Takao Nakajima strolled across the street, on her way to purchase some groceries. It was a pleasant day, and she had just come from watching the awesome duel between the achingly handsome Chinese guy and that beautiful purple-haired girl. Oh how she wished she could fight like the two of them, especially the girl. If Takao were as tough as her, then someone like that Mousse fellow would try to fight for her hand. And she knew someone like him would not have a hard time of it. There was little doubt who she would fantasize about tonight as she slept.
She had tried to learn martial arts but never got past a green belt. Work took up too much of the young girl’s time, and it wasn’t easy living on your own in Nerima. So she went to purchase the groceries and thought about what to do on her day off from her exciting job as a bank teller. That was when it happened.
[Here me, Takao Nakajima, last direct descendent of my wielder’s line.]
The voice was speaking within her mind. Telepathy!
[There is a great evil blossoming in the world. I can grant you the ability to prevent it. I can give you power beyond your imagination and a chance to make a difference, if you accept my offer. Do you accept this once in a lifetime brush with greatness?]
How could she refuse? It was what she always wanted, a chance to break out of her dreary existence and become a person of importance. Why, she could end up a virtual super hero, like that Sailor Moose person, or whatever her name was.
“YES! I ACCEPT!!!” she shouted out loud, never mind the fact the voice had spoken to her telepathically.
[YES!!! You will not regret this. Oh, how long I have waited to taste the blood of one so rich in power. I had thought his kind extinct for over a millennium now. And to find one, the last one, is cause for celebration. Now, I will give you the ability to discover the tomb I have been buried in. It is located in China and, if you concentrate, you will be able to feel the direction I lie in.]
Takao closed her eyes and did indeed feel a tugging in one direction. Everything the voice said was true. She began walking in the direction of the pull, and hadn’t been in motion for more than ten seconds when she heard a loud noise.
She opened her eyes to see she had walked out into the middle of a busy street while her eyes had been closed. The car that had beeped its warning struck her full force, hurling her twenty feet.
She would be rendered comatose for over three months. By the time she recovered, it would all be over.
Somewhere deep within a sealed crypt in a mountain in China, The Blood Drinker, one of the mightiest swords created during the height of the time of magic, cried out in despair. After a millennium of inactivity it would miss the opportunity to drink the blood of one of the most powerful beings it had ever encountered. Why did all the Nakajimas have to be blithering idiots? The last one he attempted to contact walked into a pit of hungry tigers while his eyes were closed trying to locate the sword. And the sword was tied to the family exclusively, there was no else to call on.
Why was existence so unfair?
The Empire of the Five Comets:
The Seer felt yet another possibility wither away. Time continued to run out. The opportunities for change where dwindling to almost nothing.
It did not look good at all.
Chapter 25: This Little Piggy Wanted Revenge
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.
C+C is greatly appreciated. It is the fuel which helps keep me running. You can contact me at email@example.com
What’s gone on before (or what you really need to know to enjoy this fic.) In the beginning, the Saotomes traveled to Jusenkyou to spar, not realizing that Shampoo and Mousse had already begun a duel there. One mid-air collision and bath in Spring of Young Drowned Man later, we have a male Shampoo as well as a female Ranma. (So Ranma-chan= female Ranma. Shampoo-kun= male Shampoo. Enjoy) Shampoo elected to travel to Japan with Ranma and was accidentally engaged to Kasumi. After that was cleared up Ranma became engaged to Akane. Over the months many allies and enemies were made as all went through many adventures. Last chapter, Ryu Kumon had impersonated Ranma and the two had a fight over the name. Akane fought Ryu’s wife, the former Kaori Daikokuji, and Shampoo had one last marriage duel with Mousse. Ranma, Akane and Shampoo on all their fights. Ranma and Shampoo horribly injured but able to walk away from the battle in one piece, victorious. However, a giant razorback had been stalking Shampoo, attacking whenever it got the opportunity. It has recently been revealed to be one angry Akari…
“RUN FOR IT!!!”
Shampoo needed no encouragement as the duo fled at top speed to evade the charging Akari-razorback that bore down on them. Their new attacker demolished trash cans, sidewalk cafés, street vendors’ wares, and anything else that stood between her and the target of her anger.
“Crazy Pig-Girl take things too, too far!” Shampoo shouted as she spared a glance over her shoulder, estimating that Akari was indeed gaining on them.
Ranma had already come to the same conclusion and tried to increase his own speed, failing miserably. Each of them was too fatigued to run any faster, leap out of the way, or fight back. “Since when did she turn into a pig?”
“Razorback,” Shampoo corrected.
“Whatever,” Ranma replied, annoyed. “I remember being out in the rain and her not changing.”
“You want to stop and ask?”
Ranma spared another glance and saw the bloodshot eyes of the massive beast. Stopping would be an extremely bad idea. “How do we get out of this one?”
“Why is you asking me?” Shampoo growled.
“Because this one’s your fault, not mine,” Ranma snapped back as Akari-razorback trampled another cart.
Shampoo gave him as much of an angry look as she could muster. “I just trying to help you.”
“I had the situation under control,” Ranma replied. “You didn’t need to do it.”
Shampoo snorted at that. Ranma’s memory could become awfully selective. “As Shampoo seem to recall, you was complaining about being hungry too. Almost as loud as Pop.”
“Oh, so it’s all my fault now. Is that it?”
Shampoo shrugged. “You say that. Not me.”
“She’s gaining,” Ranma informed his running companion. “And it is not my fault.”
The two turned down an alleyway in the hope it would force Akari to slow down within the close confines of the narrow concrete passages. It failed as the razorback simply bowled over or plowed under everything that stood between her and the object of her quest.
The fleeing martial artists came at last to a dead end. The duo hesitated but a moment as they took off at top speed and leaped as high as they could. Both fell three feet short of clearing the wall, then slid down the height they had traveled, digging into the brick with their fingers in an effort to slow their descent. It was all to no avail. Once they landed each slowly turned around and gazed at their opponent.
“I not think I can fight her any good, Ranma,” Shampoo quietly said, anxiety starting to make its presence known.
“I’m beat too,” Ranma agreed. He looked Shampoo over once again, concerned. During the flight from the giant boar Shampoo’s hair had come undone. Sweat now plastered her purple locks onto her face, heightening the growing frightened look she now possessed. She didn’t have any more strength than he did. Akari certainly had picked the best time to attack them. Gosunkugi could have handled each of them with a minimum of effort.
Akari stood at the opening of the alleyway and paused. Neither Ranma nor Shampoo could escape now, and she was too large to allow either of them pass by her unharmed. Cornered prey, that’s what they were now. Slowly she stalked forward until she was in leaping distance.
Both martial artists pressed themselves against the wall as Akari closed the distance. No opening presented itself, forcing them to remain motionless.
“This no look good, Ranma.” Shampoo silently chided herself for not forcing her great grandmother to teach her the Breaking Point technique. All it would take would be one finger and she could blow up a passageway to freedom.
Ranma could do nothing more than nod his head in agreement. There were no openings he could take advantage of and no attack he could employ to stop a half ton of raging pork. Neither flight nor fight was an option. All that was left was a feeling of impotence.
“Ranma,” Shampoo turned to give Ranma a look of helplessness that was mirrored within him. “There been something I been meaning to tell you.”
It was at that moment that Akari chose to leap directly at Shampoo. Ranma acted on instinct as he threw himself in front of the purple-haired Amazon. No one would ever hurt her if he could prevent it, even if it meant being crushed flat.
He gave in to the urge to shut his eyes as the razorback’s leap was now directly at him. Shampoo was shouting something about him getting out of the way as hands were suddenly tugging at his shirt. He stood firm, praying that somehow his body would be enough to shield the Amazon from harm.
The huge porcine body had just reached the height of its arc when a splash of hot water intercepted it in mid-air, triggering the transformation. Akari’s body lost its added mass as she quickly reverted to her human form, landing upon Ranma and knocking him off his feet.
Ranma was more than a little surprised that the impact didn’t hurt anywhere near as much as it should have, and that the razorback’s skin felt much softer than he thought it would. In fact, it felt as though two objects of the pig were pressing themselves against his face. Soft pliable things. At last he opened his eyes and placed his hands on what was smothering his head, pushing them off. It was a surprise at how soft they were and how light the razorback felt until he realized Akari was in human form.
And what the soft things were that had smothered his face
And what he had placed his hands on, in order to remove said soft things from his face.
The shock was so great that he reflexively squeezed his hands slightly, giving everyone an idea of just how responsive Akari was to stimulation as she gave off a soft moan.
“RANMA!!!” Akane, the one who had thrown the hot water and saved the day, began glowing brightly.
“HOW…” Shampoo picked herself up from under Ranma and stood over him as Akane came to her side. The Amazon began glowing as brightly as Akane.
“…DARE…” Akane picked up where Shampoo left off.
“…YOU…” Shampoo said as the two began switching back and forth.
The two of them dominated his vision as they continued glowing like bright stars in anger.
“I’m not groping her.” As the words left Ranma’s mouth he realized that his hands had remained right where they were at the start of the diatribe. Quickly he removed the hands as Akari stood up on her own and covered herself as best she could.
“Fondling her, then!” Akane growled.
“I wasn’t fondlin’ her either.”
“Then what you call putting hands on girl’s breasts and squeezing?” Shampoo accused, still glowing every bit as brightly as Akane.
“I call it groping,” Ranma answered seriously, then understood the way it sounded. “But that wasn’t what I was doing. I was…” He stopped and came to the conclusion that he was doing it, but wasn’t doing it in the way they meant. “Okay. Look. I did it, but I didn’t enjoy it. “
Two auras doubled in intensity as Ranma continued digging his grave.
“I mean I didn’t do it to enjoy it! I just did it to get her off!”
“YOU DID IT TO GET HER OFF?!!” Akane raged.
“Off of me! Get her off of me! That’s what I meant to say! Not get her off of anything other than me!” He then added. “I didn’t even notice how soft they were or anything!”
Ranma became cognizant of the fact that the grave became deeper still. As weakened as he was, he really might not survive a pummeling at the girls’ fists. No way of defusing the situation came to mind other than the final excuse.
“It’s not my fault!” That never worked.
Akane was about to launch an attack when she felt the aura next to her fade. She turned to see Shampoo had left her side and moved hurriedly down the alleyway. It took only a moment to see why the Amazon had left. Akari was trying to make a quiet getaway while the duo confronted Ranma. The pig farmer’s flight for freedom was prevented when Akari felt herself lifted up by the scruff of her neck by one angry Amazon.
“Where you think you going, Pig-Girl?”
“Umm,” Akari laughed nervously. “I was thirsty and wanted a drink of water.”
Shampoo shook her head and tossed Akari into a nearby pile of trash. The Amazon reached down into another pile at her feet and threw an old blanket towards the pig farmer up to cover up. Akari understood as she cowed before Shampoo and did as she was supposed to.
Akane’s aura had disappeared as the moment of crisis passed and she focused on the real threat. “Now what’s this all about? Why is this girl trying to attack you? Exactly what did you do this time?” All the questions were directed at the source of all of her perceived problems: Ranma.
“Hey!” he defended. “It really ain’t my fault.” He caught the glare Shampoo gave him at that. “Mostly.”
“He’s right!” Akari shouted out from her sitting position on the ground, pointing accusingly at the purple-haired Amazon. “It’s all this evil girl’s fault.” The glare she received from Shampoo caused her to quiet down in fear once again.
“So what did you do, Shampoo?” Akane stared flatly at the Amazon.
Shampoo returned the look and briefly considered getting in a staring contest with the girl. Reason won out over pride as there were more important things to do, like explain what was going on.
“It all a big misunderstanding,” she said. “But Ranma can explain better.” She turned towards him.
Ranma looked a little startled at the suddenness of the suggestion, but went along with it. “Well, it all started when me, Shampoo, and Pop first arrived in Nerima. We came in from the boat all right, but we were all hungry. Pop claimed he knew this great place to eat, never mind the fact we didn’t have no money.”
“I think Pop was going to have us wash dishes to pay, just like in Chahaung,” Shampoo added.
“You’re probably right,” Ranma agreed. “Anyway, Navigator Pop says he knows a short cut to get there. So we followed him, like the unsuspecting clods we are.”
“Pop pull a Ryouga on us,” Shampoo explained.
“Yeah. You’d think the fact that we were in a wooded area instead of a city would’a tipped him off, but no, he won’t admit he’s lost. So we get hungrier and hungrier until we come to this little town in the middle of nowhere and he finally asks directions. Not only does he find out we ain’t in Nerima anymore, but apparently some kind of giant animal has been beating up all the men in the town. Well, Pop goes into a speech about how it’s the responsibility of a martial artist to protect the weak.”
Shampoo interrupted again. “Pop find out there a reward.”
“Yep,” Ranma agreed. “And he volunteers me and Shampoo’s services to help the village.”
“But I make sure Pop come along,” Shampoo added. “He make a good shield if worse come to worse.”
“So we set off to find this animal, talking about food the entire time. Shampoo was going on and on about how she knows all these great pork dishes, getting us all hungry.” Ranma paused to catch his breath, then continued. “Eventually, I get jumped by this giant pig. Well, to make a short fight into a shorter story, I beat him easy. Just as he goes down this girl comes runnin’ out of some bushes and starts shouting something about marriages. Unfortunately, just as she was coming towards us, Shampoo was already in motion and got to the pig first.”
“You mean…” Akane began.
“I turn him into bacon bits with sword.” Shampoo made a slashing motion with her arm.
“WAAAAHHH!” Akari began crying as she heard the retelling of the story. “You killed Katsunishiki!”
Shampoo just scowled at the crying girl and continued. “It no my fault. Besides, who think anyone be stupid enough to let her pet pig attack people. I think it a wild animal, so anyone can have.”
“Anyway,” Ranma continued, lest he lose track of the story. “Akari runs over and grabs the pig, crying all the time. We manage to get out of her that it was her pet and not a wild animal. We apologized, even though some people tried insisting that we should eat the pig.” That comment was directed at Shampoo.
“Me and Pop was hungry.” Shampoo shrugged. “And it attack you.”
Ranma just sighed. “It starts raining and she sees us transform. Naturally she stares at us for a few moments, and then runs away. Once we get to the town we tell them what happened and find out the girl’s name is Akari Unryu and she’s a pig farmer. I told them to give the reward money to her, over Pop’s protests, and we headed back to Nerima and eventually met you.”
“Where’d she get the curse?” Akane asked.
“I don’t know.” Ranma just gave her a bewildered glance. “She didn’t change when she got wet back then. She must’ve picked up the curse afterward.”
“So, all this is over your pet pig getting killed?” Akane asked the now standing Akari.
Akari dried up her sniffles and shook her head. “No. Because of Shampoo I can’t get married.”
Akane’s eyes widened as she turned to Shampoo. “What did you do to this girl that she can’t get married? You didn’t turn into a guy and defile her or something, did you?”
“WHAT?!!!” Shampoo shook in anger. “I no do that sort of thing! All that happened was just like Ranma say! I no do anything with her! She just crazy!”
“I am not crazy!” Akari protested. “It has to do with the promise I made to my dying grandfather. He made me swear that I would only marry someone strong enough to defeat our prize sumo pig, Katsunishiki. And that was exactly what Ranma did.”
“RANMA!!!” Now Akane turned in rage at her fiancé. “How dare you try to get more fiancées? Isn’t one enough for you?!”
“Hey!” he held up his hands defensively. “This is all news to me.”
“I just bet it is,” she replied acidly.
“I was so excited,” Akari continued, losing herself in a fantasy of a considerably better looking Ranma who was dressed like a prince. “He was so powerful and handsome. And when I looked into his eyes I just knew there was a kindhearted soul in there.”
Akane looked incredulously at Ranma, trying to come to terms with that description and the youth before her. Her imagination couldn’t make the connection.
“And then she killed him.” Akari’s fantasy ended as she pointed accusingly at Shampoo once again. “I still miss my poor Katsunishiki.”
She began sobbing once more. It took her a few moments to collect herself before she could continue. “I saw the transformation take place then. I had no idea what to make of that. It was all too much. So I ran off to my uncle’s house and informed him about what happened. He told me that since Katsunishiki was defeated, I had to marry the boy that beat him. But since my pig was killed BEFORE I married Ranma, it was a bad omen that meant that I could never marry anyone. My family line is going to die out thanks to that mean, purple-haired girl.”
“What about your uncle?” Ranma asked.
“There was an accident when he was younger. He can’t have children. And outside of him, I have no direct family.”
“Congratulations, Shampoo.” Akane slapped her on the back. “Someone finally came up with something more stupid than those Amazon laws about having to marry someone that defeats you.”
Shampoo did her best to keep her rapidly growing anger in check. Who was Akane to criticize her laws when Japanese ones were clearly more foolish?
Akari continued with her story. “He said that, for the family honor, I should go out and avenge myself on her. Since the only thing I know is pig sumo fighting, and I wasn’t a giant pig, I couldn’t do anything. But my uncle came up with an idea. It turns out he traveled to China once for a pig competition with his prize sumo razorback. It fell into a pool and drowned, though. I guess some kind of guide told him that the pool was now cursed and anyone who jumped into it would become a sumo razorback also. Of course my uncle didn’t believe him at the time, but when I told him what happened to the two of you we figured out the curses must be legitimate.
“I went to the village and discovered what your names were and where you wanted to go. I then packed my bags, went to Jusenkyou and jumped into the pool. I came back to Nerima and here I am, ready to take my vengeance.”
Ranma stared at her in disbelief. “You mean you voluntarily jumped into a cursed spring so you could turn into a pig?”
Akari nodded her head.
“What are you, crazy?!” Ranma yelled.
“Please don’t shout at me,” Akari pleaded. “I hate it when people shout.”
“You try to kill me, stupid Pig Girl!” Shampoo roared in outrage. “You think I happy about that?!”
Akari shook her head vigorously. “Oh, no! I don’t want to kill you, just avenge the family honor. I would never murder you, just stomp on you for a little while.”
Shampoo shook her own head in disbelief at the smiling girl. “Oh, that make me feel much better.”
She turned to Ranma and started discussing what to do about the avenging pig farmer. After a short discussion they came to a decision. “Mousse Disposal Plan Number Four,” they said simultaneously.
“D… disposal? You mean you’re going to kill me?” And with that Akari’s eyes rolled into the back of her head as she passed out in a heap.
“Well, that went a lot easier than I thought,” Ranma stated.
Shampoo shook her head as she looked at the prone form. “Is it just me, or does she seem in over her head?”
“What’s Mousse Disposal Plan Number Four?” Akane asked, not having been part of the discussion.
“Lock the attacker in a box and send them far away for a real long time,” Ranma informed her. “Just look at how long it took Panda-boy and the psycho to get back.”
“Just make sure it a watertight container,” Shampoo reminded Ranma.
The two left and quickly returned to the scene bearing a watertight packing crate with an air hole in it.
“How can it be watertight if it has a hole in it?” Akane asked.
“It ain’t like we can let her suffocate,” Ranma explained.
Akane shook her head. “But if it has a hole in it, it won’t be watertight.”
“No ask pointless questions! This way we always do it,” Shampoo reprimanded.
Akane ignored the protests and quickly hammered a small cover directly over the hole in the side. It would let air in but keep most of the water out. If it was submerged that would be a different story, but with any luck it would hold up until Akari arrived at her destination: Siberia.
The trio sent the crate to be shipped and started heading home. Akane quickly shot ahead of the others and scowled at Ranma.
“What’s wrong?” Ranma asked as the girl pulled further ahead.
“As if you didn’t know!” she snapped. “You leave me behind after the fight, never even thanked me for the hot water, and you tried to get engaged to Akari!”
“And all that stuff’s my fault?” he asked in disbelief.
“YES!” And with that she walked off.
“Well can you believe that? How can anyone that uncute be so stuck up about…” Ranma trailed off as he caught Shampoo scowling at him. “What did I do now?!”
She placed her hands on her hips and harrumphed. “It look to me like you enjoy having Stupid Pig Girl smother you with her chest.” And with that she turned and left.
“I did not!” He shouted at her departing form and shook his fist. For the briefest of moments he considered following her, then stopped. It had been a long day and he lacked the energy to deal with irritating fiancées and irrational Amazons. The checkup at Tofu’s was forgotten. It was time to go to Ukyou’s. She was always reliable and would always listen to what he had to say. She acted like a normal human being, and he could get free food too. Sometimes it seemed true friends were hard to find. Come to think of it, she still had the Ryouga problem, which he’d have to do something about soon. Once he recovered from the fight.
The next day found Mr. Daikokuji outside the Tendo Dojo, bidding everyone farewell.
“In light of the circumstances, Kaori doesn’t feel up to marrying anyone named ‘Ranma,’ the man explained.
“No problem. If you want to call it off, that’s fine with me,” Genma replied with one of the largest grins he even had. How things had worked out so perfectly was beyond him.
“Thanks for understanding.” Daikokuji bowed for the third time before his old acquaintance. “I will be traveling onward, but Kaori has decided she needs some time alone to herself. She’ll be staying in Nerima, so I gave her something to keep her busy. I would appreciate it if you would drop in on her from time to time and let me know how she’s doing.”
“Sure. More than happy to be of service.” Genma bowed. “Where is she staying?”
“Who the hell put up a crappy take-out shop across from my place?!” Ukyou began glowing dull blue in anger at the sudden competition. It was one of the Daikokuji chains, and she had little doubt who would be running the store. This was the last thing she needed. Now there was no doubt Shampoo had to stick around and keep customers coming to her store, and away from the enemy.
Ukyou sighed as she returned inside and began preparing the grill for the afternoon opening. It wasn’t long when a peppy little creature burst through the door and made its presence known.
“I don’t know where Ryouga is, Kyoko,” Ukyou growled at the effervescence personified as she entered the establishment.
“I don’t want to see him, now anyway,” Kyoko explained. “I want to talk to you.”
Oh, this was going to be good. Another request to date Ai. “What?”
“I want to work for you.”
Ukyou nearly facefaulted in shock. Was the little annoyance as spaced out as Ukyou believed? She would rather hire Crepe Suzette than employ the cheerleader. “Why?” was all she managed to get out.
“I want to work alongside my true love. It seems the time we spend apart makes me too unhappy to do anything other than suffer.” She gave a dramatic pose. “So, do you have any jobs that I can do?”
Ukyou had a brief fantasy of hiring the girl as a human mop and cleaning the floor with her. But that was absurd. Kyoko’s head was too large to get into the corners. Maybe the cheerleader had a future as a plunger…
Ukyou shook her head as she disposed of the delightful little fantasy. “I’d rather pull my teeth out one by one with a pair of pliers.”
Kyoko looked on, curiously. “Is that a ‘yes’?”
“No. It isn’t. I have enough employees as is. Can’t afford to hire more. Sorry.” Ukyou gave a wide smile.
Kyoko appeared crestfallen as she silently left the restaurant. It took everything Ukyou had to keep from delightfully telling her not to let the doorknob hit her ass on the way out. At last! The chef had gotten some small measure of revenge.
Ryouga came in shortly after Kyoko’s departure. “I just talked to Kyoko. Are you sure you can’t hire anyone else?”
“NO!” Ukyou snarled. “Unless you want to give up your job?”
Ryouga gained a panicked expression. “No way! I love working and living here. I don’t want to leave.”
Ukyou softened a bit. Hearing Ryouga say that so enthusiastically was… heartwarming. “You can stay here as long as you like. Of course.”
“Thanks.” His demeanor changed from happiness to one of reservation. “We haven’t talked much lately. I wanted to know if Ran—“ His inquiry was cut off by a foot landing in his head. The figure then used it as a springboard to vault onto its favorite target.
“My love!” Ai shouted.
Ukyou reflexively caught the cheerleader and nearly fell over with the added weight. “Ai! Knock it off!” She let the girl down as Ai backed off upon regaining her base.
“I have a present for you,” Ai cooed softly, then held out a rabbit in a cage.
“That’s so cute.” Ukyou started to handle the cage, then stopped as she thought about the situation. “I can’t accept this, Ai.” She tried handing back the gift.
“But why?” Ai gave Ukyou the best wounded-puppy expression she could muster while refusing to take back the cage.
“I can’t accept gifts from you,” Ukyou started to explain. “It’s wrong. You’re under the influence of—“
Ukyou was cut off as a potted plant suddenly shouted out “RABBIT! AHHHHHH!!!” and then ran off at top speed.
It took a moment for Ukyou to realize exactly why Tsubasa had fled in horror. The ‘Dreaded Rabbits of Xeczis’ incident must have traumatized Tsubasa like the cat fist training had to Ranma. A decision was made almost immediately.
“The rabbit stays.”
Ai was about to show her appreciation when a spatula prevented the attempted glomp. “What’s wrong?”
“Don’t do that, Ai,” Ukyou said in a tired voice.
Tears began to form in Ai’s eyes. “I think I know what’s wrong.”
“I’m not into girls,” Ukyou said.
“It’s because I’m a year older, isn’t it?”
“No. That has nothing to do with it. I’m not into girls.”
“You don’t like cheerleaders?”
“No. I don’t date girls!”
“Are my breasts too big?”
“No! I don’t give a damn how big your chest is! I told you, I don’t like girls that way!”
“Is it because I’m not open enough with my emotions?”
“That’s it, isn’t it?!” Ai began bawling.
Ukyou picked herself up and placed her hands on Ai’s shoulders. “NO! IT… IS… BECAUSE… I… DON’T…. LIKE … GIRLS!!!”
“I see.” Ai composed herself. “I’m going to have to get a sex change operation.”
“No! Damn it!” Ukyou finally snapped and began shaking the girl. “I won’t go out with you even if you do that! So don’t get any bright ideas!” Besides, thanks to Jusenkyou, there were easier ways to do that sort of thing.
Having exhausted everything else, Ai tried asking a simple question. “What can I do to win your heart?”
Ukyou just shook her head. She at last had run out of things to say.
“I think you should just lay off for today, Ai.” Ryouga finally spoke up. “Maybe Ukyou will feel better tomorrow. Besides, she has to get ready for the afternoon rush crowd.”
Ai nodded sadly and dragged herself out. It was only a moment later when Kyoko rushed through the door and jumped onto Ryouga, her momentum spinning the duo in a circle.
“You’ll never guess what happened to me!”
“They discovered there really is nothing but dead space between those ears?” Ukyou mumbled under her breath.
“What?” Ryouga asked.
“I got a job across the street. Now I can see you every day as the two of us go to work.”
Ukyou cursed as Ryouga congratulated Kyoko. Some days it wasn’t worth getting out of bed. Having nothing better to do, she elected to do something constructive, like choose the rabbit’s name. Eventually “Tsubasa’s Bane” was settled upon. At least one good thing had come out of the day.
Mousse shielded his eyes as they opened for the first time in two days. The room was too bright. He was about to get out of the bed he was in when the lights dimmed on their own. His eyes tried focusing on where he was, but to no avail. There were no glasses, either upon his head or in the hospital gown he now wore.
Mousse recognized Kodachi’s voice immediately as his glasses were delicately placed back on the bridge of his nose for him. There was a huge bandage now across his face, helping with healing the broken nose. Focusing, as well as he could, he scanned the room. It was unfamiliar. Neither a hospital nor the Black Rose’s Floral Shoppe.
“You are at Kunou Manor,” Kodachi explained, as though reading his mind. “I had you brought here when the doctors gave me permission to move you. You have been asleep for well over twenty-four hours. Is there anything you need?”
Mousse shook his head, allowing the full knowledge of what had happened to fill him. He had lost to Shampoo. For the final time. When she needed him most, he had failed her. Perhaps he truly didn’t deserve her love. After all, a real man would have been able to save her from herself, no matter the cost.
“There is nothing you can do for me,” he said softly.
He heard Kodachi exhale ever so softly as she said, “I shall be outside if you need anything,” then backed to the door and closed it behind her as she left the room. At least she hadn’t tried to attach herself to him, or go on and on about how he was now hers and how much better off he was without Shampoo. At least she spared him that particular humiliation. After all, he was going to a much better job of torturing himself over the previous days events for quite some time to come.
He dozed in and out of sleep a dozen times over the next ten hours, his body desperately trying to heal itself as fast as it could over the injuries. They were easily the worst he had ever suffered and it seemed to be taking forever for the pain to go away. The physical pain anyway. The emotional one was going to be there for a long time. Now his options were limited. He would not go home, not in disgrace and failure. Others would interrogate him about Shampoo’s whereabouts and something might slip. He still could not, would not, hurt her.
Until she came to her senses, marriage was out. He would live up to his word and not challenge her anymore. That did not mean there was nothing he could do. He could still help protect Shampoo, and he could still hurt Ranma. Later, after Mousse recovered from the injuries he had received. And if he could find Shampoo a cure, then he would give it to her and she would run off with him and they could live happily ever…
[I sooner die than become you wife. And I sooner kill you than die.]
Maybe not. Why did her words have to hurt so? She said things like that hundreds of times to him. No. That wasn’t exactly true. They had never been said with that kind of…. conviction.
Or perhaps they had always sounded like that and he had just not listened.
No. She had to be saved from herself, but it was doubtful the two of them could ever be together. Still, she hadn’t wanted him dead, or he would be. Maybe there was hope.
[That was pathetic. Just what I expect from you!]
Did she really see him as pathetic? He wasn’t. He did everything for her. That was what love was all about. She was even blinder than him to not understand that. It took courage to do what he had done for her. Even yesterday was a perfect example. He didn’t want to do it, but it had to be done.
And he failed, just like a pathetic man would.
He never had feelings like this concerning Shampoo. What was happening to him? The drugs the doctors gave him? Did Kodachi add some of her own? No. Hers would have a more potent effect, and she hadn’t done that to him since their ‘vacation’.
[You did not do something so simple as make love to me. You ravaged me, body and soul.]
Occasionally he would think about that night. It was simply a moment of crisis while he was under the influence of drugs. And he had gained valuable experience in how to pleasure Shampoo. At least that was what he had told himself. He believed it.
Such thoughts just served to increase his stress. No immediate action was going to be taken, so he could wait and think about planning for the future at some other time. He got up and headed out the door for some well-needed fresh air. Moving around a bit would help him get an idea of just how badly wounded he still was.
Upon emerging into the hall he immediately saw Kodachi sitting next to the door in a large padded chair, asleep. Mousse began to scratch his head in confusion until he remembered her words. He had assumed she meant he could call upon her for anything, not that she intended to literally remain outside the door for him. Ten hours straight she had remained there. No matter how cushy the chair appeared, she had to be uncomfortable. He shook his head sadly and picked her sleeping form up, just like when he had knocked her out with the bouquet several weeks ago, and carried her to the bed inside. How many times would that scene be repeated if he remained with her?
“Mousse-sama,” she mumbled under her breath.
He shook his head sadly. It didn’t matter that he had lost to Shampoo. The purple-haired Amazon remained in his heart still. It would be better for Kodachi if he simply departed. Yet some part of him wanted to stay. It wasn’t so bad at the Black Rose’s side. And at least here someone wanted him, even if he couldn’t return her affections. If she could be content with his friendship, then perhaps things would work out. You could never have too many friends. Even ones like Kodachi Kunou. He would be certain to give her the sort of friendship that he had lacked in his own childhood. She deserved a real friend.
Nabiki read the paper again as she took her time in going to the park. She had finally heard from Kensuki for the first time in almost two weeks. His note had been left in her mailbox earlier in the day. It was the usual drop off point for her favorite spy, so nothing seemed amiss. The message itself contained a brief note saying he had important information about Tarou and that it would be necessary to meet Nabiki in the park. At night. Alone. There was nothing terribly unusual about that either. No one knew of their affiliation and each wanted to keep it that way.
Then she received a second letter from one of the newer people in her ‘organization.’ There was something about the new transfer student, Ryonami, that Nabiki liked. A rare combination of intelligence, good judgment, loyalty, and a lack of desire to do anything other than follow orders and not be number one. The girl understood what she was (mostly) and realized that it did not entail being in charge. Besides, she had a nice personality too.
Which was why Nabiki noticed the odd tone the letter had immediately.
“Someone’s been asking a lot of questions about you.”
That was all. Straight and to the point, just the way Nabiki liked it. Of course it was also ambiguous and had offered no evidence to back up the claim. Besides, if someone were asking around about her then she would have received confirmation from another source.
Unless whoever were doing it was that good. But no one at school, or in Nerima, fit that description. No one that she knew of anyway. So it was with some caution that she went to the park, a part of her expecting a trap. It took only a matter of minutes upon arriving at the appointed rendezvous that she became apprehensive. Something felt wrong.
Nabiki turned in surprise to see the source of the greeting. Pantyhose Tarou stood before, her, smiling for all he was worth.
“Hello,” she replied calmly. So he had outmaneuvered both Kensuki and her. That made him far more dangerous than the usual grade of obsessive/deluded/dense martial artist that hung around Nerima. And what made it worse was that Nabiki had a feeling he was different from the beginning. It was her clumsiness that had made her underestimate him, and now that might end up costing her something. The fact that it was an unknown something made her feel even uneasier.
Tarou walked around her like a predator stalking its prey. “I found out about that little tail you put on me. I’m afraid I had to activate his dental plan.”
Nabiki shrugged in response. Not bothering to look at him, but rather, listened to the sound of his voice. More could be learned from that than any visual inspection.
Tarou was disappointed in the lack of reaction from the middle Tendo. “I would have gotten to you sooner, but I got tied up. The fights don’t you know?”
“No. I didn’t,” Nabiki answered honestly.
Tarou gave his little giggle. “Yes. Well, I now return my attention to you. What am I to do with you, Nabiki? I can’t have you dogging my trail, trying to dig up information I don’t feel like sharing with the public at large, and that is your style, don’t try to deny it. Your lackeys were very informative.”
Nabiki controlled her temper. No cracks could appear in her icy demeanor lest she tip off Tarou to the fact that he hit a soft spot. They were friends, not lackeys. She cared about them, even if she didn’t show it often.
Of course Tarou was giving her information by displaying his perception of the world. He wasn’t perfect either. No. Nabiki made her living reading people, and while Tarou seemed perceptive, he also appeared painfully naïve about some things.
“Trying to be the strong, silent type? That’s a switch, not that I haven’t seen it before.” Tarou said as he stopped in front of Nabiki and allowed her to look deep into his eyes. She appeared only slightly flustered, which irritated him to no end. She was no martial artist and couldn’t defend herself from any attack he could make. But there was no fear openly displayed, like on that spy she used to track him.
“Well, let’s skip all these pleasantries and get to the point.” Tarou settled down. Overt fear was not what he was going for tonight. Just a little intimidation. “I want you to supply me with inside information on the Fem-Boy.”
Nabiki figured that unless he offered something valuable, like leaving Akane alone, that was going to be out of the question.
He saw the answer in her eyes and started to supply the threats. “Akane won’t like the idea of you spying on me. Not one little bit. You won’t score any points there, and I have a feeling she’ll believe me over you. She’s more than aware of how you get others to do your bidding. And I also know your information network now. You rule them through a reward system with the threat of punishment hanging over some of their heads. Right now, they fear me way more than they ever did you. I saw to that personally. Now, unless you like the idea of losing every one of your people, or worse, have your own system used against you, you’ll do what I ask.
“Besides,” he added with a smirk. “You’d be surprised just how many of them needed very little persuasion to turn on you. And, of course, there’s always me.” He cracked his knuckles for emphasis. “Be see ya’, Nab-chan. Make sure you have something for me next time we meet.” He gave a laugh as he walked off into the darkness, leaving Nabiki alone in the night.
That had gone horribly bad. Now she was going to have to find some way to have Tarou’s fangs pulled. Trying to boss her around was a big mistake. Only her family got away with telling her what to do, and only if they were right. She was going to have to tread carefully with him as well. Of all the people that seemed hell-bent on ruining Ranma’s life, Tarou was the smartest, and consequently most dangerous. And there was his attempted relationship with her sister. Akane could not be allowed to fall for something like that slime. Oh no. Something was going to have to be done about Pantyhose, and soon.
No one threatened Nabiki Tendo and got away with it. No one.
The next day:
Akane was surprised at Ranma’s insistence that the two of them and Shampoo go out for ice cream, his treat. He settled upon one of the local parlors that he usually insisted on dining at as a girl. Couldn’t eat parfaits as a boy, now could he? At least that was the way it had always been in the past. Today was different. He was very male when scarfing down the strawberry double ripple blueberry special.
Akane took the time to examine him and Shampoo more closely. Already the wounds incurred from the previous day’s fight were starting to heal, though she estimated it would take at least three more days before all outward signs of his injuries were to disappear. As to the ones inside, the ones he claimed never to have until she jabbed him in the particular spot, those would take longer.
Shampoo, on the other hand, seemed to be healing more slowly. Her arm was still heavily bandaged and her eye remained swollen shut. There was some faint feeling of satisfaction that the beautiful Amazon was not looking so pretty at the moment. Not that Akane was jealous or anything like that.
“What’s the big occasion?” Akane finally asked. She had been hoping Ranma would inform her as to why they were being treated so, well, so nicely. A gentleman her fiancé was not.
“How often do we get a chance to bask in the glory of victory? It was a three way win for us all.” Ranma took a long break from inhaling his ice cream. “You beat that take-out girl. Shampoo got rid of Mousse.” Ranma and the Amazon exchanged smiles at that particular fact. “And I get to keep my name. And, outside of Akari yesterday, no one has threatened to beat us up.”
All three knocked on the wooden tabletop.
“It feels good to be alive.” And with that Ranma resumed eating like there was no tomorrow.
Oh well. It was nice if Ranma to want to treat them to a celebration. “What’s with the shirt?” Akane had to admit, Ranma’s current purple and gold dragon shirt was the nicest attire he had. So tasteful, in fact, she would have assumed a woman had picked it out for him.
“I make it for him.” Shampoo said as she gave Akane a large smile. “After all, Ranma is such a nice guy, and I know how to show appreciation for him.” She turned to Ranma and gave him a saccharine sweet grin, which he returned, showing off a series of red and blue teeth.
Akane observed the exchange and turned her own face towards the ice cream, scowling at it. So Shampoo had made Ranma a shirt. Well so what? Big deal! She could sew too. It would be a small matter for her to make Ranma an even better shirt than the one the Amazon had sewn.
Akane made some excuse about having to do some schoolwork that she had forgotten about and departed. There was just enough time to go to a fabric store and get the materials she needed to make a shirt Ranma would never forget.
It only took two days for Akane to complete her surprise to Ranma. She went down to the living room where he sat, watching television. Plopping herself in between his line of sight and the television, she gave him a satisfied grin.
“What?” he asked, expecting the worst.
“Here you go! I made it myself,” she declared and presented the garment before him.
Ranma took it from her grasp and examined it. If he wasn’t mistaken, it was some kind if fabric. Not knowing what else to say, he simply thanked her.
“Aren’t you going to try it on?” Akane looked on, hopeful.
So it was clothing. Ranma shook his head. “Nah! I’ll try it on later. I wanna’ finish watching TV”
Akane was a little disappointed. She had been hoping for a greater sign of appreciation, but at least he hadn’t insulted it or used it as a Kleenex. Regrettably there wasn’t any time to pester him about trying it on to see if it fit since she had to meet Chisa and Sayuri in a short while to do some shopping for herself. A girls’ night out as it were.
Ranma continued watching the program until its end, then got up to practice. He was more than halfway to the dojo when he remembered to try on Akane’s shirt. Unfolding the garment, he was about to try it on when he discovered one little problem.
“Well now, how do you like that?” Ranma asked himself out loud. “How does she expect me to wear a windsock?”
Kasumi held the invitation in her hand as she reread the words. It was from one of her few friends from back in high school, Miki Matsudara, a girl who had graduated one year ahead of Kasumi. Shortly after the graduation Kasumi had received a couple of letters from the graduate about a new job Miki had taken in the entertainment industry, and hadn’t heard from her since.
It was nice of her old friend to drop a line, although there was one little problem with the invitation. It was apparently the second one that had been sent. In it, Miki emphasized the need to know if Kasumi was coming or not since the wedding was only two days away. That was more than a little inconvenient since there wasn’t going to be much time to prepare for the trip. Miki lived a good distance away and it appeared a train ride would be called for. And there was one other detail too.
Kasumi folded the invitation up, then went to Shampoo’s room and knocked on the door. The purple-haired Amazon answered immediately and gave a broad smile when she saw who the visitor was. “What going on, Kasumi?”
“I just received an invitation to a wedding. I wanted to know if you’d like to come along.”
“Aiya!” Shampoo gave a jump for joy. “Sure thing. I’d love to go to a wedding with you. I going to have to pick out a nice dress. Maybe get a new one.”
Kasumi nervously cleared her throat as Shampoo went on about the plans she would have to make. “Actually, I wanted to know if you could go as a… well, as a man.”
Shampoo arched her eyebrow at that. “How come?”
“Well. It’s sort of a tradition for a man to accompany a woman to these sorts of things. And I’d rather go with you than anyone else.” She started nervously fidgeting with her dress. “If you don’t want to go, I’ll unders—“
“Sure.” Shampoo shrugged nonchalantly. “Is no problem. I don’t mind going as a boy.”
Kasumi felt her heart soar a little at that. “Wonderful. Do you have a suit?”
Shampoo shook her head. She wasn’t Ukyou and, regardless of the curse, did not have a preference for wearing men’s clothes.
“Well, I’ll have to help you pick one out. I know a shop that we can go to where they have some of the nicest formal wear around.” The two began to make preparations for their trip out of town and what they would need for the wedding.
“WAHHH!!! MY LITTLE GIRL IS LEAVING US!!!”
“It’s just a short trip, Father. We’ll be back late tonight,” Kasumi reassured him as she made certain to avoid the wetworks Soun was pouring out everywhere, lest he ruin her dress. All the others also gave him a wide berth, save Nabiki, who had seen the whole tearful farewell coming and took the precaution of bringing an umbrella.
Soun dried up his tears as he grabbed Shampoo-kun firmly by the shoulders. “Take care of my little girl, son. I leave her in your care.”
“No call me ‘son’,” Shampoo-kun warned.
“You two have a nice date,” Nabiki added.
“It not a date!” Shampoo-kun growled menacingly.
Ranma took Soun’s place next to Shampoo-kun as he gave him a pat on the shoulder. “Y’know, I’m impressed. You look almost as good as I would in that suit.”
“Oh no!” Kasumi said. “He looks much better than you ever would in it.”
Ranma turned to examine the girl before him. From anyone else he would have been deeply insulted, but there wasn’t a bit of malice in Kasumi’s eyes. She had just been giving a simple opinion, even if it wasn’t true.
Shampoo-kun smiled in amusement as he looked down to admire himself once again. It was a fine suit he and Kasumi had picked out at the clothing store. He did cut a rather fine figure in it, if he would say so himself.
The duo departed for the train station, leaving everyone else standing outside for a few moments before returning indoors.
Genma figured out the first problem with both Kasumi and Shampoo being absent. “Who’s going to cook dinner for us?”
“No problem.” Akane said with a cheery demeanor. “I’ll just whip something up.”
This time it was Nabiki who protested. “No need to, Sis. Kasumi took that into account and made us some food to be heated up later.”
“But wouldn’t you rather have something fresh?” Akane offered.
“And have my stomach pumped too?” Ranma answered. “Thanks but no thanks. I’ll take my chances with what Kasumi made.”
Akane followed Ranma around, trying to get at least him to accept her cooking in favor of Kasumi’s ready to eat food.
Several hours later Ranma walked on top of a fence as he had at last eluded Akane’s latest cooking ‘masterpiece.’ It was typical of her to ignore the over three hundred protests that he had made and went on ahead to cook something anyway. Emphasis on something. At least she didn’t batter him into unconsciousness and try to force-feed him any of the toxic substance. With any luck, she would resort to using his father as a guinea pig and come back to a near-dead old man. It would serve him right for how much he had screwed up Ranma’s life.
As Ranma pondered life’s little mysteries, like why everything bad happened to him, he found more evidence to further add to the enigma.
“Fancy meeting you here, Bloodsucker,” Ranma called out to the wandering Ryouga Hibiki.
“What do you want, Ranma?” Ryouga asked, his voice filled with the normal amount of anger towards the youth who had made his ‘life a living hell.’
Ranma leaped off the fence and crossed his arms in front of himself, giving the appearance of great annoyance. “I’ve been meaning to tell you something for a long time now. I want you to date Ucchan.” That would solve all of his friend’s problems. She would go out with Ryouga, realize what a clueless putz he was, and live happily ever after away from the lost one.
Ryouga’s only response was to begin look down at the ground. It was unusual for him to remain silent rather than launch into one of his tirades. It took Ranma a moment to realize why Ryouga had remained silent for so long.
“You…” A black pillar formed around Ryouga. “You total asshole! Are you so determined to ruin my life that you dare to do this?!”
“Do what?” Ranma was horribly confused. He was trying to help a friend. And not Ryouga.
Depression consumed his thoughts as he realized what damage Ranma must have done. “My life is perfectly fine and you know it! So now you come along and try to ruin it by using a girl you dare to call a friend against me! I will not tolerate this any more!” The column doubled in size. “For what you are trying to do to Uk-Chan, PREPARE… TO… DIE!!!” And with that he launched a Perfect Shi Shi Houkoudan straight at Ranma.
The resulting explosion was heard over the entire district of Nerima.
Akane looked outside her window towards the direction of the sound. Ranma was causing problems again, no doubt. It would serve him right to get beaten up for refusing to eat her cooking.
The battle raged on for almost a half hour. A long time even for a fight between two such forces. Fortunately for Ranma, he had seen the attack coming and avoided the majority of the blast. But even only receiving a glancing blow from a perfect Shi Shi Houkoudan was more than enough to really hurt. And that, combined with his only recently recovered injuries, made the fight difficult for Ranma. He spent most of the time backing up with Ryouga giving pursuit, which resulted in very little actual physical damage done to the environment.
“Stand still!” Ryouga shouted as Ranma dodged a flying bandanna. The seventy fifth one he threw.
“It’s not my fault you’re as slow as you are dumb!” Ranma taunted back.
“Only cowards run from a fight!”
Ranma stopped. Ryouga finally said the one thing certain to get Ranma to stop. Ryouga calling him a coward was too much to take.
“Fine. You want it, you got it!” Ranma smirked as he built up his chi. “MOUKO TAKABISHA!!!”
“SHI SHI HOUKOUDAN!!!” Ryouga’s black ball of chi energy halted Ranma’s attack. “You can’t stop me, Ranma! I fight on the side of justice. I won’t allow you to use Uk-chan that way against me! SHI SHI HOUKOUDAN!!!”
“MOUKO TAKABISHA!!!” Ranma’s blue bolt of energy halted Ryouga’s attack. “I ain’t using Ucchan against you, you jerk! She actually wants to go out with you, and I don’t know what’s wrong with her! You got no idea of how much it hurts not being able to help someone with a psychological problem as deep as that! MOUKO TAKABISHA!!!”
“SHI SHI HOUKOUDAN!!!” He stopped the bolt. “You liar! You know I’m happy with the way my life’s been going and want to ruin it, just like before! And don’t call her Ucchan! You lost that right a long time ago! SHI SHI HOUKOUDAN!!!”
“MOUKO TAKABISHA!!!” The black bolt was stopped once again. “She’s my friend and I’ll call her whatever I want! And it’s a lot better than that stupid nickname you gave her! MOUKO TAKABISHA!!!”
“SHI SHI HOUKOUDAN!!! She’s my friend, not yours! And I would never reject her the way you did! I would sell my soul if it would help her! And my nickname for her is not stupid! SHI SHI HOUKOUDAN!!!”
“MOUKO TAKABISHA!!! I think she’d settle for you using deodorant on a regular basis, or at least if you got a clue to how she feels about you! All you’re doing in going out with that dumb cheerleader is hurting Ucchan, not that you deserve someone as wonderful as her! MOUKO TAKABISHA!!!”
“SHI SHI HOUKOUDAN!!! Kyoko is not dumb! You have no business calling her that! She’s a very nice girl! And Ukyou’s just my friend! She… she doesn’t think about me that way. I mean I’m pretty sure…” Ryouga started to trail off as he thought about the situation. It was almost as if the things that were being said made sense. Then the realization of who was telling him the facts occurred to him. “RANMA!!! How dare you try to trick me like that! You almost succeeded in ruining my life again! SHI SHI HOUKOUDAN!!!”
“MOUKO TAKABISHA!!! How can anyone be as stupid as you and still be alive?! I’m going to make you accept the truth even if I have to beat it into you! Now ask Ucchan out on a date before I have to get really rough with you! MOUKO TAKABISHA!!!”
“SHI SHI HOUKOUDAN!!! I would sooner die than go out on a date with Uk-chan! Now prepare to die Ran…” Ryouga trailed off as a black column of chi energy leveled a nearby building. The huge column remained as the building fell down around it.
Both combatants turned in surprise at the discharge and prepared to defend themselves when the dust settled from the explosion. Through the haze they could just make out a solitary figure standing in the middle of the dust, still glowing black. As the dust finally settled both youths made out the form.
“Ukyou,” they both quietly said under their breath.
The look of rage in her face was enough to panic the two boys. Then, surprisingly, the rage was slowly replaced by a look of helplessness as the huge black column dwindled away to nothing.
Ukyou took in a deep breath and spoke. “Ryouga. I want you to go wherever your heart leads you. That’s what I want.” She gave a wane smile at the lost one, then turned and walked slowly off towards her home.
Both youths watched her leave, staring in the direction she walked off long after she went out of visual sight. Eventually, each turned to look at one another.
“THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!!!” Simultaneously erupted from both youths as they renewed throwing Mouko Takabishas and Shi Shi Houkoudans at one another until both were totally exhausted of every ounce of chi they possessed. Each dropped to his knees and tried to regain some strength so they could finish the other one off.
“You two look a little tired.”
Both youths turned as one to look at the new figure that uttered the comment.
“Oh, it’s you, Pantyhose,” Ranma said dryly.
“You should sound more excited than that to see me, Fem-boy.” Tarou gave Ranma one of his sinister grins. “I mean scared.”
“Oh no!” Ranma gave a frightened yelp as he held his hands up to his face in mock fright. “You mean you’re going to dump me into a new spring and give me a stupid name like, Jock Strap or something?”
“I think ripping out that yapping tongue of yours is the way to go.” Tarou cracked his knuckles for emphasis. “Then you’ll have to learn to communicate with signs the way Mousse does.” He gave Ranma one last grin then turned his attention to Ryouga. “My advice to you is to figure out a way to sleep with both of them. From the way you mope around I think you need to get laid more than I do. Now, blow, you pathetic piece of crap! This is between the hermaphrodite and me!”
Ryouga began trembling in rage. “How dare you speak that way about Kyoko and Ukyou! PANTYHOSE! PREPARE TO DIE!!!” The force of Ryouga’s statement was not backed up by his ability as his attempt to unleash a Shi Shi Houkoudan fizzled between his hands.
“Suit yourself.” Tarou shrugged. “Those two girls will probably leave a lot of nice flowers on your coffin. I’ll even recommend a place where they can buy the best roses in town. I should know, I lived there long enough.”
Ranma rushed over to Ryouga’s side. “Together we can take him.”
Ryouga nodded in agreement. Even he was willing to let go of the feud temporarily in the face of their current opposition.
“Oh dear,” Tarou pretended to bite his fingernails and shiver in fear at the duo. “A two on one. Well, I know how much you guys go in for fair play, so let me even things up.” He grabbed a canteen from around his waist and smiled. “I recommend saying your prayers now. With any luck you’ll catch up to where they go pretty soon.” And with that he poured the water over himself, triggering the change.
“This looks… bad, doesn’t it, Ranma?”
Ranma nodded his head in response. He couldn’t figure out any way they could win. And why did he have to lose to this guy? Given a choice, he would have preferred being defeated by Azusa Shiratori instead of someone named Pantyhose.
Tarou-bull was about to stomp forward when a voice rang out.
“Ranma! Quit picking on Tarou!”
Everyone turned to see a fuming Akane, hands on her hips in anger.
“I figured you were up to no good. It’s bad enough you’re picking on Tarou, but dragging Ryouga into this? Haven’t you got enough courage to do this yourself instead of having others help you in your fights?!” She shook her fist at him in anger.
Ranma just shrugged, secretly relieved at the save. “You’re right, Akane. I shouldn’t pick on Pantyhose.” He gave a big grin towards Tarou-bull. “I’m sorry for picking a fight with you, Pantyhose. I won’t do it again, Pantyhose. To prove my sincerity, I’m going to leave now, Pantyhose. I know since I’m the mean, rotten, bad guy here, and you are the nice, wholesome, good guy, that you don’t want to fight, so you won’t follow me, isn’t that right, Pantyhose?”
It took every ounce of restraint Tarou-bull had possessed in his entire life to not begin frothing at the mouth and gore Saotome on the spot. Instead, he managed just the slightest of grins back at Ranma. All the while fantasizing what he was going to do to Ranma, his dead body, and his grave afterwards.
“Quit trying to start a fight, Ranma!” Akane warned, then looked up at Tarou. “Don’t let him get to you. He’s like that all the time. Now let’s get you some hot water.” She grabbed the giant Tarou-bull by the hand and led him away from the scene of the battle. All the while Tarou-bull glared back at Ranma, promising revenge with those eyes.
“That was sure pointless,” Ranma muttered, then turned to the lost one. “Do you wanna continue, or call it quits for today?”
Ryouga considered that. Any desire he felt to kill Ranma was now gone and he was drained. It would be pointless to try to continue any fights. “No,” he said, then walked off. Ranma turned and did the same. There was little need to be concerned about Akane. She was apparently the one person Tarou considered off limits, and he wasn’t in any shape to try to challenge him at the moment. But someday Pantyhose would get what was coming to him. Someday.
The practice session for the Furinkan High Cheerleader Squad ended with one final practice with the whirlwind pyramid. Once finished, Ai lay on her back, sighing at a picture of Ukyou, while the other girls gathered around Kyoko.
“I think I’m ready for the next big step with Ryouga.” She gave a girlish giggle and began dancing around in excitement.
“That, I find hard to believe.” Kaede shook her head to underscore her statement.
Megumi held up her finger. “I’ve never seen her so worked up over a guy before. I think she should do it.”
Ayeka held her hand to her chin in thought. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?”
Kyoko nodded her head. “I’ve been going out with him long enough. I think he’s ready, and won’t run away from me afterwards.”
“I guess having them leave after they’re done would be kind of depressing,” Kaede agreed.
“You seem to have thought this through,” Megumi said. “It sounds to me like you’re ready. And Ryouga does seem like a nice, if thick-headed, kind of guy.”
“Why don’t you borrow some things from Ai?” Ayeka walked over to the captain, who was still lost in thought. “Kyoko’s going to need some things from you, Ai.”
“Like what?” she said as she continued staring at the picture.
Ayeka began thinking about the inventory of paraphernalia kept at her home and what Kyoko might use. “For her, I’d say body lotion, K-Y jelly, some garters to help turn Ryouga on, umm.” She turned to Kyoko. “Do you like pain?”
Kyoko shook her head furiously. “Of course not!”
“Do you like inflicting it?” she asked
A small smile blossomed on Kyoko’s face as she paused in thought. It quickly disappeared as she began to blush. “No. Not really.”
“Then whips are out,” Ayeka continued. “Better include some condoms. I doubt he’ll think of them and I know she’s not on the pill.”
“What am I going to need all that for?” Kyoko asked.
“Flavor, girl,” Ayeka said. “Your first time should be special. You don’t want to just have a ‘wham-bam-thank you ma’am’ sort of thing. When the two of you make love it should be a perfect memory that you will always cherish.”
Kyoko paled. “You think I should have sex in front of my parents?!”
Ayeka looked at her in confusion. “Not unless they’re REALLY open minded.”
“Hold on a moment,” Ai suddenly focused on the conversation. “When you say ‘take the next step’ what do you mean?”
“I want him to meet my parents. What did you think I meant?”
Megumi looked on, exasperated. “I should have known.” She paused for a moment to reconsider the suggestion. “I personally think you should sleep with him beforehand, though.”
“Why?” Kyoko asked.
“I know your parents,” Megumi explained, “and you’ll need every edge you can get to convince him to stay with you after meeting them.”
Kyoko considered the advice as she went to collect Ryouga.
Ryouga stared at Ukyou as she stood behind her grill. Normally, she appeared so alive when making okonomiyaki it would take Ryouga’s breath away. It wasn’t just the motions she went through, which seemed to be one continuous symphony of movement, that resulted in a culinary masterpiece, it was the vitality that she held in her eyes as the ingredients took the shape of the object she desired. He had once asked her how she became so perfect in the creation process. She had explained that she put a little bit of herself in each dish she made.
But now that vitality was missing.
“Ukyou,” Ryouga began. “What did you mean when you told me to do what my heart tells me to do?”
She looked at Ryouga as though confused. “I mean just what I said.”
“Yeah, but I don’t understand it.”
Ukyou shook her head. “There’s no way I can explain it to you. Just do what you want. I’ll understand.” She went back to her cooking.
Ryouga took a deep breath. He was uncertain if he should continue asking her the questions that needed to be spoken. But if he didn’t risk it he might not ever know what it was that was bothering her. He decided to take the chance, and hope she didn’t get offended.
“Ukyou. You’ve been acting very differently since I was lost with Kyoko all that time. I’m really worried about you.”
“You are?” She couldn’t help but smile at his concern while cursing herself for being so soft around him at the same time.
“Of course. Did Ranma do something to you while I was gone?”
The smile disappeared as she began boiling in rage. “Ranma is not to blame for everything that goes wrong in your life, Jackass! You are plenty responsible for a lot of the things that aren’t perfect in your world! Now stop blaming him for everything that doesn’t go your way and start thinking about what you might have done to make things the way they are now!”
Ryouga was taken aback by the anger in her voice. Part of him figured that Ranma must have done something to her to get that kind of reaction to that kind of a question, but another part of his mind began working on what she actually said. It did not get very far along in the process when a cheerleader burst through the door to Uk-Chan’s and glomped itself onto Ryouga.
As much as Ryouga loved the expression of affection, he found himself wanting to think instead of basking in the adoration. He carefully detached the cheerleader. “What is it?”
“I want you to go with me tonight. There’s this great dance club one of my friends told me about that’s really neat.” Kyoko took a deep breath to work up the courage and go forward with what she knew she had to do. “And there’s some people I want you to meet.”
“Look, Kyoko,” Ryouga began. “I’m not so sure tonight’s so goo…” His voice trailed off as he saw tears begin to form in her eyes.
“You don’t like me any more?” she sobbed out.
“N… no! NO! It’s not that at all. We can go out. No problem.” There was no way he could live with himself if he made a girl cry, especially one as nice as Kyoko. He started to escort her out when he turned back to say good-bye to Ukyou. She waved to him and told him to have a good time. Even as oblivious as Ryouga could be sometimes, he still saw the sadness she tried to hide with that face.
It was with a heavy heart that he followed Kyoko to their destination. If he refused, it would break the cheerleader’s heart, making him just as miserable as he now felt for abandoning Ukyou without finding out what was really wrong. He had everything he wanted and it was turning out to be less than he expected. Where did everything start to go wrong?
Halfway to the dance club Kyoko suddenly decided she needed something from home. The pair arrived at a small, pleasant looking house located in the nicer part of Nerima. At first Ryouga tried to insist on staying outside, but Kyoko would have none of that. She cajoled him into going into the house and left him in the entryway while she went inside to grab what she had come for.
She had not been out of sight for more then ten seconds when a shot rang out. Ryouga felt the breeze of something passing over his head and heard a thunk in the wooden wall behind him. A quick examination of the wall revealed that it had indeed been a gunshot, the bullet just missing his head by less than three inches.
“Sorry about that. The gun accidentally went off while I was cleaning it.”
Ryouga turned back to the direction the gun had been fired from. There was a middle-aged man holding a revolver and waving it indiscriminately before Ryouga.
Ryouga was about to attack the gunman when Kyoko returned with a cross expression on her face. “DADDY!!!”
The middle-aged man turned to Kyoko. “Hello, Pumpkin. I was just meeting this new boyfriend of yours.”
“Yeah! Right! And your gun ‘accidentally’ discharged again, didn’t it?” She asked with her hands on her hips indignantly.
“Yes. It was an accident.”
Kyoko shook her head. “I’m so sure. It’s funny how, whenever I bring a boy over for you to meet, you always seem to be cleaning your gun and it accidentally goes off. Didn’t you learn your lesson when Tora came by?”
“Oh, that’s right,” her father reluctantly said. “How is the boy, by the way?”
“He’s a lot better. You can barely notice the limp.”
“Well, that’s good.” The man returned his attention to Ryouga. “So you’re my daughter’s new boyfriend. I’m her father, the police officer.” He emphasized the last part quite strongly.
“Pleased to meet you sir,” Ryouga said as he bowed before the man and held his hand behind his head, laughing nervously the entire time.
“Now you take good care of my daughter. I’d hate to have to hunt you down and shoot you,” he warned while smiling pleasantly the entire time.
Kyoko grabbed Ryouga by the arm before her father could do any further damage. “Let’s get out of here before Daddy blows your head off.”
She pulled Ryouga into the kitchen and left him there while she went to grab her jacket from upstairs. Ryouga simply stood in the middle of the kitchen, wondering what to do while listening for the hammer to be drawn back on a gun that was no doubt waiting for him. He was so wrapped up in tension that he neglected to hear the soft tone of a speaker being turned on.
He was trying to figure out how many bullets he could take when music suddenly boomed out of the huge speakers next to the walls. Somehow he had missed those rather large pieces of music equipment upon his initial arrival in the kitchen. A woman in her thirties burst into the room bearing a microphone in hand. Ryouga could do nothing other than form a huge sweatdrop behind his head as she approached.
The woman began to sing, her voice coming out over the speakers.
“Come to you across the divide
She moved with a great deal of theatrical motion as she made her way over to where Ryouga was standing and began singing directly to him.
“In the cold dark ways of this lonely place
She held out a second microphone and handed it to Ryouga, then indicated with her hands that he should begin singing as well. He began tentatively at first as he strove to recall the lyrics to the song.
“Two hands held strong and sure
At last, Ryouga remembered the lyrics and began singing enthusiastically with the woman, the two performing a duet.
“We are guardians and warriors
Ryouga really got into it as the two of them performed side by side, movements mirroring one another as they sang to an unseen audience.
“There is a chain of light out
“Evening and the shadows will come
“When the cold dark waves on
As the two continued on to the finale of the song, enjoying playing the roles of singers until a pair of hands began clapping.
“You two did a great job.” Kyoko had returned, jacket in hand, and waved at the older woman. “Hi, Mom!” Now that Ryouga got a good look at the older woman he saw there was more than a passing resemblance between the two.
“I like this one, Kyoko,” the woman said in a husky voice as she placed her arm around Ryouga’s shoulders. “I think you should keep him.”
“Thanks, Mom!” Kyoko made Ryouga give up the karaoke microphone and headed outside, making herself a human shield in case her father decided to try to use Ryouga for target practice once more.
“Your mother is very, ahhh…”
“A very good singer? You better believe it,” Kyoko said. “And she likes you. That’s great! Now all we have to do is keep Dad from shooting you and everything will be perfect.”
Ryouga just gave a nervous laugh. That was one weird family, even by his standards.
Nabiki hung up the phone as the rest of the family looked on. She turned to the group and relayed the message. “Kasumi says it’s late and that she and Shampoo are going to spend the night at a hotel. She also said not to worry and…” Nabiki ran off Kasumi’s list of one hundred reminders for what to do in her absence.
“Do you think she’ll be all right, Saotome?” Soun was practically chewing on one of the tables in anxiety of his daughter spending the night far away from home.
“She’s with Shampoo. There’s nothing to fear. That girl can take care of any trouble that comes up,” Genma reassured his old friend.
Soun looked visibly relieved as he turned back to the game board and made the next move.
“She won’t be back until tomorrow, right?” Akane asked, suddenly hopeful.
Ranma suddenly had a bad feeling. “No. Why do you ask?”
“Well,” Akane smiled back. “Someone has to cook breakfast.”
Four cries of “I’m trying to lose weight, so I’m going to skip breakfast” cut off any further discussion, causing Akane to leave in a huff. She would make it anyway and they would all eat it. Kasumi would never forgive her if she let the rest of the family starve.
The others headed for bed while Nabiki ran down the final checklist that Kasumi had left. It really was surprising just how much Nabiki’s older sister did without anyone else realizing it. The middle Tendo girl did all of the requests until she got to the one she had been dreading since Kasumi had mentioned it. In hindsight, Nabiki should have suckered Ranma into doing it for her. But now he would be asleep and it would be next to impossible to awaken him from his slumber.
She went into the kitchen and looked at Birdy, who returned her cold stare with one of his own.
“Forget it,” she decided. “You can go hungry for a night.” The little vermin wouldn’t kick the bucket of it didn’t eat for one day.
She turned her back on the pterodactyl, not seeing the mean stare it leveled at her departing form.
The next day:
Nabiki yawned as she woke up from her restful slumber. Lifting up the covers she raised her arms high above her head and stretched out, working the kinks out of her arms. She rubbed her eyes, clearing them enough to see the rat’s head sitting in her bed right next to a message that was scrawled on a piece of paper. She stared wide eyed at the repulsive sight and read the message:
Next time, feed me, or else.
It was signed. “Birdy.”
Once out of her bedroom she had managed to compose herself and looked at the facts.
One: Birdy was a stupid animal.
Two: Birdy was locked up in a cage.
Three: Animals couldn’t write.
One check on the fact Birdy was still in his cage, and one splash of hot water to ensure it wasn’t just another Jusenkyou curse victim, confirmed her beliefs. That meant someone else must have done it. And there was only one likely suspect. Grabbing a pair of gloves, she took the rat’s head and delivered it to the most likely culprit.
Nabiki stormed into the Saotome’s bedroom. One splash of cold water later Ranma-chan sat up.
“Whad’ya do that for?!” she shouted.
“This!” And with that, Nabiki stuffed the rat’s head right next Ranma-chan’s face.
Ranma leapt back, repulsed. “YECH!!! That’s gross! What the hell do you think you’re doing, you sick weirdo?!”
Nabiki dropped the head on Ranma-chan’s sheets. “I know you’re behind putting that in my bed. This isn’t the last you’ve heard of this, Saotome.” And with that she departed, leaving a very confused redhead behind.
Genma woke up and evaluated the situation. Once he spotted the rat’s head he spoke up. “That reminds me, time for breakfast.”
“You’re sick, Pop!” Ranma-chan condemned. She had lost her entire appetite with the morning’s events, even if Akane wasn’t the one making it.
Mousse walked about the ground of Kunou Manor, careful to avoid the traps meant to dispatch unwary intruders. It almost seemed the Kunous had an obsession with security.
Kodachi walked beside Mousse, remaining unusually quiet. It was only when he initiated conversation that she seemed inclined to talk at length with him. During those times she would go from extreme happiness to deep depression, though she always responded well when he tried to cheer her up.
During the tour Mousse had finally met the infamous father of the Kunou clan. Twice the refugee from a Hawaiian Tropic ad tried to give Mousse an undesired haircut.
“Take off dat hair, boy. Ya don’ wan be thought of as a hippy,” he said in barely understood Japanese, only to have Kodachi chase her father off both times using her ribbon as a whip. She tried to apologize for her father’s behavior, but Mousse would have none of that. His insanity wasn’t her fault.
The sound of a battle cry captured Mousse’s attention. He and Kodachi moved to see Kunou practicing with his bokken. Kodachi made some comment about how her brother was doing nothing other than practicing lately. Mousse was about to turn away in disinterest when something about Kunou’s style caught his eye. The sword techniques he was employing seemed a great deal better than the ones he usually employed in combat. Mousse adjusted his glasses and used a much closer examination. There was no doubt about it. Kunou was at least twice as good as before, making him glad Kunou didn’t bear him any grudge. Maybe Mousse would get lucky and Ranma would anger Kunou and get the living daylights beat out of him.
Mousse left as Kunou severed the heads of four practice dummies with one swing. Kunou silently hoped he would be able to do ten, as the handbook he had found implied. Soon he would be ready.
The rest of the day was unusually normal for Ranma. He managed to keep from starving by grabbing his meals at Ukyou’s as the two talked for close to an hour about the good old days. As time passed several of the Furinkan students wandered in and joined the conversation. As the students talked about an upcoming school project one of them began to whine.
“Where are we going to find a windsock?”
Ranma could not believe his ears. “I got one I can give you guys. Let me run to my place and get it.”
It wasn’t long before Ranma returned bearing the gift Akane had made for him. He gave it to his fellow students, happy he could be of service. It was such a surprise that Akane had actually given him something like that and it proved to be useful. He would have to thank her later.
The rest of the late afternoon and early evening was spent roller-skating in the park. It had been months since he had a chance to listen to the cheers of his adoring fans, all of whom he had missed very much. After a three-hour performance in which he performed newer and even more incredible stunts than ever before, he headed back home. It was the middle of the evening when he returned and immediately went to find the others, figuring Shampoo and Kasumi should have returned from their trip by now. He only discovered the fathers and Nabiki who were sitting around the table, looking for all the world like condemned prisoners.
Fearing the worst, Ranma braved the storm. “What happened?”
“K… K… Kasumi!” Soun sobbed.
Ranma felt dread building. “What happened to her?”
“She and Shampoo aren’t coming back today,” Genma explained.
Ranma understood immediately. “That means…“
Akane entered the room and plopped down some unrecognizable substance in the middle of the table. She grabbed a spoon and dug into the substance. “You first, Ranma.”
“AHHHHH!!!” It was like some horrible nightmare that repeated itself over and over again every day. He fled the house, praying Uk-Chan’s was still open, while being chased by Akane, who was bound and determined to that he eat this meal, even if it was his last on earth.
The next day:
Shampoo-kun stared out as the cab window watching the world go past. They two of them were already back in Nerima and would soon return home. The mini-vacation was at an end. It was bothering him more than he thought it would.
He gave a soft gaze towards Kasumi as he saw that she too was staring out the opposite window, lost in thought as well.
“We’re almost home,” Kasumi said out loud. “I hope the others are all right.”
“I tell you, they all big boys and girls. They can take care of themselves fine.”
“I suppose,” Kasumi sighed. “It was wonderful, wasn’t it?”
Shampoo-kun nodded. “Yes. It was.”
“I needed a vacation. It was nice to pretend for a while, wasn’t it? That it was just the two of us, alone and without a care in the world.” Kasumi looked almost forlorn as her mind drifted back to the weekend.
Words were becoming more difficult for Shampoo-kun. Almost painful. “Maybe… maybe we could try to make something out of —“
Kasumi cut him off by placing a finger to his lips. “No. Don’t say that. Please. We both know it wouldn’t work out. There are too many complications.”
“Maybe,” Shampoo-kun assented.
“You’re a girl. Right?” Kasumi asked.
Of course. Shampoo-kun nodded his head.
“And you don’t want to be a boy,” Kasumi stated. “You would cure yourself of your curse if you had the opportunity, right?”
“Yes,” Shampoo-kun said softly if somewhat reluctantly. It wasn’t so much the curse anymore as the complications that arose from it. But he did want to be entirely female once again.
“Well,” Kasumi continued. “If I had some of that magic girl water, I would cure you right now. I love you and want what’s best for you.”
“I love you too,” Shampoo-kun agreed. Though he believed it must have hurt Kasumi at least a little to say things like that. No matter how happy she appeared on the outside.
“And if you were a girl all the time where would that leave us?” Kasumi asked. “We both know I’m not attracted to you when you’re female. This weekend proved that.”
Shampoo-kun nodded. That was the undeniable truth, as much as both of them might have wished otherwise.
Kasumi sounded almost troubled as she spoke more rapidly. “I do love you when you’re a girl, but it’s a different kind of love. I know it shouldn’t be that way. I know you’re the same person underneath no matter what sex you are. Maybe that’s a failing on my part.”
“No,” Shampoo-kun protested. “It’s not. It’s just the way you are.” The way he used to be, sort of.
“I suppose,” she acceded. “I just want you to be happy. That’s the most important thing to me. I really would be happy if we could cure you of your curse.”
He examined her closely. She was being sincere. He was sure of it. And that sincerity made him feel even guiltier than before, though there was no reason for it.
Kasumi looked deeply into his eyes. “Thank you for the most wonderful weekend of my life.”
“It was the most special for me as well,” the Amazon agreed. “I never going to forget it as long as I live. It always hold a special place in my heart.”
They were silent for a while before Kasumi spoke up once again. “We’re almost there.” There was no doubt there was the slightest bit of sadness in her voice. “We’re going to have to stop pretending now.”
“Yes,” Shampoo-kun agreed. He watched Kasumi start to say something else, then stop. “What is it?”
“It’s nothing.” The lie could not have been more obvious.
“Kasumi.” Shampoo-kun’s tone warranted no argument.
She took a deep breath. “I just wanted to ask if we could kiss one last time before we get home.”
That was all she wanted. So little. “I like that very much,” he said softly.
The two of them leaned forward, lips engaging in a passionate embrace.
“Thank Kami-sama! They’re back!” Ranma exclaimed, thought he remained standing still. Akane had managed to force feed him some of the swill she had made, with the predictable results. An upset stomach that even medicine couldn’t cure.
Akane just growled at the declaration.
The cab pulled up to the house. Kasumi was the first one out as she hugged her tearful father and politely greeted everyone else. Nabiki took note that her normally cheerful sister almost seemed to be glowing with joy. The vacation had obviously done wonders for her. There was also something else that she couldn’t quite place. Something that was… different about Kasumi.
Shampoo-kun finished paying the driver and turned to see Ranma come over to him.
Shampoo-kun nodded his head.
“Let’s go inside and you can tell me about it,” Ranma was eager to hear what the two of them had done over the weekend. It was a surprise as Shampoo-kun looked strangely at him and shook his head.
“Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow,” he answered, and then went inside.
That left Ranma more than a little confused. Shampoo always had time for him, and they hadn’t even seen each other for the better part of three days. He had certainly missed the Amazon, and it was quite a blow to his pride that she hadn’t felt the same.
Shampoo-kun made his way to his room, remaining male. For the first time that he could remember, he had no desire to be around Ranma. What that meant was anyone’s guess. Instead, he chose to lie down and reminisce about the weekend and what an almost perfect time he had with the eldest of the Tendo girls. What he had told Kasumi earlier was true. It might very well have been the best weekend of his life. How unfortunate that it could never be repeated again. At least that was what he told himself.
Kasumi made a tsking sound as she entered the kitchen and saw the pile of dishes waiting for her in the sink.
“Sorry about that, Sis,” Nabiki said as she followed her older sister into the kitchen. “I meant to clean those up.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Kasumi said as she cheerfully began washing. Things were rapidly settling back to normal for Kasumi.
Nabiki examined her sister more closely. Something was different about her. She still almost seemed to be glowing. “So, how’d the trip go?”
“It was wonderful,” Kasumi sighed.
“And the wedding?”
“It was beautiful. Absolutely perfect. I can only hope all of us have ones just as nice.” Kasumi looked off in the distance, obviously lost in thought.
“What did you and Shampoo do for three days?” Nabiki was becoming more and more anxious as she tried to figure out what was going on. Being in the dark was slowly eating away at her.
“We went to a hot springs area. Then we went shopping and did some other things.”
“Yes, I saw the bags.” Nabiki said. The two had certainly arrived with more than they had left. They must have done a great deal of shopping. “Anything else?”
“You know, just things.” Kasumi went back to washing the dishes.
“Did you and Shampoo sleep in different rooms?” Nabiki asked, continuing the probe for information.
“Oh no. We couldn’t afford two rooms, so we shared one.”
Nabiki finally realized something about her sister. “I see. By the way Sis, why are you walking funny?”
Kasumi dropped one of the plates. She ‘OH’d and mumbled something about being clumsy and began to clean it up. Nabiki waited patiently for her to finish before speaking up again.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“What question was that?”
Nabiki thought the most vexing part about it was that Kasumi looked completely sincere instead of being evasive when claiming she forgot about it. Nabiki repeated the question just to make sure.
Kasumi placed her hand to he chin in thought. “Well, we did a lot of walking. I suppose I pulled a muscle without realizing it.”
“Walking?” Nabiki’s eyebrow shot up at that. How much walking did it require to pull a muscle?
“Yes,” Kasumi said, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. “We did a lot of dancing the night before and we did a lot walking the next day. So it must be from the walking.”
“And that’s the only thing that could have done it?” Nabiki asked, every sense trying to read her sister’s body language. She was holding something back, maybe. It was so impossible to tell when dealing with Kasumi. Her reactions to situations were still far from normal, and her body language reflected that.
“I think that’s probably what did it,” Kasumi said with confidence.
Nabiki stared at her sister as though she could see right through her. It wasn’t like she could accuse Kasumi of lying.
“Is there anything else?” Kasumi asked politely.
“No. I’m glad you two had a ‘good time,’” she emphasized the last words and set off to find Shampoo. There were more than a few questions that needed asked, beginning with “What did you do with my sister?”
“Watch out for that crate!”
The dock foreman shielded his eyes so the rain wouldn’t fall on them as he looked upon the crane operator. The operator was either the stupidest human being on the face of the planet, or at least using the crane while drunk.
The shipping crate was placed on the ship with no more difficulties. The foreman checked on the next one slated to be loaded on. A last minute addition whose destination was Siberia. He told the operator to use the crane on it. One last crate before he could get out of the downpour and into a nice warm house. It was just what he needed.
The foreman’s thoughts were interrupted as the sound of a crate hitting the side of one of the warehouses rang out. He started to curse the crane man again as the operator tried to get it right the second time. As the crate was halfway to the ship it suddenly erupted, belching forth a huge razorback that took off as soon as it hit the ground.
The operator was only aware of the razorback hitting the ground and running off at top speed. He looked down at the little flask of whiskey he had kept out of sight and been drinking from all night long, then looked back at the fleeing side of bacon, then back at the flask.
It was time to become sober. Being drunk for twenty years wore down a man’s faculties, and there was no clearer sign from kami-sama that it was time to quit when pigs flew down from out of the sky.
Five Days later:
Four of the elders remained before Cologne well after the council meeting had ended.
“<I still can’t believe you found all those artifacts. I thought they would be lost to us forever. Why, the medallion alone has been missing for five generations.>” Shou Ya still spoke in awe at the revelation. Cologne had calmly explained to the council that she had sought out great artifacts while in Japan and had remained there until she could ascertain the validity of the pieces. They were so in awe of the discovery that none of them listened closely enough to tell that she had never once claimed that was her reason for going to Japan in the first place.
“<It was nothing,>” Cologne waved her hand dismissively.
Be Dea frowned a little. The most negative emotion that she had shown all day. Not only had Cologne returned, but she had managed to come back a hero. Each piece of treasure was incredibly valuable, and any advantage Be Dea had gained with the council over the last few months of Cologne’s absence had been dashed in less than a day. Damn, but the woman was good. “<I had some doubts as to the necessity of your departure, but now I see that it was indeed essential to our cause. I am impressed. You have my thanks.>” That was sincere, at least.
“<Why thank you.>” Cologne accepted the compliment graciously with a serious face, though underneath the pleasant veneer she was smirking in enjoyment. How it must have galled her rival to say such words.
With everyone treating her with such reverence Cologne decided that now would be the best time to deliver the announcement. “<I must return to Japan. There is still much work to be done.>”
Comb spoke up. “<You can’t leave. You’ve just returned. And there are still so many things that have to be done. Like dealing with the Musk.>”
She had anticipated their reluctance. Sometimes they really did act like the old women so many others called them. “<I took care of the minor problems and gave you instructions on what to do with so many other problems that might arise. And so long as the Musk make no open moves with their supposed army, we have nothing to fear. They are too far away to effectively attack us without a great deal of prior warning,>” Cologne said to ease the others’ apprehension. “<You have done a great job of running things in my absence. And it’s not as though I’ll live forever. You have to be able to do things on your own.>”
“<That’s not the problem,>” Talcum stated. “<You are the matriarch. You should be here and dealing with this, not going about on grand adventures seeking ancient artifacts. Leave that to the younger generation. Let them prove themselves.>”
“<There is little enough adventure in the world today,>” Shou Ya commented. “<I would not steal it away from those that would grow strong in such quests. It’s difficult enough for them as is.>”
“<Still, if the Musk do attempt to do something, we must have every resource at our disposal,> Be Dea said. <I believe the matriarch is correct. She should seek out whatever edge we can get. And she is, after all, our leader. If she cannot lead herself, who would follow her?>”
With Be Dea’s somewhat unexpected show of support, the other three agreed to Cologne’s travel arrangements, with one stipulation. She should take along a magical tracking device so she could be quickly found should some emergency come up. The matriarch readily agreed to the arrangement. As she went to leave, Comb asked one last question.
“<Where is Shampoo? We haven’t heard from her since you left. We assumed she was with you.>”
Years of practice allowed Cologne to evade the question with ease. “<No. She didn’t travel with me and I have no idea where she is at the moment. I’m not especially worried. She’s a big girl. Why, at that age, I had already had so many grand adventures, I was practically as seasoned as a warrior four times my age back then. It will do the girl good to set off in the world and grow up some. Get a new perspective, so to speak.>”
“<I keep trying to get my granddaughter, Blossom, to leave the nest as well,>” Talcum lamented. “<But the young one refuses to grow up and take responsibility.>”
The others nodded their heads in agreement, each remembering how some offspring had refused to take on responsibilities as was necessary for their age. The elders made certain to mention how they were never like that though.
After another half hour of reminiscing about the good old days, Cologne began to leave once more to make travel preparations. Comb again spoke up.
“<One last thing, Matriarch. There’s a rumor going around about Shampoo falling into Nanniichuan.>”
Cologne expected something like this, and answered immediately with a well-prepared answer. “<Such nonsense! Don’t you think I would be aware of such a thing?!>”
“<I told you not to bother her with that ridiculous rumor,>” Be Dea chided her. “<That was just Herb trying to cause trouble. And here you are, playing right into his hands!>”
“<But she—,>” Comb didn’t get a chance to finish as Be Dea cut her off.
“<Is perfectly fine, I’m sure. If her own great grandmother is not concerned about it, neither am I. And if it’s good enough for me, it should be good enough for you.>”
Comb’s eyes blazed with anger momentarily, then she settled down. “<You’re right. Sorry about that, Matriarch.>”
“<You shouldn’t give any heed to rumors. It always leads to trouble,>” Cologne advised.
“<Especially you, Kou-Me,>” Shou Ya said as her voice took on a dangerous tone. “<Why, if I recall correctly, there was a rumor about you fooling around with my husband about, oh, one hundred and eighty years ago. Way, way back in our youth. If I took such things seriously, you wouldn’t be alive today.>
Sweatdrops formed behind everyone but Shou Ya’s head.
“<Good thing we don’t pay attention to rumors then.>” Comb felt her pulse race. Everyone knew Shou Ya was more powerful than Comb, and her anger was nearly a thing of legend in the tribe. Several times Shou Ya had hinted at knowing there was more to it than rumor, but there was no chance she had any evidence. Even after a century, Shou Ya would not hesitate to make Comb die in agony for violating her honor, and husband, if she ever admitted to it. Of course, remembering what Shelf had been like, Comb felt it was worth the risk. At least back then.
Such was the politics of the Joketsuzoku.
Shou Ya gave a laugh to defuse the situation. As the others relaxed, Cologne finally bid a fond farewell to everyone and left. Comb quickly followed, leaving the other three council members alone.
“<She worded that carefully,>” Talcum said.
“<Too carefully,>” Shou Ya agreed.
Talcum thought about it. “<It could be a game. You know how she likes to test us to see our reactions.>”
“<Perhaps,>” Shou Ya agreed, then turned her attention to Be Dea. “<Why did you leap to her defense like that? Are you eager to catch her in a lie?>” She asked Be Dea.
“<I’m eager to catch her if she’s lying. There’s a world of difference between the two,>” Be Dea corrected.
Talcum knew Be Dea was already planning something. “<What are you going to do?>”
Be Dea gave a creepy smile that could rival Cologne’s. “<In a couple days I will have a change of mind concerning Shampoo’s absence. She has been gone from us for far too long and we need to know why she has been absent. If it turns out to be for legitimate reasons, then I’ll look a little foolish and accept the loss of respect. If it’s something else, like she lost to her longtime paramour, Mu-Tse, in a marriage duel and ran for it rather than let us know she fouled up, then there will be a lot of explaining to do.>”
“<And if it’s Nanniichuan?>” Talcum asked.
“<Then heads will roll,>” Be Dea said calmly.
Alchemy of Love by Christopher Franke
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