Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or Ranma, and I don't make any money from this. If you want to have RAN though, you'll have to take it up with me…
Summary: After their failed wedding, Ranma isn't ready yet to give up on marrying Akane. Then he discovers an add for 'Rent A Ninja'. Will they be able to help him?
Warning: Ranma's got a bit of a potty mouth. No sex or violence though.
Beta: Lord Scruffy. Give him your thanks for smoothing out the rough edges of this story.
A/N: This would be a sequel to 'Ninja Business' if Ninja Business wasn't such a short drabble that, by all rights, it shouldn't be called a story at all. 'Ninja Business' spawned the idea for this fanfiction, but isn't related to it in any other way.
Stealthily, the young man made his way into the unremarkable shop. His black hair, braided into a small pig-tail, swung nervously across his neck. He anxiously looked over his shoulder, trying to distinguish whether anyone had followed him.
"Hello. May I help you?"
Startled, Ranma jumped backwards at the sudden voice. Hadn't the shop been empty just a moment ago? There, in the corner, was a slender blond with strange whisker-marks on his face, looking barely older than eighteen. Of course, the young martial artist knew from his own experience that looks could be deceiving. Especially age was deceptive in good martial artists. But the blond didn't look very strong – his ki didn't feel very strong, either. Had he really arrived at the right place?
He asked, a little bit confused, "Eh, yes, is this the 'Rent A Nin'-business?"
The blond brightened almost immediately. "Oh, yeah, sure. I'm one of the RAN co-founders. Is there anything we can help you with?"
With a frown on his face, Ranma looked around. The small room was nearly split in half by a thick plastic counter which wasn't very clean. Behind the counter, he could see several boxes filled with packing material, no indication as to what had been in them. Several shelves were crowded with video cassettes and DVDs – all of them ninja and fighting movies. The windows of the shop-front were starting to go blind, but they were plastered with more or less realistic pictures of ninja in all poses. There was only a single lamp dangling from the ceiling, not very bright because of several dead insects that must have fallen into the inverted lamp shade.
All in all, the shop didn't look very reputable, and its owner didn't look much better with his faded jeans and washed-out t-shirt. To be honest, everything seemed more like a run-down DVD renting place than any real ninja place. The pig-tailed martial artist didn't quite know what to make of the blond or of the RAN business in general, not certain whether they would be of any help in the daily Nerimian chaos. He stumbled a bit over his words. "Well, I saw your add, that you deal in both uncommon situations and unusual solutions and all, with discretion and top results…"
"That's right," the blond nodded, not phased in the least by Ranma's rambling. "I assume that your problem is somewhat sensitive? Then follow me to our office."
Ranma dumbly went after the blond who pushed the packing crates aside to reveal a trap-door. Judging by the blond's silent way of movement, he was quite well-trained, but Ranma doubted the guy was even close to Ryouga's level of abilities. He just didn't exude enough of the fanatical, out of this world craziness that Ranma had come to expect of all good martial artists.
Since he was standing behind the blond man, Ranma couldn't see what exactly he was doing with his hands, but he assumed it was part of disarming security. When the trapdoor opened soundlessly to reveal a nicely lit staircase, Ranma began to grow uneasy. He had never been very comfortable going underground, and the whole situation made him even tenser. What if it was a trap?
The blond seemed to sense his unease because he turned back, already halfway down the stairs. "Don't worry, nothing will happen to you while you are here. After all, it would be quite bad for our reputation if we let anything happen to potential customers."
Not very reassured, Ranma took a deep breath and followed the still nameless man. The stairs didn't go down more than one, two floors at best, and at the bottom they ended in a thick, wooden door. His guide pounded on the door, yelling quite loudly. "Oi, bastard, open up! New customer!"
Ranma barely refrained from raising an eyebrow both at the behavior and the language. Quite fitting for the easy-going blond, but not quite what he had expected from a business that called itself 'Rent A Ninja'. He would have expected them to have more – style, or stealth, or ninja-ness. Whatever.
Before he could complete his thoughts though, the door was forcefully wrenched open by an irate black-haired man who immediately rounded on the blond. "You idiot! How many times have I told you not to call me that in front of our clients! We are supposed to be professionals, you understand?"
Fascinated, Ranma watched both of them lapse into an intense staring match where they occasionally growled and frowned. The two acted very familiar with each other, and beneath their hostile facades, Ranma would bet they were friends. Would Ryouga and he been able to build anything like that if that whole Juusenkyou-fiasco hadn't come between them?
Ranma cleared his throat, a bit amused at the by-play. The black-haired man's head immediately swiveled to him, taking him in in one long gaze. It felt impersonal, weighing him for his abilities and skills.
"Nice to meet you. You may call me Raven," the black-haired man finally said, shoving the blond out of the way to shake hands with Ranma.
Raven was quite a bit smaller than both Ranma and the blond, dressed in well-fitting black slacks and a white shirt. Beneath those clothes, he looked quite physically fit, and Ranma thought he had seen a few hidden weapon holsters on his body. Despite his strange hair-cut, Raven embodied a lot more professionalism and ninja-ness than the blond. Ranma had a feeling that this was a long-standing issue between the two of them.
Ranma accepted Raven's hand. "Likewise. Call me Wild Horse."
"Well, let's proceed to my office, it has been bug-proofed against a variety of surveillance methods. Fox, you will make sure we are undisturbed."
The blond, Fox, nodded sharply and left the same way they had come from. Raven guided Ranma into the office, closing the door behind them and, just like the blond had done to the trap-door, did something Ranma couldn't see because of his turned back.
Seemingly satisfied, Raven eyed the door one last time and then went behind the desk.
"Please, take a seat," he motioned to Ranma, who took one of the elegant designer chairs apparently waiting for visitors. "Now, how can we help you?"
Ranma had to force himself to not display any nervous habits. The decision to seek help with his problems had been hard enough, and Raven's piercing stare didn't make it any easier.
"Well," he began slowly, "my life is kind of – messed up at the moment. I've tried making things better, but…" He trailed off, not sure how to go on.
Raven frowned. "I am not certain what this has to do with RAN."
Ranma deliberately rested his hands onto his thighs as to not twist them. "There is kind of something more. Have you ever heard of Nerima, a district of Tokyo?"
"A locus of chaotic energies. And judging by your aura, you are one of the ki-users who have taken residence there. Why have you sought us out?"
Nodding mutely, Ranma wondered how Raven could see his aura – he had suppressed it to an almost normal level. It probably was the 'almost' that had gotten the ninja's attention though. This spoke well of their skills, which he had really been starting to doubt.
He exhaled slowly. It was now or never. "Well, that's a bit complicated, but the gist of it is that I want to marry in peace without any disturbances."
Ranma twiddled his fingers a bit, and Raven raised an eyebrow. "I get the feeling that this is a bit more than troublesome relatives or in-laws."
Mutely, Ranma nodded. "Eh, to begin with, I'm a bit – let's say, infamous in my district, and almost everybody is interested in my private life. Additionally, I have quite a few people who are after me. Some want to use me to make money, some want to kill me, some want to marry me, some want to molest me, some want to make me marry somebody else, some want to kidnap me, some want to hold me responsible for somebody else wanting to marry me,…"
Raven's second eyebrow joined his first. "Quite the collection you have going there."
"Yeah," Ranma agreed. Spoken out loud, his daily life seemed even crazier than it already was. "Worst of all is that 99 percent of those after me are accomplished fighters who are quite powerful. One on one, I can defeat them, no problem, and they are too egoistic to band together. My wedding though will draw all of them to one spot, resulting in a free-for-all where the collateral damage will be in the millions. What I need is someone to distract all of them until I can present them with a fait accompli. Afterwards I'll deal with them myself again, but if you could give me any tips on how to get rid of those who refuse to accept my marriage, I'd be very thankful."
"Powerful fighters you say," Raven mused. "How powerful exactly are we talking?"
"The weakest of them are the breaking-through-walls-without-even-realizing-it variety. The only reason why nobody has been killed yet is because I've mostly been the one they vent their frustrations on and I can deal with quite a lot."
Frowning, Raven squinted at Ranma. Once again, the pig-tailed martial artist had the feeling that Raven saw a lot more than he was comfortable with. Almost absentmindedly, Raven commented. "You exclusively use physical energies, don't you? It looks like you've never tried mixing them with your mental energies… Not many here can do that. Still, that doesn't explain those strange energy flows…"
Ranma almost fell off his chair in surprise. "Wha- How can you tell?"
"You have admirable control over your aura, but in such close proximity, I can feel your energy. Your ki is quite well-developed, but it feels a bit strange. To know what exactly is wrong, I'd have to fetch someone who can actually see energy flows. Additionally, I'd like you to spar with either me or Fox to get a feeling for the skills and abilities of those involved in the mission."
"Spar?" Ranma perked up. Finally something he was comfortable with again. "Sure, but I gotta warn you – I'm the best!"
Raven nodded, his face a blank mask with only a jaw muscle jumping slightly. "That is exactly why. Depending on how strong you are compared to us, we will have to employ different methods. But first off, I need a list of everybody we have to plan for. If you could give a short description of how they might become a problem for your wedding, that would be even better."
Ranma heaved a sigh as Raven looked at him attentively, pen already posed to take even more notes. "Ok. I gotta warn you, this is going to be a really long list…"
From there on, Ranma tried to describe the Nerimian mayhem as best as he could, but soon enough Raven held up a hand for him to stop.
"Hold on," the ninja interrupted. "They are all assembled in Nerima at the moment?"
Raven frowned. "So why haven't you run away – you managed to get here undetected, too, didn't you?"
"The problem is that my fiancé insists on both of our families being present for the wedding, and an event like that has to be planned. And as soon as there is any planning involved, you can bet that half of Nerima knows it by the next day."
"Ah." Raven looked thoughtful. "So, basically, you need to operate on surprise tactics, with someone to keep uninvited guests out."
"And to keep the invited guests in line," Ranma added. When Raven merely raised an eyebrow, Ranma explained. "I don't want any of the participants, especially my parents, to have the opportunity to object to this marriage or cause any other form of mayhem."
"If they are kept forcibly in line – are you prepared to deal with the aftermath then?"
"Well, as long as it isn't anything overt like tying and gagging them, I can always deny having known of it, and that means that the marriage will still be valid."
Slowly, Raven's corners of his mouth turned upwards into a dark smirk. Ranma had to shiver. "Isn't that a bunch of good news…"
That evening, Ranma went home to the Tendo Dojo with mixed feelings. He wasn't quite sure he had done the right thing in involving RAN, but it was too late now. He had already given them the gem he had intended to bring to the bank and exchange for money. After returning from Saffron's place, Ranma had found the pea-sized red stone in his pack, and he didn't have a clue where it had come from. He only knew that if he showed it to anyone, it would be gone sooner than he could say Chestnuts-roasting-over-an-open-fire.
When he had showed it to Raven to prove that he'd be able to get the money to pay them, the man's eyes had widened. Instead of insisting on getting money, the guy had offered to take the stone and all debts would be settled with that. Ranma knew he should be suspicious whenever people liked stones and gems better than money, but had reluctantly agreed.
Now, with the sum paid in full, the gears were already turning, and this might be for the best. No chance to get cold feet and back out.
As usual, he was greeted by his fiancé with a mallet to his head for running away, and then a trip to the pond courtesy of his father for making Akane mad. Nobody seemed to notice that he was uncharacteristically silent all throughout dinner, still pondering the fight he'd had with Fox this afternoon.
As he had thought, Fox wasn't up to his standards in terms of pure Martial Arts skills. Fox was more of a brawler who went for effect instead of aesthetics, sticking to a more ground-based fighting style that didn't hesitate to use moves that were considered dirty in most Martial Arts. But as soon as Fox had stopped using Taijutsu only, as they had termed Martial Arts… Well, Ranma was quite certain that, hadn't Fox held back severely, Ranma would be dead by now.
Fox's accuracy, speed and ingenuity with weapons went far beyond what Mousse could control, especially when combined with that multiplying trick. And those other techniques – short-distance teleportation, invisible wind blades, dragons of water and fire, a swirling ball of energy – Ranma simply had been overwhelmed by the variety. It hadn't helped, either, that Ranma was only marginally faster than the blond. The first thing he was going to do tomorrow morning was figuring out that strange energy the ninja used. Ranma was almost a hundred percent certain that Raven had told him the truth, that ki was a part of it but that there was another component, a mental one according to the ninja. Hm, how to train that… meditation?
To be honest, Ranma didn't ever want to fight against any of those ninja again. He had been able to feel that both of them had been trained to kill, and that was something he couldn't condone. When trained to kill once, it was far too easy to slip and kill unintentionally a second and a third time.
They had promised they wouldn't kill or harm anyone, but still… Ranma wondered whether he hadn't made a deal with the devil.
With those thoughts weighing heavily on his mind, he fell into a restless sleep.
For more than three weeks, he hadn't heard from the ninja again. He didn't know whether that was a good sign or a bad one. Either they were that proficient in stealth, or they had simply given up on the job and run off with his money. And, to his increasing frustration, he had made next to no headway with that chakra energy. Yes, sometimes he thought he could feel another energy when he meditated really deep, but he wasn't sure if that was the mental component he was still lacking. At least he had gotten a better feel for his ki, making it easier to call it up without involving too much emotion.
Finally, the planned day of the wedding was there and, to Ranma's surprise, nobody in Nerima was aware of it. That was exactly what they had agreed on, but Ranma hadn't thought that the ninja would hide all their preparations from him, too. Or were they even doing anything?
In any case, he had been on his best behavior, and he had managed not to offend Akane for quite some time so that she might even agree to the marriage.
He had seen neither hide nor hair of the two ninja, but when he woke up on the morning of the wedding day, there was a brief message tucked into the waistband of his pajamas. It told him that everything was ready, and that the operation would commence within the next hour, signed by Fox and Raven. How they had managed to sneak into the room he shared with his father and place the message without either one of them waking up, he didn't know. Both he and his father were trained to react to the smallest disturbance, which had saved their lives on a couple of occasions. It was creepy what those ninja were capable of.
Trying to act as normal as possible, a typical morning at the Tendo Dojo took place.
As usual, he barely avoided disaster when going to the bathroom to get warm again after his daily trip to the pond. Afterwards, he thanked all his lucky stars that Kasumi had once again made breakfast and not his fiancée. Then he was dragged outside by his father (in panda-form) for more of their daily sparring. That was a surprisingly good way to get his mind off what was going to happen today, because every time he started to worry, his father would try and land a hit in his distraction.
"Oi, come down here, will ya?"
The sudden interruption cost him as his father used it to, once again, punt him into the koi pond. Shaking off the excess water, she surfaced only to stare at the blond who was crouching excitedly at the edge of the pond.
"That was so cool! Do it again!"
Ranma stared at the blond, who she now recognized as Fox. That was right, the ninja hadn't seen her female form yet. And her panda-father was sneaking up on him from behind, arms extended to apply one of his Hugs of Doom.
As she didn't want the wedding to go down the drain simply because of her Old Man being his usual self, she opened her mouth to warn Fox of the approaching danger. Before she could say anything though, she realized that her father seemed frozen in place. Fox smirked. "Don't worry, we've got it all under control. As soon as Raven and Dragon are done inside, they're going to come here and turn you two back to normal, and then we can begin."
She finally stepped out of the pond and wrung out her shirt, all the while watching her father struggle against invisible restraints. That was when she noticed a trail of shadow that clung to the panda's feet. She had heard of Shadow Binds, but had never seen this technique in effect. It was quite impressive, to say the least. She'd do everything in her might to get her hands on it.
Then the sliding door to the house opened and a tall, slender man with waist-length black hair stepped out. His movements were fluid, his whole demeanor graceful in a way Ranma couldn't help but feel awed of.
He looked around the garden – how could he do that with blank eyes, wasn't he blind? – and raised an elegant eyebrow. "Saotome-san, it would be advisable to cover yourself before Fox or Monkey die from blood-loss."
Seeing Fox passed out on the ground with a copious amount of red leaking from his nostrils, Ranma finally became aware that she was still holding her shirt in her hands, and that her chest was free for everyone to ogle.
With a healthy blush, she quickly slipped into the garment and crossed her arms in front of her chest. "And I bet you're gay, ain't you?"
"No, I am not." The man looked at Fox, who was still drooling and unconscious on his back, and sighed. "Fox. Ramen."
As if 'ramen' was a magical word, the blond sprang up as if nothing had ever happened, wiping both blood and drool off his face with the back of his hand. "Ramen? Where?"
He looked around excitedly, finally realizing the other man's presence on the engawa and the absence of any noodle soup. His face fell. "You're mean, Dragon." Almost immediately though, he brightened again. "That you're out here means that Stage 2 is complete and that Raven is on his way with the last packages?"
"Almost." Dragon nodded towards Ranma and her father. "These two are still missing."
Fox nodded brightly. "Alright! I'll be off then an' inform the Boss. See ya!"
With those words, Fox puffed out of existence, just as a bored voice drawled from the shadows. "Oi, can you get on with it, holding that Panda's so troublesome."
Squinting her eyes, Ranma could finally see another man leaning against the trunk of the only tree in the yard that hadn't been demolished yet by either Ranma or her father. He had his hands in his pocket and slouched like the weight of the world was on his shoulders.
How long had he been there? How much of their sparring match had he observed? For that matter – just how many ninja were involved in this operation? She had kind of thought Fox and Raven were the only ones. They wouldn't dare charge her an extra fee for that, would they?
Dragon elegantly stepped off the porch and went to her father. The way Dragon's veins were bulging around his eyes was creepy, looking completely out of place on the otherwise porcelain-like face.
"Monkey. Release him."
The shadow tendril immediately let go of her father's feet, but before the panda had any chance to react to his new-found freedom, Dragon had already brushed a hand across the back of his neck. He dropped like a stone, and the other man stepped out of the shadows. Ranma could see that his black hair was gathered in a short, bristling pony-tail, and that he wore a very disgruntled expression – and a fishnet shirt?
Dragon's eyes returned to normal. "Let's go. Our time-frame is almost up. Saotome-san, I trust you will have no problem following us?"
He bent down and almost effortlessly heaved the unconscious panda over his shoulder, jumping to the next roof in one impressive leap.
Ranma whistled through her teeth. "Sure. Just let me get some hot water real quick, and I'll join you."
"No need," the other man – Monkey? – cut her off. "Once we are at the location, Dragon will offer you a more permanent solution to your problem. If that doesn't work, we have hot water there."
Suspicious of what the 'more permanent way' consisted of, Ranma nodded slowly. "Alright. But if I don't like it, I'm gonna kick your asses."
Monkey rolled his eyes and muttered something about this being too troublesome. "Come on. I don't want to know what Fox and Raven have gotten into on their own."
Copying Dragon's impressive leap, Monkey also jumped onto the roof with Ranma hot on his heels. Together, they dashed off into an Eastern direction, towards the outskirts of Nerima. Houses turned into trees, streets into meadows, and they were still running at a speed that would put any Olympic runner to shame. Half an hour after their departure from the Tendo Dojo, they suddenly halted in the middle of nowhere.
Monkey stepped forward, once again muttering about troublesome people – Ranma was starting to realize that there hardly was anything not troublesome – and twisted his hands in strange ways. From what Ranma had gathered, that was the only weak point of chakra, that it had to be channeled through the hands via those strange gestures. The pig-tailed Martial Artist wondered what Monkey would do if she broke one of his fingers. Would he be unable to channel chakra then?
The ninja did those hand gestures so fast that, even to Ranma's practiced eye, they were a blur of motion too quick to decipher. Finally, after nearly a minute, he slammed his hands into the ground.
To Ranma's great surprise, the air started to waver and melt away to reveal a splendid shrine that looked very old and elegant. A large zen-garden with finely pruned plants surrounded it, and there even was one of those clacking bamboo-pipes that constantly filled and emptied itself with the water dripping into it.
Holy crap! She didn't even want to think of how much energy it would take to hide such a large space with the Umi-Senken, or if it was possible at all. She'd really need to get her hands on that chakra if it could do things like that.
Both Monkey and Dragon didn't hesitate in walking towards the main building, with Dragon still carrying the panda effortlessly. Barely able to shut her gaping mouth, Ranma followed them to the interior of the shrine.
Raven greeted them with an abysmal scowl on his face. "Dragon. The Anything Goes Master is awake and has managed to reopen most of his tenketsu. We are not certain how long Fox can distract him. The old Amazon is near waking, too."
With a curse on his lips, Dragon dumped the Panda on Raven and hurried off further into the shrine.
"Troublesome." Monkey slouched against a support pillar, hands in his pockets. "Who's with the bride?"
Raven frowned at the smell of wet Panda-fur. "Her sisters, and Fox managed to rope Mouse, Mantis, and Tiger into it. They have taken over all preparations and decorations and will take care of the bride. Both Mouse and Tiger have enough training to substitute for the Miko, and the priest is going to be here in three hours. The main problem will be the reception."
Ranma grimaced. Yeah, the reception. She had offered to skip it, but the two ninja had insisted that, if she wanted a Shinto wedding, they'd do it right. Ranma just hoped that their confidence in their skills was warranted. The ceremony itself was open only to the closest family members, but the reception afterwards was for all friends. It was a disaster in the making, especially as guests were expected to bring presents and were given presents by the wedding couple in return. Ranma didn't have a single present to give, and that would be very insulting.
Monkey snorted. "Whose idea was it to hold a reception? We have three hours to convince them to behave. Mantis is creating some psychopharmaca for the Kunos, she should be able to make them sane at least temporarily. Dragon will take care of the curses, and I will talk to the Amazons. Tiger can talk to the Okonomiyaki-chef, Mantis has some anti-depressants for the Pig-Guy and some sedatives for the Doctor. Use your eyes on the Anything Goes master and I'll get his body – nothing else seems to work on him."
Suddenly, they were interrupted by a lithe pink-haired woman in shorts and a flak-vest rushing into the room. "Have you seen Mouse? We need her to get the groom's mother to calm down, she's the only one Saotome-san will listen to."
Both Raven and Monkey exchanged a look. "No, we haven't. Have you worked out a way to keep the Kunos sane?"
"Am almost done. Here," she reached into one of the many pockets of her vest and handed over two vials. "The clear one is for Pig-Guy, the other for the Doctor. They last about four hours, so don't give it to them too early. I've got to leave."
"Mantis!" Raven called after her. "Dragon is with the Anything Goes Master, ask him to look for Mouse!"
She merely waved her hand and vanished around the corner. Raven's attention focused back on Ranma. "Can you take care of Panda here until Dragon comes? As you can see, we're a bit short-handed at the moment. Dragon will then help you get ready for your part in the ceremony."
"Sure." Ranma was a bit overwhelmed at the industrious chaos around her, almost daring to hope that the ninja had everything under control. With a practiced grip, she took her Old Man and threw him into the room Raven had indicated. That earned her raised eyebrows from both Raven and Monkey, but they didn't say anything. She smiled at them. "Good luck with getting them to cooperate."
Both of them nodded towards her and then jogged off further into the shrine. She closed the door behind them, sitting down next to the Panda. "Well, Old Man," she grinned with mixed feelings, "I think that's gonna be the experience of a life-time."
To pass the time, she did some stretches and slow ground kata. The ceiling was too low for any acrobatic aerial maneuvers, and she didn't want to work up a sweat.
She didn't know how long she had been practicing her moves in slow-motion when the door slid open and a slightly frazzled Dragon stepped in. He bowed to her. "My deepest sympathies, Saotome-san. Your friends are very… trying."
Ranma slid back into a stance at rest, waving him off. "Don't try and be polite. Everyone in Nerima's bat-shit insane, me included. Now, that monkey-guy said that you're able to help me with my curse?"
Dragon inclined his head. "Yes. This curse's effects are similar to an advanced disguise technique that doesn't work by creating an illusion, but by changing the body on a molecular level. For you ki-users it is unbreakable because it makes use of both physical and spiritual energy. With the other cursed individuals, I have been able to push the trigger from their skin deep into their muscles. This doesn't get rid of the curse itself, including the affinity to getting splashed with water – Fox could do that, but to create such complex seals, he would need more time – however, it prevents it from activating since your muscles and internal organs hardly ever come in contact with cold liquid. I am not certain whether the trigger will try and migrate back to the surface of your skin later on, but during the thirty hours I have observed Hibiki-san, there have been no changes. Is this acceptable to you?"
Ranma's eyes almost popped out of her head. "You managed to make Pig-Boy permanently human? Wow. What about Shampoo and Mousse?"
"I have performed the same procedure on them half an hour ago. So far, they have remained human, too."
This was too good to be true. Ranma couldn't believe she should be so close to getting rid of her curse forever. "What's the down-side?"
"The procedure itself. Firstly, it is not painless. Hibiki-san described it as a cross between a light burn and getting pricked by needles, the Amazons used stronger vocabulary."
Ranma had to laugh. "I don't doubt it. Ryouga's pretty much dead to pain after practicing for his Breaking Point technique. Don't worry, I can deal with pain, too. What's the other problem?"
"It lies in your humanoid curse form. I need to maintain physical contact with your skin wherever cold water reaches."
For a moment, Ranma didn't know what Dragon was getting at. Then it clicked. "In other words, you need to feel me up."
"Yes. It is hard to make such connotations when touching a duck or a pig, but you only have human forms."
Ranma let out a long breath. She knew it couldn't have been that easy. "And you can't do it when I'm male?"
"Yes, I can. It doesn't matter which of your forms you are in, but I need to maintain physical contact. It is your choice."
Grimacing, Ranma looked Dragon up and down. The man was completely calm, no hint of anything disgusting or perverted going through his mind. His white eyes were unreadable, but his body-language spoke of impersonal detachment. Almost like Doctor Tofu. Tofu didn't have a pervy bone in his body, only a bit of insanity whenever facing Kasumi. On the other hand, even Tofu hadn't touched him… down there. "And you really need to touch me everywhere?"
A slight smile spread over Dragon's feature. "Unless you plan on wearing waterproof underwear everywhere you go, then yes. I can't lift the curse. You will still be a water-magnet. The only thing that will change is that you will just get wet, not change gender."
Waterproof underwear, eh? With her luck, anything water-proof would turn out to be not worth its money, and she was not very keen on dousing that portion of her anatomy with hot water to get back to her other form again.
Finally, she sighed. "Is there anything else I should know?" Dragon shook his head, and she nodded to herself. "Alright. Gimme some hot water, I wanna be male for this. Can you make sure that my Old Man doesn't wake up to see this? Who knows what he'd try…"
"Certainly. It could have dire consequences if I were startled." With suddenly bulging veins around his eyes, Dragon stepped towards the Panda and once again trailed his hand over the fur of his neck. "There. Unless I counteract it, he should be asleep for the foreseeable future."
As if to prove Dragon's words correct, her Old Man rolled over and started snoring. Dragon raised an eyebrow and once again trailed his hand across the Panda's head and down his back. Abruptly, the snoring ceased.
Wow, that was a good trick. If Ranma could learn it, her nights would be much calmer. Honestly, her Old Man could saw logs like nobody else. And Dragon looked creepy like that, almost like he was close to having a stroke, what with all those bulging veins around his eyes. That couldn't be healthy. "Now what? Where's the hot water?"
"I do not want to risk bringing water in here in case your curse decides to activate while I am working on it. There is another method though. I will need to force some water-based chakra into a few of your tenketsu. This will hurt, and they will be blocked for a few hours. That means that you will have limited movement and limited strength in the affected muscles until the tenketsu reopen. Where do you prefer?"
Water-based chakra? Was that ninja-energy related to the elements? Ranma would bet that the element came from that mental component that she hadn't yet managed to access. After all, someone would have caught on to it if it were the ki that carried the element. Still a bit leery if it was going to work whatever Dragon was planning, Ranma held out her left hand. "Fingers, or if that is not enough, palm. I know how to work with injuries there and it won't effect me too badly."
"Alright." He braced her hand with his left and focused. The veins around his eyes sprung out in sharp relief, and with a lightening fast movement, he jabbed his fingers into several places both on her fingers and her palm. It felt like he had broken her bones.
With a howl, she ripped her hand away from Dragon, not noticing the wet feeling of her curse activating. Ranma jumped backwards into a fighting stance, almost losing his balance because of the shift in his center of gravity.
Once he got over his surprise, a slow grin began to spread across his face. "What'cha know. It worked!" He flexed his left hand a few times and then grimaced when it refused to work properly. "You weren't kidding when you said it'd hurt. Does the rest of it hurt that much, too? No wonder duck-boy complained."
"No, the translocation of your curse shouldn't be as painful, though it will be uncomfortable." Dragon went to the closet in the corner and pulled a futon and a blanket from its depths. "It would be best if you undressed completely and lay down. That way, I can reach everything without too many problems. You can cover yourself with the blanket."
Ranma glowered. Although he didn't have any problems with nudity in the bathhouse or in the school's community showers, he really didn't like the way how he'd be the only one sans clothes here. He wrapped the blanket around his waist and knelt on the futon. No matter how genuine Dragon seemed, his instincts refused to let him move into a position as vulnerable as lying down naked. He sported a toothy grin. "Do your worst."
Dragon got up soundlessly from where he had turned away from Ranma undressing, only to kneel in front of him again. From up close, Dragon's eyes were even creepier. The veins weren't only around his eyes but stretched into his eyeballs as well, as if completely white eyes weren't weird enough. "I will start with your arms and work towards your torso."
"Alright." Ranma held out his left hand, curious as to what Dragon was going to do. If he could replicate Dragon's skills, that'd be awesome.
Bracing it with one of his, Dragon lightly trailed the fingers of his other hand across Ranma's fingers, his palm, and every inch of free skin, like he was… petting Ranma, or some other girly stuff.
Ranma grimaced. If whatever the guy was doing didn't feel uncomfortable as hell, Ranma'd be totally freaked out. In the wake of Dragon's hand, a needling burn spread, like being brushed with nettles. Every now and then, a stronger, ripping sensation almost made Ranma twitch. It was painful, but not too bad.
Dragon methodically swept his fingers across Ranma's forearm, his upper arm, his shoulder, his neck, his head and face, and down the other arm. The stinging nettle-like sensation was starting to wear off in his first arm when Dragon began to work on his chest and back.
Ranma watched very closely to try and figure out what White-Eye was doing, but he couldn't see anything beyond a pale blue glow across Dragon's fingers. Would he see more if he had those same freaky eyes? Dragon didn't even seem to see him in favor of something invisible. The curse?
On the more sensitive portions of his anatomy (armpits, side of his ribs, arch of his feet, inside and back of his thighs), the nettle-like sting was considerably more unpleasant than for example on his shoulders or upper back. And Ranma still didn't have a clue what Dragon was doing – hell, even after three weeks of trying, he hadn't even gotten around to forming that weird chakra of those ninja.
Gritting his teeth, Ranma prepared himself for the swipe to the only areas Dragon hadn't visited yet. It stung like hell.
Finally the ninja exhaled and moved away, breaking their physical contact. Ranma quickly sat up again, pulling a corner of the blanket over his lap. The way Dragon was still staring at him through the blanket was starting to freak him out. But it didn't seem like a perverty stare, more like Dragon was trying to see whether he had overlooked any spots.
Then the veins around his eyes relaxed and faded back into his skin. "I think I have covered everything. Do you feel alright?"
Ranma frowned and got up, wrapping the blanket more securely around his waist. He did a few stretches to see how his body had been affected, but he couldn't feel anything wrong except for a slight tenderness of his skin. And the C-c-ca-, the Feline Tongue, whatever Cologne had hit him with that one time, had felt a thousand times worse. Come to think of it – were Dragon's skills similar to the old crone's?
Shaking out the last tingly feelings in his limbs, Ranma nodded. "Except for me still being naked, I'm okay."
"You can get dressed. I will see to your father." Barely waiting until Ranma had gotten his pants back on, Dragon moved towards the panda, ruthlessly jabbing several points in his back. With a yowl, the panda woke and transformed back into human form.
Shirt still hanging in his grip, Ranma watched his Old Man whirl around and snarl at Dragon, who was as serene as ever. "You! Who are you, boy, and what have you done to me!"
Dragon bowed towards his Pops. "Forgive me my impoliteness, Saotome-san. My name is Dragon, and I have locked you in your human form for the next few hours. It has the unfortunate side-effect of weakening you considerably until it wears off. If you wish to, I can cure you of your curse later on without any side-effects, but for now we have to start preparations for your son's wedding."
Ranma smirked. He liked the way his Pops was turning almost purple in his face. "Wedding!?!" His old man bellowed, "He can't marry anyone besides a Tendo! It's his duty to uphold the family honor and unite the two schools of Anything Goes!"
"Excellent. Then you won't have any trouble accepting a liaison with Tendo Akane, youngest of the three Tendo daughters. You will participate in the wedding as the father of the groom, and you will behave in a socially acceptable manner during the reception. I don't care what you do afterwards."
"You, boy, you can't tell me what to do! I am the head of the Saotome clan, and I will decide who the boy marries!" His old man threw a punch at Dragon, who effortlessly dodged out of the way.
"Your son is in complete fulfillment of your stipulations. You cannot object to his choice without dishonoring not only your name, but insulting the Tendo clan, too. And I would appreciate it if you curbed your violence; otherwise, I will be forced to take more drastic measures for the safety of the guests."
The last statement was punctuated by a horrible chill that seemed to emanate from Dragon's still calm and relaxed body. Ranma had to swallow. The last time he had felt anything remotely similar was when Saffron had tried to kill him.
His father seemed to recognize the feeling, too, because he immediately backed off. "Now, now, there's no need for that. When is the wedding? I need to get some proper clothes."
Dragon bowed again in his elegant manner, as if nothing had happened. "No need for that, Saotome-san. We have arranged everything. Please follow me, Saotome-san, Saotome-san."
Dragon guided them through deserted hallways of the shrine, and it was eerily quiet. Ranma could hear their footsteps and the rustle of their clothes but nothing else, which was decidedly unnatural. Especially for how many people were supposed to be in this shrine. He frowned, listening as hard as he could.
"Fox installed some seals earlier this day after it became clear how noisy your acquaintances were going to be."
Sheesh, once again Dragon had answered a question before he had even asked. Was that guy omniscient or what?
"Seals?" Ranma asked curiously.
Dragon opened a sliding door to what was revealed to be a bathroom, and abruptly, there was sound again. The clacking bamboo tube from outside, birds, wind, whatever sounds one expected inside a building surrounded by woods and gardens. "Please enter. Seals are a way of shaping chakra outside our bodies. Depending on how and where they are placed, they are more or less permanent. They are especially good for barriers. Fox has created sound barriers on the inside of every room – sound can come in, but none may leave. As the hallway is surrounded on both sides by such sealed rooms, that has the unfortunate side-effect of keeping it void of any sound."
"Ah." He didn't really know what to say to that. It sounded ingenious, but he bet it was hideously complicated.
Before he could say anything else though, they were interrupted by a blond streak charging at them, screaming 'Shiiiiiiit' at the top of his lungs. Dragon stepped back into the hallway, and the blond streak stopped just before bumping into him. "What is it, Fox?"
"Damn it, one of my clones got dispelled by some crazy kind of octopus-ox-bird-hybrid. I need to talk to the client whether he knows what that is and what to do about it."
Ranma had to roll his eyes. "Sorry 'bout that, completely forgot about him 'cause it's been a long time that Pantyhose Taro's visited. He comes from China and has fallen into the Spring of drowned yeti holding an eel and crane while riding an ox. He's got a grudge with the Grand Master 'cause of his name, and he'll tear Nerima apart until he finds that pervert."
Fox blinked a few times, cocking his head to the side. "Then it's okay if I knock him out or tie him up?"
"Sure," Ranma shrugged. "But I gotta warn you – his cursed form is damned strong, not sure there's anything that can hold him in place."
Well, judging by the evil smirk spreading across Fox's features, he definitely knew of something that could be used on Taro. Ranma wondered whether he should feel sorry for the guy.
"Don't worry, I doubt he can break out of chakra-infused seal-ropes. Well, I'm off then, got a flying octopus-ox to catch. Ja!" And Fox was gone again, this time in a whirl of leaves that came out of nowhere and vanished as soon as they hit the ground.
Dragon shook his head in exasperation. "Now that this interruption is over, please proceed into the room, Saotome-san and Saotome-san. Please be quick about washing because our time is short. Afterwards, your clothes are laid out for you on the table. If you have any trouble getting dressed, I will help you."
"Thanks man, you're a life-saver!" Ranma exclaimed as he saw the elegant kimono, hakama, and haori lying on the table. They were a rich blue with his family crest sewn on in a slightly lighter color, and the fabric looked very expensive.
As quickly as he could, he washed off the smell of sweat mixed with dried pond scum. An accidental testing of the water temperature revealed that, so far, Dragon's promise was holding. It was very strange to feel cold water and not the change that usually went with it.
But Ranma got over his surprise soon enough. He slipped into the kimono, not even surprised anymore to find that it fit him exactly. Next came the hakama, and there he met his first problem: he had no clue how to properly dress in it. His whole life, he'd never once worn a traditional hakama, only pants and (on a few never-to-be-mentioned-again incidences) skirts.
Before he could begin messing up the different folds and ties, Dragon already stepped in and took over without a comment. That guy had to be able to look through walls with those freakish eyes of his! How else could he have known the exact moment Ranma began to struggle with his clothes? A glare at his Old Man kept him quiet, too, while Dragon worked around him with professional ease.
"Hold that… Now hold this… tie this as tight as you're comfortable with…"
Even with Dragon's help, it still took almost five minutes until the garment hung properly in its place. Looking down on himself, he felt like a miniature-Kuno. He had no clue how that delusional nut-case managed to dress like that all by himself every day.
Dragon gave him his haori and looked him over critically. He tugged at a few folds and then nodded. "Be careful of your footwork, the hakama is very long and it billows. It is easy to get trapped in it, so I wouldn't advise doing any aerial combat moves or high kicks before you get used to it."
Nodding thoughtfully, Ranma had to agree. It felt strange having so much fabric swishing loosely around his legs. Add to that his kimono, and he was really glad that he wouldn't have to fight anyone. Hakama might be practical for kendo, but definitely not for Anything Goes.
His pops though bristled. "A master of Anything Goes has to be able to deal with everything! I will show you," and lunged at Ranma. How had the Old Man managed to don his outfit faster than Ranma, and without help, too?
Dodging on instinct, Ranma immediately realized that running, at least running like he was used to, was a feat in and of itself in those weird clothes. He almost fell flat on his face before figuring out how to move his feet as little off the floor as possible, achieving more of a glide than a true run. And then there was Dragon again, pushing a few more acupressure points on his Old Man's body. All of a sudden, his pops had a dopey smile on his face and a vacant look in his eyes.
Ranma raised his eyebrows. "Can you teach me how to do that?"
"No." Dragon's answer was as immediate as it was final. "It is chakra-based. Now come, the ceremony will start in a few minutes."
Docile as a lamb, his old man trailed after them, which considerably weirded Ranma out. He had never seen his father behave like that. "How long will that last?"
Dragon led them further into the building through the eerily silent hallway. "About an hour on someone with trained chakra, and four to five on someone who is not. I am not certain which category ki users belong to."
Well, even an hour of peace was more than he'd 've ever hoped for.
He told Dragon exactly that, and the man probably would have snorted if his whole aristocratic demeanor would have allowed it. "You have our sympathies, Saotome-san. It is a miracle that you are still sane in such chaotic surroundings. We have been involved in your life for less than three weeks, and we already feel how tiring it is. This is the reason preparations have lasted as long as they have: Fox has insisted on finding as many permanent solutions to your problems as possible. How permanent they truly are only time will tell, but we guarantee for a safe wedding. And we have arrived."
Dragon opened another sliding door and stepped aside, motioning for Ranma to go ahead. Ranma's father was still trailing behind him with a vacant smile on his face.
In the room, there was already a priest waiting in full regalia, and two exquisitely dressed shrine maidens – one an eye-catching blonde, and one brunette – stood to his sides. The brunette's most stunning feature was her lack of iris and pupils, just like Dragon's purely white eyes. If they were related, the brunette probably could do the same tricks as Dragon. Ranma would have to be careful not to fall prey to his usual foot-in-mouth disease that he seemed especially prone to around girls. If she was anything like Dragon, she could render him an immobile, drooling husk merely by touching him.
And there, kneeling to the left were Soun, Kasumi, and Nabiki, all three of them dressed in elaborate kimonos. Old Tendo looked surprisingly composed; Ranma couldn't believe that the man wasn't crying a river or ranting or using his infamous Demon Head technique. Kasumi looked deliriously happy, and Nabiki… well, Ranma had never seen such a shell-shocked expression on her face. He didn't know what the ninja had done to her, but she seemed really out of it.
Kneeling to the right, there was his mother, very serene and with a slight smile on her face. Ranma wondered how long it would take until she started ranting about him being a real man and grand-children. Dragon guided his old man to her side and he sat down, still with that dopey smile on his face. His mom immediately latched onto his pop's arm and nodded at Dragon. "I will take care of him."
Dragon bowed to her. "Thank you very much, Saotome-sama. Your help is very much appreciated."
It was interesting to see how Dragon had apparently managed to wrap his mother around his finger with his overly polite manners. Ranma would bet that she'd adopt him into their family on the drop of a hat if Dragon mentioned anything along those lines.
Then Dragon returned to his side and guided him further down the center. His eyes almost popped out of his head when he spotted Cologne and Happousai in the place of the Go-Betweens. How in the world had the ninja managed for the two to behave themselves? Alright, judging by the sly look the old crow shot him, there had to be something going on that he just knew he wasn't going to like. But for the moment, she seemed content going along with the flow.
Happousai though… Ranma broke out in cold sweat upon seeing that the pervert wasn't chained or restrained in any way. And there were two beautiful miko standing less than two meters away from him. Just what the hell had the ninja done to him to make him behave? With morbid curiosity, Ranma wondered how long it would take until the pervert buried his face in the next cleavage.
Apparently Dragon caught his nervousness and placed a calming hand on his shoulder. "We took care of everything."
He whispered back, "and can you tell me how you did that?"
Dragon guided him to stand between the two ancients and then left him. Barely containing his twitch of nervousness at being placed right next to such a ticking time-bomb, he looked at the Shinto priest and the two miko he was facing at the moment. The priest's face was stony and absolutely unmoved, even to the point that his inexpressiveness was becoming creepy. But the two miko to his right were an incarnation of friendly serenity. He hesitantly returned their smiles, still not comfortable with being sandwiched between the two crones.
And then, he caught sight of Akane as she was guided into the room by the pink-haired woman he thought was called Mantis.
Akane looked… beautiful. He couldn't think of any other expression for it. Mantis was pretty, but Akane radiated true beauty wrapped in layers upon layers of kimono. Her hair was elaborately done up with a heavy headdress, and she was walking in dainty little steps, her spine and head elegantly upright until she seemed to fly across the floor. He had never seen her so… feminine.
Hesitantly, he looked at her face. What was her reaction to all of this? He hadn't told her that he had hired ninja to plan their wedding; he hadn't even told her that he was planning a second wedding at all. Was he going to be put straight into orbit before the wedding had even begun? Or was she going to run away right now?
But… this wasn't Akane as he knew her. She was looking down at the floor modestly, so demure that he was starting to doubt that it was her at all. Where had that fiery tomboy gone, the fighter who had beaten up all boys in school on a regular basis? Had the ninja interpreted his wish of a nice wedding as their duty to make Akane conform to his wishes, too? He had expressively told them to respect her choice, and that if she didn't want to marry him, the wedding was supposed to be called off.
She was guided to stand right next to him, flanked by the Amazon Elder on her other side. And she still didn't look at him, face absolutely blank.
Didn't she want to marry him? It hadn't been his intention to force her into it. No, if she didn't want him, he was going to stop this right there.
He stepped back, raising his hands in a warding gesture. "Sorry, I didn't mean to –" A hand in front of his mouth cut him off.
Following the hand, he discovered that it belonged to his fiancé, who was now glowering at him in a familiar manner. "I swear, Ranma," she hissed, "if you run out on me now, I won't give you another chance!"
A weight was lifted from his heart and he nodded mutely. She dragged him back into line, once again assuming her demure posture. But now that he was really looking, he could see that her fire beneath was as unbroken as ever, and he was immensely relieved.
And then, the Shinto priest finally started the wedding ritual.
To Ranma, it passed in a daze, the introduction, the Go-Between's reading of the vows (how had they gotten Cologne and Happo to do that?), the San-San-Kudo exchange of nuptial cups, the offering to the gods, and the ritual sake drinking afterwards. He almost missed his clue to proceed to the next room where the wedding reception was held.
As simple and austere as the wedding ceremony had been, as pompous and lavish the reception was. Ranma's eyes almost bugged out at the sight of all the Nerima trouble-makers gathered around a long table, suspiciously peaceful. Ryouga was sitting calmly next to Mousse, the Kunos were smiling in a non-psychotic way, Ukyo was actually looking happy for them, and even Shampoo didn't seem inclined to fling her arms around Ranma's neck and shout 'Airen' in his ear. Tofu was the only one Ranma didn't expect trouble from – at least not yet because Kasumi, as part of the Tendo family, hadn't come into the room yet.
Really, all of this was too good to be true.
Before he could really take everything in though, Mantis had already whisked Akane out of his arms and into a small room off to the side. Both the Tendos and the Saotomes filed into the room, sitting down peacefully next to those already seated. Only the two midgets remained at the front with Ranma.
Cold sweat was starting to break out on Ranma's forehead as everyone was staring at him. What was he supposed to do?
A pinch on his bottom almost made him yelp. Spinning around, he caught sight of Cologne's raised hand and her smirk.
"Relax," she cackled before he could protest. "We're waiting for your dear wife before the reception can start!"
Happousai nodded mechanically to that, like a puppet whose strings were being pulled. Was that how they kept him under control?
Thinking of that – where were those shinobi? To his consternation, he couldn't see them anywhere in the vicinity. Had Fox managed to subdue Pantyhose Taro? Where were Monkey, Dragon, and Raven? Mantis had fetched Akane to help her change her clothes, and the two Miko probably were with her. But where were the rest of them?
Then, Mantis and the blonde Miko guided Akane back into the room, and Ranma's jaw dropped to his knees. If Akane had been radiant before, she was absolutely brilliant now. Ranma had never seen such a festive kimono, and such an elaborate head-dress. To be honest, he was wondering how she could hold her head up at all with so much weight piled on top.
Smiling sweetly at him, she took her place next to him between the two old crones. To Ranma's horror, the two midgets then began to act like real Go-Betweens, like an elderly couple that was close to both families. They introduced Ranma and Akane, started waxing on the virtues of both the Saotome and the Tendo clans, and ended with wishing both Ranma and Akane the best for their future.
During all of that, Ranma couldn't do anything but watch the faces around him, which sported varying levels of disbelief – probably in direct relation to how drugged they were or whatever the ninja had done to them. Afterwards, Akane was led away to change yet again, into another happily colorful kimono and headdress.
Then it was the guests' turn to congratulate them. They came up to the newlywed couple and gave them their individual best wishes and presents were exchanged. Somehow, the dark-haired Miko, Dragon's relative, had inserted herself seamlessly and handed Ranma the appropriate present for whoever was wishing them well. Ranma hadn't known that the ninja had organized presents to give to his guests, let alone any idea what was inside the wrapped gift-boxes. He just hoped that it was nothing offensive that he'd have to suffer through after the wedding reception.
And still everyone was behaving well. Kuno's smile was looking a bit forced, and Ryouga's grip on his present was a bit too hard, but there was not a single bad word uttered.
To be honest, Ranma was more and more inclined to believe that he was still asleep and dreaming. Everyone was uncharacteristically docile, even going so far as to make small-talk with their neighbors.
After everyone had said their congratulations – Ranma had been surprised that a good part of their classmates had appeared, too, equally well-behaved – Akane was led away again and identical copies of Fox in a black suit were carrying in platters of food. Ranma would have loved to get his hands on that clone technique, but sadly it used chakra. And the ninja refused to tell him the secret of that energy.
Once Akane had rejoined him (in yet another kimono and headdress, no less splendid than those before) and everyone was eating, Ranma was finally starting to relax a bit. The food was delicious and plentiful, and this was the first time he could talk to Akane outside of any ceremonial formalities.
"So," he gulped down a huge mouth full of food, "how far are you going to punt me after this?"
He had never seen her wear make-up, let alone so much of it. It had a startling effect, emphasizing her eyes and lips and making her seem fragile like a porcelain doll.
Said eyes were blinking at him as her mouth tugged into a smile, deceptively bland. "Oh, that totally depends on how perverted you are going to be, Ranma."
"Eh, what?" Bullets of sweat sprang up on Ranma's forehead. "I ain't got nothing perverted planned, I swear!"
"Really? You do know that a wedding day is traditionally concluded with a wedding night, don't you?" The blandness was making way to a seething gleam, a precursor to lots of pain if Ranma said one wrong word.
"Wedding night?" Ranma could only repeat dumbly, not catching on to what Akane was trying to say.
Akane rolled her eyes and huffed. "Honestly. Please don't tell me that I've got to explain the Birds and the Bees to you, too…"
Ducking his head, Ranma couldn't help but wince. Seemed like everything was gearing up for their first spat as a married couple. "Sorry, but I have no idea what you're talking about."
Contrary to Ranma's expectation though, Akane didn't become violent. Instead her mouth opened and closed soundlessly, her face a picture of… Well, Ranma actually didn't know how to describe what she looked like. Fortunately though that expression quickly enough resolved itself to a darkly determined one. At least now he knew his chances of getting malleted into low earth orbit.
"Come with me," she growled and dragged him out of the room, into the side-room where Mantis had guided her to change dresses. Catcalls followed them until Akane slammed the door shut behind them. Apparently, one of Fox's seals was also placed on the room because Ranma couldn't hear anything from the outside.
Ranma found himself surrounded by a plethora of kimonos, make-up, head-dresses, and other feminine accessories. "Akane!" he spluttered, instinctively closing his eyes. "What are you doing!"
"Oh, quit whining you big baby. Mantis!" she called. "Mantis! I need your help! And open your eyes, idiot, there's no reason for you to close them."
Like a shadow, the pink-haired woman melted out of a dark corner. Since Ranma had had his eyes closed until just a split-second earlier, he couldn't tell whether she had been there the entire time, or whether she had arrived due to Akane's calling.
"What's the matter, Akane? You look troubled." Her voice was clear and bright, emitting soothing vibes. Her eyes though critically studied them for anything that might be wrong.
Akane's growl filled the small room. That was the woman he had come to know her as, not the fragile and agreeable porcelain doll the costume made her out to be. "That idiot here," she pointed to Ranma, "has just told me that he doesn't know what the birds and the bees are."
For a while, Mantis was silent, expression absolutely incredulous. Then – "You're serious, aren't you?"
Akane nodded grimly and Ranma was feeling dumber by the second. He decided it was better to remain quiet and see just what it was that he wasn't getting.
"Alright." Mantis chewed on her lip, looking from Akane to Ranma and back again. Ranma could have sworn he heard her mutter 'I can't believe it' before she apparently came to some conclusion. "I think it's best if I get one of the guys to explain it to him. Of all the things… Come with me."
Exiting through a door that had so far remained hidden, Ranma and Akane trailed behind the pink-haired woman. Despite her relatively small size, she was incredibly quick and seemed to follow an invisible trail. Without knocking, she burst into one of the rooms off the hallway, startling Raven and Fox into looking up from a game of cards they were playing. On a second glance, Ranma discovered Monkey sitting completely still against the wall, apparently meditating, and Dragon using those freakish veins around his eyes. What he was looking at though, Ranma had no clue. Dragon merely stared off at the wall.
"Mantis?" Raven sounded alert, but not really alarmed.
Without preamble, Mantis cut right to the matter. "Apparently, our client needs The Talk. I'll take care of his wife in the meantime."
Raven frowned. "The talk? I don't see how he has broken any stipulations of our contract."
Snorting, Mantis rolled her eyes. "Not that talk. THE talk. Birds and bees and what not. Capiche?"
"What about birds and bees?" Fox curiously cocked his head to the side.
Dropping a stun-grenade into their middle couldn't have had a greater effect. At least now Ranma didn't feel so alone anymore. Honestly, they made it sound as if he didn't know that the sky was blue and the grass green.
Mantis was the first one to get her wits back together and grabbed Akane's wrist. "I'll leave you to it then. Have fun." She and Akane were out the door so quickly that Ranma was tempted to look for dust clouds in their wake.
Together with the sound of Raven slapping his forehead, a mumbled 'Troublesome' echoed through the room. Only Dragon didn't react, veiny eyes still focused elsewhere. "Fox, even you can't be that dense. You might have slept through the lessons at the academy, but after traveling with Jiraiya-sama for three years, you should be very familiar with kunai and holsters."
Ranma could virtually see the light going on behind Fox's eyes. "Ooooh, you're talking about that. Why didn't Mantis say so? I mean, I get the kunai and holster image, but what are the bees doing with the birds? The most those two can do together is that the bird eats the bee…" Fox leered at the group. "But maybe that's the whole point? Birds eating bees? And did you know, all worker bees are female, and all bees of a hive are sisters? And they work so well together! That's one damn lucky bird…"
Ranma still didn't get what Fox was talking about, but apparently the rest of the group did. Monkey and Dragon grimaced while Raven groaned. "Fox, shut up. Nobody wants to hear your perverted fantasies. And since when do you listen when Locust starts talking about his bugs?"
Perverted fantasies about birds and bees? "Oi, what's going on?" Ranma had had enough. "Now, what's that bird and bee stuff, and why's Akane think I need it?"
Even Monkey opened his eyes as the four ninja looked first at Ranma, then at each other. Unspoken conversation passed between them. Finally, Raven sighed. "Saotome-san. What exactly do you think married couples do?"
Ranma frowned. What did they do, indeed? He had never really thought about it. "Well, they live together and the husband works to earn the money for the family, and they have children."
"And how do you think they have children?" Raven's politely raised eye-brow was far less irritating than Fox's snickers in the background and Dragon's deliberate ignoring of the situation. Monkey had shut his eyes again.
Ranma shrugged, straining to keep the red off his face. "They sleep together." He was starting to get why Akane had refused to explain it to him. This was the same stuff his classmates were always talking about when there were no girls around, wasn't it?
Raven nodded at him expectantly. "And do you have an idea of what the image of kunai and holsters might have to do with sleeping together?" Ranma's face must have looked suitably blank because Raven rolled his eyes. "Apparently not. Fox, if you don't stop laughing right now, I'll kill you!"
Thirty very embarrassing minutes later, Ranma's head was stuffed full of knowledge on kunai and holsters, and privately he had to agree with Fox that birds and bees were very misleading. Fox had even produced a selection of condoms in all sizes and a banana out of nowhere and told Ranma to practice until he could get the thin latex skin on and off without mishap. Both Raven and Dragon had looked strangely at Fox, why he was carrying those things with him, especially in so many different sizes. Monkey had merely sighed troublesomely and coughed 'Henge'. That seemed to clear up the matter for the ninja, but not for Ranma. Nobody appeared to be inclined to explain though.
When Ranma had wanted to give back the unused condoms, Fox had merely waved him off and told him to keep them. There was enough of a choice left that one of them should fit him reasonably well. After all, he wasn't planning on getting Akane pregnant right off the bat, was he?
That resulted in another rush of blood to Ranma's face and a desperate change of topic. "Eh, no. So, what can I expect from everyone once the wedding's over and whatever you've done to them wears off?"
On the drop of a hat, Fox and Raven became serious again. "The only Juusenkyou curses that haven't been cured yet are those of your father and Pantyhose Tarou. Fox has given Hibiki-san a seal that should prevent him from getting quite as lost as he has been so far. As with the curses, we aren't sure how effective it is going to be on the long-term.
"Now, Mantis has distributed drugs to several people. She has given everyone a prescription of what they need, but it is within their responsibility to continue taking them. Anti-depressants for Hibiki, anti-psychotics for the Kunos, and tranquilizers for your mother, Doctor Tofu and your father-in-law. If they don't take them, they will go back to acting the same way they had before.
"The Okonomiyaki chef and the Amazons have agreed to leave you alone on a condition. The Okonomiyaki chef demands that you cover the cost of her dowry, and the Amazons demand that you donate sperm for a child. If you agree to that, Mantis has the medical knowledge to perform the procedure without the need for sexual intercourse."
Not even five minutes after explaining kunai and holsters, they were right back on that topic. Ranma couldn't help the strangled 'What!?' that escaped him. "Sperm donation!?" he squeaked.
Raven nodded as if it was the most natural thing in the world. "Yes. Since you have defeated one of their best warriors, Amazon law demands that you have to bring your genetic material into their tribe. Monkey has been able to negotiate them into agreeing that Shampoo's claim on you as husband will be null and void as soon you sire a child with her. Afterwards, they will leave Japan, and they will never bother you again. I suggest that you talk it over with your wife before you come to a decision."
Ranma barely had time to nod before Raven continued.
"Now, the Anything Goes Master has been placed under a very advanced form of illusion. Basically, it keeps his mind from interfering while Monkey here is controlling his body. As soon as the illusion is lifted, he will be back to his regular form. He won't remember anything, but that doesn't prevent him from piecing together what must have happened through second-hand accounts. You will have to deal with whatever fall-out comes from that.
"The rest of the wedding party, mainly your sisters in law and your class-mates have been either scared or coerced into behaving. I doubt that you will have to fear much from them.
"Last but not least, your father. Both Tiger and Mouse tried to exert some influence on your mother so that she might keep a tighter rein on him. She has agreed, but we don't know how well that will work. Anyone else I have forgotten?"
Ranma frowned. "What about Nabiki? What did you do to her to leave her like that? She seemed really out of it."
Exchanging a knowing glance with Monkey and Fox, Raven shrugged with a nonchalance that raised Ranma's hackles. "I believe Tiger got fed up with her unsubtle attempts at interrogating us for information. Chakra is good for projecting killing intent, and Tiger might have gone a bit overboard. But except for a few nightmares, there shouldn't be any consequences."
Not quite knowing what he should think of such a callous statement, Ranma crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Uh-huh. Anyone else I should know about?" Sure, the ninjas hadn't done her any bodily harm, but it wasn't right giving her nightmares either. The question was, should he do anything about it?
Before he could come to a conclusion though, he was distracted by Fox's evil smirk. "Pantyhose Tarou." Ranma wondered what that meant for the Chinese martial artist. Had they dosed him with that killing intent, too?
Raven merely rolled his eyes. "Ah, yes, the flying octopus-ox. At the moment, he is being shipped to Tasmania on a freighter. Unless someone finds out how to undo the seal-ropes he is bound with, he won't be able to escape the crate Fox has stuffed him in. Expect him back in three months at the earliest."
Fox's evil grin was contagious, Ranma had to admit. A smirk of his own played around the corners of his mouth. "A pity that you couldn't send the old pervert right along with him."
"The Anything Goes Master is too knowledgeable on our ninja skills to reliably keep him constrained until he reaches such a far-off destination," Dragon apologized. "Now, if that is all, one of Fox's clones will lead you to your wife so that you can discuss the Amazon situation with her. Tell your decision to Mantis and she will take the necessary action. Once you rejoin the wedding party together with your wife, you will be on your own again. We have organized enough transportation for all of you to get back to Nerima, and we guarantee your safety until then. The clothes and the decoration and the presents, you can take with you because they were bought from the expenses budget we have planned for. They are yours to do with as you wish.
"As it is, we consider our job fulfilled. And since you have already paid the entire sum we have agreed on, you won't see us again."
Fox nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah! Was great doin' business with you! If you've ever got a problem again, don't hesitate and look us up at Rent A Nin! If you're lucky, we're still there!"
Raising an eyebrow at that last part, Ranma smiled at them. "I will. Thanks for everything; you helped me a lot more than I ever hoped for. Bye!"
He waved at them, getting a nod back from Dragon, Raven, and Monkey. Fox replied with an enthusiastic wave of his own that didn't let up until Ranma was out the door.
Clapping his hands together, Ranma followed the copy of Fox that had sprung up out of nowhere. They went on a search for Akane to discuss the ninja's startling solution of the Amazon problem with her. He wondered how his wife was going to react to it. Now that he knew of all that pervy stuff going on between married couples, he had to wonder if Akane thought he had married her only because he wanted to do that with her.
His wife. He still couldn't believe she had finally married him. And that his curse was finally gone. Even the Nerimian chaos wouldn't be able to touch them now, especially not if he managed to unlock this chakra. He had a feeling that, after everything he had seen today, he knew enough to make serious headway with it.
Heh. He was looking forward to what the future might bring.
"I bet you 2-to-1 odds that she's going to kill him."
"Hn. Idiot. Who, Sakura or his wife?"
"His wife of course! Man, she's got a temper worse than our Cherry Blossom."
"Eeh. Don't let her hear you call her 'our Cherry Blossom', Naruto. It is too troublesome having to carry you back when she knocks you out."
"She's so not going to knock me out! I'm awesome like that!"
"What was that episode last week then, idiot?"
"… That was an accident."
"An accident that had you feeling her up?You have spent too much time with Jiraiya."
"And you with Orochimaru-teme. Don't think I didn't see the way you were ogling Neji yesterday, you bastard!"
"Hn. 3-to-1 odds that they are going to go through with the Amazons' suggestion."
"Well, I ain't gonna bet against you. How far along are they, White-eyes?"
"I have a name, Naruto. Saotome-san is trying to explain the situation to his wife, and he is showing an unfortunate propensity for choosing the wrong words. I believe you are very close to winning your 2-1 bet, Naruto."
"Hah, take that, teme! What's Sakura doing?"
"She is watching Saotome-san dig himself in deeper and deeper."
"Woohoo! Go, Sakura! This's got to be our weirdest job yet, helping a crazy sex-changing guy marry the love of his life when he doesn't even have a clue what to do with her once the clothes come off. Those two've got issues, I tell you."
"Idiot. What about that Snake-lord?"
"That Orochimaru-wannabe? That guy had issues, too, but he was only creepy, with him getting up again and again until we killed those soul-vessel-things. Oi, Sasuke-teme, that reminds me – do my seals still hold? Wouldn't want your very own snake-bastard getting free from your control."
"Hn. They are as strong as ever. After the next jump though, you will have to check on them again. I think he is using the brief time in-between to worm his way into the seal structure."
"How troublesome. The next jump will be soon."
"Yes. We have been here for almost three years, the longest period so far. And this has been the first case where we really had to use our skills. Going by the pattern that has emerged so far, it won't be long until the next jump catches us."
"Oh man. Good thing that Saotome's paid us with that ruby. I hope we're going to land somewhere where we're gonna get lots of money for that stone and where lots of hot babes are gonna be around!"
"Shut up, idiot."
"Well, I can hope, can't I? Those sailor-planet-girls two jumps ago were cute enough, but honestly, jailbait much? And those corny transformation jutsus they used… brrr! I bet they wouldn't even know what to do with a real man like me!"
"Says the man who didn't know what the birds and bees are."
"Oh, shut up! How am I supposed to know every euphemism for kunai and holsters?"
"Euphemism? You're finally starting to use words that have more than one syllable?"
"I said shut up, bastard!"
"Sasuke has just won his 3-1 bet."
"He has? Then it's not gonna take long anymore until Sakura's done. Where are Ino and Hinata? You know what, I think I'm looking forward to our next jump. It's really gotten boring around here."
"They are on their way back to base. They left my range twenty minutes ago together with Shino."
"And I still think that we could have smuggled Lee in amongst those Nerima wackos. With his green spandex and orange leg-warmers, he wouldn't have stood out at all. And since freakish strength and deluded rants seem to be a prerequisite for the fighters here, he'd have fitted right in. And we should have gotten Tenten to give that duck guy some pointers – honestly, does he even aim those things? That toilet seat of his really took the cake. Oi, Neji, how far's Sakura along?"
"I believe that you are close to winning your 2-1 bet a second time, Naruto. Saotome-san refuses to let Sakura work the way she needs to."
"He seems to be body-shy. Now she has knocked him out and is using the time to further his wife's sexual education."
"For heaven's sake, Naruto, not like that! Get some tissue to stuff up your nose, you're bleeding all over the floor! Apparently, Saotome Akane has never seen what a man looks like. I think we can count ourselves lucky that Saotome Ranma was already familiar with female anatomy due to his gender-changing curse. Sex education seems to be seriously lacking in this world."
"And on the other hand, you've got super-perverts like that Anything Goes Master. I swear, he was siphoning off my chakra by burying his face into my cleavage! The next time, one of you can use my sexy-no-jutsu to catch a guy like that."
"Careful, Naruto, one day we might have to catch you the same way."
"What's that supposed to mean!"
"That you are starting to develop startling similarities to your teacher. And they are done. Sakura is going to monitor the Amazon for the next two hours to make sure the fertilization was successful and that the egg gestates properly."
"Alright! It's going to take us at least that long to get everyone out of here, and then we can all return home together."
"Only you would call that dump a home."
"Hey, it looks just like my flat in Konoha did!"
"I rest my case."
"Bastard. Everyone, let's go! The sooner we're done here, the sooner we can return."
Four shadows slipped soundlessly through the walls. Four hours later, they were the only ones inside the perimeter of the shrine. Another hour later, both they and the shrine had vanished as if nothing had ever been there. Just like the illusion it was, the shrine simply had ceased to exist once those holding it up were gone.
Two days later, a small ripple in the dimensional continuum removed twelve ninja from Ranma Saotome's world. The only way to prove they had ever been there at all was the marriage certificate of one Saotome Ranma. The priest that had signed it was called Aburame Shino.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed reading this story as much as I did writing it. Lol, there's not much else to say about this, except that I don't plan on continuing this in any fashion at the moment (and if I did, it would be a separate story, a crossover with another fandom). So, putting this story on story alert won't help you any. I'm looking forward to seeing how many I'll get nonetheless…