It was noon, and Ranma was still dead to the world. Akane had kept him awake late into the night for the most of the past month, "breaking in" the entire village. It seemed as if her adventurous streak was still there, if anything it was stronger than before. They'd done it everywhere, on the roof of their house, on the roofs of all their neighbors' houses, in front of Cologne's house, and in the village square. They'd wait until midnight or later to go out and find their next spot so that they wouldn't get caught, but they soon found out that it was significantly harder to get away with it in a place where there was a standing guard.
It was when they were doing it on the challenge log, arguably the place where the whole mess started, that they finally got caught. A guard patrolling the area happened upon them while they were in mid-coitus. The worst part was that the didn't realize that the woman was there until she hopped up on the log behind Ranma and whispered a question into his ear. He wasn't entirely sure what she'd asked, but he was pretty sure he had an idea. Especially since when he turned around, he saw that the guard wasn't wearing her armor, or anything else for that matter.
The embarrassment only increased exponentially when word got around about what had happened, and other adventurous couples were caught having some fun on the log late at night. The Saotomes even walked in on one such couple themselves while out for a stroll after dinner. Despite the fact that the guards didn't seem to mind – mostly because they were the perpetrators themselves half of the time with their significant others – the elders didn't appreciate the sanctity of the challenge log being tarnished in such a way, and ordered it to be taken down until the next tournament. There were rumors that the next time it was put up again, it would be guarded by eunuchs.
Akane sighed as she watched her husband sleep, bored out of her mind. That was half of the reason she had been jumping his bones so often, there was just nothing else to do! The women of the village had accepted her presence, but there didn't seem to be a place for her in the society quite yet. Since she was pregnant, she wasn't allowed to join the village guard, she still didn't know enough Chinese to be able to get a job as a clerk or secretary in the village council, and Cologne had made sure that she was kept far away from helping in the kitchens. So instead, she spent most of her days watching Chinese TV with poor reception, exercising on her own, and jumping Ranma at night.
Ranma, to her extreme annoyance, was fitting in very well. Despite his lack of knowledge of the language, he was being put to work teaching martial arts to some of the more advanced members of the tribe. It usually meant he was out of the house from sunup to sundown, leaving Akane to entertain herself. The only reason he was still in bed was because it was his day off.
Akane sighed and got out of bed, not even bothering to get dressed, and heading out to the living room to watch more TV she barely understood. If she didn't figure out what to do with her time soon, she was going to go crazy, and she wasn't going to be responsible for her actions when that happened.
There was a knock at the door. Akane looked up from what she assumed was a soap opera and called out "It's open!" She was pleasantly surprised to see Shampoo walk into the house. Her shield sister was also having a hard time fitting in her home village again, and therefore had been spending a lot of time with Akane. The two women had become fast friends, and it was one of the few things keeping her sane. She stood to greet her guest. "Hey Shampoo how are you today?"
Shampoo's eyes widened in surprise when she saw her friend stand to greet her naked as the day she was born. Three months into her pregnancy, and Akane still wasn't showing yet. For that matter, it barely looked like she'd put on any weight at all, other than the obvious increase in bust size. Shampoo didn't think that was particularly fair considering she herself had already gained five kilos. "Ummm, Akane?" She gestured towards her friend's nudity.
Akane looked down, apparently noticing for the first time that she wasn't wearing anything. "Meh," she grunted. "I just got out of bed and didn't really feel like getting dressed yet. She returned to the couch and pulled a blanket around her torso, covering herself.
Shampoo sighed at her friend's lack of caring. At least she had a reason to be naked in bed. She shook her head to clear away the jealousy. "Shampoo have good news! Found us a job! But Akane will have to learn Chinese faster."
Akane sighed and laid down on the couch. "I already tried at the Elder House. They won't let me work there unless I have complete fluency of the language, and the dialects of about ten surrounding villages."
"Is not at Elder House," replied Shampoo. "Only need to know a little more Chinese. Will be learning rest with clients."
Akane sat up and gave the Amazon a confused look. "What clients?"
Akane bowed again to her new boss, thanking him profusely for the job. She then reached down to the toddler who was grasping on to the hem of her skirt and picked her up to take her back into the play room. Now why didn't she think to look for a job at the daycare a month ago? She was going to need the practice after all.
Shampoo had been anxious about asking for the job at first, even if she had suggested it. It was "man's work" after all. Akane didn't care about the reversed social mores. If it meant she was going to get out of the house for most of the day, she'd muck out the stables.
Setting the toddler on the changing table she smiled at the thought that she basically was mucking out a kind of stable. At least they were cuter than horses.
Finished with changing the diaper, Akane set the little girl back on the floor, and watched her toddle away. She untucked her shirt from her skirt, placed a hand on her belly, and concentrated. She was sure she could feel her own child within her womb if she concentrated hard enough. Cologne had seen her do this once and had encouraged her to keep it up. Apparently it was something that all warrior mothers did in the tribe. The theory went that it helped with the baby's chi growth, and forged a stronger bond between mother and child. She'd even gotten Ranma to do it from time to time so that he could bond with the baby as well. He'd even said that he could feel the child getting stronger as he did it.
Akane shivered as if struck by lightning. Just the thought of Ranma laying his hands on her was enough to stoke her fires. He wasn't going to get any sleep tonight.
Akane waved to the last child to leave for the day and turned to help her coworkers clean up for the night. Shampoo was taking the diaper bag out to the laundry down by the river, so she was left with the other men, picking up toys and sweeping and mopping the floor. Akane lifted a big box of toys up and onto a high shelf, her shirt rising, exposing her navel, as she lifted it over her head. One of the men who was sweeping the floor next to her suddenly cried out and started babbling in Chinese too fast for Akane to understand. She turned to another one of the men whom she knew understood at least some Japanese. "Trimmer, what did he say?" she asked.
"Gel say Akane-san not have her mother tattoo yet," he explained.
"Yes, is tradition for Joketsuzoku mother to get tattoo on belly when she find out she pregnant. Is made to honor father, and to honor the child's heritage."
Slightly wary, but intrigued none the less, Akane motioned for more details. "What kind of tattoo is it?" she asked.
"Anything that remind mother of father. Something that show how much she honor the father. Is a great honor for Joketsuzoku male to have his tattoo on a woman. Gel upset that you not honoring Ranma-san because you not have tattoo."
Akane was taken aback at the accusation. With the help of Trimmer, she explained in her own broken Chinese that she didn't know about the tradition. This seemed to placate the man, who smiled at her and got back to work. Glad she dodged the bullet, but aware that it might come back again, Akane thought long and hard about something she'd never even considered before.
The next day Ranma was back at work, training his new students. He stifled a yawn as he watched them run through a kata over and over again, Akane having kept him up late into the night once again. Not that he'd ever complain of course, since the activities he was kept awake for were immensely fun.
He surveyed his class, trying to gauge their progression. Already he'd had half of the original members drop out due to not being able to keep up with his regimen. He had expected there to be some dropouts of course, but he hadn't figured on losing so many. After all, he was only doing what his father did to him when he was 10 years old.
"All right," he called out in Chinese. "Pair up to spar!" It was one of the few phrases he specifically learned so that he could get his message across. A lot of the rest of his directions had to be mimed to them so that they'd understand what he wanted them to do. He watched as his students immediately started to use what they had learned in mock battles. His best students were paired up with each other in the back, and he wandered over to them
Nobody was less surprised than Ranma was that Mousse turned out to be a great martial artist. Having fought him on numerous occasions, Ranma knew that the blind man was more skilled than many in the village would give him credit for. He was currently sparring with a woman whom Ranma only knew as Conditioner, who was also one of his best students. He watched them fight for a while, before calling them to a halt. "Good job you two," he said in Japanese, knowing that at least Mousse would understand him. He gave Conditioner a thumbs up.
"Thank you sensei," replied Conditioner in Japanese, surprising both of the males with her. "Your training regimen is unorthodox, but it is obviously effective. Where did you learn such methods?"
Baffled, Ranma took a moment to gather his thoughts to respond. "My father taught me since I could walk by using methods similar to this. Considering some of the training methods Joketsuzoku use, I'm surprised you think this way. I haven't started swinging rocks at you or made you stick your hands into a fire yet"
"Those are only used for the most advanced techniques," responded Mousse. "The basic classes are rather benign compared to what you went through.
"Huh," Ranma said, amazed. "Well I came over here because I'm going to need you two to take on some extra responsibility in this class. Cologne is finally going to start teaching me some of the more advanced techniques, so I'm going to be training with her for half of the day, and teaching the class for half. I'm going to need you two to take over for me in the mornings starting next week."
His students looked at him astonished, both bowing low to him. "Thank you sensei!" said Conditioner. "We won't let you down!"
Akane was still pondering the idea of a tattoo on the way home when she was stopped by Shampoo. "What did Akane think of first day at work?" she asked.
Akane couldn't help herself, she hugged her friend tightly. "Thank you so much for finding me that job! I was going insane with cabin fever from staying at home all day with nothing to do. Honestly, with most of your women acting as warriors, and restrictions on what warriors can do when they're pregnant, how do they keep from going postal?"
Shampoo smiled. "Shampoo was coming to talk to Akane about that. Come! Follow!"
The purple haired girl led Akane to a discrete building on the edge of the village. Obviously it was a bath house, but it was different from the communal one she and Ranma had been using for the past month. The architecture was fancier, rather than utilitarian like the other buildings. There were many exotic plants and trees in the front, and Akane could hear the sound of running water and soft music coming from inside. "What is this place?" she asked.
"Is special bath house Great Grandmother told Shampoo about today. Only tribe members who are with child are allowed inside. Come! We go in!"
The two women walked in through the front door and were greeted by an older woman who was obviously the proprietor of the place. "Welcome to the House of Chuang-Mu," she greeted in Chinese. Akane relied on Shampoo to discretely translate. "We've been expecting you for some time now. Please, follow me." She led them into the change room. "You may remove your clothes in here, then follow the hallway to the left to the massage room. Later you have facials and full body wraps scheduled, and then a nice long soak in the hot spring." She stood there waiting to take their clothes while the two women undressed. "Will you be getting your tattoos today as well?" she asked when she noticed the bare bellies of the two women standing before her.
Shampoo looked at her feet, embarrassed at the idea. She didn't wanting to think about the father of her child, let alone honor him by marking her body. Akane on the other hand was still intrigued by the idea. "I don't think we will today," she said with Shampoo's help. "But soon I might want to." Shampoo looked surprised at her companion, amazed that this outsider would want to honor her tribe's customs in such a way.
"Very well then," replied the owner. "Your masseuses are waiting for you down the hall."
Akane moaned loudly in pleasure as the woman massaging her back worked her magic. A job that got her out of the house and now this? If this was what happened when women became pregnant in this village, she might try to convince Ranma to have a big family, Chinese law or not. Besides, it seemed that Joketsuzoku was remote enough that the government in Beijing left them alone to their own devices. Now that she knew what they meant, Akane had started to look at women's midriffs for the tattoos, and found that many had two or three or more on their belly. She even saw a woman who had a whole constellation of stars across her front.
"Ayah," Shampoo teased. "If Akane make this much noise while getting back rub, how much noise does she make during cào cào?"
Akane clamped her mouth shut at the jab. She wasn't entirely sure what the words meant, but she certainly had a good idea. Especially with the way the two masseuses were trying to stifle their laughter.
"Maybe Akane should get tattoo of Ranma's jūju on her belly if she have that much fun with it!" This time the masseuse working on Akane's back had to stop what she was doing to cover her mouth to keep from cracking up. Akane started to wonder why she was bothering to learn Chinese at all if everybody seemed to speak enough Japanese to understand the conversation. It was probably just as well that she didn't know what a jūju was.
On the other hand, it brought up a topic she had wanted to discuss. "What about you Shampoo? Are you going to get a tattoo?"
Shampoo clammed up at the question, and turned her head so that she was looking away from her friend. "Shampoo not proud of what she has done. Will have baby, and love her very much, but Shampoo have no reason to honor father with tattoo."
"What about what people will say? Won't the men give you a hard time for not honoring the father?"
Shampoo sniffed in derision. "Shampoo already has no honor left. What could they say that would make her feel worse?"
Akane wanted to feel sorry for Shampoo, but couldn't. After all, she got pregnant by trying to convince Ranma that she was sleeping with Kuno, but there had to be something she could say to help her friend. Suddenly, she had an idea. "Well what about other unwed mothers in the village, what do they get done?"
Shampoo thought about it. "Still have to honor father. If he is unknown, then mother get tattoo of a star."
Akane's eyes bulged, remembering the woman she saw with all the star tattoos. "Well, maybe you could get one on the small of your back. You can honor your child by showing you know her heritage, but dishonor the father by showing that he was unworthy to be on your belly."
Shampoo blinked audibly at this idea. "Is a good idea!" she proclaimed. She stood, thanking her masseuse, before reaching over and grabbing Akane by the arm, pulling her off the table.
"Hey! What's the big idea?" Akane shrieked as she was dragged out of the room.
"We go get our tattoos now! Akane had great idea!" Shampoo chirped.
"Wait I wasn't sure I wanted to get one yet! Stop! Help!"
Conditioner and Mousse were sitting at the bar in the Dog House at the end of a long day of training. Mousse still wasn't quite sure what Conditioner was doing there, but he was at least glad for the company. "So tell me again how teaching Ranma's classes for him is going to get revenge on Shampoo for us?"
"It's very simple Moussey-Woussey," Conditioner replied using her pet name for him. "In taking over Ranma's classes, we are gaining his trust. His wife Akane is Shampoo's only friend in the village right now. We gain Ranma's trust, then get him to turn his wife against Shampoo."
Mousse turned red at Conditioner's use of a pet name, but he wasn't about to tell a woman who was carrying two daggers that he could see along with all the hidden weapons he'd been teaching her that she couldn't call him such things. "So she loses her only friend. Big deal. The rest of the village is still being civil to her."
Conditioner patted his head, as if addressing an naïve child. "That's only step one Moussey-Woussey." She put on her sexiest smile, knowing that it would make his heart race. "How about we go over to your house right now, and we can discuss step two?"
Ranma came home to find the house empty, but he was expecting that. Akane had sent word from the spa where she was and when she would be home. He had to admit, a nice massage after a long day's work sounded like a good idea, and he envied his wife. Well he'd have to ask her to help him out when she got home. He went into the bedroom to get changed.
He was a little apprehensive that she was out with Shampoo though. He wouldn't say anything to Akane, but there was just too much history between himself and Shampoo that he doubted he could ever completely trust her again. The fact that Akane got a job at the same place as her old rival, and was spending so much time with her rubbed Ranma the wrong way a little. He trusted Akane's judgment, and knew that while his wife had chosen to forgive Shampoo for their past, she had not forgotten it. Akane was a big girl, and she could take care of herself.
That didn't mean he wasn't going to worry though. He sighed with relief when he heard the door open and close in the main room. "Hey Akane! I'm in the bedroom! Come in and tell me how your first day at work went!"
Akane had a light step, so Ranma didn't hear her as she slowly shuffled into the bedroom while his back was turned. When he turned around five minutes later to see if she had come in after all, he found her standing there staring at her feet, her face as red as a tomato. "Akane? What's wrong?" he asked.
He wasn't sure where it was coming from, but Akane's body seemed to find some more blood to pump into her face, as she started to turn purple. Hesitantly she reached down to the bottom of her shirt and lifted the hem. Emblazoned on her stomach, just above the navel, was a picture of a rearing horse, maybe two inches tall and done in black. The skin around the tattoo was still red, not quite healed from the process of applying the ink. Ranma fell over in surprise. "What the hell made you get that?" he asked from the floor.
"It's… kind of an Amazon tradition. One of the men at the daycare asked me why I didn't have one. He seemed rather upset about it so I thought about getting it. Then Shampoo took me to the spa, which turned out to be a spa for pregnant women, and they offered to do the work for us, so Shampoo talked me into it."
"Tradition?" Ranma asked, still too surprised to get up off the bedroom rug. "What kind of tradition is that?"
"It's a symbol to honor the father of my baby. See? It's a wild horse. For Ranma."
Ranma finally picked himself up off of the floor. He was stunned that Akane would mark herself for him like that. Then he had a rather disturbing thought. "Umm, what did Shampoo get?"
Akane smiled. "She did a blue lightning bolt, but had it done on her spine just above her rear. It's done to honor her child, but dishonor the father."
"Heh, yeah I always said Kuno was a real ass." He smiled at her. "Thank you for this. And for the baby. You have no idea how much this means to me." He placed his hand on her stomach.
"Ouch!" Akane complained. "Be careful, it still hurts a bit." She pulled a bar of soap out from her pocket. "I have to wash it with this special soap for a week so that it heals right."
Ranma got a lustful look in his eyes and started to undo the buttons on her blouse. "Well why don't we get started on the first dose. Here, I'll help you." Akane smiled and helped him by undoing the button on her skirt, and allowing it to fall to the floor.
Chuang-Mu is the Chinese Goddess of the Bedchamber, and everything that happens within them such as sleep, sex, love, and childbirth.
Cào means fuck in Mandarin, and jūju means penis. I had originally wanted to have her call it "snoo snoo" after what the Amazons in Futurama say, but it just didn't sound right for a Chinese girl to say it. I figured this was a good compromise.
The way I imagine it, Akane's tattoo looks like the rearing horse on the Ferrari symbol.
Ok, so if you remember right, when I started posting this story back in December I told you I had 13 chapters done, giving myself a 13 week buffer to get my act together and write the rest. Well, I still haven't finished chapter 14 yet... I know! I know! And I'm sorry! So I'm going to try to get the next chapter out next Friday as per my regular updating schedule (the muse has come back somewhat) but no guarantees.