I do not own anything written by Rumiko Takahashi or Kosuke Fujishima.
Mara laid aside her personal tablet on the low table in the middle of Calise's study between the two demons' luxuriously soft chairs, then leaned back and wiggled her toes in the grass-covered floor with a happy sigh as the chair began massaging her back. "Well, that's a relief," she said, eyes closed in contented bliss. "We're not really all that badly off and maybe even ahead."
Calise finished reading the report from the imp that had snuck into the sleeping Kodachi's hospital room, her eyes wide. "How is this possible? If she didn't Awaken, how did she link with Jenkin's — her ki."
"Yes, her ki," Mara agreed. "It must have had just enough of a similarity to magic that the amulet was able to respond when she demanded more power. Who'da thunk it? Still, since she isn't Awakened, all she'll be able to do with the amulet is See the world as it is and power ki-like effects. And beyond the debt she'll owe us once she refuses to return the broach, she should be willing to do the odd job for us if we let her keep it. It isn't like it was doing anything but collecting dust in Storage."
"Keep it? That's an incredibly powerful artifact."
Mara shrugged. "So? It isn't like anyone else will be able to use it so long as she lives. We'll just to have one of the human mages we have on retainer put some glamours on it to prevent others from detecting how powerful it actually is and to keep its influence from gradually Awakening her, that would be ... bad." She shuddered at the thought of all that power in the hands of someone with Kodachi's ... unique worldview. Demons enjoyed chaos, but not when they were trying to deal with plans shattered beyond recognition like everyone else instead of causing and directing it. "We were incredibly lucky at that, that Kodachi didn't Awaken at the same moment she linked to the amulet. She might have blown up the gymnasium and everyone in it, and we'd be in a blood feud with one scarily competent succubus. Ranma would never stop searching for those responsible, and after our offer to her ... him? ... and Nabiki ... she'd know where to start looking."
Calise winced at the thought. Theoretically, Ranma would have had to leave them alone thanks to Niflheim's treaty with the sprites, and such other semi-kinda-sorta-organized groups of nature spirits as existed — after all, it wasn't like Mara and Calise would have intended to attack Ranma and the sprites, it would have been an unforeseeable accident. But Calise knew that Ranma wouldn't have let that stop him — or more likely her — and since she was half-human and her mother, fiancée and some future in-laws would have been among the dead it could be argued that the treaty didn't apply. Maybe. It wasn't really a situation anyone had considered when the truce was set up.
Still, while they'd dodged a bullet and perhaps picked up a marginally useful tool in Kodachi, that didn't mean they were in the clear. "And do you think the Daimakaicho will be as blasé about the whole mess we just dodged?"
Mara winced but rallied gamely. "We're two of her best troubleshooters, she won't get too creative."
"Except when the Norns are involved you mean," Calise replied, then smirked when Mara winced again. Sobering, she leaned back in her own chair and closed her eyes with a sigh. "We can tell her that it was all my idea, and you didn't recognize Jenkin's Amulet for what it was until its power flared."
Mara stiffened at Calise's words, eyes narrowing as she stared at the fiery-haired demon for a long moment. "Noooo," she finally said, "I don't think so. It's a really bad idea to lie to Hild and I did agree to leave it with Kodachi well before the match. Still, all's well that ends well, maybe she'll just divide the punishment between the two of us instead of doubling up." She tried to keep a straight face but failed badly, joining Calise's wry laughter.
Eventually the laughter died down and the two simply lay there for a time, enjoying the chairs' attentions, until Mara cracked open her eyelids to observe her unofficial part-time partner. Yes, she should be relaxed enough. Wriggling in the chair, ignoring the way Calise's half-closed eyes flicked over to her, she nonchalantly asked, "So how long have you been in love with me?"
Calise snapped erect in her chair, jaw dropping. "What!? How ... I ... you ... what ... ?" stopping the babbling flow, she took a deep breath and asked, "What makes you think I'm in love with you?"
"Oh, I don't know, just everything you've done since Ranma blew our plans for acquiring Nabiki out of the water?" Mara replied airily. "I might have blown off your help researching Ranma's background before I even asked, you were assigned to Records, bored, and curious about the oddities. I could even accept your coming along with me when I made my pitch to Ranma, curiosity again and it wasn't like you'd try to sabotage the meeting — too blatant. But pulling Jenkin's Amulet out of storage and passing it on to Kodachi? Using up a favor to do it? Girl, I know we're friends, but we're demons! We're supposed to compete!" She grinned at Calise. "You're blushing."
Calise instinctively hid her red cheeks with her hands for a second, but forced them to drop back down onto the armrests. She dropped back to snuggle into the chair's back, grinning knowingly back at her friend. "I suppose I might as well admit it, I'm as besotted with you as you are with Urd."
"What!? How ... I ... you ... what ... ?" It was Mara's turn to babble, before forcing herself back under control with a sigh as Calise started laughing. "I suppose turnabout is fair play. Who else knows?"
Calise forced her laughter down to giggles through a wide grin. "Everybody knows, you haven't exactly been discreet," she finally managed to say breathlessly. "Well, except for Urd, she's still oblivious. Of course, she doesn't watch you mope around every time you come back from one of your encounters with the Norns."
"What?" Mara frowned thoughtfully. "That can't be right, I can think of half a dozen times off the top of my head where people that don't like me at all could have taken advantage of it, and at least twice that many that do like me but wouldn't let that stop them."
"True." Calise's grin seemed to have become a permanent feature. "You can thank Hild for your immunity, at least to begin with. A few of us think she has a soft spot in her heart for you and Urd, her being her daughter and all. But most think that she would have to have a heart for it to be soft, and so it's more likely she just doesn't want her entertainment spoiled. And by now Hild's order isn't necessary — nobody else wants to spoil the entertainment, either. Your encounters with the Norn have become legendary." It was Mara's turn for her face to turn fiery, and Calise started laughing again.
Mara ruefully joined her laughter for a few minutes, before forcing herself back under control. "All right, here's what we're going to do," she finally said, voice tight with the effort to hold back more laughter. "I'm going to let Hild's secretary know we'll be reporting to the Daimakaicho first thing in the morning — better to get that over with and take our licking — while you get into your party clothes. Then we'll drop by my place and I can get into my party clothes. Then we'll drop into Urd's favorite bar. If she shows up you can secretly pine after me while I not-so-secretly pine after her, and whether she shows up or not we can find some young studs to help us forget our sorrows for a night. Deal?"
Calise nodded, breathing a soft sigh of relief ... she hadn't ruined their relationship, Mara was going to try to keep things as they had been. "Deal!" she replied, smiling happily.
Ranma ghosted down out of the night sky toward the clump of trees in the middle of a Neriman park (one well away from the Amazons), luxuriating in the feel of skin through the T-shirt the fiancée she held in her arms was wearing, and Nabiki's arms around her neck.
Nabiki giggled a little as Ranma maneuvered through the branches and dropped toward the lawn. "I think I'm riding a high," she murmured, "that was great!"
"Yeah," Ranma agreed, laying Nabiki down on the grass. "That was the best ramen I've ever eaten in my entire life, the ol' ghoul can really cook!"
"Idiot!" Nabiki said sternly, though to Ranma's empathic sense her suppressed laughter seemed to bubble out around her. She gently slapped the succubus on the arm. "I meant the emotions at the dojo and you know it ... though I agree that was really good ramen. I thought for a moment that Kasumi was going to drop to her knees and worship when Cologne agreed to teach her — for a small fee, of course."
"Yeah, that was funny," Ranma agreed. "I never saw someone get that excited over food before. Well, excited fer Kasumi, anyway. Too bad the Amazons can't open a restaurant, I'd never eat out anywhere else." She drifted down to join Nabiki lying on the grass. It was a clear night, unusually warm for May (not that Ranma really noticed, in her spirit form), and she stared up at the star-spangled night sky through the branches as Nabiki's giddy delight washed over her.
Though not to Nabiki's extent, thanks to the time during the meal he'd spent in human form so he could eat, Ranma, too, was riding the high from the emotional storm at the Tendo dojo after Akane's triumphal return from the match. Not even their side trip to the hospital where they'd found that Akane had indeed broken her ankle, or her father's crying jag when his 'little girl' had come home on crutches with a brace on her leg had been enough to dim Akane's joy, mixed in with Nodoka and Kasumi's quiet pride and Nabiki's sheer relief. Yeah, Nabiki was right — that emotional brew had been as potent as the awamori a master on Okinawa had given Ranma, when training him in fighting while tipsy. It had been a very good night.
Though in Nabiki's case it wouldn't have been relief she'd been picking up from her lover, not right after Akane had ended the match. When Akane had bounced around on one foot and Ranma had seen their opponent slumped unconscious on the floor, the succubus had been hit by a wave of pure need. She'd had a perfectly good reason for bailing on Akane as fast as she could (they'd learned that yes, Ranma did bounce back to wherever she'd been summoned from when she and Akane separated and she'd wanted to rejoin the others as quickly as possible to resume bodyguard duties just in case, now that Akane had been injured), but the succubus had also been worried that her own emotional state might bleed over to Akane. While, unlike Ranma's general nature, they didn't think her emotional state was passed on to Akane when they merged, that burst of lust had been intense, like she'd never felt before. Even now, she could feel herself getting hot just thinking about it. And from the hesitant desire she was picking up from her lover, Nabiki was picking up on it as well. And suddenly, the way Ranma had been angsting over the tiny bit of feeding she'd done from Kodashi days earlier just seemed silly — Nabiki was right, succubae simply didn't by the same rules as humans and there was no avoiding it.
Lifting up from the grass, Ranma twisted around to hover above Nabiki as she lowered her lips to her lover's for a gentle kiss. A moment later she felt Nabiki bury her hands in her hair as the kiss deepened, turned hungry. Ranma practically wriggled as she was immersed by relief and lust washed by love.
Nabiki finally broke off the kiss, her smile visible in the glow Ranma could see from all living things.
"So you're over that little accidental feeding from Kodachi." It was a statement, not a question, but Ranma answered it anyway. "Yeah, I was being stupid again —"
"You were not being stupid!" Nabiki said, suddenly projecting fierce protectiveness. She reached up to pull the floating succubus down into a hug. "You're adjusting to being something that isn't even human, it's hard, and it isn't likely to get easier. Just don't think you have to do it alone. Kasumi cares about you, Akane's actually your friend, and your mother loves you. And I'm not letting you get away from me, no matter what!"
"Yeah, you're right, thanks." Ranma knew all that, of course, her empathic sense made sure of that. But he was learning that hearing some things made them seem more real.
But now that all the excitement was over and she was done being stupid, there was another need rising through the faint hint of the music of the Voice in the back of her mind.
Nabiki's breath caught as Ranma's hand ran along her side, and up to stroke her breast through the fabric of her bra. Ranma smiled, knowing that even if Nabiki couldn't see it in the dark under the trees, she could feel it. "Ya know, we're all alone," she whispered. "We don't have to worry about thin walls, we can just ... relax."
Nabiki didn't reply, she simply renewed the kiss, this time bypassing 'gentle' and going straight to 'deep'. As their tongues dueled she slowly pushed herself up to a sitting position, tilting her head up to her fiancé floating above her, Ranma's soft hands on her shoulders keeping them together. As soon as she was vertical she grabbed the bottom of her shirt, pulling it up through Ranma and over her head and tossed it to the side, then fumbled behind her for the clasp to her bra.
Unnoticed by the pair below, Peach Fuzz silently landed on a broad branch above them. Finally, the moment she had been waiting for ever since she'd allowed herself to be bound to Nabiki had arrived. Not that she'd found the wait either boring or unrewarding — the work-up to the competition had been interesting, and the actual event had actually been too exciting. At that, she was lucky that Akane had been too busy celebrating to complain about the sprites Peach Fuzz had called in to help.
More than that, Peach Fuzz had been stunned at the sheer depths of Nabiki's feelings for her lover. It was beyond anything Peach Fuzz had imagined, though it hadn't taken her long to recognize the dark side to the love she had dreamed about and was now experiencing vicariously — Nabiki's desperate worry about the competition and the almost overwhelming fear she'd felt as her sister and lover combined had found themselves injured and facing blackfire, all flowing into Peach Fuzz through the two-way link courtesy of her status as Nabiki's familiar — had disabused the sprite of the illusions she'd had about the lack of a serious downside.
But what Peach Fuzz had been curious about more than anything was what it would be like to make love instead of simply friendly sex, and from the sight below her the time had come. She stared down at the pair for a moment, taking in the red, orange and pink flashing through and intermingling in their auras, before turning to sit leaning against the tree trunk, closing her eyes, though she couldn't close her ears to the moans and gasps beginning to rise up, and throwing open the link between familiar and mistress as widely as she could manage.
Instantly, she could feel the soft touch of phantom fingers playing with her nipples and pushing apart her mistress's legs to ease between her folds, phantom lips on hers, burning a trail down jaw and neck, across her breasts, on down until she bit her lip to keep from crying out at the touch of those lips joining her own fingers to probe up into her dripping cleft.
And through it all, driving her own pleasure higher, was the intoxicating mix of Nabiki's own mounting pleasure and need together, all immersed in the all-demanding, all-consuming fire that Peach Fuzz had realized was her mistress's love for her succubus fiancé.
When Nabiki's release thundered through their link to explode through her and Peach Fuzz's high, piping shriek merged with her mistress's cry, the Voice rose, washing her away into the fathomless depths of all the love in the world.
She ignored the annoying call, turning and twisting in the warm, comforting, caressing all-encompassing, pure music of Love.
"Peach Fuzz? Damn it, little bug, I know you can hear me. Peach Fuzz!"
Little bug? She felt an ember of anger come alight. How dare she ... Nabiki? ... Nabiki call her that! She might be her mistress, and sprites might be egg-layers, but Peach Fuzz was not a bug!
The Voice filling her world seemed to stutter at the sprite's rising anger. It turned discordant, shred, and faded away to its normal faint whisper, the outside world rushing in to fill the vacuum it left behind. As she again became aware of more than the Song of Life, she found herself lying on warm skin, in the bowl of two cupped hands. She forced open her eyes to find herself looking up at the worried faces of mistress and succubus staring down at her, auras shot through with fluctuating streaks of muddy orange, worry from Nabiki coming through their link. She murmured, "I am not a bug."
The worrying transformed into relief, the pair smiling. "Well, I don't know," Nabiki mused, "you certainly fly like one."
Peach Fuzz sat up cross-legged, crossed her arms across her breasts, and glared up at the pair as best she could. Of course the best she could manage was more a pout than anything, too cute for words, making the pair giggle for a moment before Nabiki sobered. She asked, "Peach Fuzz, what happened?"
Peach Fuzz stiffened as the memory of the emotional storm that smashed her under rushed back, then flew up off Nabiki's cupped hands to land on her shoulder and wrap her arms as best she could. Burying her face in her mistress's shoulder-length hair, she demanded, "How can you stand it?"
"Stand what?" Nabiki asked, confused.
"To ... to need someone so much, to want to merge with them! I have friends I would die for in a heartbeat, but I never imagined anything like that!"
"I see." Nabiki reached up to cup a huge hand around her familiar in an attempt at comfort. "Got your first real taste of love, did you? The poets describe it as being two halves of a single whole for a reason, and from my vast experience I'd say never more than when making love. A little too intense for you?"
"I ... I thought it would be like friendship, only more intense," Peach Fuzz mumbled into her hair, "but it isn't the same at all."
"I'll have to leave that comparison to you," Nabiki replied, "I'm afraid I don't know much about friendship. Was it worth sacrificing your freedom for?"
"I don't know. I think so." She shrugged. "Either way, it's too late now." Perking up, she buzzed up from Nabiki's shoulder to fly around the pair. "But I interrupted your night out, I'm sorry! Let's try that again, maybe I'll make up my mind."
Nabiki shook her head as a blushing Ranma giggled. "Having my familiar fall on my face at my peak kind of killed the mood, and we have school tomorrow," she said ruefully, "I'm afraid you'll have to wait for another day to play voyeur. Let's go home."
"Awwww..." Peach Fuzz pouted, hiding her pleasure at the other two's soft laughter, then flew around behind Ranma to burrow under her loose-flowing red hair and grab her neck as the succubus swept her fiancée up in her arms before carefully flying through the trees into the open night and turning for home.
Earlier that evening:
Gosunkugi knelt on the floor of his new hideout, in a small, now-empty storage room in the basement of Furinkan High School, his face almost pressed against the concrete as he closely examined the lines of chalk on the outside edge of the summoning circle he had spent hours laying down.
It had been too long since Ranma and Nabiki had had the sheer effrontery to abuse him — a person of his lineage! The memory of the fear and pain he had suffered at their hands haunted him, waking and sleeping, and he was determined to have his revenge.
Unfortunately, until now he had been unable to assuage his righteous fury. First, because he had needed to shift his personal casting space — after the way Nabiki had booby-trapped the shed, he hadn't dared use it. He hadn't even dared collect anything but his books, unwilling to risk using any of the chalk and incense for fear of tampering or the incense burners or candlesticks and holders for fear of subtle, malicious spells. Acquiring more ritual paraphernalia had led to a further delay and emptied the bank account set up for his allowance, and then there was the time needed to set up a new aversion ritual to hide the room from the common herd that infested the school and empty out the storeroom by himself...
But all of that paled before the second reason for the delay, the curse that Nabiki had inflicted on him. Even without access to his previous hideout and so unable to perform major rituals without his parents' knowledge, it hadn't taken him long to realize which she had used — the Journeyman's Curse, a curse that gave its victim bad luck in his chosen trade, with the amount and level of the bad luck slowly growing until the curse ended. Since his chosen 'trade' was his future as an Initiate, that made casting rituals increasingly dangerous until either the curse ran its course or he broke it — and his attempts to break it had been dismal failures. He had been fortunate to cast the aversion ritual early, before the curse grew too strong.
Still, it had been two weeks since Nabiki had cursed him, surely a curse that had been performed without a prepared space, without symbolic enhancement, without preparation and cast in seconds could not last so long. That jumped-up, common-born slut simply could not be that powerful! And tonight Gosunkugi would know when Ranma had taken on his succubus form, that brawler wouldn't be able to resist helping Akane during her match in the form that would be invisible to almost everyone present. This was Gosunkugi's only chance to summon Ranma without depending on imps to tell him when Ranma was a succubus — and incurring more karmic debt to the little demons in the process. And when he summoned the succubus, this time he knew to impose his will rather to simply assume that the summoning ritual would do it for him, he'd already included the additions to the circle he'd outlined to make it possible. And once it was done ...
He paused for a moment, eyes glazing over as he remembered his earlier happy daydreams, what uses he would make of his own personal succubus ... just before Ranma had beaten him to a pulp, and Nabiki had followed up with her own abuse and curse. He was sure he could still feel twinges from that night. Snarling, he returned to his close scrutiny of the circle. Even if it hadn't broken yet, Nabiki's curse wouldn't be able to have its way if he made absolutely certain that everything was perfect.
A long hour later, Gosunkugi finally sat up, carefully scooted back, and creakily rose on knees aching from too-long contact with the concrete floor. The summoning circle was done, and perfectly done. And ... glancing at the clock, he nodded ... the competition would start in a bit over ten minutes. He had chosen to keep the verbal part of the summoning short to minimize the chance of mistakes, but even with that it was time. Carefully making his way around the circle, he lit the incense in the four holders at each point and the candles between them, stepped back and raised his arms, and started to chant.
Almost ten minutes later he was reaching the quick climax of the casting. Normally he would have been luxuriating in the sensation of power permeating the room, shaping itself to his bidding, but for the past several minutes he had been fighting an growing itch in his nose. Already he had only barely avoided voiding the summoning twice by fighting off sneezes, less than a minute to go ... and he jackknifed with an explosive sneeze, stumbling forward to drop to his hands and knees. A second sneeze followed, a third, he fought back a fourth, lifted his head, and froze as he found himself staring at a pitch-black cloven hoof inches away from his face. Slowly, his eyes track up the red-furred, muscular goat leg to a penis that was clearly — and impressively — human, on up where the red fur gave way to a bare, muscular, equally red-skinned human torso, and up to finally reach a hairless, bull-horned head. That bull-horned head was tilted to stare down at him with a cruel grin revealing jagged teeth.
"So, Gosunkugi's son," a harsh voice rumbled. "How ... convenient."
Gosunkugi scrambled backward out of the smeared lines of the summoning circle he had been kneeling in until his back slammed against the wall, where he huddled as he stared up at the thing he had just accidentally summoned, whimpering as the thing stepped out of the now-useless circle and reached toward him with a massive clawed hand.
For my thinking on what happened to Peach Fuzz, the fairly obvious long ago occurred to me that if what we share with other species is emotions, then we aren't the only ones to fall in love — only zoologists call it pair bonding. Of course it comes with variations, short-term, long-term, lifetime, dynamic, etc., but it's something that almost always involves childrearing and in this story sprites don't rear their children any more than succubae do, both species of nature spirits lay their eggs or plant their seeds (so to speak) and move on. Which would mean that they would have no more understanding of what falling in love is like than someone blind from birth understands color. Mind, there are species out there that fall in love with an intensity that we would probably find as incomprehensible as Peach Fuzz found Ranma and Nabiki's — humanity, after all, isn't one of the species that is hardwired to mate for life. That has its evolutionary advantages, of course, but I wonder sometimes what it would be like to love as intensely as the species that are hardwired to mate for life.