Shampoo's Revenge 10
"Come on, Ranchan."Ukyo led her beloved inside of a nondescript house - one that he had bad memories of. "I just recently heard that Nabiki didn't know who lives here, and I wanted to make sure you weren't ignorant of the only person who's ever been a mother to me in my life."
The til-recently abused young man presently being dragged along behind his cute fiancee had some unresolved issues about this choice however, and he dug in his heels. "But isn't that the place..?"
Ucchan found herself utterly halted by the superior martial artist's choice not to move, so she attempted to resolve this issue with diplomacy. "I already told you, Ranchan, that she's been splashing you with holy water, trying to cure your curse, or at least weaken it to where other cures would work."
Ukyo sighed and rolled her eyes. "She dresses like an old lady to avoid having her ex-husband who lives in the neighborhood recognize her. I already told you she's a master of disguise, Ranchan. She even gave me some tips on how to avoid being found out as a girl when I started to develop during puberty."
"But why would she want to avoid her ex-husband?" Ranma rubbed the back of his head in thought, gazing up to the sky and still not moving.
"Because he's an over-emotional lunatic who never had self control at the best of times and started to make her life a living hell with his outbursts and excesses." She replied in a direct tone of voice, accompanied by a flat stare.
Ranma blinked at this, meeting her gaze and grinning. "Heh, sounds like Mr. Tendo."
"It is," she admitted, at which his hair toinged out straight over having gotten it right. In a much happier tone of voice, she went on to elaborate, " It's Kasumi's and Nabiki's mom. She only stayed in the neighborhood to remain close to her children, otherwise she'd have gone halfway across the country to avoid old man Tendo. I met her in middle school, when she was teaching to help out during a bad financial spot, and she took me under her wing and became a mentor to me. Like I said before, she's the closest thing I've ever known to having a mother, and I wanted you to meet her."
Ranma gazed around, gulping and not sure of the reasons behind his own nervousness. "But what about Shampoo?"
Ukyo fought hard not to scowl. "Well, I guess we'll wait for her inside. Now come on!"
Surrendering to her pull, the boy allowed himself to be dragged inside.
"But what about Shampoo..." Ranma continued protesting weakly. Some of his best memories recently had been of the three of them together. Actually, some of his best memories altogether were of that group, and somehow it didn't feel right not to have her there.
"Oh, fine. I'll go get her. I should have figured..." the chef trailed off, mumbling about how she'd have liked to score some points alone for once and making Ranma feel bad, as he suddenly realized how very little time he'd given to his oldest, best friend since meeting back up with her again.
But the chef shouted out, "Auntie Kimiko! I brought Ranma over to meet you, but I have to run grab someone real quick. Could you show him inside?"
Then Ukyo was out the door, and Ranma was left to face the startled emerging faces of Kasumi, Nabiki and their mother.
In a flash of inspiration, the teenaged martial artist even recognized the older woman.
Ranma spoke brightly to Kimiko. "Hey, I remember you. You taught at some private school I was attending while Genma was fattening his carcass at this rich guy's house."
Kimiko bowed shallowly. "Yes, I recall. You seemed so very taken with the paints I had..."
Ranma snapped his fingers to point, looking astonishingly pleased. "Yeah! That's right. YOU'RE the one that introduced me to brush and pencil art! Man! How ya been? I can't thank ya enough. It's been the highest point o' my life." He chuckled shyly. "Though pops busted my hands in China and what with all that's going on around here they're not all that well healed yet, so lately my handwriting has stunk and I haven't done much."
Kimiko nodded, leading them all back into the family room and seating the group for a chat. "You were so very good at it, too. Tell me, had you practiced until the injury?"
Ranma nervously rubbed his head. "Yah, but pops kept throwing my sketches and landscapes an' portraits an' stuff away when he found 'em, so I've been mailing them all to a safe deposit box an havin an art dealer sell 'em all for me. I've been wanting to get some of the money out for things, but I kinda forgot the account number a coupla years ago. I tried at first writing it down, but pops almost got to it, and that woulda been bad. So I was trying to remember it in my head, but that didn't work. I got too focused on martial arts and forgot."
Kimiko had quietly sipped tea all this time. "Hmm, perhaps I can help. The art dealer is sure to know what account he deposits the money in, and the bank who owns the safe deposit box can provide you the rest of the information once they prove you are the real owner. What name do you paint under?"
"Huh? Oh. Glistening Firebrand, 'though I wrote a few books once and sent them out under a different penname."
Nabiki and Kasumi both goggled at Ranma. "YOU are Glistening Firebrand?!! The man of mystery? The artist nobody sees? The Emperor must have fifteen hundred ninja keeping an eye out for you so he can commission a work from your hands before he dies! There must be thousands of private detectives from corporations and rich clients looking for the same reason! Goodness sakes, you mean ALL this time, the random post office shenanigans, the mailings from all around the country, the postmarks, constantly changing packing materials each time, the lack of rail, tire or airline links in the paths taken between the mailing points. You mean all that mess WASN'T for deliberately throwing pursuit off, it was just because of your father's TRAINING JOURNEY???"
Ranma had shrank back from the verbal onslaught like it was an unavoidable attack. He sweated. "Uhm, ya mean people are interested? Why?"
Nabiki gagged. Kasumi boggled. The thought of trying to explain to him the feelings evoked by his vivid, vibrant artwork, the soaring triumphs of those hasty yet precise brush and pen strokes... it was like trying to explain Mt. Fuji. His artwork had become a national passion.
Kimiko was unmoved. She'd suspected it was him. She blew lightly across her cup of tea and then calmly asked. "So, Ranma, what was your book writing penname?"
He flinched, still not able to understand the reactions of the two girls. "Hm? Oh. That was Flowerpetal Rain."
Kimiko sprayed her tea out all over the young man.
Kasumi fainted dead away, falling into her mother's lap.
Nabiki rose to her feet shrieking. "Why aren't you living in a palace!!?!? Flowerpetal's books have sold in the tens of millions!! I've read all six of them and keep three copies on my shelf - one for reading, another for reading when the first set wears out and the third just to look at! The first time I read Heartsick I cried myself to sleep! The agent who brought your works before the publisher has ALREADY RETIRED TO LIVE OFF THE PROCEEDS OF THAT ONE CONTRACT!!"
"Really?" Ranma blinked. "Yah mean they like 'em?"
"Like them?" Nabiki mouthed, unable to believe this man had no clue how famous he was. Of the three greatest artists in all of Japan's modern era two of them were sitting before her right at this moment.
And both of them were Ranma Saotome.
"We always thought Flowerpetal was duplicating Firebrand's methods for not getting caught and suffering all the public attention." Nabiki's shock allowed her to mumble. "I mean there's been speculation they knew each other, but never any proof, and tons of folks at the university level have been debating papers about who and what those artists might be for a decade now. Nobody even thought they could be the same person. It was like asking to mix fire and water. Nobody even guessed..."
She trailed off, eyes glazed.
Kimiko had recovered from her shock somewhat. "But Ranma... Don't you mean to say you've never even seen how popular your art..." But then it struck her. He couldn't. The originals were displayed and sold at levels no humble street creature could ever possibly witness, and behind levels of security so tight not even Genma would risk it. The Kunos didn't even own one of Glistening Firebrand's works. The reproductions on TV he didn't see because he didn't ever watch TV. "But the billboards and printed shirts and reproductions." She murmured. "Surely you've seen those around. Haven't you?"
Ranma looked at her startled. "Hmm? Oh, yeah. But anybody can wind up on shirts and stuff, right? I mean, there's all that anime stuff and, you know, commercials for beer or something. I figured all that was the only junk my agent could get for me because anybody could get into that."
Ranma looked innocently at the pile of three fainted women, wondering what to do.
Somewhere in his escape from that deranged proctologist, Ryoga had lost the camera.
He had also lost Japan, having left it somewhere between Iowa and the Falkland islands. As he trudged miserably through Honolulu, bewailing how it was all Ranma's fault, it began to rain...
...just as the natives decided it was time for a luau!
Standing there to greet him was Kim Chi, Master of Martial Arts Swine Cookery, grinning evilly at the piggy while knives sprouted from between every finger.
Panicked, the piglet ran, only to catch its ankle on a tiny branch that any normal pig his size could have broken through with ease, but no matter how desperately the little pig tore and pulled at it, the insignificant little fork of wood wouldn't release his hoof!
Ominous music began to play as the chef approached with fire in his eyes.
Akane was glad for one thing, as she dragged herself down the street dressed once more in an open-backed hospital gown, bandages, and a broken half a pair of police handcuffs, an IV tube still sticking out of her arm.
Mentally waving off any thoughts of how proper psychiatric treatment had been delayed so that her multiple shark bites, injuries and lacerations from barracuda, piranha, tentacles and crocodiles tooth marks could be medically treated, she stalked down the street in a fine temper.
Once more those PERVERTS at the hospital were going to... down there! There was NO WAY they were putting tubes and... then... that other stuff, to her!
A few bandages and it ought to be fine.
Although she had stopped in her breakout attempts long enough for them to sew back on critical parts of one of her bosoms. She let them get that far before deciding that the surgeons were perverted freaks who really ought to have been jailed.
Actually, as she looked over herself, she really didn't look too bad. Whoever had been doing the stitching was a real artist, and when Happosai had broken her out, he'd given her a head to toe makeup job before she'd bonked him.
She really almost looked okay.
Hearing a familiar whistling from a walled yard nearby and imagining it to be Ranma, she instantly flew into a mindless rage and bashed through that wall.
Whereupon, the kunoichi from the Red Hot Tea House that she'd interrupted at their bath came and took Akane away for brutal training in their martial art form.
Genma was presently dressed up as a very ugly, overly-made-up woman. While, sadly, this was not unusual for the portly martial artist, this time he had a better reason than most.
You see, judging by the fact that an elephant with a howdah on its back was following him, and doing a more than decent job of tiptoeing about and hiding behind corners whenever he glanced back that way, he judged that crazy Brit was still after him in spite of him not being in panda form at the time.
The sad thing was, that elephant was so much better at sneaking than he was at being observant Genma never would have known it was there had he not accidentally caught its reflection in a bottle of sake he was admiring (before shoplifting).
So, he'd adopted this clever disguise!
Joining a line going into a building, the portly martial artist watched out the corner of his eye as the elephant sneaked closer, then began looking around in confusion as its quarry had apparently disappeared.
Practically giggling inside at his own cleverness, Genma followed the crowd and disappeared into the building with a big sign over its doors, "Gay and Transgendered Bash Tonight!" and people whispering about a strict open-legs policy.
Big iron bars were closed down over the doors to prevent interruption as the last of the crowd disappeared inside. Genma would be three-quarters gone into the free booze before he noticed anything wrong.
"Alright, Sugar. It's time we settled this." Ukyo posed with battle spatula at the ready across a stretch of empty street from Shampoo, who'd gladly drawn her bonbori.
"OHOHOHOHOHOHO!!" Manic laughter split across the scene as Ukyo and Shampoo got to finally have their fight, only to realize they'd just been interrupted by Kodachi. "Now, dears. It is unseemly for members of a household to fight in public. Desist at once!"
Each girl, looking down at the new clothes she was wearing, felt a sudden blush of shame. Kodachi leapt down among them, regally insisting, "Put up your weapons at once! Do you hear? A crisis has come upon us, and we must act quickly if we are to salvage our Ranma-sama's honor!"
After several moments of thought, staring at the trio of fainted girls, Ranma picked up brush and canvas and began to paint them. They'd said they'd liked his stuff, so maybe they'd like to be in one? And if they didn't, he could always just trash the thing. It wasn't as if it meant anything. Besides, this would be a good test to see if he was ready to paint once again.
It wasn't really his hands, those had healed long ago and were as strong as ever. No, the critical problem was that since coming to Nerima he'd had practically no time alone to himself. On the training trip, his pops kept getting drunk regularly, and during those drunken stupors left his son alone.
Those were his moments of peace.
But around here those hadn't happened. Oh, his dad got drunk more than usual, as he and his friend were always celebrating something or, contrariwise, drowning their woes over whichever scheme had failed this time. But there were enough other people about, all of them who sided with his dad, that the Saotome boy didn't think he'd get away to paint anything.
Every time his pops had caught him painting, the punishments had been worse than before. And there was no creature in Nerima he felt could keep a secret, especially not if it was one of Ranma's.
He acutely regretted telling Kasumi and the others of his hobby. He knew, he didn't have to ask, he KNEW, that no sooner would they wake up than they'd go carrying that info straight to Genma and tell him all about it. And the last time Genma had caught him painting he had started threatening to cut off fingers if he ever caught him at it again.
But, seeing Kimiko here for the first time in so long, he'd just blurted out to his old teacher all about it.
The boy stewed, knowing that Kasumi barely tolerated him and that Nabiki was far worse. Between them they'd make sure every enemy he had would know all about this hobby of his inside of an hour.
Feeling sick with revulsion over his situation, and resolving that he had to leave the city over this one, the boy, who'd just barely finished his newest portrait, took some paper and began writing, pouring out his feelings on paper so he could dispel them and hopefully get some peace.
Time and time again I've thought, "You know, I've got to run out of material for this sometime" and still it goes on flowing.