Anyone who had seen Saotome Ranma and Akane would not have guessed that she was the clingy type. In truth, they wouldn't have considered love part of the bargain at all. They fought and argued and bickered almost constantly, to the point that Saotome Ranma was often seen flying through the air, arms and legs crossed despite his position (or hers, as many of the town were quite familiar with the poor man's curse, than you very much), and muttering about the annoyance of living with "uncute tomboys".
However, to see them at home was different. Only Ranma seemed to understand that the insecurities of their relationship had only doubled when she "won", and that the object of winning him (which she had denied ever wanting, not that he would *ever* understand women) became the object of keeping him, something which she fought for in her usual manner: Too hard and too much.
Still, he loved her, and if letting her continue their habit from the wooing years helped her realise that he stayed with her despite that, he'd put up with it. It kept him on his toes.
Akane stared at the little stick with wide eyes, her heart flip flopping between emotions like a hummingbird's wing. On one side, she was getting what she wanted, on the other... Ranma could see this as a threat to his freedom. Her hand shook. She could lose him so easily... but she had to face that. Even she knew she was a little too needy sometimes.
Ranma looked up from his bowl of rice, a few kernels sticking to his chin and dropping into the bowl as he peered at her, wide eyed, caught in the headlights. Akane stood with her hands behind her back, fidgeting against the ground with her foot.
Ranma swallowed thickly, feeling the rice ball up and threaten to stick in his throat. Whenever Akane looked nervous, nothing good could come of it.
Akane brought her hands forward, and he could see she was holding a little stick in them. On the side facing him was a tiny little pink plus sign. The connotation was just starting to form in his head when she whispered, "I'm... pregnant, Ranma."
He thought he could see her eyes squinched shut, but in truth, he was a little numb to think of why. Akane's one fist was clenched.
If he bolts, I will find him, and I will kill him. she thought, with the same conviction she always felt.
Here it comes...
"That's GREAT!" Ranma was already over the table, lifting her into the air by her waist and laughing, spinning her. Akane's eyes flew open, surprised, and she almost said "It is?!" but instead laughed, hugging her husband and crying against his shoulder at the same time.
"Hey, I thought you'd be happy!" Ranma said, a mixture of annoyance and concern in his face.
Akane giggled. "I am happy. Girls cry sometimes when they're happy, Ranma."
"Hey, that's right, you're a girl," he said, pulling a face that took all the power out of her punch.
* * * * *
"Complications?!" Ranma was on his feet, fists balled, looking as if he'd punch the first person who spoke to him. It didn't stop Dr. Tofu, though.
"Yes, Ranma-kun. There are some complications. Akane is having trouble delivering the baby. The doctors are doing everything they can, but..."
"Nah, nuh-uh, don't give me 'but', Doc!" Instead of getting angrier, Ranma backed up a step, his face crumpling. "There's gotta be somethin' we c'n do!"
A clinical part of Tofu's mind noticed that Ranma lost control of his diction in moments of stress. He hoped that his control of his anger stayed it's legendary calm.
He spoke softly, counting on years of doctor-patient relations and his own friendship with this man to keep the reaction peaceful, something none of the other doctors felt they could do. <i>And so they sent me, the cowards...</i>. "Ranma, there's a chance... a good chance, that the baby won't make it." Tofu watched as Ranma, proud warrior, martial artist in the highest caliber, faced the idea that something was threatening his wife, and there was nothing he could do to kick or punch it away. He sat heavily next to Ukyou, who'd come to coo and purr over a baby she'd come to think as her niece (or nephew, of course, but she just knew Akane would have a girl) and was now faced with consoling her best friends.
A doctor in a mask slid timidly out of the doorway and walked to Tofu, whispering in his ear. Ranma's head snapped up, witnessing the whisper and the soft, muted argument taking place between Tofu and the doctor. "Aww, man... the baby's gone, ain't it?"
Both men looked at Ranma, and then looked down, unable to witness this man's life being crushed. Only Ukyou noticed the other doctor shift.
"And Akane..? What about Akane?"
The doctor tensed, then sighed. "I'm sorry, Mr. Saotome... we did everything we could do..."
Ranma knelt by the grave side and laid the rose down, smiling sadly. Three years had just begun to dull the pain for him, even though he'd tried to live his life as he'd always had. Still, things were so... different. Even fights weren't as much fun.
"Hey, 'Kane..." He sat down at the grave, looking at her name etched in the stone. "Sorry I don't come more often. It's just... yanno... kinda hard. Least I make it once a year, right?" He chuckled at himself, then sighed. "I know. Old joke. No one ever accused me of bein' funny, huh?"
He reached out and touched her name. "I grew a moustache. You were right, though. It looks goofy. I'm gonna cut it off soon." He looked up, closing his eyes. "I came, really, ta tell you somethin'. I'm... see, after you died, I was a mess. Well, you know. I told you all about it when I visited that first time. Anyway, Ukyou's really been a... a good friend. And we been seein' a lot of each other." Ranma swallowed. "I'm gonna ask her to marry me."
Ranma shivered, feeling a chill. "Now, I know... I mean, there'd be no way, no WAY, this would happen if you were alive! I swear! But I'm..."
He stopped, looking at the grass, the sky, a cherry tree just beginning to blossom, then, finally, at the headstone. "I'm lonely, Akane. It's harder'n I thought to be without you. And she can't replace you... but she can be there, and... maybe it ain't fair to either one of you, 'cause I wouldn't even feel this if you were here, but I love her. She's been so great."
He stood up, sighed, and bowed. "I'm sorry if yer hurt. I don't blame ya. But I gotta go on. I'll still love ya, Akane."
He turned his back to the stone, sighing, and trudged away, but not before a warm breeze floated by his ear. When he turned back, he saw a figure kneel by the grave, pick up the rose, and smell it.
It faded before he could go and see, but he knew who it was. And he knew it was OK, what he said, because as she faded, he could swear he saw Akane smile.