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A Ranma ½ / Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon / Ah! My Goddess crossover story
by L. S. McGill

Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 characters property of Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Sailor Moon characters property of Takeuchi Naoko, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC. Ah! My Goddess property of Fujishima Kosuke, Kodansha, TBS and KSS films; AnimEigo, Studio Proteus, and Dark Horse Comics. Other characters who may cameo are property of respective owners.  All are used without permission. I did not write this for profit, but for practice. Will be removed at request of original creators or authorized rep.

Zhu Shu (who shoo), Tao-Ching, Xi'an Chi (zy-an chee), and Clans' Dragon and Skorpion are mine, and may be used so long as I am asked beforehand.

Book One: The Mandarin

Chapter Four: Catalyst

Kasumi had to douse Ranma with a glass of water to get him to stop staring blankly out the door after the vanished Zhu Shu. He blinked at Kasumi as the taller girl handed him the tea tray. "Why don't you take this and share a cup of tea with Akane?" Kasumi smiled, faint color still in her cheeks. "And I put an extra cup in case your friend comes back."

Ranma nodded, still too shocked to speak. He took the tray into the dining room and sat down next to Akane, who was also staring out the door the way Zhu Shu had gone. "W-what did she do in there?" Akane asked. "I-I heard part of your argument. Did she say she thought I was cute?

Ranma nodded. Akane looked at him wide-eyed, then looked down. "I-I heard what she made you promise…"

Ranma looked down and scratched his head. "Uh… Yeah."

"Are… Do you… do you really judge how I act against her?" Akane asked, looking down at her feet.

Ranma scratched the back of his head as he gave a sheepish grin. "Uh… I really hadn't thought about it like that, but I guess so. Zhu Shu's, like, the most female girl I know. I didn't mean to."

"Who is she, Ranma?" Akane looked up with something pleading in her eyes.

Ranma shrugged. "I… dunno. I would have said my best friend in the world a few minutes ago. Now…?" he trailed off.

Now? Now maybe she was someone he'd hurt really badly without meaning to. He felt miserable. He wished he knew what that scene in the kitchen had been about. Was Zhu Shu really happy that he and Akane were engaged? She had been trying to get Ranma and Akane to stop fighting in the garden. And he had to admit that this was the least angry he had seen Akane since that first day. But what of Zhu Shu?

Did she really like girls? Or had she just tried to pull a stunt to drive him away and hide her own heartbreak? Had she come from China because she thought they were more than friends? She'd said she'd taught him because she wanted him to stay a girl. Had she meant it?

Akane was still looking at him. He didn't know what to say. Then, something caught his eye.

From the tree next to the Koi pond a single petal from a cherry blossom floated down to land on the water. Then another followed it. And, like clockwork, a third. It took him a second to tag what his subconscious was telling him.

It wasn't a cherry tree. That was way across the garden.

Suddenly, he knew what he had to do. Zhu Shu was waiting for him to tell Akane about her, to let Akane know about their friendship, and Akane was waiting for the same thing. He nodded as he realized it was a point of honor. Akane deserved the truth.

"Akane," he said quietly. "Zhu Shu is the girl who taught me all I know about being a female, little as that is." Ranma laughed ruefully. "I met her the day I was cursed. She came storming into the Guide's hut and wanted to know what kind of repayment Pops was going to make to her for knocking her into a Jusenkyo pool. They went outside to talk about it, and when they were done, Pops told me we were gonna escort her to the next village as payment." Ranma poured the tea for them both, surprised that Akane was being so attentive and quite.

Cherry blossom petals were still falling.

Ranma continued. "After lunch, we sparred some, and she made me feel like I was a friend, not a rival. No one's ever done that before… except you, that first day." Akane smiled behind her teacup at that. "I kinda thought she'd laugh at me when I was helping her dry the dishes after dinner and Pops knocked over the bucket on me, but she just made him mop it up and scolded him. Then that night, when I started to bleed all over the place, she had not a single unkind word, and even told Pops to go back to bed. She helped me clean up, and made a tea to help with the cramps… but she wouldn't allow me to change to boy again." She sighed. "Actually, she shamed me into staying female. I mean, if she could deal with it, I could, right? She has to live with it all the time."

Akane was still drinking her tea and listening quietly. It was still so odd and un-Akane-ish. She'd never acted like this before…

It never occurred to him that he'd also never actually talked to Akane either, instead of insulting or belittling her.

Kasumi wandered through the room with some laundry, saw the two of them, and smiled as she exited.

"Anyway, she lent me some female underwear and a pad, and her tea knocked me right out, and the next thing I know, it's dawn and I see Zhu Shu heading out the door to do her morning kata. I thought I should go and maybe apologize to her for getting mad at her about not letting me change, so I… uh… followed her…" Ranma trailed off, blushing at the memory.

Akane caught the blush. "What? Something more embarrassing than a boy having a period?!!" She giggled. "Whatcha do, catch her naked?"

Ranma started and blushed brighter. Akane laughed. "Oho! So I'm not the first girl you've spied on!" She smiled even wider at Ranma's confusion. "Well, I already knew you were a letch. On with the story!"

Ranma blustered. "Hey—" but Akane put her finger on his lips.

"Hush! I'm only teasing." Further confusion was evident on Ranma's face, so she continued, "I'm not mad. Really. I was expecting it sooner or later, with your luck. Go on. I want to hear the rest."

Ranma nodded, still looking dubious. "Uh… yeah… well… I found Zhu Shu doing her kata by the bathing pool out back, and… Well… she was doing them nude… I-I kinda sorta froze in shock…."

"Um hmm, I see." Akane poured them some fresh tea. "So. What did she look like?"

"What?" Ranma asked shocked. "Y-you want to know what she looked like naked?"

"No, silly. What did she look like doing her kata? I can imagine what she looks like naked!" She giggled again at Ranma's bewildered look.

"Uh… right! Well… she moves like flowing water. I mean, even in slow motion she's so smooth that it's like watching liquid. I've never seen anyone move like she does, like every action is part of a dance. It's so incredibly beautiful it's almost painful to watch. I don't think I took a breath the entire time." Ranma shook himself out of the memory and hung his head. "And she made me so incredibly jealous. Watching her, I would have sold my soul to have her grace, her beauty…."

Akane knew that feeling well. It wasn't easy having Kasumi as an older sister… but she held her peace. Zhu Shu's appearance had seemed to spark something inside of Ranma that she'd never seen, and more than anything, she didn't want it hidden again. Not yet…

"Then I had to breathe and I broke the spell." Ranma sighed. "She turned and her eyes met mine, and I saw something I'd never seen before…" Ranma sipped his tea as out by the Koi pond, the steady fall of petals ceased. Outside the door, Kasumi intercepted Nabiki before she could open it, then sent her father and Genma out to get dinner. Inside the room, Ranma was staring off into space and saw none of it.

Akane scooted over to lean against Ranma, not caring that they were both female. "So what was it you saw?"

"I… I don't know. I mean, I've fought all kinds of people, and I know a challenging look well enough, but this was different. I mean, it was a challenging look, but it wasn't at the same time, ya know… It…" he trailed off, unable to find the words. He stared fixedly at the tea tray, oblivious to the scene that had unfolded before Akane.

The garden had disappeared, and been replaced by a small clearing behind a primitive hut. In that clearing stood a female Ranma, wearing only a tee shirt and shorts, watching a nude Zhu Shu finish her forms and turn to look at him.

"Then she laughed and asked me to come take a bath with her, and did a back flip into the pool," Ranma continued as Akane watched the scene playing outside, showing her everything Ranma described about Zhu Shu's lesson.

She really couldn't be angry, or even jealous. Zhu Shu had tried to do in an hour what Akane's mother had spent years doing before she died. She'd been direct, she'd been blunt, and had done things that Akane would have died of embarrassment trying, but she'd gotten her lessons across, and Ranma would never forget what she'd taught her. She could no more be upset at Zhu Shu's methods than she would have been had her mother or Kasumi done the same thing. Ranma had needed to know what Zhu Shu had shown him.

And as the scene faded, she realized that that was exactly what Zhu Shu was trying to tell her. She looked to the Chinese girl standing on a rock next to the Koi pond, a strained and exhausted look on her face, and nodded that she understood. Zhu Shu gave her a smile as bright as the sun, then blurred and disappeared as Ranma continued.

"After that, we were kinda best friends, ya know? We spent hours talking over the next five days until we got to the next village, and… Well… I kinda got into a little trouble and left in a hurry, so I didn't get to say goodbye. I regretted that, but Pop said it was where she was going anyway. I should have known better."

"So. She was a friend when you really needed one, huh?"

"Yeah… and tonight, I would have done anything, but I made her mad. I mean, I've never ever seen her upset before. She's always been so calm about everything. Even when she told Pop that if she wasn't satisfied with her payment, she would carve it out of him! And to have her go off on me because of how I treat you?"

Akane gave her a sidelong look, but decided to let it go this time. "Just what did she do in the kitchen?"

"Um… She kissed Kasumi."

"That's all? Here I thought it was something massive."

"Umm… No. I mean, she kissed Kasumi… Like in the movies. Long romantic type kiss…."

Just then, Kasumi wandered through the room, whistling happily. "Oh, dinner will be here soon. I asked Father to get takeout." She wandered into the kitchen, still humming.

Akane double-blinked after her. "Uh… And then?"

"She threatened to steal you if I didn't shape up."

Akane turned huge eyes towards Ranma. "And do you think she could?"

Ranma wouldn't meet her gaze. "Akane… If there is one thing I do believe about Zhu Shu, it's that if she is serious about liking girls, and she sets her sights on you…" the way he trailed off told Akane all she needed to know. If it came down to it, Ranma believed he'd already lost.

After dinner, as Ranma went to take a bath, Akane got Kasumi to make up an extra plate and took it out to the tree next to the pond.

"Would you like some sukiyaki?" she called up into the branches. Without a rustle, Zhu Shu blurred into existence before her.

"Yes, thank you. Zhu Shu very hungry. Revealing Mind's Eye take much energy."

Akane sat the tray down on the bench and handed Zhu Shu one of the pillows she had brought, sitting on the other herself. She took a deep breath.

"I-I wanted to thank you."

"Why for? Zhu Shu only do what need done. Akane no need be jealous of Zhu Shu. Ranma make very clear to her that he only her friend." The Chinese girl looked Akane over. "Zhu Shu want Akane and Ranma be happy. Make life easier."

"Huh? I don't get you."

Zhu Shu looked at her critically. "Let Zhu Shu ask this. Does Akane love him?"

"That egotistical, arrogant, self-righteous—" She broke off as Zhu Shu's finger pressed her lips.

"Not ask for description. Ask if love."

Akane looked away. "I… don't know."

Zhu Shu nodded. "Is first problem." She reached out and cupped Akane's face in her hand and made her look into her eyes. "Zhu Shu watch last few days. See how look when not think Ranma see. See how much hurt by thoughtless comment made. Ranma idiot in Way of Heart, but Zhu Shu not. Zhu Shu see that head must admit what heart feel. Forget anger, forget insults, and forget taunts. Remember kiss. Remember feel of being snuggled to side, of laughter, of heart revealed. Remember how felt when listen to talk. Of Ranma behind mask shows world. Ask self if love."

Akane couldn't meet her eyes any longer and turned away. Zhu Shu sighed and continued eating. "Zhu Shu sees still much work needed."

Silence reigned for a long while before Akane spoke again. "W-w-were you serious?" she asked in a small voice.

Zhu Shu debated for a long while before nodding. "Zhu Shu on quest to find husband. Must find husband to fulfill Family Duties." She sat the empty plate back on the tray, then knelt in front of Akane. "Zhu Shu must marry to have children. Is last of Clan. Must bear heir. But, yes, Zhu Shu no like men. Zhu Shu think maybe Ranma could make happy, be both what Zhu Shu need and what she desire. Travel with to see. Ranma be good friend, but…" She nodded her head sadly. "Ranma not what Zhu Shu heart want, and he see only friend. No. Zhu Shu not serious. Ranma can be fool, but Zhu Shu see truth. Akane can be jewel beyond price, if can learn to control impulses. If Ranma too much fool to see to see beyond surface…." She trailed off, caught between desire and family honor.

But the wide-eyed look Akane gave her let her know she had understood the unspoken feelings, and more, that she wasn't repulsed by it. Zhu Shu had to look away from her beautiful eyes. She sighed as she resumed her seat on the pillow.

If she wasn't constrained by family duty, she would indeed have meant the threat. But even though she had made the threat for Ranma's sake, he would be a fool not to take it seriously. He might take what he considered his for granted, even act as if he didn't want it, but maybe the threat of its loss would show him how much it really meant to him. He'd fight ever so much harder for Akane if he thought he had some competition. Then, once he was firmly attached, it would be time to bring Shan Pu in and introduce her to her future sister-wife…

Zhu Shu was determined to see her friends happy, whatever it took. If Ranma wouldn't be happy without Akane, and Shan Pu wouldn't be happy without Ranma, then that's how it had to be. Akane would eventually have to accept Shan Pu as her sister in marriage to Ranma, whatever it took. Only time would tell if revealing her secret shame had been worth it, if it had planted the seeds in Akane she had hoped it would. It was so hard to read the Japanese girl through all the walls she had built against heartache, but hopefully, the sign she thought she had seen that Akane wouldn't reject a female suitor instinctively was accurate. She gave Akane a sidelong look and sighed again mentally. Why couldn't Ranma see what he had?

Zhu Shu gathered up the tray while Akane sat and stared off into space, thinking. She nodded her head sadly as she headed for the dining room door, for what duty would never allow. Perhaps Ranma wasn't the only fool.

She bowed to Kasumi as she entered the kitchen to return the tray. "Many thanks. Zhu Shu honored would feed after actions. Must beg forgiveness for rudeness."

Kasumi beamed and bowed back. "You have no need to ask forgiveness. I did not take offense. I agree with the intent of the action, and I am most pleased with the result," she said formally. She smiled wider, and said less formally, "Just give me warning next time you kiss me so I can put down my mop!" She blushed and one hand came up to her lips. "Oh my! I can't believe I just said that!"

Zhu Shu wasn't listening. The relief she felt that Kasumi wasn't angry with her combined with the emotional stresses and the drain of holding her illusion so long caught up with her, and she could no longer fight the wave of exhaustion….

Kasumi caught her as she fell and called for the others. Akane, Ranma, and Nabiki arrived to find Kasumi cradling Zhu Shu's head on her lap and stroking her hair.

"She's all right," she told a worried Ranma. "She's just exhausted all her ki. She just needs sleep is all. Poor dear." She got Ranma to pick the small girl up and move her to a guest room before chasing everyone out so she could tuck her in. Carefully undressing her, so as not to wake the Chinese girl, Kasumi was surprised to note the ornate metallic gold and scarlet imperial dragon tattoo that coiled down her back. She thought it was funny that Ranma had not mentioned such a distinctive mark when he had described Zhu Shu to Akane. She shrugged, if Zhu Shu wanted to tell her about it, she would. She tucked the sheets around the exhausted girl and gathered up her few clothes to wash.

Outside the window, Mara watched as Kasumi closed the door to Zhu Shu's room. "Dammit!" she muttered. That hadn't gone at all like she had planned! Zhu Shu was supposed to cause trouble by telling Ranma about his other fiancée. What the hell was she doing helping him out with this one? She rolled her eyes disgustedly. "Mortals! You just can't trust them!" She was about to fly off when Zhu Shu turned over and the covers slipped off one shoulder to reveal the dragon, its eyes seemingly watching her.

"Wha—" Mara stared. "I know she didn't have that yesterday!" She considered for a long moment, unnerved by the Dragon's eyes upon her. "This is going to take some research." She said finally. With a last look at the dragon gleaming in the moonlight, she turned and flew off.

Ke Lun shook her head sadly. "It is unfortunate, Shi. Had she been Amazon…"

Shi sighed. "She isn't, Ke Lun. She's the last of the Clan. I know she's not going to be happy with anyone she finds, but she has no choice. Much as I disliked it, I allowed my daughter to arrange a marriage to the only boy in the village with a pure enough bloodline. I could have straightened Sung Li out in a year or two."

Ke Lun shook her head. "From what I learned of my adopted great-granddaughter, you may not have had the time. There is a streak of despair in her that she hides well, but it may break her before you can correct the boy."

Shi looked away, shadows in his eyes. "I know. I fear very much that it is my fault."

Ke Lun raised an eyebrow. "How so?"

Shi shook his head. "I am not perfect, Ke Lun. I make mistakes. I foolishly allowed my daughter to bully Zhu Shu about her desires and drive the family of Fei from our village. Zhu Shu… has never been the same since." He sighed heavily then squared his shoulders. "Age does not always wisdom grant. And duty must be done. What happened, happened. I must ensure the Clan's survival. Zhu Shu's happiness comes second."

Ke Lun shook her head sadly. "You have grown colder than I remember, Shi. You were never so… driven."

"Perhaps if I had been, my Clan would not have been nearly destroyed. I trusted the Musk, trusted Clove. She betrayed us, destroyed my Clan with her jealousy. She was waiting for us at the escape tunnel, gloating. I had to kill her guard."

Ke Lun nodded. "I had wondered. Did you slay her?"

Shi looked at her in surprise. "No. I chased her after slaying her soldiers, but she escaped me, and I had to ensure my family's survival."

Ke Lun sighed as she shook her head. "It would have been better if you had."

Shi nodded. "Would that I had listened to you to begin with."

Ke Lun shrugged. "We cannot change the past, old friend. But maybe we can ensure a future."

Shi was happy enough to toast that. "Agreed."

Ke Lun put her tea cup down and stood to look out the pagoda window onto the village that filled the cavern. "Still, Shi, I have to ask: if you were so determined to keep Zhu Shu safe, why did you let her go on her quest?"

Shi stared down into his cup for a long moment before answering. "I had no choice, Ke Lun. For all my skill and power, I am still a man. I cannot go against the dictates of a God. I let her go because I was told to."

Ke Lun had no answer for that.

Morning at the Tendo Dojo. Ranma beating the tar out of his dad, who had a hangover. Nabiki watching them from the dining room, figuring odds on who would go in the Koi pond first. Kasumi calling a sleepy-headed Akane down for breakfast as Ranma did a head-dive into the pond. Soun Tendo greeting his family as if the fight happening in the garden was beneath notice… until Ranma stepped out of the pond and stripped his wet shirt off to wring it out, all the while yelling at the panda and never noticing the stunned look on Soun's face. Akane yelling at Ranma about feminine modesty. Kasumi being the epitome of gracious calm. A normal, typical morning.

Then Nabiki asked how Zhu Shu was.

Genma froze, his chopsticks halfway to his mouth.

Kasumi beamed. "Oh, she was still sleeping when I checked. I didn't want to wake the poor dear."

Akane and Ranma nodded at her, then looked at each other and blushed. They hurriedly began shoveling food into their mouths.

Soun asked, "Who is Zhu Shu?"

Genma tried not to look panicked.

Kasumi turned her smile on Soun. "Oh, she's Ranma's girlfriend from China."

Ranma choked while Genma began looking for a place to crawl into.

Soun blinked. "I see." He took out a cigarette, lit it and took a long puff….

The Soun demon head fixed the pair with its bloodshot eyes. "WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?!!"

Surprisingly, it was Akane who spoke up in the speechless pair's defense.

"Daddy! It's not like that. She's his best friend! And she's my friend too!"

The head blinked, then vanished. Soun looked at Akane questioningly.

"She's his friend, and she came all the way from China to see Ranma. She collapsed from exhaustion last night and Kasumi put her in one of the guestrooms," Akane explained.

Soun gave the Saotomes one last glare, then smiled. "Well, that's alright then. It was certainly the right thing to do. We can sort it all out later." He went back to his breakfast as if nothing had happened.

As Akane and Ranma walked to school, Akane got irritated at Ranma's silence. "Well! Don't thank me or anything! It's not like I was defending you! I just wanted to make sure Dad didn't have the wrong idea about Zhu Shu!"

Ranma walked along the fence top and bit back his first retort. Zhu Shu would have known how he felt without a word, but Akane was not Zhu Shu, and he had promised Zhu Shu he would remember that. All he said was a quiet "Thank you."

Prepared to fight, Akane opened her mouth to yell, then stopped. "What did you say?"

Ranma looked down. "I said thank you. You're right. You defended me and I forgot to say thank you." He shook his head. "Sheesh! You try to apologize—"

"You're welcome," Akane interrupted. She turned back towards school.

They walked in silence for a while, then Ranma asked, "So. What'd you two talk about?"

Akane looked sidelong. "Hmm?"

"You and Zhu Shu. I saw you take a tray out before I hopped in the bath, and it was on the floor next to Zhu Shu in the kitchen, so you had to have talked."

Akane nodded.

"So what did you talk about?"

"Why? Jealous?"

"Jealous? Why would I be jealous?"

"Because your fiancée went to talk to your oh-so-sexy lesbian best friend?"

Ranma refused to look at her. Amused, Akane relented. "We talked about you."



"What'd she say?"

"That you were a fool."


"I believe she said that if you were such a fool as to not want me, then she would be happy to steal me away from you."

"I… see." He looked glum.

They walked in silence for a while further.

"So, would you?" he asked finally.

"Would I what?"

"Um… well… you know…"

Akane arched an eyebrow. "Date her? Over you?"

Ranma nodded, fear in his eyes.

Akane saw it. She could crush him utterly. His fragile ego could never put up with it. Anger, hatred, even despair would never bow him as much as losing even his token fiancée to the girl he considered the epitome of femininity. It was the victory she'd dreamed of since he'd insulted her breast size….

But Zhu Shu's words echoed in her ears. "Ask self if love…"

A lie that might not be a lie, or a chance, however slim, that she might actually get through to him?

Did she love him?

Zhu Shu said her heart already knew.

The wind whistled through the fence Ranma walked upon, the dread in his eyes growing.

Did she love him?

She couldn't answer that, but neither could she bring herself to hurt him that way. He might be a baka and a hentai, but he was as much a victim of this crazy fiancé thing as she was. But she wasn't going to let him off the hook entirely. She gave him an appraising look and said "Hmm, why don't you actually try asking me out on a date and we'll see?"

Hope rose in his eyes, burning away the dread. "Uh… Yeah. I'll see what I can do."

He whistled happily as they finished walking to school, with Akane giving him sidelong looks occasionally.

Maybe the big lunk did care for her after all.

Zhu Shu woke when Kasumi brought in the breakfast tray, and sat up in alarm. It took her a second to realize where she must be and a further second to realize she was nude. She scrabbled for the sheet and held it over her breasts as Kasumi laid out the tray.

"Good morning! I brought you breakfast since you slept right through everyone else's," Kasumi beamed

Zhu Shu bowed in the bed. "Thank you. Zhu Shu very hungry." Her stomach growled in agreement. "Not mean pass out. Hope was not much trouble?"

"Oh my. Not at all." Kasumi smiled again. "Ranma carried you up here and I got you ready for bed. I'm afraid I didn't have any nightclothes that would fit you, but your dress is on the little table there, along with some panties. We're the same size there, and I had extras."

"Thank you." She leaned forward to take the teacup and heard Kasumi gasp. She froze, looking to see what Kasumi had been startled by.

Kasumi was looking at her back in astonishment.

"That's very strange. I could have sworn I saw a tattoo there last night."

Zhu Shu sighed. As she picked up the tea, she willed the tattoo to reappear.

Across her back, the dragon faded back in. She looked at Kasumi. "Is not safe always be Clan Dragon. Has caused Zhu Shu trouble. Communists not like reminders of old empire. Others think mean belong to Tong. Tattoo will hide self if Zhu Shu wish."

Kasumi looked stricken. "Oh my, you poor dear. I'm sorry to hear that. It's just so lovely!"

Zhu Shu nodded and swept her hair to one side as she stood to let Kasumi see all of it. "Imperial dragon. Guardian spirit. Marked when Zhu Shu thirteen. Song family Imperial servants. Zhu Shu train all life serve Emperor. Now Zhu Shu of age to marry. Must find husband worthy of Imperial service, of her. Must bear Heir for Song family," she noted sadly. "Even though Emperor is no more. Family honor must be maintained."

"Oh my."

Zhu Shu sat back on the bed. "Zhu Shu been on quest for year. Not find husband who pass tests."

"What tests?" Kasumi asked.

"One. Beat Zhu Shu in fair combat."

"From the respect Ranma gives you, I would assume you to be quite skilled. That would make passing that test rather difficult."

"Two. Must prove love of Zhu Shu. Not just lust."

Kasumi nodded. "That would be the really hard one. So few people look beyond appearances."

Zhu Shu shrugged. "Many people want Zhu Shu body. None want Zhu Shu."

Kasumi patted her shoulder. "They can be so blind, no?"

Zhu Shu nodded. "Why Zhu Shu put quest on hold. Help Ranma."

Kasumi looked wide-eyed. "Oh my. You put your quest on hold for him?"

"Yes. Ranma like Zhu Shu. Need friend. Ranma need someone be honest with, who not laugh, and Zhu Shu…"

"Zhu Shu hoped to find what she needed to fulfill family duty and her own desires at the same time." Kasumi finished.

"Yes," Zhu Shu admitted.

"But you'd give him up for Akane?"

"No. Ranma is friend. Will always be friend. Zhu Shu fool to think otherwise once. Ranma is not Zhu Shu type." A whole world of understanding passed unspoken between the girls with that statement. Ranma was a male first, and always would be. The understanding in Kasumi's eyes made it easier. "Zhu Shu help because is friend. Ranma like Akane, even if not admit to self. She same way. Zhu Shu be poor friend if not help friends find happiness, yes no?"

Kasumi hugged her. "Not many friends would think that way. For what it's worth, while we'd never work out for anything else, I'd be honored to be your friend too."

Zhu Shu laughed. "Zhu Shu is honored. And know Kasumi not Zhu Shu type. No can fight."

The air cleared between them, the girls laughed as only true friends can….

After the two girls chatted through breakfast, Zhu Shu helped Kasumi clean up while telling her of her adventures so far, but omitting things that Kasumi didn't need to know yet. All she told her was that she had traveled to Japan with a friend and was staying temporarily at a Shinto shrine, following which Kasumi insisted she come stay at the dojo. She introduced Zhu Shu to her father, Soun, and made arrangements for Zhu Shu to have the dojo for her training classes with her quintet of "friends". Zhu Shu thanked him and so charmed Soun that he told her to think of him as her father while she was there.

Afterwards, she went with Kasumi to the shrine to get her possessions, and Zhu Shu introduced Kasumi to Rei. Kasumi's smile won another heart and soon she and Rei were chatting like old friends. She helped pack up Zhu Shu's few clothes and promised to tell the other girls about the dojo, and arrange to get all of Zhu Shu's stuffed animals sent over. She was happy Zhu Shu had found her friend and had a place to live, but Zhu Shu could see the slight wistfulness in her look too. She kissed Rei on the cheek as she was leaving and told her that maybe she'd let her spy on her kata again sometime. Rei blushed from her hairline down to her gi top as Zhu Shu gave her a hug and made her promise to show up for lessons on time.

"I think she likes you," Kasumi said to Zhu Shu as they were getting back on the subway.

Zhu Shu sighed. "Zhu Shu knows. Rei young and still try to find own way. Zhu Shu may be good influence as teacher, but not wish hurt Rei. Zhu Shu may tease, but would not take advantage of confused feelings of girl. Zhu Shu could use what taught to make Rei think she love Zhu Shu, but would be wrong. Rei is only curious as to what might be like with girl, but Rei must be allowed choose own path."

Kasumi looked at her with a measuring gaze. "You amaze me, dear. It's so easy to forget you're younger than I am. You remind me of my mother."

Zhu Shu shrugged as she looked down at her feet. "Zhu Shu have been trained very long time. Must understand people to serve. Most important, must know why people do what do. Cannot advise if not know what behind actions."

Kasumi pursed her lips. "I see." She looked at Zhu Shu for several minutes as the train clattered through tunnel, then reached out to pat Zhu Shu's hand. "I imagine you must be as lonely as I."

Zhu Shu looked up in surprise.

Kasumi smiled sadly. "I know how it feels, dear. I've had to be the mother to my whole family since Mother died. Even Father hasn't been the same. Mother's death hit all of us so hard. Poor Nabiki does everything she can to keep the Dojo solvent, and hides her hurt behind a wall of indifference. Akane feels like she has to carry the honor of the school on her shoulders. They all have so many concerns that I just try to keep our home a pleasant place so we all have our own safe haven. I know it makes many people think I'm just a simpleton, but it's all I know to do. It's the only way I can give Akane and Nabiki the freedom to be even as much normal teenagers as they are." She sighed. "But it's lonely. I never get to go out except for shopping and occasionally to see Doctor Tofu, but I fluster him so much he's impossible to talk to, and I have to pretend not to notice because he'd have a heart attack or stroke if I didn't. He nearly killed poor Ranma the other day when I visited."

Zhu Shu nodded. She remembered Kasumi entering, but had left when Akane had. But she did remember Ranma's tilted head later.

Kasumi looked out the window. "Hell, if I was any less afraid that it would almost certainly be fatal for one of us, I'd seduce him." She rolled her eyes. "But either he'd accidentally break me, or he'd have an embolism. So I'm stuck with fantasies…" She sighed again. "Maybe when Akane and Ranma are married and Nabiki has her own place; when I don't have to be the mother…"

Zhu Shu hugged her. "Is hard, yes no?"


"Maybe Zhu Shu help. Zhu Shu good with house, and must practice for family." She smiled at Kasumi. "And Zhu Shu good at shiatsu."

Kasumi caught the twinkle in her eyes and laughed. "I may take you up on that, my little mouse!"

"Ah. Is what Zhu Shu mean. Little Mouse. Grandfather say Zhu Shu always have look like mouse who stole cheese from trap!" Zhu Shu twitched her nose.

"He's right." Kasumi smiled, the sadness gone from the back of her eyes. "I guess I'll have to hide all the cheese!"

"Where?" Zhu Shu made a show of looking everywhere. Kasumi took one look at the girl bouncing around the car looking for cheese and couldn't help but laugh….

Ke Lun looked back down the road to the cavern. Shi had given her much to think about. She sighed softly as she turned and followed the trail down to the valley. He was so different than she remembered, like he'd lost something and never found it again. There were things he wasn't telling her.

And so much he had never told Zhu Shu.

It was obvious he had grown somewhat paranoid in the centuries since the fall of Clan Dragon, but much of the man she had once loved was still there.

It was a pity really that he'd met and fallen for Mu. She had flirted with the idea of marrying him for too long, unsure of her heart, and had lost him. It wasn't that Mu was a bad wife for him; she wasn't. She just wasn't a warrior. She'd been the epitome of traditional Chinese femininity. Ke Lun had never been jealous of her or envious of her because she had been such a sweet and wonderful person, but it was obvious that her loss had wounded Shi greatly.

The fact that Zhu Shu's personality was so much like Mu's probably helped explain why Shi loved her so much in the face of his self-imposed mission.

She sighed yet again. So much would be different if she'd just killed Clove when she had the chance. She'd known the Musk Princess was going to be trouble from the moment she'd seen her. Spoiled, vain, and selfish to the core, the girl had taken all of the worst qualities of her dragon mother and perfected them. Clove had taken one look at Shi and decided that he was going to be her trophy. If only she could have proven that Clove had been behind the attempt to poison Mu….

She'd been over and over that for three hundred years. No point in doing it again. Shi had survived, and Zhu Shu was her adopted great-granddaughter. The past was the past. She'd learned that after her husband hunt for that good-for-nothing…

She sighed again. Too many memories. Meeting Shi again had dredged up things she had thought safely buried.

It was good Zhu Shu had blood-bonded to Shan Pu. It would give her the chance to find someone she could actually be happy with, maybe even Saotome. She certainly had no reservations about Zhu Shu's preferences, even if she agreed with Shi she had to bear an heir. With the blood-bond added to a marriage, Shan Pu's children would also be Clan Dragon, and with a pureblood heir, the survival of the Clan would be assured. Shan Pu certainly wouldn't object, her great grand-daughter had expressed her interest in Zhu Shu clearly enough the night Zhu Shu had arrived, and Ke Lun had let her know she approved. It had surprised her that Zhu Shu had sidestepped Shan Pu's offer. Among Amazons, an offer to take a sister-wife was the equivalent of a marriage offer, and it was just as binding by Amazon law. Had Zhu Shu accepted, Shi would have had no choice but to allow the marriage to stand, as Clan Dragon had always honored the Amazon's customs. While Zhu Shu would have had to accept Saotome's attentions occasionally, Shan Pu would be happy to make up for it the rest of the time.

She smiled as she headed home. She'd wait till Zhu Shu and Shan Pu sent another letter, and depending on what it said, maybe she'd follow them to Japan, which was were they said they were going in their last letter. If she convinced Zhu Shu to accept Shan's offer, it could solve several problems at once.

Still, she wished she could have found out what Shi had seemed so afraid of that he had hidden the Clan away for so long. He had known that the Amazons had avenged Clan Dragon, but he seemed certain that the Musk had had something else driving them beyond just Clove. She would have given anything to know what Clove had told him during their last encounter. What was the shadowy fear Shi hid from? Why had he allowed Zhu Shu out on her quest without her knowing of whatever danger lurked beyond the haven of her home village? And did that shadowy fear even still exist?

Too many questions with no answers. Still, if whatever Shi feared still survived, wouldn't Zhu Shu have encountered it already in her travels across China?

Well, speculation wasn't getting anywhere, and Shi hadn't been forthcoming. Perhaps she should have told him of Zhu Shu's curse.

She shook her head. No. It would have only haunted him further. Far be it from her to lay any more ghosts at Shi's doorstep. The gods knew he had enough….

Kasumi and Zhu Shu swung through the Chinatown on their way back. Zhu Shu hurried to the herbalist's shop in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the other day, but the herbalist handed her a note with the package. Puzzled she looked at the slip of Mandarin.

"They are watching" was all it said.

Worried, Zhu Shu directed Kasumi to stay behind her and to hold the packages. Kasumi looked at Zhu Shu's eyes and nodded.

Outside the shop, the street was empty. Zhu Shu looked around. With Kasumi along, her options were limited; it was the street or nothing. She couldn't carry Kasumi to the rooftops.

Her swords appeared from behind her back, green fire flickering along the blades as she advanced up the street.

Her only warning was a whistle of wind as the shuriken sliced air. She shifted to combat time and the world slowed to a crawl. She batted the star away, part of her mind analyzing the path even as she deflected another. Anger flared as she realized they had been aimed to wound. Whoever it was they, wanted her alive.

Another star flew past as three black-clad figures appeared out of the shadows. Her eyes widened in momentary shock, then narrowed as she dodged another round of stars.

She blocked three more, hampered by the need to ensure that none of the deflected stars went near Kasumi. Then she heard the slow sound of a gunshot. Desperately, she intercepted the bullet with both swords, rolling with the impact as she realized it had not been aimed at her.

Training was all that controlled the rage, channeled it into her chi. The slow crawl of time came to a near halt. Still in mid-air, she screamed "Talon Sweep!" and launched herself at the gunman. Her sword's burning green blade swept through the gun, then the man holding it. As the pieces slowly began to part, Zhu Shu was already at the next assailant. She didn't even slow as her sword sliced through his middle, her spin carrying her second sword through the neck of the third and last thug.

Coming to the form's completion behind the falling body as time slammed back to its normal pace, Zhu Shu took a deep breath. She felt faint, too little of her chi having returned from being drained yesterday. She turned to meet Kasumi's worried look.

"Zhu Shu?"

Zhu Shu tried to take a step forward, tried to summon the speed to reach the thug who'd appeared behind Kasumi, but her legs wouldn't work. Even as she was falling, she heard Kasumi's startled yelp.

Cursing her weakness, she struggled to stand as she heard a loud thunk, like something striking bone. As she lifted her head to look over the bodies before her, she damned herself for what she expected to see. She had failed her friend, a crime that to her was as grievous as failing her Emperor….

But it wasn't Kasumi's body lying on the ground.

Kasumi put the rolling pin back into her purse. "I swear. People these days!"

Zhu Shu couldn't help but laugh.

Kasumi helped Zhu Shu back to the subway and they quickly left the Chinatown behind. Zhu Shu caught her breath and looked apologetically at Kasumi. "Zhu Shu sorry endanger life and fail slay last assassin."

Kasumi looked at her sternly. "I won't hear it! You did nothing of the sort! If anything, it was the other way around. I put you in danger because you had to protect me! You took care of the really dangerous ones! All I did was club one guy with a knife. I am a Tendo. The day I can't handle one maniac with a knife… why… why… I'll take up chainsaw juggling!" Her sudden fury ended and she looked at Zhu Shu with a strange gleam in her eye. "And don't think I didn't see you stop that bullet! I owe you my life! And for that, all I have to give you as a reward is this."

The entire car grew silent as every last eye turned to see Kasumi cupping Zhu Shu's face, retrieving her stolen kiss with interest.

Passengers waiting in the Nerima subway were treated to an unusual show that morning as trains unloaded. From one car, no one exited for several seconds as Kasumi regally walked forward to the door. Every eye was upon her as she walked and stunned passengers cleared a path for her. At the door, an elderly gentleman bowed her through and offered her a hand to the platform. She stepped lightly, then turned and offered her hand to a bemused and slightly dazed Zhu Shu. She gave a small nod of her head to the rest of the train, then, like a Queen proceeding to take her throne, she turned and led the Mandarin girl towards the stairs.

Behind her, the entire coach broke out in applause.

Nabiki was finishing her lunchtime business when one of her factors came running up waving a photo. "Miss Nabiki! I just got this from an agent on the subways! It was taken less than two hours ago! I got him to hold onto the negatives until you told us what to do!"

"What are you going on about?" Nabiki asked, bored. It had been an excruciatingly dull day. Ranma and Akane hadn't fought all day and Gosunkugi hadn't turned in his next batch of Akane pics for selling to Kuno. She gave her factor a sour look and reached out to snag the photo.

One look, and all the boredom went out of her day, replaced by panic. She grabbed the factor by the shirt. "Did anyone else get pictures of this!!!" she screamed.

"I-I-I d-d-don't k-k-k-now!" the factor stuttered as Nabiki shook him.

"Find out!!! I want every last copy accounted for and the negatives in my hand by day's end!!! Find out everyone who was on that train! Steal the film if you have to!" She let the pale factor go and looked at the picture again. She felt the strength give out in her knees and she sank limply to the ground. The picture fell from her hand to land in her skirt as she shook her head slowly.

"Akane I half expect… Me, I'd just have a few copies made and keep the negatives…" Her eyes turned down to the impossible photo. "But I never, ever, would have suspected Kasumi…."

Three people had taken photos. It took all her CD money and selling her entire stock of Akane pics to Kuno to get the money, but by day's end, Nabiki had the negatives of Kasumi's kiss. She locked them away in her book bag and turned to get her second shock of the day.

Ranma was waiting for her.

"Hey, Nabiki… I… umm… that is…"

"Spill it, Ranma."

"Um… Would you know where I could take Akane out on a date so she'll have a good time?"

Two fundamental shocks to her system in one day was one too many. Faced once more with the impossible, her brain took the easy out.

She fainted.

"What did you do to her, you jerk?!"

"Hey! I didn't do nuthin! I just asked her a question and she fainted!"

Akane's eyes narrowed. "What did you ask her?"

"Umm… It's kinda personal." Ranma blushed.

"I'll bet!" Akane huffed. "Well, don't just stand there like an idiot! Pick her up! We have to take her to see Doctor Tofu."

Ranma sighed and bent to pick Nabiki up. As he did, a picture started to fall out of Nabiki's shirt pocket, but Akane caught it and poked it back in.

"Be careful! She'll bitch to high heaven if anything gets lost."

Ranma sighed and kept reminding himself that Akane was not Zhu Shu over and over.

All the way to the doctor’s.

Kasumi was waiting outside the Doctor's office, a slight flush on her face. "Oh my! What happened to Nabiki?"

Akane double blinked. "Kasumi? What are you doing here?"

Kasumi blushed. "Oh my… um… I'm afraid I caused Zhu Shu to pull a muscle, so I brought her to the Doctor to be checked out. I thought that after last night and, um… well, I wanted to make sure she was okay. But what's wrong with Nabiki?"

"Dunno," Ranma supplied. "She just fainted."

"Why are you out here instead of inside?" Akane asked.

"I thought it might be safer. Doctor Tofu gets so distracted when I'm around." Kasumi gave her a glowing smile.

Akane did another double blink. "Uh… Yeah. I've noticed."

"Well you two get Nabiki in there and make sure she's okay!" Kasumi beamed.

As they walked into the clinic, Ranma's head turned to watch Kasumi. "Is it my imagination, or is she glowing more than usual?"

Akane turned and looked back at her sister. "Now that you mention it…."

In the examination room, Dr Tofu was feeding an exhausted looking Zhu Shu an herbal tea.

"You drink that first to help your ki, and in a few minutes I'll work on those muscle strains." Zhu Shu nodded as Tofu turned to Akane.

"Why hello, Akane, Ranma. What's happened to Nabiki?"

"Dunno, Doc. She fainted," Ranma said.

Tofu turned towards another bed. "Well, bring her over here and we'll see what's up!" As Ranma turned towards the other bed, the photo fell from Nabiki's pocket and fluttered to the floor under Zhu Shu's bed.

Ranma put Nabiki on the bed as Doctor Tofu said, "Zhu Shu tells me she's a friend of yours, Ranma."

"Yeah, we met in China."

"She's a very nice girl. You haven't been fighting with her, have you, Akane?"

Akane started. "Huh? Me? No sir. She's my friend too."

"Ah. Well, I could have sworn some of those pulled muscles were your trademark! Ah, well, nothing's wrong with Nabiki at least. Probably just mental stress!" He did something with the sides of her head, and Nabiki's eyes flew open. "There you are! You just take it easy now, Nabiki! I've got to check on Zhu Shu."

Nabiki sat up in horror, one hand slapping her pocket. "Oh no!"

"What?" Akane asked, then saw what Nabiki was reaching for. "Ranma! I told you to keep an eye on that photo!"

"Hey! It's not my— ulp!" Nabiki had him by the arm in a death grip, her eyes locked on the floor by Zhu Shu's bed.

Ranma looked and saw the photo. "See! There it is."

"Ranma!" Nabiki hissed. "If Tofu sees that picture, he'll kill her!"

"Huh? Who?"

"Zhu Shu! Ranma, if you value Zhu Shu's life, you can't let Doctor Tofu see that picture!"


To be continued.

Chapter 5
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