Recommended listening: "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" by Radiohead, off of their album The Bends
Some stuff happened, and Saya went back to the village while I stayed in Beijing.
What happened next was pretty routine for me. I was supposed to meet another contact, who would take me somewhere and have me do something.
I was spending a lot of time in bars, drinking my problems away, waiting for this person to contact me. Eventually he got a hold of me in my hotel room, and we arranged to meet in the lobby. Turns out he was from another small Chinese village, in Tibet actually, and I was supposed to help them train. Again.
I asked him to make a quick pit-stop in Jusenkyo. I figured it had been long enough for the springs to calm down, for the water level to drop. I wanted to become a man again, all the time, forever.
"Sure," he said, "it's only a little bit out of our way."
I ended up abandoning a lot of my clothes, my suitcase, and anything else I couldn't fit into a backpack. I was in training mode again, and all of that would just weigh me down.
It felt good to be back on the road.
We made it to Jusenkyo, and just as I suspected, the place was back to normal. The familiar bamboo training poles jutted from the water haphazardly, but it was definitely in working order.
My face split into a smile. As I started running to the guide's hut, I heard laughter, looked around for a while before I realized that it was coming from me. I was going to be free of that damn girl body!
Then I caught laughter that wasn't mine. Off to my right was a man (he nods to Ryoga), running and laughing like I had been. It only took me a second to recognize his bandanna and fangs. "Ryoga?" I called to him.
He spied me and stopped in his tracks. We approached each other cautiously, though I was filled with conflicting emotions: happy, sad, nervous, excited, angry… you get the idea.
"Ranma…?" he asked softly. When I nodded, his battle aura flared and he attacked.
We were both a little out of practice at that point. I hadn't had a chance to do any real fighting for a long time, and I can only imagine that without me to beat up on Ryoga, he couldn't properly train either. (A smirk and a scowl.) I still managed to win, of course, and as I dragged his unconscious body to the guide's hut my benefactor started clapping. "Oh, Sir, you will be a wonderful teacher for our village! I am glad we decided to hire your services, instead of going to war right away."
I stopped. "What."
"Yes, sir, we are going to war! Soon. We voted within our village, and we decided to hire a martial arts master before hand. It was a very good decision, yes indeed." His smile was so innocent I couldn't help but feel sorry for the man.
"You go to war." I stood up straight and stretched my back. The fight had taken a lot out of me.
"I here help train for that." My Chinese really is atrocious.
A long pause. "What you war for?"
This time his face became more serious. "We are fighting for a free Tibet. We are fighting for autonomy. We are fighting for the life all people should have."
I couldn't help but laugh. "I sorry, I sorry, but you dead. Chinese army is going crush you. Hands down. No way you win." Ryoga stirred at my feet and I flipped him over, onto his back. "Listen, guy."
"Jigme. I help train. I do what you want. But think. Plan. This not good path." The sun beat down from above. Heat radiated off the ground, and I sighed. "Hold. I be right back." Making my way to the Guide's hut, I thought about what he'd said. I was going to help train people to go to war. A village, from what it sounded like. No bigger than the Order. And they expected to beat the Chinese government?
I'd seen the army. I knew how many people they had, what kind of firepower. I was helping an entire village march to their deaths.
I rapped loudly on the door to the cottage. "Yes?" the guide called from inside.
"I wish speak."
The door opened and the short, pudgy guide – who hadn't changed at all in five years – smiled up at me. "Ah, sir! Good to see you again!"
I smiled. "It all right, you can speak Chinese." I pointed to the pools with one hand. "Which Nannichuan?"
"Nannichuan, yes, yes. Follow." I ran back to hoist Ryoga up on my shoulders, then followed the guide to my salvation – the Spring of Drowned Man.
It was so close I could taste it.
The guide stopped and pointed. "Here, sir, is Nannichuan. But-"A loud battle cry cut him off, and I turned to see a pair of women running toward us, locked in battle.
I had to duck as they jumped over me, fists flying, hair whipping from side to side, purple and black.
"Shampoo!" The older woman stopped, then, allowing the younger one to land a blow which sent her flying toward me. I was still tired, but I managed to catch her. And it was definitely Shampoo.
She immediately squealed, as she does from time to time, and… what's the word…? Nuzzle. She nuzzled her face into my neck, which set me a-blushin'. "Husband! You live!"
"Whoa, Shampoo, I speak Chinese." I set her down and held her at arms length, to get a look at her. She hadn't changed much, except for her face had aged slightly. She looked to be harder, more severe. Still pretty, but a dangerous beauty, like Nabiki. (Shin snorts. "Dangerous is right.")
"Oh, that's wonderful. I hate Japanese. It's a stupid language." Her opponent approached from behind us. "You will wait there until I am done. Our training is not over."
"Yes, Shampoo." The other girl's reply was meek, formal.
"Husband, why did you disappear? Where have you been?" She seemed to realize something, then, and her demeanor changed. "Did you try to run away from me? Or are you some kind of imposter?"
Her strike was lightning-quick, but I was quicker. Even out of shape, I'm quicker than most. Her flurry of punches was met with a flurry of blocks, and I managed to trip her to the ground and pin her.
Then she smiled and kissed me. (Akane's shoulders slump, almost imperceptibly.) I recoiled, of course, and she jumped back into my arms. "Oh, it is you! This is wonderful! You can come back to the village, and we'll get married right away!"
I sat back on my haunches and caught my breath. "Shampoo. Listen. I go Nannichuan, then we talk. Yes?" I was so close to my cure that I couldn't bear it any longer. I could almost feel the cool water on my skin.
"No!" She clamped onto my forearms, her hands like vises. "You mustn't!"
Now that was surprising. I recovered, and got very angry. "What? You know what it like to have cursed! I going get cured, Shampoo! You cured, yes? Why I no cured?"
"Please listen, Husband. The curse does not work that way." I'd had enough. I tried to shake her off, but she held fast. "Listen! Please!"
The guide nodded and spoke again. "Yes, she's right, Sir. You see-"
"Enough!" I broke her grip finally and turned to the spring. "I go in now."
The guide yelled "Wait!" as I approached. Shampoo, however, grabbed a flask of water from her hip and threw it on herself.
What happened was surprising, terrifying, but I should have seen it coming.
Shampoo didn't turn into a cat. She didn't stay human, though, either.
See, the thing about Jusenkyo curses is that they stack. You remember Pantyhose Taro, right? (Several people nod.) Well, remember how he was that big monster the first time he came around, but the second he had added octopus tentacles? (More nods, and Dr. Tofu scratches his chin.) That's the nature of Jusenkyo. You can't copy one curse over another. They merge.
Shampoo was still mostly human – she stood as tall as before, and she had more or less human features – except she was covered in white fur, she had cat ears, fangs, paws, claws, and a tail. She was a cat-human hybrid.
So I freaked out and hid behind the guide while Jigme jumped with surprise, then scowled.
Shampoo's voice was strange, high-pitched, as she spoke: "You see, Husband, this is what happens when you fall into more than one spring. You do not want this."
Ryoga came to, then, and when he caught sight of Shampoo he screamed. Like a little girl. (Ryoga clenches his fist, but Ranma holds up his hands.) I'm kidding, Ryoga. Sorry.
He screamed, all manly-like, and scrambled backwards. It took a little coaxing, a bit of threatening, and some hot water, but we – all six of us – eventually sat down inside the guide's hut for a talk.
I went first, speaking Chinese for the benefit of most people there, while the guide translated for Ryoga. "I Ranma Saotome, I martial artist from Japan. This," I indicated Ryoga, "is friend. She, Shampoo, is also friend. I kidnapped by Vietnam group, kill friends, Ukyo, Mr. Tendo, force me join." I looked to Jigme, who was still scowling. "I work for Jigme, now, and help him train village. Sorry, Jigme, but my name not Nguyen. It Ranma Saotome."
Jigme shrugged. "Your name isn't important. But we have spent too much time here. We must get back to my village."
"Please, patient. Not take much longer." I turned back to Shampoo. "Shampoo, I not marry. I have job, for Jigme. It important."
Shampoo just smiled. "That's all right. I will follow you. You are my husband, after all." She turned to her ward. "Go back to the village and tell Elder Cologne what has happened, and that I am following my husband. She will understand." The younger woman immediately stood and left the hut, despite the protests of both myself and Jigme.
"You not come!" I insisted in my broken Chinese.
"Young miss, Ranma Saotome is right. You can't come. This is not a joyride; this is war. My people will react poorly to an outsider tagging along."
Shampoo, though, scowled from beneath her purple bangs. "I am coming. There is nothing you can do to dissuade me from this, Mister Jigme. Ranma can tell you; I am very persistent."
"Shampoo, please! This not game! People die!" I couldn't help but think of Akane, then, and my heart ached.
"Husband." Again her words stopped me. "You have beaten me in combat multiple times. You are destined to be my husband, now and forever. Wherever you go, I go. It is Amazon law."
Jigme's face changed completely. "Oh, she's an Amazon? That's all right, then. She can come."
Floored by his complete one-eighty, I exclaimed, "What?"
I have to give it to you, Ryoga, you were very patient during all of this. (Ryoga shrugs. "I was still shocked to see you." Ranma laughs.)
Jigme explained: "The Amazon village is allied with our village, though very loosely. When it comes time to go to war, the Amazons will be there with us."
"Ah, you're a member of the Confederacy?" Shampoo's attitude changed, too. "That's great! This will work out very well."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. What the hell is this Confederacy, and how do you know each other, and what is going on?" I'd slipped back into Japanese accidentally, and I didn't catch it until I heard the guide translating.
Finally Ryoga piped up. "Yes, what is going on, Ranma?"
"Now don't you start, P-Chan. I'm trying to figure that out myself." Addressing Jigme and back in Chinese, "What is Confederacy?"
"A great number of small villages and militias have banded together to form a loose coalition with the common goal of overthrowing the Chinese government."
I blinked twice. "All want free Tibet?"
Shampoo smiled. "No, Husband. All of us want autonomy. Tibet will be free, our village will be free, all people will be free. There will be no more central Chinese government; provinces and individual villages will be free to do as they please."
"Whoa, wait." I never have been very smart, but I'd spent some time over in Israel so I had a little experience with this. "Like Middle East? With... uh..." I had to switch to Japanese. "...sectarian violence?" The Jusenkyo guide took a moment finding the correct translation.
"The Middle East is a very small region with a very large population. Our villages and provinces are more isolated, with smaller populations. Also, our religions do not clash in such a violent manner." Jigme moved his hands when he spoke, which bugged the crap out of me. "China now," an expansive gesture with both arms, "is too large to function properly. The Confederacy," he indicated Shampoo and himself, "will reinvest political power with provinces. Tibet will be free to decide how it works, and smaller villages that are more isolated from Eastern China – the major population centers such as Beijing and Hong Kong – will be free to do as they please." Arms waving, he finished his speech and waited for my response.
I took a few seconds to wrap my head around this idea. "So you want freedom, yes?" Jigme nodded. "And you go war for it?" Another nod. "And you hire me for train you?" Affirmative. "Well, that okay with me, I guess."
"I'm so glad you approve." At first I thought he was being sarcastic, but the look in his eyes was of actual glee. "The more people we have fighting with us the better. As you said earlier, the Chinese army is not weak."
Ryoga spoke again. "What does all of this have to do with me?"
"Nothing, Ryoga." I clapped him on the shoulder, and he shook my hand off. "But you did attack me, and I figured it would be good to catch up a bit, see how you've been."
"I have nothing to say to you, Ranma. You abandoned Akane." Ryoga bared his fangs at me, and the Jusenkyo guide let out a small yelp. "Do you have any idea how much Akane hurt after you left? How long she spent waiting for you to come back, or even send a letter?"
I won't lie: that warmed my heart, it really did. "No," I whispered softly.
"Of course you wouldn't. You don't care about Akane at all." That, however, did it for me.
I grabbed Ryoga by the front of his shirt and stared into his face, hurt and angry. (Ryoga speaks. "There was madness in your eyes, Ranma. I was scared for my life.")
You should have been.
"I loved Akane more than I have ever loved anyone in my life, Ryoga, and if you ever suggest otherwise again I will kill you and forget you ever existed." In the back of my head I realized that I'd spoken in past tense: 'I loved Akane,' not 'I love Akane.' But I didn't have time to think on that just yet. "If you knew half of the things I've been through since I 'abandoned' Akane," my spittle flew onto Ryoga's face, "you'd shut your mouth and never speak again. Got it?"
Ryoga nodded, and the whole hut fell silent until I let go of Ryoga and sat back. "Ryoga. I did not have a choice in leaving Akane, or I never would've. I did it to protect her." I clenched and unclenched my fists, remembering the horrors I'd seen. "If you see her again, tell her that. I don't care if you tell her I'm dead; it'd probably be better. But tell her I had no choice."
I bowed to him, then, prostrating myself. "Please."
Ranma addressed the people around the table. "I can only assume that he didn't tell you anything. Which is fine, really. Like I said, it was probably better that way. I didn't know if I'd ever be able to come here and do this."
Akane turned a hurt expression toward Ryoga. "You knew he was alive, and you didn't tell me?"
The fanged man dry-washed his hands nervously. "Well, Akane, you have to understand, I never liked Ranma, and he was always so mean to me. He was the whole reason I got cursed in the first place, and-"
Shin interrupted with a shocked exclamation. "Ryoga, you're cursed too?"
Akane turned to her brother-in-law. "Yes, he was P-Chan, a pet piglet I had when I was younger." She glanced at her sisters. "Remember him?" Kasumi nodded, Nabiki smirked, and Shin and Takeshi frowned. "When I found out, I didn't tell you because I was embarrassed. In retrospect it all seems so obvious."
"So wait, when did you find out?" Ranma scratched his head absently.
"A little bit after you left. He came clean with me on his own." Ranma nodded to Ryoga with respect, but Akane continued, "I got mad and kicked him out, and then I didn't see him again for many years until he showed up here in Nerima as a police officer. We started rebuilding our friendship, and things have been going well since." Her glare turned cold. "But I guess Ryoga's still keeping things from me, huh?"
"Hey, how do you find your way around as a cop, Ryoga?" Ranma leaned forward. "Don't you have the world's worst sense of direction?"
"GPS," the fanged boy scowled at Ranma, holding up a black gadget. He turned back to Akane. "Now wait just a minute-"
"No, you wait." The short-haired woman jabbed a sharp finger into Ryoga's chest. "I confided in you, Ryoga. I told you how much I missed him."
Takeshi fidgeted nervously, a worried look on his face.
"Yeah, but then I told you about my curse and you said you didn't want to see me ever again." Ryoga was backing away from Akane's accusing digit.
"But you came back, didn't you? You came back and we became friends again. And you still didn't tell me?" She shook her head, then, and even Ranma could hear Ryoga's heart break. "I think you should leave."
"Akane, please, hear me out." A note of desperation entered into his voice. "You're a good friend of mine, and-"
"No. We are no longer friends, Ryoga. This is the second time you've kept important things from me." She crossed her arms with finality. "I want you to go."
"Akane," said Kasumi with a worried frown, "are you sure?"
"Yeah, he should at least be able to stay until I leave." Ranma did kind of feel bad for Ryoga, even though the whole situation was his own fault.
Akane's stern visage left no room for argument. "Fine," sighed Ryoga, "I'll leave."
The room went deathly silent as the police officer stood up, ran his hands through his hair, and turned to all assembled. "I know it doesn't make a difference, but I was trying to protect Akane. Ranma told me himself that he couldn't come back. Why worry Akane? She just would've gone off and searched for him, and that wouldn't have done anybody any good."
Nabiki broke her silence. "It's not your place to decide what's good for Akane, Ryoga." Shin nodded.
Ryoga Hibiki spitted Ranma with a hateful glare. "Ranma, you've destroyed my life again. I'll be waiting for you outside, as long as it takes."
Ranma's hackles raised. "Now hold on, Ryoga. I admit that I was the one who knocked you into the spring, but you're the one who decided to follow me all over China. You're the one who chose not to tell Akane about your curse – and why I didn't tell you, Akane, I have no idea. I'm deeply sorry about that." Turning his eyes back to Ryoga, the bald man continued, "But you didn't tell Akane about me, either. I asked you to, Ryoga, and I was even covering for you just now, but the fact is that I wanted you to tell her. I bowed for you, and I don't bow for anyone! Why wouldn't you just tell her that I was forced to leave, huh?" He stood up. "How hard is it to say, 'Ranma left to protect you'? I just now said it, took me about two seconds." Ranma's voice started to get louder, his face was turning red. "I'm sick of you blaming me for your problems! Take control of your own damn life, Ryoga! Leave me the hell alone!" The last sentence, yelled at the top of Ranma's lungs, echoed down the street. Dogs started barking in the distance.
Ryoga calmly replied, "Outside, Ranma, when you're done." And he left.
Ranma stood there for a few more seconds, trying to get his anger in check. Akane finally looked up at the man. "Why didn't you tell me, Ranma?"
Mimicking Ryoga's gesture, Ranma ran his hands over his bald head. "I tried to, a bunch of times, but stuff kept interrupting. I mean, I dropped hints every five minutes. I even called him P-Chan, remember?"
Kasumi spoke. "Well, Ranma, I'm glad you tried, but you really should have done more. Akane bathed with that piglet. It's improper, and she was your fiancée at the time."
Akane let out a loud 'hmph,' and turned her head away. "Was."
Soberly, Ranma sat down. "Yeah, was." He paused. "Was."
We saw Ryoga off, then I turned back to Shampoo. "Listen, Shampoo-"
She put a finger to my lips and smiled. "No, don't say it. I'm coming, Husband, and there's nothing you can do about it. Right, Jigme?"
My employer smiled. "Yes, I think she should come, too. It would do us good to have a representative from another Confederate body in our village."
I just sighed heavily. "If you say, Jigme." I turned to the Jusenkyo guide. "You have food? I starving."
"Yes, let's eat!" cried Shampoo happily. "I will cook us a celebratory meal!"
It turned out that Shampoo was as good a cook as ever, and even though the guide's noodles were old and he didn't have many ingredients, what she whipped up was as delicious a meal as I'd had in a long time.
Jigme looked nervously at the sun, getting lower in the sky. "Ranma, Lady Shampoo, we must go. We have tarried far too long."
With a full stomach I was ready for anything. "Okay." Shampoo nodded and stood up.
We thanked the Jusenkyo guide for all of his hospitality, and when we got outside we saw a pair of people bounding toward us. One of them was on a stick.
"Great-Grandmother!" Shampoo smiled again.
The young girl from earlier and Cologne landed in front of us. "Shampoo. Is this truly Son-In-Law?"
"Yes, Great-Grandmother," she cooed, grabbing my arm and sidling up against me. "It is him. He beat me in combat earlier, as well."
I gently pulled my arm from Shampoo's and waved. "Hello, Cologne. It nice see you."
She was surprised at my Chinese, but smiled anyway. "Well, Son-In-Law, it seems that fate smiles upon the Amazons yet again. Where did you disappear to, all those years ago?"
"It long story, Cologne, and we no have time." I nodded to Jigme. "He my employer, say we must go."
Shampoo perked up – which was quite a feat, as she was already very perky. "He's a member of the Confederacy, Great-Grandmother. His village has hired Ranma to train their soldiers for the upcoming war."
Cologne nodded, addressed Jigme. "You have chosen well. Son-In-Law is one of the finest martial artists I have seen in the past forty years."
"I have noticed." The sun was setting more quickly, and he was obviously in a hurry. "I am sorry, Elder Cologne, but we must be going. The village is expecting us back soon, and if we are too late, I may get in trouble."
"Yes, yes, of course. Don't let me stop you." She turned to her great-granddaughter. "Shampoo, follow your husband, but bring him back before the war begins. We must have you here."
I don't like people talking about me like I'm not there. "Look," I started in Japanese, "that's not going to work. The people who abducted me, they're not very forgiving. If I desert Lòng Trung Thành, they'll kill people that I don't want killed."
A cloud fell over the scene. "Lòng Trung Thành?" Cologne scratched her head. Shampoo looked puzzled. "It is a sad thing for you to be affiliated with them, Son-In-Law. But things are out of my hands, I fear. Shampoo. Go with your husband for as long as it takes, but be safe." Turning to me, "Son-In-Law, you be safe as well. Take care of my Shampoo."
I nodded, confused, and the old woman bounded away without another word. The younger Amazon yelped and hurried to catch up.
Jigme's expression faded into worry again. "Yes, well, let us be off."
We traveled for another six days before we reached the village. To this day I still don't know where in Tibet it was, except on the Plateau somewhere.
Shampoo filled me in on her life during the trip, and I found myself reverting into a less surly guy. I'd brought along a bottle of whiskey, because I was becoming a drunk, basically; but with her it felt like I was back in Nerima, at a happier time. I barely even thought about Fairbanks, or China, or my dead child.
We grew a bit closer over that trip, due in large part to my crippling loneliness.
When we arrived, I got settled in a small house, and Shampoo insisted on accompanying me. And, truth be told, it kind of felt nice to have someone else in the room, someone I could call a friend.
The house only had three rooms: a bedroom, a living room/kitchen, and a small closet with a toilet. Shampoo insisted on sleeping in the same room with me, and since the bedroom was just a tad bigger than this table, we ended up sleeping in the central room, she on one side of the room and I on the other.
We started training the villagers the next day. I asked Shampoo to help, you know, since she was there anyway. The more the merrier.
Let me tell you, I'm glad those people asked for training. There were sixty-two people fit for battle, and not a one of them knew how to fight, hold a gun, anything. Shampoo took care of the basic martial arts instruction, and I dealt with weapons training.
Things went well. We established a routine.
(Ranma pauses for a moment.) The, uh, first thing that happened was a few weeks in. Shampoo and I were drinking some local wine, and we ended up... um... you know. (Ranma's face flushes.)
The next morning, when I woke up naked next to a woman who wasn't Akane, I covered Shampoo's body and did some soul searching.
Akane... I loved Akane. Past tense. I'd thought that, said that even. I still did, but it was becoming a strange sort of idol-worship. I began to doubt... not the memories, but my feelings about them. Was I making her out to be too much? Did these feelings really exist, or were they idealized?
For better or worse, I decided to try and put her out of my mind once and for all. Akane was gone for me, never to return. Idealized or not, I'd never be able to have her.
I woke Shampoo up and asked her to marry me, for real and for proper.
She squealed, of course, and kissed me, and I fought the urge to push her away. I was doing this for a number of reasons, but mostly so I would forget about you, Akane. (Ranma sighs as he notices that Akane has still not turned to look at him.)
I told you earlier that I could tell I was changing for the worse, that I needed friends. Well, Shampoo was about as friendly as I was going to find, and she certainly would help me get over you. Also, it was an act of defiance against the Order. A minor rebellion, one which I felt reasonably certain would not endanger any of your lives.
Not to mention I was lonely.
The town arranged a hasty wedding ceremony and it was done. Shampoo and I were married.
(Kasumi smiles and offers congratulations.)
Huh? No. Aren't you listening?
All right, here's a question: have you ever been dumped by anyone? (All present except Takeshi and Akane shake their heads.) Great. Well, when someone you really like dumps you, you still have feelings for them. But, since you can't be with that person anymore, you start a relationship with a third person. The third person helps you get over your ex-boy or ex-girlfriend. Get it?
Good, excellent. What I'm trying to say here is that I used Shampoo, like one would use a hammer or a pair of chopsticks. It was a terrible thing for me to do.
She was happy, yes, and I eventually grew to love her in my own way, but never like Akane.
Anyway, even though we'd already... been intimate... on our wedding night I had to get drunk to consummate our marriage, if that tells you my state of mind at the time.
Akane slammed her fists down on the table and finally turned back to Ranma. "Is this what you came to do, Ranma? Tell me you didn't love me and gloat about your sexual conquests?"
"What?" Ranma's face turned to stone. "What are you talking about?" There was no question in his tone; only anger.
"This." Akane had tears in her eyes, but none spilled as she spoke vehemently. "Did you come back here to boast about your travels, to rub in my face all the women you slept with?"
A deep breath, and Ranma replied, "No, Akane, this is part of my story. You're the one who wanted to hear it."
"I didn't want to hear about the sluts you screwed!"
Ranma's voice got very quiet. "At least you don't have to sit next to the person I'm fucking."
The whole room exploded, then. Takeshi, quiet for so much of the evening, started to yell. Shin laughed, and laughed, and laughed. Kasumi yelped, and started trying to calm everyone down, but with very little success. Ranma was speaking softly to Akane, who was yelling at the top of her lungs at Ranma.
"I'll have you know that you're a guest at my house, Ranma-"
"Please, everyone, just calm-"
"You are still such an asshole, Ranma-"
"-you can't speak to my wife that way-"
"I will not apologize, Akane-"
"Akane, please, your language-"
"-I can kick you out any time-"
"-this is a part of my story, and you're the-"
"-you haven't changed a bit, you-"
Suddenly Dr. Tofu yelled at the top of his lungs, "QUIET!" Such an outburst from the good Doctor was unheard of, and all eyes turned to him, shocked. "That's better. It seems that tensions are a little flared right now, so why don't we take a break? Ranma, come with me, would you? I'd like to speak with you out in the dojo." He turned to his wife. "Kasumi, would you walk Akane back to the clinic and fetch that book I borrowed from Takeshi?"
Kasumi looked at her husband with love and awe in her eyes. "Of course. Akane?"
The other woman stood silently and followed Kasumi out the front door.
"Come, Ranma." The Doctor stood and moved toward the dojo. As Ranma got up to follow, he could see Nabiki lean into her husband, and Takeshi glare at Ranma as he walked away.
The dojo had changed a great deal, having acquired new racks of shinai and other training materials. "Nice what they've done with the place."
"Yes," replied Tofu absently. "Ranma, you can see that Akane still has feelings for you?"
Ranma felt like he was in middle school again. "Yeah..."
"So why would you say something like that? To deliberately get a rise out of her?"
"It was a rhetorical question, Ranma." Dr. Tofu sighed and crossed his arms. "Ranma, I understand that this is hard for you, and you can appreciate that this is equally hard for Akane, If not more so. You can't let your emotions get the better of you. This isn't like high school."
The martial artist grimaced. "Dr. Tofu, really, that's not what I meant. I was trying to make her feel better, in my own backward way." He ran a hand over the dojo wall, caressed the wood. "I wanted her to know that I didn't marry Shampoo because I'd chosen her; I married Shampoo to convince myself that I couldn't have Akane ever again."
"Yes, but surely you see how it could be misinterpreted?" Silence. "I'll take that as a yes. And you realize that Akane's married, now? That you can't be with her?" More silence.
Kasumi walked the dark streets with her youngest sister, who was still fuming. "I can't believe the nerve of that man!" exclaimed Akane suddenly.
"Akane, do you really think he was bragging?"
"Of course!" She kicked a stone; it flew, splashed into the canal below. "He's always been a perverted asshole."
"Language, Akane." They walked in silence a few moments. "It sounded like he regrets marrying Shampoo."
"Yeah, right," snorted Akane. "He always said that Shampoo was cuter than me."
"Akane." The long-haired woman put a hand on her sister's shoulder, stopped her in the street. "Did you really listen to the rest of Ranma's words?" Silence. "So no, then?" More silence, then a sigh. "Akane, Ranma was in love with you; he probably still is. The only reason he married Shampoo was so he could get you out of his head."
A dog barked down the street, and a cat hissed in return.
"Ranma wasn't bragging; he was trying to tell you how much he really cared."
"...Stupid way of doing it."
Dr. Tofu and Ranma returned to the dining room a while later, found Nabiki sitting next to Shin, who was rubbing his arm. "Dammit Nabiki, you didn't have to punch me."
"Oh shut up. You deserved it." She looked to Ranma. "Have a nice talk?"
Ranma nodded, sat down.
"Don't bait my sister like that again."
Tofu closed his eyes in exasperation.
Ranma retorted, "I wasn't baiting Akane, I was telling my story."
"Well, whatever you call it, don't. I may have been out of line earlier, but don't for a second think that I'm going to let you destroy Akane's life again." Hard stare met hard stare. "We understand each other?"
Shin leaned forward. "Though that was very funny, what you said earlier." Nabiki moved swiftly, and he was rubbing his arm again. "Ow! Don't DO that!"
"If you reacted to threats like a normal person, I wouldn't have to resort to physical violence."
"Oh, that's a good argument."
"So," interrupted Tofu, desperately trying to keep everyone distracted, "where's Takeshi?"
"He went outside to have a cigarette-" The man in question entered the room from the kitchen. "There you are, Takeshi. I thought Akane said you'd quit?" Nabiki frowned at the man.
He resumed his place at the table, his face a mask. "Quitting. Down to one a day."
"That's good. Smoking is bad for you, you know." Fluorescent light glinted off of Tofu's glasses.
"Yes, I'd heard."
Shin smirked, flinched as Nabiki raised her hand.
"I'm sorry, Takeshi. I shouldn't have said that." Ranma didn't even look at the other man.
"Don't worry about it, it was nothing." He stared off into the distance, as well.
Footsteps approached, Akane and Kasumi re-entered the room. "Here, Takeshi. Thank you for letting us borrow it." Kasumi handed the man of the household a small book.
"No problem." Still stone-faced, he placed the book beside him on the ground. Akane seated herself next to Takeshi, silently.
There was an invisible wall between the husband and wife, and everyone there could see it.
Shampoo and I continued training for a few days after our wedding, until one night when the shit started to hit the fan.
I woke up in the middle of the night to Saya, standing over me, dripping water on my face. Already a girl I sat bolt upright, almost sending Shampoo off the foot of the bed. "What are you doing, Husband?" she cried angrily.
"Hold on, Shampoo. Saya," I said in Vietnamese, "what on earth are you doing here? And, come on, water? In the middle of the night?"
The girl shrugged. "It's raining outside. What do you expect?"
Shampoo eyed Saya up and down, noticed how the wet clothes clung to her teenaged curves. "Husband, who is this? And what are you saying?" She glared at me.
"Sorry, Shampoo. She friend from Vietnam. Just friend." Saya cocked her head to one side, quizzically. "Saya, we have speak Chinese. Shampoo no understand Vietnamese."
"And who is Shampoo?" Even in the night I could see Saya eye Shampoo, size her up in return.
"I am his wife. And who are you, child?" Shampoo's voice was dangerous.
"A colleague." A beat passed before, "You're married, Ranma?"
"Long story short, Shampoo from Japan, meet in Jusenkyo, marry few days ago. Now what you doing here?" My eyes itched from fatigue.
"You move quickly, Ranma." Quiet, like a wolf stalking its prey.
"Saya." I focused as much disdain into my expression as I could. "This not time. Why you here?"
And just like that, all business. "I'm here for several reasons, the principal one being that the Village Council asked me to come."
Shampoo stretched, cat-like, and I shivered involuntarily. "Hoa Mới sent for me?"
"No." Before I could ask the obvious question, she continued, "Many things have changed, Ranma.
"Hoa Mới is no longer the leader of the Village Council. She was challenged to a duel, and lost. Many people had criticized her management these past few years."
"I haven't seen any problems."
"Please, Ranma, listen. The village is all but deserted. Hoa Mới had been sending out more and more people, until there were so few left at home that training classes were cancelled. Training was cancelled, Ranma." She stared at me, waiting for a response.
"Uh... so?" I guess I didn't see the big deal.
"Training hasn't been cancelled since the Order was founded!" I shrugged, and she let out a vexed sigh. "When pressed, Hoa Mới refused to say why she was doing these things. The other members of the Council were in the dark, as well. She was going behind their backs, acting without the consensus of the group.
"So she was challenged, and she lost. Another council member ascended to the position of Leader: Minh Màu. He has since been trying to figure out what is going on, what Hoa Mới was up to. Part of that means sending messengers," she gestured to herself, "to contact field operatives like you."
I opened my mouth to speak; she cut in swiftly before I got the chance. "No, there's more. Kim – you remember Kim – has been garnering a large deal of support. Well, large in terms of the Council. I fear that by the time I return, she will have ascended to the Council itself."
Now that was worrying. She'd already tried to kill me at least once.
"These are bad signs, Ranma." Her head shook solemnly. "Never before have such things happened in the Order. Kim would be the youngest Council Member ever; training is cancelled; the village is all but deserted; and the entire continent reeks of war."
I cocked an eyebrow. "War?"
"Yes. There have been attacks on the Chinese government recently, by different groups. They've retaliated by cracking down in the larger cities, imposing martial law; but the more remote bases are still getting peppered by gunfire and explosives."
"The Confederacy is moving." Shampoo's voice surprised me, and I turned. "It is almost time for China to fall."
"You know about this?" Saya took a step toward my wife. "What is happening?"
"Hold, hold. Confederacy going war China, want freedom for small population cities, towns." I didn't want the two of them getting into anything in the middle of the night. Thankfully, Shampoo nodded at my choppy explanation, which seemed to placate Saya a bit.
"I hope they know what they're doing. The whole world is bracing themselves for the repercussions. If the situation does degenerate into civil war-"
"It will." Shampoo grinned a toothy grin.
Saya ignored her. "...If it does, no country on earth will be left untouched. Already businesses have been pulling out of Chinese companies, factories, and the like."
I thought about that for a minute; if that were true, the whole dynamic between China and the rest of the world would change.
Well, Shin, you and Nabiki probably understand better than I do what happened.
But getting back to the story, I shrugged again, then yawned. "Not my problem. That all?"
"No!" I smirked a bit as Saya fought the urge to hit me. "There's more! The-" I held up a hand to silence her. I heard something odd in the distance. "Ranma-"
"Ssssh!" The sound was getting closer. It pulsated rhythmically, like... "Helicopters?"
Shampoo jumped to her feet. "Yes, I hear them too."
"You bring helicopters, Saya?" I asked as Shampoo and I threw on our clothes.
She shook her head no. "Could it be the Chinese government?"
"Hope not." I led the two women outside to scan the skies. I deliberately avoided looking directly at Shampoo as she changed. As long as I didn't think about it, it didn't bother me.
Sure enough, off in the distance a trio of military-looking helicopters were bearing down on the village, cutting through the rain ominously. "Shit. Shampoo, wake village, meet me at armory. Saya, help Shampoo."
"Yes, Husband." Shampoo's voice made me cringe. I grit my teeth and pictured human-Shampoo as she and Saya sped off.
When they were gone I sighed, relaxed my body. The thup-thup-thup of helicopter blades was growing steadily louder; I sped into town, toward the village's armory – armory meaning a small shed where they kept their guns. It lay toward the center of the town
It was locked, but I broke the door down and turned on the light. They didn't have much; just a few dozen Kalashnikovs and three anti-tank RPGs. I grabbed a rifle and some ammo, loaded it up as quickly as I could, and went back out into the rain. A thought struck me, and I ducked back into the shed to grab one of the RPGs and an extra round.
Outside the wind picked up a bit, and carried with it the sound of impending doom.
People started approaching the armory, disheveled and panicked. "Grab guns, hide, wait for Shampoo. She tell what do. You," I pointed to a father and son, "you grab RPG, follow me."
The men obliged and we started running toward the east edge of the village. I had to slow a bit to let my compatriots catch up, and then the 'copters arrived, soared over our heads. Sure enough, they were Chinese military, armed to the teeth, searchlights on, scanning the ground. I ducked against a building.
A speaker crackled, from the lead helicopter. "Attention: this village is under control of the Chinese Army. Lay down any weapons and move into the open." One of the aircraft peeled off toward the west end of town. I had to act.
"You, boy. Stay here. If you get clear shot at helicopter, shoot." I looked him straight in the face. "Not waste. Only shoot if able hit." He nodded, clearly scared. I grabbed his father and started back into town.
One man in the east; two helicopters in the center, one west. Myself and another man moving toward the center of town. My mind raced.
I prayed that no one would start shooting yet. There was still a chance to avoid an actual battle.
Helicopter one repeated its message, hovering; the second was off somewhere else while the third started to land, about fifty meters in front of us. No one was visible on the ground, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
My hand on the man's chest stopped him, pushed him up against a low retaining wall. "That," I pointed to the helicopter now discharging soldiers, "your target. When I whistle, you fire. Understand?"
The man's voice failed him, but he nodded and I patted him on the shoulder. You go to war with the army you've got, I guess.
I skirted the grounded helicopter, ducking around houses and through small gardens. I cloaked myself by Bending the Light, but my squelching footsteps were more than enough to give me away.
Suddenly, gunfire. I heard the whine of a helicopter engine struggling to lift off, cursed. I whistled as loudly as I could.
The father acquitted his job as well as I could have expected. His weapon went off almost immediately, hit the tail of the helicopter and sent it to the ground, hard. It didn't explode; it had only been a few feet up. But we didn't have to worry about its weapons being used on us, so that was a plus.
Rifles began firing everywhere. In the short time I'd been away, Shampoo and Saya had managed to stash villagers in key positions around the village center. And although they only had rifles, the barrage of rounds forced the lead helicopter to peel away.
Then the Chinese soldiers on the ground started firing, and things got pretty hairy.
There were twelve soldiers, between houses. The villagers were scattered here and there, firing from whatever cover they could find – tall grass, homes, fences. The soldiers had the advantage, of course; they were trained for this sort of thing.
I saw them advance systematically, picking off some of the older villagers who couldn't move as quickly. I had to wrench my eyes away; there were still two helicopters to deal with.
I saw the lead helicopter wheel about on the north end of town, start flying back in toward me. I took the opportunity and fired my RPG. Luck was with me, I think, because my round was off-course until the last second, when the helicopter pilot swerved the wrong way and the explosive pierced the canopy. The primary detonation ripped apart whoever had been inside; damaged and out of control, the machine plummeted into a house and exploded.
One more to go.
A second barrage of military-grade weapons from the western part of the village. Then, a chain gun.
I had to dive out of the way to avoid being ripped apart by the last helicopter's bullets. It must have discharged its strike team and come around for a strafing run.
Shit was going badly for us. We had numbers on our side, but they had training and better equipment. We really didn't have a chance.
By the time I got to my feet again I could hear explosions, screams. Sounded like grenades. I left my RPG in the mud and started sprinting toward the sounds of fighting. What I saw when I arrived was... bad.
A large group of women and children were surrounded by Chinese. Some of the villagers were still fighting down the road a bit, but more of them were laying down their weapons and surrendering. I didn't see Shampoo or Saya anywhere.
I watched more and more people get rounded up. Fighting died down as I huddled among houses, hiding, waiting. Eventually no one was left to fight; everyone still alive was captured. The third helicopter made a few more sweeps of the village while small squads of soldiers went out into the village searching for more people.
They passed a few steps away from me.
Twenty minutes later everyone was back. The aircraft landed, and a man stepped out and approached what looked to be the leader of strike team one. They exchanged a few words while people huddled in fear, soaked from the rain. Children were crying.
An order was given and soldiers started moving, readying their weapons. A voice rang out from another loudspeaker. "Ranma Saotome, I know you are there. Surrender yourself or all of these people – every last one – will die."
He had me dead to rights. I couldn't let those people die, I just couldn't.
I dropped my camouflage, but before any of the soldiers caught sight of me a pair of hands hauled me around a corner. It was Saya and Shampoo – who still resembled a cat demon. If she hadn't covered my mouth with a big, furry paw (Ranma shudders) everyone would've heard my scream. Saya tried to shush me, but I kept screaming into Shampoo's paw-hand. Thank goodness for the rain, or we'd have been found out.
Eventually Saya caught on and covered my eyes, swapped places with Shampoo to cover my mouth as well. "SSSSHHHHH!! She's gone; you don't have to worry anymore!"
"C-C-C-C-Cat!" I stuttered into Saya's hand.
"Really, you're afraid of cats?" I could hear the laughter in her voice. I'd have gotten mad at her, but I was too busy whimpering in fear. "You sure married the right woman." I whined again.
"Sorry, that was mean. But you've got to be quiet, okay?" I nodded and she removed her hand from my mouth, kept my eyes covered. "You can't go out there, Ranma. It's a trap. They'll kill them anyway."
My heart pounded in my ears. "I d-don't have much of a choice, d-do I?" I couldn't concentrate hard enough to speak in Chinese, and so switched back to Japanese.
"Yes you do. Run." I shook my head. "Yes, Ranma. We'll run away. Either way the village is dead. There's no way the Chinese army is going to allow these people to live."
"But it's not the Chinese military! That was Mohammed on the loudspeaker!"
"Hmm... I thought that voice sounded familiar." I tried to move her hands off of my face, but she stopped me. "No, not yet."
"Saya, I can't just sit here and let them slaughter an entire village! I'll take my chances out there!"
"This is your last chance, Ranma Saotome!" Mohammed's voice sounded haughty, confident.
"Let me go, Saya!"
"No!" Her grip on my eyes doubled, and she shifted her weight to pin my shoulders.
"Yes!" I easily lifted her off of me and stood up, but something tripped me, pinned me again. Saya's hand came back over my eyes.
"Saya, damm-" Then the gunfire started. Saya and Shampoo had to hold me down.
When it was done I was out of breath. Shampoo panted in my ear, and I could feel Saya's heartbeat through my grip on her forearm.
"Damn you, Saya." The women let me up and I peered around the corner, afraid of what I'd see.
Sure enough, the entire town was dead. Murdered.
I don't know why, but I could hear the conversation between soldiers. Maybe the wind died down, or maybe it was adrenaline; either way, I could clearly hear Mohammed speaking to another man. "No, he's not here. He would've come out."
"Maybe he died in the fight earlier?"
"...Maybe. Check the town again. If you find him, report back to me immediately."
Tears stung my eyes. "Shampoo?"
"Yes, Husband?" Her voice was small.
I took a deep breath. "Kiss me, and don't let go."
I came to the next day. Inexplicably, the sun was shining and the sky was clear. It was a beautiful day.
"Ah, you are awake." Shampoo was back in her human form. She reached over and brushed some hair out of my face. "Good morning, Husband."
I didn't feel up for any light-hearted banter. "Did I do it?"
Her lips compressed into a thin line. "Yes, Husband. You killed them all. Saya is making sure that there's no trace of us left, and burning the village."
I smiled a mirthless smile. "Good."
"That was the start of the Chinese Civil War, the first official battle." Shin's voice was soft, filled with awe. "You were there?"
Ranma nodded. "I played a rather large part in the War, actually. Though not officially," he added as an afterthought.
Dr. Tofu's expression was a mixture of compassion and pity. "That must have been horrible."
"Oh, yes. Yes indeed."
A deep breath, then, "Ranma, did you really kill all of them?" Kasumi gripped her ponytail nervously.
"Surely you aren't defending those murderers?" Incredulity.
"No, no, it's just... you've changed." Kasumi's eyes darted to and from Ranma's face.
Several uncomfortable seconds passed before Ranma spoke. "Yes, well, some of the things that I've seen... they'll change you. And I mourn the old me as much as anyone."
Kasumi smiled a shaky smile. "You seem to be doing okay now, right?"
"Something like that."
A small noise came from the youngest sister. Ranma turned to her and saw that she was crying again. She noticed his stare, started rubbing her face. "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm a bit emotional tonight." She sniffed and continued to wipe at her eyes. "It's hard to be forced into change, isn't it?"
"Without question." The martial artist's mouth curved up into an affectionate smile – there, then gone just as quickly.
Shin grabbed a pretzel and stuck it in his mouth. "This is nuts. What happened next?"
A deep breath.
POSTSCRIPT: The first half of this chapter was written super quickly. The characters just ran off on their own. The second half was more like pulling teeth. If you can tell the difference in writing style, please kick me, so I can fix it.
The Chinese Civil War concept was conceived a long time ago, before all of the hubbub with the Olympic Torch. It's not meant to be topical like that, but it turned out that way. I'd apologize, but I actually think it worked out pretty well! Sweet.
Shampoo's hybrid cursed form thing looks kind of like Felicia from Darkstalkers, if you're interested. Though, of course, not as erotic or gratuitous. And considerably hairier.
As usual, thanks for reading, and if you have any comments, give me a review or a message.
POST-POSTSCRIPT: An anonymous reviewer brought up a very good point. I'll leave the post up, if you want to look at it, but I'm also going to paste the main point here.
"Just a little problem... Couldn't he just use a ki blast to take out the helicopter, and save the ammo for the villagers to use?"
One thing I'm trying to do with this story is NOT destroy what came before, but build off of it. And to that effect, I can not in good conscience write Ranma using most of his ki-blasts.
The speed training he received is useful every day; the toughness as well; even the Hiryu-Shoten Ha, and the Umi-Sen Ken, and etc. etc. etc. But the ki-blasts he learned were, for the most part, based off of his emotional state. Whether Ryoga's depression blast or Ranma's pride blast, they drew heavily from the feelings emanating from the user.
Ranma is an emotional wreck. He's been through a lot, and he's definitely going through some mood swings. While useful against any foe, the pride blast just isn't reliable because of his current depression. And his depression blast wouldn't be reliable enough because of a.) his innate pride and arrogance that is never going to disappear, and b.) his marriage to Shampoo, which made him a little happier, no matter what he says to the contrary.
So yeah, he definitely could use a ki-blast to take out the helicopter. But he may as well try throwing rocks at it, for all the good it would do. Without a definitive emotional state, any ki-manipulation like that would be useless.
Thanks for the post, though, anonymous reader! And please keep good questions like that coming!