Ayane-chan; The Bashful Oni and the Sad Eyed Salaryman Part 6:Golden Heart;Golden Ring/Epilogue
>So, everything had been leading up to this.
>Every smile, every laugh, every tearful caress.
>Every skirmish with the order and every visit from the wild oni
>Back to the day I first met her barely a year ago.
>It all leads to me standing here in a black kimono, being watched by my three groomsmen
>"Hey, is anyone else hot in these things?"
>Joey, choosing to get in on the act by wearing a kimono of his own, solidarity between brothers and all that.
>"Stuff it, ya damned weeb."
>David, eloquent as always. At least without Judy here to bury his rough nature under her mountainous fluffy embrace
"Can it, you two. Where's the other guys?"
>"Yamano ran out shouting something about his wife, I don't know."
>Mrs. Mika is here? She'd been missing since that day at the hospital.
>Eisaku had been distraught for weeks, thinking that his wife had been abducted.
>Even after he, Ayane, and I combed the hospital for hours questioning people about where she had last been seen
>The only lead we had was some vague crying from the Yamano daughter about how, "The mean demon lady turned Mommy into a cow."
>But of course, she would reappear for Ayane's wedding.
>At the mouth of the hastily prepared changing tent, I see Eisaku, looking at once shellshocked and the slightest bit arouse.
"You ok, Yamano-san?"
>"Huh? Oh, yes, I'm fine."
"Did you find your wife?"
>"I found a woman, she said she was Mika, but I'm not sure."
"What woman and where?"
>He raises an unsteady hand to indicate the outside of the tent
>As I walk outside, I spy Anna talking with a bovine woman
>Long horns sprouting from the side of her head, a rather un-cowlike fluffy tail, the usual hooves, and...
>Is that an actual third eye on her forehead?
>Hakutaku, I can remember that from the Encyclopedia
>She's coming towards me.
<"Hello there, Handsome. You look lost."
"I'm exactly where I want to be right now."
<"Ah, does that mean I was what you were looking for? Ara ara, certainly you wouldn't be interested in an old ox like me?"
>I hold up my hand, displaying my engagement ring
"You're right, I'm not. I'm getting married."
>I push past her, causing the Hakutaku to take on a stunned look
<"Hold up, I'm not done teasing you yet, Sad Eyes!"
>Did she just call me...
<"Oops, the cat's out of the bag now."
"What the hell happened to you?"
>She says nothing, but quickly reaches into her handbag and produces a picture
>A group of monsters sitting in a row, holding pictures of what I would guess are them when they were human
>I see Mrs. Mika has chosen her wedding picture, she and Eisaku smiling at the camera
>Next to her is, how in the?
>Mandy, holding a picture she took with me shortly before I left for college
>The one that stands out to me the most is a little girl with the lower body of a white horse, an ivory horn jutting from her head, flanked on either side by her parents all three wearing large smiles
>Her picture shows her as a human, sickly, in a hospital bed with tubes running into her arm and nose
>The scene is framed by a large banner reading "Life After Monsterization: Still the Same Inside"
"What is this?"
<"I believe I can answer that question."
>That's right, Anna is here too.
<"The Bureau wanted to run a small informational campaign about monsterization, so they asked me to round up a few example cases for a documentary/ad campaign."
"Okay, that explains my sister. Who are these other women and where does Mrs. Mika fit into this?"
<"Most of these women are just victims of accidents like your sister, see this one?"
>She points to a large horned spider, holding up a picture of a mousy young woman
<"She was a nurse, got Ushi Oni blood on her while helping perform surgery on a wounded one."
"What about the little girl?"
<"Ah, Little Maddie, I actually met her after our raid to capture Halford. She was a cancer patient, her chart wasn't very promising. So, after I talked with her and her parents, all I said was "What do you like more, mermaids or unicorns?""
<"Probably one of my proudest conversions, it proves I'm not like my sisters who go monsterizing willy nilly."
"Yeah, we'll see about that."
>I incline my head to indicate Mrs. Yamano
<"Oh, no no no, Mrs. Mika asked for this. I told her I needed a spokesman, someone who would really leap from the screen and into people's hearts. Who better than a doting housewife with two cute kids?"
"What did she get in return?"
<"What didn't she get, the increased knowledge of a Hakutaku, enhanced strength and stamina."
<"If I may, Anna-hime, I asked for this for several reasons. First, monsters do not experience menopause, I would like to have a few more children with Eisaku."
<"Second, I chose the Hakutaku because Ayane told me they had almost psychic knowledge of couples. You know how much more powerful my teasing is in this form? No young couple is safe from my gentle ribbing now!"
"My God Anna, what kind of monster have you unleashed?"
<"A very marketable one."
"Do Mr. Yamano and the kids know about this?"
>Mrs. Mika sighs
<"Not yet, but I don't foresee trouble from Eisaku once he learns one of the... side effects of my new bovine body. As for the children? Well, Kai already thinks monsters are cool, and little Aika is still young enough to manage."
<"My real fear is how Ayane will react, I'm sorry I had to spring this on you during your wedding, Anon-san."
"It's fine, just something more to deal with."
<"I'll go find her, I hope she realizes it's me."
>As Mrs. Yamano wanders off, I'm left alone with Anna.
<"You know, I'd almost forgotten today was the day. Did you know this is the usual for weddings in Royal Makai? The bride heavily pregnant, I mean."
"No kidding? Is that how you'd like to be when you and Joey tie the knot?"
>Her eyes light up
<"Of course, but he keeps pulling out, says he's "not ready for the responsibility"
"Well, Joey does have some Daddy issues."
<"Tell me about it, do you have any tips for getting around it? You're his friend, after all."
>I think for a moment
"Have you tried finding a way to make impregnation into a Jojo reference?"
<"Of course I have."
<"Tell me, if I said I have a secret power, one that by taking in some human DNA enables me to produce life, what am I talking about?"
"Your womb, obviously."
<"Now what if I said it looking like this?"
>Her hair turns a rich blonde, from nowhere she produces a purple blindfold with a single eyehole cut out of it.
"Ohhhhhhhh, okay, have fun with that."
"Yeah, yeah, I get it."
>I say my goodbyes and leave, I can't keep Ayane waiting any longer.
>The venue chosen is a small park near the office lined with blooming cherry trees
>Flanked by Joey and my brother, I quickly make my way to the start of the path.
>I look at the small, assembled crowd
>In the front is Mrs. Violet, the old receptionist, sobbing joyfully into her handkerchief
>I notice Calvin, he meets my gaze and returns a sheepish wave before he is seized around the waist by a small white-haired woman wearing a somewhat ragged dress and a white cap
>He looks noticeably less high strung in the woman's embrace, good for him.
>The bobbing of halos marks Dr. Camille and little Leah, in between them is Bohemond, trying his best to look aloof, but cracking a smile every now and then
>Eisaku Yamano, his son Kai, and his daughter Aika are sitting close to the front, the father baring an even more shellshocked appearance (and a slight nosebleed), while his children appear to be trying to comfort him.
>Mandy is here, but she is strangely not crying, instead she wears a rather placid smile.
>As our eyes meet, she offers me a tip of the hat... and a small pat on her stomach, which seems to be pressing somewhat on her waistcoat.
>Concerning, but not the biggest priority
>No, the biggest priority is arriving now.
>Flanked on either side by the stern face of her father and the sage Hakutaku I now know to be Mika Yamano.
>White, all I can see is white, a shiromuku kimono is what I am told it is called.
>Around her head, an ornate hood, blocking her face from all but myself.
>Blue skin and yellow eyes, a single horn growing from her head.
>As she nears me, I take her hand in mine
"You look absolutely beautiful."
<"I, I have dreamt of this day for a long time. I suppose every girl does."
"So, how will the ceremony go?"
<"Follow the priest and everything will go fine."
>Arm in arm, and with a steady stride, we approach the altar.
>We walk past a small table laden with fruits, meat, and sake, an offering for the Kami.
>An old Japanese man in the garb of a Shinto priest stands on one side of the altar, opposite him stands a woman in a Miko outfit with noticeable fox ears and tails
>The priest yells something at his apprentice, causing her to hurry out and grab a small table, upon which is a bottle of sake and three cups of varying sizes.
>The priest begins chanting a prayer in Japanese before bidding Ayane and I to approach.
>As we do, I quickly whisper to her.
"We didn't practice this, what do I do?"
<"Pour some sake into the smallest cup, drink half, and then offer it to me. I will do the same with the medium cup, then go back to the first order for the largest."
>My face becomes one of concern
"Should you be drinking sake? What about the bab-"
<"Hasu, I am an Oni, if a little sake affected our pregnancies we would have died out long ago."
"I know, but that's no Oni in your womb."
>A small smile crosses her face.
<"He will be fine, he's strong like his father."
"And stubborn like his mother."
>As we near the alter, I do as instructed.
>Pour the sake, take a sip, pass it on.
>Ayane pours, I drink second, pass it on
>Repeat step one.
<"Your vows, and don't forget to thank the matchmaker."
>The crowd looks at me expectantly, this kind of thing is usually the priest's job.
>Here goes nothing.
"Ayane Ogawa, as your husband I vow to stand by you in good times and bad, through sunshine and rain, in sickness and in health, until death and beyond. I will be a loyal husband and love no other for the rest of my days, as well as a dutiful father to our children, this I vow before God and all kami."
"That being said, will you vow to stand by me in such times, be a loyal and dutiful wife and mother until death and beyond?"
>The old priest chimes in asking Izanagi and Izanami to bless our marriage, being that they were the first husband and wife.
"Before we exchange rings, I would like to thank the woman who made this wedding possible, our matchmaker, Mrs. Mika Yamano."
>Standing up, Mrs. Mika beams and gives a deep bow, accidentally bonking her husband with her horns in the process.
>The kitsune interrupts the ceremony to make an announcement.
<"Traditionally, the fathers of the couple present the rings."
>Daigo hops to his feet at this.
<"And for the groom?"
>My father is long dead
>A confused murmur rises from the crowd, until finally I hear a voice call out.
>"I will stand as the boy's father."
>Bohemond hobbles his way up to the alter, clad in a suit his daughter no doubt bought him.
>Grasping the pillow upon which my father's old ring sits, I hear him whisper.
>"You owe me for this, Meddler."
>"You still haven't earned the right to call me that, but I'll allow it seeing as it is your wedding."
>As the rings are exchanged, both the old man and the kitsune finish the ceremony by asking the kami to ensure us a harmonious marriage and many children.
>Lastly, the priest pours a final cup of sake and offers a spirited "Kampai!", which is returned by the crowd.
>This is the signal, the moment everyone has been waiting for
>I move my face closer and closer to Ayane's
>I can see the tears of pure joy in her eyes
>Our lips meet, and the park explodes with applause.
>"NICEU, NICEU, VERY NICEU ANON-CHAN! Man, I wish that were us up there, Annie."
<"Hrm, it may be very soon. Say, Jojo, do you remember the Babyface arc in Vento Aureo?"
>"HA, MY LITTLE BRO FINALLY GOT MARRIED, YOU SEE JUDY, I KNEW HE HAD IT IN HIM!"
<"You spent the entire plane ride over saying he would chicken out..."
>"(YOU BASTARD GAIJIN, YOU MOTHERFUCKER, YOU TREAT MY DAUGHTER RIGHT OR I'LL MAKE TAKOYAKI OUT OF YOUR BALLS! I hope you're watching this, Mitsuki.)"
<"HAHAHA, LOOK AT 'EM UP THERE, YOU N' ME ARE HAVING A CEREMONY JUST AS FLASHY, YA HEAR CAL?"
<"BANZAI, SAD EYES-SAN! YOU AND AYANE BETTER GIVE ME LOTS OF GRANDCHILDREN!"
>"Mika, sit down, people are staring."
<"Yes, bravo little brother, she deserves you far more than I do. It doesn't mean I can't still have my own little piece of you all to myself."
>The celebration continues into the afternoon, with people giving us their best wishes.
>Most notably, the Paladin confronts me when I break off from Ayane for a moment.
>"This is no doubt a happy day for you, isn't it Meddler?"
"That's an understatement."
>"Gabrielle and I had no formal ceremony, just vows exchanged in the name of the Goddess under a full moon."
"When you get her back, I'll help you plan a proper wedding."
>"That is what I came to talk to you about, I am leaving, and I do not know if I will return."
"You're already setting off to save your wife?"
>"I cannot live a single day more without her. I must have her back or I will most certainly perish, reuniting with Camille has worsened this feeling."
"Well, If you need my help then I'm perfectly wil-"
>"No, this is my burden, the last crusade of Paladin Bohemond. You have a wife and future child to worry about."
>He looks down
>"Look after my daughter and little Leah until I return."
>He turns to leave, slowly disappearing into the distance
>He turns one last time.
"Thank you, for everything!"
>I can see a small smile form on his face
>"The thanks are all mine, young Anon! Thank you for setting this old man on the right path!"
>As he disappears among the cherry blossoms, I can only wish him Godspeed and a safe return
>As the party winds to a close, I walk Ayane back to my car, which is still decorated with "JUST MARRIED" despite it clashing with our more Shinto ceremony.
<"Going home already, Hasu?"
"We kind of have to, this all happened so suddenly that we didn't even plan our honeymoon."
<"In Zipangu the couple spends the week after the wedding in their home trying to concieve a child."
>I pat her now sizeable baby bump
"Check that off the list, but seriously, I was thinking Osaka."
>She pulls me in closer
<"Anywhere is fine, as long as I have you."
>As we reach the car, I shoot a sideways glance in her direction
"Ayane, remember back on your birthday, what you said about wanting driving lessons?"
<"Y-yes, but this isn't the time. Do you not just want to go home, Hasu?"
"Sure, but it shouldn't matter who actually does the driving, and besides, I'll say you've earned this."
>Looking at me for reassurance, I sweep my hand towards the driver's seat, which is quickly occupied as Ayane takes position
>Somebody sure is eager
>As I take my place in the passenger's seat, I start walking her through the basics
"Check your mirrors often and adjust them before you turn the engine on."
"One foot on a pedal at a time, you'll think you're coordinated enough to use both, one for gas and one for break, but you aren't.
>As she turns the engine on, I can see her trembling
"Slowly depress the pedal, don't floor it. And keep your hands at 10 & 2"
>Slowly but surely, the car starts to move.
>As we join the main road, Ayane starts laughing
<"I'm doing it! Do you see me, Hasu, I'm driving!"
"You're doing great!"
>The only downside is...
"AYANE, EYES ON THE ROAD!"
>Not that it really matters, since by some miracle we make it home in one piece.
>Walking up to the door, something strikes me
"Ayane, I need you to trust me."
"I'm going to carry you into the house."
<"I don't think that is a good idea, Hasu."
"I don't care, it's tradition."
>With some unsteadiness on both our parts, I try sweeping her into a bridal carry
>It's a little awkward trying to carry someone my height, but Ayane seems to be enjoying herself.
>Finally making our way into the main room, I gently set her down
<"Are you all right? You didn't strain yourself?"
"I'm fine, I've actually wanted to do that since the night you told me you loved me."
<"It seems so long ago now..."
"It's only been about seven or eight months."
>Her eyes grow distant.
<"Tomorrow, I will have been on Earth for an entire year."
"Wow, already? I forgot how recent it was that monsters came over."
<"One year since I came, ten months since I first met you. What a year this has been."
"Tell me about it, I went from being a punch clock man to fighting knights and corporate conspiracies."
>She looks somewhat hurt
<"Oh, is that all you'll remember it for..."
>I can tell what she's doing, I'll play her game.
"I also met a wonderful woman, did all of the above for her, and made her my wife."
>We embrace, smiles plain on both our faces.
<"Do you remember when we first met?"
"Yeah, you could barely speak the language, had to introduce yourself through comics."
<"Well, I had my drawing talent and no mastery of the language, I did what I had to."
"I thought it was cute."
<"Oh, did you? Well, if that is the case then I have a surprise for you."
>She disappears upstairs, as I wait, I reflect on the whirlwind romance I found myself in
>Ayane reappears a few moments later holding her sketchbook close to her chest.
<"Here, look at this while I go start dinner, I put a lot of work into it."
>She walks off, and I am left to examine what she has given me.
>No chibi oni this time, just a drawing of her as a young girl sitting on the beach
>On the next page, she is joined by a young boy I recognize as myself
>Page through page the two walk along the shore, growing older as they do
>As they walk, they pass by figures, a man striking a pose with his hand in front of his face as [Menacing] kanji float around him, his horned girlfriend applauding his display
>A man being smothered by a large pillowy ogre
>A woman looking forlornly at the two of us, her large hat and fancy clothes making it plain who she is.
>A bearded man embracing three angels, one small, one dark, and one large
>Almost like a flip book, I notice the oni growing a large belly, which on the next page becomes a babe in arms, then a child trailing behind on the next
>First one, a human boy, then several more, a mix of human and oni children.
>By the end, there is only an old man and an old oni, sitting on the beach where everything started.
>Until the last "page", where it once again depicts the young oni girl with a ghostly tail and a triangular headpiece, and the boy with angel wings and a halo
>Underneath it, one last dedication
<Forever and Always, Ayane & Anon
>It seems to me that nothing ever changes, that is what I always used to say.
>When I said it then I pictured a life of tedium and solitude
>Now, when I say nothing ever changes, I mean the wonderful life I have with my spouse.
>I still have my routine, of course.
>Get up, kiss my wife, eat a wonderful meal she has prepared, go to work, come home, shower with her, eat another lovely meal, then "exercise" before bed.
>I have accepted that she and I will live a quiet and peaceful life
>And I wouldn't want it any other way.
>It's been five years since the "Portal Incident" and things have been changed irrevocably.
>Once the Monster Integration Bureau and the Maou announced the details of what had occurred, and the extent of Patterson's plans, things went crazy.
>News reports began to blare that monsters wanted to crash the economy and take over the world.
>They began publishing scare pieces about monsterization as well as just straight printing Order propaganda as news.
>Luckily, thanks to deft maneuvering by both the monster sympathetic factions in our world, and the Earth sympathizers in Royal Makai, the storm was weathered fairly easily.
>Especially when Anna's documentary on monsterization came out concurrent with Joey and I becoming minor celebrities when we allowed ourselves to be interviewed about the incident.
>It helped that most of the loudest voices ended up being arrested by either Earth authorities or Royal Makai
>All in all, things had calmed down. More and more monsters came to Earth, and with magic married to our technology, things began to progress by leaps and bounds.
>Last I heard the joint mission between NASA and Royal Makai had just landed the first men and monsters on Mars.
>But, all this is of course too much for a simple salary man. Right now, all that matters is having a good time with my family.
>I've always liked the cold and wet of fall over most other seasons, probably because the wet rains of fall used to banish my allergies every year, bringing needed relief to my young self.
>Tonight is no different
>Halloween with the old gang, celebrating the five-year anniversary of our triumph over the order.
>"Papa, why aren't we going trick or treating?"
"We're going to a party at Uncle Joey's, you'll get candy there."
>Here I am with my family, myself, my lovely wife Ayane, and our two kids. Danny and Mitsuko
>As for our costumes, well, my son is Momotaro and his mother and sister are two Oni, and me...
>I let Joey talk me into dying my hair blond, wearing a stupid novelty tie, and putting this prop hand in my pocket.
>"Uncle Joey? On Halloween? He and Trish are going to act weird again."
<"Leave that to Auntie Anna, just calm down and keep an eye on your sister. If you're a good boy I will buy you some more candy tomorrow."
>"Yeah! Thanks, Momma."
>I keep forgetting Anna redecorated Joey's house, what was once a gaudy McMansion is now a proper example of Royal Makai architecture. Complete with some rather lewd statues of men and monstergirls in, er, compromising positions.
>Needless to say, Ayane has her hands over the children's eyes the entire walk to the door.
"Alright, brace yourselves."
>"What's the password?"
"Don't make me do this in front of my family."
>"That's not the password."
"*sigh*, What. A. Beautiful. D U W A N G. Are you satisfied?"
>The door swings open wider to allow us to see the full family
>Joseph Patterson, taking his role as the president of the company seriously by, of course, dressing as...
"Ah, Benjamin Harrison, an underrated president but I admire your dedication to history, Joey."
>"W-what, no, I'm supposed to be Fun-"
<"Outta the way Daddy!"
>The small white winged girl dressed as a stereotypical princess flies out and tackles my son
<"You never play with me anymore, Danny. Are we not friends anymore?"
>"I'm trying to make more friends, Trish."
<"You play with that weird girl who buries her barbies in the sandbox."
>She means Calvin's little girl, oddly timid for a redcap.
>"You're a weird girl!"
<"SO MEAN, DANNY!!!"
>"Patricia Patterson, get off that boy this instant."
<"Ah, your little girlfriend missed you. So cute!"
>"She's not my girlfriend!"
>Not yet, anyway.
>Shrugging, I lead the rest of my family into the house
>Waiting in the living room is the heavily pregnant Mrs. Anna-Maria von Schwarzenberg-Patterson.
<"Ah, It is good to see you, Anna. How is the baby?"
>The princess rises and gives Ayane a sisterly hug
<"Due next month, a boy if you can believe it. I already have a name picked out."
>"We're going with Jos-"
<"We are not naming my son Josuke. You got your one when you managed to sneak "Trish" by me."
>I hear a faint knocking at the door
"I think you have more guests, Mr. President."
>"Thank you, and this conversation isn't over."
>Entering next is the head of security, Mr. "Michael Chevalier" and his wife Gabrielle. Both clad fully in their old Order armor
>"A fine night to you, Meddler. On this heathen holiday."
"Every holiday is a heathen holiday to you, Bohemond."
>"Don't say that name, I am Michael now."
<"You were always Mikael to me."
"Is Dr. Camille taking Leah trick or treating?"
>"Yes, it's why we came here, grandparents are a third wheel tonight."
<"Though I am glad we were there last year when that DEGENERATE tried grabbing Leah."
>I can almost imagine some lolicon misled by the MGE trying to hit on the little Angel girl, only to have to deal with her very pissed off and heavily armored grandparents.
>The children run in
>"Grandma Gabi is here!"
<"Tell us another story!"
>The old angel smiles warmly
<"If you promise to say your prayers and eat one piece of fruit for every ten pieces of candy."
>The guests come quicker after that
>Calvin and his wife show up, their daughter joining the rest of the children upstairs
"Are the Yamanos coming?"
<"No, sadly, Mrs. Mika is having her own party tonight."
<"Did you invite anyone?"
"Well, someone might show up lat-"
<"DADDY, DADDY, DADDY!"
>I choke on spit, running up to me is a little girl with green hair and purple highlights, dressed in a more age-appropriate version of a Cheshire cat's attire
>My niece Alicia, since she was old enough to speak, has insisted on calling me "Daddy"
>Damn it, Amanda
"H-hey there, little lady, what did I tell you about that? It's "Uncle", I'm "Uncle Anon", not Daddy."
<"Mommy says you're my daddy, I even have your eyes!"
>She's not wrong, sparkling blue.
>Which makes it even worse.
"Haha, please don't yell. Uncle Anon will get in big trouble if Aunt Ayane hears you."
<"I don't want you to get in trouble, Daddy."
"Great, so go play with your bro- COUSIN, and the other kids."
>As she runs off, I give a big exhale
"Christ, every time."
<"Tell me about it, remember Easter? I almost thought Ayane was going to nail you to a cross."
>Appearing beside me, hair dyed and face painted to resemble a wonder worm, is my sister.
<"It's good to see you, Anon. Nice David Bowie costume, by the way."
"Are you the one who keeps telling her to call me daddy?"
<"Maybe, or maybe she just recognizes her Daddy?"
>I look over at her.
"Ever since she was born, this girl has called me "Daddy". Every time I ask you about who her father is, you give me cryptic non-answers like "She has her father's eyes"."
<"Well, she does."
"Don't think I don't know what you mean by that. Alicia didn't just pop out of the ground, so tell me, am I the father of your child and if so how?"
>A look of intense internal debate crosses my sister's face
<"If I say "yes" will you hate me?"
>A deep sigh, followed by me pulling her into a hug
"I'm past the point of hating you, I know you can't control your feelings. I'm sorry I can't return them the way you want."
>Fatherhood has made me soft
<"Alright, David told me that you visited a sperm bank in college. The night after we had our talk, I went out and cross-referenced ones near your old school until I found it."
<"Because the Bureau provided me a fake identity, no one questioned me walking in and filling out the application."
>Now I want to scream
"So, she is my daughter... Christ, Mandy."
<"Hey, on the bright side, the adverse effects of consanguineous reproduction don't surface until after two generations of inbreeding."
>Nothing passes between us for a long while
<"I didn't want to get between you and Ayane, but I still wanted you."
"I know, I can't say I approve, but I understand."
<"Ayane doesn't need to know."
"She never will, we're taking this to our graves, Mandy. Then you can explain yourself to Mom & Dad."
>The awkward moment starts to soften
"I need to get back to Ayane."
<"I understand if you never want to see me again."
>I'm going to regret this...
"Mandy, you know I don't want that, and if Alicia is my daughter... *sigh* then I'll need to play a bigger role in her life."
"Don't take this the wrong way, I'm doing this for her, not you."
<"That's good enough for me."
>I give a soft smile, but as I walk away, I feel her grab my wrist, pulling me into a short kiss, quickly broken off as I shove her away
"Are you crazy?"
<"Hey, Mommy needs a strong male figure in her life too."
"Then find one, Amanda."
<"Well, I see one I like rig-"
"And stop humming the Divinyls when you're around me; you think I can't recognize "I Touch Myself"?
>As I walk away, I hear her mutter something, I'm too focused on the matter at hand to notice
<"Hehehe, little by little, your will erodes, and one day soon you'll realize it's easier to just accept it. I don't even care if I have to share you with that Oni."
<"Now, I need to thank that Bicorn..."
>As I walk to rejoin the party, I notice voices from an open door
<"It's been five years, sister. Surely you'll be ready to give us your appraisal soon. After all, without it we don't know if we should invade or not."
>That's not Anna.
>Another voice rings out
<"Of course we should invade, I've walked around there incognito and I can say it's a cesspool. The level of human oppression and misery is overwhelming, not even the Order can match it! Best if we came and tore everything down!"
>I can hear Anna clear her throat
<"See, this is why I'm pregnant with my second child and you're still a virgin, Droolla."
<"How dare yo-"
>Another voice, this time the nurse from the hospital
<"Girls, calm yourselves. I will not have my daughters fighting like this. The observation period was agreed to be a decade, I see no harm in honoring that. But please, Anna-Maria, have an answer by then."
>Another clearing of the throat
<"I will, thank you Mother."
<"And I'm looking forward to some pictures when the baby comes. You know you're going to be the first of my daughters to have a human son, my dream realized."
<"I know, I love you, Mom."
>A silence reigns
<"I know you're there, Anon."
"Is this something I'm going to have to deal with?
<"Not for another five years, if at all."
"I'm not going to let a war happen, I stopped Patterson and I'll stop your sisters and your mom."
<"Let Joey be the Shonen hero, it doesn't suit you."
>She gets up, nestling her eight-month pregnant belly
<"I won't let them take Earth; This world has a lot of problems, but we'll solve them our way."
"And what way is that?"
>She looks at an old photo, Ayane's birthday five years ago. When we were all so young.
<"The way that made a simple office drone want to fight a one-man war against the Order for a woman he barely knew."
>We exchange glances and then make our way downstairs
>I take my seat on the couch beside Ayane.
>Mitsuko and Alicia are having a miniature tea party with Mandy and any dolls in the house.
>I see my son being pulled back and forth between Trish and the small Redcap girl.
>High school is going to be a fun time for him.
>I notice Anna waddling over to Joey, who embraces her and kneels to plant a small kiss on her belly
>I can overhear the Paladin and his wife
<"Should we try again, Mikael? Raise a child properly this time, without the Order tearing us from each other."
>"We're nearing sixty, Gabrielle."
<"That shouldn't stop us."
>Ayane rests her head on my shoulder, and I pull her in close.
<"You can't say you don't have a good life, Hasu."
"Yep, quiet and peaceful, just like I always wanted. And you, Ayane?"
<"My life is wonderful, just one little thing."
"Anything, my love."
<"Two children is far too few, we need at least five, though ten is ideal."
<"Some women in Zipangu have twelve children in their lifetimes, and those are the humans. We need to catch up, Hasu!"
"Excuse me, Ayane."
>I slowly get up, then sprint across the room
"HEY JOEY, JOJO, PRESIDENT VALENTINE! I NEED A RAISE!"
>So, the curtain closes on the Tale of the Sad Eyed Meddler, The Bashful Oni, and all their friends.
>To all of you, I give my sincerest thanks for reading.