Title: Strange Love
Part 3: Healing
By Azurite [azurite_moon@yahoo.com]
http://www.geocities.com/azurite_moon
A Ranma ½ Fanfiction

Total: 11 Pages

The Usual Schpiel: This fanfiction contains some graphic content-- abuse is a main theme of this story, so you have been forewarned. Abuse is a very real thing, albeit not under the circumstances exactly presented here, but it is real nonetheless. If you or someone you know is the victim of abuse, get help. No one deserves to suffer, even if they are the abuser.

Disclaimer: You know Ranma doesn't belong to me. This is a Drama/Romance fic, where I take liberties with their lives, the Nanban mirror, and other fun aspects of Ranma and Akane's lives. The plot however, is mine, so live with it-- and ask before redistributing. Just email me anyways.

In The Last Two Parts: Ranma and Akane meet a double of Akane-- from a different time and place. This Akane has already been married to Ranma for the 18 months he has been at the Tendo Dojo, but she lives alone with him in an apartment. Her husband has a dark and secretive past, one Akane is determined to discover, even at the cost of her own health. Ranma loses control of his powerful abilities and hurts his wife, but one day she's fed up and takes her sister and friend's advice, and runs away. Using the Nanban mirror, she makes her way to our Ranma and Akane's time... but he catches up with her. The truth is revealed about what the twin of our Akane 'lied' about, and what she's doing to help heal her husband's past pains. It turns out that she's pregnant, and Ranma's mother wants to meet Ranma-- as her son-- for the first time! With his curse in the open and a fresh start awaiting Ranma, will he take this chance, admit his love for Akane, or lose control again?

Gomenasai: For all the confusing switching back between Akane Tendo and Akane Saotome. Every other fic I've read where there are two separates them in some weird way-- but I didn't want to keep calling AS "Akane Saotome." So when it's her POV, there's a handy little *=O=* (that's at the beginning of her part, and at the end). I'm pretty sure I didn't make any screw ups with that... *scratches head*... I'm also horrible at script format fics, so that was out. Besides, you could eventually tell whose POV it was, couldn't you? ^.~

THANK YOU SO MUCH!: For all the wonderful feedback! Initially, two poor reviews got be horribly upset (I'm melodramatic... ;_;) so I decided to rewrite it. I was so happy with the rewrite that I decide to "Star Wars" it, and make a prequel and a sequel. But to avoid all the hassles that prequels and sequels bring at FFnet, I decided to make SL a 3-chapter story. This is going to be looong... but you all like it that way, so here goes:

(THANKS AGAIN ALL YOU WONDERFUL PEOPLE!!)

*=O=*

The blinding blue light became a mere haze as we neared the end of the portal that the Nanban mirror created into other times and places. I chanced one last look at my husband, at our linked hands, as the light grew blinding at the end of the tunnel.

When we emerged in our time, it turned out we were not in our apartment, as I thought we would be, but the same place we had left-- at my old home, the Tendo dojo. Only this time, Kasumi wasn't the only non-double sitting at the table.

Rather, Genma, Father, Nabiki and Kasumi were all there, staring open-mouthed as my husband and I toppled out of the time tunnel, mirror in one hand, arms around each other. It must have been an odd sight to see, considering Ranma's and my rocky past. Nabiki had been encouraging me to run away somewhere safe, and she looked purely astonished at our sudden affection.

To tell you the truth, it surprised me too. It wasn't as if I believed that Ranma had changed overnight; nor had I. We both had a long way to go, but I was determined to make our marriage work.

Luckily, it was clear outside, that sunny afternoon. With my illness being gone, I was free to enjoy being home on this sudden vacation.

"Akane...?" Kasumi murmured, a question punctuating the end of my name. I smiled at her and leaped into her arms, crying "Kasumi!" I was glad to be home. My husband looked a bit more uncomfortable, under the scrutiny of Nabiki. But then again, all she could do was glare at him. She probably had no idea that I had gotten him to agree to working this out without hurting anyone. It was a win-win situation, but only if we cooperated.

"What are you two doing here?" Genma asked bluntly. I turned to my father-in-law calmly. I wanted to pummel him for all the hurt he had caused my husband, and I could probably do just that, but I had to remember two important facts: he was my husband's father, regardless of his poor upbringing skills, and I had to keep him alive long enough to see his son changed-- for the better. Perhaps even to witness a decent enough punishment care of his own wife-- that he was too afraid to face!

His tone expressed what he really wanted to say: 'Why aren't you two sleeping together yet?' I was surprised that Ranma hadn't mentioned my blurb about being pregnant. I waited a dull moment before smiling devilishly.

"Oh, Ranma and I decided to take... a little vacation. We decided to pop in and visit home. Old times, you know?" I slyly winked at my husband, who blinked in confusion back at me. Knowing Nabiki would be too sharp to miss hand signals, I settled for leaning back against my husband and mentally hoping I wanted him to keep his mouth shut about being pregnant. Or maybe he was too shocked himself and forgot, or didn't have the ability to say anything! Hah, what irony that would be! My husband, with the ability to generate sonic attacks using his voice-- speechless!

Kasumi soon got us settled in, and was happily cooking dinner for six once more. I wondered how my other self's sister handled it. Kasumi, I always assumed, was relieved after Ranma and I left, having to cook less, worry less about fiancées dropping in to destroy the dinner table, and so forth. Maybe I was wrong, and she took real joy in her cooking.

"How're you feeling?" Nabiki asked. Her expression asked me why in the seven hells I was still with Ranma; I gave her a long, cold stare, and she retracted her gaze.
"Alright, thanks. A bit groggy... and hungry. Very hungry." I rubbed my stomach, and I think that was when Ranma caught on. Without a word, he dragged me off to the hallway, forgetting that I had injured my wrist-- or rather, he had. I had to stop assigning blame to myself... or just to myself. It was Ranma's fault for that too. But so many other factors contributed to all this mess...

Anyway, I knew Ranma was probably going to ask me if I was telling the truth about being pregnant. Oh, I was alright. Having noted my "cycle" had fallen on the same night that I had spent in Ranma's arms, I worried. I skipped drugstore tests and went right to my gynecologist. The results the next day came with a positive-- I was pregnant.

Therefore, my only option was to run, duck, and hide from Ranma until I had sorted our marriage out. Otherwise, Ranma would look on it as another 'matter of honor' thing, and I didn't want any part of our marriage... 'contaminated' by the same silly beliefs that had nearly ruined my youth.

"Ranma," I began softly, placing a finger on his lips, "Can you promise me something?"
He softened for a moment, taking hold of my hands and kissing the palm of each one. This was hard adjusting to-- a suddenly affectionate Ranma, with the mindset of a child but the body of a god. It was very, very difficult resisting these charms he suddenly put on.

"Anything." He said sincerely, looking into my eyes deeply, the same way I had done, back in the other time. I guess I really had gotten across to him. Again, nothing happened overnight, so I had to work with him, and hope... we both had to get help for all this...

"Just one thing. I'll tell you later." I sauntered off, and away from a confused Ranma. Since my back was turned to him, he didn't see my worried expression. If my plan didn't work, everything would be over. That's why I had to make it work. No exceptions, no other choices, no other alternatives.

Later that night, I was ready to break the 'news' to Ranma. He was staring out at a brilliant sunset on the rocks outside the koi pond. He skipped a single stone across the surface of the water and kept staring.

"One rock can cause so many ripples in the water. The fish get agitated and probably stay that way for a while. But no one ever notices. It's weird how life is like nature, isn't it?"
"Not weird, I guess. But life is nature. I think if anything's weird right now, it's you noticing all this." Ranma turned to me, an odd, sad expression on his face. It made me gulp and want to take another twenty minutes rethinking my plan. But I had to stay on track.

"Do you remember me asking you to promise me something?"
"Yeah." I wondered if he thought I had something romantic in mind. Hah.
"Are you going to promise?" I asked, trying to make this easier on the both of us... in a manner of speaking.
"What do I have to promise?" I gave him that look that said, 'You shouldn't ask. It shouldn't matter.' Ranma nodded firmly, and whispered a low yes.

I straightened up, stared him right in the eye, and said plainly, "I want a divorce."
"W-What?!" Ranma grabbed my hands and forced me to look at him a bit longer. I felt like I was wavering, but I kept on strong. Being Nabiki's sister, I had mastered the 'If Looks Could Kill' face, not to mention countless other expressions useful in bluffing people about your emotions. He was searching for that one tiny shred of doubt I had stuffed away, deep inside me. Shoved it away into that little black, smelly, spider-webbed corner of my mind and heart, where not even his 'ways' could reach it.

"I want a divorce." I repeated. Then, "You promised."
Trump card-- Ranma took promises very seriously. He sighed and nodded wordlessly.
"Alright. If... if that's what you really want." His voice cracked, and that tiny voice inside me roared that I should be comforting him, not adding to his internal wounds! But logic and my own heart commanded that Ranma know my suffering-- before he knew my bliss. I could and intended to experience that bliss with him. But the good and bad came hand in hand-- he had to see that.

"Well then. I guess I'll be seeing you around." I smiled at him, though he did not look my way. I went into the house with a sigh, and bumped into Kasumi.
"Hey onee-chan, what's up?"
"I was watching you two outside... I couldn't help but overhear..." I guess I had to explain this to someone... better Kasumi than Nabiki, at any rate.

"Akane, a week ago I would have told you that you were doing the right thing-- for you, and for Ranma. But now I'm not so sure. You and Ranma were so happy when you... appeared today. What happened?"
"I guess you could say that I saw the light," I grinned, making a bad reference to the Nanban mirror. Had it not been for my experiences on the other side of the timeline, I would not have had the guts to 'divorce' Ranma, let alone walk away from him in the manner I had.

"What I really mean," I continued breezily, making sure neither my parents, nor Ranma or Nabiki were nearby, "Is that I'm going to give Ranma some time to sort out things, and then..."
"And then...?" Kasumi was actually leaning forward in anticipation. Either Ranma and I had brought more excitement to her life than we thought she needed, or she actually was desperate for gossip. Something along those lines...

"I ask him to marry me." I smiled at my ingenuity.
"How wonderful! Oh!" Kasumi became quieter, "I'll keep this a secret. But don't keep him depressed for too long, he might go from a maniac to a manic depressive."

I blinked at Kasumi's perplexing statement as she walked back into the kitchen. I headed upstairs to my old room. I was glad most of my stuff was still intact. What was more, I had to make everyone else believe that I was getting divorced. Then we could get remarried, if all went well, and have the baby. Not exactly in that order, I was sure, but...

I was a bit giddy at the thought of having a child. I was awfully young, and I wasn't totally sure that my body could take any more pain than I'd gone through... but it sure as hell would act as a buffer. Other women I knew talked about labor as if it were the closest thing to burning in hell, but I saw it as a new start on life. Literally, and for me, figuratively too. But if --and the word was if-- everything worked out between Ranma and I, then I wouldn't be a single mother, striving for support. I would have Ranma to protect us, and the dojo to fall back on for income. We would start up classes, like our dream, and I could enter college. My rotten life would finally shape up into my dream.

Night had fallen quickly, and I found myself dusting everything as people went upstairs for bed. It wasn't long before I heard the heavy footsteps of my husband-- that is to say, soon-to-be-ex-husband, and a pause. Then a knock. Ah, he wanted to know if we could still sleep together. Did he even remember or even care about that pregnancy factor? Was he here to find out if it was truth? Or maybe he'd taken it as a joke from the beginning... without turning around, I frowned, and said, "Come in."

The door opened slowly, and as I turned Ranma stepped in and closed the door. I gulped slightly before getting back to dusting, ignoring his presence at first.
"Uh, I just... I..." I smiled despite myself, enjoying the fact that Ranma was speechless. So changed so shortly... but still a ways to go.

"What do you want, Ranma?" I asked it kindly, not sharply, as though I wanted to get rid of him. After all, I wanted him to think on his own for once, and not let his emotions-- or his past-- control him. I didn't want to wound him anymore.

"I just wanted to know where you were sleeping tonight."

'Where I'm sleeping! Good one Ranma. But it won't change my answer.'

"Not with you; I'm sorry. I'm actually getting a bit tired, I think I'll turn in right now, if you don't mind." I smiled at him, but it was not shared. He stared at me sadly, and turned around to open the door as he spoke. His hand was on the doorknob, and had it not been for that screw that never got around to being fixed, I wouldn't have known his hand trembled so. The doorknob jiggled enough for me to hear, and my heart ached.

"I'm sorry, Akane. I know you can never forgive me... but I'm sorry." He opened the door and, just as quickly, closed it. That was it. I stared at the empty space he had occupied seconds before, and wondered if what I was doing was really right.

After over 18 months married to him, could I sleep without being in his arms, sensing his presence, smelling his aroma as I slept? But I had a part of him-- growing inside me. That was my comfort as I slept that night. I reminded myself to practice what I preached-- that the bad came with the good, and if we both cooperated, this would all work out.

'You're wrong, Ranma. I can forgive you. But "I'm Sorry" isn't what I want to hear from you. It's "I Love You."' It was my final thought before I slipped off into dreamland, blissfully wondering about my wedding.

The next morning I was to carry out my plan. But it had to start later. I had to make everyone else --save Kasumi, whom I trusted wholeheartedly-- believe Ranma and I were really getting a divorce. So, that's just what I announced at the table.

Ranma looked supremely embarassed, Father and Genma had their mouths hanging open, and Nabiki had an odd smirk on her face.

"I don't know if you two," I said calmly, "...were ignoring the faults in our marriage on purpose. Forcing it on us in the first place was a mistake you made."

"But Akane, the dojo..." My father protested. Ah-ha... trying to use the old 'dojo needs sensei and heir' story again. Well, I wasn't ready to tell anyone of my pregnancy just yet, so...

"You honestly think we would have slept together --made love--" I almost said it as though retching, but that was exactly the opposite of what I had remembered that night, "Just because you two wanted us to?" Father and Genma turned eyes on Ranma, who was, to my surprise, not making any sort of expression, and was just staring at his hands in his lap.

"Ranma and I have to get to the Ward Office to get this whole thing sorted out, so if you'll excuse us..." Ranma stood up abruptly, without meeting their gaze, and we walked out of the house.

As we walked along in silence, I chanced to look at him. I was also wondering about how in the world I would get him a ring-- after all, he'd never worn one, despite the fact that I did. But my wedding ring had been my mother's; it was more a sentimental token than a wedding ring. I'd never had the pleasure of having a fancy wedding ring to show off to all my friends-- I just had the simple, yet precious ring my mother had used when she married Father.

In any case, he was silent and trying to keep his distance. When he first showed up here in Nerima, he'd always walked on the fence. The first thing I'd thought was 'What a showoff.' But after we married, I thought he did it to distance himself from me. He did it every minute of the day, why not while we walked to school, too? But then he started walking alongside me, and while it was unusual, it felt right. Then the trouble started, just because I wanted to help him. This was where it led us.

I wanted to do everything I could for Ranma... I wanted a fresh start. To change the day we met to something better.

"Ranma?" I stopped, and so did he. He was about a meter in front of me, still on the fence, staring at his feet with his hands shoved in his pockets.

"Yeah?" He said without turning around. I wondered-- why didn't he want to look at me? Since last night, when I bluntly told him that we weren't going to be sleeping together, he'd avoided my gaze. That wouldn't do at all.

I walked briskly over to him, lifted his head up with my forefinger, and stared him straight in the eyes, a half-hearted smile on my face.

"Can't we still be friends?"

I remembered that first day when Ranma had arrived in Nerima. Female. Nabiki chastised him for being female-- none of us had known, at the time, of the curse. The curse was just one aspect that contributed to Ranma's behavior, and I had always thought to myself that id I could have done that day over, I would have been nicer.

'My name's Akane. You wanna be friends?'

Ranma stared at me sadly. It was the first time in a while I'd been able to clearly see an emotion on his face other than anger. It was both a heart wrenching and exhilarating feeling.

"No. I don't think I can be friends with the gir-- the woman I'm in love with."

I reeled. When we first met, I wasn't Akane, I wasn't his fiancée, I was a sexless, uncute tomboy. Then I was his sexless, uncute tomboy of a wife. I thought I would always be an immature, imperfect girl in his eyes, even if my plan worked and we remarried on our own conditions and terms. But I was a woman to him-- that meant a lot. Not only that, but he was in love with me. Willing to admit it, too. I felt like crying, but I had to stick true to my plans.

"Oh. I'm... I..." I sighed. There was no proper answer. We walked on in silence to the Ward Office, paid the small fee, and were over and done with it within the hour.

"Are... are you going to stay as a Saotome?" Ranma asked, a tone of hopefulness creeping into his voice. My mind was telling me to stop making him suffer, but I doubted he was some all-emotional, perfect man now. He had to know what it felt like to be on the receiving end of these words, of these events.

"No, Ranma. I can't." It was all I said. Halfway home, we parted ways-- he back to the dojo, and me to a jewelry shop. As if you have to ask for what.

It took me a good long while to get a decent pair of rings for the both of us-- and it emptied my wallet quite a bit. But if it saved my marriage --or lack thereof, as the case was now-- then it would be worth the ton of yen I had just spent.

When I got home, it was evening, and the smell of Kasumi's cooking wafted through the air. I inhaled deeply, enjoying being home. But there were more important matters. I waved a brisk hello to my sister in the kitchen and went upstairs.

I knocked softly on the door to what used to be --and was, for last night-- Ranma's bedroom. There was a mumbled response I took for a 'come in' and so I entered. Suffice it to say, what I saw shocked me.

"Ranma, what are you doing?" I cried, astonished.

Ranma looked at me --of his own free will-- and frowned sadly.
"I'm packing, what does it look like?" He replied, and went back to doing just that: packing.

"Bu-But why?" I demanded, placing my hands on my hips.

"Why not? I'm not part of this family Akane. I never... I never deserved to be your husband anyway. You did what was right for you, and for the rest of your family, and the future of the school. I can't stay here and freeload off of you guys all my life."

"Ranma!" I wanted to slap him, but settled for kneeling in front of him and frowning angrily. Goodness, he was childish. And forgetful too!

"Listen to me, Ranma. I wanted to still be friends because I do care about you. Very much. Even with your past track record," I grimaced, remembering how Nabiki had bluntly told Ranma to keep his hands off me if he knew what was good for him. "I'm sure Nabiki, Kasumi and Father feel the same way. You may not be related to us in name, but you are family."

"No," Ranma started fiercely, surprising even me, "No I'm not. I can't..."
"Where are you going to go then?" I countered.
"The apartment!" Ranma responded defiantly, staring right back at me. For a moment, his solid expression wavered, and he went back to packing. It wasn't as though he had much here at the Tendo home anyways; it had all been moved to the apartment. But the idea of our parents had been, once I got pregnant, we would move back in the dojo, and Ranma would teach until I gave birth.

"The apartment, " I started, as though talking to a child, "Is under my family's register. It was barely big enough for us teenagers, you expect your father to live there too?"
"Then I'll go out on the road!" Ranma shot back. My anger snapped at that moment, and I did slap him.

His hand flew to his cheek as he stared at me.
"I'm sorry." I said, but I knew I didn't sound sorry. In fact, a part of me was glad, for once, that I had gotten a hit in. Ranma, who had caused me all number of pain, was the man I was in love with... I divorced him, argued with him, and then slapped him. Now I felt horrible.

"Ranma, you are not leaving me." I said plainly.
"W-What do you expect me to do," Ranma asked, voice cracking, "Stay here... watch you fall in love with someone else and have his children...?" I wanted to laugh out loud. I shook my head a negative and managed a weak smile.

"Who says I'm going to fall in love again?"
"Who says you won't?" Ranma countered, swallowing.
"I can't." I responded simply, triggering a confused expression on Ranma's face.
"I'm already in love." In that moment, it looked as though Ranma's world shattered.

The old Ranma would have beaten the information out of me-- and then beaten whoever I ended up saying I was in love with. What a sight it would be to see Ranma beat up himself!

I pulled the ring box out of my sweater pocket and opened it to him. I got down on one knee, classic Western style, and stared up into Ranma's eyes.
"Ranma Saotome, will you do me the honor of becoming my husband..." I paused, "Again?"

Ranma looked at me as though I'd grown a second head, then he gulped, an all too hopeful look on his face. It was puppy-cute.
"Akane... do you mean it? After everything I've done...?"
"Hey. I made you think I wanted to divorce you because I didn't like you. Did you forget what I said in the other world-- that I wanted to make this marriage work, no matter what it took?" I took his hands and smiled.

"What do you say?" I proposed, (in the literal sense) smiling.
"What do I say..." Ranma pretended to think hard for a minute, and I chuckled. He took the ring from the box and slipped it on his left hand's ring finger. He stared at it a moment before looking back up at me.
"I love you, Akane Tendo."

He gave me a hug that practically squeezed the air out of me. I winced as a particularly fresh bruise was pushed, and I felt my barely-noticeable-swollen-belly give out a lancing of pain. I think he noticed that, because of the pain, I did not hug back, and he pulled away.

"Are you alrigh-- what a stupid question. Gods, I'm sorry, I forgot..."

I wondered just what he had forgotten-- that I had more injuries than spots on a Dalmatian, or that I was pregnant. The more I thought about it, the more I figured Ranma must have a very odd selective memory.

"I... should stay away from you..." Ranma looked down despairingly, and my eyes narrowed.
"You're wearing that ring, Buster, so you're stuck to me!" I huffed, pulling him around to face me. Ranma smiled and hugged me lightly. It was a wonderful feeling.

I still knew we had a long way to go, but...

"Don't you have a ring?" Ranma asked, picking up my left hand and kissing it softly. I blushed and giggled goofily, and reached with my right hand into my pocket. I was about to open the ring box containing my matching ring, but Ranma plucked it from my fingers.

"I never got the chance to do this right." Ranma smiled at me, as he knelt on one knee. Even though I had done this very same thing only moments before, I felt as though I was flying-- a glorious, tingling feeling that spread throughout my veins. This was what adoration felt like?

"Akane Tendo, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?" Ranma smiled up at me, and without answering, I flung myself into his arms. Sitting sprawled in his lap, he placed the engagement ring on my left hand's ring finger. I smiled and laughed with him, kissing him deeply.

"Am I inter-" Nabiki paused, and both Ranma and I stared at her in guilty embarrassment. She paused, looked around, and then looked at the heap that was us on the floor. Raising her eyebrow, she simply said, "I don't think I'm ever going to understand you two."

Ranma and I laughed after Nabiki had left and shut the door, giggled and kissed some more, and then fell asleep peacefully in each other's arms, on Ranma's old futon.

The next day, Ranma and I had school, and we were delighted to be able to take our old route once more. When we walked into the school grounds, arm in arm, eyes not leaving each other's faces, people stared at us.

I heard the whispers of "Is that really Ranma?" and "What's gotten into them?" and it only made me smile more. Whenever there was a break, my girlfriends crowded around me as I showed them the engagement ring. I declined to give out details about the proposal-- I believed it would only embarrass Ranma if everyone knew I had done the proposing.

The day went by all too quickly, and everyone seemed genuinely surprised that Ranma was "a changed man"-- or at least, on the road to being a changed man. He actually talked to other guys-- guys who had before ignored him for his brutality, strength, and cold attitude. I didn't blame them-- they at least didn't have to sleep with him. But now I was proud to be wearing Ranma's ring, and proud once again to be his fiancée.

I think what made this all the better was the fact that, although Ranma and I had technically divorced and then gotten re-engaged, Ukyo and Shampoo kept their distance. Maybe they were still unsure of what Ranma was like-- as if Ranma was putting on a façade to fool everyone. But my happiness was genuine, sincere, and true. If anyone doubted that, they were being too prejudiced.

"Where are we going?" Ranma asked as I led him down a busy street in the downtown area of Nerima, blindfolded.
"Just wait," I said mysteriously, giggling to myself. This was my method of sealing everything. Making everything right to the best of my abilities. People had said before I didn't have to, that I wasn't the one who needed to atone... but they were wrong.

I directed my fiancée to a booth in the local Crown Parlor, and waved to a woman I knew very well. Ranma knew her very well too, but not the way he thought. I whipped the blindfold off his eyes, and he was disoriented a minute before he looked around, and then at me.

"What are we doing at--" He stopped when I pushed his head in the general direction of his mother. She sat in the booth calmly, hands folded in her lap. There was no trace of anger, no katana or tanto, no ceremonial kimono used in seppuku ceremonies.

"Hello, Ranma, my son."

Ranma stared for a minute, and then collapsed into the booth, staring. All was silent for a moment, until I slid in next to him, and ordered when the waitress came over.

"You weren't kidding. You really..." Ranma was speaking to me, his eyes wide.
"You thought I was lying about meeting your mother? No."
"Akane is a very strong girl who has been through a lot, Ranma. She told me everything... but I am not angry with you. I'm... a bit disappointed, but still very proud."
"Of... me?" Ranma asked, almost whispering, disbelieving.
"Yes. Your father did not do a very suitable job in raising you, but Akane tells me you are still very honorable..." She cast a secretive, happy smile at me, and my hand fell to my stomach, rubbing it softly. "...and very manly."

Ranma blinked blankly. He obviously had forgotten. Resisting the urge to slap him upside the head, I took his hand, placed it on my semi-swollen belly, and told him in plain words... "Ranma, I'm pregnant."

That's when he passed out.

Nodoka and I had called a cab, and went to Nodoka's house. It had been rebuilt after Ukyo, Shampoo, and --did I forget to mention this insane chick enamored on my husband-- Kodachi destroyed it in an all-out fight over Ranma. Of course, it hadn't mattered in the long run, when Nodoka had said rather firmly that Ranma had no other engagements besides mine, and considering we were already married, there was nothing to be done about it.

Everything had a fresh and new smell to it-- sort of like the hotel room where I'd first met Nodoka in private, to discuss Ranma. After the destruction of the house, Nodoka stayed at a hotel. Because of Genma's stubbornness, an invitation to stay at the Tendo home had not been extended, and Nodoka, ever the polite woman she was, had stayed at a residential hotel for the several months it took for her home to be rebuilt. Of course, most of the cost was not her own; she had home insurance, and forced Ukyo, Shampoo, and Kodachi to pitch in their own monies to pay for the reconstruction of the house.

In any case, my once-husband-now-fiancée was now sprawled on the couch, his mouth hanging open.

"You didn't tell him?" Nodoka asked me, while she made something to wake Ranma up in the kitchen.

"Oh, I did. But he has this… tendency to forget things."

Nodoka laughed a little, and turned from her concoction on the stove to me. She sat next to me on the two-person mini-couch, and gave me a motherly smile. It was odd… I'd never felt that kind of happiness… or at least, I hadn't for the longest time. Since my mother had… well.

"I know that you two need the most help you can get. But I hope you both –or at least you do, so you can get the message across to my forgetful son here—know that what has happened isn't entirely your fault." I nodded, knowing this to be true.

For the longest time, I'd blamed Ranma's bouts of blindness, and wild, uncontrollable anger on myself. Not on the girls, or the friends, or the family issues that always upset Ranma, nor my husband himself. I placed the blame solely on myself.

"I do. But I don't Ranma to ever have to feel the way I felt… that everything was my fault, and that I couldn't do anything about it." I paused. I remembered my other self, and the other Ranma. From the other world, the other time, with a different life. If I was anything like my other self, then that sort of action—taking blame automatically—was instinctual. Having grown up with burdens, it was just the way we were. I was. Whatever.

"You both are at least making the attempt to do something about it. But you're not alone in this. I think it's not just marriage counseling that we need." Nodoka paused, and I furrowed my eyebrows. 'We?'

"My husband and I… need to talk. We also need marriage counseling. Soun as well, needs some… insight into the reality of marriage. I think that since he lost Kimiko, he hasn't been able to think completely straight."

I sighed a bit at that—it was true. Maybe we—the Tendos and the Saotomes… would never have a chance at a normal life, but we could at least find a way to accept the one we had. Learn from it, love it, cherish it, and fight for it. I, at least, knew I would.

"Ungh…" Ranma groaned, and both Nodoka and I rushed to his side, kneeling on the floor. The scent of herbs that Nodoka had been boiling was filling the room, and no doubt had irritated Ranma's senses enough to awaken him.

"My son… are you alright?" Nodoka asked, hovering over him.

"Mu-Mom? MOM!?" Ranma sat bolt upright, and stared. Blinked twice, then glanced at me. I smiled. Ranma looked as though he was going to black out again, but I moved behind him and held him up.

"Oh no. You have no idea how heavy you are, mister, and I am not carrying you outside again because you feel like passing out."

Ranma grinned sheepishly and then forced himself to sit up properly.

"I… I… I don't believe it." He finally managed, looking between Nodoka and I.

"What?" I asked, gesturing to his mother, "Your mom, or," I gestured to my belly, "Me being pregnant?"

"Uh…" Ranma blinked.

Nodoka and I smiled at each other, and decided to let Ranma in on everything. From how we had met, to what we had said… it was going to be a long night.

I called Kasumi up later that night, and told her we would be staying at Nodoka's house. Kasumi sounded a bit surprised at the name of her mother-in-law, but her voice remained cheery. Before she hung up, I made a quick request to be put on speaker-phone. When I heard the echoing click that confirmed this, I handed the receiver to Nodoka.

"Genma Saotome, I'm going to have a word with you tomorrow. And if you try to get out of it in any size, shape, or form, you'll be sure to be in a world of pain."

Nodoka smiled playfully at my husband and I, letting us in on the 'joke' as she hung up. Ranma and I practically burst out laughing. For once, Ranma seemed to enjoy laughing at the expense of his father. I think we all appreciated it at least a little. Maybe Genma had an excuse as well, but he was more misguided of his own doings than any of us.

The next day, Ranma, Nodoka, and I all took a cab to the dojo --home for Ranma and I—in order to surprise everyone. On the way there, however, Nodoka brought up an interesting subject.

"Since you two are getting married –again- I would like to know what your plans are."

"Well, uh…" To tell the truth, I hadn't thought about it much. Our last wedding had been so shotgun, so… far away in the past, that I didn't even think about the one that was due to come up.

Like any other girl, I'd had dreams of what I wanted my dream wedding to be like… and those nights between Ranma's and mine "divorce" and now, when I'd imagined Ranma and I back together again… I couldn't remember what had made my heart race. All that came to mind when I thought of that was… Ranma. Just him.

"I guess to me, it doesn't matter. I just love Ranma, and that's all there is to it." Ranma blushed crimson, and I snuggled deeper into his embrace. I was so much closer to knowing my fiancée, and knowing myself. It was a great feeling.

"Well… I don't know about you, but I don't want to miss my only son's wedding. It was bad enough I missed the first one, so this one is going to be spectacular!" Nodoka smiled brightly, and I returned the smile in kind. I would definitely like having Nodoka as a mother-in-law.

Days later, the entire Tendo and Saotome families found themselves sitting in a medium-sized gray room, with vertical blinds in a sickening shade of beige. It was a hospital, the psychiatric ward to be precise. Now, don't get me wrong, we weren't all here to commit ourselves. We'd signed up for a group therapy session, and after much arguing, had gotten marriage counseling for both Ranma and I as well as Genma and Nodoka.

Four people in normal attire walked in with clipboards and smiled at us. I glanced tentatively at Ranma, and he smiled back. Every step is a journey, someone once said. Well, here's to the journey.

End of "Strange Love"

I think I may do an epilogue… you know, with the conclusion of counseling, missed conversations you guys might want to see, and of course, the wedding and eventual birth of Ranma and Akane's child. Boy or girl? You tell me!

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