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DISCLAIMER: I don't own Ranma 1/2, nor any of the characters contained
within. They belong to the brilliant author, Takahashi-megami-sama. The
author of this fic is only pretending to be brilliant.

Ranma 1/2
Relative Peace
Part 3 - Immutable Desire




Akane's thoughts were so wrapped up in a mental whirlwind that
she had trouble concentrating on what the teacher was saying. The person
foremost among these cognitive meanderings was, as usual, her engaged-
to-against-her-will fiance. Ranma was a hard enough enigma to figure out
at the best of times, but she had thought she had really come to
understand him in the past couple of years, and even more in the past
several months.

Which is why his behavior in the preceding week was all the
more a mystery to her. Out of the blue, he said he was leaving to travel
the road once more and that he would be gone for a couple of years at
least.

Why? What had she done to push him away?

The feelings and moments they had shared lately were extremely
intoxicating to her: the feel of his arms around her, his musky
masculine scent filling her nostrils, the taste of his lips...

And Ranma was threatening to make her go cold turkey.

Well, there was a possible explanation, but Akane didn't want
to believe it. She
didn't even consider Kodachi, ninety-nine percent assured that Ranma
had no interest in her. The other two were more likely, however.

Shampoo had a figure guys fantasized about and she was a better
martial artist, as much as Akane was loath to admit. Her skills were
closer to the Amazon's than they had been in awhile, but she didn't
really know if she could win in an all-out fight And if Ranma went back
to Joketsuzoku with her, he could learn all sorts of martial arts from
the Amazons.

Ukyo had known Ranma back when they were kids. She shared a
part of Ranma's life that Akane never would, and yes, that made her
envious. Add to that fact that Ukyo was a better cook and was self-
sufficient, being on her own with her own restaurant. Because of that,
she was literally free to leave her shop anytime and travel. Ranma would
have no problems leaving with her.

But Akane did have a life and family here, and as much as she
wished Ranma were wrong, she knew it wouldn't be that easy to just take
off and leave everyone behind. She had done so a few times, like
Ryugenzawa, but it was only for a week or two at most.

Could she really leave her family and friends for one to two
years?


-------------------------------------------


The pair came home in silence per the routine they had been
following all week. In fact, other than the short snippets of
conversation like "pass the rice", they hadn't said a word to each other
since their last conversation on the roof, where Ranma had declared his
intention to leave.

Falling prey to second thoughts, however, Ranma decided to
postpone it for a week to plan and get his things together. He knew
Akane was still upset about the whole thing, but didn't know what else
to tell her. The truth was out of the question; she'd just accuse him of
treating her like a fragile thing that couldn't take care of herself.

No, Ranma knew that if he went away, it would give Akane a
chance for some peace and quiet. He had heard her complain about it on
occasion. He sighed and headed to his room to finish packing while Akane
went to her room to study.

The rest of the family was aware that Ranma and Akane weren't
speaking to each other, but they just ignored it, figuring it was just
another one of their lovers' quarrels that would end on its own.

But that didn't stop Soun and Genma from `helping' the process
along during dinner.

"So, Ranma-kun, I hear there's a carnival in town for the next
two weeks," Soun offered casually. "Why don't you take Akane out a date
tonight? That's what Saturday nights are for!" He broke out into a wide
grin. "Why, I'll even pay for it!"

Awhile ago Ranma wouldn't have cared, but with what he had
experienced with Akane lately, he didn't think it was such a bad idea.
Still, he already had plans, not to mention an image to maintain. "Get
real. Why would I want to be seen in public with a macho chick like her?
Besides, I already have plans."

Ranma observed Akane from the corner of his eye, and for a few
seconds he noticed her brow begin to wrinkle as flicker of anger passed
her face. Then she went right back to her former semi-depressed state,
ignoring him again. He sighed internally. He had hoped that she would
have hit him for that, or least retorted and/or glared at him, none of
which happened.

Sensing weakness, Genma's chopsticks flashed out toward Ranma's
bowl of rice. "I saw your backpack sitting in the room. Going out on
another training trip, boy?"

Ranma parried the attack easily with his own weapons. "Yeah, I
haven't had a challenge from Ryoga or Mousse for awhile, so I wanna do
some trainin' to keep my edge."

"Even better!" Soun said suddenly. "Why not take Akane with you?
After all, she is heir to the Tendo-ryu and you'll both inherit the dojo
when you marry."

"Nuh uh!" Ranma's objection was very clear. "A girl like that
would just slow me down!"

This time Akane did scowl as she set her chopsticks and empty
bowl down. "I'm finished. I'll be in my room if anybody cares." She
stood up and walked toward the stairs, not looking at Ranma at all.

Ranma sighed internally. Now, more than ever, it hurt him when
Akane was mad at him like this. Still, maybe it was for the best. It
would that much easier for her to get over him once he was gone.

No longer feeling hungry, he set down his own utensils and
headed to his room to finish packing.


-------------------------------------------




Akane threw herself down onto her bed and buried her face into
her pillow, trying to hold back the flood of tears that were threatening
to burst out. She had told herself that she was going to her room to do
her homework, but now that was the furthest thing from her mind.

Ranma was leaving her.

She had figured he was going to take off that first night, but
when he was still there in the morning, she began to hope that he had
changed his mind. That's when he had told her that he was just waiting
until the end of the week so he could plan. She tried to press him for
more details, but he clammed up. She then attempted to gauge the
thoughts of Ukyo and Shampoo to see if one of them was planning to go
with him. But if they were, she couldn't tell.

He was leaving her and he wouldn't tell her why.

"Hasn't everything we been through, everything we've done, meant
anything at all to him!?" she practically yelled into the empty room.

I remember when `she' first showed up, Akane recalled. Akane half-smiled at the pleasant memory
of their first meeting.

She shuddered involuntarily. A bittersweet memory of Jusendo floated
through her thoughts.

The sound of a window opening immediately followed that.

At first, Akane thought it was her own, but a quick glance
upwards quashed that notion. In the silence following that, she figured
out exactly which window it was; the guest room. Her eyes widened in
sudden realization of what that meant and her heart sped up a few beats.

He was leaving now!

Akane sprung to her feet and raced for her door, feeling like
her life depended on it. I can't let him leave! I-I I'll go with him if
that's what it takes!

She pulled open the guest room door as fast as she could,
nearly tearing it off its track in the process. "Ranma!" She caught him
in the position of slipping on his pack and turning to the open window.

He looked surprised at her entrance. "Akane?" When she didn't
respond right away, he turned back to the window.

Akane's voice caught in her throat as all the words and
arguments she had planned to say, vanished in an instant with the
intense pounding of her heart in her chest. Before her was the boy who'd
breezed into her life and turned it upside down. He'd teased her and
made fun of her, but also protected her and kept her company more times
then she could count. He had become such a big part of her life, that to
even think of living without him scared her to death.

And he was leaving her!

a voice inside her screamed.

Throwing caution to the wind, Akane sprinted forwards and
grabbed Ranma as he stepped up into the open windowsill. She yanked him
back inside, flung him around, then wrapped her arms around him and
buried her head into his shirt, tears beginning to leak out of her eyes.

Ranma was stunned. What brought this on? She'd seemed upset and
angry with him during dinner. Almost against his will, his hands dropped
to her shoulders. "A-Akane?"

That's when he heard her voice, somewhat muffled by his shirt.

"Don't... go!" she sobbed into his shirt. "Please don't go!
Don't... leave me alone! Please..."

"Akane, I-" Words failed him. She seemed to be really hurting at
the thought of him leaving. Why was he doing this again? The initial
reasons seemed far from his mind at the moment, as the girl most
precious to him practically begged him to stay.

Then he remembered why he had to leave. "Akane, I-I have to
go." Did he? The decision seemed so easier just a short time ago. If he
stayed, those after him would get her sooner or later. If he left, Akane
might be hurt, but she would still be alive and be able to have a normal
life.

"NO!" Her shouted command caught him off guard. He looked down
to see she was now looking up at him, tears leaking from her big, brown
eyes. "You can't leave me! If you do, so help me, I'll hunt you down and
follow you!"

"B-But, Akane!" This was not the way his departure was supposed
go.

"No buts! I don't know why you're leaving, but I-" She gulped,
suddenly very aware of what she was about to say. "I-I can't live
without you, damn you!" She shoved him to the ground and Ranma landed on
his butt while Akane glared at him. "Do you have any idea what that
means!? No, of course you don't!" She turned her back to him, not
wanting to act this way, but not seeing any other way to do this.

"I wasn't very happy before you came, you know," she told him
softly and slowly. "School was hell with Kuno and the pervert horde
attacking me all the time, and the only guy I liked was in love with my
own sister. Then you arrived and I was glad to have a friend who was a
martial artist, like me. It didn't matter that you were better, because
you were a girl." Ranma flinched, while Akane knelt down next to him,
her head staring at the floor in front of them. "Yes, I was upset when I
found out you were a boy and that I was engaged to you. But,-" her voice
dropped to a near whisper. "Somewhere along the line, you became more
important to me than anything else. That's why it hurt so much when it
looked like you were going after other women. I thought you'd leave me
and I'd be alone again."

Her head came up and Ranma was caught by the pleading look in
her eyes, full of expression, and reflecting the moonlight streaming in
from the window. He really meant that much to her?

"Akane, I-" It was his turn to look down. "I don't really wanna
leave," he confessed in a small voice that surprised both of them.

"Then why!?" she asked, exasperated.

"Because I gotta!" he continued. So many thoughts and emotions
were playing havoc with his mind, that he wished he could find a quiet
place to think. "I'm sorry I can't tell ya, but..." Inspiration struck.
"How about I leave for a couple of weeks? Enough for me to do some
thinkin' and maybe... I can tell you when I return." He knew it was a
stalling tactic, but couldn't think of anything else at the moment.
Hopefully, it would at least give Akane a nice vacation from all the
trouble.

Akane blinked. "Just two weeks? I suppose that's better than a
couple of years. But why?"

Ranma sighed. "Two weeks, no more, I promise. I'll be back the
following Saturday."

She studied him, looking for any sign that he wasn't planning
on returning, then relented and sighed. "Okay, but I have your promise!
You'll be back in two weeks, and then you'll tell me what this is all
about!"

Her eyes met his, and he nodded purposefully. "I promise, just
two weeks."

They stood up then, and Akane suddenly had a strong desire to
make sure he knew what he'd be missing if he didn't come back. She flung
herself forward once more, wrapping her left arm around his waist, while
her right hand went to the back of his head and pulled it down to mash
his lips against her own. Ranma's eyes went wide, then he surrendered to
the kiss as Akane put as much passion as she could muster into it.

As the embrace continued, Ranma felt his will to leave
disappearing and knew that if he didn't leave soon, he might not be able
to at all. The effect of having Akane this close was powerful. With
great reluctance, he finally pulled away, but she caught his lips one
more time before they parted.

Again taking notice of the dancing moonlight in her eyes, he
adjusted his pack and leapt to the windowsill.

"Two weeks," she affirmed, one last time.

He nodded, then was gone and Akane nearly collapsed to the
ground, hoping against hope that she had done the right thing.


------------------------------------------


The moon was entirely full as it hung in the sea of stars like
a giant pearl above his head. Its luminescent glow provided enough light
for the young martial artist below, who sought shelter in the sparse
canopy of trees. Even though he had a fire going, Ranma's attention was
drawn to the sky and the light it provided.

His mind was not any of the heavenly bodies, however, just one
somebody.

For the past several days, he had forced his mind off the
subject, preferring not to think about the complex situation his life
had become. Instead, he worked through several katas and moves in an
attempt to clear his thoughts and find harmony with the Art he had spent
so much of his life learning. But it wasn't as fulfilling as it used to
be.

It was only now, that he had finally got around to reflecting
on his situation, after a full day spent working out heavily. As he lay
on his back and relaxed, hands clasped behind his head, he wondered for
the first time exactly where his life was going.

Up until now, he had just sort of gone with the flow, reacting
to the events around him. He never thought beyond the short term, but
with all that had been happening recently, he was starting to ponder
exactly what he wanted to do with his life.

Or maybe, just maybe, he was beginning to grow up.

In any case, he was starting to realize just how much Akane
meant to him. When she told him that she couldn't live without him, he
was reminded of his own feelings. Then there was also the promise that
he had made that morning when he brought her sleeping form home from her
jog. She had mumbled in her sleep that she didn't want him to leave, and
he promised he wouldn't. Of course, she hadn't heard it, but where did
that leave him?

Above all, Ranma wanted Akane to be happy, and he didn't really
want to live without her. When Nabiki told him that Akane would be
better off without him, it brought these two ideals into direct
conflict. He didn't want to believe what she told him, but it didn't
take a genius to see that most of the stuff that had happened to Akane,
was directly or indirectly his fault.

So what was he supposed to do now?


------------------------------------------


Akane yawned as she dragged herself back into the house after
another rough day of school. Not only had she taken pains to get Ranma's
homework and take notes for him while he was gone, she had to deal with
two irate girls who demanded to know where Akane had hidden Ranma.

Despite telling Shampoo and Kodachi that he had left on a
training trip, they hadn't believed her. After a couple of days,
however, Shampoo finally got the hint. Kodachi was still convinced Akane
was hiding him, but ceased her attacks. It wasn't the two severe
beatings Akane had administered to the Black Rose, as Kodachi kept
coming back for more, eager for revenge. Eventually, Akane resorted to a
different tatic and just dodged the gymnast's moves while dropping fake
hints that Ranma had headed to the beach. After that, Kodachi had been
strangely absent.

Ukyo had been surprisingly understanding. She'd had a few
suspicions, Akane felt, but hadn't bothered to press the youngest Tendo
like the other two girls had.

The phone rang as Akane removed her shoes in the foyer and she
caught Kasumi's voice echoing down the hall. "Akane, can you get that?
I'm tied up in the kitchen right now."

"Okay, Kasumi!" She was still a bit tired from the day's
activities, but picked up the phone anyway. "Hello?"

"Hey, Akane," came the female voice on the other end. "You don't
sound too good."

"Nabiki? No, I'm just a little out of it at the moment."

"Is Ranma there?" Nabiki asked as nonchalantly as she could.

Akane yawned again. "No, he took off a few days ago."

Unbeknownst to the younger Tendo, Nabiki allowed herself a
small smile. "So, how are you doing?"

"I'm a little out of it, I guess," she replied. "This past week
has been more stressful, lately."

"It'll get better, sis, you'll see," Nabiki tried to sound
sympathetic. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Naw, that's okay," Akane told her, unsuccessfully trying to
hold back another yawn. "I'm sorry, Nabiki, but I think I'm going to
take a nap. You wanna talk to dad or Kasumi?"

"No, that's okay. Talk to ya later, sis!"

Akane bid goodbye to Nabiki, then hung up and started for the
stairs.


------------------------------------------


The sky was crying as she trudged home that night, but for
once, Ranma didn't care. In her mind, there were much more important
things to worry about, and her curse had been dropping lower and lower
on her list of priorities ever since arriving at the Tendos.

Ranma was more concerned with what she was going to tell her
mercurial fiancee. She had spent the past couple of weeks working out,
trying to clear her mind and organize her thoughts, but she still wasn't
much closer to a solution than she was before she left. Only two
thoughts were still foremost on her conscious and subconscious minds:
Ranma wanted Akane to be safe and happy, and she wanted to be with her.

The pig-tailed girl shivered involuntarily from the rainwater
soaking her clothes, and from the cold air permeating the night. she
mused to herself, then dismissed the thought. Ryoga carried an umbrella
because if he got wet, he could very well end up someone's lunch. Ranma
decided a while ago that she just try to deal with the curse, and not
think of it as a weakness. She still wanted to get cured, but wasn't
going to let it hold her back in the meantime.

Ranma turned the corner to end up walking down a very familiar
street, knowing her home was now very close by. As she rubbed her hands
together to generate some warmth, she reflected on that thought.

When exactly had the Tendo Dojo become home to her? Three years
ago, Ranma had no concept of what a home was, having constantly lived
life on the road. They stayed at various places here and there, but had
never really settled down for longer than a month or two.

Now, she felt like home was with the Tendos, with Akane. Could
she really leave it for a long time? Perhaps forever?

For the first time since she left on her training trip, Ranma
came to a direct conclusion.
Otherwise, she realized, she probably couldn't do it.

Now she just had to find a way to tell Akane this.




Akane grumbled to herself.

Akane had been watching from her bedroom window as the sky
turned darker and darker. Eventually, thunder and lightning had decided
to make a show, and before too long, it was pouring down out there. As
the sky turned black from the night and the rain showed no signs of
letting up, her apprehension only grew at the thought of what could be
keeping him.

she told herself.

*CRACK-A-BOOOOOOM!*

Akane winced from the earsplitting thunderclap. As another flash of lightning
illuminated the heavens and the torrential downpour, Akane tried to
shove her worrisome doubts out of her mind.

Worry finally getting the best of her, Akane ran out of her
room and down to the hall closet. She grabbed her coat and donned it,
then selected one of the bigger umbrellas by the door. Taking a deep
breath, she opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch.

She shivered as the cold wind buffet her body, nearly cutting
through the heavy material of her winter coat. She squinted her eyes,
but even through the aid of the porch light, she could barely see the
wooden gate to their property. She fully expected that gate to creep
open any minute and Ranma to come running home.

However, several minutes passed and the only thing that was
happening was the continuing buildup of Akane's anxiety. Grimacing, she
opened the big umbrella and stepped off the porch, traversing the short
path to the property gate. For the most part, she kept dry thanks to the
rain shield she carried, but every now and then, the wind would blow and
her lower legs would get sprinkled.

Uncertainy plaguing her thoughts, she threw open the gate and
stepped out, her legs becoming more and more soaked, but she ignored
that. Her only concern was her pig-tailed fiance.

She stopped, not quite believing her eyes. Ranma-chan was
standing just outside the gate, and it almost looked like she was trying
to open the door, but couldn't. Her teeth were chattering at near-
hypersonic speeds, and her whole body was shivering and trembling from
the chilly winds. Obviously, her Mandarin shirt and black trousers were
not providing much protection from the elements; they were thoroughly
soaked.

Akane reached out and grabbed her female fiance,
dragging her back to the warmth and comfort of the house. Once inside,
Akane pulled the pack off her, then pulled the other girl's body to her,
hugging her with all her might and attempting to warm her up. Her own
clothes were becoming damp as they absorbed the moisture from Ranma's,
but Akane didn't care.

"Ak-k-k-k-kan-nn-nneee..." Ranma tried to say through her
clattering teeth, but couldn't do much else besides shiver.

"Shush, Ranma," Akane replied. "First let's get you cleaned and
warmed up, and out of those wet clothes." She dragged Ranma down the
hall to the changing room, then began to undress her.

Ranma's eyes went wide as her fiancee removed her shirt, then
pulled down her pants. She felt like she should do something to stop
this, because it was warming her up on the inside in a way she didn't
think was possible. Soon her boxers were gone as well, and Akane was
pushing the shivering girl into the bathroom.

"Akane, what are you doing?" Ranma asked, finally managing to
calm her chattering teeth enough to speak coherently.

"Getting you cleaned up," Akane replied, seating her charge on a
stool and lathering up the rapidly goose-pimpling girl's backside. "What
does it look like?"

"But-" the chilled pig-tailed girl sputtered, not quite sure
what to say.

"Hey, we're both girls here." Akane paused and smirked. "Or are
you suddenly getting a case of feminine modesty, `Ranko'?"

Ranma mumbled something unintelligible under her breath, and
Akane returned to cleaning up the smaller girl. Soon, she was all
covered in soap bubbles, only to have a cascade of tepid water douse
her. Not warm enough to cause the change, but not too cold either.

"Okay, hop into the furo," Akane directed. "I'll go get you a
change of clothes."

Ranma stood up and walked to the furo, but before she got in,
she said softly, "Thanks, Akane."

Akane paused in the door to the changing room and smiled
warmly. "You're welcome." The she shut the door and left, while Ranma
slipped into the warm and relaxing waters of the bath.




As Akane went through Ranma's closet and pulled out a dry set
of clothes, she wondered what to do about her fiance. True, he had
promised to tell her what was going on when he returned, but knowing
him, he might try to wiggle out of it or give a very short explanation.

She wanted the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth.

Her face flushed crimson, as she realized the perfect way to
keep him in one place and unnerve him long enough to do just that. It
scared her to that she would even consider doing something like that,
and at first she dismissed it. But the thought wouldn't go away, and the
more she thought about it, the more the fear began to turn to...
excitement?

Trembling, Akane headed back to the bathroom with Ranma's
clothes.




Ranma sunk down until the water brushed his chin, then lay
back, letting the heat both warm and soothe his entire body. It felt
good, he decided. Hot baths were a rarity on the road, and ever since he
had come here, he come to appreciate little conveniences like these.

His thoughts were disturbed by the door opening once more.
Curious, he turned around. "Who's-urk!"

And saw Akane, wrapped in a white towel, and obviously not
wearing anything underneath it. His burning face snapped back around to
focus in on the opposite wall.

"What are you doin'!?" he demanded to know, for the second time
that night. He only saw one way out of this, and it ended in pain.

Akane's nervous smile turned into a smirk as she dimmed the
lights, then unwrapped the towel from around her body and dropped it on
the floor. "I'm, uh, just taking a bath," she replied nervously, then
her confidence slowly began to build. "What's it look like?" She sat
down on the bathing stool and proceeded to wash.

"But... but..." Ranma's thoughts were a jumble, hindering his
ability to come up with an effective response to that. Behind him, he
could hear Akane splash water over herself.

"Now, we're going to talk," Akane declared, becoming braver by
the second. Still, she couldn't believe she was doing this, and part of
her was ready to run out and throw some clothes on. But the reminder of
what was at stake forced her to continue. "Why were you planning on
leaving? I want the truth!"

"But, Akane-"

"The truth, Ranma! You promised!"

Ranma exhaled nosily, knowing this moment would come. After a
few moments, he hung his head and mumbled something.

Akane blinked. "What?" Seeing his head down, Akane quickly used
the opportunity to slip into the opposite side of the furo. Blushing
badly as Ranma's head came up, Akane self-consciously crossed her legs
and folded her arms over her breasts. "Well, what did you say?"

Ranma dropped his head again, partly to avoid looking at her.
It was a good thing she couldn't see how this situation was affecting
him. "I said, aren't you tired of this?"

Akane's brow furrowed in confusion. "Of what?"

"Being kidnapped and attacked at every turn!' Ranma nearly
yelled. "Strange people bustin' down your walls and doors! Big fights
happening almost every week! Possessions, ghosts, and everything else!"

"I guess so, but what does that have to do with anything?"

"You were right, it's all my fault," he mumbled, but loud enough
for her to hear.

Akane blinked, still perplexed. "Come again?" When he didn't
respond, she kicked his leg. "Tell me!"

Ranma glared at her, but relented. "None of this crazy stuff
would be happening to you if I wasn't here."

"THAT'S what this is all about?" she asked, comprehension
dawning. "You think I would be better off if you left?" At his small
nod, Akane exhaled noisily and glanced at the ceiling. "Ranma, you
idiot," she whispered in an exasperated tone. "You really are stupid."

At that, his head came up, showing equal parts hurt, fear, and
anger. "What!?"

Akane sighed. "Okay, I admit it would be nice to have a calmer
life, but I don't care what comes around," her voice dropped to a
whisper, "As long as you still around as well."

Ranma stared at her, his eyes widening. "Akane..." Then he
realized that, darkened room or no, he was staring at his naked fiancee
and quickly averted his eyes.

Akane looked at him curiously, not able to see his deep blush
in the darkened and steamy room. "What brought this on, anyway? You've
been living here for over two years now, and this hasn't crossed your
mind before?"

He settle down again, laying the back of his head on the folded
towel resting on the furo rim. "Well, not really. Not until Nabiki
mentioned it." It wasn't real noticeable, but his voice carried a bit of
disgust.

Akane caught it, though, and frowned. "There you go again. What
does my sister have to do with it? It's not like she's trying to get rid
of you!"

Ranma opened his mouth, then shut again. "Ah, forget it. You
don't believe me anyway."

Silence returned to the small, steamy bathroom, broken only by
the patter of rain outside and the occasional clap of thunder. Akane's
thoughts were almost as chaotic as the thunderstorm outside, but she
knew Ranma had to be mistaken, even though she wanted to believe him.
She figured that he probably just took an innocous comment or two the
wrong way. However, as a lightning bolt flashed outside, snippets of a
past conversation floated into her conscious mind.

(Is Ranma there?)

(No, he took off a few days ago.)

(So, how are you doing?)

(I'm a little out of it, I guess. This past week has been more
stressful, lately.)

(It'll get better, sis, you'll see. Is there anything I can do
for you?)

Akane's brow furrowed. she noted.
She shook her head, dismissing the thought. "You probably just heard her
wrong or something."

"Whatever." Ranma didn't really feel up to pressing the matter,
and anyway, he was starting to feel a bit too warm, noting he had been
in the bath for quite some time. He didn't want his body to prune, but
Akane's presence now posed a bit of a problem. "Um..."

"What now?" she asked tiredly, the heat relaxing her enough that
she was beginning to feel sleepy.

"Don't you think it's time ta get out?"

Any sleepiness was discarded as Akane went to full alert
status. She didn't think her face could get any more crimson, both from
the heat, and from the sudden realization of their situation. She had
been sitting in the furo, NAKED, for quite some time, with an equally
naked Ranma.

Akane yelled internally. And she couldn't
even blame Ranma for this! Or could she? It was his fault that he had to
be so difficult in the first place, forcing her into this situation. A
quick glance around revealed no nearby towels to cover herself, except
for the one behind Ranma's head. "Well, why don't you use that towel
behind you and get out first?"

"Why do I gotta go first?" Ranma protested, knowing that if he
got out, his physical reaction to her presence would be quite
noticeable. "You were the one that came in on me!"

"But you've been in here longer!" Akane countered, her voice
rising. "You should go first." A long suppressed desire inside her had
some play in that decision, starting with that fateful day when she had
met `him' for the first time.

Ranma grumbled, then sighed and acquiesced. "Alright, fine."


He unfolded the small towel and held it out in front of his
body. He couldn't have wrapped it around his waist, for that would not
do anything to hide... what he was trying to hide. Carefully, he stood
up slowly and lifted one foot out of the furo, then placed it on the wet
tile behind him.

Akane was somewhat grateful for the dimmed lighting and light
misting of steam, as it hid her fierce blush. While she had been rather
forward occasionally as of late, and had seen him in various states of
undress before, it couldn't compare to the sight of a nearly-naked
Ranma, slick and glistening with streaks of water, standing just a few
feet from her.

Concentrating more on keeping the small towel positioned right,
Ranma didn't pay real close attention to his feet. That lack of
attention proved his undoing when he lifted the other foot, causing his
balance to shift just enough that his right foot lost its purchase on
the slick tiled floor.

"Waaaaaauuggghh!" *Slip!* *Thump!* "owww...." The towel went
flying.

"Ranma!" Concerned that her fiance had hurt himself, Akane left
the bath to kneel beside him, checking his head. "Are you alright?"

"My head..." Ranma moaned on his back, a little out of it as his
arms moved about. He remembered there was a towel rack nearby and if he
could grab onto it, he could pull himself up. *Goosh!*

Akane froze.

Ranma froze.

*Ba-dump* said one of the two hearts present, deciding to fill
the sudden silence with it's own two cents.

Some small part of Ranma's brain realized that wasn't the towel
rack, but just to be sure, it commanded his right eyelid to open. Yep,
the eye confirmed, most definitely not the towel rack. I really should
get out of here while I still can, he concluded, but for some reason,
he was unable to move.

*Ba-dump* answered the other heart, offering an intriguing
counterpoint.

Akane sported an expressive blank look, emotions warring deeply
within. Absently, she glanced downward at the hand that held her left
breast. One of her conflicting emotions told her to send Ranma flying.
The other one old her that, yes it did feel rather good, and maybe she
should do something more... constructive about the situation.

*Ba-dump*

Since both of these emotions were equally present, however, she
did nothing.

*Ba-dump*

"Umuh..." Ranma offered brilliantly, then swallowed. He hadn't
done much more than kissing and hugging with Akane, and he definitely
had never touched her like this before, especially when they were both
naked. His strength returning, Ranma snatched his hand away and began to
backpedal out of the room.

"SorryaboutthatIdidn'tmeanandIthinkI'llgonowBye!"

Akane blinked as Ranma disappeared into the changing room and
shut the door.

he thought. Close to what, he wasn't
sure, and frankly preferred not to think about it at the moment,
although he had to admit it was quite pleasant and soft but also
terrifying and he wasn't quite sure what had happened but he was sure
she was going to hit him even though she didn't and it was round and fit
his hand just right...

Ranma punched the side of his head, forcing his jumbled
thoughts to become unjumbled, or at least slightly less jumbled. He
quickly dressed in the clothes Akane had retrieved for him and decided
that going to bed was a very good idea.

In the bathroom, Akane decided to stare at the door some more.


------------------------------------------


The phone rang as Nabiki trudged back into her dorm. "Noriko-
chan? Can you get that?" There came no reply to her call as she put her
school books down on her desk, then glanced around the room she shared
with her roommate, noting she must be out at the moment.

As the phone continued to ring, Nabiki flopped down onto her
bed and picked up the phone that rested on the nightstand between her
bed and Noriko's.

"Hello?"

There was a pause, then, "Nabiki-kun?"

"Yes," Nabiki replied, then recognized the voice and smiled.
"Tomoe-chan, haven't heard from you in awhile. How are things going?"

"Um, not too bad," she admitted, but Nabiki could hear a bit of
hesitation in Tomoe's voice.

Nabiki's eyes narrowed. "What's up? I'm sure you didn't call
just to chit-chat."

"It's... about that project you had me working on..."

"What about it?" She knew which project Tomoe was referring to.
It was a surveillance and report job, but it should be closed now,
since...

"He's back."

Nabiki froze. By all accounts, she had been told Ranma had
packed up and left, leaving Akane behind as she had hoped. "When?"

"A little over a week ago," the other girl told her.

"And why was I not notified?" Nabiki asked, a slight edge to her
voice.

"I called and left a message on your answering machine several
days ago," Tomoe responded. "But you never called back."

Nabiki exhaled in exasperation. Her roommate was constantly
getting calls from a lot of boys, so it was entirely possible that the
message had been saved over, or Noriko had accidentally erased it.

"Very well," Nabiki said at last. "Keep an eye on him, same as
before, and let me know what's happening. Also, start using the
contingency plans listed in the manila folder. What can you tell me
now?"

"Well," the girl's voice turned hesitant again. "They haven't
really been speaking with each other, but they don't appear to be mad at
each other, either."

Nabiki nodded to herself. They were probably still upset from
the fight before Ranma left.

"Nabiki, do really have to do this?" Tomoe suddenly asked. "He
doesn't seem that bad of a guy, and Akane-"

"My sister isn't the best judge of character when it comes to
boys," Nabiki cut in, annoyed. "We are doing this for her benefit, and
if you really cared about Akane, you'd see that. And the money I'm
paying you is keeping your closet full of new dresses. Now, are you
going to do what I ask, or should I find someone else?"

There was a short pause as Tomoe appeared to be thinking it
over. "That... that won't be necessary."

"Good. I expect another report in two weeks, unless something
important happens that I need to know about."

Nabiki hung up then, not giving Tomoe a chance to respond, then
frowned. She had been getting more in more active in the past six
months, trying to break the two up and get Ranma to leave, but so far
nothing had worked. She figured her little sister would be tired of the
whole thing by now, and was surprised Akane hadn't thrown him out
herself, yet.

Oh, she knew Akane loved Ranma, but Akane had also loved Tofu
at one time, and now she didn't. People fall in and out of love all the
time, and she figured it was only a matter of time before Akane got fed
up with Ranma's behavior and moved on to someone else.

She glanced at the calendar, noting that she still had a month
and a half before winter break, when she would head home for the
family's annual Christmas party. There was plenty of time to plan
something that would do the trick. She had a few preliminary ideas, she
would just need to flesh them out.

Rolling on to her back, Nabiki gazed at the ceiling and smiled
grimly.


------------------------------------


Akane lay on her bed, staring at the ceiling and contemplating
her existence. Well, actually she was just wondering if her love life
would ever be simple.

Ranma was back again, though she didn't know for how long. His
initial reasons (if they were to be believed) for leaving were still
there, however, and somehow she felt that if she didn't do something, he
may very well take off again. The only problem was *what* to do.

Akane had always been an expert in denial, even if she didn't
acknowledge this trait. For the longest time, she tried to deny that she
felt anything for Ranma, believing it was easier to think he was a
perverted jerk, so when he left her, it wouldn't cause her any pain.
When she caught him in compromising situations with other women, of
course it had to be his fault, because boys were like that. After all,
he had never said he loved her back then, nor really made a decision
about all the girls after him, so what reason had she to trust him?

That's why she was unable to comprehend why Ranma would be so
negative about Nabiki. Akane could not see that Nabiki had anything to
gain by breaking them up. She knew that her older sister could be very
profit-motivated from time to time, and some saw her as cold-hearted,
but Akane knew her sister. Nabiki did have a soft side, one that did
care about her family.

Akane sat up and tucked her knees under her chin, briefly
considered confronting Nabiki about this, but wondering what she could
say? She couldn't just walk up to her sister and accuse her of
sabotaging her relationship, because what proof did she have? The
answer: none.

That led her back to the subject of Ranma, and why he said what
he said. In a roundabout way, Akane had found out about his feelings
toward her, or at least thought she had. But that nagging thought from
earlier came floating back. Maybe he did, and now he was getting tired of her. Maybe he was
finally getting fed up with her, and this was his way of trying to get
her to leave him alone.

Akane shut her eyes. The
alternative would just hurt her too much, especially after the many
private moments they had shared. She knew Ranma loved her. She bit her
lip, thinking that if she didn't want to lose him, though, bold action
would be required.

That's why when a nagging little voice piped up deep inside,
she squashed it right away.


------------------------------------


"Hello, this is Nekohanten! Can Shampoo take your order?"

The blue-haired waitress frowned as she listened to the voice
at the other end of the line.

"Who are you?" she asked, thinking the voice almost sounded
familiar, but she was unable to place it.

Shampoo looked almost indignant as her enigmatic caller asked a
question. "Of course!" the Amazon replied enthusiastically. "I-"

The voice cut her off, then launched in a brief explanation.

Shampoo was left quavering a little afterward, but her face
showed hope and determination. She spoke a single word. "Yes."

Her mysterious phone friend said a few more curt words, then
hung up.

Shampoo hung up as well, contemplating what she had been told.
Because of this, she was startled when her great-grandmother called her
from the kitchen.

"Shampoo, who was that on the phone?" Cologne asked. "Was it an
order?"

"Um, no great-grandmother," Shampoo said. That wasn't a lie, but
the next line was. "It was just wrong number."

Normally, the bubbly Amazon might have told the elder about
something like this, but the voice had explicitly commanded her not to
tell anyone. And, Shampoo admitted to herself, there were times when she
wanted to make decisions and do things by herself, without guidance from
her great-grandmother. Shampoo had always been a woman of bold action,
fearlessly doing things that would make lesser people squeamish. This
time promised to be no different.

That's why when that nagging little voice piped up deep inside,
she squashed it right away.


------------------------------------


"Okay, hand it to me now," Soun asked.

"Here it is, Dad," Akane replied, giving him some more streamer
decorations. She took a step back to glance around the living room,
smiling in satisfaction.

The Tendo home was now awash in festive holiday decorations, in
preparation for their Christmas party tomorrow. Streamers and wreathes
adorned the walls, and pleasant smells drifted from the kitchen, lifting
Akane's spirit and soothing her somewhat distraught mind.

The reason for her troubled mental state was that Nabiki had
returned from college a couple of days ago for winter break, and Akane
held conflicting emotions about this. On one hand, she was always glad
to see her sister, but there was now a small part of her thoughts that
was suspicious of Nabiki's motivations and behaviors. She didn't want to
believe it, as she firmly believed her sister never meant any real harm.
They may fight occasionally, like sisters sometimes do, and Nabiki may
do a lot of swindling and deals to make money, but Akane could not see
her older sister really hating anyone, nor intentionally doing a whole
lot just to make someone miserable.

"Akane?" Kasumi called from the kitchen, breaking the youngest
Tendo's line of thought.

Akane popped her head into the kitchen. "Yes, Kasumi?"

"I need a few things from the market before it closes," Kasumi
explained, mixing something in a pot on the stove. "And I'm afraid I
can't leave these dishes unattended. Would you pick them up for me? The
money and the list are on the table"

Akane located the items and scooped them off the counter. "No
problem, sis. Be back in a little while!"




Ranma had just finished tacking up the rest of the outside
decorations to the house and dojo, when Akane strolled out to the front
gate and stopped. He noted her azure blouse and dress combo was a bit
light for the season, but it wasn't that cool out at the moment. Her
gaze traversed the yard, then found him standing on the roof. Ranma
looked at her curiously as she scowled and scratched behind her ear,
then turned and left.

The pig-tailed teenage boy tried not to blush as hormones began
to rush through his system. He knew that Akane had just a given him one
of the signals they had worked out between them. Ranma stretched his
muscles as he took a cursory glance around from his perch, then dashed
off in the opposite direction that Akane had gone.




From her bedroom window, Nabiki frowned. Akane and Ranma had
left in different directions, true, but they had left at about the same
time. It could be nothing, but it if did mean what she thought it meant,
she'd have to do something about it. And as a familiar face poked his
head into the Tendos' front yard, Nabiki realized a good way to deal
with it.




The bag of groceries sat nearby, unattended, in the small
forested grove. In fact, if by some small chance anyone came along and
decided they wanted it, they could take it and walk off without the
owners even realizing it. However, if such a thief did come along, they
most likely would suddenly develop an even greater interest in what the
bag's owners were doing.

Of course, Ranma also wondered exactly what they were doing; or
at least the small part of his mind that could still function at the
moment was occupied with that thought. Over the past several weeks,
Akane had become more and more aggressive in their limited times
together.

Hence, his current position that had him flat on his back,
Akane pinning him with her entire body while she kissed him with as much
passion as she could muster. Her hands flowed over his face and arms,
occasionally stopping to twiddle his pigtail. Ranma's hands weren't idle
either, as he held her to him and slowly rubbed up and down her back.

With a sudden burst of awareness, Ranma realized Akane had
undone most of the clasps on his shirt, and was now running her delicate
fingers over the bare flesh of his chest. That seemingly simple action
was having powerful effects on the young Saotome, and he shivered as a
small groan emanated from his throat.

Akane smiled into the kiss as she giggled, his flesh hot under
her hands. Then she adjusted herself slightly, pulling her face back a
little and letting it rest next to his, cheek to cheek.

"I thought martial artists were supposed to have better control
than that," she whispered into his ear in a teasing voice.

"What, you think that's funny?" Ranma replied, trying to sound
annoyed but not completely succeeding. He frowned in response to giggle,
letting his eyes drift around the grove, which provided protection from
prying eyes and the wind. "Hmph. Well, you wouldn't think it was so
amusing if I did that to you."

There was a short pause, then he heard Akane whisper, "I dare
you."

Ranma's eyes widened, even as Akane lifted her head to meet his
astonished gaze. He gaze traversed her flushed face, her full cherry-red
lips that were parted slightly, but his attention was eventually drawn
to her beautiful liquid-brown eyes. To him, there seemed to be a bit of
nervous apprehension there, but it was balanced out by a sense of...

Excitement?

Temporarily quashing his own nervousness, Ranma suddenly rolled
them both over to pin Akane beneath him. She let out a startled squawk,
and for a moment Ranma thought he had hurt her or something, but a quick
glance at her smiling and flushed face proved otherwise. Her smile was
infectious, and Ranma found himself grinning back at her.

"Well, now what, Mr. Saotome?" Akane asked coyly.

Ranma's face became apprehensive once more. "Akane, are you
sure...?"

Her lips turned up into an annoyed pout. "Hmph, I should have
figured you wouldn't have the guts."

Ranma thought to himself.

Akane squeaked as Ranma's lips found hers, even as she felt his
hands fumble for the buttons on her blouse. As he shakingly parted the
garment, he glanced down nervously to where her modest bosom was
contained within a plain white brassiere. He gulped as his eyes moved
back up to her face, only to see hers pointed in a different direction,
not seemingly paying attention to him.

Then she took a deep breath, which clearly helped to emphasize
a certain portion of her anatomy. It was also, Ranma realized, a dare.
She was still challenging him.

With a newfound sense of confidence gleaned from these
encounters, Ranma reached down to run his hands up her lean tummy,
somehow finding satisfaction in hearing Akane moan slightly. That moan
increased in volume as he reached her chest, flipping up the twin cups
in one smooth motion, and placing his hands on her...

"RAAAANNMMAAAAA!"

The phrase "deer in the headlights" did not do adequate justice
to the expressions of the two teens laying on the grass.

"R-Ryoga!" Ranma stuttered, leaping off Akane. "It's not what
it--I mean, what are you doing here?"

"What am I doing here!?" the irate lost boy snarled. He focused
his attention on Ranma, a vein throbbing on his forehead, while he tried
to ignore the stunned and half-undressed Akane on the ground. Ryoga
shakily pointed an accusing finger at Ranma. "You... you... Augh! DIE,
RANMA!"

"Whoa!" Ranma just barely dodged the thrown umbrella, then
flipped away from the enraged boy's charge that snapped a tree like a
twig. "Chill, Ryoga!"

"You were molesting Akane, you bastard!" Ryoga bellowed,
absolutely furious, switching into full berserker mode.

Akane belatedly recovered from her shock. She quickly pulled
her bra back down, and ran off after the two boys while buttoning up her
blouse, yelling pleas for them to stop. Unfortunately, they didn't seem
to hear her.




From her vantage point that was mostly concealed by the thick
trunk of a tree, Nabiki watched the two boys move off, locked in heavy
combat, while Akane ran after them. The middle Tendo smirked to herself
at the amusing scene, then sobered up.

Nabiki turned and started back to the dojo, her smile
disappearing.


------------------------------------


Things had returned to relative normal by the next day. Ranma
had managed to get Ryoga lost, but unfortunately, Akane had found her
pet P-chan soon thereafter. As they retrieved the untouched groceries,
Ranma grumbled while receiving murderous looks from the little pig in
Akane's arms.

The pig-tailed martial artist knew something would have to be
done about Ryoga. While Ranma was reasonably sure that Akari was Ryoga's
love interest now, pig-boy had obviously still retained the desire to
protect Akane, especially from him. Ranma grinned as an idea came to
him; he would just invite Akari to the Christmas dinner! Hopefully that
would keep Ryoga occupied and away from Akane. Maybe he could even
convince Akari to make more aggressive moves on Ryoga, like Akane was
doing to him...

Because he was busy chuckling crazily to himself, Ranma didn't
notice the fact that Akane was looking at him with a concerned and
bewildered expression.




As evening approached, guests began to gather at the Tendo
house, invited by the eldest sister. No one protested much about the
Kunos, Ukyo, Shampoo, or Mousse showing up, because they had been
invited. Everyone realized that they would most likely show up anyway.
At least this way, the family could hope they would act like proper
guests.

Ranma, especially, wasn't looking forward to this. History had
set plenty of precedent, that when Akane, Shampoo, Ukyo, and Kodachi got
together, Something Bad usually happened to him. Generally, this came in
the form of a drubbing, either from Akane, or the other three girls at
the same time. It wasn't that he minded it when it was directed against
himself, but the girls' fighting would have spoiled the party, and he
didn't want that.

Contrary to Ranma's fears, however, most everyone was behaving
themselves. The girls were actually being civil to each other throughout
dinner and it appeared that maybe this would be a pleasant and peaceful
night after all, except for the minor argument over who would sit next
to Ranma during dinner. It concluded with Ukyo on his right and Shampoo
on his left, while Kodachi ended up inhaling one of her own sleep
powders after trying to use it on Shampoo.

Ranma would have preferred to have Akane sitting next to him,
partly because he was worried about her reaction with the other girls
being so close to him (and occasionally trying to feed him). Thankfully,
though, Akane only seemed to mildly annoyed, changing her indifferent
frown to send him small secretive smiles when it appeared no one was
looking.

Even Kuno was keeping his annoyance factor down, resorting only
to minor boasting and poetry. Apparently, his position next to Akane,
combined with the fact that his sister was out for the moment, was
enough to keep relatively tranquil. And Akari's presence next to her
boyfriend was keeping Ryoga neutralized.

Ranma recalled Kasumi mentioning something about Christmas and
miracles, and began to think there was something to it. Maybe he could
have a pleasant night with all his friends after all, he thought to
himself.

Actually, he should have realized things were going too well.

It happened during the exchange of gifts. Kodachi had awoken by
that time, and now they were all pressing their presents on him, each
girl hoping Ranma would open their particular gift first. Worried about
how to proceed at first, Ranma decided to close his eyes and pick gifts
at random, so as to not appear biased.

Kodachi's present was first, and it evidently turned out to be
a black marriage tuxedo with a rose embroidered on the back. Ranma
sweatdropped under the Kuno girl's inviting gaze as he put the outfit
aside.

Ukyo was next, and Ranma eyed the cologne entitled "Okonomiyaki
Summer" warily. The chef smiled happily when she told him that she hoped
it would remind him of her whenever he wore it. Ranma had a sneaking
suspicion it would.

Akane's gift was a pair of mittens she had knitted together,
just for him. Ranma counted, confirming the gloves had ten fingers, six
on one and four on the other. Ranma raised an eyebrow as he looked at
Akane, noting her expression that mixed equal amounts of hope and an
You'd-better-like-it-or-else glare. He wisely (for once) refrained from
making any sort of comment, other than a "Thanks."

Finally, Shampoo's gift was last; a thin, rectangular package
about the size of a sheet of paper. As he opened it, Ranma was puzzled
at her attitude so far, as she seemed a bit more subdued than he was
used to, yet she didn't appear sad or upset. Instead, she just kept
smiling like a... well, that animal that he didn't particularly care
for, but already associated with her.

Ranma finished opening the package to reveal a manila folder.
Curious, he opened it up and flipped through the papers inside, growing
more confused. The pages contained a lot of what he assumed to be
medical info, as well as a couple of interesting photographs.

"What's this?" Ranma asked Shampoo.

Ukyo took the folder from Ranma and leafed through it, her
expression darkening. "What the..."

Shampoo attached herself to Ranma's arm. "Shampoo have greatest
gift, confirmed with Japanese doctor two weeks ago." She smiled broadly
and patted her tummy. "I finally going to have my airen's baby! I
pregnant!"

"B-b-b-b-b-b-b..." Ranma stuttered, his eyes widening to the
size of saucers. The neural overload and shutdown that followed, left
his body in a state that vastly resembled a statue.

This also rendered him incapable of appreciating ensuing sudden
silence, and the explosion that followed.




"It is just as I thought!" Kuno declared, drawing forth his
bokken. "I knew along that thy vile lechery knew no bounds!"

The arms of Mousse's robe sprung several blades. "You ruined
Shampoo's honor, you bastard! DIE!"

Ryoga also sprung to attack to Ranma, joining Mousse and Kuno
and echoing similar sentiments, ignoring Akari's pleas for him to be
calm.

However, the first one to get there was a furious okonomiyaki
chef. Her downward spatula slice separated Ranma and Shampoo, then she
froze in indecision, wondering who to attack first. She was angry at
both, but only Kodachi was attacking Shampoo, screaming something about
a "cheap foreign harlot". With three people attacking Ranma, Ukyo's mind
was made up, and she joined the Black Rose

Nabiki picked up the folder from where Ukyo had dropped it and
pursed through the contents, then handed it to her father. "Looks legit
to me, daddy. Says in there that Shampoo's six weeks pregnant, and these
are ultrasound photos. It also confirms that the father is Ranma by a
blood test. Hmmm, that would put the time of conception during Ranma's
training trip, wouldn't it?"

"RRRAAANNNMMMAAA!" bellowed Soun as he set the folder down,
suddenly wielding a naginata instead. "How dare you cheat on Akane, your
proper fiancee! Saotome, just what kind of son did you raise!?"

"I don't know, Tendo," Genma replied, shaking his head, then
turned to his son. "Boy, just what were you thinking? How could you
dishonor the Saotome name like this?"

"Oh, isn't it exciting, dearest?" Nodoka cooed happily. "We're
going to have a grandchild!"

With everyone focused on Ranma and Shampoo, no one noticed
Kasumi pick up the folder with several dishes.

"But-but, I didn't do anything!" Ranma protested, having
regained a modicum of his sense and reflexes with Ukyo's attack. It also
allowed him to barely dodge a sword swing from an enraged Chinese hidden
weapons master.

But the Tendo patriarch wouldn't listen, his spear strike
coming much too close for Ranma's comfort. "Get out of my house, now!
Before I throw you out!"

With three people actively attacking him, Ranma had no choice.
Sparing a glance at Akane, who was staring at him with anger and hate in
her tear-filled eyes, Ranma Saotome fled into the night.




Akane felt her blood grow cold and legs go weak at the
announcement, forcing herself to balance against the wall for support.
She could do nothing as the room erupted in violence, except hear
Shampoo's pregnancy proclamation over and over in her mind. She finally
collapsed to her knees, her whole body trembling.

was her first coherent thought.

(Well, well, what did you expect?) another part of her mind told
her snidely. (You knew all along that Shampoo was better than you in
every way, why would Ranma settle for *just* you?)

she countered, but her conviction was
weak.

(Of course he would!) the voice shot back. (With a body like
that, what guy could resist? You knew it was a matter of time, even if
he did profess to care about you. And where was Ranma six weeks ago?)

Akane's jumbled mind searched for the answer.


(Yes, but only for one week, and Ranma was gone for two.)

Akane began to tremble badly, tears welling up in her eyes.
The distraught girl's head spearing
the retreating Saotome with as angry a glare as she could muster, but
for once, she didn't feel like running after and punishing him. She just
felt cheap and used, suddenly surprised at how sick she felt at the
thought of Ranma going at it with Shampoo.

"Don't worry, Akane," the distraught girl barely heard her
father tell her as he put a hand on her shoulder. "As far as I'm
concerned, he's no longer your fiance. You won't have to marry him."

Akane turned the glare on her father. "I never wanted to marry
him anyway! I was against this stupid idea of yours from the beginning!"

Sound was taken aback. "But, Akane, I just-"

"Just leave me alone!" Akane screamed. Somehow finding the
strength, she knocked her father's hand away, then fled up the stairs to
her room, on the verge of breaking down and not wanting anyone to see
it.




Back in the dining room, Nabiki sat back observed all this with
a somewhat satisfied eye. All the combatants had chased their targets
away, Akari had run after Ryoga, and her father had disappeared,
presumably to visit the family shrine.

The Saotomes had left as well, most likely heading back to
their home. They may not be welcome back in the Tendo Dojo for a long
time, if ever, but that was okay with Nabiki. As far as she was
concerned, Genma was even more useless than his son, and Nodoka wasn't
much better.

Nabiki did feel a momentary pang for Akane, who would be broken
up for quite awhile, but overall it was for the best. She cared about
her younger sister very much, but Ranma was just plain bad news. Nabiki
hadn't thought so at first, and was actually quite amused to have the
young Saotome around once she got used to him. He was profitable and
entertaining, and Akane seemed happy with him.

Unfortunately, Ranma was also responsible for nearly getting
her younger sister killed, several times. With his lifestyle and the
weirdoes he attracted, Nabiki knew it was only a matter of time before
Akane wound up dead, or worse. Nabiki didn't really hate Ranma, per se,
he was just too naive and dumb for his own good. He had to go.

She stood and walked over to the veranda, listening the
retreating sounds of violence.

"Nothing personal, Saotome," Nabiki whispered to herself, then
turned around, to look for the folder. "That's strange, where did it
go?" A quick search revealed it was gone. "Shampoo or one of the
fiancees must have picked it up. No big deal." It wasn't like it would
be useful to anyone.

Nabiki headed upstairs to try and comfort her sister. The
sooner she got over Ranma, the better for everyone.


------------------------------------------

Author's notes:
Oi, this writin' ain't easy. I first started this thing as a challenge
to myself when I got into writing my own fanfics(got the idea from Lord
Archive's idea page and used with his permission). I didn't know what I
was getting into, really, and I'm only barely sticking to the outline
for this. Kinda caught within the flow of the story, and now it's
carryin' me along. For instance, I feel this will actually run about 5
parts, instead of the 6 I had originally figured on, I think. We'll see
how long the next part is, and whether I need to break it up. At least
I'm more than half-done.

Anyway, I'm not sure I'm completely happy with this, but I figured I'd
better post something; I definitely did not want to go a year between
parts.

As for Christmas, I don't really know if it's something the Tendo
inhabitants would celebrate (barring the anime OAV episode), but work
with me here. I ain't real smart, and if it looks like I am, well, I'm
faking it brilliantly.

The term *goosh* is shamelessly stolen from Vince's excellent "Taming of
the Horse" fic. It may have been used elsewhere first, but this is where
I know it from. I just like the term *goosh*, even if my spellchecker
doesn't... :)

As always, any thoughts, suggestions, C&C, flames, death threats, and
monetary donations are welcome, at the usual address.

Stay tuned for Part 4, coming out sometime soon...
I swear!
Kaiphantom