Be Dea stared intently at the diminutive bird perched on her outstretched forearm. "Do you understand the message, Sparrow?"
The bird nodded its head.
"Time is of the essence, so you must find them without delay. They have to return here as soon as possible. Go now!"
The bird nodded its head once more and took off, flying as fast as it possibly could without tiring itself out too quickly. This would be the longest distance it had ever flown, but it was also the most important mission it had ever been given. The whole villageís existence might depend on the message it had to deliver.
It would not fail.
Ai retrieved the mail as it was delivered to Uk-Chanís and began sorting through them, handing them to Ukyou once she was finished. "Four advertisements, three bills, and two invitations. One for you and one for Ryouga," Ai said.
"Thanks," Ukyou said as she plucked the invitations out of the cheerleaderís hands, passing Ryougaís over to him. She opened it, not managing even a single word before she felt a pair of eyes peering over her shoulder. "Do you mind?" she said without bothering to look back.
Ai backed off. "Sorry. Whatís it say?"
Ukyou scanned the card. "You are…"
"…cordially invited…" Ryouga continued out loud.
At her home, Minami read her invitation. "…to the wedding of…
"…Ranma Saotome and…" Gosunkugi read the letter at his own home.
Sayuri, Malia, Chisa, and Yuka read. "…Akane Tendo."
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
Whatís gone on before (or what you really need to enjoy this fic, the condensed version) In the beginning the Saotomes traveled to Jusenkyou to spar, not realizing Mousse and Shampoo were already fighting across the springs at the same time. One mid-air collision and accidental bath in Spring of Young Drowned Man later, there is a male Shampoo as well as a female Ranma (That means Shampoo-kun= male Shampoo. Ranma-chan= female Ranma. Enjoy) Shampoo elected to travel to Japan with the Ranma. In the ensuing months many friends and foes, too numerous to list here, were met and many adventures had. In the last chapter Nodoka Saotome finally came on the scene and in a case of mistaken identity, thought Shampoo-kun was Ranma. Since everyone was afraid Nodoka would cut off the real Ranmaís head if she learned the truth, they maintained the facade. The effort to pass Shampoo-kun off as Ranma worked until Pantyhose Tarou, in disguise, splashed Shampoo-kun with some hot water in front of Nodoka. In order to keep Shampoo alive Ranma told his mother the truth. Nodoka has accepted that Ranma is still a Ďman among mení despite his curse, but demands Ranma and Akane be married as soon as possible. Now the wedding draws close, and certain elements donít want it to occur…
<> This indicates Chinese.
Perfume gazed at the docks as the gangplank was lowered and the rest of the hunt pack prepared to disembark. At long last they had arrived at Japan. It was going to feel magnificent to have the feel of the earth under her feet again, and it would be a good chance for the group to unwind for a little while. It would take the hunt pack almost a day to arrive in Nerima. Then Perfume would send them out to search for the long-gone Shampoo. She was more than a little confident that Shampoo would have covered her tracks and made following her all but impossible. The search around Nerima would take a week, then Perfume would deal with things from that point onward.
The gangplank at last made contact with the dock and Perfume prepared to disembark, adjusting the oversized bracer she now had on her arm. Her foot was raised to go forward when Cabinet placed a restraining hand on the leaderís shoulder.
"<What is it?>" Perfume asked.
"<Just wait,>" was all the explanation the large girl offered.
Perfume stared at her second-in-command in confusion, wondering what Cabinet was up to, when Sash rushed past and headed down the gangplank.
Sash smiled cheerily as she set foot upon it. "<Itís so wonderful to be bacAAAHHH!!!>"
Perfume stared tiredly as Sash came rolling to a stop. She had rolled down the gangplank far enough that she had ended up wrapped up in her sashes so thoroughly that her arms and legs were totally immobilized.
"<WWWAAAAAHHHHH!!! This is the exact same thing that happened to me the last time I came to Japan!>" Sash cried. "<Itís like deja-vu all over again!>"
"<Imagine that,>" Cabinet said dryly as Perfume placed a hand over her eyes. Maybe it would all be gone when she removed it. No. The scene was still the same.
The rest of the hunt pack made their way down the gangplank while Cabinet picked up Sash as she got to the bottom.
"<Thanks,>" Sash said graciously. "<If you would untie me, I can start walking on my own.>"
"<Nah!>" Cabinet said and threw Sash over her shoulder like a sack of rice. "<I think it would be safer for all of us if you stayed tied up for a while.>" Sashís pleas were for naught as Cabinet ignored the struggling blonde and followed the others into the city.
Perfume took the lead, talking to her warriors as they walked the city streets. "<You are the representatives of the Joketsuzoku. As such, I want you to behave yourselves.>" She kept her eyes forward, knowing that the warriors were hanging on her every word. "<Donít pick any fights with the locals. They donít understand our laws and youíll just be asking for trouble. We are in these peopleís lands. Just as we would expect them to obey our laws if they were in our lands, so must we respect theirs while here. Treat the law with just as much respect as the locals do. And for goodness sakes donít gawk! It makes you look like a bunch of country bumpkins. Do you all…>" Perfume trailed off as she turned to see her group was now only composed of Cabinet, Julep, Shelf, the now unbound Sash, and a couple of others.
"<Where did they all go?>" Perfume asked.
Cabinet spoke up. "<Rei Za and Shi Fan said something about getting drunk. Foam and Soap said they wanted to check a music store and find out what the big deal is about CDs. Tablet saw an ad for medical supplies and took off, mumbling something about an oxygen tent. A couple of others said they were hungry and wanted to eat some real Japanese food. And the rest said they wanted to check out the quality of the local males.>"
Perfume put her hand to her skull as she felt the headache strike. She should have seen it coming. Of course they were going to act like a bunch of children let loose in a candy store for the first time, and it would be nothing short of a miracle if they all managed to stay out of trouble. No, the odds were that most of them would screw up and end up leveling half of Japan.
"<I donít like this country,>" Julep growled.
Perfume looked at her curiously. "<Why?>"
"<This whole place stinks! It smells of burning fuel and of too many people mashed in close together. When do we start looking for Xian-Pu?>"
Perfume shrugged. "<Iím going to have to let the others play tourist for a couple of days, otherwise theyíre going to be impossible to control. Once thatís out of their system weíll be able to begin the hunt.>"
Julep gave an uncharacteristically evil glare towards Perfume. "<Iím going to start looking for her now. The sooner we find her, the sooner I can go home.>" And with that declaration she walked off in search of her prey.
Perfume wondered if letting her go out on her own was such a good idea. The wolf girl could be relied upon to stay out of trouble, but if anyone could discover where Shampoo was, it would be the tracker. No. Perfume decided she was just being paranoid since Shampoo had to be long gone. It would be a miracle if Julep could even pick up the hint of a scent, especially since they were not even in Nerima yet.
One of the two girls next to Sash spoke up. "<Since weíre going to be here for a couple days, can we look for males too?>"
"<Yes!>" her partner said enthusiastically. "<The quality of guys back home just plain sucks! Iíve head Japanese men are great fighters and passionate lovers. This countryís big enough that Iím sure we can find some decent ones to take home.>"
"<Go!>" Perfume waved them on. She could practically hear the din of battle now as over half of her pack was now seeking to capture prey of a different sort. She wanted to warn them that Japanese men were about the same as any other men from any other country, but why spoil their illusions? They were probably going to end up disappointed enough as it was, since most of the males they met were going to be no match for them. It was almost certain the local hospitals were going to be overflowing with the wounded in short order.
"<It really is sad,>" Perfume commented. "<They are just so desperate.>"
"<You got that right,>" Shelf agreed as she pulled out a compact and put on some make-up. "<Itís just pitiful the way they have to throw themselves at men. Now if they were as beautiful as me they would have to beat off their admirers with a cudgel, like I do. HAHAHAHA!!!>"
The others just stared at their vain Ďsisterí. Shelf was indeed achingly beautiful, even more attractive than Shampoo. Too bad she wasnít afraid to admit it to everyone she met.
"<Well, at least we arenít that desperate. Isnít that right Perf…>" Cabinet trailed off as Perfume suddenly got an unmistakable lovestruck look in her visible eye.
"<Beautiful,>" she sighed and went to follow the person that had caught her attention; someone that had just passed by and was going down the street. Perfume left without a backward glance to the others.
Sash watched her leader walk off. "<Did she just say that about…?>"
"<…that girl that just walked by,>" Cabinet finished while staring at where her leader had been. "<But that doesnít make any sense. Iíve only heard her talk about guys. Weak ones usually, but just guys.>"
"<This canít be!>" Shelf said in shock. "<If she was interested in women, why didnít she hit on me?>"
Sash and Cabinetís surprise doubled. "<I thought you only liked guys,>" Sash said.
"<I do,>" Shelf replied.
Cabinet barely managed to keep from facefaulting. "<Then why would you want Perfume to come on to you?>"
Shelf scowled at the bigger girl. "<Pride, of course. I will not tolerate Perfume going after some ugly Japanese girl when she could be hitting on me. I swear I will have her make a pass at me or die trying!>" Shelf applied even more make-up in just the right quantities to maximize her looks and undid two more buttons on the top of her mini-dress and hiked up the lowest part of it, leaving just barely enough to cover her bottom. This had the effect of having every man in a two block radius drool in her direction. Her path to Perfume was quickly blocked by a horde of men that fell on her in a swarm. Just as she had bragged earlier, she literally began beating a path for herself through the crowd of would-be suitors, swinging her cudgel with great effect. Unfortunately for her by the time she fought free Perfume was already out of sight.
Tsubasa had been wandering through the city, sans a disguise for a change. He had elected to go with a simple white and yellow dress and just walked around, trying to think of some way to win his Ukyou. It just wasnít fair. Upon the breaking of the love pill, Ai sundered their partnership on the basis that Ukyou hated Tsubasa and the cheerleader no longer wanted him around the chef, as though the mere presence of the blasted rabbit was not problem enough; naturally Tsubasa ignored Aiís Ďadviceí and stuck around as best he could.
There was some good news in that Hibiki was history, but the bad news to counterbalance that was Ukyou seemed to be taking an interest in Ai instead of Tsubasa. It didnít make any sense. He was much prettier than some butt-ugly cheerleader.
It was while he was lamenting his seeming fate that a voice spoke up behind him.
Tsubasa jumped in surprise and turned around to see a pink-haired girl directly behind him. She had a broad smile on her face as she gazed at the cross-dresser.
"You startled me!" Tsubasa gasped out.
"Iím sorry," Perfume said. "Whatís your name?"
"Tsubasa. Tsubasa Kurenai."
"What a beautiful name," Perfume remarked. "Please excuse me. Iím usually not this forward, but I just wanted to let you know that youíre very pretty."
Tsubasa smiled at the compliment. Not too many people were nice to him. He examined her more closely. She really was quite attractive, and it was obvious even to him she had a lovestruck look in her visible eye. There was something odd about the hairstyle though. He shifted slightly to so he could look at the part of her face behind the hair. "Eww!" he grimaced as he caught a glance of the other half of her face. "You have a huge scar!"
"Yes. It adds character," she said, unconcerned about Tsubasaís comment.
"Itís ugly," he responded.
"I keep it hidden behind my hair. Itís almost impossible to see," she said, unaffected by the reaction.
"Forget it!" he snapped. "I donít like ugly girls."
"Once you get to know me you wonít even notice it. Believe me, the things I can do to you will make you forget about everything," she purred.
Tsubasa panicked as she placed her hands on his shoulders. He darted out of her grasp as he made a run for it.
"Tsubasa, dear, wait for me!"
He looked back. Sure enough the girl was pursuing him. A corner came up and he rounded it, momentarily obscuring himself from his pursuer. While out of sight he hurriedly disguised himself as a mailbox. Perfume made it around the corner herself just as he was finished changing. She continued running down the street, leaving the mailbox far behind.
Tsubasa breathed a sigh of relief. There was no way he was going to date an ugly girl. He would stick with the most beautiful star in the world: his Ukyou.
Ranma thought, no, he knew Akane looked more beautiful than ever. He gently took her in his arms. "I never imagined being married to you would be as wonderful as this."
She radiated bliss as she smiled back. "Of course itís wonderful. Weíre together now. Nothing can tear us apart."
Ranma was about to say something else when three identical girls, all of them about five years old and looking for all the world like little versions of Akane, surrounded the couple. Akane eased herself out of Ranmaís grasp and left him surrounded by the girls.
"Who are they?" Ranma asked Akane as he stared at the children.
"Theyíre our daughters, baka," Akane answered softly and with a smile.
Ranma bent down and examined the girls more closely. "You guys sure are pretty."
The three giggled in response.
"Now girls," Akane said. "What do you say to your father?"
All three looked embarrassed towards their father, giggled, then whipped out wooden mallets five times the size of their own bodies.
"DADDY NO BAKA!!!" all three shouted and proceeded to hammer their father into the ground.
Ranma bolted straight up, snapping the heavy chains that had bound him to his futon as though they werenít there.
He shot to his feet and burst through the door, not even bothering to open it. He simply charged through, shattering both the door and the five-inch thick wooden board that had been barred across it, all without missing a step.
Ryougaís fist smashed into Ranmaís jaw, at last stopping his desperate flight. Ranma collapsed to the ground, unconscious.
"Nice job, Ryouga," Genma congratulated as he slapped the boy on the back.
"Looks like you were right, Saotome," Soun commented as he looked at Ranmaís laid out form.
"Of course," Genma nodded sagely. "Itís something of a Saotome tradition for the men in our family to panic in our sleep at the prospect of marriage. Why, it took my father and two uncles armed with clubs to bludgeon me into unconsciousness after one of those dreams. I shudder to think how far I would have run if they hadnít stopped me. Fortunately, we have something even better."
Ryouga cracked his knuckles. "Itís a pleasure, Mr. Saotome. As long as youíre asking me to knock him out, I wonít get into trouble with Ukyou." He started to leave; his job was done.
"Come on in same time tomorrow, and then the day after that. That will be the last time we need you since thatís the wedding day. After the honeymoon heíll be way too tired to even think of running away. In fact, I suspect heíll be too tired to even get out of bed."
Both Soun and Genma laughed while Ryouga departed. The two fathers followed, leaving Ranma lying on the floor in the middle of the hall until Kasumi came to sweep. She paused in her cleaning long enough to drag Ranmaís unconscious form back into the bedroom and laid him heavily on his futon, then returned to cleaning the hallway, humming a pleasant tune as she swept up the wooden splinters from the door.
It was about an hour later that his mother came to revive him and told him to get cleaned up. He did as he was bid and grabbed a bath. As he allowed himself to relax in the hot water, he thought about the dream. His father had warned him to expect such things, and that they would disappear after his wedding day and not to worry about them, but how could he not worry about them? They were just so frightening, not that he believed any children he had would do that to him !probably! but it was still disturbing.
Everything was happening too fast. Ever since his mother had made her ultimatum two days ago things had moved at a breakneck pace. There had been invitations to make and send out. A wedding chapel to rent. Food to prepare. A tuxedo for him and a dress for Akane were needed. He still hadnít chosen who the best man would be. At least there wasnít going to be a bachelor party. There were few male friends he had that would help with that sort of thing, and there was no telling what kind of trouble it would get him into. But there were a million and one other things to do, and he was running out of time.
Why did his mother have to be so hell-bent on everything getting done so quickly? He had his whole life ahead of him, so why did he need to get married by the end of the week? Akane wasnít going anywhere and neither was he. It just didnít make any sense. If he hadnít known any better it was almost as though she was afraid of something, but what it could be was the question. To him it just felt like someone was holding a gun to his head; not at all a reassuring sensation. What he needed was someone to talk to, and there was someone nearby he could always rely on.
He got out of the bath and dressed, and once he was reasonably decent he headed to Shampooís room. There was so much panic and confusion at the start of the whole marriage fiasco that he had not even spoken to her in the last two days. Now that he realized it a momentary pang of guilt shot through him. Ignoring the Amazon like that was really rude of him, and Shampoo had been so moody lately there was no telling what her reaction might be to his ignoring her. Perhaps she would get irate and his clothing would be destroyed once more, he thought amusingly to himself, at least until he realized she really might do it. That made him lose what little joy he originally found in the thought.
Ranma approached her room and knocked. Receiving no reply he waited a few moments and knocked once more.
"Sheís not answering."
Ranma turned to see Kasumi had arrived and looked concerned at the door. "What do you mean?"
"She wonít answer the door. The most I can get out of her is Ďgo away. I want to be aloneí for the last two days. I donít think sheís even eaten since she had to reveal the truth to Auntie Saotome. I waited outside her door with some food for a half hour before I had to do other things. I caught Mr. Saotome eating it later. He said it was just lying in the hall and figured no one else wanted it. Iím worried about her, Ranma."
Her emotions were mirrored in Ranma. If Shampoo was behaving that way it could only mean trouble. "Iíll get to the bottom of this." Rather than explain what he meant, he simply forced the door open, and went inside. The room appeared to be in perfect shape, save for the fact there was no Shampoo present.
"She was in here earlier today," Kasumi reassured him. "She told me to go away when I knocked this morning. What do you suppose happened to her? You donít suppose sheís in trouble?"
Ranma searched the room, looking for clues. All of her things appeared to be present, so it wasnít likely she had gone far. Could it have something to do with her great-grandmother, or was it simply moodiness on her part? As difficult as it was for him to understand Shampoo, something inside told him that this was more than her feeling put off by his lack of attention towards her. There had to be some deeper reason than that for her disappearance.
"Maybe I should go look for her," Ranma offered. Kasumi agreed that it was a good idea, and Ranma was about to act on his suggestion when his mother spotted him.
"We need to get you fitted for your suit," she informed him.
"Later, Mom," Ranma said as he brushed past her on the way out. "I gotta do something first."
His mother caught up to him and placed a restraining hand on his shoulder and gave him a disapproving stare. "You need to do this now. There isnít any time to fool around. Youíre getting married in two days."
Ranma gulped at that. Any reminders of his upcoming nuptials panicked him. "I canít right now. Shampooís missing and might be in trouble. I need to find her and make sure sheís okay."
Nodoka was taken aback by that, but quickly composed herself and began explaining some things. "Itís nice to know that you take your friendships so seriously, but Akane has to come first. Shampoo is perfectly capable of taking care of herself, and Iím sure that if she is truly your friend she would understand why you have to do this first. Besides, once you and Akane are married you arenít going to have much time for your… companion. Your wife will take up most of your attention and thereís always the thought of starting a family to consider."
Ranma paled. "Family?"
"Of course, dear. That is part of what being married is all about," Nodoka eased her arm around his shoulder and began leading him back towards the interior of the house. "Now I donít expect to have grandchildren right away, but you should know how to raise them and what to expect. Let me give you some advice on what to do."
Kasumi watched the pair walk out of sight. There was almost a feeling of irritation in her due to Ranma allowing himself to be so easily sidetracked. She decided she was going to have to take matters in her own hands and search for Shampoo herself. It took only a moment for her to grab her purse before setting out in search of her friend.
Shampoo had left earlier in the day, unable to remain in the house any longer, not with what was coming up. It was too much for her to take. Oh, how she wanted to tell Ranma what she felt, or at least to talk him out of his upcoming marriage. But the conversation she had had with Nodoka after the revelation of her and Ranmaís true identities made the witchís feelings on the matter quite clear, and what it would mean to Ranma if Shampoo Ďinterferedí with what had to be. She replayed the conversation in her mind…
After talking with Ranma the entire day Nodoka stopped by Shampooís room so the two could talk in private.
"There are some things you should know about, Shampoo," Nodoka said in a stern voice.
Shampooís disdain for the woman was still high, and with all the conversations the two had had over the previous weeks, the Amazon felt as though she had enough of Nodoka. "What is it?"
"Now that I know the truth of the situation, the things you have told me have taken on a whole new meaning. I understand what you were trying to tell me involving your relationship with my son. Allow me to personally emphasize to you the necessity of Ranma and Akane being married to one another. It will take place no matter what. If something were to happen to convince Ranma to break off the marriage, I would consider it a very unmanly thing to do. Am I understood?"
Shampoo could scarcely believe her ears. Was Nodoka saying she would force Ranma to go through with his promise if he didnít marry Akane?
"I can tell by your reaction that you understand. Good. Perhaps it would be best if you made yourself scarce around Ranma for a few days. That way any doubts he might have over the situation might be made easier. He is going to have his hands full with what he has to do, and you would only serve to confuse things."
Nodoka turned to go. "Iím glad weíve come to an understanding. Itís nothing personal, Shampoo, but Ranma has to do this. No matter what."
"No matter what," Shampoo bitterly said out loud as she came back to the present. She cursed the day that foul woman showed up. If only she and Genma had been ten minutes later, or earlier, then they would never have run into Nodoka and Shampoo wouldnít be in the mess she was in. Why did absolutely everything have to go against her? Why couldnít she for once have things go her way? Her entire life had been shredded into tiny pieces ever since she had fallen into that damned cursed spring. There was nothing left of her previous life, and nothing much left of the new one she had tried to forge since then. And to top things off, the man she loved was getting married to someone else and she couldnít tell him how she felt, or else his own mother was going to kill him. What a wonderful life she had. Maybe it would be for the best that she stay away until after the ceremony. She wasnít certain she could trust herself around him. It would just make things worse than they already were, as though that were possible. Yes. It was best if she simply disappeared for a few days, and maybe a bit longer than that.
Kasumi gave up her search after several hours, finding no trace of Shampoo, and returned home. As she entered the kitchen she found Nodoka pouring over recipes in anticipation for the wedding. By her estimation, over half the food that they needed was already cooked, and the other half would be finished by the next day in plenty of time for the ceremony. Now was the ideal time for Kasumi to mention her concerns.
Nodoka looked up from the recipes and smiled. "Yes?"
Kasumi was suddenly uncertain whether or not to continue. Deciding if she did not say anything now she might regret it, she continued, "Are you sure having the wedding so soon is such a good idea?"
"Why, whatever do you mean?" Nodoka asked, concerned.
"Itís just that Akane and Ranma still have some problems. I donít doubt they care for each other, but things are not exactly smooth between them."
Nodoka smiled, relaxing Kasumi somewhat. "Akane and Ranma know their duties. Youíre worrying too much. Theyíll get along just fine."
Kasumi began to get anxious again. "Iím not so sure."
"Well, I am. There is the promise between our families, and it must be upheld. Your mother and I agreed with our husbands when they told us what they wanted to do. Even now Iím convinced it was a good idea, and I know your mother would never have agreed to it if she had had any doubts."
"But Iím certain mother counted on being alive and preparing us for this when she made that promise. As it was, Father informed us of it just moments before Ranma and Mr. Saotome arrived, and none of us were prepared for this sort of thing. And now you want Akane and Ranma to get married on the spur of the moment. Iím sorry, but I think we should wait a while longer, at least until Ranma and Akane get more used to each other."
Nodoka looked at her with concern. "Are you saying you want to go against your motherís wishes?"
"No." Kasumi shook her head. "But since Mother died, Iíve had to assume many of her responsibilities and this sort of falls under something I have to have a say in. I want whatís best for both Akane and Ranma, and Iím not certain they should get married just yet."
"But thatís what I want."
Both Nodoka and Kasumi turned their heads to see Akane had entered the kitchen. She appeared a little nervous, but kept up her courage and continued. "I donít mind it, really. You donít have to worry, Kasumi. Youíre right. I know Ranma and I still have our problems, but we can work them out. It just might take a while."
"Youíre sure about this?" Kasumi asked.
"Yep!" Akane nodded her head. "Iím not going to lie. Iím scared, but I think Iíd be scared no matter what. We have a promise to keep, and I donít see why we shouldnít get married now. It might even be for the best. Thereís no telling what might happen if this drags on much longer. You know Ranma. Something always comes up to interfere with his life, and sometimes mine too. This might be the only chance weíll get."
"I agree," Nodoka said enthusiastically and turned towards Kasumi.
The eldest Tendo daughter appeared a little nervous herself, but nodded her head. "If youíre sure thatís what you really want, Akane."
"It is," she said confidently.
"Then let the wedding go on," Kasumi said, finally relaxing. If Akane was sure then she was going to have to show some faith in her youngest sister. She turned to Nodoka. "Here, Auntie, let me help you with the cooking."
Akane moved forward to offer her assistance in the preparations, but was given a different task to do by the two cooks. Neither one could really afford the time to keep the close eye on Akane that would be required to make certain she didnít try to throw something new onto the menu. Weddings were supposed to be happy occasions, after all.
As Akane left, Nodoka considered her actions concerning Shampoo. Despite the fact she was basically in the right she felt more than a little dirty over her behavior. It was beneath her to use Ranmaís life as a bargaining tool, even if she was lying about forcing him to commit seppuku, but something had to be done. The Chinese girl could not be allowed to interfere in matters concerning the wedding, and Nodoka had little doubt she would either directly do it or Ranma would end up confused because of her presence. Once her son was married things would end up the way they should and Shampoo would have to accept her new role as nothing more than a friend, or else she would have to leave, which in truth might be for the best. The Amazon was simply too unpredictable to Nodoka, and to her that was not a good thing.
Once Akane was out of the room she started to really consider her actions. It was true, she had been nearly scared out of her mind over the upcoming nuptials. She had overheard Ranma say more than once things were moving too fast for him, and the truth was she felt exactly the same way. But the moment she had heard Kasumi try to talk Nodoka into postponing the wedding even more fear had lanced through her. Whatever trepidation she had felt about the wedding was overshadowed by the idea of not having one, so she quickly blurted out something to ease Kasumiís mind. Once Kasumi had relented in her protests a wave of relief had surged through Akane.
Now that the moment had passed she felt anxious about the wedding again, but the edge that had been there was now gone. She was doing the right thing. She was certain of it, and hopefully Ranma felt the same way. Maybe talking to him about it would help, if only he would open up to her instead of playing it off.
She tracked him down in his room where he was looking upwards at the ceiling. So lost in though was he that he failed to hear her enter the room. Akane cleared her throat, catching Ranmaís attention.
The noise startled him for a second before he realized who had produced it. "Oh. Hi, Akane. Whatís up?"
There was a little speech she had planned to tell him, but now that she was before him it felt weak and inadequate. All she could think to say was, "I know this is all happening really fast, but I promise Iím going to try to make this work."
He looked at her, confused. "What are you talking about?"
"The marriage," she said quickly. The word still sounded odd to her. "I might not always get along with you, but I swear to you Iíll try harder from now on." Her heart was racing faster and she felt panicked at being in his presence all of a sudden. The urge to flee from Ranma became overwhelming. "I just wanted to let you know that. I have to go do some more stuff for the wedding."
Ranma watched her go and pondered what she said. So she was going to put forth her best effort. He didnít know how that made him feel, or what he should say in return. Rather than say the wrong thing and get himself into trouble, he allowed her to leave without a word of protest then got up himself, intending to go outside and think.
He was halfway to the door when a figure he definitely did not want to be around confronted him.
"Saotome," Mousse said as he approached with a look of determination in his face.
Reflexively Ranmaís fists went up. "What do you want now, Panda-boy?"
"I just wanted to…" his hand darted forward and snared one of Ranmaís outstretched hands. "…to congratulate you on your marriage!" he gushed enthusiastically.
Ranma stared at him in bewilderment as the Chinese boy shook his hand vigorously. "You do?"
"Yes! I just heard the news and I think the two of you make the perfect couple," he said and handed Ranma several lucky charms. "These are for you. Theyíre for good luck." He pointed out which was which. "This one is for a long and prosperous marriage. This one is for love, never seemed to work for me, though. This one is for a safe childbirth. Make sure you have lots of children early on. Itíll cement the bonds between you and Akane so that nothing can separate the two of you. And not only am I here to give you these gifts, but I will also offer my services to you. Let me guard the wedding. Iíll let no one interfere with it. I swear!"
Ranma stared at him in an even more bewildered manner. "Why are you being so nice to me all of a sudden?"
"I just want you and Akane to have a long and successful marriage," he said quite sincerely.
"Now whatís the reason for that?" Now he had a feeling he knew what this was leading to.
Mousse rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "Once you and Akane are married nothing will stand between Shampoo and me. I will be the one to protect her from all that would harm her, since youíre out of the way. Thereís no way Akane is going to let you continue your relationship with her. Now, is there anything else I can do for you? Just name it and itís yours!"
"There sure is," Ranma said as he cracked his knuckles. "Do you remember what I told you the last time you came here?"
Mousse shook his head. "No. Canít say I do."
"It was back when Ryu first showed up and that psycho gymnast poisoned Shampoo."
"Oh, thatís right. You said you never wanted me around here again or youíd!"
Ranma took Mousseís crumpled form outside and threw him into the back of a passing dump truck. The jerk had it coming to him for even daring to suggest Ranma would abandon Shampoo to him, marriage or no. And there was the fact Ranma had promised to beat Mousse up if he ever came to the dojo again. That was one promise that was easy to keep.
Ranma decided at last to search for Shampoo, but with nothing to go on and no explosions to follow, he had to give up the search. Despite his busy schedule, he decided to drop by Uk-Chanís. As he had hoped, Ukyou was present and made time in her schedule for him.
"Whatís up, Ranchan?" she asked as she gave him his usual okonomiyaki.
"Oh, not much," he said nervously. "I just found out two days ago Iím getting married by the end of the week."
Ukyou laughed at that. "Considering how chaotic your life has been you should have expected something like this. How do you feel about it?"
"I donít know. I havenít had time to even think about it. Itís like being in a fight and I keep getting caught off balance and canít plan the next step. Actually, Iím not planning any steps. Everything is being done for me, but Iím being kept so busy getting ready for this I donít have time to consider what Iím really getting into."
"Sounds like cold feet," Ukyou commented as she gave Ranma an okonomiyaki. "Iíve got an idea. We could run off and get married. That way you wonít have to worry about this one. We were engaged after all," Ukyou said with a straight face.
"What about Ai?"
"I think sheíd get a kick out of it. Sheís into threesomes." The pair began to laugh at the joke. However Ranmaís mirth was short-lived as he quieted down almost immediately. Ukyou picked up on it just as quickly. "This thing really has you bothered, doesnít it?"
"Yeah. I just wish I had more time. Itís all going way too fast."
"Want me to bomb the wedding?"
Ranma started to laugh when he saw she was being serious. "Are you kidding?"
"Nope. I can act like Iím still angry with you for abandoning me and breaking off my engagement and trashing my romantic life. So in revenge I want to ruin your attempt at marriage and romantic bliss too. Afterwards we can say it was all a horrible mistake and Iím feeling a lot better. We can tell everyone the bombing was therapeutic for me." She shrugged. "Youíll get the time you want that way."
Ranma considered it for a moment before shaking his head. "No, thanks. Even if you didnít accidentally blow anyone up, I think thatís going a little too far. Iím just going to have to deal with this on my own." Ranma suddenly remembered something. "There is one other thing Iíve been meaning to ask you, though. Would you like to be my best man?"
"Exactly which part of me is a Ďmaní in your eyes, Ranchan?" she asked as she left the large spatula on his head.
"Sorry. Jeez, I didnít mean to upset you." He got out from under the large weapon.
"Well, Iíll be more than happy to be your best woman," she emphasized the last word, keeping her spatula in hand.
Ranma considered that, but there was something he needed to ask her first. "Have you seen Shampoo lately?"
"No. She didnít show up for work today. Is something wrong?"
Ranma shrugged. "I donít know. Itís like sheís avoiding me again, and I know I didnít do nothing this time." And he had wanted to ask her if she would help him out. She did turn into a guy, so would have been more appropriate a choice for best man, but some part of him rejected the idea, and he wasnít sure why.
"Well, Iím sure sheíll turn up for your wedding. I canít see her missing it. Iíll let you know if I see her." Of course, if what Ukyou suspected about the Amazonís feelings were accurate, the wedding might end up being blown up after all, and Ukyou wouldnít be the culprit.
It was about a half hour after Ranma left that Ryouga wandered in, looking for directions to Uk-Chanís. Typical. Once he grabbed something to eat he worked up the nerve to talk to Ukyou. It was true that she had forgiven him for attacking Ranma, and was allowed to stay at his room once more, but he was not absolutely confident about her forgiveness. It took him the better part of a half hour before getting to the point he wanted to ask.
"Youíre going to the wedding, right?" Ryouga asked.
"Yep," Ukyou said happily. "It looks like Iím going to be the best woman."
"Isnít that, Ďbest maní?"
"Then again… I could be wrong," Ryouga muttered as he felt a lump on his head swell. Ukyou sure could swing a spatula hard. And why didnít she ever do that to Ai?
"I am a woman! Got it!"
"Got it," he said quickly. The conversation had certainly started off on the right foot. "What I wanted to ask was," he gulped and worked up his courage once more. "Would you like to go with me? To the wedding, I mean."
Ukyou appeared taken aback by the question. "Why are you asking me?"
"Because I want to go with you."
"What about Kyoko?" she asked. "She is your girlfriend."
Ryouga felt a pang of guilt go through him. Maybe Ukyou was right, but he had resolved to ask Ukyou. "I… Iíd really like to go with you. We havenít spent much time together or talked very much. And I like being around you."
Ukyou gave a hurt expression. "I like spending time with you too, Ryouga. Things have just been really hectic lately, but I canít. I already promised Ai Iíd go with her."
"Couldnít you just break it off?" He knew as soon as the words left his mouth he had said the wrong thing.
"I am not the sort of person that does that," she answered acidly. "If I was going with you and Ai asked me to break it off, Iíd say the same thing."
"Iím sorry," he said immediately. "I just wanted to go to it with you really bad."
Ukyou softened a lot with that. "I understand, but you should really take Kyoko. Itís whatís best for everyone."
Ryouga was confused by the statement, far from an unknown feeling for him, but he accepted what she said and went to his room to lie down, depression clinging to him once again. Maybe he was never destined to be happy, because as it stood now he had no idea of what to do to make him that way.
The sparrow continued to fly, pacing itself as best as it could. It was almost to the Sea of Japan, and from there it would either have to find a ship to ride on or it could risk everything and try to fly across on its own. The ship would take a while, but if it got tired during its flight it could possibly end up in the water and drown.
Too much was at stake for it to delay. It found a ship that was just setting off in the direction of Japan and rested its wings for several hours. Once it was convinced it could finish the flight under its own power, it headed off to Japan once again.
Time was running out.
The last of Queen Berylís military advisors sat on a makeshift throne in his underground complex. There was practically nothing left since his leader had been lost in the war with the Sailor Senshi. It just wasnít fair. If he had been present, victory would have been assured. But he had been left to guard an unimportant base while the others fought for glory along the frontlines, and he knew why. It wasnít his fighting skills, which were incredible. It wasnít his mind, which was that of a near genius. It wasnít for his taste in clothing, which was impeccable.
"Major Fuck Up!"
He turned to look at one of the two Youmas that had entered the room; specifically the one that had just spoken. He detached a wand from his belt and proceeded to point it at the speaker. A pencil thin beam of orange light blazed forth from the wand and struck the speaker full in the chest. In less then three seconds nothing was left but a pile of ash.
"My name is Major Fuc-Upe! Remember it!" It wasnít his fault he had a name so many others mispronounced, and it certainly was not right for the other generals to make fun of it either, when they were alive anyway.
"Umm…Major Fuc-Upe." The remaining Youma pronounced the name carefully.
"He had important information, sir."
"What sort of information was it?"
"A list of names of the Sailor Senshiís civilian identities. It even had pictures of them without their uniforms and in street clothes."
Fuc-Upe paled. "Youíre kidding."
Fuc-Upe paled some more. "And I destroyed it. Oh, no!" He buried his face in his hands. "Leave me alone in my misery."
"Then you donít want the copies of the documents I have?"
Fuc-Upe unburied his face and looked at the Youma. It was holding out a folder towards him. Fuc-Upeís feet touched the ground a total of three times in forty feet as he bounded over to the Youma. With a quick grab he snatched the folder out of the Youmaís hands and poured over the contents. It appeared legitimate. "How did you get your hands on this?"
The Youma shrugged. "We found it outside, addressed to you. It had a note saying it was from, ĎA guy that really hates Sailor Senshií."
Fuc-Upe shook from excitement. "Summon all Youmas to the central chamber!"
It took a half hour for all of the Youmas to gather. Fuc-Upe stood at the head of the room and began his inspirational speech. "I have summoned you all…" he paused and stared in confusion. "Wait a second! Where are the others? I said I wanted everyone and thereís only twenty of you. Thereís supposed to be over a hundred of you!"
One of the Youmas raised its hand.
"What?" Fuc-Upe asked.
"I know the answer."
Fuc-Upe felt a headache coming on once he realized the Youma was not going to add to the statement without some additional encouragement. "Well, spit it out!"
"Iím not chewing anything, sir."
Fuc-Upe refrained from vaporizing the speaker. "Please tell all of us the answer."
"Oh, right. There are only twenty of us left because you keep killing everyone that messes up your name."
Fuc-Upe looked over the room again. He hadnít realized he wiped out that many. "It doesnít matter," he proclaimed. "Twenty will be more than enough to do what must be done. We have in our possession the real names and photos of the Senshi. Does anyone know what weíre going to do with it?"
A different Youma raised its hand.
"I know, sir. Weíll get a shotgun. Then we visit their homes in the middle of the night and blow them away while they sleep in their beds."
Fuc-Upe stared flatly at him. "What kind of an idiot are you?"
"One that can pronounce your name correctly, sir."
Fuc-Upe shook his head. "Your plan is crude and too simple. It would never work. Now here is what we will do. We will locate a Sailor Senshi in her civilian identity and attack her in broad daylight."
"Thatís a brilliant plan, sir. Much better then mine," the Youma said.
"Of course. Thatís why Iím the leader and youíre a lackey. Now prepare to march!"
The next two days were an ordeal for Perfume. Not only had her vision of loveliness eluded her, but the Hunt Pack was causing her problems again. Only half of the pack returned to meet her at the appointed rendezvous, the floor sheíd secured for the troop at a local hotel. When she suggested they start searching for the missing girls most of the pack that was there just wanted to remain behind, especially Tablet, who wanted to sleep in her new oxygen tent. So Perfume, along with Cabinet and Shelf, went out to search for the others. There were some missing girls, like Julep, who could be relied upon to stay out of trouble. The others she had considerably less faith in.
And it turned out that Shelf was more of a hindrance than a help, since she followed Perfume around like a shadow. If Perfume had not known better, she would have sworn Shelf was coming onto her. But Shelf was always such a stuck-up snob about how all the guys were after her that there could be little doubt Perfume was misinterpreting the signs. If Shelf were interested in women, she would have bragged about bagging them as well.
Several of the lost Amazons were recovered: One was passed out in an alley. A second had been spending time at a dance club. Three were in the middle of a barroom brawl. At least they had wiped up the floor with most of the participants, the trio being seriously drunk at the time, by the time Perfume arrived. The rest of the Amazons went unaccounted for until the next day.
The missing ones turned up slowly over the course of the next day, all looking the worse for wear. Rei Za and Shi Fan were the worst, evidently getting so trashed they ended up in a tattoo parlor at some point during the night. Rei Za was practically in tears wondering how her husband was going to react to the large vine-covered roses that now adorned her left breast.
Perfume decided by the third day the group had caused enough havoc playing tourist and that they needed to act like a unit once more. She gathered all of them outside the hotel, save the still absent Julep, and gave them orders when trouble came to them.
Fuc-Upe examined the picture once again and looked at the girl down below. It was a perfect match. "Thatís definitely Usagi Tsukino down there, a.k.a. Sailor Moon. I knew wandering around randomly would find us one of the blasted Senshi." He turned to his twenty Youmas. "Go down there and kill her!"
"Arenít you coming along, sir?" One of the Youmas asked.
"No. You are all stupid and need someone to lead you."
"Youíre going to lead us from the rear?"
Fuc-Upe let out an exasperated sigh. "Yes. Do you have any more stupid questions?"
"Good. Now get down there. None of those others are Senshi so you should have no problem killing her."
"Yes, sir!" the Youmas shouted and ran out of the darkened alley, all heading for ĎSailor Mooní.
The members of the hunt pack raised their heads as one and saw the twenty Youmas moving in for the attack. Sash, the true object of all their attention, pointed at them. "<Those are Youmas! If you kill one, its supposed to be good luck.>"
"<One can never have too much luck,>" Cabinet said as she drew her massive war hammer. The rest of the Amazons followed suit.
Upon seeing the supposedly harmless women draw out weapons in a manner that suggested they knew how to use them, the charging monsters paused in doubt. That proved to be a tactical error since whatever advantage they might have had in striking quickly was lost. The hunt pack took advantage of the hesitation and rushed forward themselves.
Usagi Tsukino was sipping some iced tea when she heard the news report of Youmas attacking a nearby district. Within moments she contacted the other Senshi and rushed to the scene.
Tuxedo Kamen looked down from the rooftop at the scene of carnage below. He too had heard the news report and rushed to the scene to help out. Now that he arrived he wondered why he had bothered to come. The group of armed women in Chinese clothing were doing a fine job dealing with the Youmas, already half of the creatures were dead and the group of women had not even taken a single casualty. As he watched the fight draw to a close he recognized the twin ponytails of one of the fighters and wondered why Usagi hadnít turned into Sailor Moon and what she was doing fighting in such unusual clothing. His idle thoughts were interrupted when he noticed a Youma that tried to attack her from the blind side.
"Watch out!" he yelled as he leaped down to the attack.
Sash was aware of the attacking Youma that had tried to flank her. Her seeming unawareness was a ploy to lure her opponent closer and have it become overconfident. With a flick of the wrist a sash wrapped itself around the creature. Hot chi was sent down the material, felling the creature. Once she knew it was down, she attempted to locate who it was that had shouted out the warning. It took less than a second to spot the descending Tuxedo Kamen heading towards her.
"<It was a man,>" she sighed. As she moved forward to be next to where he was going to land she tripped over her own feet and fell forward, ending up right where Tuxedo Kamen was going to land.
Tuxedo Kamen landed right on top of Sashís head, driving it into the ground and knocking her out. "Oh, kami! Usagi, Iím sorry! Please wake up!" he delicately cradled the girlís head in his lap and gently tried to revive her.
Fuc-Upe looked down at the scene before him as the last of the Youmas fell to a battle-axe buried in its skull. Things hadnít quite worked out the way it was supposed to. He was going to have to come up with a different plan and find more Youmas as well. But that would be done later. Much later. At the moment he had to get away, to live and plot another day.
With the last of the Youmas dispatched, the exhausted hunt pack turned its attention to their only fallen sister. Mamoruís actions convinced the group he did not belong with the attacking Youmas.
"<Looks like Sash got herself a husband,>" Shi Fan said.
"<Iím not sure you can really call that a defeat,>" Boudoir offered her opinion. "<She was fighting someone else at the time.>"
Perfume settled the disagreement. "<Itís up to Sash whether she wants to rule it a fair fight or not.>"
At last Sash regained consciousness and stared at the masked figure that was holding her.
"Are you all right?" Tuxedo Kamen asked, relieved that ĎUsagií had come around so quickly.
Sash sat up and pulled the mask off of Tuxedo Kamen.
"What are you doing?!" Mamoru shouted. "Do you want everyone to know who I am?"
He suddenly noticed the smile ĎUsagií gave him. Before he could react she lunged forward and kissed him full on the lips. After a seeming eternity of the passionate kiss Sash broke off the lip lock and embraced him.
"Wo de airen," she said as she snuggled against him.
"<Sash has got herself a man. Good looking one, too!>" Foam announced. All the other girls joined in and cheered the newly Ďmarriedí couple on.
It was while Mamoru was still in Sashís embrace that the real Usagi Tsukino appeared, dressed in her Sailor Moon outfit. "M… M… Mamoru, why are you making out with my cousin?"
Mamoru looked in Usagiís direction, eyes widening as he spotted her. He looked to the ĎUsagií that was cuddling him, then back to the one dressed in the sailor fuku that appeared on the verge of tears. At that point he did the only thing one could do when confronted with two Usagis.
He passed out.
Sash looked up from her embrace to see her Ďhusbandí had fainted dead away. It was then she finally noticed Usagi standing nearby. "Hello, cousin." She waved. "Look at the new husband I just got. Isnít he gorgeous?"
Usagi finally recovered enough to understand what Sash was saying. In a flash she was next to her cousin. "Heís not your husband! Heís my boyfriend!" She jerked Mamoru out of Sashís grasp.
Sash stared at her cousin in shock. "Heís not your boyfriend! Heís my husband! He defeated me just a moment ago. Now give him back!" She jerked Mamoru out of Usagiís grasp.
"Heís mine!" This time Usagi only got him halfway since Sash was prepared for the move and held onto an arm.
The group of Amazons gathered themselves together to let out a collective gasp and began speaking amongst themselves.
"<Thereís two Sashes!>"
"<This is exceptionally bad, isnít it?>"
"<I donít think I can take two Sashes.>"
As the hunt pack looked on in dread, new arrivals came in the guise of Sailors Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury, as well as Artemis.
"Uh, oh!" Jupiter murmured.
"It canít be!" Mercury said in disbelief.
Venus just stood there and stared in wide-eyed wonder as Artemis spoke up. "I love Usagi dearly, but I donít think I can take two of her." It was then Sash and Usagi broke out in simultaneous tears while tugging Mamoru in-between them.
Everyone in a two-block radius covered their ears and began to run away.
"<Weíre out of here!>" Perfume ordered.
"<What about Sash?>" Soap asked.
"<Itís her problem, let her deal with it. Besides, my ears are starting to bleed.>"
The hunt pack left without further disagreements, followed by the trio of Senshi and Artemis, who were very much in accord with Perfumeís idea to let the three people deal with the situation themselves. As the hunt pack got out of crying range, Julep finally returned.
"<Youíll never guess who I found.>" she said as she smiled.
Perfume felt dread build. "<Who?>"
Julep smiled even wider and began to relate her tale…
Julep was loathing Japan more and more by the second. The only remotely Ďnaturalí spot she could find that left her relaxed enough to sleep was what the was laughingly referred to as a park, as though such a small area of green could compare to the true feeling of nature. Still it was the best she could get, so she made herself comfortable in the high branches of a tree and slept. Upon waking she headed directly to Nerima. The sooner she could locate Shampoo the sooner she could go home.
The first full dayís search turned up nothing, hardly a surprise considering the sheer number of people in the area. It was worse than trying to look for a needle in a haystack, and once again Julep felt angry at allowing herself to being talked into coming to Japan. But that was in the past and she could no more change that than she could learn to fly.
Several hours into her search on the second day she caught the scent of unknown flora close by. She tracked the pleasant smell to a huge greenhouse. Being unable to speak a word of Japanese she certainly couldnít read the sign so had very little idea of where she actually was. Upon entering the establishment she felt herself smile for the first time since arriving in Japan. A veritable jungle lay inside the glass-enclosed structure. As she was admiring the sights and smells she caught the sound of someone approaching. In a flash she was in a tree, hidden from sight by the foliage. There was little point in having some Japanese person bother her when all she wanted to do was enjoy her surroundings.
A lithe black-haired girl looked around, muttered something in Japanese and left in a clearly irritated mood. Julep was about to disregard the girl and prowl among the branches when she heard the girl speak a word Julep recognized. Julep chose to follow the girl, moving silently from tree to tree until the Japanese girl greeted a white-robed figure with coke-bottle glasses.
Julep had hung around the village long enough to hear about how Mousse would annoy Shampoo from sunrise until sunset, and how he had been rejected every time. Had Julep been closer to Shampoo she would have mentioned that if Mousse was that annoyingly persistent and wouldnít take no for an answer, why hadnít she simply castrated him. That seemed to be an ideal solution to Julep, who would have done that to any male that annoyed her even half as much as the blind one did. But now his annoying tendency had become an asset, because now Julep understood that if he was present then that meant Shampoo had to be close by. Concentrating on the smells throughout the greenhouse, Julep could tell Shampoo was not present, but that elder Cologne was. That was even more confirmation that Shampoo had to be close at hand.
Julep decided it was the right of her pack leader to interrogate the elder as to Shampooís location, and Julep was convinced the elder had to know that. The councilís orders could not be countermanded in this case without grave repercussions for Cologne. She would tell the pack all they needed to know.
As Julep silently left the greenhouse she had to smile to herself. Once again she proved that she was the greatest pathfinder of the Joketsuzoku.
<…and now all we have to do is ask the elder where Xian-Pu is. Our quest is almost complete!>" Julep announced happily.
"<Yes,>" Perfume said quietly, praying all the time that Shampoo was not there, though her heart told her otherwise. She was going to have to try to find Shampoo now. What other choice was there?
Ranma was pacing the floor nervously as he looked at the suit lying on the bed. It was just a few hours until the moment of truth, and he was more worried than ever. In a couple hours he was going to be a married man. And his wife was going to be Akane.
Panic. He was feeling panic. He never got scared. No, that was not entirely true. He did get scared, he just would not ever admit it to anyone, but he was sure as hell scared now. The only time he remembered being as terrified was during the first moments of understanding when Herb locked him in girl form. That memory triggered another thought.
She was still missing, though his mother had told him Shampoo told her something had come up and she might miss the wedding. It took nearly a full hour for his mother to calm him down and keep from looking for her. When he said Shampoo always told him where she was going, Nodoka claimed Shampoo told him nothing because she didnít want him to worry about it. Apparently she was due back while Ranma and Akane were on their honeymoon.
That triggered a new wave of fear. A honeymoon meant s…e…x. Sex. He was as nervous at that idea as Ryouga would be in just saying the word. He knew the mechanics of how it worked, but he never thought of doing that sort of thing with Akane. Oh, there were dreams, vivid ones at times and not all of them were about Akane, but he never consciously thought about it. What if he wasnít very good at it? It wasnít like he had any experience. Of course he was a martial artist and could learn as time went on, but he wanted to do it right the first time. It took him a while to realize the word he was looking for was satisfying. He wanted to make sure he satisfied her.
He paused in his thoughts about that. Was he ready for that step? Well, he was getting married, so wouldnít the thought be moot? He was going to have to do it. It was part of his duties as a husband.
A feeling of lightheadedness overcame him. He had never seriously considered doing that sort of thing and he was only just now thinking about it on the eve of his wedding. He wasnít ready for the whole thing. Not at all. He had to call it off.
He rushed out of the room and headed to Akaneís bedroom. She was still there with her sisters and his mother. He rushed into the room only to see…
Akane in her wedding dress. He suddenly found his eyes riveted to her form, the faint hint of curves outlined by white silk, her beautiful face, the scene of total perfection before him. How long he stood there staring at her he could not say. Gradually he became aware that his mother was saying something to him.
"What was that, Mom?"
"I said itís bad luck to see the bride in her gown before the wedding," she said with an amused smile. "But I think in this case it helps more than it hurts. Do you like it?"
Ranma was still in shock as he gazed at Akaneís face. Her own eyes were pointed downward, as though she was afraid of what he was going to say. For the first time since he had met her he came to one startling revelation.
"Iím glad you feel that way," Nodoka said.
"What way?" Ranma asked, confused. And why was Akane blushing while Nabiki smirked at him?
"You said she was beautiful."
"Oh." He said that out loud? It had just been a thought, one he hadnít planned on mentioning, but oddly he did not feel embarrassed by saying it verbally. He recovered as best as he could and turned to go. "I still have to get ready. Iíll see you later."
He returned to his room and began to prepare himself. Maybe the wedding wasnít such a mistake after all.
Nodoka looked over the guests in the chapel once more. It was a somewhat odd collection, to be sure, but they seemed well behaved for the most part. Akane was circulating among them at the last minute, and Ďexplainingí the situation to them. Since Shampooís true identity still had to be kept a secret, it was explained that due to some trouble back at his home, the ĎRanmaí from China was now formally adopted and now considered a Saotome. Of course there was going to be confusion over the presence of two Ranma Saotomes, but some confusion was a small price to pay for Nodokaís son to go through life with his true name.
It was to be a western style ceremony. Akaneís bridesmaids were her high school friends and sisters, all of which were present. Unfortunately for Ranma there were few men that were going to be on his side of altar. Ryouga reluctantly agreed to it, as did Gosunkugi, and a handful of others. But aside from Ryouga none of them were what Ranma could call more than casual acquaintances. And much to Nodokaís relief Shampoo had not made an appearance yet. Another hour and it would not matter. Akane and Ranma would be married and it would all be over.
Akane was greeting everyone as pleasantly as she could, considering how nervous she was. Ranma had called her beautiful, and meant it. Oh, how that made her heart soar. As scared as she was, she could not wait for the wedding to begin. Still, in order to placate her fears she decided to talk to her friends in the hopes of calming her nerves, or at least to take her mind off of things.
She saw Minami scowling off to the side, away from the others. Concerned, she approached the ghost sweeper. "Whatís wrong?"
Minami continued scowling. "That dork, Gosunkugi, asked Sayuri here instead of me." She turned to scowl at his back. Almost in response to the stare Gosunkugi seemed to shiver.
"I thought you didnít like him that way."
"I donít!" Minami said too quickly and with too much force.
Akane shrugged and moved on after calming Minami down for a bit. She had other things to worry about. All of the people present appeared relaxed and not likely to pick fights with one another or disrupt the upcoming wedding. Ai was present, dressed in a revealing blue gown that made Akane feel the slightest bit of jealousy. She really was beautiful. The cheerleader captain was reminding Kyoko that her role as a bridesmaid was not to jump and cheer for Akane. Ukyou was dressed in a suit and excused herself, choosing to go in back to talk to Ranma for a moment.
The others of the bridal party were gathered in a large group. Everyone was present and would be ready to go when the time was right. The only one Akane missed was Tarou, but even she accepted that inviting him would be a mistake, and that was thanks to Nabiki. Her older sister had been adamant about Akane not informing him, saying there was too much of a chance of him and Ranma fighting one another. Akane thought Tarou would control himself if she asked, but Nabiki made certain Akane was unwilling to take the chance. It would simply be inviting disaster.
The one person that was absent that Akane did not miss was Shampoo. Of all the people that could possibly disrupt the wedding, Akane was certain Shampoo was the one that would be first in line. But rather instead the purple-haired girl had disappeared after the wedding declaration and had not been seen since. Maybe the Amazon was willing to let go of Ranma and allow him to have a happy marriage to her. If so that was a greater show of character than Akane thought Shampoo would make. Perhaps she misjudged the Amazon slightly.
On the other hand perhaps it would be a good idea to patrol the area around the chapel just once. Just in case she was hiding in the shrubs or something. Akane couldnít remain outside long. Just a few minutes and then she would have to make her final preparations for the actual wedding. Still, it was better safe than sorry.
Kensuki ducked under the chair thrown in his direction.
"WHY DIDNíT SOMEONE TELL ME ABOUT THIS SOONER?!!!" Tarou bellowed.
"I just found out about it," Kensuki said as he cowered in a corner. "Someone was keeping this very secret. If Sayuri hadnít been going on about the dress she just got for it even I wouldnít have discovered the wedding. I guess everyone that got an invitation was supposed to keep quiet about it."
Blast, but Tarouís plan had backfired miserably. Instead of a dead fem-boy there was now an upcoming wedding, and he had been kept out of the information loop. He knew who wanted it that way, but she could be dealt with later. Rather than continuing to yell and waste time he walked out of the building and headed to the nearest chapel. Kensuki had not been able to find out which one it was, but Tarou would find it. He had something very important to announce to the world before Akane could make the greatest mistake of her life, and woe to anyone that tried to disagree with his declaration.
Hell was coming to a wedding, and it was angry.
"WHY WAS I NOT INFORMED OF THIS SOONER?!!" Kunou raged at Sasuke.
"I just heard Mistress Kodachi talking with Master Mousse about it. She seems distraught over his happiness about it."
"She should be. How can a beautiful tigress such as Akane Tendo be forced to marry that foul Saotome and everyone not feel as though something was amiss? Nay! Nay! Nay! A thousand times nay! I will not allow this travesty to occur. Prepare my special bokken. I will deal with this matter myself!"
The sparrow parted through some clouds. It was in Japan now. All it had to do was find Nerima, and its targets.
Mousse was happily browsing through the greenhouse, humming away to himself. Shampoo was at last going to be free of Saotomeís influence. Now he had a chance at true happiness with the accursed Ranma out of his way. Aside from the day Shampoo had declared her love for him, it was the happiest day of his life. The only depressing thing was Kodachiís reaction to the whole thing. She became depressed in direct proportion to Mousseís happiness. Yes, he knew it and tried to placate her, but he was simply so gleeful he could not maintain the facade for long. His Black Rose would understand in time.
He continued down a path when he heard a ringing from the door. A customer. He went to greet them with a wide smile on his face and stopped, his joy fleeing in an instant. In the entryway were close to twenty Amazons, all armed and appeared very pissed.
"<Get the elder, fool!>" Perfume ordered.
Mousse did not know exactly what to make of the situation. When he hesitated another Amazon he recognized moved forward, warhammer in hand. "<She gave you an order, Mu-Tse. I suggest you obey it. We have orders from the council.>"
"<What orders?>" Perhaps they were going to take the dried piece of mackerel back home. That would be cause for celebration as well.
"<None of your business,>" Perfume said abruptly.
Mousse mentally called Perfume a lot of things that would have gotten him attacked on the spot and decided to follow the Ďsuggestion.í Within moments he returned with Cologne.
The elder looked over the group with a careful eye. Immediately she knew the situation was grim. "<What brings you to Japan, and with so many of our finest young warriors?>"
"<We have a direct order from the council to bring back Xian-Pu. It has been decided she has been gone from home too long and must come back to answer a few questions. We have the written order if you wish to see it.>"
Cologne shook her head. There was no need. "<I canít say I know where she is right now. Sorry I canít be of help.>"
"<I understand,>" Perfume said, and bowed. She doubted Cologne would overrule the order. She could but it would get her in deep trouble with the council and she could very conceivably lose her position as matriarch if she did such a thing without a very good reason. And trying to save a law-breaking Shampoo was not going to fly with that lot.
"<Mu-Tse would know!>" Julep said as she grabbed him by the collar. "<Wherever he is, Xian-Pu is nearby. Speak, fool! Tell us where she is!>"
Mousse batted her hand away from his robe. "<Unhand me, you smelly creature! I havenít got the slightest idea where she is, not that I would tell you anything.>"
Julep was not to be denied as a set of catís claws were out in a flash. Mousse did the same.
"<They say youíre quick. Now letís see how fast you really are!>" Julep said with a smile
"<Itíll be the last thing you see!>" Mousse shouted back and prepared to attack.
"<ENOUGH!!!>" Cologne shouted. "<You did not come all the way to Japan to fight with one another!>"
"Mousse!" Kodachi saw the threatening posture Julep had with her beloved and rushed to his side. "Who are these ruffians?"
"We is Amazons from China," Soap announced in Japanese. "We not ruffians. We is warriors. Is you warrior too? You move well."
"I am the mistress of martial arts gymnastics," she announced in her haughtiest voice. "The Black Rose herself, Kodachi Kunou. OHHOHOHOHO!!!"
The others covered their ears until the laugh passed.
"Now. Why are you in my store, bothering my beloved?"
Many of the Amazons looked in disbelief at the statement. Mousse had switched to another lover. That did not seem possible.
"Weíre looking for a purple-haired Amazon named Shampoo," Shi Fan said in flawless Japanese. "We have orders to take her back home. You donít know where she is, by chance?"
Mousse looked panicked at Kodachi and willed her to remain silent. It failed
"Why, of course I know where she is. She is attending the wedding ceremony of Akane Tendo and Ranma Saotome. I can show you where it is, if you like."
All of the Amazons, save Perfume, perked up at that. What luck that they had in discovering Shampooís location so quickly. At the same time Perfume silently cursed all the gods of luck. How could Shampoo still be in Japan? Did she not fear the death that was coming for her?
"Has Silk been here?" asked Perfume of Cologne as the dread continued to build.
"I havenít seen her. Was she supposed to come by?" Cologne answered.
Perfume cursed Silk now. What had the woman been doing in the time Perfume had last seen her? Perfume had been certain Silk was going to make it to Japan with plenty of time. Now it appeared that assumption might cost Shampoo her life.
Foam approached Perfume. "<Perfume, Soap and I wish to be allowed the first to combat Xian-Pu should she prove reluctant to obey the orders.>"
Soap seconded Foamís plea. "<It would be a true test of our rediscovered double-team abilities should she resist.>"
Perfume looked the duo over. Soapís choice of weapon was steel combat vambraces she wore on her arms. Foam used steel-toed boots as her preferred attack. Neither one was as fatal as a sword, and if Shampoo was still in Nerima, Perfume still wanted to take her alive.
"<Very well,> Perfume assented. "<But she will be taken alive should she resist. Death is not an option.>"
With that as permission the entire group began preparing weapons in anticipation for another fight. Tablet observed Cabinet undoing a wrap that bound a nasty arm wound she had received at the claws of one of the Youmas. As the material was removed Cabinet pulled out a small tube and began squeezing its contents on the injury.
"<What are you doing? That could get infected,>" Tablet warned.
"<We donít have time for the wound to heal, and the wrap I have on it wonít keep it from bleeding if a end up fighting. So Iím using Super Glue to keep from it from opening up and bleeding again.>"
Tablet shook her head. "<Youíre crazy, Cab.>"
Cabinet smiled in response. "<But I sure know how to have a good time.>"
While the Amazons talked among themselves, Mousse took Kodachi away from the group and confronted her in quiet tones so that none of others could hear. "What do you think youíre doing?" he hissed.
"Iím merely helping some of your people on their mission," she answered innocently.
"Theyíre here to take her back to China. Once they do that, or discover her curse, they are going to kill her."
Kodachi gave a wide-eyed look of surprise to Mousse. "I had forgotten. Please believe me. As much as I despise her, I donít want to see her dead." Of course she was lying. The newly arrived Amazons represented the perfect way of resolving the Shampoo matter without Kodachi getting her hands dirty, and it wasnít as though Shampoo hadnít broken the law. She had and should now pay for those crimes. All Kodachi had to do was keep a close eye on Mousse and make sure he didnít try to get himself killed attempting some kind of foolish rescue, then he would be hers.
Her concern was well founded, as Mousse gained a desperate look in his eye. "I have to do something."
"Against all of them?" Kodachi asked incredulously. "Youíll get yourself killed and theyíll still capture Shampoo. Thereís nothing you can do, beloved."
"I refuse to accept that," Mousse said. "I will find a way."
"Miss Kunou," Shi Fan said, gaining the Black Roseís attention. "Which way is it to this wedding?"
She turned back and whispered to Mousse. "I must tell them the truth. If they suspect me of interfering and giving them false information, they will attack me. You donít want to see me dead, do you?"
"Of course not!" Mousse practically shouted, then quieted down. "But I wonít let them hurt Shampoo."
Things were not going exactly as Kodachi had hoped, so it was time to try a new tactic. "Come with me as I lead them to the wedding. Together we will see to it they do not do anything to Shampoo, unless we have no choice. I will not allow you to throw your life away for her." Although that was exactly what would happen. She was going to have to prevent him from making any mistakes that might prove fatal to him, and keeping him close at hand was the only way to ensure that.
Kodachi turned to the Amazons. "I shall personally lead you to them." Perfume nodded her head as Kodachi moved to lead the Amazons to the wedding.
"I shall go along as well," Cologne announced, and started hopping along with the group. There were many things that had gone wrong, no thanks to the damnable Black Rose. The elderís hands were effectively tied under these conditions. If she tried to do anything in defiance of the council she would end up not only possibly damaging her own reputation and losing her position in the village hierarchy, but risked shaming her family if the truth about her foreknowledge of Shampooís curse came to light. Cologne was going to have to look for an opportunity to help Shampoo surreptitiously, and if no such opportunity was to be had, an alternative solution might have to be found.
Silk could not believe how rotten one human beingís luck could be. The aptly named ĎThe Worthless Piece of Shití had at last found Japan just that morning. Silk had not waited for the gangplank to be lowered; she simply jumped into the water and climbed up the dock, heading straight for Nerima. It had taken her so long to get to Japan she was certain Perfume would already have made it there and grabbed Shampoo, or sent her running. Still Silk prayed that perhaps something had delayed the hunt pack long enough for her to warn Shampoo. Time was running out.
"Itís almost zero hour, Ranchan." Ukyou had remained with Ranma until the last minute, trying to calm him down. She had some moderate success in that he had not passed out or bolted in terror. "I have to get going. Your Ďbest womaní is supposed to wait with the others."
"Thanks for helping out, Ucchan," Ranma said as he tried to maintain a cool demeanor, failing miserably. "I guess Iím as ready as Iím going to be."
"Sorry you didnít take me up on my offer about bombing the place?" Ukyou asked.
Ranma gave her a smile. "Almost. I think outside of training for the neko-ken, this is the scariest thing in my life."
"I can imagine," she said. "Good luck." And with that she exited, leaving Ranma alone with his thoughts. Of all the troubled things that went through his mind, one came to the forefront. Why couldnít Shampoo be there? It wasnít until the day before the wedding he learned how much he relied on her. If she had been there, things would have been so much easier to deal with, but when he needed her the most she had disappeared. If it werenít for Ukyou, he probably would have gone crazy. Why had the Amazon abandoned him when he needed her?
He couldnít worry about that. There were plenty of other things to worry about. Such as the wedding starting soon and having to get out there and say his vows. He was about to head towards the ceremony when there was a knock on the window. Turning to the source of the disturbance he saw Shampoo standing there on the other side of the glass, hand poised to knock again if necessary. A surge of relief passed through him as he quickly opened the window to allow her inside.
"Shampoo! You donít know how glad I am to see you. Where have you been? Iíve been worried sick about you." It was then he noticed her decidedly intense glare.
Shampoo kept a grim demeanor, despite his words. "I need to talk to you. Alone."
Ranma looked around the room. "We are alone."
"I mean where no one can interrupt us," she explained. "Follow me." Motioning with her hand she indicated he should go outside with her.
He looked in the direction of the chapel. "Shampoo, I canít. I gotta get out there and get…" he hesitated on the last word. "…married."
Her eyes met his. "If I mean anything to you, follow me." She simply turned away and began to walk off, not bothering to look behind her.
Ranma paused at the window as he watched her walk off. He had to go out and meet the others and get married. He did not have the time to follow some crazy Amazon that didnít seem to care about the fact he was about to get married. Let her leave. She hadnít been concerned enough to be there for him when he needed her, so why should he be late for his own wedding because of some passing whim Shampoo had come up with? That was right. He would neglect her. Let her know what it felt like to be totally ignored.
Of course he was thinking all of those things while following her. Apparently his heart knew what to do even if his head didnít.
He watched her closely as they walked further away from the chapel. He noticed she was wearing the original outfit they had met in at Jusenkyou; the one she had went to great lengths to repair after her fight with Mousse. As he now recalled she had seemed to avoid wearing it as much as she could, almost as though it had functioned as a sort of reminder of when she had received her curse, yet she had gone to great lengths to fix it. Why was she wearing it now? She should have been in something nice so she could be part of his retinue at the wedding, unless it was some weird way of telling him she didnít want to be in it.
After they had traveled a good distance away from the chapel Shampoo at last came to a halt and turned towards Ranma. "I have something I have to tell you."
"Well it had better be good. Iím supposed to be getting married right now." Ranma watched her patiently, waiting for her to say something.
Shampoo remained silent, staring at Ranma. She had planned the speech out and said it a thousand times before coming to the chapel and telling Ranma the truth, but now she suddenly discovered she had forgotten everything. There was not a single word she could think of. At the moment of truth she had panicked and lost her nerve.
She was running out of time.
"Where is he?!" Akane said irritably. Ranma was late for his own wedding. Typical. He would probably be late for his own funeral, which would be arriving sooner than anyone would suspect if he didnít show up promptly.
"Ranchan was just finishing up when I left him. Donít worry. You just get out there and heíll be on his way," Ukyou reassured Akane and everyone else present.
Akane reluctantly agreed. The music began and the members of the wedding party made their way up to the altar in order. Aside from Ranmaís absence everything went well. There were no interruptions or delays and the guests looked on in anticipation.
When it was Ranmaís turn to head up the aisle no one came. Akane looked on, waiting. Still nothing. It took everything she had not to flare up in anger. Where the hell was he?
The guests became restless as the music played on. Still no Ranma.
"Iím going to kill him," Akane muttered under her breath. Why did Ranma have to foul up the most important day of both their lives? He had to show up. He just had to. She could see Ranmaís father and others rushing around in back, looking nervously to one another as they searched the back. From where she was, Akane could tell that they had not found Ranma.
It was then the doors to the chapel burst open. Akane felt relief as her head spun to see that the newcomer was none other than…
"I will never allow the beauteous Akane Tendo to fall into the clutches of that foul demon, Saotome! Where is he so that I may smite him?!"
Akane stared at him in disbelief. She was so sure it was going to be Ranma. Now someone had come along and disrupted the wedding, just as she figured. Then she saw someone move up behind Kunou. All she could make out was that it was someone that was male and had black hair. It must have been him.
"Out of the way, you bokken wielding twit!" Kunou was stomped into the ground and knocked unconscious by the second figure that had come up behind him, and now gathered everyoneís attention.
"Listen to me, world! Let it be known that I, Pantyhose Tarou, now declare my love for Akane Tendo! My love for her is so great I no longer fear saying my name! For it is nothing compared with the idea of losing the woman I love!"
"I donít believe it!" Akane mumbled as her face began to twitch. She hiked up the skirt on her dress so that it didnít drag on the ground and walked towards Tarou.
He held his arms out. It was going just like he had planned it. He had declared his love for her with to the world with no reservations, overcoming the stigma of his name, and she was heading right towards him, ready to fall in his arms. Of course she did not look all that happy as she approached him. In fact she appeared downright angry. Nonetheless he kept smiling as she advanced towards him. She was going to fall into his embrace. She was almost on him, and then she…
…passed him as though he was not even there and headed past him and out the doors. Things had not gone quite the way he wanted. After recovering from his shock he headed outside and followed her rapidly moving form.
Akane had gone outside with one purpose in mind: FIND RANMA. The others had been unable to locate him inside, which meant he must have been outside. And if that were the case she would find him, even if it meant tracking him to the ends of the earth.
Shampoo looked fearfully at the man before her. Why couldnít she remember the words? Why now?
"Well, what is it you wanted to say?" Ranma asked as he tapped his foot impatiently.
Silence was the only response. To Ranma it appeared Shampoo wanted to say something, but there was nothing preventing her from continuing.
"Look, if you donít have anything to say Iím going to head back. The ceremony has probably started already and Akaneís going to kill me if Iím late to my own wedding." He waited for a response, but still Shampoo said nothing. As much as it bothered him he gave up on the enigmatic Amazon and made to go back to the chapel.
"NO!!!" She would not let him just walk quietly away. Not now. She grabbed his hand and jerked him around. Once he was facing her she fell to her knees before him. Ranma just looked at her, partially in shock, and partially just because he was confused at her behavior. Shampoo had certainly acted strangely in the past, but now she had become worse than ever.
"What is it?" he asked softly, despite his irritation.
"I have something to tell you. I should have told you before, but I feared what you would say. Now I have run out of time and must tell you everything." She paused and took a deep breath.
"I love you, Ranma Saotome.
"I have for a very long time now. I think since the play when you asked me to help you. When it was me you asked to kiss you, I think that was when I understand it. This did no happen right away. I not love you at first, but as time passed and we spend more and more time together I learn what you like. You is not like any other man. You not just handsome and strong, but brave and nice, especially to me. You act just like friend and no try to make out or sleep with me like other boys do. You like me for who I am, not what I look like. I fall in love with you slowly over time, but I do love you.
"I could no tell you before because I no think you feel same way about me, and if I tell you and you donít then I have to leave and be all alone. It not like you show interest in me or challenge me to a fight, but you had your promise and I not know if that why you not do anything. I not tell you because I was afraid. I know I should be tough strong Amazon warrior that no afraid of anything, but I was. But now I must say something. I can no go on like this and no let you go without telling you how I feel. You have to know, no matter what you mother might do. I try to tell you several times, but something always came up or you got me angry at you or you act funny and make me afraid of what you might say if you find out I love you.
"I donít have anything to offer you. No dojo. No family. No money. No name. Just the sword on my back.
Ranma looked closely at the girl prostrated before him, head bowed to the ground. A thousand odd behaviors she had displayed over the months all made sense now. The reason she got angry with him for trying to force her to make peace with Ukyou, and the subsequent affection towards him when he said he liked Shampoo more. Her glomping of him right before the second encounter with Tarou and Perfume when he flirted with her. Risking her life to rescue him from Herb and the cold shoulder immediately afterwards, only to be followed by the Amazon practically throwing herself at him. The rage from when he groped Akari. The anger she and Akane had for one another, and hundreds of other little things. There was one simple reason for them all.
She was in love with him.
"Sh… Shampoo, I…" he stopped there. What was he going to say? What was there to say? How did he feel about her? What did he really feel about her?
"There you are!"
Ranma turned to see Akane, in her wedding gown, rushing to where he and Shampoo were. Shampoo looked up at the interruption and was even less pleased. Akane had no right to ruin her moment.
"I should have known you were behind this!" Akane directed her anger at the true culprit, not Ranma for a change, but Shampoo. "Youíre trying to ruin my marriage! Damn you! Why couldnít you have butted out of this?! Why did you have to try to ruin everything?! Another hour and Ranma and I would have been married! I hate you!"
Shampoo looked just as angry and got up into a fighting stance. Ranma tried to interject himself between the two and make some kind of peace when another voice spoke up.
"Why am I not surprised the Fem-boy canít keep his hands off of a woman, even on his wedding day? And people say Iím slime, not to my face, of course."
Ranma felt his anger grow at Tarouís presence. "This doesnít concern you. Get the hell out of here!"
"Real faithful guy there, Akane," Tarou said as he turned his attention to his love. "I always told you he couldnít be trusted. Just let these two run off together. He doesnít deserve you. Let him leave with the slut."
"DONíT CALL HER THAT!!!" Ranma ran forward took a swing at Tarou, only to have the Chinese boy duck it and return with a kick that connected to Ranmaís stomach.
"I donít have to!" The rest was cut off as Ranma, unaffected by the kick, struck back with a punch to the jaw and a kick to the head. Tarou backed away to shake off the effect of the blows, concerned. That kick should have at least made Ranma back away for a second, but it had not even slowed him down.
Tarou evaded the next two punches and had an elbow of his own blocked, allowing Ranma to connect with a front kick to the chest. Tarou was not at all pleased with the way things were going. Ranma was not fighting the way he usually did. Usually it was a controlled effort when he allowed his opponent to be the aggressor, but now he was the attacker.
Tarou watched closely as he at last connected with a knuckle strike to his opponentís head. However, when Ranmaís head snapped back he unleashed a series of attacks that drove Tarou back once again. Now Tarou was getting concerned. Ranma was shrugging off decent strikes as though they were less than nothing and attacking far more viciously than Tarou had ever seen before.
Tarou saved his usual jibes and concentrated on the fight, going defensive while trying to find a hole in Ranmaís offense to hit through. There wasnít much to find with the speed of the attacks coming as fast and as viciously as they were. Tarou slipped a blow into Ranmaís ribs, only to be struck twice by punches that were even harder than what he had connected with, and unlike Ranma he was slightly affected by them. It didnít make any sense. He had thought he was faster than Ranma, or had been, but Ranma was the quicker fighter now, and worse, he was winning, driving both of them away from the other two girls and out of sight of them.
At last Ranma broke the silence between the two. "I didnít know she loved me!"
There was an edge to his voice Tarou had never heard before. "What are you talking about?!"
"Honest! Okay, I think maybe I suspected it, but every time I did I rejected the thought!" Ranma said as Tarou blocked another blow. "I didnít need the hassle!"
"I donít give a damn about your stupid problems, Fem-boy!"
Ranma continued on, ignoring what Tarou was saying as he continued to attack. "So what if I was in denial?! So maybe I should have known! I didnít lead her on! I know I didnít!"
"I told yo— WUFF!" Ranma connected with a blow to Tarouís midsection, winding him.
"It was all her stupid fault for falling for me! I never said I loved her or wanted her or nothing like that! I never took advantage of her! I didnít need her to love me!"
Tarou recovered his wind and became enraged. Ranma wasnít even paying any attention to him. He was simply going on about his problems in the middle of a fight, as though Tarou did not exist. He allowed his anger to build and came after Ranma with an offensive flurry. "Pay attention to me when we fight, you fucking hermaphrodite!"
Ranma blocked the majority of the blows, and once Tarou exhausted his attack, retaliated.
"I didnít want her to love me! Why is she in love with me?! Why?! I donít know how to deal with her!" During Ranmaís entire speech he continued attacking, landing more and more blows upon Tarou.
Tarou began to panic. This was a Ranma he had never suspected existed. Tarou had truly believed that in all of their fights Ranma had been fighting with all of his abilities, but he hadnít. Ranma had been holding back in each of their fights. Not a lot, perhaps, but enough to make a difference. A noticeable difference. Ranma was faster than before and his blows landed with more force. Tarou was suffering a tremendous beating and what blows he landed on Ranma were being shrugged off. As hard as Tarou was trying, there was no way he was going to win the fight.
At least as a human.
He went for the canteen of water at his belt and poured it over his head. Now he could handle the Fem-boy easily. There was no way he could beat Tarou in his animal form.
As Ranma and Tarou began to fight Akane and Shampoo squared off with one another. Equal looks of anger were exchanged between the two.
"I knew we never should have trusted you!" Akane screamed. "Youíre were always a little viper just waiting to stab me in the back!"
"I donít care about you!" Shampoo shot venomously back. "I only want Ranma! Leave him to me. We belong together!"
"The hell you do!" Akane shot back. "Heís mine. I love him and he loves me and we are going to get married, today! Thereís nothing you can do to prevent it!"
"Heís not yours, heís mine! He doesnít love you! Heís just marrying you because of family obligation and his motherís making him do it."
"He does love me!" Akane protested. "He called me beautiful today when I was getting ready for the wedding!"
Shampoo smirked at her. "Has he ever told you he loves you?"
Akane felt a little scared when she brought that up. Ranma never had said he loved her. But Akane wasnít one to remain on the defensive for long. "No more times than heís told you he loves you."
Shampoo recoiled a bit at that, her anger rising. "He does love me! He just canít say it because of his stupid promise to be married to you!"
"When has Ranma not spoken his mind?" Akane asked, realizing she was getting the upper hand.
Shampooís face began to redden further in anger. "He didnít know I was in love with him! Now he does and will love me back!"
"Oh, please! Heís not that stupid. If he loved you he would have said something by now."
"And you think that mean he loves you? You hit him all the time. You think he enjoys that or that he calls you names because he likes you?"
Akane fell back on the defensive again. "I donít hit him much anymore," she said quietly.
"Oh, and that really makes things a lot better now, is that it? ĎI donít beat on him as much as I used toí." she said, trying to imitate Akaneís voice.
Akane felt her anger build at the Amazon. It wasnít like that. Ranma wouldnít let himself be hit if he didnít feel he deserved it.
If he deserved it.
Akane at last fully understood the ramifications of what she had thought. She casually pulled a hammer out and raised it above her head. Shampoo went back into a defensive stance at the expected attack, but was surprised when Akane shifted her grip on it and held it with one hand on the handle and the other on the head. She then brought it down over her knee, smashing it into two and rendering it all but useless. "Iíll never hit Ranma again, no matter what!"
"What that supposed to prove?" Shampoo snapped. "You have many more of those!"
"Itís symbolic, you bimbo!"
"I not a bimbo, you violent, ugly bitch!"
Akane felt her anger really skyrocket. "You donít deserve Ranma! Just go away and find some other guy whoíll actually like you!"
"I CANíT!!!" Shampoo shouted out, the helpless feeling she kept locked up finally being released. "I no longer have a people! I have no family! I have no friends! I have nothing except Ranma! Heís all I have! Without him thereís nothing left! I wonít let him go! Not to you, not to anyone!"
Akane balled up a fist. "You want a fight then?"
"You got it!" Shampoo said. "Weíll prove who the better woman is once and for all!"
Akane tore off the bottom of her wedding dress and then the long sleeves, freeing her arms and legs so she could fight effectively. "Youíve had this coming for a long time!"
Shampoo balled her own fist up. "The only reason I havenít beaten you up before is because of what you mean to Kasumi. Well that not going to save you this time!"
The fight began.
Tarou tried punching then stomping on Ranma, but he was too fast and Tarou wasnít coming close. But the handful of blows Ranma had landed meant nothing to the transformed boy. And the best thing was Ranma had quit droning on about his problems. Soon the Fem-boy was going to get tired, then he would pay.
"It screws up everything! It was all planned out for me, and now itís all messed up!"
Tarou bellowed in rage at Ranma. He was beginning to ramble again. Tarou paid the words no mind as he stomped all around, trying to hit Ranma. He managed a glancing blow that sent Ranma several feet away. Slowly the transformed boy advanced on Ranma. A couple more blows and it would all be over.
"There were just some things everyone told me I had to do so I did them!"
Tarou would have yelled at Ranma to be silent, but his vocal cords no longer worked that way. And why was Ranma starting to glow black? His chi attack, the moko takabisha, was blue.
"I donít even know how I really feel about her or Akane!" The blackness grew. "I didnít want to have to figure it out! Now I got two girls that love me and I donít know what to do! I DONíT KNOW WHAT TO DO!!!"
Tarou looked on in concern. The ball of blackness was really getting big. He rushed forward to get to Ranma before the attack was unleashed.
"SHI SHI HOUKOUDAN!!!"
He was too late.
Tarou looked on in surprise as the roaring lion bullet came at his head. Since when could Ranma use Ryougaís attack? Tarou was too close to avoid it, so he braced for the ball of pure chi energy as it struck him full in the face, hurting him.
Stunned and reeling, he stayed upright and shook off the worst of the effect of the blast. It had hurt, but he was still standing. As he blinked his eyes to clear it of the spots, a kick connected right between the legs of the very male cursed form Tarou had. More spots appeared as an intense surge of pain hit Tarou once again. There was no respite as Ranma leaped onto his snout and unloaded the amaguriken right between Tarouís eyes, sending waves of pain directly to his brain. He barely had enough to swat at Ranma, connecting lightly once again, and forced him to leave his perch and the assault.
"I canít punch my way out of this! I ainít any good at this stuff!" Ranma shouted, continuing to vent his frustrations at Tarou. He maneuvered behind the bull and began an assault into the backs of Tarouís knees. Tarou tried to lash out with his eel tail, but Ranma managed to snare it before it could strike and tied it into a knot, causing further pain in Tarou. The Chinese youth gave something more akin to a squeal due to the pain still shouting up from his groin. He shut out the agony and spun around, trying to stomp Ranma who still was too quick and darted out of the way.
"I donít want to hurt anyone, so how do I get out of it without hurting someone?! I got no idea of what to do!" A savage kick to Tarouís jaw connected, but this time Tarou landed a solid blow on Ranma, ripping a good portion of the tuxedo he was fighting in. The follow up attack failed as Ranma dodged once more, though more slowly than before. He was tiring out.
As experienced a warrior as Shampoo was, she was still fully capable of making a mistake, which was what she did regarding her fight with Akane. The first was the belief that Akane, who had improved a little bit under Ranmaís guidance, was not capable of doing anything other than what Shampoo would consider clumsy attacks. That, in addition to the belief she was fighting on the side of justice and righteousness, made her believe she was going to win easily over Ďthe evil, ugly girl that was going to take Ranma awayí. Not realizing how extensively the youngest Tendo had been training under Tarou, she made a great underestimation of Akaneís fighting skills. So when Akane lunged forward in a near deadly attack for Shampooís throat the Amazon was caught off-guard. She recovered enough to deflect most of the attack, but still took a double knuckle strike in her collarbone, nearly breaking it.
Akane was not one to give the advantage easily, and twisted her hand for a chop in the side of Shampooís neck. The blow hit cleanly, and only a kick of Shampooís own drove Akane back and kept her from continuing to press the advantage.
"Címon, Shampoo! Youíre the one that wanted this! Donít you want to beat up the weak Japanese girl, like youíve always told me I am?!" Akane lunged forward with a knee that Shampoo blocked, but was forced to back up from the sheer force of the blow. Tarouís intense workouts had paid off for Akane, giving her strength that now at least rivaled Shampooís, if not surpassing it slightly.
That left Shampoo with a speed advantage, made more so now since Akane had added a bit of mass to her. The next several attacks were avoided as Shampoo retreated away from the blows until she recovered her wind. Now that she had a better idea of what to expect from Akane she took the fight as seriously as any other conflict.
"You should have pressed the advantage when you had the chance." Shampoo began to press an attack of her own, slowly forcing Akane into a defensive posture. Several light blows connected before Shampoo saw an opening and placed a sidekick into Akaneís right flank.
Much to Shampooís amazement, Akane grunted a little and snared the foot, the unexpected reaction caught Shampoo off balance, allowing Akane to throw Shampoo to the ground while maintaining her hold on the foot. With Shampoo on the ground Akane began to twist the ankle.
"Iím not so weak now, am I? Training with Tarou may not have toughened me up as much as the Bakusai Tenketsu would, but I can take some punishment! You and your damn Amazon ĎIím better than everyone elseí arrogance! Letís see you get out of this!"
Shampoo did so with a kick to Akaneís face, forcing her to relinquish the hold and retreat.
"How that?" Shampoo almost smirked.
Akane was about to retort when she felt the taste of blood in her mouth. She felt inside with her tongue and realized when the kick hit her head her mouth snapped down on part of her lip, causing the blood to flow freely. "Pretty good," Akane said calmly, then attacked once more.
The fight continued, each opponent giving the other respect. The pacing started out slowly, but picked up as it continued. Each one landed a number of blows on the other, ripping their clothing and assuring a variety of black and blue marks over a large portion of their anatomies. Shampoo struck Akane squarely in the back of her head with a palm thrust, causing Akane to feel slightly light-headed. A second blow struck in the lower abdomen, shooting pain through her chest. Even as Shampoo backed off from that attack Akane lashed out with her foot, catching Shampoo squarely on the knee. Almost immediately the Amazon began to limp.
"This wasnít the way I expected my wedding day to turn out," Akane said as she caught for breath, each gasp a painful spike in her side.
"Like you deserve one with Ranma!" Shampoo snapped back.
"And what kind of a life can he expect with you!" Akane threw a fist at Shampoo, which she ducked by rolling out of the way, making certain she did not stay on her wounded leg for long. "All you have is a curse and a bunch of people trying to kill you. Do you want Ranma to live a life on the run?"
Shampoo became defensive at the accusation. "We can find somewhere far away where no one can ever find or bother us. It beats getting hit all the time or fighting with someone youíre supposed to love."
Akane connected with a kick to Shampooís chest, but was hit with an elbow in the jaw. Both girls made some distance from one another. "I wonít lay a hand on him from now on, and all couples that love each other have disagreements. Itís not like you two donít fight. Unless you donít count things like shredding all of his clothes and substituting rocks for his pillow."
Shampoo found she couldnít argue that one, so instead verbally attacked again. "At least Iím not forcing him to marry me. How do you know itís really love he feels towards you and not just his promise heís keeping? How do you think heíll feel in a year or two when he finally understands that he had no choice in marrying you?"
"Shut up!" Akane tried to hit Shampoo in the jaw, but the Amazon rolled out of the way again.
"We both know how much he loves being forced into things. How long until the honeymoonís over and he starts to resent you for being forced onto him? How long will it take before he feels trapped and manipulated? How long before he starts getting angry towards you because he never had a choice?"
"He had a choice!" Akane tried to get Shampoo to shut up once again by hitting her, but Shampoo simply retreated and continued the verbal assault.
Shampoo knew she was getting to Akane, the girl was shaking in anger. "Did you ever ask him?! Have you ever once asked him if he really wanted an engagement to you, or that if he could get out of it that would he take the opportunity? Did you ever once put his thoughts before yours?"
"You never did that either!" Akane shouted at her. "And at least I never lied to him about someone trying to kill me! I never maimed any of my friends!"
"SHUT UP!!!" Shampoo shouted out in fury and tried attacking. The assault was sloppy, and Akane landed a kick to her chest, but the purple-haired one quickly rolled to her feet and composed herself as best as she could.
"Whatís the matter? Canít handle the truth?" Akane taunted.
"A girl like you could never satisfy him!" Shampoo snapped back.
"At least Iím all girl. I donít change into a guy with cold water, and I donít let girls fondle me like you do!"
"I donít like girls!" It was Shampooís turn to try to silence Akane, but the black-haired girl got out of the way. "Besides, Ranma changes into a girl too. At least I know I can love him like that."
"Itís not like he wants to be a girl!" Akane said. "We can get a cure for him. And even if he doesnít all we need is hot water to change him back. And I donít even care about his curse. As long as he can live with it, then so can I. But how can he know you wonít try to put the moves on him as a girl? You didnít seem to mind it so much when he thought he was a girl."
"I gave him his memory back!"
"And tried to take it away when he forgot his little proposal! I overheard the whole thing. You seriously considered marrying Ranma when he thought he was a girl. Thatís disgusting!"
"It shows I love him!" Shampoo shouted.
"It shows you werenít considering his feelings." Akane broke the stalemate by attacking once more. The two exchanged blows before Akane continued. "You were just looking for an opportunity to weasel a way into his heart. And when it wasnít quite what you wanted you tossed it aside and tried to find another. Well he doesnít love you and never will! He loves me! I just know it!"
"Dream on! He wants someone whoíll be at his side! Someone he treats as an equal, not a joke like you!" She kicked Akaneís leg out from under her as the youngest Tendo went for a kick. Akane kept Shampoo at bay before regaining her feet.
Akane gained an uncharacteristically nasty glint in her eye. "So you think youíll make a good wife?"
"Yes!" Shampoo backed off a little, wondering what Akane was up to.
"Plan on having any children?"
"Of course. Weíll have lots of strong babies. Girls, naturally, and maybe even some boys too. Ranma would want powerful sons."
"And just how are you going to do that?"
Shampoo looked at her in confusion. "You not know how that works?"
"I know how it works for me, but what about you? Are you planning on using Chiisuiton to lock Ranma as a girl?"
"Never!" Shampoo shouted in shock.
"Well I donít see how you expect to bear any kids," Akane said. "You canít even cross the street without changing. How are you going to make it for nine months?"
Shampoo suddenly went quiet and didnít respond to the comment. All she did was look towards the ground, allowing Akane to smirk at the victory. Her happiness changed to confusion as she heard Shampoo start to murmur a continuous string of Ďnonononoís under her breath.
"Oh, come on now! Donít tell me you didnít think about that. Itís so obv…" Akane trailed off as Shampoo looked at her. The only comparable look she could remember was the one Ranma had given her for getting between him and Kodachi, back when the Black Rose had poisoned Shampoo, only the look of rage in the Amazonís eyes was far more baleful even than that.
"NO!!!" The purple-haired demon screamed and leaped for Akane. Rather than retreat Akane lashed out with a fist, catching Shampoo full in the stomach.
Shampoo never even realized she had been hit. Her body landed fully on Akane, both knees hitting the dark-haired girl in the solar plexus, forcing the air out of her lungs. Shampooís hands wrapped themselves around Akaneís throat as she brought Akaneís head up, then back into the ground, only to repeat the procedure as she continued to strangle her.
Akane was only dimly aware of Shampoo shouting out. "You lie! Say it not true! YOU TELL SHAMPOO SHE CAN HAVE CHILDREN!!! TELL SHAMPOO!!!" over and over again. That was the last thing Akane heard as she blacked out.
"I didnít ask for any of it!"
Tarou could only hear part of what Ranma was saying as he tried limping after him. Ranma had kicked him solidly in the ear, causing a noise similar to the sound of rushing water as if it was continuously running past his head. Three amagurikens into his left leg and Tarou could barely stand, but Ranma just kept darting out of reach and hitting or kicking him in the head, leg, or stomach. All three areas hurt like hell and would take days to heal. And then there was the three Shi Shi Houkoudans Ranma had used. Those hurt as much as any ten blows, and Tarou had been hit partially by two of them and the third one hit cleanly in the chest, still leaving a burning sensation. The three solid blows he had gotten on Ranma should have worn him out, but the bastard just kept hopping around and hitting Tarou. Tarou was losing the fight, and he didnít have the faintest idea on how to win it.
It was Fem-boy. Tarou should not have been able to lose to him, but he was. Another kick connected to Tarouís jaw, joining thirty others over the course of the fight. Ranma had slowed down maybe forty percent since the start of the fight, but Tarou was almost three-quarters of the way gone. He tried hitting Ranma again, but the still human youth evaded the thrust, bounced off the outstretched arm, and planted a knee between his eyes, doubling Tarouís vision momentarily.
Tarou ripped up a tree and tried batting away at Ranma with it. The tactic worked in keeping Ranma on the defensive, at least until he jumped up in the air and shattered the tree in half with a kick. Tarou tried throwing the rest, which Ranma evaded and struck again.
"I donít need this stuff! All I need is my martial arts!" Ranma ranted.
Tarou really wished Ranmaís earlier blow had caused total deafness. He did not need to hear anything else Fem-boy had to say.
"I didnít ask to be engaged to no one! Not to someone I never met! Not to friends I grew up with! Not to people I met on the way! No one!"
The fact Ranma hit seven more times without Tarou coming close in return during the tirade was enough to convince Pantyhose to run away so he could fight another day. He had wanted to prove his superiority to Ranma by beating him to a pulp. Tarou was the better man, and beating the living shit out of Ranma on his wedding day seemed just too perfect, and it would have been if Tarou had not been losing.
It was time to swallow his pride, so Tarou at last took to the air. Maybe he could find something heavy to drop on Ranma. Like a bomb.
Ranma looked up at the retreating form. "Get back here!" He allowed a black ball of energy to build up again, aiming at Tarouís wings. He released it, right on target.
Tarou tired to evade, but he was too tired. The ball of chi energy struck Tarou squarely in the wings, causing him to crash headfirst into the ground.
"Now all Iím doing is hurting everyone around me! I donít want to hurt anyone, but now I have to!" Ranma shouted as he advanced on the fallen Tarou.
Tarou rose shakily to his feet and lashed out with a fist, connecting solidly with Ranma. The blow sent Ranma flying nearly ten feet in the air. Tarou looked on in hope, praying that he had at last landed a telling blow in Ranma.
Then Ranma got to his feet, slowly but steadily.
Tarou was no quitter, even when he knew he was beaten. He lasted another twenty blows before collapsing to the ground, unconscious. The last cognizant thought that ran through his mind was for the Fem-boy to just wait until next time, when Tarou wasnít off his game.
"I hate this! Why the hell does this have to happen to me?! What did I do to deserve this?!" At last Ranma noticed his opponent failing to get up. He nudged Tarouís unconscious form with his foot a few times. "You awake, man?" No response.
With nothing to hit and further vent his frustrations upon, Ranma at last came out of the zone he was in. It took a moment for him to realize just how much the Shampoo situation had frustrated him and how much control he had lost over it. He probably would have felt terribly guilty about who he had pounded on if it hadnít been Tarou. Pantyhose deserved what happened to him.
After checking to make sure the beating wasnít fatal, Ranma left the monstrous foe behind and slowly walked towards where he had left Akane and Shampoo. There were some things he needed to clear up with the two of them and he was not going to wait to get things resolved.
As he made his way to where they had been, his injuries finally began to catch up to him. Now that his adrenaline had stopped flowing in the massive amounts it had, pain from all of the blows Tarou had landed set in. Only the fight against Ryu Kumon had left him in worse shape and it was going to take several days before he felt anywhere near one hundred percent.
He made it back to the site only to see Akane coughing hard and clutching her throat as she tried to get off the ground. Ranma felt his heart seize for a moment as he rushed to her side, only to see a number of bruises and cuts on her body. It took but a moment for him to piece together what had happened.
"Are you all right?" he asked, while looking over every inch of her body, making certain the injuries she had sustained were not critical. As he examined her, he thought he had pieced together what had happened. There had been a fight between Akane and Shampoo. As far as Akane had come since training with Tarou, Ranma still knew who would win. At least Shampoo had not gone too far.
Akane tried answering, but all that came out was something resembling a croak. The attempted strangulation had left her throat too raw to do anything else than mumble incoherent sounds. She settled for nodding her head.
"Are you sure? You look kinda bad." It pained him to see her that way. It didnít matter that she wanted him to consider her as a superior martial artist. Being protective of her was as automatic as breathing to him.
Akane nodded her head once more.
"I think you should go get checked out." Ranma said, still concerned.
She felt happiness at Ranmaís concern, then remembered Shampoo accusing her of being a joke with her martial arts abilities. Pride made her straighten up and give an appearance of strength that belayed what pain she felt.
Her job of hiding her pain worked well. Ranma looked slightly relieved at her improved manner, despite the injuries she displayed. Nonetheless he fawned over her once more until she backed away from him, irritated at his treatment. She would be strong, even if it meant refusing Ranmaís concern.
"As long as youíre sure," he said somewhat more relaxed. "But I still think you should go back and get checked out." Now that he was certain Akane would be all right, he turned his attention to the other thing that was eating away at him. "I gotta know where Shampoo is."
Akane gave him a hurt look as he asked the question. She shook her head in an almost desperate plea for him not to go. He couldnít leave her for the Amazon. Akane wanted him here, with her, where he belonged. It was their wedding day, and there was still time to go through with it. And she did want it. After seeing him with Shampoo, when Akane had feared he was lost to her and felt her heart begin to shatter into a million pieces of crystal pain, that was when she could at last accept beyond any doubt that she loved Ranma Saotome and wanted to be with him for the rest of her life.
And now he was threatening to leave. It wasnít fair. Akane knew she loved him now, at long last, and she had thought he might feel the same way about her. Ranma was nearly impossible to understand, but she thought she knew him well enough to believe he loved her. However, if he left her now for Shampoo, it would all be over. Heíd be abandoning her for the Amazon. Why did it have to be that way?
Her eyes beseeched with him not to go, to remain at her side so they could be together forever.
Ranma thought he understood her reluctance to let him know where Shampoo was. "Iím sorry, Akane. I really am, but I have to talk to her. Which way did she go?"
Akane continued shaking her head and placed a hand on him to restrain him. Realizing she was not going to answer he ever so gently pushed her hand away and ran off in search of the Amazon, leaving Akane trying to shout to him to stay.
All she managed to get out was "Ranma," then fell to the ground, weeping.
Shampoo had limped off in the direction of the dojo. The plan was to grab her things and set off before anyone realized what she had done. Once she put some distance between her and Nerima she could get lost in the world. Ranma was nowhere as skilled a tracker as she was and would never find her unless she allowed it.
Tears ran down her face as she got closer to her soon to be former home. She couldnít kill Akane. Shampooís own inability to have children was not the youngest Tendoís fault, no matter how much Shampoo hated her for pointing it out. How could she have been so blind to that aspect of the curse? It was painfully obvious, yet she had not even realized the problem. Was it denial? Could that have been the reason for her overlooking her disability? She didnít think so. The thought had literally never entered her mind until Akane said it. But once she had, Shampooís dreams were effectively destroyed. She could never bring herself to burden Ranma with a wife that couldnít bear children. Shampoo had no value as a mate, not just to him, but to anyone. She was effectively worthless.
Her fears had been well founded. Without Ranma there was no reason to remain in Nerima. To do so would just invite more misery, as she would have to watch Akane and Ranma marry. Be happy with one another.
Seeing the two of them together would be too much like being stabbed in the gut with a knife over and over again. No. She had to leave immediately.
"Shampoo! Wait up!"
Shampoo turned in fear to see Ranma chasing after her. She tried to run faster, but her limp all but insured she moved at a snailís pace. Ranma was in front of her in an instant, blocking her avenue of escape.
"Hold up!" Ranma said. "You took off before we could talk."
"I no have anything to say to you." She tried moving around him, but he remained in front of her.
"Hey, quit trying to run away! If itís about the fight with Akane, I understand. Things were a little crazy back there with everything going on, yíknow. She ainít hurt bad, only a little worse than you. Sheís going to be fine."
"It not about her!" Shampoo spat. As far as she was concerned Akane could drop dead. No tears would be wasted on her.
Ranma looked at her, confused. "Then why are you trying to run away? We still have to talk about what you said back there."
"I take it back," she blurted out. "I no love you. You go run back to Akane."
Shampoo saw Ranma stare at her in surprise. Her attempt at moving around him failed as he recovered enough to grab her firmly by the shoulders, preventing any further attempts at escape. "What are you talking about?" he said with more than a trace of anger.
"Just what I say. I no love you." She tried to slip out of his grasp, but he simply tightened it in response.
"Wrong!" he said furiously at her. "You donít come up to me on my wedding day, practically drag me from the altar, tell me you love me, make me an emotional wreck, fight with Akane, then say ĎI changed my mindí!" He began shaking her. "Tell me whatís going on, and it better be the truth! I ainít putting up with any lies!"
Shampoo felt what little restraint she had placed on her emotions break down, damning Ranma the entire time. Why couldnít he allow her the dignity to bow out gracefully? Why was he going to force her to admit her inadequacy to his face? She began to cry, hating herself for her breakdown. Amazons werenít supposed to cry, and certainly not over men. "It… it because of m… my curse. I c… can… no make b… b… babies! I n… no g… good as w… wife." There. Her shame was revealed to him. Now he could call her worthless too.
He released her, looking at her in shock. "I never thought of that."
Of course he hadnít, Shampoo thought to herself. Otherwise he would never have treated a useless creature as her so nicely.
"You know what that means?" he said to her, his voice not betraying a hint of emotion.
She knew exactly what it meant. There could be no consideration of her as his spouse.
"I guess that means weíd have to adopt," he explained
Shampoo was too shocked to facefault. She just looked at the grinning Ranma before her, then grabbed him around the waist and cried the hardest she ever had in her life.
Ranma looked down at the girl, who was bawling her eyes out, in a panic. "NO!!! Wait! That came out all wrong! I wasnít clear in what I meant! I meant weíd have to adopt if I chose you! I mean if I choose you! Oh, I am so sorry, Shampoo! I donít mean Iím choosing you, at least now! Itís too soon and I still donít know how I feel about Akane, so I gotta think about this! Do you hear what Iím saying?!"
"Yes," she blubbered out.
"Thatís a relief," he said.
"WWWWWAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!" she continued crying.
"Whatíd I do now?! Why are you still crying?!" he asked the girl who held onto him just as tightly as before. Shouldnít she have stopped crying if the news wasnít that bad? Her tears, and the knowledge that he was somehow responsible for them, were driving him crazy.
"It because even though I not able to make babies, you still give me a chance!" She continued crying.
"All right!" he protested. "But please stop crying! Itís making me feel like dirt. Not that maybe I shouldnít feel like that anyway for whatís going to happen now. No oneís going to want to hear what I have to say."
It took nearly five minutes for Shampoo to calm down enough to stop crying, although Ranma wasnít sure he was all that happy with the alternative. Now Shampoo was staring at him with a look of almost utter devotion, which made him feel very nervous. Maybe the look would disappear once the situation fully settled in.
"I donít believe it," a voice said several yards away.
Both Ranma and Shampoo turned to look at the speaker. It was said so softly and with such control that each one almost didnít believe it had come from Mousse.
"What do you want?" Shampoo asked first, halfway expecting Mousse to attack. As she looked more closely at him she could see he was crying. Not the usual hysterical tears he was apt to release when Shampoo rejected him, but soft quiet ones. "Whatís wrong, Mousse?"
"Everything," Mousse said softly. "I never believed you really loved him. I always thought you would see through his deceptions and come to me, or that you were somehow using him to test me and my love for you. I always thought you would come to me in the end, even after our duel. But now… now I see you really have fallen for him." For what was perhaps the first time in his life his voice now held anger directed at Shampoo. "I should be the one youíre looking at, not him. He isnít worthy to breathe the same air that you do, but youíll never believe that. Even I can now see that you love him."
Shampoo nodded in response. "Yes, Mousse. Heís the one I love. Now and forever."
"Youíll get a chance to put that statement to the test. I rushed ahead of the group to warn you, but I was so in shock with seeing that… scene," he spat the word out venomously, "I forgot. And now," he looked over behind the others. "Now itís too late."
Ranma and Shampoo turned around to see a young woman, with wild black hair and wearing a brown and green outfit, standing at the top of a hill. She had her hands on her hips as she focused her attention on the pair.
"<At last, the preyís been run to ground,>" she smirked.
Shampoo looked more closely at the girl. She was familiar. It took but a moment to place a name with the face. "Oh no!" she said.
Ranma stared at her in concern, tensing up. "Whatís going on? Do you know her?"
"Her nameís Julep. Sheís an Amazon pathfinder," Shampoo explained.
"An Amazon?" Realization dawned on Ranma. "Uh, oh! That means…" he trailed off as he saw a naginata break the plain from the opposite side of the hill. Its bearer came into view, along with the others that had traveled thousands of miles with her.
Perfume looked sadly upon the purple-haired Amazon.
"<Itís time to come home, Xian-Pu.>"
To be continued.
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