She Moves In Mysterious Ways
A Ranma ½ Fanfiction by Kit
Warning: The following fic contains a wholehearted endorsement of the Shampoo and Mousse
pairing. It's also the fic I wrote for this past Christmas (even though I don't celebrate the holiday
myself). Both Shampoo and Mousse are slightly OOC in here, but I like them better that way.
And now, on with the fun.
The Nekohanten was still, and the white noise of rain falling on the roof filled the empty restaurant. It wouldn't remain still for long. Any minute now Shampoo would be joining me downstairs, ready to eat the breakfast I'd cooked for her, ready to help me open the store. With any luck, the chilly December rain would be enough to keep the old mummy in bed late. I'd grown rather fond of rainy days, since the cool, damp weather often made Cologne's well-hidden arthritis act up.
Now don't get me wrong here. I don't hate Cologne, exactly, but she has made my life fairly miserable for the past few years. I respect her like no other human on the planet, as she is one of the Matriarchs of my tribe, but I think I have the right to be pleased when the rain makes her hips ache enough to keep her immobile.
Right on schedule, I heard the creak of the floorboards overhead, heralding Shampoo's incipient arrival. I set my broom down and headed into the kitchen to lay out her morning meal. For better or worse, breakfast time was generally my only free time with Shampoo, the only time she would let her guard down enough to relax in my presence. Sometimes we were even able to regain a measure of the friendship we once shared, back when we were children in China. Sometimes.
Just as I finished garnishing her breakfast with a few tiny violets, Shampoo appeared in the doorway. I caught my breath in wonder, as I'd done every single time I'd ever seen her. It was always like seeing a sunrise for the first time. But I recovered quickly. "Good morning, Shampoo," I said, pulling a chair out at the table for her. "Did you sleep well?"
Shampoo made a rather non-committal sound that could have been a 'yes', or a 'no', or a 'don't ever ask me that again or I'll rip your tonsils out'. Shampoo had never been what one would call a 'morning person'. I decided to let her eat while I finished cleaning up the kitchen.
I gave Shampoo a sidelong glance as I was drying the last of the dishes. She seemed distracted, even more than usual. Her gaze was fixed on the distant fall of rain outside the window, with it's cheap, cloudy glazing. I'm pretty sure she was thinking about Saotome. I decided to cut that off before she decided to go pay the jerk a visit.
I walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out the bundle of holly sprigs I'd collected the other day. Yesterday I'd spent over an hour tying them in bundles with red velvet ribbons, in an attempt to make them even more festive. Now all I had to do was replace the faded silk flowers in the little vases on all the tables with the holly. Maybe Shampoo would help me. If nothing else it would get her mind off of Saotome. I set the holly and the collected vases on the kitchen table and sat down opposite Shampoo.
"Did you have anything special planned for Christmas?" I asked her as I began to tuck the little holly bouquets into the vases.
Shampoo sniffed disdainfully. "Shampoo not care about stupid Western holiday," she announced before pushing her plate to one side. "Shampoo notice that Mousse get decorations for restaurant." She reached out and plucked a handful of holly from the pile, carefully separating them into their tidy bundles.
I shrugged. "I thought it would be a nice change from those ratty old silk peonies," I told her, watching her through my eyelashes, watching the movements of her slim fingers against the glossy green of the prickly leaves.
"Maybe you right," she admitted as she tucked a ribbon-tied holly bundle into a vase.
I watched her for a moment. She was still a bit distant, but she didn't have that strange, yearning expression on her face anymore, the one that usually means she's been thinking about Saotome. About her failures with the pigtailed boy. I wished she'd just forget about him. Ranma Saotome didn't care about her. Hell, Saotome didn't care about anyone other than himself, and maybe Akane Tendo, though even that was a bit of a stretch. Then again, maybe not quite the stretch it might have once been . . .
It had only been a few days since my regular payments to Nabiki Tendo had paid off. Her expensive information, normally involving Saotome and the other usual players of the game, was generally useful, but this latest tidbit was a goldmine. I wondered if Shampoo knew what I did, knew that Ranma and Akane had been sleeping together for the past six months. Did Shampoo know that she'd lost already?
"Oh, I almost forgot." I stood abruptly from the table. "I have a present for you, Shampoo."
Shampoo didn't quite roll her eyes, but she looked as though she wanted to. I was worried that by the time I ran up to my room, gathered up her present, and ran back down to the kitchen, she might already have left to harass Saotome. But when I returned, she was still seated at the kitchen table, arranging holly in vases.
"Here you go," I said, handing her the small package wrapped in red and green tissue paper.
For a moment, Shampoo just stared at me, a peculiar expression on her face, then she stared at the present. Then she opened it. She tore through the tissue with a general disregard for how difficult it had been for me to procure, and tossed the box lid carelessly to one side. She peered curiously into the box, examining the glinting silver she found there.
"They're hair ornaments," I explained, taking the box from her unresponsive hands and pulling out the tinkling jewelry. I glanced at her face and knew I'd chosen wisely; despite her determinedly sulky expression, her eyes were alight.
"Beautiful," she murmured. I don't think she intended to say it aloud.
"Here, let me show you how they work." Without waiting for permission, or even a response, I began to pull the old clasps from her hair. I expected her to slap me for my presumption, for my disrespect. But she just sat there, her fingers twitching in the scraps of tissue paper in her lap, a small smile on her face. I took her silence as permission, and carefully pulled her hair down from its customary buns.
I don't think I'd ever really touched Shampoo's hair before that moment. It wasn't quite as soft as I'd imagined. Instead it was silky, the fine strands sliding through my fingers like water. I didn't let myself get carried away, though, and quickly pulled her hair back from her face, piling it atop her head and anchoring it in place with the combs I'd bought for her. The hair ornaments had been expensive; I'd saved my money for months to be able to afford them. But it was worth it.
I led Shampoo out to the hallway so she could see herself in the ornamental mirror hanging there. The glow in her glorious eyes was enough of a reward for me. She was so beautiful, it almost hurt to look at her, particularly when she turned back to me and smiled. It wasn't one of her usual coy, slightly malicious smiles, it was genuine, and it lit her face. But she quickly smothered the expression and gave me a stern look. "Shampoo thank Mousse for nice jewelry," she said, tilting her head slightly so she could look up at me better. The silver tinkled musically in her hair. "Shampoo have present for Mousse too."
I couldn't keep the hope from rising in my chest. Perhaps she truly does care a little for me! I crowed silently. I beamed at her and looked particularly goofy, I'm sure. "Oh, you shouldn't have gone to the trouble . . ." I began, trying to hide my joy under a mask of politeness.
"Shampoo know she shouldn't have," Shampoo said with an arrogant toss of her head, "But have present anyway. Merry Christmas, stupid Mousse," she said as she pulled a small box from her pocket.
The box was the size of a ring box. No, perhaps a little larger. She wouldn't have gotten me a ring, I reminded myself as I carefully unwrapped the gift, trying to loosen the tape so I could pull the paper off without ripping it.
I must have been taking too long for Shampoo's impatience, and she finally rolled her eyes and grabbed the box. "Here," she muttered. "Let Shampoo." And with one quick movement, she tore the paper off and handed the box back to me.
It was a small mahogany box, carved into the shape of a medicine chest. It wasn't heavily decorated, and probably wasn't nearly as expensive as the silver hair combs had been, but it was beautiful just the same. "It's lovely, Shampoo," I told her honestly. "Thank you . . ."
Again, Shampoo snatched the box from my hand. "Present in box, stupid," she said irritably. She flipped open the tiny clasp with her fingernail, pulled back the lid, and returned the box.
Inside was a rather decrepit bundle of greenery. It had been preserved with some sort of chemicals, and had a peculiar, medicinal smell. I didn't recognize the small, rounded leaves, shining in the light of the hallway, or the tiny white berries that accompanied them. I wondered what it was. Some sort of healing herb? Why would she give me something like that? I gave Shampoo a slightly puzzled look.
"It mistletoe," she explained, brushing around my hands to pull the bundle of leaves from the box. The green of the leaves gleamed against her pale palm. I glanced up at her face and was startled by how unsure of herself she looked. "It's poisonous," she added.
I couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at that. Poisonous? Was she trying to warn me before she poisoned me? The concept was ludicrous, but I held back my laughter. Shampoo looked off-balance enough, and I didn't want to upset her. If I played my cards right, I'd be able to spend the whole morning with her and I didn't want to ruin that chance.
"Is very magical herb," Shampoo continued, ignoring my odd expression. "Bring good luck in old Western tradition." Her eyes were avoiding mine, and I knew there was something more involved here.
"Thank you, Shampoo," I said again. "I'll treasure it and the box." It was the truth.
"Shampoo go finish holly now," she told me before turning on her heel and stalking back into the kitchen.
Well, I thought, That was odd. I was curious enough about the mistletoe, however, that I took the time to sneak into Cologne's stillroom behind the kitchen. She had literally hundreds of volumes on herbs, and fortunately, some of them were in plain Chinese, and not the ancient Amazon glyphs. I was a rebel myself, but even I had never gotten the opportunity to learn the language of the ancients. It was reserved for the women alone.
I eventually found the book I was looking for, then looked under the 'mistletoe' entry. There was the usual chemical nonsense; the plant was indeed quite poisonous, from the leaves to the stems to the berries. It was prized by the Druids of Britain back in ancient times, who would harvest the parasitic plant with long-handled golden sickles. Interesting, but not quite what I was looking for. I finally found, in the latter part of the entry, something rather more unusual than old pagan rites. I read that in some modern Western traditions, mistletoe was hung over doorways, and when a couple paused under the mistletoe, they were obliged to share a kiss. I smiled to myself. What are the odds that Shampoo knew about that tradition when she bought me the mistletoe?
I decided that even if she didn't know about the kissing thing, she'd brought it upon herself. I'd probably be punched into next week for what I was about to try, but I found I didn't care. Stealing a kiss from Shampoo would put a cap on a wonderful morning.
I decided to go up and check on the old ghoul, to make sure she was still asleep. It would be pretty unpleasant if Cologne were to walk in on Shampoo and I beneath the mistletoe. I crept into Cologne's room, and realized that she was fast asleep. She didn't even stir when the floor creaked alarmingly beneath my feet. At her bedside was a drained teacup and teapot. Upon further inspection, the tea inside the pot was still faintly steaming, and the infusion was familiar. It was one of the teas that Amazons regularly used to insure deep, dreamless sleep. Had Cologne been up earlier this morning? I hadn't heard her or the thud of her wooden staff. But surely Shampoo couldn't have awoken early for the sole purpose of drugging her great-grandmother into insensibility?
With a shrug, I returned downstairs and used a thumbtack to pin the bundle of mistletoe to the lintel of the doorway into the kitchen. It would be unobtrusive enough to escape Shampoo's notice until it was too late. I continued to smile.
I peered around the doorframe into the kitchen. Shampoo was finishing up the last of the vases. Now would be a good time. She looked totally unsuspecting. She also looked stunning in the pearl-gray silk dress she was wearing. There were subtle patterns of leaves embroidered in violet threads along the length of the fabric. The silver in her hair chimed as she tilted her head up to look at me. "What you want, Mousse?"
I realized that I'd been staring and blushed a little. "Uh, could you come here for a second, Shampoo?" I asked hesitantly.
Shampoo grumbled something about 'idiot waterfowl' but rose and paced towards me. When she was close enough, I reached out to take her hand in mine, effectively stopping her. She gave me a quizzical glance. Was that a glint of suspicion in her bright eyes?
"I wanted to thank you again for the mistletoe," I told her, trying to keep from grinning like a madman. "I did a little research a few minutes ago and found out some interesting things about mistletoe related folklore. Did you know that in the West, there are modern Christmas traditions that revolve around mistletoe?"
Shampoo merely raised an inquisitive eyebrow and kept quiet. I continued.
"They hang bundles of mistletoe over doorways, and whenever people walk beneath it, they have to kiss. It's tradition."
Shampoo's face flushed with anger. "Stupid Mousse! You think Shampoo ever . . ."
I didn't care what she was going to say. The moment was too perfect. I quickly framed her face with my hands and bent my head to kiss her. She froze instantly, like a deer caught in a hunter's sights, her body trembling, with contained anger, I assumed. My initial kiss was designed to silence her, but I grew gentle, hoping she would accept me. I pulled back slightly to look at her, but her eyes were closed. Taking this as an encouraging sign, I allowed my arms to slide down around her waist, and I kissed her again. And again. And again.
Then, for a heartbreakingly brief moment, beautiful in its transience, she kissed me back, her mouth practically attacking mine. Then she pulled away. She stood back and stared at me for a long, silent moment. Then she punched me.
I fell back against the doorframe, cracking my elbow against the solid wood. My hand flew to my jaw, which was already aching from her blow. My jaw hurt, but it was worth it. And despite the throbbing pain, I grinned sheepishly at her.
Shampoo glared at me as best she could. She was a bit disheveled, with her hair escaping my combs and her lips swollen from my kisses, but she also looked fetchingly furious. "Stupid Mousse," she pronounced, her voice a little hoarse. "Stupid boy with stupid trick." And with a toss of her head, she stomped off down the hallway.
I remained on the ground, bemused by the whole situation.
Shampoo returned faster than I'd expected, bundled up in a wool peacoat, toting an umbrella. She plainly ignored me, a determined expression on her face. I also noticed that she'd tidied her hair up somewhat. Where could she be going?
"Are you going to visit that swine, Saotome?" I demanded, feeling anger rising in me. That would be a true punishment indeed, if she were to rush off to him after kissing me.
"No, stupid Mousse," she said in a patient voice, as though speaking to a very young child. "It too early. Airen still sleeping with violent girl right now."
For a moment, I was stunned, and could only stare at her. Did this mean that she knew about Ranma and Akane's little affair?
"Th-then where are you going?!" I asked, confused.
"It not Mousse's business, but Shampoo tell you anyway," she said with a sly smile. "Shampoo going to go buy spatula girl present for Christmas. Is thank you present."
"Yes, Kuonji," she confirmed.
"Why?" I was beyond confused now.
"Spatula girl help Shampoo pick out Christmas present," she called as she darted out the door and into the rain. The tinkling of the silver hair ornaments accompanied the splashes from her quick steps. Then she was gone.
I glanced upward at the bedraggled bunch of mistletoe over the doorway. I closed my
eyes and thought of Shampoo. I don't think I'll ever understand her, but somehow, that doesn't
seem to bother me much . . .