~~~~~ Epilogue ~~~~~
Akane surveyed the newly-scrubbed dojo floor with satisfaction and dropped her rag in her bucket. "Done. What's next?"
"You tell me," Ranma's voice replied from the storage closet. "You're the one with the list."
Akane looked around frantically. "The list! Where's the list?! I must have left it"
Ranma's hand emerged from the closet, waving a familiar-looking sheet of paper. "Ya left it in here." The rest of Ranma came out of the closet, smirking, and padded across the floor to Akane. "Whatcha all in a flutter for, anyway?"
Akane took the list. "I'm excited about tomorrow. I'm even more nervous than I was before the wedding. Either one."
"If I was the sensitive type, I think I'd be hurt," Ranma said, examining the ceiling. "I kinda feel the same way, though. Has Kasumi"
"Seven calls, so far."
Ranma grimaced. "We can't make a decent living offa seven students. Maybe if we'd put up more posters...."
Akane shook her head. "We put up lots. The half-off introductory offer in Nabiki's plan should have got us more than seven, though. She figured summer break was the best time to start, with all the students out of school and all the parents trying to get them out of their hair, especially since we'll probably have to stop when WE go back to school...."
Ranma spoke her secret fear: "Maybe nobody wants to learn the Art from us."
Akane gulped. "I can't believe that. I won't believe that. We'll just have to wait until tomorrow, and see how many show up, and do our best." She dropped her eyes from Ranma's grim look and consulted the list. "Oh! Would you go get my old gis and belts? We might need them. They're in the big chest in the bedroom, at the bottom...."
"Gotcha." Ranma left rapidly.
Akane smiled at his display of nervous energy and looked at the list again. Suddenly she remembered what else was in the chest. "No! Ranma! Wait!" she cried, dashing out of the dojo.
Akane skidded to a stop in their bedroom. Her heart sank. Ranma was just straightening up with the book and the riding crop in his hands and a puzzled look on his face. "What were these doin' in there?" he said without looking at her. He waggled the crop experimentally and glanced curiously at Akane. His eyebrow rose when he saw her blush. "You're kidding. Don't tell me ya got a kinky streak I don't know about," he said, grinning.
Akane's blush deepened. "No! You have it all wrong!" She made a desperate lunge for the embarrassing items.
"I wish I had a hundred yen for every time I said that to you," Ranma chuckled, evading her.
"Give me those! They're they're private!"
Ranma clucked his tongue and shook his head. "Not so fast." He held up the book. "This was one of our wedding presents, so it's mine, too. This" he waggled the crop again "Nabiki gave ya, and there wasn't nothin' private about it then. Try again."
Akane gaped at him for a moment, then tried the lunge again. Ranma went over her head in an incredible half-twist layout flip that barely cleared the ceiling. She rebounded off the wall and turned. "How How did you do that indoors?!"
Ranma smirked. "You can do that too. You just don't know you can." He held the book and the crop behind his back. "So, what's the story?"
Akane exerted control and calmed. She straightened and smiled seductively at her husband. "What's it worth to you?" she asked softly, walking up to him and putting her arms around him. She closed her eyes as he kissed her, but her fingers were sliding down his arms to his hands
Ranma's hands were empty. She felt him smile through the kiss, and her eyes flew open. "You!" She looked up and saw the book and the crop balanced atop his head, too late. Ranma stepped back, still smiling, and tossed his head before she could snatch them. The book and the crop fell neatly into his hands again.
"We can do this some more if you like...."
Akane sagged. "All right. You win. Here, give me the book, and I'll show you." She glared at him when he gave her a skeptical look instead. "I promise, dammit! Give me the book!"
"All right, all right, don't get excited!" He handed her the book and waited.
Akane opened The Taming of the Horse: An Equestrian's Guide and flipped through it. She stopped, ran her finger down the page, nodded, and handed it to Ranma. "Read there." And don't hate me afterwards....
"Hmm. 'Some horses are so wild and skittish that they are nearly impossible to tame, but such animals often make the very finest steeds. In these cases, the trainer is well-advised to adopt a policy of inscrutability; if the horse does not realize it is being tamed, it may become tame before it knows to resist.'" Ranma kept reading for a while without speaking, then looked up. "I don't get it."
Akane's face was hidden by her hair, but her ears were very red. "Ran... ma. 'Wild Horse'."
Ranma's brow furrowed for a moment, and then he gave her an incredulous look. "Taming.... You think you tamed me, do you?" He closed the book and gently put it down on the dresser, but kept the crop. "You think I'm tame? Come see how tame I am."
The edge in Ranma's voice made Akane look up. His expression was neutral, even a little amused, but he was standing in the relaxed, casual stance he used to lull opponents into underestimating him. The crop dangled at his side, twitching a little. Uh oh. He's really mad. Don't mess this up "No," she said firmly. "You're not tame. You're wild, and I like you that way."
"Then what?" Ranma's voice was unrelenting.
"You were so damn skittish!" Akane burst out. "I... I wanted you to be mine! I wanted to be yours! But at that fiasco of a wedding, you ran away! You wouldn't tell me you loved me! You wouldn't give me a chance to tell you I loved you! So afterwards" Akane stopped and controlled herself. "Afterwards, I just had to do something. I talked to Kasumi, but she didn't know what I should do either. Then I found the book, and it gave me this idea, that if I could just... could just... I don't know! I couldn't chase after you, because the other girls were doing that, and it wasn't working for them. So I hoped that if I just quit pushing you away, you'd... you'd.... And you did."
Ranma's eyes widened. The corners of his mouth twitched. "Huh. So you're saying the book was part of the Path that got us here, and I sure can't complain about that. All right. But you missed something. You're in there too."
"I am? Where?"
Ranma picked the book up again and handed it to her. "Find the part you showed me." Akane looked at him blankly. "Humor me." Akane shrugged, paged through the book, and stopped. Ranma pointed lower on the page. "Read there."
"'On the other hand, some horses are so amenable to domestication that they very nearly tame themselves....'" Akane looked up into Ranma's teasing smile. "I you oooh!"
Ranma dodged the book. "Hey! That's a compliment! I thought you wanted to be domestic!"
Akane stopped chasing him around the room after three futile laps. "Tell you what: I'll admit to being tamed if you will."
"Well... maybe just a little, tiny bit."
"Fine. I'm 'just a little, tiny bit' tamed too. And don't you dare EVER tell ANYONE about this!"
"Hey, you're the one who's yelling with the window open."
Akane grimaced. "Oops."
Ranma held up the crop. "So how about this?"
Akane blushed again. "Nabiki got me that. She still doesn't know about the book, but she must have seen it and then got me the crop as a joke."
Ranma swished the crop through the air. "So how come you never hit me with it? You've hit me with everything else...."
Akane blushed some more. "Like you said. That's kinky." She eyed him. "Do you want me to? Is that it?"
It was Ranma's turn to blush. "Uh... not exactly."
"'Not exactly'? What is that supposed to mean? What is it with you and hitting, anyway?"
"Out with it. You made me confess my darkest secrets, now it's your turn."
"It ain't a secret!" Ranma exploded. "I just dunno how to say it!"
"Ah. Well, we know how to deal with that." She knelt and patted the floor beside her, then waited until Ranma was seated. "Try."
"Well.... The Art's about hitting, and I'm about the Art, right? I dunno much else, but I sure know hitting. But... I didn't know until I met you that hitting could be about... about love."
The silence stretched.
"Ranma... why do you love me? I mean, I know you do, you tell me so maybe once a month, twice if I'm lucky, but I've never known why, and I've always wondered, because Kodachi's pretty and tall and rich and Ukyo's pretty and nice and a good cook and Shampoo's so perfect I could just scream sometimes but all right, I'll shut up now."
Ranma lowered the hand he'd raised to interrupt her and smiled a little. "I dunno. I don't wanna think about it too much, because some things ya just shouldn't think about, not if you like them. But maybe... maybe part of it's 'cause you hit me."
The silence stretched again.
Ranma waved his hands hastily. "Don't get me wrong. I like kissin' better and, uh, all the other stuff, too but for that whole first year, you didn't kiss me, and you did hit me, and, uh, I liked it better when you hit me than when they kissed me... 'cause it meant you cared enough to get mad at me."
Akane stared at Ranma. "That long?"
"And in all that time, you never even told me you LIKED me, so I could kiss you without feeling like an idiot, you just insulted me, so I'd hit you?"
"Hey, we came close a couple of times"
"I'm really, really mad right now." Akane got up, went over to the door, closed it, and turned to look down at Ranma. "I'm mad enough to hit you really, really hard." She came back, unbuttoning. "But I'm not going to hit you, because you say you like 'the other stuff' better." And so do I.
"Uh, wait, lemme get the futon unrolled first oh, my."
"You can put that crop down now... unless you're planning to use it."
"How many?" Ranma muttered to Akane.
"Twenty-three, so far. Isn't it wonderful?"
Ranma looked around at the scene of barely controlled chaos. A crowd of gi-clad people milled around in the dojo. Nodoka waved and smiled from where she sat between Soun and Genma in the corner. Ranma nodded back, remembering their conversation the previous night:
"Momma, you're gonna be at the dojo tomorrow, right?"
Nodoka smiled. "Of course, Ranma. I wouldn't miss it for anything."
"Well, I was wonderin' if you'd do me a big favor...."
"Certainly, dear. What is it?"
"Well, Pops and Tendo-san are gonna be there too, and I just know they'll do somethin' ta mess us up. They've messed us up about everythin' else, why would they stop now? Anyways, you're the only one I can trust to keep them under control."
Nodoka touched her wrapped katana. "I would be glad to. I am honored by your confidence, Ranma."
Well, that's one less thing to worry about, Ranma thought. He looked outside, to where a few parents sat on the veranda and chatted.
"It's time," Akane said in a low voice.
Ranma nodded. "Let's do it." He walked out in front of the crowd. "Students! Welcome to the school of Musabetsu Kakuto at the Tendo Dojo!" The students hastily sorted themselves out to stand in well-spaced rows. They bowed. Ranma and Akane bowed back. Ranma examined them carefully: a dozen children, seven youths of high-school age, a couple a little older than Ranma and Akane, and an older man with weary eyes.
"I am Saotome Ranma," Ranma began. "This is Saotome Akane. Together we represent the combined Saotome-ryu and Tendo-ryu of the Musabetsu Kakuto." He ignored the sobs of joy coming from the corner.
"Sensei," the students chorused.
Akane took over. "Many people think the Art is about hurting people, and even killing them. That's true, sometimes, but it's a lot more than that. The Art is about taking control of your life. It confers health and fitness, strength, coordination, self-discipline, confidence, and even grace. I hope you're all here for one of those reasons, because if you're here to learn to hurt people, we will know, and we will regretfully refuse to teach you."
"Some of you know us," Ranma said. He glanced at a boy he'd seen at Furinkan. "Our abilities come from our mastery of the Art. You've seen us in the streets"
"and on the roofs," the older man muttered.
Ranma laughed, putting his hand behind his head. "On the roofs," he admitted. "Anyway, that's what we offer. I'm not gonna give you much philosophy until you're ready, but remember this: don't think too much. We'll try to train your body to do a lot of the thinkin' for you." He paused, and grinned. "If you have trouble thinkin' too much, see Akane. She used to have that problem, too." Akane blushed a little, but smiled.
"Don't you ever have that problem, Sensei?" a bold student called.
Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Me? Hell, ask anyone. I've never had any trouble not thinkin'." Everyone laughed at that. "All right. Split up by skill, and we'll start warmup katas. If any of you" his eyes flicked over the six girls and women among the students "would rather be taught by a woman, tell us." He grinned suddenly. "And before I forget, if you see a woman about yea high, with her hair in a pigtail like mine, she's an instructor here, too. She's just as good as I am, in fact." He clapped his hands, and the chaos resumed, but with a purpose this time.
The activity stopped. Everyone stared at the dusty figure that had appeared in the sudden hole in the wall. "Excuse me, does anyone know where the Unryu farm is?" it asked. It noticed Ranma. "You!"
Ranma flung his arms wide. "RYOGA!!" he bellowed joyfully.
"What do you suppose that's for?" one of the young students whispered to another, nudging him and pointing at a shelf on one wall of the dojo.
His buddy shrugged. "Dunno. Maybe it's for if ya do something really dumb. I don't wanna find out. Come on, it's our turn with Akane-sensei!"
On the shelf, on a stand of the type usually used to hold a katana horizontally, the riding crop rested proudly, beginning a new tradition at the Tendo Dojo.
~~~~~ end of Epilogue ~~~~~
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