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A Ranma ½ fanfic
by Aondehafka

Disclaimer: the Ranmaverse characters owned by Rumiko Takahashi, and all that obligatory stuff.  This story based on the anime, not the manga.  Sakura and Key are from the anime series Key the Metal Idol.

Chapter 2:  Choices of the Heart

The ribbon flashed past Ranma-chan as she twisted.  Over and over the redhead dodged, weaving and bobbing like smoke in the breeze.  Kodachi was striking at maximum speed, although she was putting almost no force into the attacks.  That way she wouldn’t accidentally hurt her Ranma.  The White Rose wore an expression of mixed awe, pride, and frustration.  She was amazed at how much Ranma had improved by sparring with her over the last month, and proud that she had been able to give this gift to her boyfriend.

Once Kodachi had lent Ranma the advanced chi-technique scrolls from which she’d learned, the Anything Goes heir had taken to them like a duck to water.  He’d already known some of the basics, which was how he was able to jump from the ground to a second story rooftop with ease.  With the new resources, Ranma had learned to channel his chi with a finesse he’d never imagined possible.  Instead of focusing on powering up weapon attacks, as Kodachi had done, he chose to increase his already phenomenal speed and dexterity.  By now, he’d temporarily reached the limit of what he could do in that area, and was concentrating on the exercises that gradually increased his maximum chi reserves.

Constant manipulation of chi and increasing endurance through sparring were a big part of this.  Consequently, Ranma and Kodachi spent a lot of time training together.  After only two weeks, Ranma had reached the point where he could evade her normal attacks and disarm her consistently.  Kodachi had conceded  then that the Anything Goes style was more powerful than her own.  Ranma had offered to teach her, but she’d been forced to decline.  The White Rose feared that if she were to learn too powerful a style, her own insanely high power levels might someday cause her to accidentally hurt or kill someone in a fight.

Ranma-chan was beginning to feel the first creeping effects of fatigue from constantly dodging.  Each day it took a little longer before that happened.  It felt good to know she was improving so quickly.  She just wished that stupid rain shower hadn’t stuck her as a girl right before she and Kodachi had begun sparring in the park.  Since her girl-type was naturally faster than her other body, training as a guy meant he had to work harder to dodge.  For this reason, the training was more effective when Ranma was in his natural form.  Both he and his partner were frustrated that that wasn’t always an option.  In fact, Kodachi was beginning to suspect that part of the Jusenkyo curse was an attractor of cold water.  Hence the last emotion in the mix on the White Rose’s face.

After dodging for a few minutes more, Ranma-chan put on an extra burst of speed, dashed inside Kodachi’s reach, and snatched the ribbon out of her hand.  Kodachi just shook her head and grinned ruefully.  “Have you ever been beaten, Ranma-kun?  Besides that one time I caught you by surprise with the Spirit Ribbon Storm?”

“No, not really.”  Ranma-chan turned thoughtful.  “Y’know, it’s not as good as it sounds, bein’ undefeated.  I don’t wanna think what would have happened if I’d beaten you in the ring then.”  She sighed.  “Something you taught me that day is it’s better to lose sometimes than to win.  Sure wish I’d known it a while back.”

Something in that last statement piqued Kodachi’s interest.  “Did you win a fight you shouldn’t have?”

A shudder passed through Ranma-chan.  “You could say that.”

Kodachi opened her mouth to ask for additional details, when a loud cracking noise from the opposite end of the clearing drew both girls’ attention.  Two large trees crashed to the ground, one falling to the right and the other to the left.  In the gap between them, a figure could be dimly seen through a cloud of dust and leaves.  As the debris subsided, this was revealed to be an extremely cute purple-haired girl with an extremely angry scowl on her face.

“Sh- Sh- Shampoo…”  Ranma-chan’s voice trailed off in a choked whisper.  She began to back away.

“Ranma.  Die!” returned the girl in a melodic voice with a Chinese accent.  She produced a set of brightly-painted maces and charged.

One second Ranma-chan was slowly backing away, the next she had already disappeared at top speed out the other end of the clearing.  Shampoo stumbled and skidded to a stop, dismayed at how much faster her quarry had become.  Then her expression hardened and she took off running again… only to crash to the ground as a ribbon snagged her ankle from the side.  She picked herself up and glared at the strange pale girl who’d tripped her.

“And what do you think you’re doing, threatening Ranma like that?”  Kodachi didn’t see any need to bother with the Ranko alias, as this girl apparently already knew Ranma’s true name.  “Who are you?”

“Name Shampoo.”  Shampoo decided that there was no point in running off after Ranma just yet.  She’d never catch her quarry in a race.  She would need to track her down, and could therefore afford to spend a minute or two instructing this girl about why it was unwise to interfere with a Chinese Amazon.  “Ranma is enemy.  Shampoo track all way from home in China.  Ranma give insult, she pay.  Shampoo let Ribbon Ghost Girl off with warning now, but better not get in way again.”  With that, Shampoo gave a blood-curdling scream and charged Kodachi with a bonbori extended as if to run her through.

Kodachi’s eyes narrowed at the description, and decided this girl needed to learn some manners.  She prepared to evade the attack.  Then she decided it would impress her opponent more to take it full on and shrug off the effects.  The White Rose made deliberate eye contact with the charging Amazon, showing anger and contempt rather than fear.

Shampoo wondered whether this girl had a death wish.  Putting it down to the stupidity of outsiders, she continued the attack as planned… stopping the bonbori a hairsbreadth from her opponent, reversing it, and quickly striking with the handle at a number of shiatsu points.

Kodachi’s eyes widened as she felt her body go numb.  She tumbled to the ground in an inelegant heap.  Satisfied that her opponent would be out for a few hours, Shampoo bounded off along Ranma-chan’s trail.  She followed it for some distance before losing it at the point where her quarry had doubled back through the treetops.

Meanwhile, back in the clearing, Kodachi was rubbing the last stiffness out of her muscles when Ranma-chan returned, dropping out of the trees to land next to her.  As she took in the fact that the White Rose had been attacked, Ranma-chan’s face turned as white as Kodachi’s.

“Dachi!  Are you okay?!  Dammit, I thought she’d just follow me and leave you alone!”

Kodachi put her hand on the other girl’s shoulder.  “Don’t worry about it, Ranma-kun.  She would have, but I tripped her with my ribbon.”  The White Rose grimaced.  “She took me down with a very impressive shiatsu technique, but she didn’t really try to hurt me.  And now I think I’d like to hear why someone would track you all the way from China to get revenge.”

“It’s kinda… hard to explain.  Short version:  she’s the fight I should’ve lost.  Can I give ya the full version after I get some hot water?  She’s never seen me as a guy, so I’ll be safe then.”  At least until the next random splashing.

By chance, the closest building with hot water readily available was the dessert shop which was one of Nabiki and Tatewaki’s favorite date spots.  Ranma-chan and Kodachi encountered the pair there.  Kodachi slid into the booth beside Nabiki, ignoring her brother’s subtle signals that they’d rather continue the date in privacy, and watched as Ranma-chan went to get some hot water.  This always brought a smile to her face.  Ranma-chan entered the men’s restroom.  A second later, several boys shot out wearing panicked expressions.  At least this time they were all fully clothed, the White Rose mused.

Ranma changed back, made use of the facilities, then turned to leave.  He caught sight of his face in the mirror, though, and stopped.  He heaved a deep sigh and looked into his own eyes.  ‘Good job, Saotome,’ he told himself.  ‘You coulda gotten Dachi hurt for real today.’  He thought back to how he’d felt on seeing her on the ground.  It scared him, a little, to realize just how much he’d come to care for the White Rose.  Ranma vowed that he would NOT let Shampoo hurt her.  He knew he’d never forgive himself if that were to happen.  He stared at his face for a little while longer, lost in thought.  Eventually, though, he heaved a sigh and walked out of the restroom… to a scene of utter chaos.

There was a large hole in one wall.  Several tables and chairs were overturned.  Pieces of bonbori littered the floor.  Their former wielder sat on the floor groaning, while Tatewaki kept his bokken pointed at her.  Nabiki was flattened against the wall near the restroom door, apparently in shock.  Kodachi was near the entrance, out of Shampoo’s line of sight with her ribbon ready in case the Amazon made any sudden moves.  Ranma hurried over to the middle Tendo.

“What happened, Nabiki?”  He had a very bad feeling about this.

Nabiki blinked a few times, then got control of herself.  “This crazy purple-haired girl came crashing through the wall and started threatening Kodachi.”  The middle Tendo glared at Ranma.  “She wanted to know where YOU were, Saotome.  When Kodachi wouldn’t talk, she attacked with two huge clubs.  Kodachi didn’t try to fight back-  just dodged her.  But then she tripped on a chair.  That’s when Tachi stepped in and smashed the maniac’s weapons to splinters.  Then she came at him barehanded, and he had to KO her with the flat of his bokken.”

“I tried to tell him not to actually defeat her.”  This was Kodachi.  “From what you said already, I deduced it would be unwise, Ranma.  But he didn’t listen.”

Before Ranma could respond, Shampoo staggered to her feet.  She looked at Tatewaki, who was disconcerted to find no trace of anger in her expression.  Instead, she seemed quite happy. 

“Wo de airen… wo ai ni!”

Tatewaki had planned after graduation to travel as his father had done and see some of the sights in China.  He had studied different dialects, and found he had a natural talent for languages.  Consequently, he understood quite clearly that he had just been called this girl’s beloved husband.  His mouth dropped open and his bokken fell from nerveless fingers.  Shampoo seized the opportunity to catch him in a hug and give him something that definitely was not the Kiss of Death.

As Nabiki alternated between staring in disbelief at the sight, and glaring at Ranma as if she were ready to throw him to the lions, the Anything Goes heir debated the wisdom of grabbing Kodachi and running for the coast.  The swim to China hadn’t been that bad, after all.

Shampoo kept looking around in awe.  Her airen must be a local prince to live in so luxurious a house!  The thought of staying here rather than taking him back to the village began to seem very attractive.

Tatewaki was very glad that his parents were away on a trip.  It would have been just a little too much to try to explain why there was a strange girl attached to him, apparently for good.  He kept glancing pleadingly at Nabiki.  She rewarded him with a reserved stare that clearly said, ‘I’m waiting to get all the information, Tachi, but don’t push your luck.’  They seated themselves at a table.

“Well, Ranma?  Care to explain this?”  Ranma had hoped against hope that his real name wouldn’t be used in front of Shampoo.  No such luck.  She let go of Tatewaki quickly, turned, and favored him with an intense scrutiny.

“Ranma?”  The eyes looked a little similar to her quarry’s, but there was no way this could be her in disguise.  A few experimental prods to the chest convinced her of that.  “Is man.”

“Uh, yeah.  I’m a guy.  Now would ya explain why you’re hangin’ all over Tatewaki like this?”

Shampoo smiled, and produced a book, apparently from thin air.  She handed it to Ranma, and reattached herself to Tatewaki.  Ranma skimmed through the book until he found a section that was written in Japanese.  His face turned gray as he read it.  Looking up, he swallowed.  “Accordin’ to the laws of her people, if an outsider woman beats an Amazon in combat, the Amazon must give her the Kiss of Death and kill her as soon as possible.  But if a man defeats her… she’s gotta marry him.”

Nabiki looked ready to chew nails.  “Could I speak with you in private for a minute, Saotome?”  She led him into the hallway.  “I’m guessing the reason she’s looking for you is you beat her as a girl, right?  So let me tell you what’s going to happen.  You’re going back in there, and you’re going to do your little trick with the water, and that way she’ll know she’s already got an ‘airen’.”

Ranma sweated.  “That won’t do any good.  Remember, I was a girl when I beat her.  She gave me the Kiss of Death!  If she finds out I’m THAT Ranma, she’ll just go on tryin’ to kill me!”  Not to mention what Dachi would think if he did that.  Seeing Shampoo glomped onto Tatewaki had somehow enabled Ranma to realize just how cute the Amazon was.  He didn’t want his girlfriend getting any wrong ideas.

“Well, then, you’re just going to have to beat her as a guy.  That should solve that problem…”  Nabiki’s voice trailed off at the sound of a throat being cleared behind her.  She turned.

“I don’t think that’s a very good solution.”  Kodachi regarded her brother’s girlfriend with a flat stare.  “Perhaps you’d like to come up with a better one?”

Nabiki sweated, and thought.  “Well, how about we get some unattached guy to do it then?”

At this Ranma’s expression brightened.  “Ryoga!” he exclaimed, smacking his fist into his palm.  “He’s good enough to beat Shampoo, he’s probably still hurting from Akane chewin’ him up and spittin’ him out, and maybe if we help him get a cute girl for himself he’ll quit tryin’ to kill me!”  The lost boy had not taken Akane’s reaction well.  He had blamed Ranma, and the two had had several brutal fights.  Ryoga hadn’t been seen for a week, and until now Ranma had hoped things would stay that way.

“And what happens until he shows his face again?”  Nabiki didn’t like the thought of putting up with the scene in the next room one second longer than necessary.

“We stall for time.”  Kodachi knew how the middle Tendo must be feeling.  “Don’t worry about it, Nabiki.  My brother is much too noble to consort with some bloodthirsty killer.  You need have no worries about her stealing him away from you.”

The three of them returned to the main room.  Kuno had, with some difficulty, extracted himself from the Amazon’s grasp.  He was speaking to her in Mandarin as the others entered.  Shampoo’s smile was mostly gone- her face was set stubbornly.

“<These laws may apply in your home village, but this is Japan.  I am NOT your husband according to our laws.>”

“<Amazons carry Amazon law with them wherever they go.  The barbaric laws of this land do not matter.>”  Shampoo looked up at the three others and switched to Japanese.  “Shampoo think Airen not give real reason for be stubborn.  Shampoo see how short-hair girl look at Airen.  What is Airen to you?” she asked Nabiki.

In the old days, Nabiki would have played it cool.  Unfortunately, she no longer had the ability to be detached where Tachi was concerned.  “He happens to be my boyfriend!” she snapped.  From the corner of her eye, she saw a big dopey grin appear on Kuno’s face.  She made a mental note to start telling him more often how important he was to her.

Shampoo produced another book and rifled through it.  It didn’t take her long to find the definition of ‘boyfriend.’  Closing the book with a snap, she leveled an accusing stare at Nabiki.  “That what Shampoo thought.  Shampoo challenge you- she show Airen who better choice.”

“Challenge?  As in to combat?”  When Shampoo nodded, exasperated at the slowness of outsiders, Nabiki shrugged.  “Forget it.”

Shampoo’s eyes widened, then she turned in triumph to Tatewaki.  “Airen see?  She worthless coward.  Shampoo make much better wife.”  She faltered as she took in his expression.  “What Shampoo say?”

“I think you had better go now.”  Kuno’s tone indicated that this was NOT a request.

Two uneasy weeks later, Ranma and Kodachi met at the St Hebereke gymnasium for sparring practice.  As the Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics team captain, Kodachi had the ability to commandeer the gym for her own use after school.  She and Ranma had taken to training there, as there was far less chance of accidental transformation.  Shampoo had run into Ranma-chan three times over the last two weeks.  Each time the redhead had been able to escape easily with her superior speed, but it was a situation the heir to the Anything Goes school preferred to avoid if possible.

After the training session, Ranma and Kodachi sat companionably side by side.  “How’s Tatewaki holding up?” he asked.  She knew her brother better than he did, after all.

The White Rose grimaced.  “He’s not very happy with the way things are going.  Did you know that shameless hussy actually snuck into his bed this week?  Not to mention bringing him lunch at school several days.  I can only imagine what gossip must be saying about that.”

“Not what you’d think, actually.  Nabiki controls the rumor mill at Furinkan.  She’s got some kind of cover story going, about Shampoo owin’ him a debt of service.  She also spread it around that Shampoo’s a vicious killer.  That keeps people from getting too close and findin’ out the truth.”

“It will also make it rather more difficult to get some boy from your school to defeat her, should Ryoga continue not to show himself,” Kodachi observed.

Ranma snorted.  “There ain’t nobody at Furinkan besides me and Tatewaki who could beat her anyway, so that doesn’t matter.”  He looked away nervously.  “And I’m not available.”

Kodachi smiled and scooted a little closer to him.  “She missed her chance when she judged you by what she saw on the surface.  Right, Ranma-kun?”

“Even before that.  When she was born into a culture that kills outsider women for bein’ better than them at combat.”  Ranma shuddered.  “I bet they haven’t had to use that ‘marry the guys’ rule too often in the last few hundred years.”  He suddenly realized how close the White Rose was.  Nervously, he changed the subject a little.  “Um… I was surprised at how Kuno’s been treating her.  I never thought he could manage to be that rude to a girl.”  The target of Shampoo’s affections had consistently ignored her and treated her coldly.  Shampoo still maintained a demeanor of constant cheerfulness around her Airen, but the strain was starting to show.

“He fears what might happen if Shampoo decides Nabiki is her primary obstacle.  To act in such an uncouth manner grieves my brother deeply, but he is determined to make Shampoo believe she has no chance with or without Nabiki in the picture.”  Kodachi looked off into the distance.  “My parents will return in another month, Ranma-kun.  I sincerely hope we can get this mess concluded before then.”

“No kidding.”  Now if Ryoga would only show up…

Be careful what you wish for.  You might get it.

The thought echoed through Ranma’s mind as he evaded another blow from Ryoga’s umbrella.  The lost boy had finally made another appearance.   Shampoo’s new job as a nurse at Dr Tofu’s clinic kept her out of the way in the afternoons now, and Ranma and Kodachi had taken the opportunity to go for a walk in the park without having to worry about accidental transformation making him a target.  Ryoga had crashed the occasion, and was fighting with even more of a berserker rage than usual.  He hadn’t even given Ranma or Kodachi a chance to talk before attacking.  So far it had been easy for Ranma to dodge, but whenever he made counterattacks, his opponent just shrugged them off.  Ranma was also trying to ignore the growing conviction that the lost boy’s fangs were more pronounced than usual.

“Stand still and die like a man!” Ryoga snarled, removing several bandannas from his neck and tossing them at Ranma.  Their target snatched them all out of the air, wincing a little as the concentrated chi-energy in the cloth stung his palms. 

“Give it a rest, Ryoga!  This is really getting old, ya know!”  ‘How can he keep this pace up?!’

“Shut up!  It’s all your fault!  Everything that’s gone wrong in my life!  Because of you, I’m cursed!  Because of you, Akane hates me!  You didn’t even want her, but you had to spoil things for me!  I’m going to end your miserable life here and now!” Ryoga attacked with his battle umbrella over and over, as if the two-hundred-pound instrument were as light as a feather.  Ranma dodged the strikes.

On the sidelines, Kodachi was becoming increasingly concerned.  She knew very well that Ranma’s skill outstripped Ryoga’s, but the other seemed to be unaffected by anything her boyfriend did… except to become angrier and strike harder.  She knew Ranma couldn’t keep on moving at this speed forever.  The White Rose had no idea how the lost boy could maintain his level of attacks.

“Listen to me, you jerk!  You’d never even have met Akane if it wasn’t for me!  And it was YOUR stupid pig-headed fault she thinks you’re a pervert!  I sure as heck didn’t force ya to sneak into her bed!”

If Ranma expected this to calm his opponent, he was sadly mistaken.  Ryoga snarled wordlessly, and increased the tempo of his attacks yet again.  Ranma was starting to run low on energy, and decided he needed to end this fight quickly.  He dodged another umbrella strike, then dashed inside Ryoga’s reach, snaked an arm around his neck, and tagged his Instant Unconsciousness shiatsu point.

Ryoga stumbled back… then lashed out with his umbrella.  It was a clumsy blow, striking with the length of the instrument rather than the point, which was the only thing that saved Ranma’s life.  As it was, he was flung back against a tree, the wind knocked completely out of him.

The lost boy shook his head as if to clear it.  His eyes focused on his foe, beaten and helpless.  Ryoga discarded his umbrella and ran forward, intending to finish his hated enemy with an Axe Hand blow.

Kodachi got there first, being much faster than Ryoga, but only barely.  She just had time to intercept Ryoga’s blow with her forearm.

The sickening crunch of snapping bone echoed through the clearing.  Ryoga stared at the White Rose’s arm.  It was a very bad break.  The jagged end of one bone was clearly visible as it jutted out of her flesh.

Ranma would never afterward remember the next few seconds.  Surging to his feet.  Slamming Ryoga with blows that would have shattered boulders.  Throwing his opponent around like a rag doll.  Actually knocking down a full-grown tree by smashing Ryoga into it.  Not until his foe lay unconscious at his feet did the red haze leave his vision.  He turned and raced back to Kodachi.

“Ranma-kun… you’re going to have to set it.”  She gritted the words out.  Once the bone was back in place, she’d heal without problems, but she really wasn’t looking forward to getting it there.

The door opened.  Ryoga glanced over to see Ranma walk in, then went back to staring at the ceiling.

“How’re you feeling?”  Ranma’s tone made it very clear that if Ryoga was feeling better, he’d have to see what he could do about that.

“You really want to know?” Ryoga answered in a cracked whisper.

“Not really.  But why don’t you tell me anyway.”

Ryoga paused for almost a minute.  “Worthless,” he eventually answered.

Ranma wasn’t about ready to forgive and forget, but seeing this reaction blunted the edge of his cold rage.  He looked long and hard, but couldn’t see any anger or fighting spirit left in the lost boy.  This was the first time Ryoga hadn’t been even slightly hostile to him in recent memory.  While he was trying to decide how to respond, Ryoga spoke up again, in a dead voice.

“I can still hear the sound of her bones breaking, Ranma.  I can still feel it.  I can still see…” Ranma realized with a shock that Ryoga was actually crying, “…her blood… on my hand…”

“What the HELL were you thinking, Ryoga?!”  The reminder nearly made Ranma go for his rival’s throat.  Only the aura of utter helplessness and despair about his foe held him back.

“Thinking?”  Ryoga laughed bitterly.  “When have I done that in all the time you knew me?  Not when I dropped out of school to follow you to China over a stupid bread feud.  Not when I blamed you for cursing me when you didn’t even see me on the cliff at Jusenkyo.  Not when I used my cursed form to sneak into Akane’s bed.  And for sure not when I blamed you for how she reacted when she found out.

“But I’ve been thinking now, Ranma.  Lying here and realizing just how good a job I’ve been doing of throwing my life away.”  Ryoga paused, searching for the right words.  “It’s like… something was in my head keeping me angry all the time.  And now it’s gone.”

The lack of hostility from Ryoga was not the only thing different about him, Ranma realized suddenly.  A chill ran down his spine as he noticed the fangs the other had sported for as long as Ranma had known him were mysteriously absent.  Resolutely declining to consider the implications, Ranma changed the subject.  “Do you know where you are right now, Ryoga?  You’re in a spare bedroom in the Kuno mansion.  Think about that.  You got anything you want to say to Dachi?  Cause she’s waitin’ in the hall.”  Ranma squashed a feeling of guilt as Ryoga’s tears began to flow again.

“Send her in, please.”  Ranma opened the door.  Kodachi walked in, her arm bound in a cast.  Her injury was actually fully healed, and had been since a minute after Ranma set the bone, but she didn’t want Ryoga to know her secret.  Ranma gave the White Rose a questioning look, as if to say ‘You sure about this?’  She nodded, and reluctantly he went out into the hallway.  He kept one hand on the doorknob, and his ears cocked for any sound of violence.  If Ryoga had even coughed loudly it might have gone hard on him, but all Ranma could make out was the soft murmur of voices.  About ten minutes later, Kodachi came back out.

“How’d it go?” Ranma asked awkwardly.  He noticed she wasn’t wearing the cast any longer.

“I… just couldn’t bear to see him so miserable, Ranma.  I had to tell him about my healing abilities.  It seemed to make him feel better.  After that, I think he found it easier to talk to me than he would have to you.”  The sight of so much pain had really wrung her heart.  “Ranma-kun?  I don’t think he’s well enough to take part in our plan to attach Shampoo to someone else.”

“Yeah, I got that impression myself.”  Ranma matched the White Rose’s understatement with one of his own.

“He seems to have finally snapped out of whatever delusion he was under that everything in his life was your fault.”  Kodachi paused, then decided she might as well say this now.  “Ranma?  Could you… forgive him?  Please?”

Ranma gave the question due consideration.  If anyone else had asked him, that would have meant an instant “Not on your life!”  However, coming from Kodachi, who after all had been the one hurt…  At last he answered, “I don’t know.  Not real soon, at least.”

“Do you hate him so much for attacking you?”  This was a trick question, but Kodachi didn’t always fight fair.

“No way!  It ain’t because he attacked me!  He hurt you, an’ that’s what…”  Ranma’s voice trailed off.  He swallowed.  “Uh, you know…”

Under other circumstances, the White Rose would have pushed it.  However, she had a confession to make.  “Ranma?  There’s something I have to tell you.  I hope you won’t be too angry.”

Ranma swallowed, his throat suddenly dry.  “Go on,” he croaked.

“When I blocked Ryoga… I deliberately let him break my arm so badly.”  Kodachi looked down, and continued softly, “I could have caught his blow with a club.  I could have stopped him from behind with my ribbon.  But I hoped that harming an innocent bystander would shake him out of this unreasoning enmity he has held toward you.  It appears to have worked.  But I didn’t realize… just how badly it would hurt you.”  Kodachi’s voice was now only a whisper.  “Please forgive me… Ranma-sama,” she choked out.

Ranma put his arms around her and held her tight.  “Now THAT I can do without havin’ to think about it.”

Ryoga left the following morning.  Tatewaki saw him off, and reported a strange thing later.  Ryoga had nearly fallen trying to pick up his battle umbrella.  He’d said something to the effect that he’d just as soon not carry it anymore anyway, and left it there, but the lost boy was clearly puzzled as to how it could have become so much heavier.

Shampoo’s job as a nurse had come as a source of considerable relief to Tatewaki and Nabiki as well as Kodachi and Ranma.  It gave the two upperclassmen opportunities to meet without worrying that Shampoo would see them together and decide Nabiki was an obstacle requiring removal.

Today they were taking a walk in the park.  Tatewaki had not been looking forward to what he was going to tell her.  However, it had to be done.  He braced himself and spoke up.  “Nabiki-chan?  Ryoga showed up again, yesterday.”

Nabiki’s face lit up, causing Tatewaki to feel even worse.  “Finally!  So where is he?  We need to set up a plan for getting him to beat Shampoo.”  She noticed the expression on her boyfriend’s face.  “Tachi?  What’s wrong?”

Kuno related the events of the previous day in a leaden tone.  On learning that the lost boy was in no condition to help, Nabiki let loose with a string of choice expressions.  Had any mothers with small children been present, she would have received numerous smacks on the head.  “Just great!  I don’t think I can stand much more of this!  When is that Chinese hussy going to grasp the concept that she can’t have you?  I don’t see how she managed to track Ranma this far, since she can’t have more than one functioning brain cell!”

Tatewaki put his arms around her.  “I don’t know.  But I think I’ve seen signs of weakening in her.  Have faith, ’Biki-chan.  Soon she’ll give up and we can stop hiding like this.”  He looked down at her face, and realized there were tears in her eyes.

“Are you sure you want her to?”  Nabiki knew this was an unfair question.  She didn’t doubt his feelings for her.  But she wanted a little reassurance and this was the quickest way to get it.  “After all, she’s a lot prettier than me.  And she seems eager to be your love-slave.  I bet she’d do anything for you.”

“How can you even ask me that?!  The only thing I want from her is her departure.  Let her leave the two of us in peace.”  Kuno was scared now.  He’d had a nightmare not long back in which Nabiki left him, thinking he’d rather have Shampoo than her.  Maybe that was what gave him the courage to finally do what he’d wanted for a long time.  Putting his hand under Nabiki’s chin, he tilted her head up and kissed her.

Watching from concealment in the brush, Shampoo’s eyes filled with tears of pain and rage.  At first she’d bought the sneaky short-haired girl’s act.  After refusing the challenge to combat, Nabiki had never let Shampoo catch her and Tatewaki together, and the Amazon had thus concluded that she’d scared her competition off.  But obviously she’d been mistaken.

She’d seen a very strange sight this morning.  A girl with long hair, who seemed to radiate serenity and niceness, had come by the clinic with freshly-baked cookies for her employer.  He’d seemed to change into a completely different person from the competent professional she was used to.  Dancing around the clinic with his model skeleton as a partner was something Shampoo found herself at a loss to understand.  But she did understand the concept of a day of vacation, which was what Dr Tofu had given her between finishing the waltz and starting on the foxtrot.  She’d gone to her Airen’s home, only to find he wasn’t there, even though he’d not had school that day.  Using her tracking skills, she’d trailed him to the park.

Shampoo’s mouth set into a grimace of determination.  If the coward girl wouldn’t accept a challenge, she’d have to use another method to remove her from the picture.

Nabiki didn’t really focus on events around her for the next little while.  She was too busy remembering The Kiss.  She and Tatewaki parted company at the door of the Kuno mansion.  Tatewaki would have liked to walk her home, but the Tendo dojo was too near Dr Tofu’s clinic for this.  The chance of Shampoo seeing them together was just too risky to take.  Nabiki bid him farewell, and began drifting back toward home in a pink haze.  She wondered idly why there were so many bluebirds fluttering around and chirping their little guts out.  This was her last conscious thought for some time, though, due to the figure that dropped soundlessly from the wall behind her.

The Amazon was lathering her hair with formula 110 shampoo before Nabiki even had time to register the presence behind her.  As Shampoo finished drying her hair, the middle Tendo slumped to the ground, unconscious.  Shampoo regarded her fallen foe with triumph.  “Sneaky girl no get in way now.”  She made her way back to the clinic, eagerly awaiting the morrow, when her Airen would learn that the unworthy one no longer even knew his name.  He’d have no reason to blame her or even believe she could be responsible- after all, Great Grandmother had always said outsiders were ignorant of the depth of Amazon lore.

“Master Kuno!  Master Kuno!”

Kuno looked up.  “What is it, Sasuke?” 

On the other side of the room, Ranma was glad for an excuse to take his mind off the game of chess at which Kodachi was beating him easily.  “Who’s that?” he asked in a low tone of voice.

“Sasuke.  One of our retainers.  You haven’t seen him before now because he comes from a long line of ninja.  He’s not very talented in that respect, and he overcompensates by sneaking around all the time.  He makes a much better gardener than a ninja, which is what we actually employ him for.  He’s the one who is responsible for the dueling topiary samurai.”

“WHAT?!”  Kuno’s cry of rage interrupted his sister’s murmured explanation.  Without further comment, he raced out of the room.  A minute later he reappeared at the doorway.  “Ah… which guest bedroom did you put her in?”

Sasuke led the way, with Ranma and Kodachi trailing curiously behind Tatewaki.  His anxiety was quickly contagious, and by the time they’d covered the distance to their destination, both Ranma and the White Rose had queasy sensations in their stomachs, despite having no idea what was going on.  They entered the room to find Nabiki lying unconscious on the bed.

“I was in a tree in the garden when I observed a flash of purple, mistress Kuno.  It was the girl who fancies herself the wife of master Kuno.  I saw her perform some sort of attack upon miss Tendo that left her unconscious on the sidewalk.”  Sasuke’s face took on an expression of puzzlement for a moment.  “I was at the far end of the garden, and couldn’t see well, but it looked like the young Amazon lady washed and dried her hair.”  His expression reverted back to the shamefaced look he’d been wearing.  “By the time I got to the street, she had left.  I brought miss Tendo here.”

“Don’t just stand there!  Call a doctor at once!”  Kodachi returned her gaze to the bed, where Tatewaki was holding Nabiki’s hand and pleading with her to wake up.  The Tendo daughter groaned a little, and opened her eyes.

“’Biki-chan!  Are you all right?  How do you feel?  If that Amazon hurt you, I swear I’ll have her thrown into a dungeon until she forgets she ever felt the warmth of the sun!”

Nabiki just stared at the strange boy holding her hand.  The sight of someone apparently caring what happened to her left her in blank confusion.  “Do I… know you?”

By the time Dr Tofu arrived, the relief everyone had felt when Nabiki opened her eyes was almost completely gone.  Each time the others had tried to make her remember Tatewaki, she’d become disoriented, confusing his name with tatami (a mat of woven fibers), tsunami (a tidal wave), and Takahashi (the mythical Goddess of Abusive Romantic Relationships). 

Dr Tofu made a careful examination of Nabiki, noting that she showed no signs of concussion or being drugged.  After hearing Sasuke’s story, a look of grave concern came over his face.  He turned to his patient.  “Nabiki?  I want you to tell me the last thing you remember before waking up here.”

“I was walking back from the Kuno place.”

“And why were you there?”

Nabiki’s features screwed up in a frown of puzzlement.  “I… don’t remember.”  She turned to Ranma.  “Ranma?  Did I come to try and convince you to come back to the dojo and get engaged to Akane again?  Our fathers have been begging me to try and fix that up.”  At this, Kodachi’s hand closed convulsively, cracking the wood of the bedstead where she’d been resting her palm, but she made no other response.

“No, you didn’t.  You ain’t one to fight losing battles, Nabiki.”  Ranma hadn’t taken the news well when he’d learned about Operation Flower Power.  He still wasn’t ready to let that slide.  Genma was persona non grata at the Kuno place until such time as both he and Soun rendered a formal apology.  This hadn’t happened yet, surprising as that may seem.  “You were here to see Tatewaki.”

Nabiki turned back, and looked at the boy on the other side of the bed as if she’d forgotten he was there.  “Do I… know you?”

Dr Tofu spoke up.  “After hearing Sasuke’s description of what occurred, I’m certain I know what Shampoo did to you, Nabiki.  It’s the dreaded Xi Fang Gao shiatsu attack.  By applying a mixture of rare Chinese herbal extracts, combined with pressure from the fingers at strategic points on the scalp, it’s possible to selectively erase memories.  In this case your memories of Tatewaki.”

“Is there any way to reverse the procedure, Dr Tofu?”  Kodachi spoke up, seeing her brother was in too much of a cold rage to do so.

“Perhaps if we had a sample of the shampoo that was used, we might be able to do something.”

“Leave that to me.”  Tatewaki ground the words out.

“Brother, dear… it might be best if you didn’t approach the treacherous hussy just now.”  Kodachi turned to Dr Tofu.  “Is there no other way?”

“Well… I can look through some of my books.  It’s been a long time since I read about the Xi Fang Gao attack, and I’m not sure whether I have the manual that described it or not.  But I’ll see what I can find.”

“You do that, and in the meantime I’ll retrieve the shampoo from that purple-haired Jezebel!”  It was obvious that Kuno had left his chivalry at the door.  Kodachi felt it would be wise at this point to intervene. 

“Shouldn’t you stay at Nabiki’s side, Tachi?  What if her condition were to worsen without you here to remind her of your existence?  I shall hunt down the Amazon and return with the prize.”  Kodachi had judged well what the effect of her argument would be.  Her brother agreed to this plan.

Ranma followed her into the hall.  “Let’s get this over with.”

Kodachi regarded him with surprise.  “Ranma-kun, I don’t think you should come along.  One accidental splash and all chance of a rational conversation with the Amazon will be lost.  Besides,” she lowered her voice, “as Nabiki doesn’t remember my brother now, I think she’d be more comfortable if he wasn’t the only person staying with her.”

“But… what if Shampoo goes ballistic when you tell her we want the shampoo?”

The White Rose smiled grimly.  “Remember, she thinks I’m a weak outsider.  But she only beat me once before because I let my guard down.  If she starts something, I’ll finish it.”

“And then she’ll give you the Kiss of Death and we’ll be in an even bigger mess.”

“Um…”  Kodachi found to her dismay that she didn’t have an answer to that.

Ranma seized the opening.  “But you were right about someone stayin’ with Nabiki.  Why don’t you do that and leave Shampoo to me.  If she refuses, I can come back, get you, splash myself, draw her off, and let you take the chance to search her room.”

Kodachi didn’t like it, not one little bit.  But she recognized the stubborn glint in his eyes and relented.  Had she known what his actual intentions were, her reaction would have been quite different.

Once out of sight of the Kuno mansion, Ranma stopped by a canal and deliberately triggered the change.  She didn’t have any real hope that the Amazon would cooperate freely, and searching her room was too much of a gamble.  Ranma-chan was certain that she’d have to be persuaded.  And the only person who could do that without making things worse than they were was one who’d already beaten her and thus had nothing left to lose.  Reaching Dr Tofu’s clinic, where Shampoo slept in a spare room at the back, she took a deep breath and went in.

Shampoo’s eyes widened as she heard the sounds of what had to be an intruder-  the step was too light for Dr Tofu.  She grabbed her bonbori and went to confront the unfortunate fool.  She stopped dead on seeing the familiar head of red hair.  Then an evil grin spread over her face.  “Girl-type Ranma.  Now you d-”

The threat was cut off as Ranma-chan blurred into action.  She dashed forward and smashed the bonbori out of her unprepared opponent’s hands.  Then she whipped out one of Kodachi’s spare ribbons, which she’d picked up on leaving the house, and wrapped it around the Amazon.  The entire attack sequence took only four seconds.

Shampoo just stood stunned for a minute, then let out a string of highly emotional Mandarin. Ranma-chan was just as glad she couldn’t understand what she was undoubtedly being called.  “Listen, Shampoo, I’m not in the mood.  Just tell me where to find the shampoo you used on Nabiki today.”

The Amazon gulped.  “Shampoo not know what Ranma mean.”

Ranma-chan favored her with a withering glare.  “We know all about the Xi Fang Gao.  So cut the lies and tell me where the shampoo is!”

Shampoo thought for a long moment… then tossed her head angrily.  A bottle labeled 110 fell from her hair to the floor.  “All right!” shouted Ranma-chan, picking up the shampoo and racing off.

After flexing her muscles and twisting for a few moments, Shampoo loosened the ribbon enough to slip out of it.  “<You know all about the Xi Fang Gao, do you, outsider?>” she said sarcastically, thinking of the bottle in her room labeled 119.  But her face twisted into an expression of bitter regret as she realized things were going to be a lot more complicated than she’d hoped.

Ranma-chan raced at top speed back to the Kuno mansion.  “I got the shampoo!” she cried, dashing into the room where Nabiki had been… only to find there was no-one there.  “Huh?  Where’d everybody go?”

Sasuke popped up through a loose floorboard, causing her heart to jump up and tangle itself in her vocal chords.  “The good doctor said there was no reason for miss Tendo to remain confined to her bed, and she was hungry, so they retired to the dining room.”  The little ninja regarded her with a concerned stare.  “You seem awfully shaken up, Miss.  Did something startle you?”

Ranma-chan resisted the temptation to pummel her hosts’ employee, though it was a near thing.  She made a quick detour to a bathroom, actually grateful to be reminded that it would be better not to show up as a girl, then continued to the dining hall.  He triumphantly produced the bottle. 

“Well done, Ranma-kun!”  Kodachi was pleased to see him back so quickly, and in one piece.  “Did you have much difficulty in convincing her to part with it?”

“Nah.  Once I told her we knew about the Xi Fang Gao, she didn’t give me any more trouble.  So now what?  We use this to wash Nabiki’s hair again?” Ranma asked, demonstrating a remarkable mix of cunning and naiveté in his reply.

“I don’t think that would be wise.  After all, Dr Tofu did say this technique required knowledge of specific shiatsu points.  We’d best wait for him to return.”  And so they did.  It was the longest two hours of Tatewaki’s life.  As for Nabiki, she was just hoping this dream would continue for a while.  She was enjoying the luxury of her surroundings, but that didn’t mean she believed this was really happening.  The notion that someone who lived in a place like this wanted HER was ridiculous, after all.

One of the other servants eventually admitted Dr Tofu.  He’d found the manual he remembered after a great deal of searching.  He had noticed that Shampoo had removed her belongings and vanished from the clinic, and was worried about her, but Nabiki’s situation was more important.  He congratulated Ranma on retrieving the formula 110 shampoo.

“Unfortunately, that particular bottle won’t help us after all.  See the label marked 110?  That’s for removing memory.  The blend labeled 119 is the one for restoring it.”

“I suppose we should have suspected something when the Amazon gave up this bottle so easily,” Kodachi sighed.  “Now what?”

“Relax.  I’ve got the formula for blend 119 right in this manual.”  Dr Tofu held it up, and his glasses gleamed.  For some strange reason Ranma glanced at the door, expecting Kasumi to walk in.  This didn’t happen, of course, and Dr Tofu opened the book to the ingredients list.  They all crowded around, and there was silence for quite a while.  Eventually Tatewaki broke the silence.

“Powdered storm dragon scale?!  Unmelted snowflakes caught in midair with a silver spoon?!  Forgive me, Dr Tofu, but what good does this do us?!”  Kuno was well on his way to overwrought.

“Not much, I’m afraid.”  Now Dr Tofu was wishing he’d actually read the entire description before raising everyone’s hopes.  “It would take a great deal of time to locate some of these ingredients.”  He heaved a sigh.  “Unless Shampoo has that blend with her, I don’t see any-”  His voice trailed off as Tatewaki, Kodachi, and Ranma exited the room at top speed.

The three split up in order to cover more ground in their search for Shampoo.  After a little thought, Ranma triggered his curse, figuring Murphy’s Law would make it certain that she’d run into the Amazon then.  Of course, it’s not that easy to make Murphy’s Law work for you, and in fact Ranma-chan spent the next few hours fighting off lecherous guys after running into a huge group of sailors on shore leave.

Later, when Ranma told Kodachi his tale of woe, she was somewhat less than sympathetic.  She had overheard something about a hunters’ convention in town, and had gone to try and hire their help in tracking down Shampoo.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be a Devil Hunters’ convention.  One overenthusiastic apprentice, who had never heard of albinism, had attacked her with some sort of spirit blasts.  Kodachi’s ability to deflect them with gymnastics clubs had convinced all the other Devil Hunters that she was a bona fide minor demon.  The ensuing fracas left both a four-star hotel and the White Rose’s temper in ruins.

Tatewaki was not exempt from the general trend either.  However, as he was carrying a huge bottled-up amount of frustration and anger, it actually helped to calm him down.  In the fading light of afternoon, he found a large robot abducting a helpless girl.  Pleased to find an outlet for his frustrations, he reduced the thing to scrap, then did the same to several others that appeared on the scene.  Sakura never did find out her rescuer’s name, and Key eventually dedicated a song called “Unknown Angel” to the mysterious stranger who’d saved her best friend.

In a better frame of mind, Kuno continued searching.  Eventually Shampoo, who’d been trailing him for quite a while, allowed him to find her.  Tatewaki stopped dead as she dropped from the roof of a nearby building to land in front of him.

“Airen look for Shampoo, yes?”

“Yes.”  Kuno glared at her.  “For some 119 shampoo, to be exact.”

Shampoo had suspected that whoever had told girl-type Ranma about the Xi Fang Gao might know the specific details about the cure.  She resolved to speak to her great-grandmother about the matter of outsider familiarity with Amazon lore.  “Shampoo give… if Airen take Shampoo on date.”  She held up the bottle, then tucked it down the front of her dress.

Tatewaki glared and raised his bokken to a fighting stance.  “I think not.  Give it to me!”

Shampoo regarded him, trying not to let the hurt she felt show.  “If Airen think Shampoo believe he take by force, Airen must think Shampoo no understand him at all.”

Kuno’s hands trembled, but he knew she’d called his bluff.  He couldn’t just attack a girl who wasn’t threatening someone with immediate bodily injury, and try as he might to convince himself, the gap in Nabiki’s memory just didn’t seem to stretch far enough to qualify.  “Very well,” he gritted out.  “One date.”

“All Shampoo want is chance, Airen.”  She looked hard, but didn’t see much change in his expression.  “You no have school tomorrow.  We spend day together, yes?  Then Shampoo give you 119 shampoo.”

Late the next afternoon, Shampoo sat on top of a tall building and watched the sunset.  Since no-one was nearby, she didn’t try to stop the tears that silently gathered in her eyes and fell, sparkling like rubies in the dying light.  The date had been nothing of what she’d hoped.  She’d tried and tried to show her Airen how much she cared for him, thinking that he’d eventually see she was a much better choice than the sneaky coward girl.  He’d been cold and formal to her all throughout the day, but she’d desperately held onto hope that she would melt him with the goodbye kiss.  She had nearly broken down at the end, when her Airen had flatly refused to kiss her, saying that that was not necessary to end a date.  She had given him the shampoo and left without another word.

The Amazon had been on the rooftop for quite a while, gathering her composure.  She waited well past the time she estimated it would take for her Airen to use the shampoo and realize that it had had no effect.  The outsiders might know the blend numbers and their intended uses, but the nature of the exact shiatsu points on the scalp was one of the most closely guarded Amazon secrets.  Without that knowledge, just washing the outsider’s hair would do nothing more than remove oily buildup.

Shampoo had left only enough shampoo in the 119 bottle for one use, which by now had to be gone.  There was no way remaining in Japan for the sneaky girl’s memory to be restored.  Shampoo sighed.  She wished it hadn’t had to come to this.  She didn’t WANT to share her Airen!  At least it would be with a non-warrior.  There would be no question about who had First Wife status, after she took her Airen and her co-wife back to the village.  She was certain they would agree to that, once they realized there was no other way to restore the lost memories.  Rising, and wiping the last tears from her eyes, the Amazon proceeded to the Kuno mansion.

Tatewaki held Nabiki.  His cheek burned, but he didn’t mind.  All he cared about was that she finally knew who he was again.  He’d returned with the shampoo, and Kodachi had asked him sympathetically how bad the date had been.  Nabiki, who had just arrived after a phone call from Ranma reminded her she was supposed to be at the Kuno place this evening, had asked the White Rose what she was talking about.  Ranma had told her that Kuno had just gotten back from spending the day with Shampoo.  Before Ranma could go on to say that this had been the Amazon’s price for a cure, she had turned away, crossed the distance to Tatewaki at a speed more appropriate for Ranma-chan, and slapped him. Hard.  Then she’d burst into tears, demanding to know how he could do this to her.  Only then had the fact that her memory had returned dawned on her.  Ranma and Kodachi made a tactful exit.

“’Biki-chan… you don’t think I enjoyed it, do you?  I hated every moment I spent in her presence.  But it was a sacrifice I had to endure, to bring your memory back.  Even if I didn’t expect it to happen quite this way.”

“I was just… so hurt.  I thought I was losing you to her.”  Had anyone from Furinkan seen the Ice Queen now, they would have assumed they were having a particularly unrealistic dream.  She was clinging to Tatewaki like he was her only anchor in a storm.

“I promise you- that will never come to pass.”  The rest of Kuno’s words were cut off by a choked sob from outside the window and the sound of someone running off.

How could this happen?  Shampoo had only THOUGHT she’d been prepared for what she’d find at her Airen’s home.  She’d steeled her soul, expecting more coldness and hostility.  But to lose the last shred of her bargaining power… it was just too much for her to take.  And so she ran off, blinded by new tears.

The sight of Shampoo dashing through the corridors of her home, obviously upset, startled Kodachi.  Even afterward, she never was certain why she followed the purple-haired girl.  The Amazon ran for quite a long time before eventually sinking to the ground in a clearing a little way into the nearby forest and beginning to sob in earnest.

Kodachi looked on, cursing herself for an idiot.  Why had she followed anyway?  It wasn’t as if there was anything she could do to make the other feel better.  Nor was she even certain she wanted to.  Her mind made up, she turned to go… and a stick broke under her foot like the crack of a rifle.

The Amazon looked up.  “Come to throw Shampoo’s failure in face?” she said dully.  Guilt stabbed Kodachi as she saw the depth of the other’s misery.  ‘Why should I feel guilty, though?  She made all her own choices.’  Kodachi tried to rationalize this to herself, only belatedly realizing that the last sentence had actually been spoken aloud.

“Choice?  Shampoo no choose to lose to Airen.  Is Airen’s choice.”

“So what?  No one from your tribe saw it happen.  There’s nothing to say you have to invoke that law.”  Kodachi said this rather quickly, trying to convince herself that Shampoo had already shown she didn’t care about honor.

“Maybe Airen’s sister no care about honor, but Shampoo do.  Is all Shampoo have.”  The Amazon looked down.  “No have love from Airen, no have friends, no have anyone to care about Shampoo, alone in strange land,” she whispered.

“Then why not go home?”  That would certainly solve a lot of problems.

“No can do that without Airen.”  Not to mention without taking vengeance on the enemy that the entire village had witnessed defeat her and run off.  Having her great-grandmother as the Matriarch didn’t mean she had more leeway- quite the opposite in fact.  The Council of Elders would never let her defy law like that.

Kodachi didn’t know what to say.  After a moment, the Amazon resumed speaking.  “Same thing here as home anyway.  No-one care for Shampoo.”  Her tone was so hopeless that Kodachi felt compelled to try and cheer her a little.

“I don’t believe that.  Do you really mean that nobody in your village likes you at all?”

Shampoo thought of Mousse, and tried not to weep again.  “No,” she whispered.  “Nobody care about Shampoo.  Shampoo try be perfect Amazon, she win all fights, have most strength and most honor in people Shampoo’s age.  For that all hate Shampoo except one stupid boy who want show how good he is by have Shampoo choose him, no matter what Shampoo want, and few little kids who too young to challenge.”  Her tears began to flow anyway.  “All Shampoo’s life, she try be best, just like everyone else.  But because Shampoo is best, everyone else hate her.”

“Did it ever occur to you that the Amazon way might be wrong?”  Against her will, Kodachi began to feel a lot more sympathy for someone who, like herself, had apparently grown up without many friends.

“Amazon way is best.  It keep tribe strong for more than three thousand year,” Shampoo said with rock-hard certainty.

“I really think you…” Kodachi was cut off.

“What you know?!  What give you right talk to Shampoo like that?!  Rose girl have brother and mother and father, and man who care about you, have everything Shampoo ever want and never ever have.  You not know nothing about how Shampoo feel!”  Shampoo expected the blaze of her anger to drive the other off and leave her alone.  The actual result surprised her quite a bit.

“How dare you say that?!”  Kodachi’s sympathy was overridden as the Amazon unwittingly hit her most vulnerable point.  “You dare to say that *I* don’t know what loneliness feels like?!  Look at me, you blind Amazon!  How many people have you seen with skin and hair this color?!  I’ve endured teasing and  rejection and more!  You think you’ve known unfairness because you haven’t had many friends?  But at least you made your own choices!  I never ASKED to be born like this!” Kodachi shouted, in one of the most ironic statements she’d ever made.  She took a deep breath.  “You have no right to complain.  How dare you say it’s unfair for others to reject you for besting them when you try to hunt down and KILL another girl when she defeated you?!”

Too much.  It was just too much.  Even warrior pride has its limits.  Shampoo hung her head.  “That not what Shampoo do,” she whispered.

“Why don’t I believe you?”

“Because you think Shampoo evil person who no care about anything but self.”  Kodachi couldn’t find a response to this.  Shampoo continued, still looking down.  “What Shampoo give you is half-trick version of law.  When man defeat Amazon, is true he become Airen.  But when woman is winner, she no have to die.  Law is for make tribe stronger, add strong new warrior to tribe.

“Amazon give Kiss of Death, but is test.  If outsider stand ground and fight, she show she brave and have good spirit.  She become new Amazon sister.  If she run, she show she coward.  Amazon what lose to coward lose much honor.  So must hunt down coward, make her beg for life, then take as slave for one year.  After that, use Xi Fang Gao so coward never tell truth about Kiss of Death, and set her free.”

Shampoo looked up at Kodachi, who was not sure how to handle what she’d just heard.  “How you think girl-type Ranma run so far and not lose Shampoo?  Shampoo best tracker in village.  No problem catch up to girl-type Ranma and kill in sleep if really going to kill.  But that not what Shampoo going to do.  Now Shampoo break law by telling secret.  If rose girl ever tell anyone else, and it get back to village, Shampoo no even be Amazon no more.”

The White Rose was stunned.  An image kept playing back through her mind, over and over.  Ranma-chan, racing along desperately in front of Shampoo, fifteen arrows sticking out of her backpack.  Ranma had told her numerous stories about the Amazon hunting his female half through China.  Something about that particular story had seemed a little wrong when he’d told it, but she’d put it down to a suspicion that he was exaggerating.  After all, nobody could shoot fifteen arrows into the backpack of a moving target without hitting the person she was actually trying to kill…

“Shampoo?  I’m… sorry.”  And she was.  Kodachi realized with a shock that she didn’t really understand the girl in front of her at all.  No one had even tried to do that.  Perhaps she should make the attempt.  “Do you really have no choice about pursuing my brother?  Or is there more of the law you haven’t told us about?”

“Why rose girl think law is only reason?”

“Because… you said…”

“Shampoo look long time for strong man she can respect.  Airen is strong- he no be afraid of Shampoo.  He kind and noble and very much man.  He perfect husband… except…” Shampoo hung her head, “he no care about Shampoo.”

Kodachi sighed.  “How can you expect to win him, when you pursue him as an Amazon rather than as the type of girl he is used to?”  Shampoo didn’t appear to react at all to this, but she filed the statement away mentally.  The White Rose continued.  “I’m sorry for judging you so unfairly, Shampoo.  If you promise not to attack Nabiki or the female Ranma again, I think you’ll find that you won’t be treated harshly.”

“Would rose girl be willing become friend to Shampoo?”  The Amazon looked challengingly at her.

Kodachi considered, then slowly nodded.  “I do understand what it’s like to be lonely.”

After that, things got better.  Shampoo returned to Dr Tofu’s clinic and resumed her job as a nurse.  She spent a lot of her free time with Kodachi, trying to learn to fit in better in her Airen’s world.  She’d pretty much given up on winning him quickly and easily, instead settling on a strategy of patience and taking things one slow step at a time.

Ranma was understandably nervous about the Amazon, but Kodachi told him she’d obtained Shampoo’s promise to forsake her vengeance on his cursed form.  Shampoo figured she could get away with that since she didn’t think it likely she’d be making it back to the village in a year.  When she did eventually return, she could say she’d carried out the required sentence.  The Amazon felt guilty about the idea, but told herself that girl-type Ranma had proved she was NOT a coward when she faced down her enemy for the 110 shampoo.  Since the law was designed to punish cowards, it didn’t apply here.  It didn’t matter to Shampoo that that argument wouldn’t fly with the Council of Elders.  It was enough for her.  In fact, she suspected that if her great-grandmother ever saw girl-type Ranma in action, the redhead would find herself dragooned into the tribe no matter what.

When Ranma and Kodachi were together, Shampoo usually tried to join them unless she sensed a strong desire for privacy- after all, she needed to learn a better way to approach her Airen, and hoped they could teach her.  Watching the two of them generally caused a huge mix of conflicting emotions in her.  Happiness for her friend, who had someone to care for her (a man who would never have been able to get out of the village without a bride or two if ever he’d passed through, the Amazon mused).  Sadness, since she had no one like that.  Hope, that one day she’d be able to win her Airen’s heart.  Frustration, that she should have to work so hard to do so.  Why couldn’t he just have accepted her for herself, as she saw so clearly that Ranma and Kodachi did for each other?

The White Rose found that Shampoo, once she wasn’t unleashing random bursts of violence, actually made a good friend.  Learning about her culture made for some fascinating stories, even if nobody was quite able to believe in some of the technique descriptions.   The thought that ANYONE could cause huge chunks of ice to levitate and fly around in an attack was particularly hard to swallow.  But when Ranma heard about the Splitting Cat Hairs technique, and was sure his leg was being pulled, the Amazon had countered his disbelief by splitting into three identical images.  She’d only been able to hold the illusion for a few seconds, but that was enough to convince Kodachi and Ranma that maybe she was serious after all.

Even after quite some time had passed, though, Kodachi noted that Shampoo still seemed to be fixated on the art of fighting to the extent of ignoring all else.  The White Rose didn’t really think that the Amazon had any chance to win Tatewaki away from Nabiki, but she hoped that if her friend learned to value things not related to combat, Shampoo might be able to find a good man for herself someday, one that might otherwise have been scared off.  One of Kodachi’s hobbies was watercolor painting on plain white silk.  When she showed some of her favorite pieces to Shampoo, and offered to teach her, the Amazon accepted gladly.

Shampoo looked at the silk panel in front of her.  She was definitely getting better, she decided.  You could actually tell that this painting was supposed to represent a flower arrangement.  It felt strange to be developing skills so unrelated to fighting, but Shampoo found that she liked the idea of someday being able to produce something as delicate and beautiful as the paintings her friend had showed her.  The Amazon slipped into a brief daydream of finishing one of that quality and giving it to her Airen as a token of her affections.

“Hey, not bad.  I can actually tell what it’s supposed to be.”  Ranma’s voice brought her back to awareness of her surroundings.

The funny thing was he’d really meant it as a compliment.  The Amazon had noticed that this boy seemed unusually nervous around her and often acted strangely.  At first she’d been afraid that he was trying to indicate an interest in her, which thought had nearly stopped her heart.  The last thing she needed was to lose the only real friend she had.  And having her man turn his affections to another would certainly cause Kodachi to react in that way.  Even if this Ranma could defeat her Airen in a fight, which the Amazon suspected to be the case, there was no way she was going to switch to the pig-tailed boy.  Anyway, he’d have to make a formal challenge to Tatewaki for that and have an Elder witness his victory before any defeat of her would count, since she already had an Airen by victory in combat.

But after a few days of careful scrutiny, Shampoo had become fairly certain this outsider male wasn’t trying to win her.  It seemed more like he was trying to make peace between the two of them, which struck her as odd since he’d never done anything to offend her.  After pondering this for a while, the Amazon decided he was probably just trying to make sure she didn’t have any more anger toward girl-type Ranma, who he’d said was a relative of his.   This had come as a great relief to her.

The time she’d spent observing him so intently had given her at least a little insight into his character.  This Ranma often spoke without thinking, and his words didn’t come out right.  Like now, for instance.  She knew he’d been trying to compliment her, but decided to have a little fun by pretending otherwise.

“Hmmph.  Ranma no need to insult Shampoo.”  She stuck her tongue out at him.

“Huh?!  What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Shampoo know is not so good as Kodachi’s pictures.  But Shampoo trying!”  She suppressed a giggle at how easy it was to fool him.

“And *I* was tryin’ to pay you a compliment!”  He was ready to run if she even looked like producing a bonbori.

“Ranma make it sound like wise old woman tell little kid what nice mud-pie she make.  If Ranma think he such hot stuff, Shampoo like to see how good he do!”  This should be good for a laugh.

“No thanks, that ain’t my kind of thing.”

“What matter, Ranma?  Shampoo think you is afraid.”

A challenge to his pride had the intended effect.  Ranma’s jaw squared itself, as a look of mulish determination lit up in his eyes.  “I just don’t wanna make you look bad.”

At this, Shampoo nearly dislocated a rib in the effort not to laugh.  She placed a new strip of silk on the easel, and gestured for Ranma to take her place there.

A miserable thirty minutes later, a paint-spattered Ranma ruefully regarded the cloth before him.  In America, it actually could have passed as a masterpiece of modern art, but in Japan, it was just so much wasted silk.  He shook his head.  “Told ya it wasn’t my kinda thing,” he growled.  Her snickering and helpful hints on brush technique (“Try use end without bristles”) hadn’t made it any easier to concentrate.

Shampoo regarded his clothes.  They were a total loss, due to the amount of paint on them.  What she was about to do wouldn’t have any real consequences, therefore.  She picked up the jar of water he’d been resting his brushes in.  “Ranma… you all wet.”

She tossed the contents over him.

Cologne reread the letter for the fifth time.  How in the world had her great-granddaughter managed to get herself in such a mess?  Not for the first time, the Matriarch cursed the inflexibility of the Council of Elders.  If she had had her way, the Amazon tribe as a whole would have long since learned the nature of Jusenkyo, instead of it being a secret held by the Elders alone.

The ancient one grimaced.  Had Shampoo known anything about Jusenkyo, besides that fact that it was cursed, off-limits, and used as a punishment for Amazons who broke tribal law, her great-granddaughter might have been able to put two and two together upon first encountering this male Ranma.  As it was, she was in the position of having given the Kiss of Marriage to one who was not her legitimate Airen.  Ranma’s form at the time of the victory was inconsequential.  Shampoo had been defeated by an outsider male on the challenge log that day.

By giving the Kiss of Marriage to a victorious outsider who had NOT first challenged her previous Airen for her hand, Shampoo had put herself in a position from which she could not escape unaided with honor intact.  The commitments were irreconcilable, as an Amazon woman could not have more than one husband.  Another law Cologne wished to have changed… after all, the technology now existed to perform parentage tests.  The old reasoning that multiple husbands for one wife would confuse bloodlines need no longer be valid.  But there was no chance of getting that law amended while the current Council was filled with hidebound fools.

Cologne heaved a deep sigh.  Her great-granddaughter had written asking for her advice, but there was nothing she could do from here.  It looked like she would be taking an unexpected trip to the land of the Rising Sun.

“Ranma-kun?”  Ranma looked up from his kata, annoyed at himself for not hearing her enter the room.  Of course, he had a lot on his mind these days…

Kodachi continued.  “I spoke to Shampoo today.  She has received word that her great-grandmother is journeying here from their home in China.  The old one apparently holds some position of power in the tribe, and can help Shampoo out of her current predicament.”

“Great,” sighed Ranma.  “Another Amazon.  Oh, well, if she’s Shampoo’s great-grandmother she’s gotta be old enough not to cause too much trouble.  Maybe she’ll even dissolve both obligations and let Shampoo off the hook.”

“Do you really believe that?”  Kodachi arched one eyebrow.

“No,” he admitted, “but I can dream, right?”

Ranma thought back to his earliest impressions of Shampoo.  She hadn’t seemed too bright, at first.  But difficulty with the language or not, she hadn’t been fooled for an instant by his panicked attempts to pass himself off as a girl “who went around disguised as a guy most of the time.”

He grimaced.  She’d just seen too much of him by then for that to work.  He was still surprised that he’d been able to keep from being splashed accidentally while Shampoo was around for so long.  That just meant that when it finally happened, Shampoo wasn’t going to swallow any nonsense about him really being female.  The Amazon had gotten the truth out of Kodachi, who was unwilling to lie to a friend.  They still couldn’t believe that she hadn’t known about Jusenkyo, in spite of living less than twenty miles from the cursed training ground.

Ranma walked to a nearby bench and sat down.  Kodachi joined him.  For a little while, they sat in silence.  Then Ranma spoke up.  “What are we gonna do if the old woman says Shampoo has to take me as her husband?”

Kodachi looked down at her hands.  “I don’t know.  I asked Shampoo whether there are any holes in Amazon law that we could exploit.  She doesn’t know of anything better than getting someone else to challenge you for her hand.  If that person defeats you, and she accepts him, he would become her Airen.  But that requires witness by an elder, and if that elder didn’t think you fought to the best of your strength, it wouldn’t count.  And anyway, the way things stand now the only one she would accept in that role is my brother, who would not be willing.”

“Guess it’s just as well things didn’t work out with Ryoga.”  Ranma frowned bitterly.  “Even after I part ways with Pop, his mistakes still come back to haunt me.  He ain’t never made a decision that was right for me.”

The White Rose regarded Ranma for a moment.  “Is that really fair?” she asked gently.

Ranma snorted.  “Darn right it is.  You think I wanted to go to China?  I was still waiting for Ryoga to show for our fight when Pop came and dragged me off.  If it weren’t for him, I’d never have been to Jusenkyo, and never have made it to the Amazon village.”

Kodachi looked away.  “And you’d never have been engaged against your will to Akane,” she continued quietly.  “In fact, you’d probably never even have come to Nerima at all.”

“Hey!”  Ranma saw where this was going.  “That ain’t what I meant!”  He wanted to say more, so much more, but didn’t know how.

Kodachi turned back and met his gaze squarely.  “Do you value what you have now, Ranma-kun?”  ‘You have me, now and forever.  I’ll never be complete without you.  I’ll never betray you or turn away from you.’  She wanted to say that and more, but was afraid, as if this were all a dream and speaking those words would end it.

Ranma swallowed hard.  “Y- yeah,” he managed.  Then took a deep breath.  “And in case you forgot, Pop fought tooth and nail to keep you an’ me apart.  So that’s why I don’t think me meetin’ you makes up for anything Pop did to me in the past.”  He continued in a lower tone of voice.  “If he’d just accepted the way things are, it woulda made up for a lot.  But as it is, you’re the one that gets all the credit.”  Gingerly, he took her hand and gave it a squeeze.

Kodachi smiled at the reassurance.  The White Rose still found herself incapable of understanding how Genma Saotome could have raised someone like Ranma.  And she was certain of one thing.  Regardless of whatever decision this ancient Amazon should render, she was NOT giving up Ranma to anyone else.

Shampoo looked around at the empty building.  “Aiyah, Great-Grandmother.  How you close deal so fast?”  It had been less than a week since she’d received the letter announcing her elder’s arrival, and here she was standing in what would be a restaurant owned and operated by the Matriarch and herself.

“Never mind that now, Shampoo.  I have my methods.  What’s important is that we decide what to do about your situation.”  Cologne regarded her great-granddaughter closely.  “Why don’t you tell me what you think would be the best solution.”

“<I think that would be->” her great-grandmother cut her off, and requested that she speak in Japanese, since she still needed to polish it.  “Shampoo think best thing if bond to Ranma no exist.  Shampoo rather have Tatewaki as Airen.”  She was fairly certain that Ranma was the better fighter, and he seemed nice enough, but his curse and her absolute unwillingness to lose Kodachi’s friendship ruled him out.  She had already decided that if her great-grandmother pushed her to take Ranma, she’d fight.

“Are you certain?  Because that is one way out of this mess.  As Matriarch, I can invoke the melee defeat law.  It’s not completely appropriate, since the two defeated you at different times rather than in joint combat, but as they’re both in contention for your hand in marriage, I have a certain leeway.”

The younger Amazon blinked.  “Shampoo not know that law.”

Cologne resisted the urge to swat her youngest family member.  Just because she wasn’t the chosen heir to the Matriarchy, this didn’t mean she shouldn’t have learned all the tribal laws.  But Shampoo had never really been interested in that type of lore.  “It arises from the situation where an Amazon is defeated by a group in which there is more than one man.  There are numerous subclauses to the law which don’t apply to the situation in hand, so I won’t go into detail.  Basically, you must eventually choose one of these two as your Airen, and forswear the other.”

Shampoo thought this sounded too good to be true.  “That it?  Just choose?  No hidden catch?”

“Just that once you choose, the one you reject becomes less than a stranger to you.  You cannot later change your mind.  Only if he should challenge both your chosen and yourself at the same time and emerge victorious would he become your Airen again.”  Cologne regarded her great-granddaughter.  “This is not a choice to be made lightly, Shampoo.  There is no reason to hurry things-”  She was cut off.

“Shampoo choose Tatewaki as Airen.  Swear now before Honored Elder to let go Ranma and hold to Tatewaki.”

Cologne sighed.  Impulsive as ever.


To be continued.

Author’s notes: Can anyone think of a better idea than mine for explaining how, in the anime, Shampoo didn’t realize what was happening when Ranma poured cold water over himself, changed from male to female, and said he was really a girl?  Or how about the fact that Mousse wandered cluelessly into the Yazuniichuan?  It seems to me that there’s no way they could have known the details about Jusenkyo (since I’ve never read the manga, I don’t know how it handles these things).

Cologne, thinking that Amazon laws need to change?  Who had a hard time believing in that?  And yet I think it’s actually plausible that she’s less caught up in the “three thousand years of Chinese Amazon history” than she lets on.  If she were really that hidebound about the laws, I believe she would have just subdued Ranma and dragged him off to China with Shampoo by force.  Don’t think she couldn’t have done it at the time she was introduced.  There are several instances in the anime where she doesn’t show herself as that much of a stickler (especially when Ling-Ling and Lung-Lung are defeated by Akane, and she doesn’t insist on them giving her the Kiss of Death).  Next time:  Love on ice.

Comments?  Criticism?  E-mail me at aondehafka@hotmail.com.

Chapter 3
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