Leaves whispered, stirred by the wind. The monotonous song of a cicada was accompanied every few second by the splashing sound of a koi jumping in the water. The calm was soon broken by a fierce battle cry.
Akane kicked at her opponent, resting on her leg enough strength to break several bricks. But the blow did not connect. Shampoo jumped and flipped over her. The youngest Tendo, well aware of the dangers of having the Amazon at her back, quickly dropped to the ground and whirled around, barreling the floor with an outstretched leg, intending on kicking Shampoo off her feet as soon as she landed.
Akane grunted when a sudden weight forced her head down. She realized that Shampoo had landed on her head…again. She straightened, snarling in anger and the weight lifted. She saw the Amazon landing neatly a few feet away from her, laughing.
"You is so slow!"
"Who. Is. Slow!?"
Every outraged word was accentuated with a punch and a kick, but it didn't matter how hard or fast she hit, Shampoo evaded effortlessly each blow. After several minutes, Akane was forced to stop the attack, panting for breath. Shampoo jabbed a finger at her.
Akane gritted her teeth, her nostrils flaring. Sparring with Shampoo was proving to be quite similar to the practices she held with Ranma. It didn't matter what she did, they were always a step ahead of her.
"Shampoo give advice." Shampoo said with a malicious glint on her eyes. "You learn to defend and then attack, yes? It base of Japan Martial Art."
Akane didn't answer. The Anything Goes School had, as its name implied, no heavy influence of any particular style. It was a mixture of hundreds. But to mix moves efficiently, one had to be a very experienced fighter. Happosai and Ranma had mastered the style, but she didn't know enough yet. So she always fell back on styles she felt more comfortable with. Most of them relied on a defensive move, before performing a concluding attack.
Shampoo shifted her stance, snapping her attention back to the fight. Her raised leg met the ground and stretched to the side. The other buckled slightly. The Amazon was crouching now and she drew a circle in the air with her arms. They froze at her sides, adopting a posture strangely reminiscent of Ranma's when he sank into the Neko-Ken.
"Nujiezu in other hand…" Shampoo purred, almost seductively. "We train to attack."
Akane lifted her arms to shield her face. A sharp pain spread through her right forearm like fire. She had to grit her teeth to avoid screaming. Shampoo hissed in annoyance and the grimace on Akane's face slowly turned into a triumph expression. She readjusted her stance and prepared to attack after the successful block. Shampoo barreled forward, throwing her violently to the ground. She struggled to recover but a foot knifed through her inadequate defenses and connected with her jaw. The pain was intense and it overrode anything else. In her daze, the fight lost meaning. The song of the cicada grew fainter and then, it simply stopped. Darkness swallowed the world and the urge to rise was forgotten…
And then, Akane heard voices...
"…Listen to me! Hit her again like that and I'm gonna be mad."
"But we sparring..."
"Shampoo, honey, I know Akane is violent and hits pretty hard, but I'm afraid she's not used to be in the receiving end. Please, do be more careful next time?"
The comments were embarrassing and Akane struggled to open her eyes. When that failed, a pathetic moan slipped her lips. As if reminded of its wound by the sound, a searing pain shot through her jaw and stabbed her brain. She took a crisped hand to the sore bone and massaged it. Darkness retreated. The voices grew louder and her eyes finally opened. She could see her family-plus Ranma and Uncle Genma- hovering worriedly over her. And the roof above them. They had carried her inside after the brutal knock out. She searched Shampoo with her eyes.
"Akane!" Soun's shrill wail made them cringe.
"Geez, stop screaming, dad. Sis, you okay?"
"Yes…" Akane mumbled, struggling to sit. The world whirled unsteadily around her. "Ow…what happened?"
"Shampoo-chan hammered you to the ground."
Everyone scowled to the side and Akane turned to find Shampoo sitting a little there. The tension in the room could be cut with a knife and the girl was looking at Ranma with the most tender puppy-eyed look she had ever seen. He was making efforts not to look at it. Akane sit down, ignoring the blazing pain. A strained smile was carefully put in place.
"Kasumi's right. I'm not used to be on the receiving end. I need the practice."
"Ye went down like a sack." Ranma said, pulling her back to her feet. "Why would you sprawl like that?"
"Leave self all open." Shampoo added, shuffling a little closer to Ranma. "Kick in jaw knock out like light!"
Akane's hands clenched tightly but she nodded, trying to be graceful about the whole ordeal. Acceptance of positive criticism could only lead to self-improvement. So she was knocked down with one punch and it seemed everyone had witnessed the pathetic outcome of the sparring match. It wasn't such a big deal.
"If you're pushed like that, you lift your legs and kick." Ranma continued.
Shampoo clapped her hands enthusiastically and hopped a little closer to the boy.
"Yes! Or roll to side and back to feet!"
"I'll try. I gonna go lie down a little…"
Akane walked unsteadily down the corridor, grateful that they simply stepped aside to let her pass. With one foot on the staircase, she heard Ranma grunt in the dinning room. Shampoo chirped happily. A lot of giggling and stammering followed. It was easy to guess what was happening. But it was the comment that followed that set her blood boiling.
"Shampoo better woman, yes? Better wife to Ranma!"
"Yeah, nice kick by the way…!"
Ranma tried to snatch his arm free of Shampoo's grasp, but the girl simply tightened the hold. He had learnt in the last weeks that the Amazon was not so hard to control. He just needed to be angry and glare until she backed off. Any attempt at even pretending hostility, however, was thwarted by the naked love Ranma could constantly see on Shampoo's big eyes and the sight of her thin little mouth smiling sweetly.
Ranma's frown disappeared. Shampoo beamed and released his arm just so she could grab his neck and hug tighter. His reactions to her affections were always contradictory. He kept trying to push her back, but Shampoo could feel his heart racing and the skin growing warm. Well aware of the hostile eyes fixed on them, Shampoo leaned a little on Ranma so she could reach his ear.
"Wo Ai Ni…"
Ranma stiffened suddenly…and not in a good way. Shampoo stopped nuzzling and slowly turned around. Akane was standing next to them, her whole body glowing dangerously. The look on her face was positively murderous. Ranma's eyes bulged at the sight of the bucket dangling from her hands. Akane was deaf to his stammering explanations and washed them both with the cold contents of the bucket.
Ranma wailed in desperation at the sight of a cat so near her face. She ran for dear life, growing more desperate as the beast nailed its claws on her flesh. Dimly aware of the animal's real identity, she screamed Shampoo's name. But the cat would yowl in response, causing her body to jerk and jump more violently.
Back in the house, Akane watched her husband-to-be fleeing to the horizon with the Amazon. The family scattered silently. She dropped the bucket and marched to her room.
The next afternoon, Akane and Ranma were walking back from school. He was a little cranky because the math teacher was being an ass. The old bastard accused him of cheating on the previous assignment, but having no real proof to justify any punishment, the man settled for harassment. He would watch everything he did over his shoulder like a hunting hawk.
"Crazy old fart…" Ranma grumbled darkly.
"Ranma…" Akane said, worried. "Didn't Ukyo act a little weird today?"
Ranma blinked. The math teacher was forgotten. He looked down at Akane, walking calmly on the sidewalk. In an impulse, the boy jumped down from the fence so he could walk by her side.
"What you mean?"
"She's being sitting alone all day." Akane told him. "How come you didn't notice?"
"Maybe she's sick 'r somethin'."
"I think she's still upset about what happened at the Zoo."
Ranma stopped and looked pensive for a moment. His stomach growled loudly.
"Maybe I should go talk to her…"
Akane glared at him, but before she could say anything, the jingling of a bell floated ghostly in the wind. A mili-second later, the front-wheel of a bike landed on Ranma's head. He grunted but bared the weight of the bike and its rider without falling.
"Shampoo…." He hissed with barely-contained rage.
"Ni Hao, Ranma!"
Shampoo chirped happily and dived for the twitching boy, tackling him to the ground. There, she rubbed herself against him like a cat in heat. Akane was a bit disgusted. She grabbed the Amazon by the back of her shirt and snatched her off the boy. Then, Akane set her down on her feet next to her. Shampoo blinked, a little stunned.
"Hello, Shampoo!" Akane said, smiling sweetly. "How's it going?"
"Is good, thank you." Shampoo said and slapped her hand away with certain flair. "I no has time for you now. I date Ranma today."
Akane scowled darkly and was promptly ignored. Shampoo looked down at Ranma but the boy, sprawled at their feet a second ago, was gone. The canal was to their right, which left…a hundred different routes of escape. Shampoo sighed mournfully. She could track him down but Great-grandmother said it was important to respect the boy's independence. It's not that he didn't want her around. Indifference didn't necessarily imply a lack of interest. He was just a free-spirit, wild and untamed. Shampoo sighed lustfully and picked her bike. They would date another day. She turned around and almost head-butt Akane.
"We can hang out together, if you want." The girl offered with a smile.
"No. Last time family go crazy. Go learn be real fighter, then we spar again."
"That's not fair! You're not even supposed to hit so hard in a sparring match! That's why it's called 'sparring'?!"
"If I hit hard, I break head."
Akane was about to retort, but stopped herself. Ranma and Ryoga did attack each other rabidly during their sparring matches and the few times Shampoo and Ukyo had clashed in friendly duels-or whatever they understood as 'friendly'- viciousness was never off the table. Perhaps Shampoo was not the problem…
"I'm just not used to it." Akane confessed mildly. "Everyone has always pulled back on me."
The look on Shampoo's face silenced Akane and forced her eyes to the ground. The contempt she could see on those hard eyes were like daggers slicing over an already wounded pride. Akane had always thought to be good. She was of the average. It had been her first real sparring match with one of the "power-houses" and she was put down in the blink of an eye.
Shampoo grabbed her hand and started running. Alarmed, Akane looked back at their unknown pursuer. Behind them only stood Shampoo's bike. The Amazon jumped and Akane yelped as she was carried along in the air. She managed a feeble protest as they ran along the slippery tiles of a rooftop
"Why're we running? What's going on?!"
"Nothing happening! Is because!"
Shampo chirped back and jumped to another roof. In mid leap, she released Akane's hand. The youngest Tendo screamed, flailing her arms wildly. The Amazon landed neatly but the momentum of the jump made Akane stumble. She slid down the tiles towards the edge of the roof. At the last instant, her fingers managed to dig into the hard material and broke her fall. Her feet dangled precariously over the edge. Shampoo laughted.
"Is no just blows, Akane! You is total klutz!"
Akane gritted her teeth and climb back up. She charged towards the Amazon.
"Aiya! Catch if catch can!"
Akane did not fall again as they ran over the rooftops of Nerima, leaping from one house to the other, sometimes changing directions and using trees as temporarily perches At one point, there were no more houses and they ran as fast as they could in wet grass. Sore limbs and burning lungs were ignored as they crossed the broad park of Nerima and then back to the seemly endless field of tiles and concrete walls. It was mid-afternoon when Shampoo, trembling and panting, finally stopped running and approached a building. Akane dimly realized that it was the Neko Hanten. She stumbled, wheezing for breath, and grabbed the other girl's arm.
"I-I caught you…"
The Amazon shoved her roughly. Akane, unprepared for the blow, fell on her butt.
"What you catch?"
"It was the game, you jerk! I was supposed to catch you!?"
"Aiya, is true!" The Amazon laughed briefly and unlocked the door of the restaurant. "But I bore hours ago. We just running then."
"Yeah, well, I didn't know that so I win." Akane sniffed and crawled back to trembling legs. She realized how dark it was. "I should get going. They must be worried at home."
"You call inside and stay for dinner."
She couldn't answer before Shampoo grabbed her wrist and dragged her inside. They crossed the empty restaurant and went straight to a back door hiding a flight of stairs. It led to the residential part of the restaurant. Once inside the apartment, Shampoo screamed.
"Is home! Akane eat here!"
A muffled answer was heard from the kitchen, but they didn't stop. Shampoo led her to a small corridor to their left.
"You eat real china food today. Father best cook in all village."
At the end of the small corridor there was another door leading to yet another flight of stairs. This time they climb down. As they left the door behind, it grew dark. Akane asked nervously if they could turn a light on but the Amazon commented calmly that there were none. It seemed the trip in the darkness would never end. Akane grew nervous. What if this was another crazy plan to eliminate competition? What if that competition was her?! She stopped dead on her tracks. She realized, terrified, that Shampoo made no noise as she walked. Her hand flailed about, trying to find her by contact. There was nothing but air around her.
"Where're we going?"
"To huge bath. Why you still up?"
"How do you know...?"
"You voice, Akane. Wait."
A sudden light burst in the darkness and Akane flinched back. She squinted. A square of blinding light had materialized at the foot of the stairs. It was close to her. Shampoo stood in front of it, holding a door open. The distinctive sound of rushing water could be heard from inside. Akane climbed the rest of the way and stared in awe. She had been there before, but without the pressure of saving Ranma, she could actually appraise the huge bathroom. It was crowded with at least two gigantic pools, sporting intimidating fountains of stone representing mythological beasts. The steaming of so much hot water had formed a miasma, making it hard to distinguish details in the distance. From where Akane stood, the ostentatious bathroom seemed to extend limitless in the horizon.
Shampoo flipped free of her cloths in one fluid motion and ran in all her naked glory towards the huge tub nearest the entrance. She jumped into the water and reappeared a moment later among the mist, waving at Akane.
"Get in water, Akane! Is too too good!"
Akane removed her cloths and approached the pool. She wondered nervously how deep it was. She couldn't swim and it would embarrass her to death if the Amazon found out. It was hard to get any respect as it was already. She set one foot into the water until it met something solid. Then she stepped with the other and sighed in relief. The pool was deep, but at the edge some merciful soul had installed a platform to sit and enjoy the warm water in peace. Akane sat with her back against the tiled wall of the pool. She stretched her arms and laid them loosely at the sides, hooking her hands down the border so she wouldn't accidentally slip away from the platform. She sighed and tried to relax.
Something latched into her ankle. Her eyes snapped open. It pulled sharply and she screamed, clinging desperately to the sides of the pool. Shampoo burst out of the water and tugged again at Akane's leg.
"Come on, Akane! Come swim with Shampoo!"
"No! I-uh...We should relax for a minute!"
Shampoo stopped pulling and sneered at her.
"Pamper little girl."
"IT'S NOT THAT! I…ah… Meditation's also an important part of training. We should try and meditate for a while…while we take…a bath."
Shampoo released her and Akane carefully sat back against the wall. She realized then that the tiles had cracked under her hands. If they broke, she would've been dragged into the depths of the pool to drown. The water waved slightly around her and she turned to find Shampoo sitting down next to her. When it seemed it was safe, Akane released the tiles. The Amazon closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. It seemed the meditation idea suited her fine. At least one of them would relax, Akane thought darkly, keeping a close eye on her companion.
An hour later, the girls decided they were hungry and it was time to eat. Shampoo led the way back upstairs and let her use the phone. As Akane walked by the kitchen, she caught a scent that made her mouth watered. A moment later, once Kasumi had been informed of her staying at the Amazons for dinner, she walked into the dinner room. The sight upon the table seemed a picture of some specialized culinary magazine. Small quantities of any number of colorful dishes rested before her and both Mr Pu and Shampoo stood waiting for her to sit.
Akane noticed she was drooling and that they were waiting for her. She clumsily knelt next to Shampoo. The Amazon touched her arm and pointed at a cushion next to Mr Pu, on the other side of the table. Without question, the youngest Tendo rose back to her feet and sat in the indicated spot. Shampoo and Mr Pu exchanged vows and grabbed their bowls. They ate in silence and Akane had to wonder if it was considered rude to talk.
"Hum, so, Mr Pu…" She tried. "How come we never see you around?"
"Working restaurant." He answered curtly.
"Shampoo works too and she finds time to pester us."
Shampoo glared at her. Akane smirked impudently.
"No warrior." He said. "Stay home."
Shampoo turned on the TV. It immediately displayed a strange animation of a blue cat and three rats running from some lava avalanche and a pack of dinosaurs. A male song sang in Mandarin as the animated animals fled for their lives. Mr Pu sighed mournfully.
Kasumi smiled and vowed politely at the man in front of her. He was such a kind person, always saving for her the most beautiful vegetables and fruits. His was the last shop they needed to visit.
Even though the bag was not heavy, Mr Pu insisted on carrying it himself, together with the previous purchases. Kasumi thanked him with a smile. She loved how such a small gesture of gratitude made him smile so warmly. It was a simplicity reminiscent of children. And very endearing. He walked with her, as every monday, back home. That day, however, instead of allowing him to shuffle away mournfully, the oldest Tendo sister issued an invitation.
"Would you like to come inside?" Mr Pu flinched at that. She smiled warmly. "You must feel very lonely, always working at the restaurant. Please, come in."
Mr Pu was a little stunned and a little uncertain. He didn't know what the etiquette was regarding unmarried women and man in Japan. Kasumi was already entering. She knew what she was doing, he supposed, so he followed her inside. They crossed the garden and stopped at the foyer, where two grumpy looking men sat before a shogi board. They looked up at them and Mr Pu swallowed, intimidated.
"Father, Mr Saotome, this is Mr Pu. He's Shampoo's father."
They glanced at each other before jumping to tower on both sides of Mr Pu. The tanned man with the beard was much taller than him and the bald one was built like a brick. By the hard eyes and stout hands, the whimpering Amazon could guess they were fighter. Considering the strained relationship between their two Clans, things could go pretty bad. He stared pleadingly at Kasumi but the girl kept smiling warmly.
"I hope you can join us at dinner tonight." She said and turned away. "I should start in the kitchen."
"Good sir." The tallest of the bullies said. "We'd like to have a few words with you."
"Train with weapon help learning adapt different situation." Shampoo told Akane, holding a pole with a wicked blade attached at one end and a nasty hook at the other. "Help you get proper balance of own body and understand own reach and of opponent and of all around you. This kwan dao. This what you do."
Shampoo kicked the end of the pole resting next to her and swung it upwards in a fluid motion. It made a strange whistling sound. The blade sliced across their practice dummy. The Amazon twirled the kwan dao around and set it to rest next to her once again. The upper half of the dummy suddenly slid off and hit the ground. Akane swallowed. The post that was the spine of the straw confection was as thick as her thigh.
"Now you try!"
Akane grabbed the kwan dao gingerly and examined it. It wasn't a nice weapon. The blade looked like a giant butcher knife and the nine rings attached to the flat side rattled horribly every time it was moved. The hook at the other end was the size of her hand and its morbid purposes were evident. The dull black color of the shaft did little to soften its wicked appearance.
"Can't we use something that's not lethal?"
"Blade need less strength to be good."
"I don't think we should use it."
Shampoo stared a moment at her and then nodded in sudden understanding. She turned and rummaged through the pile of weapons she had brought. Akane set the kwan dao aside and approached. Shampoo received her with a 37 inch sable.
"This Da Dao Dui. Smaller, see? More easy use!"
"It's another sword, Shampoo!" She pushed it back to her. "Can we practice with something that isn't lethal? Like poles, or something?"
Shampoo considered that and fished out her chuis from the pile. She handed them to Akane and stepped back.
Ranma shifted on his branch. He liked to keep an eye on the girls when they met to spar. Every time Shampoo picked a sword, his entire body tensed and his heart raced. But the Amazon was behaving and never made the aggressive move he was waiting for to interfere.
Akane swung a chui wildly. The momentum of the swing just added to the heavy weight of the mace and she was pulled off her feet. The weapon went flying and landed into the pond. Akane sprawled in the grass. After a stunned silence, Shampoo started laughing hysterically. Akane crawled back to her feet and laughed too. Ranma smiled in the safe concealment of his perch. Akane had always been too susceptible. Any criticism was an insult and laughing at her was taken as a personal betrayal. The last month of fooling around with Shampoo had made wonders. Not only did Akane take his playful jabs with a smile, sometimes she would even laugh. It was a nice change.
The girls were running in circles in the garden now, laughing like children. Akane refused to fish the mace out of the pond and the Amazon was trying to make her. She finally caught her and bodily threw her in the cold water. Akane screamed and flailed her arms wildly for a few seconds. When she realize her butt was resting safely on the sand, she calmed down. She fished the chui out and threatened the Amazon with it. Ranma wasn't sure if she was joking anymore. Shampoo's response to the threat was to laugh louder. She snatched by the tail a startled koi and threw it at Akane's face. It hit her flat in the nose with a sharp meaty sound.
"Ow! That wasn't funny, baka! It hit my eye!"
"Was so! Was so! Aiya!"
Shampoo dodged a flying chui and scurried away from the charging Akane.
Ranma sighed and leaned back against the trunk of the tree. Shampoo was a lot to take. But it seemed Akane wasn't as incapable at handling her as he had thought. It wasn't so surprising, he conceded. There was something about Akane that mollified people. Even though her shit of a temper would soon ruin any act of kindness, those encounters with her soft side marked people. Her offering of friendship two years ago was a relinquished memory.
"Airen spar too!"
Ranma arched violently forward. A swirling sword passed whistling behind him, cutting a few hairs off his pigtail. The branch he had been lounging on was not so lucky. The sword cut it cleanly from the trunk. He screamed. A rain of leaves followed his descend into the cold water of the pond.
"Ranma!" Akane gasped. "Are you okay?"
"ARE YA OUTTA YER MIND!" Ranma howled, now with a female body, upon emerging from the water.
Shampoo wasn't impressed. She romped to the edge of the pond and leaped at him. Ranma went into hysterics.
"NO! SHAMPOO! DON'T!"
Shampoo tackled her and forced them both into the water. Ranma gurgled her horror when the smiling human face inches away from her nose shifted and turned into the horrifying visage of a cat. She ejected herself from the water, running wildly in an attempt to dislodge the animal. She ran towards the nearest wall, hoping the slam against it would knock her into beautiful obliviousness. The boy, now turned girl, embedded herself into a concrete wall. It cracked slightly on impact and the limp body of Ranma Saotome fell flat on the grass. Akane approached them and picked the dazed cat under the redhead's skull.
"It's your fault, you know." She stated calmly. "You shouldn't spy on people."
The three of them blinked when a sudden light flashed before them. Nabiki had walked to meet them and had a camera on her hands. She smiled down at Ranma.
"Kuno's going to pay a fortune for this."
Ranma realized that one of her boobs was hanging out and the other could be clearly seen through the white wet shirt. Enraged, she rose to her feet and attempted to snatch the camera away from the she-devil of Nerima. Nabiki snatched Shampoo from Akane's arms and hold her directly in front of Ranma. The cursed boy howled and jumped back. Nabiki made as if she would throw the cat at her. The poor redhead fled back into the house. With a smirk, the middle Tendo sister placed the stunned cat back on Akane's arms and walked away. After the surprise ran out of her system, Shampoo hissed in anger.
"It's a little late for that…"
Akane commented and walked back into the house.
The bathroom at the Tendo's was small and plain-looking compared to what Akane had seen at the Amazon's residence. But it was big enough. It was normal, she corrected herself. Shampoo and her would just have to take turns on the furo. She opened the door and set Shampoo down. The cat ran directly to the bathtub and meowed loudly. Without a word, Akane opened the hot water.
The transformation was fast but always a stunning sight. The small white kitten grew. Her fur was replaced by creamy gleaming skin. The pointed ears lowered in the round skull as long silky locks of hair cascaded down. Paws would turned to hands, claws softening to human nails. And a waving tail fused and disappeared.
"Does it hurt?" Akane asked.
"No." Shampoo sighed and stretched languidly under the water. "It fast."
"I'll get us some clean cloths. There's the soap and shampoo, if you want to wash your hair…"
Ranma was grumbling under her breath. Every afternoon she ended soaked to the bone and with a headache. Why?! Other people didn't get splash with water every hour. Maybe Ryoga and Mousse. Shampoo also seemed to turn from human to cat way too often. Perhaps it was part of the curse, inciting others to drench them...
Ranma passed by Akane's room and was almost ran over by her fiance. She glanced back over her shoulder.
"Shampoo and I're using the bathroom! Don't you dare coming in!"
"My, they're sure spending lots of time together…" Ranma yelped and turned sharply around to find Nabiki standing calmly at the end of the corridor. "Doesn't it bother you?"
"Why'd it bother me?"
She gave him a weird look and walked away. Ranma scowled and pondered on that for a moment.
Shampoo was lounging in the filled tub, her undone hair spread in the water. A please little smile was dancing on her face. Akane sat in a small plastic stool in front of the mirror. She soaped her sore muscles carefully, mindful of the bruises and cuts marking her body after the last week of hard training. She winced, grazing the puffed wound at her shoulder. Her eyes fixed at its reflection on the mirror surface. And to think that disgusting bug-like protuberance would remain there for the rest of her life...
Akane heard splashing water. Shampoo had left the tub. Her body still dripping, the girl knelt next to her and inspected the wound closely. Akane fidgeted nervously. She flinched back as the Amazon brushed it with a finger.
"Great-grandmother know chi healing technique." Shampoo stated. "She back in month, take scar away. Arm all good again."
"It special Joketsuzoku technique of 3,000 thousand year old!"
In an impulse, Akane hugged the Amazon tightly. They stiffened when their breasts squashed uncomfortably against each other's and quickly broke the embrace. Akane wiped a tear from the corner of her eye.
"That's some good news!"
Shampoo stared uncertainly at the wound as Akane finished soaping herself. It was not wide but she knew it was deep. In the shoulder the throwing dagger could make little damage. If the edge had embedded into the girl's neck, however, one of Ranma's annoying suitors would definitely be off the competition. The small weapon would have cut an important tendon right off, perforated the trachea or the spinal cord. All lethal blows. Shampoo frowned.
"You say you no know about Law before rescue Shampoo…?"
"I didn't. Nabiki gave me the book after what happened at the park."
"No one ever take blow for me before…"
The Amazon murmured darkly, straining to understand. Akane had taken a huge risk. Too huge just for some frivolous recognition of courage. Ranma saved people for the thrill of a good challenge. Mousse had saved her out of lust. Shampoo had fought risky battles and taken ugly blows for a little of both. Why would Akane...?
A soft hand rested gently on her shoulder, swaying her from her thoughts Shampoo looked up. Akane was gazing tenderly at her. There was a sudden flash of light and Shampoo closed her eyes in pain. When she opened them again, she found Nabiki Tendo standing by the glass doors, brushing her teeth.
"Sorry. Am I interrupting something?"
Akane stammered. She realized just how close she and Shampoo were to each other and how their hands were actually resting on the other's skin. She pulled her hands back. Much to her embarrassment, Shampoo didn't. She rose quickly to her feet.
"If you're done with the furo, I'll use it now."
Mr Pu gagged and delicately spit to the side. Soun and Genma had no trouble swallowing a fourth cup of sake. It was a little weird to be in the presence of other men after so much time of isolation. He was enjoying their company, despite the uncomfortable subjects they insisted on touching.
"It Joketsuzoku law." He said. "No can do nothing."
"This is not Joketsuzoku." Genma whispered confidentially on his ear. "Here, the Law says you're the bra…the girl's father."
Soun nodded soberly, though his eyes were slightly glazed.
"Here, it is the men who have the final word. And who sets the rules in the house."
"But Xian Pu great warrior." Mr Pu moaned. "Try say what do, she punch in face!"
Soun and Genma sighed deeply. Their eyes met.
"A child's duty is to abide the wishes of their parents." Genma stated gravely.
"And it is a father's duty to raise their children lovingly but firmly." Soun finished. "It is your obligation, Mr Pu, to clear things out to your daughter."
"We'll back you up." Genma promised, placing his heavy stout hand on his shoulder.
Soun nodded with a grunt.
Mr Pu swallowed, not quite sure about the wisdom of this people. It was worth a try…
After they were done in the bathroom, Shampoo had jumped out of the top-floor window to fetch the dao dao dui and romped back into the house with the wicked dagger. Akane had trotted along. In her room, Shampoo had showed her the correct way of holding and using it. Akane had trained in the art of swordsmanship for almost two years but it never seemed to have a practical use. As she watched Shampoo move with the sable, attacking and defending herself against some imaginary opponent, Akane realized just how beautiful it was. The Amazon seemed to be dancing, the dao no longer a deadly weapon, but a gentle dancing partner. And it was hers. Shampoo had given her the sword and was teaching her how to dance with it. She smiled and jumped out of the bed, waiting impatiently to try herself.
There was a knock on the door.
"Yo, dinner's ready…"
Shampoo threw the sword aside and rushed for the door. Ranma screamed when it slung opened and she leaped out to grapple him. His protests were ignored and smothered slightly by the Amazon's giggling. Akane could only stare at the sword, now embedded to its hilt in the wooden floor.
"Aiya!" Shampoo gasped upon entering the dining room. "What you do here?"
Between Soun and Genma sat a small hunched man, wearing dark heavy cloths, his eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, Mr Pu crawled to his feet and vowed politely to his daughter.
"Kasumi ask stay. I eat here."
Shampoo smiled broadly.
"Shampoo father best cook in whole village! You eat too too good tonight!"
"Uh…I no cook…"
"I'm afraid I did!" Kasumi beamed, coming from the kitchen with a tray filled with different dishes. Nabiki trailed behind with another one. "I hope it's just as good!"
Shampoo gave Mr Pu a half lidded stare, but dropped the matter. She knelt next to Ranma and patted for Akane to sit next to her. The young Tendo hesitated, but finally accepted the invitation with a smile. It was a huge mistake. The Amazon simply turned her back on her and tried to hand-feed Ranma. He was a patient person and could take a lot before finally losing his cool. Shampoo had a talent to piss him off quite quickly. Seeing Akane wasn't about to interfere on his behalf, Ranma snatched the bowl and chopsticks from the Amazon and snapped at her to back off.
Mr Pu's chopsticks snapped in half and he grumbled darkly under his breath. Soun and Genma cleared their throat.
"No be shy…"
"I ain't! Lemme alone!"
"Shampoo!" Mr Pu blurted out sharply, making the three youth jump slightly. All set of eyes fixed on him. The man paled, trembled and grabbed his bowl of rice. "Please, pass soy sauce?"
The girl disentangled herself from Ranma and passed the soy sauce. Genma stood up.
"That is not the way." He said and lunged for Ranma. The boy choked on his food as he was hauled off his pillow. "Ranma! Take a bath!"
Everyone stared as Ranma was ejected towards the pond at the far side of the garden. He wailed and cursed all the short flight, before hitting the water's surface and sinking like a rock. He emerged a second later…as a red-head girl.
"What was that for?! YOU…ROTTEN SON OF A…!"
"Impertinent!" Genma sputtered between mouthfuls of food…Ranma's food. "I always do what's in your best interests!"
Ranma leaped, snarling, out of the water and chased after the laughing man, uncaring of the way her unsupported breasts danced chaotically with each step. The Tendo family and the two Amazons stared vapidly at the pair as they beat each other up in the garden. Mr Pu glanced uncertainly at Soun before reaching for a glass filled with water. The Tendo Patriarch quickly caught his wrist and shook his head.
Ten minutes later, Ranma returned, wild-eyed and all mated hair. A Panda was embedded into a wall on the other side of the house. Shampoo handed him her own bowl of noodles, smiling sweetly. He grabbed it without even thinking and ate in angry gulps. Mr Pu twitched on his seat again.
"Xian Pu, one word please…?"
"I think he means he wants to talk to you." Akane whispered, staring with a scowl at her father. He refused to make eye contact.
The two Amazon rose from the table and walked outside, hiding behind one of the panels of the foyer. They heard them whispering to each other for a moment. A dead heavy silent followed. Then a sharp smack and a grunt. Mr Pu reappeared in their camp of sight as he collapsed out cold on his back. Shampooo stepped on his stomach to re-enter the house and scowled darkly at Soun.
"Japan mens very bad influence!" She spat. "Father no ever come drink again!"
"What are you…Dad, what did you do?!"
Soun looked regally at them before bolting for the door. He knew Ranma was, in essence, a boy, but seeing women staring at him from all angles, some of them already scowling, was a most frightening audience to voice his views about the homage Japanese social pyramid.
The room was big but it had too many things on it. Shampoo had been there before, but only now did she have the opportunity to really take a look at it. There were shelves saddled with some books and a desk, a bed with silky mattresses and lots of cushions and a few stuffed animals. She grabbed a small kitten.
"How you like this so much? It like dead animal."
Akane finally turned, switching her attention from the futon she was rolling on the floor. Shampoo took advantage of the opening and threw the stuffed kitten at her face. The young Tendo caught it deftly before it hit her.
"No, it's not! It's cute!"
"Glossy stare, stiff fur. It exactly like dead animal."
Akane glared at her a moment as she walked back to the shelf. Shampoo wandered to the futon where she would sleep. She knew Akane had insisted she stay so their parents could drink sake and play soyu for a few hours. The girl was too trusting. One should not sleep with the enemy…
"I think you shouldn't hit your father like that. He's not like us."
"Akane, no-warrior still people."
Akane rolled her eyes and set the stuffed kitten back on its place, next to some school books. She stared at it a moment, noticing for the first time how its eyes of plastic gleamed at the light of the lone lamp on her nightstand. She had never seen a dead cat before but the idea sickened her now. With an angry sigh, she turned the stuffed animal around and walked to the bed.
"It's wrong to hit someone that can't defend themselves."
Shampoo turned off the lights and Akane heard a dry thud. Scowling, the young Tendo climb on the bed and turned the lights back on. The Amazon lay on her side, facing away from her. It seemed Akane would have this conversation with her back.
"It's always wrong. Does your great-grandmother hurt you when you don't do what she asks?"
"Don't you like that better?" Shampoo did not answer but Akane smiled. It was a winning argument. She slipped into bed and threw the covers over herself "You should treat your father like Ranma treats you."
There was no answer and so she turned off the lights. It was hard for the ego to be corrected sometimes. She didn't like it when others confronted her about her faults either. The Amazon could sleep on it. Akane leaned into a pillow and wondered briefly where P-chan could be. She missed the warm round little thing when it was time to sleep.
"No hit back who no can defend self...It matter of honor, yes? "
Akane blinked at the sudden question. A familiar warm feeling spread in her chest. People could say whatever they wanted but she knew Shampoo wasn't evil. She was just misguided. With the correct guidance, the Amazon would prove to be a very good friend. Akane was sure. She turned on her side to face the girl's back again.
"It is a matter of honor."
"Why you hit Ranma all time then?"
"I don't hit him all the time!" Came the automatic answer and even when it was dark, Akane knew her face was blushing furiously. "He's a loud mouthed jerk sometimes…"
"But he no hit back because we no can defend selfs." Shampoo pointed out. "He honor bound, yes? And because he no can hit back, then he no can defend self. So you honor bound no hit either."
Now it was Akane's turn to sulk in silence. The moral codes stated a man should not hit a woman. There were no clarifications or explanations attached. But…perhaps Shampoo had a point. Akane knew it was always wrong to hurt helpless people. But Ranma could take it…and even though he never hit with his fists, his mouth could be far more harmful.
Did two wrongs made a right?
"I swear I'll never hit Ranma again." Akane stated softly, making the promise to Shampoo as much as to herself. "But you've got to promise you won't hit your father either."
"Okay. If you no hit Airen, I no hit father."
"It's a deal then."
"I still no understand why you care."
"I just do…"
It was the last thing they said to each other. It wasn't long before Akane heard the soft deep breathing that signaled sleep. Such easiness to catch sleep made her jealous. It was hard for Akane to get the necessary peace of mind to drift off quickly. And that night, it would prove to be more difficult than usual.