I CANNOT CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE CREATION OF THESE CHARACTERS. I DEARLY WISH I COULD, BUT THEN I'D HAVE TO BE RUMIKO TAKAHASHI AND MY JAPANESE SKILLS ARE PITIABLY SUB-PAR AND I'M A MALE. I'D DO A TERRIBLE JOB AT BEING HER. SO INSTEAD I'M ME AND STATE INSTEAD THAT I INTEND TO MAKE NO MONEY ON THIS VENTURE AND IF I DO I WILL BE EATEN BY MY HORDE OF SEMI-TRAINED RABID WEASELS. SEMI-TRAINED IN THAT THEY ONLY SEEM TO TARGET PLAGIARISTS AND COPYRIGHT VIOLATORS – BOTH OF WHICH DESERVE WHATEVER COMES TO THEM.

Ukyo and Akane

Chapter 6

Epilogue... and a new beginning.

Three years, ten months, and twenty two days after his disappearance...

Rain had never felt so good. After so long learning to hate it, Ranma was reveling in his ability to finally get soaking wet without becoming a top contender in a wet t-shirt contest.

He'd been cured for a day and a half now, and was eagerly anticipating his return to Nerima. He could smell the savory aroma of Ukyo's okonomiyaki, the salty tang of the Amazon's ramen, and the delicious fragrance of Kasumi's amazing homemade meals. He could even detect a faint, caustic odor signifying one of Akane's kitchen disasters. He couldn't help but grin. He'd even be willing to try one of her 'experiments' when he got home.

The word still struck him as odd. He'd been gone from the Tendo household for longer than he'd lived there, but it still felt like home to him. He supposed that was because he'd had nowhere else to call home before then. Ever. He knew there was his mother's house, but he'd spent a couple years there only as a baby, and didn't really remember it. The Tendo Dojo was home to him.

When he closed his eyes, he could see the entryway, where he'd put his shoes before moving to the hallway. He'd listen to the sounds of Akane yelling as she broke blocks in the dojo out back while he made his way into the kitchen where Kasumi would be fixing dinner. The fathers would be out on the porch playing shogi and the dull rythmic thud of bass let him know that Nabiki was upstairs in her room relaxing.

He'd keep moving out to the dojo to meet Akane and he'd watch her for a little while without her noticing. He'd follow her every move with rapt attention, watching the curves of her body move with fluid grace as she executed moves that few other people in the world could muster. He'd sneak up behind her and catch her off guard for a moment, surprising her into attempting a strike at him. He'd block, of course, and fall into a ready stance with the feral grin that he'd found drove women absolutely up the wall with desire. She'd blush slightly and come at him, all motion and fury. He loved the way she moved. They'd spar for a bit, her attacking with furious abandon and him dodging, when finally he'd let her come close. He'd duck into her guard, and pop up right in her face. She'd be so surprised that she'd stop and blush furiously. Looking her straight in the eyes, he'd slowly move closer. Akane of course would refuse to give ground, and he'd advance bit by bit until they could feel each other's breath on their lips and the entire world was just the two of them gazing into each other's eyes. Just when neither of them could wait any longer...

*Smack!* Stinging pain erupted across Ranma's eyes. He quickly snapped the tree limb he'd walked into off with a deft flick of the wrist, cursing as he did so. This sort of thing had been happening far too often lately. He'd imagine what things would be like when he got home, and completely tune out the rest of the world. Completely inappropriate for the 'World's Greatest Martial Artist'. Ranma laughed. At least he wasn't cursed anymore! The rain started coming down in a massive deluge, one that nobody in their right mind would try to brave. Of course that meant that Ranma was enjoying it more and more. The wetter the better, he decided, and lengthened his strides. He could be home by tonight, if he hurried.

The dilapidated, abandoned building that used to be the Cat Cafe was a surprise. It looked like the building had been deserted shortly after he left Nerima. Using the Umisenken, Ranma was easily able to slip into the building without so much as a sound. The inside looked pretty much the same. After searching the place, Ranma'd found no evidence of anyone having been there for quite some time.

Well, that's one meal I suppose I won't be getting again. I guess I'll try location number two...

The situation at Ucchan's was no less surprising. The restaurant had been remodeled, the upstairs had been converted into another dining area, and he didn't recognize the two young adults working there. The recipe was familiar, however, even if the cook wasn't quite as good as Ukyo had been. The prices had risen, too, and Ranma wistfully recalled the times he used to eat for free at his best friend's eatery as he forked over the cash for his meal.

He visited several other sites, moving across Nerima with no apparent pattern. The park with some of his favorite hiding places, the movie theater, the canals, all places where Ranma had memories. His last stop before his destination was Furinken High School.

The school was closed for the day, and Ranma spent a few minutes walking through the grounds, recalling all of the memories that he had of the place. The education had been laughable – not that he'd paid attention anyway – but he'd made some friends that he'd missed over the years and of course there had been Akane.

Now that he was so close to his destination, he could feel the nervous butterflies fluttering in his stomach as he moved closer and closer to it. He briefly contemplated turning around and going for just one more lap around Japan, but steeled himself. Ranma Saotome had never been a coward, and – okay, Ranma Saotome had been a coward when he ran off without telling anyone almost four years ago, but he wasn't going to be one now. It was time to get his old life back, and this time to put it right.

He'd finally cured his curse, and he'd been going to counseling and relationship courses for years now. He'd done everything he'd set out to do, and now he was going home. Home to the family and friends that he'd so desperately missed. Heck, he'd even missed the panda from time to time. He missed Nabiki's machinations, Mr. Tendo's tears, and even... okay, he didn't miss the freak. Nothing could make him want Happosai around, even if the old pervert could still probably teach him a thing or two. At least the old letch can't grope me in girl form anymore... Ranma smiled at that thought. While his cursed form had certainly given him one or two advantages over the ancient hentai, Ranma was still glad to have gotten rid of it.

He hesitated a moment at the Tendo Dojo entrance. The place looked almost exactly as it had when he'd left. There was a little more wear and tear, but other than that, everything was exactly as he had pictured it in his mind. There was even still the sign – To challenge the owner in savage hand to hand combat...

Ranma wondered for a moment if that would be a more appropriate entrance to use. Akane would probably mallet him into next week for what he'd done. He smirked. She'd always been so incredibly intense, so fierce, so independent. No other girl ever could get as much of a rise out of him, no matter what they tried. And some of them had been pretty... insistent. Shampoo's constant attentions and complete lack of propriety had been difficult to say the least, but nothing she had ever done had caught his attention as much as a simple smile on Akane's lips. Color rushed to his cheeks and he shook his head to clear it of thought.

He steeled his nerves and prepared to enter the house that he'd forsaken what seemed like a lifetime ago.

Nothing he could have possibly done could have prepared him for what he found inside, however.

"Hiiiyaaah!" That was Akane's voice. Ranma was immediately reminded of his constant daydream of the last few weeks. Grinning, he decided he was going to skip to the best part and he cut around the side of the house to go straight to the dojo. He could see everyone else later. Akane was more important. He veered away from the front door towards the dojo, moving stealthily to avoid being seen. He quietly snuck up to the door of the dojo and entered just in time to see a man of average build, bishoujo facial features, and long, light-brown hair hit the wall right next to him. There was a gasp from the center of the dojo, and Ranma tore his gaze from the unfortunate guy on the floor to the person who'd thrown him.

Akane was simply gorgeous. Her hair was still rather short, but a little longer than it had been last time he'd seen her. Her cheeks were flushed with her recent exertion, giving her a rosy glow. Her eyes were the same gorgeous brown that he'd remembered, with the same indefatiguable spirit shining through. She'd grown a bit, both taller and... wow. She stood in the middle of the dojo floor, mouth agape as she stared at him. It was far from the most flattering of facial expressions, but at that moment she was simply the most beautiful thing Ranma had ever seen.

His attention was ripped from her as the man – who looked slightly familiar – got up from the floor. Ranma was about to ask him what he was doing there when his breath was driven from his lungs. Akane had used his momentary lack of attention and taken the opportunity to tackle him. The force sent them both sprawling onto the grass outside, with Akane landing on top. Ranma was too shocked that he didn't even use the momentum to throw her off when they landed.

When did she get so fas- LIPS!

Akane pressed her advantage to the fullest. When she and Ranma hit the ground outside the dojo she pressed her mouth against his with as much fervor as she could muster. His arms reflexively came up to embrace her as all of her pent-up feelings were expressed in one pure act. After a moment of inexperienced but very enthusiastic passion, she broke off the kiss, leaving him breathless and heaving.

"That's for coming back to me." Akane whispered in Ranma's ear, her hot breath making him feel faint with barely-controlled desire. As he lay there gasping, she suddenly stood, one foot still on his chest.

"And this," her voice suddenly became much sharper as she pulled a gigantic mallet out of nowhere, "This is for running away to begin with!"

She let it fall with incredible force and – as the darkness claimed him – for the first time since arriving in Nerima, Ranma was not surprised.

"Did you have to hit him so hard, 'Kanchan?"

"The baka had it coming."

"I can't say I really disagree with you there, sugar. Is he going to be okay, Kasumi-neechan?"

"He'll be fine, he just needs to – oh look! He's waking up already."

Ranma groaned as he struggled to make out who was saying what. He was pretty sure that the second voice was Akane. He'd know that statement anywhere. The first and third were the same person. That dialect... Ukyo? And the last, you couldn't mistake the musical quality to it – that had to be Kasumi.

Wait a sec...'Kanchan'? 'Kasumi-neechan'? It looked like he'd missed more during his absence than he'd thought. He finally managed to pull his eyelids apart.

He was laying on the living room floor. Akane, Kasumi, and Ukyo surrounded him, while at the table Ryoga played cards with two others – the man Akane'd thrown earlier and a familiar-looking girl.

Ryoga leaned over and leered at Ranma. "Hey look, the weakling's awake!"

The girl sitting next to him admonished, "Ryoga-kun! I thought you agreed not to start any fights today!" She rolled her eyes when he began to protest. "Wait until tomorrow."

Boy, does she have him whipped... Ranma's thought was cut off by a statement from the unknown male.

"Heh, with how easily Akane-san took him out I don't think that would be a very long fight." said the long-haired man, grinning towards Ranma, obviously seeking to goad him.

Everyone had expected a blustering, macho response from Ranma, but he surprised them all with his answer.

"Actually, it was a really good hit. She took advantage of it the instant my attention wasn't on her." Ranma smiled at the astounded looks on most of the faces in the room as he struggled to sit up. The first thing he noticed had his eyes bugging out of his sockets, however.

"Ka-Kasumi! Y-you're..." Ranma couldn't even finish his statement.

"Seven months pregnant, yes." Kasumi's casual reply was almost flippant, but not as shocking as her next statement. "Little Sousuke-kun here will be Tofu-chan and my second child."

Ranma was completely flabbergasted. "Wow," he muttered, "who woulda thunk he had it in him?"

"Actually," The girl at the table said with a giggle, "Kasumi's the one who had it in-"

"Sayuki!" Akane admonished. "Really now..." As she turned back to face Ranma, he could see she was blushing hotly.

Sayuki... Sayuki... Oh yeah! Akane's friend from class! That's one down...

"So Ranchan, not to be the jerk here or anything, but what gives?" Ukyo looked at him questioningly, "I mean, you take off without a word to anyone and none of us hear from you for ages!"

"I-" Ranma found himself unable to explain immediately. He took deep breath, like he'd learned to, and began speaking, carefully choosing his words.

"I needed to get out of the mess I'd made. I couldn't see any way out of the situation in a way that wasn't gonna really hurt somebody so I figured I just needed to go find some new tools. I mean, I could outfight anybody," Ranma pointedly ignored the derisive snort from Ryoga and continued,

"but I couldn't talk my out of a paper bag. I spent a long time finding classes and stuff, but I didn't do very well at those. I found a counselor, to try to overcome my fear of cats, and we ended up workin' on a lot more than just that. We worked on gender issues, my hyperinflated ego, the violent tendencies to solve every problem..." He gave a very pointed glance at Ryoga at that statement, making Sayuki giggle again. "Mostly, I just talked about everything that was goin' on, you know?

"He helped me out a lot, and I know I wouldn't be the person I am now if I hadn't done it. He taught me how to speak better than I knew how, how to avoid conflict, and how to connect to people. Mostly, he taught me that it was okay to care. It took a long time, and I really did miss you guys," He looked directly at Akane when he said that part, and everyone in the room knew exactly who it was directed to. "...but if I hadn't done it, nothin' woulda changed. We'd still be fighting, and I would never been able to tell you-" He reached down to grasp Akane's hand in his own, gazing deeply into her dark brown eyes. "- to tell you that I love you."

Despite everything else Ranma had had to say so far, this confession floored everyone. Most of them blushed politely, Akane herself felt woozy and rather giddy, but the biggest reaction came from the person Ranma had yet to identify.

Suddenly a large flowering bush was leaning up against Ranma and giggling like a crazed schoolgirl. "Oh my gosh, that's so romantic, I want somebody to-"

"Dammit Ranma!" Akane interrupted the bush's bubbling commentary, "He was doing so well, too!"

"Wha?" Ranma asked, too rattled by the sudden assault on reason that was the bush to form a coherent statement.

"Tsubasa! Tsubasa, calm down!" Akane tried to grab the shrub as it hopped this way and that, still gushing about romance and how much it wanted a girl of it's very own to confess to.

Tsubasa, huh? I guess that explains the hair...

At that point, Ukyo decided to decisively intervene. With her spatula. Ranma's quick leap to dodge carried him straight into the pond, reaquanting him with the fish in a much more intimate fashion than he'd intended on his return.

No matter how much I try...

"Thank you, Ukyo-sama..." groaned the tattered plant.
"Aww, man, now I gotta go change clothes again..." Ranma sputtered as he rose from the pond where he'd landed. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at him in shock. Everyone except for Kasumi that is. She remained as unflappable as ever.

"Oh my! Ranma, you're cured! Isn't that nice, everyone?"

Tsubasa pulled himself up alongside Ranma with a grunt. "Heh, looks like we're both better now."

Ranma replied by reaching up and plucking an errant flower from the other boy's hair. "Is that so?"

Sayuki started it by giggling, but soon the entire house was full of uproarious laughter.

Screw it. I'm ending it right there, on that happy note. Yes, Ryoga's going to be pissed that Ranma's cured and he isn't, but he promised Sayuki he wouldn't fight until tomorrow, so Ranma can wait until then. There's bee a couple good spots to end it so far and I'm taking advantage of that one, since it accomplished what I set out to do(specifically Tsubasa's last line. It'd been rolling around in my head for years.). Yes, there's some loose ends. Takahashi-sama left a bunch, so did I. I really need to be done so I can get to work on the many other projects that are all threatening to kill me and eat my soul for dessert. Apparently it's real tasty with Cool Whip...

This chapter is a LOT different than I'd planned. Originally, Akane and Ukyo were both going to be dating others, and Ranma wasn't going to get a nice welcome home at all. Everybody was supposed to have moved on with their lives and he'd have been left behind completely. He'd get so upset(raar, angst!) that everything changed that he'd run off again (in the original plan he wasn't to have gained any maturity at all, really – just a cure) and that would set things up nicely for the sequel: Ranma and Ryoga – a little R&R. It sounded a lot better in my head, but the more I thought of it, the less time I wanted to spend on it and just finish it here. If (and that's a big if) there is to be 'A little R&R', then it will focus on the times that Ryoga ran across Ranma during the nearly 4 years that Ranma was gone. They'd fight, talk, spar, train, whatever. Ok, not THAT kind of whatever! Pervert. Now it's probably not gonna happen, and it's all your fault. So here's the deal: You write it. How's that, eh?

Special thanks to SakuraJade. I had some ideas as I was replying to her review that were vastly important to finishing this up, and actually completely changed what I had planned for the end. The changes made it better though, and simpler. Thanks again and I hope that this reminds everyone who's reading that reviews really DO help the authors out a lot, even if they don't take your advice, it can help them think of other things.

Also thanks go to my wife. Kasumi wasn't even going to be in this fic until she expressed interest in finding out how she and Tofu have been doing. The pregnancy thing jumped up and throttled my neck until I wrote it out.