Title: Growth in the Desert
Growth in the Desert
“Kasumi! It’s a package from Clara.” Nabiki walked into the house swinging a large box by its string.
Leaving the pile of washed clothes in the basket, Kasumi hurried over to the patio table where Nabiki had put the box down. Akane came out from the family room carrying P-Chan, and their dad left off his taipei game with Mr. Saotome and also came in. Mr. Saotome followed him, and Ranma, practicing in the yard, also wandered over. “What’s up?”
Akane settled down, “It’s a package from Kasumi’s friend Clara. We hear from her every year.”
Kasumi carefully cut the strings and unwrapped the box. On the top was an envelope with Kasumi’s name on it. She set that to one side, and brought out smaller boxes under it. “This one’s for you, Dad. And here’s one for Akane.” She looked at an envelope with Nabiki’s name and raised an eyebrow. Nabiki grabbed it from her, “My stock options!”
“Your what?” Ranma inquired dryly.
“I asked Clara to put some money in…” Nabiki resumed her traditional cool with an effort, “Never you mind, Ranma.”
Kasumi carefully laid aside a rather large package, “Oh, I do hope she was able to get some saffron. It’s so expensive over here.”
“Herbs,” Akane explained to Ranma. “She grows them and travels a lot looking for the rarer ones.”
The last thing Kasumi took out of the box was a large folded piece of material. She unfolded it and gasped, then handed it to Akane. Akane looked at it in wonder, “A new cloth for the dojo alter! How wonderful. I bet she even got it Blessed.” Nabiki leaned over to look at it, “And put some healing in the embroidery on the edges – do you think she knows about our house-guests?” The three girls giggled, while Ranma managed to look a cross between annoyed and ashamed.
“What did she get you, Papa?”
Mr. Tendo opened his package, then smiled, “She had my poems put together in a leather-bound booklet.”
Undoing the small box, Akane pulled out a gold-linked chain with a pendent in the shape of a Firebird. The eyes were multi-colored opal cabochons, while the sharp claws were the brilliant orange of faceted fire-opals. The feathers were inlayed with bright reds, oranges and purples. The crest on the mythical bird’s head was so well done that the feathers seemed to dance in the light. Ranma peered over Akane’s shoulder, “Wow.” Akane pulled out a note from within the box that said simply, “I saw it and thought of you.” She laughed and instantly handed the necklace to Ranma. “Here – will you put it on for me?” Ranma blinked and gulped, then took it at a frown from Akane. After fumbling with the clasp for a moment, he put it around her neck and stepped back to see. The pendent nestled in the small of her throat exactly right and it gave Akane a glow of life and strength. Or maybe it’s just her, Ranma thought, staring at Akane.
“What? Is it crooked?” Akane turned to Kasumi.
Kasumi looked up from reading the letter, “No, dear. It’s just right.” She smiled, “It’s absolutely perfect for you, Akane-chan. Guess what? Clara is going to come down for a visit.” Her eyes wandered to the calendar, “She should be here by next Wednesday.”
“If she doesn’t get distracted,” Nabiki muttered, though with a smile on her face.
Ranma looked over, “Huh?”
Akane giggled, “Oh, Clara likes to travel and she tends to wander from one interesting place to another. One time, she was suppose to be here for the Cherry Blossom Festival. She didn’t arrive until the fall leaves were changing colors.”
“Though she had the most interesting tale of New Zealand sheep…” Nabiki laughed.
Ranma glanced at the pig sitting next to Akane, “Gee, sounds like Ryoga.” The pig bared his teeth and growled at Ranma.
“Well, she always knows where she is,” Kasumi’s eyes crinkled in silent laughter, “She just doesn’t have much of a sense of time.”
Thursday. Friday. Saturday.
Akane wandered back into the house, shaking her head. Honestly. You’d think those two would get tired of fighting once in a while. And here I’d planned on spending my Sunday laying out by the pond. The area around the pond was currently all soaked and water was dripping off the rocks due to Ryoga having just thrown Ranma into the pond. Akane had picked up her book and left the area without a word to either of the boys.
Walking into the hallway, Akane met a short girl about Nabiki’s age wearing black culottes and a dark green collared shirt. Her long wavy pale-blonde hair was nearly white, and was white on a lock above her left temple where an old scar disappeared into her hairline and extended down her face just missing her eye and trailing off her jawbone under her ear. It stood out on the golden tan of the rest of her skin, but gave a curious accent to her green eyes. Akane dropped her book and lunged forward, “Clara!” She gave her friend a giant bear-hug.
The diminutive blonde girl laughed and returned as good as she got, “Now, Akane-chan – is that any way to treat a good book?”
“Good book?” Akane snorted, “It’s a stupid romance that I promised Nakita I’d return to her next week. I thought it was a mystery when I borrowed it.” She raised her hand to her mouth, “Oh. Oops. I hope I didn’t damage it.”
Nabiki picked it up and dusted it off, “Seems to be fine. Clara, when did you get here?”
Kasumi came out behind her friend, and Clara glanced back before responding, “About a half-hour ago. I hope you don’t mind that I didn’t come right out – I wanted to spend some time with Kasumi before being overwhelmed.”
“That reminds me!” Akane turned back to the patio, “Ranma! Ryoga! Come and meet Clara.”
Nabiki ignored her sister, “But I thought you weren’t suppose to be here until Wednesday.”
Clara snorted, “That was before I actually got to Guam and found it to be pouring down rain in a tropical storm that was suppose to last positively weeks! Can’t do anything with that, so I came on here.”
“Did you get Intel?”
“You don’t want it yet. It’s high. But it’s suppose to be going through some legal action soon. That’ll probably drive the points down. I left instructions to buy if it does.”
“Geez, Nabiki – do you ever think of anything ‘sides money?” Ranma, still in girl-form, came up behind Nabiki, looking down at his shirt that he was wringing out at the corners.
“Ranma, stop dripping on Kasumi-san’s dry floor! How rude can you get?” Ryoga was next to him, and clouted him to emphasize his condemnation. Akane, behind them both, shook her head in disgust.
Clara blinked her green eyes, looking at the boys, “Huh. When Kasumi told me your name, I thought it couldn’t possibly be you. Guess I was wrong.”
Ranma’s grip on his shirt tightened, then went slack as he looked up. His mouth dropped open, and he backed up a step straight onto Ryoga’s foot.
“Ow! You idiot!” Ryoga pushed him off, and Ranma tipped over and fell on the floor. He straightened himself out, but just sat there, looking up at the small girl silently laughing.
“Ranma, you haven’t changed a bit!”
The rest of the group looked between them. Akane spoke, “You know each other?”
Clara grinned, “We met in China a few years ago.”
A collective gasp of horror went up. Ryoga stuttered, “Not… Not at Jusenkyo?”
“Good Lord, no!!! Wouldn’t go near that place with a ten-foot pole!!! Or on one, for that matter.” She blinked, then looked again at Ranma’s girl-form, “Oh. Is that what happened to you? I thought it was a bit odd.”
“She thought it was a bit odd… and he hasn’t changed a bit…” Nabiki looked at her, “Yep. You’re Kasumi’s friend, all right.”
Clara stuck her tongue out at her, then explained, “I was harvesting some different types of kelp one afternoon when two guys swam up on the beach. They immediately started fighting.”
“Some things never change.”
“Too true. Anyway, they looked like they’d been in the ocean for ever, so I hunted down a couple more gulls and invited them to my campfire that night.”
Ranma, still looking shocked, put in, “After a week of raw fish while clinging to driftwood, those were the best darn birds I’ve ever tasted.”
“The next morning, the dad ordered poor Ranma here to climb up the cliff face – at least 300 feet! And it was sheer rock! The most amazing thing was that Ranma actually did it.”
“It wasn’t that hard.”
“I meant that you obeyed him. I would have tossed him back in the ocean.”
“All part of training.”
“I suppose that was too?” she pointedly gestured at his body.
Ranma shrugged, blushing. “Anyway, when I got to the top of the cliff, Savannah was waiting there for me,” Ranma shook his head, “Waiting at the top – and there weren’t any trails there. And she had some fresh eggrolls.”
Clara shrugged, “I traded them with a fisherwoman up the coast. I had some goldenwood I’d collected but didn’t actually need, and oh, Kasumi! She had some wuthertap!!”
“Really?” Kasumi blinked her wide eyes.
“Really! She’d had them from her cousin who had them from a clammer who found them after a shipwreck.”
“Oh,” she sounded disappointed, “So she wasn’t able to tell you where they grew?”
“No. But when I sorted through them, I found twelve seeds! Eleven were too old and waterlogged to grow, but I was able to coax the last one up, and now I’ve got a little tiny fellow growing in my basement at home. Of course, it won’t bloom for another few years, so we won’t know until then if it’s really wuthertap or not – but if it is!”
Akane and Nabiki tapped their feet, impatiently resigned to waiting for Kasumi and her friend to stop the digression. Clara didn’t seem to notice, but got on with the story anyhow.
“Ranma and his dad stayed another week, doing strange training exercises that seemed to me to be more lessons in pain and healing than anything actually having to do with martial arts. By that time, I’d finished drying all the kelp I needed, so I took off and I thought they planned to go more inland.” She looked at Ranma, “Though if your dad had mentioned Jusenkyo… I thought I at least told you to get somebody to teach you Chinese.”
“We never stayed in one place long enough, after that,” Ranma muttered. “But Savannah, what are you doing here?”
Clara blinked, “I’m visiting Kasumi.”
“Kasumi? But… Oh wait. You’re not Clara, are you?”
Akane and Nabiki looked down at him, “Well, duh…”
The blonde girl grimaced, “I hate that name. So dull. Such an ordinary, stay-at-home traditional female name… I like the one you gave me much better.”
Even Kasumi was startled at that, “Savannah?”
“Savannah Dragon, actually,” Clara grinned, “Don’t you think it fits?”
Kasumi laughed, “In some ways…”
Ranma tilted his head, watching them both, “Well, uh... She wouldn’t tell us what her name was… I wasn’t actually sure if she was real or not. I notice she didn’t mention that when she left at the end of the week, a dolphin came to get her.”
“A dolphin?” Nabiki and Akane traded glances. Kasumi frowned. Clara noticed the frown and waved a hand, “Hey, he offered. What was I suppose to do, turn him down?”
Just then, the dads came in. “Clara!” “Savannah!” In the entanglement of the new greetings, Ranma extricated himself and wandered outside where he grabbed a kettle and poured the hot water over his head. Ryoga followed him out, “What, another one of your women? What about Akane-san? How long are you going to keep her— Ooof!”
Ranma grabbed Ryoga and threw him into the pond, dusting his hands in satisfaction as the pig scrambled out, squealing angrily.
“Picking on P-chan again?” Akane spoke rather mildly, “You know, he’s not normally a very dirty pig – he really doesn’t need to be bathed so often.”
“Uhh,” Ranma looked between Akane and the pond. Finally, he gave up on trying to figure out what she’d seen and jumped up to the roof.
Akane watched him, frowning to herself. She picked up P-chan then climbed up. She walked over the shingles to where Ranma was sitting. “What’s wrong?”
Ranma wouldn’t look at her. She sat down next to him and waited. Finally, Ranma spoke, “I guess fair is fair. You told me about Dr. Tofu.”
“Oh,…” Akane raised a hand to her lips, blinking back tears. In her lap, P-chan looked between them, confused.
“It doesn’t really matter. She doesn’t like me.”
“She seemed happy to see you.”
“Yeah – like a little brother. I’m not a complete idiot, Akane. She’s always treated me like that.”
“It was only one week – she’ll get to know her better now.”
Ranma turned to her, “What are you trying to do, Akane?!” He grabbed her hands, startling both her and P-chan, “It was only a crush, for pity’s sake! I don’t even know her, not like I know—” He let go of her hands abruptly and turned away, blushing. “It doesn’t matter – I’m engaged to you, like it or not.”
“Oh! Well, if that’s the way you’re going to be!” Akane stood up, dumping P-chan on the roof. She turned and stomped off.
“Akane! Wait, I didn’t mean…” Ranma trailed off, putting his head in his hands. “Always one word too many.”
P-chan snorted in agreement.
Sunset came and went, and Ranma stayed on the roof. Pictures of a black-haired tomboy and a white-haired fairy kept switching places in his mind. Eventually, Nabiki poked her head over the edge, “Are you coming to dinner?”
“Dinner. You know, as in food. The thing you eat us out of house and home with.”
Ranma looked up at the sky, “When did the sun go down?”
Nabiki rolled her eyes and dropped out of sight. Ranma got up and followed her down to the dinner. He was unusually quiet during it, letting the sisters and their guest talk. Ryoga had disappeared somewhere – not an unusual occurrence. Ranma watched Savannah. In the two years since he’d seen her, she hadn’t grown much – she could walk under his outstretched arm with no problem. But her face was more defined and her body… A blush crept up his face and he wrenched his thoughts away. And found himself staring at Akane instead. With a sigh, he pushed his rice around in his bowl and wished the dinner was over. The moment it was, he went back up onto the roof and stared at the stars. “Kengyu – what if the legend is wrong and Shokujo isn’t your lover? Is your once a year meeting joy or pain? And what about you?” The star didn’t answer him. But somewhere in the yard, a flute started playing. Ranma sat up. The music was light and lilting, brisk and refreshing like a breeze in summertime humidity. For some time the flute played by itself, then a voice joined it. Ranma didn’t understand the words, but the song was such that his heavy heart seemed to fade and his eyes lifted to the stars again, this time with joy in their sparkling beauty.
A scrambling at the edge of the roof announced Akane’s arrival. Ranma glanced over and froze at the sight of her watering eyes. “What’s wrong, Akane?”
Akane walked over and sat down next to him, her head dropping down on his shoulder. Ranma’s eyes grew large and he sat very still.
“The last time,” her voice broke and Akane had to start again, “The last time I heard that song, it was Kasumi playing the flute and Mother singing.” The tears in her eyes started rolling down, “Kasumi sounds just like Mother. Just like…”
Ranma put his arms around her and Akane cried into his chest. After a few minutes, she sat up again, rubbing her eyes. “Oh, a good cry does help.” They listened to the music, which had changed to a slow, rich song, about the butterfly that came out of its cocoon into a world of life. A children’s lullaby that seemed to have more meaning than he’d ever given it before. Ranma and Akane sat on the roof and listened together.
Below them, alone in her room with the lights off, Nabiki lay on her bed and stared up at the ceiling, her eyes dry but her face still and silent.
Over in the dojo, a panda did kendo exercises in time to the flute.
Soun Tendo sat out on the patio and watched his daughter and her friend. His gaze frequently wandered East. “You’d be so proud of her, Midori, my love.”
On Monday, Savannah didn’t accompany the others to school, but sat on the rocks by the pond next to Kasumi. She wore her culottes with short ankle boots, but a flowing white blouse with flowery embroidery on the sleeves and neck replaced the collared shirt. She and Kasumi were deep in conversation and didn’t even notice Akane and Ranma as they ran out of the house, late as usual.
“I thought she’d be going with Nabiki to class.”
Akane shrugged, “Sometimes she does, I guess this isn’t one of those times.”
“Does she go to an American school?”
“You could have asked her – but yes, when she’s there. Clara… I mean Savannah’s schooling is rather varied.” Akane swung her school-case absently. The family had adapted to Clara’s stated preference for her new name, but years of habit sometimes made it hard.
The small group walked into the Cat Café. Ranma and Akane were in front, griping to each other about the Geography test they’d had that day. Savannah and Nabiki came in behind them, silently listening.
“Nii hao, Ranma!” Shampoo greeted him, holding the serving tray against her chest. Then her eyes wandered to the others. Her hands on the tray tightened and she let out a hiss. “You!”
Savannah walked forward, “What on Earth are you doing here, Shampoo?” Her eyes went over the waitress outfit, “I thought the Pride of the Amazon Tribe said she wouldn’t leave until she was the best.”
Shampoo straightened, “I be the best!”
“Just not in Japanese, I guess. ‘I am the best’ would be the proper phrase.”
Dropping down into a fighting crouch, Shampoo gripped the tray as a discus. Nabiki wandered over to a table and sat down, leaning back with her legs crossed. “Gee, I’m glad I came. This looks like it might get interesting.”
“Interesting! Nabiki!” Akane looked at her sister in disbelief.
Ranma stepped between the girls, “Now take it easy…”
“Stay out of this!” Shampoo snapped, moving to one side.
Savannah bit her lip, her green eyes dancing with amusement, “Shampoo, you are entirely too easy to bait. But we’re not in your village now.”
“No, we not.” Shampoo threw the tray at her in a swift motion. As it passed him, Ranma brought his arm down and deflected it to the ground. Shampoo stared at him in disbelief, then she whirled back to Savannah, “Ranma be mine! You not have!”
“Hey there, let’s not be insulting.” The green eyes started to sparkle with something other than amusement. In her chair, Nabiki stirred uneasily. Ranma opened his mouth to say something, but Akane pinched him on the arm and drew him back, “It’s between them, Ranma – not you.”
Advancing close to Savannah, Shampoo poked a finger at her, “Shampoo see. You think you be Ranma’s. Shampoo have news for you – you not his!”
The green eyes fairly sparked, but Savannah didn’t move except to tilt her head up to meet Shampoo’s eyes. A muscle at the corner of her jaw worked and words were forced through clenched teeth. “I am not anybody’s!” Her voice grew louder, “I am my own person and nobody else’s! My body and my soul belong to me alone!!”
“Shampoo heard this before,” she crossed her arms over her chest, “Shampoo no believe.”
From the back room, Mousse without his glasses came out, “I thought I recognized the voice – I definitely know the sentiment.”
Savannah was instantly diverted, and she ran past Shampoo without another glance, “XiongMin!” Mousse grabbed her up in a hug and swung her around as they both laughed, the delight in their voices evident.
Nabiki remarked to nobody in particular, “Ranma and Shampoo actually look alike.” The two had the same open-mouth stunned disbelief expressions. Akane also looked surprised, but didn’t have her mouth open.
“Little Xian… It’s good to hold you again.”
“My friend.” Savannah pulled back from Mousse a bit and looked at him, “Xiong! You did it! You made White Swan!!”
“Certainly,” he winked at her, “You didn’t doubt me, did you?”
“’Course not. But the Master said it would be years…”
“Determination, my Xian. What was your American phrase? ‘Bull-headed tenacity’.”
“Xiong, did Star—” Savannah was cut off as Shampoo recovered her voice.
<“Get your hands off of him!!!”>
Ranma and Akane didn’t understand the Chinese words, but a furious Shampoo was not to be mistaken.
Shampoo advanced on the couple, her battle aura growing larger at every step.
Mousse’s eyes widened, and he reached for his glasses, “Uh, Shampoo…”
Savannah dropped her hands from Mousse and turned slowly, a grin spreading across her face, “Why Shampoo,” she purred, “You just said that Ranma was yours, and now you get jealous over XiongMin…” her voice hardened, “One or the other, Amazon, you can’t have both.”
Now Mousse was looking at Savannah, his eyes widening in surprise, “Uh, Clara…”
Both Ranma and Mousse lunged to intercept the sword that Shampoo had pulled out of nowhere, but before either could start to move, the sword was knocked out of Shampoo’s hands. It buried itself point-first in the wall.
“How dare you, Shampoo!” Cologne stood between Savannah and Shampoo, her white hair blazing up in the air to match her furious voice. “I don’t care if we are not in the village! Clara is still under my protection, and you will not offer her violence of any kind!” Her voice dropped low, “Unless you are prepared to Challenge me – here and now!”
Shampoo dropped down, bowing into the ground, her pose humble and apologetic.
“Very well, then. You shall meet me in practice after we close the shop tonight.” Cologne turned to face Savannah, “And just what did you think you were doing? Anger and spitefulness are not for you, no matter the provocation.”
Savannah had been looking repentant, but at the last her head went up, the green eyes starting to spark again, “She called me a slave!”
Cologne tapped the stick on the floor, “No she didn’t, but that’s besides the point.” Her voice was as sharp as Shampoo’s sword, “You betray your Calling, Healer!”
The green eyes widened, suddenly stricken. Savannah went down in perfect imitation of Shampoo, who hadn’t moved.
“I think,” Cologne’s eyes were narrow, “While I am here, that you will call me Sensei.” She turned to walk back to the kitchen, “Report to me at sunrise tomorrow.”
Savannah stirred, raising her head a fraction from the ground.
Cologne stopped, “What is it?”
“Sensei,” the meek, humble tone was contrary to all Akane and Ranma had ever seen from Savannah, “My mornings are already claimed.”
Turning, Cologne stared for a moment, then she nodded, “Kasumi?”
“Very well, then. Report at noon.” The curtains to the back room rustled as Cologne move through them. Neither girl stirred, still flat on the floor.
Nabiki looked from Shampoo, to Savannah, to Mousse, to the curtain, “Well, I was right. That was indeed interesting.”
“What else would you call it?”
The two girls on the floor raised their heads and glanced first at each other, then at the back room. Cautiously, they got up.
“Ah, this may not be the best time for it… But just how do you two know each other?” Ranma couldn’t suppress his curiosity.
Savannah and Shampoo warily looked at each other. Savannah answered, “I was just leaving China when I met you. But I’d spent four years learning there. I studied under the Revered One for eight months in the Amazon village. As a Healer, they were forbidden to challenge me.”
“Physically,” Mousse put in, peering at both girls through his glasses. “Clara, Shampoo was not calling you a slave. The past can only hurt you if you let it.”
She bowed her head. “Xiong, if any could claim my heart, it’d be you.”
Mousse snorted, “You only say that ‘cause I’m safe.”
Savannah grinned, “Well, yes. How could I possibly compete with the beauteous and wondrous Star of your heart, the unsurpassable Lin-Xing?”
“Uh…” Mousse looked nervously over her head to where Shampoo was starting to silently steam. Savannah turned. She started. “Shampoo?” Looking between them, she demanded, “Are you kidding, XiongMin? Shampoo is the one you love? The one whom roses bow before; the one whom humming-birds accede their grace and speed; the one whose intelligence is unrivaled; the one who Dragons surrender to; the one whose courage outmatches that of the bear; the Jade Stone of your heart?”
“I did say she was an Amazon.”
“I do remember that.”
Shampoo’s anger had wavered during the recital. “Mousse say all that?”
Savannah tilted her head, “If your name used to be Lin-Xing, and you’re his childhood friend that—” she broke off and said more simply, “Yes. That and more.”
Mousse blushed red under Shampoo’s gaze. “Ah, Clara, can I introduce you to Shampoo? Shampoo, this is Clara – she studied with the Master for awhile.”
“Girl gets around.” Shampoo regarded her steadily.
Savannah shrugged, “By-the-way, Xiong, I go by Savannah now.”
She grinned, “Savannah Dragon.” Gesturing back, “Ranma gave me the name.”
Shampoo hissed between her teeth, the battle aura starting to form around her again.
Savannah bit her lip, “Look, I’m not interested in Ranma! He’s just a friend! Okay?” She muttered under her breath, “One or the other! Geez. I’m not in love with either one!”
Even though he’d known it all along, the words hit Ranma like a blow in the stomach. Akane was the only one to notice his white face, and she moved to his side. Ranma glanced at her and managed a wan smile.
Shampoo was still looking a bit steamed. Mousse cleared his throat, “Mousse.”
He shrugged, “When I achieved White Swan, the Revered One gave me my Village Name. I’m known as Mousse now.”
Blinking, the short girl looked a long ways up at him, “As in the hoofed herbivore of the North American continent with the wide horns?”
“No… It’s an old tradition, okay?”
“Okay.” Savannah grinned easily at him. Then she extended her hand to Shampoo, who looked at it blankly. “It’s an American tradition – we clasp hands to indicate cease-fire of hostilities. I will not spar with the one who is Xi… Mousse’s Star.”
Shampoo audibly ground her teeth, but put out her own hand. The two stood there for a moment, unmoving as they clasped hands.
Nabiki stood up from the table, “This has been most entertaining, folks, but I think it’s time we were taking ourselves out.”
Ranma and Akane hurriedly agreed with her, and they hustled Savannah out of the restaurant. Mousse followed them. When they were out on the street, Nabiki pointedly raised an eyebrow at him. It was wasted as he peered at the telephone pole and explained, “I think I’m safer if I stay away for a bit.”
“Good idea,” Ranma said. He peered down the street, “Shall we go to Ukyo’s?”
“Are you asking for trouble, Ranma?” Akane glanced at Savannah, who contrived to look innocent.
“What?” Ranma looked puzzled, “I just want something to eat.”
(Unfinished. End for now.)