The Titans and The Lost Boy - The Lost Epilogue
Chapter 23 (AKA – Epilogue)
Yes! It's true, all of my vicious rumors were only a clever deception! I had intended to do an epilogue the whole time, man, I'm evil eh? Anyway, now that I'm actually done the story, I'd like to thank all of the people I thanked the last time again, you know who you are. I know it's taken me awhile, but hopefully this paltry little chapter will make up for the time I spent writing it. There were a few things I wanted to say though.
First, I'd like to direct everyone to my profile page. In the course of writing this fic, I've actually received two excellent and touching pieces of art from two very special readers: Rowan Seven and Mondu-the-Fat ( or possibly just big boned). I've posted both of them on the profile, so that everyone can see them. And of course, i'd always appreciate further contributions in the art category to add to my modest gallery as well, since I possess an enormously out of proportion ego and feel that everyone should honor my work thus MUAHAHA! . . . or not . . .
I have learned one thing in the course of writing this fic though, perhaps one of the greatest secrets a writer can ever learn. Making sensational or fatalistic claims about not finishing a story huge ratings! I found it out by accident around chapter 16 and couldn't resist trying it one more time, sorry for being such a monster.
And lastly, though I was considering a sequel . . . I think I've accomplished what I had hoped to by finally finishing this story. Judging by the lack of anyone telling me that I utterly suck and should be banned from even owning a pencil, I feel that I have actually written a passable piece of fiction. And actually finishing this story has made me feel more confident that I can actually write a novel length work . . . this is long enough to qualify as a novel, right? So, given these two factors, I think it's time to try working on some original stuff of my own devising, since, the fact that people liked this fic likely has little to do with my story, and more to the fact that I cheated and used characters that people already loved to begin with.
Anyway, I hope to hear from each of you one last time, I'd like to thank each of you individually for having the fortitude to actually force yourself to read this whole thing. As for you non signing in types . . . well, I guess I'll just thank you now, in advance. To all of you readers though, there is no way that this story would have actually been finished, had it not been for your continued support and enthusiasm for reading it. I feel honored to have had so many people read this crazy little thing, and to get so much constructive and intelligent feedback, it's really been a blast.
Though you'll probably hate me soon enough.
Anyway and finally
Enjoy if you will, Tolerate if you won't.
He howled in pain, as another shard of debris hammered into his torso traveling near the speed of sound. It was a strange sensation, since he couldn't even hear the meager sound that his lungs produced against the deafening roar of the winds around him. The winds which so carelessly tossed him about, hurtling him every which way but free; he had long since lost any sense of where he was, he couldn't even remember where the sky lay anymore.
A sharp impact to his shoulder sent him into a wild spin, only to crash into a massive wall that seemed to materialize from the blinding emerald glare that encompassed him. He could scarcely even gather the air to scream at that collision, the tornado itself greedily drawing the life giving oxygen from his lungs. The wall shattered around him, already mightily abused by the cyclone itself, which only left him floating in the heart of a tight spiral of sanctified shrapnel.
He couldn't even remember how long he had been trapped so; had no idea how this nonsensical torment had even come to be! All other thought was torn from his mind, as the remains of the ancient building began slamming into him, knocking him to and fro at the slightest of whims.
Tears formed, only long enough to be swept angrily from his cheeks. The world began to darken around him, thankfully dulling the agony that was his existence. Suddenly, his world lit up, stars dancing merrily across his vision, a searing pain flaring at the back of his skull. Even this was short lived; he once again gave meager thanks, as the new pain began to fade. The edges of his sight seemed to vanish, letting his world fade to black.
It all seemed so – so empty, had he really come all this way, fought so hard, just for it to end like this? Had he possessed the strength, he would have railed against his fate. He had too many people to beg forgiveness, too many pigtailed jerks to beat! It was a moot point though, as the ruins continued to destroy his body. Slowly, slowly he let his eyes slide closed . . .
The last thing that he saw, amongst the floating timbers and soaring masonry that would soon end his pain forever . . .
. . . was a flash of pink?
He woke with a start! His dark eyes flashed open and he drew a sharp breath. For a moment, the world spun and danced around him, making him wonder if, perhaps, he had only blacked out for a second in the eye of the storm . . . Eventually though, eventually his senses returned to normal, and the room came into focus around him. Without even realizing, he released the death grip which he had on the soft mattress beneath him, leaving a pair of rents in foam material.
Where – where on earth was he now? The room was well lit and the sounds of voices flowed to him from every corner of the chamber. Sure, he was pretty used to not knowing where he was, but such a drastic change in scenery was a bit unnerving, even for him. The room looked to be a sleek, greyish metal, large banks of overly bright lights hanging every few feet. Around several of the lights, ran long metal rails, one such rail running around the bed that held him. Long curtains hung from them, though none of the curtains were drawn closed now.
A low sigh escaped his lips; he had enough data to make a pretty good guess where he was. He wasn't very knowledgeable of the modern world, but even he knew a hospital room when he saw one. It sure was noisy in here though. His eyes slid down to take in the room around him. It was about then, that the meaningless mix of voices around him began to resolve themselves into recognizable speech.
"- foul sorcerer! Were it not for yonder cleric's mandate that I remain stationed in this bed, I would smite you where you lie!" cried an, unfortunately, familiar voice.
"Yeah right, Kunou! I could beat you even if that guy had broken every bone in my body!" replied another, equally frustrating voice.
His eyes widened in surprise at the scene before him. He was in a large hospital style room, but it was a very populated room indeed. To the right of him, their beds on opposite sides of the room, were Kunou and Ranma. The two were arguing heatedly back and forth, and looked like they had been for a while; he sighed in disgust, they likely would be for a while yet to come.
Obviously, Ranma was the worst off of the two, his entire torso plastered into a heavy cast; his arm tightly bound to his chest in an odd looking sling. Kunou seemed to have only minor injuries, the boy was also stripped to the waist, a series of bandages wrapped around his shoulder and encircling his chest.
A girlish giggle followed by an annoyed grunt drew his discreet gaze across the room. Lying in the bed directly across from his own was the fiery haired Tamaranian, Starfire. A smile tugged at his lips, seeing the lovely girl looking so happy and vital. She didn't seem too hurt, just a heavy cast on her right hand. The alien girl was giggling and waving shyly to the boy in the bed beside her own.
Occupant of said bed was none other than Mousse. He boggled at the scenario for a moment, what exactly had gone on while he had been unconscious? Ranma and Kunou fighting was nothing new, but why on earth was Starfire acting all schoolgirl crush around the Hidden Weapons master? An unusual protective urge rose up from . . . somewhere within him. Mousse better not have done anything . . . questionable to the vivacious young hero, or he'd have a lot more to worry about than what appeared to be a few minor burns.
Hmm, it didn't appear that he had much to worry about though, considering the way that Mousse stared back at the girl, frustration in his eyes, before turning to stare at the door. He could practically see the Chinese boy willing Shampoo to arrive and save him from the young Titan. As soon as the boy's back was turned though, Starfire began to giggle even more . . . was – was she teasing the sight impaired boy? He chuckled quietly at that; some things just didn't bear thinking about.
Slowly, he slid his eyes to the last bed occupying the crowded medical room . . . right into the waiting gaze of a painfully familiar pair of violet orbs.
The two of them stared for what most certainly felt like a longer time than actually passed. Feeling a bit embarrassed, he struggled to form a smile upon his lips; noticing her attempting the same feat herself. He held the awkward smile for a few moments, before shame destroyed it. Nearly at the same time, they both looked away, unable to hold the gaze for any length of time.
He took the time to study his companion's condition; what he saw wasn't very inspiring. Raven was also entombed in a massive body cast, covering all of her torso and sliding around to entomb her entire left arm as well. Only the delicate digits of her left hand poked out daintily from the heavy cast. A lump formed in his throat at the sight . . . it was hard to accept . . . that he was the one responsible for the worst of her injuries.
Raven had battled Jinx alone, then helped Ranma and him defeat the Headmaster, not to mention whatever other trials she might have endured while he had been out of it. She had gone through all of that, fought against a formidable force of villains . . . and it had been him that had actually come closest to killing her!
How could he even imagine gaining her forgiveness for that?
Raven seemed to be lost in her own thoughts as well, though whatever ran through her mind was a mystery to him. After a few moments though, unlike himself, she seemed to come to a resolution in her mind. She looked back to him, catching his gaze once more. This time, the smile which formed on her pale lips did not waver, at least until she opened them to speak.
"Welcome back . . . Ryouga."
He found the strength to smile back then. He was about to respond, when -
"Hey! The Lost Boy's finally awake, and it only took three days, you owe me five bucks, Mousse!"
"Friend Ryouga! My heart soars with joy for your recovery!"
"Noble Wanderer, it is with great relief, that I welcome you back from your slumber."
"Good to see you haven't left us for good yet, Hibiki."
Instantly the room was cast into chaos. He felt his throat begin to catch uncomfortably, as his friends showered him with their concern. Suddenly he was besieged by questions and congratulations and concerned inquiries. Some of the more able bodied, even rose up and came over to check on him personally.
He saluted Kunou, as the boy strode over and bowed low before him in respect. He smiled warmly and nodded back to Mousse, who stood at his side now, looking on knowingly.
Then he threw up his arms in front of him, desperately trying to ward off the incoming hug from Starfire! He might as well have tried to hold back the rain though, as the girl crashed into his chest and wrapped her arms around him in a (not quite) crushing hug. Almost instantly, the girl buried her face into his chest and he could feel warm tears soaking into the bandages that covered his own body.
A resigned smile on his face now, he wrapped his arms around the precious girl and gently ran a hand through her long, silken hair. A little pain was worthwhile, if it made his friend happy.
"Is it truly you, Ryouga? Are you once again the you that you were when first we knew you?" asked the alien girl. On another strange whim, he lowered down, and pressed his lips to the girl's forehead, before holding her tighter.
"I sure am, Star. I remember everything now." he replied reassuringly. Then he squeezed her even tighter and buried his face deep within the concealing lengths of her fiery hair, feeling the shame build up inside again. "God Star . . . I am so sorry, I did – I did such horrible things . . . to you, to everyone . . ."
Starfire returned his fierce embrace for several moments, before finally leaning back and disentangling herself from him. Gently, she lowered a finger below his chin and raised his gaze to match hers. She stared at him, her emerald eyes shining with such compassion and love, that he nearly felt tears rise up once again.
"I can not speak for all of the others whom you have wronged, but we shall speak upon the matters between us later . . ." She looked around for a moment, to the number of people surrounding them. ". . . in private." she finally answered, smiling happily. Then the angelic girl rose into the air and moved to stand on the floor once more, standing by his bed as well.
"Yeah, Ryouga, I wanna talk with ya later on too," came Ranma's voice from the side. He turned to regard his equally bed ridden companion, a wry look on his face. "I mean, we really gotta brag big time about how me, Raven and you kicked the Headmaster's butt all over the place, while everyone else was playing around in the basement!" said the pigtailed boy, chuckling happily.
This, of course, instantly reignited the earlier conflict, as now Kunou and Mousse both took exception to the Saotome boy's outrageous claim. Ryouga could only roll his eyes in fond annoyance, as a familiar scene began to unfold around him. He was almost tempted to throw in a few inflammatory remarks himself, for old times sake, when again they were interrupted.
"Oh my! You should all really be in your beds!" Kasumi's gentle, yet stern, voice rang through the room.
Immediately, the fighting died down and both of the injured boys verily flew back to their beds . . . Starfire just flew back literally. Ryouga shook his head ruefully at that, it seemed that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.
He smiled again, and turned to regard the serene young woman as she wheeled into the room.
. . . wheeled into the room? His eyes widened until he feared they might pop out entirely.
Dear God! Kasumi was in a wheel chair! The delicate looking Tendo was smiling pleasantly, as Cyborg casually pushed the chair which carried her into the room. A moment later, they were followed in by an embarrassed looking Beast Boy. Neither of the Titans even registered, as he stared in shock at the wheel chair bound woman.
"Kasumi, you were paralyzed in the battle? My God, this is all my fault!" he cried in despair. He clenched his fists in self hatred and practically willed himself to drop dead. Because of him – because of him, the sweetest, kindest, gentlest woman in the entire world was now trapped in a wheel chair for the rest of her life.
He was about to beg for forgiveness . . . but something seemed off when he looked back up. Kasumi was looking at him strangely, almost confused. Behind her, Cyborg looked ready to burst into laughter, and all around the room, people rolled their eyes in amusement. What was wrong with these people?
"Paralyzed?" asked Kasumi, clearly puzzled. Suddenly, a look of comprehension crossed her perfect features; a dainty giggle escaped her lips. "Oh my, no! I'm perfectly all right, I just sprained my ankle on one of Beast Boy's boots while I was cleaning up in the living room." she explained happily.
Instantly, every pair of eyes in the room centered in on the green lad that was trying to vanish behind his large cybernetic team mate.
"It's surprising how much of a mess that five teenagers can make without supervision. I mean, there was tofu all over the counters, video games lying everywhere, music CD's strewn across the room, and purple uniforms lying all over the furniture." listed the eldest Tendo innocently. Still, perfectly innocent or not, every word seemed to intensify the angry glares on the aforementioned changeling.
Cyborg shook it off first, obviously used to his buddy's messes. "Kasumi, you shouldn't be cleaning up after us anyways. You burned your hands pretty bad when you laid the smack down on the Headmaster." lectured the concerned teen.
Ryouga boggled yet again. Kasumi had . . . um, done . . .something . . . to the Headmaster? Indeed, Cyborg's story seemed to be confirmed, as he noticed the gentle girl's hands wrapped carefully in bandages. What . . . oh what was this world coming to?
He wanted to ask more questions, his mind literally burned with a desire to know what on earth was going on and what happened . . . but suddenly everything was starting to get blurry again. His chest rose up painfully, feeding a desire for air that only those really huge yawns seem capable of doing. Gingerly, he rubbed a hand across his eyes, trying to fight off the sudden lethargy that descended upon him . . . but . . .
. . . he just couldn't . . .
. . . seem to . . .
. . . do . . .
. . .it.
Kasumi smiled warmly as Ryouga, Ranma and Raven all succumbed to sleep. She marveled at the automated medical devices, which had just administered each of them with pain killers. Gingerly, she rose to her feet, limping only slightly as she walked to the end of Raven's bed and picked up her medical chart. Her warm smile dissolved into a rare frown as she looked at the long list of injuries the delicate looking girl had sustained.
She felt a presence beside her and turned to regard the tall young man that joined her.
"Everyone else is pretty much fine, just a few bumps, burns and broken bones." said the cybernetic Titan. "But these three . . . I don't even know how they survived." Politely, he took Raven's chart from her and glanced at it himself for a moment before replacing it at the end of the bed.
"I mean, Raven here, three broken ribs and bleeding internally? One of her ribs very nearly punctured her lung." he explained. He shook his head sadly, then gestured to Ryouga's bed. "Ryouga there, hairline fractures on over half of his skeleton and the poor bastard had a dang hole burned right through him!" he said in disgust. A slight raising of her eyebrow reminded the boy to watch his language.
He coughed a small apology before continuing. "I don't have any idea how he survived that tornado, but it's a good thing that Ranma found him when he did, another few minutes and he would have bled out completely."
Then the young hero moved down to stare at the unconscious pigtailed boy, a look of confusion on his face. "And then there's this guy! I mean, sure he's got a dozen broken ribs, a really weirdly relocated shoulder and a world of bruises, but when he finally let us take a look at him, he was closer to death's door than either of those two!"
Kasumi smiled warmly and nodded in understanding. "It was because he had used up so much of his chi in all of the battles. He scarcely had enough to keep his own heart beating after he and Starfire saved us all with their quick thinking." she explained for him. He looked back at her, not quite understanding.
"Ranma told me what happened during all of his battles. First he had nearly exhausted himself using his chi attack on Ryouga. Then, after that, he actually transferred a little of his remaining energy to Raven, though I'm not sure how. And after that he got into that dangerous battle with the Headmaster and used another of his chi attacks. And then finally, he dug up the reserves to finally use that last technique to save us." A soft chuckle escaped her lips. "And yet, he still had the energy to refuse to leave until he found Ryouga . . . even Elder Cologne couldn't explain how he was still standing."
Cyborg shook his head again, perhaps not wanting to understand. "Yeah, well, I don't know about all that "chi" stuff, but all three of these kids were crazy to go after the Headmaster in their conditions! Well, at least it looks like they'll all recover, eventually."
She nodded once more, idly picking up Ranma's chart to look it over once more. She understood most of the information presented, she had studied many of the books that Dr Tofu had provided her after all, but there just seemed to be so much more that she could still learn. And the machines that were speeding along the recovery of her dear friends, they were so amazing; she wanted to know everything about each and every one of them.
The slightly limping Tendo made her way over to one of the machines tending to Ryouga and began to read the various displays. Slowly she looked over to Cyborg, who was busily checking the cast on his lovely teammate's hand.
"Excuse me, Cyborg. Could you show me how this machine works? I – I want to help my friends recover in any way I can." she asked politely.
Cyborg smiled to his orange skinned teammate one last time, patting her head affectionately, before turning her way. A few long steps brought him to her side, an interested look on his face. "Well, you do seem to have a basic knowledge of medicine and such, which is more than most anyone else here has. But . . . all of this tech is pretty complicated, you'd have to learn a lot more advanced medicine to be able to understand all of their applications. It'd probably take me months to teach you how to use all of this stuff properly." he explained, an odd note in his voice.
Absently, she raised her hand and tapped a delicate finger to her chin, deep in thought.
"Hmm . . . months?"
Ukyou bounced heavily into the wall, only to spin quickly to the side as a dark fist punched a sizeable hole into the dense concrete. Deftly, she flicked a hand across her bandoleer even as she swept down into a low sweep kick. Predictably, he prey took to the air, gracefully flying over her foot a second before it smashed into the same wall. A split second later, she let loose with the mini spatulas; they blurred through the air blindingly fast and forced her opponent back to the other side of the room.
She took the momentary break to flip over to her discarded combat spatula and kick it up into her hands. Her favored weapon in hand once more, she dropped into her usual stance and waved in her enemy.
"Not too bad Bee! You had me worried for a second when you actually got my spatula away from me." she said, honestly congratulating the recently ousted spy. Bumblebee, now at the far end of the large gymnasium that resided in the belly of the Titan's tower, landed gracefully and smiled back.
"Heh, just you wait. I promised I'd beat you once before you and your friends left for Japan." replied the uniformed girl.
Ukyou just smiled wider at that. "Yeah? Well then I guess I might as well set up a new restaurant in town, cuz you beating me is a long way off." she bragged playfully.
Her dark skinned opponent's only reply was to charge in, weapons blazing with golden energy. The chef extraordinaire was forced to duck and weave around the bursts of stinging light; a few she was forced to deflect with the broad face of her massive cooking implement. A single-handed cartwheel blurred into a forward somersault, into a backwards roll; was followed by a lightning fast swing of her weapon, bouncing one of the bolts back to its owner.
A second later, she planted her feet and launched herself at the ex-villain, her weapon trailing a shower of sparks behind her as it scraped the ground. Bumblebee, for her part, was just recovering from dodging her own attack, and desperately angled her golden weapons to block her deadly diagonal slash.
The weapons met with a resounding metallic ring, and suddenly, she found herself spinning back the way she came, as Bumblebee used her unnatural strength to push her massive spatula back fiercely. The next thing she felt, was a powerful hand grasp the back of her shirt. A gut wrenching moment later; she was airborne, flying backwards through the air; her target, one of the unyielding walls of the chamber.
She smirked once more, she had underestimated her opponent's strength, but the girl had also underestimated her agility. It was a minor feat to flip over in mid air and use Bumblebee's throw to ricochet of the wall. As soon as her feet touched the cold material of the wall, she pushed with all her might, and launched herself at the girl's unsuspecting back.
The vast expanse of her ancestral weapon gleamed under the fluorescent lights of the room, as it swung heavily through the air, aimed painfully at the back of her opponent's head. She strained her arms, pushing her broad weapon to fight the considerable wind resistance it faced when she used the flat of it.
A gasp of shock escaped her lips, when suddenly her enemy vanished, leaving her weapon to fly harmlessly through the space that she once occupied. Ukyou nearly spun out of control; it was all she could do to recover before she crashed painfully to the ground. As quickly as she could, she drew another throwing spatula from her bandoleer and spun to face behind her.
She brought her deadly weapon around in a flash of silver, holding it like a knife fighter might. Her motion was brought up short, as she found the golden arc of a rather familiar weapon resting only an inch from her nose, crackling with anxious energy.
The weapon's owner smiled triumphantly. "Heh, maybe opening a store might be a bit premature, eh sister?" she taunted smugly. The girl's smug expression dropped a bit, at the predatory smile that rested on Ukyou's lips. Slowly, the girl looked down, to see Ukyou's hand resting on her shoulder, a tiny spatula pressing lighting into the delicate skin of her neck.
The chef smiled a bit wider, before carefully retracting her weapon and standing up once more. "Why don't we call this one a draw?" she offered amiably. Bumblebee rubbed her neck gingerly for a moment, before nodding in agreement.
The sound of polite applause drew their attention to the side of the room. Both young women turned to the source of the clapping. Standing not far from the gym's entrance, was the striking figure of Kunou Tatewaki. Ukyou had to admit she was a bit impressed, the sword toting boy had actually been getting on her good side lately. He'd certainly come a long way from when Mousse and her were tossing the pontificating boy out of her restaurant.
"Truly, a most well fought battle betwixt formidable warriors. I am only glad that you fought in jest; for had this been a true battle, the world would now be shorted a pair of unmatched beauties" he offered kindly.
Ukyou rolled her eyes, though not in annoyance; a fact which surprised even herself. She noticed Bumblebee roll her eyes as well, though there was just a hint of a blush forming on the girls face that she just couldn't hide. She smiled at that, who would have thought that getting kidnapped and brainwashed would actually help the foolish kendoist.
Certainly, the boy was still a nuisance whenever Ranchan was around, threatening to smite the infidel and more or less going on as normal. However, since they had returned from the remains of the Hive's hidden base, she and all of the other females from Nerima noticed some very obvious changes in the boy's behavior.
First of all, he had actually been polite to Akane! He had even used her name, hadn't called her "his fierce tigress" or anything like that. It was a bit unnerving really. Instead, he had been . . . well, a perfect gentleman actually. Sure, he still made corny remarks like the one he had just delivered, but now his compliments were offered with a touch of humor and lacking the crazed look the boy usually had in his eyes.
"Wouldn't that have been a shame, Tatie?" said Bumblebee, a mischievous smile on her face. Ukyou giggled herself, at the expression of annoyance that crossed the boy's face at the nick name.
"How many times have I told you not to call me that, woman?" demanded the, now irate, swordsman.
Bumblebee just thrust out a shapely hip to the side and rested a fist on it, looking back at the boy seriously. "And how many times have I told you not to call me woman? I do have a name, you know." she fired back, a fiery look in her eyes.
A look of embarrassment quickly flew across the boy's face, before a playful look settled in once more. He matched the girl's gaze, a mirthful smile on his face. "Indeed you do . . .Karen." he stated slyly.
Instantly, Bumblebee ran forward and slapped a hand across the boy's mouth and looked back in her direction in shock. Quickly she spun to face the swordsman again. "You're not supposed to use my real name in front of anyone!" she veritably hissed at the young man.
Ukyou watched the exchange with marked interest. Bumblebee had a way of handling the swordsman that she hadn't seen before. She was definitely one of the strongest willed girl's that Ukyou had met, and was as self assured as a certain pigtailed boy. Yes, Ukyou definitely liked the bee striped girl. She decided to save the girl any further frustration, and changed the subject.
"So, Kunou, you come down here to practice?" she asked casually.
After struggling for a moment to free his mouth from his companion's overly strong hand, he replied. "Nay, fair Ukyou, I had merely heard from Kasumi that the two of you were intent to battle each other once more. I believed that such a spectacle would be of great interest to watch, and was thusly proven correct. However, now that the fray is ended, I believe I shall away to the roof; I wish to spend some time in meditation this glorious day."
Ukyou raised an eyebrow at that. Kunou would rather meditate that hang out down here with two "beauteous maidens"? She chuckled quietly to herself, she'd better get off that line of thought; she wouldn't want to give Bumblebee the wrong idea.
"Heh, well you go do that then. I'm pretty sure the two of us can come up with something a little more exciting than sitting around and thinking." replied Bumblebee. With that, she turned the boy back to the entrance and playfully started pushing towards the door. With only minor resistance and a few small chuckles, Kunou was finally ushered from the room.
The martial artist could only smile in amusement at the scene. As soon as the boy was gone, she walked over to the side of the room and plopped down onto one of the many benches. Absently, she wiped away the sweat from her face with her sleeve. She then took in a deep, relaxing breath. That had been a pretty good match, nearly fifteen minutes in all. It turned out that the both of them did much better without a third wheel getting in the middle of their fight.
A moment later, she felt the thump of a body dropping to the bench beside her. Casually, she looked to the tired looking girl at her side; Bumblebee still wore a wide smile on her lips and a light blush on her cheeks. Ukyou shook her head at that, still finding it hard to believe.
"Soooo . . . you and Kunou, eh?" she drawled slowly.
Bumblebee looked back, her blush brightening fiercely at the question. After a moment though, a thoughtful look crossed the girls features. "Well . . . kind of . . . sort of . . ." The girl let out a long sigh. " . . . I don't know. Honestly, I know he's a bit of a dope, but I think there's a lot of potential there." she admitted, a bit shyly.
Her shy expression fell quickly though, as she huffed on in annoyance. "But most of the time, he treats me more like a team mate than a girl. I mean, every once in awhile he can say something really sweet, but then . . ." the girl trailed off uncertainly.
Ukyou patted the girl on the shoulder reassuringly. "Well . . . if this was going on a few months ago, I'd say you were the biggest idiot I ever met for actually liking that guy." she added helpfully. She giggled at the burning gaze that her companion shot her way. She waved the girl down, before she could explode. "But! But Kunou has been acting really different since your old boss messed with his head. I dunno, suddenly, it doesn't seem so crazy that you could actually like him."
Bumblebee paused a moment, thoughtfully, at her statement. Finally, she closed her eyes and started rubbing her temples in frustration. "Meh, all I know, is that thinking about that boy is giving me a headache. Let's talk about something else, please?" she pleaded hopefully.
The Nerimian giggled slightly at that. That seemed to be closer to the normal effect that Kunou had on people. Still, she'd teased the poor girl enough for one day. Deciding to relax some more, she closed her own eyes and leaned back against the cool wall behind them.
Silence reigned for a moment, before another thought entered her mind. Slowly she turned to face her newest friend, a question on tip of her tongue. The same question that had been on her mind ever since they had returned from battling, and nearly being killed by all of those crazed super villains.
"Why do you do it?"
Her companion looked back to her, confusion on her features.
Ukyou gestured meaninglessly. "You know: the hero thing. The fighting the bad guys, catching the criminals, risking your life for total strangers." she asked again. It seemed so alien to her. Sure, she and her friends, they all helped out when they could, but when it came down to it, saving people just wasn't really what they did. If someone was getting robbed outside of her shop, of course she would jump in, but she never went out of her way to hunt down criminals.
Even Ranma, Ryouga and Mousse, they had battled some very powerful villains in their time . . . but only to help themselves, or people they knew. She had never heard of Ranma to run off and fight some Chinese warlord that had kidnapped anyone but Akane.
Bumblebee considered her question for a moment. The girl then shrugged.
"Because I'm the only one that can. Heh, well, at least that's what I thought when I first got into this line of work, before I ran into other people like myself." she answered, a smirk on her lips. She then raised one of her darkly skinned hands and clenched it into a fist before her. "I have these powers, the ability to fight for the people that can't fight for themselves. It just seemed like the right thing to do I guess ."
The girl's line of reasoning seemed to ring in her head. After their first battle, Ukyou had dismissed the girl's worth, claiming that she hadn't sacrificed anything for her powers. Now, now she felt like a bit of a hypocrite. Bumblebee had sacrificed her entire life to her powers; she used her powers to help anyone that she could, stranger or not. The same with Robin, Starfire and all of the rest of the Titans upstairs. She had yet to see any of them in anything other than their uniforms, she was starting to wonder if they even had normal lives to return to.
Ranma, Ryouga and herself, they had all dedicated their lives to becoming stronger, better, faster . . . but what had they actually done with all of the power they had sacrificed so much for? Ranma went to school and lived a more or less normal life at the Tendo Dojo. She ran a successful restaurant and went to school herself. Even Ryouga, he spent most of his life just wandering around, looking for Ranma. Certainly, the lost boy was more likely to help strangers than most of their group, but that was likely more out of coincidence as to where he was lost that day, than to him actually seeking out those in need.
She just couldn't wrap her head around the concept. "Feh, seems stupid to me." she muttered, still not understanding.
Bumblebee just smiled, obviously not offended at all. Instead, the super powered girl just leaned back, resting her hands behind her head.
"Yeah, doing the right thing usually does."
Kunou drew in a deep breath from his perch upon the roof of the mighty structure beneath him. The sight that stretched out before him was truly awe inspiring. He watched, wishing that he was in possession of a quill and parchment, as the sun set over the endless ocean that encircled this tiny isle. The great swaths of orange and purple, fading into one another and into another thousand hues for which he had no name. It was almost a shame that he had no one to share this sight with, and had not the time to fetch any of his companions before the sight vanished for another night.
He took in another cleansing breath, forgetting his minor regrets and letting his mind wander as he watched the celestial event before him. A chuckle escaped his lips, likely his various companion's would think him foolish for taking such simple pleasure from an event which occurred each and every day.
And enjoy it he did, it almost felt as if he had never truly appreciated the setting of the sun before. He had been trapped under the earth for so long, held in the thrall of the odious Headmaster. Imagine, him, of the honorable Kunou family, to be tricked so. Still, he had done nothing overly criminal, his conscience was, for the most part, clear. And he had made many valuable gains in his tenure at the Hive Academy. For the first time, he had truly been interested in his schooling. A school which taught advanced combat side by side with advanced computer sciences. Though it was for a nefarious end, the education of a villain was . . . surprisingly comprehensive.
He had also made a handful of, what could be considered to be, friends. People that respected him for his abilities rather than scorned him. And, of course, there were his two closest companions, Angel and Bumblebee. He shook his head in fond frustration. How that ebony skinned goddess vexed him so! Never had he met a maiden that spoke with such . . . fire, such passion. Certainly, the pigtailed girl, and his junior classmate, Akane Tendo, were both passionate and fiery creatures as well, but only in their anger.
A wistful sigh escaped his lips, as the last rays of the sun finally faded from sight. For the first time in his life, he was . . . confused on how to approach a woman. Perhaps – perhaps he could garner some advice from those more knowledgeable than himself in the subject? Perhaps the ancient masters would be able to he-
"Hmph, what are you doin up here?" came an unfortunately familiar voice from behind him.
A sliver of shame ran through him at the voices youthful ring. There was one thing that he had regretted in his actions, influenced as they were by the Headmaster's trickery. Slowly, he rose to his feet and turned to face the small frame of the boy that stood behind him. The deep frown that covered the boy's face stood out sharply on a face that was more accustomed to smiles.
"Fear not, Garfield Logan, my time here is at an end, and I will bother you no longer." he offered politely.
"Hey! Don't call me that! You call me Beast Boy! Got it?" the emerald youth all but growled his angry response.
Tatewaki sighed at that. "Very well . . . Beast Boy, if that is your wish. Before I take my leave though, there is one more thing I wouldst say to you."
The formidable boy looked back at him, a distrusting look upon his features, but offered no resistance.
Slowly, and with great dignity, the Kunou heir knelt once more, and bowed forward until his forehead nearly touched the ground. "I wish to convey my deepest apology to you, and beg for your forgiveness. In our first battle, I attacked in a most dishonorable manner, attacking whilst you were unready. Also, I disregarded your skills, disrespected you greatly while we fought." he stated solemnly.
Beast Boy looked down at him, bewildered. "Huh? W-what are you talkin about? You're sorry?" asked the shocked boy.
He only nodded in return. "I am most shamed by my actions, what I did was inexcusable. I can only pray that you find it in your heart to forgive me, in time."
The emerald youth shook his head, a small smile forming on his face. "Umm . . . yeah, well . . . I guess you weren't really yourself back there, so I can't really hold it against ya too much, can I? And – and . . . and would you get up already? You're freakin me out with all that bowin and stuff!" cried the young man.
Thankful for his companion's benevolent spirit, the master swordsman finally rose to his feet once more. "You honor me with your forgiveness. Truly, you are a virtuous man. Already you have proven it three times; now, with your ability to forgive even one such as myself; when you saved us all from certain destruction in the academy; and even with your unyielding spirit in our first battle. I once again apologize for belittling you so in our first meeting."
"Heh heh, well, i guess I was bein a bit of a jerk myself that first fight. I don't know what you mean about not takin me serious in that fight though. You kicked my butt pretty badly after all." joked the young Titan.
Tatewaki felt a small smile form on his own lips. "Tis true, you may lack the martial skill of myself and my contemporaries, but even then I could sense the spirit of a true warrior within you. Even when I stood triumphant over you, still you refused to surrender, still struggled to save your friend; that is the mark of a true man. That is also why I would prefer to call you by your given name, as the moniker of boy hardly seems to suit one of such primal power as yourself."
Beast Boy nearly preened under his barely adequate praise. This young boy had shown him something truly noble in their short relationship. From all of his research unto the youngest of the Titans, he now saw certain parallels between them. Both of them were considered to be the least amongst their peers. Both of them were seen as sources of amusement and little else, their mutual prowess looked down upon as inferior. But, despite how little others thought of them, both of them also refused to back down, to give in, no matter how superior the foe they faced.
Truly, what could be more noble?
"So . . . you really think that I'm a real man?" asked the small hero. At that, he stepped forward and dropped a hand on the young man's shoulder and led the boy to where he had been watching the sunset only moments ago. Now a different beauty graced the sea, as the moon began to shine across the infinite surface of the waters.
"Garfield, after seeing the awesome beast whose form you can take . . ." he started proudly.
". . . do you think anyone would be fool enough to argue the point?
Ryouga woke with a start. His breath came in short, harsh gasps, as the nightmares already began to fade from his mind. He doubted he would sleep well for some time to come, without the phantom of the Headmaster coming to haunt him. He was somewhat glad though, knowing that he was not a murderer, no matter how close he had come to it.
Hmm, it was really dark for some reason. All of the lights were off, and he could scarcely see his hand in front of his face. A few moments fixed that though, as his eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness. Soon, the blinking lights of numerous machines began to make themselves known, and the room slowly came into a greyish kind of life around him.
Another, more pressing matter, made itself known as well, as his bladder decided then and there, that it was full to bursting.
A dilemma then, as he was definitely not in favor of using a bed pan, but would be able to find a bathroom in time? He didn't even know the layout of the building, not that it would have helped. Still, his decision was made quite quickly, as nature's call pulled him from the firm bed and out into the hallway.
It was a hellish fifteen minutes later that he finally found a bathroom and was able to take care of that business. After washing his hands and splashing some warm water against his face to dash away the fogginess of the drugs in his system, he finally began to take in his surroundings.
The first thing he noticed . . . was actually the terrific amount of pain he was still in. Still, desperate times call for desperate measures, and a little crippling pain had never stopped him before. The next thing he noticed, was the odd look of the hallways around him, this didn't look like any hospital he had been in before. In fact, he didn't see another patient anywhere, or even a nurse or orderly.
Curious, and not really tired after sleeping for what felt like forever, he decided to explore this new place. All of the hallways seemed to blur together, but eventually he found himself in a room that stood apart from any other he had been in before . . . or ever for that matter.
The room he stumbled into was mammoth in size! He figured that the entire Tendo home and Dojo could fit into this one room. The entire room was bathed in soft moonlight, pouring in through the massive bay windows that made up one entire wall of the room. He moved to stand in the middle of the room, staring in wonder at the sight that stretched out before him. There was an entire city outside the window, lit up with a million points of light, separated from the building he was in by a massive body of water.
It was a nice sight indeed, and it did give him a vague idea where he might be. After that, he decided to take in the room around him. In the center of the room, was a long, semi circular couch, sitting before a truly epic entertainment center. The digital clock on the television read nearly midnight. Back behind him, was an entire kitchen space. The rest of the room . . . well, it seemed to be more space than was really needed for what was there.
Still . . . he was hungry, maybe the Titans wouldn't mind if he borrowed a little food, he'd make sure to pay them back.
A few minutes later, just as the sizzle of his improvised stir fry began to fill the air with a delectable aroma, he was surprised by one of the doors sliding open. His surprise quickly melted into a smile, as Starfire floated into the room, a searching, but tired, expression upon her lovely face.
She looked around the room for a moment, before her eyes finally came to rest on him. As soon as she saw him, a look of relief appeared on her face, and she floated over to join him.
"Ryouga, there you are!" she whispered excitedly. "I awoke moments ago, but found you missing from your bed. I was worried that you might have become misplaced."
He ruffled her hair playfully at that, and pulled up a stool for her to sit on while he continued to cook. Absently, he added some more to the stir fry, if he recalled, Starfire had a healthy appetite.
"Heh, I just had a nightmare was all, nothing to worry about. You don't mind that I'm using your kitchen do you?" he asked.
The alien girl smiled happily and sat down upon the stool, almost instantly, her head drooped down to the counter and she rested it upon her crossed arms. "Of course I do not mind." She yawned loudly at that. "I am glad that you did not accidentally depart from the tower, I do not know if I would have been able to locate you."
He chuckled at that. Knowing her, she actually would have tried to find him if he had gotten lost. No one ever looked for him when he got lost, it was just an accepted fact that, sooner or later, he was going to end up on the back of a milk carton.
"Heh, yeah, I guess since I don't have a communicator anymore, it's going to be a lot harder for me to avoid getting lost." He sighed wistfully, he'd really been fond of the small device that the Headmaster had given him. It had had a world of uses, first and foremost, a handy GPS unit and a homing beacon.
Starfire looked at him oddly for a moment, before a tired smile bloomed on her face. "Perhaps you may ask Robin to return the Hive device that was found in your belongings. He currently has it in his possession, for security reasons I believe."
Robin took his communicator? Well . . . he'd just see about that. The boy wonder could look at it all he wanted, but Ryouga was definitely getting it back. Not only was it useful, it represented a number of things that he didn't want to let go of. To him, it was a reminder of his friends at the academy; it was a symbol of his achievement to earn it in the first place. Sure, it represented his criminal past as well, but frankly, that didn't matter nearly as much as the rest.
He smiled a very thin lipped smile. "Really . . . Well, I'll be certain to . . . discuss that with Robin later."
Luckily, his Tamaranian companion was too tired to catch on to his true inflection and let it slip. The girl idly began to trace strange designs on the counter top with her finger, before looking at him again, a more serious look in her eyes.
"Ryouga . . . I would like to enter into discussion with you concerning a rather . . . uncomfortable topic," she said cryptically.
He grabbed the wok and carefully stirred the contents around a bit more; he didn't want to have to eat burnt food again. After a moment, he finally returned his gaze to the young alien.
"Sure, Star, you know you can talk to me about anything." She sounded a bit nervous, she probably wanted to ask him for advice with Robin, or something equally embarrassing . . . Wait – what on earth was he thinking? Who on earth would come to him for relationship advice?
Suddenly he felt a bit worried.
"That is most beneficial. I was worried that you might not wish to speak to me concerning the events which transpired between Raven and yourself, or the lingering emotions which may still exist between you," she exclaimed happily.
He let out a low groan - that had not been what he had meant, when he said she could talk to him about anything! He hadn't even been awake for an hour yet, and he certainly hadn't been dwelling on that yet. It was, after all, one of several very large issues that was currently just waiting to topple over and bury him under their weight.
"Star . . . I'm not sure there's a whole lot to talk about there," he said, a little desperately. Rather than falling for his weak ruse, the girl's eyes narrowed dangerously and she actually glared at him!
"Perhaps I am unfamiliar with the meaning of the Earth word, "anything". I was under the impression, that when you said that I could speak to you about "anything" that it meant no subject was to be exempted," she stated in a very deliberate tone.
Oh, boy . . . He knew that look and tone of voice, he hadn't seen her like this since he had told her about the whole "Carp Fishing Rod" fiasco. He still had bruises from their "training" that day. "O-okay, okay, we'll talk about it . . . I just don't know what there is to say."
Suddenly, the girl reverted back to sunshine and puppy dogs, as if she had always been. Curse these women and their devious tricks! "Then, why do you not just tell me what your current feelings for my most dearest and closest of friends are?" she asked happily.
He grumbled to himself some more. He enjoyed her company more when she was bludgeoning him with cars. "Sheesh, Star. I'm not even sure what I feel myself, what makes you think I would be able to tell you right now?" he asked, somewhat annoyed. Being sleepy must make the girl cranky . . . that or she was just concerned about two of her closest friends and was trying her best to help them sort out their feelings . . .
He was betting on the former.
He seemed to be vindicated on that bet, as her response to his remark was to gentle grab the front of his shirt and pull him closer to her. "I believe that you would tell me, because we share a special bond, unlike any I share with my other friends. And such is our unique bond, that if you do not respond to my inquiries favorably…" Suddenly her fist twisted into his shirt tightly and she lifted him a foot off the ground, still smiling as sweetly as Kasumi herself. "I will be forced to induce bodily trauma to you!"
Hmm, the girl made a convincing argument. Satisfied with her . . . could he call it threat, when it was Starfire that did it . . . she dropped him once more. Never once did she lose her beaming smile. He backed up several feet out of her immediate range before he decided to speak again.
"Fair enough," he started weakly. He took a moment to compose his thoughts, and try to figure out just what to say. " . . . honestly . . . honestly, if you're asking whether I love her or not, then I would have to say no."
"Too much has happened lately. You don't really know anything about what happened between Jinx and me, but right now, I don't know if I'll ever feel that way about anyone again. I just - I just feel so empty now, so numb. Besides, after what I did to Raven, there's no way she could ever forgive me. I wouldn't blame her if she hated me for all that I've done," he admitted sadly.
Starfire stared at him, her eyes shining brightly in the near darkness. "You are incorrect on that, Ryouga. I believe that Raven will gladly forgive you. You underestimate the value that she puts upon her friendship with you."
"You – you really think so?" he asked in a saddened voice. He was certain that Starfire could tell by the tone of his voice that he himself thought otherwise.
His endlessly optimistic companion rolled her eyes in annoyance at his infinite pessimism. "You say you do not love her, which I find to be sad, but understandable considering all that has transpired. I will accept that as truth, for now. However you also would withhold your friendship from her, because you fear she would not accept you into her life again? That I do not find acceptable. Ryouga, you will be Raven's friend once more, I will ensure that it comes to pass," stated the girl in a fiery tone.
She then ruined her dramatic moment, by yawning loudly and sinking back to the counter top. He decided to try to change the subject there, this conversation was starting to cross over into painful territory as he mulled over his feelings for both Jinx and Raven. "Look, since you're so insistent, I'll do my best to become Raven's friend again, but only if she wants it. Now! Can we please talk about something that doesn't dredge up so many painful memories, I am supposed to be recovering over here."
The now sleepy looking Tamaranian smiled widely, apparently satisfied with his response. "Very well, friend Ryouga. On which topic did you wish to enter discourse on now?" she asked pleasantly. He stared at her uncertainly for a moment . . . she hadn't meant what he thought she'd . . . naw – just his sleep addled mind. Hmm, on that, nice, safe, topic . . .
"Well, I know why I'm up, why did you wake up?" he asked.
The girl's large green eyes blinked several times sleepily at that. "I too had the dreams of nocturnal female equines." muttered Starfire as she struggled to stay awake.
He struggled for a moment to decipher the meaning of her words. As soon as he determined just what it was that she meant; the metal spoon he was using to stir the food warped and deformed in his grip as an icy claw of guilt clutched his heart. Had he really thought he would be the only one having a hard time dealing with all of the stuff that had been going on? He could just imagine her nightmares, his own twisted, hate filled face terrorizing her gentle slumbers.
"I'm so sorry Star . . ." He looked down in shame. "I've brought nothing but pain to you and all of your friends. I think you'd all have been better off never running into me in the first place."
Star just looked at him, confusion on her face. "Did – did we just not have that self same conversation mere moments ago? Again, I am glad that you are apologetic for you actions . . . but what does that have to do with my subconscious recollections of my imprisonment under the Gordanians?" she asked innocently.
He looked back at her is surprise. Then he rapped himself on the head for his stupidity. Starfire had told him much of what had occurred to her during her imprisonment . . . much, but not all. However . . . it didn't take him much imagination to fill in the blanks. He was giving himself far too much credit to think that anything he could ever do would even begin to compare to the horrors this sweet, innocent slip of a girl had already faced in her life.
If he ever ran into those Gordanians though . . .
Well, the spoon he had been using was a complete ruin now. He discretely dumped it into the trash while his young companion yawned again. She then shook her head, trying to regain her place in the conversation. "It is true that I do not dwell upon the past often, but I do, on rare occasions, suffer such unpleasant dreams." she muttered again.
He smiled once more, a few more yawns like that, and she would be back to sleep in no time. "Well, I'm glad you don't have them too often, but still, I can't even begin to tell you how terrible I feel for what I did to you."
Starfire seemed to consider his statement for a moment, before moving off of her stool and floating over to embrace him once more. He smiled wider at that, returning her gentle embrace as they stood there in the dark. After a moment, her head resting comfortably on his shoulder (she was a very tall girl after all) she began to murmur quietly.
"Ryouga, if only to cease your constant stream of apologies, I forgive you, whole heartedly and without reservation. Though I have only known you a short time, you have become like a brother to me." He could almost sense the smile forming on her lips as she continued. "Of course, considering how my other sibling treats me, I believe you will have a most difficult time performing that role any worse." she joked, her light giggle floating through the room.
"Yo dudes. What's cookin in here?" Beast Boy's voice shocked both of them, especially considering how the boy seemed to materialize out of thin air, looking intently at Ryouga's dish.
They both stared at the (practically drooling) boy, still embracing each other. If the jade teen even noticed their position, he gave absolutely no indication.
"Smells good, man. I smelt it all the way from the roof. There isn't any meat in it is there?" asked the boy again. Beast Boy turned to face them, a questioning look on his face.
Ryouga looked down to the girl in his arms, then back to the hungry shape changer. "Umm, no? I didn't get around to that yet, but I suppose vegetarian is fine." he finished. Instantly, the newcomer smiled happily and tore off in search of soy sauce. The lost boy just shrugged in amusement, as Starfire finally disentangled herself from him. With that, she returned to her seat, while he added yet more to the stir fry.
"Heh heh, if we were in Nerima, about seven more people would have shown up right then, and they all would have taken it the wrong way . . ." he started. He stared off to the massive window and the amazing sights that lay beyond again.
". . . You know, I don't really miss it much at all."
Ranma yawned mightily as he gingerly rotated his sore shoulder. Cyborg didn't have to wake him up so darn early to do this, did he? Ah well, at least the guy didn't toss him out the window and then attack him. He tested his shoulder again, just out of masochistic pride. It still amused him greatly that doing the Hiryua Shoten Ha with Starfire had actually popped his shoulder back into place just by how fast they were spinning. He tried to twist a bit as well, but found that the new body brace that Cyborg had just finished fitting him with held his ribs even more firmly in place than the hastily made plaster cast that he had been wearing for the past two days.
Thank god for technology, not only was this new brace a fraction of the thickness of the other one, easily hidden under his shirt, it also didn't itch like crazy. Heck, he almost didn't want to wear a shirt, this crazy hi-tech body brace made him look a bit like a crime fighting cyborg himself. He chuckled happily at that, Cyborg was actually a pretty cool guy, now that he'd had the chance to talk to him. Unfortunately, the cybernetic teen had left almost immediately after, grunting in annoyance at the two missing patients that still needed to be fitted with the more advanced casts.
He slipped his healing arm back into the sling that hung from his neck, and waved to Raven. She was already dressed, wearing a bulkier blue shirt to cover her own tailor made body brace. The one sleeve hung empty, as her arm cast was actually attached to the brace. The girl wore an unremarkable pair of black pants as well, since she couldn't really wear her leotard over the contraption.
"Man, Cyborg is a great guy, and these brace things are awesome." he cheered. She returned his smile, though a bit weakly.
"He does know what he's doing." The girl let out a weak sigh after that, looking down a bit sadly. Ranma wasn't sure what to make of it, but he had a few suspicions of what could be bothering the girl. He glanced over to the sleeping form of Mousse. Hmm, it seemed like a good a time for a great escape as any. Quickly, he went over to a nearby wall and grabbed the wheel chair that Cyborg had been carting Kasumi around in. A moment later, he was by Raven's bed, scooping up the girl and placing her into the chair.
"Hey! What on earth are you doing?" demanded the girl in her low voice.
He just smiled charmingly and started pushing her out the exit. "Well, I dunno about you, but I can't stand hospitals. I'm sure a little sun will make us feel better than sitting around here and taking medicine." he said jokingly.
She shook her head ruefully. "Obviously, you must never have met me before. Sunlight has never made me feel better." she mumbled in annoyance.
He just smiled again and ignored her. A few minutes later, and they were outside. The two of them rolled on for a while, just enjoying the sun, before he was finally able to work up the nerve to break the silence.
"So, Raven, how are you doing now?" he asked hesitantly.
She turned back to face him, raising a questioning eyebrow. "You mean aside from the blinding pain?"
"You know what I mean." he replied. "About all of the stuff between you and Ryouga. You . . . liked him, didn't you?"
The dark Titan seemed to contemplate his question for quite some time, sitting in silence as he carefully pushed her around the tower.
"I'm not exactly sure how that is any of your business, Ranma. Besides, what does it matter to you?" she asked, a bit of annoyance leaking into her voice.
He sighed a bit, she did have a point. It wasn't really his business, but still . . .
"Come on, Raven. I know we haven't known each other for long, but after all we've gone through, you feel more like a friend than Mousse or Kunou ever did. I just want to make sure that you're alright with how things went down. I mean, it didn't exactly end well for anyone, did it?" he said.
The violet haired beauty gazed at him silently for several long moments. "For what it's worth, Ranma, I'm glad to call you a friend. I don't exactly have a lot of them, in case you didn't notice." she replied, a wry smile on her lips.
"As for Ryouga . . . Yes, yes, I did; I still do . . . as a friend. Perhaps . . . perhaps there had been a time when I had thought something more might come between us . . . but I was only fooling myself. He is . . . an interesting young man, and were I not who I was, then perhaps it might have been possible." she finally replied.
That was good, he thought to himself a little guiltily. He wasn't exactly sure what she meant, but he knew it was for the best that she wasn't interested in goin after the Lost Boy like that.
"Does it have anything to do with . . . well, with your dad?" he asked.
Her only response was to nod. It seemed to be more than enough to answer his question. It was obvious that she didn't want to speak about it further though, and he wasn't the kind of guy to really dig too deeply into other people's pasts. He was just glad that she seemed alright with how things had turned out, and that she would recover physically as well.
Still, there was something else that he wanted to talk to her about. Really, it was the main reason that he had brought her down here.
"Raven . . . you wouldn't happen to know how . . . how Ryouga is doing . . . would ya?" he asked in a small voice. He was concerned about his best friend. Ryouga seemed to be doing fine, but then the boy had only been awake for about five minutes that Ranma had seen. It might just have been him, but he figured that there was a good chance that everything just hadn't hit the sensitive boy yet.
Raven seemed sympathetic to his cause, as she sighed deeply before answering. "Ryouga is . . . drained right now, emotionally. Whatever it was that he did, he's still recovering from it mentally. When I was watching him in his sleep, he felt . . . numb, empty. I think that Starfire and your friends are helping, but even as emotionally drained as he is, he is still feeling a lot of shame and self loathing for what he did." she explained.
"I don't know for sure, but I'm worried that as his emotions return to their normal states, his negative mindset will only get worse. You know him better than I, but I don't think he's even had time to come to terms with losing Jinx. She – she abandoned him, when he needed her the most. When he finally does remember that, I think he will handle it very badly." she finished in a worried voice.
Ranma's eyes narrowed slightly at the girl's words, but he hid his annoyance. "Hmm, you do have a point, if Ryouga thinks that he's lost the only girl he thinks really loved him for him . . . it'll probably get pretty ugly." he agreed.
"Perhaps I should speak with him?" said the pale girl, though her voice made it sound like she would prefer to do anything in the world but.
He shook his head at that, and started to head back to the tower. His ribs were starting to hurt, and even he had his limits.
"Naw, I'll go talk to him. We got a few things to talk about anyway." he said. Then he glared in annoyance. Yeah, Ryouga and him had some things to talk about, all he had to do was figure out how he could actually talk about some of those things without actually talking about them. Man, he still couldn't believe he did it a second time, considering how much trouble it had caused the first time he had done it! He growled one last thing under his breath, one word that seemed to sum up all of the frustration he was feeling right then.
Kasumi nearly frowned for the third time in as many days. She stared at no less than four vacant beds, three of which were supposed to be containing people that a normal hospital would have labeled as "in critical condition". She sighed and walked over to check on the slumbering form of Mousse, her only remaining patient.
She shouldn't have been surprised, in retrospect. Ranma and his friends had always been fast healers, and they never listened to anyone, even when it was for their own good. But how did they expect to get healthy again, if as soon as she turned her back, they all ran for the hills? She knew that all of her sister's young friends loved to play, but really?
She would have to have a talk with all of her patients.
Akane yawned again, as she looked around the various compartments in search of her prey. She had gotten up extra early to make sure she was the first one here. She was so excited, she could barely contain herself. A few minutes later, her hard work paid off. She smiled happily, looking over all of the elements that would become her most thoughtful thank you gift to the Titan's for their help in rescuing her sister.
Yes, this would be the best breakfast she ever cooked!
She looked over to the overly large couch in the center of the room and smiled fondly at the three forms that appeared to have fallen asleep there the night before. She had first noticed them when she had crept into the room a few minutes earlier. At first she had been shocked, to see Ryouga and Starfire sleeping so close together, their shoulders touching and their heads balanced against each other's. They even had matching lines of drool running down their chins. She had almost gone over and yelled at them for their indecency, until she noticed Beast Boy on the couch as well, draped across both of their laps, curled up like a large humanoid cat.
She giggled to herself lightly. It seemed unlikely that anything gossip worthy could have happened, especially since, judging by the empty bowls at their feet, they had gorged themselves and passed out watching some movie that had long since ended.
Akane would make sure to let those three be the first to sample her delicious breakfast. Ryouga always enjoyed her cooking after all, surely his new friends would enjoy it just as much.
Now, that looked more or less like sugar . . .
Beast Boy's eyes snapped open . . . Something was wrong, he wasn't sure what though. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, there was a bit of an odd smell in the air, but nothing to justify his strange feeling. Still, something deep inside was warning him of some form of unspeakable danger. He hadn't even felt this panicked when the entire Hive academy was going to explode around them.
Slowly, with a sort of feral caution, he sat up, ignoring the pair of bodies that gently slept beneath him. Hmm, whatever it was, his sense of impending doom continued to increase. With a glacial slowness, he turned around to face . . .
The smiling face of Akane Tendo!
"Good morning Mr. Beast Boy! I made you some breakfast!" greeted the pretty girl.
She then held out a plate of "food".
For some reason, even the howling beast that resided within his subconscious turned tail and fled.
Akane stared happily at the three youths she had corralled up to the kitchen counter. She happily placed a plate of her yummy home cooking before the three young heroes. Ryouga looked at the offered food and smiled widely . . . a little too widely, it seemed to stretch his face in a somewhat painful looking way. Well, she supposed that he was pretty hurt; it was probably just his injuries acting up.
Beast Boy looked at his plate of food uncertainly. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at the young boy. "Aren't you even going to try it?" she asked a bit icily.
Ryouga leaned over suddenly, catching all of their attentions. "Um . . . Beast Boy can't eat it Akane, he's a vegetarian! Yeah, yeah, that's it! Don't worry though, it's so delicious that I'll eat it for him!" yelled the boy. He then matched deed to word, bolting down all of the younger boy's food, then shoveling all of his food down just as fast.
"Ryouga! You shouldn't eat that fast, you probably didn't even taste it!" she scolded him. Hmm she'd have to make a vegetarian alternative for the green boy later.
Ryouga looked back, even as he weakly reached for the plate in front of Starfire. "W-w-wouldn't . . . that be . . . a – a shame." he bit out. His hand only made it half way to Starfire's before suddenly his whole body seized up. The boy made one last desperate lunge for the last plate, but only ended up collapsing to the floor in a heap.
"It – it's so delicious . . . that I think I'll – I'll pass out from – joy . . . now." squeaked out the second green boy on the floor.
Akane sighed loudly at that. "That Ryouga, he really shouldn't have left the medical room so early, he obviously isn't strong enough to be walking around yet." she admonished the boy lightly.
Beast Boy stared at her, an unusual look on his face, hmm she'd almost swear it was horror, but that didn't make any sense. The young man then looked to the boy, then back to her several more times, before he started to back away for the nearest exit.
"Umm . . . I think I'll go warn - no - get everyone else and tell them that dead-dinner- I mean breakfast is ready!" said the changeling, before he burst out the door.
She just shrugged at his exit. Boys could be so strange sometimes. She was sure that everyone else would enjoy her breakfast as much as Ryouga did. Hmm, speaking of which, she turned to face the counter's last occupant. The flame haired girl was still sitting there, watching the spectacle impassively.
After a few moments, the Titan shrugged and turned back to the plate before her. Akane watched excitedly as the girl dug a spoon into the food, apparently bringing a bit of her alien strength to bear.
Starfire eagerly stuffed a spoonful of the lovingly prepared confection into her maw. The bubbly alien chewed several times before swallowing loudly. A nostalgic look crossed the Tamaranian's face as she lowered her spoon to the table.
Akane was nearly bursting with joy. It looked like Starfire was actually enjoying her cooking!
"It . . . its taste reminds me of Denobulan Spider Ticks." stated the alien girl, her voice full of emotion.
The youngest Tendo clasped her hands in front of her and smiled widely. "T-that's good, right?" she cheered happily. That would show that ungrateful Ranma!
". . . Denobulan Spider Ticks are toxic to all life . . ." muttered the orange skinned girl. Then she collapsed into an unmoving heap.
Akane stared in disbelief, until her fragile temper snapped.
"Oh come on! That isn't even funny!"
Kasumi sighed loudly as she stared at the recently refilled beds. Ryouga and Starfire were back within her care, though not in the way she had hoped. Ranma stared at the comatose boy from his bed, having returned from a stroll not long ago. For some reason, he was muttering something about fools, martyrs and the ultimate sacrifice. Whatever was that boy going on about?
Still, now that all of her patients were returned to her and being cared for again, maybe it would be a good time to speak with her youngest sister. There were a few things she wished to talk to the young woman about. And besides, she just couldn't bring herself to scold Ryouga and Starfire anymore.
Not with them being unconscious anyway.
Cologne chuckled in great amusement at the young man beside her. Cyborg was cursing loudly, even as he attempted to use some form of cutting torch to clean one of the pots that Akane had used to "cook" earlier that morning. Unfortunately, his efforts seemed to be only sparks and fury, signifying nothing. She considered telling the boy to simply toss the destroyed pot, but was having far too much fun watching.
"Aiyah, Kitchen Destroyer really go extra mile this morning, no?" came her great granddaughters amused voice from her other side.
She turned to watch Shampoo preparing the noodles that would be everyone's lunch soon enough. On the other side of the counter, sitting on a stool, was Robin, a wide smile on his face as well.
"Man, I can't believe it. Does she always cook like that? I've never seen anything faze Starfire before." chuckled the small boy.
"You ain't kiddin, dawg! Man, I give up! I'm not gonna be able to clean this thing without reducing it to its component molecules, and the last thing I want to do is make this abomination airborne." added the cybernetic teen. He then muttered in a low voice. "Don't need no crimes against humanity on my record along with my grand theft auto."
They all got a good laugh out of that one. The old woman was enjoying herself, it reminded her a bit of the time that the Titans had spent in the village. They were every bit as entertaining as Ranma and his friends were.
Silence settled over the four of them for a moment, as they simply enjoyed the blooming smell of the new meal covering the old. She noticed, though, the way that Robin kept glancing at Shampoo out of the corner of his eye. She was certain he was working up the nerve to ask her something, and found it to be rather humorous.
Finally, the boy cracked, he looked up to the young warrior. "Shampoo, I – I was wondering if . . . if maybe after we eat . . . if maybe, you know, maybe you would like to . . ." the young boy stumbled over his words nervously. Shampoo looked back at him, a confused look on her face as she tried to determine what he was about to ask her.
" . . . would you like to spar with me?" finished the boy, finally.
Shampoo rolled her eyes, apparently relieved that he hadn't asked her to do anything else. "Shampoo suppose so, Shampoo hear that you train in village, maybe you not completely worthless male." she replied happily.
Cologne chuckled at their antics, before turning back to the other boy once more. He was now sitting, glaring angrily at the very same pot. "So, boy, have there been any developments in the medical ward lately?"
With on last grunt of disgust, the large teen swept the pot into the trash. "Well, I found out that the T-Stomach Pump works now. Other than that, everyone has been refitted with new casts and braces, so they should be okay. I did get an interesting request though, don't wanna spread any rumors before I know what's goin down for sure though." replied the boy.
She raised an eyebrow in interest. A request? She wondered what he could be speaking of.
Her train of thought was interrupted though, as Robin sat up, a questioning look on his face.
"Hey . . . has anyone seen that Happosai guy since we got back to the tower?"
Kasumi gently knocked on the door. A moment later, she heard her young sister's voice ask who it was. The Titan's had been kind enough to give everyone that wasn't in a hospital bed a room of their own for their stay here.
"It's Kasumi. May I come in?" she asked quietly.
"Of course." came her sister's slightly annoyed voice. It was likely that she was still a bit upset that no one aside from Ryouga and Starfire would eat the breakfast she had prepared. Kasumi felt bad for her sister, Akane tried so hard, she was just so determined to make people happy with her cooking.
Of course, Kasumi would never dream of eating said "food" . . . but it was the thought that counted.
She pulled the door open and slipped into the rather Spartan room; the door slid closed behind her of its own accord. She noticed her youngest sister sitting on her bed, idly going through the contents of her suitcase. Without a word, she glided over and sat down beside the girl and wrapped a sisterly arm around her.
Akane looked more upset than a simple ruined meal would warrant, and Kasumi had a very good idea what it was that was bothering her. After all, it was the same thing that was troubling herself as well.
"I . . . I can't believe she's gone." muttered the youngest Tendo.
Kasumi could only nod, squeezing her sister's shoulder reassuringly. It was all so hard to take in; she was having a hard time believing it herself. She had let herself be distracted with all of her injured friends . . . but the question had always been there, wriggling through the back of her mind like something . . . unpleasant.
"I wish – I wish there was something I could say to make it better . . . But there just isn't. Nabiki left us . . ." she whispered quietly.
A short sob escaped Akane's lips, and the girl began to fold in upon herself, unable to accept the truth. "B-b-but how-how could she ab-abandon us like that?" Akane's voice hitched uncontrollably as she spoke.
"Akane, noo." she whispered soothingly. "She didn't abandon us . . . she's just gone her own way. She's still our sister, she still loves us, nothing will ever change that."
The darker haired girl spun on her, anger in her eyes. "Loves us? How can you say that? She lured us all here so the Headmaster could kill us! She chose a bunch of common criminals over the people that loved her!" cried the angry young girl. Kasumi couldn't blame her for her anger though, not this time.
"Akane, that's not what she wanted. Nabiki always intended for you and Ranma to save all of us, me, Ryouga, Tatewaki, Mousse, all of the people that were abducted. She knew that you would never let anything happen to us." she replied gently. She didn't want Akane to hate Nabiki, no matter what her sister was planning to do in the future, Nabiki was still family.
Akane gazed back at her, hope in her eyes. "Are you telling the truth? Did - did she really bring us here for that?"
She nodded slowly, hugging the smaller girl tightly. "Nabiki knew very early on that the rest of us would never be happy living as villains. That was why she orchestrated everything to bring us to this point. Think, Akane, if all Nabiki wanted to do was abandon us . . . she could have done it as soon as she had her device finished. She could have left without ever even bringing you over here to fight, she could have abandoned me and the others in the Headmaster's clutches." she explained carefully.
"But she didn't, she did everything that she could in her position, to free us from that monster's control. And that is how I know that Nabiki still loves us, no matter what anyone, even she herself thinks otherwise."
Her sister seemed to consider her words for a long time. "It still hurts, knowing that she chose a life of crime, over her family, over us . . ." she muttered sadly.
Kasumi could only nod at that, she felt the very same pain herself. "It does . . . and I already miss her. But Nabiki chose the path that she felt was right for her, we don't have to support her decision, in fact, I'm almost certain that we shouldn't in this case, but we still have to remember that she's our sister. All we can do now is pray that she never crosses that line that the Headmaster was talking about." she said seriously.
Akane nodded seriously in return, a far away look in her eyes. Then, against all odds, a strange look entered the girl's eyes, and she actually giggled!
"Heh heh, well, there is one thing I know . . . I'm definitely not looking forward to telling father about this, there's bound to be a flood." joked the young girl.
The brunette girl giggled herself at that, if only as an alternative to crying. "Oh my! You shouldn't say such things Akane!" she scolded her sister in jest.
After that, the two of them sat in companionable silence, reflecting upon their wayward sibling, and where she might be now . . .
It was probably not the best time to talk to Akane about what she wanted to do, she didn't want to break her sister's heart again so soon . . . But, she knew the longer she put it off, the harder it would make things in the end. She squeezed her sister again tightly, trying to build up the confidence to say what she needed to say.
"This is all that hussy Jinx's fault anyway!" cursed her young sister, apparently out of nowhere.
"Excuse me?" she asked in confusion.
"That no good bimbo, Jinx! None of this would've happened if it hadn't been for her using poor Ryouga. Daddy told us how that little tramp pretended to be his fiancée, just so she could manipulate him into capturing you and Nabiki! I wish I did get to fight that manipulative little bit-"
"Akane! You watch your mouth, right now!" she nearly yelled at her sister. Akane stared back at her, shock on her face.
"But Kasumi! That pink haired floozy took advantage of Ryouga, lied to him and tricked him into thinking she liked him, just so she could use him. And you should have heard the things she said to me outside of the church!" fired back the angry young girl.
Kasumi let out a long sigh. Oh, Akane . . . if only her sister knew what really had gone on between Jinx and Ryouga. She sat in indecision for a moment, she really needed to talk to her sister . . . but she was grateful for any distraction at all right then . . . maybe a few more minutes wouldn't hurt too much . . .
"Akane . . . I know it's very hard for you to believe, but I got to know many of the students at the Hive Academy very well." she began slowly. She ignored the questioning look on her sister's face and continued on. "I want to tell you a story, a story about a girl that I came to care for very much. Now this girl, she had done many terrible things, but to one boy, one very special boy, she meant more than anything . . ." With that, Kasumi began to tell Akane a very familiar story, of a person that loved another, but sadly became trapped within a web of lies that quickly grew beyond their control.
She promised herself that she would tell Akane about her decision after she was done telling the story.
She promised . . .
Mousse stealthily opened his eye and glanced around the medical room. Most everything was a blur, of course, but he could see well enough to differentiate an empty bed from a full one. It seemed, that after days of, first struggling with his shame, then waiting for an opportunity, had finally paid off. Casually, he pulled a pair of glasses from his sleeve and perched them upon his nose, bringing the world into focus, or at least closer to it.
The room was empty, save one other person; everyone else had left when dinner was called. His prey, laying back in her bed, a heavy tome resting in her lap, was the fragile looking Raven. The girl appeared to be entranced with her reading, delicately turning the pages with a practiced finger. It was hard to reconcile this tiny young woman with the wrathful demon that he had battled . . . how long ago had it been now?
Quietly, he slipped out of his bed, and glided over to the girl's identical bed. He scanned the room and checked to door once more, as he made his way over. Everything seemed to be clear, even his keen hearing couldn't detect anyone approaching the room. It hadn't taken him long to decide on this course of action, not really, considering what Cologne had told him of the dark young girl before him.
All too soon, he was hovering over the girl's bedside, staring down at her intently. Whether she had noticed him up to that point, she had given no sign, but now, her eyes rolled up to match his gaze. One of her eyebrows arched up, questioning him without the need to waste words. He didn't blame her for not wanting to speak with him, not considering their last meeting.
"I was wondering how long you were going to feign sleep. I really don't think you fooled anyone though." she muttered dryly.
He shrugged internally; he hadn't been trying to fool anyone, just biding his time. If he had actually wished people to believe him unconscious, then no one would have been able to tell differently. Instead, he just nodded slowly, before sliding a hand deeper into one of his sleeves.
"Indeed . . ." he said quietly. "Raven, I have something to give you."
With that, he withdrew the long, wicked looking dagger from his sleeve, letting the light play along its polished surface. He watched the look of fear leak into the girl's eyes, as her violet orbs followed the razor edge of the blade. He had to act quickly, before she panicked and lashed out at him. With a flick of his wrist, the deadly weapon flashed through the air; flipping once so that he could catch it neatly by the blade . . .
He then carefully offered the ivory laden handle to the very surprised looking girl before him.
The young woman's shocked look quickly settled into an irate glare. "Was all of that really necessary? And what is all of this about, what are you giving me a knife for?" she asked, obviously annoyed at his theatrics.
He matched her gaze, looking into her eyes with utter seriousness. "You misunderstand. I am not giving you a mere knife, I am giving you my life." his words were as hard as the steel in his hand.
Once again, Raven's face descended into shock. "W-what are you talking about? What do you expect me to do with that?" she demanded, pointing to the knife.
With gentle care, he took her hand and pressed the pommel of the knife into it. "My life is yours to do with as you please. However, because of the crimes I have committed against Amazon law, there is only one logical thing for you to do." he explained.
If anything, her look of shock only increased. "What? You want me to kill you? Are you crazy? What could you have done to warrant that?"
He smiled, though it was a bit melancholy, then straightened up proudly. "Cologne explained to me, that you are currently under her protection, as well as the protection of the entire village. By attacking you, I violated sacred law and thus my life is forfeit. As well, she also explained the pivotal role that you played in the vote to bring change to our people." he said solemnly.
"As an Amazon male, I could never express the depth of my gratitude for what you helped to accomplish. Nor can I express the depths of my shame, knowing that I nearly killed the person that made it possible that, someday, my brothers and I may be treated as equals." His voice was thick with the emotions he was feeling, just thinking about that very concept. To be accepted, after all of this time, even with his unusual martial skill.
Raven looked back at him in disbelief. "You're that happy about being accepted into your village? Then you were practically crying in joy the whole way back to the tower when you found out that Shampoo was still alive, and now the first thing you can think to do, is demand that I kill you for something you did while you were under the control of a madman?" she asked incredulously.
He shrugged a bit sheepishly at that. "Well . . . I'm not exactly demanding that you kill me . . . Cologne just explained that you would be well within your rights to do so."
She rolled her eyes at that. "Ugh! I swear, you martial artists are all such huge drama queens!" Raven carefully placed the blade of the dagger in her book, then closed the tome around the unusual bookmark. She glared at him once more. "You knew very well that I would never ask you to kill yourself. Did you have to make such a big production out of it?"
He smiled slightly at that. "Well, there are certain traditions for how these things are done, I couldn't exactly just wander over and say "oh, sorry 'bout the whole attempted murder thing, we cool?"" he said, doing his best Beast Boy impression. "Besides, all jokes aside, this is a very serious matter. Though I know you would never demand my death, you still have the right to set any other punishment that you believe fits the scope of my dishonor. I will abide by whatever decision you make."
Having said his piece, the Hidden Weapons Master stepped back and awaited the girl's final decree. He certainly felt lucky that she was such a benevolent spirit. In fact, the girl looked ready to dismiss his punishment entirely . . .
Until a sly look suddenly settled upon her face. Mousse swallowed nervously, at the sinister look that began to spread across the girl's features.
"Hmm, now that I think of it, I am going to be laid up for some time. I'm sure that I can find something for you to do for the rest of your stay here to repay me." she said, smiling malevolently.
He tugged nervously at his collar at that . . .
Why did he have a feeling that the knife would have been more merciful?
The figure stealthily snuck into the apartment. Even though the window had been locked, the tiny mechanism had been no real obstacle to him. Without even a whisper of sound, he dropped to the floor and made his way through the domicile with practiced ease. With his honed senses, it took only a scant few seconds to find the location of his prey.
The bedroom door slid open just as silently as the window, he had been at this far too often to be foiled by something as simple as that. The gentle sound of breathing greeted his ears, signaling that the apartment's owner was present, but the pattern of the breathing indicated true sleep and not just feigned sleep.
A few more steps brought him up to his prey. A tiny leap took him to a good vantage point; he stared down at his target, marveling at the beauty. The gentle curves, the sensual scent that hung in the air . . . he leered at the prize that would be his, barely restrained lust on his masked face.
Oh yes, this woman's dresser was just full of exotic lingerie!
Indeed, Happosai was starting to really enjoy his erstwhile trip to America, now that he was actually free to do as he wished. The Headmaster had been kind enough to provide for his needs, for the most part, but he'd really missed the thrill of the hunt. He enjoyed the tiny jolt of adrenaline that he got, stealing away into forbidden places like this, pushing his skills always further towards perfection.
Quickly, though reverently, he began to place the more select items into his bag, extolling upon the virtues of each garment before storing them for a closer inspection later. Every pair of panties sent a small burst of chi into him, filling him with energy. A silky red number grabbed his attention; these American women possessed such risqué undergarments.
A few moments later, and his harvest was complete. He took one final look to the room's occupant, but the bulky comforter made it too hard to determine what kind of woman was in the bed. Not that it mattered, that wasn't what he was here for anyway. Groping Ranma was fun, for several reasons, one of which was that he could actually defend himself.
He retraced his steps carefully, back to the window. Hmm, that was what was missing though, keeping him from really enjoying himself. A small leap took him back up to the window sill and he slipped through the narrow opening with ease. Yes, collecting his pretties was always a worthy endeavor, but he did miss the fact that there was no one to even try to stop him here-
The aged master ducked his head to the side, just as a bladed object slammed into the concrete wall where his head had just been. He looked at the device out of the corner of his eye. What an odd looking weapon, bright red and shaped like an odd sort of boomerang. An ancient smile began to curve his lips as he followed the path of the throw, back to its source.
"Hold it right there, old man! You're coming with me!" demanded the young man. The grand master cackled happily, as the form of the young boy (Robin was it?) became visible on a nearby rooftop. Maybe there was hope for this night after all.
"Ohohoho! What brings you out here tonight, little man? Isn't it past your bed time?" he taunted, a joyfully mocking note in his voice. A single leap took him up to the same rooftop that the young hero was inhabiting.
The young man bristled slightly at his comment, his eye mask narrowing tightly. "Seems Cologne was right. Reports of breaking and entering have been building up over the past few days, we didn't hear anything about it though, at least until reports of just what was being stolen started making it around." explained the boy sharply. "It didn't take long to figure out who was behind it, so Cologne sent me out to hunt you down."
Happosai's expression fell slightly at that. "What? Just you by yourself? 'Sigh' this isn't going to be any fun at all." he pouted. No longer enthused about the possibility of teaching a number of upstart would-be-heroes a few lessons, he turned to leap to another building. He was just about to jump when-
"Katchu Tenshin Amagurinken!"
The shout shocked him so much, that he actually felt the first punch graze his whiskers, ever so lightly. After that though, the world became a blur as he ducked and weaved between the boys attacks. They were pretty fast . . . he supposed, definitely nowhere near Ranma's league, still . . . It was definitely the Chestnut fist, though an unrefined version, obviously he'd just learned it and wasn't used to it yet, but it was the genuine article all right.
All too soon, the boy's attacks stopped coming and the boy stumbled back a few paces, breathing heavily. Obviously he didn't quite possess the stamina to completely master the technique yet either. The old man's smile returned in force now, Cologne hadn't told him that she had taken on any new students! Maybe this child had more potential than was obviously apparent.
It had been awhile since he had had a new person to torment- um, teach, the martial arts. Sure, he had taught Jinx a few tricks, clever girl, but that had mostly been energy manipulation. No, she'd gotten most of her lessons from Ryouga, and that boy was far too set in his ways to really begin training in the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts. But here, here it seemed like he had a potentially talented student. One with next to no real training, one that he could really indoctrinate into his school of martial arts.
The boy's chestnut fist was terrible though, no stamina at all in the boy. Of course . . . there was always one good way to take care of that! He cackled happily again, as Robin shook off his fatigue and moved forward to attack again. Quickly, Happosai turned and started bouncing from rooftop to rooftop in a blur. He heard the startled gasp of his newest distraction, and turned back for a moment to give the boy a properly motivating and inspirational remark.
"Catch me if you can, brat!"
Oh, the joys of teaching.
Ranma groaned in disgust at his current situation. Not so much that he was in a bad position, being comfortably seated between Akane and Shampoo on the massive Titan couch. Nor was it the company, since almost everyone was gathered together for a midnight movie marathon. The only people missing were Raven, who was still in the medical wing, Mousse, who apparently was stuck with Raven for some reason, and Robin. Heck, he didn't even mind the fact that Cologne sent Robin off to chase down the old pervert himself, none of the girls wanted to do it, and he wasn't feeling up to it anyway. Besides, he officially considered himself to be on vacation now, let someone else deal with the old goat.
No, what he couldn't stand was the fact that Beast Boy had chosen a kung fu movie marathon to watch.
Did that guy not get enough just a few days ago? Not that Ranma didn't enjoy a good martial arts flick every once in awhile, but for the most part they were kind of tame. And frankly, after fighting that Headmaster guy . . . well, even he had his limits. He didn't even want to think about fighting for a few more days.
On the screen, some actor performed an embarrassingly simple flying triple kick; he sighed in boredom. Why were these movies so unrealistic? He sought out his main rival, looking for the guy amongst the multitude of other bodies that surrounded him. He figured that if anyone would agree with him, it would be the only other martial artist that was . . . close . . . to him in skill.
Hmm, where was Ryouga? He had just been sitting on the floor, resting his head on Starfire's knees, since the girl was on the couch right behind him. It still blew Ranma away, the fact that Ryouga was acting so casual around a girl, and he felt a bit of resentment as well. Had that been him sitting there, no matter how innocently, a brawl would have erupted instantly. No one ever believed him, and all of his fiancée's were overly jealous, they'd never let him act so friendly to any girl but them. They were already getting annoyed with the time that he spent with Raven, which actually ticked him off, considering what Ryouga, Raven and he had gone through together.
Nothing formed stronger bonds between people than fighting side by side with a person. Maybe that was why Ryouga got on with Starfire so well, she must have learned the Hiryu Shoten Ha the same time he did, and if anyone knew the torturous process you had to go through to learn that, it was him.
Ah! There, on the far side of the room, the door was just sliding closed, a flash of black and yellow gave away where his rival was. Again, he envied his rivals easy exit, no one demanded to know where he was going, no one latched on to him and just had to go where he went. Now the Saotome heir was going to have to figure a way out of this as well, not an easy task considering his current neighbors.
As casually as he could, he began to stand up, disguising it with a long yawn. Predictably, Akane shot him a look almost instantly. "Where are you going?" she asked.
On his other side, Shampoo grabbed his hand. "You going to bed? You want Shampoo come too?" she asked sweetly.
He groaned, as everyone began looking in their direction, especially at Shampoo's question. Beast Boy looked ready to say something at least until Ukyou glared him into silence. "Look, I'm goin to the bathroom, I'll be back soon." he grumbled loudly, annoyed that he had to explain himself to everyone. With that, he flipped over the couch and quickly moved out the door that his rival had taken.
As soon as he was out the door, he flipped out Cologne's communicator. He was gonna give it back . . . sometime . . . really. Ah, whatever, he quickly opened the device and used the tiny locater to find Ryouga's position. The other boy had a communicator of his own, though it was hexagonal rather than round. Man! Somehow in the three seconds he left the room, the lost boy was already three floors up, but at least he wasn't moving anymore.
He chuckled lightly, as he made his way to the elevator. When Robin had found out that Ryouga still possessed the Hive communicator, he had nearly had a spasm of indecision, deciding whether to destroy it, or to use it to spy on any of the remaining Hive people, notably Nabiki and her cohorts. Of course, when Ryouga had finally thought to ask about the device, he had demanded it back in a . . . most convincing manner. It hadn't mattered anyway, Nabiki must have known he had it, since the device was already cut off from its existing network. It hadn't taken Cyborg too much trouble to rewire it to their frequency, since the Lost Boy had been very insistent that he wanted to keep it.
A few moments later, he found himself standing outside an unmarked door. It appeared to be, by some miracle, the room that Robin had set aside for Ryouga, for when the boy got well enough to leave the medical bay. Without thinking on it too much, he slid open the door and walked in. What he saw surprised him.
Ryouga was indeed in the room, sitting before the small personal computer that each of these rooms seemed to be equipped with. The bandanna clad boy obviously noticed his entrance, grunting for him to close the door, though he didn't even bother to turn around. It was a simple enough request, so he slid the door closed behind him and moved over to sit on the bed.
"So, what are ya workin on?" he asked out of mild curiosity.
Ryouga finally turned to face him, sighing a bit sadly. The boy's movement revealed the monitor, the screen seemed to be showing some form of . . . map?
"I don't know . . . I was just looking over this project that I worked with Jinx on for class . . ." The boy lifted his hexagonal communicator from the desk, a small wire ran from it to the box part of the computer. "Heh, you'd be surprised how many things you can use these things for. I don't know about your version, but ours doubles as a memory stick too. You know, for downloading data from a heist and such stuff."
Ranma had to laugh at that. "Heh heh, you almost sound like you miss it, man." His laugh died though, at the look on his friends face.
"I – I know I shouldn't . . . I mean, I was a criminal, I did some pretty damn bad stuff. But still . . . there's a part of me that really enjoyed it – not the bad stuff, just . . . just being there. It was like I was back in school again, and I had people that actually cared whether or not I got to class. Not to mention that everyone there was unusual in their own way, so . . . so I felt like I belonged, ya know?" explained his sometime best friend.
He nodded in understanding, he knew all about standing out at school. The idea of being able to hang out with people like the Titans all the time, it had a certain appeal to it. "Don't worry 'bout it. From what I've heard from Kunou and Bumblebee . . . I think I woulda liked to go there myself. It sounded like it would have been . . . fun. Heh, could you imagine, the two of us goin to school with all of the crazy people we know." he trailed off, smiling at the whimsical vision in his head.
The lost boy seemed to consider his crazy idea, before laughing a bit himself. While Ryouga was distracted, he leaned in to get a closer look at what his rival was working on. It looked to be some sort of presentation . . .
"So, you actually learned how to use a computer there, eh?"
"Yeah, mostly thanks to Jinx helping me out." replied his friend. The boy's face fell somewhat at the latest mention of her name though. "She actually said I had a knack for it . . . like a hidden talent I guess. It-it felt nice, you know, impressing her like that, being able to impress her with something besides my martial arts. And, when you think about it, it's a skill that I might actually be able to use later on, to do something with." said Ryouga.
Feeling a bit of a need to show off, Ranma leaned over and minimized the program that the presentation was running in. Then, before Ryouga could demand to know what he was doing, he clicked onto the web browser and brought up one of the sites that he had found on the Titans. Ryouga stared at him, then the website, then back again, obviously surprised.
"Heh, yeah, this whole kidnapping thing pushed me to go a bit outside my comfort zone too. We were at a total dead end on how to find you, so Akane eventually figured out that we could use the internet. Took a bit, but I eventually learned how to do this kinda stuff." he stated, a bit proudly.
His friend nodded, minor-ly impressed as well. "Not bad, it's good to know there's room in your brain for things besides martial arts and your ego." replied his friend, laughing lightly.
He bonked the irritating boy in the back of the head, lightly mind you, to shut the boy up. "Hardy har har." He dropped into a serious voice as he continued. "But seriously, Ryouga, how are you holding up? We all went through some bad stuff, but the things that happened to you . . . I don't even want to imagine what you musta been goin through back in the church. Are – are you sure you're okay man?" he asked seriously. He wanted to make sure that his best friend was all right, the boy had gone through enough to drive any man over the edge . . . and frankly, Ryouga was way too close to that edge at the best of times.
Ryouga matched his gaze for a moment, before breaking away from his stare, to look at his hands. The boy clenched and unclenched his hands into tight fists, staring at them with bitter sadness. "I . . . I don't really know, Ranma. I just feel numb lately, I've felt happy, sad, angry, but it's all been . . . muted, like I'm not really feeling it myself. I don't know if it has anything to do with the size of that Shi Shi Houkodan that I generated or if I'm still just not ready to deal with it all yet . . . but, but I just don't know . . ."
Absently, Ryouga reopened the project that he was working on, and started to scan through some of the text. "Heh, can you believe that Jinx was so impressed with how well I was learning, that she decided to let me handle the deployment part of the project. She put me in charge of finding the best insertion points, finding the best routes to take . . ."
The Saotome boy couldn't help but laugh out loud. "Man! You didn't tell her? Ryouga, only you could be so stubborn about your problem, that you'd rather do all that work, than ask for help. Heh heh, so what did she do when she saw what a mess you were makin?" he asked eagerly.
His friend twiddled his thumbs sheepishly at his question. "Um . . . she was actually so proud of me, that she didn't even bother to check my work at all . . . She didn't find out until the class presentation."
This time, he was able to hold in his laugh, if only to spare his rival any further embarrassment. "Sounds like she really believed in you." he replied kindly.
The Hibiki boy nodded, a ghost of a smile on his face. "Maybe she did." The smile on his friend's face warmed Ranma's heart slightly. Ryouga obviously still had feelings for Jinx, which was a good thing. Not to mention, if the boy still had something to hope for, it was his best hope to resist slipping into complete despair, or at least that was what he figured after talking to Raven.
But just as quickly as it appeared, the boy's smile faded away, revealing bitter hurt. "But it doesn't matter anymore, does it? She abandoned me, left me in the hands of the Headmaster, left me to die." spat out the boy angrily.
Ranma gasped in shock, what was the guy saying? How did he even know what had happened?
"Beast Boy filled me in last night; he and Starfire told me what happened while I was out. Beast Boy told me how Jinx jumped through the portal." growled the lost boy.
Ranma rolled his eyes in disgust and growled a bit himself. Apparently, Beast Boy hadn't bothered to tell Ryouga everything that Jinx had done before she had jumped through the portal Argh! Of all the people for Ryouga to hear the story from, he would get it from the one person that had, like no idea of what was going on at all between anyone that had been involved with Jinx's departure.
His annoyance only grew, as the Lost Boy continued his rant. "Not that it surprised me, that she would choose her own safety over helping me. She's a villain after all, why would she care about anyone but herself-"
A sharp crack split the air, bringing a dead silence hot on its heels. Ryouga stared at him, disbelief on his features. "You – you slapped me." he said, utterly confused.
Ranma stared at his own hand, not quite believing it himself. "I . . . I did." he replied, just as confused. He didn't slap people, girls slapped people, guys didn't slap other guys . . .
"Well? Why the heck did you hit me?" queried the irate boy, his fangs showing dangerously now.
He let out a long sigh. It was times like this that he hated taking his honor so seriously, it always made things more complicated than they needed to be. "I wish I could tell you." he muttered in reply.
"What the heck is that supposed to mean?" growled the boy, getting angrier by the second. "You don't even know why you slapped me?"
Actually, he knew exactly why he hit the boy now, but it was just like he said, he wished he could tell the boy why he had done it. "Look, Ryouga, I just don't think you should be talkin bad about Jinx like that. I mean, didn't you two have a lot of good times together?"
Ryouga looked at him a bit suspiciously. "What's it to you? I thought she loved me, but apparently, making a break for it was more important than staying with me. After all, Beast Boy said-"
"Beast Boy didn't say nearly enough apparently!" he said, interrupting Ryouga. "Look, Ryouga, I know for a fact that you don't believe that crap you're sayin right now. It's just your anger talkin." Man, he hated when Ryouga got like this, jumping to conclusions without the aid of anything even resembling facts. He just wanted to shout the truth in his friends face, to get everything out in the open, for once in his life.
"What the heck are you talking about, Ranma? What do you care what I say about Jinx? You don't even know her." shot back Ryouga, still upset.
"Yeah, well maybe I know all that I need to know about her to know that you're not bein fair to her. Do you really think that she just abandoned you like that, for no reason?"
The fanged boy glared at him, not quite certain where he was going with this new line of questioning. "What are you getting at, Saotome? You're acting really strange, is there something that you're not telling me?"
He sighed painfully at the boy's rather pointed question. How easy it would be, to just explain everything, but he had promised . . . Still, that had never stopped him from dropping not-so-subtle hints in the past. Maybe the bacon brained martial artist would be able to piece the puzzle together himself.
"I've told you everything I can, though I bet a few other people could tell you a heck of a lot more than Beast Boy could. But I do have one question for you, Ryouga. Just how exactly do you think it was possible for me to find you in all of the rubble of that church, especially considering the condition I was in even by the time you finally woke up?" he asked cryptically.
Ryouga looked at him strangely, trying to figure out what he meant. He couldn't blame the boy for not understanding the question, after all, no one else thought to ask that very same question. While Ryouga was still pondering what he had said, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the tiny treasure that he had been holding for the past several days.
"I found something else in the rubble, something that I have a strange feeling that you would want." he added, just as cryptically. He took the boy's hand and carefully placed the tiny item onto the boy's palm and closed his fingers around it. He then released Ryouga's hand, and let the boy take the tiny prize.
Ryouga's strange stare didn't alter in the slightest, until he finally looked down to regard his own closed hand. With subdued curiosity, the boy slowly unfurled his loose fist, revealing the tiny item. Suddenly, the boy's fist closed tightly, but carefully enough not to destroy its contents. Ryouga looked up at him glaring daggers and nearly snarling. "How could you have possibly known what this meant to me? How on earth did you even find this in all of that rubble?" demanded the shocked boy.
Ranma just replied airily. "I found it the same way that I found you, and that's all I can say."
His rival looked almost ready to push the issue, violently, but then deflated visibly. Slowly all of the anger and pain seemed to drain from the boy and his hand opened once more; revealing the tiny item that it contained . . .
. . . The broken off head of a tiny unicorn figurine, the horn stained red while the rest was a flawless, ivory white.
"Look, Ryouga, I know that you're upset, and you have every damn right to be . . . but – but just don't think poorly of Jinx, alright?" he finally asked. His voice rang with quiet sincerity, and it seemed to finally reach his distraught companion.
Ryouga just stared at the remains of the tiny figurine, a number of emotions that Ranma couldn't name, running through his eyes. After a long but comfortable silence, the boy finally looked up to face him. "I still don't know what you're talking about . . . but . . . but you're right, Jinx doesn't deserve what I said about her. Ranma . . . thank you for this . . . I think you might know just how much this means to me . . ."
Ranma shrugged in reply. "Hey, what do I know from tiny horses? But still, if it's that important to ya, you could always pay me back by showin me how to actually use a computer in a manner which is not primarily used to procure porn." he said, earning a chuckle from his friend.
"Heh, but Ranma, didn't you know, the internet is for porn? But yeah, sure, I'd be glad to show you what I learned . . . Hmm, maybe after this, I can show you how to disable an electronic security system, it's all in the wrist ya know." replied his friend, a wide smile on his face now.
A small laugh escaped his lips at his friends turn in mood. He was glad that his friend was feeling better . . . and that security system thing sounded pretty cool actually. Still, there was still a nagging thought at the back of his mind, the same thought that had been floating around the edges of his thoughts for the past several days . . .
What had become of Jinx?
Four days earlier -
Jinx watched in horror, as the entire church began to crumble under the awesome force of the tornado.
"Ryouga is still in there!" she screamed in terror. She couldn't even see the boy anymore, not since those two 'heroes' created that damned twister right on the despairing boy's head! How could they abandon him like that?
Ryouga was going to die!
No! No, she wouldn't allow it! While everyone was still mesmerized by the morbid scene before them, a primal instinct blasted through what passed for her common sense. The desperate sorceress spun quickly and grabbed the person closest to her and dragged him forcefully through the nearest door.
As soon as she was through, she closed the door and locked it behind them. She then turned on her companion, and stared into his flat red eyes with near manic intensity.
"Kyd Wykkyd, send me to him, Now!" she shouted, her voice tearing painfully.
The black clad boy looked back at her, shaking his head and staring at her like she was insane. Maybe she was, but that didn't change anything! She grabbed his arms and shook him angrily.
"Do it! Or I swear to the Goddess that you won't live to regret it!" she demanded.
The boy raised his hands up to his side in a sign of helplessness. The saddened look on his face almost registered to her, but not quite.
"It's not too late, you know damn well where he was last, just send me there, I'll take care of the rest!"
She felt her eyes begin to glow with chaotic pink energy, and noticed tendrils of smoke begin to rise up from where she was clutching the taller boy's uniform. Rather than let go, she intensified the glow of energy around her hands. Maybe that would motivate her reluctant companion.
If the boy noticed the pain, he gave no sign. Instead, he matched her gaze, his stare becoming deadly serious. He seemed to weigh her very soul with his eyes. After a moment, a horrifyingly long moment, the boy looked away sadly.
With hardly any effort, Kyd Wykkyd shrugged out of her hold and stepped back several feet. She was about to ask what he was doing, when he lifted his arm dramatically, trailing his ebony cloak with it. Suddenly, the howl of elemental fury filled the entire chamber, as a portal to the heart of the tornado opened beneath the boy's outstretched arm.
She was nearly blown back by the force of the wind that flowed out of the aperture; only sheer willpower seemed to keep her from being tossed around the room like the rest of its unfortunate contents. A small piece of stone suddenly fired out of the portal, just grazing her face and colliding against the wall far behind her with a loud bang! For just a fraction of a second, she doubted what she was doing. Did - did she really want to go in there, when just this tiny glimpse filled her mind with terror?
A flash of Ryouga's beautiful face tore through her mind. Instantly her doubt vanished like the morning mist. Just as her teleporting friend looked like he wouldn't be able to hold the portal open for another second, she ran forward, pushing against the screaming winds with everything that she was. One step was followed by another; slowly she built up speed as she moved to the portal that was, in all reality, only a few short feet in front of her. And with one last, desperate lunge, she flew into the heart of the maelstrom.
If Jinx had thought that what had been unleashed into the room she had just been in, was even a glimpse of what awaited her, she had been utterly and completely wrong.
The instant that she crossed the event horizon, her entire world was cast into such chaos that she had never even imagined it before. Suddenly she was assaulted by a thousand sensations, each one of them painful, all intent on ending her life.
Her eyes were nearly blinded by an emerald glare which encompassed everything. The strength of the winds instantly sent her hurtling round and round, tumbling her in every direction possible, even as the powerful vacuum tried to steal what little air she had left in her lungs. Then there was the remains of the church itself, she writhed in pain, as tiny pieces of shrapnel tore at her skin, how long would it be before some larger piece smashed her brains out? Most disturbing of all, she could actually feel the winds around her tearing into her life force, feeding upon her energy!
What had she been thinking? How could she possibly find the boy that she loved so deeply in the heart of this monstrous construct? She couldn't even use her meager abilities to "sense" where he was, this whole damn twister felt like her would-be fiancé!
A flash of movement in front of her caught her attention. She squealed and lashed out with a burning hex, just in time to vaporize the huge chunk of wood that seemed to materialize out of the glare around her. Her victory was short lived, as a heavy piece of . . . something slammed painfully into her thigh, sending her flying head over heels.
Acting on instinct, she started firing off hexes to stop her crazed rotation, soon enough she was more or less upright once more, riding the winds wildly around the cyclone. She kept an eye out for any larger debris, but she still winced in pain as she was stuck almost constantly by smaller fragments at they tore into her delicate skin.
What was she going to do? Even if she could avoid the deadlier pieces, these small ones could just as likely finish her, and she wasn't sure how long she could last before this thing drained her to the point of losing conscience. If that were to happen, her death would likely follow soon aft-
Again she screamed, desperately firing off more of her precious energy, using the blasts to launch her over a section of oaken beam at least two feet thick! Her escape was so narrow, that she actually had to get a foot onto the lumber and kick off of it to get completely out of the way.
Wait! There was one chance! Even as she looked around everywhere for her boy, she carefully pulled her communicator from her pocket, holding it tightly and clutching it protectively to her chest. She only prayed that it hadn't been damaged in any of their battles. Oh so carefully, she flipped open the device, making damn sure that the wind didn't tear it from her grasp.
There! Thank the Goddess! Ryouga's communicator was still functioning; she was getting a signal from it! He was still in the cyclone, with her, but he was at least a hundred feet above her! It seemed utterly impossible . . . how on earth could she reach the boy, when he was so far away? A hundred feet might as well have been a hundred miles at this point . . .
Wait again! The thought of her last narrow escape rushed back into her mind . . . It was insane, but it was her only hope, besides . . . wasn't this the kind of stuff that she trained for? Clutching her life line tightly in hand, the sorceress girl stopped trying to avoid the remains of the church . . .
Now she was avidly searching for it.
It was an arduous process, finding debris large enough to suit her purpose, then actually positioning herself to use the objects as stepping stones up into the sky. She was nimble, she was skilled, and she was damn well determined! Each jump was a minor victory, every miss a painful reminder of just how dire her situation was.
It felt like she was leaping forever, soon her mind began to grow unfocused . . . her world going fuzzy. Her body seemed to be running on automatic, repeated impacts and continued blood loss were taking their toll on her already battered body. She had no idea how much longer she would be able to keep going, she could hardly even generate the hexes she needed to move around, the incessant pull of the monstrosity that contained them still draining her life away.
A small vibration in her hand caught her attention, pulling her out of her near mindless state for a moment. The vibration occurred again, and she looked down to the small device in her hand. It was blinking now, and was likely beeping, though she could not hope to hear it.
She was close! He was somewhere around her! She looked all around her, all pain forgotten in her excitement. Where was he? He couldn't be too far, unless . . . unless he had lost his communicator in the storm! She didn't even dwell on that possibility, lest she give up what little hope she had left. Wait-
There! She could see him, just barely through the glare of the tornado's hellish energy. With one last burst of her energy, she flew in his direction. She collided with the boy painfully, as suddenly a hundred tiny injuries made themselves known once more. Without a care to that, she desperately wrapped her body around the boy, embracing him with all of her strength. She buried her head into his shoulder, tears flowing freely now as she cried in joy.
"Ryouga, I've got you, it'll all be alright now." she whispered uselessly. The boy was already unconscious, though she could feel the beat of his heart, nearly in time with her own. There was only one thing left for her to do; praying that it would actually work, she hit the emergency beacon on her communicator.
Then she forgot the tiny device, and just let herself melt away into the arms of the boy she loved. If this was the way it was going to be . . . then she would be happy to have these last moments with him. She only hoped that she wouldn't let go, as the world began to darken around her once more . . .
Until her morbid thoughts were interrupted by a very powerful hand closing around her shoulder!
Ranma stared at the massive mound of rubble that his ultimate attack left in its wake. The final wisps of the tornado's winds were finally dying away, leaving uncountable shards of debris hanging weightless in the air. That only lasted for a moment, before the stone rain began to fall, crashing into the rubble with merciless abandon.
It was about that point, that he realized that he had just murdered his best friend . . .
Even if the Lost Boy had managed to survive the attack, survive being buried alive, simply survive his injuries from their fights . . . this rain of stone and mortar seemed to be an almost obscene and unnecessary finale. Almost as if the gods wanted to make sure that he understood, intimately, that there was no way that his friend could have survived.
Of course, he had saved countless lives by doing so, his friends were certain to remind him of that again and again in the future . . . but it hardly seemed like any consolation at the moment. He didn't even notice when the two flying girls took off to try to minimize the damage, there was nothing they could do to help Ryouga now anyway . . .
"Ranma?" Akane's voice sounded gently from behind him. "We . . . we should go now, you and Raven are hurt, we need to get you to a hospital." Her words were filled with compassion and sadness, but he knew that she didn't understand what was going through his mind at that moment.
"You . . . you guys go on ahead. I just . . . need some time to think." he muttered in reply. He didn't even have the energy left to argue; instead he just simply dropped down to his knees and stared at the scene before him.
"Ranchan, you really should have your injuries looked at, you're in pretty rough shape . . ." He felt a soft hand come to rest on his shoulder, gently trying to pull him away from the devastated area.
Suddenly, he just snapped, he couldn't take all of the concern for his well being, not after what he had just done to his friend! He spun around and knocked Ukyou's hand away angrily. "Just leave me alone! Can't you guys ever try to understand my feelings for once? Do you always have to force what you think is "best for me"?" he barked angrily. He didn't mean it, not really, but it just felt so good to lash out at anyone, everyone.
The poor chef stepped back, shock on her face. All around her, people turned to stare, uncertain looks on their faces. The look of hurt on Ukyou's face, and Akane's as well, stung him, but at that instant, he couldn't bring himself to care.
"Don't even try it, Cologne." he whispered icily, not even turning to acknowledge the ancient staff that was floating only an inch above one of the pressure points on the back of his neck. "You'll have to kill me if you want to move me." he threatened, channeling a bit of the 'Soul of Ice' into it. A moment later, he sensed the staff move away from his vulnerable neck.
"Son in law, you are being a fool . . . but if that is your wish, then so be it." muttered the old woman.
Robin walked up and looked down at him. The two of them held the gaze for a moment, before the boy spoke. "We don't have time to argue with you, Raven is seriously hurt. Just signal us with this when you're ready." offered the boy quietly. The masked hero then tossed him his communicator and turned to walk away. He was soon followed by the rest of the costumed heroes, as well as Kunou and Mousse.
Akane, Ukyou and Shampoo lingered for several moments, staring at him sadly. His words had hurt them, he could tell, but he just needed to be alone, didn't want to be surrounded by their petty arguments in the face of what he had just done to Ryouga.
Slowly, he turned around, back to the huge tomb that he had created for his closest rival. A few moments later, he heard the uncertain steps of his fiancées, as they finally left him to his contemplations.
He lost track of how long he knelt there, just remembering all of the times that he had crossed paths with Ryouga. How much the lost boy aggravated him, with his constant fights, his nonsense grudges and his constantly masquerading as Akane's pet. And how much the fanged warrior had helped him out, had pushed him to increase his own skills. Had anyone, anywhere, ever possessed such a strange friend?
His train of thought was derailed by the quiet approach of footsteps. Still not feeling up to company, he growled out angrily. "I thought I told you to leave me alone!"
"Yeah? Well do I look like someone that gives a damn what you say?" barked back the number two voice on his list of people he never thought to see again.
He spun around, woozily, to stare in surprise at Jinx. Only to collapse in complete shock, when he saw the figure that was heavily draped across her shoulder. The sight of Jinx, bloody and bruised, with an unconscious Ryouga Hibiki being barely held up at her side, it was just too much for him to take in. All he could do was stare stupidly as she struggled arduously to drag the insensate boy several more feet toward him.
"Oh, for crying out loud! Would you get over and help me with this guy? He weighs a ton!" she finally shouted in frustration. Her words returned him to his senses, and he jumped up and helped her move the boy a few more feet before they finally lied him down on a relatively clear piece of the street. The first thing that he did, was check the boy for a pulse, which he found soon after, weak but present. He didn't even know what to say.
"He's – You're – what – how?" he stuttered randomly, trying to piece together a complete sentence.
Slightly irate, the girl smacked him across the back of the head, causing them both to wince in pain at the contact.
"How do you think I found him? Someone had to do something after you and that orange skinned bimbo left him for dead in there." she replied, her voice filled with bitterness.
He ducked his head at her sharp words, but there was some truth to them. "We tried to save him . . . we really did. But we had to do it, too many lives were at stake." he admitted sadly. He couldn't quite bring himself to look at the villainous girl.
Her next words surprised him though. "I – I know. That's the only reason that brought him back here. He doesn't deserve a criminal like me, if . . . if I had been in your place, I likely would have just grabbed him and ran, I wouldn't have even thought about all of those other people." she said, her voice heavy with shame.
Ranma looked back at her, disbelief on his face. "What? Doesn't deserve you? You just jumped into the heart of the biggest Hiryua Shoten Ha in the history of the world just to save his butt! You just risked your life to save his, when no one else was willing to even try, and now your trying to tell me that you're just an unfeeling crook?" he asked incredulously.
Her eyes filled with surprise at his reply. "B-but -"
"But what? Look at you! You still have pieces of church sticking out of you!" He gestured to the multitude of tiny pieces of shrapnel that were caught in the girl's clothing and skin. God, she must have been in as much pain as he was in after fighting the Headmaster. "I don't know hardly nothin about you, but I do know this. Anyone crazy enough to willingly jump into something like that, just to save someone they cared about, can not be a bad person. If that was all I knew about ya, that would be enough for me to respect ya. But he. . . he loves ya." he pointed to the boy lying on the ground between him. "He loves ya for real, and anyone that's important to Ryouga, is someone that I would gladly consider to be a friend."
The girl's terrifying eyes filled with crystal tears at his words and she clasped her hands tightly over her heart for a moment. Slowly, the heartfelt look slipped away, replaced by a serious expression. "That- that means a lot to me. But, as a friend, can you promise me something?" she asked quietly.
He shrugged. "Uh . . . sure, I suppose. I can keep a promise." he offered, curious to hear what she would say.
She smiled sadly after he spoke. "Good, then . . . I want you to promise not to tell anyone what I did for Ryouga today." she finally said.
The martial artist sputtered incoherently. "W-w-what! Why on earth would you want me to do that? You saved his life! You'd be a friggin hero, Ryouga will love you till the sun burns out when I tell him how you saved him. Hell, if Robin, or anyone tries to arrest you, I'll pound their faces in myself!" he cried in confusion. Why on earth would she want that?
"That's just it, I can't go back with you, Ranma. I've done too much stuff, there's no way the Titan's would let me go free. They'd be wrong to anyway, I'm a criminal after all. I don't expect you to understand, you're just like Ryouga: a little dumb . . . in a sweet way." she smiled that sad smile again as she spoke.
"Jinx! Everyone thinks that you abandoned him, they'll likely tell that to Ryouga too. There's no way I can let that happen, not after you nearly killed yourself just to save the moron! I gotta tell him!" He couldn't believe what she was saying!
The young sorceress glared at him. "You can't! You promised you wouldn't tell anyone!"
Once again, he was sputtering incoherently. "But – but – Ryouga, You . . . Damn!" Dammit, he did it again! Why did people make him keep these stupid promises? He just knew, that if Ryouga and Jinx could just speak about this, that everything would work out. Why were girls always so stupid? "Fine! Fine, I won't tell anyone, but I think you're makin a huge mistake."
She spoke quietly, her voice quivering with pain. "Maybe . . . maybe I am. But Ryouga deserves someone better than me. I think that Raven has a better chance at making him happy than I ever could. They both deserve some happiness in their lives . . . and maybe without me in the way . . . they can find it."
Ha! Not if he had anything to say about it! There was no way he was going to let this girl's self sacrifice be for nothing. He couldn't actually say what she had done, but he was sure he could find a way around that. He was tired of people taking advantage of the fact that he wasn't a stinkin liar like his pops. "Of course, I'm sure they'll both be very happy." he replied, a bit too cheerfully.
Jinx stared at him a bit strangely for a moment, but then dismissed it. She looked down at the unconscious boy one more time. She gently ran her hand down the boy's face, caressing his cheek lovingly. Ranma stared on, a little jealous, but mostly sad for his friend. Absently, Jinx focused on her arm, as she reached down to Ryouga.
Apparently something caught her attention, and in a grizzly display, she used her free hand to pluck one of the pieces of shrapnel from her arm. She held it up before her, looking at it in morbid fascination. It looked to Ranma, like a tiny horses head, but for some reason it had an even tinier horn growing from its forehead. The girl then wiped it off a bit on her shirt, to no real effect, then handed it to him.
"Can you give this to him? Just – just as a momento I guess. I think he might know what it means." she asked hopefully.
He looked at the tiny piece of figurine, before putting it carefully into a pocket. "Yeah, no problem . . . So, what are you gonna do now?" he asked in concern.
She seemed to ignore his question, staring once again at Ryouga's still face. Then, surprising him greatly, she leaned down and pressed her lips to the fanged boy's lips. The pink haired girl lingered for several moments, lost in the kiss, before she finally broke it off and sat up once more. She stared at him, a hint of a smile on her lips now.
"And you definitely can't tell Raven about that, okay?" she joked. He just smiled and chuckled, definitely not understanding this girl. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do, I told Nabiki and the others that I needed some time to myself. I think I might use that time to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life." she added.
The pigtailed boy nodded, that seemed like a good an idea as any. Maybe she would actually come to her senses and get back together with Ryouga too.
At that, Jinx rose to her feet and began to move away. But not before leaning down, and planting a tender kiss on his forehead. Ranma reeled at the contact, her lips were so soft, but so cool, for some reason though, it made him feel a little better as well. Then Jinx stood back up, winked at him playfully, and walked towards the nearest alleyway.
"It probably doesn't mean anything coming from me, but I wish you . . . luck, with your life." she offered kindly; one last parting comment over her shoulder before she vanished between a pair of buildings.
Ranma could only sit by his unconscious friend, staring in wonder at the girl that had just left. He really wished that he had gotten to know the girl better, even though her eyes scared the heck out of him. He had never felt more sad for his friend, than at that moment.
He didn't even notice the disturbingly large pool of red liquid that remained on the ground where Jinx had been sitting. He probably wouldn't have thought anything of it anyway, heck, most of it was probably Ryouga's . . .
. . . Right?
Jinx stumbled into the alleyway, thankful to finally be out of the pigtailed boy's line of sight. She lurched several more feet into the opening, just to make sure, before the pain finally overwhelmed her. With an agonized whine, she slumped against the wall and slowly slid down until she was sitting on the ground.
Gingerly, she lifted the hem of her skirt, just enough to reveal the jagged piece of wood that had impaled her pale thigh. She hissed in pain, just looking at the thing; it burned like fire and was oozing a rather steady stream of red liquid. There wasn't anything she could do about it though, so she just dropped her skirt and tried her best to forget about it.
She leaned back against the wall, resting her weary head against the rough bricks. It was really for the best this way. She knew that Raven and Ryouga would be happy together, and it was better that Ryouga thought she abandoned him. That way, he would never come looking for her, and besides him, no one would ever notice her absence.
Her eyes began to droop closed, and she did nothing to stop it. She supposed she should feel a little bad for lying to Gizmo and Mammoth, telling them that she would only be gone for a few days, but it just didn't seem to be that important anymore.
Absently, she noticed she was starting to feel a little light headed, but it was actually nice, seemed to take the pain away with it . . . The darkness was soothing too, no distracting flashes of vision disturbing her little nap.
As the world faded to black, one last time, she had only one real complaint . . .
. . . why was . . .
. . . she . . .
. . . so . . .
. . . cold?
The tiny unicorn fragment continued to turn over and over and over in his hand. He'd lost track of how long it had been since Ranma had left . . . hours maybe? A tiny beam of refracted light caught his eye, as the tiny piece of glass twisted just so in the light. It drew his attention to the source of the light, the rising sun outside the window.
He chuckled slightly at that, had he actually been sitting up all night, just considering what Ranma had said? The pigtailed boy had stayed with him for nearly two hours, as the two of them tinkered around on the computer, just passing the time as friends. But as soon as the boy had left, Ryouga had been lost in a haze of memory.
Oddly, he didn't really feel tired at all, or hungry . . . He did feel though, he had felt it throughout the night, the incremental return towards his normal state of mind. He wasn't there yet, but at least he didn't feel numb all the time anymore. He felt sad, he would have been worried if he hadn't considering what he had lost. He felt depressed, perhaps a little more than usual, but nothing that disturbed him. But he couldn't say that he really felt bad, not after spending two nights in a row just . . . talking with his friends. Ranma and Starfire, they had both gone a long way to making him feel better.
And this tiny unicorn . . . he didn't know why, but it made him feel better. He could almost swear, that he could still sense just a tiny fragment of . . . of her within it. He wasn't feeling the tight knot of bitterness that he had been holding onto since speaking with Beast Boy either. Ever since his talk with his rival . . . he just couldn't bring himself to think ill of her.
A gentle knock at his door shocked him completely out of his contemplative trance; nearly causing him to drop his tiny treasure!
He took a second to gather his wits, before he got up to answer the door. With a swish, the door opened to reveal the smiling face of Kasumi. To say he was a bit surprised was an understatement. What could she want at this hour? Still, it was Kasumi, so anything but polite just wasn't an option.
"Um . . . come on in, Kasumi. How can I help you?" he asked.
The eldest Tendo bowed politely, then entered the room. She took a moment to look around, then paced around a bit, which he found to be a bit curious, until she finally came to sit on his bed. Though she never lost her smile, she seemed to be . . . nervous? Hmm, but that didn't really reconcile with what he knew of the girl at all.
She didn't seem very forthcoming yet, so he decided to try again. He leaned casually against the wall and caught the girl's eyes. "So, Kasumi, what brings you by so early?"
"Well . . . um, last night, after you and Ranma left, everyone decided to take a day out on the town today, since . . . everyone is heading back to Japan tomorrow. We were just wondering if you wanted to come as well?" she asked happily.
Something odd was going on around here, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. "And you felt the need to tell me this before six A.M.?"
If he put her off, she gave no sign. "Well, they did plan out a rather long list of things to do. All of the girls want to go shopping, and visit several restaurants and clubs. I think there is also a visit to a zoo and a theme park included. Really, it will be a very busy day." she beamed happily.
"That sounds . . . like a day that a bunch of girls would have planned." he conceded. "I . . . don't think I'm really up for running around the mall or the zoo with everyone today, could you please tell everyone that I'll pass on today. I hope you aren't offended?" he asked, sincerely hoping that she wasn't. He just couldn't picture himself acting all happy and prancing around with a bunch of giddy girls. Especially if most of them were going to be mooning over Ranma anyways, that would probably be just a bit too much for him so soon.
"Oh, well I'm sure you can keep Raven and Mousse company, since they aren't able to go on the trip." she stated, a bit less sunnily.
He looked at her, noting the odd expression on her usually beatific face. "Kasumi . . . you knew that I wasn't going to go on this trip from the start, didn't you?" he asked a bit suspiciously.
Her initial response was to simply nod, not quite matching his gaze. "I did, but it's always polite to ask, regardless." Then she looked away, wringing her hands ever so casually. "But . . . but there is another matter I would like to discuss with you, one that I think involves both of us."
"Sure, Kasumi, you can talk to me about anything, after all this time, how could I offer anything less." he replied. Kasumi had always been there for everyone, lending her an ear was quite literally the least he could do to repay that. She was acting a bit odd though.
"Thank you. There is one thing I wanted to ask you first though . . ." she started off, staring at him quietly.
". . . what do you plan to do after all of this?"
Robin dragged himself off of his R-Cycle, and started to stagger for the elevator door that led from the garage up to the main tower. He was utterly and totally drained! To think, he had spent the entire night chasing down that dried up, grizzled old – old . . . man, he needed to devise a new curse word to describe that old man.
Chasing Happosai had been like trying to catch the wind. No matter what he did, no matter how close he got, just when he thought he had the old man, he slipped through his fingers like he'd never been. It was about the time that he noticed the sun starting to rise, that he realized that there was no way he was going to catch the old goat that night. About the only upside to the whole fiasco, was that the old man hadn't had the chance to snatch anymore underwear with him on his tail.
After what felt like forever, he finally reached the elevator door. He was going to sleep for the rest of the week if he had it his way. He was just about to push the button -
When the elevator dinged loudly, and the doors slid open before him. Suddenly he was besieged by a flood of bodies pouring out of the elevator and trying to crush him. A choir of voices came flooding out of the elevator with the herd.
"Hey! What's going on?" he yelled out, just to stop from getting trampled.
"Robin! There you are, you must accompany us on this day of shopping and fun!" came Starfire's voice from the crowd. She followed it soon after, sailing through the crowd to latch onto his arm. His heart skipped a beat, as he saw the stunning and simple yellow sun dress the girl was wearing. Wait, day of shopping? Now that he thought about it, everyone certainly looked . . . touristy, this morning. Pretty much everyone was present, except Ryouga, Raven and that long haired guy . . . Mousse, that was it.
"Star . . . you know what, you guys all go and have fun. Personally, I'm dead on my feet, I'd only slow you down." he replied, valiantly ignoring how cute his best friend looked at that moment. "Besides, someone should be 'on call' just in case."
A few minutes, and several requests from Starfire for him to change his mind, and he was finally on his way up to the tower. He hoped they all had fun, since all of their Japanese and Chinese guests were planning on leaving the next day. The only one that was still laid up in the medical bay was Raven, and as fast a healer as she was, she'd likely be there for awhile yet. Hmm, on that train of thought, he decided to take a detour past the med bay, both to check on his friend and to get some band aids for himself. Happi hadn't exactly been an overly gentle dance partner.
If he ever even saw another pipe in his life . . . That was it, he was going to start a new anti smoking law, if only to make sure those cursed things were outlawed.
Of course, life being as crazy as it had been lately, the scene that greeted him when he entered the med bay almost didn't surprise him at all. And considering what he saw, that worried him somewhat.
Raven was in the Med bay, of course, lying comfortably in her bed. That was just as he expected . . . it was everything else that threw him for a loop. All of the lights were dimmed to barely mood lighting. All of the other beds were no longer empty, instead they were now covered with dozens and dozens of ancient old tomes. There were a number of candles lit and placed strategically around the room, as well as several incense sticks.
Overall, he would say the effect was very, Ravenesque. Now normally - normally he would ask how the girl could have accomplished all of this since he'd seen her yesterday, but the answer to that was in the room as well. Sitting on a stool at the end of Raven's bed, expertly massaging her bare feet, was the long haired Amazon boy, Mousse.
Robin just stared at the scene, not quite able to wrap his head around the concept. Raven, reading comfortably, getting a foot massage from the very person that had tried to kill her less than a week earlier? Both of the rooms occupants turned to regard him, probably wondering why he was just standing in the open doorway like he was. Really, there was only one thing that he could think to do in his sleep deprived state of mind.
The masked Titan simply took a step backwards . . .
And calmly closed the door.
The entire day blew by faster than Ukyou could have imagined. She couldn't remember the last time she had had even close to that much fun. Spending the day shopping with Bumblebee (with Kunou kind enough to foot the bill for all of the ladies) had been a wild time. With the Titans as their guides, they had seen probably all of the fun parts of the town. From the mall in the morning, to the dance clubs at night. Really, it had been a full day.
So it was, with a small bit of regret, that she now stood assembled with Akane, Ranma and everyone else, preparing to say goodbye to the Titans and head back to Japan. Everyone was saying their goodbyes, exchanging numbers, handing out communicators (she really liked hers, Cyborg had painted a little spatula on the front of it) It really was one of those touchy feely moments that she usually tried to avoid for the most part. Everything seemed to be going as scheduled, right up to the point that Ranma stepped forward and declared it was time to head out.
"Um . . ."
"About that . . ."
Kasumi stepped forward first and moved to stand by Cyborg. "Everyone, I wanted to tell you all . . . that I've decided to stay on here, with the Teen Titans. Cyborg has offered to teach me how to use all of his medical technology, as well as all of the medicine that I would need to understand it. I believe that this is a good opportunity for me." she explained seriously.
Ukyou gasped at the older girls words. Instantly, she spun to look at Akane, waiting for the girl to explode, or cry, or argue or – or something. But the youngest Tendo didn't do any of those things, she just nodded sadly, in understanding.
"Don't worry, Kasumi, I'll tell father about your choice. You're right though, this is a good opportunity, you might even be able to get into medical school!" said Akane, her voice strong and supportive. "I'm going to miss you though, big sister, you'll write, won't you?"
The older girl smiled and nodded. "Everyday, dear sister."
Ranma didn't seem entirely happy with her decision though, probably since it only left Akane to cook for him on a regular basis. "But – but Kasumi! I-i-it's not safe here! Isn't there a better place for you to learn medicine than with a bunch of people that get attacked on a daily basis?" he asked, a little desperation seeping into his voice.
Kasumi just smiled wider, likely not understanding the boy's real reason for wanting her to come home. "Maybe, but I believe that I can learn more from Mr. Cyborg here, than I could in many medical schools. That and our father can't really afford to pay for that kind of education. And as for safety, I've also asked Ryouga to stay as well." she added happily.
The bandanna clad boy shrugged. "It wasn't really a necessary request. I was already planning on staying. I was the one that injured Raven, I'm bound by my honor to stay here, at the very least until she's well enough to fight again. Besides . . . it's nice to fight for something that actually matters, I think that I might be able to make a difference here."
Robin dropped a companionable hand onto the lost boy's shoulder. "We've already discussed it, we're going to make Ryouga an official member, at least until Raven is fit for duty again. When it comes to that, then we'll decide where to go from there." explained the Titan leader.
Hmm, well, the boy had a good reason to stay anyway. Again, she noticed the disappointed look on her fiance's face, it seemed like he didn't enjoy the prospect of losing so many people that were so important to him. But he didn't argue this time, since he obviously understood why Ryouga felt he needed to stay.
It was about then, that Kunou took the stage, so to speak. "I too, shall not be returning back to the home of my youth." he stated proudly. He moved to stand beside a widely smiling Bumblebee, not that that was surprising at all. "I too have sins to atone for, and have also tasted the sweet nectar of fighting the noble fight. No longer would I be satisfied, battling such a base and unworthy foe as you, Saotome. Instead, I intend to place my sword arm into the service of my most heroic classmate."
Bumblebee smiled, then dropped an elbow onto the boy's shoulder, leaning against him comfortably. "Yeah, we're gonna head back to my home town on the East coast. I figure we could put together a pretty decent team there, start cleanin up some of the scum around. Who knows, maybe in time, we'll be known as well as you Titan's are known over here."
"Nay! For though we are only two, we shall shine more brightly than a hundred Titans. The legend of our deeds will spread to all of the corners of the world!" pontificated the proud young man. A few people looked about ready to argue that particular point, when Bumblebee cleared her throat.
The girl then closed her eyes and raised a finger, looking suddenly like a university lecturer. "Mental bearing, not skill, is the sign of a matured samurai. A Samurai therefore should neither be pompous nor arrogant." quoted the girl, somewhat obscurely. She then turned without another word, and began walking for the bridge.
Kunou was hot on her heels. "What was that? What great warrior spoke those words, they ring with wisdom and humility."
His dark skinned companion only giggled and continued on her way.
Whether Ranma actually cared about Kunou moving on as well, he didn't have a chance to show it, as suddenly Cologne, of all people, hopped forward.
"Oh, to heck with it. Things are just getting too amusing here for me to leave just yet." he cackled loudly.
"Great Grandmother, you stay here with Titans?" asked the concerned Shampoo.
Cologne just waved her off. "You head on home, you have a restaurant that needs to be reopened and a fiance to win. Don't worry your head off though, I only plan to stay for a few days at the most. I just want to make sure that Raven is recovering and that Robin isn't too put out by Happosai's nightly escapades."
The chef noticed the masked vigilante give a silent thanks for that.
"As soon as I'm satisfied that everyone has settled in here, I'll head back home as well. Now you children be on your way, you don't want to miss your flight." ordered the older woman.
Ukyou sighed at that. She had a restaurant to get back to as well, and a fiance to win . . . She looked over to the pigtailed boy in question, standing elbow to elbow with Akane. Just like he had been the day before, on their day on the town. And the night before that, sitting beside the girl on the couch during the movie. In fact, he hadn't really gone out of his way to talk to her the whole trip really. She had kept herself busy these past few days, spending time with her newest friend, Bumblebee, so she hadn't really noticed, not until she stopped to think about it.
What did he see in that girl, anyway? She wasn't any prettier than her, that was for sure. She was by far the worst cook of them all. And though she was a skilled fighter in her own right, the Tendo girl still fell behind the rest of them in that area as well. So what strange, mystical quality did she possess, that made Ranma always seek her out, no matter how badly she treated him at times.
She looked down the bridge once more, staring at the retreating forms of Bumblebee and Kunou, then back to Ranma and Akane. Did she really want to go back to that, jumping back into the same rut that she had been in for as long as she cared to remember? Maybe . . . maybe it was time for a change, time to shake things up.
Maybe it was time that Ukyou did something for Ukyou, instead of dedicating her life to her pursuit of Ranma. Maybe it was time that she did something worth while, did something that would make a difference as well. Ryouga did make a good point, she couldn't remember the last time that she did anything that actually made her feel better about herself, instead of feeling like a scheming little shrew.
Besides . . . they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Making probably the most impulsive decision of her life, she ran forward and grabbed Ranma's face with both hands. Then she planted the biggest kiss of her life on the jackass! She lingered for nearly ten seconds, enjoying the feel of her first real kiss with the pigtailed boy. Then, just as Akane and Shampoo began to explode in jealous anger, she turned and fled, leaving a stunned martial artist in her wake.
"Konatsu, take care of the restaurant while I'm away, ask Cologne for help when she gets back!" she yelled, feeling strangely exhilarated at her impulsive decision. Before anyone even had a chance to argue, or in Ranma's case, regain his senses, she was already speeding down the bridge towards her future teammates, and towards her future.
"Hey Bee! Wait up!"
Ranma could only stare as Ukyou ran off to join Bumblebee and Kunou. Heck, he was still reeling from that kiss, it had been . . . something else. But he felt that lump in his stomach grow just that much more. Why was everyone abandoning him like this? Ryouga he understood, he had a duty to help Raven, but Kasumi, Ukyou, even Kunou? They were gonna end up heading back to Nerima with less people than they left with in the first place!
He looked to the dark haired Tendo standing sadly beside him. With a loud sigh, he realized that he was being selfish. What did he really have to complain about? Sure, he was losing friends, but Akane had lost both of her sisters, one to villainy and the other to heroism. He didn't even want to imagine what must be going through his fiancée's mind right then.
Then, Akane turned to face him, a weak smile on her face. "Come on, Ranma, we have to go catch our flight. We've already missed over two weeks of school, you know?"
He sighed again, looking back to his rival and the Titans one last time. He was sure going to miss the directionless jerk, not to mention he was going to have to find someway to find training on par with what Ryouga was likely going to find here. Still, he was the best after all, and really . . . there was no shortage of crime in Tokyo. A sinister smile spread on his lips at that particular thought.
"Yeah, yeah, sheesh, do ya always gotta be so uncute." he muttered. He waved one last time, smiling as all of the heroes waved their goodbyes. "C'mon Akane, we gotta plane to catch."
It was time to go home . . .
It was about then, that Akane swatted him across the back of the head.
The young woman paced back and forth across the gravel rooftop of the building. Her patience was starting to wear thin, as she waited to hear back from her team mate. Her other team mate, sitting on a nearby air-conditioning unit and casually polishing his shield, looked up from his work to glare at her.
"Do you have to keep pacing like that? It's starting to get on my nerves, civilian." muttered the young man.
She didn't even bother to respond to the boy's comment, as if she cared that she was getting on his nerves. If Bumblebee hadn't told her where he was passed out, he'd likely still be at the bottom of the Hive academy, or at least what was left of it.
She was still in awe at what those damned martial artists had done to her home! She had thought that Ryouga had been a monster before, just from his skill in the martial arts. But then she had seen the column of energy that he had created, then the tornado that his other friend had created to destroy it. She shook her head in disgust, there was no way those two could even be remotely human, nothing she had seen before had even compared to what those two had done. The sheer level of destruction . . .
The crunch of gravel heralded the approach of their third teammate. See-more moved towards them, from where he had been standing on the edge of the roof, his keen vision turned towards the Titan's tower.
"Did you see her, See-more?" she demanded angrily.
The boy smirked arrogantly at her question. "Heh, you know me, Angel, I see everyt-"
"Oh, for the love of God, if you make even one more joke that involves your damned eyeball, I swear I'm going to remove it, got it?" she shouted in utter annoyance.
He gulped nervously at that. "Um, yeah, I saw her, she's leaving the tower now, but she's not leaving alone. She's got Kunou with her, and that girl with the giant spatula too." reported the man.
"Her!" hissed Private Hive from his corner of the roof. "This couldn't be more perfect, now we can achieve revenge against the traitor and that – that girl that humiliated me!"
Angel rolled her eyes. "Don't be stupid, there's no way that the three of us can take the three of them. If it had only been the two of them, maybe, but not all three." she grumbled in annoyance. She was desperately looking for some payback against her supposed friend! She was still burning with shame and humiliation, to think that her best friend had been a damned spy! That she had been a hero the whole time, that she just pretended to be her friend…!
She glared at both of her teammates. Of the two, Private Hive understood her motivation the best. He had been humiliated by both girls, Ukyou and Bumblebee, so his thirst for vengeance ran just as deep as hers.
As for See-more, he was just grateful that they had saved him as well. Not that she intended too, the only reason that she had went down to check out the Holding Area was because Kunou had been sent there. That had been before she had found out that Kunou and Mousse had broken the Headmaster's control and joined their friends again. Still, she had found See-more there regardless, and they had saved him from pretty much certain doom, abandoned by the Titans in the holding sphere.
But where did that leave them? She still had no idea what happened to Nabiki, Mammoth, Gizmo, Kyd Wykkyd or Billy Numerous. She and her new companions had been watching the Titan's covertly since they had escaped the building, but they never saw Nabiki or the rest leave at any time. It was possible they had died in the explosion, though it seemed unlikely, considering what she knew about the girl.
They did know that the Headmaster, XL Terrestrial and the Instigator had all been taken into custody. In fact, both of her former classmates were being held in the local prison, within the super villain wing. Where they had taken the Headmaster, she had no idea.
Hmm, that gave her an idea. "We can't beat them in a fair fight, so obviously we need to increase the odds in our favor." she said, her voice dripping malevolence.
Private Hive smiled wickedly at that. "Yes! Our classmates aren't being held too far from here, all we have to do is free them, then we can get our revenge on those damned girls!" he cheered.
See-more nodded in agreement. "Heh, it shouldn't be a problem for us to break them out, then all we have to do is track those heroes to their final destination."
She smiled one last time. "Yes, we will have our revenge. Soon, soon that traitorous Bumblebee will face the combined wrath . . ."
"Of the Hive Five!"
Slowly, the girl's eyes fluttered open, flooding her world with blinding light. With agonizing effort, she lifted an arm and covered her sensitive eyes, not quite ready to deal with the light yet. Everything was hurting, especially her leg, and it was really annoying her. Gradually, the light receded back to a more reasonable level, or rather her eyes adjusted to the, actually rather dim lighting of the room.
With a little effort, she dropped her aching arm to her side, and took in her surroundings.
"So, sleeping beauty is finally wake, I see." teased a familiar voice.
She turned her head, just enough to see Nabiki Tendo leaning casually by the room's door. As soon as she was noticed, the girl pushed off from the wall and walked across the room.
"Nabiki? Don't tell me that you're in charge of Hell already." she muttered morosely.
The middle Tendo smirked wickedly, before taking a seat in the chair right next to her bed. "Heh, not yet, Jinx. One step at a time, you know." joked the brilliant young woman.
Jinx smiled back, or at least tried to, wincing in pain for her trouble. "Well, it's not like I believe in Hell anyway, so you do whatever you want with it . . ." her attempt at humor trailed off, as a serious though crossed her mind. "Nabiki, why am I here . . . why aren't I . . ."
"Why aren't you dead? I'm assuming that is what you're asking about?" asked the brunette.
She could only nod in reply. This was the last place she expected to find herself, well, here and any place else for that matter. "I thought I told you that I was fine. And that after I dropped of Ryouga, that I was going away for a few days." she asked quietly.
Nabiki rolled her eyes dramatically and let out a bark of derisive laughter. "Oh, yes! And I totally believed you as well. I mean, it wasn't as if you were leaving a trail of blood everywhere you went, or that you had that look in your eyes that just screamed "I'm very likely to do something very stupid very soon.". I swear, what is it with teenage girls that makes them such drama queens?" The girl then winked mischievously and giggled before continuing.
"Really, you lose a boyfriend; heck, you didn't even lose him, you gave him away in some misguided sense of nobility. Then you think that suicide is the only answer? I don't know where you picked up this nasty habit of doing the right thing, but frankly I think it's a habit that you should drop quickly. But honestly, it's not worth dying over." said the older girl, trying her best to be supportive, in her own strange way.
Jinx groaned a bit in response. "Yeah, I've been hearing that a lot lately. So where's everyone else then, out planning their first crime?" she replied airily.
The new leader of the Hive Five shook her head in amusement. "Actually, you already motivated our first crime. Though I never imagined in my early days of super villainy, that my first heist would be knocking over a blood bank." said the girl, laughing happily. But then the girl's laugh died down, and her gaze turned serious. "You had us all worried, Jinx. You've been out for five days, even with the transfusion . . . we were starting to wonder if you were coming out of it at all."
She didn't know how to feel about that . . . They – they had gone to that much trouble, robbing medical supplies and watching over her for so long, just to help her. It . . . it was so touching, that they cared that much about her well being. It almost . . . okay, it didn't even come close to making her feel better about losing Ryouga, but at least it was better than bleeding to death in an alleyway . . . Sheesh, did she just think that? She was getting gloomier than Raven!
"So why all the concern anyway? I thought I wasn't even a member of your team, Biki." she asked, a bit more sharply than she intended.
If Nabiki was at all offended, she hid it well. "Are you going on about that again? I told you I had my reasons, besides; did you really think that Gizmo and Mammoth would let you do something so stupid? Those two really care about you, even if they share the same lack of capacity to show it that any immature teenage male does." said Nabiki, smirking weakly.
She nodded slowly in agreement. Those two had been her closest friends for as long as she could remember, and she was actually starting to feel bad for taking them for granted so much lately. She had hardly interacted with them at all since Ryouga came along. Of course, they were both pretty busy with their own interests as well, so there weren't any hard feelings over it. Still, she was curious why she didn't make the cut, when someone like Billy did. How could that hick possibly rate higher than her?
"So, Biki, I'm not going anywhere, why don't you fill me in on a few of those reasons. You aren't threatened by another strong, assertive female in the group, are you?" she asked slyly.
The recently anointed villain rolled her eyes again. "Jinx, I could give you a list of reasons why you're not on the team. But I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm just going to ask you this one question. What do you actually feel like doing now: going out to rob a bank, steal some money, probably hurt some guards and get chased by the Titans; or – or would you rather plant yourself on a couch, curl up with a five gallon bucket of ice cream and watch soaps all day?" asked the Tendo girl, smirking slightly at the question.
Hmm, well, the answer to that one was pretty obvious right now. "Well . . . I have been giving some thought to how the morbidly obese look would work for me . . ." she answered weakly, before sighing sadly. "I guess you're right, Biki . . . my heads just not in the game, there's no way I'd be able to go out and mix it up like we used to . . . Heh, guess I'm on my way to bein a washed up has-been, eh?" she continued, a trace of self loathing seeping into her voice.
Nabiki shook her head slowly, her smirk widening into an actual smile. Then, in a very non-Nabiki move, the girl actually placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "No, Jinx . . . you're on your way to becoming a good person. Don't worry though, I won't throw you into any death traps until after you move out."
Jinx couldn't help herself, as a small giggle escaped her lips. "Thank you, this really means a lot to me, you've been a really good friend . . ." she said, trailing of meaningfully.
". . . now, about that ice cream?"
Raven sighed loudly, somewhat disappointed in herself. She had been there to see off their new friends yesterday, with everyone else, but as soon as they had left, she had sequestered herself to her room. She wasn't quite up to the idea of dealing with their two newest "recruits" yet. Well, that wasn't quite true, she had absolutely no opinion on Kasumi, the young woman seemed nice enough, but just rubbed her the wrong way for some reason.
No, the real reason that she had locked herself away was relatively obvious. Asides from the very first words that she had spoken to the boy, she had actually gone out of her way to avoid him. She wasn't exactly sure why, it seemed like a very immature thing to do, and she had told Ranma that she had already dealt with her feelings . . .
And yet, here she was . . .
She was being foolish; Ryouga wasn't going anywhere . . . at least not on purpose anyway. Barring him getting lost, he was going to be here for several weeks. Not even someone as reclusive as her could stay locked up in her room for that long . . . she'd starve at that rate.
A sharp rap at her door disrupted her rather unproductive train of though. It had the distinctive sound of wood hitting metal, so unless Beast Boy was hitting her door with a stick, it made the identity of her visitor rather obvious. The dark Titan let out another sigh, and floated over to open the door.
The rather unsurprising sight of Cologne, perched upon her staff, outsider her door greeted her. "Ah, good, I was starting to worry that you were avoiding me as well." cackled the old woman happily.
Raven ducked her head slightly, apparently she was being pretty transparent lately. "Come in, Elder, is there something you want to talk about?" she asked quietly.
In truth, she had actually been glad to hear that Cologne was planning to stay on for a few more days as well. Raven had been feeling somewhat unbalanced since the final battle with the Headmaster. When she had been forced to dive into the man's psyche . . . she had seen things which she hadn't wished to see . . .
"Several things, several things . . . possibly resuming your training, for one thing. However, I doubt that is very high on your list of priorities at the moment, is it?" replied the old woman.
"No . . . not exactly . . ." she agreed quietly. Slowly, she floated back to her bed and sat down once more. Idly she picked up one of her old books and started flipping through the ancient pages.
Cologne followed her, coming to stop a few feet in front of her, once again balancing on the staff that she carried with her everywhere. The old woman then stared at her owlishly for several moments. "You, can't avoid him forever, you know. Nor is there any reason for you to. I'm certain that once you speak with him, this tension that is hanging over the tower will lessen greatly."
Raven nodded imperceptibly. "I know . . . but, can we really just be friends again, after everything that's happened? I mean, we came so close to . . . that, but then so many terrible things happened . . . I just don't know what to think about him anymore." she admitted sadly.
It was true, though the rational part of her mind told her that this was a non issue, the very purpose of her existence precluded her from any form of lasting relationship, her heart was telling her differently. One half of her was still smitten with the boy, he had been so sweet, so caring; he was so different from any other boy she had met before. But the other half of her was terrified of him, the awesome display of his power atop the church, the bestial expression on his face when he nearly killed her . . . the fact that he nearly killed her.
There seemed to be no middle ground left between the two opposing views of him. Unfortunately, this didn't seem to be something that she would be able to reason out. However, one thing that she had never been was a coward. Yes, she would talk to the boy. Maybe it was possible that they could become friends again, if only for the sake of their working relationship.
"I understand that, Raven, but I think you will find him to be quite subdued lately. Much has happened lately, and I think one more friend would do nothing to hurt either of you. Besides, Garfield has been starting to get out of hand, without you to . . . balance him." said the ancient warrior, smiling wryly.
She smirked at bit at that though herself. She'd deal with Garfield later, she'd been just waiting for the opportunity to torment him on that score. But, first thing first. "Very well, Cologne. You wouldn't happen to know where he is, would you?"
"In his room, last I checked anyway. I still say that young Cyborg should implant him with some form of tracking device, just in case the fool boy forgets his communicator lying around. HA! But, oh well, I have to be off anyway, I need to give Robin a few more pointers for tonight's "hunt"." she explained, cackling in amusement.
And thus, it was several minutes later, that Raven found herself standing outside of the door of one, Ryouga Hibiki. She took a slow, calming breath, before finally building up the nerve to knock on the boy's door. A moment later, said door slid open, revealing the bandanna wearing boy himself. A look of shock actually appeared on the boy's face, as soon as he realized just who it was that had come calling.
"Um – Raven! Hello there . . . what can I do for you?" asked the boy nervously. She could sense the conflicting emotions in him, even as he spoke to her, or tried to anyway. He did seem happy to see her, but he was also feeling shame, embarrassment, sadness and another dozen emotions besides. Frankly, she wondered how he managed to survive half the time, considering how many wildly conflicting emotions he seemed to be burdened with.
"I . . . just want to talk. You don't mind talking with me, do you?" she asked a bit pointedly. Okay, maybe she was coming off a little confrontational, she'd have to watch that.
The boy seemed to regain some of his sense, and quickly agreed, inviting her into his room. At first, they spoke awkwardly and haltingly. He showed her the programs that he had gotten at the Hive academy, she told him about some of the meditation techniques that Cologne had taught her.
After a time, she actually felt him beginning to relax in her presence, and found that it was catching. Soon they were talking easily, he told her amusing tales about Ranma and many of the adventures they had. She gladly reciprocated with a few tales of her own exploits with her friends.
Eventually, the even began to laugh and share some of their stranger quirks, like Raven's irrational antipathy for the seemingly perfect Kasumi. It went back and forth like that for most of the afternoon, until she finally decided to ask him the question that had been on her mind for the past day or so.
"So, Ryouga, why did you really choose to stay here, instead of going home? Staying to protect Kasumi is a very thin excuse, and taking my place while I'm injured, while it's a sweet gesture, it's not really necessary." she pointed out.
Ryouga nodded, smiling slightly. "Yeah, I know that, but I didn't really feel like explaining my real reasons in front of everyone. I don't think many of my friends would have understood, except maybe Ranma."
She nodded silently, encouraging him to continue.
"Well, Kasumi and I, we've both let our lives be determined by the people around us for a long, long time. For as long as I can remember, my life has practically revolved around Ranma. Everything I did, was to beat him, everywhere I traveled, was to find him. My entire existence was wrapped up in trying to match up to him, but he was always one step ahead, an unattainable goal. Kasumi, she was almost trapped in her family. She had to drop out of school to take care of her sisters, she practically became their mother in a way. She doesn't regret it, she loves her sisters, and it was necessary, but now her sisters are all grown up.
So . . . I guess we just decided to get a life, our own lives, if you will. I've been living in Ranma's shadow for a long time. No one ever considers me, except in how I compare with him, no matter how far I push myself, if I fall short of him, it's like my accomplishments mean nothing. I think it's time that I stepped out from under that shadow. I think it's time that I found my own path."
The dark Titan considered his words carefully. That . . . had been more than she had been expecting. So that was what the boy was really after, a clean slate, a chance at a new life. Yes, she could see it, if he had returned home, Ryouga likely would have been pulled right back into the same pattern as before. To truly start fresh, he needed to get away from everything for awhile. It was nothing she had ever experienced herself, but she imagined the desire to be known for ones own worth, could be a powerful driving force.
"I think I can understand that. Have you decided what that path may be yet?"
He smiled widely, his fang darting out over his lip in a way that was infinitely cuter than any attempt that Beast Boy could manage. "Well, I've played the villain for longer than I care to remember . . ."
". . . I think it's time I was the hero for a change."
The next several days passed in an extremely eventful blur. Not crime wise, an entire building being utterly obliterated in a huge glowing tornado seemed to have put the entire criminal underground on it's toes, at least for now. But eventful none the less.
Beast Boy had been happy to see the reclusive Raven finally come out of her room. And better yet, she seemed to be on speaking terms with Ryouga as well. Whether that was actually a good thing or not, the changeling couldn't decide, since he had the unfortunate association of Raven talking to him being linked tightly to pain and snarky insults.
Cyborg and Kasumi had been studying most of the time, when the older girl wasn't cooking the best meals ever for them. Man, he couldn't believe his luck that it was her that had decided to stay, and not her sister . . . The changeling shuddered at the very idea of that. And he hadn't even eaten any of her cooking.
For the most part, Beast Boy spent his time hanging out with Ryouga and Starfire. Raven and Robin would make occasional appearances, but for the most part they were too busy with Cologne. Raven was doing some kind of funky training, and Robin was still dealing with Happosai's nightly panty raids.
Beast Boy had gone out with Robin once to try to catch the old guy. But, man, that had been as much of that as he could handle. Besides, Robin seemed to take it as personal challenge to catch the guy, and Cologne seemed to be encouraging it.
So, for the past few days, him and Star had taken it upon themselves to acquaint their newest team mate to their fair city, since he ditched on the big tour last time. Thankfully, now that the boy had a communicator on him all the time, he hadn't managed to get lost . . . too badly. Sheesh, it was unbelievable, every time they turned their backs on him, he just vanished.
But, eventually something had to change. So it was, several days later, that Cologne finally declared that it was time for her to head back to Japan as well. It made him a bit sad, having her leave already. Having the old bat around sure was fun! However, the night before her departure, a strange thought went through Beast Boy's mind. He nearly cursed himself for not thinking of it sooner, he couldn't believe it had slipped his mind.
Beast Boy checked the clock in his room, as he slipped into a slightly classier outfit than he usually wore and grabbed the package that he had bought earlier that day. Good, it was only seven, and Cologne's flight wasn't until nearly midnight, so that gave him plenty of time for a small side trip.
With a quick stride, he made his way to Cologne's room, she was likely still packing for the flight. As soon as he reached his destination, he knocked on her door. A moment later, the old woman answered the door, looking at him strangely.
"Hey, Granny, you finished packing yet?" he asked excitedly.
Cologne looked at him strangely, taking in his unusual outfit, a pair of dark dress pants, an equally dark button up shirt and a matching jacket. She also gazed at the package beneath his arm with interest.
"Indeed, young Garfield. Are you planning on going out tonight?" she asked quizzically.
He nodded, smiling happily. "Yeah, and I was hoping you would come along. You and Ryouga and Kasumi too." he explained.
"Hmmm . . . very well, you go fetch Ryouga and bring him here to carry my bags, I will go gather up Kasumi." offered the old woman.
Giddy with excitement, he literally flew off in search of the Lost Boy.
And so it was, some thirty minutes later, the four of them were traveling down a poorly lit street in an extremely bad part of town. If any potential criminals were looking for a group of nervous and vulnerable looking people though, they were highly disappointed.
Finally, Ryouga turned to him, looking a little annoyed at having to lug around Cologne's bags. "So where the heck are we going anyway, Beast Boy. You haven't even given us a hint yet." he growled softly. Kasumi and Cologne nodded in silent agreement.
He nodded back, his smile taking on a somewhat melancholy expression. "I'm taking you to meet . . . an old friend of ours. I feel bad about not introducing her to everyone now. Heh, you and her actually have a lot in common Ryouga."
He led then down another side street, which led to a large hole in the earth. His companion's stared at him in confusion, but he just continued down into the darkness without missing a beat. After a moment, the trio caught up to him. Ryouga sounded like he was about to complain about the pitch darkness, when suddenly the tunnel lit up around them, as a series of lights that Cyborg had installed responded to his communicator's signal.
With a grunt of satisfaction, Ryouga started to walk beside him again. The lost boy looked over, apparently remembering what he had said. "So what do I have in common with this friend of yours?" asked the boy.
He chuckled lightly, he could just see the confused looks on their faces. He could just imagine the questions running through their minds: why was he bringing them down here, what kind of person lived in a cave?
"Well . . . both of you were loners, both of you were lost for a really long time. And . . . and both of you made mistakes, but, in the end, you overcame your mistakes and did the right thing. I . . . I think the two of you would have gotten along really well . . ." he trailed off, his throat began to tighten as he thought about his old friend.
He noticed the look that alighted on their faces, as they caught his minor slip there. Suddenly, the confusion was gone, and a somber mood seemed to descend on them all. The rest of the trip went by in silence as he led them deeper into the tunnel.
Finally, after what felt like forever to the emerald changeling, they entered a large cavern, devoid of anything save one, very special occupant.
His companion's gasped as the lights revealed the stone statue at the center of the cavern. It was a statue of a girl, the most beautiful girl in the world, arms outstretched and her hair blowing in a wind that no longer existed. Beast Boy felt tears well up in his eyes at the sight; it had been too long since he had visited her.
Reverently, he led them up to the statue, close enough to read the plaque at its base. Then, he pulled the package from beneath his arm, and unwrapped it carefully, revealing a bouquet of roses. He then stepped forward, and placed the flowers at the stone girl's feet.
"She's so beautiful." Kasumi's voice. He could only nod, not even turning to look back.
"I want to tell you a story, a story about a very special girl, a girl that I think you would understand really well, Ryouga . . . She - she was a lot of things, a hero, a traitor, a friend . . ." He was having a hard time speaking, his voice choking up badly, as he stood there, staring at the frozen woman before him. Ever so carefully, he reached out and traced his finger along the perfectly smooth stone of her cheek, before turning to face his audience.
He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. He didn't want to do her any injustice while telling her story. Ryouga, Cologne and Kasumi, they all looked back at him, looks of compassion and understanding gracing their faces. He took solace in that, and began to tell her story . . .
"Her name was Terra. She was gifted with tremendous power, and cursed with it as well. She was a dangerous enemy and a good friend and she was one of the bravest people that I have ever known. . . "
Cologne listened with rapt attention. The hours seemed to flow together as the young man weaved the tale. Beast Boy told the story of this unfortunate girl with all of the care and emotion of a great bard. It was obvious that he had cared for her as far more than a simple friend. Beside her, she saw Kasumi; tears freely flowing down her cheeks as she took in the boy's words. On her other side, Ryouga was also battling to contain his tears.
It was a tragic tale, the rash foolishness of youth. What a waste. . . There was nothing that troubled her more than seeing an extraordinary youth cut down before even reaching their prime. Still, it demonstrated, once again, the depths of compassion that these Titans possessed. Terra had betrayed them, and deceived them. Even gone so far as to surrender herself to the service of a man twisted by evil. And yet, they still cared for her enough, to raise this monument in her honor.
Then the boy told them of their final confrontation with Terra. How they battled her, and how he had tracked her back to her master. And ultimately how she fought this "Slade's" control and spared Beast Boy's life. It was a tragic, but noble story.
"But . . . but she was too powerful for Slade . . . Her power triggered a volcano, right beneath the city. She defeated Slade, but she had doomed the city as well." stated the young man.
She looked over to Ryouga, noticing his head hanging in shame. Yes, perhaps there were several parallels here indeed. On her other side, Kasumi gasped in shock. "W-what happened? How did you save the city?" she asked sadly.
Beast Boy shook his head, his melancholy smile still present. "We didn't . . . Terra, she used her power . . . she-she was so powerful, you see . . . She used her power one last time to save us all. Somehow, she stopped the volcano, through sheer force of will, where none of us could have done anything at all. She saved the whole city . . . but she paid the ultimate price." he explained. The boy then turned back to the statue, gazing sadly at the unmoving stone eyes of the girl.
Wait a moment . . . "Garfield . . . is it – is it possible, that you are trying to tell us that this . . . that this is Terra?" she asked, actual disbelief in her voice.
Ryouga and Kasumi both gasped loudly, they hadn't guessed that either.
"Oh my! That poor girl!"
"How is that possible?"
The young changeling nodded. "Yeah, it is . . . was, I guess. We don't know how she did it, and nothing we've been able to do has been able to reverse it, but we're still looking for ways to save her." he replied in a pained voice.
Cologne almost smirked, now she knew the real reason that the boy had asked her to come here. Perhaps he didn't want to get his own hopes up, but she could see the slight glimmer of hope, hidden at the very back of his eyes. While Ryouga and Kasumi just stared on in wonder, she moved forward to examine the stone martyr more closely.
A ropey arm blocked her way, and Beast Boy glared down at her. "You aren't goin near her with that Black eye Fandango, are you?" he growled lightly. She chuckled silently to herself, a valid fear she supposed, considering his friends condition and the skills that she and Ryouga both possessed.
"Worry not, boy. I just wish to examine her, I have never heard of such a thing before, and I have seen a great many things, my young friend." she joked weakly. The boy seemed about to argue for a moment, before finally nodding and moving away.
One last hop took her the rest of the way to the statue. She read the small plaque one last time . . ."Terra, A Teen Titan, A True Friend." it was a touching epitaph. As gently as she could, she began to run her hand over the abdomen of the statue, searching intently for any trace of life.
She let her more mundane senses fade away, focusing only upon her highly trained chi sense. The world seemed to melt away around her, the cavern vanished away as her eyes closed, leaving her in blackness. All sound ceased, leaving her in a void empty of all distraction. Even the physical sensation from her sensitive finger tips vanished, as her sense of touch was not at all important to what she was doing.
Slowly the blackness around her faded, as new sources of light made themselves known. Behind her, and thankfully moving away, was Ryouga's densely powerful aura, shining with azure light. She didn't need to turn to regard him, not in this state. Even with her back turned, she could sense the ebbs and flows of his chi as it flowed through his body, she could almost see it working to continue healing his many injuries.
Then she saw Beast Boy's wild and primal energy. Not nearly so powerful as his martial artist companion, but still far more impressive than most anyone in the city above. Beside him, was Kasumi, her aura a tiny lantern next to the roaring flames of her two friends. Small, but serene and perfectly calm, she possessed an aura of serenity that many masters spent their whole lives to achieve.
She pushed all of those distractions to the side, and focused on what lay before her. She could almost see the outline of the statue before her, traces of the girl's life energy still lingering within the stone. Still, it wasn't what she was looking for, no more than the ambient chi that was possessed by everything on the planet.
No, she had to look . . . deeper. She pushed her focus further, looking deeper into the girl before her . . .
There! There, it was hard to discern, the girls chi, it – it . . . Cologne shook her head and stepped back, letting her normal senses flow back over her. She stared in awe at the statue . . . That girl's chi had been unlike any human chi she had ever sensed.
But, but not unlike any other chi she had ever sensed. No, once she finally saw it for what it was, it seemed so obvious why she had such a difficult time locating her life energy.
Terra's chi, she had sensed it's like before, but not in any person. The only place she had sensed the same energy that this girl possessed, was in Ley Lines . . . she possessed the very same chi as the planet itself!
It made a strange kind of sense, considering her powers, and it explained how her chi had blended in so perfectly with the stone all around them. Cologne looked around the cavern once more, with a new eye. She stared in wonder once more, it was difficult to determine where the girl's chi ended and the rest of the worlds began. Yes, it was there, and it was . . . it was waiting?
Beast Boy knelt down beside her, looking at her seriously. "Is there something wrong, Granny? You look like you just saw a ghost or something." he asked in concern.
She nearly laughed out loud, at the boy's choice of words. "No boy, just something that I had never even imagined possible. Heh, how is it that in the short time that I have known you and yours, that nearly every day seems to herald some new and impossible thing to confound me."
Yes, yes, she was certain, the girl seemed to be waiting . . . or perhaps trapped? Young people often did foolish things without understanding the ramifications and consequences of their actions. The girl's energy was static, almost locked in place. Maybe . . . maybe even this mighty girl, this Titan with the ability to move the very pillars of the earth itself . . . maybe all she needed was a gentle nudge?
With lightning speed, she lashed out, jabbing the statue in the abdomen with a tiny surge of her own chi. Not enough to detonate the whole statue, just enough to, hopefully, start things moving . . .
The emerald changeling nearly screamed in shock at her swift action, but then stared in curiosity with the rest of them.
They all stared at the statue that was Terra, watching, waiting for even the smallest signal that something might be happening. The sound of silence was deafening, as none of them scarcely dared to breath for fear of missing a sign. It seemed to drag on forever . . . until -
"'Sigh', I am sorry, Garfield, I had hoped . . . but I see no change at all. I dare not do more, even though she still possesses her chi, it is rigid like normal stone, if I were to use any more chi, it would have the same effect as the Bakusai Tenketsu." she explained sadly.
Beast Boy nodded, trying vainly to hide his disappointment. "Yeah, it's okay. It was kind of a long shot anyway. But . . . thanks for trying . . ." he whispered quietly.
She nodded once more, before looking at her new watch. "Oh, it's nearly eleven o'clock, if I don't hurry, I will miss my flight." she told her companions. "Garfield, thank you for introducing us to your friend, it was a great honor that you bestowed upon us."
Ryouga came forward and bowed as well. "Yes, thank you for telling us her story . . . It really made me think about my own life, as well as hers."
Kasumi simply bowed politely, tears still staining her cheeks. She didn't seem to be up to talking quite yet. Absently, she wiped the tears from her face, even as new ones replaced them.
"No problem guys, it was . . . good to get to tell her story like that." The boy then looked back to the statue before turning to look at them again. "Um . . . hey guys . . . do you mind if I stay here while you guys go to the airport. It's been awhile since I visited Terra, and I think I have a lot to catch her up on." he smiled lopsidedly.
Cologne nodded, not feeling at all offended. "Of course, Garfield. You told us her story, it is only fitting that you tell her our story."
With that, the three of them began to move up the tunnel, leaving their friend to his contemplations. The last thing they heard, before passing beyond earshot, were Beast Boy's happy words. "Hey Terra, you won't believe what's been going on lately . . ."
As they travelled back through the tunnel, she turned to Ryouga and gave him a meaningful look. "Remember this day, boy. That girl's chi contains a secret that could change the very way you look at the entire world."
Ryouga stared back at her, a questioning look on his face, but she said no more on the topic.
About twenty minutes later, they arrived at the airport. It was time for another bitter-sweet goodbye it seemed. Unfortunately, she didn't have time to dawdle, so they kept their goodbyes relatively brief. Soon enough, the two former Nerimians were wandering off into the night, leaving her standing before the monolithic structure of the airport.
She let out a long sigh. She would miss those two, all of the Titans really, and Ukyou and Kunou, and even Nabiki as well. Each of them had contributed to the fun she had been enjoying so much since she had left China, each in their own way. However, it was also good to see so many people moving on with their lives and attempting to truly make something of themselves. Even Nabiki, though she went to the side of villain, she wished well. After all, if everyone in the world was good, it would be a boring place indeed!
With one last nostalgic glance to the receding forms of Ryouga and Kasumi, she entered the airport. With only a minimum of effort, she found her way to the ticket booth and presented her ticket to the young woman that staffed it. She was running very late, but she was certain that she would be able to get boarded . . . even if she had to use some unorthodox methods to do so.
"I'm sorry, but this ticket has been cancelled." replied the young woman.
Yes, for someone of her skill, not to mention her age, getting aboard a plane shouldn't be a problem . . .
She turned to face the attendant, the girl's words finally catching up to her. "Excuse me?" she asked icily. The girl shuddered slightly at her demeanor, but handed back her ticket with a shaky hand regardless.
"T-t-this ticket, it was – it was cancelled, just a few hours after it was purchased. Certainly you would have known about that . . . w-w-wouldn't you?" asked the uncertain youth.
The ancient elder pinned the girl with her glare, causing the poor attendant to cringe pitifully. "And who may I ask cancelled this ticket?" she asked harshly. The young woman looked about to faint from terror, when a voice interrupted them.
"I believe that I may be able to answer that."
Cologne turned with refined dignity to face the woman that now stood behind her. She appeared to be in her late twenties, early thirties; slightly tall, and of asian ancestry, perhaps . . . The young woman wore her raven hair short and swept back. Her face held a cold expression as she looked down at Cologne. The woman's outfit consisted of an artfully crafted ebony suit, but one that, to Colognes' trained eye, possessed a number of small alterations that would allow for a greater freedom of movement.
Hmm, yes, just by looking at the girl, she could tell she was a martial artist, and a skilled one at that. She chuckled quietly to herself, this could be interesting.
"So, pup, I'm certain that you have some good reason for delaying my trip." she uttered in a serious voice.
The woman bristled slightly at the, pup, reference, but restrained herself. "Indeed, if you would come with me, I would speak with you in private." asked the young woman. Her voice was hard, but obviously the girl seemed to know enough not to actually make any demands in her position. Cologne could sense she was very skilled, but this youth was a hundred years too early to even consider being a threat to her.
"Very well, I look forward to your explanation."
The woman nodded, and began to lead them towards the back of the airport, where the planes were being loaded. As they walked, the woman began to speak again.
"My name is Wu-san Sandra, though my contemporaries call me Lady Shiva." said the woman, finally introducing herself. "And you, are Cologne, an elder of the nearly legendary Joketsou village hidden within the mists of China. Frankly, I had not thought the legends true myself, but your recent activities in America have changed that opinion."
Cologne shrugged, unconcerned. The village did nothing to promote its existence, the less people that knew of it, the safer they were, considering their more archaic laws. "Ah, so you cancelled my ticket in hopes that I would teach you a few tricks while I was still here? Or perhaps you wish to challenge me, to "prove that you're the greatest warrior"?" she asked in a mocking voice.
Their walk soon led them out of the airport completely and onto the tarmac of the runways.
Again, Lady Shiva (what a silly name) bristled at her mocking words . "Hardly, I've trained under masters greater than the likes of you. However, my current employer has taken a great interest in you and your village. He wishes to meet with you personally to discuss some matters of business."
Well, that piqued her curiosity. What business man could possibly be interested in a tiny village of martial artists located on the far side of the planet? Her curiosity inflamed further, as their impromptu tour of the airport ended, leaving them standing before a very extravagant personal jet.
"And who, may I ask, is this mysterious employer of yours?" she asked, interested to see where this was going.
The woman smiled for the first time that night, though it was a bit of a feral smile. "A concerned industrialist, you may even have heard of him in your short time in America . . ."
"His name is Lex Luthor."
Ryouga looked to the woman walking beside him and smiled wistfully. "So, Kasumi, time to finally start our new lives, eh?" he asked a rare note of optimism in his voice.
She returned his look, smiling happily as well. "Yes, yes it is. Though, I must admit I'm feeling somewhat nervous. I've spent so long living at home, I'm not sure what I'll do now." she admitted.
"Heh, don't worry about that. We're heroes now . . . well, temporary ones anyway, but I'm sure that we'll get swept up in things so fast, that we won't even have time to worry about what we're going to do." he replied, starting to feel more optimistic already.
Kasumi nodded thoughtfully at that. "I think you're right. I'm certain that we'll have many fun adventures while we're here. And it's not like we can't speak to Akane, Ranma and the others whenever we miss them, since well all have these nice communicators now."
He dropped a companionable hand on her shoulder, and squeezed reassuringly. "See, that's the spirit Kasumi. For the first time in a long time, it feels like the future is bright, full of possibility . . ."
". . . nothing can go wrong now!"
Which is precisely when it began to rain, triggering his curse.
"Oh, for the love of Go-"
Nabiki smiled and shook her head in amusement as she slid the door shut behind her. She couldn't believe Jinx at all. It was a pity that Ryouga seemed to have brought the best out in that girl, she would have been an amazing member of her team otherwise. Oh well, it wasn't like anyone was going to mind having the girl crash at their new lair for a time, especially if all she was going to do was live on the couch and eat ice cream . . . well, Mammoth might, he did like to eat.
Speaking of their new lair, she looked over her new room. It was a bit Spartan, they hadn't really been able to take a lot of their personal stuff with them, mostly focusing on taking technology and weapons. She did have the bare necessities though, a bed, a dresser, a make shift vanity for her to pretty herself up with. She smiled a bit at that thought, but looking good was just as important as any other part of her new job.
Absently, she moved over and dropped down into the chair, looking at herself in the large mirror that Kyd Wykkyd had "appropriated" for her. She lifted a brush from the counter and started to run it through her short, but stylish hair. The problem of Jinx came back to her mind. Not that it was a problem, but she had a problem with anyone giving anything away for free. No, she could tell that the girl was still hung up on Ryouga, and she highly disapproved of the fact that she had pretty much handed him over to Raven on a silver platter.
Sure, it was a bit immature, but considering who her father was, she felt a bit of a need to play match maker bubbling up in her. Besides, it would probably get the unlucky girl off of her couch that much faster too. After that . . . after that, well, she had a hundred plots already unfolding in her mind. She was giddy with anticipation, there were so many possibilities now, a whole world for her to swindle out of its hard earned money.
She put the brush down and rooted around one of the drawers for her nail polish . . . it was around there somewhere. Ah! There it was, she lifted up her prized bottle of silver plum nail polish out of the dresser and turned back to the mirro-
The bottle slipped from her fingers and smashed to the floor, as she gasped in horror! In the mirror! She spun quickly to look behind her . . . but her room was empty. She shook her head, breathing heavily from the fright she had received. The middle Tendo cursed to herself, it was way too early in the game for her to start hallucinating from guilt! She looked down at the mess on her floor, and all over her foot for that matter, she'd have to get Gizmo to clean it up.
Still . . . she glanced back at the mirror again. It was normal again, nothing out of the ordinary anywhere. It was probably just a trick of the light, or some quirk of her imagination . . .but . . . but it had been so clear. She could have sworn that she saw a mask in the mirror, looking at her from the back of the room. A mask with only one eye and split down the middle. half orange, half black.
She rapped herself on the head lightly. Now she knew she was just imagining things, probably bad karma for tricking Robin so long ago. She banished the thought from her mind and decided to go see how her boys were doing. Not because she needed to get out of her room . . . just because she was bored.
That was it.
Unfortunately, she wouldn't notice the newest addition to her room for some time . . .
The strange imprint of a boot, seemingly melted into the floor on the far side of the room.
"-nd then, that's when Ryouga went totally nuclear and was about . . . about . . . to destroy . . ." his story was interrupted by a body wracking yawn, as he sat at the base of Terra's statue. Beast Boy felt his eyes begin to grow heavy, and leaned back against the stone girl's narrow legs. He sure was tired, he'd forgotten how long he'd been talking, but he wanted to finish telling her what happened before he left.
"Yeah . . . the dude was almost . . . almost gonna blow up . . . blow up the whole . . . darn . . . darn . . . city . . ." he whispered, as the sandman finally battered him unconscious. Even asleep, he curled up against Terra's legs, trying to find a comfortable position. Soon enough, he was deep asleep, enjoying dreams of days long past, wandering down the streets with a certain blond beauty hanging off his arm.
Thus, he didn't notice the tiny crack that formed, right at the very tip of the girls finger.
Or the one after that.
No, just kidding. Please continue to follow the exploits of the Nerima Crew and the Titans as they explore their common universe in Dark Titans. Just visit my profile page to find the story.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed.
And if not, that at least you tolerated