Letters of the Heart
By: Tellemicus Sundance
Chapter 2—Heart of Confusion
In the darkness of the night, the figure sitting crouched upon a high street lamp would've been easily missed, even with the light of the crescent moon shining down on him and giving him an almost unearthly glow. Deciding to not return to the Dojo for the moment, Ranma had leapt up here for a bit of security. From his position upon the pole of the street lamp and facing towards the light shining beneath him, no one could sneak up and peek over his shoulder to read what was in his hands, not even Happosai or Cologne could accomplish that feat.
Clutched in his hands and faintly illuminated by the moon above him were the pages of Shampoo's letter. If what Cologne said was true and Shampoo really hadn't written this letter with the knowledge that Ranma would be reading it soon, then he really couldn't believe his luck. Shampoo had written all fourteen pages of the letter in Japanese, not Chinese, so he was easily able to read it. But what really surprised him was how thorough with her explanations and comparisons she had been, as though she really was trying to help him understand her.
It started out as much less a letter and more as a diary of her early life and how she'd grown up. Living under the almost unimaginably high expectations of one day amounting to something far greater due to her heritage as being the descendent of the mighty Cologne, spending the majority of her childhood playing with and eventually beating down Mousse as he turned his attention from playful sparring to marriage duels, training in martial arts for as long as she could remember, and then finally seizing her goal of becoming the village champion. Only to be beaten by a redhead stranger who made her look like a child battling a seasoned warrior.
She had explained, in a surprising amount of detail, just how extensive that one defeat had dishonored her in the eyes of her tribe. Just how incredibly angry she had been, not necessarily at Ranma but more at herself for apparently allowing herself to stagnate. Because surely if she'd been giving her training all she had she wouldn't have been beaten so easily, right? She had taken to hunting the redhead down with a passionate vengeance that would've made many of her tribeswomen proud.
And then she found the love of her life. Granted, she hadn't fallen in love with him on first sight or even when he had defeated her so easily. However, it was that act of beating her with only one hit (like the redhead had) that had gotten her attention on him. After that, she'd quickly come to realize just how strong he really was. He was completely devoted to his training and he had a good heart hidden under his loud, gruff exterior.
But, for some reason that she just couldn't understand, he seemed to be helplessly loyal to the violent girl he lived with, who hit and yelled at him for the smallest things. Why was he so committed to a girl who was not only inferior to his level of martial arts, but was clearly jealous of him for being so superior and had a ludicrously-short temper? And to make things worse, she seemed more content to yell and whine when things didn't go her way and let Ranma or her father or someone else deal with the issue instead of taking care of it herself. She had next to no drive to improve her martial arts. It was only a hobby for her that she indulged in when she felt that her great strength wasn't enough because she couldn't break Ranma's bones (or any of her other rivals) with one hit.
Upon learning of his intense loyalty to Akane, Shampoo had immediately realized that there was nothing she could say or do which could sway his interest from her and onto Shampoo herself. Not only did he seem to think that he was honor-bound to marry the Tendo girl, but he had his father and Akane's father both breathing down his neck whenever he apparently showed even a sliver's worth of interest in any other girl, when it wasn't strictly as one martial artist to another at least. The only way she could think of to get his attention on her with that kind of mess was to play pranks and use magic or tricks. She explained that in her village, such tactics would've been extremely flattering. And though they were sometimes a bit obnoxious even in Joketsuzoku, it was the fact that the Amazon was willing to go to such lengths to get the man or woman they wanted that would've gotten them the attention of their target; maybe not always ending in marriage, but enough for them to get to know each other.
As he continued reading about how much it pained her to see him always running off or managing to outwit whatever scheme she'd come up with, Ranma couldn't help but wince. If this letter was to be believed, then he was hurting her emotionally far more than he'd originally thought. While many people would call him a callous and arrogant bastard (which he admittedly was), Ranma did have a good heart and one of the lessons his father had (sometimes literally) beaten into him since his birth was to never hurt a girl, whether physically or emotionally, no matter what. For all his lack of social interactions, even he could see just how much pain he was causing her as he read the letter. And despite all she'd put him through, Ranma couldn't help but start to feel guilty at the realization that he'd made a beautiful girl cry…numerous times. Yet he had always thought of Shampoo as being a lot like him, albeit a little bubbly and 'playful', as a skilled martial artist who could bounce back from even the worst of situations with all the elegant grace and talent as a cat.
Ranma may have been many things, but one of the things he'd always strived to accomplish was to remain as honorable as he could towards himself and what he loved, namely his martial arts. And now that he had been presented with a dilemma that had no easy solution, like many of his problems, he found himself between a rock and hard place. His honor was now bringing him a sense of deepening guilt thanks to the proof in his hands that was to the contrary of how he'd always envisioned the young Amazon. Shampoo was hurting and it was entirely his fault, if the letter was to be believed. And then his father's ingrained lessons on how to treat girls reared their ugly heads; he needed to make Shampoo feel better, otherwise the guilt of knowing but not doing anything would literally eat away at his conscience until he did something about it. His conscience demanded his comfort her, but how could he? If he did try to, she'd inevitably see it as Ranma finally starting to take an interest in her. Ranma was, again, finding himself stuck between a rock and a hard place.
What could he do in this situation?
Something was bothering Ranma-kun.
That much was obvious, even to her father and Saotome-san. Ranma had been unable to muster very much focus during his morning training with his father. His moments of distractions seemed to occur during the briefs seconds before or after he launched a very high-speed attack on his father. Genma, ever opportunistic, would see those moments of distraction and immediately capitalize on them. He'd either dodge the coming attack or deliver a strong counterattack of his own, often smacking Ranma straight into the dirt.
From what she could see through the window of the fight currently taking place, Ranma seemed to have let his distraction overwhelm him again. Without missing a beat, Genma dropped like a lead weight from above onto Ranma's stomach before proceeding to kick him into the koi pond.
"Aw, is my little son getting distracted?" Genma yelled mockingly at the quickly resurfacing redhead. Despite his indignation at his son's apparent lack of focus, Genma couldn't stop himself from laughing heartily at his son's expense. At least until a small tsunami splashed over him, followed by a 'light' boulder that had formerly been resting on the edge of the pond.
"Now who is distracted, old man?" Ranma growled dangerously at the soaked panda before her.
'Show respect to your betters, boy!' Genma growled as he charged forward and attempted to whack his now-daughter upside the head with his sign.
Easily dancing out of the panda's reach, Ranma bounced forward and kicked out, striking the panda in its chin. "When I finally meet them, maybe I will!" Genma had no immediate reply to that retort as he was sent careening through the air and splashed down in the koi pond himself. Straightening herself up out her stance, Ranma muttered quietly to herself, "I'm not distracted, just hungry. Yes, I'm just hungry."
"Breakfast is ready, everyone!" Kasumi called out as she moved into the dining room with a large tray of food. Upon hearing the meal call, both Genma and Ranma abandoned their duel to rush forward and quickly take the offered kettle of ever-present hot water. Toweling themselves dry real quick, they joined the rest of the Tendo family at the table and eagerly awaited the food that was to come. It seemed that whatever had been distracting Ranma earlier was now partially forgotten at the sight of the approaching meal.
Throughout breakfast and then later as she was washing the dishes, Kasumi discretely watched their youngest houseguest. Although he was easily able to defend his plate from the occasional attacks of his gluttonous father with the ease of years' worth of experience, Ranma didn't eat with his own usual gusto. He still ate at a fairly quickened pace, but it just wasn't quite on the level that it usually was. Kasumi couldn't help but feel slightly worried about the young man. She didn't know what had happened, but it was clear that he was uncharacteristically distracted about something this morning. Also, she had noticed Nabiki sending the martial artist some very concerning glances as well. If Kasumi were a gambler, she'd place a bet that Ranma's wallet was going to be several hundred yen lighter by the end of the day.
It was the weekend and school was out. The fact that Akane had gone off to visit her girlfriends after breakfast, as well as their fathers being occupied by their usual games of shogi and sake, meant that Ranma had a rare free day to himself. He was currently using this day to idly walk through the neighborhood upon the fences and other such places for his balance training. But this type of training had long since become second-nature to him, so his mind was mostly off in its own little world as he tried to understand the motivation of the Amazons.
'Calm down and think this through carefully, Ranma,' the pigtailed teenager silently told himself. 'Cologne and Shampoo have made their goals towards me quite clear at this point. They want me to marry Shampoo, and probably return to China later on. Shampoo has done a lot of strange stuff to me and the Tendos towards that goal. How do I know that this isn't just another scheme?"
'I suppose I could always spy on them,' he pointed out to himself. 'With the Umisenken, that'd be piece of cake…if only I could use it, stupid panda. But if this is a scheme of theirs, wouldn't that mean that they'd be prepared for something like that? I don't wanna talk to Shampoo about this, it could give her the wrong idea…or the right one, depending on what happens. Mousse would likely cause more trouble than it'd be worth trying. And there's really no point in seeing the Old Ghoul until I see a bit more evidence of what she was talking about.'
Sighing heavily, Ranma came to a momentary stop on the fence and looked off in the direction that he knew the Nekohanten was. Up to this point, his primary and only method of dealing with his Amazon 'bride', as well as the various other fiancées his father hooked him up with, was to ignore their many and imaginative advances for as long as he could. He figured that if he ran away long enough, they'd eventually give up the chase and leave him alone. As of yet, this strategy had yet to yield any positive results. But would that strategy work in this situation?
As far as he could tell, Shampoo's letter had been as genuine and sincere as her desire to marry him. If there was ever one thing he could always count on Shampoo for, it was being extremely driven to get whatever she wanted. Unfortunately, more often than not, this usually pertained to getting Ranma to marry her. With that being the case, Ranma could easily read between the lines to see Shampoo's written confessions were completely truth, with a typical Shampoo-flair that mirrored her personality as distinctively as her fighting style. So he could tell that she had genuinely written that letter from the heart. The only question that remained was whether or not Cologne could be trusted when she said that Shampoo hadn't known of the letter's future destination into her Airen's hands.
A familiar jingling bell and an even more familiar cry of "Nihao, Ranma!" tore the pigtailed martial artist from his contemplations. Spinning around, Ranma let out a startled cry as an overeager bundle of Chinese Amazon expertly tossed her delivery box into the air, leapt off her bike, and wrapped her arms tightly around his torso as she slammed into him, knocking both of them off the fence. Behind them, her bike clattered to the ground lifelessly as the delivery box settled upon the fence in a slightly less than gentle jostle.
Looking up at the bluenette that had so enthusiastically embraced him as she tried to cuddle ever deeper into his chest, Ranma had to suppress a pained wince. No matter how many times he'd been in this position, it never got any easier to deal with. As he tried to sit up, Shampoo suddenly adjusted her position and was hugging him tightly around the neck, pressing herself onto him in a manner that would've had any guy blushing up a storm.
"Shampoo so happy to see Airen!" she purred, nuzzling up against him.
"Shampoo, get off me!" he almost yelled, struggling to get to his feet and remove the clinging beauty. "What are you doing here? Delivering ramen again?"
"Aiyah!" she yelped in disappointment as Ranma pushed her off him and sat up. "Ranma no happy to see Shampoo?"
"No, I mean yes," he proclaimed, verbally stumbling as old habits collided with new questions. "Ah…well, maybe if you didn't throw me to the ground like that…"
"Ah, Shampoo sorry!" she replied immediately, looking extremely apologetic. For just a split-second, Ranma was once again struck by just how incredibly cute she was… Well, when she wasn't doing anything devious at least. Unfortunately for Ranma, Shampoo glanced up at him and caught him staring at her with peculiar gleam in his eyes, a gleam that she'd not seen before and thus didn't recognize it. "Why Ranma staring?"
Blinking and snapping back to reality, Ranma sighed and looked away while rubbing the back of his neck. "Nothing…" After a moment, he could no longer contain his curiosity. He'd vowed to never outright ask about that letter, but… maybe if he asked certain questions the girl would give him answers, which he could later compare to what he remembered of that letter and verify its accuracy. Thus he felt secure in asking, "Hey, Shampoo, how much longer are you going to watch the dojo all day?"
His unexpected question clearly caught the girl flatfooted; an extremely faint blush of red teased across her cheeks. "Nani?"
"Don't play innocent with me, Shampoo," Ranma said, trying to sound reproachful but failing. His lips twitched into a reluctant grin at the girl's attempt at playing innocent. "I could've felt you from three miles away, especially when your ki started fluctuating. Were you daydreaming or something?"
If Shampoo had been anyone else, she might've had a full-face blush by this point. He'd sensed her yesterday, even when she'd been doing her utmost best to hide her presence. In retrospect, she knew she shouldn't have been surprised; this was Ranma after all. But she hadn't prepared herself for being questioned on it!
"You're lucky the old men didn't notice," Ranma continued. "If they had, that might've gotten unpleasant."
Snorting, Shampoo crossed her arms and looked contemptuous at the comment. Did Ranma think she was some defenseless and weak girl like the rest of Japanese community? That she couldn't handle the elder Saotome and Tendo? "Shampoo no weakling, Ranma," she declared pointedly. "She beat all fighters! No sweat!"
Shrugging casually, Ranma turned a critical eye on the girl. "You still didn't answer my question, Shampoo. Why are you watching the dojo lately? You're not going to try another of your crazy magic tricks again, are you?"
Looking curiously up at Ranma, Shampoo brushed off the insult as she tried to understand what her beloved husband was doing. So far, aside from pushing her off of him, he hadn't even tried to run away or get her leave yet. How strange… Unable to stop herself, Shampoo asked, "What wrong, Airen? Ranma acting weird."
"Don't change the subject, Shampoo," he said, unwavering. "You started acting weird first. Is there something you want to tell me?" Looking around and stretching his senses to verify that they were truly alone on the street, or at least far enough away from prying ears, he continued, "We're alone for the moment, so now is your best chance to tell me."
He did have a few points. They were as alone as you could get in Nerima, which usually didn't last too long. She was the first one to break away and start acting different from their established status quo, so who was she to criticize him for doing so as well? And she could tell that he was unusually focused on getting some kind of answer from her about her recent change. It was tempting, very tempting, to just lower her emotional guard and share all her grief with him. Tell him about why she was feeling so depressed lately, try to get him to understand her feelings.
But she was a proud Amazon! She wouldn't let her emotions get the best of her, especially in front of her husband. Besides, she felt loads better after following her great-grandmother's instructions and writing her emotions down in a faux-letter to Ranma last night.
"Shampoo feel just fine, Ranma," she declared, carefully keeping her voice level and casual, her expression neutral.
Ranma just continued staring critically at her for a few moments. Because he'd been specifically looking for it, he had noticed the careful control of her voice and the slightly saddened gleam in her eyes, a stark contrast to the usual lively and bright sheen that lit them. If he'd asked her that question yesterday, he probably wouldn't have noticed because he'd have not really cared too much about it.
After a moment of silence between them, Ranma finally nodded as he pushed his hands into his pockets. Turning, he started walking away. Casually waving over his shoulder, he called out, "I'll see ya later, Shampoo. Don't let that ramen get too cold, okay?"
Blinking for a moment, Shampoo tried to puzzle out what he meant. Then she remembered her earlier task. Yelping at having forgotten about the errand in her happiness to see Ranma, she grabbed up her bike, leapt back up on the fence with the waiting delivery box, and took off at breakneck speeds to make up for lost time.
Ranma watched in silence as the bluenette disappeared around a corner, her speed never slowing in the slightest. He was left with the difficult task of trying to sort through what they'd spoken of and what her reactions or lack of reactions meant.
He was getting a headache already.
(Author's Note) At long last, I have FINALLY updated this story! Hallelujah! Though I'm kinda embarrassed it took me more than two months to do so. Hopefully the next chapter won't take as long and will have more character interactions.
I'd like to shout-out to rewind gone nuts for helping me with this chapter and, specifically, for reviewing the conversation between Ranma and Shampoo which was probably the signature portion of this chapter.
I'm planning to update my other two stories before moving back to this one. Until that time, here's a small challenge/request for all you. While I have overall plotline somewhat thought out, it's the little things that I'm open to. If there's anything you think I should add into this story, or ideas you have that you think could compliment the story, feel free to PM me at your earliest convenience. I only ask that you try to keep your ideas logical; I'm not a fan of bashing characters I don't like without undue reason, so if your idea is to torture someone like Akane, Nabiki, Mousse just because... you'll need a better reason to win my support.
Until next time...