*************************************************

"RANMA, YOU JERK!!!!!"

*smash*

"RANMA, YOU JERK!!!!!"

*smash* *smash*

"RANMA, YOU JERK!!!!!"

*SMASHSMASHSMASHSMASHSMASHSMASH*

Akane sat down amidst the dust of nine pulverized bricks, her eyes unhappy and her hands still clenched into fists.

And so, another day in the Tendo household began...

*************************************************

Validation

A Ranma 1/2 Fanfic by Ashfae

Chapter One

*************************************************

I hate my life.

"Yo, Akane, hurry up, we're gonna be late!"

Akane picked up the pace, running around corners until she finally got to her high school. Without thinking about it she punched Kunou in passing, ran into the building, into her classroom, and slid into her seat just in time to be late.

As usual, she found herself standing out in the hallway with Ranma, holding buckets of water. The normal punishment wasn't really a punishment for her; she was strong enough so that the bucket wasn't even remotely heavy.

As usual, Ranma made the occassional snide comment. But unlike most days, Akane only made the occassional sarcastic reply. She wasn't up to fighting. Eventually Ranma stopped talking and found something in the floor to occupy his attention.

I really, really hate my life.

Akane sighed. She looked down into the bucket she was holding, staring at her reflection in the water. Her face was wavy and dark, mysterious, unfamiliar...

Look at you. What do you think you're doing? Who are you, anyway?

She frowned. My name is Akane Tendou. Okay. That's a start. I'm the youngest of three daughters. My father is Soun Tendou. My mother... is dead. I'm a martial artist, a good student, and...well, a terrible cook. Because of my dad, I'm engaged to Ranma Saotome. She looked at him askance. Huh. Wonderful. What else?

She thought about it for a while, but couldn't think about anything else.

"Yo, Akane, what's up?"

"Hmmm?" she looked up to see Ranma looking at her strangely.

"I said what's up? You're not yourself today."

She opened her mouth to answer, then realized she didn't have an answer. "Nothing." She looked back down.

"But..."

There was a loud crash. Akane jumped, startled, and looked up to see one of the classic scenes at Furinkan High: Tatewaki Kunou, wearing his traditional samurai garb and an expression of righteous fury, had just tried (and failed) to brain Ranma with his bokken. Ranma looked bored.

Kunou glared at Ranma with infinite malice, then straighened up and attempted to look solemn and dignified. "Ranma Saotome...'my blood hath been too cold and temperate, unapt to stir at these indignities...an you have found me, for accordingly you tread upon my patience; but be sure, I will from henceforth rather be myself, mighty and to be fear'd, than my condition, which hath been smooth as oil, soft as young down, and therefore lost that title of respect which the proud soul ne'er pays but to the proud.'"

Ranma groaned and held his head in his hands. "Man, are you ever gonna learn to speak English?"

Kunou's eyes narrowed. "Vile sorceror! You will refer to me as Upperclassman!"

"Yeah, whatever, lemme guess, you're here to attack me so that you can free Akane Tendou and the Pig-Tailed Girl, right?"

"Indeed. You have usurped their affections long enough! It is time to put your evil reign to an end, and free the spirits of my lovelies!"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah...let's get it over with." Ranma took up an obvious attack position with easy familiarity.

"Wait just a minute." Akane pushed Ranma aside and looked Kunou straight in the eyes. "Kunou, I am not interested. Please, will you just leave me alone?"

"Ah, the fierce Akane Tendou...thy beauty doth make me like thee well. Fear not, my dearest, for soon I will have freed you from this curse. Then you will be free to bestow all of your love upon the one who truly deserves it!"

Akane glared at him. "Look, Kunou..."

Ranma proceeded to kick Kunou squarely in the chest and then knock him unconscious before she could get any further. "Feh. What a moron."

Akane clenched her fists. "Ranma, why don't you ever just let me handle it? I could've gotten rid of him without your help."

He looked at her as though she were crazy. "You know he's never gonna listen. Why bother?"

Her temper flared. "That's not the point! I meant...oh, nevermind..." I'm really not up to fighting with Ranma any more today. I'm not up to fighting with anyone. I just don't care.

She leaned back against the wall. I wish this day would end.

Ranma looked at her, but said nothing.

**************

Why do I go through this every day?

She was walking home from school, halfheartedly carrying her bookbag slung over one shoulder. Ranma was walking a few steps behind her, but she was only marginally aware of him.

She frowned. Then again, what could I do? We've all gotten into a routine...Ranma and I are together- heck, we live together- and then he gets attacked, or we're fighting, or one of his fiancees shows up...

"Nihao Ranma!"

Akane sighed. Right on schedule.

The purple-haired Amazon bounced out of nowhere and glomped onto Ranma. "Shampoo have two tickets to movie this afternoon! Airen want come?"

Akane turned and looked around. Shampoo was squeezing Ranma so tightly that he was almost choking. In fact..."Shampoo, I don't think he can breathe."

Shampoo glared at Akane. "Violent pervert girl go away. Shampoo talking to husband now."

"You're also making him suffocate."

Shampoo noticed around then that Ranma's face was purple and let go. "Aiyah!" Ranma collapsed to one knee, fighting to get his breath back. "Ranma, you all right?"

"Uh...yeah, Shampoo...didja have to squeeze me that hard??" Ranma looked annoyed.

Shampoo shrugged. "Shampoo just so happy to see you, not able to help it. You take Shampoo on date tonight, yes?"

"Why don't you ever realize that he's not interested?"

Shampoo whirled around to glare at Akane. "What violent tomboys know? You just jealous." A wicked gleam came into her eyes. "Want fight? Shampoo happy give you one."

Akane's eyes narrowed and she let her bookbag fall to the ground, preparing herself. "Anytime."

Ranma scrambled up off of the ground. "Hey! C'mon Akane, you know you're not good enough to take on Shampoo."

"Ranma, shut up and stay out of it."

"No." He picked her up and leapt onto a nearby rooftop, then started running towards home, bouncing across the rooftops. Shampoo's frustrated screams echoed from behind them.

Akane's hands clenched themselves into fists again, but she couldn't catch her breath to yell at Ranma.

Not until they got home.

"You idiot!" she screamed when he set her down. "Why are you always interfering? Why can't you just leave me alone, you stupid jerk?"

Ranma looked peeved. "'Cause if you'd tried to fight her, you woulda gotten creamed! I was just tryin' to protect you! Geez!"

"I don't need you to protect me! I can protect myself just fine!"

"Oh yeah?" Faster than she would ever have expected, his leg swept around and under her, slamming into her legs so that she fell hard onto the ground. He smirked. "Stupid tomboy."

Akane felt something within her snap. First Kunou, then Shampoo, and now this...she was overwhelmed by fury and frustration. She was tempted to give in to habit and release it by bashing Ranma, or bashing bricks, or bashing something...

Instead she took a deep breath, and let all the anger sink deep inside of her, taking all her other emotions with it.

Calmly, Akane stood up, turned around, and into the house. She was dimly aware of Ranma staring after her and saying her name, but ignored him.

This is going to stop.

*************************************************

Ranma was confused. Usually after he insulted her, Akane would just hit him and yell at him. He could deal with that; he was used to it, and besides he was still trying to figure out exactly how she pulled that mallet trick...

This, he didn't understand. She hadn't said anything, hadn't even looked hurt; she'd just walked upstairs and closed the door. He hadn't seen her since.

He'd been doing katas in the dojo for an hour trying to pretend that he wasn't worried, but it wasn't working so he gave up and sat cross-legged on the floor, thinking.

She can't be hurt. I mean, I insult her all the time. It's almost a game...I insult her, she bashes me. Happens every day. Why's it different this time?

He sighed. Guess I should...apologize...or somethin'...

Reluctantly, Ranma stood up and made his way to Akane's room. It took him ten minutes to manage to knock on the door.

"Yeah?"

"Um. It's me." Ranma opened the door and walked in. The room was dark; he could barely make out Akane's silhouette. She was sitting at her desk, her chin resting on her hands, looking at the night sky. "Umm...Akane?"

Her voice was perfectly calm. "Go away, Ranma."

That hurt. Why did that hurt? "I...but...I just wanted to say that I'm...well...sorry."

She turned to look at him; he wished he could see her face. "So am I." There still wasn't any emotion on her voice. She turned away again. "But please leave me alone."

Ranma stood there, flustered, for a few more seconds before backing out and closing the door. He stared down at the doorknob for a few minutes before walking back down the hallway.

**************

He awoke the next morning to the sound of screams.

"AKANE!!!!!!!! My little girl!!!!!!!" Soun Tendou, as usual, was crying.

Great. I don't even wanna know what's up this time... Still, Ranma felt...uneasy. He shook his head and forced himself to get up. Probably she just tried to break the engagement again, or cooked, or somethin'...

Before he even had a chance to think anymore, he found himself grabbed by the arm and hauled downstairs by a giant panda. "Pops?!" Ranma shouted. "Whaddaya think you're doing, old man?"

The panda scowled (somehow) at Ranma and puller out one of his signs, seemingly from nowhere. *What did you do to Akane????*

He just stared. "Huh?"

"Akane's gone, Ranma." He whirled around to see Nabiki glaring at him. "She's disappeared. We can't find her anywhere. She didn't sleep in her bed last night, and she hasn't been seen this morning. Plus, her backpack and some clothes are missing, and some food was taken from the pantry."

Ranma felt something in him stop. She couldn't have...

He remembered how different she'd been acting yesterday, the feeling he'd gotten that something was really wrong, this time. She might've. "Oh no..." he whispered without thinking.

"Ranma!" He barely heard Soun Tendou yelling at him. "As Akane's fiancee, it is your duty to find her and bring her back!"

His father the panda nodded rapidly and held up another sign. *I know we can count on you, boy! Bring honor to our family name by rescuing Akane!*

The long and short of it was that without really realizing how it happened, Ranma found himself alone in the street with his camping equipment, preparing to set off to find his fiancee.

Here we go again... he thought disgustedly, remembering the time she'd run off to Ryukenzawa. I'm always chasing after that crazy tomboy for one reason or another.

He wandered down the street without really paying attention to where he was going, scowling and insulting Akane under his breath.

And desperately trying not to admit that he was worried.

*************************************************

Akane looked up. She'd wandered off the main road hours ago, after taking a train as far away from Nerima as possible- she'd barely noticed what stop she'd gotten off at. And now she was trailbreaking through the woods in one of the more hilly sections of Japan. She was intending to head up into the mountains...but not for several more days, at least. She wanted to get used to all this.

It's all so...quiet...I'd forgotten what quiet was like. It's never quiet back at home, not with fiancees and martial artists and Ranma and his dad sparring...

I won't think about him. I promised myself.

The sun was setting, and the air was growing a bit colder. Akane shrugged off her backpack and took some time to sort through her belongings, setting up a small tent. Too bad I can't build a fire here, not without cleaning all the leaves and things off of the ground first, and I just don't have the energy for that. Oh well; I don't really need a fire tonight anyway, and I definitely don't want to let people know I'm here. Not so soon after leaving home.

Akane sighed. For the first time since she'd come up with this wild idea, late last night, she let herself think about all the consequences. Kasumi's gotta be worried sick, and Nabiki, and Daddy's probably throwing a fit. Maybe this isn't such a great idea, but what else can I do? I had to get away from Nerima and everyone in it for a while. I've lived there my whole life, but I hate it there now. All the chaos and confusion and misunderstandings...it's too much. Maybe I can get things figured out, here. If nothing else it'll be nice to work on my martial arts for a while. I hated being compared to everyone else so much that I've almost stopped working on them completely lately.

I won't give up. I never give up, not on anything. I will do this.

I know I can do this.

Physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, Akane fell asleep.

**************

She awoke early the next morning disoriented and confused; it took a few minutes to remember everything. Ignoring any doubts or regrets, Akane crawled outside of her tent and looked outside.

It was a lovely morning, misty and vibrant. Wow. I'd forgotten how nice it is to sleep outside. I'd forgotten how nice quiet was.

Smiling now, she stretched her limbs.

Then she began running through her basic warmup exercises, some of the more intermediate katas. The physical effort cleared her mind. She was sweating by the time she finished, but happy.

Smiling contentedly, Akane packed her gear and set out again.

Ugh. I do wish I could take a bath, though. There's a stream around here someplace, though, and that'll do.

Why was I so worried? It's not like I haven't done this sort of thing before. Dad and I used to go on training missions all the time. I went by myself once or twice, and even with Ranma and his father once. And I survived on my own when I ran off to Ryukenzawa. It's not that hard to live in the wild. I brought supplies with me, and there's plenty of places around for fishing. I have all the time I need to think things out, and I even know a few places where I can go for training. And I'm already good enough to protect myself from nearly anyone who'd try to attack me. There aren't many wild animals out here, not that I couldn't handle any that would bother me. This is good. I can do this.

I'll improve my martial arts and get away from the insanity in Nerima for a while and sort everything out. Then I can go home.

Akane smiled to herself, and picked up the pace.

*************************************************

It had been over a week, and Ranma had only just found signs that Akane had been around. He sighed, half in relief (though he wouldn't have admitted it, even to himself), and half in exasperation.

They were scarce...she was taking care not to leave tracks. Still, Ranma knew what to look for...after years of living in the wild with his father, it wasn't difficult. And he knew Akane's style.

He sat down, and idly tossed a rock from one hand to the other. Why's she doin' this? As if life wasn't complicated enough already... well, it has settled down into a sorta routine, I 'spose. Shampoo wants me, Ukyou loves me, Kodachi scares me, and Akane beats me up...Ryouga's still out for my blood, Mousse is still blind as a bat, Kunou's dumb as ever...everyone wants me to either get married or not get married to everyone else, and there's constant warfare... predictable warfare, though.

I wonder if Akane's as tired of it as I am?

He sighed. Akane...I think I...I mean, I can't see myself with anyone else, but...is that enough? And I'm definitely not getting married yet!

But...would it really be so bad?

His eyes narrowed, and he started squeezing the rock in his right hand. I am so sick of being confused!

The rock was crushed into powder. Ranma looked at his now-dusty hand in surprise, then shook the dust off. He lay down, resting his head on his arms. It's kinda nice out here...quiet...like when Dad and I were traveling. Sometimes I miss that.

It's good to have a home, though...even if it is crazy. It's nice to have a place to go back to.

It wouldn't mean much without Akane, though.

That thought surprised him, and his brow furrowed. Huh? Where'd that come from? I mean it's not like I like that crazy tomboy...

...much...

He got to his feet, pondered the clearing he was in, and located Akane's trail again. He was only a day or so behind her.

If I don't sleep, maybe I can catch her tomorrow...

With that thought in mind, he started running.

*************************************************

Akane woke up early that morning, yawned, and stretched contentedly. Such a beautiful morning...I could really get to like this life. No wonder Mr. Saotome took Ranma on a training trip and never went back...this is a good way to live. Nothing but nature, and the Art.

Humming quietly under her breath, she got dressed, exited her tent, and smiled at the clear sky. After taking a deep breath, she began to stretch, then fluidly moved into one of the simpler katas he father had taught her, years and years ago. Haven't been able to get this much practice since all those dumb boys attacked me every morning at school...sometimes I miss that, if only for the challenge.

Lost as she was in her exercise, Akane nonetheless heard the footsteps approaching her, and her head snapped up. Her eyes widened.

"Ranma," she said quietly, somehow not that surprised. She ignored the little thrill that went through her at seeing him.

"Um. Hi." He looked almost sheepish. Last time she'd run away and he'd been sent after her, he'd been furious. This time he looked sorta bewildered. She wondered why.

"They sent you to bring me home, didn't they."

"Well, yeah." He walked over to stand in front of her. "Didja really think they wouldn't?"

"I'm not going back with you, Ranma. And if you try to drag me back, I'll just run away again. You know I will." She locked her jaw, determined.

Ranma groaned. "Geez, Akane...why? What's this all about?"

She looked at him steadily. Hell, why not? she decided spontaneously. Maybe for once, he'll listen.

Maybe he'd understand. The wistful thought crept in despite herself.

"Sit down for a minute," she said quietly. Ranma frowned at her, but did as she asked, looking bored. She fought back her frustration with him; surprisingly, it wasn't as hard as usual. The past week had been good for her.

Akane sat down, too, and stared at the ground. "Ranma...when you think of the future...what do you see?"

Ranma looked startled and eyed her warily. She waited, not looking at him. He eased up after a few minutes, and appeared to think about the question. "Well...I see myself, working with the Art...I want to teach, most of all." He looked at her and seemed about to say something more, but was silent.

Akane sighed. "Yeah. Me too. I mean, I see myself getting married sometime, and I want children eventually, but...all I'm really certain of is that I'll still want to be doing martial arts."

He snorted. "You're kidding."

"Martial arts is my life, too, Ranma," Akane said quietly. "When Mother died..." She took a quick breath and paused, trying to hold back the tears. It was still so hard to say, even after over ten years... "When Mother died, Kasumi took her place. She was head of the household. She took care of all of us; we all depended on her. We still do. Nabiki wanted to help, and took over finances...she's not as mercenary as she seems, you know. A lot of it is just worry about us. We need her money-making schemes, and she never really hurts anyone...not even you. You and Kunou are her main targets...and he can afford it, and...well, it's harder, with you and your father around. It was difficult enough before, with Dad not working."

She saw Ranma wince out of the corner of her eyes, but he didn't interrupt, so she continued. "I wanted to help, too. But there wasn't anything I could do. So...while Kasumi and Nabiki took care of here and now, I decided that I'd look towards the future...that I'd be the one to inherit the dojo, and carry on the school. I made Dad teach me martial arts. He didn't want to at first 'cause I was a girl, but I wouldn't let go, and eventually he was proud of me, proud to teach me. And I was good!" she cried suddenly. "I was good at it! It became more than a duty, pretty soon. It was something I loved. It was part of me. I had my place in the family. I was helping, too.

"Then you came." She moved the dirt with her toes, staring at it morosely. "I knew I'd be the one who ended up as your fiancee as soon as Dad told us; I'd set myself up for it, because I'd promised myself and everyone else that I'd inherit the dojo, and carry on the family name. I didn't like the idea of getting forced into marriage- I still don't- but I wasn't surprised when I was picked.

"But you're much, much better at me at martial arts. I can't even compare. And it's you that's the real heir to the school, the one who's going to carry on. Not me. I don't have a place anymore. I'm just... the fiancee of the person who's going to inherit it all. Nothing else. Dad won't even teach me anymore; he keeps saying that you'll take care of that, that I don't need to study. I'm no longer the heir. I keep trying to find other places for myself, but there isn't anything. I can't even really call myself your fiancee, not when we fight all the time, and never talk about anything, and you've always got someone or another chasing after you..." She sighed. "But then, so do I. Still, when you came... I lost everything, a piece at a time. I kept wanting to hate you for it, but I can't. But I don't have a place anymore. I don't know who I am anymore.

"It's worth anything to get that back. Can't you see? Even if I never beat you, it's worth everything to become good enough to beat everyone else. It's worth everything to have a place in my family, aside from just being your fiancee." She looked at her hands, slowly clenched them into fists. "Whether we get married or not, I need this. I've got to prove myself. I've got to!"

She looked up at him. "Do you understand, now, why I won't go back with you?"

Ranma was staring at her strangely, as though he'd just realized something he didn't want to believe, quite. But he also looked sympathetic. "Yeah," he said after a while. "I...never thought about it like that. I never saw that before." He eyed her thoughtfully.

"I never told anyone that before," she admitted. "Kasumi knows, sort of... we had a talk about it after the time Ryouga accidently cut my hair." She smiled slightly. "After I realized the dojo wasn't going to be mine anymore, I fell back on growing my hair longer than Kasumi's. It was silly, but at least it was something. That's why it hurt so much when it was cut."

There was a long pause. Then, tentatively- "Your hair really is cute the way it is, though."

Her eyes went wide with astonishment. "Really?"

He wasn't looking at her, but he nodded quickly.

Akane felt tears form in her eyes. He's not usually nice to me. Maybe...maybe I should've tried talking to him long ago...

"Hey, um, Akane?"

She wiped the tears away before he could notice them. "Yeah?"

"Um...I have an idea..." He twiddled his fingers. "I know you won't come back with me yet, and...I don't blame you...so...what if...what if I...came...with...you?"

Say what!??!!?

When she didn't protest, he continued. "I mean, I can't really go home without you, our parents would kill me. And I can always use more training. We could spar, n'stuff. I could help you train. You know I could."

Akane was quiet for a long while.

When she spoke, it was very, very quietly. "Do you think we could try to be friends again? I mean...back when you first came...we fought, some, mostly because it was all so new and weird...it was so strange to know someone who could change into a girl, and you'd never really lived anywhere before, but...we were friends. We didn't always fight. We'd go out for food and ice cream, and we'd talk about stuff, and you helped me get over Dr. Tofu, and...I miss all that. All the fiancees showed up, and everything changed and got complicated, and now all we do is fight, and it's not really for any reason at all. If it's just you and me...can we go back to being friends?"

It was Ranma's turn to be quiet for a while; she still couldn't look at him.

Finally..."I'd like that."

"Really?" Akane looked up.

Ranma smiled at her. "Yeah...I remember when I first got to Nerima, and I was a girl and Pop was a panda, and Nabiki was being so rude, and it was just awful...I didn't know what to do. I mean, I was a guy, but you all would've thought I was nuts if I tried to tell you. You've no idea how relieved I was when you asked if I'd like to be friends."

Akane smiled back; she'd forgotten that. "Yeah...too bad it didn't last long." She sighed. "Hey, Ranma, I never said...I'm...sorry...that I treated you so badly after finding out you were a boy. I felt like you'd tricked me, or humiliated me somehow, and I was so paranoid about getting beaten by guys thanks to all those idiots at school...you wanted to be friends, and I blew it, and in all this time I never managed to apologize."

Ranma raised an eyebrow. "You been thinkin' a lot, haven't you?" He grinned. "We're neither of us too good about sayin' we're sorry. And... I haven't been the easiest guy to live with either. How 'bout we call it even and try again?"

"Yeah." Akane felt happier than she had in ages, even happier than she'd been on her own, that past week. "Okay. That settled, you can come with me. As long as you train me, really train me, not just jumping out of the way whenever I try to hit you. And we try to be friends again. And...we don't mention fiancees, or anything like that, and we try not to insult each other. Deal?"

"Deal." Ranma hopped up to his feet. "So what's the plan?"

Akane's grin grew wider. "I think you were about to cook me breakfast."

"Excuse me?"

She looked at him innocently. "Would you rather I cooked for you?"

With remarkable rapidity, Ranma began rifling through his own gear for cooking supplies. Akane started laughing and went to take down her tent.

I wanted to avoid him...but I think this'll be better.

She hummed under her breath. Yappa pa, yappa pa, in shan ten...


Notes: Kunou's speech is taken from Henry IV: Part I, the cursory remark to Akane is The Taming of the Shrew. Yup, I looked up real Shakespearean quotes. I love his work, and I'm fond of Kunou. Wheee!

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