Waking Up
By M. Zephyr

Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 is a trademark of Rumiko Takahashi and VIZ Communications, and its characters have been borrowed without permission. This story was written for non-commercial purposes only.

Ranma x Akane. The things which happen to Ranma are just a bit too fantastic to believe, don't you think?

I'm afraid this story requires a rather large suspension of disbelief. I am aware that there are plot holes big enough to drive a truck through, but it was still fun to write.

Chapter 2. Recovery

The next morning was a Saturday. Akane slipped down the hall to Ranma's room as soon as she woke up. Quietly opening the door, she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that he was still there. Closing the door again behind herself, she crept over and knelt down beside him, studying his sleeping features with a sense of wonder that he was real.

After a few minutes, Ranma seemed to become aware of the presence beside him. He stirred and opened his eyes. "Good morning, Akane," he murmured. "Oh, before you ask, yes, I still love you."

Akane's smile widened and she responded, "Good morning, yourself, and I still love you, too." She hesitated, and then asked, "Would you like to get up and join me in the dojo to spar?"

Ranma heard the hope in her voice, that he would continue to take her seriously as a martial artist. For some reason it made him feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and he smiled. "Sure thing, 'kane. Just let me get up and throw some clothes on, then I'll join you there. Ah, maybe you'd better do the same, or are you planning to fight with me in those pajamas? Granted, that might give you an advantage. They'd be a bit distracting."

Akane punched him in the shoulder playfully, then jumped up and ran out of the room. Ranma climbed out of his sheets, marveling anew over how well they were getting along since yesterday. It was as if all of the arguing and insults were part of a fast fading dream, almost forgotten. He pulled out a gi and slipped it on.

As they sparred, Akane again pushed Ranma to the limit of his skills, forcing him to concentrate hard to stay ahead of her. It was becoming clear that under the current conditions, her skills were not very far behind his own. However, as their workout progressed, they both became increasingly distracted. Both of them were rapidly recovering memories of the training they had undergone, memories which felt like they had been suppressed for some time.

Akane paused and backed off, holding her hands up to either side of her head, pressing against her temples. She looked up and spoke quietly. "Ranma? I ... I'm remembering things, things that are different. I remember daddy awarding me a black belt on my fifteenth birthday. He still had lots of students at the time, there were regular classes here. But that's not how I remembered things yesterday!"

Ranma slumped down to sit on the floor, his back to a wall, staring off into space. "I understand. I feel like I have two sets of memories in my head. In one of them, I ... I did do a lot of training at different dojos in Japan, but I never went to China. And my training was all normal, too. None of the crazy tortures that are in the other set of memories. In the new memories ... the old memories? ... pop never threw me into a pit of cats. I remember getting my black belt too, and how proud I felt about it. But what does it mean?"

"Do you think it's some new kind of magic?" Akane asked. "Someone taking away everything that made you so powerful? Making you think you're just normal? Or, at least, as normal as a seventeen year old black belt can be?"

Ranma thought about it, then shook his head. "Can you really believe that, Akane? If so, why is everyone being affected? Remember yesterday? Shampoo, Ukyo, Mousse, even Happosai? None of them seem to have any special abilities anymore. And the more I think about it, the more ... impossible ... it all seems."

Akane protested, "But we all shared those memories!"

The boy sitting there grimaced. "Yeah, we did. Or we seem to have. But they feel less believable with each passing minute. Besides, is it really any easier to believe that all those memories are real, and now we're all being fooled at the same time into thinking they're fake?"

Akane sat down beside him and hugged her knees. "So you think somebody did something to us before, and now we're recovering? That all of the craziness never really happened? That they're something like false memories that we shared?"

Ranma shrugged. "I dunno. I'm not an expert in that sort of thing. All I know is that all the strange stuff from the last couple of years is starting to feel more and more like a dream. I can remember it, but it doesn't seem real anymore. And I'm remembering stuff from before that I'd forgotten, and it seems a lot more real."

Beside him, Akane nodded. "Yes, that's how it feels. I can remember daddy, Nabiki, Kasumi, all behaving differently. None of us have been ourselves these last couple of years." Akane shuddered. "Gods, I've behaved like a violent maniac toward you! Can you ever forgive me?"

Ranma put an arm around the shaking girl, and drew her close. "Nothing to forgive, 'kane. I didn't behave any too well, myself, and a lot of other people were at least as bad, if not worse. I think we need to both forget the bad stuff, and just worry about how we treat each other from here on out. At least the fact that I fell in love with you wasn't fake, 'cause I still feel that way."

Akane sniffled. "I love you, too. So, you don't mind being engaged to me, even if that should turn out not to be real either?"

Ranma chuckled softly. "Akane, I can't imagine a better fate than spending the rest of my life with you. But in a way, I kind of hope that our fathers' agreement is part of the stuff that wasn't real, because I'll still want to marry you. But I'd prefer that it be our decision rather than theirs."

"Thank you, Ranma," Akane said softly. "I ... I want to marry you, too. Do you think ... should we go over and talk to Ukyo and Shampoo today? Try to get them to see reason?"

"Yeah, probably," Ranma sighed. "After we wash up and have breakfast, first. I'm not going to deal with that on an empty stomach. Speaking of which, isn't it getting kind of late? Maybe we'd better head in."

After cleaning up, the two of them went to the family room, where the rest of the family were already seated around the table, eating. The atmosphere seemed a little strained. Soun was looking at Genma suspiciously. Genma was glaring at Nodoka. Nabiki looked ill. Kasumi was berating everyone impartially, "... and from now on, I expect everyone else in this house to do their fair share of the chores!"

Akane and Ranma knelt at the table, serving themselves breakfast. Ranma looked at his father glaring at his mother, her eyes downcast, and asked, "Hey, pop, why are you looking at mom like that? Something wrong?"

"Yes, boy," the man replied gruffly. "I've finally remembered why we left home when you were six. My wife here told me that I wasn't 'manly' enough for her, and how disappointed she was that we hadn't had any more children. When she started talking about getting professional help, I got disgusted enough that I told her I was leaving. So that's what I did, and I took you with me."

Ranma stared at his father. "So what would have been so wrong about getting a little help, if you were having some trouble?" It was amazing that the look Genma turned on his son didn't cause the boy to burst into flames. Ranma sighed deeply, realizing that, new memories or old, his pop was still an idiot.

"Mind your own business, boy," Genma said gruffly. "Another thing. We never signed a contract to commit seppuku before leaving. That was apparently something she invented when she found us again, and somehow convinced us of it."

Nodoka shook her head, speaking a little brokenly, "No ... I didn't ..."

"Um, pop?" Ranma said, a little hesitantly. "Are you sure that mom came up with the idea, and not you? I mean, really, it sounds more like the sort of thing you'd think up."

"Besides," Akane suggested reasonably, "it's pretty obvious that all of us have some memories of things which never really happened. Who's to say whose idea some of that stuff was? I don't see that there's any need for either of you to blame the other. Let's just all be glad that we know that there never really was such a contract."

Genma harrumphed and looked one way, while Nodoka looked the other. Ranma just sighed and shook his head, hoping that they'd get over it.

"Speaking of things which never happened," Soun spoke in a clipped voice. "Who are you, anyway? I remember the master I trained under now, and it wasn't that little freak named Happosai. You and I never trained together, and we certainly didn't have any agreement for our children to marry. I've never even heard of 'Anything Goes Martial Arts.' Which, by the way, is a pretty ridiculous name for a martial arts style."

Genma shrugged. "Sorry, I can't help you there. None of it makes any sense to me, either. I remember that the boy and I stopped off here in Nerima while traveling, and ... well, after that, my memories seem a little strange."

Soun shook his head in exasperation. "I suppose that I understand. All the same, I think that we've supported you here as a guest for quite long enough. I would appreciate it if you would ... resume your travels now." Genma shrugged his shoulders again, accepting this without rancor.

Akane however looked alarmed. "Um, daddy?" She paused, until she had her father's full attention. "While I appreciate the fact that you and ... Saotome-san are going to stop trying to force Ranma and me to marry, he and I have been doing a lot of talking." She glanced at Ranma, who gave her a nod of reassurance and took hold of her hand. Swallowing, and blushing slightly, she continued. "Ranma and I have realized that we really do have feelings for one another, so ... I'd rather that you didn't send him away. Please?"

Soun looked stunned. Genma turned to regard his son with a raised eyebrow. Nabiki was also looking shocked, while Nodoka was smiling in pleasure. Kasumi was clearly amused, and trying hard not to laugh at her father's expression. Finally Soun asked, "You ... want to marry Ranma, anyway? Even though I'm not making you?"

Akane flushed. "It's a little early to talk about marriage, daddy." She gripped Ranma's hand a little harder. "But we do care for each other, a lot, and we'd like to have a chance to see where that leads."

Her father sighed, and massaged his forehead with his palms. After a couple of minutes, he sighed again, and said, "Very well. I suppose that Ranma can continue to live here, provided all of the crazy people after him are recovering from this madness as well. But ..." He shot a pointed look at Genma.

Nodoka spoke up, with a pleading look at her husband. "Genma, would you please come home with me? To see if we can salvage something of our marriage? I've missed you all of these years." She looked at her son. "I've missed Ranma, too, but he's nearly a grown man now, with no memories to speak of where the real me is concerned. It's only natural that he would prefer to stay with the young woman he has come to love, although I would like to visit frequently, if I may." Turning back to Genma, she went on, "Please, husband? May we at least try?"

Genma looked down, and it was fairly clear that he was battling with his pride. Finally, he answered in a gruff voice. "I suppose that we can make the attempt. To speak the truth, I've rather missed you over the years, as well."

Ranma was looking at Nodoka, and his eyes were glistening. "Mother ..." he began, then paused. "Thank you, for understanding. And I hope that you will come and visit, as often as possible." His mother responded to this with a radiant smile, and reached over and patted his hand which was resting on the table.

Akane turned to her middle sister, on her other side. "How about you, Nabiki? We heard Kasumi when we came in, and she seems to have dropped the meek act. We've heard from everybody else. You look like you're feeling a bit under the weather. How are you holding up, with what's happened?"

Nabiki looked up, her eyes haunted, then looked back down again. Her voice, when she spoke, came out in a whisper. "I've been throwing up most of the morning. Every time I think about how I've behaved over the last couple of years ... I feel so sick. The things I've done to people." Tears started sliding down her cheeks, and dripping off of her chin. "Part of me wanted to take a tanto and spill my guts on the floor of the dojo." She raised her head at the sound of indrawn breath, taking in the worried looks, then shook her head slightly. "Don't worry, I'm not going to do that. But I solemnly swear, here and now, that somehow I'm going to pay back every yen that I took off of people through blackmail or other ways of cheating them. Even if it takes me years to do it."

Akane put an arm around Nabiki, and pulled her close. Kasumi came around the table and hugged her as well. Akane suggested, "Nabiki, you can't blame yourself for how you've acted the last couple of years. We've all done things we'd rather not remember. We've got to put it behind ourselves."

Nabiki shook her head, still whispering. "It's the only way I can live with myself, Akane. I've got to do it." Akane and Kasumi both gave her another squeeze, trying to convey their support to her.

After breakfast was finished, Nodoka and Genma began packing to return to their house. Akane and Ranma announced that they planned to visit Ukyo and Shampoo, to try to settle their difficulties, and promised to be back in time to say good-bye to Ranma's parents. When they left the house and started walking down the street, they noticed that a lot of the people they passed were looking at them strangely.

"I guess the things they remember about us must seem pretty bizarre to them now," Ranma commented to the girl beside them.

Akane sighed in resignation. "I suppose so. And it's going to be even worse at school on Monday. Oh well ... we'll survive it, somehow."

When the couple walked through the door of Ucchan's, which was not yet open for business, the first sight to greet their eyes was Konatsu setting things up in preparation to open. They both stopped in shock, looking at him. He was wearing black jeans, a black t-shirt, and a short sleeve red shirt with only a couple of buttons fastened at the bottom. His hair had been cut short, above his ears and his collar.

"Hello Ranma, Akane," the boy said, looking up.

"Um, hi Konatsu. It is you, right?" Ranma queried, a hesitant note in his voice.

Konatsu gave a brief laugh. "Yeah, it's me, all right. The real me. I don't know what the hell's been up with me. I guess I must have wanted to get in touch with my feminine side, or something. I'm almost glad that I seem to have dropped out of my old school. I don't really feel like facing any of the guys I used to hang out with, right now. So, you here to talk to Ukyo?"

"Uh, yeah," Ranma managed to get out.

Konatsu laughed under his breath again, amused at the way the pair were staring at him. "She's in the back mixing batter. Just go on through."

When they walked into the back and saw Ukyo working over a counter, Ranma announced their presence. "Hi, Ukyo!"

The young chef turned around, smiling at the sight of Ranma, then letting the smile droop. "Hello, Ranma. Akane. I guess I was hoping that with so many other things being turned inside out, that your engagement would turn out to have been imaginary. But given that handclasp, I suppose I was hoping in vain, huh?"

Ranma looked down at the hand which was, in fact, holding Akane's. "Uh, yeah, more or less. Sorry. As a matter of fact it turned out that our fathers didn't even know each other. But, uh, we've decided that we care about each other after all, and want to get to know one another better."

Ukyo sighed. "Oh. Well. Damn. That does hurt a bit, I know it was silly to hope ..." She sighed again. "I don't suppose it'll come as any surprise to you that we were never engaged at the age of six."

"I had rather guessed as much, yeah," Ranma admitted.

Ukyo went on. "I originally came here to Nerima when my uncle left me this restaurant in his will. My father encouraged me to come here and try to run it on my own, so I did. Things got a little crazy after I arrived." Ukyo gave a bitter laugh. "Did you know that I'm not even a martial artist? That is, I did study it for a couple of years, several years ago, but I never got very far." She shook her head once more over the crazy memories from the last year and a half.

"You won't stand in our way, then?" Akane asked.

Ukyo gave her a weak smile. "No, as long as you treat him better than you have since I got here. Which I suspect you will." Akane nodded firmly. Ukyo looked back at Ranma. "But sugar, if the two of you ever do decide to call it quits, look me up, okay?"

Ranma gave her a sympathetic smile, then reached out to clasp her hand briefly. With that, he and Akane left, and continued up the road.

"Well, that didn't go too badly," Akane said thoughtfully.

"True," Ranma agreed. "Now let's just hope that Shampoo is as reasonable."

A few minutes later they were at the door of the Nekohanten, and Mousse was letting them in. "Ranma," the Chinese boy said with a hint of menace, "I hope that you're not here to continue your pursuit of Shampoo."

Ranma chuckled and shook his head. "Nope. The only girl that I'm interested in is Akane here. I take it then that you still want Shampoo even though we're all recovering?"

Mousse stopped looking menacing and shrugged helplessly. "I hardly know how to answer that. I first met the real Shampoo this morning. I actually am from western China, the same place that Cologne came from originally, but neither of us has ever heard of the 'Joketsuzoku.' She and her family moved to Japan a long time ago. A few years ago, the old woman started negotiations with my family to arrange for me to come here and meet Shampoo, to consider the possibility of marrying her. Things got a little weird after I arrived, though I suspect you could already guess that."

Akane smiled. "Yes, I believe that we could have guessed that. Would you mind if we spoke to Shampoo."

Mousse sighed. "I suppose not. Come on into the back. She and Cologne are in the kitchen."

He led the couple through a door where they found the two Chinese women laying out supplies for the day. Cologne looked up and snorted at the sight of the two, then motioned them to sit at the table, and joined them. "So son-in-law," her voice crackled, "are you prepared to fulfill your obligation and marry my Shampoo?"

Ranma and Akane looked horrified, while Shampoo turned her face down so that it could not be seen. Ranma started stuttering, "Bu-bu-but, it wasn't real, was it? There's no such thing as a kiss of marriage, right?"

Cologne started laughing, and slapping her knee, while Shampoo joined in with some giggles. Mousse's mouth twisted while he shook his head. The old woman got herself under control, finally. "S-sorry. Couldn't resist. You should've seen the look on your face, sonny." She gave another snicker.

Akane rolled her eyes upward while Ranma glared at the café's owner. "That wasn't very funny, old ghoul. So may I assume that Shampoo won't be pursuing me anymore?"

Shampoo looked up at him. "Oh, I don't know. You are pretty handsome, Ranma. On the other hand, given the way Akane is looking at me right now, I think that I'd better say that I'll leave you alone from now on."

"So, was there anything real among the stuff we thought that we knew about you?" Akane asked.

Cologne gazed upward thoughtfully. "Not much," she admitted. "Our names, the fact that I really am from western China originally, and that I own this restaurant. Oh, and I really was a fairly skilled martial artist in my day, though that was a long time ago. I've been living here in Japan for almost forty years, and have been running this restaurant for nearly as long. Shampoo is my granddaughter, not my great-granddaughter, has never even been to China, and she's been living with me ever since her parents died in an accident ten years ago."

"And I have studied martial arts a fair bit," Shampoo added, "although I was still a little short of receiving my black belt when ... well, when whatever happened did."

"I, on the other hand, am a black belt," Mousse put in. "You must be pretty skilled yourself, Saotome, to have been able to keep up with me yesterday when I started fighting with a little of my old capability."

"Yeah, I am," Ranma shrugged nonchalantly. It was clear that this version of Ranma saw as little point in modesty as the other. "Maybe we should try each other again one of these days once we're sure that we've fully recovered our memories and skills." Mousse gave him a nod, with a gleam in his eye.

Shampoo looked at Akane thoughtfully. "After our fight yesterday, I suspect that Akane is a black belt as well, right?" At Akane's confirmation, Shampoo sighed and said, "I need to resume my training immediately. I need to catch up to everyone else."

Akane smiled at her. "I think that daddy may be planning to reopen the dojo, and start teaching again, sometime soon. Why don't you come by and see if he'll take you on?"

Shampoo smiled back at her. "Thank you. I may just take you up on that."

Cologne stood back up, and addressed the young Japanese couple. "Well, I wish you children luck, but this restaurant doesn't run itself. We need to get back to work in order to be ready for lunch. Please come back and see us anytime."

Akane and Ranma stood and bowed. "Thanks, we'll be sure to," Ranma told her, then they turned and left, as Mousse escorted them back out of the front door.

As they walked back in the direction of home, holding hands once more, Akane thoughtfully said, "It looks like there's no one else to stand in our way, except maybe for Kodachi or her brother. Do you think their craziness was part of the general craziness, or that they really are crazy?"

Ranma shrugged. "No idea. Maybe we should go over to their place after lunch and try to talk to them. I gotta admit I'm not real fond of that idea, though."

Akane nodded, "Well, I suppose we can discuss it after lunch." She paused and looked at the park they were passing, which she recalled had some benches placed in secluded nooks. A gleam came into her eye and, taking hold of Ranma's arm with both of hers, she pulled him aside and into the park.

They left the park some time later, with lips a little swollen and hair tousled. Akane was also having difficulty controlling her blushes. She reflected that her self from two days ago would never have believed she'd be that unrestrained - especially in such a public location! - even if they had managed to keep their clothes on. They reached home just in time for lunch, where they received a lecture from Kasumi that since they hadn't been there to help with the preparation, they would be expected to clean up afterward.

"Hmm," Ranma made a thoughtful sound. "Speaking of preparing a meal, do you think it might be safe for Akane to try cooking now?" He ducked Akane's punch.

"I believe so," Kasumi replied. "I wanted her to try for lunch, but she wasn't here. I'll expect you to help out with dinner, Akane, so that we can see how you do now that so much else has been restored to normal."

"Okay, oneechan," Akane said with a sigh, trying not to get her hopes too high.

"And remember that I'm going out with Tofu tonight," Kasumi went on, "so I won't be here for dinner, and Nabiki will be expected to clean up afterward. Also, Ranma, your parents are packed. They're planning to leave right after lunch."

"Thanks, Kasumi," he told her. Then they walked into the family room where lunch was waiting on the table, and the rest of the household members were already gathered.

Lunch passed well enough, although Ranma's parents continued to treat each other rather stiffly. Afterward, good-byes were said, although few tears were shed, except on Nodoka's part. Genma picked up the packs containing his and his wife's belongings, and they disappeared down the street. Ranma watched them out of sight, and then returned inside, where he helped Akane wash up the lunch dishes.

A little later they were debating once more the advisability of going over to the Kuno estate, when the problem was solved for them. Nabiki went to answer the front door when they heard the bell, and led Tatewaki Kuno back to the family room where everyone else was currently to be found. There was a haunted look in the young man's eyes, even worse than the one they had seen in Nabiki's, and he bowed low to the others as soon as he entered the room.

"I am sorry to intrude," he began, "but I felt it necessary to come by as soon as reasonable to apologize for my behavior, particularly to Saotome-san and his fiancée Tendo-san. That is, if she is indeed his fiancée?" He paused, momentarily confused by a point he had not considered.

"Not exactly," Akane told him, "at least, not yet. But we are a couple."

Kuno nodded. "In any event, I have treated you both atrociously, and could not rest until I came and made it clear to you that I now understand this, and regret it deeply. Also, I understand that the recent, er, wedding attempt, which I played a part in ruining, caused some extensive damage to your dojo?" There was a note of inquiry behind that.

Soun Tendo nodded. "Yes. The repairs have been made, but they were rather costly."

Kuno sighed. "Then by way of making my apology for my part in that, as well as all of the other trouble I have caused your family for the last couple of years, would you please consider allowing me to reimburse you the cost of those repairs? It would help to ease my guilt, although I am well aware that money alone cannot possibly make up for everything that I did."

Akane sighed, trying to release some of the ill will she held for this boy, who had caused her so much grief, but who seemed sincerely apologetic now. "You must try not to blame yourself for everything, Kuno-senpai, given how strangely all of us have been behaving."

Kuno gave her a sad smile. "Easier said than done, I fear. My father and I are still trying to piece together everything that happened. He really had taken a trip to Hawaii, shortly before things apparently began to get strange. I found a large collection of photographs in my room, not only of Tendo-san," he nodded in Akane's direction, "but also of Saotome-san. I'm still trying to puzzle that one out. I don't know what happened to the photographs of the red-haired girl. Can you tell me where I may find her? I fear that I must apologize to her as well."

Ranma looked highly embarrassed. "Um, I'm afraid ... that the red-haired girl you were chasing ... was, uh, me." He cringed. "Everyone believed that I had a curse which changed me into a girl whenever I was splashed with cold water. Pretty bizarre, looking back on it. But for some reason we could never get you to see that she and I were the same person."

Kuno was looking poleaxed, and slightly green around the gills. "I ... suppose ... that would explain the photographs. Urgh. Well, then, I ... apologize ... for pressing my affections ... uh ..."

"It's okay, Kuno-senpai," Ranma told the other boy. "I understand. I'd rather just forget about it myself."

"Yes, quite." Kuno looked relieved at not having to complete the apology. "I also wanted to inform you that you no longer need to worry about my sister Kodachi. She has been placed in an institution for the mentally unstable. I believe that there may also have been some sort of scandal involved, although my father did not permit me to sit in on the conversation with the officials who spoke to him about it. In any event, she will no longer be around, at least not for a long time to come."

Ranma grimaced, then gave Kuno a sympathetic smile. "Well, I'm sorry for your family's sake, though I admit to a little relief for my own part. I hope that she gets better some day."

Kuno nodded. He bowed once more to the entire family, and then departed. Nabiki escorted him to the door, where the two of them spoke together quietly for a while, before she came back.

A short time later, Akane and Ranma went up to her room to work together on some homework, or so they said. A couple of hours later, Ranma left her room, only to see Nabiki stick her head out of her own doorway and motion him to stop for a moment. There was a ghost of a smirk on her face.

"Ranma-kun," she began, "I just wanted to give you a friendly warning. The walls in this house are quite thin." Her amusement increased at the blush which spread across his cheeks. "Now what you and Akane get up to between yourselves is none of my business, despite how I've behaved since you came here. I imagine that the release of a couple of years of repressed feelings, together with removal of the pressure from our fathers, was bound to have an effect, and personally I couldn't be happier that the two of you are enjoying each other's company."

By this time Ranma was positively squirming. "It wasn't like that Nabiki, we were just ..."

Nabiki placed a finger on his lips. "You don't have to explain to me, as long as my little sister is happy. Just remember that the moaning is audible, and that daddy might not be as understanding as me where his baby girl is concerned."

Ranma nodded, looking scared. Nabiki vanished back into her room, and he headed for his own, contemplating what she had said to him. It was true that the physical side of his relationship with Akane was progressing very rapidly, extremely so, but then the two of them had been in a relationship, of sorts, for most of two years, and what Nabiki had said about repressed feelings rang very true. It was like the two of them were trying to make up for how well they should have gotten to know one another during that time.

Late that afternoon, as Akane tried to help Kasumi to prepare the dinner, it became clear that she knew very little about how to cook. On the other hand, she was able to follow directions if they were given sufficiently clearly, and Kasumi told her little sister that she was confident it would be possible for Akane to learn now.

This hadn't been quite what Akane had wanted to hear. She had hoped to find that cooking had been a skill she'd forgotten during the time of madness. That it wasn't was a grave disappointment. Even so, the younger girl managed a weak smile upon learning that at least she would be able to cook someday.

As Ranma brought the dishes out from the kitchen, he spoke in a low voice to Soun and Nabiki. "Akane helped out with the cooking, under Kasumi's direction, but there's no need to worry. I've already tested it myself, and it's fine, if a bit less than stellar. So make sure you compliment her on it. She's feeling pretty nervous." The other two nodded their understanding.

Akane came in from the kitchen to join them, just as Kasumi came down the stairs. Ranma's eyes bugged out, and Akane had to dig an elbow into his side to stop him from staring. "Wow, Kasumi!" he enthused. "You look great! Tofu won't know what hit him!"

Kasumi's cheeks took on a rosy hue. The dress was a little daring, and she had vacillated between it and a slightly more conservative style for some time before finally deciding. At that moment the bell rang, and Kasumi stepped out to answer the door. Tofu stepped inside briefly to greet everyone, and then he and Kasumi left for their date.

Everyone complimented Akane for her part in producing the wonderful dinner, even if the true adjective in their minds was something more along the line of 'adequate.' Akane beamed at the praise, practically wriggling in delight, although she had a suspicion that they were exaggerating at least a little. After dinner everyone helped to clear the table, and then Akane and Ranma went out to the dojo while Nabiki began the washing up.

The pair had barely begun to work out in the dojo before Soun stepped in through the doorway. "Do you mind if I join you?" he asked them, almost shyly, which sounded a little strange from a man of his age, who was father and potential father-in-law to them. "I would like to open the dojo for classes and start teaching again, as soon as proves feasible. I fear that I have a great deal of work ahead of me, however, in order to get back into top form before I will feel confident enough to take on students again. Still, the sooner I begin, the sooner that I'll be ready."

"So you are planning to start teaching again," Akane said happily. "I was hoping that you would. It'll be great to have students here again. Oh, and Shampoo might be interested in signing up as a student once you do."

"Well, I think it will be at least a few weeks before I'm ready," her father replied. "I'll know better in a day or two once I see what sort of progress I'm making."

"Will we be able to help out with the classes?" Ranma asked interestedly.

Soun stroked his chin thoughtfully, then began a slow kata. "Except for the most advanced classes, where I expect you both to be students yourselves, yes. I think I'll put both of you on the books as part-time employees, for which you will earn a small wage. The two of you can start learning how to teach, and perhaps one day a portion of that mass delusion will come to pass, and the two of you will run this dojo yourselves as partners."

Ranma smiled at Akane in response to this possibility, and she demurely turned her face down while smiling herself and looking at him through her lashes. Her father chuckled at the picture the two of them presented, which embarrassed Akane, who dealt with the embarrassment by catching Ranma by surprise with a roundhouse kick. The two were soon sparring up and down the length of the dojo, forcing Soun to duck out of the way more than once.

Much later that night, long after Kasumi had returned from her date wearing an enormous smile, Akane and Ranma were once again on the roof. They sat there talking quietly, kissing, and caressing one another until well after the other three family members had gone to their beds and fallen asleep. After climbing down, Ranma escorted Akane to her room, but the two were still very hungry for one another, and sat down on her bed. They resuming the activities they had been pursuing on the roof, going even further, although they tried to avoid making much sound as they were mindful of Nabiki's warning.

Akane pulled back with a little gasp, and looked up into Ranma's face, eyes shining with desire. In a soft and breathy voice, she offered, "Ranma, please stay here with me tonight. I've wanted you for so long, and now I'm finally able to tell you."

Ranma reached out and stroked her cheek gently with fingertips, looking lovingly into her eyes. "I won't deny that I'd love to stay. I love you so much. But what about your father? And, um, I don't have ... anything ... to avoid ... complications."

Akane put a hand behind his head, and pressed her lips against his again. Pulling back, she quietly asked, "What's the matter? Is 'condoms' all that difficult a word to say?" She was amused by his blush and inability to meet her eyes. "I suppose that daddy will be upset if he finds out, but really he has very little room to complain after some of the things he did over the last couple of years. He's just going to have to accept that I'm growing up and that, thanks in large part to him, you and I have already been through a lot together."

She gently disentangled herself from his arms and walked over to her desk. Opening a drawer and fishing around in it for a minute, Akane withdrew a small box and brought it over for him to see. "As for your other concern, do you remember that time we were pretending to Ukyo that we were married, and you were to sleep in my room? Nabiki gave these to me that night. I suspect she was just trying to irritate me for her own amusement, and if so, I have to admit that she succeeded. She slipped the box into my desk drawer while teasing me about it, and I never bothered to throw it away. I guess it comes in handy now. That is, if you really want to ...?"

Ranma took a deep breath. "Akane, I love you, now, tomorrow, forever. If you really want this, then yes, I want it too. I can't begin to tell you how beautiful you are, how much I want you."

He wrapped his arms around her, hugging her close, kissing her again. Gradually the two lay back, until they were lying on the bed, still kissing, and began an exploration of one another which would end in a joy they had denied themselves for far too long, before they finally drifted off to sleep in each other's arms.

The young man woke from deep slumber to hear an urgent whisper. "Ranma. Ranma! Come on, wake up!"

"'m awake," he mumbled sleepily. "What is it?"

Akane cuddled up closer to him, and kissed him. "Ranma, last night was everything I could have hoped, but I really think you'd better be slipping back to your room before someone catches you here."

He pulled her into an even tighter embrace. "It's okay," he told her, eyes still shut. "I'll leave and go back to my room before dawn."

Her voice was a mix of amusement and exasperation. "It's almost eight o'clock! The sun is blazing in the window! I know it's Sunday, but father and Nabiki will probably be up soon, and you'll have to be careful to make sure that Kasumi doesn't hear you from wherever she is."

Akane's words finally penetrated, and Ranma sat bolt upright, staring at the window. The room was filled with morning light, and he swallowed hard at the sight of Akane as she pulled the sheet back over herself, from where it had been pushed down when he sat up. "Jeez, talk about taking a risk," he murmured. "I'd better hurry."

It proved to be far too late, however. Before Ranma could begin to climb out of the bed, the room's door was suddenly flung open, and Akane's father stormed in. It looked as if he were trying to remember how to produce his demon head. "Ranma Saotome! You ... you ... my little girl!" He wrestled himself back under control, then went on icily. "Let me be clear about this, as of now, you are going to marry my Akane. Don't think for a minute that you can get out of it, or that this is anything like those times in the past that your father and I said so, only to have you ignore us. I swear that you will stand before a priest with her, if I have to stand behind you with a katana to make you."

Ranma pressed his back against the wall, barely preserving his modesty with the sheet. He was mostly embarrassed, mortified at having been caught in this situation, and perhaps a touch afraid of what Soun Tendo might do to him. Without speaking, he nodded his head up and down.

"Daddy, stop it!" his daughter said forcefully, and her father turned to face her, features shifting from angry to confused. "Ranma and I want to get married, but you're not going to ruin it by forcing us to do it hastily. We can all get together later on and discuss the best date to have the ceremony, and then start planning it, but it will be done properly, which means that it will be a few months at least."

"But I don't want him to hurt you," Soun complained.

Akane sighed, feeling a little frustrated with her father. "We love each other, daddy. Ranma isn't going to hurt me." She paused, considering these words. "Well, I admit I am a little sore right now, but that will pass."

Soun blushed and looked away from the bed. "I so didn't need to hear that," he groaned.

Akane smiled at his discomfort. "Besides, you bear part of the blame for this, you know. After everything you did to push us together since Ranma got here, you might have expected something like this to happen as soon as the pressure was off. Now if you don't mind, I'd like to get up and get dressed ..."

She left the sentence hanging, forcing consideration of what she likely wouldn't be wearing when she climbed out from under the sheet. Stammering something about discussing all of this later, her father backed out of the bedroom, shutting the door behind himself.

"Wow!" Ranma exclaimed. "I was sure that he was going to kill me, but you made him back down."

Akane shrugged. "I didn't say anything that wasn't true. You are going to marry me, right?" She gave Ranma a sharp look, and he nodded his head quickly, earning a bright smile from her. "Now you'd better go get dressed for the day, and be prepared for a grilling from my sisters. After all, daddy never could keep a secret, even before the madness."

She threw back the sheet and climbed out of the bed, causing a shudder of delight to pass through Ranma. Getting himself back under control, he got up himself, found his clothes, and pulled them on. He slipped out of the room and went to start his day, trying to ignore the knowing look which Nabiki gave him in the hallway.

A group of men were meeting to discuss the success of the remedy they had administered through the Nerima water supply. The police captain had just finished reading a report to them.

"So that's about it. So far as we have been able to determine, the entire population of Nerima is now completely cured."

"And the girl who started it all?" the neurologist asked.

The police captain answered, "In exchange for agreeing to help us keep this quiet, we have permitted her father to have her confined without fuss in a mental institution. She belongs there anyway."

The other men nodded sagely. The chemist asked, "What if someone did miss the cure? For example, what if someone was out of town during the period when it was in the water supply?"

The psychologist shrugged. "Such a person would at least be pretty easy to spot, since he or she would still be suffering from the delusions, and everyone else will now recognize this. We would simply need to administer the cure directly to such people as soon as they are found."

The captain added, "We've confirmed that the entire police force in Nerima has been cured, and they've been informed of what happened, and that we're trying to keep it relatively quiet. They're pretty embarrassed about all of it, as a matter of fact. In any event, they know now to keep an eye out for any other cases, and will see that such people get the cure immediately."

In the Tendo home, the entire family was gathered around the table, having recently finished lunch. The three sisters were discussing the feasibility of a wedding in the coming August, about six months away, while their father and the prospective groom meekly agreed to anything which was asked of them. They had just decided on a western style ceremony, when a soft sound came from the direction of the open door looking out onto the yard. "Bweee!"

All five heads spun around to look at the source, and then the three female faces quickly turned back the other way, blushing. Ranma snickered, and pulled off his shirt as he stood and walked over to the boy crouched on hands and knees on the engawa. "Here, Ryoga, put some clothes on!"


Author's note:

In case FanFiction hiccups again on logging in or being able to leave reviews, it is now possible to send me email about chapters from my web site. Just go to the chapter of the story on my web site, and click on the "Send Review" link. It is true that any such review will only appear on my web site, and not in the list of reviews on FanFiction, but if you want to send me feedback and can't leave a review otherwise, this provides a viable option.

Sigh. FanFiction wouldn't let me upload this chapter, either. Finally I had to export chapter 1 to the document manager, delete its contents, and replace it with the contents of chapter 2. So here you go, and let's hope they get the glitches fixed soon.