Not Out of the Woods Yet!
"Thanks," Kari said, hopping off of Daisetsu's motorbike. She'd never ridden on one before and the girl had to admit that it was an awesome experience. She'd really enjoy learning how to ride one. Too bad she was too young to consider it for a year and a half, yet.
Daisetsu nodded to the girl. "No problem." He thought a moment. "Want me to go in with you? It might make it easier on you, and Ukyo did say it was okay for me to stay until you were settled in." He conversed in English, as he and Kari were both comfortable with the language.
The girl waved off his offer. "Nah, you go back and get settled in. I'll be fine on my own." She gave him a thumb's up. "This is my chance to hang with the doc, you go spend time with Ucchan."
The boy chuckled. "Well, if you're sure."
The blue-haired girl nodded. "Yep! I am." She turned and walked to the door of the clinic, pausing at the door until she heard the engine of Daisetsu's motorbike fade into the distance. She hesitated a moment longer before steeling herself and opening the door.
The interior of the clinic was the same as she remembered. Hygienic, as one would expect, and generally the same as any other doctor's office. His medical skeleton, Betty, was along the side of the wall, just where she remembered it being.
The doctor himself was scribbling on some paper at a desk, and he glanced up as the ninja entered. "Ah, hello," he greeted her with a smile, shuffling his papers to the side. "Can I help you?"
"Yes, you can." The ninja closed to door behind her and walked over to the young man. "You're Dr. Tofu, aren't you?" She feigned ignorance, as she had yet to be introduced to the Dr. Tofu of this world.
The man in question adjusted his glasses. "Yes, I am. And who might you be?"
"My name is Kari Umikage." The young kunoichi took a seat across from the young doctor. "I heard from Ukyo Kuonji that you sometimes accept boarders. I was wondering if, maybe, I could possibly room here?"
"You've been to Ucchan's then I take it?" Dr. Tofu gave the girl a patient smile. "Well, it's true that I do sometimes allow people to board in my clinic, in exchange for working here. It helps me with my job, and it's always good to have company."
"Working here?" Kari hadn't thought that far ahead. But, of course, it didn't take much thinking to realize the importance of getting a job. She had no idea how long she'd be staying, so it would be imperative. "That'd be fine. How much of my wages would be deducted for room and board?"
The ponytailed man set his elbows on the desk as he explained some of the technical details to the ninja. She listened intently until he was finished.
"That's still fine," the self-insert replied.
"Well, that's good to hear." Dr. Tofu smiled. "But, may I ask, why is it that you want to room here?"
Kari blinked. "Well, like I said, Ukyo recommended you to me."
The chiropractor shook his head. "I meant as to why you were searching for a place to stay in the first place."
"Oh." The ninja paused. "Well, I've heard a lot of interesting things about Nerima, you see." She looked up at the ceiling. "I'm a fighter, see, and I thought that by moving here I might learn some valuable techniques, or at the very least expand my training." That was true enough; she really did want to learn that Zen awareness that she had seen Daisetsu using.
"I see." Dr. Tofu nodded. "Can I ask you what style of martial arts you practice?"
"Ninjitsu." That didn't specify her school, but it was good enough.
"That explains it, then," the young man replied. "I thought it a bit odd, how silently you moved."
The kunoichi chuckled. "Yeah, I suppose."
The doctor leaned forward, looking over the young girl. He began to ask other general questions, getting some unimportant information that the girl gladly provided. He was a bit surprised that she already possessed some degree of medical knowledge.
Afterwards, there was a bit of silence as the chiropractor thought over the idea. The silence, only broken by the steady rhythm of Dr. Tofu's pen, which he was tapping on the desk, lasted until Kari, unable to bear the silence any longer, spoke. "What do you think, doctor?"
Dr. Tofu smiled. "I'll be glad to have you room here, Kari. When do you plan on moving in?"
The ninja gave a sigh of relief. "Today, if possible."
"I can do that." Dr. Tofu stood up, his chair sliding backwards as he did so. "Thankfully, I don't have any appointments until this evening, so I can help you get settled in."
Kari had made a trip home before she had arrived at Ucchan's via her magical device. She had been able to con some money off of her father. Anything that Dr. Tofu wasn't able to provide, she got herself using that money. The room was fully furnished, but the girl had gone out to get several wallscrolls to decorate the room with.
As she entered, her arms full of several wallscrolls, she saw Dr. Tofu giving a checkup to a boy. The boy had his shirt off and appeared to be rather beaten, though not in horrible shape. He had definitely been on the losing side of some match.
Kari also recognized the boy, though she couldn't let that on. "Hello, doc. Who's this?"
Dr. Tofu looked up. "Ah, Kari, welcome back. This is Mousse, one of my regulars."
The long-haired boy adjusted his glasses. "Oh, is this your new boarder, doctor? He looks a bit young to be living by himself."
Kari narrowed her eyes. "Do I look like a guy?" She scoffed, continuing on her way to her room, irate at the half-blind martial artist.
As the girl went to her room, Mousse looked at Dr. Tofu. "That was a girl?"
Kari seethed a bit, throwing her wallscrolls onto her bed. It didn't last long, however, as she was also used to that mistake. The girl took the time to hang up her new wallscrolls, showing anime such as Hajime no Ippo, Urusei Yatsura, and Gundam.
"This'll work," she said to herself. She walked over to her door and opened it, only to find Mousse standing there with his fist in the air, as if he was about to knock. Kari noted that the doctor had done a good job patching the boy up, as would be expected of him. "Eh?" she asked, rather eloquently.
Mousse cleared his throat, looking away from the girl. "I just wanted to say... Sorry about before." He looked embarrassed about having to apologize.
Kari brushed it off. "It's okay, really." She looked up at Mousse. "Oh, I guess we haven't been introduced yet." She was about to extend her hand for a handshake, but she caught herself. Instead, she gave a low bow, as was custom in Japan. "My name's Kari Umikage."
Mousse gave a low bow as well. "My name is Mousse. I'm a visitor from China."
The ninja stopped the bow, as Mousse did. "Can I ask why you were here?" She had a pretty good idea, of course, but he didn't need to know that.
The boy put a hand behind his head, laughing a bit. "Well, I was on the losing end of a fight." He seethed a bit. "That Ranma always seems to be able to counter my moves! But it's okay, I'll get him eventually."
"Ranma?" Kari asked. "As in Ukyo's fiancé? I think that's what she said his name was." She smiled at that. She knew quite well who Ranma was. "Why were you fighting with him?"
Mousse clenched his fist. "He's engaged to half of the town!"
The girl blinked. "That doesn't sound good."
"It isn't," Mousse replied. "But I digress. I should probably get back to the Nekohaten, or else the old ghoul will give me more work."
"Well, it was a pleasure meeting you." Kari smiled at the boy. "But if you have to go then you have to go." As the boy turned to go, the girl added something. "Oh, yeah! You know, if you ever need a sparring partner, I'll be glad to provide you with one."
The cursed boy looked over his shoulder. "Thanks, maybe I'll take you up on that."
"See that you do." Kari giggled. "I'll walk you out, okay?" She and Mousse walked outside, where the girl saw him off. She made note of which direction he was heading in, knowing that way would lead to the Nekohaten.
"That way, huh?" She turned and walked back into the clinic.
Daisetsu was content. He'd arranged to have the cause of all his life's problems brought to the Ranmaverse for just punishment. What's more, he was there to oversee and assist with that punishment.
As an added bonus, he was allowed a chance to work for and enjoy the company of Ukyo. He told himself that they were just friends and that he wouldn't be staying. He had his fiancée Nabiki to return to eventually.
Yet there was that little voice in his head. Not the one we usually ignore when it's trying to keep us out of trouble. The other one. It was telling him that Nabiki would never know what happened here. He could have his fun and move on. It wasn't like they were married. Heck, wouldn't it be better to sow his wild oats here where no one could get hurt? Surely Nabiki would if given the chance. Heck, hadn't she been engaged to both Kuno and Ranma while still with him? At least he wouldn't be hurting her like she hurt him.
Daisetsu shook his head to clear it of such thoughts.
Ukyo had been pleasantly surprised that he already knew some of the basics of creating Okonomiyaki. Now she was teaching him to be her assistant chef. So they worked together in the close quarters behind the grill. They quickly meshed as a team.
Ukyo grinned as Daisetsu flipped batter as per her direction. It was a scene she had always imagined with Ranchan. Working together to keep the hungry customers fed, sharing both business and life.
It was a dream that she was realizing that Ranma simply didn't share. His art was his life much as her art was her life. Their goals were similar but not the same. She was beginning to admit to herself that Akane shared his goals... and his life far more than she herself did.
Then along came Daisetsu. While far from being a master chef, he enjoyed cooking and, she was pretty sure, her company. She didn't love him as she did Ranchan, but there was something there, none the less.
Perhaps if she had truly lost Ranma to Akane, it was time to move on. And why look further than her own nose?
"Ukyo?" Konatsu's voice snapped Ukyo out of her thoughts. "Three specials for booth eight?"
Ukyo shook her head clear. She had work to do! "Sure thing, sugar!" Her and Daichan immediately set to work creating three masterpieces for consumption.
Working in close quarters as they were, it was impossible not to brush up against each other. So when the little voice told Daisetsu to brush up against Ukyo, he didn't see the harm in complying. He had her in a half embrace as he reached around her slender waist to grab some additional ingredients that were as easily accessible on his side of the grill.
Ukyo glanced at her assistant but didn't object. That provided him the chance he needed to use his finger to plant some flour on her nose. She giggled and he winked at her before turning his attention back to the grill.
A blush crossed Ukyo's face as she also turned back to the grill. Was he flirting with her? She couldn't remember anyone ever doing that before. Sure, there had been guy swarming her like moths to a flame and the overzealous attentions of guys like Tsubasa. This was different. This was subtle and playful. More like an invitation then the crude demands for attention others had made. And an invitation meant she had a choice... but what to choose?
Standing close to Daichan at the grill, she noticed when he suddenly tensed and stared at the door. Looking up, she spotted a familiar face. "Hiya sugar! Whatcha have today?"
Daisetsu was stunned as Nabiki walked in through the door. She wore a hungry expression and was looking directly at him, even when Ukyo asked her what she wanted. Daisetsu gulped slightly as Nabiki wetted her lips with her tongue. Her eyes never left his. "I'll have whatever he's cooking up, please."
"Right! One special, coming right up!" Ukyo announced, and then jabbed Daichan in the ribs to get him moving again. She frowned slightly as she poured batter onto the grill. A little voice started to speak to her heart. It would seem that Nabiki Tendo had a profound effect on her assistant. And the way she looked at him, it was probably mutual. She'd lost one chance for happiness to a Tendo girl, she wasn't about to lose another!
Daisetsu shook his head as he painted batter with sauce. He'd been a little surprised by his first encounter with this world's Nabiki. But it wasn't his Nabiki. Tiny clues that only a lover would notice. It was enough to make him realize that he would always feel terribly guilty if he ever cheated on his chosen mate. Even if she never knew, he would. Thus, with new resolve, he decided to take care of business here and then return home. And most of all, he would remain just friends with Ukyo!
"Hello?" Akane asked as she entered Dr. Tofu's office. She spotted a young boy sitting at the doctor's desk, wearing a dark blue button-up shirt and red tie. She didn't recognize him, but figured that the doctor must have hired some help.
"Hello," the boy greeted, raising his head as the youngest Tendo entered. He seemed to be looking over some papers, but shuffled them aside. "Can I help you?"
Akane walked inside. "Um, who are you? Where's Dr. Tofu?"
"The doctor's getting some refreshments. My name's Kari Umikage." Kari had learned what the doctor wanted done, and so she was able to start working. She was surprised when Akane Tendo entered, but she supposed she shouldn't be. "And you might be?" She resisted the urge to address Akane by name; after all, they had been friends.
"Akane Tendo," was the reply to Kari's question. Akane paused for a moment. "Hey, wait, isn't Kari a girl's name?"
"Very astute," Kari deadpanned. "It's a girl's name because I'm a girl."
"Oh." Akane tried to hide a blush. "I'm sorry. It's the clothes, they threw me off."
Kari waved a hand dismissively. "It's all right." It was Akane, and Kari couldn't get angry at the girl. "You can take a seat until the doctor comes out., all right?"
The older girl pulled up a chair, taking a seat in it. "So, you're working here now?"
"Obviously," Kari replied jovially. "It's part of my agreement for staying here with the doctor."
The conversation would have continued if the good doctor didn't appear at that moment. "Oh, hello Akane," Dr. Tofu greeted as he entered the room, holding two glasses of water, one in each hand. "I didn't expect to see you today. What's the problem?"
"Good afternoon, doctor!" The girl put on a cheerful smile. "There's no problem, I'm just here to return this book for Kasumi." She reached over to her schoolbag, which she had placed by her side. She had just stopped by on her way home from school, so she had her bag and was still wearing her school uniform.
"K-K-Kasumi?" The good doctor's glasses fogged up a bit. He tried placing the glasses of water on the desk, but fumbled one of them, which, naturally, spilled on the only Jusenkyo-cursed person in the room.
Kari wiped the water from his face.
"Oh, Kari! I'm sorry!" The mention of Kasumi's name wore off when the doctor noticed what he had done.
Akane's eyes widened. "Kari? Your hair changed color!"
Indeed it had. Kari's hair, normally blue, was now pitch black. Otherwise, however, he appeared much the same. Still short, and still appearing like an effeminate boy. But at least there was one other major change, though that one wasn't quite as visible.
"Yeah," the girl-turned-boy replied. "I fell into the Naniichuan, the spring of drowned boy, at Jusenkyo." She looked past Akane, as if staring off into the distance. "I've heard that there are quite a few in Nerima with such curses, so I hope it won't be too much of a shock for you." The boy knew how involved in the odd affairs of Nerima Akane was, so there wasn't much chance of that.
The short-haired girl chuckled. "No, no, I'm not shocked, just a little surprised is all. Heck, my fiancé has a curse, too."
"Really now?" Kari asked with a smile. The two conversed as Dr. Tofu tried to find his bookshelves. He was searching the kitchen, so the two got in a bit of conversing before Akane decided to leave.
"Gods, I'm tired." Yuber was trudging along behind his wife, who was setting a pace tough for military men. The boy was in fairly good shape, but this was in direct violation of his inherent laziness.
Link patiently ignored the ramblings of her husband. She stooped down, checking the earth. The bear cub had been this way, but it had tried hiding its tracks with a branch. Her prey was smart, she realized. It would be a magnificent hunt.
"C'mon, can't we take a break?" The boy wasn't even winded, he just felt the need to complain.
The Amazon felt an eye twitch. Tomorrow. She could hunt the bear tomorrow. Today she'd keep her husband from complaining. Perhaps if she kept him busy?
"Husband," she began, "we'll make camp here tonight."
"Make camp," Yuber said with a snort. "You act like we have tents or something." Nonetheless, he plopped down on the earth, glad to be stopping for the day.
Link walked over and took a seat next to him, though he didn't even pay any attention to her as she did. She cleared her throat. "Husband, I believe that I should teach you how to speak Japanese."
Yuber blinked at that. "Wait, you know Japanese?"
The girl felt like hitting her husband. "Would I go to Japan without knowing the language?" She wasn't stupid. "My mother taught me the language. She spent some time there in her youth."
"Why do I need to learn it?" Yuber was sulking. It wasn't that he didn't see the advantages of being able to, say, understand people... it was that he didn't feel like putting forth the effort to learn the language.
"It's to keep you occupied," his wife replied simply. "If you'd rather, I could teach you fencing instead." She put her hand on the hilt of her rapier.
"Japanese it is!" Yuber said with a false smile. "Just keep that rapier away from me."
It was several hours later and well past dark when Link ended their lessons. Yuber was a quick study, though he still complained during the lesson. But now it was time for dinner.
The girl reached into her pack and pulled free everything she needed to make some stew. She was a decent cook, though she'd rather not have to give her husband any. She'd had his cooking though, and quickly agreed that she should be the only one to ever touch the cooking utensils.
It wasn't long before she poured herself and her husband bowls of the stew. The aroma was intoxicating for the starving Yuber, and he began to eat immediately.
At least, until he felt the edge of a rapier at his throat.
It was oddly nostalgic.
"Husband," Link began in a pleasant tone, "what have I said about starting before the host?"
"Are you the host now?" the boy replied. He began to sweat. Wait, that was the wrong answer.
"I won't let you begin until I've said Grace." Link took the sword from her husband's throat and sheathed it. She was smiling. She wasn't Christian in the least. Her father had let her decide what religion she would follow, and she chose the religion of the Amazons'. She was only doing this to spite her husband.
He knew it, too. But he couldn't argue with her. "Just get it over with," he muttered.
She made sure to take her time.
Over the course of the next two weeks, Kari had run into almost all of the Nerima wrecking crew. Ranma and Shampoo came in at once, the girl having run over Ranma's face with her bike. She was just as annoying as Kari remembered from her trip to the Amazon village.
Kasumi came by to borrow another book. That had been an interesting experience. Thankfully, Kari was fast enough to avoid Dr. Tofu whenever he seemed to want to bend her limbs into any odd shapes.
The strangest, however, was her meeting with Ryoga. She had been sitting at her desk, going over the doctor's appointments, when she heard the door to the bathroom open. Knowing that nobody had been in there, Kari turned to see what it was.
"Er, hello, miss," Ryoga greeted as he exited the restroom. "Can I ask what you're doing in the barn? I think the farmer would get mad if somebody he didn't know was in here."
Kari double-blinked. "Barn? Ryoga, this is Dr. Tofu's office. In Nerima."
The fanged boy groaned. "Wait, I'm in Nerima? I could have sworn I was in a farm in Hokkaido..." Before the girl could reply, he continued with another statement. "Wait, how do you know my name?"
The girl quickly ran some thoughts through her head before deciding on one. "Well, I heard about you from Ranma. You matched his description fairly well." She cracked a smile. "Besides, who else could arrive from a bathroom thinking he's on a farm?"
Ryoga clenched a fist. "Curse that Ranma! He's always spreading stories about me!" He growled.
The ninja felt the urge to groan. Her Ryoga saw Ranma as a compatriot, or a rival, not an enemy like this Ryoga. It was different seeing him act like that. "Where are you off to?" the girl asked, changing the subject. "I have a break soon, so maybe I can help you find your way."
"I'm off to the Unryuu farm," the fanged boy replied. "But it's all right, I can find my own way there." As he was about to leave the room (into the kitchen, coincidentally,) he paused. "By the way, what's your name? You know mine, but I don't know yours."
"Kari Umikage," the girl replied, tugging at her tie. She felt out of place, introducing herself to the person she thought of as her best friend. "I'm staying here with Dr. Tofu."
"Nice to meet you."
Kari smiled. "You, too."
Ryoga made his exit. Then, a minute later, he came out and made his exit again, this time actually finding the door that led outside.
Link couldn't believe it. This bear cub had actually gone into the sea in an attempt to lose her. This was no ordinary bear, she was sure. Above average intelligence, it provided quite the chase.
"What's the matter?" her husband asked as he approached from behind her, hands in his pockets. "Did you lose the trail?" He hoped so. Yuber didn't want to see a poor bear cub be slaughtered to make him a coat. Of course, it's not like he could do much to stop the girl. And besides, he was too lazy to try.
"It went into the sea," Link answered honestly. "It's probably heading for Japan."
"You're giving it too much credit," Yuber replied. "How would it even know where Japan is?" He sat down, looking out to sea. The ocean was vast, he realized as he looked out to the horizon. "It's far more likely that it swam out, then followed the coast for a bit before coming ashore again where you are less likely to find it." He looked over at his wife, noting the look of distaste she was wearing. "You'd have a fifty percent chance of finding its trail, following the coast either way."
"I thought you didn't want me to find the creature," Link replied flatly.
The boy shrugged. "I can't stand seeing a pretty girl in distress." Another guy would've finished the statement off with a roguish grin. Yuber, of course, merely stared out to sea as he had been doing.
Link almost felt moved. Almost. Instead, she smacked the boy in the back of the head. "Don't try flirting with me now, boy."
Yuber rubbed the back of his head, glaring at his wife. "Ouch... that hurt, you know."
The blonde grinned. "I know."
The brown-haired boy continued. "And I sure as heck wasn't flirting with you." He stuck his tongue out. "And I'm also older than you, so don't call me 'boy.'"
"Older by a year," Link muttered. "In any case, we'd best find a ship to Japan. If the bear cub is heading in that direction, we might get lucky and stumble across it. If not... well, our quest for annulment is more important than a bear cub."
"Sounds like a plan," the ponytailed boy replied. He managed to get to his feet. "I think I see some buildings in this direction, let's go." He and his wife made their way along the coastline, heading toward where they believed a port to be.
Despite their incredible bulk, a bear can be a surprisingly fast runner. As a predator, they are capable of spurts of speed to run down their prey. In North America, they have risen to become the apex hunter, with only humanity challenging their dominance of the continent. How a black bear ever found its way to Jusenkyo only to drown as a cub is anyone's guess.
How one bear cub in particular came to be running all-out for much longer than nature ever intended wasn't so hard to guess. For not far behind the cub was an Amazon warrior intent on turning the aforementioned cub into a fur coat for her husband. What made the prospect enticing was the fact that her husband was utterly opposed to the idea.
The husband in question had stopped even trying to catch up about two miles back. While Yuber didn't wish the poor bear cub any particular ill will, he acknowledged that there was little he could do to dissuade Link from her current course of action. Besides, he was lazy and simply lacked any energy for the endeavor. Besides, he reasoned to himself, the creature had proved surprisingly clever and resourceful up to this point. No doubt it would evade its fate again today. Any doubts he may have had were washed away in an instant when he heard the distant clap of thunder. If he didn't find cover soon, he would become a defenseless target for any Akane glompers that might be lurking.
The bear cub was getting desperate. This crazy bitch had been on his tail since Jusenkyo. He had hoped that swimming across the sea to China might allow him to lose her, but no such luck. She only seemed to get more and more determined, as if it had become some obscure point of honor not to let this prey escape. While smarter than your average bear, the cub was at something of a disadvantage at not being able to read or understand Japanese.
That didn't stop it from streaking through towns and cities, however. If nothing else, he seemed more at ease in an urban setting than his relentless pursuer. It made quite a scene, a black bear cub bolting down the street and in between cars with an angry Amazon warrior on his heels, swinging a rapier with abandon.
The rain came as a welcome respite to the endangered animal. It helped cool dangerously overheated muscles and darkened the scenery. With luck, he hoped that he might be able to slip away and find cover from his huntress. The problem was that he was severely worn down and she was starting to gain on him. It was only a matter of time before sharp steel penetrated thick fur and fat layers to find something critical beneath. There was the vain hope that she knew enough about bear anatomy to make it quick.
Link smiled to herself. The goddess of the hunt was on her side today. Her prey had been surprisingly elusive, but would soon be hers. It was worn down and tired. That was to be expected since it hadn't eaten properly in days. By this point it was probably burning the protein in its muscles just to keep going. In time, it would make that critical mistake that would allow her to finish the chase. It was a hunt that would have been worthy of a story for the children. A pity that the pelt of the noble beast would be wasted on that slacker she had been saddled with as a husband.
The mistake came as a paw was snagged on a sewer grate. The bear cub went head over paws down the street until it skidded to halt against the damp street curb. Looking up, it saw the instrument of its destruction being brought down in a swift and final arc. All it could do was to close its eyes, hold up its forepaws defensively while wincing. It heard a metallic and high pitched clang yet felt no pain. Hesitantly, it opened its eyes to see that a katana blade had intercepted the rapier on its trajectory.
"I'm afraid I can't let you kill this creature today." A girl in her late teens was holding the katana and was smiling cockily at Link from behind damp bangs.
Link sneered as she drew back to assess her new opponent. What fools these foreign devils were, to come between an Amazon and her prey. A hard lesson this upstart was about to learn. "Stand aside, girl. I've tracked this bear from China and will have its hide. Get in my way and risk my wrath."
In what could only be described as arrogant defiance, the girl moved to stand directly between Link and the bear cub. "You must be an Amazon. Only an Amazon would be single minded enough to chase one bear cub all the way from China and bull headed enough to think everyone else should get out of her way, despite local custom."
That was it. Link wasn't about to stand for insults against her person from this upstart. She agreed that the customs were sometimes questionable, but that was a personal insult. She would have been satisfied in merely soundly defeating this upstart, but now she was risking an object lesson. Perhaps a thin scar on her pretty cheek would teach her proper respect to her betters. With that in mind, she lunged.
The blow never connected. The girl merely ducted under the Amazon's swing. She came up and swung with her own blade, an attack the Amazon easily blocked. Shortly the two swords became a blur as the two women exchanged blows.
In the course of the melee, Link started to realize several things. First was that her opponent seemed to be able to read her every move. How she was managing that feat was completely beyond the Amazon. As frustrating as trying to penetrate the interloper's defenses were, her second realization angered her to new levels. Link's adversary wasn't seriously trying to land a hit against her! It was insulting!
Despite the renewed vigor of her assault, Link remained unable to penetrate the other girl's defenses. "You mock me," she rasped. "Why do you not fight me? Are you a coward?"
"Well you see, here's the thing." The girl took a couple steps back as she spoke. "I know a couple things about Amazon law, so I know if I defeat you, then you have to give me the kiss of death and then I have to either kill you or else put up with your death vendetta. To be frank, I have no desire to do either. On the other hand, if I let you defeat me, then you'll kill that bear cub. And that is something I cannot allow."
Link wasn't warming up to this girl in the least. "It would seem that we are at an impasse, then. Honor demands that I complete the hunt. I have promised that cub's pelt as a coat to my husband. So I must press until I defeat you and I kill the cub, or else you defeat me, in which case I will obey our laws and hunt you until one of us is dead."
"An impasse?" The strange girl tilted her head sideways. "You mean like a draw? What does Amazon law say about what to do when you get into a draw with an outsider woman?"
The answer was automatic for Link. "In such a case, then the outsider can be seen as a worthy equal and the dispute settled by other means."
"Rock, paper, scissors," stated the girl. "We have a draw, so I propose we play rock paper scissors for the fate of the bear cub. Do you know the game?"
Link sheathed her sword. "My father taught it to me when I was little."
Two fists were balled and then shook in the air three times. Link came up with rock while the girl came up with paper. Link frowned, but consoled herself with the knowledge that her husband was unworthy of such a gift anyway. "You are the victor. The bear cub's fate is yours to decide."
The girl scooped up the bear cub and smiled at Link. "Just to show you that there's no hard feelings, why don't you come have something to eat at the restaurant that I work at? Name's Dai, by the way, and it's my treat."
The Amazon nodded curtly. "Very well, I will accept your offer, but I have to wait for my husband to catch up."
As if by cue, Yuber did indeed catch up to his 'loving' wife. He had managed to secure an umbrella and was reasonably content. He was glad, if somewhat surprised, to find his wife talking to a girl about his age holding the very same bear cub that they had chased from China. He couldn't think of anyway to explain the scene, so he simply accepted it.
"Took you long enough husband," Link scolded Yuber in English. "The bear cub belongs to this warrior and she has invited us to a meal."
Yuber came to being as close to happy as he had been in a long time. A free meal was, after all, a free meal, and not something to be sneezed at. "Sound great."
The cub holding girl smiled. "So you two speak English? Great, I'll be able to stay in practice. I'm Dai, by the way."
Something about the name bothered Yuber. It was familiar, and not in a good way. Still, it wasn't enough to deter him from a free meal. "I'm Yuber, and my wife here is named Link." He glanced at the bear cub. "So he's yours, is he? What's his name?"
Dai grinned. "I think I'll call him B-Chan. I have some plans for this little guy."
The little bear cub shivered from a cold that bit down to the very core of his bones.
In short order, the odd foursome arrived at Ucchan's.
Dai led the way and announced as she walked in, "Sorry I'm late, Ucchan. I got held up with the rain and all."
Ukyo nodded sympathetically. "I sorta figured, sugar. There's some hot water for you in the back so you can freshen up and change." She looked up from the Okonomiyaki she was currently preparing. "Oh, what a cute little bear cub! Where and how did you come by him? Is he yours?"
Dai couldn't help but to laugh at Ukyo's excitement. "We sort of ran into each other. If you like him, he's yours."
Ukyo's eyes went wide as she started to fuss over the creature. Grabbing a towel from the sink, she started to dry it off. "Look at you, one giant ball of wet fur!"
The bear cub was feeling silly with the young girl fussing over him. It was made worse when Dai told her his name. "He's B-Chan. Half as smart as
Chan, but twice as cute!"
"Ya can say that again!" Ukyo exclaimed.
"These two are with me, Ucchan. I told them I'd get their meal on my tab." Dai indicated the two people who had came in with them. The woman was dressed as an Amazon and was scowling about the place while the young man looked like he might flee if given half a chance.
Ukyo gestured to some seats by the grill. "Make yourselves at home. Any friend of Daichan is a friend of mine. What'll ya all be havin'?"
Daichan disappeared into the back while Link placed orders for both her and her husband.
Ever the gracious hostess, Ukyo made an attempt at conversation. "So what brings ya all to Nerima?"
"We married," the young man provided helpfully.
Link rolled her eyes. "We're here to get an annulment, which only our matriarch, Cologne, can grant."
That caught Ukyo's attention. "Amazon marriages can be annulled?"
"Sure," agreed Link as she hungrily eyed what Ukyo was making., "if the woman wants it and if there are special circumstances."
Link's response caused Ukyo to deflate. Shampoo would never want her engagement to Ranma annulled. "What sort of special circumstances?" she asked, still curious.
"Well," Link began to explain, "if the man defeats the woman by fluke and otherwise couldn't hope to obtain victory, then it can be annulled. As is our case. Though, for some reason, the other village elders have refused me on this issue. So I have to take it to Cologne, who is the only one who can help me now."
In short order the meals were served by Konatsu, who was wondering what their connection to Daisetsu might be.
Soon enough, Konatsu's new arrival returned from the back room, now changed into his male form and wearing dry clothes. "Okay, Daichan, give me a hand with these orders," Ukyo automatically greeted the young man.
Link narrowed her eyes a little bit and then outright frowned when she noticed the way the boy handled the spatulas. He was a swordsman, no question about it. She stood up sharply and slammed her hands on the counter. "You tricked me!" A bimbo like Shampoo might miss subtle clues that told you about a person, but Link was not such a fool. "You're her! That girl I fought! Only now you're a guy... Of course! Ukyo told you about the hot water so you could change! You're cursed!"
Daisetsu gave the Amazon a lopsided grin. "Hey, let it go. You already have a husband, so fighting me won't accomplish anything."
"I won't let a mere male beat me!" declared Link. She drew her rapier and lunged. "Defend yourself, dog!"
The kendoist had no choice but to retreat, a path that was suddenly obstructed by a chair placed there by a jealous ninja. The chair was used to block with and soon became splinters.
"Now hold on one damn minute! I don't want ya attacking the help and busting up the place!" Ukyo objected.
"Fine then, we'll take this outside." Link stormed out of the restaurant.
Yuber noticed that the rain had ceased, so he ventured outside with his wife, though he wasn't sure what exactly had set her off this time. His wife had been shouting in Japanese much too fast for him to keep up with.
Daisetsu dashed into the back room to grab his katana and then out into the street to meet the challenge. "Right, since you're married already, what happens if I beat you?"
Link's face was a mask of determination. "Then I train until I can beat you. And before you ask, if I defeat you, then I will claim the prize you cheated me out of!"
Rapier met katana in a blurred melee. After a deft series of feints, Daisetsu managed to disarm Link with the flick of his wrist and then held the tip of the blade under her chin. "I've trained to become one of the best swordsmen of my generation by the best of his generation. Don't waste your time or mine by pursuing this vendetta."
"I won't quit until I've won!" swore Link.
"But sugar, if Daichan here defeats you after you've annulled your marriage, then you'll have to marry Daichan. You'll just be trading one unwanted husband for another." Ukyo had stepped outside to watch the fight, but really didn't want to have to deal with an Amazon with a grudge against one of her employees.
"Then there shall be no annulment until I have bested this arrogant bastard!"
Yuber began to cry.
Yuber and Link made their way to the Nekohaten. Thanks to a map provided by Ukyo before they departed, they knew exactly where it was.
The boy was keeping as silent as possible, seeing how much his wife was seething. He knew from experience that the best thing to do when she was in a bad mood was to avoid her. Too bad they still had to find lodgings, which meant seeing the Amazons in Nerima.
They'd be staying... and not asking for an annulment! It almost made Yuber cry. Well, scratch that, he had cried earlier.
"How much further?" Link asked through gritted teeth. She was still obviously sour at being faced with a male stronger than herself. Especially since she couldn't annul her marriage until after she defeated that male. It was infuriating!
Yuber scrambled to pull out the map from his pocket. He didn't feel like getting on his wife's bad side, that was for sure. That rapier was probably really sharp. "We're about a block and a half away," he quickly informed his wife, after deciphering their current location on the paper. Thankfully, Ukyo was fairly good at providing directions.
"Good," his wife replied. She looked down as she walked.
Yuber noticed that the closer they got to the Nekohaten, the slower his wife began to walk. He looked at her, examining her face. Instead of appearing angry, she seemed to be sulking now. "Great," the boy thought to himself, "now I'm stuck with a moody woman." As he watched her, he saw her stop. "Eh?" he spoke out loud. "Why'd you stop?"
"We're here," the blonde replied, pointing toward a building.
Yuber looked over, noting it. It definitely appeared to be a restaurant, that was for sure. But since his knowledge of Japanese was limited to the verbal aspect, and even that was little at best, he couldn't read any of the signs. "I'll take your word for it," the boy said.
"You'd best," Link replied. She walked over to the door, opening it. Door chimes went off, alerting the staff to the newcomers.
"Welcome to the Nekohaten!" a longhaired boy, though not Yuber, said in greeting. He walked over, then adjusted his glasses when he saw Link's face. "Wait, Link? Is that you?"
The girl nodded. "Yes," she replied in Japanese, the same language Mousse had used in greeting. "I'm glad to see you're doing well, Mousse."
"Why doesn't anybody speak English in Japan?" Yuber muttered to himself in English. In Japanese, he said, "Good afternoon." He stuck to simple phrases to avoid looking dumb. Like Shampoo.
Mousse set down the menus he had been carrying on a nearby table. "What brings you here, Link? And who's your friend?"
"I her husband," Yuber replied with a grin. He felt a bit safer raising his wife's ire while in a public restaurant. "I name Yuber."
Mousse ignored the bad grammar, realizing that Yuber was obviously foreign and probably wasn't used to speaking Japanese. But what he said was quite interesting. "Husband?"
"Yes, he's my husband," Link replied. She could feel her own eye twitch in irritation of her husband. She'd find a way to get him back. "In any case, however, we're here to find a place to stay for a while." She looked around, not noticing either Shampoo or Cologne nearby. "Is there somebody we can talk to about it?"
"I'll take you to the kitchen," the black-haired martial artist replied. He turned around, motioning for the two to follow him. He led the pair through some curtains into the kitchen where an old woman was working over a pot.
She looked over as the three entered. Yuber was momentarily caught thinking that he was staring at a dried-up old monkey.
"Link? What are you doing here?" The old woman's voice seemed surprised.
Mousse cleared his throat. "She and her husband are looking for a place to stay for a while."
He quickly found himself whapped on the head with a thick wooden cane. "Did I ask you, boy? I asked the Amazon!" She looked over. "But is what he says true? Is this weak male next to you your husband?"
Link nodded. "It is true, I'm afraid."
Cologne turned her attention back to the pot, stirring its contents. After a moment, she continued. "I see." She stirred the contents a bit more. "Well, we do have a free room. You and your husband are welcome to use it as long as you wish, as long as the both of you don't mind working here for room and board." She looked over, waving her hand. "Mousse can show you the way."
Seeing the elder wave her hand, Yuber bowed low. "Thank you very much," he said. As he and the other two left, he asked Link, in English, "Now what did she say?"
As they began to ascend the stairs, Link answered. "She said that we can stay in their spare room as long as we work here."
"The same room?" Yuber asked incredulously. Then, a moment later, he said, even more incredulously, "Wait, work!"
It had been a long day with many ups and downs for the bear cub now called B-Chan. He'd been on the very verge of death, only to be snatched from those very nasty jaws by his mortal enemy.
That very same enemy had brought him to Ucchan's to become her pet. That was an even more sinister torture than merely running for one's life. For while B-Chan was instantly infatuated with Ukyo, she saw him as nothing more than a simple pet. Worse, B-Chan had no way of understanding her nor communicating his thoughts to her. He didn't understand Japanese and she apparently didn't understand English. It was a conundrum, to be sure. Still, he was confident he would eventually think his way out of the situation. Just as he was sure that he would deal with his errant avatar.
At the moment, however, he faced a conundrum of a different sort. While having Ucchan fuss over him all day had been, in a word, pleasant, it had left him unable to pursue certain needs. Needs which were even now demanding his attention.
Ukyo hadn't been insensitive to him, having anticipated his needs with laid out newspaper. What he had done in the wilds of China while on the run for his life had been borne out of necessity. Now he found the prospect of squatting to do his business rather... uncivilized.
Snooping around brought B-Chan what he sought. The bathroom in all its glory! And glory of glories, it was a western style setup! With a satisfied grin he climbed up onto the throne to carry out natures routine.
A sideways glance revealed an English magazine some customer had carelessly discarded. Not having read anything at all in quite some time, he picked it up and awkwardly thumbed through the pages. Having claws and no opposable thumbs meant he had virtually no manual dexterity to speak of. Yet he was a very adaptable and determined creature.
Meanwhile, Ukyo had decided it was time to clean out the customer bathrooms. She had given Konatsu and Daisetsu the evening off without realizing that this particular chore was incomplete. Well, both of her boys were hard workers and deserved a little time to themselves. Besides, they had seemed about ready to go for each others throats. She couldn't quite understand why they had such a hard time getting along. She liked both of them, so couldn't see why they wouldn't like each other just as well.
When Ukyo opened the door to the restroom, B-Chan lowered the paper slightly and looked at her over its edge.
Their eyes met and held one another's gaze for several moments.
Surrendering to the situation, Ukyo backed out of the small room.
"Well," Ukyo said to herself while she waited outside for her pet to finish up. "That answers the question about what bears do in the woods."
Later, Ukyo would discuss the situation with Akane.
"You know sugar, it's not that he goes on the toilet. I've heard of cats doing the same damn thing." Ukyo was shaking her head.
"So what's got you all freaked out?" Akane asked with naked curiosity. She had, after all, seen her own
Chan do some amazing things.
"It's that he uses the toilet paper! Even changes the rolls!" Ukyo shook her head sadly. "Now if only I could teach him to put the seat back down."
B-Chan was becoming a common and even welcome sight at Ucchan's. He was, after all, cute, cuddly, and housebroken. For his part, he was growing content (and fat) on all the leftovers he could stuff down his face.
But Daisetsu saw oh so much more potential to the situation. Potential he knew exactly how to exploit.
Bear was busy at a booth with a half dozen female students of Furinkan. It had become something of a sport to feed the cub and then giggle as he let them pet and scratch all over. It was, in fact, a situation that had Genma green with envy that he hadn't devised it first. Of course, now Nodoka kept him on the straight and narrow. A razor's edge, you might say. At any rate, the radio went out and was replaced by a very carefully selected CD. I Get Knocked Down, by Chumbawamba.
Habit and instinct are very peculiar things. B-Chan had one very peculiar habit, indeed, as he was unable to stand still when that song in particular was played. Not only was he unable to stand still, but he couldn't help but to dance. And it was quite a dance too. Furry little legs would split apart dropping a snubbed tail to the ground before rising up again to wag to the music. Eyes closed as the little mammal couldn't help but to feel the rhythm. As the final bars of music were drifting off into the next song, all witnesses to the event had redefined their personal meanings for the term 'bust a move'.
With as slight a smile as a carnivorous maw can manage, B-Chan opened his eyes and realized that the whole restaurant was staring at him. Awkward grin became an embarrassed blush. But, always one to think fast on his feet, he did the best thing he could at the moment.
And the restaurant exploded into applause for B-Chan's new trick.
Now showing three times daily.
Yuber and Link weren't the best of roommates. Because they were married, they were given one bed to sleep in. Despite being married, they didn't sleep in a single bed.
This meant that Yuber was forced to sleep on the floor.
The boy was, above all else, lazy. This meant that he quite enjoyed the passtime of sleeping. While on the road, he had nowhere else to sleep but the ground. That was fine, but only because he knew he'd soon be in civilization, where they had beds.
And now he was forced to sleep on the ground? The least his wife could do was give him a pillow.
The boy nodded to himself. He deserved that, at least! He stood up, looking down at his wife, who lied sleeping on the bed. Her blond hair spilled out on the two pillows the bed had. She was sleeping on her side, on the pillow closest to Yuber, and her arms covered the other.
This would be difficult... He definitely couldn't get the one she was sleeping on... his best bet was to somehow get the pillow from under her arms without waking her.
He was confident in his abilities.
The boy reached over his wife, grasping the edge of the pillow with both hands. He gently began to pull, but then his wife pulled the pillow closer, wrapping an arm around it.
"Bloody hell," the boy muttered quietly. He reached with one hand and tried to unpry his wife's arm from the pillow. It would be his!
Unfortunately, his wife didn't seem to agree. She shifted in her sleep, rolling more onto her side and away from her husband. Their arms caught, and the boy fell onto the bed.
Blushing, he realized his face was now almost touching his wife's.
Eyes widening, he realized that her eyes were open.
Yuber didn't get much sleep that night. And it wasn't a good thing, either.
There are times when every creature gets pushed to its limits and needs some form of relief. So it was also for B-Chan.
Being turned into a bear cub and chased through the wilds of China had been bad. Arriving in Japan where he still couldn't understand the language didn't really improve matters for him.
Having Ukyo adopt him had some advantages, but was starting to wear down his soul. She had always been one of his favorite characters and now he could see and touch her in the flesh. But only as her pet. He could never interact with her the way he truly wanted, as a person. It was depressing.
His three performances a day were nothing short of humiliating, as was having to beg for table scraps. He had taken care of himself since he was fifteen and had been making a decent wage at a fairly technical career before. Now he was reduced to the role of circus bear that had to rely on the kindness of others to get by. Not something any man's pride should have to endure.
And now Ukyo had taken to leaping out of nowhere and attempting to splash him with boiling water! So far he had eluded her attempts by a combination of good planning and good fortune. It was enough to put anyone on edge as every corner and counter became suspect.
It had occurred to him that she was trying to transform him to his uncursed form, but since he was locked as a bear cub, he didn't see the point of being boiled alive. Besides, as long as she suspected that he was cursed, she would be open to the idea that he was intelligent. That meant the possibility of communication was open. The trick was keeping that possibility open long enough for him to learn the language.
In the meantime, he would have to suffer.
But there was an itch that he just couldn't scratch.
A need he couldn't fulfill.
So he waited until the dead of night to slip out, throwing on a trench coat and floppy hat that had been left in the lost and found. He also grabbed some yen he had managed to stash away from tips tossed at him during performances. It would be enough for the evening.
His first stop was at an all night convenience store. He walked in upright and selected his purchase from a modest selection. Then he waddled over to the counter and laid his choice down with the correct amount of change.
The woman looked from the counter to the would be customer and back to the counter again. She seemed to be at something of a loss.
"What's wrong, dear?" Her husband walked in from the back room.
"It's just that... he seems kind of young, you know?" she replied uncertainly.
The man shrugged. "If he doesn't get them here, he'll just get them somewhere else. Go ahead and ring it up."
The woman shrugged and made a 'what can you do?' face before ringing in the sale.
Satisfied, B-Chan waddled out into the night.
Soon the bear of the night came across the second thing he needed to assuage the hurt of his soul. With a carnivorous grin, he strode upright inside. Using his considerable bulk, he pushed his way to the bar to which he immediately bellied up, claiming a stool as his own.
B-Chan was initially unsuccessful in waving over the pub's barkeep. So he laid some money on the table and held up a single claw in the universal sign for "One please."
The barkeep swept the money off the table, laid a small cup before the thirsty customer, and took a bottle off the shelf behind him to pour a glass. B-Chan grabbed the bartender's wrist when he moved to put the bottle away and then started to lay down yen until the barkeep lowered the bottle. B-Chan then let the barkeep go about his rounds as he downed the first cup. Sake. He hated Sake almost as much as he hated tequila, but it filled a need.
He expertly poured another drink and pulled out the cigars he had purchased earlier. It was a little awkward lighting the first one until the woman sitting next to him saw what he was attempting and lit it for him. Only then did he turn around so he could casually scan the crowd.
It was good to be in the wild again.
The rest of the evening became a blur of smoke, music, booze, and women. The last thing he remembered before the all encompassing blackness was a talking monkey. "Aren't you just a charmer with the ladies? Been awhile since I went bear baiting."
With a pained groan, B-Chan awoke.
He discovered that he was wearing a harness and a saddle. Apparently, he was in the circus now as a dried up monkey was sitting in the saddle.
Then the monkey spoke. "Come on you! Get going, there's pretties to be had!"
Cold hard realization sunk in. It was Happosai on his back... and he had spurs!
With a yelp of pain, B-Chan was off like a... well like a bear cub with a dried up monkey on its back that was digging in its spurs.
Predictably, he was guided to the halls of Furinkan where his rider raided the girls changing room. Fear of the mob of angry girls drove B-Chan on faster than any spurs ever could.
"Sweeto!" whooped the pervert master. Never had he made such a clean get away. There was no power in heaven or hell that would take his new partner in crime away from him.
But there was one on earth.
"My darling Babette!" called a shrill voice.
Happosai pulled his mount up short, looking around for the girl's voice. Girls meant pretty underthings.
"Get off my darling Babette!" Each word Azusa uttered was punctuated by a giant mallet with a pink ribbon and a name tag identifying it as 'Colette' hammering into Happosai's head. In a daze, the diminutive master slid off the saddle.
Exhausted beyond endurance from the race of his life, B-Chan could only look up helplessly as Azusa scooped him up into a bear hug. Then it was all he could do to breathe. He barely heard as she announced, "Oh my darling Babette! I'll never let you out of my sight!"
Tears welled up and began to flow.
A short while later, B-Chan found himself in a golden cage with ribbons tied around his ears and tail. The tears were still flowing freely.
When he finally managed to stop crying, he took stock of his situation. He was after all, smarter than the average bear. He was indeed in a gold cage, but gold was a soft metal. It took a little effort, but he was able to pry the bars apart far enough to squeeze through. Once out of the gilded cage he made for the nearest window.
It was only after he had burst through the glass that he had a chance to lament being on the third floor.
Fortune was with the little bear as he fell into the grounds' swimming pool. He managed to paddle to shore, where he shook off his damp fur. He had no time to gather his bearings as he heard "My darling Babette!" from the window above him. As any sane creature would, he bolted.
While he managed to lose Azusa, he also managed to lose himself in the process. Alone, he wandered unfamiliar grounds.
"Oh! How simply adorable! I simply must have you as a playmate for Mr. Green Turtle! HOHOHOHOHO!"
Bear claws skidded on the ground as the beast tried to escape, only to have its tail caught in a long red ribbon. Claws dug into soft earth as the hapless bear cub was dragged back towards the most hated character in all of the Ranmaverse.
Whimpering, B-Chan was dragged to a nearby bridge which spanned a manmade pond. Mr. Green Turtle, who was really a giant alligator, leapt overhead to the applause and laughter of his mistress. "I just know the two of you will be the best of friends! Play nice, now!"
B-Chan had no intention of playing nice. He had no intention of playing at all! Just as soon as Kodachi left, he let Mr. Green Turtle know that he had teeth and claws, too. While the reptile was not easily dissuaded from playing with his new chew toy, B-Chan managed to get his point across.
Thus, a scrappy little bear cub pulled itself away from the pond only to find itself in a looming shadow.
"Well, well. What do we have here if not the perfect present for my fair Akane Tendo?"
For once B-Chan didn't resist. He recognized the words Akane Tendo. After all, Akane knew he 'belonged' to Ucchan, so he would soon be home.
And it wasn't so bad at first. Tatewaki Kuno had B-Chan cleaned up and brought to a vet to be treated for various small wounds and what appeared to be a hangover.
When the vet started to inspect B-Chan's nether regions, the bear cub became suspicious. It was the surgical instruments and knockout gas that really alarmed B-Chan, however. Again the bear cub was on the run, bolting past both vet and kendoist.
It was an untold time later that exhaustion finally claimed B-Chan and he collapsed against a wall.
"You poor thing." B-Chan was vaguely aware that a young girl was talking to him, though he had yet to open his eyes. Nor could he understand the words. He felt someone lift him up and carry him inside somewhere. "You look exhausted. And hungry. No one else is here, so I guess I'll have to make you something to eat."
Left to his own devices by a low table, the bear cub drifted off to welcomed sleep, its nose twitching ever so slightly as various... odors reached its sensitive nostrils.
Again the girl's voice roused him from slumber even as something was assaulting his nose. B-Chan's eyes suddenly snapped all the way open as he finally recognized the young girl as Akane. His horror was furthered when it was her cooking that she was proffering him. He lashed out at the platter with a paw, splattering Akane with the mess, and then bolted outside and for the street.
On the street, his sensitive nose caught the scent of okonomiyaki and led him back to Ucchan's.
He got there just as she was closing up. He padded in and glanced around wearily. Ucchan looked up when she saw him come in and frowned. She picked up a newspaper and rolled it up before advancing on B-Chan.
It was then that he realized... He wasn't out of he woods yet!