Author's Note: Alas, we all knew this day would come. Yes, I'm afraid this is the final chapter of Fortune's Fool. However, since it sounds like people are interested and I think I was able to get the epilogue to do what I wanted it to do, I am planning on writing a sequel. I'll discuss this in more detail after the story. Btw, the epilogue is very short (about 200 words), so I just tacked it on to the end of this chapter. Also, it turns out this chapter is longer than I thought it would be. There were a couple of places where I had sort of just condensed potentially good scenes into about a paragraph, so when I retyped it I turned them into actual scenes. As it turns out, this is probably the longest chapter so far.
Okay, I'll talk a bit more at the end. Here's the story!
Disclaimer: If you don't know, I'm certainly not gonna tell you. ;)
cast the only light upon Mousse, who was just finishing up with washing
the evening's dishes. It was always his job to do the dirty work that no one
else wanted, so he was often the last one to go to bed at night. It didn't
really bother him most days; that just seemed to be his lot in life. But
tonight was different.
He carefully placed the last of the cooking ware he had recently washed into the cupboard. He sighed quietly, thinking, 'Done for the day. Now I can go to bed and start over again tomorrow.' His weary eyes turned to look out the window, into the darkness.
"Nothing changes. I've been waiting all my life and nothing ever changes," he muttered, his mood as dreary as the cold night. Before his eyes, a shadowy image seemed to hover -- an image of a delicate, smiling face, surrounded by a cascade of lavender hair. Then her eyes lit up as she caught sight of a certain pigtailed martial artist and his heart sank into the pit of his stomach. 'I'm always a step behind -- always pursuing, never pursued. And in the end, I'm left alone in the dark. And still I wait.'
'Why do I stay? She's in love with someone else. It would be better all around if I accepted that fact and went home, to China. So why do I stay?'
A small noise from behind him interrupted his thoughts. Glancing back, he saw the object of his musings standing in the shadowy doorway, looking uncharacteristically meek.
"Shampoo?" he asked, incredulous, brow furrowing slightly.
"Hello Mousse," she said in a small voice. She wasn't entirely sure where to begin. It seemed to her that the usual tactics she used on Ranma would not work in this case. This was very different.
She stepped forward, finally deciding to swallow her pride and take the direct approach. That was how she was normally most comfortable after all. "Mousse I..." the girl began, standing less than a foot from him, "I..." she placed her hands on his chest, then slid them up to his face as she moved closer. The boy's eyes widened gradually, before closing when their lips met.
Mousse was so stunned by her actions that he could only stand there, wondering if he was dreaming. The kiss lingered, soft and inviting. Then the purple-haired girl pulled back, just an inch, and whispered, "I love you."
He felt her warm breath dance over his skin as she uttered the words he had so longed to hear. It took a moment for him to realize what had happened. Shampoo had said she loved him! She loved him. She was looking deep into his turquoise eyes, searching for his response, but his brain couldn't seem to process the information fast enough. Finally, he managed to get his arms working again and did something he'd been yearning to do since the day he met her: he swept her up in his embrace and kissed her deeply, passionately, with all the tenderness he possessed. And the best part was that she was kissing him back.
As his mouth moved over hers, he felt purely and completely happy, something he had not experienced for a very long time. It was as if, until now, there had been a void in his soul, one that only she could fill. And here he stood, this wonderful, fiery, Amazon beauty in his arms. It was better than he'd ever imagined. At last he was complete...and so was she.
When they eventually came up for air, he regarded her in wonderment. "Shampoo, you have no idea how happy you've made me," he breathed. Her eyes seemed to sparkle, locked with his. For the first time in a very long while, she felt at peace.
'Maybe losing control not so bad after all,' she thought with a smile.
* * *
The next evening, the members of the Tendo household sat at dinner, the usual conversation buzzing about the table. As they neared the end of the meal, Ranma and Akane exchanged a glance and Ranma spoke up in a serious tone of voice.
"Hey everybody, um, Akane and I have something important to say. It's about the engagement." Everyone fell silent at this and turned to the couple, who kept their faces carefully neutral. Their respective fathers looked a bit nervous, knowing that if their children had decided once and for all that they would not marry, there was little their parents could do to about it. In spite of evidence to the contrary, both men knew that their children's happiness was more important than the dojo, and neither had the heart to force the marriage if it would truly make Ranma and Akane miserable. Nabiki on the other hand was fixing the couple with a quietly suspicious gaze, as though trying to read their minds through the front they were putting up, and Kasumi merely waited politely for Ranma to continue. All of them listened intently, for by the sound of his voice, they had made a decision.
Ranma cast a glance about him, seeing he had their attention, and resumed speaking in a grave voice, "The two of us have discussed the matter thoroughly. As you all know, we fight almost constantly, I have several other fiancees, she has other suitors, and neither of us has any intention of being forced into something we don't want, especially marriage. So, in light of all these problems, we have come to a decision..." his eyes slid to meet her gaze, and a sly grin crept across his face, "We love each other, and we're going to get married."
The reaction was exactly what they'd hoped for. Genma's jaw dropped in surprise and Soun burst into tears of joy, weeping into his stunned friend's shoulder. Kasumi gasped lightly, placing a hand to her chest, then smiled. She rushed around the table and drew the younger girl into a warm hug.
"I'm so happy for you," she whispered, tears coming to her eyes, "I hoped you'd see it someday."
Akane pulled back, a questioning expression on her face, "See what?"
"How much you love him," the older girl replied simply. Akane smiled, and Kasumi could see a lightness of spirit in her sister that she hadn't seen since…before their mother passed away.
Meanwhile, as the fathers danced a sort of celebratory jig around the room, Ranma had been dragged aside by Nabiki.
"I was wondering how long you two were gonna sneak around before you told us," she drawled.
Ranma raised his eyebrows, "You knew?"
"Oh come now, my future brother-in-law, do you really think anything around here escapes my notice? You two have only been in love with each other for the past year or so. Did you think I wouldn't figure it out when you started sleeping together?" she smirked when his face paled in shock.
"You, uh, *cough* knew about that?" he fidgeted embarrassedly, avoiding her eyes.
Her smirk softened to amusement when she assured him, "It's not like I was spying on you or anything, I just happen to be a bit more observant than most. Fortunately for you, your fiancees are not."
His brow furrowed at that, as he realized something, "Hey, if you knew all along, why didn't you sell the information or blackmail us or something, like you usually do?"
Her usual hard as nails gaze turned thoughtful, and a rare, genuine sort of smile graced her features as she answered him, "I don't sell all my info, Ranma. Frankly, my sister's happiness is worth a lot more to me than anyone can pay -- even Kuno," she smirked at the last bit, "Which means I'll have to kill you if you hurt her."
"I won't. I can promise you that." He smiled again, and Nabiki followed his gaze to Akane, who was positively glowing.
'No, I believe you won't,' she thought, satisfied.
* * *
The light, pleasant sounds of a string quartet playing a simple nineteenth century European melody floated throughout the dojo. After much debate among the Tendos and Saotomes, the couple had decided on a Western style wedding, hence the distinctly un-Japanese music and attire. They had decided this mainly for the sake of simplicity, and because Akane was partial to the western style of dress.
So now Ranma stood at the altar, waiting for the ceremony to start, fidgeting restlessly with his tie. He glanced around the room at his friends and family, all gathered there together. He was admittedly surprised that things were going so well, considering the sort of people that he and Akane tended to associate with. But all of the major concerns had been taken care of. He and Akane had finally managed to convince Kodachi and her infamous brother of Ranma's 'situation,' and told them both to back off. They were at the wedding, but so far were behaving themselves. Ranma kept an eye on them just in case.
Shampoo, much to everyone's amazement, seemed to have fallen for Mousse, and the two of them sat very close together in the front row, holding hands and exchanging glances every so often. A diamond engagement ring could be seen glinting on the Amazon woman's ring finger. The pair had never looked happier.
In the back corner of the room, mostly hidden in shadow, Ryoga watched silently. Ranma had noticed him coming in, but he knew Akane wasn't aware of his presence, as she was still in the house waiting for the ceremony to begin. It was the first he'd seen of the Lost Boy since that day in the park almost two months ago, when Akane had found out the truth about P-chan. He felt genuinely sorry for his friend when he saw his hollow, broken expression. Apparently he was still troubled by the way things had ended with Akane, and even Ranma was unsure how she would react if she discovered him.
The only person missing was Ukyo; Ranma was saddened slightly at the thought. After she had attacked Akane she'd been placed in a mental institution. They weren't quite sure yet just what had happened. Ranma hadn't seen her since that day; He wasn't sure if he could forgive her for what she'd done -- for almost taking Akane away from him.
The guests hushed and the music changed, bringing Ranma back to the present and back to his nerves. He tried valiantly to keep from twisting the hem of his jacket with his fingers, but it was a losing battle, something to which he was quite unaccustomed. Then all at once his breath caught in his throat as Akane appeared in the doorway.
Her dress was made of simple but elegant white satin, and cut just off the shoulders, exposing her neck and the exquisite line of her collarbone. It had long sleeves that came to a soft point at her knuckles, covering the back of her hand. The back of the dress was slightly longer than the rest, creating a gentle train behind her. At the hem, cuffs, and neckline were sewn a thin border of tiny, pearl-like beads. Finally, a sheer, gossamer veil was draped over her face and ran down her back. Yet through it he could see those familiar brown eyes locked with his as she moved gracefully down the aisle toward him.
They joined hands, their nerves calming at the contact. As the officiator began the ceremony, they both knew they weren't really listening. They just let his words wash over them, knowing in their hearts what they meant, focusing on each other, on the deep emotions that seemed to flow through their joined hands. When it came time to do so, they each said, "I do," and exchanged rings, all the while just barely aware of the other people in the room. Finally, they heard the words they'd been waiting for.
"I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Ranma gladly obliged. The string quartet started up once again and the couple broke apart with smiles on their faces, turning to greet their guests and start the reception.
"Ranma, Shampoo so happy for you!" the Amazon came up to him and glomped him, but not nearly as...forcefully as she used to. He instinctively tried to get away, watching out for Akane, but Shampoo let him go easily and laughed at his reaction. "No worry, Ranma. Shampoo love Mousse," she slipped her arm around her new fiancee as he came up behind her. Ranma relaxed when he saw the easy grin the young man was giving him.
"Good," he said, "I'm really happy for you as well, Shampoo. Congratulations on your engagement."
"Thanks," Mousse replied, and Ranma wondered at how strange it was that these friends of his had been trying to kill/marry him not all that long ago.
He turned to greet the other guests, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ryoga slip out the side door. Changing direction, he pulled Akane aside.
"Akane, Ryoga's here," her eyes darkened, "I just saw him go outside."
"I don't want to see him." her voice was cold, but soft, and he saw through it.
"Yes you do. I know you better than that. You can't stay mad at him forever and you know it. He's our friend, despite any mistakes he's made. I think you should talk to him, Akane-chan." A small smile played on her lips at the endearment.
* * *
Akane's voice spoke from behind him, making him stop in his tracks. He bowed his head for a moment, closing his eyes, then turned back halfway to look at her, part of him afraid to face her. "Akane, I...I thought you'd never speak to me again," he said quietly.
She returned his gaze, brow lowered slightly in thought as she considered what exactly she wanted to say. "What you did was…wrong, Ryoga. You violated my privacy, and you deceived me, took advantage of me." He cringed visibly at her words but made no attempt to excuse his actions, and she softened a bit in spite of herself, "But..."
A glimmer of hope appeared in his eyes and he listened intently as she continued, "I think I understand now why you did it, and I believe that you didn't intend to hurt me. I suppose in a way it's sort of a...a compliment."
He met her eyes fully now, and she saw in them a mixture of pain and possibility. She took a deep breath and gave him the beginning of a smile, "I forgive you, Ryoga."
He released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, his heart lighter now than it had been in months, since he'd seen her last. "Thank you," he paused, "and...congratulations."
Her smile grew and she glanced toward the reception for a moment before turning back to Ryoga and saying, "Come on inside." He grinned and nodded, following her back into the dojo.
* * *
Ranma kept an eye on the door and was pleased to see both Ryoga and Akane rejoin the festivities. Late into the night everyone ate, drank, danced and visited. It was strange how easy his friendship with Ryoga had become now that they were no longer rivals for Akane's heart. She belonged to Ranma, as did he to her, and Ryoga had accepted that. Also, he was aware that Ranma had been quite influential in convincing Akane to forgive him, and for that he was extremely grateful. If Ryoga could not have her heart, at least he could have her friendship.
Eventually the party wound down and the guests gradually went home. All the members of the Tendo household had drifted off to bed. All, that is, except the newlyweds, who remained in the dojo.
Ranma had his arms around his wife, who leaned her head on his shoulder, eyes closed. He rested his chin on her hair, enjoying the feel of her body against his as they swayed gently in time to the soft music that drifted throughout the moonlit room.
"Husband," she began playfully, pulling back a bit so she could see his face.
"What is it, Wife?" he answered with a grin.
She smiled up at him, "I was just thinking that, well, this was the first place you ever told me you loved me."
"Yeah," he quirked an eyebrow, saying in an ironic tone of voice, "and before you could answer, the roof fell in, knocked you out cold and erased your memory." They both laughed.
"Well," she said mischievously, "it looks as if we've been given a second chance. If you tell me again, maybe I'll answer this time."
He leaned his forehead against hers. "Fair enough. I love you, Akane-chan," he half-whispered, "more than life itself."
The unexpected sincerity brought tears to her eyes. "I know," she whispered, "And I love you, Ranma. I always will."
They closed the distance between them, their lips affirming their words. In one kiss, they promised to share a lifetime, much more so than in the kiss they had shared in front of everyone at the ceremony. This time it was only the two of them. It wasn't heated and passionate, but rather long and deep, steady as a river, for they knew now that they had their whole lives together; there was no rush. It was their first real kiss as husband and wife.
When they eased apart, Akane tucked her head down on Ranma's shoulder once more, until she heard him whisper, almost to himself, "Oh, I am fortune's fool..."
"Hmm?" she questioned curiously, raising her head.
"Oh nothing. Just something I read somewhere once. Might've been Shakespeare, I don't remember. It always sorta stuck in my head, but now it doesn't seem to make as much sense to me as it did once."
She thought for a moment, "Well, maybe that's because you're no longer fortune's fool."
He smiled, "I like the sound of that..."
* * *
It was an ordinary day. The sun was high overhead, yet there was a light chill in the air, testifying to the approaching fall. It had been a little over three weeks since Ranma and Akane's wedding, and -- surprise, surprise -- Ryoga was lost.
He wandered aimlessly yet tirelessly down a city street, failing to notice that it was the same one he'd been down at least four times since leaving the Tendo dojo, until he came upon a large building that he did recognize. It was the strangest thing; somehow, no matter what direction he set out in (not that he could tell the difference) he always ended up right back here.
'That's weird,' he thought, 'I always used to end up at Akane's house, but now I keep finding this place.' He studied the sign that hung on the tall fence surrounding the grounds. West Tokyo Mental Institution, it read.
'Why do I keep ending up at a mental institution?' he mused. It wasn't as if he knew anyone there. Well, pretty much everyone he knew was at least a little crazy, but not enough to get them institutionalized. He shrugged his shoulders and tried to pick a new direction to see if he could at least get out of Tokyo this time.
He was completely unaware that he was being watched as he did so. High above him, peering coldly, blankly out of one of the windows of the building he'd been studying was a familiar brunette. Apparently, unbeknownst to him, one of his friends was crazy enough to be institutionalized.
Once he was out of sight, Ukyo twitched the blinds shut and disappeared into her room.
A/N: So what do you think? If anyone has any comments/critiques pertaining to plot, writing style, etc., they would be greatly appreciated as they may assist me in writing the sequel. All I've really got so far is a main idea, a bit of brainstorming, and an active imagination, so every little bit helps. Since I haven't actually started writing yet I'm not sure how long it will take me to start posting, but I'm hoping to have something to show within a month or so.
Here's a bit about the sequel (such as it is): For the most part it will be Ukyo/Ryoga, but I don't intend to abandon the other characters by any means. I'm thinking it will deal with Ukyo and her problems, going deeper into her psyche, as well as Ryoga's issues. I can't say much more than that or I might give something away, but if you have suggestions, I'm all ears!
Anyway, In conclusion I want to thank you all for reading my first fanfic (and actually the first bit of fiction I've written for about four years). I've really enjoyed the experience, and look forward to continuing it. And thank you so much for all your wonderful reviews! I think I'm developing an addiction to them…
Love you all, and see you soon!