Title: Betrayal's Reward
Author name: Trugeta
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Rumiko Takahashi and Marvel Comics as well as many others. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Note further that I don't own any of the trademarks mentioned in this story. Also, the OCs used in this story are a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead is not intended and purely coincidental.
The story takes place after the failed wedding in Ranma Manga No. 38 and a few months prior to Venom's escape from Ryker's Island during which he spawned the Carnage symbiote. It's an AU, and reviews are welcome and appreciated.
Chapter 25: Closure
"What happened then?" an adolescent red-haired girl in dark red pyjamas asked intently, her neck craned so that her light-blue eyes could peer up at the older redhead's face.
Ranma smiled fondly at one Enya Felice Parker, her twelve-year old daughter, who was sitting in her lap and brushed a few errant strands of hair out of the younger redhead's face, much to the girl's annoyance as evidenced by her narrowing eyes and pout. The smile intensified due to the amusement caused by her daughter's reactions, but the gaiety was quickly replaced by a solemn look. "I was taken into custody, dear, and about three weeks later my second trial began..."
The day to prove her innocence had finally come, Ranma thought with a sense of grim satisfaction as she was led into the courtroom and to her seat. Her expression was completely neutral as she let her gaze travel across the court room, briefly coming to rest on her father. Genma gave an encouraging smile and thumbs up which caused her lips to quirk upwards of their own volition, and she gave a nod. Her father had visited her every day in the three weeks she had spent in custody and had made a real effort to be a father instead of a sensei, and with the pressures of having to unite the schools off his shoulders he had treated her... normal. It had been a pleasant change and felt... nice.
Genma had also been there for her sister and had supported Amnar during her own trial which had drawn to a close just three days ago. Amnar had been cleared of all charges, and Ranma had had Jennifer confirm that her father had stood by his 'other child' through it all as well. It was more than she ever would have dared hope for, but this had shown more than anything that Genma was willing to take responsibility. It hadn't hurt either that her father's name had been cleared thanks to Happosai by explaining that it had all been in the scope of him, the Grandmaster of the Anything Goes, trying to find a worthy heir. Seeing as the crown had been in on it, no harm, no foul.
Ranma smiled inwardly as she sat down in her chair next to She-Hulk who was in her Jennifer Walters form and clad in a smart black business suit much like her own, the redhead's cool gaze travelling over the other witnesses that had been called in. Her gaze lingered on Genma and then her sister whom she favoured with a smile as well, getting an encouraging smile back, but it turned downright arctic when it happened upon the Tendos including Akane whose own trial would be in two weeks time.
All four Tendos steadfastly refused to meet her eyes, and giving an internal disgusted scoff her gaze travelled further, the warmth returning to her eyes when her gaze fell upon a sane looking Tatewaki Kuno. Giving the briefest inclination of her head which the Kuno scion returned Ranma fixed her gaze on the prosecuting attorney, one Richard Gaynes.
Jennifer Walters nodded encouragingly as if to say 'There's nothing to fear,'. The older woman had told her that the successor of Edward Burke, an attractive raven-haired man with striking features in his mid-forties was a very just man who would do his utmost to see justice served, and this knowledge was indeed comforting to Ranma; Jennifer had also briefed her on the Judge presiding the trial, one David Thomson.
The man was 1.90 metres tall and very solidly built; some would even go so far to say he was built like a brick-shithouse, only behind his back and on the quiet, of course. Judge Thomson looked incredibly fit for his sixty years of age, and even sitting his posture conveyed alertness that suggested he was practising some kind of martial art.
Brown eyes set in a round face peered intently at the crowd, and Ranma had been briefed on the fact that the easy-going and friendly-looking man was a force to be reckoned with when truly riled up. She had been advised to be polite and to stick to the facts, and everything would go over well.
Ranma gave a mental sigh; she was expecting a just trial, which was way better than the first time through the judicial system. Her gaze hardened when the thought hit her that soon everything would be over. Ranma's only regret was that Felicia couldn't be here today seeing as she had come down with something that would even take SD a few days to fight off. Peter and MJ were present as well as the Fantastic Four and Matt Murdock, though, their presence offering Ranma additional comfort. She had people to support her this time around, she had friends who would stand by her, and it felt good.
Richard Gaynes closed a folder he had been browsing through and put it neatly on a stack laying on the wooden table, looked up at the Judge and then at Jennifer Walters who both nodded almost imperceptibly. It was time to see justice carried out. Judge Thomson brought his gravel down, and the room quieted immediately. The trial was about to begin.
Ranma's face was expressionless as she sat down in the witness stand, and after smoothing out her black slacks and white blouse and tugging an errant strand of hair behind her left ear she looked at Richard Gaynes. She ignored the looks the Tendos were shooting her completely, her demeanour screaming that they were non-existent as far as she was concerned.
"Your Honour, I'd like to begin the evidentiary hearing," Richard Gaynes said in a smooth voice.
A serious look appeared on Judge Thomson's friendly face. "Agreed. There is but one preliminary issue, how do you want to be addressed, Ranma Parker?" he asked, peering at Ranma over his half-moon spectacles.
"According to gender, Your Honour," Ranma answered politely, and added, "As the tests will have shown, I'm female when female and male when male," with a hint of a smile and shrugged, "And due to certain female only issues I will be female for the time being."
"Fine by me, Miss Parker," Judge Thomson replied with an inclination of his head.
"Like that ugly freakshow will ever be a woman!" Nabiki Tendo hissed from her seat, a sneer on her face, "Neither man nor woman you are but an it!"
Judge Thomson brought his gravel down with a resounding bang, his brows creased in annoyance. "Control yourself, Miss Nabiki Tendo, or I will find you in contempt of this court!"
Ranma, who looked wholly unaffected by Nabiki's hateful outburst cleared her throat. "May I, Your Honour?"
A brow cocked in curiosity the Judge nodded and Ranma swivelled her head to look at the sneering Nabiki, her own expression steely. "What you think of me doesn't matter to me, Nabiki Tendo, nor will it ever! I have found my centre, found who I am! If people have a problem with that then it's their problem, not mine! But I will gladly forward your opinion of aquatranssexuals to Herb. I'm certain he will be fascinated by what you have to say!" Ranma said sweetly, her voice and demeanour completely calm.
"You wouldn't dare!" Nabiki hissed, her eyes narrowed hatefully.
Ranma peered calmly at the ex-racketeer. "It's just a simple forwarding of information, Tendo. Strictly business, nothing personal, to use a quote of yours!"
Nabiki was about to retort when Judge Thomson stopped her cold by bringing his gravel down. "You will only speak when prompted, Miss Nabiki Tendo, or bear the consequences. I hope I have made myself clear!"
The middle Tendo daughter nodded grudgingly and bit out, "Yes, Your Honour."
"Good. It goes without saying that the same applies to all attendees. I won't tolerate insults or other unsavory behaviour!" Judge Thomson stressed, his face a mask of complete seriousness, and he nodded approvingly when agreeing exclamations came from all attendees. "Mr Gaynes, the floor is yours."
Richard Gaynes inclined his head and walked to the front. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I will now do my utmost to ensure that justice is done, well, justice," he said with an irreverent smile at his own wordplay that caused some amusement, but the audience turned completely serious when Mr Gaynes face turned solemn, "And to do so I will have to speak verbosely. Since Miss Parker gave herself up a bit over two weeks ago she has subjected herself to thorough tests, as Dr Richards of the Fantastic Four can attest to."
"Indeed I can Mr Gaynes, Your Honour, honoured members of the Jury, Ladies and Gentlemen," Mr Fantastic confirmed from his seat in the first row on the right side.
The prosecutor inclined his head, his facial expression still serious. "What can you tell us about your findings, Dr Richards?"
Reed got to his feet and assumed a classic lecturer pose. "As you said, Mr Gaynes, a few widely renowned colleagues and I put Miss Parker to the acid test. She agreed to these tests voluntarily, I might add. The tests revealed a lot of things. Chief among them is that Miss Parker is not a mutant. She doesn't have the X-gene, that's scientifically proven fact!" he explained solemnly and held up his hands to quench the murmurs that swept through the courtroom, "What Miss Parker said in the involuntary disclosure of her abilities that made the news not long ago is true, they stem from life-long, dedicated training. She's a homo sapiens just as me or anyone else here. Off the record, I couldn't help but ask myself why her claims weren't investigated at the first trial!"
Richard Gaynes nodded grudgingly. "Indeed. I can only apologise that the prosecution didn't do a job as thorough as would've been advised the first time around. It is just speculation at this point, but had you being a mutant been in doubt things might've gone differently, Miss Parker!"
Ranma's surprise had only continued to grow during Mr Gaynes statement and she was having a hard time keeping her expression neutral. "Thank you for your honest words, sir. What happened cannot be changed, or rather shouldn't unless one wants to risk catastrophic results... Gah! Reed's rubbing off on me! Sorry."
Mr Gaynes' expression was distinctly amused for a moment, as was Jen's and her other friends', Ranma noted. "There's nothing to apologise for, Miss Parker. But you mentioning Dr Richards here brings me to another point. The only anomaly the tests revealed. You live in coexistence with a," the prosecuting attorney creased his brows, "living suit given to you by Dr Richards, correct?"
"Yes. 'Given' is a relative term, though. It was a project Reed was working on should the Venom symbiote ever become even more of a problem. The project seemed like a failure due to the fact that the suit refused to bond with any of the Fantastic Four. What no one knew is that it required a host with a shitload of life energy, so guess who the lucky girl was?" Ranma asked with irony thick in her voice. "I had just helped the FF battle a villain, Annihilus, I believe, and a stray blast had shredded my costume including parts of my facemask.
"Reed said that I had been crucial in distracting Annihilus with my ki-blasts and that that was the reason he invited me into their headquarters. Personally I think that was bull as I was of little to no help, but seeing as I was dead on my feet and hungry enough to eat a horse from the fight I agreed! Reed couldn't help but show me around in their headquarters, and as soon as I entered the lab, Sym, pardon, the suit, jumped me! I was freaked out at first, but we have formed a bond since, and I wouldn't want to be without her. Besides, it so took care of the clothes issue!"
Richard Gaynes nodded, a small smile playing on his face. "I already know most of this from the reports, but I would ask you to expound on this for all our sakes, Miss Parker!"
Ranma inclined her head, and with a brief look of concentration her clothes reformed into a floor-length strapless black dress that hugged her body like a second skin and showed off her curves and cleavage. The redhead got to her feet and remained standing for a few moments to maximise the impact and took in the reactions of the audience before sitting back down, her clothes changing back to their previous state.
Most were surprised, some looked intrigued and a lot of people looked like they were planning to get a suit such as this for themselves. One reaction, though, was neither surprising nor unexpected, and Ranma almost sighed when a red-faced Akane jumped to her feet, the Adamantium chains of her Adamantium shackles clanging loudly.
"You cross-dressing pervert!" the blunette girl yelled, her expression one of utmost fury, "How dare you wear this!"
'How predictable,' Ranma thought with an internal sigh, but she didn't even have to retort seeing as an angry looking Judge Thomson brought his gravel down with a loud bang. "Control yourself, Miss Tendo! Your prospects are already bleak enough without you being in contempt of this court!"
Akane, still red in the face and visibly in a temper, was about to retort when her father grabbed her left forearm with his right hand. "Your temper cost us enough already, daughter! Let it go!" Soun hissed sternly and stared hard at his youngest, his expression firm and unrelenting.
Surprise flitted across Akane's face and for a few moments it looked like she would listen, but then her brows creased. "But daddy, the pervert's making a mockery out of every woman in the world!"
Ranma suppressed a scoff with great difficulty and limited herself to coldly glaring at her former betrothed seeing that her attorney seemed to intend to add her own two cents.
"May I reply to Miss Tendos' accusation, Your Honour?" Jennifer Walters requested politely.
"Of course, Miss Walters. Go ahead," Judge Thomson allowed with a nod.
Jennifer Walters got gracefully to her feet and walked to the front where she faced the spectators, her brown eyes fixating Akane Tendo with a hard look. "Miss Tendo, my client subjected herself to a lot of medical tests to help clear up any 'misunderstandings'," she said calmly, making quotation marks in the appropriate places, "Do you want to know the results of these tests? No? Well, I'll tell you anyway. Ranma Parker is a fully human female when female, just like you and me, and he's a fully human male when male. So let me ask, is Ranma a pervert because she changes genders due to outside factors beyond her control and has accepted that she's both male and female?"
Even Soun's hand exerting pressure on Akane's arm couldn't stop her from replying. "Yes! I've had a lot of incontrovertible proof that he's a pervert! And he's no girl, he's a boy, even in female form!"
"I for one would like to see proof aside from your claims that it is so, Tendo! And it would've almost been true that I was male even when I was female had you people not seen fit helping to throw me into that hellhole of a prison!" Ranma retorted calmly, her steely and unforgiving glare locked on Akane's angry brown eyes, "Thanks to your efforts I had to come to terms with being both male and female the hard way, and I realised that this was what Kami-sama wanted me to be. It could have broken me, but I refused to be beaten! At first to spite you people, then to prove my innocence!
"I was forced to confront my fears, forced to find out who I am! In the end I came to accept myself as I am, male when male and female when female, and in a way I'm glad things happened the way they did, because I would never have come this far had I stayed in Nerima, and with you in particular! I would never have felt this whole! All my female side was to you people was 'unmanly', a 'freak', a 'curse', a 'pervert'! Not so here, and never again!
"Excuse me for speaking out of turn, Your Honour," the redhead added respectfully and calmly sat back down.
"Perfectly understandable and acceptable in this case, Miss Parker," Judge Thomson said mildly, his eyes showing genuine understanding.
Akane opened her mouth to retort to what Ranma had said, but Jennifer Walters stopped her with a hand gesture. "I advise you to leave well enough alone, Miss Tendo! None of us need hear more of your opinion for the time being, but I'm certain we will revisit your views and how they played into the conviction of my client at a later time!"
"Do as she says or you'll shame us even more!" Soun whispered quietly but harshly in his youngest daughter's ear before Akane could say another word.
Ranma allowed her eyes to twinkle in barely repressed amusement when Akane sat back down with a huff. "I still say therapy would do her good!" the redhead said in a low mutter.
Amnar smirked unrestrainedly and Jennifer Walters inclined her head with an impassive expression indicating that both had heard her. "Good!" Ranma's defending lawyer said and clapped her hands, "As my colleague said, my client sharing a bond with this living suit is the only anomaly. She's perfectly human, and fully female when female, and male when male, the same as her sister/brother, Amnar. Doctor Stephen Strange vouched for the veracity of her Jusenkyo curse, by the way, as could have anyone in her environment including her own mother, by the way! Now I would like to call upon another witness to prove-"
"Your Honour, if I may?" Ranma interrupted and shot the surprised Jennifer an apologetic look, the mention of Nodoka Saotome having sparked a certain impulse in her.
"Go ahead, Miss Parker," Judge Thomson retorted with a nod, and it was obvious that he was curious where this was going.
"What I have to say pertains to the living suit I live in coexistence with. You see, Sym, my symbiote would be able to activate latent genes in my DNA to change my looks, and I for my part would like to go ahead. I look too much like my birthmother for my tastes, and to be constantly reminded of the... woman that abandoned me when I'd have needed her the most is something I loath with every fibre of my being!" Ranma explained seriously, her whole demeanour imploring, "I don't ever want to look like this again, and I have the means to accomplish it, Your Honour!"
Judge Thomson as well as the room at large looked rather surprised by Ranma's request, and the tall man tilted his head to the side. "What would this entail, and how is that even possible?"
"My symbiote once told me that I had latent Caucasian genes in my DNA from my mother's side," Ranma explained and shrugged, "Maybe Mrs Perfectly Traditional Japanese insisted on being so darn traditional 'cause of what can be viewed as tainted ancestry, but I don't care. Fact is, my symbiote can activate said genes, and I would like to do it here and now to send the message that Nodoka Saotome is no longer my mother! I don't ever want to be reminded of her!"
Stunned silence followed Ranma's explanation. "Oh my," Kasumi spoke up softly, "I don't think that Auntie-"
"I don't care what you think, Tendo!" Ranma interrupted harshly, her eyes drilling into Kasumi until the older woman averted her gaze, and turning her head to Judge Thomson her expression softened, "I'm sorry for speaking out of turn, Your Honour. I should have a better grip on my emotions!" she added and bowed her head.
"I will overlook it this time, Miss Parker," the Judge said, understanding briefly flashing in his eyes.
Ranma inclined her head and nodded in gratitude, a small smile flitting across her face. "Thank you, sir. Dr Richards can vouch that this is something that's only possible due to the symbiotic suit, by the way."
"That is correct, Your Honour," Reed spoke up, his voice as serious and firm as his expression, "We already tested this ability and included it in this report," he said and handed out a folder to the Judge, the Jury, Jennifer and Mr Gaynes each.
Said parties took a moment to browse through the contents, and it was Mr Gaynes who spoke up first. "Am I right to assume that you didn't want to bring this up originally due to the 'intense pain' caused by the shift and that the idea to go through with this came to you spontaneously, Miss Parker?" he asked of Ranma.
"Yes," the redhead replied earnestly and looked the district attorney right in the eyes, "But being confronted with them," hard blue eyes roamed over the Tendos, "and the mention of my dear ole mom awoke the desire to cut my ties to her and them in more than just a metaphorical way in me. I don't want to be reminded of her and those people in any way or form! Ever!"
Judge Thomson regarded the Tendos sternly to quench any form of retort before nodding slowly. "Off the record, given your mutual history I can certainly understand it. And I have nothing against your proposal. Go ahead whenever you want!"
Ranma inclined her head in gratitude and allowed a small smile to reach her eyes. "Thanks, Your Honour!" she said and concentrated so as to initiate the shift.
Round about two minutes later a fundamentally changed and strawberry blonde Ranma was standing in front of an astounded group, and the young gender-changer took a deep breath to gather herself. The corners of her mouth quirked upwards of their own volition as she gazed at the crowd, her clothes reforming a bit to adapt to the changed bodily parameters. Ranma knew she had been beautiful as a woman of Japanese descent before, but her Caucasian form could only be called stunning, and the speechless crowd in front of her was certainly testament to that.
Ranma knew that her eyes were still of the same vivid blue as before, but they were set in a face that had undergone several obvious changes. Her jaw, which had been rather pointy before, had squared out, her nose had shortened slightly and become a bit wider, and it was now about a centimetre smaller than before. Her mouth had also altered shape and was now a bit wider as well, and the last alteration rounded everything off as her cheek-bones were just a tad bit higher. All in all she looked like a classic beauty of the highest calibre, and Ranma knew it.
"Ranma, you're beautiful!" Kasumi whispered almost to herself, her facial expression conveying her surprise.
Ranma's good spirits evaporated like ice in the sunshine, and her eyes turned into twin chips of ice as she slowly turned her head to regard the oldest Tendo sister. "Flattery will get you nowhere, Tendo!" she hissed in a voice so cold liquid nitrogen would have appeared hot in comparison, "You and yours I'm done with!
"Please excuse my outburst, Your Honour, I just can't stand these people!"
"Take this one as your freebie seeing as I must assume that it was the pain you must still be in talking!" the Judge remarked, his eyes twinkling slowly, "But now that you have completed your indeed stunning change I would like to proceed. Miss Walters, I believe you wanted to call upon witnesses!"
Jennifer nodded, and her eyes twinkled in a way that made Ranma glad that the woman was on her side. "Yes, Your Honour. To erase even the last vestiges of doubt, I would like to call Genma Saotome and Ryoga Hibiki to the front!"
Ranma's eyes widened when Jennifer mentioned Ryoga's name, and said elation transformed into tentative hope when the door behind the Judge's chair, which apparently led to an adjacent room, opened, and out stepped none other than Ryoga.
Akari was there as well and led the tall young man to the front, and Ranma was a tad surprised when the other young woman smiled and winked at her, but quick to adapt as always she returned both. The lost boy threw Ranma a fanged smirk as if to say 'Betcha didn't expect that!' and the redhead smiled back, her own expression conveying the message 'Nope, not in my wildest dreams!'.
Genma had already assumed his position in front of the spectators, his facial expression impassive, arms crossed across his chest. Ryoga gave Genma a nod which the older man returned, and with Akari letting go of his arm the lost boy took up position next to Genma. The Hibiki youth gave Akari a thankful smile, and both ignored the spiteful and angry looks Akane was shooting them as Akari walked to the unoccupied seat next to Amnar.
Ranma stopped short when the two greeted each other like old friends and came to the conclusion that her sister had been in on the fact that Ryoga would - most likely - give a statement in her favour. Shooting them a look that communicated that she would get back at them for doing this behind her back the redhead leant back in her chair and crossed her arms underneath her breasts, waiting for things to come.
A bailiff entered the courtroom pushing a trolley with six glasses and two large thermos labelled 'warm water' and 'cold water' respectively on it, as well as two large, white towels. Jennifer gave the man a thankful nod as he parked the trolley in front of the men, saying, "Here you go, ma'am."
"Thank you," Jennifer replied with a smile and looked at the audience at large, her expression serious, "Ladies and gentlemen, both Genma Saotome and Ryoga Hibiki have been tested for the X-gene with both tests having come up negative. Both do not possess super powers granted by some kind of incident either and are as normal as anyone. Aside from one fact!
"Like my client, they are martial artists of the highest calibre who have trained all their lives! They have developed abilities most super heroes would envy! All through hard training! But I don't think I have to broach this particular topic seeing as my client inadvertently gave a very thorough demonstration of her skills after she had fought and captured her sister."
"Indeed," Judge Thomson agreed and smiled faintly, "The video in conjunction with the test results conveyed impressively just what is possible with training, dedication and determination!"
"So it is, Your Honour," Richard Gaynes concurred and wet his lips, "The prosecution agrees that these abilities are purely human!"
"Good. Off the record, I have it on good authority that Spider-Man, a student of Ranma's, is teaching the police officers who are free of prejudices and willing to learn how to harness and manipulate their ki so that they stand a better chance at surviving should they become involved in super-human altercations," Jennifer supplied evenly.
"I had heard rumours about that," Richard Gaynes admitted, his face neutral, "Some people aren't happy about it and say not to trust a vigilante, but off the record, his actions save lives, so I can easily contend with some unhappy folks!"
Murmurs swept through the crowd, most of them agreeing, and Ranma couldn't help but add her opinion.
"If I may, Your Honour," she spoke up and continued upon Judge Thomson's signal to go ahead, "Even if Spider-Man didn't ask my permission to pass on the teachings of the Anything Goes, I wholeheartedly agree with his choice! It gives those that endanger their lives 24/7/365 to serve and protect all of us a better chance at returning safely to their loved ones at the end of the day, and every day one of them survives due to their additional training is a good day! Not to forget the lives they save using their new abilities, either."
Respectful silence followed Ranma's words, and the redhead almost felt uncomfortable. "To answer the follow-up question, with Spider-Man being my student he should have asked me as I'm his sensei, and that he went ahead anyway shows how strongly he feels about helping the good guys. Just some food for thought as anything more would lead too far at this point," she almost hurried to add.
Silence and introspectiveness dominated the courtroom, and it took a few moments until Judge Thomson cleared his throat. "Thank you, Miss Parker," the man said solemnly, "Further elaboration on this topic, as needed as it may be, shall indeed take place at another time. Miss Walters, please proceed."
"Yes, Your Honour. Seeing as it is agreed upon that my client is purely human I would like to get to the demonstration of the Jusenkyo curses!" Jennifer stated calmly and picked up the rightmost glass of cold water from the trolley; she then walked over to where Genma and Ryoga were standing. "Mr Saotome, I would like to begin with you if you don't mind."
"Go right ahead, Miss Walters," Genma retorted calmly and remained standing impassively.
Jennifer wasted no time, and a brief apologetic look flashed across her features as she threw the contents of the glass right in Genma's face. The species-change was instantaneous, and where before a tall, big Japanese male in his forties had been standing stood now a giant panda. This time loud exclamations erupted from the spectators, and Judge Thomson had to bang his gravel a few times to re-establish order.
Genma-panda whereas was cool as a cucumber, his quickly scribbled sign reading, # What? You people never seen a panda before? #
Judge Thomson squinted his eyes to read the sign, his expression bewildered. "Can anyone read that sign?"
Ranma gave a long-suffering sigh. "Pops and his sloppy handwriting," she muttered with an amused shake of her head, drawing everyone's attention, "He asks if you've never seen a panda before. His attempt at dry humour, I suppose," she mused with a shrug, the twinkling in her eyes conveying she was teasing, "Now he's chastising me for my insolence and asks if anyone got some bamboo."
"I take this is my cue, then!" Jennifer said amusedly and used the glass filled with warm water to restore Genma to human form. "Thank you, Mr Saotome. You may return to your seat."
Genma towelled himself off with a towel Jennifer had provided and inclined his head before wordlessly making his way back to his seat, his expression stoic even as he walked past the Tendos. "As you can see, Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Honour and district attorney, Mr Saotome is afflicted by the Shonmaoniichuan curse, or in plain English, the panda curse. My, what a crackjaw! Now to Mr Hibiki, who has agreed to help out as well."
"But wasn't Mr Hibiki tested and found not to be cursed?" Richard Gaynes inquired, his brows cocked.
A look of chagrin and self-loathing crossed Ryoga's face. "If I may, Your Honour," he requested, his neck craned to look at Judge Thomson.
"Go ahead, young man," the old judge allowed.
"Thank you, sir! It is very hard for me to admit this as it comes back to one of my more honourless acts," Ryoga sighed and paused for a moment to gather himself, "You see, I took Ranma being thrown into jail to mean as a hint of Kami-sama that Akane, Akane Tendo, and I were meant to be. I had had a crush on Akane since forever, and it was one of the main reasons for my... rivalry with Ranma. I always gave him... her... grief for treating Akane badly-"
"And he did!" Akane shouted from her seat.
Ranma didn't even react nor need she have, for Judge Thomson banged his gravel, his expression stony. "One more interruption from you, Miss Akane Tendo, will see your removal from this courtroom with the appropriate punishment included! Consider this your last warning, and I'm only so lenient because you're a foreigner! Have I made myself clear?"
"Yes, sir!" Akane replied meekly, her expression downcast; Ranma didn't even have it in her to even feel disgust.
"Good! Please carry on, Mr Hibiki," the Judge said in a firm voice.
"Yes, sir. As said, I always rode Ranma for seemingly treating Akane badly, but when I got together with Akane I got to know the other side of the story. To call it not nice would be an understatement!" Ryoga elaborated with a grimace, the look in his dark eyes conveying his deep emotions, "You see, Akane has this special ki-attack that is tied to her anger. She often used it to mallet Ranma-"
"Could you repeat that, son? 'Mallet' as in hitting someone with a hammer-like instrument?" Judge Thomson interrupted, both brows having climbed into the hairline in incredulity and the beginnings of anger.
Ryoga's grimace deepened, and he steadfastly ignored the glares the Tendos were shooting him. "Yes, sir. At the time I thought Ranma deserved it for how he... she... treated Akane, but after I had been on the receiving end of her mallet for nothing at all I learned better! I quickly found that the real Akane didn't measure up to the imagined one I had created in my mind. As soon as Ranma was gone I was treated roughly the same. It was not nice, let me tell you!"
Judge Thomson gaze turned introspective for a few moments. "I admit I hadn't given the reports that a 'mallet' had been used in the attack upon Miss Parker much credence, but it seems the memories of this incident should be provided in Miss Akane Tendo's trial. But we digress. Please continue, Mr Hibiki!"
"Yes, sir. In the beginning I was so ecstatic when Akane returned my feelings that I all too readily agreed to use waterproof soap so that it seemed I wasn't cursed. Anything to get one over on Ranma the murderer and get in Akane's good graces! Bah, I was so stupid!" Ryoga hissed with self-loathing evident in his voice and looked down at his hands.
Ranma smiled bitter-sweetly. "Love does make us blind," she whispered so quietly that she didn't disturb the proceedings but loud enough for Ryoga's sharp ears to hear, causing him to smile bitter-sweetly.
"What is this waterproof soap?" Richard Gaynes asked.
"It's a product developed by Jusenkyo Instant products and makes the user immune to the changes cold water brings about in Jusenkyo cursed individuals for a time, sir. I got my hands on it once, but it wore off very quickly so wasn't very good. But it was good enough to shoot Ranma's claims to hell!" Ryoga explained, his face going red with shame at the last admission.
"It's okay, Ryoga, I have forgiven you," Ranma said earnestly in a quiet voice.
"Thank you, Ranma. It's more than I deserve!" Ryoga replied with a solemn smile, his face going serious, "Now please, let's get this over with!"
"Your Honour, the defence takes a pass on pressing charges against Mr Hibiki for helping to implicate my client," Jennifer said firmly and reached for another glass of cold water which she gripped firmly with her right hand.
"The prosecution agrees, Your Honour. It seems Mr Hibiki has learned his lesson. Anything more we would enact would be superfluous," the prosecutor declared.
"Then it is agreed upon and so noted down," the Judge agreed with a nod and waved his hand at Jennifer, "Please proceed, Miss Walters."
"Your Honour," Ranma interrupted in a quiet voice, "Not to mean disrespect, but is the modesty issue covered?" she asked and blushed, "Err, Ryoga loses all of his clothes when he changes species."
Several females around the courtroom blushed as red as Ranma had, but Ryoga didn't and even smiled faintly, much to Ranma's surprise. "This issue has been covered, Miss Parker," Judge Thomson replied with an undertone of amusement, "I believe your clone-"
"Sister," Ranma interrupted quietly but strongly, "No disrespect intended, sir."
"Pardon?" the Judge inquired confusedly.
"Amnar's much more than my clone. I was the template, yeah, but she has her own abilities and powers and is her own person. She's my sister when a woman, my brother when a man," Ranma elaborated with a look of conviction on her face, and a smile flitted across her face at seeing Amnar's brilliant smile.
"Thank you for correcting me, Miss Parker," Judge Thomson said, his tone earnest.
"Gladly, sir, it's just something I feel very strongly about, and I felt that I needed to point it out!" Ranma replied with an easy smile.
Judge Thomson nodded and a faint smile briefly appeared on her face. "I had noticed," he said dryly, "Anyway, your sister saw fit to contact Dr Richards and secured his help in creating clothes for Mr Hibiki that are, wait a moment, I wrote it down," he paused to produce a slip of paper, "ah yes, 'dimensionally shifted so that they will remanifest upon triggering the trans-species change'."
Ranma shared in on the prevalent amusement and giggled. "That's pure Reed!" she exclaimed, causing Mr Fantastic to smile sheepishly and rub the back of his head while his wife and team mates took to tease the genius.
"Yeah, it is," Jennifer agreed with a smile, "But I'd say we have kept everyone on tenterhooks long enough!" she exclaimed, and threw the contents of the glass right in Ryoga's face.
The species-change was almost instantaneous, and a lot of people got up from their seats to look upon the small black piglet standing in Ryoga's place. "As you can see, Mr Hibiki is a victim of the Heituenniichuan spring which gave him the pig curse. As with Mr Saotome, any time he comes in contact with cold fluids the change is triggered," Jennifer explained and paused a few seconds to let this sink in before changing Ryoga – who restransformed fully clothed, as advertised – back, and added, "Too bad we couldn't procure waterproof soap, or we would be a le to offer more practical proof!"
Jennifer had just said this when the door opened, and all eyes were on the newcomer, or rather newcomers. A tall, silver-haired man followed a diminutive, ancient-looking man into the room, the old man's large eyes glittering amusedly. "Ask and ye shall receive, Miss Walters!"
"Happosai? Fe...lix?" Ranma asked incredulously, her eyes wide as she looked at the smug looking Grandmaster and her softly smiling gender-inverted beloved.
"You know these men, Miss Parker?" Judge Thomson asked before his eyes lit up and he nodded to himself, "Ah yes, I remember! You must be the Grandmaster of the style Miss Parker practises! What I have read of your exploits has been most interesting, Mr Happosai!"
Happosai bowed, an easy smile on his face. "I like to keep things interesting, Your Honour! Does keep us young. And it's just Happosai, sir."
"As you wish, Happosai," the Judge agreed with an inclination of his head, and his glance wandered to 'Felix', "And who are you, young man?"
'Felix' smiled disarmingly. "I'm Felix Hardy, and I'm Ranma's boyfriend!"
Just Soun Tendo utilising some of the knowledge he had apparently acquired in the Art of pressure points prevented Akane from digging herself beyond the point of no return, Ranma noted absently. Her mind was going a mile a minute as to how it was possible that Felicia was male, but no answer was forthcoming. Which left her with but one option, to kick back and find out.
"Actually, that's just half the truth, Your Honour," Happosai spoke up, his grin mischievous, "Felix, show them!"
'Felix' nodded and a look of concentration briefly appeared on his face, and then the woman known as Felicia Hardy stood in 'Felix's' place. "I'm actually Felicia Hardy, Your Honour, but I love Ranma so much that I cursed myself with the opposite curse of Ranma's and got Dr Strange's help to change at will like her so that we can always be a couple!" she explained and smiled brightly.
Her explanation caused a wide variety of reactions, but the most prevalent was astonished acceptance. "I... see," Judge Thomson said and polished his glasses, pausing briefly to massage his temples before an amused smile appeared on his face, "Well, it isn't any stranger than what other magic users get up to, or so I've heard. Now you said you brought this so called waterproof soap?"
Happosai nodded and produced a bar of soap from seemingly nowhere. "So it is, Your Honour. If I may be so bold as to suggest Mr Hibiki use the facilities to lather down? A bailiff could accompany him to ensure that he uses nothing but the soap!"
"Excellent suggestion. We will take a fifteen minute break before we reconvene!" Judge Thomson declared and banged his gravel.
Had someone asked Ranma later on what was going on around her she wouldn't have been able to answer. Her mind was blank and her body moved on autopilot as she walked towards Felicia, who, as soon as she caught sight of her grinned like the cat that ate the canary and promptly shifted to male.
Giving up all pretence of composure Ranma downright flew into Felix' arms who hugged her to his chest with a laugh. The redhead didn't even feel ashamed as she snuggled up to him, basking in the happiness his presence brought.
Finally opening her eyes Ranma craned her neck a bit to look into his eyes, a mischievous smile dancing in her eyes. "I'd ask if you're happy to see me, but the answer's all too obvious, dear!" she teased, eliciting a sheepish grin on her lover's part.
"I am more than happy to see you, hon! And before you go and rip me a new one for what I did, I did it because I love you more than words can say. I want to be with you, forever! What better way to be a couple at all times than this?" the gender-inversed Felicia asked smilingly; a solemn look replaced the gaiety, and he dropped to one knee in front of Ranma. "Ranma, I love you more than life itself, and I've never been so sure of something before," he almost whispered, and a lance of ice briefly forming in her gut Ranma was very certain where this was headed, "Ranma," he continued, and produced a quadratic box which he opened, producing an elegantly simple ring made of white gold, "Will you marry me?"
Logic was thrown out the window and hit by a speeding truck driven by emotion, and almost shouting due to overflowing happiness Ranma exclaimed, "Yes!" and flung herself around Felix' neck.
Felix slung his arms around Ranma's mid-section and held her tenderly, his smile almost splitting his face. "I'm glad, so very glad!" he whispered and simply held Ranma.
"I can hardly believe Ranma accepted a marriage proposal, and from a man to boot!" Amnar jibed teasingly, but her facial expression conveyed that she was happy for her sister; a smiling sister who had turned her head and stuck out her tongue at Amnar, her eyes twinkling as she simply snuggled into her fiancé, "But if anyone deserves happiness it's Ranma!"
"True, dear. And never forget, fiction can be strange, reality even stranger!" Happosai mused sagely to which Amnar nodded empathically, "Way to go, Felix! You bagged a real hottie!" the Grandmaster then whooped happily.
"Don't I know it!" the gender-inversed Hardy agreed smiling like a loon and eased out of the embrace to place the ring on Ranma's ring finger, the redhead glowing with happiness, before slipping on his own, commenting, "Reed made these for us, they resize themselves according to our gender.
"He's also one of the ones responsible for me being like this, but I'll explain later. Sorry for deceiving you, but you seem to like the result!" he added in a whisper.
Ranma looked thoughtful for a moment as she did a bit of soul searching, and tilting her head to the left she nodded slowly. "Strangely enough, I do! Now we complete and complement each other even more. And we should really do something nice for Reed. He's more than earned it!" Ranma mused, then smiled widely, "Now kiss me, hon!"
Felix needn't be told twice and drew Ranma in for a passionate kiss that lasted half a minute. The love the couple felt for each other was palpable and most of anyone still present – with over three quarters having filed out including the Judge and prosecutor – were happy for them, with a few notable exceptions.
"Figures a pervert like you would get together with another pervert, Ranma!" Akane exclaimed spitefully from where she was shackled to her seat, her face set in an ugly sneer, "I bet you'll enjoy being the bride, you crossdresser!"
Ranma sighed and eased herself out of the loving embrace she had shared with her fiancé and turned around to face Akane. "I admire your restraint, Tendo. You actually let us finish before opening that mouth of yours! Or was it the obviously inept use of pressure points on your father's part that kept you silent till now? But you know what? I'm in too much of a good mood to care about the insults of a bigoted, perpetually angry, sexually insecure prude that used to be an important person in my life! But continue to slander and insult me and I'll sue you to Kingdom Come! And as you know, I seldom lose! Now kindly keep your immature opinions to yourself!"
Her part said Ranma snuggled back into her fiancé, and she had to suppress a smirk when she heard Amnar say, "Don't you dare open that claptrap of yours, Tendo! My sis is way too soft to say it outright, but I don't have her restraint so I'll be blunt: shut the fuck up or you'll be eating through a straw for a year! And I guarantee ya, ya won't have any trouble breathin' through your ass once I'm through with ya!" the smaller redhead hissed, and Ranma knew from the power surge she was feeling that Amnar had drawn on her powers and meant business.
Ranma craned her neck to observe Akane's reaction, and she was amused to see that the girl had paled and had indeed shut her mouth. To the redhead's intense displeasure Nabiki had not received the message – or rather chose to ignore it – and could apparently not leave well enough alone. "I find it... careless to make such claims in front of so many witnesses, clone. Goes to show that the apparently far less than genius intellect of Ranma degraded even further upon cloning! But I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth and will happily sue you!"
"I think the term you're looking for is accomplices, not witnesses, Nabiki-chan!" Amnar retorted silkily, her eyes glittering coldly, "Or did you forget that the Tendos' standing isn't that high to begin with after what you guys pulled? So why should anyone from those few that are still here come forward for you?"
"Young Miss, you're either incredibly brave or stupid to piss off not one, but several of the world's best martial artists!" a man wearing dark glasses spoke up before things had a chance to go really south, "And I'm sorry to steal your thunder, but your chances at suing Miss Amnar are non-existent!"
"And who asked you?" Nabiki sneered derisively.
"I am Matt Murdock, lawyer, at your service," the man retorted and gave a mock bow, "And let me tell you, it is unwise and immature to lash out at everyone just because your side got the short end of the stick."
"What would you know! This pervert destroyed my life!" Nabiki hissed hatefully.
Ranma turned around to face the ex-mercenary, and her expression could have been cast from iron. "Wrong! Your choices led you to where you're now, Tendo! I had no hand in your illegal deals and Kami-sama knows what else you had going that dragged you down in the end! I'm not your scapegoat nor anyone else's, so grow up!"
"Mark my words, I'll find a way to destroy you, Ranma!" the middle Tendo daughter retorted with insane loathing colouring her voice.
"You may try, Tendo, you may try! But this time around I have friends and loved ones," Ranma's gaze swept over Genma, Happosai and the super heroes and squeezed Felix' hands, smiling fondly, "to stand by my side. Try something, anything, and we'll come down on you with the full weight of what's within the laws!"
Happosai had begun a casual stroll through the rows as soon as Nabiki had entered the exchange and made her intent clear. His course of action decided he faded from sight almost unnoticed, and it so happened that the row behind the Tendos was empty seeing as its occupants had used the break to do God knows what outside.
Cloaked by his own invisibility technique Happosai sneaked until he was directly behind Nabiki, and making full use of the fact that the girl was standing at the edge of her seat he phased back into sight. His hand blurred and seemingly disappeared, and not a few seconds later Nabiki yelped in pain and began to rub her lower back.
Ranma and Amnar exchanged a significant look just as Nabiki turned her head around, her face sporting a look of confusion, pain and anger, her brown eyes locking on Happosai's own coldly glinting brown eyes.
"Why, hello Nabiki-chan!" the Grandmaster sneered with a smirk that could only be called devilish, "I hope you like my present, I put so much thought into it!"
"Now she's in for it!" Felix remarked and pulled Ranma close, softly resting his chin on her head.
"Yep!" Ranma retorted simply, a smile of contentment on her face.
"What have you done?" the ex-mercenary demanded, her eyes narrowing in the beginnings of anger.
"Yeah, what did you do to my sister, you old pervert?" Akane demanded angrily.
Happosai turned his head an unleashed a focussed burst of ki at the blunette. "I'm not in the mood to listen to you wasting air, girl! Sit down, shut up and realise how far out of your league you truly are or bare the consequences!" he hissed so malevolently that Akane blanched and stumbled backwards, Happosai's darkly glinting eyes conveying how annoyed he was.
"Oh my, is that really necessary, grandfather Happosai?" Kasumi asked softly, her eyes as wide as she could make them to create the puppy dog eyes effect.
Happosai slowly turned his head, his eyes flashing red as he regarded the oldest Tendo sister. "Cut the crap, girl! The time I allowed myself to be affected by you has long since passed, and if you and your little brat of a sister don't want a neat little present like dear Nabiki-chan just got you will sit down!" he exclaimed, barking the last four words with his ki backing his voice.
Akane and Kasumi had gone deathly pale during Happosai's outburst and had apparently realised that the old Grandmaster meant business and that the kid's gloves were off. Nodding meekly they turned around without meeting anyone's eyes and sat back down, visibly shaken.
"They're getting a clue by four, sis!" Ranma commented idly with a satisfied gleam in her eyes, "They finally realise how much their good lives hinged upon Happi's good will and me shielding them from harm!"
"About time with how high and mighty Nabiki's still acting!" Amnar commented with a distasteful expression on her face, "And I must say, I'm really curious what Happi did to dear ole Nabiki!"
"Me too! I hope it's something that teaches her to keep her nose out of other people's lives and money!" Ranma remarked and shook her head, "One can only hope!"
"Hear, hear!" Felix commented and kissed the crown of Ranma's hair.
"Good decision, girls!" Happosai had sneered in the meantime and turned his head, and if possible, his gaze turned even more arctic. "You see, Nabiki, I've had to realise to my dismay and disappointment that you're hard of learning and can't leave well enough alone! There's no doubt in my mind that you'd have gone out of your way to try and cause dear Ranma-chan grief!"
Nabiki's expression confirmed this all too clearly, causing Happosai to nod, his eyes hard. "Well, we can't have that. After all, I know what you put Ranma through during her time in Nerima, and I allowed it to happen in hopes that she would, to be blunt, tire of your escapades and put you in your place! But alas, way too soft she was before you Tendos and that woman that brought Ranma into this world threw her to the dogs!
"A hard lesson she learned in prison, and I sometimes wish I could make it undone, but she grew as a person and everything worked out in the end," he said and involuntarily smiled at the look on Ranma's face, the look of someone who had survived, who hadn't broken and was still full of life, "And she finally got you people out of her hair! Before all of this shitstorm was unleashed you all wanted Ranma to fulfil your dreams and desires for you regardless of what she wanted in life! Not so any more, and never again! Ranma has finally come into her own, she's my heir and those who dare interfere will be crushed!"
"And what will you do to stop me from pulling strings?" Nabiki retorted in a haughty voice.
"Nabiki, don't!" a wide-eyed Soun hissed urgently.
Nabiki held up her hand, a challenging expression on her face. "No, dad! I want to know why he thinks he can order me around!"
"Remember the brief searing pain you felt a few moments ago? The one in your lower back?" Happosai asked with a sinister expression that grew even more wicked upon Nabiki's nod, "That was me applying the Seal of Misfortune to you, dear Nabiki-chan!" he exclaimed gleefully and cackled for a few seconds.
"So?" Nabiki asked, her expression showing she was unimpressed.
"Oh my, that doesn't sound good!" Kasumi had whispered at the same time with Akane nodding in silent agreement.
"Your sisters seem to have realised the implications of my actions, girl. What did you just say about Amnar's intelligence? Maybe you should have yours checked instead!" Happosai taunted in dark amusement.
"What did you just do, sir?" a guard who had apparently listened in asked Happosai who countered Nabiki's glare with a bemused look.
"I just applied a seal to my dear student's back. Seeing that it didn't cause her any physical harm I'm pretty certain I didn't break any laws!" the Grandmaster retorted calmly and noted with satisfaction that Soun had gone deathly pale at the mention of the word 'seal'.
"I'll be the judge of this, sir!" the man said sternly and walked closer, prompting Happosai to step aside with an inclination of his head. "Please lift the hem of your blouse and show me your back, Miss Tendo!"
It was testament to how her stay in jail had affected Nabiki that she didn't even demand a fee for showing off her body and did as asked. Coincidentally Nabiki's backside was in Ranma's and Amnar's line of sight, and the taller redhead chuckled. "An inverse smiley. How... simplistic!"
"She's in for a heap of shit, sis!" Amnar whispered in Ranma's ear, causing the taller redhead to nod in a very satisfied way, whispering back, "Oh yes, she made Happi get creative, and little to nothing's more dangerous than that!"
"Amen to that!" Amnar whispered back, and the redheads returned to watching the drama unfold, both shooting Happosai a smile.
The old Grandmaster returned the smile and immediately refocused his attention on the guard who was still studying the seal. "I have no choice but to agree with you. No criminal laws were violated, nor was any magic used. It looks like a plain tattoo to me, but Miss Tendo may feel free to press charges against you for applying said tattoo against her will. Now feel free to carry on, sir!" he said and turned to walk away.
"Thank you, officer," Happosai said good-naturedly and turned his head to look at Nabiki, tsked and shook his head a few times, his expression smug and suddenly sinister. "You know about the Ultimate Weakness Moxibustion, and you probably heard about the other aces I pulled out of my sleeves on many occasions, Nabiki! And here you think my actions just now wouldn't have grave and dire consequences for you? Here's a hint, this seal is one of a kind, and you should feel honoured that you're its victim! Or horrified, I really don't care which!"
"Personally, I'd probably choose horrified gauging from the sound of it!" Amnar said conversationally with Ranma and Felix nodding empathically.
"What does it do?" a paling Nabiki asked who obviously began to realise that this was no joking matter.
"Oh, not so tough and confident any more, are we?" Happosai retorted tauntingly and grinned evilly, "Why, this little product of a long lost and forgotten Art causes everything you do to misfire in the worst possible way! Make yourself a coffee and it won't be drinkable. Write an essay or who cares what and you fail. Try to pull one over on dear Ranma-chan and you fail. Try to get your dirty work done through someone else and it backfires as well. Isn't that neat?"
Nabiki's pale and shocked visage stood in stark contrast to Happosai's that conveyed satisfaction and more than just a hint of smugness. "I... I don't believe you!"
"You should know me well enough to know that I don't care about what you think, girl! Your life will turn into a train wreck soon enough! I have found my heirs who will soon enough have offspring of their own as well, I like them, they're incredibly talented and we get along splendidly! I have no need to even tolerate you anymore," Happosai retorted calmly as if talking about the weather, and seeing with satisfaction that the ex-mercenary seemed to be close to fainting he swivelled his head to regard a paling Soun, "Your usefulness to me has expired, Soun! I don't need you and yours any longer, especially seeing as I will be teaching Ranma and Felicia the complete Anything Goes style personally!
"You have no one but yourself to blame for how things turned out, Soun! Had you been a better father and sensei and an honourable man instead of a spineless coward things might have gone a whole lot different! But you and your daughters made your bed, now you've got to lie in it!
"And a last friendly word of advise: interfere with me and mine all you want, but do so on danger of crippling retaliation that will see you and yours utterly ruined!" he said softly but in a voice so dangerous it easily communicated the Grandmaster's utter seriousness.
"Now that's what I call laying down the law!" Felix said, his tone of voice conveying his ill-concealed glee.
"Hell yeah! They've so gone to pieces it ain't even funny! On second thought, it's hilarious!" Amnar remarked and grinned a grin any shark would have been proud of.
"What goes around comes around and all that," Ranma said satisfied and pressed herself more into her fiancé, her grin a bit more restrained but still reminiscent of the cat that ate the canary.
A pallid and shaking Soun could only draw a shaky breath, and laying an arm around his second-youngest' shoulders he pulled the unresisting Nabiki away. "I- I understand, m- master! N- Now c- come, daughters, s- some fresh air will do u- us good!" he all but whispered in a shaky tone of voice.
All strength seemed to have been sapped out of Nabiki who didn't even seem to have the energy to glare at either Ranma, Amnar or Happosai as she was led out of the room by Soun. Kasumi shot the trio an uncertain look, tears pooling in the corners of her eyes before she turned her head and tended to her middle sister. Akane whereas stopped and turned around fully, but before the young woman could do more than glare and open her mouth Soun grabbed her left arm hard and turned her around so that they were face to face.
"Don't even think about it, Akane! I know the Master much better than you do, he will follow through on his promise! I won't have you give him an excuse to destroy not just you but all of us, so shut up and obey!" the Tendo patriarch hissed intently.
Akane was visibly stunned by her father's vehemence and the anger he was projecting and nodded meekly. Soun nodded satisfied and turned around without missing a beat, and without looking back once the Tendos left the courtroom.
"Now that went well," Matt Murdock commented bemusedly.
"I agree, couldn't have gone any better!" Ranma remarked with a satisfied smile, her hands intertwining with Felix' hands that were resting on her hips.
Ranma and Amnar exchanged a look after the Tendos had left, and the taller redhead could see in Amnar's eyes that the other girl was thinking the same, that had been one hell of a pre-emptive strike! It had been executed flawlessly too, especially with that bout of psychological warfare thrown in at the end, namely the promise to destroy the Tendos if they stepped a toe out of line.
The effects of Happosai's actions would be devastating for Nabiki in particular, and it was doubtful she would ever fully recover. Add to that that the credibility of the Tendo Dojo had been further shot to hell by implicating Soun Tendo as an inept father and sensei and the blow to the Tendos could only be called crippling.
That was fine with Ranma, though, and she smiled, turning around and snuggling into Felix. An annoyance and potential threat had been dealt with, hopefully for good, and that was good in her book. She could tell from the way her fiancé – how strange! She didn't have the urge to run for the hills for the first time, being affianced and all – hugged her closer and drew circles on her back with one of his hands that he was in a good mood too.
Ranma quickly relaxed her facial muscles to paste a neutral look on her face when more and more people began to file back into the room. After all, it wasn't advisable to gloat over someone else's misfortune if your character was still subject to the Jury's scrutiny.
Amnar who had a mind almost identical to hers was wearing a similar expression, but they almost couldn't keep up the facades when Ryoga came back into the room through a side door – led by an incredulous and exasperated looking bailiff who had likely made first-hand experience with just how directionally challenged the lost boy really was – and looked puzzled because of the solemn mood dominating the room.
"Hey, did someone die or something?" Ryoga asked as soon as he had walked up to Ranma and Felix with the assistance of the bailiff, his face scrunched up, "And where are the Tendos at?"
"Both events are closely linked, Ryoga," Ranma spoke up and she somehow managed to relax her face muscles to produce a solemn look, "Nabiki threatened me and promised to find a way to ruin me for what happened to her, and Master Happosai took objection to it. He branded her with the 'Seal of Misfortune', which is apparently an ancient technique that somehow ensures that anything and everything the victim does goes wrong like you wouldn't believe!"
Happosai cackled evilly. "To quote you, Hibiki, I made her life hell!"
Ryoga took a few moments to digest this and shuddered when the full implications hit him. "Whoa! Colour me relieved that it wasn't me that it happened to! The Weakness Moxibustion was bad enough, but this sounds infinitely worse!" he exclaimed, a thoughtful expression appearing on his face, "And what if she tried to get her revenge by using proxies?"
"All taken care of, m'boy, as I'm sure dear Nabiki-chan will inevitably find out," Happosai said calmly and with a sad face, "Isn't it too sad to see someone so young so consumed by misdirected hatred?" with a deep frown on his face.
Ranma barely resisted the urge to break down in paroxysms of laughter at Happosai's performance and separated from Felix with a sigh. "Yeah, to be so driven by greed and hate, so consumed by misdirected anger would've led her down a dark path," she explained and managed to keep her expression sad, "I wonder if your intervention will show her what she's become."
"How's she supposed to learn when she's the butt-end of Murphy's law till she dies? Unless..." Ryoga trailed off, his face showing a contemplative expression, "There's something like an escape clause, right?"
"Why, yes," Happosai affirmed with a smug smile, "There is. But seeing as Nabiki didn't ask I didn't feel obliged to tell her. Getting rid of the seal is simple yet incredibly hard at the same time: she must genuinely repent and change her life! That's all."
"And as long as she doesn't everything she does will go horribly wrong," Amnar mused thoughtfully and put her left index finger to her mouth, "She'll have to depend fully on others from now on, won't she?"
"Seeing as she won't even be able to make herself a cuppa coffee I'd say Kasumi's gonna have her hands full! And given how Nabiki ticks for years to come," Ranma mused and tilted her head, "It seems the self-sacrificing Kasumi Tendo will have to sacrifice more of her life, yet, once dear Nabiki's through with whatever her punishment's going to be!"
"Serves Kasumi right for not having been there for you when you'd have needed it the most! She was always a voice of reason, hadn't she chickened out and taken the easy way out she might've been able to convince her sisters to look underneath the underneath!" Amnar ground out and shook her head, "Who knows, things might've gone a whole lot differently. But it is as it is, and knowing myself I'd say you'd hardly want to change a thing given the outcome!"
Ranma thought for a few seconds and nodded. "I got rid of the Tendos and my nutzoid mother, I have a somewhat normal life that's my own and found the love of my life," she said with a genuine smile and leaned back into Felix who snaked his arms around her midriff and pulled her close, causing Ranma's smile to widen while becoming more content, "I have friends, found that I have a father who's more than just a sensei and my name's gonna be cleared soon. The time in Ryker's was hell, yes, but you're right, sis, it was worth it in the end!"
Happosai smiled. "Good things come to those who wait and persevere," he mused sagely and tilted his head, "I wonder if Nabiki-chan will persevere long enough to learn her lesson."
"That seal's gotta be hell!" Ryoga exclaimed, and looking thoughtful he added, "Especially for a maniac control freak like her!"
"That's for sure! Even though I don't know Nabiki Tendo that well it's quite clear that this should indeed be hell for her!" Felix spoke up, his voice filled with conviction.
"You got that right, buddy! Say, what's that on your and Ranma's fingers?" Ryoga queried after looking from Felix to Ranma, "And why are you," he nodded his head at Felix, "holding her so close without her bashing you into next week? Who are you?"
Ranma smiled impishly. "What do you think this is?" she asked and tilted her head, holding up her ring finger, "A ring, ya big dummy!"
"I know that, Ranma!" Ryoga retorted sharply, exasperation plainly showing on his face, "Does that-"
"Mean what you think it does?" Ranma cut in and nodded, her eyes gleaming, "Yes, it does. This is Felix Hardy, my boyfriend and now fiancé," she said and held up her hands to forestall any comments, "But at the same time he's also Felicia Hardy," right on cue Felix changed into Felicia, "my girlfriend and fiancée!"
"Felicia Hardy, at your service," the former cat-burglar twittered with a curtsy, an impish smile on her face, "Sorry for breaking your jaw back then, but you deserved it at the time!"
"Wha- pooh!" Ryoga retorted intelligibly as he was all too obviously at a loss for words.
"I think we broke him, hon," Felicia observed dryly, her chin resting on Ranma's left shoulder from where she observed the gobsmacked Ryoga in visible amusement.
"Nah, Ryoga always bounces back, trust me," Ranma replied with conviction, and smiled when the lost boy came to his senses moments later, "See? Nerima toughened him up!
"Ryoga, I have finally found the happiness I thought forever destroyed. And much if not all of it is thanks to Felicia. I'm so in love with her, him too, I can't put it in words! She's everything Akane never was and I hope Akari's for you."
"Wow, Ranma... I don't know what to say, except congratulations! I'm happy for you," Ryoga said seriously, everything about him conveying that he meant it.
"Thank you, buddy! I never would've thought to hear you say that, and it means a lot!" Ranma retorted softly, a small smile playing on her face.
Felicia changed back to male, slung his arms around Ranma from behind and smiled. "Yeah, thank you. Akari and you are invited to the wedding, of course!"
"Thanks, we'll be there!" Ryoga assured them and chuckled softly, smiling a fanged grin, "But which one of you's gonna wear the dress?" he asked teasingly.
Ranma blushed and playfully swatted Ryoga's arm. "Meanie!" she muttered even as Felix and Ryoga laughed.
Before any more could be said the door adjacent to the Judge's chair opened and Judge Thomson stepped out, his expression carefully neutral. Ranma could hear an acoustic notifier going off in the hallway probably announcing that break was over, and sure enough the remainder of the spectators began to file back into the room. When everyone had retaken their seats the Judge banged his gravel, drawing everyone's attention.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, honoured members of the jury, I have just been notified of a tragic injury suffered by Miss Nabiki Tendo that begets that we won't be able to hear her statement. She fell down a flight of chairs after slipping on a banana peel and broke her right leg, arm and shoulder, all in multiple places," he explained with a grave expression.
The spectators dutifully showed their – however faked it may have been – sympathy, prompting Judge Thomson to wave his right hand. "Miss Walters, please proceed!"
Jennifer nodded and got up from her chair, and grabbed a glass which's contents she threw into Ryoga's face without further ado. "As you can see," she said calmly while the lost boy wiped excess water away, "Mr Hibiki has not changed thanks to the waterproof soap! Using this it was child's play to refute my client's claims that there were other individuals afflicted by Jusenkyo curses, especially as the Chinese Amazons had already returned to their homeland at this point. I can only speculate that most of my client's family and friends had convinced themselves of her guilt and thought she deserved the worst fate possible which is why they didn't say anything!
"Off the record, I haven't known Ranma for long, but it remains a mystery to me how anyone could put so much faith in the evidence as to completely ignore the widely known integrity and beliefs that make Ranma who she is!" she concluded and noted with satisfaction that the remaining Tendos had averted their gazes and were staring at the ground. "I would now like to make use of the newest advancement in the field of criminology and more, the memory player!"
"And that was when things really went downhill for the Tendos and Nodoka Saotome, wasn't it, momma?" Ranma's daughter asked with big, curious eyes.
"Oh yes," Ranma mused calmly, a vindictive gleam entering her eyes as her mind drew up the pertinent memories, "The jury and everyone else got the whole nine yards, my story in all its ugliness! From my arrival in New York City to when I gave myself up. And they were not impressed, neither with how my case was handled nor with how my so-called family acted!"
Enya snorted softly. "No surprise there, mom! I can't believe how stupid they were, believing faked evidence so easily!"
"Yes, they should've known better, dear," Ranma agreed easily and tilted her head to tge left, smiling softly, "But them abandoning me gave me the chance to build my own life, one without them in it! I don't think I'd ever have become a super hero or Professor for Advanced Physics nor a multi-billionaire had my life progressed as they wanted. (I doubt I'd ever have founded Parker Enterprises with Peter either.) Yes, I went through a lot, but the crucible I went through was worth it in the end. Especially when you came into our lives, and your sisters thereafter!" she concluded softly and stroked her daughter's head affectionately.
Enya smiled up at her mother and snuggled into her. "And what happened to the Tendos and that woman?"
"Well, the Tendos lost the dojo a year after their behaviour became common knowledge, dear. Nabiki Tendo had been sentenced to five years for various crimes and couldn't provide money to keep the dojo afloat as before, and with the complete lack of students due to the public backlash they had a snowball's chance in hell to pull through as no one would offer them jobs.
"Add to that that they had to pay hefty fines for illegal entering and their descent into poverty was practically assured! Oh, and not to forget that His Majesty's official declaration of my innocence and the explicit narration of the role the Tendos and that woman played was akin to social suicide and their lives were destroyed," Ranma summarised, her eyes going distant, "Akane Tendo was sentenced to six years for her assault on me, which was comparatively mild, but her psychological problems worked in her favour. I heard she had to go through a lot of therapy and has moved to somewhere in Australia where she found work. The way I figure she cut all ties to her family seeing as none of them really stood by her during her trial. I assume they were too busy saving their own hides, as usual, but that's just speculation.
"Kasumi Tendo, well, she's living together with Nabiki in a very run-down flat somewhere not nice in Japan. Grandfather Happosai was very amused that it took Nabiki eleven years to get rid of the seal, and needless to say, her life is so ruined it isn't even funny! Soun Tendo, well, with his reputation shot like that he had no way of supporting himself. I have heard he left Japan to leave his dishonour behind, but I don't know what became of him nor do I care.
"As for that woman, well, she tried to commit suicide two months after giving birth to your aunts and remains in an asylum to this day-"
"That's no loss, mom," Enya interjected with a frown.
Ranma nodded agreeingly. "Indeed, dear. I may have, hmm, compounded her psychological problems by visiting her with your father when I was six months pregnant with you. She didn't take it well!" the older redhead said with a wolfish grin.
"That poor, poor woman!" Enya breathed in mock-sympathy and shook her head, "Am I ever glad that I didn't inherit anything from her side!"
"You and me both, dear!" Ranma replied solemnly and cleared her throat, "As you well know, your Grandpa moved to the States with Ryoko and Emi when the legal stuff was dealt with, and we bought two neighbouring houses big enough for all of us. The Nerimans including the Tendos never bothered us again, and all things considered it has been a good life up till now. And it's been treating your aunt/uncle and the Parker brothers well as well. Amnar and Jen got together after a years' worth of teasing, and Ben and Kaine found great wives as well. Kaine, he got together with Jessica Drew who didn't care about his disfiguring scars, but she wasn't too unhappy when Reed, Peter, Ben and I cured him.
"I, well, I have a fantastic wife who's also the greatest husband one could wish for, kids that - although they're fond of driving me up the wall on occasion - are great and academic and 'heroic' success. Life's good."
"Mom, stop that! You're going all dreamy-eyed, and that always leads to these explicit sounds coming from the bedroom! I really don't want another sibling yet! Two kid sisters are more than enough!" Enya exclaimed forcefully, causing Ranma to blush slightly.
"Maybe you're gonna get a little brother this time?" the older redhead mused thoughtfully, her right index finger and thumb stroking her chin.
"Don't even joke about it, mom! Better tell me about the big fights you've been in, that latest one against the Hulk for example!" Enya suggested, her eyes gleaming.
Ranma shook her head in mirth and smiled. "Seeing as it is still early," she said after glancing at her watch and noting it was 9:32 p.m., "and because I think you're old enough to hear this I'll tell you another story instead. The final resolution of the clone problems!"
"Really?" Enya asked, excitement and anticipation lighting her eyes up.
"Really!" Ranma retorted with a smile and schooled her expression into the serious mask that was bound to get her daughter's undivided attention, "It was three months after my trial that we got a lead on the man who was responsible for all the things that had happened to your uncles Peter, Ben, Kaine and me..."
"Are you absolutely sure this is accurate, Kaine?" Peter Parker asked intently, his eyes narrowed to slits as anger visibly poured off the spider-powered man.
"Yes, Peter. I managed to trace Norman Osborn back to an abandoned warehouse at Upper East river. The whole base is underground and heavily fortified. Osborn has gone to great pains to ensure that spider-powered beings are kept out, and weren't it for the techniques Ranma taught us I would've been fried!" Kaine retorted grimly, his brown eyes narrowing, "Norman, he's really gone off the deep end! Batshit crazy! He was talking to all those glass tubes, and my heart stopped when I saw what was inside of them! They were clones, dozens of clones of Harry! He kept saying that he'd never lose Harry again now that the cloning technique had been perfected!"
Peter pushed himself off of Ranma's living room table he had been leaning against and began to pace, his face contorted in anger. "How dare this bastard do this and to his own son, my best friend, to boot!" he snarled out and clenched his fists, "He's dishonouring Harry, can't he see that?"
"It's probably more that he doesn't want to, Pete. He had a way to bring Harry back, and even if it's not really him, to Norman it's probably the next best thing!" Ben mused softly and grimaced, "Add to that, we know from painful experience that the clones can be programmed, and hasn't Norman always wanted an obedient son? That still means we gotta stop them clones and Norman, but I don't fancy having to cut through clones wearing the face of our former best friend!"
Kaine and Peter grimaced in unison and nodded solemnly. "You said he made more than one clone, Kaine?" Ranma asked, her expression grim and serious. Kaine nodded, and Ranma's expression firmed.
"The way I see it, Norman Osborn's insane," she said calmly but grimly, "But he's also very intelligent and hates you, Peter. He wants to see you and Ben dead, of that I'm certain, and MJ's a likely target as well!"
"Hence why you sent Amnar over!" Peter commented with a grim nod.
"There's no better person to protect MJ than her!" Ranma agreed with utter conviction, "And I fear MJ's gonna need all the protection she can get! That's why I notified Felicia as well. She's gone to fetch a little something from Reed, then we should be all set!"
"Seems like you've covered the bases!" Kaine commented gruffly and crossed his arms across his chest.
"I hope so! But it's as they say, a plan seldom survives first contact with the enemy," Ranma retorted darkly, her lips compressed into a thin line.
"And now we can do naught but wait," Ben mused and folded his hands behind his head.
Little did he know that they wouldn't have to wait long.
Several blocks away Mary Jane Watson-Parker pretended to do some ironing in front of the living room window of her's and Peter's flat. She had just been informed by Amnar - who had entered the flat invisible and undetected - that Norman Osborn had gone off the deep end and would likely target her and her unborn child in the attack Peter and the others expected to happen any minute now.
"MJ!" Amnar hissed urgently from somewhere behind her, "Lay down that iron and walk towards the kitchen! It's started!"
MJ's eyes widened briefly but she immediately and inconspicuously complied and walked slowly and gently towards the kitchen. She had made it half-way when the window-front exploded in a shower of glass and fragments courtesy of the fiery projectile commonly known as a pumpkin bomb, prompting MJ to turn around as quickly as her pregnant form allowed. Her expression was just the right mixture of surprise, confusion and fear that showcased that Peter's wife was an excellent actress.
Hovering on a Goblin glider in front of the destroyed window front was a traditionally clothed green goblin, his posture erect and almost arrogant, a pumpkin bomb held casually in his left hand. "Wh- What's the meaning of this?"
The Goblin's right hand reached up and slowly removed the face-mask in lieu of an answer, revealing the face underneath. MJ drew a startled gasp. "H- Harry? B- But you're dead!"
A sneer appeared on Harry's face. "I got better! The same can't be said about you, MJ! You're carrying the child of my worst enemy, therefore your life is forfeit!" he exclaimed in a hiss and raised the hand holding the pumpkin bomb.
"Wh- What? Peter never was your enemy! You two even reconciled before you died! What happened to you, Harry?" MJ asked intently, her posture defiant.
"I saw the error of my ways! My father was right all along, Peter's a menace who ruins anything he touches! Look at me, look at my life before Peter came into it! I was normal! Peter killed me and made me leave dad, Liz and Normie behind! No more! I'll prove to my father and everyone else that I'm better than Peter by killing him and anyone he holds dear! And I'll start with you!" Harry hissed, eyes narrowed to slits.
"You- You can't be Harry! He'd never do what you're saying! Whoever you are, Peter will stop you!" MJ replied defiantly, her eyes blazing.
A maniacal gleam entered Harry's eyes. "I am Harry, I just saw the light! Now good bye, MJ!" he exclaimed and made move to throw the bomb.
The last thing the clone of Harry Osborn would ever see was the light of an energy blast heading straight for his head at incredible speed that reduced said cranium to nothing. MJ didn't even have time to scream as the headless body instantly crumbled to dust that fell to the ground along with the Goblin glider which hit the ground with a metallic clang, Amnar having reappeared in the spot where the Harry clone had met his demise, pumpkin bomb held securely in her right hand.
"Now you've really seen the light, you bastard!" Amnar exclaimed in grim satisfaction and turned her head to look at Spider-Man's wife, "Good acting, MJ!" the redhead commended with a smile and thumbs up, but her gaze wandering to the dusty ground her expression turned sheepish and she scratched the back of her head, "Umm, sorry 'bout the dusty floor bit!"
"Think nothing of it, Amnar. It sure beats the alternative!" MJ replied with a wry smile and wiped the sweat from her forehead.
Amnar nodded empathically and activated her headset. "Sis, it's started! They're attacking Pete's and MJ's flat with everything they got, so get your ass over here yesterday!"
About two-and-a-half kilometres away blue eyes narrowed dangerously. "You all heard her! Let's move out!"
"And that we did, dear," Ranma told her daughter and shifted her weight, "And if you're up to your best behaviour tomorrow I'll tell you the rest coming evening."
"But mom! You don't just stop in the middle of a story like that! It's just not done!" the younger redhead protested in a whine and made her blue eyes as large as possible to create the feared puppy dog eyes effect.
Ranma mock-frowned and tilted her head to the right. "Is that so?"
"Yeah! It's a cardinal rule that you don't do something like that! It's just that bad a style, mom!" Enya retorted empathically.
The older redhead gave a mock-shrug. "If you say so, dear. So we moved out, and your dad - who was your mom at the time - had just arrived..."
Felicia's face was a mask of concentration as she willed the glider she had procured from Reed to fly faster. "Don't hold back at all, guys!" she heard Amnar radio in, "The Harry clones are pre-programmed and crumble to dust once they expire! Busy now, later!"
The Hardy's eyes narrowed further and coaxing even more speed out of the glider she entered the vicinity of Peter's and MJ's flat five seconds later. She closed in silently and stealthily, and the sight greeting her made her breath catch, for the airspace was literally crowded with Harry clones. 'Nothing for it!' she thought grimly and willed SD to form gattling guns on her forearms, shoulders, the outer sides of her thighs and shins, 'Open fire, SD!' she commanded and her symbiote obliged, spewing a constant stream of projectiles at the nearest clones.
Nine clones were taken by surprise and died instantly, and Felicia thought 'Sorry, Harry, but you would have wanted us to stop them!' with a grim and furious expression on her masked face as she watched the gliders explode and the clone dust float to the ground, and going all out she let her tendrils out, her symbiote forming weapons of all kinds ranging from axes to swords to knives and every other throwing weapon in between that were then thrown at the clones around her by her tendrils.
All the while the gattling guns kept on firing, but the Green Goblins began to fight back and threw pumpkin bombs and used their energy attacks in a bid to kill Felicia. To no avail, though, seeing as the symbiote-clad woman's super-human reflexes and spider-sense easily allowed her to dodge, deflect or outright return the bombs to sender. When Felicia killed a clone by obliterating it with an overpowered ki-blast the remaining five clones looked at each other and disengaged as one and flew towards the Parker's flat at high speed, pumpkin bombs primed and ready to be used.
Felicia cursed like a sailor and gave chase, but she needn't have bothered seeing as a literal hailstorm of AA fire in form of fiery beach-ball-shaped projectiles erupted from the flat and tore into the attackers. The former Black Cat eeped and quickly gained altitude so as not to get caught in the friendly fire, and holding her breath she waited until the dust cloud had settled. The visual evidence unsurprisingly told her the same as her senses, the attackers had been completely obliterated by Amnar's attack.
Felicia shook her head, her expression conveying just how angry she was that Norman Osborn was desecrating the memory of his own son like this to get his petty revenge on the Parkers. Her expression quickly lit up however when she felt her love as well as Peter and his brothers closing in, and cracking her neck she nodded grimly. It was time to get this one in the bag.
"And then dad really got into it, right, mom?" Enya asked with a knowing smile.
"Yeah. Your father knew Harry Osborn before his death, and when he says he was an okay guy even back then it is so. He really hated the way Norman Osborn was using Harry, so between him, the others and me we quickly made short work of the clones!
"We, that is Peter, Kaine, Ben, Amnar and I had retreated to the flat while your father dealt with the clones. But the clones kept on coming, which is why I saw myself forced to do something I loath..."
Ranma and the others were standing in the living room of the Parkers' flat, and everyone, even the pregant Mary-Jane chose to remain standing seeing as the tension could practically be cut with a knife. The ex-Saotome had her hands behind her back and her eyes closed, her forehead furrowed in concentration. Expelling a deep breath she turned around, her eyes and expression serious.
"There's more of them coming. You can all feel it. Felicia's protecting the flat and keeping the perimeter secure, but we have to get to the root of things. We must eliminate Norman Osborn and his thrice damned cloning facility!" she hissed and smacked her right fist into the palm of her left hand for emphasis, eliciting nods of agreement, "The problem we're facing, we need all the firepower we can get but cannot leave MJ unprotected. Taking you with us is out as it is too risky, MJ. The clones will keep on attacking, and there's none of our hero friends available to make sure you're safe either. I admit I really want to see Norman taken down for good so you'll understand I can't stay here," MJ nodded in understanding, "so I'll make a painful suggestion: Sym has agreed that she'll stay with you and protect you. With her capabilities devoted to keeping you safe the clones won't be able to harm a hair on your head, and we'd have covered every angle I can think of. But the decision's up to you, we just need it quick!"
"No pressure, eh?" MJ mused dryly and furrowed her brows in thought, 'This... symbiote's the spawn of the thing that's always trying to kill Peter and that almost frightened me to death! But Ranma's done so much good with Sym's help, and she only survived because of her! Face it, MJ, you'd be dead weight without Sym, and I'd be weighing them down! There's but one choice!'
"I'll do it! And before you ask, tiger, yes, I'm certain!" the redhead said determinedly, "I trust Ranma, and I trust Sym! So let's do this so you can kick Norman's ass once and for all!"
Peter nodded and smiled softly, a smile that was mirrored by his brothers. They too had come to know how determined and forceful MJ could get, so full of zest and life, and both men were glad that the woman they had come to regard as their sister-in-law would be well protected.
"Good," Ranma said, and a brief sad and forlorn expression appearing on her face the redhead willed Sym off her body. The symbiote, leaving her host standing in black briefs and an equally black undershirt that did nothing to hide Ranma's incredible curves, wasted no time and slithered over to MJ, pooling at her feet. There Sym waited as if waiting for MJ's permission, and when the redhead said, "Let's do this!" the alien began the covering process.
"I still can't believe Ranma was born a boy," Ben muttered with a disbelieving shake of his head.
"Yeah, she's an incredibly good looking bird," Kaine agreed easily.
"Ahem," Ranma ground out, her hands on her hips as she glared at the spider-powered men, "This 'incredibly good looking bird' can still clean your clocks even without Sym, boys!"
"Hey! I'm not responsible for what my brothers say, so no guilt by association here!" Peter protested indignantly while his brothers tried to look innocent.
Ranma swivelled her head, her glare boring into Peter. "They've got the same thought-patterns as you, so I can so lump you three together!" she harrumphed, not letting up on her glare in the slightest much to MJ's and Amnar's silent amusement, "Now I'm going to the bathroom to change into my spare costume, far away from prying perverted eyes!" she declared, and her nose up in the air the redhead left the room.
"Women! Must be her time of the month!" Kaine muttered to himself and froze in fear when he felt a huge surge of ki coming from down the floor, "Please tell me I didn't say that out loud!"
"Sorry bud, you're on your own in this!" Ben whispered with Peter nodding empathically.
"Kaine, Kaine, Kaine, we'll have to have a lengthy spar after this is over!" Ranma said sweetly from the hallway, "And don't bother trying to run, I'll find you anyway!"
With her threat delivered footsteps could be heard patting away and Kaine sighed, his expression that of a doomed man. "I'm screwed!" he exclaimed and lowered his head, "Maybe it'd be less painful if I got myself killed by the Harry clones?"
"Nah, she'd probably drag you back from the pits of hell just to beat you up," Ben commented and tilted his head, "Yeah, bro, you're screwed! Do I get that TV system you bought? You won't need it any more-"
"Enough with the chit-chat, boys," MJ's voice interrupted, "Just one little piece of advice, you don't say stuff like this about a woman even if it's right on the dot, regardless of how strong and tough you are! It always ends badly! Now go get Norman!"
"You don't look any different, MJ," Ben commented, but a look of comprehension appearing on his face he added, "Unless... Sym's mimicking your clothes to give the impression that you're helpless!"
"Got it in one, Ben!" MJ retorted with a smile and tilted her head to the side, "But I don't think we're going to keep this charade up for long, for Sym's suggesting we play this by ear! Even though I'm not defenceless any more the clones could still succeed in destroying the flat or even the building! She says I should head over to Aunt May to ensure that she's safe."
"Good idea. I'm not certain Norman won't stoop so low as to attack her!" Peter grumbled darkly.
Amnar came running into the room clothed in a Spider-Man costume sans facemask. "Sorry Pete, had to grab one of your spare costumes and web shooters! Catch, sis!" the redhead - who looked identical to her sister in every which way nowadays thanks to Sym subjecting her to the same treatment Ranma had gone through after the bond with Sym had been formed - exclaimed and threw a pair of mechanical webshooters at her sister who was just entering the living room in her Yin Yang Spider costume and caught them easily and put them on with a "Thanks!".
"Feel right at home," Peter commented with an amused smile.
Amnar grinned unrepentantly and turned to her sister. "Felicia's doing a great job outside, but we should get to the root of things as soon as possible!"
"Then less wasting time and more kicking Goblin ass!" Ranma exclaimed eliciting a chorus of agreement.
"And then we finally got going! You should've seen MJ's face when Sym covered it, and I'd bet everything I have that she was a hairsbreadth away from screaming in joy when she went webslinging for the first time!" Ranma narrated with a smile on her face. Said smile gave way to a serious expression when the redhead gathered her thoughts. "Your father had fought tirelessly to keep the clones at bay in the meantime and had succeeded brilliantly! But the clones kept on coming in a bid to kill MJ and her unborn daughter as the cloning vats churned out clone after clone! With MJ safe we really cut loose and trailing the clones' path to the abandoned warehouse Kaine had found we were ready to bring an end to the nightmare..."
"This is the place!" Kaine exclaimed from where he was balanced on top of the chain link fence surrounding the abandoned warehouse that served as Norman Osborn's base of operations, "Don't let yourselves be fooled by the desolate appearance, the underground facility is top-notch!"
"As expected of the narcissist asshole!" Peter ground out angrily.
"There's the next clone!" Ranma exclaimed in an almost bored tone, "And I bet everything that I have that Oz already knows we're here, so..."
The redhead concentrated for a moment and unleashed a flurry of vacuum blades at the flying Harry clone. Years of expertise and uncanny accuracy ensured that a pile of dust crumbled to the ground moments later, and the acoustic spectacle of an exploding Goblin glider echoed through the evening air.
"Now Oz knows for sure that we're here!" Ben deadpanned with his head tilted to the side.
Ranma shrugged unrepentantly. "Who needs the element of surprise anyway? Let's kick more ass and take names!"
"Wait a second, sis, I'm in the mood for some wanton destruction, and I've got just the thing!" Amnar spoke up enthusiastically, the redhead grinning gleefully behind her facemask.
The three Parkers looked at each other. "What is it with redheads and their penchant for destruction?" Kaine muttered quietly.
"Don't know. Don't want to know!" Ben muttered back equally as quiet, "I think I'll be going for a blonde or a brunette, seems much safer to me!"
"You can only lose asking question such as these, bro," Peter commented sagely in as quiet a voice as his brothers, "And Ben, being married to a redhead has its perks, believe me!"
"If you're quite finished, boys," Ranma spoke up in a decidedly unamused tone of voice that made the three Parkers flinch, her face set in a frown with her blue eyes glinting behind her facemask, "What did you have in mind, sis?"
Amnar let the equally as unamused expression slip from her face and turned her head to look at her sister. "Provide me with some cold ki and you'll see!"
Ranma just shrugged and delved deeply into the soul of ice. "Let's step up a bit so that the variant of the Hiryuu Shoten Ha you're obviously planning flattens the fence as well as any booby traps Norman may have planted!"
"A ki attack called 'Rising dragon ascension'?" Peter asked apprehensively, "Per chance as destructive as its mythological counterpart?"
"Yep!" both redheads chirped cheerfully in unison, their answer prompting the Parkers to back away slowly but surely.
"Too bad Felicia can't be here, sis! She was the one who gave me the idea," Amnar said causing Ranma to tilt her head in surprise exclaiming a soft "Cool!", and smiling in bemusement behind her facemask at her smitten sister the phoenix-powered martial artist began to generate an enormous amount of heat, "Now let's do this! Follow my lead!" she exclaimed and began to move in the infamous pattern that led up to the devastating ki attack.
Ranma did as requested and followed Amnar's movements exactly, and three Parkers could only gape in astonishment when both redheads punched their fists forward in front of themselves, Amnar exclaiming, "Hiryuu Shoten Ha revised, Daitoppa!"
A tornado of immense proportions came into being in front of the martial artists, and using their ki Ranma and Amnar directed the artificial embodiment of elemental destruction towards the warehouse. Inside the underground base Norman Osborn had apparently realised that the game was up, for six Harry clones shot into the evening sky on Goblin gliders. Peter, Kaine and Ben engaged them without missing a beat, and where Norman had banked upon the Parkers letting their emotional attachment to Harry impair their judgement the opposite was the case.
Backed by their intense martial arts training and increased abilities the three attacked the clones with cold, furious efficiency while the redheads directed the tornado to tear into the warehouse. Two things happened in short order, the clones were taken down and the warehouse crumpled in on itself.
And then Ranma pointed her right index finger forward and downwards. "See the shiny metal surface beneath the rubble? This is where we must go!"
Ranma paused in her narration to take a sip from the glass of water standing on the night console. "And that we did. Being the strongest Amnar had to punch through ten centimetres of hardened steel alloy, but that was no problem for her. Then we entered the shaft and began our little invasion..."
"Guys, that's a lot of life signs ahead!" Peter spoke up apprehensively as he walked cautiously through the narrow hallway. The quintet had been surrounded by absolute darkness in the beginning until Amnar provided illumination by bringing forth her fiery aura.
"Yeah," Ranma agreed warily, the flickering light causing shadows to dance across her face, "Sis, vacuum blades, wide-spread as soon as this hallway opens up! We have to take as many of them out as we can before we engage them hand to hand!"
"Agreed!" Amnar retorted, her eyes narrowing, "And Osborn will pay for this... this waste of life!"
"Oh yeah, we'll make him pay! Pay in blood!" Kaine agreed darkly and cracked his knuckles, Peter and Ben making agreeing exclamations.
The redheads just nodded grimly and marched ahead with determined strides, and the quintet just paused to disable booby traps and other surprises Norman Osborn had prepared to stop intruders. As soon as they had reached what could only be called the lab Ranma and Amnar employed their agreed upon tactic and let loose a virtual hailstorm of vacuum blades that cut through anything in their path.
Machinery exploded in showers of sparks, tanks containing clones were sliced through and more Harry clones were cut down where they stood. Other airborne clones that were floating on their gliders in the high-walled room partially escaped their brethren's fate, and they needn't be told twice when a furious male voice shouted, "Kill them all!"
Chaos reigned and utter havoc ensued as pumpkin bombs and energy attacks on one side and ki-blasts were employed on the other side. Ranma and Amnar were fighting side by side, deflecting or intercepting the clones' attacks while pressing their own attacks like female furies. Clone after clone fell under the onslaught as the duo of redheaded martial artists employed the full range of the Saotome school of martial arts while the Parker trio dished out the same in a watered down version that was still more than sufficient in dominating the clones.
Ranma had just disposed of another clone when she caught sight of Norman Osborn. The crazed genius was standing on an elevated circular platform of about two metres in diameter with his back turned, a large black cloak shrouding his body. The original Green Goblin was furiously typing away on a control console and crowed in delight in just the moment when Ranma had ended another clone in an almost absent manner by piercing his heart with a ki blast at point blank.
The redhead felt her ki output rise involuntarily as her eyes narrowed in hate, and she only managed to shake herself out of her episode when a hand patted her shoulder. "He's yours, sis. Go get him!"
Ranma turned her head to regard her sister, her eyes raging oceans of deep blue. "Thanks, sis!" she retorted with a grim grin and didn't waste a second.
Her leap took her seven metres into the air and a ki blast formed in both hands in seconds. So angry was Ranma that a Tadashii fungeki double leapt from her hands, slamming into Norman Osborn's back with the force of a freight train. Ranma didn't care that it was hardly fair nor honourable to attack someone's unprotected back, all that mattered to her was taking Osborn down.
She absently disposed of three clones that sought to attack her in her seemingly distracted state and watched Osborn get blasted through the far wall with a satisfying crunching sound. Ranma tensed her muscles and was about to leap after the bane of her existence when a blur tackled her with incredible force. Before she knew what was going on Ranma found herself held by the throat in an incredibly strong grip, and the grinning face of Norman Osborn sneered up at her.
"I must thank you for your wonderfully insightful interview, Miss Saotome!" Norman said conversationally with a pleasantness that was belied by the insane glint in his eyes, and his bark of, "Cease all fighting or she dies here and now!" confirmed how dangerous the man was.
Ranma narrowed her eyes hatefully and tried everything to free herself while she was looking for weaknesses in the strange black-coloured armour the man was wearing, but the grip Norman Osborn had on her was like a hydraulic press powered by a cold fission reactor, absolutely unbreakable. She even tried to form her ki-claws, but those flickered out of existence before they were even fully formed, and she felt herself growing weaker by the second. When her fellow fighters realised that Ranma wouldn't be breaking free Amnar and the Parkers reluctantly gave themselves up, causing Norman to smirk in triumph.
"You see, without you, Miss Saotome, I would never even have considered to build an armour that's powered by foreign life energy! And all it took to activate it were those lovely ki-blasts you fired at me!" Norman crowed, insane glee shining in his eyes, "It's also as I thought, your claims were false! You do not have a sentient suit or symbiote as they'd have protected you, it was all a trick! But that's the way all dazzlers end! Soon I'll have drained all your life energy from you-"
Norman started in surprise when the ki-drain suddenly stopped, and seconds later a gurgle was all he managed when he found a serrated blade pierced right through his heart despite his armour. Time seemed to stop as the insane man's armour hissed and sizzled and shorted itself out with an almost comical PFOOOMPH! that made Osborn almost topple over backwards, and Norman's grip slackened and his eyes widened when he saw a tall silver-haired man fade into view behind Ranma. Said man wrapped his arms around the redhead's mid-section and levelled a hard glare at Norman, his state of almost complete undress – save for red briefs and an equally red undershirt – seeming not to bother him in the slightest.
Blood trickled from the corners of Norman's mouth in rivulets and surprise edged into his face he watched a black and red substance proceeding to cover the redhead until everything but her face was covered, leaving her clad in SD's base form, tendrils included. "Thanks for the rescue, you two! Seems I was the damsel in distress this time around!" Ranma said, her head tilted so that she could smile at her fiancé.
"You're very welcome, dear!" Felix replied with a reciprocating smile.
Time seemed to speed up again and chaos erupted all around as the clones and Amnar and the Parkers began to resume their battle. Not to be outdone Ranma decided to join the fray and moments later her tendrils exploded into action and skewered every clone within a radius of five metres. The Parkers and Amnar quickly made short work of the remaining clones in short order.
Ranma, Norman's hands still grasping her throat, smiled darkly at the super villain, but her smile turned into a frown. "You have way too much fight and life left in you for my liking, Norman! My, my, do we have a healing factor and haven't told anyone about it? Tut, tut!" she scolded and twisted the blade around, making Norman gasp in pain.
"That's how he survived all those time, the damned Goblin serum has to have given him regenerative powers!" Peter concluded with a snap of his fingers; Kaine and Ben had apparently arrived at the same conclusion as both were nodding.
"That's... right! And as... none of you... pussies... have the balls... to do me in... you can be... certain that... I'll be back!" Norman exclaimed and was about to throw a smoke bomb when his hands were suddenly impaled by symbiote tendrils.
"I'd so love to prove him wrong, but the honour's yours, Ranma!" Kaine said coldly, only the edge in his voice betraying his immense anger.
Ranma gave Kaine a curt and respectful nod. Norman whereas was completely startled and managed to turn the yell of pain into a strangled moan, but the loathing in his glare was easily surpassed by Ranma's own glare. "Thanks to your efforts I'm comfortable with having no balls, Osborn. Thanks to your efforts I was also living a nightmare! I woke up," Felix tightened his grip around Ranma's waist and kissed the crown of her hair lovingly, "But I won't forgive and forget! You made me into what I am, the bringer of your demise! Good bye!"
Ranma moved all of her tendrils to in front of her, said tendrils having turned themselves into all kinds of assorted weapons, her gaze so hard it could have been carved from stone. "Wait, I-"
"I'm not interested in what you have to say, Osborn! No slap on the wrist, no second chances! And now the time for words has passed! Shi ne!" Ranma hissed and brought her tendrils to bear...
"And then I just killed him," Ranma said calmly, "And Amnar reduced his body to ash just to be on the safe side!"
"Aww mom! Details! I want details!" the younger redhead whined petulantly.
"I swear your symbiote's a bad influence on you despite that she always claims its the other way around!" Ranma mused with a shake of the head, her eyes twinkling, "Let's just say I got creative before putting him out of his misery and leave it at that!
"Now, we had to clean up the rest, and after we had disposed of the last clone your father and I finally had a moment to ourselves..."
Ranma and Felix stood amidst the ruins of another section of the lab holding each other close, dust scattered all around them on the polished steel floor. The redhead sighed contently and rested her head on her fiancé's chest. "It's finally over!" she said and sighed deeply, "Osborn's dead!"
"I'm glad you got closure, dear," Felix said softly and stroked Ranma's hair lovingly, "And I'm so glad that you survived everything that got thrown your way. You never gave up, and everything worked out in the end. Everyone got what they deserved!"
"Even you?" Ranma asked, a tad of insecurity leaking through in her voice.
"Absolutely. I got you! What more do I need?" Felix asked and kissed the crown of her head.
Ranma smiled contently. "Wish we could stay like this forever, but there's the matter of these extremely weak life signs to attend to-"
"Let the boys take care of them," Felix whispered and pulled Ranma even closer with a content smile on his face, "Now I believe you still have something that's mine, dear."
The redhead smiled slyly. "Whatever could that be?"
"Dear, be a dear and help my state of undress. It's getting drafty!" Felix half-complained.
"But I like you this way!" Ranma protested.
Felix looked down at Ranma, insecurity obvious in his eyes. "Really?"
"Yes, really. The body you're wearing doesn't matter to me as I love you, Mr Hardy, be you man or woman. And I could really care less what others think about it!" Ranma said softly but with underlying steel in her voice, "I love you!"
"And I love you!" Felix returned with a loving smile.
"Sadly we were interrupted by Peter and his brothers. They had found something really interesting, or rather someone. Turns out that Harry Osborn wasn't as dead as we had thought. His father had recovered his body and placed him in suspended animation, but he wasn't successful in reviving him. So he did the next best thing once the technology became available to him, he cloned himself an army of loyal sons. Bastard! I hope he rots in hell!" Ranma grumbled and shook her head to gather herself, "But I admit, it took Reed and me a long time to bring Harry back without killing him, and we only succeeded last year after Reed made the final breakthrough. Needless to say, Harry was horrified by what his father had done, which is why he puts so much effort into clearing the Osborn name and helps us out a lot. We never told him how his father died, just that he was taken down after a big fight. I don't have to tell you-"
"My lips are sealed, mom!" Enya promised seriously, "But now tell me, how did I come about? And why is Daddy Erin's and Ragna's mom?"
"That, my dear, is a story for another time. But let's just say you were a wonderful accident-"
"Accident?" Enya muttered almost forlornly, her head drooping in sadness.
Ranma realised that she would have to expound on it for her daughter's sake and softly raked her hand through Enya's long hair. "Don't ever think you were unwanted, dear!" she said with so much conviction Enya raised her head in surprise and gazed directly into her mother's eyes that were literally brimming with love, "It's just that I never thought I'd be the mother seeing as I was born male. But your father and I had just survived a very fierce battle during which both of us almost died several times..."
"I still can't believe we managed to stop Thanos from getting his hands on the Infinity gems!" Ranma said as he let go of the line of webbing and landed on the rooftop of his house with a stagger.
His spouse followed him suit and copied the awkward landing. "Me neither! And we can count our blessings that the two of us seem to have nine lives!"
Ranma nodded darkly and staggered towards the skylight. "I stopped counting the times we almost died in the end!" he replied and produced a remote. Keying in a ridiculously long and complicated code and pushing a button to confirm it caused the skylight to open, and the gender-changer jumped downwards.
He staggered towards the night console of the bed where he kept his emergency chocolate supply and absently registered Felicia landing. "I'm so in the mood for some comfort food!" he muttered with his mouth almost watering and involuntarily changed to female seeing as chocolate always tasted better when female.
'Sym, change me into something comfy,' Ranma thought, and her costume rippled and changed into white spandex shorts and a white tank top just as she bent down to open the night console, and Ranma had just helped herself to a decently sized piece of chocolate when she felt herself being turned around by strong hands. Arms wrapped themselves around her mid-section and pulled her close, and Ranma's now husband whispered, "I'm so glad you came out of this okay, dear. I love you!"
Ranma didn't have the chance to reply seeing as she found herself being kissed senseless, and she let herself go when hands began to roam...
"And this, dear, led to a night so memorable that I still cherish it to this day. And before you say anything, you wanted to know, dear!" Ranma shrugged with an impish grin.
Enya looked faintly uncomfortable and nodded sheepishly. "And then, mom?"
"Well, I found out that your father had hit the bullseye seven weeks later, and I so enjoyed making his life hell for the next thirty-nine weeks. So you see, even though you came about as unplanned as can be you were never unwanted! Your father and I love you, and we never regretted that we let our feelings consume us. You, my daughter, are the best thing that happened to me right up there with your father and sisters!" Ranma whispered lovingly and smiled, "And as for your other question, well, let's just say I got back at your father!" she grinned.
Enya nodded in understanding. "I see."
"Now don't forget, Celine's coming over with her big sister May and her parents Peter and MJ tomorrow. And Ryoga and Akari wanted to visit with their kids as well! You'll need your energy!" Ranma said with a soft smile.
Enya glanced at her watch and relented upon realising that is was pretty late. "Okay, mom!" the smaller redhead acquiesced and disappeared from her mother's lap in a blur of motion to reappear beneath her blankets, a smile on her face as she got comfortable, "Night!"
Ranma smiled softly and walked the few steps to the head of the bed, and bending down she kissed Enya's forehead. "Good night and sleep tight, dear. Love you."
Enya yawned softly and smiled at her mother. "Love you too, mom!"
The older redhead smiled contently and watched her daughter with maternal pride. 'All the pain, sweat and blood was worth getting to this point, and if I'd to do it over again I wouldn't change a single thing!' she thought and closed the door.
Ranma then grinned and shifted into a tall blond man and produced a cell phone from a pocket that had formed on his right tigh.
"Yo Ben, the guys already there?" he asked good-humouredly.
"Hey doc, Logan's just come in, the others can't be far behind," Ben replied in his bassy rumble.
"Good. I'll be over shortly," Ranma replied and hang up after Ben's reply.
A roguish grin appeared on Ranma's face. "Thank God for Friday's and Ben's and Logan's poker nights." he mused to himself and whistled a tune as Sym formed his costume.
In under a minute Ranma was web-slinging through the valleys of concrete and glass that were Manhattan's streets, and one thought ran through his head, 'Life's good!'
That's it. The end of the road after several years. Yes, sure, I could have written more, expounded more upon the universe I created, but I found it's a good point to stop. Ranma has grown so much both in strength and character that throwing interesting challenges his/her way would prove difficult anyway. Add to that that round about 400k words is simply enough in my opinion.
Now let me take the chance to thank all of my readers and reviewers who never tired to show me their support and provided me with ideas, concepts or just food for thought. Thanks!
I would also like to thank my beta readers - most noteworthy Wes - who made my works better than they would have been otherwise.
It was a great ride, and I had fun writing 'Betrayal's Reward'.
On another note, if you have read this far and want to know why the last chapter took so long in coming and why I haven't answered messages just take a look at my profile. But even that is old news as my son Soren J. was born to us about four weeks ago. Writing will take a bit of a backseat seeing as we're now a quintuple.
Hope we'll see each other again - methaphorically speaking - in good health when I'll continue my next project(s).