Disclaimer: The characters of Ranma ½ belong to Rumiko Takakashi. If they belonged to me, I wouldn't be writing this I'd be swimming in my pool of cash. I wouldn't bother suing me either. I got nothing you want.

If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.
- Oscar Wilde

I'm Here
A Ranma 1/2 One-Shot
By Hawk

AN: I wrote this in a day (literally) after reading a couple Ranma/Kasumi fics, I kinda got... bored, I dunno, so I thought about doing a One-Shot for the two, and even then, this is barely a romance fic. It's also my first ever One-Shot. I don't do well with them usually, I like writing LONG stories. Oh, also, in the top right corner of the page, above the chapter select pull down, there are reading options. I feel it's easier to read a fic when it's at 1/2 page instead of full, and Dark instead of Light. Easier on the eyes. You can increase the font size as well. Hope you enjoy, leave a review letting me know what you think. I'm slowly going through, correcting any grammar mistakes I find.

Special thanks to Shinokaze for reading this over, finding mistakes, and taking the time to point them out to me. Definitely helped make this even better than it originally was!

Ranma sighed, the wisps of his breath showing in the cold night air. That night was unseasonably cool, but Ranma didn't mind. With the chill came a serene calm he had rarely enjoyed since arriving in Nerima. Two years . . . almost two years had passed since he had fought to save Akane's life. He was eighteen now and so much had changed, for better and for worse.

Akane and Ranma finally started to get along, perhaps a little too well. Their constant fighting slowed to a near stop, aside from the occasional bicker. The two discovered they had a lot to talk about. As a result, their friendship began to bloom in earnest. Soun and his father had cheered, believing it to be a sign of impending love and marriage, but in truth it was the opposite.

Ranma realized, now knowing Akane, but more importantly himself, that it was the little moments of kindness he loved. The times she would smile with that kind smile that she would only show him. That smile stopped coming the more they talked; the better they got to know each other. Before, it was always fighting, screaming, hitting, or something else that got between them. Now that they had time, it was easy to see how little in common they had.

Mu Tzu had, with Ranma's prying and patient tutelage, worked up the courage and strength to challenge Shan Pu for her hand. Five months after the failed wedding, the Amazon male succeeded in beating the buxom beauty fairly in combat. In course with Amazon law, Ranma had to forfeit his marriage to Mu Tzu, which he happily did. The Amazon's left for China soon after, saying their goodbyes. Shan Pu had cried, sad to leave her first love and Nerima, the city she had grown to love just as much. Cologne had respectfully bowed, admitting defeat and hoping that Ranma would visit the village soon; she had much she still wished to teach him, not something any male would be privy too.

Mu Tzu had surprised him the most. An extended hand and firm handshake. He had thanked Ranma profusely, telling him that since Shan Pu had been Ranma's wife and was now his that made them, in some strange way, like brothers. It had been an odd compliment, but Ranma understood Mu Tzu's feelings; their fighting was over.

With the Amazon's gone, life became even more peaceful in Nerima. Kuno and Nabiki had graduated that spring, leaving for colleges far from home. With less pressure coming from all sides, Akane and Ukyou had struck up a fast friendship, much to Ranma's dismay. The two got along great and as the time passed without people urging marriage upon Ranma and Akane, Ukyou felt less pressed as well.

Six months after the Amazon's left, Ryouga had made one of his oft random appearances. There was a fight, per the norm, and Ranma had come out victorious, but only by a last chance bit of trickery. His art was getting sloppy. The constant attacks and ploys from enemies had kept him sharp, up to the task. Ryouga had noticed his slip in skill as well, Ranma saw it in his confused eyes, but the eternally lost boy said nothing aloud of it. Instead, he turned and left. A year had passed since that day and still there was no sign of Ryouga.

It came to pass that even Kodachi found a new interest. With her brother gone, she came to Furinkan less than before, and last Ranma had heard, she had fallen for a foreign gymnastics teacher. Ranma had said a small prayer for the man that day.

Soon after, his parents moved out of the Tendo house, back to the Saotome home. They had left him with the Tendo's, in order for him and Akane to grow closer. There was no evidence that his parents knew he and Akane had grown apart in becoming friends. With their fathers separated, only Soun was left occasionally to needled Ranma about marrying his daughter.

The less threats, the less pressure, the less they felt any love for one another. It had become a sick thing, Akane's love for Ranma was based primarily on his constant rescues, Ranma's on Akane's small signs of gentleness. Now they were two teenagers, with their attentions focused on other things. She had her studies, her friends, he had . . . Ranma wasn't sure what he had.

When his father had left, his training had come to a virtual standstill. Soun was useless for training or learning anything from, and Happosai, when the old fart deigned to show, provided little help as well. The pervert had called Nerima a 'bore' one day, and Ranma had mentally agreed.

That year was also his, Akane's and Ukyou's final year at Furinkan High, and Ranma knew he wasn't going to graduate. When the day came, he did graduate but barely. He had ignored his studies, making it impossible for him to be accepted by any college. Community College was a possibility, but he had no aspiration toward higher education.

No, Ranma wanted to train, to get better at his true craft. That was something he couldn't gain at a school, or in Nerima. He understood now, why Ryouga had left and not returned, and sullenly wished he had followed the lost boy that day.

Tomorrow, Akane and Ukyou were leaving for college in Tokyo. They had invited him to come, but he had declined. He had made other plans already, and sought to follow them through. Going with Akane and Ukyou to visit Tokyo would only slow him down.

So, it was his last day, 'the end' as he saw it. There was no better place to spend it than on the roof of the Tendo home, staring at the stars he so badly missed from his travels. He once had memorized the constellations, their positions in the sky, what direction they pointed during each season. Their names were a mystery, only what they were and where was truly what matter. Learning them again would be a hassle, but he was sure it would come back to him easily enough.

Ranma almost hoped deep down in his gut that Ryouga would show, with umbrella poised to kill. After a couple minutes of nothing, only the sounds of Akane inside her room hurrying to finish packing, Ranma exhaled heavily. His breath morphed in front of his lips before dispersing into the night air.

His quiet reverie was broken as something banged against the edge of the roof with a loud metallic rattle. Sitting up in surprise, he blinked at the sight of a ladder shakily steadying itself into place and wondered who in Nerima needed a ladder to get onto a roof. The answer to that riddle was answered when Kasumi's head popped into view, a look of nervous concentration on her face.

The eldest Tendo, Ranma thought, shaking his head, of course she would need a ladder, but why would she come up to the roof?

Kasumi still lived at home, nearly twenty-two years old. Ranma had marveled at how the woman had matured, not only physically, but mentally as well. When Ranma had first met the Tendo family, it had been easy to pick Kasumi as the most attractive daughter, and the following years had been very kind to her. None of the daily stress of Ranma's life affected her, and it showed in the youthful beauty in her face. Her body had filled out nicely (not that it hadn't already been nice), but with two more years, she had become absolutely stunning. Ranma didn't think much of it though, having had his full of women in his life, but a few men had come calling for her hand. Soun was hesitant to let her go; whomever took her had to be perfect in his eye.

Once considered the town airhead, Kasumi had quietly proven that her mind was as sharp as a tack, with wit to boot. For the first two years at the Tendo's, Ranma had missed many of her subtle insults and comments, most of which were directed at Genma and her own father's idiocy. When things had calmed down, and Ranma didn't have to use all his concentration on guarding against surprise attacks, Kasumi's hidden personality started sticking out like a sore thumb. It made him happy to know she wasn't some robot, hiding behind her always serene mask.

With quick strides, Ranma made his way over Kasumi, extending both arms for her to take. When she reached up and grabbed his hands, her dainty ones engulfed in his, Ranma effortlessly lifted her from the ladder and onto the roof.

That was another thing that had changed. The day Ranma arrived in Nerima, Kasumi and he had been the same height (when he was male). Now he stood a couple inches taller, and he enjoyed the fact that he could look down on her for a change. It made him feel older, more mature, like he had actually aged in his time at the Tendo home. His female side was shorter though, and Ranma didn't think it would ever be taller than Kasumi.

Huffing softly, Kasumi straightened her blouse, a cornflower shirt that complimented her soft grey eyes. Even in the dark, the color in her eyes shone brightly. Her chestnut brown hair hung down her back, tied in a ponytail with a neat yellow bow.

She smiled at Ranma and he grinned in return. "Thank you, Ranma-kun," she said and started moving up the roof, intent on putting distance between herself and the edge. Her steps were slow, measured, so as to not slip, and Ranma took both her arms, gently guiding her to the spot he a moment ago had been sitting.

They sat there, together, in the dark night, only the stars and gibbous moon's soft light blanketing the roof. Ranma cleared his throat awkwardly, still puzzled by Kasumi. In all the time he had spent on the roof, Kasumi had never once joined him or tried, yet here she was, the day before 'the end', sitting right beside him.

"So, uh, what's up, Kasumi?" he asked as coolly as he could.

"Akane leaves tomorrow."

"Yeah, I know."

"And yet you're up here." She looked at him, smile gone. "Why aren't you helping her pack?"

Ranma scratched the back of his neck, below the base of his pigtail, and turned his gaze to the stars. "Eh, she doesn't need my help, or want it, I'm sure."

"Did you ask her?" Kasumi said sweetly. Her hands were fiddling with a small tear in her jeans, and Ranma thought maybe the ladder was the culprit.

"Naw, I know her good enough now to know she doesn't want it. She's havin' fun packin' up for college alone," Ranma replied easily.

"Oh," Kasumi said quietly. She ran a slim finger over the tear, knowing she would be the one sewing it together later. "So are you going to Toyko with Akane and Ukyou-chan?"

Ranma studied Kasumi in the corner of his eye; her soft demeanor, demure motions, and cautious voice. In his head he was debating whether or not he should tell her the truth, about his plans. Would she understand, be happy for him? Of course she would, she was Kasumi Tendo, the kindest, most understanding person Ranma had ever met.

"Not goin' with them. I got other things I'm gonna do," he said.

"Like what?" Kasumi asked, tearing her attention from the hole in her jeans to the young man sitting beside her. There was a hint of worry in her voice that only she noticed, and she coughed slightly to hide it. She didn't like the sound of 'other things'. Though her attention had left it, her fingers kept working over the split.

"Well, there ain't gonna be anything around here when 'Kane goes. Everyone else is gone; there's really nothin' left here so I'm gonna pack up and head out. Go travelin' again, learn some new things. I've been gettin' lazy lately," he explained, nodding to himself. "Gonna get out there and start trainin' again, maybe even learn some medicine techniques. Those are always handy.

"Sad to say, but it's the end of my time here."

"The end?" Kasumi questioned oddly. Her internal dread was growing, her stomach turning over. Without realizing it, she had begun anxiously pulling at the seams in the tear, making the rip worse. The night air wasn't helping, and she found herself shuddering uncontrollably both from her nerves and cold.

"Yup, the end. 'Kane and I ain't gettin' hitched, I know you know that much. She's goin' off to college, and I'm just goin' . . . don't even know where yet," Ranma explained with a smile, and then spoke before Kasumi could interject, "What about you? What're you gonna do when she's out of the house? Just be you an' your dad."

Cut off from her line of questioning and caught by surprise by Ranma's own, Kasumi stumbled over her thoughts. "Well, um, I'll probably . . ." and here she paused, unsure. Her hands reached back and grasped her ponytail, pulling it over her shoulder where she could gently twirl the hair around a finger.

"I don't really know," she said finally, a cute frown pulling at her lips. "I guess I'll stay here and take care of the house and father. And when Nabiki and Akane come back for holidays and summer."

It was Ranma's turn to frown, finding himself disappointed by the answer. "No offense, Kasumi, but that's stupid!"

Kasumi blinked, astonished by Ranma's proclamation, halting her twirling fingers. She wasn't sure if she how to take his words, so she stayed quiet, hoping he would explain without her having to pry the reason out of him.

Shaking his head, Ranma did as Kasumi hoped and continued unabated. "You shouldn't just stick around to the house, you should get out! Do something! Everyone's gonna be gone, 'cept your dad. You shouldn't stay just to take care of one person," he argued and there was a fierce frustration in his words. He exhaled his anger into the air, crossing his arms over his chest like a stubborn five year old.

What Kasumi said next surprised them both. "Well, if you stay, then that'll be two people I have to take care of." Her words were out there, and she thought that, in the cold air, they had taken shape in her hot breath. Hands moving quickly, she covered her mouth, utterly embarrassed. She could feel her cheeks burning, and her stomach turned over again.

Her feelings for Ranma were the same as they had always been. Kasumi had no thoughts of romantic evenings with the younger man; he was her sister's fiancée, almost like a younger brother. But she hated the thought of him leaving, she had quickly realized. Ranma was right; if he left, it would be her and her father, alone, and she hated the thought.

When Nabiki and Mr. Saotome had left the house, she had found it sad, of course, but also strange. A part of her should have been happy, two less people to take care of, less work around the house, fewer mouths to cook for, but that wasn't the case. Kasumi loved caring for people, especially her family, and now they were all leaving her. Taking care of her father wouldn't be enough for her and . . . Ranma leaving would be the straw that broke the camel's back.

Out of everyone, Ranma was the person Kasumi enjoyed taking care of the most. He needed the most food and was usually the one that needed the most bandaging. His antics brought attention to the family, to the house, giving her things to fix, prepare, clean. Without him, the Tendo house truly would be empty.

For the first time since Kasumi had climbed onto the roof, Ranma looked at her, actually looked at her. Her statement had caught him off guard, something he never expected Kasumi to be able to do. She was covering her mouth, apparently mortified by what she said, cheeks burning so red, Ranma couldn't help but notice. She really was beautiful.

As a martial artist, parts of Ranma's training involved graceful movements, calm, serene strikes and blocks. Kasumi was like living grace; every movement she made was like art, tranquil, deliberate. It was rare to ever catch Kasumi unprepared or distracted. Any time something threatened her peace, she deflected it with a beautiful smile.

Ranma shook his head in disbelief. A true master was sitting next to him, had been living with him all this time. That didn't mean she was perfect, far from it. She was too caught up in her life at home, afraid to step outside and begin something new.

A slight breeze crossed them and the scent of cinnamon and flowers wafted from her. With a rueful smile he realized he hadn't fully taken note of her clothing. A blouse and jeans was far too little for how cold it was.

Kasumi was trying to control her thoughts and the heat in her face, rubbing her palms against her cheeks in the hopes of wiping the blush away. As she did, a heavy jacket dropped around her shoulders. With its sudden warmth came the smell of Ranma, a mixture of grass, sweat, and shampoo. She looked over at the martial artist, now wearing a blue vest, his arms bare to the wind. His arms were crossed again and he was purposefully looking away.

Clearing his throat, Ranma frowned, knowing what he was going to say wasn't what Kasumi wanted to hear. "Sorry, Kasumi, but I can't stay. I . . . I just can't be here anymore. I think I may go lookin' for Ryouga, go to China and visit the Amazons, Jusenkyo, look for that cure, you know? Hell, maybe I'll see how Saffron's doin'. If I do, I don't even know if I'll bother comin' back here, won't be anything here for me after all."

Kasumi's hands clutched the sides of Ranma's jacket, pulling it tighter around her body. His words stung worse than any insult or injury she had suffered in the past. She wanted desperately to yell at him, remind him: I'll still be here!

Instead, she said nothing, and nodded in understanding.

Minutes passed, how many, neither could tell, but eventually the noise from Akane's room stopped and her bedroom light went out. Sighing deeply, Ranma stood and offered his hands to Kasumi, who quietly took them. He lifted her to her feet then swept her off them. When her arms were securely wrapped around his neck, leaving his nose buried in her flowery hair, Ranma leapt from the roof, landing softly in the backyard.

The next morning Akane was packed and ready to go, her luggage out in front of the house. A taxi cab driver was stuffing them in the trunk.

Kasumi released her hug on her younger sister, a tired, sad smile on her face. "Call us when you get there," she said, her tears safely contained behind the grey in her eyes. The rock of the family, Kasumi rarely cried. She hadn't cried when Nabiki left, she hadn't cried when Mr. and Mrs. Saotome had left. The last time she had let herself cry was when her mother passed. Since that day, she couldn't afford to cry; she had to be the rock.

Soun, on the other hand, was bawling. Tears fell unabashed as he watched his youngest leave. He had no words, or any he had, he was unable to coherently voice. His hug was three times longer than Kasumi's, and every time Akane tried pulling away, Soun would drag her back in.

"Dad, the taxi isn't going to wait forever!" she snapped embarrassingly. Prying herself free of her father's deathly grip, she scanned the yard, looking for the last person but not finding him. "Where's Ranma?"

"Yo, right here, 'Kane," Ranma said and hopped down from the surrounding wall. He shoved his hands into his pockets, a strangled grin on his face. "Guess you're off then."

Akane smiled at him, the same kind of smile that used to melt his heart and twist his insides. Now it was only a smile. "Yeah, guess I am," she said and stepped up to him. "You sure you don't want to come with?"

Chuckling, Ranma shook his head. "Naw, I don't think the big city would suit me much," he said. "I'm sure I'll visit though."

"You better," Akane growled playfully, jabbing Ranma's chest with a finger.

It was better than a mallet, Ranma thought. Without hesitation, he drew his 'fiancée' into a hug. Their friendship had enabled them to become more comfortable with touching, so there wasn't any surprise when she returned the gesture in kind.

Soun continued to cry. In his mind, Ranma and Akane had never been closer.

When they pulled apart, Akane wiped at her eyes, clearing away the tears that were breaking free. Ranma thought for a second that Akane knew the truth; maybe Kasumi had spilled the beans. She knew that he was leaving and not coming back. No, Kasumi wouldn't do that, his plans were still a secret. With that knowledge in mind, Ranma smiled broadly.

"I'll see you around, 'Kane."

She nodded, gave one final hug to her sister and father, and then rushed to the car, waving happily, her excitement suddenly bubbling over.

As Kasumi and Soun stayed behind, watching the taxi drive out of view, Ranma was rushing through the house, up the stairs and into his room. He yanked his traveling pack from its hiding place and started cramming his clothes inside. His sleeping bag was already rolled and tied, and he fixed it to his pack. Like Akane, his own excitement was overflowing; he couldn't wait to be on his way, finally free of the cage that was the Tendo home.

But that wasn't true, he never thought of the Tendo home as a cage, though at times, he certainly felt trapped. Every person inside had been a bar, blocking his way. One by one the bars had left, until now, there was nothing keeping him there. It took him less than a hour to get ready: Clothes, toiletries, snacks, maps, paper, and a handful of cash from Nabiki's secret-secret hiding place. He considered it payment for the amount of money she had made off of him.

With all the stealth of a cat (though he hated to admit it), Ranma dropped down from his bedroom window, landing so silently in the backyard, he wasn't even sure if he had landed. He spared a final glance at the Tendo home, taking in the dojo, remembering all the training he'd gone through inside it; the koi pond and his morning battles with his dad, the patio, where his dad and Soun would sit playing shogi for hours on end.

He said a quiet goodbye in his head, fighting the urge to spend more time reminiscing about the house that had taken such good care of him. Hurrying for the front gate, Ranma's exhilaration began to show on his face, a wide smile splitting his face. Only a few more yards and . . .

His heels dug into the ground and he skid to an abrupt halt. A dainty, soft hand was blocking his path. Ranma sighed, knowing full well whose hand it was. Readjusting his pack on his shoulder, he looked up into the eyes of Kasumi Tendo. But her eyes weren't caring, or worried; they were determined, angry, and Ranma flinched at the sight of the grey depths tearing into the blue of his own.

"So you're just going to leave?" she said, and there was nothing sweet in her voice. Resentment and hurt, he could hear them clearly.

"Well, I . . . I just figured it'd be better that way . . . you know?" Ranma replied weakly, avoiding her gaze. "No sappy goodbyes."

"No goodbyes," Kasumi repeated softly. She had stepped up to Ranma, trying to appear intimidating. It had been so much easier when they were the same height. Now she had to look up at him and she suddenly hated him for that. She suddenly hated a lot of things about Ranma; his cocky grin, his stupid pigtail, his brash attitude, how much of a jerk he was, the rude way he ate his food, and his . . . his . . . She stomped her foot, frustration taking control. The art that had so impressed Ranma the night before was crumbling and for the first time in years, she willingly struck out at another person.

When her palm slammed into Ranma, it hurt her hand more than it probably did his chest, but she left it there, pressed against his body. She could feel his heart beating; it was thundering beneath her hand and she hung her head to hide both her embarrassment and shame. Her hair fell across her eyes and she steeled herself for what came next.

"No goodbyes," she said once more, firmer this time. Her fingers curled, clutching his shirt. His heart was still pounding and now she felt it against her knuckles. "That's not fair, Ranma."

No Ranma-kun. Very slowly, Ranma wrapped his hands around Kasumi's, pulling it away from his body. The strike hadn't hurt at all, other than his pride and mental capabilities. Never had he imagined she would do such a thing, which was why he hadn't instinctively blocked it. He gently turned her hand, his fingers brushing over her wrist, checking for any damage she might have done. It was all robotic, he couldn't think of anything else to do at that moment.

After finding nothing wrong with her wrist, he gingerly pushed her hand back to her. "You should be more careful. Your hands aren't made for that type of thing," he said softly. Without realizing it, he kept hold of her hand, fingers gently rubbing the smooth skin.

Kasumi stared at her hand in his, feeling defeated. She couldn't stop him, there was no way. "Will you come back?" she whispered.

"I told you, there's nothing for me here, Kasumi," Ranma replied, letting go of her hand. He moved to step around her. "I'll see you . . . or, I guess I won't."

The end, Kasumi thought, and her hands clenched at the apron she was wearing, wrinkling it. There's nothing for me here . . . Nothing for me here . . .

Ranma was shaking his head as he was about to step through the gate. Freedom, finally, was within arms reach.


Freedom . . . only an inch away. Ranma stared at the street outside of the Tendo property. Closing his eyes, he spun around, frustrated, annoyed, pissed, every kind of anger he could think of, and it was all directed toward the oldest Tendo, the one he'd never hated before. When his eyes opened, the blue in them was swirling like a hurricane. His lips were pressed together firmly as he fought the desire to start yelling. This wasn't Akane, it was Kasumi, someone he couldn't shout at.

Kasumi raised her head, her eyes brimming but not breaking. She wouldn't cry; she was too strong and too old for that nonsense. As she looked Ranma in the eye, the storm within them died instantly.

"You keep saying that there's nothing here for you, Ranma! But I'm here!" she shouted and he felt as though someone had shoved a knife into his heart. "Am I nothing, Ranma? Because that's what you're saying . . ."

"Of . . . of course not, Kasumi! You - you could never be nothin'!" Ranma stumbled, mortified. "I - I didn't mean it like that! I just . . . need to go, can't you understand that?"

"I do, Ranma! I do . . . some times . . ." And Kasumi was looking past Ranma, to the street, to that freedom he had been about to acquire. "You said I should get out, do something."

"Yeah," Ranma said warily, looking everywhere but at Kasumi. "And I still think you should."

"Then . . . how about I make you a proposal."

Ranma's attention snapped full force to Kasumi, eyes wide and fearful. Lifting his hands, he held them up defensively. "Uh . . . no offense, but - "

"Not that kind of proposal, Ranma-kun," Kasumi cut in, a smile appearing for the first time. "A deal."

"What kinda deal?" Ranma asked slowly, still cautious. Most deals in his life had ended up working out poorly for him, but his heart lifted at the sight of Kasumi's smile and the sound of her calling him 'Ranma-kun' again. This girl wouldn't betray him or use him, not like the others.

"I'll go to school; community college, if you promise to visit."

Ranma blinked. Such a simple offer, he marveled at how it wasn't one-sided, how fair it was, and that she was giving him a choice. A choice, something he'd rarely ever had before when it came to living his life. Here he was, about to be free of others deciding his life, and Kasumi had beaten him to the punch. He hadn't even left the Tendo grounds and she was giving him his first taste of that freedom.

A chuckle, short and soft, but unmissed by Kasumi, who frowned, thinking Ranma was amused by her offer. She inhaled, bracing her heart for his response. Another disappointment would outright shatter it.

"One year."

"What?" Kasumi's eyes widened, hope, confusion, fear etched in the grey.

"I promise to come back here, one year from today – " And he was cut off as Kasumi once again caught him off guard, assaulting him was a hard hug, her arms wrapping up his back, under his arms, so her hands could hold onto his shoulders. He stumbled a little, but kept his balance, blushing heavily as Kasumi's body and curves pressed up against his. Tentatively, Ranma slid his arms around Kasumi's waist, holding her firmly. It felt nice, different than when he hugged Akane. He tried hard to ignore the parts of Kasumi's body that were mashed against his lower chest. His muscles relaxed and he let his head fall, resting his chin on the top of her head where her chestnut hair softly brushed over his nose. Such a nice flowery smell, he thought.

Kasumi's heart had nearly exploded when Ranma agreed. She couldn't stop herself from hugging him, and didn't care if he didn't want her to. With all her strength she clung to him, pressed herself against him, letting him know through her embrace how much his words meant to her. Her breasts were pushing against his hard chest, and for a brief moment, she let herself enjoy the feeling. Muscular arms enveloped her and she leaned into him further, her nose nuzzling his collarbone. The same sweaty, soapy smell from the night before was there and she felt his chin come to rest on her head.

Finally, Kasumi broke the embrace, a brilliant smile shining only for him. He smiled back, cheeks red, and rubbed the back of his neck.

"But uh . . . when I do show up, you had better be in school, otherwise I won't come again," Ranma said, and cleared his throat nervously.

Kasumi extended a hand, which Ranma looked at strangely for a moment before reaching out and accepting it. "It's a promise," she said before leaning forward and kissing him lightly on the cheek.

"What . . . I just . . . what?" Ranma raised a hand to his cheek, brushing over the spot her soft lips had just touched.

For the first time that Ranma could remember, Kasumi laughed. It was a sweet, tinkling sound that tickled his ears. In a daze, Ranma stumbled through the gate, his first steps of freedom completely off balance.

One year later, to the day, Kasumi paced outside the front yard. Akane and Nabiki had returned for the summer, but had both left a couple of days prior, both wanting to get back to their respective school. Akane had moved in with Ukyou, who had gotten into the same college, and had met a boy, though she had a hard time admitting any feelings for him. Not anything new for her, Kasumi had mused.

Nabiki was a year away from finishing, having burned through all her courses. Business School was a piece of cake for her, and she had come home telling Kasumi that once she was done and owned her own company (as she was sure she would), Kasumi would be able to go to a real college.

A real college would be nice, if not a little late, for the oldest Tendo daughter. She had done as promised, applying to the nearby community college for Nursing School. It was a lot of work, the amount of pre-requisite classes she had to fulfill in order to truly start her path as a nurse. Applying for classes had been the best thing she had ever done and she was anxious to tell Ranma all about it.

After his disappearance, Soun had been distraught. He had blamed himself, and worried for days about how he would inform Genma and Nodoka. It took Kasumi a long time to calm him, to make him understand that Ranma had left on his own to train, and that no one was to blame. When Genma heard the news, he had set out after his son, but returned empty handed. He searched multiple times, and every time the result was the same: there was no sign of Ranma Saotome anywhere. The young man had completely vanished.

Akane and Nabiki had been surprised and took the news worse than Kasumi expected. For a week, both of them walked around the house in a daze, staring at far away things. Nabiki got over it first, of course, especially when she found a good amount of her secret-secret cash missing. Then she was agitated, cursing the Saotome name.

Akane tried to understand but found it impossible. Kasumi could tell she was hurt, but also . . . content, knowing that Ranma had gone; it was as though a weight she had grown so accustomed to carrying had been lifted. But the weight hadn't been an annoyance; it had become something she cared for. And it had been taken from her without a word or reason. She had sighed a lot that those two weeks.

To further the mystery, no one heard from Ranma. No phone calls, no postcards, no letters. He hadn't visited Tokyo either.

One day, out of the blue, Ryouga had appeared. He had spoken at length with Kasumi about his travels, that he had left Nerima because the challenge was missing. Ranma wasn't what he needed anymore and that him coming to Nerima and the Tendo house that day had been a complete accident. To further Kasumi's growing worry, Ryouga explained that he hadn't seen Ranma while traveling, and, in fact, hadn't heard anything about Ranma Saotome from any of the dojo's he had found himself at. The name Ranma Saotome had become associated with memories, or legend. People had heard the name from rumor, of earlier exploits, but nothing new. And then, as he had entered the Tendo home, Ryouga disappeared while looking for the bathroom.

So Kasumi paced, treading the grass. Today was the day that he was meant to return, and Kasumi had no doubt that Ranma would come strolling through the front gate, smiling broadly. Dark clouds flooded the sky, a sign of impending rain. Her hands pressed down on her blouse, smoothing it, and she pulled her ponytail over her shoulder. She couldn't get rid of it, no matter how much she tried. Earlier in the year she had it trimmed to her shoulders, and soon after decided that it didn't suit her. She let it grow long again, so it fell between her shoulder blades.

Being at school had attracted the attention of the opposite sex, something Kasumi was quite unaccustomed to. The men flocked to her in droves at the start of her schooling; a beautiful young woman such as herself being a hot commodity, and while she entertained the thought of going out with a few of them, she never let it happen. She let each of them down as kindly as possible, usually telling them that she was waiting for someone else to come home. It was a small fib, but it made it a lot easier than flat out telling the men 'no'.

She stopped pacing and stared at the front gate, her heart beating faster with each passing minute.

Any second now . . .

Minutes passed, then hours, until the sun was down and the day was over. Ranma hadn't shown. Her father exited the house, finding her standing in the light drizzle, hands tangled in her ponytail. She was as dazed as Akane had been, staring sadly at the front gate.

Soun had gently ushered her back into the house and out of the cold.

He didn't show . . .

Three days passed and the sky didn't let up. It poured, drenching Nerima and filling its waterways. On this particular day, Kasumi Tendo found herself stuck. The rain had let up that morning, providing clear skies, and she had gone to school without her umbrella.

Her teachers had noticed a slight change in her behavior, one even questioning her after class about her mood. Kasumi had deflected his questions with her soft smile, explaining that the rain had put a damper on her spirits. When the rain stopped, she'd be back to normal.

So on the day that the rain finally did stop and she didn't feel any better, Kasumi had slowly prepared for class, before realizing she was late. She rushed off, cradling her books in her arms, hair a mess, not even in a ponytail, and without makeup. Not that she needed it to make her look beautiful, but she always put a small bit on when she left the house now.

On the way home from school the clouds returned, as if springing a trap, and began dumping buckets of rain on Nerima. She took cover under the closest store canopy, protecting her books from the water, letting her hair and clothes get soaked. Shivering, she stared out into the rain, watching almost hypnotized as it fell.

The store owner started prying her, wanting her to come inside and buy something, but she ignored him. All Kasumi wanted was to be left alone. That's what she was: Alone.

And now she was alone without her umbrella, cold and wet, and trapped, waiting for the rain to stop. Maybe she could make a run for it . . .

"Excuse me, miss?"

She jumped at the curious voice, caught by surprise, dropping her books. Bending down, she scrambled to pick them up before they got wet. From her crouched position, she looked up, finding a pair of legs standing over her. The person was holding a large umbrella, protecting them both from the rain.

"I'm sorry," they said softly.

"Oh, it wasn't your fault, I was daydreaming," Kasumi replied, standing, books piled in her arms.

"No, no, not about that, Kasumi."

Kasumi's breath caught in her throat and she slowly lifted her head to stare at the stranger's face. But it wasn't a stranger.

Ranma Saotome smiled down at Kasumi weakly. "I'm sorry I'm late . . ."

"You broke your promise," Kasumi whispered, fingers tightening around her books.

"Yeah, but . . . I'm here."

Thanks for reading! We'll see when I get around to finishing other stuff. Have done a little work on MBI5, but again, I'm working on an actual novel, and real life work, so... time management. Whoa, went through this and fixed a lot of mistakes. That's what I get for posting it right after finishing it. Much better now.