06/27/07 -- Fixed small error in wording of last sentence, thanks to unusualtaste
06/01/07 -- Fixed Deleted Scenes; was truncated with the May 30, 2007 Bug in Fanfiction dot net.
05/29/07 -- Uploaded at the same time as the previous chapter (Part 20: April to June) please read it before reading this.
Special Thanks to:
And to the person reading this.
You are all my reasons.
Rendezvous with Fate v.3
Ryoga folded the last of the letters. Then took the phone number Shampoo had given him to contact her. He waited for someone to answer the ringing and was thankful that it was Shampoo who picked up and not her great granddaughter.
"I've read everything," Ryoga told her, his throat a bit dry. He cleared his throat and repeated it, "I read everything."
"Would you like to see the house they lived in?" Shampoo asked slowly, not even bothering to ask who it was. She only expected one person to call her.
Ryoga thought about the question for a moment before saying, "Yes."
"I'll be there shortly."
While he waited Ryoga cleaned up, changed clothes, tried to tidy the small pile of letters and generally try to keep his mind off what he was about to do. When the doorbell rang he almost ran to answer it.
Shampoo smiled up at him. She didn't bring her great granddaughter along. She inclined her head towards the waiting cab he looked at her, eyebrows raised. "You don't know how exorbitant cabs are here in Japan ."
"You underestimate just how much I know, sonny. But I don't drive and I don't trust you to drive," Shampoo said as she gave him a little push towards the waiting taxi. "So your wallet is going to be a little poorer after this ordeal."
She entered in the cab after him and spoke to the driver in Chinese. When the driver understood where they were going Ryoga looked at her skeptically. "Don't tell me you stole this car?"
Shampoo sighed in exasperation. "Are you normally this slow boy?" Ryoga opened his mouth but Shampoo shook her head deciding that she didn't want to hear the answer. "I didn't steal the car. Chinese immigrants are all over the world, thank you. Chinese cab drivers give better prices to Chinese tourists. We are good at holding on to our money, you know."
The man behind the wheel tipped the bill of his cap off to Ryoga and smiled. After that they rode in companionable silence until they reached a beach. The cab stopped in front of a large archways and a long ascending staircase.
"Wasn't the main house in Nerima?" Ryoga asked as he handed over several bills to the cab driver before alighting from the vehicle.
"Yes, but Ranma and Akane's story has always been in Rose Brier. Nabiki took it back in a treaty with Kuno, she gave it to them as a wedding gift," Shampoo explained softly. It was good that the ship bound to China had been delayed or they would have missed Ranma's wedding. "Come along then."
"It's a traditional inn," Ryoga noted in wonder following after Shampoo's hopping. Ryoga had his share of traditional inns, but he felt a little elation when he recognized the structures from Akane's letters. This was where she stayed. "I've never been here before."
"Little wonder," Shampoo said as she nodded towards the maids who greeted them. In surprise, Ryoga noted that she was a known figure. "Miss Saotome, where is she?"
"In the dojo, matriarch, some guests are arriving later," the maid informed her with a low bow, stopping from arranging the flower arrangement that graced the small table to address the matriarch.
Shampoo gave a small smile of approval before beckoning for Ryoga again. They circled the inn before they came in front of the dojo which afforded the view of the beach.
Shampoo pogoed towards the dojo and opened the double doors as she raised an eyebrow at Ryoga, who followed behind slowly. Inside the dojo a woman about his age was practicing a kata. She stopped in mid-punch just as she twirled around to look at Shampoo.
"Matriarch Shampoo!" she exclaimed in delight and surprise running over. She had almost tackled the older woman, if Shampoo hadn't pogoed out of the way.
"I see you're still enthusiastic, child," Shampoo commented with a warm smile. "Ryoga, I want you to meet Saotome Miyako."
"Is this?" Ryoga stuttered, unsure of how to ask the question. Enough generations had passed for her not to look like whoever ancestors she had. There was a pink streak on her hair. Ryoga couldn't decide if it was natural or obtained from the bottle.
"She's Akane's great-granddaughter. Ranma's current heir," Shampoo announced softly. Turning to Miyako, she asked, "Where's that cousin of yours?"
"Our last common branch was twins four centuries ago," Miyako commented with a little smile for Ryoga's sake, as if sharing the joke. "You'd think you'd stop referring to us as cousins."
"It's simpler," Shampoo said tersely. "I don't have time to remember all the third cousins twice removed crap. What's important is you are his heir and she is Nabiki's. There's nothing beyond that. Now where is your cousin?" She raised her eyebrow, and Miyako pointed towards the back doors.
"She's occupied with her pets, matriarch, you know her," Miyako said wrapping a towel around her shoulders. "I take it you want him to know her too?"
Shampoo didn't reply as she pogoed towards the direction of the pens, Miyako followed her and Ryoga followed Miyako, not daring to get lost. "The matriarch is here," Miyako called out to her cousin.
Exactly the same face turned towards them. Akari wiped her hands in a small rag beside her, she stood up from the small bench she had been perched on and jumped down to greet Shampoo, "Matriarch, what a pleasure."
"Akari Unryuu, meet Ryoga Hibiki," Shampoo introduced them without wasting time. Before she could say more, both she and Miyako jumped up to the relative safety of a tree. "Look out boy!"
That was the last thing Ryoga heard as a great boar slammed into him.
Miyako watched the fight lightly from the tree trunk, a little curious but not overly worried. Her gaze landed on Akari, who had her hands wrung together in worry. 'For her pig, no doubt,' Miyako thought, although Katsunishiki almost never lost fights, it was Akari's tendency to worry. Blowing out a strand of black hair that strayed into her eyes, Miyako reached for the pink streak of hair she shared with Akari.
"I can't believe how demented we are in the family," Miyako groaned out when Ryoga finally got a few hits to the boar. "Who else attacks visitors with their pet pig?"
"He's my visitor, child," Shampoo reminded her testily from a lower branch opposite the one Miyako landed on. "I have trained you when you visited in China and this is how you repay me?"
Miyako rolled her eyes lightly at the matriarch. Shampoo had told her countless times that she shared the disdain for authority with Ranma. She hated being compared with an ancestor centuries dead, but Shampoo had known him and she always liked reminiscing. "I wasn't the one who sicced Katsunishiki on him, okay? Lay off."
Shampoo let out an exasperated sigh at Miyako's change of moods. Bouncy one moment and irritable the next. "Ryoga's going to win," Shampoo predicted.
Miyako snorted as Ryoga side stepped the pig's attack. "Finish him off damn it. I don't have time for this." Akari was a descendant of Sei's, a direct line off Nabiki. Most of them stayed within Saotome boundaries and most of them managed the Saotome household.
For some odd reason a lot of them managed to take interest in feeding the Clan. Three generations before, they'd built the entire shrimp hatchery. Now Akari was into pigs. Miyako just didn't understand it.
Before Ryoga could deliver a good killing blow to Akari's favorite pet, Akari was latched on to his arm. "No! I'm sorry. He didn't mean it. He's territorial."
Miyako's eyebrow twitched and gave Shampoo a sidelong glance. But the matriarch wasn't on her branch anymore. She was beside Akari, her smile broad. Miyako resisted the urge to bang her head against the tree trunk. 'What is it with her cousin and that pig? Surely that idiot can see that she's lying.' Ryouga was laughing lightly. Miyako groaned. 'Definitely an idiot.'
"I'd like the two of you to show him around Rose Brier. He wants to know more about the twins," Miyako heard Shampoo say as she landed on the ground stopping beside Akari.
"Which twins?" Miyako said drolly. "There are so many in the family."
Akari elbowed her, which produced a coughing fit. Shampoo gave her a glare serving as another sharp warning.
"You take after him in your tongue, Miyako." Shampoo said, although not without affection. There was no doubt who she was comparing her with. "I'll leave this to the two of you heirs. I'll be visiting the family shrine."
Nodding Akari moved towards the main house changed into slippers as Miyako watched Ryoga, curiosity piqued. "Matriarch Shampoo doesn't bring us many visitors. Why do you want to know about the twins?"
"I want to know about Ranma and Akane in particular." Ryoga coughed as Miyako gave Akari a knowing smile.
"Come on then, we might as well whip up the family tree," Akari announced as they moved towards the large library. Opening a large locked shelf with a key she had kept around a necklace, Akari brought out a scroll.
"This is singularly unfair. I'm heir to the Saotome dynasty and you get to keep the key." Miyako pouted as she helped her cousin lay out the scroll on the floor.
"It's yours Miyako. You're just a bit too irresponsible at times," Akari soothed her cousin before turning her attention to Ryoga. "I'm sorry, what did you want?"
"Go ahead ask. I know it's been bugging you," Miyako said after giving Ryoga a long scrutinizing look. She watched Ryoga's mouth work open with the question he wanted to ask since he saw them together.
"Miyako, you know we're not supposed to talk about that!" Akari hissed.
Miyako rolled her eyes. "She asked us to tell him about the twins so it's really not all that farfetched that he knows about --"
"Miyako," Akari warned insistently.
Miyako sighed then looked at Ryoga. "But he gets to ask. That's always been the rule of the house."
"Are you twins?" Ryoga asked perplexed.
Miyako barked out a small laugh as she sat down tomboyishly against a sofa that was set against the wall. "Wrong question. Matriarch Shampoo introduced us as cousins. She's not lying. We're very distant cousins, but cousins none-the-less."
Gesturing to the seats around the room Miyako waved the two of them to sit. "You want to know about my branch of the family, Mr. Hibiki? You're not getting notions of marrying me are you?"
"No. Of course not. I just want to know more about Akane. That's all," Ryoga said, flustered sitting across Miyako.
Akari set down tea for the two of them. Miyako looked at her cousin before stilling her hands. "Let the maids do that, Akari." If Akari had her way she would be doing all the things the maids were doing.
"You get into a foul mood when you think someone's asking for your hand," Akari reminded her as she sat down on the large sofa in between Ryoga and Miyako.
"I have the right to be," Miyako muttered darkly then raised her eyebrow at Ryoga. "If you're not here for my hand, why ask about the family tree? Are you here to ask for Akari?" Miyako rubbed her temple, the small signs of a headache beginning. Just what she needed. Someone to ask for Akari's hand.
"No. I'm not here to ask for Ms. Unryuu." Miyako let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. She hadn't known what she was going to do if it was another unwanted suitor.
"We never run out of people harassing us because of that anyway," Miyako informed him wearily as she set her eyes on Ryoga, realizing the only other reason why he would ask.
"What would you like to know?" Akari said insistently bringing the cup of tea to her lips.
"What happened after they got married?" Ryoga asked slowly.
Miyako sighed as if she'd repeated the story more times than she cared to admit. Everybody wanted to know about the wonder twins, as most of the envious family members called them. "They had three children, one of them twin girls, twins run rampant in the family tree, and a boy. Now that I think about it that great-grandfather of mine rescued an entire village from being burned and terrorized."
"And their child's heir was that famous assassin," Akari pointed out the fact, watching Ryoga intently. Miyako was surprised Akari would reveal that. "Quite instrumental during the turn over of that era."
"What was their boy's name?" Ryoga showing more than slight interest over the tidbit of information, asked.
"His name was Saotome Ryoma." Miyako put down her cup slowly and surveyed Ryoga critically. "You've asked one correct question Hibiki-san. I'm allowing you to ask one more, for the sake of being fair."
"What was the correct question?" Ryoga asked bewildered.
Miyako frowned displeased at the choice that Ryoga presented. "Akari, dear, could you please see to the Jasmine room. It needs to be aired before the guests arrive. They're due in thirty minutes."
Akari looked at Miyako for one long minute before rising to leave. Miyako almost heaved a sigh of relief when her cousin left, closing the door slowly behind her, leaving Ryoga alone with Miyako. Miyako stood up abruptly. "You're cheating, Mr. Hibiki. But I'll indulge you, because apparently, I have no choice. If you haven't figured it out by now, their son was named after you."
"I know that," Ryoga said bewildered. "I was wondering why you did."
"I'm heir. I've known it my entire life, just as my father did, and apparently you're the reason for it," Miyako explained turning around on her heels effectively. "And the correct question to ask about my face wasn't if we were twins. It was: Why do we look alike."
"And why do you look alike?" Ryoga asked. It wasn't a surprise to Miyako that people would wonder about Akari and her. Their face had been sculpted using the same planes, the same shade of pink highlighted their tresses. They had the same build, they were distinct only in their stance and demeanor. Akari was the lady and Miyako was the tomboy.
Miyako took a cup hefted it on her hands thinking about what she was about to do for a moment, before upending it over her head. The now male Miyako wiped the tea away from his face.
Ryoga almost jumped in surprise at the evidence of Jusenkyo. Miyako could almost hear his thoughts: So it had been real.
"I hate it when I have to be Miyako but I learn to live with it. We Saotomes, you will soon find out, never learn from our mistakes." He held out his hand in Western greeting instead of the traditional bow. "Let's repeat that introduction shall we? I'm Saotome Azuma. I guess I should refer to you as my great-many-times-over-grandfather, but just looking ten years older than I am might make that a little strange. I could tell you more about great-grandmother after you finish mourning her."
The only other place it sounded even remotely logical would be at a Saotome household. "It's nice to finally meet you, Mr. Hibiki."
Disclaimer: Ranma co. were borrowed from the brilliant mind of Rumiko Takahashi. The original story was based on a book, When there is Hope .
One more Epilogue to go:: Nabiki's Epilogue (might take a while, haha, but it's half written out)
I finally finished rend eh?
I must admit there are quite a few influences to a lot of the way things went in rend. most of what influenced it was the research that i conducted for rend itself, but other times, it was the current manga flavor of the month. There were some references to goong in some chapters, and as I said the idea of taking down the tendo fort was influenced by the way chie shinohara handles the bloodless battles in red river. There were a few times that it was just the books I was reading, namely Anne Bishops dark jewels trilogy or Laurell K Hamilton's Meredith Gentry series.
There were some instances where i was asked to do a lemon, but it certainly never turned out that way. Although I made a lemon side story for a friend of mine a few years ago. I largely base a good deal of rend from my experiences, I had to climb on top of a small volcano for the mountain chapter (taal volcano), I went to two beaches, Puerto Galera and Boracay for more of the beach chapters and I actually visited some Japanese castles (I'm extremely thankful for the opportunity). An unfortunate thing is, I never did get around to learning martial arts and mostly, whatever martial arts were here were based off what I learned from books.
Another unfortunate thing is I never did learn how to draw. I really wanted to make a cover for the book before I had it bookbound, but sadly that won't come to pass. OK, finished this baby, will wait for editing in the FFML for some grammar and technical errors before sending it to the RAAC. (RAAC Still alive, even though its heart is barely beating... if you're interested in some really old ranma fanfics, you could find it there)
I also want to take the time to thank everybody who helped with rend. Sorry I can't remember all of you guys. You've been so much help in the past. For specific chapters, your names are always with the chapters that you've helped out with. Thank you to my betas (pre-readers) who've tried to make this fic a) as grammar worthy as possible b) as non-cheezy as possible c) as true to the Japanese culture as possible d) as non-redundant as possible. Special thanks to ELIE for sending me chapter 14 when my harddrive ate it up for dead. For all the reviewers who've been with me, for everyone who's been reading this faithfully, thanks for believing that it would eventually end and for following the story. I couldn't do anything without you guys. As I said, you are all my reasons :p
website: ice dot esmartdesign dot com : working thanks to Arthur Hansen
email : siuane at gmail dot com
livejournal : ice underscore of underscore dreams
for someone standing at the peak of happiness it's an obligation
Some of the deleted scenes were lost when my hard drive crashed back in '05, so these are post '05 take outs. Mostly deleted becuase of the sheer cheezyness or the fact that I didn't like where it was going.
Of course, Sasuke managed to report after Sei managed to reach his house.
Since ninja weren't the most reliable thing to testify against your veracity... and Sasuke being the only one who knew the truth... Nabiki was in very deep trouble.
Nabiki silently wished that Ranma wasn't doing what he was doing at the moment. Nabiki couldn't afford to see him break his heart over Kodachi again. Because Ranma was following Kodachi around, he was trying to do what would normally be Sasuke's job, keeping Kodachi in line. And the snub, one thing that might set Kodachi off, might give them a clue to Kodachi's mind.
'Please, don't fall in love with her.' Nabiki-kun prayed earnestly as he went back to Kaoru.
"Oh, damn it, Ranma, you're in love, why don't you just admit it and get it over with?"
"Because if I did, and I'm not saying that I am, it won't be over. Nothing ever is." Ranma looked dejectedly at her. "You'll tell me her past mistakes, and you'll tell me she--"
"But it's true, you fool... and yet you still feel this way?"
He had hated Kodachi enough, and yet now that she is a weak spineless fool -- at least projecting herself as one -- one who showed proof of violent tendencies... he might fall in love with her.
He looked back at her. "Do you think I'm making a mistake... that all of this is a mistake?"
Maybe it was. Kodachi wasn't someone you treated lightly, after all, Kodachi was the one who had ruined most of their lives... and yet she found herself helpless against the question. She found out that she couldn't break her brother's heart "I -- I -- honestly don't know."
Ranma stared at Kodachi and the samurai arrived and carried her off to the bathhouse. He wanted to go to her, but his pride couldn't -- wouldn't let him. His temper got him into this situation in the first place, his temper and his jealousy. His pride kept him there. 'Akane, why do this to me?' Not noticing that he had called her by that name.
"But it's true, you fool... and yet you still feel this way?"
And when he was finally gone, she closed the shoji and crumpled to the floor. She would've wept, but tears were useless, just as her dreams.
One escaped her self control. A tear trailed down her cheek, her silent tear, for her forsaken brother and their damned life. Whether she noticed that she shed it or not, did not matter.
That single tear encompassed the whole of Nabiki Ikkasei - she stopped not Ikkasei, she was Saotome once again -- Nabiki Saotome's grief, then she stood up, straightened her kimono and went to her son. A son who wasn't her own anymore. Her son who was now Ranma's.
He was wearing his most usual disguse, a pleasant expression.
Ukyo almost let out a protest at his sudden appearance, but decided not to voice it out. Samurai were always trained not to listen when they weren't spoken to so she had known he had been lurking, just as no important person was supposed to be left without guard.
It was barely dawn, and most of the house was up, although through the silent halls it was not apparent. Soon she'll have to tell the house that Ranma had already left his chambers.
Nabiki turned to Hanae's quarters, as expected the girl was already packing most of her things in her bag, Nabiki nodded to her, "Hanae, Ukyo is here."
"Yes, 'Nty." She said picking the pace up a bit.
Nabiki walked to her and sat down, taking the clothes into her hands stopping the movement. "Hanae, you are an intuitive girl. I wish to know what you think about Kodachi."
Hanae stopped to consider her words. Kodachi was a subject rarely discussed and something noticeably avoided. It came as a surprise for someone who palpably hated Kodachi to ask for an opinion from the girl. "I dunno know, 'Nty. I've always seen her as daddy or you have. And... she's shown she can be cruel lots 'a times. But she seems different now..."
"Are you sure?" Nabiki wanted to know from this girl desperately, for she was one of Kodachi's most hated people and the most innocent of all whom Kodachi had hurt.
Hanae looked up to her aunt's eyes, "Before... I doubted if 'dachi could teach me the things you teach Sei-chan or 'Nty 'Kyo teaches me. Maybe 'cuz she hated me too much 'cuz I was somebody else's daughter. Now... 's not hate I see. Maybe resentment..." She struggled to get the large words out. "Maybe some anger, but not the pure revulsion she had for me. Not enough to throw me out in the rain 'Nywei."
The girl was smart and Nabiki trusted her completely, but to trust Hanae's instincts... many things have been turning out bad, and Nabiki merely wanted the best for her brother. Merely wanted the best for everyone. She didn't want to do this but it had to be done.
Nabiki almost winced, she really hated to do this, but this was her last alternative. She can't just watch Kodachi's every movement, to keep up the whole house without it going to ruin was already such a big task. Kodachi needed someone looking after her all the time. Sasuke wouldn't do it, his bonds to the Kuno household, though weak, was enough for him not to report to her. Ranma isn't to be disturbed from his task, that's the reason Nabiki managed the house. All the rest can't be taken into account for they simply cannot keep up with Kodachi.
Except for Hanae.
She knew how unconventional this was going to be, but who cared about norms anyway? They certainly haven't, and they certainly weren't going to any time soon. Ukyo had just provided her with the best spy. She expected Ranma to give a fight, but she never let any opportunity get wasted. "Hanae, Ukyo can't be your foster mother anymore."
It was the perfect arrangement. Kodachi couldn't lure Ranma to something more committed than he already is, she'd be kept busy for the most part, Nabiki gets a spy whose loyalties are unquestionable and she has more time to think in between her lessons of Martial Arts in Good Graces. For an invented art, it took a lot of her time to establish.
"This won't work if I announce it to her. You have to tell it to her. Preferably, after a big fight with Ranma. Memorize what I'm going to tell you Hanae, I'm pretty sure this is how she'll react."
For the next stick, Hanae listened intently to her aunt, before she finally stopped her lecture, convinced she had covered every possibility, now all she had to do was find Sei and Ranma, and have breakfast. Hopefully Kodachi will not wake up early.
Twirling the scroll in her hand Nabiki turned to Cologne . " Matriarch, do not be so harsh on my brother. He was dropped on the head when we were born. "
" Correction! Nabiki was dropped on the head! I was kicked by the ... person who was holding me! " He turned indignantly, Nabiki smiled, that jibe always got him on the defensive.
Fuming Akane turned around, gave a cracked smile to the samurai and went back to the house to vent some of the irrational anger. 'Under my roof! He's already cheating me with Ranko and he's got another one?'
She wanted to give Ifuku the berating that was reserved for Ranma, but didn't. It wasn't good to blame others for what simply wasn't their fault. Although she'd have to lecture the girl and get it to her brain that Ranma definitely had more than one consort.
"Sasuke!" She called out, her anger still at its peak, when he appeared she gave him her orders, "Bring me some rope. A rope as long as the house."
Sasuke was gone and back in an instant, giving several hemp ropes knotted together to comply with her length requirements. Akane went over the side of the corridor where her room lay, tying the rope tangent to the corridor up to the other side dividing the residential wing of the house equally into two. She turned on her heel and was about to walk out when someone manhandled her to a wall. This time she managed not to jump too much.
"Ranma," She said irritably when she realized who it was. "What is it?"
"Look Kodachi, I know I already had this whole lecture with you about being celibate and all..."
"You never gave me that lecture, it was Ranko." Akane bit out then looked up to him. "Or do you share the same thoughts now?"
He ignored her statement and continued with his current train of thought. "I know you're angry right now--"
"Angry? Angry? What the hell do I have to be angry about?" Akane shook with visible fury, no matter how much she denied it. "You are entitled to your consorts."
"Kodachi, would you please listen to me?" Ranma pleaded a bit.
"Why should I?" Akane asked defiantly pulling her shoulders off his grip, it didn't work. "You never listen to me."
"It's not like you listen to me as well!" Ranma answered frustrated, letting her go. "Look, Ukyo is one of my oldest friends."
"You don't need to explain to me, Ranma." Akane gave him a very unconvincing smile. "I am only your wife, after all."
"I know I don't need to, but I want to."
That just made Akane's anger worse. He wasn't supposed to agree with her. She reached around him and took the mallet she'd been using to secure the pegs to tie the rope down and started hammering at him which to her frustration, he simply dodged. "Oh, so you're saying that you should go traipsing around with every female you could find. Fine. I don't care."
Giving up, Ranma rolled his eyes, jumping over the last mallet strike and vaulting over her head then disarming her. "I can see this conversation is not getting us anywhere. I'll be going now."
"Fine. Be that way."
Ranma had not taken two steps when he turned to face Akane again, "What is it with you Kodachi? I try to explain things to you, and you don't listen. I'm leaving you alone and you get angrier. Is there something you wish to tell me? We've been going at this for at least seven years. I am pretty sure you know how redundant it got after the first."
"I'm sure," Akane retorted. "That's why you get all these women."
Ranma threw up his hands in frustration, "I am already giving you too much of a chance, trying to believe this story of you loosing your memory. It's far more than you deserve."
"And I'm being nice to you, you grumpy old man!" Akane shouted putting her hands to her hips. "And that's fare more than you deserve."
"Name one nice thing you've done for me."
"I've taken up Martial Arts of Wife in Good Graces for you, I've taken Ranko out of your room, out of your clothes, I've given her consent to do whatever she likes, I've tried to find out about your past, I've been civil to your consort, I've been more than kind to your sister..." Akane smoldered even more, the totality of all she has done the past months bearing down on her. "What more do I have to do to make you realize I'm not that evil a person?"
"You are an evil person Kodachi. It's more of what you don't do rather than what you do that proves it." Ranma stated watching her look up to him defiantly. "There simply is so much proof, we can't deny it."
"Why are you trying so hard to hate me?" Akane asked him, her anger finally dissipating after a good deal of shouting and punching tatami.
"I'm not." Ranma answered hefting the mallet around. "I'm merely trying to avoid you."
"Then why? Can't you see I'm trying?"
"Can't you see I'm trying?" Ranma threw back at her. "I don't want all this. I stay married to you because of the Sagami. Let us not forget that small fact."
She felt dejected, he had only married her for a damn position. She was about to slap him when he caught her arm. He looked pointedly at her new installment to the house and fingered it derisively. "And what's with this rope?"
She had momentarily forgotten her handiwork. "I divided the house. Stay on your side."
With that, Akane turned to run, she didn't look back as she crawled to her futon and cried.
"Kodachi just managed to divide the house into two." Ranma growled. Nabiki was thankful he was not lugging his katana around. "Literally."
"And how has she managed to do that?" Nabiki's curiosity peaked by the fact, everything Kodachi seems to do, makes her question the woman's sanity more and more. Maybe dividing the house will keep Kodachi at arm's length. "Saw the tatami?"
"She tied a rope in between the shoji." Ranma bit out. It was obvious he was not taking it well. "Several of them in fact."
ut then... there was simply too much evil in Kodachi that everything she did was ultimately for her sadistic pleasures alone. Something in her actions, in her ways that made you think you're getting the better deal, when all she does is offer you a false hope of something you already have. In that respect, Kodachi was a lethal opponent.
She hugged herself,
Akane did not know how long she slept, but a tapping sound from her window roused her from her sleep. Deciding to ignore whatever it was, she tugged on to her blanket. When it kept going on, she decided that she should send whatever it was on its way.
She was expecting a bird rapping on the paper window and had not been prepared to see Hanae dangling upside down from the ledge.
"What the hell are you doing out there?" Akane asked surprised trying to pull her in. Surprisingly the girl just smiled sat on that thin ledge. Akane prayed her damndest that it wouldn't give way and fall. It was just paper.
"Come inside, Hanae." She may dislike the girl, but it wouldn't do for the girl to fall down from her window towards the very rough cliff on to the bay. She moved allowing the girl some space for her entrance.
Thankfully, the girl followed her up on her offer and she gracefully stepped into the room, whipping her kimono around her then breaking out into a grand smile, as if she had just preformed a great feat. She looked around swiftly then grimaced, "Lousy decorating sense."
"I agree." Akane nodded sitting down at the futon then offering her one of the cushions, she still hadn't finished the change of all the monochrome colors, but she was starting. "Don't ever come through the window again. You scared me half to death!"
Hanae raised her eyebrow then sat down as she had been told while Akane lit a candle. "I'd think you'd want me to enter through the window, daddy seems to pref-er that en-tra-nce, and you did marry him."
Akane looked at the child with mild disbelief. No one comes through the window, especially her window. "And does your father know about these little jaunts of yours?"
Giggling, Hanae shook her head. "Don't tell him. It's the first time I've ever tried it." She giggled a lot more after seeing Akane's expression. "Don't worry, I wouldn't have done it if I didn't know if I'd live through the ex-pe-rience."
"You talk big for a child your age."
"I'm above-the-average child my age."
"So you are. So, what brings you at my window so late at night?"
"Actually, I'm here because of daddy." Hanae sighed as she twirled the locks of her hair contemplating on what to say. "I know you've been having fights, and I don't think it's right."
That was the worst understatement she has ever heard, they barely were around each other and when they were they always ended up in a shouting match. "That's because he's the most infuriating man in the world! He has a mistress on the same house, and an ill-"
It was then that Akane wisely shut up, her eyes wide as saucers at the slip. Hanae just nodded. "It's ok. You can say it. With his illegitimate daughter. I'm used to it." She tilted her head sideways then sighed. "I think daddy's wrong. You're not pretending."
Someone had just believed she had amnesia, someone she had probably insulted. Someone she particularly disliked. "What?!"
"Even though he has guarded me from seeing 'dachi -- " She gave Akane an appraising look, "The real one. I've seen her. Recently, before she went here. She was ranting and raving, and laughed, but she had one goal, to tell me I was a b'stard."
"That dreadful woman told you that?"
The child nodded then looked away, "And though I'm not trusting you totally... I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt..." She paused as she let that sink in, "And my help."
"I don't want your help."
"Wanting and needing are two different things."
"What! Your father would disown you if he knows you're helping me." Akane said after everything fully sunk in. 'Are you crazy? This is the only person who's actually cutting you some slack!' Angry as she was with Ranma, she couldn't bring to get his child working against him. But then this comes from a girl she has particularly decided to have an aversion to.
"This isn't where you say that." Hanae jumped up to the bed and took Akane's head nodding it. "This is where you say, 'That's the best offer I've heard the whole week!'"
Clasping Hanae's hands on her own, Akane looked at the child sternly. "Ranma wouldn't like that."
"You're thinking of what he wouldn't like now." Hanae shook her head as she sat on her lap. "I'm half convinced you're not Kodachi."
When Akane didn't say anything Hanae dropped to the floor. "Look, I know daddy. He's being patient with you now, there's no real guarantee that patience will last long." If what she was experiencing patience, she'd like to see what what Ranma did when he lost his tolerance for her. "Your latest episode just made him think you're regaining your craziness back."
"Hey, I've seen it work in Television!" Akane protested.
Hanae tilted her head again mulling over the unfamiliar word, "You managed to put that rope where you couldn't reach the door outside!"
"I fixed that!" Akane grumbled. She had been so frustrated she didn't know where she placed the damned thing. At least she moved it so Ranma couldn't reach the outside. "Is he angry?"
"Who wouldn't be?" Hanae stopped for a moment in contemplative silence. "My foster mother can't take care of me anymore ... would you be willing to take her job?"
"I thought wives weren't foster mothers." Akane pointed out what little knowledge she knew.
"Yes, but we're an 'unusual family. You don't do much of the wifely duties 'nywei." Hanae told her, which Akane had to agree. "You have plenty of time in your hands."
Akane knew what was offered, it was something that would definitely give her an edge towards to her husband, something that would make her quest to make him see her as Akane rather than her past as Kodachi easier... but her conscience nagged at the gift. She opened her mouth to refuse the offer when Hanae stopped her. "Why are you trying so hard to hate me?"
That Akane did not expect. She had not expected her own words thrown back at her. Maybe it was the reason why she finally agreed with the child. She looked at her tentatively, maybe it really was worth a try. "I don't really know how to be foster mother."
"Then you're lucky. I know how to be a good child." Hanae offered her a smile then went out. Akane shook her head, wondering what she had gotten herself into now.
Moving out through the doorway this time, Hanae shook her head. Offering Kodachi a space for governess would make her more manageable. Mostly it just told her that Kodachi was really out of it.
She tugged the rope that Akane had indeed moved. She thought about what her aunt said and moved to the next order of business, talking to her father.
Ducking under the rope, she went straight to find him. If she guessed right, he was either seething at his room, venting off frustration at the dojo, thinking on the roof or contemplating with Nabiki in the teahouse.
That was quite a lot of places. He obviously wasn't at the teahouse since Nabiki and Ranma already talked over the recent developments. He wasn't at the roof or he'd have caught her at the window. She had been telling the truth, Ranma hadn't permitted her to try coming through the window. A little balance techniques, but nothing like that.
Ranma-chan looked back at the forest with mixed feelings. Because of Shampoo's sudden outburst, she was forced to think if she wronged the girl in any way. She was about to fetch her for a second time when Cologne stopped her again, a hand on her shoulder.
'Shampoo is a young girl at heart,' he remembered her saying clearly. 'She has not learned the value of what you have willingly given her. She doesn't understand that when you didn't marry her, you gave her something that she has not managed to experience through all of her teenage life... her freedom.'
Walking slowly towards Kodachi's room, Ranma sighed preparing for sleep as silently as he could. Kodachi already slept since Ifuku told her that 'Ranma' did so already, and Ranma didn't want to deal with her at the moment.
It came as a surprise when Kodachi stirred as Ranma went past her to get a fresh sleeping kimono from the small alcove. Opening her eyes slowly, Kodachi adjusted to the semi-dim room, her eyes still blurry from sleep. "Ranma?"
Ranma's intake of breath was sharp. He worried that in Kodachi's sleepy state, her subconscious managed to piece in the puzzle her rational mind could not. The connection of the appearances between Ranma and Ranko... no matter how implausible it may seem.
"Oh... I'm sorry, Ranko-san, you look so much like my husband."
Ranma let out the breath he was holding. The secret was safe for now. And if he has a choice in it, it will remain as one.
"If you're here, Nabiki's out and I'm sick... who's taking care of the children?" It was a rare moment of rationality that Kodachi asked such a question, the worry breaking clean on her face. "Surely..."
"The matriarch Cologne offered to step up their training," Ranma answered while fetching clothes from Akane's closet. In a second he was ready for bed, the immaculate futon laid out the opposite of Kodachi's. "We've been very fortunate."
Kodachi followed Ranma through her eyes as the red-haired woman walked to the small basin Ifuku left earlier to wash her face and hands clean. Ranma dismissed Ifuku to see to Shampoo's needs. Since the Chinese woman has a Jusenkyo curse, few could be trusted to be her maid. Ifuku was one of the few who fell neatly into the category. Although Shampoo would probably be appalled at the thought of a ladies' maid, Amazons were warriors, even their princesses were born to wield the sword.
"Umm... Ranko, do you mind if I ask you something?" To Ranma, Kodachi seemed uneasy. Her muscles tensing visibly even in the dark room. Ranma-chan shrugged, wondering what question could cause her such discomfort. He was troubled and a bit startled at Kodachi's follow-up question. "Why does Ranma stay married to me?"
Frowning at the question, Ranma retrieved the comb at the side of the basin then sat on his futon, looking at Kodachi sideways. "He was ordered to marry you, Kodachi." There was a bit of shuffling that Ranma ignored as he tended to his long hair which irritated him to no end, especially when he pretended to be a girl. Unfortunately, the humidity of the night wasn't helping at all.
"Does Ranma usually stay at Rose Brier?" Kodachi asked tentatively at the dark room. They weren't facing each other but Ranma could just imagine the distaste showing in her face as she asked the question.
Giving out a non-committal grunt Ranma undid the ties of his hair, combed it briskly and re-braided it again, she found out from Nabiki that it would give him less trouble in the morning when he did that. "Rose Brier is at the border of the Sagami, Kodachi--"
Ranma wasn't sure if she was just trying to make small talk or she was geared on irritating him, but he repeated the name nonetheless, "Akane... and it's to be constantly protected especially if there's a threat. He usually stays here when there are important things to do but usually goes to the other house in Nerima to visit his mother."
"That's what I'm unclear about, what's this Nerima house?" Kodachi asked uncertainly. "Isn't Brier Rose in Nerima?"
"Rose Brier is at the border of Kanagawa in Nerima in Sagami. Rose Brier is where the twins stay. The Nerima house, for a lack of a better name to call it," Ranma quipped, "Is mainly where Lady Nodoka and you stay. Sometimes Odawara Castle when Happosai calls."
"Then why is he usually here?" Kodachi relaxed against the light chatter, it was the first time she managed to engage Ranko in a conversation without either of them getting into a fight. In all truths, she wanted to be friends with the girl. "I mean... why does he seem to love the place dearly?"
"Lord Ranma doesn't love the place..." Ranma trailed off thinking about Kodachi's questions, he certainly didn't treat Rose Brier different than any other place he held fiefdom over. "It's just that... maybe it's the peace and quiet -- he never had much of a peaceful life."
Maybe Ranma should tell Kodachi the truth. Kodachi was going to find out about it anyway. Putting down the comb he lay down on the futon. "Rose Brier was an ancestral home, Lady Kodachi, it actually belonged to Ranma and Nabiki when they were young."
"I thought Rose Brier was mine," Kodachi said thoughtfully, reclining into the futon.
Ranma heard the distinct close of the shoji in another part of the house and thought that Ifuku must have already left Cologne and Shampoo's room to return. Her light tread against the tatami was one of the most distinct of all the servants, and Ranma knew all the households footsteps. It was needed for the safety of the home.
"Oh, Rose Brier is yours, but the Twofold Dragons was theirs."
"Wait a minute, you lost me," Kodachi murmured. He really would have lost her there, Rose Brier's old name was forgotten even by the people who currently occupied Sagami. "What Twofold Dragons?"
"It's a name okay? It's what this place was called before you got your hands on it." Ranma-chan muttered, not really caring for the reason why Rose Brier was renamed in the first place. Ranma didn't want to become daimyo when he was sixteen and he certainly didn't know enough to feel remorse over lost land. Ot was before their time, before their births but if it was theirs, he wouldn't have the need to marry Kodachi in the first place.
Ranma shrugged there were few things that could be blamed for their sufferings if it concerned before their birth, sometimes it was their own ancestors, often it was their liege lord, but most of all it was their foster father. "Genma Saotome happened. He managed to gamble the house and land away and being the fool Genma was, he lost. The house and land was renamed."
"So he married me for the land?" Ranma could almost see the hurt expression Kodachi's voice obviously showed. Ranma still couldn't believe that a lot of people thought he married because of mercenary reasons.
"He married you because he was ordered to. It has nothing to do with the land." Ranma-chan quipped as she turned away from Kodachi. Even in the dark, she could see her form. Her eyes settled on the shoji doors. Next week, she would be at the border, next week Nabiki returns. That was the key next week. He just needed to survive until next week.
"Why did he agree to marry me then?"
"Is an order so hard to comprehend?" Ranma's eyes flared. "And because of that order he can not turn you away!"
Ranma threw his hands up in frustration. Kodachi simply didn't want to understand. "There are some things in the marriage that makes it different from the others!"
Her monosyllabic questions were starting to get to Ranma's nerves. There were simply too many clauses that their farce of a wedding has. "Any injury to you done by a member of the Saotome clan ordered by a Saotome clan or anything similar would be reciprocated to Nabiki."
"The Kuno's knew that Ranma loved his sister completely and her mind is a liability to them." Ranma-chan frowned as she rubbed the small scar at the small of her back. "Another little quirk is that if you are sent home, Rose Brier would be returned to them."
"So... you can't kill me unless Nabiki dies?"
"Or turns ronin." It wasn't a comforting thought.
Kodachi was silent as she digested this information, Ranma grumbled as he turned again. There simply was no comfortable position to sleep with in a room with Kodachi Saotome. "I don't know about you, but I need my sleep. I'm not one to answer questions you should, by all aspects, know."
With that, Ranma silenced himself and reclined to the futon, listening to Kodachi's slow breathing.
Though they remained silent, sleep would not come to them for a while, both lost in thought about the past and the future.
"Well, you are my husband, aren't you?"
"No!" He stopped and then realized what he had just answered. "I mean, yes."
They stopped for a moment, and Akane looked him over. He was wetter than she was. Whereas she had damp clothes, he was soaked through his shirt and drawstring pants. His pigtail hung limply and baby hair clung to the sides of his face, dripping water all over the tatami.
"You know, I heard somewhere that men get cold faster than women do. It's a scientific fact," Akane whispered over her piece of okonomiyaki, wondering if there was such a word as science in this time and age.
He inched closer. She resisted the urge to laugh. "Am I evil? Am I so very evil that you wouldn't even dare come near to your wife?" She doubted it was the reason for his hesitation, but let it rest at that.
She was surprised to find him glaring at her. "What is it you want Kodachi? Don't tell me this is another one of your mind games. If it is, it's getting old. Happosai is just beyond that door, my sister is covering up for me, and we're just lucky that my old man isn't here yet. Other than that, would you please hurry up? Do what you want to do and get it over with."
She didn't know where she went wrong, it had been going smoothly, they had not been fighting, she had not said anything to provoke the hostility she was receiving. "I really came for what I said earlier. I'm not leaving without it."
Did her brother truly love Kodachi? That was easily answered: the harder question would be, if it was all a game that Kodachi played.
Ranma might not pick up all the pieces if his heart was broken again. How far was Ranma willing to go with Kodachi this time?
Apparently, Ranma and Kodachi were moving one step forward and two steps back from each other. At the rate they were going, they were never going to meet. But then... they crossed that final gulf tonight... with whatever happened, it was obvious the animosity that was between them significantly lessened. 'Mental note to self: have a very serious conversation with brother dear regarding his love life.'
Question was, did she like it?
Akane watched Ranma disappear into the bathhouse and sighed, so it wasn't the time to talk. But when was it time? She couldn't just push herself blindly towards him. She couldn't.
She turned back to the window, revealing the short sword Ranko had given her when she ran away. Everything was so complicated. Everything was so hard.
'I haven't even admitted to myself that I loved him yet.' Akane's eyes grew wide at the unbidden thought. It wasn't a startling revelation, more of a gradual change that her subconscious mind was aware of, but had surprised her.
She loved him. It was silly and irrational, but it was true.
She loved the way his black pigtail stood when he was cornered, the way it seemed so much a part of him -- yet not. She liked the way he moved, so gracefully like the cat that prowled the night, the way he handled his sword. She liked the way his blue eyes twinkled in the night -- the way the night seemed to call out to him, his eyes that said... everything. Kodachi had hurt him. She had hurt him pretty bad.
That was when Akane realized that she had fallen for her husband... and she had fallen hard.
She looked at the sword as if it will give her the answers that she didn't have, as if it would give her a sign that she was on the right track. But it didn't.
'Why do I have to love a stupid, brash, arrogant jerk?' she asked as she looked at the small sword that Ranko had given her. The sword had no answers for her, 'So, I love Ranma... What the hell am I supposed to do now?'
She had been a fool. She had been trying for months for him to understand her, trying to let him see that she wasn't Kodachi, that she was different. All she has succeeded in doing was falling in love with him.
For the first time in days, Akane wondered what she was going to tell her husband and feared the days coming ahead. Before she did things because she thought it was what was wanted of her... now she wanted his love because she wanted him reciprocate hers.
She hadn't even known why she was doing it. She was desperately trying for him to see her change; that she had failed to see it in herself. Whereas before rejection had been accepted fact, now it meant so much more. It was an end. Of everything. What she had worked so hard to accomplish might just end up in pieces because Ranma Saotome didn't love her.
But she feared the days coming up most of all. Because when before the thought of rejection had been a mere passing instance that she had not dwelled upon, now, rejection was a looming thing that she had to deal with. If her husband didn't want her, she had to deal with it.
She leaned out of the window, the sea crashing against the shore below, 'How could I live with rejection now, knowing that I love him?'
"I just don't want you to get hurt."
"I know," Nabiki agreed, as he picked up his backpack to go to the adjoining room the maid had prepared for him, not intending him to hear. "Why can't you see that's what I'm trying to do with you and Kodachi too?"
"If it's not stupid, then it's a problem." Their voices were still low. "Is that all I am to you Ranma?"
"It's all that we are to each other. I am sure you feel the same way too." With that, he stepped out of the door.
"But he hates me." Akane averted her eyes as she protested quietly. The fire that she had moments before had disappeared into the depths of what Nabiki thought was genuine sadness. "I know so."
"You claim to know things you really don't." Nabiki gave the woman a thin smile. "I ask you again, if you're so convinced he hates you, then why stay?"
"I don't know."
"Right, okay... so I guess you're giving up. I wonder sometimes how long a woman like you would last. He hates you." Nabiki gave her a hard stare projecting to Akane just how long she had thought Akane would have lasted. "Okay. I understand."
"There wasn't anything wrong that night... just the mirror." Cologne mused. The only thing that gave 'Murasaki' away had been the broken shards of glass. There seemed nothing out of place except for the comb on her hair, and the girl carried nothing on her way out. "The girl knew what she had been looking for."
A sudden strong wave toppled Akane out of her vessel. "Good thing there are no sudden drops here." Ranma muttered, the water was a few feet over his head, but since they were between islands it did not disappear into a deep abyss but leveled off.
He was about to turn back to the house when Nabiki whispered something that caught his attention, "Don't tell me she can't swim." He turned around to watch her thrash in the water.
Don't give up on this other girl. Besides I'm sure the pigtailed girl would be happy to see you devote your attentions to someone else."
"The reason why she's here is because she is banished, silly." Nabiki took a pillow beside her and started pounding him, he blocked neatly by using the Amaguriken. Nabiki scowled but didn't stop. "I found out by accident."
"What's that got to do with my nephew?" At the mention of nephew, Nabiki increased her speed at trying to bash him, but Ranma matched her as well. Nabiki smiled as one hit got through and stopped clutching the pillow against her chest
She frowned at him then smiled again. Ranma shuddered, he simply wasn't used to Nabiki playing(tin I'm not used to it either. Are you sure you thought of how nabiki-NABIKI- would react if she got a baby? It sounds like Akane to me). "That's what I was about to tell you, you big baby. 'Is Amazon Technique buried in 300 years of history!'" She scowled when he wasn't impressed by her imitation. she started trying to bash him again. "She can read the baby's ki! Ummei didn't like it though -- he said it was like peeking into a wrapped present, Rian assured him she won't do it anymore, especially if they have one of their own."
Ranma answered as he tried to disarm her, but she seemed to be faster that day. Nabiki was a very fast learner.
"So what do you plan to call her?" Ranma asked, stealing the pillow in case she wanted another round of bashing,
Ranma sighed, at least he wasn't going to be her personal punching bag if she was going to be violent all of her nine months. She was going to have her husband for that. Ranma sent a prayer to the gods to take pity on the poor guy. He was going to have a bruise filled year.
She forced him to press his ear against the shoji.
"How much did you hear?"
"I knew you were up to something when you brought me here, but what's the point if we can't act on it?" Ranma whispered furiously. "This is low, Nabiki."
"This is to learn a little about the healthy relationship of brother and sister."
Akane leafed through the small recipe leaves when Nabiki came in. She raised her eyebrow at Akane doing the task and sat down across her. After the entire incident with her almost death Ranma had encouraged Akane to lend be more intimate with the running of the house... the entire house. On things that Nabiki was sure would be much better without Akane.
Nabiki shuddered at what Akane had called tea. At least she managed to boil water. "Hand me your choices for the food this week." She held out her right hand impatiently, Akane obliged. Nabiki eyed the sloppily written order and sighed taking the inkwell and brush from Akane's already blackening hands.
"Look, Kodachi, I think we should slow down your eagerness to learn about the errands here." Nabiki almost groaned at the pleasure Akane showed from wanting to learn, Nabiki cleared her throat again. "You really don't need to learn how to cook --"
"But I want to learn." Akane protested vehemently.
Nabiki nodded, placing a hand to her forehead. "Let's take things a step at a time, okay?" There was another nod from Akane. "Good." Nabiki put the recipes and inkwell aside. "Down to the very bottom of your skills."
From the way Nabiki has seen her perform the past few days, it looked like she was going to be teaching a lot. She remembered Martial Arts of Wife in Good Graces and grimaced. It was good that Akane had forgotten the whole ordeal because Nabiki wasn't about to start on it again. "Now... what do you want to learn first?"
"Really?" Akane asked earnestly. Nabiki gave the girl a small nod, admiring her tenacity. "I want to be able to use a ki-blast."
Nabiki almost face-faulted. She had thought that she would choose something marital. "Uh... shouldn't you be asking Ranma about it?" She was uncomfortable, teaching Anything Goes was not her forte especially since she was particularly forbidden towards doing it with anyone other than the children.
"No." Akane shook her head stubbornly. "I want you to do it."
Nabiki felt another headache coming on. "You already utilized your ki when you tried to beat Ranma." Akane really did have quite the untapped potential underneath that unassuming face. "You can do it again. Is there anything else?"
"Um... well..." Akane looked at her toes. Nabiki started to think she was going to have to treat her as a child to get it out from her. Akane inched closer and whispered. Nabiki sighed already thinking of ways to pass it on to her brother. "Okay. We'll start tomorrow."
At that moment, Ranma walked in the room. Akane pulled away from Nabiki and blushed. Ranma raised an eyebrow and Nabiki said without looking at him. "Your wife is freaking me out."
Akane punched her on the side, although she had not understood what had passed, she sensed it was about her. Nabiki gave the woman a pointed glare and asked, "Do you want me to teach you or what?" She backed down after that.
"You're also freaking me out." Ranma commented to Nabiki as he looked at the two of them. "I think she's rubbing off on you, sis."
"Haha." Nabiki said sarcastically, then swirled the ink glumly. "You try to hold this house together with her ruining the ikebana, the food, the carefully planned meals... she's driving me crazy."
"Oookay." Ranma stopped to look at Akane who was now just trying hard to ignore them, then, deciding to take her off Nabiki's hands asked, "Akane, you want to do something?"
"You planning to tell her about everybody coming to visit on the first of January? He choked on the water that he had been drinking. He had forgotten. Typical. "Should you tell her, or shall I?
"Yes!" Akane answered ignoring the conversation in Chinese. "What are we going to do?"
"I will." Ranma turned to Akane, he hadn't quite made up his mind on what to do. He had forgotten what he had asked her because of the simultaneous conversation he held with Nabiki.
He stared at her a moment or two before Nabiki rescued him, "He was planning on a stroll on the beach. He said he wanted to show you Sagami Bay's sunset." Akane jumped up from the table in delight, and for a moment, you would have never thought she had been depressed.
Ranma followed her out then mouthed a small thank you to Nabiki. She nodded as she went back sifting through her papers. Staring at the blotches of ink Akane had made and sighed.
Her work was starting to triple with that woman helping around.
She was starting to wish she wasn't helping in the first place.
"Just beyond Enoshima is the Pacific..." Akane murmured at the thought, the sea breeze on her face. She shivered slightly, the last remaining warmth leaving with the sun. Another thought occurred to her as she waded in the water. She had tied her slippers around her neck and had gotten the bottom of her kimono wet, but she didn't mind. "What do you do in the village... in your nightly strolls."
"I see the people. How everything's doing." Ranma stayed at the shore to watch, and he looked like he wasn't joining her in the water soon. The water shifted from lukewarm to cold to lukewarm again. As if the water had strips in it that separated it through lines.
Akane bent down to pick up an interesting shell she could see from the top, there were small fish that swam about. The ocean was alive at the evenings, and sometimes you could even see a small crab jump out. m"Not to enjoy?"
He gave her a sidelong glance, then he sat down on the sand one hand resting on his knee, the other on the cooling sand. "You don't think I enjoy what I do?"
"I didn't mean that. I meant to break away."
"You stop being a child after five. That doesn't mean I stop living beyond five."
She didn't quite understand his cryptic answer, but she had pulled out of the shell and examined it in the pale orange that the sun was spreading on the horizon. She smiled as she dropped it back a hand on her ear as she smiled. "I think it's wonderful here, tell me what it's like in Nerima."
He looked at her from the sand and shrugged, although she couldn't see him do it. "It's like any normal city. It's the main point of the fief so there are a lot of people there. I keep most of the men there because mom and you are always in the city... but Nabiki and I usually stay here. Rose Brier works as a good fortress... it's on a cliff, and you can see who's approaching, one side is the bay and the next a sheer drop. Only two sides to protect one of which is a bridge that can be burned off." He stopped, thinking that he must be boring her of the tactics, and the fact that he might be giving himself tactical advantage away.
"Except that I haven't exactly been there, recently." Akane answered pointedly, he ignored her again, and she wondered how long he was going to. She raised her hand to splash him with the sea water. "How much water to change?"
"It's not exactly explainable." He muttered as he avoided the water cleanly raising his hands in defense, then remembering Nabiki's words he looked at her. "Mother's coming over for Ganjitsu."
New Year's Day, Akane had forgotten all about it. She had lost her sense of time when she had stepped into Rose Brier. It was usually a big family affair. She gulped again. "Will she be alone?"
"She's coming with her maid, an entourage of samurai." He shrugged, it was the usual practice. "Some friends... They're coming after Zeniarai. It's a big event, most of Kamakura will be there."
"Zeniarai? Money Cleansing?" Akane asked thoughtfully... that was to be held at the last 'snake' day of December.
The Zeniarai Benten Shrine had a large pool of water in the middle of its shrine that served the purpose of people washing money in it. Most do it because they hope that doing so will multiply their earnings for the year to come. It had a legend that the founder, Minamoto Yorimito had heard a divine message to use water for the medium of prayer to the gods.
It was one of the famous five waters of Kamakura. "How about the preparations for Ganjitsu?"
"Nabiki and I will take care of that." Ranma answered, not daring to think on what Akane would do to the decorations of the house. "You've seen the children?"
"How long have they been here?" It had been genuine concern. He didn't know how he could tell her that they've been in the house for a few days already.
"Some time," Ranma mumbled in way of explanation.
"So... what will I do?" She wanted to take part of the holiday. New Year's Eve has always been a happy occasion for their family even though they had been a small one. This time, she was going to experience one filled with people.
"Rest." She should have known that Ranma was going to say that. Ever since her depression, everybody had been treating her like glass. Him most of all.
It was during these times that she missed Ifuku the most. Ifuku had been a friend, and a constant companion. She had always tried to explain things to her when she was confused and she was fiercely loyal. Something Akane couldn't find in a town where everybody was sworn in to Ranma.
Those were also the reasons why she had let her leave for a while. She would know that something was wrong with her the moment that she had enacted her plan. In the end her plan had failed her because Nabiki had noticed.
She didn't know if she was happy or sad at that... Now she had made up her mind to live.
She sighed again, at least Ifuku was having fun on her sudden vacation.
Suddenly, a wave toppled her over, she managed to choke down salt water before Ranma managed to get from the send towards her location, fishing her out of the sea. He grinned at her, his eyes mischievous. "You know, you really should learn how to swim."
"I've given up trying." Akane muttered looking at her ruined kimono. That made two for the past week. Salt water didn't really help matters with clothes. "Don't tell me you're going to help me swim."
"Strip." Ranma said as he took off his shirt. He was still knee high in water and he had balled up the flimsy silk of his favorite red shirt to throw towards the shore.
She eyed him and the choppy water wearily, wondering if it really was safe to be alone with him in that kind of situation. She was about to voice her apprehension when another wave took her down, this time Ranma included.
Before Ranma-chan managed to stand up and then fish Akane out in the process. Ranma-chan shivered lightly at the cold night breeze and shook the salt water out of her eyes. "I should have kept the shirt on." Ranma-chan muttered while holding Akane closely, both for balance and to keep the girl from sinking on another wave. "Well come on, with your weak state, I'd just bet you'd catch a cold from all of this water."
Akane leaned on her until she finally found a foothold in the sand and grinned up to Ranma. "Thanks for the dunking, Ranma."
"I'm Rank--" The rest of the sentence was muffled by Akane's altwater kiss.
When Ranma-chan got enough bearings she pushed Akane away. "Not out in the open. And not when I'm a girl." She said vehemently before trudging forward to pick up the shirt she had thrown earlier to the shore.
She had asked Ranma that night if he really loved her... just so she knew where she stood.
Memory was a complicated thing. It could put things that had never happened in your heart if you believed in it, and though it may be a relative to truth, it was not necessarily its twin. She assumed he had answered no. There was no point in mindlessly seeking what you cannot have.
Ranma knelt beside her. "Did you know any meditation before?"
"Not really." Akane answered sheepishly as she sat down in the sand. Back when she had been teaching, it was her father who had emphasized meditation. She was more into the checking of the student's forms. She looked up at Ranma. "What now?"
Ranma motioned for Akane to sit before the sea. The waves had a
soothing sound and it always helped to have one's student focused before attempting anything else.
"I haven't taught chi before..." Ranma trailed off looking at her expectantly he wasn't really good at explaining himself. "So... we'll do this by feel."
"How were you taught?" Akane asked lightly.
Ranma remembered the training he went through with the Amazons and shook his head. "That was a long specialized process. They had me using my chi before I knew what it was, so the blasts came in easily. Since I don't think I can teach you Amazon techniques to prepare you for harnessing chi, we have to tackle it differently. Besides, the way we reach it is heavily dependent on personality and I don't know much of what motivates you yet."
"Oh." Akane said as she tried to find a comfortable arrangement. "Okay, so what now, sensei?"
Ranma looked at Akane, a bit startled at what she had called him. He let it pass since he was teaching her. "Close your eyes and focus on the darkness of the mind's eye." Ranma said then looked at her, she seemed to be choking out the beginnings of a giggle. "Come on take this seriously, I thought you wanted to learn this."
"Sorry." Akane whispered as she closed her eyes again, trying to focus. Ranma watched her a little impatiently. After awhile Akane's eyes fluttered open as she complained, "How am I supposed to know what's the darkness of the mind's eye is?"
Ranma gave her a frown. "Didn't I just say we go by feel? Let's try this again." Obediently Akane screwed her eyes shut and Ranma looked at her deciding that her degree of concentration was enough he whispered, "In that darkness you see a glowing light."
"In what color?" Akane asked immediately opening her eyes again.
"Are you going to interrupt me in everything I tell you to do?" Ranma asked in defeat.
Akane crossed her arms in front of her. "I can't understand why you can't see that I can't imagine these things with you telling me things that are half finished."
Stopping for a while Ranma sighed then gave her a long and hard look, "You're supposed to tell me what that light is, I'm not supposed to tell you because I don't know what you will take to." Akane was silent after that. "Now, will we continue without any interruptions or do you need a demonstration?"
"We'll continue?" She said in a tentative voice that was more of a question than a statement.
It took them three hours for her to get her focused enough again. Finally, she let out a sigh and looked at Ranma. "I can't believe this, the waves are distracting me."
Ranma threw up his hands. "I give up."
"You're just toying with me, aren't you?"
After serpent's Bluff
She started to reach for it but she took it back. "You jerk."
"What?" Ranma looked at her completely flabbergasted. "What did
I do this time?"
"I'd try to hit you if I knew I could." Akane retorted as she jumped down the first length of the cliff, she wobbled a bit and then clung on to the strips of vegetation that had grown on the outcropping. "Of all the insufferable things! You pathetic, stupid -ooh!" She jumped down another length and then balanced herself on the wall.
"Are you sure you can do that alone?" Ranma winced as some of the rocks tumbled from where she was standing on to the ground below. "I really don't understand --"
Akane threw a pebble at him, which landed squarely on his forehead. She was a bit surprised that he didn't block it and was more surprised over the fact that it hit him. She had never landed a blow against him, and she felt elated over her small victory. "That's right Ranma Saotome, you don't. Now leave me alone."
On her third jump Akane lost her footing and fell to the ground. She closed her eyes, bracing herself for the impact when someone's strong arms caught her. She didn't need to open her eyes to know who it was. Who else could it be?
"Let me down. I can walk."
Ranma obliged her, and she turned to walk back to Rose Brier, leaving Ranma looking after her bewilderedly.
Nabiki ordered all of the maids to clean up. Most of the preparations were finished and she had a few spare hours to look around the house. As she turned around the corner, however she was immediately ran over by a distraught looking Akane.
Rolling her eyes heavenward she muttered, "Leave Ranma to do something simple and he blunders completely." She heard a loud slam from the shoji and a succession of punches against what Nabiki thought was the pillow.
Stopping a maid she called for some towels, warm water and soap, which were all presented to her almost immediately. Walking towards Akane's room, she balanced the platter of things in her right hand to open the door. Setting the things down on the floor she took a brush from Kodachi's dresser and sat on the floor.
"I take it that the lesson didn't go as expected?" Nabiki asked arranging the water and towels neatly in front of her, taking her time to fix it in the most pleasing arrangement she could make. "Chi does take time to learn, Akane."
"Go away." Akane muttered, although she did not seem like she was crying, she sounded... wounded. "I don't need your sympathy Nabiki."
Nabiki raised an eyebrow. "Who said I was offering any?"
That got a reaction from Akane, who bolted up straight from the futon on which she was pounding and glared at Nabiki. "Then what are you doing here? I'd appreciate it if you would go away."
"I would, but I'd rather not spare you of my excruciating company." Nabiki said all of this in a rather light voice as she lifted Akane's chin and turned it from side to side. "What, no bruises? And I thought you were down because you had been hurt."
"If that's all Nabiki? I'd rather be spared from your acerbic tongue, thank you." Akane jerked her head away so Nabiki wouldn't be holding it
anymore. "Now please."
"Yes, if you would rather wallow in misery than in my company I would gladly oblige." Nabiki started moving the wash towards the small platter she had brought with her. "Our meal will be served in a stick. I do not think Yuka-san would appreciate it if you did not come to eat her specialty."
"I don't feel hungry." Akane answered.
"You are trying to kill yourself aren't you?" Nabiki asked a little harshly. "You've just been revived from your stint of depression and now you're trying so hard to die. I don't know why we even try."
"Then why do you?" Akane shot back, she was feeling a little testy and was lashing out at the closest person who could. "No one's forcing you anyway."
Nabiki closed her eyes and willfully calmed herself down. Fighting with Akane had not been her purpose when she had entered the room. She opened them slowly, hoping she had checked her temper. "Look, Akane, I know that I don't exactly come off as the comforting type, but I am all
you have right now. It would be beneficial if you told me exactly why you have come home like this when my brother was just supposed to do a simple exercise."
"Leaving? And leaving handling Ranma all to me?" Nabiki laughed. Although she didn't mean that Ranma was a pain to handle, it seemed to have the desired effect on Akane. She was paying attention. "You must be joking. Why? You can't just simply pack up and go, Akane. There must be a reason, because without it you won't be able to leave. Ranma won't let you."
"It's what he wanted isn't it?"
Nabiki looked hard at Akane. "I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it. Emotions do blind the eye and dull the wit, don't they? Exactly what happened?"
Sighing, Akane retold her experience that afternoon up from when they left the house, towards the evening when she returned. There was a weird smile playing on Nabiki's face when Akane ended, and Akane was unsure what it was for.
"My brother really does know how to pick his fights, doesn't he?" Pushing the bowl of water in front of Akane, Nabiki offered her a smile. "Here wash your face, and dry up. Soak in the furo if you must."
"You do understand me, don't you Nabiki?" Akane asked as she took the bowl from the woman's hands.
"Yes. But try to understand as well, my brother has had that infernal curse of getting his foot in his mouth since we were children. It's an irritable quality most men in my family posses." She nodded. She extremely hated it when there were misunderstandings under her watch. They brought her more migraines than she could count. "You don't need to hurry, I'll send a maid to help you."
"No... really, I don't need help." Akane protested.
Nabiki turned to look at her for a moment then went out the shoji. "Protest does not become you, Lady Akane." With that, she disappeared from Akane's sight. True to her word, she sent up one maid after her while she searched for her wayward brother.
Stepping out onto the garden, she looked up to the roof and found him brooding there. "Predictable as always, brother." Nabiki murmured as she jumped up to sit beside him.
Ranma turned to look at her when she landed and gave her a skeptical look. "Don't tell me you're up here for a lecture Nabiki, because I'm in no mood for one."
Taking her time, Nabiki touched the mark in the middle of his forehead. The bruise would have taken longer to heal had he been someone else, but now she already saw the sickly yellow and black that told her it was already healing.
"I take it she told you." Nabiki slapped the bruise lightly and she was rewarded by his pained expression. "Now what did you do that for, Nabiki?" Ranma glared at her rubbing the sore spot.
"Sometimes I really wonder at you, Ranma." Nabiki murmured, as if nothing had happened, ignoring his protest at her small tap. "I have a disappointed woman downstairs and it doesn't take the most clever samurai to realize why."
"Why?" Ranma asked frowning at
her knowing he just had to ask the question of her. "And you're taking her side in this."
"Of course I am. It was your insensitive comment that got you into this. It's you who's going to get yourself out." Nabiki gave him a brief smile that implied she loved knowing something that he didn't. "You're going to have to figure why she's hurt all by yourself, Ranma. How the hell are you going to keep her if you don't know her?"
"You're starting to sound like a spoiled child, Saotome. I'm not going to be here forever to tell you what exactly you're doing wrong in your marriage." Nabiki stood up to leave again. "I know it goes against your nature to -- god forbid -- apologize, so do what you must then. You took her to the Serpent's Bluff. That was a nice start if you didn't foul up at the last minute. I wish you luck."
For the second time that day, Ranma was left staring.
Ranma found himself in front of Akane's door -- again. He was starting to hate the arrangement,
and the feeling of guilt he had whenever he tried to knock on the door. From someone who usually was so self-assured, this alien feeling scared him immensely, especially since he found himself in the situation in more times than he could count.
"How many times can you stand in front of a door and try to knock without succeeding anyway?" Ranma muttered to himself as he tried to stare the door down. "This is ridiculous."
He was starting to walk towards his room, when Akane turned around the corner. She slowed down immediately when she spotted him and then halted completely a few feet away. She looked like she was fresh from a bath, a maid followed her shortly but upon seeing Ranma the maid bowed and backed away.
Frowning at her lack of control on the situation Akane was torn between wanting to turn back and leave Ranma in the corridor or rush towards her room. It was entirely too school-girlish a reaction and so she stood her ground.
It took a while before Ranma could say anything. "Akane, would you like to accompany me tonight?"
"No, thank you." Akane answered with the same amount of hostility as when she had demanded to walk. She started for her room and Ranma began panicking.
He took her arm lightly so that she wouldn't leave. "Some of the townspeople have arranged some sort of party in town tonight. It isn't much like what you saw before, but it is going to be... festive." She opened her mouth but didn't give her a chance to say no. "It's two days away from Ganjitsu. People are already starting to hang decorations and tomorrow they leave for the money-cleansing shrine."
"Go take yourself." Akane muttered. "Nobody will notice I'm not there anyway."
He let her go and whispered, "I will."
Akane stopped walking, but didn't turn around to face him. She lacked the courage to do so. He had managed to say the words that would make her agree to coming. "Okay, fine. I'll go with you, but this doesn't mean I've forgiven you. Just give me some time to get ready." With that, she entered her room.
Ranma sighed. The hard part was over.
'Now all I have to do is organize a peasant's party before she finishes dressing up.'
"You didn't!" Nabiki protested as she stopped in the center of Kamakura her brother had just finished retelling everything he had done. Nabiki was starting to believe she had accused the wrong person of being crazy. Everyone was busy hanging their decorations that they hardly noticed the twins' presence. "You do realize this is almost impossible."
"The difference of possible and impossible lies in the student's determination." Ranma answered cockily quoting Cologne, he then brought his fingers to his lips for a shrill whistle to get everybody's attention. All of the festivities stopped and everyone immediately bowed. "Since it is New Year's Eve in two days and my mother will be coming I was hoping that we'd start the festivities today with a small gathering. But if you can't do it..."
"I said it was almost impossible. I never said it couldn't be done." Nabiki winked as she turned to the people. "Actually my brother has gotten his big mouth in a mess again and he needs your help to right his mistakes. Who will not be leaving for the Money-Cleansing ritual tomorrow?"
Ranma grinned, he knew Nabiki couldn't resist starting on a challenge.
A few of the peasants raised their hands. None of the merchants did. "Okay, among the merchants and traders, whose house has already finished preparations for the new year?"
Many of the hands went up, Nabiki's eyes glinted as she chose the richest man on the merchant classy. "We'll hold tonight's festivities at your house, Tanashi-san. You'll be compensated by me tonight or by Sasuke tomorrow evening. Get your house ready for the entire Kamakura. Get a long table for the food to be deposited." With a wave of a hand, he was dismissed and he ran towards his house.
She turned to Ranma. "Brother, do you want to get yourself into trouble again? Go get your wife and stall we'll be ready in a stick."
"Make it half a stick." Ranma gave her a smile as he took off.
"If you can't keep the goddamn woman busy before the first fireworks hit the air, I will seriously doubt your ability to keep that wife of yours!"
"And if you can't do this in half a stick, I will seriously doubt your skills in managing Kamakura!" He gave her a cheery wave that Nabiki knew should have infuriated her.
Nabiki gave a very unlady-like snort then focused back on the people. "Every food vendor has to produce three platters of whatever dish they can serve and a bottle of sake. Be ready in half a stick. Bring it to Tanashi-san's residence. All of you will be compensated. Each and every food vendor should be told."
She knelt in front of a little boy. "Do you know where we could get fireworks lad?" The boy nodded and Nabiki smiled picking out money from the string that she brought she handed it to the boy. "Go and get some to Tanashi-san's residence. Tell him to fire one when the celebration is ready."
She took another coin from her purse. "And this one is for you." The boy's eyes widened at the amount of money that had been handed down to him. Most probably he had not seen so much before. "Remember, don't cheat me boy. I know how much my money is worth."
The wide-eyed boy nodded and ran to fulfill his task.
Picking ten peasants she smiled. "Now you have to inform the rest of Kamakura of Tanashi-san's little party. Tell them it's not necessary to bring gifts. Just be there." She picked at the man at the beginning. "You start down the farthest residential area and move across towards the center."
Nabiki gave out instructions for the entire night and glared pointedly at Rose Brier all the while. 'If Ranma messes this one up, I really don't know what I'd do.'
Akane tapped her foot against the tatami. By Sara's count she had circled the room thirty-seven times. Sara was already starting to get dizzy following the girl when she stopped. "What the hell is taking Ranma so long?"
Usually dressing up was easy. Akane wasn't really a flashy type that needed a lot of make-up and another hour for checking her hair. This time, it felt like she had suffered through an eternity. Sara had insisted on dressing her up in the most formal garb she could find.
That consisted of a kimono and another hundred of under kimonos with it. Akane brought her foot down when the girl tried to tie her knees together. It had taken another long wait for Sara to fix her hair just the way she wanted it and yet another for her to find the accessories.
Through her long dress up session, she had thought Ranma was getting tired of waiting. Thirty minutes after she dressed up, she found out her husband wasn't even at home.
"Don't worry, my lady. I'm sure Lord Ranma is just preparing to look nice. It's a night out with the people." Sara offered to placate her mistress. Akane just frowned at that, it wasn't helping her temper that she had waited so long for him to arrive anyway.
Akane was about to open her mouth for a retort when there was a knock from the shoji. "Come in!"
The shoji slid open silently and Ranma stepped in. Ranma offered a hand to her. "Shall we go?"
"You're late." She whispered as she took his hand and followed him outside her room. "I thought you said half a stick."
"Things are a little bit complicated." Ranma answered as he led her out of the house through the garden. "I had to fix a few things... Are you still mad at me?"
"Should I be?" Akane whispered as she walked along the garden taking the sight of the roses, she placed her hand on one of the bushes and plucked one of the black roses inhaling the scent. "The flowers bloom beautifully at night."
Not knowing what to say, Ranma kept silent as he watched her place the rose where her hair was gathered into a pony tail. It was the first time he had seen her wear her namesake since her amnesia.
"You're quiet tonight." Akane turned back to face Ranma and smiled. "Should I be worried?"
"I thought I might say something to offend you again." Ranma smiled ruefully and then looked at the sky. Although they hadn't done anything today, the day had worn him out. "You're too sensitive nowadays."
"And you speak out of turn." Akane pointed out, then playfully took his hand into hers and tugged him to the path that leads toward residential area. "Come on, your vassals must be getting impatient waiting for you."
Another look at the sky and Ranma shook his head. "Not just yet, they can wait a little longer. Sometimes they all want a little time for themselves before they need Nabiki and I."
Akane whirled around and dropped his hand. "Nabiki is coming along?"
Ranma placed his hands behind his neck and continued looking at the sky, not noticing the change in Akane's demeanor. "Yeah, it's as much her party as it is mine."
"I thought this was about us." Akane started backing slowly. "Will you stop looking at the sky and look at me?"
Ranma snapped back to attention and dropped his hands to his side. "I'm -- It's a Rose Brier thing, Akane. Of course Nabiki is in it."
"Fine." Akane sighed, not really expecting it, but realizing that she should have. She knew she shouldn't be jealous, but Nabiki was the closest person Ranma had and even she couldn't rival that. "I just thought this was our night together."
"So... you're still mad at me?" Ranma asked tentatively.
"We'll see." The garden was illuminated by the stream of red and white sparkles. Akane looked up and smiled. "The night is still young."
"Come on," Ranma answered as he walked down the path. "Let's go."
Ranma was sipping sake. It was the first time Nabiki had seen her brother willingly take a gulp. She almost laughed. Of the two of them, Nabiki could handle her drink better than Ranma. He kept away from it, especially since Nabiki could beat him easily once she got him sufficiently drunk.
That did not take much time.
She took the small cup from him.
He glared at her.
She almost laughed again. Her brother was a gem. "Do stop complaining Ranma."
"I'm not complaining." He grumbled as he tried to rest his head against the shoji. He was restless. He was itching for a fight he knew he couldn't have.
Nabiki turned to look at the floor to watch Akane. "She's doing quite well for someone who doesn't know how to dance." Nabiki hummed the snatch of music that the samisen was playing.
"She's a klutz." Ranma muttered, folding his arms stubbornly across his chest.
"Oh?" Nabiki raised an eyebrow, forcefully hiding a slow smile that was threatening to burst out from her. If there was one thing she could be sure of, it was that her brother was easily pushed into jealousy. And jealousy made him irrational. "Exactly how is she a klutz?"
"She brings her hands way too high and she thrusts her hips to much to the side and..." Ranma went on a litany of his wife's flaws. Nabiki thought it was a litany of ways his wife tried to get close to other men. Which she found absurd.
"Akane is doing fine." Nabiki patted her brother's shoulder in comfort. By the way he was glaring daggers at Akane. You would think he had not planned this whole gathering in the first place.
"She irritates the hell out of me." Ranma muttered blowing his bangs out of his eyes. It made him look childish.
"You think you can do better?" Nabiki asked pointedly.
"Of course!" Ranma almost shouted that out.
Nabiki gave him a wide smile pulled him closer to her and whispered, "Then go show her how it's supposed to be done." She gave him a push towards where Akane was and gave him a slow wink.
He stared at her. 'The daft man is going to get himself into trouble again.' Nabiki thought to herself. But she knew Ranma. He would not back down from this one. He had been challenged.
She also knew one more thing about her brother.
He didn't know this particular dance.
Akane smiled graciously at her partner and gave a small bow. The man blushed and was reduced to a stuttering idiot in minutes.
Akane thought he was being adorable.
Ranma thought he was being stupid.
Akane was about to walk towards their host when Ranma took her arm. She looked up at him and gave a small smile. "I thought we're still agreed on being mad at each other."
"I thought we're agreed to do the best for tonight."
Akane nodded as she gave him a small bow. "I don't think we should be dancing with each other, Ranma. I only know the western dances and you only know Japanese ones."
"So I've noticed." Ranma turned at Akane's last partner. Then back at Akane. He had not known where she had time to pick up dancing of all things, but she seemed to know what she was doing. "Your partners seem to learn quickly."
"They were slow dances." There was a twinkle in her eyes as she raised it to meet his. "I was prepared to do more of the energetic ones. But since you can't oblige me..."
"Are you saying my vassals are better than I am?" Ranma demanded, although his voice was low, it was even. Akane understood he took her words as an insult. She also knew it was his pride talking.
There was no music in the air. Everyone had stopped to watch them, to watch the entire reason for this whole gathering in the first place. A last minute serenade for Ranma to keep his wife.
She was determined not to dance with him. "No, I'm saying you can't take this dance."
She turned to walk away when Ranma caught her arm and spun her to face him. "I thought I told you never to turn your back on me when I'm talking to you." He whispered.
She openly glared at him. Then she smiled. "Okay, have it your way."
Nabiki had to smile at what she was watching. At the beginning had almost given up on Ranma. He really didn't know what he was doing. He had stepped on her three times.
Her brother didn't take humiliation well. That didn't mean he wasn't doing something about it either. Soon after he had seen the rhythm, his movements became fluid, more graceful. She had to applaud, it had taken him one minute to learn the entire from her.
They weren't moving to the music.
They completely ignored it.
That's probably the reason why the musicians stopped playing after a while. That, and to watch the couple move. Whatever western dance this one was, the samisen isn't the instrument that would complement the extremely fast dueling that was happening in front of her. Although Ranma wasn't perfect in his movement, he was making fewer mistakes. Nabiki assumed he probably thought of it as martial arts.
"I wouldn't put it past him to think of Martial Arts dancing." Nabiki muttered as she sipped the warm sake. She stopped after her third cup. Druken-fu wasn't something she enjoyed. She hated the hangover. She had learned it for the reason of knowing what it was and to glean knowledge from it. Still it came in handy when she did find herself drunk.
They stopped dancing in front of her.
It took a while for them to register they haven't moved a bit from their position when they had stopped and stepped away from each other. Akane was quite breathless and Nabiki was sure it wasn't from the strain.
Nabiki took one look at Ranma and another short look at Akane raised her eyebrow and drawled, "Are you sure the two of you are fighting?"
"Yes." Came the simultaneous reply. Nabiki shrugged as she stood up. "Well I'm going to eat. I thought you were planning on soothing her, Ranma. I've got news for you: This isn't working." She smiled at Ranma and then Akane and left.
Ranma sighed and looked at Akane. "Does everything have to be a competition with you?"
"No." Akane answered as she walked towards the open shoji. "It's you who competes for everything Ranma. You always have to win, in martial arts, in dancing, in life ..." she trailed off for a second and looked at him. "In love."
"No... that's not true..." Ranma answered indignantly his pigtail standing on the end. "I'm not competing for anything. I can lose." The moment the words left him he felt trapped. His training under Genma had been too ingrained that it surfaced everywhere. It was be the best or be nothing, because there is no respect for finishing second.
Akane smiled as she turned her back to him and leaned against him slightly, "See? I'm not fighting with you Ranma. It's just that I'm always backed into a corner with you... I always feel like I have to prove myself because you have a preconceived notion of me."
He placed his hands on her shoulders. "Do you think I enjoy fighting with you? It's like I'm trying to guess whatever makes you feel happy and I'm always making the wrong guesses."
Turning her head to the side so that her face was touching his hands Akane sighed. "You still doubt me after I told you that I love you? At least I'm honest with you. You on the other hand you don't give me any proof. You think you're second guessing me? How do you think I feel?"
"This isn't working is it?" Ranma whispered as he took his hands away from her shoulders and turned her around to face him. "You're still as mad at me as when we left the house."
"Oh Ranma," Akane whispered as she slowly shook her head. "This isn't about that anymore. I was so sure you loved me, before you left for Nerima. So sure. Then you come back to me as cold as the day I woke up from my amnesia. This isn't any way to live. I'm forever steeping around you hoping that I won't make a mistake."
Ranma let go of her, not really knowing what to say. Sure that he was going to lose her if he said nothing, yet unsure of how to respond to the situation. In the end, he decided that saying nothing would be better than saying something he would regret later.
What Akane wanted was reassurances that he cannot give, because he was uncertain about what was happening as well. After a moment, he shrugged, and in that instant, he knew that he wasn't going to be able to keep her.
"Then what keeps me here, Ranma? I told you before... I can't wait forever."
"Don't tell me. You argued again." Nabiki deadpanned as her brother sat down unceremoniously beside her and watched as the people continued milling about. "These people need rest, Ranma. I know the pretense is a party but these people have had a long day. They're looking forward to tomorrow's festivities and some of them are still going to work."
Ranma nodded, knowing that the night had to end. It just didn't have to end the way he wanted it to. "Am I a jerk, Nabiki?"
Nabiki stared at Ranma, looked at her drink, blinked twice, then stared at Ranma again. "I'm sorry, I don't think I heard you right, did you just ask me if you were a jerk?"
Nabiki tipped her head to one side, then slowly nodded. "Well... yes. As a matter of fact, you are." Ranma banged his head on the low table once and Nabiki grinned. "Oh you are soooooooooo easy to tease. Come on let's go get her."
As Ranma stood up to look for Akane, Nabiki went to Tanashi and paid him the sum they owed for letting them use the location for their little 'party'. By the time Nabiki was finished with the transaction, Ranma had managed to circle the entire house. "She's nowhere."
Nabiki lifted her eyebrow at Ranma. "You're looking for your wife?"
"Who else?" Ranma deadpanned.
Nabiki cracked a smile and pointed towards the room Ranma hadn't checked. "Your wife was tired from your argument she decided to lock herself up in a nice cozy room."
Ranma strode towards the room and opened the shoji silently. "Oh man..."
Nabiki peered over his shoulder to see Akane sleeping peacefully on one of the spare tatami. "All this between the time I left her and came to you?" Ranma asked incredulously.
"Looks like she's dead to the world." Nabiki muttered as she peered over the woman. "Better forget you had an argument and carry her home, Ranma."
Ranma sighed as he took Akane into his arms and nodded to Nabiki. "You done here? 'Cuz I think mom said she'll be arriving today."
"Isn't she a bit early?" Nabiki eyed him suspiciously. "You forgot to tell me didn't you."
"I had a lot on my mind." Ranma mumbled as Akane muttered something in her sleep. "I'm sorry."
"Your wife constitutes as a lot." Nabiki answered then shrugged. "Oh well, time for another quick set up. I'll go on ahead of you, Ranma.
If Nabiki knew what Ranma planned before hand, she must be dying with curiosity by now. But her face was schooled towards the children, and she kept their attention busy with the fireworks and the bell.
"I was imagining what kind of woman's life i was leading. i wanted to know whose sins i was paying for, just how could someone be loathed as much as you are. Do you take pride in torturing other people Kodachi."
"I woulh think by now you would know the answer to that."
wondering where to send someone who didn't have any other place to go but here.
Wondering where he would find the strength to let her go.
Ranma came out of the room he'd met Sohin in just as Akane was rounding the corner.. There was no one in the halls since everyone was out celebrating ganjitsu in the dojo. The halls were devoid of all servants and samurai and it cast a silence that she had not associated with Rose Brier. She opened her mouth to call out to him, but in the next second all he knew was that their lips touched and they both were unable to pull away. It was then that he realized that whatever was between the two of them had become something beyond control.
She leaned back against one of the wooden posts as he moved forward, her hands on his hair and his on the small of her back. He gave her everything and took everything from her.
And then he pulled away, moved back from her swiftly without breaking momentum. Without a word, he turned towards the other side of the hallway and left.
Akane opened her mouth in protest and in frustrated anger, but she closed it again realizing that there was nothing more to say. That moment told her with alarming clarity that he'd decided she was going to leave. That there was something between them this strong, but just as the kiss, wordless and could not be captured again.
He was married, this was all that he was willing to give her. He was now sending her away.
As soon as Ranma managed to acquire hot water, he changed and informed the Tendo siblings of Akane's whereabouts. He spent some time explaining to his sister and the Tendo siblings what had happened but was finally able to break away from all the guests that were awake at that ungodly hour. He managed to arrive in his room without walking into anyone other than the maids.
Stripping off his shirt, Ranma gratefully fell on the futon, dangling his black shirt on his fingers. It had dried some while before, in the middle of his tired insistence to the head of the Tendo clan that Akane was all right. The night was chilly, but after moving around, he was moderately warm and his shirt was decidedly filthy. He wanted a bath, but he was more tired than he was dirty and going to the bath seemed too much work now that he was settled.
He sighed willing himself to fall into sleep, but sleep never came easy to him, especially so soon after a fight. Adrenaline was still high in his system because of the night's events. He rolled over to his side only to find out that he was definitely not alone in his quarters.
"I was wondering when you'd notice me," Akane whispered. She was wearing a white yukata. It made her easy to see in the dark, for the white caught the reflection of the silvery wisps of the moon from his small window. Her hair spilled loosely around her shoulders.. The stark contrast of her hair against the white made her seem almost surreal.
Ranma attributed his lack of attention to weariness but didn't move from his position from the futon. He didn't want to find out if his control would waver in front of her. "I thought I requested you leave without meeting," he reminded her, closing his eyes to pretend sleep or even half sleep.
She walked closer and knelt before the futon, her hair barely touching his skin, as she peered at him. "I wanted to see you," her words hung in the air. (tin by now I am irritated by akane and speak nabiki's words again. If you do not understand what it means then you are not worthy of him. Think about it┘family breaker! She lived in time where marriage was important and sacred. She should have misgivings about this! Especially when she's a very principled, highly self-righteous girl.)
Ranma opened his eyes in irritation. That was his first mistake. She was looking down on him, her hair spilling over, her eyes looking down into his, hands on either side of his shoulders. Although he knew he probably could throw her out, he felt trapped. He weighed his words before replying, "You leave early tomorrow."
She leaned closer. Ranma felt the first pangs of panic though she never made contact. She was just hovering there, her cheek barely touching his, her breath hot against his ear. Moving her cheek agonizingly slow against his, she closed her eyes as she almost, but not quite, touched her lips against his chin. The only contact she made as she mimicked the moves of touching his face was when her eyelashes brushed his jaw, when her nose was almost hovering at his neck.
Ranma's arm shot out to push her away, but he only succeeded in making her look up into his eyes. "What could have been, but never was," she whispered and when Ranma began to formulate his protest, Akane leaned down and settled her lips over his.
He finally managed to push her away. "What do you want Akane? Torture? Because what you're doing will haunt us both for the rest of our lives."
"When I wanted to leave, you kept me here." There was desperation in her voice, tinged with anger. "You have no business asking me to leave now that you've made me want to stay."
"You think this is easy for me?" he demanded, wanting her to understand the choice he was forced to make. "I've lived until now because I didn't know any way else to live, because I didn't know what life could be like. I knew no happiness, but life was constant. You tempt me with things I cannot afford to have."
"I forgot you hold your honor like a shield," Akane whispered accusingly as she slowly withdrew. "You would never take me because I am not your wife, even if you want me." Proudly she stood, and left the room as silently as she had stolen in.
Ranma rubbed his hand against his face, knowing that any chance of sleep was not much of a possibility now. He fervently wished that his pride had not prevented him from taking the first and last good look at her. He objected to the reasons she accused him of having. 'No. Not because you're not my wife. It's because I'm not your husband.'
He didn't want to see her, not because he didn't care, but because he feared that the small amount of will he harbored would crumble at her sight. That he would be unwilling to let her go. He didn't want to test his character with her.
Even now, all he wanted to do was beg her to stay. But he couldn't. He has an entire fiefdom to protect. He had the entire Sagami to protect. He could not leave Sagami, and Akane could not stay in Sagami with him. One of them had to leave.
And he wished that it didn't have to be her.
but took one of the other swords she kept by the sword rack slinging it against her waist. Nabiki didn't know that Kodachi owned swords, but it worked to her advantage. At least no one could cry foul saying that Kodachi used an unfamiliar sword. "Ranma's happiness would be my victory."
"Do I? Lady Akane, I was wrong in ordering you away." Nabiki slowly went closer and bowed deeply to Akane, the most humble she has ever been in front of anyone. "Had circumstances been different... I believe my brother was... pleased with you."
"So pleased that he doesn't want me." Akane said placing her hand on Nabiki's shoulder in a sign for her to stand and then slowly turning away towards one of the smaller rooms to hide the extreme sadness the thought has brought upon her.
her own. "The problem here, Ranma, is that you're too busy holding on to your unworthiness. You should allow yourself to be happy once in a while."
Ranma looked at it and her unbelieving. "You know what the problem is with you, Nabiki? You're too convinced about your own unhappiness."
"And what about her?" Nabiki asked solemnly, knowing that he would regret not coming back for Akane when he had the chance. Yet, he was forcefully not acknowledging the subject. "What do you propose to do with her now that you're not married?"
Ranma had that determined look on his face. Nabiki was sure that no words of hers would sway him. "I've given her to her brother. I wouldn't take her back now."
"I understood that it would take time. But she will not wait for you forever." Nabiki shook her head. "No matter, we'll talk about this again. Stay here, get some rest. I'll take your place with the vassals moving."
"Sohin and I will wash up and fetch water from the nearby stream, my lady." And before Akane could protest their absence, they were both on their way out.
"Have you come to get me?" Akane asked slowly. Ranma looked up from the bamboo ladle to find her looking away. It was difficult to look at a man that she had depended on for a year, that she had fallen in love for a year and realize that she could not be with him anymore.
He placed the ladle down before answering her. "No. I have promised your brother that you will return to Tendo land with him and I will not break my word." If only everything was that easy. If only he could take her back with him. But he had given his word, and his battle was not over yet.
"Sohin promises some Tendo allies beyond Saotome borders. He says that some have been rooted as far as here to escape Lady Chisei's power." She closed her eyes, and Ranma wondered if she knew just how she was going to be used in this entire war the Tendos were going to wage.
"I'm sorry. I cannot be what you want me to be." Ranma entreated, although he regretted it the moment he said it. It was a sign of weakness to admit that he wanted to become what she wanted.
Akane finally looked at him in the eye. "That's the problem with you, Ranma. You make assumptions of what I want. You never seem to realize that I just--" she stopped before she could complete her sentence. 'I just want you to take me home. How would that have sounded to him?'
"Be that as it may. I am on my way to Happosai to set some matters straight." Ranma clenched his fist, just thinking about the meeting. He certainly could not take her before that meeting ended. He barely knew if he was going to survive it. "I am not in the position to take you anywhere."
"Why are you moving from Rose Brier to Nerima?" Akane demanded to know, as though she was still lady of the household. "What has happened? Nabiki told me it was for you to tell me."
'So Nabiki didn't inform her,' Ranma thought looking out the window which Nabiki had escaped earlier that evening. He thought from all of Nabiki's actions to bring him and Akane together, that she would pre-empt this. He silently thanked his sister for giving him time to think it over. "I can't say anything right now because I don't know what's going to happen to me."
"You selfish idiot." She hit his arm hard with her fist several times, a dull pounding he barely felt but let her do. "And you telling me this will supposedly make me feel better? Now that I don't know what's going to happen to you?"
"You're with your family now," Ranma reminded her, gesturing towards the door that Ifuku and Sohin were standing against just moments before. "What happens to me is inconsequential. I have enough worries of my own. I am going to face Happosai tomorrow, and hell, he might sign my death warrant. He may be wrong, he may be a lecherous pervert and hell he might be worse than that, but we Saotomes are his playthings because he practically owns us. Going to him because he played around with our lives like a chessboard does not suddenly make the world turn and make him wrong, because he has the power to be right even though he isn't."
"And you want me to be all happy because you left me with my family when you're going against that man?" Akane gave his arm a final pound before he lifted her right fist away from his shoulder. "Are you insane?"
'Why can't you just agree to this Akane? Why does everything have to be difficult with you?' Ranma moved away and turned his back on her. "I am going to deal with this my way."
"Just like you dealt with Kodachi, huh?" Akane asked softly. "I guess after all this time I asked you why you've never divorced her I would understand why you chose her over me. Tell me, is being with her making you happy?"
Ranma's throat constricted, he didn't want to tell her Kodachi was dead because if she knew she'd just be hurt that he wasn't seeking her out for marriage. But he didn't want to lie to her either. In the end, he didn't answer. His back was presented to her, knowing that he was a poor liar. "I'm leaving soon. I have to meet my sister in Nerima today. We have to be solid when we appear in front of Happosai." It was times like these that they absolutely cannot be divided. Whenever an issue was important, the twins always stood together when addressing Happosai, it lent the situation gravity.
"My good bye." Akane whispered again.
Ranma took a long time before he could answer. "Why are you doing this?"
"What are you afraid of? I've always asked this of you." Akane asked slowly trying to look into his eyes straight on. 'End this with how it started.'
Akane touched her lips and then gently moved on to her ear willing his warmth to remain. But she knew this was their final goodbye. There would be no more second chances... and that kiss had been the sweetest and the most painful way to say goodbye.
she ignored the question but looked around the house in inspection. "is this how normal people live?"
"what do you mean?"
"people who aren't daimyo. People who aren't heirs," she clarified.
"people who aren't me?" he teased, but she nodded seriously so he straightened himself seriously. "yeah, pretty much. This is a small place though. Just enough for two people
"no, no. Don't apologize.""i don't think i could let you go, if you do."
"so how do we end this, Ranma?
She knew that this was their last moments together. She moaned, wanting more than what he would give her but Ranma withdrew bringing his lips close to her ear whispering, "Sayonara." And then he was gone. As suddenly as he had come, all lost within the blink of an eye.
"It was for my own safety that I have been kept away for the better part of two years. My brother said that it would be wise if I played dead for a while, I had been grievously wounded the last time Chisei's samurai and I fought," A great lie, however, it was much easier to digest than the truth. Her being a descendant several hundred of years removed would be a great impossibility to explain, even if she did currently reside in her ancestor's body.
"I would hope that Uncle Ayame had remained closer to the borders but he's farther North." Yuki murmured, mentioning one of the more influential Tendo leaders that had been forced to vacate the lands. "We'll have to settle for those who're between us and Tendo land."
"What's the rush?" Akane asked unwittingly.
Sohin looked at her sharply before he remembered the unique circumstances that Akane had brought to them. He had to admire her for her ability to keep pace with them. Because Ifuku and Sohin grew up together, they knew how each other thought, and Yuki was a child clearly brought up with the care of the two of them seeing the child's ease with his companions.
"The new year's celebration." Ifuku whispered, her voice barely audible in the sleet of rain that was attacking them. "It will end in another four days. The samurai would be in full force again."
Akane looked apprehensive but seemed to fully support the idea. "There's nothing... dishonorable about attacking at the new year celebrations?"
Sohin laughed stopping
momentarily from the brisk pace that they had been using. They had not taken to the trees for Akane did not know the skill and the rain made the branches too slick for footholds. "I'm just repaying the favor, sister."
Ifuku gave Sohin a disapproving look before she turned to Akane. "You forget easily because you were young then." Words spoken for the benefit of Yuki's ears. "We were banished at ganjitsu, Akane. Father had died a few weeks before. A start of the year, a start of a new rule."
Sanuki has long awaited your return, Eruchii. Chisei will marvel at the likeness if you get to see her. You have managed to evade pursuit because only few samurai that knew you were willing to hunt you. Chisei brought a new order with her, new samurai a new rule.
Your people have long awaited your return."
"I imagine Sanuki has forgotten about me," Sohin muttered under his breath.
Akane pointed towards one of the trees in the roadside. "Look Ifuku-san, it's fruit bearing trees!" Akane said eagerly as she looked from the base of the tree up to the dotted red in teh leaes.
Ifuku looked uneasey as both Sei and Yuki eagerly stood up from their resting place and pointed at one tree to Akane.
Sohin was behind them giving Yuki a leg up while Akane scrambled up to get her prize.
You've come to take her back
Am I that obvious?
You're married: make her consort?
My wife is dead
I cannot give you my sister back while we're in the middle of a war.
I gave yopu men for battle what more? I cannot fight for you it'll show signs that your beginning rule is weak, dependent on my benevolence. Establishment of sovereignty
I propose: fight me
Akane stepped up to him before slapping him in the face. Ranma stared at her in disbelief.
"What did you expect?" Akane asked vehemently as she rubbed her hands against her arms. She had not expected to see him. She had not been prepared to be handed over either. "You ditch me for that maniac and now we're back to where we started... Just what kind of lady do you think I am?"
"One who doesn't believe in pulling her punches," Ranma muttered ruefully as he rubbed his cheek.
knowing that the news her brother relayed about Kodachi's demise was Ranma's story to tell. Even Nabiki held her tongue and she had been given the chance to reveal it to the girl.
"But I've just found you. You're my family now."
"Akane," Ifuku said as she bent hear head down to join her brother on the floor. "Saotome-sama's not going to come back here. Nabiki wrote that he's unhappy. I think you could change that. You managed to do it when you were Kodachi, you could do it now that you're you."
"And no matter how much he may deny it, he cares for you deeply." Sohin said letting go of her hands. "The only reason why he let you come with us is becuase
Ifuku looked at Akane thoughtfully wondering if it was a good idea to interrupt her from her thoughts. Akane was sitting on the edge of the porch flipping a small item glinting in the light in her hands.
She was so absorbed with what she was doing that she barely noticed it when Ifuku sat down beside her. "You know, there are worse things than going back to Sagami with Saotome-sama."
Akane almost dropped the object, but had clasped it so tightly before looking at Ifuku perplexed. Though they weren't really siblings, they had become friends in the short time that Ifuku coached Akane. "I don't think I can go back to that life now."
"You didn't want to leave." Akane winced at the words Ifuku were saying. "You've hanged on to his offering of forever. It's sad when forever lasts only three months."
"I gave up all of my pride when I went to him, and I accepted the offer because I thought we might never meet," Akane answered clasping the small pin that she had been toying with, a while ago. "And now, I realize I'm scared. I'm scared that he might refuse me a second time when I don't have a legitimate excuse to stay away. But more importantly, I'm scared of going back."
Ifuku cocked her head to one side, "Akane, anything that is ultimately worthwhile initially scares people."
Akane broke into a smile playfully whispering, "You make that sound like you know everything, Ifuku."
"But I do know everything." Ifuku laughed teasing Akane, trying to bring a smile into her face.
Akane groaned. "That makes it worse."
"Come on, my lady. You've just been engaged. Wouldn't it be wise to prepare yourself to meet your groom?"
Akane sighed as she stood up, conceding the argument if not the entire debate. Ifuku smiled, Akane had not outright challenged the engagement albeit perplexed by it. She just might be convinced to leave with Ranma tomorrow.
"Ifuku -- Shori has suggested we talk," Akane whispered as she moved towards the inner room, still not used to the house.
"I was afraid you were going to let me leave without talking to you." Ranma said uncertainly wondering, not for the first time, how she was settling in her new life.
"Just as you wanted to do with me?" He winced at the accusation. Akane shook her head. "Go back to your wife, Ranma. You certainly don't need another one."
It took the thought of Akane walking away from him again, for Ranma to tell her the truth. "Kodachi is dead." Akane looked at him sharply. "She was killed by Nabiki sometime ago. I'm... free."
A glimmer of hope flared inside Akane. "Did you come here to get me?"
Akane inhaled deeply. She supposed the truth was better than a lie. Ranma had always been truthfully blunt with her. But she hadn't expected it to hurt. Akane stood up. "Then why are you here?"
Akane shook her head, not willing to accept excuses. "Why are you doing this to me, Ranma?"
"It was for your own good," Ranma explained, not knowing how he was going to defend himself.
"You have to do what's best for you Akane," Ranma answered as he looked out the window of the room, leaving her beside the futon staring up at him. It afforded the view of the river and some of the flickering lights of the village. "Your family will make you happy."
"You people always decide on what's best for me," Akane said temper raising a notch. "Don't you think I'm old enough to make decisions for myself?"
Ranma looked at her thoughtfully and then at the room and the village below. It was not so different from Sagami. Sanuki was certainly mishandled, but since Tendo seemed to be competent, he might make a bustling town of it yet. "Happosai is angry at me, Akane. I wanted you to have a shot of happiness. I certainly didn't believe you'd have that with me."
Ranma reached out to clasp her hands, but stopped just short of touching her. He had never been good at comfort. It was an action that hadn't entered into his marriage. "I can't explain things I don't understand, Akane."
"So it's come to this then," Akane commented as they approached the porch, picking up her discarded kimono and shrugging it on. "The only thing we'll talk about is martial arts."
Ranma took the obi and helped her with it, looping it around her waist. "We both know it's the only safe topic between the two of us."
Ifuku wrapped the last of the bandages around Sohin's head and then wrung her hands in frustration. She should have gone down with him. They both knew how dangerous their stepmother was and she let him face her alone.
"How is it going with Ranma and Akane?" Sohin asked from the futon.
Ifuku thought that he was probably the only man who could think about his sister at a time like this. But then, it was Chisei who inflicted the wound and he had twenty years of practice of ignoring her just as he had twenty years practice of looking after his younger siblings. "They're both stubborn, but I expected that. You know Akane and Ranma-sama aren't really all that different from Nabiki-sama."
"Manipulative and scheming?" Sohin smiled as he tried to sit up.
"Not good at handling emotions," Ifuku quipped.
"So what are they fighting about now?" Sohin asked lightly, trying to take her mind away from the seriousness of his wounds.
"They're not fighting exactly," Ifuku answered looking up just as Akane was entering the room to sit with her newly found siblings. "They're agreeing not to agree."
"Talking behind my back again?" Akane asked as she brushed her hand against the bandage, the words were said more in jest than in irritation. In the travel, they had learned to trust each other and there was a level of banter that they shared. "I just heard about Chisei. I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Sohin muttered rubbing his hand against his bandaged eyes, ignoring the question about his own welfare. "I'm not. I've wanted her dead for twenty years. My only regret is that I wasn't the one who killed her."
"But at what cost?" Akane murmured turning to look at Ifuku who shook her head. Even fast healers couldn't replace damaged tissue. You can't heal what's not there. "Then I can't leave here."
"Akane," Sohin said sharply groping for her hands, Akane caught both of them in her own. "I engaged you to Saotome for a reason. I told him it's your decision to stay, but it's not going to be because of this accident."
"I'm not giving you the easy excuse," Sohin reprimanded then nodded in the general direction of Ifuku. "I've always had Shori to look after me. You on the other hand... you belong with him more than you belong with us."
Akane took one swallow, a breath for confidence before letting the words rush out with her shaky breath, "That I love you."
He let her go. "You think that's what I want to hear?" He leaned against the porch post, his arms crossed in front of him. "I don't even believe it."
"If not that then what will you believe?" Akane asked abandoning the pretense of straightening her kimono. "It's my only truth."
"Because I have trouble believing anyone would love me." He gestured vaguely. "I've never understood what that emotion is, and frankly, I don't think I can accept it."
Akane brought her hand to steady Ranma's face and keep it level with her own. "The problem here, Ranma, is that you're too busy holding on to your unworthiness.
A laugh shot out from behind him. He turned around to face who had watched him and his frown deepened. "You're not someone who accepts mistakes in yourself do you?"
"What do you want, Akane?" He bit out. He'd accepted that she wouldn't go with him. He didn't think she'd risk taunting him this far. Following him to the edge of the borders.
Akane reached out for him but he had backed away again. "Ranma, I'm sorry. I didn't know you'd react this way.
"I think we've established that on our first meeting," Akane said taking a step closer to him. "At least I acknowledge the truth. You on the other hand would always try to convince yourself that I'm not real."
Could she read him that easily, or was she feeling for the correct answer? He didn't want to find out
Ranma closed his eyes. "I thought you made up your mind not to come with me."
"I've reevaluated our last talk. My siblings told me something I should have realized a long time ago."
He noticed that she was settling into her family now. The hesitation of calling Eruchii and Shori her siblings was gone. He took the bait. "What?"
"You would always try to convince yourself that I'm not real." Akane was standing in front of him now, almost nose to nose. "I'm coming with you to prove you wrong."
"I don't understand how you could throw away your life for me," Ranma muttered as he turned his back to her and began walking towards the direction of the port. She walked behind him.
"I think the question you really want to ask is: how I could love you," Akane said conversationally. "And we both know the answer to that."
"And what is that Akane?" Ranma asked finally exasperated whirling around and facing her. "I'm sure one night has given you all the answers."
"So I gather your siblings told you," Ranma said as he watched her. He'd never seen her laugh like that. Letting her go with Sohin and Ifuku did wonders to her demeanor. "What's the correct question then?"
"Do you love me?"
Time stopped for Ranma after that question. "How am I going to answer something that I don't understand?" he asked slowly.
He expected her to turn away, but he hadn't expected her to rest her forehead against his chest and sigh. "I know. I know. But if you're not willing to look away for your own happiness then try to understand this: I've been happy with my family, Ranma, but I'm going to be happier with you."
It had been so much easier when they knew they couldn't be together. Now that there were obstacles, it seemed that they were content to roll their own obstacles in their path.Epilogue
I'm Saotome Azuma. We can negotiate my cousin's hand after you finish mourning for my great-grandmother."
Azuma smiled a little at the irony of that. The only other place it sounded even remotely logical would be at a Saotome household.