Disclaimer: I own nothing even remotely related to Ranma 1/2 or Chobits, including all terminology, characters, etc...
Ranma, Now on PC - Chapter 03: Fool Me Once...
The stars hadn't changed. They were the stars of her childhood, and out here in the countryside their brightness was little-dimmed by the light thrown up by civilization. Despite the unpleasant circumstances that had led her here, the small blonde persocom going by the name Ranko couldn't stop herself from lying back and tracing the constellations, a smile growing on her unblemished, pale face. She found herself speaking aloud as she did so.
"Do you remember them all? There's the greater loot sack and its more concealable counterpart. Look at the wary shopkeep's sash, with no loose, pullable fabric to be seen. And the doop's really showin' up tonight, wondering where the cunning thief ran off to!" Her exuberance seemed to have infected her companion, and he laughed about all the names. She knew a lot of people did that. 'Guess not many folks take the time to pay attention to the stars.'
It occurred to Ranko that her friendliness was probably making Ryoga think she'd forgiven him for the whole 'getting them lost' thing, not to mention rendering her completely impoverished. Morosely, she wondered if he would be right in thinking that. She had taken a tiny bit of revenge by making him do all the work of setting up the camp, and a little more by 'absent-mindedly' sitting or lying in new provocative poses when he looked up from his work to hear what she had to say. The effort of keeping her laughter to a restrained giggling rather than an outright guffaw had started to strain her around the third time the older teen smashed his thumb driving in a tent-peg.
About the time she was getting to the 'unrighteous monk and his gourd', Ryoga sat himself down beside her and deposited a pair of bowls in front of both their feet. He also reached a hand over to her so she could sit more easily. That only made Ranko scowl, as she kicked up her feet, and used some momentum and leverage to sit without his help. "Not an invalid, or nothin'," she groused aloud. 'Woulda been easier to let Ryoga help me, but that'd be embarrassing.' The older boy merely retracted his proffered appendage and scratched his cheek self-consciously.
Their simple meal consisted of packets of instant ramen with freeze-dried veggies and fish cakes. Grabbing a pair of well-worn chopsticks from atop their respective bowls, Ranko and Ryoga both declared their intention to eat and dove in. Or rather, Ranko dove in, while Ryoga ate at a slow, measured pace. The blonde robot girl excused her enthusiasm as resulting from having gone years between meals, even if she hadn't observed the passing time. Still, she had to slow her pace pretty quickly. By the time Ryoga was finished, she had dropped down to picking at her food one noodle at a time, and was struggling to muster the appetite to swallow.
While she was doggedly trying to finish the ramen, her companion set about cleaning his pot. He had changed into some heavily travel-worn clothing before he started setting up camp for the both of them. She had only been too happy to turn away while he swapped outfits, not wanting to revisit the thoughts which had assailed her otherwise rational mind during the chase he'd led her on. For all that he still seemed attached to mustard yellow and black as a colour scheme, the new outfit looked infinitely more like it belonged on the guy than had the dress shirt and tie. With her bloated belly rebelling against further consumption, Ranko struck up what she hoped would be a distracting conversation so that she could take it by surprise in a few minutes. "So what was with the dumb-looking school-duds?"
Ryoga grunted. "Do they look that bad, Ranko?" A scowl from the sort-of-girl stopped him from using any honorifics attached to her name. He was trying to be polite while being insulted, and the awkward grin he wore spoke of the grimace he was hiding.
That earned a little laughter from her. "Yeah. Total dweeb-wear. Makes ya seem colourblind, 'cause no one who knew what they looked like would wear 'em."
"Don't do a lot of sugar-coating, do you... Ranko?"
"Nope! So why the get-up?"
Face reddening at the frank appraisal, Ryoga grumbled out, "They're for giving a good impression when I apply for work near the college I'll be going to." He said no more, and set about poking the sticks and logs of his fire.
"And what're you takin'?" Ranko snuck into the boy's personal space even as she asked the question. He was too distracted to pay proper attention, so it was as easy as nabbing food mid-lecture.
Much to the mischievous persocom's surprise, Ryoga only grew more distant. His eyes were on the fire he'd built, but he was looking somewhere else entirely. "It's my last year of high school. I'm kinda old for it, but I missed the first pursuing a grudge. Was stupid. Never settled a thing and screwed my life up worse. And..."
As Ranko noted the pain creeping in with those words, she started to feel heavier, like her body – already a pain to move since leaving the power grid – weighed a ton. Only her excellent balance kept her from tumbling over and squashing her pretty face in the dirt, even if it was a near thing. 'Gotta lift his spirits pronto,' the petite persocom surmised. That decided, she allowed gravity to do its thing and dropped onto Ryoga's back, arms encircling his neck and falling across his chest.
Her actions pitched the both of them forward as the young man tried to compensate for her weight, and elicited an amusing "gack!" from him. Not having to carry her own improbable weight gave Ranko no small measure of ease. 'Advanced plastics my ass, I have got to be made of lead,' she decided.
"Ra- Ranko!" Ryoga stammered. The blush he was sporting was positively nuclear, and the machine-girl couldn't stifle a bout of giggling at her success.
Still, a bit of heat crept into her own visage as she payed attention to the way her breasts were squashed into Ryoga's back, and the feel of his tensed pectorals under her dangling digits. She pushed herself back up to her knees and away from the flustered boy. It was easier, now, since she seemed to have lost a few hundred kilos.
"Hey. I think you're pretty alright even if you are a screw-up," the blonde drawled seductively. Her impish grin, she hoped, would prevent the beet-red boy from coming to any of the wrong conclusions about that.
Ryoga twitched, turned and caught sight of her expression, then seemed to relax a little. "Thanks, I think." He left the words hanging while the fire crackled away. Ranko could feel his green eyes boring into her, searching for something, and for a long time they sat in tableau. The intensity left him, suddenly, and in a single unbroken motion the young man rose to his feet, even as he used one free hand to draw Ranko up from where she knelt. "We should sleep. Take the tent; I'll make do."
'That's pretty nice of the guy,' the blonde persocom conceded, before spinning and sauntering up to the well-loved piece of camping gear. In saccharine tones she called back, "Nighty-night, Ryoga-dear." Much lower, and quiet enough that she doubted it reached her own ears, Ranko muttered a thanks. She steadfastly refused to look to see if he had heard, but could feel his gaze on her.
Taking a quick breath, she darted through the tent flaps, and observed the tiny, portable room. Countless patches, stitches, and stains that could never quite be removed told a story in a code Ranko could not decipher. The thing had been washed recently, and even the "bedding" such as it was, smelled quite fresh. All of it, though, was unmistakably Ryoga's, and as much as she felt glad to be the one sleeping comfortably within, there was a nagging voice complaining that she should not be. She hadn't earned it through might or trickery; Ryoga had given it to her, which was wrong. The confused girl knuckled her head introspectively. 'OK. Maybe trickery, but it ain't fair that I don't know how I'm tricking him.'
With the options of fighting with the directionally challenged boy outside when walking was something of a chore, and paying him back for the offence at some later date, Ranko supposed the latter was the only sensible one. That decided, she flopped down face first, rolled onto her side, curled up, and ceased being a conscious thing.
It was almost noon of the next day before the two had the camp packed up and were on their way back toward Tokyo. It had taken a very long time for Ryoga to overcome his aversion to entering the tent with Ranko. It had taken longer still for him to wake her from what he had described as, "a really deep sleep". She had been thinking of making fun of him for that, but the small fear, followed by relief she had observed on waking inspired the persocom to keep her tongue in check. 'Well,' she conceded, 'I guess I might've looked faker when I wasn't moving around.'
Ryoga had been hearing farm equipment all morning, so it was no surprise when he suggested going there to ask for directions. It was also no surprise when he started walking off at right angles to those same sounds, needing to be dragged to a halt and pointed on the right track manually. This put a bit of strain on Ranko's unmistakable omni-benevolence.
When a tractor finally came into view, the bandana-clad youth's face lit up and he proceeded to charge off in the direction from which they came. This was too much. "Ryoga, get the fuck back here!' the absurdly long-haired blonde shrilled at her just as absurdly lost companion. When he finally spun in her direction, she called out again to direct him. "Yeah, here. Right in front of you, where you can clearly see. Just keep going straight. You made it!" She couldn't tell whether the boy was close to tears or violence, but things had gotten too frustrating to play along with him either way. Ranko grabbed his hand and resolved to invest in a leash if she ever had to deal with him like this again.
Ryoga's emotional state visibly shifted closer to shame and embarrassment, and he tried to gently free his hand. "I c-"
"You can't at all," the persocom quickly interrupted, leaving her irritation plain in her countenance and voice. "You suck so bad at directions that you somehow got us out past the outskirts of Tokyo while trying to get us to Ikebukuro Station. I'm dirty, exhausted, and frustrated. Man up and pretend holding a pretty girl's hand was your idea and maybe we'll both be happier when we finally get to the Dojo." Ryoga almost seemed ready to object, but settled down, closing his huge hand around hers. With that, the two fumed silently all the way to the tractor.
The farmer, head shielded from the cheerful noonday sun by a wide-brimmed hat, leaned down from his seat to greet the couple. He seemed friendly enough. "Hey there, folks! Welcome to my fields." he called, before his face took on an air of concentration. A moment later he burst out laughing. "Well if it isn't the young mister Hibiki! Haven't seen you 'round these parts in a while. Ever find Furinkan High School?"
The sickly grin Ryoga plastered on his face didn't do a good job of masking how uncomfortable he was with meeting this same farmer again. "Umm, good to see you, too. I did, after a while. I'm looking for the Tendo Dojo, now."
From within the shade of his hat, the man's eyes were twinkling. "Now, I don't rightly know any Tendos, but after the last time ya stopped by I went an' stuffed a map with landmarks to look for and clear written directions in my lunch pail. Thinkin' they're still there." He followed the statement up by reaching into a pack hanging from his tractor and rummaging around in it.
Suspicion flared up in Ranko from the content of the farmer's speech, and she turned to confront Ryoga with it. "Soooo," she began innocently. "It sounds like you get lost here lots."
Rather than responding to the implied question, the young man whose hand she was holding chuckled nervously and tried looking anywhere but at her. After a moment, he pointed up at the sky with his free hand and stuttered out, "Oh, hey! Doesn't that cloud look like a..." The momentary hesitation could have been missed by most people, but Ranko had heard it before, if certainly never from Ryoga. She was not, therefore, floored when he finished the exclamation with a perfectly serious, "distraction?"
The cloud in question might also have been likened to cotton candy, a sheep badly in need of shearing, or a big pile of cotton balls. Against her will, the blonde persocom found herself doubled over laughing at the way the lost boy had barrelled through his great fumble, which only intensified when he gave her a sour look. A few wiped-away tears and a cursory survey of the sky revealed the extent, and source, of his blunder.
Feeling once-again at ease with her directionally-challenged escort, Ranko took his hand in hers once more and ever so gently rotated his arm to point at a different cloud. Even while Ryoga's face was turning red, the smaller girl was explaining between gasps for breath. "I guess ya meant to point at the one that looks like a mean-spirited washer-woman ladling water from her bucket, but got 'turned around'?
Ryoga hung his head, and mumbled out, "guilty as charged." He lifted his eyes from the ground after a moment, and put on a weak grin. "Bad way to distract you from my way with ways, huh?"
"Yeah," she agreed easily, "but you're way more slick with words than I-"
"Found it!" The farmer interrupted, waving around a notepad and crumpled road-map.
"Were you about to compliment me?" A startled Ryoga asked.
Ranko turned her head to interpose an absurd mass of hair between the two of them. She was feeling acutely embarrassed by the prospect. "It was gonna be a backhanded one," the flustered machine offered as excuse. 'Saying nice things about Ryoga – to Ryoga, even? Low power mode must be like being sick.' The farmer's completed approach spared her further introspection on the topic.
The older, tanned man thrust his directional aids into Ryoga's chest, and explained himself boisterously. "Sorry son, it has been a while since ya stopped by. Hope it ain't a problem as the written directions'll only get ya t'the station; didn't have all day when I made it. Think you'll manage?"
Daring to peek at the pad the older boy was leafing through, Ranko was dumbstruck by the thoroughness of it. There were instructions on how to tell which direction was not left, and descriptions of how to navigate curves and altered elevations as they arose. 'This is the nicest guy in the world,' she thought, then quickly added a less flattering observation. 'Ryoga's gonna disappoint the hell out of him.'
In a sudden act of good will, the persocom snatched the pad from Ryoga's hands and started scanning it to commit the real directions – ones people with a working sense of direction would use – to memory. It was a bit disheartening to recognize that the entire notepad had been exhausted in describing a path with exactly five turns. Time was running out, though, so Ranko bowed cutely to the kindly farmer. "Thanks a bunch, mister! I'll see that we get there, and not Tanzania or some other stupid place."
For his part, the farmer let loose another great belly laugh, before addressing Ryoga again. "Quite the cutie you picked up, lad. What'd she cost you?"
Ryoga looked confused by the question for a few seconds, when understanding dawned on him. He ran a hand through his hair as he awkwardly responded, "well, just my pride, I guess."
The tanned man looked Ranko up and down, and then shook his head. "Obviously had way too much of the stuff cluttering up your life. Now shoo! I want to get back to my wife in time for supper." The farmer affected a rough demeanour as he stomped back to his tractor, which left the blonde choking back more laughter.
The lost boy had a weird look on his face, 'thoughtful', she amended, but he was dumb like that. A weak – her current power profile didn't allow better – nudge to his ribs that he only acknowledged due to seeing it brought Ryoga out of his reverie, whereupon she stowed the notepad in his right hand. His left still safely secured, they started walking the painfully straightforward path to what would once more be her home.
"Wait! Don't you want to check your directions with the notes?" Ryoga asked.
"The instructions were incredibly complex!"
Ranko cut off her companion's plea with exaggerated eye-rolling. "I ain't lost, okay? Now tell me about the school you're goin' to so you're distracted while I ignore you and get us to the Dojo."
After a moment of half-hearted protest, they both followed her plan.
Even before the train station was in sight, Ranko was made aware of it by a resurgence of energy sparking into her. Back on the grid power saving mode was disabled and, she presumed, she was free to waste as much as she wished. It helped the petite persocom to better display her equanimity; she had been a bit less generous with Ryoga than she felt she normally would have been, moron or no. 'Guess we were friends,' Ranko mused. 'The kind that don't get along, at all, but always wind up in trouble together.'
'Do we still have to do that?' A second line of thinking interrupted the first. Aside from his very manageable – and sort of sad – lack of direction sense, he had been almost decent. 'The pervert said I should do familiar things, with familiar people, in familiar places, but do I gotta have everything be the same way? Two years is a damned long time, and I'm pretty sure I didn't used to be a computer; I couldn't make everything be the same even if I wanted to!' A nudge to her one-time enemy/hostile friend's ribs at the ticket dispenser let him know that, yes, the ride back into town was his treat. He grumbled at the treatment, but didn't voice any real complaint. Ranko was too deep in contemplation to afford it serious attention, anyway.
'But,' she reasoned, 'I could make things like I want them to be, or at least try for that.' The possibility of having another chance to build her relationships with everyone she knew was somewhat intoxicating. While they waited at the terminal, the persocom looked up at Ryoga. 'I could start with him. Do I want to? I mean, as long as I lead him by the hand, he's pretty much stuck doin' what I want 'im to do.' Her vision tracked down, and she wrinkled her nose. 'Alright, and dress him so I'm not embarrassed when we're hangin' out.'
Ryoga himself cut Ranko's assessment of the terms of their friendship short by squeezing her hand. The pressure was gentle, but insistent. She looked back up and cocked her head. "Hmm?"
"Everyone's looking at us, Ranko. Wouldn't you rather..." The lost boy's suggestion died off, but he was pulling at his collar in clear discomfort. A casual glance about the platform revealed that, yes, most everyone else was at least taking sideways glances at the two of them. The envy was palpable, and Ranko knew exactly how to deal with that.
She proceeded to make the situation worse by pressing herself against Ryoga's side affectionately. The close contact was accompanied by a bizarre, almost shocking sensation, but she pushed it down for the sake of taunting dozens of perfect strangers. 'And hey,' she thought, 'no way can any boy take offence to being teased like this.' She was rewarded by widened eyes all around and the bandana-clad youth standing stock-still.
"It's 'cuz they're jealous." Ranko explained, letting the boy in on what manner of mischief they were engaged in. "They noticed you were the luckiest guy in the world."
By the time their train arrived, she had become comfortable with her human support-beam. He, by comparison, had lost all colour in his face and more stumbled than walked aboard.
Between the hour and location they boarded, the teenager and robot-girl had no trouble finding seats for their trip towards the sprawling expanse of Tokyo. The approach felt different early in the afternoon. Usually she'd be making her way back from the beach in the evening, or from farther afield late at night. At the present hour, nothing looked the same.
Despite that it made everything feel cool enough to warrant a sweater, Ranko released Ryoga as the surroundings became denser and more urban. Rubbing her arms seemed to help, at least. "Say, pal, what's the address so I know where to stop?"
The lost boy gave her a dazed and uncomprehending look for a moment, before recognizing the request. "Uhh..." he prevaricated, a bead of sweat forming on his forehead."I think it's close to Nerima. No. It's in Nerima."
Ranko hoped that a vein was throbbing on her forehead, and given how thorough the mad scientist who built her body had been, it was hardly out of the question. Disappointment was awful. "I didn't ask which Ward it was in. I knew that from earlier." Her words were clipped. She could tellwhat was about to happen, but for some reason couldn't stop herself. "You have no fucking clue where the Tendo Dojo is, do you?"
"I get there just fine!" Ryoga declared heatedly. Then, deflating, elaborated. "Eventually. Usually in a couple days. Nabiki brings me there now so I forgot how long it took on my own!" Something about the way he spoke the middle Tendo sister's name sparked a recollection of fear and shame in the persocom. Nothing at all about someone feeling that way when referring to her supposed cousin was unexpected or unusual.
'Maybe my whole family is weird,' Ranko considered, even as she stopped herself from going for the throat and getting more information at the expense of the lost boy's dwindling self-esteem.
Conversationally, the asked, "and how do we get in touch with my mercenary cousin?" She hoped poking fun at someone else's character flaws would help lighten the mood; it was imperative to never let it grow too heavy around Ryoga.
Looking and sounding more than a little harried, the boy flashed a strained, fanged smile her way. "Just let me find her address, OK? Don't look!"
"Sure!" Ranko lied brightly, hiding her prying eyes behind her hands. When Ryoga fished a business card out of the front pocket of his backpack and started reading it, she was already snaking her way under his arm to get a look at the card. Her technique was not so circumspect as to prevent the young man from yelping and snapping the card away, then holding it off to his side so that she could not read it. 'Wouldn't be a fun game if I won before he got to play.'
Twisting herself up into the lost boy's lap, Ranko made a grab for the objective of their game, but was foiled when Ryoga straightened his legs and bent his spine over the chair he'd sat in. The business card was now held near the ground in the seats behind them, startling the passengers there. "Give it a rest Ran-"
"Too slow!" The blonde cut off the demand by vaulting off her opponent's face to slip a foot through a hand-hold and nab the card while dangling inverted there. The passenger who'd been behind Ryoga was practically seated atop his neighbour to avoid getting involved, and looking around with hope that the train's staff would intervene.
Snapping straight like a rubber band, Ryoga foiled the theft by launching himself into an acrobatic flip forward and away from their seats, rotating so that the card was impossible to read. "You aren't going to get this!" He cried. Not one to accept that sort of negativity, Ranko swung herself into the air after him, hair trailing along the ground and shooting rocks off in a wave before her.
"My aquarium!" was the actual scream that decided the conflict.
The fang-toothed boy's eyes bugged out to ridiculous proportions, and he arrested his momentum by thrusting his fingers through the ceiling, then tucking and swinging his legs through his arms. Not wanting to get soaked either, Ranko pushed herself lightly off the ceiling and landed kneeling atop Ryoga's thighs and face. Somehow, it felt right to be perched atop Ryoga, and images flashed in her mind of innumerable instances of looking on the world from that advantaged vantage point. 'Could his head be flat?'
The blonde cheerfully gushed out a quick, "Thanks, bud! Great muscle control by the way." And, with perfect aplomb, she pried the card out from her suspended seat's fingers and read at her leisure.
Thank you for finding my little lost piggy
Please return to Summer View Apartment Room 203
or contact me at nabiki at tendodojo dot com
A reward will be granted in appreciation
Ranko let out a long, appreciative whistle. "I'm impressed Ryoga. Nabs could've been much meaner. How'd you get on her good side?" A pregnant pause followed, wherein the young man she was sitting on made no response, and the other occupants of the train tried valiantly to avoid gawking at the two of them. Clucking her tongue, the persocom leaned forward to address the owner of the aquarium, a middle-aged woman with a bun and nice-looking, bright, casual clothes. "Do you got some fancy portable e-mail thing?"
All at once the woman nodded dazedly and Ryoga let loose a weary groan. Then the boy's body went limp, fingers coming free of the ceiling and legs bending past his head. There was only a fraction of a second between his head and back colliding with the ground, and Ranko's backside colliding with his face, at which the boy gurgled wetly and the persocom shrieked and took to her feet, shuddering and going crimson all over due to the sudden heat and moisture.
She almost turned to yell at Ryoga, but decided it would be less embarrassing not to, given that, aside from twin streamers of blood dribbling from his nose, his face was marked with a fine impression-in-blood of her butt. Smoothing down her skirts, the blonde girl pleaded, 'please let me get a change of underwear before these get too gross and sticky. Why couldn't the stupid jerk have had boxers in his stupid doll's stupid closet?' Thinking quickly, she used one bare foot to smear the blood on her passed-out companion's face into a less suggestive pattern. It hardly interrupted his breathing at all when she went to his nose for spare 'paint'. The amount of obvious gawking had only increased, to which she laughed helplessly and weakly asked the woman with the aquarium, which she now noted was filled with snails, "so... uh... do you?"
Wordlessly, the woman fished into her pocket and gave a tiny hermit-crab-girl hybrid looking thing to Ranko. Blinking owlishly at the high-tech contraption, she decided two years was enough that technology would just do what she said and commanded, "send a message to Nabiki at ."
Conveniently, Nabiki seemed to be Online, if in 'Busy' status.
"Tendo Nabiki is Online, but Busy," the weird hybrid thing chirped a moment later, jaw dropping and closing mechanically, out of sync with her speech. "Is the matter urgent, or relating to her work?"
The awareness of the prompts the little device was responding to, paired with its vocalization of them, proved to be too bizarre, and Ranko tossed the thing back to its owner. By way of explanation, she rapped her knuckles on her forehead and said lamely, "totally forgot, thanks, though!"
Since, yes, her message was more important than whatever scam the middle Tendo sister was running, the persocom easily answered yes to that prompt, and sent her message. It was as simple as talking, but without moving her lips. ||What's up Nabs? Found P-chan, your 'little piggy'. Figured it's been a while so we could meet up, maybe have ya take me to the Dojo to say hi to everyone after such a long time. Sound good? Lemme know what station to get off at and how to get to ya, we're already on the way.||
Seeing as the snails weren't using much of it, Ranko proceeded to lift the aquarium's lid and get a handful to wash some blood off her foot, then did the same with Ryoga's face.
Only instead of getting a clean face, he became a black piglet, which was normal for him, and caused the business card to make a million times more sense. She picked up the piglet and the clothes that no longer fit it, then returned to her seat, reasoning that if she pretended nothing at all had happened, the people whose job it was to kick off troublemakers would also pretend nothing at all had happened.
||Get over here. Now.|| Nabiki's brusque reply came through, and was followed by a link to a map showing the route to her apartment from the nearest station.
'Convenient. Wonder how she likes livin' on her own?' Ranko considered, and then was made to consider something less convenient. Making a huge ruckus and then ceasing to make any at all is more likely to prompt officials to act immediately than just continuously making a huge ruckus. Also, it had started raining out, so just as well Ryoga went pig when he did. Shoving the travel clothes in the boy's backpack, and tying his porcine form to a handle strap with some strips of leather, the computer-girl was ready to begin a long journey on foot to Nabiki's home.
It had been a very long time since the streets of Nerima had been graced with the sight of a petite girl charging down its streets and performing vigorous acrobatics with sodden clothes and a massive backpack, ranting all the while. There were differences, to be sure, and there hadn't been a dazed, drowning black piglet flying behind her like a kite. All the same, the ward's residents all swiftly bustled inside and closed their blinds before some other ridiculous thing came along and complicated the already bizarre scene. Being told to mind one's own business by a panda once is enough for most lifetimes.
Author's Note: Well! This took forever again, but in my (poor) defense I have been moving. Now that I am settled in, I have high hopes that I will be able to do a little more work. Sadly, it looks like A Prince's Duty is in line to get two chapters before another one shows up for this story, simply based on the number of not-quite-complete scenes I have worked on for both.
I hope that you enjoy this one, though, and please leave a review!