For once, Ranma and Akane made it to home room before the last bell. Sunday had been busy, but they'd managed to get to sleep on time; and Ranma had warned his father sternly enough that he'd been able to wake up on his own schedule. He suspected Happosai had whispered in his father's ear, also, about the consequences of waking Ranma unexpectedly.
Ninomiya-sensei took attendance, and then began English classes. Since he'd met Bjorn-sensei, Ranma was using English for martial arts. It also let him talk with Nabiki without the fathers understanding, which was proving uncommonly helpful. In just a few weeks, he had become a star pupil instead of a laggard.
But today, Ranma was distracted. The class wasn't any different, the students weren't any different, but now Ranma knew what that particular odor meant. It had told him, in no uncertain terms, that Akane wanted him.
Now it was telling him Yuka wanted somebody. From her occasional glances, it looked like it might be Hiroshi. And no sooner had Yuka calmed down than some other girl – he thought it was Kaede, over by the window – started. It was driving him crazy!
"Well, Saotome-san, you seem quite distant. Would you care to share your thoughts with the rest of the class?"
Ranma blushed, and rubbed the back of his head. "Sorry, Sensei. The air coming from the window was so – ah, stimulating – that my mind was far away." And I was even honest, he thought.
Unfortunately, the rest of the morning continued in the same fashion. I've heard people say high-school students are full o' ragin' hormones, he thought. It's bad enough when they act on it. I wish I didn't haveta know when they're thinkin' about it. He couldn't even sleep through math. He had to stay awake to avoid doing something embarrassing in his dreams. Ranma was more thankful than usual when the lunch bell rang.
As they opened their bentos beneath their favorite tree, Ranma was in a nervous, jaundiced mood. "What is it?" Akane asked.
"I know too much," he said. "You say all boys are perverts?" (Akane blushed) "From th' shower after gym, I can testify you're right. I gotta watch the faucet like a hawk to keep 'em from gettin' me with cold water. But dammit, now I know all the girls are perverts too. They just don't talk about it as much. 'Round me, at least."
Akane raised an eyebrow.
"Think o' those poor tomcats, Akane. They're all sittin' in the yard o' the house with the female cat in heat. But what if every house had a female in heat? Their noses would be pullin' 'em every which way. They'd burn out their little brains tryin' to figger what to do, where to go."
Akane raised both eyebrows. "I think I know where you're headed with this."
"Thank Kami-sama the window was open and keepin' the air fresh. I don't think there wuz but twenty minutes all morning, some girl wasn't all hot 'n bothered. It wuz drivin' me nuts!"
Akane bonked him lightly over the head with the lid to her bento. "You aren't supposed to think that about anybody but me!"
Ranma ducked. "It's like tellin' me I gotta only think of ice cream when I'm surrounded by sukiyaki!" He looked up at Akane. "Actually, you're an ice-cream sort of girl."
"Cold?" Akane said with a frown.
"No, no, more – pure. Sukiyaki got a bit of everythin' in it. You're centered. Not always in a comfy place, and we gotta watch that berserk, but you are what you are. I guess I'd say yer more like that cinnamon ice cream, passionate but single-minded."
"Why, Ranma!" Akane glowed. But she couldn't say more, because Kuno was coming towards them.
"Ranma-kun! Akane! Am I interrupting anything?"
"It's okay, sempai, we were talkin' 'bout some ice cream we had yesterday. How are you? How's yer sister?"
"I am – coping. My sister has shut herself in her greenhouse, and speaks to none but Sasuke. Who tells me she has been researching fleas, and has ordered everything she needs to breed them herself. This is a disturbing aberration, and I hope she gives it up before it gets out of hand. Her black roses, at least, cannot escape."
Ranma and Akane both shuddered. They knew, if this went on, that someday Genma-panda would show up covered with fleas. And as soon as he turned back to Genma-human, the fleas would be looking for a new home. "I'll see if I can talk her out of it," Ranma said. "Would she listen to me?"
"She might, if she didn't think that was the only reason you were there."
"Sempai," Akane said, "You mentioned teppanyaki cooking last week. Kasumi and I would like to see you do it. Perhaps we can work it all together? I know it takes special equipment, so we'd have to come to your house. Is there any day you'd be willing to have us over?"
" 'Twere best done swiftly," Kuno said. "It would be wise to dissuade my sister before she starts. But I'll have to plan a menu and gather supplies. Wednesday evening?"
Akane gave Kuno her most charming smile. "Thank you! I'll talk with Kasumi tonight, and let you know if she can make it."
"I'm really lookin' forward to this. Maybe I can learn cookin' as a kind of martial art?" Ranma said with enthusiasm. Then he thought again. "Hey Akane, maybe we can practice martial-arts cooking together? We'll both be starting at the beginning."
They'd all sat, and as they talked, they ate. They were swapping morsels back-and-forth, and if Ranma got the best of the trade nobody really minded. They knew the size of his appetite. But as the bell was ringing to call them back to class, there was a brief sun-shower, and Ranma became a girl again.
"That's an unsettling thing to see," Kuno said.
"It's even more unsettlin' to have it happen to yerself," Ranma replied. "But I'm used to it. It's easier t' live with than th' neko-ken was." They ran for the door, and made it to their afternoon classes in the nick of time.
The afternoon was not unlike the morning, with a few notable differences. It started off with a medley of interesting odors – some of the class couples must have been flirting over lunch – but the smell didn't seem nearly as strong to Ranma. And she didn't especially give a damn. There goes Yuka again, she thought, rolling her eyes. And then it hit her. She didn't give a damn! As long as she wasn't a tomcat, she could go to school in peace.
Oh boy. I wonder what Akane'll say about this. I wonder what oyaji will say? I wonder what Ninomiya-sensei will say? I hope once Akane and I get married, it'll relieve enough tension I c'n come back to school as a guy again …
At least the Amazons will approve.
At the end of the school day, Ranma quickly told Akane what was going on. "I'll be home in an hour or two," she said. "The art club meets on Mondays. An' I'm really startin' to enjoy it." They waved at each other in parting, and Ranma went off to the studio.
Ranma got home somewhat before dinnertime, and found she'd gotten a letter in the day's mail. I hope it's not a challenge, she thought. I'm busy. But it didn't look like a challenge. She opened the letter. It was in Ucchan's handwriting.
A couple weeks ago, Akane said you had a bad case of "interesting times". I guess it was contagious.
When I got back to Ucchan's after school that day, Konatsu told me my father had called. His brother had died of a sudden heart attack. Tetsuo was my favorite uncle, and I was pretty much out of it, but Konatsu bundled up me along with everything else, and got us to Osaka for the funeral.
After that, things got very alcoholic and very emotional. The men in our family tend to die young, and Tetsuo-ojisan's funeral made father think of his own mortality. He wants an heir real bad, and wants to see that heir before he dies, and he was giving me a lot of trouble over not having 'caught' you yet. I got the impression he wouldn't have minded an illegitimate child, even. Shades of your mother!
And then he somehow found out that Konatsu isn't quite a … traditional Japanese woman. That, in fact, I could stay the male he registered me as, and Konatsu could stay a registered woman, and even so, we could produce little heirs for him. And what with the way we were registered, the marriage would be legitimate and so would the heirs.
Kami-sama, it bites when your parents start making marriage decisions for you. I'm so sorry, Ranchan, I thought I understood the pressures all us fiancées were putting you under. Suddenly I had two fiancés, and let me tell you, Konatsu really liked the idea. My father was after me, and my aunts were just as bad, and Konatsu kept looking at me with those puppy-dog eyes, and everybody was saying how romantic it was and why didn't we have the wedding right now? And join the schools. Ninja okonomiyaki? Shuriken with Special Sauce? I think not!
But as I said, things were kinda drunk that evening, and next morning, Konatsu and I woke up in the honeymoon suite. No way could we avoid noticing what we'd been doing. So we ordered a fancy breakfast and charged it to my father, and talked all day. Thank the kami we'd already discovered we got along, while we were both living at Ucchan's. Marriage didn't look nearly as bleak as it otherwise could have, and all my problems of family honor had gone away.
I'm writing now from a hot-springs resort on Hakone Mountain. Konatsu and I are enjoying marriage more than we ever expected, though I will have to tell you about some of the more interesting aspects of honeymooning with a ninja after I get back home and we can have a, mmh, boy's night out for that kind of man-talk.
I should be back in business at Ucchan's in a week or so. Give us a visit – there's a Ranchan Special with your name on it.
Friends always – Ucchan
P.S. – Father was muttering that vengeance and marriage-promises made very poor companions, but now he was able to clear his mind just for the vengeance. Konatsu and I managed to get your name off the list, but you might hint to the panda that now is a good time for a long vacation in Tibet. Or maybe not. Heirs and vengeance? Father could die a happy man. – U.
Ranma stood there for a solid minute with her mouth wide open. Then she went up the stairs on cat-silent feet and ghosted in the door of Akane's room. She held her finger to her lips. "shhhh…"
She showed Akane the letter. "Kami-sama's in a generous mood, I think." And watched while Akane read it twice.
Akane blinked at her. "This means – you don't have any other engagements left?"
"Not 'less the panda's been up to somethin'. Which he prob'ly has, but if it doesn't show up in the next month, we're home free!" They grabbed each other by the hands and danced in a little circle, quietly, while waving victory fans as was household custom when it appeared the schools were to be joined. But they didn't have the ceremonial drink of sake, because they'd noticed the fathers never were that sharp afterwards.
When they finally slowed to a halt, Ranma sat on the chair by Akane's desk, and she sat on the edge of her bed. "I gotta write letters," Ranma said. "And it wouldn't be a good idea to write them around here. Too many eyes. I wanna write Ucchan back, and see if Bjorn-sensei got any suggestions about trainin' mallets. So maybe I should go to the Cat Café. These days, our secrets are probably safer there. I think it'd be a good idea for both of us to be Shampoo's shield-sisters. Happosai and oyaji are both nervous around Amazons, so that'll help keep them in line. And that way we won't have to tip our hand about being married, to explain you training with Cologne. An' we gotta decide how much we wanna tell Cologne, and find out how Mousse is takin' all this …."
"Not so fast, Ranma. I think we have to talk with Nabiki first."
"Oh, geez …."
"Yes, but she's my sister. She doesn't care for your father. And I heard you teasing her last night, about being a bit turned on by you. Trust me. Our secrets are a lot safer if we tell her, than if she finds them out herself. And we do want to keep her helping us."
Ranma raised her face and spread her arms to the heavens above. "Hear me, oh kami. I finally get her to stop hittin' me over the head with a mallet, and what happens? She starts hittin' me over the head with common sense! She is a cruel woman!"
Akane giggled, and the two went down the hall to Nabiki's room. They tapped on her door. Nabiki opened it, looked at them suspiciously. "You two are up to something."
"Yes, and we're here to tell you about it," Akane said. Nabiki promptly pulled them in, and closed the door. She sat on the bed; Akane took the chair at Nabiki's computer desk, and Ranma sat on the desk itself.
Akane realized she should be the first to speak, and she wasn't sure what to say. She held her hands up before her face, forefingers together, twiddling them. But eventually, and with a bit of a blush, "Ranma and I are getting married."
"This is why Ranma is a girl right now?"
Now it was Ranma's turn to blush. "Sorta, sorta. It's all tied together." She looked down at the floor, folded her arms below her breasts, took several deep breaths. "See, we wanna do this right. An' I won't be eighteen for a month yet. And that's how old I gotta be to get married, even with parental consent. An' Akane and I, well, a gal's body is a bit less insistent than a guy's. So I'm hidin' in here until we can make it all legal."
Akane jumped in. "We don't want the parents to know. They'd be on us about heirs before we're out of high school even. And think of all the fun we can have watching them try to force us to get married when we're already there!"
"Besides," Ranma said with a twisted grin, "it'll be interesting havin' oyaji fuss over me being a girl."
"Me an' Happosai had a couple encounters you don't know about. I think he'll behave."
"We didn't want to talk about this at the Cat Café," Akane said. "Too, too many witnesses. So far, only you and Shampoo know."
"An' we need yer advice, Nabiki," Ranma said. "You know how to balance secrets."
"Please, oneechan?" Akane said.
Ranma had pierced through her ice-queen façade yesterday. This, from both of them, completely destroyed it. Nabiki's mouth began to smile, her eyes began to water. She sprang to her feet, embraced Akane, then snagged Ranma into the embrace as well. "Imoutochan! Ranma! You're going to be family for real! I'm so happy for the both of you! All that pain is finally going to work out!" She broke out into very nearly a Soun-grade wall of tears as she squeezed them tightly. Ranma and Akane looked into each others' eyes, then hugged back and began to do a bit of crying themselves.
Nobody else heard – Nabiki had made sure her room was more soundproof than the others. After a while the three collapsed onto Nabiki's bed, and just lay there a while recovering. But eventually Ranma spoke.
"I've gotta write Bjorn-sensei. Akane and I realized she needs mallet lessons, just like I needed cat lessons. Bjorn-sensei did me good. Maybe he can help Akane too. And I wanna tell him th' good news, 'cause Akane and me woulda never got together without his trainin'. An' Nabiki, yer better at English, so you can help write th' letter."
After a while, this is what they came up with, short and to the point:
Perhaps you remember telling me that I was very fond of Akane, and telling me why you knew. When I returned to her family home, this knowledge told me that she was very fond of me. As a result we are to be married in a little less than a month, on the day it becomes legal for us. We are keeping this a secret, for family reasons.
However, we have a concern. Akane and I have realized that she, too, is a berserk. When she loses her temper she manifests an enormous mallet charged with life energy, and smashes whatever has annoyed her.
We wonder if you could give us some advice on the training of mallets and their users. Your help on the Cat Claw has changed my life for the better. Now we hope you can help change life for the better for Akane, the one I love.
Sincerely, Saotome Ranma
And then Ranma left Akane and Nabiki to sister-talk, while she went off to write a letter to Ucchan.
I am happy for you and Konatsu, and look forward to seeing the two of you together. The Interesting Times continue here, in a good way. I finally got through to Kuno about my curse, and to Kodachi at the same time. Not only has he backed off from his romantic pursuits, but he's starting to turn into a friend. (Sasuke helped a lot – it is good to have a ninja on your side.) Kodachi immediately told me I could no longer pay court to her, for it would be improper for a woman of the Samurai class to be married to somebody half-man, half-woman. Then she swore vengeance upon the foul sorcerer Saotome, for ruining her chance at true love. By that, she meant the Panda. As Kami-sama is my witness, that Panda's karma is coming home to roost all at once. You should have seen Sasuke and all three Kunos chasing him with super-soakers and hair-clippers!
Then I saved Shampoo's life, and will become her shield-sister and an Amazon ally. That will erase all my problems with their Outsider Laws, and now that Shampoo and I are supposed to guard each others' backs instead of marry, she's a lot easier to be around. Since you are now married, that brings me down to the one Tendo engagement. I chased the Panda away for quite some while, and frightened Happosai into behaving. Without accomplices, Tendo-san was rather subdued. Oyaji's back, but I'm working hard on breaking him of his bad habits. For the first time in years, I can relax without questions of honor coming around to nag at me – though I am sure my mother will want grandchildren as badly as ever. Do you suppose your new wife would consent to bear a few for me? (Actually, I suppose we could be fertile together, but I don't even want to think of that.)
But these things are small compared to my big news. You left before I could tell you, but while I was gone during Summer vacation, I managed to make peace with the neko-ken. Yes, I can say "cat", see cat, even hold cat and stroke it happily. In fact, Shampoo was a cat when I rescued her. I'm still getting used to being half-cat – it doesn't show on my body, but it sure shows in my behavior. It is definitely Interesting. Food is different and better now, with my more powerful senses of smell and taste, and I'm eagerly looking forward to that Ranchan Special.
Friends Always – Ranchan
PS – Powerful food isn't always a good thing, but I've also found a way around Akane's cooking. It'll be great to have that boys' night out with you and swap a few stories. – R
Ranma sealed and stamped the letters, then went to mail them before anybody in the house could get at them. Before she left, she poked her head into Nabiki's room, only to find the two sisters deep in a discussion of weddings. She smiled as she went silently down the stairs and out the door.