Uff, well this is the penultimate chapter. :D This is the second story I ever managed to finish, lol-
The doctors assured them Shampoo was okay but she had to stay for a 48hs observation period. It felt wrong to leave and Akane only agreed after Kasumi promised a few times that Mr Pu would be informed of the Amazon's situation.
Fulfilling the standard weirdness in their lives, an euphoric Ranma, Soun and Uncle Genma in panda form- with P-chan on his head- met them outside the Hospital. They were dirty and exhausted after spending the entire night searching the forest. Akane was moved by their efforts and apologized profoundly for worrying them.
It took a bus and a train to return to Nerima. It gave the family enough time to interrogate Akane for every detail of what had happened in the forest. She had no option but to share, skipping certain details such as the murder attempt and the accidental stabbing in the darkness.
"How odd." Kasumi said. "There are no wild tigers in Japan."
"There's one. It escaped from the zoo."
"Akane. I forbid you to keep pursuing this friendship!" Soun thundered, tears cascading down his face. "I'm putting my foot down!"
He stomped his foot softly on the train floor. The giant panda that was Genma Saotome patted him on the shoulder.
"Stop wailing like that, Daddy, people are staring. It wasn't her fault."
Nabiki narrowed her eyes and leaned closer to look intently at her face. The rest of the family, the giant panda and the pig on her lap did as well. Akane pulled back nervously.
"You have a shoe mark in your face."
Akane demanded for a mirror and Genma quickly provided. Over the bridge of her broken nose was clearly imprinted a shoe-mark. A soft blue hue surrounded her body for a second and the mirror's handle bent under her fingers.
"There was no tiger!" Nabiki stated, pointing an ominous finger at her. "Shampoo went ballistic after Ranm's declaration and tried to kill you, first bare handed and then with a sword."
"There was a tiger! It escaped from the Zoo and I beat it up! And yes, we had a fight, so what? We're martial artists, we do that."
Akane looked at Ranma as she said those words. He didn't even turn to look at her. His indifference and silence was frightening. It was as if he already knew what she had done.
The topic eventually changed and Nabiki had to explain how the damage to the Tendo's reputation would be fixed. Akane had no interest on knowing the details. She realized she no longer cared what her so called friends at Nerima thought of her. The one person she cared about wouldn't even look at her.
They reached Nerima three hours later. Kasumi insisted she visited Dr Tofu before going home to get a second opinion and so she did. Ranma walked her in silence. She didn't want to talk, afraid she may blurt out something too soon. He didn't have enough compassion to start a frivolous conversation.
Dr Tofu confirmed the cuts in her body would heal if care for properly and sent her home with a special ointment. It should be rubbed on the wounds to soften the marks. Scars could not be prevented. Akane almost wept. Ranma's abrupt departure from the clinic forced the building anguish to an abrupt halt. She staggered after him and caught him outside the clinic.
"She did that to you. There was no tiger, was it?"
"Yes, there was and I beat it up!" Akane snarled. It was the one thing she was really proud of and no one believed her. "Shampoo just…"
He whirled on her and Akane gave an involuntary step back.
"You never listen, Akane, not till bullshit happens to you."
"And you had to tell Shampoo all that over a phone? And when I was with her, alone, in the middle of nowhere?!"
He blushed. He hadn't really meant to say anything. Words simply poured out of his mouth when it seemed Akane would leave. It was ironic everyone had heard except the one person it was meant for. Ukyo had been heart-broken and angry and the irate reaction of Shampoo was imprinted all over Akane's body. A warning was given, not so long ago, that things would get out of hand if he didn't get serious. He had ignored it and she had paid the price.
"At least now it's over and you two can get married!" Soun jumped out of nowhere and patted the youth solidly on their backs.
"With one girl mad and the other at the Hospital, there won't be a better time!" Genma laughed, throwing rice over them both..
"We won't get married."
Silence followed the stunning declaration. Ranma paled but his right to retort was overstepped by a stuttering Soun.
"Because...I'll just not marry Ranma. Not now."
"But why not?!"
"You know what, it doesn't matter!" Ranma snapped. "I'm tired of your shit."
Soun and Genma decided not to comment on the use of gruesome words. Their heirs glared at each other for a whole minute. Akane's lips were trembling and her eyes dwelling with tears. At the last moment, she whirled around and ran down the street. Ranma grumbled darkly under his breath and walked behind her.
Shampoo closed the door. The house was dark and silent. Her father was probably asleep. It was rather late. The doctors at the Hospital wouldn't let her go and it took some work to slip from the place. When she managed, the last train to Nerima had parted and she had been force to wander the road asking for a ride. It had been a fitting end to a hellish weekend.
The light of the corridor flared to life, startling her and hurting her eyes.
"Xian Pu? Are you okay?"
The question and the voice which spoke it stirred a rush of hatred. Shampoo did not turn to regard the hunched figure standing at the end of the corridor. His sad pitiful face sickened her. She hated him as much as she hated Mu Tze and as much as she was growing to hate Ranma. She walked into the bathroom and slammed the door shut.
Shampoo blinked. In her anger, she had not realized the bathroom was occupied. Cologne sat in front of the mirror, brushing her long wet mane. They smiled at each other.
"Hello, Xian Pu. How've you been?"
"Hello, Great-grandmother. Welcome home."
"I come from home, Xian Pu. Take a bath and meet me downstairs. You smell as bad as you look."
The warm water cascading down her body took away dried blood, dirt and sweat. Tense muscles relaxed and the incipient headache tormenting her all day quietly slipped away. A set of new bandages on the puffy wound and clean cloths added a final touch. Shampoo left the bathroom in a better mood.
The scent of steamed vegetables and rice filled the air. She reached the dining room and found a banquet already served. Cologne watched TV as she waited. Shampoo smiled. It was nice to have Great-grandmother back. It had been lonely while she was gone. She sat in her place and the TV was switched off. They bowed politely to each other. Shampoo picked the soup first and drank the hot broth…
"What's this about you and Akane being lovers?"
…to choke on it. Cologne cackled madly, holding a copy of the cursed picture in her wrinkled hand.
"Sorry, it was too tempting. Explain now, child. It is some rather upsetting news."
Shampoo met her wary stare with a mischievous grin. It was contagious.
"I realized Akane is like a dog, Great-grandmother. If you're nice to her, she'll do anything for you. This month I treated her like a sister and just last night, I got her to drop her engagement with Ranma."
"Very good, Xian Pu! A very subtle approach. Was the Groom already informed?"
"I don't know. I just came back."
"From the Hospital."
"Just like Akane."
Shampoo clamped her lips shut. Someone had rat her out and now Cologne knew more than it was convenient. Trying to hide information now would prove to be painful, particularly for her skull. Her silence seemed aggravating enough and the old woman rattled her brain with a sharp blow of that cursed staff.
"Start taking into consideration the reactions of the people you deal with, Xian Pu, or you will not live long. Ranma favors Akane, how do you think he would react if you kill her?"
Shampoo stared unappetizingly at her food. It hurt Great-grandmother thought so little of her intelligence. Akane's death would be passed off as an accident, obviously. Ranma would still suffer but the pathway to win him over would be clear once Akane was removed. She would be gone. Forever. Like her mother. Shampoo paled and put down her chopsticks.
"Great-grandmother? What if I don't want Ranma anymore?"
She looked up quickly to seize the old woman's reaction. Cologne didn't seem angered by the question. Her huge eyes were narrowed in thought but her answer was not different from what she had expected.
"It's not about what you want, child. It's about what the Law says. He defeated you in combat. He must father your children. This is what happens when you don't consider the people you deal with, Shampoo. Plans backfire. I hope you learn from all of this."
Shampoo nodded and wiped some rogue tears with the back of her hand. They finished dinner in silence.
Akane sat in her bed, wondering about P-chan. The pig seemed to understand her pain. He squeaked and rubbed his hooves tenderly on her hands. She could swear his huge eyes were sad. Pigs were definitely smart animals.
A soft know on the door. She demanded to be left alone but it opened anyway. Kasumi walked in. Akane did not have the heart to lash out at her and accepted the intromission in silence. Her older sister sat in the bed and caressed her hair with a cold soft hand.
"What happened, Akane?"
"Shampoo got the cat curse for not killing Ranma that one time, Onee-chan." Akane whispered after a long silence. "If she doesn't marry him, they will hurt her again. They are horrible, Onee-chan, and I can't let her get hurt when I'm happy here with Ranma. I just can't."
Kasumi sighed and hugged Akane as she cried. Ryoga was kind enough to crawl out of her lap to give them some privacy. She wished Ranma would do the same and go back to the Dojo instead of sitting on the roof next to Akane's window. It was rude to eavesdrop. Then again, her little sister was really mulish when it came to her feelings. Sometimes, a shove in the right direction help saved a lot of painful moments.
"Do you want to marry him?"
"I love him."
"Have you told him?"
"No. He only knows to fight, Onee-chan. If I tell him, he'll go and do something stupid."
"Akane, honey, our lives have been filled with stupid situations since he came but everything always turns out fine at the end."
Akane babbled it was different this time. Kasumi caressed her head. It was not a good time to inform Ranma had heard everything and was jumping from roof to roof into the distance. He was going to do the proverbial stupid thing. She smiled. Live was never dull since Ranma showed up.
Even in the still hours before midnight and after a month of inactivity, the Neko-hanten lights were on and the doors open. Ranma never stopped to consider the weirdness of it and stormed inside, snarling for the one person he wanted to beat up the most.
Cologne hopped into the kitchen counter, smiling broadly.
"Son-in-Law! As insolent and energetic as ever! The wonders of youth!"
"Cut the crap, Old Ghoul." Ranma snarled, storming towards her. "I've taken all I can from you. I ain't ever gonna marry Shampoo and I won't let you hurt her for that!"
"You sound like a man with a plan."
"I challenge you! If I win, you're gonna leave me and Shampoo alone."
"What if you lose?"
"Then I marry her."
Cologne stared at him for a while, as if assessing the seriousness of the request. She hopped back inside the kitchen.
"You cannot defeat me, Son-in-Law."
"I beat a God!" He snarled, slamming both hands on the counter.
"That doesn't mean you can beat an old woman."
"We gonna find-wait. Wouldn't you want me to lose?"
Ranma looked around and noticed Shampoo was also there, standing shyly next to the fridge. Her presence plus the lack of grappling was strangely upsetting…like a stain on his futon or a lone sock.
"Shampoo doesn't want you anymore, so no."
"You don't want me anymore!?"
"Focus, Son-in-Law." Cologne said dryly. "You want this over and so do we. Here's what will happen."
"What?!" Akane screamed. "Ranma, you can't be serious!"
Ranma shrugged. As it turned out, the only way for Shampoo to avoid punishment was to demonstrate he was no longer a suitable husband. Since there was nothing wrong with his genitals- as he had howled to Cologne when the topic came up- the only option left was to fight again and for Shampoo to win.
"You could prepare to throw off the fight." Nabiki pointed out. "Just break a few bones."
"Or eat a lot and get fat!" Kasumi added.
"How about The Moxibution of Evil?"
Ranma sighed. Shampoo had to beat him or he would never get to settle with Akane. He had to be beaten and by a girl. The rumors would run like fire in a dry corn field. Things were getting nasty. He glanced at Akane and the heavy bandages covering her arms. Maybe he should break a few bones before the fight…
The next day, as predicted, Nabiki started selling tickets and taking bets for the battle between Shampoo and Ranma taking place in two months. She didn't exactly encourage rumors about it being a 'passionate fight for Akane's heart', but didn't correct people either. The need for information prompted Yuko and Sayuri to approach her again. Akane told them to take a hike. It was rude but felt wonderful. Solitude was better than hanging out with rotten company. She left School grounds as soon as the bell rang.
The Neko-hanten was still close and a new sign hanged from the door. It promised a possible reopening in two months. She knocked on the back alley door. It opened to reveal Mr Pu. He glared at her.
"You go away! You cause big problem! Go away!"
She placed her foot against the door frame and scowled at him. Normally that was enough to cow him into good manners. The hunched bitter man bared his teeth at her in anger.
"Daughter go train hard to fight battle against monster god-slayer and all because you!"
"This is not my fault!" She snapped back. "If you would be half a man, nothing of this would be necessary!"
He paled at that and stormed back into the house, leaving the door open. Akane sighed and walked in. The door to Shampoo's room was open. There was a pink suitcase with cloths on the bed. The Amazon approached it and set a toothbrush and a comb inside. She glanced at Akane and shut it close.
"Ni Hao. Ranma told me what happened."
"It's a big challenge."
"Is only way."
"What if you lose?"
"Then I bow to faith and try get Ranma."
Akane's lower lip trembled and she hugged the Amazon. Shampoo glanced around to make sure no one was around this time and hugged her back.
"I train real hard, Akane. Great-grandmother teach many things. I no lose again."
"Thank you for doing this."
"I no doing it for you."
"If you children are done, we have a flight to catch."
They let go off each other and Shampoo picked up her suitcase. They walked together outside. A cab was waiting. Cologne looked at Akane before getting inside. She gave her a box.
"Put that in the water every time you get in the furo. The cuts will heal faster and they won't leave a mark."
Akane smiled at her.
The old woman nodded and hopped in the car next to Shampoo. The girl climb out the window on the other side and waved crazily at Akane till the cab-driver snapped at her to get in or they would get pulled over. Akane smiled and headed back home.