A Ranma ½ Fanfiction
By Jeffrey Vasquez
I write this for pleasure. I don't claim to own the characters.
Fact: Every big thing is made up of a bunch of little things.
Probability: Little things, when grouped together just right, tend to come together incredibly fast.
Possibility: Little things are often bound by the Cascade Principle; a.k.a. the Butterfly and the Hurricane.
"These are folded, Kasumi-chan. What's next?" Kasumi smiled as Ranma appeared out of nowhere with a basket full of clothes firmly under his arm, and a stack of towels perfectly balanced atop his head.
"Thank you Ranma-kun. Could you take the basket to my room please? The towels can just be set inside the changing room." Ranma saluted crisply, without disturbing the towels, and then jumped to a second story window.
"How did you do it?" Nabiki lounged in a lawn chair, clad in a burgundy bikini top and a pair of shorts, sipping lemonade while she watched Kasumi pin up clothes on the line. The sun seemed to worship her where she lay.
"Do what, Nabiki?"
"Come on, sis. You know exactly what I mean." She sat her glass down on a small table, and then tipped her sunglasses to regard Kasumi over their rims. "Boy Wonder has been doing this religiously for two months now, how did you manage to convince him to help?"
Kasumi's smile was enigmatic, which caused Nabiki to blink and stare for a moment.
"Oh, now you've got to tell me!"
Kasumi bent down to retrieve one of Ranma's shirts, and mimicked his catty grin. As she finished pinning it up, she turned to her sister and gave her most radiant smile.
"Two thousand yen please."
Nabiki's facefault was drowned out by a series of crashes and explosions. She heard Ranma scream and Akane yelling angrily. More explosive crashes followed, and then Ranma could be heard taunting the youngest Tendo.
"How DARE you peep at me you pervert!"
"Why would I want to look at your flat chest, Balloon Butt?" Kasumi winced and shook her head.
"Don't do it, Ranma." She whispered. "Just walk away."
"WHAT DID YOU SAY?"
"You heard me! If you don't want people walking in on ya, then put up the sign!"
Kasumi could almost hear the next words coming, and winced.
"It's almost like ya want me ta walk in on ya!"
The compound went silent. The noise of birds became hushed, and even the wind seemed to hold its breath. Kasumi looked over to Nabiki who simply shook her head and went back to sipping her lemonade.
"Who's the perv…"
Ranma was off like a missile, trailing towels behind in his wake. Kasumi shook her head and went back to pinning up clothes. After a few minutes of silence, Nabiki smirked.
"Two to one that he comes back female."
Kasumi frowned at her little sister out of the corner of her eye. "I'll take that bet."
"Insensitive JERK!" Akane slumped to the floor of the dojo, next to the pile of rubble that she had created, and fumed. No matter how many times they clashed, it always came down to moments like this. Her heart hurt, and she couldn't rid herself of the anger. All that she could do was vent and cry. She hated crying over his stupidity, and yet more often than not, that's exactly what she would find herself doing.
"Penny for your thoughts." Akane didn't look up from where she sat.
"Go away, Nabiki."
The middle Tendo daughter sauntered into view with an exaggerated look of disappointment on her face.
"Ouch. I just want to talk."
Akane curled into a ball and pressed her forehead against her knees. "I'd rather not."
"Too bad." Nabiki settled herself down next to her sister and wrapped her arm around Akane's shoulders. "Now then, why are you mad?"
Akane's head shot up, and she sent a glare Nabiki's way that promised pain. The Ice Queen of Furinkan simply quirked an eyebrow at her little sister, and waited for an answer.
"Isn't it obvious?" Akane growled.
"Not really." Nabiki examined her fingernails with mock boredom. "Explain it to me."
"The pervert walked in on me while I was getting dressed!"
"And this is bad because…" Nabiki tilted her head and rolled her hand, prompting her sister to continue.
Akane snorted and pushed Nabiki away. "I'm surrounded by perverts."
"Oh, give it a rest!" Nabiki said in exasperation. "You're engaged to be married! Someday he's going to be your husband!" Nabiki threw up her hands. "He's eventually going to see you in all your feminine glory."
"You are such a pig, Nabiki!"
"So says the girl who sleeps with a piglet." Nabiki grinned. Akane stuck her tongue out at her sister. Nabiki jabbed Akane in the ribs sharply. "Pig lover!"
"Mercenary!" Akane countered.
"Thank you. But don't change the subject. Why are you really mad?"
Akane sighed, seeming to deflate. "I'm just sick of all the craziness. I'm sick of perverts like Happosai. I'm sick of new fiancées." She paused and settled her chin on her knees. "Most of all I'm tired of having to compete for Ranma's attention."
Nabiki mimicked her sister, and rested her chin on her knees. "So what you're saying is that you want out."
"Yes." Akane shook her head. "No!" Her frustration was evident. Nabiki smirked. "I don't know!"
"You want the prize, but you're tired of playing the game…is that it?"
Akane nodded silently.
Nabiki turned her head, so that her cheek was resting on her knees. Her large brown eyes seemed to envelop Akane. "Is he worth it?"
"Sometimes." Her voice was so small. "Sometimes he can be so sweet. Then there are times when he's so arrogant and smug."
Nabiki shrugged. "What guy isn't?"
Akane shrugged as well. "I've met a couple."
"So marry one of them."
Akane barked a harsh laugh. "Yeah right! What about Daddy and Mr. Saotome?"
The youngest Tendo threw her head back and laughed. It was a bitter sound, filled with all the irritation and disappointment of almost two years of pain.
"After all that I've been through, you just want me to flip them the bird and walk away."
Nabiki shrugged. "If it makes you happy, yeah. Why not?"
"What about Ranma?"
"You think Ranma's happy with all of this?" Nabiki sniffed derisively and shook her head. "That poor kid is trying to make everyone come out on top, without hurting anyone's feelings." Nabiki leaned back against the wall and shook her head. "Of course I think that he's an idiot for even attempting it, but you really can't blame the guy for trying."
"He does have a big heart." Akane conceded.
"And a big mouth." Nabiki chuckled. Akane snorted and grinned.
"So what do I do, Nabiki?" She squeezed her knees tightly and looked at her sister helplessly. Nabiki laid her head on Akane's back and sighed.
"What does your heart say?"
Akane sighed and shook her head. "I've no idea. No idea at all."
"That's IT!" Ranma's male voice rumbled throughout the house, causing everyone within a block to cringe. The entire neighborhood had been waiting for the day when the Saotome boy snapped.
Apparently that day was today.
Kasumi ran into the house in time to see Ranma stalk up the stairs. His clothes were in tatters, and he was liberally bruised. She started to follow him up the stairs when she heard Uncle Genma's voice drift down to her.
"What's the meaning of this, boy?"
Kasumi winced at the sounds of violence and the pleas for mercy that echoed from the hallway. She blinked when Ranma's father came bouncing down the stairs, very much unconscious.
"Ranma! What's the meaning of this?" Kasumi winced at her father's disapproving tone, but more so at Ranma's quiet response.
"It's over Mr. Tendo. I'm done."
"What are you saying Son?" Kasumi put her hands to her lips and leaned against the wall for support.
"I'm saying that I ain't marrying your daughter!" She heard the door open and then it slammed shut with enough force to feel the vibration where she stood.
"What about the agreement? What about your family's honor?"
Kasumi winced at Ranma's bitter laugh.
Akane and Nabiki chose that moment to arrive. All three sisters looked at each other for a moment, before Akane hung her head. Nabiki sighed and wrapped her arm around the girl's shoulder. She shrugged free and started up the stairs, only to have Kasumi cut her off. The last thing that the situation needed was more fuel; Kasumi knew it, Nabiki knew it, and Akane knew it.
She glared at her older sister for a moment then frowned and hung her head.
"Give him a chance to cool down, Akane." Kasumi smiled gently. "Then come up and talk to him." Akane nodded and drifted back towards the dojo. When both sisters were sure that she was well out of earshot, Nabiki turned her attention to Kasumi.
"She's not sure what she wants."
Kasumi simply nodded and looked up the stairs. "Then maybe it's time for the burden to pass to someone else."
Nabiki snorted. "Been there done that."
Kasumi looked down at her sister with a raised eyebrow. "Who said I was talking about you?" She wished that she could have had a camera to capture Nabiki's shocked expression.
Nabiki shook her head and watched as Kasumi purposefully climbed the stairs. The sounds of their father wailing about honor drifted down to them.
"I thought younger men bored you!"
"Since when has Ranma ever been boring?"
Nabiki's jaw nearly hit the floor at her sister's reply. She blinked and shook her head.
"Kasumi!" The older woman turned back to Nabiki with a raised eyebrow. "What in the Hell's going on?"
Kasumi frowned. "Watch your language, Nabiki."
The middle daughter scowled. "Answer the damn question!" Kasumi frowned further at the demand.
"'Nothing improper'! What's that supposed to mean?"
Kasumi sighed in exasperation and whirled on her younger sister. Nabiki was amazed to see aggravation plainly etched on her sister's face.
"You have used him." She pointed in the general direction of the dojo. "She has abused him. The others have coveted him, and I have listened to him. He is my friend." Nabiki actually took a step back from her sister's angry accusations. "Is there a problem?"
Nabiki shook her head and watched as Kasumi climbed the stairs. Her expression was shell shocked, but it came nowhere near describing how she was feeling inside. She dumbly watched her father stumble down the stairs, lamenting over Ranma breaking the engagement. She wanted to slap him, and to yell at him; but she couldn't. He had lost so much, and had never found a way to deal with the pain.
For that reason, and that reason alone, Kasumi kept from confronting the man. That didn't mean that she could keep it all bottled up.
In a sudden fit of frustration, her hands grabbed two fists full of hair, she clenched her jaw and screamed. It was what was commonly known in the juku as "a tension breaker." It didn't really solve anything, but she sure felt better afterwards.
He heard old man Tendo's weeping fade away, presumably moving downstairs, as he stuffed rolled up shirts into his backpack. He was so sick of being treated like crap! He was a man! He wasn't some flamin' prize! He had feelings too! Another shirt was brutally shoved into the pack. Then another, and another, and another.
So what if she thought he was a pervert! He was tired of caring! He was tired of doing what everyone else wanted. He was sick to death of being their scapegoat! To hell with them all!
Ranma was so lost in his packing that he didn't hear the door open and close. He quickly rolled a pair of pants up and started to shove them into the bottom of the pack, when a slender pair of hands lightly touched his shoulders. He stiffened immediately, but relaxed when he saw Kasumi's reflection in the tall mirror on the closet door.
"It ain't fair." His voice was taut. "It ain't fair and I'm tired of putting up with it." She simply nodded, accepting his words with her understanding smile.
"She ain't got a right ta blame for peepin', when she doesn't even put up the flamin' sign!" Another nod, and that magnificent smile.
"I'm sick of being a punchin' bag. I'm sick of being everyone else's prize! I'm tired of being used! I can't carry all these people's dreams! I'm a person damnit! I got feelings too!" Ranma looked up at Kasumi, and saw tears in her eyes; the tears that Ranma could not bring himself to cry. His brow furrowed as she wept for him, trying his best to understand.
It wasn't until she smiled and wrapped her arms around him in a fierce hug that he realized that he had just said the words that she never could. He held her tight, and for the third time that he could remember…he wept.
Kasumi held his trembling body close, letting the invincible Ranma Saotome break down. His head rested over her heart as she silently smoothed his hair with one hand. Every so often she would kiss the top of his head and whisper soothing words; but in the end, she let him cleanse his soul through his tears.
Genma made the mistake of opening the door at one point, but Kasumi shot him such a terrifying glare, that the man was sent running. Ranma had tried to pull away, but she refused to let go. She needed this just as much as he did.
After a time the tears quieted, and his breath no longer shuddered; it was in a quiet moment that Ranma finally eased himself out of her arms and made a weak attempt at a smile.
"Thanks." His voice was husky as he drew the back of his hands roughly across his cheeks.
"Thank you." Kasumi smiled.
Ranma sighed and pulled a handkerchief out of his pack. After examining it for a moment he handed it to Kasumi. She accepted it gracefully, but made no move to dry her wet cheeks. He fidgeted aimlessly, trying to fill the uncomfortable silence.
Kasumi wanted to laugh, but he looked so lost that the mirth died on her lips. After a few moments of his restlessness, she took hold of his hands. Without thinking she gently reached out with the handkerchief and began to dry the tears that he had missed.
Ranma sat still and watched her face, unable to come to terms with what he saw there. More time passed, and suddenly Ranma's eyes grew wide. She wished that she could look into his mind for just a moment and see through his eyes.
"What do you see?" she asked, quietly taking his hands again. A part of her cheered at Ranma's blush, while another part of her feared to hope.
"I can't say," he whispered hoarsely.
"Why not?" He cast about helplessly, looking for a safe answer and possibly even escape. In the end there was nowhere for him to go, and the only answer he seemed to find was a truth he didn't want to admit. "Why not, Ranma?" she prodded gently.
He mumbled something under his breath and turned away. Kasumi shifted slightly, but did not say anything. After a very long minute, Ranma raised his head and looked her dead in the eye. It was the bravest thing that she had ever seen him do. She smiled and gently caressed his cheek. He bowed his head and sighed.
"I can't say 'cause it scares me."
He shook his head. "It does though."
"I don't want to scare you, Ranma." She picked up his hand again and held it, more for her comfort than for his. "You've broken the engagement. As far as I'm concerned you're free to live your own life." She tried to ease his fears by making her voice warm and soothing, but something told her that it wasn't working. The weight and the fear were still there.
"What about honor?" Kasumi actually laughed at that, causing Ranma to scowl at her. "It ain't funny!" She sobered immediately and sighed.
"I'm not laughing at your honor, Ranma."
"Why'd you laugh then?" He demanded.
Kasumi looked over at the pictures that were pinned to the wall and frowned. "I'm laughing at the stupidity of your father, and your audacity in trying to make everything turn out perfectly."
Ranma blinked at Kasumi then pulled his hands away from her. After a moment he turned away angrily. She had to be making fun of him. Nothing else made sense.
"You really think that you can satisfy everyone's honor don't you?"
Her words grated on Ranma's sore nerves. "You bet I do! I don't give up and I don't lose! Someday, somehow, I'll find a way to satisfy everyone's honor."
Kasumi smiled at his bravado. "Is that so?" Ranma nodded and turned away in a huff. "Then how do you explain breaking off the engagement with Akane?"
Ranma opened his mouth, and then paused. He made a second attempt, but nothing came forth. Kasumi raised an eyebrow at him and smiled triumphantly. He narrowed his eyes for a moment and then smirked.
"Well, I said that the engagement was off with her. I didn't say that I wouldn't marry you or Nabiki."
Kasumi smiled impishly. "Who said that we would take up the engagement? I distinctly remember Nabiki saying that she had already had her turn with you. If we don't want this engagement, how will you satisfy the terms of pact?" Ranma looked hurt, and opened his mouth to protest, but Kasumi laid her finger over his lips.
She wasn't ready to lay her cards on the table yet, and she knew that if he said anything, she would buckle.
"Please. Think before you speak, Ranma." She bit her lip and looked into his icy blue eyes and sighed. "Can you satisfy everyone's honor, and still be happy yourself?"
After five seriously strained minutes, Ranma exploded.
"WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?"
Kasumi weathered the outburst with a serene smile. "You choose."
Ranma deflated. "Choose?"
Kasumi nodded and smoothed out her dress as Ranma stewed over her solution.
She shrugged. "I can't tell you what the right choice is Ranma-kun. How do you know when to throw a punch versus a kick?"
"I follow my gut?"
Kasumi nodded and shrugged.
"What is your gut telling you? Which out of all the engagements will bring you the most happiness?"
Ranma laid himself down, next to Kasumi so that he could look up at her. He threaded his fingers together and pillowed his head in his hands. After a few moments of silence, Kasumi began to absently play with his bangs.
It was a weird, yet somehow natural act that Ranma welcomed. The house had become silent around them, and the natural light streaming in through the open window framed the moment perfectly. A set of chimes sounded at the window, heralding the light breeze that ruffled Kasumi's hair. Ranma watched as the strands blew free of the white bow, and drifted lazily in front of her face.
Her hand came up unconsciously and tucked the bothersome strands behind her ear. He silently envied her control, and the quiet wisdom that she projected. She always seemed to manage the chaos, no matter how insane things got. If he had half the patience that she had…well, he was sure to have come up with a solution to this mess a long time ago.
"Who would you pick?" he finally asked.
Kasumi smirked at him and shook her head. "Nice try."
"Come on!" He protested, pushing himself up on his elbows. "I got ta have some place ta start!" He gave her his best puppy dog eyes. She sighed and poked him in the middle of the forehead. He fell back with a thump and stared helplessly at the ceiling.
"Let's see, what are the choices again?" He didn't think that he would ever get used to Kasumi being sarcastic. "…an Amazon, a chef, an accountant, or one of three beautiful daughters…"
Kasumi paused, causing Ranma to look up at her. She wore a loving smile; not a covetous, hungry, "you'd-better-love-me-or-else" smile, but a genuine, heartfelt, caring smile. Ranma felt his heart quicken a beat, and felt himself blush unconsciously.
"That's easy. I'd pick you."
Akane and Soun paced, while Nabiki irritably flipped through the channels on the television. Genma sat in a corner and simply zoned. Everyone could feel the change in the air, but no one was certain how the situation was going to turn out. When Kasumi finally made her appearance, it seemed as though the world had stopped.
"Well?" Soun and Genma spoke in unison. Kasumi turned to her sisters and started to speak when Ranma started down the stairs. He smiled at her, and she quietly moved to sit next to Nabiki. Akane shuffled her feet and bowed her head under his intense blue eyes.
"Well boy?" Genma stood next to Soun to present a unified front. "Are you going to apologize to your fiancée?"
Ranma's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Shut up and listen, Pops. I ain't gonna say this twice." Genma bristled with outrage, but a simple glance from Kasumi shut him up quick. "Things can't go on like they have been. I can't take it and neither can anyone else. It's past time to make a clear cut choice, so that's what I'm gonna do."
Nabiki quirked an eyebrow at Kasumi, but her attention was riveted to Ranma.
"As far as I can tell, the Tendo claim has the most validity."
Ranma scowled at the two celebrating fathers; who, upon seeing the rather dangerous red and blue aura that limned Ranma's body, quickly silenced themselves. He cleared his throat and shook his head.
"Akane, let's go for a walk."
Nabiki watched the pair walk out to the koi pond, and then looked up at her sister, hoping to gather more information about Ranma's intentions. She was surprised to see her older sister biting her lip nervously.
"Okay, spill," she hissed. Kasumi blinked and tore her gaze away from Ranma. "Come on out with it!"
Kasumi stared at her hands for a time before answering. "He's giving Akane a choice."
Nabiki waited for her to continue, but she was silent.
Kasumi began biting her lip again and watched Akane intently. Nabiki pinched Kasumi's leg in her frustration, earning her a scathing look from the young woman.
"And?" Nabiki said through clenched teeth.
"And what?" Kasumi whispered in exasperation. "If she says no, then it's between you and me!"
"He's all yours then," Nabiki smirked.
"Are you sure?" Kasumi's voice was so serious that Nabiki did a double take.
"What's gotten into you? Do you have any idea what being tied to that guy means?"
Kasumi didn't answer.
"You might as well paint a big target on your back and say 'Here I am! Kidnap me!'"
Kasumi still refused to answer.
"What do you think will happen to you once Cologne and Shampoo find out? Have you forgotten that 'obstacles are for killing'?"
Kasumi turned and glared at Nabiki.
"What?" The middle Tendo daughter demanded. "You think that just because he's made a choice, that automatically makes everything hunky dory?" Nabiki shook her head and looked back at the couple by the pond. "Sorry to burst your bubble Kasumi, but those two don't give up…" She snapped her fingers dramatically to emphasize her point.
"…just like that."
"There are ways around them." Kasumi said confidently. That statement alone made Nabiki shake her head in wonder.
"How long?" Kasumi frowned, unsure of what Nabiki was hinting at. "Don't play dumb with me, Sis. When did you fall for him?"
Kasumi ignored the question, nodding instead at Ranma and Akane.
"Here they come." Her heart sank at the way that the pair was holding hands.
Akane watched the dragonflies dance over the surface of the pond. Every once in a while a koi would break the surface and grab an insect, pulling it under the water. She could really empathize with the poor bugs. She felt that Ranma had done the exact same thing the day that he had entered her life.
"I'm sorry about walking in on you earlier." She was amazed at how quiet his voice was. The fact that he had apologized so easily told her just how serious this moment was.
"I'm sorry for getting so upset."
He simply nodded, accepting the apology. They sat there for what seemed a small eternity, staring at the water and the fish lurking just below its surface.
"Moment of Truth." he sighed. He seemed so relaxed, but she couldn't seem to stop shaking.
"I guess so. Can I ask you a question first?" Ranma sighed again and pulled a thin reed out of the water, and began tying it into knots. Akane bit her lip.
"Sure. Knock yourself out."
She wasn't sure if she could ask the question, but she had to know. She started to speak but felt her throat close around the words. It took three full tries to force them out, but once free, she felt a weight lift from her shoulders.
"Why did it take so long?"
His smile was soft. She had once lived for that smile.
"Honestly? I wanted to hear you say it."
Akane blinked, and then reprocessed what he had just said. She tried to place his logic, but for the life of her couldn't get past the young man's impudence. "What about you? Did ever occur to you that I might want to hear you say it too?"
Ranma shook his head and tossed his knotted reed into the grass on the far side of the pond. "You know I ain't good with words, Akane." He turned to her angrily and scowled at her. "I killed a man for you. What more do you want? How else can I say it?"
That statement threw her, and for a time she didn't know how to respond. She sighed heavily and picked up a pebble near the base of the rock she sat on.
"Do you still have…? I mean, do you still…?" She frowned at her inability to get the words out.
Ranma chuckled mirthlessly and took a deep breath before responding. "As a friend, yeah. But I got tired, you know?"
Akane frowned and nodded.
"Things never changed, it was the same old rat race. What about you?"
She nodded her head wearily. "I got tired too. It hurt trying to compete with Shampoo's sexiness and your past with Ukyou."
Ranma chuckled. "That's just the thing, Akane. You never had to compete with any of them! Your smile outshined them all." She felt the warmth of words that she had yearned to hear, but realized that they came too late.
"Idiot! Why didn't you say so!" Akane smacked him upside the back of his head.
Ranma glared at her as he rubbed his head. "Because! Every time that I tried someone would interrupt, or you'd hit me, or that stupid pig would bite me!"
Akane's blood started to boil and she narrowed her eyes at Ranma. "You leave P-chan out of this!" Her antagonist shook his head and waved his hands, all the while grinning madly. "What's so funny?" she demanded.
"You. Me." He spread his arms wide. "This!"
She sighed and laughed with him. It was a silly thing to fight over.
"Why do you hate him so much?"
Ranma looked at her, puzzled. "Who?"
"Hate him?" He shook his head. "Nawww. Wanting to pound the little porker flat…that's a different story altogether."
"Why?" Akane couldn't hide her confusion
He sat there for a moment staring deep into the pond, and then decided to give her one last clue. He cupped his hands and rapidly filled them with water. Akane looked at him in bewilderment as he splashed himself. The change was quick, as usual, and Ranma-chan smirked at Akane from beneath her dripping bangs. The red headed girl sighed in refreshment.
Akane's face drained of color. "You can't be serious!"
"Why didn't you tell me?"
The petite redhead looked into the waters of the pond forlornly and took a deep breath.
"I was responsible for the curse. It became a serious weakness to him, and I couldn't just go around blabbering it to the world." Ranma-chan sagged. "The poor guy was constantly being added to everyone's menu. It made my curse look like a blessing. I owed him."
Akane's face was red from anger and embarrassment. "But he…! And I…! Damnit Ranma you could have stopped him!"
The red head fixed Akane with an incredulous look.
"I tried. Remember?"
Akane opened her mouth to refute the claim, but found that she couldn't. "That…! That…! I'll kill him!" Ranma-chan laughed and slapped her knee. "What are you laughing at?"
She continued to laugh and shake her head. "You're so dense!"
Akane slapped the boy turned girl gruffly on the back of her head.
"Well, you are! He's had a crush on you since day one, and you did nothing but encourage him!"
"I did not!" she cried indignantly.
"Yes you did." Akane glared at the red headed girl next to her, until Ranma finally threw up her hands in defeat. "What ever. The fact is, when was the last time that you saw P-chan?"
"A couple of months ago, why?"
"Did he stay in your room?" Akane shook her head. "Well, it's because he's found someone else." Ranma wasn't prepared for Akane's face to fall. It was as if she was losing everyone that she really cared about, and Ranma could see it.
Both girls fell silent, and let the time stretch between them. After a moment Akane turned to Ranma and smiled hopefully. "Can we try again?"
Ranma grimaced, but looked her dead in the eye. "Promise me that we won't fight…no more hitting or yelling, or name calling…and I'll give it a go. Otherwise, I'd like to just like to be friends."
Akane thought for a long time, gauging the young boy-turned-girl before her and then smiled. Something unspoken passed between them, and then they took hands and stood. Akane nodded and the pair walked back to the house.
Kasumi returned with a kettle of warm water for Ranma, and handed it to the redhead the minute she and Akane entered the house. She stepped back and settled next to Nabiki, trying her best to keep her heart under control. Ranma nodded to Akane who in turn looked to Kasumi and Nabiki. Kasumi felt her stomach bottom out, when Akane turned to their father and bowed deeply.
"Father. Ranma and I have decided that it is best that we part ways." Soun and Genma were on their feet instantly yelling and brow beating the pair senseless, but Kasumi heard none of it. All that she felt was relief.
Soun rounded on Ranma, but was forced to back down at the cold white aura that the boy was giving off. It took Genma a little longer to turn away from Akane, but when he did Ranma's fist was there waiting. The rotund man arced gracefully over the yard and landed with a great splash in the pond. When the water settled a soggy, yet very unconscious panda floated amongst the koi.
Ranma motioned to Akane again, urging her to continue. She cast him a sidelong glance, and a smile before speaking again.
"I ask your forgiveness father, for not being able to fulfill your wishes. But I value Ranma's friendship too much to subject him to a marriage of hardship."
Ranma coughed and placed his hand on Akane's shoulder. "Look, Mr. Tendo. Me and Akane, well…we make better friends than we do fiancés. If things had been different, maybe we coulda worked things out. The last thing I wanna do is make her sad." He looked at Akane and smiled warmly. "Life's hard enough as it is."
Soun nodded solemnly, and looked to Ranma. "How do you propose we settle this, son?"
Ranma shrugged. "I've made my choice, Mr. Tendo. I leave the rest up to your daughters. I won't force anyone to marry me if they don't want to." He paused to look at Nabiki, who in turn looked at Kasumi. Ranma was disappointed to see that the eldest daughter had her head bowed. "If neither of them want to fulfill the bargain, then the schools can be joined in the next generation through a marriage or training."
Soun pursed his lips and knuckled his mustache. He looked at Ranma and nodded. "So be it. Thank you for taking my daughters' happiness into consideration, Saotome-san." Ranma stood a little taller at Soun's words.
The Tendo patriarch turned to his daughters, and looked them over carefully. Akane sat at the end of the table, while Nabiki looked between Ranma and Kasumi expectantly. Kasumi however, still had her head bowed, and seemed unable to look up.
Soun frowned and decided to give his eldest a moment to compose her thoughts. "Nabiki. What do you say?"
The middle daughter smiled roguishly and shrugged. "No offense Ranma-kun, but it was fun while it lasted. I love you and all, but I doubt that you could afford me." Ranma smirked and nodded.
Everyone turned to Kasumi expectantly. She did not lift her head, but instead kept her eyes to the floor. Ranma shifted slightly, and sighed. He started to walk from the room but pulled up short when Kasumi spoke.
"Father?" Her voice was barely a whisper. "May I speak with Ranma alone please?"
Soun nodded and ushered the girls into the kitchen. As soon as the three were out of sight, each got a glass and pressed it against the door.
Kasumi raised her head slowly and smiled at Ranma. She patted the floor next to her. He blushed and took a deep breath before sitting down next to her. It took them a few uncomfortable moments to gather their thoughts, and it was Ranma that ended up speaking first.
"I chose." He wished that it hadn't come out so weakly.
"Yes. You did." Kasumi laid her hands on the table and licked her lips. "How does it feel?"
Ranma shrugged. "Weird. Scary. I don't know."
Kasumi smiled and nodded. "Thank you for giving them both a chance."
Ranma twiddled his fingers. The uncomfortable silence began to stretch between them again. He coughed once, and popped his neck a few times in his nervousness.
"Ranma-kun?" Kasumi felt suddenly numb all over her body, as if her spirit had detached itself and was watching from the outside in.
"Can you stand to be married to an older woman?" Kasumi watched as the Cheshire grin split Ranma's face.
She frowned skeptically.
"Can you stand to be married to half a man?"
He said it with such casual flippancy, that Kasumi almost dismissed the statement. There was something behind his eyes though, that made her pause and reconsider. He seemed to squirm, but never once did their eyes part from one another.
She smiled finally and leaned forward until their lips were almost touching. Ranma swallowed heavily, and breathed in her sweet perfume. He looked into her eyes again, and waited expectantly. Her breath was warm, and tickled his nose. He felt like he was going to explode, but couldn't allow himself to move.
Kasumi's hazel eyes twinkled and then closed.
"For a price."
Ranma leaned forward, and paid her in full.