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A Ranma ½ story
by Adrian D. Moten

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.

Introduction: This story has been described as being a darkfic. While I disagree, there are some elements within of a dark nature. Read with care.

"Mama? You sleep yet?"

The woman with long, chestnut hair cracked her eyes open and looked at her four-year-old daughter. "I was, Kiko-chan…"

"Okay, you not sleep yet." Kiko beamed at her mother, then shook her short, dark brown hair. "We there yet?"

She smiled tiredly. "Not yet, Kiko-chan."

"When we get there?"

"When the train stops," she said, tousling the little girl's hair. She giggled at that. "Now, how about you be a good girl and take a nap?"

"Do I have to?"

"Mm hmm. When you wake, we should be there. Sounds good?" The little girl nodded her head merrily. "Come up here, then." Her mother held out her arms. The little girl crawled into the warm embrace and yawned, flashing her tiny, white teeth. Soon, she was asleep, snoring lightly.

Kuonji Ukyou smiled sadly at her daughter. She was both a blessing and a curse to the 27-year-old woman. A joy to have, but a painful reminder of Kiko's father. She sighed softly, not wanting to dredge up those memories right now. Right now, she and Kiko were traveling back to Nerima from Kansai to see Ranma and Akane. She hadn't heard from them in over seven years now; she wondered how much better than her they were faring.

The cab pulled up in front of the Tendo residence. Ukyou and Kiko hopped out. The driver got their bags out of the trunk and collected his fare, then drove off.

"Wow, mama! Who live here?"

"Some old friends of mine, Kiko-chan. We're going to pay them a visit."

"They have cookie?"

She smiled. "Maybe, though it'll be questionable if they can be eaten, pending on who baked them."

"That why you leave? Lady make bad cookie?"

Ukyou winced in surprise. "Um, let's hurry up and see if they're home. Okay?"

"Okay… you teach lady make good cookie. I judge!"

Ukyou could only smile at the enthusiasm of her only child, even if the little girl wasn't aware of how many times she came very close to hitting home. They took their bags and walked through the yawning gates. Taking the steps to the front door, Ukyou made a fist and knocked on the door.

"Coming!" a voice shouted from the other side. Footsteps rapidly approached, and then the door was sucked in, startling Ukyou into a defensive stance in front of her daughter. A woman started in a high-pitched, bubbly voice. "Hello! Welcome to the-"

Ukyou's eyes bugged out at the sight of the woman, her eyes ignoring her attire and going directly for her indigo hair, then locking onto the reddish irises. "Shampoo?!"

Shampoo stopped her introduction, squinting at the woman before her. "Who are you? You look familiar…"

"Sh… Shampoo… Wh… What are you doing here?"

The purple-haired woman was becoming more agitated. "I said, who are you?"

Not know what was going on, or really caring, Kiko looked around her mother's leg and up to the woman in the doorway. "Hello, lady," she said with a smile. "You have cookie?"

They both looked at Kiko, Ukyou with a soft groan, Shampoo with some amount of puzzlement. The latter responded, "Cookie?"

"Uh huh. I like chocolate chip."

"Uh, let me go see… come in…" Still a little puzzled, Shampoo guided Ukyou and Kiko inside, closing the door behind them. They took their shoes off as the purple-haired woman called out, "Kasumi, do you happen to have some cookies around here?"

"In the kitchen," another voice from somewhere inside the house said. "Who is at the door, Shampoo?"

After getting over her initial surprise, "Ukyou. Kuonji Ukyou," she said.

"Kuonji Ukyou," Shampoo repeated automatically. "And a little girl named Kiko."

"How nice of her to come over."

"You know this woman?"

"Yes, don't you remember? She was your other competitor for Ranma years ago."

Shampoo suddenly remembered in a flash of clarity, then she spun wildly to Ukyou with wide eyes. "Spatula Girl?!"

"Uh, yeah…" she said, rather embarrassed now. Had she changed that much in ten years?

Kasumi broke into her thoughts. "Ranma's teaching a class right now; it will be over in about ten minutes. Can you wait that long, Ukyou?"

"Sure thing, Sugar." She turned back to Shampoo, examining her very carefully. She still wore Chinese-styled clothing, though the blue dress was much more conservative than in her younger days. The biggest difference, however, wasn't her clothes; it was her hair. It was a little longer that she last remembered it being, but that wasn't the main difference. On top of her head was…nothing. The odangos, the little bells, they were gone completely. The two long tresses that use to have the bells dangling from the ends, they were nonexistent as well. Also, her facial expression seemed…it seemed more…humble, as best as Ukyou could describe it to herself.

"Why do you stare at me for?" Shampoo inquired. She was growing very uncomfortable under the intense scrutiny.

Kiko pulled on her jeans. "Mama, who lady?"

That snapped her out of her deep thoughts. She knelt down to face her daughter's large, brown eyes. "This is Shampoo. She is an Amazon from China."

"She same Amazon in story you tell me at bed?"

"Mm hmm. The very same." Though she was beginning to question that thought.

Kiko turned to the purple-haired woman. "Hello, Shampoo-san."

She smiled a little. "Please, call me Saotome-san, or-"

Ukyou would have choked if she were eating anything. "Saotome-san?!"

Shampoo was very taken aback by the reaction. "You didn't know? Ranma and I have been married for almost two years."

Her mind boggled. "You're kidding, right?"

Kasumi's voice entered the exchange. "No, Kuonji-san. Ranma married Shampoo about two years ago. They just had twins six months ago; Yasuko is the girl, Blue is the boy."

Ukyou turned to face Kasumi. "Come on, do you really-" She cut herself off as she realized she was talking to air.

"Down here, Kuonji-san." There was a hint of embarrassment in her voice.

Slowly, her turquoise eyes drifted down till they met the stone-gray-green eyes of Kasumi. Ukyou's vision expanded to take in everything else. The thirty-year old woman hadn't changed that much in ten years. She still wore conservative clothes, dresses that reach past her knees, modest and plain blouses; even her hair was pulled into a ponytail, secured with a big, white bow. There was only one small detail: she was in a wheelchair. Motorized, it was, but it was a wheelchair. Ukyou gasped. "Kasumi, what happened to you?!"

It was evident that the turn of events was very embarrassing and awkward for the eldest daughter, but she managed to handle everything in her normal way. "It's a long story, Kuonji-san, but I'm a paraplegic. It happened over seven years ago, with my ex-husband…"

She let the words sink in. The expression on her face was one of incredulous horror. "Tofu-sensei did this to you?!"

Kasumi nodded sadly. "It wasn't the only thing he had done to me."

While Ukyou was busy listening to Kasumi's tale, Shampoo took Kiko by the hand. "Want to get that cookie now?" she said in a hushed voice.

She looked up to her. "Okay." Her young eyes focused on Kasumi in her wheelchair. "She look sad."

"Well, she's had a hard life."

"Maybe a cookie make her smile?" The little girl smiled, showing off her little teeth.

Shampoo chuckled a little. "If it was only that simple." Looking at Kasumi again, she repeated in a less bubbly tone, "If it was only that simple…."

"I just can't believe Tofu-sensei would even think of doing something like this to you. What happened to him for him to change so completely like that?" Ukyou was now seated in the living room, with Kasumi pushing the joystick on the wheelchair's arm to maneuver herself beside her.

"He discovered alcoholism. His father's side of the family was comprised of mostly alcoholics, and they passed it on to him. He wasn't aware of it until Father and Saotome-san took him to a bar a few days after we came back from our honeymoon. That night was only the beginning." She did not elaborate further.

"My God…"

"He was fine, so long as he didn't drink. The only thing is, he liked the taste of liquor, and he would often pick up something after hours. It affected his thoughts and emotions. He started out being suspicious of

everything and he was more…intense at certain times. The more he drank, the worse he became. Finally, after seven months, he showed a very violent side of him…the side I would face the most." She shuddered slightly in remembrance, then continued. "There were…times he thought I was planning to leave him, or was cheating on him, and then…"

Ukyou took her hand and squeezed it. Kasumi smiled gratefully; even after all those years, it still made her feel insignificant and weak. Swallowing, she continued her tale.

"For two years, it went on. I didn't tell anyone, because I thought it was my fault that I made him angry, or I wasn't good enough if he had to hit me. But no matter what I tried…

"Ranma and Akane were very worried. I hid the bruises pretty well, but they found out anyway. Several times, either or both would try to get me to leave him and live here, but I couldn't just abandon him, no matter what he was doing.

"Then, one night, he put me in the hospital. Work had turned very badly for him, and he suspected me of having an affair with Ranma. When… I wouldn't tell him about what Ranma said… or what we were doing… he hurt me… very badly… and… he… he went to prove… his masculinity… to…" She choked off a sob, then took several deep breaths. A few tears slipped from her eyes, and rolled down her cheeks. Ukyou dabbed at them clumsily as she felt numb all over.

"It wasn't pretty. I wanted to kill him when I found out. Akane did, too, but she'd rather we gotten the police involved instead."

The two startled women looked up to the doorway. Standing there was Ranma in a white gi, a towel draped over his shoulder. He padded over behind Kasumi and placed his hand upon her shoulder. She calmed down, tilting her head to rest against his arm.

"Thank you."

"No problem, Kasumi; anything for a friend." He cleared his throat, then picked up where she had left off.

"Tofu got even worse," he began, rubbing her shoulders lightly. "Business went belly up, he drank like a fish almost everyday, and he began following Kasumi all around the place. One night, he must've saw me kiss Kasumi on the forehead after me and Akane spent a few hours teaching her some self-defense since she couldn't get him help. Same night, he tried to kill her, cause he saw us together, and some other stuff. Her spine was just crushed with all that shiatsu, and she couldn't do much of anything after he left. Good thing

Akane went to their apartment when she did, or things could've been a lot worse."

Kasumi sniffed. "He wasn't the man I loved and married anymore. I realized that in that instant…. I wanted the police's intervention, before something worse happened."

"'Cept they had to get in line. After he managed to get by Akane, Tofu came after me, all drunk and angry. He got me a couple of times with shiatsu points, and one of my arms went all numb. I know he was trying to kill me, but he couldn't quite hit the right spots. His misses, however…it was like fighting Ryouga when he first learned Bakusai Tenketsu all those years ago, miss his target, hit a breaking point on something else past it…." He grew very quiet after that.

Ukyou waited a long minute, before asking, "What happened, Ranchan?"

"… I walked a circle around him, Ucchan…."

Her breath caught in her throat.

He nodded sadly. "… Hiryuu Shouten Haa…. I ran out of choices. I couldn't get in close and knock him out without risking death, even if I used the Amaguriken technique. He was a pretty good a martial artist, and being drunk made all him very unpredictable… not enough confidence for a Mouko Takabisha… he didn't… he didn't…" He found Kasumi's hand squeezing his in support, and he released the painful tension he was feeling in his throat and chest. "… He didn't survive the ride… so much anger he put out… it was unreal…"

Ukyou was stunned. "…My God…. I'm, I'm sorry…."

"Don't be, Kuonji-san."

"Just call me Ukyou, or Ucchan, Sugar."

"Ukyou. There was nothing you could have done."

"Yeah. He was too far gone for help, Ucchan…. Kasumi tried getting him to enroll in some AA programs, but he fought it off, saying he didn't need help."

Ukyou just shook her head. "God, so much…I missed so much…." Then she looked up to Ranma. He looked a little older around his eyes, but he hadn't changed too much, pigtail and all. "So, what happened to Akane? I…thought you two would've last…"

"Ah…" He looked rather confused and embarrassed by the sudden change in the conversation, but also a little shamefaced. "I…I thought so, too…" He sighed, withdrawing his hands from Kasumi's shoulder, and sat down on the floor. "Short story, things, things just didn't work out like we thought. We had some good times and all, but getting married so young, and all the pressures, and fights we had…we got divorced about six years ago. She asked for it, and I really couldn't disagree with it, you know…. It was the hardest thing we ever had to do…." He propped his head up on one arm. "We should've waited till we were ready, like after college…"

"You, you still love her, don't you?"

He sighed. "Yeah. She wanted to get back with me a year later, but things fell back into the old pattern after the first month, and we called it off, cause we knew what would happen again." He looked up to his best friend. "Then Akane…she got killed in an accident a few days later."

Ukyou paled.

Ranma nodded slowly, almost painfully. "Yeah." He swallowed. "She and Tendo-san both died. Some guy ran a red light going about 140 kph. Akane was just driving across, and he rammed them… She… she died instantly… Tendo-san passed away from grief shortly afterwards…"

"My god… I'm… I'm sorry, Ranchan… I… I should've kept better contact… I didn't know…" The last came out more as a squeak.

Shampoo walked into the living room with a plate of cookies and a glass of milk, Kiko in tow with a cookie in her little hands. She approached Kasumi's wheelchair, tapping her arm. The older woman looked down to her. "Yes, Kiko-chan?" she asked.

"This for you," the little girl said, lifting up the cookie to her. "You smile?"

"Oh, my." Kasumi's face broke out into a wide grin. "For me?"

"Mm hmm." She bobbed her head enthusiastically.

"Thank you…" Her fingers gently took the little gift and brought it up to her mouth. She took a bite and chewed. "You're such a sweet and kind child, just like your mother and father. Would you like to sit here with me?"

Kiko bobbed her head again, then turned to Ukyou. "Mama?"

"It's… it's okay… Kiko-chan…" Ukyou looked at Kasumi questioning.

"Okay!" She started to pull herself up on Kasumi's legs. Smiling, Kasumi slipped her hands underneath Kiko's arms and pulled her upon her lap. Shampoo slipped the two a soft smile, passing off the cookies and milk to Kiko and Kasumi respectively before she knelt down behind Ranma. Her slender hands went to his shoulders and began to rub his muscles soothingly.

"Mmm… Thanks, Sham-chan." He tilted his head over to one side, and they shared a brief kiss.

"You're welcome, Airen…"

Ukyou whistled. "So you weren't just making it up. You two really got married…."

Shampoo beamed at her. "Yes, we did. Nearly two years ago."

"And your Japanese…"

"It got better, too," she said with a faint blush. "It's a lot easier to talk now without referring to myself in third person."

"Well, yes, it would be."

"Speaking of changes," Ranma began. "I didn't know you'd already have a family. So, who's the lucky father of…"

"Kiko-chan," Shampoo prompted.

"Yeah, Kiko-chan."

"Ah… he… he's gone now… been gone for a long time now. I didn't even know I was pregnant until a few weeks later after he…left…." She muttered something darkly about Kiko's father to her self.

Changing the subject abruptly, Ukyou shifted into a more relaxed position. "So, how did Mousse take you two getting married? I'd imagine it was a battle royale, Ranchan…" She noticed how Shampoo's smile fell and suddenly felt self-conscious, as well as a little stupid. "I must have really missed a lot in ten years…." she resigned.

"You can say that again," Ranma said offhandedly to no one in particular. Shampoo chided him gently. "Sorry…"

"Nothing to be sorry for, Ranchan. I should have kept better tabs on your all." Before anyone else could ask why, she changed the subject again. "So whatever happened to Nabiki and the rest of the gang?"

Watching Kiko eat a cookie, Kasumi answered. "Nabiki married that nice man Kunou Tatewaki a few days after I was admitted into the hospital the second time around." She tipped the glass of milk to the little girl's mouth when she motioned for it.

Ukyou suppressed a smile. "Somehow, I always expected that…"

"She also cleaned him out of at least half the family's fortune and divorced him six months later," Ranma added.

"… and that to happen…" she said, a little less amused. "I'm no fan of Kunou, but he really didn't deserve that to happen."

"Thank you," Kiko said after taking her swallow of milk.

"You're welcome, Kiko-chan." Kasumi picked up where she left off. "Now, she is doing very well with a corporation she has based in the United States. She helps us out with the finances every month, sending about seven hundred thousand yen a month. Most of it goes to utilities, food, and insurance, while the dojo helps cover everything else."

Ranma added. "And we finally got the place fixed up properly instead of those patchwork repairs we used in our younger days."

"It must look really impressive, ne?"

"Yeah, it-" A sudden cry down the hall pierced the quiet conversation.

"I'll get them," Shampoo said, standing up. She leaned over Ranma, her face upside down to his, her purplish-blue hair resting in his lap. "You get cleaned up, okay, Airen? Dinner will be ready soon."

"Okay, Sham-chan." He kissed her softly. She did likewise, then stood up fully. "Would you like to see the children…Ukyou?"

She smiled. "Yes, I would." Turning to her daughter, she said, "Now Kiko-chan, don't cause Kasumi-dono any trouble, all right?"

"Okay, Mama."

"Don't worry, Ukyou. She and I will be fine here."

"All right. Thank you." She leaned forward to kiss her daughter on her forehead, then followed after Shampoo.

"It's amazing how she can be so optimistic and happy, even with all the stuff that she's been through. You'd think she was naive, or just an airhead," Ukyou said, holding a sleeping bluish-haired, baby boy in her arms.

"She wasn't always like that, Ukyou. It took a few years for her to ever feel safe again. Several times, she woke up screaming in the middle of the night, and Ranma, Akane, or I had came running to try to calm her back down." Shampoo finished feeding a little baby girl with burgundy-brown hair a bottle of juice before putting her back into her crib. Ukyou did the same for the boy, and both women slipped out of the nursery, quietly closing the door behind them.

"You?" Ukyou said curiously. "What were you doing here then?"

"I moved in with Ranma and Akane a few months after they got married."

"What? How'd you manage to pull that one off?"

Shampoo swallowed. "I…I left the Joketsuzoku tribe."

The other woman could only blink. "You…left…?"

"Yes, I left them…for Ranma. Cologne, she was just furious, but she also understood my reasons for going. She once wanted me to rule the tribe in her place as matriarch, but she knew I wouldn't be suitable for the role after I was willing to let Ranma have rule over me.

"Mousse, on the other hand, he didn't take my decision well, not at all. He tried to convince me that he was the right choice for me, that he would worship me like a queen, that Ranma would never return my love like he would." She looked at Ukyou. "He would have been right about him being the best choice for me, except for one thing: I didn't love him. Not how he deserved to be loved.

"The night before I left the tribe, Mousse desperately pleaded with me to reconsider. When I wouldn't, he said that he would leave with me."

"Can he do that?"

"No. Only a female in a position of power can request exile. According to the Law, it was the only way I could leave with my life.

"I talked to him some more, telling him why he couldn't follow me, and why I don't love him. He didn't want to listen; I think he already knew before, but didn't want to admit it to himself. He started crying, but in the end, I think I got through to him. He left with a little more…something, in his step than when he came in.

"After he was gone, I thought about what I was giving up, and for what. The thought hurt as much as it warmed me. I knew that I would never get a chance at Ranma; he and Akane looked so happy together. I was crazy for leaving the tribe for someone I would never have, and everyone that knew about it said the same thing to me. Somewhere inside, a small part of me didn't care anymore, so long as I was just near the man, that would be all the happiness I needed.

"Cologne came into my hut and held me that night. Something she hadn't done since I was six and had a very bad case of some nameless disease. She asked me if I was truly sure if this was what I wanted. I told her yes, and we left it at that.

"The day of exile came. Ranma was flown in from Japan and guided to the village to hold witness as my Airen the end of my life as an Amazon and the end of our marriage the Law of Joketsuzoku decreed. I was stripped of all my clothes, then taken to a damned off riverbed, and forced to wallow in the mud till I was covered from head to foot. Next, I was doused with warm water, then smeared with some sort of paste while my hands were tied behind my back, then I was made to run down across a bed of hot coals while the other warriors struck at me with blunt objects. After that, more water to wash off the paste, then I approached Matriarch Cologne. She removed the odangos from my hair, sliced off the two locks of hair with the bells tied to them, then she wiped out all of my Amazon fighting techniques."

"Whoa… She can do that?! How?"

"Xi Fang Xiao. Some memory loss technique that involves using a special shampoo and pressure points on my head. It was nothing like the stuff I used on Akane when I first got here. She made me forget all the Joketsuzoku techniques she taught me, so if I wanted to fight again, I'd have to start all over again from scratch.

"After that, I was taken to the outskirts of the village, and given the final measures of my exile by Cologne. The next I returned there, I will be as an outside female stranger, and treated as such. No quarter will be given, no help or aid allowed. From that day on, I was dead to them… Then, she and the few Amazons that had followed her out left with her. Mousse was somewhere out there mourning my…'death,' you could call it.

"I just cried then and there. The entire weight of what I've just done fell on me like a ton of bricks. I don't know how long I just stood there crying. It felt like weeks. Then I felt a towel wrap around my shoulders. It startled me, and I whipped around to see who it was. It was only Ranma, the only thing I had left, and I wasn't all that sure if he even want me around…then he said 'Sorry about this.'

"I was just overwhelmed. Even though it was my decision, my choice, he felt responsible about the results, and even more so for me not having someplace to stay then. He brought me back here, knowing full and well how Akane would probably react, to ask her if there would be enough room for me. After some talking, she gave her consent, provided I didn't try anything funny.

"Well, I didn't try anything, though I was sorely tempted to, sometimes," she said with a wan smile. "But I was changing. Took a while, yes, but I was breaking away from the old Shampoo." She blinked. "All that time, I never realized how horrible a person I really was then… well, no matter. What's past is past, ne?"

"Okay, I guess, but that doesn't explain how-"

"I'm getting to that. Well, by the time Tofu-sensei snapped, I was going to school at night learning Japanese and I managed to get a job as a waitress and cook at the Nekohanten. The man who bought it from Cologne hadn't changed it at all, but his noodles were so-so. Also, I took up the martial arts again as I could…but you want to know about Ranma and Akane breaking up."

Ukyou nodded.

"Well, they always fought over everything, you know that much. A lot of times, it's over something silly, and they make up promptly afterwards. But some things weren't that easy to forgive and forget.

"The Saotomes and Tendo-san were always pushing for grandchildren. Kasumi had a child, but it was stillborn. Nabiki was only interested in taking as much money from Kunou as she could, so no child from her. So, all the burden fell upon Ranma and Akane.

"Ranma didn't mind having a family early on; in fact, he was for it. Akane, however, she was in college studying Theatre for her major, so she didn't want to start a family then. They were at odds about it for a few days, then. Eventually, they came to some sort of understanding, but the subject was far from being dropped by all parties.

"College became harder on her as the year wore on, but she strived harder to succeed. However, it also took away time from her coming home on the weekends. Ranma snuck up to her dorm one weekend as a surprise, but her roommate had told him that she wasn't there. He went looking for Akane all over the campus, and eventually came upon the men's dorm. She was up in one of the men's room with another man, who was in the middle of taking off her shirt."

Ukyou blinked. "My, my…that's a bit…scandalous, there."

Shampoo nodded. "It was, but he didn't know that they were just rehearsing a scene for an American play. He just went berserk then. If Akane hadn't held him back, the actor she was with would have had more than a broken arm. But the damage was already done then…. The old feelings of distrust began surfacing again, and it brought up a lot more fights and arguments, especially the ones about having children. Then one day, she brought up that she had went to a fertility doctor after she gave in to the decision on children."

"She did?"

"Yes. Akane confided in me the night before that she really didn't want Ranma to be disappointed that they couldn't start a family, so she gave in to the pressure. We had gotten to be good friends by then, so I volunteered to help her out so she wouldn't have to quit school. However…

"Tell me, are you familiar with the phrase, 'When it rains, it pours'?"

Ukyou nodded. "Happened to Ranchan all the time at Furinkan."

Shampoo smiled a little. "Yes, well, it was Akane's turn. The doctor told her that she had half a percent chance of getting pregnant. We think Jusendo may have had something to do with it. With hormone shots and medicines, they could raise her chances to twelve, but it would cost a lot. Too much. She told him about it.

"He was shocked at first, then confused, but finally, he lost it.

"It was the worst fight they've ever had. Just watching the only two most important parts of my life tear into each other like that…. I tried to stop them, but it was about effective as telling the winds not to blow. Eventually one side had to win out, and as we all know, Ranma always wins; however, he also lost. Akane, she just collapsed at his feet crying. That got through to him at last. He tried comforting her, to take back everything he had said, trying to apologize for being such a jerk, but she couldn't do it anymore. The pressure was too much for her to handle, and she just… let go…"

"'… Let go…'?"

"… She asked for a divorce.

"It was the hardest choice they ever had to make. Both families raised hell about getting divorced, and the two fools kept throwing in that tradition and honor demands they stay married. Ranma and Akane, they were tired of it all, though, and Airen was right; they did get married too young. They still loved each other, but the pressure and the immaturity destroyed their happiness."

"You were hurt as well?"

"Crushed. I hadn't felt that way since I left Joketsuzoku years before. I never want to feel that ever again."

Ukyou let all that Shampoo had said sink in. "So, the rest of what Ranma said is accurate as well?"

"For the most part, though he left out one thing, but I think it would be better if you ask him about it."

"Akane was pregnant with my child when she died."

Ukyou jumped at the voice. Shampoo spun around to face Ranma, who was fastening the ties of his trademark clothing. "Airen, don't do that again!"

He smiled. "Sorry, but I couldn't resist."

After catching her heart, Ukyou asked, "How long have you been then?"

"Just got here a minute ago. I was going to check on Blue, see if that rash went away yet."

"He's fine, Airen."

Ukyou grinned. "Yep, he's tough like his father." Then she looked at him careful. "So what did you say a moment ago?"

He sighed a little, looking down. "Akane was pregnant with my child when she was killed in the wreck. Three weeks along." He caught the bewildered expression on her face, and answered the unspoken question. "I know that it was next to impossible for her to get pregnant, but the mortician said she was just before she died." He snorted, looking away again. "Ironic, isn't it? Another permanent reminder of my stupidity, as if moving out and voluntarily giving up the dojo to me because I loved teaching wasn't enough to shame me…."

Wordlessly, a mop of indigo nestled against his chest, a pair of arms coiling around his waist. His own arms laced across her back, holding her firmly to him. Soft words fell from the former Amazon's lips, Cantonese or Mandarin, Ukyou didn't know exactly, but they certainly were not Japanese. So long as Ranma understood them…

He began speaking absently. "It was a hard fact to accept at first. Hell, I refused to accept it for a few months. Once I did, man, did I ever hit depression… I wasn't quite dead, but for all practical matters, I might as well have been. Only thing is, Shampoo wouldn't let me die, in either sense."

"You're too important to me, Ranma…" she crooned softly. "… Wo ai ni…"

"Wo ai ni… words I thought I'd never hear without cringing in fear. It's been so long, like another lifetime, since that Shampoo was here. This Shampoo, though, she gave instead of take, she sacrificed instead of possess, she even saved me out because it was the right thing for me to do, not because she had a plan to marry me shortly after. She made me happy at the expense of her own heart, and she changed her ways for herself, not for me. She made me live, and she brought back the joy I once felt. So strange looking at the new Shampoo and feeling that old stirring in my heart again, the kind that you think is only reserved for one person, but with Akane freshly gone… I didn't want to betray her memory. So I resisted her for a week, until I had a dream, or maybe it was her ghost visiting me… I don't know to this day, but she smiled at me, and told me to be happy in this life, and to not worry about her… Kouin'yanogotoshi, time flies like an arrow, she said. Life is short; so spend it with loved ones as much as possible. Then she kissed me goodbye and faded away, whispering 'I love you'…

"The next day, me and Shampoo went out on our first of many dates. A year later, we were engaged, and then married a few months later. The rest is history…."

Ukyou was backing against the wall, her weirdness meter spiking up at the scene. "Um, Ranchan, when did you get so insightful like that?"

He slowly blinked once, then looked to Ukyou. "You'd be surprised what a life like mine will do for your thinking."

"I see…wow, you did more than change, did you know that? If I didn't know you, I would have sworn you were someone else."

He smiled, though a little embarrassed. "Well…"

A knocking interrupted.

"Shampoo, can you get the front door?"

"Okay…" The woman shook her hair out, stood from her warm spot on Ranma's chest, then zipped over to the door.

"So you're really living a happy life with her…" Ukyou whistled. "I'd never have guessed it could happen, especially with your phobia of cats and her curse."

He sighed deeply. "Neither did I, and that was the first thing we got a fix on. Took three months, but now, it's going to take at least twenty cats, or a really big one to trigger the neko-ken."

She nodded. "Sounds like you really got a handle on things, then."

He smiled. "Not really, but I'm learning from all my past mistakes, took a while, but I am. Me and Shampoo will argue from time to time, sure, but we learn to forgive and compromise and all of that stuff, you know?"

Just then, Shampoo stuck her head down the hall. "Akari's going to be here in twenty minutes."

He chuckled. "Some things will never change…" He turned back to his best friend. "Coming along?"

Ukyou kind of shrugged. "Okay…"

"Thanks, Kasumi-dono. I really hate to be inconveniencing you like this," Ryouga said taking a teacup and saucer into his hands.

"Oh, it's no problem." Her fingers stroked the forehead of the now-sleeping Kiko, a plate with two cookies and an empty glass of milk set upon a small table.

Slowly, he sipped the piping hot liquid. "This tea…it's good."

"Thank you, but it's a special tea Shampoo made."

"Oh, then, Shampoo…"

Shampoo, Ranma, and Ukyou walked into the living room then. No sooner than he caught sight of the latter, he squawked and leapt behind the sofa he was sitting on. Ukyou blinked as she saw Ryouga's body taking to air. "R…ryou…ga?"

Peeking over the top of the sofa, the bandana-wearing man looked at the stunned woman. "U…Ukyou…?"

Mechanically, she walked over to one of the bags she and Kiko brought in. Picking up a largish, black nylon bag and with her back turned to Ryouga, opened it, and took out something. As it dropped to join its brethren, Ukyou turned back around, her eyes smoldering with unmitigated hatred directed to him. He saw the look in her eyes and grew afraid. "You…jackass!!" Suddenly, he yelped as a small, sharpened spatula imbedded itself a scant inch from his crotch.

"Ryouga, please don't make too much noise; you'll wake your daughter Kiko up."

"Sorry, Kasumi-d—my what?!" His eyes expanded to the size of the plates from the fine china set.

Ukyou was starting to deliver another spatula, but it fell from numb fingers. "H… how… how did you know?"

"She has Ryouga's eyes and hair coloring, but her slightly longer canines are a big giveaway."

Ranma and Shampoo blinked in surprise and exchanged glances.

"I didn't know that; did you, Sham-chan?"

"No, Airen. By the way, wasn't Ryouga married to Akari at that time?"

"… I think so…"

If the Kansai had been eating, she would have choked to death. "M-m-m-married?!"

The lost man looked around the room sheepishly. "Um, yeah, I am…. Akari and I have been married for over five years now…coming up on six soon."

"But you slept with me, then you ran out on me! How could you do that when you were married?!" She was trembling with each word.

"I was drunk that night, okay? Drunk, depressed, down, and lost. And I wasn't married then."

Kasumi put her wheelchair into motion and disappeared into the kitchen with Kiko, still rubbing the sleeping girl's forehead. "We'll let your parents work things out on their own." Meanwhile, Ranma and Shampoo were still a bit stunned by this new revelation.

"Akari and I were having some problems. One night, she said that she wasn't sure if she wanted to go through with the wedding, so she asked for a little time apart. I took it way too hard, like I usually do, and got depressed over it. So I got lost for a few days, and chanced upon you. Looked like you had your own problems, but you took solace in my company, as I did in yours. We got drunk, and the next thing I know, we were just waking up in bed with quite a hangover. You have no idea how terrible I felt then. It was an accident that should never have happened. So I ran…" He sighed heavily, hanging his head. "I've already told Akari about it soon as I got back, and she forgave me after a week. Now, I ask for your forgiveness,


In response, she fell to her knees and began to cry.

Ranma shook himself out of the appalling daze. "Sham-chan, please help Ukyou to the wash room."

She nodded mutely, padding over to Ukyou. Slipping her hands beneath the unresisting woman's arms, Shampoo had gotten Ukyou walking down the hall to the wash room. He sighed as they disappeared; he hadn't seen Ukyou like that since he told her that he was marrying Akane a year after the first failed wedding attempt.

Looking at his despairing friend, who had picked himself from the floor, and was now sitting on the sofa, he shook his head. "What a perfect life, ne, old buddy?"

"… Perfect… my ass…" Ryouga's shoulders slumped even more. "Akari's going to kill me when she finds out…."

"Eh, she'll understand, cause she loves you for the big idiot you are."

"You know, you're not helping here…"

"Sorry, couldn't resist at least one of them. I'll stay with you till Akari gets here, okay?"

"… Thanks, Ranma."

"No problem. After all, somebody's gotta talk coherently when she gets here."

In reply, Ryouga half-heartedly whacked Ranma with a plush pillow. "… Thanks for trying to cheer me up…"

"No problem. That's what friends are really for."

After getting the inference half a minute later, Ryouga wholeheartedly whacked Ranma with the plush pillow.


The End

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Old Gray Wolf