Warning! High citrus content ahead!
Ranma Saotome, heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial arts groaned mentally as a solid hand stopped him mid stride, effectively halting any forward progress he was making to escape the festivities in progress. He turned to find a jovial woman, average in terms of looks but well built. The woven dress-blouse combination she wore and any femininity the woman may have overtly possessed was overshadowed by her lean, muscular frame...
...And the beaten clay mug of sulfuric mead that sloshed around in her left hand.
Unfortunately the martial artist knew exactly what was coming next as the woman favored him with a feral smile. She was undoubtedly a fighter. If the muscles and grip didn't tell him that, the almost devil-may-care grin she favored him with did. Behind her a retinue of Amazon battle maidens lifted their own mugs high around the great bonfire, cheering the toast on and a large mug was promptly pressed into Ranma's hand. Glowing embers lifted into the starry night with their voices.
"...To The Phoenix Slayer!" She roared, holding the mead high. She had spoken Japanese, but the Chinese warrior's intent was clear to the others and village square of the Joketsuzoku reverberated with the chorus of women present.
Alcohol sloshed carelessly skyward before being tipped back to guzzled down in the most expedient manner possible between the cheers. Ranma hesitated a mere moment before offering up a manufactured grin and taking his own gulp. The stuff was nasty and he had already tried to avoid drinking it several times throughout the night, only to receive queer, almost vaguely offended looks from his hosts.
Even small doses of the beverage had stripped his throat raw several times over the last two hours even though Ranma had only taken isolated swallows... As opposed to the full bore, gut wrenching chugs he watched the women engage in regularly while their male counterparts dutifully served up another round. Unlike the Amazon guys, he didn't have the luxury of keeping low since he was, after all, the guest of honor.
The Slayer of Saffron.
A wave of nausea settled within his stomach and he fought to keep the smoldering core of recently ingested alcohol down through sheer willpower while the very thought stabbed at his conscious. Sure, the kid had been reborn, and yeah, it was for Akane, but... Ranma threw them another cheeky grin and attempted to make his exit, only to feel the hand clamp back down.
"Regale us with a tale from the battle, Phoenix Slayer!" The same woman insisted even as one of the thinner males sidled up to them to refreshed his barely spent mug. His was topped off. Hers took several seconds took seconds more to fill as indicated by its depleted state and she favor him with a toothy grin as the mead sloshed forth. "Is it true that you slashed the very wings off the creature's back?"
The sound of bone snapping through a tempest of wind echoed within Ranma's psyche and he suppressed the wince that followed. Still, he had an image to uphold, especially here in the heart of the village. He fixed a roguish grin and nodded. "Cut 'em clean off."
The woman translated for the rest of her party, embellishing the tale somewhat Ranma suspected since her explanation was considerably longer than his. Another roar of approval vibrated through the night, followed by another drink from the battle-scarred mugs. Orange flame continued to bath the immediate area as the drinking continued, causing light and shadow to dance across the village wide celebration while warding off the cool night air. More women seemed to begin to congregate with his cessure of movement, prompting the pigtailed to plot his escape route away from the growing crowd. A polite way, but a way out none the less before something... Amazonian happened to him.
'Again,' he finished warily. Still the woman holding his arm would not let up. Sure, he could break the grip and then break her with ease, but that was hardly the point. 'Where's the tomboy when ya need her?' Ranma groused, but already knew the answer to that. She had gotten tired of the victory lap around the village, however involuntarily it had started. As a couple they had been sucked from one celebration to the next until finally she decided her time would be better spent making sure Ryoga wasn't getting involuntarily engaged.
'Would probably do him some good,' Ranma chuckled internally, only to have his thoughts interrupted once more by the stocky Amazonian woman. "And what of our own? How did our sister fare in the battle of battles?"
The martial artist decided it was a good thing he already had the smile on his face. "Shampoo was bustin' them up. Ya should have seen her!"
'...When she wasn't under the influence of mind controlling eggs,' he noted silently, deciding that part was probably better left unsaid.
A raucous cheer erupted with the next translation and the woman raised her mug to the sky for another toast. "To battle! And victory!"
More of the frothing mead made its way down the pigtailed teen's throat and when he finally lowered it from his vision another woman, somewhat more comely than the last stepped in close with a suggestive leer on her face. It was one that he had seen Shampoo wear on occasion and the martial arts heir couldn't help but to think it looked better on her versus the sea green haired woman before him.
"So, Phoenix Slayer," She began in broken Japanese, her hand leaning on her bare hip on display for him. "How Japanese girl you favor fare in battle?"
Ranma was about to open his mouth to defend Akane's performance when the question was all but answered for him by another woman amongst them. "She allow self to be turned to helpless doll from what this one heard."
"Was she not drowned by the Phoenix Captain?" Another woman testified, causing Ranma's grin to fade.
"Perhaps she is not for Slayer?" The second woman cocked her head with a suggestive smile and lidded gaze. "If not Xiam Pu, perhaps woman of more... fortitude?"
Her hand lifted and was well on its way to caress his cheek when another intercepted it at the wrist, stopping it cold. The retraining hand was more dainty than the one it restrained, but it held the wide eyed woman back with enough power to halt its progress. Ranma's head turned and found that instead of a marriage brawl in the making, a familiar purple haired Amazon was staring a cool gaze into the woman.
"Xiam Pu thinks she has more than enough fortitude for Du Shu." Shampoo answered smoothly in mandarin, smiled thinly. The offending woman tried to pull her hand back, but found it rooted in concrete. She snarled slightly and pulled again, but it wasn't until Shampoo purposely released her wrist did here tribal sister stumble back. The crowd laughed merrily at their antics while Du Shu favored her wrist slightly. She shot the purple haired Amazon a grumpy look before stalking back into the party, snatching a mug from one of the anonymous males as she did. Shampoo turned to the original woman with the same cool look. The grip on Ranma's shoulder was instantly released without further prompting and a much warmer smile was produced for the pigtailed teen himself.
"Great grandmother wish to speak to you," Shampoo advised cheerfully, taking his hand without invitation. Given the alternative, Ranma was more than willing to let her have it and she pulled Ranma behind her, extricating him from the crowd of women. After several paces she shook her head with an amused glance back. "Aiyah! Airen too much of ladies man for own good."
"Yeah, just what I need in a village full of Amazons," Ranma huffed with mild annoyance but was thankful for her interference regardless. "So what does the old ghoul want?"
"Shampoo not know," The Amazon shrugged, not seeming to care. "Not urgent, says enjoy party."
"Not if I gotta endure more of that," He jabbed a thumb back to the bonfire, then shook his head. "That and the nasty brew y'all are drinkin'."
Shampoo pulled alongside Ranma, leaning into him with a sly grin as they walked. "Shampoo save Ranma from other Amazon womens. Brew different story."
Ranma couldn't help but to chuckle and decided to let her continue to lean in the end. She was right after a fashion, and better the evil he knew. Just having her in close proximity was almost as good as having Akane when it came to fending off other opportunistic Amazons, and the last thing he needed was more chicks out to marry him just because he had to beat them off with a stick.
The pair managed thirty more steps before the party found them again and with it, more celebration and beer. A staccato of excited chatter in Mandarin surrounded him as another flock of reveling Amazon warriors found them, insisting on a toast. This time he had Shampoo to happily engage them, though true to her word, she was powerless to stop the rounds of mead that continually found its way into his hand.
"The Phoenix Slayer!"
The grin he was showing to the world flickered slightly and this time the drink he took was a margin larger, if only to blunt the stab of guilt that accompanied his namesake. There was another clash of mugs and some of the cold, frothy liquid strayed, falling on his person and transforming the man of the hour into the village heroine. The curse only seemed to magnify the festivities around the redhead much to Ranma's annoyance as the yelling and dancing took on a new pitch. One of the younger Amazonian girls ran up to her, bouncing up and down. Her eyes tracked her progress as she ran toward her person with a pen and a... shield?
Rapid fire mandarin greeted him as the girl bounced up and down in front of her, to which Shampoo translated easily for her. "This one wishes Airen to sign training shield."
Ranma eyed the pink haired girl's overly hopeful smile and the item she proffered toward her person. She had never signed an autograph before, let alone an implement of battle. Ranma took the permanent marker she held for her and signed her name to the shield. The young girl's eyes all but sparkled and she turned around jumping up and down with the shield for her friends to see.
In the mean time, The Phoenix Slayer took another drink.
The scene repeated itself at least five more times before Ranma and Shampoo had finally found a more or less festivity free path to Elder Cologne's residence, though not without a cost. Instead of simply Shampoo leaning into Ranma, the pair leaned into each other and found it all but impossible to maintain a straight heading along the small torch lit pathway along the edge of town.
"Don't wanna be a Phoenix Slayer," An inebriated Ranma Saotome complained to her purple haired companion, who in turn nodded sympathetically. "Don't mind fightin... Don't mind kidnappin's... But slayin' I mind."
"Airen too-too nice for own good Shampoo think," The Amazon poked her traveling companion square in the chest and missed her shoulder by several centimeters. They both looked at the errant finger and began to laugh at one another for a full minute before some form of cohesive thought returned to Shampoo. "Is why this one like Airen so much."
A syrupy smile enveloped Ranma's face. "Well you ain't so bad yourself when you aren't tryin' ta kill me."
"Ranma, I kill!" The Amazon tried her level best to emote seriousness, but it collapsed within moments into a fit of giggling. Ranma stared for a moment and began to snicker herself.
"Shampoo, I kill!" She retaliated and tried to poke the girl back, failing as badly as Shampoo had minutes earlier. Ranma missed by a mile and stumbled along the street in fits of laughter. Shampoo weaved unsteadily behind her with a vacant smile.
"Silly Airen can no kill Shampoo," She shook her head with a tisk before latching back on to the redhead's arm. "Is too drunk."
"I ain't drunk," Ranma gave an exaggerated shake of her head while intrinsically knowing at some level that she was in fact, blasted. Instead of admitting the obvious, she turned it back on her assailant. "You're the one that's drunk."
"Shampoo think both drunk," The purple haired teen decided aloud, then stumbled a bit to prove it. Ranma tried to anchor the girl and was almost pulled down for her trouble. Shampoo managed to climb back up the redhead, favoring her with a conspiratorial look. "Airen keep secret, yes?"
"Duh?" The martial artist rolled her eyes and Shampoo giggled, leaning close enough to whisper into her would be fiancé's ear. Warm breath ticked her lobe and alcohol saturated breath wafted around her the girl spoke in a hush whisper.
"Ranma no want be slayer. Shampoo no want elder," The Amazon admitted, causing Ranma's head to slew onto the girl and stare. The girl produced an exaggerated nod. "Is true. Too much trouble."
"Whoa," The Saotome blinked, trying to process the thought through an intellect mired in molasses. "Have ya told Granny yet?"
"Not yet," Shampoo admitted with a sigh, taking the moment to lean against a simple brick and mortar wall as the world spun slightly. Ranma leaned with her as the Amazon contemplated her dilemma through a similarly lethargic thought process. "No want to disappoint Elder. Obligated.
"Obligations are somethin' I know." Ranma nodded after a moment, staring at the Amazon in the dim backstreet lighting. She threw Shampoo a wide smile in response to her sullen admission. "Guess we're more alike than I thought."
The statement seemed to please the Amazon girl immensely, and she leaned onto Ranma once again. "How else Shampoo alike Airen?"
"Uh, we're both great at martial arts!" Ranma confirmed and both girls grinned at the idea. She returned to thinking on the matter moments later. The redhead looked Shampoo up and down with a sly smile. "We both look super hot as chicks."
"Shampoo is chick." The sly smile seemed to grow on her face as well. "Airen think Shampoo look super hot?"
"Well sure," The pigtailed girl rambled without thought, allowing herself open appraisal , admiring the string drawn silk dress and how the simple light pink garment clung to her every curve. "Not as hot as me, of course. But hotter than Uc-chan. She's cute, but not hot. And Akane, no contest there. She tries ta be-"
The Amazon leaned in closer, practically nuzzling Ranma and cutting off her rambling with a lidded gaze as the pair locked eyes. The redhead found she couldn't seem to pull away from her companion or her mischievous smile. "What else Airen like about Shampoo?"
"Ah... Ya... Ahhh..." The martial artist floundered as her thought process fought a losing battle against a combination of alcohol and hormones. Shampoo really was beautiful, something she had known from day one. But that wasn't the point... Was it? The warmth of her every curve pressed against her body, further reduced the likelihood that Ranma would successfully extricate herself from the situation she now found herself in. Instead tried to buy time with words. "You're... um... a good ah, cook."
"Mmmhmm?" The Amazon nodded, simultaneously acknowledging the compliment while inviting another. She repositioned herself, ensuring her body was molded to the redhead now. Her hands began to wander. "What else?"
Ranma felt the girl's warm breath on her lips now while her hand began to slide up slowly along the side of her torso, tracing up to the curvature of her breasts. The silk of her Chinese shirt transmitted Shampoo fingertip touch with exquisite clarity until they reached a rock hard nub. The gentle massage caused Ranma to inhale suddenly with the sensation, but couldn't bring herself to actually stop it.
"Wha... What are you...?" Ranma mumbled as Shampoo continued her ministrations without stopping while the threat of a kiss remained imminent. Ranma opened her mouth again to protest and this time it was captured. Resistance was short-lived and the pigtailed teen found herself responding to the soft nibble that slowly deepened into a passionate kiss lasting for the next thirty seconds before the Amazon finally allowed her victim to disengage. The all too pleasant stroking of her nipple remained, however, and the fingers began to occasionally include a pleasurable squeeze into their massage.
Ranma had a dazed look that appeared to a mixture of confusion and contentment as her gaze lowered from Shampoos smirk to the hand making slow, delightful sensations. The rings her fingers traced along the tight silk were almost hypnotic to the drunk martial artist. Some manner of logic managed to reinsert itself and her returned his eyes back to hands' owner. "We... shouldn't be doin' this..."
Shampoo's response was to brush her lips against Ranma's, allowing them to linger for a moment before moving down along the line of her jaw, highlighting the path with feather light kisses and warm breath. "Why no?"
That was a good question, and while Ranma's buzzed conscious knew she shouldn't be participating what she was participating in, it couldn't conjure up a reason why not, let alone summon the will power to actually stop Shampoo's kisses or the pleasant suckle along the side of her neck they had turned into. The Amazon's other hand was now wandering past the red silk tunic, undoing the clasps that held her charms before snaking along inside for more direct stimulation. The other hand entwined with Ranma's own, pulling it up to Shampoo's silk encased bosom and introducing it to her ample assets.
"The curse...?" The redhead had tracked the captured hand all the way up to Shampoo's charms where she was now aparty to their stimulation. The Amazon pulled her hand away slowly, but Ranma's hand continued to massage it gently while enjoying the reciprocity at a more base level. "I'm... gonna get me in trouble."
Shampoos suckling transverse up to the redhead's ear where she nibbled lightly, whispering, "Is no trouble. Is warrior's victory. Is night for celebration."
One hand continued its breast massage. The other began to wander down, brushing against Ranma's unoccupied left breast before tracing along the pigtailed girl's ribs, settling along the waistband of her black pants. Her fingers found the drawstring easily enough and began to work the knot. It was an action barely noted by Ranma amidst all of the other sensations the girl was creating until that same hand met flesh lower than her waist.
"What are... are ya doing?" Ranma struggled against the heady front of arousal and alcohol to even compose the question, though she was largely a bystander in her own body by this point as the fingers continued to trace downward. Pleasant sparkles began to accompany the fingers until they slid along her wetness where they drew a single line.
Ranma exhaled sharply, all but arching into Shampoo's embrace as carnal electricity arced from between her legs, sharpening the sensations produced by the fingertips also residing at her nipple. The purple haired teen moved her lips back to Ranma's with her answer.
Ranma's 'oh' was again captured by Shampoo's lips. This time, she was a more active participant and their tongues danced as hormonal lust took full control.
The celebrating began in earnest under the night sky.
Ranma Saotome bolted upright from a dead sleep with ragged breath. It took several moments for the world beyond to be replaced by something other than the visions of a succulent, purple haired Amazon girl with beads of sweat dripping down her naked body. The thud of the teen's own heartbeat slowly receded, allowing him to revisit his actual when and where; that is to say not passionately entwined with a naked girl exploring every square inch of her flesh as she did the same.
His surroundings were dark, though moonlight filtered softly through the window; indicating that he was in exactly the place he expected to be. A quick glace to the right found red LED numbers seemingly floating in space to indicate the time.
'Wonderful,' Ranma snarked sarcastically from the privacy of his thoughts and flung the covers off his person to reveal wood standing proudly at attention through the cotton of his pajamas. That and his blood pressure all but assured him that sleep wouldn't be forthcoming, nor was it the first time he had been in this very same position. Were they dreams of the woman he was all but married to? Hardly, and a pang of guilt rang through his very core for it.
On some level it was understandable; Shampoo was a bombshell of a woman, after all and he had seen her in various states of undress over the past two years; more so than Akane even. In bikinis. In form fitting cheongsams. Naked in a bath house. Nude In a furoh. In his very futon.
Naked under the stars, he grimaced at the reminder while another portion of his brain tried to inject reason into the dilemma. Maybe talk to Akane about it? Ranma almost laughed outright at the insanity of the though. 'Yeah, 'Kane. Havin dreams of chick sex with Shampoo.' He mused sarcastically. 'That's normal, right? You don't have a problem with it, do yah?'
The vision of his fiancée glowing red, poised for an uppercut that promised to send him into orbit answered that question definitively. Even worse, that need had been ignited and demanded fulfillment in some form or another, which brought Ranma's attention back to the wood that just wouldn't quit. Sure he could finish it off as it was, but being a guy hadn't caused it in the first place. His arousal had been born from very eechi thoughts belonging solely to a woman. It almost made him want to cry. While he could beat the rod in his pajamas back as a guy and had done so in the past, he knew from experience that the end result wouldn't be as satisfactory.
It would, in fact naw at him for the rest of the day if not properly taken care of. Like an itch that couldn't be scratched.
'Dammit ta hell,' Ranma fumed, kicking up to his feet to exit the futon and step to the guest room door. The martial artist slid the frame open easily and exited out into the dark hall, taking a left around the corner to kitchen where he popped the closest cupboard open to retrieve a glass. The facet ran for less than three seconds, filling the glass sufficiently before being it was retrieved from the stream. Ranma turned back to the kitchen entrance when the shuffle of footsteps was heard approaching.
'Female. Light. Somewhat coordinated.' The pigtailed boy knew it was Kasumi before she even rounded the corner, emoting surprise at finding him. She blinked somewhat drowsily before favoring Ranma with a smile.
"I thought I heard footsteps." She noted as the boy stepped out of her path. Ranma merely shrugged.
"Thirsty." He stated, and the eldest Tendo sister merely nodded.
"Me too." Kasumi stated and stepped by, fishing around for her own glass as Ranma retreated from the kitchen. "Goodnight, Ranma-kun."
"Night, Kasumi-chan." Ranma waved back, retracing the path he had walked to the kitchen. He crossed the threshold of the guest room moments later and slid it closed, then locked it the door, returning to the futon. The martial artist sat, setting the glass aside on the tatami and simply waited in the moonlit darkness. It wasn't completely silence of course, but there was only one sound he was interested in as footsteps creaked lightly down the hall, fading audibly until the click of a door was heard.
Ranma exhaled, glancing back down at the glass of water that refracted and warped the image of the bamboo mat under it. He stared at it for a solid minute before taking it in hand and tipping it slowly over his head.
"Why can't I cook this, Ranma?"
Ranma glanced over to Akane, who sat staring at the bento box her older sister had furnished her for the day while the cafeteria bustled around them. It shared the same ascetics as the one in his hands- A cute organization of rice, fishcakes and soba noodles. The youngest Tendo tilted her box to look at it from a different angle, as if the new perspective were liable to bring some culinary secret in the bento's creation to light. She concluded the study with a sigh and broke the bamboo chopstick apart to finally get about the business of eating Kasumi Tendo's creation.
"Maybe it's a curse?" Ranma shrugged, stepping lightly around the sore spot with an application of humor. Akane eyed him warily and the pigtailed teen smiled to ensure his joke was, in fact, perceived as a joke. "You know, Spring of Drowned Chef? Very tragic tale."
"Are you saying my cooking is tragic?" Akane's gaze narrowed on him and Ranma's grin widened.
"As tragic as those fantasy soaps Kasumi-Ow!" He never finished as Akane's juice box bounced off his head, causing its integrity to fail and shower the boy with enough cold liquid to turn him into a girl. The redhead seemed to pout, shaking the excess off. "That stuff gets sticky when it dries, y'know?"
"Just deserts." The Tendo sniffed with her own dry edge of humor. "Now is my cooking good or not?"
"Good as the day's long," The pigtailed girl replied dully as she padded the extra liquid on her person off with a spare napkin.
"That's what I thought."
"Then at night it turns into a blood sucking, ravenous- OW!" Akane's fist rebounded off Ranma's head, causing the girl to wince in pain with the blow. The redhead glared at the smug looking Tendo. "That hurt!"
"You just don't know when to shut up, do you?" Akane shook her head as if to emote disappointment.
Ranma shrugged, rubbing the knot on her head. "It's a gift."
"A curse." Akane countered. Ranma couldn't help but to smirk now.
"A very tragic one?" She invited. Her fiancée rolled her eyes.
"I blame your father." She advised and returned to picking over her bento. She reached for her juice drink and realized in disappointment that she had already sent it to its fate.
"So do I." Ranma agreed with a nod and began to partake of her bento as well. After a moment, both were snickering at the other between bites. The good natured ribbing continued for several minutes before Akane brought it to an end with a sigh.
"But seriously, Nabiki says they've set another date." She began, causing Ranma to pause in her consumption.
'Another date?' It took the redhead another few seconds to realize the significance of the statement before her blue eyes widened. Akane nodded with the obvious realization and Ranma frowned, asking a single question. "When's that?"
"March 29th." Her fiancée responded neutrally, taking a small bite of rice between the tips of her chopsticks. "She says they want it to be during the cherry blossoms this time."
Mental calculations ran through Ranma's mind. 'Two months.' The redhead frowned. "Sure as hell aren't given us as long as they said they would."
"Shouldn't come as a surprise, I guess." Akane noted, to which Ranma could hardly disagree. The old men were impatient morons when it came to the marriage, though she was surprised when Akane's mood picked up with a pleasant smile. "We'll just have to manage."
Ranma stared at her sudden cheer for a moment before nodding with reluctant agreement. "I guess."
"I'm sure you'll get another talking to from my father about the personal affairs thing." She added conversationally as her chopsticks reengaged the bento.
"Wonderful," The redhead rolled her eyes and began to stare off into space. After a moment of silent thought, Ranma spoke; her voice slightly more fragile in tone than just a few minutes ago. "Um, Akane, about those affiars..."
"Hmmm?" The girl glanced, over finding the Saotome twiddling her thumbs absently.
"Ah, um," Ranma stumbled, glancing back to Akane quickly with slightly pink cheeks. The Tendo's curiosity grew until the martial artist managed find the words once more. "Ah, what do you think about, um, kissing?"
Akane blinked, her own cheeks suddenly pinkening. "Kissing?"
"Yeah." Was the only confirmation Ranma could give. Akane's thoughts were awhirl in that moment as she picked her answer carefully. Kissing could be... fun. "I wouldn't mind it... I guess."
Ranma stared at her for a long minute before hesitantly clarifying the question. "How about with me... As a girl?"
The wondering look on Akane's face suddenly vanished as her face scrunched up. "Of course not. That's perverted."
Ranma suppressed the flinch created by her words and adopted a carefully neutral expression. "Ah... You think so?"
"It would be like me kissing Sayuri," The Tendo sister should her head, almost physically blanching at the idea. "Besides, those are teenage boy fantasies, not something people do in real life."
"Heh," Ranma forced a chuckle for the girl eyeing him curiously now. "Guess you're right."
"Of course I am," Akane settled the matter with a nod before returning to the original topic at hand. "What are you going to do about those 'lingering relationships' anyway?"
Ranma stared at the girl watching him expectantly. She smiled again for Akane's benefit. "I'll think of something. I'm droppin' by Ukyo's tonight."
Akane nodded with her own smile, pleasantly surprised by her fiancé's forward progress and the possibility of kissing in their future.
Ranma Saotome stared at the plate of okonomiyaki in front of him several hours later, as if it were simultaneously a gift from God and the harbinger of doom. He looked up and found exactly what he was expecting to see- His childhood friend all smiles from behind her grill, waiting for him to partake of her creation. It hadn't been exactly how he was hoping to start out the conversation and wasn't sure his stomach would be able to take the emotional rollercoaster he was sure would follow.
"Of course I insist," Ukyo gestured to the meal steaming before him, prompting Ranma to poke at it tepidly with a pair of chopsticks.
"Ah, thanks Uc-chan, but I gotta ask ya somethin'" He insisted, still poking at the round creation as if actually pulling a piece away to eat would set off an explosion. "It's, um, kinda important."
"Oh?" The chef paused, cocking her head in curiosity before leaning forward with interest. "What's going on?"
"The parents... they've set another date." He spoke slowly. Like himself, it took Ukyo a few moments to comprehend what date he was actually referring to, so he helped her along. "They want a ceremony during the sakura season."
Rapid blinking followed, then realization. The flicker of disappointment was replaced by a confident smile almost as quickly as it appeared. If he hadn't have been looking, he would have never seen it. "I guess that just means I'll have to convince you I'm the best choice by then."
"I, ah, kinda like you too, Uc-chan." Ranma continued to wallow through the difficult conversation and was about to drive to his point when the girl interrupted with a question.
"Is that right?" Ukyo smirked, putting her hands on her hips. "What do you like about me?"
"Well, you're a great martial artist," Ranma replied, and the girl giggled as he continued to rattle off her attributes. "You're cute, you're a great... cook." The okonomiyaki chef watched as a pained look crossed the teens face. He shook his head. "What I mean is I gotta know somethin'."
"Like what?" Her own happiness at the compliments faded into uncertainty with the change in Ranma's demeanor.
"Um, like what do you think of the curse?"
The Kuonji blinked, then giggled. "Is that all you're worried about? Geez, Ran-chan, you really had me scared for minute!"
"Ah, sorry," The boy scratched the back of his head as his childhood friend's reaction helped release the measure of the anxiety he was feeling over the encounter. It was promising start; certainly better than it had begun with Akane. " "Just, ah... Need to clear some stuff up before the parents do it for me."
Ukyo's eyes glittered as she rounded the counter and ignored a customer beckoning for her attention. She sat on the stool next to Ranma, smiled warmly for him. "Well I don't think there's anything wrong with the cures at all."
Ranma began to smile slightly. "You don't?"
"Heck no, sugar!" Ukyo took his hand in hers with the positive affirmation. "For one its cute as a button, and who doesn't need a girlfriend she can always trust to go shopping with? And don't think I've seen you waitress. Not only can you help me with the business, but you can work the tables too!"
The smile began to lose its edge as she continued.
"And once we close up shop I can splash you back into a guy and be the perfect husband and... what's wrong?" She paused in her running monologue, finally noticing the absence of the smile that had been growing.
"But what about when I'm like that?" Ranma began to shake his head, reaching for the nearby glass of water Ukyo had set aside for him early. He upturned it on his head and let the water drizzle through her now red hair. "Would ya kiss me like this too?"
"Of course not silly." Ukyo giggled, forgetting herself for a moment. "That's why there's warm... water..."
She watched a shadow cross Ranma face and suddenly realized just what the girl was driving toward. She opened her mouth, then closed it, unsure of how to proceed as words seemed to spill from her mouth at random. "I'm not sure I could... but you're a guy and... That's kind of... It's like..."
"Heh," Ranma let a sad chuckle loose and withdrew her hand from the chef's. "I know what you mean."
"It's not like that! It's... it's!" Ukyo floundered, waving her hands as if to ward rejection away. After another look at Ranma and the facade collapsed with the slump of her shoulders. "I just lost, didn't I?"
Ranma simply shook her head. "I can't turn it on or off like a switch, Uc-chan. I tried to deny it, but its..."
"But... We could try!" The okonomiyaki chef made a last ditch effort to try and convince her childhood friend and herself that she was, in fact, the one. "One night, Ran-chan. You won't need the curse by the time I'm done with you!
"You know it ain't that easy," Ranma reminded her, then laughed to herself in a self depreciating tone. "Hell it ain't been easy for me."
"I could... I..." Ukyo fell silent as Ranma took her hand back. The black haired girl simply looked at it as the truth finally freed itself from the tangle of honor and promises. She looked up at Ranma, her voice barely a whisper. "We would be great together..."
"I know," Ranma smiled. It was a genuine smile; something that offered the chef some measure of reprieve against the guilt and loss that threatened to overwhelm her. Years of revenge, searching, the great fiancé chase all stripped away in the course of fifteen short minutes, but Ranma's words were salve against that wound laid bare. "But I just can't ignore it all anymore..."
"But... I'm not a lesbian, Ran-chan... I'm not..." Ukyo stumbled, unsure if she could trust her own words to actually say anything intelligent. One thing did come to mind, and she asked if only to fill the uncomfortable silence between them. "What about Akane?"
The chef instantly felt the tension increase in her friend's hand and could have guessed the answer before she had asked. Now she knew for certain before the words were hesitantly spoken by Ranma. "It... ain't gonna work."
Again, Ukyo merely nodded. If it had been hard for her to get to this point, Ranma was probably dealing with his own measure of heartbreak with that revelation and could all but envision the Tendo's response. It wasn't just because girl was wired for guys like she was. It's because she's an immature homophobic little prude that- Ukyo restrained herself as the mental rant began to spin up. If it wasn't her and it wasn't Akane, there was only one of them left.
Ranma sat for a full minute, considering the question. In the end, she had an equally terse answer. "I dunno."
The okonomiyaki master, however, did. Much as Akane always seemed to be the favored one throughout their rivalry, it was Shampoo she actually feared the most. Without their parents pushing Ranma and Akane together, there was little that concerned her about the youngest Tendo, but Shampoo was always a threat. She was aggressive, skilled, as good looking as she was and worse yet, completely lacking in Japanese mores and inhibitions. Ukyo steeled herself for the performance she was about to engage in, mustering up the resolve to wear a smile for her best friend's sake.
She knew the answer, even if Ranma didn't.
"Well why don't you go and find out, Sugar." Ukyo gave the redhead's hand a friendly pat. Ranma simply blinked at her at the sudden turnabout in attitude until Ukyo started to actively shoo the girl away from the counter. "Go on. Off with you. I've got a business to run."
Ranma stared at the chef and after a moment of silent contemplation, produced a grateful smile; simultaneously thankful and sympathetic for her. The best the redhead could do for her friend now was nod. "I'll let you know how it goes."
With that, Ukyo watched as Ranma turned to the door and stepped out into the cool winter air. She stared after her for a moment before shaking her head, with a sigh. The girl wiped a single tear from her left eye, speaking to nobody in particular.
"Dummy. I already know how it will go."
Ranma Saotome stood in the lengthening shadows of an all too familiar street, watching the bustle of patrons as they descended upon their favorite Chinese noodle joint: The Neko Han Ten. Their food was reputed to be so tasty that several other nearby Chinese restaurants had already gone out of business... 'Or the ol' Ghoul put them out of business,' the redheaded martial artist mused idly, watching the influx of foot traffic.
A street lamp flickered on down the street as the sun shown its final farewell on the horizon, though Ranma hardly noticed it as she considered her next move carefully. Shampoo, she could deal with. The Mummy was a different story, much as she loathed to admit the tactical disparity in skill and experience. Surprise was usually the only thing that she could count on to work against the Amazon Elder, and even that was usually a short lived advantage.
'Hard and fast. Keep her off balance,' Ranma dictated tactical policy to herself, barely picking her targets out through the open plate glass of the restaurant face. Cologne was, for the most part immobile amongst the bobbing heads of her patrons; her gray-white mane quite visible near the establishment's back counter. Mousse and Shampoo weaved in and of the crowd, occasionally disappearing from view. Ranma continued to lean against the brick wall opposite of the Neko Han Ten in study, outwardly relaxed but inwardly...
'It's come down to this,' she sighed, trying to calm the jittery nerves tying knots in her stomach. To this day she had played defense, reacting to her father's mistakes. Reacting to her rivals. Reacting to the women in her life. Ranma shook her head.
Mistake after mistake after mistake.
'Too many fires,' she decided and the observation alone firmed her resolve. Ranma pushed off the wall, watching a car rumble across her path and began to walk across the street in its wake. The last twelve hours had been illuminating, though that illumination had actually begun the night after she ran Saffron through with a tornado of ice. This morning, however... It was high time to put the fires out. It was time to make a choice.
Akane? It hurt to admit that they were a lost cause together. She was cute and when she tried, Ranma could see it. She could see happiness with the girl, but... Ranma shook her head, unwilling to go down the path those thoughts led. She had already visited it once today and it hurt. It hurt to see a glimpse of what could be. it hurt to know that it had probably been a lie to begin with. It hurt to admit that the best of the best Ranma Saotome was the one calling it quits.
'For both our goods,' she admitted, allowing herself a margin of redemption even if she still wasn't entirely sure if the words rang true or not. Ranma stepped up the curb facing the Neko Han Ten, now mere steps from the door.
Ukyo had gone better- far better than she could have possibly hoped. There had been hope there too, but that hope had been washed away on an inevitable tide of mutual realization that he... she had become something neither had expected. In its wake, hope had surprisingly born anew. Perhaps the last two years hadn't been for nothing. Perhaps there was something salvageable out of the three car fiancée pileup forced upon them both.
And then there was one. Ranma grasped the door handle and pulled it open to instantly be greeted by the hum of conversation. The smell of fried noodles, pork, chicken and other foodstuffs filled the air, momentarily distracting the martial artist from seriousness of the situation she was walking into. Her thoughts reset, however. Food would have to wait. It was time to find out if the final player in the fiancée game- that is the only other player he could possibly have feelings for -was still willing to play.
Ranma weaved through the crowd toward the front counter, past one of Cologne's part time waitresses until the Elder herself caught sight of the redhead. 'Point of no return,' Ranma noted as the woman turned fully to engage her in conversation.
"So, what brings you here tonight, Son-in-"
'Evade, deflect.'Ranma gave her a token nod and smile as if to strike up a conversation, but continued to walk straight past the counter top entrance all the while leaving the old woman blinking at her back. Ranma pushed the door open to the kitchen. Mousse was next, tending to a large boiler of noodles when he noted the intrusion. With his glasses on, her red crop of hair was impossible to miss and he moved to bar her way.
"What are you doing- Gah!" Reaching for her was his first mistake, and she took his outstretched hand by the wrist and pivoted the arm back as she walked, locking the shoulder even while Shampoo looked up from the delivery she was assembling in surprise.
"Oh, hey, Shampoo." Ranma waved nonchalantly even as the bespecked Amazon male attempted to wrestle out of the her grip. It was a short lived struggle that ended when Ranma punched her index and middle finger into the back of his neck, causing the boy's eyes to widened suddenly before simply losing all muscular tension. Ranma let Mousse collapse to the ground sans consciousness. Shampoo's gaze snapped from Ranma to Mousse, then back to Ranma. Ranma paid the duck cursed martial artist a passing glance before returning her attention to Shampoo with an easy going smile. "Hey, got a moment?"
Shampoo blinked, though the decision was ultimately an easy one and she pushed away from the counter with a cheerful smile, discarding the Amazon at Ranma's feet outright. "Shampoo always have a moment for- MMmf!"
Ranma stepped over the body and into Shampoo's personal space in barely three steps, interrupting the purple haired girl's greeting with something that looked like martial arts; at least until she pressed her body into the woman's frame, allowing her arms to snake around the woman before fully occupying Shampoo's lips with her own. Shampoo's eyes widened for the second time since Ranma's arrival, but only for a moment. Heat bloomed between the girls as their silk curves melted into each other and the Amazon girl's eyes fluttered close. The redhead deepened the kiss. A slight mewing floated from the girl's throat and her arms responded in kind, smoothing around Ranma's slightly shorter frame while the outside world faded in to unimportance.
Ranma reluctantly withdrew from the lip lock after a solid minute, leaving Shampoo sighing; her eyes floating open lethargically. Her gaze now held a smoldering edge that ensured the similarly passion drunk martial artist she had the Amazon's undivided attention. It was time to get down to business, and her hands drifted lower to caress the roundness of her derrière even as her lips trailed lightly across Shampoo's cheek, then to her ear.
"I ain't gonna no subservient male, Shampoo-chan." The martial artist whispered. When her hand finally completed its track across the girl's rump, she pulled it away... And a pair of pastel pink bikini briefs were somehow removed without invading the silk directly.
Shampoo sucked a breath in, chewing on her lip as her own lust spiked. "Is good Airen half girl then."
Ranma let the panties slide off her finger and they floated to the grey tile of the kitchen unnoticed. Her hands continued to roam the purple haired girl's body, sampling her cheongsam encased bosom. She sucked on the girls earlobe for a moment before dictating her terms further. "I'm a martial artist... I ain't gonna stay in the house. I ain't gonna wait tables. I'm my own man."
"Is good... Very good..." Shampoo lost herself for a moment; her eyes glazed over while Ranma trailed kisses down her neck. It took a few seconds to return to the real world. "Amazon is warrior. Ranma is warrior. Will get along so good..."
Ranma nodded with her agreement, but could feel herself wanting to return to their negotiations. Her fingers began to ensure Shampoo's own nipples were clearly visible through the silk while she returned to her lips with one final demand that two fiancées had declined thus far. "And you're gonna have to be okay with this every now and then."
It was plainly obvious to Shampoo what 'this' was: Two female bodies in the thrall of passion, all but ready to divorce themselves from their clothing and retire to a more appropriate setting... The delivery counter half a meter behind her came to mind. The Amazon's lips pressed lightly onto Ranma's as she replied. "Is okay with this more than every now and then."
Ranma's approval was indicated by the return of her tongue, and Shampoo sought it in kind as she pulled the redhead back to lean against the stainless steel counter. Two sets of hands roamed freely now and silk was rapidly becoming an impediment to their continued foreplay. Clasps were victimized. Waist bands sank lower on female flesh. A shirt was about ready to fall to the floor until a new sound stopped their mutual progress cold.
"Ahem." Shampoo's eyes widened and Ranma flinched, turning to find exactly who she expected to find. The gray haired Amazon elder sat atop her cane perfectly balanced in front of the kitchen door and apparently watching their activities with some measure of mirth in her eyes. "Are you quite through undressing my great granddaughter, son in law?"
"Ah well... Ah.." Ranma temporized, unsure of how the rest of this plan was supposed to go. She suddenly remembered where her left hand was located: Atop Shampoo's right breast and visibly inside the silk of her cheongsam. Ranma tried to slide it out subtly, only to have the Amazon teen stop her progress and push the hand back on station with a sultry smile. Ranma looked from Cologne, to the offending hand, and back with only one answer coming to mind. "Ah, no?"
"Then I imagine closing up shop early was for the best after all," Cologne sniffed humorously, apparently not caring where Ranma's hand rested but continued regardless. "But you will be cleaning up any messes you leave on my counters tomorrow." She paused, looking down at the white robed boy crumpled at the entrance of the door. "And don't forget that."
With that, Cologne hopped out. The doors swung closed behind her, leaving the pair of girls alone. Ranma stared after the woman in surprise... At least until one of Shampoo's arms snaked around her neck. The other slid up the back of her scalp, entwining its fingers into her red crop of hair.
The Amazon leaned back onto the counter top, pulling the redhead down with her.
Author's Notes - It was tradition in my house that you could open one Christmas present on Christmas Eve before opening all the others, so here's my Christmas Eve present to you. I've had a hankering to write a Ranma-Shampoo match for a bit and this fits the bill. Implicit in that is the fact that you have another Christmas present coming, so no "I wish you would continue etc etc!". There's actually a bit more plot in this one, but it would be too unwieldy to attatch to what is effectively a one-shot. Sorry, no continuations. If you're in a different timezone where Christmas is now, well, I still love you :D
Thanks to Trimatter for throwing in a few plot notes (plot? wut plot?) to smooth it out.