Epilogue 2: "Itís Time to Spread Love Around!"
A Ranma ½ story
by D.B. Sommer
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.
All comments and criticisms appreciated. You can contact me at
Tatewaki Kunou contemplated what course his life should now take. Many hours over the ensuing month since his return from China had been spent sitting pensively as he thought, and thought, and thought, and yet he still could not come to a decision. Even the cross-legged position he sat in on the floor seemed to mock his indecisiveness. A prosthetic leg had been attached to the stump that was at the root of all of his problems. The current ones, anyway.
He took several deep breaths, trying to calm himself and locate his center, and failed once again. His bitter soul remained in torment from his disfigurement, and he was still at a loss as to what to do. He had forsaken the sword —considering his condition, he had little choice in the matter— and yielded his role as leader of the kendo club to another, while he trying to determine what more needed to be done. There was still the option of taking his life, but that held very little appeal to him. He was not a coward; if the situation deemed it necessary, he would commit seppuku, but it just did not seem to be the right thing to do.
As he tried meditating further, the faint echo of footsteps in the corridor interrupted his concentration. They were not the heavy footfalls of his father, who, remarkably, had been trying to console his sonís loss as best he could. Nor was it the light sound his sister made when she glided across the floor; she had remained in China with her lover. Nor would it be Sasuke; the small ninja made even less noise as he walked, preferring to creep around the manor for even the most mundane of tasks. Guests were practically unheard of at Kunou manor. Perhaps it was an intruder, but if so, he should have run into Sasuke, or one of the traps spread out among the grounds of the estate.
The footfalls paused outside the door of his room. The steps had been unerring; whoever the visitor was, he had known Kunou was there. Kunouís back remained to the door as it was quietly opened.
"Master, there is a girl here to see you," Sasukeís voice came from behind him.
Kunou was about to bark out how he had not wanted to be disturbed when his mind fell on one of the words. ĎGirl.' A girl had come to see him? "Allow her to enter."
It took him a moment to undo his legs from the position they were in before he stood. He still wasnít used to the prosthetic leg. That knowledge served to dampen the feelings of joy that had begun to blossom in his chest. Before they had been completely doused, Sasuke ushered the girl inside.
The girl bowed before Kunou. "Umm. Hello. Do you remember me?" The girl spoke in a hesitant voice, obviously waiting with great trepidation over the answer.
Kunou looked the girl over closely. The dress was obviously of Furinkan origin, yet he could not place her face. That was most peculiar. She was very attractive, and the way her hair was braided with those two large circles on the top of her head was most distinctive…
"You are the Devil Hunter whom I rescued from that evil demon several months ago."
Yohko Mano nearly passed out from joy. He had remembered her, even if he was exaggerating his role a bit. Still, to have a man that good-looking want to save her was reason enough to swoon. "Thank you ever so much for that help."
"It was a pleasure." He bowed once again, feeling better. There was something about the girlís attentions that seemed different when compared to the fascination other women had for him, and it produced a most curious sensation in him. He approached her slowly, still not having fully adapted to his new limb.
Yohko could not help noticing Kunouís pronounced limp. "What happened to your leg?"
A wave of sorrow once again washed away the pleasant mood Yohkoís attentions had given him. He raised his hakima high enough to allow Yohko to see his replacement appendage. "Iím afraid I lost it in a duel. I was not… good enough."
Kunouís misery doubled as he saw Yohkoís look of horror. He should have known that even she would mock him for being less than a full man. Why, even now tears were forming in her eyes. He watched as her mouth opened and then waited for the cry of disgust that would escape her lips.
"This is all my fault!"
"Iím sorry!" Yohko continued as well as she could between her bawls. "It was a demon, wasnít it?! Thatís what always happens to any guy I get interested in! Theyíre either sacrificed, or possessed, or end up being illusions. And now a demon attacked you to get at me. Itís just not fair!"
"Actually, though he almost seemed as swift as a demon, he was not one."
Yohkoís tears dried up, though she continued to sniffle. "Are you sure?"
Kunou described everything that had happened to him in China, embellishing greatly on his fight with Utsutu Mujuru as though it were the focal point of the whole adventure.
Yohko was visibly relieved. "Thank goodness I wasnít to blame, not that Iím happy you lost your leg," she quickly added.
Kunou simply nodded, depressed once again by the fate that had slipped his grasp. There was nothing that could be done.
Yohko cleared her throat to regain his attention. "Anyway, I wanted to ask you a favor."
Yohko brought her hands together in front of her and began twiddling her thumbs. Her gaze became transfixed by the action. "Well, you see, I just transferred to Furinkan and dropped by to say hello."
"Do not allow my father to cut that wondrous hair of yours," Kunou warned.
"Ah, okay," Yohko answered, momentarily confused, but not failing to notice the Ďwondrousí reference concerning her hair. "Well, here it is. Itís kind of something Iíve been meaning to do but never got around to doing." She took a deep breath and went for the plunge. "Youíre really good with swords, and my primary weapon is my soulsword, I donít think Iíd have won half of my fights without it, and since I rely on it so much I think I should get better. Since youíre such an expert swordsman, I wanted to ask if youíd teach me how to use it better."
"I cannot," Kunou said solemnly.
"If itís a money thing, I can pay you." Yohko admitted to herself she had hoped he would simply jump at the opportunity to spend time with her, but if it took spreading a little cash to hang around with the cute guy, then that was all there was to it.
"It is not about money. I have forsaken the path of the warrior." Kunou kept the anger out of his voice. It had been a difficult decision, but an obvious one.
Apparently to all but Yohko. "Look at my leg! I am but half a man. And nothing more than a complete man can be a true warrior."
Yohko stared at Kunou, bewildered. "Umm. Didnít you say that guy you fought was a true warrior?"
"Yes." Kunou had thought he had explained it quite thoroughly.
"He was really good with his sword and at least your equal, right?"
"Wasnít he blind?"
"Of course he was. I mentioned that to you several times."
"If he can be blind and still be a true warrior, why canít you lose a leg and still be one too?"
Kunou fell silent. Yohko watched on as the slow look of realization dawned on his face. He began trembling in excitement as a manic gleam, one that had not made an appearance since China, at last returned.
He grabbed Yohko and jumped up and down with her. "By all the Gods, you speak true! I can still be a true warrior! This loss was nothing more than a test of my resolve, and one I would not have passed had it not been for you!"
Yohko was jumping up and down in as much joy. "Does that mean youíll go out with me?!"
"For the assistance you have rendered to me, I shall allow you to date me!"
It was Yohkoís turn to grab Kunou and jump up and down with him. She had it all now! A cute guy that quoted poetry, was heroic, didnít mind the fact she hunted demons for a living (a REALLY big plus), and could defend himself when the need would arise. There was probably some drawback to him, but whatever it was, she could overlook it.
Life was good for Yohko Mano.
"Now remember, donít show any weakness in front of my mother. Sheís the one you want to impress."
"Of course, Mousse-sama."
"But donít be too boisterous."
"Of course, Mousse-sama."
"You have to be firm, but not unyielding. Have power, but not have to show it. You have to be—"
"Like an Amazon, yes?"
"Err… yes. Like that." Mousse wondered exactly what was going to happen. When he had told Kodachi he was going to move back to his home, she had announced she was going along too, naturally. "After all," she had said, "I should meet my loveís parents. It would not do to cement the bonds of our relationship without meeting them first." Mousse understood what the code words, Ďcement bondsí meant, and figured Kodachi probably had already picked out her wedding dress.
So the two of them disembarked from TWPOS before it had attempted its fold. They had not been the only ones. All of the Amazons, save Shampoo and Silk, had also gotten off and headed back to Joketsuzoku. The only unusual addition to that lot had been Kasumi Tendo, though Mousse had no idea as to why she was going along. The only thing that seemed unusual about her was that she was very pale and stayed extremely close to Cologneís side. He didnít bother to ask why. Being near the dried-up piece of mackerel jerky that had been a thorn in his side for years was the last thing he needed, so he avoided the party of Amazons altogether. All the wizened elder represented to him now was a reminder of a broken dream that could never be fixed.
A surge of emotion shot through him once more as he thought about the ship. Yesterday, he had not been able to see Shampoo off; the pain would have been too great. When she had come by and informed him that she would be going away, and that she quite possibly wouldnít return, he had felt the final dying of his love.
Ranmaís returning of her feelings was what had finally, truly done it. Before that moment, hope, no matter dismal it was, had been within him. That was true no longer. If he had thought the love Shampooís eyes had held for Ranma before Mount Phoenix was painful, what was there after was deadly. She had said Ranmaís name only once during their conversation, but the emotion it held had been enough for something inside Mousse to accept what it meant and finally give up for all time. Denial gave way to understanding. There was nothing in Heaven and Earth that he could do to change her heart in the slightest. It was now over in the truest sense of the word. Forever. There was nothing left to do, so he found himself returning to somewhere that he would be wanted. Home.
He scratched at the burn marks around his neck. The healing salve Doc Sangre had given him had taken the edge off the pain, but the blackened welts would be there for weeks and the scar would never heal. And the migraine headaches he had been suffering might very well be with him for the rest of his life as well. Another wonderful thing to look forward to. At least the aspirin helped.
His gaze traveled to Kodachi, who was happily walking alongside him. It was still something of a shock to him that her presence made things feel at least a little better. Then again, perhaps it should not have surprised him. From her, he had received that which he had offered to Shampoo: unconditional love, something his lonely soul craved now more than ever after what had happened. All that was left was to figure out what to do with it. She had stood by him even through the worst of times, never willingly leaving his side. He knew he cared for her, but doubted it was love. It was similar to what he had felt for Shampoo, but different at the same time. It lacked the burning intensity that had marked his desire for Shampoo. It was an unfamiliar feeling for him, one that was going to take a while to figure out.
The best place to think things out would be in the safe and friendly environment of home. It had been nearly a year since he had last set eyes upon his family and residence. True, Japan had been an easy place to get used to, and the males possessing the dominant role was very appealing, but it was not the place he had grown up. Joketsuzoku was. Whatever drawbacks living there had, they were easily offset by the joy of simply being there.
Kodachiís presence there was going to make things a bit difficult. Making friends had never been a high priority for her, and she seemed to rub people the wrong way. Actually, if he did not manage to extend some sort of protection towards her, the odds of her receiving a challenge were good, and since her fighting abilities were superior to about nine out of ten of the warriors, a kiss of death would probably soon follow. So it would fall to Mousse to persuade his mother to officially accept Kodachi as a guest and extend to her that desired protection.
That was why he was trying so hard to make Kodachiís first impression a good one. It could all come down to that first meeting. Generally his mother, Lo Ling, was an easy person to get along with, but every now and then she would be in a foul mood for no apparent reason. Hopefully that would not be the case, but one never knew, and it was always best to prepare for the worst.
There was also the problem of exactly how his mother would react to the idea that her only child wanted to have a relationship with an outsider. Mousseís clan was far from being prominent. They werenít held in disgrace, but they had no real influence and none of the current generation of children showed any promise of making any great strides for the family. Once he was older, Mousse began to wonder if perhaps part of his motherís encouragement of his pursuit of Shampoo was in the hopes that the family would gain a little influence if he married the girl who could very well have been the next matriarch. In any case, if he did end up marrying Kodachi (which might not ever happen, regardless of what the Black Rose thought about Ďdestinyí) that would be the end of anything resembling a political marriage. Still, his mother had always assured him that his happiness was all she really cared about. Now he would find out if that were the truth.
"Let me talk to her first," Mousse warned. "Sheíll be focusing on me anyway, so—"
"I know how to properly greet your mother."
"I donít think you understand. Some of the customs of my people are drastically different from yours," Mousse pointed out.
"I understand far more than you think," Kodachi assured him. "I went over the formalities of your people. I wanted to impress your parents and understand your culture, so I asked Cologne to teach me your ways. She knew from the first that we were meant to be together, so she told me everything I would need to know so that I could properly court you."
"Oh." Mousse remained silent after that. Apparently Kodachi really had planned quite far ahead. He began to wonder if he really stood a chance against her after all.
It took them the better part of the day, but at last the duo crested the top of a hill and saw their goal. The path Mousse had taken to Joketsuzoku wasnít the most direct one, but it did afford the best view of the village that could be taken in its entirety. Once within sight of his home, he felt a warmth in his heart. Never before had he appreciated how his village could look so beautiful when it appeared so simple, at least on the outside. It was such a contrast from the seemingly endless vista of concrete and steel that made up Japan, that he wondered how he could have ever felt so comfortable in that now far-off land.
Mousse was surprised by the sound of emotion in Kodachiís voice. He found it difficult to believe that she would find herself taken in by the village, since it was such a comparatively primitive environment when contrasted with being surrounded in her usual opulent wealth back home.
"I think I would like living here very much." Kodachi continued to stare at the intoxicating sight before.
Mousse was amazed to discover a part of him wanted her to stay there as well. He was suddenly seized by an odd compulsion, one he decided to act upon. "Take my arm and let me show you around."
Kodachi was taken aback. To do so would be something of a statement of what she meant to him. "Are you certain thatís a good idea? I havenít been introduced to your mother yet."
"Donít worry about it. I know sheíll adore you." He offered his arm to her, which she accepted with a squeal of delight.
Kodachi tried to keep herself from resting her head on Mousseís shoulder as he gave her a tour of the village. In spite of the relatively backward nature of the village, she found herself quite smitten by it. Exactly why, she could not say. Perhaps, she wondered, it was because of what the place might represent. A new life with the man she loved.
Most of the villagers gave the couple a curious glance before returning to what they were doing. Kodachi could feel a sense of urgency in the air, but assumed it was from the army that had been camped out on the borders of the village. It didnít seem likely her presence alone could cause that sort of disruption. She just relaxed and took in the scenery, trying to project an air of confidence to those around her. Above all other things, Cologne had emphasized the need to appear strong among the others of the village, especially the warriors.
At last they came upon Mousseís home at the edge of the village. Like many of the other buildings, it was a single story structure with a rather wide layout. The construction appeared quite solid to her untrained eye, and the blue and brown coloring appealed to her. A very nice place, despite its simplicity. The kind, she decided, that she wouldnít mind owning herself. As long as she had someone to share it with.
She felt Mousseís nervous anticipation as he approached the front door, hesitating a moment before knocking. It took only a moment before the door was opened by a black-haired girl that appeared to be only slightly younger than Mousse.
He stared at her in surprise. "<Rain! What are you doing here?>"
"<I live here now.>" She turned from Mousse and entered back into the house.
Kodachi stared suspiciously at the girl, then back to Mousse. "Who is that girl? You said you were an only child."
"That was my cousin, Rain," Mousse answered, still in shock at her presence.
The duo heard Rain shout from inside the house. "<Hey, Auntie! Uncle! Guess whatís blind, stupid, and just showed up on your doorstep?>"
As the pair entered, Kodachi saw Rain watching them with an amused grin as an attractive man that appeared to be somewhere in his forties, with long flowing black hair that fell halfway down his back, stepped out of the kitchen, towel still in hand. Kodachi knew instantly who he had to be and felt she would be a very lucky girl if Mousse aged half as well.
The man stared in surprise, then raced across the room and embraced Mousse. Kodachiís suspicions were confirmed when she heard the man say, "<Son, itís been too long!>"
Moments after his father embraced him, Kodachi saw a woman enter from one of the other rooms. The resemblance wasnít as strong as with the father, but Kodachi was confident it was Mousseís mother. Again her suspicions were confirmed when the woman raced across the room and tore her son out of his fatherís grasp. Kodachi saw that the man didnít look the least bit offended as he watched mother and son with a smile on his face.
After several moments, Lo Ling broke of the embrace and held Mousse at arms' length. She looked him over with both concern and a critical eye. "<You havenít been eating too much, thatís for certain.>"
"<Mom,>" Mousse whined in the voice most children used when being embarrassed by their parents. Kodachi wondered if she had ever sounded like that when her mother was alive.
Lo began to run her hands over him, checking for injuries. She was rewarded by a wince when her hand brushed across his neck. "<Whatís wrong?>"
"<I was electrocuted a few days ago. The woundís still healing.>"
Lo immediately opened the top of her sonís robes and examined the wound herself. "<It looks pretty bad. Have you any other injuries?>" Her voice was laced with concern.
"<Just headaches,>" Mousse answered, trying to reassure her he would be all right.
At last, Lo seemed to notice the companion he had arrived with. "<Mu Tse, who is this girl?>"
Mousse suddenly found his confidence faltering. "<Well, you see…>"
Kodachi stepped forward and dropped to one knee. "<I am a friend of your son that honorably requests the protection of your roof for a time.>"
Lo seemed impressed by the proper phrasing of the request. "<To you, who is friend to my son, I give you my protection for your stay, so long as you act with honor.>"
"<I shall.>" Kodachi rose to her feet.
With that out of the way, Lo examined the girl more closely. "<You are Japanese, yes?>"
"<You speak well for an outsider,>" Lo commented. "<What is your name?>"
Lo examined Kodachi even more closely, then turned to Mousse. "<I did not expect you to bring a guest, my son. I have a feeling there is more to this than a simple visit.>"
Mousse began to shift his feet nervously. "<Kodachi, well… she has come to mean much to me since I was last here, and I was kind of wondering if it would be okay for us to… date.>"
Lo seemed mildly surprised by the revelation, but it was Rain who spoke the loudest. "<HA! You gave up on Xian Pu? What happened? Did she die or something?>"
"<Yes. She did.>"
Mousseís parents stared at him in shock for a moment, then tried to comfort him. He felt guilty about lying to them, especially with the way they were treating him, but it was a necessary thing in order to protect Shampoo.
"<Iím sorry, Mu Tse.>" Rain said sincerely, her offhanded treatment of her cousin replaced by concern.
He tried putting them at ease. "<I knew long before it happened that she would never be mine. It hurts, but not as much as it would have if I hadnít accepted the truth a while ago. There is someone else that has been helping me with my grief.>"
He turned to look at Kodachi who, in turn, blushed at the attention. She was surprised at acting like a flighty schoolgirl upon receiving his attentions.
Lo Ling noticed the effect Mousse was having on the newcomer and resisted the urge to smile. It appeared her son really had at last given up his futile quest to win Shampooís heart and had turned his attentions to another. Perhaps that was for the best, even if she was an outsider. "<I thank you for rendering assistance to my son. We may talk at length later to see if you are fit enough to have a relationship with him.>"
"<Iíll take her out back and see how good she fights!>" Rain offered eagerly.
Mousse scowled in his cousinís direction. "<And just why are you so happy about testing her? I thought you didnít like to fight.>"
"<Because,>" Rain said slyly. "<The sooner you two get hitched up, the sooner you move out and get a place of your own, and the sooner I can have your room for good.>"
Mousse just stared at her. "<Since when did you start living in my room?>"
"<Since I refused to take my warrior vows and decided to become a farmer,>" Rain explained dryly. "<Mother was not particularly happy with her oldest daughter refusing to Ďtake up her true responsibilitiesí and threw me out. Auntie and Uncle were kind enough to put me up while you were gone.>" She gave a wicked little look to Kodachi. "<Marry him quick, before he starts obsessing about some other woman he canít have.>"
"<Indeed,>" Lo added as she moved closer to Kodachi. "<Mu Tse needs a firm hand to guide him. Heís quite rambunctious when left on his own.>"
"<Oh, I know. It took me months to get over his stubborn refusal to admit Iím a better match for him than that awful Xian Pu could ever be,>" Kodachi assured her as she, Lo, and Rain, headed outside.
Mousse remained where he was, watching helplessly as the women left the house. It seemed that his mother and Kodachi had hit it off well. Perhaps too well.
His father placed a comforting arm around his sonís shoulder. "<Well, say goodbye to what little freedom you once had. Youíre as good as married off, now.>"
Mousse could do nothing other than groan in agreement.
Mousse looked at the spectacle before him. Months had passed since he and Kodachi had settled into Joketsuzoku, and things had changed quickly concerning some of the policies of the tribe, including the introduction of outsider women into it. Whereas once it was a rare thing to accept more than a handful a year, suddenly close to a dozen had been accepted after completing various trials to prove their worth. That there had been such an influx of new blood was good, it meant Kodachi would be just one more petitioner among a host of others, but Mousse wanted to know why the sudden expansion in numbers was occurring.
It took him a little while, but he thought he had managed to put things together. Cologne and Be Dea, the two most powerful and bitter archrivals on the council, were seen together frequently. Also Perfume was almost always with them. Somehow, the scar-faced Amazon had managed to influence the pair in some way, though exactly how, Mousse was uncertain. He saw little point in mentioning his observations to anyone. He could care less about politics and was nothing more than a Ďmereí male in their eyes, beneath listening to in Ďimportant mattersí. Although there was a rumor of the men being granted more influence in the tribe, something Mousse would believe when he saw it happen.
There was also the other little detail he had figured out on his own, one that had nearly shattered his healed heart all over again. When he had first discovered it, he was so enraged with grief he nearly went to the middle of the village and announced to the world that Shampoo was still alive and cursed; his old loveís betrayal of him hurt that much.
Fortunately for him, as well as Kodachi and perhaps his entire family, he had gone to Cologne first and revealed his discovery to her. Almost as soon as the words were out of her mouth she flung herself across the room and paralyzed him with a touch. She then proceeded to describe, in extraordinarily vivid detail, what would happen to everyone he cared about if he dared to reveal either that Shampoo was alive or what had happened involving some questionable actions of hers. Cologne had already discussed the matter with the concerned party, and the two had agreed upon taking steps to ensure that the truth of the matter was kept among those who had figured out the secret. That also meant Kodachi had to be warned to silence as well, since the rather elaborate fabrication would fall apart with an errant word to the wrong person.
After he calmed down, Mousse agreed to the terms. That part of his life was behind him; he just had to let go. It had taken him a while, but he came to terms with that he had discovered, even though it still brought a nauseous feeling to his stomach whenever he thought about it. Shampoo would undoubtedly learn the truth soon enough, then she would have to deal with the consequences of her actions.
It was none of his affair anymore. There were other, more important, things to worry about, like how Kodachi would fare in her petition to become an official member of the tribe. True, she could have become one simply by marrying him, but she wanted it made clear to those that had regarded her with disdain —basically those warriors that thought all outsiders were soft— that she was worthy of being granted the status through her abilities. Joining by marrying him would have been a cop-out to her, and she wanted to show all of the warriors Kodachi Kunou was Ďmore than capable of teaching a bunch of simple farm girls what it meant to ridicule one who was so much better than they.í
Kodachiís people skills really hadnít improved all that much since her arrival in Joketsuzoku, he admitted, but at least she got along well with his family.
"<Are you sure you are ready for this?>" Lo asked.
"<You can still wait another week,>" Rain threw in before Kodachi could answer.
The Black Rose shook her head. "<I am as ready as I shall ever be. Both of you have seen to that.>"
That was the truth. Kodachi still marveled at how quickly the two women had come to accept her with open arms. Moreover, she was surprised at her own reactions to their acceptance. Whenever Lo gave words of approval, Kodachi felt her pride swell, and when her words held disappointment, shame soon followed. That pattern of behavior had been duplicated for only one other person: Kodachiís mother. That she would react that way to someone whom she had only first met no more than two months ago still surprised her, but once she thought about it, perhaps it should not have been so astonishing. Kodachi had practically worshipped the ground her mother had walked upon, and after she passed on, it was not as though there had been anyone to fill the void.
And Rain. Dear, sweet, sarcastic Rain. She had been another pleasant surprise. At first, the relationship the younger girl had with Mousse seemed to be one in which neither person particularly liked the other. However, that illusion was quickly shattered when it became clear that the two cared for each other deeply. It was similar to an older brother/younger sister relationship, with a great deal of (mostly) friendly bickering between the two. Not all that different from the relationship Kodachi had with her own brother, though Mousseís was a good bit warmer and less rivalistic.
Almost from the beginning Rain had accepted Kodachi, and that acceptance was returned. Rainís friendliness went beyond the desire to simply see Mousse married off and moved out of the house, (although she still openly insisted to Mousse that was her real motivation). Rain found Kodachiís independent streak similar to her own and felt they were kindred spirits, a feeling mirrored in Kodachi. And thus the two became friends.
Loís hand fell on Kodachiís shoulder, snapping her out of her reminiscing. "<You will do fine, future daughter-in-law.>"
Kodachi felt her heart soar with that. It was the first time Lo had ever used those words when referring to her. "<I will not fail you, future mother-in-law.>" Kodachi bowed, then turned to deliver her petition before the Elder.
Only four members of the Counsel had gathered to witness the handing out of tasks to the dayís petitioners. Now that the admissions were becoming more commonplace, most of them didnít bother to show up anymore.
Talcum, the one that was in charge of listening to the petitioners this day, looked the outsider over and frowned. That so many outsiders were suddenly being encouraged to join was going to lead to problems down the road. The pure lines would be watered down by the outsider blood, making the tribe weaker, not stronger. How unfortunate most of the others on the council did not feel the same way. She was tempted to give this newest girl some impossible task to prove her worth, but the reprimand she would receive from the others for her actions would negate any joy she would feel at helping to maintain the purity of the tribe.
Talcum carefully examined Kodachi as she stepped forward to make her request to become a full-fledged Amazon. At least the girl had spent several months with the tribe and all but joined a family already. That softened the blow for Talcum. "<Your task is simple. You must defeat one of our warriors in combat.>" One of the better ones, of course. No need to go easy on the outsider. Just because she was of non-pure blood was no reason why she had to be weak too.
"<Let me do it!>" one of the warriors shouted before Talcum could choose. Kodachi recognized her as Li Sun, one of her loudest detractors. It appeared to Kodachi that she was going to enjoy her initiation.
Talcum nodded approvingly. The girl was good, and from the looks she was shooting towards Kodachi, eager to see to it the outsider didnít join either. Without further discussion the two young women went to the battle tree and loosened up, each smiling wickedly at the other, each convinced the other would be the one to fall in defeat. The duo was all too eager to have this little contest underway, and after only a handful of moments, the match began.
Li Sun held her staff at the ready as Kodachi whipped out her ribbon and spun it in a circle, releasing a cloud of black rose petals. Li Sun was momentarily distracted by the unusual maneuver, and thus left herself open for Kodachiís ribbon to snake its way around her ankles. A second later, Kodachi tugged on the ribbon sending her opponent flying away.
"<It appears even the Sun has fallen to my superior skills. OHHOHOHOHOHO!!!>"
Talcum refrained from holding her head in her hands; it would have been undignified for an Elder to be seen that frustrated in public. Not only had another outsider now been inducted, but she had a REALLY annoying laugh as well. She did notice the recovered Li was staring evilly at Kodachi. Talcum approved of it. Li should have been enraged at being beaten so easily, although she should also have directed most of the anger towards herself for being so easily distracted. It was as she watched the angry Li that Talcum began to form a plan in her mind. Perhaps she could help this member of the younger generation, and in turn help herself. Some of the newer ideas Cologne and Be Dea had come up with were threatening to destroy tradition, and Talcum lacked the influence to change those ideas on her own. Perhaps there was a better way to go about preserving the true ways. If at least a core of beliefs, traditional ones of course, could be transferred to the younger generation intact, then perhaps the future of the tribe would be in safer hands. All Talcum would have to do was take Li Sun aside for a little while and talk to her, seeing if she would be an acceptable vessel for holding that core, and perhaps influencing others among her generation to see things that way too.
Even if she had known what was going on in Talcumís mind, none of those plans would have bothered Kodachi in the slightest. She was simply delighted at winning. She looked toward Mousse, letting him know that his days would soon be spent in eternal bliss with her, though his father also seemed to have placed the idea in Mousseís head that his days of Ďfreedomí had just ended as well, not that Mousse looked displeased at the prospect. It would only be a matter of days, thanks to the deal Kodachi had struck with Lo Ling. Now that she was a full-fledged member of the tribe, the marriage would take place without delay.
Life was good for Kodachi Kunou.
Mousse watched in pride as Kodachi summarily dispatched her opponent. It had taken a couple months, but at last he had realized what the emotion was that he had felt for Kodachi as she first traveled at his side in their trip to Joketsuzoku, the one that he Ďknewí was not love. He had been slightly off. It was not the intense burning he had felt for Shampoo, so he had made the mistaken assumption that it could not be love either. He was partially correct. It was not true love he had felt, just the first stages of affection, an affection that had grown over the last couple of months and had most likely already turned into love. And somehow, he knew that the feeling would continue to grow until it was, if not the blinding obsession he had felt towards Shampoo, a gentle fire by which he and Kodachi would warm themselves. And maybe, in the end, it would be every bit as intense as the one he had felt for so long for his one time Ďpurple-haired goddess.í
Life was good for Mousse.
"It was really fun meeting your parents, Ryouga-kun."
"Yeah. It was for me too." Ryouga still had the smile on his face from seeing both of his parents in the same room for the first time since he was about six. His tracking abilities in his cursed form had been responsible for the reunion. He had even brought along Shirokuro while he was at it. It seemed oddly appropriate, since the family dog was the one that had had the most contact with the various members of the Hibiki family over the last decade.
The reunion had been Kyokoís idea. A few months after returning to Japan and officially being a couple, she had insisted on meeting Ryougaís parents and telling them of their new status. At first, Ryouga had pointed out that his parents had the same lack of direction sense as he did and that it could conceivably take years to find them, even though he wanted to see them as well. Kyoko then asked why he didnít use his homing senses as a bat to find them. One facefault later, the two picked up some supplies and spent the next few days traveling to Honshu and Hokkaido to pick up his parents. Once again the damned curse had come in useful.
The reunion had gone extraordinarily well. Both parents adored Kyoko, and she them. After spending several days together, catching up on what had happened over the ensuing years (as well as tracking down parents that went to grab something from the refrigerator and didnít return in an hour), Ryouga decided to take a chance and return Kyoko to her home, hoping his family didnít wander off in his absence.
"You shouldnít worry about it," Kyoko said, as though reading his mind. "They did cuff themselves together to keep from roaming away. And even if they do, theyíll still be together."
"Until one of them removes the handcuffs," Ryouga mentioned.
"I donít think theyíll do that. They havenít seen each other in years. You know what that means." Kyoko began blushing.
Kyoko blushed even more furiously. "You know, stuff married couples do."
Ryouga turned green. "They canít do that. Theyíre my parents."
Kyoko giggled at that as she brushed back a few curly brown locks from her that had fallen in front of her face. Sheíd probably react the same way if someone had said something about her parents doing that sort of thing as well.
Ryouga found himself smiling at Kyokoís display of joy. There was something about making a girl laugh, her in particular, that made him feel unbelievably happy. He was with a girl that made him feel the happiest he had ever felt in his life. He had been afraid for so long that love would avoid him, or heíd screw things up, but here he had found a girl who he never seemed to say the wrong thing around. The only thing she appeared to be afraid of was him cheating on her, something that he didnít even think he was capable of doing even if he wanted to. Well, she did seem to get jealous of women that talked to him over long periods of time, but the anger was directed at them, not him. Outside of that, their relationship seemed perfect.
But that wasnít quite true. Even if he wanted to take the next step, there were things he had to do first. That thought triggered the first edges of a depression that was threatening to settle around him. He loathed shaking himself out of his happy mood, but he had thought long and hard about what he wanted to do, and the talk he had had with his parents convinced him of what he had to do.
"Kyoko, thereís something I have to tell you. Something I donít think you want to hear, but I have to do it."
The effect that had was instantaneous. She dropped to her knees and grabbed his legs, bawling her eyes out. "I know what it is. I can tell by the sound of your voice. You want to dump me!"
"Nononono!" Ryouga protested. "Itís not that at all!"
She stopped crying, though remained on the ground. "Itís not?"
"No," he calmly reassured her. "I just want to leave you for a while."
That brought out an even harder deluge of tears. Maybe he should have worded that differently. Carefully he picked her up off the ground and made her look at him. "Iím leaving you because I think maybe I want to go on to… maybe the next stage in our relationship."
Kyoko stared at him in total confusion. "What stage? The abandonment stage?"
"No!" Ryouga insisted. "I want to keep seeing you. I want us to be together for…" The next part he said so softly that Kyoko missed it.
"What was that?" she asked.
"I said maybe… Iíd like us to be together… you know…. sort of, maybe…. a long time."
"Yes," he insisted more loudly. Saying it the first time was the most difficult. The second time it came out of his mouth wasnít even half as tough as the first.
"Then why do you have to leave me?"
Ryouga looked down at the ground, then found the courage to say what had to be said. "If we do stay together… for a long time, I need to find a way to support us."
Kyoko gave a smile towards him. He really had thought about their future together. "You donít have to do it alone. We can do it together."
"No," Ryouga insisted. "Itís the manís job to support his family."
Kyoko nearly swooned. He said family. She resisted the urge to embrace him, fearful that it would cause him to forget what else he wanted to say.
"And that means I need to figure out a way to get some money. Itís not like Iíve had much schooling, and getting a decent, steady job is going to be tough for me. So that means Iím going to go out in the world and sort of try to see if I can find my fortune."
"But I donít want you to go," Kyoko pleaded. "Canít we just support ourselves together or something?"
"No. Iím the man. Itís my job. Thereís also one other thing I have to do," he paused a moment before continuing. "I have to get rid of my curse."
"Why?" Kyoko had told him several times she thought he was sort of cute as a bat.
"Because Iím not a real man if I have it!" he shouted to the world. "Only if I can discover a cure will I be a whole man again."
"But Ryouga-kun, you are a real man," Kyoko insisted. "I wouldnít have fallen in love with you if you werenít. And Iíve never known you when you didnít have a curse. So that proves youíre a real man."
"But I turn into a bat," Ryouga tried arguing.
"I may not be smart, but I know that whatís in here," she pointed at the right side of his chest. "Is all that really matters."
"You mean whatís in my lung is all that matters?"
"No. I meant your heart," Kyoko answered.
"Thatís on the other side of my chest."
"You know what I meant," Kyoko sighed, and made a mental note once again of where the heart was located in case there was another test on human anatomy at school.
Ryouga turned from her. It would be difficult to speak if he had to see her loving stare. It wasnít like he wanted to go, but he had to. "Well, I donít feel like a whole man. I have too many problems that I need to work out. I wonít let myself burden you. Iíll find a way to support us and become a rea—"
Ryouga turned to see that two burly men had grabbed Kyoko and were running off with her. He stared at them in shock for a moment before coming to his senses. "Give her back!" he shouted as began to pursue the kidnappers.
The chase was on. Much to Ryougaís surprise, the men ran quickly with Kyoko. Even trying his hardest, he barely managed to keep them in sight. The two times he did lose track of them, he would see them at the far end of a street, almost as though they were waiting for him, then the chase would continue. Eventually the men ran with their struggling hostage into the back entryway of a huge arena. Ryouga followed them, trying as hard as he could to keep from losing them in the crowd, and most likely for good. The chase continued until the two kidnappers darted into the packed to the rafters arena itself, Ryouga losing sight of the pair for the briefest of moments. He rushed into the arena as fast as he could and was stunned when he heard the public announcement system shout out his name.
"AND HERE HE IS NOW, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. EVERY MANíS NIGHTMARE! EVERY WOMANíS FANTASY! THE TOAST OF THE COAST FROM HOKKAIDO TO KYUSHU. RYOUGA HIBIKI!!!"
"Who? Me?" Ryouga said meekly as he stared at the crowd.
"AND NOW WE CAN BEGIN THE MAIN EVENT OF THE KYOKO CUP!" the announcer continued. "AS YOU ALL KNOW, IF HIBIKI FAILS TO DEFEAT HIS OPPONENT, THE EVERSEXY HOT PINK AVENGER, FLEX LAVENDER, FLEX WILL WIN KYOKOíS SERVICES FOR A YEAR!!!"
"WHAT?!!!" Ryouga screamed as he spotted the two huge men throw the struggling Kyoko into a steel cage that was promptly suspended above a wrestling ring in the center off the arena. It was there that an eager Flex was waiting for Ryouga. Flexís brutish, female partner, Brute Forcz, was waiting outside the ring.
Kyoko stared down from her perch and began screaming at the announcerís table next to the ring. "You canít lock me in a cage and enslave me to someone for a year!"
"We have a seventy-five percent viewer rating for this event," The man shouted back. "According to television regulations, we can do anything up to throwing you into a tank of piranha and itís still legal." The manís eyes glazed over. "Ohh, thatíll be our specialty fight for next week. A match over a tank full of hungry piranha." He began writing the idea down so he wouldnít forget.
Kyoko looked towards Ryouga. "You have to save me, Ryouga-kun!"
"Donít worry! I wonít fail you!" Ryouga shouted back as rushed to the ring and leaped inside. With Kyokoís freedom on the line, he wouldnít lose.
There was no chance to prepare as the bell gave off a resounding ring, allowing the match to get underway. Ryouga and Flex were about to lock up when Flex pointed to the crowd, and said, "Look ref, itís your mother."
While the referee began scanning the crowd for his mother, Flex gave a signal to his partner. Brute Forcz picked up a nearby guitar and threw it to Flex. The wrestler began strumming the instrument, then looked crossly at it. "This sounds out of tune, what do you think, Hibiki?"
Distracted by Flexís odd behavior, Ryouga stared at him in bewilderment. "I donít know. I kind of think it sounds—"
Ryouga didnít get the chance to finish as Flex brought the guitar over his head, shattering the instrument into a hundred tiny fragments.
"Now it sounds better," Flex laughed at the momentarily stunned Ryouga.
"FLEX JUST UNLOADED THE ĎINSTRUMENT OF WOEí MANEUVER ON HIBIKI. WHAT A BLOW!!!" the announcer shouted.
Ryouga shook his head free of the haze around it and shouted to the referee. "Hey! He just used an illegal object!"
As Ryouga complained to the official, who was still trying to locate his mother, Flex signaled to Brute Forcz once again. This time she tossed him a lead pipe, which he promptly used to hit Ryouga in the skull.
"OHH!!!" The announcer shouted. "THAT TIME IT WAS THE DREADED, ĎLEAD PIPE CINCHí MOVE. HOW CAN HIBIKI BOUNCE BACK FROM THAT ONE?!!!"
Ryouga once again cleared his pounding head of the pain, then grabbed the referee by the shirt and turned him around. "He just used another illegal object on me."
The official looked suspiciously at Flex, who was now in a far corner and looking as innocent as a choirboy. Nonetheless, the referee approached him. "Did you just use an illegal object?"
Brute Forcz jumped up on the ring apron and held a book out for Flex to put his left hand upon. He held up his right hand before the official, and said, "I swear upon the symbol of Tarm-kin-toe that I did not break any rules, nor hit Mr. Hibiki with an illegal object."
"Thatís good enough for me." The referee turned away from Flex, only to be confronted by Ryouga.
"What kind of an idiot are you?" Ryouga growled as he snatched the book out of Brute Forczís hands. He held the tome before the man. "This is the Necronomicon, a book of pure evil, and he just invoked the name of the Old One associated with treachery."
"I try to keep an open mind when it comes to religions," the official explained.
Ryouga turned away from the man in disgust and confronted Flex. Just as the two were ready to lock up once again, Flex thumbed Ryouga in the eye, then threw him out of the ring. The official ran up to Flex and shouted how raking people in the eyes was against the rules. Flex responded by bringing out a copy of the rulebook from somewhere in his tights and asked the official to show him what page the rule was on.
As the two became embroiled in the conversation, Ryouga returned to his feet. So, he thought, Flex had underestimated his endurance. Once he stepped back in the ring he would sho—.
Further thoughts on the subject were broken off as Ryouga was flattened.
"OHH! THAT WAS BRUTE FORCZEíS SPECIAL, ĎI JUST RAN OVER YOU WITH A BULLDOZERí MANEUVER. I DONíT KNOW HOW MUCH MORE HIBIKI CAN TAKE!!!"
Ryouga found out fifty-five minutes later, as he was barely able to stand up over Flex Lavenderís defeated form. The match probably would have gone longer if Kyoko hadnít taken care of Brute Forcz by cutting through the chain holding the cage up and landing on Flexís follically enhanced tag-team partner. Once she was released, Kyoko supported her man as the two made their way to the ring announcerís table.
Ryouga stared evilly at the ring announcer. "How dare you kidnap Kyoko and try to make her that animalís slave! Iím going to—"
"Hereís your check for winning the match." The man held out a piece of paper for Ryouga to see.
Both Kyoko and Ryougaís eyes bulged out. Ryouga stared at the check. "Are you sure thereís supposed to be five zeros after that number?"
The man scowled at Ryouga. "Very well. Iíll correct it." He pulled out a pen and scribbled on the check, then handed it back to Ryouga.
Ryougaís eyes bulged some more. There were now six zeros after the number.
"Welcome to your new profession, dear," Kyoko said happily.
Akane decided to eat lunch outside, with the majority of the usual Ďgangí following. Minami, Tenchi, Yohko, Lum, Ryoko, Ayeka, and Kunou, sat watching Kyoko put the cheerleader squad through maneuvers as they ate.
"Sheís doing a heck of a job training them," Akane commented through the bites of her sandwich.
"I think the whipís a bit much," Yohko said as she lay back, resting her head in Kunouís lap.
"It looks to me like sheís enjoying it," Ryoko remarked, seeing the eager gleam in Kyokoís eyes as the whip cracked above one of her traineeís heads.
"Yeah," Minami agreed. "Since Ryouga left on the stupid, Ďmanís questí of his, it seems like training them is the only time when sheís happy.í
"She isnít getting enough wrist action in her snaps. You need to be more forceful to apply just the right touch, or else it is too painful. Employing a whip should be an effort of love," Ayeka said as she carefully watched Kyokoís whip handling skills.
"I know what you mean." Lum nodded her head in agreement. "My friend, Oyuki, was very skilled with the whip. Some of the things she could get Benten to do when she used it properly were amazing."
No one had the courage to ask the questions that came to mind. Tenchi even backed away a few feet from the pair.
Ryouga grabbed the nearest person he could. He had traveled for ten consecutive weeks, not daring to change for fear of losing his package, despite the decision he had come to the day before yesterday. But every moment he was away from Kyoko was like hell, an even worse hell than the one Ranma had put him through. The months had been long and hard, but it had all been for her. That was what had kept him going. Once he had actually found it, he couldnít wait to return to her arms. It would be sheer heaven to feel her embrace…
"Please stop hugging me," the boy Ryouga was holding gasped. Ryouga realized he had lost himself briefly in a fantasy and released the guy before people started to get the wrong idea.
The boy did not mind. Being threatened by people was a commonplace experience at school, it was just that his captor had seemed to lose his concentration and hugged him that had the youth worried.
Ryouga snapped back to reality. "Where is Furinkan High School?"
The boy pointed at the sign behind him. The one that said, ĎFurinkan Highí on it.
Ryouga released him. He had found it once again. It was odd, but no matter how lost he got, eventually he found his way to wherever he wanted to go. It would always seem to take forever, but he would always find it in the end. He thanked kami-sama this time was no exception.
Without further hesitation, he staggered through the gate and entered the familiar (and there were so few places he had been around long enough to call familiar) school grounds. Immediately his eyes fell upon the group of people under the tree, and Kyoko, who was still cracking her whip over the squad of cheerleaders' heads.
Before he had a chance to shout out to Kyoko he had returned, Akane beat him to it. Kyoko halted a whip strike in mid-air and she slowly turned around to see Ryouga standing there. The whip fell to the ground as the brown-haired girl shouted out in joy and ran over to Ryouga, ending her run with the greatest glomp he had ever received. He stood there for a few moments, elated with the show of affection while embarrassed by the public nature of it. The whistles and suggestions Ryoko was unloading in the coupleís direction didnít help matters either. Ayeka chastised Ryoko for her behavior, receiving an insult in return about not having a boyfriend to love. The two moved away from the group and began to argue in earnest.
Discovering Kyoko had absolutely no intention of releasing her full body glomp, Ryouga elected to simply walk over to the others with Kyoko still attached to him. "Food," he moaned. Akane offered hers as Ryouga plopped down and ate the entire meal in about four seconds.
With his hungry momentarily abated, Ryouga finally managed to relax, in spite of the girl firmly attached to him.
"So, where have you been?" Akane asked.
Ryouga gave Akane a satisfied grin. "My quest is finally complete."
Kyoko quit snuggling against his chest, though kept her arms around his neck. "You mean—?"
"I found the Nanniichuan water," Ryouga completed for her as he opened his backpack, tossing out the Philosopherís Stone and Holy Grail that were on top of what he sought. At last he found what he was looking for and set down a bottle filled with a clear fluid of some kind.
The others examined the bottle closely.
"So that stuff will turn someone into a guy, huh?" Tenchi asked.
"Yes," Ryouga answered.
"Are you sure itís the right stuff?" Minami asked. "It isnít going to be of any use to you if itís not Spring of Drowned Young Man. I mean, what if itís Spring of Drowned Horny Bastard or… well, I guess you could actually use that one."
"Minami!" Akane scolded.
"Well, he has all the speed of a glacier when it comes to the romance department," Minami explained, then added. "Not like heís the only one here either," as she turned to Tenchi.
"Ryouga-kun just likes to move slow, and thatís fine with me." Kyoko buried her head in his chest and began snuggling again. "So when are you going to use the water and feel like a Ďreal man.í?"
A look of doubt crossed Ryougaís face as he summoned the courage of what to say next. "Iím not going to use the water."
Kyoko stopped snuggling and released him in surprise. "Whatís that supposed to mean?! The whole point of you leaving me for so long was so that you could find the water and become a real man."
Ryouga looked shamefully at her. He just knew she was going to be angry with him. "Well, I sort of realized something, as I tried to make my way back here. The journey made me understand that if I use the water, itís going to be a mistake." He paused to see Kyokoís reaction to that. She was merely looking at him, hanging on every word.
He took a deep breath and continued. "I… I keep getting lost, even when I have something nice to go back to. I canít go anywhere I want to without the damn curse! Oh sure, maybe in a week or two I might make it back home when I was only supposed to go around the corner to get some milk, but thatís too long! I donít want to raise a family like the one I grew up in. Hell, I didnít do much growing up with them at all! I know itís not their fault, but I… I want to be a responsible parent someday, and that means I have to be there with my children in order to teach them right and wrong. The only way I can do that reliably is to keep my bat curse. I have to do it, even if it means people constantly mistake me for a vampire and try to drive a stake through my heart."
"I can buy you a suit of armor if that really bothers you," Kyoko offered.
"Thatís not what I was getting at."
"I know," Kyoko assured him as she continued staring at him in adoration.
"Ar… arenít you mad at me for leaving you so long on a pointless quest?" Ryouga asked, expecting her to get angry at him any second.
"No," Kyoko answered. "I kind of figured weíd have those kind of family problems right after we met your parents, at least if you didnít have your curse. But you needed to discover the problem and come to a decision for yourself. I didnít want you to feel like I blackmailed you or something into not getting a cure."
Ryouga found himself taken aback by Kyokoís insight, especially since she was probably right. He would have been depressed for years about his curse if he hadnít decided on his own to keep it.
"So what are you going to do with the water?" Akane asked.
"I was thinking about giving it to Ranma. Heís the only other guy I know that can use this stuff. It doesnít help Shampoo, but at least half of their problems will be solved." Ryouga held out the bottle before him then put it on the ground. He couldnít help smiling at the situation. Ranma was going to really owe him for this.
"Water that turns you into a guy," Yohko finally spoke up and shuddered. "Thatís creepy."
"I thought you hunted demons for a living," Kyoko said. "How can you call something like magic water creepy?"
"Yes. But the worst thing you have to worry about sex-wise is running into a tentacle demon. Itís not like they try to change your sex or something. That would be the absolute worst."
"Hey! Since youíre a professional, like me, I wanted your opinion on something," Minami said to Yohko.
"Go ahead," Yohko replied.
"While weíre on the subject of tentacle monsters, have you ever wondered what it would be like to rape one of them for a change?"
"No." Yohko paled.
"Iím just saying how do you think theyíd react? You think itís like some kind of anathema to them, or that theyíd enjoy it?"
"Iím going to pretend weíre not having this conversation," Yohko said in disgust, trying hard not to wonder what that strange glint in Minamiís eyes meant.
"Do you think Ayeka would enjoy a Nanniichuan curse?" Lum asked as she looked to the skies above, changing the topic of conversation much to everyoneís relief.
Everyone just looked at her curiously. Tenchi spoke first. "No. What would make you ask a question like that?"
Lum pointed up, just in time for everyone to see that Ryoko had apparently gotten the upper hand in their duel and had sent Ayeka high overhead, her body having already started on the descending part of her arc. It took less than a second for the group to watch in horror as she landed directly on the bottle of Nanniichuan, shattering it.
As one, the group gasped in horror and matched the pale shade Yohko had taken earlier. As Ryoko approached, the group did the only sensible thing they could do, since they were Ayekaís friends.
They ran for cover.
Ryoko watched in confusion as everyone fled from Ayeka. She felt sort of bad about that since they should have known she wouldnít throw off any major power bursts around them. Not intentionally, anyway.
She saw Ayeka remain where she was, a purple aura beginning to flare around her. Ryoko was wondering why her longtime rival was getting upset Ėshe hadnít hit her that hard— when she finally picked up on what was different about Ayeka.
"I… Iím sorry," Ryoko barely managed to stammer out. "I didnít mean for you to… you know."
Ayeka-kun could barely hear the words. Little could pierce the veil of blind rage around him. "LOOK AT WHAT YOUíVE DONE! IíM A MAN NOW, YOU REPUGNANT CREATURE!!!"
Ryoko began backing away from the increasingly purple field that now surrounded Ayeka-kun. "Umm, Ayeka. It could be worse."
"You could always turn into a gorilla, like Kiyone. And you arenít unattractive, like you are as girl. And your tiny breast size is completely irrelevant now." Ryoko really had tried her best to ease Ayeka-kunís anxiety.
"I AM GOING TO VAPORIZE YOU!!!"
Unfortunately it wasnít good enough.
The group of friends watched as the entire school grounds evacuated in a heartbeat. Lum was doing her best to keep Tenchi from trying to get in-between the two girls.
"Has this sort of stuff been going on a lot since I left?" Ryouga asked.
"Iíd say today qualifies as being somewhat worse than the usual," Akane said as she remained hidden behind the tree. Martial artists were supposed to be brave, not suicidal.
"This isnít good," said Kyoko as she stared at the spectacle in awe. "Ranma might never get a cure since Ayeka got splashed with what may be the last Nanniichuan water in existence and is about to kill Ryoko, and maybe us by accident. Well, at least things canít get worse."
Kyoko placed her hands over her mouth even as she spoke the last of the words. It was too late, as seven pairs of eyes stared evilly at her.
"Now youíve done it," Akane growled as everyone began looking around to see what cataclysm would fall upon them next.
It was then Sasami entered the schoolyard.
Sasami wasnít a usual visitor to the school, but Tenchi had forgotten his lunch and she didnít want him to get hungry. So she set off with Ryo-Oh-Ki, Kamazaki, and Azaka, when she spotted Ayeka-kun double the power level to his aura. Quickly, she turned to Kamazaki and Adaka. "Go try to stop Ayeka before she makes a terrible mistake!"
"But Princess, our order were specific," Kamazaki protested. "Weíre to shield you from any wat—"
"Thereís no time for that!" Sasami insisted. "Do you want Ayeka to kill Ryoko?"
"Then stop her." The two guardians obeyed her commands and flew off to try to shield Ryoko from the tremendous power blast the Ayeka was building up to. Sasami cringed in fear. "Oh, if only there was something I could do to help."
It was then she was splashed from behind by a passing truck that hit a nearby puddle.
Tsunami became aware of her essence being thrown out of her hostís body again. There was only one thing that could have done that. The one thing that everyone in existence dreaded.
Sasami had been splashed with cold water.
Now Tsunami was stripped of her powers, all thanks to that damnable magic water. The only thing she could do was project herself as a transparent image, almost like a ghost, before people, at least until Sasami was splashed with hot water and reverted back to normal.
She forced herself to materialize before the young girl. "Sasami, I beg you, stop this madness."
"Iím not Sasami," the girl (now dressed in a cute little number that was similar to a sailor fuku) said. "Iím Magical Girl Pretty Sammy!" She waved her Wand of Love high in the air as she made her kawaii little declaration.
Ryo-Oh-Ki ran off in terror. She had no desire to become Sammyís Ďcute intelligent animal sidekickí again.
If Tsunami still had a human body, she would have thrown up in disgust. "You are not a magical girl. Thatís a delusion youíre suffering from thanks to that stupid water Mihoshi brought back." Tsunami made another mental note to bring her flagship back down into earth orbit and disintegrate Mihoshi the next time she saw her. Being stuck in a goldfishís body was VERY preferable to the new alternative. "You are cursed into a magical girlís body when you are splashed with cold water. You are really a space princess. Now why donít we go get some nice hot water and change you back."
"Not right now! There are problems that only I, Magical Girl Pretty Sammy, can solve."
Tsunami watched in dread as ĎMagical Girl Pretty Sammyí pointed with her wand towards Ayeka and Ryoko.
"Iíll make them friends again!" Sammy proudly declared. "Just like the others!"
Off to the side, Akane heard the declaration and cringed. She remembered the Ďothersí and what happened the last time Sammy helped two arguing girls become Ďfriendsí again…
"Oh, Minako, only you could warm the frigid ice that my heart has become."
"They donít call me the ĎSailor of Loveí for nothing, Setsuna."
Makoto watched on in disgust as the two kissed once again. "Gross! We really are becoming a group of lesbians. First it was Haruka and Michiru. Then Usagi ends up in that three-way marriage thing, and Mamoru complains that Usagi and Sash arenít giving him enough attention because they enjoy each other so much, and now itís these two."
"I still think youíve been looking at me funny. Are you sure you donít find me attractive?"
"I HAVE NOT BEEN LOOKING AT YOU FUNNY AND I DONíT FIND YOU ATTRACTIVE!!!" Makoto shouted for the third time. She wasnít certain which disturbed her more, the question itself, or the hopeful look in Amiís eyes when she asked.
"I think Sailor Venus and Pluto make a cute couple!" Sammy happily declared.
"They werenít lesbians until you shot them with that damned love blast of yours!" Tsunami would have strangled her if she had a material body.
"Itís time to spread love around!" Sammy charged up her wand and pointed it towards Ayeka-kun and Ryoko. "MAGICAL GIRL PRETTY SAMMYíS ULTIMATE BLAST, LET LOVE ROCK YOUR WORLD!!!"
Tsunami covered her eyes as Sammy released her blast.
Ryoko heard the battle cry, and knew what was happening without turning. She quickly jumped on top of Ayeka-kun, ignoring the pain of the energy field between them, and hurled both of them to the ground.
"What are you doing?!" Ayeka-kun shouted as Ryoko tried to smother him into the ground. "Do you find me attractive? Is that it? Youíve switched your attentions to someone whose beauty is irresistible, even when you proclaim your love to Tenchi. You ugly hag—"
"STAY DOWN!!!" Ryoko shouted as the love blast nearly parted her spiky hair. Once she felt it pass, she looked to see what new target the bolt might have acquired.
She screamed in horror as it headed towards Akane and Tenchi.
Akane and Tenchi remained motionless, stunned by the sudden turn of events. Akane simply cursed her luck. And here she had vowed never to become involved with someone that had another suitor, let alone several of them. She just knew it was going to be Ranma all over again, especially since Ayeka was now cursed to become a man when doused with cold water.
Her thoughts were interrupted as Lum knocked the two out of the way of the passing bolt, barely evading it herself. The people directly behind Akane and Tenchi, Kyoko and Ryouga, were not so lucky.
Ryouga and Kyoko both felt the love blast go through them. After a moment of stunned silence, Ryouga looked deeply into his girlfriendís eyes. "Kyoko?"
"I donít feel the least bit different about you."
"Do you think that means weíre truly in love?"
"I guess so."
Both breathed a sigh of relief.
Two others breathed a sigh of relief as well as they picked themselves off of the ground.
"That was close," Ryoko sighed.
"Indeed," Ayeka-kun agreed. "I donít know what I would have done if we had been hit by that bolt."
"Well, for starters youíd be more popular because youíd be hanging around me. And youíd get a chance to ride in a real spaceship instead of those giant toothpicks you use. I mean, all someone needs to do is create a giant space woodchipper and there goes your entire fleet. And youíd have had the best sex of your life," Ryoko bragged. "Iíd have had you on your knees, begging for more."
"Hardly!" Ayeka-kun sniffed. "Not that you are worthy of my attentions. In any case, I would have been the one that would have left you weeping. Juraian bridal training is quite extensive on how to deliver pleasure to oneís spouse."
"Yeah, but you were taught to be the bride, not the groom," Ryoko began laughing, reigniting Ayeka-kunís anger.
"How dare you—"
Ayeka-kun was silenced as a second love blast caught both her and Ryoko in the chest. A misty-eyed look of love was exchanged between the two of them.
After making her declaration, Tsunami looked upon the scene in horror and began running back and forth in a blind panic. "Iím doomed! Weíre doomed! The Emperor is never going to understand this. Heís going to go ballistic when he discovers his daughter has become a man and is in love with the galaxyís most wanted space pirate!"
"I think heíll be happy. He always wanted lots of boys!" Sammy shouted out, deliriously happy.
Tsunami looked towards Sammy with a soft gaze. She began talking to the shorter girl in a sweet, honeyed voice. "Iíll tell you what heís going to do."
"What?" Sammy asked.
Tsunamiís head bulged to fifty times its current size, putting the mightiest demon head Soun had ever conjured to shame. "HEíS GOING TO LOCK YOU IN SUB-SPACE FOREVER AND CUT ME DOWN WITH AN AX!!!"
A plan began to form in Tsunamiís mind. Once Sammy was splashed with some hot water, the two of them could grab her ship and hide out in the Shiíar Empire for the next five thousand years. That might be just enough time for Emperor Azusa to calm down… maybe.
Then again, maybe ten thousand years was a better idea.
Ryouga stared at the scene in horror. And here he had thought he had problems. "The more things change…
"…The more they stay the same." Akane finished for him. There was a time when she had lamented about how all things changed, but that wasnít entirely true, some things never changed, and she wasnít sure if that was a good or bad thing.
And then there were those whose lives had been helplessly intertwined together thanks to the actions of Ranma Saotome and Shampoo, even though their contact with the couple had been limited. If asked, they would have claimed that they had no role to play in the coupleís lives ever again. They had lives of their own to lead, and what grudges were held against the two had been settled, not that further contact was desired. In fact, they had moved away from Nerima and had no intention of setting foot there ever again, so it was unlikely they would ever even hear the name of Ranma Saotome or Shampoo again.
They would be, of course, wrong.
It would just take a long time. But there were other things that they would do long before that day ever came.
Tsuyoshi Nakajima looked at the four walls of his office and sighed. For months he had requested getting the office remodeled, but there never seemed to be a reason for it that the head of the agency would accept. The blasted thing was too small, not that Tsuyoshi was claustrophobic, but a three-meter by four-meter office was more like a hole in the wall than anything else. Appearances were everything when one wanted to make a good first impression, and with such a limited amount of space the whole office simply looked cluttered.
It wasnít like they couldnít expand. Recently, the adoption agency had purchased the other offices on the floor when the owners of those offices moved out to a bigger and better building, something Tsuyoshi knew would never happen to him. No, he had been with the adoption agency for the last twenty years of his life and would be there until the day he retired. A salaryman to the end. Perhaps he could arrange a small fire in the office that would force the head to remodel the place.
A burst of static from the speakerphone on his desk heralded an end to his pity session. "The Kumons are here to see you, sir."
"Send them right in, Meiko." His secretary, Meiko Endo was the one bright point in that helped him through the dismal days of his job. The attractive, if short, woman that was fifteen years his junior had been with him from the beginning. Their affair had begun within the last five years, and he was convinced that he loved her, and more importantly, for some bizarre reason, she seemed to love him back, a balding, not particularly even average-looking, man in his late forties (at least he had managed to drop the extra sixty pounds he had once carried, for her). Of course, the fact that he was already married to a shrewish, ice-cold, parasitic bitch of a wife that was the sister of his employer left both he and Meiko in somewhat of a precarious position in revealing their feelings for one another, so both lived contentedly, if not absolutely happily, with their current relationship.
He cleared his thoughts of Meiko and took a look at the morning agenda she had written out for him. First on the schedule was indeed Kumon, which would then be followed by Unryuu, although apparently Meiko had made a mistake. Both couples were listed at the same time. He wondered if something was bothering her. She usually didnít make simple mistakes like that.
The door opened and Meiko ushered a couple into the office, then closed the door behind her. Tsuyochi took a moment to look the duo over. The girl was obviously young, wearing a very pleasant dress with a floral pattern and looking every bit like a proper young lady. The only uncommon thing about her was the streak of pink that ran through her hair.
The black-haired gentleman was dressed in a rather sedate dark business suit; the only remarkable looking thing about him was his rather large frame, which showed quite obviously through the suit. Mr. Kumon was a big man. The sort of man Tsuyochi had never been.
"Good day." Tsuyochi bowed before the couple, and received a bow from both of them in return. Tsuyochi indicated they should have a seat while he looked them over one more time. They were having the typical reaction of a young couple coming to an adoption agency for the first time: both were frightened beyond belief.
That was actually a good sign. It meant they were serious. Usually, if a couple appeared too light-hearted or easy-going about the initial stages of the process, he would reject them from the potential adoption list. Tsuyochi took his job far more seriously than many of the others that were involved with the business. No children ended up in the hands of people that werenít up to the responsibility of raising children, not on his shift.
"Iíd like to ask you a few questions, if you donít mind."
Both Akari and Ryu nodded eagerly in response.
Tsuyochi cleared his throat while making certain to smile the whole time, hoping to relax them as they answered. "You filled out all of the forms you were sent, correct?"
"Yes," Akari and Ryu answered simultaneously.
"I see." Tsuyochi shuffled through a few papers on the desk so as to appear as though he were considering something on them. It wasnít as though they were the forms that had been filled out; he just liked appearing busy. This was the first personal interview for the couple, and that would be what decided if the process would continue. "Why exactly are you adopting? I know this might seem a very personal question to you, but we really need to know why."
He saw a look of sorrow suddenly fill Akariís face, and watched with sympathy as Ryuís hand found its way into hers. He patted it softly, her face softening as he eased her pain slightly. Tsuyochi knew the answer before hearing it from either of them.
"I have a condition which prevents me from having children," Akari said softly.
Tsuyochi nodded in understanding. It was neither the first time nor the last he would hear those words, yet he never heard them without feeling a touch of regret himself. Still, there were other questions that needed to be asked. He allowed Akari a few more moments to compose herself before he continued.
"Can you raise the child in a healthy environment?"
Akari and Ryu nodded their heads vigorously. Akari spoke once again. "Ryu and I love each other very much. There were many difficulties in starting our relationship because of certain events on our lives," Ryu gave her a soft look, then nodded in agreement. "But we overcame them and know we want to be with one another forever, no matter how many problems we have."
Tsuyochi was impressed by the maturity the duo seemed to possess. They had a much more realistic grasp of what a commitment between two people seemed to entail.
"And we can support a family without a problem." Ryu added. "An old… acquaintance of mine gave me permission to use my style of martial arts so long as I only employ it to make a living."
"And just what sort of a living do you make using martial arts?" Tsuyochi began to wonder of the boy was some kind of prizefighter. That would explain his large frame.
"The demolition business. I use it to destroy buildings." Ryu said proudly. "I already have a long list of clients that pay me a lot. Since I donít use any equipment or explosives, the overhead is low and profits are high."
Akari nodded even more fiercely in agreement. "And I own one of the largest sumo pig farms in all of Japan. The last few years have been very good for sumo pig farmers," She ran off a figure of how much money she made in the last two years, impressing Tsuyochi. She could raise a family of five quite easily on her own.
"We own a large farm that would give the children plenty of room to be raised in." Ryu was becoming more excited by the minute. Children would be the final bond to cement his and Akariís relationship.
Tsuyochi smiled at the couple. He spotted the Ďlookí in their eyes and identified it. He wasnít always able to notice it, and even then he had good instincts if a couple would make good parents, but those times when he recognized the Ďlookí, he was always right. Always. The pair would be as close to perfect as parents could get.
He continued asking the couple questions for the next half hour, but they were nothing more than a formality. Tsuyochi had already made his choice. Once the interview was over, he stood up and bowed to each of them. "I still have to do some paperwork on the whole thing, and weíll need to set up another interview, but Iím confident weíll be able to find you a child to love."
Seeing the glow of pure joy in their eyes made Tsuyochiís day. He never got tired of that aspect of the job. That, above all other things, was what made him stay despite the frustrating nature of his work. "It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Kumon. Mrs. Kumon."
"Oh, weíre not married," Akari said quite happily.
The smile faded from Tsuyochiís lips. "You arenít?"
"No," Ryu said. "I had a marriage annulled once. It was totally my fault for betraying the trust of a woman I loved. I swore that I would never get married again after that."
"And I canít get married because of a family vow I took," Akari explained. "So you see, weíre perfect for each other. Heís a man who wonít marry and Iím a woman who canít. But we still love each other with all of our hearts."
The sweet scene before Tsuyochi of the two of them kissing would have sent him into insulin shock if he hadnít been so horrified with what they had just told him. "Iím sorry, but if you arenít married I canít allow you to adopt a child."
"What?!" the two shouted out in unison.
"Our policy is to allow only married couples to adopt. I truly am sorry." It was the truth, though Tsuyochi had thought they would make ideal parents for any child. For the first time since he took the job he considered waiving the rules, but he couldnít quite bring himself to do it.
Akari just stood there in shock, then broke down and began to cry. Ryu held her in his embrace for several moments, then spoke up.
"Akari, Iím going to try to convince this gentleman to perhaps change his mind. Would you wait outside?"
"But Ryu," Akari cried. "This concerns me too."
"Akari." The name was said with softness, but also with a degree of firmness that told her he was not going to give in. She assented to his demands and left the office, closing the door behind her.
"No amount of talking is going to convince me to change my mind," Tsuyochi assured him.
"Who said anything about talking?" Ryu cracked his knuckles.
Meiko and Akari listened to the loud noises coming from within the office. Meiko wanted to see what was going on, but had a feeling that whatever was happening inside would not be halted by her presence. But if she heard even the slightest cry of pain come from her Tsuyochi, nothing would stop her from rushing to his side.
After a full minute and a half, the noises stopped. Another minute after that Ryu practically tore the door to the office off its hinges as he ran into the reception area with a photo and paper in hand.
"Good news!" he picked up Akari and whirled her around in his embrace for a moment before setting her down once more. "Heís changed his mind and said that we can adopt as many children as we want. He even gave me a picture of a boy we can have once the paperwork gets processed." He showed the picture to Akari.
She took one look at the photo and fell in love with him. He was no more than six months old and had been abandoned by whoever his parents. No one had an idea of who they were. She would practically be raising him from birth. "I know what we can name him."
"He already has a name," Ryu pointed out.
"Thatís just one those people at the agency picked so they had something to call him," Akari explained. "So thatís not his real name either. Besides, heís practically ours now. We should be the ones to choose his name."
"And just what do you want to call him?" Ryu hadnít even considered naming a child they adopted, boy or girl.
Akari gave a bright smile.
Meiko watched the couple leave, then dared to enter the office where she had last seen her lover. As she entered she saw Tsyochi standing there with one of the widest smiles he had ever had etched on his face. That was most peculiar, especially considering what was missing from the office.
"What happened to the other three walls?"
Tsuyochi continued grinning broadly. "Must have been a natural disaster. At least thatís what Iím going to tell my employers. Looks like I finally get to have that remodeling done after all."
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