A Ranma ½ story
by DB Sommer
Any and all C&C is appreciated. You can contact me at email@example.com
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.
Preface: What's happened before: Akane got her hands on a wish and used it to wish her mother had never been in a car accident and was alive in the present. Well, her mother wasn't in an accident, and is with them in the present. There's only a slight complication; Kachiko had been in two accidents, the first occurring when she was the ripe old age of seventeen.
Revision date: 2/9/04
Ranma stared across the expanse of dojo floor at his opponent, who was tensed and ready for action. It was what he wanted. What he needed. After much cajoling, bargaining, and borderline pleading, he had finally gotten his way and forced Kachiko into sparring with him one more time. More importantly, he convinced his cagey opponent into relenting on her "one mandatory date to fight" stance.
"Remember, I don't have to date you if I win," Ranma said in case she tried to change the terms of the agreement or claim they were something other than what had been decided upon before the contest began.
"And if you lose, I get to go out with you three times." Kachiko adjusted her plain white gi once more. There was a spring in her step as she prepared for action.
Ranma watched the tricky girl carefully. The prospect of having to date her three times would have made him sick to his stomach, if it wasn't for the fact there was no way he would lose to her this time. He was ready for anything. He had taken the measure of her fighting prowess. Even if there was some trick move left in her repertoire, it couldn't overcome his advantage.
"Don't hold back, Ranma!" Akane, the only other occupant in the dojo, called out.
Like that would happen, Ranma thought to himself. While he was taking Kachiko seriously, he was still handcuffed by being unable to strike her. He was uncomfortable with the idea of punching her out, and then there was the fact he'd be tossed out on his rear end by the rest of the Tendous (other than Akane, evidently) if he hurt Kachiko in any way. The handicap would make things competitive, but there was no doubt that with his ability to evade any attack from her, his own impressive inventory of grappling techniques, combined with superior strength, that he would come out on top. There was nothing she could do to stop him.
"Are you ready?" Ranma asked.
Kachiko closed her eyes and pointed her face up toward the ceiling. She remained that way, motionless and silent.
"Well?" Ranma asked impatiently.
Kachiko held a single finger up, indicating silence from Ranma as well. He scowled, impatient at the delay. No doubt she was trying to get him off his game by making him wait. She could stall all she wanted; it would do no good.
A full minute passed, then two. Silence dominated things so thoroughly that Ranma heard a door slam from the house next to the dojo.
Kachiko turned back to Ranma and opened her eyes. She shifted into a combat stance. "Ready."
Ranma smirked. He'd have her pinned to the ground in under five minutes.
For the third time in three sparring matches between the two, he moved first, intent on ending things quickly.
In response, Kachiko fell to her knees, ripped open her gi so that it fell off her shoulders, barely covering the upper half of her breasts, and screamed at the top of her lungs.
Ranma leaped back for a second at the unexpected action, though he remained ready to counter anything she might follow up with. Instead she remained on the ground, sniffling as a cascade of tears flowed down her face.
Ranma felt pity toward her if she thought anything that blatant was going to work. "Forget it. I ain't falling for whatever you have plann—"
The rest was cut off as the door to the dojo flew open and Soun entered. Panic-stricken, he shouted, "What's going on?! I heard Kachi scream!" He took in the sight before him and began trembling in rage.
Kachiko pointed weakly at Ranma, barely managing through sobs, "Ruh-Ranma. He tried to me," she broke down and began outright bawling.
"But I didn't—" was the only defense Ranma could muster. It was in vain as a Demon Head attack, five times worse than any unleashed at him before, rendered him insensate with terror.
Kachiko looked up through her tears and winced as Soun began slamming the inert Ranma's head into the dojo floor repeatedly, unleashing a litany of foul language that made even Kachiko blanch.
"There's no way you can say you won," Akane said bitterly.
Kachiko stuck her tongue out as she adjusted her gi so that it covered her body again. "You're right, but it doesn't matter. I didn't have to win. Ranma just had to lose. I'd say that qualifies." She pointed at the onslaught taking place at the far side of the dojo.
Akane simmered in rage. "I can't believe you're low enough to come up with a plan using Dad to do your dirty work."
Nabiki entered the dojo, surveying the scene. She strolled nonchalantly toward Kachiko and held out her hand. "I told you it would work. Now cough up the cash."
Kachiko pulled a small wad of bills from inside her gi and handed it to Nabiki.
Akane stared at her sister, aghast. "How could you sell out Ranma like that?"
Nabiki stared at her curiously, as though not quite grasping the question. "Kachi asked me to do a favor for her. I could hardly pick Ranma over my own dear, sweet mother, now could I?"
"Oh, if it was a favor, then you'll give back the money?" Kachiko asked with her hand held out.
"Not a chance." Nabiki waved the bills back and forth. "This makes us even after the bad run of luck I had playing cards with you."
"Want to play some more to get back at me and come out ahead?" Kachiko asked.
Nabiki begged off. "I think not. Unlike Ranma, I am fully willing to admit when I'm outclassed in something. We'll come up with some other recreational activity to wager on. In the meantime, you'd better calm Daddy down or there won't be enough left of Ranma to take out."
"Oops." Kachiko rushed over to calm Soun down.
Nabiki began counting the bills. She had only gotten to five thousand yen when they were smacked out of her hand and into the air. They began fluttering down like a paper snowfall.
The sisters matched each other with their equally cold stares.
"How dare you side with her," Akane hissed.
"Don't get high and mighty with me, Little Sister," Nabiki spat. "She's family, no matter how hard you try to deny it. And it just so happens we have something in common, which is more than you or I have, so don't make it sound like I owe you something, or am betraying you when doing it to her would be no different." She bent down and began gathering the bills.
"Ranma's my fiancé!" Akane snapped.
"On the contrary, Ranma's engagement is on hiatus, with his eager consent." Nabiki smirked at her sister. "Besides, Ranma wasn't going to let the rematch thing go anymore than Mom is going to give up on him without dating him once. They have to get this out of their system before things can return to any semblance of normality."
"Don't make it sound like you're doing this for their own good. You did it for the money, like the greedy witch you've always been."
"My needs happened to coincide with the best course of action for all involved," Nabiki said icily as she finished gathering the money. She wasted no time in heading out, but before she exited the dojo, she turned around one last time. "Besides, you're the one that wished for all of this."
Nabiki had exited by the time Akane muttered under her breath, "No, this wasn't what I wished for. Not at all."
Kachiko was lounging around on her bed, reading a book, when the door to her room burst open. Startled, she turned to confront the intruder. "The old geezer better have broken both your hands and that was the reason you didn't knock."
"I didn't lose!" Ranma declared.
"Don't try to back out of the deal now," Kachiko warned. "I didn't have to win. You just had to lose, and you did. I get three dates out of you."
"The fight wasn't over," Ranma insisted.
"Of course it was. I had to keep the creepy old guy from bouncing your skull around as a basketball."
"I wasn't unconscious."
"You were lying there, completely motionless."
"Paralyzed by his demon head attack is not the same thing as being beaten. It just meant I could have been easily defeated. But you didn't defeat me. You just let me lay there until I recovered," Ranma said satisfactorily.
"That's a defeat."
"No, it isn't. It's an oversight on your part. It's what happens when you get cocky."
"Like you're one to talk! And you did lose!"
The two exchanged the accusations back and forth for the better part of fifteen minutes. Their voices were hoarse by the time Ranma held his hand up for a truce.
"What?" Kachiko said, voice cracking from the unrelenting strain placed on her vocal cords.
Ranma's voice was equally rasping. "Look, we both have our points of view, and maybe we're both right and wrong."
Kachiko wanted to argue but her voice was too strained from the argument. "Compromise?"
"Might be for the best."
"You go out on two dates with me then."
Ranma shook his head. "One date. And you have to give me something in return."
Kachiko appeared ready to argue the point, then seemed to reconsider. "What is it you want?"
Ranma told her.
Kachiko rolled her eyes. "And you'll agree to go out on a date with me without trying to worm your way out of it?"
With a great deal of reluctance, Ranma forced his mouth to say, "Yes."
"And it has to be my definition of a date, not yours. And you have to sincerely try to have a good time instead of acting like a jerk and trying to make me end it early."
The strain became more evident, but Ranma managed a "Fine, but you can't try to make me do anything perverted with you."
Kachiko shot him a cold look. "This is our first date. Let me assure you when it comes to me, no one makes it past first base with their initial at-bat, if that."
"And you can't make me go out on another date if something happens to mess it up, since that happens to me all the time."
"As long as you aren't the one getting others to mess it up for you," Kachiko warned. "Besides, you're jumping to conclusions. You might be so bad at dating I won't want to go out with you a second time."
The accusation offended Ranma to very core of his being. "Don't be stupid. I'm a great guy to go out with. Why do you think I have so many girls after me all the time?"
Kachiko crossed her arms defiantly. "I am not like other girls. I have higher standards. And I have lots of other guys interested in me, like Tachi-kun, who currently has the inside line on you since he goes out of his way to treat me nice."
"I'm a way better guy than that jerk, Kunou," Ranma swore.
"You do have some intangible quality that makes you interesting. If you turned on some actual charm to go with it, you might pull ahead," Kachiko conceded.
Ranma was in full competitive mode. "I will pull ahead of him. You just watch. I'll take you on best date you've ever been on."
"Set realistic goals. Just make it one I'll enjoy and I'll be satisfied," Kachiko said.
"You just wait. I'll impress you so much, you'll forget any other guy exists," Ranma promised as he exited the room.
Once Ranma was out of earshot, Kachiko said to herself, "Now, he's making me uneasy." She wondered how to go about ensuring Ranma didn't mess things up by going overboard.
Ranma hummed an upbeat tune as he headed toward his room. "Kachi's going to have the time of her life. I'll show her. I'll show them all. Ranma Saotome knows how to date the ladies."
Kasumi, who had been standing in the hall, overheard Ranma's vow. A troubled expression crossed her brow. "Oh dear. I'd better tell Father about this." Thought was the same as motion. It only took a minute to locate her father, who was with Genma, playing a game of shogi on the back porch.
"Father, I have terrible news," Kasumi said.
"You've been out carousing again, dressing like a tramp and drinking like a lush!" Soun wailed.
A vexed expression crossed Kasumi's features. "No, that's not it at all. Ranma is going out on a date with Mother."
Soun's fist struck the table, making it bounce. "And after he already tried to molest my darling wife once today! This time I'll kill him!"
Genma cleared his throat. "Ah, didn't Kachi explain it as a big joke and Ranma hadn't laid a finger on her, and that if you were to attack the boy again, she'd never forgive you?"
Soun calmed down. "Oh, right. I forgot about that."
"But you can't just let Ranma date Mother," Kasumi insisted.
Genma nodded in agreement. "You need to be a man with that girl and tell it to her like it is."
"Do you think so?" Soun asked the duo.
"Mother wants to be loved by you, I'm certain."
"Women like a take charge kind of guy," Genma concurred. "In fact, if it was me, and Nodoka was behaving that way, I'd kick down the girl's door and demand she go out with me."
Soun considered the statements. There was some wisdom in them.
The noise from the others caught someone else's attention. Right outside the kitchen, Akane wasn't able to make out the words and was left wondering what the commotion coming from the back porch was about. Before she had a chance to investigate, she heard a knock from the front door.
Akane answered it, and was surprised to find an adult Miss Hinako standing there. She wore one of her more mundane yellow "school dresses", one that could handle her size-changing and look acceptable in either of her forms. Or almost acceptable, as a good bit of leg was showing in her current state.
"Hello, Miss Hinako," Akane said.
"Greetings, Miss Tendou. I am here to see that awful, scrawny, delinquent tramp and put her in her place."
Even a week ago, Akane would have attempted to dissuade the woman from starting a fight, especially in the house, but after the events of the afternoon, there was really no choice at all. "She's in her bedroom. Go upstairs, second room on the right. Let yourself in, and don't hold back."
"Thank you." Hinako eagerly rushed into the house, following Akane's directions.
With Ranma gone and with her date assured, Kachiko allowed herself to relax and return to reading her book. She was just getting to a good part, when the door to her room was thrown upon once again.
"Did knocking suddenly become a lost art?!" Kachiko threw the book aside and stood up to confront the intruder, Hinako. "Oh, it's you. Well, I can see why someone like you would get confused and mistake 'knockers' as being the same thing as 'knocking'. I have yet to meet someone with a huge chest whose IQ exceeded her bust size."
Hinako cleared her throat and began speaking in a lecturing tone. "I was going to engage in a civil discussion with you regarding the impropriety of your behavior and the wisdom in annulling your marriage to Soun-chan, but rather than waste the oxygen, I think I'll cut to the inevitable conclusion of the debate."
"The part where I tell you to kiss my ass?" Kachiko asked.
"And then I drain you." Hinako held up her coin.
Kachiko tried to evade the attack by fleeing out her open window. She had just cleared the window's ledge when the Happo-Gojuuen Satsu struck her, withering her form as the chi was sucked out of her body. Now much lighter, Kachiko floated down to the ground as light as a feather.
Hinako remained in the room, admiring her handiwork, when Soun barged in and shouted, "I have had enough of this running around! I demand that you go out with me tonight!" Declaration made, Soun finally took a moment to focus upon whom he was speaking to. His jaw nearly hit the floor.
Hinako bounded over to the man and embraced him, rubbing her body against him in a very familiar way. "Oh, Soun-chan, I can't believe you've actually asked me out. You've made me the happiest woman in the world. Of course I accept."
Soun was unable to manage the difficult task of moving, and remained unresisting in her grasp, babbling incoherently.
Hidden around the corner, Kasumi and Genma, who had followed Soun up the stairs, shook their heads sadly.
Ensconced in a secret chamber located in a warehouse along the docks of
One corner of the building was dominated by a number of rough-looking women, all of them healthy specimens of womanhood. Many of them were on the beefy side, though their mass was composed of solid muscle. They were dressed in a variety of high school uniforms, the majority of outfits altered in such a way as to give them a seedy appearance. Most of the women were smoking, drinking from small flasks, or otherwise radiated an aura of toughness and a desire to be left to their own devices.
A second group, larger than the women, stationed themselves near the main garage door to the warehouse. All of them were men, just as rough-looking and physically fit as the women. To a man they sat astride an assortment of motorcycles, distinctive red-and-black striped flags with a skull in the center of the field hanging from the bikes. Occasionally one of the men would gun his engine, the reverberations echoing through the enclosed area and drowning out the ability to think.
An older man, with gray hair and a worn face that showed years of a hard life, sat by himself. He was dressed in green coveralls and held a mop affectionately in his hands as he glared beneath his worn cap.
A rail-thin, nerdy-looking man wearing glasses that reflected the light so totally that his eyes were obscured behind the glare — despite the low lighting — sat by himself, typing away on an open laptop.
To the left, one of the shadows moved independently of the dim lighting in the warehouse.
A group of bizarrely-shaped creatures, most of them seeming to resemble demonic household appliances, kept to themselves toward the back of the chamber.
An inconspicuous man dressed in a business suit helped himself to the buffet.
As the various groups spoke among themselves, a spotlight suddenly shone upon the floor in the center of the warehouse. A rumbling erupted from below, and a portion of the floor retracted. From the opening, a dais emerged with a solitary figure perched on an elaborate throne in the center. He wore flowing red robes adorned with arcane symbols along a yellow border. A plain steel mask with black eye slits and a hole for a mouth covered the face, hiding the identity of the newcomer. The hood of the figure rose above his head, nearly two feet in height, and ended in a tapered point.
The figure spoke in quiet lethal tones, "I have gathered—"
"I can't hear you!" one of the bikers toward the back shouted.
The strange figure stopped, letting out a sigh of frustration. He flipped up a compartment on the arm of his chair, revealing a panel with a number of buttons and switches on it. Muttering to himself, he flicked one of the switches.
The dais began to descend.
"Shit! That's not it!" The figure flipped the switch so that the dais rose again. Once at its former position, he set the switch back in its original position. He then pushed a green button.
The air was suddenly filled with loud feedback, making everyone cover their ears and howl in pain. The figure adjusted a dial, and the feedback stopped. Once everyone's hearing recovered, the figure spoke again, this time his voice reverberating throughout the warehouse. "Can you hear me now?"
The biker in the back nodded.
The figure cleared his throat again. "I have summoned all of you here today for a purpose."
One of the women asked, "Who are you, anyway?"
The figure posed menacingly before the gathering. "My real name is unimportant. You may address me as the Gargoyle!"
"You don't look a thing like a gargoyle," one of the demonic appliances pointed out.
"It's an alias," the Gargoyle answered.
"You look like a giant conehead," one of the bikers said.
"It's just a disguise."
"It looks silly," the small man with the laptop said.
"I'll have you know it's based on the style of one of the most dangerous criminal organizations of the nineteenth century."
"They didn't make many public appearances, did they?" one of the women asked.
"Well, no," the Gargoyle reluctantly admitted.
The woman continued. "There might be a reason for that. Besides, there's a reason people don't wear fashions that are two centuries out of date."
"Just bear with me!" The Gargoyle demanded. "We have not gathered here to comment on my choice of raiment. Rather we are here because of a common past we share."
"Daddy?" one of the creatures asked, hope filling its voice.
"Not that sort of shared past," the Gargoyle said coldly. "It is that of a common foe. You see, all of us have the distinction of being wronged in our youth. During a time when we needed a helping hand to assist us in understanding our needs and problems, we were instead ignored, then harassed and physically abused under the guise of 'discipline'. Our behavior, which was nothing more than our attempt to reach out and find our niche in the world, was labeled 'delinquency' and our individuality crushed by a foul witch that derives perverse enjoyment in squashing those that don't fit in her narrow-minded view of the world."
One of the bikers scratched his head. "That's funny. All I remember doing when I was a kid was kicking the shit out of guys that I found annoying."
The Gargoyle said, "That's a sign of the system that's brainwashed you into thinking yourself the perpetrator of wrongdoing when you are in fact the victim, If you were not a casualty of society's callousness and disregard for your well-being, when instead it should have been nurturing the soul within you, you would never have engaged in such behaviors in the first place. Obviously you are blameless for your actions."
The biker's eyes goggled. "Wow! I never thought of it that way. Now my conscience, what little of it remains, feels a lot less guilty."
"It is the system that is guilty, a system of oppression personified in this person!" The Gargoyle flipped another switch, activating a slide projector. On the far side of the room, an image of a woman appeared.
"Britney Spears?" the man with the lap top asked.
The Gargoyle began pounding the panel. "Goddamn piece of crap rental! Why don't they put symbols to indicate which button is which?" He flicked the button several times, going through the various slides, until the desired image appeared.
A growl of recognition emanated from some of the people in the warehouse.
"That's right, Hinako Ninomiya." Satisfaction filled the Gargoyle's voice. "That is why I have gathered you all together today, to seek vengeance upon this woman who wrecked all—"
"Ahem! Excuse me!" An odd creature, one with the form of a toaster with legs, spoke up, attracting the Gargoyle's attention.
"What?" he asked irritably.
"Is that one of the Sailor Senshi in their true form?"
"Of course not. That's a high school disciplinarian."
"Isn't this the 'Youmas Against Mass Murdering Sailor Senshi' meeting?"
"No, this is the 'Miss Hinako Revenge Squad' meeting."
The youma flicked one of his buttons. From the slot on the top of his head, a sheaf of papers sprang out, just like a piece of toast would. The paper was lightly done, and crinkled as the youma unfurled it. "This is Warehouse Secret Lair #255, Dockside District, correct?"
"Then this should be the 'Youmas Against Mass Murdering Sailor Senshi' meeting."
The Gargoyle pulled out a paper of his own from within the confines of his robe. "Impossible. Here is my rental contract. We have full use of the facility until . I even paid the extra fifteen thousand yen for the buffet option."
The youma reread his paper. "Oh, I'm sorry. The meeting isn't until . I really must read the fine print more carefully." The toaster youma bowed as he and his comrades exited the warehouse.
The Gargoyle muttered a string of expletives under his breath. "Now, as I was saying, Miss Hinako has wronged each of us in some way." He pointed at the pack of girls, specifically at one of the more attractive members whose long black hair was done up in a ponytail. She looked bored as she played with a yo-yo that dangled from one of her fingers. "Miss Keiko Hayabusa, you organized a band of fellow girls and formed the 'Crimson Yo-Yo's', a bunch of sukeban that rightfully earned the respect and admiration of their peers at Shotokan Reform School. However, the powers-that-be feared an organization that encouraged women to be strong and independent-minded, preferring you to act like submissive sheep. When you refused to cave in to their craven demands, they called in Miss Hinako, and with her energy draining abilities, broke up your gang and the influence you had over your so-called higher learning institution."
Keiko spat out her cigarette. "Yeah, that bitch drained us every day for a month until we were too tired to fight against all of them jerks in the school that had a grudge against us. Even the Astronomy Club kicked our asses. We had to break up the gang, or we would never have had a moment's peace. I'd love to get my hands on that bitch and break her in half." She hurled the yo-yo at a vacant chair. The round part of the toy struck the chair, shattering the wood and turning it into kindling. The yo-yo coiled back into the palm of her hand where she effortlessly caught it. Once again she let it move up and down as though it was no more dangerous than a child's toy.
The Gargoyle pointed to the figure at the head of the biker gang. He was a huge man, towering over six and a half feet in height. He wore an open leather jacket that was little more than a vest with the sleeves torn away, revealing massive biceps and a set of abdominals and pectorals that would have turned a professional body builder green with envy. His face was shrouded in a hockey mask, though a shock of blond hair stuck out from the back.
The Gargoyle spoke again. "You are the man known as the Road Ronin. You and your Biking Club's so-called offense was nothing more than engaging in a series of extracurricular activities."
"We beat up the teachers, extorted money from the other students, sold
drugs, opened a prostitution ring that specialized in high school girls, and
ran a fansub bootleg cartel. We were the envy of every other biker gang in
"Yes, and for these paltry things, Miss Hinako was once again set upon poor, victimized students when all you needed was encouragement to seek other means of releasing your anger."
"Actually, I wasn't angry. I was greedy, self-centered, and sociopathic."
"In other words, a typical teenager," the Gargoyle said.
"Pretty much," the Road Ronin agreed.
"And for the crime of being a teenager, you were drained repeatedly until you repented your acts and were expelled from school. Don't you see the injustice in it? Doesn't it make your heart long for revenge?"
The Road Ronin shrugged. "Sure, why not?"
"And you Kyosuke Takiawa!" the Gargoyle pointed to the shadows. "You were a ninja cadet of unparalleled skill. A shadow among shadows. You already knew what you wanted to be when it came to entering the job market, and isn't school meant to train us to enter society by becoming a productive member of it? You were destined for a greatness that few could know. But then it was all cut short by our common foe when she caught you sneaking into the principal's office late at night, trying to alter your grades."
A figure dressed in the familiar black garb of a ninja emerged from the shadows. "I should have had a higher grade. It wasn't my fault that when they took attendance the teachers didn't see me."
"And you met the same fate as the others. So tragic. So sad." The Gargoyle turned to the old man cradling his mop. "And you, Tatsumi Kimura, were a simple downtrodden janitor—"
"Waste management technician," the man growled.
"Waste management technician," the Gargoyle corrected. "You, who do the necessary, if unsightly, work that others won't do, despite the fact it needs to be done. You, who are the true backbone of society, were also wronged by Hinako when that callous bitch punished you for just trying to make ends meet."
The janitor's voice was full of a bitterness that could never be mopped up no matter how hard he tried. "I was minding my own business, selling textbooks on the black market from the basement of the school I was employed at for a little side cash. I kept everyone away, pretending the school was haunted by the spirit of a Zimbabwean witchdoctor. And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for those nosy kids and their interfering mutt."
The Gargoyle cleared his throat and pointed meaningfully at the slide of Hinako.
"Oh, right, and if it wasn't for that energy draining bitch, too," the janitor added.
"And like us, you desire revenge," the Gargoyle said.
The man nodded, stroking his mop affectionately.
One of the bikers looked incredulously at the older man. "Get real, you're just a lousy janitor. What can you do?"
In a flash, the man closed the distance between the two, mop held like a lethal weapon. He thrust forward with it, jamming the entire head of the mop into the biker's mouth. He then spun around, the biker still attached to the mop, and jammed him into the floor, rubbing him vigorously back and forth before throwing him clear of the mop with a flick of the wrist. The biker's body collided with his motorcycle, knocking it over and leaving him lying in a motionless heap.
The janitor petted his mop affectionately. "Me and Clementine can take on a dozen snot-nosed punks like you and wipe the floor with them. But then I'd have to go over it again, since snot-nosed punks aren't good for cleaning the floor. They always leave streaks behind. And that's 'Waste Management Technician' to you."
The Gargoyle turned away from the men, and pointed to the man with the laptop. "And you, Fujiki Genzo, a student with a mind like a steel trap. A computer programmer born before his time. More interested in code and consoles rather than the more esoteric classes, you were given low marks in those classes that held little interest for you. When you tried to hack into the system to alter those grades, Hinako discovered you, draining you dry and taking away your computer, making you do all of your classes with nothing more complex than a pencil and a slide rule. Can any act be more cruel than to take away from you your precious laptop? Don't you long for revenge against she who wronged you so terribly?"
The man adjusted his glasses, allowing the light to glimmer off them maniacally. "Get real. That was back in high school. Since then, I went to a prestigious college, graduated with top honors, and founded my own successful computer company. I have nearly a billion yen, several houses around the world, and one of the most beautiful trophy wives money can buy."
"But what about your all-consuming lust for revenge?" the Gargoyle stammered out.
"Oh please. That happened years ago. It wasn't that big a deal then, and I'm certainly over it now. I can't believe none of you losers aren't also."
"Over it?! You demented sicko! Get the hell out of here!" the Gargoyle raged, pointing to the door to the warehouse.
Genzo closed the laptop and departed.
"Some people have no comprehension of how they've been wronged," the Gargoyle muttered. He pointed to the ordinary-looking man standing next to the buffet, helping himself to another plate of General Tso's Chicken. "And you, you poor, poor man, who were say, who are you anyway?"
"Chuck." The man waved a piece of chicken at the coneheaded leader.
"Ah, yes, Chuck. Chuck, whom Hinako Hinako . Umm, what did Miss Hinako do to you anyway?"
Chuck shrugged. "Nothing. I've never met her before in my life." He bit into the chicken piece.
"Then what are you doing here?"
Chuck spoke through a mouth full of food. "I heard there was an open buffet and dropped by. But hey, if it's a revenge thing, go ahead and count me in. I'm always up for revenge, even if its against people I've never met."
The Gargoyle considered it. "What is it you do?"
"I'm a lawyer," Chuck beamed.
The Gargoyle recoiled. "Look, I might be willing to allow thieves, thugs, pushers, pimps, prostitutes, janitors—"
"Waste management technician."
"—Waste management technicians, and even a ninja or two to join my squad, but there's no way I'm allowing a lawyer in the group. It's not like Miss Hinako did anything bad enough to merit that."
The lawyer's features seemed to change, as though he was a shark that had been swimming peacefully until someone dropped five hundred pounds of fish guts on top of him. He stared hungrily at the Gargoyle. "Why, that sounds like a discrimination lawsuit to me."
Before the lawyer could turn on him, the Gargoyle grabbed a nearby rope pull cord that conveniently dangled within his reach. In response, a trap door gave way beneath the lawyer, dropping him out of sight. A cry of, "I objecttttttt," drifted off into the distance.
Everyone in the room breathed a sigh of relief.
"Thank god I added the 'trapdoor with adjoining tank filled with man-eating piranha at the bottom' option at the last minute," the Gargoyle said.
"I bet you don't have an exotic animals permit for these!" a voice in the distance shouted out. Cries of pain were hot in the heels of it.
The Gargoyle tried wiping at the sweat that had formed at his brow; however, his mask prevented him from doing it. No matter how he tried, he couldn't wipe it away. "Damn thing's stuffy. Next time I get an in-built power supply, cooling device, and a removable faceplate."
"What did Miss Hinako do to you?" Keiko asked.
"That is a secret. Suffice to say, it was ten times worse than anything she did to you. Now, I have gathered you all here for a purpose. It is my intention that Miss Hinako's punishment for a lifetime of wrongdoing is long overdue. Individually, we are all formidable opponents she barely defeated. With our power and resources combined, we are nigh unbeatable."
"Only nigh unbeatable?" the Road Ronin asked.
"Yes. We could be beaten, but not by very many people. Therefore we only qualify as nigh unbeatable, not absolutely unbeatable. But it's all right, because we are unbeatable when it comes to seeking revenge on Hinako, and that's all that matters."
"What if she has friends that'll come to her defense?" Keiko asked, her yo-yo a blur as she swung it back and forth in eagerness.
The Gargoyle laughed. "I've had her under surveillance for some time. Due to her job, as well as her freakish nature, she has no friends, loved ones, or even confidants. She's a solitary individual that will be easy prey for our combined talents. She might be able to deal with one or two of us, but not all of us. Now let us laugh evilly together everyone. And do it with real emotion."
The warehouse reverberated from the cacophony of sinister laughter.
Why were the gods so cruel?
Soun stared at the image in the mirror, a sight so depressing it would have lain low even a lottery winner's euphoric high. He couldn't believe his misfortune, and he had more than a passing experience with runs of bad luck. There were times when he felt his entire life was nothing but one unlucky experience after another. Once again what should have been a joyous occasion had instead turned into one of ruin and desolation.
It wasn't fair! He had taken a stand. He had demanded Kachiko go out with him. Seeing his forceful, manly nature, she should have melted in his arms and accepted his invitation. After she had a wonderful time with him (like she had in his past) she would accept more dates. After a three month courtship, they would have sex, and then she would make him propose to her, exactly like last time. It was all a matter of taking that first step, her going out on a date with him, that needed to be taken. Once she got to know his inner self, which had not changed as his exterior had over the years, it would grow rapidly from there, the two would fall in love, and all would be right with the world.
But his plan had backfired as horribly as possible. Akane's teacher had somehow been substituted for Kachiko, and ended up the recipient of his demand. Worse, she had accepted it with a wholehearted enthusiasm that no woman had ever showered upon him, not even Kachiko in the early days of their courtship. He couldn't honorably back out. He had to date Hinako at least once. Which was why Soun found himself staring mournfully at the mirror as he prepared to go out on the first date he'd had in years.
There was a knock on the door. With all the enthusiasm of a man marching to the gallows, Soun made a weak offer of, "Enter."
Kachiko burst into the room, broad smile beaming at Soun.
Hope griped Soun's heart. She had heard of his dilemma and came to help. Deep down inside he knew she could never stand to have another woman date him. "Just say the word and I'll cancel the date, Kachi." Honor be damned. He would be with his wife no matter what. All she had to do was ask.
Kachiko lifted one eyebrow in surprise. "Don't be ridiculous. I'm here to help you pick out what you're going to wear so you can impress her."
"But I don't want to go out with her. I want to date you!" Soun wailed.
Kachiko slapped him hard across the face, shocking him back to his senses. "Let me make one thing perfectly clear. You are going out with this woman, and you are going to sincerely try to have a good time as well as making her have a good time. She has bared her heart and soul to go out with you when you asked her out. You can't know what it means when a woman leaves herself open for a man she adores and he accepts. The most evil thing a man can do is reject them right afterwards. So let me give you a warning right now. If I catch even a hint of you trying to ruin the evening or copping out, I will never speak to you again."
The sincerity of the threat was unquestionable. That, combined with the fact she was correct, settled the matter with Soun. Only the lowest of men would reject Hinako under these conditions. He bowed his head meekly in deference to his wife's wisdom.
Seeing his acquiescence. Kachiko's mood brightened. "Now, let's see what we can pick out that will knock her off her feet." The girl reevaluated the man with a critical eye. "Or at least shove her off balance. You are a creepy old guy, and we don't have a whole lot to work with. Though for some inexplicable reason, she does have the hots for you. I think we can manage something workable."
By the time the doorbell rang for the tenth time, Ranma decided he had enough. He would have answered it earlier, but he swore Kasumi had shouted that she would "Take care of the door." Nine rings later, it was evident something had gone wrong. After getting the door, he'd have to check things out and make sure Kasumi was all right. As long as she didn't try to kiss him in gratitude. The one time she had was way too weird to deal with. He had never thought of Kasumi in those terms, and had no intention of starting now.
Ranma hurried down the corridor to the front hall, shouting out an impatient, "I'm coming! I'm coming!" Upon arriving, he was taken aback by the sight of Kasumi bracing a set of thick boards against the door to prevent it from being opened.
Afraid to ask, but knowing he had to, Ranma said, "What's going on?"
"Miss Hinako's here, so I'm taking care of the door," Kasumi offered in explanation.
"Um, shouldn't you be letting her in?"
"She cannot date Father. He already has Mother."
Ranma forced the attempted headache away. "You can't keep her out. She's just going to blast her way in through the door or a wall or something." It was a miracle she hadn't already. He suspected she wanted to keep the destruction to a minimum so as to make a good impression, but even her patience would have limits. Besides, once she fired off her blast, she'd be in her younger state, and then seek out a source of life energy to reinvigorate her. Ranma tended to be one of her more popular targets.
Reluctantly, Kasumi accepted his reasoning and allowed Ranma to remove the boards. He threw open the door just as an irate Hinako had her arms held up, forming a circle with her fingers, and prepared to blast her way in. She lowered her hands as she was finally allowed entry to the house.
Even Ranma was a touch taken aback by the sight before him. Hinako was dressed in a stunning off-the-shoulder red dress and long, white elbow-length gloves. The cut to the outfit was low, showing off a great deal of impressive cleavage, and the cut was such that it showed off her very womanly curves. She wore a light shade of make-up that accentuated her already attractive features without overdoing it. She was simply stunning..
Hinako's irritation at being forced to wait disappeared with the open door. She bowed before the pair. "Is Soun in?"
"He's dead," Kasumi answered.
"She's kidding," Ranma said quickly before Hinako could react to the statement. "Come on in."
Hinako entered the home. "Thank you for having me over."
Kasumi followed up with, "You don't want to date Father. He beats women up."
"If I was married to that little brat, I'd beat her up too." Hinako's eyebrow twitched and slight hint of anger entered her voice. It left just as quickly and she turned pleasant again. "Would one of you kindly inform Soun I am here?"
"I'll get him." Ranma hurried off.
"Father's impotent," Kasumi told Hinako.
"When the times comes, I think I can take care of that," she said, adding a meaningful wink, posing slightly for Kasumi's benefit.
Ranma appeared, dragging a reluctant Soun in tow and with Kachiko pushing him from behind.
Once Soun was shoved before Hinako, he was forced to actually look at her. For a moment, his vision fogged over as the undeniable beauty of the woman affected him. He gulped slightly.
"It's so wonderful to see you, Soun," Hinako cooed.
Kachiko prodded him with an elbow.
"Yes, it's wonderful to see you too," he answered.
Kachiko tried her best to be civil to the house guest. "That dress hides your sag well."
"A problem you'll never have, since there's nothing for gravity to affect. And I don't have sag."
The girls shared a mutual glare at one another, neither blinking as the tension between them rose.
Surprisingly, it was Soun who defused the situation. He offered his arm to Hinako. "Perhaps we should go now."
That shook Hinako out of her anger. She accepted the arm as she genuflected in Soun's presence. "Yes, it would be wonderful to go out with you. It's like a dream come true."
With a visible effort, Kachiko said, "You two should get going. Have a good time. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"If you're certain," Soun said, a reminder of Kachiko's ability to end things with a word.
She waved her hand at the pair, face twitching and a light sheen of sweat breaking out on her brow. "Shoo. Go on now."
Soun sighed in defeat and escorted Hinako out the door.
Once the pair was out of earshot and the door closed behind them, Kachiko slumped against a wall, visibly drained of energy.
Mystified, Ranma said, "You seemed pretty choked up about them going out."
"It's Mother's feelings for Father coming through," Kasumi said.
Kachiko snorted. "Get real. The only reason I had a problem with the situation is because I don't want to see that size-changing witch happy. But unloading the geriatric pervert on someone else is more important. Besides, getting stuck with that old guy is punishment enough for any woman."
Ranma breathed a sigh of relief. "That's taken care of. Hinako's gone, and I didn't get drained."
"I'm the one she's been draining," Kachiko pointed out.
"That's true. Thanks for helping out." He slapped Kachiko affectionately on the back. Not being drained was fun. Sort of like not having a hundred paper cuts all over one's body.
"You can show your appreciation by helping me tag along with those two," Kachiko said.
Ranma showed his interest in the suggestion by backing away. "Why would I want to do something like that? Why would you want to, for that matter? You don't even like either of them."
Kachiko stared at the closed door. "I have to make sure everything goes right and they hit it off really well, or all of this is nothing more than a night away from the old guy hitting on me. Besides, I got a bad feeling about this date. I want to be there for damage control if it's necessary."
"Heck, I get those feelings all the time. I'm always right, too." Ranma became mournful.
"All the more reason to go along and try to see things safely through. Now help me out here."
"If I do, will it count as a date?" Ranma asked hopefully.
"No, but I'll compromise. When we do go out to eat on our official date, I won't order the most expensive thing on the menu and just pick at it and make you feel like you completely wasted your money."
Ranma considered the proposition. From what other guys said when they went out on dates, girls always did that to them. It sounded like a decent concession. "Okay, deal." Besides, Ranma had something of an interest in the matter. Soun Tendou had given him a roof to live under for a while, and if Hinako was dating him, she was happy and less likely to drain Ranma. He would come out ahead if the two hit it off.
Besides, it was just a date — one not involving him or one of his romantic interests. What could possibly go wrong?
Soun found his thoughts racing as he and his date walked briskly to the upscale restaurant. Kachiko herself had made the reservations to ensure they would have the "right sort of atmosphere for their date". In that she had proven all too helpful, much to Soun's chagrin. It was just more bad luck dumped by the truckload on him.
After informing Hinako of their destination, Soun had suggested taking the train so they could get there quickly. Hinako refused, saying she preferred walking. Now they were arm-in-arm as they strolled leisurely through the neighborhood toward the shopping district where the restaurant was located.
Despite his protests, Soun found himself concerned about making a good impression with Hinako. Manly pride, which he still possessed to a small degree, would not allow him to make a poor showing, even if he had no interest in the woman. Or more to the point, no romantic interest.
Hinako moved closer, snuggling briefly against Soun's side and he could feel the swell of her breast pressed against his arm. Soun found his body reacting to the contact. There was no denying Hinako was a very desirable woman. She was attractive, had a generous build, and was even a good bit younger than him. It was also obvious she was interested in him, which was flattering to his ego. There were no drawbacks or distasteful characteristics to her at all.
Sparing a look — that was not a leer, he assured himself — he realized that there was something familiar about her. Not something about her personally, as much as her appearance reminded him of someone. It took a moment for the name to surface. Minato! That was it. Hinako's husky voice and ample build reminded Soun of the only other woman he had loved. While there were obvious differences, there were enough physical similarities that the familiar chord struck within him suddenly made dealing with Hinako much easier.
Why not have a good time? Soun finally decided. He hadn't been out on a date in ages, and at the least it would serve to knock some of the rust off his romantic inclinations. He wasn't agreeing to marry the woman. It was a simple date that had come about because of a misunderstanding. There were no commitment issues involved, and the truth was, it felt good to spend some time with a woman after more than ten years of loneliness.
Much more relaxed than at any point in the last couple of days, Soun decided to cut loose and enjoy himself.
Since they were on the street level and had a limited view of their surroundings, the dating couple was unaware of the additional shadows they had picked up. Leaping from rooftop to rooftop, two figures followed the course the pair on the ground was taking.
Kachiko spoke quietly, so as to not alert their targets. "The old fogy's keeping his hands to himself."
"He's said he's not interested in her," Ranma reminded her.
"He can't keep his hands off me," Kachiko said with distaste. "I automatically assumed he'd go after any girl that he had alone. I mean, I know I'm a lot better looking than the walking bust, but guys with no sense in what really makes a woman sexy go for skanky girls like her. And she seems the type to sleep with any guy that throws a little attention her way."
For a brief moment, Ranma pictured Soun and Hinako in a romantic clench, and immediately felt nauseated. No way did he want to think of those two like that. He wasn't comfortable of thinking of any girl in such a compromising situation.
"You don't go for girls like that, do you?" Kachiko asked.
"Heck no!" Hinako was way too old, or too young, depending on the situation, for him to think of her in those sorts of terms.
"Good," Kachiko said in an oddly satisfied tone.
Ranma wasn't sure why, but Kachiko seemed to be looking upon him with approval. Despite not knowing what he had done to earn it, it made him feel at ease, a very good thing since he was going to be at her side most of the evening. That was something that had angered Akane to no end. He couldn't figure out why, since Kachiko had specifically said they were not going on a date, just chaperoning one to insure no one tried to disturb it. Akane hadn't seen it that way, seemed to think they were up to something on the sly, and stomped off in a fit of anger. It was stupid, really. He'd have let her come along too, if she had asked.
The display of anger was hardly the first. While Akane always had something of a temper, she had been acting increasingly moody since Kachiko's return, and was getting progressively worse with each passing day. At least some of the ire was directed toward Kachiko, though Ranma couldn't understand that either since, aside from taking Akane's room, the two had little in the way of interaction together. Most of Kachiko's time was being spent with Nabiki, and it was in a good way rather than the "Let me hug you so I can find a good spot to sink this knife in" attitude they had first held toward one another.
For some bizarre reason, Akane was becoming increasingly angry with Ranma, and he hadn't done anything to deserve it. Other times she just acted strangely, usually when he was just speaking his mind, like about postponing the engagement. After the amusement park, she had become twice as bad. He still couldn't figure that one out. It wasn't his fault that idiotic hypnotist tricked him into thinking he was a monkey, but Akane acted as if he had committed some great offense. The mood swings were getting a bit tiring, even for Ranma. He hoped she got better soon.
Admittedly, it wasn't hard to figure out where the dramatic mood swings originated. While Ranma wasn't a thing like his father, the same could not be said about Akane and Kachiko. They shared a lot of similar traits outside of their physical similarity to one another. A quick temper seemed to be something Akane had inherited from her mother, though Kachiko was quicker to forgive as well as incite. While Ranma had mostly adjusted to the physical similarities, sometimes the common traits in their personalities still threw him. The two were different from one another in other behaviors, but they were family. Of that there was no doubt.
Time spent with Kachiko wasn't bad. He enjoyed it to a large degree, as long as she didn't try to put the moves on him. Like now. They had a common goal, and were working together to see it through. It was times like these he liked her company, even if she was a blowhard that wasn't half as good as she thought she was. And she did have a propensity to be shifty. And drank a bit too much. But she was under a considerable amount of stress with being in a different time and finding out she was supposed to die young.
He could understand, and even sympathize with her troubles. She even tended to take his side in matters, like the engagement thing, which few people, outside of Akane, did. The pros outweighed the cons when it came to spending time with her. She was kind of fun to hang around with, though she had a tendency to attract trouble.
Kachiko elbowed him in the side, breaking him out of his reverie. "What's that over there?"
Ranma looked in the direction she was pointing. Accompanying a loud roar was a motorcycle gang approaching the couple. They were a boisterous lot of imposing figures decked out in riding leathers and with their gang emblems hanging from their bikes. At the head of the pack rode the largest of them all, a man nearly seven feet in height and wearing a hockey mask that concealed his features. They radiated an aura of barely restrained menace and violence, palpable even from Ranma's rooftop perch. Despite being a few streets away from the dating couple, it did seem as though they were taking the most direct course toward them.
"I smell trouble." Kachiko leaped across the rooftops in order to intercept the gang before they made it to Soun and Hinako.
Ranma followed hot on her heels.
The series of leaps ended only two streets away from Soun and Hinako's current position. Kachiko landed well in front of the approaching gang, holding her hand out and motioning them to brake. Ranma landed behind her, content to allow her to take the lead.
The Road Ronin waved at his gang to slow down. They fell into position behind him, spreading out as though they were a hungry wave of metal prepared to bury any opposition beneath their treads at the slightest provocation.
"What do you want, little girl?" The Road Ronin sneered in contempt.
"You wouldn't happen to be lusting for revenge upon a size-changing witch called Hinako, are you?"
The biker leader drew back in surprise. "How could you tell?"
"I know my luck. Any other answer would have made things too easy." Kachiko sighed in disgust. "Ordinarily, I would be more than happy to allow you to extract a pound of flesh from her — her chest could sure spare it — but it just so happens she's doing me a favor in taking a creepy old guy off my hands. I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to turn around and go home."
The request was met with deep laughter from the gang. Once the laughter died down, the Road Ronin said, "If you had a better build, I'd make you my 'bitch of the week'. But since you don't, I'll just have to content myself with dragging you behind my bike for a couple of miles before getting my revenge on Hinako."
"You couldn't drag a little kid with that piece of crap bike!" Kachiko stuck out her tongue.
"How dare you insult my motorcycle?! I'll kill you!" The Road Ronin signaled to his men to run her down.
Ranma grabbed Kachiko by the shoulder and forced her behind him. "These guys look dangerous. You'd better let me handle this."
"Okay." Kachiko took off running in the opposite direction.
Ranma watched in stunned silence as for the first time ever, Kachiko did as she was told. It was unbelievable. Women never listened to him. What did he do to make her listen, and more importantly, what could he do to make her do it again?
The rattle of a chain alerted Ranma that there were more important matters at hand than figuring out how he had managed that one. He ducked before the metal links caved in his skull, allowing them to whistle through the air just above his head. Ranma retaliated with a backfist to the biker's jaw, knocking his attacker off the bike and onto the ground, where he skidded along the asphalt for a half-dozen meters before sliding to a stop.
The rest of the bikers revved up their engines and surrounded Ranma in a circle of roaring, rotating steel. Nearly every man was armed with chains, pipes, or other weapons with an extended reach. All of them were slavering in anticipation of using them.
Just outside the circle, the Road Ronin stood on top of the handlebars of his motorcycle, his merciless eyes boring holes through the youth that dared place himself between the gang leader and the true target of his rage. "You have made a mistake, boy, interfering with my revenge. Now feel the wrath of the Road Ronin and his gang of—"
Ranma interrupted. "Hey, can we skip the long-winded introduction and move directly to the action?"
The Road Ronin seemed at a loss. He considered the matter. "Well, it sort of goes against standard biker protocol. Usually I go through a full minute of preamble and intimidation before moving on to the beating." The leader looked at his watch. "I am sort of in a hurry, and running late. The wife wants me back by ten, and I still have to get my revenge on Hinako. I guess I can let it slide this one time."
"Thanks," Ranma said appreciatively .
The Road Ronin snapped his fingers. The rotating ring of bikers closed in on Ranma.
Content with the knowledge that Ranma could handle himself against some smelly biker gang, Kachiko returned to her original objective. Rather than continuing her pursuit of Soun and Hinako from overhead, she decided to take a more preventative measure by scouting ahead of the pair. It was easy enough; knowing which restaurant they were going to limited the number of paths they could take to it. Her precaution paid off as she spotted a suspicious looking pack of women clustered around the middle of the sidewalk, one street away from the restaurant. They appeared to be idly hanging around, but a closer inspection showed wary gazes that shouted out they were looking for someone in particular and wanted to do something other than offering them a cigarette.
Kachiko casually strolled past the group, trying to listen for any snatch of conversation that would let her know the identity of who they were waiting for. There was only talk of make-up and men. No names came up, and soon Kachiko was clear of the group. Now she found herself at an impasse. She didn't want to pick a fight with a bunch of strangers, even if they were trashy-looking tramps that cross-dressers like Yumi probably went for. They were rough-looking and a touch on the butch side. They might even be lesbians themselves. Kachiko heard those kind of girls tended to hang out in packs. On the other hand, Kachiko had walked past without being hit upon; there wasn't even a catcall directed toward her. So that meant they were probably straight; just in need of a major fashion overhaul.
Kachiko was still left with the issue of determining whether or not the girls were going to cause a problem or were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. She had to figure something out fast. Soun and Hinako would be appearing any minute now. Eventually a plan came to her. Looking further up the street, she called out, "Hello there, Miss Hinako! Bust any delinquents lately?"
The gang perked up, openly eager for a fight as they looked up the street, trying to see to whom Kachiko was speaking to.
That was all the evidence Kachiko needed. "While I can appreciate your desire to kick the crap out of that annoying bitch, I'm afraid I have to keep her from being molested by anyone other than her date."
Realizing they had been tricked, the gang parted and allowed their leader to move to the front and confront Kachiko.
"Who in the hell are you?" Keiko asked, cigarette dangling from her mouth as she spoke.
Kachiko smirked. "I am a martial artist of great renown. My skills in the art of hand-to-hand combat are unparalleled among the ranks of mortal man. In the halls of Furinkan High, where I reign mostly supreme, I have been given the dreaded title of 'The Sukeban Slayer'. She posed dramatically.
Keiko laughed so hard her cigarette flew out of her mouth. The rest of the gang followed suit.
"Sukeban Slayer? You don't look like you could slay my brother's hamster."
"The only clash you can handle is the one your clothes are having right now."
"You're lying. You were never called 'Sukeban Slayer'."
"Am too," Kachiko said, even if she was the only one that had called herself that. She should have been called that, though. She had taken out gangs of thug girls, just like this one, on several different occasions.
"I'll take care of this," Keiko told the others as she drew her yo-yo out and let it dangle from her finger.
Kachiko laughed at the display. "Oh no. A yo-yo. Whatever shall I do? Perhaps I should counter you with my dreaded 'Hopscotch Houkudo'. Hahahaha!"
The laughter ended as Keiko flicked her wrist, striking her laughing foe right between the eyes with the yo-yo with a hard and swift blow.
Kachiko's vision blurred and she staggered back, barely shaking her head free of the cobwebs that threatened to take her over. "Okay, I didn't see that one coming."
Showing her contempt, Keiko didn't follow up the attack and instead lit another cigarette. She blew a puff of smoke in Kachiko's direction. "Not very impressive for a Sukeban Slayer."
Face swelling slightly, Kachiko shifted into an attack stance. She might have taken the gang girl lightly, but no longer. The leader had some true potential, and odds said there were a few more in the gang that could make Kachiko break a sweat. Worse, there was no time left to posture. Soun and Hinako could appear at any moment. If they came upon a fight, especially one with Kachiko involved, it would ruin everything. Lacking the time needed to defeat the girls either as a group or one at a time, Kachiko had to focus all of their attention on her and lure them away from the street.
Her mind sifted through the various techniques she knew that could make the gang girls follow her to the ends of the earth. What could she do to make them that angry? What had people done to Kachiko herself that enraged her so badly she dropped everything to seek revenge?
One thing immediately sprang to mind. It was something that cross-dressing pervert, Yumi used to do when Kachiko's guard was down, leaving her enraged for days afterward. It took months to master the technique, all for the purpose of understanding it enough to form an effective counter to it. The very thought of using the attack against another girl made Kachiko sick to the stomach, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
Resigned to using the technique, Kachiko prepared to attack. She just prayed no one saw her use it, or she'd never live the humiliation down.
Keiko began twirling her yo-yo back and forth, prepared to launch an attack of her own.
The two were a blur as the raced toward one another at top speed. The rest of the gang saw the foes pass by one another, the sound of an impact reaching their ears as the duo continued past each other as though they had missed. Neither turned around, but remained facing in the same direction they had started in.
There was a rustling sound as the material of Kachiko's left shirt sleeve fell to the ground, as though it had been severed by a blade.
Keiko knew by the sound that her attack had been successful. She turned and smirked at her foe. "That's a point for me."
"And two points for me," Kachiko announced as she took a drag on the cigarette that dangled from her mouth.
"That's only one point," Keiko said in annoyance at having fallen victim to the attack.
"Ah, no, it's two." Kachiko spun a pair of panties around on her finger.
Keiko felt under her skirt, and the lack of something there. Her face blushed furiously, as she shouted, "You sick pervert! Give me back my panties!"
"Come and get them," Kachiko taunted, fleeing down a connecting alley as fast as she could. Using the technique hadn't been as painfully bad as she anticipated. Actually, it had been kind of fun, in a twisted sort way. She just hoped Ranma or any of the others didn't see her use it, or she'd never hear the end of it.
Kachiko had just made it to the end of the alley and around the corner, coming onto the street it emptied into, when she slammed into the back of a tall, broad-shouldered man. Caught off-guard, Kachiko fell onto her backside, while the large man only grunted, barely being budged an inch.
Kachiko shot back to her feet and leveled an accusatory finger at the man. "Hey you !#$%, watch where you're goAHHH!"
Kachiko screamed as the man, and the dozen large compatriots in front of him, turned at the loud disturbance Kachiko was making. She recognized the belt full of weapons, the stun sticks they wielded in their beefy hands, and the cheesy fuchsia berets they wore.
The CLAP had found her again.
The eyes of the large man she had bumped into widened in recognition. "Hey, it's that child molesting pervert that attacked us a few weeks ago."
"I am not a pervert!" Kachiko shouted.
It was at that moment Keiko and her gang of sukeban burst from the alleyway, the leader shouting, "Give me back my panties!"
Kachiko looked at the finger the panties dangled from, the one that was leveled at the CLAP. "I can explain! This isn't what it looks like!"
"That's what they all say," the leader of the CLAP intoned menacingly as he stepped toward Kachiko. The other men followed suit.
Behind Kachiko, Keiko and her gang did the same.
Hinako paused in her walk long to enough to look down an alleyway.
"What is it?" Soun asked.
"I thought I heard a scream of pain. I was probably hearing things." Hinako decided to let the incident pass. Ordinarily she would investigate the disturbance, hoping for the opportunity to drain some delinquent of their energy. Tonight was different. She had more important matters to deal with. Romance took precedent over discipline, after all.
The pair continued their casual stroll until they arrived at their destination. The outside of the restaurant was sedate, if tasteful. They entered and informed the maitre'd of their reservation. The service proved itself outstanding as the maitre'd quickly ushered them toward their table. As they sat down, Soun noticed their arrival had drawn the stares of many people, mostly men, who looked upon Hinako with lust and at Soun with envy. The former made him irritated and defensive; Hinako was with him, and they had no business looking at her as though they could have her. The latter made him fill with pride. He was unable to remember the last time anyone was envious of him, even if it was only for the company he kept.
A part of Soun knew he shouldn't feel that way. He wasn't interested in Hinako. He couldn't be. He had his wife back, sort of. Except it was Kachiko who had insisted he go out with Hinako, and Kachiko wasn't exactly the same as she was before. She was a lot like the Kachiko he had been thrust into an arranged marriage with, but not quite. Thinking about the matter, he decided it was more like she was the potential to be that woman, rather than the actual person. Despite her continued presence, and the reminder of what he had once had, in some ways the Kachiko with him now merely made him want his dead wife all the more. It was paradoxical, and difficult to sort things out.
"Are you all right?" Hinako asked in concern at the far off cast Soun's eyes had taken.
It was such a simple question, yet Soun realized it was almost never directed toward him. No one ever displayed much consideration over his feelings. Not his best friend, not his young wife, not even his daughters. It made him realize how lonely he was. That he was with someone concerned about his emotions made him feel wanted. Hinako was proving herself wonderful company. He found enjoying himself and making the date go well was proving much easier than he thought it would be. Keeping his promise to Kachiko was going to be easy.
For the first time in recent memory, Soun pushed his concerns aside and decided to enjoy the evening. "I'm fine," he answered. And more importantly, he meant it.
The kitchen was a flurry of activity as food was prepared and served to the clientele in the dining area. Cooks, managers, and waiters moved in a tangle that would make morning rush hour traffic seem orderly by comparison.
The confusion made it easy for a ninja of Kyosuke Takiawa's skill to pick open the lock of the back door of the restaurant, go the locker room to steal a waiter's uniform, then blend in with his surroundings.
So far everything had proven easy. The Conehead's information concerning Hinako's whereabouts had been accurate. Unlike the smelly biker fools, or the sukeban tramps, Kyosuke had easily spotted the two people trailing Hinako. It was easy to avoid them with his superior mastery of moving silently in shadows. Kyosuke was so talented that sometimes even he didn't realize he was around.
After confirming no others would get in his way, the path to his enemy was clear and he could execute his revenge. It was a simple plan. He would impersonate Hinako's waiter, slipping a special poison in her food. It wouldn't kill her. That would be too simple. Instead, he had something much more elaborate in mind. The poison he'd slip her would merely render her in a deathlike state, one that even the most highly trained of physicians could not discern from actual death. Then, when her body was shipped to a morgue, he would steal it. With Hinako legally declared dead, no one would seek her out. Then his insidious revenge would begin.
He'd set up a classroom and make her take classes he was teaching by tying her to a chair. Then he'd fail her for not attending them, even though she was there. Then, when she tried to alter her grades, he would make sure she couldn't. That would give her a taste of the hell he went through. Oh yes, she was going to pay for her sins in that hell of his own devising. He was almost sorry for her. Almost.
The ninja watched carefully as a waiter took Hinako's order. As the man came through the door to the kitchen, Kyosuke took him aside, claiming a manager wanted to see him. Once the two were out of sight, Kyosuke hit him in the back of the head, then stuffed him in one of the lockers in the changing room.
Kyosuke looked over the order. So, Hinako had chosen the salmon mousse. It appeared revenge truly was going to be a dish served cold.
Soun found himself slightly uncomfortable as Hinako gazed upon him in open adoration. It wasn't so much from the stare as Soun finding his reaction to it most improper. He found his memory drifting to some of the things she shared outwardly with Minato, and wondered if the resemblance was more than superficial. Minato had been an incredibly talented woman, after all.
No! He had to keep such lecherous thoughts from his mind. This was their first date. It had taken three months before he and Kachiko had progressed to that sort of relationship. And for him and Minato Well, the circumstances surrounding his first "date"' with her were considerably different from a standard relationship. A comparison didn't hold up there. But it had been so long since he had enjoyed the company of a woman.
For the longest time, Soun simply didn't have the desire to think of them that way. Then the first time Hinako had come around, she had made him consider such things to the point he asked his daughters how they would feel if he remarried. Receiving unequivocal "No's" from all of them, he tempered those feelings for a while. But the return of a younger, incredibly sexy Kachiko had brought them back with a vengeance. It was on the verge of being painful, and his body cried out for some form of relief. Hinako, and the body she had, could certainly help him with his problem, and she seemed attracted to him. They were adults. It would be fine. Many did so. It wasn't the same thing as marriage, after all.
Soun's body was so tense, he broke out in a sweat. How could he think such thoughts concerning another woman when his beloved Kachiko was returned to him? Well, her refusal to allow him near her had a lot to do with it. The harder he tried to get close to her, the more violent she was toward him. It only made the situation worse, not better. Perhaps thinking those thoughts concerning Hinako was only natural.
It was while he was in the middle of his mental diatribe that he felt a bare foot force its way between his legs and make an up and down motion on his crotch.
Surprised, Soun reacted by shooting up to his feet. It was at that exact same moment the waiter arrived with their food. Soun rose so quickly the waiter didn't have time to react as the platter laden with their meal was shoved into his face.
"I'm sorry!" Hinako and Soun said as one, her comments directed toward her date while his were to the waiter he had knocked over.
The waiter rose slowly, stunned from the blow. He started to unleash an angry retort, when he smacked his lips together. His eyes bulged, and he ran as though to make his way to the bathroom. He collapsed halfway there, remaining motionless on the ground.
One of the managers, Jinto Gannosuke, was quick to appear. He snapped his fingers, and two other waiters hoisted the limp body up and back toward the kitchen.
Noting the rest of the patrons were watching the scene in varying degrees of annoyance to scandal, Jinto reassured them. "Don't worry. Kurosawa is anemic and passes out very easily. He'll be fine. Please return to your dining and enjoy."
He went in back toward the kitchen. Once the doors swung shut behind him, Jinto went to find the fallen waiter. He found him, and watched in concern as the two chefs examined the motionless waiter. One of them turned away from the body and informed the manager of his prognosis.
"He's dead, Jin."
Jinto stared in disbelief at the body. "What? How?"
The other chef smelled around the motionless man's mouth. "I believe it was the salmon mousse."
"It's always the salmon mousse," the other chef said sagely.
Jinto wiped the sweat from his brow. "Who is he?"
The second chef shrugged. "Got me. I don't recognize him. He's probably a temp."
"Good, no one will miss him. We'll deal with it the same way we dealt with the mermaid flesh incident back in June." He stared accusingly at the first chef.
"I thought it would be a good appetizer," he said defensively.
"It's poisonous and makes people die violently."
"Oh right, some turn into flesh-eating monsters instead."
"Some people become immortal."
"What, one out of a hundred?!"
"They do tend tip well afterwards."
"Just throw the body in the dumpster out back," Jinto said tiredly. Before retreating to his office, he told a passing janitor to deal with the mess in the dining room.
The old man did as he was instructed, trudging along with his mop in hand.
Once the commotion died down, Soun returned to his seat. He saw that Hinako instead chose to remain standing, bowing before him. "Please forgive me for my inappropriate behavior."
Noting she was on the verge of tears, he said in reassuring tones, "Now, now. It was nothing."
"It was wrong of me to be so forward. I dishonored you," she insisted.
Soun chuckled. "Actually, I'll let you in on a secret. My wife did that same thing to me once when we were dating. I reacted the same way. So I think it's safe to say no offense was taken now any more than it was then."
Hinako smiled at him, almost childlike in the way she gazed upon him. "Thank you so much. You don't know how much it means " she trailed off, staring curiously at her hand.
"What is it?" Soun asked.
"Some of the food spilled on my clothes," she said quickly. "I have to go the lavatory and clean up." Distraught, she hurried off before Soun could offer a word of protest.
Soun was left staring curiously at her retreating form. He could have sworn the food had been flung in the opposite direction of his date.
As distracted as he was, he failed to notice the janitor cease cleaning up the spill and head toward the women's restroom.
The door to the restroom had barely swung shut when Hinako felt the familiar sensation of reverting to her younger form. Tearfully she walked to the wall-to-wall mirror over the sink and forced herself to look at her image. She had been so excited over the course of the date she had unintentionally radiated a lot of excess energy and the supply that should have lasted all night instead had given out no more than halfway in. She had almost changed in front of Soun, and that would have ruined everything. Turning into an eight-year-old child was the quickest way to kill any romance that had been building up. He'd never want to see her again. He wouldn't want to see her now. The date was over! She slumped next to the sink and began bawling like a little child.
The door to the restroom opened, and Tatsumi stalked in, recognizing his prey's younger form immediately. Clementine at the fore, he prepared to lunge at the girl before she had a chance to do anything.
Hinako was faster, as, upon hearing someone enter the bathroom, she had drawn her coin and called out, "Happo-Gojuuen Setsu!"
Tatsumi had closed only half the distance toward Hinako when he felt his life force sucked out of his body. He crumpled to the ground, the draining so all-consuming that even Clementine looked thinner than before.
The now adult Hinako looked down at the dried-out form of the janitor. He had possessed a surprisingly strong battle aura. Obviously the man attacked dirt with true passion. Hinako felt filled with enough energy to make it through the rest of the night.
Delight replacing depression, Hinako returned to enjoying the rest of her date.
It was an exhausted, physically drained Ranma that dragged himself in the direction of the restaurant that Soun and Hinako were dining at. Running across rooftops was out of the question. He was lucky to walk with the limp in his right leg. He was certain a disc had slipped in his back, too. It had been a rough fight. Things had been fine until the Road Ronin had jumped into the brawl. He had some sort of pressure point attack that had done a number on Ranma's muscles every time the huge man landed a blow, even if it was a block Ranma was using. It had gotten tricky then, and might have ended badly until Ranma led him into a Hiryuu Shouten Ha. It was one of the most difficult feats he had ever accomplished. While the Road Ronin had more than enough hot chi channeling through him to use the technique, Ranma had to run backward quickly, since the huge man had fought from the back of his moving motorcycle the entire time.
Ranma had dragged himself most of the way there when a shadowy figure lunged out from a connecting alleyway. Ranma came close to punching the person out, but recognized her just in time to pull back his fist.
Kachiko was covered in bruises, black char marks, and curiously, panties. "What happened to you?"
"I ran into some old friends and made some new ones." Her voice was exhaustion personified. "Let's go back home."
"What about the date?"
"I'd rather jump off an eighteen-foot diving board and into an empty pool than keep watching them." She sighed. "I'm so tired, I don't even care if the old creep tries to jump in bed with me again. I just want to go to sleep."
Ranma was inclined to agree. He had never envisioned chaperoning being such hard work.
Soun and Hinako exited the restaurant, giggling inappropriately loud. The wine undoubtedly had a great deal to do with it. Things had gone so well after the collision with the waiter that Soun splurged and ordered a bottle of wine, and a not altogether inexpensive one at that. Despite the cost, the atmosphere had been too perfect to pass up. It had definitely been the correct choice.
Now the streets were deserted as the two made their way out of the restaurant, swaying as much as walking down the street in their revelry.
The restaurant was only a block behind them when Hinako staggered, one of her heels catching in a crack. In her drunken stupor, she teetered into Soun, and would have fallen altogether had his martial arts reflexes, despite being dulled as they were by the alcohol, kicked in and he caught her.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Better than all right with where you're holding me." Hinako stared meaningfully at where his hands were affixed to her chest.
Soun finally noticed. "I'm sorry!" he said, withdrawing his hands from their improper perch.
Still off balance and lacking anything to prop her up, Hinako fell straight onto her bottom.
"I'm sorry!" Soun babbled again, reaching under her arms to heft her up from behind.
"How indecisive," she slurred out.
Soun wondered what she was talking about, then noticed that his hands, having minds of their own and concluding their former grasp was good for holding onto things, latched onto Hinako in the exact same spot as before.
Just as Soun's grip started to loosen, Hinako's own hands came to trap his, making certain they stayed right where they were. The intention was unmistakable.
Soun gulped loudly. He knew he should insist on removing them, but could not find the resolve to make the thought reality. Instead they remained right where they were, the soft, yet firm, flesh producing a thousand different conflicting emotions in the father of three.
While Soun was racked with indecision, Hinako moved back into his embrace. In her deep, sultry voice, she whispered, "You're the first man I've ever allowed to touch me like this. Please, leave them there."
A triphammer was pounding in Soun's chest, and he wondered if his heart would break a rib with how powerfully it beat. He shouldn't be there, with another woman, doing this. A different portion of his mind demanded he stay. Yet a third had the audacity to insist he act like a man and further things on his own initiative, rather than forcing Hinako to control the tempo of the date.
Hinako peered over her shoulder. In her heels, she was tall enough to look Soun in the eye. Slowly she brought her face toward his, and he began to do the same.
"Well, well, well, if this isn't the most touching thing I've ever seen. It would move me to tears, if I was still capable of them."
The voice cut through the building aura of mutual passion that had tuned out the rest of the world. Reminded that they were in the middle of a public street, and what they had been doing, Soun withdrew his hands as though Hinako's skin had caught fire. Hinako adjusted her outfit, which had ridden up during her falling and rising from the ground.
The pair focused on the man who had interrupted their public tryst.
Hinako was stunned. "You, poor, poor man, I can't imagine what deformity you have that forces you to wear that awful headgear."
"It looks like he's a giant pimple ready to burst," Soun said in open-mouthed wonder.
"That is not my head! It's just a costume!" the Gargoyle raged.
"You look more ridiculous than that panda drawing that tried to date Ranma," Soun said, recalling the carnival incident, one of the less than memorable experiences in his future son-in-law's life.
"It's stylish!" the Gargoyle insisted.
"It's the most horrible thing I've ever seen," Hinako said.
"I don't have to take that from you of all people," the Gargoyle intoned menacingly. "All of those other idiots I recruited might have failed miserably, but that's all right. Orchestrating your defeat is nowhere near as satisfying as taking my revenge on you personally."
"I've never met you before," Hinako assured him. "I'm certain I'd remember someone that looks like a giant dildo."
"I'll show you!" The Gargoyle removed his helmet, all four feet of it, and tossed it to the ground. He then flexed his muscles, shredding the white uniform he wore, leaving him in nothing more than a torn set of white boxers
Beneath the helmet was a visage straight out of sixteenth-century cathedral architecture. Now the Gargoyle looked far more like his namesake, displaying a monstrous red face, with inhumanly large canines, a snout, and small white horns poking out from his brow. Blood red eyes seemed to take in Hinako's form with an inhuman hunger. His physique was every bit as demonic as his face, with the huge, rippling muscles that were large, and in some cases exaggerated beyond human dimensions, including what lay hidden beneath his boxers.
"I don't recall meeting any demons either," Hinako told him.
"I didn't look like this back then!" the Gargoyle roared. "Back in high school, I was nothing more than a poor, misunderstood youth. All I wanted was attention from my peers and recognition from those in charge. But I was cruelly treated by the system, and especially by you!"
"So you were a delinquent of some kind?" Hinako asked.
"Don't label me, you bitch! That's the same attitude you displayed toward me back then, and look what it turned me into!"
"You took steroids?"
"I made a deal with a sex-demon!" he shrieked.
"You sold him your soul?"
The Gargoyle calmed down. "Actually, no. It only cost me ten thousand yen. Rellram wasn't what you would call a great bargainer. I got off pretty darn lucky in acquiring this powerful body, as well as the 'special attachments', if you know what I mean, for a bargain basement price."
"I still don't know who you are," Hinako said.
"I am Kenji Yasuroka. A student whose life you tormented until it drove me to the brink of insanity."
"You're Kenji 'The Pervert' Yasuroka?" Hinako asked, the dawn of realization finally showing in her eyes. "I do remember you. You would hike up girls' skirts, sneak into their locker rooms, take naughty pictures, and all other sorts of delinquent things."
"Being interested in the opposite sex is not a sign of being a delinquent!"
"It is when the girls don't want you holding them up to ridicule," Hinako said, her voice taking on an authoritative tone. "You were one of the worst delinquents I ever had to deal with. I had to drain you at least five times a day to get you to stop. It took what, two months straight of draining, including coming by your house weekends, to make you stop harassing all the girls in school?"
"And it permanently drained me of my ability to " What started out as a yell became a whisper. "You know, become excited around women."
Hinako laughed. "Impossible. My abilities don't work that way. Even repeated draining over an extended period of time has no long-term effects. I've drained weaker people than you a lot longer, and they were fine. If you had any problems with arousal, they were psychological, not physical. Perhaps you finally felt guilt at objectifying women for so long and that was the punishment your mind chose."
"It was not my fault! It was yours!" the Gargoyle went from raging to unleashing a hungry look at Hinako. "And now you'll pay. Thanks to my deal, I'm able to be a true man once again. And I've been saving my improvements just for you." He took a step forward.
Hinako turned red at the implication. Her hand, which had been drifting toward the pocket in her dress since the conehead first appeared, whipped out her largest coin. She lined up the hole in the center with the demon, then shouted out "Happo-Gojuuen Satsu!"
The Gargoyle's only reaction was to take another step forward, his gait unaffected by Hinako's attempt to drain him. His feral smile grew at the confusion on her face.
Hinako felt a surge of panic and called out the draining attack again, but still she felt nothing flow from his body and into her.
The Gargoyle said, "That won't work. One of the deals of the pact I made was immunity to your draining and shooting abilities. But you don't have to take my word for it. By all means, release all of your pent up energy at me. I don't care what form you're in when I take my revenge."
The boast, which held the weight of truth, made Hinako back away, uncertain of what to do. She had never encountered someone that was immune to her abilities. As Kachiko had accused her in the past, she was as much a "one-trick pony" as one could get. Her reliance on them was total. She had never bothered learning of another means of defending herself since her inherent abilities had always sufficed. She was helpless in the face of the Gargoyle's obvious power.
Before the creature could draw another step closer, Soun interceded, placing himself between the beast and his prey.
"I won't let you harm her," he warned.
The Gargoyle laughed uproariously, an inhuman rattle that set everyone's teeth on edge. "And exactly what is it you think you can do to me, little man?"
"This!" Holding nothing back, Soun attacked with the full force of his demon head.
The Gargoyle grabbed him casually by his elongated throat, choking the man and making him revert to his human form. He brought Soun's face in close. "You idiot. What good is such an attack against one who is already a demon?!" He threw Soun headfirst into a wall. There was a sickening thud, and Soun's limp form slumped to the ground.
"Soun-chan!" Fear of her foe forgotten, Hinako rushed to be at Soun's side.
She was intercepted by a huge hand that snared her arm, pulling her toward the Gargoyle. She tried scratching him with her nails on her free hand, but they broke harmlessly against his leathery hide. He caught her free hand by the wrist, then forced both into one of his massive paws. Supporting her weight with one hand, he effortlessly suspended her off the ground by her wrists.
He brought her face near his demonic visage. A serpentine tongue darted out, caressing her face. "Yum. Jasmine flavored perfume. Tastes great."
She recoiled at the fetid breath he exhaled.
"Let's see if the rest of you tastes the saARGH!" he snarled in pain, releasing his hold on Hinako's wrists and held his back.
Hinako fell to the ground, landing on her side. Instantly she tried to crawl away from the Gargoyle, looking for Soun at the same time. She saw her date had regained his footing, and had launched some attack into the Gargoyle's unprotected back.
Saliva dripped from the demon's jaws as he continued holding his back in pain. "How dare you attack me! I was content to allow you to escape without harm, but for defending this unworthy woman, and having the audacity to make her happy by showing her a good time, I'm going to do something bad to you! I'm not sure what, since I've never beaten up anyone before, and I've only been fantasizing about Hinako all my life, but I'll come up with something good. In a bad way."
The Gargoyle seemed to draw more power from somewhere as his mass increased. Veins popped out from already inhumanly large muscles that grew as Hinako watched. Steam rose from the creature and his skin's texture turned more red.
Hinako shouted. "Run, Soun! It's me he wants!"
Soun shook his head. "I could hardly call myself a martial artist if I allowed something as simple-minded as this fool to ruin one of my dates."
Hinako couldn't believe her ears. "Look at him! He isn't even human!"
"He's nothing compared to my old martial arts master," Soun assured her.
"I've got it!" the Gargoyle shouted. "I'll pull down your pants and spank you until you beg for mercy! That'll show you!"
Both Soun and Hinako cringed.
"All right, you do compare to the Master," Soun conceded. "But nonetheless, I refuse to allow you to lay even a finger on my date."
"Oh, I'm going to lay more than a finger on her," the Gargoyle threatened. Content that he had struck the appropriate amount of fear into the opposition, the Gargoyle rushed to attack Soun, shooting forward with a blinding burst of speed.
"Look out!" Hinako cried.
Soun sidestepped the rush, leaving one foot sticking out. The Gargoyle tripped over the extended foot. Soun helped add velocity to the rush by pushing on the demon's back, taking his turn to send the demon headfirst into the wall.
The Gargoyle recovered from the blow more quickly than Soun had. He lashed out with a wide swing toward Soun's head, intent on hitting a home run using Soun's skull as the ball. The martial artist ducked out of the way and struck with a fast three-fist combination to his opponent's chin.
The Gargoyle recoiled in pain and clutched his mouth. "You made me chip a fang!" he whined.
Soun took a moment to give Hinako a reassuring look. "For all of his power, he has no skill. I suffered under one of the most grueling training regimens the human body could endure. I can handle one lousy demon."
"That's sex demon!" the Gargoyle proclaimed. From his sides and back a mass of tentacles burst forth and lashed out toward Soun.
The numerous appendages caught Soun off guard, and he was relentlessly hammered by the ropy strands of leathery flesh that seemed to be everywhere. Two of them wrapped themselves around his torso, then threw him into the ground a trio of times, before releasing him and leaving his still form embedded in the ruins of the street.
Hinako drew back in horror at the sight. Then her eyes focused on the tentacles, which appeared identical to those that would be on an octopus. "I thought sex demons' tentacles were supposed to be more phallic."
The Gargoyle held his hands up helplessly, all of the tentacles mimicking the movement. "I did only pay ten thousand yen. Rellram had to cut corners somewhere on the transformation. I still think it was a good deal, especially since my original 'tentacle' has been enhanced." He thrust his pelvis meaningfully in Hinako's direction.
Hinako wanted to run, but was fearful. Even if she did escape, that would leave the beaten Soun at the Gargoyle's mercy, and he would be doubly angry at her evasion. There could be no doubt he would take all of his anger out on the helpless Soun. That meant there was no other choice. "If you promise to leave Soun alone, I'll go with you."
At first, the Gargoyle seemed delighted at the woman's shift in attitude. Then it changed just as quickly. "Odd. It's nowhere near as fun if you just give up. I preferred it when you were screaming and terrified of what I implied I was going to do with you. How about if I give you a running start instead?"
"You won't touch her."
The Gargoyle turned in irritation while Hinako stared in shock as Soun forced himself to a standing position.
"No! You can't fight anymore! Just give up!" Hinako insisted.
"Never!" Soun swore.
The Gargoyle watched the interaction, his attention riveted. To Hinako, he said, "You know something? I think the best way I could hurt you was if I was to really pound on your loverboy."
The Gargoyle's smile was wide enough to show off all of his fangs. "Oh yes, definitely."
Soun stared boldly at the demon. Taking a page from Ranma's book, he taunted, "Come on over and get some, limpy."
The demon's eyes bulged until the orbs nearly fell out of his skull. "You'll pay for that!"
While the demon raged, Soun pulled out a cigarette, lit it up, and took a long, drawn out puff of it. "Sure I will."
With an incoherent scream, the Gargoyle charged forward in a maddened rush again, intent on pounding on Soun until nothing was left but a fleshy puddle. Just as the fists were about to strike, Soun let the cigarette fall from his lips and jumped up between the fists, using the Gargoyle's head as springboard to vault over the creature. He landed deftly next to Hinako.
The Gargoyle's blow would have struck the street, save that he had already shattered it to reveal the ground underneath. Including a gas main, one his fists, backed by his tremendous strength and even more tremendous rage, crumpled.
"Oops!" the Gargoyle said sheepishly as the abandoned cigarette ignited the sudden release of gas.
Soun threw his tired, beaten body over Hinako's protecting her from the debris kicked up by the explosion. Luckily, the Gargoyle's massive body bore the brunt of it, and Soun was left with only a light bit of singing and some of the smaller pieces of concrete bouncing off his body.
As the residue from the explosion settled, Soun slowly forced himself to stand up, aching like he couldn't remember. Just as he regained his vertical base, his legs threatened to give out. Before he could fall, Hinako caught him, supporting him until he could stand on his own.
She stared at him through tearful eyes. "Oh Soun, I can't believe you risked so much. You could have been killed. You're the most courageous man I've ever met."
Despite his pain-wracked body, Soun laughed embarrassedly, unused to such gushing praise coming from a member of the opposite sex. Even Kachiko had never referred to him in such glowing terms. "Ah, yes, well, it was nothing."
Hinako said nothing else. Instead she cradled his jaw, bringing her face close to his. Soun could have pulled away, knew he should have, but couldn't seem to force his body to respond.
Her lips were just about to touch when a voice said, "Hey, you jerks! I almost died and you're trying to suck face! Have you no shame?!"
Soun and Hinako turned to see the Gargoyle pull himself from the smoldering ruin that used to be the middle of the street. He was charred around the edges, and several tentacles flapped uselessly at his side, but he appeared fit and able outside of those minor injuries.
"It's a good thing I'm fireproof," the Gargoyle boasted.
Soun gently, but firmly, pushed Hinako aside. "I've had enough of this guy."
The Gargoyle was offended. "Hey, that's my line! I'm the wronged party here, like I have been all my life!"
"Shut up, you whiny little snot!" Soun roared. "All you do is snivel about how no one gave you sympathy and let you do what you wanted and how you've been offended by it. Well I have news for you. You're a self-centered egotistical brat that's hurt others without consideration for their feelings and isn't worth the sympathy you so desperately crave! You're the one that needs to be put over someone's knee and spanked!"
"You're just like all the others and trying to blame me for the faults of others! I'll kill you!" The Gargoyle charged forth once again.
Soun met the charge with one of his own. Once he drew close enough, the demon lashed out with his working tentacles. Soun twisted and turned, evading each one until he drew within the reach of the Gargoyle's arms. The demon tried to hit him with his fists, but Soun deflected those as well.
That left the Gargoyle wide open for a powerful right that Soun put straight to the huge creature's jaw. The blow caused the demon's jaw to snap shut, and recoil from the force of the punch. Soun remained where he was, watching the results of his handiwork.
Whip fast, the Gargoyle shook his head back and forth. He blinked his eyes several times, then firmed up his stance. "Ha! If that's the best you can do, little man, I hope you've made out your will. I'd hate for your descendants to have to fight over their inheritance. I Hey! Why is it getting dark? It's only ten."
The question was never answered as the Gargoyle collapsed face first into the ground. He didn't move. He just lay there limply, like all of his tentacles.
"That takes care of that." Soun wiped his hands off on his now ruined suit. Despite the way his body ached and pleaded with him to lie down for a while, he was forced to admit that the fight had been exhilarating. He hadn't defeated a proper foe in years, and the battle had been close at the beginning. It made him feel alive and that he had accomplished something of significance, neither an emotion he had felt in some time.
Soun's musings ended abruptly as Hinako nearly tackled him in an embrace. Her eyes were watery as she stared at him in adoration. "No one has ever done anything like that for me before. You could have been hurt keeping that monster from having his way with me."
Though it was the honest truth, Soun still felt embarrassed by the accolades. "Well, a man's got to do what a man's got to do."
"And you are a true man," Hinako gushed as she grabbed him by the face and kissed him long and hard.
Soun's first reaction was to stiffen at the embrace. Then, still on a euphoric high from the endorphins running through his body, as well as the very female attributes pressing against him, became caught up in the heat of the moment and returned the kiss with just as much as he was receiving.
The kiss opened the gates and began releasing ten years of stored up passion. Soun lost himself in the embrace. It was the first time in over a decade that he had acted like a man with a woman. Basking in the feel of her lips, the warmth of her body, the intoxicating scent of her ardor, it was like he had died and gone to heaven. He never wanted the feeling to end.
Hinako broke off the kiss, and it was all Soun could do to not force her lips back to his again.
She continued holding him close. She all but breathed, "There's a motel nearby. Why don't we go there and spend the entire night?"
Soun felt his heart nearly seize up at what the gorgeous, voluptuous woman before him was asking. Almost automatically, he said yes, for there were other yearnings beyond kissing he wanted to experience again. But there was one thing stopping him, one thing forcing him back to reality. "I can't. I'm sorry." They were some of the hardest words he had ever spoken. He didn't even want to say them, not really. But he had to. There was no choice in the matter. It was the way of things.
His waited for the slap to the face. Or the protests. Or the tears. Or the cold glare and cursing that would follow his rejection. Instead, Hinako moved her head close to his and whispered in his ear, "I'll wait until you're ready. I'll keep waiting until that day."
She didn't say anything else. She released her hold, looked upon him fondly, then turned and headed in a direction away from his home.
Soun watched her leave, wanting to say something, but knowing it would do no good. It felt like something important, integral to him, was leaving. He knew he should stop her. He knew he should give in to what they both wanted. But at the same time he still couldn't, and instead was stuck with his quasi-half-life once again.
He was such a detestable man.
It was past by the time Soun forced himself to return to his home. He had tried going out to a bar to drown his sorrows and trick himself into thinking he had done the right thing, but he had no desire to taste alcohol. So instead he walked around Nerima, alone, just like he had been in so many ways since his wife died. His life, as defined by others, was exclusively that of "father", and with the return of Saotome, "friend", but only with a woman could he become "lover" again. He had a chance tonight, but he turned it away, and no amount of drink could convince him otherwise.
Soun was more miserable than he had been for years. It was made all the worse because just hours earlier he had been the happiest he had felt in years. Falling from a height was so much worse than falling from a ditch. Things could not have turned out worse than if they had been planned that way from the beginning.
Soun had already rejected the company of someone he wanted; he wanted no others whose attention he desired even less, around him either. He walked around in aimless circles until the others in his household would be asleep. Waiting until it was well past , he walked by his home. No lights were on, so he hoped for the best as he entered, heading directly toward the living room. Sleep would not come for a while, and he did not want to be in cold bed alone now. It was too appropriate for what he felt.
Soun left the lights off, preferring the cold comfort darkness afforded him. It matched the feeling in his soul. So he sat in dark silence, wondering why everything that should have been so right felt so wrong instead.
He became aware of the presence a second before it entered the room. He said, "Not tonight, please," just as Kachiko entered.
Instead of leaving, she sat down opposite him across the table. "That bad, huh?"
For the first time in over ten years, Soun felt anger toward his wife. Or the memory of her. It was hard to differentiate the two with the recent turn of events. "You're the last person I can speak to of this."
Kachiko pondered that. "Yeah, I can see that. Okay, I'll leave." She rose and headed for the doorway. Just as she was about to leave, she turned and said in soft tones, "Look, let's say for the sake of argument I did end up married, and raised a family, and I loved my husband with all my heart, and I died young. Even if all of that happened, I would never, ever, have wanted anyone left behind to mourn me for too long. Ten years is way more than enough. Five years is the max, even with how unforgettable I am. After that, it's time to move on. Only one person died, not two, and to behave otherwise is only to belittle everything that was shared between them. Love is supposed to make a person better than they can be on their own, but it shouldn't destroy what was there to begin with. If it does, then it wasn't really love at all, but a convenient obsession. No matter what happened to me, what kind of misery and problems I'd go through, I'd never be like that, and I don't think you're that sort of person either. I'm going to bed now." True to her word, she left.
Soun remained where he was, in the darkness, the words echoing in his mind. Tears began pouring down his face as he felt something laid to rest within in his breast. Those were Kachiko's words, even if the girl that had just spoken them wasn't the real Kachiko. Or at least his "Kachi". Nor was she ever going to be. She was only the potential to be the woman he had loved, but that was irrelevant; he wasn't a possible suitor to her now the way he had been back when they had first met.
His wife, his real wife, had changed him into something else when they had met. It had been that way for years, transforming him even as he transformed her. Now, that time had come and gone, never to return. Kachiko was dead. He had mourned her passing for an eternity, and tonight, Hinako made him realize he had grown tired of the perpetual mourning in solitude. But he couldn't let it go, not until she spoke the words and made him understand the truth he was unable admit to himself, and no one else could convince him with. Now, the weight that had been breaking his back for so long was gone. He felt like a new man with a future that he could call his own, rather than a bystander watching the world go by. For all the relief, there was a touch of sadness at the passing of an era, but it was outweighed by the knowledge that it was time to move on.
When the sun eventually crested the horizon and filled the room with yellow light, it was a new day dawning in more ways than one. But it wasn't really a surprise.
Absolution made everything better, after all.
To be continued.
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