Disclaimer: Ranma and Akane, lovely characters that they are, belong to Takahashi-san.

Realization

Things were different after Jusendo. She couldn't quite put her finger on what exactly had changed… she just knew it had. She did not even know what it was that she expected, but it certainly was not this – this odd, eerie calm. The "calm before the storm" so to speak. It felt more like tension strung taught as a bowstring. She felt it throughout the Tendo household and even in Nerima itself. She sighed. Why could things never get resolved?

After the failed wedding attempt, Akane spent the days following in a perpetual state of anger and frustration. Ranma had said that he loved her. She had heard it, she was sure of it. How could he profess his love for her, only to take it back? And under those circumstances!

Perhaps it was exactly those circumstances that were to be blamed. She had nearly died during the battle with Saffron. Everyone's emotions were running high. Maybe, she thought, the drama of the moment spurred Ranma to say something that he didn't really feel. Oh, she knew he liked her – or at least liked her better than he did his other fiancées. But that hardly meant that he loved her. She was the only one who tried to consider his feelings from time to time, (despite her tendency towards malleting) and she was a part of the only home that Ranma had ever known. Of course he liked her, but that was hardly enough. What if he thought of her like a sister? Protected her because he cared – just not enough to marry her?

She felt like they had come so far, and so close to some sort of a resolution. Ever since the failed marriage though, Ranma barely spoke a word.

They spoke from time to time. If she asked him a direct question he would answer, but only with monosyllabic responses. He had seemingly withdrawn from everyone, but most particularly from her. If she walked into a room that Ranma was in, he was very swiftly make an excuse to go to another. He could barely make eye contact with her when they were together. Even their walks to school every day were restrained.

She just couldn't figure it out. Akane only knew that she missed him. She knew that meant including all the fighting and the craziness—but she missed all of it nonetheless. And that was one of the other strange aspects of the last month. The fiancées. None of them had shown their faces around the dojo since the failed marriage three weeks ago. All of them were apparently too ashamed to repeat their performance. At least, not for a while longer. They had conspicuously left Ranma and Akane alone on their walks to school, which hadn't helped the awkwardness at all. Additionally, because they were barely talking they also barely had time to hurl their usual insults at one another. There were no fiancées around to make Akane jealous, so the typical fiancée glomp-leading-to-Akane-jealousy didn't happen either.

Quite frankly, it was just weird. And it certainly wasn't going to last if Akane had anything to say about it. She would find out whatever had gotten into him even if it meant malleting it out of him. Baka. She just wanted her Ranma back… even though that probably meant that she would have to resign herself to never being with him and only ever being the girl he fought with. She was willing to risk it. Anything was better than this unbearable calm.

I just can't do this anymore, he thought. I just can't.

For the last three weeks he had been on edge. For the last three weeks he couldn't focus on his training. For the last three weeks he had stumbled around the Tendo household desperately trying to avoid a certain blue-haired girl. That's because, for the last three weeks, he had only just come to know himself.

It was at Jusendo that Ranma first discovered that he loved Akane. Oh, he had known for years that he liked her the best out of all his fiancées—even knew that he had a massive crush on her. But it was only at Jusendo that he suddenly, painfully, realized just how much of his happiness hinged on her wellbeing.

The knowledge broke over him like an enormous tidal wave. He was incapable of holding it back, and was left stunned in its wake. That was why he had denied everything after the wedding. How could he admit to Akane that he loved her, when he had only just discovered that he did himself? He didn't even know what it meant.

For once, Ranma was going to think before he acted. And think he did. He spent an entire month trying to piece together exactly what had happened at Jusendo and how it would change the future. It took him a long time to finally come to terms with the fact that he loved Akane. It was difficult to do at first, but he realized that it made a lot of things simpler in the long run. It meant that he had a clear idea of what he wanted, but he was left completely in the dark about what she wanted. With this realization came the terror of rejection. Why had she really been willing to marry him? She said it was for the Nannichuan, but how should he interpret that? That she would only be willing to marry him if she could marry a whole man? Or that she genuinely, selflessly was willing to sacrifice her future for the sake of his happiness?

More impossible still was the idea that she may have actually wanted to marry a sex-changing freak like him, regardless of his cure. No, he shouldn't think like that. Far safer not to get his hopes up.

Ranma was surprised at himself. Never, in all his life, had he spent so much time in serious reflection. Really though, he had never been given an opportunity. He would meditate as a part of his training, but all too often would come the challenges and the death threats as an inevitable interruption.

The upside of all this thinking was that he knew, without a doubt, what his goal was: marry Akane. The downside: not being able to handle being in her presence for more than a few minutes at a time.

He was terrified that he would say something he would regret – betray an emotion that was all too likely not to be reciprocated. His feelings were too strong. What if she got scared away? The force of his emotions terrified him, so it only stood to reason that she would be terrified too.

And what did he have to offer her? He was a man who was not a man. He pissed her off multiple times a day, never seemed to do anything right, and always seemed to get her into more trouble than he was worth. For example, Jusendo. She never would have been as close to death if he had never shown up in her life. Sometimes he wondered if he should just pack his bags and go.

Hardly. He couldn't bring himself to leave her. Ever. Which only left one option. Tell her how he felt.

Good. That was decided. But when? And how? They were so good at fighting – could they ever manage to have a normal, functional relationship? And what if she really did hate him? He thought there were times when maybe she liked him a little bit, and she did always get jealous…but really, who was he trying to kid? She malletted him more times a day than he could count. And really, he reasoned with himself, she didn't even need to hate him. She just needed to not love him – and that would be enough to make him miserable.

Even so, he would still be there to protect her. It would nearly kill him to do it. But he would.

So, he thought. It's decided. I'll tell her. I think.

Just as this thought ran through his head, Akane walked into the kitchen where he was sitting. He looked up, and his mouth instantly went dry. He mumbled some silly excuse about having to run through his katas and bolted out of the room. Behind him, Akane looked at his retreating form with narrowed eyes. She would get it out of him if it killed her.

Ranma was trying, with very little success, to focus on the katas he was performing. His motions were still fluid, still more accurate than anyone else's, but to a familiar eye it was obvious that his mind was elsewhere. That familiar eye was Akane's. She had followed him to the dojo with the sole purpose of cornering him and bashing – er, talking to him until he spilled his guts.

She was surprised. He was so distracted that he had not even noticed her entrance. Usually he could sense someone sneaking up on him immediately. She purposely walked towards him, and when she was only a few feet away, authoritatively addressed him.

"Ranma."

He almost jumped out of his skin at the sound of her voice. He spun around and immediately took a defensive stance. Akane raised an eyebrow.

"Oh, uh, sorry Akane." He rose, and began to self-consciously scratch the back of his head.

She began to get frustrated. He was looking absolutely everywhere but at her. The floor, the wall, the ceiling… that jerk. Was she so terrible to look at? It was bad enough he never wanted to marry her, but the least he could do was look her in the eye like anyone else!

Ranma could already see her aura flaring up out of the corner of his eye. He figured he should do something, but all he could do was stammer out, "W-whaddaya want?"

"What do I want?" Akane fumed. How could he be so thickheaded? She tried, however, to hold back some of her anger. She wouldn't find out why he was being so weird if she malleted him out of sight. "What I want is for you to be normal again. It's been a month Ranma. A month! What is wrong with you? You won't even talk to me anymore!"

"I'm talkin' to ya now aren't I?"

"Barely! And you won't even look at me Ranma!"

Ranma felt his old defense mechanisms rise up. "Yeh, well, who would want to bother lookin' at an uncute tomboy like you anyhow?" He could have kicked himself. Why did he always do this? Why, why, did he always look to hurt her and push her away in order to defend himself?

Akane's eyes burned from the attempt she made to hold back the tears. She was already emotionally drained from the failed wedding, but the added strain of the last month had put her entirely on edge. She took a few moments to steady herself. In a quiet, defeated voice she said, "Ranma, you jerk. I already know that you think I'm uncute and sexless and a tomboy and bad at martial arts," her voice trembled as she fought to keep her voice calm. "I know you'd rather not be stuck with me as your fiancée, but you've always felt that way."

Ranma snapped his eyes away from the floor and finally looked at her. What he saw in her face was something he had never seen before. Anger and tears he was used to. But never such weary sadness and resignation. He opened his mouth to say something—anything—that would explain, but the words caught in his throat.

"Why now Ranma? Why do you hate me more now than you did before? Before that stupid wedding we at least talked occasionally and fought all the time, but now we don't even do that! Do you hate me because I agreed to marry you? Is that it? That I was going to force you to do something you didn't want to do?"

"I-I don't hate you Akane"

"Well, you're sure acting like it. Look, I'm sorry you got stuck with me, and I'm sorry I tried to help you. I just wish we could be cordial with each other even if we can't be friends." She said bitterly.

Ranma said the first thing that came to mind.

"I don't want to be friends."

The words spilled out of him. Ranma instantly regretted them as he saw their effect, but he was rooted to the spot. Akane's jaw set, with unshed tears swimming in her eyes.

"I understand Ranma. Fine. I won't bother you anymore" she spat. Akane turned around and began to run out of the dojo.

This was bad. That wasn't what he had meant, damnit! Why did he always say the wrong things? Why didn't she ever wait for him to explain himself? Ranma knew he had to do something fast. Say something? Call after her?

Nah, he was sick of all this talking crap. It never worked anyhow. He thought, screw it. I don't even care if she beats me to a pulp after this – it'll be worth it.

And Ranma, ever a man of action, grabbed Akane's arm just as she reached the door. In one swift motion, he spun her around until she faced him, pulled her to him and kissed her square on the mouth.

Akane's eyes were open. She had yet to register exactly what was happening. Was Ranma – kissing her? For a moment her mind went blank. He was kissing her. Her. Akane. Nobody else. And as far as she knew, he wasn't under a curse or a potion or a spell. It was him kissing her. But…if he didn't want to be friends…could he…could he want to be more?

She couldn't believe it. She made a muffled "mmph!" sound as she pushed at his chest until he broke the kiss. At first he cringed in anticipation of the dreaded mallet, but when he squinted one eye open, all he saw was Akane desperately searching his face.

"Look at me Ranma." He did as he was told. "Are you sure?" she asked, a little worried at his response.

Gruffly, he answered in a low voice, "Yeh, I'm sure."

It was enough for her. The look in his eyes, the sincerity of his voice…

Suddenly he felt both of Akane's hands on either side of his head, and she was kissing him with everything she had in her. Body trembling, she poured every feeling of frustration and hope and desperation into the kiss. He understood, and wrapped his arms around her. He could only respond in kind, and it was minutes before they pulled away for air. He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against hers.

"Marry me Akane. Please. Not 'cause somebody is forcing us to, or you feel like you have to. But I wanna be fiancés for real from now on.

"Ranma…"

Suddenly fearing rejection despite the assurances of her kisses, he said quickly "Its ok if you don't wanna. I'll understand. It's not a big deal really… I just realized at…at Jusendo…just how much I…I…lo--"

Akane looked at her poor, struggling fiancé with a pitying smile. He was trying so hard. If he had backpedaled like this before the failed wedding, before she knew how he kissed her, she would have been furious. But now she just saw Ranma. Her endearingly nervous fiancé, awkwardly stumbling through a proposal to the girl he loved. Her.

"Ranma" He saw that she had an odd smile on her face. That had to be a good sign…right?

"Ranma. You don't have to say it if you don't want to or you can't yet. But I know you do. And I feel the same way about you, ok? So yes Ranma. I'll marry you. And I promise I'll try to be a good wife to you. But…are you sure you don't mind that I can't cook? That I'm a 'sexless, uncute, tomboy?"

"But you're my sexless, uncute tomboy" he smirked. Akane's eyes narrowed in response. "Hey" Ranma said, "You know I'm just kidding, right? C'mon 'kane, you had all the boys in school tryin' to date you cause you were the cutest, prettiest one. What makes you think I didn't notice too?"

"Well, you had all those other girls…"

"All those other girls are crazy! And wantin' me to do stuff. None of them ever wanted or accepted me for me. Speakin' of which… Akane, are you sure you don't mind that I'm a 'sex-changing freak'"

"Oh Ranma, you know I've never cared about that. It's always you, so what does it matter?"

"Then why did you always say it all the time? I thought, I dunno, I thought that you were ashamed to have a fiancé who was less than a man."

"I suppose it's probably for the same reasons you called me all those names… I just didn't want you to know how I felt about you if you didn't feel the same way back."

"Yeh, I guess that's true."

Akane changed the subject. "So wait. You never did tell me why you've been acting so strangely lately. Why, if you didn't hate me, why couldn't you even look at me?"

Ranma began to blush. "Well. I dunno. I had finally realized what it was that I wanted, but at the same time I realized that I had no idea what to do about it. And I just needed some time to think about it without us fightin' and hittin' and everything. Plus. I dunno Akane. I just…I…"

Akane looked perplexed.

He decided that for once, honesty actually was the best policy. "I guess I've just wanted to kiss you for awhile now, but it just got worse after Jusendo. So every time I was around you I couldn't stop thinking about it, but thinking about it meant doing something about it…so I would just…run away."

"Ha! You were scared you mean"

Ranma bristled. "Hey I never get scared of nothin'" Akane looked at him and raised an eyebrow. "Ok well, cats are a different story. But I ain't scared of just—"

She cut him off with a kiss and said affectionately, "Baka. Come on, let's go grab a snack from the kitchen. I'm starving!" She flashed him that adorable smile that always turned him to mush, grabbed his hand, and dragged a stunned Ranma behind her.

Is this really how girls act after getting engaged? No, he thought. This is how Akane acts right after she gets officially engaged to me. He couldn't hold back the grin. The future suddenly looked like it was going to be a lot of fun…

The End ^_^