Dislcaimer: I don't own these characters, yada yada yada.

Chapter 9

"Ranma!" a sweet voice called. He paused, mid-kick, to turn and look at the door of the dojo. Akane walked in through the open sliding doors, slowly to accommodate the pace of the child holding her hand. The little girl looked just like Akane, the same short, dark blue hair, the same brown eyes. She toddled into the dojo on tiny, pudgy legs, a smile on her face as she spotted her father. Ranma didn't think he'd ever seen anything so beautiful.

"Hello, darling," he smiled, striding over and kissing Akane gently. He pulled away, and she smiled up at him, not heartbreakingly beautiful but instead glowing with the light a kind soul carries, pretty, familiar, and his. He could feel a comforting rush of warmth flowing through his body at that smile, and he kissed her again.

"Daaaaddyyyyyy! UP!" the toddler commanded. With a smile, he bent to pick her up. Akane rapped him sharply on the back of the head, and he stood, glaring at his wife.

"What was that for?" he asked. Akane sighed and gestured toward their daughter, who was pulling at her pants chanting, "up, up, up."

"She can't be held all the time, you know. You shouldn't give in every time she asks you to pick her up. If it were up to you, the child wouldn't know how to walk yet. She'd never get an opportunity to practice," she said, shaking her head. He looked specualtively down at the chubby legs.

"I suppose," he said slowly. "But she does take after you mostly, doesn't she? I mean, look at those legs," he said. She narrowed her eyes. He took a step back, waving his hands in front of him to indicate he hadn't meant it. "I mean, she's strong as an ox, she'd have to be able to walk with that kind of brute strength, and if she's inherited any of my balance at all. . ."

Akane threw a metal pot at him, and he dodged. She glared at him for a moment, but then took a deep breath and rolled her eyes.

"I came to ask you to watch Yuka while I make dinner," she said, detaching the tiny, chubby hands from her pants. Ranma grimaced, then hid it quickly with what he hoped was a charming smile.

"Oh, sweetheart, you know you're much better with Yuka than I am, Tell you what, I'll cook dinner and you can watch her," he offered, putting an arm around her shoulders to lead her out of the dojo. She fixed him with a gimlet eye, and he released her.

"I've had tiny hands pulling at my pants all day. It's your turn now," she said firmly. With that, she strode out of the dojo, leaving him with Yuka.

He sighed, and picked the child up despite Akane's admonition. He tickled her under her chin, and was rewarded by a gurgling giggle.

"You're going to be a heartbreaker, just like your mom," he observed. "I just hope you can cook better." He looked up at a scream from the kitchen, but wasn't much disturbed by it. Akane always screamed at the food she was cooking. Ranma thought she viewed it as just another martial art.

The second scream almost made his heart stop, he recognized that scream. That was a battle cry, and it wasn't Akane's. He ran towards the kitchen, clutching Yuka to him tightly, as insane laughter filled the air.

He burst into the kitchen to see Akane facing down Shampoo and Kodachi, both of whom had glowing green eyes. She was snarling at them, a low, dark growl as blood seeped out of a cut on her cheek. The kitchen wall was blasted in, he assumed some of the rubble had caught her.

"Akane!" he cried. She didn't look at him, but accepted Yuka, who was cowering because of the loud noises, and let him step in front of her. Kodachi and Shampoo advanced on him, chuckling softly.

"You no can beat us, Ranma. Cannot save pervert girl and ugly baby," Shampoo said, her voice pitched low. Ranma glared at her as he fell into a fighting stance and Kodachi's ribbon lashed out at him. He cought it on his arm, and pulled it out of her grasp as Shampoo advanced on him with her bori boris. He dodged them, and struck back at Shampoo, kicking her in the stomach. He didn't like to hit girls, but if they threatened his family. . . he heard a blood-curdling scream and turned, his own blood turning to ice in his veins. Akane and Yuka were lying on the ground, still and pale, and standing over them was the monster Mousse had become. . .

Ranma woke from the dream in a cold sweat. He tried to sit up, but there was something heavy on his chest. He opened his eyes and was shocked to see that the something heavy was Akane's head and shoulders. She was using his chest for a pillow, her arm laid casually across him, the rest of her body tucked in close to leech away some of his warmth. He blushed, remembering how they'd come to be in the same bed, and became uncomfortably aware of the soft movements her breasts made against him when she breathed. His chest was still bare, and he could feel her warm, moist breath racing across his skin. He didn't try to rise into a sitting position again, and became embarassingly aware that certain parts of him had already risen to the occasion.

::What kind of guy wakes up from seeing his wife and kid dead in front of him, and then immeadiately starts thinking about. . . you know what, girls got it easy. You can't tell just by glancing at them that they're happy to see you,:: he thought, torn between pushing her off, laughing, and just lying there wondering how her skin would feel. . .

He remembered Happosai telling him about this sort of thing once, not that he'd been paying a great deal of attention. Happosai had told him that a cold shower and thoughts about baseball might calm him down. Well, to get a cold shower he'd have to move her, maybe even wake her up. He didn't want her to see him like this. He tried to run his thoughts to baseball, but he kept thinking about Akane playing softball in those skimpy little gym shorts. . . THAT certainly wasn't working. He turned his thoughts instead to the dream he'd been having, and that worked right away.

He realized with a minor jolt that he was still thinking of Akane as his wife. They were pretending to be married, but that didn't mean he had to think of her that way. Of course, that consideration took a definate secondary position to the idea of her dead. He couldn't bear that again, he hadn't been kidding when he'd said he would probably die on the spot. ::I ain't ever gonna leave her alone again, not for five minutes,:: he told himself, then realized just how ridiculous that was. He couldn't possibly be with her every moment, and to try would make slaves out of them both, restricting their actions. ::I'll train her, then, better than her father trained her. I'll train her like a guy, I'll train her to be almost as good as me. I'll train her to harness that temper of hers so she can learn to mallet other people,:: he thought. He nodded to himself. That would work. It would take time, and it would be frustrating, but it would work.

But what about the future? What about when they got older and told their parents the marriage was a hoax? He frowned at the thought. Then he'd have to let her go, he supposed, stop being with her so much as they tried to find their own paths, free of the constraint of their parents. . . that was the idea, wasn't it? They were pretending to be married so they could pursue their own choices, weren't they? But he didn't want to let her go, and he didn't want to stop being around her so much. He couldn't imagine living in a different house than her now, anymore than he could imagine living in a house for a long period of time before he'd met her. And he sure as hell couldn't stand a world in which he'd have to sit by again and watch all those other guys follow her around like lost puppies. . . No.

There was only one thing for it, then. They wouldn't tell their parets it was a hoax. They would just, very quietly, get married for real at some point. And then ask for a small ceremony so their family could be present at a sort of wedding. He held the image of Yuka in his mind, and smiled. Yeah, he could be happy in that sort of life. He sure as hell couldn't be happy without her.

Ranma Saotome might be indecisive, confused, and just plain clueless at times, but once he's made up his mind to do something, he simply does it. No hesitation. No further questions. This time, though, he had to wait. There was another person involved in this decision, and she was still asleep.

But what about the threats to her? He could handle the other fiances, most of them had given up anyway. But what about all the peripheral crazies they'd picked up over the years? What about Mousse, who still had to pay for what he'd done?

Mousse. Mousse who had beaten him. Mousse who had succeeded where even Saffron failed.


Akane stretched and smiled, waking up warm and happy. She felt like the world was spinning in the right direction for once, instead of backwards, trying to thwart all her plans. She couldn't remember ever waking up happier. The sun was warm on her face, the waves were crashing against the rocks soothingly. She opened her eyes to see Ranma watching her, standing over the bed, fully dressed. She sat up with a smile, curling her knees into her chest. He wasn't smiling.

"Good morning," she said sweetly. He just looked at her, a strange expression on his face. She frowned, wondering why he wasn't smiling at her. A dark fear pushed all the air out of her lungs. What if he'd changed his mind? What if he'd thought it over and was going to take back everything he'd said?

"Good morning, Akane," he said, and the way he said her name was strange. He spoke it softly. Like Ryouga used to, right before he'd run away in tears. The parallel disturbed her. But they weren't back in Nerima, where life always took it's turns for the worst. They were in a little room with chipped periwinkle paint and old scarred furniture, the room where Ranma had first admitted he loved her. The old rules didn't apply here, did they?

"What are you doing?" she said, a bit nervously. He took a deep breath.

"I didn't want to be gone when you woke up. I didn't want to leave without a goodbye," he said. Her heart sank. He was leaving her? "I've decided that, in order to keep you safe, I'm going to have to go after Mousse," he announced. Her eyes widened.

"You can't do that!" she gasped. He closed his eyes and turned away from her.

"When I get back, and I don't know when that will be. . ." he trailed off. He wanted to ask her, but he couldn't. It wasn't cowardice, it was a reluctance to speak of such things before he left her. They sat in silence for a moment. At long last, Akane drew a shuddering breath.

"You arrogant idiot," she snarled.He whirled to stare at her in surprise. Weren't they supposed to be past name-calling? He should have known they never would be. . .

"What?" he asked, his temper rising.

"This has nothing to do with my safety. You just want to keep your record of never having lost a fight! You can't stand it that Mousse beat you, admit it!" she cried. He blinked at her for a few moments. She knew him too well after all.

"You may be right, Akane, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm leaving," he insisted. She glared at him for a moment.

"So you're just going to say all those things to me and then run away?" she snapped. He glared back at her. Who said he was running away?

"I'm leaving," he said, abruptly moving away from her. He felt a hand on his arm, and turned to see her standing behind him, having slipped out from under the dark blue quilt he'd tucked around her. She looked like a mess, still in the clothes she'd worn the day before, her hair all mussed up. It was strange how she looked just the same that way, to him, as she did normally. He just saw her as Akane, no more and no less.

The parting words of Nodoka ran through Akane's head. ::Defeat him with passion,:: she thought. Well, she certainly couldn't hold him in the room with just her brute strength, now could she? She slid her arms around his waist, and settled her cheek against his chest. She felt him take a deep breath, and his hands fell lightly on her shoulders.

"Akane, I. . ." he began, but she cut him off.

"You are not leaving me to go chase some freak around China. He isn't worth it. You've beat Mousse a thousand times before, he just had the element of surprise that time. Let him go," she pleaded. She couldn't believe she was pleading for anything. But he couldn't leave right after saying all those things to her!

"This isn't the time for hugs," he said softly, pushing her away gently. She released him. He turned away from her, no goodbye kiss, no words of farewell, not even a promise to return soon. That idiotic bastard.

"What will you do if you return and no one knows where I am?" she asked, suddenly. "What if something happens to me while you're running around in China?" He stopped, but did not turn to look at her. "You said you couldn't bear it again, if you thought I was gone. Well, how can you go away to China knowing anything could be happening to me here?" she asked him. It was the last card she could play. She, truthfully, didn't think she was in any danger. She was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. On the other hand, she knew which buttons to push on Ranma to illicit the best response. She'd never asked anyone for protection before, she'd never admitted she might need it. She hoped to hell that she never would again.

But then, going home without Ranma, to face all those smirking faces alone, that would be even harder. To know he loved her, and she him, and they could be having a happy, relatively peaceful life but instead to have to put up with Kuno and Gosunkugi all over again. . . that would be degrading. More degrading, because to them she was just a prize.

"You're right," he said softly. He turned to glare at her. "You are going to have some serious training when we get back to Nerima," he said evenly. She gaped at him.

"You'll train me?" she asked. He wasn't arrogantly offering his protection! He was acknowledging her as a martial artist! She felt her heart beat faster, and she smiled at him. Maybe he wasn't so arrogant after all.

"Yeah," he said simply, then he looked at her for a long moment. At long last, he sighed, and walked back over to sit on the bed. He'd made a decision, and decisions were rare creations within his mind. Once made, he usually acted on them immeadiately. This one was no different. He just didn't know how to tell her, how to ask her. He HATED all this romantic crap. Couldn't they just go back to being forced into things? That was easier on him, really.

"And what about later, when we tell our parents the wedding was a hoax? Should I go away then?" he asked softly. She looked at him in surprise. She hadn't even thought about that, about what would happen when they told everyone it was a hoax. She supposed one of them would almost have to leave, they certainly couldn't go back to the way they were after sleeping in the same bed every night and having everyone assume. . .

"No, Ranma, I don't want you to go away. Ever," she said firmly. He smiled at that. She frowned, turning the problem over and over in her mind. The more she thought about it, the more she regretted the hoax wedding. There was no graceful way to come back from that, to say that was over. If they said it was a hoax, they would be humiliated, disgraced, and maybe the attacks would even start up again, worse than ever.

"Now that you mention it, I can't think of what we'll do after we say it's a hoax," she said, feeling the tiny tendrils of despair creeping into her heart. He stopped her from continuing by speaking himself.

"That's why we never tell them it's a hoax. We get married for real, at the courthouse, and then ask for a small ceremony after we graduate high school. . . I mean, if you want a wedding, I guess," he said lamely. He couldn't look at her. ::That was such a crappy way to propose, Saotome,:: sneered the little voice in his head. He told it, firmly, to shut up.

"No, I don't think that's a good idea," she said, casually. His head snapped up and he stared at her. She hadn't actually just turned him down, had she? He glowered at her when he saw the playful smile on her face. Then she did to him what he'd done to her too many times to count.

"Don't tell me you thought I was serious?" she smirked, pulling the corners of her mouth out with her fingers and sticking out her tongue. This was where he told her how uncute she was. This was where he was supposed to roll his eyes and ignore her for a while.

He didn't. Instead, he did something he'd never been quite bold enough to do. He stood, pulled her to him while pushing her hands away from the corners of her lips, and kissed her. Not a timid brush of lips, but a real kiss, the kind she'd initiated before. He felt the shock go through him, a blue bolt of lightening. He drew away with a shuddering breath, and grinned at her.

"So you'll marry me?" he asked. She nodded slightly, as if confused, and he bent to kiss her again. This couldn't be her Ranma, could it? Ranma would never be so bold, would never let enough of himself slip to do something like this. . . . On the other hand, she'd waited a long time for him to get up the nerve to.

Akane leaned against Ranma, feeling his arms encircle her gently. He was always so afraid of hurting her. . . but she thought, at that moment, with their promises still hanging in the air, that it would be impossible for him to ever hurt her again. Love can conquer all, even the famous Saotome foot-in-mouth disease.



That's all for now, folks. The rest of their story is told in "The Farthest Road," which is a contionuation of this story. I just knda felt this was a good stopping point, the first time around. Have a nice day!