Adamantine Mist
By M. Zephyr

Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 is a trademark of Rumiko Takahashi and VIZ Communications, and its characters have been borrowed without permission. This story was written for non-commercial purposes only.

The official end of the story Adamantine Mist is the chapter 7 which accompanies that story. However, rather as with the movie Clue, I have prepared a couple of alternate endings for those who might enjoy them. These are provided here, as chapters 7B and 7C.

One caveat: the story was not originally designed with such alternate endings in mind, and I wish people to be able to go straight from the end of chapter 6 to either of these chapters. For that reason, a significant amount of text near the beginning of each chapter is copied verbatim from the official chapter 7.

Here in chapter 7B, the initial scene between Tofu and Kasumi is the same until near the end, with differences starting in the paragraph that begins "For Tofu it felt as if the pull of gravity ..." Likewise, the scene after that between Ranma and Akane starts out the same but diverges at the paragraph which starts with "Ranma sighed, telling himself he wasn't disappointed ..."

The remainder of the chapter after those two scenes is completely different, with the exception of one or two minor similarities early on.

Chapter 7B. Family Honor

With the threats to her well-being removed, Kasumi was once more free to venture forth alone from her house, and she needed to do so frequently. The wedding was now just three days away, yet there were still a great many details to be dealt with, and - although everyone was helping - there were some things which Kasumi just had to handle herself. The errand at hand was one such. More, it was one which she was not looking forward to, for it promised to be painful.

Nonetheless, she did not allow her inner dread to show in her expression. Kasumi bestowed upon every person she passed the same gentle smile and cheerful greeting as always, and all of them replied in kind. Only she was aware that her pace was slowing, as though she could draw out the journey, her destination forever just out of reach. Not that it was possible to do so. In fact, the young woman looked up to see that she was already there, gazing with a heavy heart upon the words printed on the front window: "Ono Clinic."

Firmly grasping the preserved shard of pottery in her hand, Kasumi advanced upon the door. She opened it slowly, entered, stepped out of her shoes and into slippers, then crossed the room. Every act seemed to stretch out, as though she were moving in slow motion. Feeling quite improper, she glided silently down the hall, slipping past the examination room without drawing notice from the doctor or his patient. Relieved at reaching Doctor Tofu's office unseen, Kasumi released the breath she was unaware she'd been holding. Once there, she prepared tea for two people, seated herself in the visitor's chair and settled herself to wait.

It wasn't truly very long before Kasumi heard voices out in the hall. Several seconds later the door opened and Doctor Tofu Ono strolled briskly into the room. He was already turning the corner around his desk when he finally realized that the room was not unoccupied. Kasumi wasted no time sliding her chair over a meter, placing it in front of the door.

"Hello, Tofu-sensei."

Tofu swallowed heavily, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down. "Ka-Ka-Kasumi-san!" he choked out. His stumbling steps backed him into the corner of the office.

"I have come to return these books." The young woman removed two books from her bag and placed them on the desk. "I'm sorry that I kept them for so long."

"Qui-Quite all right," Tofu replied with a chuckle, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and using it to dust the telephone. "Wh-what brings you here?"

"I believe I just told you I was returning two books," Kasumi said sternly. "Now please sit down." The last two words were not given as an order, precisely, but certainly carried the suggestion that the speaker could not conceive that you would not do as she asked.

Tofu sat. He tried to loosen his necktie, only to remember he wasn't wearing one.

"This behavior of yours has gone on quite long enough," Kasumi said severely. Or at least what passed for severely when coming from Kasumi Tendo. "At one time it was amusing. However, I am due to be married soon, and I believe it is time you cease trying to amuse me with your antics, and start behaving more respectfully."

Tofu swallowed heavily again, wincing in pain at this reminder. At a further sensation of pain from his leg, he looked down to find that he had jabbed his thigh with no fewer than five acupuncture needles. He pulled them free and carefully laid them in a row on his desk. Tensing his muscles to try to hold himself still, the young doctor replied, "Of ... of course. You're quite right." Sweat beaded his brow at the effort he was making.

Kasumi cast a critical eye over him, noting the perspiration, the fidgeting hands, the tremors, the eyes darting back and forth. Her lips thinned. For this conversation, she wanted his entire attention.

"Tofu-sensei, you appear to be distracted to an unwarranted degree. Is something wrong? Is there perhaps a dose of some medicine you could take to calm your nerves, without damaging your judgment or wit?"

Tofu's mind irresistibly followed this train of thought, passing along the pharmacopoeia in his cabinets. After a moment he paused at the thought of something which might indeed give him peace for a short space of time. It had never occurred to him to try before, probably because these encounters always seemed to be unplanned. Or at least, unplanned by himself.

With a nod, the doctor shakily rose to his feet. From a shelf he pulled down a jar, containing fragments of leaves, and examined it carefully. This would not be the time to mistakenly choose the wrong substance. He clumsily managed to grind a bit of leaf with a pestle he had present, spilling a considerable quantity more, then spooned a small amount into his tea. After this he spent a few moments staring at the cup in confusion, not having remembered pouring himself any tea. Shaking his head, he sat down on the edge of his chair and managed to sip from his cup without spilling it all over himself.

Unable to remain sitting after he finished, Tofu stood quickly, banging his chair back against a shelf. He walked over to the table at the side of the room. There he went through rapid motions, preparing tea for both himself and his guest.

"Er, Tofu-sensei? I already made tea for both of us. You put the medicine in yours and drank it. Remember?"

Tofu paused in his movements, cursing himself silently for acting the fool. He clutched the edge of the table to keep his hands still. He remained in that position for five minutes, at the end of which time a tingling sensation at his extremities suggested that the potion was taking effect. He returned to his chair and lowered himself into it, again sitting near the front edge.

Fixing his gaze politely on his guest, Tofu said, "Thank you for returning the books, although of course you're welcome to keep them for as long as you like. It's, ah ... very nice to see you."

Kasumi tilted her head slightly. "You're welcome. And thank you. Now, I hope you will forgive me for asking, but why did you send your regrets in response to the invitation to my wedding?"

Tofu looked pained. "I'm afraid that I'll be busy that day."

Kasumi raised her eyebrows. "On a Sunday? It would be most impolite for me to suggest any prevarication on your part. Almost as impolite as it would be for you to prevaricate."

He drew in a quick but soft breath, not used to hearing such things from the young maiden before him. "Nonetheless, I fear I will be unable to attend. For ... for personal reasons, if you must have some other answer."

"Well, I'm sorry to say, but I think I must have some answer beyond that," Kasumi said as politely as she could. She stiffened her resolve, refusing to take the easy path, determined to give him the necessary extra push to do the right thing. "You have been not only our family doctor, but a dear friend for many years now. To fail to join us to celebrate this occasion - the idea is inconceivable. You must come, really you must. Or at least, you must provide some much better excuse."

Tofu dropped his eyes, pasting a small smile on his lips. "Where is the Kasumi I have known all of these years? The young lady who never forgets even the least trifle of etiquette? Hearing you set aside the proprieties like this makes me wonder if the end of the world draws near. Or perhaps I am dreaming."

Kasumi folded her hands in her lap, pursing her lips to avoid their involuntary tremor, for indeed this was coming hard to her. "If it helps you to believe that you are in a dream, then do so. As long as you answer."

Tofu sighed regretfully, knowing that he would have to answer. He could refuse the woman before him nothing if she insisted. He spoke bluntly, the herb he'd ingested cushioning some of his pain. "I do not wish to come because of the pain it would bring me. To see you marry Ranma Saotome."

Kasumi gave a small nod in acknowledgment at finally receiving some small measure of honesty. Her eyes were burning with unshed tears and for a short while, she did not trust herself to speak. Then she replied with, "May I ask what problem you have with my fiancé? He is a few years younger than myself, and granted a trifle impulsive and ill mannered, yet he has a good heart withal. I believe that he will make a good husband."

The doctor turned away for a moment, wishing there were some way out of this conversation. He turned back, forging ahead resolutely. "The problem is not with Ranma. At least not directly. In fact, I quite wish that I could hate him over this. It would make it easier, somehow. But I can't. You're right, he is a good man once you get past his rough exterior. If only he were marrying someone else. Someone like your sister."

Kasumi asked quietly, "You do not believe that I have the right to marry a good man?"

Tofu's jaw dropped. "Of ... of course you do! But I always hoped that I could ... I mean ..."

The young woman across the desk inquired gently, "Could what?"

Tofu's eyes dropped, resigning himself to his doom. He whispered, "I hoped that I could be the one to marry you."

At his words, Kasumi's heart took flight like a bird in the spring, singing with joy. For a few wonderful moments she treasured the feeling. Then she squeezed hard on the piece of porcelain resting under her palm, biting her lip softly at the pain. She wrapped Tofu's words in silk cloth and tucked them away in a corner of her mind. Shutting a door carefully on the memory, she hardened herself to keep to the course she had set.

"Why have you never said this before?" she asked quietly, trying, not entirely successfully, to keep her voice calm.

"You ... you were too young. Much too young," Tofu replied tearfully. "Still in middle school. Day after day I had to remind myself of how young you were."

Kasumi pressed her lips together tightly. Taking a deep breath, she responded acerbically, "I have not been in middle school for many years. I came of age over a year ago. A year ago! For that matter, my father would have been delighted to give his consent even before that, at least after Akane was chosen as Ranma's original fiancée. Why? Why did you wait until it was too late to tell me this?"

Tofu could not help but drop his face into his hands. Hoarsely, he told her, "That is a question with which I have been torturing myself daily for nearly a month. I believe ... I had been reminding myself of your youth for so long, it had become a ... a habit. A habit I could not break. Yet somehow I always dreamed ..." He shook his head, then lifted his face, moisture evident at the corners of his eyes. "But do you not understand? I can't bear the thought of standing there and watching you marry Ranma."

Kasumi steeled herself for what she must do. "I understand that you are a coward."

Tofu fell back in his chair as if he were shot.

The young woman went on, unstoppably. "You are a close friend of the Tendo family. You have been a friend to Ranma as well. All of our neighbors know this. You have been invited to our wedding, and everyone will expect to see you there. If you do not appear, they will all wonder, and will speculate as to the reason. I understand that it will be painful. Are you not man enough to do your social duty and see it through, regardless? Or do the bonds of honor only apply when they are easy to satisfy?"

She watched with careful dispassion as the man sitting across from her worked his mouth, no sound emerging. She gave him a couple of minutes. When there was no sign of improvement, she asked impatiently, "Well?"

For Tofu it felt as if the pull of gravity upon his body had doubled. He had collapsed, and only the support of the chair kept him off the floor. For the first time in his memory, the sweet girl he had known all of these years had revealed something more stern, and he could not stop the thought that it only made him love her all the more. Yes, Tofu decided, he did love her. But did he love her enough?

The doctor looked up to see that Kasumi was still looking at him, waiting, demanding an answer. Demanding that he prove himself a man after all.

He closed his eyes, drawing strength up from somewhere deep inside himself. The strength he was going to need, desperately. "I will be a man, Kasumi-san," he told her carefully. "I promise you. I will do what honor requires of me."

"Thank you, Tofu-sensei," Kasumi replied calmly. She was relieved at his answer, yet wished that he might have been a little more definite. The young woman rose to her feet and bestowed upon him a grateful smile. Then she turned and walked out through the door.

Tofu did not move from that spot for half an hour, his mind deep in thought, until a nervous tap came upon the door, looking for the doctor. Ignoring his aching joints, he pulled himself to his feet and greeted the patient, taking the elderly man to the examination room. The quiet routine of his job occupied only a portion of Tofu's mind, the rest given over to contemplations of Kasumi's marriage, and the future.

The bell rang signaling the end of the final day of class for the first term. Students streamed out of the building, laughing and ready to begin their summer break. Two additional figures emerged slowly, well after all the rest. Neither Ranma nor Akane particularly felt like running anywhere.

On arriving home they found that there would be no martial arts practice that day, nor could there be until after the wedding. At least not within the dojo. The inside of the building had been transformed, tables lined along the walls, chairs arranged in rows between, and an aisle running up the middle. Even if the dojo had been available, there was no time, as everyone was busy with final preparations. Akane was immediately pressed into helping, although Nodoka had the presence of mind to choose tasks for her which lay outside the kitchen.

Ranma escaped to the dojo where Soun Tendo and his own father were putting up decorations. He knew that he should offer to help, but couldn't bring himself to do so. He might not try to stop what was coming, but it was growing increasingly difficult to force himself to do anything which served to bring it closer. He stepped back out of the doorway before the two men could see him, then jumped over the wall, heading for the park on the south side of town where he hoped to meditate on absolutely nothing for a while.

Two pairs of eyes in the kitchen watched him go - Kasumi and Nodoka. The two women exchanged worried glances. They had conferred previously regarding Ranma's recent behavior, his mother expressing a concern that he might try to run off before Sunday to escape the pressure, Kasumi certain that he would not. In the end, Nodoka didn't need much persuading to convince her that her son would do the manly thing and be present for the ceremony.

The main cause of their worry was the knowledge that Ranma would have to return well before dinner today to meet with the priest. Thinking that perhaps he and Akane were ready to clear the air between themselves, at least a little, regarding the upcoming wedding, Kasumi decided to send Akane out later to retrieve him. However, after a considerable time passed Akane still had not reappeared, even though she must have completed her current chore.

A little concerned, Kasumi set out to find her baby sister. After looking in a couple of other places, she knocked on the closed door of Akane's bedroom. "Wh-who is it?" came a quavery voice from inside.

"It's Kasumi," the older sister said as cheerfully as she could. "I need you to do me a favor."

"J-just a minute, oneechan."

After several long seconds Akane opened her door, smiling brightly. For her part, Kasumi carefully made no show of noticing the red streaks below Akane's eyes.

"Sorry," Akane said. "I got a bit of a headache and decided to lie down for a few minutes."

"I hope you're feeling better now," Kasumi replied tenderly. "You see, I was hoping you could do something for me. Do you think you could go and find Ranma? He's wandered off again, and I'm afraid he might forget that the priest is coming later to go over the ceremony with us. There's no real hurry, so take your time. Perhaps the fresh air will even help with your headache."

"Okay," Akane said, less gloomily. The idea of getting out of the house for an hour or so did seem rather appealing at the moment. "I'll find the baka for you."

Kasumi smiled. "There's no need to call him that. Just remind him to be back in time. That's all."

Ranma was in the second place Akane looked, at one of the local parks, somewhat off the walking path sitting on a bench by a wall. He was apparently watching a family who were feeding ducks at a pond some distance away. For a few minutes Akane just stood there, drinking in the sight of him, remembering how he had come into her life and everything they had been through together. Then some sixth sense alerted him to her presence, for he turned his head her way, catching her watching him. Gathering her courage Akane walked over and sat beside him.

Ranma made room on the bench for her, wondering why she had come to join him. He'd been meditating on the crying he heard from her room each night, asking himself if maybe, just maybe, it might mean she wanted him after all. The notion was hard to believe, but if there were any possibility it could be true, hadn't he better try to find out soon? That was why, before Akane's unexpected appearance, he'd been sitting there trying to work up the courage to ask her, to learn the truth. Now, almost as if Fate had sent her there, she'd just walked up and sat down at his side. Perhaps Akane had decided to broach the subject herself?

"Looking for me?" he asked hopefully, keeping his eyes fixed on the family he'd been watching, afraid that if he looked at her he'd betray himself.

"Yeah," she said. "Kasumi sent me to find you. To remind you that the priest is coming over to review everything." She sat beside him, yet not too closely, and focused on the same family group which seemed to hold his attention.

Ranma sighed, telling himself he wasn't disappointed that she had sought him out for Kasumi's sake and not for her own. He looked up at the sun to gauge the time. "Got an hour, or more, before that. Suppose I had forgotten though. Thanks."

Akane glanced sidelong at him. "Something wrong?" she asked, curious about the sigh.

Ranma shrugged disconsolately. "I just wish ..." He trailed off.

"What?" Akane asked, tilting her head to the side, wondering what was going through his head.

Ranma shook his head. "Nothing. Wishing it was all over with. Everything's in such a flurry back home. It'll be nice when things settle down."

"Oh." Akane turned her eyes down to her lap. "Yeah. It has been pretty hectic. It'll be, uh, yeah, good to have it ... over with."

Both of them sat there, in silence, eyes focused into the distance. Neither turned to look at the other. Both of them wondering what the other was thinking. Both of them afraid to ask.

One of Ranma's hands clenched into a fist - the one on the side away from her, where she couldn't see. Why did things have to turn out this way? He thought of all the times he had tried to imagine what it would be like to be married to Akane. Spending time with her, no one interfering. Teaching in the dojo together. Raising a family, and teaching martial arts to their kids. Growing old together. His throat grew hot, tight, aching.

On the other hand, what was he supposed to do? Confess his love to the girl who had always considered him a pervert and a freak? He could picture the way she'd look at him, her lips pursed together. Strangely, he didn't think she'd yell at him, or even call him names. She'd just tell him flatly that she could never return his feelings. Which would be more devastating than any insult she could come up with.

But then he came back to the question again, why did Akane cry herself to sleep each night? Ranma knew that it probably wasn't because she wanted to marry him, but wasn't there at least a chance that maybe she did? Some tiny chance? And if he didn't speak now, and she did feel that way, would he have lost that chance forever?

He cleared his throat. "Akane?"

"Yes, Ranma?"

He paused, trying to think of how to ask this - possibly the most important question he had ever asked. "Why do I hear you crying every night?"

Akane's throat closed up. He was listening? Every night? Why? Wasn't it bad enough to be called macho? Was he going to start calling her a crybaby now? Would the pain of his insults never end?

Akane drew in on herself, looking down so that her bangs hid her face. Speaking just above a whisper, voice hoarse, she answered, "Maybe it's because, even if you marry Kasumi instead of me, I've still got to put up with your insults for the rest of my life. Jerk."

Ranma turned his face half away, eyes closed and teeth clenched together. It was just as he feared, then. Akane had never wanted him, just like she'd always said. She was even upset about having him as a brother-in-law. It was like he'd told Ukyo - he could never have what he wanted, so he might as well do what his family wanted. At least Kasumi was nice. The thought of being married to her made him feel decidedly weird, but he'd get over that in time. Wouldn't he?

Akane was watching Ranma, puzzled by his lack of response. No teasing? No insults? What was going on in his head? Carefully, she asked, "Ranma?"

He didn't bother to turn back toward her. He needed to stop thinking of Akane that way, needed to focus on the girl he was going to marry. "I hear you loud and clear, tomboy. Sorry we'll be stuck putting up with each other. I'll try to be a bit more polite from now on, s'long as you do the same. Live and let live, eh? So you ain't gotta do any more stupid crying."

Ranma stood suddenly, unable to bear to sit with her further at that moment, with his emotions churning inside him. He never looked back; he didn't see her features cloud over at the remark about her 'stupid crying.' With a wave of his hand he said, "Tell Kasumi I'll be back in time for the priest." Then he walked off, striding swiftly away.

Akane stared at his back as Ranma left. Part of her wanted to jump up and run after him, but her pride wouldn't let her show such weakness to someone who had clearly never wanted her in the same way she had wanted him. Ranma was satisfied with the idea of marrying Kasumi. Kasumi wanted to marry Ranma. There really wasn't anything else to say about it, was there?

Ranma's figure grew smaller and smaller, until he disappeared around a bend in the path. In some manner Akane didn't understand he took the sun with him, leaving her sitting there in darkness.

Doctor Tofu Ono stood in the street, looking at the front of the Ono Clinic in the gathering dusk. Well, no, that wasn't its name any longer. He wasn't even sure why he had come this way, why he had wanted one last look at the place. It held a lot of memories, of course. Particularly memories of Kasumi Tendo bringing her little sister Akane by to have some minor injury tended.

Kasumi Tendo. That wouldn't be her name much longer, either. Tomorrow she would become Kasumi Saotome. The thought brought a fresh wave of pain, but he was determined to keep that pain to himself, not force her to share it. What was the old saying? Something about loving someone enough to let them go? Well, he was determined to prove that he loved Kasumi enough.

Not that he intended to stick around and torture himself, watching her settle into married life with young Ranma. It was true that his planned departure was filling him with an incredible amount of guilt, knowing that she would disapprove of his current actions, that she would think he was acting without honor in leaving before her wedding. But he was willing to pay that price. Better, on the whole, that Kasumi think of him as a man without honor. If she did happen to have any feelings for him, that would help her to put them firmly aside, to focus all of her bountiful heart on her husband.

Of course, the real reason he was leaving now was so as not to dishonor himself and her. Tofu knew that if he did attend the wedding, it would be impossible for him to quietly see it through. After all, he had never been sane in her presence before, so how could he expect himself to be so now? It was all too easy to imagine himself losing his grip on reality during the ceremony, proclaiming his love for her before all of the guests, attacking the blameless Ranma. The disaster of the previous wedding attempt had been bad enough for the Tendo family. There was no way that Tofu would allow himself to be the cause of another such scandal.

Tofu turned to the side, facing the direction in which the Tendo home lay. "Be happy, Kasumi-san," he whispered. Then he settled his bag more firmly on his shoulder and started walking with a determined air in the opposite direction, toward the train station.

The sun slipped below the horizon, the shadows of the buildings blanketing the street with darkness. The streetlights came on, casting their halos of illumination along the road and sidewalks. But Doctor Tofu Ono had already vanished into the shadows.

Sunday morning arrived. Kasumi's eyes fluttered open to the sound of a biwa, the strings plucking out a somber tune which echoed within her heart. Combined with the gray light which presaged the sun's rising, the young woman was filled with a sense of foreboding. Her hand reached up to silence the alarm as she rose to a sitting position, while reminding herself, needlessly, that it would all be over by the end of the day, one way or another.

As the fated time approached, the family gathered together. All except Ranma and Kasumi were already dressed for the ceremony. Casually assuming power on this, her alleged wedding day, Kasumi gave them their directions.

"Nabiki please go outside with our fathers. Father, Uncle Saotome, you should wait at the gate to greet our guests, then escort them into the dojo, where you and Nabiki should help them find their proper seats. Ranma, I know that a tuxedo makes you uncomfortable, but you must put it on before you can marry me. Akane, I will need you and Aunt Nodoka to help me with my wedding gown."

Akane winced internally. She was determined to see this through, but had no wish to be any closer to the center of things than absolutely necessary. "Er, perhaps I should help father with the guests and Nabiki should help you to dress?"

Nabiki sighed and started toward the stairs, only to stop in surprise when Kasumi spoke.

"Akane, is there some reason you cannot help me with my gown?"

The youngest sister was caught, unwilling to give an honest answer. She shook her head and quietly responded, "Of ... of course not, Kasumi oneechan." With a heavy heart she turned toward the stairs and mounted them. Kasumi, Nodoka and Ranma followed after, the latter turning toward his own room once he reached the upstairs hall.

Ranma donned the tuxedo slowly, listlessly. He saw no point in hurrying. He was about to close one chapter in his life, and start another, but felt little joy in the thought. All he felt was duty. He was going to fulfill his father's pledge and carry out his mother's wishes. This was for them, not him.

Ranma wondered idly how Kasumi truly felt about all this. Did she look forward longingly to their marriage? Or was it, for her, also done out of duty, the fulfillment of the pledge made by her father? He hoped, for her sake, that she wanted it at least a little. The young man promised himself to try to be a good husband, to make an effort not to make life any more difficult for Kasumi than he could avoid.

In Kasumi's room, the dress was finally arranged to the women's satisfaction. Nodoka took up a brush and started drawing it through Kasumi's long locks, while Akane stood near, holding a spray of flowers which would be pinned in her sister's hair. The younger sister was trying to shut out all thought of what was coming.

"What do you think, Akane?" Kasumi prompted. "How does it look?"

Akane glanced up and then back down. "You look lovely, oneechan," Akane said softly.

"Thank you, Akane," Kasumi replied as sweetly as ever. Inside, however, she was frowning. She had expected her sister to be highly stressed, tense, ready to shatter at a touch. Instead Akane merely felt ... empty. She tried to push for further reaction. "Of course, wedding dresses are reputed to have that effect."

Akane lifted her shoulders slightly and gave Kasumi a small, hollow smile of agreement. This time, when Akane's eyes dropped again, the older girl did frown. The preferred plan required Akane to be overwrought, ready to break down with the right suggestion.

Nodoka pushed forward regardless, failing to notice the small shake of Kasumi's head. With a mischievous chuckle, Ranma's mother said, "It has just occurred to me. I don't believe we've ever discussed the honeymoon. Have you given any thought to where you'll go?"

Kasumi glanced quickly toward Akane. Her sister had hunched down even further, but showed no sign of breaking down. Akane carefully placed the flowers on the desk.

"Excuse me," Akane said in a careful monotone. "I think Aunt Nodoka can manage your hair without me. I really should be helping with the guests. I'll see you in the dojo." She was out the door before either of the other two women could say anything.

No words passed between the two women as Nodoka carefully styled Kasumi's hair, inserting the flowers which Akane had recently held. When she was done, the older woman gave a sigh and said, "You really do look lovely, Kasumi-chan."

Kasumi gave a stoic nod. "It seems apparent how things will work out, but would you go ... have a look around?"

Nodoka returned her nod and slipped out of the room. Kasumi tried not to fret or otherwise do anything which might mar her appearance. She wondered if some miracle could yet occur to retrieve the situation and bring the ending for which she had hoped. Could she have misread the other players in this drama so completely?

Nodoka returned a few minutes later and shook her head sadly. "My son is in his room wearing his tuxedo, wondering what is taking so long. He is prepared to do his family duty. I told him it won't be much longer. I looked into the dojo briefly. There is no sign of Tofu-sensei."

Kasumi closed her eyes briefly, in both pain and anger. She tried to tell herself she had known it might come to this. On opening her eyes again, she let them rest on a shard of porcelain on her desk. This outcome had been a possibility from the beginning, and now she must carry through.

"Kasumi-chan," Nodoka said hesitantly, "perhaps if we speak to ..."

"No," the younger woman replied flatly, shaking her head. "I thought, I convinced myself, that the feelings between Ranma and Akane were strong enough to overcome their pride and stubbornness at the end. I knew they would hold out until the last minute, but I honestly thought they would break, admit that they wanted each other. It seems that I was wrong. It seems that they do not love each other in the way that I thought they did."

She sighed. "Nonetheless, it is time for the matter to be ended. As I said a month ago, the agreement between our families must be fulfilled. Since Akane and Ranma cannot or will not make a marriage of love, family honor requires that Ranma and I make a marriage of duty."

"I had hoped for my son to have a wife he loved," Nodoka said sadly.

Kasumi gave her a bittersweet smile. "Perhaps love will come in time. At least Ranma and I get along reasonably well. There have certainly been marriages with a worse foundation."

The older woman took a deep breath. "If you are certain ..." Another pause. "We should go then. No reason to keep everyone waiting any longer."

Kasumi nodded and the two of them left the room. Nodoka knocked on Ranma's door, then shooed him out of the house without letting him look at his prospective bride. At the foot of the stairs, Nodoka turned Kasumi over to her bridesmaids, Akane and Nabiki.

On entering the dojo, Nodoka was quickly joined by Soun, her husband Genma trailing after the other man.

"Are the happy couple ready?" Soun beamed. When Nodoka nodded, his smile changed to a frown and he said, "We have a problem. We haven't been able to find the wedding programs to pass them out."

Nodoka strolled over to one of the tables, where she bent down and lifted the tablecloth. She withdrew a box from underneath, examining the label on it carefully, then pulled it out the rest of the way. For a moment she cast her gaze on another box which rested under the table, apparent twin to the first, before shaking her head in sad resignation. Lifting the flaps, she pulled out handfuls of the programs and pushed them on the two men, before joining them in distributing them among the guests.

A short time later, while the priest was speaking, Ranma couldn't keep his eyes from straying to Akane, standing beside and a little behind his bride. Wasn't their some western tradition where the priest was supposed to ask if anyone had any objections? Something about "speak now or forever hold your peace." He thought at that moment about how very true those words were. If neither he, nor Akane, said something, right now, then he was going to be married to Kasumi in a matter of minutes and he would forever after have to live with that.

But of course he wouldn't say anything, and neither would Akane. To do anything other than meekly go through with this service would shame both of their families beyond repair. As he thought this, Ranma heard his own voice say, "I do," only realizing after he spoke what he had just said. Then he and Kasumi were pronounced husband and wife, and he was told to kiss the bride.

Ranma noticed that Akane was pointedly not looking in his direction. Turning back to Kasumi, he saw the expectant look on her face, and the slightest wrinkle on her forehead. Gathering his courage, the young groom leaned forward and touched his lips lightly to those of his bride. When he pulled back, he noticed that Kasumi was giving him an encouraging smile.

"Congratulations, m'boy!" Both Soun and Genma were thumping Ranma heartily on the back. Out of the corner of his eye, Ranma saw Akane and Nabiki hugging their older sister. It suddenly occurred to him that this was all real.

"I ... I ... I'm really married to Kasumi." The world spun darkly. Genma was barely in time to catch his son before the boy crashed to the floor.

Time passed. People went on with their lives.

My Faithful Husband,

As Ranma and Kasumi settled down into married life, it wasn't long before Nodoka and Genma moved out into their rebuilt home. Nabiki got her degree and left as well, starting her career and living in a modern high-rise apartment closer to downtown. Ranma and Akane both managed to take a couple of years of college courses in physical education, at a minor school to which they could commute, while Kasumi continued to take care of the home. As the day came when they would be leaving college behind, it was time to make plans to finally reopen the dojo.

"We'll have to start small, of course," Ranma said. "Can't expect any serious students till we have more of a reputation. We'll get there, though. In the meantime, I'm betting you'll be great with the beginning students." He was looking at Kasumi as he said this.

Akane gave a wistful smile at the thought of her sister and brother-in-law getting the dojo up and running. She herself had yet to decide on a dojo at which to apply for a position as an instructor. "I'm sure the two of you will manage just fine," Akane told them.

Ranma gave his one-time fiancée a baffled look. "Aren't you gonna help? I figured you'd be all hot to get this started up, too! I mean, where else are you gonna teach Anything Goes?"

"You ... want me ... to stay here ... and teach in the dojo?" Akane asked hesitantly.

"Of course!" Ranma said with conviction. "I mean, sure, when I first got here in Nerima you were a half-assed martial artist, but that was years ago! I been training you for the last two, three years. Now you're the best! Well ... not really. The best'd be me. But you're still pretty good."

"Jerk," Akane complained, though she smiled as she said it. Slowly she turned a worried eye on her sister. "But ..." She left the single word hanging there.

Kasumi quickly considered choices and consequences. It was possible that such an arrangement would result in pain for either her, or Akane, or both of them. Then again, she had been making sacrifices for her family all of her life. While Akane was not, and never would be, Ranma's equal in the art, her husband was correct that Akane had increased significantly in skill in the last couple of years, and she had hardly been a slouch to begin with - no matter what jokes Ranma might make. The chance for the dojo to prosper would be greatly increased if Akane were a senior instructor, in addition to Ranma.

So Kasumi took a deep breath, while giving no outward sign she was doing so, before saying, "Of course we want you to stay, Akane. Ranma is correct. The dojo needs you. And you know you would be happiest teaching our family style. Please say yes."

"All ... all right, oneechan. If you're sure." Akane gave her older sister a tentative smile.

It has been gratifying as the years have passed to see our dojo grow into the success it has become today. You and I, and Akane, and even Mother Saotome and our fathers can all be equally proud of your achievement in this regard.

From the very first the dojo had done reasonably well from a financial point of view, with plenty of people signing up for classes. At the same time, it had been rather tedious from both Akane's and Ranma's point of view, teaching such relatively unskilled students. Then came the day they were approached by a man who had already achieved his mastery elsewhere, but who wished to study the Anything Goes style. Other serious students had slowly followed in his wake, until there was a hard core of highly skilled practitioners who were proud to be known as students of the Saotome Dojo.

As those first years passed, both Ranma and Akane finally grew into that maturity which could have been so sorely used when they were teenagers. The insults and misunderstandings mostly came to an end, while the friendship between them continued to grow. It was only in their private thoughts that they bitterly acknowledged the grievous error they had made in breaking their engagement and not speaking their true feelings. However, no breath of this was ever spoken aloud by either, though both had finally realized the nature of the other's true feelings.

The future of our dojo is also secure. Even at the tender age of six, it is obvious to all that our son is his father's true heir, and will be master of the dojo in turn. It fills me with wonder to watch as he trains with you and Akane.

"Congratulations, Mrs. Saotome. It's a boy." The doctor laid the newborn infant on his weary mother's chest.

"Hello, Hikaru," Kasumi said faintly, stroking her hand over the fuzz atop his head. "It's nice to meet you in person, at last." She looked up at her husband, who was holding her other hand. "Aren't you going to say hello to your son?"

Ranma nodded, his face carrying that poleaxed expression she knew so well. He reached over and rested his fingers atop the baby's head, but seemed unable to find any words to say.

"He's beautiful, oneechan," Akane whispered. Her eyes were moist. After a moment a tear broke free and slid down her cheek.

Kasumi gazed at her younger sister sadly, wondering if there was any chance the girl would ever hold a child of her own. She hadn't gone on more than a handful of dates over the years, and those had all been at their father's insistence that she 'give the boys a chance.' Come to think of it, she hadn't been on a single date since leaving college.

"Would you like to hold him, Akane?"

Akane bit her lip, then nodded, trying not to look too eager. She gently lifted the infant, cradling him in her arms. She looked down at his tiny form in wonder, as if unable to believe she could be holding such a small person, embodiment of the next generation. She tried to ignore the small stab in her heart that he was not her own child.

Ranma released Kasumi's hand and stepped over to stand behind Akane, looking over her shoulder at his son. Tentatively he reached around, resting his hand on the child just above Akane's hand. They stood there like that, transfixed, unaware of the tableau they presented.

Kasumi closed her eyes and turned away, unable to watch. The three of them looked so much the picture of a perfect family. Why had Fate insisted on bringing them to this pass? But there was no use crying about it now. What was done was done, and not all of the tears in the world would change that.

As Hikaru is showing himself to be your heir, so Akane has shown herself, at last, to be our father's heir. She has made me so proud, the way that she has helped you to make the dojo what it is today, far more than I ever could. I have managed the household, but it is my sister who has been your true partner in the dojo. It is very cute the way Akane still gets flustered when the students accord her the same degree of respect that they give to you. And I am happy, very happy, to know how much Hikaru adores her.

The front door opened, admitting the man and woman, both in their mid twenties, along with a few stray snowflakes. Akane and Ranma brushed snow from each other's hair, then began pulling off their boots. A bundle of energy smacked into them, somehow managing to latch on to both of their legs simultaneously, while they laughingly tried to pry him off.

"Daddy! Aunt'Kane!"

"Hey squirt!" Ranma said, finally pulling the tyke free and lifting him in his arms. "Did'ja miss me?"

The little boy stuck his thumb in his mouth and nodded solemnly. Ranma laughed and ruffled the lad's hair.

Kasumi walked up with a smile, greeting them. "Welcome back, husband. Akane." She could not prevent a quick look in their eyes, and a surreptitious breath of relief at seeing no guilt there. After all, the two of them had been gone, alone together, for three weeks.

"Did you get it?" she asked.

Akane set her backpack on the floor and pulled a scroll from within. Holding it up, she triumphantly answered, "Yep! Right where rumor said we'd find it."

As the returning pair finished pulling on slippers and followed the other two back into the house, Akane looked around and asked, "Where's dad? Did he go out somewhere?"

Kasumi sighed, but before she could answer Hikaru piped up, announcing, "Jiji gone."

His mother frowned down at him, making the boy quail. "I've told you not to call grandfather that. It's not polite. Now run off and play. I have to talk to Daddy and Aunt Akane."

After the three of them were gathered around the kotatsu, warming up, Kasumi explained. "Father decided that he missed his old friend more than he has been willing to previously admit. He has moved out, and moved in with Mother and Father Saotome."

"Oh," Akane replied quietly, though not precisely sadly.

All three were silent for a time after that, each wrapped up in his or her own thoughts, although the trend of those thoughts were similar. After the wedding none of the children had been able to hide a slowly growing coolness toward their fathers. They had always remained exquisitely respectful, yet something vital had been lost that day. Each of them knew in their hearts that Soun had finally decided everyone would be more comfortable if he was no longer sharing the same house.

I know that our marriage has not been everything you might have wished. Do not deny it. We both knew, all along, that it was a matter of family honor, not of love. So I am happy, I truly am, that you and Akane have been able to lean upon each other from time to time, over the years.

Yes, I know very well that neither of you have done anything to bring dishonor upon our marriage. But did you imagine I was unaware of those occasions when the burden of your curse became overwhelming, when you despaired of ever finding a cure? That it was in Akane's arms you were able to let down your guard and find release in a few manly tears? Just as I knew that you held and comforted Akane from time to time. When she was overwhelmed by depression at the lack of a family, children of her own. A self imposed woe, some would say, but one for which I never blamed her.

Kasumi prepared herself for sleep, knowing that she would have to be up early to prepare breakfast for the family. As she pulled back the blanket on her futon, she thought about the days prior to her marriage when she always slept in a proper bed. Yet her husband was uncomfortable with beds, preferring futons, so she had adopted their use for his sake.

Not that such an arrangement was absolutely necessary, she told herself, looking over at Ranma's futon. It was placed a short distance from her own. She supposed she could have retained her bed while he slept in a futon, but that would only have increased the apparent distance between them. The gulf between their futons was wide enough already.

Of course, Ranma joined her in her futon on a regular basis. Almost like clockwork, in fact. Their wedding night had been something of a disaster, all things considered, but later he had developed into a gentle, and even skilled, lover. Passion however ...

Kasumi sighed. She was nearly thirty for heaven sakes. Much too old to be dreaming after might have beens. She should be happy with what she had, glad that an arranged marriage such as hers had not turned out worse.

She looked over at her husband's empty futon again. He was out in the dojo of course. He and Akane. Training. They trained hard together, three times a day, before breakfast, in the break between classes after lunch, and before coming to bed. Her own training to keep herself in shape for the elementary classes was done after breakfast, before the first class began.

Kasumi tried not to picture the scene out in the dojo. She had watched them, now and then, always careful not to be observed. Their skills were enormous, and the acrobatics of their sparring matches was a sight that any would have paid good money to watch. By now Akane would be lifting herself from the floor for the umpteenth time, happy nonetheless for the two or three times she would have knocked Ranma down. Now Ranma would be calling a halt to the evening's exercise.

They'd walk over to the bench and pick up towels, mopping at the sweat running down their faces. Standing within arm's reach, they would face each other and bow slightly. Then Ranma would reach out and rest the back of his knuckles against Akane's cheek. Akane's eyes would close, and she would lean into the touch. Having observed this on every occasion she had dared to watch, Kasumi recognized it for a nightly ritual they both treasured.

Kasumi tried to tell herself that it was silly to think this minor gesture was somehow more intimate than any touch her husband had ever shared with herself.

I am finally ready to admit openly, after all of this time, that I made a mistake in carrying through with our wedding when neither you nor Akane spoke against it. Indeed, all of us made a mistake that day, but I was the one who forced the issue. I put our family's honor ahead of all other considerations, and convinced myself I was right to do so. And in doing so, I have brought nothing but pain to all of us.

In acknowledging this, I also acknowledge that it is my duty to correct the mistake. You will find this note when you, Akane and Hikaru return from the competition. I know the three of you will be happy ...

Kasumi paused, looking over these words on the monitor in front of her. Well, obviously they weren't going to be happy. Not right away. More worrisome was whether they would ever be happy if they blamed themselves. It was possible that this might tear Akane and Ranma apart, just from knowing that it was for their sake that she had left. Her six year old son would likely never understand such a decision.

With a sigh of regret Kasumi deleted the document, before shutting down the computer. She would follow the original plan, except that she would deceive her husband and sister in addition to the neighbors. After a last look around the room, she opened the drawer of her desk and pulled something out, holding it tightly enclosed in her hand.

Donning a gi Kasumi went out to the dojo, trying not to think about her family's return tomorrow. After arranging various straw dummies for her kata, she lifted the short blade and began.

Harder and harder she pushed herself, exerting herself as never before. She flew through the dance, her sword cutting precisely on the figures as she swung by them. Sweat flew from her in sparkling droplets. It was very important that the salt of her sweat be left behind, showing how strenuously she had exercised. There must be no doubt in anyone's mind as to what had happened.

Faster. Harder. Higher. For this brief moment in time she was an avatar of the Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu, sacrificing herself to the art for the sake of its current masters. She circled closer to the wall, every move precisely controlled, perfectly positioned.

A brief shock of planned surprise. A sudden twist to avoid, not quite successful. Kasumi's shin banged hard into the crate filled with mats. As she fell, the woman was pleased with the knowledge that the bruise would help them to decipher what had happened.

Her arms struck the floor awkwardly. The woman watched in something like awe as the edge of the sword bit deep into her forearm, well above the wrist. It was surprising how little pain she felt, the razor sharp blade doing its job well. A flood of scarlet poured forth.

She was growing cold already, relieved to realize she wouldn't linger. ‹Be a good mother to my son, little sister. Ranma, Akane, I wish you both only happiness. All of you, try not to grieve too long. After all, my life was made for sacrifice.›

Her next breath refused to come. The room was growing dim. A glint of light caught her eye in the middle of the red pool, a sparkle on the floor which had fallen a short distance from her outstretched, open hand. The last sight on which Kasumi Saotome's eyes gazed was a small, bright shard of porcelain.


Author's note:

There you have my first, and so far only, Ranma/Kasumi pairing. Naturally, being me, it is such a pairing in name only, and ends up something else.

For another mildly tragic story in which Ranma and Akane refuse to speak up and Ranma ends up marrying Kasumi, I might recommend A Man Among Women by Vince Seifert. It is both less tragic than this chapter, in that nobody dies, and yet more, in that Ranma is even more thoroughly trapped than here.

Related sites on the web: Please visit my profile page for information on upcoming chapters or stories, by clicking on my name at the top of this chapter. My profile also has links to my web site, LiveJournal site and forum. The web site contains the official versions of my stories. The LiveJournal site provides updates on what I am working upon at any given time. The forum is a place to discuss my stories or Ranma 1/2 in general.