
Konatsu continued. “Ukyou-sama said something about going to visit her relatives in Kyoto. She should be back in a couple of days. In the meantime, she’s letting me run things. And she’s paying me an extra hundred yen an hour!” He beamed.
Shampoo thought that was nice; he was almost making minimum wage. The news, however, depressed the hell out of her. She had really wanted to see Ukyou. Wasn’t there anybody to celebrate her birthday with?
“Umm,” Shampoo began, “Shampoo hate to ask Konatsu this, but did Spatula Girl leave anything for me?”
“No. She didn’t. Was she supposed to?”
Shampoo shook her head. It was too much to expect that Ukyou had remembered, or cared enough, to get her a present. Well, Ukyou would just get the same when her birthday rolled around, Shampoo thought bitterly to herself. Maybe Konatsu would like to celebrate it with her. She was about to make him the offer when several groups of customers came in at the same time. She realized he was going to be busy for a while, and perhaps all day. There was no chance of he would abandon his post and celebrate with her, not that she really knew him that well to begin with. With a depressed sigh she made her farewell and departed.
The most wonderful day of the year was turning into one of the most terrible, and it wasn’t even halfway over. It appeared everyone had something better to do than to spend some time with her. That left only one thing to do: wait at the Nekohanten for Mousse to show up. At least he was reliable, even if he was towards the bottom of the list of people she wanted to spend her birthday with, but at least he was someone. And since he was faithful, she would make his year by agreeing to go out with him. Not on a real date, that went without saying, and he would have to pay for it all, but he would probably pass out from ecstasy at the very idea that the two of them would be together with only each other as company. At least for a while.
Her timing could not have been more perfect. Just as she returned to the Nekohanten, she saw Mousse close the doors behind him and begin to leave. She called out to him. He gave a startled jump that surprised Shampoo. The only time he did that (at least when she called out to him) was when he was up to something shifty.
As Shampoo drew closer, she saw that he was very apprehensive. Actually, he had his hand behind his head and was laughing nervously, just like Ryouga would. He was up to something, all right.
“Hello, Mousse,” She greeted as seductively as she could. He was easy to play with. She would get whatever it was out of him, and she was certain she knew what it was he was so skittish about. It was obvious: her birthday gift. He was probably waiting until the right moment to give it to her and was nervous about her accepting it. Well, there was no need to fear about that, not this year. Even if it were a pair of tickets to that horrible, bad taste play he had taken her to once before, she would be ecstatic about it.
“Oh. Hi, Shampoo,” he replied in a very subdued voice.
What kind of a greeting was that? He should have been jumping up and down for joy at her close physical proximity, exclaiming it was her birthday and that they should go out on a date to celebrate. That was the first thing he did every year. Instead, there he was, acting as though there was nothing special. Had he forgotten her gift? Hell, she was so lonely it wouldn’t make a difference to her. Just so long as she got to spend some time with someone.
Mousse continued. “Since we’re closed and all, I’m going out. See you later.”
That nearly caused Shampoo to facefault. What was going on? Mousse hadn’t said a word about her birthday, and that was an impossibility. Whatever the mystery was, she was going to get to the bottom of it.
She sidled up to Mousse and actually rubbed herself next to him. She would have been appalled at her own actions if she had not been so desperate. “Would Mousse like some company?” There was no way he could resist her, not Mousse. It would only be a matter of moments before he would cry out in joy and glomp onto her. And she would let him too.
“NO!” Mousse cried out, and then relaxed. “What I mean to say is, not today. Sorry.” He gave her a sad look as he turned to leave.
Shampoo just stood there in shock as Mousse walked away without a backward glance. Something terrible was happening. Perhaps he had been drugged? Maybe the Contrary Jewel? No, he would hate her if that were the case. Her mind ran through a dozen possibilities as to what would have made him act so out of character. None of them seemed particularly definite, even with the limited information she had. That meant she was going to have to find out firsthand.
Once Mousse was out of sight, Shampoo began following him, leaping from rooftop to rooftop so he wouldn’t spot her. She gave the situation a little more thought and more ideas came to mind. Perhaps he was being blackmailed. Maybe he had received a private challenge he didn’t want Shampoo to know about, afraid that he might lose in front of her. It could have been any one of a thousand reasons, and the mystery ate away at her. She had to know what was going on.
She was a shadow, quietly following while making certain he never became aware of her presence. Eventually, Mousse’s path took him into one of the nearby parks. To Shampoo’s knowledge, it was not the sort of place Mousse tended to hang around. On the other hand, she never followed him anywhere, so she did not know where he did hang out. At the very least she hoped that this was the place where she would discover what was going on. In coming into the park she had to follow him on foot. With so few people around masking her presence was difficult, and she was worried Mousse would spot her at any second.
Eventually Mousse stopped walking and looked down at his watch. He began looking around, obviously waiting for something. Maneuvering behind some shrubs, Shampoo gave herself a decent vantage point with which to watch Mousse stand around. She did not have to wait long. After only a couple of minutes of, he began waving happily at someone, then pulled out a bouquet of flowers that would have made Kunou proud. Shampoo looked up the path to see whom the center of his attention was. Much to her surprise, it was a pretty, young girl, who was waving back and smiling just as much as Mousse. That the blind duck was meeting another girl was enough of a shock, but the identity of the individual that was meeting him caused Shampoo to facefault quietly in the shrubs.
As Shampoo picked herself up, she watched Akari Unryuu rush up to Mousse and leap into his arms, laughing in joy. Mousse held her up by the waist and spun her around, as though he wanted everyone in the park to see their joy. After spinning her around twice in the air, he gently set her down and she gave her a chance to accept the flowers he had dropped to the ground when she leaped onto him. The pair sat on a bench, close to one another in a much more reserved fashion than their initial greeting. For some odd reason, they almost seemed ashamed of their sudden display of affection, even going so far as to blush. Shampoo could not help noticing that their hands crept slowly towards one another. After almost twenty seconds of excruciating slowness, their hands met, intertwining their fingers with one another. Shampoo recognized the gentleness the two used in that handhold: it was a lover’s grasp. It was something Shampoo had never received from anyone.
Despite the proof before her eyes, it still seemed impossible. Shampoo moved closer to be sure. For Mousse, her Mousse, to be going out with some other girl behind her back defied reality as she knew it. Maybe there was some other explanation. Maybe Mousse was going to get her a pig for her birthday.
That thought made Shampoo realize just how desperate she was to not believe what she was seeing. She wanted more proof, so she moved within earshot of the duo and began to eavesdrop on their quiet conversation.
Mousse’s voice drifted to her first. “Have you told Ryouga about us yet?” His voice was filled with tender emotion. It was a voice that Shampoo recognized as having been used upon her during the more pensive times when he spoke of his feelings for her.
There were tones of sadness in her voice as she said, “He still hasn’t come back yet. I promise I’ll tell him as soon as I see him.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to be there?” Concern now replaced the tenderness that had been in his voice.
Akari shook her head. “You know how temperamental he is. If you’re there, he’ll pull a ‘Mousse, prepare to die!’ speech and try to kill you. Remember how he was with Ranma and Akane? Can you imagine what he’ll be like if he sees a second chance of happiness slipping through his fingers? He’ll probably unleash a volley of those Shi Shi whatzits.”
Mousse put his arm around her and drew her closer, “Which is why I want to be there. I won’t let him hurt you. You can’t defend yourself the way Shampoo, or even Akane could.”
“It won’t come to that. Ryouga would never hurt a girl, no matter what. Even one that,” Her voice caught a little, “that breaks up with him. If he gets really angry, I’ll just point out that he was already betraying me when he kept sleeping with Akane as P-Chan.”
Mousse perked up at that. “We may have to use Akane as a last resort. If she finds out that he’s been P-Chan, I’m certain she’d hurt him.”
Akari shook her head fiercely. “I don’t want to see him crippled. Just because it didn’t work out doesn’t mean I bear any ill will towards him. He’s a nice guy. It’s just that you’re a better man.” She rested her head on his chest and spoke in a quieter tone. “Have you told Shampoo yet?”
Mousse shook his head almost as fiercely. “There’s nothing to tell. There was never anything between us. I was the one chasing her. I don’t think she’s even noticed that I’m not pursuing her anymore. I thought she would have asked about it at least.”
Akari lifted her head back up and looked him in the eye. “Please tell her. I bet it affects her more than you realize.”
“All right,” Mousse sighed. “I’ll tell her later today. I mean, one day is as good as another, right?”
Akari nodded in agreement. With that decided, their looks softened as the stared into each other’s eyes. Soft words Shampoo couldn’t make out were exchanged, and then the duo looked nervously at one another. Slowly, Mousse cradled Akari’s face and drew it closer to his. Then the two kissed, tentatively at first, but then they relaxed and seemed to enjoy it.
That was enough for Shampoo. She quietly sneaked away, not that the two would realize she was there even if she set off a series of fireworks next to their heads. They really were in love. It wasn’t so much Shampoo minded that —she would never love Mousse the way he loved her— but to have it discovered today was the absolute worst thing that could have happened. The one time when she would have appreciated his suffocating attention, and he didn’t have any to give. Damn Mousse! He always screwed everything up. She was so furious that she was tempted to hunt down Ryouga and tell him what she had witnessed. That would fix the blind idiot’s wagon.
No. That was wrong. Ryouga would end up in a murderous fury that even Mousse couldn’t withstand. She was angry at the blind duck, but didn’t want him dead. If only he had not said that line about one day being the same as the next. It had cut Shampoo to the core. Even if Mousse had fallen for Akari, the least he could have done was remember it was Shampoo’s birthday. It was like she had become a discarded piece of trash. Perhaps that had all she had been to him; just someone he could throw his affections to, and now that he had someone else, Shampoo was left blowing in the wind.
What a wonderful birthday it was turning out to be.
It was a full two minutes before the duo broke off the kiss. Each one blushed furiously. Mousse cautiously gazed over in the direction Shampoo had been moments before. “She’s gone,” he whispered.
“That was,” Akari paused to catch her breath. “Something else.”
Mousse turned even redder, something Akari would not have thought possible. “Yes. It certainly was.”
Akari turned thoughtful. “I’ve had to kiss boys during plays before, for the roles we were in. I’d say you were definitely the best at doing it.” She had enjoyed the plays, being a natural at acting. Besides, since no one had been able to defeat Katsunishiki, it was the only sort of ‘romantic’ contact she could have with men.
“Thanks,” Mousse said, resisting the urge to start strutting about from the compliment. “We’d better tell the others.” He pulled a walkie-talkie out of his robes and hit the transmit button. “Fowl Mouth to Twisted Pervert. Fowl Mouth to Twisted Pervert. Over.”
There was the sound of static as Mousse received the response. “What the hell is that ‘Twisted Pervert’ crap?!” the voice on the other end answered.
“They’re code names so no one knows who we are. Fowl Mouth is suitable for me, Twisted Pervert is appropriate for you.”
The sudden shout of “Why you!” was stopped by a thump on the other end. Mousse had a feeling he knew who was behind the noise. “Hammer, is that you?”
“Yes it is, Fowl Mouth. What’s your and Buta Babe’s situation?”
Akari asked for the walkie-talkie, which Mousse handed to her. “Miss Kitty has been given the bag. She should be going to The Kennel soon. ETA about twenty minutes, if she takes her time.”
“Thanks, Buta Babe. Is there anything you want to say to Compass?” Hammer said.
Akari blushed at that. “No. I’ll see him soon enough. Buta Babe and Fowl Mouth out.” She handed the walkie-talkie back to Mousse.
“Well, I guess we should be going. I mean, the others will want us to help out,” Mousse said with little enthusiasm.
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.” Akari sounded just as happy. “We can take our time though.”
Mousse smiled, which elicited a smile from Akari as well. “We should probably hold hands. I mean, if Shampoo doubles back to check on us, it’ll look good.” Mousse felt his heart race as he waited for the answer.
To his surprise, Akari brightened even more. “Okay. Sounds good to me.” And without another word she grabbed Mousse’s hand in a light embrace. The two walked slowly along the path leading out of the park. So lost were they in thought that Mousse almost failed to notice the clouds that had gathered overhead. But he did. With a flick of the wrist, an umbrella popped out from his sleeve. He opened it and drew Akari closer, sheltering her from the impending rain. She never gave a word of protest, but rather, drew closer to him on her own.
Mousse paused in thought. Even if Shampoo didn’t find a dry spot before the rain hit, she could make her way back to the Nekohanten on her own. Knowing Cologne wasn’t in the restaurant, he had set out hot water bottles, in case of emergencies, right before he had left. There was a special cat door they had made for Shampoo that only she could use. And there would be no difficulty for her to use the hot water on herself. There was no need to worry. He was happy right where he was.
‘Hammer’ placed the walkie-talkie back in ‘Twisted Pervert’s’ crumpled hand. “Ranma! You should stop arguing with Mousse. We’re doing something important here,” Akane berated him.
Ranma picked himself up. “Well, he shouldn’t have called me a twisted pervert!”
‘Compass’ finally spoke up. “Why did Akari have to go with Mousse?”
Ukyou stopped pinning up the banner she was working on. The surprise birthday party for Shampoo was never going to be ready if everyone kept arguing. “Because, I was supposed to be out of town, and she would have been happy if it was Akane. It had to be someone she has no feelings about. Besides, she was a good enough actress to play the lead in most of her high school plays, which made her the obvious choice. Quit whining, Ryouga.”
“What’s the matter, ‘Compass’? Afraid she’s gonna develop a fetish for Peking Duck instead of pork rinds?” Ranma taunted.
“Ranma! Prepare to di—“ Ryouga’s threat was cut off by Akane.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Both Ranma and Ryouga suddenly became nervous. “Nothing. Nothing at all,” Ranma said as the duo calmed down.
Akane shrugged and began blowing up more balloons.
Sensing that the moment of danger had passed, Ryouga went back to tying the bow on the new bike everyone had chipped in for Shampoo. It was made with a new kind of special metal alloy that Ryouga had stumbled across in the middle of the Japanese countryside. It was really weird, that huge, damaged, metal saucer he found in the middle of nowhere. If he hadn’t known better, he would have sworn it was an alien spaceship. But that was silly; everyone knew that flying saucers didn’t really exist. It was probably just some large radar dish that fell off a plane or something. The metal was tough, though. Even Ryouga couldn’t bend it. Of course, that meant when Shampoo crashed into someone it would hurt all the more, but they would deal with that when the time came.
Ranma made certain the gift was hidden away carefully. Akane would just misinterpret the situation if she spotted him with it. She might have been gung-ho for the party, but he didn’t think she would be quite so enthusiastic about a gift for Shampoo. It wasn’t like it was anything special, just a pair of cheap earrings, but he wanted to make up for treating Shampoo so badly after the wedding. She had even volunteered, and subsequently repaired the damage she had done to his home. If only the damage she and the others had inflicted on his and Akane’s relationship was so easily mended. Still, Akane and he were closer now, and he had a feeling that this time next year Shampoo might not be so happy.
In the back alleys of Nerima, Shampoo found herself becoming increasingly depressed over the whole events of the day. It was a microcosm of her life. Nothing ever worked out. Her husband rejected her out of hand. She was stuck with a stupid curse. She had no real friends here or in China. The price of being the best there meant everyone saw her as a goal to shoot for instead of a human being, so no one other than Mousse ever really talked to her. Now there wasn’t anyone that cared. She was alone
Maybe the problem was with her. Was there some huge character flaw she possessed that drove everyone away from her? She knew she came on strong sometimes, but was it so wrong to be straightforward in everything? What was it she did that drove everyone away? Even Mousse was lost to her now. It was amazing how much she missed him, and he hadn’t even gone anywhere. But she was so used to his attentions that now it felt like she was missing an arm, not that she couldn’t survive that particular amputation. It was just that the timing couldn’t be worse. Why couldn’t he have fallen for Akari after her birthday? Then Shampoo would have been happy for him and the pig girl. Instead, it was the Amazon who had been forgotten. It was supposed to be her favorite day of the year; instead it had turned into the worst. She was so lost in depression that she failed to notice the rain until it triggered her curse.
That proved to be the final straw. Tears mixed in with rain as she cried to herself. She hated the curse. Because of it she would never have Ranma. He was scared of her. He would never admit it to her face, but he was afraid. She turned into a cat and Ranma was terrified of cats. He could never be happy with her, never live comfortably with a wife that could make him afraid with the merest splash of water. Not bringing him back as her husband was going to hurt her standing with the tribe, as though not getting Ranma wasn’t agony enough. She had no idea how she would deal with the rejection of the one man she had ever truly loved.
As she made her way down the back alleyways, she thought about her situation further. Once she returned to the village, she would be treated like dirt until she could restore her honor, and it would take years to do that. She was a little surprised to discover that she didn’t even want to go home. Save for her great-grandmother and father, she was never very close to any other members of her family, and as she thought before, she didn’t have any real friends. Cologne had been the only one who volunteered to help her once they discovered the truth about Ranma. And a lot of that had to do with restoring her honor, and subsequently the family’s. Maybe that was the only reason her great-grandmother had come at all. For everyone else’s sake and not Shampoo’s.
Shampoo’s reverie was interrupted as a shop owner spotted her walking behind his store. He yelled at her, saying he didn’t “need no stinking alley cat” messing up his garbage.
That was quite the indignity. The best of the young Amazon warriors being insulted by an outsider male who treated her like an unwanted animal going through garbage. However, she had no pride left, not today. She allowed her feline shoulders to slump in defeat as she slinked off, much to the man’s satisfaction. She wouldn’t even seek retribution later. The man was right. She wasn’t anything more than a worthless animal that no one cared about. Nothing mattered to her anymore. She had hit rock bottom with nowhere to go but up. How unfortunate that it looked like there wasn’t going to be any up in this lifetime.
Why couldn’t the pain go away? It was weighing down more heavily upon her by the second. Now she knew exactly how Ryouga felt. It was probably a good thing she didn’t know the Shi Shi Houkoudan. With the mood she was in, she might have been able to blow a hole to the center of the earth.
Her depression ended up costing her. She never even realized she had wandered out into the street. At least not at first. Her head whipped around when she heard a car horn honk and the sound of screeching tires come straight for her. She had enough time to reflexively jump in the air.
She flew through the air as the car impacted with her body. Her mind shut down momentarily as pain beyond imagination ripped through her. Then the mind reset itself as synapses started to alert her to what exactly was wrong with her body: everything. She didn’t even have time to go into shock as even more agony flooded into her. She couldn’t breathe, she was coughing up blood from lungs punctured by ribs and filling with her own internal fluids. More messages of pain came in from an appendage as she could dimly see a bone sticking out of her leg. Sticking way out. Her body overrode that injury and made her pay attention to what was going on inside. Her internal organs were a mess, it felt like someone was sticking flamethrowers in her guts and firing them. Too much pain. Too much.
She was dying and in agony. But she didn’t want to die, not like this. Even if she didn’t have friends, she still wanted to live. And she wanted the pain to go away. Make the hurting stop. Please make the bad hurt go away…
She was dimly aware of being lifted, mostly because it sent a whole new wave of agony shooting through her body. She thought it was a boy who held her. Ranma? Could Ranma be here to make her pain stop?
The boy held the dying cat in his arms. He was bawling at the top of his lungs and begging his father to save her. The man held his forehead. He loved animals as much as his son, but this one was hurt badly. From just the external injuries, it looked like it should already be dead, but it was still coughing up blood. It was amazing how resilient life was. It would hold onto the body until the last second, desperate to avoid death. This little cat was no exception, but there was no way it could last much longer. Part of him wanted to help ease the creature’s pain. Take it to a vet so it could be put out of its misery.
And than he saw her eyes.
The idea of a vet was obliterated. Perhaps it was because he had hit the cat and felt responsible. Maybe it was his son’s pleading. No. That was not why. They might have helped contribute to his feelings, but the real reason was those eyes. The cat wanted to live and was fighting every inch of the way. Fighting for life. He was damned if he wouldn’t fight alongside her. That was why he and his son were on the run. He loved life too much to ever see his creations responsible for death, and that was what his employers had planned.
He had almost gone along with those plans. He remembered their mantra well. It would be forever burned into his mind. Stay quiet. Toe the line. Collect your paycheck. Don’t make waves. Don’t feel responsible for what they do with your creations. It’s not your fault. You just come up with ideas. They are the ones responsible for how and whom they’re used upon. Your hands will be clean of any blood. Besides, if you don’t do it, someone else will. So just continue what you where doing and leave the conscience driving to others.
But in the end he rebelled. He escaped from their cubicles and factories and took what he could with him. What he could not take, he destroyed. He wouldn’t allow others to kill with his inventions. They would have to find someone else’s toys to do their dirty work.
But there were still doubts. He may have acted like the independent, mad as a hatter, scientist role that came so easily to him, but inside he was frightened that he had made the wrong choice. He had kidnapped his son —with the boy’s consent— and ran off, but what kind of life could they expect? They would always be on the run. He knew his employer; she would never let either of them go. So he had seriously considered going back. There wouldn’t be any reprisals; he was too important to them, no matter how much his boss hated him now. In fact, he was thinking about turning the jeep around when his son had screamed at him to hit the brakes.
And now he knew what he had to do. The dying cat had shown him the way. Those eyes that almost seemed to burn with a human intelligence all of their own. It could just as easily have been some child he had never seen in the same state, dying because of his creations. His weapons. He would never do that to another human being. He would never have been able to live with himself. He would never allow his son to live with someone like that. He had made the right choice.
Barely, and he had the cat to thank for it.
Now he would do everything in his power to save the creature that had helped save his life and his son’s. The creature that had saved his soul. But how to do it? The cat could die at any minute. He had to think fast. How could he keep it from dying? His mind was scrambling with solutions when his eyes fell onto what was in the back seat of his jeep. That might work. Yes, if he worked quickly, it just might. At any rate, it was the cat’s only chance.
He gently took the dying cat from the boy. The youth looked into his father’s eyes and understood.
It felt something in the darkness where there had been nothing before.
[NEURAL SYSTEM LINK: FAIL]
[ABORT, RETRY ,FAIL?]
[NEURAL SYSTEM LINK: ESTABLISHED]
[MOTOR SYSTEM: ONLINE]
[AUDIO SYSTEM: ONLINE]
[VISUAL SYSTEM: ONLINE]
The world suddenly came into focus for it. It stared at the two beings in front of it. The neural link informed it of the name and purpose to everything in the room. It had already known though, somehow.
“Do you understand what I’m saying?” The question was asked by a man in a lab jacket with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties, with dark hair that hung low and covered his eyes.
[TRANSLATION PROGRAM RUNNING]
“I knew it!” He said and held his fist up in triumph. “Now, how do you feel?”
[SYSTEMS OPERATING AT 100% EFFICIENCY]
“Am fine.” Though there was something odd. Some feeling of wrongness, as though it shouldn’t be here at this place, talking to the man.
“All right!” That was said by the young brown-haired boy next to the man. It noticed that there was a faint resemblance between the two. The youth appeared to be approximately twelve years old.
“I’m glad to hear that. I was afraid there might have been too much brain damage. We did cut it close, but as long as you’re feeling good, I wouldn’t worry about it,” the man reassured it.
It suddenly felt curious about what it looked like and said so.
“Why don’t you look in a mirror?” the boy said. He led it to a mirror so it could at last look at its appearance. She was a female and appeared young, about sixteen or seventeen…
Seventeen, and had red hair and green eyes. Her body was somewhat voluptuous. It was what men would consider attractive, though she wasn’t certain of how she knew that. Something wasn’t quite right about the face though. It felt like she was looking into the face of a stranger. The feeling of wrongness became greater.
“Do you remember if you had a name?” The older man asked.
There was something tingling at the back of its mind, but it wouldn’t come forward.
“We have to give her a name, dad. We can’t just call her, Hey You,” the boy said.
The older man began scratching his head. “Maybe NK 1124? That is her model number.”
The boy gave an exasperated look and sighed. “Geez, Dad! We can’t give her a name like that. Let’s see.” The boy paused in thought for a moment, and then snapped his fingers. “How about Nuku-Nuku? It has the initials of the model number in it.”
The man shook his head. “Too childish. Now that I think about it, Akiko and I were going to call you Atsuko if you had been a girl. Why don’t we call her that? Is that all right with you?” He asked the girl.
“Is all right.” The newly christened Atsuko answered.
“Cool, I got a sister now, but I kind of preferred Nuku-Nuku.” He turned to his new sibling. “You wouldn’t get angry if I called you that, would you?” The boy asked.
There was no reason to be offended. Actually, she sort of liked it. “Nuku-Nuku like it if you call her that. It will be our special name for me. What your name?”
“Oh, right. Forgot to introduce myself.” He grinned in embarrassment. “I’m Ryuunosuke Natsume.” He bowed before her. “And this is my dad,” The boy pointed to the man.
“I’m Kyuusaku Natsume, but you can just call me ‘Dad’ too.” He smiled as he said that. He had a daughter now. That was going to be a little problematic, but it would be worth it. He had always wanted a daughter. Kyuusaku’s mind started racing as he planned what to do in the days ahead.
“I’ll have to program some more basic information into you,” Kyuusaku muttered, “but that can wait until after you’ve had a chance to assimilate with us humans. Also gives us a chance to shake you down, make sure there aren’t any bugs. Not that my machines have flaws. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”
Kyuusaku laughed long and hard as the cigarette dangled from his mouth. Both Nuku-Nuku and Ryunosuke developed large sweatdrops behind their heads.
“Once we settle down, we’re going to have to get you into school.” Kyuusaku began scratching his head. “Have to give you all sorts of background material. Where you’re from. Fake blood type. Fake weight. Fake birthday—”
“Hey, Dad!” Ryunosuke interrupted. “Since this is Nuku-Nuku’s first day with us, why don’t we make it her birthday.”
Kyuusaku agreed, and then noticed Nuku-Nuku stiffen. Something was happening.
Nuku-Nuku began to shake a bit, catching Ryunosuke's attention. He was going to say more, but then he saw that tears had begun to form in her eyes. Slowly, they trickled down her face. ““Is something wrong? Why are you crying?”
Nuku-Nuku began crying harder. “It because you remember my birthday.”
And with that she picked up the boy and held him, firmly, but not tightly, making certain she didn’t hurt him with any of the awesome power she had at her disposal. The feeling of wrongness was gone now, replaced by a feeling of belonging. One thought went through her mind as the tears continued to fall.
Happy birthday, Nuku-Nuku.
Author's notes: Currently this is a one-shot, but the possibility to expand is obvious. Got most of a back-story figured out, so let me know if you think I should continue it or not.
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