DISCLAIMER: Ranma and Co. don't belong to me.
A/N: You guys are so patient! Wow, I couldn't believe this would actually happen, but…this is the final chapter of Desperate Princess. It's been a fun, fun, fun ride! Thank you so much for all the reviews. I've said it time and again…but they're what really spurred this story. You may have been waiting for the next chapter, but I'd wake up in the middle of the night, and need a quick review fix. And how delightful it was! I'd jump for joy when I noticed- oh, that reviewer noticed how hard I worked on this scene, or…oh, they mentioned the lemon scene, yay, or they thought Hiroshi was funny too! *Sigh* Thank you!
Oh, and I've noticed translates some of my lines weirdly (as Gemini pointed out). So if anything is missing, please forgive me, and I'll fix it. And, as a reviewer noted, I have gone back and realized there are parts of this story that feel rushed to me, so I'll probably come back in and do a little tweaking here and there. It's just a warning to those who might re-read this story. If you're reading it for the first time, you won't care, and if you never read it again- the same. :)
And a BIG shout out to Angela Jewell. Without her, this story would have died so many times, you guys never even realized! AND…she's got a new story coming…hopefully soon…it rocks the house, and you really should keep an eye on her page for it!
"Nooooo!" Ranma raced into the water, tossing aside his bloody sword as he dove into the lake to find Akane. She'd disappeared a scant second ago, just when he'd thought he'd been in time to break her contact with the deity.
He'd been standing over Ryouga's bloody corpse when slowly voices penetrated his consciousness. They seemed to echo in his mind. And with dawning horror, he turned to look at Akane. She planned to sacrifice herself here, at Hidden Lake, to save her kingdom, he realized. That had been her plan all along. Her bitter agreement to their bargain flashed into his mind. At the time he'd thought she was trying to save herself, and her kingdom. But no, she had been saving herself for this. Only her kingdom would survive.
The water was clear, and he soon found Akane floating below the surface. He wrapped his arms around her and kicked as hard as he could to get to the surface, to dry land. He carried her up onto the beach, his eyes trained on her face.
Even then he could tell she wasn't breathing. No.
"Please." Ranma dropped to his knees, uncaring of the sand and dirt. He cradled Akane in his arms; his anguished gaze was trained on her face, willing her eyes to open, for her hand to move, anything. His eyes filled, and tears dripped down unheeded to fall on Akane's neck.
"Please save her, I'll do anything…I'll give anything," he whispered, raising his eyes to the silvery form rising from the water before him. The deity's beautiful blue eyes gazed back at him, the glassy strands of her hair waving in an invisible breeze.
"Anything," Ranma said firmly. "My life. Take it. Take my life for hers. Let my life force power your healing. I know I'm not from this land, but…"
You'd give your life force for the land of your enemy? The goddess' voice susurrated through the forest.
"For the land of my mate," Ranma corrected. It meant so much to Akane, how could he not respect it too? "I belong to you as well, lady. I have done, ever since Akane married me. And she belongs just as much to Islan. And to me."
Yes, I recognize you.
"You helped me," Ranma reminded her. "You tamed the Guardian inside me. Please, save Akane."
Very well. Give me your life force.
So there it was. She'd agreed. He would die instead. Ranma expected to feel weak at the thought, but instead power surged into him. The rightness he felt in protecting Akane made this sacrifice necessary. It wasn't that he couldn't live without her. The goddess had shown him how to be a Guardian to his people, how to use the power consciously. But here and now, this was the choice he would make. The Islan spirit would find another Guardian for his people.
And Akane would live.
Come to me, child.
"Just one moment," he managed. He laid Akane on the ground, and was glad to note that she seemed to be breathing. He smoothed her hair back, and leaned down to kiss her soft lips gently.
"I love you, Akane," he whispered, and laid his cheek against her petal-soft skin a final time. She didn't stir.
He stood, and took a deep breath. This was what he wanted. He walked into the water. The lake water was warm, as so many of the Hidden Lake water bodies seemed to be. The water lapped at him and stung his wounds, and he walked in deeper and deeper.
He was waist deep in water before he finally stood in front of the goddess. She regarded him calmly.
"Do it," he said. He was ready.
She raised a hand, and Ranma immediately felt his life leaving him. The feeling wasn't overwhelming, but gradually grew stronger. He began to feel weaker. He struggled to stand upright as long as he could, but the water seemed so relaxing.
The Guardian within him sensed the threat and immediately emerged. His pupils grew to slits, and a blue aura surrounded his body as the Guardian tried to feed its strength to Ranma. But even that began to dissipate eventually, and Ranma felt himself weaken again. This was it- he was dying.
Swirling black painted his vision, and the last thing he saw before he fell was the blue-eyed gaze of the goddess, long black hair blowing against her face.
"Ranma! Ranma, you dummy! If you're dead, I'll never forgive you!"
Yeah, sorry about that, Akane…
"Ranma, idiot! You couldn't even wait around long enough for me to tell you I love you!"
What? She tells me this now??
"You JERK!" Thump!
Oww!!! "Ugh! Oww…" Ranma coughed and groaned at the same time at the pain in his chest. He opened his eyes, and light flooded them.
"Ranma! You're alive!" Something was squashing him, but he couldn't make it out in the bright light. He squinted, and finally was able to make out Akane lying over him, her arms tight around his shoulders, tears in her eyes.
"I…am?" He coughed some more. "Can you get off me, princess? You weigh a ton, you know that?"
Instead of smacking him, Akane smiled beatifically down at him and wiped her nose. "I thought you were dead."
So did I. "What happened?" he asked, trying to sit up. Akane helped him to sit upright. He twisted his shoulders. Nothing hurt anymore. All the pain in his back, his arms and legs, was gone. Though he did feel quite tired.
"I woke up and the water nymphs were carrying your body out of the lake," she said. "And the goddess' voice told me I was alive because you had given your life force for me…oh, Ranma…" Her gaze grew dewy, and Ranma felt very, very uncomfortable.
But somehow, nearly losing your life and your loved one at the same time put some things in perspective.
He reached out and cupped her cheek, smiling. "I couldn't bear to lose you," he said, simply.
Akane laid her hand over his and opened her mouth to reply, when there was the noise of flowing water behind them. They turned to see a geyser in the lake. The goddess rose out of the water again. But oh, what a difference!
She looked so young. Her hair was long and dark, curling around her hips. Her round cheeks and lips were riotously pink with life. Her large blue eyes were the exact colour of the lake, and glimmered merrily, as though with a secret.
"Children," she said.
Akane jolted backwards. "Lady! You can speak!" Out loud.
The goddess smiled. "Yes, now. I used to be able to in your grandfather's time, but slowly the hate and destruction from the war between the Islans and our people leached away my strength. By the time you came to me, Akane, I could only speak inside your mind."
Akane and Ranma both experienced shock as they realized that the war between their countries had weakened the deity. They exchanged brief, guilt-laden glances.
The goddess' smile faded slightly and she looked sorrowful. "That's why I couldn't withstand Ryouga and the Hruthgul when they arrived on our shores. They poisoned me, and I began to die. They knew if I died, it would be a much simpler matter to take over Hidden Lake."
Ranma stepped forward and bowed his head. " Lady, I've sworn myself to this land." Akane gave him a startled look, but she hadn't been awake when he pleaded with the goddess. "I also swear to you I'll do my best to see that there's peace between our countries from now on. It was foolish of us to let Ryouga take advantage of our weakness."
Akane stepped forward to join him. "I promise that, too, my lady." She took a deep breath and she placed her palm on Ranma's chest. "But…I gave my life force…and Ranma gave his…why didn't we die?"
The goddess smiled again, this time at the Islan prince. "Ranma gave his life force to protect you. It's a very strong force, augmented as it is with the power of the Guardian that resides in him. However, I only needed the energy that comes from one bearer of the power. The two of you shared in your giving, so I only needed half as much from each of you."
"So…you took half our life force from each of us?" Ranma said slowly.
"Yes, and in doing so, I changed myself." The goddess' eyes twinkled mischievously as she changed, and suddenly before them stood a curly-haired youth instead, with exactly the same lake-blue eyes.
Ranma and Akane gaped at the deity. "You…got my curse?" Ranma stuttered out, unable to believe what he was seeing.
The young god grinned. "That's right. You still have yours, but I've merely added an aspect to my godhood."
"Kodachi will kill me!" Akane muttered, the thought of the raven-haired high priestess' reaction to this development sending a tremor through her. The knowledge that their revered goddess now being half-male was unlikely to make the priestesses happy with Akane's role in that.
The god shook his head. "This is how it was meant to be. Islay is beginning to open to me now in ways it didn't before. Send Kodachi my way if you see her, Akane. I'll explain some things to her."
"You can distinguish between people now?" Akane asked, the realization dawning on her.
"Yes, as I said, my awareness is growing. I'm stronger, thanks to you two. The crops will be better this year. The forest will renew itself." The god held out his arms. "Come. We'll speak again, but we've spent enough time here. You two must get home."
"What about my soldiers?" Ranma asked. He glanced behind them to where Shampoo, MOusse, Hiroshi and Daisuke stood slack-jawed at the scene.
The deity winked. "I'll make sure they have a much easier time getting back home than they did getting here, Ranma. Don't worry, they deserve a rest from their heroics."
A wind rose up as though beckoned by the god, and swirled around Ranma and Akane. The princess realized she was being lifted off her feet, and she reached out reflexively to grab Ranma. He reached out and wrapped his arms about her as the wind yanked them, and they were lifted into the air.
Akane's hair blew wildly about her as she burrowed her face into Ranma's chest to escape the sting of the wind. He hugged her close and shouted something.
"What?" she shouted back, looking up at him. He smiled, shook his head and tucked her head back against his chest, where Akane was content to stay. She couldn't believe he was alive! When she'd woken up, and seen Ranma's body being carried out of the lake, her heart had nearly stopped. She couldn't remember how she'd gotten from her spot to kneel over him, didn't remember the water nymphs moving away.
She only remembered his still face, the thick lashes in closed feathered crescents. The voice of the goddess within her telling her of his sacrifice. She'd wanted to beat the ground, wail to the sky, scream at the unfairness of it….Ranma… Without Ranma…
She couldn't bear it, so she'd beaten him instead. And he'd come back to her. She burrowed her cheek even deeper into his chest, but his arms only tightened around her.
Finally, she leaned back and looked below them. Acres of land flashed past them, the country below like a large map spread out far below their dangling feet.
They approached Tendo Castle, and Akane was surprised to see a large crowd of people gathered below the Presentation balcony. Soun, Kasumi and even the missing Nabiki stood in the balcony, looking down at the people.
The wind very thoughtfully deposited Ranma and Akane right inside the balcony as well, under the astonished gazes of hundreds of people, as well as Akane's family.
Soun, Kasumi and Nabiki surrounded Akane with exclamations of surprise and gladness, while the king and Nabiki gave Ranma wary glances. Only Kasumi came forward to hug him.
"Thank you for bringing Akane back, Ranma," she said, smiling up at him. He grinned back.
"Yes, I'm glad to be back too, Kasumi, Nabiki, Dad, but I need to make an announcement!" Akane pushed away her family's loving arms and moved into the light, where the crowds below could see her.
There was great cheering and clapping when she appeared. She smiled, and waved, which only made them cheer more.
"Princess, are the Hruthgul gone for good?"
"Is it true ye routed them from the castle with a band of soldiers?"
"Everyone! Everyone!" She had to repeat it a few times before people realized she wanted to talk.
"Thank you! Hello, everyone. Yes, Warduke Ryouga and the Hruthgul are gone for good." She had to pause as the cheering began.
Then a voice in the crowd. "Is it true that ye married an Islan? That he forced ye?"
Akane felt Ranma grew still behind her.
"Yes, I did marry the prince of Islay." She reached back and dragged him into the light. The silence below was resounding. "And..AND…I made a pilgrimage to Hidden Lake. The goddess needed my life force to survive the poisoning from the Hruthgul, and Ranma saved my life. He contributed his own life force to the goddess so I didn't have to die!"
Muttering and exclamations below. Akane couldn't figure out of it was a good sign or not.
"The goddess speaks to me now. She can speak to all of you! She's stronger. The war between Hidden Lake and Islay weakened her slowly. We must stop fighting, else the land will grown weak again. I declare the war to be over!"
More muttering. Another voice. A man in a brown jerkin stepped forward. "Princess, I'm the Reeve of the town of Carle, and I just want to know- not that I disbelieve ye, but how do we know the Islan isn't holding your words hostage? Will the goddess give us a sign?"
Oh, goddess, help me. One more time, Akane begged silently. And heard a faint reply in return.
Believe in your love, Akane…
She took a deep breath, and turned to Ranma. "Do you trust me?" she asked.
He smiled down at her. "With my life."
"Good." She grabbed his hand and jumped over the balcony, dropping down, down to land lightly on the ground. Next to her Ranma landed lightly as well, and when she turned to see him, a light blue glow was fading from his eyes, the only sign that the Guardian was within him.
She turned to the surprised crowd, and lifted their joined hands high.
"You must believe me. Ranma Saotome is my chosen husband. I would never choose anyone else. Together, he and I are stronger than we were apart. We'll work to erase war from your lives. Ranma wants an end to the war just as much as I do."
Ranma moved abreast of her, looking fearlessly out into the crowd. "She's right. It's true that I wanted to conquer Hidden Lake, but Hidden Lake has conquered me instead. United, we are stronger than any foes like Ryouga who can come against us. And peace will only make the goddess stronger."
"But above all, I want peace because I love your princess, and her land."
There was a moment of silence, and then the cheering began.
Akane began to grin, and she turned to smile shyly at Ranma.
"Hail Princess Akane! Hail Prince Ranma!"
"Time for peace! End the war!"
"Let's get out of here," Ranma muttered. He swept Akane into his arms, and leapt onto a nearby wall and then over the heads of the crowd, who kept cheering them.
Akane clung to him, as he continued to jump through the air. Finally, he landed on the staircase of a tower, and climbed it until they came out onto the gently sloping roof.
"What, here?" Akane asked, sitting down on the tiles. Ranma shrugged and sat beside her.
"It's private," he offered.
She smiled. "That it is."
The two of them looked out into the mild blue sky, remembering the events that had brought them to this point, the mocking proposal to a chained princess, the wedding, the flight into Hidden Lake, the fairies, the Hruthgul, Hidden Lake, the goddess, the Guardian, the marsh witch, discovering Shampoo, the fight with Ryouga, and the final sacrifice.
"I heard you tell my people that you love me," Akane began, her heart thudding so loudly she could barely hear her words above the sound. "And I think I heard it in my dreams…"
Ranma grinned, thinking how lovely she looked silhouetted against the blue sky. It wasn't just her face though, it was the amazing strength that lay within that captivated him. "Well, you know the political moves you have to make, being a royal and all…" he said lightly.
Akane smacked him, not hard. "Oh, is that what it was?"
"You said it too," Ranma pointed out, his throat dry.
Akane looked away. "Politicking, that's all it was." She wondered if he would admit anything. She wondered if there was anything to admit.
Ranma grew sombre. "Akane…"
The princess turned back hopefully. "Hmm?"
"I know you have genuine feeling for me, and I know it's because of what I did at Hidden Lake.."
"What? You mean the sacrifice?" Akane asked, looking puzzled.
"Yes. I know you feel grateful, but that…" Isn't enough, Ranma wanted to say, but his throat closed up. He felt sadness sweep through him. Of course she would say she loved him. What else would she say to the man who had saved her life and that of her precious goddess?
"Grateful…?" Akane cocked her head, turning to look at him. "Well, I do but…that has nothing to do with love."
"Yes, I didn't think so." Ranma looked away, his heart sinking. He couldn't believe how all the colour had suddenly gone out of the day.
Akane took a deep breath. "I love you because I figured out that underneath it all, you're actually a pretty nice guy." There. She'd said it.
"Huh?" Ranma said, flabbergasted. After everything he'd done, she still thought he was…nice? Wait, she loved him?
And once Akane had said it, the words spilled like a river out of her. "Maybe it was when we were fighting the Hruthgul outside that cave, and I thought I had to rescue everyone by myself. And you came crashing down on that tree trunk in the middle of it all. Suddenly, everything seemed…better." She averted her glance, unable to look him in the face as she poured her heart out. "With you next to me, I felt like beating the Hruthgul wasn't an impossibility."
Silence. She took a deep breath, but still didn't dare look at him. Instead, she hugged her knees. "And when you dove into the river after me…I realized you really would protect me. And I guess, the more I got to know Ranko, the more I realized, you really are that person on the inside, the caring one who's so busy doing what needs to be done that he doesn't think much about himself."
"I don't know when it happened but somehow I came to realize that I didn't want to go through any more crazy adventures, or even another day, without your company." She grabbed his larger hand. It was warm. "I love you Ranma. I really don't want to spend a day without you." She finally peeked up at him shyly, to find him staring down at her with shining eyes.
Ranma grinned in relief. "I think I loved you since I saw you from that balcony," he said. Akane snorted, and began to laugh as the tension left her, but was cut off midway as Ranma leaned over and kissed her. She returned the kiss eagerly, and he responded by pulling her into his lap. She settled in for a very enjoyable few minutes before they came apart for air.
"You're amazing," he told her. "I have to admit that a part of me thought you were selfish for selling yourself to stay alive. But I had no idea that Hidden Lake would only stay alive if you did. And…" he gave her a small shake, anger darkening his eyes momentarily. "You should have told me you expected to die at Hidden Lake!" Her bravery shook him, and made him admire her at the same time.
"Why, so you could lock me up in your bedroom?" Akane retorted, and blushed as a wicked light entered his eyes. She swatted him. "I didn't know myself what my dream meant until I was halfway here." She cupped his face and leaned in intently. "I'm glad I didn't have to die, but more glad that you didn't, Ranma."
"Akane…" He couldn't help it. He kissed her. This time it was more feverish as he slanted his mouth to capture her own and thrust his tongue possessively within. His hands slipped under her clothing, yanking off her tunic. He had to feel her skin against his, to brand her with his touch everywhere.
And she was doing the same, pulling off his shirt, blinding him briefly as it came off, running her palms down his arms, his ribs, his back, as though she was shaping him in her mind. He hugged her briefly before allowing his hands to return to her breasts, her hips, and the sweet curve of her waist.
She shifted slightly under him to find a more comfortable position and the fog cleared enough for him to realize he was making love to her on a roof. He paused. "I'm sorry, this isn't the best place to…"
"Shut up," she growled, and yanked his head down as her lips fiercely met his. It was a wonderful pleasure to have her seize control, to feel her arch off the tiles against him as though she wanted to burrow into him. She hooked her arm around his neck and brought him down with her.
"Ranma, please," she begged, her fingers questing blindly for his trouser ties.
"I know, darling," he murmured, unfastening his ties. Without warning, her hand slipped within to encircle him and Ranma gasped against her lips. His eyes drifted shut as the most exquisite pleasure roared through him. She stroked him, and he groaned.
"Are you in pain?" she asked, concerned, running her other thumb over the shell of Ranma's ear.
He shivered and chuckled against her hair. "Yes, but in a good way," he replied. His mind flashed back to the moment outside the cave that night when he'd had to relieve his frustration by himself. He chuckled again. He'd been a right bastard and had deserved it. But he'd make it up to her. He'd spend his lifetime making it up to her.
He removed her fingers gently and eased into her. She hissed in pleasure, raising her hips to accommodate all of him. They both stilled, for a moment, staring into each other's eyes, open to each other for the first time.
No words were necessary.
He began to rock into her, and she responded by matching his rhythm. Her hands roamed his arms and his chest, tweaking his flat male nipples playfully. Her thumb brushed his jaw. But it wasn't long before their rhythm increased. Their faces grew flushed.
A loose tile fell and crashed to the floor beneath them, jolting them for a moment, but they laughed and continued. And soon they reached cresting pleasure together. It was wild and warm and sweet, and the afterglow enveloped them both.
Akane stirred after a few minutes. "Perhaps we could actually try this in a bed sometime," she said drily.
Ranma laughed. "What's it been so far- a tree, the palace garden and a roof? What about our wedding night?"
"That was too long ago to count," Akane retorted.
Ranma sat up and handed Akane her tunic. "You're right," he replied. "That was too long ago. How badly I've treated my bride. You'd never think I was a prince and could actually have a bed of gold and swan feathers built for you."
Akane mock-brightened. "That would be something," she agreed. Ranma swatted her leg lightly.
"So what are you going to do about Hidden Lake?" Akane asked, pulling on her pants.
"I'll let your father keep it for now," Ranma said. "The poor guy's been through enough with Ryouga. And if it happens that Kasumi's baby is the next Son or Daughter of the Blood, or our children are, we'll take it from there. How does that sound, sweetheart?"
"It sounds wonderful. And what do we do?"
Ranma watched her. "We need to go back to Islay, and rule. There are a lot of changes to be made."
Akane nodded, unconcerned. "Once I would have hated that idea, but I don't mind if I'm with you. And Mousse and Shampoo will be there as well. And the goddess is exploring Islay. Maybe I'll encounter her."
"The Guardian also has to watch over Islay," Ranma continued. "The goddess calmed him down, but I'll still need your help figuring it out."
"It looks as though we'll have more than enough to occupy us," Akane nodded in thought.
Ranma squeezed Akane. "I love you, my sweet and violent princess."
She grinned happily. "I love you too, my overbearing, handsome prince!" They kissed hard, and then lingeringly.
The people of Islay took the news of the peace better than Ranma and Akane had expected. Perhaps the knowledge that they had barely escaped the invasion their neighbours had suffered, and the head of the Hruthgul Ranma brought back with him, served to push some sense into them.
A peace ceremony was held in Islay, at the palace, attended by delegates from every kingdom, except of course, for Sumo. Soun, Kasumi and Nabiki all attended as well, with Kasumi getting bigger every day. She leaned happily on her husband's arm and charmed Islans right and left.
Soun and Genma met at official meetings at first, each wary of the other, before they discovered a mutual interest for board games. Then, they were inseparable.
Ukyou decided it was a good time to visit her aunt in Sim and hang out there for a year, maybe five, until Ranma had calmed down about her trying to kill them. She'd raided Ryouga's war-chest before she escaped from Hidden Lake and she'd be comfortable for a while.
Ranma and Akane busied themselves touring the countryside of both Islay and Hidden Lake, met with the citizens living in the towns to allay their fears, and spent time with Kunou discussing repairs to Tendo Castle. When they weren't retreating to their bedroom for long periods of the day, of course, or sparring with each other on the grounds, or even planning travel to other kingdoms.
Mousse and Shampoo continued a friendly rivalry for the present, though Shampoo often watched Mousse when she thought no one was looking, and it was obvious to Ranma and Akane that the helhawk cared for the shadowcat.
"What's going to happen to Mousse when his bondage with you is over?" Akane wanted to know.
Ranma shrugged. "I'll pay him better to do the same thing. Then maybe he can afford to get married." Akane punched him in the shoulder. He caught her fist and pulled her into a swift kiss.
Hiroshi and Daisuke were able to win many free rounds of beer from their comrades, and the admiration of the women at the local tavern, by recounting their adventures with gusto, and surprisingly little embellishment.
They were even able to get Konatsu and Sasuke to contribute once in a while.
And Gosunkugi recovered, though Ranma forbade him from leaving Islay again.
And finally, Ranma had a bed of gold and swan feathers, framed by excellent wood, made for Akane. She gave birth to their first child in it.
A/N: Well, there you go. I was briefly considering a sequel to Desperate Princess, set hundreds of years in the future, where Akane and Ranma are forced to get married, and solve a mystery. They'd be nobility, not royalty, though. But I have to finish House of Cards II first, and it was just an idle thought, anyway.