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WFY Chapter 10: Decisions

Waiting For You
A Ranma 1/2 Fanfic By Stiffanie Flores

Disclaimer : Ranma 1/2 and all characters belong to Rumiko Takahashi. This fanfic is written for enjoyment and self-fulfillment purposes only.

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*I love you...*

"Oh gods," she cried, tightening her arms around his waist. "I love you too. I love you so much..."

She looked up at him, and he smiled, his eyes aglow with an inner light. *I'm happy.*

She smiled back, through the tears that blurred her vision. "I'm happy too, now that you're here." She closed her eyes and pressed her face against his neck. "Don't leave me again. Please."


She felt his fingers brush lightly against her cheek, and she shivered lightly, reaching up to grasp his hand...

... and her fingers passed ineffectually through thin air.

Her eyes snapped open, and she started at his blue eyes, blue as the sea. He lifted his hand again, and she saw that he was fading, slowly fading into thin air, she could see right through him, and he reached out to touch her face but she couldn't feel anything, nothing at all...

"Why?" she cried. "Why do you come here if you have to leave me all over again? Why do you make me go through this again and again?"

*I love you.*

Her anger melted away at the gentle understanding she saw in his eyes. "Then please," she begged, "don't leave me. I can't... I don't... I..."

*I can't stay.* He shook his head sadly. *Not here.*

"I... I don't understand."

*You understand. I know you do.*

"All I know is that I loved you," she said achingly. "But then you left, and now I'm alone."

*No.* He shook his head. *I'm here with you, always. I love you. I'll wait for you.*

He reached out to brush his fingers against her cheek. *And if you come, I'll be here.* He smiled. *I promise.*

Before she could move, he withrew his hand, and he stepped away from her. A shimmer ran through his entire body as he stood still, but the smile was still on his face.

*I promise,* he repeated, still smiling. And then, he was gone.


"Have you ever had a recurring dream, Kasumi?"

Kasumi looked up, a questioning look in her eyes. "Why, no, Akane. Why are you asking?"

Akane opened the refrigerator and took out a cold can of juice. "I'm not sure," she answered slowly, as she popped the can open and took a long swig.

"I mean," she added, brushing the corners of her mouth with the back of her hand, "I'm not sure, because I don't remember anything from the dream every time I wake up. But I think it's the same dream."

Kasumi frowned thoughtfully. "But how do you know it's the same dream?"

"By the way I feel, every time I wake up." Akane put a hand on her chest, right over her heart. "I always feel like... like I lost something. Something important." She sighed. "I don't know."

"And how long has this been going on?"

"Two or three months now."

"Hmm." Kasumi picked up a wooden spoon and began stirring a sticky mixture in a big wooden bowl. "I certainly can't recall anything like that happening to me, Akane."

"I'm just wondering if it means something, that's all." She frowned. "I think I remember reading somewhere that recurring dreams are almost like... premonitions. Of the future." She frowned.

"Well, I wouldn't worry about it, Akane," Kasumi said pleasantly, still stirring the bowl. "At least not until the dream becomes clearer."

"You're right, Kasumi." Akane finished the last of her juice and dropped the empty can in the trash. "Hey, what's that?" She came up to Kasumi and peered into the bowl she was holding. Her eyes brightened. "*Brownies*?"

She eagerly reached forward to dip her finger into the thick chocolate icing. Kasumi gently slapped her hand away. "This is for later," she told her sister. "After you're done with your training, bring him in for some brownies before he leaves, okay?"


"Well, he did bring some mochi the other day." Kasumi smiled. "We should only return the favor."

Akane grinned. "Besides, we've fed bigger slobs than him before, right?" she joked, remembering Ranma's - and Genma's - huge appetites. "Okay, I'll bring him in later."


Shinnosuke leaned back against the dojo wall. "Well, this is new," he remarked. "You need a favor from me?" He grinned. "It must be good, if you're postponing our sparring for it."

Akane grimaced. "This is the best choice I have of many, and I'm not exactly jumping for joy here, okay?"

He crossed his arms around his chest. "And what do I get from this?" he asked, grinning mischievously.

"A batch of Kasumi's brownies," she told him, her eyes sparkling.

"Heh. I can get that anyway."

She pouted. "Yeah, okay, make this hard for me, why don't you."

He laughed. "Okay, what is it already? You're pricking my curiosity."

"Say yes."

"Hey, no fair," he protested. "I gotta find out what it is first, you know."

"Hmph." She sat down beside him, folding her gi-clad legs underneath her. "You're no fun."

He poked her lightly with his elbow. "Come on, tell me already," he urged. "All this stalling is making me hungry." He laughed. "Man, brownies. Mmm."

She perked up. "If all you can think about is food, maybe you won't be too discouraged about my offer."

He frowned. "What?"

She swiveled towards him, snatching his hand up and holding it between both of hers. Shinnosuke blinked, surprised. "Akane?"

"Shinnosuke," she said seriously. "Would you go out with me this Saturday night?"

Everything else seemed to die down at her words. The wind humming, the water rippling in the koi pond, the sound of a dog barking next door. His breath caught in his throat. "Ahhh," he said, stunned. "...what?"

Akane sighed. She dropped his hand and scooted back, leaning her head against the wall. "Some friends from school suggested it. Dinner and a movie, the weekend after finals. Tomorrow's our last finals. So the date's set for this Saturday."

She grimaced. "And it's supposed to be a *romantic* type date." She sighed again. "I know they mean well, but I just don't *feel* like going out with a bunch of guys..."

He felt his heart plummet down to his shoes. So much for... "Um... what does that have to do with me?" he ventured carefully.

She didn't glance at him as she spoke. "Well, my friends couldn't exactly threaten me with bodily harm, but they all ganged up against me and *insisted* that I had to go. With a date. And if I didn't have one, they would gladly volunteer to find a date for me." She shook her head. "And I think I have an idea of how they're going to pull it off. They're probably planning to distribute flyers about it around school."

"Oh." He looked down at his bare feet. For a while there, he *almost* thought... No, she wasn't that kind of girl...

"Shinnosuke?" He looked up again as she called his name.

She was looking at him, smiling uncertainly. "Would you?" she asked. "I hate to ask a favor, but they just won't take no for an answer. But then, I thought, I didn't want to go out with just any guy. If I had to go, I want it to be with someone I..." She trailed off.

He felt his hopes rise again. "Someone you...?"

"Someone I like. And trust." She smiled at him. "And that's you, Shinnosuke."

His insides turned to jelly. She could smile at him like that and ask for anything in the world, and he'd walk through hell to get it for her.

*That's better than nothing,* a voice inside him said. *She could have chosen somebody else.*

*Shaddup,* he retorted silently. But he had to admit, his heart swelled at the idea that she chose him, over everyone else. That had to mean ... something... didn't it?

"Shinnosuke?" Her voice was tinged with uncertainty. "If you don't want to, it's okay. I'll just..."

"No." He met her gaze and smiled, longing to reassure her. "I'd be happy to. Really."

If anything, the sight of her lovely eyes lighting up in a smile was enough reward for him. "You mean it?"

He grinned. "Well, I have to admit, I had second thoughts about it, since I'll be missing a few hours of training, but I trust you to make it worthwhile." He laughed as she elbowed him not-so-lightly in the ribs, and he stood up, still smiling.

"Your move," he told her, his eyes twinkling, as he dropped into a ready stance. She smiled at him, stood up, and sprung at him, her arms a flurry of punches.

The smile remained on his face for the entire time as they sparred, and for a lot longer after that.


"Your time is up, Akane." Yuka slapped her hands down on Akane's table. "We agreed, you have until the last day of finals. So, have you got a date yet, or do we have to find one for you?"

She shrugged. "It'll be easy enough to find an eager guy who'll agree to date you, you know." Her eyes twinkled. "In fact, it's a task I'm almost looking forward to." She rubbed her hands together, grinning.

Akane shook her head as she brought her notes out of her bag, for some last minute reviewing before the exam. "Sorry to disappoint you, Yuka, but I already have a date."

"Really now?" Yuka leaned against her desk. "I'm glad to hear that. As much as I was looking forward to choosing a guy for you, I'd rather hoped that you'd find one on your own. That's the whole point of this date, Akane." She smiled. "So who's the lucky guy?"


"*Shinnosuke?*" Yuka shook her head. "Aww, Akane, that's a dirty trick. You probably bullied him into it."

Akane frowned. "No, as a matter fact, I -"

"You challenged him into a fight and if he lost, he'd have to be your date," Yuka interrupted. "And of course, you won. Akane, you're his sensei! Honestly, that's got to be the..."

"Yuka!" Akane exclaimed. "You're deliberately making things up, and you know it. I asked him nicely, and he agreed. No bullying, no beating him up. Okay? Satisfied?"

Yuka frowned. "Jeez, Akane. Do you think I get a perverse pleasure out of forcing - no, *asking* you nicely - to go out on a real date?" She shook her head. "It's for your own good, and here you're making it sound like I'm sending you to the gas chamber. I try to help you out, and this is the thanks I get? Well, then, excuse me for -"

Despite herself, Akane began to laugh. "Cut it out with the melodramatics, Yuka. Honestly, you talk too much."

Her friend smiled back. "So tell me, how did you ask him?"


"Details, girl. I want details."

Akane sighed. "I asked him if he'd go out with me Saturday night, and he asked why. So naturally, I explained it to him."

"You what?!"

Akane looked at her innocently. "You know. The scam you set up against me. I explained it to him, so he won't get the wrong idea."

Yuka frowned. "Jeez, Akane, why the heck did you have to go and do *that* for?" She shook her head. "The *entire* point of setting up this date is to get you to go out with a real guy for once, and actually have a good time, and maybe even cultivate a potential relationship."

She sighed. "Now, not only do you want to go with a guy you've known for years, someone who's actually more of a *brother* to you than a potential boyfriend, you had to go and tell him it's all just *pretend*. Just to make your girlfriends happy, so they'd stop nagging you about it all the time. That's what you told him, isn't it?"

Akane shrugged. "Well, not in so many words."

"Are you trying to drive me out of my goddamned mind, Akane?"

"Yuka, please, no obscenities."

"Well, you're seriously trying my patience," she exclaimed. "And while we're on the subject, really, Akane, you can be *so* oblivious."

Akane frowned. "Now what are you talking about?"

"Who were we talking about just now?" her friend demanded. "*The* man. Shin-boy."

"So? What's wrong with going out with him? He's a good friend, I've known him for years, and at least I'm sure I'll have a good time with him..."

"That's not what I meant." Yuka shook her head. "You honestly don't know, do you?"

Akane shook her head. "You are making no sense, Yuka."

Her friend sighed. "Jeez, you'd have to be blind not to see it. The way he looks at you, the way he smiles at you with *that* look in his eyes..."

Akane laughed. "You're crazy, Yuka."

"Am not!" she protested. "You're just refusing to admit it to yourself. The guy's crazy about you, Akane!"

"He's just a friend. Nothing more."

"For you, maybe. But how can you be sure he only thinks of you as a friend?" Yuka grinned assuredly. "Believe me, I've seen the way he looks at you. He's a man in love, only you don't know it. And you're probably breaking his heart by being so close to him, and yet, unattainable, because you only think of him as a friend." She sighed. "Poor guy."

"Impossible." Akane shook her head. "You're making things up, Yuka."

"Am not!"

"Okay, imagining things," Akane amended. "Yuka, he's a friend. A good friend. Probably the best guy friend I've ever had, but still just a friend. Okay?"

"Fine." Yuka crossed her arms. "Be that way. Don't listen to me. Just don't say I didn't warn you."

Akane laughed. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Akane." She was surprised at the solemn tone in Yuka's voice. Yuka took Akane's hand in hers and sighed. "I just want the best for you, Akane," she said.

Akane smiled gently. "I know that, Yuka. That's why I think you're such a great friend."

"It's just that..." Yuka struggled for the right words. "You've been so sad since Ranma died, and..."

"I'm not sad," Akane protested. "At least, not so much anymore. I'm sorry if I was a bit hard to get along with at first, but really..."

"But sometimes," Yuka insisted, "I watch you when you're alone, and you seem so lonely... you're staring off into space, and you look so sad... you..." She bit her lip, seeming hesitant to ask the next question. "You're still thinking about him, aren't you?"

"Yuka." Akane's voice was gentle. "Of course I do. Sometimes, I remember him, and I feel sad for what I've lost. It's not that easy, and I could never completely forget about him, even if I wanted to."

She smiled. "I do the best I can, hoping that someday it will be enough. That's what Ryouga said, the other day. That's what we're all doing, I think," she added, still smiling. "I lost my mother when I was a little girl, and I've never completely forgotten about her. I don't expect it to be any different this time."

Her friend nodded hesitantly. "I think I understand."

Akane shook her head. "No offense, Yuka, but you can't possibly understand, not until you've lost someone that important to you," she said feelingly. "No one can."

Yuka grinned impishly. "I understand."

The mood was broken, and both girls cracked up, their laughter ringing across the room. Other students glanced over at them to see what was so funny.

"You're impossible, Yuka," Akane said, still gasping for breath.

She grinned. "So I've been told."

Impulsively, Akane leaned up and gave her a hug. "You're a great friend, Yuka," she said softly. "Hajime's lucky to have you."

Yuka hugged her back, and Akane felt the faint stirrings of sadness well up inside her. Almost like... they were saying goodbye. But why? Goodbye wouldn't be for a few more weeks.

"Oh, I hope not," Yuka quipped, snapping Akane out of her thoughts. "I'd hoped to have him as more than a friend."

Akane laughed and drew back, vaguely noticing that tears had begun to build up behind her eyes.


Kasumi set two steaming cups of tea and a plate of pork buns on a tray. Her father's last class for the afternoon would be over soon.

They were holding three classes in the dojo - one in the mornings and two in the afternoons, three days a week. There were barely more than ten students in each class, but that was because most kids were in school at this time. Business was better in the summer, when school would let out for a few weeks. But at least they were making ends meet. And it had been a good decision for Father to begin teaching again.

Kasumi wiped her hands on her apron before she picked up the tray and carried it out to the dining table. Soun was still in good shape to teach the classes, but Kasumi knew he was looking forward to the day Akane would take over the school by herself. Akane was still in school, but she'd assured their father she still intended to continue the dojo, after she finished college.

Kasumi remembered the first time Soun had agreed to take up teaching again. He'd readily agreed to the idea of Akane teaching a class with him, when Nabiki had suggested it. They hadn't been sure of how Akane would react, though. Akane had retaken up her training with a renewed passion a few weeks after Ranma died, but they weren't sure if she'd felt up to teaching the Art to other people.

But Akane had been enthusiastic about the idea. She'd spent the last two summers teaching beginner's classes, and helping out their father with the more advanced classes.

Kasumi glanced out over the veranda, watching the rays of the afternoon sun glistening on the clear water of the koi pond. The leaves of the trees swayed gently in the light breeze.

It was so quiet here, Kasumi thought. Even with the sounds coming from the dojo, the yells and thumps, it was still too quiet. Quiet as compared to the lively noise that resided in this house, two years ago.

So much had happened, she thought. So much had changed. Only two years before, this house had been lively and full of activity, with voices raising to be heard, footsteps thumping on the staircase, and smiles and laughter to be met at the turn of every corner.

And it was all because of him - he'd come and brought such turmoil into their lives, and yet, his presence had also restored the life in this household. The gods knew they'd needed it then, back when their lives had settled into a routine, and the future had seemed so bleak and uncertain.

But now, he was gone, and everything was back to the way it was. Almost. Because there were some things that could never be the same again.

And Akane - she had changed most of all. Before Ranma came, she was such an unhappy girl, filled with anger and insecurities. She was always so angry - it had always been her way of releasing her emotions.

Kasumi had been so worried about her. She'd sensed the restlessness in Akane's spirit. Her little sister had focused her entire life into her training, leaving no room for anything else. But even then, the sense of discontentment had radiated from her. She'd been like a lost soul, wandering, trying to find its purpose.

Ranma had changed all that.

Akane had become a happier girl with Ranma, even if she'd never realized it at the time. She'd found her rightful place beside him, just as Ranma had found his happiness with Akane. And as fate threw them together again and again, the bonds between them only grew stronger, so much that not anyone could break them apart.

Their road was not without hurdles, though. They'd gotten off on the wrong foot, and time and again, some misunderstanding would come between them. But the more they tried to pull away, the more everyone else tried to break them apart, the strings of fate only pulled them back together again.

And just when they'd both stopped resisting, the ties were broken forever...

Although they had been through a similar experience with their mother's death, it had still been a difficult time for all of them, most of all for Akane. But they'd gotten through it okay... hadn't they?

Kasumi frowned slightly. Akane had changed a lot since Ranma's death, so much that sometimes Kasumi felt she couldn't read her at all. And Akane had always been an easy girl to figure out, with the way she showed her emotions plainly on her face.

Everyone thought Akane had adjusted remarkably with Ranma's death. She'd taken up her training with a renewed passion, and her skills had improved dramatically. She was doing better than ever in school, and during the summer, she taught beginner's classes at the dojo. She was always smiling, always happy to share a good word with anyone.

But Kasumi couldn't help but feel a nagging doubt in her heart, that something wasn't right, that everything wasn't as rosy perfect as it seemed it was, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't put her finger on it...

"Now there's a look on a person who's lost to the rest of the world."

Kasumi looked up, startled. Her expression quickly melted into one of surprised pleasure.

"Nabiki!" she exclaimed. "You're home early."

Nabiki smiled and knelt down at the table. "I finished my last exams a couple of days ago." She grabbed a pork bun from the plate and started nibbling on it.

Kasumi frowned. "Oh my. Didn't you say you had finals until next week?"

Nabiki smirked. "Yeah. But I did so well in class that my teachers gave me perfect scores already. I don't need to take the exams."

Kasumi smiled. "That's nice, Nabiki."

Her sister grinned and took a sip of tea. "What were you thinking of just now, sis?"

"Hmm?" Kasumi started to get up. "Excuse me, Nabiki, I'll go get another cup for Father."

"Aww, let him fetch his own drink," Nabiki said. "He's not a toddler anymore, Kasumi, you don't have to follow two steps behind him, you know."

Kasumi just smiled and smoothed out her skirt. "I like doing it," she said simply.

Nabiki shook her head. "Whatever."

Kasumi stood up and went into the kitchen. Nabiki shrugged to herself as she finished off the pork bun. Man, nothing could beat Kasumi's home cooking, especially not the completely unappetizing dorm food she ate everyday...

"I was thinking about Akane," came Kasumi's voice, as she came back into the room and set another cup of steaming green tea on the table.

"Oh yeah." Nabiki grinned. "How's the kid sister doing?"

"She's hardly a child anymore, Nabiki," her sister chided her. "She's as much grown-up as either one of us." She sighed. "In some ways, even more."

"Jeez, Kasumi, it was just an expression." Nabiki laughed. "What's with the serious look?"

"Nabiki." She was surprised at the solemn tone in her sister's voice. "Do you think Akane's happy?"

Nabiki smiled. "You know, I remember Daddy asked me the very same question two years ago."

Kasumi looked surprised. "Really? What did you say?"

She shrugged. "I said I think it'll take her some time, but yeah, she will be, one day." She looked at Kasumi. "Why? What's wrong?"

The eldest Tendo sister frowned thoughtfully, running a hand through her neat ponytail. "I just get this feeling," she said. "That she isn't as happy as we'd like to think she is."

"Kasumi." Nabiki reached out to touch her sister's hand briefly. "You're probably just reading too much into it. Akane's fine." She shrugged. "We can't expect that she'll be back to the way she was before. She's been through way too much for that. I mean, you and I, we loved Ranma like a brother. And since he died, so many things have been so different for us. I imagine it must have been so much worse for Akane."

She grinned. "You know, I find it amusing, this feeling of fondness we have for Ranma. When he was alive, he used to drive me crazy, 'cause he brought us nothing but trouble. Not to mention how much it cost us to keep him under our roof."

Kasumi smiled. "But despite all that, he'd never intentionally caused trouble for us, and all he'd wanted was a nice home and good friends. He was such a dear boy," she added wistfully. "And Akane loved him very much. So much that it almost hurt to see, sometimes."

Nabiki nodded. "And it still does, sometimes. I understand."

Kasumi looked up. "Nabiki, do you think Akane's still... clinging to his ghost?" She shook her head sadly. "How I wish that it isn't so. She'll never be happy, if she does. She'll never let herself be happy."

Nabiki frowned. "You think so?"

"Like I said, I don't know for sure." She sighed. "Sometimes, I almost think I'm sure, but then she does something completely different that it'll make me think twice about it. I don't dare ask her, though."

"I understand. She'll just deny it."

Kasumi nodded. "And she's still sensitive about the topic. I mean, her coping with Ranma's death. It's not as bad as it used to be, but sometimes, I can almost feel her closing up when I try to talk to her about it."

Nabiki shrugged. "Well, you'd know better, I suppose, what with living in the same house with her and all that. I'll keep a close watch on her while I'm here. But you know I hope you're wrong."

"Of course. *I* hope I'm wrong about this, too." Her eyes were sad, as she met Nabiki's gaze. "I just want her to be happy."

"And she knows that," Nabiki said reassuringly. "I'm sure of that, at least. For two years, we've tried to let her know, every chance we get, that *we* are still here for her, and that we love her."

Kasumi smiled. Suddenly things didn't look so gloomy anymore. "I'm glad you're home, Nabiki," she said feelingly.

Nabiki grinned. "I've missed you, too." She snagged another bun from the plate. "And your cooking, of course."


*... I feel like I've loved you my entire life, even though I only met you a little over two years ago. Ever since then, you've been the purpose of my existence, the light of my life, the reason I wake up every morning with such high hopes for the new day...*

"Shinnosuke," a voice called from downstairs. "Come get some lunch!"

He ignored the voice, his brow furrowed as he continued writing.

"...will you make this dream come true for me?" he mumbled, pen scribbling over paper. "And give me a chance to try to make you happy?"

He lowered his pen slowly, staring at the short page so intently the words started to blur in front of his eyes.

He shook his head, sighing. Another waste of time. Who was he kidding, anyway? He could never find the right way to tell her how he felt - what made him think a letter would be easier?

Bending down, he opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a plain brown shoebox. Lifting the lid, he stared at the contents for a long time.

Letters. Folded sheets of smooth, cream paper lay in a pile, untouched since he'd stashed them in the box.

Two years worth of discarded letters - if that didn't equal pathetic, he didn't know what did.

He picked up the letter he'd just written and laid the paper flat on the table and folded it twice, running his palm along the edges to smoothen them out.

He stared at the contents of the box a long time, before he shook his head and dropped his newest letter inside, wondering if he'd ever write her a letter and actually be able to give it to her. He wondered if he should even try.

*What to do?* he wondered morosely, for the thousandth time in the past few months. *To tell or not to tell... to tell or not...*

He'd wanted to for the longest time, but uncertainty had always held him back. What if she didn't reciprocate? What if she'd never even entertained the idea? What if he lost her forever, even just as a friend?

It had been one of the hardest things he'd had to do, to stand by and watch her grieve the loss of the man she'd loved. He'd thought he'd known just how much love hurt, back in Ryugenzawa, when he saw the way she'd looked at Ranma, how *perfect* they'd looked together.

After the Orochi had been defeated, he'd stood a few steps away from them, watching the way they stood together, how Ranma was standing so close to her - protective without being possessive, looking ready to take on the world for her sake. He'd seen the way she'd smiled at him, and realized sadly that no matter how hard he tried, nothing he did was ever going to make her smile at him that way. And so, regretfully, he'd stepped aside, not wanting to stand in the way of her happiness.

It was amazing, he thought now, how someone's presence lingered on even after he's gone. Ranma was dead, but for Akane, he might as well have been alive. Everything she did, everything she saw, reminded her of him. She'd never cried, but his heart had ached at the terrible sadness he'd seen in her eyes.

There was nothing he could have done to help her, to ease her pain. He could only stand by and watch her pick up the pieces of her life, only reaching out a helping hand when she allowed him to.

He thought he'd forgotten her. But being with her rekindled the same feelings he'd thought he'd buried long ago.

He rubbed his temples wearily. Why did love have to be so complicated? In the movies, it was always so simple. Boy falls in love with girl, girl falls in love with boy, they live happily ever after.

He opened the top drawer and pulled out a framed photograph, his eyes lighting up at the memory. He and Akane were sparring - it had been their daily routine only weeks after he'd moved into town. Akane's skills had been mediocre then - he'd been way better than her, both in skill and experience. Akane's fighting style was clear and distinctive - and often as choppy as the ocean waves during a storm - and he'd always found no trouble in reading her moves. He'd defeat her easily each time they sparred, and each time she'd challenge him for another fight the next day. It developed into a pattern, and they knew each other well enough to be comfortable with it.

That day, however, everything started to change. He'd leapt in the air, lunging straight at her, catching her right arm just before it connected with his face. Falling in midair, with her body under him, he held on to her arm, and started to pull back his other arm to score a hit at her midsection.

Suddenly, she'd grinned, shattering his concentration. Her other arm lashed out to grip his arm firmly, and with a cry of triumph, her legs sprang out from underneath him to flip him over in midair, letting go of his arm as she did. Stunned, he went flying across the room, hit the far end of the dojo, and slid down the wall, slumping down on the smooth, lacquered floor.

He'd lain, stunned, unable to believe what just happened. Then, a shadow fell over him, and he looked up. There she was, her hair in mild disarray, her face and neck drenched in sweat - and her eyes were lit up in the biggest smile he'd ever seen.

He'd stared helplessly, unmoving, and in that one moment, every ounce of feeling he'd had for her came rushing back, washing over him like a tidal wave.

He loved her. The gods help him, he still loved her.

"Can you stand up?" she'd asked.

She'd held out her hand, and he reached out to grasp it, letting her pull him to his feet. They'd stood facing each other, hands still clasped between them, grinning crazily at each other. Nabiki, who'd been standing at the far end of the dojo watching the entire match, had captured the moment perfectly on film.

His mouth turned up in a small smile as he gazed at the photograph. Breathless, her eyes alive with laughter, Akane was at the epitome of herself - gazing at the photograph, he felt as if her entire essence leapt out at him from the picture.

He loved her - he loved her for all the things she was, for all the things she would be someday.

And it hurt like *hell* to think that he'd never get a chance to tell her how he felt.

He put his head in his hands. Why did it have to be so hard?


He sighed and pushed back his chair, even as his thoughts still remaining on the one subject that had plagued his mind for months.

*To tell or not to tell...*


"You should have seen it." Yuka poked Akane lightly, smiling. "She was actually *crying*."

"Really?" Sayuri commented.

"Was not," Akane protested. "Just had an eyelash in my eye, that's all."

Yuka snorted. "Jeez, Akane, that's got to be the lamest excuse in the book." She grinned. "I know I'm the best friend and all that, but you didn't have to go all weepy over me, you know."

"I told you, I..." Akane broke off, sighing. "Oh, never mind. I'm too happy to argue with you, Yuka."

"That's right." Yuka let out a loud whoop. "Finals are over! *School's* over! Goodbye, Furinkan!"

"And hello, college!" Sayuri chimed in.

"Hello, new clothes!"

"And cute boys!"

"Well, I'm not sure about that," Yuka said. "I have a boyfriend, after all." She paused, brightening. "I can look, though, can't I? Okay, cute boys, here we come!"

Akane shook her head, laughing. "I'm not sure, but don't you guys seem to be forgetting something? Like, *studying*?"

"Well, there's more to life than just studying, Akane," Sayuri said.

"Just what I was gonna say," Yuka exclaimed. "Don't tell me you're going to college just to sit in your room all night counting the dots in your wallpaper?"

"Oh, please, not another lecture." Akane sighed. "I still haven't recovered from the last one."

Yuka smirked. "Okay, let's schedule that for next week, Miss Tendo," she said, mimicking the nasal voice of the school psychiatrist. "Monday, same time?"

Sayuri burst into laughter, and Akane joined in. "Come on," she laughed. "I'm not that crazy yet."

"Of course not," Yuka joked. She put an arm around Sayuri's shoulders, winking. "Why, with such wonderful friends like us, you *know* we'd never let you down, Akane!"

Akane snickered. "Ah jeez, and Shinnosuke calls *me* obnoxious."

"I think you'd make a very cute couple, Akane," Yuka said slyly.

"What was that?" Sayuri asked eagerly. "Shinnosuke? He's the cute guy who's always visiting Akane, right?"

Akane rolled her eyes, while Yuka said in a loud whisper, "Don't get any ideas. He's got the hots for Akane."

"Do not!" Akane exclaimed. "Don't you ever give up, Yuka?"

She smirked. "Never. Especially not when I think I'm right."

"What's wrong with Shinnosuke?" Sayuri asked. "What have you got to complain about, Akane? You always get the cutest guys."

Akane blinked, caught off guard at the sudden change in topic. "What?"

Sayuri shrugged. "Ranma was the cutest hunk in town, and you know it. The only reason the other girls didn't pant after him was because everyone knew you two were joined at the hip."

"What? We did nothing but fight everyday! You call that a good relationship?"

"Akane," Yuka sighed, looking like she was explaining something so simple to a five-year-old kid. "We weren't hard of sight before, and we aren't now. He was even crazier about you than Shinnosuke is, and it was only you and those loons chasing after him who didn't know it."

Akane was taken aback. "Really?" she breathed. "I didn't know you -"

"Well, how could you know?" Yuka said impatiently. "Just when he actually displays his real feelings for you, you're either not around, or you're too busy being angry at him to see it."

"Like the time you ran after Shampoo, he was so worried about you," Sayuri provided helpfully. "And then you got that temporary amnesia and forgot about him."

"Or when he threw that fishcake at that stupid guy-skater who tried to kiss you," Yuka added. "He tried so damned hard to keep that lecher's hands off you during the entire stupid match, and you never noticed it!"

"And there's the time he saved you after that whirlwind attack," Sayuri put in. "You were unconscious, so you didn't know, but you almost hit the fence there. He saved you, and you didn't have a single scratch."

"And all those times he saved you from the old pervert and got himself in a compromising situation. He knew you'd pound him for it, but he did it anyway!"

"And I could never forget how much he hoped you'd give him a chocolate for Valentines, and how he looked when he realized it was from the little girl -"

"Okay, okay!" Akane held up her hands. "No need to overdo it. I get the point already." Inside, she was a whirlwind of emotions. "Why are you telling me all of this *now*?"

"Would you have listened before?" Yuka demanded.

Akane began to bristle. "Hey, you..."

"That was your problem, Akane," Yuka told her bluntly. "You didn't trust him enough. You never did. That's what kept you from realizing your feelings for him sooner."

Sayuri poked her friend in her side. "Yuka..."

Akane, however, was silent. She already knew this, but hearing the words somehow made her hurt all over again. "I know." She closed her eyes. "Believe me, I know. And not a single day passes that I don't regret it."

Yuka's eyes softened. "That's why we're telling you all of this now," she said gently. "We don't want you to make the same mistakes again, Akane. To have to love a guy that much, and realize it too late."

Impulsively, Yuka stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Akane, enclosing her in a tight hug. "You're going to find someone who can make you happy for the rest of your life," she assured her. "I just know it."

*God knows you deserve it, after everything you've been through,* she thought silently.

Akane broke the embrace first, stepping back as her hands flew up to wipe the wetness that gathered at her eyes. "Oh jeez," she said, laughing helplessly.

"Twice in the same day." Yuka smirked. "I'm so flattered, Akane."

She snorted. "Yeah, right."

Yuka frowned. "Why are we talking about this anyway?" she asked suddenly, glancing at Sayuri, who shook her head in confusion.

"I thought we were talking about Shin-boy!"

Despite her puzzled emotions, Akane couldn't help but laugh.


Nabiki watched as her sister slowly, methodically punched a thick wooden post, her moves smooth and fluid.

"Gave up on straw dummies already?"

Akane paused and turned to smile at her. "Well, I'm not fashioning them with little bow ties and a little clip-on faux pigtail anymore, if that's what you're asking."

Nabiki grinned. "How's the training going?"

Akane went back to her kata. "Great." Her sister watched as she released a flurry of punches on the post, then did a short leap and spun around, her foot flashing out to score a perfect hit.

"Isn't that one of Ranma's moves?" Nabiki asked.

She wiped a trickle of sweat from her brows and nodded. "I'm using most of the moves he did." She grinned. "Well, almost. Except for those ridiculous feats of strength and speed, spurred by his indomitable male ego."

"What was that again? Chestnut fist?"

She nodded. "Kacchu Tenshin Amaguriken. And his ki attacks, of course. I have yet to learn some on my own." She walked over to the veranda where Nabiki sat and grabbed the towel beside her, wiping the sweat off her face and neck.

"Where's your sparring partner?"

"Shinnosuke?" Akane sat down and slung the towel around her neck. "He had to go somewhere else today."

"How come?"

Akane snorted. "Why ask me? I'm not his keeper."

Nabiki smiled. "Well, I hear that you two are inseparable lately. Are you sure there isn't anything you're not telling me?"

Akane shook her head. "Oh no, you don't. I've had enough of this for one day."

Nabiki's grin broadened. "Really? Who else had brought it up?"

"Yuka and Sayuri. Mostly Yuka." Akane blew out a breath. "Like there's anything weird about being great friends with a guy."

Nabiki shrugged. "Let people say what they want, Akane. It's never bothered us before, when people would say much worse things about Ranma. Why start now?"

Akane scowled. "It's certainly never bothered you before. After all, if I remember correctly, *you* were the one responsible for spreading the word around."

"Ah, well, those were the good old days." Nabiki smiled at her sister. "Ranma didn't seem to mind all that much, so why should you?"

"That," Akane joked, smiling back, "is because he was nothing but a stupid, oblivious jock who couldn't see past his own nose to -"

"Were you girls talking about me?"

Shinnosuke came out into the backyard, one hand stuffed in his pants pocket, another holding a small bottle of distilled water. He tossed the bottle to Akane, who caught it in one hand.

"Speak of the devil." Nabiki watched as her sister broke the cap with a sharp twist and took a long gulp. "Didn't know you were so thoughtful, Shin," she remarked.

Akane grinned. "He is that. Wouldn't know what I'd do without him," she joked.

Her sister noted, with much amusement, that Shinnosuke's ears were tinged pink. Nope, she hadn't lost her old touch yet. She'd have to have a word with her sister later. This was obviously an infatuated man.

"Can I talk to you, Akane?" He put a hand behind his head and smiled sheepishly. "Privately?"

*Nope, not just that,* Nabiki thought as she stood up. *Bewitched. _Enraptured_.*

"That was my cue," she said aloud, stuffing her hands in the pockets of her shorts. "See you at dinner, Akane. You too, Shin."

"Thanks, Nabiki," he called back. "Glad to see you, too."

"So." Akane stood up beside him. "What's up?"

He gestured for her to follow him, and they walked around the house to the tall building at the back.

Akane smiled as they reached the dojo. "Got a new move to show me?"

"Err, no." He pointed a finger towards the sky. "We're going up."

*It's not too late. You can still back out. You can still save this,* came the nagging whisper from the back of his head.

*Aww, shuddap,* he retorted silently, as he braced himself for the tall jump. *Now that I finally listen to you, you suddenly begin singing a different tune,* he thought darkly. *It figures.*

His feet left the ground, and he felt the rush of cool afternoon air across his face for a brief moment, until his feet landed smoothly on the roof. A second later, he heard the soft clang of brick tiles as Akane stepped up behind him.

"What's up, Shinnosuke?" came her laughing voice. "Why bring me in here for nothing?"

He turned to face her. "I...uh... I got something for you." He tried to smile. "Ah... it's ... er..." Silently cursing as intelligent speech fled him, he turned and picked up the small bouquet of red roses he'd left here earlier, before he went to find her.

Akane's eyes widened at the sight of the beautiful red blossoms. "Oh wow," she said softly, as he handed her the roses. "They're beautiful."

Shinnosuke looked at her flushed cheeks and shimmering brown eyes, and silently disagreed. *_You're_ beautiful.*

"Thank you," she said softly, her eyes shining as she looked up to meet his gaze. And his breath caught in his throat.

"Uh... happy graduation," he finished lamely.

She sat down on the tiles and smiled up at him. "I won't be graduating in a few days yet."

He sat down beside her. "Call it an advance gift, then."

They sat in comfortable silence for a while. Finally, Akane spoke up. "The date's on for Saturday, by the way."

"Saturday," he thought aloud. "Two days from now."

"That's right." She smiled sideways at him. "Why? Got nothing to wear yet?"

He smiled back. "No, it's not that. But I was meaning to ask you what color of dress you'll be wearing."

"I haven't thought about it yet. Why?"

"So I could get a matching corsage, of course."

"Naw, you don't have to do that, Shin." She smiled at him and gestured to the bouquet of roses lying beside her. "This was a wonderful present. Really."

He hesitated. "Well, whether you like it or not, I've got something else for you." Slowly, he brought a small, gaily wrapped box out of his pocket and held it out to her.

She stared at his outstretched hand. "Shinnosuke," she said, smiling. "What's this for?"

"Go on, take it. Please." He stretched his tight, nervous features into a smile. "Call it an advance graduation present," he said.

"You shouldn't have, Shinnosuke," she told him, as she took the box from his hands. "Why'd you go to so much trouble?"

He didn't answer. He just watched anxiously as she tore the wrapping away, and opened the box to reveal...

"Do you like it?" Shinnosuke asked nervously.

It was a glass paperweight. It was shaped in a dome, and inside the glass dome was a beautifully carved crystal rose blossom. The late afternoon sun glistened on the crystal petals, splashing the sculpture with the bright colors of a rainbow.

"Shinnosuke," she said softly, looking up at him. "It's... it's beautiful." She shook her head. "It must have cost a fortune, Shinnosuke. I can't..."

He shook his head, ignoring her outstretched hand as she tried to return the sculpture to him. "I bought it for you. Please accept it, as a token of..."

"Our friendship?" She smiled. "There's no need for trinkets like this between us, Shin. You know that."

"Akane..." He hesitated, and took both her hands in his.

*Tell her! Tell her now, before you lose your chance!* He looked into her surprised gaze, and summoned the remaining scraps of his courage.

"Our friendship has meant the world to me, too," he began. "You know that. You always tell me how much I've helped you get over the past, but you've done just as much for me. Just by being here... you fill an emptiness in my life... in here..." He let go of one hand and touched his palm to his chest.

She smiled. "I get it. You'll miss me while I'm gone in college, right?"

He took a deep breath. "When I first saw this crystal rose, I thought of you. "Akane..."

He gestured to the bouquet of roses lying beside her. "The flowers I just gave you are pretty, but they'll die in a few days." His hand closed over the crystal paperweight she held, cupping her hand in both of his.

"But *this* rose will last forever," he said, staring into her eyes. "It won't wilt, it won't die. It won't ever change." He paused, wetting his lips. "Just like how I feel for you."

Her eyes widened at that. "Shinnosuke..."

"That's right," he said quietly, as she stared at him helplessly. "I'm telling you I love you, Akane."

She was still staring at him, her mouth slightly agape, and he was unable to tell what she was thinking. Awkwardly, he let go of her hands and let his arms fall back to his sides. Akane looked down at her feet, speechless, her hand still clutching the glass paperweight. The silence was becoming unbearable.

"Please, Akane," he implored. "Say something."

She looked up hesitantly to meet his gaze. "I ... I don't know what to say," she admitted.

"Don't you dare say thank you," he said hoarsely. "That's the last thing I want to hear."

She threw him a weak smile, returning her gaze to the crystal sculpture she held. A part of her that had recovered from the initial shock was wasting no time in berating her naivete. *Well, whaddya know,* it whispered gleefully. *Yuka was right.*

"You're probably wondering," came Shinnosuke's voice, "why I'm telling you all of this now." He tried to smile. "I mean, why tell you *now*? When you're about to leave for college in a few more weeks, right?"

He swallowed. "I wanted to tell you for the longest time, but a part of me always held me back. Because..." He looked at her pleadingly. "Because I know you only think of me as a friend, Akane. And I keep telling myself I shouldn't be asking for more."

He looked away. "But the other part of me wanted you to know how I feel. That at least I might be able to tell you, even if I know it wouldn't do any good, I just wanted you to know..."

"Oh, Shinnosuke," she protested softly. "Don't say that. I - I'm just..." She managed a weak smile. "I just need some time to think about this, that's all."

He looked at her hopefully. "I can give you all the time you need, Akane," he said. "I'll wait for you, I promise. I can wait until you feel you're ready, and..."

He stopped when she shook her head. "I can't possibly ask you to do that, Shinnosuke," she said. "It's too much. I can't..."

"No," he told her, taking her hand. "I've been prepared for this ever since the moment I realized I was still in love with you.

"I'll wait for you. I'll always be here for you. No matter what happens."

They were both silent, both with no more words to say, so they sat quietly, side by side, staring up at the afternoon sky. The sun, hanging low in the western horizon, was a huge orange orb melting into the sky, spreading orange splashes of color across the sky and clouds, and bathing everything within its radius in a warm, orange glow.

Akane tilted her head up and closed her eyes, feeling the warm caress of dying sunlight on her face. She wondered briefly, why, after sharing the sunset with her friend countless times in the past, today suddenly seemed so different.

Hearing Shinnosuke's softly drawn breath beside her, she could tell he was thinking the same thing.


On Saturday morning, Akane woke up with a headache.

"Oooh," she moaned, as she propped herself up on her elbows. "I feel awful."

"You should," came Nabiki's voice as she came into her room. "Do you have any idea what time it is, young lady?"

Akane's gaze strayed to the digital alarm clock beside her bed. "So I overslept a little," she mumbled. "Big deal."

Her sister smirked. "You're just in time, though. Shinnosuke wants to talk to you."

"What, right now?" She threw back the covers and sat up.

"No need to hurry, Akane," Nabiki said as she started to back out of the room. "It's good to keep a man waiting," she added, grinning. "I'll tell him you'll be right down, okay?"

Akane smiled back, hoping her expression wasn't showing any of the uneasiness she felt. She hadn't spoken to Shinnosuke since the other day, when he'd told her he... loved her.

Shinnosuke! Her best friend, in love with *her*. What's worse, she wasn't sure how she felt about him. He was a wonderful person, sure, and she'd told him on more than one occasion that she was so lucky to have someone like him.

But did she *love* him? She's certainly never thought about it.

But then again, he was a wonderful person, and how hard could it be to learn to love someone like him?

"Oh no, don't you start," she mumbled as she threw open the doors of her cabinet, intending to change into a T-shirt and shorts.

"Akane!" Nabiki's voice came up from down the stairs. "Just how long do you plan to keep a guy hanging on a phone?"

"Phone?" she repeated. Slamming her cabinet closed, she marched out of her room and down the stairs. "Well, why didn't you say so?"

She snatched the receiver from Nabiki's hand and held it to her ear. "Hello?"

"Akane?" She could hear the uneasiness in Shinnosuke's voice. "Good morning."

"Good morning to you, too," she replied, as she glared at her sister, shooing her away with one hand. "What's up?"

He laughed nervously. "Well, actually, it's about our date tonight."

*Oh, that's right!* she thought. *Jeez, Akane, haven't you been zoned out,* she thought wryly.

"What about it?" she asked. "You aren't having second thoughts about it, are you?" She tried to insert a teasing note in her voice. "'Cause I can't find a replacement in such short notice, you know."

"No, it's not that. I'm looking forward to it, if you aren't... I mean, if you haven't ... um..."

"Changed my mind?" she prompted. "Of course not. Then what's the problem?"

She could almost hear his sigh of relief. "Well, it's grandpa, actually. He has a doctor's appointment later this afternoon. Auntie was supposed to go with him, but she has to meet a client today, and I don't want grandpa to go alone..."

"No problem," she answered. "You can meet me after you bring your grandpa home from the doctor."

"Are you sure it's okay?" he asked. "You know grandpa, he insists he'll be fine, but still..."

"It's okay, Shinnosuke. Really. I'll meet you at five o'clock, at the park, and we can go to the restaurant together. Okay?"

"That's fine. Thanks a lot. And... Akane?"


"I'm... uh... looking forward to tonight. Very much." She could almost hear the blush in his voice.

She smiled. "Me too, Shin. See you later."

"You, too." He hung up.

Akane replaced the phone into its cradle and turned around. Nabiki was still standing behind her, smirking. "What was that all about?"

Akane shrugged. "Dinner and a movie tonight. With Yuka, Sayuri, and their dates." She moved past Nabiki, intending to get a late-morning snack from the kitchen.

"Really? Sounds like fun."

"You can wipe that knowing smirk off your face, dear sister. Yuka set the whole thing up."

"Akane?" From behind, Nabiki put a hand on her shoulder, and Akane paused, turning around.

For a change, Nabiki's face was completely serious, devoid of any amusement or gloating. "Don't keep the guy dangling, Akane," she said quietly. "But don't go rushing into a relationship without being sure of your own feelings for him. And if you decide to turn him down, be careful not to hurt him too much. Okay?"

Again, Akane was amazed at how easily Nabiki could read her emotions. "I understand."

Nabiki smiled. "Good."

Akane sighed. "Just how long have you guys known about it, anyway?"

"Far longer than you have, sister." Nabiki laughed. "Far longer."


Nabiki rapped her knuckles on Akane's door. "Akane?" she called. Finding the door unlocked, she turned the knob, and let herself in. "Kasumi asked if you were dressed yet. You're running late."

She saw Akane hastily cram a thin notebook inside her top drawer, before she turned to face Nabiki.

"Sorry, I guess I forgot the time," Akane replied.

Nabiki peered closely at Akane's face, noting the puffy redness in her eyes. "Are you okay, sis?" she asked.

Akane nodded. "I'm fine," she answered.

"You haven't been crying, have you?" her sister asked suspiciously.

"Of course not. Why would I do that?"

"Oh, I don't know. Perhaps because of the fact that this is your first real date since Ranma's death, and you're feeling guilty?"

"Don't be ridiculous, Nabiki." Akane stood up and slipped on a pale blue blazer, matching the blue sleeveless dress she was wearing.

"That's good, then." She touched Akane's arm gently, smiling. "You've mourned Ranma long enough, Akane. It's time to rejoin the land of the living."

Akane smiled back. "I know that."

"Who knows, you might even have a good time tonight. It might be the start of a new life for you." Nabiki grabbed the silver haircomb from Akane's hand and ran it through Akane's short hair, pinning it above her right ear. "And if it doesn't work out, well... consider it a good experience. Either way, you have to move on with your life."

Akane nodded. "I know." She reached for the jewelry box lying on her bed, picking out a plain gold necklace.

"I'll tell Kasumi you'll be right down." With that, Nabiki walked out of her room, closing the door behind her.

She started to fasten the gold chain around her neck when she glimpsed a black velvet box peeking out from the bottom of the jewelry case, half-hidden by a tangle of pearls.

She smiled to herself as she flipped open the box, seeing the pretty blue stones wink up at her. Perfect. They matched the dress she was wearing perfectly.

Without a second's hesitation, she lifted the necklace from the case, and fastened it around her neck, and put on the matching earrings next. She laid a hand over her throat, feeling the cool stones against her skin. A soft smile played across her lips, as she recalled Ranma's anxiety when he'd given her the jewelry for her birthday two years ago. It seemed so long ago. Oh, Ranma...

As if on cue, Nabiki's voice rang out in her head, jolting her out of her thoughts. *You have to move on with your life...*

Akane smiled sadly, her hand still clutching the blue pendant to her throat. "Everyone tells me that," she whispered, hurriedly blinking away her tears. "But it's so hard. Does anyone know how hard it is?"


Akane walked down the street, the light afternoon wind ruffling her hair, the sun catching the highlights in her short blue-black hair.

She remembered briefly the last time she'd gone on a date, two years ago. She'd been on her way to the exact same park, to meet Ranma, whom she'd thought was waiting for her, to make up for their arguments for the past several days, to restore their engagement.

She remembered how she'd felt then - giddy, excited, full of hope and longing. She remembered getting dressed in her best outfit, putting on a little makeup, and pulling her hair back with little barrettes. She remembered walking slowly, a smile on her lips, her fingers tightening anxiously on the little white handbag she carried.

Now... she was dressed up, in one of her best outfits, and she'd put on some powder and a little lipstick, and she was wearing her hair pulled back by a silver haircomb, and she was even carrying the same white handbag...

So why did this date feel so different from the one two years ago? she wondered. After all, it was almost the same. Walking to the same park to meet her date, which, like the one before, had been arranged by someone else for them... About the only thing different was the man she was going to meet.

Then again, she thought, as she passed through the small vacant lot near their house, where she smiled at a couple of children she'd taught last summer, were the two men that different at all?

Ranma and Shinnosuke... both men loved her, even if the first one had never said it when he was alive, and the second one had said it far before she'd been ready to hear it. Both of them were strong and handsome, both with kind and generous hearts, both with the same bumbling naivete when it came to confessing their feelings...

Of course, Ranma had more often managed to make her angry than make her smile when he was alive, and Shinnosuke had never done anything but try to make her happy for as long as she'd known him...

There were so many things alike about the two of them, and so little things that were different - insignificant things, really, like Ranma's arrogance, and Shinnosuke's gentle understanding - so why did she feel like the two were as different as night from day?

Shinnosuke was kind and sweet and understanding, and without him, she knew she'd have gotten a much harder time getting through the past two years than she had. He was gentle and soft-spoken, and though she could tell his hands were used to hard, toilsome work, they were always gentle, when he would put his arms on her to guide her around a particular technique they were studying.

And Ranma...

Akane sighed to herself as she paused at the corner of a street with a small crowd of people, waiting for the light to change. Ranma was all of those things too, when he wasn't being obnoxious and insensitive to her feelings, not to mention being a hard-headed, hot-tempered, stubborn mule...

Shinnosuke was all the things that was good about Ranma, minus all the faults. Why *shouldn't* she love him, when he was made of all the things she'd loved about Ranma?

*Arrgh, what am I doing?* she groaned silently. *Like itemizing one's character traits is going to do me any good.*

Someone nudged her from behind, and she looked up, vaguely noticing that everyone else had started walking. She quickened her pace, hurrying to cross the street before the light turned red again.

*Besides, you already made up your mind, remember?* she reminded herself. *Don't back up on me now, girl.*

Suddenly, unbidden, memories came flooding into her mind, clouding her senses. Shinnosuke, leaping through the air with her, guiding her patiently through a difficult kata... Ranma, ignoring her as he was engrossed in a manga, dodging all her blows with effortless ease...

Shinnosuke, glancing dubiously at the plate of food in front of him, but obediently taking a bite after a glance at her hopeful face... Ranma, his eyebrow twitching as he glared at her latest culinary disaster, then promptly making some snide comment about how he swore he'd seen pig slush that looked better...

Shinnosuke, complimenting her on a new outfit, or a new move she'd learned... Ranma, commenting snidely about how the only outfit suited for her was her training gi, and how she'd never be anything but a stupid, clumsy tomboy...

But, then again...

Ranma, agreeing to dress up in a leotard and fight Kodachi... Ranma, rising to protect her from Mikado even after being smashed full-force against a cement wall... Ranma, spurred by his indomitable will, fighting to protect her from Herb, the Orochi in Ryugenzawa, and finally, Saffron...

Ranma, volunteering to eat the batch of cookies she'd baked, after realizing he'd hurt her feelings by refusing, and spending the rest of the day sick as a result...

Ranma, blushing furiously as she stood before him, dressed in her wedding gown...

"..." Akane barely felt the sting of tears in her eyes, blurring her vision.

Ranma, fighting Shinnosuke in a jealous rage in Ryugenzawa... backing out, letting her go free with the man he'd thought she'd chosen over him... leaving Shinnosuke and Ryugenzawa, going home with her, holding her hand...


She drew a long, shaky breath. Memories, *feelings* she'd thought she'd buried long ago, suffocating her, threatening to bury her under its weight...

*I can't do this!* Gasping, she turned around, starting to run back the way she came, running back down the street, heedless of the cries of warning from the people around her...

... heedless of the traffic light in front of her blurred vision, furiously blinking a warning red...

*I can't do this,* she thought, tears streaking down her face as she ran. *I'm sorry... I can't... I...*

"Watch out, girl!"

The thin cry pierced through her fogged senses, and she paused, instinctively turning to the source of the sound...

Vaguely, she heard the squeal of tires, smelled the scent of burning rubber...

... felt a brief, sharp, burning pain, and she was thrown away, hurling through the air, landing hard on the ground, feeling another sharp stab of pain in her arm from the impact...

... vaguely hearing the murmur of voices around her, feeling a throbbing pain in her side, clouding her senses... the sun glaring in her eyes, even as she closed them and turned her head...

... feeling her fingers on her injured arm twitch slowly, weakly... hearing the sound of sirens growing nearer and nearer...

... and finally, darkness.


"I'm sorry." The young doctor's eyes were sad as he glanced at them. "We've done everything we could."

He shook his head. "She has broken ribs, a broken arm, a concussion from hitting the pavement too hard, internal bleeding..." He broke off, smiling weakly at them. "I'm sorry. You don't need to hear this right now."

Nabiki nodded shortly. She glanced at Soun and Kasumi, who were sitting together on the cold, plastic benches in the hospital corridor. Kasumi was holding her father's hand in a comforting grip, but Soun was deathly quiet.

He raised tired, shadowed eyes to meet the doctor's gaze. "What are her chances?" he asked, his voice flat.

The doctor sighed. "As I've said, we've done all we could for her. We've repaired as much of the damage as possible, but..." He paused. "I advise you to be prepared for the worst."

"No... hope at all?" Kasumi asked, a tremor in her voice.

"It's all up to her now. We doctors can only do so much. We try to repair as much of the damage as possible, but the final decision on whether she lives or not lies in her own hands." He smiled sadly. "I'm sorry."

Nabiki nodded. "Thanks, doctor."

"No problem. I'll come to check on her again later tonight." With that, he walked away.

Nabiki sat down beside her father. "Daddy?"

Her father's expression remained stony. "Nabiki." Even his voice sounded devoid of any emotion. Nabiki suppressed a shudder. "What's going to happen to your sister?"

"You heard the doctor, Daddy. They don't know, either." She squeezed her father's arm comfortingly. "But they don't know Akane, Dad. She's a fighter. She won't give up so easily. You know that."


"But what, Father?" Kasumi prompted.

"But it's been so long since she was like that," their father continued stonily. "She hasn't been strong since Ranma died. I can see she was trying to, but..." His expression crumpled, as he leaned into his eldest daughter's arms. "She tries so hard to be strong," he sobbed, the tears finally coming, "but I can see that she isn't. My little girl..."

Nabiki looked away, as Kasumi tried to comfort their father. Her father's words struck too close to the truth than she would have liked. Too close.

Akane would get well. She had to. They hadn't been through the ordeal of the past two years for nothing.

*That's right,* she thought, her face tightly expressionless. *Nothing to do now but wait.*


The door of the hospital room burst open, and Shinnosuke stumbled in, a stricken expression on his face.

Nabiki watched as his initial shock gave way into disbelief, and finally... fear.

His gaze swiveled across the room to rest on her, and fear gave way into pleading. "Nabiki," he implored. "Akane..."

"There's no change," she said flatly. "No change at all. The doctors say that if she doesn't make a turn for the better after tonight, it's likely that she never will."

His gaze widened at that, and his gaze turned back to Akane. Nabiki watched as a kaleidoscope of emotions played across his features - worry, fear, and ... guilt?

"I was waiting for her at the park," he said, almost too softly for her to hear. "I was a few minutes early, and I took a seat while waiting for her. I waited for hours," he cried, his voice rising with each word, "but she never came. I *knew* something was wrong. I should have gone with her, I shouldn't have let her go alone..."

"Shinnosuke." Kasumi came up behind him and put a hand on his arm. "Don't do this. It wasn't your fault."

"But if I had been there, she wouldn't have..."

"It wouldn't have changed anything!" Nabiki snapped. "She ran right in front of a speeding car. Could you have stopped her?"


She recoiled a little at the reprimand in Kasumi's voice. "I'm sorry."

Shinnosuke, however, was staring at her, bewildered. "She did what?" he breathed.

Nabiki sighed. "I talked to the police. They say that Akane was crossing the street, but she suddenly turned around and ran, ignoring the light as it turned red. The car was going too fast, it didn't have enough time to stop or to avoid her. The driver will be charged for speeding and ignoring traffic rules, but this will be ruled as an accident."

He tore his gaze away from her to look back on the figure on the bed. "Akane..."

"The doctors say it's up to her." Nabiki sighed. "But if you ask me, I think..." She took a deep breath. "I think we should be prepared. For the worst."

"What?" Shinnosuke looked at her, aghast. "You're giving up? Just like that?"

Nabiki glared at him. "I'm not the one who's giving up here."

Kasumi put a hand on her sister's shoulder, as she looked at Shinnosuke and tried to soften the blow of her sister's words. "It's true that the doctors say it's up to Akane. We're not sure what the outcome will be, but we... our family," she amended, looking at Nabiki, "has decided to be prepared. Akane... hasn't been well. Ever since Ranma died, we've all pretended that everything will be okay again, and she'd gone on pretending with the rest of us..."

"But now, we can't pretend any more," Nabiki finished, reaching up to put a hand over Kasumi's, which rested on her shoulder. "Whatever she chooses, we'll support her. We're here for her, to tell her one last time that we love her."

Shinnosuke was still staring at her, dumbfounded. Finally, Nabiki sighed. "I'm going to get a cup of coffee. Come on, sis."

With one last look at Shinnosuke, Kasumi followed her sister out of the room.

Shinnosuke slowly turned around, his gaze resting on the pale, lifeless figure on the bed. There were so many tubes connected to her, and as bad as it made him feel to see her so hurt, he knew these machines were supposed to help her get better. *Or make her more comfortable,* whispered a voice in his head, but he shut it out, refusing to believe it.

He pulled up a chair and sat down beside her bed, his gaze never leaving her face. She was breathing slowly and steadily, with the help of the machines, but aside from that telling detail that she was still alive, nothing about her resembled the smiling, happy girl she'd been two days ago, when he'd told her he loved her...

He remembered Kasumi's words. Then again, she might not have been as happy as he'd thought she was...

*We're here for her, to tell her we love her...*

He remembered them as Nabiki's words, but somehow, he heard the words in his own voice.

"I love you, Akane," he whispered, tears finally stinging his eyes. "No matter what happens, I love you."

*I love you...*


She was standing in a clearing, an expanse of land that seemed to stretch for miles. She turned around. All she could see around her was miles and miles of green earth, with small patches of grass on the ground, huge trees with roots stretching deep into the earth...

*What I am doing here?*

She looked down at herself. She was wearing a blue dress with a blue blazer, and in her hands, she carried a small white handbag. She was lost in a huge forest, dressed in something like this?

This had to be a dream. That's right, she thought as she began to walk. She'd wake up anytime now, and realize this was all a dream...


She stiffened at the sound. Turning sharply, her gaze flew over the place, but all she could see were the leaves and branches of trees swaying gently against the quietly blowing wind.

She was hallucinating again. That's right, that's what it was. She resumed walking. Sometimes, when she would walk past a familiar place in town, somewhere she'd been with *him*, she'd hear his voice out of nowhere, and she'd think she was losing her mind...


There it was again. She ignored it. It was nothing but the wind blowing, she told herself. Or a whisper of the deep longing in her heart. Nothing but her mind playing tricks on her, even after two years of...

*Akane.* The voice again, more insistent this time. And, was she losing her mind already, or did it sound like the voice was coming nearer...

Drawing a long, painful breath, she turned around, slowly, deliberately...

And she could swear she could almost hear her heart grinding to a stop. Just as everything else around them seemed to disappear, leaving only the two of them together...

There he was. He was as beautiful as she remembered him. Tall, dark hair pulled back into a pigtail over his beautiful blue eyes... wearing a red Chinese shirt and black pants that didn't *quite* hide his familiar, lithe, athletic form...

*Akane.* He called out her name again, and it was only then that she noticed his eyes.

He was staring at her, a smile in his eyes... no, not just a smile, she realized. A smile of understanding, of tenderness... of... of *love*...

Happiness swelled in her heart, so much that she thought she would burst with it. She'd waited for this for such a long time, waited for *him* for so long...

She started towards him, her steps slowly picking up speed, as years of longing pushed her forward. There was nothing else she'd longed for, nothing else she wanted than to hurl herself into his arms, touch him, feel him...


She halted in her tracks, already halfway to him. A voice called her back. A familiar voice. A *real* voice...

Slowly, she turned. A real voice that belonged to a *real* man, standing a few feet away from her.

A real man, who'd told her he loved her a few days ago...

Shinnosuke watched as several conflicting emotions played across Akane's face. Suddenly, he knew with a terrified certainty that, if he didn't do anything, she was going to leave, she was going to leave him forever...

"Akane!" he implored. "Please... I... I love you..."

She stiffened, as if she had a spike driven through her heart. That was how she felt, like her heart was being split in two. Torn between two men, one whom she loved, the other one who had told her that he... loved her...


Slowly, she turned her gaze back to the man in red... to *Ranma*... and she was certain the confusion was evident on her face...

...and she knew he saw it, for he just smiled, a gentle smile, a smile that spoke of all the love in the world, all the love he hadn't been able to express, when he was still alive...

*I'm here for you,* came his voice again. *Always. As long as you need me...*

Tears glistened in her eyes. A small part of her that still hadn't lost its senses marveled at how well he was able to express himself *now* when he was dead, but she ignored it.

All that mattered to her was he was here, and he was telling her he loved her, and that she...

She loved him...

...loved... Ranma...

The moment seemed to last an eternity, as she smiled at him happily, feeling as if an enormous weight had been lifted from her...

...the moment passed, and she became aware of another person, another thing she had to do before she...

She turned to face Shinnosuke, and she could tell, he knew what she was going to say even before she opened her mouth, for his eyes were filled with a terrified panic, as he began to mouth the word "No..."

Unable to stop the tears now, she looked at him, imploring him to understand. "I'm sorry," she choked out. "I'm so sorry."

Unable to bear his tortured gaze any longer, she turned, running...

... and flung herself into Ranma's open arms...

*Finally...* she thought, as he closed his arms around her, his hand stroking her hair. She pressed her face against his neck, crying softly.

"I love you, Akane," he whispered.



Two days later, in the Nerima General Hospital, the machines monitoring Akane's life went flat line.

*** End CHAPTER 10 ***