This fanfic is dedicated to all the people who voted for this fanfic in my other story and to my beta reader, pursemonger. If you aren't already – go read her fanfics too, they're brilliant! And to all the people who wanted an Akane-travels-into-the-past fanfic!

Disclaimer: I don't own anything – characters, money, setting etc. Everything belongs to the author and whichever other companies have bought rights to it. Oh yeah, and I don't get any money writing this either. This Disclaimer is applicable to all chapters of this fanfic – however many there may be.

WARNING: Strong language (i.e. swearing), steamy, hot love scenes (though nothing too explicit) and MAIN Character death in the first chapter (though this will be the only character death in the entire story since Akane will be travelling into the past, so technically he's back to being alive). Those who have read some of my other stories will probably already know this, but I can't help the slight melodrama – especially in this chapter. The first one will probably (hopefully) be a tearjerker. Enjoy – if you are too young, too emotionally unstable or whatever – hit the back button.

This Prologue chapter is especially long – nearly 12k. Apologies, I couldn't reasonably shorten it without leaving important information out. And an inaccuracy has been pointed out to me – apologies for the Dragon's Whisker. Thanks to Compucles I now know that it was replaced by normal hair ties after that particular arc, so my apologies for the inaccuracy in the story.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Akane stopped in the middle of one of the more intricate katas Ranma had taught her, sensing that someone had just entered the Dojo. She also knew precisely who it was and why he was here – she'd been deliberately teasing him, knowing he'd follow her here.

"What, you're not gonna give your fiancé a proper goodbye?" A male voice called out from behind her.

With a smirk on her lips she whirled around, looking at the black haired man casually leaning against the wall of the Dojo in front of her. She stepped closer to him.

"Thought I did – I waved and everything."

Ranma easily answered her smirk with his own, his hand tightening around the sash on her gi to pull her closer. When his hot breath was mingling with her own, his eyes dark with both passion and amusement as he looked down at her, he finally spoke up.

"That's not what I'd call a proper goodbye. I'll be gone for an entire weekend, you know. Hurts my ego if you don't show me how much you'll miss me."

The blue haired girl in his arms threw her head back, laughing. It took her a few moments before she calmed down, eyes sparkling as her arms went behind his neck.

"Well, we can't have that, can we?"

Her lips met his and she pressed herself against him, swallowing up his moan as her hands pulled him firmly against her. It only took a moment before he responded in kind, lips and tongue teasing her even as his body twisted them until she was the one pressed against the wall. Moments later her legs closed around his waist and she could feel an answering moan build up inside her. Ranma's hand gripped her hair tightly while his other slowly went beneath her top, roaming across the soft, silky skin on her stomach first. Moments later he adjusted and ran his hand towards her back, feeling his ticklish fiancée quiver beneath his hands. The new position allowed Ranma to press her tantalizingly closer, feeling her soft curves press against the hard planes of his body always only made him want more.

Separating her mouth from his with a gasp for air, she wasn't surprised when Ranma gently tilted her head, mouth already gently nibbling and tasting her neck, forcing a different kind of gasp from her lips. Her own hands impatiently fiddled with the buttons that kept her from exploring his broad chest - before giving in and applying strength to rip his shirt open.

Ranma chuckled slightly against her neck, sending another shiver down her spine before her own hands made contact with his heated, muscular skin.

"You're so impatient..." her fiancé muttered before reclaiming her lips.

"Still don't – ah- know why you won't," another moan from her "take me with you on your training trip."

Laughing slightly, Ranma took his hands out from underneath her top, ignoring Akane's pout at the loss of contact. Leaning his forehead against hers, he tried to regain control over himself.

"Cause I think we both know I'd never get any training done."

Her hips rolled against his own, her eyes dark with passion as her tongue slowly wet her lips, Ranma's eyes heavy on her even as he suppressed the urge to push his hips against hers. He could feel the heat from her core against him, trying to rob him of any coherent thoughts. Her voice was husky and her reply nearly made him reconsider his decision to stay his hand.

"And who said that was a bad thing...?"

Groaning, he buried his face in her neck, tightening his grip on her body to stop his hands from wandering.

"You're a little minx, you know that? I'm not sure my self-control can hold until next week even with both your sisters and your dad in the same house! Never mind us both alone together on a training trip..."

Akane's smile was impish and she looked up at him through half lidded eyes.

"Whose idea was it any way to wait until the wedding night?"

Blue eyes darkened and his hands trembled slightly before Ranma forcefully separated himself from his fiancée.

"God, I don't think you know what you do to me, 'kane. ... But there's only a week left... Only one excruciatingly long week."

His eyes met hers hesitantly, watching as she straightened her clothing and tried to make her hair fall back into place. Her cheeks were still delightfully flushed, brown eyes still dark with the remnants of passion and her lips bruised and red. Ripping his eyes away before they could stray lower and make out the obvious signs of her arousal, he swallowed heavily.

He had never been so tempted before, never felt so attracted to someone in his entire life as his fiancée. Over the years the words pervert had never crossed her lips again and their physical boundaries disappeared, one by one, until there was nothing but honour and strength of will separating them from taking that last step and joining their bodies. He knew the wait would be worth it but somehow it seemed to prolong the agony and with only a week to go it was almost unbearable. Her mere smell was intoxicating to him and all he ever wanted to do was spend all day kissing his fiancée – and it wouldn't be the first time he'd succumbed to that particular desire, though he'd never thought he could strain the muscles in his mouth quite that much.

They had already spent hours exploring their love physically - mapping each other's body, seeing what made the other moan breathlessly and what made them scream in passion. Instead of soothing their inner fire, however, it seemed to have only inflamed them further.

The blue haired woman smiled at him warmly.

"You still haven't told me why you're taking the training trip in the first place. What sort of training are you planning to do within only two days?"

Ranma rolled his eyes.

"It's just an excuse. Mom and Pop are driving me nuts. Pop keeps giving me hints about how to pleasure a woman and mom... well, her idea of a man among men and his role in the bedroom are... let's say a little twisted." He shuddered. "Actually, more like frightening. I can't hear another word from her about what we really should try – if not for you I think I'd be scared to death of sex in general."

Akane laughed gaily. She was well aware of Nodoka's sometimes rather... odd view on things and on what made a man 'manly'.

"Do you remember when she sent you to spy on me in the bathroom?"

Grinning mischievously, Ranma sent her a heated glance.

"'Course... I don't think I've ever been more disappointed in my life."

His fiancée looked up at him coyly, lips quirked into a gentle smile.

"Really?"

"Uh-huh. You know I love you right?"

With one step she was in his personal space, eyes on his and when their lips were only separated by a hair's breadth, she whispered.

"I love you too, Ranma. You're my everything. And you'll be back soon, right?"

"I'll always come back for you, tomboy."

Closing the gap between them both lost themselves to each other, kissing gently and softly, conveying the love they held for each other.

"YUCK!"

"Get a room!"

"HEY! Leave Akane sensei alone!"

With a chuckle the couple separated at the childish voices interrupting them.

"Sorry, Ranma, I forgot I had a class to teach."

"'s okay. I need to get going anyway before my parents find me for another lecture."

"Love you..."

"Love you too. I'll see you Sunday night."

With another chaste kiss on her lips, Ranma jumped off into the distance. Akane in the meanwhile turned back to her students – a beginner's class with mainly six-year old children.

Smiling softly at the kids she explained the rules of the latest game she'd come up with to teach the kids martial arts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Akane laughed openly, tense shoulders finally relaxed as she sat in the ice cream cafe with her two best friends. Sayuri and Yuka – two girls she had first met in high school and even now that they were 22 years old they were still the best of friends.

"I can't believe you'd allow me to design your wedding dress, Akane-chan."

Sayuri was looking at her with something akin to hero worship, to Akane's embarrassment. Yuka merely laughed, elbowing their friend none-too-gently in her ribs.

"Yes, we know." Rolling her eyes, she turned back to Akane. "She hasn't shut up about this for the last month 'Akane's my hero' and 'poor starting out fashion designer like me' and then 'ooh, she's the best and I'll be famous'. God! Get a grip, girl. And you'd better have more than just a design ready at this stage in the game. Akane's wedding is on Saturday – she's got to look so amazingly, stunningly beautiful that Ranma's eyes will pop out of his head!"

Akane giggled helplessly at her friends' antics. Sayuri turned her nose up at her friend in pretend disgust.

"I'll have you know that you will be wearing a neon green-yellow polka-dotted, frilly dress as bridesmaid, Yuka." A moment later her smirk turned into a smile and her eyes started sparkling.

"But yes – Akane's wedding dress will forever be my masterpiece. And it should be ready tomorrow for one final fitting before the wedding! She will look so beautiful Ranma will fall unconscious the moment he sees her!"

Yuka laughed.

"Dolt, he needs to be awake for the wedding!" She wriggled her eyebrows at their friend. "Especially the wedding night – you really don't want him unconscious then."

Wiping away tears of laughter, Akane looked at her two friends in gratitude.

"Thank you both. This wedding-business has me so high strung and you won't believe how difficult it is to keep daddy and Mr. Saotome from interfering all the time. And then Ranma's not returned from his training trip yet even though he should've been back last night and I keep getting this ominous feeling and…"

"Hey, deep breaths."

Yuka's hand was warm on her shoulder and gave Akane that precious moment to compose herself. The feeling was back with a vengeance, that something was horribly wrong with her or Ranma. She couldn't place it. Kodachi had left Japan and was living in France, Ukyo gave up on Ranma over a year ago and even Shampoo and the old ghoul had left on Friday, just a week before their wedding. For once, Nerima chaos appeared to have abated in time to allow them to actually get married.

Ranma had trained her for years so now she was actually a match for him – that is to say he still beat her but now he actually had to work for it and every once in a while she'd actually manage to defeat him – though usually by a more liberal use of the 'Anything Goes' part of her training. Akane had gone to college and after a year of travelling with Ranma they had settled down, obtained their masteries and actually brought back students to the Tendo School of Anything Goes Martial Arts.

Ranma and her had officially started dating when Akane was nineteen. After two years and Ranma on his knees with a ring in his hands they had been for the first time – in their opinions - 'officially' engaged. The engagement had finally forced Ukyo to understand that Ranma would never reciprocate the feelings she had for him and after a short series of challenges, fights and arguments all three were good friends.

And now hers and Ranma's wedding was only five days away. Five short days. Ranma had told her he'd like to go on one final training trip the weekend before – alone – and she'd agreed. He should have returned Sunday night but now it was Monday afternoon and he still wasn't back. Something in Akane's stomach kept twisting and turning as if something big was about to happen – as if there was a fight she was missing out on. The same way she'd felt when Ranma was in China fighting Saffron – though then at least she'd known what was happening.

Dismissing it as wedding anxieties, Akane straightened up and smiled at her two friends.

"Sorry about that. Chaos always seems to happen around Ranma so I can't help but expect the worst at all times, I guess."

"Oh believe me, we know. I remember in school there was always something going on between you two. It was rather interesting to watch, though some moments were really scary and others just hilariously outrageous. I mean, how many men do you really meet that are curse to turn into a girl? It was so funny when the boys found out that the girl they'd been fantasising about was actually Ranma. Oh, and I hope you've made sure to exclude anyone carrying cold drinks to the reception."

Akane giggled slightly. Though it was certainly true, she'd met a disproportionately large amount of people who turned into various animals thanks to the curse from the Jusenkyo training ground springs.

"Yep, Nabiki will be taking care of that and Kasumi has taken it into account for dinner. I know it's not been that long, but I kinda really miss Ran-"

Akane gasped, standing up in one fast move, chair cluttering to the ground in her panic. Her right hand clutched her chest as a pulse of pain shot through as if she'd been stabbed in the back. Eyes tearing up she could feel the familiar fury from Ranma, could feel the determination and then there was more pain, then suddenly something that felt almost like cold steel at her neck, a horrible tearing sensation and then... nothing.

Breathless, Akane collapsed on the floor of the cafe staring into thin air. What had that been? Hot tears ran down her face even as a sob wrenched itself from her throat. Ranma couldn't be... no, not Ranma. He was fine. He had to be.

"Akane-chan?" that cautious voice was Sayuri's. A moment later she saw the aforementioned girl kneeling in front of her.

"Hey, are you okay, Miss?" The waiter was coming across to them now and Akane was certain she probably had drawn attention from everyone in the cafe to her, but she took no notice of it.

How do you explain something that your heart knows for certain but which you have no evidence for? How do you explain the certainty, the fact, that your fiancé, the love of your life, is dead even if you don't know why, how or where. Ranma and her had always known – call it martial arts instinct, call it love or a bond- but they had always had this feeling inside of them, known when the other was in mortal danger... and now there was nothing inside her. Nothing. Where she used to have that unsubstantiated but very real spark of Ranma deep within that let her know he loved her, that he was fine... it was all gone.

Ranma was no more.

And then everything went black.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next time Akane became more aware of her surroundings she was curled up in bed with Kasumi and her father sitting at her side.

"Akane, you're awake."

"Are you feeling better?"

The blue haired girl stared at them, pain welling up deep in her chest. She wanted – no, needed to know how it had happened. How had he died? Biting her lip, using the physical pain as a distraction from the emotional one, she looked at her family.

"How...?"

"Sayuri and Yuka called us to pick you up." Akane frowned in confusion but didn't interrupt. "You obviously had a bit of a breakdown with the wedding so close. It's okay. Just relax and we'll handle all the preparations..."

Shaking her head, she looked at them both.

"There is no wedding, don't you get it? Ranma's... Ranma is... dead." She couldn't help the fresh burst of tears that came at that admission. He'd always seemed so strong, so invincible, like nothing would ever be able to kill him – as though he'd survive anything to come back to her.

"Oh honey... Shh, that was just a nightmare. I know he's not returned yet from his training trip, but he'll be back, you see. He'd never miss out on the wedding. I dare say I've never seen the boy so excited. He'll be back before Saturday, Akane, you'll see."

She couldn't even fake a smile for them, heart aching. No one knew what had happened or where he was. He was just... gone. No one believed her and why should they?

Curling up in bed, Akane felt her body shaking with the tears that wouldn't stop coming. She was alone, truly alone. Her Ranma... he'd never be back.

Kasumi and Soun exchanged a glance, patting the young girl on the shoulder uncertainly. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Ranma was still alive – probably just delayed by another old rival or something.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

By the time Thursday rolled around the Tendos and Saotomes were getting steadily more nervous. Ranma still had not returned, Akane persisted in her claims of his death and kept staying in the Dojo and Ranma's room, only leaving to go to the toilet. She barely spoke and broke into tears at any given moment.

It seemed outrageous that such a skilled martial artist would be defeated but reluctantly Nabiki started contacting her informants for anything they could find.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Akane paused on the stairs when she heard Nabiki's voice.

"I've got news."

Hand involuntarily clenching around the banister, Akane stopped all movement. Despite what her family thought she was well aware of what was going on in the house and she knew that Nabiki had been searching for Ranma.

"According to several people Ranma was voluntarily seen going into the Nekohanten last week on Friday."

Closing her eyes in anguish, Akane felt her heart slow down to a crawl. Ranma had been pushing for a while now to have another chat with Shampoo and the old ghoul. They had tried numerous times – Akane had even gotten in a fight against Shampoo hoping it would drive home the point that she and Ranma were not going to separate. Needless to say none of it had any impact on the Amazons. Even on their one year training trip she'd randomly come across them in the mountains – she still wasn't sure how they had managed to keep track of where she and Ranma went. It had all been rather frustrating.

Akane had begged Ranma not to go, thought that with the wedding taking place it would all straighten itself out after that but apparently they had been good for one last ploy.

She only listened half-heartedly as Nabiki described how Ranma had appeared to be mindless as he'd followed the two Amazons – without Mousse – to the airport. Mousse apparently had only found out several hours later at which time he took a plane himself to get across to China.

"The best we can pin together is that they made it in record time to their little village. From there we don't know exactly what happened but... Ranma appears to have somehow ended up in the cat fist. I don't know whether it's because of Shampoo's curse or just stray cats. Obviously he had no one he trusted nearby and when he tried to leave... well, the Amazons opposed him."

Nabiki took a deep breath, grimacing.

"And, well, cats fight when backed into a corner. He- He decimated the Amazons. He took out three elders and a lot of the warriors – men and women alike. They finally overwhelmed him by sheer numbers and he was... he was killed. To be precise from what I've been told the enraged Amazons basically took him apart."

Akane sank to the floor slowly, dazed. On the one hand she'd wanted the knowledge of how, why he'd died. On the other hand there had been a small part of her that had kept hoping that maybe she'd wake up, maybe all the others were right after all and her mind was simply playing tricks on her.

She barely noticed the sobs and cries coming from the living room only noticing now the slight waver in Nabiki's voice as she continued.

"There are some other people we know that came out worse for wear – or not at all. Cologne has lost pretty much her entire left side. She can barely move and probably won't have much longer to live. Shampoo escaped with only a scratch to her face. Mousse died, protecting her when Ranma tried backing away. Link and Perfume didn't make it either."

So Mousse had died in protection of the girl that had started all this: Shampoo. How unfair that after all this drama, all these fights and endless pursuits she would be the one to survive and the man that Akane loved ended up paying the price for her foolishness.

"The Chinese government has ruled in our favour. Nerima police was able to provide them with quite a bit of information regarding the chaos Shampoo has caused over the years and with Akane and Ranma's wedding scheduled for today, as well as the shotgun wedding they'd organised in the Amazon territory the truth came out rather quickly."

There was a momentary pause, before the middle sister continued.

"What remains they have of Ranma's body will be sent to us now that their investigation has concluded. I know it's not much consolation for us at this stage but stricter laws will be imposed on the Joketsuzoku in the future."

The living room devolved into shouting matches, cries and sobs as everyone had to realise the young martial artist they had come to love was truly never going to return. Nodoka was inconsolable – she'd only known her son for such a short period of time.

Silent tears running down her face, Akane returned to Ranma's room, desperately clinging to one of the Chinese shirts he'd left behind. Breathing in deeply she allowed the scent to soothe her as she curled up in his room, staring at one of the few pictures she had of him. Pictures had never seemed like such a big deal – she probably had thousands of him as a girl though usually in lingerie thanks to Nabiki and Happosai - but remarkably few of him in his male form and only two or three of both of them together.

Ranma was dead.

And she would be alone for the rest of her life.

Their dreams of a united Saotome-Tendo School of Anything Goes Martial Arts were shattered, their life together, their married life, their unborn children – none of it would ever happen now. All the fairytale castles her dreams had spun, collapsed.

There was nothing left now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Akane blankly stared at the white door in front of her. Just moments prior Genma had run into her, coming from that door in a mad, scrambling rush, throwing up. Nodoka had firmly decided against seeing Ranma's remains wanting to remember him alive – not dead.

So here she was – in front of the mortuary.

Nabiki's contacts had once again come through and only three days after the date of their wedding, a sunny Tuesday, Ranma's body had arrived home.

Ignoring her own clammy hands and the sweat on her body she firmly opened the door, head held high. She had been warned – knew that Ranma's body was in pieces, unrecognisable. That's why someone had to identify them – his father.

Stepping closer her eyes barely took note of the mortician next to drawer 19.

"Are you sure, Miss? This is not something you'd want to see."

Lips set in a firm line, Akane's hand closed around the handle and instead of answering the man she pulled it open herself.

Almost reflexively she gagged. That- that was not Ranma. Not the man she loved.

Tears in her eyes she looked at what was left of him. The stench hit her nose, her eyes flitting across the parts of a body, trying to recognise what should have been her future husband in there somewhere.

Finally her eyes settled on a bit of this hair with the dragon's whisker around it still. It had obviously fallen off when he'd had his head- Akane cut the thought off, grabbing the strand of hair and the attached dragon's whisker, hands closing around her small treasure. Her eyes glanced over the remains again, almost as if to burn this image into her retina's – the body of the man he loved, the horrors perpetrated on it by the Amazons; by Shampoo, the woman who'd professed her love for him repeatedly. There was nothing left – none of the spirit she loved nor of the body she remembered cautiously exploring. Everything – everything that was so purely Ranma was truly gone now.

With quick movements she closed the door again, unwilling to imagine the horrifying and bloody death Ranma had suffered through any further.

Still silent, she nodded her thanks to the morticians, hands gripping the hair and whisker tightly, holding it close to her chest. A small part of him that she'd forever carry with her.

With quick steps she distanced herself from the cold place of death where the love of her life rested. Her path was set for the Tendo dojo – not home, but to her family. Home had died with Ranma.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She watched as the casket was lowered into the ground.

Akane stood to the side, watching as the earth slowly covered her fiancé's remains, forever separating him from her. She kept watching, staring, even as the last of the other guests left.

She never noticed her family's reassuring hands on her shoulder, didn't hear the voices of her dear friends, Sayuri or Yuka, didn't hear Hiroshi, Daisuke or Ukyo as they passed on their condolences. All Akane had eyes for was Ranma – the same way it had always been and always would be.

One by one they left until she was left alone to say her goodbyes. Who had invented those words anyway? Goodbye. It was never supposed to end like this. There was never meant to be a goodbye between her and Ranma, only a see you later. They were meant to have their forever.

With a gentle smile, tears running down her face, the blue haired girl finally stepped forwards.

"Hey mom... meet Ranma, my fiancé. I know he can't quite keep his mouth shut, but wait a bit. You'll get to know him and he really can be quite sweet, y'know. He just has this horrible male ego and insists on putting his foot in his mouth at the worst possible times... But I love him, so... So please take good care of him for me."

Her eyes fell onto the freshly dug ground next to her mother's grave – as per Akane's wishes. She stared quietly for a moment, before talking again, voice warm and tender, full of love and affection as she remembered the pigtailed man she'd come to love.

"Hey my baka..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Slowly, days turned into weeks and weeks into months.

Akane had always been a strong emotional woman – slight anger turning into righteous fury within the blink of any eye, compassionate beyond reason even on behalf of their enemies, loving with all her heart and when happy, her smile would turn an entire army of men into a blubbering mess. With the loss of Ranma, she became a shadow of herself. Friends and family stood by unable to help the girl they all loved. She smiled and she laughed but there was none of the innate happiness that had made her so charming.

As the half year mark neared, Akane realised that something would have to change – she would have to change. Slowly but steadily she was bringing her entire family down with her. No one dared to leave her alone for prolonged periods of time and she watched as they grew sadder and more upset at how unhappy she was. There was nothing she could do – the only times she was happy anymore were in the dojo and in her sleep, where Ranma was alive.

Something had to give.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Akane flew into one of the complicated Saotome aerial katas Ranma had drilled into her, almost feeling his rough hands on her waist as he positioned her, his voice whispering into her ear.

Sometimes she could almost see him leaning against the wall, hands crossed behind his head, smirking in satisfaction as he watched her body twist, turn, punch and kick.

Sometimes she could almost hear his voice saying, "hey, that was almost good, tomboy. Now do the whole thing again with more oomph, elbows back, left knee bent further and a smile on your face. You look like I'm torturing you. Had enough? Not martial artist enough, eh? Ah, s'okay. You're just a woman, can't expect too much."

He'd always known how to get her fired up – no matter how exhausted she was, she'd complete it all again until he'd nod in approval before collapsing on the floor. It was usually at that stage - when Akane felt as though she couldn't move even a muscle anymore - or indeed ever again - that he'd make a comment about how the warm-up was now over.

She missed him but when she was training in the dojo it was almost as if he was still there with her. Crawling to the door of the dojo with exhaustion had happened more times than she could count – except that Ranma wasn't here anymore to pick her up and carry her to the bath.

Tears flowing down her cheeks, Akane lost herself in a blurred flurry of punches – the Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The need to leave the Tendo dojo had grown into desperation, so Akane announced that she would be going on a training trip. After a tearful goodbye, she started on her way across Japan.

After over a month of following her, her dad finally left her to her own travels and returned home, citing old age and exhaustion.

It didn't take her long to make the decision to travel to China and see Shampoo. After another few months she finally managed to find her way to the village.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Akane's eyes were cold as they landed on the two female warriors in front of her, though neither of them were ones she recognised she couldn't help but wonder if one or both of them had been the one to deal her love's killing blow. Using the soul of ice technique, something she'd taken nearly four months to learn due to her 'anger issues' – Ranma's words, not hers – she wrestled down her own emotions.

"Akane Tendo. I am here to challenge Shampoo."

Defiantly staring up at the two females she wasn't prepared for the way the disappearance of their weapons and their deferential bow to her.

"We will take you to Elder Cologne right away."

Frowning, Akane subdued her own objections to seeing the old ghoul instead of killing the woman who had caused her to lose everything. She barely took any note of the village or its inhabitants as she was led to what seemed to be a healer's house. One of the warriors – Akane had never bothered to ask for their names and they had not offered – entered ahead of her and she heard the exchange of rapid Chinese words. The words were sufficiently muffled by the door so that, even though she had picked up quite a bit of the language due to her travels, she had no idea what was being discussed.

Moments later the door opened and with another deferential bow she was invited in. Akane hesitated for only a moment before entering – uncertain as to what to expect as bowing to an outsider seemed very out of the norm for the proud Amazons.

"Old ghoul."

Eyes cold, Akane stepped into the room. She noted that the warriors were actually leaving her alone with the old woman and no one else was in the room, surprisingly.

"I have been expecting you."

Stepping closer to the bed, Akane suddenly noticed the huge marks running down the old woman's face and the fact that despite the time that had elapsed since Ranma's death, the woman was still wrapped in bandages. Her face was pasty white and her brow was covered in sweat. Her instincts told her that Cologne was fast approaching her death.

"I see it's a good thing I came now." The normally expressive brown eyes were glacial as she met Cologne's eyes. "If I had been just a bit later you wouldn't be here anymore. And that... would be truly a shame." Her smirk was cold.

The old woman let out a coughing laugh before stopping abruptly, breathing harshly.

"I see you have changed, Akane Tendo."

"You haven't. Same manipulative bitch you were when we first met – only weaker. I normally wouldn't hit an enemy that's already down, but I'll make an exception for you, old ghoul."

"Using your fiancés names for me now, I see."

"Yeah." Akane's hands clenched into a fist and her smile became icy as she cocked her head slightly sideways.

"See, my fiancé died. Here – in your village. Due to one of your stupid schemes! And not that it really matters now, but… You knew you'd already lost, so why? Why did you take him from me? What possessed you?"

She glared at the old woman, fury coursing through her at the sight of the Amazon elder.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Calm down, child. I will tell you." Cologne sighed slightly. The biggest mistake of her life – it had cost her and her village far too much. Not only had the village lost knowledge with the death of its elders but also many very capable young warriors had died and others were still in a coma. The Chinese government had never before been particularly bothered about their rules and internal affairs but with Ranma's abduction and death they had managed to cause an international incident. It took a lot of persuasion and concessions to even allow Amazons to keep existing – there had been a huge outcry from the public and a demand that they be integrated into the rest of society. And all because she had taken one boy over to be married; something their tribe had done for thousands of years unchallenged, though admittedly most men kind of liked the beautiful and somewhat domineering Amazon females usually.

What did surprise her was how much the young woman, her son-in-law's real choice, had changed. Gone was the compassionate woman that had empathised even with her own kidnappers, gone was the smiling, happy, lively young girl. She had been replaced by a fierce warrior whose skill might even have been a close match for her own - after all of Ranma's training over the last few years. Well, who might have been a close match to herself only a year ago - now she wouldn't be able to put up much of a resistance at all should the girl decide to end her life.

And, with bitterness Cologne realised that the Akane Tendo she had known was nearly entirely gone – this woman wouldn't hesitate to extract her revenge on herself or Shampoo. She was too far gone to care, too reckless with nothing to hold her back except maybe her own sense of honour. Though Cologne truly doubted that even that would matter in relation to the death of what should have rightfully been her husband – and would have been had she and her foolish granddaughter not interfered.

"I didn't know Shampoo's plan until it was too late. Apparently she'd seen Ranma, packed and ready to leave at the train station. She said she wanted to clear the air between the Amazons and him and invited him to the Nekohanten. Knowing Shampoo she probably half undressed herself to unbalance him or used other methods to keep him sufficiently distracted to put the powder into his drink. It's... not something we like to use. We kept it as it had been used on Amazon warriors before, but Shampoo used it on Ranma. It suppresses the human mind – meaning he didn't have the ability to think for himself, no will of his own, no emotions. He was basically a puppet, acting on everything he was told to do."

Cologne closed her own eyes, remembering with bitterness the moments that had next taken place – the decision which doomed not only her own life but affected so many others, the ripples still causing large waves even now. Just yesterday another one of the elders had slipped from her coma into death, the political climate was tense at best and the restrictions already in place against them were crippling to their society and way of life. One decision, a few words and the entire Joketsuzoku tribe was doomed.

"When I arrived at the cafe and found out what Shampoo had done... I'll admit I was blinded by my own desires. Son-in-law," the female martial artist in front of her growled in warning, hands visibly clenching to restrain her violent urges. Cologne swallowed – she didn't fear death; she'd had more than enough time to grow accustomed to the concept, no, what she feared was the havoc and death Akane's retribution would wreak on Shampoo and the rest of the tribe.

"Apologies – Ranma was a prodigy in the martial arts unlike anything I had ever seen before. His ability to learn techniques and adapt his fighting style was phenomenal. I wanted him as part of our tribe, as fresh blood but more importantly for the future children he'd provide us with, the new female generation we would get through him. Women with his innate ability for fighting – our tribe would have soon been unstoppable. I figured that what was done, was done. I thought that once we had him married to Shampoo, had gotten him to impregnate her, we could stop the mind control. His honour wouldn't allow anything else but staying with her when she had his child."

The old woman shook her head slightly, feeling desolate at the admission of her own foolishness that had brought this down upon them all.

"We bought the tickets and figured we'd deal with selling and handling all our affairs in Japan later. With your wedding so close, time was of the essence before Ranma would be missed. And from there we would be one of your prime suspects for obvious reasons."

Cologne sighed resignedly.

"What we didn't account for was the Neko Ken in relation to the mind control drugs. The wedding had already taken place and Shampoo was meant to ... consummate it with Ranma."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Akane gasped, for the first time feeling the pain and hurt flare up. Ranma had died... as Shampoo's husband. Not as her fiancé, not as her soon-to-be-husband, no – effectively, with his marriage to Shampoo, their engagement was null and void. Tears gathered in her eyes and she closed them momentarily, willing herself to suppress the pain that knowledge had brought her – neither Nabiki nor anyone else had ever mentioned this titbit of information to her.

"Di- Did they...?"

The old woman grimaced – she hadn't realised the blue haired martial artist was unaware of the marriage. Hopefully that wouldn't complicate things too much.

"No. Shortly after entering the house Shampoo must have gotten hit with cold water somehow. As his human mind was not there to suppress its emergence, Neko Ken took over. He barely grazed Shampoo, mainly intent on getting past her and out of the village. As you can imagine, he didn't trust anyone here. Ranma only wanted to get away – but, well... our warriors had obviously been instructed to keep him here. He fought tooth and nail, but he didn't start dealing killing blows until he was entirely surrounded."

Akane stared.

"Why not just use cold water? Why did you...?"

"Of course we tried to use cold water – and then hot water again followed by cold water. But you forget, the drug suppresses the human mind. It has no effect whatsoever on animalistic instincts or minds – when Ranma slips into Neko Ken, for all intents and purposes he IS a cat. The human mind was not able to return and so he remained a cat. And when a cat is cornered, it does not back down. He fought viciously – I have never seen the like nor do I ever want to again. I suspect Ranma has always held back as he never wanted to seriously hurt or kill, but the cat had no such restraints this time – not once it was cornered, anyway. I tried to oppose him – I foolishly thought I'd be a match for him. Well, you can see what happened to me."

The elderly woman grimaced.

"When Ranma tried to back up, Shampoo came back out of their house. Mousse died to protect her when she stupidly attempted to coerce Ranma to back down. Many warriors – good warriors died that day. Some are still in a coma, several are disabled and we have lost valuable knowledge with the death of so many elders – too much that we can never recover from. It took all the tribe to even get close enough to him to kill him. Ranma was a ferocious fighter but we had weapons."

Akane paled, eyes blank as she stared at the older woman and voice void of emotions as she took over Cologne's tale. "The first hit was in the back, just below his ribcage. The second one was in his right shoulder. The last – the last decapitated him."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cologne gaped against her will. No one could possibly know that. Even the official investigation couldn't determine which blow had actually been fatal as the villagers had used Ranma's body to vent their anger of the loss of their sisters and brothers. The only ones who knew were the ones who had been there that day.

"I- how?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Akane smiled sadly, hands automatically reaching for the breast pocket on her jacket. After a moment's hesitation she reached in and showed Cologne its contents; strands of black hair – and a dragon whisker. Ranma's hair.

"Did you know that's all that was left? I've got his shirts but... they don't smell like him anymore. And..." Akane shook her head, "it doesn't matter. He's not coming back."

Inhaling deeply, the blue haired girl leaned back against the wall, eyes on the ceiling as she recalled that time – a lifetime ago – when she'd been laughing with her friends only to feel her fiancé die.

"I felt it, you know? I... didn't want to believe it. All weekend I'd felt as if I was missing out on some big fight – like when I was in Japan, knowing that Ranma was fighting in China. Except – I thought he was safe this time. I was..."

She let out a choked laugh.

"I was having ice cream. Ice cream! Can you believe it? Ranma was fighting for his life and I was laughing... I- It didn't click. Not immediately. I felt the stab in the back, felt his anger, felt his strength, his determination... and then the next hit. And then I felt my neck- his neck. And then Ranma was gone. And I knew – I didn't know how or why but I knew."

Akane laughed again, bitterly, as she looked at the old, defeated and scarred woman in the bed in front of her.

"No one believed me – not until our wedding day, when Nabiki got the news."

"I- I didn't know you two were bonded..."

Snorting, the younger woman looked at the old one, the lines on her face unforgiving. Her sorrow had vanished, replaced by cold, hard rage against one of the people who had taken the man she loved from her side.

"And what is that supposed to mean? Another one of your sick tricks? Well, I've got news for you. You have got nothing left to win and you stand to lose everything. I wanted to know what you had done to Ranma – not your twisted guilt trips or whatever it is you're scheming to do now. And I warn you, my patience with you is evaporating into thin air as we speak, old ghoul."

The old woman merely chuckled in response.

"No schemes – as you say, I have nothing left to lose and nothing to gain. And for your information, bonding happens very, very rarely - even in Amazon history. We don't know much about it, except that both partners, female and male, need to be fighters and both need to have risked everything, including their own lives, several times for one another. And, we're not sure if it's coincidental or another condition, but we think at least one of you must have saved several hundred people in some form. It could also be that those are simply the more publicised or acknowledged cases... we don't know much at all about it except that somehow, despite everything in their way, people who are bonded have always found each other in the end. They have always somehow defeated all the obstacles and reports are like you said – they have a feeling about the other person, know when they're in danger or dying. It is one of the few laws above the kiss of marriage or death for Amazons. No one is to interfere with a bonded couple. No one. We have no certainty but it's generally accepted that these couples were chosen by the gods."

Akane gave a hollow laugh.

"Stick your fairytales where the sun don't shine, grandmother. Do you see Ranma here? Do you see us together, happy? Having defeated all the obstacles? Chosen by the gods? Do you even listen to yourself? I am not a gullible sixteen year old anymore! Next you're going to tell me we were soulmates and we will be together in the next life or some other rot. I-Don't-Care! You took my Ranma from me – he was the love of my life, my everything. And you took him from me! Now where's Shampoo?"

"What are you planning on doing to my granddaughter?"

"Nothing she doesn't deserve." Akane's voice was cold and Cologne nodded slightly in acknowledgement at the truth in her words.

"Shampoo has paid a harsh price for what she did. In fact, the only reason I am not subject to the same fate is because we have already lost too many elders and too much knowledge." Cologne sighed softly.

"Shampoo has been exiled and is no longer considered an Amazon – a dishonour of such magnitude, a danger to the village so great that there was no other option left. The last person from our tribe to be exiled was nearly 4000 years ago – and they nearly caused the tribe to be extinct. And when Mousse defended her and paid with his life for doing so, Shampoo finally realised that she loved him. He'd always been there for her, since they were children. He'd followed her to another country, gave up his life as he knew it to be around her even though he knew she was in pursuit of her husband. Her realisation came too late. Shampoo is never allowed to even be near this area or she will die. I am not allowed to contact her, nor is anyone else in the tribe or the cost is both her death and the person to contact her faces the same judgment. Akane Tendo, Shampoo has paid dearly, believe me. It's far worse for her to live with this fate – in fact, though you may not wish to hear this, her fate is similar to yours."

In a flash Akane's hand was on the old woman's throat, eyes glaring with rage and loathing.

"Don't you dare, Cologne – Don't you dare compare that- that bitch to what I suffer through – she caused it. All of it! She brought it on herself and on Ranma and me. We were happy! Happy! What- Why-"

Cutting herself off, the female martial artists hands involuntarily tightened on the older woman's throat. A moment later Akane shook her head, feeling the by now all too familiar surge of emotions take hold of her - pain, loneliness and resentment. A part of her resented Ranma for leaving her here, for leaving her to carry on life without him - somehow.

She slowly released her hold on the old woman, hearing the deep gasps of air she was taking in. Sick satisfaction curled in her stomach at the sight of the strong elder in pain.

Then her mouth twisted in disgust at herself for both her actions and her own feelings. Looking at Cologne, Akane straightened up, eyes cold once more as she surveyed the Amazon.

"It doesn't matter, old ghoul. You don't have long to live. I will let Shampoo live, you have my word on my honour on that. Her death wouldn't resolve anything anyway, I just needed to hear it, I think. Thank you for telling me the truth, elder. Now, don't take this the wrong way but I sincerely hope you'll suffer for eternity for what you've done."

With a short mocking bow she left the house, striding back out to where she'd come from – only Cologne's voice made her pause. The elder Amazon warrior was standing, leaning heavily against the door frame, stick in her hand as actual support instead of standing on it. Her breathing was harsh but her eyes were clear as they held Akane's.

"Akane Tendo. You didn't let me finish."

"What more could you possibly say that would interest me?"

The voice of the younger woman was bored and bordering on disrespectful yet the villagers didn't interfere and simply watched the spectacle unfold in front of their eyes.

"I can see now that we should have never gone this far, Tendo-san. For that you have my apologies. It was short-sighted. Even if he did not slip into Neko Ken then but at a later stage – the damage could've been only more profound, more lives lost as the villagers would've held back so as to not kill him once he was one of theirs. It was doomed before it ever started. It was folly what we did but even an elder makes mistakes. I apologise, Akane Tendo, though I know you will never forgive me. I cannot even forgive myself for the damage I wrought on my own kin. May the rest of your life be less arduous than what you have been forced to endure thus far."

The other woman paused for a moment before nodding shortly.

"You're right. I can't forgive you. It's too little, too late. What you took from me I can never get back. But thank you for apologising anyway – it takes courage to do that knowing you won't be forgiven. As Ranma would've said – you upheld your honour, or what little of it you have left. I can acknowledge that much at least, for him." She gave the old woman a melancholic smile.

"And what would your words for me be, Tendo-san?"

The smile became icy and she glared, her countenance stiffening with anger.

"You don't want to hear the words I would use, old hag."

Cologne gave a short, hacking cough before laughing roughly.

"I didn't think you cared, youngling."

Akane's eyes became glacial and her hands clenched.

"Fine, my words, you say? Well, I think you can take your stupid fucking apology and whatever other sick lines you can come up with and use them on someone who cares. The man I love is dead – and you caused it. I don't give two hoots about your apology or anything else you come up with. Your entire tribe could be dead for all I care – It doesn't matter to me. By killing the man I love you took something from that is irreplaceable. So go apologise to someone who cares. As far as I'm concerned you have no honour and your actions are irredeemable. So, old ghoul, go fuck off and die. That's what your tribe specializes in anyway, isn't it? Chasing people to the ends of the earth and killing them? Wasn't that in your stupid tribal laws? Well, I hope you die. And I hope it's a slow, excruciatingly painful death. Now leave me the fuck alone before I decide to lend you a hand and give you an earlier demise than you deserve."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The same two warriors were at her heels again as she turned and left and Akane couldn't help but admit that once again Cologne had won. She was leaving – without the names of the ones who had killed her fiancé, without Cologne's or Shampoo's death on her hands. And she wasn't sure if she should be glad for that or curse to them.

Half-way to where she'd left her pack and rations, she felt the ki of the Amazons that had accompanied her, retreat back to the village. Akane paused – what now? She'd come here for revenge and to allow her family to heal without her. Where to go from here? Not home – without Ranma there was no home. So where to?

It only took her another moment to decide – Ranma and her had travelled a lot across Asia, but they had wanted to go across to Europe in a few years time, as husband and wife. That would never happen now, but at the very least she could go – live their dreams for the both of them. Decision made, Akane once again set off. If she found Shampoo en route - great. If not, then all the better for the both of them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was pure chance, nothing else, that made her stumble across Shampoo. She was in a café, of all places, serving as a waitress. At first she didn't recognise her – just as she had, Shampoo too had changed drastically from the young impassioned Amazon warrior in constant pursuit of Ranma.

The Shampoo she remembered had beautiful long hair, tight and usually rather revealing clothes and wore make up that only enhanced her natural beauty. The girl in front of her was nothing like that; her clothes were entirely black and shapeless, covering her head to toe. Her long hair was cut short – eerily similar to haircut she herself used to have – and there was no trace of makeup on her face.

So it was no surprise when Akane said her name questioningly, emotionlessly as she had half-expected the girl to be living the high life despite Cologne's words.

"Shampoo?"

The Ex-Amazon's head shot up rapidly, eyes making contact with her own and finally realization dawned.

"Violent gi- Akane?"

Lips twisted into a frown, she nodded harshly in response.

"You've changed."

"So you have too."

They looked at each other, assessing for a moment before Shampoo shouted over to her manager that she'd be taking her lunch break now.

"We talk?"

Akane smirked but followed the girl outside to a dark alley. Expecting a fight her hands clenched automatically into fists and she smoothly slid into a defensive position, eyes fixed on her enemy.

To her surprise the Amazon was bowing to her, head down and neck bared to her in a submissive stance.

"I is sorry. I know no make better now, but I know you love Airen. I never want Ranma die. I… I miss Mousse. I sorry for killing man you love. I give you my life in return."

Was this another ploy? Another distraction? Nevertheless, Akane paused. Shampoo had no weapons in her hands and was still in the same submissive stance. Following on instinct she instructed, "Look at me, Shampoo."

And instead of seeing the cold calculation she'd expected there was only the same loneliness and pain she herself felt over Ranma reflected in the red-brown eyes of her enemy. Tears were clearly running unashamedly down the girls face and she made no move to hide her weakness.

And for the first time in nearly a year the icy rage was overwhelmed with a short burst of sympathy – she knew very well how the girl felt, after all, knew the pain and longing all too clearly, the empty nights and the distraught emotions that nearly sent her over the edge more than once. She knew. It was probably the only reason she didn't immediately spring into fighting mode, the only reason she suppressed her desire to somehow seek revenge.

"Why, Shampoo?"

The purple-haired girl didn't hesitate, baring all her emotions to the woman she'd wronged – Cologne hadn't been able to talk much to her before they had been forever separated but she'd made it clear just how badly they'd gone wrong with their plan and their decision. And that Akane would be more than in her right to kill her as soon as she saw her.

"Shampoo no know love. Shampoo think she love Airen – he handsome, strong man. Shampoo no realise she love Mousse – he weak. But love is heart, not head. Shampoo sorry. Thought Ranma love her soon – no realise what word mean… Now miss Mousse."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Akane's lips twisted bitterly, feeling emotions well up inside her that she suppressed.

"Couldn't you have had that epiphany before you tried to marry and ended up killing Ranma?"

Akane shook her head, feeling desolate and empty. Without revenge, what was left to her?

"I can't forgive you. You've taken- You took everything from me, everything that ever meant anything to me. Without him- without him there's nothing… nothing!"

"Shampoo know."

Rage overwhelmed her sympathy before she could even blink, body and fists moving without her command as she sent the Amazon warrior flying against the dumpster meters behind her.

"DON'T! DON'T YOU FUCKING DARE TO TELL ME YOU KNOW!"

With a jolt of strength her feet propelled her forward, following the flight path of the other girl. Shampoo simply stood up, not bothering to wipe the blood off her, simply standing defenselessly, hands listlessly positioned at her sides.

"Shampoo knows."

Tears running down her face unchecked, Akane's kick hit Shampoo's unprotected side, her hands flying to keep the girl in position as she kneed her in the stomach before her fists flew, hitting soft tissue with all her force.

She could hear the sickening crack of bones under the onslaught and for a moment she was horror-struck by the realization that her mind knew exactly how much damage to inflict on the girl without killing her – how to hit her to cause maximum pain. But Akane didn't stop, knew she wasn't that far gone, yet, knew she would have to cause a lot more pain before a strong warrior like Shampoo would succumb.

"DON'T! YOU have no idea what it's like, what I've been through! You slaughtered him – you didn't kill him, you tore him to bits! There was nothing – nothing – left of him, of Ranma! And you dare- you DARE to tell me YOU KNOW?"

Breathing heavily more from the sheer anger rather than exertion she watched as the Amazon struggled to her feet, still not defending herself, still not attacking – simply taking whatever Akane threw at her.

Red-brown eyes met Akane's, heavy and sad and… expectant?

"Shampoo know."

And then it hit her. Her hands slowly lowered themselves, falling to her sides as she stared, unable to help herself.

The purple haired girl looked confused for a moment, frown crinkling her forehead before it smoothed out again.

"SHAMPOO KNOW!"

The Ex-Amazon was crying though Akane doubted that she was aware of it, her body leaning forward and her eyes searching. She was trying to make her angry.

Realisation settled in her stomach, voice calm as the last of her anger drained.

"I'm not going to kill you, Shampoo."

True desperation flared up on the other girl's face, anguish and longing clear in her eyes even as the tears continued running.

"No – you no understand. Shampoo kill Ranma, my weapon – kill him. Tear bits – me! … Please…"

And then she broke down, sobs heaving her chest as she sank to the floor.

"Please…"

An almost silent plea, but Akane knew what she wanted. It wasn't hard to see – it was something she'd almost sought out herself, something she'd wanted, no, craved, a desire, need to be back with Ranma or at least unaware of anything; of his death – a lack of strength, of faith in herself to make it through this or, to be more precise, a lack of desire to make it through this. They'd both sought death and both would be denied.

"No. I won't let you, I won't allow you to die. Not today, not until you're old and gray and have lived all the days of your life without Mousse just as I must live mine without Ranma. You WILL suffer through this, you will keep on living and you will not kill yourself – by my hands or anyone else's. That is your repentance, your due to pay for what you did."

Eyes cold and hard, Akane sank onto the ground beside the purple haired girl, forcing her face up so she could look into her eyes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I will never forgive you – you understand, never! What you've done – to me, to him, I can never forgive. But I won't kill you and neither will you. No suicide, no seeking out death. You WILL live."

Shampoo sobbed but nodded – she had been stripped off her Amazon status but the tribe had been very, very clear in that if Akane Tendo, Ranma's intended, ever sought out retribution, Shampoo was to do exactly as she said. She'd expected fully to die, to live as slave or something equally demeaning. To be told to live was in equal parts incredibly merciful as it was agonizing. She suspected Akane Tendo knew exactly what it was that she was asking of her.

"Shampoo will live."

The cold girl in front of her nodded sharply. She was barely recognizable – oh, she still looked the same but the wide smile that had so easily swayed her Air- swayed Ranma, lured him away along with other helpless males, was gone. There was none of the softness or innate warmth anymore, instead it had been replaced by cold, harsh, simmering rage, barely suppressed, even now.

Akane had changed. But then, so had Shampoo. Never would she have imagined that in such a short space of time things would go so wrong for her. Never could she have imagined what the loss of Mousse would do to her – he'd protected her, despite the fact that she had chosen someone different, had married another man, he hadn't hesitated for even a second and given his life to protect hers.

So much hate, so much pain – and all of it for nothing.

Shakily she pushed herself up – she'd have to get back to her job, earn money if she was to keep on living. She watched the stiff countenance of the young woman disappear into the masses before walking back into the outside world.

She was not an Amazon anymore but at least she was still a warrior – and she honoured her promises.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The hatred Akane felt for Shampoo never abated but weeks later she could finally admit that maybe the other girl was in enough agony as it was. The cold fury subsided but left in its absence only pain, longing and loneliness.

Leaving China behind quickly, Akane moved on towards Europe. She sought out and learned martial arts and techniques from different dojos. Her trips took her all over the different countries as she spent all her life devoted to the arts, trying to accomplish what Ranma had wanted – incorporating different skills and martial arts to form their own, joint anything goes martial arts school. Now, more than ever, she was painfully aware of how much longer she took to learn a technique compared to his blinding speed and comprehension. A part of her had always admired and envied the ease with which he assimilated to the different environments, requirements and techniques of any given fight.

Akane entered contests – most times she won and other times, however rarely, she lost. The passion and the love she had for martial arts had faded with the loss of her love. Over their short time together the art and everything related to it had become so intricately connected to Ranma that she found herself unable to recall the fire she'd had just a few years ago.

After nearly two years of travelling, she found herself in the Italian Alps, though she'd made sure to always go back to Nerima, Japan on the day of Ranma's death. Akane usually stayed for nearly a week and never left before what would have been the day after their wedding ceremony.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Against her own judgment, Akane found herself part of a search group in the mountains. A blizzard made it nearly impossible to see more than the hand in front of one's face but the five year old boy lost in its depths made all of them push on despite the lack of visual feedback.

Ice and Snow didn't give the child a high chance of survival which was why time was of the essence. Trudging through the snow all the members of the expedition were connected by a piece of rope. Due to her extra strength and training, Akane found herself at the very back of the group.

Pausing momentarily, Akane found herself being pulled along again. She could've sworn for just a moment she'd heard...? With a quick jump she was beside the guy in front of her, tapping him on his shoulder. Explaining with quick signs what she'd heard, she watched as he passed the message on. Impatient as she felt herself being pulled from the child's possible location, she allowed her gloves to work on the rope connecting her to the others.

Within moments she was free to pursue the noise she'd heard.

Rushing off in the direction the noise had come from, she vaguely heard a shout from her group behind her. Allowing her energy to flow, she detected a weak sign of life in front of her. Forcing herself to move cautiously, she kept walking into the direction of the child until she was right in front of it – due to the blizzard obscuring her vision she noticed too late what had happened.

Her feet were only standing on snow – not mountain covered in snow. She knew about snow crevices but in her certainty of finding the child she'd abandoned prodding the snow with her stick. A mistake.

Abandoning the stick in her hand, Akane reached out and grabbed the child just as the snow was crumbling under its tiny hands. Despite the rapid fall, she tightened her hands around the child and pushing her strength into her arms, threw her onto the safe, if snow covered, rock surface.

Now in a desperate bid of trying to find purchase herself to push off for a jump, Akane pulled her jacket up until it covered her hands before desperately trying to find the mountain underneath the snow to stop her fall. Pressing herself against the surface she felt her descent slow further and nearly breathed a sigh of relief when her right foot got caught. Her hands suddenly only grabbed thin air as the sudden foothold had propelled her body just far enough from the cliff to have it out of arms reach. As her body bent under the force of gravity she heard a sickening crack from her ankle, suddenly glad for the cold numbing it. The next moment her head hit a rock behind her she hadn't seen and Akane was unconscious.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next time she woke up, everything was blurry. And cold. Gasping in surprise and pain she tried to force the adrenaline in her system to give her sufficient strength but her body remained unresponsive.

She went unconscious again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The second time she woke up everything was clear but with the sort of detachment that only comes with shock. Gritting her teeth, Akane lifted a hand to her head – she was still dangling head first downwards. When it came back smeared with blood, she knew she was in trouble. There was no telling how bad the injury was nor how much blood she'd already lost or how long she'd been unconscious even. The blizzard was still going though it did seem to have calmed down somewhat at least.

By willpower alone Akane managed to find some rock barely within reach for her gloved hands. She managed to pull herself halfway up before dizziness overwhelmed and unconsciousness took over again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The third and last time she woke up she knew she wouldn't make it out of this one alive. Her hands searched out her breast pocket with the last dredges of strength she had, clutching its contents securely as if they were the world's biggest treasure.

Her body had cooled down drastically, her heartbeat had slowed and she'd lost all sensation in her legs. Akane barely managed to stay awake for a few moments, her last thoughts going to the little boy and hoping he'd been found by the rest of the search party and her family. All the people she'd leave behind as well as Ranma and her mom, whom she'd join now – wherever they were.

At least she'd died the way she wanted to. Saving people, fighting. The way a martial artist should die. The way the man she loved had died, fighting with his dying breath to return to her. Her hands were clutched tightly around a strand of hair and a dragon's whisker.

'Ranma...'

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

With a gasp, Akane shot up in her bed, staring wildly around her.

What the...?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~##~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A/N:

Well, I'll leave this here for now. I've written enough and I'm 4k's into the second chapter already *rolls eyes*. Don't worry, Thoughts and Neko story will be continued – probably tomorrow.

Let me know what you guys think of the story – hope you like it. Please review! With any luck some from the usual suspects! Oh, and if you spot anything awry, as usual, please point it out and I'll try to correct it.

REVIEW! … Please?