The bell over the door to the Cat Café jangled pleasantly as Ranma strode in, hauling Akane behind him and Ryoga followed at a more sedate pace. A few customers were eating in various booths and at tables but none of the proprietors of the ramen house were present. Ranma could feel his teeth grind as his eyes scanned the restaurant and his grip on Akane's hand tightened.
"Ow Ranma…" Akane murmured, twisting her hand in his a bit.
Ranma immediately loosened his grip and frowned down as her brown eyes peered up at him. "Sorry. Let's go find Shampoo." He gave her a strained smile and she returned it tentatively but when she turned to reach out to Ryoga, the smile fell from his face. In a chain of three, Ranma led them past the counter where food was prepared and into the back. They passed the pantry filled with dried goods and a walk-in freezer. They made it to the stairs where Shampoo, Cologne and Mousse had rooms above the restaurant and as they began to climb, they could hear a racket coming from a door left open a crack.
It was Cologne's room, filled with ancient Chinese texts, objects and curios. Shampoo was rummaging through books and muttering in Chinese while Mousse was quacking and rattling around the little bird cage he had been stuffed into.
"Shampoo!" Ranma snapped out as he pushed the door the rest of the way in. Shampoo startled, trying to hide the evidence behind her back as she spun around.
"Airen!" She cooed and sprung at him, latching onto Ranma, and nuzzling him affectionately.
Ranma tried to extract himself in frustration. "What're you up to now?" He asked gruffly, grabbing her upper arms, and pushing her a step back.
Shampoo gave him a sultry look and tried to act innocent. "Shampoo not up to anything." She said, batting her eyes, leaning towards him against the grip he maintained on her upper arms.
"Then what's wrong with Akane?" Ranma jerked his thumb over his shoulder where Akane was clinging to Ryoga's arm and watching the scene unfold. "And Mousse for that matter."
The duck in the cage had adjusted his glasses at the intrusion and had redoubled his efforts to escape when he saw the three people in the doorway, or rather, at least one person in the doorway.
"Nothing wrong with stupid Mousse." Shampoo said dismissively before peering around Ranma and looking to Ryoga and Akane. "Nothing wrong with clumsy girl. She just want lost-boy, not Shampoo husband." Shampoo said with a shrug, not seeing the problem.
Ranma's jaw ground and his eyebrow ticked as he closed his eyes and willed himself patience. "Akane does not want Ryoga." He said sternly.
"Look like it to Shampoo." She said, pointing behind Ranma.
Akane was now wrapped in Ryoga's embrace, staring up at him wistfully while Ryoga's face turned crimson and then panicked as Ranma turned his attention to them. Ryoga held out a hand to try to fend off Ranma's anger and the next thing he knew, he was flying through the air and crashing into the bird cage, freeing Mousse in duck form and allowing him to cling affectionately to Ryoga.
"This is not normal!" Ranma shouted, losing his patience.
"Ryoga!" Akane had cried as he was tossed across the room, but Ranma blocked her way to him.
"Shampoo don't know-" she was cut off by a livid Ranma.
"I think you do know!" He pointed in her face, trying to restrain his anger. "Was it a cursed amulet? Another weird Amazon pill? What did you do to Akane?!" With each accusation, he shoved his finger in her face, making her flinch back.
Shampoo's temper flared right back at him. "Why Airen care?! Akane dump Ranma, she no want you anymore! Why it matter she want someone else? Now Ranma free to marry Shampoo and Akane no longer is obstacle for killing!"
Ranma vibrated with anger but couldn't find the right words to express himself. Not that he owed Shampoo an explanation anyway. Finally he found something safe to say. "You can't force people together, it ain't right! Akane should get to choose who she loves."
"Ranma…" Akane said softly behind him, watching his strong back and listening to his kind words, a warm feeling filled her.
Ranma looked at the duck clinging to Ryoga's face as something occurred to him. "Akane, go get some hot water."
"But-" She began to protest, but Ranma looked over his shoulder at her with a strained expression.
"Please." He asked softly.
Akane stopped her protest and nodded. Even if her and Ranma were no longer finances, they were still friends. She left to retrieve some hot water from the kitchen below.
Ranma waited until she was down the stairs before turning to Shampoo again, his voice dangerously low. "It was a love potion, wasn't it?"
Shampoo blinked at him with wide eyes, surprised he had figured it out so quickly, but then she tried to deny it. "Shampoo not do anything-" she tried again, but Ranma was tired of her lies.
"Where's the old ghoul? She'll know the cure." Ranma asked, starting to turn around and follow through on his threat as he intended to find the Amazon Matriarch and make her give him some answers.
Shampoo visibly paled. Her great-grandmother had told her to stay out of her books. That love potions could be messy and dangerous and usually weren't worth it in the end. Cologne was going to kill her. She gulped and then pulled on a cheerful mask. "No need bother great-grandmother. Shampoo have cure right here." She pulled the book she had been reading out from behind her back.
Ranma lunged for it but Shampoo quickly pulled it out of reach. "If Ranma want, must go on date with Shampoo!"
Ranma was ready to pull his hair out. "I'm not goin' on a date with ya! This is all your fault in the first place! Just gimme the book!" He lunged again and they spent a few minutes grappling over the textbook before he was able to snatch it from her hands. He gave her a triumphant sneer and opened it to start flipping through pages when he realized something very important. "It's in Chinese!" he griped.
"Ranma should have been nicer to Shampoo." Shampoo huffed, a vindictive smile curling her full lips. "Now Ranma never find out what book say!"
Akane had come back with a kettle of hot water. She tapped Ranma on the shoulder and he turned to look down at her and her calm expression and had to take a deep breath. Akane didn't know about the love potion yet. She would be furious when she found out.
Akane waited patiently until Ranma relaxed his aggressive stance and allowed her to walk past him and Shampoo's eyes tracked her movements across the room to where the duck still clung to Ryoga, who had decided it was safest to remain forgotten in the corner. Akane poured the hot water over the duck and a naked Mousse took his place, clinging to Ryoga's side. Ryoga was trying to desperately remove the naked man from him and Ranma threw a robe at Mousse. Akane waited with eyes averted until Mousse was clothed and he and Ryoga had climbed to their feet.
"Mousse, wouldjya be able to translate this book?" Ranma asked.
"You just want the cure so you can have Ryoga all to yourself!" Mousse exclaimed in his overly dramatic fashion before Ryoga thumped him on top of the head with his fist.
"Knock it off and just do it!" Ryoga muttered, still blushing brightly from embarrassment.
"Of course my love!" Mousse instantly turned around and seized Ryoga's hand in his own. "Anything for you! Gah!" Ryoga had brought his fist down on top of the spectacled boy's head again. He was really starting to get creepy…
Mousse straightened up and adjusted his glasses before taking the book from Ranma. He flipped through until he found the correct page. "It looks like Shampoo used this variant of Love Potion on Akane and myself to make us fall in love with Ryoga." Mousse ground out with some resentment evident in his voice, his cheeks also red from embarrassment.
"Love potion!" Akane yelped.
Ranma winced and glanced at her guiltily as she brought a hand to her mouth and the color drained from her face. She stared searchingly at Ryoga who looked incredibly uncomfortable in the corner, blushing, and poking the tip of his pointer fingers together and avoiding eye contact.
"Surely Ryoga didn't have anything to do with this…" Akane defended weakly, feeling betrayed.
Mousse continued reading, "This spell required some simple ingredients, but the most important one is the sweat of the person you're supposed to fall in love with."
"Sweat huh?" Ranma asked dangerously, crossing his arms, and glaring at Ryoga. "Sure sounds like it was intentional to me."
Shampoo cursing Akane with a love potion made sense, but Ryoga? Given her feelings, artificial as they may be as it turned out, this betrayal had stung. "Is it true Ryoga?" She asked softly, her voice wounded as glistening brown eyes searched his face. Ranma had recently hurt her, she was hoping she could count on Ryoga to not do something equally hurtful. Apparently, she couldn't trust anyone.
"Oh, uh… well, um… you see…" Ryoga fumbled over his words, looking for something to not recriminate himself. It wasn't supposed to happen like this! He and Akane were supposed to get their happily ever after! Ryoga felt crushed by the shame of it all until he realized the crushing blow had actually been from Ranma jumping on his head in some sort of retribution for his stupidity.
Akane continued in that broken way, "You used a love potion on me? So… I don't really love you?" Her arms had curled around herself protectively, and she couldn't meet his eyes.
"But, but I-I-I… I really do love you!" Ryoga stammered as his world shattered.
"I-I…" She stammered as she backed towards the doorway, stumbled, and fell into the door frame. Ranma had approached her and reached out to catch and stabilize Akane, but she pulled away, shaking her head as tears glistened in her eyes. "I have to go." She choked out before turning to rush down the stairs hazardously, nearly blinded by tears as she used a wall to catch herself from her quick descent and then pushed off it to continue to desperate fleeing from the restaurant and the truth of what had been done to her this time.
Wanting to follow Akane, but knowing better, she wouldn't want him going after her, Ranma let her go. He turned back to Mousse with a clenched fist. "There's a cure, ain't there?"
Mousse adjusted his coke-bottle lenses and stared at the book in his hands. "There is."
"What're the ingredients?" He asked tersely.
Mousse's glasses glinted in the lamp light. "You should watch your tone, Saotome."
Ryoga massaged his forehead in frustration. "Just tell him." He muttered to Mousse in an exhausted voice.
"Of course my love!" Mousse called, instantly changing his tone and posture as Ryoga cringed and shuddered behind him. Mousse frowned shortly after, still not pleased with the sway Ryoga held over him.
He ran his finger down the page for a moment and then finally read aloud, "The flower of the purple hyacinth from Inoshishi Island, root of the Hydrilla plant in the Kurokadairu Swamp and the leaves of the Nepeta cataria superbia from Schizonepeta Valley. With these ingredients you need to brew a tea and those affected must drink of it to be cured."
"There's one thing you're forgetting." Came a voice that made everyone in the room cringe. Cologne stood balanced on top of her cane in the doorway, glaring at the teenagers clustered in her bedroom.
"Great Grandmother-" Shampoo started but Cologne held up a hand and Shampoo stopped speaking immediately.
Cologne spoke sharply in Chinese so her Granddaughter would understand and the others would not (Mousse didn't count in these matters, of course). "Did I not forbid you from these spells?" She hissed at Shampoo.
Shampoo answered in her native tongue. "But Grandmother, I didn't use it on Ranma, I used it on that stupid kitchen-wrecker so she would be distracted by another man and Ranma would finally give up on her."
"And what of Mu Tsu?"
"He-He got in the way. You know how clumsy that blind boy is."
"You disobeyed my orders. You have shamed our tribe by trifling with love potions. Love potions are beneath Amazon warriors." She took a long, deep breath and fixed ancient eyes on Shampoo. "You will be punished for this, rest assured." Then Cologne switched back to Japanese and addressed the boys in the room. "One thing you will not find in that recipe is the special tea pot needed to brew the tea in order for it to work."
"Old ghoul, where's the tea pot?" Ranma asked, feeling himself getting eager as things were finally starting to come together.
Cologne took a moment to glare at the arrogant young man but continued. "It was hidden in a cave and protected by the Kumo Oni or the Spider Demon."
"Spider demon?" Ryoga yelped.
"Indeed. The Spider Demon guards the tea pot in the Norowareta cave. Once you have collected all the ingredients and the tea pot, you can brew the tea and you must read the incantation on the side of the pot to activate the cure before drinking it."
"Do ya gotta a map?" Ranma asked, unperturbed at the mention of Spider Demons.
"I do. You three," she pointed at the three boys "will go and take Akane with you," Ranma let out an incoherent sound of protest and Cologne ignored him, continuing, "lest you lose the cure on your way home." She told them with narrowed eyes, aware of their track record.
"Fine." Ranma muttered through gritted teeth. Ever since their adventure in China, Ranma wasn't too keen on the idea of having Akane along for another possibly dangerous adventure.
"What about Shampoo?" Shampoo asked, looking eager.
"You have done enough and will stay here, covering Mousse's shifts in the café." Cologne said coldly.
"But-!" She burst before Cologne turned her ancient glare on her and Shampoo's mouth shut with an audible click, and she glared at the floor in defeat.
Cologne hopped into the room atop her staff and up to a shelf filled with scrolls. She pulled one out and offered it to Ranma. "Take this son-in-law. You'll be needing it."
Ranma unrolled it to reveal a map and he quickly rerolled it and tucked it into the security of his red silk shirt. He looked to Mousse who was standing uncomfortably close to Ryoga and nodded to them. "Get packed, we'll leave in the morning."
"What about Akane?" Ryoga asked.
"I'll get her. She may not want to see you right now."
At Ranma's harsh words, Ryoga hung his head, falling into a dark depression; the air around him growing heavy and dark.
Sarahplainntall here! Thanks for sticking with me so far! Big shout out to my reviewers, Allimtry-I'm so glad you're enjoying the writing. Angst is what I aim for, especially with these lovable idiots! Your review truly made me smile. Sikkiwo, Nikichan thank you for your continued support! Flameraven, glad you enjoyed the duck Mousse snuggling; plenty more where that came from! And CuteClau, glad you're enjoying the Mousse/Ryoga twist! You always get more than you were expecting when you play with magic! Glad everyone seems to be enjoying so far! Share your thoughts, feelings, etc, I look forward to hearing from you.