In Vino Veritas?
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.

Ranma x Akane. You know all of those stories where Ranma and Akane get drunk, wake up the next morning in bed together, and realize what they did the previous night ...?

Warning: There is a small amount of sexual description and situations in this story.

Chapter 1. Vino

Pain. That was the first sensation. The realization gradually grew that other sensations lurked underneath. A foul taste. A touch of nausea. A need to relieve pressure, somewhere lower down. But the pain overwhelmed it all. The void of oblivion still hovered nearby, seductive with its promise that the pain would disappear along with all other thought, and for a moment she nearly allowed herself to be seduced by that oblivion. But she was stubborn beyond measure, and she would rather face whatever it was and be done with it.

Slowly, she clawed her way up to consciousness. Almost she regretted her decision, her insistence, as the pain came into clearer focus. But with a final effort, she forced the fog to part and woke.

Akane Tendo opened her eyes, then quickly squeezed them shut again. It was bright, far too bright. The light stabbed straight into her brain, causing a cascade of new pain - like shards of glass impaling her through her eyes. She gave a soft whimper which she immediately regretted, as it only made the agony worse.

What cold have happened? What kind of injury could she have sustained for her head to suffer so? Had she lost a fight? Had Shampoo finally brained her with a mace? Surely her skull must be cracked wide open, and her brains even now oozing out.

When she didn't die in the next minute or two - despite the tiny thought that to do so could only be an improvement - the young woman started to take stock of herself. She was lying on her side on something soft. There was a weight lying across her midsection. Below the neck, the rest of her body felt like it was in working condition, though various minor twinges and complaints were absently noted for later investigation.

Akane still wasn't ready to risk opening her eyes again, so she considered her other senses. Taste was quickly passed over, since it suggested that she'd been drinking from a sewer. There was a faint susurrus of air from somewhere behind her. Aside from that, she couldn't hear anything except for some damned bird singing somewhere nearby, at the top of its lungs, whose little warbling neck she vowed to wring as soon as she could get up.

She finally decided to risk another look. A quick peek, barely opening her eyes. This revealed to her surprised relief that she was lying in her own bed. So the weight upon her must be her blankets. For a moment she had feared she might be lying in a hospital somewhere.

Akane didn't feel like moving at the moment. In fact, she still half wished that she might die, and thereby escape the hammering inside her head. However, since her body remained stubbornly alive, she tried to cast back in her memories to see if she could recall how she had come to be in this state.

After a moment or two she remembered the party. Last night? It must have been. At Hiroshi's house. Not a very large party, about a dozen people. Yuka was there, of course, since she and Hiroshi were going steady now. So she and Sayuri went as well. And Ranma and Daisuke were there, as Hiroshi's closest friends. And about half a dozen others from their class. Though not Ukyo, Akane recalled with a smile which she immediately regretted. How the hell could a smile hurt?

She and Ranma had walked over together, and for once hadn't been bothered by any other rivals, suitors, or anyone else. Such times were rare occurrences, to be treasured when they came along. The walk had been pleasant, no arguments or insults. Mostly they had traded wisecracks over the way Hiroshi and Yuka weren't able to keep their eyes off each other lately.

Akane tried to remember the party itself, but nothing came to her to explain her current condition. There had been music and dancing. She smiled as she remembered that she'd talked Ranma into dancing with her once. At least once ... Akane frowned at dim memories that tried to surface, then brushed them away. There had been some drinking going on, but she and Ranma had both refused - being martial artists they preferred not to pollute their bodies with alcohol.

She'd had some orange juice though. Akane remembered that. Quite a lot of it, she now recalled. The first one - had it tasted strange? Yes, perhaps a little strange, but not unpleasantly so. In fact, it had been quite good, and definitely better for the body than soda or alcoholic drinks. No doubt, that was why she'd had so many. She'd talked Ranma into trying one and then, yes, he'd had several as well. What was it Hiroshi had said when he handed her the first one? Some funny English word. Spew? Skew? Screw-something or other?

Akane's memories became very fuzzy after that. More dancing. Singing. Try though she might, she couldn't remember anything else. For that matter, she had no memory of leaving the party, or coming home, or getting into bed. Maybe ... maybe ... Kodachi had showed up at the party and drugged her? Without any memories it was impossible to say.

Akane considered the sensations coming from her body. Overall, she felt more or less healthy except for the way her head hurt. Her lips felt a little swollen, though. Probably from when she and Ranma kissed. And her ...

Wait - she kissed Ranma?! She couldn't have! But ... there did seem to be a ... vague ... sort of ... memory of something ... like a kiss. Akane swallowed heavily, searching inside her head. Try though she might, the image remained elusive.

The futile effort at recollection was interrupted as a new realization crashed through her thoughts.

‹Oh gosh! I'm naked!› Akane's eyes widened in shock, then closed once more against the pain.

The young woman was hideously embarrassed to think that she'd simply stripped before getting into bed. If she could manage to get her clothes off, why couldn't she manage to get some pajamas on? At least she could assume - hope! - that she'd been alone in her room at the time. Akane knew that someone like her sister Kasumi couldn't have helped her into bed, or she'd certainly be wearing pajamas. Then she remembered that Kasumi couldn't have helped her anyway. Everyone else in the family had left after dinner on that trip to the beach, leaving her and Ranma behind because they had school Monday.

As these thoughts passed through her mind, Akane's attention continued to traverse her body. When it reached the junction between her legs, she frowned. There was a little ... pain, there, for some reason. Had she maybe ... indulged herself? A little too vigorously? Even though she couldn't remember anything? She probably ought to check, make sure she hadn't scratched herself or something.

Akane decided that it was time to stop putting off getting up. Not only to examine herself, but to go in search of a couple of Advil. If there was any mercy in heaven, they might do something to ease the torment in her head.

She sat up.

Whereupon she promptly discovered that the weight across her waist had not been anything so mundane as a fold in the blankets. As it flopped down beside her on the bed, Akane found herself looking down in amazement at an arm. There was a snort from behind her, followed by a slurred, "Whuzzat? Ow! Crap, my head!"

Akane spun around, staring in horror at the sight of none other than Ranma Saotome, the fiancé her father had forced on her two years ago. Lying on her bed. Beside her. It had been his arm lying across her.

In the process of sitting up she must have pulled the blankets down - far enough at any rate to reveal that he, too, was fully unclothed. For a moment she forgot how to scream, staring at the sight of him, or rather at a specific portion of him. A portion she had seen only a few memorable times before.

Ranma's eyes opened and Akane suddenly remembered how to scream. His eyes snapped all the way open at the sound, in shock. But then he recoiled in pain, closing his eyes and grabbing the sides of his head with his hands. Akane likewise grabbed at her own head, her scream turning to one of pain, whereupon she fell over the side of the bed.

The shock of falling cut off her scream, allowing conscious thought to return. Akane remembered that she was naked and alone in the room with Ranma. She seized the blanket and yanked it free, spinning him around, draping herself in it hurriedly. Face blazing red, she snatched up the shinai leaning against her wall and advanced toward the bed, lifting it high, preparing to perform her own version of last rites.

Ranma opened his eyes again muzzily. "A-Akane? What the ...? Why am I in your room?" He noted the shinai she was brandishing, and pressed his back harder against the wall, holding one palm out in front in protest. "H-h-hang on! What's going on? Wh-what did I do?"

"I don't know!" Akane hissed. "But whatever it was, you're going to die for doing it!"

She leapt forward, swinging the weapon. Unfortunately, her foot caught on the lower edge of the blanket she had wrapped around her body, tripping her and leaving the blanket behind. The practice sword went flying, hitting the wall and falling down behind the bed. As Akane fell forward, she landed right on top of Ranma, who caught her automatically, protectively. Their foreheads clonked together.

Two voices cried out in pain simultaneously, the force of the impact doing nothing to help their headaches. Akane rolled off the side of the bed once more, scrambling to pull the blanket back over herself. Ranma scooted away from her toward the head of the bed and grabbed a pillow to cover himself strategically.

Ranma asked plaintively, "Can't you at least tell me why I'm here? Naked? You know - before you kill me?"

Akane growled angrily, then looked down. "Mhm mm ummer," she muttered.


"I said I don't remember!" she snarled, too loudly, making them both wince again. She went on more quietly, "The last thing I remember is the party last night. Drinking orange juice. And, uh, dancing. And stuff. I don't even remember coming home."

Ranma gazed off into the distance. "Yeah. The party. That's right." He thought some more. "I don't remember coming home either. The last thing I remember is, uh, dancing. With, uh, you. I think ... I think I must've been drunk. We must've been drunk."

Akane glowered. "What? Are you saying you wouldn't dance with me unless you were drunk? Well I ..."

"I didn't say that!" Ranma snapped, interrupting. He winced, putting his hand to his forehead as the sharp tone tore through his head. Speaking more gently in deference to the pain, he said, "But I don't remember things too well. And I don't remember coming home at all. And my head is killing me - I think I got a hangover. There must have been something in that orange juice."

"Yeah," Akane sighed, clutching the blanket tighter.

"I'm gonna kill that Hiroshi," Ranma grumped. He looked up at her, then lowered his eyes again. Their shared nudity loomed large in his thoughts. "You don't suppose that we ... we wouldn't have ... uh ... uh ..."

Akane closed her eyes in panic. She realized that she had been firmly suppressing any thought of the possibility, but Ranma's words had shattered the subconscious effort. Forced to confront the idea, she thought for a moment about digging out the shinai and resuming her attempt to beat him to death, but broke down into tears instead.

"Hey! Hey, don't cry!" Ranma gasped, feeling his own panic rising within. He scooted closer, keeping the pillow over himself, and put an arm around his fiancée's shoulders.

Akane started beating on him with her fists. "Let go of me! This is all your fault!"

It was obvious, though, that she must have been of two minds about pushing him away. After all, she could easily have hit much harder. Thinking about what they might have done, and remembering at last that they ought to be alone in the house, Ranma tightened his arm around Akane, pulling her in close. His other arm wrapped around her. He let her cry into his shoulder, ignoring the fists half-heartedly striking against his chest. After a while she stopped hitting and wrapped her arms around him, holding tight, seeking some sense of security from his solid presence.

When the tears finally slowed, Akane whispered into his shoulder, "I ... I always wanted my first time to be special. On my wedding night. Do you ... do you think we really ..."

Ranma wished he knew what to say. Wished there was some sort of comfort he could give her. "I don't know," he whispered. "I don't remember either." He raised his head, remembering something he'd heard guys talking about, joking about. "But I think there might be a clue. Maybe." He started feeling around the sheets, near the center of the bed.

"What are you ... what are you looking for?" Akane asked uneasily.

Ranma stopped, a funny look on his face. He gave a heavy sigh. "There's a, well, a bit of the sheet here is kinda wet. I remember the guys in the locker room joking about a 'wet spot'. I think, maybe, we ... might've."

Akane pulled away, wiping at her eyes. The thought that she and Ranma might have done that was affecting her in some strange way. The urge to break his bones one by one was fading. She was feeling horribly adrift. Could she really have let Ranma do - that - to her? And if she had, would anything ever be the same again?

Eyes down, still whispering, Akane asked, "Isn't there any way we can tell? For sure?"

Ranma moved the pillow out a little, still blocking Akane's view but allowing him to examine himself. The dried traces he saw were not wholly unfamiliar. "It uh ... it uh ... looks like I might've ... well, done something. Uh ..." His tone became troubled. "Can't you tell? Wouldn't you know if we ...?"

Akane fought for calm. The pain she had noticed - down there - was still present. But shouldn't it be a lot worse? Hadn't the girls who had done this said that it hurt a lot the first time? But then, she was a martial artist. She had a pretty high tolerance for pain. It might have felt a lot worse to them.

"I ... I don't know," Akane confessed. "I'm not sure. Maybe." She hesitated. Their nudity was making her feel off balance, awkward. "Look. Could you ... leave me alone for a bit? So we can get dressed? It's ... I'm feeling pretty weird, here."

"Uh, yeah. Yeah, sure." Ranma climbed off the bed with care, keeping the pillow between himself and Akane as he made his way to the door. He closed it behind himself, then sprinted for his own bedroom.

Still sitting on the bed in her room, Akane wished that she could somehow go back and erase last night from existence. But she couldn't. She was going to have to live with it. An interesting question was why she had stopped attacking Ranma. Shouldn't she be trying to skin him alive for being a pervert with her? Yet somehow ... that didn't feel right. She didn't feel like the same person anymore. She was a stranger in her own body.

Slowly, as if moving through molasses, Akane stood up and walked to her door, locking it. She picked up a mirror from her shelf, before crossing back over to her bed. Reluctantly, she let the blanket slide to the floor. Sitting on the edge of the bed, cursing herself for getting into this situation, the young woman made a careful examination. There was nothing obviously wrong, but there were traces of something there, something she didn't recognize. She lifted a finger with a large tacky drop on the end, shuddering at the thought of what it must be.

A little later Ranma and Akane were sitting together at the breakfast table, both now fully clothed. A steaming, ready-to-serve meal was sitting in front of the young man, fresh out of the microwave. Akane, sipping at a cup of tea, stared at him, wondering how he could even stand the sight of food given the way her stomach felt. Truthfully though, he was only picking at his meal, without much appetite. The mutual embarrassment served to choke off all conversation.

The main thing holding Akane back from speaking was fear for how Ranma was going to react. Would he pretend it hadn't happened? Insult her, say he could only have done it because he was drunk? Would he bolt, leave her forever? Choose one of the other girls in panic?

Well, so far he had avoided any insults. So far. Probably in too much shock, she thought. So - perhaps this would be a good time to talk to him? Before he recovered? Maybe, for once, they could have a serious discussion. God knew they needed to have one, right now.

Akane cleared her throat. "About last night. I ... checked a little further. I'm pretty sure we did."

"D-Did what?" Ranma asked, nervously.

Okay, so maybe he was recovering already, Akane growled to herself. "Have sex, moron!" she snapped her answer. "The question is, what now?"

"Wh-wh-what do you mean, what now?" Ranma stuttered. "Can't we just, you know, go on? Like always?" He turned a little belligerent. "Are you trying to tell me I gotta marry you? Just 'cause we ... uh ..."

"Had sex!" Akane finished for him. "Gods, you're so immature! Can't you even say it?"

Ranma flushed. Akane continued speaking. "And no, I wasn't saying you have to marry me. Do you really think I'm like that? That I'd try to trap you into a marriage, just because we, we, screwed?!"

Ranma flinched at the raw profanity. He shook his head in the negative, unable to speak.

Akane sighed. "I just ... I'd like to know what you're going to do. I mean, will you go into some kind of panic? Maybe run away? Do you think you'll ... leave ... here?"

"Um ... no?" Ranma said, making a question of it. "Why? Uh, did you want me to?"

Akane looked down at her knees. "I don't ..." She paused, taking time to think over what she wanted to say, then started again. "I don't want you to feel obligated. I don't want you to stay because you feel you have to, or because you feel you owe me, ..." Her voice started to crack. "... or because anyone is telling you to, ... I just ..."

Akane rested her face in her hand for a moment, then brushed her hair back from her forehead, looking up. "I'm tired, Ranma. I'm tired of not knowing where I stand with you. After last night ... I ... I don't think I can take not knowing any more. What do you want? What do you really want?"

Ranma turned to look out through the open shoji. What answer was he to give to her question? An honest one? Brush it off with a joke? An insult? He thought about what he and Akane had done last night. What they had shared. Even if neither one of them remembered it. He felt as if there was a weight pressing on him. He felt a need to be serious.

But if he was going to be serious, there was something serious he needed to know first. Something which had lain between them from the very beginning.

Quietly, Ranma asked a question in return. "Do you think I'm a freak?"

Akane blinked, wondering where that had come from. But as she pondered it, she thought she began to understand. If she wanted honesty from him, then she had to give honesty to him. She even felt a little touched by the insecurity he had revealed to her with his question.

"No," she answered. "I don't think you're a freak. Your curse ... it was strange to me at first. But not any more. You're ... unique. To me, you're ... just Ranma."

He sighed, then realized he was breathing more easily. Taking a deep breath, Ranma told her, "Then what I want ... is to stay here."

"For now, you mean?" Akane asked. "Or ... forever?"

"Which would you prefer?" Ranma croaked.

Frustrated, Akane started to say through clenched teeth, "You ..." Then she caught herself. She wasn't going to fall into old traps. His answer seemed to indicate that he was willing to give the answer she wanted, so long as he knew that she wanted it. Speaking as calmly as she could, trying not to spook him, Akane said, "One of us has to say it first, baka. But if you're too scared, then I guess It'll have to be me. I ..."

He interrupted, an odd note in his voice. "I ain't scared, dammit." Trying to imagine what this event must have meant to Akane, he dredged up some resolve. "Forever," he said, very softly. "I'd like to stay forever."

Akane inhaled deeply, heartened by the implication. Despite her worries, despite how unsettled she still felt from what had happened, elation spread within her. On the other hand, it would be nice to have it stated plainly. So she asked, rather breathlessly, "Does that mean that you want to, uh, marry ... me?"

Ranma swallowed heavily, still unable to turn and look at her. "If ... if that's what you want. Then yeah. Someday."

"Uh, yeah, someday," Akane repeated, getting a grip on herself. After all, they were still in high school. She didn't feel at all ready to have a husband, to be someone's wife. Still, she had to fight the urge to giggle. Maybe last night was worth it, after all. Not as a trap to force him into agreeing to marry her - that thought was repugnant. But at long last they had finally broached the subject they had never dared face before, and if a drunken night of unremembered sex had inspired that, perhaps she could live with what happened after all.

"What about, you know, the others?" Akane asked.

"You mean our families?" Ranma asked in surprise. "Hell, my old man would be ecstatic if he could've heard what we just said! Yours too."

"No," Akane replied with a touch of exasperation. "I mean ... the other, you know, fiancées."

"Oh. Them." Ranma shrugged. "They can't stop me. Us. Not if I'm serious. The scheming, the attacks, everything, it's been a lot of fun. But when the time comes, we'll just do it, and that'll be that."

Akane stared, mouth hanging open slightly. "Fun?! All the, the, craziness? That's your idea of fun?"

He finally turned and looked at her, grinning. "Yeah. C'mon. You gotta admit, it sure ain't been boring, has it?"

"No-oo. I think I can definitely agree, it hasn't been boring." Despite herself, Akane found her own lips lifting in a matching grin.

Silence reigned for the next several minutes as they both contemplated the future while Ranma finally ate his breakfast, and Akane drank her tea. When she pushed her cup aside and leaned on the table, Akane gave her fiancé a look with lifted eyebrows and said, "A little earlier I asked, 'What now?' The future ... is in the future. What about today? Tomorrow? Is anything changed? Do we go on like always? Fights? Insults? Shouting?"

"Eh." Ranma lay back on his elbows, uncomfortable. "I dunno. I guess ... I do feel different." His face twisted, thinking, then he shook his head. "Why don't we just take it a day at a time? I mean, I reckon we ain't gonna suddenly start fooling around all the time like we did last night ..."

"You want me to beat you to death after all?"

"... but I reckon things are bound to be a bit different between us. Neither of us is gonna be able to forget it, for sure. Which, y'know, sounds really strange since neither of us can remember it. Another thing - seems to me, it ain't so hard talking to you like this, right now. But when our pops get back, and start yammering at us about marrying right away ..."

"Yeah." Akane hung her head. "You'll lose your head and start yelling. And then I'll yell at you. And ..."

"Hey!" Ranma protested. "Who says I'll start the yelling?"

"You always do," she answered smugly, smirking at him.

"Hmph." He turned away, studying the yard outside again. After a minute a thought occurred to him, a thought which caused his insides to twist nauseously. Why had he taken so long to think of it? He wrestled with the notion, fearing to speak of it, wishing to forget that the thought had ever come to him. Yet he knew that they could not avoid considering the possibility.

Finally, he turned around but kept his eyes down on the table. Softly, quietly, he asked, "Akane? What if, you know, what if you get, if you're, ..." He took a deep breath. "... pregnant?"

Akane inhaled sharply. She realized that this was yet another thought which she had been subconsciously suppressing. Could she be? Was it possible? She counted off days in her head quickly, not knowing whether to thank or curse the fact that she'd always been very regular. When she reached the unfortunate sum, she bit her lip, determined not to moan. She absolutely would not moan.

A small moan of horror escaped despite her best effort.

"Akane?" Ranma's tone was now distinctly worried.

"It ... it ... oh God," she whispered forlornly. She was unable to say anything more. The timing was just about as bad as it could be.

Looking at her, seeing her tremble, Ranma made a decision. Knowing that he was risking injury, he shuffled closer and took Akane in his arms, embracing her closely. Trying to reassure her. While simultaneously trying to hide the fact that his own insides were going into panicked overdrive.

"When will you know?" he asked, noting that his pitch was a trifle high.

Akane was still trembling, holding him tightly, amazed that she had found it so easy to accept his embrace and thankful that he had chosen to offer it. "It'll take a couple of weeks," she answered, voice shaky. "That's when I should, uh, you know ..."

"I'm a girl sometimes, Akane," Ranma reminded her. "I know."

She nodded. "If I, uh, don't ... if it doesn't ..." Akane tried to pull herself together. "Let's pray things happen on time. I don't want to think about it until then."

"Yeah, okay," Ranma said out loud. Only inside his own head did he remark, ‹Fat chance we won't be thinking about it.›

If it weren't for the near constant fear that she might become a teenage mother, Akane would have felt on top of the world. She and Ranma were actually getting along. They were talking to each other. Without getting into arguments. Without getting into fights. She wished that their families would stay at the beach longer, instead of coming home Wednesday.

In a way it seemed completely upside-down. Considering how much they had fought each other for the last couple of years, one would think that a night of sex neither could remember due to being thoroughly plastered, coupled with a significant risk that they might soon find themselves with an unplanned child on the way - well, one would have expected an explosion between them beyond anything which had gone before. Yet that hadn't happened. Instead, if anything, it was drawing them closer together. It was as if it had forced them past a barrier where they could finally admit to things they could never have confessed previously.

It was rather a pity that it took something like this to bring about such a change in their relationship. Both of them should have been happy, feeling wonderful about how they were getting along. Instead, the fear that she might be ... well, that simply sucked all of the pleasure out of their new found rapport.

And then, to make matters just perfect, school on Monday proved to be extremely embarrassing.

Everyone at school was talking about the party Friday night, including the people who hadn't been there. Even worse, Ranma and Akane were the main topic of conversation. Dancing together wasn't the only unusual thing they had done, it seemed. In particular, people who had been present told a tale of Akane and Ranma kissing very passionately, sitting together in a chair with Akane in Ranma's lap. Ignoring everyone who tried to interrupt. After awhile Hiroshi had pushed them out the door and told them to "Go home if you want to carry on like that." People laughed in recollection of watching them through a window as they stumbled down the street together, arm in arm, stealing occasional kisses.

Just before gym class, Ranma cornered Hiroshi in the locker room. When a hand slammed into the locker beside him, Hiroshi spun around, cowering before Ranma's glare.

"What the hell's the idea of getting me and Akane drunk?" he snarled. "You thought it was funny, spiking our drinks?"

"N-n-no! Hell no!" Hiroshi fumbled for words. "You asked for them! I-I-I just gave you the dr-drinks you asked for! Honest!"

Ranma gritted his teeth. "I didn't know there was alcohol in 'em."

Hiroshi fidgeted, trying to control his shaking limbs. "B-but I told Akane! I swear! I told her they were screwdrivers!"

"What?" Ranma asked, puzzled. "What's that?"

"You know!" Hiroshi insisted anxiously. "Orange juice and vodka?"

Ranma dragged a hand down his face. "No. I didn't know. And I don't think Akane did either. You ..." He broke off. He wanted to smash Hiroshi's face in for this. Not so much because they ended up drunk. But that was what had led to Akane maybe being pregnant. Not that he was going to breathe a word about that.

Ranma realized that he was grinding his teeth together, while his friend watched him in fear. As much as he hated to admit it, he wasn't at all sure that Hiroshi was all that much to blame. Which didn't keep Ranma from wanting to blame him. He pulled back his arm and smashed his fist into the locker beside Hiroshi's head, shoving the crumpled door all the way to the back.

"It'll never happen again. I promise," Hiroshi whispered.

"Yeah," Ranma nodded, resigned. He walked away, head hanging, thinking there was no need for it to happen again. The first time had already been the one time too many.

At the same time, over in the girls' locker room, Ukyo Kuonji approached Akane with a glare of her own. Akane stood up from the bench to meet her, crossing her arms, locking gazes with her steadily.

"What's all this I hear about you kissing my Ranchan?" Ukyo hissed.

"Honestly, I don't remember that at all. I was a bit - well, more than a bit - drunk at the time," Akane pointed out mildly. Her voice sharpened as she added, "And in any case, Ranma is my fiancé."

Ukyo took a step back, startled. She was unprepared to hear Akane flat out admit that she and Ranma were engaged. Usually, if anyone dared to mention it, the two of them reacted with denials or even outright violence. However, she recovered quickly.

"In case you've forgotten, I'm the cute fiancée." She kept her voice flat, avoiding any hint of smugness, sure that the words alone would get her point across.

For once Akane was not troubled by this proclamation, buffered by the memory of Ranma's statement that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. So she just shrugged, demonstrating her lack of concern.

"I suppose it's true that you're cute," Akane admitted, leaving one to wonder what this meant for the other half of the claim. "Although most people don't go around singing their own praises like that."

Ukyo's eyes narrowed. As Akane turned and walked off, Ukyo raised her voice, demanding, "Just stay away from my Ranchan."

"Can't," Akane called back over her shoulder. "We live in the same house." She stepped through the door and out of the locker room, leaving the fuming rival behind her.

"Oh, it's good to be home," Kasumi said as she walked through the front door.

The others followed right behind. Ranma's mother Nodoka took a look around and said, "Aren't my son and Akane going to greet us?"

Akane's and Kasumi's other sister, Nabiki, glanced at the clock. "We're a bit early. They're only just getting out of school."

"Oh." Nodoka's smile became cheerful again. "I missed them so much. I wish Ranma and his fiancée could have come with us. He was out of my life for so long, that I want to spend as much time with him as possible. I want the two of us to be a family again."

Genma looked askance at his wife, wondering, ‹What am I? Chopped liver?›

Nabiki just shrugged and headed up the stairs. She dropped off her suitcase in her room, then stealthily slipped next door into Akane's. It was a stroke of luck getting home before the younger pair, and she wasn't going to waste the opportunity. Now if Akane hadn't found ...

Nabiki smiled in victory. The video camera was still there on the shelf, well concealed except for the lens pointing out into the room. She had hidden it there shortly before they left Friday evening, knowing that her sister was going out to a party that night. Of course, most likely there wouldn't be anything of interest aside from Akane coming home and going to bed. Her little sister wasn't the sort to drink. But just imagine if she had ...

She slipped back into her own room and shut the door, sighing in relief at escaping discovery. Plugging the cable into her computer, she congratulated herself once again for having chosen a camcorder with its own hard drive. Not only was it easy to transfer footage to her computer for editing, but it was able to store a full eight hours of video. She had turned it on before leaving at six that night, which meant it would have recorded until two in the morning, more than long enough for Akane to come home.

Nabiki put on the headphones, and started fast forwarding through the unchanging view. She paused at the first sign of motion and then blinked in surprise. That was Ranma standing there, carrying Akane, and ... was she kissing him? Practically salivating, Nabiki rewound to the point where they made their entrance, automatically noting the time on the video was about ten minutes after eleven.

She watched in shock as her sister and her sister's fiancée started making out heavily. Then the clothes started coming off. Nabiki's eyes got wider and wider. Her jaw dropped. "Oh ... my ... God!" she whispered. She continued watching. A broad smile grew on her face. "Oh my!" she concluded.

Nabiki leaned back in her chair, grinning like a loon. She fast forwarded through the rest of the video, but it was clear that nothing else happened once the two of them finished what they were doing and passed out. Now the question was ... what was she going to do with this?

The middle Tendo daughter, despite her mercenary nature, had no intention of selling this to anyone. After all, there were limits, and this was her little sister they were talking about. No, she wasn't going to be party to letting people ogle Akane in the buff. Ranma either, she decided with a sigh. Remembering what the video revealed, Nabiki ran her tongue over her lips. Her sister certainly was a lucky girl.

She came to a decision. This was going to be completely private. No one other than herself was ever going to see it, not even Kasumi. Until the two of them finally got married. Then she was going to send a copy to the two of them, as a wedding gift. Nabiki laughed to herself, picturing the surprise on their faces when they finally watched her "present." With a final chuckle she closed down the program, making sure the file was saved, and wiped the camcorder's drive clean.

It was a pity that she was returning to college tomorrow. Kasumi and her father had protested her decision to leave early, but there were a couple of assignments she needed to finish before Monday. Alas, this would sharply curtail her opportunities to tease the two youngsters. Which was probably all for the best. If she did tease them, it would give away the fact that she knew something, which would spoil the ultimate surprise. It was going to be awfully difficult resisting the temptation, though.

"Ranchan, can I speak to you?" Ukyo's voice was low, but she couldn't quite hide the snarl in it. The jackass had been sitting beside Akane under a tree all through lunch, and although she'd been waiting for a break in their conversation to get his attention, the pair remained oblivious to her presence until she gave in and interrupted.

Ranma looked up from his empty bento, obviously surprised to see her. "Sure," he said. shrugging. He excused himself from Akane, and followed Ukyo some distance away and around the corner of the school building.

"What's up?" he asked.

"That's what I want to know," Ukyo replied, in a deadly level voice. "What the hell is up between you and Akane this week? You haven't called her uncute once! Dammit, you haven't insulted her at all, except for the occasional 'tomboy'! You've started eating lunch with her instead of Hiroshi and Daisuke. When she picked up those weights after gym class yesterday, you ran over and grabbed them from her and carried them yourself."

She reached out and grabbed him by the shirt, pulling him close. "I want to know what's going on. You haven't forgotten that you're marrying me, have you?"

Ranma stared back, at a loss for words. If there was one thing at which he was utterly unskilled, it was dealing with an irate girl. After an overly long pause, Ukyo shook him and asked, "Well?"

Ranma tried to chuckle, but it came out nervously. "It ain't really nothing, Ucchan. Me and Akane did have a talk. We decided to try and see if we couldn't fight less. That's all."

Ukyo stared at him long and hard. "Bull."

Ranma sighed. "It's true. We both decided we were tired of arguing all the time. Thought we'd try it the other way."

The girl confronting him released his shirt to put her hands on her hips. "And why would you suddenly start eating lunch with her instead of your guy friends? Why did you insist on carrying the gym stuff for her? Level with me, Ranchan."

Ranma squirmed under her gaze. Then the boy shrugged. "Got no more to say," he told her.

Ukyo realized that her teeth were clenching together. She forced them to relax. In a cool voice she said, "You know what I think? I think a certain girl is forgetting she's not your real fiancée. I think she needs a little reminding. I think, maybe, a challenge would be a good way to convince her to keep her hands off my fiancé." Ukyo reached behind her and fingered the enormous battle spatula sheathed on her back.

Then she gasped in pain, swinging her head to the side to stare at Ranma's hand clamped on her shoulder. She hadn't even seen his arm move! Ukyo gasped out, "Ranchan! You're hurting me!"

"Sorry," a frozen voice answered. The grip relaxed marginally. Ukyo faced forward, then shrank back from his expression. His blue eyes, normally the color of sapphires, were like chips of ice. An aura was barely visible, swirling around him. Ukyo tried to step back, but the hand on her shoulder restrained her.

Ranma reminded himself, forcefully, that his friend didn't know. She couldn't know that Akane might be pregnant. Might be carrying his child. Her words had been uttered in ignorance, thinking that it was only Akane that she threatened, and that she likely had not intended any serious harm.

He watched Ukyo, who was watching him in growing fear.

"You won't threaten Akane," Ranma said, trying hard to moderate his tone. "I can't tell you why. But you won't attack her. Understand?"

Ukyo nodded, unable to form words, the up and down movement or her head barely noticeable. She didn't dare give any other response.

Ranma closed his eyes for a moment, forcing himself to calm down. When he opened his eyes again, he released his hold, patting her shoulder genially. "Sorry, Ucchan," he said, sounding more natural. "I can't explain. But things are ... complicated, right now. Maybe someday I can tell you about it." With one last smile he turned and walked away.

Ukyo followed him with her eyes, still frozen to the spot. She had no idea of what was going on, but there was one thing she was sure of. She never wanted to see Ranma looking at her like that again.

"Mind if I join you?" Akane asked, climbing up onto the roof of her home.

Ranma lay there stretched out on his back, arms folded behind his head, looking utterly relaxed. "No, come on up," he replied. "Just so long as our pops aren't with you. Or eavesdropping. Or even know we're up here together."

Akane chuckled bitterly, walking over and sitting down beside him. "I suppose we should have expected it," she said. "It's pretty obvious we're getting along better. So of course they're going to start suggesting that we should try to have another wedding."

"Mmm," Ranma grunted. When he spoke, he sounded distracted. "It'd be easier to ignore 'em if it weren't for the thought we might haveta. Have a wedding, I mean."

Akane turned toward him quickly, eyes going wider. Then she clenched her fists, catching his meaning. In a fierce voice she told him, "You can just forget that! I'm not going to get married 'because I have to.' The only way we're going to get married is if we both want it!"

Ranma sighed, running a hand through his hair. "It's still too soon to know?"

Akane nodded.

Thinking over her words, Ranma tried to decide how to explain his own feelings. In the end, he thought that maybe it would be better to start without words, risky though that might be. Sitting up, he reached out his arm and wrapped it around Akane's shoulders, pulling her in close. She looked up at him in shock, but refrained from pounding him. After a minute she relaxed into the embrace.

After staying that way for several minutes, Ranma tentatively asked, "Do you remember me saying that I wanted to marry you? Eventually?"

Akane snorted. "I remember me asking if you did. And you telling me you would if I wanted to."

"Close enough," Ranma declared. "The point is ..." He hesitated, took a deep breath, then continued. "The point is, if we get married, it's because I want to. Even if we have to do it a bit earlier than I expected."

"But ..."

He reached over with his other hand and clapped it over her mouth. Akane bit him. Ranma yelped, yanking his hand away and shaking the sting out while scowling at her.

"I ain't gonna have people pointing at you and whispering," Ranma told her fiercely. "And I ain't gonna have people saying nasty things about our kid later on. Assuming, you know, that we're gonna have one. I'm still hoping like hell we're gonna luck out there. But if we don't ... then I wanna marry you. Understand?"

Akane looked down. "Don't you understand? I don't want you to feel like you were forced to marry me. I'm not like the other girls. I don't want you to think you were trapped. I don't care what people say about me."

"I care," he said, his voice hard. "Don't that count for something?"

She looked at him, her chin quivering. "And you think I don't care? About you? I don't want you to have to marry me just because of this."

He ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "You're - not - listening. I want to marry you. Not just because you might be ... you know. Okay, maybe it'll have to be a bit sooner than I expected, but the only difference is when we do it."

Akane dried the moisture which had gathered in her eyes. Thinking over what he had said, she also took notice of how he had said it. She looked at him and asked, curiously, "Since when can you talk so easily about getting married? Why aren't you tripping all over your tongue, baka?"

He snorted, grinning. "Dunno. Think maybe I'm growing up?"

They looked into each other's eyes for a moment, then simultaneously said, "Nawww!" Akane giggled. Ranma chuckled.

Turning serious again, Ranma reached out with his hand, stroking Akane's cheek lightly with his fingertips. "Is it so hard to believe I care about you, tomboy?"

She just stared at him, mesmerized by the contact and the words.

Ranma continued to look into her eyes, feeling an urgency growing within him, a heat rising in his blood. She looked so right sitting there, gazing up at him, resting in the curve of his arm, his other hand still lightly tracing the curve of her jaw. He wished desperately that he could remember, just a little, of what the two of them had shared, only a week and a half ago. Then he remembered how it had begun, what their friends had told them of what they'd been doing at the party.

Slowly Ranma leaned closer. Akane's eyes widened fractionally, but she didn't pull away. He moved a little closer. Her eyes fluttered, her lips parted slightly. Drawing on whatever reserves of courage he had, Ranma closed the remaining distance, feeling his lips touch against hers. Unsure of himself, he pulled back, heart thumping erratically at the thought that he had just kissed Akane. The first such kiss that he would be able to remember.

Akane, staring up at him in wonder, whispered, "Baka."

It only seemed natural to use his lips to keep her from saying anything further.

Another weekend came around. Ranma was practically hovering around Akane all day Saturday, waiting for some word, which became enormously frustrating for her. In fact she started to fall back into bad habits, punching or kicking at him when it got to be too much.

On Sunday morning, Ranma woke up early, and settled himself in the hall outside Akane's bedroom door, waiting for her to wake up. He could hear Kasumi moving around in the kitchen downstairs, setting up for breakfast, and his father's snores were just audible from the opposite corner of the house. He hoped Akane wouldn't be too upset with him for wanting to know such a private thing about her, first thing on waking. But he had to know, as soon as there was anything to know.

Unfortunately, he hadn't counted on Akane yanking the door open and running out into the hall, her hand over her mouth. Given that he was sitting right in front of that door, it was inevitable that she tripped and fell on top of him, knocking him flat. As she fell, Akane retched, covering Ranma with the contents of her stomach.

Ranma held Akane in his arms, watching her roll over slowly to stare at him in a combination of fury and shame. Trying to defuse a situation which promised mortal injury, he inquired, "Tummy upset?"

Akane couldn't help herself. She barked out an unrestrained laugh. Letting it trail off, she dragged the sleeve of her soiled pajamas across her mouth, wiping away some of the residue. "You have got to be the world's biggest baka," she informed him mock-seriously.

In the meantime, Kasumi's feet could be heard running lightly down the hall. She came around the corner and slid to a stop. Hand raised to her mouth, she exclaimed, "Oh my! Akane! What happened!"

Akane climbed slowly to her feet, examining the sticky mess on her pajamas. It was little consolation that there was more on Ranma than on herself. She looked up with a weak smile for her older sister, "I suppose I have a touch of flu or something."

Kasumi returned her smile, sighing softly. "It does look that way. Why don't you and Ranma go down and put those clothes in the laundry? I'll clean up here." She turned around to head back downstairs, to get a mop and shut off the rice cooker.

Akane and Ranma headed down to the furoba. Akane picked up a yukata and towel and stepped into the inner room, sliding the door closed behind her. Ranma remained in the outer room, dumping his clothes in the sink and pulling on a yukata of his own. He was about to start rinsing his clothes when the door slid open and Akane came back in, wearing the yukata, and dumping her own clothes in the sink with his.

Ranma remarked aggrievedly, "I suppose you expect me to rinse your clothes as well as my own?"

"Of course, baka!" Akane said with false cheer. "After all, I'd have made it to the toilet if I hadn't tripped over you." She let the smile fade from her lips. "I guess you know what this means, don't you?"

Ranma leaned against the wall, closing his eyes in pain. "Ah ... is this what they mean by 'morning sickness'?"

"Afraid so," Akane agreed, with a slight quaver in her voice. "I haven't started, so ... I guess we'd better check. Do you think you can go to a drugstore and pick up a home pregnancy test?"

"Me?!" Ranma exclaimed in shock, rearing back. There was an explosion of pain on the back of his head as he banged his head on the wall. Rubbing the spot gingerly and wincing, he asked, "Why don't you?"

Akane gave him a reproachful look and started holding up fingers. "One. I'm still feeling nauseous. Two. Kasumi thinks I'm sick and might be surprised if I go out right away. Three. This is your fault as much as mine. Four. You've got a better chance of sneaking in with it. If Kasumi sees me carrying a bag in, she might want to know what I bought."

Ranma wilted a little further with each finger. "Okay. You want me to bring it to your room?"

"Please," Akane confirmed. "I ... I'm sorry, Ranma."

"Hey, none of that." He reached out and pulled her into a hug, realizing only after the fact that neither of them were wearing anything under the thin robes. He tried to put it out of his mind, concentrating on comforting the girl who was trembling slightly in his arms.

At last she pulled back. "I'd better wash up. I'll see you later." She closed the door behind herself as she reentered the bathing room.

Ranma rinsed the clothes out in the sink, splashing himself with enough cold water to activate his curse and change into his female form. When he was done he tossed the soiled garments into the washing machine, then headed back upstairs to get into some clothes. He slipped out the window while his old man was still snoring on the futon, although his mother was nowhere to be seen, and was probably downstairs with Kasumi.

The clerk looked up at the sound of the bell over the door. It was still early on a Sunday morning, and the cute red-haired girl was the first customer of the day. He watched curiously as she wandered up and down the aisles, obviously looking for something, but hesitated to approach her. Some people became annoyed if you offered to help before they had a chance at least to try to find what they were looking for, and the ones who wouldn't were usually less shy about asking for help in the first place.

After a couple of more minutes, however, he walked over and cleared his throat. When the girl looked up, he gave her a smile and asked, in his most friendly voice, "Can I help you find something, Miss?"

Ranma looked around, befuddled. "Yeah. I need to buy a home pregnancy test."

The man blinked, more than a little startled. In his experience, young girls who found themselves in such a situation were a great deal more embarrassed about admitting their need. All the same, this wasn't the first time he had heard such a request, even if it was usually accompanied with more hesitation and sometimes a tear or two. Adopting as much outward compassion as he could, he led the teenage girl two aisles over and pointed to a row of kits.

The bell over the door rang again. He looked up to see a Chinese girl approaching, and called out, "I'll be right with you, Miss."

Shampoo looked toward the voice, and her eyes lit up. Ranma, on the other hand, groaned.

"Nihao, airen! I come pick up bandages for Mousse. Stupid duck boy stab himself with own knife. Why you here?"

The clerk lifted down one of the packages. "Now this is the one I usually recommend. Reliable, and fairly inexpensive."

Shampoo had moved quickly to join them. Ranma, waking up to the peril too late, stepped forward to intercept her, saying, "Hey Shampoo! Fancy meeting you here!"

The Chinese girl glanced at the package the man was holding out, wondering what Ranma was buying. She puzzled out the Japanese characters, then backed up a step, banging into a display.

"Airen?! Why you need pregnancy test?!"

The clerk, aware that he may have just caused an unfortunate incident for his customer, backed away. On reaching the end of the aisle he turned and made his escape, returning to his place of safety behind the counter.

Ranma searched for words. "I ... I ... I ..."

"You?!" Shampoo was horrified. "You have sex?!"

Ranma's flaming red face proclaimed his guilt.

The world spun around Shampoo. She put out a hand to steady herself against the wave of dizziness which swept over her. Her airen ... Ranma ... had had sex, and not with her! Worse, vastly worse, he, she, he thought he might be pregnant! Which meant ...!

Shampoo's mind shattered. ‹The boy I love is, is ... nooo!› With crushing realization, she now knew why Ranma had never responded to any of her glomps. Why it had been so easy for him to ignore her provocative displays. Why he often seemed more excited to see Mousse than herself.

She squeezed her eyes shut, trying not to picture who it might have been. Ryoga? Or the idiot who liked to wave the wooden stick around? How could this have happened? Two years of her life, trying to win someone who would never want her. Two years, down the drain.

"How?" Shampoo asked, almost whimpering. "Why?"

"It ... it happened a couple of weeks ago. We had too much to drink. We ..."

"You drunk?" Shampoo seized on this. "You not know what you do, yes? You not really want ...?" She had trouble finishing the question.

Ranma shook his head slowly, sadly. "I'm sorry, Shampoo. Yes, it was an accident. But it's also what I wanted. I don't even regret the pregnancy. Not really. It's just a few years earlier than I would have wanted."

Shampoo nearly broke down, seeing her hopes crushed. "Is really pregnant?"

Ranma gave her a wry almost-smile. "That's what the test is for. But it looks that way, yeah."

Her shoulders slumped. "Shampoo understand. Good-bye ai- ... Ranma." She turned and fled the store.

Sighing, hoping Akane wouldn't be too mad Shampoo had found out she was pregnant, Ranma headed toward the counter to pay for his purchase.

Akane stood back up, holding the strip in her hand, feeling irrationally embarrassed. Ranma had slipped into her room and given her the test kit just a few minutes ago, and she hadn't wasted any time coming to the bathroom to use it. She watched it nervously, praying ...

A banging came at the door.

"Just a minute!" Akane called anxiously.

"Hurry, please!" came Aunt Nodoka's voice. "I'm afraid I, er, stabbed my husband. He's bleeding everywhere."

Akane cursed her luck. Hiding the strip carefully in her hand, she opened the door to find a scowling Genma Saotome standing there in his boxers, one hand pressed to his thigh, blood running down his leg. Akane stepped past and let him into the room, where he wet a washcloth and washed the cut while his wife pulled disinfectant out of the cabinet.

"Akane, could you please help me?" Kasumi called.

Akane groaned. "What is it, oneechan?" she asked.

Her older sister sounded a little put out. "There's blood all over the floor in the guest bedroom. Could you help me clean it up?"

Akane thought helplessly of the test strip she was still hiding, then called back in resignation, "I'll be right there!" She stepped into her room and hid the strip behind some books on a shelf, then joined Kasumi in scrubbing the floor.

After they finished with the floor, Kasumi put Genma's bloodstained gi pants in the washing machine and asked Akane to help her to clean the stains from the futon. By the time they were finished with that, the pants were out of the wash, and Kasumi decided it was a good chance for Akane to practice her needlework, sewing up the cut in the pants leg. When she finally escaped, Akane looked back to see Kasumi picking the mangled stitches out, in preparation to redo the job.

By the time she finally got to her room and closed and locked the door behind her, Akane's nerves were nearly wrecked. More than an hour and a half had passed since using the test, and she still didn't know the results. As she pushed the books on the shelf aside, a sudden movement at her window sent Akane jumping back in fright to smash into her wall.

Ranma's lips pulled back in a grimace of apology. He reached forward and tapped lightly on the window. Akane picked up her shinai, causing her fiancé to wave his hands in desperation. She pulled the window open, waving the weapon in his direction threateningly.

"Are you trying to scare me to death, baka?" she demanded.

"No!" he protested. "Just, uh, can I come in?"

With a sigh she stepped back and nodded. Ranma did a flip, landing neatly in her room. He closed the window carefully behind himself, then turned slowly, prepared to face his doom. "Wh-what did it say?" he asked.

Akane nearly hit him, but pulled the punch at the last minute. "I don't know yet!" she whispered through gritted teeth. "Your mother stabbed your father with that sword she's always tossing around, and I had to help clean up the blood. Where were you?"

"Uh ..." Ranma hesitated, then went on in a small voice. "Waiting on the roof above your window to find out what it said."

Akane did hit him at that, but it was only a token gesture, a tap with no force behind it. "Baka. Come on. I guess we'll find out together."

She walked over to the shelf and finished pushing the books aside. Reaching behind, her fingers closed on the strip. At that point, Akane froze. When she pulled it out, she was going to get the answer. She was, suddenly, mortally terrified of that answer.

Ranma's hand touched her shoulder. "I'm here with you, tomboy."

With that, Akane found she could move again. She pulled the strip out, and gazed at it. Then it fell from her nerveless fingers. The room spun, and she was falling herself.

Ranma caught her. He lowered her to sit on the edge of the bed, and sat down beside her, keeping one arm around her back for support. Licking his dry lips, he asked, "Are you ...?"

Akane nodded. "I'm pregnant," she whispered.

"Oh man." Ranma's own whisper was rife with emotion.

The two teenagers sat there like that for a long time, neither one moving. Hardly even breathing. They thought they had prepared themselves for this moment, but the world had just changed under their feet in an instant, proving that they hadn't been prepared at all.

When Ranma finally took a deep breath, it was to say, "We need to get married as quickly as possible."

Akane turned toward him. "I don't want you to feel you have to ..."

"Stop it!" he snapped. Then he turned contrite. "Sorry. Didn't mean to sound so sharp. Look, I already told you. I want to marry you. Maybe it's sooner than I expected, but ... it's okay. I want to. You understand? I - want - to - marry - you. Okay?"

Akane, still shaken, nodded slowly. "But weddings take a long time to plan."

Ranma shook his head, smiling. "Not for our pops. I bet they can arrange for it to happen tomorrow."


"Yeah, tomorrow. Think about it!" he urged her. "We gotta get it done before anybody finds out you're pregnant. Hell, we gotta do it quick so the baby doctor can think it happened after the wedding. So, tomorrow." He pouted, looking enormously silly. "Don't you wanna marry me tomorrow?"

She couldn't help but smile at his ridiculous look, albeit the smile was a trifle sad. "Quit fooling!" she told him, slapping at his arm lightly. Then, taking a deep breath, she asked, "Are you sure?"

Ranma nodded, his expression serious.

Akane bit her lip, still worried, examining his features. Finally she took a deep breath, accepting. She gave him a smile and then, choosing to answer him without words, leaned forward and kissed him. After a startled moment, he returned the kiss.

Several long seconds passed before Akane pulled back, gazing at him shyly. "How are we going to do this?" she asked.

"I suppose walking into the family room and announcing 'I knocked up Akane' is right out?" Ranma inquired, both eyebrows raised.

He bounced off the opposite wall, rolling back toward where she sat on the bed.

When he finally came to a stop at her feet, lying face up on the floor, Akane lowered her fist to glare at him. "How about," she suggested menacingly, "we just let them 'accidentally' overhear us admit we want to get married? They'll probably have a priest here before we can turn around, don't you think?"

Ranma wiggled his head to stop the ringing in his ears. Looking up at the girl who had just agreed to marry him, he gave an impish grin and admitted, "I suppose that works too."

Author's note:

People who follow my LiveJournal will recognize this as the essence of the story idea I proposed on 2008-12-15. The first time, I think, that I've written a story based on an idea which I shared publicly first.

This isn't a very long story. Originally written as a one shot, I have split it into two chapters for posting. In other words, the conclusion is coming in the next chapter.

When I add this story to my web site (unusually, I'm putting it on FFnet first), I'll also be adding a piece of fan art by Xasonnex showing Shampoo and Ranma in the drugstore scene above.

Also, for those of you who don't follow my LiveJournal, I'll take a moment to explain why this is the first thing I've posted in three months. Back in June I started having chest pains. I spent seemingly half the month of August in hospitals, eventually having four cardiac catheterizations done (an angiogram which revealed the blockages, two angioplasties, and a followup angiogram). I'm now the proud owner of no fewer than six stents in my coronary arteries. I'm apt to continue to be slow at writing my fan-fiction as the array of medications I'm now on is giving me a fair bit of trouble from the gastric point of view - that's making it hard enough just trying to get my real job done. But I'm not planning to quit writing, and I intend to return to Side by Side once this current story is complete.

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.