Epilogue 5: The End of the Beginning
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 email@example.com
The scent of the trees assailed Ranmaís senses as the cold night air washed over his face. However, the chill did nothing to cool him down. His attention was focused on something other than the little camp he and Shampoo had set up in the Ďwildsí of Hokkaido, something that required more attention than the world around him.
Ranma could feel the Ďsomethingí move down his chest, kissing every inch of the way. Shampoo paused a moment to kiss his right nipple and play across it with her tongue. It was not nearly as sensitive now as when he was a girl (not that he did anything while cursed. His outfits just rubbed him awkwardly sometimes), but the effect was still pleasurable. He watched the slow movement of the lump that was her head, masked under the blanket they were wrapped in, made its way lower along his body. He was basking in the sensations of her mouth playing along his skin when he felt her hands tug at the waistband of his boxers.
"Shampoo, donít," he said softly, his heart beating so loudly it seemed to roar through his ears. That had come out much more quietly than he had wanted.
He felt the hands hesitate for only a moment before continuing their actions.
"Shampoo, stop." The words still lacked the intensity he wanted. His voice was betraying him now, even as his body did the same by reacting to Shampooís attentions.
He felt her pause once again, longer this time, before she continued, pulling his boxers from his waist and down around his knees. Then the kissing began once again, starting slowly from his navel and threatening to go further down.
Somehow, he just could not order his body to force her away. Only his voice seemed to be working, and barely at that. "Please," was all he could manage.
This time the kissing stopped as she rushed up from underneath the sheets, her body rubbing against his the entire time, causing his own to betray him in ways even worse than before. Her head popped out from under the covers and Ranma found himself confronted by a face that conveyed a mixture of anger and pain.
"Why?" Shampoo asked, desperation in her voice.
"We canít," Ranma managed to get out.
"Yes, we can," she corrected as her hand traveled down the length of his body until it reached a part that could remind him of his capabilities.
"Shampoo," he said once again, wishing he could sound firmer than he felt. Not that he was sure if he could ever speak that Ďfirmly.í
"Ranma," she pleaded. "I want to make love to you so much it hurts."
"I want to, too." Oh, how he wanted to. He was long over any actual reservations he might have had about being with a woman due to his inexperience with the members of the opposite gender. Shampoo had seen to that in the year and a half they had been together since Mount Phoenix, but there were other complications that prevented him from giving in to desire.
"Then letís do it now!" She began stroking his body in an effort to reignite his interest.
"N… no. We canít until weíre married," he protested with what little energy he could muster.
She removed her hand from his lower anatomy and it joined the other one in cradling his face. She kissed him, enjoying his reaction as he kissed her back. She broke it off to say, "Then letís get married."
"We canít until Mom and Pop say itís okay," he protested once more.
"Yes, we can," she insisted, silently cursing him in Chinese for his stubborn refusal to ignore the mess his parents had forced him into. "What you mean to say is you wonít."
Ranma sighed. "Itís important to me that they accept the marriage. Theyíre my family. Outside of you, theyíre all I got. I canít just ignore them, or pretend they approve of this whole thing."
"I managed to leave my family behind." That came out closer to a growl than a statement.
"Did you want to?"
Shampoo softened at that. "No."
"Then you understand why I donít want to do that to mine. Not so long as thereís a chance theyíre going to change their stupid minds and approve of us."
"Fine," Shampoo relented, knowing he was right. "Then letís wait on the marriage and have sex now."
Ranma shifted uncomfortably under her body. "We have to wait until we get married. I want to do it properly, you know?"
"Ahhh! Why do you have to be so old-fashioned?" She began to wonder if he had a sex drive at all, that was until she brushed up against something that told her he had plenty of sex drive, and the very powerful ability to restrain it. "Itís perfectly fine for us to make love."
Ranma found his resolve weakening once more. "Didnít you tell me once you loved me even if we didnít… you know, fool around?"
"That was if you COULDNíT do something, not if you WOULDNíT do something." She growled, digging her nails into his shoulders before relaxing them, regaining control over her emotions. She was running way too Ďhotí now. "If you had some physical problem, that would be different. Weíd work around it. Right now all youíre doing is being a prude."
Sensing that she would not let the subject drop, he decided to work the Ďole Saotome Charmí to shake her off. Besides, employing it would be fun for him too. He began nuzzling her neck and found himself rewarded by a gentle, almost purring sound, come from her as she raised her head and allowed him greater access to that area. It was working, just as he had hoped. He continued on, gently kissing her some more before saying, "Why donít we just kiss for a while? Donít worry about nothiní else."
What he had thought was a deft move in turning the conversation away from the topic proved otherwise as he heard Shampoo give a Ďhumphí and crawl out from under the covers, and worse, away from him.
"What?" he asked, suddenly concerned over the fact that he was holding nothing but air. The kissing maneuver had always worked before. It had taken him a while to learn how much she adored it when he initiated physical affection with her, and almost always she was little more than putty in his hands (so to speak) when he did. He did not always start things solely for the purpose of getting her to do something for him— most of the time he just felt like kissing her— but he was not above using it to gain him an advantage if the need arose. That she broke things off so abruptly like that was a complete shock.
As she emerged, he realized that somewhere along the line her nightgown (if the flimsy piece of see-through material could be considered such) had managed to come off while she was under the covers. That seemed to be happening a lot more frequently when they slept together— which had been just about every night since Mount Phoenix— and made resisting her even more difficult than before. She would have worn nothing at all if she had her way about it, but he had protested so loudly that it was simply easier for her to concede to wearing something rather than argue with him further.
"Lay back down before someone sees you." The small fire next to them to provide some light, as well as added warmth, and the area had seemed deserted, but one never knew if some wandering outdoorsman would pass by. It might have lacked privacy, but he was used to sleeping outdoors, and Shampoo did not mind it either. Besides, it saved on paying to sleep in hotels when their funds were low, which was almost all of the time.
She gave him a defiant glare, before leaning over and running her hand under the covers until she found her nightgown and brought it out. As she slowly put it back on, she was at least mildly pleased that the admiring gaze Ranma had been giving her nude form turned into disappointment as she dressed.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Iím not going to sleep with you tonight," she said firmly as she looked towards a nearby cluster of trees.
Now Ranma was worried. This marked the first time she was the one that insisted they not sleep together. "Aww. Come on. Donít be this way. Come on back." He gave what he thought was his warmest smile towards her.
She shook her head, irritated that he seemed to think she wasnít being serious. Her patience was finally at an end. "Iím tired of this Ranma. We love each other. We should be married by now. You want me to be patient and wait for your parents to come to their senses and finally give up that idiotic pact. Fine! But you wonít even let me sleep with you."
"We sleep together all the time."
She shot him a cold glare. "Donít you dare play dumb with me. You know damn well what I mean. Iím willing to give in to you, but you wonít give me what I want. Iím tired of being the one that has to wait because of some stupid promise your parents made and for you ignoring my wants. Itís been a year and a half. A year and a half! Iíve wanted to be with you since the day you said you loved me. Do you know how hard it is to have to wonder every single night if youíre finally going to come to your senses, only to have you reject me each time?"
"I ainít rejecting you," he protested. They had had disagreements before over the subject of marriage and sex, but never quite as intense as it was now.
"You donít totally accept me either, and that hurts. Instead itís me that gives in to you each time. Iím tired of it."
He felt his heart leap into his throat as she turned, grabbed an extra bedroll, then began to walk away. What was she doing? Yes, she sounded angry about the way things were going, but that was no reason to act so rashly. Surely she wasnít planning to… leave… him. "Where are you going?!"
She turned in surprise at the sound of fear in his voice. That emotion was not one heard from Ranma Saotome very often, at least not under anything other than the worst of circumstances. It took her a moment to understand what he was afraid of. Did he truly think she was so fickle? "Iím not leaving you. Iím just going to sleep over there." She pointed to the cluster of trees she had been eyeing earlier. "Iím hurt and need a little distance, but I wonít leave you. Iíll never leave you. I promise." She gave him a sullen look and turned to go again.
"Tomorrow weíll start back to Nerima and Iíll talk to Mom and Pop again."
Pausing, she remained where she was, keeping her face from Ranma so he couldnít see her smile. She did not want him to know how those few words could please her so much. He might not try so hard to convince them if he knew it was that easy to get her to back off. However, she would not let it pass without letting him know how she felt about it. "Thank you."
He breathed a sigh of relief. He knew from the way her body had tensed, then relaxed, that she was pleased by that. She had been right. It was long past time he tried to convince his parents again of the way things had to be. It was unfair both to him, and perhaps more importantly, to her, that they be forced to wait so long before consummating their relationship. "You can come back now." He held the covers open in invitation for her return.
There was a sore temptation to give in on her part. But she felt that no matter what he believed, the separation would hurt her worse than him. Still, she needed to make certain he understood just how strongly she felt. "Not tonight."
"Why?" he protested, wondering if he had misread her body signals.
She gave him a soft look. "Will you make love to me?"
He shifted uncomfortably. "I already told yaí. Once we get married we can do all of that."
She nodded. "And Iím going to sleep over there. Now you understand how I feel when you refuse me every night." She left, staying just within his line of sight as she unrolled the bedroll and laid down.
Ranma remained where he was, watching her turn from him, walk off, then lay down. He hated to admit it, but she was right. He hadnít understood what it was like to be denied what he wanted like that. There was no doubt in his mind that this time he was going to make his parents understand. He didnít want to have to spend another night apart from her again.
It took them nearly a week to make their way back to Nerima. Both were nearly overcome by the feeling of trepidation that marked their arrival, only the fifth time they had returned to the area in the last year and a half. On their way to Ranmaís house they crossed through one of the parks to see that a festival had apparently begun. It was large, colorful display with multiple rows of booths that contained food, games, fortunetellers, and other sellers of various odds and ends who shouted out, hawking their wares.
The pair decided to make a detour through the middle of the main thoroughfare, buying some food and looking over the goods that were being offered. After having been there for about half an hour, Ranma took the time to examine Shampooís reactions to everything out of the corner of his eye. She seemed much less apprehensive than when they had first arrived. Unquestionably, it was a good sign. He bought her an ice cream cone and waited a while longer, making sure the mood was going to last. Seeing that it would, he breathed a sigh of relief. That would make what he wanted to say easier.
"Shampoo, I think itíd be best if you stayed here and let me talk to my parents alone."
"No," Shampoo answered immediately, then took another idle lick of her cone.
"Well, thanks for considering it, at least," Ranma grumbled. Sadly, things were pretty much going the way he had anticipated. It was time to once again employ the Saotome charm. He gave her the most devastating smile he could while placing his hands on her hips, drawing her closer. "Sh—"
The smile disappeared. Fine! If she were going to refuse to be charmed, he would take the dominant approach. "Look. Iím putting my foot down. You are not going!"
Shampoo smiled at that. "Iíll put my foot down, too."
Ranma shouted out in pain as she did so, right on top of his. The pain didnít matter much to him (once she stopped twisting her foot on his and removed it, anyway). He was not going to be beaten. There was still the technique his father used with his mother, but his pride would only allow begging and groveling to win her compliance as a last resort. Reasoning was the next technique to employ.
"Shampoo, things would go a lot smoother if you werenít there."
"Thatís silly!" Shampoo protested. "I wouldnít cause any problems. What would make you say something like that?"
"Gee, I dunno." Ranma answered dryly. "Do you recall the words, Ďyou stupid, aging bitch,í followed by Mom going for her katana, the last time we were there?"
"She called me a whore!"
Ranma appeared shamefaced at that. "You were baiting her the entire night, but youíre right. I made sure she wonít do that again." He had told his mother quite bluntly that she would never see him again if those words passed her lips again when referring to Shampoo. She apologized immediately, but the whole event had left a sour taste in Ranmaís mouth for weeks. It was one of the reasons he had not visited his parents since.
"Shampoo, I just think it would be better if I saw them alone."
"Okay," she relented.
Ranma was surprised that she saw reason at last. Usually it took a lot longer for her to agree to the obvious, at least on those occasions that she did. "Thanks. Iíll head out now."
"No!" she protested, then grabbed him by his arm. "Letís enjoy the festival first." She began walking along, Ranma matching her stride. "At least I can enjoy something today," she quietly added.
Ranma tried to cheer her up. "You donít know what theyíll say yet."
She turned away from him to stare at a booth where paintings of cherry blossoms were being sold. She tried keeping sadness from creeping into her voice. "Nothingís changed in their eyes. Their answerís going to be the same."
Ranma began stroking her hand, trying to soothe her. "Itíll be different this time. Youíll see."
Her shoulders slumped in imagined defeat. "Iíll believe it when I see it."
The mood was considerably more somber as the pair made their way past the various colorful booths. Ranma had remained silent, trying to come up with something to cheer Shampoo up, and failing miserably, when she perked up on her own.
"Look! Letís go in there!" Not waiting for a response, she dragged Ranma with her. Her movement was so quick that he barely had time to see that it was a small pavilion that was a few feet back from most of the other booths. It was completely made of cloth, including the entryway, which was covered by a curtain, isolating the interior from the rest of the world. He spotted a placard next to the pavilion that read: Madame Babushka: Fortunes Told.
"Maybe she can tell us how your meeting will go," she said as she dragged him towards the curtained entryway.
"Aw. I donít believe in that fortune telling garbage. Itís just a waste of money. They never say nothing but vague stuff that can mean whatever you want it to."
"Oh, come on! Itíll be fun."
Ranma noticed the effect that the anticipation was having on Shampoo. Maybe if it cheered her up, it wouldnít be such a waste of money. He relented and the two parted the curtain and entered.
The instant they set foot inside, a wave of incense assailed their sense of smell. Inside there was a very unremarkable wooden table, with two chairs, on the side closest to the entryway. Incense burned from four stands that lined the interior of the circular pavilion. Two smaller holders on the table also bore burning sticks of incense as well. But the main feature of the interior was the Caucasian gentleman, wearing a style of clothing that reminded Ranma of a gypsy in a grade-B vampire movie.
"Please, sit." He might have been a foreigner, but his Japanese was flawless, as he indicated they should take the two empty chairs.
The pair sat down. Ranma looked strangely at the man. "Somehow, you look a lot different from the way I pictured you, Madame Babushka."
The man gave a soft chuckle. "Madame Babushka is my wife. Iím afraid that she had to leave rather abruptly. She had a vision that she was going to become very ill and headed for the hospital. However, you have nothing to fear." He stood up and bowed with a flourish before the pair. "I am her husband, Marty the Minor Mentalist. I, too, can not only tell a personís future, but their past and present as well."
"Youíre two fortune tellers that married one another?" Shampoo asked.
"Indeed." Marty sat back down, giving a boyish grin that made him seem youthful despite his forty plus years. "Actually, it wasnít surprising. We knew as soon as we met that we were destined for a lifetime of happiness with one another. We got married the very next day. Twenty years later, every day still feels like the first."
"Thatís so sweet," Shampoo sighed.
Ranma was torn between being impressed with their psychic abilities, or thinking it was the most stupid thing he had ever heard. Since he was going to be paying for the reading, he decided the former would probably be the best one to go with.
Marty indicated that they should hold out their hands so that he could read their destiny. Carefully he examined their hands, looking over the lines in the dim light of the pavilion, studying them intently.
"I thought you said you were a fortune teller, not a palm reader," Ranma grumbled.
"Reading palms makes seeing your destinies easier," Marty explained. "In some ways itís better, since I can read the whole thing all at once, although I canít tell exactly when things will happen, or if they already have. Now give me a few moments of silence so that I may decipher your fates."
Marty studied their hands for almost a full five minutes before speaking again. He looked to Ranma first. "I see the fate of a young girl with red hair, tied in a pig-tail, hopelessly intertwined with yours. She will be a part of your life for a very long time. Very unusual indeed."
"Yeah, yeah. I already know all about that," Ranma said, actually impressed with the manís ability while being irritated by being told information he already knew about.
"Oh," Marty said, momentarily disappointed at the response. Usually that sort of big prediction done at the beginning of the reading would impress the customers. Perhaps the girl would be more easily awed.
He turned towards Shampoo. "I see the fate of a boy with black hair, tied back in a style similar to yours—"
"—hopelessly intertwined with yours. He will be a part of your life for a very long time. Very unusual indeed," they finished for him together.
"Know that one too, eh?" Marty asked as he watched the two nod in response. It appeared he was going to have to pull out all of the stops to impress the duo. He looked upon their hands once more.
"Hmm. Both of you are destined to live in interesting times. I canít tell if itís the blessed or cursed version, though."
"Probably both," Ranma said as Shampoo nodded her head in agreement.
Marty reevaluated them as perhaps the toughest nuts he had ever had to crack, but impress them he would.
"Letís try this." He turned to Ranma, his eyes following an unusual line. "Oh, my god! Youíre destined to become Sailor Earth!"
"What?!" Ranma shouted out in shock.
"No! Wait a minute! You are destined to SAIL the Earth. Sorry about that. I misread your ĎLines of Destinyí."
"Oh." Ranma visibly relaxed.
Marty waited for Ranma to calm down before continuing. "You will live a long life." He turned Ranmaís hand over as his eyes continued to follow one of the lines. "A very long one, yes indeed."
He turned Shampooís hand over to examine it more closely. He felt his heart sink as he saw her full destiny lifeline before him. "Iím afraid you are destined to die at a very young age. Iím sorry."
"Oh, donít worry about it," Shampoo said nonchalantly.
Marty was shocked. "But I just told you youíll die young!"
"I already did that," she explained casually. "I got better."
It took Marty a while to compose himself after that. "Very interesting times indeed," he murmured. "Do you have any questions, or should we even bother?"
"Will we be married?" Shampoo asked, excitement tingling in her voice.
"Ah, an easy one." He examined their hands more closely. "I see that you are destined to be married once in your lifetime," he told Ranma, then turned to Shampoo. "And I see you will be married once too."
The two tore their hands out of his grasp and grabbed onto one another. "You hear that, Ranma? Weíre going to be married!"
"I told you so." He tried sounding nonchalant, but found himself becoming excited over the idea that maybe the fortuneteller was correct.
"Wait a minute!" Marty warned. "I didnít say youíd be married to each other. I said both of you would be married once in your lifetimes. I canít see who youíll marry."
The two of them gave the man nearly identical lopsided grins. Ranma spoke first. "After what weíve been through, believe me, there ainít no chance either one of us is getting married to anyone else." Shampoo gave a nod of agreement as well.
Marty refrained from telling them how many times he had heard words like that before, only to see them fail to come true. Still, there was nothing in their futures that indicated they would not marry one another. And one of the first rules of business, Marty learned, was that there was little point in ruining a customerís good mood with unnecessary details.
"Any other questions?" he asked.
Shampoo nodded as she held out her hand once again. "How many children will we have?" She was still bubbling in excitement over the marriage prediction.
At last he had managed to excite them, and the girl had asked another easy line to read too. He indicated that Ranma should hold out his hand as well, and began trying to find the line he wanted. He decided to tell the boy first, allowing the thrill to build up in Shampoo. "You are going to have one daughter, in your lifetime, sir."
"I am?" Ranma asked in surprise, then began grinning and turned to Shampoo. "Did yaí hear that? Iím going to have a daughter." He was surprised at the delight he felt at the prediction. With the child problems Shampoo had, and the fact that they werenít even married yet, he had never really thought much about children. He had told Shampoo it didnít matter to him, which was true for now, but someday he would want them. Once he got around to settling down.
Seeing Ranmaís reaction, Marty felt satisfied with himself. He looked over Shampooís hand. "And in your lifetime youíre going to have a daughter and a son."
Shampoo tore her hand out of Martyís and grabbed Ranmaís once more. "Did you hear that, Ranma? Iím going to have a daughter and a son. Isnít that grea… wait a minute. Thatís not great."
While Shampoo tried to reprocess what was said to make sure she understood it correctly, Ranmaís joy turned to suspicion. "And exactly why is it youíre going to have a girl AND a boy?"
Shampoo shook her head rapidly back and forth. "I am not going to have a girl and a boy. Just a girl." Seeing that Ranma was not shifting his attitude in the least, she held out her hand for Marty to read again. He looked over it once more.
"Nope. Still says a girl and a boy."
Shampoo ripped her hand out of his grasp once more, offended.
"Is there something youíd like to tell me?" Ranma asked, now more suspicious than ever.
"Of course not!" Shampoo shot back.
"Youíve been going on and on about how much you want me, but I keep refusing you." Ranma drew nearer and pointed an accusing finger towards her. "Maybe youíre getting bored with me and are going to start looking for some guy to fool around with on the side."
"I will not!" Shampoo shouted. "I love you. I would never do something like that to you!"
"Oh, really? What about what the guy just said?"
"He was wrong!"
"He was right about everything else," Ranma pointed out.
"Well, he was wrong about that!" she retorted. "Look. I swear to you that from this moment on until the day I die, I will never sleep with anyone other than you."
"AH, HA!" Ranma shot out from his chair and to his feet. "So youíre leaving yourself an out by saying that if you die and come back again, you will sleep with someone else!"
Shampoo shot to her own feet in shock. "RANMA! That is not what I meant!"
"Yeah, right! I know how that devious Amazon mind of your works."
Marty watched on as the arguing couple walked out of the pavilion and back to the hustle and bustle of the festival. It only occurred to him after they had left that perhaps he should have asked them to pay first. Now it was too late. It probably would not have been a good idea to get between the arguing couple. His health was far more important than several hundred yen.
Ranma found himself filled with trepidation (not fear, he would insist) as he walked alone towards his home located on the outskirts of Nerima. It had taken her almost half an hour to reassure him that she was never going to fool around with someone else, let alone bear any children from them. In hindsight, he figured he probably had overreacted to the prediction. After what they had been through together, it was foolish to think she would do something like that to him. Still, he would keep his eyes open for any guys that might think they could try to hit on her and get away with it. After all, if there were no temptation for her, there wouldnít be any risk. Yes, a very good plan.
He also came to realize something he had said that had startled him. He was beginning to wonder just how much patience she had towards him and the current status of their relationship. Yes, she said she would not leave him, and he believed her, but how much longer would she hold off? Lately, she had become a lot more insistent, and deep down inside so was he. At what point would he bring himself to tell his parents that he would marry her no matter what, and if they felt they had to disown him for it, then so be it?
"Maybe sooner than everyone thinks," he said to himself.
He reflected on the journey to Nerima in an effort to distract himself from that kind of thinking. He needed his wits about him if he was to present a good argument that would sway his parents to see things the right way. The alienation Shampoo had shown him that first night had continued for the next three nights as well, making him increasingly eager to get to Nerima and obtain his parentsí permission. He had not realized how much he wanted her beside him when they slept, usually with her curling herself under his arm and making herself snug. It was the same when they woke, usually her first. Even with her hair messed up from sleep, she still looked beautiful in the morning (and every now and then he told her, even though he still didnít usually go in for that romantic stuff). Without her there something just felt wrong, and he needed to correct it soon.
Not that she had cut him off completely. Last night she had decided to help Ďmotivateí him by sleeping with him once more, though actually there had been little rest involved. Both of them felt the need to release the pent up energies from the last few nights, and they had made out long into the morning. Strong motivation, indeed.
At last he found himself at his destination. The Saotome house was an unremarkable structure half the size of the Tendo household, and he had only the dimmest memories of it from his past. The few times he had come by in an effort to talk to his parents had never been long enough for him to truly get a feel for the house. There was no emotional connection to the place. He had felt far more of a bond to the Tendo household than the one he had spent the first few years of his life in. The place that he was supposed to have grown up in, yet left so long ago that only dim echoes remained of it. Did he even have the right to call it home anymore?
He never even considered hesitating as he went up to the front door and knocked. He needed to get this over with. It was true that in the past he tended to ignore problems (of a non-fighting nature) and hoped they would work themselves out, and maybe he had done it again with the whole marriage thing, but no longer. Decisions had to be made concerning it and they had to be done now.
What felt like forever was only a minute before the door was opened by his mother. She stared at him in surprise for only a moment before giving out a cry of "Ranma!" and embracing him. He returned the warm greeting, losing himself for a moment in the affections of the woman he should have known his whole life, but instead had only a few fleeting days with, at least when not pretending to be someone else.
Nodoka at last broke off the embrace and examined her son more closely. She gave a small nod of approval as she said, "You look well."
"So do you, Mom."
"Have you gotten a cure yet?" she asked.
"No. Neither one of us has, but our traveling around hasnít been wasted. Iíve learned a lot of new techniques while I was on the road."
"Thatís nice, dear." Suddenly she realized she was greeting her son outside and ushered him inside the house. He followed, taking in the surroundings of the house once again, committing everything he could to memory. Nothing seemed to have changed in the months that had passed between visits. Hopefully, there would be at least one change soon. One in attitude.
"Whereís Shampoo?" Nodoka asked at last.
"Ah, she decided not to come this time." Well, with a little encouragement, anyway.
There was a pang of remorse as he saw his motherís face brighten at that. Somehow, he had hoped against hope that she would have felt sorry for the way things had gone last time and perhaps, after thinking about it for a few months, realized that preventing the two of them from marrying was a mistake and would want to give Shampoo the good news firsthand, the pair of them becoming like a mother and daughter-in-law should.
Well, what was wrong with having dreams, even if they were a bit unrealistic?
Nodoka maintained her bright demeanor. "Itíll be nice that we have time for some good mother-to-son bonding alone. I canít think of a time, since you told me the truth about your curse, that weíve spent just talking to one another."
"You mean Pop ainít here?" That was just great. The driving force, and the one he really needed to convince of the futility of his actions, wasnít even there. Perhaps something could be salvaged out of the situation though. He still thought of his mother as being the easier of the two to sway, even with the difficulties she and Shampoo had with one another.
Still, he had enough sense to build up to what he needed to say. "Everything okay, Mom?"
She said yes and informed him that it had pretty much been life as usual in the area. The conversation started out fine, but Ranma had to wince when she mentioned that all of the Tendo girls, including the new ones, were still unmarried. Although he was pleased to hear Akane was doing well (another good reason Shampoo wasnít around. She would have been impossible to deal with if she had seen him react happily about that). Apparently Kasumi had adopted a little boy during her trip to China. Nodoka really seemed to emphasize what a difficult time she would have in raising a child by herself and being unmarried, and what a manly thing it would be if someone were to marry her in spite of that. She even talked about how nice it would be to be a grandmother immediately instead of having to wait for it.
He gave an inward sigh. It seemed Shampoo was right. Nothing had changed in her eyes.
Nodoka was going to continue on when she noticed something. "What are those marks on your neck, Ranma?"
Reflexively, his hand went to his neck and he turned bright red. "Oh. Haha. I still practice a lot of martial arts."
"I see," Nodoka said. "You should be more careful."
"Sure." Ranma laughed nervously again. He had managed to get out of that one without lying directly. He had just happened to mention martial arts at that moment and his mother had just happened to mistake that as the explanation. Somehow, he doubted informing her that when he and Shampoo made out, she sometimes got really worked up and liked using his neck as a chew-toy (and there was absolutely no way that he was ever going to admit that, surprisingly enough, he sort of liked it. Not that he was a masochistic weirdo.) That was not going to be the best way to put his mother in a responsive mood to what he had to say.
He figured it was time to begin before she started to ask more personal questions. "Look, thereís something really important I want to discuss with you. I wanted both you and Pop to be here, but I guess itíll just have to be the two of us."
"Go ahead, Ranma."
She masked it well, but Ranma could still make out the sound of anxiousness in her voice. She knew what was he going to say before he opened his mouth. As bad as he felt about that, he forced himself to continue. "Iím sorry, but there is no way Iím ever marrying anyone but Shampoo. Ever. I donít know why the two of you canít accept that."
"Because you canít marry anyone other than a Tendo." Nodoka spoke as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. "Iím certain if you talked with Kasumi, she might not mind you having Shampoo as a mistress. They do get along quite well."
"NO!" Ranma shouted. "Why wonít you listen to a word I say? I am not marrying anyone other than Shampoo. I ainít marrying Kasumi. I ainít marrying Nabiki. I ainít marrying either of the two new girls, or Silkís kid when sheís born either, or anyone else thatís born, adopted, or time travels from the future and calls herself a Tendo."
"Ranma," Nodoka used a tone of voice that was similar to what one might use with a small child. "There is a promise to uphold and we will uphold it. Just because you and your lover have run—"
"We ainít lovers!" he snapped. "I ainít done anything with her! I want to, but I canít Ďcause of this."
Nodoka was taken aback at that. "I had no idea. I suppose itís nice that youíve waited, but it doesnít matter. You cannot marry her. She canít even bear children."
"I already went over this with her. Weíll adopt. Probably just a girl, though. And not right away anyhow, Ďcause I ainít ready to start raising any kids."
Nodoka nodded. "But even so you still canít marry her."
The pressure built within Ranma as shot to his feet, unable to keep calm as his anger raged. "Why? It doesnít have to be that way! You and Pop are the only ones that are trying to force me into this, and it wonít work! All youíre doing is making a bunch of people miserable, including yourself!"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, the only way you are ever going to see any grandchildren is if you let go of this stupid engagement thing and set me free."
Now it was Nodokaís turn to stand up. "Is that a threat, young man?!"
Ranma fought the urge to accept the chastisement. She was his mother, but she was WRONG. "It ainít a threat, itís a fact." Pain started to trickle into his voice. It was all going wrong. He really had believed she would have relented over the months and seen reason. Now it was all turning out horribly, and he didnít know what to say anymore. "You donít understand what this is doing to me and her. I canít stand the way things are going now. Iíve been patient, and Shampoo even moreso. Itís time we got married, no matter what you say."
"Ranma. You canít do… that." Nodoka suddenly began to stagger a little.
Ranma was at her side in an instant, his anger replaced by concern in less than a second. He placed an arm around her to help keep her from falling. "Mom! Whatís wrong?!"
She regained her footing, but to Ranmaís eyes looked very pale. "Iím all right. Iíve just been having dizzy spells lately. I thought I was over them."
"I thought you said you were all right!" Ranma practically shouted.
"Itís nothing, dear. I just get them every now and then. It must have been from the argu—" she swooned once more.
"Thatís it! Iím having a doctor check you out."
For a moment, Nodoka pride swelled at her sonís protectiveness. Despite feeling better, she felt that perhaps it was for the best that she assent to her sonís demands of having a physician make sure she was all right, even though she knew she was. It would make Ranma feel better, and, more importantly, keep them from arguing further. She had not even been able to have a pleasant conversation with him for more than half an hour before they began arguing about marriage once again. Even if her son was proving himself intractable, she still wanted to spend at least a little time with him.
It was a couple of hours later when Ranma saw his father arrive at the hospital. Any concerns he had over his fatherís reaction to what had happened were erased by the look of panic on his face.
"Is your mother all right, boy?"
"Yeah. The docs just wanted to run a few tests on her to see if they could figure out whatís wrong. If Mom was feeling bad, why didnít you make her come here?" Ranma accused.
"Itís the first I heard of it." Genma began pacing back and forth in concern as he waited for someone to inform him of what was going on with his wife. It was only another ten minutes before Nodoka came from around the hallway and saw her family. As quickly as she could, while remaining ladylike, she approached them. Both Ranma and Genma were on her in an instant, assailing her with a number of questions.
"Iím all right," she assured them. "The doctors did a few blood tests and other things to see if they could determine what was wrong. All theyíve found so far was that I have a very low hemoglobin count and they want me to take some vitamin supplements to bring it back up."
Both Ranma and Genma were visibly relieved at that. She was continuing to reassure them she was all right when a doctor approached.
"Mrs. Saotome?" he asked.
"Yes?" Nodoka recognized him as one of the physicians that had run several tests on her. "What is it?"
"I have something to tell you. Youíd better sit down."
All three Saotomes looked alarmed as Nodoka forced herself to sit down. She had been certain that there was nothing wrong with her. Dizzy spells were not really cause for alarm, were they? She really did feel fine, outside of that.
"Well, Maíam, I have some interesting news for you. Best to brace yourself for the surprise, but youíre pregnant."
Everyone stared at him in shock, Nodoka most of all. "How did that happen?"
The doctor stared at her for a moment, then opened her chart and looked it over. "It says you already have a son. I really donít think I need to explain the mechanics of it to you, do I?"
Nodoka shook her head, feeling faint once more. "No. Of course not. I mean, itís quite a shock, thatís all. Iíd better sit down."
"You already are, maíam."
Nodoka realized she was indeed still in her chair. "Oh, yes. Pregnant, you say? Thereís no doubt about it?"
"Not really, maíam," the doctor assured her. "We took the test twice and it came up positive both times. Youíre going to want to get a check up with your obstetrician as soon as possible, of course, but our preliminary studies show the only health problem you seem to have is a low hemoglobin count. Did they already tell you of that?"
"Yes," Nodoka said, still in surprise. Pregnant? The idea of having another child had never really occurred to her. She had her hands full with the one that was absent from her life and had focused all of her attention on him.
Off to the side, Genma wasnít certain what to do. He had never considered having another child either, putting all of his efforts into Ranma. Uncertain of what to do anymore, he just stood and waited for his wife to tell him what she wanted to do next.
There was one other who was at least as deeply concerned about the new information as Nodoka, for suddenly the gears of his mind slowly began to turn as a plan began to form. On the surface it appeared to be sound. All he needed to do was find out one other minute detail to make it work.
The doctor nearly wet himself as Ranma grabbed him by the collar and began shaking him back and forth shouting, "TELL ME ITíS GOING TO BE A BOY, DOC!!!"
The doctor barely managed to get out of his grasp before getting out, "We need to take a sonogram first. And we probably wonít know until about the fourth month of pregnancy."
Nodoka and Genma stared at their son in shock. Nodoka spoke first. "Ranma, I had no idea you wanted a brother so badly."
"More than anything in the world." Ranma could barely reign in his hope. "Cause if itís a guy, he can damn well marry one of the Tendos and release me from this stupid promise the old man made."
Genma and Nodoka looked at one another, uncertain of exactly what to say. This time it was Genma who, while sounding surprised by everything, did seem to be considering it. "I never thought of that. Tendo does have a new girl on the way. I suppose if we have a child it could work out that way. But weíd have to have a boy to make it work. I mean, all he has are girls."
"And if not, you and Mom can keep trying until you get one. WOOHOO! IíM GETTING MARRIED, WORLD!" He jumped up and down with joy, even going so far as to grab a patient off of her gurney and dance around with her.
"Err, we havenít actually agreed to that, boy," Genma warned. "And Iím not sure we should take the chance."
Ranma stopped dancing around with the patient and scowled at his father. He placed the girl back on her gurney and walked over to confront Genma. "Whatís that supposed to mean?"
"Well, having two sons married to the Tendo girls would be a lot better than just one. Sort of like doubling your chances at something good happening." Genma felt like patting himself on the back for that particularly keen observation.
"Actually, Pop, that would guarantee bad things happening." Ranma cracked his knuckles, then grabbed Genma by the collar of his gi. "Because every day is going to be a living hell for you since I will pound on you until you think having one Saotome married to one Tendo is a good idea." He put his fist in Genmaís face as a teaser of things to come.
"Hmm. Good point," Genma mumbled through the fist. Having one Saotome married to one Tendo was more than enough. "I think I can see things your way, this time."
Nodoka could not help but smile. At last there was a way out of the promise and the resentment that had built up between her and Ranma would be gone at last, even if it meant having a daughter-in-law she cared little for. "Very well, Ranma. If my childís a boy, you can marry whomever you wish."
An ear-to-ear grin nearly split Ranmaís face as he translated that as consent. At last, after a year and a half it had finally happened. He whooped it up as he ran down one of the halls and out of the hospital, missing his mother yelling at him that they didnít know if it was a boy yet and he shouldnít jump to conclusions, but it was far, far too late. Not just because he was out of sight, but because no amount of explaining would have changed his mind at that point. He was too close to achieving his heartís desire to have anything disrupt his plans now.
He ran through the town, dancing with joy and shouting out how he was going to be married. As he ran through the streets, he saw a familiar form and danced around with her.
"Iím going to get married!"
"Thatís nice," Azusa Shiratori said, delighted at the impromptu dance.
Ranma released her and snatched a ribbon out of her hair. "Iím getting married, Jean-Michael!" he shouted at it.
"His nameís Rene," Azusa corrected, then panicked as Ranma ran off with Rene still in hand.
Chaos followed as Ranma ran around in a joyous delirium that made people realize how much they did not miss Kodachi Kunou. He nearly gave Mikado Senzenin a heart attack when he threatened to kiss the skater. He danced with a demon that Minami and Yohko were in the process of destroying. He beat up several Martial Arts Mimes (and there was much rejoicing by the citizenry). He even stole a bunch of various womenís undergarments, then threw them on top of a wandering Ryouga, allowing him to get beaten up by the following pack of angry women who assumed the lost one was an accomplice.
It was only when he at last arrived at the festival grounds (and Azusa finally had a chance to reclaim Rene) that he calmed down and tried to locate Shampoo. It only took a few minutes before he found her next to a booth where a vendor was selling limes, cherries, and bloodberries.
By the time he arrived at her side, his face was a mask of calm. Surprise was the name of the game now, and he wanted to watch the smile erupt from her when he told her the good news. It was a considerably more sedate Ranma that approached Shampoo.
The instant she saw him she felt her anxiousness end. He didnít seem very happy, which she took to mean yet another refusal. Still, she had to hear it from him. "How did it go?"
Ranma felt the urge to build up to the moment. "Mom got sick almost as soon as I got there. I had to take her to the hospital."
Shampoo looked at him in surprise. "Is she all right?"
Ranma was pleased that she seemed so concerned, although he suspected it might have been more his sake than his motherís. "Yeah. Nothing serious." He was about to tell her the good news by proposing to her right then and there, when he realized he was missing something. Damn! He had intended to tell her immediately, but he had wanted to do it the right way. In the past, he had thought out what he would do on the day he was allowed to marry her, and had played it out in his mind a multitude of times. He was on the verge of abandoning that plan when he spotted something that would suffice, at least for an on the spot proposal.
Shampoo was surprised as Ranma grabbed her hand and led her to one of the prize machines that were so prevalent throughout the carnival. It was one of those machines with a robot claw that grabbed onto any one of a bunch of small, cheap prizes inside. Shampoo couldnít figure out Ranmaís sudden attraction to the machine, but then she still did not understand a lot about him.
"Give me a fifty yen piece." He held his hand out towards Shampoo.
She looked at him, confused as to why he wanted to play the silly little game, especially since his mother had apparently just been ill enough to merit a trip to the hospital. "Ranma, is something wrong?"
"Nah." He waved dismissively towards her as he kept his eyes locked on the object of his desire. It was right on the top, and with his hand and eye coordination, he was confident he could get it on the first try. "I just want to play this game. Give me a fifty yen piece."
She shrugged and gave him the money. She watched closely as he plopped in the coin and began working the mechanical claw. Her attention was split between watching the progress of the arm and his face, which had an unbelievable amount of eagerness written all over it.
Slowly, Ranma directed the arm until it was right over the target. All it took was a pressing of the button and the claw descended. His face was pressed tightly against the glass as he saw the open piece of metal dip towards the clear plastic case the object was in and…
…miss as it seemed to sway at the last second and picked up a white furry stuffed animal instead. His anxiousness gave way to irritation as he watched the claw deposit the animal into the receiving shoot. Damn! He had been so certain the claw had been directly over it too. He didnít bother taking his eyes off the target as he held his hand out behind him. "Another fifty yen piece."
Shampoo shrugged and fished out yet another fifty yen piece, handing it to Ranma. As he deposited it, Shampoo went to the receiving bin and picked up the white doll. She pushed on it once, heard it give off a ĎPu pu,í then tossed the annoying thing into garbage can. The least Ranma could have done was gotten some kind of neat little trinket she would have liked.
She heard him began a soft chant of, "Easy. Easy. More to the left. Now more to the right. Heh. Thatís it. Dumb machine. Thought you could beat me. Ha! Well I showed yo… AHH! It grabbed the wrong one again!"
She heard something else deposit into the receiving bin as Ranma continued keeping his gaze fixated on the machine. "Another fifty yen."
"Why donít you let me try?" Shampoo offered "Just tell me which one you want and Iíll get it."
"No way!" he snapped. "The dumb machine wonít beat me a third time. It was just lucky. Now gimme another fifty yen."
She sighed, knowing better than to try to argue with him when he entered one of his ĎI wonít lose to [Insert Name of Whoever/Whatever He Wants to Beat]í phases. And to think, her Great Grandmother used to accuse her of being competitive. She just hoped they had enough money to get what he wanted. Knowing Ranma, he would shake down passerbys for coins if they ran out and he still hadnít won.
She handed him another, then fished out a fourth coin since she had a gut feeling about how the next attempt was going to turn out.
"Got it this time. Just a little to the left. Perfect! Now I… AHHHH! It did it again! It swung to the right at the last second and grabbed the wrong thing again! Cheatiní machine! Gimme another!"
She let him kick the machine once before handing him the fourth coin then grabbed the two objects out of the receiving bin again. Ranma had managed to win a key chain and corkscrew. How delightfully useless. She tossed them aside and handed Ranma his next coin while checking on their current funds. They had next to nothing. It appeared it was time to either begin pit fighting again, or have Ranma hunt down pikachus. The latter could certainly be lucrative when they located an area that had an infestation of the verminous little creatures. Ranma was an ideal exterminator since he was immune to the diminutive pestsí electrical bursts.
Yet another ĎAgh!í caught her attention as she handed Ranma another coin. While he was failing to get whatever he wanted once again, she exchanged the last of their paper money for fifty yen pieces and returned to Ranmaís side just in time to hand him another coin.
Each time heíd win but not get the object he was trying for. Shampoo continued clearing out the winnings from the receiving bin. Ranma won: a magnet, a brick, a Slinky (that kept Shampoo amused for several minutes until she accidentally broke it), a Moon Crystal, a can of whoop-ass, a lifetime membership to the Nerima Hair Club for Men, an ancient-looking lamp that had the words Ďrub me and receive three wishesí written on the side (Right, like she was going to fall for that one. She threw it down a drainpipe before someone was stupid enough to actually rub the damned thing) and a host of other useless trinkets.
The pile in the machine grew smaller with each progressive attempt, yet still the motionless object somehow eluded Ranmaís attempts to grab it with the mechanical claw. Shampoo felt the number of coins dwindle in direct concert with the number of items remaining in the machine until it was down to one last object and one last coin.
A part of her felt like scolding him for wasting their money like that, but the admonishment would fall on deaf ears, and sheíd just get angrier with him for disregarding what she said. Sheíd find a way to let him know her displeasure later, when he was not obsessed with winning.
"This is the last one." She held on to the final coin for a moment, making Ranma actually exert a little force before he was able to tear it out of her grasp. Much to her disappointment, he didnít even seem to hear her. Oh, yes. Sheíd find some way to let him know he had erred this time.
She watched the sweat pour down his face as he gingerly put in the coin and carefully manipulated the claw. Slowly, the metal arm made its way to the center of the now almost completely bare machine, pausing above the final object. It reached down, and effortlessly picked up the final object, retracted, then dropped it into the receiving bin.
For the first time since he began the quest to beat the machine, he turned to look at Shampoo and gave her a wide grin. "Heh. That was easy enough."
Shampoo facefaulted. In the time it took her to regain her feet and pull out a bonbori, Ranma had recovered the object and took the item out of the clear case it was in. A small wave of panic threatened to overtake Ranma, but he fought it down. This was the long awaited moment of truth. Taking a brief moment to actually think about what he was going to say before he said it.
He cleared his throat. "Shampoo, thereís something I wanna ask you." He watched her pause a moment from raising her bonbori high overhead. "I do… Oops. Almost forgot." He dropped to one knee and held out the prize he had tried so hard to win: a gold-colored metal ring. "I… uh… that is would you… ah… I guess would you marry me?" Yes. That was it.
A bonbori dropped from nerveless fingers. Shampoo had pictured the moment nine thousand, seven hundred and sixty three times in her mind, and now that it was actually happening, she forgot what her reaction was supposed to be.
Ranma stood up and waved a hand in front of her face. "Shampoo?"
"Yes?" she answered, then remembered that was what the response was supposed to be. "Yes. Yes! Yesyesyesyesyes! I want to marry you, Ranma!" She held out her hand and allowed him to put the ring on her finger. When that was done, she glomped him and swore she wouldnít let go until she was exhausted. Thus it was an odd pair that made their way through the rest of the festival. Neither was aware of the odd stares they received from the people they passed; they had thoughts only for each other.
At least, that was, until a loud shout was heard proclaiming, "What do yaí mean we ainít got any money?!… I did not spend it all! I didnít play the game that many times! … Well, we got to eat. Maybe we can sell the ring for some money. HEY! Put that sword down! Iím not trying to back out of proposing! It was just an idea I had so we wouldnít go hungry! Geez! You Amazons sure are moody…"
Even as the conversation drifted off, no one risked going within fifty yards of the duo. It was quite a sight to behold as the girl somehow managed a one-armed glomp around the boy while keeping her sword drawn and at the ready with her free hand. Around Nerima, curiosity could kill more than a cat if one wasnít careful. Best to leave the odd people alone in their strange behaviors.
"Youíre lost. Admit it!"
"I am not lost. Besides, does anyone with the name of ĎHibikií in their family tree have the right to accuse another of not knowing where they are?"
Aki Yoshida took a swing at DíAmour, which he evaded with a quick, short leap. "Watch it! Youíll mess up my tux." He examined himself once more to be assured that not a stitch was out of place, nor a wrinkle in the suit. No. It was perfect, almost as perfect as him.
"I donít know why I invited you along," Aki grumbled.
"Because you find my company irresistible?" DíAmour offered.
"Because you wanted to impress everyone by making them think Iím your date?"
"Because I was the only one around that could possibly locate where the wedding is being held in time for you to attend?"
He knew she was lying. She secretly pined for him and believed that by asking him out it would draw the two of them closer together. Fat chance of that. Being snapped in half like a dry twig was too high a price to pay for sleeping with any woman. He was going along solely because weddings were a great place to pick up babes. The unattached women always felt their biological clocks ticking when they saw one of their own married off to some guy, and were more inclined to be looking for a prospective mate during the first few hours after attending a wedding. The perfect hunting ground.
"Wipe that lascivious smirk off your face!" Aki at last connected with a blow to the back of DíAmourís head, snapping him out of his fantasy.
He shook his head back and forth to clear it. "You didnít have to hit so hard," he whined.
"I didnít hit you hard. Your headís still attached to your shoulders."
"Good point," he grumbled, annoyed that his slight of not going out with her triggered such animosity.
Aki began to worry about making it on time. It appeared the othersí predictions were a little off when they had made their bets about Ranma and Shampoo only ending up engaged after two years. It was now less than one month over two years and the duo were going to be married. What was worse was that Aki had only received the invitation today when the ship pulled into a nearby port. Realizing she would never find the wedding on her own in time, she resorted to asking the one man who was present when she first received the invitation. The only one who would be able to find the wedding without delay.
"I think weíre near," DíAmour said.
It was at that time a tiny oni, which looked more like a goofy little bumblebee than a horrible demon, flew up from behind the duo. It looked over each one. The girl would have been satisfactory under normal circumstances, but the man next to her was the real prize. He was little more than a hormone on two legs, veritably oozing feelings of lust and deception. It gave out a tiny, delighted war cry and plunged directly into DíAmourís head, disappearing from sight. The instant it was inside, the tiny oni became overwhelmed by the raw emotions pouring from the man. It would reach its supreme power in less than a day by feeding off of him.
[What are you doing in here?]
The oni froze in horror. Something within the humanís mind was… talking to him? That wasnít possible. Only the victimís mind should have been capable of direct communication within. Even in cases of those with multiple personality disorders, the voice was still from the same mind. And to make matters worse, the other voice was preventing him from drawing power from the victim.
[Oh, an oni. Heh. Go right ahead and take what you like, although I suspect youíve bitten off more than even you can chew.]
The oni felt the invisible barrier that had prevented him from feeding disappear. For the briefest of moments he considered leaving the potentially hazardous situation. Almost immediately that thought was dispelled from his mind; there was too much to gain in remaining. The little oni began to feed.
Aki watched in confusion as the little oni dive bombed directly into the captainís head, confirming her belief that there was nothing inside. Carefully, she watched as two tiny horns sprouted from the captainís head. So, he was possessed. Given the captainís usual personality, a demon could only be an improvement.
"I suddenly feel less horny than usual," DíAmour commented.
Abruptly, the oni burst forth from the captainís head, four times its original size and glowing blue. It hovered directly over him as it shouted out, "Too much lechery… even for me… canít contain i—" the rest was lost as the oni detonated directly over the captain.
"Well," Aki commented as she stared at DíAmourís form, covered in miscellaneous, unidentifiable bits of oni. "It appears youíre not so hot-looking anymore."
Aki was correct, DíAmour noted. He was indeed a mess, covered in the oniís blood and body parts. That look might attract succubi, but since it was unlikely any were going to be at the wedding, steps would have to be taken.
He ran his hand through his hair, over his face, and then over his suit once, somehow making himself appear even more immaculate than before the oni exploded over him. Where once had been a man who had been covered in splattered oni parts only moments before, now stood a handsome rogue in a tuxedo again. DíAmour smiled, his teeth giving off a near blinding gleam.
"You truly scare the hell out of me sometimes," Aki said as she backed off a little ways from the captain. At least the oniís presence meant that Ranma and Shampoo were probably nearby. They led lives that were as plagued with annoying events as TWPOS and her lovely crew. An oni was just the thing that would show up to annoy the duo.
DíAmour made one last examination of himself. Assured that he was as dashing as ever, he began walking in the direction of a nearby church.
Aki took note of how eager he seemed to be as he began hurrying towards it. There was only one thing that could drive the man so. "Let me guess. Youíre heading for the strongest concentration of women."
"Youíve got that right." Rather than enter the temple itself, he veered to a building next to it. From all outside appearances, it was a plain-looking, large hall of some kind. As he entered through the open doors, he gave a broad smile. There were all manner of people in fine clothing, milling about, talking to one another. There was only one thing DíAmour truly noted, though.
"Babes. Lots and lots of babes. Watch out, ladies. The Captain of Love is about to teach you the true path to sexual blisUNH!"
The rest of DíAmour speech was cut off as Aki laid him out with a nearby tree trunk. From out of her blouse came a length of steel cable, which she used to tie the captain up. "Well, youíve served your purpose. Now itís time to give Ranma and Shampoo an early wedding gift by leaving you behind." She finished tying him up and hid the body behind some bushes next to the temple and out of sight. Maybe she would get around to untying him when everything was over. On the other hand, maybe leaving him there forever would be a better idea. The crew would certainly thank her for it.
"It was nice meeting you," Kasumi said as the rather polite couple walked off to meet others in the pre-wedding area of the reception hall that was located next to the church. She watched as they mingled with some others, then turned to the small child that was still hiding behind her right leg. "Akira. There was no reason to be so quiet to those nice people. You should be more friendly."
Akira looked up to Kasumi and said, "Strangers, Momma."
It took Kasumi only a moment to decipher the meaning. "Yes, they were strangers, and ordinarily you are not supposed to talk to them. But when youíre with me itís all right."
Akira looked at her in confusion as he tried sorting out the seemingly conflicting orders of Ďdonít talk to strangers/talk to strangersí he had just been given. As his childís mind continued to work, he saw two people that were most definitely not strangers.
"Unca Shanpoo! Annie Ranma!" he shouted out excitedly in their approaching direction.
"No, Akira. Thatís Auntie Shampoo and Uncle Ranma," Kasumi corrected, emphasizing the Ďauntieí and Ďuncleí parts of the names.
Akira stared in confusion at his mother again, then pointed at the couple once more and said, "Unca Shanpoo. Annie Ranma, Momma," as though that were all the explanation that was needed.
"I said thatís Auntie Shampoo and Uncle Ranma," Kasumi corrected once again. It figured that the first time Akira met the duo they were in their cursed forms, and that Ranma-chan would jokingly refer to herself as ĎAuntie Ranmaí and Shampoo-kun as ĎUncle Shampooí. All it took was that one time and Akira had hopelessly fixated on calling them that, no matter how many times he was corrected.
Akira stuck his lip out defiantly. "Unca Shanpoo! Annie Ranma! Unca Shanpoo! Annie Ranma! Unca Shanpo—"
A laugh interrupted Akiraís insistent tirade about the names of his godparents. "Itís okay, Kasumi. He can call me ĎAnnie Ranmaí whenever he wants." Ranma squatted down, unconcerned about rumpling his tuxedo, and held his arms open.
Ranma watched with an amused grin as Akira began running forward on his little legs. He laughed at the child and waited to pick him up as he rushed towards him…
…and passed by on the right side, leaving Ranma to continue smiling at nothing but air, his arms still pointed outward expectantly.
"Unca Shanpoo. Hug!" Akira looked up to Shampoo, holding his own arms expectedly. He was not disappointed as Shampoo picked him up and gave him a great, big hug.
Ranma finally got up and scowled at the embracing duo. They did make quite a pair, Akira in his little suit and Shampoo in a red and brown, Chinese-style dress that had a high slit along the leg and a gold border around the legs and arms. Hardly the traditional Japanese style wedding his mother had wanted, but Shampoo unilaterally refused to wear a kimono, claiming it was ridiculously uncomfortable and confining. When Ranma tried pressing the point, Shampoo mentioned that if Nodoka was so enthusiastic about seeing someone married in a kimono, all she needed to do was splash Ranma with some cold water and she could get her wish. Ranma let the subject drop after that.
The scowl Ranma directed at the pair lasted all of four seconds before Akira shifted around in Shampooís embrace and pointed himself in Ranmaís direction. Once again he opened his arms out and said, "Annie Ranma. Hug!"
"Looks like I couldnít keep his interest after all," Shampoo said as she handed Akira to Ranma, who did as he was ordered and gave Akira a big hug.
"The two of you look very nice," Kasumi commented as she watched her son embrace Ranma.
"So do you," Shampoo replied as she admired Kasumiís elegant-looking brown and white kimono.
Ranma pretended he was going to toss Akira across the room, eliciting a giggle from the child. "The little guyís grown a lot since the last time we saw him."
"That was only a month ago, Ranma," Shampoo said.
"Well, he looks a lot bigger."
Kasumi gave a warm smile. "I think youíre right, Ranma. He has grown a lot in the last month." She decided that they had talked enough about her son. Today was too momentous to talk about subjects that could be covered at any time, although she did enjoy talking about Akira. "Todayís the big day. Are the two of you ready?"
Shampoo nodded enthusiastically while Ranma just shook his head. "Hard to believe itís on us so fast. Seems like only yesterday I was proposing, now look where I am. The days just flew by."
"It canít go fast enough for me." Shampoo glomped onto him in joy. "Two years was too long. After today heíll officially be mine at last."
"Have you decided what to do about the name?" As Kasumi recalled, the two were still in disagreement about who would take whose name.
"Sheís going to be Shampoo Saotome after today," Ranma informed her as he persuaded Shampoo to release him before she wrinkled his suit.
"I still think Ranma Pu has a better ring to it." Shampoo gave her fiancť a wicked little smile. She almost refused to take on his family name, but when it became obvious it meant a great deal to him, she relented. It really was a trivial thing, but it would serve to make everyone know that there was an official bond between them.
"If it isnít the happy couple at last."
Everyone turned to look at the speaker. Kasumi looked pleased while Ranma and Shampoo gave irritated glances. "Whatís she doing here?" Shampoo mumbled under her breath.
"Iím glad you could come, Nabiki," Kasumi said. Somehow, Nabikiís invitation had not arrived when Kasumiís had. Actually it hadnít arrived at all, so Kasumi took it upon herself to invite Nabiki along.
"We ainít got no money Ďcause renting the hall and hiring the priest took it all up. We are officially broke," Ranma informed her, wondering why she had come at all since both he and Shampoo had agreed upon Ďforgettingí to invite her. Even if they had nothing, that did not mean there was not some way she had of taking any future funds they might make.
Nabiki gave a dismissive wave of her hand. "Oh, come now, Saotome. I wouldnít miss this for the world. After all of the excitement you and Shampoo have brought into our lives, if I didnít see things through this far, Iíd never forgive myself."
"Ranma isnít lying. We really donít have any money," Shampoo assured her.
"Then Iíve come at just the right time," Nabiki said, her eyes fairly glinting in the light of the hall. Both Ranma and Shampoo sensed that they had somehow just walked into the trap, whatever it was.
"Iíll do it," Ranma said to Shampoo, hoping to get whatever Nabiki was up to out of the way. He turned back to Nabiki. "What do you mean?"
Nabiki continued to smile. "Iím just concerned about the future you two have. As I understand it, neither one of you has a regular job."
"Thatís because weíve been going around trying to find a cure for the curses," Ranma informed her. "And weíve been learning a lot of new martial arts techniques too. So there ainít been much time to try to hold one down."
"Besides," Shampoo added. "We can get by on pit fighting and pickachu hunting. We always make a bit of money fighting since both of us always win and we always bet on the otherís fights. Thatís how we got enough money to pay for all of this, but we donít have any now," Shampoo emphasized once more.
"Then allow me to help you make some."
Ranma sighed. And it was supposed to have been a happy occasion too. "Go ahead and tell us what you want."
"I just want to help you, Ranma." She almost cooed as she drew closer to the duo. "Consider this my wedding present to you. I didnít get a chance to actually buy you something, since my invitation didnít arrive, so I figured out something else." She brought out an official-looking document and handed it to Ranma.
The first thing Ranma noticed was the two dotted lines on the bottom. "Weíre not signing our souls over to you."
"As if those would have any value anyway," Nabiki shot back, still smiling the entire time. "This is a contract. Specifically, a modeling contract." She took the paper out of his hands and began her speech. "Iíve been thinking. That swimsuit calendar we did a few years ago was a great success."
"For you," Shampoo pointed out.
"That goes without saying," Nabiki replied. "But it could work out for your benefit too. We could make a deal where the two of you can become official models and makes tons of money. Youíll have to do it in your cursed forms though, since Shampoo is supposed to be Ďdeadí. Ohh. I get goosebumps just thinking about how much we can make with the two of you being marketed right."
"And what do you get out of this?" Ranma asked.
"Iíll be your agent, of course. Itís not like the two of you have any connections to advertisement agencies." Nabiki did not either, but if they signed the contracts, she could make some.
"And youíll be getting how much of our money?" Ranma asked.
"Only a standard agentís fee."
"Which would be…?" Shampoo continued, waiting for the other shoe to fall.
"A nominal sum."
"Which would be…?" Shampoo pressed.
"Only fifty percent."
"HALF?!" Ranma and Shampoo spluttered out as one.
"How nice. You two are reading each otherís minds, and you arenít even married yet," Kasumi said sweetly.
"How do you justify getting half of what would be our money?" Ranma growled.
"Itís not like you two have the resources to do it on your own. Without me youíd be lucky to make one quarter of what I could get you. Still, thereís no need to answer now. It was just an idea" Nabiki folded up the document and put it back in her blouse. "This is your wedding day. Donít worry about money matters now. We can discuss this some other time." Like when they realized she was right and would cave in to her demands. They were so predictable, after all. She gave them no more than a year of holding out, at the most.
Ranma and Shampoo shrugged and let the matter rest. They were just about to ask Kasumi something when a short, brown-haired girl approached them
"Hello, Kurumi," Kasumi said as her adopted sister approached.
Shampoo and Ranma looked the girl over. All the information they had been told about the new girls came from Kasumi, and they had felt it was… colored somewhat, as things described by Kasumi tended to be. To their eyes, the short girl appeared normal (relative to the standard inhabitants of Nerima, that is), and seemed rather calm, a trait they had been looking for in as many of the guests as they could. Both of them were keeping an eye open for any possible disturbances, certain that somewhere, somehow, someone was going to try to screw things up. That was the way things always happened. So far everything had appeared clear, though.
Kasumi properly introduced her sister to Ranma and Shampoo, who, in turn, bowed before her. Shampoo quickly noticed the girl seeming to examine her far more intently than Ranma.
"Is something wrong?" Shampoo asked.
Kurumi almost jumped at that. "No. Iíve just heard a lot about you. You look a lot different from what I expected."
Shampoo found herself amused by that. "And what did you think I would look like?"
"I donít know. Just different. Itís nice to meet you though."
"Itís nice to meet you too." Shampoo agreed. Kurumi seemed nice enough. Shampoo had assumed both of the new Tendo girls might take Akaneís side and despise Shampoo on general principles. It seemed at least one of them had kept an open mind.
Nabiki interjected herself into the conversation as she moved closer to Shampoo. "Now, how about letting me see the ring that Ranma got you."
Shampoo held out her hand proudly and displayed the ring for Nabikiís benefit. Nabiki grabbed it, holding the hand steady while she whipped out a jeweler's loupe and held it to her eye. She examined the ring closely. One glance and the loupe fell from her hand. "Th… thatís…"
"The most beautiful ring in the world," Shampoo cooed.
"Itís crap," Nabiki corrected. "Itís not even cubic zirconium. How can you possibly feel satisfied with a piece of junk like this?"
"Ranma picked it out all by himself," Shampoo insisted as she shook her arm out of Nabikiís grasp and fawned over her ring once more. "Iíd never trade it. Not even for all the jewels in the world."
Nabiki made a retching noise at that. "I can see itís not going to take much to please you. You know, itís girls like you that make guys think itís easy to satisfy a woman."
"I am easy to satisfy," Shampoo said.
Ranma handed Akira to Shampoo, then facefaulted. Shampoo leveled a scowl at him that was going to be joined by a reprimand, when Nabiki spoke up.
"Hey everyone, donít you think Akira looks a lot like Shampoo?"
Kasumi and Kurumi suddenly stiffened as Ranma brought his face close to Akira. He examined the childís face closely, then compared it to Shampooís. He looked back and forth several times between the two before standing back on his heels.
"They donít look a thing alike."
"I think he looks more like Ranma." Shampoo let Ranma hold Akira, then compared the two.
"Say, he does look a little like him," Kurumi said, mystified at the slight resemblance between man and child.
Nabiki was about to say something else when she felt a slight weight settle on her head. With a growing dread, she froze. Slowly, an object came into view from above her head.
Birdy let out a low hissing sound.
"NOOO!" Nabiki shouted as Birdy began pecking at her face.
"Isnít that sweet," Kasumi sighed. "Birdyís saying Ďhelloí to Nabiki. I thought he missed her. They always have such fun playing with one another."
"Actually, Birdyís trying to gouge her eyes out," Shampoo noted as Nabiki ran off, trying to dislodge the small pterodactyl.
"Thatís just his way of saying Ďhií to her," Ranma added dryly before noticing someone else approach. "Great. Look whoís coming. How the hell did she find out about this?"
Shampoo turned to see whom Ranma was talking about. It was Perfume, decked out in an attractive pink and black dress that showed off an impressive amount of cleavage. "I invited her." She was delighted that Perfume had made it in time. Delivering a message through Kasumi to Cologne to Perfume had taken some time, and Shampoo had been uncertain if it would arrive in Joketsuzoku in time.
"Why?" he asked as he handed Akira back to Kasumi.
"Sheís my friend." As well as being one of the handful of people from Shampooís home that she could still see. She had never told Ranma, but there were still times that an aching longing for her home made its presence known. Though the times when it bothered her were becoming fewer and farther between.
Ranma was considerably less enthusiastic about Perfumeís appearance. From what little contact he had had with her, he was under the impression she did not think highly of him, and even disapproved of the relationship he had with Shampoo. He certainly did not care for anyone that had claimed to be Shampooís friend, then turned around and brought a party of Amazons with her to drag her Ďfriendí to her death. It was only luck that had kept Perfumeís actions from bringing about Shampooís execution at the hands of her own people. Besides, there was something about her he did not trust. A sort of arrogance that she carried that implied she thought she was better than everyone else and regarded people like him as subordinates to her. Never seeing her again would have sat perfectly fine with him.
"Whoís that girl with her?" Ranma asked as he took notice of an attractive woman, with long flowing brown hair and dressed in a white kimono, that was escorting the pink-haired Amazon.
"I donít recognize her." Shampoo examined the face of Perfumeís escort carefully. She did not appear to be anyone from the village, and the kimono implied that she was probably Japanese. Shampoo was still trying to place the face when she noticed something else about the pair.
"Sheís holding the new girlís hand," Shampoo said.
Ranma scowled at that. He knew all about Perfumeís weird tastes in men. "There ainít no way thatís a guy."
"I know it looks impossible, but Iím pretty sure from the smile on her face he must be a male."
"No way. Even Tsubasa doesnít look that good," Ranma insisted, receiving a surprised look from Shampoo. "I mean Tsubasa didnít look as convincing as that girl, not that he was good-looking, which he isnít."
Shampoo seemed to accept that. "Why donít we make a bet about his gender? I say heís a male."
"Okay, but we ainít got no money. What would we bet?"
Shampoo told him.
Ranma turned bright red at the nature of the Ďstakesí. "Iím not sure Iíd wanna do that."
"But I might get hungry tonight," Shampoo purred in his ear, wondering if she should have added a cherry topping to the bet. She liked cherry toppings.
"But Iíd get all sticky—"
The rest of the complaint was cut off as Perfume headed directly towards Shampoo, beaming a wide smile to her. "Shampoo. Itís been too long." Perfume detached herself from her escortís arm and grabbed Shampooís forearms. Shampoo mirrored the action.
"You look well," Shampoo said.
Perfume shrugged. "I had some problems a while back, but I feel a lot better now." Perfume was as giddy as a schoolgirl as she released her hold on Shampoo and once again looped her arm around her escortís. "A lot of it is thanks to him. Meet my new boyfriend. I rescued him from his evil stepsisters and stepmother a few days ago. His nameís Konatsu Kenzan."
Konatsu bowed before Shampoo and Ranma. "Itís a pleasure to meet Perfume-samaís best friend and her future husband."
Ranma shook his head in disbelief. He WAS a guy? Perfume sure had a knack for finding the perverts. And worse, it meant he had just lost the bet. Where in the hell was he going to find that much whipped cream by tonight? "Itís a pleasure, I guess."
Shampoo gave Ranma a hungry look and licked her lips before saying something similar in greetings to Perfumeís boyfriend. Konatsu really did a good job of looking like an attractive teenage girl. If she hadnít known Perfume, she would never have guessed.
"Isnít he dreamy?" Perfume gushed. "I know itís your wedding day and all, but I just had to show him off to you."
"Gee, thanks," Ranma said in a tone sarcastic enough to do Nabiki proud.
Perfume gave Ranma a tight smile. "He looks better in a dress than you ever could, even as a girl."
Ranma began to bluster at that before receiving a warning glance from Shampoo. He had promised not to start any fights, but Perfume had to be just so damn irritating it was nearly impossible to not pick one. He satisfied himself with saying, "I donít wear dresses, so I couldnít really say."
"Perfume-sama, please." Konatsu blushed at the flattery he was receiving. "Iím certain Mr. Saotome would look wonderful in a dress."
"Yeah, I would," Ranma defended.
"I think Ranma would look good in a dress too," Shampoo said, suddenly feeling the urge to defend her fiancťe.
"Umm, could we change the subject off of cross-dressing?" Kurumi asked as she took Akira from Shampoo and held him. Kurumi had never been comfortable talking about the subject. She had heard enough talk about it from the loud Ďdiscussionsí Natsume had with Ukyou about them. Curious how those two had taken an instinctive dislike to one another, but then social dynamics around Nerima never were easy to comprehend.
"Yes, it is supposed to be a day of joy." Perfume was suddenly all smiles once again. "Shampoo and I are both lucky to have such wonderful men."
Tensions relaxed as Perfume began idle talk about the wedding. "Has he finally officially challenged you for your hand yet?" she asked Shampoo.
"Last week," Shampoo said happily, remembering how Ranma, with the help of cue cards, made an elaborate Ďofficialí pronouncement to challenge Shampoo in a duel with the intent to prove his worth, as an outsider, to his would-be warrior bride. "It took him half an hour, but he defeated me at last."
"Dumb Amazon marriage traditions," Ranma mumbled under his breath. Why he had to prove his worth to her, when she already knew what a great (and better) fighter he was, irritated him to no end. But she had insisted on it since she still considered herself an Amazon warrior and, as tradition begged, she should marry a powerful male that could prove his worth. At least his arm had healed up all right. It appeared Shampoo was correct. Getting the fight out of the way a week before the wedding left them both in much better shape for the honeymoon after. Not that she had not tried something since she then considered herself officially married. Fending off her renewed advances was no easy task. At least after today, that would no longer concern him.
"There are a lot of people here," Perfume noted. There seemed to be close to a hundred people in the dining hall
"We donít even know half of them," Shampoo informed her.
"At least," Ranma seconded. "Some of them are friends, but a lot of them are my family that I never even met."
"You can recognize the ones on Popís side from the way theyíre grazing at the snack table." Shampoo pointed out a small horde of people that were stuffing their mouths with everything they could get their hands on. "Good thing we have the main courses hidden or there wouldnít be anything left for the reception."
"It looks like everything is set up really well." Perfume commented. "Who organized this?"
Taking that as a cue, a man, wearing a half mask and a long, billowing black cape, slid down from a wire in the ceiling and landed next to Perfume, scaring the life out of her.
"It was I, The Director!" Loud music blared from hidden speakers somewhere nearby as he bowed gracefully before the startled Amazon.
Shampoo and Ranma had made certain they were a good distance from Perfume after she had first, foolishly uttered her words. Ranma began to explain. "Thatís our old high school director. Somehow he heard we were getting married—"
"—And naturally I volunteered to choreograph the entire thing," The Director finished as he moved behind Ranma and Shampoo, placing an arm around each of their shoulders. "I must tell you, I am still in awe of the special effects youíre using. Why, if I didnít know better, I would swear that Ranma is really a girl and Shampoo is really a boy."
Ranma and Shampoo laughed nervously at the little statement as both tried to escape the Directorís grip, and failed.
"Are you two certain you know the lines for the wedding?" he asked.
The couple nodded their heads vigorously.
"Are you certain you donít need a quick refresher?" He held out two identical shock bracelets.
"Weíre sure!" the pair said as one.
The Director nodded in approval. "Very well. I shall make certain my incompetent production staff have not screwed everything up. Earlier I caught them trying to set up a sacrificial altar to the demon Balthazar instead of preparing the temple the way it should be." Just as he was about to leave, he paused for one last moment. "I have a new film deal thatís in the final stages. Soon I shall single-handedly revitalize the film industry from the cesspool itís been mired in. I wanted to know if the two best actors I have ever had the privilege of directing would participate in it."
Ranma and Shampoo looked nervously at one another. "I guess we might consider it."
The Director jumped for joy as he headed to the church once again.
Ranma considered the offer. "Letís see. Weíve got Nabiki trying to get us to model for her, and now we got an insane director trying to get us to act."
"I think we should stick to pit fighting," said Shampoo. "Iíd rather deal with criminals and cutthroats than Nabiki. And I still donít think Iíve met anyone as insane as that director."
"Hello, Son-in-law. Granddaughter."
Shampoo found her great-grandmother suddenly standing before her. For the first time in nearly two years she saw the smaller woman once again and felt her heart seize up. Where before there would have been a spry, if diminutive, old woman who displayed the energy of a mistress of the martial arts, there now stood a sallow, gaunt-looking, elderly woman that lacked anything resembling the vibrancy she once possessed.
"Great-Grandmother, what happened to you?!"
The elder smiled at her, but even that toothy grin seemed to have lost its luster. "Nothing you need concern yourself with, child. Iíve just been ill for a little while, but Iíve been feeling much better of late."
"You donít look well," Shampoo protested, only to have Cologne smack her on the head with her staff.
"Donít argue with your great-grandmother. Now that weíve determined Iím perfectly fine, why donít we discuss other things. Either of you having second thoughts?"
"Nah!" Ranma assured her. "Weíve been waiting nearly two years for this. I just canít wait to get it over with. I keep looking over my shoulder thinking something is going to screw it up. Something always screws things up." Shampoo nodded her head, mirroring the sentiment.
"So this is what my future son-in-law looks like."
Ranma turned to see the female speaker that was directly behind him, somehow managing to avoid his sensing her presence. His turn brought him to look directly into her chest instead of a face. It was a rather generously endowed one, which was covered by a red and black Chinese-style ensemble. Realizing what he was staring at, he quickly recovered and looked up into the face of the tall woman that towered head and shoulders above him, just barely registering a plain-looking man standing several steps behind her.
The woman herself was very striking. Long locks of dark purple hair cascaded freely down her back, flowing in one majestic wave. She held a confident, if haughty, look about her. Her stance held power in it, even though she was at rest. But of all the notable features about her, it was the face that caught the majority of his attention. Certainly she was very attractive, but that was not what had commanded his attention. It was that the face looked so very similar to Shampooís.
Shampoo spoke from behind him. "Ranma, meet my mother, Comb."
Ranma was so surprised by the presence of the woman that he failed to pick up the uneasiness in Shampooís voice. The face may have appeared very similar to Shampooís, but the anger that it bore was something he had seen only a handful of times on the woman he had spent the last two years of his life traveling with. And though at times Shampoo might have looked at him in anger, it had never been with quite the intensity he was now being subjected to. That was unusual, not that someone was directing anger at him, which was something he was used to happening in a full one-third of the people he met. No, what was curious was that he was confident he had never met her before, and therefore she shouldnít be angry with him for anything.
Actually, now that he really thought about it, a lot of people he hadnít met before did tend to hate him for one reason or another. Maybe it wasnít so unusual after all.
"Uh," Ranma was unsure of what to say. Shampoo had not mentioned her mother was coming and hadnít told him what to expect. "Pleased to meet you."
Combís eyes seemed to bore holes through him as she continued staring. Ranma could have sworn she appeared even angrier than before. Usually it took at least a full five minutes of his being in someoneís presence before that happened.
Comb shifted her gaze from Ranma to her daughter. "This is the male that you have chosen to marry?"
The tone of disapproval was enough to make even Ranma shiver. "Yes. Iím Ranma Saotome."
The evil glare returned at twice the intensity. "I do not recall either myself or my daughter giving you permission to speak."
Ranma looked at her in shock, then annoyance. "I donít need no oneís permission—"
Shampoo cut him off by inserting herself between the two. "Ranma, let me deal with this."
"But…" He stopped on his own that time as he stared into Shampooís pleading eyes. Somehow he couldnít bear to refuse her. This time. He backed off and allowed her to take over.
Shampoo turned from Ranma to confront Comb with a far less pleading look. "Mother. Donít be rude to my husband."
Combís anger switched to the identical pleading look that Ranma had just seen on Shampoo. "You canít marry this boy! Heís all wrong for you! I can tell just by looking at his beady, little eyes that heís an egotistical, outsider male that will abandon you the instant he grows bored with you!"
"He will not abandon me and his eyes arenít beady!" Shampoo protested.
"Hey! What about Ďegotisticalí?" Ranma said.
Comb continued her diatribe. "Heís a liar that will use flowery words to turn your head, at least until he finds someone else that catches his interest, and then youíll be forgotten!"
"Heís not that way!"
"What about egotistical?!" Ranma poked Shampoo in the back, trying to gain her attention.
Both Shampoo and Comb ignored him as the older Amazon continued. "You donít know males like I do! Youíre still young and inexperienced in their ways. This outsider boy is all wrong for you. You need someone that will be obedient. A perfect husband. Someone like Mousse."
"Thatís one of the damn reasons he wouldnít leave me alone!" Shampoo exploded in outrage at her mother. "You just had to keep encouraging him to pursue me! And for your information he never did what I said! He always did what he wanted to!"
It was at that time that the man who had stood behind Comb, Shampooís father, finally spoke up. "Dear, if Shampoo loves him and wants to marry him, why donít we just agree? Our daughter has…" He closed his mouth and retreated a few steps as his wife shot him a withering glare.
Comb returned her attention towards her daughter. "Listen to me. Males with backbone are nothing but trouble. They are headstrong, foolish, and end up hurting you and not giving a damn. You need a proper male who will be submissive to your will. Just take your father, for example. Heís obedient and weíve been married for over twenty years now. Weíve always been happy."
"I donít want a submissive male and I donít want to marry someone like Father!" She let go of her anger for a moment as she gave a weak smile towards him. "No offense, Father."
He gave a soft smile in return and nodded his head in understanding.
Shampoo turned back to her mother, fierce once again. "I love Ranma and he loves me! We will be married, with or without your permission!"
Comb spun on her heel and pointed a finger accusingly towards Cologne. "This is all your fault, Grandmother! Youíre the one that filled her head with these notions of males with backbone being good!"
"Thereís nothing wrong with a husband thatís willing to stand up to you." Cologne humphed. "Itís all a matter of personal taste. Your grandfather had plenty of spirit, and we loved each other very much."
"Oh, yes, Mother informed me of how well you two got along," Comb said acidly. "She said the two of you fought constantly. She told me sometimes home was more like a demilitarized zone."
Cologne shrugged. "Sometimes. We were both passionate people that gave voice to our desires and opinions, but we always loved each other. Your mother knew that. And it certainly made life interesting."
"ĎInterestingí translates into Ďtroubleí. Youíre just lucky he didnít pick up and abandon you like most men would. And even then it was probably because you were a better martial artist than he was and would have hunted down and killed him."
"Mother," Shampoo finally interrupted again. "All men arenít like that male that abandoned you." Shampoo realized the gravity of her error and slapped her hands over her mouth, as though that would somehow take back the words that she had said.
A dull purple aura rose from Comb as she ever so slowly turned from her grandmother to confront her daughter. Eyes that were little more than slits, focused on the one who had dared to speak those words. "This has nothing to do with him." That quiet declaration held more menace than all of the shouting she had done before.
"Of course not, Mother," Shampoo said as she backed away in fear, trying to smile and hoping someone it would calm Comb down. "I donít know what I was thinking of when I said that. How stupid of me."
"He was scum that wasnít worthy to lick my boots."
"Of course, Mother." Shampoo said still backing away.
"I was going to leave him when he said that. I realized what a worthless piece of dung he was. He wasnít so good a liar that he could have fooled me for long."
"Yes, Mother," Shampoo said, now stopping, since all backing away was doing was making Comb close the distance between the two of them by moving faster than she was backing away. Shampoo hoped if she stopped moving so would her mother. She could now see the muscles in Combís jaw clenching and unclenching. That was a really bad sign. This bout was not going to pass quickly.
"That bitch he claimed was better than me was an ugly, weak, honorless whore who, if I had thought about it, would have killed for daring to think she could somehow be one tenth more desirable than me."
"Yes, Mother," Shampoo said, hoping the storm would pass soon. She should never have opened her mouth. Now she was going to pay for it. Still, experience had taught her that as long as you didnít make any quick movements, or disagree with a word her mother said, she would eventually calm down and not reflexively lash out with the nearest weapon. Even Cologne would not try to do anything during such bouts of anger. It was far better to let Comb vent than risk her wrath in that state of mind.
Ranma was about to say something when a hand clamped over his mouth. He turned to see that it was Shampooís father who had done the warning gesture. He released Ranmaís mouth and quietly whispered, "Letís go over here and talk, son-in-law. Let your mother-in-law be for a while."
"Sheíll be fine once she calms down. But if someone like you were to gain her attention, or even get into her line of sight right now, that would be a very bad thing. Especially for my daughter. Swallow your pride for the moment, for Shampooís sake."
Ranma felt like growling at the suggestion, but gave in. The man understood the situation far better than he did, and if he really thought it would be better for Shampoo if she worked things out alone, he would do it.
Ranma allowed the man to lead him a small distance away, still keeping the glowing Comb in sight. Shampoo just smiled and nodded with everything her mother was saying.
Once the two stopped moving away, the older man began speaking once again. "It is an honor to meet you, Ranma Saotome."
"Yeah, same here, ahhh…"
"Just call me Ďfather-in-lawí," the man told him. "Youíre probably wondering why my wife finds my daughterís marriage to you so objectionable."
"Yeah. What was that all about? I mean, she doesnít even know me." Most people that disliked him at least had some reason for it other than Ďyouíre breathing my air.í
"Itís what you represent," the man sighed. "Itís not your fault. Something happened to my wife a long time ago, but she still bears the wounds of it even after all of these years."
He took a deep breath, then began. "You see, when my wife was still single, about Shampooís age, she met an outsider male that visited the village. I only faintly remember, but apparently he was an egotistical, overbearing blowhard, though he was also insufferably handsome, charming, and a smooth talker. He was just passing through, but that was long enough for Comb to catch his eye. She was every bit as beautiful as Shampoo is now, so he dazzled her with fancy words and such, catching her attention. Grandmother says she tried to tell Comb he was little more than an ass and that she shouldnít trust him, but it was too late. She had fallen in love with him almost instantly and announced that when he left the village, she would be traveling with him. Grandmother could do nothing to prevent her from leaving. So, with her wishing them luck, Comb left with the man.
"The two became lovers and traveled a good bit of the world together. From what little my wife has told me, he always insisted he loved her and would never leave her. At least that was until two years later when he came across someone else that caught his interest. He dumped Comb instantly, breaking her heart. Rather than try to fight the new girl, or avenge her pride, she simply left them."
Ranma was surprised to hear the pain in the manís voice, despite the fact he was talking about a rival for his wifeís affections.
He continued. "Comb returned to the village a changed woman. She developed a real hatred for outsider males, especially those that reminded her of her former lover, and woe to any man that talked back to her. Sheís mellowed out over the years, though."
Ranma stared at him in disbelief. He pointed over to the still glowing Comb. "Thatís mellow?"
"Well, compared to twenty years ago, yes. She used to be much worse," he answered. "Once she returned, she decided to settle down. Out of all the men in the village, she chose me as her husband. I was very flattered. Not only did she come from a prominent family and was a mighty warrior, but she was painfully beautiful as well. She was a far better wife than I ever imagined I would have."
"Whyíd she pick you?" Ranma asked, curious as to what qualities calmed such a Ďman haterí down.
"I was a, I believe the term you Japanese would use is Ďwimpí."
"Oh, I was a meek little thing. Still am, really. Never raised my voice to anyone. Always deferential to women, especially the warriors. My parents raised me very traditionally. I donít lie to myself about it. Comb chose me because I was the exact opposite of what that former lover of hers was. There was quite a surprise when she chose someone as weak as me as a husband, most warriors were only supposed to take men such as me as concubines, but her glare silenced her critics."
"I can imagine," Ranma said as he remembered the glare he had received from her. "Thatís gotta be depressing though. I mean that she doesnít even love you."
Shampooís father gave Ranma a knowing smile. "I didnít say that. Oh, at first she was ambivalent towards me, but over the years she learned to love me, and I her, in spite of her flaws. She really is a good woman. It might take her several years to warm up to you, but as long as you treat our daughter well, sheíll eventually accept you."
"Years?" Ranma said in a soft voice. That was just great. He might be able to get along with his mother-in-law in a few years. Maybe. Of course he probably should not have felt so bad. Only kami-sama himself knew when his mother and Shampoo were going to learn to get along. The two of them always gave such false smiles to one another it almost made Ranma wish they would yell instead. That at least he could deal with, but the false sincerity set his teeth on edge. At least they didnít have any plans on living near either set of in-laws. Actually, they hadnít even made any plans at all.
"Just take good care of my daughter, son-in-law, or youíll find that my wife is not the only one who can lose her temper."
The soft sound of steel in the rather meek manís voice surprised Ranma. "Hey! I love her. I know how to treat a gal right."
"Thatís good to hear. Shampoo really isnít very much like her mother. They grew up very differently from one another. So donít fear her suddenly demanding for you to be obedient or anything, though I sense it would do little good if she tried."
"You got that right." Ranma tried imagining Shampoo openly demanding he be compliant and could not manage it. Deviousness was her method of getting him to comply to her wants, not that he was not aware when she did it. He let her get away with her little victories sometimes; it made her feel better. Besides, it almost wasnít fair the way he had her twisted around his own finger. Now he really knew how to go about winning her over without her realizing it, he thought with pride.
Ranma at last turned his gaze over to Shampoo and Comb again. The older womanís aura had drained away and she was once again pleading with her daughter.
"Why donít you marry a nice, quiet girl instead?"
"MOTHER! I am not marrying a woman!" Shampoo threw her hands up in disgust. Her mother was becoming ridiculously desperate.
Comb was unrelenting as she tried using guilt as her tool. "That way you could have children. I really want to have more grandchildren."
"I am not… what do you mean Ďmore grandchildrení?" That didnít make any sense. Shampoo was an only child.
Comb began sweating appreciably. "Did I say more grandchildren? I meant to say, Ďlots of grandchildrení. Lots and lots of grandchildren. Right now you canít have any with a man. But with a woman you could have many. It would mean so much to me. I want to hear the sound of little feet running all around."
Shampoo had finally had enough. "I am marrying Ranma. Now if you canít stand to watch me in the only wedding I will ever be in, you can leave. I want you to be here, but if itís too much for you, or if all youíre going to do is yell at me for being foolish, then it would probably be best if you werenít here."
"Youíre making a mistake—"
"Mother." Shampooís tone of voice brooked no argument.
Sensing that she had at last lost, Combís shoulders slumped in defeat. "I would like to see your marriage, daughter."
Shampoo brightened at that. She gave a deep, formal bow, then embraced her with a hug.
Comb returned the embrace, then turned to go. She shot Cologne an evil stare before walking off to try to accept the decision her daughter had come to, her husband rushing to her side to help comfort her.
Kasumi smiled as she watched the (semi) resolution of Comb accepting Shampooís decision to wed. It might take some time, but she was fairly certain that, given a chance, Comb would warm up to Ranma. She allowed her gaze to go over to Perfume and her new boyfriend who really did look like a girl. Even Kasumi herself felt she lacked the poise and grace that Konatsu seemed to possess. She watched Konatsu excuse himself from Perfumeís side, then allowed Kurumi to hold Akira— who proceeded to untie her lengthy hair ribbon the instant he was in her arms— while Kasumi went over to Perfume.
"You seem to be much happier since I last saw you," Kasumi told her.
Perfume gave a softer smile than she had been displaying, to her. "I have adjusted to what I have to do. Itís much easier now that Iíve accepted that. Having a cute boyfriend cheers me up, too. He really seems to like me, although I think part of it is because Iíve been treating him nicely. I donít think heís really known much other than neglect his entire life. Well, Iíll change that in a hurry. Hehehehe."
Kasumi saw the fire in Perfumeís eyes. Perhaps she really was over the worst of it, though she still felt uneasy with what Perfume had talked about in those last days she had been in China.
Looking at Akira, and seeing Kurumi still happily playing with him, Kasumi drifted over to where Shampoo and Ranma were still talking. Both were looking increasingly nervous as time passed. Shampoo turned to her just as she arrived.
"Kasumi, Silk came today, didnít she?"
"Yes. Everyone came today except Akane and Natsume," Kasumi explained. It was a surprise to no one that Akane did not want to come. Natsume had remained behind to keep Akane company.
"I havenít seen her around." Shampoo looked the room over once more for any sign of the former Amazon teacher.
"Kiri was hungry, so Silk went into one of the back rooms to feed her in privacy. I think she might still be there."
Shampoo excused herself from everyone and headed in back to look for Silk. She had really wanted to talk to the older woman before the wedding. There were some things she wanted to clear up.
Ranma watched Shampoo leave. She had told him she wanted to talk to Silk alone, which would leave Ranma on his own for a little while. He decided it was probably time to give his parents one last visit before the wedding. It was as good of a time as any. Things always went smoother when Shampoo was not around.
He made his way over to where his mother was sitting with his father. She reacted immediately to his presence by getting up and embracing him.
"My son!" Nodoka continued embracing him fiercely.
"Mom," he said in a tired voice. Why did his mother have to embarrass him on today of all days? "Shouldnít you be more careful, being pregnant and all?"
Nodoka backed off and patted the now noticeable bulge in her abdomen. "Your brotherís fine, Ranma." It felt so wonderful having another child again. Over the years she had forgotten the joys of motherhood, but no longer. This time around she would not make the same mistakes she had before. Genma would not be taking her son away from her for longer than a day, no matter how Ďmanlyí he might become. She had already made it very clear, at the point of her sword. Naturally, Genma complied with the Ďwisdomí of her suggestion, loudly proclaiming that the boy could be made a man at home this time around.
"Have you guys picked out a name yet?" Ranma asked, curious as to what it would be like to have a brother. Even though he and Shampoo had decided against settling down in any one area for a while, maintaining their search for a cure and additional knowledge in the martial arts, he would still be certain to swing by his parentís home and visit them frequently. It would be kind of neat to watch his brother grow up over the years. Of course, once the kid got older, and was informed that his future wife had been picked out for him before he was born, he might not appreciate his older brother quite so much.
"Narasuma. Itís a good name," Nodoka said, beaming at her son in pride. "Iím so proud of you, Ranma. Iím sure Shampoo will make you happy."
"Weíll make each other happy." He was aware that Nodoka still did not care much for Shampoo, but at least she was covering her dislike better, especially when Shampoo was not around. Maybe someday they would get along. Someday.
He exchanged pleasantries with them for a little while longer before moving on. They had discussed the marriage quite a bit in the last couple of months, and had said all that needed to be talked about. As he continued onward, he spotted Ukyou and Ai talking together. Ukyouís back was to him, so he made a gesture for silence to Ai, then quietly snuck up behind her.
"Boo!" he said directly in her ear, earning him a reflexive spatula blow to the head.
"Donít scare me like that," Ukyou scolded.
"No problem." Ranma made a mental note to make certain he announced his presence before approaching Ukyou again. "I see my best man showed up on time."
One more spatula blow to the head later, he corrected that to Ďbest womaní. "Itís nice seeing you again, Ucchan." Her spatula, he could have done without, however.
Ukyou sheathed her spatula. "Same here. Thanks for inviting me. After what happened the last time you tried to get married, I thought you might try eloping this time around."
"I thought about it," Ranma admitted. "But thatís too much like backing out of a fight for me. Iíll get married in a nice, big, public ceremony, and no one better get in my way."
Ukyou watched, amused at the nearly combative stance he took upon that declaration. "You think itíll work out this time?"
"Yep." Ranma thought the plan would probably work out just fine, having been developed by himself. But until the actual ceremony rolled around, only time would tell of that was true or not.
Ai at last moved forward to join Ukyou at her side. "Itís nice to see the two of you are going to be married at last. Itís been long enough."
"Ah, yeah." Ranma was still sort of at a loss of what to say to Ai. Ukyou having a girlfriend just seemed so weird— not that Ukyouís crossdressing wasnít weird too— that Ranma was not sure how to treat the duo. "Itís nice to see you two are happy… ah, what exactly are you doing?"
"Co-habitating," Ai said. "Weíre perfectly happy with the way things are too, so we see no need to change anything."
"Yeah," Ukyou agreed. "I have to say, this is the best Iíve felt in a real long time. Maybe ever."
Ranma had to admit, since her return he did not think he had seen Ukyou look so… content with how her life was going. "Howís business?"
Ai answered before Ukyou could. "Itís booming again, now that weíre going with cheesecake instead of beefcake, with yours truly as the stunningly attractive, and scantily-clad waitress thatís bringing in the hordes of men to my beloved chefís restaurant."
"You donít need to flirt with them as much as you do." Jealousy began to creep into Ukyouís voice. She really hated the subtle little glances and gestures Ai tended to give the male customers. It was true she had no doubts that Ai was sincere when she said the teasing was only to increase business by making the men come back for more, but she still didnít like it.
"Ohh, youíre jealous. It makes me feel so wanted," Ai cooed. "Iíll tell you what, though. I promise to behave myself a little better, okay?"
Ukyou was pleasantly surprised by that. She had been trying to talk Ai into calming down for months, but always the cheerleader countered with the business angle, which, admittedly, worked. Ukyou needed as much money as she could to make certain her finances were secure and prevent any repeats of what had happened during Aiís coma.
"Hi, everybody!" a voice cried from behind Ranma.
Ranma noticed Ai make an annoyed face before turning to confront the speaker. There was something familiar about the voice, but Ranma could not quite place whose it was. Upon turning he saw the speaker was a girl, dressed in a green and brown gown of a conservative cut, that was approaching him. She had chestnut-colored hair, was about his height if not slightly taller, and was very attractive. It was not until she was right next to him that he recognized her.
"Kyoko?!" His jaw nearly hit the floor.
"Thatís me!" she gave a little cheerleader pose.
"You look… different." That might have been the biggest understatement Ranma had ever spoken. Now that he had gotten a look, a really good look, it was obviously her, but she had undergone massive changes in the two years since he had last seen her. Whereas before she had merely been cute, now she was well on her way to becoming (if not already) a genuine knockout. She had grown at least four inches, removing whatever baby fat that might have been on her frame before. From what he could make out of her form it was still the finely toned muscle that was on all the girls that had taken martial arts cheerleading. Her face had changed as well, her cheekbones becoming more prominent and she now seemed to be more along the lines of sultry instead of cute. Her bust was far more noticeable now, and her voice had gone from a high pitch to a far deeper and seductive tone that even Ranma had failed to recognize as belonging to her.
Kyoko blushed at the compliment. "I guess I hit a late growth spurt. It doesnít make me look too lanky, does it?"
"A little, Kyoko dear," Ai said, trying to sound sincere instead of jealous, fooling no one but Kyoko.
"Actually, I think she looks better than you," Ranma said to Ai, even as Ukyou poked Ai in her side for being so catty. "You look fine, Kyoko. Ryougaís a lucky guy."
Ranma watched Kyoko give a cutesy squeal of delight. It appeared that for all of her exterior changes, inside she was still the same. "Thanks. Things are going really well for us. Ryouga-kun just signed a huge contract with the biggest wrestling promotion in Japan. So heíll be making lots of money now. And youíll never guess what happened to me. Megumi and the others signed me up for the Miss Teen Japan Beauty Contest. I know Iím not pretty enough to win, but itís really flattering that they accepted me."
Actually, Ranma thought she just might be attractive enough to win it, not that he was stupid enough to say that out loud. All that would do was put him in a whole world of trouble with Shampoo, who would somehow discover he had said it. He also overheard Ukyou whispering to Ai not to be so jealous, and that if it was not for her scar, she was sure Ai could have entered and won the contest.
Ranma returned his attention to Kyoko as she continued her update. "Ryouga-kun and I have been getting along really well too. Iíve slowly been getting him used to the idea of marriage now. I bet weíll have one in the next year or so, and youíre all invited. He can even say proposal now without stuttering, and we can neck without him coming close to passing out. Now all I have to do is get him prepared for the, you know, stuff that comes after the wedding. I donít want him to bleed to death or anything on our wedding night. Do you think I should have him donate some blood a few weeks beforehand, just in case he needs a transfusion?"
"Itís an idea," Ai said. "And hereís some free advice. Since I know you arenít going to sleep with him before the wedding, you can break him in by giving him blow-jOW!" Ai rubbed her side where Ukyou had elbowed her.
"Why donít we let Kyoko set her own pace," Ukyou suggested. "Sheís done a fine job of it so far, and it really isnít any of our business. Besides, I donít think we need to be that crude."
Ai became angry at the third reprimand from Ukyou in as many minutes. "Oh, you mean you donít want me to talk about crude things? Like how you enjoy being spanked with your own spat—"
"AI!" Ukyou shouted her face turning red. Ai seemed satisfied that she had gotten back and left it at that, Ďapologizingí for the slip.
Ranma decided it would be a good time to leave, just in case the disagreement got out of hand, and beat a hasty retreat. As he looked over the crowd, he spotted someone he had desperately wanted to see.
"Aki!" he shouted at the girl across the room, who waved in response to him. The two met halfway as they exchanged greetings.
"I was afraid you wouldnít make it," Ranma said.
"I almost didnít. You guys jumped the gun there, Saotome. You were supposed to be engaged at two years, then married about six months after. Youíre just lucky I happened to be in a nearby port when I got your message."
"It is nice to see you," Ranma said. "Ah. I donít wanna be rude, but do you have what I asked you to get?"
Aki smiled at him. "Yeah. It didnít take much to get it back. The captain was in a good mood. You know, I could just give this as a wedding present myself."
"No way!" Ranma shook his head furiously. "I promised Iíd get it back and Iím the one thatíll give it to her." Calming down, he added. "Itís really important to me that I do it."
"Okay." Aki handed him the gift-wrapped package containing the object of Ranmaís concern.
"How much did it cost?" Ranma asked as he quickly hid it in his pocket. It was a good thing Shampoo had not been around to see the exchange. She would have wanted to know what it was immediately, and he wanted to wait until after the ceremony to give it to her. It would be another nice surprise he could make her happy with. And he would at last be making good on a promise he had made to her long ago.
Aki gave him the figure. Ranma dug into his pocket to come up with the small stash of money he had been saving just for this occasion. It would cover the price Aki had paid, but barely. He paid her the money and was about to ask her something else when another person made his way to Ranma.
"I see youíre marrying far better than you deserve, just like your father, Mr. Sap-to-me."
"Thatís Saotome, you idiot! How many times can you get that wrong?" Ranma shouted at DíAmour, constantly reminding himself he was not going to get into any fights on his wedding day. Afterwards though…
Akiís reaction was somewhat different. "How did you get out of being tied up?"
DíAmourís teeth glinted as he unleashed his smile "Lots of women Iíve met are into bondage. They tie me up all the time."
"It ainít Ďcause they want sex. Itís because they donít want you coming onto them and itís the only way to stop you," Ranma pointed out.
DíAmour ignored the comment. "Well, Iím not into that, so I learned how to slip out of bonds pretty easily." He threw Aki back the steel cable she had used to tie him up.
Aki bowed apologetically to Ranma. "Iím sorry, but he was the only one who could get me here in time. I tried to stop him. Really."
Ranma just gave off a sigh. "Iíd rather have you here with him than have both of you not here."
Aki thanked him while DíAmour gave Ranma a smirk. "I donít think you should get married to Shampoo, Ranma."
Ranma began to feel his temper flare. The man was a moron, and a very irritating one at that. And if he even suggested doing something with Shampoo, promise or no, Ranma was going to beat the hell out of him. "Why?"
"Your name is a bad omen. I looked it up before coming here, and it clearly says you wonít be able to satisfy Shampoo."
The anger that had been directed towards DíAmour built steadily. "Just what the heck is that supposed to mean?"
"Didnít you know? Your name translates into ĎGelded Horseí."
"IT MEANS ĎWILD HORSE,í NOT ĎGELDED HORSEí! NOW GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME BEFORE I BEAT THE CRAP OUT OF YOU!!!" Ranmaís promise threatened to break as he began to glow bright blue. Luckily, Aki dragged the captain away before Ranma dirtied his tuxedo with DíAmourís blood.
Shampoo had left Ranma and headed off to find Silk. Once in back, it took only a few moments to locate the older woman in one of the unused, empty rooms of the hall. She was sitting on a single folding metal chair towards one of the rear walls of the room, with Kiri in her arms. Her blouse was open, allowing her child to suckle her motherís breast. A pang of remorse shot through Shampoo as she gazed upon the scene.
Silk raised her head at the sound of the visitor. "<Oh, itís you.>"
Shampoo could scarcely miss the sound of disappointment in the womanís voice. Knowing Silk, it had been intentional as well. Kasumi had warned her that Silk had not been pleased with Shampooís actions concerning the Tendos. She had not realized quite how irate her former mentor was.
"<You donít seem too happy to see me.>" Shampoo crossed the room to stand next to Silk.
"<Thatís because Iím disappointed in you.>" She returned her attention to her daughter, who had paused in her feeding. After a moment, Kiri resumed and Silk looked towards Shampoo once more. "<The others told me what happened.>"
"<You mean they gave you their side of things,>" Shampoo snorted out in response.
Silk raised an eyebrow at that. "<You mean you didnít abuse the shelter they gave you by stealing Ranma and breaking the pact between the two families?>"
Shampoo became defensive at that. "<I didnít intend to fall in love. It just happened. What was I to do? Pretend nothing was happening? Ignore my feelings for him? I love him and he loves me, even if it took a lot for him to realize it.>"
Silk was unrelenting. "<Your actions caused a great deal of difficulty and misery around here.>"
"<And if I had been the one to back off, it would have been me who suffered.>"
"<Maybe,>" Silk admitted. "<But life is full of that sometimes.>"
Shampoo held up her hands in frustration. Why did Silk have to be so difficult? Couldnít she see the obvious? "<Why donít you tell me what I should have done to keep everyone from being miserable.>"
"<I donít know if that could have been done,>" Silk answered. "<But not acting on your impulses would have been the right thing to do.>"
Shampoo felt her temper begin to fray. She had not come to be lectured for something in which she had made the right choice. "<Itís easy to stay on the moral high ground when youíre not the one making the sacrifice!>"
Anger began to overwhelm Silk as well. "<I have had to make choices like that! I did make the sacrifice! Sometimes loving someone means being able to let go!>"
"<And sometimes it means holding on, no matter what,>" Shampoo answered softly, but without the slightest hint of doubt.
Surprisingly, Silk was not able to respond to that. She just stared in irritation at the younger girl.
Shampoo found herself at an impasse. Silk was still firm in her beliefs, even if she could not argue the point with Shampoo. The barrier between them was still there. There was little left but to try to break the barrier again. "<Didnít you ever have second thoughts about the choice you made? Didnít you ever wonder if it had been the wrong one?>"
"<Sometimes,>" Silk relented, then looked down at the child in her arms. "<But it worked out in the end.>"
"<Itís worked out in the end for me too,>" Shampoo said. "<The promise still holds, it just doesnít apply to Ranma anymore.>"
"<Fortunately,>" Silk agreed, her mood lightening somewhat.
Shampoo took a moment to regain control of her temper. Everything had gone wrong. She had not come looking to get into a shouting match with Silk. It was time to stop before something was said that would not be so easily forgiven. She gazed painfully at the woman. "<Please, Silk. I donít want there to be these kind of problems between us. Youíre one of the last links I have to home. Isnít there something I can do to satisfy your anger?>"
Silk considered that. She was not one who preferred to carry grudges for overlong, no matter what others might have said. "<If you want me to approve of your actions, the answer is no. I cannot do that. But, as you said, things have worked out fairly well in the end. I suppose that will suffice for now. Even if I call into question some of your other actions.>"
Shampoo stared quizzically at that statement. "<Whatís that supposed to mean? What else did I do?>"
"<Nothing of any particular importance. Just some of your general attitudes,>" Silk lied effortlessly, silently cursing herself for saying too much and cursing Cologne for forcing her to remain silent.
"<Oh,>" Shampoo said, not really understanding and not wanting to go through any other arguments. She decided to change the subject. "<Kiri looks beautiful.>"
Silk beamed with pride at her daughter. "<She is. Poor thing, though. Sheís going to have to marry Genma Saotomeís offspring. I canít imagine a worse hell.>"
Shampoo began to nod her head. "<Oh, I agre… hey! Iím getting married to one of his offspring!>"
"<I know,>" Silk sighed. "<Thatís why Iím going to have to keep a close eye on how their sonís raised this time around. I donít want him turning into another Ranma.>"
Shampooís eyes narrowed at the woman. "<Whatís that supposed to mean?>"
"<Letís just say that heís not the sort of boy I would have been interested in when I was your age. I would have looked for someone more open with his emotions and less egotistical.>"
"<Ranmaís perfectly fine just the way he is!>" Shampoo snarled back, wondering how on earth Silk could have the audacity to compare Ranma to Soun Tendo. Soun might have raised his daughters well, but he was not the sort of man Shampoo regarded as husband material.
Silk sighed. "<I donít know how I let Soun talk me into agreeing to allow Kiri to take over the pact. I want her to choose who sheís going to marry.>"
"<Thank you for agreeing, though.>" Shampoo bowed her head in appreciation. "<It solved many problems for everyone.>"
"<Well, there is that,>" Silk admitted. "<Look, itís going to take some time to settle our differences. Letís forget about them for now. Todayís supposed to be the best day of your life. I know my wedding day was mine, right up there with Kiriís birth.>"
Speaking of her daughter, she adjusted her grip on Kiri, then looked back at Shampoo once more and was surprised to see a forlorn expression on her once again. One that was not directed at Silk, but rather at the child in her arms. "<Whatís wrong now?>"
Shampoo was not sure if she should say anything, then reconsidered. "<Iíll never be able to do what youíre doing.>"
It took Silk a moment to figure out what she meant. "<Iím sure youíll find a cure for your curse someday. Youíll have as many children as you want then.>"
Shampoo slowly shook her head. "<No. I donít think so. I donít know why, but I think Iím going to have this curse for the rest of my life. Ranma will probably end up keeping his as well, but itís not exactly the same thing for him that it is for me.>" Her shoulders sagged a little. "<I know weíll have to adopt, which is perfectly fine, but I always dreamed of actually bearing children someday.>"
As melancholy threatened to settle in, she shook herself out of it, choosing to think instead of her impending marriage to Ranma. It had taken time, but eventually she had come to terms with her condition. Sometimes it still got her down, but not on this day.
As she headed out of the room, Silk spoke up. "<Shampoo, it is the responsibility of the parent to take care of the child, no matter what, wouldnít you agree?>"
Where had that come from? Silk was becoming more enigmatic by the moment. "<Yes. Why do you ask? Does it have something to do with Kiri?>"
Silk shook her head as she gave a sad little smile. "<I just wanted to know your feelings on the matter. Who knows? Perhaps, by some miracle, you will produce offspring of your own blood. It would be your duty to help take care of them, though.>"
"<Of course. That would be nice.>" Shampoo left the room without another word, more confused than ever by Silkís erratic behavior. It was as she made her way back to the others that she saw Ranma, Cologne, and Perfume rush down the corridor from the main hall towards her. One look at the concern on their faces was all it took for her to tense up her body for combat.
Ranma spoke before Shampoo could. "Itís trouble. I knew something like this was going to happen."
"What kind of trouble?" Like Ranma, Shampoo had suspected things would not go smoothly. Whenever there was any sort of major event in their lives, something went terribly wrong.
Ranma moved closer to Shampoo. "The old ghoul says she sensed the presence of a powerful martial artist nearby."
"That would be me."
Everyone spun around to confront the voice that had come from directly behind them. There was a momentary pause in their tension as they saw no one present.
Shampoo continued trying to divine the source of the noise. "Do you think itís that invisible trick that Happosai us—"
The rest was cut off by the splash of water that came from behind Shampoo, striking her in the back and triggering her curse.
"Actually, I just threw my voice. No martial arts involved."
They all turned to see who had thrown the water. Of the four people present, three recognized the voice immediately. One did not forget the commanding tones the speaker often used when addressing an entire village full of Amazons.
Be Dea did a fair impression of Cologne, remaining balanced on the top of her staff as though it was a perch. Two more buckets of water lay at her feet as she centered her gaze upon Shampoo-kun. "My, my, what a frisky corpse youíve turned out to be. And Nanniichuan cursed too. This is such a surprise."
Ranma placed himself between the elder and Shampoo-kun, bringing his fists to bear. "Listen up you old ghoul, errr… I mean other old ghoul. There ainít no way Shampooís going back to your village, no matter what!"
Rather than appear angered at Ranmaís display, Be Dea seemed to be amused. "Oh, ho ho! What a feisty one you are, male. Not too many people I know are cocky enough to take on an Elder of the Joketsuzoku, or stupid enough for that matter. I applaud you, whichever the case my be."
Perfume, still towards the back of the party, was in shock at the Elderís presence, as well as the fact the small woman was indeed applauding Ranma. Knowing there was no way she could have not been seen, she chose to confront the Elder. "How did you find out?"
Be Deaís demeanor changed to a more serious one. "You made a mistake in leaving too soon on the heels of our beloved matriarch and her granddaughter. I had always been suspicious of Shampooís convenient Ďdeathí right before she would have been brought back home and asked some serious questions about peculiar rumors. At first, I was indeed more concerned with what had happened with Mount Phoenix and the aftermath of that little escapade, but I always kept that odd coincidence in the back of my mind. When the three of you left at the same time, and all going to Japan, I decided to tag along."
She focused her attention on Perfume. "Your skills are impressive for one of your age, my protťgť, but youíre still a hundred years too young to outmaneuver me. I followed you around, counting on you to eventually get to the reason you were in Japan. I was considering going home when you finally showed up here. I think you can figure out the rest. I really expected better from you, Perfume."
Perfume tried to think of something, some words that she could use to salvage the situation, but nothing came to mind. She was out of ideas.
Be Dea shook her head sadly. "Itís obvious from your lack of surprise at Shampooís change, you were aware of her curse as well. I was under the distinct impression she was your blood enemy. Care to explain why youíve risked everything for her?"
Again, no words could come to Perfume that might mask the truth of the situation. Rather than fight it, she simply decided to tell the truth. "Before I returned home, I tracked down Shampoo and discovered her presence in Japan. It was here I learned of the curse, and the truth behind our feud. I was not in the right, as I so firmly believed so many years ago when I left my home. I was as much responsible for what happened to me as Shampoo was. She and I came to an understanding that there was no longer any animosity between us. In fact, she sacrificed a cure for me. I owed her too much to simply drag her back to her death when you assigned me my Hunt Pack, so I did everything in my power to protect her even as I tracked her down. I did not directly lie to you or the council. Neither did Elder Cologne. Shampoo was truly dead on the mountain, and by a miracle returned to life. I simply… allowed my words to mislead everyone."
With her explanation complete, Perfume bowed her head in shame once again. She was not sorry she had aided Shampoo, but the pink-haired Amazon had tried so long and hard to build up her growing influence in the tribe, and now it was all for nothing. Killing someone as skilled as Be Dea would not be possible, even with the group present. Perfume would be put to death for her actions, unless she chose to flee like Shampoo. Truthfully, she was uncertain if she had the resolve to leave it again after all she had built. It might have been too much.
Unlike the others, who looked warily toward Be Dea, Cologne felt something different in her rivalís presence. There was a distinct lack of enmity coming from her. It was more like a mild aura of anxiousness that surrounded her. "What are your plans now, Be Dea?"
Be Dea seemed amused by Cologneís inquiry. "That is a good question, isnít it? What I should do is have all three of you brought back on charges that would essentially execute you within minutes of your return home." Be Dea considered allowing them to fret over that for a while, but changed her mind. It would be best to get to the point.
"However, I donít see that serving any useful purpose. For one thing, it would be a significant embarrassment for me. Iíve been a major force in backing my protťgť from the beginning." She indicated Perfume. "To have it revealed I was played like a fool by a mere child wouldnít do much for my influence there. Also, I see no good coming about in having our matriarch removed from office and summarily executed. Likewise Shampoo, even with her curse, doesnít really represent a threat to our way of life. Not with her being officially dead and all."
The others felt hope begin to build up among them, though they tried guarding it with the uncertainty of exactly what the old woman was planning.
Be Dea hopped off her staff and began to walk around. "I donít see how dragging your collective unwilling carcasses back home would serve us at all. No. I think I have a much better solution. Letís see if you agree with me."
She watched the others observe her intently. Good. She had their full attention. "The gist of this problem is Shampooís curse. With it, she should be put to death. I would guess sheís had it since she first disappeared without a trace from home three years ago. Is this correct?" she asked Shampoo-kun, who nodded in response. "As I thought. Itís been three years since sheís had this curse, yet by some miracle our society has not fallen apart." That was said in a heavily sarcastic tone. "Bearing that in mind, and the fact Shampoo has been officially declared dead, I see no reason to disrupt that Ďmistakeí." She gave Shampoo a serious look. "As long as you swear to me that you will not return home, bearing a curse or not, I shall forget that I ever saw you alive."
Shampoo-kun found himself considering that, despite the fact it really was no choice. To give up his home for the rest of his life seemed too high a price to pay, especially if he found a cure, but considering the alternative…
He looked to Ranma, smiled, than nodded to Be Dea.
"Excellent," the Elder bubbled in excitement as she picked up one of the remaining buckets of the water. "There are a few other details I must work out with our Matriarch and my protťgť. Why donít the two of you go back out to the hall? You do have a wedding to have in a short while, yes?"
Shampoo-kun looked hesitantly to his great-grandmother. He did not like the idea of Be Dea trying to work some other side deal with Cologne, but again, given the circumstances, there seemed to be little choice. Be Dea was powerful enough that even their combined forces would not be able to prevent her from escaping. And attacking her would ensure everything in the world was done to hunt them down to the ends of the earth and kill them. It was going to be best to just go along with whatever scheme the old one had concocted.
Cologne waved Shampoo-kun on, helping him in his decision. "Donít worry about me. I have a feeling her demands are going to be somewhat less than you think. Weíll rejoin you in plenty of time for the wedding."
"And hereís something to send you on your way." Be Dea tossed the bucket of water that she held in her hand, the one she had just heated with her chi, and tossed it on Shampoo-kun, which reverted him back to his true form.
"You look much better in that dress now. All you need to do is dry your hair and you should be as good as new." Be Dea turned once again to Cologne, leaving Ranma and Shampoo nothing to do but grab a towel as she suggested and dry off. Both of them gave her suspicious glares as they left.
"If there are any problems, Great-Grandmother, let me know."
Cologne waved Shampoo on again. "Iíll join you in a little while," Cologne assured her, then returned her attention to Be Dea.
Be Dea looked at her grimly. "Sorry to do that to your great-granddaughter, but I think it was for the best."
"Banning her for life, even if she finds a cure?" Cologne asked, wondering once again what Be Dea was up to.
"It would raise too many questions that might come back to haunt me and my protťgť in the future. No. I think she can manage to have a happy life abroad with her new husband. Things are falling into place for me, and that sort of disruption I donít need." She gave Cologne an intense stare, indicating the change in direction of the conversation without saying a word. "How much longer do you think you have left?"
Cologne sighed. Of course Be Dea would know. Undoubtedly all of the council members knew of her condition. "No more than three years. Probably less."
"And then the leadership goes over to Perfume."
Cologne looked in surprise at Be Dea. "I thought you would covet the position yourself."
Be Dea shook her head. "As little as a year ago I might have, but no longer. I fear that Shou Ya was right, and I am mired in the past. Iíve sought to hide us away from the world and live our lives without outside interference, but that will no longer work. The world is too small a place now. We need a little more new blood back home. I figure Iíll serve as an interim leader until we groom Perfume a little more and get everyone used to the idea of a relatively young leader once more. With your backing, of course."
Now it made sense to Cologne. "You want me to back you in Perfumeís bid to become the next leader. And you wanted to make sure I didnít try to sneak Shampoo in there to somehow undermine any arguments you could make about it."
Be Dea nodded in satisfaction. "You always tended to be one step ahead of me. I can admit that now that youíre almost done for. So, do you agree to these terms?"
Cologne considered it. No matter what, she would not be present for what would happen in the future, and Shampoo ever attaining leadership was no longer a possibility. She had some doubts about some of the new ideas Perfume implemented at home and what she had said she wanted for the future, but given the circumstances, allowing her to lead would probably be the best bet for the future.
It was all decided with a nod of her head.
Ranma and Shampoo watched anxiously as Cologne, Be Dea, and Perfume emerged from in back, all of them seeming to be happy with the outcome of their discussion. After making sure things were as they appeared, and learning Be Dea wanted to stay for the wedding, promising not to interfere, they breathed a sigh of relief.
"That was too close," Ranma said. He mentally kicked himself for letting his guard down like that. Things had gone far too smoothly leading up to the wedding, especially with Aki making it in time. He should have anticipated someone like Be Dea showing up and ruining everything. There was no longer time to take any chances. They had to move now.
He turned to his fiancťe to get her agreement as well. "Look, I think everyone we want to show up is here. Letís get this thing over with before something else happens that really ruins it."
Shampoo mirrored his sentiment. The two gathered together the entire bridal party, then told everyone else to move to the temple for the upcoming ceremony. As they made their way there, the wedding party prepared themselves. Everything was almost in place.
The priest stared once more at the girl in the exotic-looking, red and black dress with the odd symbol on the front, and at her partner, the one in the shrine maidensí robes. Ranma had assured him the duoís presence was necessary for the wedding, and that the priest should wait in the room that they had Ďpreparedí for him towards the back of the temple. Upon entering the room for the first time since it had been prepared, he nearly bolted. It was covered in what he recognized as various spirit wards and runes on nearly every square inch of open space. ĎItís for your protection,í or so they had said. When he pressed them about what he was being protected from, they had simply replied, ĎWho knows?í
At last he worked up the courage to ask once again. "Why do I need the two of you to guard me?"
Minami at last answered the question, figuring there was no longer enough time for him to successfully try fleeing. "Because you are going to be performing the wedding ceremony of Ranma Saotome and Shampoo. Bad things happen to Ranma. Bad things happen to Shampoo. Whenever one tries to plan something, it usually goes wrong. The more elaborate the plan, the more horribly things go wrong. You donít want to know what happened the last time Ranma tried to get married."
Yohko nodded her head solemnly, and she had not even been there. "They say that in case something happens to this guy, they have a second priest in disguise out there so the wedding can still go on. They planned for just about everything this time around."
Somehow, the idea that others had counted on him not being able to perform the ceremony, in spite of the protections they had around him, made the priest feel even more nervous than before.
Yohko decided to check over the magic protection wards for the sixth time. Satisfied they were intact, she began some small talk of her own. "Nabiki said the odds are six to one against them successfully pulling this off without at least one major catastrophe."
Minami snorted derisively at that. "No way. Even at ten to one I still wouldnít take it."
Yohko considered that, agreed, and then felt the urge to check on her wards for the seventh time.
The Director gazed upon the scene before him from the balcony high above the main floor of the temple. All seemed to be in place. He had personally double-checked the set up once more. He had removed the trap doors the crew had installed underneath the area where the groom and bride were supposed to stand. He had destroyed the disco ball they had attempted to put up for when the music started. And he had broken into tiny pieces the ĎIcelandic Pygmy Marching Bandís Greatest Hitsí CD that the crew had attempted to insert into the audio system. All seemed to be in readiness. He activated his personal link to the audio system.
"LET IT BEGIN!"
"Our sonís about to get married," Nodoka began crying, unable to contain herself as she wept into Genmaís shoulder.
"<My daughterís about to make the biggest mistake of her life!>" Comb wept into her husbandís shoulder.
"Hey, Babe. How about you and mOUCH!" DíAmour found himself nearly unconscious at the hands of a tremendous slap delivered by one of the female guests he had just hit upon.
Everyone watched as the priest approached the altar, flanked by Yohko and Minami, who had soul and ebony swords drawn, waiting for something to attack. Both remained at his side as he took his place and nothing bad seemed to happen. Even from the floor, everyone could make out the sheen of sweat on the manís brow. It appeared he was going to either pass out or bolt at any moment.
"Theyíd better hurry," Ai mumbled from her seat, disappointed she was not allowed to participate in the bridal group that was about to make its way to the priest. Ukyou had told her she was regarded like Kasumi and the others and could not be allowed to take part in it: there was too much risk.
The first member of the group finally made an appearance from the area that the party was about to emerge. Perfume had her naginata in hand, crouched low as though she were moving behind some enemyís lines. Her eyes scanned back and forth between the aisles as she quickly scouted out the path to the priest. Once she arrived before the bewildered man, she shouted out. "Clear!"
Most weddings had the bridal party come out one at a time, each following the other slowly as took their proper positions near the priest and waited for the bride and groom to come forth. Of course, most weddings did not feature Neriman Martial Artists or Chinese Amazons, let alone two that had a tendency to attract trouble wherever they may go. That made the circumstance somewhat exceptional. So it should not have been much of a surprise to anyone familiar with the histories of the two people about to be married that, rather than emerging one by one, the party came out all at once, surrounding the bride and groom as though they were about to become the targets of an assassination attempt.
"Movemovemove!" Ranma shouted as the human shield/ bridal party surrounding the duo rushed forward to the priest, who simply looked on, astounded by what he was witnessing. Upon arriving successfully at the altar, the group remained where it was, weapons drawn and looking all around just waiting for someone or something to attack.
Ranma grabbed the priestís attention. "Quick! Give us the short version of the ceremony before something bad happens!"
"The short version?" the priest asked.
"Yeah. The absolute minimum of words necessary to marry us."
"You want me to rush things?"
"But this is the happiest day of your life. Donít you want to savor every moment of being united to the woman you love?"
"Iíll savor after Iím married."
"I really think I should take my time with this."
"Let me put it to you this way. If you donít hurry things along right now, an eighty-foot psychotic Chinese Dragon/Emperor might very well come along, rip the roof off of this place, and begin turning us all into piles of briquettes."
"Do you Ranma Saotome take Shampoo to be the your wife for the rest of your life and do you Shampoo take Ranma Saotome to be your husband for the rest of your life?"
"Yes," Ranma said.
"Yes," Shampoo said.
The priest had never run so fast in his life as he rushed through the doorway to the temple and vowed to become something safer, like a bomb disposal engineer.
Ranma and Shampoo looked at one another, scarcely believing what had just happened.
"Weíre married?" Ranma asked.
"Weíre married," Shampoo confirmed.
"And nothing bad happened?"
"And nothing bad happened," Shampoo confirmed once again.
"Feels like somethingís missing, doesnít it?"
"You didnít kiss me yet," Shampoo reminded him.
"Ah. Right. Do we really got to do it in front of everyone though?"
In answer, Shampoo threw him to the ground and began initiating him in the Ďlethalí art of Amazon Osculation Techniques. Ranma found himself particularly enjoying the tongue part of it as it intertwined with his.
High above, on the balcony, the Director looked down and smiled in approval. "Ah. There is nothing like the sweet sight of success."
The stagehand next to him smiled in agreement. "Indeed, sir. All we need to do now is finish up with the twenty-one cannon salute."
"Yes. All that is left is… WHAT?!"
"The twenty-one cannon salute that you end a wedding on." The stagehand raised his right arm in a gesture to the other stagehands that were poised for the final step.
"YOU DONíT END WEDDINGS WITH A TWENTY-ONE CANNON SALUTE!!!"
The stagehand lowered his hand before the statement registered. "Oops! Oh, well, I guess we do now."
The cannon, that had been cleverly disguised as giant vases by having the barrels pointed upwards and stuffed with flowers, had their fuses lit at the same time. So it was that twenty-one cannon went off simultaneously, blowing the roof off the temple and collapsing the entire structure around all of its occupants.
It was a full minute later before a piece of rubble was forced aside, revealing a young man in a torn tuxedo from underneath. There was a glazed look to Ranmaís eyes as he stared at the devastation that surrounded him. It was another full minute before he spoke.
"That was some kiss." And promptly hit the ground, unconscious.
"Itís a good thing you thought to protect everyoneís seat with a mystic shield ward," Kyoko said to Minami.
"Otherwise a lot of people could have been hurt. As it is, the only people that werenít shielded protected themselves through other means."
"Too bad you didnít think to use one for yourself."
Kyoko felt there was nothing more she could do, so she left Minami lying on the cot and decided to rejoin the reception.
Once everyone had been dug out of the rubble, by some miracle no one having more than a few scratches, the guests moved back to the hall where the reception was now being held. Food had been set up, but everyone was waiting for the cake to arrive so that the official celebration could get underway. Kyoko took a place near Ryouga and the married couple as the cake was finally brought out at last. It was a multi-layered beauty that made Kyoko swoon. She could only wish that she would have a cake as grand as that for her eventual wedding day.
Ranma too, was excited as the cake approached. "That looks good," he practically moaned. He had been too nervous before the wedding to eat anything. But now that it was over at last, his appetite returned with a vengeance.
"Donít forget. Itís an Amazon tradition for the wife to feed her husband the first piece of cake," Shampoo reminded him as she watched the cake approach.
"Like you need to tell me to eat first," Ranma bantered back as the cake was brought before him. He refrained from drooling as he looked over the pale white surface of it. The icing in particular caught his interest. On it was an intricate design that was very appealing to the eye. It would almost be a shame to have to ruin it by eating it. Almost.
His eyes continued devouring it until he noticed one part of the icing that caught his eye. It was located right next to the two little figures (a specially designed set that closely resembled the now married couple, right down to their outfits) that adorned the top of the cake. On the top layer of the cake, written out in the icing, were several words that were altogether too familiar to him:
ĎRanma Saotome will never be caught by some violent Amazon chick.í
Ranma gave Shampoo a flat stare.
She smirked in return. "I told you so."
"I thought this was supposed to be a happy occasion," Ranma said as continued staring at Shampoo.
"It is," Shampoo assured him as she continued to smile. "And it gets better." She cut out a piece of cake, making certain it had what she wanted on it
"Itís time to eat my words, isnít it?" Ranma asked as he looked the piece over.
Shampoo nodded happily in agreement. Ranma actually found a smile rise to his lips as he began devouring the piece of cake. Some words just werenít all that hard to swallow.
It was an hour later that Shampoo examined the remains of the cake. Well, the remaining crumbs of the cake were more accurate. Apparently, everyone on the Saotome side of the family really had bottomless pits for stomachs. Of course that meant it would be all the easier to placate Ranma by cooking for him, an enjoyable task to say the least. She gazed upon her husband, who was once again speaking to his mother and father in an animated discussion. Shampoo had forced herself to talk to her new in-laws earlier. Genma was not the problem so much as Nodoka was. There was still a lot of friction between the two of them. It was for the best that she left Ranma alone to talk with them, so she remained off to the side and out of earshot.
"You look happy."
Shampoo had been so intent on watching her husband that she had not noticed that Aki had joined her at her side. She smiled at her friend. "I am. I canít think of anything that would make this day any better."
"How about sleeping with Ranma?"
"That goes without saying."
Aki nodded her head in agreement. "That reminds me," she pulled a wrapped gift from behind her back. "This is for you guys."
Shampooís eyes practically sparkled as she ripped the wrapping off to see the present inside. True, she should have waited to open it with Ranma at her side, but it proved impossible for her. Unwrapping gifts was one of her favorite things in the world.
The paper fell to the floor as she gazed upon the present. "A copy of the Kama Sutra."
"Yep." Aki grinned happily. "I figured Ranma wouldnít have any idea of what to do beyond the basic stuff, and since telling your guy what to do in the middle of sex can be a real turn-off, I thought it might come in handy."
"Thanks, Aki," Shampoo said as she tucked the book under her arm.
"Hey! Whatís wrong with your new hubby?" Aki asked as she pointed to the gift table Ranma was now sitting at, his conversation with his parents ending while Shampoo had unwrapped her gift.
Fear gripped Shampooís heart as she turned to see what had happened to Ranma. She saw the book in his grip and relaxed. All that seemed to be the matter was Ranmaís eyes were bulging so much they were nearly out of their sockets and his pig-tail was sticking straight out from the back of his head.
"Heís looking over another copy of the Kama Sutra. Great-Grandmother and Perfume each gave me a copy of the book too. Perfume even put liner notes in the margins." Shampoo sighed, thinking about Ranmaís current reaction. It would have been best to get that sort of thing out of the way early on. He really should have slept with her before, then he would not be having the problems he currently had.
Aki rubbed her chin in thought. "Shoot. I thought I was the only one that would have thought of that. Maybe I can figure out something else before I have to go."
"Donít worry about it," Shampoo assured her. "Your being here is enough of a gift."
"Oh fine, make me feel worse by being gracious," Aki grumbled. "By the way, where are you going on your honeymoon?"
"Just a small hot springs, and that was a gift from Ryouga. We didnít have enough money to go anywhere on our own."
Aki considered that as she walked off, her mind spinning in thought.
Shampoo made her way over to Ranma, who had recovered from his initial shock enough that he was not only relaxed, but now looking at the book in interest. That he was also rotating it around, as though trying to figure out which way was up, did not escape Shampooís notice either.
"Pervert," she whispered seductively in his ear.
Ranma nearly jumped out of his seat in fright. In an instant, he tucked the book behind his back, loudly announcing, "It ainít mine! Someone left it on the table and it was open! I ainít a pervert and wouldnít do none of that stuff with you."
Shampoo gave him a mock hurt look, even sniffling as though she was about to cry. "You mean you donít want to have sex with me?"
Ranma felt himself panicking once again, wondering what he had messed up this time. "Yes! Of course I do!"
Shampoo went from fake tears to playful spouse as she darted her hands behind his back and snatched the book from his hands. She quickly leafed through the pages before settling on one of the pictures. "I want to try that one."
Ranma examined the picture closely. "Looks kind of uncomfortable."
"I think we can manage. Weíre both pretty flexible."
"True." Ranma visualized doing that with Shampoo and found himself getting very excited. Married life was finding itself full of pleasant surprises, all of them appealing.
"It is yours, well, ours actually, by the way. Everything on the table is," Shampoo pointed out as she made a sweeping gesture to all of the gifts on the table.
Ranmaís eyes looked all of the gifts over. Shampoo had actually opened all of them herself when no one was looking, leaving the paper scattered all around. "How come we got two copies of it then? Are they different editions or something?"
Shampoo decided to have some fun with him. "No. It just means that we have to do each position in them twice. Itís a wedding tradition."
Ranma leafed through the other copy on the table. "Geez! Thatíll take at least two weeks."
Shampoo nearly facefaulted in shock at the boast, then realized exactly how much sexual energy Ranma must have been storing up over the years and wondered if he really was being serious after all. It would be fun finding out, at least. And from the eager gleam in his eyes as he read the book more intently, she thought he felt the same way.
Ranma put down the copy and looked over some of the other gifts. There was a bokken from Kunou, several demon wards from Yohko and Minami, a recipe book on okonomiyaki from Ukyou, cooking utensils from Kasumi, and then there was the box from Ai that was affectionately labeled ĎStarter Kit.í Ranma and Shampoo opened the box and looked inside, not touching any of the instruments within the container.
Ranma just stared at the contents in disbelief. "Look at this weird stuff. Does she think weíre both going to be doing it as girls or something? I mean, that long oneís got two ends to it. Blech!"
"You mean you wouldnít like me walking up and down your back in those spiked heels?" Shampoo asked playfully as she pointed to several of the less risquť items inside.
"No! Although the leather outfit is kind of kinky," Ranma said as he reconsidered.
"Would you be wearing it, or me?" Shampoo asked as she allowed her hand to play in the small of his back.
He reached behind him to bring it around his waist. "You, but not for long." No one seemed to be looking at them at the moment, so he gave her a kiss on the cheek. Open romantic gestures were still uncomfortable to him.
Shampoo felt her heart start to race in excitement. "Weíd better get going. Letís make one more round of saying good bye to everyone and leave on the honeymoon." She began to pull away from Ranma, intending to make her farewells very brief in anticipation for the upcoming honeymoon events.
Ranma held onto her hand, not allowing her to leave just yet. "Wait. Thereís one last gift. Something I got you myself."
The soft look he gave would have made her fall in love with him, if she had not been already. "You donít have to give me anything."
He pulled the small package Aki had given him from out of his pocket and handed it to his wife. "Open it and look inside."
In a flash the wrapping paper was gone and Shampoo laid her eyes on the contents. Tears flooded her eyes as she was overwhelmed by what lay before her.
"My hairpiece," she barely managed to get the soft murmur out.
Ranmaís usual bluster was absent as he whispered gently into his wifeís ear. "I promised you Iíd get it back." He kissed the side of her cheek, not caring if anyone saw him this time around.
The kiss startled her out of her reverie and she gave Ranma a warm embrace, which he returned. She remained in it for what seemed like an eternity before matching up the hairpiece with its twin on her long ponytail. Now all was right in the world.
Ranma decided to make a break for the lavatory before they began their final round of good-byes. It was during his absence that DíAmour maneuvered himself quietly to Shampooís side. She refrained from following her impulse of striking him into unconsciousness on general principle.
"Itís so wonderful to see you again, Miss Shampoo."
"Thatís Mrs. Saotome, to you." Saying that out loud awakened something inside her. She really was Mrs. Saotome, wife of Ranma Saotome now. So much of what had happened earlier had seemed like a dream. It was only now that the reality of the matter had truly begun to settle in. Married. She was really and truly married now. It felt so wonderful that she wished Ranma had been at her side so she could glomp him once again.
DíAmourís voice disturbed her peaceful wish. "Iíve been talking with Aki. She says you arenít going on much of a honeymoon, just to some crappy little hot spring for a few days. Well, it just so happens that my wonderful ship is going on an extended voyage to Taiwan. I was thinking that, since I didnít get you a present, I could offer a pleasant honeymoon cruise to you."
Shampoo was genuinely pleased by the offer. A cruise, even on TWPOS, sounded better than a simple little hot spring vacation. "Thank you."
DíAmour moved even closer to her. "Besides, once you get the seven day itch, I can be there to scratch it, Babe."
So that was the catch. It figured. "I thought that was a Ďseven yearí itch."
"Well, considering who your husband is, I figure it will only take about seven days for that itch to set in." DíAmour placed his hand on her, intending to show her where he would scratch.
Shampoo removed the captainís hand from her person, bending two of the fingers one way and two others in the opposite direction. Her reward was to see him go down on one knee in pain. "No one may touch me there but my husband, scum!" She released his hand, suddenly becoming pleasant once again. "I will take you up on your offer of a honeymoon cruise, however. Just remember that if you touch me, someone will be feeding the sharks with his worthless carcass."
DíAmour shook off the pain, gave Shampoo a sweeping bow, then walked off to sulk. He had hit on just about every good-looking woman at the wedding, even the bride, and still no luck. Even when he offered his services to the lesbians, Ukyou and Ai, they had hit him with a spatula and a baton. Everyone was just so violent lately. Whatever happened to Ďfree love?í
His self-pity party ended abruptly when he saw an incredibly gorgeous woman sitting by herself, a dejected look etched on her face. She appeared absolutely miserable, as though the world itself had ended. With a deft move he plucked a rose from a nearby flower arrangement, sniffed its alluring aroma, and put on his Ďsympathy lookí. It was now up to him to cheer the attractive woman up, comforting her with words at first, then with his skillful fingers later.
He offered the flower to her. "Ah, my sweet ravishing beauty. Do not weep at what chance misfortunes have besieged you. Permit me to present to you a token that would grant you freedom from the sorrows that have afflicted you. Allow this humble gift to come from a man that will now never know peace in his heart. A heart that has been captured with but one, ephemeral glance of you."
DíAmour unleashed his most roguish smile as Combís hand slowly went for something tucked behind her back.
Ranma listened as Shampoo told him of DíAmourís offer. It sounded good to him. Any voyage TWPOS would be going on would take at the very least two weeks to get there, if not longer. It sounded like a much nicer honeymoon than what they originally had to settle for.
"Well, letís say our final goodbyes to everyone," Ranma said as he looked the crowd over for the last time. "Then itís off for some peace and quiet with you."
"I donít think itís going to be peaceful or quiet for quite a while, husband." Shampoo snuggled against him to make sure he understood the message.
"Okay," Ranma conceded. "Itíll be wild and loud, but fun."
"Definitely fun," Shampoo agreed as DíAmour shot past them as though the Devil himself was hot on his tail.
"Make way!" he shouted.
"Come back here, pig! Iíll castrate you for daring that!" Comb shouted as she swung her long sword at him.
"But all I did was offer to make you happy!"
"I know what you wanted! The same thing all of your kind wants! You were going to try to sweet talk me into bedding you!" She swung her sword, the captain barely avoiding the blow that had been directed between his legs.
"Well, yes, but I hadnít even gotten to that part yet!"
"DIE!!!" She swung once again.
Shampoo watched with an amused grin as Comb continued chasing DíAmour. "It looks like Mother is a lot happier now."
"Yeah," Ranma agreed. It was nice of DíAmour to cheer Comb up like that by giving her a worthy target to vent her wrath. He even cheered his mother-in-law on as she sliced through the back of DíAmourís tuxedo, the man crying out in pain that he would never be able to pick up a Ďbabeí anymore now that his clothing was ruined.
Shampoo and Ranma walked arm in arm, telling everyone farewell for the last time before setting off at last on their long overdue honeymoon. All they wanted now was some peaceful time with one another before the next calamity life threw at them came rumbling around.
As they made their farewells, each of them felt as though something was ending. Their thoughts unknowingly mirrored one another as they thought that it was perhaps the ending of the journey they had begun three years ago in a magical place called Jusenkyou. Of course, while it felt like an ending of one journey, at the same time it also felt as though it was the beginning of another one. One that would perhaps prove itself as interesting as the previous one, if not moreso. After all, how could a few random fights with lethal martial artists compare to what the future held for the couple? Married life would be far more stressful than anything a mere wandering warrior could throw at either one of the duo, and deep inside, both Ranma Saotome and Shampoo knew this to be true.
Life was going get even more interesting from now on.
Ranma gave a grunt as he at last gave release to his pent up passion once again. Shampoo writhed beneath him as he finished, also shouting out in pleasure at how he had brought her to the realm of orgasmic pleasure once again. He remained on top of her for several moments before rolling off and to her side, taking a moment as he came down from his own sexual high to enjoy the afterglow on his wifeís face. She always looked so beautiful after they made love, even being covered with sweat and gasping out as she slowly regained control over her bodyís release of energy.
"So," he at last spoke, breaking the silence. "Was it as good for you that time as it was for me?"
Shampoo seemed to consider that seriously for a few moments before answering, "No."
Ranma gave out a loud groan once again. "No again? Geez. Itís been four days and I still ainít got it right yet. I mean we did it until we broke the bed. Then we did it on the floor, in the shower, on the sink, in that room next to DíAmourís as loudly as we could to piss him off."
Shampoo smiled brightly at that. DíAmourís reaction to his temporary Ďneighborísí noise was to cry, as though someone was torturing him, loud enough to be heard by both Shampoo and Ranma, even over the cacophony they were generating.
Ranmaís list continued. "On the bridge when no one was there. I canít believe you broke the steering wheel like that, though."
"I was excited, Husband, and needed something to brace against. You are very powerful, you know."
Ranma laughed sheepishly at that. "Thatís true. Then the crowís nest. I donít know how you talked me into doing it in the open like that."
"You seemed especially excited at that though," Shampoo pointed out.
"Well, at least no one saw us."
"Ranma," Shampoo said softly as she ran her hand across his chest.
"Never mind. Let me get out the manual." The Ďmanualí was one of the copies of the Kama Sutra they owned. He began turning the pages, avoiding the ones they had already marked off as Ďdoneí.
"Ranma," she said softly once again.
He looked up from a particular interesting drawing. "What?"
"It wasnít as good for me as it was for you. It was better."
Shampoo nodded happily in agreement. "Actually, it was like that several times. I just wanted to see how much endurance you really had. Thank you for trying so hard to please me."
"Satisfied with the results?" Ranma smirked.
"Oh, yes," Shampoo assured him as she continued stroking his chest.
Ranma watched the hand move back and forth several times before speaking again. "Hey, Shampoo?"
"Want to do it again, just to be sure I got it right?"
There was an unmistakable gleam in his eyes she had learned to recognize all too well in the last two days. Oh, yes. He had a lot of pent up energy indeed. "Sounds like fun." She rolled on top of him, getting ready for one more go around.
Just as she got herself into position, they heard a loud voice shout out something about a Kraken attacking the ship. They paused a moment to look over one another, then gave a tired sigh.
"It never ends, does it?" Ranma sighed as Shampoo rolled off of him.
"Would you want it any other way?" she asked with a smile.
Ranma considered that for two whole seconds before returning the smile with one of his own. "Nah."
The two got up and dressed in a flash. As Ranma finished buttoning up his top, he leveled a lop-sided grin once more. "After we beat up whatever the hell a Kraken is, weíre going to finish that book, right?"
Shampoo smiled right back and turned as they raced out of the door of the cabin and into whatever the future might hold.
Author's notes: Well, this is the end. Congratulations! You finally made it. Now you can go home. Showís over. ^_^
Any last comments on the series would, of course, be greatly appreciated.
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