Chapter Four

Ranma stuck his pencil between his nose and upper lip, attempting to balance it there. Folding his arms behind his head, he pushed his chair to lean on the back two legs, and balanced in that position. The teacher merely paused in his lecture to stare at the young man before shrugging and continuing his lesson.

Good, Ranma thought, letting his mind wander. Any notes he missed he could get from Akane or Ukyo or someone who actually put an effort toward school.

It had been close to a month since Akane and his last challenge. She never brought it up again, although after the second challenge was completed, she insisted on a tie breaker. Ranma's jaw was probably still bruised from falling to the ground at her comment.

He smirked.

It wasn't like he minded the challenge, but it was slightly unnerving that Akane never mentioned it again. Of course they acted like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Their families were still in the dark (which was evidenced by the lack of wedding invitations), fiancées and would-be boyfriends were clueless which explained the lack of more than customary death threats to either half in the couple.

Sighing deeply, the boy focused back in on the teacher but it didn't last long as several questions flitted through his mind.

When should the challenge be? Should he be the one who administered it? Maybe Akane wasn't saying anything because she wanted to back out of what she said?

The last thought made Ranma's stomach tighten in worry.

No, Akane would never back down from anything when it came to her looking bad in front of a group. Especially the plotting group of friends they usually had around them, even if they didn't know she was 'looking bad' it would be enough that she knew. That's just how Akane's mind worked.

But there had to be something there. Maybe she was trying to make him sweat it out? Perhaps hoping Ranma would back down or admit defeat by default? Right. Like that would ever happen. As well as the pig-tailed boy knew Akane, he was equally sure she knew him well enough to know it would never happen. That being so, there was no way she'd pull a wait-it-out stunt.

So preoccupied by his thoughts, Ranma never saw the eraser coming his way until it smacked him on the side of his face. A puff of white smoke surrounded him as the teacher told him to go hold buckets in the hall.

Muttering, Ranma did as he instructed. It was perfect actually; he no longer had to pretend to pay attention to the boring lecture and was now able to focus all of his attention at the challenge at hand. Surely he could come up with something before the end of school!

It was only Akane, after all.

Akane knew he was watching, waiting for her to say something or to make a move. Ranma always wanted the upper hand in anything that they did and this time was no different. As long as she stalled though, he would have more time to think and to fret about what she was thinking or wasn't thinking.

There were also a few other bonuses to his one track mind. With Ranma so eager to best her, he wasn't paying any heed to the other fiancées. When Shampoo had recently crashed into the dojo when Ranma and Akane were practicing, the Amazon was told to get lost or he'd get mad. Akane knew it was because he was sure that only a few seconds before the invasion she was going to initiate the challenge. Ukyo had pestered Nabiki about what was going on and for the first time since the youngest Tendo could remember the middle sister begrudgingly had to admit to knowing nothing.

Nabiki had tried though, she'd done everything imaginable to get the pair to tattle on each other and on themselves. Thankfully, Ranma had enough brains to brush the brunette off and keep his focus. There were so many bonuses to this mess that Akane wasn't sure she ever want to finish it. Having all of Ranma's attention was what she wanted, though it was something she wasn't going to mention out loud to anyone or anything (one never knew where Nabiki had microphones hooked up).

"So," Ranma dragged out, trying to pry Akane from her private thoughts. "Did you get the homework assignments?"

Glancing up at where he balanced on the fence as they walked home, Akane smiled and nodded. Ranma stumbled a bit and Akane raised an eyebrow at his behavior.

"Just because I have them, doesn't mean I'll give them to you." There was a smirk on her lips as Ranma paused, groaned, and finally caught back up.

"Come on, 'kane! That's not fair!"

"Maybe you should pay more attention." She gave a small, secretive smile. "Perhaps if it was written in red, you'd notice it more."

Ranma's face went slack as his mouth dropped open a bit. She turned to him again, laughed lightly, and ran the rest of the way home.

As Ranma dried his hair that night, he couldn't believe she was now teasing him about it! Actually, the rational part of his brain contested, it was also proof she hadn't forgotten about the challenge. Perhaps it was all a joke to her?

Ranma's temper didn't flair as he thought it might at this suggestion, he felt rather disappointed if it turned out she had been playing with him this entire time.

No! Ranma growled, shaking his head a bit as if to throw out the very thought. She wouldn't do that to me.

He sighed, tossed the towel over his shoulder, and walked out of the bathroom. Not yet tired but clean, Ranma thought it best to at least walk around for a bit before having to resign himself to sleeping. He really didn't like going to sleep knowing he'd have to wake up to go back to school. It was necessary for sure, but it never meant he had to like it.

"Don't walk into a wall," Nabiki's crisp voice advised from behind him.

Having been daydreaming, the sound of her voice caused him to jump a bit. It was then that he noticed how close he had come to walking into the wall…right next to Akane's door.

"Planning on going for a midnight rendezvous, Ranma?"

The pigtailed boy's face clearly showed his panic to the brunette who looked thoroughly amused.

"What would Daddy have to say about this?" She arched a slim eyebrow as Ranma back stepped quickly from the door and took off down the hall.

Man, that was close. He sighed when he was safely wrapped up in his blankets. I wonder what would have happened if Nabiki hadn't stopped me?

Thoughts, unbidden, surfaced once more in his mind. He pinched his eyes shut and forcibly removed the images coloring his imagination. The challenge had to be issued soon or he'd be in trouble.

Before Ranma departed into dream world, he made a firm decision that if she didn't issue a formal challenge, he'd do it.

He smiled at that thought.

Akane's eyes widened slightly as the letter fluttered to the ground, the word 'challenge' scrawled across it boldly. Picking it up quickly, she scanned the locker room to make sure no one else was around. Opening the letter, her fears quickly soothed as a grin and a raised eyebrow took their place.

'Sunday. Just outside of town. 7 o'clock. Be there or it will be considered a forfeit.'

Scribbling on the note, the girl tucked it away in her school satchel; Akane checked and rechecked the locker room before taking off to the P.E. class.

Unfortunately, she didn't check well enough.

Nabiki Tendo smiled as she stepped off the toilet and out of the stall. Her little sister was hiding something and it would be a great insult to the Queen of Blackmail not to know what was happening in her own household.

She pulled open Akane's locker and reached for her satchel.

This was just too easy.

And this, since her precious little sister was so keen on keeping this secret, would profit the middle girl a lot of yen. Securing the note, the girl slipped it up her sleeve, shut the locker and made her way back to class.

Ranma knew the answer by the sly smile Akane wore when they were walking home together. She swung her bag carelessly at her side, there was a slight bounce in her step and she never once met his gaze.

Okay, Ranma thought, she should be happy but this happy?

What was she thinking about? Was she laughing at him inwardly at his a wee bit of desperate attempt to get this challenge started? What if she was going to stand him up on the challenge day..?

No, he reassured himself. She'd never forfeit unless she was dead. Ranma shivered at his own twisted thought.

"How was your day?' Akane asked casually.

Ranma looked down at her, eyebrow raised slightly. "Fine."

"Is that all? No random fiancées showing up swearing how much they love you and wanting to marry you on the spot?" Akane's kept her voice light in an attempt at feigning astonishment.

Ranma jumped off the fence a few feet before it ended and shrugged.

"It's been a slow day."

Akane had to force herself from snorting at his comment. "Whatever, Ranma."

That night Ranma sat under the stars and on the roof above her bedroom. Due to a random Happosai attack this afternoon, the pigtailed boy thought it was best to hide up on the roof if the pervert tried anything again. It was the wrinkled little man and Nabiki who had him worried.

Nabiki had been even more put out than normal about Akane and his secret. Personally he was amazed she hadn't taken a wild stab and landed with the correct answer. She was too crafty and cunning for his tastes, Akane could intimidate her sister to a point but Ranma would flounder because Nabiki was still a girl. Sadly, the older Tendo sister realized this and used this, often, to her advantage.

Akane had been smiling all through dinner about something she didn't feel like sharing with the rest of the group and it had Ranma slightly on edge. She wasn't looking at him, hardly even registered his presence at the table and he sat right next to her! The most bothersome thing was Akane never answered his challenge letter.

It was driving him mad!

Grumbling under his breath, the boy closed his eyes, content to block out the world for a moment. Quickly, Ranma was fast asleep and lightly snoring. Below him, Akane smiled up at her ceiling.

He had camped out above her room after dinner, she knew, Akane was also aware of the rough exercises Genma had been putting her fiancé through and therefore it was only a matter of waiting before he crashed. Marking the page in her book, she quickly threw on her robe and stepped into her slippers. Grabbing a pre-written note, she made her way to the balcony that was built on to her window not too long ago. Soun had insisted because this way Ranma and she could be together no matter where the boy hid.

Akane maneuvered her way up on the roof as stealthily as she was able to do. Standing up, she flailed for a moment before recapturing her balance and taking a deep relieved breath. The blue haired girl smirked as the boy lay on his side, oblivious to the world. Quietly, the girl tiptoed to his side, took the note and without any warning, she pressed the note to his forehead and none too gently.

Ranma woke up with a harsh jerk, "What the-? Akane!"

She stood up, hands on hips, and a deep, malicious grin on her face.

"Accepted," was all she stated before making her way back into the house. Ranma sat on the roof, blinking at where he'd last seen the girl, and dumbly trying to guess what the heck had gotten into her.

Noticing the piece of paper taped to his forehead, he tugged it off and with a muttered curse, he opened it up. She had scribbled the word 'accepted' and drawn him a little picture of a pig sticking out his tongue. Ranma's eye ticked.

"You're on!" He chuckled darkly, having been annoyed that his main rival's face was used to make her point even though she was blissfully unaware of it.

He adjusted the collar of his shirt for the millionth time. It was five minutes until Akane was to show up and he couldn't have been on pins and needles anymore than he already was. The entire household had been in complete confusion as the couple would give in to silent, though intimidating, glaring contests. Nabiki seemed curious even while playing the aloof one. Kasumi had simply repeated 'oh, my' over and over as the two fathers started to sit close to whatever exit they could incase the two kids decided to turn their seemingly lethal attention to them.

This day had been different though. Ranma avoided Akane and she seemed to have no problem doing the same. He only could guess it was because neither of them wanted to give away their game plan for winning the challenge. And would Ranma win?

Damn straight he would.

It was bad enough to think of losing to a girl, but to Akane? She'd never let him live it down. Ranma smirked, knowing he wasn't going to let her forget that he won after he did. Then again, she had no qualms about shutting him up with that blasted comes-from-thin-air mallet of hers.

"You're going to get wrinkles from thinking that hard," a familiar and confident voice taunted. "Either that," she continued, "or break something in there."

Akane used the tip of her finger to tap his temple and then crossed her arms, observing the pig-tailed boy.

"You're almost late."

"Almost doesn't count," she replied flippantly.

Ranma found this attitude was getting on his nerves. If it was some type of girl trick, it was annoying as hell.

"I hope you're ready to lose, Tendo."

"I don't think so; I'm going to beat you, again, Ranma."

"Not if you can't talk."

"But you can't either and we're in public so you can't do anything perverted."

His blue eyes narrowed.

"Like I would even want to."

"So what are the rules this time?"

"The same as last time I guess."

"I have a suggestion."

Oh no, this wasn't going to be pretty. Get a girl thinking and the result was never very pretty for the males in her vicinity. With Akane it usually wasn't pretty and usually involved assault and battery.

"Since we are in a public area, we can't exactly try to same—tactics as we did before."

Ranma watched as her eyes darted around and her cheeks went to a light pink but quickly faded.

"So why not make it easier on the both of us and end this once and for all."


Akane had thought long and hard about this and had been hesitant to take this route but she wanted to win! Winning meant some sacrifice, like dignity or shyness. Inhaling a deep breath, she closed her eyes and snapped them open into a steady glare.

"We kiss."

Ranma blinked a million times a second. Had she really said that? His mind kicked into gear and worked on the logical reasons why she would suggest something like that. His cheeks flared and Ranma was glad the challenge hadn't started.

"I mean," Akane continued after a moment of his stunned silence. "If one of us blushes before then we don't' have to kiss, just-"

"Deal," Ranma rushed out, not wanting to actually talk about it further or his cheeks might explode before anything happened.

Swallowing, Saotome slowly drew closer to the girl who instantly stiffened. He didn't move again until she took a tentative step forward. He relaxed and then mentally slapped himself. This was a challenge! How many times did he have to think this? Every time they had a challenge like this, he had to remember!

Getting his mind off the outcome and onto winning, the boy put his hands on either side of her waist and pulled her gently closer. Akane's brown eyes grew in shock. She expected him to back down saying she was crazy for even suggesting something like this. But no, not Ranma. He never liked to lose.

Well, too bad! Akane was going to win this even if she had to bit her tongue to focus on something besides his closeness, the possible kiss…all of it! She felt her face start to betray her as he leaned in further, dipping his head slowly.

Saotome noticed his fiancée was struck speechless and briefly wondered why she wasn't carrying through with her part of the deal. Wasn't she supposed to be moving as well? Showing, he didn't know, some signs of enthusiasm? Something?

Akane's breath caught in her throat as his eyes began to close, so much so she didn't even realize her own eyes closing in time with his.

Ranma felt the feathers tickling his stomach float down to a controllable level as he opened his eyes to stare at his fiancée. She had just been staring at him the last time he had his eyes opened and wondered if she was still just staring at him. Maybe this was some ploy to laugh at him? No. That was ridiculous. Perhaps it would be her excuse to beat him to death with that cursed mallet of hers. That sounded a ton more logical than anything else he could think of.

However he noticed something instead of anger. What he noticed was a light pink blush over the bridge of her nose and both cheeks.

"Y-you're blushing," he quietly pointed out. The girl's eyes opened wide and before Ranma could say anything in triumph, Akane touched his cheek.

"So are you," Akane answered, keeping her will strong or else she would find the park where they were standing rather interesting instead of his face. "A-and we didn't even do anything yet."

A small voice in Ranma's mind hung on to her last word. Yet she said. Did that mean, although this would be forced to be considered a draw, that she wanted to still continue with the challenge? Akane hadn't moved away, shrugged off his touch, or removed her hands from his chest.

Ranma tried to remember when her hands had gotten there and only came to the conclusion it was probably sometime when his heart was thumping in his ears.

"So, uh, what do we do-?"

Akane's blush deepened and trailed down her neck. She knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to kiss him since their dare in the cave, but Ranma was as skittish as she was defensive about anything of that nature.

Clearing his throat, Ranma's blush seemed to almost glow.

"I've never backed down from a challenge and I've never not completed a challenge either."

Her eyebrows crashed together in thought and then shot straight up in realization. Akane met his eyes with a clear question in them.

He nervously smiled at her, "Unless you want to forfei-"

Akane took the bait and both were rewarded.

Although both were known for their lack of timidness, the first kiss was shy though not awkward. As a few seconds slipped by, both were assured the other was not going to pull away in disgust or break into a laugh, the kiss deepened. For their first 'authentic' kiss, neither was going to back down or going to give their opponent anything less than as good as they got.

Meanwhile, in the Tendo Dojo house, Nabiki crumpled up a piece of paper in her hand. He little sister had known what she was going to do. The original text had been crossed out and a new message marred the page with, 'Nice try.'

Leaning back in her chair, the girl tapped her index finger against her chin. Fine. Her sister could have this secret. It wasn't like anything could be hidden from Nabiki for long.