Ranma was beginning to wonder if Akane was mad at him.
Oh sure, in the weeks following The Wedding (the ominous capitals had become an important part of the phrase) things had settled down, a bit. The brief alliance his and Akane's various suitors had settled back into their old patterns. Whatever temporary agreements they may have had to stop The Wedding were inevitably destroyed by their own selfishness and infighting. Plus, neither Ranma nor Akane could really stay that mad at everyone who helped trashed it. Neither of them had really wanted to go through with it at that point in their lives. So, in a silent agreement both of them had let the status quo settle back into place. Even though it was obvious to all involved that the game had changed everyone pretended it hadn't.
Personally, Ranma thought the best part of the entire debacle was when Akane snatched all the Wedding Gift money from Nabiki, pointing out it belonged to her and Ranma. When Nabiki protested that a wedding hadn't happened Akane had given her older sister a glare that she usually reserved for him when he was being a particularly giant ass. One that promised pain in the immediate future. Nabiki had backed down after that.
Still, even though things were comfortable enough, Ranma couldn't shake the feeling that something was bothering her. She acted her normal cheerful self. They were still by outside appearances the same occasionally bickering pseudo-couple they presented themselves as. But he could tell that something was nagging at her mind. And because it was bothering her, it was bothering him. It had been keeping him up late for several nights now, so he might as well actually talk to her about it.
He reached over and tapped his seemingly sleeping fiancée on the shoulder. "Hey… Akane? You awake?"
His fiancée grunted in reply.
"So you are awake."
Akane opened one eye, "I am now you dummy."
Ranma grinned, "No way. You were way too peaceful to be really asleep." At that she bopped him on the head but didn't protest.
With a sigh Akane sat up. "OK what is it?"
"Are you mad at me?" He asked flat out.
There was a brief pause as Akane considered his words. "Ranma, I'm mad at you a lot."
"Well, uh, yeah that's different though. I say something dumb, you smack me, and we move on. I'm asking if, uh, you know, there's something serious." Ranma practically considered those silly arguments a form of flirting.
"Serious huh." Akane seemed to understand what he was saying. "What makes you think there's something like that?" She was giving him a challenging stare. Now he knew that there was something there, but she wasn't going to reveal it without more prodding.
"I can just tell, OK? I know there's something bugging you, and it's distracting you in school and practice. You're breaking less bricks than usual." Ranma answered. "Plus it's been two weeks since we-"
Akane groaned, "Men. I should have known that would tip you off." She paused for a moment as she considered where to go from here. "Fine. There is something that's bothering me. But it's not making me mad. It's really more like it's making me disappointed, and a little annoyed."
"Well, whatever it is you being bothered is bugging me too. So out with it."
Akane took another pause. She looked into his eyes, before looking away. Finally she took a deep breath and spoke. "OK, Ranma. Let me ask you a question; Why is it that even though we've been sleeping together for months now, you can't say that you love me?"
There wasn't a sound in the room, Ranma suddenly found himself out of breath. 'Oh Shit.' He thought, panic taking over. He quickly looked around the room, anywhere but his fiancée. Except that, of course, it was her room. So everything in it reminded him of her.
As Akane had just said out loud, their current sleeping arrangements had existed for some months now. It started shortly after his various admirers had trashed his ancestral home looking for an engagement ring, leading the entire Saotome family to move in with the Tendos. He hadn't been able to sleep and had been thinking in the living room. Akane had come down, and they had talked. As was their nature the "talk" had devolved into an argument. But somehow rather than end in violence like usual, by some miracle it ended up with them in an intense make-out session. One that only ended once they realized (in their underwear) that if they continued they'd risk being parents at least five years before they were ready. The next morning Ranma had announced that he would not be sleeping in the same room as his mother and would be making his own bed, pulling out some spare shoji and setting up a small sleeping space off in a corner of the house. This sleeping area was, of course, never used as he had instead started sleeping in Akane's room. Within a few days he was sleeping in her bed and within a week he had bought condoms and they were now using the bed for more than sleeping.
"Well, um, you know… it… uh…. holy crap is that Happosai!" He pointed behind her.
Akane rolled her eyes at his attempt at evasiveness. "Not turning around Ranma. You're staying here."
"Damn it." Ranma grumbled, "Look.. it's… ah…."
"I know you said you wanted to tell me it. Even if you didn't say it out loud, I know I heard you." Akane said, "What's so hard about it? It's just three words."
"It's way more than that!" Ranma said, "They're… it's… it's big! Really big!" His face was turning red.
Akane's eyes narrowed, "I see. So saying those words is 'big', but taking my virginity wasn't?"
"I didn't say that!" Ranma protested, "And I didn't take anything! I remember you gave that quite happily to me!" Akane's eyes narrowed further and Ranma realized that was the wrong thing to say, he waited for the slap or punch. But it didn't come, she just kept glaring at him. This, if anything, made him more worried as he realized that meant she was either getting really mad or something even worse than a truly angry Akane was coming up.
"Right. I did give it to you, Ranma Saotome." Akane said, her voice cool and composed. "And I think we both know that meant something for me." Ranma may not be the best at understanding social graces, but he got the unspoken question in that sentence. Did it mean something for him?
"W-what makes you think I don't know what? I know it's special… and we're engaged, you know?"
"Oh? So it's fine if we're engaged? Well, I can think of at least two other women who fall under that umbrella." Akane's reply smashed him into the ground. He had, once again, said the wrong thing.
Still, his voice raised a little. "Y-you really think I'd do that with them? What the hell?!"
"I don't think you have, Ranma. After all, unlike me, they wouldn't be discreet about it." Akane hissed… as a sudden coldness settled over the room.
"Really? Really?" Ranma's worry vanished, and Akane's eyes widened as she realized that it was now her turn to say the wrong thing. "Is that what you think of me? Fine." He pulled the blanket off him, "I think I'll go sleep somewhere else now then, if this bothers you so much." He stood up and began to walk out of her room
"Wait!" Akane, still on the bed, threw herself forward and grabbed his arm. He turned around and looked down at her. Their eyes met, her own wide with worry and what looked like a tear or two. "I'm sorry. I… I didn't mean that."
Ranma could never stay mad at Akane long. So, with a shrug and nod he relented, letting her pull him back onto the bed. He let himself smile a little as she put the blanket back over him. "So… what did you mean?"
"I don't know. But it wasn't that."
Ranma sighed, "Yeah. You know I'm not like that. I'm not a horny jackass like Kuno, led around by my dick. I have principles."
"Well excuse me for being just a little worried when you literally have naked women throwing themselves at you." Akane leaned into his shoulder, one arm draping itself around his chest. "It's just… I know that. But I can't help but worry… I should know better, and I do trust you. It's just…" Akane sighed into him, "How did we get to talking about my problems?"
"They're tied together, I think." Ranma said, his own brief hurt fading as he pieced together what was bothering his fiancée. "You're frustrated because I haven't said… you know. And it, uh… shows by you, um…"
"So part of me worries because you haven't said you love me, you're just getting some sex from me for fun, and you'll dump me once…" Akane whimpered, finishing his thought. "I know that isn't true. I know it damn it! But I can't stop worrying about it." Ranma wrapped his arms around Akane, pulling her into a hug. He could tell that crying might be coming soon, and he hated it when she cried. Fortunately, the tears didn't come, instead she recovered her poise by taking a few deep breaths while he stroked her hair.
Ranma wondered if this would be the end of their talk, when Akane spoke up again. "Speaking of those other girls, what exactly are you planning to do about them? Dad did say we can't get married until they're settled."
Ranma had been wondering when Akane would bring up the topic of dealing with his admirers. (He refused to call them "other fiancées" by this point, there was only one woman he was going to marry. Eventually.) Still, he decided he might as well tell her his admittedly simple plan. "Honestly? I'm just going to ignore them until they give up. If they want to stay friends, fine. If they only accept me as a husband, then too bad. They can learn to live without me."
Akane pulled away from his shoulder to look up at him. "You really think that's going to work? What if Shampoo tries something stupid? Or Cologne does something?"
"Cologne isn't going to do anything. If she was here to force me back she would have knocked me out, drugged me up, and dragged me to China the first time we met." Ranma said with a snort. "She's here to stop Shampoo from doing anything really stupid, provide support for her, and to at most help in minor ways."
"The Cat's Tongue was minor?"
"Pretty sure she just wanted an excuse to play around with me. She did just give up the Phoenix Pill in the end, after all."
Akane had to admit, it sounded rational. "But what about her punishment? They sent her to Jusenkyo the first time. Won't the next be worse?" While Akane had no real love for Shampoo, she didn't want to see her suffer.
Ranma however, just gave another snort. "You know what the usual punishment for not delivering on a Kiss of Death or Marriage is? A few months of shoveling muck out of stables and other unpleasant stuff, all the chores nobody wants to do. The purpose of those things is deterrence. Would you go near a village that you know a member of had sworn to hunt you to the ends of the earth and kill you? Me never going near that town again means that they win either way."
"But… her curse…"
"I talked to Mousse about it. She asked for that to be her punishment. "
Akane's eyes widened, "So wait… that means she was planning to get cursed for you to sympathize with her the entire time!"
"Yeah. Didn't exactly work out."
Akane giggled a bit, "I'd say." She motioned for him to start stroking her hair again, she liked that. Ranma, of course, obliged. "So, I'm guessing the same thing with Ukyo?"
"That's the plan, yup. Though, I was going to ask you a favor about that…"
"Next time she brings up the cart, ask her how much it was worth. Then compare it to how much damage she caused to your dowry."
Ranma blushed a little, "You know… the house and dojo…"
"Oh… oh right. Of course. We'll be getting the house… when we get married. Right. I forgot." Akane caught her breath again, "Yes. I have to say the property damage she's caused to both our families more than outweighs what Uncle Saotome stole."
"See? It'll all work out in the end." Ranma said with a self-satisfied smile.
Akane laughed gently, "Oh? How do you plan to get rid of Kodachi?"
"I'll tell you as soon as you tell me how you plan to get rid of Kuno."
They both laughed at this, knowing that for those two they were just going to have to tough it out until the lunatics found new obsessions. "So you talked to Mousse about Shampoo? How did you do that without him trying to kill you or the nearest fire hydrant that he would think is you?"
Ranma shrugged, "Well, um, you see, Mousse figured out I'm not interested in her."
"It's about time, I say, but what made him realize it?"
Ranma looked away, "Well, you see… when we were China, he kind of… saw me buying condoms."
"Oh." Akane couldn't say much to that. The post Jusendo Victory/I'm Glad you're Alive sex had been particularly exciting, she had to admit. The risk of being caught by Shampoo had... inspired her, just a little. Not that she was going to tell Ranma that. "I guess that's two who know about us now."
"Yeah he- wait two!?" Panic returned to Ranma's face, "Who else knows!?"
Akane gave her fiancé a half-lidded stare, wondering for a moment if he ever thought beyond the immediate things he saw. "Kasumi, of course."
"Kasumi!?" Ranma's voice was getting higher pitched now.
"She couldn't exactly miss the interesting new stains that have appeared on my sheets."
"Kasumi's been washing the sheets oh god why…" Ranma whimpered, he wanted to die. The thought of Kasumi of all people knowing the filthy things he had done in this room made him shudder. At least Nabiki could be paid to forget. "How did I miss…"
Akane, seemingly uncaring of his new-found death wish continued. "Plus, you know, she's been the one keeping my nightstand stocked."
"She's been….she's been…" Ranma's brain shattered, "Kasumi's been the one buying the condoms!? I thought you were!" This was it, Ranma was going to die. Kasumi knew everything. It was time to kill himself. He would go out to call his Mom out and commit Seppuku.
If Akane rolled her eyes any more her head would probably start spinning. "Honestly Ranma. What did you expect?"
"Kasumi not knowing?"
"Yeah, no. Wasn't going to happen."
Ranma grumbled a bit, but thankfully that particular conversation died soon after. Both of them tried to get to sleep, the clock said it was One in the morning after all. Yet they found themselves both staring up at the ceiling. It was that same topic, the one that had led them down this entire late night discussion in the first place. It was now bugging Ranma, and he knew that it was still picking at Akane's mind as well. Still looking up at the ceiling, not daring to glance at his fiancée, he spoke up.
"I, um… well, I want to say it, those words. A lot, sometimes. But… it's just…" Ranma didn't want her to see his face, he was sure it was embarrassing. "I… it's special? Saying that, the first time. It's a big thing, that needs to be said at the right time." He remembered his "first kiss", and the aftermath of hers. "A… a special thing, that can't be ruined. I can't screw it up, Akane. I can't. We've already messed up a too much with our, well, our relationship."
He felt her hand slip into his. He smiled, but didn't turn to look at her. He didn't want to let himself get distracted. "I… I've been thinking of the right time to say it. I'm pretty sure I… I missed a few times. Our first real kiss. The first time we… made love, when…" He forced back a choke, "When I thought you were dead. Maybe that Wedding was the right time… I don't know. I didn't want to though because… because we were being pressured, and bribed. If… when… when we get married, it'll be because we made the arrangements, you know? So I haven't said it, and I don't know when. But I will. I promise, when I find the right time and place." He said his peace, and went silent.
"That… I hadn't thought about it that way." Akane said, "I… if I asked you to say it now, would you?"
"Don't know, would you want me to, just because you asked?"
"I…" Akane squeezed his hand, "I wouldn't. You're right. You need to find the time. When you're ready to say it. When you feel the time is right." She moved up her hand, brushing his arm. She wasn't looking at him either, it was the same. No distractions.
"I… I had this romantic idea in my head. I'd find my One True Love, and he'd confess to me. I'd confess back, and we'd live Happily Ever After. Instead I walk in on a jerk in the bath, and we fight and bicker and become best friends and more than that and we still haven't said it because I'm waiting and he's waiting."
"So…" Ranma said.
"So… so I think I won't wait for you to say it. I'll let you find the time for you to say it, and I'll find the time for me to say it. How does that sound?"
"So if I say it first, you don't have to until you're ready?"
"Yeah, same with you."
Ranma laughed, "Yeah. I guess. I'm kind of a man of action, you know? I hope my actions are enough for you until I find the guts to say it, Akane."
Akane didn't answer, instead she gripped his arm harder. He heard her taking some deep breaths. "Akane?"
Akane moved, flipping herself over him. In an instant she was on top of him, still holding on to his arm. Ranma's eyes widened, her face was a short distance from hers. He could see every detail of her expression. "Ranma…" She said, her voice quiet. Her soft lips were curled up in a beautiful smile, her eyes shining with a light that he knew well and enjoyed. He felt her breath tickle against his face. The warmth of her body was pressing against him. She was looking into his eyes, that smile growing wider… tears forming even as she smiled.
She said three words.
Ranma's jaw dropped, those words filling his ears, echoing through his mind.
His free arm moved up, pulling her even closer to him. He felt her tears drip down against his chest, he could see his own vision was blurring. He leaned in close to her ear. He accepted the words, and with a smile on his own face whispered into her ear. "Thank you."
The next time he noticed the clock, it was Two A.M. "Akane?" He said quietly, "You awake?"
Akane opened one eye, "Yeah. Can't sleep either?"
She pulled herself up, so he could see her face again. As always, she was beautiful. Her expression was now mischievous, and Ranma could see a hint of something else. "Well then," she said in a singing tone, "We must have too much energy, you know?"
"Yup." Akane reached over to her nightstand, pulling open the top drawer and reaching for one of many small packets tucked inside. "So, Ranma, how about we tire ourselves out then?"
A smile matching her own appeared on his face. "That's a fantastic idea." He leaned up and kissed her.