“This way, Col. Yamaguchi.”
Col. Yamaguchi followed the woman through the double doors and up a flight of stairs. It was only his second time at the young ESPer Seeker Division of the new branch of the JSDF. Only recently had some of the quiet elements in the government begun to take the idea of psychic powers seriously. Several billion yen had been poured into the project, mainly into this particular branch, the one that sought out young ESPers and studied them. Once the studies were completed the next step would be training of the young children, then employing them in different fields of the armed forces and law enforcement.
But all of that was for the distant future. At present his visit to the branch was due to the call he had received from the middle-aged woman before him, Dr. Junji. She was in charge of raising and studying the youngsters and was reputed to be a low level psychic as well. She was the one that had alerted him to the fact that apparently all thirty of the children had been having nightmares, and that they might be connected in some way. That alone was worth paying a visit and investigating.
They drew to a halt outside the double doors leading to the room with all the children. The doctor placed one hand upon the swinging door, cracking it about an inch before turning to the colonel. “I told each of them to draw a picture of what they dreamed. They should be finished soon.”
Upon entering the colonel saw twenty children, ranging from four to six, sitting patiently at a variety of small tables, writing implements and papers before them. As the duo entered the room twenty pairs of dark wide eyes looked up at them.
“We’re done, doctor,” one of the children announced. With his declaration twenty hands picked up their pieces of paper and held them high in the air for the doctor and her companion to see. Each one varied in color and artistic talent, but there were all basically of the same thing: a large black shape with wings and a tail was seen flying over what appeared to be a mountain. Next to the black object was what appeared to be a giant oval, perhaps an eye, hanging over the mountain, as though suspended in mid-air.
Dr. Junji stepped back in surprise, the shock evident on her face. The colonel simply remained where he was and gazed stoically on.
“He hates us.”
The colonel turned to where the voice had come from. It was an older child, about thirteen, that had made that announcement. His name was Michiyoshi, if the colonel remembered correctly. He was Junji’s first find, the most powerful of the children, and served as her assistant. “What was that?”
“He hates us,” Michi said once again without elaborating.
The colonel advanced on him and saw that Michi looked terrible, as though he hadn’t had sleep in days. “Could you be more specific?”
Michi’s voice became distant as he continued. “I can feel his rage reaching out to us. He hates us all. He wishes all of us were dead, and he’s coming. He knows he’s going to wake up soon and he’s letting his anger grow. It’s a hatred beyond anything you can imagine. Nothing human can hate that much, and that malevolence will be unleashed upon this world. I only hope I’m dead before it happens.”
With that Michi fell silent. The colonel didn’t know what to make of it, save that the hackles on the back of his neck began to rise. There was never a time that happened and disaster didn’t follow. Maybe it was time to put in for that vacation he had wanted to take for a while. If the kid was right it might be his last chance to get it in before things hit the fan and he would be up to his neck in trouble, as usual.
Chapter 32: The Insufferable Lightness of Mother
A Ranma ½ story
by D.B. Sommer
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.
All comments and criticisms appreciated. You can contact me at email@example.com
What has happened so far (or what you really need to know to enjoy this fic. This is the short version. For the full story you will need to read the previous chapters.) In the beginning, the Saotomes traveled to Jusenkyou to train, not realizing that Shampoo and Mousse had already begun a duel there. One mid-air collision and bath in Spring of Young Drowned Man later, there is a male Shampoo as well as a female Ranma. (So Ranma-chan= female Ranma. Shampoo-kun= male Shampoo. Enjoy) Shampoo elected to travel to Japan with Ranma. Many months of many adventures, with the meeting of friends and foes alike. In the last chapter Akane and Ranma went on a date. Cologne returned to Japan. The Shogun of the Dark got closer to initiating his plan. Perfume and her Hunt Pack move every closer to Japan. And at last Nodoka Saotome has come onto the scene. Unfortunately she heard Shampoo-kun refer to Genma as ‘Pop’, and has come to a mistaken conclusion…
 Indicates thoughts
Shampoo-kun stared at the odd woman that was holding him. Whoever she was it was obvious she had mistaken him for the real Ranma.
“I’m not—“ he began, but was cut off as Genma slapped a hand over the Amazon’s mouth.
“—not at all surprised to see my mother is looking so wonderful. That was what my son, Ranma, was going to say. Isn’t that right, Ranma?” Genma released his grip as he waited for the answer.
Shampoo-kun gave the fat man a flat stare. Genma was up to something, and whatever it was meant trouble. “No,” he said. Instincts cried out he should refuse to go along with Genma this time. It was all going to lead to nothing but trouble. All of his stupid plans were nothing but trouble.
“What were you going to say, Ranma?” the woman asked.
Shampoo-kun looked at the woman. Her statement confirmed it. This was Ranma’s mother. How the heck had the fat slob married someone that attractive? Genma must have been up to something really bad if he was trying to pass off Shampoo-kun as his son. It also meant that either Nodoka had very poor vision or a faulty memory to think he was Ranma. Or, he supposed, she could have been driven mad by being married to Genma. “I was going to say—“
Genma slapped his hand across Shampoo-kun’s mouth once again. “That he’s so happy to see you words can’t describe it.” He smiled at Nodoka and began to drag Ranma away. “We need to have a private discussion.”
“But I haven’t seen Ranma for so long. Can’t it wait?” Nodoka pleaded.
“It’s manly man to manly man talk. We’ll be back in a moment.” He continued dragging Shampoo-kun along until they were out of earshot, but not visual range of Nodoka.
Shampoo-kun ripped himself out of Genma’s grasp. “What this all about, Pop? Why are you trying to pass me off as Ranma?”
Genma took on his most pitiful, pleading look for the Amazon, the one he usually reserved for when Happosai was angry with him and he would grovel for mercy. “Believe me when I say Ranma’s life depends on you impersonating him. You have to do it or the boy will die.”
“What you talking about?” Shampoo-kun was getting sick and tired of Genma’s act.
“I can’t explain it all now. Wait until we get home and I can explain it to everyone there all at once. I’m dead serious this time.”
Judging by the serious look now on Genma’s face he just might have been telling the truth. With a sigh Shampoo-kun decided to take a chance and go along with the act. He rushed forward and embraced Nodoka in a large hug, lifting her off the ground and spinning her in a circle.
“It’s so nice to see you, Mother!”
Shampoo-kun allowed Nodoka back on the ground as she began crying. “Oh, Ranma. It’s been too long. I’ve missed you so much.”
“It’s been many months,” Shampoo-kun said.
“Years!” Genma shouted. “It’s been so many years.”
“That right. The years felt like months.” Shampoo-kun agreed as he wondered what could have happened to keep Ranma apart from his mother for that length of time.
“At last our family is reunited.” She continued sobbing as she held Shampoo-kun in a tight embrace. After crying for almost ten minutes straight, she composed herself enough to speak normally. “Why don’t we go back to our house and you can tell me what you’ve been doing all of these long years.”
“That’s a good idea,” the Amazon agreed before getting cut off once again by Genma.
“First we need to go back to the Tendo Dojo,” Genma said.
Nodoka perked up at that. “The Tendo Dojo? Has Ranma picked out a fiancée already?”
“Yes,” Genma said quickly. “I thought it best they start to get acquainted with one another right away.”
“How long have you been back in Japan?” Nodoka asked.
“Not long. There was some additional training I wanted to give the boy before bringing him before you. But he’s definitely a man among men.”
“I’m certain he is,” Nodoka said as she smiled warmly. “I’d like to meet Ranma’s fiancée. I would have preferred helping him choose, but I’m certain he picked one that will be able to make him happy.”
“No,” Shampoo-kun said flatly. “The girl chosen for me make me sick.”
Nodoka looked in shock at her son as Genma recoiled in horror. Quickly Genma was at his son’s side in a flash. “My boy, such a kidder. He meant to say he’s very pleased with his choice. Let’s go now.” Genma grabbed Shampoo-kun and took him on ahead of Nodoka as she bent down to retrieve her wrapped katana and followed.
Genma began whispering in Shampoo-kun’s ear. “Listen to me. This is quite literally a matter of life and death. You cannot say things like that to your mother.”
“She not my mother,” Shampoo-kun growled. “My mother’s back in China.”
“You’d better get used to thinking of her as that for now, otherwise the consequences will be dire for all involved. Just pretend, please.”
Shampoo-kun rolled his eyes and decided to play along. He allowed Nodoka to walk side by side with him as the trio made their way back to the dojo. Nodoka asked him questions that he answered with as much correct information as he could. Over time he had dragged almost every detail of Ranma’s life out of him, committing everything to memory. Fortunately Ranma’s life was actually pretty simple. He learned a lot of martial arts, his father was a terminal idiot always getting them into trouble, and not much else.
He asked Nodoka questions about her past, which was about as interesting as Ranma’s, though she did mention that she had trained sufficiently with the katana to insure nothing would go wrong if she had to make good on ‘the promise.’ Before Shampoo-kun could ask further questions about that, Genma changed the subject to Nodoka’s current hairstyle and how little she had changed over time.
As Nodoka talked a little bit with Genma, Shampoo-kun took the time to examine the woman more closely. There was more than a passing resemblance between mother and son, and even more between the cursed form and her. She did not seem to be a warrior, despite her proclaimed skill in the katana, and she lacked the movements of a fighter, not that she was not graceful as she walked alongside her husband. Outwardly she seemed every bit the proper Japanese woman, and a pleasant enough individual.
Getting to know Nodoka would be interesting. Ranma had never talked about her and she was one of the few blank spots in Shampoo-kun’s knowledge of Ranma. In truth he had just figured the woman was dead since Ranma never spoke of her. There was also the matter of discovering exactly what Genma was up to and what trouble he had gotten Ranma into now.
As the trio arrived at the outside of the dojo Genma placed a hand in front of his wife, causing her to stop in her tracks. “Wait out here while I prepare the Tendos for your arrival.”
“Why can’t I just introduce myself to them?” she asked quizzically.
Genma panicked at the question. “Soun’s a bit high strung ever since his wife died. Whenever he meets a new woman at his home he thinks they resemble his dead wife and he just cries and cries. His daughters won’t even let him answer the door. Isn’t that right, Ranma?”
Shampoo-kun nodded his head. Genma was becoming a worse liar over time.
“All right,” Nodoka reluctantly agreed and remained outside until Genma and Shampoo-kun returned, asking them not to take too long.
Once inside Genma quickly rounded up the whole family and began talking in a rush. “Everyone listen closely because I only have enough time to tell you this once. Ranma, you’re going to have to be a girl for as long as your mother is here.” He dumped water on Ranma as the boy looked in shock at the term ‘mother’.
“Mother? What’s all of this abou—“
Genma cut Ranma-chan off. “You can ask questions after I explain everything.” He returned his attention to the rest of the people in the room. “It’s going to have to be like when the Furinkan students are around. Everyone must refer to Ranma as Shampoo and Shampoo as Ranma. There can be no curse changes, or else it’ll be very… bad for everyone, especially myself and Ranma. Here’s the quick version of why we’re doing this. When Ranma was about three the only way his mother would let me take him on his extended training journey was if I made a promise. This pact was sealed with an agreement that if I brought the boy back to her he would be a man among men, a paragon of them, if you would. If I failed in this task we were both supposed to commit seppuku, with her serving as our second. We both signed this agreement, and she will take it seriously. Today when we were on our way back from shopping she overheard Shampoo call me Pop and thinks he’s Ranma. There was no way out other than to let her think that was exactly who he was. Now Shampoo is going to have to pretend to be Ranma until we can get out of this situation. That just about covers it.”
Ranma-chan paled as her father finished. Her words came out in quiet tones. “You made my own mother promise to kill me if I don’t live up to some stupid ideal you came up with?”
“That’s about it,” Genma said, quite satisfied with himself.
“YOU DUMB OLD MAN!!! I SHOULD KILL YOU FOR THAT!!!”
Since Ranma-chan was in the process of doing precisely that by choking the life out of her father, the statement was rather unnecessary. It took the combined efforts of Akane and Soun to pull her off of him.
“You can’t kill him, Ranma,” Akane warned, trying to calm her fiancé down.
“That’s right,” Shampoo-kun said calmly. “I do it for you.” And with that he leaped upon Genma and began choking him. “DUMB OLD MAN!!!” he raged. “YOU IS SO STUPID! YOU GOING TO GET RANMA KILLED BECAUSE OF SOME IDIOTIC PROMISE!!!”
This time Ranma-chan joined in with the attempt to pry Shampoo-kun from Genma’s throat. As they broke the death grip the Amazon had around Genma’s neck, he calmed down. Once Ranma-chan was convinced Shampoo-kun wasn’t going to keep attacking Genma, she once again leaped for her father’s throat. It was as she was choking the life out of him for the second time that Nodoka entered the room and saw the scene before her.
“What’s going on here?”
All eyes turned towards her and Ranma-chan released her father to stare at the woman who was her mother. Time seemed to stop for her as she gazed upon the woman of whom she had no memories of. Ranma-chan thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
Shampoo-kun took the initiative. “We were just practicing martial arts. It takes up so much of my life hardly a moment goes by we no training. Sorry to make you wait, Mother. Let me introduce you to everyone.”
He introduced each in turn just like he thought Kasumi would, though he introduced Akane in a rather irritated tone. When he got to Ranma-chan he paused for a moment. Her introduction was going to be a little trickier.
“This is Shampoo. She a very, very good friend who is very nice and powerful. She is a great fighter who Pop and me have been traveling with for a very long time because she can no go back home to her village in China. She even saved my life a couple times. I want you to think of her like a daughter because she is so close to Pop and me.” He gave a warm smile to Ranma-chan, who was still staring at Nodoka.
A confused expression crossed Nodoka’s face before she smiled and approached the redhead. “Thank you for helping my son. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
She bowed before Ranma-chan, who took a moment to recover before bowing back. “It’s a pleasure to meet you as well. You’re very pretty,” she added, saying the first thing that came to her mind.
Nodoka blushed at that. “Thank you so very much. I must say you are a very attractive young lady as well.”
“Why don’t I get us some tea and we can talk about everything,” Kasumi offered as she went to prepare something for her new guest. It only took her a few minutes to make everything and she served everyone at the dining room table. Nodoka sat between Genma and Shampoo-kun. On the opposite side Ranma-chan sat next to Akane and Nabiki while Soun took the head of the table. Soun noticed Nodoka look nervously at him several times before relaxing.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
“No, no,” Nodoka quickly answered. Once Soun’s attention drifted away she whispered in Genma’s ear. “He’s not going to cry now, is he? I think I’ve been here long enough that he realizes I’m not Kimiko.”
“I’d say so,” Genma said with a straight face.
“Good,” she whispered back, then spoke more loudly to Ranma. “So. All of these young ladies seem to be very nice. Which did you pick as your fiancée?”
Shampoo-kun sweatdropped at that. If he had to impersonate Ranma and pretend to have a fiancée, it might as well be one he got along with, at least until the whole matter blew over. So why not choose the one he really was engaged to, even if only for a little while? He smiled in Kasumi’s direction and was about to speak up when Akane was picked up by Soun and Genma and placed next to Shampoo-kun.
“He picked Akane,” Soun said. “They’re a perfect match.”
“Yes. Both of them couldn’t be happier with one another,” Genma agreed.
Akane gave a disgusted look towards Genma and her father, then another one towards the boy she was next to. Shampoo-kun returned the glance.
“Oh, yeah,” Akane said in a flat voice. “Couldn’t be happier with my fiancé.”
“Ditto,” was all Shampoo-kun could muster as he sipped some more tea.
Nodoka watched the whole event with a confused look before settling down and smiling once more. “You two look cute together. Have you set a date yet?”
Two vehement ‘no’s met her as a response.
“Well there’s no need to hurry. You two have all of the time in the world and should get to know each other first.”
The duo looked a little relieved at the statement and continued sipping their drinks.
Nodoka looked on, somewhat confused by the whole situation. She was just getting to know her son, and it seemed she had a lot to learn.
Ranma-chan watched as her mother talked to Shampoo-kun like he was her son. It just wasn’t fair. At long last she had met her mother, who she assumed had been dead, and the woman didn’t even know who she was. Nodoka was close enough to touch, to embrace, but there might as well have been a stone wall between them. Silent curses were directed at her father as Ranma-chan continued her painful gaze towards Nodoka. It was all her father’s fault. He was the reason she had to pretend to be someone she wasn’t. There would be a reckoning later. The old man was really going to pay for screwing this one up.
Ranma-chan tried calming down. All was not lost. Even if she couldn’t reveal who she really was she could still enjoy her mother’s company. And the redhead was damned if she would allow anyone to come between her mother and her.
Nodoka talked pleasantly with Shampoo-kun. Her son was very handsome and certainly appeared to be quite the man. “What sort of hobbies do you have, Ranma?”
“He enjoys cross-dressing,” Nabiki answered seriously.
Shampoo-kun backed up in fear as Nodoka’s hand tightened on the hilt of the still wrapped up katana, his ‘mother’s’ eyes glazing over slightly. “That doesn’t sound like a very manly hobby.”
“Nabiki is being facetious,” Kasumi answered happily. “She means he enjoys gardening.”
“Oh,” Nodoka’s grip loosened as she relaxed. “Thank goodness.”
“Speaking of gardening,” Kasumi continued, “I need you to pull out all of the weeds in the yard, Nabiki. One at a time by hand.”
The middle Tendo spluttered over that one. “Why do I have to do that?!”
“I don’t have the time to do it myself. That is unless you would like to do all of the cleaning, cooking the food, the wash…”
Nabiki listened as the list continued. Leave it to Kasumi get overprotective of Shampoo and spoil Nabiki’s fun. She might have even considered getting revenge if it had been anyone other than her sister.
Ranma-chan watched as long as she could before Nodoka wanted to talk to ‘Ranma’ in private, leaving the redhead alone with the others. She opted not to attack her father again and went to the dojo to practice. She wasn’t there more than a few moments before Akane showed up, glowering as well.
“I need to work off some of my stress,” Akane said as she started to stretch out.
“How do you think I feel?” Ranma-chan answered back. “I can’t even admit who I am to my mother. You have no idea how much I’ve missed her. I thought she was dead.”
“At least she’s alive,” Akane said sadly. “Even if you can’t tell her who you are, at least she’s alive.”
Ranma-chan nodded in understanding. She had managed to get Akane to talk about her mother after the events with Silk, but it was obvious that Akane still missed her, even after all those years.
“Having to pretend I’m engaged to Shampoo is stressful enough for me,” Akane practically snarled in fury.
“She’s not that bad,” Ranma-chan defended her absent friend. “It’s not like you have to worry about her trying to kiss you or anything. Just try to be nice. She’s a good person.” Akane scowled angrily at her fiancé. A move Ranma-chan couldn’t help noticing. “What’s you problem now?”
“It sounds like you’re choosing her over me.”
Ranma-chan shook her head in confusion. “What the heck are you talking about?”
“As if you didn’t know!” Akane snapped back.
“I don’t.” She silently wondered what she had done to set Akane off this time. It was difficult to admit, but every now and then Ranma-chan could usually point out what she had done to anger Akane, but this time she was totally in the dark.
“Whatever!” Akane snapped back once again. “Let’s start.”
Ranma-chan shrugged and allowed Akane to throw some attacks at her. Ranma-chan employed her usual strategy of allowing Akane to swing all she wanted and dodged each attack. Since her mind was on the subject of her mother, Ranma-chan wasn’t even bothering to tell her fiancée what she was doing wrong in her attacks.
Akane’s started to lose control of her already frayed temper. “You are supposed to be training me!”
“I am,” she answered distractedly while continuing to evade the ever-increasing series of attacks Akane was employing. She was so filled with the vision of her mother in her head she neglected to pay close attention to Akane’s increasing anger.
“Oh look,” Akane said as she pointed over her fiancé’s shoulder. “Is that your mother?”
Ranma-chan turned around, darting her head back and forth. “Where? I don’t—“
The rest was cut off as Akane grabbed her shoulders from behind and drove a hard knee into the smaller girl’s back, then followed by an elbow to the back of the head. Ranma-chan shouted in pain from the two blows and suddenly found herself picked up over Akane’s shoulders and driven head first into one of the mats. Reflexes took over as the redhead rolled out of the way and got to her feet.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” Ranma-chan shouted as she shook her head and tried to recover.
Akane looked smugly at her. “Winning. I told you to take me and my martial arts seriously or you’d be sorry.”
“That was a dirty trick.”
“Which I learned from your father. The same guy that taught you,” Akane said, continuing to stare smugly. “He is right you know. If you let yourself get distracted in the middle of a fight like that, you’re going to pay for it.” Akane suddenly felt very uncomfortable with the gaze she received from the smaller girl. Instead of anger there was a sad look.
“You’re absolutely right, Akane.”
That was all the warning she needed to know something was up. Ranma-chan was far too egotistical to just accept that kind of tongue lashing without trying to get a pound of flesh back. Unless he was continuing to play by a different set of rules with her. Still, she had to accept the apology. “I’m glad you feel that way. Sorry if I hurt you.” She knew she hadn’t. Ranma-chan had taken far worse than that lots of times.
“Nice moves by the way,” Ranma-chan said as she gave a sad smile.
“Thanks.” Something was terribly wrong.
“Where’d you learn them?”
“Ummm,” Akane began. “From your father.”
Ranma-chan shook her head. “Nope. Only the knee shot was from Anything Goes.”
“I must have picked up somewhere else.”
Ranma-chan shot an eyebrow up at that, making Akane feel as though she were being mocked. “I’m sure you did. I know where it’s from. I had someone try to use it on me a while back.”
“See,” Akane said as she felt the blood rush to her cheeks. “That must have been where I saw it.”
“It wasn’t used when you were around,” Ranma-chan said quietly. “It was a private one on one fight I had with Tarou a while back.”
Akane suddenly felt guilty about the whole thing. Even as guilt settled in she felt her anger at Ranma-chan rise. She was trying to tell Akane what to do again. “I guess he might have taught me it.”
“I wondered why you were getting so much better so fast. I didn’t understand how you could be doing it in just our training session. It all makes sense now. You’ve still been training with him, haven’t you?”
There was no need for Ranma-chan to say the name, both knew who she meant. “Yes I have. So what! You can’t control everything about my life! You don’t hear me saying don’t train with Shampoo or anything like that!” She shouted defensively. It was going to be the same argument they had when Ranma had returned from fighting with Herb. By the kami how she hated it when he got into pointless arguments with her. Why couldn’t he see things just for once from her point of view?
To her surprise rather than the expected blow up, Ranma-chan’s eyes gained an even more melancholy appearance. “It’s all right, Akane.”
She was taken aback by that. Why wasn’t he shouting at her like the last time? “What’s the trick?”
The redhead continued looking sadly at her. “No tricks. You should train with him from now on.”
Akane shook her head. What had happened to the real Ranma-chan? There was no way the person before her could be the real thing. “Why are you saying that?”
Ranma-chan turned to go. “There comes a time in a martial artist’s life when they have to choose a master to learn from. Once they feel they have learned all they can, or find someone else that can teach them in a better way, it’s time to move on and go with someone else. It’s the responsibility of each individual martial artist to figure out when that time comes and make the decision if they wish to move on or not.”
“I… I never said I wanted to change,” Akane stammered. “I never said Tarou was better than you.”
Ranma-chan shook her head. “You didn’t have to. Didn’t you hear what I said earlier? I told you you’re getting better, learning at a lot faster rate then I’ve been able to teach you. You’re learning more from him than you are from me. There’s no shame in that. Each person learns in different ways at different speeds.
“Pop once told me about how he and Mr. Tendo left their old master for Happosai. It ain’t often the old man gets serious with me like that, so I paid attention. Pop said it was one of the hardest things he ever had to do. He told me he loved his old master dearly, and he learned a lot with him, but the truth was Happosai could teach him a whole lot more than the old master ever could. So when he went to the old master and told him he was thinking of leaving, the old master told him the same thing Pop told me when he was talking about the story. A true martial artist’s first loyalty is to the art itself, not to the people that practice it. Oh, you still have to honor your teachers and stuff, but any true master understands that when the art calls to you to learn more than you already have, you answer that call. The old master told that to Pop. Pop told that to me for when the time comes and I have to leave him, either when he has no more to teach me or if I have to learn under someone else. He told me that with a tear in his eye. It was the about the only time I remember him getting emotional like that. Well, now I’m telling the story to you.
“Tarou may not be better than me, but for whatever reason, he teaches you better than I can. I can accept that now. It bothers me a bit, but I understand that’s the way it has to be. You say you want me to treat you like a serious martial artist, then it’s time for you to make a choice, and you’ve already done that whether you realize it or not.”
“I’m not saying I don’t like you, Ranma,” Akane said softly.
Ranma-chan waved it off. “I know. It’s not a popularity contest. Pop liked his old master way better than Happosai, but he knew that despite that, he had to change. It’s going to be the same thing for you. You don’t have to like who teaches you, you just have to be willing to learn. And you are. I’m telling you to go with my blessing.” Ranma-chan held up a warning finger. “Just remember that even though you’re learning his techniques, you’re still part of the School of Anything Goes Martial Arts. Incorporating other schools techniques and making counters for them is our school’s primary strength. So good luck, Akane. I expect you to learn a lot, because I’ll still try you out to see how good you’re getting. And if I think you’re slacking I’ll let you know about it, the hard way.”
Ranma-chan left the dojo without another word, leaving Akane looking forlornly at where the redhead had been but a moment before. She stared there for a few moments before she felt something wet hit her foot. She gazed downward to see what it was, then realized the source of the wetness. It was her. Without even realizing it she was crying, and the tears were falling to the ground.
She remained there for quite some time.
Ranma-chan was walking down the hall when she passed Nodoka. As the older woman passed by she noticed the painful look on the redhead. “Is something wrong, Shampoo?”
Ranma-chan looked at her mother. “Not really. I think I just grew up a little, and it was a bit more painful than I thought it would be.”
Nodoka looked sagely at her. “It always is, dear. It always is. If you want to talk about it, I’ll listen.”
Ranma-chan took her up on the offer, making certain that her cover wasn’t blown when she related the tale. It was nice having a mother to talk to, even if the mother didn’t realize whom she was listening to.
Shampoo-kun was becoming very annoyed at Nodoka Saotome. Having to be a male all the time was bad enough, but he had to constantly be on guard that he didn’t let his or Ranma-chan’s true identity slip. And then there was the language problem. Nodoka finally picked up on the fact he still talked with a slight inflection. He tried playing it off as that he had learned Chinese so well and spoke it for so long he had actually picked up an accent. Now he had to concentrate and make sure he spoke in near flawless Japanese. It was a major pain in the rear end.
And then there were all the questions about he and Akane. More than once Genma clamped a hand over Shampoo-kun’s mouth as he started to say unpleasant things about the youngest Tendo. Curiously, Nodoka never asked why he did that; she just seemed to take it in stride. As the conversation continued Shampoo-kun made certain to give examples of how ‘manly’ he was, though the idea of anyone actually wanting to be manly was outrageously stupid to someone that grew up in a matriarchal society. The Amazon simply tried to accept the fact the Japanese were really a very backward people. Hopefully a solution would appear soon. The whole situation was really too much for anyone to be expected to take.
Night fell and Nodoka slipped into the Saotomes’ makeshift bedroom and prepared the futon for her family. It was such an exciting day. Her son had at long last returned to her, and he had grown every inch into a man among men. He did seem reserved around her, but that was to be expected since he hardly even remembered her after all those years. But that would all change now that she was once again together with him. He was never going to leave her side, not like he had before. She had missed so much of his childhood, and she needed to make up for it.
Once she was over the initial shock of seeing her son and learned a little bit about him, she began to get a feel for the workings of the house itself. The first thing was getting the girls to address her as Auntie Saotome. She was among family now and wanted to be reminded of it at every opportunity. Then there was the tension between Ranma and Akane. Leave it to Genma to raise her son with few manners regarding women. If her initial observations were accurate, there seemed to be more than a little tension between the two of them. That was to be expected. Both Ranma and Akane seemed to be very strong-willed children, and were going to need be guided a little bit, but something could be worked out, she was certain of it. Of course there was the mystery of exactly why Shampoo was present in the house. There was more there than met the eye, and Nodoka had a feeling whatever the reason was, it was very important.
Nodoka went into the closet to see if there were any extra pillows for the three of them. As she searched for some her hand brushed against something soft and silky amongst the clothes hanging in the closet. She moved some around and her eyes fell upon ‘them’. Slowly her katana was unwrapped and drawn out from its sheath.
Shampoo-kun turned from the conversation he was having with Kasumi. That had been Nodoka’s voice, and it didn’t sound pleased. Within moments of the cry Genma rushed into the room in mortal fear, followed closely by Nodoka, sword drawn and with a dress in hand.
“WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?!!!” She held out the dress towards Shampoo-kun and lowered her voice slightly. “Why are there dresses in your closet?!”
Shampoo-kun began to panic. They were the ones Ranma had purchased when he thought he was a girl. Apparently no one had thought to remove them from the room before Nodoka found them. It was time to move quickly or else he was going to be dodging a swinging katana. “They not mine! They’re Pop’s!” He pointed accusingly at Genma.
Nodoka nearly dropped her katana in shock. “Genma?” she said in a quiet voice.
He held his hands before him and shook his head as rapidly as he could from side to side. “The boy’s lying! Just look at them! They would never fit me!”
“They’re mine,” a voice said from the doorway.
Nodoka turned to see Ranma-chan enter the room. Once she had Nodoka’s attention the shorter girl continued. “Mr. Saotome and Ranma were keeping them in their closet because I don’t have the space for them. Let me try one on and you’ll see it fits perfectly.”
Everyone watched Nodoka visibly relax. “There’s no need, dear. I can see you’re telling the truth.” She turned to Shampoo-kun. “Please forgive me for doubting you, Ranma. I should have known you wouldn’t do something like that.”
“It’s no problem,” he said as he wiped the sweat from his forehead. That had been far too close. If he hated the situation before, he really loathed it now. It was getting worse by the moment.
The rest of the night passed on normally. Normally meaning Ranma-chan slept in Shampoo’s usual room and Shampoo-kun slept with Genma and Nodoka. The next day was full of a delightfully unpleasant surprise for Shampoo-kun. Rather than Nodoka going home she elected to stay at the dojo with her family while her ‘son’ got to know his fiancée better.
As the days passed, Nodoka became increasingly concerned about her ‘son’s’ relationship with Akane. The two of them absolutely did not get along. They never showed each other anything other then barely concealed contempt. At first Nodoka thought it was simply that the two were uncertain about their future, but all of her efforts to bring them together failed miserably. The one time she had insisted they go out on a date resulted in the duo not talking at all afterwards. Something simply had to be done.
And then there was the little problem of Shampoo. In her time at the dojo Nodoka still hadn’t quite figured out exactly why the girl was there, other than to provide a constant sparring partner for her son. The relationship between the Amazon and Akane seemed very peculiar as well. On that first day she had arrived there seemed to be some sort of problem between the two of them. But as time went on the two seemed to come to an understanding and behaved in a manner Kasumi had dubbed ‘normal’ when Nodoka asked her about it. There seemed to be a friendship, but it was obviously strained by something that was between the two of them. And then there was Akane’s desire to strike Shampoo whenever the girl was particularly obnoxious. Nodoka tried to explain to her that it was very unladylike to strike those that irritated you with instruments of blunt trauma, but Akane would go back to doing it when the Chinese girl let her mouth ramble on and say insulting things. Shampoo, on the other hand, was very much a tomboy and not ladylike at all. Still, perhaps that was normal behavior when one was raised an Amazon.
There was some tension among the members of the household, and it was up to Nodoka to find out what the cause was and put a stop to it.
“It’s not like I wanted to go out on that date!” Akane fumed.
“You don’t see me jumping up and down in joy over the whole thing!” Shampoo-kun snapped back.
Ranma-chan watched as the argument between the two went back and forth. In the past she might have tried to deny there were any real problems between the two of them, but there was a LOT of friction now. All they ever did was snap at each other. To a limited degree that was understandable; they were all under a lot of pressure, but what was the big idea of arguing?
Ranma-chan stood directly in front of the duo causing them to stop. “What is the problem you two have with one another? You used to get along fine, now you’re practically at each other’s throats all the time.”
In response the accused threw each other a dirty glare.
Akane spoke first. “I am a girl. I don’t want to be engaged to another one.”
“I feel the same way,” Shampoo-kun retorted. “Especially to someone as ugly as you.”
Akane’s face twitched for a moment before she replied. “Why you arrogant bimbo! At least I know what gender I like!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?!”
“I’ve seen the way you look at girls sometimes, and it’s not the way a normal girl looks at them.”
“I do not! I only like boys!”
Ranma-chan stopped it before the two of them came to blows. “Stop it! Both of you! Can’t you two get along, please? I want my mom to think her son’s a good guy, even if it isn’t really me.”
Shampoo-kun shook his head. “You is asking too much.”
“I’ll do it,” Akane answered, giving the Amazon a satisfied grin.
Shampoo-kun returned the scowl. He was damned if he was going to be upstaged by her. The black-haired boy agreed to get along with Akane better, allowing Ranma-chan to give a sigh of relief. Things were finally going her way. Sort of.
Later that night Nodoka waited for her son and Akane to come back from their date. It was wonderful. The two had decided to go on a date without any encouragement from her or their fathers. Surprisingly, both of them were subdued about that for some odd reason. The two had even retired to some quiet corner of the house to talk about something, leaving Nodoka alone to wait for the pair to return.
Eventually the duo did indeed return. When they entered through the gates they seemed startled to see Nodoka waiting for them. The two quickly held hands, much to Nodoka’s delight. At last they were acting like a couple instead of a pair of cats and dogs. “Did you two have a good time?”
Akane and Shampoo-kun looked at one another. Their date had consisted of one of the few movies they could agree upon, a very plain dinner, and constant sniping at one another. The only thing they could agree upon was that hanging out with Happosai would have been worse.
“It was great,” Akane said with all the enthusiasm she could muster.
“Yes,” Shampoo-kun agreed. “It was a real good time. Almost as much fun as skating against The Golden Pair.”
Nodoka missed the reference and continued smiling at the couple. “Aren’t you going to kiss?” Nodoka had never seen two people turn green that fast.
The two looked at one another with something less than affection.
“Sure,” Akane said as though being escorted to the gallows. “It’s what engaged couples do.”
“I guess so,” Shampoo-kun reluctantly agreed.
The two stood looking at one another for a couple minutes until before Nodoka spoke up. “I realize you two want to savor the moment, but you should actually kiss to enjoy it.”
The two gave each other a sick look, then leaned forward and allowed their lips to touch in the most unromantic kiss of the year.
“That was wonderful. It’s so nice to see you two finally getting along. And you enjoyed it so much.”
The duo looked at one another more closely. Since each one had turned an even deeper shade of green, they were forced to conclude Ranma’s mother fit somewhere just under Kunou on the deluded scale.
Having seen the date to its conclusion, Nodoka went back inside. Akane and Shampoo-kun remained where they were for a few moments before speaking to one another.
“I feel like ripping my lips off,” Akane said.
“For once, I agree with you.”
The two looked at one another and came to a decision.
“I get the mouthwash first,” Akane swore.
“No way!” Shampoo-kun took off when the words left his mouth, not bothering to wait for the inevitable verbal sparring match to begin. He headed straight for the bathroom. After slamming his knee into a table Akane managed to catch up to him and raced alongside the Amazon. Both were so intent on getting to there first neither noticed the in use sign on the door. Two hands fell on the doorknob at the same time and forced the door open and rushed blindly inside.
Kasumi was resting in the bathtub when her head darted towards the intruders, her arms coming up in front of her in a hasty attempt to cover herself. Upon recognizing them she relaxed and sat back in the tub. “How did your date go?”
“We kissed and now I have to purify my lips before I get something from her!” Shampoo-kun shouted as he struggled with Akane over the mouthwash.
“HEY!!! I didn’t have my tetanus shots either! Besides, I feel like I’m going to throw up!” Akane snapped back.
“Judging from your breath, I thought you had!” Shampoo-kun snapped back.
Kasumi was surprised she felt a bit of pride at Shampoo-kun’s reaction to kissing Akane. He hadn’t been that way when they kissed. In fact, she was certain he enjoyed it as much as she had, as well as the other things they had done together. For the briefest of moments, her mind drifted back to the wonderful time they had on that weekend they spent together, and Shampoo-kun’s electric touch, when Nodoka entered through the still partially open door.
“I heard a loud noise, is everything all…” she trailed off as she fully took in the scene before her.
It took Shampoo-kun a moment himself to understand just how bad the situation appeared. Panic overtook him. “Mother! This is not what you think!”
Whatever else was going to be said was cut off by Nodoka’s raised finger. “I want to talk to you, alone.”
The tone indicated she would brook no arguments, so Shampoo-kun obeyed and followed Nodoka out of the room. Just as he closed the door behind him he heard loud gargling from inside. If he hadn’t been so panicked over Nodoka he would have lamented Akane’s victory over him.
The two entered their empty bedroom, no Genma to be found. Shampoo-kun’s eyes fell upon the wrapped up katana. Nodoka had stopped carrying it around by the second day she stayed at the Tendos, convinced Shampoo-kun was a man among men. Was the blade going to fall into her hands once again?
“Mother,” Shampoo-kun began.
Nodoka cut him off. “There’s no need for explanations.”
“Th… there isn’t?” Wonderful. It appeared the older woman wasn’t in a listening mood and Shampoo-kun was going to have to run for it. As much as it galled him to flee, he couldn’t quite bring himself to strike her. Ranma would never forgive him.
Nodoka had a tear in her eye as she spoke once again. “I’m so happy that my son is so manly.”
Naturally Shampoo-kun facefaulted at that. Upon recovering he began to express his bewilderment. “What are you talking about?”
“I didn’t realize you peeped.” Nodoka was still beaming with pride. “You should have told me. I’m so proud of you!”
“You must be joking,” was all the Amazon could get out. No way was the woman that weird.
“Of course not,” she answered. “I hadn’t realized your father taught that to you. I’m afraid your technique leaves a lot to be desired, though your heart is in the right place. There are a couple of things I would like to clear up. First, you should hide behind something when you peek at women. Being in plain sight just ruins the effect. Second, you should really only be trying to look at Akane. I could clearly see she was jealous of you trying to watch Kasumi. I think if you try peeping on Akane a few times it will improve your relationship immensely.”
Shampoo-kun kept his commentary about Nodoka’s sanity to himself. Of course maybe there was a grain of truth in her way of thinking. Shampoo-kun would not have minded Ranma trying to peep at him when he was in his proper girl form, but it still seemed like something Happosai would have come up with.
That had been more than enough confusion for one night. He changed for bed, wondering what he was going to tell Ranma about what his mother was really like.
More days passed and disaster nearly struck when Nodoka decided to share a bath with ‘Shampoo.’ Since Ranma was already in the hot water and decidedly male, he was forced to jump out the window right before Nodoka entered the bath. He was also quite naked at the time and had to flag down Kasumi to get him some clothes. Afterwards Shampoo-kun panicked when Ranma-chan asked him suspiciously when Kasumi had seen him naked as a guy. Apparently the eldest Tendo girl mentioned something about him looking better in the buff than Ranma. The Amazon recovered enough to mention the accidental bathroom dousing he suffered right before the encounter with Ryu Kumon, which Ranma-chan seemed to buy that as an explanation.
Akane and Shampoo-kun reverted to their warring ways, each day becoming more and more offensive to one another. The tensions really started to flare between the two, and then spread to Ranma-chan. The cursed duo especially had a bad time of it because of all the time they were spending in their Jusenkyou gained forms. For Shampoo-kun it was worse. No matter how hard he tried he found his temper becoming more and more frayed with each passing day. He even snapped at Kasumi once. About the only thing that could calm him down was Ranma-chan. The only bright spot during those days was the time spent with the redhead when they could talk. Even then the hours passed too quickly. The duo’s closeness did not go unnoticed.
It was several days after Ranma’s bathroom incident when Nodoka asked Shampoo-kun to help clean the table. The Amazon had started to loathe the woman who forced him into the current situation. How foolish she had been in making some vague promise of allowing Genma to turn her son into a man among men.
While they were cleaning, Shampoo-kun decided it would be a good time to broach the subject he had wanted to discuss with his ‘mother’. By now there was little doubt Nodoka though of her son as a man, so he had some leeway in expressing his thoughts.
“Mother,” he began.
“What would you say if I told you I loved someone other than Akane?” Nodoka’s response surprised Shampoo-kun. She actually seemed overjoyed.
“Oh, Ranma! Thank you for confiding this with me. At last you’re thinking of me as someone you can be open with. We’re finally communicating with one another.”
Shampoo-kun recoiled a little. “What do you mean?!”
“I know who you’re talking about. It took me a while, but over the last few days I became convinced that was what the situation was. I know exactly who it is. Shampoo.”
The Amazon was taken aback by that. He had been certain he had never exhibited any outward signs of affection around Ranma-chan. “You know?”
“Yes.” Some of her joy passed as she became more serious. “You’re my son. I watch you constantly. I couldn’t help but notice the soft stares you give her when you think she isn’t looking. The longing you suddenly express in little ways when she leaves the room. It’s obvious to anyone who knows what’s she’s looking for, and under different circumstances I wouldn’t mind Shampoo being your mistress.”
Shampoo-kun’s jaw nearly dropped in shock. “You wouldn’t?”
“Of course not,” Nodoka answered. “You’re a young man and still single. This is the time you should ‘sow your wild oats,’ as the saying goes. I’m sure it’s a bit intoxicating having a foreign girl as your mistress and she is a very pretty girl, if a bit of a tomboy.”
Nodoka seemed to deflate a little. “If you still lived under our roof I could probably let this pass, but we’re living off the Tendos’ charity now, and I understand Akane well enough to know she would never accept you having a mistress, and her feelings are what really matters. It’s obvious you’re the reason Shampoo and Akane don’t get along and that there’s such tension between them. Akane has even struck her with hammers in anger over you. It is nice to know Shampoo understands her place and doesn’t attempt to strike back, but all of that must come to an end. You have to break off your affair with the girl and forget about her. The time is fast approaching when you and Akane are going to be wed, and it’s best to clear up this matter before the date is set.”
Shampoo-kun was outraged. It could just as easily have been him that was being discarded if the situation was reversed. “What about my feelings? Why should I have to marry Akane if I don’t even like her?”
“I’m sure some of your confusion stems from having Shampoo so close to you. Once she’s out of the picture, Akane will settle down and you will see what a sweet girl she really is.”
“She’s a violent gorilla!”
“That will be enough of that, young man,” Nodoka warned. “You mustn’t refer to Akane in that manner. The situation is difficult enough as it is without you making it worse. Try to be more sympathetic to Akane’s plight. She knows you’re in the arms of another woman. What if she was having an affair with another man?”
“I’d give them two tickets to wherever they wanted to go and wish them a safe voyage,” he answered seriously.
“Ranma, start taking your fiancée seriously.”
“NO!” Shampoo-kun shouted. “I no love her! Why won’t you listen to what I want? Why do I have to marry someone I don’t love and discard the one I do? It’s wrong!”
Nodoka shook her head sadly. “I see your father didn’t place the morals in you he should have. It’s a matter of family honor. You cannot simply say ‘I don’t want to marry her,’ and go gallivanting about as though nothing’s wrong. We promised our family bloodline would be united with the Tendo’s. Nothing must get in the way of that. I’m sorry if you truly love someone else, Ranma, but nothing can come of it. You will fulfill our family obligation.”
“Guess again,” Shampoo-kun turned and walked away. His suspicion that Nodoka would try to stop him was put to rest when she remained in the kitchen, leaving him to walk off alone. It was just as well, he was damned if he was going to listen to that nonsense about family obligations. Ranma did not love Akane and Shampoo-kun would never let anything like that occur.
He retired to one of the few places Nodoka did not frequent: the rooftop. As he arrived he noticed there was already another occupant present. “What you doing here, Ranma?”
Ranma-chan did not bother to look at the newcomer, having been aware of who it was long before the Amazon came into sight. “Looking at the stars and trying to stop from being depressed.”
“Is it working?”
“Do I look happy?”
Answering ‘no’ would be stating the obvious. He couldn’t recall a time when she appeared so despondent. Carefully he walked over and sat down next to the smaller girl. “Can I do anything to help?”
“Figure out a way for me to openly acknowledge to my mother that I’m really her son without her chopping my head off,” Ranma-chan sighed.
“I don’t know how. If I did I would be doing it right now. She’s nothing but trouble.”
Ranma-chan picked up on the insinuation. “What happened?”
As much as Shampoo-kun wanted to be honest with Ranma-chan, she would probably not react well to the idea that Shampoo-kun had been trying to break off the engagement without her consent. Not that it wasn’t in the redhead’s best self-interest. “We just had a little fight. It’s nothing to worry about.”
Somehow, Ranma-chan didn’t agree. “Shampoo, please try to get along with my mother. I know the last couple of weeks have been rough for you—“
“Rough for me?!” he shouted in disbelief. “It’s been hell. I can’t stand being a boy anymore. At school I’m a guy and here I’m one too. I can’t go out alone or for long because your mother watches me like a hawk, and I’m afraid when we talk I’ll let something slip about me being an Amazon or I’ll get splashed with hot water and have her come after me with her sword. I hate this!”
Ranma-chan matched the distraught Amazon with her own sigh of helplessness at the situation. “Do you think it’s any easier for me? I’m just as stuck as you are, and I have to pretend I’m someone else to a mother that I can’t even remember. Do you know how much I just want to hold her and have her hold me back? I want to be in your shoes so much you can’t begin to imagine it. I would give just about anything to let her know who I really am and tell her how much I love her. I try to do nice things for her as a girl, but it’s not the same thing. And it’s all starting to get to me.”
“Then let’s run away together!” Shampoo-kun offered. “Let’s leave all of this behind and travel on the road like we used to without a care in the world and staying just one step ahead of trouble.”
Ranma-chan seriously considered that. “I have to admit, as much as I like having roots I do feel the need to hit the road again, at least for a little while. You don’t wander around as much as I did and not enjoy the feel of the road beneath your feet. Being in one place for so long feels really weird. Not bad weird, but different weird. There was a lot to be said when we were traveling across China, wasn’t there?”
Shampoo-kun nodded his head in agreement. All Ranma-chan had to do was say the word and the two of them could set off that very night.
“But I can’t see Akane wanting to go along. I don’t know why, but I just can’t picture her as the itinerant martial artist. She’s definitely more of a stay at home kind of girl.” That was when Shampoo-kun began to laugh, and Ranma-chan picked up on the fact it wasn’t the happy kind either. “What’s wrong?”
Shampoo-kun managed to contain his ironic mirth. It always came back to Akane. “You just wouldn’t understand, not that you even want to.”
“And just what’s that supposed to mean?” Ranma-chan’s temper was beginning to flare. Shampoo-kun was nearly as impossible to understand as Akane. No, that wasn’t exactly true. He was much worse.
He drew closer to Ranma-chan, looking deep into her eyes and bringing his hands up to gently caress her smooth, pale cheeks. “You don’t know? Would you like me to show you? It’s like nothing you’ve ever felt before.”
The changes Ranma-chan underwent with Shampoo-kun’s close proximity astonished even her. As he drew close, her heart began to beat faster and she felt something well up from inside her. There was fear, which screamed at her to run away from him. And there was an unexpected desire like nothing she had ever experienced before, and that painful longing overrode any instincts to flee. An overwhelming sense of deja-vu flooded her as she drew closer to him herself. Buried inside was a yearning to meet with his lips once again, even though it had never happened before, or at least that she could remember.
Ranma-chan removed hands that wanted nothing more than to cradle her face by gently pushing them aside. The confusion within Shampoo-kun that resulted from that action was displaced as Ranma-chan amazingly took the initiative by bringing her own hands up and gently cradling his face. She was moving of her own accord, taking control of the situation and making all the moves.
Shampoo-kun let himself go as the redhead moved her face close to his, allowing the tips of their noses to brush before turning her lips away from his. The deep breath she exhaled played across the skin of his right cheek, making his own heart race fast enough that it felt as though it would burst out of his chest. She began to stand up, leaving her hands still cradling his face while she looked down at the sitting Amazon and drew her body closer to him. Her breasts lightly contacted his face as she rose, and his body reacted accordingly, despite the fact there was material of her clothing between the contact points.
Adrenaline raced through him, heightening his senses and driving him into a near frenzy. He WANTED her. In the past there had been desire, but nothing that incited him like now. It had to have come from the increasing time he was spending as a male, but at the moment that did not matter. Nothing else mattered. He burned for her, needed her, and it had to happen now.
She raised his face to hers, drinking deeply into his green eyes once more. Slowly she bent down and prepared to bring her slightly parted lips to his when a voice broke the spell.
Shampoo-kun felt passion switch to rage as Ranma-chan’s hands left him and she stared in shock in the direction of the sound. He spun in fury on the voice that had dared to interrupt them. It was Nodoka, who had placed a ladder on the opposite side of the house and came over. She had the audacity to scowl at him as though he was the one that had done something wrong, but the scowl disappeared as she noticed the hateful stare he gave her. At that moment the youth she believed was her son looked more like an enraged animal.
“Stay back!” he snarled, then turned to say something to Ranma-chan. There was nothing but air next to him. He snapped his head around, just barely making out Ranma-chan’s red-shirted form leaping away from roof to roof at top speed. She was already almost out of sight.
“Let her go.”
Shampoo-kun turned to Nodoka once again. “It’s your fault she ran away!” Not waiting for the response, the Amazon headed off in the direction Ranma-chan had taken. It did him no good. The girl was far quicker and was lost from sight within seconds. A quick search showed she was nowhere to be found. It had been so close. Shampoo-kun cursed the day he ever set eyes on Nodoka Saotome.
Ukyou was almost finished cleaning up when the doors to her restaurant burst open. “We’re closed.” She looked up to see the visitor, and knew something was wrong the moment she laid eyes on him. “What’s wrong, Ranma?”
“Hot water, now!” the redhead commanded, all the while appearing as though she was going to cry.
Ukyou moved to grab the kettle of water she left heating. “Would you tell me what’s wrong?”
“I NEED HOT WATER!!!”
Ukyou grabbed the kettle and held it before Ranma-chan. She was more than a little concerned about her oldest friend’s behavior. Her Ranchan never yelled at her. “It’s a little hot,” she started to say, but Ranma-chan was in no mood to listen as she ripped the kettle out of Ukyou’s grasp and poured the near boiling contents over herself.
“Whoa,” Ukyou whispered under her breath. Ranma must have been really desperate to pour something that hot over himself. “Now that you’re a guy, would you tell me what’s wrong? Did you think you were locked in girl form or something?”
Ranma shook his head. “I can’t tell you,” he explained, then said softly. “Thank Kami I changed.”
Ukyou watched him just stand there for close to five minutes, remaining motionless the entire time.
“I’m not going back,” he finally spoke out loud.
Ukyou just stared at him a moment. “You can crash here if you want.”
Some of the Ranma she knew crept into his voice. “You sure you don’t mind?”
She just smiled at him. “Of course not. Can you tell me what happened?”
“No,” he said just a little too quickly. “I just need to lie down and be a guy for a while.”
She immediately led him to her bedroom, putting him up with Ryouga was just asking to have the whole place destroyed, and let him sit on her bed. “You just rest,” she recommended as she took note that the sheets were good ones. There was no reason to let Ranma think she was a pig, not that he would really notice anyway.
“I will,” he said as he absently made himself comfortable while staring at the walls, deep in thought about something.
Realizing she was going to get nothing further out of him at the present, she went back downstairs to finish the cleaning, leaving Ranma to sit and think.
Ranma’s mind replayed what had happened on the roof over and over again. It was taking everything he had to keep from crying out in rage over what he had almost done. The situation with his mother had to be resolved soon. His being female almost twenty-four hours a day was beginning to take its toll, or maybe it was from the blow the head that had shifted his personality. How could he have been so twisted? Unlike the previous times, like during the dance at Kanemoto Towers, when he looked at Shampoo through his cursed form’s eyes his emotions were centered on what the Amazon looked like before her change. But this time was different. When he looked at Shampoo-kun the feeling of desire was for the Amazon’s male form.
He had been attracted to a man.
Ukyou was finishing cleaning up when she received her second visitor of the evening.
“Sorry, Ai,” Ukyou said before the cheerleader could make herself comfortable. “I’m busy tonight. Maybe we can get together some other time.”
“Ranchan came over and he looked pretty messed up. I’m going to spend the night with him.”
Ai recoiled at that. “Spend the night with him? I thought we were friends and did things together.” She gave Ukyou a hurt look. “Can I at least join the two of you? I like threesomes, even if it means sharing you with someone else. If that’s what you want to do I’ll understand and go along with it. I can even give advice on the best positions to use.”
“I don’t mean it that way!” Ukyou shouted. “I have no intention of doing anything with him. I just mean I don’t think he should be left alone.”
“Oh,” Ai thought she should have known better. Ukyou didn’t give her affections so easily. “Can I stay over anyway?”
“That’s a bad idea.”
“Please.” Ai gave her best ‘puppy dog eyes’ expression. There were few that could resist that one.
Ai’s shoulders sagged as she dropped her head to the floor. “I’ll do as you command.” She started to leave.
Ukyou recognized the signs immediately. The same thing had happened once before when Ai had caught Ukyou in a bad mood and started making similar suggestions. The chef barked an order to her and that happened. It was like someone flipped a switch in the cheerleader and she became a docile pet. There was no way Ukyou would leave her in that state.
“We can do something together tomorrow night. I promise.”
Ai remained in her submissive state. “Are you sure? I don’t want to trouble you. I’ll do what you ask.”
“It’s no trouble,” Ukyou assured her. “And I’m sorry I yelled at you. It’s just been a long night.”
“You don’t ever need to apologize to me.” Ai said as she at last cheered up and left the restaurant in much higher spirits.
Ai hadn’t made it more than a couple of blocks when she came across Ryouga, who appeared as lost as usual. She was going to ignore him and move on when the lost one caught sight of her.
“I want to talk with you, Ai.”
Ai shook her head. There were plenty of reasons why she didn’t care for the lost one, and most of them had to do with the relationship he had with her chef. “What is it?” she asked in a tired voice.
“It’s about you and Ukyou.”
“Yes,” she said in a more tired voice, praying he wouldn’t bore her any longer than he had to.
“I want you to stay away from her.”
That was a mistake. Immediately Ai went into her aggression mode. “What do you mean by that?”
Ryouga missed the change and continued on, trying to remember all of the points he wanted to make in his big speech. “You know what I mean. You’re trying to twist her around and make her perverted, just like you. Ukyou is not that way and doesn’t like girls. So leave her alone.”
“Where the hell do you get off telling me what to do?!” Ai growled.
“I’m Uk-chan’s friend.”
“HA! Friend? You’re nothing of the kind!” Ai snarled, holding nothing back. “I know what you’re real game is. You want to keep her away from me so you can have her all to yourself.”
“Th… that’s not true.” And it wasn’t. He just wanted Ukyou to have a good normal life, and to talk to him like she used to. He didn’t want her all to himself. He just wanted things to go back to the way they were. It was all for Ukyou’s benefit.
“Yes it is. You want to string her along like you did before and have Kyoko on the side too. You might have Ukyou fooled, but you can’t deceive me. I know you for what you are; a typical male that wants all the women for himself. Well I’ll never let you hurt her again!”
“What do you mean ‘again.’? I never hurt her before.”
That got him a punch in the gut. “Liar! Only a complete moron would have missed all the signals she sent to you before started going out with Kyoko, and a lot of the ones afterwards. She couldn’t have made her interest in you more obvious if she tore off her clothes and jumped you on the spot. But all you did was string her along, making yourself look good while cruising for another piece of ass, and once you got it you put MY sweet Ukyou in the background. I could see the pain in her during that time and it hurt me almost as much!
“Well it didn’t work out the way you wanted, jerk! She’s broken free of whatever attraction she felt for someone as pitiful as you and is finally turning her affections to a person that’s more worthy of them and who will return them just as much. I won’t let her pine after someone who isn’t worthy to lick her boots. I’ve got my eye on you Hibiki, and if you even think of trying to hurt my love again, or try to weasel your way into her heart, I’ll rip your guts out!” Ai waited for the response. She was willing to bet he would rage at her and call her a pervert or dyke and swear to make Ukyou’s his once again. Then the two would fight. So long as Ai was fighting for her love she would be invincible.
“You really think she used to like me?” he said sheepishly while looking down at the ground and twiddling his thumbs.
Ryouga wandered into his home in almost record time. Fate must have been on his side to have discovered it so quickly. He followed the small chalk arrows he had drawn on the side of the walls that led to his bedroom. From there he could see Ukyou’s room in his direct line of sight and get to it without a problem. He mentally went over what he wanted to say, then approached the door. His hand raised and lowered three times before knocking, and with the final rap on the door he lowered his head to the floor. There was no way he could look into her eyes and find the courage to ask the question that needed to be said.
Ryouga heard the door open. If he didn’t blurt it out quickly he wasn’t going to say it. “Do you like me?” There was a pause. That was good. It meant she was seriously considering the question.
“Like’s such a strong word. Let’s go with don’t actively dislike and leave it at that.”
The veins in Ryouga’s forehead began to rise. His head darted up to seek the visual conformation that the ears had already bestowed upon him. It was Ranma. In Ukyou’s bedroom. Ryouga had been humiliated and his Uk-chan molested. Now death would follow.
“RANMA!!! PREPARE TO D—“
Ryouga-bat shook itself dry and looked to see who had splashed him with water. Ukyou stood there with an empty pail in hand as her eyes burned holes through him. “Get… out… now,” she said through gritted teeth.
Ryouga-bat squeed at her that it was all Ranma’s fault.
Ukyou knew what was being said, even if she couldn’t understand it. “Ranma did not do anything! It’s you! It’s always you! You are always the one who starts everything! You once asked me to give you a chance to get over this obsession you have with Ranma. Well I have, and you failed miserably. You’re like some kind of stuck record that keeps repeating itself over and over again. I will not tolerate you attacking my friend any more. From now on if you want to pick a fight with him, you can do it somewhere else. And I hope he beats you up, too.”
For the first time in his life Ryouga now understood what Mousse meant when he talked about receiving an icy stare from the woman he loved and how much it could hurt. Yes. That was what Ukyou gave him now. All he could do was cower before her glare.
“I said leave.”
That snapped him out of it as Ryouga-bat took flight, traveling out the restaurant and into the night skies.
Ukyou stared coldly at the direction Ryouga-bat’s flight took. Ranma observed her for a few moments before speaking himself. “That was a little cold, Ucchan.”
She turned to him. “He tried to pick a fight with you, like always.”
“Yeah. But I’m used to it and it’s not like he’s going to win. Besides, this is where he lives and I am sort of an intruder to him.”
“It’s my home and you are not an intruder,” Ukyou said flatly.
“I know,” he reassured her. “He’s just being protective. And it’s not like I want to see him thrown out into the street. He’s basically a real good guy. He just has some screwed up ideas.” Even Ranma found it difficult to believe he was defending Ryouga of all people.
Ukyou seemed to relent with Ranma’s defense. “I’ll let him stay, but it’ll serve him right to spend the night outside for a change. Maybe he’ll learn to appreciate what he has instead of what he doesn’t.”
“Yeah,” Ranma chuckled. “And maybe pigs will learn to fly.”
“I have to finish up downstairs. It’ll take me a little while, then we can talk if you like, or just relax. We’ll do whatever you want to do.”
“All right,” Ranma said. “It’ll be nice to hang around with you. We really haven’t spent much time together lately. ”
“You’re right. We’ll get a chance to make up for some lost time. It’ll be just the two of us.”
A sound awakened Kyoko from the pleasant dream she was having. She rubbed her eyes as she awakened, and tried to locate the source of the sound. It was coming from the window. She looked to see a black, winged form making noises at her window.
“Ryouga-kun!” she said too loudly. Instantly she listened to hear if any sounds came from out in the hall. No, she had not awakened her parents. She opened the window and allowed Ryouga-bat inside. Effortlessly he landed on her bed and stared at her. It took Kyoko a second to pick up on his problem.
“I’ll get you hot water.” She slipped out to the hall and returned a few moments later with a glass of hot water, dumping the contents on Ryouga-bat and triggering the change.
Kyoko stared at him for a moment. She had forgotten that he would be naked when he became uncursed. As quickly as she covered her eyes there was more than a little regret that she could not examine him more thoroughly.
“Why are you here?” Kyoko asked. Was he here to try to do something with her?
“I need a place to stay.”
She heard the sadness in is voice. He hadn’t come over for that sort of thing. “Of course you can stay here.”
“Do you have any clothes I can borrow?” he asked.
She left her eyes closed and pointed in the direction of her closet. Ryouga went through it and tried to find something that would be acceptable and fit him. Over ninety percent of the clothing was dresses. There was no way he was going to wear something like that, even for a little while. He was not a pervert, like Ranma. Eventually he found a ‘Hello Kitty’ shirt and matching shorts that were two sizes too small for him. Too bad Kyoko was so much smaller than him; if she had been closer to Ukyou in height the garments wouldn’t have been so… tight in some places.
“I’ll sleep on the floor,” he offered.
Kyoko finally opened her eyes. “You don’t have to do that, Ryouga-kun. You can sleep in my bed with me.”
He felt the blood rush to his head, cutting through his depression. Sleep with her?
“I know you are the total gentleman and won’t try to do anything with me.”
Oh. She just meant sleep. Not sleep. Ryouga figured he had been hanging around Ai too long. He really did not have a perverted mind; it was all her influence that made him think that way. Kyoko was a nice girl and didn’t do things like that, just like Ukyou.
“I’ll double check to make sure that door’s locked. And you’ll have to leave before my parents wake up. If Daddy caught you sleeping in my bed, we really would have a shotgun wedding. I wouldn’t want that to happen to you.”
“Right,” Ryouga agreed.
“I would want you to propose to me.”
[P… p… p… p… propose?!] Ryouga mentally stuttered out.
“Let’s get some sleep.” She indicated Ryouga should get into the bed first.
He climbed into the bed, followed by Kyoko. She was wearing thick pajamas that hid everything underneath, so even as close as they slept together in the bed, and Kyoko made certain to snuggle up next to him, he was able to stave off the reactions he had as best as he could. He was not Ranma. He would not take advantage of trusting girls like Kyoko. He was a real man.
After about half an hour of tension he heard Kyoko gently snoring. He paused a moment to examine her sleeping face. She really was cute. Almost as cute as Uk…
He allowed his thoughts to trail off. Ukyou hated him now. Best just to get her out of his mind, as if he could do that. He watched Kyoko’s face for a while, allowing it to superimpose on the image of Ukyou in his mind. Once that was successful he started to relax. Just as he was about to lie back he took one last look at Kyoko’s face. She looked so peaceful and angelic. Every bit a proper girl. There was the slightest smile on her face as she mumbled “Ryouga-kun” under her breath.
She dreamed about him? That was very flattering and made him titter nervously. He wondered what sort of dreams a nice, normal girl like her would have of the two of them. Ryouga thought maybe they would have a nice little home, like she had. He would have a job and be reading a newspaper while she watched their son and daughter.
Somewhere in Kyoko’s mind, subconscious desires allowed a dream to take shape:
“CALL ME QUEEN, RYOUGA-KUN!!!” The whip descended.
Yes. Nice normal everyday actions. Something Ryouga lacked all his life and wanted so much. Thoughts became dreams as he lay back, though every now and then it seemed to be Ukyou instead of Kyoko as his wife.
Nabiki waved goodbye to her friends once again as she left their house and went out into the slightly chilled night air. For someone that handled as much money as she did one would think math would come easily to her. But ironically it was her worst subject, and she frequently went to her friend’s place for cramming before the big tests, like tonight.
She was more than halfway home when the voice spoke out from off to her left.
“How’s it going, Nab-chan?”
She cringed at the sound of the hateful voice. The only thing she wanted to hear from Tarou were either the sounds of begging or the cries of pain. “What do you want?” she asked coldly.
“Now, now, now. Is that anyway to talk to me?” he said as he approached to stand next to her, using his superior height to look down upon her. “I’ve heard a lot of rumors around lately, and I wanted to back check them with you.”
“Since you’re running the show, as you like to say, why do you need me? I don’t know anything anymore.”
“Oh, but you do,” he said carefully. “You have the most valuable information of all.”
“Do you mean Akane?” Even Tarou had better watch himself when it came to Nabiki’s little sister. She was not about to let him get anything on Akane.
“If I need to know anything about Akane, I’ll ask her. Unlike you, I’m trusted. There aren’t any secrets between us.” He was glossing over things. Akane kept stuff from him all the time, but why let Nabiki know that?
“So what is it, then?” She was tired of playing word games with him. Every time he opened his mouth she wanted to scream in rage at him.
Tarou scowled at her then, a look that would have unnerved others and simply served to make Nabiki loathe him even more. “I hear Fem-boy’s been going around as a girl an awful lot. No one’s even seen him as a guy for close to two weeks. What’s the deal with that?”
Nabiki had some choices to make. It seemed unlikely that Pantyhose had asked Akane about it, unless this was some way he had of double checking the information, but he still could. The question then would become one of if Nabiki lied what were the odds of Akane informing Pantyhose of Ranma’s little problem with his mother and finding out the truth? Her low, compliant profile needed to be maintained so Pantyhose would underestimate her. All he needed to do was make one mistake and he was done for. But once Pantyhose knew of Ranma’s problem he would almost certainly find some way to exploit it. It was Ranma’s welfare versus Akane’s welfare, no choice at all for Nabiki.
She informed Tarou of Ranma’s promise to his mother. Nabiki saw his eyes fairly glow at the statement.
“That’s incredible. I can hardly believe it. You’re sure you’ve got that right? I’ll be very… disappointed with you if you’re lying,” Tarou warned.
She reemphasized it all, leaving a smiling Tarou as he pondered what to do next.
“I’ve got to think about this,” he said to himself, then returned his attention to Nabiki. “Since you’ve given me such valuable information, let me tell you something that will brighten your day. Remember that Ryonami girl that you had a fight with a while back?”
Nabiki felt her blood chill. Why was he mentioning Ryonami to her? “Yes.”
“She’s in the hospital now, I’m afraid.”
Nabiki kept her emotions in check. It was painfully obvious to her trained eye he was watching her intently trying to gauge her response. “What happened?” she inquired in as emotionless a voice as she could muster.
“I found her and some other guy were extorting some money on the side. At first I thought she got some list off of you, which would have made me very unhappy. But as I ‘talked’ to her she stayed true to her story that it was all her doing. I just can’t believe someone that knows you for who you are would take that kind of pain to protect you. No one as smart as that girl is would be suckered by a snake like you. So I shall apologize for doubting you. You’ve been a good little informer, and I want to keep it that way. Why, eventually we’re going to become family and we can put all of this terrible business behind us.”
He took a deep breath and looked at the stars in the night sky. “You know, I’m honestly getting tired of all this wheeling and dealing. I’m a hands-on kind of guy. I guess it just takes a special kind of person to enjoy this sort of work.” He turned to go. “I’ll be seeing you, Nab-chan.”
He left then, allowing Nabiki to watch his figure disappear in the darkness. All that she could think of was that Ryonami had been hurt for her benefit. It was all her fault. Tomorrow she would find out where her injured friend was being kept, Tarou be damned. He would pay. Oh how he was going to pay. She was going to see to it he knew pain for the rest of his life.
Shampoo-kun was running out of places to look for Ranma. His search had taken him more than halfway across Nerima when the obvious occurred to him.
Uk-Chan’s was undoubtedly closed, but Ukyou would accept Ranma in if he were looking for a place to stay. He went up to the door and pounded on it loudly until Ukyou showed up, clad only in a robe.
“It’s late, Shampoo.”
The Amazon noticed that despite the protest Ukyou appeared to be wide-awake. Ai might have been the one keeping her up, but it could have been Ranma as well. “I’ve been looking for Ranma. He ran off without any explanations and I haven’t heard from him all night. I’m worried.”
“He’s fine,” Ukyou reassured him. “He said he wants to be stay here for a couple of days. He says he needs to be a guy for a while and this will keep him from being under his mother’s nose.”
“Thanks goodness,” Shampoo-kun sighed. “I want to talk to him.” Surprisingly, he found his way blocked by the chef.
“I can’t let you in,” Ukyou warned seriously.
Shampoo-kun’s eyebrows rose up in surprise. “Why?”
“Ranma also said he wants to be alone. And that meant everybody.”
“I know he didn’t mean me.”
“He specifically said everyone.”
Shampoo-kun looked painfully at her. “Did he say my name in particular?”
Ukyou nodded. “He said yours and Akane’s first.”
That was a relief to him. If all it was about was the incident on the roof Ranma would have just mentioned the Amazon. If what Ranma really wanted was privacy Shampoo-kun would give it to him. Reluctantly. “Tell me truthfully, Ukyou. Is he all right?”
Ukyou nodded her head. “He’s really stressed out, but I think he’ll be fine. As long as he can be a guy, at least for a while, then he’ll feel a whole lot better. He said he’ll call to let you know how he’s doing.”
“Take care of him,” Shampoo-kun warned as he turned to leave.
Ukyou felt that went without saying, but Shampoo-kun was obviously searching for reassurance. “Of course.”
It took Shampoo-kun nearly five minutes to walk far enough that he was out of sight of the restaurant. How much of what happened did Ranma blame him for? How much had he been responsible for? These were questions that were not going to receive answers in the near future. All he could hope for was Ranma’s safe return.
The freebooters ship, The Spirit of Wonder:
Perfume put the finishing touches on her concealed weapon, trying the slightly oversized bracer on her forearm. It was a trifle heavy, but nothing that would slow down a warrior as good as her. Hopefully there would never come a time when she would need it. Otherwise, a whole lot of questions would have to be answered and she didn’t feel like explaining her actions to the world at large.
Her hunt pack had finally made their way to a ship and were heading towards Japan. There were two stops that had to be made enroute to their destination, but she was in no hurry. Surely Silk had made it back to Japan and already warned Shampoo of the danger, which meant that with any luck Shampoo would have left almost immediately, and the trail to follow her would be cold by now.
The only possible complication Perfume foresaw, the only reason Shampoo would do something foolish and remain behind, would be the Saotome boy. Unless Perfume was a terrible judge of character, Shampoo was painfully in love with the boy. He had been one of the reasons the purple-haired Amazon had managed to fight through the guilt and defeat Perfume in the end. And if she was in love and the boy refused to leave, she just might stay by his side. Perfume had heard love did that to a person, that it made them act in imbecilic ways, but fortunately she was above such moronic behavior. Being firmly grounded in reality she did what had to be done. There were no daydreams for her. The Shampoo that Perfume had known was an overly emotional one and tended to react on feeling instead of thought, but even she would not be stupid enough to wait for the pack to come to Japan. No. The whole idea was a foolish notion, but one that Perfume could not get out of her head.
A gentle rapping on her door interrupted her thoughts. There was little doubt it was one of her Amazon sisters that wanted something. They were still like a bunch of children sometimes and Perfume had to act as their guardian. If this experience did nothing else it convinced Perfume she was going to wait several years before trying to have children, especially since she still had to meet the kind of man that could adjust to the criteria she sought for in a male.
The door opened and a small fat man with sunglasses, buckteeth, and an absurd looking red and white striped shirt with blue pants stood in the doorway. “Someone has requested your presence on the main deck, ma’am. I’m here to accompany you. If you would follow me.” He made a sweeping motion with his arm indicating Perfume should follow.
The pink haired Amazon did not know what to make of the situation. The short man appeared to be some kind of crewman. “Who wants to meet me?”
“A very powerful being that has graced you with its presence. Few are those that ever get to encounter it. It would really be advisable to do as I ask. You have nothing to lose in simply meeting it.”
Perfume picked up on the ambiguous references of ‘it’. Was the little man mad, or was there something else at work here? “Take off your sunglasses,” she commanded. If she could actually look into his eyes she would better be able to judge if he was insane or not.
He smiled and removed them, allowing Perfume to gaze deeply into his orbs. There was something about them, some… timeless… qua… li… ty…
Perfume shook her head out of a daze. For one moment she had been trying to look into the man’s eyes and ended up… lost? She was uncertain of exactly what happened, but it felt like she tried to look into something that had no end.
“Would you come this way, ma’am?” He had donned his sunglasses once more.
Perfume nodded her head and followed. There was more to the situation than met the eye, and she now wanted to know what was going on. Dazedly she followed him into the narrow corridor, passing by closed doors on both sides of the hall. As she passed by each door more of the dazed feeling left her until all that was left was a dreamlike quality instead. She knew it was late at night, but there were absolutely no signs of life in the corridors. The only thing she thought she heard was the sound of… windchimes… playing in the distance. Despite her dreamlike state she began counting the doors they passed in the corridor. Ten. Twenty. Fifty. One hundred. Two hundred. Five hundred. They didn’t stop and the end of the hall didn’t get closer. The ability to perceive the passage of time disappeared completely as she looked back over her shoulder only to see a corridor that stretched to infinity. She paused for a moment, dimly noticing one thing that was different.
“The ship’s stopped moving.”
“So to speak,” the short man said. “We’re here.”
Perfume turned to see the narrow stairway which led to the main deck. It hadn’t been there a moment ago, but that didn’t seem to matter. There was now a way out of infinite corridor. This time when he waved his hand he indicated she should go on ahead of him. She did so, and as she emerged out upon the deck, the dreamlike state she had been in dropped away as though it had never been.
The first thing she noticed was that there was silence. There were no sounds of the ocean, the gentle noise of the ship cutting through the water, or even the sound of the waves lapping against the side of the boat. Nothing. Then she saw there were no stars in the night sky. Even the full moon that had been out before she went to her cabin had disappeared. It was no cloud cover that blocked the few of the skies, she was positive of that, there was a complete absence of light, almost as though the blackness itself sucked it all away. The only illumination on the deck was from a series of lights along the masts of the ship. Under those lights stood a man with a cane, a distinguished looking brown suit, a bowler, and obsidian black skin. He was the one responsible for it all.
“What are you?” Perfume asked.
“You may address me as Mr. Domino.”
“What do you want?”
With that he burst out in uproarious laughter. Laughter that reflected off of nothing and disappeared into the blackness. And it was a blackness, not darkness. Light would not chase away what was out there. That was what it was, somehow she was certain. Perfume now became convinced there was nothing other than the ship, and possibly only the sections of it that could be seen, that remained. All of the world was now composed solely of herself and the thing before her.
“You humans,” he said as he finally controlled his laughter. “You ask the same questions. Truly remarkable. I was going to ask you that question, and unlike you I can give you what you want. Now tell me what it is you want.”
“What do you mean?” She stared at him suspiciously. “Are you saying you’ll do anything for me? If I told you to swim to South America would you do it?”
“Of course,” he answered seriously, “But that isn’t what you really want, and it would be a waste. I can give you your heart’s desire. How would you like to lead the Joketsuzoku?”
Perfume recoiled. How could he have known of that hunger? “You can’t make that kind of decision.”
“You’d be amazed at what I can do.”
Perfume studied him even more carefully. “What do you get out of it?”
“I grant you your wish in exchange for something else.”
“I can’t tell you. That’s the way of things. You have to let me give you what you want before I can tell you what it is I require in exchange.”
Perfume shook her head. “I don’t make deals in the dark. Tell me what you want.”
Domino matched the shake of her head from before. “It is beyond my ability to do that.”
“What if my desire was to find out what it is you’re hiding?”
Domino allowed the white teeth to show. “Then it would be a waste of a wish since after the deal I would tell you anyway.”
Perfume tried to concentrate. She had not left her room with the little man and expected anything like this. And the worst part was she was fairly certain the thing before her meant exactly what he said. It just felt like it was all the truth, and not some game he was playing. “Why are you asking me all of this? Why are you offering this to me of all people?”
“You have attracted the interest of a great power, one of the few to do so, and have been granted a boon.”
Perfume felt she was destined for greatness, but why would some stranger that could do all that had transpired tonight be interested in a teenage Amazon? “What makes me so important?”
“You are the right person to do what we want done.”
So there were not going to be any answers tricked out of the dark thing. Perhaps he was being sincere when he claimed he could not tell what was wanted of her. “There is no way you can tell me what you want?”
“Then we have nothing to say to one another.” There was going to be a risk now that she had refused the thing's proposition. She shifted her bracer slightly. That was her only weapon now, that and all of her considerable hand-to-hand expertise, though she had a feeling neither would do any good against the being before her. “I shall go.”
“Before you go I will tell you what it is we wanted.”
Perfume shook her head in confusion. “I refuse you so now you can tell me what you wanted?”
“Bizarre,” Perfume muttered under her breath. “Tell me then. I’ll listen.”
Domino’s voice took on a deeper tone that seemed to project a feeling of incontestable truth. “If you do not lead the Joketsuzoku, they will forever pass from existence within the next ninety years. That is their destiny. There is no way around it unless you are the leader.”
Perfume stared at him. “You’re lying,” she said. “Our traditions date back three thousand years. We won’t just disappear in the next ninety.” It had to be a trick.
“It is their destiny,” he said with the same tone of assurance, and this time Perfume believed him. “There is a way out, though.” The white ovals that were eyes should have been seemed to bore directly into her soul. “If you lead, there will be the potential to have an empire, one that will reach out to the stars themselves where billions will fall under the control of the Joketsuzoku. Your name will be known and revered by beings from a multitude of worlds. The Amazons will become THE power in this galaxy. That can be the future.
“But none of that will happen unless you lead the Joketsuzoku. Of course, there is a problem with that. As good as you are, there is one that is better than you. One directed towards the leadership since birth. One that has defeated you and will continue to do so, unless you do something about that, like you were ordered to. You know what I mean. Think well on what I said, Perfume. Your people will be lost to the sands of time in less than one hundred years unless you do what you know must be done.”
Everything towards Domino’s end went dark for a moment, then light returned. Domino was nowhere to be seen, and Perfume could not have been happier. He had to have been lying. There was no way it could have been the truth. It was all some sort of trick.
But deep in her heart she knew it felt like the truth, and that scared her. As she went back to her cabin one thought stuck in her mind.
“Please don’t be in Japan, Shampoo. I’m afraid of what I’ll do to you if we should meet.”
The Empire of the Five Comets:
If the Seer had been given to fits of temper she would have unleashed one now. It had happened again. There had been a gray spot in the tapestry of destiny that disappeared, leaving everything unaffected. How was it something could blind a servant to a conceptual entity? Nothing should be that powerful. Nothing other than…
She allowed the thought to trial off. That was not possible. There had to be some other explanation. Fate would not allow interference from an outside power. That was just not possible.
Nabiki called around until she discovered which hospital Ryonami was located at and timed her arrival just as visiting hours started. She went directly to the intensive care unit, more than a little panicked at her friend’s listed condition. As she walked down the well-lit corridor she remembered why she despised hospitals so much; there was never a good reason to visit one.
Nabiki was ushered into the room. Her breath caught as she laid eyes upon the injured Ryonami for the first time. Two tubes led out of her arms and she was hooked up to a heart monitor. One eye was blackened and her right arm was in a sling. Nabiki got over her initial shock and felt even more hatred towards Tarou. Death was too good for him. She was going to find a way to absolutely break him so he would enjoy a lifetime of suffering.
Ryonami was awake and managed to make out Nabiki’s form across the room. “Sempai,” she said weakly.
Nabiki grabbed a chair and settled herself next to Ryonami’s bed, clasping the injured girl’s hand. “Hush. You don’t have to say anything.”
A feeling of guilt followed that statement. That particular emotion was not one she felt very often, but it was certainly called for in this case. Ryonami was in the hospital for one reason only. Because Nabiki had asked her to do a favor, one that she knew was dangerous, but had done so anyway. Ryonami had asked for nothing in return, she had simply smiled and put her self at risk because Nabiki had requested it. Because she was a friend.
Some friend Nabiki was to her though, asking her to do something dangerous because Nabiki herself was afraid of being hurt. Oh, yes. Was it any wonder she had so few friends, and those few she did have still tended to regard her with suspicion. Now, without realizing it, she had made a real, true, and trusting friend who would do just about anything for her. For the first time in her life she seriously considered the things people said about her behind her back and came to a conclusion: they were right. Even Tarou was, damn him. She was a user of people. She wasn’t worthy to have a friend like Ryonami.
“Sempai, why are you crying?”
That startled Nabiki out of her self-recriminations. Her hand went to her face and sure enough, tears were there. She had begun crying without realizing it. A moment was taken to rein in her emotions before she dared speak. “I’m sorry, Ryo-chan. It’s my fault you got hurt.”
“Oh, no!” Ryonami said emphatically. “It’s my fault. I got careless and someone found out I was going around asking questions. Then he shot his mouth off, and Tarou found out about it too. He tried to get me to admit it was you behind it, but I denied it all the way. I didn’t crack, sempai, no matter what he did.”
Ryonami said it with such enthusiasm a new wave if guilt washed over Nabiki. How could anyone be so nice to someone like her and not ask for something in return? “You should have told him. He wouldn’t have hurt you if you told him the truth.”
“No way!” Ryonami shouted. “He’d have hurt you twice as bad. He really hates you, but I’m just a minor annoyance to him. He just roughed me up until he was sure I wasn’t lying to him and wouldn’t do anything like that again.”
“And you won’t,” Nabiki said. “I’ll never put you in jeopardy like that again.”
“Don’t say that, sempai. I want to work for you.” She gave Nabiki a hurt look.
“You are never going to work for me again. From now on you will work WITH me. And don’t call me sempai again.”
“But you are my sempai,” Ryonami protested.
“I’m not worthy of that title,” Nabiki answered. “From now on it’s just Nabiki or Nab-chan, if you can bring yourself to call me that.”
Ryonami’s good eye sparkled. “All right, Nab-chan. What do you want me to do next?”
Nabiki shook her head. The girl really was unbelievable. “Get better. After that, nothing else. I’m dealing you out of the next hand.”
“But sempai…I mean Nabiki, I want to help.”
Nabiki shook her head again. “Things are drawing to a close between me and Tarou. No one else is getting hurt if I can help it, especially you.” Nabiki made sure Ryonami acquiesced before continuing. “What exactly did he do to you?” She wanted to know everything so she could see to it Tarou suffered five times as much.
“He sprained my arm, bruised a few ribs, and blackened my eye.”
“Most of the things he did were to my nerve centers. They hurt a lot when he did them, but they didn’t do any real damage.”
Nabiki looked at her in disbelief. “Then what are you doing in an ICU?”
“Food poisoning,” Ryonami said as a matter of fact.
“He poisoned you?” That didn’t seem to be Tarou’s style.
“Oh, no,” Ryonami explained. “I came down with it while they were treating me for my injuries. I guess I shouldn’t have eaten that tuna fish sandwich I wrapped up in tinfoil and left out in the sun for most of the day.”
Nabiki just shook her head sadly and agreed.
[Use the vanilla extract.]
Akane looked over the list of ingredients again. Vanilla extract was not on it.
[It’ll make it taste better]
But maybe it would taste better. She picked up the extract and was about to add it when she froze. No. It had to be done exactly as the recipe said without using anything else, no matter how convinced she was it would make the end result taste better. She placed the extract back down and returned to adding the ingredients listed. Now it was time to use two cups of sugar.
[Pick up the bag on the left.]
Akane picked up the bag on the left and was about to pour the ingredients in when she stopped to read the label. It said flour, not sugar.
[It won’t make any difference.]
It shouldn’t make any difference. She was about to pour it into the mix when she forced herself to stop. She told herself once more that it had to be done correctly. It could ONLY contain the proper ingredients. She returned the bag of flour to its proper place and made certain she picked up the sugar this time and added two cups.
[Put in three more. More is better.]
She was about to add two more cups when she forced herself to stop yet again. It made sense that more was better, but what if it ended up tasting bad, like all of her other dishes? She put down the sugar.
[Jalapenos will add flavor. You can never have too many jalapenos.]
She grabbed a large handful of jalapenos, then forced herself to stop.
[Use carrots in it.]
Again she forced herself to stop even as her instincts cried out to put something else in it, the stronger the better.
[Use some eggs.]
[Put in some paprika to add taste.]
[It’s all right to bake it at twice the recommended temperature. It’ll get done twice as fast.]
[The green slime left over from your last attempt at cooking would mix perfectly with this. It’s still in the back of the refrigerator.]
Akane actually found herself breaking out in a sweat and wrung her hands. She was fighting a losing battle within herself, her instincts crying out to break down and improve the cooking in some manner, like they always did, even though she vowed not to. Assistance was required.
“Auntie Saotome! Could you help me!”
Nodoka came as quickly as she could and saw what Akane was up to. Quickly Akane explained that she wanted to finish the recipe and asked Nodoka to just watch and keep her from making mistakes. Nodoka agreed, and the two worked for the next two hours to make the dish just right. Once it was finished Akane let it sit long enough to cool off, then took it to serve to the newly returned ‘Shampoo’, who had come back after a three day absence.
Nodoka listened as Akane rushed off and offered her dish to Shampoo. The girl balked at first, small surprise considering how bad Akane’s usual attempts at cooking were. At first Nodoka thought Akane really was trying to poison her rival, but the rest of the family assured her that Akane really was that bad a cook. Naturally Shampoo was cautious now, and it might take some cajoling, but Nodoka felt the Chinese girl should give Akane the benefit of the doubt. It was so kind hearted of Akane to welcome her rival back. A lesser woman would have tried to keep Shampoo out, but Akane was genuinely happy with the redhead’s return.
She heard a third voice entered over Akane’s pleas of insistence and Shampoo’s steadfast refusals. “You quit trying to poison Shampoo!” Ranma had returned.
“I’m not trying to kill her. I just want to show her how much I missed her by making her something nice.”
“Liar! Your food is lethal!”
“Would you two please get along?!” Nodoka identified that as Shampoo. It was odd how she tried to play peacemaker between the two. It really was too bad Akane wasn’t more open minded, since Shampoo seemed to have the youngest Tendo’s interests at heart and would make a fine mistress. But that was simply not going to happen.
“NO!!!” That was by Ranma and Akane.
“I’ll try it and prove it’s all right to eat.” Nodoka was pleased to hear Akane come up with an ideal solution.
“It’ll be good that you get sick off your own food!” Nodoka winced at the jibe. Why couldn’t her son try to get along with his fiancée? It was getting worse by the day.
There was a pause before Nodoka heard two gasps followed by Shampoo saying, “Wow! She didn’t fall over or gag or nothing. Let me try some!”
“No R… Shampoo! It too dangerous!” Nodoka winced again.
“Nah! It’ll be all right. My stomach’s a lot tougher than hers.” There was a pause, then. “See? I told you it was all right. It’s pretty darn good, actually. Try some.”
“NO!!!” Nodoka heard Ranma stomp out of the house.
She gave a sigh once more. The facts were obvious. It wasn’t going to work out. Fortunately, during Shampoo’s absence Nodoka had come up with an alternative solution. One that she felt would work out nicely, especially if she was right about her son.
It was an hour later that Nodoka watched as Kasumi helped wash the dishes beside her. The two of them had the kitchen to themselves and worked easily side by side. Of all the girls, Nodoka liked Kasumi the best. She felt that on many levels the two were a lot alike, and Kasumi was such a proper young lady. All she really needed was some instruction on how to properly wield a katana, and she would be perfect.
Kasumi turned from her washing. “Yes, Auntie Saotome?”
“Do you like Ranma?”
Kasumi nodded emphatically. “Yes. He’s a very nice boy and a manly man.”
Nodoka chuckled at that. At first practically every other word out of Kasumi’s mouth was about how Ranma was a man among men. Now that Nodoka thought about it, she had stuck up for Ranma the most when Nodoka first arrived. It was so obvious the girl was afraid Nodoka was going to lop of her son’s head at the slightest provocation, but it was all for nothing. As difficult as Ranma got along with his fiancée, he was still unquestionably a man among men.
“I know that, Kasumi. What I meant was do you enjoy Ranma’s company? The two of you seem to spend a great deal of time together and get along well.”
“Oh, yes. I enjoy Ranma’s company a lot. Ever since he came here he’s helped me in so many things. I think I was a bit lonely before he came, but now he’s my best friend.”
Nodoka smiled broadly at that. They got along even better than she suspected. “He’s rather handsome, isn’t he?” Nodoka was rewarded by a blush.
“Well, he is Akane’s fiancé, so I would have to say I haven’t really noticed.”
Nodoka smiled even more broadly. Yes. Kasumi really was a proper young lady. She was going to have to make the arrangements, then things could finally settle down. She would let everyone know of her decision the next day.
It was the middle of the afternoon when Nodoka gathered everyone in the dining room. The double doors to the outside were wide open, allowing the fresh air in. Once everyone was gathered Nodoka spoke up.
“It has come to my attention that Ranma is protesting vehemently over his engagement to Akane.”
Shampoo-kun looked on, confused. “Yes. I hate it.”
Akane just scowled in the Amazon’s direction, not saying a word.
“And it seems to have put a strain on Akane as well. I must admit, things appear to be getting worse, not better, between the two.”
No one could protest that.
“It is therefore my decision that Ranma need not be engaged to Akane any more.”
All but Nabiki and Kasumi’s jaws dropped at that. The two fathers were the first to recover and protested first. “But dear, it’s a matter of honor,” Genma said.
“Yes,” Soun agreed. “We promised our families would be united.”
Ranma-chan and Akane looked at each other, confused, while Shampoo-kun was almost jumping for joy.
Nodoka spoke up before she lost control of the conversation. “The houses will still be untied. I have decided to transfer the engagement to Kasumi.”
This time Kasumi added an “Oh, my,” to the collective jaw dropping.
“It’s in ideal solution,” Nodoka said happily. “I know Ranma cares for her and she cares for him as well. They get along well, much better than he and Akane, and Kasumi is a wonderful woman. She will make Ranma a perfect wife.”
Genma and Soun huddled over to a corner and began whispering to one another.
“This might be a good idea,” Genma whispered.
“What do you mean?” Soun asked nervously.
“Shampoo is now proficient in Anything Goes Martial Arts and it’s obvious she gets along very well with Kasumi. Remember, they’ve even gone out on dates and were engaged once already. Since she can’t go back to her village I’ll just adopt her, then she can become a Saotome and marry Kasumi, fulfilling our obligation.” He smiled at that, then added, “And this way Nodoka doesn’t need to ever know the truth. We’ll pass Ranma’s male form as someone else. Perhaps Ryu Kumon since he took Ranma’s name before.”
“I can’t let Kasumi marry a woman,” Soun said.
“Think of it as Ranma’s curse, but in reverse. Besides, as long as Kasumi and Shampoo get along, and there’s plenty of cold water around, they’ll be happy with one another. After all, Kasumi liked him enough to originally volunteer to be engaged to him.”
Soun considered that. Shampoo was a powerful fighter, and even he could see that she and Kasumi got along well. As long as Shampoo had her cursed form, and stayed that way when she was with Kasumi, any other tiny difficulties could be overlooked.
Soun nodded his head and both fathers broke the huddle for the table. “As long as they promise to have children, and Kasumi doesn’t have a problem with it, then I approve!”
“Same here!” Genma said.
Kasumi suddenly found herself nervous and began playing with fingers. “Well,” she said. “He is very handsome. I suppose we might be able to. I guess.”
“No,” Shampoo-kun said calmly as he stood up.
“Why not, Ranma?” Nodoka asked. She had been so certain he would go along with the switch. The one thing Nodoka thought she had still in her favor was that he was not vehemently protesting it like he did with Akane.
“Kasumi is a nice girl, and someday some lucky man is going to get more than he deserves,” he smiled warmly at Kasumi, who blushed in return. “But that man is not me. I love someone else and will marry that one.”
“Ranma,” Nodoka’s voice began to rise with a warning. The katana that she had brought along for the meeting was firmly grasped in her hand. She was going to have remind him of his duties as a son.
“I am not going to marry someone I don’t love. Get over it, Mother. This was a stupid idea you and Pop came up with.”
Ranma-chan began protesting at that point. “Ranma. Please don’t do this to your mother.”
Shampoo-kun shook his head. “It has to be this way. I’ll—“
The rest was cut off as a splash of warm water was thrown through the open doors and hit Shampoo-kun squarely in the back, triggering the change.
Ranma-chan shot to her feet and ran outside as quickly as she could. She got out just in time to see a heavily cloaked figure, its features completely hidden, leap from rooftop to rooftop at top speed. She might have been able to catch up to him, but events from within the house caught her attention.
The figure cleared twenty more rooftops before it was satisfied there was no pursuit. It was almost certain there would be too much confusion from the sudden change in front of Nodoka to allow for that, but one could never anticipate Saotome. The cloak and different clothes had worked out perfectly too. No one knew who the intruder was and once the figure got rid of the evidence no one would ever know.
Saotome had remained behind, and now there was a major mess to clean up. Ranma would never let Shampoo be harmed, so the truth would be revealed to Nodoka and he would be forced to commit seppuku. And once Ranma was eliminated the path to Akane would have no further obstructions.
Life was good for Pantyhose Tarou.
Inside, Nodoka’s eyes took on a glazed look as she stared at her ‘son.’ “Ranma,” she said in a quiet voice. “You seem to have changed into a girl. I can’t say that is very manly behavior.” The katana was silently drawn from its sheath.
Genma’s reaction was simply to cower in a corner, while Kasumi got to her feet and threw herself in front of Shampoo.
“You can’t kill him!” she protested. “I can prove he’s a man among men!” She paused for a second, took a deep breath, then spoke once again. “We had sex together, when he was a man, of course, and it was good sex. Very manly sex. I enjoyed it a lot and we did it a lot of times, which proves he is a man among men. I wouldn’t have slept with him otherwise.”
Shampoo closed her eyes and wondered which would be the first to strike her dead: Nodoka’s blade or Soun’s demon form. She was willing to wager it would be Soun, who she could feel was already shifting.
Shampoo opened her eyes and looked towards the speaker.
“Kasumi,” Ranma-chan said. “You don’t have to lie to protect her.”
“But I wasn’t—“
Whatever else she was going to say was cut off by Ranma-chan. “It doesn’t matter, Kasumi. Sit down. I won’t let Shampoo be harmed. You know that. It’s time we all told the truth.”
Nodoka stared strangely at Ranma-chan. “Why did you just call my son Shampoo, Shampoo?”
Ranma-chan took a deep breath as she prepared the explanation. Rather than feeling frightened, she discovered a feeling of joy at telling her mother the truth. She should have done it when the woman first arrived, the consequences be damned. “The person we’ve been trying to pass of as Ranma Saotome is in fact Shampoo of the Joketsuzoku. What you see before you is her true form, that of a woman. She’s been cursed with one of the magical springs of Jusenkyou that transforms people when the fall in. In her case she fell into the Spring of Drowned Young Boy. The curse is activated whenever she’s splashed with cold water, but hot water reverses the effect.”
Nodoka visible trembled as she was informed of the situation. “If that is Shampoo, then where is my son and who are you really?”
“The answer is one and the same.” Ranma-chan went to the kitchen and grabbed the kettle on the stove. She returned and splashed herself with the warm water. “I fell into the Spring of Drowned Young Girl. I’m Ranma Saotome.”
Nodoka’s reaction to all of this was predictable. She passed out. It was Genma who caught his wife before she slumped more than in inch. “She took that better than I thought,” he said as he examined her to be certain she was all right.
After Nodoka recovered, everyone making sure the katana wasn’t handy, Ranma took her in a room and privately explained. When he was finished Shampoo forced her way in and had a private conversation with Nodoka, explaining how Ranma had saved her life and that despite the curse, he was still a man among men, and gave several examples of such. It was a half hour later when the two of them emerged from the room. All others had waited outside for the final say on the matter.
Nodoka looked everyone over, then cleared her throat and began. “I do not approve of what all of you did the past few weeks, but I now understand why, at least. I am willing to forgive you all of your deception. You did it out of love, and I believe you would have told me the truth once you thought the danger was past. You are now wondering what Ranma’s status is in my eyes. Despite his curse I do believe he is a man among men. The promise has been upheld.”
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
“However, there is one thing that must be done to my satisfaction to ensure that it remains that way.” Nodoka warned.
“What’s that, mother?” Ranma still felt his feelings soar when he used that word with her.
Nodoka gave a warm smile towards her real son. “You are to marry Akane as soon as possible.”
To be continued.
Author's notes: Next time— You are Cordially Invited to the Wedding of Ranma Saotome and Akane Tendo.
Japanese language side note: Apparently the words meaning cross-dressing and gardening are nearly identical, which is why Nodoka accepts the ‘mistake’ in wording concerning Nabiki’s accusation so readily.
BTW: Kyoko is not playing games with Ryouga. The dream really is from her subconscious. She doesn’t even remember them when she wakes up and would deny them if it was ever implied that she would enjoy that sort of thing.
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