“I’m so glad you could stop by, Dr. Channard.” Dr. Otani examined the distinguished looking, fortyish gaijin doctor closely as the two walked down one of the corridors of the Matsuda Institute. An insane asylum, by any other name. Otani was pleased that it was a quiet day at the institute. The patients had been worked up over the last few days, and he wanted to impress his somewhat mysterious guest as much as he could.
“Your case caught my interest,” Channard replied in fluent Japanese. A fact not overlooked by Otani.
“You speak Japanese remarkably well.”
“I am a remarkable individual.” Otani felt rebuffed, despite the neutral tone Channard’s voice carried. It sounded as though the foreigner had been stating a fact, not an opinion.
Little was understood about the man known simply as Dr. Channard. Otani didn’t believe anyone even knew the man’s first name; just that he was a mysterious individual whose skills in the field of psychology were unsurpassed by any. At least that was what was said. No one knew where he lived, where he originally came from, or where he learned his skills. Many thought he was a myth, similar to that of Dr. Blackjack, who was altogether too real. Perhaps all such geniuses were eccentrics. At any rate, after telling a friend about the ‘John Doe’s’ unusual case, he had recommended allowing Dr. Channard to examine him. Otani had thought the man was joking, until he received a call from Channard himself to explain the situation.
“Tell me the specifics of this case,” Channard requested.
That caught Otani a bit off guard. “Weren’t you told what to expect?”
“I want to hear them from your own lips,” Channard explained. “You are familiar with the case, and may mention something others overlooked or forgot.”
That was a real boost to the ego. Channard thought Otani was reliable enough to give accurate information. He wouldn’t let him down. “The man was brought in almost two years ago. He was found outside by a road, yelling and screaming. As I remember it, the police had to bring him in with heavy restraints. He was mostly incoherent, rambling on in gibberish or totally nonsensical statements. There wasn’t any rhyme or pattern to any of it, no way to get anything from him. He also displayed extreme agitation and a proclivity to periodic violence. Fingerprints turned up nothing on the man. He had no identification on him. No one claimed him, and no one fitting his description went missing from any of the other institutes. We still have no idea who he is, so we just call him John Doe.”
Otani saw Channard remain silent and process the information. Otani continued. “Here’s where it starts getting strange. We did a medical examination on him. It turns out someone removed portions of his brain.”
“Which portions?” Channard asked.
“That’s sort of odd. The parts that were removed weren’t from any really active areas. Almost like someone wanted to see what would happen if they just took them out. The job was really professional, too. Scarring was minimal, and he was put back together flawlessly. We asked around at all the hospitals in Japan and nearby countries. No one admits to doing that sort of thing, naturally.”
“What has changed that you felt the need to contact me for this case?” Channard inquired.
“Originally, he never responded in the least to any treatment, so we haven’t made any concentrated efforts at bringing him around.” He noticed Channard give a curious look. “There are others we can help, and we simply don’t have the staff to assist everyone as well as they deserve,” he quickly added. Otani took his job seriously, but there really was only so much he could do.
“Then things changed one evening, about seven months ago. He managed to catch the attention of one of the orderlies by talking to him. Understandably. It was an older one, fortunately, so he realized the importance of his coherence. I was contacted, but by the time I arrived he was beginning to slip back into an incoherent state, and becoming worse by the minute. I rushed to meet him and began a conversation, hoping to learn something of his past. I was in for a disappointment. He was still quite insane, you could tell simply by looking into his eyes. He began talking. His voice was so different when he spoke in normal tones.
“But I digress. He began telling me of how, for all intents and purposes, the end of the world was coming. I humored him, hoping to learn some grain of truth in his speech. Any information to go on. Well, he informs me he’s from the future, where some great evil ends up ‘consuming humanity’ as he puts it. I asked him what the evil was. He said he couldn’t remember. I asked him several other questions, including his name. He couldn’t remember any of it. The only thing he did was run off a series of events that would happen before the year was out. I asked him how he could remember those relatively minor things, yet nothing else. He said something curious then. He said, ‘because that’s what they programmed into me.’ After that he began babbling once more, and he hasn’t regained cognizance since.”
Channard finally spoke. “Why the sudden interest now, if all this happened months ago?”
“Well,” Otani began playing with his collar uncomfortably. “Some of the things he said would happen have occurred. Actually,” his voice dropped several decibels, “actually, all of them occurred. Some were easy, like who would win the next election and how many typhoons would hit this year.”
He paused for a moment before continuing. “But other things he predicted were less likely. Such as predicting that the Tokyo Bombers would win the World Series this year. I mean, they were picked to finish dead last in the league by everyone. And he knew about that new volcano that suddenly erupted in Korea a month ago. He even gave an exact number of the people that would die in a mudslide in Indonesia. He got the exact date correct. Everything he has predicted has come true.”
Channard placed his hand to his chin in thought. “I see. Show me this man.”
Otani guided his guest with all due haste. John Doe had been getting more and more agitated lately and was being kept under sedation in solitary, straitjacketed, for his own protection as much as others.
The duo arrived outside the padded cell of the patient. Two orderlies were waiting at their posts, just as Otani had ordered when he understood Channard had arrived. “He’s been quiet for almost half an hour now, sir,” one of the uniformed men informed Otani.
The order to unlock the door was given as Otani wondered if the patient had foreseen this visit as well. As the door opened, three of the four men looked on in shock at the scene before them. One of the orderlies bolted while the other one just stared in horror.
“How did he…?” Otani couldn’t continue.
Channard, unaffected by the display before him, answered the incomplete question. “He most likely used his teeth to get through the material of his straitjacket, and then into his flesh.”
From down the corridor, the sounds of the orderly beginning to retch began. He didn’t make it to a restroom in time.
“How could a man chew through his arm like that?” Otani finally managed to voice.
“Fear,” Channard informed him. “Real or imagined, can drive a man to do anything. Never forget that.” Channard returned his attention to the room. John Doe might have killed himself out of fear, but he had left one very important thing behind. Something he wanted others to know. A message he had written in his own blood, smeared along one of the walls. It took but a moment to decipher the writing.
“I will never live under his rule again. He hates us all.”
“Would you like my advice, Dr. Otani?” Channard asked in an even tone, still obviously unaffected by what occurred.
It took a couple of seconds for Otani to understand the question, the scene before him starting to take its toll. “Yes.”
“Has there been something you always wanted to do, but were always putting it off for later because you thought you would have more time in the future?”
“Do it now. You’re almost out of time.” And with that Channard departed, leaving Otani alone as the other orderly finally collapsed into unconsciousness.
Once outside, Channard pulled out his communicator and tapped in his eight-digit code. The connection was almost instantaneous, as his message bounced off a satellite and was sent deep within the earth at a location in the Rocky Mountains.
“Channard to Danse Macabre. Put me through to the shift commander.”
“Confirmed,” The voice on the other end hissed. Channard knew who it was immediately.
“Roquat. I looked into the Japanese rumor and have concluded my investigation. I believe it deserves looking into.”
“Did you do a mind probe?” The voice hissed.
“No,” Channard replied. “The subject was already deceased.”
“How?” It was impossible to tell what Roquat was thinking, his voice betrayed even less emotion than the doctor’s.
“By his own hand.” Channard knew what the response would be now.
“Without a mind probe, and without an outside influence involving his death, the Danse cannot act on this information.”
“My instincts tell me this is for real.” For the first time that evening emotion crept into Channard’s voice.
“There is no time. You are needed elsewhere. Allow me to give you the address of where you need to go.” Roquat sent the information. India was the next stop. Channard knew better than to argue with his superiors. So he just prayed his instincts were wrong this time.
The Seer felt the course fate took with the time-lost man. If only Channard had arrived an hour earlier, the patient would have still been alive and the Danse Macabre would have had enough information to intervene. With the resources at their disposal, they could have stopped the Shogun’s plans. But that was not what had happened, and things continued onward upon their disastrous course.
Time was running out.
Chapter 22: Unexpected Visitors
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. You should probably read the previous chapters, a lot has gone on. but here’s a summary anyway.) In the beginning the Saotomes traveled to Jusenkyou 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, there is 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 and briefly ended up engaged to Kasumi. After that was cleared up Ranma became engaged to Akane. During the first day of school, water and confusion mixed and everyone believes Ranma-chan is Shampoo and Shampoo-kun is Ranma. Last chapter, a new Ranma Saotome and his wife, Kaori Daikokuji Saotome, hit Nerima looking for the missing half of ‘Ranma’s’ martial arts. In truth, the new Ranma is Ryu Kumon, who impersonated Ranma so he could locate Genma and the other half of his martial art, the Umisenken. Also, Mousse has decided to challenge Shampoo to one last duel for her hand in marriage. It almost was their last fight as Kodachi poisoned Shampoo in an attempt to prevent Mousse from ruining his life. Only Mousse’s quick thinking saved Shampoo, who reemphasized that she wanted nothing to do with him and that in two weeks time, one way or another, there will be a final resolution between the two. To make matters worse, Silk, an Amazon sent by the elders to bring back Cologne, has decided to visit her old lover Soun Tendo. How unfortunate Amazons aren’t allowed to become cursed by the male spring without the penalty of death to follow…
Part One: Past Remembrance
Years of Amazon training made Silk react instinctively, despite her surprise. Kasumi never came close to touching the floor as the Amazon caught her falling form and lifted her, as gently as a newborn, into her arms.
“The unfortunate child,” Silk thought. “She must be in poor health to faint like that. And calling out to her mother as she did. I hope someone else is here.”
Silk had little choice but to allow herself in uninvited. Under the circumstances, it hardly seemed inappropriate. She carried Kasumi down the hallway and announced her presence. As she entered she saw a slightly younger girl with a short haircut set foot in the room at the same time she did.
It only took a moment for Nabiki to take in the situation. “What happened?” She tensed up at the intruder holding her sister. If it was someone that had come for Ranma she could be dangerous. But one look at the woman, whose graying hair made her look older than her face indicated, made Nabiki feel she wasn’t here for Ranma.
“The poor girl passed out when she answered the door,” Silk explained. “Is there somewhere I can lay her down?”
If she was here for Ranma, she was the most polite foe he ever had. And there was something very familiar about her, but Nabiki couldn’t place what it was. She shifted her concern with the woman to Kasumi. There was never a time Nabiki could ever remember her sister passing out. Silk laid Kasumi down while the middle Tendo examined her. Akane finally came down and took in the scene before her eyes.
“Kasumi passed out. This…” Nabiki now realized she was uncertain of exactly who the woman was.
Silk noticed the hesitation and filled in the blank for her. “My name is Silk.”
“Ms. Silk brought her in.” Nabiki examined her sister closely. She knew enough from first aid courses that she was breathing regularly. It was a surprise when the woman came over and proceeded to examine Kasumi in earnest. She asked Nabiki several questions about Kasumi’s health then, after a few moments, rendered her diagnosis.
“It seems to be just a fainting spell,” Silk said. “She cried out for her mother before she passed out. Is she present? It might be wise to have her next to her daughter when she comes around.”
The reference was all she needed to place the face. Nabiki’s own eyes grew wide as she stared at the woman before her. “Mommy?”
It was Silk’s turn to stare. Things were starting to become enigmatic to her. Now that she thought about it, it wasn’t impossible that, rather than calling out FOR her mother, Kasumi might have been calling HER ‘mother’.
Nabiki moved closer and touched Silk’s face. “No,” Nabiki said softly. “You look a lot like her, but you’re not her.”
“I should say not,” Silk said softly, and held Nabiki’s examining hand gently in her own, hoping to put her at ease. “I think I’d remember having two such beautiful children as yourselves.”
Akane looked confusedly at Nabiki as her sister drew back from Silk. Akane could barely remember her mother’s face, and didn’t think Silk looked like her at all; at least from what she could remember.
Nabiki composed herself, somewhat. “Sorry. You just look a lot like our mother.”
“I understand.” Silk gave a smile. “Many young girls have made similar comments. I guess I just have a motherly face.”
“No.” Nabiki shook her head. “I mean you look almost exactly like her.”
“I see.” Silk scowled slightly at that. “Is your mother home?”
Nabiki shook her head once again. “She died some years ago.”
“I’m sorry. I had no idea.” Silk hadn’t meant to dredge up old wounds. She needed to talk to Soun. “Is your father home?”
As if in answer to the question, Soun entered the room. “What’s going on? I thought I heard some…” he trailed off as his eyes fell upon the newcomer. “Silk?”
“It’s wonderful to see you again, Soun.” Silk recognized him immediately. He hardly changed at all in the ensuing decades. Her first impulse was to go over and embrace him, but she remained close to Kasumi instead. A more formal greeting could wait until the eldest Tendo recovered. Besides, she had some questions to ask him that would have to be done in private.
Silk heard Kasumi begin to moan as she came around, and moved out of her direct line of sight. No point in startling the young girl into unconsciousness again.
Soun suddenly realized his daughter's condition and raced over to her side, almost crying. “What’s wrong, Kasumi? What happened?”
Silk took note of Soun’s tearfulness. He was always a little overemotional, but this was a bit much, even for him.
Kasumi slowly opened her eyes and smiled at her Soun. “Hello, Father. I just had an unusual dream about Mother. I dreamt she came up to the door and was looking for you.”
“It wasn’t a dream, Sis,” Nabiki said hesitantly as she looked back at Silk. “I mean, it wasn’t Mom, just someone that looks a lot like her.”
“What?” Kasumi asked as she quickly sat upright.
“She means me,” Silk said as she came into Kasumi’s line of vision.
Once again the eldest Tendo daughter’s eyes opened wide at the sight of Silk. “Y… you do look a great deal like Mother. Who are you?”
At last! An opportunity to properly introduce herself and put everyone’s minds at ease. “My name is Silk. I came to visit my old friend, Soun Tendo. I apologize for startling you.”
“Are you related to Mom?” Nabiki asked.
“Not to my knowledge,” Silk answered. She carefully looked at all the people present in the room. Soun was looking at her in a very surprised manner. Kasumi was still staring very wide-eyed at her, which was only slightly worse than Nabiki’s stare. Of all the people in the room, only Akane seemed the least affected, simply appearing a little bewildered.
“What brings you to Japan?” Soun finally asked.
“I’m here on business, I’m afraid,” she said with a resigned sigh. “I do have a couple of days to kill, though. I thought I’d look you up while I was in Japan. I didn’t mean to cause any problems.”
“No! Oh, no. You’re not causing any problems.” he quickly answered. “I just didn’t expect you. This is quite the surprise. It’s not as though I’ve seen you in over twenty years.”
“Much time has passed, yes. I’m sorry about your wife passing on. My heart goes out to you.”
The Tendo girls were slightly surprised by their father’s reaction. Usually he would cry or his eyes would at least tear up whenever anyone mentioned their mother. This time, however, he simply looked towards the floor and sighed. “Thank you. Your sympathy is most heartfelt.”
“You’re welcome.” Silk decided to change the subject, lest things become too morose. “Why don’t you introduce me to your lovely family?”
Soun lost his somber expression and brightened up immediately. He introduced all if his daughters, and did likewise for Silk, introducing her tactfully as an old friend. Silk couldn’t help noticing the looks of confusion from Kasumi and Nabiki had changed slightly, almost as though they were evaluating her.
“So, you’ve known Daddy for a long time?” Nabiki asked.
“Indeed. We traveled over a great deal of Japan together in our youth,” Silk answered politely.
“He never mentioned you,” Kasumi added.
“I suppose he thought he’d never see me again. I actually live in China, and I was only visiting Japan.”
“How long did you visit?” Nabiki asked back.
“I stayed here for three years.”
“It sounds more like you moved here than visited,” Kasumi commented.
“True, it was an extended stay. I wandered around a great deal in my youth. It was only through the greatest of fortunes that I met your father during one of my journeys.”
“How long did you,” Nabiki chose her words carefully, “hang around together?”
Silk began to see the way things were developing. The sisters were taking turns interrogating her. “About a year.”
Both Kasumi and Nabiki appeared taken aback.
“You were around one another for a year?” Kasumi managed to ask.
“It may have been a little less, but yes, it was about a year.” Silk watched the reactions more carefully now.
“I see,” Nabiki said, her voice laced with sarcasm, as she now appeared a little hostile. “That’s a long time. Sounds like you two may have been a little closer than ‘friends’.” There was no mistaking what that implied.
“Nabiki!” Soun suddenly shouted out. “Silk is our guest. How dare you treat her in such a manner! Go to your room!”
For the first time in recent memory, Nabiki was struck speechless. Her father was punishing her? Her father? She remained motionless while trying to process the information.
Soun was not pleased by the hesitation. “What are you waiting for?”
His tone brooked no argument, but Nabiki tried one any anyway. “You haven’t sent me to my room in years!”
“An obvious oversight on my part, if this is the behavior you demonstrate to our guests,” Soun glowered, then added. “Get going!”
Nabiki gave a, “Yes, Daddy,” through clenched teeth and headed upstairs.
“I… I better get going as well, and make sure she’s all right.” Kasumi got up and moved to follow Nabiki. She paused a moment to give Silk one last longing gaze. “It was a pleasure to meet you,” then ran up the stairs.
“I’m going to check up on them as well. It was nice meeting you.” Akane bowed before the guest. Silk returned the gesture with an even deeper bow of her own.
“The pleasure is all mine.” She smiled warmly in response.
Akane found her spirits inexplicably soar at that smile. She hurried up the stairs, almost as quickly as Kasumi had, and went directly to Nabiki’s room. There was more than a little bit of confusion as to why her older sister was acting the way she did. Silk had given her no reason to be so catty. She barged into the room to see Kasumi already sitting in a chair and Nabiki lying on her bed. Akane chose to sit next to Nabiki’s prone form.
“What’s wrong with you? Why are you treating that nice lady like that?” Akane asked.
“Yes, Nabiki. That was rather rude,” Kasumi added.
Nabiki examined her sisters with a careful eye, determining they really were oblivious. “What are you two, stupid?!” she spat out.
“Hey!” Akane cried out. Nabiki had no business talking to her like that. She sounded like Ranma.
“Nabiki!” Kasumi was even more shocked. Her sister had NEVER been rude to her before.
“You two are practically fawning all over her. You’re looking at her like she’s some kind of saint,” she pointed accusingly at Kasumi. “And you look like a puppy that just got her head scratched.” That accusation went to Akane. “You have no idea what that ‘nice lady’ is, do you?” She watched her sisters’ reactions once again.
“Father’s old friend,” Kasumi said.
“Yeah,” Akane agreed. “ And she seems pretty nice.”
Nabiki shook her head. Those two were so naïve. She elected to explain it to them in stages. “Oh, yes, she’s father’s ‘old friend’ all right. An old female friend. An old female friend from over twenty years ago. An old female friend from over twenty years ago, he spent a year with. An old female friend from over twenty years ago, that he spent a year with, that just happens to look like Mom. Now do you understand?”
A “No”, and “Not really,” were Nabiki’s answers.
“Do you two think it’s some kind of coincidence she just happens to look like Mom?”
“Well…” Kasumi was still having difficulty grasping what Nabiki was hinting at.
Akane was having just as hard a time. “Are you saying she’s some kind of replacement for Mom?” Akane wasn’t sure if she liked that.
Nabiki spun on her in anger. Akane was shocked to see tears forming in her eyes. “You’re such an idiot! She isn’t Mom’s replacement! Mom was HER replacement!”
Akane and Kasumi simply stared on in shock.
Shampoo-kun was not a happy person. That damned old lady had nailed him again. Why his senses seemed to shut down whenever he got near that aging sack of flesh was beyond his understanding. He actively tried to stay far away from the house. Yet if he wasn’t concentrating, he always seemed to go past it and get nailed with some water. Maybe it was some kind of bizarre Jusenkyou-Cursed-People-Seeking Water or something. There had to be some kind of explanation. Perhaps taking the bucket from her would help.
It was with a heavy tread that he entered the Tendo house, still feeling weak from the effects of the poisoning from the day before. But at the rate it was fading, he should be back to normal within another day. Then he could train in earnest. Though there was more than a little concern over the fact that Ranma had accepted a fight on the same day. Curse him. Why couldn’t he have made it earlier or later? Shampoo-kun had to train specifically to combat Mousse’s long-range abilities. Mousse was up to something, and he had to be prepared to deal with absolutely anything the blind one could throw at him. He needed Ranma to help. But Ranma had his own problems with the impostor Ranma. Things couldn’t possibly get worse.
Shampoo-kun turned the corner and recalled a very important fact of life, one he should never have forgotten, having fallen victim to it repeatedly the last few months: It can always get worse.
Silk had been talking with Soun Tendo until a moment ago. Now she had turned to see Shampoo-kun standing there. Hair standing on end as he drew back with a look of total shock on his face. It only took a moment for her to come to an assumption.
“Oh, no! I’m not your mother. I just look a great deal like her. My name is Silk.” The Amazon had no desire to cause yet another one of what she assumed was Soun’s children to pass out.
Shampoo-kun relaxed enough to appear simply confused, trying to understand why she seemed to think he believed she was his mother.
“Actually,” Soun cleared his throat in explanation. “He’s not my son. That is a guest who’s staying with us. His name is actually—“
“Ranma Saotome,” Shampoo-kun quickly said and bowed before Silk, thanking the kami that he was in male form when he entered the house.
“Err, right. Ranma Saotome.” Soun went along, despite his confusion.
“Saotome?” Silk asked suspiciously as a light frown creased her brow. “As in Genma Saotome’s son?”
“Yes,” Shampoo-kun said meekly. What had ‘Pop’ done now?
“You don’t look a thing like him.” Her suspicious glare went to a relaxed one. “Good for you. I must say, I’m shocked anyone would be desperate enough to marry him. He was pretty much spineless pond scum when I knew him. You do remind me of someone I know, though.”
A huge sweatdrop formed behind Shampoo-kun’s head. Just as he was about to panic Soun inadvertently came to his rescue.
“He wasn’t as bad as all that.” Soun came to his absent friend’s defense. “And he’s gotten better over the years.”
If he had truly gotten better over the years, Shampoo-kun shuddered to think of what he must have been like in his youth. The more likely explanation was that Soun was judging his friend through the rose colored glasses of friendship. Still, as long as he didn’t mess up with the attempted deception, all should be fine. Of course there was still the little matter of what Silk was doing at the Tendo house in the first place. Had she heard there was a Shampoo living here and investigated? Was all this on her own initiative, or was she the scout for a much larger force? There were too many questions unanswered, and that lack of information might blow Shampoo’s cover.
“Oh, welcome back, Shampoo. How do you feel?” Kasumi asked as she came down the stairs.
“You is mistaken, Kasumi. It’s just me, Ranma,” Shampoo-kun quickly said, hoping the eldest Tendo daughter picked up on the hint.
“Oh. Yes. Sorry about that, Ranma.” Kasumi quickly looked around for some of Shampoo-kun’s schoolmates.
The reference didn’t slip by Silk. “Did you say Shampoo? She wouldn’t happen to be from China, would she?”
“Nonono,” Shampoo-kun said, silently praying Silk would quickly forget the line of questioning, while knowing better. “She a redhead from Hokkaido, Japan.”
“Oh,” Silk said. Shampoo-kun would have sworn he saw something shine in Silk’s eye as she continued. “I would like to meet her, though.”
Great. She wasn’t going to let it go. Now Shampoo-kun was going to have to intercept Ranma and his father, lest Silk catch them in the lie.
“Tell me about yourself, Silk.” Shampoo-kun asked. Once he was openly informed of whom Silk was, he might be able to explain later if he let some personal knowledge of her accidentally slip. And the others would have to be informed of her status as an Amazon.
Silk told him she was an old friend of Soun’s and gave some background information about herself. Shampoo-kun noted she never referred to herself as an Amazon or hailing from Joketsuzoku. She simply said she was from China. The others didn’t appear to have any idea of the danger she represented.
Once he received the information and answered some questions as Ranma would, he grabbed some water and hurried outside to cut off the Saotomes. He made it just in time to spot a very male Ranma coming up the walk with his father. The two were still arguing over his father’s stupidity in teaching such a dangerous attack to someone he barely knew, as well as engaging Ranma for food again.
A splash of water hit Ranma as he was about to enter the house. “Whad’ya do that for?!” Ranma-chan shouted angrily at the Amazon.
Shampoo-kun quickly explained the situation.
“Great,” Genma said dryly. “The last thing we need is that worthless woman hanging around here.”
“What did you do to her, Pop?” Ranma-chan asked while Shampoo-kun stared angrily at the derogatory way in which ‘Pop’ spoke about Silk.
“Nothing, for a change,” he admitted. “She’s just a very annoying person that takes a great deal of delight in cutting me down.”
“Like we all don’t get our kicks from doing that, Old Man.”
Shampoo-kun headed off the impending argument. There was no time for horseplay. He helped create a fake past for the redhead so they could use it when Silk asked her inevitable questions.
“I think I’ve got it. I’m from Hokkaido and I’m Akane’s cousin, Shampoo, who’s staying for a while.” Shampoo-kun nodded his head as Ranma-chan added a little more. “I’d better introduce myself out loud so everyone else knows the story. I don’t want Akane to let it slip I’m her fiancé, or we’re going to have a lot of explaining to do.”
“And no let her see your martial arts,” Shampoo-kun supplemented.
“How come? You know we gotta start practicing for those upcoming matches.”
Shampoo-kun shook his head. “If she sees us use even one Amazon technique, she going to suspect something.”
“I think I understand what you mean,” Ranma-chan said. “We’ve been using those techniques for so long I can’t remember the last time I’ve fought without using them. Damn! We need to start preparing for those matches.”
“She won’t be here more than a day. I not worried.” Shampoo-kun’s attitude did not match what he felt inside. He needed to start practicing for that match. He couldn’t lose. Not to Mousse.
Shampoo-kun headed inside a few minutes before Ranma-chan and Genma, and then managed to get all of the Tendo girls together and explain the situation. Silk and Soun were so busy talking and laughing with one another they didn’t even notice Shampoo-kun’s furtive actions.
Genma and Ranma-chan entered, and then promptly acted surprised at Silk’s presence. The Amazon greeted Genma in the same manner she had employed when she last saw him so many years ago.
“I see you’ve gotten even fatter and more repulsive than before. At least that stupid looking bandanna you always wore serves a purpose now. It helps to keep the gleam from that balding dome of yours from blinding me. You have my thanks.” For the first time since her arrival, Silk had switched from her pleasant, even voice to a more scathing one.
“You’re welcome. I see you look even older than your fifty-five years would indicate,” Genma shot back.
“You mean this?” Silk ran her hand through several of her graying locks. “I have gone a bit prematurely gray, I’ll admit. Everyone else thinks it adds a distinguished quality to an already pleasant woman. And that’s forty-five, not fifty-five.” She corrected with a wide smile, one that made Genma suddenly remember that Silk had been a very able fighter in her youth. And she didn’t look out of shape in the least.
“Would you two settle down? I’d rather you got along with one another since we haven’t had a reunion like this in years.” Soun tried to placate the duo.
“Very well,” Silk said as Genma nodded his head in reluctant agreement. Silk then turned her attention to ‘Shampoo.’ After several minutes of interrogation, delivered so pleasantly that it seemed to be nothing more than polite conversation, Silk determined there was no chance Ranma-chan was the Shampoo who she was thinking of.
Ranma-chan noticed Akane was in an unpleasant mood, presumably unrelated to anything Ranma-chan had done. She made up some excuse for the two of them to go up to Akane’s room so they could talk in private. Once the door was closed the two began to converse quietly.
“What’s wrong?” Ranma-chan asked, the concern on her face evident.
“It’s Silk,” Akane explained. “Nabiki seems to think that since Dad knew her before Mom, that Mom was some sort of replacement for her since the two look alike. I don’t see the resemblance myself, but I don’t really remember what Mom looked like either.”
“Do you think it’s true? That she’s some sort of replacement?” Ranma-chan asked.
“I don’t know what to think.” Akane ran her hand through her hair in frustration. “On the one hand, what Nabiki says makes sense. On the other hand, I don’t believe Dad thought of Mom that way. I’m sure he loved her. And then there’s how I feel when I look at her.”
“How do you feel?” Ranma-chan inquired. She wasn’t used to Akane being this open with her.
“When she smiles at me, I feel happier than I’ve felt in a long time.” Ranma-chan took note of Akane smiling as she thought of Silk. Akane continued. “I guess it might have to do with the fact that maybe she really does look like Mom. I know I shouldn’t feel that way. I mean, maybe Nabiki’s right, and in some way I am betraying Mom’s memory. But Silk just seems so nice that I can’t help it.”
Ranma-chan stood next to Akane and placed her hands on the dark-haired girl’s shoulders. “I think you’ve got nothing to be ashamed about. She seems like a nice person and she reminds you of your Mom. That’s no big deal. I don’t think you’re betraying the memory of anyone, and I’m sure your Mom would want you to be happy.”
Akane was a little taken aback by Ranma-chan’s opinion. It made sense and she unquestionably felt better. Not always an emotion she felt when dealing with her fiancé. “Thank you, Ranma.”
“Hey, it’s no problem.” She shrugged. “I just hope she leaves soon so we can practice for that upcoming fight.”
Akane agreed and the two started discussing what they should do for the upcoming duels.
Several hours later, Shampoo-kun looked worriedly at Kasumi as she prepared dinner. The girl appeared unquestionably distraught over something.
Kasumi paused a moment in her cooking, then continued. “It’s nothing.”
That hurt. It was obvious something was bothering her and she didn’t want to open up to him. “Kasumi,” he said softly, “please tell me.”
She didn’t look up from her cooking as she answered him. “I don’t want to trouble you.”
He moved next to her and gently cradled her chin in his hand, delicately moving it back towards him in the hopes Kasumi wouldn’t resist. Kasumi followed the motion until they stared at one another. “There nothing you can do that would ever trouble me. Please tell.”
Kasumi felt her resolve weaken as he looked at her in that soft caring way he possessed. She really didn’t want to trouble him, but he was just so persuasive when he did things like that. “It’s Silk.”
Shampoo-kun thought he understood. “You concerned because she might find me as a girl-type? No worry. I’m not going to change until she’s gone. As long as I stay away from hot water, it no problem.”
“I am concerned about that, but that’s not it.” She paused a moment, then continued. “Nabiki seems to think Mother was some sort of replacement for her in Father’s eyes. I know that’s not true. I remember exactly how much he was broken up inside when Mother died, although I do find the resemblance uncanny. I’m positive it’s some sort of coincidence.”
Shampoo-kun nodded his head in agreement, solely to assuage Kasumi and make her feel better. It was the Amazon’s instinct that Nabiki might be closer to the truth than Kasumi, but voicing that opinion would just upset the girl.
“Silk was in here earlier while father talked with Mr. Saotome. She was helping me make dinner,” Kasumi said as she turned away from Shampoo-kun and began to prepare food once more.
Kasumi paused in her work. “At first it was perfectly fine. She was simply helping me with the preparations. Then she made a suggestion about how to prepare something and I found myself automatically and happily obeying her, almost as though I wanted to. It took me a moment, but I realized that I was waiting for her to say something so I could follow her instructions. Even though I’ve been running things in here for years without anyone helping me, I was suddenly taking a secondary role in my own kitchen.”
“That’s bad?” Shampoo-kun asked.
“Oh, no!” Kasumi shook her head vigorously. “It’s not that it’s bad. It’s just that I was eager to follow her instructions, like it was the most natural thing in the world.” Her voice began to sound more depressed. “I… it’s just that, I guess she really does remind me of Mother. I mean, they are different. I remember what Mother looked like a lot better than Nabiki does, and even thought there is a strong superficial resemblance, there are a lot of differences too. Physically. But the way Silk acts, that’s different. As much as she looks like Mother, she acts even more like her.”
“She’s the mother of us all,” Shampoo-kun suddenly said, as though he were a million miles away.
That managed to lose Kasumi. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Shampoo-kun came back to reality. “Silk is sort of an unofficial teacher in village. She very skilled at many things and knows how to teach so you learn really good. Everyone likes her. Almost all the girls in village learn under her at one point in life. She is very nice and motherly the way she teach everyone. So we all call her our second mother. Many girls confide in her before their own mothers.” He became quiet for a moment. “Even Shampoo do, once.”
Shampoo-kun shook out of his reverie once more. “So no feel bad if she reminds you of your mother. That’s just the way she is. Just hope she doesn’t decide you make her angry.”
“What do you mean?” Kasumi asked.
Shampoo-kun gave a soft chuckle. “Great-grandmother once say Silk has a honeyed tongue that spits acid. If you make her angry, she goes from being motherly to being a very stern person. I once see her make a tough twenty-year-old Amazon break down and cry just by yelling at her. The most amazing thing was, she not ridiculed by others for doing that. Everyone just glad Silk not do that to them.” Shampoo-kun stopped laughing and continued. “She not do that often, though. Usually she is a very nice person. I like her a lot. I just wish I no have to hide.”
“I understand. She sounds like a very nice person.”
“She is,” Shampoo-kun agreed.
“I just wish she didn’t remind me of Mother so much. It makes me realize how much I miss her.”
The Amazon heard the soft sigh Kasumi gave. Instinctively he placed a comforting arm around her shoulder. “If you want to talk to me about it, I always there.”
She squeezed his hand gently, and then released it. “I know. Thank you.”
Genma scowled at the returned Amazon and Soun. The duo were talking on the back porch like there wasn’t anyone else in the world, laughing and discussing about the times past. Genma couldn’t understand why. A great deal of that time with Silk was spent running from people that either they had angered, or Happosai had stolen from. The only pleasant thing about Silk’s presence was that she was able to deal with the master. The rest of it was pretty miserable.
And once more Genma felt left out, just like back then. When he suggested to Soun they play some Shogi, he simply waved Genma off and told him there would be time for that later. Now all Genma could do was stare at the board and look at the pieces.
“Looking for company, Mr. Saotome?”
Genma turned to see Nabiki sit down at the opposite side of the board. She was the last person in the house he wanted to compete with. She was an absolute cutthroat at the game, and he could never cheat around her.
“I’ll play with a handicap,” she added.
That was different. Genma quickly set up the board and began to compete. She allowed him the first three moves to even things up. She hadn’t completed her first move before she started revealing the real reason for her appearance.
“So, what do you think of Silk?”
Genma snorted derisively at that. “I try not to think about her.” Genma finally took a good look at Nabiki’s face and didn’t like what was there. Her usual ice-like exterior was marred by a look of anger. An anger directed at the newcomer to the household.
“What kind of relationship did she have with Daddy?”
Genma adjusted his glasses at that question. “I hate to say it, but those two were almost inseparable once they met. Their relationship was, ah, very physical in nature. Oh, don’t get me wrong. The talked and did other things too.” Much to Genma’s chagrin. Soun saw to it he still paid attention to his friend, but the majority of his time was taken up with his girlfriend all that time ago. As Genma related what had happened in the past, he saw Nabiki’s anger grow. He would hate to get in between those two if they should butt heads with one another.
Silk could feel the stare of the middle Tendo child burn into her back. A good thing she knew the girl represented no physical threat. Despite that, Silk had to actively suppress her desire to scare the girl off. It was very distracting to have someone that didn’t like you right at your back. Best spot for one to place a dagger.
The pleasant conversation with Soun had gone on long enough. Silk had enjoyed every word the two of them had shared since her return, but the hour was growing late and there were some things she had to get clear before deciding on her next course of action. She had deliberately skipped over anything relating to his wife for fear of what direction the conversation might take. But if Soun gave the wrong answer to her questions, their reunion would be cut short.
“Soun,” she began as nicely as she could. “Do I look so much like your dead wife?”
She saw him tense up. So he had expected her to ask. Good. It meant he remembered what she was like.
“Yes. You do.”
She sighed to herself. It appeared she was going to have to drag it out of him. “Why?”
Silk was amazed at how depressed she felt at the hurt look Soun gave her. He took a deep breath and began. “When you broke up with me. I was hurt. Very hurt. I felt so badly, I didn’t even get worked up over the master’s treatment of myself and Saotome. For a while.”
“I’m sorry, but it had to be done. It was for both of our sakes.” Silk was afraid the conversation would come to this.
“So you said at the time.” There was pain in his voice, even after all the decades.
She felt her control over emotions begin to loosen itself. That was a surprise. She didn’t think it would still bother her that much, not after so much time had passed. It took a great effort for her to compose herself. “We both know you wanted to settle down and raise a family. I still wanted to travel the world. In order for us to continue our relationship, one of us would have had to give up our dreams. I was neither prepared to yield mine, nor have you give up yours. I cared about you too much.”
“You never even asked me.” There was even more pain in his voice.
Silk felt her control slipping again. She had no idea hearing him like this would make her feel this way. It had been over twenty years, and she had believed she was over it. “I didn’t want you to have to make that sort of choice. It wasn’t my right to force you to choose like that.”
“Was that the real reason you didn’t ask?”
That was far from the whole truth, but looking into his eyes, Silk thought he might have figured it out. She had always regarded herself as the smartest of the couple, but Soun was able to read her emotions far too easily. It was one of the things about him that vexed her so. Yet at the same time it was also one of the things that drew her to him as well. Such was the effect Soun Tendo produced. Love and fear. Strong emotions from one who prided herself as a master of control. Was it any wonder she still found herself attracted to him after all this time? She silently decided it was time to come clean.
“No. There was another reason why I didn’t ask.” Silk was surprised to hear the emotion in her own voice. “I was honestly afraid you’d beg me to stay. And I was afraid I might give in to you.
“It would have been terrible for both of us, Soun. I might have been able to settle down for a while. Maybe even long enough to bear a child or two. But in the end I would either have left you, or resented you for tying me down when what I had always wanted to do was wander the world. It would have meant sacrificing my dreams for you. Yes, I might have done it, but I don’t think I’d have been happy. Not totally. There would have been too much doubt within me, and I have little hesitancy to believe it would have poisoned our relationship in the end. I wanted a clean break from you and to still have the wonderful memories of our year together. Better that, than to have you at my side and hate what had happened. Now do you understand?”
Soun considered her words carefully. “If you had asked, I would have postponed my dreams and waited for you.”
Silk felt the heat rise to her cheeks. She didn’t believe he’d have gone that far.
“I’m glad you didn’t,” he added.
That was cause for confusion. “Why?”
Soun was uncertain whether to proceed. No. He had started that line of conversation. He would go on. “Because then I would never have met Kimiko.
“As I said, I was brokenhearted when you called things off. It took me months to recover. Then one day I spotted Kimiko. At first I thought it was you and that you had come back to me. Once she got closer I knew she wasn’t you, but there was a remarkable physical resemblance. That was enough for me to ask her out on a date, which she accepted. Within the first five minutes of our conversation, I knew she was nothing like you.” Soun quickly realized that came out wrong. “What I mean to say is, there were a lot of differences between you, but you were a lot alike as well. In the ways that matter, anyway. She was a soft and gentle woman, yet there was a firmness about her that was strong as steel. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with her. We were married within the year, and had Kasumi shortly thereafter. I never regretted a moment we had in our all too short time together.”
Soun was afraid Silk would be angry with him for saying such things. He knew she had a wicked temper and a vile tongue that could hurt as much as any weapon. She employed both on Happosai when he tried to molest her. It didn’t take long for the master to avoid her most of the time. Startlingly enough, Silk was smiling at him.
“I’m glad to hear you say that,” she said.
“You are?” She was surprising him once again.
“If you had told me you married her for any reason other than true love, I would have walked out that door immediately.” She saw the confusion on his face and quickly explained herself. “The Soun Tendo I knew and fell in love with would never have married a woman for any reason other than love. If you had married her simply because she reminded you of me, I would never have forgiven you for lying to her and your children.”
“Well, I’m glad you feel that way.” Soun then asked the question that had been eating away at him. “Are you sorry that you never asked?”
Silk shook her head. “I won’t claim I never had second thoughts, but no, I’m not. I’ve led a great and wondrous life. Much happiness. Much pain. Some regrets. But never enough to make me sorry I broke things off. Never.”
“That makes me happy. How ironic.” He scratched his chin in thought. “At the time, we hurt each other a great deal by the choices we made. But in the end, the more painful decision was the one that led us to even greater happiness.”
There was one last thing she had to mention. “Soun, explain to your daughters what the relationship between myself and their mother was. Explain it all to them. They really need to know.”
“They know I loved their mother!”
Silk shook her head. “They’re young, and given to misunderstandings. For instance, your middle child is looking at me as though she would like to sink a knife in my back at the first available opportunity. Just do it so they feel reassured, and so I can calm my paranoia.”
Soun looked over his shoulder and saw Nabiki quickly turn away. Silk was right, as usual; he was going to have to explain things.
Silk got up and began to stretch her legs. The two had sat still and talked for hours. Soun saw her motion and did likewise.
The sun had almost set by the time she realized how late it was. “I’d better get going. It’s getting late.”
“Do you have a place to stay?” he asked.
“No. Can you recommend a good hotel?”
“I won’t hear of you staying at a hotel!” he proclaimed. “You can stay in a spare bedroom.”
She considered the request. “Very well, I accept. Make certain you tell your daughters right away, though. Otherwise they are going to really go crazy. There’s no telling what they might think will happen if the two of us were to stay under the same roof together.” She gave him a seductive wink in addition to the statement.
He blushed furiously at that. “I’ll be sure to tell them.” As he went to go into the house he decided to ask the one final question on his mind. “Did you ever marry?”
“Why, no. I didn’t.”
“How come?” he asked.
Silk gave him that seductive smile she unleashed upon him so many times in their youth. “Because no man has ever compared to you.”
Soun’s blush doubled.
“Are you crazy?!” Akane shouted at her father.
“What do you mean?” The hard part of explaining things to the girls was over. But when he mentioned Silk was staying, the three looked at each other in concern.
“She’s an Amazon, Father.” Kasumi explained in a much more pleasant tone. “And she personally knows Shampoo. If she sees him… I mean her, transform, she’ll try to take her to China.”
“Silk’s an Amazon? You must be mistaken. She would have told me.” He shook his head. “No. She comes from a small village in the western regions of China. The name of her village was…” He trailed off as he suddenly remembered what the name of it was. Joketsuzoku. “Sorry about that.” Another thought occurred to him. “Maybe it’s a good thing she was always better at martial arts than me. If I had beaten her…” He allowed the thought to trail off.
Nabiki still didn’t look terribly pleased by the explanation her father had given concerning Silk. “Why don’t you just send her to a hotel? Tell her there isn’t enough room, which would be the truth.”
“No,” Soun scowled in Nabiki’s direction. “I promised her she could stay, and I’ve made up my mind.”
“All right.” Nabiki relented. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you. Her presence here is going to cause nothing but trouble.” As though it hadn’t already.
Soun saw there was going to be no further arguments. “Good! I’ll let her stay in Shampoo’s room. But that means Shampoo will have to stay with someone else.”
“She can stay with me, Father.” Everyone was a bit taken aback by the enthusiasm Kasumi demonstrated in volunteering. Raising her hand and waving it back and forth to get everyone’s attention was a bit much.
“Wait a minute.” Akane realized there was a slight problem. “Shampoo’s going to be a guy the whole time. And since Silk doesn’t know Shampoo is impersonating Ranma, it’s going to look really suspicious if Ranma impersonating Shampoo is staying with Mr. Saotome and Shampoo impersonating Ranma is staying in someone else’s room, when it should be Shampoo impersonating Ranma sleeping with Mr. Saotome and Ranma impersonating Shampoo sleeping in the room Silk’s sleeping in.”
There was a collective blink.
“I don’t understand,” Kasumi said as she tried sorting through what was just said. Soun nodded in agreement as he felt a migraine coming on. Nabiki remained silent, confident she could decipher Akane’s statement no matter how challenging it was.
“That made sense to me when I started out, but I think I lost it somewhere in the middle.” Akane said, now thoroughly confused herself.
“No,” Nabiki said as she finally got it in semi-logical order. “What you’re saying is, we have to pretend Ranma was sleeping in the room Silk now has. That means that, as a girl, he is going to have to sleep with someone else.”
“So it did make sense? Good.” Akane was more than a little happy all that thinking hadn’t been wasted.
“That means it will be Ranma sharing someone else’s room?” Kasumi asked.
Akane nodded in response.
“It wouldn’t be proper for him to sleep in my room then, even as a girl.” Kasumi looked a little downfallen.
“Shampoo was going to be a guy when you volunteered the first time.” Nabiki smiled as she informed her sister.
Kasumi blushed at that. “Yes. Well, she’s really a girl, so it would have been all right.”
Nabiki leaned in close and whispered in Kasumi’s ear. “Nice try, Sis.”
Akane spotted her father get an all too familiar look in his eyes. “I have to talk to Saotome about this.”
Now Akane was really worried.
“You get all your things out of your room?” Ranma-chan whispered to Shampoo-kun. If Silk had managed to spot the bonbori or sword, she would almost have certainly suspected the truth.
“Yes,” Shampoo-kun answered, and then turned his attention to the two fathers, who had gathered everyone together to discuss sleeping arrangements.
“Since Silk will be sleeping in Shampoo’s room,” Soun announced. “We felt it appropriate that Shampoo stay with Akane for this evening.”
“You two have fun,” Genma added.
Identical looks of shocked surprise alighted upon three faces.
“No way!” Ranma-chan said.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” Was Akane’s response.
“That no fair!” Shampoo-kun shouted.
“Well, what do you think we should do?” Soun asked of the currently black-haired Amazon.
“Answer is simple.” Shampoo-kun sniffed in the air. “Shampoo can stay with Pop and me. Like she’s done before.”
Ranma-chan was trying to figure out if staying with her father and Shampoo-kun was such a good idea when Akane spoke up.
“She can stay with me,” she sighed reluctantly.
“You no sound very happy about that,” Shampoo-kun said, seeing his chance for spending a night sleeping in the same room with Ranma-chan slipping by.
“Well, I am happy. It just took me by surprise,” Akane retorted by sniffing at the air as well. That particular motion caught Shampoo-kun off guard momentarily, and then caused him to get a facial twitch from the response.
“Doesn’t anyone care about what I have to say?” Ranma-chan asked.
A chorus of “No!'s met her in response as the four people treating her like a piece of meat continued their argument of why it was best for her to sleep in either Akane’s room or with Shampoo-kun. The dark-haired Amazon quickly lost the fight, due to superior numbers and having a visitor’s status, as Ranma-chan was chosen to sleep in Akane’s room.
As the fight was over, everyone elected to retire to their respective rooms. There was more than a little nervousness as Akane helped Ranma-chan bring up an extra futon to the bedroom (much to the disappointment of the pair of fathers). The two set up the redhead’s sleeping spot.
Ranma-chan noticed an addition to the room. “How nice of Pop and Mr. Tendo to leave a hot water bottle filled with hot water nearby,” she commented dryly as she sloshed the water in the offending object around, and then threw it out the window.
Akane began to lay down the ground rules. “Don’t you dare try to do anything. I’m only letting you sleep here because there isn’t enough space.”
“Why would I want to do anything with you?” Ranma-chan said flatly.
“Just… just never mind.” Akane was too flustered to think of a decent comeback.
“If it bothers you that much, I can sleep with Pop,” Ranma-chan offered.
“You mean sleep with Shampoo, don’t you!” Akane shot at him angrily.
“She’s going to be a guy, for crying out loud, Akane!” The redhead attempted to calm her down. She didn’t feel like getting hammered tonight. “And you know I ain’t a pervert.”
“All right,” Akane growled back. “Let’s just get some sleep.”
Each person left the room while the other one changed. Once in nighttime attire, they lay down in their respective spots and attempted to get some sleep. Each with their back to the other. After a while it became apparent to each of them that sleep was going to be no easy task.
“Why should I be worried about being in the same room with Akane?” Ranma-chan thought to herself as she stared wide-eyed at the wall. “She won’t try anything.” Somehow, that thought did nothing to ease her emotions.
Akane wasn’t much better as her eyes were wide open and she tried to listen to Ranma-chan’s breathing, silently wondering if her new roommate was asleep. It didn’t seem to matter that Ranma was a girl at the moment. It still felt too much like the redhead was a boy, and that was far from a comforting feeling.
Downstairs, the rest of the house lacked the stillness that should have been present at the late hour. Within a half hour after Ranma-chan and Akane retired, Genma rose from his bed and collected Soun from his room. The two fathers grabbed some glasses from the kitchen to help them listen at a door, and then quietly sneaked up the stairs to get next to Akane’s bedroom. Both were surprised to see Nabiki already there with a much more sophisticated listening device attached to the door.
“What’s going on?” Genma asked.
Nabiki remained silent and simply held out her hand. Genma quickly coughed up a small amount of money, which Nabiki looked at in disgust, then relented by placing it in her pocket and informing him.
Genma quietly facefaulted and was about to demand his money back when Nabiki quietly assured him she would let him hear the good stuff when it came on. The three sat back and waited for something momentous to happen.
The trio at the door was not the only ones still awake. Shampoo-kun knew what the fathers were up to. When Genma left the Saotomes’ bedroom, Shampoo-kun leaped out the window and jumped up to the tree that overlooked Akane’s room. From his perch he could see perfectly inside. If Akane even thought of trying anything, Shampoo-kun would be in there in a flash.
Silk listened carefully to the sounds of three pairs of feet moving throughout the house. She quietly exited her room, making certain her loose nightclothes didn’t reveal anything, and moved silently as well. She walked far enough up the stairs to see the fathers and Nabiki listening at the door to Akane’s room. Silk just gave a sad nod and started to head back downstairs when she detected a fourth intruder. A clumsy one, since she could clearly hear the footfalls of a lightweight person make their way through the house. Silk quietly walked halfway down the stairs, and was about to creep into the hallway the intruder was located in when she stepped on a loose floorboard. The creak was all it took for the Silk to hear the intruder react.
Silk leaped down the rest of the stairs and into the corridor. The Amazon was totally stunned by the sight before her. She would have sworn that the intruder was a lightweight person, but evidently she had been mistaken since it was quiet obviously a huge pig-like creature standing in the middle of the hall. It was beyond Silk’s comprehension how something that looked liked it weighed close to a half ton, and stood as high as her chest, could possible move that silently. Even in the moonlit corridor, Silk thought the species of animal it represented was familiar. She wasn’t given time to remember what book she had seen it in when the animal made a wuffing sound and shook its head.
“Now why do I think you don’t belong here?” she said to the pig-like animal, using a soothing voice in order to calm it down. “I’m pretty sure Birdy is the only pet the Tendos have. So where did you come from?”
The pig creature gave a wuffing sound and shook its head to one side.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were trying to tell me to get out of your way.”
To Silk’s surprise, the creature nodded its head up and down.
“Well, now. I’ve heard of smart pigs, but you really take the cake. I am afraid I still have to ask you to leave.” Silk continued her steady voice even as her body tensed up and prepared for a conflict.
Silk maintained her ground and allowed her hand to slip inside her nightshirt. She wouldn’t be able to dodge the creature’s attack in the close confines of the hallway, and if she gave ground it would probably charge. She wasn’t to be disappointed, as she observed the creature tense up and prepare to move.
It barreled forward with a loud grunt. Silk’s reaction was almost instantaneous as she pulled out a small, one-foot cylinder that telescoped in length to form a steel shod staff. The object shot out and nailed the creature squarely between the eyes, stunning it. Silk quickly gained the initiative and jumped onto the creature’s back, wrapping her thighs around its neck, and began hammering it in the head with the staff. The creature suffered several blows, and then charged forward into the living room, trying to gain room to maneuver. Once there it rolled over and nearly crushed the surprised Silk as she barely had time to release the hold and keep from having her legs broken. The creature regained its footing and gazed down at the Amazon, who also quickly regained her feet.
The creature appeared undecided about something when it received a solid blow to the back of its head. The creature was barely able to remain upright when it spotted Shampoo-kun silhouetted in the doorway leading outside. He had thrown a bonbori, which was the missile that had struck the creature in the back of its skull. It quickly tried focusing its rage at the person responsible for ruining its life, when it heard others rush down from the upstairs. It was too weakened to risk losing a conflict with the hated Shampoo-kun, so it barreled toward Shampoo-kun, then pivoted at the last moment and ran clean through two walls and out into the midnight air.
Soun hurriedly rushed to Silk’s side and helped her up. Crying with all his might that she had been injured in the fight. Rather than resist, she accepted his tears and smiled at him until he calmed down. It was nice to know he would still get overly emotional over her welfare.
“What the heck was that?!” Ranma-chan shouted.
“It was a razorback,” Shampoo-kun said loudly enough to inform everyone. “It a giant hog that indigenous to North America. But that one much bigger than any that was listed in the book I read. And I not know what he’s doing in Japan. Or why he attack the house.”
“How do you know so much about razorbacks?” Nabiki asked.
“I ran into that one the other day when it tried to run me down. I looked up information about it.”
“So that’s why you wanted that book,” Nabiki said.
Ranma-chan’s reaction was a little different. “Why didn’t you tell me you got attacked?”
Shampoo-kun snorted in derision. “After what happened with Mou—“ he quickly caught himself, realizing Silk was within earshot. “—With that idiot the other day. I was no really concerned about it.”
“Well, since it attacked the house, we can be fairly certain your encounter with it was no coincidence,” Nabiki said.
“What have you gotten us into now, Ranma?!” Akane shouted at the redhead.
“Look at me when you going to accuse me of doing something, uncute, flat-chested, ugly-looking tomboy!” Shampoo-kun quickly shouted out, hoping Silk wouldn’t notice the error Akane made in addressing the real Ranma by his proper name. Not that applying those terms to Akane wasn’t amusing in and of itself.
It took a moment, but Akane quickly picked up on what was going on and started yelling at Shampoo-kun. “I know you have something to do with this, you idiot!”
Shampoo-kun shook his head. “It an American animal. I never been to America, or met anyone that was. I got no idea why it come here.”
“Akane, quit yelling at Shampoo like that! It’s very rude.” Kasumi scolded her sister, also temporarily forgetting the name change.
“She already did Kasumi, but thanks anyway for coming to my defense.” Ranma-chan tried to save some ground, but felt it would take nothing short of a miracle for Silk to not see through everything.
If Silk saw through the deception, she gave no outward indication of it. Rather, she spent the entire time trying to reassure the crying Soun she was perfectly healthy. The attempt to shock him back to reality, by suggesting he find out for himself just how healthy she was, was met with a scowl by Nabiki and concerned looks from Kasumi and Akane. Soun’s words may have been taken at face value, but Silk realized the girls were still ranging from hostile to uncertain when it came to the duo’s relationship. Best not to joke about such things anymore, if she wanted to get on the daughters’ good sides.
The group relaxed and went back to their respective bedrooms, including the fathers. All went immediately to sleep, including Akane and Ranma-chan who suddenly didn’t seem to be concerned about the other’s presence.
The next morning Silk set out after assisting Kasumi with breakfast. Everyone stood outside the dojo to see Silk off.
“Are you certain you can’t stay longer?” Soun asked, and then received twin elbows in his side from Nabiki and Genma.
“No,” Silk sighed. “Duty calls. I must carry on with my tasks. It was wonderful seeing you again, Soun.” Silk turned to the Tendo girls. “And the three of you. Your father has done a wonderful job of raising you. And you of raising him,” she added with a smile.
Only Nabiki retained a slight scowl as Silk shook each of the girls’ hands and turned to go. If she were ever to return, she would have to tread carefully with that one. It would take a great deal of time and effort to win over Nabiki. And there was no certainty of how much time Silk still had before returning to Joketsuzoku with Cologne. Then there was the matter with how things went with the Musk, and training more of the village girls after that. There was no telling how much time she would have in the near or even distant future.
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Shampoo, Ranma.” She went to each of the youths and bowed before them while making certain she missed Genma altogether.
Silk added one final comment. “<One last thing, Ranma. I absolutely love that hairpiece you’re using. I know how unique it is.>”
Shampoo-kun paled at the statement as Silk turned to leave once again. She knew. Silk had seen through everything and knew. Shampoo-kun should have realized the mistake of leaving that thing in his hair. Such an obvious error. The only thing remotely in his favor was that she would never have let Shampoo-kun know if she was going to turn him in. He still had time.
Silk was more than halfway to the end of the street when she gave one last look to the Tendo family. Earlier, she had told Soun that she had no regrets over their breakup. But now, for the first time in almost twenty years, she did. As she looked at those three lovely children and their handsome father, one last thought went through her mind concerning Kasumi, Nabiki, and Akane.
They could have been hers.
Everyone watched Silk walk out of sight and breathe a sigh of relief. Even with Shampoo-kun informing them of what she said, they were still glad she was gone.
“Time to get packing,” Soun said enthusiastically. “We have to get that training trip going so you three can win your fight.”
Akane exchanged a look with her sisters, then watched the other two nod their heads in silent agreement. “You guys go on ahead,” she told the other four members who were going up to the mountains to train. “Kasumi, Nabiki, and I have some things to do. I’ll catch up to you later.”
Ranma-chan looked concerned at Akane. “What’s up?”
“It’s nothing to worry about.” She smiled at the redhead to reassure her. “We’re just going to visit Mom. We’ve been thinking a lot about her lately and decided it’s time to make a visit.”
“Do you want me to go along?” Soun asked, concerned.
“It’s kind of a ‘girls only’ thing this time, Daddy. If you know what I mean.” Nabiki explained to her somewhat downbeat father.
Soun nodded his head in understanding and felt a little pang of sorrow, not that he thought they didn’t love him. He knew they did, despite the current set of difficulties. It was just that there were still some things he couldn’t give to them. Things that only their mother could help them with, even in death.
Part 2: Getting Ready to Rumble
“Are we on? We are? Hi, there! This is newsperson slash intern, Nanami Jinnai here, filling in for your regular reporter, Taki Sato, who is currently ill with a stomach problem. I’m reporting to you from the Eye in the Sky helicopter high above Mt. Terror. There have been recent reports over the last few days of strange sounds and lights emanating from upon the mountain. What could be producing these terrible effects? Aliens? Youmas? A secret government research facility? Bugrom Invasion?
“Our great station has the inside scoop as to the identity of the noisemakers. It was risky, getting so close to the center of the disturbance, but Nanami Jinnai takes that extra step to get you the true story. Now, as our camera with its special extra-powerful zoom lens focuses on the scene below, we see that, in fact, it is not my insane brother attempting to invade our dimension with an army of giant bugs that only he can talk to, but a number of martial artists practicing their craft.
“Safe, high above their heads, we bear silent witness to their proceedings. Observe as the fellow in the white robes hurls a variety of weapons, and a wheat thresher, at many targets. All the while, his weapons cut through the trees and foliage, slowly making it a barren mountain. We fly a couple of miles away to witness a purple-haired girl destroying some makeshift targets of her own. Curiously, these targets look a lot like the white robed youth we just left. In that same clearing we see a young girl that seems to be striking a dark-haired boy with a large wooden mallet. Wow! He’s really traveling. I… LOOK OUT! BANK LEFT!!!
“That was a close one. I wonder what he meant when he cried out ‘uncute, sexless tomboy’ as he flew past. At any rate we turn back to the scene below where we see that dark-haired boy… wait a minute! Where did the purple-haired girl go? She was right there just a second ago. Oh, well. The dark-haired boy is working on those familiar targets and… whoa! That guy is almost as good-looking as Makoto. *Sigh* If only he hadn’t fallen for that damn walking erector set…
“But I’m getting off the subject. A little further down the mountainside we see yet another area that is rapidly being destroyed. There is a young girl down there, fighting while using her food as a weapon. Heh! Gives a whole new definition to the term ‘food fight.’ And lastly we have a rough looking guy that… Wow! He just reduced a boulder into dust with his bare hands. Now his hands are glowing and he’s releasing some kind of light, which is destroying things. Whoops! One of his shots went astray. In fact, it looks like it might be heading for… uh, oh! OH [BEEP]!!! He hit our rotor! This is one of the reasons I left El Hazard! To keep from being attacked by a bunch of weirdoes! Oh, man, this is going to hurt. This is Nanami Jinnai, signing off.”
At the ‘Saotome’ encampment, they saw the helicopter land hard, shattering the landing gear and crunching the helicopter down to almost half its original size. After a few moments all of the people pried themselves out of the wreckage, unharmed save for bumps and a few bruises.
Ryu Kumon stared at the trail of smoke from the fallen helicopter for some time. He had never been that clumsy before. But this time was different. In the past, training always helped him focus on his goals. If anything, he got sloppy when he didn’t have time to train. So now that he had the time, he should have been more intent than ever on achieving his goal. Instead, he was allowing stray shots to fly wildly all around. He knew why there was such trouble. His focus was off, and that distraction was growing by the moment, making him even more careless. The source of the distraction was easy to identify. In fact, she was placing her hand on his shoulder to relax him.
“Ranma, relax. If you behave like this, you’re going to lose. Concentrate. Focus your desire to one single thing: winning the match. Let that guide you.” Kaori tried reassuring her spouse. She was more than a little concerned about his behavior. Before this challenge came up, he was easily the greatest fighter she had ever laid eyes upon. But now he looked nothing like that perfect fighter she had grown to love, making mistakes left and right. That was something he couldn’t afford to do in the upcoming fight. Kaori didn’t know much about the impostor Ranma and Genma, but she knew enough to realize they were highly skilled and dangerous. If her husband didn’t have a near perfect fight, he was going to lose.
She tried to put his mind at ease once again. “Does your lack of concentration stem from these last two nights? If so, you’re being foolish. I don’t expect you to perform every single night. That would be unrealistic.” She failed to notice a sweatdrop form behind his head as she continued. “Besides, sex is a secondary thing. I just love waking up next to you. That’s all that matters to me.”
“It’s not that!” he declared all too quickly. The problems with his nightly performances were mental, not physical, and he knew it. It wasn’t so much that he felt bad about his lack of performance (though it did bother him). It was what that fact represented that really disturbed him. His thoughts and emotions were in such turmoil that it was affecting him physically. And that could only lead to bigger problems for the upcoming fight.
It had never been like this before. In the past he cared about nothing other than discovering the Umisenken. Fights happened frequently, with little regard for the consequences. He had been in life and death struggles when the odds were even greater against him, and yet he had never felt as nervous then as much as he did now.
The cold fact of the matter was, he no longer gave a damn about the Umisenken, or his dojo. That truth had become acceptable in the last four days. He couldn’t lie to himself any longer. All that mattered was the name, and Kaori. And the name was only important in keeping his wife with him. How greatly he had changed from the rough street fighter that traveled the world, seeking out a style of martial arts at any price. Now he had been tamed, like so many other married men. Once, long ago, he had remembered hearing about a fighter that the same thing had happened to. He had voiced his opinion that the man had been gelded. Well, now the same thing had happened to him. At least it had happened with his consent, if unknowingly.
Now that peacefulness was about to be shattered. Unless he could rediscover his focus and defeat his opponent, the real Ranma Saotome. And that seemed less and less likely by the moment.
“Kaori? Would you still love me if I had a different name?”
She smiled at him. “Of course I would. It’s not your name I fell in love with. It was you. Now stop talking like that. You’re allowing the idea that you might be beaten enter your mind. With that kind of attitude, you’ll lose.” She moved closer and stood on her tiptoes, kissing his forehead. “You are the best fighter in the world. I know you won’t let me down by losing.”
He thanked her and walked off to gain some room so he could practice a few of his more powerful techniques. She would love him even if he lost his name. That was a relief. His concentration increased as he suddenly rediscovered his focus. His moves became flawless for the next fifteen minutes, moving with the powerful grace he exuded when he was in a fight. That focus was eventually lost again, as yet something else began to bother him. The back of his mind cried out that there was more to it than losing his name. Frustration grew as he further lost control, becoming even more reckless and careless in his katas. Guilt came to the forefront, as the realization that the lies he had told Kaori were starting to take their toll on him. A conscience, something he had thought long lost, was making its presence known once again. It just wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t he simply take back the challenge and go back home?
His mind gave in to fantasy as he dreamed of the course he should have taken. They could have built a house somewhere and settled down. No more wandering. No more fighting. Peace. Happiness. A family. Something that had never crossed his mind a year ago. No more than sixteen years of age, and already looking forward to settling down to the married life. Learning how to help run a business had begun to sound good. And here he was, throwing it all away for something that could never give him what he wanted. He had initiated a quest to find a martial art that would give him the harmony he so desperately sought his entire life. Instead, he had found the answer in something entirely different. He had found it in the love of the woman at his side.
And now he was in danger of losing it all.
Ryu sank to his knees, trying to figure a way out of the entire mess his life had become. His mind drew a blank. In frustration he pounded his fists into a stone, pulverizing it into dust. A clapping suddenly came from a nearby tree.
“That rock will never bother you again.”
Ryu looked up to see a youth about his age, standing on a branch in one of the trees, wearing a dragonscale vest with a single matching bracer, and, if Ryu was not mistaken, a pantyhose around his waist.
“What do you want?” Ryu tensed up as he questioned the newcomer. Something about the youth’s stance and sneer suggested he was someone to be reckoned with. And there was some air about him that made Ryu not want to trust him.
“Relax.” Tarou held out his hands in a gesture of peace. “I’m not going to give you any problems, impostor. In fact, if the way your practice is going is any indication of how you’re going to be fighting for that upcoming match, I’m your best friend in the world.”
Ryu didn’t relax. “Somehow, I doubt that very much. And the name’s Ranma Saotome. Remember it!”
Tarou gave a derisive snort. “You can call yourself Sailor Moon for all I care. The reason I’m here is because I’m going to help you win this fight.”
“Why would you want to do that?” Ryu asked, his suspicion growing by the second. “I don’t know you.”
“But I know Ranma Saotome.” Tarou saw Ryu begin to react in anger. “The other one. And believe me, if you knew him, you’d understand why I want to see you kick his ass and take his name.”
“I can take him.” Ryu didn’t like the implication the youth was making.
“The way you’re fighting? Please. He’ll make mincemeat out of you in less than five seconds.” Tarou was beginning to wonder if the impostor was going to make things difficult. All he wanted to do was help. Himself.
“So what can you do to help me?”
At last, Ryu was showing interest. “I can show you his fighting style and weak points. I can tell you how to beat him easily.”
“I don’t need your help!” Ryu shot back.
Tarou chuckled, eliciting anger in Ryu. “Look at you. You’re so far off your mark it’s hilarious. Mousse could probably take you with one arm tied behind his back. Now, are you really that eager to lose your name?”
Ryu silently cursed himself. Every instinct told him not to trust the boy in front of him. His identity and true purpose was a total unknown. He could be a plant, placed here to give false information. But the consequences of losing were great as well. If the boy before him truly hated the real Ranma, then he could be the edge Ryu was looking for.
“Husband. You do not require his assistance. I have every confidence in you.” Kaori remained a good distance away from her spouse, satisfied that she could support him from a distance and not let it appear she was anything other than a proper wife who was deferential to her mate.
That was all it took to convince Ryu of what to do. Losing his wife was not an option. Any advantage that could help him in his fight would be used. Anything to win. “I accept.”
Tarou leaped down from the tree and went to shake Ryu’s hand. He gave the most convincing smile he could muster, and then turned to Kaori. “Since your husband is willing to take tips from me, how about I tell you a few of that Tendo girl’s weak points? Can’t say I care much for her, since she’s the other Ranma’s fiancée.”
If her husband was willing to go along with Tarou’s plan, she saw no reason why she couldn’t take a few pointers from the newcomer as well. She agreed.
That brought a smile to Tarou’s face. Everything worked out just the way he wanted. He would teach Fem-boy’s tricks to Ryu. Ranma would have his head pounded in. Ryu would take away Ranma’s name, so that the engagement between Akane and the hermaphrodite would be dissolved. After all, the agreement was to unite the Saotome and Tendo families. But if Ranma weren’t a Saotome any more, then the engagement would obviously be called off. That would give Tarou his fair shot. Not only that, but he managed to help Akane, too. He would give Kaori a bunch of false information and help Akane win with ease. Fem-boy was going to be so humiliated that Tarou considered buying a camera to capture the look on Ranma’s face the moment his life was destroyed. Then he could laugh long and hard about it, enjoying that picture for the rest of his life.
Mousse threw another fifty shuriken into the tree. For the last three days, he had been focusing his thoughts on only one thing: defeating Shampoo. This would be his last chance. The final attempt. He couldn’t afford to hold back; not this time. There was far too much at stake. If he failed, Shampoo would be left in the hands of one of the most evil men that lived, and eventually lose her life. Mousse cursed Ranma Saotome for making his life a living hell. Ranma was the one that deserved to be beaten for all the crimes he had done to both him and Shampoo. In fact, Ranma was responsible for the curses as well. If he hadn’t been so careless and knocked Shampoo into the Spring of Young Drowned Man, none of them would be going through the difficulties they now had. And even that could have been forgiven, if Ranma hadn’t taken Shampoo away. Together, Mousse and Shampoo could have fled China and gotten married somewhere, keeping a low profile until a solution to their predicament was found.
But that wasn’t the way things had turned out. Now Mousse was being forced to fight the last person in the world he wanted to. Life was cruel and unfair. If he learned nothing else his entire life, he at least learned that. Why all the bad things seemed to happen to him was beyond his understanding. For all his resolve, he felt tears make their presence known.
“Why does it have to be this way?” he said aloud.
“Actually, it doesn’t,” a voice answered back. “You could call off this foolishness and go back to Kodachi, or China. Anywhere on the face of the earth but Nerima. You could probably even stay here if you just kept out of Shampoo’s way.”
Mousse turned to see the figure of one almost despised as Saotome. Cologne made her presence known once again.
“What are you doing here, old hag?!” Mousse was certain she had come to mess things up for him. She always did.
“I should crack your skull for that remark.” She let the implied ‘but’ hang there for a while, then continued. “However, I’ll let it slide this time. You’re going to have enough trouble surviving Shampoo’s onslaught. She won’t go soft on you like she has in the past.”
“Shampoo never took it easy on me.”
Cologne shook her head. “I doubt there is anyone else that could annoy her half as much as you have and still be alive. Or at least not crippled. No. She’s taken it easy on you because she regards you as little more than an annoyance that, at one time, she had feelings for. Though if she has any for you now it would be nothing short of a miracle.”
“She still cares for me. Deep down inside, I know.”
For the first time in years, Cologne gave up her role as Mousse’s elder and began speaking to him as a person. “Mousse, please give up. For both your sakes. No good will come of this fight, and you can’t possibly win. The best way you can help her, and yourself, is to let all of this go. Get on with your life.”
“So you can take her back to China? Your own granddaughter? I’ll never let someone as heartless as you do that to her. I’ll protect her from everyone. I promised myself that and I mean to keep it. Now get out of here! I still have to practice for the duel.”
Cologne remained where she was and watched him employ another volley of weapons. It only took moments for Cologne to realize that he was training in earnest. She carefully watched his movements and knew he was really going to go through with it. This time it would be for real, just as he had promised. With a sigh she turned to go. There had to be some way to help Shampoo. But discretely. Given their current relationship, there was little chance Shampoo would listen to her. No, Shampoo would either run or fight if she spotted Cologne. Assistance would have to be given some other way.
Shampoo went through another pattern of movements. This was getting her nowhere fast. Three days already wasted. What she needed to do was practice against long-range weapons, and develop strategies against them, not destroy stationary targets that looked like Mousse.
“Ranma,” she called out. “Come over and help me!”
Ranma stopped matching his father’s movements and answered. “I can’t. I gotta learn this Umisenken stuff. Pop says I can beat him with it.”
Genma smacked Ranma in the head. “Only if you continue to concentrate, boy. If you keep letting yourself be distracted you’ll never learn that technique and you’ll lose your name.”
“Well, then, I guess I wouldn’t have to introduce you as my father any more if that happens. Hey! Maybe I should throw the fight?!” he snapped back.
Genma started to retort when Ranma pointed to the ground behind Genma. “Is that your fifty yen piece?”
“Where?” Genma turned to look at the ground Ranma had been pointing. He was only able to look for a moment when a foot met his behind and he was sent into a tree.
“Talk about easy to distract.” Ranma commented, and then turned to Shampoo. “Look. I really wish I had time to help you. But I got my hands full. Maybe if you helped me we could work something out.”
Shampoo shook her head. “I have to train only for Mousse. If I waste time, he might beat me. And you know what that means. No. The risk is too, too great.”
Ranma looked somewhat angrily at her. “Well, I gotta keep my family name. It’s real important to me that I keep it, y’know?”
Shampoo understood exactly, and came to the same conclusion Tarou had earlier. No name, no engagement. But there was no way she couldn’t root for Ranma. Still, if he lost…
She pushed such thoughts out of her mind. If she didn’t want Ranma to win, it would affect her, especially if he really did lose. She just couldn’t imagine herself enjoying Ranma suffering. The feelings ran too deep. This was all proving to be a distraction. Just like the last three days. Every time she found herself starting to concentrate on Mousse, she’d notice Akane and Ranma together, or the fathers would come up with some stupid scheme to get the two closer together.
A primary example was Soun “accidentally” pouring some water on Ranma’s sleeping bag and making it too wet to sleep in. Just as the duo started to suggest he and Akane share one, Shampoo calmly walked over and handed her sleeping bag to Ranma. She overrode his protests by claiming it wouldn’t be proper for a boy to sleep with a girl. Shampoo said she would share the sleeping bag with Akane, adding an “unless you want to sleep with Ranma” to her. It had the desired effect of Akane loudly proclaiming “NO WAY!!!” and agreeing to share with Shampoo. There had been the smallest fear that Akane would agree to sleep with Ranma, but it was a risk Shampoo had been willing to take.
Akane warned her that she better not turn into a guy in the middle of the night. There was no chance of that. Shampoo would have preferred to share a sleeping bag with a nest full of snakes than the violent tomboy, and certainly wouldn’t want to stay close to her as a guy either. Sleep was not easily gained by either one of them that night.
All the constant distractions were beginning to add up. Little to nothing was being accomplished, and the clock was ticking. Mousse had an edge, she was certain of it. And if she wasn’t fighting at close to optimum capacity, she could lose. That was not an acceptable option. She viewed losing to him as little more than eternal bondage to his suffocating attention. There was difficulty envisioning life with him. And what she could view was a continuing of what life had been like growing up with him. Even if he changed, what then? Could she grow to love him? Perfume once told her that man had an infinite capacity for change. Of course thirteen-year-old Shampoo had little ability or desire to listen to such ideas at the time, but now she understood what it meant. If she lost to Mousse, what would the future hold?
The answer was surprisingly simple: A lifetime spent with someone she didn’t love. No matter how much he changed on the outside, deep down he would still be the same boy she had grown up with. She had spent more than enough time with him to understand what he was like, even better than himself. Overprotective to the point of attacking a person she honestly loved. Obsessive to the point of willingly causing her pain. Ignorant of her needs and desires, no matter how plainly or violently she stated them. A boy she could never love, just tolerate. No. She would never settle for marriage to someone she could never do anything more than like at the best of times, and despise so much of the rest.
All his actions over the last few months were little more than nails in the coffin of any chance of a relationship, as if there was any chance to begin with. Constant attacks upon Ranma. Placing innocents at risk for his own desires. Assuming he knew better than she did what she wanted. All marks against him. Even when she pointed out the flaws, he ignored them and continued on the way he wanted. No. There were plenty of alternatives to a marriage with him. Locking herself in male form. Dying in battle.
That was what it looked like it would come down to. She would not lose to him. Never to him. In order to ensure he wouldn’t, she would have to adjust her mindset. Killing was never desirable, and he was a friend so very long ago. How unfortunate there were no other viable alternatives. She had to be prepared for the eventuality and train effectively. Ranma had refused her. Genma was busy teaching him the Umisenken. Akane had done likewise, saying she had to learn Martial Arts Take Out. Ukyou had supplied some texts on how it was done, but couldn’t spend the time in the mountains to help Akane without her business suffering. So she practiced with her father while learning the counter-techniques. Shampoo was left alone.
Now it was time to come to a decision. Stay and waste time, perhaps eventually losing to Mousse, or go away so she could find someone that would help her in earnest. That choice meant leaving Akane and Ranma alone with only two encouraging fathers as their company. There was no choice.
“Ranma. Shampoo have to go. Winning is too important to me.” She wanted him to change his mind. Call out that she was more important than defeating the false Ranma. Even though she knew if he sacrificed his time to help her it would only hurt his chances at winning his own fight. There was a part of her that was ashamed of her self-centeredness. Didn’t she accuse Mousse of the selfsame behavior? Why did the fool have to pick the same day for the match as hers? Why were there so many obstacles in her life?
Ranma nodded his head in understanding and began practicing with his father once again. That was more than a little disheartening. Couldn’t he have at least taken out the time to give her a sincere goodbye? She turned in a huff as she went to collect her things.
“WAIT, SHAMPOO!!!” Ranma cried out. “Don’t leave us…”
Shampoo felt her heart soar. Ranma wanted her to stay.
“…alone with Akane’s cooking! If you go, we’ll starve!”
“I haven’t even made anything and you’re already insulting my cooking!” Akane picked up a Teflon skillet and threw it at Ranma. He dodged the first projectile as Akane went for more cooking weaponry and continued hurling them at Ranma.
Shampoo shook her head in disgust and left Mt. Terror to return to Nerima.
Mousse concentrated, assuming the position he had been taught. His arms held high above the head and the hands pointed forward, standing on one leg like a crane. All day he felt himself just on the verge of employing the technique. Just a little more and he would master it. He had to. It was for Shampoo’s sake. If he couldn’t discover the proper use of it, he could lose to her, just like he had all his life. He allowed his frustration that had built up over the years to grow…
At last, he felt the chi energy form in front of him. For the first time in his life he was able to effectively tap into his own body’s unique chi abilities. There was only a dim awareness of the small white light that formed in front of him. Quickly it grew to a man-sized blob, building steadily up until it suddenly shot forward, taking the form of a giant white eagle that seemed to soar forward at an incredible speed. The chi bird smashed into a grove of trees, shattering several of them into kindling. He fell to his knees, a feeling of being utterly drained running throughout his body. It didn’t matter how tired he felt. His heart was racing. At long last he had mastered the Soaring Eagle Strike. Shampoo could not win.
Mousse laughed long and hard for the first time in years, tears of joy streaming from his eyes. Happiness was only ten days away.
To be continued.
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