The Cube of Chaos
A Ranma ½ fanfic by Aondehafka
Disclaimer: all characters in this story are the property of their creator, Rumiko Takahashi, and whoever she's leased them to. I'm using them completely without permission. Oh, the shame of it all.
Disclaimer II- the Revenge: this is based on the anime series, not the manga, and takes place after all the events in that series.
" " indicates spoken words.
' ' indicates thoughts.
indicates subliminal messages.
Shampoo peered through the window of the store. It was difficult to make out any details on the other side -- the interior of the shop was dimly lit, and even though the outside of the window was sparkling clean (due to the unpredictable rainstorms that swept through Nerima on an almost daily basis), the inside hadn't been dusted in a long time. Still, what little she could see looked interesting at least. Perhaps this would be a good place to find a birthday present for her great-grandmother.
The Amazon entered the shop, and realized that the proprietor looked familiar. "Excuse, is shop where stupid stick boy buy phoenix egg before?" she asked.
The proprietor took a minute to work out the question, then answered in the affirmative. "But don't think I'm going to sell you the egg that phoenix left when it flew the coop. I'm not saying I believe in the darn thing, mind you, but I don't want to take a chance on something that crazy happening again."
She gave a winning smile. "No worry -- Shampoo have enough of stupid phoenix for two lifetime. But would like to find something nice for Great- Grandmother birthday. Is ok to look around?"
"Certainly, young lady. Just don't touch anything without asking what it is."
Shampoo spent the next hour rummaging through the contents of the store. At the end of that time, she'd narrowed her choices down to two items: a beautiful necklace of coral and amber, and a strange puzzle cube made of brass and teakwood. She called the proprietor over to ask prices.
"Hmmm... how did that end up on the shelf? It's supposed to be locked in the back room! Young lady, I think you should choose the necklace. That cube shouldn't be sitting out in the open."
"Why not? What special about box?"
"I'm not saying I believe in the darn thing, mind you, but that's supposed to be the legendary Cube of Chaos! It's changed hands many times throughout the centuries, and many have died to obtain it. A shame nobody's ever been able to figure out how to open it... the legend says that when someone finally does, the cube will unleash the forces of chaos to grant their heart's desire, no matter how improbable a wish it is. Er, not that I believe in that, of course."
The Amazon frowned. She hated it when people thought she was brainless just because her Japanese wasn't great. "Shampoo Chinese, not stupid." She reached out and picked up the cube. "Only little kid," slide lower front teakwood panel one inch to right, "or stupid person believe," rotate left brass panel clockwise while simultaneously rotating right brass panel counterclockwise, "simple puzzle like this," extract the hidden pins from each bottom corner of the cube, "not get solved in century of trying."
She lifted the lid.
The proprietor looked ready to collapse. "You opened it... I can't believe you opened it... WE'RE ALL DOOMED!" He looked wildly around his shop, and only gradually did the absence of massive amounts of chaos dawn on him. With a sheepish grin, he turned back to his customer. "Well... never did say I believed in the darn thing, did I? That's probably not the real Cube anyway. Tell you what -- the necklace and the box are both on the house. A pretty girl like you deserves all the freebies she can get, right?"
Shampoo smiled at him. "Thank you. Was good story, even if you is too too gullible for believe is true. Bye-bye!"
Of course, this was Nerima. And anyone reading this has probably already figured out that it was the real Cube of Chaos. It's just that with the natural craziness already present in the district, it's going to take a while before the Cube's effects become apparent.
Lucky Shampoo -- as the one who opened the Cube, she's the only person currently in Nerima who will notice anything odd in what's going to be happening soon. Or should that be 'poor Shampoo'?
The next morning, Soun Tendo awoke with a vague feeling of unease. Something wasn't right with the world, and it troubled him. He tried to shake off the feeling as he went to breakfast. It was delicious, as all were all meals prepared by Kasumi. He watched his old friend Genma sparring with his son as Kasumi cleaned up the meal in the background.
Kasumi granted the cleanup process only a small fraction of her attention. She'd done the same thing every morning for so many years that it was almost totally automatic. Today she was more interested in watching the display put on by their guests. A small, wistful sigh escaped her.
Soun found that sigh seemed to catch at his heart, in some indescribable way. He turned to his daughter. "Kasumi... what's wrong?"
For a moment Kasumi felt puzzled at the question, then wondered why she was. Hadn't her father always been a perceptive and indulgent parent, ready to support his daughters in whatever way was best for them? It was her own fault she'd never made her wishes clear before this point. "To tell the truth, Father, I'm feeling a regret for letting my own martial arts studies slide. I wish I had more time to spare, so that I might take them up again."
Soun's eyes teared up. "Oh Kasumi, how could you have kept silent on such an important matter? After all, you always were the most talented one in our family for the Art." For a second, he paused... had that always been true? He shook off the uncertainty. Of course it had. "It's well past time we stopped letting you pick up our slack. Starting today, I expect you to give at least three quarters of the chores to the rest of us, and begin training again. And I think we should celebrate this decision by going shopping for a new gi for you."
'I can't believe it took Kasumi this long to get fed up with all this,' Nabiki thought to herself as she hung the newly-clean laundry out to dry. 'Doing just the wash is enough of a hassle.' She hung up the last sheet, and picked up the empty basket to carry it back into the house. As she did, though, a figure seemed to materialize out of thin air where the basket had been.
"Sasuke -- wow, that was impressive," said Nabiki, then blinked. She'd seen Sasuke perform much more spectacular exhibitions of ninjutsu in the past... hadn't she? Of course she had. She returned her attention to the present.
"Mistress Tendo, my lord Tatewaki bade me give you this missive." He held out a note, which was folded into an elegant origami swan. Nabiki reached out at took it. "Thank--" she began, then blinked. She hadn't even seen him leave. The middle Tendo looked at the note. She was reluctant to unfold it and destroy the delicate beauty of the swan, but curiosity won out. It turned out to be an invitation to meet in the park that afternoon.
Akane looked up at her sister. "Do you really mean it? Can I really take over the cooking? Oh, thank you, Kasumi!"
Nabiki arrived in the park several minutes early. She was definitely curious as to what the scion of the line of Kuno might want with her. They'd rarely ever spoken at school, even though they were in the same class, and never before outside of Furinkan. For some reason, Nabiki found the distant thought of photographs passing through her mind, but try as she might she couldn't think of why. As she approached the rendezvous spot, she was more than a little surprised to see that Tatewaki was already waiting for her.
He was studying something in a bag at his side, but looked up as she drew near. "Greetings, Nabiki. I am glad you accepted my humble invitation." Nabiki was quite surprised at this. From what she'd seen of him at school, he'd always seemed a bit of a blowhard, behaving as if he felt himself to be some sort of samurai nobility. But looking on him now, she could not doubt his sincerity. She sat down on the grass beside him.
"A good day to you, as well, Tatewaki. Why the butter-up? Do you need some help from my network?" It seemed a logical explanation, but the thought made Nabiki sad, somehow. She had built a vast ring of informants and lackeys at Furinkan, and she made a great deal of yen from controlling information and rigging bets, but the effort to supply the money for her family's needs always seemed to leave her feeling tainted. She treasured times not spent in school, as she didn't have to think about her entrepreneurship then.
"No, that is not why I would speak with you. Although in a way it does concern your activities." Kuno took a deep breath and called on all his store of courage. "Perhaps I am wrong, but I feel that the two of us have more in common that is readily apparent." 'Blast,' he thought, as his store of courage exhausted itself, 'why does it have to be so hard?'
Nabiki's eyes were as wide as they ever got. "And just what do you mean by that? YOU are an arrogant blowhard who thinks he's some sort of Daimyo and the rest of us are peasants. I am the Ice Queen" she grimaced unconsciously as she said this, "who makes everyone jump through hoops just for her own personal amusement." Nabiki wasn't even aware of the bitterness in her voice as the last sentence forced its way out, or of the tear in her eye. These things weren't lost on her companion, though, and gave him a new measure of strength.
Kuno took a deep breath. "I mean that both of us are hiding behind masks. You say that you find gratification in your schemes and scams? And yet Sasuke has informed me that you extort only enough yen to meet the needs of your family and guests. You do what you must, but do not expect me to believe that you enjoy it." His face took on an expression of pain. "Perhaps I am wrong, but it seems to me that you must be very lonely. I know the feeling well. I prance and play the clown, waving a bokken as if I were Miyamoto Musashi himself. Both of us hide behind the exteriors you described, in order that those who might otherwise hurt us may not do so."
Nabiki choked down the lump in her throat. How could he affect her so with those few words? "Perhaps... perhaps you're right about me. I do what I have to, and it doesn't leave much room for friendship. So I act like it doesn't matter. But what's your excuse, Tatewaki? Everyone despises me for being an entrepreneur, so I need a mask, but why would they hate the real you? Is that really not the one you've been showing?"
Kuno sighed bitterly. "My reason is not nearly as good as yours. It may even amuse you to hear it. The truth, Nabiki Tendo, is that I am afraid. Afraid to let others close to me, lest they leave me... as... my mother did." He looked up at her, and Nabiki was shocked to see he was weeping unashamedly. "When she died, I began to play the role of a samurai as an escape. It seemed natural, since my ancestors were such. I imagined they were consummate warriors with no need of soft emotions, and vowed to become the same. Honor would be enough, I thought in my grief. But what does a ten-year-old boy know of honor, or anything really?"
Nabiki stared in shock. "I never thought... I never even looked at you closely enough to see the mask. And I'm supposed to be the smart one."
He smiled at her. "I want to try to leave 'supposed to be' behind, Nabiki. I have watched you for a while now, and I believe the two of us might find healing together. Are you willing to take a risk?"
Nabiki's heart was pounding. Her world seemed to be tumbling end over end. She tried to speak, but found her throat too dry. And so she simply nodded.
Kuno picked up the bag he had beside him. "I hoped that would be your decision, Nabiki Tendo. I brought along a gift for you. I will not say it is a trifle, because you are worthy of more than trifles. But please accept this, and know that I would treasure you more highly than that which I give away."
Nabiki reached into the bag and withdrew... a rose. At least that's what it looked like at first glance. Then she took a second glance and nearly passed out. The red bloom of the rose was cut from a single ruby, and the stem was delicately carved jade of a deep green. She held it in a trembling hand, then looked to her companion. And words rose unbidden, unforced, from her heart to her lips.
let the emptiness subside.
Our hearts beat as one."
Ranma set down the phone. "That was Nabiki. She won't be here for dinner," he yelled in the general direction of the kitchen.
Akane poked her head out. "What? Nabiki's not here? I was just about to ask her to come taste some appetizers I made." She cast a sidelong look at Ranma. "Um... I don't suppose... you'd take her place, Ranma?"
Ranma laughed nervously. "Well... if you're sure... you know how much I eat sometimes... but if you don't mind risking them all disappearing... sure, I'd be glad to."
He followed her into the kitchen. "Wh- what kind of appetizers are they, Akane?" For some reason, each seemed reluctant to make eye contact with the other.
"It's a Western recipe from Kasumi's new It's a Small World After All cookbook. Fajita quesadillas." Akane looked down at her hands, and nervously twisted her fingers together. "I... I hope you like them."
Ranma picked up one of the quesadillas and popped it into his mouth. He swallowed with every evidence of relish. "These are great, Akane! I wish Kasumi had said something sooner about sharing the chores. We could have been eating like this for months!"
Akane looked at him shyly. "Do you... do you really think so?"
Ranma accidentally met her gaze, and felt his brain begin to shut down. Desperately he turned to one side, and began eating the quesadillas like they were his one hope of survival. "Absolutely," he mumbled with his mouth full. He inhaled the last one, and realized that there was nothing else to distract him from Akane. "Um... you should make some more, but I better get out of here. If I stay, the others won't get a chance to try any." He laughed nervously, then shot from the room.
Akane followed him with a wistful gaze. She'd hoped for more of a response... She tried to tell herself that at least now she didn't have to worry about Shampoo or Ukyo stealing him away with their cooking. The thought wasn't that helpful, though, as a nagging voice reminded her that they had other... methods... that she would never be able to find the courage to emulate.
The next morning dawned bright and fair in Nerima. Well, it was fair for most people, but Kodachi Kuno was feeling as if life was pretty unfair at the moment. She looked down at the latest entry in her diary.
'Dear diary -- I have come at last to the bitter conclusion that the best way I can serve my beloved Ranma is to relinquish my hold on him. My love is the soul of honor, and in truth I have no honorable claim. Ukyo and Akane both have the fact that his father betrothed them to him, and Shampoo is actually his wife already, by the laws of her tribe. It grieves me deeply to see how he is pulled in so many ways at once, and so I have decided that I must bow out. My love -- I will never forget you, but we cannot be what I long for.'
Kodachi took a deep breath, then let it out. So. It was decided. And now it was time to put her resolve to the test. The Nekohanten was closer than Ucchan's or the Tendo Dojo... she would go there first and inform her Amazon former rival of her decision.
Mousse walked slowly toward the market, and considered the death of dreams. Shampoo had told him to his face that she would never love him, and would never give up on Ranma. He sneered bitterly. What sort of man was Saotome, anyway? In the presence of a beautiful woman, the coward invariably became nervous and tongue-tied. How could Shampoo prefer such a one? Mousse groaned in spirit. He had always told Shampoo how he felt, that she was his sun and moon and starlit sky. As far as he could tell, the most romantic thing Ranma had ever said to her was, "Ummm... th- thanks for the ramen, Shampoo."
The Master of Hidden Weapons sighed deeply. If only Ranma hadn't had feelings for Shampoo. It was so glaringly obvious that even a blind idiot like himself could see it, let alone the object of those affections. And yet the worm Saotome couldn't bring himself to confess it to her! How could she prefer a weakling like that, even if he did have some fighting skill?! Someone without even the courage to give up honor for love?!
Then Mousse sighed again. That last statement was unfair, at least. He supposed he was biased when he felt that the only right thing for Saotome to do was to ignore the demands of honor, abandon the promises made on his behalf, and forsake Akane and Ukyo in favor of Shampoo. But even Mousse had to concede that his rival was as tongue-tied, nervous, and starry-eyed around the other two as he was around his Amazon iinazuke. The only major claimant to his hand that didn't seem to evoke that reaction was Kodachi.
Mousse fought off a nagging feeling of wrongness as he debated what to do now. Perhaps Shampoo didn't want him, but he could still see to her happiness. He would make certain that Ranma chose her and no other! He would protect her from the cruelties of life! He would protect her from her rivals! He would -- at that point, he saw Kodachi coming along the street, obviously heading toward the Nekohanten to challenge Shampoo!
Kodachi was mentally rehearsing what she would say, and as such didn't notice Mousse... until a barrage of chains snaked out at her. Chaos or no chaos, she was still a superb gymnast, and managed to dodge. "Mousse! Why are you doing this?!"
"I won't let you hurt Shampoo! It kills me that she wants Saotome, but Shampoo's wish is my command!" Even as Mousse launched another chain attack, though, he suddenly realized that Shampoo wouldn't appreciate it if he fought her battles for her. The thought caused him to lose the focus of his attack, and one of his chains smashed into a fire hydrant.
Now, normally, Mousse's Jusenkyo curse would mean he would instantly be drenched by the resulting blast of water. However, things weren't normal (even for Nerima) just now, and in fact the spray shot out in a completely different direction... flinging Kodachi right into Mousse's arms, even as the deflected chain swung around and around, wrapping them up into a tight package.
"That sly dog!" Kuno was impressed. He and Nabiki were out for a morning stroll, and Tatewaki hadn't expected to find anything that would distract him from the woman at his side. However, the sight of Mousse apparently attempting to seduce his sister in broad daylight managed to do this.
Nabiki looked on speculatively, then gently steered him away. "Let's let them have their privacy, Tachi."
"Privacy? They're in the middle of the street! Although I applaud Mousse's courage, and indeed I wish I had as much boldness as he does, I cannot help but think he has chosen the wrong way to make his feelings known. My sister is not one to respond favorably to such rough treatment."
"Hmmm... not to mention the fact that she's carrying a major torch for Saotome," Nabiki remarked sadly. "It's so tragic. Mousse wasted so much time chasing Shampoo, but at least he seems to have gotten over her. Maybe we can help him help Kodachi to do the same for Ranma."
Kuno placed his arm around her. "It is the least we can do. Have you any ideas?"
"Didn't I hear somewhere that your sister has a state-of-the-art chemistry lab?"
Just as she finished her kata, Kasumi became aware that someone was knocking at the front door. She set down the pillow, and went to answer it. "Well, hello, Ryoga! Are you looking for Ranma?"
Ryoga looked stunned, which is a pretty accurate description of how he felt. He'd wanted directions, but hadn't expected to find someone he knew. "Kasumi? What are you doing in Moscow?!"
Kasumi looked around. "This is the Tendo Dojo, Ryoga, not Dzerzhinsky Square." She blinked, then realized that he looked like he'd been traveling for weeks without proper rest. This of course was the case; it was pretty much the standard state of affairs with the lost boy. "Would you like to come in and have something to eat?"
"Th- thanks." Ryoga was still trying to come to terms with the fact that he'd apparently traveled well over a thousand miles and crossed the Sea of Japan. In less than three hours. On foot. He let Kasumi lead him into the kitchen and give him a bowl of something that smelled incredibly good. He dug in with a grateful smile.
Ryoga finished his shrimp jambalaya and thanked his hostess. "That was incredible. I don't think anyone can cook as well as you, Kasumi." He noticed something for the first time. "Ummm... why are you wearing a gi?"
Kasumi smiled kindly at him. "I've taken my martial arts studies back up. It's something I've wanted for a long time, but there were just too many chores. But now everyone else is helping me do them, so I've got free time again." She sighed. "It's wonderful to be able to pursue my dream once more. By the way, Akane made that, not me. She's taken over the cooking now."
Ryoga froze, and his face turned ashen. "A- Akane made... this?" He waited for the pain to hit.
"Yes, wasn't it delicious? That's all that was left over from dinner last night."
Ryoga stared at Kasumi with an intensity he usually reserved for when Ranma was making P-chan remarks in front of Akane. "Kasumi, this is very important. Do you mean that everyone ate Akane's cooking last night, and no-one is sick today?"
"Of course. Why would anyone be sick?"
A reverent smile lit up Ryoga's face. He understood it all now. It was so simple, really... Akane was so close to being an angel, she'd obviously been granted a miracle. He wondered for a second why Kasumi didn't seem to remember the previous lethality of Akane's cooking, then let it go as unimportant.
In point of fact, it was an interesting example of the effects of the Cube of Chaos. Anyone not within a certain distance of the artifact when Shampoo opened it was unaffected. This included Ryoga, who had at the time been wandering through the Appalachian mountains. He and Shampoo were the only two in Nerima right now who remembered the old Akane's "cooking."
"Actually, with something so good, it wouldn't surprise me if someone ate too much," he answered.
"That's very sweet of you to say, Ryoga." Kasumi evaluated him. He'd had time to rest now, and after his meal he was looking quite refreshed. "As I said, I've resumed my martial arts studies. Would you do me the honor of sparring with me?"
"What is it with all the black roses, anyway?" Nabiki muttered absently as she added a few more random chemicals to the mixture bubbling over the Bunsen burner. The flowers in question were scattered all around the chemistry lab.
"To be honest, I'm not sure. Perhaps she was experimenting with some extract from them?" Tatewaki tried to think why the sight of the black roses was familiar, then decided he must have seen them delivered. There wasn't any other reason to associate his sister with such a flower, after all...
"It would be a lot easier if I knew what I was doing, or when this is ready." Nabiki wasn't quite sure WHY she was certain that she would succeed in brewing a love potion, but it just seemed right, somehow.
"Hmmm... as to when it's ready, I think I might have an idea. These blooms will actually help us." He picked up a particularly dried and shriveled flower. "Black roses... what does a black rose know of love? I believe that once your elixir is ready, we can ascertain this by testing its effects on these blooms. Surely it would restore the velvety softness to this withered blossom, and yield the darkness to a blushing hue of red."
Nabiki considered this. It seemed to make sense. "Right! As soon as we get a compound that turns a twisted black rose into a beautiful red one, we'll know our love potion is ready." She tilted a few drops of the current mixture onto a test rose, and watched it and a small portion of the counter crumble to dust. "Oh well... this could take a while."
Ryoga began to wonder -- even though Akane's cooking had tasted great, and he still wasn't feeling any pain in his stomach, could there be some hallucinatory side effects? It was difficult to find any other explanation for the fact that Kasumi was wiping the floor with him in their sparring match.
Literally wiping the floor with him. Upon deciding to resume her training, Kasumi had begun with standard katas, but quickly felt that something was missing. After giving it due consideration, she realized that during the last few years of cleaning house, she had honed those skills to the point that she could not honorably forsake them. And yet she wanted, no, needed to relearn to fight. And so was born one of the wildest variations of Anything Goes martial arts yet -- Domestic Fu.
The match began slowly, as Ryoga knew he'd never forgive himself if he hurt Kasumi. And so he moved in carefully, determined not to actually connect with a blow. He needn't have worried. Before he could get close enough for hand-to-hand attacks, Kasumi produced a large towel out of nowhere, and, cracking it like a whip, knocked Ryoga off his feet. He wasn't quite sure how he managed to land on a pillow, as there most definitely hadn't been one there at the start of the match.
Fighting a sense of unreality, Ryoga tried a new tactic, moving in as before, then feinting just as he got within range of the towel. As expected, she whipped it at him, but he managed to grab the end. That was when he got the next shock, as Kasumi began producing an endless stream of dustcloths and flinging them at him in a storm of flying cloth. The next thing Ryoga knew, he was on another pillow, looking up at Kasumi's concerned yet proudly-smiling face.
"You and your bandana attacks were the inspiration for that one, Ryoga. It worked well, don't you think? And a dustcloth is soft enough not to accidentally hurt someone."
And it didn't get any better after that. As he skidded along the dojo floor, pinned under Kasumi's mop, the lost boy glumly admitted to himself that even though he would never attack her for real, if he had the result would have been the same. Correction -- it would have been worse. She would have really cleaned his clock then.
About forty-five minutes later, Ranma staggered into the dojo. Kasumi took one look at the dazed expression on his face, and the lipstick marks, and produced a dustcloth. "Was it Ukyo, or Shampoo?"
"U- Ucchan, this time." He cleaned himself off. "I kinda need to c- calm down, Kasumi. Could we spar for a little while?"
"Certainly, Ranma. It's a shame you didn't get back here sooner, though."
A goofy smile crossed Ranma's face. "Oh... I wouldn't say that."
"What I meant was, you just missed Ryoga. He and I had a little match, and then he left. I'm not sure, but I think he was saying something about going on a training journey for the next few years."
"Aw, geez... why couldn't that bozo have stuck around? I haven't seen him in forever." Then Ranma brightened up. "Oh well, if he's actually trying to get to somewhere else, he'll probably wind up coming by more frequently anyway."
Kasumi looked thoughtful. "I don't know... somehow, I don't think we'll be seeing him for the rest of this story."
Nabiki looked down in annoyance. She'd used up about fifty black roses so far in testing her different elixirs, and none of them had reacted in the way they were hoping for. Most of them hadn't changed at all. One had somehow phased out of reality; she could see its image, but her hand passed through it as if it weren't there. One had begun to transmit the program of a local radio station. One had curled into a cocoon, which later hatched into a Cecropia moth. One had melted into an iridescent slime which then crawled over to the pitted hole in the countertop and molded itself in, repairing the damage. The last one had turned to solid gold, of all the useless results.
Tatewaki placed his hand over hers. "Patience, Nab-chan. The course of true love never did run smooth. And it's not like we're running out of blooms to test your creations on."
Nabiki looked over at the roughly two hundred and fifty thousand black roses that Tachi had swept into a pile for her convenience. "You're right about that." Then she glanced coyly at him. "It's just that this is taking so long, and I can think of more romantic places for us to be than this lab..."
Kuno gulped, then answered firmly, "And I as well, but any time spent with you is time I treasure." She smiled meltingly, then tipped a few drops of the latest attempt onto yet another rose... which flared crimson.
'Pop sure was quiet during dinner,' thought Ranma as he glided through a kata. 'He didn't eat much of Akane's goulash, either. Something's definitely up.' As he finished, he noticed his father had entered the dojo and was watching him. Ranma bowed, and said, "Is there something we need to talk about, Pop?"
"I'm afraid so, my son." Genma took a deep breath. "I have decided to contact your mother and tell her the truth of how badly I have failed in raising you." He saw the pain in his son's eyes, and quickly continued, "Ranma, as far as I'm concerned you are a man among men, and everything a parent could hope for in a son. But we must face the truth -- that's due to your greatness of spirit, not my efforts. I have done nothing to aid you in becoming the man you are now. Quite the opposite, in fact. I have placed obstacle after obstacle in your path, deluding myself into thinking I knew best. I can no longer live with the dishonor I have brought upon our family, and so your mother will decide my fate."
"Pop... stop and think about what you just said. Yeah, you did place a lot of obstacles in my path, but fighting past them is what's given me the strength I have now. And it was you who showed me how to fight. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing you could have done better is to give me some clue of how to handle the fact that..." Ranma's face flushed, and his voice dropped shakily, "... I'm in l- love with three girls at once, and can't even admit it to them."
"Sorry, boy, I've got no idea how you can work things out on that front." Genma sighed. "Tomorrow will take care of itself. For what it's worth, I'm certain your mother will be proud of you. I only hope she can find it in her heart to forgive me -- I cannot go on with this shame any longer."
Akane lay in bed and looked at the ceiling. 'No matter how hard I try, I can't measure up to Shampoo or Ukyo,' she thought sadly. 'I thought for so long that if I could cook a good meal for Ranma, things would change, but why? It's not like the others can't cook just as well. And they can show him... how they feel...' Her eyes teared up. 'I owe it to Ranma to do what's best for him. Even if that means giving him to someone else. But which one?' She thought for a moment, but it was an easy decision. She nodded grimly, then proceeded to cry herself to sleep.
Ukyo looked up from polishing her grill. It was only nine o'clock; the restaurant wouldn't open for another two hours, but someone was knocking on the door. She saw it was Akane, and went and let her in.
"What's up, sugar?" Ukyo took a good look at Akane's face, and quickly realized that this was serious. "Don't tell me something's happened to Ranma honey?!"
'N- no, it's... not that." Akane looked over at Ukyo, and sighed despairingly. She was dressed in a tight black leather halter top, and form-fitting midnight-blue pants. The chef looked dangerous and sexy as always. Akane was so tired of fighting a battle where her rivals had more weapons than she did. "Ukyo... I really don't want to say this, so I'm just going to spit it out... you can have Ranma."
Ukyo's jaw dropped. "I know you don't mean that, Akane!"
"I d- don't like it... but you've got a better claim than me. And, and you can make him... happier." She started crying. "You and Shampoo both... d- don't have any trouble showing him... how y- you feel. Ran, Ranma deserves someone like that. And you're the one wh- who lost her dowry a- already."
Ukyo looked at Akane appraisingly. She placed a sympathetic hand on the other girl's shoulder. "Listen, sugar, I'd been wondering when we were gonna have this talk. I didn't think the time was right, but I guess it's now or never. How do you think Ranchan feels about me?"
"It's obvious he l- likes you a lot. What guy wouldn't, with the way you... treat him." She managed to get her tears under control.
"And how do you think Ranma feels about you?"
Akane sighed. "I just don't know. What can I give him that you guys can't?"
"Sugar to balance our spice."
Akane stared at Ukyo. "Was that supposed to make any sense at all?"
"Listen, Akane, I need to clue you in on a few things. I don't know how you've stayed so sheltered. Ranchan doesn't like me a lot -- he loves me." Ukyo examined the other girl's face carefully, to see if she would fight the idea. All she saw was a tired resignation. "Of course, he feels the same way about Shampoo... and you."
"Ukyo, th- that's not funny." Akane's eyes were wide as saucers.
"'Fraid I'm not joking, girl. And it gets worse. Choosing just one of us wouldn't be enough for him. He needs you and at least Shampoo or me." Ukyo gave a crooked smile. "Don't ask me how we're going to work this out. All I can say is Ranma needs a sweet, demure little thing like you to give him the home and the tenderness he's never had, and he needs a hellion like me or the Amazon for his wild side. No offense, but there's no way you could ever be like us, Akane, and you shouldn't even try. Ranchan loves you for who you are. He loves us for who we are." The chef sighed, unaware that who they were right now differed radically from who they normally were. "I don't suppose you've got any bright ideas about how we can rig things so nobody gets hurt?"
Akane was stunned and reeling. She knew Ukyo well enough to know there wasn't anything malicious in her. She'd meant what she had said. 'Ranma... loves me?' The thought took up a good ninety-seven percent of her conscious mind, and the three percent that was left answered automatically, "Well, no, but Nabiki is really good at getting stuff to happen. Maybe we should ask her."
Ukyo grimaced. "Oh, well, I'd been saving for a new rhinestone- studded combat spatula, but I guess I could put that off and cough up the yen for your sister's fees."
"Don't worry... Nabiki doesn't charge for family business."
"Family business, huh?" Ukyo was reminded of that gaijin gangster movie she'd watched the previous night. "Well... I guess we are asking her to help us take it to the mattresses." She laughed as Akane's eyes widened in shock and her face flushed beet red.
Nabiki looked at her sister. "You want me to WHAT?!"
"I know it's a lot to ask, but I--"
Nabiki cut her off. "If you're really willing to share him... there is a simple solution that lets everyone keep their honor and their hearts intact."
"Simple?! Nabiki, this is no time for jokes!" Ukyo exploded.
"So who's joking? Oh, and just so you know, I'm working on getting Kodachi out of the picture without hurting her feelings. By tonight she won't be a concern anymore." Nabiki smiled. Damn, she was good. This matchmaking stuff was fun! "Like I said, it's simple. You, Akane, and Shampoo all love Ranma. He loves you too. Joketsuzoku tribal law allows a man to have multiple Amazon brides. So, just arrange for Cologne to adopt you two into the tribe. I bet if you go and talk to her now, you could get everything set up before Ranma gets back tonight with his mother." Nabiki grinned like a Cheshire cat. "But you do have to join the tribe for this to work. Their law doesn't allow a man to have outsider wives."
Ukyo and Akane stared at her blankly, then slowly turned to look at each other. "It's perfect!"
"Sister, this is for you." Tatewaki handed a letter to Kodachi. She thanked him absently, and opened it... to find a dinner invitation from Mousse. Kodachi's brow wrinkled in puzzlement. "He didn't seem too pleased with me yesterday," she thought aloud.
"I believe he intends this dinner as an apology of sorts for that," Kuno said smoothly. In point of fact, Mousse knew nothing about the alleged letter; it was one of Nabiki's best forgeries. The previous night, she had arranged with Cologne for Mousse to be in the right place at the right time this evening. The old woman had seemed genuinely glad at a chance to do something nice for her employee, although Nabiki hadn't gone so far as to tell her about the love potion, merely stating that she was trying to help Mousse find someone who could love him for himself.
Kodachi considered. "Do you think I should accept the invitation?" After all, her brother's advice was always sound. It didn't even occur to her to wonder how Tatewaki had known what the letter said.
"I believe it would be the right thing to do... both for him and for yourself."
After a quick lunch of okonomiyaki, Akane and Ukyo set out for the Nekohanten. By some inexplicable quirk of fate, there were no dine-in customers that day, but take-out orders were at an all-time high, requiring both Mousse and Shampoo to handle deliveries. Only Cologne was there when the two former rivals arrived.
Cologne listened to their proposal with a mixed sense of happiness, relief, and disgust. She was happy and relieved that this situation could be resolved without anyone being hurt, and disgusted with herself for not seeing the obvious solution long before. She offered to conduct the ritual of adoption right then and there.
As Matriarch, Cologne answered to only one individual in her decisions -- Lin Xiu, the founder and prime guiding spirit of the Amazon tribe. The ceremonial induction of new members into the tribe consisted of a lengthy ritual invocation of Lin Xiu's blessing and a swearing of oaths of loyalty. It usually took nearly an hour to conclude, but this time would be different.
As Cologne began to speak the words asking for the spirit's blessing, a distinctly otherworldly sensation crept into the atmosphere. The quality of the light from outside the windows changed, seeming now to come through some veil less earthly than mere sheets of glass. And then the three of them were not alone...
Whenever they tried afterward to remember the exact details of Lin Xiu's appearance, they were always unable to do so. Akane could remember that she wore armor, but not what type. Ukyo was sure she carried a bladed weapon of some kind. The only thing they both remembered clearly was that her hair shone with all the colors of the rainbow. Although they couldn't remember what they'd seen, the words she spoke stayed with them forever.
"Do you truly wish to be counted as sisters of mine?"
"Are you willing to take my honor as your own?"
"Do you forsake your right to second-guess my laws?"
"Will the decision you make now to be binding on you forever?"
And they answered, "Yes."
The spirit smiled. "Know that I have looked into your true hearts, and find you worthy indeed." Her features did not betray the intense amusement she felt as she looked ahead to what would happen once the personality alterations of the Cube of Chaos were revoked. Ukyo and especially Akane would learn that forever meant forever. "I declare you Amazons in truth. Let this be the sign of my favor to you both!" There was a bright flash of light, then Lin Xiu was gone.
Akane stared at Ukyo, and found the chef was regarding her with a similar expression of awe. Simultaneously, each said, "Your hair..."
"Why so glum, husband?" It had taken Nodoka quite a long time to realize that Genma wasn't as enthusiastic at their reunion as she was. His phone call to her home in Kyoto the previous night had brought nothing but joy to her (well, that and insomnia) due to the thought of seeing her family again. And what a splendid young man Ranma had turned out to be! Just one look at him seemed to tell Nodoka that he was everything she had hoped for in a son.
"Dear, I am glad that Ranma has made a good impression on you, but it is my belief that I have failed in the task of raising him." Genma cut off his son's protest. "I could not be more proud of him... and of how he has triumphed over my foolishness."
Nodoka stared blankly as her husband went on to relate the whole sordid story of his and Ranma's ten-year training journey. She heard about the times he traded the boy's future for food. She learned that Ranma had more than one fiancée. The last detail supplied by Genma was the trip to Jusenkyo and the results, culminating in a demonstration of who "Ranko Tendo" really had been. She then sat quietly as Ranma argued that his father's actions had actually strengthened him by giving him obstacles to overcome. Finally both Saotome men fell silent, and waited for what the harvest would be.
It took Nodoka some time to reach a conclusion. She decided she needed a bit of clarification. "You say that Ranma is cursed... to turn into a girl. And he has three fiancées whom he loves and who love him. Do all of them know about this curse? And about each other?"
"Yeah," said Ranma. "I couldn't keep secrets like that from them." Then he winced internally, remembering that he had kept them from his mother. She didn't seem to mind that, though.
Nodoka's face lit up brighter than a 10,000 watt light-bulb. "My son is truly a man among men!"
Shampoo drifted through the door of the Nekohanten. She kept thinking about Ranma, and how this morning he had definitely been glad to see her. He had acted unusually shy, but she had clearly seen that love for her was shining in his eyes. Obviously the Cube of Chaos had worked after all! She'd never have to fight Ukyo or Akane for Ranma again! Soon her Airen would belong to her and her alone! These daydreams had caused her to take longer on her deliveries than she otherwise would have.
As the Amazon walked into the restaurant, she was surprised to see two strange girls were kneeling in front of her great-grandmother. Then she took a closer look, and nearly passed out from shock. Since when did Akane wear housedresses like that one? She would have thought the tomboy would rather die! And Ukyo... even for a costume party, Shampoo wouldn't have thought the chef capable of... that.
However, the details of their clothing were secondary to the fact that Akane's hair now had the brilliant white sheen of platinum, and Ukyo's was a deep sea-green.
The expression on her great-granddaughter's face passed completely over Cologne's head. "Oh, Shampoo, what splendid timing. I have wonderful news for you. I have adopted Akane and Ukyo as your new sisters, and Lin Xiu clearly blessed this decision -- she manifested and received their oaths of loyalty herself. Then she bestowed the mark of her favor on each. Now there is no reason for the three of you to fight over Ranma... it's perfectly legal for him to marry you all." Cologne smiled broadly at her great-granddaughter.
Shampoo stood frozen, then said, "Excuse, please." She walked to her room as if in a daze. The others then heard the sound of an indestructible brass-and-teakwood cube being kicked around in a fury, along with nearly- incoherent shouts of rage about stupid boxes not getting things right.
"Now, Genma, why are you so surprised? Were you expecting me to disapprove of how you raised our son? You told me fourteen years ago that letting me coddle Ranma would make it harder for him to grow up as a man among men." Nodoka smiled at her family. "Your promise to me has been fulfilled completely."
"And you don't mind about the curse?" Ranma asked.
"Well, I'm sorry for the pain it must have caused you, dear, but you should look on it as the ultimate proof of your manliness."
"Run that by me again?" her sometime-son said faintly.
"On the surface, of course turning into a girl doesn't seem very manly. But you have not one, not two, but three young ladies who love you in spite of your condition. That makes it obvious that the real, inner you is a true man. I couldn't be more proud of you, my son!"
"And you forgive Pop for his training methods, right?"
"There's nothing to forgive. They obviously worked, just as you said yourself, Ranma. Now stop beating yourself up, husband -- you've done a wonderful job raising our son." Nodoka beamed. "So how soon can I meet Shampoo and Ukyo? I can't wait to get to know my other future daughters-in- law!"
"W-wait a minute, Mom! What do you mean?! I can't marry more than one of them!" Ranma's face twisted in anguish at the thought, but he couldn't see any way around it.
"Well, Ranma, you do know you are descended from samurai nobility? In times past, it was common for Saotome men to take more than one wife. We might have to use my family's connections to the underworld to procure two alternate identities for you, but I don't see anything morally wrong with that. After all, it's for a good cause. You can marry all three of the girls you love."
"Better to break laws than hearts, you mean?"
"Spoken like a true man among men."
Akane glanced nervously at the clock. She was planning to cook lasagna for dinner that night, and it was almost time to start preparing it, but she didn't want to be tied up in the kitchen when Ranma got back with his mother. She glanced at Ukyo. The chef appeared calmer than she was but still somewhat anxious. Shampoo, on the other hand, seemed to be experiencing a combination of irritation and resignation. The Amazon's reaction was a little strange, Akane thought, then chided herself. She couldn't think of Shampoo as 'the' Amazon anymore... the purple-haired girl was her tribal sister now.
'Okay. Maybe my wish was to be married to Ranma without anyone arguing or interfering or getting their life smashed for good. But did it have to be like this?! I thought that since Ranma was an outsider, I'd not have to worry about sharing him like I would have if he'd been born in the village. Stupid box. It's supposed to have all the power of chaos at its disposal. Couldn't it have done a better job than this?!' Shampoo ignored the nagging voice whispering that she should have expected for her wish to be granted in whatever way maximized the potential for future chaos. She was in no mood to be reasonable.
The sounds of Kasumi greeting Ranma and his parents brought Akane's heart into her throat. It seemed to take two years for them to make their way to the living room where Ranma's fiancée brigade lay in wait. As Ranma came into the room, Akane gathered all her courage and took a deep breath.
"Ranma, Ukyo told me you love me, and her and Shampoo as well, and once she said it I was able to see how stupid I've been for not realizing it before, but I was so afraid that you might not care for me, and I know they both love you, and maybe I haven't been any good about showing it, but I love you too, and I never want to lose you, and I can understand how they would feel the same way, and I know you don't want to hurt any of us, and so Ukyo and I got adopted into the Amazon tribe so you can marry all three of us under their laws, that's why our hair changed color, it was amazing, Lin Xiu herself said we were worthy of being true Amazons, and Cologne wants to hold the wedding this weekend, and we all agreed that would be great, if you don't mind, Mrs Saotome, Ranma really is a man among men, you know, to have so many girls in love with him, his curse doesn't matter to us, it's the man he really is that we love, that... I... love..." Akane ran out of breath and nervous energy at the same time. She was trembling like a leaf in the wind, but there was a curious feeling of relief about finally getting all that off her chest.
Ukyo got up and walked over to Ranma. She waved a hand in front of his face a few times, but got no reaction. She grinned at her new sister. "I think you hit him with a little too much too fast, Akane. He's in shock. Let me do something about that." She proceeded to give Ranma a very energetic kiss. This did wake him up, but when she broke the clinch he nearly passed out completely from overexcitement. She gave her fiancé a seductive look, then sobered up as she belatedly realized that her prospective mother-in-law was standing only a few feet away. The chef relaxed, though, as she saw amusement and approval on Nodoka's face.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Ukyo dear. You too, Shampoo. I can see Ranma certainly made a good choice in fiancées." Nodoka turned to Shampoo. "Is it a tribal custom for Amazon women to dye their hair different colors? Did Akane and Ukyo do that as part of the induction?"
"No and sort of." Shampoo realized that her answer wasn't really clear, and elaborated. "This not dye. Amazon womans often born with special hair color -- is sign of favor of great spirit Lin Xiu. She is founder of tribe of Chinese Amazons, and giver of law. Great-grandmother say Lin Xiu show up during ceremony to adopt Ukyo and Akane and say they very worthy additions to tribe. Is very good honor. This now their real hair color, just like lavender is Shampoo's. Show they real Amazons, as real as if born to tribe." With this, Shampoo silently let go of the last of her anger at what had happened. Somehow, she was certain that Lin Xiu's acceptance of the other girls wasn't caused by the Cube of Chaos, even if their willingness to join the tribe had been.
"And under your laws, Ranma can marry all three of you? That's wonderful news. I had a plan that would have enabled him to do that under Japan's legal system, but purchasing two false identities would have been quite expensive. And it's certainly better to have just one ceremony for all of you, since you all will be together in the same family." Nodoka turned to her son. "Well, Ranma? What do you say to having the wedding this weekend?"
Ranma fought the feeling of being a tiny chip of wood riding helplessly along in a raging river of circumstance. He took a deep breath and examined his feelings. "I think... it sounds... like a great idea."
"That's my Ranchan!" Ukyo's smile lit up the room. "Come on, everyone, I'll treat you guys to dinner tonight. After all, my new mother needs to find out just who's the best okonomiyaki chef in Japan!"
Meanwhile, another dinner date was proceeding in an unexpected direction...
Mousse stared blankly at Kodachi. "What do you mean, I invited you to dinner?" Cologne had told him to come to this restaurant on Cat Café business tonight. When he arrived, the maitre d' had been expecting him and had shown him to a table for a complimentary dinner, saying that they would discuss business afterward. Kodachi had shown up only a few minutes later, led to the table by a waiter.
Kodachi stared back. "Didn't you send this letter to me?" She handed it to Mousse. He adjusted his glasses and looked closely at it. It definitely looked like his handwriting, but he knew he hadn't written it. Before he could say anything, though, the table centerpiece began to emit the vaporous form of Nabiki Tendo's Elixir O' Love (patent pending).
Mousse lost track of his thoughts very quickly. He stared, entranced, at the woman before him. He wondered how he could ever have thought Shampoo was beautiful, when Kodachi outshone the Amazon like a bonfire does a candle. No, not a bonfire, he thought, she was a lighthouse, and her light could guide his soul across the reefs into a safe harbor.
"Mousse? Didn't you send it?" Suddenly Kodachi found she was pleading. She couldn't bear the thought of him turning away from her. She wanted him to take her in his arms, and tell her that he'd never let her go. The desperation in her voice and her eyes shook Mousse out of his daze... and into a quandary. He'd give his life before disappointing her, but he couldn't lie to her. He chose his words with care.
"I believe an angel did, Kodachi. An angel that had compassion on the both of us, fools that we were for chasing Shampoo and Ranma. An angel that has given us a true chance at happiness. I didn't send it, because I was too blind a fool. If I had it to do over again, it would be my hand that wrote this letter, although I would have to fight against the knowledge that I am unworthy of you."
Kodachi smiled gently, and a tear slipped down one cheek. "That's my call to make, Mousse." Then she adopted a rather naughty expression. "I think I may enjoy convincing you otherwise."
The rest of the week passed almost calmly. The old Ranma would have recognized the sensation of 'calm before the storm.' Then again, the old Ranma would have been completely unable to deal with an approaching wedding to three fiancées, even if they did get along with each other and had no qualms about sharing him. All in all, it's probably for the best that that Ranma was absent just then.
Ukyo woke up on Saturday morning with one thought. It was THE DAY. The day she'd been waiting for ever since she'd gotten her father to engage her to Ranma, so many years ago. And if she'd have a little company at the altar, or whatever its Amazon equivalent was, well, that wasn't too bad. Growing up an only child had been so lonely, and now she was getting two sisters as well as the man of her dreams. The usual brazen look she wore when thinking of Ranma softened considerably as she realized that she'd never be alone again.
Then it came back with a vengeance as she let her thoughts drift in the direction of the coming night. She'd have to remember not to exhaust Ranchan too much, she chided herself. After all, that wouldn't be fair to Akane and Shampoo. She got out of bed and walked over to her closet, to take another look at her wedding outfit. It had taken her three days of near-constant work to get it completed, but it was perfect.
'Well, box, I guess you did what I had in the back of my mind when I opened you.' Shampoo looked at the all-too-innocent Cube of Chaos, which was perched on a shelf in her room. 'More or less, anyway. Pairing Mousse with Kodachi was a nice touch... now neither one of them will interfere. And I guess it could be your doing too that Ryoga isn't in town to try and 'rescue' Akane, since he usually does turn up whenever something big happens in her life. Just keep him away for another eight hours and everything will be fine.'
Shampoo paused at that thought, and considered how far she'd come in the last few days. She'd rather share Ranma with Akane than gamble on having the wedding disrupted, even if that disruption would have had the potential to keep Akane from ending up with her Airen. She glanced suspiciously at the Cube, wondering if it were manipulating her, then remembered that Lin Xiu had more or less endorsed the current situation. That was the real reason she had accepted things. At least this new Akane wouldn't abuse Ranma anymore. And the Tendo girl could now cook! Shampoo personally considered the baklava she'd eaten last night to be the greatest demonstration of power the Cube had produced.
"It's so beautiful," Akane whispered as she ran her hands over the white silk of the wedding gown. Nodoka had told her that she would provide her with one, and she had been looking forward to seeing it, but she'd never dreamed it would be this lovely.
Nodoka wiped a tear from her eye as she recalled the last time that dress had seen use. "It was mine, Akane-chan. I've spent the last few days altering it for you. I felt you were the fiancée that would be best suited to a gown like this one."
Akane choked up a little. After a few minutes of clearing her throat, she was able to talk normally again. "Auntie Saotome... do you think my mom... would be proud of me today?"
Nodoka smiled gently at her. "I'm certain she would. Catching a prize like my son! And I know she would be very impressed with the courage you've shown in joining the Amazon tribe and accepting Shampoo and Ukyo as fellow wives to Ranma, just so that no-one would be hurt." She patted Akane on the shoulder. "And now it's just about time to slip into that, don't you think?"
The ceremony itself took place in the Tendo Dojo. Cologne explained that when Akane became an Amazon, the dojo which was her dowry became Amazon territory under their law, and so they wouldn't have to hold the wedding at the Nekohanten. Since the dojo was much more spacious, this was a good thing -- the guests included Tatewaki and Kodachi Kuno, Mousse, Dr Tofu, and numerous students from Furinkan, as well as Genma, Nodoka, Soun, Kasumi, and Nabiki.
One of the interesting quirks about Amazon marriage ceremonies is that the more wives a man is taking, the less elaborate the wedding. This custom had been instituted for a number of reasons. For one, it cut down on the danger of having the different girls competing to see who could add the most elaborate flourishes to the day. For another, a shorter ceremony meant more time to open wedding presents; when there were three or four brides, each from a different extended family, this could take a long time. The most practical reason of all, though, was to minimize the risk of the groom coming to his senses at the eleventh hour and making a break for it.
Of course, thanks to a certain brass-and-teakwood box, there was no chance of that happening today. The ceremony went forward without a hitch. Vows, kisses, and weapons were exchanged, and Ranma found that at last his fiancée troubles had ended without having to hurt anyone. He looked at each of his new brides, and thought, 'Finally... nothing can go wrong now.'
This was when Lin Xiu, who had been watching from the Astral Plane with a huge smirk on her face, decided to give her wedding present. She made an arcane gesture with her weapon (currently a naginata, not that that has any impact on the story whatsoever).
Back in Shampoo's room at the Nekohanten, a vortex sprung up around the still-open Cube of Chaos. It swirled for a moment, and then the Cube slammed shut and vanished.
In the Tendo Dojo, several people felt the sensation of a rushing wind whip past them, even though it didn't stir their clothes or hair. Nodoka was not one of them... she'd been well outside the range of the Cube of Chaos when Shampoo opened it, and had thus not had her personality rewritten. By the same token, Shampoo didn't feel the wind, but she did receive a direct communication from Lin Xiu explaining what was happening. Kodachi and Mousse, who were shielded by the effects of an incredibly potent and permanent love potion, were also untouched by the wind.
But everyone else in the room had their old personalities returned to them, with their memories of the past week, and especially the past hour, still intact.
There was a long moment of silence, then a loud Clunk as Akane, Ukyo, and Ranma fainted dead away.
Several interesting conversations would take place in Nerima over the next few days...
"Okay, Shampoo. Talk! What the HELL happened today?!"
"Umm... we get married?"
"Besides that! I mean... Oh, crud..."
"Why Airen think Shampoo know anything about why things go crazy last week?"
"Let's see... Akane and Ukyo joined the Amazon tribe, their hair changed color by Amazon magic, you're the only one who wasn't acting different... it ain't exactly a subtle pattern here!!"
"No get so worked up, Ranma. Maybe not tonight, but soon you need all you strength."
"Better get fainting out of system now, Airen."
"I am NOT an Amazon!"
"Look at hair in mirror, Akane. Is too late have second thoughts now."
"I wasn't in my right mind then! That means it doesn't count! And stop grinning like that!!"
"Akane should speak with more respect to wife."
"Wife?! WIFE?! Let's get something straight, I am NOT your WIFE!!!"
"Shampoo know is not right word, but Japanese still not so good. What is word for fellow-wife-of-husband?"
"What word?! Try 'hentai'!!"
"So, Akane admit to be hentai?"
"... SHAMPOO NO BAKA!!!"
"Um, M- Mother?"
"Yes, Ukyo dear?"
"Do you think... we could maybe... hold another wedding ceremony?"
"Dear, I don't think that's such a good idea. It would be like saying the first one wasn't good enough, which would be insulting to your new Amazon sisters. Why would you want one anyway? It was a beautiful wedding."
"Maybe so, but I, I just never... expected to get married in a black leather rivet-studded bodysuit."
"Quit complaining, boy. A martial artist should be prepared to face anything for the Art."
"Oh, is that why you always do your best to make my life a living hell?!"
"Now, boy, this mess is hardly my fault. Besides, at least your mother is convinced that you're a man among men."
"... And she's also convinced I don't mind the grief you've given me over the years. She even approves of it! Do you know how much that makes me want to pound you, old man?!"
"Don't think I don't know what's really bothering you, boy. You're worried that you aren't enough of a man to handle them all. That's it, isn't it."
"Pop... YOU ARE A DEAD MAN!!"
"I... suppose I should give you this back, Kuno."
"I would rather you kept it, Nabiki. The past is the past, but I will never forget what we shared. If... if I could have one wish, it would be that you and I could... stay as we were. I find I'm not as fond of the Blue Thunder as I once was."
"Tachi... perhaps we could make that wish come true... together."
"This came for you today, brother-in-law dear."
"Gee, thanks, Nabiki... oh great, it's another challenge letter from Ryoga. Man, I don't even want to think about what he'll have to say about what's happened."
"Are you kidding, Saotome? He won't say anything. He's just going to shout, 'DIE, RANMA!' and charge you with his umbrella."
"Heh. Good point. Hey, that's odd. The postmark on this letter is the day after tomorrow."
"Wow, just when I thought Ryoga couldn't get any more lost."
"So, son-in-law, how soon can I expect my first great-great- grandchild? I'm not getting any younger, you know."
"You and the pyramids both, old ghoul."
"I could always use the strength-sapping attack Happi got you with, and let Shampoo have her way with you. I expect Ukyo would appreciate the opportunity as well."
"D- don't even joke about something like that!!"
"Who's joking, sonny boy? I'll cut you some slack, though... for now."
"You seem pensive, my love. I do hope you're not pining for Shampoo?"
"Not exactly. I was just thinking... Ranma married three girls, but as far as I'm concerned... he settled for second best, Dachi."
"Oh, Mousse... you say the sweetest things. I think I may have to start calling you Chocolate."
"I cannot believe your mother is making us all sleep in the same room! How am I supposed to even get any sleep?!"
"Ranma is one what not going to get any sleep tonight."
"What's that supposed to -- WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!"
"What it look like, Airen? Getting undressed. Shampoo wait long time for tonight."
"H- hold it, Shampoo! I waited twelve years for this night! What makes you think you get first dibs on Ranma honey?!"
"Simple. Is Shampoo's wish with Cube of Chaos that make this happen."
"Oh, yeah?! Well, in case you've forgotten, I'm an Amazon too, now, and Ranchan has beaten me in combat more times than he's beaten you! That gives me a better claim!"
"You guys! I can't believe this! At least you could let Ranma decide... which one he..."
"Ee... WHAT?! No way, Akane! No way in hell am I gonna make a choice like that and hear about it for the rest of my life!!" A sigh of resigned acceptance. "You girls work it out among yourselves."
"Ok, Airen, we play fair. Use paper, rock, scissor to decide. You ready, Ukyo? One... two..."
"WAIT! H... how about we d- draw straws, instead."
A long moment of silence.
"Akane just say what Shampoo think she say?"
I wanted to write a story which doesn't end things tamely. I think you'll agree that this one fits that description. A few ideas in this fanfic were inspired by "The Road Not Travelled" by Ricardo Garza, the bit about Ranma's ancestors being polygamous samurai nobility was done before in "Mirrors Multiplied" by Jared Ornstead, and the "Chocolate Mousse" joke is from the Altered Destinies tale "Black Rose Blue Thunder" by Dreiser.
Update 5/10/2004: minor cleanup, mostly removing superfluous use of capitalization.