I do not own the Xiaolin Showdown characters, or the Xiaolin Showdown universe. They are copyrighted and belong to Christie Hui and Warner Brothers.
The storyline, however, is mine. So no pilfering, please. Thanks.
TUN* Publishing Company
In the waning hours of the late afternoon, Raimundo sought a shady spot under the cherry tree. He tossed his garden tools down on the ground and took a deep breath, exhaled, and closed his eyes. Spending the entire day weeding and gardening in the new meditation garden Master Fung had wanted was not his idea of fun by any stretch of the imagination. As the hours ticked by he began wishing, hoping, and then finally praying for a Wu to go active, or even for Jack to come by and try to bust open the vault. But it had turned out to be a nothing sort of day and so the hours dragged by at a relentlessly slow pace until he thought he would go mad.
When lunchtime rolled around he had tried negotiating with Master Fung to let them at least spend a few hours putting themselves through their training paces and then they could tackle the garden for a couple of hours until it was time for supper. But Master Fung had cleared away all their other chores and training for today to have them work in the garden. "If you get this work done today," the master had said, "you won't have to do it tomorrow." Raimundo ruefully thought to himself that he couldn't argue with logic like that now could he?
With a sigh, he bent his legs and lowered himself to a sitting position against the trunk of the tree. Thank heavens it wasn't his turn to cook today. For the next thirty minutes all he wanted to do was sink into an oblivious meditative state to try to bolster what little energy he had left. He made some slight adjustments to his sitting position until he felt comfortable. Then he leaned his head back against the cool bark of the cherry tree and closed his eyes again.
Raimundo's eyes came open and he considered the leaves of the tree and the soft rustle they made as a light breeze wafted through the branches.
Rai turned his head and looked around. The source of the meowing was sitting about five yards off to his right. "What do you want?" he asked, a definite tone of unfriendliness evident in his voice.
Suki shifted her own sitting position, first leaning her weight on one paw and then the other. She looked at Raimundo with bright green eyes and tilted her head just a little bit to one side. "Meow," she said again.
Rai frowned. "Go away, cat," he said. He never called her by her name, just called her 'cat'. She was never around much for him to bother using her proper name anyway.
Suki was a temple cat. Every temple had one. A few of the temples, like Master Guan's, had two. The cats were important to protecting the food that was kept in the root cellar from the mice and rats that lived in the open land surrounding the temples. Every day Suki would prowl around the inside of the temple grounds. If she found any kind of rodent, she killed it. When she was satisfied that there were no more rodents inside the temple complex, she would head outside and look for more. She usually came in later in the evening, after the sun was just beginning to set. Master Fung would leave some of the leftover food from supper out for her so she could have a 'proper' meal. Rai always found this amusing. After feasting on live game all day why would she need to eat cooked food yet? But never mind. Suki would go and curl up on her pillow under the one end table in the living room, fall asleep, and stay that way until the next morning. Outside of Dojo and Master Fung, Kimiko was the only other person who took the time to pay any attention to her. Even Clay and Omi didn't really pay her much mind.
Suki took a few tentative steps in Rai's direction. Rai's frown deepened. All he wanted was to be left alone for the next twenty-five minutes until it was time to eat. He leaned forward and made a sweeping motion with his hand in Suki's direction. "Shoo!" he exclaimed. "Go cat! I'm trying to rest." Suki pulled her front paws off the ground and hopped back on her hind legs. She gave him a look that was almost mournful, if that was possible, held his gaze for just a few seconds more, and then turned around and left, her tail drooping down behind her.
Rai leaned back against the tree and closed his eyes yet again. He had maybe twenty-three minutes left.
After supper, it was another two hours of weeding and rearranging, and hoeing and planting in the garden. Master Fung declared that he was quite pleased with the results of all the work they'd done today and said the garden looked much better and soon it would be just the way he had imagined it. Everyone collapsed on the ground next to a boulder by the stream. Rai immediately closed his eyes and relaxed his body. Finally! They were done. He could go get a shower, throw himself in bed, and sleep for the next nine hours. And boy would he sleep! Six o'clock came awfully early and he was anticipating that they would all wake up with aches and pains that would need to be attended to.
"I'm heading for the tool shed," he said, hauling himself back up off the ground. "I'll put everything away. You guys, go hit the shower. Cause by the time I get this all cleared up I'm gonna be wanting to get in there without any delay."
With various moans and groans the rest of his teammates got up and shuffled off in the direction of their living quarters. Rai turned around and gathered all the tools up with a gust of wind. They hovered in the air and trailed behind him as he made his way to the tool shed. He scraped the dirt off the tools and hung them back up on their proper hooks. When he was done, he closed and locked the door behind him. Suki was sitting in the path, directly in his way, when he turned back around from locking the shed door. Rai pursed his lips. "Are you trying to follow me or something?" he asked her. Suki tilted her head to one side. "Meow." Rai rolled his eyes and started down the path. "Go to bed," he said to her. "That's what I intend to do." He walked right by her without any further comment and continued on his way.
When the alarm clock went off the next morning, Rai rolled over and batted it off so hard it slid off the nightstand and fell with a bang onto the floor. Rai pulled the covers up over his head and contemplated the amount of extra time he might be able to get away with spending in bed yet instead of getting up. Five minutes passed and he drew the covers down and away, and crawled slowly out of bed. There wasn't a part of his body that didn't ache. He sat on the edge of the bed and tried to do a little self-diagnosing. He didn't feel any actual pain anywhere, he just ached. Probably some stretching exercises would work the aches and the kinks out.
He donned his clothes and shoes and headed out the door. He was halfway down the hall when Suki trotted out from around the corner. He almost stepped right on her. Suki pulled her front paws off the floor and hopped her way back from where he'd stopped.
Rai practically glared down at her. "What is your problem?" She looked at him, that same kind of 'I'm just trying to get your attention' look that she had used on him yesterday. He propped his hands on his hips. "Look," he started, "I don't hate cats, okay? I don't like them much but I don't exactly hate them, either." He paused. "Except for those stinking, psycho, nutjob cats of Katnappe." He stopped. "Why am I talking to you? You're a cat for God's sake!" He put the tip of his shoe under her stomach and shoved her out of his way. "Go and hunt your little mices," he said. Suki remained in the place where Rai had pushed her to and watched him until he turned another corner and was out of sight.
"What is the matter with you?"
Rai started from his attempts to scrape the green gunk off the sides of the Koi pond and closed his eyes. He counted to five, and then to eight, opened his eyes and looked up. Kimiko was standing next to him, staring at him with a mixture of concern and anger in her eyes.
Rai's expression changed to one of annoyance. "What?" he asked, just a little too forcefully.
Kimiko shook her head. "Are you okay?"
Rai's eyes narrowed slightly in suspicion. "Why would I not be okay?" he asked.
Kimiko drew her lower lip in to chew on it while she hesitated. Finally, she said, "Did you really have to yell at Omi?"
Rai's shoulder sagged. Is that what this was about? He stood up. "For the record, I did not yell at Omi. Yes, I fussed him. He took the fish out of the water and dropped them on the sidewalk. He's a water element for crying out loud! He knows fish will die if – " He stopped suddenly as the feeling of annoyance crept back into his emotions. "Why do I have to explain this again?" He was clearly angry now and he stared hard at her as if daring her to give him one good reason why his actions should be perceived as having been in the wrong.
Kimiko's expression softened and she looked directly into his eyes. "Rai…." Her voice trailed off and she seemed to be struggling to put whatever words she wanted to use in the proper order. "Rai," she began again, "I'm worried about you. I'm wondering if maybe being leader is starting to weigh too hard on you."
Rai's mouth dropped. Of all the possible things he was expecting her to say, that wasn't it. He stammered for a response. "Kimi…. What on earth makes you think that?"
Kimiko went back to chewing her lower lip. "Last night…. You should have asked us to help you put the tools away. It would have taken half the time and you could have rested on the sofa while we got cleaned up for bed."
Rai backed away from her a couple of steps. He stared at her. He couldn't think of what he ought to say. He was just plain confused. Of all the times for Kimiko to decide to finally show some emotion for him. What the heck was happening? He grasped for a sense of balance by saying what he thought would sound like a normal thing to say. "Um, Kimiko, what does this have to do with Omi trying to kill the fish?"
Kimiko sighed. "He wasn't being negligent to the fish, Rai! He honestly thought that he could turn off the water quickly enough that he could leave the fish on the sidewalk and get them afterwards. You just totally brushed off his explanation and didn't stop to consider that he might have actually known what he was doing."
Rai flung his arms helplessly in the air. "If it had been anything other than the fish, I would have! Those fish, Kimiko!" he exclaimed. "They're technically Master Fung's. He loves those fish! If anything had happened – "
"That's it!" she suddenly yelled. "That's it Rai!" she said again, poking her finger at him. "That's your problem!"
The anger he had previously felt came flooding back. "Oh?" he said defensively. "Now, I have a problem, do I?"
Kimiko waved her hand in air. "I didn't mean it like that," she said. "I'm sorry. I mean that this is why you're driving yourself like this. You're too tense, Rai. You're trying so hard to prove to Master Fung that he made the right decision about you being leader that you're feeling way too responsible for everything that goes on!"
Rai closed his eyes and rubbed his fingers over them. If this discussion continued much longer he would develop a nice, killer headache. "Kimiko, nothing you're saying makes any sense! If I delegate chores for you guys to do, and I don't explain them properly, and you would happen to do them wrong, of course Master Fung is going to come after me and ask –"
Kimiko put her hand on his shoulder to stop him. This was worse than she had thought it was. She should have tried to speak to him before now. Or maybe she should talk to Master Fung. If Rai kept going like this, he would work himself into a tizzy.
"Rai, please stop. You know that we know how to do the chores. We've been doing them for years. If Omi had truly misjudged his timing with turning off the water in the fountain and the fish had died, Master Fung would have gone after him, not you." She kept his gaze held with hers and tried to will him to feel that what she was saying was the truth and he should know that. "If anything new crops up, you know that Master Fung will trust you to explain it to us the right way. And Rai, you have to trust yourself. We all know the mistakes you've made. We've made mistakes, too. We're all on the same page, Rai. You really need to relax!"
Rai swallowed hard. He wasn't sure what to do. His emotions were trying to claw their way up to the surface and he wasn't sure he could beat them down much longer. What should he do? Should he grab Kimiko and hug her? If he did, how long would she let him hold her? Did it make him a jerk that he was wondering how he could work this situation to his advantage?
All his musings came to a complete halt as he felt something wrapping itself around his legs. He immediately pulled one of his feet up and stepped back in an attempt to disentangle himself from whatever entity was trying to get a hold on him. He looked down.
Immediately, Rai jumped back. "You!" he exclaimed angrily. "What is the matter with you?" He looked up at Kimiko with exasperation clearly showing on his face. "This stinking cat is stalking me!" He looked back down to Suki. "Why are you not out in the fields killing animals that are smaller than you?"
Kimiko sighed and a soft laugh escaped her throat. She bent down, picked up the cat and held it to her chest.
Rai gave Suki a scornful look. Man, I wish I was that cat right now…..
Kimiko hoisted Suki up onto her shoulder so that Suki's head was close to her ear. She closed her eyes and seemed to be listening to something. A sweet smile played at her lips. Rai studied her curiously. Kimiko opened her eyes and looked at Rai. "Did your parents know anyone that owned cats?" she asked. Rai's brow furrowed. "Did my parents….? Um, I had a couple of aunts and uncles that owned cats. They were indoor/outdoor cats. Most of the unpleasant encounters I've had with cats, though, come from the feral alley cats that roam my homeland in the towns and cities." He frowned. "And then there's always Katnappe."
Kimiko slipped her arm under Suki for leverage and handed her over to Rai. He put his hands up defensively. "Whoa. Now lookee here…."
Kimiko smiled. "She's singing! Didn't your aunt's cats sing?"
A look of total confusion swept over Rai's face. How did he get from Kimiko being nice and emotional with him to singing cats?
"She's singing? Next you'll tell me that when it's a full moon, at the stroke of midnight, she gathers in a circle with the other temple cats and dances a jig in the middle of a forest glade somewhere."
Kimiko burst out laughing. "You silly! She's purring! Or singing! That's what it's called!" Again, she held the cat out for Rai to take. "Here. Put her on your shoulder. Close your eyes and listen!"
Rai sighed and felt the rest of his protestations leave him. At this rate, he was never going to finish cleaning the water fountain. The rest of the chores would get backed up into next week and –
Oh, screw it….
He reached out, took Suki from Kimiko's hands and laid her against his chest so her face was close to his ear. Almost immediately, Suki began rubbing her face against his shoulder. The purring got louder and Rai closed his eyes like Kimiko told him to. It was a monotone sort of sound – there were slight dips and raises in the decibel level – but mostly it stayed within one tonal range. Still there was something very soothing about it. As Rai held her, he noticed that the area of his chest that she was laying against was getting warm. Probably because of her being a furry animal. Involuntarily, he began stroking her head between her ears. He felt her paw reach out and she propped it against his upper arm.
A weight placed itself against his other shoulder. "Keep your eyes closed." A pause. "There now, don't you feel your blood pressure dropping?" Rai smirked. He hadn't realized his blood pressure was in any kind of danger. On the other hand, he did feel more relaxed than he was just a few minutes ago. Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes. Kimiko had her own eyes closed and had placed her other hand against Suki's side. He watched her for about a full minute and then decided it was time to bring this to an abrupt end. Yep, he was feeling much better now.
"Wellllll," he began, "as much as I'd like to stand here all day with you next to me, and this purring cat, I really need to go talk to Omi and then come back and finish cleaning out this fountain."
Kimiko dropped her hands and stepped back. "For years doctors everywhere have been extolling the virtues of owning a pet. Being able to interact with an animal that loves you can be very therapeutic and good for your health."
Rai smiled sweetly at her. "You know, the one thing that amazes me about what you just said is that you know what the word 'extolling' means."
Kimiko took a deliberately measured breath. "Rai…" she growled. "I'm serious!"
Rai's smile turned genuine. "Yes. I know you are." He put Suki back on the ground and this time she didn't linger. She trotted off without even looking back and then broke into a run. Rai watched her go until he couldn't see her anymore.
"She's been following me around. Yesterday and today. I thought she was trying to be annoying."
Kimiko regarded Rai, amusement clearly showing in her eyes. "You really don't know anything about pets, do you? It's possible that she could feel the tension was building in you more than usual, and she wanted to try to help calm you. Now don't you feel bad that you always ignore her and call her 'cat' instead of her real name?"
Rai stood still for a moment while he considered his answer. Then, he worked his expression into a good imitation of being upset and said, "Oh, sure! After all that work she did trying to calm me down and then you go and ruin everything by trying to make me feel guilty!" He sniffled. "You know, you're going to have to hug me now, since she's left." He smiled hopefully, and put his arms out to her.
The corner of Kimiko's mouth curled up. "Nice try. But I don't think so."
Kimiko turned and began walking away.
"You know, some guys call their girlfriends 'Pet'!"
"I'm not your girlfriend!"
"You could pretend!"
Rai sighed and stopped yelling after her. Well, crap…..
He turned around and stared at the still dirty fountain. This is what they mean by working out your frustrations.
Still, he did feel much better about things now. And this strange encounter with Kimiko left him feeling hopeful. In the space of what – thirty minutes maybe? – he'd suddenly gotten so much closer to her emotionally than he'd ever gotten in all the past years combined. And all because of a cat. No, because of Suki.
Rai got back down on his knees and began scrubbing vigorously at the green, slimy gunk coating the fountain walls. Yes, from now on he would call Suki by her proper name, and maybe that would score him more points with Kimiko. He would have to read up on some literature about cats so he would be able to have an intelligent conversation about them with Kimiko, too. Rai smiled to himself. All of a sudden, things were starting to look up.
He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn't realize he'd acquired some company until he felt a tapping on his shoulder. Startled, he jerked away from the fountain and sat back on his heels. Omi stood in front of him smiling broadly.
"Kimiko said you wanted to apologize to me. She explained that you were feeling a bit tense lately and you did not mean to leap into my esophagus."
"That's 'jump down your throat', Omi. And yes, I am sorry I fussed you earlier. I know that you, of all people, are right on top of the timing thing when you execute any kind of moves. And I suppose that includes moving the fountain pump from on to off. Can you forgive me?"
Omi practically beamed and he threw out his arms to Raimundo. "Of course I forgive you! And now it is time for your hug!"
Rai felt his eyes widen and his nerve endings go numb. "M – my hug….?"
Oh, the horror! Darn that Kimiko! She can be a wicked girl, can't she?
You can't tell that I've owned cats all my life, can you?
Anyway, the idea for the temple cat did not just come to me out of the thin air. Do you remember the episode "The Return of Master Monk Guan" where Master Fung tells them he's sending them away? Dojo throws a fit and the gang really has to yank on him to get him to let go. When he finally does, the scene pans out to a long shot as we listen to all sorts of crashing and banging sounds. Mixed in there is a cat howling. Apparently someone fell on the poor thing. And from that one scene, I got the idea for doing a story with a temple cat. It's been banging around in my head for some time now. I finally managed to come up with something concrete and put it on paper.
And now you get to tell me if it was worth my effort! Click the little button and leave a review!