Void Contract

Chapter Seven: Date with Danger


Started: Aug 20, 2004

Last Updated: September 09, 2004

Four things come not back: the spoken word, the spent arrow, the past, and the neglected opportunity.

- Omar Idn Al-Halif


YAWN. I wake to as a stray sunbeam crosses my grinning face, glaring through an uncovered window in the Hong Kong skyline, but refuse to open my eyes. A light, sweet, fruity scented air fills my nostrils, and my body feels more warm and relaxed than it has since Pop and I visited those healing springs back in Japan. Oh, what a wonderful morning. Oh, what a beautiful day. Hark, this magnificent feeling; I hope that it will stay. This is the first full night of sleep I've had in a month, given my father's training regime and my nightmares last night, and is easily the best night of sleep I've had in years.

I feel great!

I inhale that sweet-scented air deeply, and fully exhale, then repeat twice more just to get my fill before opening my eyes to the harsh sunbeam to face the day, and hard realities like Shiina's absence. I begin to roll out from under my covers, but I stop when I notice something that is soft, warm, and draped over my waist but under my sheets.

It looks vaguely like someone's arm.

Following it to its source, I find myself staring into Shiina's sleeping face. I blink a few times. Maybe Shiina's absence isn't such a hard reality. Seeing her again only enhances the joy.

Her eyes are closed, her face relaxed, and her lips just slightly open. One ear, mostly hidden in her wavy black hair, pokes from underneath just enough to show its tip. She lay on one shoulder, sharing my pillow and laying an arm over my body. From her shoulders drifts a lavender nightgown, several shades lighter than her eyes, covering all the essentials.

Damn, she's cute.

I decide not to disturb her. I didn't expect her to return last night, and certainely didn't expect her to crawl into my covers. If she had simply woken me and asked, I would have set up the tent for her again. I'm forgetting, at the moment, that not even a stampede of elephants can wake me because I'll just dodge every hoof and ignore the noise.

However, I can't say I regret waking up next to her. Not if I feel like this afterwards.

Gasp! Wait! If I woke up next to her, that means I slept with her. Now, I know they say sleeping with a woman feels great, and it definitely did, but if I slept with her, then she might be pregnant! I definitely remember hearing about that; if a man and a woman sleep together, the woman can get pregnant.

Damn... this isn't good. It isn't as bad as being attacked by demons, but it definitely isn't good.

I slip quietly out from under her arm, then begin pacing quietly around the room, chewing my nails, and panicking. Did we use protection? I've heard that rubber is good protection, kinda' like it is for electricity. But, no, I don't have any rubber sheets.

My guts twist painfully inside me.

I'm not ready to be a father! I don't have any money. I don't have any livelihood. I haven't even gotten into high school yet! I'm not ready to be tied down to family. I want to do things in my life, like travel and train and have a little more excitement... err... nix that. I actually could do with a little less excitement for a while. But the principle still holds! I'm far too young to be a dad. And how can I even be a good father when Baka Oyaji is my worst and only example?

I stop my pacing and drop to a sitting position on the floor. It just doesn't seem right that such a thing was forced on me. Anger wells up inside me, and I force it to a low simmer; I can't afford to lose control. If I did get her pregnant, I'll have to do the right thing.

I'll have to marry her.

... but only if I got her pregnant

I wonder how long it will take to find out?

I stand up and begin to pace again for a few seconds, then think the better of it and throw myself into my katas and work to regain my center. If I'm filled with frustrated energy, I might as well use it constructively.

I drop out of my kata as I see Shiina yawn and rise from my bed in her lavender nightgown. I'm still dressed in what is left of the gi I wore yesterday. The moment she seems fully awake, I pounce.

"Shiina, you can't just crawl into bed with me like that! What if you get pregnant?"

Shiina blinks at me a few times, blushes briefly, then grins widely. "That's okay, I bought protection!" She sashays over to a duffel sitting by my oversized pack; her hips sway provocatively. Then she carefully bends over and rummages slowly through her bag; I receive a full view of luscious, well-toned calves and thighs, fading into the lavender shroud of her nightgown; a small trickle of blood runs from my nose to my upper lip. I wipe it away absently. When she rises, she proudly displays a purple box covered in white chinese characters.

I stare at the box for a few moments, having no clue how that box would do anything. It doesn't appear to be made of rubber. On the other hand, I don't really no the mechanics of how girls get pregnant, either. But wait just a moment... that box wasn't even there when I woke up. It was hidden deep in that bag.

"We didn't use that last night," I state accusingly.

Shiina's left brow twitches violently. "Of course not, Ranma," she says condescendingly. "You weren't even awake."

"Huh? So you think it's okay to risk getting pregnant just because I'm not awake?"

If anything, her brow twitches even more violently.

"How do you think I'd feel if I suddenly became a father! I'm only fifteen for kami's sake!" I shout.

"However little you want to be a father, I want to be a mother even less at the moment, Ranma! I'm only fourteen! I can't raise a child!"

I pause for a moment, unsure how to answer that one. Finally, I answer with a question. "Then why'd you crawl into my bed?" I ask.

Shiina quirks an eyebrow. "Well, I saw how cozy you were getting with the bedding I used the other night." I blush, embarrassed. She grins and continues, encouraged by my embarrassment. "And, well, I decided that maybe you'd like the real me even better. Besides, I don't know how to set up a tent, I'm not strong enough to even move your pack, and you are the only one of us with a pillow."

"Is that all?" I mutter the question, feeling a little disappointed. I'm not sure why.

"No," Shiina answers quietly, drooping her head a bit. "I also feel... comfortable and safe, sleeping at your side." More loudly she adds, "You're like the perfect security blanket." She chuckles a bit, a throaty sound from deep in her chest that somehow sounds far more attractive than her girly giggles I heard yesterday.

I haven't a clue why what she said is funny, and I don't feel she's insulting me. I'm unsure how to respond. My thoughts briefly return to my soliloquy yesterday. After a long moment, I respond, "I... kinda'... enjoyed wakin' up with ya' next to me, too. And..." my voice grows really quiet, but I'm confident Shiina hears every word as I add, "I also kinda' liked the kissin'." Shiina positively glows. I cringe inside, knowing that my next words will hurt her, but also knowing I can't leave it at that. I speak up again and finish, "But I think I was right yesterday; those are the things for people that love each other. And, I can't say I love you..." yet. I don't actually speak that last word.

The hurt that appears on Shiina's face in response to my words almost breaks my heart. I catch only a moment's glance at it before she looks towards the ground, hiding her features from my discerning eyes. I wince, feeling as though my words hurt her as much or more than my hands ever could. Such hurt is due to my inexperience with words; a master of words could make that hurt go away. All I know how to do with words is to insult, to hurt others. I look at my hands. Heck, my whole body is a weapon. All I can do is injure-

"You promised!" Shiina shouts angrily, fighting down a sob and interrupting my internal monologue. "You promised you'd be at my side for as long as I need you."

"And I will! As a friend," I say, interrupting her before she says any more. I don't break my promises, but I'm not willing to give her what I believe she's demanding.

Shiina calms down and lifts her eyes to look into my own. She does not answer. I gaze back into her exotic orbs and sense undisguised longing within them; all traces of sadness and anger are gone. Pop said emotions are too volatile for use in the martial arts, but even I'm left wondering about Shiina's mood swings; she flits from one extreme to another without a blink's notice. Either she's a master of manipulation orders of magnitude greater than Baka Oyaji, or she's truly unstable emotionally... which I would be too, if I had lost my parents a few days ago.

The longing in her eyes makes me a bit nervous. I feel like sinking into those gold-speckled violet pools, giving her what she desires, filling the hole in her heart with my own. My heart calls out its own desire; the kiss, her smell, the feelings I had when waking up and seeing her next to me... I'd like more of that.

But I don't really know her. I certainely can't say I love her.

I just don't feel ready for that kind of relationship... at least, not yet.

I shift my weight from one foot to the other. Eventually, I speak up again, looking at my feet to avoid her eyes. "Maybe... maybe, we will eventually...- I'm just not ready for more than friendship."

Shiina throws her arms around me, then looks up and gives me a kiss on the corner of my lips... not the deep, long, hot and passionate kiss we had yesterday, but instead a quick and furtive one. Then she tucks her head onto my shoulder again.

Still, it was a kiss. And I'm embraced in a hug. And I wonder if my words got through to her at all. However, I can't bring myself to push her away.

"What'd ya' do that for?" I ask curiously. It isn't at all the accusing way I usually ask that question. I find myself dropping my arms around her and pulling her against my bare chest, returning her hug.

"For you being my friend. For you saying there might be a chance in the future. For you not rejecting me completely. That would have hurt too much..." she shudders against my body. "It would have hurt so much I'd feel like dying."

The honesty I sense behind her quivering words hits me. I've been in enough pain that I've felt like dying before, but never from words or emotions... only after particularly painful training sessions. Except... well, now that I think about it, maybe there have been a few times, when I was younger, when Pop's barbs and insults hurt me that much, when he said I was a failure or girly and Mom would be ashamed. It is hard to remember the hurt after I bury it and move on, but it's there, or at least it was. Are words truly so powerful? Then I had best master them soon; a weapon only half-learned can easily hurt people on accident. I hold Shiina a bit tighter, then let her go and look at her fragile features and her very female figure. I don't want to hurt her.

"Ranma?" Shiina asks lasciviously.


"What are you doing?"

Upon her asking, I notice I'm staring directly at her chest. I raise my eyes to her face and grin sheepishly, "Uh... I was uh... wondering where ya' got the nighty."

Shiina smiles a little, but somewhat sadly, and answers, "It was a gift from my godmother, O-Ren Ishii."

I frown a little and try to move the conversation onwards. "Umm... that's not what I meant, really. I was kinda wonderin' what ya' were doin' all yesterday and stuff. I mean, you brought back a bag and clothes. Do ya' still have the gi I lent ya'? This is all I've got left," I say dejectedly, waving a hand towards my the burnt and torn and splattered ichor-yellow leggings which show through to my boxers in spots. "We need ta' wash up n' get dressed n' get breakfast, and meet with Pop after gets out of the hospital today. I do hope those officers are still payin' the bills... Pop n' I don't have insurance that's any good in China."

"I picked my stuff up from the hospital and the hotel my parents and I were staying at. Then I did a little shopping," Shiina says daintily, trotting towards the duffel. After a second of rummaging, she turns to me and flashes a bright smile. "I didn't forget about you." She hands me a giftwrapped package.

I accept the package and tear into it without hesitation. Within is a dark blue silk dogi with a high lapel, decorated with twin light-blue and silver dragons twisting around the body and down each arm. Also in the package are a pair of black silk kung-fu pants and belt. "Wow, this is nice! Thanks!" I say honestly. Shiina beams at me. Then I add, "But I can't wear this."

Shiina's eyes darken. "Why not?"

"Ain't it obvious? I'm sure it'll be destroyed by the end of the day, between Pop's training and sticky flying demon guts. I've never had anything this nice; I don't want to damage it," I say. My eyes return to the dogi and glitter as brightly as the silvery dragons.

"Ranma, you risked your life to save mine yesterday and the day before. If it gets destroyed killing another demon, I'll buy you a new one. Besides, since it is possible today is the last day of your life, why not dress in style?"

"Huh? That's a weird attitude. Besides, there's still Pop's training... I know that won't kill me but it can be nasty on clothes. It's why we use cheap cotton gis." That and the fact that those gis, wrapped up tightly enough to stay dry, were the only clothes that survived the swim to China and the intervening typhoon which swept us towards Hong Kong. That was a nasty swim.

Shiina responds, "I picked up a few other things too, but I want to see you dressed in that. You don't really think I just bought you one set of clothing? You'd stink like a horse within a few days, the way you work out."


Shiina grins teasingly. "Hay is for horses."

I harrumph. "Then I'm entitled to it. So, what else did you get me?" I ask enthusiastically.

"Getting a little greedy, aren't you? I'd like to see that on you first. I'll let you know tomorrow morning if you're a good boy. Besides, I need to get dressed. Then I'll start your lessons on guns so you don't accidently shoot me and blow my guts all over your new gi."



"Ah, man! I look like I belong in a circus," I complain, performing a slow kata in front of the bathroom mirror. The blue dogi definitely seems a bit loud and garish compared to my normal plain attire.

On the other hand, it really does look good on me. The color complements my eyes. I could probably go to any night club or expensive restaurant in Hong Kong with this and not feel out of place.

The dogi also feels great, and is very well ventilated, using strategically placed netting to keep the silk from absorbing too much sweat.

"I heard that!" snaps Shiina from a nearby stall. "If you don't like it, you can go walk around naked."

"Bet you'd like that," I mutter. "Can't you get me some normal clothes? You know... things that-"

At this point, Shiina stomps from her stall. She is dressed in a purple dogi equivalent to mine, perhaps only a size smaller, with twin violet-silver dragons. In addition, she's adorned with her violet studs and a thin silver and amethyst necklace, all of which complement her big exotic eyes and her cute little face.

I smile at her.

She continues, still speaking sharply, "How can you possibly believe walking around in a white cotton gi is normal? Besides, you're looking good, Ranma. But didn't you find the headband? That red bandanna doesn't complement your eyes, and doesn't match the gi. It absolutely must go."

"Oh, so that's what this is?" I say, pulling a length of dark blue silk from a pocket. "Thought it was a kerchief." I untie the red bandanna.

"What's that?" Shiina asks, pointing at my forehead.

"What's what?" I ask sharply, dodging the question. I lift the blue silk and looking at it. It has a yin-yang symbol in the center... that just seems so... cliché. Like something out of a bad manga. I frown at it for a moment.

"- that marking on your forehead," presses Shiina.

I sigh. "Some jerks tattooed my forehead when I was drunk. I haven't a clue what it means, 'cept it probably says I'm a loser. I musta' lost a martial arts drinking contest, or somethin'... can't understand why, since Pop says us Saotomes are good at that sorta' thing, and I've won em' before. I don't wanna' talk 'bout it. I'd go kick their asses if I could remember any of that day." I lift the silk band to tie it and hide the markings, but am stopped with a hand from Shiina wrapping around the bandanna.

"You drink?" Shiina asks.

"No, not when I can avoid it."

"So, when do you drink?"

Why does she want to know? "I drink when I have to for a contest, but that ain't often; Pop enters most of those himself if it is the Saotome name or our school that is challenged, so I only need to accept the personal challenges," I say sourly. "Can't understand how drinkin' contests relate to martial arts, but Pop assures me it's part of the Masubetsu Kakuto Ryuu. The few other times were when Pop wanted me to practice drunken combat.

"Other than that, even if I wanted it, Pop is kinda' possessive about his liquor when we're carrying any... which isn't often. I suffered intense training for weeks after the only time I touched his stuff. It kinda' soured me on drinkin'. 'Sides, Pop said drinkin' too much can mess me up at this age, and this sorta' thing just makes it worse." I gesture towards my forehead.

Shiina nods absently at my story while she lifts my long bangs with one hand and peers closely at the marking underneath. I wait abjectly for her verdict. "Wu. It means nothing," she finally says after a pause.

"Nothing? That's a relief. Pop said it probably meant 'baka'. If it don't have any meaning, then it's just an uncool marking."

"I mean, it means nothing, as in the absence of something. It's an old way of writing it, though; I almost didn't recognize it. Wu. Void. Emptiness. It means 'nothing', literally." Shiina giggles briefly then adds, "Your Pop could be right; maybe it is saying your head is empty."

I groan and wrap the dark blue band around my head. Nothing... at least it ain't nothing bad, but it also ain't nothing good. I chuckle internally at my awful pun. I fold the yin-yang symbol to the inside of the silk headband, leaving only the silk showing. I'm not going to exchange "Wu" tattoo for some sort of cliché "yin-yang" symbol; between those two, "Wu" is neater and more original. Besides, emptiness is something I'm working towards with my meditations. However, that is for later. After jerking the silken knot tight beneath my pig-tail, leaving two tails of the blue silk cloth hanging evenly down my neck, I ask, "Okay. We're dressed. Can we talk about guns now?"


I stare with concentration at the scattered pieces of Officer Kong's gun before I reach out and slowly start bringing the pieces together. Shiina and I had already washed the pieces as best we could, and she had shown me how to do this several times. Now she wants me to do it on my own.

"Remember," Shiina says, "guns are really the most basic of weapons. You point the gun at someone, tighten your hand into a fist, and BOOM! He's dead. If your opponent doesn't have a gun, all you need to worry about is aim. Hitting a moving target is more difficult; if your target is dodging effectively with his or her upper body, simply shoot the hips.

"However, if your target does have a gun, then you need to be able to move and dodge while shooting, so being able to shoot from different positions while dodging and running is important. Also, learn to aim without using the sight, since using it can cost precious seconds in combat, especially at close range. ..."

I roll my eyes as Shiina blabs on, speaking the obvious. She had already talked about basic gun safety: finger off the trigger until I'm ready to shoot, know what is behind the target in case I miss or the target dodges, don't point your gun at anyone you aren't willing to kill, don't draw your gun unless you are willing to kill, and if you are willing to kill then be able to do so without hesitation.

And it isn't as though I'm learning to use a gun to shoot people. I'm learning to shoot demons and avoid accidently hitting people. My fists are already quite effective at handling people, or at least those not armed with guns, and I can control them well enough to kill or not at my own judgement. I can't control a gun that well... especially not a gun loaded with exploding bullets.

"HA! I'm done!" I shout upon slamming the clip with its four remaining bullets into the gun. I proudly display the completed gun to Shiina. Knowing more about the insides of the thing has made me a lot more comfortable with it.

Shiina hits a button on her stopwatch, takes the gun from me, and examines for a few seconds, and chambers a bullet. "Good job, Ranma. Five minutes and twenty-two seconds. I want you to practice on your own until you can do it in under a minute, then start doing it blindfolded." She removes the ammunition and the chambered bullet, then pushes the bullet back into the clip before handing the clip and gun to me. "You should keep the clip separate from the gun when you don't really need them together. Keeping the gun loaded outside of combat is generally a bad idea, especially without a holster."

"But you do it," I complain.

"Yeah, but I'm a professional; do as I say, not as I do and all that," Shiina smirks at me. "Would you like to go through a few gun katas?"

I blink. "Gun katas? They have those?"

"Yeah, mostly for covering wide areas of fire against multiple opponents, and to make yourself a difficult target while shooting. I also saw somewhere we can play lasertag, and an arcade where we can play shooters against multiple opponents. Those will be good for your aim and reflexes." Shiina smiles coyly, creating those little dimples in her cheeks, and continues, "We can make it a date."

A date with Shiina to learn how to use guns...

I haven't dated anyone since... well, Makichi during my last year in elementary school, almost three years ago. She was a year younger than me, always following me around like a lost puppy and calling me "Sempai" and watching with rapt attention as I perform martial arts katas. When she eventually worked up the courage to ask me out, I almost refused her; I hadn't really started "noticing" girls yet. But even as I started, tears grew in her emerald eyes.

I can't make a girl cry; it makes my tummy twist up in the most painful way possible. So Makichi and I "dated."

We were together for a little under two months. I didn't know what "dating" entailed then, but I had a lot of fun. She liked learning about martial arts, and I especially enjoyed those little bentos she made for me. They were almost as good as my oldest friend Ucchan's okanomiyaki, and far more diverse. My stomach growls just recalling them.

But Makichi wasn't my girlfriend. Not in the ways that matter. After I started hanging with her, I hardly thought of her as a girl. She was just a person I enjoyed spending time with. She was a friend.

And then Pop found out.

He said that girls are a distraction from The Art. We left that school the same week, and that was the last time I went to a school with girls in it. From there I went to that military academy where all the brats joked about my art losing to "gun-fu," at least until I started holding my own with a paintbrush against their paintball guns and paint grenades. Then I spent a few months in that all-boys school where I met my friend Ryouga. And now I'm here in China... well, Hong Kong, at least, and I have a new friend. Another girl.

And she wants to date.

I don't love Shiina, but I've definitely "noticed" her. A date where I learn about gun katas can hardly be considered a distraction from the art. I think I might even enjoy it; we can date as friends, and maybe something more will grow. Yes, a date would be fine. A date would be great.

"I'm in!" I declare, smiling at Shiina. "Let's start by getting something to eat. And I can also start training you to jump like I can, if you'd like."

Shiina's amethyst eyes brighten and her small smile widens into a grin. She grabs my hand and starts tugging. "Come on, then! I know just where to go."


After my second plate, I slow my pace to match Shiina's and lift a bite of phad thai noodles in my chopsticks. I chew slowly, savoring the sweet and potent spices. I smile over flickering candle at Shiina, who's dark eyes twinkle golden back at me. She doesn't take her eyes from me or blink as she eats another bite; it is somewhat disturbing.

Shiina had insisted we dine at a fine restaurant to take advantage of our nice clothes on our first date, so we ended up breaking fast with an early lunch at a nearby Thai restaurant. The prices would have made me balk if I could translate yuan to yen, but as it is Shiina offered to pay and I accepted. I had to. I know from the movies that the guy is supposed to pay on a date, but I haven't any money on me. I also let Shiina order for me because I can't read the menu. Her selections were excellent. I resolve to make this up to her later.

Bite. Chew. Swallow. The silence between us stretches and Shiina's unblinking stare starts making me a little nervous.

"I'll need to pick Pop up from the hospital soon." I say around a bite of phad thai, interrupting the silence.

Shiina's eyes narrow a bit. "You aren't cutting the date short, are you?"

I shake my head and chuckle nervously. "Nah. We can let 'im stew fer a bit."

Shiina smiles. "I'll be happy to thank him properly after our date. He saved my life twice that day, if I remember correctly." She frowns a bit, then adds, "It is hard to recall because of that neuralizer thing... and the concussion."

I nod my head knowingly. "So... Shiina, ya' have any family left? Since yer parents died, you should definitely get in contact with 'em."

Shiina drops her eyes, face downcast. After a moment she asks in a small voice, "What, do you know a medium or something?"

"Huh?" I ask blankly.

She picks at her food and answers sullenly, "Bad joke, I guess. I'd need a medium to get in contact with my parents since they died. Ha ha. I really don't want to talk about it."

I open my mouth to push onwards, then think the better of it. Master of words, Ranma. Eventually I answer, "I'd need someone to talk to. When you're ready to talk about it, I'll be here to listen. I know I wouldn't be doing as well as you are if my Pop was among those that died yesterday."

"Yes, you would," Shiina declares in a stronger voice. Her eyes rise to meet mine, stormy darkness in the candlelight.

"What do ya' mean?" I growl.

"You'd be in shock, you'd grieve a little, and you'd move on," replies Shiina confidently. More shakily she adds, "Because that's what your father would want you to do. He'd want you to be strong." She looks down. "I've been strong for four years, since my parents died."

I break in. "Umm... didn't your parents die just two days ago?"

Shiina shakes her head and looks back up at me. "My parents were killed a little over four years ago by O-Ren Ishii." She growls the name.

I blink. "Your godmother?"

Shiina nods, then pauses before continuing in a lower voice. "She killed Mother and Father in front of me. She even killed Shoe, my little dog, too. I was ten. I can still remember their still warm blood spraying over my clothing, my hands, my face. For some reason, she offered Father a last request. He asked that I live and be provided for. Then she took his head – one swift stroke from her katana's singing edge.

"And she honored his last request. She gave me a new life, a new family. They have been my parents for four years. They were good to me, and gave me what I needed, but they belonged to HER." She scowls then continues, "They were the people you saw yesterday. I'll miss them, but I never loved them. I couldn't. I needed to be strong.

"Father asked that I live and be strong. It was his last request, the only thing he wanted when all else was being taken away. I couldn't allow myself to die inside, emotionally. At first, that was the only strength I had.

"Then they trained me for my new 'job'. And I trained hard... hard enough that maybe, someday, I'll be strong enough to kill my 'godmother,'" Shiina snarls. "And then she shall die."

I grimace. It isn't entirely because I disapprove. I'm no saint, and if someone killed Pop, I can't say I wouldn't want revenge. But killing is wrong. Killing in defense of self or another can be justified, but is still wrong; it is something to avoid when possible. Murder is always wrong. If I killed in revenge, I would be no better than Oyaji's killer. These are things Pop discussed with me when I was much younger. It is an ideal I've held for a long time.

The remaining reason for the grimace, however, is the scowl on her face, the snarl on her lips, the cold fire in her eyes; they appear fundamentally wrong decorating the visage of a fourteen-year-old fragile beauty like Shiina. And I feel the sakki, killer intent, caged and trapped and chained by this little girl. The ability to kill is held in check behind her pretty eyes, hidden by her emotionally fickle nature, yet awaiting release when the moment is right.

I shudder.

The words of her earlier lecture come to mind. Don't point the gun unless willing to kill. When willing, be able to kill without hesitation. In the short time I've known Shiina, I've seen her point her gun at three people. Including me. She really was willing to kill me, without hesitation, if it appeared necessary.

Not that she would have succeeded.

But she has not pointed a gun at me since that first night. Not even when I caught her naked in my tent. The thought brings some relief; the memory brings a fleeting smile.

Then I frown as I return to the issue at hand. Shiina plans to kill her godmother in revenge, the woman who killed Shiina's parents yet honored her father's last request to provide for the girl and did so for four years. Killing her four years ago in anger would have made sense; I could forgive it.

Doing it now would be cold-blooded murder.

And she has held onto her intent to kill for four years. She has been nurturing it. Acute nausea sweeps through me, constricts my heart, and threatens my fragile equilibrium. I feel sick, short of breath, pain in the center of my chest. Is that who my new friend really is? Does she truly intend to become a murderer?

"Please don't," I murmur, almost a whisper.

"Don't? She killed my mother. She killed my father. She honored his request, but she stole everything important from me and forced me into a new life. Why shouldn't I kill her?" Shiina demands.

"Murder ain't right! Besides, what would yer' mom 'n pop think if ya' killed fer' 'em? If you kill her in cold blood, then you ain't no better than she is. Don't let her make ya' a worse person. Don't let her make ya' into a murderer!" I shout.

Shiina's exotic eyes flash violet vehemence. I feel them sweep through me like a powerful gust of spiritual wind. My body reacts to it physically; hairs on my neck stand at attention and danger klaxons wail in my head. Then the tempest quiets. Her sakki is chained and trapped as it had been before.

Shiina hisses bitterly, her eyes penetrating my own and pinning me in place, "I live for Father. I'm going to kill O-ren Ishii for Mother, me, and my little dog, Shoe. It has been my goal for four years. Even SHE knows my goal. She said to my face that she'll be ready when I come. Family honor demands vengeance. Don't. Get. In. My. Way." At that she looks down at her plate and begins deliberately concentrating on her food.

After a few aborted attempts at restarting the conversation, I focus on slowly eating my food and deriving what little joy I can from each bite.


The date becomes more than a little strained following the meal. While Shiina is all too willing to forget about our little fight and move on, I am not. Thus, although is she bubbling and bouncing and giggling between snapping at me for not getting into the festive spirit, I'm just going through the motions... and brooding.

After purchasing a pair of ice-cream cones and handing one to me, she says, "Next week is the Birthday of Kwan Tai," she says. She licks a big dollop of ice cream off her cone then grins at me happily.

"Huh? What about it? Is he someone you know?" How can a girl with such a beautiful, genuine smile be willing to kill?

"No! That's one of the big holidays around here. Hey, let's go in there!" Shiina gestures towards an arcade.

I stick my hands in my pockets, already devoid of the cone which I spent no time enjoying, and follow her in.

The arcade is mostly empty, excepting three truant boys in high school uniforms. The shortest one, a boy a little over my height with slick hair and a slicker smile, snickers a bit at our matching flamboyant gis then strolls towards Shiina, speaking smoothly in Chinese and gestures at the two of us for his friends.

I instantly hate the boy.

"Hee Hawww! Hee Hawww!" The other two punk-wannabes laugh like donkeys and glance at me between gasping for breath.

It must have been a good joke, but I'm confident I wouldn't have liked it even if I understood it. I glare at the two taller boys. (Pow.) "Shiina," I say sweetly, (Crunch. Thump.) "I think the arcade was a great choice for a little entertainment."

The two taller boys lie in a tight tangle of twitching limbs, occasionally emanating a low groan.

I turn to Shiina and see the shorter boy held in a wrist lock, fingers painfully held mere centimeters from the violet girl's tight ass in what obviously was a failed attempt to grope. She flashes a smile in my direction, then shoves the boy towards the floor, still holding the wrist.

The short boy starts shouting angrily in Chinese.

"The boy says his daddy's going to get us, that his daddy is a Triad boss." She pauses thoughtfully. "We really shouldn't pick on the son of a Triad boss and his friends," Shiina says, releasing the short boy. "We're only here for the shooter games. But I agree, it is so much fun."

The boy glares at Shiina, then runs out of the arcade, soon followed by his two companions.

"Triad? You mean like the Chinese Yakuza?"

Shiina nods absently while looking around. "Ah! That's just the game I was looking for," she says excitedly, pointing at a few machines with guns attached by steel wire. She drops several coins into my hand. "This is all he had. Well, let's play!" She drops her single remaining coin into one of the play slots.

She stole his money? I shrug; oh well, he deserved it, the pervert. I plug a coin into the slot and pick up the gun, and play begins.

Soon we are deep in the game, I on my fourth coin and getting better, and Shiina still on her first. Bang! Another enemy down. Bang! Bang! Shiina shoots an opponent I hadn't even noticed.

Neither of us notices the armed bishounen young man with slick hair that slips quietly into the arcade. We don't even notice the rest of his cohort.



(All characters exaggerated.)

Genma: (With the great wisdom that comes from quoting ancient proverbs that no man dares question) The quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach.

Ranma: (Looks at the Thai food Shiina provided.) I totally agree.

Pai Mei: No, it is through his chest, nimwit! Come over here, Ranma. Allow me to demonstrate.

Akane: (Growls) No! He can't leave the table until he's eaten. Eat up, Ranma!

At the moment Ranma opens his mouth to protest, Akane expertly spoons a large dollop of hissing, swarthing, smoking greenish-brown (pudding?) into Ranma's open mouth. When she withdraws the spoon, only the handle remains and continues to sizzle and melt from the remaining food particles.

Ranma immediately starts twitching violently and drops to the ground holding his chest.

Pai Mei: (Blinks. Ranma is dead again.) I see that I was mistaken.

Genma: (Nods sagely.) 1.1 seconds, Akane. Impressive.

Akane: How dare you insult my food by playing dead, Ranma! Humph!

Akane pulls out a large mallet and strikes the corpse several times, leaving a large Ranma-shaped crater in the ground. Then she runs upstairs, tears in her eyes.