"Some summer." Akane said. "Monsters..."

"Only one." Interjected Ukyo from the couch. "Assuming you mean, Taro."

"Shh." Ranma said from the same couch. "You know how the Tomboy gets when you correct her." He said with a grin. "You were saying, Tomboy?" Ranma said putting an interested look on his face.

"Hmmph." Akane replied. "Monster." She said in annoyed emphasis. "Mercenaries."

"Speaking of which; how many girls are left unaccounted for?" Ukyo interrupted.

"Three." Akane replied in moody tones. She shook her head. "I don't think they're coming back either." She said sadly. "At least not anytime soon." Akane looked down and chewed her lip. "Maybe they'll be back, maybe not." She said. "But we and they are running out of time."

"How so, Tomboy?" Ranma asked.

"Well, summer's almost over." Akane pointed out.

"So?" Ranma replied. "Not like we have to go back to Japan, you know." Ranma smiled. "We spent seven years here before, we could do a few more again."

"Ran-chan's right sugar." Ukyo said. "This's as much home as Nerima, more in some ways."

"Can't." Akane grumbled. "Much as I'd like to do just that, we can't and you know it." She gave a meloncholy sigh. "Life used to be so easy." She complained.

Ranma and Ukyo looked at each other. "Easy?" Ranma said in disbelief. "Who's she trying to kid?" He asked.

"Herself, probably." Ukyo replied.

"Well we didn't have to deal with thirteen year old...bad girls." Akane said plaintively. "Ranko and Sakura were bad enough but....Megumi?"

"She's got a point, Ran-chan." Ukyo said. "Though I wouldn't call Meg a 'bad girl'." Ukyo continued. "I like Wing." She rolled her eyes. "But Ranko and Sakura..." Ukyo rolled her eyes again and her hair twisted in emphasis."Oh, and let's not forget Tan Tan." Ukyo's expression turned sour. "Okay, okay not Tan Tan." Ukyo said reluctantly.

"Not like we had a lot of choice, you know." Ranma said. A bittersweet smile came to his face. "Those last months...we used to talk." Ranma said quietly. Ranma laughed just as quietly. "Sometimes...sometimes I can hear her voice...usually scolding me for being stupid." He laughed quietly again. "I remember her telling me once that it would still have been better if I had married Xian Pu." Ranma raised a hand. "Not because she thought Xian Pu was better than either of you two." He leaned forward a little. "If you tell Xian, I'll deny it, but she always thought you were more talented than Xian." He said to Akane. "Any way, not because Xian was better but because the Joketsuzoku were prepared for what our children would become."

Ukyo nodded thoughtfully. "That makes sense." She said. "They've been running a breeding program for centuries."

"And beginning to get results." Akane said in agreement. "But what does this have to do with not having a lot of choice?" She asked.

"Well, the thing is, the Joketsuzoku understood that when the biggest concentration of high grade martial artist, chi adepts started having children, those children were going to redefine what a 'handfull' meant." Ranma's rueful chuckle was echoed by Akane and Ukyo. "They were prepared for it." He said. "When they couldn't force us to stay in China they did the next best thing."

"The villages." Akane said in understanding.

"The villages." Agreed Ranma. "A ready source of helpful, practical and above all, capable, subjects." He said. "They cooked our food, watched our children..." Ranma grinned. "Our kids are very Joketsuzoku aren't they?" Ranma waved a hand. "And even more importantly, a steady source of potential second wives."

"Brood mares." Akane said. "And studs." She added a second later.

Ranma waved his hand again. "But..." He raised a finger. "Not even the Joketsuzoku were prepared for my sister, Ranko Epstein." He said proudly. "Have you noticed how...mature...the New Crew is?"

Ukyo shook her head. "Ranko couldn't." She stopped. "Could she?"

Ranma nodded. "Yep." Ranma replied. "My mom says that the Joketsuzoku scrambled to adjust once they figured out what my sis was." He said. "And more importantly, what she could do." He said. "And what she could do is why we didn't have a lot of choice." He said. "Remember what the Doc said about his abilities?" he asked. "How he could never really turn it off."

"Why do we keep thinking Ranma is dumb?" Akane asked Ukyo in mild complaint. "So you're saying that Ranko..."

"And Sakura and Doc E..." He grinned. "And Mom."

Ukyo blew out a breath. "We never had a chance, did we?"

"Nope." Agreed Ranma. "On the other hand, it's a testament to their upbringing..." He said with a touch of pride. "That the kids came out as good as they did. They may be a bit wild but they're all good kids." Ranma's purr began to fill the room. "So I really wouldn't worry too much about Ranko and Sakura." He said. "They may...act like bad girls." He said. " But that's what it is." He said. "An act."

"I wouldn't call what they're doing with Big Wang,,,acting.: Akane said tartly.

"Well we sorta gave them permission, didn't we?" Ranma replied. "Ouji and Xing Xing are even younger then them." He pointed out. "Anyway, it could have been worse." He said. "At least they've settled on one boy." Ranma's purr got louder.

"Oh, that's so much better." Akane replied in tones dripping with sarcasm. Ranma and Ukyo laughed in rueful agreement. "And it doesn't help that the Joketsuzoku are going along with it as well."

"Well of course, Akane honey." Ukyo replied. She placed her palms against her flat stomach. "Look what they're getting in return." She said. "Well, I don't know about you two, but I'm hungry." She announced. "who's up for some Okonomiyaki?"

'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner'

Akama, in male form, and Tagaki bowed to each other and took ready stances. While the homes the Joketsuzoku had given them were too small to have a full sized dojo, the inner courtyards were more than adequate. "Sure you wanna do this?" Tagaki asked. "Grappling isn't your strong suit, you know."

"Well, I ain't gonna get better if I don't practice." Akama replied. "Whenever you're ready." He smiled. His smile was answered by Tagaki and in seconds the two men had arms and legs reaching and searching for an advantage.

Mei Lin and Lo Shan sat in wicker chairs under a shaded sport along one side of the courtyard. The two women watched the match with evident enjoyment. The pink haired Lo Shan especially enjoyed watching Tagaki. Not that she didn't enjoy watching Akama, she did, as did Mei Lin, but ever since the revelation over her love for Tagaki, she was no longer hiding her admiration and affection for Tagaki. But being a true Joketsuzoku second wife, she used her additional influence with Tagaki to ensure that the relationship between Akama and Tagaki remained strong. She suppressed a giggle as she remembered the evening, and the following evenings, after they returned to the village.

"What you smiling at Sister?" Mei Lin asked.

"Oh, nothing really." Lo Shan replied airily. "Just how nice watching two strong men wrestling really is." She smiled. "Of course it could be nicer." She said in impish tones. "They could be kissing too." She and Mei Lin shared a giggle. "Like they do that weekend."

"That was very fun weekend." Mei Lin agreed. "But we still need to take slow." She said in mild warning. "Tagaki still not comfortable do more then little touch, little kiss when both boy." She said. "Even when we there to...distract, Tagaki." She smiled at Lo Shan. "Still, that so much more than I ever thought." She said. "Tagaki no longer mind waking up with boy Akama in bed when Tagaki boy."

Lo Shan nodded in agreement. "Still, there long way to go." She tapped her lip. "I thnk, what needed, is for Tagaki to be girl more often." She said. "It easier for Tagaki that way." She said. "That way Tagaki get used to doing...girl things, with Akama, when Akama boy."

"Maybe another date?" Mei Lin suggested.

"Maybe." Lo Shan replied. "But date mean sex and..." Lo Shan shrugged. "Maybe we have girls night." Lo Shan said. "We all be girl, at least for part of evening, then maybe Akama be boy later." She said. "That way, more comfortable for Tagaki." A tone sounded in Lo Shan's ears. She immediately raised her wrist. "This Team Akama." She said. "Tagaki and Akama busy." She said. "Oh hello honored Mother." She said in recognition. "Dinner?" She said. "Who be there?" She nodded. "That sound very nice, Honored Mother." She said. "We be there." Lo Shan tapped her wrist and lowered it. "Sometime I think Honored Mother read minds." She mused.

"Dinner?" Prompted Mei Lin.

"Dinner with Honored Parents." Lo Shan said. "Just us." Lo Shan smiled. "I have wonderful idea."

"This is a terrible idea.' Tagaki said nervously. She, having had bathed in the magic water, was wearing a short black dress, stockings held up by a garter belt and black heels. "They're gonna laugh, I just know it."

"Why would they laugh?" Lo Shan asked. "You look very, very nice." She smiled. "As Akama would say, you look...yum." She walked around the now female Tagaki. "Very yum." She said in admiration.

"You sure?" Tagaki said worriedly.

Lo Shan laughed gently. "Oh, very sure." She replied. "Tagaki look so yum, make Lo Shan wish she were Akama and taking you on date." She laughed again when Tagaki blushed. "You make Lo Shan wish she one that use magic water." She said. "That how yum you are."

"Yeah?" Tagaki asked. Tagaki licked her lipsticked lips. "You would, wouldn't you?"

"Oh very yes." Replied Lo Shan. She walked over to Tagaki and examined her face. "Stop licking lips." She said and picked up a small makeup kit. She began to reapply the lip gloss. "Maybe...maybe one day you ask Akama for me?"

"Me?" Squeaked Tagaki. Lo Shan nodded as she made a few infinitesimal adjustments. "I-I don't...I-I...really?" She squeaked. Lo Shan nodded again. "Oh." Tagaki looked at the ground. "Lo Shan?"

"Yes, Tagaki?" Lo Shan replied.

"I will...with you...if you want..." Began Tagaki.

Lo Shan placed a small hand against Tagaki's mouth. "I love you very much, Tagaki." Lo Shan said quietly. "Maybe more than good Second Wife should." She continued. "And I very much would like being man with you." She said. "But not tonight." She said in sterner tones. "Tonight you laugh and smile for Akama, yes?" She asked. Tagaki nodded. "Good." Lo Shan smiled. "Maybe, if Akama have big smile on face, you invite me and Mei Lin to bed." Lo Shan tapped Tagaki on her nose. "I promise I do something you really, really like." Lo Shan stepped away. "Now, I think we make Akama wait long enough." She said. "Remember, big smile." Tagaki put a wide and happy smile on her face. "Yes, just like that."

Akama, in male form and wearing a dark red formal silk Chinese suit, turned as he heard the tapping of heels on the polished wooden floor. Tagaki approached and Akama's mouth dropped open. The person approaching him was walking with powerful strides. It was Tagaki's normal walk, yet different. For one thing, Akama didn't remember ever seeing Tagaki's hips swing in quite that way

"Sorry to keep you waiting, Akama." Tagaki said in a throaty voice. "But...you know how it is."

"Actually, I do." Akama replied. "You look great." He gushed. Akama smiled a slightly hungry smile. "Yum, in fact." Tagaki laughed. Akama swept Tagaki into his arms and kissed her. The kiss went on for a long time "I don't think I'll ever get tired of kissing you." Akama said after they finally broke the kiss.

Tagaki smiled. "Me too." She said. "We should go." She linked her arm through Akama's. "How are we getting there, anyway?" She asked. "I'm not exactly dressed for a run." Tagaki pointed out. "And I don't remember seeing any cars."

Akama chuckled. "No, no cars." He agreed. "But..." Akama nodded to Mei Lin who opened the door for the couple. Akama led Tagaki out of the house and toward the front gate.

"You're kidding." Tagaki exclaimed. Standing at the gate was a pair of horses hitched up to something that looked like a cross between a carraige and a sleigh. Laquered a bright red it was open to the night air and had two facing padded benches. The cushions on the benches were embroidered in gold and red and the Joketsuzoku warrior sitting proudly in the drivers seat was dressed in matching colors. "It's gorgeous." Gushed Tagaki. "Omigod, I just said gorgeous."

"Good evening, Honored Ones." The driver said in greeting. Her eyebrow raised an infinitesimal amount as she took in the reversed couple. She bowed respectfully in her seat.

"Good evening, Honored Warrior." Akama replied. He assisted first Tagaki, then Mei Lin and Lo Shan into the carraige before entering the carraige himself and taking the seat next to Akama.

"If it gets cold." The warrior said. "There are blankets under the seats." She flicked the reins and the carraige started off. As it was summer and still early, the sun was still above the horizon and the sky still blue though beginning to darken with the approach of evening. Still, remaining daylight or not, it was still late and the Joketsuoku would normally be at home or heading home and winding the day down.

As the carraige slowly clip-clopped through the brick paved streets and toward the gates, Tagaki noticed that those passerbys still on the street would stop and watch the carraige go by. Several would wave. Tagaki hesitantly waved back to the obvious delight of the people on the street. "Gods, I feel like a princess on the way to a ball or something."

"Good, that way you should feel." Lo Shan said. "Princess should feel like princess." She said. "Is that not right, Sister?" She said to Mei Lin. Mei Lin nodded firmly. "See?"

"Princess?" Tagtaki asked in confusion.

"Oh yes." Lo Shan said. "When you girl, you princess." She said. "You Princess just like all women in Founding families, princesses."

"Do you know what she's talking about Akama?" Tagaki asked Akama. Akama shook his head.

Lo Shan rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Founders are the rulers of the Japanese Joketsuzoku, yes?" She asked. Akama and Tagaki nodded. "And Akama heir, be ruler of Japanese Joketsuzoku one day, yes?" Tagaki and Akama nodded again, though realization was beginning to show in Akama's eyes. "Honored Elder Lung Lung look at charter with China and Japan. Charter say, Japanese Joktsuzoku have own country and Ranma..." Lo Shan broke off as Akama started laughing.

"Does Pops know?" Akama asked. He waved a hand. "Nevermind, it's not important." He said. "Gods, I love the Joketsuzoku." Akama tilted his head. "All the women?" He asked Lo Shan. Lo Shan smiled widely and nodded. "Good." Akama said.

The carraige barely traveled faster than a slow walk and the driver seemed disinclined to hurry. Still once the walls of the village were behind them the driver picked up the pace a little. Soon, the Saotome Homestead came into view. Even before they pulled into the long crushed rock driveway leading to the front of the house, the front door opened and three figures could be seen outlined in the doorway.

The carriage pulled up in front of the house and Akama jumped out. He offered his hand to Tagaki and assisted the now girl out of the carraige. Akama, then helped Lo Shan and Mei Lin out of the carraige before turning to greet his parents. "Hey, Moms, Pop." Akama began. He stopped as he realized his parents were staring. "Surprise?" He said.

"That's putting it mildly." Ukyo said. "Stripes?"

"Told ya." Ranma said. Ranma whistled. "Not bad, Tagaki, not bad at all." He said. "Course I'd do something about the hair. Maybe let it grow a bit."

"Hush, Ran-chan." Ukyo scolded lightly. "I think short hair looks good on a girl." She smiled at Akane. "Right, sugar?" She smiled as Akane ran her hand through her short do. Ukyo turned back to Tagaki and Akama. "Well, why are we standing out here?" She said. "Come on in." She looked at the driver of the carriage. "There's more than enough for you." She said.

The Joketsuzoku warrior and driver smiled widely. "I thank you, Honored One, I would like that but please let me eat in kitchen." She said. "This is family dinner." She said. "I would not intrude."

"That will be fine." Ukyo replied. Ukyo looped her arm through Tagaki's. "Come along girls." Ukyo said over her shoulder. "I think we can trust the men-folk not to burn down the house while they wait for dinner."

"Men folk?" Akama asked.

"I think that means us." Ranma replied. "And don't even think of changing." Ranma warned. "Your Mothers want to talk to Tagaki." He smiled. "A little girl talk." Ranma and Akama watched as Akane and Ukyo led Tagaki toward the back of the house. "Stripes." Ranma shook his head.

"Sit." Ukyo said pleasantly. "Tea?" She asked when a very nervous Tagaki sat. Tagaki nodded jerkily. "Stripes." Ukyo said in amusement.

"I think it looks cute." Akane said. "Which one of you picked out Tagaki's outfit?" She asked.

"I did, Honored Mother." Lo Shan replied. "I hope it suitable."

"Oh, I approve." Akane replied. "I was just curious." She said. "So, how many times does this make?" She asked. "Being a girl." She said in explanation.

"Th-three." Tagaki stammered. "Three times."

"Is it getting any easier?" Ukyo asked.

"A little." Tagaki admitted. Her face flushed slightly. "Y-you don't think...I mean..." Tagaki stopped when Lo Shan placed a hand on her hand. Akane and Ukyo exchanged a look but said nothing. "It's a little easier."

"Good." Akane said. "We think you're doing very well, considering." Akane said. Ukyo nodded in agreement. "We also want you to know that we approve." Akane sipped her tea. "In a way, you passed a test."

"A test?" Tagaki looked up. "What do you mean?"

"Keep your knees together when you're sitting." Ukyo instructed. "Especially when you're wearing a dress as short as that." She smiled as Tagaki blushed. "Better." She said when Tagaki complied. She looked at Lo Shan and Mei Lin. "Making Tagaki look good is only half the job." she said sternly. The two second wives blushed slightly. They nodded. "As we were saying, you passed a test."

"One of the reasons Ranma is held in such esteem by the Joketsuzoku is his willingness to be female." Akane said. "Very few of the Husbands have used the magic water." She said. "In fact only Hitoshi Niamura and Ryu Kumon have used it more than once."

"And only Hitoshi continues to use it." Ukyo said. "With any kind of regularity." She said. "You should know that Hitoshi is held in nearly the same level of esteem as Ranma."

"Because he uses the water?" Tagaki guessed.

"Because he becomes female." Ukyo corrected. "From a certain Joketsuzoku point of view, Hitoshi is...female." She said. "And since he's a she, the Joketsuzoku accept him as an equal." Ukyo sipped her tea. She looked at Tagaki over the rim. "And since you, so publicly, used the water." She said. "And are so obviously, and publically, trying to act female..." She smiled. "I have a pearl necklace that would go very well with that dress, by the way." She said. "You may borrow them...next time."

"Publicly?" Tagaki asked. "Oh, the carriage." She said in understanding. Tagaki sipped her tea. "So, you're saying...what?"

"By publicly expressing your willingness to be female, you are now considered, female." Ukyo replied. "The fact that you dressed the part only adds to your prestige." She smiled slightly. "And adds to Akama's prestige as well." She said. "And, more importantly, the Joketsuzoku are now even more confident that the future of the Joketsuzoku is secure." She saiid. "Isn't that right, girls?"

"Yes, Honored Mother." Lo Shan replied. Mei Lin nodded. The two second wives looked at Tagaki proudly. "We both so proud of Tagaki." Lo Shan said. "The Joketsuzoku are proud of Tagaki."

"They are?" Tagaki asked in surprise.

"Oh very yes, Tagaki." Lo Shan replied.

"Good." Akane said. "Now, I think we should rejoin the...men." Akane smiled. "They're probably worried we're talking about them." She said. " She opened to door to the main room. "Men." She snorted in amusement.

"Um, I'm a man." Tagaki replied. "Well not right now but..." She stopped as the women giggled. After a monent Tagaki joined the other women in giggling.

Akama and Ranma looked up at the sound of female laughter as Akane, Ukyo and Tagaki,trailed by Lo Shan and Mei Lin returned to the main room. Akane had her arm looped through Tagaki's and was whispering something into Tagaki's ear that made the stripe haired girl giggle.

"Tagaki's giggling." Akama observed. "Do you think I should worry, Pops?" He asked in an aside.

"Whenever the women go off by themselves and come back giggling, you should always worry." Ranma replied in quiet amusement. "Weird being on the receiving end, isn't it?" Ranma asked teasingly. Ranma suppressed a laugh when Akama nodded. "Better get used to it." Ranma said. "especially if Tagaki decides to be a girl on a regular basis."

"Gods, I hope so." Akama muttered to himself. He smiled as Tagaki approached. "Hey." Akama said in greeting.

"Hey right back at ya." Tagaki replied. "miss me?" She said teasingly.

"Always." Akama replied.

"Good." Tagaki said.

Akama took Tagaki's arm and led her to the main dining table. As was becoming more and more usual, Lo Shan sat to Tagaki's left and Mei Lin to Akama's right. Ranma of course sat at the head of the table and Akane sat to his right. Ukyo made a beeline for the kitchen.

Ukyo opened the kitchen door to find the Joketsuzoku warrior stirring the contents in one of the several pots warming on the stove. The warrior hastily and guiltily stood away from the stove. Ukyo smiled. "Thank you." Ukyo said simply. "Could you hand me one of the large bowls?" She pointed to one of the many cabinets against the wall. The warrior hurried to get a bowl. "While you're there, get yourself a plate." She added.

"Of course, Elder." The warrior replied and brought the bowl to the stove, then placed her plate on the table. "I meant no..." She began.

"None taken." Ukyo interrupted. "It was very thoughtful of you." She said. Ukyo dipped a spoon into the pot the warrior had been stirring and transferred the contents to a small bowl. She offered it to the warrior. "What do you think?" She asked.

The warrior tasted the offering and her eyes nearly rolled up in her head. "Oh my." She exclaimed. "That's wonderful."

Ukyo grinned a chipmunk grin. "Thank you." She said. She began transferring the contents of the pots and trays into serving dishes. "What's your name?" She asked.

"Fang Hua, elder." The warrior replied. The warrior blushed as her mouth began to water uncontrollably. "excuse me." She said and wiped her mouth.

Ukyo smiled a proud and satisfied smile. "Get the door please, Fang Hua." She said. "And don't be afraid to take seconds." She said as she passed through the door carrying the heavy laden tray.

Fang Hua watched Ukyo leave and waited until the door closed behind her before she shook her head. "Aiayah." She said quietly. "And I thought my Husband was a good cook." She smiled in anticipation and went over to the stove to serve herself.

Ukyo placed the heavily laden tray on the table and then took her seat next to Ranma. Ranma looked around the table before clapping his hands together twice. "Thank you for the food." The diners chorused. The food was passed around the table and Lo Shan made a plate for Tagaki. The amount of food seemed woefully inadequate to the boy turned girl and she made a noise of protest.

Lo Shan leaned over. "You girl now." She whispered. "Body smaller, need less food."

"But." Tagaki protested.

"And remember, cover mouth when chewing." Lo Shan continued. "Not want embarrass Akama, no?"

"But." Tagaki repeated. She looked down at the plate. "No." She said. Tagaki used her chopsticks to take a small morsel of food and covered her mouth as she chewed.

"Good." Lo Shan "No worry, Tagaki, you doing very, very fine." She nodded toward Akane and Ukyo. "They think you doing very, very fine." Lo Shan gave Tagaki a warm smile. "And Akama have big smile on face."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Triad Lemon~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yep, there's a lemon scene. Not necessary for this story, just wrote it for the fun of it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~End Triad Lemon~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The dinner at the Saotome homestead lasted late into the evening but eventually it was time to go. Akane linked her arm through Tagaki's and started toward the door. "It was very nice meeting my daughter-in-law." Akane said as they reached the door. Akane smiled and gave Tagaki a hug. "I do hope we can do this again." Tagaki felt a second pair of arms surround her. "Soon." Ukyo said in Tagaki's ear.

The Joketsuzoku warrior who had remained scarce throughout the evening reappeared just as the evening broke up and the goodbyes were being said. The warrior bowed respectfully to Ranma, Akane and Ukyo and then led the departing guests back to the carriage.

As he had done earlier, Akama helped first Tagaki, then Lo Shan and Mei Lin back into the carriage before entering the carriage himself and seating himself next to Tagaki. "Hmm." Akama said as sat. "It's getting cooler."

"Blankets under seat." The Joketsuzoku warrior said in reminder.

Akama found that the seats had a sliding panel and he quickly extracted several blankets from the storage compartment. He gave two to Lo Shan and Mei Lin and took out one that he shared with Tagaki. Akama placed the blanket across his and Tagaki's laps. Tagaki smiled and leaned her head on Akama's shoulder. "If you want another blanket." Akama began.

Tagaki shook her head. "No, this is fine." She giggled. "You're a lot warmer as a guy,"

"So're you." Akama retorted. He placed his arm around Tagaki's shoulders. "I hope...being a girl...in front of my parents, I mean..." Akama trailed off as Lo Shan and Mei Lin started giggling. "What?"

"You sound just like Husband." Mei Lin said in amused tones. "It long time since you be man so often." Mei Lin said. She turned to Lo Shan. "I think Tai Tai going 'guy'." She guessed. Lo Shan giggled and nodded. "I don't know Sister." Mei Lin continued. "Maybe we should have Tagaki return to boy, so we not...disappointed."

"Hey." Complained Akama as Tagaki joined in on the giggling.

"Oh no, Sister." Lo Shan replied. "If Akama no practice, how he get better?"

"Hey." Complained Akama again. "And who says you're invited?" He said.

"I do." Tagaki replied. "Lo Shan petitioned me." She said. "And I accepted."

Akama raised a finger. He held it for a second then lowered his hand slowly. "She did?" Akama asked. Tagaki nodded. Akama swallowed nervously. He looked at Lo Shan. "You did?" He asked. Lo Shan nodded cheerfully. Akama took a deep breath and held it for a second before he released it in an audible huff. "You're getting back at me, aren't you?"

"Why Akama." Tagaki said in amused tones. "Whatever are you talking about?" Tagaki giggled and leaned against Akama. "I'm sure you'll do your best." She said. "Now shut up and kiss me."

The carriage driver left them off at the front of the house and waited as the foursome walked to the door. Fang Hua smiled when Akama lifted Tagaki into his arms and carried Tagaki into the house. Fang Hua sighed nostalgically. "So romantic." She said to herself before starting the carriage up again and drove away.

Akama carried Tagaki into the darkened house. Darkened but not quiet as sounds came from the bedroom shared by Hayaima, Dai Lan and Suki. Akama grinned. "Sounds like someone is having a good time." He said to Tagaki. Akama carried Tagaki to their bedroom and deposited the stripe haired girl gently on her feet. Before he could say anything, Lo Shan and Mei Lin escorted Tagaki away.

"Wash face, brush teeth." Mei Lin called over her shoulder. "And try not to fall asleep before we return." She said with a giggle in her voice. Mei Lin and Lo Shan hurried Tagaki into the bedroom and the master bathroom. "Now, you wash face and brush teeth too." Mei Lin said to Tagaki. "Cold water only."

"You too, Sister." Lo Shan added. "I really did petition Tagaki." She said with a satisfied smile. "Leave stockings on." Lo Shan left the bathroom and returned a few minutes later carrying several items. "Here." She handed one set of items to Tagaki. "Put this on." She said.

Tagaki held up the garment. It was a white, translucent robe. "I remember this." She said. "This is what Akama wore that..." Tagaki blushed. "For a moment I thought you were going to have me wear that...striped thing."

"Oh? You want wear striped thing?" Lo Shan said in amusement. "I not think it go with stockings." She said. "But if you really want..."

"N-no this is fine." Tagaki stammered. She smiled wryly as Lo Shan and Mei Lin giggled. "You guys." She complained in fond tones. Tagaki grinned. "Maybe next time." She said and pulled on the white nightgown.

"Oh definitely next time." Lo Shan agreed. "You want potion?" She asked. Lo Shan grinned. "Or you want Lo Shan to warm you up?" Her grin became a warm smile as Tagaki blushed. "I think you want Lo Shan, yes?" She asked. Tagaki nodded. "Good."

Akama lay on the large bed. He was wearing a pair of red silk pajamas that had the Saotome crest emblazoned on the back. Normally it was Tagaki who'd wear these pajamas. Normally, Akama thought, it was Tagaki who'd be lying here nervously wondering if he'd be able to satisfy his wife and two second wives. 'Note to self.' Akama thought. 'Never, ever tease Tagaki about performing ever again.' Akama looked up at the sound of giggling.

Into the room came Tagaki, Lo Shan and Mei Lin. The three women were wearing matching translucent white robes. Though the room was unlit the moonlight streamng in through the window was enough to allow Akama to make out plenty of details. The main detail was that it was obvious that none of the three women were wearing underwear. Akama felt his sex begin to harden.

"Oh good." Tagaki said in a throaty voice. "You're still awake."

"I-I..." Stammered Akama. He stopped as Tagaki, Lo Shan and Mei Lin climbed into the bed. A moment later Akama had his arms full of Tagaki and kissing her hungrily. Akama found himself mewling in frustration as Tagaki broke the kiss. "What...?" He began.

"You have to kiss Mei Lin and Lo Shan." Tagaki replied in a husky voice. "And make sure you kiss them just like you just kissed me." Tagaki ordered. Before Akama could say anything he found himself on the receiving end of a demanding kiss from Mei Lin. "Now Lo Shan." Tagaki said when Mei Lin broke the kiss. The kiss from Lo Shan left Akama gasping. "Whoa." Akama breathed.

--------------------------Lemon Section -----------------------------------

Yeah, a second Lemon, again not really necessary...well it is but the story stands without it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~End Lemon Section~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Epilogue 2

Akane opened the door of the homestead. She frowned. "You." She said in disapproving tones.

"Hi Auntie Akane." Sakura and Ranko chorused cheerfully. The massive youth Bao Loa 'Big' Wang bowed from behind them. "Can we come in?" Sakura continued. "We need to talk to you guys." Without waiting for an invitation Ranko, Sakura and, with a nervous smile on his face, Big Wang entered the Saotome homestead leaving a open-mouthed Akane at the door.

Akane shook herself. "I am not going to lose my temper. I am not going to lose my temper." Akane muttered over and over as she followed the trio into the house. By the time Akane returned to the main room, she found Sakura and Ranko sitting together on one of the two couches in the room. "Where's Bao Loa?" She asked.

"Making tea." Ranko replied. She smiled. "Gods, I love Joketsuzoku men." She said cheerfully. "I swear they're born housebroken." She quipped. "They'll wash the dishes, do the laundry..."

"And they never forget to lower the toilet seat." Sakura added. "Not to mention..."

"Hold it right there, young lady." Akane said in severe tones. "I may have to accept your relationship with Bao Lao but I don't need the details."

"Sorry, Auntie Akane." Sakura said contritely. "I'll be good." She grinned at the emotions coming from Akane. "Okay, I'll try not to be so bad." She looked around. "Where's Auntie Ukyo and Uncle Ranma."

"Uk-chan and Ranma are..." She broke off as Ranko and Sakura started giggling. "Ooh." She growled. Akane sighed. "I'll get them." Akane walked away. By the set of her shoulders it was obvious she was trying to control her anger. She stomped down a short hallway and stopped at a door. She knocked. "Break it up you two." She said through the door. "They're here." She said in an exasperated growl. She stood there for several long minutes before the door opened. Ukyo stood in the doorway. She had a red and white silk robe thrown over her. Ukyo's hair writhed in a way that seemed to convey frustration.

"Just the two?" Ukyo asked in annoyance. Akane shook her head. "Wang?" She asked. Akane nodded. She turned her head. "Get your butt out of bed, Ran-chan, we are not facing those three by ourselves." She turned back to Akane. "We'll be there in a minute."

Akane nodded and returned to the main room. She found that Big Wang had finished making tea and had brought out a tea service, the formal one Akane noticed, and had placed it in the center of the large low table that Sakura and Ranko were kneeling in front of. Akane paused at the doorway and observed the three teens. The three teens were sitting and talking quietly. As she expected Ranko and Sakura were flanking Big Wang, what she didn't expect was that the three were not teasing each other, or flirting or...'Damn, they act like...' Her thoughts broke off when all three of the teens turned their heads to look at her. Akane shook her head and walked into the room. "Ranma was right, it's all an act." She accused.

"I wouldn't go that far, Auntie." Ranko replied in suddenly mature tones. "Big Wang really is our...." She smiled slightly. "Our man." She said. Sakura nodded cheerfully. "But we do tend to, shall we say, exagerate a bit." She said. Akane snorted and sat down at the low table. She watched as Bao Lao Wang poured her tea. "Got the idea from Big Brother." Ranko said.

"Got what from me?" Ranma said as he and Ukyo walked into the main room. Ranma was wearing a loose fitting pair of silk pajamas while Ukyo had retained her red and white robe but had added a red silk night gown underneath.

"Your dummy act, dummy." Akane said tartly. Then she smiled. "I knew that night gown would look good on you, Uk-chan." She turned in her seat. "Don't say anything." She said warningly to Ranko and Sakura. The two teen girls mimed zipping their mouths. "hmph." Akane snorted. "Okay, what did you want to see us about?"

"We're staying." Sakura said. "Here, in the village, I mean." She said. "Dad, Mom and Auntie Thyme are going to have their hands full with Pepper, so they'll never notice." She said. "Okay, they'll notice, but they're still gonna be busy."

"Besides, it's quiet here." Ranko tapped her head. "Almost as quiet as the farm." Suddenly Ranko frowned and turned toward the front door. "Damn, she's a fast learner." She said just as there came a knock at the door. "It's Meg and Wing." She announced. "She's....disappointed about something." Before anyone could get up the door opened. Megumi and Wing entered the house. Megumi wore the floral patterned pant suit she had become fond of while Wing was wearing a light blue gold embroidered robe with matching pants underneath.

"Good afternoon, Auntie Akane, Auntie Ukyo, Uncle Ranma." Megumi said in quiet cheer. She looked at Ranko and Sakura. "How could you?" She demanded.

"What'd we do? What'd we do?" Sakura said hurriedly. "If this is about the cake...I was hungry."

"This is not about the cake." Megumi replied. "Though we will talk about that...later." She promised. "No, how could you think about staying in the village without asking me or Wing?" She put her hands on her hips. "We are part of the Animal Farm, aren't we?"

"Well yeah, Meg." Ranko protested. "But...but..." Ranko stopped. "You want to stay?" She asked suddenly.

"Well of course I do." Megumi said. "Oh good, tea." She and Wing sat down at the table. Big Wang stood and went into the kitchen. "Har Pyn has promised to teach me healing and...well Father would be very proud if I became a Joketsuzoku healer." Big Wang returned frrom the kitchen with two additional cups. "Thank you Bao Lao." She said when he placed them in from of her. She poured tea and placed one cup in front of Wing. She raised the other to her lips. "I do love Bayankala mountain tea." She said in an appreciative voice.

"Give me one good reason why I should agree to this." Ranma asked. "A good reason, not because it's quiet."

"How about three missing girls, mercenary incursions and Saffron?" Ranko replied in serious tones. "We've left the Bayankala unprotected for too long."

"I wouldn't consider it unprotected." Ranma replied. "Not with the Joketsuzoku and Musk running patrols."

"Yes, but there's still some tension between the Joketsuzoku and Musk." Megumi said calmly. "Having a Saotome presence would be helpful." She said. "And Har Pyn did say she wished that there would always be a Saotome in the village."

"And I really don't think my parents..." A slightly bittersweet smile appeared on Ranko's face. "Mom and Dad will expect me to visit and I will." She promised. "But they won't object." Her smile became more natural. 'Besides this is what we've trained for."

"You'll be leaving a big hole in the New Crew." Akane pointed out.

"Not that big." Sakura replied. "Oh, Dragon Breath and I are the two most powerful members of the crew, true." She admitted with a touch of pride. "And Meg is no slouch." She added. "But the rest of the crew will pick up the slack." Sakura said confidently. "They'll be fine."

"Besides it won't be forever." Megumi said in gentle tones. "Three or four years and then another team will take our place." She said. "OujiandXingXing and Tan Tan will want to come back." She took a sip of her tea. "Delicious." She said. "and then we'll go home."

Pei Pei and Lin Tung stood watchfully as Tatewaki trained the orphan girl, Jian. In an effort to keep the young girl from dwelling on both the loss of her parents and her subsequent revenge on her parents' murderer, they had followed Tan Tan's lead and did their best to keep the young girl busy for as much of her waking moments as possible.

Each morning she'd be awakened and led through a series of stretching and strengthening exercises. She might have rebelled except that Ouji, Xing Xing and Tan Tan would join her and go through the exercises with her. Once the morning exercises were completed she'd assist Tan Tan or Ouji or Xing Xing in some household chore. Again, the very presence of the other youths did much to encourage her to continue. And even during those rare idle moments, such as meals, Jian was not allowed to become truly idle. Someone, usually Pei Pei, would ensure she was engaged in conversation.

Afternoons were more of the same with weapons training added to her regimen. Training that would last long into the evening and only broken by meals or snacks. Each evening, Jian would fall into an exhausted dreamless sleep. Two weeks had gone by since they had brought the young girl into their household.

"I spoke to Clan Leader Ranma." Pei Pei said in an aside. "Jian will be coming to Japan with us."

"Good." Lin Tung replied. Neither woman took their eyes off of Tatewaki as he trained the young girl. "I think it be good for her." She said. "Be good for Dog too." She nodded toward Tatewaki and Jian. "Look how Dog treats her." She said. "Like daughter."

"She is daughter." Pei Pei replied. "Our daughter." She said. "Dog's daughter." She smiled in approval as Jian executed a series of parries and lunges. "Jian Kuno." She said. "Sounds good." Pei Pei heard the door to the courtyard open, she exchanged looks with Lin Tung before turning. As she expected, Tan Tan was entering the courtyard with a tray. "Good afternoon, Tan Tan."

"Good afternoon, Honored Warriors." Tan Tan replied. She looked at where Tatewaki and Jian were training. A slight smile came to her face. "She does well." She said. Tan Tan placed the tray on a small table. "I think Uncle good for her." She said. "I think she good for Uncle."

"We agree." Pei Pei replied. "Do you think Ouji and Xing Xing would mind if Jian become Tatewaki's adopted daughter?"

"Daughter?" Tan Tan asked. Tan Tan's face took on a thoughtful expression, finally she nodded. "Daughter. Yes." She said. "Don't worry, OujiandXingXing will not object." She said. "I make sure."

Pei Pei smiled approvingly. "You're a good second wife, Tan Tan." She said. "You do the Joketsuzoku proud."

"Thank you Honored Warrior." Tan Tan replied with a pleased expression blossoming on her face. Her expression dropped slightly. "No, not second wife." She said. "Not yet." She looked down. "Not until Senior Second Wife say so."

"She will." Lin Tung said confidently. "You're still here, yes?" she said. "I know Honored Ukyo Saotome." She said. "If she truly want you gone." She said firmly. "Then you gone." Her comment was punctuated by an agreeing snort from Pei Pei. "She just worry about Ouji and Xing Xing." She said. "They young. You're young." Pei Pei shrugged. "No worry, you will be accepted."

"Thank you, Pei Pei." Tan Tan said gratefully. "I will not betray your trust in me." She avowed.

"We know." Pei Pei replied. "Honored Second Wife."

Tan Tan smiled and with a respectful bow left the courtyard. She walked back into the house and through the main room to the stairway to the second floor. Tan Tan walked up the stairs. As she reached the top of the stairs the sound of giggling came to her ears. She followed her ears into the bedroom of Ouji and Xing Xing. The two preteens were sitting on the bed and leaning against each other. There hands were roaming across their bodies. "Can't leave you two alone for one minute." Tan Tan said in amusement.

"Tan Tan." Chorused Ouji and Xing Xing. They immediately moved apart and the two adolescents patted the space between them at the same time. Tan Tan all but ran to sit between them. "Missed you." They chorused.

"I only gone for five minutes." Tan Tan giggled.

"That's five minutes too long." Ouji and Xing Xing chorused with a giggle. Tan Tan joined them in their giggles. Tan Tan put her arms around the waists of Ouji and Xing Xing and the three teens sighed almost in unison. "Love you." Chorused Ouji and Xing Xing.

"Love you." Replied Tan Tan.

Ouji and Xing Xing leaned forward and looked at each other. There was a surprised look on their faces. "Tan Tan?" Ouji said in hesitant tones. "We think Jian should come to Japan with us." He said. "Xing Xing thinks it would be a shame to just leave her here." He said, "And Ouji thinks that Uncle Tatewaki likes her." Xing Xing finished.

Tan Tan laughed. "I just talking to Pei Pei about Jian." She said.

"Um, Tan Tan?" Xing Xing said. "We...we know."

Tan Tan turned her head to look at Xing Xing. "What you mean, you know?" She asked. "Oh." She said after a moment. "When we this close, you know what on Tan Tan mind?" She asked. Ouji and Xing Xing nodded. "Really?" Tan Tan asked. "That...that wonderful."

Ouji and Xing Xing leaned forward again and grinned at each other. "How did you know that we know what you're thinking when we're close?" Ouji asked.

"How I know?" Tan Tan asked in confusion. "You just tell me." Ouji and Xing Xing exchanged a smile and shook their heads. "No tease Tan Tan." Tan Tan said in scolding tones. "You...just...you...you did..." Tan Tan wound down into silence. "I just knew." She said in awe. "I...I just knew."

"Do you know what we're thinking now?" Ouji asked with a giggle in his voice.

Tan Tan blushed. "But you always want make love with Tan Tan." She said. Tan Tan opened her mouth in surprise. "I knew." She said in a hush. Tears came to Tan Tan's eyes. "Oh, this so wonderful." She repeated in a voice choking with emotion. "Now Senior Second Wife must accept me." She hugged Ouji and Xing Xing closer to her. "I knew, I just knew we belong together." Suddenly Tan Tan giggled. "And yes, I very much want make love with you."

Li Xian walked with her young charges through the Joketsuzoku village. Mitsui, in a pink floral Joketsuzoku pant suit, was flanked by Ping and Song Li, who wore matching yellow and green pant suits of similar design to Mitsui's. As was becoming more and more usual, the three girls carried their metal ribbed, silk fans. The two young girls, Song Li especially, considered themselves to be Mitsui's, for lack of a better description, shield mates. Though less as bodyguards and more as being the younger members of a new fighting threesome with Mitsui as their leader.

Li Xian couldn't help but be especially proud of her daughter by Tofu Ono but, being the former creche guardian that she was, she was careful not to show any favoritism toward her daughter when in public. In private Li Xian lavished a lot of love and attention on her daughter but Song Li seemed to appreciate her mother's even handedness when she was with her cousins.

Trailing behind were Tenchi, in white robes similar to what his father wore, and Shingi, in male form, and in jeans and a red and white t-shirt. Regardless of what sex Shingi would be in, what she wore rarely changed and reflected her tomboy nature. Although tomboy was, in Shingi's case, somewhat misleading.

Unlike her older siblings, Shingi didn't consider herself primarily male like Hayaima or primarily female like Akama. In fact, Shingi didn't consider herself primarily anything. Some of her androgeny could be chalked up to being only nine but, in reality, Shingi really was equally comfortable being male or female. Though, because she was born female, most people referred to her as a girl.

Shingi chatted and joked with Tenchi who was not only her cousin but, as had been remarked before, her best friend. They made an odd couple. While less than a year apart in age, Shingi towered over her cousin. Not that Tenchi cared. If anything, Tenchi considerd Shingi's massive size one of her best traits. Just as Shingi considered Tenchi's sharp mind and great intellect one of Tenchi's best traits. It would be easy to consider Tenchi the brains of the partnership and Shingi the brawn but that would have been dismissing Tenchi's equally great martial skills and Shingi's own brand of intelligence.

Li Xian watched as another group of children, a mixture of boys and girls, came to say hello. As she expected, a good number of the young girls, went over to talk to Tenchi and Shingi. Being the only full time boy among the cousins, Tenchi was used to being the center of attention of females of all ages. As for Shingi, Shingi was a flirt regardless of the sex of the adolescent saying hello. And due to Shingi's large size, many of the boys and girls that came over to say hello were in their early teens. It worried Li Xian somewhat but she knew there was little she could say or do. 'Not that she listens to me, or anyone, anyway.' She thought moodily. 'Except, Tenchi.' Her mouth turned up in a half smile. "Usually." She said aloud.

Over the summer the five adolescents had become village favorites. Wherever they'd go, villagers, young and old, would wave a hello or even come over to exchange greetings. Usually those coming over would be girls and boys around the same ages. Originally because of who their parents were, after the fight with the mercenaries, they had all become popular and admired in their own right. And, while they had fought as part of the New Crew, none of them actually thought of themselves as part of the New Crew. They had been the babies of the cousins, too young to join the patrols, they had spent a lot of time in each others company. They grew up together. They had been raised in a creche and that's how they thought of themselves. They were The Creche.

A tone sounded in Li Xian's ear. She was about the reply when she saw Mitsui raised her wrist to her mouth. Li Xian quickly tapped her bracelet. "This is Creche." Mitsui's voice sounded in her ear.

"Hello Mitsi." Megumi's voice came over the Creche frequency.

"Oh, Hello Meg." Mitsui replied. "I suppose you're calling to tell me you're staying in China." She said.

"Staying here seems to be the right thing to do." Megumi replied.

"I agree." Mitsui replied. "And I knew you'd want to do the right thing." She said. "I think Mother will understand."

Li Xian's eyes widened as she listened in. Some of what Megumi and Mitsui spoke of almost seemed to be in a sort of code or shorthand. It seemed that the two sisters were communicating on a private level. 'Another OujiandXingXing?' She thought.

"Auntie Li?" Megumi's voice sounded in her ear. "Are you there?"

'At least she isn't sure.' Li Xian thought. She raised her wrist. "I'm here." She said. "You staying in China?" She asked.

"Yes, Auntie." Megumi replied. "The Animal Farm has decided that we're needed here." She said. "Please tell Mother and Father that." She said. "And please tell them about Wing." Li Xian could almost hear Megumi smile. "And that we will be expecting them to visit very soon."

Li Xian looked in the direction of the homes that the Joketsuzoku had built for the founders. The words of her great grandmother rang in her head. 'We hope that there will always be a Saotome in the village.' Li Xian couldn't help but smile. "I will Little One." She said.

"Thank you, Auntie." Megumi replied over the link. "Animal Farm, out."

Tan Tan opened the front door. "Yes?" She said. "Oh, Si Jer." Tan Tan bowed to Suki Oh. When she straightened she realized that Lo Shan and Mei Lin were standing right behind Suki. "Honored Second Wives." She said. "Please, come in." Tan Tan took a step back and waved the three teen girls into the house. Suki nodded politely and led Lo Shan and Mei Lin into the house.

"I make tea." Lo Shan said. She held up a box. "Senior Second Wife make cake."

Mei Lin held up another, larger package. "Senior Second Wife send gift too." Mei Lin said with a smile. "Senior Second Wife say she hope you like." She handed the package to Tan Tan

"Sh-sh-she did?" Tan Tan stammered as she took the package. Mei Lin and Lo Shan nodded and went into the kitchen. Tan Tan looked at the package in her hands with an open mouth that she closed with some effort. She turned to Suki Oh. "Oh, where my manners." She said. Tan Tan waved a hand toward the main room. "Please sit."

Suki smiled and nodded. She followed Tan Tan into the main room. "Where are OujiandXingXing?" She asked casually.

"OujiandXingXing shopping with Jian." Tan Tan replied. She gave Suki a sharp look. "But you knew that, yes?"

"Guilty as charged." Suki replied with a laugh. Suki waved a hand at the package Tan Tan held. "Maybe you should open that." She suggested.

Tan Tan nervously began opening the wrapped gift barely noting that the wrapping paper was a bright red with a gold design. Barely noticing that Lo Shan and Mei Lin had returned from the kitchen to watch from the doorway. Finally, after much fumbling Tan Tan finally removed the gift wrapping. It turned out to be a plaque hand-written in fine calligraphy. "W-we are the Joketsuzoku, w-we m-make our own traditions." Tan Tan read in a shaky voice.

"We are the Joketsuzoku." Intoned Suki, Lo Shan and Mei Lin.

"D-does this mean..." Tan Tan began.

"It means, I've bowed to the reality of the situation." Ukyo said as she strode into the main room. Right behind her came Li Xian. Both women wore red formal kimono with white emroidery.

Tan Tan jumped to her feet, banging her knee on the table in the process. "Senior Second Wife." Gasped Tan Tan as she rubbed her knee. "I-I had no...please forgive my clumsiness."

"Sit." Ukyo said in amused tones. "Is the tea ready?" She asked.

"Just waiting for you, Senior Second Wife." Mei Lin replied.

"Sit." Ukyo repeated to Tan Tan. Once Tan Tan nervously resumed her seat, Ukyo and Li Xian took positions at the table. Suki Oh sat next to Ukyo and Mei Lin, carrying the tray, and Lo Shan took their seats at the table as well. Ukyo removed a spatula shapped knife from the sleeve of her dress and tapped the table. "This meeting of the Second Wives club is now in session." She looked around the table. "Are our families strong?"

"Very strong." Replied Li Xian. "My Husband and Tai Tai are happy. Our children are happy."

"Wonderful." Ukyo nodded. "Suki?"

"Very strong, Senior Second Wife." Suki replied. "My Husband and Tai Tai are happy." She said. "And I...am more...balanced."

"Excellent." Ukyo said. "Mei Lin? Lo Shan?" Ukyo asked.

"Very strong, Senior Second Wife." Lo Shan said. Mei Lin nodded in agreement. "Husband and Tai Tai grow more comfortable with each other, in both forms, every day." She said.

"Every day." Mei Lin added. "Their love for each other." She smiled. "And for us, grows."

Ukyo smiled and nodded. She looked at Tan Tan. "Tan Tan?"

Tan Tan wiped at her eyes. "Very strong." Tan Tan replied with a quaver in her voice. "Oh very, very strong, Senior Second Wife."

Ukyo nodded. "Suki, you will write the petition for Tan Tan's inclusion into our ranks." She said. "Three copies."

"It would be my honor, Senior Second Wife." Suki replied. She bowed in her seat.

"Tan Tan." Ukyo said in a firm voice. "You have all the rights and privileges of a Second Wife." She said. "Except one."

Tan Tan swallowed. "O-one?" She asked. "Wh-which one?"

"No babies." Ukyo replied. "Not for..." Ukyo took a deep breath. "Three years." She said as if the words were dragged from her mouth. "Is that...acceptable?" Tan Tan hesitated for a second, then she nodded. "That includes Xing Xing." Ukyo continued. Tan Tan nodded again. "And Xing Xng must have the first child."

"It is only proper, young Second Wife." Li Xian said gently. "There must never be a question of succession."

"Do not make my mistake." Ukyo added. "Oh yes, Tan Tan, I've made mistakes." She admitted. "Bad ones." Ukyo's hair twisted and writhed on her head as she spoke. "If you're going to make mistakes, make your own." Ukyo's voice took on a note of humor.

"I will, Senior Second Wife." Tan Tan promised. "I mean..." Tan Tan broke off and her face turned a bright red in embarrassment.

Ukyo gave Tan Tan an amused look that seemed filled with sympathy. "I know what you mean." Ukyo replied. "Just remember, you're not alone." She waved a hand at the other second wives. "That's why we meet." She said. "And if you're...hesitant to speak to me, you can always speak to Suki."

"Thank you, senior second wife." Tan Tan replied in a near whisper.

"Good." Ukyo replied. "Now, is there any more business?" She looked around the table. "No?" She smiled. "Then I declare this meeting of the Second Wives club closed." Ukyo sat back. "Now, who wants cake?"

Tan Tan stared at the plaque in her hands. The second wives had left some time before and Ouji and Xing Xing had not yet returned. She ran a finger lightly over the words written. "We are the Joketsuzoku." She said softly. "I have heard those words a thousand times, but until now, they were just words." Tan Tan hugged the plaque to her chest. "Second Wife." She said in giddy tones. Tan Tan stood and danced around the room. She stopped. "Oh, I forgot to tell Senior Second Wife about our connection." She said to herself. Tan Tan looked toward the door to the house. "Maybe that best." She said. "I really should talk to Tai Tai and Husband first." A wide smile came to her face. "My Tai Tai. My Husband." She said in glee. 'Love you.' She thought and it seemed to Tan Tan that she felt an answer to her thought.

Author's Notes: I've learned to never say never. Still, it's going to be difficult to write more stories. Oh, not because there are no more stories to tell, the reverse is true, there are a thousand and one stories that can be written but...we'll see. Anyway, for those who wonder...Pepper is the offspring of Thyme and Ryoga. Just as YuuShou is the offspring of Mou Tse and Ling Ling. But since I was concentrating on the trip to China I never wrote those stories. See? A thousand and one stories.

Lemons can be requested by EMAIL only. EMAIL only. No, PM's. K-thx.

Oh and one more thing...Queen Rat lives. Stay tuned.