Chapter 20: The Long Journey Home
A Ranma ½ story
by D.B. Sommer
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.
All comments and criticisms appreciated. You can contact me at email@example.com
What’s gone on before, (or what you really need to know to enjoy this fic.) In the beginning the Saotomes traveled to Jusenkyou. They began to spar, not realizing that Shampoo and Mousse had already begun a duel there. One mid-air collision and bath in Spring of Young Drowned Man later, we have a male Shampoo as well as a female Ranma. (So Ranma-chan= female Ranma. Shampoo-kun= male Shampoo. Enjoy) Shampoo elected to travel to Japan with Ranma. After a brief misunderstanding, Shampoo ended up engaged to Kasumi. Once that was cleared up, Ranma became engaged to Akane. After many months of battles and adventures in chaos. (see previous chapters) The Musk Dynasty came to Japan seeking a magic kettle. In the ensuing fight over it Ranma, Mousse, and Ryouga were captured by them and taken to China to be killed. Shampoo traveled alone and engaged in a daring rescue attempt, cursing Lime with magic cat water and cutting off Mint’s hand. Herb, who had locked Ranma in girl form and tortured him, was taken care of by Ranma in neko form. The four martial artists escaped with the forces of the Musk collecting to stop them. Now it’s a race to get out of China before the Musk find them, and the quartet can go home.
Ranma lay back on the pile of fruits and gazed up at the cloudless night sky to the stars. He had forgotten just how many one could see this far from the bright lights of civilization. Only away from the big cities could one begin to comprehend the vastness of space. Admittedly, his mind didn’t go down avenues like that one too often, but every now and then he would try to gain an understanding of the way the universe worked. He would never succeed, but then again, no one ever did.
The silence of the night was broken solely by the wooden wheels of the cart as it made its way down the dusty road. There was a sort of serenity this far from a city. One could see vast distances at times, barring vegetation, and never come across anything other than an occasional animal for living company. The peacefulness was a welcome relief from the hustle, bustle, and chaos of Nerima. In many ways, it felt like an appropriate denouement to the fight with Herb, but they weren’t out of danger yet. There was still a chance that Herb’s forces could catch up to them, and given their present condition, any confrontation might prove disastrous. All four were exhausted from their ordeal with Herb, and any fight would be a chancy thing. Ranma allowed his hand to rise to his chest and scratch where Herb had burned it. The area of flesh still hurt like hell, even hours after it had been injured. Herb might have been crazy, but he knew how to inflict lasting pain.
During their escape, while the quartet traveled overland, a bit of good luck came their way. Earlier in the day, a gray-haired farmer driving an oxcart to a market in a distant town rode past. He spied the four weary travelers walking alongside the road and offered them a ride. Even if they were inclined to, they were in no condition to refuse the invitation. So they hopped in the back of the cartful of fruit and vegetable products, and were on their way. The only drawback was that the farmer was inclined to sing old American show tunes during the entire trip so his passengers would be entertained. How unfortunate the man couldn’t hold a note if his life depended on it.
It was agreed that they sleep in shifts. Ryouga took the first, Shampoo followed, and then it was Mousse’s turn. When Mousse awakened Ranma, the blind one informed him that the farmer knew the truth about their situation and agreed to help get them to safety by driving through the night to a coastal town outside of the Musk’s influence. When Ranma pressed him for an explanation, he said that the old man commented that Mousse reminded him of his own son, and the two had talked a great deal.
Now that there was a moment, Ranma was more than a little eager to wake the sleeping Shampoo up. After leaving the fortress, he had tried to talk to her on a number of occasions, only to have her cut him off. The first time he tried…
The quartet made their way through a number of thickly forested areas. Ryouga seemed to think they could make better time by going through them on foot. If they took an overland route with open areas, the Musk would be able to run them down using horses. In the forest, their animals would make worse time than the escapees, allowing them to pull ahead of any pursuit. The reasoning was sound, much to the surprise of everyone, so they did as he suggested. Once Ranma was convinced they had left their pursuers behind, he started running alongside Shampoo, trying to engage her in conversation.
“Hey, Shampoo,” Ranma began. “Thanks for saving us. How did—?”
“Is no time for talking,” she panted out, eyes remaining forward on the path ahead.
“I just wanted to—,”
“I said is no time for talking!” Again she cut him off. “We have to move!”
Ranma was feeling a mix of irritation and confusion. All he wanted to do was thank her. “Look, I—“
“Shampoo said she doesn’t want to talk to you, Saotome.” This time it was Mousse who leaped to the defense. “Now leave her alone!”
Shampoo turned around at that point and smiled at the blind one. “Thank you, Mousse.”
Ranma watched Mousse nearly pass out from joy of Shampoo thanking him. The fact she was doing it while siding against Ranma probably added to his happiness as well.
He shook his head in disbelief. She was siding with Mousse in something against him. If she was going to be that way, fine! He wouldn’t talk to her.
However, that resolve had disappeared by now. He wanted to talk to her, even though, now that he thought about it, she had maneuvered it so they didn’t have a shift next to one another. Difficult to say if it was intentional or not. Ranma gently moved over to where Shampoo rested and was about to gently place a hand on her to awaken the girl when a chain entangled his arm. He turned to see Mousse staring at him, a satisfied look on his face.
“I knew you were a pervert, Saotome.”
Ranma wasn’t about to take that lying down. He unwrapped the chain and tossed it back at Mousse, who coiled back into his sleeve with a simple twist of the wrist. “I ain’t no pervert. I just wanted to ask Shampoo something.”
Mousse smirked in Ranma’s direction. “Shampoo thought you’d try something like that. She asked me to keep you from bothering her. It seems like she’s had enough of your nonsense. About time, too.”
“Oh, right.” Ranma scoffed. “Like I’m supposed to believe she told you that. What kind of a chump do you take me for?”
“Is true, Ranma.”
Ranma turned in surprise at the speaker. Shampoo had awakened on her own, lying where she was, unmoving save that her eyes were open.
Shampoo continued. “I very tired, and not need you to interrupt my sleep with something stupid. Leave me alone!”
Ranma was confused. This was not the Shampoo he knew. She always had time for him. Always. There were occasions, especially after the first few weeks the started to trust one another, when the two of them talked for hours on end. Their discussions usually weren’t important, but it felt good being able to talk to someone his own age with similar interests. Even after their arrival in Nerima she was still his primary confidant. But now it seemed like she was avoiding him.
“Look, I just want to—“ This time Ranma was cut off by Mousse.
“She said she doesn’t want to talk to you, Saotome. So leave her alone!” Mousse’s body reflected the change his voice took. No longer was he telling Ranma what he wanted, he was ordering him to do it.
“What would you know about leaving her alone, panda-boy? The last time I checked, you were the one always following in her wake, and every time you caught up to her she’d throw you back again.” Ranma’s body reflected his change of voice too. If Mousse wanted to lose a fight, he was about to get his wish.
“WOULD EVERYONE SHUT UP?!!!” Ryouga finally had enough, mad as hell that his rest was interrupted by a bunch of people acting like children. Once he saw he had everyone’s attention, he continued. “If Shampoo doesn’t feel like playing fifty questions with you Ranma, that’s fine. I don’t feel like talking to anyone, either. Now respect her wishes and leave her alone. I need rest, and so does everyone else. We’ve been through a lot and tempers are starting to flare. We’ll all be a lot more levelheaded if we get some rest. And remember, we aren’t out of danger yet.”
With his speech over, Ryouga lay back down to rest once again. Everyone else remained in shock for a few moments. Ryouga had just done the impossible and played the role of peacemaker to an argument. What was worse was that what he said actually made sense. As disgruntled as Ranma was, he gave in and left Shampoo alone. They could talk the next day.
Ryouga awakened everyone to let them know they had arrived at the coastal town. There was a hustle to the town that made it feel very active, somewhat reminiscent of Nerima. Groups of people moved to and fro bearing shipments and cargo, transferring goods and equipment inland and receiving things to go out in return in an effort to get quickly from one place to another. The group immediately took note that some of the people appeared a little rough. Instincts took over as the individuals in the streets were evaluated. More than a handful of the inhabitants wore weapons in open display. Most were hand-to-hand instruments. Swords, daggers, hammers, that sort of thing. Everyone noted that the town had a rough edge to it. Caution was going to be required.
Ranma took note of how slowly Shampoo got up. The purple haired girl appeared worse after her rest, not better. He was about to make his way over to her when she darted away in the opposite direction. To Ranma, it appeared she moved when she saw him out of the corner of her eye.
“Shampoo!” He moved in her direction to catch up. Enough was enough.
She paused long enough to look him in the eye. “Shampoo must get some things so we can leave here and go back to Japan. Must do them alone. If Ranma or others go along they not going to make deal with me.”
As pale and weak as she looked, Ranma wasn’t willing to bet she had the ability to cross the street on her own, let alone make some kind of deal with a bunch of strangers. “You might need some help.”
“I no need help!” She spat out, then took a deep breath to calm down. “It involves friends of Amazons. They not trust me if I bring non-Amazons with me. I must go alone.” This time she afforded Ranma a soft look to try to get him to back off.
“Isn’t hanging around someone that knows Amazons risky?” Ryouga asked.
“As long as they not see me change, is no problem,” she explained. “Besides, they not close friends of village. They just people we work with sometimes,”
With great reluctance, Ranma agreed to her demands. “Okay. We’ll be over there.” He pointed to an open air dining area in front of an inn. “If you ain’t back in an hour, we’re coming to find you.”
Shampoo shook her head. “It may take several hours. I come back to you. No worry about me. Remember who rescue you from Herb.” She gave a wan smile at that and turned to go.
“Yeah, but rescuing us took more out of you than you’re willing to admit,” Ranma said quietly under his breath. “I just hope you aren’t biting off more than you can chew.”
Shampoo thought of one other thing before she would leave. “And stay out of trouble. We try to keep incon…inconsp…we try to keep low profile.”
Ranma gave a lopsided grin. “What? The three of us get into trouble. You’ve gotta be kidding.”
Shampoo took a moment to fully take in the three youths standing before her. If those weren’t famous last words, there was no such thing. She briefly considered staying, then turned to go, determining she wasn’t any shape to baby-sit the trio.
The three youths looked at one another, as if deciding what they should do. Mousse spoke first. “The old man was kind enough to give us a little money. Let’s get something to eat.”
It took all of Shampoo’s strength to maintain her facade of casualness. She was certain she had a fever and was getting weaker as time wore on. Shampoo hated lying to the others, but she needed to be alone. There was no need to worry them about her condition, and she didn’t need Ranma fawning over her in pity. She was going to stand on her own two feet. No longer could she afford to rely on him as a crutch anymore. Ranma wasn’t going to be there for her much longer, once he got married to Akane. Oh, how painful that was to admit, but it was the truth. He had chosen her back in Japan, and even Herb knew the violent tomboy was the one that held his heart. Ranma dreamed of his fiancée even as Shampoo dreamed of him. A tragedy.
She found the place she was looking for. A destination she neglected to mention to the others. The place was a small, inconspicuous building, but the sign on the outside told her what she needed to know. It was a doctor’s office.
Shampoo walked past a man with his arm in a sling, as he left the building, and staggered weakly through the front doors. It was a small place with many chairs for the patients to wait. The place was empty, save for the doctor sitting in a chair towards the back, looking over the papers. It was a woman, much to Shampoo’s relief. She preferred dealing with women.
“<Hello! Can I help you?>” Dr. Suin looked to see the new arrival.
Shampoo staggered over to the doctor, faintness nearly overcoming her.
“<Dear God! You look like death warmed over.>” Suin quickly got up from her chair and moved to aid Shampoo. “<Lie down, over here.>” She indicated a medical table in a room towards the back of the building.
Shampoo allowed the doctor to lead her and lay back on the table. It felt cold and metallic, not comfortable at all.
“<I need you to help me,>” Shampoo got out weakly, then lifted her shirt.
Dr. Suin looked a bit surprised. The black material of Shampoo’s shirt masked the bloodstains of the wound she bore in her side. The bandages that had been applied to the cut had both old and fresh blood on them, and had soaked through long ago, even the inside of the short was moist. The purple haired girl before the doctor was lucky she hadn’t passed out from the blood loss alone.
“<The dressing on it looks good,>” the doctor commented. She had seen hundreds of makeshift bandages that did little or no good to the wounded. So few people understood the proper way to apply a bandage while keeping foreign substances out of the injured area. But this was different, whoever did it knew how to treat such wounds.
“<I did it myself.>” Shampoo had learned from Silk, one of Cologne’s friends. Silk probably would have been a doctor in the village, if only she had had the desire to become one.
Suin didn’t like the smug look that entered the Amazon’s eyes. “<It should have been changed a while ago.>”
“<I didn’t have time to change it,>” Shampoo replied, the smugness replaced by the look of exhaustion once again.
Suin removed the field dressing and examined the wound. As soon as she laid eyes upon it, she reevaluated the girl before her. She either enjoyed pain or had near total mastery of it. It was unquestionably a deep puncture wound in the side. Fortunately, it pierced nothing vital, just went through the soft tissue of her flank. The pain must have been intense, though. Most people would have passed out or gone into shock from the suffering of such an injury, but this girl held it together long enough to apply a quality field dressing to it. Very impressive.
Unfortunately, the wound had become infected. That, combined with the blood loss, was why the girl appeared to be in such terrible shape. The infection was going to have to be treated immediately, plus the wound on her side needed to be stitched closed. As Suin examined her, she took note of an older scar next to the new one. The girl was no stranger to this sort of thing. It didn’t really matter to Suin. She certainly had dealt with worse than this with fewer resources on hand. Getting out the necessary instruments, she began to work her magic.
She finished within the hour and was beginning to clean up when her patient began to rise to her feet.
“<Whoa, girl! Lie back down.>” She placed her hand on Shampoo’s shoulder and attempted to gently guide her back down.
Shampoo gently, yet firmly, removed the hand from her person. “<There are many things I need to do before I can get any rest.>”
Suin wasn’t backing off. “<You might end up resting for good if you aren’t careful.>”
Shampoo smiled at the concern. Doctors could be so overprotective sometimes.
“<Look,>” Dr. Suin understood what the girl was doing, and didn’t like it one bit. “<I want you to stay at least overnight for observation. I need to be sure the infection goes away and there aren’t any further complications. You’ve been through a lot and need some rest.>”
Shampoo shook her head. The doctor was going to fight her tooth and nail over this. It was time to explain the situation to her. “<The Musk Dynasty is after me. You’ve heard of them?>” Suin nodded her head in response. “<They will stop at nothing if they discover I’m still in China. I need to get out of the country. Today.>”
With a reluctant sigh Dr. Suin gave up. In this town, lots of people had prices on their heads and were on the run. “<All right, all right already. Just let me give you some more antibiotics for later. We don’t want to let that infection get any worse than it already is. And for God’s sake, get some rest. If you keep pushing yourself you’re going to collapse.>” She packed up some additional bandages and wished Shampoo luck. She had a feeling the purple haired girl was going to need it.
Anyone in their right mind that passed by the table the three youths were sitting at would have given it a wide berth. Something strange was going on there, and it just wouldn’t pay to try to discover what it was. The palpable silence surrounding the three was more than a little disturbing to everyone else around. The silence around the trio simply felt wrong.
The three men sat at the table and stared intently at the center of it. The object that had riveted their attention was a lone sandwich, which sat atop a small paper plate that barely covered the bottom of it. All three gazed hungrily at it, as though it were the last piece of food on Earth.
At last Ranma could take the silence no longer. “Why’d you only get one?”
“It’s all we could afford,” Mousse responded.
Ryouga’s curiosity got the better of him. “What kind is it?”
“Bloodtongue,” the blind one answered.
Ranma made a face at that revelation. “Why’d you get that?”
“It’s all we could afford,” Mousse repeated.
Ranma paused to consider the situation. He knew what bloodtongue was made out of, and however awful it might have tasted, it would still be far better than anything Akane could whip up.
“Well, who gets it?” Ryouga finally asked the question that was on everyone’s mind.
All three continued staring at the object at the center of the table, as though in the hope the sandwich would speak up and solve the problem for them.
Ryouga looked at it hungrily. Serving regular meals to bats scheduled to die hadn’t been high on Herb’s list. It had been a couple of days since any of them had eaten, and all of their appetites were big enough to consume twenty such sandwiches, and still it would only satisfy their appetites.
Ranma’s body made sounds that called the others to attention. The Saotome stomach complained from feeling more empty than it had in years, and let everyone know it. “We could fight for it,” Ranma offered.
“And burn up so much energy we feel hungrier then if we all had one. I think not,” Mousse’s tone made no hint of tolerating argument.
“Guess we’ll just have to divide it then.” It was the best Ryouga could come up with.
“Are you crazy?” Ranma looked at Ryouga, then the sandwich. “The whole thing won’t be able to dent my appetite, and you want me to share?”
“He’s right,” Mousse seconded Ryouga’s motion. “It’s the only way to be fair.” Though Mousse didn’t like the idea one bit. He deserved to be fed. Not the two idiots he was surrounded by.
Ranma saw he was going to be outvoted and wasn’t about to go along with it. In fact, he recalled there was a secret technique in the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts that was made for situations just like this. His father used it against him on more than one occasion when there was only one piece of food between the two of them. Who would have thought Genma would come up with a stupid technique that would prove so useful? Ranma mentally prepared himself for the maneuver.
“Look! A fifty yen piece!” He stood up and pointed at a space on the floor between the two men sitting across from him.
Mousse actually fell for the trick for the briefest of moments. Once he realized that it was a trick he turned back to Ranma. Sure enough, it was just as he suspected. Ranma had grabbed the bloodtongue sandwich when everyone’s back was turned and was about to swallow it whole. Mousse quickly whipped a chain out and snagged the sandwich out of Ranma’s grasp, allowing Saotome’s jaws to bite down on nothing but air.
“Ha! Since you tried to steal it, none for you. And since I’m the one that saved it, all for me.”
Ryouga turned from his quick search and looked back up. “I didn’t see any fifty yen piece, Ranma. Are you sure it was a…” Ryouga trailed off as he saw Mousse about to bite down on their one and only meal. He barely managed to snatch it out of the blind one’s hands, then pointed accusingly at him. “I see how you are, trying to eat the sandwich for yourselves and leaving me out. Well, I’m not going to stand for it. I’ll solve the argument by eating it myself.”
Mousse and Ranma looked at each other momentarily, nodded as though coming to an agreement, then jumped Ryouga.
Shampoo walked into the bar. It was amazing how dark and dismal a place like that could be in the middle of the day. Her eyes scanned the room and she couldn’t help but notice the place was filled with what her great grandmother would have described as the scum of the earth. It was just such a person she needed to see. A guess was made about how to go about finding a captain to take her and her friends out of China quickly. She elected to approach the first person she thought looked like a smuggler and strike up a conversation with him. He was a roughish looking gentleman wearing a white shirt with black vest and black pants. He had a large, seven foot, almost gorilla-like creature next to him. An odd pair. It hardly took any hinting at all before the two of them to started to talk business.
“<I’ll need a fast ship.>” Shampoo insisted. She had a feeling the man would set off into a speech about the speed of his vessel. She wasn’t disappointed.
“<Fast ship? You’ve never heard of the Centennial Hawk?>” The man said with more than a note of incredulity.
“<Should I have?>”
“<It’s the ship that made the Dessel run in less than twelve days. I’ve outrun PRC ships. Not the local bulk cruisers, mind you, I’m talking the new Japanese models they’ve purchased. She’s fast enough for you, young lady.>”
A gut feeling told Shampoo that traveling with this man was going to be trouble. She listened to her instincts and thanked him, telling him she was no longer interested, then left.
The man turned to his large inhuman partner. “<I’m telling you, Gummy. It’s tough to get a job these days>” That was when he noticed an older, white-haired man and a youth that looked like he just hit twenty enter the bar and head towards his table. It appeared things were about to get interesting.
Shampoo looked over more occupants of the bar. There was a man with a peg leg and dead parrot on his shoulder, but she passed on him. Another thin man with an eyepatch and two long scars across his face stood at the bar. He was armed with a rapier-like sword at his side, and had a skull-and-crossbones design on his chest. Again, Shampoo’s instincts told her to stay away from the man; that he wasn’t what she was looking for either. At last, her eyes settled upon a very handsome, sharp-dressed man off in a corner of the bar. His dark hair and cobalt blue eyes seemed to shine in the dark recesses of the bar. Time to find out if he showed any promise.
The man gave a dazzling smile, which caused Shampoo’s heart to flutter. He was a handsome rascal, even more roguish than the first man.“<Did you need something, Miss?>”
She elected to skip the idle chatter and get right to the point. “<I need a smuggler like you to help me transport something.>”
The man suddenly became indignant. “<I am no smuggler! I am an independent, discreet, freelance, transporter of rare and valuable goods.>”
“<Oh!>” It sounded to Shampoo that he had just described a smuggler. “<I was looking for someone to help me transport some goods.>”
The man’s demeanor changed back to what it was when he first spoke to Shampoo. “<Well then, that’s different. I’m Captain D’Amore, a man who can fulfill your every need. And I do mean your every need.>” He once again gave that lethal smile of his. Shampoo mentally marked him as a dangerous one, not so much physically as much as charming. That could make him even more dangerous than one who was good with a sword. His kind could reach places one can’t get to with a weapon, and leave worse damage in the long run. It was fun playing with a fire like him, just so long as you didn’t get burned. Maybe she needed to play a game of risk with this one. It wasn’t as though she had anything, or anyone, better to play with. She would have to be careful, though.
Shampoo walked out of the bar, somewhat satisfied if a bit taken off guard. The man had been very compliant with her demands, meeting every one of them with nary a hesitation. Still, maybe she got lucky with this one. He certainly could provide her with what she needed. She was considering exactly what to do next when she heard an explosion from the center of town.
“RANMA!!!” It was a shout of anger, not concern.
Shampoo moved as quickly as she could, anger drowning out the pain from her side as she ran. Sure enough, it was exactly the scene she had pictured in her mind. Portions of several buildings lay in ruin as Ranma, Mousse, and Ryouga seemed to be fighting over several pieces of something. She silently believed she should take the ship and leave them behind. It would serve them right for ignoring her advice and drawing attention to themselves.
All three were so wrapped up in fighting that it took them a moment to feel a blue aura of anger rise up behind them All three simultaneously cringed in cautious fear as they turned to see Shampoo, surrounded in a halo of blue light, with anger radiating from her like a miniature star. Ranma involuntarily made a comparison between the Amazon and Akane. He was getting the same feeling off of her and was a more than a little uneasy. The trio had enough sense to stop the fighting.
“What is you all fighting about?!” More anger radiated from her as she asked the question, already knowing she wasn’t going to like the answer.
The other two shoved Ranma boldly forward, deciding he was the most likely to survive her rage. And if it didn’t work, he would at least buy them time to flee.
Ranma cleared his throat and began. “We were kinda hungry. And there was this one sandwich and we couldn’t all eat it. We tried to divide it evenly, but that didn’t work out so good, so we fought over it.” He silently wondered if that explanation sounded lame to her as it did to him. Judging by her reaction, it was.
“You…” She paused and tried again. “You…” It still couldn’t quiet get out as she was trembling too much. She allowed herself to take one quick breath, then continued. “YOU IS TRYING TO GET US KILLED OVER A STUPID SANDWICH?!!!”
“Well, not exactly,” Ranma tried to clarify, but somehow he just couldn’t come up with anything.
Surprisingly, Shampoo’s anger disappeared. She just gave a small laugh of disbelief, then shook her head and turned away. “There a ship leaving in the hour. It at pier five. If you care enough to leave, meet Shampoo there. They’ll have food on the ship.”
“Where’re you goin’?” Ranma called out to her rapidly departing form.
She turned long enough to give him a mocking look. “I going to talk to the captain. He is a…” She paused for a moment, then smiled at Ranma, “nice guy.”
“Do you want some company?” Mousse finally made his existence known. Longing to spend some time with Shampoo. Since she was giving Ranma the cold shoulder, it would have been the perfect opportunity for the two of them to be together. The cold stare he received in response told him it was best to leave her alone, for now. Curious that she should mention the captain, though…
Ranma was equal parts curious and annoyed. Shampoo did behave rather oddly when she mentioned the captain, almost as though she were taunting him. Ranma was going to have to be properly introduced to the gentleman…
Ryouga looked down at the tattered remains of the sandwich he held in his hand. It was better than nothing…
Interlude: Eight Devils
The man in black stared into the dark surface of the water from his position on the trawler. The ocean was deep here. Deep enough that the final one would never be recovered through conventional means. How fortunate the man in black did not rely on the mundane to succeed in his tasks.
The others watched eagerly, waiting for their last member, their leader, to be brought back.
The man in black allowed the magic to flow through his hand as he felt for the man buried in his watery grave. It took but moments to find the tremendous weight, then use magic to bring him to the surface.
“You are the easiest to bring back, leader of the devils. I don’t even need to waste energy resurrecting you. Just enough to heal your mind from the centuries of captivity you suffered in spending an eternity in the motionless dark. Even if you cannot die, you can know madness. But have no fear. I shall restore your mind and its glory. Then you will work for me once again, although this time there will be no betrayals. You will serve me and serve me well. Simply because you cannot die does not mean you cannot suffer. I can make you know nothing but agony for an immortal lifetime if I so choose.”
As the speech ended there was a bubbling at the surface of the water. The seven beings on the deck watched intently as a rough, gold statue of a man rose above the surface of the water. The only thing that could be made outside of the lumpy body parts was the face. The contortions on it could leave no doubt that it was supposed to depict agony. And it did it so very well.
The man in black waved his hand and allowed the statue to rest upright upon the deck. He moved closer to the statue and began to run his hand lightly along its surface.
“Welcome back to the land of the light… Gemma.”
The Eight Devils of Kimone were reunited for the first time in centuries. His foot soldiers were in place, and this time they would obey their true master.
The Shogun in the Dark laughed long and hard. The end of his millenniums long quest was at hand.
The end of everything was at hand.
All three showed up at the appointed place within the hour. Shampoo was there, waiting for them, but no captain was in sight, much to Ranma and Mousse’s delight.
“It looks pretty good,” Mousse commented.
“That’s only because you’re looking at a buoy,” Ranma informed him, then turned him around to see the armored monstrosity before them.
All three youths saw what passed for a ship before them. It was a large, awful-looking vessel that appeared to have three different hulls fused together. It was a large ship, maybe at one time a very small passenger liner. What was originally believed to be paint on the ship was actually the barnacles and rust that adorned the sides of the craft, and there was a horrible, fishy odor that emanated from it. All things considered, it looked like it had just been salvaged from the floor of the ocean.
“I could have bought a ship like this for what he charge me,” Shampoo mumbled under her breath.
“Y’know,” Ranma began. “Swimming back to Japan ain’t looking like such a bad idea.”
“If we get on this boat we might end up doing just that.” Ryouga was more than a little fearful that the ship wouldn’t make it out of the harbor. Then he commented on something else.
“The Worthless Piece of Shit?”
“I think you’re being a little harsh, wouldn’t you say?” Mousse tried defending it. “It may have seen better days, but I’m sure she’s seaworthy.”
“No.” Ryouga shook his head. “I mean that’s its name. Look at the bow.”
Mousse followed Ryouga’s finger and read the name on the front of the boat. Sure enough, the words “The Worthless Piece of Shit” were written on the side. “Why would anyone name their boat that?”
“If you had to crew on her, you’d call her that, too.” That condemnation was uttered by a short, swarthy looking man who had moved quietly up behind the group. The fact he had alerted no one to his presence before speaking, spoke volumes about his abilities.
“Who’re you?” Ranma asked.
“Alejandro Peña.” The man smiled as he said that. “One of the crew of the TWPOS.”
“Why would you serve on a horrible looking ship like that?” Ryouga asked.
The answer sounded more like a sigh than a statement. “I owe the captain a big time favor. All of the crew’s like that. We either owe him one, or can’t get better jobs.” He paused as he thought of something else. “Well, some are pressed into service, hoping to get to their original port of call.”
“Where’d you get a ship like that?” Ranma asked. It truly was an abomination.
“The captain lost in a card game.”
“Do you no mean, ‘won it in a card game’?” Shampoo inquired.
“Look at that thing and let me ask you: Would you want to win something like that?” Peña explained.
Shampoo considered that. She would most likely have scuttled it at the first available opportunity.
“He lost a bet and has to captain it for five years.” Peña suddenly got a thoughtful gleam in his eye. “And what are you three doing here?”
“They’re our passengers, Frog.” This was spoken by the Captain D’Amore, who made his way down the gangplank to the people on the dock below.
“Sir, I’m Spanish. Why do you insist on calling me “Frog”?”
D’Amore just stared at him. “You look French to me.”
Frog just sadly shook his head, then gave the update to the captain. “We’ve lost five men, sir.”
D’Amore gave an irritated look to his crewman. “Well, get some more.” And with that he handed a club to Frog. The Spaniard simply rolled his eyes and walked off in search of more “crewmen.”
“It’s nice to see you’re on time, Miss Shampoo.” D’Amore’s teeth gleamed as he gave her that oh, so devastating smile, which made Shampoo smile cheerily back. It was no surprise that Ranma and Mousse took an immediate dislike to D’Amore.
“You didn’t say you’re happy to see us.” Ranma tried giving the same smile at the captain, but fell short.
“You’re right. I didn’t”
The captain failed to notice the icy stare he received from Ranma at that comment. Instead, as he turned to walk up the gangplank he offered his arm to Shampoo, which she accepted with a smile. That, in turn, triggered scowls of anger from Ranma and Mousse. They nearly ran over each other as each tried to be the first one to follow Shampoo and D’Amore, with Ryouga bringing up the rear. They fought so hard trying to get past one another that they didn’t catch up to the pair until they were almost to the end of the gangplank. As the arm-linked couple set foot onto the ship, D’Amore’s heel kicked the gangplank, where it was connected to the ship, ever so slightly. That movement was enough to drop the gangplank, and everyone remaining on it, into the ocean.
Shampoo whirled as she heard the shouts of the three youths. She witnessed what had happened and quickly gazed over the side. There had been no reason to mention any curses to D’Amore, and she didn’t want him asking any questions about that. Looking over the edge she expected to see a girl, bat, and panda swimming for their lives. Instead, she saw Ranma had managed to clutch the deck with his fingertips, right along the edge of the boat and just barely hanging on. Mousse had managed to latch onto Ranma’s pants, and Ryouga was hanging from Mousse’s legs.
“Oops!” D’Amore held his face in false shame. “How did that happen?”
Shampoo understood that the man knew damn well what he had done, but smiled back anyway. Nothing bad had come of the matter.
“Let go of me, you pervert!” Ranma yelled. He could feel his pants start to slip from his waist.
“Forget it, Saotome! These are my only robes and I don’t want to get them wet. I’d haul myself up if it wasn’t for this dead weight around my legs.” He finally turned his attention to Ryouga. “Let go of me, damn it!”
“No way!” Ryouga shook his head. “My wings are still messed up. If I fall in the water, I’ll drown.”
Ryouga started climbing up Mousse as Mousse made his way up Ranma. The combined efforts of both men, as well as the miserable handhold Ranma had, prevented him from making his way up. As the other two got to the top, they left Ranma to pull himself up.
“Thanks a lot,” he muttered under his breath as he managed to haul himself up to the deck.
“You’re welcome,” was simultaneously spoken by the duo that had used him as a makeshift ladder.
“I have to go do captainy things. I shall you see you later, Shampoo.” He made a deep flourishing bow as he kissed the back of her hand and departed. Shampoo gave a soft giggle and happily walked off in the opposite direction.
Ryouga couldn’t help but feel the heat generated by the two men in front of him. It didn’t look like they were taking a liking to the captain.
“Man, I hate guys like that,” Ranma muttered under his breath. “Those smooth talking, suave creeps make me wanna puke.”
“You’re right.” Mousse nodded his head in agreement.
It took each youth a moment to understand what just happened. For the first time in the months since they had first met at Jusenkyou, they had at last agreed on something. They both recoiled in surprise and disgust, neither certain what to make of the situation.
Mousse chose a course of action first. “I’m going to have a little discussion with the ‘captain’. I’ll explain a few things about the facts of life to him.”
Ranma noticed the blind one crack his knuckles as he said that. Good. With any luck they would beat each other up and stay out of his way.
Mousse left without any worries that Saotome would do anything to Shampoo. It was obvious she didn’t care about him anymore. Oh, joyous day! She had avoided Ranma like the plague since the rescue at the Musk Fortress. Of course there was now this new threat, the smooth talking pretty boy, Captain D’Amore. Mousse chuckled to himself, having picked up the habit from Tarou. The captain was about to have a close encounter of the painful kind. No one would stand between Mousse and his Shampoo. No one.
Ranma left in the direction Shampoo had taken. It was time to get to the bottom of things, and there was nowhere to hide on a ship. He found Shampoo humming to herself as she strolled along the deck of the ship. The vessel was still devoid of all but a skeleton crew, leaving he and Shampoo all the time they needed.
“Hey, Shampoo!” he called out, hoping to get her to slow down. The Amazon just gave an irate look at him as he approached. He was really going to have to get to the bottom of why she was behaving that way.
“Would you tell me what’s going on?”
Shampoo continued looking irate. “Nothing going on.”
“Then why are you avoiding me?”
“I not avoiding you. It all in you head.” Looking satisfied that she had explained herself, she turned to leave again.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Ranma was sick and tired of chasing after her. Answers were desired and he wanted them now. He was not about to spend the entire trip chasing after her on the piece of junk ship they were on. Things were going to be settled before the ship left the dock.
He reached out a hand to grab onto Shampoo. The quick movement caught her eye and she darted out of the way. She eluded the grasp, but managed to hit the railing with her side. The wounded side as luck would have it. As soon as she made contact with metal, she gave a little cry.
Ranma knew something was wrong in an instant. Shampoo had not hit with anywhere near enough force to elicit that response. “What’s wrong?”
“Is nothing wrong.” Sweat formed on her brow from the pain. She would hit it in just the right spot.
“Which is why you look like you’re ready to fall over. Don’t feed me that line.” He softened his voice as he reached out to her. It appeared she was going to let him touch her side, but she batted his hand away at the last moment.
“Is nothing to be concerned about. Is just small scratch.” She took a step back, increasing the distance between her and Ranma.
Whether it was her attitude in general, or if the journey was wearing down on him, Ranma wouldn’t have been able to say. What happened was he finally lost his temper. “Yeah! I remember the last ‘is just small scratch’ you had! You were in the hospital for a couple of days and it took you weeks to heal, thanks to Perfume,”
Shampoo’s mood darkened noticeably. “You no make fun of the way Shampoo talk!”
“Well, Ranma no make fun of the way Shampoo talk if Shampoo stop treating Ranma like he no matter.”
Whatever direct message he was trying to send wasn’t making it to Shampoo’s brain. All she heard was a boy making fun of her speech patterns. It was all his fault! She would have been able to speak better if he hadn’t been frustrating her so. “Shut up, Ranma!”
“No, I ain’t! I can’t believe you were this stupid!” he reprimanded.
“What that supposed to mean?” She had suddenly lost the direction of the conversation.
“I mean you coming all the way to China,” he explained. “You shouldn’t have done it. You were hurt!”
Shampoo began to wonder what he was talking about. If she hadn’t come he would have been left to Herb’s tender mercies. “I had to rescue you.”
“No, you didn’t. I could have gotten out on my own.” He began to calm down a little. “And even if I couldn’t have, you still shouldn’t have come. You could have been killed, either by Herb or the Amazons if they spotted you. It was a stupid risk, and it wouldn’t have been worth it.”
He never saw the slap coming. One second she was standing a good five feet away from him, the next she had closed the distance and struck him hard enough to turn his head. His hand went reflexively to his face as he felt the sting of the slap settle in, staring at Shampoo with a look of disbelief in his face. What he saw in hers was a surprise. She was beginning to cry, and not from pain. At least not from the pain of the wound.
“Never tell Shampoo Ranma life is no worth saving!” And with that declaration she ran off into the interior of the ship.
Ranma stood there, paralyzed. Part of him wanted to follow, to try to figure out what upset her, but he was too confused by her behavior to trust himself to not do something else wrong and make matters worse. Not that he understood what went wrong in the first place. Better to take some time and let things settle in. For a change.
Ryouga remained right where he was. Everyone else had left, and he knew that if he allowed his feet to leave the spot they were currently at, the inevitable would happen and he’d get lost. If that happened he might not ever make it back to Japan. So it was no small surprise to the returning crewmembers, who fished the gangplank out of the water and hooked it back up, that they saw someone standing motionless in their path. Ryouga viewed Frog and some other cohorts carrying five unconscious bodies onto the ship. They had to pause at the head of the gangplank due to Ryouga blocking the path onto the ship.
“Would you mind moving? We’re in kind of a rush. Generally guys that get pressed into service raise a bit more of a fuss if they’re within sight of land,” Frog explained.
“Sure, but could someone take me to my cabin? I got lost.” Ryouga looked hopefully at the crew.
Someone did. A young girl, about Ryouga’s age with black hair and wearing a blue and black striped bandanna with a black shirt and blue pants stepped forward. As she laid eyes upon Ryouga she smiled at him. “Nice bandanna.”
Ryouga responded in kind. “Same with you, Miss… ahh…?”
“My name’s Akiko Yoshida, but I’ll kick your butt if you call me anything other than Aki.”
Ryouga smiled at that. He preferred being informal. Whenever he tried to act like a gentleman there was always the fear he’d screw something up. “Just call me Ryouga, then.” He held his hand forward, which Aki accepted. It was a surprise to discover the girl possessed an incredibly strong grip that almost rivaled Ryouga’s own.
“I’ll take you to your cabin.” She looped her arm through his and guided him into the ship. Once out of sight, the other crewmen stood around and smiled.
“Looks like Aki’s in love again,” Frog stated.
“Think it was a good idea to let her take him to his cabin, though?” That was said by a huge, black man who picked up Aki’s unconscious burden.
“Don’t worry, Brunt,” Frog explained. “It’ll give them time to get acquainted. Still, we’d better test him before she tries putting the moves on him.”
“Yeah!” Brunt agreed. “We don’t want his back broken like the last one.”
“Thanks for giving me a tour of the ship. It was very kind of you.” The tour Aki had given Ryouga was thorough. He was certain they hadn’t missed a single corner of the ship.
Aki just laughed as she placed her hand behind her head and chuckled nervously. Something about that maneuver seemed awful familiar to Ryouga, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
“Yes. Well, here’s your room.” She indicated the door in front of her.
Just as she finished the PA system of the ship blared out. The noise volume was way too high. “Attention all hands. There is a meeting on the aft portion of the deck. All hands report immediately.”
Aki began to look a little nervous when another crewman, dressed in a white business suit with a red rose in the breast pocket, walked by. Her arm darted forward as she snared the man’s arm. “Kawada. This is one of our passengers, Ryouga. Ryouga, this is our first mate, Kawada.”
The two men shook hands. “You hear the announcement?” Aki asked the newcomer.
Kawada looked carefully between the two, then nodded his head in understanding. “Sure did. Would you like some company?”
Aki relaxed noticeably. “Please.”
Ryouga volunteered to come along. Hopefully the vessel would leave port soon and he wouldn’t have to worry about wandering off the ship, probably. After that he could find the room on his own, eventually.
As the trio made it to the deck, they saw almost everyone else had already gathered. Kawada walked over to the captain and took up his position next to him. Ryouga spotted Ranma standing off to one side and walked over to him.
The captain grabbed a megaphone and began yelling at everyone. “I have an announcement to make! There has already been an attempt to mutiny on this vessel! I cannot tell you how sorely disappointed I am in the lot of you. You guys usually wait until we’ve been out to sea at least two days before you try anything like that. Is this what I have to expect from you this trip?”
There was a general murmur from the crowd at the end of the little speech. Kawada picked up on the what the voices were saying and translated to the captain. “It appears they didn’t plan the mutiny, sir. Who was it that attempted it?”
“That man up there. I’m putting him on display as an example to all who would seek to defy me.” D’Amore pointed to the man he had incapacitated. Mousse was unconscious and wrapped up in his own chains, tied to the crow’s nest.
“He’s one of the passengers, sir.” Kawada explained in a tired voice.
D’Amore scratched his head. “Can passengers mutiny?”
“It could only happen to you, sir,” Kawada said dryly.
“Right! He stays up, then.” The captain turned back to the crew. “As for the rest of you. Good news. We have passengers on this voyage that are paying in advance.”
“Does that mean we get paid this time, sir?” Brunt shouted out.
“Yes, it does,” D’Amore answered. That brought a cheer from the crowd.
“Nice move, sir,” Kawada whispered. The captain had probably bought himself two extra days before some of the crew would try to mutiny.
Satisfied, D’Amore returned his attention to the crew. “The rest of you, SHOVE OFF!”
Kawada translated for them that the captain meant untie the ship, not leave it. In a matter of minutes, the crew cut the boat loose from the dock and sailed out to sea.
Ranma walked around the deck with Ryouga, both keeping their tempers in check as they watched themselves drift away from China and out to sea.
Ranma tapped one of the passing crewmen on the shoulder. “When do we get to eat?”
The crewman walked over to two fishing poles that were resting against the wall and handed them to the boys. “Bait’s in the box over there. Good luck.” He indicated a box next to the wall and walked off.
“I should have known it would be something like this,” Ryouga muttered. Having nothing better to do, the two youths placed some bait on the hooks and started fishing.
“You’ve been quiet this whole trip,” Ranma asked. “Something wrong?”
Ryouga considered that for a moment. After thinking about it he began speaking. “What do you think of me, Ranma? I mean what do you really think?”
Ranma was a bit taken aback by the bluntness of the question. He paused a moment to consider exactly what it was Ryouga was asking. “Well. You’re depressing. Violent. Couldn’t find your way out of a paper bag. Thick as a brick. Depressing. You reflexively blame everything that goes wrong with your life on me. Very gullible. Did I say you’re depressing?”
With each statement Ryouga seemed to draw deeper into himself. Ranma actually noticed the effect he was having on Ryouga, for a change, and reconsidered his words.
“You’re also a heck of a fighter. Loyal, in a puppy dog sort of way. You do seem to have some ethics, unlike some blind pandas I could mention. Umm… you’re strong.” Ranma was running out of nice things to say.
Ryouga gave a weak smile at Ranma. “I know what you’re trying to do, and I appreciate it. I really have some problems, don’t I?”
“Well, yeah. You do.” Ranma let out reluctantly. “But everyone I know does. Except me, of course,” he quickly added.
Ryouga chortled at that. The sad thing was, Ranma probably believed it. Still, his admissions made Ryouga’s decision easier.
“I’ve been thinking a lot since escaping Herb and the Musk,” Ryouga confessed. “I almost died, Ranma. If it wasn’t for Shampoo, I think I would have.” He noticed Ranma seemed to react quietly to that statement, but said nothing.
“Anyway, death makes you think about things. Like what you’re doing in your life. I’ve made some decisions. It’s time for me to try to do something I’ve been afraid of.” Ryouga let the statement hang there.
“And that would be?” Ranma was a bit impatient at the lag time Ryouga seemed to have developed between speaking one statement and then the next.
“I’m going to confess my feelings to the girl I think I l… l… like. I can’t just wait around and hope something is going to happen. I have to take the first step towards a relationship with her. And I’m going to do it first thing when I get back.”
Ranma thought he knew where this was leading to, and he wasn’t sure he was going to like it. Ryouga had an awful lot of problems to hang on Ukyou. He wasn’t sure if his friend deserved to have someone like Ryouga after her.
“Are you sure she’s interested in you? Maybe you should think about it some more.” Ranma tried to avert the potentially damaging situation. If for no other reason than, if it fell through, he would get blamed for the failure.
“I’m pretty sure she is. Normally she’s not too aggressive, but some of the things she said made me think she wants to get serious.”
Ukyou was coming onto Ryouga? That was a surprise, but everything about the relationship between Ryouga and the chef was a bit of an enigma to Ranma. “I’m not sure I can approve of it. I mean, and I’m really sorry for being blunt here, but I think she deserves better than you.”
Ryouga shook his fist at Ranma. “And what right do you have to get between me and Kyoko?”
Ranma stood back in shock. Kyoko. The cheerleader Kyoko? (If it was Godai-sensei’s Kyoko, that would be a whole other problem.) “You mean Kyoko? ‘Rah, Rah, I know martial arts cheerleading’ Kyoko? I thought you meant…” Ranma let that trail off. No need for Ryouga to know what he had been thinking.
“Of course. I’m ready to go out on a d… date with her, if she is.”
That was a relief for Ranma. He put his hands on Ryouga’s shoulders and laughed. “You go for it. I gotta go. See you later.” He walked towards the bow of the ship, leaving Ryouga alone.
Ryouga watched Ranma leave. He knew who Ranma thought he was talking about, Ukyou. He had thought about it. She was kind, sweet, cute, and all sorts of other good things, but he decided against it. And the reason was simple. He was a coward. He could admit it to himself. Oh, he tried rationalizing it with all sorts of reasons, but the bottom line was, he was afraid.
Ukyou was the first real friend he’d ever had. Ranma couldn’t understand what that meant. He may not have had many friends, but he had some. Ryouga had always been alone. Ranma had no idea what it was like to only have one’s shadow as a companion. It was a horrible, lonely existence. Even traveling as they were, being hunted and all, didn’t feel quite as bad as walking alone with no one chasing him. No one caring about him. He wanted someone to acknowledge his existence. Now he had a friend. There was someone in his life that cared about him. It didn’t matter to her that he got lost, or had a stupid curse. She liked him just the way he was, and he liked her just the way she was. As things were, they were both happy.
But if he told her how he felt, that would be different. What if it didn’t work out? What if she didn’t feel the same way about him? If that happened, not only would he lose someone he loved, but he’d lose the only friend he ever had. That was why he couldn’t say anything. He knew he had a lot of problems, and the truth was he didn’t know if he could work them out. Ukyou deserved better. So he’d make a play for Kyoko. She seemed to like him, and he kind of liked her. He couldn’t take the chance of changing his relationship with Ukyou. He could be happy with things they way they were now.
Ryouga didn’t feel like thinking anymore. So he settled down and watched the world sail by.
Hours later, Ranma collected Ryouga and went down to the mess. Apparently enough fish had been caught that everyone could eat.
“Where are the others?” Ryouga asked.
“Mousse is still tied up, and no, I’m not letting him down. As for Shampoo, she’s dining with Captain D’Jerkface.”
Ryouga noticed the touch of bitterness in Ranma’s voice. “Are you going to apologize to her?”
“I ain’t got nuthin’ to apologize about! She’s the one acting like a snob. If she doesn’t want to talk to me, fine! I ain’t got nothing to say to her anyway!” Ranma crossed his arms. “It ain’t my fault,” he muttered.
Ranma stuffed his face and departed, leaving Ryouga alone. It wasn’t long before Frog, Brunt, and Kawada entered and made their way over to Ryouga.
“Get up, Ryouga. We have to ask you something.” Frog said.
Ryouga stood up, curious. “What is it?”
Kawada tried explaining as best he could. “Well, you see, you have to pass the test before you can do anything with her.”
Ryouga was totally confused. “What test? With who?”
Brunt smiled. “If you pass the test, you’ll get to find out. Remember, all of this is for your own good.” And with that Brunt let loose with his massive fist and connected with Ryouga’s stomach. The boy was sent flying hard into one of the metal walls, then bounced off, leaving a dent behind.
Ryouga quickly got to his feet, the look of payback in his eye. “I don’t know what that was for, but you’ve had it.”
As he approached the big man the others got in front of him, trying to ward him off. Kawada spoke first. “You got it wrong. You just passed the test.”
“WHAT TEST?!!!” Ryouga had enough of the mystery.
“Well, you see,” Frog cleared his throat. “Aki’s a lot stronger than she looks.”
“And,” Brunt continued, “when she gets excited, she doesn’t know her own strength.”
“She dislocated several vertebrae on the last guy she hugged.” Frog picked up where Brunt left off. “So we had to make sure you can take the punishment.”
“You passed with flying colors, by the way,” Kawada stated.
“What does any of this have to do with Aki?” Confusion was a state Ryouga was somewhat used to, and this was one of those occasions.
The three smiled at each other, then spoke simultaneously. “You’ll see.” And with that they left the mess, doing nothing to alleviate Ryouga’s confusion.
“What the heck was that all about?”
“Hi there, Ryouga.” Aki had made her way behind him and whispered in his ear.
“Oh, hi.” For some odd reason he felt heat rise to his cheeks. Maybe she understood what was going on. “Do you know why Brunt would hit me? He said something about a test.”
Ryouga couldn’t help but notice the facial twitch Aki suddenly developed. “I’ll kill them. The Idiot Trio are interfering in my life again,” she whispered under her breath as she balled her fists, then switched her attention back to Ryouga. “I’m sorry, but I have to teach them a lesson. I’ll see you tomorrow or something.”
As she turned to go, she gave Ryouga one last look. “By the way, did you pass the test?”
“Umm, I think so.”
Aki gave a squeal of delight and bounced off, leaving Ryouga even more confused than before.
Ranma had stopped in front of Shampoo’s cabin and read the note again:I NOT WANT TO BE DISTURBED. THAT MEANS YOU ESPECIALLY, RANMA.
The death’s head below his name was a nice touch. He was getting singled out again, and for no damn reason. Why was she behaving this way? She came all the way to China just to give him a cold shoulder? That made no sense. None whatsoever. It was time for some answers, but every time he tried, she just cut him off or ran away. Well, she was trapped in her room now and wouldn’t be able to run. This time she wasn’t going to cut him off either. It was time for a showdown. Just as he raised his hand to hammer on the door he paused.
That was the problem with the whole situation. He was confronting it as a conflict, and she was reacting accordingly. If he switched tactics and tried to be nice, maybe she would respond in kind. If it wasn’t so embarrassing, he would have given himself a pat on the back for such wonderful insight. At any rate, it was worth a shot.
He gently rapped on the door. After receiving no answer, he tried again. Still no response. An internal conflict developed of whether or not he should try the handle, or leave her alone as she suggested. There needed to be a peace made between them, for his sake if not hers. The doorknob turned under his grasp as he peeked in.
The room was dark, moonlight coming in only through a single porthole. He allowed his eyes to adjust to the gloom and saw Shampoo, lying in her bed under the covers so that only her face was visible, fast asleep. He quietly entered the room and shut the door behind him so as not to disturb her. Why was he doing that? If she woke up to find him in the room she would scream at him then throw him out. And the sad thing was, she would actually be justified. Staying served no useful purpose. He allowed himself one last glance at her form as he turned to go.
Then his eyes opened a little in shock. It could have been the way the moonlight seemed to move across her face as she lay in her bed. Or perhaps it was the way her face appeared when she was at rest, relaxed and with several errant purple strands lying across her nose. Whatever it was, it made Ranma notice one thing about the girl before him. Something he should have realized a long time ago.
It was nothing more than the faintest of whispers. Only someone next to him would have been able to make out the statement. Strength left his legs as he sat down on the floor and stared at her. Why hadn’t he realized it before? He had known her for months. Had spent more time with her than anyone else. Of all the people that should have realized it, he was the first, but he hadn’t. Why?
Memories of when they first met came back to his mind. He had been cursed. There had been nothing but shock. Then denial. The curse consumed all his thoughts. There was no room for anything else. Then recollections of the purple haired girl that had been knocked into the water at the same time as he. The one whose eyes he met for the briefest of instants as he fell headlong into the cursed spring. Ranma-chan turned to see the purple haired one was no longer a girl, but a boy whose appearance was so like that of the girl that the two could have been siblings. He jumped down from the pole he was on and landed, still in shock after the first cry of surprise. The panda had come over and placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder, as though to comfort him. The boy turned on it in rage and punched the panda hard, sending him to a far off place. Then he reexamined himself more thoroughly, as though making certain everything he believed was true.
Then he screamed. That horrible scream cut through the redhead’s own panic. She watched as the boy went to his knees and started pounding the earth over and over again, screaming something in Chinese. It took only moments before the boy had beaten his hands bloody from the force of the blows. Ranma-chan asked the guide what it was he was saying. The guide explained that the boy was shouting out he could never go home. That it was all over. There was nothing left. He was going to die.
Something inside Ranma-chan reached out to him. She walked over to the boy and placed her hand on the boy’s fist as he drew it back. The boy stood up and spun in fury at the interruption, the rage still evident upon his face. Instead of panicking, Ranma-chan stood her ground and looked calmly at the youth. The rage in that face ebbed ever so slightly, leaving the boy standing there, breathing heavily. The words just seemed to flow from Ranma-chan’s mouth.
“You can come with us.”
Despite not understanding the words, the boy calmed down, as though understanding their intent, if not the meaning. He turned to the guide and ran off a different phrase in Chinese. The guide answered the boy, who, in turn, stared in confusion at the redhead. Then asked her something in Chinese. Ranma-chan looked to the guide for the translation.
“He say, ‘why’?”
Ranma-chan looked up at the boy’s face and answered. “Why not?”
It took but a moment for the guide to translate. The dark haired boy stared curiously at Ranma-chan. The look lasted for almost a minute before his shoulders slumped in defeat. He gave Ranma-chan a little smile, then said something to her. The guide translated once more.
“He say, ‘Why not, indeed’. I think that mean he accept.”
This time the boy answered himself. “Yes.”
The guide explained the situation with the curse to Ranma-chan as all three left Jusenkyou and went on the road. It was difficult, but Shampoo was able to speak very basic Japanese. It was good enough to communicate. As time passed the two dealt with their curses, each helping the other when things seemed miserable and hopeless. The first week was the worst. One didn’t realize how much cold water one came into contact with everyday. Water was the enemy, and both learned to avoid it whenever they could. And then there was the shapeshifting. It was a new, and very unpleasant experience. There was nothing it could be compared to. But whenever it seemed hopeless and he thought he couldn’t take it any more, Ranma could go to Shampoo. He knew she understood exactly what the curse meant, and in that knowledge some measure of peace was attained as the two comforted one another. Having someone to share the burden with made adjusting easier. Oh, so much easier.
Now he thought he understood why he never realized she was so beautiful. He was too caught up in the events that had happened at first to see anything other than the curse. Once things settled down she had already been there for so long she was part of the scenery. He had looked upon her as a friend as well as a crutch, not an object of desire. He never looked at her that way because he already understood what she was to him.
Then the guilt settled in. He was a friend to her as well, now all of a sudden he was having… urges of a different kind towards her. He was certain she didn’t see him that way. Besides, it was just wrong. She was a friend, nothing else. Perhaps he had spent too much time around Happosai, and was starting to see all women as objects instead of people. That was a scary thought.
It was in both their best interests that he leave before she woke up, and beat the snot out of him for coming into her room when she was asleep. Just as he heaved himself to his feet, he saw something glisten on her face. Daring to take a few steps closer, he managed to see what it was by the moonlight. A tear. His heart fell as he thought of her crying in her sleep. He couldn’t stand to see women cry, even if he wasn’t the cause. Then he heard her mumble something under her breath. He dared to lean closer, and caught what it was the second time she whispered it aloud.
His heart sank yet again. She was dreaming of him, and it wasn’t a pleasant dream either. It probably had to do with the argument they had on the ship earlier in the day. Something was going to have to be done and he was the one that would do it. His acting like an ass was causing her grief, and she had had more than a lifetime’s worth already. It was a risky choice, and if he was wrong she would probably never forgive him, but he had to take the chance. She was too exhausted to be awakened. Shampoo had been on the move longer than him. She may have tried to hide it, but he could tell. He knew he couldn’t leave her as she was, and it wasn’t like anyone else would know. So he laid down next to her, making certain he was on top of the sheets so there was no doubt of what his intentions were, and gently cradled her head into his chest while he whispered softly in her ear, almost like a parent reassuring a child.
“Shhh, it’s okay. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. Please forgive me.”
Almost immediately her soft voice quieted and she shifted closer to Ranma. He laid motionless, watching over her, making certain she had the measure of peace he was able to give her.
It was the standoff. Shampoo was in the baths again, knife poised at Mint’s throat while Herb stood across from her, Ranma-chan in that neck breaking embrace.
“<LET HIM GO, HERB!!!>”
“<Let me consider that for a moment.>” Herb stared at her, then smiled. He raised his head slightly up as she heard the sharp intake of his breath. He was going to nod his head and say something.
“<No.>” It was over in an instant. He quickly jerked Ranma-chan’s neck to the right as the body remained where it was. The snapping sound that the vertebrae made as the red head’s eyes bulged left no doubt as to what happened.
Shampoo felt herself being restrained as she moved to save Ranma-chan. There was also something binding her arms as she fought her way free of the fabric and clawed her way through. It took a moment for her to realize that there was no bath any longer. And, more importantly, she had made it to Ranma. She grasped the side of his head and was delighted to hear him gasp in pain.
“You alive! Ranma, you alive!” she shouted through tears.
“Not for much longer if you keep trying to squeeze my head like an orange.” He had sat up and struggled, trying to extricate himself from her grasp.
Her hands were removed from his head as she slid down to clutch him around the waist. Slowly, reality started to filter back in as she remembered exactly where she was, and who she was with. Her head buried itself into his chest as she kept moaning about him being alive.
“Yeah! I’m fine, you saved me,” Ranma finally managed to get out. He mused that it must have been some nightmare for her to react that violently to it. It took several moments, but eventually she calmed down and relaxed in his embrace. The apology was going to have to be done now, before something else came up and she got angry with him for being here.
Shampoo was enjoying his embrace, unconcerned by why he was here. All that mattered was that he was with her. That was when she received another surprise.
Several moments passed before Ranma spoke again. “I think I know why you’re so mad at me, and I don’t blame you.” He couldn’t believe he had forgotten the obvious, again.
Shampoo raised her head from his chest and stared at him in confusion. “What you mean?”
“I didn’t show up.”
“You not show up for what?” As soon as the words were out of her mouth she understood what he meant.
“Meeting you the other day. Well, other week now. I kinda got sidetracked by other stuff, and it slipped my mind. I know you probably hate me for doing that to you. I mean, you seemed so excited about it and I didn’t show up, so whatever you wanted to do must have gotten ruined.” He felt awkward doing that. He wasn’t any good at apologizing.
“Y’know, it was the last thing that went through my mind before Herb hit me with that Breath chi thing back in Japan. I thought I was never gonna get a chance to apologize to you. I felt—“ He stopped there. There was no confidence in him of remembering exactly what his emotions were at the time. They were strong, that much he could remember. Beyond that his memories were too jumbled.
Shampoo looked down into his chest again, specifically to avoid him catching sight of her eyes. She was doing everything she could do to keep her emotions in check, but she felt like allowing a deluge of tears of joy to let loose. She was the last thing on his mind. Not Akane. She was. He did care about her.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
The two of them remained where they were, neither moving, happy with the situation. She had accepted his apology. Everything was all right.
Then Ranma noticed something. Specifically, something about Shampoo. In all the time he held her he had been concentrating on her face and eyes, gauging her reaction to what he was saying. Seeing if he could predict what her response was before she verbally said it, not to mention concentrating hard to come up with the right thing to say, which was why he hadn’t paid attention to the rest of her. He felt something poking him in his lower abdomen, but both of Shampoo’s hands were around his back. He looked down a little ways only to come to a very surprising conclusion. She wasn’t wearing anything underneath the covers. He was being held by one very naked girl, and from where the faint poking was coming from, it could only mean one of two things. Either Shampoo was very cold or very excited.
Ranma’s reaction was instantaneous. He released her from his own comforting embrace and tore himself out of hers, keeping his back to her as he sat on the edge of the bed. He made certain he was as far away from the girl as possible while he covered his eyes. “Y… You don’t have any clothes on!”
Shampoo went from staring at his back in confusion to staring at herself. So what? She was nude. What difference did that make? Then it dawned on her. Ranma was easily embarrassed and hadn’t even realized she was in a state of undress. So observant about some things, yet so blind about others.
“It not like I had time to pack nightclothes before coming to rescue you.”
“I never thought of that. Could you put something on?” Part of his mind let him know he was going to have the same problem that she did.
She shifted closer to him and whispered softly in his ear. “I no mind.”
He thought if she knew what was going through his mind she sure would. It was saying a lot that she trusted him enough to let him see her that way, but she couldn’t have had any idea that he was having an improper… reaction to her. He finally spoke out loud. “I mind.”
If Ranma had still been watching her he would have seen a look of frustration cross Shampoo’s face as she silently began to wonder. Didn’t he understand that she was offering herself to him? Almost any male would have jumped at the opportunity to be with her. She knew she was beautiful. As hard as Mousse had tried to drive any men away from her, many still braved him to try to be with her. And when she walked through Nerima as a girl, lots of them hit on her as well. D’Amore practically drooled every time she came into his vision. Ranma didn’t have to worry about anyone finding out. Akane and the others were in Japan, Ryouga was probably lost in the hold, and Mousse was still tied up. They had the ship practically to themselves.
The look of frustration left her and was replaced by a small smile. There was something about Ranma’s behavior that was reassuring. He treated her as a human being, not a sex object like the good captain and so many others had. As many flaws as Ranma had, he tended to treat people based on what they were, not what they looked like. That was a reason to rejoice. In school she had heard many of the girls complain about boys just using them for that sort of thing then ignoring them afterwards. Ranma would never be like that. So if he ever accepted her advances, there wouldn’t be any concern if he was being sincere or not.
And she couldn’t stay angry with him. He was safe, and he was with her now. That was more than she dared hope for at the start of the journey. So if Ranma wanted to take his time, that was acceptable. The last thing in the world she wanted to do was scare him off.
“Maybe I better go.” Ranma started to get up.
Ranma was going to leave her. Shampoo’s mind quickly tried to come up with something that would keep him with her. He didn’t have to do anything with, or to, her, just so long as he remained. An idea finally came just as he was halfway to the door.
“Ranma. I need you to change my bandage.”
Reflexively, he almost turned to look at the wound, then stopped before his eyes fell upon her. “But you still don’t have any clothes.”
She gave an inward sigh. He was such a prude. It was business, not pleasure, to change her wrap. “Shampoo could always let Mousse do it.”
That got the reaction she wanted. He stiffened up in indignity at the inference that Mousse doing it was preferable to him changing it. That, combined with the fact that Mousse was probably the only person in the world Ranma truly hated, and that was mostly because of the Nyanniichuan incident, would convince him to do it. In a weird way that made her feel good, that Ranma cared so much about her that he would hate someone that hurt her, emotionally if not physically.
Shampoo was incorrect; even that wasn’t enough to relax him. “But you still don’t got any clothes.”
Now she was getting the urge to hit him. Enough was enough. “I can always turn you into girl-type. Then you no have to be embarrassed about seeing naked girl’s body.” It better not be HER body Ranma was embarrassed about.
“NO!” After being locked in his female form, turning into a girl was the last thing he wanted. “I’ll do it. Just cover yourself up.”
After a few moments Shampoo spoke up. “I decent.”
Ranma turned and was left wondering what Shampoo’s definition of indecent was. She was laying on her stomach, still unclothed and with her upper back upraised slightly because she was propped up on her elbows. The arms were positioned enough so that he couldn’t actually see anything important, but in many ways the hint was almost as bad as seeing the actual thing. His eyes almost involuntarily tried to look around the hidden portions. The covers were gathered around the bottom of her waist, again just scarcely covering her lower features. If they had moved even an inch she would go from barely acceptable to scandalous. Given his current state of mind, her positioning was not conductive to relaxing him. Still, he had agreed to help her, and she was mostly covered up.
He sat back down and started to examine her. Curiously, Shampoo just looked forward and stared at her headboard while Ranma sat next to her. His eyes involuntarily gazed up and down her back. The muscles of her back accentuated her spine, and he suppressed the urge to run his finger along the length of it. He had no idea why he was suddenly afflicted with such a desire, it was an alien feeling to him. Part of him did wonder how she would react to the action.
Shampoo sensed, rather than felt, his hand hover over her back and make its way down to the base of her spine. She felt her heart step up in tempo. Was Ranma going to make a move? His hand was hovering over her rear end. All it would take was the slightest of movements for him to slip his fingers under those oh, so carefully placed sheets. The thought trailed off as she felt his hand fall on those sheets and…
Raise them so that they covered more of her up. Oh, well. She would just have to move more slowly with him.
Ranma was surprised at the amount of effort it took to raise those sheets, but once they were raised he felt much more relaxed. Further thoughts along those lines were eradicated as he undid the bandage and saw her wound for the first time.
“Oh, my…” he hissed, then took a much more angry tone. “Are you crazy?! Why didn’t you tell me about this?! I would have helped you! I can’t believe you were so stupid and didn’t tell me…“ he trailed off as he saw she had turned around to look at him, doing the worst thing imaginable. She had begun to cry.
“Ranma, please no shout. I just want to help you. I no mean to get hurt. I no want you to yell at me.” She hated him for doing this to her. Kind and nice one minute, yelling at her that she was being stupid the next. She had no idea what was going through his mind and it was tearing her up. If only he would make up his mind on how he felt.
His emotions changed once again as he started apologizing. In truth, he was just as confused by the quick changes she was causing in him. “I won’t shout. Just stop crying. Let me change that bandage.”
She calmed down as he undid the old bandage and replaced it with new. Once he made certain it was a good wrap, he got up to leave.
“You no have to go. Please stay.” Shampoo desperately wanted him to remain by her side. Once they got back to Japan things would go back to the way they were. This would be her only time to have him to herself.
“No.” He shook his head sadly. “I gotta go. I’ll see you tomorrow. Good night.” He went out the door and shut it softly behind him, leaving her alone in the dark.
She listened quietly as his hollow footsteps drifted off in the distance. She had silently hoped he would remain outside the door in hesitation, as though reluctant to leave, but he hadn’t. His steps had been steady and sure as soon as he closed the door and left. No sleep was going to be had tonight. She had far too much to think about. Too many things to consider, thanks to Ranma’s actions. Where did she stand in his eyes?
Ranma left Shampoo’s cabin at a nice steady pace. He doubted he was going to get any sleep tonight. Something had just changed in his relationship with Shampoo, and he had to think about what that change was. He silently wondered where he stood in her eyes.
Mousse was finally able to let himself loose from his imprisonment. Imagine, treating him like some huge scarecrow for the crew. It was a surprise that Captain D’Amore could handle himself in a fight so well, though it had been pure luck that the captain had disabled him so easily. Tying him to the pole was a mistake. There was going to be a second encounter, and Mousse would not underestimate his opponent again.
D’Amore was secondary to the matter at hand. The best way to keep the captain away from Shampoo was to be with her. Now was his big chance. She had abandoned Ranma and there were no other suitors for her hand. Mousse was so proud of Shampoo. She had fought free of Saotome’s influence and she could now choose him as her husband. No doubt the time they had together since escaping the fortress had a great deal to do with the reason she broke up with Ranma. Mousse was the only one who could love her the way she needed love. The curse was irrelevant to him. She was still Shampoo, the woman he had loved all his life. The only one for him. In a way, their passage in this boat would be like a honeymoon cruise.
His first stop was Ranma’s cabin. He knew from personal experience that Ranma was stubborn as hell. Simply because Shampoo had given him the hidey-ho didn’t mean Saotome would take it lying down. If anything, the bastard would probably try harder to win back her affections. Well, he would, if it wasn’t for Mousse. This time Ranma was going to receive a warning he couldn’t ignore. And if he tried to, then Mousse would see to it there wouldn’t be enough left to interest Shampoo in any case.
Mousse arrived at Ranma’s door and knocked. Receiving no response he tried again, making sure to shout. Again no response. Since Mousse had no intention of allowing Ranma to cower from him in fear, he kicked open the door. There was a surprise inside the room. Not only was there no Ranma, but his bed hadn’t been slept in.
Mousse checked his watch. Three A.M. There was no way Ranma could have not been in bed by now. He should have been as tired as the others. And if he hadn’t slept in this bed, then he must have slept in…
“SAOTOME! YOU ENEMY OF WOMEN! PREPARE TO DIE!!!”
Mousse had calmed himself down by the time he arrived at Shampoo’s room. He was being paranoid. Shampoo hated Ranma now. It was Mousse’s turn to romance her. Besides, if he went in shouting and kicking the door down, and Ranma wasn’t present, he would look like a fool. So he crept up to the door to see if he could hear anything. What he heard froze him in his tracks. It was Shampoo begging Ranma to stay. Ranma had spent the night with Shampoo.
Ranma had spent the night with HIS Shampoo!
Saotome was dead!
Mousse’s mind went into overdrive. He couldn’t kill Ranma, not right away. Somehow Saotome had slimed his way into Shampoo’s heart once again, filling it with false promises of love no doubt. However, if he killed Ranma on the ship everything would point to him as the culprit. After the threats Shampoo had made against him, the one man in the world who had sacrificed everything for her and would continue to do so, she had made it abundantly clear what would happen if he were to kill Ranma. He would follow in Ranma’s wake. So it would have to look like an accident. As annoying as it was, he would have to simply bide his time and wait for the right moment. There were a few tricks he had picked up from Kodachi that would help in situations like that. He would have to thank her when he got back to Japan.
All that went through his mind in an instant as he heard Ranma approach the door. He quickly ducked into an empty room and shut the door behind. Once he was certain Ranma was gone, he entered the hallway again and stood in front of Shampoo’s door.
“Don’t worry, Shampoo. Leave everything to me. We’ll be together soon.”
The next day was uneventful for all involved. Ranma saw Shampoo for a portion of the early morning, then they mutually departed. Each said they felt tired from the journey and needed more rest, but the truth was neither had gotten a bit of sleep after they parted company the night before. Ranma did have enough time to think about the events of the previous night. He had managed to come to one conclusion. There was nothing wrong with thinking one’s female friends were attractive. For instance, Ukyou was cute. He even told her that to her face, which got him an embarrassed spatula blow to the head. Minami had her own sort of physical charm. It was her self-righteousness that was annoying. Kasumi was appealing, in a motherly sort of way. Akane was, well she was Akane, which sort of fell into its own category. So there was nothing to worry about if he thought Shampoo was beautiful.
So it wasn’t until the middle of the evening that Ranma stopped by Shampoo’s cabin for dinner. When he opened the door he was more than a little surprised. Shampoo stood there wearing a long blue and peach dress that hugged her in all the right places. Once again, her beauty took him aback.
“Where’d you get the dress?” If she didn’t have time to pack nightclothes, she would not have taken the time to get a dress.
“It from D’Amore. He give it to me for dinner tonight. He say it used to belong to his aunt.” She spun around for Ranma, displaying it for him.
Ranma was less than enthusiastic about the gift. “His ‘aunt’ sure looked good.”
Shampoo gave a little jump for joy at that. “Aiya! Thank you very much!”
It took him a moment to realize why she was happy. She thought he was complimenting her instead of insinuating the captain’s ‘aunt’ was nothing of the kind. Still, it was what he would consider a good misunderstanding. Something that never happened to him. All misunderstandings always went against him. His happiness at that soon switched to disappointment. He had wanted to ask her to spend some time together, but if she had plans with the ‘dashing captain’ there wasn’t much chance of that. As he turned to leave she spoke up.
“What you want?”
He considered lying about it, but changed his mind. Why should he lie? He told her what he had come in for and finished up with, “…but since you got plans. I guess you aren’t going to want t—“
“I love to spend time with you, Ranma.”
He looked at her more closely. Judging by the smile she gave, she was accepting out of desire, not pity. It appeared she had taste after all.
The two of them leaped to the top of one of the roofs on the ship. The flat surface was similar to that of the roof of the dojo and gave them the privacy they desired, despite the chill in the air. The first half hour or so was spent talking about nothing. Just idle conversation. The duo lost interest in the discussion, and laid back so they could watch the stars in the night sky. The added effect of the boat’s motion made it appear the stars were swaying to some unseen melody. Both could feel a sort of peacefulness at that moment, the first either had had in weeks.
“Yeah?” he answered.
“Do you hate me?”
That left him a more than a little surprised. “What are you talking about?”
He heard her voice tense up a little. “You yell at me and call me stupid for saving you life. The first time you do it was when we still at dock before we set sail. Then you do it last night. So I ask you again. Do you hate me?”
“Of course not.” He seriously did not want to go down this line of conversation.
“Then why you do what you do?”
He tried coming up with an answer, but all that came out was, “I, unhhh, I…”
That was all the evidence Shampoo needed. “You do hate me!”
“NO! It ain’t like that!” This was terrible. She was going to force it out of him and he was going to screw the explanation up. He always did when he was with Akane. Why should this time be any different? “It’s like this. I don’t want to see you hurt. I like you a lot.”
“I no want to see you get hurt either,” Shampoo agreed.
“But it ain’t right for you to risk your life because of me. And when you had to come to China to help me you got hurt.”
Shampoo shook her head sadly. “Ranma, if I get hurt it because of who’s trying to hurt you, not because of you.”
“To me it’s the same thing.”
Her sorrow for Ranma’s view of the world began to get to her. “If you really think that, then you the stupid one.” She paused to try to explain what she meant before he misunderstood what she was trying to say. “You can’t protect everyone around you, Ranma. We all take risks for people we… like. If you feel guilty about everything that happen to everyone, then you is never going to be happy.”
“I can be happy. It’s just,” he paused, trying to come up with the right words. “When I was travelin’ with Pop, there wasn’t anyone around to care about. I was responsible for myself and no one else. No one could get hurt ‘cause of stuff I did. But now I got people willing to help me if I need it. It’s all kinda’ overwhelming. But because of that I don’t want to see anyone get hurt for my sake. I don’t think I can handle it. Does that make any sense?”
“Yes. It means you a nice person that cares more about others than yourself,” she answered softly. “And that why I help you. If you get into trouble I always going to help you. No matter what.”
He rose up angrily at that. “That’s exactly what I mean about being stupid! You just gotta say stuff like that, don’t you? Do you know how bad that makes me feel? That you might get hurt doin’ something stupid like this again?!”
“Would you help me if I get into trouble?” she asked.
“Of course!” Part of his mind alerted him to the fact he was about to lose the argument.
“Then I going to do the same for you. That’s the way it work, Ranma. You can no change my mind no matter what. You is not the only one who stubborn.” She hoped he was listening. “Do you remember when you promise to keep people from hurting me?”
“Yeah. So what?” He vaguely remembered saying words to that effect somewhere before. And he had tried to protect her whenever he could. Not that she ever wanted help.
She sighed in response. “You no understand me yet, Ranma.”
“You got that right,” he thought to himself.
“You make that promise and expect nothing in return. It not like Mousse, who make that promise to impress me and hope I let him become my husband,” she continued. “Once I understand what you mean, then I make the same promise to you. I not go—“
He cut her off. “Don’t say stuff like that! I don’t want to feel—“
It was her turn to cut him off. “You no want to feel responsible for me. Shampoo got news for you, Ranma. You is no responsible for me. Shampoo is responsible for Shampoo. I do what I want, when I want. You can no stop me!”
Her tone became somewhat icy as she continued. “And if you try, you is going to have a bad day. You think because I a girl I can no defend myself. Don’t try to deny it. You is a male chauvinist pig. That why you won’t even hit girls. But I not a soft Japanese girl, Ranma. I an Amazon. One of these days, we going to have real fight, not a spar. Then I show you what I can do. You is going to end up with a rude awakening.”
“And there ain’t nothing I can say that’s going to change your mind?” He already knew the answer.
“No. You can no always get what you want, Ranma. You is not going to get this. Now, you can deal with it, or you can be a jerk and try resisting. But you going to lose in the end. I never going to rest until you treat me like an equal!”
“Maybe you no listen to what I say. I…” What he said began to process in her mind. “Did you just say, ‘fine’?”
“You no try to fight it anymore?” That was a surprise. Maybe some kind of trick to catch her off guard.
It was Shampoo’s turn to be speechless. Ranma had just given up. Ranma never gave up. A paradox.
While she sat there with her jaw open and tried to figure out how she had just won the argument, Ranma moved over and tapped her on the nose.
He did the absolute worst thing that was possible next. He remained motionless as he smirked. While he did that, the sound of metal being torn asunder broke the peacefulness of the night. Even as the screech of tearing metal ended, Ranma continued to sit still. A moment later, Shampoo played the cymbals with the metal panels that she had ripped up in her grasp. The sound produced was not very harmonic, as Ranma’s head was between the two pieces of metal that she had brought together.
Shampoo followed up her attack by moving behind the boy and grappling with him, locking her legs around his stomach while wrapping her arms around his neck. “I not being like Akane, Ranma. I do this to anyone who do what you did to me. You say you treat me as equal. Say it! SAY IT!!!”
Ranma decided to give in. Shampoo’s strength was greater than he thought, and she was emphasizing her point quiet well. “All right. You win.”
She relaxed her grip. Slightly. “You mean that?”
“Yes. I mean it. I meant it before too, but tapping you was too good an opportunity to let pass by,” he choked out.
“That better.” She released him altogether. “Ummm, is you okay?”
He shook his head once. “Yeah. The ringing in my ears is stopping.” Ranma backed a good distance away, in case she got the urge to try to choke him out again.
“I sorry. Sometimes you is very irritating. I promise not to hit you.” She then made an addendum in her thoughts. “Too much.”
“Well, okay.” Ranma became more serious. “There’s one thing you gotta do though.”
“You gotta promise me you won’t do anything stupid if I get into trouble.”
He really was going to be a stickler on that. Of course, to Shampoo, there wasn’t anything that could be regarded as ‘stupid’ when it came to helping him out. The concept of ‘stupid’ was pretty open to interpretation as well. Still, there was no reason why she should explain that to him. “Okay.”
“You didn’t fight that very much.” He began to suspect she was holding something back.
“Is a reasonable request.” One she wasn’t going to try to make him give. He was the kind that would do anything to help out those in trouble. It was simply too difficult for him to accept that there were other people who would do the same thing for him.
“Right.” He was only half convinced she was telling the truth, but without anything else to go on he couldn’t accuse her of anything.
The two remained silent for a while, just looking at one another.
“How long do you think it’ll take to get back home?” Ranma asked.
“D’Amore say two more days. Is you eager to go back?”
Ranma shrugged. “Sort of. I want to let everyone know we’re all right. And I want to see Ak…er, all the Tendos again.”
Shampoo caught the slip of the tongue. It did nothing to brighten her mood.
“By the way,” Ranma began. “How’d you pay for our passage on the ship?”
Shampoo gave him a nonchalant look, despite her mood. “Shampoo agree to give up body to the captain.”
The reaction was instantaneous. “WHAT?!!! There ain’t no way I’m gonna let him lay one hand on you. I’ll kil…”
Shampoo erupted into laughter. “I just kidding, Ranma.”
He calmed down almost as quickly as he had gotten angry. “That’s a relief.”
“I tell him he can have you body.”
Ranma began chuckling. “That’s pretty funny.”
The serious stare Shampoo responded with gave Ranma pause in his amusement. “I not kidding. All you have to do to make him not want you is turn into boy-type in front of his eyes. Just hope he is no like Ai, and is no picky about who he likes.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
Shampoo didn’t answer.
“I said, You are kidding, RIGHT?!”
Shampoo’s demeanor switched as she gained a mischievous look to her eyes. “Is possibility.”
Ranma finally realized she was kidding (she’d better have been), and began laughing alongside her. The laughter died down as he asked again. “So, seriously, how did you pay for it?”
He wasn’t going to let it go, as she hoped. “I gave up one of my hairpieces in trade, but not Alain. Azusa was right. He really is prettier.” She gave a weak smile at the little joke.
Ranma was more than a little shocked. “But you love those things! You said they’re the last things you have to remember your family by.”
She had to smile at the fact he had remembered their importance to her. It wasn’t certain that he would recall something like that. “We have to get to Japan quick.”
“We could have walked back or something.”
It really was unbelievable what he would come up with sometimes. “And have Herb chase us every step of the way? The way we all are?” She gave him a soft look. “Getting back home is more important to Shampoo than some silly hairpiece.” The last declaration hurt. They really were important to her, but this was the only way to get Ranma to discontinue the line of thought he was taking.
Despite her insistence that they weren’t important, Ranma could see the look of discomfort in her eyes. “I’ll get it back for you someday. I promise.”
Shampoo laid back and hid the smile from that promise. Who knew, he might even keep it.
“Things sure are a lot different from when we first arrived in Japan, aren’t they?” Ranma asked.
“What you mean?”
“The guys we’ve been fighting lately. I mean, when we first arrived it was Kunou, crazed cheerleaders, and deranged directors we had to deal with. But ever since that old ghoul of yours tricked Ukyou and Ryouga, things have been getting worse. I mean Perfume, The Musk, it just keeps getting tougher and tougher.”
Shampoo agreed. “We get tougher, too. You just have to deal with what gets thrown you way.”
“Well, if I gotta have someone to help me, I guess I’m glad it’s you. Thanks.”
Shampoo returned the smile. “I glad it’s you helping me, too.”
Silence once again dominated, though this time the two stared at each other instead of the ocean. Ranma noticed a change in the way Shampoo was staring at him. Something in the eyes that suddenly made him very wary.
“Ranma, do you think my dress is nice?”
The way she ran her hand over the front of the dress as she asked did nothing to ease the somewhat conflicting feelings he still had over last night. In fact, he felt a return of them at almost double the force. The provocative method she was using made him wonder if perhaps that was the reaction she was hoping for. If so she was successful. He could feel the heat rising to his face and hoped she wouldn’t notice in the dark. “Yes.”
She raised herself on her hands and knees and commenced slinking her way over in almost a feline manner. The effect was especially similar in the motion of her shoulders, the way they swayed back and forth as she made her way closer to Ranma. That comparison brought an involuntary shudder. She approached close enough that Ranma felt her breath upon his face.
Shampoo kept her eyes locked on him the entire distance. How far could she go this time? They had seemed to patch things up and he was dealing with her on more even terms. She now understood why he was so emotional the night before. This night, she had come one step closer to understanding how Ranma’s mind worked. Maybe she could get closer to seeing how other parts of him worked as well.
“Shampoo?” His voice was like a soft caress along her skin.
“Yes, Ranma.” She strove to sound as seductive as possible. Anything to enhance the mood.
“Is that an iceberg?” He pointed over her shoulder.
One facefault later she made a mental note that another of Ranma’s unique talents was the ability to spoil any mood at any given time. Her gaze reluctantly followed the path his finger indicated, and saw that there was indeed an iceberg floating past the starboard side of the ship. It was a good mile away, so there was no fear of TRPOS making like the Titanic. Not that they could be so fortunate.
“Aren’t icebergs only supposed to be in the southern region of the Pacific Ocean?” he inquired.
“I think so.” Geography was not one of Shampoo’s strong points.
Ranma continued to appear confused. “So why are we going past one if we aren’t supposed to be going anywhere near where they’re supposed to be?”
Shampoo had no answer.
On the bridge one of the crewmen pointed out the appearance of the iceberg to D’Amore. He asked the same question that Ranma did. Unlike Ranma, he had an idea of what was happening.
“Did someone let Aki near the navigation control?”
The sailor that had been manning the bridge earlier in the night said yes.
“Why did you do that?” D’Amore asked.
The man looked somewhat confused. “She is the navigation officer, sir.”
“So! You know she has no direction sense. She was missing on the ship for three days, wandering around trying to find her cabin.” The captain continued his rant. “And that’s not to mention the Cuban blockade we nearly ran. Kami only knows how she got us in the Atlantic Ocean.” He turned to one of the other crewmen. “Find out what ocean we’re in.”
The next day:
Ryouga woke up to a splitting headache. Why he had it, he couldn’t begin to guess. Perhaps someone strapped some C-4 to his skull and set it off. At least that was what it felt like. From his prone position on his bed, he examined his surroundings. Underneath him was a bed. That was good. And it was his cabin. He could tell by the pattern of mildew that decorated his ceiling. It reminded him of Ukyou’s pork okonomiyaki.
Summoning every ounce of energy he had remaining, he forced himself to sit up. as he became fully upright his hand fell upon something on his bed. A leg. A further examination revealed it to be one of a pair of legs wearing blue pants. The rest of the figure was shrouded by the blankets, which effectively covered everything above the waist. Time to find out who it was. Ryouga grabbed the sheet and slowly lifted it up. He got as far as the neck when he stopped. The figure was a girl. He knew this because the figure had breasts. Very nice breasts, not that Ryouga was any sort of judge about such things. He knew they were very nice breasts because the girl was quite topless, not even wearing a bra. The lost one did what came naturally. His hair stood on end and his nose began to bleed profusely.
Even as he turned his back to the figure he realized something very extraordinary was happening. He didn’t feel like passing out. There wasn’t even the faintest hint of lightheadedness, just the horrible headache that reasserted its presence as Ryouga attempted to think. Cognitive processes began as he endeavored to figure out that question so many people ask themselves the morning after a drinking binge. “Who’s that sleeping in my bed?” Ryouga’s mind made up a list of possibilities.
The facts known were:
As his mind came up with a list of potential candidates it stopped promptly on the first one it came to. No way! Not her! It was a mistake!
Ryouga slowly turned back to the still dozing figure. Revulsion overrode embarrassment as he carefully examined the girl, breasts and all. His hands slowly went back to the sheet as he made the strongest prayer of his life.
“By all the kami, if I am granted one wish and one wish only, please do not let her have red hair!”
Lacking the courage to do it all at once, Ryouga closed his eyes and threw back the covers. Slowly he opened his eyes and dared to glance down at the head. The first thing his eyes settled upon was a blue and black striped bandanna. With a sigh if relief, Ryouga fully took in the girl before him. Aki. With that out of the way his nose began to bleed more freely.
A knock on the door preluded a new arrival. “Hey, Ryouga!” Ranma called out.
The sound caused Aki to murmur.
“Ranma! Don’t come in—“ Ryouga was cut off as the door opened.
Ranma took one look at the room and stopped, stunned. Ryouga was in bed with a cute, topless girl. The girl sat up, smiled warmly, and waved at Ranma, either unaware or unconcerned with her state of undress.
“R… Ranma. It’s not what you think.” Ryouga’s protests fell on deaf ears as Aki grabbed him from behind and pressed her body against him in a most friendly manner.
Ranma recovered enough to smile at the lost one. “You’re a pretty fast mover. I was going to invite you for breakfast, but…”
“He’s going to have breakfast in bed,” Aki said as she kissed Ryouga on the back of the neck. “He’ll have plenty to eat.”
“Why, Ryouga Hibiki, shame on you. I guess I’ll be seeing you for lunch. Maybe.” Ryouga felt Aki release him and move away as Ranma departed with a wave and a smile.
Ryouga stared at the door for several moments, as though expecting Ranma would stick his head back in. Once he was certain Saotome wasn’t coming back, he turned his attention to Aki. Much to his surprise the girl had grabbed a bed sheet and was attempting to cover herself up. If he didn’t know any better, he would have sworn Aki was suddenly afraid of him.
“Y… Y… Your name is Hibiki?”
Ryouga scratched his head in confusion. “Yes, it is.”
Aki appeared even more frightened. “Do you know a Jun Hibiki?”
It took a moment for Ryouga to place the name. “Yeah. That’s the name of my aunt.”
“That’s the name of my mother,” Aki barely managed to get out.
Every aquatic animal in a five-mile radius swam away as fast as they could from the horrible sound.
Mousse’s glasses broke from the intensity of the scream.
D’Amore looked up from the papers he was reading. “Those two sure orgasm pretty hard.”
The mutual scream subsided as the duo looked at each other in horror, identical looks of nausea on their faces.
“What happened last night?” Ryouga managed to get out.
“I came to your room with some bottles of wine. We drank a bit. Then started getting frisky.” With an increase in disgust, Aki remembered getting Ryouga really drunk to get him to loosen up, and the two of them becoming very ‘frisky’ with one another afterwards.
“Anyway. You ended up on your back and I took off your shirt.” She paused a moment to look at the tattered remains of his garment in the floor. “Then I took off mine.” Hers was lying in one piece next to the remains. “I was—“ She stopped and did some selective editing. “Then you called me Kyoko. I was willing to let it slide since you were really drunk, but then you got happier and called me Uk-chan. So I got pissed off and hit you. It took a moment to realize I hit you too hard and knocked you out, so I decided to get some shuteye. Then we woke up.”
“Then we didn’t, unhhh…” was all Ryouga could get out.
“NO! Thank the kami! We didn’t. I’d keel over dead if I did something like that… cuz’.” Aki was plenty disgusted with her conduct as it was. They had been behaving in a manner far too friendly for cousins. It was just her luck too. She finally found a guy that could physically withstand her affections, and it turned out he was related. Even a girlfriend or wife would have been better. Those could always be dumped, but there was no way around blood.
Ryouga turned around as Aki got dressed. “You know, you’re the first family I’ve seen in probably four or five years.”
“You can turn around now,” Aki said as she finished dressing. “You got a bad direction sense too, huh?”
“You can say that again. How’s Aunt Jun doing?”
“Well I haven’t seen her in three years, but…” And the two relaxed and began to converse about anything other than the night’s previous events, swearing each other to secrecy about their family relationship.
“I’ve figured out where we are, sir,” Kawada told D’Amore from their position on the bridge.
“Where’s that?” The captain asked.
“Somewhere in the southern Pacific Ocean.”
Well that was a relief. Now all they had to do was sail north, and from there somehow find a landmass with people that could direct them to Japan.
“Island off the port side.” One of the crewmen cried out.
Everyone looked to see a massive island off in the distance.
“I’m inclined to say ‘something that size couldn’t possibly not be on the maps,’ but I have no idea what map we’re on,” Kawada remarked.
D’Amore ignored him and gave the order to get closer to the island, to see if anyone was there that knew where they were. As they got nearer, they could see it was a bizarre landform. Huge, sheer, gray rock cliffs dominated it on every side, making it impossible to even look for, let alone get to the interior of the island. D’Amore was about to give up hope until he spotted an opening just large enough for the ship to enter. Once inside they saw an unexpected sight. Inside was a huge verdant tropical jungle, as far as the eye could see.
A loud, “RRRRRRROOOOOOOAAAAAAAAWWWWWW” emanated from the jungle.
“What was that?” Kawada quickly asked.
“Just the wind. Nothing to worry about.” D’Amore assured him. “Let’s make landfall.”
It was only a promise made to his dying mother that prevented Kawada from attempting a mutiny then and there. The captain was going to get him into trouble. Again.
Ranma, Shampoo, Ryouga, and Aki looked at the jungle before them and sighed. It wasn’t Japan. Which meant it was going to take that much longer to get home.
“I got a real bad feeling about this,” Ranma remarked.
The sentiment was shared among the other three. Trouble was in the air again.
Two weeks later:
TRPOS finally arrived at its destination. Most people that saw it sail up to its berth would have thought the ship had been through hell, not realizing it always looked like that. The crew and passengers on the other hand, appeared to be in as good a shape as the ship itself. Clearly visible on the deck were the worn-out looking Nerimans, Aki, and Brunt, who watched the dock and waited for the moment that the gangplank would be lowered.
“Home at last,” Ranma said. “Even the air smells better.”
“Things are going to seem almost peaceful after that little trip,” Ryouga remarked.
“That was a bit much, even for us,” Aki said. “Not that the captain doesn’t get us into trouble all the time. What was that place called again?”
“Pangea,” Shampoo answered, then turned her attention to the small pterodactyl in the makeshift birdcage she held in her hand. “I think Kasumi going to like her new pet.”
“Yeah. It was nice of you to get that for her,” Ranma said and tapped the cage a bit, trying to get the tiny animal to react. He then shifted his attention to another companion. “Hey, Mousse. Happy to be back?”
“Yes.” Mousse tried to give a sincere smile as he noted the manner in which Ranma said that. Looking into his eyes, Mousse was certain that Saotome at least suspected he was behind the two murder attempts on his life. He silently cursed his ill luck. The dinosaur stampede may have been a clumsy undertaking, but tricking Ranma into the Velociraptor hunting grounds was a stroke of sheer genius. He still didn’t know how Ranma survived the attempt. As badly slashed as he was, it was pure luck Shampoo found him before he bled to death. The only thing Mousse had going for him, was that there was no way to pin either of the two attempts on him. He covered his tracks too well.
Ryouga was having his own conversation with Aki. “I’ll never be able to watch ‘Jurassic Park’ again and be impressed.”
“Yeah.” Aki mirrored the remark. “Being chased by a real T-Rex is a lot more frightening than watching it at the movies.”
“It was nice meeting you.” Ryouga began to get a sorrowful look in his eyes. “You’re welcome to stay with me, if you like. I’m sure Ukyou wouldn’t mind taking on another waitress.”
Aki shook her head. “No. My life is on this ship. I like the sea too much. Besides, it’s harder to get really lost on a ship than it is on dry land. I don’t suppose you’ve ever wanted a life at sea?” He shook his head, making Aki feel a little depressed as well. “It was nice meeting you, Ryouga.” She held out her hand for a shake.
Ryouga accepted it and returned the sentiment.
“Aw, c’mon! Aren’t you two going to kiss goodbye?” Brunt finally asked.
Brunt received two savage uppercuts, which sent him very far away.
Mousse separated from the others, allowing Ranma and Shampoo to drop Ryouga off with Ukyou. The two had enough class to leave the two of them alone, as Ukyou had run over and hugged Ryouga in an embrace that would have made Aki proud.
The two let themselves into the Tendo household and decided to surprise everyone by just casually shouting they were home. Akane was the first to run to the entryway. As soon as she saw the duo she stopped several feet short of them. After a moment, Ranma closed the distance between them and held her in a light embrace, much to her surprise and Shampoo’s annoyance.
Ranma released her. “Sorry. I guess I missed you more than I realized.”
“It’s okay,” Akane blushed in response. “I kind of missed you, too.”
Shampoo’s annoyance didn’t last long as she was nearly tackled in a hug by Kasumi, which was a shock to everyone present. Shampoo had to smile in return. It was nice to feel wanted. Kasumi quickly composed herself as she went with a more proper greeting, making certain everyone was all right then asking what had happened.
The two bone-weary travelers sat down with everyone and explained all that had happened, deliberately glossing over the dangerous parts. Like the torture Ranma suffered at Herb’s hands or the injury to Shampoo; and the near-disembowelment at the claws of the raptors was ignored altogether. He would explain the two crisscrossing scars that went across his chest to his father in private. There was no reason to worry the others over what had already happened. What was done was done.
After the exhaustive interrogation, the pair called it quits, Ranma leaving the room a little before Shampoo. Once she finished talking to Kasumi she made a deliberate detour to Ranma’s room. Just as she arrived in front of it she heard him loudly exclaim. “Oh, man! I forgot. I ain’t got no clothes!”
Shampoo blushed at that particular statement. It was too late to pick up any clothes for him tonight, so any shopping would have to wait for the next day. With a reluctant sigh she prepared to enter the sleeping chamber and apologize for her behavior when she remembered one very important fact. Quickly, she rushed to her room and grabbed the shirt that had remained on the dressmaker’s dummy. Praise be, she hadn’t destroyed it on an impulse. A quick scan of the room revealed a pair of pants Shampoo had specifically gotten for her male form. Even more luck, they hadn’t even been taken out of the package. She grabbed the clothing and made her way back to Ranma, who was sitting on his floor with a depressed look on his face. Shampoo was hoping to change that.
“Ranma, I made clothes for you. Was supposed to be a gift because of how nice you treat me.” She held the clothes out expectantly, hoping he would accept the present.
“Ah! You shouldn’t have done it.” He smiled, then gave her a bit of a disapproving glare. “Of course, you shouldn’t have destroyed all my clothes, either.”
“Sorry,” That was said more or less to placate him. He had stood her up, after all, and Amazon vengeance could take many forms.
Ranma waved it off. “We’ll call it even. I’ll see how it fits.” He began to remove his shirt when he noticed he still had an audience. “I could use some privacy here.”
The response was not the one he was looking for as Shampoo put her hands on her hips. “I want to see you try it on.” And admire his body.
He physically grabbed her by the shoulders and forced her out the door. “I’ll show you as soon as I’m done. Out!”
He shut the door behind her, then slumped against the wall. If she was going to behave like that, she was going to get him into trouble. It didn’t take much imagination to figure out what Akane’s response would be if she saw him topless and Shampoo standing close by. They were going to have to show more restraint than when they were on that long journey home. He pulled off his old shirt and placed the new one on.
Shampoo grew anxious with each passing moment. Ranma was taking too long. She wanted to see if he liked the shirt. Worry began to blossom within her. What if he didn’t like it?
The gentle rapping on the door was answered by a soft, “Enter.” Once inside, she saw that Ranma had indeed tried the garment on and was stroking it, almost as though he was afraid it wasn’t real. It was exactly as she pictured it in her mind. A perfect fit.
He finally acknowledged her presence. “I can’t believe the feel of this material. What’s this stuff made of?”
A gentle smile rose to Shampoo’s lips.
Kodachi was concerned with Mousse. After a very unemotional greeting he went directly to his room and locked himself in. A savage disappointment to The Black Rose. She had wanted to greet her beloved in a manner fitting for the one that won her heart. Instead, he was squirreled away doing who knew what.
She decided she could tolerate it no more, and used her master key to unlock the door. As she entered the room she saw Mousse hunched over his desk, writing so intently that he didn’t even realize she had entered the room. Kodachi gazed over his shoulder, noticing he was in the process of writing something in Chinese.
“What are you writing, dearest?”
Kodachi was a little frightened by the intensity in those eyes behind the glasses. Mousse appeared a little…crazed, for lack of a better term.
“It’s a challenge letter. If I can’t kill Saotome, I’ll challenge Shampoo to another marriage duel. Our last one was cut short so she can’t refuse. And this time…“
Kodachi saw his body tense up as he said the next statement. And the way he said it made her doubt his words not in the least.
“…this time it’s for real.”
Be Dea paused in thought with two of her fellow elders. Talcum and Shou Ya.
“<So what do you make of that little ‘revelation’?>” Talcum asked.
“<I think that’s exactly the sort of thing Herb would pull to cause dissension in our ranks,>” Be Dea answered.”<Especially with the rumors we’ve heard of him building an army. The idea that Shampoo is cursed by Nanniichuan is preposterous. Still, some action must be taken.>”
Shou Ya arched an eyebrow at that. “<I’m pleased to hear that you aren’t letting your rivalry with Cologne affect your judgment. But what do you mean by taking action?>”
Be Dea scowled a bit as she thought of what she was about to say. Events had gone the way she wanted for quite a while, but all good things must come to an end. “<We need the matriarch back. She’s been gone too long, and we need her advice on many things. Including what to do about Herb and his attempt at troublemaking.>” Then she added one more comment. “<And we can ask her about Shampoo directly. I don’t believe it, of course, but I want to hear it from the matriarch’s own mouth.>”
“<Who do we send?>” Talcum asked.
“<Silk’s one of Cologne’s oldest friends. If she’s the one doing the asking, Cologne will come.>” Be Dea said. “<Besides, she’s been to Japan before. Lived there two years, as I recall. She knows her way around.>”
To be continued.
Special Thanks to:
and George Lucas for coming up with a scene for me to parody.
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