Disclaimer: I don't own these characters or worlds, nor do I make any claim. Please don't shoot, I'm just the piano player.
"Well, I've gotten word from Higher about this," said Lieutenant Toshiro Ito as he sat tiredly in the chair opposite Ranma.
Ranma was tired himelf. Tired and worn. Sleep had been denied him these last two nights, as he grappled with nightmares. Saffron, and Zendor. What happened. What might have happened. What it felt like to kill. With Zendor, what if felt like as her ki faded and extinguished. "How much trouble am I in?"
It was a very good question, he felt. When they returned from the Magical World, Gosunkugi and the unconscious Kuno siblings in tow, Ito had been at the Tendo Dojo, along with a mass of military police. Ranma knew he'd broken his standing orders about not letting people know about the Magical World – no way in hell would the Bureau not find it now, and he had little doubt that the spies would figure it out, too – so when they'd told him to come quietly, he did.
Truth to tell, after spending that much time in close proximity to so many mages; and in a mage's lair, getting away was almost a relief. He'd been hurting, even before he'd had to kill. Two restless nights later and part of him wished he'd refused to come along, but it was too late for that. He'd play the cards he'd been dealt, to borrow a phrase.
"That's still being determined, but I suspect, once some of our assorted spooks finish having their heart attacks, it won't be as bad as it could." A pause. "Just about everyone in my chain of command, at least, agrees that under the circumstances, they'd have gone after the girls, and to hell with everything else. The only dissenting voice was Takashi, but he's a hard one." A pause. "It'll still be more than a slap on the wrist, and it's utterly torpedoed at least three long range plans we'd had, but a few of those were on shakey ground already, from what I can gather."
"Oh?" He was curious despite himself.
"Well, it seems there's been rumblings for a while that the British already knew about the Magical World, so that secret edge was probably nearing the end of its life. The others..."
"Classified? Especially around a guy like me?"
"Unfortunately." Ito gave him a thin smile. "Need to know basis and all that. Still. We probably won't be keeping you here too much longer." A pause. "And if you really wanted to leave, I'm sure this wouldn't hold you."
Ranma gave a look around the room. "Well... Not really. But... Heck, I knew I was breakin' my orders. I'm a better man than my father. I'll take my lumps."
"That fact that you're honestly willing to is part of the reason it's going to go as well as it is for you. I'll get back to you as soon as I have more information."
Ukyo was at something of a loose end, these last few days. It hadn't been easy. They'd been taken to Tokyo General after getting out of Kendra Zendor's fortress, for observation and, well, the fact that the Tendo Dojo wasn't looking much better off than her own home had. The first two nights... had been bad. But the nightmares were ebbing a bit in their ferocity and power, and with a little luck she'd be able to sleep soundly again soon. Not bad for only a week after... that.
She suppressed a shudder, thinking again of Zendor's madness, and what Kasumi had been willing to do to try and break them free from it. She had to get that girl something nice, and soon.
Still, she was alive, and her insurance covered 'fire,' so with a little help from Nabiki she'd be getting a nice fat cheque to rebuild somewhere. And the rebuilding would be soon. She'd been by the old place this morning, and saw a bunch of unfamiliar people in the uniforms of the Mahora Construction Club building frantically. Her restaurant, and the apartment complex that had been around it, providing ever so many lovely regular customers, would be back in days.
Someone in the Magical World was embarrassed about things, and trying to make up for it. She really hoped she'd be able to get the story out of Ranma.
She'd done a bit of shopping, picking out a new grill and assorted furnishings for both restaurant and home. And that was all the prep she could do until the construction guys were done and the insurance cheque came in, leaving her at loose ends for the moment.
So when Lieutenant Ito called a busy Nodoka Saotome, in the midst of the process of serving Genma with divorce papers, to let her know her son was being released from custody, she'd called the Tendos. And Ukyo was the only one there who wasn't in the middle of something, and so she'd come. And she watched the gate as the brownian motion of the city flowed around her.
There he was; walking out of the main gate, looking rumpled, with a duffel over his shoulder, exchanging nods with the guards. She waved to him. He waved back, and crossed the street in a single leap.
"You make that look way too easy."
He shrugged. "Practice. What brings ya here?"
"Somebody needed to pick you up, rather than let you run off." A pause. "I've given things some thought over the last week... I understand why you did it. Thanks for coming clean. And thanks for coming after us."
"Sorry it went so bad. An' sorry I was so... awkward about t'rest."
The two of them started off at a downright sedate pace towards the nearest light rail station, for a long moment simply sharing a silence amid the hustle and bustle of the city. After about a block, Ukyo spoke up again. "So. How bad?"
"Not as bad as it coulda been. Busted down a couple ranks, pay cut. Couple nights in t' stockade." He shrugged. "More'n worth it, under t' circumstances." A pause. "How you holdin' up?"
"Well, the restaurant is being rebuilt. I've got all the new fittings picked out."
"The Magical World moves fast when they wanna."
She glanced over at him. "You're not surprised."
"Not really. They caught a lotta hell over this. Onea their people attackin' a noble family, burnin' down a building? They're kissin' up. Probably hopin' they can make a good start'a things with the rest of the world."
"What was her story, anyway?"
"Didn't get all of it. What I got said her ol' man was a terrorist, an' his bunch stocked that fortress. They caught them, didn't find her."
"How'd she get fixated on you?"
"I ain't got t' faintest clue." A pause. "Happier not knowin,' frankly."
Genma Saotome sat in a prison cell designed to hold men like him, alone with only his thoughts, and suffered.
Everything had caught up with him; everything had fallen apart. His son had defeated him. His best friend had denounced him, blaming him, oh so unfairly, for the harm that befell his daughters. His wife had divorced him.
All he was left with was a lifetime of memories; memories that were turning, inexorably, into regrets. How did it all go so wrong?
Do you want the list, snarked an inner voice he hadn't heard in years, Because I've got it ready to go.
He blinked. Who are you?
Your conscience. You can't keep me silent any more, Saotome. Not when you can't hide behind your convictions. You know exactly how this came to pass, even if you want to deny being at fault. And guess what? I'm not going to let you.
Genma settled in for a long, long day of suffering, unable to drown out the voice of his conscience. Thievery, child abuse, half a dozen other charges, and no-one cared that he'd had the boy's best interests at heart; or that all, well, most, well, some, of the thievery had been at the Master's request... he would not be leaving this place for a long, long time.
Sankt Kaiser, Sergeant, she was way easier to live with when she wasn't getting any regularly.
Bond's not following us home, Maller, you'll get your wish. Aston paused for a moment as an incredibly smug-looking Kia sauntered into the common room of their hotel suite. "Another good night?"
"Oh yeah. I won't scandalize you with the details."
"Rio, I once spent two weeks of planet leave on Isilia. I don't think it's possible for me to be scandalized."
Maller blanched. "Then don't scandalize me with the details. Either of you. Sankt Kaiser you two are terrible."
From where he was munching on breakfast and reading the paper, Kal glanced up and smirked.
"Anyway. I hope we've all enjoyed our little post-battle vacation," began Aston.
"Oh yeah. I just love paperwork," interrupted Dai under his breath.
Aston continued as if he hadn't spoken. "But we're back in training today, so don't have too much fun."
"Ranma's out of the joint?"
"Yeah. And he didn't even have to smash his way out. I didn't get all the details, it was a quick call, but we're on again tonight. Hopefully without any more arson or kidnappings or... Having to deal with the same." Aston's expression went distant for a moment.
"Under the circumstances, Sergeant, I think we can't criticize him too harshly for how he dealt with that." Kal's voice was quiet, patient.
"I'm aware of that. I still don't have to like it."
"That makes it four nights in the last seven he's hit the town with her. He can't still be trying to pick her brain for information."
"Nope. I think James Bond is honestly smitten."
Marceau LaFleur shook his head as he slurped down some noodles. Swallowing, he said, "Never thought I'd see t' day. I didn't think that bastard still 'ad a soul." He fished something deep fried out of his noodles with chopsticks. Ah, street food. "You sure?"
Michael Jones nodded. "Oh yes. I asked him about her yesterday. Son of a bitch actually dropped his guard; eyes all lit up, when he answered." A chuckle. "Satan's probably skating to work today."
"Even so. Back to work tonight, eh?"
"Yep. At least we got a few days to recover. That was..." he trailed off and gave an involuntary shudder. "Something I don't plan to repeat any time soon."
"Agreed." Even if we did find enough to make for a decent bit of intel. The support team tells me my package's been received. It should be useful, I hope.
As they'd made their escape, Marceau had been filling his pockets with magical paraphernalia; not with any real plan or pattern, but anything pocketable that wasn't nailed down and on fire. It'd make things harder for local investigators, no doubt, but given that Ranma had rather permanently ended Zendor's threat, he figured he could live with that. Even if it had cost him... much. And it surely seemed to, at the time. That's the difference between you and him, mon ami. You can play at being a good man. He is one. Despite the best efforts of his father.
The first class back was... uncomfortable. The Bureau agents, being strong proponents of Thou Shalt Not Kill, were a bit on edge around Ranma, who was himself a little uneasy; enough that he was off his game. The next night was little better. But by the end of their first week of renewed classes, things had fallen back into a routine, and everyone was more or less relaxed around each other.
Well. Except for the nights where Nanoha decided to sit in. Those nights just resulted in entertainment value for the spies, as the marines always went into panic mode for at least a few minutes. It made for excellent heckling material, which was a decent icebreaker itself.
In any event, by the end of that first week, things were relaxed enough that the lot of them headed over to the newly re-opened Uuchan's, to celebrate that reopening and their own survival.
Shenhua was back on the streets of Roanapur and loving it.
For two years, she'd been gone. Two years in a foreign country, among others of her native people. She'd learned much, but... she would never pretend that she'd been terribly happy there. She'd not expected much of a welcome when they finally returned to the Amazon's hidden little village, and she'd not been disappointed.
The Amazon village was a boring hole, to her mind. It always had been. And while a little peace and quiet wasn't entirely unamiss for her, the raw, stone-brained stupidity of the elders had only gotten worse since she'd first run away, years prior. The government of China on the edge of war with its people; who were seizing on new sources of power and organizing to make all sorts of bids for freedom. The legitimization of magic in the eyes of the general public had brought all sorts of hedge wizards, ancient masters, sorcerers, yogis, warlocks, and other assorted mystics out of the woodwork. The Amazonian leadership, never fans of the Chinese government, had decided that it would be a really good idea to egg such people on.
Cologne, at least, had been smart enough to argue against it – she knew what the government would do in retribution when things finally boiled over, and she knew that the Amazons wouldn't be able to stand off a modern army. Or, for that matter, a dedicated and enthusiastic bombing campaign. But Cologne, having pitched her efforts behind bringing Ranma back to the village (a venture Shenhua had recognized as futile long before the old ghoul had) was in some measure of disgrace. Thus, she was being ignored.
Shenhua saw the writing on the wall. She sat down with Shampoo, and a few of the other young Amazons who were less than thrilled with life in the village or their elder's current goals, and decided to get the hell out while the getting was good.
God, it was so good to be back in Roanapur. She hadn't realized just how much she'd missed the place. Mister Chang had moved office at some point(due to absorbing a chunk of the American mob's business and territory about a year back) but it hadn't taken long to find him, and secure contracts and retainers for herself and the other Amazons. The others were settling into their new apartment. She had some business to take care of.
The old cleaning place hadn't moved; its signage hadn't even changed. Smiling, Shenhua walked through the main door and headed straight to the back, following the faint sound of a chainsaw. She made her way past familiar bits of medical paraphernalia and body bags. Finally, she opened a steel door and walked into the back room; thick with the smell of chainsaw exhaust, blood, industrial cleaners, and human waste. She waited for a moment, staring at the back of the small chainsaw wielding cleaner with a smile.
The figure straightened, chainsaw throttling down to idle, and turned around, as if sensing that she had company. The chainsaw dropped from her hands, choking and dying as it bounced off the floor, and she whipped off her mask and goggles as she charged, hitting Shenhua in an energetic tackle. "You came back," said Sawyer the Cleaner through her UltraVox, hugging the taller woman tightly.
Shenhua hugged her back. "I come back. Waited too long. Missed you, friend."
"Kanpai!" Chorused the group of friends and acquaintances.
"And here's to all of us surviving the training," added Marceau LaFleur, to a round of chuckles.
"Here, here," agreed Bond, raising a glass and trying to ignore the soreness in his shoulder. A soreness that'd be going away tonight, once they were finished at this little party. There were advantages to having a sorceress as a lover. Kia wasn't much of a healer, she claimed, but she was good for what ailed him, in more ways than one.
There was something to the honest, blunt, outgoing marine that just... clicked with him, the way no woman had in ages. It was... a remarkable feeling. And something he suspected he'd dearly miss when all this was over. Which would be far too soon. Still, it was hardly time to brood about such things, for tonight was a party. The entire class was present, in Uuchan's dining room, along with Nanoha Takamachi and Fate Testarossa-Haralowan. Both ladies were quite visibly pregnant now, and both projected an air of serenity and happiness.
"Been a hell of a couple months," said Maller. "Hopefully, next time we hit this place, nothing exciting happens." That, also, got a round of murmured agreement.
"Eager to tempt Murphy?" asked Jones. Maller nodded happily, to a round of chuckles.
"So, they know when yer shippin' out, yet?" asked Ranma, turning to Aston.
"We break orbit a bit after noon local tomorrow," replied the marine.
So little time, thought Bond. I shall have to make tonight something... special.
"If you've reconsidered your plans," began McLaren, "We've got a spare bunk on the ship with your name on it."
The celebratory air took on a sudden tense undertone as the martial artist looked to the marine. "I appreciate t' thought, but my answer's still t' same."
The marine shrugged. "Can't blame a man for trying. Can you at least tell us when your dojo'll be open for business again?"
Ranma shrugged expressively. "Don't know yet, but I'll give ya a shout when I get back."
Ranma'd made no bones about his plan to go on a journey of some sort once classes were finished, and had spent much of the last week getting those plans in order. He felt the need, he had explained, to do some hard thinking about his life; somewhere away from home. He wanted to see the world, meet people, and generally experience a little more of the world.
That he would be followed by recruiters of various agencies the entire time was something of an open secret. That the Bureau would try to steal a march on them... was not terribly surprising. That Ranma declined was also not much of a surprise to Bond – the young man seemed allergic to people trying to manipulate him. Not something Bond could blame him for, given his history.
Still. It had been a good few months. He'd learned a number of useful little tricks for fighting, and found that he still could fall in love. He'd even managed to hang onto almost all of the goodies Q division had issued him – the old man would be thrilled with him.
James Bond settled back to relax among... friends. It was an unusual feeling for him, but one he welcomed. This was, indeed, a good assignment.
"So, do you have a travel plan yet? Beyond where this flight's taking you?" Nabiki asked as the sisters Tendo, Ukyo Kuonji, and Nodoka Saotome followed Ranma towards the departures gate at Tokyo International.
"Nah," replied Ranma. "Just gonna see where my feet carry me."
Kasumi smiled demurely. "Tired of trying to plan?"
Ranma's smile was decidedly lopsided. "Given how good my plans go, yeah." He paused for a moment, looking over the gathered masses in the terminal. "I been runnin' hard, tryin' ta make t'plan work for... at least three years now. I think I just need ta take a couple months ta... slow down an' relax, see what I can see."
"He's turning philosophical," began Ukyo. "We're doomed." Akane giggled in response.
The group started for the departures gate again. "Make sure you write us, baka," said Akane, not unkindly, "And I know you know how to use email, so there's no excuse."
"I'll remember. An' yes, gifts will be forthcomin' when I get home."
"Excellent!" said Nabiki, "We've got him trained, now."
Ranma joined in the round of giggles that brought as they reached the line at the gate. He turned to them all. "Thank you. All of you. I'll keep in touch."
For a brief moment, they shared quiet murmurs as he hugged each of them in turn, finally giving his mother a deep, formal bow. Nodoka returned it. "Carry yourself with honor, my son."
"I shall." A pause, then he looked to the group as a whole. "Take care'a yourselves, everyone. I'll be in touch."
Then he walked through the departure gate, heading for a plane... and from thence, he knew not where... simply that he felt it a path he needed to walk.
Another story in the can. It feels good, I have to say. It's been a long trip on this end; running through the end of one job, the entirety of a second, a third(part time) one, and the continuing search for a forth. A little over two years, I've been working on these stories.
For those waiting on the next one... it'll be a bit of a wait, I fear. The basic sketch of Journey's plot came to me as I finished up Grand Tour, and I had a vague idea of what Odyssey would be even as I finished that one. Walkabout's basic plot was already percolating as I finished off Odyssey's epilogue.
But I don't have anything a-brew in my head for a fifth big fic(and I know, this one's rather shorter than the last couple). Nothing that could carry a decent-length fanfic, at least, though I might crank out a couple one-shots following up on various subplots of the previous stories(mostly Odyssey)
Sorry. (Or 'reason to celebrate!' for the various non-fans)
Anyway. Now that that's out of the way...
As mentioned above, I had a basic plot-sketch of Walkabout put together even as I put the finishing touches on Odyssey. In terms of numbers, Walkabout came closer to following that initial plan than either Odyssey or Journey, as they evolved from basic sketch to full story. In terms of importance to the story, I think it came closer as well, though I did wind up changing my ending about 2/3rds through the story. In many ways, I think the ending we got here is stronger, if only for the symbolism of a story called Walkabout ending with a main character embarking on one. And, well, it also works better with my vague theme for Ranma, which is that he's trying to make himself a better man out of raw, cussed defiance of his father, even when that means doing things he doesn't want to do.
Other than that it went more or less to plan. There was a forth spy in the initial plot sketch, but I realized in the later planning stages that I had entirely too many OCs and, well, she didn't really do anything in the story. So I dropped her. I'd also initially planned for Jones to be a latent mage, and for him to be told of this potential at the first class, and start learning. He, not LaFleur, was going to run into a mental block about using newly realized powers, also stemming from a self-image issue. Though his was going to be less about 'only freaks have superpowers' and more 'Suffer Not The Witch To Live.' I decided that was A) too complicated, and B) too angsty. Also, I knew I would be courting enough fire with the domestic terrorists, without adding another hard-right-wing-American stereotype to the cast.
Those, I kept because, well, I wanted to throw the audience a curve ball.
The prototype version of Kendra didn't have any specific accent, though I'd considered giving her some kind of verbal tic. Her accent came to be about halfway through the planning, as I was sketching out random ideas for how the end fight would go down. I jotted down 'spies breaking important things' and, as it was roughly 3 AM after a bloody long day, my brain was in tired-highly-caffeinated-free-association mode, and I muttered, 'spy sappin' mah sentry.' About three sentences of random ideas later, my brain caught up with my mouth and I started laughing like an utter madman. Thus did Kendra acquire a Southern drawl, rather than a tic of saying desu or something like that at the end of every other sentence. Which would have been more annoying, I leave to the judgment of the readers.(I get it, I get it, no more heavy phonetic accents in the future)
It also changed LaFleur's character a bit – changing his weapon of choice to a butterfly knife and giving him a smoking habit. In the earliest drafts, he was going to be a pure unarmed fighter. At that point, the character was going to be a Frenchman, rather than Quebecois, which was a change made just before the story started when I got the idea for a scene of LaFleur and Jones introducing the marines to Earth sports. Initially, it was going to be a scene of talking about baseball. Then I realized I wasn't sure the French even cared about baseball. I briefly considered soccer, then the thought occurred that a Quebecois could let me keep LaFleur's accent and shift the discussion to a sport that A) was popular in the home nations of both characters, and B) I actually like to talk about. Thus, hockey, and a Habs game.
Adding a line dissing the Blue Jays was almost an afterthought. A line dissing the Argos was considered, but dropped because A) there's just too many differences between American and Canadian football, which, while rife for a long and convoluted argument between LaFleur and Jones about the relative merits of both games, would have taken too long and sucked for any non-sports geek in the audience even with Rio and Maller giving it the MST3K treatment and B) The Argos don't need to be dissed, they're just that bad, these days.
Even before I changed his nationality, LaFleur's extreme Frenchness in the early chapters was intended as a front – I was basing a goodly chunk of the character on one of my favorite Captain America villains, Batroc the Leaper, whose Frenchness waxes and wanes depending on how pissed he is at whoever he's fighting – and vanishes completely when he's up against someone he considers reprehensible. The facade generally dropped away for LaFleur as he got more comfortable in his surroundings and, well, enough of the people he was interacting with knew it was a false front anyway, so why bother?
Anyway. The plot lurched on its merry way, helped by my beta readers (godsends, the both of them) and the gang over at Spacebattles, who provided ideas, feedback, and the occasional flame fest. All in all, I think this is a good place to leave the story for a while. Dangling plot threads addressed, characters and events set in motion, and a little hope on the horizon. I have other projects on the proverbial back burner to work on.
Thanks all for reading. I hope you've enjoyed things.
Drunken Grognard, signing off.