Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 and all characters therein belong to Rumiko Takahashi. I merely play with her toys when she's not looking.

Author's Note: New story! And it's not a one-shot! Akane/Mousse friendship, Akane/Ranma romance, of course. Directly post-manga. This is my take on the Akane/Mousse friendship, which I really love. Basically, Mousse runs into Akane while she's playing hooky because she can't deal with school the week after the wedding. It will not be nearly as long as On the Open Sea will be (and that one's becoming sort of epic!). I hope you like.

With a gasp of breath, Akane woke out of the darkness. She sat up in her bed, taking idle notice that her legs were tangled in her blankets. Slow, calculated movements soon disengaged them from the death grip that had likely contributed to some of the elements of her latest nightmare.

Okay, not so much nightmare as memory.

Her eye twitched slightly as she thought back to that time, her vision physically viewing the Western-style wedding dress that hung in the open door of her closet. She remembered being dead very vividly, more so than she could remember the blurred failure of the wedding that had just been the day before. The dark encroached on everything, twisting and pulling and suffocating. Maybe that was the feeling of her soul being pulled to the Other Side or maybe…

No. It wouldn't do any good to think about it further.

Today had just proved that everything had gone back to normal. Ranma had two fiancées that he openly approved over her. Additionally, because of her increasing involvement in Ranma's activities, Yuka and Sayuri had begun to plan their social schedule without including Akane. It wasn't meant to hurt her – they had even gone as far to plan to watch an upcoming movie together in a couple weeks – but she still felt the pain of isolation nonetheless.

So, she was sinking in a well of misery.

Not one to let her emotions take complete control – her anger notwithstanding – Akane glared at the white dress. It was taunting her, forcing her to look at everything she couldn't have. She couldn't have Ranma, she couldn't carry on the dojo on her own (Japanese law, though outdated, was very clear about that), and she couldn't have her old life back. But she would destroy every reminder of the day, at least within reason.

She stood and flicked on her bedroom light, creating somewhat of a flare to the immediate vicinity. Rummaging around in her desk until she found the items she was looking for, she followed that by lifting her dress carefully from its hanger. The seam ripper gleamed maliciously in the artificial light. There were shears for the pieces of fabric that were a bit large but first things first…

There were a lot of seams.

The roof was Ranma's place of solace. Sure enough, plenty of bad things had occurred up here, his first introduction to Kodachi standing out in stark relief, but that wasn't why he came up there. Though he doubted anyone would believe it, he actually was secretly fond of stargazing.

When he was little and the old man was already deep asleep, he used to count stars until he fell asleep. They were harder to see here, where the city lights interfered with the eye's ability to see them, but there they were all the same. He remembered coming up with his own names for the shapes that he could make out and realized that Akane probably knew all the actual constellations.

He briefly wondered if she could be persuaded to teach them to him. Maybe if he just asked…

As if the thought itself were a cue, Akane's light flared to life. If he'd been on the other side of the roof above his room, he might not have noticed but he'd long ago picked up the habit of congregating on the area of the roof that was just above his fiancée's bedroom. Further thought might have led him down a spiral of truly deep thinking as to the reason why he did that but Ranma was not good at the thinking-deep thing.

Curious, he crawled stealthily to the edge of the roof and slowly tilted himself into an upside-down perch. He was quiet, carefully so that Akane wouldn't find a reason to notice him and have yet another reason to call him a pervert. His eyes went wide as he slowly put the picture before him together into something that made sense.

She was destroying her dress.

His face pulled into a mask of regret and concern as he remembered what she had looked like on that day. Utterly beautiful and a little old-fashioned but completely his. The intensity of his feelings had caused him to fight against them automatically, leading to him taking back the three words that he'd meant the most in his entire life.

I love you, Akane. Why is it so hard to admit that to your face?

But he knew. He knew it was because he didn't know about her feelings. It should have been obvious; after all, she had nearly died for him. If that didn't show how much she cared, then what would? However, it still scared him that maybe she didn't care so much that she was just completely inept.

That kind of thinking was cruel and cheapened Akane's obvious abilities as a martial artist. After all, before him and all the crazy people that followed and their crazy-good skills, she had been the best, knocking out boy after boy and Kuno every day before school even began. But Ranma knew he needed to face that it might be true. Akane was highly altruistic, giving away aid wherever it was needed, whether it was a stranger or a rival, and she had a tendency to stick her nose in where it was least wanted.

Her destruction of the dress was important but something he still couldn't quite grasp. He knew it was bad and familiar guilt built up in his chest, even though he was quite sure he wasn't at fault.

Well, they were going back to school tomorrow. Maybe the morning light and the normal routines would put a brighter spin on things.

Her room bore no evidence of the catharsis of the previous night. Only someone who knew her habits and what she carried within her bookbag on a normal basis could even begin to guess where the remnants of the dress were now. After all, with the exception of long-past jaunts into her room and the occasional tutor session, the only people that frequented this room were her and P-Chan when he was home.

It was the knock at her door that made her realize that she had slept far longer than she'd meant. While ripping the dress to shreds had helped to stem the tide of her anger, Akane didn't like the sadness and regret that was left behind. Maybe the anger – at her rivals for ruining her perfect moment, at Happosai for stealing the one thing that could have made it worthwhile for Ranma, at Ranma for not seeing any of it, but mostly at herself for having all these feelings to begin with – was what had been keeping her upright for so long. Now she just felt deflated.

Flying through her room to at least keep up the motions of a regular day, donning the uniform and brushing her somewhat unruly hair, she didn't even have time to eat breakfast before she was running out the door. However, she didn't miss Kasumi's worried gaze or her father's weak half-smile. Even though she was acting normal, she could still feel the bookbag at her side almost like a burning brand.

Before of her late start, her original half-plotted plan had been to leave before Ranma was finished with breakfast and disappear. It had been an okay plan – he would assume she'd beat him to the school and she wouldn't be bothered for a while. As much as this new watchfulness of his made her feel… noticed, she wanted to be out from under his eye for a bit. As it stood, she would have to think up a new plan.

Fortunately, Ranma couldn't keep a watch over her every moment of every day. In fact, the first thing in the morning, they were often separated for a few minutes, quite enough time for her to slip away before anyone noticed. She stalled at her locker for longer than normal and surreptitiously watched Ranma get more and more impatient until he finally turned on his heel and into the classroom outside of which he had been waiting.

The fact that they'd managed to slip seamlessly back into the normal routine hurt somehow. It was as if the weekend had never happened, as if China and the wedding that followed had never occurred. Even as she slipped out of a side exit, cleanly evading anyone that might ask questions, she could feel every heartbeat like a pain in her chest and throat. She had hopped over the fence and was halfway to the canal before she came back to herself enough to realize she could pull out of stealth mode.

Being stealthy and sneaky wasn't something that she often did. Her father had beaten it into her instincts that those kinds of tactics were extremely dishonorable. Alternately, though, it was interesting that the sneakiest people she knew were in her own family or the Saotomes'. However, today was necessary – while she could drudge through the academic part of school easily enough, dealing with everything else that a typical day at school entailed was still a bit beyond her capacity.

Once she was near enough to the canal, she slipped through a thin crack in the fence, continuing doggedly until she was at the bridge. She placed herself in the dark shadows of the bridge, paranoia and a small voice telling her that Ranma would likely search for her soon. But she wanted to be left alone for a while to mourn the tattered remnants of her life.

Slowly and deliberately, she unlatched her bookbag, gazing disconsolately at the fluffy white material that mocked her from within. Careful of her own balance as she leaned over the canal's stream, she upended the container, watching shredded chiffon and tulle drift away. The material instantly soaked up the water but still managed to float.

Akane finally collapsed to her knees, her eyes only on the result of last night's destruction. She didn't feel better. In fact, if not for the heavy weight on her chest, she was afraid she might not be feeling anything at all.

Mousse felt that he was forever pushing his glasses up on his face in order to see clearly. Crossing through Nerima didn't always demand perfect vision but today he wanted it. The old ghoul decided to grant him the first half of the day off, mostly because Shampoo kept glaring at him to the point that it was disturbing her work.

Coming from an Amazon village, he was used to being seen as a nuisance. In fact, he was one of the few men of his generation to have combat skills at all. After all, men were breeders to the Joketsuzoku women and were mostly good for nothing. Recently, he had been asking himself why he didn't fight Shampoo for the right of marriage, for a village member had a greater claim than an outsider, but he already knew the problem in that situation. He couldn't, for the life of him, lay a hand on Shampoo in anger.

Because he had just pressed his eyeglasses up against his face, he managed to approach the bridge in time to see a lot of white drifting down the river canal. He glanced at the other side of the bridge, idly wondering if the river was rushing. No… it was calm. So, what was with all the white?

"Baka," he heard. The voice was very soft, much too soft for someone that wasn't almost blind and hadn't compensated with their hearing as a result. In short, someone that wasn't Mousse wouldn't have heard it or been able to identify the owner of the voice. It was undoubtedly Miss Akane Tendo but she often yelled that epithet quite vehemently and Ranma was often in the vicinity.

Not thinking about the consequences, he jumped over the edge of the bridge, angling to that he would strike the far shore instead of the water. As was suited to a master of the Hidden Weapon Technique, his aim was dead-on. "Akane?"

The girl looked up at him and what the Chinese male saw in her eyes scared him deeply. He hadn't told anyone but he felt very bad about what happened in Jusendo and even worse about the events at the Tendo house afterward. Her big brown eyes, usually animated with anger or joy, were empty and sad. Finally, he cast a glance at the white stuff floating down the river and returned his eyes to her and the satchel at her side. There were pieces of soft white material clinging to the edges.

Soft… White… Her wedding dress?

"Mousse?" she finally inquired softly.

He walked closer to her, pressing his glasses against his face once again. Tears were steadily leaking out of her eyes and his appearance seemed to have done little to dissuade their journey. He finally knelt next to her, facing the girl rather than the water that could so easily alter his species. "What's wrong?"

Akane laughed but the sound of it, watery and bitter, seemed to echo the heartache of yearning and disappointment that Mousse himself felt every day. "Everything." She sighed and seemed to shake herself and he wondered if she was trying to force herself out of the funk. "Did you know I've always wanted to get married?"

Mousse jolted slightly. She had… wanted that? "No," he answered simply, his mind opening up to a truth that had never occurred to him. What did any of them truly know about Akane? That she was violent and quick to anger and couldn't cook very well (or at all, if Ranma was to be believed)? "I don't think I know much about you at all," he added, declaring aloud the thought in his head.

She looked at him sharply and he cringed at the movement alone, though her face bore no malice but only disbelief. After a moment of her eyes searching his face quite avidly, she laughed again, a brief sound brimming with relief. "It's okay," she informed him softly. It was that comment that made him realize that his face was expressing the self-blame and stricken sadness that he felt.

It was odd to see it happen, to actually see one of Akane's mood changes. Just seconds before, she had been almost emptied out because of sadness but he could see her eyes slowly fill up with compassion and concern. It was almost like seeing the sun rise or Shampoo's glee when she mastered another one of Cologne's mysterious techniques.

At the thought of the purple-haired Amazon, Mousse sighed. It had only taken two minutes for his mind to circle back to her. Not record-breaking but it did prove that he could get her off his mind.

What mattered, though, was the girl in front of him. He had been raised that all women, even outsiders, could and would be above his own place of importance. As a breeder, though a very talented breeder, he felt extremely… guilty for never realizing that Akane was more than a rival to Shampoo, more than a martial artist with a penchant for malleting her fiancé into the stratosphere.

Japanese custom required a very deep bow, usually kneeling with one's forehead to the ground, for the most serious apologies. So, it was what Mousse did now. "Miss Tendo, I am deeply grieved at any affront I have given you."

She merely scoffed and hauled him upright again. "Mousse, stop it. I mean it."


"I get that I'm wallowing but it's not your fault." She pushed her hair back when she realized it was sticking to her face, twisting a lock idly with a finger. "It's not really anyone's fault, I guess."

"I have to make it up to you," he said intently. "I should know better."

After a short beat of silence, Akane smiled, not quite a grin or what Ranma thought of as her 'cute smile' but a ghost of happiness in any case. "Mousse, have you ever been outside of Nerima?"