---Pieces---

The echoing scream caused him to bolt to his feet before he even knew what had woken him. He stood, swaying and blinking, before he recognized the voice. He ran to Akane's room, absently wondering why no one else was awake after a scream like that.

Akane sat up right, her hands clutching her blanket. She looked up as Ranma burst into her room. He paused uncertain but Akane was already holding out her arms, begging him silently for comfort. He gathered her up into a hug and let her clutch his shirt tightly. She didn't seem to want to cry.

"Are you okay, Akane?" he asked after a while.

"Yes," she whispered, but didn't let go. Ranma wanted to hold her like that all night, with her hands balled in the dark fabric of his tank top, her head nestled under his chin, her hair tickling his nose, her scent as well. She was warm and he felt comfortable, but in the end he knew he had to pull away and did so reluctantly. She still held onto his shirt though. He smiled at her softly and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, letting his fingers linger over her cheek.

"Sleep well, Akane," he murmured. She smiled back at him and leaned forward to kiss his cheek.

"Good night, Ranma. Thank you." She let go of him and rolled over onto her side. Ranma sat for a moment, trying to calm himself and then left.

~~~~~~~~~~

Ranma woke to find himself laying with his head resting in someone's lap. He moaned at some dream stimulus echoing faintly through his head, and a soft voice answered him.

"Ranma?" It was Akane. 'Funny,' he thought. 'She smells like wind.' Some part of him wondered what that meant exactly, but didn't argue. There was, after all, nothing to contest.

"Ranma, are you awake?" He blinked his eyes to clear them and found himself staring up at her brown eyes. Her face was soft and content.

"You sounded as if you were dreaming something bad," she said, her fingers moving softly against his cheeks and hairline. Ranma sighed and closed his eyes.

"No," he murmured, "not exactly. I think it was good."

"Oh?" He could hear her smile. "What were you dreaming?"

"I'm not sure. You were in it."

"Then it must have been good," she teased and he opened his eyes, a serious expression on his face.

"Not always," he said. "I have nightmares about you leaving me, about...someone stealing you away, about-" He cut himself off and reached up to touch her cheek. She smiled softly down at him.

"You sound like you still fight," she murmured, shifting out from under him and laying down beside him, resting her head against his shoulder. He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her warm body against his.

"Mmm..." He didn't comment. He knew his first two concerns could still happen, whether or not he still had his legs. The third was not so possible now, at least not more so than for other people. She shifted suddenly and spread her body over his, lifting herself on her hands placed by his ears against the ground. Her hair fell around his head to form a curtain that encased them together. He looked up at her.

"Why do you still love me?" he asked softly. "I can't protect you anymore."

"I never loved you because you protected me. I loved you because you were you. Now you're you only without legs." She smiled brightly and he crushed her to him, kissing her deeply.

~~~~~~~~~~

She hadn't been able to see past the darkness for two months now and she was begging to tire of being caught in a black world. She shifted irritably in her desk, trying to imagine the history lesson but her people looked skewered. The sudden, irrationally powerful fear that she was losing reality crushed her chest and she had to stifle a whimper. As it was she wasn't able to let go of the desk and wondered if her knuckles were turning white. She wondered what white looked like. She stood abruptly.

"Sensei, may I go to the restroom?" She left without waiting for an answer. She sensed Ranma behind her, following her as always. When she inevitably headed in the wrong direction, he caught her by the elbow and led her to her destination. He didn't say anything, and she hated it but was grateful for it. She spun on him suddenly.

"I'm not a child!" she screamed. "I can take care of myself." She was tense, waiting in the middle of the hallway, her hands fisted, praying silently that she was actually facing him. It would humiliate her if she weren't. There was a butterfly touch on her cheek and then Ranma's warm hand wrapped around hers.

"Let's get out of here, Akane," he murmured. "The park's beautiful at this time of day."

"What does it matter? I can't see it."

"Not all beauty is visible, Akane. Wait here."

She hated him. He had changed since this had happened to her. He had become patient, caring, kind, sometimes wise, always understanding, and she hated it. It made her look irrational when she went into one of her fits. And she went into them often. She couldn't help it. She had never been so helpless, never felt so dependent and after a lifetime of being independent, this was humiliating and frustrating. She hated the pity that seemed to radiate off Ranma, and she hated it that it wasn't even really pity. It was something else. Sometimes she would almost swear that he knew what she felt, as if her being blind had given him new vision.

He returned with their bags, having told the teacher she wasn't feeling well. He had let them go, his pity obvious. Maybe that was why she hated Ranma. He didn't pity her while everyone else did and she could only feel comfortable with him being her protector.

He took her hand and led her down the hall. She followed silently. Eventually they ended up in the park and as they sat side by side, she understood what he meant by not all beauty being visible. She started to cry, wanting that beauty.

~~~~~~~~~~

Someone was crying somewhere near him. He could hear it, the gasping, hiccuping sobs. The deep sighs of misery. It made his own chest ache, but he didn't understand why. Then he knew that those were his sobs and it angered him. He wanted to struggle, but couldn't remember how. He couldn't even remember what it felt like to have a body.

Cool hands touched his feverish forehead and he froze. 'That was sensation,' he thought.

"Calm down. You'll hurt yourself."

'That was hearing. What do the words mean? Am I struggling? Why can't I feel anything?'

"Please, calm down. You're sick. The fever makes it impossible for you to feel the damage you're doing to yourself."

'Damage? To myself?'

"Please, stop." The voice was frantic and abruptly he realized that it belonged to a female. He stopped struggling. Females were safe. They didn't hurt.

"Thank you. Just wait. I can heal the fever." Recognition dawned in him. He knew this voice. He trusted this voice. Trusted it implicitly. But the words it spoke were to that of a stranger, very formal.

'Who? What? Please, whoever you are, love me.' Something soft brushed his cheeks and he became aware of the skin around his wrists. There was rope there; he assumed he'd been tied to limit the damage he did to himself.

"Don't cry. Please. I don't like it when you cry." He became aware of his tongue.

"Who am I?" he asked.

"You are Ranma, a warrior-knight."

"Who are you?" He became aware of a wound on his chest and one on the back of his head. It throbbed.

"I'm Akane, a healer."

"Do you love me?"

"I can't," she whispered. He became aware of his heart. It hurt.

"Why not?" He resented the tears that he could now feel falling down his cheeks. Warrior-knights did not cry. They were strong. They helped those who cried; they did not cry.

"I'm a healer." She sounded desperate.

"Love me anyway," he begged.

"I can't." She was crying now and the pain in his heart was worse. He could feel his chest as it constricted. His arms throbbed in time with his head as he strained against his bonds. His legs were still numb.

"Why not?"

"It's forbidden." Someone else entered the room; he heard the footsteps. Why couldn't he see?

"How is he?" It was a man. Ranma tensed.

"Awake."

"How goes the fever?"

"I haven't asked."

"Why not?" Irritation was ripe in the voice and Ranma wanted to get mad at it.

"He wanted to know who he was."

"You should have asked about the fever first." Ranma raged silently at the voice's anger. If he hadn't been tied and blind he would have attacked that man for speaking to his healer Akane that way. A soft scent filled his nose suddenly and Ranma inhaled deeply instinctively.

"How goes the fever?" Akane murmured into his ear. He wondered if he would feel her breath against his lips if he turned his head.

"I can feel everything except my legs. And I can't see."

"There. You heard." Akane's voice had shifted, moving away from him. 'No,' he realized. 'She hasn't moved; she's turned.' He blinked rapidly, trying to get even the beginning grays of vision into his sight.

"Good. Well, let me know."

"Yes, sir." So submissive. So docile. Ranma hated it. He knew she was passionate. Had he not tasted her passion only a few weeks ago? The thought surprised him and he wondered at it. He heard the door shut and Akane breathe a sigh of relief. He was aware of his ankles and the ropes there.

"You love me," he accused. Her hands covered his mouth.

"Not here," she hissed. There. There was the passion. He could hear it beneath the surface. Ranma strained under her hands, wanting to move them lower.

"Let me go," he begged.

"Can you see yet?" she asked. The gray had come and was spreading rapidly.

"Almost," he answered. He felt her nimble fingers undo the knots. His hands shot out to capture her wrists once he was free and she drew a sharp breath.

"Are you trying to get yourself killed? You know what they do to men who seduce healers!"

"You seduced me," he responded, that memory springing to life. Oh, how he had lusted for her, but tradition had kept them apart and then they had met deep within the forest by chance. The next morning his lust had not lessened any but his love had consumed him.

He felt her tug away from him.

"Ranma!" He smiled slyly. She was blushing; he could tell by her tone.

"Yes, Akane?" His tone was innocent and, at the same time, knowing. She hissed at him and hit him in the arm. He caught her wrist again, blinking as he began to make out the soft peach of her skin and night blue of her hair.

"Why do you never say you love me?" he asked of her. She pulled away again.

"I'm a healer. We love all. I don't need to tell you that."

"No," he responded. "You care for all; you love only me." He could see her shape now, but not her details. He watched her fascinated as she slipped into details. She had turned away from him and was cleaning up the mess that had been made from his sickness.

"Why can't you leave it alone?" she asked her voice hard.

"Why can't you admit it?" he returned.

"Because it doesn't matter."

"It does to me."

"I would rather you alive and warm than dead with three words in your heart."

"If those three words were yours, I would die to take them to my grave."

"Why do you speak like that?"

"Why won't you give me what I want?"

"I have! I've given you my virginity. I've given you your dream."

"I want your words."

"I have none."

"You do." He strode toward her, now aware of his legs. He grabbed her wrist and spun her around, pinning her to the wall with his body.

"They are here," he said softly, placing his hand flat over her heart. It beat rapidly and a blush colored her cheeks.

"I hear them when you moan my name as we make love. I hear them when you whisper your secrets into my ear. I hear them when you touch me, so why won't you say it?"

"Why do you need to hear it?" Her hand came up to cover his. He thought she was going to move it, but she didn't, pressing it, instead, more firmly against her.

"Because they are your soul, and your soul is my soul." She closed her eyes and let her head rest against the wall. He had won and he knew it.

"Say it, Akane."

She didn't answer.

"Say it."

"You say it," she returned, her eyes opening. He smiled.

"I love you, Akane."

"I love you, Ranma."

~~~~~~~~~~

Their bodies lay twisted together. In the redhead's mind, their sweat was their blood and the image was grotesque. She sighed and opened her eyes, wrapping her arms around her lover. The other girl sighed and shifted. Ranma wondered how she could have fallen in love with a girl. She had been male at one point, but she had thought that the curse had changed that. The wizard had implied that it had.

'But I haven't been attracted to anyone at all,' Ranma thought. She shifted her gaze to the larger girl beside her. Ranma had met Akane only a few short months ago and Akane had done two things no one else had done: made Ranma a friend, and a lover. Friendship had been the harder part, achieved only through fierce determination and a refusal to leave. Akane had fought by her side and traveled by her side, been wounded by her side and rescued by her side. After Ranma had admitted the friendship, the lover part had been easy. Ranma had never had a friend who knew about her so completely as Akane did.

The dark haired girl had known Ranma briefly when she had been a he. Although Ranma didn't remember her, Akane claimed to have worked as a chef--dishwasher, she admitted after Ranma had tasted her cooking--for one of the caravans Ranma had worked as a mercenary guard for. After Ranma told her of the curse, Akane had admitted to this brief acquaintance as well as to the fact that she had found Ranma a stuck-up ass. That had sent Ranma blushing badly into the darkness surrounding there camp.

Akane also knew what the curse was doing to Ranma. She knew about the bloodlust that flooded her veins sometimes at night. She knew about the hunger for darkness and occasionally human flesh. She also knew about the sexual lust that drove Ranma mad. That lust occurred infrequently, to Ranma's great relief, but Ranma had felt it necessary to warn Akane about it. Akane had accepted the risk traveling with her entailed, particularly if she went into that lust.

It wasn't until after they were lovers that that lust had hit her again, days after they had made love for the first time. It had been stronger than any Ranma had ever experienced and once she'd woken from the fog of wild erotic images, she had feared to find Akane broken from her desires. Instead she had found Akane sleeping beside her, naked. When Akane had woken, she'd been unable to look a coherent Ranma in the eyes, her face as red as her lover's hair. When Akane had finally told Ranma all that they had done, Ranma had been shocked. She had wandered around in a daze for the better part of the next day. When she snapped out of it, in the middle of some village, she had grabbed Akane, swung her over her shoulder, and carried her off somewhere so that she could have actual memories of that time.

No one in that village had been able to look directly at them when they'd returned.

Akane shifted again, purring under breath and stretching her body against Ranma's.

"Mmm...Ranma..."

"Yeah?" Akane sagged and opened her eyes to glare at her.

"Can't you be more romantic than that after last night?" she asked.

"No. Did something happen last night?" Ranma cocked her head at Akane, her eyes sparking with mischief.

"Do I need to remind you?"

"I think so."

And she did.

Later, when the sun was high in the sky, and both of them lay naked outside the cave that had become their home, Ranma posed a question to Akane.

"What would you say if I tried to get my male body back?"

"You mean lift the curse?" she asked, raising herself onto one elbow and resting on her side to look at Ranma.

"Yeah." She looked at the sky for a minute longer before looking over at Akane. The dark-haired girl's face was unreadable. She reached out and ran her fingers lightly over Ranma's stomach, trailing the tips down from between her breasts to the brilliantly colored hair between her lover's legs.

"Would you change?"

"Of course! I'd be a man," Ranma grumbled, crossing her arms under her breasts. Akane snorted.

"No, you idiot! I meant your personality!"

"Oh. I don't know. I might be more masculine." At this Akane started to laugh. Ranma glared at her.

"I don't think you can be more masculine, Ranma," she giggled. Ranma blushed.

"So what would you do?" she asked again, trying to refocus the conversation. Akane's laughter died suddenly. She knew that Ranma thought she loved only women, but the truth was that Ranma was the only woman she'd ever loved, and Ranma was a very masculine woman.

"I don't know," Akane answered honestly. She rested her hand on Ranma's stomach, catching one of Ranma's hands and playing with the fingers. "If you were too different, I don't know if I could love you. I love you as you are now. It doesn't have much to do with your sex."

"But surely my sex does impact it." Akane blushed.

"Not as much as you believe," she answered.

"Oh?" Ranma's eyebrow arched high.

Akane nodded and Ranma moved so their bare skin touched.

"So if I was the same, personality wise, you think you might still love me?"

"Probably. I would have to get used to it, of course, so it's not like I'd seduce you the second I saw you as a male, but then again..." Akane paused, raising up a dead memory of the male Ranma she had known. "You were cute," she finished. Ranma blushed brilliantly, and Akane was thrilled with the way it reached her stomach.

~~~~~~~~~~

Ranma watched fascinated as Akane blushed down to her stomach. He hadn't known it could go down that far. Akane crossed her arms over her chest, drawing Ranma's eyes back to her breasts.

"Are you just gonna stare at me?" Akane asked tightly. He smiled at the nervousness in her voice, and at the eagerness.

"I might. You look pretty good. Did you know you blush down to your stomach?" Akane looked away, her blush darkening. Ranma's smile softened and he stretched his hand out to her. She took and he brought her to him. He looked up at her and inhaled her scent. She smelled like lavender.

"I think it's cute," he said.

"What?"

"How far down your blush goes."

"Ranma." She would have been annoyed had she not been embarrassed. It would have been easier had he not requested that she undress first.

"It's your turn." He smiled and stood. Pulled his shirt up over his head and dropped it to the floor. She had only an instant to process the mischief that flooded his smile before he bent and kissed her deeply. She melted into him, intensely aware of his bare chest against her bare breasts. She moaned into his kiss and pushed him back against the bed.

~~~~~~~~~~

The bottom of his stomach dropped out and he felt his throat tighten as if he had eaten something he was allergic to. Her face died and then was wiped clean of expression.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"Akane..." She raised a hand to stop him.

"I understand that I get in the way, and that I've been a bother to you, but I had hoped--well, it doesn't matter now, I suppose. I'm sorry to have wasted your time." She bowed stiffly. "Please, forgive me. I wish you happiness with whoever you choose to be your next wife." He watched her walk away, his mouth working hard, his hand stretched out, but nothing happening. There were no words, no wild rush of panic, just the belated realization that those were the last words he'd ever speak to her. And how they echoed in his mind...

Ranma woke, bolting up right and then falling hard against his sleeping bag. Another nightmare with another faceless man taking Akane away. Another night spent half-asleep, half-awake, mind twisting with horrible images of Akane fucking some man in their house, in their bed, on the sheet that they had used their wedding night.

Ranma growled darkly and rolled over onto his stomach, pounding the ground with his fists, and suddenly the man had a face: Ryoga. Another face: Kuno. Another face: Toma. And another and another and another. So many faces, so many who wanted her, so many who were worthy of her, so many who protected her in the way he couldn't, wouldn't, hadn't.

Ranma shot to his feet and began running. He pushed himself hard, pushed himself past his limits, past all endurance, collapsing when he legs gave out, collapsing when all he would dream would be the black of his own heart.

A sweet smell invaded his nostrils, waking him slowly. He was warm from the heat of fire off to his right. How long had it been since he had allowed himself that comfort? Too long. He rolled away from it.

"You'll freeze." And he did, but not the way she meant. She. Oh, it was she and oh, how beautiful she sounded.

"You're a desire induced delusion," he told her, squeezing his eyes shut, and curling tightly into a ball.

"I don't think so, but I'm glad to know that you want me." Oh god, she was so close! He could almost feel her heat against his back as he had once so long ago. Long ago when she had curled up against him and talked to him, her words slurred by her sexually induced exhaustion. Long ago when they had been happy. Long ago before he had ruined the only part of his life that he had fought for, desired to die for.

"Well, I think so, and of course I want you. God, do you have any idea what you are to me?"

"Your words betrayed your heart?" she asked. He wondered why he should talk to this delusion.

"Yes. I betrayed my heart. My words were my tool."

"Why did you use them that way then? They were so pointed, Ranma."

"I know. I'm sorry, you don't know how sorry."

"You're going to freeze to death."

"What does it matter? I'd be happy to die if you came with me."

"I'm not ready to die. Your son isn't either." Ranma's eyes shot open at that. He spun despite himself and found Akane sitting behind him. Her stomach was rounded by the first signs of pregnancy.

"Akane..." he breathed.

"Tell me why, Ranma." He lay on his back and stared at the sky.

"I don't know. I was so jealous. I think...I think I was drunk, or coming out of it. I can't remember much. I saw you with-with who? Who was it? I can't remember. He wasn't me and you looked so happy. I was so jealous. I didn't want you to be that happy with someone else."

"Ranma." She scooted toward him and took his hand.

"Please forgive me, Akane. I didn't mean it. I never meant it. Never. Never."

"I do forgive you, Ranma. I do. Just...don't do it again. My heart can't be broken a second time." He nodded tears in his eyes as he pushed himself up right and wrapped his arms around her. He sobbed into her shoulder and she into his.

~~~~~~~~~~

"If you want to survive this posting, you'd better watch what comes from your mouth." Ranma smirked at the girl before him. She was petite with light skin and dark hair. It was cropped short, as was usual for women with her job. He let his eyes roam over her body, admiring the lithe build of muscles beneath the Skin she wore. It was a beautiful color for her too, a perfect match to her hair.

"Yeah, and what damage could you do to me?" The sentence was only halfway out of his mouth when she began to reach for her SandGun. His hands came up when he found himself looking down the barrel.

"Hey, hey, calm down. I didn't mean nothin' by it." Her dark eyes flickered with something he only saw in Second Earth Guards much older than either of them.

"Make sure it stays that way," she said, slipping the gun back into its holster. He nodded and began walking toward the main gate where they had been assigned.

"So what's your name?" She glanced out of the corner of her eye as they walked.

"Akane."

"No last name?"

"It doesn't matter."

"Doesn't, or you don't want it to?"

"Does that matter?" she asked. "Same achievement either way." He turned his head to look at her.

"Most people like the boost a famous name gives them."

"I'm not most people and don't step there." He paused in mid-step and looked down. A popper-mole lay under his foot.

"Shit!" he swore, falling back. She smirked.

"You should watch your feet, sir." He glared at her, stepping over it.

"For someone warning others to watch their mouths, you sure have one."

"Yeah, well." Her smirk changed into a genuine smile. He wondered if she smiled often.

Ranma waited outside Akane's postedroom, musing to himself. Two months ago, meeting her for the first time, he had thought that he had just met the most up tight, smart-mouthed person in the New Moon Post. Then he had run into her almost a week later at one of the most exclusive Freak Clubs and been shocked. She had dominated the dance floor, moving sensually in a C-Skin that had emphasized her figure subtly, creating one of the most erotic images he had ever seen. He had managed to grab her as she had paused for a drink and then had proceeded to have her dominate his evening. It had been the first night he had ever spent with only one woman. It was also the first night he had ever gone to bed alone.

They had become fast friends after that night, and only friends despite Ranma's fervently hope for more. Akane seemed oblivious to his feelings for her. 'Probably passes it off as lust,' he thought with a sigh. Not that he blamed her if she did. He did lust after her. It was just recently that he had begun to suspect that it ran much deeper than that. Much deeper.

"What are you doing in there?" he called, frowning and pounding on her door.

"Be out in a second. I can't find my shoes."

"Shoes?" Ranma asked himself. Few people wore shoes anymore, choosing instead a full Skin. Before he could raise his voice to ask her, her door slid open and he was treated to the most unique and magnificent sight: Akane was wearing a pale yellow Old Earth dress. It was held up by only two thin straps, the bodice hugged her, emphasizing her curves in a way that a Skin would never be able to, and the skirt flared out to flow softly around her thighs.

Ranma's breath caught somewhere deep in his chest and he had a wild thought that he wanted to fall to his knees and worship her. It must have showed in his face because she blushed and looked away. She didn't move though; so he stood and stared, admiring the curve of her breasts as they disappeared beneath the light material, the trim lines of her waist, the soft glow of the skin of her inner thigh, the delicate line of her neck and jaw, the soft pink that colored her cheeks, the red of her lips, which were slightly parted and begging him to lick them.

Ranma jerked his face away, blushing madly. What had gotten into him? He only had those types of thoughts when he was safely away from her and couldn't act upon them. 'Shit, Ranma, you are so gonna fuck this up,' he thought.

~~~~~~~~~~

PerfectPerfectPerfectPerfect... The thought just kept repeating at rapid fire, keeping Ranma's thoughts safely away from anything more perverted.

He swallowed hard and looked away from her. He hadn't noticed her at first. She had been quiet and just watched for the first half of class. It wasn't unusual for a girl to take a martial arts class, so she hadn't caught his eye in that respect. It wasn't until she had started moving that he had been drawn to her. It was like watching water move. Then she had stopped moving and he had been able to take in her looks. The dark, semi-long hair, the pale skin, the slender body, the delicate curves, the fire that had shone in her eyes. It had astounded him.

Suddenly Ranma became aware of a prayer running through the back of his mind.

'Please let her be mean. Please let her be horrid. Please, please, don't let me fall in love.'

Cold shock shot through his body and Ranma found his balance again. He wasn't going to go through that again. It had been hard enough to handle the first time. He'd be damned if he were going to go through it a second time.

"Hey. Ranma!" He jerked at the voice and automatically snapped a fist at the speaker. It was caught easily. His half brother stood before him.

"Oh. Ryoga. What's up?"

"That's what I was about to ask you. You looked furious. And sad. Is it about Ukyo again?" Ranma scowled at him.

"No."

Ryoga's face told Ranma that he believed otherwise.

"Not exactly," he amended. He turned and looked out across their class. Ryoga followed his actions.

"Oh." It was soft, but very full of understanding. The longer Ryoga watched the girl move, the more certain he was that Ranma would fall in love. Like Ukyo she was an excellent martial artist, but, unlike Ukyo, her spirit was also that of a fighter. Ryoga knew that she would fight to keep what was hers. And that was how Ryoga knew that she'd fall in love with Ranma. Not because he knew her and he knew that their personalities would fit, but because he knew that Ranma needed someone to fight for him, not physically, but emotionally. This girl would do that, and she'd do it until death.

~~~~~~~~~~

Blood was everywhere and he couldn't get it off her. It stained her dress, her body, her hair, and Ranma couldn't figure out how to get it off Akane. It would have helped if she had not had an open wound in her chest.

"Ranma?" Her eyes fluttered open and she looked around without focusing on anything. Ranma clutched her tighter.

"Akane. I'm here." Her eyes fluttered closed again.

"That's good."

"I'm sorry, Akane."

"Why?"

"I couldn't protect you."

"It's not your fault."

"It is!" he cried angrily, his arms tightening around her convulsively. She moaned and he hastily loosened his grip.

"I wanted to protect you, Ranma. I always have."

"Why?" He wanted to cry desperately, but he wouldn't, not yet.

"I love you, dummy. Isn't that why you'd always fight for me? Isn't that why you're crying now?" Ranma started slightly. He hadn't realized he'd started crying.

"Yeah," he whispered, lowering his head to hers. She nuzzled her head against his. They stayed like that, silent, till she died and then Ranma held her till she was hard and heavy in his arms and he could no longer feel anything but the numbness that had encased his soul.

~~~~~~~~~~

He closed his eyes as he moved against her to focus on the noises she was making. Each grunt sent a warm release of air over his neck and shoulder. She was moving against him as hungrily as he was against her, her hands moving across his back and shoulders, clutching him tightly, sometimes just with her arms, sometimes with her nails, sometimes with both. Her heels dug into the back of his thighs, using his body to push against him. Her grunts were beginning to stretch out into moans and he knew that meant she was close. Then she gave out one sharp high-pitched gasp and arched back against him. She moaned under breath, whispering desperately as she fought the pleasure that had engulfed her. He pushed hard against her, searching for his own release. It came and he collapsed against her, panting her name over and over.

Akane kissed him again and again, hoping he would keep her from thinking about the implications of what they had just done. He responded weakly at first and then with more passion as the exhaustion of what they had just done faded. Despite his renewed interest, Akane couldn't fight the thoughts that hadn't come before now and began to cry.

The taste of salt paused Ranma, causing him to pull away from Akane.

"Hey, what's wrong?" It was the wrong thing to ask, and Akane sobbed and pushed him away, rolling off the bed. She began to pick up her clothes and dress. Ranma watched her, his throat tight.

"Akane..." It came out plaintive. Akane began to shake. She sat down on the edge of the bed and buried her face in her hands.

"You're married, Ranma. You just cheated on your wife, in the bed that you share with her no less," she said around her hands. Ranma moved to sit beside her. He didn't touch her. He didn't say anything. He just stared at his feet. He wasn't sure how long they sat like that, but after some time, Akane leaned up against him.

"Ranma," she whispered. He shook his head to bring himself back to reality.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't have done that. I--God, Akane, do you have any idea what this marriage is like? She said she loved me. You were there; she's attacked you for cryin' out loud. Then that stupid thing with the spice. I felt guilty, Akane. I don't love her; I never loved her. She didn't love me. She thought she did, but once we were married and all the glory of having gotten the infamous, uncatchable Ranma Saotome wore off, she stopped caring." Ranma stopped. What else could he say?

Akane slid her hand into Ranma's. She had suspected that they were unhappy, but they both pretended well.

"I didn't realize, Ranma." He let go of her hand and stood, wrapping a sheet around his waist.

"But you're right, Akane. I'm married. This shouldn't have happened." He turned to look at her, dressed in only her panties and a half-buttoned blouse. She looked beautiful, her hair tousled. Her expression was unreadable. The same feeling that had come over him before he had kissed her was back. He was married to a woman who didn't really love him, who had fooled herself into loving him, and who had fooled him into marrying her. He was married to a woman he didn't really love. The woman he loved was before him now. He had just made love to that woman for the first time. It had been their first time together and her first time ever. Ranma knelt before her.

"Fuck Ukyo, Akane. Fuck this marriage. Fuck this life. I don't love her. I love you and you love me. Let's get out of here. Let's run away. We can be together. Please." Akane stared at him, her eyes wide.

"Now?"

"Now." She hesitated and then kissed him hard. He returned it and then pulled away. He pulled her to her feet and handed her the rest of her clothes.

"Here. Get dressed. Wait for me while I dress and pack. Then we'll go to your house and you can pack." He was moving around the room as he talked, dropping the sheet and pulling on his discarded boxers. "Then we'll be gone."

"Gone," Akane echoed.

~~~~~~~~~~

Ranma scowled at Akane. She scowled back and shifted uncomfortably. The shackles around her wrists and ankles chimed. He looked away and edged up against the wall. He peeked out, ears twitched for any sound. His tail flicked unhappily behind him.

"Get your fucking tail away from me." Ranma turned his head to find that his tail had wrapped around Akane's leg. She had her fangs bared, and her eyes glowed red. Hastily he snatched his tail back, thanking any and everything that her shackles were strong enough to hold her. He turned back to the hallway. He couldn't see anyone, hear anyone, or--Ranma drew a deep breath through his nose--smell evidence of anyone.

"Stay here," he said over his shoulder, smirking as the sound of chains echoed through the room again.

He snuck down the hallway and headed toward the FlyingRoom. All of his senses were alert for anyone that might be nearby. There was no one, either in the hallways or in the FlyingRoom. A quick scan of the ship showed that, besides Akane, he was the only one aboard. For a moment, he crooned delightedly and then he realized that it meant that he was alone with Akane.

Akane's hands dug into his hair behind his ears, scratching. Ranma began to purr. At her soft giggle, he tried to stiffly it. He succeeded only to have her reach around to scratch under his chin, his weak spot. He stretched his chin upward, his purring back full force. She giggled again.

"You really are just like a big kitty cat aren't you, Ranma?" He made a disgruntled noise but didn't discourage her petting.

As he lay there, his head in her lap, his tail stretching up to curl possessively around her arm, Ranma wondered how exactly this had happened. He'd been fighting with her practically nonstop since they'd been locked in the same cell. After their ship, with them in it, had been abandoned, he'd gotten lose and taken control. Then she'd gotten lose and nearly beat the snot out of him for not freeing her.

She was viscous and her quick temper had nearly gotten them killed more than once. Only his smart mouth had saved them. Despite their differences though, they had both saved the other's life often enough that it was apparent that they would probably be friends for as long as they lived.

And somehow, somehow, she'd come to mean more to him than any one else had. It had stopped mattering to him that she was a Deamon.

Absently, Ranma lifted his head and butted it against her chin. Akane giggled and nuzzled him back. His purring increased and he nuzzled her back. His tongue flickered out and he licked her lips before he could think about it. And she kissed him back before she could think about it. He turned in her lap, burying his hands in her hair.

"Ranma...." He pulled away, stealing licks and kisses. Her eyes were closed and she breathed heavily. He realized that they were lying on the ground, him on top of her. Her hands clutched involuntarily at his shirt. His tail had wrapped around her and was now stroking the bottom curve of her breast. Her eyes fluttered open. They had taken on the same red glow that they got when she was mad. Startled he let go of her and flung himself away from her.

"Don't hit me! I didn't--it wasn't my fault!"

"What are you talking about?" Ranma dropped his arms to look at her. Her eyes still glowed, but she didn't seem angry.

"Your eyes. They're glowing." She blushed violently.

"Um, yeah. They do that."

"Yeah, when you're angry." She cleared her throat.

"Um, not only when I'm angry though." He sat for a moment and then blushed himself.

"Oh." She scooted closer to him, hesitantly reaching out to take his hand. He grabbed her and pulled her against him, kissing her again.

~~~~~~~~~~

Akane woke, the feeling of something soft still under her fingers. She sat up and looked around her dark bedroom. Next to her, her husband stirred, reaching out to tuck her against him.

"What's wrong, Akane?" he mumbled.

"Nothing. I just had a weird dream is all."

"Was it bad?" Akane shook her head.

"No, Ranma. I think most of it was good."

"Was I in it?"

"Yes."

"Then it had to have been good." Akane giggled around a yawn. Ranma tugged on her.

"Go back to sleep, 'Kane." She snuggled down next to him, and he nuzzled her neck.

"You smell like the wind, 'Kane."

"You always say that."

"It's true."

"No, it's better than saying I smell like stale sweat from a nightmare." Ranma grunted.

"Either way, you smell good."