Looking For Trouble
Disclaimer – Ranma ½ is the creation of Rumiko Takahashi. Teen Titans is the property of DC Comics. Both are used without permission.
Nabiki quickly entered the hospital room, Akane close behind. Kasumi stood up from her chair next to her father's bed with a happy gasp, while Soun began weeping in relief. Nabiki gave her older sister a quick hug before going to the bed. Soun reached out with left arm and drew her into a tight embrace. His face was pale, tense lines of pain cut into it, and his right shoulder was heavily bandaged beneath his patient's gown.
"Are you alright, daddy?" Nabiki asked, her voice thick and shaking slightly.
"I'm much better, now that I know you're safe," Soun answered with a sob. "My poor baby girl! How about you? That man didn't hurt you, did he?"
"I'm fine, daddy. I was rescued before those creeps could do anything serious to me." She paused thoughtfully. "And I was rescued by gaijin."
"Nabiki," Kasumi said in a chiding tone.
Soun stiffened at the jibe. Akane said nothing, standing aloof but observing carefully. The middle Tendo daughter gently extricated herself from Soun's hug.
"Nightwing and a friend of his, Arsenal, a pair of foreigners, saved me," said Nabiki. "And while the man who abducted me was a gaijin, he was working with the Yakuza, and the punk who got me in this trouble in the first place was Japanese as well."
Soun sighed heavily. "Nabiki, enough." She obeyed, for the tone in her father's voice sounded odd. He stared up at the ceiling, his expression contemplative. "I was terrified for you. So scared that I thought the anxiety would kill me. But besides my fear for your safety, I was also worried that I would never have the chance to make up with you." He hesitated a moment. "I know I have not been the most... understanding of fathers -" He winced at his daughters' expressions. "But I've always tried to do what I thought was best for you. Nabiki, you honestly like Roy?" She nodded. "And you think he is a good man?"
"He is, Daddy," she said.
"He is," echoed Akane. "I think he's one of the best men you could find."
Soun sighed again. "I will be honest – I'm not completely happy with this. But I also will admit that some of my past experiences with Westerners has prejudiced me. That said, I will not object if you really wish to date him, Nabiki."
Nabiki grinned brilliantly and hugged him. "Thank you, daddy. I knew you'd eventually see reason."
Ranma and Roy were sitting in the hospital lobby, quietly discussing last night's events, when the two youngest Tendo sisters returned from visiting their father. The boys stood as Akane and Nabiki approached.
"How's your dad?" Roy asked, brows lifting when he noticed Nabiki's almost giddy expression.
"Very well, all things considered," Akane said. Ranma's eyebrows quirked a bit; Akane sounded somewhat distant. "They're going to hold him another day before letting him go home, and he's going to need physical therapy for the next several months, but the doctors are confident that he'll make a full recovery."
"And on top of that, he's no longer opposed to you and me dating, Roy," added Nabiki.
"Huh," muttered Ranma under his breath. Roy's eyes went wide with surprise, and then he laughed. "I didn't expect him to change his mind like that," the young archer confessed. "That's great. More than great – fantastic!"
"It is indeed," agreed Nabiki. "And I think we should go out and celebrate our good fortune, don't you agree?"
"I do," said Roy. He looked at Ranma and Akane. "You guys want to come? We'll make it a double date."
Ranma rolled his eyes, while Akane looked away, trying not to blush. "We're not dating Roy," said Ranma.
"Of course not – you two are just engaged," he answered dryly.
"Thank you for the offer, Roy," Akane said, "but I don't want intrude. Maybe we could all got out together in a couple of days, though."
Nabiki nodded, smiling at her sister. "I'd like that."
Roy offered her his arm. She gladly accepted it and they left the lobby. Ranma looked closely at his fiancée. Her expression seemed conflicted.
"You want to hang out at the penthouse for a while?" he asked.
Akane shook her head. "I think I just want to go home."
He nodded. "I'll walk you over."
The first ten minutes of the walk was quiet, with Ranma whistling tunelessly, hands in his pockets, while Akane looked down at the pavement, brow furrowed in thought. Finally, Ranma decided to break the silence.
"I don't know," Akane admitted. "I feel a bit strange." She shook her head and looked at her fiancé. "Is it petty of me to feel a bit jealous of Nabiki?"
Ranma felt his heart twist at her words, even though he knew the reaction to be stupid, because he knew they were just friends. But he could not help the rush of jealousy. He saw how well Akane and Roy got along, but he did not think it would take this turn.
"Of what? Did you want to go out on a date with Roy?" he teased in an effort to disguise his discomfort.
"No, dummy!" she exclaimed, glaring at him and giving him a light punch on the shoulder.
He laughed, relieved by her reaction. "Then what are you jealous about?"
"I'm... you'll think it's stupid..."
"Not necessarily. Try me and I'll tell you what I think."
Akane sighed, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. "It's just... I get kidnapped, and while daddy cries over me when I get back, he still insists on wanting to go through with the engagement, even though he knows how much I'm against it. Nabiki gets kidnapped, and when she comes back he all of a sudden folds when it comes to her dating Roy." She let out a huff. "I feel bad about feeling this way, yet I can't help it. I'm happy that Nabiki can get to see Roy – I think he'll be good for her – and yet... ugh!" She shook her head in disgust.
Ranma hummed thoughtfully. "Did you ask your dad about calling off the engagement, after we brought you back home?"
"No," Akane admitted. "That would have interfered with the plans we made. But I did overhear Kasumi bringing up the possibility, and daddy was adamant about getting Bruce to agree with the arranged marriage."
"I see. So are you upset because your dad has a double-standard? You're angry that, even though the two of you experienced similar things, Nabiki's getting treated differently in the aftermath of her kidnapping than you were in yours."
"Yeah." Akane grimaced in self-disgust. "Pretty selfish and childish of me, isn't it?"
"Maybe," Ranma conceded. "But not unreasonably so. Anyhow, it's not like you're wallowing in it. You're trying to work through your bad feelings, and that's a good thing." He reached up to tug at his pig-tail. "And maybe I can help you out with that."
"Nothing too fancy. Instead of going home, why don't we go out and do something. It'll keep you from brooding. We can hit a movie then grab a bite to eat. Or if there's something else you want to do, I'm game for it."
She looked at him for a moment before smiling at him, her expression both shy and sly. "So, are you asking me out on a date this time?" she asked.
"No I'm not, Tomboy," he said, a bit quickly. "I just want to hang out with my friend and help cheer her up."
Akane's smile grew more brilliant, and Ranma could not stop from blushing a little in response. He ducked his head in an effort to conceal it.
"I'd like that," Akane said. "How about a movie? Is there anything good playing right now?"
Ranma smiled back at her and pulled out his phone. "Let's find out."
Merlyn's mood was less than sanguine when he reached the safe house. His body ached from his fight with Roy, and the experience of being defeated by Green Arrow's protege had him smoldering with rage. The dark archer had to keep reminding himself that now was not the time for revenge; he was in no shape to seek it, and frankly was lucky not to be in the custody of Japanese law enforcement. He had managed to come to and extricate himself from the zip-ties Roy had bound him with before they could apprehend him.
Revenge would have to wait until he was healed and was free from other obligations. For now, he had duties to his employer he needed to discharge. There had been no provisions in his contract to rescue Professor Strange in the event of his capture, but Merlyn would see to it that the blood samples and the Gaki Files were delivered to one of Strange's hidden labs in the States. He hoped that the criminal scientist would be pragmatic about the loss of the Tendo girl, writing it off as part of the fortunes of the Game. Merlyn's life was precarious enough that he did not want to have to be looking over his shoulder for Monster Men for the next few years.
The moment he stepped inside the safe house Merlyn sensed something was off. A deep silence dominated the place, thick and stifling, making the fine hairs on the back of his neck prickle in premonition. Shark-gray eyes narrowing, he shook open his bow and notched an arrow before conducting a search, treading through the house as if walking on razors. He considered briefly that the Yakuza had set a trap for Strange and himself, but he did not consider it probable. They had suffered too many heavy losses to risk gambling further resources right now. Perhaps Arsenal and Nightwing had managed to track him down. In that case he was far from certain he could escape, let alone win a fight against the two Titans, but in such an event he would make sure they paid a high price in capturing him.
Merlyn found the door to the main study open, the room dimly lit by a desk lamp. At a desk a figure sat slumped in an office chair, head lolling back. A scowl flickered briefly across Merlyn's lips, and he stepped into the room for a better view.
The figure was Hugo Strange's assistant, the man charged with conveying the Gaki Files and the blood samples to the safe house. His throat was cut, his shirt-front drenched with blood, and his face was contorted in an expression of horrified surprise and agony.
Merlyn stared hard at the corpse, seemingly riveted to the spot, the totality of his attention focused on the dead man. Then without warning he shifted on his heel and shot his arrow into a far corner of the room. Something blurred, and Merlyn let out a hiss. A hand had emerged from the shadows and with casual ease caught the arrow. Merlyn stepped back, reaching for another arrow, an alien light kindling in his eyes – a glimmer of fear.
"Be at ease, Al Sa-Her," said a voice, deep and mellow as a temple bell.
The hand let the arrow drop to the carpet, and from the shadows stepped forth a man. He was taller than Merlyn, whip-lean yet muscular, esoteric tattoos writhing up bare arms seemingly tightly woven from rawhide stripes. He wore a dark green leather vest, with black trousers and black boots, and a scimitar was sheathed at his hip. His face was long and gaunt, with a broad, intelligent brow and tapering chin, his cheekbones sharp and bracketed by long black sideburns. His jet black hair was salted with gray and flared at his temples. Most arresting were his eyes; they were of a lambent, hypnotic green hue, their gaze piercing and bright with cynical, evil wisdom.
"Be at ease, my magician," said Ra's al Ghul. "You are in no danger here."
"Master," whispered Merlyn, lowering his bow. "I did not know you were in Japan."
"I have only just arrived, and will quickly depart. Japan is currently a precarious place for the League, thanks to Batman. I am only here because the carefully concealed watcher I left in place informed me that your current employer was meddling with something that did not belong to him." Ra's al Ghul held out his left hand, showing to Merlyn the two vials of blood Hugo Strange had drawn from Nabiki Tendo.
Merlyn watched the Demon's Head warily. "What is your interest in these Tendos, Master? I learned from the middle daughter that the League had taken her younger sister, and that Nightwing took her back."
"It is none of your concern, Al Sa-Her. All you need to know is that these young women are mine. When you get the opportunity, be sure to inform Strange of this. If, when he regains his freedom, he attempts to interfere with them again, I will teach him a lesson in regret from which he will be a long time in recovering."
Merlyn pursed his lips before bowing his head in submission. "As you say, so shall it be. And the other materials here, master? The scientific notes and other files?"
Ra's al Ghul waved a dismissive hand. "Trifles. I care not. Let the good professor keep them. What I will one day have in my service will make his grotesqueries seem but toys." The Demon's Head smiled coldly. "The time will soon come when this corrupt, decayed world will know my Wrath."
Author's Notes – Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it.
With this chapter Looking For Trouble is now, finally, officially finished. Thanks once again to the wondrous and talented PurseMonger for her pre-reading and support.