CHAPTER 2 - A Luncheon Apology



"Put em right there dear," the graying man pointed to a bed of soft dirt on his left and Akane, her arms full of bulbs, walked over on her knees to where he indicated. She wore her breeches and work shirt again while her father and sisters were away at a neighboring dignitary, offering tribute to secure their north border. Akane had bitterly told them not to bother.

Her thoughts were turned inward as she began planting the flower bulbs and they drifted to the pigtailed boy, as they often had over the past few days.

How could he say such awful things! Akane bit her lip and smoothed dirt over her first bulb. He hadn't ever met Kasumi and Nabiki and if he did, he'd know right away there was nothing 'priggish' or 'mean' about them. Akane thought about her powerful sisters and their effective methods of persuasion and began to dig deeper into the soil, trying to hold back her anger.

"Mistress," the old gardener tapped her on the shoulder, startling her from her reverie.

"Hmm?" She asked, still preoccupied.

"There's a young man walking up the slope and he's calling out Lord Ryoga's name. Should I send for your fiancé or have the boy escorted out my lady?"

"What?!" Akane got to her feet and scanned the hill with her hand at her forehead, shading her eyes. She saw the familiar pigtail just as Ranma caught sight of her and waved.

"No, don't worry about him Claude. He's here to see me." She picked up a handful of dirt and quickly rubbed it into her cheeks. "Tell Ryoga that I've gone off into the woods."

The gardener nodded and Akane smiled gratefully. She ran down the slope to meet her visitor and the old man got up from his crouch and went inside.


As she neared, Ranma pulled out from behind his back, two fat fish. "I wanted to apologize," he said, looking contrite. "It was wrong of me to judge the royals and I'm sure you know them better than most. So I'm sorry." Ranma waited and Akane gazed at him intently, sizing him up.

He seems like he means it, she thought. "I accept your apology and thank you for it. The Tendo's are like family to me and treat me as such. I appreciate that you saw that but I'm surprised you came back just to tell me." Akane took a step towards him and Ranma let out a relieved smile.

"Actually, I wanted to invite you to lunch by way of reconcile. I know this great little field where we can eat these." He held up the fish and Akane grinned.

"Do I want to know how you came about getting them?"

Ranma shook his head and they both laughed.


***


"Oh, I feel about to burst," Akane patted her stomach contentedly and Ranma looked over at her in surprise.

"But you've barely eaten your fish." He pointed to the few nibbles on the fish's scales and Akane blushed. She'd forgotten that she wasn't dining with a young lord. As duchess she was expected to have the appetite of a bird and at banquets she was usually only allowed a small portion.

"Well, maybe just a little bit more," she said, reaching timidly out towards the fish.

"No wonder you're so skinny Ryoga." Ranma rolled his eyes. "Someone might mistake you for a royal woman with the way you eat."

Akane hid her fear with a laugh. "And how would you know how any woman eats? They probably don't let you within a 100 feet of them, and they can still smell you from that far off anyway."

Ranma grinned. "Oh yeah? Well it just so happens that I saw the youngest Tendo daughter one day out here on a picnic."

"Really?" Akane almost choked on her fish.

"Yeah, she was in this forest with a man, probably a suitor or something. And I saw her eat, so there!" Ranma stuck his tongue out and went back to his lunch.

That must've been when I came out here with Ryoga, Akane thought. If this boy finds out who I am then it's all over and I'll have to go back to being a lady always.

"I didn't see her up close or anything, but even from far away I could tell she was really pretty." Ranma said through mouthfuls of fish. Akane's head whipped around in interest.

"Who, the youngest Tendo?"

"Yeah, she's a bit too thin for my taste but she's definitely something to look at. Got a nice face and a good sized chest." Ranma put his finger on his chin, thinking and Akane's face grew red. "Her hair's nice, it's long and dark and she's got a great pair of eyes." He smiled and Akane looked down at the ground quickly, not meeting his gaze. She had hacked off all her hair in a fit of rage last month and for the first time was regretting it.

"You know, there might be more to her than the way she looks," she said softly.

"You don't have to tell me, I bet everyone in the kingdom knows she's a hellfire. She started arguing with the man she was with and he backed down right away. It was pretty funny, the girl had quite the temper and the suitor practically rolled over to be in her good graces again. She definitely didn't strike me as your run of the mill lady."

Akane smiled in spite of herself.

"Anyway Ryoga, I was wondering. There's going to be a little festival in my village tonight and I thought maybe we could make a day of it. Want to brush off your gardening and have some fun?" Ranma asked.

"Uh, sure, I'd love to." Akane knew she should have said no but the words were out of her mouth before she knew it.

Ranma smiled and clapped his hand on her knee. "Great! Let's get going right away." He stood up and Akane joined him. Together they walked out of the forest and started down the slope.

Why did I agree to this, Akane asked herself, looking over at the pig-tailed boy. He gave her a big grin and put his arm around her shoulder.

"Boy are we gonna have some fun!" Ranma laughed and behind Akane's forced smile she wondered what she'd gotten herself into.