After Ranma had left her former bedroom in such a hurry, &Akane decided she wasn't quite ready to face the rest of the family, at least without a plan of action. And so, twenty minutes later found &Akane soaking in the furo after a vigorous scrubbing. She rested her neck against the cool edge, breathing in the steam, eyes closed. Now knowing the particular date whatever fate or deity had decided to bring her back to, she couldn't help but think of one of the few other dates, besides the birthdays of her children and her wedding anniversary, that proved to change the course of her, well, their lives: the day she woke up.

-November 8th, 1997-

"I'm tellin' ya, Doc, she squeezed my hand."

It was true, she had. The heavily calloused hand had gripped her own for weeks, or so she would be told. They would ask how exactly it had happened, blow-by-blow, who did what. . . But she would only respond with the last thing she could remember: strawberries. Apparently, she was in a fight. So ask them what happened, she would later demand. Just as soon as I recover, I'll show them, she would blast. But it wouldn't do any good. No one had seen or heard from her opponent since the day she last tasted strawberries. But right now, none of that really matters. All that matters is that she is suddenly aware of the rough palm grasping her own. It's warm, comforting, and strong. . . Strong while she feels so very, very weak.

"As I told you before, Mr. Saotome, I cannot give you any reassurance that Ms. Tendo is in the clear. Squeezing a hand, or a response to a touch may merely be a simply reflex."

"I know, Doc, I know. . . It's just. . . " She didn't really register what they were saying at the time. Bits and pieces of what had gone on in that small white room would come back to her at the oddest times. She would be in the middle of washing a dish and would suddenly hear Kasumi humming an old lullaby and the feel of a hand brushing aside her bangs. Or, more importantly, when she was alone and on the verge of throwing in the towel, of just, well, leaving. . The ghost of his voice would come back to her, pleading, begging, admonishing, and sometimes even, loving. For a while these vague recollections were the only things able to convince her to stay. It often struck her how odd it was to be in love with a memory she wasn't quite sure existed, especially when faced with reality. But the day she finally woke would always give her hope that these phantom voices spoke true.

That afternoon, not more than an hour after the hand squeezing, she managed to lift her tired eyelids enough to accomplish a mild squint. The area in view was muddled at best, mostly white with splashes of bright hues the edges. She let out a soft moan in confusion and her world filled with a whirl of red and black. The warm hand clasped her own again while it's partner reached forward to caress her cheek. She felt more than heard his soft mummer of her name. She was safe with him hovering over her. She was safe because he was here and he always kept her safe no matter what. He was and would be there for her, always. Always, she thought, holding onto the view of his blurry form until the blue of his eyes pieced through the storm of varied colors. Only then did she give into her weary state and let her lids fall down once more.

A knock on the bathroom door startled &Akane out of her reverie, "Yes?" she called out.

"Kasumi says breakfast is ready," Ranma's voice came through the door.

"Oh! I'll be down in a minute, sweetie!" &Akane grasped the edge of the tub and stretched out her legs to ease the stiffness. How long had she been in here, she thought as she slowly eased out of the water.

"Um. . . what did you call me?" Again, Ranma's voice drifted into the room, albeit a tad higher and with a boyish crack on the last syllable. &Akane's half lid eyes popped wide open as she slid back down into the furo with a splash. Oops!-

"Akane, you ok in there?" Ranma asked after a full minute of silence. "Akane?" No response. His breathe suddenly shortened and he could feel a slight tightness beginning to build in his chest. "'kane, if you don't answer me right now," his hand reached out to grasp the doorknob when suddenly the barrier disappeared and there she was, standing in front of him, wrapped in nothing but a soft yellow, and if you ask him, way too tiny towel. Even though he had seen her lacking in clothing enough to make the entire male student body of Furinkan High weep with envy, each time felt like the first. Ranma's mouth hung stubbornly open as his words died in his throat and he couldn't help slowly raking his gaze up and down her form until the sound of a throat clearing abruptly tore his stare back up to her face.

"You were saying?" Her voice held a touch of anger, but looking into her chocolate brown eyes, they held no malice, only. . could that be mirth?

"I. . . uh. . " To his frustration, Ranma could feel the blood rushing upwards to flush his face with heat.

"Pervert," Akane growled in response, knocking him hard in the shoulder as she strode past him towards her room. Ranma, still helplessly caught in the clasp of embarrassment, stumbled back against the wall. And as he let himself slide down to the floor, he couldn't help noticing the slight smile that now graced Akane's face as she proceeded to enter her room. What the heck? I should be unconscious right now. Her door shut firmly and left Ranma staring dumbly at the moist footprints staining the wooden floor in front of him.

". . . sweetie?"

8/15/12 – Yeah, so I'm back again. Would love someone to bounce some ideas off of, PM if you're interested. =D