~~~~~ Chapter 9: Wedding ~~~~~
"Saotome!" Genma told Soun firmly.
"Tendo!" Soun told Genma firmly.
Nodoka sighed and turned away from the two men, who appeared to have reached an impasse in the battle of wills over whether Tendo Akane would become Saotome Akane or Saotome Ranma would become Tendo Ranma. She looked at Ranma and Akane, who were kneeling in the corner holding hands, looking at each other sidelong, and blushing faintly. She made a "scoot" gesture at them. Ranma picked it up in his peripheral vision and looked at her. Akane looked where he was looking. Nodoka repeated the gesture and smiled. They nodded in unison, got up quietly, and sneaked out.
Nodoka turned her attention back to the two fathers, who appeared to be holding a staring contest. She coughed politely. "To summarize the last, rather tedious, hour of discussion," she said, "Genma wishes Ranma to continue to hold the Saotome name, as he is the eldest son in fact, the only Saotome child and there are still two Tendo daughters to carry on the Tendo name. Soun wishes the Tendo Dojo to remain the Tendo Dojo, and feels that this requires Ranma to take the Tendo name when he is married to Akane."
Genma and Soun stared at Nodoka. "Well, that's a gross oversimplification" Genma began.
Soun jumped in. "Definitely! Why, the matter of"
Nodoka coughed again, less politely. "Since you are unable to settle this amongst yourselves, it is clearly my duty to resolve this situation." Soun looked crestfallen. Genma looked like he would have raised his crest if he'd had one. Nodoka acquired a slightly exasperated expression. "Don't jump to conclusions, dear," she said to Genma. "I haven't decided yet. I shall consider the matter. Alone," she added when the two men opened their mouths. She rose gracefully to her feet and walked out of the Tendo main room, carrying her wrapped katana.
Soun looked at Genma. Genma looked at Soun. "Well... I suppose we can discuss the ceremony," Genma suggested. "I think we should try the Shinto rite this time."
"There are many reasons to prefer the Western ceremony," Soun countered.
Akane led Ranma up to her room, closed the door, and sat on her bed. Ranma stayed standing and looked out her window at the night. "Whatta waste of time," he groused.
"Well, I can think of something better to do," Akane said. Ranma looked at her. She smiled and patted the bed beside her.
Ranma looked apprehensive. "Uh... what if someone"
"Don't you remember what your mother said?" Akane's voice changed to a fair imitation of Nodoka's. "'Engaged couples can do this! Engaged couples can do that! Engaged couples can do whatever they like!' Right now, this half of this engaged couple would like you to sit down here and snuggle a little."
Ranma rolled his eyes, but he smiled shyly, sat next to her, and put his arm around her. "That's not what ya said then."
"Then was different," Akane said firmly, leaning up against Ranma with a contented little sigh. "Now we're really engaged."
Ranma looked at his feet. "But I didn't give ya a ring or nothin'" Suddenly he found himself sprawled on the floor. "Hey!"
Akane was standing over him with a look of mingled hurt and fury. "You asked me to marry you! Now you're trying to wiggle out of it! I should have KNOWN something like this would happen!"
Ranma had sprung to his feet and faced her, noses six inches apart. "Dammit, that's not what I meant! I wanna marry you! I just wanted to give you an engagement ring first!"
Akane opened her mouth to retort, and then his words registered. Her eyes went wide and she threw her arms around his neck. "Ranma, really?! I'm sorry! I thought you meant...."
"I know what ya thought I meant," Ranma grumbled. "I wish you'd just gimme a chance ta explain sometimes."
"I said I was sorry," Akane said. She let go and pulled Ranma back down to sit on the bed again. "It's just... after everything that's happened... sometimes it's hard to believe you really...."
"Yeah, me too," Ranma said. He resumed staring at his toes. "It's just... it bugs me that there's no way I can afford ta give ya a ring nice enough. The closest thing to a job I've had is waitress at the Nekohanten. I couldn't take money from Momma or Pops for somethin' like this, even if they had any. Hell, you got the dojo for your dowry, and... I got nothin' ta bring ya."
Akane stared at him. That's a lot of words out of Ranma for one go.... "This isn't something you just thought of, is it?" Ranma shook his head. "You do, too, have something to bring me, Ranma. You." She squeezed his arm.
Ranma didn't look at her. "Well, maybe... but you bring you, so that's a wash. I still feel like I'm short-changin' ya. I remember how happy ya were about that stupid pill-box when ya thought it was a ring."
"Well, it wasn't because I wanted a ring, you baka." Akane's affectionate tone finally made Ranma look at her. "I was happy because I thought it meant you really wanted to marry me." Her gaze was very serious. "Ranma... a ring doesn't matter. Your promise to marry me, because you want to... that's what matters." She drew him in for a kiss.
"Who is it?!" Akane called, still sitting on the bed but suddenly four feet from Ranma.
"Nodoka," a voice said from beyond the door. There was a pause. "I can come back later if you're, ah, busy," the voice said hopefully.
Akane blushed. "No, that's all right, come in," she said in a rush.
Nodoka opened the door and came into the room. She took in Ranma and Akane, sitting stiffly on opposite ends of the bed, and smiled indulgently. "Well, if you're sure I'm not interrupting anything," she said. Akane and Ranma shook their heads in unison. Nodoka looked disappointed. "Well, then. I just came to see how you two felt about this little name problem your fathers seem to be stuck on. Ranma?"
Ranma shrugged. "Seems ta me that it's clan business," he said. "It matters to you guys more than it does ta me. I'm not gonna get bent outa shape about it either way." He looked at Akane and smirked. "Of course, Saotome's a better name than Tendo...."
Akane started a quick boil. "Ranma"
"Hey, it's got more characters, don't it?" Ranma grinned.
Akane deflated a little, but stuck her tongue out at him on principle. "Ba-a-ka."
"It's a pleasure to see you two get along so well," Nodoka said, smiling. "How about you, Akane-chan?"
"Hm? Oh, I feel about the same way Ranma does," Akane said. "The families will decide."
Nodoka's smile faded. "And, since your fathers can't agree, that leaves it up to me," she said with a sigh. "Well, as long as you're happy either way...." She turned to go.
Akane was struck by a sudden thought. "If you have a moment, Oba-sama?" she said. Nodoka stopped and looked at her questioningly. "I, um, there are some things I'd like to talk to you about... since my mother's not...." She stopped and looked down.
Nodoka nodded understandingly. "Of course. Ranma, be a dear and run along, would you? Girl talk," she added when Ranma looked rebellious at the dismissal.
Ranma's expression changed quickly. He left almost as quickly. Nodoka closed the door and came to sit on the bed by Akane. "Oba-sama," Akane began before Nodoka could start telling her about the facts of life, "I might have something to say about the names after all."
Nodoka looked at her, surprised. "Go on, dear."
Akane dithered. How do I say this tactfully? "Ranma said... well... he said he was unhappy because he wanted to give me an engagement ring, but couldn't afford one." She held up a hand to forestall Nodoka's response and plunged ahead. "He's also unhappy because I'm bringing the dojo to the marriage and he, well, he thinks he's bringing nothing. I tried to tell him that wasn't so, and even if it was, it didn't matter, but...." She took a breath. "Maybe he'd feel better if he brought his name to the marriage?" She twiddled her fingers, unwilling to look up.
The silence stretched. "You are very wise, Akane-chan," Nodoka said finally. "And very generous. My son is fortunate to have you." Akane blushed. "I'll go tell them we've made up our minds," Nodoka said, rising. "You will be transferred to the Saotome family register. However, I see no reason why the dojo should not remain the Tendo Dojo. That should be an adequate compromise."
"Oba-sama... you're pretty wise yourself."
Nodoka looked back at Akane and smiled. "Thank you, Akane-chan."
"So, you said you had something to tell us?" Michi prompted Akane as the six girls walked out the St. Hebereke gate. "Must be pretty good, you've been practically glowing all day, and even Ranma's been twitchy...."
Akane looked around carefully for eavesdroppers. "It's a secret. Like the, um, the other one."
"Our lips are sealed," Junko told her. Michi nodded excitedly.
"Well, we're engaged, right?" Akane began.
Michi's eyes widened. "Ooo! You've done it, haven't you?! Cool! What was it like?"
Akane and Ranma both blushed. "No!" they said in unison. "Well, not yet," Akane continued, still blushing. "We're getting married this weekend. Tomorrow."
Her announcement was greeted with dead silence, four dropped jaws, and eight wide eyes. "Good... grief," Junko said finally, collecting herself. "I mean, I'm happy for you, but... what the heck did you tell the school?"
Akane shrugged, smiling a little. "We told them we were going to get married. The letters our parents sent sort of implied that it was two weddings to two guys, though...."
Junko snickered. "Sure, that'll work. And that's what we'll have to tell people." She glanced at the others. Sachiko and Eriko nodded. Michi appeared to still be in shock.
Ranma stepped up in front of Michi and waved a hand back and forth in front of her eyes, but got no response. "Jeez. What's the matter with her?"
"Waaaah!" Michi cried suddenly, grabbing Ranma and hugging her tightly. Ranma's pigtail stood straight out for a second, then relaxed. She rolled her eyes at Akane, saw that Akane was still smiling, and patted Michi on the back.
Michi let go of Ranma and hugged Akane the same way. "You two are such a great couple," she said afterwards, wiping her eyes.
Akane and Ranma glanced at each other and smiled a little. "Well, we think so," Akane said, then looked apologetic. "Um... we'd have invited you all to the wedding, but we're not inviting anyone to the wedding. Family only. I'm sorry."
Michi pouted. "Rats." She brightened suddenly. "But we can have a party to celebrate, can't we?"
"I'm really sorry. We can't even come to the Harlequin now. We have to go home. There's so much to do...."
"Double rats. You mean this is IT? When we see you again, you'll be wife and, er...."
"Husband," Ranma supplied with great restraint, but there was no mistaking the glint in her eye.
"Yes," Akane replied. "We won't be in school Monday or Tuesday, either." She blushed.
"Honeymoon," Sachiko said, nodding. "Well, enjoy yourselves."
"Wow," Michi breathed. "Four days off from school, and, er, him. I'm envious. It's enough to make me want to go find a man myself."
"Like that's a big change," Junko said dryly.
A dark figure shot up past the eaves of the Tendo Dojo and landed on the roof. A huddled shape, barely visible in the dim glow of the streetlights, unfolded into another dark figure. The two figures moved together, embraced, and separated to sit on the sloping tiles.
"Are you ready for tomorrow, Ranma?"
"Ready as I'll ever be, I guess. You?"
"I think so. I hope so. Speaking of ready, there's something I need to talk to you about, and since there's this silly tradition about the groom not seeing the bride before the ceremony that Kasumi is convinced is why the last wedding was such a fiasco"
"Get to the point, willya?"
"What if our 'friends' show up to wreck the wedding again?"
"They get clobbered. Once was more'n enough. Besides, this time it's just family."
"I like that answer, but there's one thing... if any of your other girls show up, I want to be the one to clobber them."
"I mean it, Ranma. It's a matter of honor."
"Dammit, Akane, I don't want you gettin' hurt! Not anytime, but especially not tomorrow! And they ain't MY other girls!"
"I knew you'd say that... well, the first part, anyway. Sensei, do you fear that you have not taught your student well enough?"
"Uh... dammit. Quit twistin' what I say."
"Then stop twisting what you think! I can beat them! I have to beat them! If I can't...."
"...Never mind. I want your promise, your word of honor, that if Ukyo or Kodachi attack me tomorrow, you'll let me fight them."
"If I do.... If I do, will you promise me that you'll let me help if you think you're gonna get hurt?"
"If I think that? I... I guess that's fine. In fact, that's smart."
"Crap. That's not what I meant to say."
"Ranma! Promise me!"
"...All right. But you better"
"I promise too. What you said."
"Crap." Sigh. "You didn't mention Shampoo. If Shampoo shows up...."
"I doubt she will, after what happened. But if she does, I want you with me, because if she does, I think I'm going to get hurt even if I win."
"Well, you're still sane, anyway. I was beginnin' ta wonder."
"You're one to talk, baka. Well, I have to go in now; my sisters and Nodoka-sama have an evening of girl-talk scheduled."
"You're lucky. Pops an' Tendo-san are waitin' for me at our place. With bottles."
"Be strong, my hero." Giggle.
"Gaah. See ya, uh, tomorrow...." One of the dark figures stood up and moved away slowly, as if reluctant to go. The smaller figure stood as well.
"Come back here. I want a kiss before you go home. A good one. For luck."
There was a quick knock on Akane's door, but before Kasumi or Akane could answer, it opened and Nabiki slipped in. She closed the door behind her. "They're just about ready down there," she told them. "How's it going in here?"
"Almost done," Kasumi said as she worked on Akane's hair. "My, she almost didn't fit into the gown any more, she's grown that much since the last wedding."
"Just don't tell Ranma that," Akane grumbled. "The jerk would say I grew sideways." She looked down at herself, then at Nabiki. "So how do I look?"
Nabiki shrugged. "About the same as last time. Ranma-kun won't know what hit him."
"Oh, yes, he will," Akane said absently. "Um, I mean, that is... oh, never mind." She blushed a bit and tried to ignore her sisters' laughter. "So, do you think it'll go all right this time?"
"I'm sure everything will be fine," Kasumi said. She sighed wistfully. "What a pity it's such a small wedding, though."
"Well, if you want a big wedding, you can have one yourself," Akane said. "If you invite three hundred people to your wedding, it'll be a festival of joy. If we'd invited three hundred people, a hundred of them would be attacking Ranma, a hundred would be attacking me, and the rest would be attacking the other guests." She grimaced. "I've had enough of weddings. I want to be married."
Nabiki grinned. "You want to get laid."
"Nabiki!" Kasumi exclaimed, scandalized.
"I DO NOT!" Akane yelled, blushing furiously.
Nabiki, unruffled, examined the ceiling. "Hey, I saw you hanging on Nodoka's every word last night while she lectured you on... how did she put it? 'The duties and pleasures of marriage.' Don't worry. Unless more's wrong with Ranma than we thought, you're going to get laid."
Akane took a step forward, fists clenched. Nabiki held her hands up in mock defense. "Hey, I don't blame you. Ranma's a hunk. With any luck, he'll turn out to be a stud, too." She watched Akane suddenly glance at Kasumi, and was surprised when Kasumi put a hand to her mouth and giggled. "What?"
"Oh, nothing," Kasumi said airily.
Nabiki eyed them with suspicion. "Right. Sure." She looked at Akane. "So, have you thought about family planning?"
"Well, I talked to my doctor about it," Akane said slowly. "I'm not, um, fertile for the next few days anyway, so"
"You know the technical term for girls who rely on the rhythm method, don't you?" Nabiki interrupted.
Akane frowned. "Of course. That's not the point." She got a dreamy look on her face. "Part of me wants to have Ranma's baby right away, and part of me wants to wait a while. I couldn't decide, so I didn't. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, I'll think about it again after the honeymoon."
Nabiki shook her head. "I think you're nuts, but that's no surprise...."
"Well, I think it's sweet," Kasumi put in, "but have you talked to Ranma-kun about this?"
Akane gave Kasumi a sharp look. "If he wants to control his, um, fertility, he can darn well do something about it himself. If he wants to have a say in mine, he can come talk to me about it."
"This IS Ranma we're talking about, here," Nabiki pointed out. The sisters exchanged a look and laughed together.
"Seriously," Kasumi said, "I doubt Ranma-kun understands the, ah, biological details." She looked uncertainly at Akane. "Um... if you like, I have books...."
Akane waved her hand and sighed. "I don't think they'd help. Ranma wouldn't be interested in the biology ones, and the only way he'd study a sex manual is if it was three hundred years old and written in Chinese."
Kasumi nodded. "Yes, he does seem to have avoided that area of knowledge quite carefully."
"Well, he's about to get run over by it," Nabiki said.
Akane joined in the laughter, but her thoughts were troubled.
Nodoka followed the sound of shouting to the Tendo main room. Genma came out as she approached. He shot her an unreadable look and went past. Nodoka went into the room and saw Ranma pacing back and forth in his white suit. The signs of the previous fiasco were faintly visible on it despite the cleaners' best efforts.
"NO!" He subsided a little. "Well... maybe. Mad, more like. Stupid ol' man...."
Nodoka sighed. "What is the matter now?"
"Nothin'. I say one little thing and I get a lecture on duty an' honor an' promises... like he knows anythin' about any of that stuff," Ranma said grumpily.
"If you'd prefer, I can give you that lecture," Nodoka said.
Ranma looked up and cringed a bit at the note of steel in her voice. "No, Momma, that's all right."
"You do want to marry Akane-chan, don't you?"
Ranma looked down again. "Yeah. I guess. It was just... easier last time. They knocked me out and stuffed me inta this monkey suit, and as soon as I woke up stuff was happenin'...."
"...so you didn't have time to worry about it," Nodoka completed.
"I guess. This time, there's all this fuss, and forms, and that lame 'bachelor party' they threw last night Didja hear what happened? Happosai shows up, and halfway through the third bottle he yells something about 'exotic dancer' and the next thing I know, I'm wearin' a bucket of water and Happosai's" He stopped short. "I got him good, though." He smirked. "I knew better'n ta drink that stuff, it messes up your reflexes, and it sure messed up his." Ranma sobered. "Jeez, I just wish I knew if I was doin' the right thing. Everyone says so, but...."
"Akane-chan would be terribly hurt if you left her at the altar," Nodoka pointed out. "It's one of the worst things that can happen to a woman."
Ranma paled. "Yeah. She'd just kill me." He still looked troubled.
"Ranma, leaving aside your fathers' agreement, you asked her to marry you, and she accepted. It's too late for second thoughts."
Ranma half-smiled. "Easy for you to say." He lost the smile. "She says she's OK with marryin' a half-man, half-woman freak, but"
"You're not a freak, Ranma," Nodoka interrupted. "And your manliness is adequate, and your curse is not your fault."
Ranma looked away. "If you say so"
"Well, what do you want to do about it? Run away and never come back?" Nodoka's voice was angry.
Ranma looked his mother in the eye. "If I thought Akane'd be better off if I did that, I'd do that. I'm still thinkin'."
"That is NOT an option," Nodoka said firmly.
Ranma said nothing, but she could read his thought easily: The hell it's not.
Nodoka eyed Ranma and sighed. "I'd hoped not to have to tell you this," she said, "but you're actually married already."
Ranma goggled at her. "What?!"
"As far as the government is concerned, you've been married since you signed those papers at town hall."
Ranma's jaw dropped. "But... it... they... she.... Well, I don't FEEL married!" he said after he'd hauled it up again.
Nodoka smiled sentimentally. "That's what the ceremony's for, dear. After the ceremony, I assure you you'll feel married."
"The minister certainly looks... durable," Nodoka whispered to Genma. She was wearing a fine kimono, and looked somewhat out of place next to Genma's claw-hammer coat and loudly striped trousers.
"I believe Soun said the man was a student of his some years ago," Genma whispered back. "It seemed like a wise precaution for the minister to know kempo"
"Shh, we're starting," Nodoka hissed.
Nabiki pressed the Play button on her boom box. Da da da-daaaaa... da DA da-daaaa....
Ranma turned in time to see Akane come into the dojo, escorted by Soun, who had refused to let Nodoka talk him out of wearing a gi for the occasion. Akane joined Ranma in front of the minister, giving him an impish smile when she noticed that he had a total of four sets of fingers crossed. "You better uncross those before the vows," she whispered.
The minister cleared his throat loudly, and they quieted. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today"
"Wa-ha-ha-ha! Now there are TWO brides for this old man to kiss!" Happosai exulted, dropping the bucket and leaping for Ranma's chest.
Ranma did not waste time protesting. "HAMMER!" she shrieked, flipping.
"ANVIL!" Akane yelled at the same moment, pivoting.
"...ouch..." Happosai mumbled before falling senseless.
Akane picked him up tenderly. "Oh, you poor dear," she crooned. She took three steps out of the dojo and drop-kicked the old man into the morning sky. "One down... or up."
"I see what you mean," the minister observed to Soun. Soun nodded ruefully.
Ranma plucked ineffectually at her soggy white suit as Akane came back inside. Kasumi was already bringing a kettle from the row she had placed at the back of the dojo.
"...to unite this man, er...." The minister eyed Ranma and stopped. Ranma gave him a long-suffering glance and shrugged.
There was a sudden tattoo of feet on the veranda and Kuno Tatewaki skidded into view just outside the dojo doors, carrying a katana in its scabbard. "Tendo Akane!" he began. His slightly mad eyes tracked to Ranma. "Pig-tailed girl! Refrain from...." He stopped. "Oh, rejoice, for the sorcerer Saotome who holds you in thrall is gone! Doubtless he heard of my coming and fled in fear of my puissance! Now you are free to wed me!" He took a step forward and looked at Akane again. "But... alas! I still cannot decide between you!"
"That's not a problem, Kuno-sempai," Akane said sweetly.
"No problem at all," Ranma agreed, cracking her knuckles.
"We'll BOTH hurt you." To the small audience, it appeared that two white blurs spun around Kuno for a couple of moments before resolving into Ranma and Akane, both facing outward from Kuno on opposite sides of him. Kuno toppled forward, eyes still open. Thud! Clatter!
Ranma picked up the katana and tossed it to Genma. "Trophy," she said casually. Akane and Ranma picked Kuno up, carried him out into the garden, and threw him over the dojo.
"Nice form," the minister said approvingly as Ranma and Akane came back to stand before him. They blushed. Kasumi poured hot water over Ranma. "Now, where was I... oh, yes, to unite this man and this woman in the bonds of matrimony...."
Ranma cringed. He's coming to the bad part.
"... should anyone have a reason why this couple should not be wed, let him speak now or forever hold his peace." The congregation held their breaths. Soun motioned frantically for the minister to continue.
Ranma sighed and looked at Akane. Akane's fierce gaze met his. "Mine."
Ranma nodded. "Yours."
They turned and watched Kodachi's entrance. "Ranma-sama shall not wed this trollop!" Kodachi proclaimed. "I forbid it! I shall wed him, in a far finer ceremony than this!"
Akane kicked off her slippers and moved out in front of Ranma. "You can't have him," she said grimly. "He's mine."
A smile spread over Kodachi's face. "So, will you fight for him, then?"
"You bet your blossoms I will," Akane told her. Ranma smiled a little and watched Akane's open, casual stance, modified slightly for the gown, shift slightly as Kodachi's ribbon twirled. It flicked but Akane wasn't there. She went low and slipped past the gymnast, lashing out with an open hand in passing. Kodachi evaded the strike, but now Akane was between her and the open ground. Ranma motioned the others inside the dojo to move back against the walls.
Kodachi's ribbon struck again, but this time Akane seized it easily, yanked it out of her hand, and discarded it. Akane leapt, and Kodachi's dodge took her into the dojo. Akane glided through the doorway as Kodachi produced a pair of clubs and attacked. Akane blocked hard and countered; the clubs spun away, but Kodachi had evaded her. Kodachi looked around wildly.
"Out of weapons?" Akane taunted. "Well, I'm not" Kodachi sprang, arcing to pass over Akane and reach the open. Akane leapt on an opposed arc. They met just below the dojo ceiling. Ranma winced and shook his head in sympathy. Kodachi landed badly and rolled to her feet, holding her side. Akane landed lightly and slithered right in without pausing. Kodachi tried to back out of the trap of the doorway into the garden, but Akane was faster. They met. The spectators clearly heard five strikes hit home in under two seconds. Kodachi collapsed.
"Idiot," Akane muttered to her unconscious opponent. "I wasn't using gymnastics rules." She picked up the ribbon and Kodachi, then carried Kodachi over to one of the dojo posts and used the ribbon to bind her there. She straightened and smiled at Ranma. "Trophy. Or maybe trollop."
"Say, what's a trollop, anyway?" Ranma asked as she rejoined him, brushing at her gown.
"Let's just say that I'm not one and she might be."
"I now pronounce you husband and wife. Kiss her, Ranma-san, you've both earned it."
Ranma gazed down into Akane's eyes. His lips moved. She read them easily: Finally! They kissed. Akane realized that Ranma meant this public kiss to be short and dry, but she wasn't about to put up with that. I want fireworks, baka! He responded, reluctantly at first. The families cheered.
Ranma became aware that someone was pounding him on the shoulder. "That's enough, boy, there'll be plenty of time for that later. Come open the sake so we can drink your health."
Ranma blinked. "Sake? You mean drink your ill-health, Pops." He let go of Akane and followed her to the cask of sake with the hammer on top.
"Hold it," Nabiki said. "Let me get a picture first." She waited for them to pose behind the cask. The flash flashed.
"Too bad it's not Nannichuan water," Ranma muttered.
"Bite your tongue. We had enough trouble," Akane muttered back. She smiled for the families and picked up the hammer. Ranma took it away from her and tossed it over his shoulder. "What?"
"We don't need that," Ranma said, smiling. "New tradition: at martial arts weddings, we open the cask like this." He raised his fist over the cask. She got the idea and matched him.
Ranma ignored the beginnings of the celebratory drinking as Kasumi brought out snacks and put them on the table. He noticed something else. "What's this stuff, Kasumi?"
"Another part of the Western tradition... brother," she said. "Gifts. The guest-money didn't work out too well for anyone" her eyes slid to Nabiki "last time, so I convinced everyone to do this instead."
Ranma was still boggling a bit over Kasumi calling him "brother". "So now what?"
"Well, you open them, or Akane opens them, or you both open them," she said, gesturing vaguely. "They're all for both of you, but some of them will be more for you, and some of them will be more for Akane, I suppose. This one's from Happosai."
Ranma accepted the flat cardboard box gingerly and opened it. "A... transparent... cloth... thing."
"I think it's a negligee," Akane said, blushing.
Ranma sniffed. "Whatever it is, it's a used one. Yuck." He closed the box and put it under the table. "I wonder if he meant it for me or for you," he said to Akane.
"You're welcome to it."
"This one's from me," Kasumi said, handing Akane a flat package.
Akane stripped the paper off. "Oh. Um...." She looked down at "The Taming of the Horse: An Equestrian's Guide" and resisted the urge to brain her eldest sister with it.
"I knew you'd like your own copy of this book," Kasumi said, smiling mischievously. "It's been out of print for a long time, but I managed to find one."
"Thanks, Kasumi," Akane said with great restraint. Someday I'll get you for this, her look promised. She sneaked a peek at Ranma. He's clueless. Good.
"This one's from me," Nabiki said, giving Ranma a manila envelope.
Ranma opened it and peered inside at a stack of paper. "Thanks. I guess. Uh, what is it?"
"It's a business plan for the dojo," Nabiki said impatiently. "Class schedules, tax forms, permit applications, bookkeeping, advertising, everything."
"Thanks, Nabiki," Akane said, touched. "I'm sure this will help a lot."
"Are you sure it'll work?" Ranma asked.
"Well, it got an A when I turned it in as an extra-credit project," Nabiki said proudly.
"This one's from Father," Kasumi said, holding out an envelope. Akane opened it and pulled out some papers.
"It's a honeymoon," Soun said. "There wasn't much money, but Nabiki stretched it into 3 nights at an onsen in the mountains, train fare, bus fare, and a little left over for meals and things...."
"Thank you, Father!" Akane sang, hugging him. Her eyes met Ranma's. Anywhere but here....
"Such a deal I got," Nabiki boasted. "You'll be amazed when you get there."
"And your parents gave you the wedding rings, of course. Oh, I almost forgot," Kasumi said. "Cologne gave me this before they left and asked me to give it to you after you were married. I guess that's now...."
Ranma carefully accepted a cylinder wrapped in heavy paper with something written on it. He turned it around. "'Do not open until after consummation.' Huh. What's 'consummation'?" He looked around at a ring of red faces. "What?!"
"I'll explain later, Ranma," Akane said faintly.
"I'll just bet you will," Nabiki cracked. "Ouch!"
Akane looked closely at the tickets. "Eek! The train leaves in an hour and a half! Ranma! Change! Pack! Now!" She picked up her skirts and fled.
Ranma watched her go, shook his head, and sighed. "I gotta teach her the secrets of Unrestricted Training Trip Packing." He eyed the snack trays, but decided he couldn't get away with a whole tray. He picked up two handfuls of sushi and followed Akane without haste.
"I hope I got everything," Akane said to Ranma, putting down her pack and sinking onto the train-station bench with a sigh. She looked down at herself. "I don't look much like a bride, do I?"
Ranma inspected her jeans, turtleneck shirt, and vest. "I guess not. Ya look cute, though."
Akane looked up with a quick smile. "Really?" She saw Ranma's faintly embarrassed look. Really!
Splash! Ting ting ting.... "Oops! Sorry about that!"
"Why me?" Ranma moaned, turning to give the careless flower-waterer a dirty look. She suddenly looked panicked. "That sound My ring!" She dropped to her knees and scrabbled under the bench, emerging a moment later with a sigh of relief. She wiped the gold circle off on her shirt and put it back on her finger easily. Much too easily.
She looked at Akane. Akane looked at her. They both looked at the ring. "Jeez, why didn't anyone think of this?" Ranma lamented. "Of course this isn't gonna work I'll lose my wedding ring every time I change!"
"I have an idea," Akane said slowly. "Here, I'll keep it safe for you. You go find some hot water, and when you come back I'll put it on you again, and this time it'll stay on." She smiled at Ranma's puzzled look. "Just trust me. Go on!" Ranma went on, not without a backward look.
When he came back, Akane had gotten a comb out of her pack. "Sit down," she said. "Face the other way." Ranma obeyed. Akane untied the cord that held his pigtail. "Hold still," she said gently when Ranma stirred. She unbraided his hair, enjoying the feel of it on her fingers. Akane combed Ranma's long hair, then carefully divided it in three. She slipped the wedding ring over the middle lock and pushed it up to nestle against his neck. She rebraided his pigtail slowly, lovingly, ceremonially, and tied it off.
Ranma reached up and felt his ring, secured at the base of his pigtail by the hands of his wife. He turned and looked at her. "It's good," he said.
~~~~~ end of Wedding ~~~~~
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