Ranma 1/2 Fan Fiction ❯ Ranma 1/2 -- Out in the Open: Ranma and Akane's Retreat ❯ Ranma 1/2 -- Out in the Open: Ranma and Akane's Retreat ( One-Shot )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Ranma ½
Out in the Open: Ranma and Akane’s Retreat

Ranma ½ and all the related characters belong to the author Rumiko Takahashi, Shogankukan Kitty films, ???

“Looking back, I have this to regret, that too often when I loved, I did not say so.”
-- David Grayson --


“Is the coast clear?”

“I think so. I can’t really tell.”

“That’s not very reassuring, Ranma.”

“Oh gee, wait Akane. Let me just don my blue tights and fire up my X-ray vision first.”

“You didn’t have to be sarcastic. I was just saying…”

“I know, I know.”

Ranma Saotome pensively peered around the corner outside the gates of Furinkan High. Akane Tendo stood just a step behind. A casual onlooker might wonder what could possibly be lurking outside such a calm and quiet street that would raise such concern. But anyone close to the pair would know that their worries were quite warranted. And why.

“Come on,” Ranma said, “We’d better move it. Ready?”

“GO!!!” Akane shot back. And with that, the two tore around the corner and made a mad dash down the street. They were silent at first, concentrating solely on the task of getting home as fast as they could. But as they got further along, Akane began to gradually feel a little more confident.

“Well, so far so good. We might just make it this time,” she noted between breaths as she and Ranma continued their frantic pace. After all, each step away from the school was another step closer to home. Just then, a female figure dropped from the light of the midday sun.

“You just had to go and say something, didn’cha?” Ranma remarked a split second before emitting a loud yelp as he was tackled and sent rolling back along the street half a block.

“Nihao Ranma,” came the purple haired girl’s familiar squeal as she wrapped her arms tightly around Ranma’s neck, “You ready date with Shampoo now?”

“N-not exactly,” Ranma’s tone expressed his annoyance as he struggled to breathe.

“Shampoo…,” Akane’s anger was clear through her gritted teeth as she stormed over to the sprawled pair, “…don’t you EVER know when to quit!?!?”

Akane flashed a forward kick in the Shampoo’s direction. Unfortunately, the Chinese Amazon dodged her attack with ease as she leapt into the air and landed some ten feet away. Akane tried to stop in time, but unfortunately, was unable to avoid hitting Ranma in the face. Luckily, she was able to pull her kick just enough at the last second to avoid striking him too hard.

“What for?” Shampoo replied, “Akane no marry Ranma when supposed to. Is fair game, yes?”

“I hate to agree with her, but I gotta say, she has a point,” A slightly rough female voice came from behind Shampoo as both girls caught sight of Ukyo Kuonji stepping out from a nearby alley, her trademark giant spatula hoisted over her shoulder, “Ranma-Honey’s up for grabs, so long as he’s not tied down yet.”

“And I suppose you’re volunteering for the job?” Akane spoke with an annoyed tone.

“I am…qualified, yes. After all, I’m as good a candidate as any,” Ukyo replied confidently, brushing her bangs aside. Unfortunately, no sooner did the words escape her lips than the entire street howled with the sound of shrieking laughter as a flurry of black rose petals blanketed the air.

“Don’t make me laugh. Oh wait, you did,” The robed figure announced from atop a nearby lamppost, shedding her cloak to reveal the trademark leotard and ribbon that made the infamous Kodachi “The Black Rose” Kuno instantly recognizable, “To think that gutter trash like you could EVER believe yourself to be worthy of MY Ranma-darling. You CAN’T be serious.”

“What did you say?” Ukyo growled as her hands tensed around the handle of her spatula.

“I wanna go home now.” Ranma groaned, still slightly dazed as he picked himself up off the ground.

“You and me both, Ranma,” Akane shot back, “But somehow, I don’t think that’s what Rockettes over there have in mind.”

Akane immediately took a defensive stance in front of three sly gazes, instinctively anticipating a battle on the horizon. She knew enough not to expect a serious threat from Ukyo. After all, despite their official status as rivals for Ranma’s hand, they were more friends than enemies for Ranma’s sake. If anything, Ukyo was just there to throw her hat into the ring so everyone knew she was still around, especially Shampoo and Kodachi. And in the end, it was those two that Akane knew not to expect any courtesy from. Still, a free-for-all in the middle of the street was definitely NOT what she was in the mood for. Just then, as Akane was trying to figure out how to avoid a confrontation entirely, the familiar blade of a bokuto sword flashed past her eyes.

“U-Upperclassman Kuno” Akane remarked with surprise as she and Ranma couldn’t possibly figure out where he could’ve appeared from.

“Fear not, Akane Tendo,” Kuno proclaimed in his typical air of grandeur, “I, Tatewaki Kuno, shall not allow a single hair of my future bride’s flowing locks to be harmed by these harridans.”

‘Future…Bride?’ The words flashed through the minds of both Ranma and Akane as the looks on their faces expressed their feelings all too well. Kuno had already overstayed his welcome.

“And since when are YOU any help!?!?” Ranma and Akane yelled together, silencing Kuno’s bold pronouncements with a unified uppercut threatening to send him flying into orbit.

“Ah, is good,” Shampoo noted, “Stupid Kuno gone, now is just Akane.”

“Yes, my ‘dear’ brother can be quite the irritant, can’t he?” Kodachi observed. Ukyo meanwhile, merely flashed a stern gaze in the direction of Kodachi and Shampoo. It was at that moment that Ranma and Akane realized they might have made a grave mistake as they soon found themselves right back where they started. Despite Kuno’s aggravating nature, if nothing else, he might have at least made for a good distraction. Something for their pursuers to pound on while they, themselves stealthily made their getaway. Fortunately, just as one potential diversion had been ejected, salvation immediately came in the form of another scapegoat.

“SHAMPOOOOOOOOO!!!!” Ranma and Akane could hear the desperate wail coming from behind them and whirled around to see a charging figure leaving a cloud of dust behind.

“Aiyaa! Mousse!” Shampoo exclaimed, recognizing him immediately, “How hard Shampoo have to hit you before stay down?”

“Oh Shampoo, I can’t believe you ran off on me again!” Mousse wailed, holding tight to what he thought was his beloved. Unfortunately, the nearsighted “Master of Hidden Weapons” had once again neglected to put on his glasses and the girl he THOUGHT was Shampoo was actually Akane. Ranma could only look on in disbelief.

“If you want Shampoo so much…,” Akane snarled, grabbing Mousse by the collar of his coat, “…you can HAVE HER!!!”

Akane threw a confused Mousse in the direction of Shampoo, who easily sidestepped him. As a result, Mousse ended up sliding face first along 10 feet of hard asphalt. Unfortunately, Shampoo was not as lucky to avoid landing on Ukyo’s foot as she was dodging Mousse’s flying body.

“Rrrg! Hey watch it, you bimbo!” Ukyo winced in pain as she limped backwards.

“Shampoo no is bimbo,” Shampoo fired back, “Spatula girl have too too big feet is all!”

“THAT TEARS IT!!” Ukyo shouted, “That’s just about all I’m gonna take from you!!!”

Ukyo unloaded with a barrage of her miniature throwing spatulas. However, with a confident smirk, Shampoo fired back with a series of rapid strikes, easily deflecting Ukyo’s attacks. Kodachi, meanwhile, was shrieking with laughter at the amusing sight, until one of the deflected spatulas flew up and struck her right between the eyes, sending her plummeting off the lamppost behind the wall bordering the street.

“Shampoo! Don’t worry, I’ll rescue you,” a dazed and bleeding Mousse proclaimed as he scurried over the wall, mistaking Kodachi for Shampoo as he had done moments ago with Akane. Meanwhile, the real Shampoo continued her tussle with Ukyo, dodging the swings of her spatula before leaping up to land on the top of the wall behind her.

“Stupid! Stupid!” Shampoo taunted, sticking her tongue out at Ukyo, “Silly Spatula Girl fights is like babies to womans from Amazon Tribe.”

“I’m not done with you yet!” Ukyo shouted, “You get your ass back here!”

Akane could only stare at the scene dumbfounded. No matter how many times such similar events had occurred, she still never quite knew what to make of it, other than the obvious fact that she needed to find a new circle of acquaintances. It was only when she felt Ranma grab her wrist that she snapped back to reality.

“We’re going,” Ranma remarked with an annoyed undertone, “Now.”

They proceeded slowly around the corner so as not to attract any unwanted attention. From there, it was a 10-minute mad dash all the way back to the Tendo Dojo, neither one of them pausing for an instant until the Dojo gates had been slammed closed and heavily latched.

“Whew, safe,” Akane panted as she held her knees to keep her self upright.

“Yeah, at least for now,” Ranma replied, slumped against the gate, “You okay?”

“As well as could be expected with those maniacs out there,” Akane answered, the exhaustion in her voice giving way to annoyance, “Honestly, ever since the wedding bottomed out, they’ve all just gone from bad to worse.”

“You know what, I really don’t want to think about it right now,” Ranma stated, “I just want to go inside, lock all the doors and hopefully relax.”

“Now THAT sounds like a plan,” Akane agreed. With that, the pair seemed to find a renewed energy and a sense of optimism as they headed for the front door.

“We’re ho…!” Ranma was about to announce as he slid the front door open. That is, until a bucket of ice water swung down from the rafters and splashed him square in the face.

“AAAAHHHH!!!COLD!!!!” Ranma could already hear “his” voice change to “her” voice and her shock gave way to a groan as she knew such a pitfall could only be the work of one culprit, “Oh no he didn’t…”

“Well, hello there Ranma,” Happosai’s diminutive frame came into view as though he were nothing more than coincidental passerby, “Oh my, you didn’t have to go to the trouble of changing just for l’il old me. Such pains you take to please your old master.”

“Look Freak,” Ranma spoke acidly through her teeth, “I REALLY don’t feel like dealing with you right now. So just back yourself off before you start something I’m gonna finish.”

“Why Ranma, I’m surprised at you,” Happosai objected, “And here I thought we were starting to get along so well tonight. I even had a present for you and everything here. I thought you might like to try on this little…”

“GAH!” Akane screamed as she sent Happosai flying into the far wall with a soccer-style kick, never giving him a chance to finish rummaging the pink lace bra from his tunic.

“Thank you,” Ranma heaved in a lengthy sigh.

“Oh my,” Kasumi remarked as she walked past the front door to see Happosai nestled in a large indent in the far wall, “was it a rough day at school, you two?”

“You could say that,” Ranma remarked cynically, “You know what, I think I’m gonna just turn in right now.”

“I’m with you,” Akane followed.

“But it isn’t even 4:30 yet,” Kasumi noted.

“We’re aware of the time,” Ranma and Akane replied in unison. The expressions on their faces made it plain to see how completely drained they were.

“Well, would you like me to bring some dinner up to your rooms later?” Kasumi asked.

“Sure,” came another unified answer as the pair trudged up the stairs to their rooms.

The rest of the day passed by seemingly without incident as Ranma and Akane hid out. As afternoon gave way to evening and then to night, it was only a matter of time before Ranma had changed for bed. Even the thought of changing back to a boy mattered little to her at that moment when compared to the concerns of facing another marathon like she had with Akane earlier. And she couldn’t help thinking about how right Akane was. Had things turned out differently a few weeks ago, it wouldn’t have mattered. Okay, maybe it had been a shotgun wedding of sorts, with Akane’s father basically bribing her into it with that “Spring of Drowned Man” water from Juusenkyo. But at least she was trying to help Ranma out by going through with it. And sure, Nabiki didn’t help anything by inviting everyone to the wedding who had a reason to oppose it. Shampoo, Ukyo, Kuno, Kodachi, just to name a few. Small wonder the entire thing was ruined before it even started. And since then, all of the potential suitors from both camps had become much more “persistent”, to put it as politely as possible.

But Ranma couldn’t help wondering what might have happened had the wedding actually proceeded. Would things have been better or worse? Were they really even ready for it? Just then her boy side flashed back to that day, running to Akane’s room and seeing her turn to him wearing her wedding dress. Just the sight of her almost made his knees buckle.

‘Well,’ Ranma thought to herself, ‘what if we had…?’

*** “Ranma, it’s so pretty.”

Akane slowly twirled around, taking in the ambience of the enormous hotel room their fathers had obviously spared no expense to acquire for them. There was no denying that everything from the crystal chandelier to the lace fitted sheets was absolutely stunning. Ranma however, seemed to be distracted, looking out over the balcony at the glittering Tokyo skyline.

“Uh huh…yeah…” Ranma replied, his already faraway voice trailing off. Considering that he was still in his tuxedo and Akane was still in her wedding dress, he wasn’t exactly sure where the night was going to go from there.

“I mean, I know what they were thinking, but I honestly can’t believe our dads got this room for us. This must have cost a fortune.”

“Yeah…yeah, it’s…uh, well it’s definitely…yeah,” Ranma found he could respond properly. He just continued to stutter.

“Ranma, are you okay?” Akane’s voice snapped Ranma out of his trance, causing him to whip his head up and see her concerned expression. Realizing he wasn’t being particularly focused, he tried to sound more enthusiastic.

“Uh, yeah! Yeah,” he answered quickly, although he couldn’t help but notice his voice starting to drift off again, “I don’t know, I guess I’m just…a little, you know…tired…is all? I mean, it was a big day and all and…”

“Oh…well,” Akane responded and Ranma couldn’t help but noted a slight tone of disappointment in her voice, “I guess…if you’re tired, we could just go to bed…if you wanted.”

“No, no! That’s not what I meant!” Ranma shot back nervously, “I mean, what I was TRYING to say was…”

“Ranma?” once more, Akane’s voice shook Ranma from his train of thought and he looked up at her once again to notice her deathly serious expression, “Are you…okay with me?”

“‘Okay?’” Ranma found himself taken aback by Akane’s question as he rushed over to her and put his hands on her shoulders, “Akane, don’t say that…How can I NOT be okay with you? I mean, you’re so…I mean, Akane, I…”

“Ranma,” Akane cut off his words once again as she put her hands on his chest, leaning her head up towards his, “Please…for tonight…can’t we just…”

‘Wow,’ Ranma thought to himself as Akane’s face crept closer to his, so close that he could practically feel her breath on his lips. Almost instinctively, he found himself closing his eyes as he leaned his head closer to hers.

‘She’s just so…beautiful.’***

It was at that moment that Ranma’s eyes snapped open, realizing what she was thinking about. The thing about it that was truly nerve wracking was how frequently such thoughts had been entering her head of late. Quickly realizing she was blushing as she felt her cheeks grow hot, she just fell back in bed and shut her eyes tight, wanting to try and forget what had just gone through her mind and get to sleep as soon as possible. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before she was drifting off.

… … … …

“...nma…Ranma? Ranma.”

It was a only a couple hours later that Ranma found herself jolted awake by a gentle nudge and a soft whisper. Immediately, she sat up and looked around in a sleepy daze. After a few moments, her eyes adjusted to the pale moonlight seeping in through the window. And to her shock, she found Akane in her pajamas, kneeling right beside her on the floor. Enough of a shock to knock any lingering daze right out of her.

“Akane…!” Ranma immediately slapped her hands over her mouth at her cry, and looked over to thankfully find Genma not in the room. Her voice then crept down to a whisper, “Akane, what’s wrong? What is it?”

“No, nothing’s wrong. Well, not really. I…,” Akane looked away briefly as she tried to gather her thoughts, then looked back at Ranma with a concerned gaze, “Ranma, can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Well, yeah…I-I guess,” Ranma scratched her head, wondering what Akane could possibly want to discuss at such an ungodly hour of the night, but also taking note of the concern in Akane’s voice, “What’s up?”

“N-no…not here,” Akane whispered, grabbing Ranma’s hand and pulling her to her feet, “Come on, this way.”

“Akane, what…?” Ranma was cut off as Akane quietly dragged her down the hall. A few steps later, they found themselves on their way up to the attic and then finally outside on the roof of the Tendo house. And there they sat, side by side, just a few spaces apart.

“This was the only place I could think of where I could get you alone,” Akane spoke meekly, gently hugging her legs. Looking over at her, Ranma could only grow more and more concerned.

“Akane, what’s the matter? Is something…?” Ranma slowly reached her hand out to place on Akane’s shoulder, but was paused by Akane’s words.

“Ranma…” Akane looked over to her, “…do you want to get out of here?”

“Akane, w-what are you…?” Ranma could only stare at her, confused.

“I can’t take it anymore!” Akane’s body tensed up as she clenched her fists, “It’s like ever since the wedding, all these problems have been piling up higher and higher and I can’t even breathe. It’s just so crazy. I mean, I feel like a prisoner in my own life. How can that happen?”

“Hey, trust me,” Ranma replied as she lay back on the roof, placing her hands behind her head, “That’s a question I’ve been asking for almost 19 years now.”

“I’ve just had it,” Akane exclaimed, “I’ve had it with all the expectations, all the harassment. With just…everything, you know? I…I just need to get out for a while. Not just out of the house. Out of the city. Just…disappear, you know?”

“Now wait a minute, Akane,” Ranma immediately sat back up, “You’re not thinking about something like running away or something, are you?”

“No, no, not like forever,” Akane shook her head and flopped backwards on the roof, spreading her body out, “Just for a couple days, you know? I’m…so confused right now. I need to get away. Just…clear my head. Find some breathing room. You know what I mean, Ranma?”

“Yeah…yeah, I do know what you mean,” Ranma sighed as she lay back down, looking up at the stars with Akane, “I gotta tell ya, it sounds like a great idea. I know I could sure go a couple days without all those monkeys on my back.”

“But…?” Akane added on, anticipating a response.

“But…” Ranma added on cue, “…exactly how are we supposed to have a getaway without getting stalked by the entire neighborhood? Even if we said we were taking separate trips, if we left at the same time…”

“You’re right,” Akane groaned as she flopped her left arm over her eyes, “They’ll never buy it.”

“Mmmm,” Ranma mused thoughtfully, but then her eyes suddenly lit up, “Unless…”

“Unless…?” Akane uncovered her eyes to see Ranma flashing her traditional grin of confidence. At that moment, it was as if Akane could read her mind as they both sat up in unison and looked at each other.

“Oh, you’re not thinking…”

“It really is the perfect way to get away from it all,” Ranma put her hands behind her head and rolled her eyes, “Although it might be kind of a long shot. I mean, they might think we were too mature to fight anymore. I mean, unless you had one of your trademark macho chick temper tantrums…”

“Oh, really,” Akane flashed a sly gaze in Ranma’s direction as she once again picked up on her hint, “Well, maybe I might have a few less ‘tantrums’, if you weren’t such a jerk all the time, Ranma. Not to mention all the perverted stuff you do.”

“Oh, is that so, huh?” Ranma flashed a mock look of annoyance in Akane’s direction before their gaze evolved in a sly grins. After all the years of fighting they had done, they had all the typical bickering and sniping language memorized to heart.

“Oh man,” Ranma stated as Akane giggled evilly, “This is going to be so perfect.”

… … … …

“RANMA, YOU JERK!!!”

Akane’s roar naturally followed a thunder of footsteps As Soun Tendo and Genma Saotome charged into the living room, with Nabiki and Kasumi following close behind. What met their eyes was hardly an unfamiliar sight, but one the fathers had hoped they could finally put behind them. Their two betrothed children facing off in a heated staredown.

“Oh, ‘Ranma, you jerk!’ ‘Ranma, you jerk!’,” Ranma mocked, “Why don’t you grow up for crying out loud?! It ain’t like you’re Little Miss Perfect, y’know!”

“What was that?” Akane growled.

“What? You stupid AND deaf?!” Ranma shot back.

“At LEAST I’m not a pervert!” Akane retaliated.

“What did you say?” Ranma gritted his teeth.

“Ha! NOW who’s stupid and deaf?”

“Now, now, you two,” Soun’s body slightly trembled as he put his hands on their shoulders, attempting to make peace, “Whatever started this, why can’t we just bury the hatchet? After all, you two have been getting along so well lately. I’d hate to think…”

“WHY DON’T YOU BUTT OUT?!!” Ranma and Akane snapped, forcing a teary-eyed Soun to shrink back.

“You know, if you two hadn’t set me up to marry some hothead tomboy, maybe things would turn out differently,” Ranma stated.

“Oh, is that so?” Akane growled, grabbing Ranma by his shirt, “Well, if you feel that strongly about it…THERE’S THE DOOR!!!”

Akane followed up her words by tossing Ranma across the room to the front door hallway.

“USE IT!!!”

“You don’t gotta ask me twice!!!” Ranma shouted back, storming over to the hall closet and pulling out his camping gear, shoving it into his backpack as Akane tromped up the stairs and slammed her bedroom door.

“Uh…boy? Where are you going?” Genma asked as he peered around the corner.

“Where do you think?” Ranma replied as he continued packing, “I’m going someplace where I don’t have to worry about having ‘HURRICANE AKANE’ ON MY BACK!!!”

“GET LOST!!!” Akane’s voice could be heard screaming from her bedroom.

“Aww, come on now boy,” Genma put on his polite demeanor as he gently rubbed Ranma’s shoulders, “I mean, it’s not all that bad, right? And her dad’s right, you two were getting along great for a while there. And think the dojo, boy, our future. After all, fiancées don’t grow on trees you know.”

“You know something, Pop, you’re absolutely right,” Ranma replied. Although the only sounds afterward were a series of crashes and thuds until Genma’s head was shoved through the sliding door to the living room.

“In your case, THEY GO TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER!” Ranma added, throwing his backpack onto his shoulders, “I’m outta here. Don’t wait up.”

“Wait! Ranma, son! Please come back!” a teary-eyed Soun pleaded as he crawled after Ranma, who merely slammed the dojo gate shut and disappeared. A couple hours later, Akane stormed downstairs with a backpack of her own.

“And where are YOU off to?” Nabiki inquired as she walked by.

“I’m going to the hot springs in the Eastern valley for a couple days,” Akane replied, a touch of anger still lingering in her voice, “If Ranma comes back, I’m not home!”

“You know Akane, you really should wait until Ranma comes back,” Kasumi noted, walking in from the hall, “After all, I’m sure he’ll be in a mood to talk, and if you’re not here, he’ll be worried about you.”

“Oh, nonsense Kasumi,” Soun replied, running in from the living room and cheerfully helping Akane put her backpack on, “You just have yourself a nice time at the hot springs, okay Akane?”

“Tendo, are you nuts?” Genma chimed in, “What happens if Ranma comes back…?”

“Be quiet, Saotome,” Soun whispered, “Don’t you see? If Akane goes to the hot springs and calms down, the better the chances will be that she’ll make up with Ranma when she gets home.”

“Ooooooohhhhh,” Genma replied, picking up on Soun’s thinking, “Uh, you know, you’re dad’s right, Akane. You should go out and have a nice time at the hot springs, okay? Make sure you get good n’ relaxed, okay now?”

“Uh huh,” Akane replied acidly, giving both fathers a cynical gaze. It wasn’t hard to see what they were thinking.

“You know, frankly, I keep wondering if one of these days, Ranma is going to finally wise up and not come home,” Nabiki threw in her two cents as she put her hands behind her head and leaned against the wall.

“Nabiki,” Kasumi responded to her sarcasm.

“Hey, I’m not defending him,” Nabiki replied, “Ranma’s got his problems, no doubt about it. But honestly, how many times have those two had a fight because she blew something out of proportion. Do you want me to read you the list? I’ve got one up in my room.”

Nabiki paused with a sigh as she walked down the hall, leaving Akane standing at the front door.

“Akane, you’re my little sister and I love you to pieces, but honestly, I have no earthly idea how that man has put up with you for so long.”

Akane couldn’t think of anything to say in response. She merely trotted out to the gate and headed out as Soun and Genma cheerfully made their good-byes in spite of Nabiki’s remarks. Closing the gate, she proceeded in the opposite direction Ranma had taken when he left. At least until she got one block from the house. From there, she turned off, ran a full block around and headed back in the direction Ranma had set out in. As she made her backtrack, she couldn’t help but giggle as a smile of triumph crossed her lips.

‘Wow,’ she thought to herself as she trotted off. ‘I can’t believe how well that worked.’ But Nabiki’s comments still remained fresh in her mind and her attitude immediately became more serious.

… … … …

“Yo, Akane!” Ranma called out, waving to her. With the promise of complete freedom just mere meters away, Akane smiled and broke into a mad dash to the corner where he was waiting.

“Well…,” she panted, a few beads of sweat peppering her forehead, “I got out of there.”

“I noticed,” Ranma replied as they started walking off, “Right on time too. You know, I gotta tell you, this whole thing is working perfectly. I mean, was that a great performance or what? There were a couple seconds there where I actually had to remind myself that we weren’t having a real fight. Although there weren’t any doubts after you grabbed me, because I know for a fact that you can throw a LOT harder than THAT.”

“Uh, yeah,” Akane replied as her attitude suddenly changed from enthusiastic to faraway.

“Something wrong?” Ranma asked.

“Huh? Oh, it’s nothing,” Akane said, snapping out of her trance, “It’s just well…Nabiki said some things before I left and I…nothing. Forget it.”

“Are you sure?” Ranma asked, showing a little concern.

“Yeah, it’s…it’s okay.” Akane answered back, trying to sound more upbeat.

“Okay, if you say so,” Ranma put his hand on Akane’s shoulder, trying to get her to cheer up, “Hey, I picked up some food for the trip. It’s not a lot, but it should last us a couple days. Maybe longer if we can catch some fish or something.”

“That reminds me,” Akane mentioned thoughtfully, “You never told me where we were going.”

“Just a little place I heard about,” Ranma answered, “Actually, Ryoga mentioned it one time. It’s a nice little clearing out west in the forest. There’s supposed to be a stream for fish and a couple hot springs too. I never stayed there, but I checked it out once during another trip. Seemed nice.”

“Hmmm,” Akane thought with interest, but soon another thought entered her mind, “Wait a minute. I mean, if Ryoga told you where this place was, how on earth did you find it? I mean, Ryoga’s a nice guy and all, but we all know his directions aren’t exactly…”

“Oh, that was actually pretty easy,” Ranma chuckled, “Wherever he told me to go, I just went in the opposite direction. Not exactly a perfect strategy, but it got me there. So…ready to go?”

“ALRIGHT!” Akane yelled out as she grabbed Ranma’s hand and the two made a mad dash for the great outdoors.

It was another two hours of hiking as the pair gradually made their way through the woods surrounding the city. Eventually, they reached a small rock face that had to be scaled to make the last leg of their journey. After that, they had to endure another 15 minutes of hiking before the trees thinned out and a small clearing emerged. It stood up on a rise, as if a patch of natural beauty was being mounted on a pedestal for the whole wilderness to see. The whittling chirp of birds delighted Akane’s ears as she placed her backpack on the ground and stretched tall, taking a deep breath of fresh air. She then took a quick look of the surrounding area while Ranma rummaged through his own equipment to unpack and break camp.

Upon closer inspection, Akane soon found the land to be everything Ranma had heard it was. Just down at the bottom of the rise, a small freshwater lake could be seen, sparkling a brilliant blue. Clearly, a perfect place to catch fish. And not to far off to the other side was a small rock face with three hot spring pools. It got Akane thinking that there must be some underground water source feeding them both. But such thoughts soon faded. After all, the trip they were on wasn’t about thinking at all. It was about getting away. About escaping from their continuous string of harassment. From all thoughts and worries about their past or future. The present was all that mattered. And Akane was finding herself more at ease by the moment as she ran back up the rise, giggling.

“Oh Ranma, you were right,” She said, a hint of giddiness in her voice, “This place is unbelievable.”

“Huh? Uh, yeah, yeah, great,” Ranma seemed distracted as he rummaged through a canvas duffel he’d strapped to his backpack.

“Ranma? What is it? What’s wrong?” Akane’s feeling of ease began to fade.

Ranma didn’t answer at first, still rummaging through the duffel. It was only a few seconds later that he flopped back and let out a heavy sigh.

“Oh no they didn’t…” he groaned.

“What? What happened?” Akane asked, her voice showing more concern.

“There are SUPPOSED to be TWO tents in here,” Ranma replied, “But I can only find one. Our dads must’ve taken one of them out and didn’t put it back.”

“You didn’t check the gear?!” Akane exclaimed, “What were you doing while you were waiting for me for two hours?!”

“Look, I’m sorry, I never thought I HAD to check it, okay?” Ranma retaliated, “It was all there the last time! Besides, what was I going to do? Go back to the house? You know there’s no way they’d have let me leave again. I still can’t believe it was so easy for me to get out of there the first time.”

The two of them paused as they looked at each other for a moment, then both breathed a sigh of resignation.

“So…,” Akane asked uneasily, “…what are we going to do?”

… … … …

“There we go,” Ranma stated from inside the erected tent, “Hey Akane, wanna come here and tell me what you think?”

“Be right there!” Akane called back, walking up the rise with twigs and branches for the campfire. Placing them on the ground, she walked over to the tent and peered inside. The tent itself was fortunately, very spacious, with a high ceiling for hanging a small lantern. But Akane soon found that Ranma had put in an addition. By tying a length of rope from one side to the other, he draped a spare heavy blanket as a partition between the two sides.

“So,” Ranma inquired, “Think this’ll be okay?”

“Well, I guess so,” Akane replied, “But are you sure that’s not going to come down or anything?”

“Relax, Akane,” Ranma said assuredly, “This rope’s knotted tight. The only way this thing’s gonna come down is if you pull the tent down first. I even put the lantern up top, right in the middle, so the light’s all even, okay?”

“Well…okay,” Akane still seemed unsure.

“Look, it’s either this, or one of us has to sleep outside,” Ranma said, “Now I can sleep outside if you want…”

“No, no. It’s…okay,” Akane said quickly.

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah, sure. It’ll…be fine.”

“Then we’re cool,” Ranma said, “So which side do you want?”

It only took a few more minutes for the two of them to get unpacked and lay out their bedding for the next two days. Even with the division, there was more than enough space to accommodate them both, although Akane still wasn’t sure what she thought about sharing a tent with Ranma, since it was something they hadn’t actually done yet. Still, Ranma himself didn’t seem to be too bothered. Or if he was, then he certainly wasn’t showing it. Akane chose to take that as a positive sign. Not too long ago, the issue of them staying together in such close proximity would have been enough to start a ground war between them. It made Akane think about just how much things between them had matured. Granted, it was still a far from perfect arrangement. They both managed to keep that awkwardness around each other and still had their share of disagreements. But when Akane thought back to what things were like when they first met almost three years ago, it made their trip so far, not to mention the last couple months, seem downright peaceful by comparison. There was a time when the very mention of Ranma’s name would make her blood boil with rage. And yet, to look at him now, Akane could actually feel a contented smile crossing her lips.

A quick dip in the hot spring after they’d set up camp did much to improve Akane’s mood further. The sun was just beginning to set into the mountains as she made her way back up the rise and saw that Ranma had already got a fire built. Still, with only a towel to cover her body, she took care to make her way around to the far side of the tent so she could go inside and put some clothes on.

“Looks like the fire’s going good,” she mentioned as she peeked her head up over the tent to make sure Ranma knew she was back from bathing.

“Hmmm?” Ranma looked over his shoulder to catch a glimpse of Akane before she ducked back behind the tent, “Oh, yeah. It’s going okay. Personally, I had kind of hoped to have all this stuff up before it got too dark so I could go and catch some fish. But I guess that can’t be helped. Yo, you up for some hot dogs tonight? I could throw on some rice too, if you want.”

“Yeah, sure,” Akane called back from inside the tent, “Sounds fine.”

A few minutes later, Akane emerged from the tent to find that Ranma had already started making dinner. She could see the rice simmering in a hanging pot over the fire while the hot dogs were skewered on leaning sticks as makeshift spits that Ranma turned occasionally to make sure they cooked evenly. Sitting not far from the fire, a small folding table held the buns and fixings that were soon to be used.

“Hey, sit down. Don’t be a stranger,” Ranma stated, gesturing to one of the logs surrounding the fire, “We’ll be eating pretty soon.”

“Uh, yeah,” Akane replied, a hint of surprise in her voice. Granted, she was well aware that Ranma spent most of his life outdoors. But in truth, she’d never really been camping with Ranma all that much, so she never really got a chance to see the full extent of what he could do. And looking at him then, Akane couldn’t help but feel a little impressed that he seemed to know his way around so well.

“Well, help yourself. Let’s dig in,” Ranma announced. The two of them then dished up their meals and sat across from each other to eat. The meal seemed straightforward enough, but Akane received a surprise when she took her first bite of the rice.

“Mmmm,” she murmured with an impressed tone, “Hey, what did you do to this rice? It’s good.”

“Oh that? It’s nothing special,” Ranma replied, shrugging his shoulders, “I just added a little garlic to it. I thought it might give it a bit of a kick.”

“Yeah, no kidding,” Akane said, still impressed with the flavor, “I’m definitely telling Kasumi about this. This is a great idea.”

“Oh, c’mon. It’s not that big a deal,” Ranma said.

“…But it IS a big deal, Ranma,” Akane said after a pause, feeling more than slightly dejected. Ranma looked up couldn’t help but see how down she started to feel.

“I mean, I look at you and you can come up with something like this. And then I look at me and I can’t even…well, let’s face it, I’m no cook. I mean, how can I be expected to…?”

“Akane,” Ranma cut her off as she looked up at him to see that he’d put his bowl of rice down and was looking across at her with a serious gaze, “Can I offer you a little constructive criticism? Will you allow me that much?”

“Mm…mmm hmm,” Akane nodded, but she couldn’t help but gulp, expecting the worst. After all, she knew full well that Ranma had absolutely no respect for her cooking skill.

“Akane, the problem with your cooking isn’t talent,” Ranma started and Akane looked at him surprised as he crossed his arms and closed his eyes, “The problem is your attitude. The way I figure it, you more or less know what you’re doing. The thing is that when you’re cooking, you just get way too excitable and you get distracted. And THAT’s when you start making mistakes. You just have to…pay attention, that’s all.”

“Ranma,” Akane found herself at a loss for words. After all, this was definitely not what she was expecting from him.

“Look, the last thing you should be doing is comparing yourself to me, okay?” Ranma continued, “Hey, in my case, cooking was a skill born out of necessity. I mean, come on, you know my father. You think you’re going to trust HIM with food? If I was that stupid, I would’ve starved to death years ago.”

Ranma paused for a moment, sighing as his mind flashed back to all his father’s past stunts and scams.

“Look, all I’m saying is that you just need to calm down when you’re cooking. I mean, it’s not like you’re fighting with the food or anything. You just have to pay attention, stay calm and the food pretty much cooks itself, you know?”

‘Ranma,’ Akane thought to herself as the look of surprise refused to disappear from her face. ‘Is…is he being…nice to me?’

“Ranma, are you feeling alright?” Akane found herself blurting out almost instinctively.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ranma asked back.

“Well, nothing,” Akane fidgeted as her voice trailed off, “It’s just that…well, you know…You don’t usually…”

“Look, I was just trying to help, okay?” Ranma retaliated, “If that’s the thanks I’m gonna get, next time, I won’t even bother.”

“Ranma, that’s not what I…,” Akane started to say, but she cut herself off before she could finish. Looking at the situation, there wasn’t a single thing she could think of to say that wouldn’t have just made things worse. With a heavy sigh, she picked up her plate and continued eating.

The pair finished the rest of their meal in silence and Akane turned in a few minutes later, leaving Ranma to tend to the fire. As she changed into her pajamas and covered herself up to sit in her bed, she couldn’t help but think about what had almost happened. Deep down, she knew that the last thing she wanted to do after coming all the way on their trip was to pick a fight with Ranma. It was exactly those kinds of situations that they were trying to escape from for a while. And yet, things did not seem to be going as Akane had hoped. It always seemed that just as things were starting to go well, something would go wrong. After all, how many of their fights over the years had been caused by some stupid misunderstanding or a word taken the wrong way? And Akane knew better than to say it was all Ranma’s fault. After the last three years, she was well aware of how much blame to place on herself. It was beginning to look as if their differences proved to be too insurmountable an obstacle to overcome even when they were actually TRYING to get along. And to Akane, that was a very depressing thought, especially as Nabiki’s words suddenly came back to haunt her.

“Akane, you’re my little sister and I love you to pieces, but honestly, I have no earthly idea how that man has put up with you for so long.”

‘Oh, why did I have to say that before?’ Akane thought to herself as she sighed and buried her head in her knees. ‘If I had just kept my mouth shut…’

“Yo Akane?” Ranma’s voice and rustling at the tent flap snapped Akane back to reality, “I’m comin’ in. You’re not like…naked or anything, are you?”

“No, I’m not,” Akane answered sternly, instantly forgetting about how guilty she felt, “And what kind of question is that to be asking?”

“Jeez, get a grip, will ya?” Ranma replied as he zipped open the tent and peered in, “I just didn’t want to come barging in if you were changing or somethin’, alright?”

Ranma crawled over to his side of the tent after closing the flap as Akane hugged her knees once again and sighed.

‘Oh no,’ she thought to herself, ‘We just did it again, didn’t we?’

Behind the blanket separating the tent, the faint rustling of cloth could be heard, indicating that Ranma was getting ready for bed. Eventually, the rustling stopped and Akane lay back down to stare up at the tent ceiling, dimly lit by the lantern’s glow. There was a deathly silence as the pair tried to sleep. But Akane was finding the task completely impossible. After all, the last thing she wanted to do was end the first day of their trip with the two of them fighting. Swallowing hard, she turned over to face Ranma’s side of the tent.

“Uh, look Ranma?” she said softly, “I’m…I’m sorry about what I said okay? I didn’t mean to…”

“Nah, forget it. It’s okay,” Ranma replied, cutting off her words, “I’m sorry too. I don’t even know why I flew off the handle like that. It was a stupid thing to get all riled up about.”

It would normally be at that point in the exchange where one of them would try to needle the other for making a concession in their favor. It was a trap both of them had foolishly fallen into on several occasions over the years and was usually the best way to rekindle an argument they were trying to put behind them. Yet at that moment, Akane was determined to avoid that pitfall at all costs.

‘Don’t be stupid!’ she scolded herself, almost having to bite her tongue, ‘He just gave you an out! So shut up and take it!’

“You know,” she added, hoping to smooth things over a bit further, “You really are good at this outdoorsy kind of life. I know I couldn’t do a lot of this stuff.”

“It’s not really that big a deal,” Ranma replied, shrugging his shoulders, “I’m just used to it, that’s all. And it’s kind of nice to be able to do it again. I know I haven’t had a chance to just be outdoors like this in a good long time.”

“Mmmm,” Akane acknowledged thoughtfully, “You sound like you miss it.”

“Well, I guess I do, a little,” Ranma said, rolling onto his back and putting his hands behind his head, “I mean, I may only be able to count on one hand all the happy memories I had with my father, but there IS something to be said for being out here, relying on yourself. I mean, it’s not that I don’t like living at the dojo, but there HAVE been a couple times where I look around and wonder if I haven’t been getting soft. I really don’t think a lot of people living in the city realize how much is actually just HANDED to them. I mean, okay, it’s not like I don’t have a few creature comforts when I’m out here, but compared to how things work in the city, I just feel like when I’m in the outdoors like this, I just get more accomplished.”

“Hmm,” Akane’s voice couldn’t hide a mixture of wonder and amusement, “You know, hearing you talk like that, you sound like some old hermit or something.”

“‘Old’?” Ranma replied, slightly taken aback, “That’s a horrible thing to say to a man.”

“Oh, come on. You know I didn’t mean it like that,” Akane said, “All I’m saying is that…well, I’ve never seen this side of you shine through before. And when I hear you talk like this…it almost sounds like you have a wisdom beyond your years.”

“Well, maybe I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer all the time” Ranma answered, “But it helps when you go with what you know.”

“Mmmm,” was the only response he heard from Akane.

“Oh gee, don’t rush to defend my intelligence or nothin’,” Ranma stated sarcastically.

“Uh…”Akane replied nervously, caught off-guard.

“What?” Ranma pressed the issue, “You’re saying you’re agreeing with what I said?”

“Why should I have to agree? You said it,” Akane replied, “Besides, I think I have a right against self-incrimination.”

“That’s not a denial, you know,” Ranma retaliated.

“Ranma…,” Akane shot back, rolling her eyes away, “…you do know you’re starting to act like a jerk right now, right?”

“I’m vaguely aware,” Ranma replied, his response actually drawing a hollow giggle out of Akane.

“Oh what’s this?” Ranma immediately pounced on Akane’s response, “Did you actually LAUGH at a joke I made?”

“Good night Ranma,” Akane said, giving another hollow chuckle. She couldn’t help but smile gently as she turned over and closed her eyes to sleep. But after a time, it became quite apparent getting to sleep was going to be easier said than done. She tried to act like she was okay with it, but the truth of the matter was she simply wasn’t used to sleeping with Ranma in the same area with her. And definitely not so close to her. Feeling so uncertain couldn’t help but make her wonder if maybe postponing the wedding was the right idea. After all, if she was this nervous with Ranma sleeping across a tent from her, how could she possibly be ready to sleep in the same bed with him as his wife?

***“Are you okay?”

Akane snapped out of her train of thought, looking up to see Ranma lying across the bed from her, looking on with a slightly concerned gaze. Curled up on a ball and clutching at the blankets, Akane could only nod shyly at first.

“Mmm hmm,” she replied, “It’s…it’s just that this is going to…you know…take a little getting used to…you know?”

“Yeah…yeah that’s true,” Ranma replied with a twinge of uncertainty in his voice as well.

“Ranma are you really…you know, okay…with this?” Akane asked, almost trying to shrink under the blankets.

“Huh? Oh…uh, yeah. Yeah, I’ll…be okay. Yeah.” Ranma replied, again sounding uncertain. But before Akane could respond, he came out with what had to have been the dumbest follow up question in the history of time.

“Uh, listen…you don’t snore, do you?”

“…What…?” was the only reply Akane could make.

“Well, I mean, I was just wondering if I’d have to invest in some ear plugs or something like that, because you know…” Ranma tried to explain his question in a straightforward, logical manner, which only seemed to turn the heat up even more in Akane’s brain. Ranma didn’t even get to finish his sentence before her temper boiled over.

“RANMA, YOU JERK!!!” she roared as her fist shot forward at his head, landing a perfect blow. It was at that moment that she realized what she just did and even though Ranma brought it on himself, it still made her feel a little foolish. But before she could follow up in any way, she looked to she her fist still buried into Ranma’s skull, but with a faint smile crossing his lips.

“There. Did that help?” he asked simply.

“Ranma,” Akane was almost in shock at his response, realizing at that moment that he was actually trying to anger her on purpose as a type of ice breaker. Ranma, meanwhile simply held out his arms and offered a warm smile.

“Come here,” he said softly.

Still uncertain, and on top of that, feeling a little guilty over hitting him, Akane fidgeted nervously as she slid across the bed. But as she felt his arms wrap around her and his body curl around hers, she felt a warm sensation well up inside her, drowning out all her other emotions. At that moment, the only thing she could feel was pure contentment as she smiled warmly and savored Ranma’s touch. The sound of his breathing, the beating of his heart, and the way his hand softly ran through her hair. It made her wonder what in the world there ever was that she could have been nervous about. But it was then that Ranma’s voice chimed in once again.

“You smell really nice,” Akane heard him say, causing her to pull back slightly and look up at his face. Staring into his eyes, she could somehow tell that he was feeling the exact same thing that she was at that moment.

“So…,” he asked her softly, “NOW are you okay with this?”

“Ranma,” Akane could only smile as she leaned over. Only one thought echoed in her mind as her lips slowly made their way towards his…

‘Ranma…right now…at this moment…I don’t want to be anywhere else but here…’***

Akane’s eyes snapped open like shutter blinds right then and there, realizing what she was just thinking. She could feel waves of heat radiating through her and it felt like her whole body was blushing. All she could do was curl up in a ball and hold her face in her hands. In retrospect, it wasn’t so much that she had just had such a vivid thought, but what was really scary was the fact that she had been having them much more frequently in recent weeks. And she couldn’t seem to shut them off.

As soon as she’d regained a small amount of composure, she turned over to see if she had woken up Ranma at all, but all she could hear was a steady rhythm of breathing, indicating that he must have fallen asleep. Relieved at first, Akane found herself turning over towards their makeshift partition, listening to the steady sounds of Ranma’s breathing. It seemed to have almost a calming effect and after a while, she began to feel herself smiling warmly as she slid over closer to the partition and placed her hand against it. She still didn’t know what to make of what she had just been thinking about, but if nothing else, she wasn’t as nervous as she once was. And it began to make her think that all things considered, maybe, just maybe, having such thoughts wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

‘Good night, Ranma,’ she thought to herself as she closed her eyes, ‘Pleasant dreams.’

It didn’t take long before Akane finally dozed off herself and soon they were both breathing softly, almost in unison. In fact, they both sleeping so contentedly that neither one of them heard a low throaty growl echoing through the wilderness.

… … … …

Morning came to find the Tendo Dojo unusually quiet. Although without Ranma and Akane around, there really wasn’t a whole lot to stir up trouble. In the kitchen, Kasumi was making breakfast alongside Ranma’s mother Nodoka, who’d been living with the family ever since the misunderstanding that caused Ukyo, Shampoo and Kodachi to destroy the Saotome’s house.

“Are you sure there isn’t more I can help you with?” Nodoka asked in her typical nurturing demeanor.

“Oh please, you’ve already been more than helpful,” Kasumi replied politely, “But you don’t have to concern yourself. Remember, you’re our guest here.”

“On the contrary, I’m only too happy to do it,” Nodoka said cheerfully, “After all, with Ranma and Akane getting married, I should do my part to help the family whenever I can, shouldn’t I?”

“Mmmm,” Kasumi responded thoughtfully, but Nodoka took note of a sigh escaping her lips, almost as if something was bothering her.

“Is something wrong, Kasumi?” she asked immediately. Granted, Nodoka was really only just beginning to get to know the Tendo family, but she knew enough at that point to know that Kasumi wasn’t the type to upset easily.

“Oh? No, not really,” Kasumi answered, “It’s just that, with Ranma and Akane…well, sometimes, I just worry about them a little. I mean, they’re both trying so hard, in their own way. But sometimes I wonder if things will ever really get better between them.”

“I wouldn’t be too concerned,” Nodoka replied, getting Kasumi’s attention, “You have to expect a few bumps in the road every now and then, especially with arranged marriages. They’re just not what they used to be these days. But I’m sure they’ll find their way. After all, they do have a lot in common.”

“Well, that’s true,” Kasumi agreed.

“Maybe it’s just a mother’s optimism,” Nodoka said with a pause, looking out the kitchen window before a warm smile crossed her lips, “I just have a feeling that one way or another, they’ll work things out eventually.”

“Mmmm,” Kasumi replied, looking over to Nodoka with a grin, “You know, I think you and our mother would have gotten along very well.”

“Oh my, you think so?” Nodoka replied, blushing slightly at the compliment. Just then, Nabiki entered the kitchen to interrupt the conversation.

“Hey Sis,” she called out, “Akane said she was going to the eastern hot springs, right?”

“Why, yes she did,” Kasumi answered, “Is something wrong?”

“Well, not as long as she’s not in the western valley,” Nabiki answered, “They’re talking about it on the news. Something about a bear attack.”

Kasumi and Nodoka walked into the main room to see what all the fuss was about. Genma and Soun had put their board game on hold to watch the news report already in progress.

“This has been the third hiker seriously injured after a wild bear attack in the western valley,” the news anchor went on to say, “Wildlife officials have announced that all hiking trails and campsites be closed down until further notice and have begun a wide search to have the animal captured and moved.”

“Oh my,” Nodoka responded, “I hope that’s not where Ranma is.”

“Well, I wouldn’t worry too much about Ranma,” Soun replied, “He’s more than capable of taking care of himself. I’m just glad Akane is nowhere near there.”

… … … …

“Here I come, Ranma!”

“Take your best shot!”

Morning gave way to afternoon and Akane was feeling the need to get in a little exercise. So she decided that a little sparring with Ranma was exactly what she needed. Although when it came to sparring matches between her and Ranma, she might as well have been shadow boxing. Not a single one of her attacks ever made it past Ranma’s defenses. He either danced around her punches and kicks or blocked them like a solid wall. But considering that she was doing exactly what she wanted, which was getting away from it all, that fact didn’t bother her in the least. In fact, Akane couldn’t shake an intense feeling of enjoyment. Ranma even had to admire her determination. She might never have had the opportunities to improve like Ranma had. But she certainly had the will. At times, it was enough to make him wonder just how much she was truly capable of.

Before long, their tussle took them towards the base of a large tree right at the base of the lake. Immediately, Ranma took to the high ground as he leapt up towards a thick branch. But not to be outdone, Akane kept right after him, jumping towards him and maintaining a continuous assault. With no freedom to dodge, Ranma was restricted to blocking her attacks until he found an opening to get higher. But Akane seemed almost possessed as she pursued him higher and higher up the tree. Eventually, Ranma had reached as high as he could go. Like a shark smelling blood, Akane went in for the kill as she met him on the topmost branch.

“So Ranma, now what are you going to do,” she panted, her heavy breathing indicating that she was definitely getting a good workout. Unfortunately, she spoke far too soon, for as her left fist struck for a forward punch, it was caught by Ranma’s left hand and held fast, as if in a vice. Akane knew she couldn’t risk a kicking attack for fear of losing her footing, so all she could do was a punch with her free hand, which Ranma also caught. And before Akane knew what was happening, Ranma had cross her arms over her stomach and had her hands pinned to her sides.

“So…,” Ranma replied with a smug grin, “…NOW what are you going to do?”

“Oh, you’re just loving this, aren’t you?” Akane scowled back.

“Oh, come on. What are you complaining about? You’re the one who brought it up here,” Ranma said, releasing Akane’s hands, “So…need a hand getting down?”

“Huh?” Akane thought curiously, until she happened to look down. But her next expression was one of shock as she actually noticed just how high up they had gone. Tilting precariously a good 20 or 30 feet above the lake, Akane could only scream as she lunged for Ranma, wrapping her arms around his chest and holding him tight.

No sooner did they feel their bodies pressed together, than a spark was ignited inside both of them, as if a light switch had been turned on. They had felt it before on certain occasions, but still, neither one of them could tell exactly what it was at first. Yet as they pulled away slightly and looked into each others’ eyes, it was obvious that they were both feeling it. They could feel themselves blushing slightly, both of them unsure of the best way to respond. But as they stood there, frozen in the moment, it was as if the whole world seemed to fade away. And the longer they remained, the harder it felt to leave. It was almost as if they were melting into each other. It was such an entrancing state that neither of them seemed to notice themselves moving closer to each other or even feel their hot breath on each other’s lips.

“Ranma…”

“Akane…̶ 1;

SNAP!

With that one sickening sound, the real world exploded back into view. The branch they had been standing on had just given way, sending the two of them plummeting toward the lake below. Fortunately, a sudden undertow spared them from a shallow water impact. But as Ranma’s eyes adjusted to the water, he could see Akane flailing wildly a few feet away from him. It was at that moment that he had to remind himself that Akane still didn’t know how to swim as he quickly made his way towards her, pulling her to the surface.

Ranma had Akane on the shoreline a moment later, cradling her in his arms as she coughed and sputtered, trying to get her breath back. But it was at that moment that an image suddenly flashed into his head. A moment in time that was only a few months old and one that he’d hoped he’d put behind him, but it was an image that was all too similar to what he was facing at that moment. One that made something twist inside of him as he felt a lump form in his throat.

“A-Akane?” he managed to get out, trying to keep his voice from cracking, “Are you okay?”

“Ranma?” Akane tried to speak through a few more lingering coughs, “Yeah…yeah, I’m alright.”

“I’m so glad!” Ranma blurted out as he wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. It certainly wasn’t the kind of response Akane was expecting.

“Uh, Ranma…?” she tapped him on the shoulder gently. It was then that reality beckoned and Ranma remembered exactly where he was. It was then that he felt a familiar pressure on his chest and remembered that they had just fallen into a lake of cold water. And as if turning from “he” Ranma to “she” Ranma wasn’t enough, she also realized that she was holding Akane in such a way that their breasts were pressed firmly together.

“Whoa!” Ranma exclaimed as she immediately pulled herself away, chuckling nervously, “Uh, sorry about that. Uh, didn’t mean to do that. Really.”

“Ranma, are YOU okay?” Akane asked softly. Ranma’s previous action was not the kind of thing she was used to.

“Huh? Oh yeah, fine sure. You know me,” Ranma tried to sound reassuring in her reply, but then she noticed Akane’s body dripping wet and shivering. Admittedly, the lake was far colder than Ranma had expected it to be.

“Come on,” she stated immediately, taking Akane’s hand, “We’d better get you dried off.”

It was only a short walk back to the camp and Akane quickly changed inside the tent while Ranma built a fire. Hanging her wet clothes to dry, Akane clung to an extra blanket for warmth while Ranma heated some water for a quick gender change before changing his clothes as well. After he’d hung his clothes though, he’d noticed that Akane was still shivering.

“Feeling any better?” he noted with a hint of concern before reaching out to touch her hands, “Oh man, your hands are like ice. Here…”

Acting instinctively, Ranma folded his hands over Akane’s and began gently rubbing them. Every so often he would pocket open his hands to blow a gentle stream of warm air in. Akane, meanwhile, said nothing. It seemed as though all she could do was take in the scene and for some reason, she could feel her heart pounding harder.

“There,” Ranma said a few minutes later, feeling Akane’s hands grow warmer, “Is that better?”

Akane could feel herself blushing and didn’t answer. She simply looked away with a shy smile and nodded her head.

“Here,” Ranma added, sliding in beside her under the blanket, “Maybe this will help a little too.”

Ranma had his arm around Akane before she could offer up a response and Akane really didn’t know what to think. Just like when Ranma came out of nowhere and just hugged her so blatantly, it just seemed very forward for him. After all, it wasn’t like other times when they had just kind of ended up together in a close situation by accident. This was different, this was intentional. Immediately, her instincts kicked in, like they had so many times before and she just wanted to push him away. But as she looked up at him and saw him just staring at the fire, the expression on his face seemed so…earnest. So she decided to fight her initial impulse and let the moment play out. She’d clobber him later if he ended up doing something he wasn’t supposed to.

A few minutes later and neither one of them had moved an inch, when a new feeling began to creep its way into the moment. The soft crackle of the fire and the dancing light seemed almost hypnotic and both Ranma and Akane began feeling more relaxed. A warm, contented feeling had begun to wash over them. Akane hadn’t even noticed her head lean over against Ranma’s shoulder or her hand reach up and cling to his shirt. It was as if such a moment was so natural that it didn’t even matter anymore as she just closed her eyes and sighed. Even Ranma, who was really only concerned with keeping Akane warm at first, found himself gently easing into the moment as he put his arm around her a little more firmly and slid in closer.

“Mmmmm,” Akane murmured, almost as if she were in a dream, “Ranma, you’re so warm. This is nice.”

It was at that moment that her eyes snapped open and the real world came back. Had she just said that out loud? Immediately, she turned to Ranma to try and smooth over any misunderstanding that her words might have generated. But instead of words, all Akane got for a reply was Ranma looking into her eyes with a gentle smile. Again, that same warm, contended feeling from before began to seep into Akane’s body as she returned his smile and reached up to gently run her hand down his cheek.

“Ranma…,” Akane could feel herself getting lost in the moment, just as they had earlier up in the tree. But at the same time, she didn’t seem to care. All that seemed to matter was the feeling inside her as she leaned upwards toward Ranma.

“Akane…,” Ranma could feel his concerns almost completely melting away as he felt Akane touch his cheek. But as he moved his head closer to hers, out of nowhere, the same terrifying image from earlier flashed into his brain, shattering the moment and forcing him to pull away.

“Ranma?” Akane had snapped out of the moment as well, but his sudden reaction caused her some concern, “What’s wrong?”

“Well, you know, I was just…you know, thinking,” Ranma stammered, trying to come up with an excuse, “You know, maybe…if you wanted to warm up, the…uh, the…hot spring might be a better idea. I’m…I’m just gonna go and…get some…firewood.”

Ranma then made a mad dash into the woods, leaving Akane completely perplexed. A few minutes later, she decided to take Ranma’s advice and was soon bathing in the hot springs. As the water began to work its way into her body, she had to wonder what was going on with Ranma. Ever since they fell into the lake, he seemed…different. As if something was gnawing at him. And it wasn’t just a suspicion, she could see it. Before he went into the woods, she could see something in his eyes, something she’d never seen in him before. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was, but she knew it made her very uncomfortable. And for a moment, that uncomfortable feeling gave way to a little anger.

“Ranma, you dummy,” she thought to herself, ‘Why can’t you tell me what’s wrong? Jerk.’

It was at that moment that she started thinking about everything that had happened to them already…and everything that had ALMOST happened. Looking back on it, Akane found herself blushing heavily. After all, that was twice in almost a half hour period that the two of them had almost…part of her didn’t even want to think about it.

But as she began to grow more relaxed in the spring, her insecurities quickly grew silent as she felt that same familiar feeling well up inside of her. It was that same warm feeling that seemed to fill her up and erase all her doubts and uncertainties, the same feeling she felt when she was with Ranma. Soon, she felt her mind drift in a current of questions. Would it really have been so wrong? They had been so close and it just felt so right. What if they’d really…?

Instinctively, Akane brought her hand up to her mouth and softly pressed her lips against the soft flesh at the base of her thumb, simulating a gentle kiss. As she closed her eyes, she found herself actually beginning to savor the soft pressure. She had to admit to herself, it felt very nice.

‘Mmmmm,’ she thought to herself as she pulled her hand away and gently opened her eyes, ‘I wonder if it would feel like that. Would it feel better? What would happen if we’d really…?’

But her thoughts were immediately shattered as her opening eyes revealed the sight before her. Standing just outside the hot springs, well within striking distance, was an enormous brown bear, larger than any Akane had ever seen. It looked at her intently, emitting a low, throaty growl. And the look in its eyes clearly revealed it had bad intentions. Akane’s first instinct was immediately to call for help, but it was as if her throat had closed up and she couldn’t get a sound to come out. She could only sit in the spring, trembling as the great beast stared her down.

‘Come on, Akane,’ she thought to herself. ‘You stay here and you’re dead. You’ve got to do something. Move. Move! MOVE!’

Slowly, trying her best not to make any sudden movements, she gently eased her way across the spring until her hand reached out and found a loose rock. Of course, against such an enormous animal, there was no chance of it making any kind of effective weapon. But perhaps if she could use it as a diversion...

Swallowing hard, Akane eased her hand up out of the water and threw the rock in a high arc, landing in the bushes a good 30 feet away. Fortunately, her throw was far luckier than she could have hoped for, as her rock frightened a group of small animals and even a handful of birds that were resting in the nearby brush. Sufficiently intrigued, the bear turned away to the possibility of an easier catch and Akane saw her opening. Moving as smoothly and as quietly as she could, she gently climbed out of the hot spring with her towel and gradually eased off. She should have known better than to make any sudden movements, but not knowing how long her diversion would last, she chose to take a chance and made a mad dash for the treeline. If she could make it into the thick brush in time, the bear might decide not to follow her and leave.

But Akane’s luck ran out as the bear heard her begin to run. With a loud bellow, it immediately turned and gave chase. And it was far faster than its massive size would have led anyone to believe. Akane ran for all she was worth, but no matter how fast she ran the bear seemed to run that much faster as it finally caught her up, nudging her with its head and sending her flying to the ground. Dazed, Akane turned around to see the monstrous animal towering over her on its hind legs, bellowing in rage. All she could think about was getting away as her throat still could only emit frightened murmurs. But the bear was already on her, there was no way she would be fast enough. In that moment, no matter what, she knew that she needed to call for help. She needed…

“RANMAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!”

“Ak ane!”

Ranma’s voice echoed in Akane’s ears as he flew out of the brush like a missile, leaping at the bear’s head with a massive forward kick. But for all of Ranma’s momentum, the animal’s massive size refused it to budge. Luckily though, it was enough to let Ranma ricochet his attack to land on the ground and scoop Akane up in his arms. Holding her close, Ranma leapt away as the bear’s massive paw swiped down, tearing away a massive clump of earth from where Akane had just been lying. Bounding to the other side of the clearing within seconds, Ranma was secretly thankful he’d developed such speed. A split second later and he would never have survived.

“Ranma,” Akane blurted out, unable to say anymore.

“Akane, go! Get back to camp! I’ve got this!” Ranma yelled to her.

“But…,” Akane wasn’t sure how to respond, almost paralyzed in the shock of the moment. It was as if she was frozen in time, while the whole world was moving around her at lightning speed. It was only when Ranma grabbed her shoulders and shook her hard that she seemed to snap out of it.

“Akane! Get out of here! NOW!!” Ranma yelled at her, and Akane could see a look of pleading on his face. She also saw that same look in his eyes that she’d been noticing since they fell into the lake. But there was no time to ask questions. Nodding once, Akane took off down the path as Ranma charged forward to face the massive bear.

“Come on big guy. But don’t be surprised if I’m a little too tough for you!” Ranma called out as he issued his challenge. But when Akane heard his voice, it was enough to make her stop dead in her tracks after only a few steps down the path. After all, she couldn’t just run off and leave Ranma to face that monster alone. She was a martial artist too. Whirling back around, she ran back to the treeline and saw Ranma tussling with the huge beast, swiftly dodging each of its attacks as it lunged at him.

Ranma meanwhile, was concentrating intently on the task at hand. He’d already realized from his first attack that this animal was too big and too strong to try and go toe-to-toe with it. Fortunately, he knew one technique that would be strong enough to defeat it, taught to him by Shampoo’s great grandmother, Cologne. He had to use the Hiryu Shoten-Ha, the Heavenly Dragon Ascension Wave. It was a technique that had become a staple in his arsenal over the years, the spiraling of hot and cold air currents to produce fierce tornados. But against an animal of this size, Ranma knew that he had to make sure that the technique was at its fullest power. So he started dodging the bear’s lunges in a wide spiral while keeping his own body relaxed, building up a massive generation of hot and cold air.

Akane should have known enough to recognize what Ranma was trying to do. After all, she had seen the technique in action before. But in the heat of the moment, all she could see was Ranma desperately trying to avoid the bear’s massive paws and huge maw, sometimes dodging them by only scant millimeters. And it was enough to cause her concern for Ranma to override her sense of reason.

“Ranma, be careful!” Akane blurted out instinctively, immediately catching Ranma’s attention.

‘Oh no,’ he thought to himself as he continued dodging the bear’s lunges, ‘Damn it, she’s too close! I can’t use the Heavenly Dragon Ascension Wave at this level until she gets further away!’

“What are you doing here, you idiot! I told you to get out of here!” Ranma yelled at her, staying on the move. Unfortunately, a moment’s distraction and the bear’s massive frame were enough to undo his efforts as the animal clipped him with its shoulder on its next pass, sending Ranma sprawling to the ground. Akane could only gasp in horror as the bear was on its hind legs a moment later, towering over Ranma as it had been towering over her just minutes before.

‘Damn it,’ Ranma thought to himself. Instinctively, he already knew he was going to have to start all over again. But the thought of the bear standing over him left his mind as he looked over to see Akane still standing by the path. For him to use the technique the way he wanted to, he knew she couldn’t be anywhere near them.

“Akane, get out of here! I told you, I’ve got this!” he called out again as the bear prepared to strike.

“RANMA, LOOK OUT!” Akane screamed in shock as the bear’s massive paw came down again. Ranma managed to evade the deadly swipe with microseconds to spare. But the clump of dirt released from the bear’s claws also loosened a small rock underneath, which was sent flying, striking Ranma in the back of the head. Struggling to stay conscious, Ranma tried desperately to move as the bear lunged forward. But before it reached him, a pair of large rocks came flying from the trees, striking the bear in the head.

“Get away from him!” Akane cried out from the treeline, armed with a third large rock in her hand. She was scared for Ranma at first, but that fear soon gave way to instinct as she felt the urge to act. She had absolutely no idea what to do next as the bear turned to her and roared, angry and half crazed with pain. But there was one thing she did know. After everything they had been through, from curses to demons to dragons to animal men, the last thing she was about to do was lose her fiancé to…Winnie the Pooh.

“Aka…ne…,” Ranma stammered as he tried to stay conscious. The last thing he could see was the bear’s enormous form charging towards Akane, who stubbornly stood her ground. He tried desperately to get up, but his body refused to listen to his brain’s commands. A moment later, his eyes began to fail him as his vision began to blur and soon, his body was enveloped in darkness.

‘Damn it Akane, what’s wrong with you? I told you to run,’ Ranma’s thoughts echoed as he could feel himself plummeting through the darkness. Just then, an image pierced in his brain. The same image he had been seeing since they fell into the lake. The same image that he’d experienced only a few months earlier. He could see it so clearly, on the mountain overlooking the cursed springs of Jusenkyo in China. He could see Akane cradled in his arms, her eyes closed as if she were sleeping. But she wasn’t sleeping…she wasn’t…

‘Akane…no,’ Ranma could hear himself as the image refused to fade, ‘Please, no. Not again…’

“NOT AGAAAAAIIIIN!!!!!!!!!!” Ranma screamed to the heavens as a light pierced the darkness and his body surged to life. Without wasting a moment, his instincts took over as he leapt aside, throwing his arms forward.

“SHISHI HOKODAN!!!”

The whole thing happened so fast that Akane had no time to react at all. All she could see was an enormous beam of light firing from Ranma’s hands, striking the bear in the side. Stunned, the bear could only bellow in shock and pain as the beam sent it flying through the trees like a cannonball. A moment later, it landed in the lake below and instantly disappeared.

Akane was in such shock that all she could do was drop the rock she was holding. But a moment later, she’d gathered her wits and looked over to see Ranma kneeling on the ground, looking exhausted. Instinctively she ran over to him, but one thought lingered in the back of her mind.

But…why the Shishi Hokodan?, she thought to herself. That’s Ryoga’s technique. Why did he…?

“Ranma…? Are you…okay?” she called to him softly as she knelt in front of him. Ranma however, didn’t look up to acknowledge her. He only knelt there, his whole body trembling.

“You idiot…,” he finally muttered under his breath.

“What?” Akane blurted out. She thought for sure that she’d heard him wrong.

“Just what the hell did you think you were doing?!” Ranma screamed at her, grabbing her shoulders and shaking her, “When I say I can handle something, listen to me, damn it! Do you have any idea what I would’ve gone through if you’d been…if I’d…”

“Ranma,” Akane could only stare at him, as he looked away again. But before he did, she saw that look on his face again that she’d seen earlier, only a thousand times more intense. It was at that moment that she realized why Ranma had used the Shishi Hokodan to attack the bear. It was an attack that increases in power only during moments of deep…sadness.

“WHY CAN’T YOU JUST DO WHAT SOMEONE TELLS YOU FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE?!?!” Ranma blurted out, trying desperately to keep himself together. It was that moment that the impact of the last few minutes had finally struck home with Akane. Looking up at him, she could feel all the danger, all the fear, all the pain pouring into her as she felt tears welling up in her eyes.

“Oh, Ranma!” Akane cried out as she threw her arms around his neck and buried her head in his shoulder, trying to keep herself from sobbing. It was then that the towel that had somehow managed to stay wrapped around Akane’s body through the entire fight had slid off of her and lightly draped around her waist.

“Uh, Akane? Your…towel…” Ranma tried to point out as the moment made him blush.

“Ranma, please…,” Akane pleaded weakly, her voice beginning to crack, “Just…just hold me.”

Ranma fidgeted at first, trying to find the best way to hug her so he wouldn’t look like he was making a perverted gesture. But as he felt his arms fold around her, again, the image flashed in his brain. Again, he saw the same image of the mountain overlooking Jusenkyo in China. Again, he could see Akane cradled in his arms, her eyes closed as if she were sleeping. But she wasn’t sleeping…

‘Akane,’ Ranma thought to himself as he held her tightly. In that moment, all previous awkwardness had disappeared. All he knew was that at that moment, no matter what happened, he didn’t want to let her go.

Ranma headed back to camp a few minutes later, giving Akane some privacy to get dressed. But Akane couldn’t help but feel her mind continually drifting. All she could think about was that look on Ranma’s face. It made her feel uncomfortable before, but after what had just happened, it only made her feel worse. No doubt about it, this was a side of Ranma she had never seen before. And she definitely didn’t like it. Ranma was always so strong and confident, like a castle wall that nothing could breach. In a way, it was kind of inspirational. But ever since they fell into the lake, he had become so nervous and on edge. In fact, it was almost like he was…

Akane took her time walking back to camp, trying to think of just the right thing she could say to try and make him feel better. After all, being understanding and encouraging wasn’t exactly an ability that either of them excelled at. But just as she reached the site, she saw her backpack flying out of the tent. And at that moment, being encouraging became the absolute LAST thing on her mind.

“Uh, excuse me!” She called to Ranma inside the tent, clearly annoyed, “And just what do you think you’re doing with MY clothes?”

Ranma didn’t answer at first. In fact, it wasn’t until he crawled out of the tent with Akane’s rolled up sleeping bag that he actually spoke.

“You have to go,” he said simply, but his voice had a deathly serious tone to it.

“What?” Akane could only blurt out, in complete disbelief.

“You have to go now,” Ranma replied, his voice still serious, “If you go now, you can get back to the city before it gets dark. I’ll be back tomorrow.”

At first, Akane didn’t know what to say or even what to think. It was like a dark pit had just opened up inside her. After all, they’d made the plans to come out and get away. And in spite of a few minor setbacks, and even the melee with the bear, she thought they’d been having a good time together. They’d even slept in the same tent together, which was practically an event in itself. But all of a sudden, there he was, just…pushing her away. In the shock of the moment, Akane couldn’t help feeling confused and emotional. And at that moment, she did exactly what Akane Tendo always did whenever she got confused and emotional…

…she got mad.

“What brought this on?!” she snapped at him, “Did you forget what we came out here for?!”

“It was a mistake,” Ranma replied simply, “I never should have brought you out here. I should have known better.”

Ranma didn’t look up at her, still lashing her sleeping bag to her backpack. He didn’t even notice that she had said anything yet, which actually made it easier to ignore her. Unfortunately for him, it would only last a few short moments.

“You…you really don’t…want me here?” Akane asked weakly, making it impossible for Ranma to ignore her any longer. It was one thing when she was mad at him. THAT he could deal with. But hearing her sad and upset was something he had never been able to handle. And at that moment, no matter how bad he felt about sending her away, she had just made him feel a hundred times worse.

“It’s…because of what happened with the bear, isn’t it?” Akane continued, her voice starting to tremble, “I…I guess I should have known better, huh? I mean, if you were with someone like…like Shampoo…she…she would’ve been able to hold her own. Or maybe if…Ukyo was here…she might have…listened to you. Not like me at all, being all stubborn…just…just holding you back and all.”

Ranma could only grit his teeth and clench his fists as Akane’s words stabbed at him. All he could feel was his guilt being turned to anger. After all, who was she to judge him like that? Just once, couldn’t she give him the benefit of the doubt? Or at least get all the facts first? Why couldn’t she just understand?

“You know, sometimes I just don’t know how you can be so unbelievably stupid!” he shouted at her, snapping to his feet, “Here I am, trying to protect YOU, and you think this is about THEM?! Just what the hell is wrong with you?!”

“What’s wrong with ME?! How dare you?!” Akane growled, immediately forgetting how upset she was just seconds ago, “You say you’re protecting me, by doing what?! Sending me packing?! Who said I even WANTED your protection anyway?!”

“Oh, yeah right! You had that bear just begging for mercy, didn’t you?!” Ranma shot back.

“Well, if you think I’m so worthless, maybe I SHOULD take a hike!” Akane snarled, “I can’t believe I actually thought the two of us would WANT to spend any time together anyway!”

“Hey, I never said I didn’t want you to be here! Stop putting words in my mouth!”

“Oh yeah, I’m supposed to believe that?! Well, what are you telling me to get lost for if you want me here so bad?!”

“I’m NOT telling you to get lost!!”

“Then what ARE you telling me?! You’re the one pushing me away!!”

“I have to!! Because…!”

“Because what?!?!”

“BECAUSE I LOVE YOU, YOU IDIOT!!! DON’T YOU KNOW ANYTHING?!?!”

“WELL I LOVE YOU TOO, YOU JERK!!! DID YOU EVER THINK OF THAT?!?!”

The instant the words escaped their lips, it was as if the entire world has just disappeared in a flash of light. The two of them could only stand in shock, frozen in the moment. As they stared at each other in disbelief, only one thought echoed through their minds.

‘Did…did he just say…’

‘…she loves me?’

Ranma was the first to shake himself out of his shock. He spoke not a word, but went straight back for Akane’s backpack, making sure everything was tied down and zipped up. Akane snapped out of it a moment later, mostly out of her newfound shock at what Ranma was doing. She couldn’t believe it. After what had just happened, what could he possibly be thinking?

“Ranma,” Akane called over to him sheepishly, “Ranma, please. I heard you. Don’t turn your back on me.”

Ranma didn’t offer a reply. He simply tended to Akane’s backpack in silence.

“Ranma,” Akane called again, feeling a bit bolder, “Come on, Ranma. Talk to me. Please?”

Again, Ranma gave no answer. And Akane’s initial uncertainty quickly gave way to her instinctive rage as she ran over to where he was kneeling.

“WOULD YOU LEAVE THAT ALONE AND LISTEN TO ME?!?!” she screamed as she kicked her backpack out of Ranma’s hands, sending it flying into the bushes. Ranma didn’t look up at her, which only made Akane angrier as she stood in front of him, clenching her fists as her whole body trembled with an explosive mix of emotion.

“You…you idiot,” she blurted out, trying to keep her voice from shaking, “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting for you to…? And…and now…you just want me to leave…and act like nothing ever…?!”

Akane paused only briefly. She could feel the lump in her throat and tears welling up as she shut her eyes tight.

“HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO LIVE WITH THAT?!?!”

Ranma still refused to look up at her. In fact, his face seemed to have no emotion at all, while it seemed Akane was using every once of strength to keep herself from crying. It wasn’t until a few moments later that Ranma finally offered up a reply.

“And if something happened to you because of me…and I lost you forever…how am I supposed to live with THAT?”

Akane’s eyes snapped open at the response as Ranma slowly rose to his feet and walked over to slump down onto one of the log posts surrounding the fire pit. It wasn’t for another few moments that he would raise his head to look at her. And when Akane looked into his eyes, there was no longer any doubt, although a part of her still couldn’t believe it. Of all the time she knew Ranma Saotome, it was the first time she had ever seen a paralyzing fear in his eyes.

“Akane, I have taken a lot in my life,” Ranma started to say, “I’ve been banged up pretty good on a regular basis. And that’s okay. I’ve dealt with that, I can shake that off. But…a couple months ago…when we were at Jusenkyo…that whole Saffron thing…I…I got hurt. I got hurt bad.”

Akane didn’t reply. She didn’t even dare to move. She could only stand where she was, rooted to the spot, and listened to him.

“It didn’t feel like I thought it would,” Ranma continued, “To be honest, I hoped I wouldn’t even HAVE to think about what it would feel like. But twice, up on that mountain…when I thought you were…dead…”

Ranma had to cut his words off and collect himself for a moment. But Akane could hear the genuine pain in his voice. Something she had never experienced from him before. And it was enough to force the lump in her throat to well up once again.

“It…it was like something had just grabbed me and twisted me up inside,” Ranma tried to maintain some semblance of composure as he forced the words to come, “It…it just hurt so much…I just went numb. Everything was just cold…and dark…and lonely...I…I honestly thought I was going to die too. And…and part of me…wanted to…”

Akane could feel thick tears rolling down her cheeks, but her emotions had her too far gone to even think of doing anything about it. Ranma however, didn’t notice, having lowered his head, his eyes shut tight and his hands braced against his knees.

“I…I can’t go through that again, Akane. I just can’t…,” Ranma tried desperately to keep his voice from cracking as he clenched his fists as tight as he could. But he couldn’t stop a lone tear from dripping onto one of his hands.

“I’M NOT STRONG ENOUGH!!!”

“Ranma…,” Akane’s soft voice caught Ranma’s attention as he looked up to see her kneeling in front of him. She didn’t even bother to wipe the tears streaming down her face. She only looked into his eyes, her bottom lip trembling, before she lunged forward and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck.

“Ranma, I…I’ve been such a coward!” she sobbed over his shoulder as she held him as tight as she could, as if no force on earth would be able to pry her off, “If I could’ve just been…honest with you…maybe things would have been easier!”

“Akane,” Ranma could only sit there, unsure of how to react.

“I couldn’t…I couldn’t explain it at first,” Akane continued, slightly calmer than when she’d started, “Why I’d get so…so jealous when it came to you. Or even why I’d blame you for it. And…and then you started…going away and I…started going after you…and I just didn’t know why. It took me so long to figure it out. But…after a while, I…I realized that both times…even if I didn’t want to admit it…I was saying the exact same thing…”

Akane paused for a moment, finally pulling herself away to look into Ranma’s eyes. Ranma could still see the tears trailing down her cheeks, but at the same time, her lips had managed to curl up in a weak, but warm, smile.

“…that I needed you.”

Ranma didn’t respond right away. It seemed like he could only sit there and look at her. But Akane didn’t know what to expect when he slowly folded his arms around her and pulled her close, taking slow, deep breaths.

“You’re not a coward, Akane,” he spoke softly after holding her for a few moments, “You could never be a coward.”

He paused a moment longer, pulling away just far enough to press his forehead to hers. As they both gently closed their eyes, savoring the moment, Ranma found himself chuckling weakly before he spoke again.

“You’re…you’re too damn thick-headed.”

Akane couldn’t help but blurt out a laugh as she sniffled and finally began wiping tears from her eyes. The two of them chuckled and giggled a few moments more before savoring their closeness once again. In fact, they were so enthralled in the moment, that neither one of them noticed the other moving closer. That is until, for the briefest of moments, they felt their lips softly touching each other.

In that moment, both pairs of eyes snapped open, as if they had both been struck by a bolt of lightning. What they had just done was…and neither one of them had planned it…or even THOUGHT of planning it. Initially, Ranma found himself relenting as he lowered his head and shrunk back, until he felt Akane holding his face in her hands.

“Ranma, please,” he heard her whisper, “I know what you’re feeling. Don’t push it away.”

Pensively, Ranma raised his head and looked into her eyes, seeing them filled with such warmth and affection. She even smiled at him briefly.

“Can’t we just…feel the way we fee? Even just for a moment?” she spoke softly once more, moving her face closer to his, “Please…just for tonight…can’t we just…stop…being…afraid…?”

Ranma answered immediately as he leaned forward, quickly closing the remaining gap and pressing his lips against Akane’s. Akane welcomed the contact gratefully, even if it was a little harder than she would have liked. They were both still obviously nervous at first as the two of them exchanged a series of kisses. After all, their timing was definitely off. Sometimes one of them pulled in to fast or one of them waited to long before pulling away. Sometimes a kiss was too firm, sometimes not firm enough. But at that moment, it was also obvious that none of those factors were far too insignificant to be of any consequence. Only the act itself had meaning. They could both feel it, that need. A need so intense that it was filling them up until it shattered all their insecurities and doubts. After a couple of minutes, their timing became more synchronized as a few softer, lengthier kisses passed between them, ending with the two of them holding each other in a warm embrace. Neither one of them knew exactly how long they stayed there, holding each other. Although they didn’t really care either.

… … … …

The sun had begun to set and a handful of the brighter stars had begun to make their presence known in the darkening sky. Ranma and Akane meanwhile, could only sit by each other in silence. Ranma had built a fire not too long ago while Akane had maintained the presence of mind to go and fetch her backpack from the bush. They hadn’t spoken the entire time, considering they needed time to process what had just happened. When they’d originally planned their weekend, this was the last possible direction they had expected it to take. All they seemed able to do was stare into the fire, hoping to find that same contentment they were feeling before. Maybe then, they would be able to collect their thoughts.

But again, unconscious actions seemed to be the rule of the day as Akane found herself instinctively sliding herself closer to Ranma. After everything was said and done, she just felt the need to be close to him. It wasn’t until she felt her head rest on his shoulder that she realized what she was doing. And Akane couldn’t help but sigh as words finally escaped her lips.

“We are SO pathetic.”

“Yeah,” Ranma replied, staring into the fire.

“I mean, I can’t believe we almost had to get killed to…,” Akane continued, “There’s something very wrong about that.”

“Yeah,” Ranma replied again. Akane couldn’t help but notice his voice growing more distant as she looked up at him. She could tell that something wasn’t right.

“Ranma, are you okay?” she asked gently. Ranma didn’t respond at first, staring into the fire for a few moments more.

“I don’t know,” he finally replied, not turning to face her.

“Ranma,” Akane could only look at him, finally beginning to understand, “Are…you still thinking about Jusenkyo?”

This time, Ranma offered no reply. He could only sit and stare into the fire.

“You know, there are going to be more guys like Saffron out there,” Akane said, trying to get him to open up, “It’s…not going to get any easier.”

“I know,” Ranma replied after another lengthy pause. Looking up to see the expression on his face, Akane could see the war being waged inside him. She could see his desire to act on his feelings struggling against the fear of the consequences. She could also see that his inner defenses, the iron walls that he had raised around his heart, had come back up again, trying to shield him from that very dilemma. That was when the words escaped her lips.

“Ranma, I…I know what it’s like,” Akane could hear the nervousness in her voice, “Being scared, I mean. Not knowing what will happen. I…I wanted so much for this thing to be easy. I didn’t realize it wasn’t going to be.”

Ranma still kept his gaze away from her for the most part, although his eyes occasionally darted in Akane’s direction.

“You know, when we first met, I…I tried so hard to hate you,” Akane continued, “Becoming engaged to a total stranger, I actually thought it would be easy. But no matter what happened…no matter how big a jerk you were or how many times we fought…don’t ask me why…there was something about you that I just couldn’t hate.”

Akane paused for a moment, collecting herself before she continued. After all, it was something she wanted Ranma to understand, but getting the words to come out was much harder than she thought.

“And then Shampoo came along, and then Ukyo…and…and I was so…jealous of them. I mean, they both have WAY more to offer you than I do. Shampoo’s so sexy and she’s just totally into you. And Ukyo, she would be like the perfect housewife. Like I could ever be either of those things, right? But…part of me was actually glad when that happened. I thought it would make it easier for me to start hating you. But it didn’t get easier. It…just made it harder.”

Ranma looked over at Akane, staring into the fire and he could see the emotion dancing in her eyes. But Akane didn’t turn to face him. She knew if she did, she’d never finish what she was trying to tell him. It was taking all her inner strength to do that as it was. She merely stared into the fire and kept letting the words pour out.

“And then, whenever you went away…and it took everything in my power to keep from following you. Sometimes I was able to stop myself, sometimes I wasn’t. I just didn’t realize at the time how happy it made me just to be close to you. Even if all we ended up doing was fighting…it was still worth it. And…it took me a while to figure how just how much strength those feelings actually gave me. I mean, if it had been anyone else, I never would have been able to go running after them the way I did with you.”

Akane paused again, sliding slightly closer to Ranma as she spoke.

“After a while…I…I began to see just what I was really feeling. Why I kept doing the things I did. But…I couldn’t say anything. I just couldn’t. After trying so hard to hate you…admitting that I…it felt like…being defeated somehow. Later, I began to realize what an idiot I was for thinking like that. That I was throwing away something that could have been so…But somehow, I just couldn’t stop.”

Akane seemed to instinctively know where Ranma as she reached out and gently hugged his arm, pulling herself even closer and leaning her head back against him. She still couldn’t work up the courage to look up at his face, but she managed to get out her last words.

“I…I don’t want to be that way anymore, Ranma,” Akane spoke as she felt herself snuggling against his arm, “I don’t want to be afraid or ashamed. I…I don’t want to stop…being jealous over you. I…don’t even want to stop…fighting with you. You…mean too much to me. I…I don’t care how hard it gets anymore. I just…want to be…with you.”

Ranma didn’t reply right away. But he didn’t pull away either, which gave Akane the courage to hold on. Still, she couldn’t help feeling nervous. After all, she had just poured her heart and soul out to the one person she had been afraid to for so long. She had no idea what that would mean, but she had to hope that if she was willing to face those consequences, it would be enough to get to him. It would be another few moments before Ranma turned to look at her, but there was still a brief pause before he said anything as he swallowed hard.

“I-I…I don’t…want to lose you, Akane.”

Akane found herself looking deeply into his eyes for a moment before she responded the only way she felt she could. Slowly wrapping her arms around his neck, she guided his head down over her shoulder and held him close as she whispered in his ear.

“Then don’t lose me.”

Ranma didn’t do anything at first, but a moment later, Akane felt his arms slide around her waist as he held her tight as buried his face into the crook of her neck. She still wasn’t used to seeing Ranma so vulnerable, but in an odd way, she felt inwardly happy that she could be there for him. It seemed that from time to time, even Ranma Saotome needed someone to just hold him and comfort him and try to make him feel that everything would be alright. And in a way, she couldn’t help but feel grateful that she was at least able to offer him that.

It was several minutes before Ranma broke the embrace and slowly turned back towards the fire. At least he seemed a little more content than he was before, but Akane could also see that there was something on his mind. Still, she wasn’t about to rush him. Whatever happened, she was more than willing to give Ranma all the time he needed as she turned back towards the fire as well. But Ranma’s first words came much sooner than she’d expected.

“I don’t love them.”

“What?”

“Shampoo…and Ukyo. You were talking about them before. I…I don’t…love them.”

Somewhere in Akane’s mind, there was a part of her that knew she should feel relieved or excited to Ranma say those words. A part that felt like doing cartwheels and jumping for joy. But she wasn’t about to do something so monumentally selfish. It looked as if Ranma was actually starting to open up to her and at that moment, nothing meant more to Akane than that. So she remained silent and simply listened.

“Look, I don’t like to talk about it much,” Ranma continued, “I guess it’s because I don’t know what I can do about it yet. But I don’t want you think that…look, Shampoo is…well, I know a lot of times she doesn’t deserve it, but I…guess I kind of…feel sorry for her…you know? I mean, she could have any guy she wants in a heartbeat. But here she is, clinging to me because her stupid Chinese Amazon traditions have her totally brainwashed. I just…don’t think that’s fair. She…deserves better.”

Akane didn’t respond. She simply hugged Ranma’s arm tighter and stared into the fire.

“And Ukyo…well, what can I say? She’s my friend, okay? I don’t have a lot of those, so the ones I have mean a lot to me. I just…want to stay her friend, that’s all. I know, it’s asking for trouble and I know it looks like I’m stringing them along. I don’t want it to be like that. I…just don’t want anyone to get hurt…because of me…you know? I never wanted…ANY of this to happen. I just keep hoping that they’ll both find someone else and just get on with their lives, you know? Be happy.”

Ranma paused briefly as he turned and looked down at Akane, who still clung tightly to his arm. Almost as if she could sense Ranma looking down at her, Akane raised her head and once their eyes met, they could each feel their heart skip a beat. But Ranma couldn’t let it slow him down. He had to finish what he’d started.

“But Akane, you’re…you’re the one that I don’t EVER…ever want to doubt how I…I…”

Ranma could only freeze up as he hung his head and sighed. He could feel it, his emotions locked up again. The walls around his heart had been rebuilt almost as quickly as they’d been torn down. It seemed that no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t get the words to come. It was only when he felt Akane’s hand on his cheek that he was able to raise his head once again.

“It…it’s okay Ranma,” she replied softly, gently caressing his cheek, “I’m not going to fight with you on this one. I don’t want to. Just…take your time.”

Ranma couldn’t help but smile in response as he pressed his forehead to hers and gently took her hand in his. Somehow, her words seemed to make him feel better. But that was always Akane for him. One way or another, she always seemed to be there to support him whenever his back was against the wall, right when he needed it most. It’s what made Ranma’s next words seem less forced and much more natural to say.

“Akane…you’re…my best friend,” Ranma paused with a nervous chuckle, “I mean…until I got to know you, I never thought a…chump like me could ever HAVE a best friend. You’ve…you’ve always stood by me and…it took me a long time to realize how much that meant to me. I guess that’s why I…hate being so clumsy at this. I wish I could be the kind of guy for you who’s…comfortable talking about this kind of stuff.”

Ranma stumbled briefly in his words, starting to feel flustered again. Akane noticed how uncomfortable he was, but was careful not to say anything. She didn’t want to push him.

“It’s just…,” Ranma sighed as he pulled himself away, turning from Akane and hanging his head, “…no matter what I say or do…you’re the one person I NEED to understand…how I feel.”

Ranma paused again with a deep breath, gathering all the remaining courage he could muster for one last grab at the words.

“Akane…I need…you…to know that…”

“…that you love me?” Ranma’s head snapped up to see Akane’s filled with warmth and affection. She wasn’t there to taunt or goad him. It was at that moment that Ranma responded with only the slightest of nods, but a part of him was still ashamed that he couldn’t get the words out. That is, until he felt the gentle touch of Akane’s lips on his cheek. Looking over, all he could see was Akane’s affectionate smile.

“I know,” she whispered, and Ranma could feel her softly fold her hands over his. He couldn’t help but feel more at ease as he looked into Akane’s eyes, but there was still one more thing he felt he had to get off his chest before he relaxed too much.

“Akane…I can’t promise I can be the kind of man you want,” he stated sheepishly as he turned away slightly. Only the feeling of Akane’s hand sliding down his cheek caused him to look into her eyes once again as she whispered to him once more.

“Just be the one I need.”

Ranma had to return Akane’s smile as the pair folded their arms around each other in another lengthy embrace. There was no doubt that this conversation was a long time in coming. It certainly took long enough too. They were both fully aware that their families would never have granted them the time to say everything they wanted to say. Be it their interfering fathers or even Akane’s snoopy sisters, someone would have butted in long before this point. Of course, both Ranma and Akane knew that if any of them had been around at all, such a conversation would never have taken place. And if nothing else, that one fact alone would have made the whole weekend completely worth it. Even though they had never expected events to take such a drastic turn, something else had happened that they hadn’t expected either. As they held each other tighter, a new feeling had found its way into their hearts and what it had done was extraordinary. Where there was once a wall of apprehension, now there was a bond of trust. Uncertainty had been transformed into relief. And as they both pulled away to look into each others’ eyes, a familiar warm feeling began to well up inside them, something they had been feeling more than once that day.

Ranma face became flushed with emotion as he felt his sense of reason being stripped away. He’d tried for so long to keep his emotions in check, afraid that they would cloud his judgment. But at that moment, he didn’t feel clouded. In fact, he felt a clarity he’d never felt before. All the doubts and the conflicting thoughts were silent. In that moment, he knew exactly what he wanted. And before he could give himself a chance to think about it, he took a deep breath and spoke.

“I love you, Akane,” Ranma’s words echoed in Akane’s mind for what seemed like an eternity. There wasn’t the slightest indication that it was a mistake or a slip of the tongue. And on a deeper level that she couldn’t explain, she just knew it. She could see it in his face, just by the way he smiled. He loved her. He really did love her. She could feel the tears of pure emotion welling up in her eyes, she was even sniffling a little. But she just couldn’t stop smiling. In that moment, she was happy. Happier than she’d ever been.

“I love you too,” she replied, as she leaned up to kiss him without a moment’s hesitation. And Ranma welcomed the soft touch as she pressed her lips to his. This time, neither side called for retreat. All doubts and insecurities had been washed away by the new emotions flooding over them. No longer the clumsy, ham-fisted exchange they had previously shared, now their kisses were soft and gentle, smoothly flowing in and out of one another. Soon, the kisses deepened as they pulled each other close, letting the rest of the world simply fade away.

… … … …

The lamp in the tent was just dim enough that some faint light from the fire could flicker through as Ranma gently laid Akane’s head down on his bed and slowly slid beside her. But he had only a brief pause before Akane put her arms around him and pulled herself close, gently wrapping her lips around his. Ranma responded by holding her tight, returning her kiss as they both began to savor their newfound closeness. Gently running their hands up and down each others’ backs, they slowly wrapped their legs around each other as their mouths softly wrestled. After several minutes, Ranma slowly rolled over on top of her. And as Akane put her arms around his neck, the two of them paused for only a few seconds, looking into each others’ eyes. Neither one of them was paying any attention to how much time had passed. Time no longer had any meaning. But then, neither did words. Enough words had already been said. They seemed to be communicating just fine by simply looking at each other. Akane closed her eyes for a moment and her lips curled in a tiny smile before she snuggled her forehead against Ranma’s and started to kiss him again.

Gradually, the moment seemed to play out like the gentle waves of the ocean and it seemed like nothing could disturb its flow, until they parted lips and stared at each other. They could feel what was happening. They were looking into each others’ eyes and instantly reading each other, having a whole conversation without speaking. They remembered every single thing that had just happened and everything that had been said. Although now, the whole thing just felt like a blur. But whether it had taken them hours or even seconds, one thing was undeniable. Ever since they’d met, it seemed that their lives were destined, or maybe even damned, to move in a continuous, unending pattern. But now, it just wasn’t like that and they knew it. Not anymore. In the course of a single moment, Ranma Saotome and Akane Tendo had just changed all the rules. When they had originally planned to take the weekend together, neither one of them had the slightest inkling that this is where they would end up. There were going to be consequences to what had just occurred, both of them knew it. And no one was going to be able to tell them what those consequences were going to be.

But there was something else they saw as they continued to look at each other. They weren’t completely sure what it was, but they could tell they were both feeling it. A sense as if the two of them had just…improved somehow…that they were in some way better than they were before. Until that moment, it seemed as if neither one of them were able to make any of their own choices. It always became that someone else’s wishes or expectations seemed to take precedence. But now, in the middle of the wilderness, completely alone, it seemed as if the two of them had finally made a decision. Not for family or friends or anyone else. This was for them and only them. For the first time since they’d met, it felt as though Ranma Saotome and Akane Tendo were finally in control of their own lives. And as that revelation set in and the two of them looked at each other and suddenly smiled, a warm feeling of confidence began to wash over them. No matter what came their way, at that moment, somehow, they knew they would both be strong enough to handle it.

“Ranma…can I sleep here tonight?” Akane asked softly. Ranma, at first, could only chuckle in response.

“You have to ask?” he replied as he reached over and gently pulled his blanket over them.

“Mmmmm,” Akane smiled as she snuggled closer to him. But a moment later, her eyes snapped open and her face suddenly got a worried look.

“Uh…you’re not going to ask me if I…snore…are you?”

“If you…? Where did that come from?” Ranma couldn’t help but be confused.

“Well…nothing. It’s stupid…I just thought…well…”

“DO you snore?”

“Ranmaaaaaa…” Akane flashed an evil gaze as she spoke through gritted teeth.

“Oh, I’m kidding and you know I’m kidding,” Ranma defended himself, being a little more assertive than usual, “Take a joke for once.”

“‘A joke’. Yeah, right. Like that time you dressed Akari Unryu’s pig up as me to attack Ryoga?”

“Hey, that was hilarious and you KNOW it.”

Akane wasn’t about to argue verbally. She merely gave Ranma a light slap in the arm.

“Jerk,” she murmured as she snuggled back next to him. Ranma could only look at her, completely perplexed.

“What the hell was THAT?” he blurted out.

“What?”

“You’ve gotta be kidding. This? This is what you give me?” Ranma continued, mimicking Akane’s little slap, “Give me a break. Kasumi hits harder than that…ON A SICK DAY! Come on, if you’re gonna go for it, at least put some of that macho chick ‘OOOMPH!’ behind it, okay?”

“Oh, you want ‘OOOMPH!’, huh?” Akane replied, giving Ranma another acid look, “You mean, something like…THIS?”

“KWHHHHHHH!” was the only sound Ranma could make as Akane firmly planted her knee into his stomach. He coughed and sputtered for a few seconds before he got his breath back. He would flash an evil grin immediately afterward and before Akane knew what was happening, he’d rolled on top of her, pinning her arms up over her head.

“Mmmmm,” he uttered with a sinister chuckle, pressing his forehead to hers, “Now that’s more like it.”

“Oooohh, I hate you,” Akane cooed as she nuzzled her nose against his.

“Oh yeah?” Ranma smiled as he released Akane’s hands, “How much do you hate me?”

“I really…REALLY hate you,” Akane replied, softly wrapping her arms around Ranma’s neck.

“Oh, well then you’re REALLY going to hate this,” Ranma said as he leaned down and softly kissed her lips. Akane held him tighter and pulled him close as she welcomed Ranma’s lips on her own.

“Mmmmm, it’s revolting…disgusting…horrible…” she whispered each time their lips parted. But it wouldn’t be long before there was again no need for words. And soon, the two of them were melting into a warm embrace and drifting into the waves of gentle kisses.

… … … …

The chirping of birds and the soft rustling of the trees echoed in Akane’s ears, welcoming her to a new day. As she gently opened her eyes, she already noticed the rising sun illuminating the tent. Hard to believe that it was already morning. After all, Akane didn’t even remember falling asleep. The last thing she remembered doing was kissing Ranma.

Ranma…again, Akane’s mind became flooded with memories of the previous night. And as she ran through every vivid memory, she found herself smiling warmly. Immediately, her heart pounded at the thought of turning over to see him lying next to her. What a perfect way it would be to wake up. But a small part of her hesitated. What if he wasn’t there? Could he have woken up already? Or would that mean she dreamed the whole thing? That it had all been in her mind? No, that would be far too cruel.

Just then, her heart skipped as the rustling of blankets and a sleepy groan passed by her ears. Unable to control her excitement, Akane rolled over and to her delight, there he was. In retrospect, it made Akane feel a little foolish for her doubts. After all, why else would she be in bed wearing the same clothes she wore last night? But there was no point in having such thoughts. The look on Ranma’s face was so peaceful and content, Akane couldn’t help but smile happily. How was just watching him sleep like this able to bring out all these emotions in her? But soon it didn’t matter as Akane leaned down and began gracing soft, fluttery kisses along Ranma’s cheek. That is, until Ranma’s hand reached up and shooed her away.

“Nnng…damn bugs…” he murmered as he rolled over and continued to sleep. Akane could only stare in shock. Did he just compare her kisses to…? Suddenly, all reason left her, clenching her fist tightly as a volcano erupted inside her brain.

“WAKE UP, YOU JERK!!!” Akane roared as her fist flew at Ranma’s cheek, sending him rolling along the tent to the far wall. Ranma could only snap himself up as a dazed and confused mess as he rubbed his battered cheek.

“Akane?! What the hell is wrong with you?!”

“Idiot!” Akane snapped back at him, “I was trying to be romantic and that’s the thanks I get?! Shooing me away like some bug?!”

“Roman…Have you lost your mind?!” Ranma could only shout back in disbelief, “I was sleeping, for crying out loud!!”

“I should have known better than to expect you to understrand!” Akane yelled in a huff, “You are, WITHOUT a doubt, THE most callous, insensitive…!”

“…hotheaded, overreacting…!” Ranma began spouting back.

“…rude, uncaring…!”

“…macho, UNCUTE…!!”

“…STUPID JERK I’VE EVER MET IN MY LIFE!!”

“AND YOU KNOW WHAT REALLY DRIVES ME NUTS?!!!!”

“WHAT?!!!!”

Suddenly, Ranma became silent. For a moment, all he could do was sigh as his hands fell to his sides. And the look on his face changed from anger to almost one of…surrender.

“I still love you.”

For a moment, the look on Akane’s face turned to shock. Instantly, all the anger she was feeling just drained away and for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why she had gotten so angry in the first place. She could only turn away embarrassed for a moment before she folded her arms across her stomach and looked back up at Ranma, her eyes welling with emotion.

“I love you too.”

Akane felt like she was going to suffocate from the awkward silence that followed until Ranma shuffled over to her. Looking deeply into each other, the next move seemed so natural as they warmly embraced. Feeling Ranma hold her made Akane feel a little better, but as she looked over his shoulder she saw her hand. Clenching tightly, she watched as her hand turned into the fist she had just used to…whimpering slightly, she pulled away just enough to bury her face into Ranma’s chest. Just then, she heard Nabiki’s words again. After last night, they were the same words she had hoped that she could have put behind her.

“How many times have those two had a fight because she blew something out of proportion…?”

“…Honestly, I have no earthly idea how that man has put up with you for so long.”

“Ranma,” she asked with a sheepish tone, “Why do you let me get away with that?”

“What do you mean?” Ranma asked back.

“You know what I mean,” Akane replied, still feeling embarrassed, “Come on, you and I both know that I couldn’t beat you in a fight if my life depended on it. So…why do you let me…?”

“…go ‘Psycho-Girl’ all over me?”

“Not the words I would have used, but okay.”

Ranma only let out a little sigh before he spoke.

“I don’t know. A lot of the time, I just find it hard to fight back against you, Akane. Maybe, sometimes I keep hoping that this time…you’ll just think before you hit. Or that maybe you’ll actually listen to me before you rush to make judgments.”

Akane didn’t reply as she held Ranma tighter. Everything he was saying just seemed to make her feel worse about the way she behaved.

“And then,” Ranma continued, “there are the times when, you know…I…kinda, sorta…deserve it.”

“Huh?” Akane pulled away slightly as she looked up at him.

“What? You think I never figured it out?” Rona stated, “That behind the handsome face, rippling muscles, cunning brain and incredible skill, there beats the heart of a 100 percent, bona fide jerk? I know what kind of guy I am, Akane. To be honest, having lived with my father all this time, I’m surprised I’m not worse. So…yeah, I’ve let you get away with pounding on me when you had a right to. Hell, I would’ve done the same thing sometimes if I were you.”

“So…what do we do now?” Akane asked as she looked up at him. Again, Ranma could see what Akane’s eyes were saying. Quite the pair they made, the insensitive jerk and the violent macho chick. What kind of married life could they possibly have? Propping her chin under his thumb, Ranma offered her a warm smile.

“Well,” he asked softly, “You…wanna stay engaged?”

Akane looked up at him and her jaw dropped slightly. His question was so casual and nonchalant, just like she had always known Ranma to be. But his eyes…there was a deadly seriousness in his eyes. Akane could tell that this was more than just a casual request.

‘Wait,’ Akane thought to herself, ‘Is…is he asking me to…?’

Akane didn’t even allow herself to complete he thought as her eyes filled with emotion. Maybe this wasn’t something to be read into too deeply. She could only smile affectionately as she gave him her answer.

“Yeah.”

Ranma returned her smile while Akane wrapped her arms around his neck. As the two met in a soft kiss, they gently eased back onto the bed, holding each other before their lips finally parted.

“So,” Ranma said to her, “You wanna get up?”

“Mm mm,” Akane shook her head as she snuggled up to him, pulling the blankets over them, “I think it’s still a little cold out yet. It’s nice and warm in here.”

“Hmmmm,” Ranma savored the moment as he held Akane close, but before long, he felt the urge to say something, although he wasn’t sure how, “Akane…about last night…I…I really want to tell you how much it meant to…”

“Ranma…you don’t need to say anything,” Akane smiled as she cut Ranma off, snuggling against him a little tighter, “I…know how you feel. I mean, last night was…I just…I want to say so much…but it would never feel like enough.”

“Akane…” Ranma wasn’t quite sure what to say as Akane pulled away to look up at him.

“All I really need you to know is that last night made me very…very happy,” Akane smiled at him, “And I…hope it made you happy too.”

Ranma only smiled back and nodded. That was the only answer Akane needed. But she still felt the need to add in something else.

“Sooooo…last night…we’re not going to tell anybody…?”

“Oh, NO way!” Ranma shot back, knowing full well what would happen if any living soul discovered what they had done.

“Good. Just checking,” Akane said before they looked at each other and couldn’t help but laugh. It would only last a moment before they moved in and met their lips in a soft kiss. Another kiss followed, deeper and longer than the first, then another and then another as they held each other tight and savored the moment.

… … … …

It would be almost noon before Ranma and Akane finally managed to roll out of bed and got ready to face the day. They would have given almost anything to not have to get up, but they only had at least a couple of hours to make lunch, break camp and head home. Akane had fixed a small fire while Ranma had gone down to the lake to catch some fish for lunch. As soon as the fire was standing on its own, Akane went down to the lake to find Ranma knee deep in the freezing water. Remembering how cold it was from yesterday, Akane could only look on and wince.

“How can you stand that?” she asked in astonishment, “Your feet must be covered in ice by now.”

“Ssshhh,” Ranma silenced her, scanning the water intently. No doubt about it, they were there. Patience was the key, knowing the perfect time to strike. It wouldn’t be much longer. Just a little closer and…

“Hyah!” Ranma’s arms flashed into the water, faster than Akane’s eyes could follow. A second later, four stunned fish were lying on the shoreline at her feet. As Ranma waded to land, Akane couldn’t help but be impressed with the display.

“You know, I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to seeing that,” she stated, “I just can’t figure out how ANYONE can move like that.”

“Hey what can I say?” Ranma replied, “After trying to catch piranhas and chestnuts from a fire, this is nothing.”

Looking up to see Akane’s smiling face made Ranma unable to keep from smiling as well. Going with the feeling, Ranma slowly leaned forward, feeling the urge to kiss her. But suddenly, Akane pressed her fingers to Ranma’s lips. Ranma couldn’t understand why at first, but then a new feeling came into play. A feeling in the…chest.

Looking down, Ranma finally understood as Akane’s hand was gently bobbing her big, soft breast. This was the second time in as many days that Ranma had forgotten about her girl form in cold water. Akane merely shrugged her shoulders as Ranma looked back up at her.

“Maybe…we should take this one step at a time,” Akane suggested. It was clear that she still wasn’t comfortable with the thought of being too intimate with Ranma the girl.

“Right,” Ranma nodded in agreement, but a part of her couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. She never thought it would happen, but after last night, she had actually gotten used to kissing Akane. To not be able to do it whenever she wanted to…Akane instantly picked up on what Ranma was feeling. Placing her hands on Ranma’s cheeks, she leaned forward and gently kissed her forehead. She then pressed her forehead to Ranma’s and offered a reassuring smile. And she kept on smiling at him as she gently took Ranma’s hand and walked with her back to camp.

Two minutes and a gender change later, Ranma and Akane were in the middle of preparing lunch. Ranma was using the same makeshift spits he’d used for hot dogs two nights ago to cook the fish while Akane was in the middle of preparing rice. Everything seemed to be going smoothly, until Ranma saw Akane reach for a knife.

“Now that’s an idea,” Akane said as she reached over with her free hand.

“Uh, what are you doing?” Ranma asked, slightly nervous.

“Oh…I was…just going to add some garlic to the rice,” Akane answered, “You know, like you did before?”

“Well, I’m all for that,” Ranma replied, “But…are you sure that’s garlic you’ve got there?”

“Huh?” Akane didn’t understand what Ranma was saying at first, until she looked down at her hand. Instead of a bulb of garlic, what she’d really picked up was a large, white onion.

“Remember that nice little talk we had about paying attention?” Ranma whispered in her ear.

“Sorry,” Akane sighed, clearly disappointed with herself. What kind of a cook could she be if she couldn’t tell garlic from an onion?

“Oh, it’s alright. It was one mistake. It’s not the end of the world,” Ranma said encouragingly before he reached up and started fondling Akane’s breasts playfully to get her to buck up, “Come oooooooon, it’s not so…!”

Suddenly, Ranma’s words were cut off as he felt a sharp pressure in his stomach. He could only cough slightly as he took his hands off Akane’s breasts. Apparently, the hard elbow she had thrust into his gut had the desired effect.

“That was slightly uncalled for, don’t you think?” Ranma groaned as he rubbed his stomach.

“You had it coming,” Akane said in a huff as she sliced off a piece of garlic.

“Oh, so it’s okay for you to go grabbin’ at me, but not the other way around?” Ranma argued, Remembering Akane touching him as a girl by the lake only minutes ago.

“I was making a point then,” Akane replied in a matter-of-factly tone.

“Unh, is that what that was?” Ranma muttered cynically.

“Oh, stop it. I took it easy on you,” Akane tried to joke, “You’re forgetting who’s holding the knife.”

“Pfff!” Ranma turned away, clearly not sharing her humor. Akane could only sigh in response. Even if Ranma was being an idiot about it, she didn’t want to end their trip by fighting with him. Sliding over, Akane leaned in and softly kissed his cheek, immediately regaining Ranma’s attention.

“There,” she pouted as Ranma turned to face him, “Baby feel better?”

Ranma couldn’t help but give an annoyed chuckle as he clenched his fist and shook it.

“And you call me a jerk.”

“Because you ARE a jerk,” Akane smirked at him. She then when back to cutting up the garlic for the rice as the two of them looked at each other and exchanged quiet laughter.

… … … …

Lunch was finished and a before long, the campsite had been completely dismantled. Standing at the edge of the clearing, Ranma and Akane stood quietly, softly holding hands as they took one last look. Except for a wet pile of ash where their fire pit had been, there was no sign at all that either of them had been there. Everything was exactly as they had found it two days ago. It seemed kind of fitting in a way. After all, this was a place they always wanted to remember as it was. It was a place that would always have a special place in their hearts and memories…the place where everything changed.

“So,” Akane spoke as she looked up at him, “Once more into the breach?”

“I guess,” Ranma replied with a sigh. The look on his face suddenly became somber.

“What’s wrong?” Akane asked curiously.

“Oh…I was just thinking,” Ranma replied, “You were right when you said there were going to be more guys like Saffron out there. That it’s going to get harder.”

“Are you still on about that?” Akane exclaimed, “I thought you were okay with this now.”

“Akane,” Ranma gave her a deathly serious look as he placed his hand against her cheek, “I’m never going to be okay with that.”

“Ranma,” Akane could feel how much the experience still hurt him as she put her hand over his and gently nestled her cheek against it.

“Akane, I need you to do something for me,” Ranma’s voice became even more serious.

“Hmmm?” Akane looked at him inquisitively.

“Please,” Ranma said, “promise me that whatever happens, you’ll stay close to me. No matter how bad it gets.”

Akane didn’t have to look into Ranma’s eyes to see how much this request meant to him. This wasn’t something that could just be blown off. He needed her to give him and answer and that was exactly what she intended to do. Putting her arms around his neck, Akane smiled as she leaned up, softly kissing him before she spoke.

“I promise,” she whispered onto his lips.

Ranma could only look at her and smile. Immediately, his entire mood had shifted. He was now so…happy and light. It made Akane feel lighter too as she softly pressed her forehead to his.

“Come on,” she said, “Let’s go home.”

Ranma couldn’t seem to keep himself from smiling as they held each other tight for a few moments longer. Then, hand in hand, the turned and began the long walk back to the city.

The return trip was conducted mostly in silence as Ranma and Akane held hands and basked in the sights and sounds of nature. This was a moment where there was no real need for words. They had already said so much, it didn’t seem like there was anything more to talk about. Eventually, the treeline thinned out and became replaced with roads, fields and small houses. Not long after, the outlying suburbs slowly began to appear. It would only be a matter of time before they were home.

“Well, I guess this is where we’d better split up,” Ranma said, a little awkwardly, “It would look best if I didn’t show up for a while.”

“Yeah…yeah, you’re right,” Akane swallowed hard as the words came. After everything they had just been through, it just felt so hard to be apart from him now.

“So…see you at home?” She asked.

“You bet. Trust me, I’ll be right behind you.” Ranma replied with a reassuring smile.

“Right, well…I guess I’ll…see you there.”

Akane started walking backwards, not wanting to take her eyes off him. Eventually she turned around, but they were still holding hands as she slowly walked away, slipping apart with every step. Soon, their fingertips were just barely touching, one more step and their hands would part. But just as Akane was about to take that final step…

“Oh, who am I kidding?” she softly whined as she threw her arms around Ranma and the pair kissed deeply. Harder and harder the kiss became as they clung to each other tightly. Slowly, but surely, their emotions drained from them as the kiss gradually softened. Finally their lips would gently part as they lovingly stared into each others’ eyes.

“Ah, young love,” a soft, crackly voice sounded, forcing them to look over a pair of elderly women who had witnessed the entire display, “I tell you, that’s what a perfect couple looks like, when two people can’t get enough of each other like that.”

‘Perfect…? Couple…? Us…?’ flashed through both Ranma and Akane’s minds as they looked at each other, almost stunned for a moment. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Ranma started to snicker. Akane suddenly started giggling as well. Within moments, both of them were chuckling loudly before bursting into howls of laughter. They were both laughing so hard, they actually needed to hold each other upright for a few moments. It clearly wasn’t the reaction the woman’s comment was meant to draw, but in a strange way, she did them a favor. They had made such a big deal out of being separated, a good laugh was just the tension breaker they needed.

“I’ll see you at home, okay?” Ranma said, still laughing.

“Yeah, you…you got it..!” Akane replied before she broke down into another giggle fit. Slightly stumbling as she walked, she continued on as Ranma walked off in the opposite direction, both of them still laughing hard.

“Hmmm, now what do you suppose brought that on?” the elderly woman’s friend wondered.

“Perhaps…one of them told a joke?” the lady answered, “Oh, by the way, did you hear? They finally caught that awful bear that was out in the woods.”

“Really?”

“Yes, they were talking on the news. Wildlife officials found the thing half dead in a river this morning. Really beaten up too, from what I hear. They were thinking it must have fallen off a cliff and drifted downstream.”

“Well, at least it won’t be hurting anyone else. Thank goodness for that.”

… … … …

Ranma was still chuckling a little as he reached a small café. Deciding to rest for a moment while he thought of a way to pass the time, he slid off his backpack and sat on one of the patio chairs, gently drumming his hands on the arms.

‘Well,’ he thought to himself as he sighed, ‘I’ve got a couple hours to kill. What to do…what to do…’

“RANMA!!!” A familiar voice instantly broke Ranma’s train of thought. Looking up, he caught a glimpse of a figure dropping from the sky at top speed. Ranma was quick to react to the threat, spiraling out of his chair before a familiar red parasol hit a split second later, reducing it to splinters. A body landed right behind it on adjoining table, but Ranma didn’t have to look at his attacker to see who it was.

“Ryoga! Hey buddy!” he called out happily as he held his arms out in welcome, “How’s it goin’?!”

“Don’t you ‘Hey buddy’ me! I heard all about what happened at Tendo dojo the other day! What did you do to Akane you…!” Ryoga snarled as he charged forward. But Ranma instantly took the wind out of his attack as he shoved Ryoga backward into the café wall. Before Ryoga could react, Ranma had the hand with Ryoga’s parasol held to the wall while his other forearm was pinned across Ryoga’s neck.

“I gotta tell ya, it really is great to see you, man…” Ranma’s face beamed at him, but then, his smile and his voice suddenly turned acid.

“…but I’m still gonna mop the floor with you.”

… … … …

“I’m home!” Akane called as she opened the door.

“Akane!” Soun cried out as he tore out of the living room at top speed, “How are you, sweetheart? Are you feeling better now?”

“I’m fine, Dad,” Akane replied cynically, “Now if you don’t mind, I’m a little tired. I’m going upstairs to take a nap.”

“My, something really good must have happened to her at the hot springs,” Kasumi noted after Akane had gone up to her room, “I’ve never seen her like that before. She was…practically glowing.”

“Yes! That’s one down,” Soun gloated as he clenched his fist in determination and turned to Genma, “Now, let’s just hope that son of yours is in a better mood.”

“Oh, he’ll be in a better mood. Even if I have to beat him into it!” Genma’s sign read as the panda growled slightly. Kasumi and Nabiki meanwhile, merely exchanged glances. The fathers were too caught up in themselves to notice, but there was something so different about seeing Akane so happy.

… … … …

“I’m home!” Ranma called cheerfully outside the house. Immediately the family rushed to meet him, only to see Ryoga’s battered, swollen body draped over his shoulder.

“Oh good, he found Ryoga,” Kasumi stated happily, “I was a little worried about him, he left in such a hurry the other day after he’d heard about the fight.”

“Oh, he found him, alright,” Nabiki replied, “But I’m betting Ryoga wishes he hadn’t.”

“Ranma, are you alright?” Nodoka called out as she rushed to the door.

“I’m fine, Mom,” Ranma replied, flopping Ryoga hard to the floor as he turned to her, putting his hands on her shoulders, “Everything’s fine now.”

“Ranma,” Nodoka could only look at him, with a look of amazement in her eyes. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was, but she could see there was something different about her son. He seemed…happier, content. As if he had found some kind of peace. It actually made her feel a little relieved, like she didn’t have to worry about him as much anymore. But once again, Soun and Genma were too blind to see such things. All they saw was an opportunity they didn’t want to pass up.

“Good to have you back, son,” Soun said warmly, putting his arm around Ranma’s shoulder, “Now, Akane got back just a couple hours ago. If you two are in such good spirits now, this might be a good time for you to bury this silly little tiff you had the other day, hmm?”

Ranma could only look at the two fathers with annoyance as he rolled his eyes and sighed.

“You know, you guys really know how to ruin a good homecoming,” he said, “What do you do at funerals, stand up comedy?”

Trying to look as reluctant as possible, Ranma slowly trudged up the stairs. Gently, he knocked on Akane’s door to announce that he was coming in. Of course, if he’d known he was going to get rapped in the back of the head with Akane’s fist as he walked in, he probably would’ve taken a little longer.

“I heard that, you know,” Akane’s voice clearly showed her annoyance as Ranma closed the door and rubbed his head.

“Oh, get over it. I was trying to keep in character,” Ranma shot back, “After all…I’m an ac-TOR.”

“Yeah well, there’s such a thing as OVER-acting,” Akane replied before her mood suddenly shifted as she turned to look at the closed door, “So…how much time do you think we’ve got?”

“Not including the time I’ve already been in here?” Ranma replied, “I’d say…about 30 seconds. Give or take.”

“Hmmm…Better not waste it,” Akane thought out loud as she and Ranma exchanged glances.

“Yeah.”

They didn’t need any encouragement as Akane rushed into Ranma’s arms and the two of them started kissing frantically. From hard pecks to deep kisses and everything in between, they savored their closeness for as long as they possibly could.

“I…I can’t believed how much I missed this,” Akane whispered between kisses.

“Tell…tell me about it,” Ranma agreed. It would be another few seconds of absorbing everything they could get out of the moment before they finally tore their bodies away from each other and immediately began straightening their hair and clothes. After all, it couldn’t look like they had been in Akane’s room mauling each other, even if that was technically what they had been doing.

“Alright…be cool…maintain…” Ranma chanted as he breathed deeply. Now was the time for control, discipline. But as they looked at each other, they couldn’t resist sharing one more soft peck on the lips before Ranma walked to Akane’s door. Akane nodded to him silently to indicate that she was ready as Ranma held his finger out and silently counted down.

Three…two…one…

Immediately, Ranma threw open the door to send Genma, Soun and Nabiki spilling onto the floor, with Kasumi and Nodoka standing behind them. Ranma and Akane could only roll their eyes and shake their heads and the three struggled to get up.

“So,” Ranma asked cynically, spying the glass in Nabiki’s hand, “Door need a drink of water?”

Nabiki didn’t get the chance to respond to Ranma’s sarcasm however, because just then, the shrill shatter of glass echoed throughout the room. Immediately, everyone turned to see Shampoo, bicycle and all, on Akane’s bed and a giant hole where Akane’s window used to be.

“Nihao, Ranma,” she announced cheerfully, “Shampoo hear about long journey. This ramen made special in case you hungry.”

“Yeah right, like Ranma-honey’s gonna eat a bunch of soggy noodles,” Ukyo announced, barging through the door, “Not when he’s got the best okonomiyaki menu in the city to choose from.”

Suddenly, shrieks of laughter could be heard from outside as a snowfall of black rose petals blanketed the view. Shampoo and Ukyo immediately rushed to the window to see Kodachi standing outside with a huge serving cart.

“Foo, the slop you two prepare isn’t fit to feed stray dogs!” she called up to Akane’s room, “Behold, no less for my Ranma-darling than a meal fit for a king!”

“Yeah, laced with enough knock-out powder to bring down a herd of elephants, no doubt!” Ukyo shot back.

“You big cheat!” Shampoo added to the attack.

“Ranma Saotome!” The unmistakable voice immediately turned Ranma and Akane back to the door, “How dare you defile the bedchamber of the fair Akane Tendo. I, Tatewaki Kuno, shall not allow this violation to stand one moment!”

“Oh, Shampoo, why did you run off on me again?” Mousse wailed. Of course, without his glasses, he didn’t realize that the person he was begging to spend time with was Nabiki.

“You got any money?” Nabiki replied with a shrug.

“Ranma…you rat,” Ryoga stumbled into the room, still dazed from the beating he’d taken earlier, “I’m…not finished…with you yet.”

“What’s up?” Happosai asked as he peeked through the doorway, “I didn’t know you guys were having a party. You think we could organize a nice underwear pillow fight? I’ve got just the ensembles right here.”

Ranma and Akane didn’t need to wait around to see any more than they had. Only one word escaped their lips as they turned and looked at each other.

“WE’RE OUTTA HERE!!”

A split second later, they had both leapt out the window, and made a mad dash out the front gates. Everyone else took off in hot pursuit, but fortunately, Ranma and Akane had managed to find a temporary shelter behind a large tree as the others began a frantic search.

“They couldn’t have gone far!” Ryoga’s voice echoed.

“Ranma! Akane!” Soun called out as Genma’s panda form howled behind him. Soon, everyone else had chimed into the chorus.

“Ranma-honey!”

“Ranma-darling, wherever did you run off to?!”

“Ranma Saotome, come out of hiding, you swine! Fear not Akane Tendo, the great Kuno will soon free you from that scoundrel’s loathsome grip!”

“Ranma, come out so Shampoo find you!”

“SHAMPOO!”

“What about the underwear?”

“Well, that was faster than usual,” Akane sighed.

“You know, I’m really not so much surprised as I am disappointed,” Ranma added, immediately trying to formulate a strategy, “Okay, this is going to take a while. I think you should take off that way. I’ll draw them off down the street.”

“Mm mm,” Akane shook her head, “No good.”

“What do you mean ‘no good’?” Ranma shot back, “Look Akane, please, just once, can’t you listen to me?”

“I am listening to you,” she said, wrapping her arms around his neck, “Because I have a promise to keep.”

Akane paused briefly, kissing Ranma softly before she continued.

“I’m staying close to you. No matter how bad it gets.”

Ranma could only smile in response, realizing he’d just been tied up by his own words. In one smooth motion, he picked Akane up and cradled her in his arms. He knew this was going to be one of those chases. And when it came right down to it, he knew there was no way Akane was as fast as he was.

“You better hold on tight,” he warned, “This ride’s probably gonna get pretty rough.”

Akane only let out a short giggle and put her hand to Ranma’s cheek.

“Hasn’t it always?”

Ranma had to chuckle himself before to two leaned in and shared one more soft kiss.

“Ready?” Ranma whispered as they pressed their foreheads together.

“GO!” Akane shouted as Ranma took off from their hiding place. Naturally, the sudden movement was enough to get them spotted.

“Found ‘em!” Ryoga cried out. From there, it was a mad dash down the street with the entire crew following behind.

“Ranma! Akane!”

“Ranma! Wait Shampoo!”

“Ranma-honey!”

Ranma-darling! ”

“SHAMPOO!”

“Ranma, you’ve got to try this on! I guarantee it’ll grow on you! Ten seconds for your old master, that’s all I ask!”

“Ranma Saotome, unhand Akane Tendo this instant you fiend!”

“You’ll have to catch us first!” Ranma called back as he kept on running. As Akane held him tight, he could actually hear her laughing and turned to see her smiling at him. It was enough to make Ranma smile himself as he felt his confidence begin to rise. After all, if they could handle this, they were ready to take on the world.

‘Alright, bring it on with whatever you’ve got!’ he thought to himself as he kept on running with the others in hot pursuit, ‘Nothing’s gonna stop us now!’

--The End--

Note: Hello. I hope you all enjoyed this story. Yes, it was a little long-winded, but hopefully, it was worth it when you got to the end. And hopefully, this is a story that all Ranma fans can appreciate.

Like it? Don’t like it? Write me and let me know. My e-mail is tuxedo52@hotmail.com . I look forward to anything you have to say about my work, or even some suggestions for the future. Hope to hear from you.

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