"No, no, and no."

Akane groaned and rolled her eyes. Putting on a strained smile, she waved her hands charmingly at the short man pacing furiously before her. "Don't be silly, Matsumoto-san," she said finally, slipping her hands into her pockets. "Nothing's going to happen."

"Nothing's going to happen?" the man froze and stared at her in such utter horror that Akane grimaced slightly. Geez, did he have to be so dramatic? Her agent, in response, let out a long-suffering sigh.

"Ah, Akane-chan, you are so naïve!" he lamented. "A woman of your status and stardom faces much danger! How could you even think of traveling alone? Think of the consequences, Akane! What will you do if the press mobs you in the middle of the supermarket? Or if a rabid fan comes after you with a gun? Or if you get kidnapped? Raped? Killed?" He finished up with a choked sigh. "I'm just thinking of you, baby."

Akane stared at him for a moment. "Don't be ridiculous," she said slowly. "I'm not even that famous yet."

But it was true that her star was starting to shine. She dropped into the nice plushy rotating chair in front of Matsumoto's desk and sighed, thinking back to the previous year. She had spent her last two Christmases filming feverishly in the cold for some drama serial, and she remembered flouncing down grumpily at the end of the day, thinking about how the rest of the family was probably enjoying hot cocoa and warm cookies while she was stuck filming.

And the worst part was that Ranma hadn't even visited or called. When she made phone calls to Nerima, Kasumi never did mention anything about him, so Akane assumed that he had taken off. The jerk. Her fingers curled into a fist angrily. After all they went through… after his promise that this was not the end of it… the jerk had lied to her. In fact, she never did hear from him ever since. She had tried asking Nabiki for his contact details, but her sister had always waved her questions off cleverly.

By the next Christmas, she had given up. 'I lived without him for years,' she had thought angrily. 'I can live without him for years to come. It's his loss anyway.' And that had been that. She threw herself into her work, and it all began to pay off when the drama serial took off with more success that she could ever imagine. At the moment, Akane couldn't even visit the grocery store without having the grocer's wife squeal in delight at seeing 'Haruko' come to patronize her store.

There were offers coming in from all kinds of places, and at the moment she had two movies and a brand new drama serial lined up waiting for her, not including the dozen or so advertisement and modeling offers she had received recently. Akane thumbed the silky material of her blouse thoughtfully. Even her clothes were sponsored.

But her happiness at her newfound fame hadn't taken away the strange aching deep within her. She missed Ranma; damn it, regardless of whether she liked it or not.

But this wasn't about Ranma. She steered herself back on course. She had missed the previous two Christmases with her family, and she wasn't going to miss the third one. Besides… her lips curved into a happy grin. Kasumi had given birth to her first child last month, a little girl whom they had promptly named Kimiko, after their mother. She wanted to see her niece; photos simply couldn't replace the real thing.

In any case, it was high time she visited her father's grave.

Her smile slipped. Turning her attention back to the babbling Matsumoto, Akane snapped her fingers. "Look, can I please go?" she resorted to begging. "I'll be back in two weeks."

Matsumoto peered at her. "Bodyguard," he insisted finally.

Akane threw her hands up. "I can't believe this!" she ranted. "I'm the heir to the Tendou School of Anything Goes, thank you very much. I could kick your butt if I wanted to," she added pointedly, glaring at her agent.

Matsumoto snorted. "Martial arts, hah! How fast can you get when faced with a bullet, hmm, Akane-chan?" Obviously he belonged to the new generation of people who didn't really have much confidence in the Art. She wanted to laugh; if only he knew what a true martial artist was capable of. Akane had no doubt that she could wipe the floor with him in ten seconds flat.

"Fine," he said suddenly, pulling at his short beard. "I'm not going to be the one crying when I pick up your dead body full of bullet holes from Nerima in one week's time. Don't blame me what the worst really happens. And when Japan mourns the loss of a shining star, I'm going to be the one telling them, 'Oh, Akane didn't see the error of her ways before it was too late' and then we'll see…"

"Matsumoto-san!" she interrupted, exasperated. "Fine, I'll take the bodyguard," she allowed grudgingly, holding back the small smile. Matsumoto might be overly dramatic and silly, but she was fond of her short hyperactive agent. "Sometimes you can be so ridiculous. You'd better not cut into my vacation this time."

"Excellent!" Matsumoto exclaimed.

"Matsumoto-san…" Akane started, pressing her lips together.

"Don't say a word, Akane!" he admonished, anxiously scanning the crowd. "They'll be here any minute."

She sighed, tucking hair behind her ears. "It's kind of irresponsible of them, isn't it? I mean, to be late for a meeting with a client?" she sighed loudly; secretly enjoying the way Matsumoto was fidgeting. "They might get sloppy in their work," she hinged.

"Nonsense!" he barked. "The protection agency I approached is one of the best there is. Don't be silly, Akane-chan."

She snorted, before picking up her bags. "I'm not waiting any longer," she declared finally. "I want to get to Nerima before dark, Matsumoto-san. Tell Mr. Bodyguard that he can spend Christmas with his family instead." Chuckling at her agent's wide-eyed expression, Akane gave a quick wave and turned, ready to leave.

"That won't be necessary," someone said calmly. "Mr. Bodyguard wishes to express his sincere apologies for being late, but he had some other commitments to attend to this morning. He's ready and willing to join you on your trip home however."

Akane froze. She could hear Matsumoto's triumphant exclamation, but her mind was whirling.

It couldn't be… could it?

She turned around slowly with a stunned expression, her eyes widening even more when she was met with the sight of a tall good-looking pigtailed man smirking down at her. In spite of herself, she dropped her bags, feeling her hands start to shake uncontrollably. "Ranma," she managed softly.

He grinned. "Saotome Ranma, protection agent," he introduced, and there was no mistaking the cheeky lilt in his voice. "I'll be responsible for your safety in the dangerous little town of Nerima this Christmas, Miss Tendou." Before she could say anything, he had taken her hand and grasped it firmly, grinning at the look of shocked bewilderment on her face.

Akane still wasn't moving.

Smirking, it was then that Ranma leaned close to her. "I missed you," he said softly.

She reacted. With an angry growl, Akane reached up and delivered the hardest slap she could muster.

Ranma moved back instinctively and caught her hand before she could strike. "I'm sorry," he said. Instead of calming her like he had expected, she grunted in frustration before pitching herself forward violently towards him. He felt her arms fling around him before he knew it, and a moment later he was pulling her close, pressing his face into her hair.

"You're a bastard." Her voice was supposed to be angry, but it sounded small.

"I've got good reason for everything," he insisted, but he didn't complain.

Why, she wanted to ask, but found that words weren't important. Akane was vaguely aware of Matsumoto staring, but at the moment, she didn't really care. An instant later, Ranma gently separated them and nudged her towards the check-in.

"Let's go," he told her. "I want to get to Nerima before dark too."

Akane stared, before breaking out in a soft laugh.

As they walked, he began to tell her about what he had really been up to for the past two years. Akane wasn't really paying attention, just enough to catch little snippets about how he had made use of contacts to befriend Matsumoto and persuade him to make use of the protection agency Ranma worked in.

Instead, she turned her focus to the sound of his voice: warm, calm and mellow. His words flowed over her like a river, and Akane smiled, finally plucking up enough courage to slip her hand into his once more. Ranma didn't blush or stutter like he did so long ago, but he did pause and give her a soft tender grin before continuing on, his grip warm and comforting on her hand.

Akane laughed.

Here's to the future.

Yep, and Mellow has officially come to an end. Thank you all so much for everything :D