Ranma shook his now-male head at the moist, sleeping form of Ryouga. It hadn't even been necessary to change him in to P-Chan, but still... He had to take every precaution.
But he was surprised that the police officer, completely native to Nerima, knew nothing about Ranma's curse. He was sure at least half of the school did, and magical things that didn't do a good job of hiding, usually sprung out in full force. Especially here in Nerima.
Still, he had gotten away with it, and that's all that counted.
Plus, he had stung Mousse pretty good. That would teach the guy to make Ranma squirm.
Ranma put the kettle down on the floor and sat next to Ryouga. He was still sleeping most of it off. The only difference now was that he was naked-- and the burns seemed amazingly smaller. Even now that the bandages were off.
"Hey, Mousse," Ranma called. "How fast is that stuff supposed to work?"
"It cuts the time need to heal by a factor of four."
Ranma looked down at Ryouga again. He'd seen burn patients in the hospital. "You can't tell me this is a couple days worth of healing here. It looks like a month!"
"Yeah, and he's in tune with his ki, Ranma. Don't forget, normally, people who are shot in the legs don't walk for a while. You managed to pull off a Hiryu Shoten Ha after getting shot."
Ranma thought. Well, he couldn't argue with that. Ranma himself did tend to heal faster than any normal person, but somehow he hadn't thought Ryouga would be the same.
Suddenly, he heard a rap coming from the downstairs door. That would be Akane coming back. Covering Ryouga up with a blanket, he made his way down the stairs.
"Mousse?" Akane spoke up when she entered the front door of the Nekohanten.
Mousse poked his head up from behind the counter. "Akane Tendo? Is that you? Who's with you?"
Akane blinked. She hadn't even brought Shuji into the restaurant yet. "I've brought someone that can help us," she said.
Mousse dropped his glasses onto his nose and took a close look at the newcomer as he stepped into the restaurant. Mousse took one look and frowned. "I don't think you'll need a gun," he said.
Now it was Shuji's turn to blink. "What?" he asked.
"Please," Mousse sighed. "I'm the master of hidden weapons. Even with my visual acuity, I can see the bulge in your jacket. You may be here to help us, but don't even think about going for that thing."
Shuji shook his head. "I wouldn't dream of it, sir."
"Mousse, he's here to help," Ukyou frowned. "At least show him some courtesy."
Mousse just shrugged and went back to scrubbing the floor.
"Hey, Akane, find anyth--" Ranma started as he walked down the stairs. "Who's this?"
"The name is Shuji Kowichi, Mr. Saotome," Shuji bowed. "It's an honour to meet you."
"What's with the gun?"
Shuji blanched and opened his jacket. "Is it me, or does this thing just not hide well?!"
"He's Yakuza, Ranma. He's here to help us," Ukyou said.
Ranma narrowed his eyes. "What does the Yakuza want to help us for?"
"We've got a... common interest in the Tosaka restaurant."
"Yes," Shuji continued. "They were clients of ours."
"Ranma, he's here to help. I think we should accept it," Akane said.
Ranma raised one eyebrow. "Fine," he said. "Now, did you guys find anything?"
Ukyou dropped Ryouga's pack by the wall. "We didn't, but Shuji did."
Shuji nodded and pulled the cufflink from his pocket. He lay it in his hand and produced it for Ranma. "There is this... The only lead we have."
Ranma took the cufflink and examined it closely. "Y? Yoichi? No, couldn't be him. He was arrested..." he began.
"Needless to say, we're as interested in finding the guilty party as you are. We were... hoping with your supposed connection with the Paved Future organization, that you may recognize this..."
Ranma held the cufflink between his thumb and index finger and held it up. "Yamagami," he said. "That's it. Yamagami!"
Shuji's eyes popped open. "You recognize it?"
Ranma nodded. "Eichi Yamagami. He was Mazuhara's... right hand man, so to speak. If anyone could have gotten out of that whole mess, he could have. But... I thought he was smarter than that..."
"The aura I picked up from him pegged him as... well.. somewhat less maniacal than Mazuhara. I think all he cared about was the money... Revenge just doesn't seem part of the equation-- and even if it was, I was in the hospital... Why not just come straight after me?"
Shuji sighed. "I can't say. But if it was this... Eichi Yamagami person, then would you know where to find him?"
Ranma sighed. "I... It's hard to say. I know he lived in some kind of high rise in Tokyo, I don't think it was too far from the hotel where I was supposed to have killed that guy."
"Is that his true name?"
"Eichi Yamagami? Yeah, as far as I know."
Shuji nodded. "All right. I've got to make a call. If you'll excuse me." He pulled out a cellular phone and backed out of the restaurant.
"So we know who is behind this now... Do we tell the police?" Akane asked.
Ranma shook his head. "They ain't gonna believe us without evidence. And even with Shuji here... Well, hell. You think they'll believe us any more if we're working with the Yakuza?"
Ukyou nodded. "He's got a point."
"How's Ryouga doing?"
"Better," Ranma laughed. "A helluva lot better. I was surprised enough as it is to see him walking around this afternoon. Now I wouldn't be shocked if he could beat the crap out of some guy in a stuffy suit once he wakes up."
"How about accompanying us downtown?" Shuji asked, coming back into the restaurant.
Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Eh?"
"Eichi Yamagami, Apartment 2306, in a building about four blocks away from the hotel you were at last week."
"You serious?" Ranma asked, his eyes wide. "You found him?"
Shuji smiled and nodded. "I've got my resources."
"Should we wait for Ryouga to wake up?" Akane asked.
Shuji nodded. "I doubt he's going anywhere. How long before he's able to walk again?"
Ranma shrugged. "Probably not long."
"Yo, Ryouga," Ranma began. "You awake?"
Ryouga groaned as he sat up in his bed. "Yeah... I am now," he frowned as he looked down at himself. "Where the hell are my clothes?"
"Underneath you, man. Cops showed up. Had to pull a P-Chan. And here's some clothes," he passed Ryouga a small bundle.
Ryouga got up from his bed and began to dress himself. "Where'd you find these?"
"There was a change of them in your pack."
"My pack?" he asked. "Where did you find it?"
"Apparently, it survived the blast at the restaurant. Ukyou grabbed it and literally dragged it here."
"She would have had to," Ryouga said.
"Look... we... ahhh... We may have found the guy responsible for this."
Ryouga paused. "What?"
With a nod, Ranma continued. "Eichi Yamagami. You up for a short trip?"
Ryouga flexed his biceps. "Damn straight. Where?"
"We've got someone on our side here, Ryouga. The cops ain't helping, so we've gone to the other side," he said with a slight smirk.
"Friendly neighborhood Yakuza," Ranma said, smiling again.
"So, what does that have to do with us?"
"A guy downstairs. Shuji Kowichi, or something. He got Yamagami's address, and we're heading up there to get a hold of Yamagami."
Ryouga finished getting dressed and looked over to Ranma. "Take me to him."
Shuji eyed Ryouga appraisingly, then smiled. "Why, hello Ryouga."
"You," Ryouga said. "I've seen you."
"I would imagine so," he said. "The restaurant was a favorite eating place of mine."
Ryouga raised an speculative eyebrow. "You're Yakuza?"
Shuji bowed. "Yes. But even us Yakuza eat too."
"I didn't mean it like that. I mean... why are you helping? What's in it for you?"
Shuji sighed. "I don't know how many times I should explain this... First of all, Mr. and Mrs. Tosaka were clients of ours. It was our job to protect them, and we failed. It is... bad for business. Therefore, we are expending every resource available in order to bring this man down... And besides, it is very uncivilized to just sit back and watch, wouldn't you say?"
"So you don't think I did it?" Ryouga asked, leaning back against a wall.
Shuji shrugged. "We had our suspicions in the beginning. But young Akane and Ukyou here were more than willing to share their side of the story, which pegs you as a good guy. Call me sentimental, but I'll believe two young visions of beauty over the police any day."
Ukyou and Akane both blushed at this.
Ryouga took a seat at a table. "So, how are we getting there? It's obvious that by now, my face would be posted up all over the place, right?"
"Well, getting there will be easy. It's not like we'll be taking public transportation."
"We won't?" Ranma asked.
"Well," Mousse began. "I'll assume the Lexus out front might be a non-public form of transportation..."
Shuji nodded. "There should be room for all of you, although we may have to... pack it in, so to speak."
Ryouga stood up and cracked his knuckles. "Well, what are we waiting for?"
They arrived at the building two hours later, none the worse for wear. The sun was just going down over the horizon, and they had found a secure, out of the way parking space underground.
The first thing Shuji did was pop open the trunk and run over to it.
"Okay," he began, motioning everyone over. "I've got some things here that may be somewhat useful."
Ranma raised an eyebrow. "No guns, right? I don't do guns."
Shuji laughed and shook his head. "No, I'm not stupid enough to carry them around in my trunk. It's one thing to carry one on my person, but in my car? Never," he said. "No, these are communication radios."
Ranma took one of the two-way radios and examined it. "What are these for?"
"In case we get separated. Let me run through a few things first. They won't work in stairwells at all, but in elevators, they may work. It depends how far away you are," he passed one to Mousse, Ryouga, Akane and Ukyou, and then took one for himself, slamming the trunk. "I'm on channel four, set them."
Each of them turned the small dial to the four. "Ten-Four good buddy," Ukyou spoke into the radio, then chuckled.
"I'd suggest not using official lingo. Someone might pick up on it."
Ukyou shrugged. "That's okay, I don't know the official lingo, anyway."
"So, how are we getting up?" Ranma asked. "I mean, there are twenty-three floors to climb, right?"
Shuji nodded. "I suggest we each take different routes, and converge on the twenty-third floor. From there, we can jump in on Yamagami together, and find out what we can."
Ranma nodded, then looked around the parking lot. There were three stairwell doors, and two elevator vestibules.
"There are five routes, and six of us. Who's doubling up?" Ranma asked.
"Ms. Tendo, you go with Ranma," Shuji said. "The rest of you, head up whichever route you want."
"Actually-- I think it might be better if Ryouga doubles up with someone," Ranma suggested.
Ryouga nodded in agreement. Quite vigorously.
"Whatever. I'll head up the northern vestibule. The rest of you guys go wherever. Try to keep in contact if possible from your area, and we'll converge on twenty-three in ten minutes. Wait until everyone is there before we go in on him."
Ranma nodded and grabbed Ryouga, pulling him towards the northeastern stairwell, while Akane took the southern elevator vestibule, Ukyou took the western stairwell, and Mousse took the southeastern.
"Twelve," Ranma said, climbing the stairs three at a time. "Eleven floors to go, Ryouga."
"Whatever," he replied, cracking his knuckles again. "I can't wait, Ranma. I'll get this bastard."
"I'm almost positive it's him, but before you go and kill him-- just think about a few things first. I killed Mazuhara because I had to. He would have-- and did-- kill several others. Including Happosai and Cologne."
"He killed Rin's parents. He has to die!"
"But what about Rin herself? There's no evidence of her being dead yet, Ryouga. What if you killed him, and because there was nobody to tell us where she was, she starved to death? Then what? Fourteen."
"I'm not dumb enough for that, but--"
"There's jail Ryouga. I hated having to kill Mazuhara, but it had to be done, or else he would have taken more life with him. That's the only excuse I can come up with, and it's the only one that keeps me relatively sane. If it could have been done, I would have had him put in jail. I only killed him because there was no choice."
"The news said he killed himself."
"Hiryu Shoten Ha, Ryouga. Who would've thought the bullets would get caught up in the whirlwind? Sixteen."
Ryouga sighed. "Still, I can't let him go without being punished."
"Neither can I, Ryouga. But... it may have to go that way."
Ryouga remained silent the rest of the way up.
Gods, this was fun. Mousse would have to remember it in the future. Of all the places he'd been while in Japan, the stairwell of a high rise building he had not. And with his grappling hooks, getting up floor by floor was incredibly easy.
He'd walked up the first three flights, and then started tossing the hooks around, climbing up and nearly four times the speed that walking would have done.
Nine, ten, eleven.
He passed a confused looking security guard on twelve, then continued up to thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.
The elevators would probably beat him to the top, but he'd most likely be the first out from the stairwells.
This whole situation had been dropped on Mousse like a ton of bricks. But truthfully, he enjoyed it.
As far as his war with Saotome was concerned, it was over. And they had worked together enough times in the past for a friendship to blossom.
Well, as close as a friendship could get, especially when one was trying to kill the other time after time.
But now, it was like his final good-bye. One last quest to go on with Ranma, and he'd run back to China to be with Shampoo.
Mousse smiled as the wind rushed through his hair.
Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one.
He was almost there. Time to slow down.
Ukyou started to get tired around fifteen. But she had turned it into a game of sorts when she started to pole-vault her way up the stairs using her spatula.
She had originally gone with Akane the previous week to help her. Even when they found Ranma, Ukyou had only thought of Akane's feelings. It didn't take much for Ukyou to wake up to her own emotions at that time, either. Ranma was her brother. Ukyou was his sister.
It was easy to figure, and even the pain of having realized this wasn't great. It just meant she and Ranma would be together forever, but not as husband and wife-- as brother and sister.
She wasn't blind. She could see Akane's feelings for Ranma, and his for her. For a time, she had hoped it would pass, that Ukyou would be the recipient of Ranma's emotion.
But for that long, she never realized she was the recipient. Yes, even when they were young, she could see it.
Sibling rivalry. That was it.
Ukyou continued to vault up the stairs, while letting her mind wander.
Akane fidgeted against the back of the elevator. It was completely mirrored inside, so it gave her a distraction as it climbed the floors up to twenty-three.
But in the lobby, as she went up to it, she gained a small troupe of people.
"Hello, Miss," one man smiled, pushing the button for the eighth floor.
Akane smiled at the man, and even as the elevator continued to pack up, with people pushing the buttons for nearly every floor under twenty-three.
Of course, when more people got on at the stopped floors, Akane's smile quickly turned into a frown. Maybe she WOULD have been better off taking the staircase.
"Yes," Shuji spoke into his phone. "We're at the building now. We're going to converge on twenty-three and jump in on his apartment."
Shuji listened to Kintaro on the other end. "Good. Keep me posted, Shuji."
Shuji turned off the cell as the elevator stopped on twenty-three, and he popped out. Having to make calls to his superiors had become a way of life, but even having to do so in an elevator on his way to infiltrate was pushing it a little.
Still, it was best to keep them informed. Especially his direct boss.
He walked down the hallway, looking for the right apartment. No sooner had he found it, than the door to a nearby stairwell popped open.
"Well," Shuji said. "That was rather quick."
Mousse nodded. "I found a shortcut," he smiled.
"Akane isn't even out yet," he said, motioning towards the elevator at the other end of the hallway, which was still on sixteen.
"Hey, you guys here yet?" a male voice called from around the corner.
Mousse and Shuji ran over to the other stairwell to see Ranma and Ryouga pop out. Ryouga was breathing hard, but Ranma seemed fine.
"I guess he's not over his injuries yet," Ranma said, jabbing a thumb in Ryouga's direction.
"No, he wouldn't be... not yet," Mousse said. "But he'll be all right."
An elevator ding soon produced an angry looking Akane, who popped out of it, leaving an unconscious old man behind.
Ranma blinked in surprise. "What--"
"DON'T ask," Akane warned.
As the elevator doors closed, Ranma decided it would be best NOT to ask.
"Ukyou's not up yet?"
Ranma shook his head. "No, she should be up soon though."
A scant thirty seconds later, Ukyou opened the door to her stairwell, and stepped out. "Well," she said. "That was interesting."
Shuji looked around. "Okay, we're all here. His apartment is right there," he said, pointing towards a door.
"Well, let's go!" Ranma said, jogging up to the door, and then pausing.
"Do you want to break it down?"
Ranma thought for a moment. "He might not even be in there," he said. "And we might draw a little too much attention. Anyone good at picking locks?"
Shuji pulled out a few small tools and moved towards the doorknob. "Shouldn't take but a moment," he said, moving in to work his magic upon the doorknob.
A few moments later, the door made a satisfying click, and allowed entry to the team.
Ranma was the first in, he jumped in and ran to one side, checking out the area. The others soon followed, each one spreading across the apartment, while Shuji hung close to the door. He wasn't a martial artist, but he wasn't stupid, either.
It was well furnished, and had several expensive pieces of art, including Chinese vases, a few paintings, a sculpture sitting in the middle of the room, and an amazing amount of electronics. The big-screen projection TV was what drew most attention, but that wasn't what they were looking for.
But the only problem was, quite simply... Yamagami wasn't there.
In fact, nobody was there.
"So where the hell is he?" Ryouga exclaimed. "He's supposed to be here!"
"We must have missed him," Ukyou said.
"No," Ranma said, laying his hand on the projection TV. "It's warm. He must have just left."
As if on cue, the telephone rang.
The entire group eyed it suspiciously.
"Do you suppose...?" Akane began.
Ukyou trod over to the phone carefully, and picked it up. "Hello?" she asked.
"Turn on the speaker phone," the voice ordered.
Ukyou narrowed her eyes and did as the voice asked. "Who is this? Yamagami?"
"You fools think I'm stupid?" the voice asked. "You think I'll just wait around for you to come up and get me? You ARE dumber than you look, Saotome."
Ranma clenched his teeth together. "Yamagami! Where the hell are you?!"
"Oh, far away from you now, my friend... There's no WAY I'd hang around there with what's about to happen."
Mousse angled his ear for a moment. "Do you guys hear ticking?"
Ukyou backed away from the phone in a heartbeat, but it wasn't until Shuji yelled "Bomb!" That everyone jumped into action.
Shuji and Mousse made their way out of the apartment door first, closing in on the northeastern stairwell, while Ryouga grabbed Ukyou and forced the two of them out the window, and on to the fire escape outside. Finally, Ranma grabbed Akane and made it as far as the door before the explosion went off, sending Ryouga and Ukyou down three floors, hanging on to the fire escape rail. Ranma caught the brunt of the blast from behind, but managed to throw himself away from it just enough to knock he and Akane through the gyprock wall separating the hallway and the elevator shaft.
The fire alarm started going off nearly a moment later.
Akane held on to Ranma as tightly as she could as the two teens slid down the cable holding the elevator up. Ranma gripped it as tightly as he could, causing the friction to burn his hands. With a loud grunt, he was finally able to stop their descent.
"DAMMIT, YAMAGAMI!" Ranma exclaimed.
"Ranma can you get us out of here?" Akane asked.
Ranma winced. He had been holding on too tightly to the metal cable, and the added weight had come as more of a disadvantage as he burned his hands from the friction caused when holding on to the wire.
"Yeah," he said, climbing. "Just hold on."
The elevator was about three floors up. As long as it didn't move, he would easily be able to--
"Ranma! The elevator is coming down!"
"Oh, thank you for the news update, Connie Chung!"
Unfortunately for the two of them, the wire Ranma held on to was moving upwards, towards the mechanical pulley at the side of the elevator.
"Ryouga!" Ukyou exclaimed, trying her best to hold on to Ryouga's hand. Unfortunately, the sweat that both of them were now leaking at a faster-than-normal rate were making the task a bit more slick than they would have hoped.
Coupled with Ryouga's injuries, it didn't make things any easier.
"Hold on!" he shot back, trying to lift both him and Ukyou up to the platform which they had both been thrown off of. If he had been in peak physical condition, he could have done it with the utmost ease-- but not today. Not with his injuries.
Ukyou shot a quick gaze downwards. They were at least twenty stories up. No matter HOW good they were, they wouldn't survive the fall. Ukyou was hanging too far away from the rail herself to reach out and grab, so she found herself having to rely on Ryouga.
Ryouga struggled to keep a grip on both ends. He had to do something rather than just hang there.
He opened his eyes and went for it. It was all or nothing, he had to flip Ukyou up on to the platform, and only then could he worry about himself.
He jerked his arm up, in an effort to bring Ukyou up.
But she had been unprepared. Her hand slipped, and the grip was lost.
"NOOO!" Ryouga screamed, not wanting to look down. "Ukyou!"
The blast rocked the entire building when it hit, and even Shuji and Mousse felt it from the stairwell. Fortunately, they were encased in concrete, and the blast wasn't strong enough to break through.
"DAMMIT!" Mousse exclaimed. "Why couldn't I hear it earlier?!"
"No matter," Shuji said, narrowing his eyes. "The others should be all right. But there's only one way he could have gone without our seeing him."
"We don't even know what he looks like. Saotome and Hibiki are the only ones who know," Mousse shot back, leaning against the concrete wall.
"Still, I think up is our best bet. If we hurry-- hey, are you listening?"
Mousse put his hand up. "Just wait," he said, angling his ear towards the concrete wall.
"What? What is it, do you hear something?"
"Is this the elevator shaft?" he asked, motioning to the wall.
"I think so. Why?"
"Back up," Mouse said, backing a few feet away from the wall and pulling out a few of his tougher weapons.
"Ranma, do something!" Akane exclaimed, looking up towards the elevator, which was getting ever so closer. The hole they had fallen through was nearly upon them. Maybe Ranma could--
"Hold on!" he shot back. The hole was too small and too far away. Even alone and at his full strength, it would be a tricky jump. But with Akane on his back, and his muscles still cramping up from time to time... Even then, there was smoke bellowing out from the hole. It almost wasn't worth the risk.
"Okay, when I jump for the hole, I want you to--" Ranma paused. "Do you hear something?"
Akane cocked her head, straining to hear past the roar of the elevator motor. "Is that....?"
Ranma frowned. "It sounds like someone is mining," he said, then looked towards the darkened wall. "It's coming from there."
"The elevator is getting closer, Ranma!"
Ranma frowned. He needed to know-- then he saw it. Light started pouring in from the newly made hole on the opposite side of the elevator shaft.
"Saotome, is that you?!" a voice echoed through.
"It's Mousse!" Ranma exclaimed. "Hey, Mousse! Help us out, here!"
No sooner had a moment passed than the wall had exploded outwards, pelting Ranma and Akane with bits of concrete. But the hole was now large enough for the two of them to pass into. Safely.
Ranma leapt from the cable just as the elevator sucked the wire he was holding into the pulley. If Ranma's hand had still been there, they would have been crushed.
Ranma and Akane leaned back on the concrete floor as the elevator passed by.
"Jeez," Ranma sighed. "Don't these idiots know you're NOT supposed to use an elevator during a fire?"
Ukyou tumbled through the air, feeling her heart race as a speed previously unknown to her. Twice in a week, she thought to herself.
Trying to time it just right, she readied her spatula and shot it out just at the right time, getting it caught between the bars of a fire escape platform, and using the leverage to swing her to the next level below.
She hit the wall with no small amount of force, and took a few moments to become composed. She had a nasty scrape on her arm, but other than that, she was none the worse for wear.
She pulled her spatula out of the railing of the platform above her and looked up.
"Hey, Ryouga!" she exclaimed. The fool was still hanging from the platform.