Ranma's eyes searched frantically through the clearing smoke. Relief filled him just as the bucket of water crashed over his head. He ignored the change, used to it by now, just as he ignored the feminine hands yanking at his arms. She was fine; safe; still radiant in her now dirty dress as she kicked Kuno in the head. He watched her wearily; ignoring the insults shouted his way and the antics of the other wedding guests, trying in vain to anticipate her reaction as she punted Master Happosai out of the Nerima vicinity. Hands around his waist, a fist to his back, all sound, stopped as her eyes met his.

She had the same look on her face. He felt himself falling, in love with her all over again. It was that first meeting, when she learned about his curse. It was so many quiet talks and deserved slaps. It was a hundred teapots and a dozen buckets. It was too many close calls and too many saves. It was Jusendo all over again. It was the seaside and a steamy bathroom. It was both sunshine and rain.

He felt his surroundings return as she broke and ran. Ranma brushed the feminine hands from around him, seizing his moment of freedom as the girls began arguing amongst themselves. He glanced around, looking for which place needed his intervention first. Ryoga was crying, still in shock, down for the count. The Shampoo and Ukyo fight was edging towards the dojo front gates as more students crowded around what was left of the cake that Kasumi was dishing out. Miss Hinako was passed out next to Mr. Tendo, the sugar rush crashing her system. Mr. Tendo and Mr. Saotome had already started in on the wedding alcohol, drowning their miseries. Mousse was hauling an unconscious Kodachi Kuno across the lawn. Gosunkugi was busy defacing the trees with his voodoo dolls. Ranma breathed a sigh of relief as the last person to worry about was still busy counting gift money and slipped stealthily towards the house.

Akane wasn't in the bathroom, the second place he thought to look. Nor was she in the kitchen or watching television. Ranma swallowed hard as he paused at the bottom of the steps, preparing to follow his first instinct and face his punishment. He took the stairs slowly, one ear cocked towards his destination, the other listening for anyone who might interfere. Ranma paused at the door, his hand on the knob and pressed his ear against the wood. He could hear her in there, still sniffling, but not sobbing and it tore at his heart. It was all because of him. True, he had saved her numerous times, but she had saved him far more. And how much of the trouble she fell into was his fault, anyway. He hoped she was mad and not hurt. He hated to see her cry.

With that thought in his head, he steadied himself and turned the knob. It was dark in her room and though the sniffles stopped, she did not stir. He stumbled a bit on the dress and heels she'd left in the middle of the floor, but came to rest on his knees by her bed, where she was huddled up in a pitiful ball. Ranma reached out a trembling hand to her shoulder.

"Ranma…" She turned under his touch, her tear-filled eyes daggers to his heart.


"Oh Ranma! I'm so sorry!" She was too fast for him again as she sprang up in the bed and threw her arms around him. He froze as she buried her face in his neck. As he felt the first of the sobs rip through her, he knew now was the time. His one cowardice, his one failure, had always been with her. It was time for him to step up; time for him to finally be a man. His hands shook as he slowly brought them around her shoulders, returning her embrace. He felt her breathing catch as his right hand came up, to bury his fingers in her thick hair. His left hand floated down to rest around her waist and pulled her from the bed into his lap.

His hand stayed in her hair even as she pulled back. Her legs were warm around his hips. Akane's eyes searched his, confused, tears still pooled in their depths, her lips still trembling. A blush painted her cheeks and Ranma's pulse broke into a gallop. The moment was here and this time he was ready. He leaned in; his defenses shattered, and gently pressed his lips against hers.

The mallet never came. For just an instant she went still before she responded. Her lips were warm and wet and he suddenly understood why all of those suitors had risked the wrath of his fists just to feel a brush of her lips. As her hands tangled in the lapels of his tuxedo jacket she gasped against his lips and he took the opportunity to depend his kiss. It was better than he'd ever imagined. She fought back even as she swooned in his arms, her passion equaling his as they explored each other. Ranma couldn't escape his competitive nature as he kissed her harder, pulled her closer, wanting her submission. She broke the kiss roughly, breathing hard, her shoulders trembled. He relished it all, his lips finding her neck, the warmth there fueling his desire. A trickle of sweat touched his lips and the taste shed the last of his self control.

He heard her moaning as his hands explored new places. She was his; she always had been. He felt like he was made for her. Made to love her and please her and keep her safe, even when he denied it. His fiancé. Willing to be his wife…At that thought Ranma jerked back, his lips still tingling with the feel of her skin. He gripped her shoulders and looked at her. Bruised lips, red skin and mascara streaked cheeks; he was suddenly ashamed.

She was too good, too good by far for him. He released her as she squirmed away, arms crossing shyly over her chest. It was only then that he registered what she was wearing; or what she wasn't. The corset was pulled very tight, the tops of her breasts exposed and pink with embarrassment. The tops of her stockings were lacy where the garters clenched them and a blue belt was on her thigh over them. He opened his mouth, but couldn't get the words out as she looked up at him. He gaped, waiting for the slap he knew he deserved, but her arms didn't move.

He stopped his gaping when her lips resumed their trembling. Ranma looked her up and down once more then shrugged out of his tuxedo jacket. He stared at the carpet as he handed it to her, breaking their standstill, relieved when she took it. Instead of the slap he deserved he felt Akane's fingertips on the back of his hand. Ranma let his fingers twine with hers, still full of shame, but content. He hoped she wasn't mad about him kissing her. He hoped she'd let him do it again.

The minutes passed with neither of them moving. No noise from the party reached them here and he wondered how long the calm would last. He needed to get the words out before the usual interruptions arrived. He felt the frustration rise as his mouth refused to form the words dancing around in his head.

"Ranma…" She spoke his name softly, but all of his attention was on her. She flinched when their eyes met and he wondered what his face must look like. Ranma worked to soften his expression as she tried again. "I'm sorry, Ranma. I should have just told you about the Nuannichuan. It's all my – " She broke off with a sob and her arms wrapped tighter around her chest. He couldn't take it. Rougher than he intended, he grabbed her delicate wrists, forcing her to face him. Her resistance aggravated his anger. He pulled her close, pinning her arms to her side, making himself felt and before he could think twice about it began his typical insults.

"Akane, you dummy. Yeah, you should have told me, but it's not like I don't always expect you to be in the way by now. Uh…I mean…Uh oh…" Ranma broke off as he felt her battle aura flare up. Her hands clenched into fists beneath his arms and he decided he'd better try again fast before she kicked into the sky to join Kuno and Happosai. "Wait Akane, wait. Don't hit me, yet. It came out wrong, I swear." She calmed down a little, but began squirming and so he tightened his hold.

"Ranma, you jerk, let me go!" Ranma squeezed her even tighter as she yelled, feeling horrible for restraining her, but determined to get the words out this time.

"No! Just let me explain for once!"

"What!? You have more insults?!" Her voice was incredulous and deeply hurt.

"No! I just want for you to quit being such a crybaby!"

"I'm warning you, Ranma! Let go of me now! I'll scream!" She went still as she made her threat and he seized the moment.

"Don't scream, dummy! I don't want you to cry anymore." She stared up at him, still restrained, but no longer struggling, waiting. He could hear his heartbeat getting louder as he tried to force the words out. "I meant, I'm sorry. You…You were doing your best…to help…help me and…I…I…I ruined it." He paused and let his arms drop, realizing that holder her against her will while trying to apologize just made things worse. Instead he hung his head, feeling for the first time just what he had lost today. He felt his eyes prick as he stared at her hands. "I'm sorry I lost the cure. Thank you for trying."

He heard her take a deep breath and then a moment of silence fell over them again. Ranma wondered if things would always be this way between them. The moment dragged as he waited for her to slap him or maybe say something. Ranma closed his eyes as she finally moved, pulling her hands free from his, her weight shifting on his lap. He was surprised again when instead of her fist he felt her fingertips lightly grazing his cheek. A chill rolled down his spine as he remembered the last time she'd touched him like this, but he shook it off. They had survived that, she was alive, dammit. The tears that had pierced his eyes before fell free, splashing the back of her hand. She took another deep breath, but her fingers were still gentle on his cheek.

"I've…I've never minded…your curse…Ranma. I mean it's not like it's your…your heart…your heart changes..and…and…that's what…I" She broke off her stammering words when Ranma raised his head. He felt lost in the depths of her eyes; still shining with emotion and tears. As he stared into her eyes he felt her other hand lightly cup his jaw. The blood pounded in his veins as her eyes fluttered closed. He closed his just in time as she softly, but firmly pressed her lips to his. Again his heart soared, but the kiss remained sweet. Her hands slowly slid down the sides of his face, to his neck, leaving him warm where her she touched. Knowing for sure that she wanted him, accepted him, he slowly ran his hands up and down her sides. He felt her lips part, deepening the kiss and then – a knock on the door.

"Akane, dear, are you in there?"

"Yes, Auntie. I'll be down in a minute." She turned her head so fast Ranma ended up running his tongue along her jaw. He felt her shiver and liked the feeling, keeping his lips at her earlobe. He pulled her closer as she turned back to him, the tuxedo jacket slipping from her shoulders. He ran a hand up an arm, caressing each lean muscle that flexed beneath his fingertips, leaving goose bumps. His shoulders hunched as he kissed his way down to her clavicle, his tongue following the curve of the bone.

"Ranma…" His name fell from her lips in a groan and he wanted to hear it again. He wrapped his arms around her, hands crossing over her back and lifted her slightly. She gasped in surprise and he was suddenly treated to a face full of her cleavage. She moaned and shivered as he kissed the tops of her breasts. His reason was gone again, he wanted her. Ranma's fingers pulled at the lacings of her bodice, the garment tearing loose. He ignored Akane's shocked squeal, but couldn't help moaning himself when she began to kiss his neck. He felt her legs tighten around him and warning lights began going off in his head. Buttons popped, his long sleeved dress shirt roughly torn from his chest. He pulled the troublesome corset off, elastic claps breaking, and chucked it behind his head. Swollen nipples pressed into his chest, wet lips at his ear, he shook and burned. The siren blared deafeningly in his head, but all he could see was her as he rose to his knees, her legs still locked around him, and laid her back on the bed. His hands explored her as his weight settled over her. The bulge in his pants pressed against her still panty clad form and they both gasped together. Hands trembling, breathing hard, his face burning, he slipped his fingertips under the hem of her panties. Ranma's eyes stayed locked on her face as he slowly pulled the thin material down.

They both jumped as the door opened. "Akane, have you seen Ran-" The voice stopped. Ranma was both irritated at the interruption and relieved it was his mother and not Kasumi or their fathers. "Oh, there you are. I should have known you'd be in here. Try not to take too long dears, Kasumi wants for you to come down and join the party. Oh and Akane, maybe we should look into installing a lock on this door later." They remained frozen as the door quietly shut. He felt her trembling and realized his hand was still partially inside her panties, caught in the act of removing them. He looked down at her, her face as red as his own and wondered what exactly he should do now.