AN: Warning for kissing, lots of romantic declarations, and THE END of the story. This is not a drill!

No more pussyfooting around: a Ranma ½ fanfic

By Indygodusk

Chapter 44: Death, Life, and Ever After

Ranma was gone.

Shouldn't a girl get the protection of passing out at a time like this? That or the balm of insanity? Too bad she really was like a gorilla, too stubborn and strong to give in to the weakness.

Akane touched Ranma's lax face with trembling fingers. To think that she would be truly alone inside her body again. She should be ecstatic. No more demon, no more pearls, and no more arrogant and high-handed Ranma yanking her spirit to and fro. Especially no more Ranma. It was the natural state of her spirit, but it felt like an ill-fitting coat. Who was Tendo Akane without Saotome Ranma?

She might be a gorilla, but Akane still felt the temptation to wither and fade into death. Yet Ranma expected her to live. He'd be disappointed and annoyed if she gave up so easily. Did she really want to race into an eternity of insults by dying early? But how was she to survive the loss of the man she loved? How could she possibly move on without him?

Ranma had seemed confident that she would have no problem carrying on, but she felt weary to the bone. Once she'd found strength in anger, but right now only ashes remained of the fire once native to her personality. Instinctively she knew that forcing the rage to reignite would kill her just as surely as giving up. It would consume her for the rest of her life, the easy destructiveness pushing everyone away and preventing any hope of happiness or healing. She didn't want to live like that either, stomping one blistering step at a time through the days and hours and seconds until she finally met him again in death.

So what did she have left? Not much but mule-headed stubbornness. Even feeling as fragile as cracked glass, she still had that. Ranma had sacrificed himself so she could live. She had to respect that by keeping herself from shattering, from just stomping stiffly through life. Somehow, this stubborn gorilla had to teach herself to dance through the years to come.

Running her fingers back through Ranma's choppy bangs, Akane watched the strands cling to her fingers for the merest second before dropping to lie back against his head. Looping a strand of midnight hair tightly around the tip of her finger, she watched her skin turn a blotchy red. Color rushed back into her fingertip when she released the noose, blood moving to and fro beneath the skin, evidence of life.

Ranma's face was pale, too pale. His skin felt cool, but not cold. Some warmth yet lingered... but not for long.

Perhaps she could will herself into the peace of insanity, just for a little while, until her stubbornness and duty were strong enough to overcome her grief. That might work. She could survive like that, her own Saotome Secret Technique of running away until she was able to return with the secret of how to live without Ranma by her side.

Eyes closing, Akane let her head drop to rest on Ranma's. Yet behind closed eyes, Akane had nothing to distract her spiraling thoughts. Nothing to keep the wails of grief contained and stop the fingers that wanted to tense into claws and rip out the pain. Her throat burned with the effort to keep the wails contained, as if by not screaming she might keep the acceptance of his loss at bay.

Fleeing her body, Akane fell into habit and sent her mind spinning toward the state of her soul. However, what she saw made her do a double-take. Akane forced herself to focus and looked harder. Even spiritually damaged and scarred, she should be returning to the shape of the Akane before Phoenix Mountain and Ranma's forced binding, but... she wasn't.

The boundaries of her spirit bulged larger than she'd ever seen in anyone but the demon himself. A spurt of fear made her search frantically for the familiar demonic corruption, but nothing remained. All of the bonds connecting her to the demon had truly been destroyed. She was as pure as she'd been before.

Except, she realized, somehow Ranma's original binding hadn't completely disappeared. Despite his death, a fraying cord still collared her neck. It looped out around Ranma's body before circling back into Akane.

That made no sense.

Not only that, but the original cord binding the two of them shouldn't be a loop. Every time she'd examined it, it had been a line with point A) being Ranma's soul and point B) being Akane's. If the cord was circling back into Akane… could Ranma's soul still be here? But that wasn't possible. Was it?

What if he'd somehow hidden part of his soul inside hers before the earring took it all? Yet Ranma had been determined to die to fulfill the prophecy and bring her back to life. He wouldn't have risked her life and victory over the demon to try and save himself. Ranma's spirit had been completely consumed. She'd seen it disappear. She'd been responsible.

Stop being stupid, Akane, she ordered. She was lying to herself again, creating false hopes. In fact, she was probably just seeing what she wanted to see in the strange bulging of her spirit. Maybe this was merely what a soul always looked like after escaping demonic possession.

Maybe… but maybe not.

Hadn't Miaka once said something about looping? Not in her second prophecy, but in the first, the one in the middle of the train station all those long months ago. Pulling up the memory, she thought of how Miaka's fingernail had stabbed into the center of Akane's palm and drawn circles, over and over until blood rose to the surface of her skin. Then Miaka had said, "For the mother, looping is the only hope. You've already looped back. Accept the loop between, remember to loop forward."

Akane had thought that prophecy had been talking about what had already happened during their first kidnapping on Iriomote Island, but what if it had actually been talking about now? What if Miaka had been trying to give her a chance to save Ranma? But how had his spirit escaped death when she'd used the earrings to drain him dry?

Akane's eyes shot open to look at the body in her arms. Ranma's human side wouldn't risk it, but his cat side might. That feline had always been contrary when it came to human Ranma's wishes, especially when it came to her. No matter how human Ranma was acting at the time, the cat always made it clear that he adored Akane and wanted her happy. Plus, she'd felt that flash of fur and teeth right before Ranma's male side had disappeared with the earring, and then the strange static in Ranma-neko's final kiss. That could have been him somehow stuffing Ranma's human soul inside her for safekeeping.

It was still a fool's hope, but she had to try to "loop forward," whatever that meant. Nevertheless, she'd figure it out. Akane was a martial artist. This was simply another technique to master, right? She would not fail.

Praying for a miracle, Akane began her battle for Ranma's life. Ripping out strands of her soul to reinforce the fraying cord looped around her neck, she braided in the new energy around Ranma's empty body. If this worked, his body wouldn't stay empty for long. Rushing to the spot where she'd once rested in the woven hammock of Ranma's spirit, she found the weave collapsed between the two "trees" of her spirit. Ranma's tattered spirit threads only clung to one of the posts, but... he wasn't yet gone.

Ranma wasn't yet gone.

Not letting herself stop to sob in gratitude or second guess what she had to do, Akane sharpened her will into an axe and chopped down the tree empty of Ranma's strands with one mighty blow. The pain was excruciating, beyond anything she'd ever experienced. The edge of her consciousness shrieked and threatened to drag her down into nothingness.

Akane clung stubbornly to the pain. She couldn't afford to pass out. There was too much to do. She had to be like the gorilla Ranma always called her in jest.

Turning, she threw the post of her spirit like a harpoon into Ranma's breastbone. Ranma's physical body convulsed. Black spots crowded Akane's physical eyes and her thoughts grew sluggish. If she passed out this would all be for naught. She had to hold on.

I am...stronger...than a...gorilla!

Ignoring the agonizing pain, Akane wrenched open the remaining "tree" in her soul where several of Ranma's spirit threads still clung stubbornly. Many had fallen at its base, their threads grown brittle and dim. Scooping up all that she could find, Akane shoved the ends back inside her tree, knotted them all together, slathered them in the sap of her spirit, and sewed it shut.

Scooping up the other side of the once-hammock threads, she twisted them into a bundle of rope and heaved them towards Ranma's body. She was too close to passing out for anything fancier. The threads looped round and round Ranma's chest, caught on her harpoon, and stuck, leaving a suspension bridge connecting their spirits.

Before Akane could celebrate and allow herself to rest, she saw the taunt cords begin to go slack. Frantic, she realized that Ranma's spirit was sinking through the fabric of his dead body instead of holding fast. Calling on sewing skills she'd honed over years of patching the tears in her ripped up school backpack, like her favorite cat-shaped patch, Akane made a needle out of her soul and began sewing the thread up and down between Ranma's body, his spirit, and her tree harpoon until everything stabilized and his spirit stopped sinking.

Exhausted, with agony shooting bolts sharply through every mote of her being, she grabbed the bridge she had looped between them and pushed it with the last of her strength. Akane watched through tunneling vision as the spiritual bridge swung up, hovered for a second, and then flopped back down without quite completing the rotation overhead. Her push hadn't been enough to make the necessary loop around both their bodies and she was completely spent. Not only that, but the lingering force of the swinging bridge threatened to rip the barely repaired cords away from Akane, truly severing her connection to Ranma's body and soul for the rest of her life.

She'd failed.

However, Akane had forgotten to account for Ranma's possessiveness. Even mostly dead, Ranma would never let go of Akane. He couldn't. As long as the merest wisp of his soul survived, he would hang on tight. That's why they'd had to use the earrings, because he was incapable of letting her go even when trying to save her life. Feeling the impending separation of their souls, everything in him rose up in protest.

Akane is mine!

Ranma's fighting spirit roared out into the aether like an exploding volcano, sending the bridge whipping up, flipping it around to loop around both their bodies and spirits. However, it didn't stop there. The bridge whirled faster and faster, feeding on the vibrations of their lives and the echoes of their deaths until the gestalt of energy formed an all-encompassing sphere that bound Akane and Ranma into one and forced harmony and congruence, not just with itself, but with the universe as a whole.

Akane saw her body and spirit intertwined with Ranma's body and spirit, felt his stubbornness over her, her possessiveness of him, and the strength and sweetness of their love. Everything became clear. She saw the ki connections of every living thing everywhere. Thoughts of atoms and planets, grasses and galaxies whizzed through her.

Akane couldn't comprehend or contain it for more than a split-second. The perfection was too big, too much for someone so young and small, when even the Earth was too young and small. So much beauty. So much love. Simple and complex and pure. Too many colors. The rainbow grew brighter and brighter until everything turned to white. Akane floated in the white.

Landing softly back in her body, Akane slowly opened her eyes and blinked with sublime peace. She saw ceiling boards. Dust motes floated in beams of sunlight breaking through the clouds to pour in through the holes in the ceiling. Her body lay twisted awkwardly on the hard wooden floor, but besides the mild discomfort of the position, and despite the many physical and spiritual wounds she'd sustained today, nothing hurt. Inside and out, she was completely healed. Pushing herself up on her arms, Akane looked down and found herself curled protectively around Ranma's body.

Ranma was breathing. Akane blinked. Leaned closer. Watched his chest move up and down, noted the flush of his cheeks and the gentle movement behind his eyelids. Saw the throbbing pulse in his neck.






Unfortunately, Akane's moment of quiet elation was almost immediately interrupted. "Thank goodness you're okay, Akane!" Ryoga cried. His arms grabbed her from behind in a choking hug before just as quickly releasing. "But Ranma! Oh, Ranma!" Face puffy from numerous hits to the head and copious crying, Ryoga dropped to his knees and awkwardly swept Ranma up in his arms, clutching Ranma to his chest and bawling. "At least he died a man instead of a girl, but poor Ranma! Wah!"

Opening his eyes, Ranma demanded flatly, "What are you doing?"

Head shooting up, Ryoga's grief-ravaged face lit up with shock and joy. "Ranma, you're alive! And Akane's alive! I'm so happy!" Ryoga burst once more into tears.

Ranma squirmed out of Ryoga's arms, patting him hard on the back to get more room. "Thanks, man, but you're getting me all wet. Get a hold of yourself. Where's Aka—" craning his head around, Ranma's words cut off as Akane leaned forward to catch his attention and met his eyes with a private, close-lipped smile filled with joy.

"Hey, you," Ranma said, gravel in his throat and eyes going suspiciously damp.

Smile widening into a grin even as her own eyes filled, Akane blinked hard and swallowed. "Hey, you, back." Reaching out, Ranma took her hand and pulled them both to their feet just as several familiar monks joined them. He squeezed her hand and gave her a complex look that said they'd have to discuss things soon, but that until then she wasn't getting out of his sight. She didn't mind.

"I'm impressed by you two," said Mariko. The mature, battle-scarred monk Akane had first met through the bars of a cage would have a few new scars from today's battle, but her shoulders were still unbowed. She clapped Akane approvingly on the shoulder, sending Akane rocking forward onto her toes. Akane couldn't help but flush in pleasure at the compliment.

"I agree," added Kazuya-san, the elderly monk who had trained Ranma in Martial Arts Geometry. "I thought the boy was too stupid to retain what I taught him for long—" Kazuya-san completely ignored Ranma's squawk of offense, "—but in all my years I've never seen such masterful use of Martial Arts Geometry to heal someone else with congruence." Bowing his bald head to Ranma, the monk said, "The teacher is humbled by the student."

Ranma's open-mouthed surprise quickly morphed into a cocky smirk, "Thanks, old man, but you shoulda known better than to bet against me. I am the best martial artist in the world, after all, and I've still got my youth and good looks. In fact—"

The second Ranma's boasting sent his eyes flickering up toward the sky, Kazuya-san lifted his forearm perpendicular to his chest and gave a quick shove, sliding his foot in a perfect arc at Ranma's ankles at the same time. Ranma fell onto his back. "What was that for, ya old windbag?" Ranma scowled, rising up on his elbows.

"Boasting is an ugly trait, my boy, especially in front of the pretty ladies," Kazuya-san sent a flirtatious smile at Akane and the female monks, exposing brown-stained teeth. They all carefully shifted back a step, but he didn't seem bothered as he turned back to the prone Ranma. "Besides," he sent a poke of ki at Ranma that made him flinch with annoyance, "your defense could still use some work. After all, you did die during this battle. Just saying." He sent a snap kick at Ranma's thigh, but Ranma rolled out of the way with a glare and jumped to his feet, though not before snapping an elbow at the old man's calf that made the monk stagger and then grunt in surprised approval.

"Speaking of Ranma getting sliced open and killed gruesomely by the demon," interjected Aoi, her gray-threaded pixie cut looking spiky with drying sweat and rain. She didn't seem to notice the appalled looks her words generated. "Just how did you bring him back to life, Akane? I assume he healed you by somehow using that spiritual slave collar he put on the first time you died, but I don't see how you got it to work in reverse."

Wiping his tear-wet face off on his sleeve, Ryoga said through a stuffy nose, "Yeah, how did you do that, Akane?" Then the lost boy's face scrunched up in thought. "Wait, you've died before today? And Ranma enslaved you somehow?" His face began darkening with anger and his hands fisted by his sides with a familiar dark glow.

Rolling her eyes, Akane sighed. "That's way old news, Ryoga, and none of your business. Don't worry about it. As for Ranma, do you think I'd let that idiot die before me if I had any say in the matter?"

Meeting Ranma's eyes, Akane quirked her brow. "He unknowingly used the Saotome Secret Technique to run and hide a bit of himself inside my spirit, so I invaded his dead body, made my own space, and then flung most of his spirit back into it."

Mouths dropping open in horror, the listening monks all went gray in comprehension. Mariko shook her head slowly, "You've completely compromised your souls. Who even knows how this forced mingling will affect your karma and future reincarnations? It is anathema to even contemplate such an act."

"Didn't it hurt?" Aoi asked with a look of appalled fascination.

Akane smiled, "Like I was gouging myself open with a plastic toddler spoon, trying to dig my pulsing organs out with broken fingers, shoving them back inside using only my elbows, and then stitching myself shut with barbed wire held in cavity-filled teeth." Everyone flinched and looked even more horrified. A few of the younger monks turned away, hands over their mouths and faces gone green.

Ranma appeared next to Akane and flung his arm over her shoulder proudly. "That's my fiancee. She's tougher than a gorilla and she loves me!"

Sucking on a tooth sourly, Mariko asked, "And you're both okay with this? It's a violation. We'd have to examine you both to be sure, but it sounds like this spiritual tie is even more invasive than what Ranma first did to Akane. Don't you want us to try and remove it before it settles?"

"She's got a point, sonny," Kazuya-san said mildly, brow creasing. "It's just not natural."

Beneath their censuring looks, Akane felt herself begin to wilt. She turned her head to look questioningly up at Ranma.

Who growled, a baleful sound that made the hair on her arms stand up straight and the people around them freeze. "Don't even think about it," Ranma said harshly. Menace turned his eyes into shards of blue ice and the planes of his face into blades. Hand tightening around Akane's shoulders to bring her deeper into the protective curve of his body, he glared at the monks. "You touch it and I'll kill you." His every word dripped with sincerity and threat.

Then Ranma's mood turned on a dime. The menace disappeared from his face as if it had never been. Ranma dropped a kiss on Akane's cheek, pulled back, and gave her a boyish grin. Turning to Ryoga, his voice dripping with false modesty, Ranma tossed his hair back and boasted, "If the woman needs me that much, who am I to say no?"

"Who needs who now?" Akane asked with sudden irritation, trying unsuccessfully to push his arm off her shoulders.

Immediately Ranma turned back, his carefree expression peeling away to reveal the savage warrior inside. "I do. I need you, Akane. You know that and you know that you need me too. I can feel it. What we both just did proves it. You bound yourself to me. Are you gonna take that back now?"

Huffing, Akane reached up and flicked Ranma in the forehead. He flinched back, but before the hurt and anger could fully coalesce on his face, she leaned up and kissed the pouting jut of his lower lip. Sliding her hand around his neck, she grabbed his braid and yanked him down so he couldn't escape the look in her eyes. "Of course I'm not going to take it back. I do need you, Ranma-you-idiot. Living without you would be hollow and stale and awful. I love you. We belong together, till death do us part and probably not even then. Right?"

A tender smile tilted Ranma's lips. "Right. Till death do us part and then only long enough for us to kick down the walls and destroy everything trying to keep us apart. I love you, Akane. I'll love you forever."

"Th-that sounds like wedding vows!" Ryoga stuttered, breaking their bubble of intimacy and the deep kiss Akane was about to initiate after Ranma's declaration. She silently promised to reward him (and herself) with it later. Besides, she hadn't clawed up his back in ages.

As they pulled apart, Ranma muttered, "I wish," with a wistful sigh, keeping her from moving far by the iron grip on her hand. If they were alone, he'd go into more detail about what he wanted to do on their hopefully soon honeymoon to see if he could make her cheeks blush, instead of her teasing words always getting his face to go red, but he'd have to save those intimacies for later. What he wanted to say wasn't meant for any ears but hers.

More people had joined the group, including Nabiki. "Oh really?" Nabiki asked Ranma with a skeptically raised brow. Cool facade cracking for a second, she engulfed Akane in a bruisingly tight hug, but stepped back before the surprised Akane could reciprocate. Nabiki usually hated public displays of affection, at least in herself. Of course, she didn't mind them in others as long as she had her camera ready to record blackmail material.

Stepping back from Akane, Nabiki rebuilt her mask of cool skepticism. Turning to Ranma, she asked archly, "You're actually going to marry Akane this time? What would that make, wedding attempt number four? Or five?"

If she expected stuttering from Ranma, she wasn't going to get it. Ranma was through denying his love and need for Akane several deaths ago. Meeting Nabiki's skeptical gaze straight on, he firmly declared, "Yes. I'm going to marry Akane this time, no matter who or what tries to stop us."

Yanking her hand free, Akane planted her hands on her hips and turned to face him with an annoyed scowl. "Then ask me for once instead of just assuming."

"Wh-what?" he asked, knocked off balance by the fierceness in her face. Didn't she want to marry him?

"Ask. Me." Akane enunciated clearly, her magnificent and proud brown eyes flashing.

Nodding sharply, Ranma dropped to his knees, put his fists on his thighs, and humbly bowed his shoulders and head. "Tendo Akane, will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?" The following beat of silence made sweat bead on the exposed back of his neck.

Then Akane spoke one simple and sublime word, "Yes."

Joy shot Ranma's heart up into the clouds. Grinning, he met Akane's beaming face and couldn't help but laugh with happiness. Jumping to his feet, he lifted her up in his arms and spun her around in celebration. Akane shouted out with joy. Putting her hands on his cheeks, she leaned down and met his laughing mouth in a kiss. Ranma's spin ended as he concentrated on the taste and feel his future wife's lips.

"So," interrupted a smirking Nabiki, "just when is this next wedding going to take place."

"Today," Ranma decided, suddenly unable to wait a single second more as he slid Akane down to her feet. Besides, he didn't want to give Nabiki time to sell the information and invite the usual trouble. He wouldn't stand for another interrupted wedding.

"Today?" Akane squeaked, eyes going wide.

"Now," Ranma demanded, leaning back to look into her face. "Come on, we're practically married already with the spiritual ties looping us together. This is just a formality."

"An important formality," she argued weakly.

"Which is why I don't want to wait anymore. Akane, I want you as my wife," he said bluntly.

Cheeks red but eyes glowing, Akane took a quick breath and laughed. "Alright."

Part of Ranma hadn't actually expected her to agree without a whole lot more argument. "Really?" he asked.

Meeting his eyes confidently, she nodded. "Yes, really. I want you as my husband too. Let's get married, Ranma."

Heart obviously breaking a little, Ryoga dashed tears from his eyes. "But how?"

Nabiki threw her hands up into the air. "Sure, why not? We're surrounded by monks. I'm sure one of them can do a Buddhist ceremony. When we get back home they can have a big reception to rake in the presents."

Rubbing her hands, she turned to Akane with a mercenary gleam in her eye, "You could even do a shinto wedding and then a western one to rake in triple presents and allow the parents to participate. Don't worry, I'll get my people to organize everything." Ignoring the dubious looks on their faces, Nabiki turned to survey the bustling room, where monks secured prisoners and helped injured friends. "So, which one of these monks do you want to do it?" They started moving towards the exit.

"Oh, me!" squealed a bruised and black-eyed Sachi as she popped up out of nowhere next to Mariko and Aoi. "Me me me! I want to do it! I love weddings."

The second Sachi appeared, Ranma thrust himself in front of Akane and growled savagely. Akane, Nabiki, and Ryoga joined him in glaring. If looks could kill, Sachi would be nothing but a smear on the floor considering the anger in the air. The other female monks looked nervously between the Nerima contingent and their friend, shuffling closer to Sachi defensively.

Akane poked Ranma hard in the back over and over until he finally gave a painful grunt and let her move up to stand by his side. She narrowed her eyes at Sachi and counted to ten. She knew the woman had been possessed, but still. The nerve! Teeth gritted and muscles jumping painfully in her jaw, Akane bit out, "You tried to kill my sister. You slit my throat. Not only NO, but hell to the no!"

Sachi prostrated herself on the ground. "It wasn't my fault, I was demon ridden. I'm sorry!" she wailed. None of them responded to her plea. Taking a gulping breath, she abruptly seemed to shrivel in on herself and run out of steam. "I am sorry," she whispered. Perky mask falling away, Sachi began rocking back and forth on her knees. When she glanced up, her face looked tormented: eyes hollow, wrinkles pronounced, and lips colorless. She looked more like a woman in her sixties than one in her forties. "I wish none of it had happened and I'm so glad you're somehow okay. I am so so sorry for all of it," Sachi apologized again in a wretched tone of voice, "truly."

Feeling a pang of compassion in her heart, Akane bit her lip. In that moment, she believed in Sachi's sincerity. She might never be able to forget the cruelty and terror, but with time she thought she could forgive. After all, Sachi had been a victim too. She'd probably been just as scared as the rest of them. Akane met Sachi's eyes and felt her hostility dissolve. "I'm sorry too," Akane said softly, nodding to let the woman know understood.

However, Ranma wasn't feeling so forgiving. When he blinked, he could still see Akane's spurting blood, could still feel the slack weight of her body in his arms and the anguish of her death. He wouldn't hurt the woman because she hadn't been in charge of her actions, he had that much honor, but he could barely stand to look at her either.

Mariko sighed and rubbed her friend's back, placing herself protectively in front of Sachi. "Nevertheless, maybe another choice would be more fortuitous. Perhaps Kazuya-san, Saotome's teacher?" As Mariko spoke, Aoi lifted Sachi to her feet, wrapped a loving and supportive arm around her sister-monk's shoulder, and pulled her away to join a group of female monks leaving the room.

"I would be honored," Kazuya-san said with a flattered smile, "as long as that's okay with the bride and groom?" He looked over. "If you're not going to fix your spiritual entanglement, the least you can do is get married by someone as venerable as me."

Blowing out a breath, Ranma met Akane's eyes and tilted his head in inquiry. "Yeah?"

"Okay, but," Akane looked around at the ruined room with a grimace, "not in here."

"No, definitely not," Ranma agreed fervently, tucking her hand in his arm and moving toward the hole in the wall leading to the courtyard.

"The jungle outside is nice," Mariko suggested.

"Good enough. If we're going to do this, then let's do this," Akane said with a firm nod. Her chin tilted stubbornly as they came out into the courtyard. The rain had stopped and patches of sunlight had broken through the disappearing clouds, drying the mud. All of the surviving soldiers (the few who hadn't been sucked dry by the demon) were chained up in the back of trucks that were pulling out of the gate as they came out. The monks would make sure that justice was served.

Against the wall by the front gate stood the kidnapped group of village women and children. Thankfully all of Akane's kids were there, looking uninjured. As Akane sighed in relief, Hiroko looked up and saw her. The girl's face broke into a beaming smile. Knuckling tears out of her eyes, she elbowed Arata. The other children caught on and turned to look. Seeing Akane, they waved enthusiastically while explaining her to their aunts and mothers with big gestures.

It gave Akane an idea. Letting go of Ranma's arm, she clambered up on top of a parked truck. The slits cut up either side of the robe at least made it easy to lift her legs and climb, even if the flapping fabric made her think about something she'd rather forget. Pushing the memory of the knife cutting through her clothes and skin away, Akane cupped her hands around her mouth and bellowed, "Hey, everybody!" The people in the courtyard startled and turned to look at her. Akane cried out, "We won!" Everyone broke into laughter and cheers. Grinning, Akane continued. "To celebrate, Ranma and I are getting married out in the jungle. Anybody who wants to come can join us there in…," she looked down at him and asked," fifteen minutes?" At his nod, she turned and shouted, "Fifteen minutes!"

The kids jumped up and down and broke into happy screams. "Yay for Akane! Yay for Ranma!" Although they'd never met him, Akane had told them all sorts of tales about Ranma during their captivity. Arata in particular had loved the stories. The young boy was gazing at Ranma with hero-worship in his eyes and would probably corner him later for an autograph.

Hopping down from the truck, Akane met Ranma's grin. "Shall we, m'lady?" he asked with a sweeping bow.

"Not so fast," Nabiki interrupted, jerking her sister away from Ranma and curling her lip. "You can't get married wearing that. Akane's in some cheap, sliced-up sacrificial robe and you're wearing only muddy boxers and a tank top, the same stinky clothing you've probably been wearing for days. We're going to make the most of those fifteen minutes to clean you two up at least a little for your wedding."

Gesturing imperiously at a male monk Akane vaguely recognized, she had him trotting over within seconds. "Rei, isn't it?" Nabiki asked.

"Yes, ma'am," he said with a blush, despite looking a couple of years older than Nabiki.

"You're attractive and well-put together," his blush deepened at Nabiki's words and appreciative appraisal. "Can I trust you to clean Ranma up and find him some new clothes for his wedding in fifteen minutes?"

"Of course," Rei squared his shoulders, "you can count on me." Reaching out, he grabbed Ranma's arm and began towing him away, ignoring Ranma's plaintive, "Hey!" Before Ranma disappeared around the corner, he met Akane's eyes and mouthed, "Fifteen minutes," not breaking his gaze until she nodded.

Rubbing her chin and looking Akane up and down, Nabiki sighed. "As for you, we're going to need a miracle. Women's clothing is going to be hard to find, though the female monks may have a spare set of pants and a clean shirt we can have. Not exactly classy, but beggars can't be choosers."

"I can help with clean clothes," Ryoga said with forced cheer as he trotted over with his huge yellow backpack. His eyes were hurting, but he seemed determined to act the role of supportive friend. Akane couldn't deal with his acting like a jealous idiot today, so she really appreciated it. They might not have won without his help, so she was going to be grateful and hope for the best for their friendship. This would be their chance to turn over a new leaf.

Dropping his bag with a thump at their feet, Ryoga opened the top flap and began digging. She shook her head on seeing that he still had a runcible spoon and pair of plastic water wings in there. "I traded a fancy comb for what I thought was a big lunch box in either Paris or Wellington, but when I opened the box, it turned out to be a kimono. I never wear them, so you're welcome to have it, Akane." Pulling out a cardboard box with dented corners, he passed it to Akane. The sticker on the lid said, Hand-crafted and sold in Kyoto. Not France or New Zealand.

"Thank you, Ryoga." Akane gave him a grateful smile, not bothering to correct him on location. No matter how horrible the robe looked, at least it would be fresh and untainted by association with the rat demon. Bracing herself for a masculine tourist robe in something awful like fluorescent orange or lime green, Akane peeled back the tissue paper and froze in surprise.

"Oh, wow," Nabiki breathed. "That's very promising. Let's try it on."

Grabbing a smaller backpack from another truck, Nabiki set them up in a bathroom that had thankfully just been cleaned, based on the bucket of supplies still sitting in the hallway outside the door. Keeping the door slightly cracked because of the stifling temperature in the small room, Akane stripped off the hated white robe and scrubbed herself briskly at the sink. A female monk in the hall kept everyone else away.

Sitting on the closed toilet lid, Nabiki opened the box. Her eyebrows went up in pleased surprise as she folded back the tissue paper and went digging. "This really is perfect. I wonder what other treasures Ryoga has hiding in that ratty old backpack? I bet he'd sell them to me for a bag of roasted chestnuts."

"Nabiki," Akane scowled, "you shouldn't take advantage of Ryoga."

"Why not?" Nabiki asked breezily as she passed Akane the obviously expensive kimono and ordered, "Put this on." The fabric had been dyed ombre, with a dark rose pink at the hem flushing up to pale pink at the hips before transitioning to pure ivory. The traditional long sleeves of a maiden fell to the knees had been dyed to match the ombre of the kimono. "The usual inner layers are missing, but the box has the outer kimono, obi, and a gauzy, embroidered outer shell. You really lucked out today, Akane."

Slipping the soft fabric over her shoulders, Akane couldn't help but agree. The obi was a dusky pink that matched the bottom of the kimono. Nabiki tied the obi bow in the small of Akane's back and fluffed the fabric. "You know, for once I think you might actually manage to get through a wedding ceremony. Being secretly kidnapped to a remote and barely inhabited island certainly helps, but maybe you and Ranma's bad luck really has finally broken." Coming around to the front, Nabiki adjusted the obi and gave Akane a tight smile hiding a wealth of emotion. "I'm just so glad you're alive, Akane. You're the heart of our family."

Sniffling, Akane lunged, giving her big sister a hug before she could think to escape. "I'm glad you're alive too. It was touch and go for both of us there for a little bit."

"If I didn't mention it, thanks for saving my life, little sis," Nabiki choked out. Then she pulled back and wiped her face. "Phew, enough of this emotional crap. We have a wedding to get to and the clock is ticking. Unless you want to wait so I can rake in some more money when we get back home?"

"No!" Akane firmly refused.

Shrugging, Nabiki pulled out the last piece from the box, a gauzy outer robe meant to go over the kimono. "Woah." Akane's mouth dropped open on seeing the hand-embroidered flowers and vines in white, cream, lilac, pink, and coral that covered most of the transparent white fabric. The cost of the outfit had just shot up exponentially.

"Yeah, I'm definitely trading him those chestnuts for more of this 'useless' stuff," Nabiki agreed with dollar signs in her eyes. She helped Akane pull the embroidered robe on and position the sleeves, securing it with a small bow on the hip.

While Akane finger-combed her short hair in the cracked bathroom mirror, Nabiki opened her bag and pulled out a casual change of clothes for herself. Shutting the door only long enough to change, she opened it again and fanned it several times to waft fresh air into the room. Reaching into her bag again, Nabiki pulled out a tube of lipstick. Akane shook her head. "You actually brought makeup on a rescue mission to the jungle?"

Nabiki shrugged. "It doubles as a spy camera, which is lucky for you since that means I can take your wedding photographs today. Now purse your lips and hold." Nabiki smoothed lipstick over Akane's lips and then did her own. Securing the lipstick into one pocket, she stepped out into the hallway and looked Akane up and down with a smirk. "Nice. Today really is a day of miracles. You're almost at pretty as me and, without the inner kimono layers, you've got a sweet yet naughty thing going on. Ranma's gonna swallow his tongue. I bet he'll be hoping you'll wear just that gauzy robe on the honeymoon." She wagged her eyebrows salaciously.

"Nabiki!" Akane squawked in embarrassment.

Throwing her head back in laughter, Nabiki grabbed Akane's arm and pulled. "Now come on or we're going to be more than fashionably late, my little innocent."

Face completely red, Akane followed her sister out the door and down the hall. However, her lingering blush wasn't caused by innocence. It was was caused by wicked thoughts about her upcoming honeymoon and all of the theoretical knowledge she'd finally get to try out on Ranma. Hopefully he'd be a quick study. If not, she knew just how dedicated he was to daily practice.

Fanning her face, Akane came outside to see a waiting group of female monks along with the children and other kidnapped villagers. They exclaimed at the beauty of her kimono as they escorted her out the gate and into the jungle. The children cheerfully skipped along on either side. A gentle breeze stirred the fresh-smelling air and made the temperature feel comfortable instead of stiflingly hot.

As they plunged into the trees, the compound quickly disappeared from view. Within a year, maybe less, the jungle would reclaim the land and destroy those buildings forever. The thought filled Akane with cold satisfaction.

Within a couple of minutes, they came out of the trees into a sunlit clearing packed full of monks. Blinking in surprise, Akane saw that it was also scattered with Iriomote cats lazily sunning themselves in the branches of the surrounding trees. Ranma was currently hidden from view, so her attention turned to the beautiful scenery.

Water droplets caught the sunlight and sprinkled on the grass like a field of stars. The recent rain made the jungle colors pop: the greens looked deeper, the browns more velvet, and the flower petals like gemstones. Flowering bushes ringed the clearing in colors matching her wedding kimono, delicate pink blossoms with golden throats. Bright profusions of orange, red, and yellow flowering vines dangled beneath the lounging Iriomote cats like trailing kimonos worn by balcony-watching spectators. The luscious perfume of the exotic flowers twined deliciously through the air with the scent of the recent rain.

Giving a boisterous cheer, the women and children left her on the edge of the clearing and joined the crowd. Everyone broke into a song of celebration as the crowd split to each side, leaving an open pathway down the center of the clearing. Seconds later, Ryoga shoved Ranma into view next to the waiting Kazuya-san and stepped back. Someone pushed a bouquet of flowers into her hands with a childish giggle, but she couldn't look away from Ranma long enough to identify them.

As soon as Akane met Ranma's eyes, everything else disappeared. As usual, the sight of Ranma took her breath away. With his dark hair burnished with red highlights by the sun, blue eyes as sparkling and clear as aquamarines, and muscular body leaning forward with barely-restrained emotion, it was all Akane could do to keep from running forward and flinging herself into his arms.

While she'd been dressing, Rei had found Ranma a pair of sandals, black pants, and a blue shirt. The pants were slightly short at the ankle and the shirt strained across the bulging muscles of his shoulders and arms, but Ranma was still the most handsome man she'd ever seen. The imperfections let her know that this wasn't a dream. It was real and in just a few moments, Ranma would finally be her husband and she would be his wife.

Looking thunderstruck at her approach, Ranma stared unblinking as she walked to his side. His face turned red as he stood stiffly, drinking her in with his eyes. Not bothering to hide her smirk, Akane ordered, "Breathe, Ranma, or you're going to pass out."

Gulping in air, he laughed sheepishly and reached out to take her hand. "You look... just—wow. Wow, Akane. How you manage to look so beautiful after all that when I still look like a total wreck, I'll never know, but I'm so glad that I get to marry you, that you're mine. Wow."

Beaming up at him, Akane squeezed his hand. "You could be dressed in only a rice sack and I'd still think you the most gorgeous man I've ever met. I'd probably point at your bony knees and laugh at you first, but I'd still want you. I'll always want you."

Pressing his lips together, Ranma swallowed hard. "Then I guess we're both pretty lucky that we're stuck together from now on, yeah?"

"Yeah," Akane breathed as Ranma leaned down and pulled her close. It was hard to believe that this was finally happening.

"AHEM," Kazuya-san cleared his throat loudly and gave them a stern look. "Wait till after the vows, kids."

As the crowd laughed, Ranma and Akane blushed in concert and turned to face the old monk. His stern face broke into a grin. "You'll get lots of that action soon enough anyways, eh?" Despite her face turning even hotter, Akane couldn't help but join in on the laughter. She was just so happy.

Pressing his hands together in an attitude of prayer, Kazuya-san looked calmly out at the crowd until everyone had quieted down. "We are gathered here together to publicly join the hearts and lives of two good people: Saotome Ranma and Tendo Akane. Out of the routine of ordinary existence they've found the extraordinary in each other. Only Buddha knows the paths their joined souls will tread into the eternities, but here and now we witness their intention to tread the path with love, joy, and mutual sacrifice. Through this action, they reach for enlightenment by perfecting their kindness and compassion toward each other and world around them. Marriage is not a static state of being, it is an action requiring constant dedication and practice."

Expectant silence filled the clearing as the monk turned his gaze on Ranma and Akane. His lips curved in a subtle smile. "I'm not going to bother asking the crowd for objections to your marriage, since I don't want to jinx how well things are going and I know the boy is a trouble-magnet. Besides, I hate it when weddings get interrupted. If you've gotten this far, I'll assume the young lady knows what she's getting into. I have a fascinating twenty minute speech continuing on about the philosophical role of marriage in reaching enlightenment," Akane locked her knees while Ranma stifled a groan, "but since they boy's too dim to understand and the majority of the audience is either too tired to listen or already seeking the path without a partner, I'll let us all skip to the main event." He gave a toothy grin at their open sighs of relief.

"Saotome Ranma, do you take Tendo Akane to be your wife and one true partner in life and love, cherishing her for today, tomorrow, and forever?" Kazuya-san asked.

Looking down into her face, Ranma's blue eyes shone with the fierceness of his devotion. "Yes, I do. Forever," he vowed, his voice shaking with strong emotion. Akane felt like she'd burst with joy at the torrent of love pouring down their bond. She could feel his adamant vow resonate through her soul.

Kazuya-san shifted to face her. "Tendo Akane, do you take Saotome Ranma to be your husband and one true partner in life and love, cherishing him for today, tomorrow, and forever?"

"Yes, I do." Beaming through her tears, Akane seconded Ranma's vow, "Forever and beyond."

Kazuya-san nodded in approval. "And do you promise to share your loving feelings outward with the world, focusing on both sharing and gaining wisdom, instead of spiraling inward and becoming self-absorbed?"

"We do," the couple murmured.

"Do you pledge to treat each other with compassion and forgiveness, never forgetting that a rocky path sometimes teaches us more than a smooth one, and to offer compassion to both yourselves and others who experience suffering? Do you promise to keep your hearts open as you strive towards wisdom?"

"We do," they repeated.

Kazuya-san placed his hand over Ranma and Akane's joined hands and continued, "Cling to each other through sorrows and joys, being lifted and lifting each other by turns. Go forward on your journey with faith, trust, love, and commitment, never forgetting the things you have pledged to each other and to the world." He squeezed once and then lifted his hand. "I now pronounce you man and wife."

Tucking his hand around Akane's back, Ranma dipped her into a kiss. His lips pressed sweetly, claiming her mouth as he gave her all of his love and shared his joy. Surrounded by the intoxicating warmth of his body, Akane threw her hands around his shoulders and kissed him back with everything she had. Her body felt full of sunshine and rainbows.

At last they separated to a chorus of wolf-whistles and cheers. "You finally did it! Congrats you two!" called a wickedly grinning Nabiki as she recorded everything with her lipstick camera. "These pictures are gonna sell like hotcakes." Before Ranma could leap forward and grab the lipstick, Ryoga grabbed them in a tight hug. Once they could breathe again, the crowd swarmed forward to offer their own congratulations.

After several minutes of celebration, everyone loaded into trucks and took off for the coast. The villagers returned home, the monks took off back to Okinawa, Nabiki led Ryoga to a chartered boat, and Ranma and Akane found themselves booked into a five-star hotel, alone for the first time in far too long.

As Akane entered the room ahead of him, Ranma paused in the doorway to just look at her. His heart clenched with love. They'd made it. Akane glowed with health and happiness. She was the most beautiful woman in the world, everyone else mere pastel to Akane's vibrant red. Akane was his heart, the blood in his veins, the clench of his muscles, and the rush of victory. She was his obsession and desire, the center of his world. He wasn't rational when it came to Akane. He had no limits. Despite all of that, she wouldn't be scared away and couldn't care less for his usefulness. She saw him as he truly was and accepted all of it. This was true love. This was everything he'd ever wanted and more. Belonging. Soulmates.

There was nothing hanging over their heads, no enemies, no obligations, and no interruptions. The usual itch beneath his skin to be out learning new techniques or finding a worthy opponent to fight was gone. The only place he wanted to be was here. The only thing he wanted was the woman across the room and he had her. She'd given herself to him and claimed him in turn. He couldn't recall ever feeling more peace and contentment.

"My wife," Ranma said with supreme satisfaction.

Akane was feeling pretty gleeful about things herself. "My husband." Akane turned and gave him a grin. Somehow, despite all of the obstacles, they were miraculously both alive. Ranma loved her. They were finally married to each other and had the rest of their lives to live side by side.

Only one thing could make this better.

Eyes going heavy-lidded, Akane put her hand on one hip and ran it slowly over the curve and down to her thigh. Muscles up and down Ranma's body went tight like a hungry panther about to pounce as his eyes followed the motion. "You ready to close that door and get this honeymoon started or what?" Akane asked, voice going husky with anticipation.

Not looking away from her for a second, Ranma moved the 'do not disturb' sign to the front of the door, closed it, and engaged the deadbolt. The electricity in his gaze made the hair rise on her arms. He was definitely looking at her like prey. "Fair warning, I might bite," he said said in a deep voice that made things low in her body clench.

"Fair warning, I will bite and claw," Akane answered breathily, not one to back down from a challenge.

Face going sharp with desire, Ranma sent her an incendiary look from beneath unfairly long eyelashes and purred, "Mmm, I like the bite of your kitten claws. I can't wait to make you mine."

"You'll have to catch me first," Akane twirled away with a wild laugh and leapt up onto the top of the bed. She dived for a pillow to attack him with, but Ranma snatched it from her hands before she could get a good grip and threw it over his shoulder. It sent a lamp knocking to the floor with a crash of broken ceramic. Laughing, they wrestled back and forth on the bedcovers until Akane found herself flat on her back with her arms pinned above her head by the heavy heat of his larger body. He gave off heat like a furnace.

Dropping a kiss on her chin, Ranma avoided her attempt to capture his lips, rubbing his nose against hers teasingly.

"Ranma," she protested as she squirmed in his hold, not really wanting to escape, just wanting more contact with his body and more kisses.

"Wife," he said with a smirk, "I just want you to know that you don't have to worry about anything tonight."

"I'm not worried, I'm impatient," she muttered, trying to sound sour instead of charmed.

"Good, because I want you to know that I took my study of those pamphlets you gave me seriously, especially the ones on safety and how to pleasure a woman," he said, dropping kisses down the side of her neck.

Shivering at the touch of his lips, she pushed past her embarrassment to find the courage to tease. "I don't remember a pamphlet about that, though I'm sure bathtime with your girl-side had nothing to do with this knowledge, hmm?"

"If it did, know that I was usually imagining you in there with me, imagining how I'd touch you, taste you," his lips dragged over her skin, tracing the slipping neckline of her robe and turning her into pudding in his hands. "We can do anything and everything you desire," he murmured hotly against her skin. "Anything goes martial arts marriage."

Then he pushed himself up and locked his arms, looking down at her face with raw desire and iron control. "I love you and I want you, but if at any point you want me to slow down or stop, if you're uncomfortable or you don't like something, just say the word. I know I'm not good at talking about this stuff, but your pleasure is mine and your protection is mine. I never want to do anything to hurt you."

Giving him an adoring smile, Akane framed his face with her hands. Sometimes, he was so unexpectedly sweet. "Thank you. The same goes for you. If I get too excited and do something that hurts you instead of feels good, tell me instead of just enduring it, okay? Because your pleasure is mine too and this is new to both of us. There's no rush. I mean, you make me crazy and I totally want to rush, but we have the rest of our lives to figure this side of things out, so we should do it right and be honest with each other."

At his smile and nod, she tucked a lock of hair off his brow and bit her lip, trying to sound mature. "As for protection, the earrings are gone, but someone slid a box of condoms in my bag. I don't know what affect the earrings had on our fertility, but I don't think we're ready for kids right away, do you?"

Still braced above her, Ranma turned pink and shook his head with relief, "No, you're right. I want to master being a good husband first before taking on the role of—of a dad. When we're ready, you'll make a wonderful mom, but until then, well," trailing off, his eyes fell to the parting neckline of her robe. Their wrestling had made it gape open, exposing the plump spill of her breasts above her bra.

Ranma's pupils dilated. Lips parting, his tongue darted out to wet his lips. Voice going rough, he said, "Until then, I think we should practice. Be right back." Sliding off her body, he gulped a quick breath, wiped an arm across his forehead, and then ripped off his shirt. Throwing it onto the floor impatiently, he stalked across the room to search her bag.

"Bring the whole box," Akane ordered, going breathless at the sight of all that golden skin. She wanted to sink her teeth into his bulging biceps, wanted to trace the cut line of muscle at his waist with her tongue and feel him shiver with need and unleashed desire. "I have a feeling we're going to need lots and lots of practice." Going up on her knees, she slid off the gauzy outer robe, which had already come untied, and reached back to undo her mangled obi.

Tossing the box of condoms onto the bed, Ranma batted her hands away and took over. "Hey, that's my job. I want to unwrap this present myself." The obi came loose and Ranma slid the loops down over her hips. "Happy birthday to me," Ranma sighed happily as Akane's kimono gaped wider. His fingers slipped forward to undo the final cord securing it shut around her waist.

Laughing and unexpectedly feeling completely unselfconscious, Akane wrapped her arms around Ranma's broad shoulders and kissed him. "I love you," she chanted against his lips, his cheeks, his throat. "I love you forever."

"I love you," he hummed happily as he nibbled on her ear and slid his big, warm hands inside the collar of her kimono and down her arms. "This, our life together, is going to be so much fun." On the word fun, he nipped her earlobe sharply, sending a ping of pleasure zipping down her spine.

Freeing her hands from the fabric, Akane planted her palms on his chest and pushed hard. Surprised, Ranma went sprawling back across the bed. Swinging her legs over his hips, she planted her hands on his rock hard abs and bared her teeth in a fierce grin. "Let's get the party started, lover, though we're still both overdressed."

Sprawling back like a lazy tiger, Ranma folded his hands behind his head, making the muscles in his arms bulge obscenely. "I'll give you to the count of ten to do whatever you want to me. Then I'm going to strip you naked and make you scream."

Walking her fingers from the hem of his tenting pants up to the hollow of his throat, Akane licked her lips and purred, "I bet I can make you scream first."

"You're on," Ranma hissed hotly, muscles jumping in his chest and the light of battle in his eyes. "And the time starts now. One, two, three…."

Several hours later, Akane looked around at the completely wrecked hotel room with a mixture of exhaustion, astonishment, and pride. The mattress was on the floor, the pillows devoid of stuffing, the walls full of holes, and the bathroom door hung akilter on a single hinge. Drowsily taking in the devastation, she asked, "Who would you say won our bet? I forgot to keep track."

Not bothering to open his eyes, Ranma pulled her more snugly into the protective curve of his body and threw a possessive leg over her thigh. "Dunno. Let's take a nap and have a rematch." Dropping a kiss on her bare shoulder, he sighed. "G'night, wife."

"Goodnight, husband." Closing her eyes, Akane reminded herself to shove Ranma in a cold shower when they woke up to see his giddy reaction at the curse being gone. Then she'd make the water hot and they could christen the bathroom. After all, it was the only room they hadn't wrecked yet. Smiling in anticipation, she drifted contentedly into the spirit realm, snuggled down in the hammock made of Ranma's soul with a loving caress that made his threads vibrate with pleasure, and drifted off to sleep in a feedback loop of blissful, endless love.


AN: Happy Ending for the Win as promised, and only a few days past Valentine's! Yay, I did it! Woot! Thank you so much for going on this journey with me! It "only" took me seven and a half years, the birth of two children, transitioning from grad school to normal life, three moves (one cross country), and several stops and starts to finally finish this, the longest story I've ever written. It has been a labor of love. I hope you enjoyed Ranma and Akane's adventure. This couple has been dear to my heart since I first checked out a Ranma 1/2 VHS from Blockbuster back in the 90s. For those who've been with me since the beginning of this story back in 2010, thank you so much for your loyal support. Big hugs and high-fives to all of us!

The wedding ceremony was inspired by the webpage: Great Officiants and their Buddhist Wedding Ceremony. The kimono for Akane was inspired by a picture that I posted to my Indygodusk tumblr.

Love to you all and please comment and tell me your thoughts on the story's conclusion!