Ranma and Shampoo could've been skewered or worse if their attacker hadn't yelled at them. As it was, Ranma rolled away as Shampoo jumped to the other side, leaving their assailant to dig a nasty divot into the lawn and spray dirt everywhere.
"Woah, watch it buddy!" Ranma sputtered as she got back on her feet.
"I'm not your buddy, pal," the tall newcomer retorted. Now that nobody made any quick movements said person was revealed to be a somewhat tall young girl with short greenish hair held up with a yellow-and-black patterned bandanna. She wore a ragged outfit of browns and faded yellows, and carried a large backpack upon which she balanced her weighted umbrella. "Not since you turned my life into a living hell!"
Ranma stood in thought for several seconds, the look of confusion and lack of recognition clear enough to hold back even her opponent. "Wait... you couldn't be... Ryouga?" she asked when it dawned on her that she only knew the one person who wore bandannas like that one. "Ryouga Hibiki? You're... how'd that happen?"
"Same way you did, coward."
"You've gotta be shittin' me. You followed me to China?"
"After you ran from our challenge. Then this happened and my life got infinitely worse than it already was."
"Okay, hol' on, hol' on. Ignoring for a sec how ya got there, what happened?" Ranma pushed. Meanwhile, Shampoo collected bits of grass and dirt and pushed them back into the hole.
"Very well. I might as well tell you before I break you," Ryouga agreed, taking off his backpack and setting it down on the grass with a loud rattle. "I found myself on a mountain path overlooking these springs when I spotted a redheaded girl — you, I'd learn later — being chased by another, heavily armed girl. She threw something at you, you knocked it away, and just barely missed my head. I took a step back, the path crumbled, and I fell."
"Huh, imagine the chances. Falling off a mountain path right into the Spring of Immersed G—wait, isn't that spring on the other side of the grounds?"
"It is. I didn't fall straight in. Actually I missed the springs entirely and hit the ground. Head first so I was somewhat dazed. Didn't fall over until then."
Ranma tsk-ed. "Impressive though. I figure you didn't like the result much."
"The hell I didn't! The things I had to endure, you can't imagine!" Ryouga cried out. "The shock alone, maybe, but try and figure out how this body even works when you're alone! I'm at least half a head taller, my center of balance was shot to hell, my chest hurts all the time and oh right, my freaking dick is gone!"
"...yeah, I was going to suggest you get a bra but then I realized it's you," Ranma muttered.
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Ryouga glowered.
"Where would you get one that fits you and your budget?" Ranma replied, leaving "how would you find the undy store anyway" unspoken.
"Okay, point. But the worst has to be all these times since then that older men tried to... have their way with me."
"I would've kicked their asses no problem but every time I'd just... shut down thinking I'm too weak to defend myself until I'd remember I can still wield my umbrella so I must still be strong. By then they'd already have my shirt torn open though, so you can see how much of a freaking hassle that leaves me with."
Indeed, there were several roughly-sewn fixes visible on Ryouga's shirt.
"They didn't actually manage, right?" Ranma asked with careful concern.
"Feh. Still not a pleasant experience."
Ranma stopped to consider the journey home. She too had encountered some unsavory types, but she was clearly dressed for a fight and so was the imposing bulky man always near her who called himself her father and called her "boy". The same father who, in his own inimitable way, cared for his child, especially after the events in Jusenkyo, and as such did his best to support her where the only natural-born female of the group could not. Because she was a cat.
"And all of that," Ryouga interrupted with an angry finger point, "because you ran out on our duel!"
"Hey! I waited right there where we agreed on for three days, a'ight?" Ranma retorted with wounded pride. "No breaks, just me standing in place in an empty lot for three days and nights, waiting for you to find your way down a single block."
"And when I got there on the fourth day, you'd ran!" Ryouga cried out as he suddenly struck at Ranma's head, who of course dodged.
"I didn't run, dipshit," Ranma reiterated, dancing around Ryouga's strikes. "Pops came by every day to talk me into leaving to China and three times in a row I told him no, honor wouldn't let me leave until we'd fought! Fourth day, he didn't ask. Just knocked me out right there. I didn't wake up until we were at the coast!"
Ryouga slowed down to consider what he'd heard, letting Ranma get to a safer distance.
"So yeah, I'm sorry to hear your post-curse experiences weren't as smooth as mine, Ryo, but you can't blame any of this shit on me! So calm your tits and see me about a proper duel later. And besides..."
Ranma pointed at the cat sitting on the garden wall, who jumped off and sat down to look at the visitor. "At least you're still human."
Ryouga turned to look at Shampoo, shocked at the realization that this little kitty was the warrior who was chasing Ranma back then, and that he too might've been like that. He could've been a cat too, or a duck, or maybe even a little piggy. It was a moment of distraction that Ranma happily took advantage of as she suddenly rushed up to her rival and kicked him hard enough to launch him over the wall. She quickly followed this up with his backpack, and if the noise from the other side was any indication she'd hit him.
"Think she... he come back?" Shampoo asked.
"Sure... when pigs fly," Ranma answered in a near-whisper, then sighed. "Y'know, that might've been a cheap shot at the end, but with any luck he'll be too disoriented to get back here. And besides, this was hardly a proper duel."
That night, as Akane was about halfway asleep in her bed, someone softly knocked on her door. "Come in," she muttered, wondering who it could be at that hour. Slowly, the door opened to reveal a remarkably timid-looking Ranma, in her shorts and (thankfully) shirt. "Ranma?"
"Hey," Ranma whispered. "Can't sleep. D'ya think I could...?"
"Can't... What's wrong, Ranma?"
"Got another... nightmare," the redhead admitted softly. At Akane's surprised face she elaborated, "Thought the whole thing would help but meeting Ryouga again and learning how bad he's had it kinda brought it back. And Pops' snoring when he's drunk doesn't help."
"Can I... please, ah..."
Akane sighed and held up the end of her blanket. "Sure, get in here. No funny business?"
"Nah, no funny business," Ranma chuckled as she climbed into Akane's bed. "Not nearly that far yet."
"I can't tell if you're joking or not," Akane mumbled as she pulled her friend closer into a loose hug. "Too late to care. G'night, Ranma."
Meanwhile and slightly before then, Ryouga had indeed somehow made his way back onto the grounds. He carefully got up to the first floor and quickly checked each window, looking for his rival. First window, he quickly dipped out of view again, finding Kasumi brushing her hair. Luckily, even though she was sitting in front of a mirror facing away from the window, she had her eyes closed. Next window Ryouga again quickly moved on; it was Nabiki's room, with her on her bed, reading a manga before she'd go to sleep. It wasn't until the third window that he found his target, and instantly regretted the plan.
Ranma and Akane had, by then, ended up in a spooning position. Ranma's shirt rode up, revealing one of Akane's hands on Ranma's ample bosom.
Also, Shampoo had joined them some time earlier and was curled up at their feet.
Surely the next morning would be a sight to behold for fans of slapstick rom-com, but to Ryouga this already was one for hormonal teenagers who liked the sight of hot girls and/or had a macho male self-image.
So naturally, Ryouga fell to the ground, lightly bleeding from the nose, and stumbled away again.
After a bit of awkwardness when Kasumi found her little sister and her red-haired friend cuddling like that in the morning, and Ranma admitting she worried a bit about Ryouga, the rest of the week seemed to go reasonably well. Akane actually invited Ranma to sleep in her room, not mentioning the latter's nightmares, and they quite regularly found themselves in compromising positions in the morning.
Kasumi had quickly accepted this as a fact of life.
Nabiki considered it a photographic goldmine, but was still on the fence deciding if it was worth the risk to exploit. A risk both to her physical wellbeing, and to her familial relationships.
Their father remained his stoic self all week. Soun had accepted their budding relationship even before it had well and truly started, after all. Even as traditional as he liked to appear, he did love all three of his daughters and wanted nothing more than their happiness in life.
Genma also accepted it, but with somewhat more reluctance than his old friend. He wanted to be supportive to his son-turned-daughter, yet he couldn't help but refer to Ranma as "boy", even if his tone implied it was but a nickname. Still, the schools could be united, according to his old friend's theory. All they really needed was for Nabiki to get on board as the actual owner of the dojo. Perhaps she should get a bit of training for legitimacy, and Genma was all too happy to provide.
Shampoo, on the other hand... When she wasn't practicing her art, trying to get over the speech impediment that came with her form, or studying along with Ranma in class (even if Ranma would often doze off), she would often catch herself gazing at the red-haired girl, thinking back to her old life before they'd met, and to her own nightmares.
She would catch herself thinking of Ranma Saotome as her àirén.
And that tore her little kitty heart apart.
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