08-25-06
Added some information in the Authors Notes to clear up some questions.

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Ranma 1/2 is the property and creation of Rumiko Takahashi and whoever else owns it. I'm not making any money off this so don't sue me. Besides, I'm in college which means I'm broke.

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She Walks in Beauty
Epilogue
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…Eons Later…

Her white wedding kimono was covered in dirt and mud, and parts of it appeared to be missing. Even so, he could tell it had been beautiful once; though she apparently didn't care. She darted quickly behind the nearest haystack, and grabbing the silken veil from off her head, proceeded to stuff it angrily between the straw.

He set the cart down easily, watching with undisguised interest. The girl, at the moment, seemed oblivious to him, and again he found himself wondering if she even knew he was there. Though really, how could she not? They were in a huge hilly field, in the middle of nowhere—with five large haystacks the area's only decoration, and he was hauling an old, rickety cart, housing several loud squawking chickens.

He could be a damn good hider when he wanted to be, don't get him wrong… but the situation didn't exactly boast "discreet".

Besides… it wasn't everyday he saw a girl who was being chased. Even now, he could feel her pursuers drawing closer—the ground shook the slightest bit beneath his feet, and the air was charged with tension. It must have been a small army at least.

And she must have known.

From where he was standing, it looked as if she'd plastered herself against the haystack. Every few seconds she would peek around the corner and look over the hill in the direction she had come. She obviously didn't like whatever she saw—a couple times, she even went so far as to punch the bale of hay with her fist.

Well, he decided, one thing was for sure: she had to find a better place to hide. They'd find her there for sure—and the last thing he wanted was to have to fight an entire army.

He was on a schedule, dammit.

Nodding resolutely, he lifted the heavy front of the cart—though to him, the weight felt like nothing—and made his way towards the girl. Without fail, the wobbly old cart's wheels began to groan and screech the moment he moved—and hearing the sound, she quickly turned to look at him.

From what he could tell, she looked more annoyed than surprised by the unexpected interruption. He was encouraged by that.

Dropping the load of the cart, he smiled in greeting. Unimpressed, she looked away, turning her attention back to the hill.

"Hey," he said, undaunted. "Whatcha doin'?"

The girl didn't bother turning around. "Hiding, you moron," she whispered.
"Isn't that obvious?"

Stepping up behind her, he peered around the haystack, just like she was doing. "You know… this ain't the best place to hide. They'll see you for sure."

She turned to glare at him, her brown eyes narrowed in annoyance. Though her long dark hair was tied up, strands still hung in her eyes, loosened by the veil. "I suppose you have a better idea then," she answered testily. "Perhaps climbing inside the bale—or maybe on top?"

The boy smiled. "Well, you could," he replied lightly. "But it'd probably be easier just to hide in my cart. If you don't mind the chickens and the hay, that is." Again his eyes took in the state of her dress: he doubted it would be much of a problem.

She looked towards the direction of the large handcart, biting her lip. "You're sure it's okay?" she asked, turning again to look at him. He was surprised to see that all of her earlier hostility had seemed to vanish, and he nodded mutely. "You won't tell them where I am or anything?" she continued, almost pleading.

The boy quickly shook his head. "Of course not," he said, as if insulted by the mere suggestion. "I'm a martial artist. It's my job to protect the weak and helpless."

The girl's eyes lit up with excitement when he mentioned he was a martial artist, but then she frowned, and seemed to grow angry again. "Hey, I'm not weak and helpless!" she complained. The sound of horses fast approaching froze her in her tracks, and she cursed under her breath. "Ooh, I don't have time for this," she muttered. "Thanks for the help! I'll take it!" Without another word she ran towards his cart, and ignoring the squawking of the chickens, started burying herself beneath the hay. The boy approached and began to move bits and pieces around, making sure she was well hidden.

Then, maneuvering himself back in front of the large overhanging handle, he began to move forward, headed in the direction the horses were coming. He knew from experience that if you wanted to avoid suspicion, you needed to go towards trouble, rather than away from it. At least he'd managed to pick up something useful from his stupid old man…

Tearing his thoughts away from his pop, he continued forward, surprised to see the faint outline of twenty or more horses coming right towards him.

Wow, he thought, impressed. What in the world could she have done to have an army after her?

Still… it was nothing compared to the odds he'd been up against before.

Feigning surprise at the approaching men, he stopped and allowed them to draw closer. Then, using a hand to shield his eyes from the resulting glare of their amour, he watched, unafraid, as they finally reached him. They were obviously some type of royalty, and the money from their shields and armor alone could feed him and his old man for years.

Good thing his pop wasn't there… the last thing they needed were more people after them.

The man who was obviously leading the group, was wearing a gold helmet and sat stiffly on his horse. Lifting a hand in the air he motioned for his men to stop, and then, removing the helmet, eyed the boy and his cart distastefully.

"I pray thee," he began, in strange, lilting tones. "Has thou seen a raven-haired beauty wandering these desolate parts?" Before the boy could even open his mouth to reply, the man had continued on. "I thought not," he replied in a haughty manner, running a hand through his short dark hair. "My beloved would never allow a base man such as you, to set thy unworthy eyes upon her."

Turning promptly away, he put his helmet back on. "Come, men," he ordered, pointing towards the hills beyond. "Though my wedding day hath been delayed but a short while, think of the joy my love will know at the end of this merry chase. Onwards we go!"

Too surprised to speak, the pig-tailed boy could only watch in surprise as the strange man and his procession rode away. When he was sure they were out of sight, he approached the back of his cart, shooing away the chickens that had begun to peck at the hay and the person hiding within. "They're gone," he said, leaning against the wooden siding.

The girl slowly poked her head out of the hay, still cautious. Her hair, somehow, had come undone during the short ride. Now, pieces of hay and straw were tangled up in it; sticking out in all different directions. He couldn't help but laugh lightly as he picked some of the straw out of her hair, flicking it to the ground.

"And just what are you laughing at?" she demanded.

He smirked innocently as he offered her a hand to help her out of the cart. "Oh, nothing," he replied.

She looked at him doubtfully, and then her gaze drifted to his proffered hand. Turning her head, she ignored it as she proceeded to stand up. Then, brushing off the remaining hay, she stepped purposefully onto the side of the cart, and flipping in mid-air, landed lightly on the ground beside him. He smiled appreciatively as he withdrew his hand.

So… she knew martial arts too, did she? Interesting…

"Thanks for your help," she said sincerely, showing her appreciation with a small bow. Straightening, she smiled at him. "And I'm sorry about before," she explained, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment. "I didn't mean to be so rude. But as you can see," she continued, motioning in the direction the men on horseback had rode off in, "I've had a very bad day."

The boy waved a hand in dismissal. "Ah, don't mention it," he said, grinning. "'Sides, they weren't even looking for you."

The girl's forehead crinkled in confusion, and she cocked her head to the side. "I'm sorry?" she asked dumbly. She had heard Toshi's voice just as clearly as he had—and there was no way she could've mistaken it for anyone else's. "What do you mean?"

He crossed his arms against his chest as he leaned against the sides of his cart. "Well," he said slowly, "that guy was lookin' for some 'raven-haired beauty,' right?" He quickly gave her the once over and smirked. "There's no way he coulda been talkin' about you."

Uh oh… he could literally see the girl's aura now. Dark blue, he noticed, with traces of white, and her eyes narrowed as her hands became tight fists. Yep. She was angry, all right. Though angry didn't even begin to describe it.

Darting to the side, he narrowly avoided a punch.

"Hey," he teased, still smiling. "No need to get violent."

The girl's eyes grew wide, and she seemed to get even angrier if that were possible. "I am not—" she said, launching a kick at his chest, "violent!" The boy just watched her in amusement, easily avoiding every move she threw his way, enjoying it much more than he should have. She had potential… that much was obvious. And with the right teacher—

…That was the last thing he remembered before he saw a chicken hurling towards him at an unnatural speed. Then the world went dark.

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He awoke to see a familiar pair of brown eyes staring down at him, and instinctively, his hand went to his head, fighting back a sudden wave of dizziness as he tried to sit up.

"Careful," the girl said in a soft, concerned voice. "Not too fast…"

His eyes drifted around the area, taking everything in as he tried to remember what had happened… then his gaze fell on a large chicken that was lying beside him, out cold. His eyes suddenly widened as he remembered, and he turned to the girl, who laughed guiltily.

"Honestly," she said, "you did more damage to the poor chicken."

He couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of it all: the greatest martial artist in all four countries bested by a violent, crazy, female, chicken-thrower. "Me?" he asked, incredulously. "You're the one that threw it…"

"Yeah, well…"

The boy smirked as he climbed to his feet, and grabbing the innocent chicken, carried it back to the cart. The girl stayed sitting, though her eyes followed him. "I am sorry," she said at last. "I guess I might have gotten a little carried away..." Climbing to her feet, she walked over to where he was standing. "I don't believe we've been properly introduced," she said, holding out her hand. "My name's Akane Tendo."

The boy, for a moment, was taken aback by her name. "Err, Ranma," he said, trying to figure out why her name seemed so familiar. "Ranma Saotome." He reached out to take her hand… and stopped the moment their hands met. His eyes grew wide.

He had felt something… like an electric jolt the moment their palms had touched, and he stared at their interlocked hands, surprised and confused. When he glanced up at Akane, he noticed her expression mirrored his own.

"Did…did you?" her voice was filled with awe, and she seemed just as bewildered and confused as him.

Ranma nodded slowly. "Yeah…" he said, his eyes returning to their linked hands. His heart was beating furiously, and he felt for sure she could hear it…

There was something… something so familiar. "Have we met before?" he asked suddenly. "I mean—I know it's crazy an all, but… I just—I just got the strangest feeling…" he trailed off.

Akane removed her hand from his, staring at it in something close to wonder. For a moment, he thought he saw confusion in her eyes, and disappointment at the loss of contact… but maybe it was just him.

"Err, sorry," she said, blushing furiously as she chanced a quick glance in his direction. "I mean… I… I felt the same."

They took a few steps away from each other, suddenly uncomfortable with the wave of emotions they had suddenly been forced to face. "So," Ranma began, looking everywhere but at Akane. "How did you end up here anyway?" he asked.

"I'm running away from an unwanted marriage," she explained.

Ranma felt something in his heart pull at that—but ignored it the only way he knew how. "I'm surprised you're the one who was running away. I mean, what guy in their right mind would wanna marry an uncute, violent girl like you?"

Akane frowned as she looked at the ground. "I don't really want to talk about it," she said, ignoring the jibe.

Unsure how to respond, he nodded. "Oh," he said, swallowing nervously. "Okay."

Both stood quietly; neither knowing quite what to say. Then, when they needed a distraction the most, they heard it.

A weak, strangled 'bawk'.

They turned to the cart, surprised to see the injured chicken strutting back and forth, squawking pitifully as it slowly recovered from its injury. The other two chickens looked unsympathetic; they were running around in circles, amusing themselves.

Ranma and Akane watched all of this. Then, they burst out laughing.

"I told you the chicken suffered more," Akane told him between fits of giggles. Ranma, for once was powerless; he couldn't stop laughing.

The sky had begun to darken, and Ranma watched it warily, suddenly feeling nervous. It was getting late, he realized, and they couldn't keep standing there forever: no matter how much he might want to. Again, he was forced to remember he was on a tight schedule.

"It looks like rain, doesn't it," Akane said, following his gaze. She was leaning next to him, right against the cart; her face slightly elevated, turned towards the sky. Ranma turned to watch her, finding that view much more enjoyable. Even wearing a dirty kimono—even with specs of dirt on her face, and hay in her hair—he'd never seen another girl more beautiful.

It was frustrating in a way… not being able to take his eyes off her.

This called for drastic measures, he decided. Nervously, he moved towards the front of the cart, where the over-hanging bar was resting against the ground; he could feel Akane's eyes on him all the while.

"So…" he began slowly, quietly. "Are you coming? You can't very well stay here, right?" He was trying his best not to sound too nervous—to hide the fact that he was terrified she'd turn him down—that she'd have someplace else to be.

…He didn't want whatever this was—whatever he was feeling, to end…

"Coming where?" she asked. She sounded curious, not suspicious or accusing or anything. That was a good sign, right?

"To the next farm," he said, gesturing towards the cart. "I just gotta finish delivering these chickens. It should only take another couple hours or so—the farm's not too far away." He didn't bother to explain why he was delivering the cart, or the fact that he was making up for the thieving practices of his father.

Akane looked thoughtful for a moment, then, smiling, she nodded. "Well, it would be much easier than traveling by myself. Just don't try anything perverted," she warned him. "I'd hate to have to hurt you again."

Ranma laughed derisively. "Ha! Like I'd wanna try anything with an uncute chick like you!" He was going to add how she couldn't hurt him even if she tried—that he was the best—but that probably wouldn't be the best way to convince her he was harmless.

"Good," she replied happily, as if she'd been expecting such a reaction. Even though they had only just met, she found it very easy to trust him. "If you feel that way, I won't have to worry then."

Ranma picked up the front of the cart. "Anyway, we better get moving," he told her, re-shouldering the weight. His eyes, unconsciously, drifted back to the sky—to the sky which was steadily darkening with rain clouds. He swallowed nervously, unsure how to approach this particular subject. "Something else," he said, speaking slowly as he chose his words with care. "Jusenkyou. Have you heard of it?"

Akane shook her head in apology. "No, sorry," she answered. "Why? What is it?" It was obvious from Ranma's expression that whatever this Jusenkyou-thing was, was important to him. His whole body had tensed up just saying its name.

Ranma looked up at the sky again, and frowned. Explaining his curse was never easy—and for some reason, having to explain it to her, made him even more nervous than usual. She'd find out eventually—better to let her find out the old fashioned way, he decided. "Never mind," he said at last, waving his hand in dismissal. "I'll tell you later."

"Oh," Akane replied, watching him closely, "okay." She couldn't deny feeling a little disappointed at his reluctance to talk to her about it—but who was she to complain? Hadn't she been the exact same way?

She wasn't a coward. She could open up too—even if it was only a little. "Hey, Ranma," she began hesitantly.

The sound of her voice brought him out of his thoughts. "Yeah?" he asked, turning to look at her.

She was staring at the ground, in deep thought, her steps slow and measured. "There's something that's been bothering me—something that's been in the back of my mind since we—well, our hands—" she allowed her words to trail off. Both of them knew what she was referring to.

"Yesterday I turned 18," she said softly, looking up at him. "I don't know—I just—for some reason, I thought you should know that." She grew silent again, mentally hitting herself for blurting out something so strange—something so random. "Sorry," she laughed, feeling ridiculous. "You must think I'm—"

"—No," Ranma interrupted, cutting her off. He had felt it too, hadn't he? A strange, underlying fear he couldn't quite explain. Why then, when she had said that, did he finally feel like a huge burden had been lifted? Even the cart suddenly felt lighter. "I'm glad. Really. It may be a little late but… happy birthday."

Akane smiled brilliantly at him, and he could feel his heart beating uncontrollably in his chest. It was the same feeling he'd gotten when their hands had briefly touched…

"Thank you, Ranma," she told him sincerely. "That really means a lot."

Blushing, he turned away from her, his eyes focused on the road.

And above them, the rain clouds opened.

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THE END!
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Author's Notes

((Again, thanks so much to my friend Anna Novastar, for going over this and editing it for me!))

There you have it. I really hope you liked it! I've always been fascinated by the whole 'past lives' thing, and I've wanted to write a story about it forever. I think the concept's just so romantic… so here's my humble attempt. ;)

The world that they're reunited in is much darker than a lot of their past lives—-think of it as a world slowly recovering from an apocalyptic event or something. I tried to get this across using the setting—kind of barren, empty, inhospitable. If this were ever to become a full-fledged story, it would become more apparent, but since this was just a short epilogue... elaborating was too hard and only served in distracting from the main story.

If you're curious, in my mind I was thinking of the land in Basara—one of my favorite mangas. Although here, it's not so much desert lands… but open fields, with hills, and lots of dead grass. Abandoned, almost. So the world's kind of un-progressed, hence the handcart; the presence of royalty, etc.

Also, Toshi, the man riding the horse, who sounds a lot like Kuno. Since I couldn't come right out and say it--that IS Kuno. I didn't want him to have the same name, because I only wanted Ranma and Akane to truly regain a sense of their former selves (from that particular past life at least). Mainly, I was thinking of Akane's line: "I want you in this life—Ranma, my perverted fiancée who turns into a girl"—or however it went.

Sorry if that was a little confusing. Hopefully, this answered any of the questions about the epilogue you may have had.

I'm very sorry if parts of it came off really cliché—I'm sure I probably heard/saw some of this stuff in other things and it influenced this. But, oh well. I thought it was cute, and that's the important thing. I'm sure in a few years I'll back at it and groan, but for now, I'm pretty satisfied.

And don't worry… I'll have new chapters of THE FORGOTTEN GAME and THE PROTECTOR next. Thanks for being so patient and allowing me to get this out of my head. I had a lot of fun writing it!

—Angela Jewell