Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters do not belong to me.

AN: Thanks for your patience. This chapter proved a bit more difficult than I expected to write. Partly because I told the story of it to myself so many times over the years that it got stale and hard to record. I hope you enjoy it!

No more pussyfooting around: a Ranma ½ fanfic

By Indygodusk

Chapter 30: Sex Ed in the Park

Then suddenly he was in the Tendo bathroom again. Akane was standing in the doorway looking up at him with those big, liquid brown eyes. "I need to know if you are keeping any other big secrets from me, Ranma. Are you?"

The dream froze. Cat fist Ranma slunk out from behind Akane and hopped up onto the counter. "You… are an idiot," he drawled in disgust. Then he kicked Ranma hard in the chest, sending him crashing into the wall. That's when Ranma woke up.

Needless to say, he didn't sleep very well after that.

Friday morning, Akane woke up with a smile on her face. It felt better than waking up on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday morning, when she'd immediately started examining her interactions with Ryoga, feeling depressed, getting nowhere new, and miserably cycling through bad emotions like a hamster trapped on a wheel. Ranma keeping it a secret from her and her disregard of his hints would pop up in her mind too, like her running hamster was being pelted with rocks.

But today was different.

This morning she felt better. She felt… safe and cared for. Akane couldn't think of a better way to describe it. Clearing the air by talking to Ranma yesterday had helped. That hug last night had also done a lot to make her feel better.

On top of that, she'd had some of those cat fist dreams about Ranma again. They'd been strange but good. Last night, the dreams had been disjointed flashes of different times and places, but they all had one unifying theme. In every dream, cat fist Ranma had been doing everything in his power to protect her.

Only the first dream had been a little unsettling. It was a repeat of that strange dream she'd had while sick in Okinawa. The one with the three aspects of Ranma – man, woman, and cat – forcing her back from the gates of death to live again. She'd mostly forgotten about it until the dream last night reminded her. Akane still didn't know what it meant, if anything. She'd woken briefly after that one, disturbed, but had quickly fallen back to sleep.

Unlike that first dream, the rest of them were much more pleasant. They were also all familiar. The dreams ranged from cat fist Ranma saving her from enemies and dangerous situations, to his cat side trying to 'save' her from suspicious socks and plastic bags. It was funny that her mind put all of those memories into Ranma's perspective instead of hers though. Whatever the case, the dreams simply reminded her that no matter his mental state, Ranma would go to extreme lengths to protect her.

The reminder made her feel better about what he'd done. He wasn't perfect, but neither was she. It was a mistake, but she could get over it, because in the end there were more important things. Deep down in Ranma's core he cared about her. He cared a lot. Akane hugged that knowledge to herself.

As Akane got dressed, she couldn't help but notice the envelope sitting on the top shelf of her closet. She'd glanced at it every day since putting it there over a week ago, but had yet to pick it up again. She knew its contents. The envelope held all of the sex ed pamphlets she'd picked up at the women's clinic for Ranma.

Akane was torn. There had been so many awkward conversations in the last week that Akane didn't know if she wanted to risk another one right now. But Ranma had humbled himself enough to apologize to her and had even asked about her feelings. That was pretty big.

Plus, she had promised herself that she would talk to him about this no matter what. She cared about Ranma. He deserved her protection too. If that protection came in the form of information, then she needed to give it to him.

Considering that he was willing to have uncomfortable emotional conversations right now, this might be the best time to corner him. If she waited too long, the machismo could surge up again and make it difficult to get him to agree to listen. Besides, her own conversation with Miaka tomorrow might get her so distracted that she'd keep on putting this off for months. It needed to happen today.

Firming her lips, Akane decided to ask Ranma to meet her for a conversation after dinner. She'd ask him at breakfast, so she couldn't chicken out later. Then, after their talk, they'd have the whole weekend to avoid meeting each other's eyes.

Despite the insult and warning from his cat side, Ranma still didn't want to tell Akane about the Ki tie he'd forged between them. However, he knew her should do it anyways. Several times during breakfast he found himself opening his mouth and starting to say something, but each time he veered off into another topic, commenting on the food or weather instead.

Finally, he accepted that while he probably needed to tell her at some point, he was going to put it off as long as possible. Akane looked so calm and content this morning that he hated to ruin it by bringing up something difficult. She was just barely speaking to him again. Forgiveness was fragile, and he didn't want her mad at him again so soon. At this, a little voice in the back of his mind mocked him for being a coward and whispered that he was going to regret not telling Akane while he had the chance.

However, the cocky side of his mind boasted that it'd be fine. She hadn't even noticed the tie, and it wasn't hurting her, so it wasn't that big a deal. Maybe in the future Ranma could even come up for a reason to pretend to make a Ki tie with her, like when they got married, and then if anything happened he could date it from that. Pleased with his plans, Ranma forcefully shoved away the memory of the warning and ignored his feelings from the night before as he finished his breakfast.

On their walk to school, Akane walked close by his side. Ranma walked next to her instead of up on the railing. That way, their fingers could occasionally brush together as they walked. They talked of random, inconsequential things. It made Ranma feel warmly content.

After they passed the canal, he noticed Akane fiddling with the edge of her coat nervously. Then she asked, "Hey Ranma?"

"Yeah?" he replied, slightly cautiously.

"I was wondering if we could go for a walk to the park after dinner," Akane asked.

"It's still a little cold for walking around after dark," Ranma said before his brain could catch up to his mouth.

She fidgeted. "That's what coats are for. I have something I need to talk to you about, and I don't want to do it at home where our fathers could walk in at any moment."

"Oh, right," Ranma said. He wondered what she wanted to talk about that hadn't already been said, but he guessed he'd have to wait until tonight. Maybe she wanted to talk about making their engagement official, maybe even set a real wedding date? Could he be that lucky? "Sure, Akane," he answered with more enthusiasm. "We can sneak out after dinner, no problem."

"Great," she said, before turning the conversation to other topics until they reached school.

After dinner, it was ridiculously easy to sneak out. Akane told Kasumi she was leaving while Kasumi was washing the dishes. Her sister gave her a vague reply and returned to singing along with the radio. Their fathers were drinking and playing a game with the TV on in the background. They probably wouldn't even realize that anyone was missing before they passed out.

Akane had noticed that the two men had started drinking and carousing more heavily lately. Both men were probably unhappy about their impending separation this summer when the Saotomes finally moved back in with Mrs. Saotome. The dads might just be trying to cram as much 'fun' in as they could while they had time.

However, Akane suspected it wasn't quite that simple. From what she could tell, Mr. Saotome seemed almost afraid to move back in with his wife (not without cause). Then there was her father and the approaching anniversary of Akane's mother's death at the end of April. Her father always did get worse in the spring. It made Akane sad, so she tried not to think about it too much.

Although she loved her father and even Uncle Saotome, she didn't have a lot of respect for them anymore. Sometime in the last few years her father had fallen from his pedestal. She would always love him, and she knew that he loved her, but it hurt that she couldn't rely on him for very much. Not only was he not perfect, he usually wasn't even very competent. He lived in the glory of the past instead of dealing with their problems in the present.

As Akane had struggled to master her temper, she'd realized that one of the biggest things that frustrated her about her father was that he let his negative emotions control him. If he was angry or sad, he immediately acted upon it without thinking things through. It had crippled him, and soured his relationship with his daughters and his martial art. This realization had made Akane even more determined to learn to control herself. When she had a family one day, she would do her best not to repeat the mistakes of her father, or the myriad mistakes of Mr. and Mrs. Saotome.

Akane had meant to sneak past the living room without a word, but just then her father let out a belly laugh. Glancing over, Akane saw his head tipped back and his dear face creased with laugh lines. Love swelled up, swamping her critical thoughts, and she couldn't help but walk over and drop a kiss on his forehead.

He opened his eyes and smiled up at her. "What was that for?" he asked with a smile.

"Just because I love you," Akane said.

"My little girl," he began with eyes starting to swim, but before he could get going, Mr. Saotome shouted at something on the TV and distracted him. Both men jumped to their feet and began yelling at the referee on screen.

"See you later, Daddy," she said quietly as she stepped back into the hall and opened the closet door to get her coat. She was starting to get nervous about the upcoming conversation. When she went to close the closet door, a hand suddenly grabbed it out of her hand, making her jump.

"Sorry," said Ranma, "I didn't mean to startle you. I just need to grab my coat too."

Stepping back, Akane told herself to calm down. She checked inside her purse to make sure she'd grabbed the envelope of pamphlets. Then she slipped on her shoes and waited for Ranma by the door. He quickly joined her and they left the house.

As they walked in silence towards the park, Ranma began fidgeting. Lacing his fingers behind his neck, he looked at her sideways and finally asked, "So what did ya wanna talk about?"

"Let's wait until we get to the park," Akane demurred. That put if off for a little bit longer at least. Her palms were sweating. She didn't know how to start this conversation. It had been so much easier in her head when she was mad and annoyed at him.

Finally they reached the park. Akane walked them over to a semi-enclosed pavilion a few twists off the main path. You had to walk up a few steps to get inside. In the middle of the peaked roof hung an electric lantern. It had two walls of solid rock and two walls of iron filigree railings. Stone benches lined the walls. Luckily the pavilion retained some heat from the recently set sun, and the lantern light cast a further warm glow. It was almost, dare she think it, cozy.

At least until she looked out, and noticed the strange and menacing shadows cast on the grass and trees by the lantern light creeping out through the iron filigree.

"So, Akane?" Ranma's voice trailed off inquisitively as he sent her an encouraging little smile and wagged his eyebrows. He was so cute sometimes. It just made it more difficult for her to start.

Akane drifted over to the railing on one wall and traced a metal vine with her fingertip. "Right, well…" she stalled. "Um, did you ever have one of those maturation seminars in elementary school?"

"Matur-what? I dunno, we moved around so much that I never attended much elementary school. So I probably missed it. Why?" Ranma asked. "Is it important?" He looked very confused.

Swallowing, Akane tried again. "What about a health class in junior high, you took one of those, right?"

Ranma scratched his head. "Was it required? I don't know, maybe I did. I can't really remember. Though I might have tested out or something since I know all about first aid and anatomy from training with my pops."

A smile quickly appeared as he added, "I remember that there was this old fogey at a dojo down in Shikoku who Pops got to teach me muscles, bones, and nerves. He always smelled like stale crackers, for some reason, but man was that guy crazy smart. He was super strict during the lessons, and would swat my arms and legs with a switch when I didn't answer fast enough, but afterwards he'd always let me have some of his wife's bean cakes. Man, I haven't thought of him in years."

Huffing in frustration, Akane walked over to one of the solid walls and leaned back against it with a thud. "Just as I suspected."

"Um, Akane?" Ranma said, "What is this all about? I thought you wanted to talk about our relationship."

"Oh," she breathed guiltily. Is that what his little smiles all day had meant? Well drat. Maybe they could instead… but no. She had to finish this or she'd never get up the nerve to try again. "Not exactly, but this is sort of about what happens in a relationship…" she trailed off again.

Blowing out a sigh, she forced herself to begin again. "You know how knowledge is power and ignorance is weakness during a fight? Well some things recently have made me worried that you are missing some important knowledge."

"About an opponent or technique?" he asked suspiciously as he crossed his arms.

"Sort of," Akane said awkwardly. Suddenly frustrated at herself and the roundabout conversation, Akane reached into her bag and opened the envelope. Then she strode forward and thrust the pamphlets into his hands, "Here."

"What are these?" he asked as he looked down and began fanning them out. Then he froze. Only his eyeballs moved as he looked up at Akane, looked down at the pamphlets, and looked up again with a suddenly beet red face. "Wh-wh-what? Wh-wh-why?"

Suddenly, Ranma unfroze, crumpled the pamphlets in his fist, and scuttled back until he was up on a bench with his back pressed against the wall. His eyes jerked back and forth, looking for escape, but he'd scurried in the wrong direction and had accidentally put Akane between him and the exit. "I don't wanna and you can't make me."

"Ranma," Akane sighed as she rolled her eyes at his childish dramatics. Taking advantage of her distraction, Ranma leapt up on top of the iron railing on one wall. He was about to fling himself out into the woods and escape!

Oh no you don't, Akane thought. Lunging forward, she grabbed hold of his pigtail just as Ranma lifted one leg to leap out. With a grunt of effort, she flipped him back inside and slammed him onto the ground. A puff of dust and a few dead leaves rose up from the impact.

Ranma lay spread eagled, groaning. "You are one mean gorilla of a woman," he grunted as he rose creakily to his feet. Akane scowled at his comment. Rubbing at his tender scalp, he began dusting himself off. Then he seemed to realize that he was dusting himself off using the crumpled sex ed pamphlets.

"Gah!" he yelped as he threw them into the air and hopped back, hands extended in defense. "I ain't reading those! Besides, half of 'em are about girl stuff. I'm a guy! I don't need to know about things like that," he spat in disgust and embarrassment.

Akane's crossed her arms and huffed. He was so exasperating! "Yes you do," she demanded. "Can you honestly tell me that you know the basics of sex ed and about preventing STDs and using birth control? You didn't even know what a woman's period was until a few months ago!"

Pacing back and forth between the walls like a caged animal, Ranma yelled back, "I'm not stupid. I know enough! I wouldn't sleep with a girl who had an STD so I don't need to worry about getting one. And girls get pregnant, not guys, so the girl takes care of the birth control stuff. Guys don't have to worry about that."

Akane caught her breath at the rage invoked by his idiotic words. "Well newsflash, Ranma. You can't just sense if a person has an STD or not. STDs can be hidden, and even good people can get them. And as for the girl being the one responsible for getting pregnant or not," she forced herself to ask, trying to give him the benefit of the doubt before she continued biting his head off, "is that your opinion, or are you parroting your father?"

Ranma flinched and looked away. "Pops always said," he mumbled before trailing off. He crossed and uncrossed his arms uneasily.

Huffing in disgust, Akane continued. "Well, we all know how wise and honorable his advice always is. If she ends up pregnant and destitute, or disowned by her family, at least it won't inconvenience you, right? Never mind the effect on her and your unwanted, fatherless child. You would just continue on your merry way." She waved her hands in the air sharply.

She paused to suck in an angry breath and then continued. "Of course, not all scenarios would be so convenient for you. What if a girl like, oh Shampoo for instance, slept with you trying to get pregnant, and then went to your mom with the news, saying that honor demanded you marry her and return to China because of the child? Or what if someone drugged you to get you to sleep with them? What would happen then? Think for a minute Ranma!"

Ranma flinched again, but he seemed to be actually listening and thinking. The silence stretched. Ranma shifted, sat down on a bench, stood up again, began pacing, and then finally stopped. He looked longingly at the dark woods outside before glancing up to meet Akane's eyes. "I- I suppose I haven't ever really thought about it before. I never even thought about kissing a girl until we moved here, much less other stuff. It didn't seem important, and I was too busy training."

Looking away from her eyes, he shrugged uncomfortably and continued, "Although I wouldn't want to be trapped into marriage like that, I would never abandon a child of mine, no matter how it came to be. But I wouldn't just sleep with some random girl, and I wouldn't sleep with Shampoo. You should know me better than that."

Taking a breath, Akane tried to get herself to calm down. "I thought I did, but then you spouted that ignorant, arrogant crap about not taking any responsibility for sex, and it forced me to wonder if I know you as well as I thought I did. I thought you were a responsible man, Ranma. Someone I could rely on, someone I could even have a relationship with. But being responsible doesn't just mean accepting the consequences when they come, it means avoiding the actions that cause bad consequences in the first place. How can you do that when you don't have the knowledge to even recognize which actions are which?" she plead.

Firming his lips, Ranma nodded once sharply before crouching down to pick up the scattered pamphlets. "All right, I get your point. I'll read the stupid things." He frowned darkly as he gathered them up before standing again. "There, are you happy now," he grumbled.

Akane crossed her arms defensively. "I didn't give you those to make you feel bad or to score some kind of points. This is awkward for me too, you know! But I did it because you're my best friend and I worry about you. This is information you need to know whether we end up together or not. To be honest, there was a lot of stuff in those that I didn't know myself," Akane offered humbly.

"We're 18 now, Ranma. In a few months we'll be graduated from high school. We aren't kids anymore. It is time for us both to start acting like responsible adults. This is part of that." Pausing, Akane just watched him for a moment, letting her words sink in.

"Besides," and suddenly Akane's mouth ran ahead of her brain, "it seemed like you were about ten seconds from picking me up and throwing my down on my bed the other night. It doesn't make me feel special to know that if I'd gone along with it, you would have taken your pleasure and then blamed any consequences on me. I guess you've never given any thought to protecting me or keeping me safe in that way." She gulped a breath and looked away, shocked at her audacity. Why had she said that out loud? Stupid, now he's going to get mad again!

But he surprised her. "Akane," Ranma said helplessly. "Akane," he repeated more steadily, "look at me." She glanced up into his eyes. She expected more squirming, but he suddenly seemed very serious. "Your safety and happiness are extremely important to me. Your protection is more important to me than my own."

Akane sucked in a surprised breath at his words. "I am serious," Ranma said in reply to her reaction. "Ignorance is my only excuse for what I said before, but I'll fix that. Ok?" Akane relaxed slowly and gave him a nod and small smile. Both of them released a breath of tension and just sat in silence for a moment.

Then Ranma surprised again her by sending her a wry, flirtatious grin. "Besides, even in my ignorance, I know enough to not want to just take my pleasure from you. I only want to share it – the pleasure, that is. My responsible side is glad we never made it to your bed and thus avoided any problems, and my honorable side says we should save that for marriage anyway, but the rest of me is doing its best to drown out those two by demanding I kiss you everywhere you'll let me get away with at the first opportunity." His smile turned into a grin as he ducked his head shyly, "I mean, if kissing is still on the table."

Blushing, Akane felt her heart begin to race as she grinned back at him. "I could be persuaded to grant you some limited access. If you can prove that you deserve it," she teased as she stuck her nose into the air haughtily.

"Oh, I think I can be persuasive enough," Ranma flirted back as he began stalking forward slowly.

A quick gust of wind blew through the pavilion, and Akane felt something flutter against her ankle. Looking down, she saw it was one of the pamphlets on birth control options for girls, including the morning after. It acted like a cup of cold water in the face, reminding her of why they were here. Scooping it up, she bit her lip and offered it to Ranma.

Glancing down at the title, Ranma took a step back and raised his still paper-filled hands. "Nuh uh. I'll read this stuff here, but that one's just about girls. I don't need it."

Akane felt her good mood plummet. "Yes, you do," she replied with weary displeasure. "We just talked about this. You need to know about all this stuff."

His face took on a mulish cast. "There is no reason I should ever need to know what birth control options are for girls. I'm a guy. It's not relevant."

"It is! Not only will you be with a girl, but you also turn into a girl. That especially makes it relevant!" Akane rebutted. He was such a stubborn idiot!

Ranma jerked back and his face screwed up in disgust. "That's gross! Don't even joke about that. No guy is ever getting his junk anywhere near my girl side. I'd castrate him first." He skirted her jerkily and began walking quickly towards the doorway, allowing shadows to darken his unhappy face as he fled the lantern light and conversation.

"Ranma," she started, but he interrupted her before she could martial any more arguments.

"No! I said I'd read the rest of this stuff and I will. I'll take it seriously. But I'm a man. Nothing like that is ever gonna happen, so leave off, Akane. We're done here." He shoved the wad of pamphlets into his pocket and fully turned his back to any more of her words.

As she watched Ranma walk down the steps of the pavilion, Akane felt her chance disappearing. Yet he needed this information for his girl side too. It was important. Maybe important enough to actually tell him about the things that happened in Okinawa. That incident was what prompted her to start this conversation in the first place. She had to do it. She had to explain. Only the truth would get him to stop now.

"But it did!" Akane yelled at his dimly lit back almost swallowed by the blackness of the looming trees. "It did almost happen! In Okinawa, last fall. That's why."

Ranma paused. She could barely make out the muscles of his shoulders tensing in the darkness. Then he swiveled and stalked back up to the pavilion. Stopping in the entryway, he braced his hands on either side of the doorway and loomed, trapping her inside as he skewered her with a hard look. "What are you talking about," he demanded, white lines of tension bracketing his mouth.

Gulping at the slightly wild look on his face, Akane forced herself to tell the story she'd been hiding from him for months. "Last fall, when we were kidnapped in Okinawa, we both got knocked out by that purple smoke. Remember?"

At his sharp nod, Akane continued. "Do you remember anything from when you first woke up, or from before we got rescued?" She couldn't bring herself to just blurt it out, as much as she wanted this over with. The words were hard to pry forth, as if residing in a bog of sticky muck deep in her mind.

Ranma huffed and then said, "I woke up on a boat first and started to fight, but they put some sort of wet cloth over my face and knocked me out again. Then I maybe woke up for a second in a room with you? That part is pretty foggy. But I remember waking up later in a cave at dawn. You were asleep in the back. I wasn't aware for long, as a bunch of cats showed up and knocked me into the cat fist." His eyes lost their focus as he seemed to search his memory. "Then there's a flash of waking from the cat fist in a building with people fighting, but pretty soon another darn cat showed up and knocked me out of it again. Then I woke up on your sick bed at the women's monastery. You were sick from being in the water and the stress."

Suddenly, Ranma's eyes focused sharply as he looked at her and finished, "at least, that's what I thought at the time. Why don't you tell me what really happened, Akane, since you seem to be implying something else? What did I miss?" He did not look pleased. In fact, he looked like he was ready for a fight, suspiciously relaxed and standing on the balls of his feet. As she tried to get her words in order, she saw him looking at her side, the one with the scar.

"When I first woke up," Akane started haltingly, handing him her side of the story carefully, like something fragile and liable to break if dropped. Or maybe she was the one liable to break. Shaking off her dark thoughts, Akane decided to jump right into the deep end. "I was tied up and gagged on the floor of a room. You were tied up too, and unconscious. A man was crouched over you, trying to pull your pants off, but luckily your new belt was too tight."

Despite her best efforts to stay detached, she felt her eyes lose their focus on the pavilion as her memories rose like a tidal wave, towing her under the waters of memory back into that horrible room. She could practically taste the mustiness of the gag in her mouth and feel the pounding of her sore head. "I tried to jump up to help you, to stop him, but I was thrown back onto the floor by another man. My head hit the floor so hard it dazed me. I couldn't even struggle as my skirt was pushed up out of the way. Then the man standing over me started to take off his pants, and the man over you began cutting your belt off. I managed to find the strength to fight the first man off, but then the one trying to rape you jumped up and stabbed me with his knife. Everything hurt. I wanted to give up, I felt so awful, but I had to protect you. You were still unconscious. I couldn't quit. Somehow, I managed to find the strength to knock him out too."

Akane felt the breath dragging fast and heavy in her lungs as she relived those tortuous moments. "During the struggle, I'd knocked over this chest and a dirty black string fell out. There was something wrong with it, something strange. I fell on top of it after the fight and bled all over it while I was cutting off my ropes. When I finally managed to get up, I went over to you. You wouldn't wake up at first, and then the string became a rope of pearls, and I wanted to put them on. There was something swimming inside them, little pink forms that I woke with my blood. It sucked in all of our spilled blood, I think, but mine the most. It liked mine best. It needed more. I wanted to pick them up and put them on. The pearls were so beautiful, and they needed me so badly…," Akane trailed off, hypnotized by the memory of them, seeing them so clearly in her mind, as if they hung suspended in the air before her now. She felt as if she could touch them if she just reached out her fingertips.

"Akane, Akane! Snap out of it!"

Suddenly, someone was shaking her, and Akane broke out of her memories to find Ranma roughly digging his fingers into her arms as he shook her hard. His face was almost white and he looked sick to his stomach. When he saw her focus on his face, he released her and took a couple of steps back.

"Are you okay?" he asked shakily.

"Oh, yeah sorry," she said as she rubbed her face briskly. That memory had been much stronger and more disturbing than she'd expected. Maybe the monks had been right when they'd warned her not to talk about the pearls or the demon, but it was too late now. She had to finish the story now that she'd started.

"Where was I?" she asked before answering herself. "In the room about to escape, right. Well, you woke up for a minute and then passed out again. I got you tied up on my back and we escaped to the river, leaving the pearls behind. I grabbed onto a log and floated us downstream until I found that cave where you woke up. We got attacked by those Iriomote cats, and you fought them off. Then a boat of male monks came down the river and picked us up. I directed them back to the fortress to rescue the female monks, which your cat side helped with, and then we all left the Island to go back to Okinawa. You know the rest," Akane finished quickly and succinctly.

"So when I woke up and you were sick," Ranma asked lowly, choosing that out of everything to focus on right now, probably because everything else was too horrible, "it was because the cut in your side was infected. Not because you had caught a cold from the stress of being kidnapped." His nostrils flared as he breathed in angrily. "You lied to me," he snapped.

Akane shrugged uneasily and looked away. "I didn't lie. I never said why I was sick. I just never corrected you when you made assumptions. I didn't want to talk about it."

"Why not?" Ranma demanded harshly as he loomed over her.

The threat in his posture was too much, and Akane snapped back with her own anger, "Because! I didn't want to talk about it because I still don't know if I was raped or not! I'll never know! We were both unconscious, and I never did find my underwear. It was gone when I woke up. It's a horrible memory, complicated by those evil demonic pearls. Unlike you, I didn't have pants and a belt on, and I wasn't blissfully unconscious through the whole thing either. There was no one to protect me, so I had to protect myself and you as best I could!"

Sucking in a deep breath, she continued. "So don't you dare take that tone with me. I'm telling you about it now, and I'm giving you the tools to deal with it if something like this ever does happen to your girl side. No one gave those tools to me. I had to go and find them by myself. So don't you dare throw away my help and act the victim here. I kept you from being a victim, I kept your girl side from being raped while you were unconscious, and I'm trying to make sure you stay safe if, god forbid, something horrible like this ever happens again." Akane glared at him fiercely.

Ranma jerked away from her and began stalking back and forth across the room. She could see him almost physically pulling himself together. "Right, sorry, right. You did protect me, and I failed to protect you, and that's what this is about and," he sucked in a deep breath and suddenly bent over, face going white as he braced his hands on his knees and stared at the ground. Concerned, Akane was jerked out of her anger.

She was about to step forward and touch his shoulder when he jolted back up and said, "I'll be right back. I promise. Just give me a minute and don't go anywhere, okay?" His voice was strained and his eyes burned with some strong emotion as they bored into Akane's. "Wait here. Please."

"Okay," she answered hesitantly, cowed by the emotion lurking behind his tortured face. As if her word had been a trigger, Ranma sprang from the pavilion like an arrow shot from a bow. He stumbled to a halt at the edge of the trees, bent over, and was sick to his stomach. Then he lurched upright and started running again. Akane quickly lost sight of him in the black night cloaking the forest. For the first time, she noticed her breath steaming in the chill night air. Shivering, she wrapped her arms around herself and tried to rub some warmth back into her body.

Had she made a mistake telling him about Iriomote Island? What was Ranma thinking right now? What was he doing?

Her questions became at least partially answered when an enraged scream suddenly split the silence of the park. Birds and bats shot into the air and leaves crackled as flustered animals ran for cover. Several booms and cracks sounded next, accompanied by strobes of light which dimly lit up the canopy of trees in the distance. Ominous silence reigned for a few seconds. Then more sounds of destruction.

Finally quiet descended again, followed by the sound of groaning wood and a cacophony of splintering crashes, rustling leaves, and alarmed animal calls. When the echo of falling trees finally stopped, the wood held absolute silence, as if hiding from further destruction. She could only imagine how many trees Ranma had just destroyed.

Akane strained her eyes, trying to look for Ranma, but she couldn't see anything in the darkness. The moon either hadn't risen yet or was smothered by clouds, and starlight was no match for the looming canopy of trees. After a few minutes, the crickets slowly began calling again, and a lone owl hooted.

Finally, a minute or two after that, Ranma coalesced out of the blackness between two trees. He paused for a minute, face and form still mostly shrouded in shadows, and something kept Akane from calling out to him. Finally he moved, walking slowly like an old man back into the lantern light.

Stepping up to the base of the stairs leading into the pavilion, Ranma stopped and looked up at Akane where she hovered above him in the doorway, one hand pressed to her chest. A red flush rode high on his cheeks and his knuckled were bruised and bloody, but his face was controlled and his voice held a steely calm. "I have a few more questions, if that's alright?"

"Of course," Akane said, stepping back awkwardly to let him into the pavilion. She didn't know what to say now. Obviously what he'd just done in the woods was off limits.

It was getting a little cold to stay out talking much longer, but he didn't seem to notice the temperature. Considering the uncertain state of his emotions, she didn't want to bring it up. Sinking down onto one of the benches, she dug her hands into her pockets and waited for him to talk.

Ranma went to the bench on the opposite side of the pavilion. On the way he picked up the birth control flier from where Akane had dropped it on the ground and folded it up carefully before putting it in his pocket. Placing his hands on his thighs, Ranma turned and sat down.

"You mentioned in your story a set of demonic pearls. Do you know anything more about them? What I mean is, are they something we need to watch out for?" Ranma tilted his head at her inquiringly.

Biting her lip, Akane tried to figure out how to answer his question. "The monks said I should probably be alright if I stay away from Okinawa, demons, and demonic objects, at least for now. When I talked to the female monks about the pearls, Sachi, a monk specializing in spiritual disorders, read my aura. Based on some things I overheard in the place we were held, we think it might be a cat demon influencing the pearls. Sachi said that it looks like I do have at least one, if not more, entities infesting my spirit in ways they shouldn't be, and in ways that could be dangerous for me, but she's not an expert on demonic possession. I sort of vaguely mentioned that part to you in Okinawa, if you remember," Akane paused and waited for him to nod. He had a strange look on his face, like he'd just realized something awful, but this whole night was probably awful for him so she didn't bother worrying about it.

Akane continued her explanation, "You said it might just be all of the crazy things we've run across over the years lingering in my aura. That's what I've been hoping ever since, at least, though that's probably blind optimism." Akane chuckled darkly, and then forced herself to stop before she got hysterical. "Sachi went in and choked off as many outside influences as she could find, but she said she couldn't get everything. I'm not supposed to really talk or think about the demon part too much or else it could draw the demon's influence and weaken my spirit. She's out researching it now, and then she said she'd come and see me to try and fix the rest of it. To be honest, I'd hoped to see her before now, but she hasn't shown up yet."

Ranma leaned forward and frowned. "Do we need to try and contact the monastery again for you? Or get some other people working on this?"

An unhappy frown twisted Akane's face. "Sachi did call to check in a couple of months ago, but she didn't have any news. The monastery called me this week and said that they haven't heard from her in a few weeks. I haven't mentioned it to anyone because I didn't want to make the problem with my spirit worse, but I'm just about out of patience myself. I was going to finally confess to Dr. Tofu, but then he had to run out of town. So far I've been mostly just trying not to think about it. If there are any demonic remnants in me, at least they don't seem to be doing anything that I've noticed." Though after saying that, Akane began wondering about her dizzy spells.

Standing up, Ranma began pacing in the limited space. "I wish I'd known about this from the start," he muttered. Then he glanced her way and said reassuringly, "But I know now and I'll do my best to keep you safe, Akane. I can start asking around for you privately and see if I can find us any help. Maybe that Monkey Priest who helped us with the oni possessing Kasumi will know something. I'll see if I can track him down. I won't let anything bad happen. Not if I can help it."

All of a sudden, Ranma stopped pacing and gripped the base of his braid, tugging hard. He was facing away from Akane, so she couldn't see his expression. Concerned, she leaned forward.

Ranma took a deep breath and then blow it out. "Akane, there's something I need to tell you. I should've mentioned it earlier but," he turned around nervously. Then he yelped, "Gah!" and jumped forward, pulling her up off the bench and twirling her away towards the opposite wall.

"What? Ranma!" Akane shrieked in surprise.

He put her back down on her feet. "Rats," he said, gesturing towards where she'd been sitting with a grimace.

Looking back, Akane saw that the bottom of the bench was lined with at least ten mangy brown and black rats, with several more hanging by their claws from the iron railing right behind where her head had been. Their beady little eyes were all focused on her. Shrieking, Akane leapt up off the floor and into Ranma's arms, winding her arms tightly around his neck.

"I hate rats!" she squeaked. The rats started chittering as they wound round and round each other in the shadows. Several more rats appeared at their call, climbing up on the outside of the railing and scurrying inside.

Ranma wrinkled his nose. "Let's get out of here." Tucking her more securely against his chest, Ranma jumped over a rat waddling across the floor and loped out of the pavilion. He held her the whole way home, not giving her a choice, and if his grip was a little tighter, and his face a little fiercer than usual, Akane didn't comment on it.

They separated at the house without a word. There had already been enough said tonight. Akane crept up the stairs to her room, emotionally exhausted from the evening. Once inside, she quickly changed clothes and then went straight to bed. She couldn't wait for this day to be done. As she finally started to fall asleep, she thought she heard something rustling in the room, but sleep dragged her down before she could do anything about it.