AN: Warning, the very first scene of this story will be the darkest part of the entire story. If you're looking for something angsty, don't let that fool you. If you're looking for something light-hearted, stick it out, and enjoy what comes.
Screams of childish fear and pain echoed through the forest, the only call, and an unfortunately frequent one, that he needed to draw his sword and rush to aid the child. Warily though, he had been tricked by unscrupulous individuals looking to take advantage of his helpful nature far too many times.
He quickly arrived at a clearing, where a slightly portly man in a stained training gi was standing over a pit, from which the screams were emerging. Wasting no time, he lashed out at the man with the flat of his blade, intending to subdue the man, as he preferred not to kill non-machines. To his considerable surprise, the man evaded the blow, and twisted around to counterattack, but a deft twist of the sword forced the kick aside, and left a cut on the man's calf.
A cut that was entirely too shallow for the amount of force that had been between the blade and the man's flesh.
"A ki user," The swordsman said, dropping into an aggressive guard.
"A weapon user," The portly man responded, making the word 'weapon' into a curse.
The swordsman raised an eyebrow, but as the child was still screaming, and he could hear cats of all thing between screams, he took the offensive immediately. Despite the portly man's bulk, he moved like a snake around the swordsman's strikes, steadily giving ground, but easily evading the precise blows. Resisting the urge to frown, the swordsman kept his pace, instincts honed back and forth across the millennia warning caution against this foe.
His caution was rewarded when his foe's speed suddenly increased drastically, and the man went on the offensive, moving inside the reach of the swordsman's katana. If the portly man expected him to be at a disadvantage due to his sword's poor positioning, he was met with pointed disappointment, in the form of a knife-hand blow to his solar plexus, a blow hard enough that even the portly man's ki-reinforced body gave slightly under the force of impact. More importantly, the blow threw off the other man's planned attack, allowing the swordsman to slip around him, and attempt another reverse-bladed blow to the back of the man's neck, carefully measured with force intended to disable, but not kill.
The man leapt to avoid the blow, but the swordsman simply advanced, moving into the arc of the man's jump to land another blow. His eyes widened as the man twisted in the air, moving in a way impossible under normal physics, and also unlike any ki-manipulation based ability from any of the many, many schools he was trained in. He had not thought such things were possible through ki manipulation.
He retreated slightly, not wishing to give the other warrior the opportunity to take advantage of his surprise. The swordsman had fought many opponents with strange and unexpected abilities before though, and he was nothing if not adaptable. He began to consider, however, the possibility that he faced not a Ki-user, but some form of demon. The child was still screaming, however, so he advanced again, attacking with speed and force much more closely approaching his true capabilities.
The portly man retreated into the forest, attempting to take refuge from the swordsman's blade behind the trees, but his swift, precise blows cut through the trunks as though they were not even there. Seeing this measure fail, the man took to the trees, leaping from trunk to branch to trunk, ricocheting around the forest as he fell back from the swordsman's furious assault, but the swordsman was every bit as capable as he.
Careful not to retreat too far from the clearing with the pit, the portly man fell back in a circular pattern, orbiting the small clearing. After the third revolution, he was forced to either move farther away, or return to the earth, as the swordsman had felled too many trees for him to continue brachiating through that part of forest. The portly man returned to the earth, in the faint hope that his opponent would lose stability in the maze of branches and trunks that the forest floor had now become, but found no advantage their either, and continued to fall back before the superior reach of his opponent.
The swordsman remained cool as he sensed his foe's desperation and frustration rise; they had been fighting for perhaps a minute now, and at this high level of performance, the portly man was beginning to tire. There was a reason that wise warriors, even ki-users, retained the physical condition of their body; the portly man had to be consuming considerable portions of ki to compensate for his body's excess mass. Fatigue would win this battle in the next thirty seconds, if a decisive move or mistake on the part of one of them did not.
The portly man grimaced, and retreated into the clearing, ducking and rolling back away from a horizontal slash, and pulled up what appeared to be the collapsed canvas of a tent over him as he rolled across it, then faded from sight. The swordsman immediately closed his eyes, and became utterly still. He had learned to fight without his sight in a century he had left behind, and was more than prepared to do so in this one, even if the child's continuing screams made hearing his opponent exceptionally difficult.
It took a single sword-slash for his opponent to abandon his stealth technique, this blow drawing blood across the portly man's shoulder, and cutting deeper than the first as the his Ki reserves drained. This time, when the bleeding man withdrew, he moved more sharply, at what the swordsman could tell by body-language, flow of movement, and instinct, was the man's absolute maximum speed.
The swordsman sharply disengaged, rushing towards the pit, but his opponent abruptly reversed course as well, and then the swordsman's instincts screamed DOWN and he dropped into a roll. A blade of ki and pressurized air slashed through where his neck had been a fraction of a second before, cutting loose his topknot as it passed. The swordsman rolled, then twisted as he rose again, facing his opponent.
"Retreat," The swordsman said, "I do not wish to slay such a skilled warrior, but I must save the child."
"No," The bleeding, panting, portly man said, "My son's training is my business, not yours."
The swordsman's eyes narrowed, and he leapt sharply backwards, passing over the pit and glancing down for a split second as he did so. What he saw was a child of perhaps six years old, bound and helpless, slathered with fish, being mauled by a pack of clearly starving cats. Fierce, hot rage burned within the swordsman's heart, rage as he had not felt in years. Bad enough what was being done to the child in the first place, that it was this man's son made it utterly inexcusable to the swordsman.
As he landed, his willingness to kill the portly man in the dirty gi solidified, and he swept around the pit, moving to the attack once more. His foe swept his arms forward, unleashing more blades of ki and air towards the swordsman, but he twisted around all but two of them, and those two he parried with his own blade. The portly man's expression of shock at his ki-blades being parried, was the last expression that his face would ever carry.
After he cleared the last two blades, the swordsman abruptly accelerated to his absolute maximum speed, the shift, and sheer speed, too much for his opponent to compensate for, and in a single deft stroke, the portly man's head was removed from his shoulders. The swordsman did not pause in the slightest at his opponent's death, continuing the motion of his stroke, and twisting the blade around sharply to flick the blood from it, then sheathing it as he turned towards the pit, and leapt directly in.
Only to be forced to evade the child coming out, wailing like the very fires of hell were after him. Unfortunately, he lacked the now-dead man's physics-defying aerial combat form, and only managed to partially avoid the impact, sending both of them careening of course. Both of them proved more than capable of recovering, and landing easily in the grassy clearing, the swordsmen on two legs, the boy on four.
As he took in the boy's countenance, for a moment the swordsman wondered if he had been attempting to halt a possession rite. The boy's posture, the way he moved, his expression, everything about him except for the shape of his body itself, screamed that he was a cat, not a human. Well, the swordsman knew how to deal with animals, too.
Putting himself into the mindset of playing with his old pet cat from when he had been a child, the swordsman, smiled broadly, relaxed his stance, and opened his arms invitingly.
"Come, neko," He said warmly, "Come and rest, I will tend your wounds."
Like any cat, the child was not so easily lured in, and instead of coming to the swordsman, he circled, hissing fitfully as he eyed the swordsman warily. The swordsman, however, knew how to play this game, and seated himself in a relaxed and non-threatening posture, continuing to appeal to the cat-boy. He wished he had some fish, but he carried very little food with him, instead depending upon his hunting and trapping skills for such things.
A small quantity of preserved beef, however, did prove adequate to eventually lure the child into his lap, where he carefully inspected the child's wounds. What was left of the child's clothing barely counted as such anymore; his back, legs, and the back of his arms had been torn bloody by cat claws; his face, chest, abdomen and groin had only been spared because the child had instinctively curled into a ball. He did not carry much in the way of medicines either, but his white martial robe was quite adequate for serving as a bandage, and he carefully bound the boy's wounds as best he could, around the 'cat's' protestations.
Unsurprisingly, the child rapidly tired, and fell asleep; a rest that the swordsman held honest fears he would not wake from. The boy had lost a great deal of blood, and while the swordsman could bind his wounds, he had no great skills as a healer. He did not like it, but he would need to take the boy to a settlement, and find him a physician.
Rising carefully, so as not to disturb the boy, the man set off at a brisk walk towards the nearest human settlement.
After dropping the boy off at the local medical facility, the swordsman returned to the clearing. He spent several minutes inspecting the heavily damaged battlefield, noting the patterns of damage, mentally replaying the ebb and flow of offense and defense, mostly offense on his part, and finally inspecting the portly man's corpse. It was rare, that he found it necessary to kill a human opponent, and when he did so he preferred to do so in as painless a manner as possible.
Once he had finished surveying the battlefield, the swordsman efficiently buried the man in the pit he had housed his son and the cats in, then spent some time praying for his departed spirit. This task completed, the swordsman set about to gathering the equipment the two travelers had left about their camp, and sorting through it. Of particular note, he found within the elder man's pack a journal, a pair of technique scrolls, a technique training manual, and a list of prime training sites for martial artists.
He would see to it that the boy received all of his father's possessions.
When the swordsman returned to the local town's medical clinic, he found the boy awake, and eyeing the bandages on his body with clear displeasure.
"Hey," he said, looking up when the swordsman walked in, "The nurse said you brought me in. Where's pops?"
"Unfortunately," The swordsman said, "I have rather sad news to bring you. However, first, I believe introductions are in order."
"I'm Ranma Saotome," Ranma said promptly, "Of the Saotome school of Anything Goes Martial Arts. Who're you?"
"They call me," The swordsman said, bowing slightly, "Jack."
It was a fine morning in the Joketsuzoku village, the skies were clear, the weather was quite warm for their elevation and time of year, and the shouts of warriors locked in combat rang through the air.
The annual village tournament was on, and Xian Pu, descendant of the current village matriarch, Khu Lon, had set her sights at becoming the youngest village champion since Khu Lon herself three-hundred years ago. sixteen years old was a very ambitious age to attempt such an endeavour; must young warrior women were only beginning to consider the tournament at the age of sixteen, but Xian Pu simply did not believe in thinking small. And her life had consisted of little but training since her mother had died five years ago, and Khu Lon had taken custody of her.
By the end of the day, to the surprise of many of the village's junior warriors, but none of the senior, Xian Pu's ambition had proved at least somewhat viable, as she advanced to the final round of the village tournament. In this final round, she faced Dao El, a fifty-something warrior-woman who was uniquely unskilled with Ki, but had more than compensated by becoming the single most skilled weapon user in the village, aside from the Elders, who did not participate in the tournament.
So entranced were the various warriors in the unexpected, and unexpectedly intense, duel, that they did not notice an outsider slipping in amongst their ranks, though his skill at concealment may have been a factor as well. So it was that there was a single man amongst the Chinese Amazons during the final round of the annual village tournament, watching with no small appreciation as young Xian Pu faced the current reigning village champion on the challenge log.
The combat was a whirlwind of steel, solid-metal-headed Chui, pitted against a massive spiked steel-headed club, the two combatants pitching back and forth up and down the challenge log, Xian Pu disdaining to show any more than passive Ki use on par with her opponent, and the fight running to a standstill as youth and prodigious skill matched against equally prodigious skill, and the tricks of a warrior with decades of experience.
After a full five minutes of combat blitz, Xian Pu broke unexpectedly from combat, smiling at her foe, and giving the elder woman a nod of respect, before dropping into a stance just back of the center of the log. To those sensitive such things, it became immediately apparent that for the first time since this duel had begun, she was actively drawing upon her Ki. Dao El, despite lacking the Ki ability to sense Xian Pu's use, had more than enough experience to recognize what was happening, and knew that the next exchange would be their last, most likely not in her favor.
Knowing time was not on her side, Dao El leapt to strike, and Xian Pu advanced to meet her. Dao El struck with a speed that shocked the audience, performing, despite her well-known lack of aptitude for Ki, a partial development of the Kachu Tenchin Amaguriken technique, and bombarding Xian Pu with dozens of blows in less than two seconds. Xian Pu, however, held the advantage of wielding paired hafted weapons versus a single opponent, and twisted her Chui through a tight series of defensive arcs, deflecting the blows with little apparent effort.
Dao El's attack, once it wound down, left her caught in mid-air, vulnerable to counterattack, and Xian Pu delivered a single powerful blow. Though delivered intentionally in such a way to allow a block, and blocked quite easily, the sheer ki-infused force of the blow sent Dao El flying, knocking her well clear of the challenge log, and earning Xian Pu her new position as Village Champion.
The crowd burst into cheering and applause, as Xian Pu raised her Chui triumphantly, basking in the acclaim of her people, smiling fiercely.
A loud, moaning growl abruptly interrupted the applause, drawing everyone's attention to the single young man standing in the crowd of onlookers.
"Aha ha ha," He said, raising his left hand to rub the back of his neck, while his right hand rubbed his stomach, "I'm sorry, I haven't eaten for three days. I don't suppose you fine warrior-ladies could spare some food?"
Nearly every single warrior of the Chinese Amazons stared at the young man. He was clearly Japanese, even though he spoke fluent Mandarin, wearing a martial robe that was red from the waist up, and black below, with black trim on the top, and red on the bottom. His hair fell most of the way down his back in a tight pig tail, and every square inch of his visible flesh was covered in a very faint network of white scars. Also, he wore two swords at his waist, in the matter of a Japanese Samurai, though he carried a Katana and a Chinese Jian, rather than a Wakizashi.
"How did you come to be here, outsider male? Who are you?" One of the nearby Amazons demanded, as they all retreated from him, and drew weapons, forming an improvised circle of combat around him.
"Ah," He said, bowing slightly, "I am Ranma Saotome, my apologies for not introducing myself first. I have recently arrived from Jusenkyo, and upon sighting your village, had hoped to purchase some supplies, as I have not eaten in three days. Once I saw the challenge in progress, however, I could not help but watch and appreciate the skill on display."
Xian Pu, irritated with the outsider for stealing her moment of victory, but somewhat mollified by his polite words of praise, decided that she was more curious about this outsider than anything else. Dismounting from the log, she strode up to him, looking him up and down, from the wooden geta on his feet, to the polite, but still genuine smile, on his face.
"You are dressed like a Japanese warrior, Outsider," Xian Pu said, "But you carry a Chinese sword. Why?"
"Ah," Ranma said, "I have spent the last three years training throughout China with my sensei, and am more skilled with a Jian than a Wakizashi. Also, it is easier to acquire a Jian of respectable quality than a Wakizashi in this nation."
"So," Xian Pu said, "Where is this 'sensei' of yours?"
"At the springs of Jusenkyo," Ranma said, "My sensei faced, and defeated his most bitter enemy. Once he had done so, it was time for him to return to his own time, which I aided him with. I believe the only currently existing form of him has been buried on his family's land, in China, for more than a thousand years."
Xian Pu blinked at that, unsure what to make of the young man's proclamation of time travel. She eyed him up and down again, and decided he didn't look like he was crazy.
Then his stomach growled again, quite nearly shaking the ground with its intensity. Ranma laughed nervously, scrubbing the back of his neck with his empty hand again.
"Ah," Ranma said, "Not to be rude, but could I purchase some food from you folk?"
Xian Pu eyed Ranma's stomach, then the small banquet worth of prize food she had won as Village Champion.
"I am Xian Pu, the new Village Champion. If you can defeat me in combat, Outsider male," Xian Pu said, a smirk writ across her features, "You can have part of my prize."
Quiet chuckles and large grins worked their way through the assembled Amazons, as anticipation for another fight, however brief it was fated to be, rose.
"Certainly!" Ranma said, glancing at the prize for a brief, hungry moment, before drawing his sword, "I would be honored to earn my meal in such a way."
Laughter broke out amongst the crowd as the man implied he had a chance at winning, as the entire body of attending Amazons somehow missed the fact that Ranma had been watching Xian Pu's fight against Dao El, and yet was still confident of victory. Grinning, Xian Pu hefted her Chui, and advanced towards Ranma in the improvised combat circle.
She struck, leading with a simple thrust with her right, to probe Ranma's defenses.
Ranma countered so swiftly that only a handful of those in the crowd could even see what he did, his Katana twisting through an arc that redirected the Chui past him, as he slid forward, and looped his sword up before Xian Pu could recover, ending with the edge of his sword just barely touching her exposed throat.
Xian Pu froze in shock.
The crowd froze in shock, jaws dropping and eyes bulging.
Had the Village Champion just been bested in a single exchange of blows by a male?
An outsider male?
Xian Pu swallowed, able to attest to the fact that the Japanese swordsman kept his sword honed to a very sharp edge. One that she had just become intimately familiar with.
"Do you concede?" Ranma asked politely, his tone implying that it was entirely possible that she had some way of yet overcoming him that he was simply unaware of, and he honestly wanted to know if the fight was over.
Xian Pu nodded shakily.
"Excellent!" Ranma said brightly, withdrawing his sword and sheathing it smoothly, then stepping back and bowing respectfully.
"Thank you for an excellent match," Ranma said, bright, guileless smile in no way, shape, or form implying mockery in the statement.
Then he strode over to the prize table, and began to neatly, but very quickly devour its contents.
The crowd continued to stare.
Xian Pu remembered to breathe, then remembered to move the rest of her body, and gibbered silently, staring at the outsider male who had just completely owned her. She absently reached up to touch her neck, carefully running her fingertips across the surface of her skin. He hadn't even cut her.
Oh, her great-grandmother would not be happy about this. Still, there was only one thing she could now do, by law, and so gathering her courage and Amazon Pride around her like a cloak, she strode up behind the out-, no Ranma, and tapped him on the shoulder.
He immediately turned to face her, then politely swallowed his mouthful of melon before speaking.
"Yes, Xian Pu?" He asked, his face and voice devoid of anything but a smile and friendly curiosity.
Xian Pu decided that his smile was cute, and hoped that he wore it as much in private as he did in public.
Then she leaned forward and kissed him.
"Uaauahuah?" Ranma said, muscles going slack, jaw dropping, and eyes crossing in complete, total, and utter shock.
"You, I love," Xian Pu said, suddenly fighting a grin at her flabbergasted husband.
"Huawahuat?" Ranma replied articulately, twitching oddly as his eyes alternated between focusing on her, and losing focus when they crossed trying to look down at his own lips.
"By Joketsuzoku law," One of the nearby Amazons said helpfully, "You are now married."
"Wo da, Airen," Xian Pu said, smiling.
"HwuaWHAUuuahuWHA?" Ranma asked, gesturing frantically with his left hand, and the half-eaten melon held in it.
Xian Pu giggled, then pushed Ranma around in his seat a little, and plopped down into his lap.
This did not help his condition.
"EHUAHWHAUAHAHAHA!" He proclaimed emphatically, arms flailing wildly, and getting melon onto a couple of the nearby Amazons, who simply laughed
"What's wrong, Airen?" Xian Pu asked, picking up a clay vessel filled with water, "Have you never been kissed before?"
"AWRAWUARAWAHARA!" Ranma proclaimed fiercely, gesticulating wildly, and causing Xian Pu to spill some water on him, though she did not exactly try hard to avoid doing so.
Then his eyebrows lit on fire. Xian Pu stared at him in shock for a moment, having no idea why water spilled on his chest would cause his eyebrows to light on fire. Curiosity spurring her on, she leaned in closer to him, to inspect the fiery eyebrows more closely, but as her face neared his, panic spread across his features.
When her face was mere inches from his own, something inside of Ranma snapped.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" He screamed, and abruptly there was no Ranma between Xian Pu and the bench he had been sitting on, and Ranma was bulldozing through the crowd, sprinting for the village limits.
Xian Pu, and most of the rest of the Amazons, simply stared in shock.
"You know, Xian Pu," Khu Lon said from behind Xian Pu, who was far too used to her great-grandmother suddenly being places Xian Pu had not noticed her at before to startle, "I don't think your new husband had ever been kissed before."
Xian Pu pouted.
Ranma fled through the forest for the remainder of the day. Being both swift of mouth, and of foot, he had managed approximately four meals worth for an ordinary man in the amount of time he had been able to eat, and then twenty-some miles of travel in the few hours of daylight that remained. His sensei had taught him to travel light, and he simply found a sheltered cave, and wrapped himself in his robes to sleep that night.
So it was of some considerable surprise when he woke up the next morning wrapped in a proper set of blankets, beside the final embers of a dying fire.
Also, he was not alone in the blankets; there was an attractive, buxom young Chinese Amazon curled up around him.
"Awuaga?" Ranma articulated precisely, waking the young woman in bed with him.
"Good morning, Airen," She said, yawning as she stretched, blinking the sleep out of her eyes.
Then she smiled at him, leaned over and kissed him.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" Ranma screamed, and fled.
Blinking in confusion, Xian Pu looked around the cave she had found her husband in last night for what might have caused him to flee.
"What's with him?" She wondered aloud, then shrugged, and set about to packing up her camping gear.
The next evening, Ranma spent an hour exterminating vermin for a family of farmers, in return for a hot meal and being able to spend the night in front of their hearth.
When he woke the following morning, Xian Pu was sleeping on top of him, her blankets wrapped firmly around the both of them, cocooning them together tightly. While one part of his mind melted down at the sheer proximity of the smaller girl, another realized that the reason she had not woken him when she approached while he slept, was that his senses were keyed to potential threats, and hostile intent, and she presented neither.
It was a realization that helped him come to some degree of calm, as instinctive reactions honed by years of living under threat of attack were disarmed, allowing him to relax slightly. He still wasn't entirely sure what it was about the girl that had inspired some kind of panic in him, it had poked at parts of him and evoked feelings he was not really familiar with. Strange feelings, that while not necessarily unpleasant, were also somehow terrifying, even though they carried no apparent elements of physical danger with them.
Ranma was not accustomed to fearing much, but had no idea whatsoever why he would fear something that presented no threat of bodily harm to him, or anyone else.
Then Xian Pu woke up. She yawned, something that struck Ranma as quite endearing, then looked around a little, before her eyes came to rest on his face, and she smiled brightly at him.
"Wo da, Airen," She said, and scooted up across his body to kiss him again.
The sensation of her body moving across his sent portions of Ranma's lower brain into a berserk frenzy, crippling higher brain functions. Then, as her face again closed into critical proximity of his, something slammed the fight/flight button deep inside his brain, and as no part of him considered attacking the overly-affectionate Amazon a valid option, he fled.
Xian Pu, having just closed her eyes for her morning kiss with her Airen, abruptly found herself alone in the tightly-wrapped roll of blankets, and fell the few inches to the ground with a soft thump.
Distantly, the receding "AAAaaaaa…" of her Airen screaming as he sprinted across the countryside could be heard, and Xian Pu felt a sulk coming on.
What was with her husband? Was she unattractive by Japanese standards?
Ranma knew that Xian Pu had to possess impressive tracking skills to have followed him as far as she did; a fair portion of his travel had involved brachiation, which was not an easy form of travel to track. Now, however, he deliberately set out to evade pursuit, using every trick at his disposal, up to and including swimming upstream in rivers, hitching rides on passing automobiles, then jumping from one to another mid-trip, and taking advantage of his curse to leave different shaped tracks.
Ranma travelled for three days like this, without pausing to sleep. He was quite glad that his cursed form came with abilities that made it easy to procure hot water, as for reasons he was not entirely clear on, he always drew stares while he was in it, even if he could never see anything about himself that really stood out. Perhaps he was simply used to his sensei getting more attention than him?
A pang of loneliness at his sensei's recent departure struck him, but he pushed it aside and focused on his journey. At the end of the three days he took refuge in a tiny cave accessible only via an underwater passage splitting off from the Yangtze river. He spent half an hour working his robes into as dry a condition as he reasonably could, then hanging them from rocky protrusions in the interior of the cave to finish drying. His scroll cases had maintained their seal, and none of his scrolls had been damaged in the last three days of travel, something he was quite glad of.
Finally, he laid down on a flat slab of rock, clad only in his undergarments, and fell into an exhausted sleep.
Xian Pu was not sure whether she should be impressed by her Airen's swift and stealthy flight across China, or depressed. She would have lost him several times if not for how polite he was. People remembered someone of such implacable courtesy, it stood out with many of those she'd questioned more than his Japanese apparel or swords. It was nice to know that her Airen was polite even with weakling peasants who he would probably never see again; if he was unfailingly courteous with them, how much better would he treat his wife?
Once he stopped running away from her.
Shampoo frowned; that just would not do. She'd have to take extreme measures this time.
Storing her camping gear in hidden weapons space was so far beyond what she could normally manage with the technique that it was outright painful, but soaked bedding and firewood would be useless in the cave she had tracked her husband through, so she simply made herself swim to the cave as swiftly as she possibly could.
She still barely managed to start pulling supplies out of her ki pockets before they started bursting out instead. That would have been bad. Surveying the modestly-sized, barely lit cave, which was really more of a small cavern, Xian Pu quickly decided where to put what, and after affirming that there was air was flowing through, rather than the air being stagnant, started building a small fire.
Once that was going, providing both illumination and heat, Xian Pu carefully laid out her bedding then gently lifted her husband (who had quite a nice musculature for his age), and placed him on her bedding beside the fire. Then she pulled her collection of rope over, and lay herself down beside him. It took her nearly a full half hour to correctly arrange the both of them, wrap the ropes around both of them, and then tie the knots, but when she was done, they were tied firmly together with his arms around her waist, his hands restrained, hers not, and their heads placed appropriately so they could either face each other from far enough away for their eyes to focus, or draw close enough together to kiss.
It would do for the night.
Her task completed, Xian Pu snuggled down into her husband's chest, sighed happily, and went to sleep.
This time, when Ranma awoke, the first thing he checked for, and found, was the young Amazon resting on his chest. It was not hard to notice her, with her hair spread out all over his torso and arms, and his forearms tied down around her waist.
Ranma decided that this pattern was going to continue until he spoke with the girl directly, and he really didn't want to find out what method of restraint she would attempt after this one. She might even manage to figure out something that he couldn't escape from easily. Ranma briefly considered waking Xian Pu, but decided that since she had, no doubt, been moving at as harsh a pace as he in order to keep up with him, that he should allow the girl some rest.
In the end, he fell asleep again himself.
When Xian Pu awoke again, her husband was already awake, and cooking fish over the re-built fire. She found the ropes she had tied herself to him with neatly coiled beside her bedroll. Sudden, unexpected, desperate fear struck her, that her husband would leave her again without so much as a word.
Then he looked at her, and her fears died as she saw only concern in his eyes.
"Good morning, Xian Pu," He said, a hint of worry in his voice, "Are you well?"
"Yes, Airen," Xian Pu said, smiling hesitantly at the man.
"Are you certain?" He said, the worried tone intensifying, "It is not healthy for a young woman to exert herself as much as you have in tracking me so swiftly."
"Do you think me weak?" Shampoo said, sitting up to place her hands on her hips, and scowling at him.
"Not at all!" Her Airen said emphatically, "I have never met a woman both as young, and as skilled as you, before in my life! It is simply that I do not wish you to do yourself injury, or exhaust yourself to illness, because of me."
Shampoo allowed herself to be mollified; it was difficult to be aggravated with him for simply showing concern for her wellbeing.
"Here," Ranma said voice full of warmth and concern, passing her a skewer of barbequed fish, "Eat, renew your strength."
Xian Pu smiled and accepted the skewer. It was hard to be mad with her husband, when he was always so kind. Ranma took a skewer from the fire for himself, and for a few minutes, they ate in companionable silence.
"Now," Ranma said once they had finished, "Could you please explain to me why you call me your husband."
"That's simple," Shampoo said, smiling brightly, "By the laws of our people, if a warrior is defeated by an outsider male, she must marry him. This is intended to strengthen the blood of the tribe."
"I see," Ranma said thoughtfully, stroking his chin as he leaned back, "I take it this has been the law of your people for some time?"
"Three thousand years of Amazon Tradition," Shampoo said, and Ranma could hear the capital letters.
Ranma spent a few more moments in silent contemplation before speaking again, fixing her with a serious, but not unkind, gaze when he did so.
"Xian Pu," Ranma said, "I understand that by the laws of your people, we are married, however, I never consented to such a union, and am unwilling to consider myself wed when I have not agreed to such."
Xian Pu frowned, looking down at herself.
"Am I ugly by Japanese standards?" She asked sadly.
"Not at all," Ranma said, "In fact, your beauty is sufficient to strike many men dumb."
"Then why do you not simply agree to our marriage?" Xian Pu asked, hurt edging into her voice."
"While I do not wish to denigrate your traditions," Ranma said, reaching out to lay a hand on her shoulder comfortingly, "I do not know you well enough to wed. In truth, I know only four things about you. You are a prodigiously talented and skilled warrior, you are the finest tracker in existence that I am aware of, and are exceptionally physically attractive. Also," He said, beginning to blush and looking away before he continued, "You are very, ah, affectionate."
"My Airen is very handsome and kinds, "Xian Pu said, smiling, "It would be difficult not to be affectionate. Although," Her smile faded to sorrow, "I suppose you will try to flee me again now."
Ranma turned to face Xian Pu again, clearly distressed by her sorrow, and searching for words to comfort her.
"I," He eventually said, showing more hesitance in his words than she had ever seen from him before, "While I am not willing to consider us wed, or call you wife, I am willing to spend time with you, and get to know you, and perhaps, in time, we can mutually choose to wed."
"Really?" Xian Pu said, frown hesitantly shifting into a smile.
"Really," Ranma said, smiling warmly at her.
"Thank you Airen!" Xian Pu said, smiling brilliantly and tackle-hugging Ranma.
AN: MY PICKLE IS ON FIRE!