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WFY Chapter 2: Poison

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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Ranma caught her before she hit the floor.

Everyone crowded around Ranma, demanding to know what happened. Ranma ignored their voices, as he lifted Akane into his arms, gently cradling her face against his chest.

"Akane! Wake up! Please, Akane, don't die!" Soun was in his usual overemotional state.

"Father, she'll be okay." Kasumi's voice soothed her father. "Akane's fine. Don't worry, Father. No, she isn't going to die. Stop crying, Father!"

"I'm taking Akane up to her room," Ranma said. Without waiting for a response, he carried Akane out of the room.

Nabiki followed Ranma up to Akane's bedroom. He nudged the door open with his foot, and walked in, carefully laying Akane on her bed. Coming in behind him, Nabiki switched on the light.

Ranma sat at the edge of Akane's bed, a worried expression in his eyes. Nabiki watched him smooth the hair out of Akane's eyes, as she came to stand beside him.

"She'll be okay, Ranma," she assured him.

Ranma didn't answer, as a soft moan escaped Akane's lips. "Akane?" he whispered softly, reaching for her hand.

Akane's eyes fluttered open, staring at Ranma. She looked around, realizing she was in her room. "Why are we here?" she asked, trying to get up.

Ranma helped her sit up on her bed. She leaned against the headboard, feeling unusually tired. "Can anyone tell me why we're here?" she repeated, when no one answered her question. "Nabiki?"

Nabiki shrugged. "You fainted."

Akane blinked. "What? I never faint," she cried indignantly.

Ranma stood up, crossing his arms over his chest. "Well, apparently, you did. Care to tell us what happened?" he told her.

Akane shook her head. "I don't know. I just felt dizzy, and next thing I remember, I'm here on my bed."

"Akane!" Soun burst in her room, followed by Kasumi. Genma was a few steps behind them, as he'd stopped to get some hot water.

"Are you okay, Akane?" Kasumi asked.

Akane tried to muster a smile. "I'm fine, Kasumi, Dad. Don't worry."

"You haven't even had dinner yet," Genma called as he came in the room.

"That's okay, Uncle Saotome," Kasumi replied. "I'll bring Akane up her supper."

"No, Kasumi. I'll just go down."

"No, you're not." Ranma glowered down at her. "You're staying right here. No buts."

Akane glared back. "I feel fine," she insisted.

Nabiki wondered if Ranma realized how much he sounded like a worried, overprotective husband.

"It's no bother, Akane," Kasumi assured her. "It'll be better if you rest tonight. And go see Dr. Tofu tomorrow."

Akane groaned. "Kasumi! I told you, I'm fine. I just had a headache, that's all. Don't go overboard."

"You're going to see Dr. Tofu. That's final," Ranma snapped.

Akane scowled. "Don't be silly, Ranma."

"Dummy! Do you want us to worry more?" he shouted back.

Akane's eyes softened. "Ranma," she whispered, staring at him. Ranma looked away awkwardly.

Kasumi smiled, satisfied. "I'll be right back with your supper, Akane," she called, already leaving. "Come on, Father. Let's have some dinner." She gently pushed her father out of the room.

"We're going down to dinner, too, Akane," Nabiki said, patting Akane's hand. "Just sit here and wait for Kasumi." She followed Soun and Genma out the door.

Ranma sat down on the floor beside Akane's bed, watching them leave. Akane's voice calling his name had him turning to look at her.

"You were worried about me?" she asked, her eyes shining.

Ranma's face flushed. "You fainted, okay? It was scary. We thought something had happened to you."

She shook her head. "I'm fine, Ranma. Really." She smiled tentatively. "But if it means that much to you, I'll see Dr. Tofu in the morning." She watched him open his mouth, almost expecting him to deny it.

*Why should I care about you, stupid tomboy? I'm sure a violent girl like you can handle whatever it is.* The words popped in his head, and Ranma beat them back with a fury. Denying everything had become his escape route for too long, and old habits died hard.

He looked up and met her gaze, letting his concern show in his gray eyes. "I'd feel better if you do," he said.

"Come with me?" she asked hesitantly, holding his gaze.

Ranma only paused a second before nodding. He watched a slow smile spread across Akane's lips. "Thank you, Ranma," she said softly.

They were sitting there like that, looking at each other, with no words to say, when Kasumi walked in with a tray of food.

Kasumi smiled at the couple as she laid the tray down on Akane's table. "I brought your dinner up too, Ranma-kun," she said, turning to Ranma. She wiped her arms on her apron as she looked down at Ranma, sitting on the floor. "Is that okay? You could keep Akane company."

Ranma nodded, pushing himself up to his feet. He walked over to Akane's table, taking the stack of books on the desk and putting them aside on the floor, out of the way. Putting his hands on both ends of the table, he lifted the desk effortlessly, careful not to topple the bowls of food.

He set the desk down in front of Akane, who was sitting cross-legged on her bed. Snagging the chair with his foot, he sat down opposite her, handing Akane the first bowl of rice. Picking up his chopsticks, he looked up and smiled at Kasumi.

"We'll be fine, Kasumi," he told her. "I'll just bring the dishes down when we're finished."

Kasumi nodded, already heading for the door. "That'll be fine, Ranma," she said. "Eat well, Akane."

The door closed softly behind Kasumi as Akane picked up a piece of seasoned pork with her chopsticks.

They ate in companionable silence, Akane watching Ranma out of the corner of her eye. "Ranma?"

He looked up, chopsticks in his mouth.

She blushed slightly. "I want to ask you something," she said. "Promise you'll tell the truth?"

"What is it?"

She took a deep breath. "Well, we've been engaged for more than a year now," she began timidly. "And I was just - I mean, I - how do you feel about our engagement?" she blurted out.

Ranma swallowed. "Huh?"

She looked away. "I want to know how you feel about us."

"What do you mean?"

"Don't play dumb, Ranma," she snapped. "I know you know what I mean." Her eyes softened. "Are you happy engaged to me?"

Ranma snorted. "As if I have a choice."

He held up his hands quickly as Akane picked a book up and started to throw it at him. "Okay! Okay! I'm sorry."

"Ranma..." He was surprised at the pleading tone in her voice. "Tell me the truth. Please."

She bowed her head. "Don't you think this engagement has gone on for far too long already?" she asked. "I mean, if you want, we could just - "

"We could do what?" Ranma asked, struggling to sound disinterested.

She raised her eyes to his. "We could just break it," she said softly. "If you don't want to stay engaged to me anymore, I mean."

Ranma felt as if the walls of Akane's room were closing around him. His fingers twitched nervously where they gripped the edge of the table.

"You - you want to break it?" he asked. He tried to block out the horrible pounding noise in his head, which he realized was the sound of his accelerated heartbeat.

She stared at him a long time before answering. "I don't know," she whispered, wrapping her arms around herself. "Sometimes, when we fight, when you insult me, yeah, I think I do. But other times..."

Her eyes glistened with her vulnerability as she continued, "Other times, when it's just you and me, when we're getting along, I feel..." She broke off, laughing softly. "I don't know how I feel. But I know I've never felt it with anyone else before."

She bit her lip nervously. "You always protect me. In all the time I've known you, I've never been afraid something would happen to me, because I know you're always here for me. That much I know."

She looked up at him. "How about you?" she asked. "Do you - do you want to break it?"

"Akane..." He stared at her, emotions swirling inside him.

He closed his eyes briefly, memories of the past flooding his thoughts. Akane, leaping into the Orochi's mouth to save him. Akane, giving him a tiny, heart-shaped chocolate for Valentines...

Akane helping him, smiling at him, taking his hand...

He hadn't even realized it, but somehow, she'd become more than just his friend, or his fiancee. She was a part of *him*. She represented everything good he'd found in his life for the past two years - laughter, joy ... and love. She'd been a part of his life, ever since that first day he stepped into the Tendo dojo. Even the simplest things, like running to school every morning, seemed incomplete and lifeless, without Akane there running alongside him...

He shook his head, as a slow smile spread across his lips. "No," he whispered. "I - I..."

Realizing he'd spoken out loud, he snapped his gaze back to her, his heart thumping in his chest. He looked at her, saw the hopeful, pleading look in her eyes, that Akane herself was probably unaware of. Just like the episode with Nabiki.

Nabiki had once again tried to lure Ranma into one of her scams, this time by claiming him as her fiancee. He remembered his plan to get back at Nabiki, to trick her by saying he loved her.

He'd grabbed her from behind, and shouted out, "I love you!", his mind gleefully anticipating the shocked expression that would be in Nabiki's face. Oh, it would have been priceless...

Except that he'd grabbed Akane by mistake. And the look in her eyes, pleading with him silently, "Do you mean it, Ranma?" made his heart throb painfully in his chest and his breath catch in his throat. And the way she smiled at him afterwards, as she accepted the bouquet of flowers, filled his heart with happiness unlike any he'd ever experienced before.

Her voice softly whispering his name had him snapping back to reality. He looked at her, torn between telling her the truth, or denying everything as he always had.

One look at her took the decision from his hands.

He smiled again, wanting to reassure her. "I'm very happy, Akane."

Her eyes shone with uncertainty. "Really?"

Ranma nodded. "I'm happy to be here."

He watched her twiddle her thumbs. "Well, sometimes it doesn't seem like it," she muttered.


Ranma was staring at her open-mouthed. Akane glared at him. "Close your mouth, stupid," she snapped. "Before you try to put your foot in it again."

Obediently, Ranma closed his mouth. Akane rubbed her hands along her bare arms as she spoke. "Is it cold?" she asked.

Ranma shrugged. "Just fine. Are you cold?" he asked.

She shivered slightly. "Not really."

Ranma looked at her in concern. She was breathing in shallow gasps, and her coloring looked pale. "Are you okay, Akane?"

"I'm fine, Ranma."

"That's what you said before you fainted, stupid." He got up and pushed the table aside, the legs scraping against the floor as he did.

Akane put both hands on her ears to block out the screeching noise. "Don't shout at me, damn you," she replied, wincing. "My head hurts."

Her teeth chattered. Akane wrapped both her arms around herself as she shivered, her whole body trembling.

Ranma sat down beside her as he laid a hand on top of hers. Her skin felt like it was on fire. "Akane?"

Icy needles of pain shot through her. Her eyes were half-closed, as she leaned against the wall, oblivious to almost everything else but the cold.

Dimly she heard Ranma's voice calling her name, but he sounded so far away. His voice echoed repeatedly in her head, and she tried to call out to him, but no sound came out.

Through her dull senses, she felt herself being lifted off the bed. Through the haze of pain, she could feel the heat emanating from his body, and she snuggled against him, pressed her face into his chest, loving the feel of his silk shirt rubbing against her cheek.

The last thing she remembered was listening to his heart pounding against his chest, and she whispered his name one last time, before the world around her faded into nothingness.


Dr. Tofu had just been ready to go to bed, when loud banging on his front door had resounded throughout the clinic. Puzzled, he'd quickly come down for a look.

He had opened the door to find Ranma carrying an unconscious Akane in his arms, trying to catch his breath after running the few blocks from the Tendo house to the clinic.

Dr. Tofu gaped at Akane, his eyes wide. "What happened?" Quickly regaining his composure, he stood aside to let Ranma in.

"Bring her in to the examination room, Ranma." He walked a few steps ahead, leading the way.

Ranma gently lay Akane down on the bed, as Dr. Tofu touched a hand to her forehead, and did a quick examination. Ranma stood beside the bed, looking on anxiously.

The doctor looked at Ranma, puzzled. "What happened, Ranma?"

The younger boy shrugged. "I don't know. She just fainted. She's never fainted before." His voice was filled with uncertainty.

"Calm down, Ranma," the doctor instructed. "I can't handle two patients at the same time." He glanced back at Akane. "She hasn't woken up since?"

"Oh, no. She woke up minutes later, and we had dinner. She said she was feeling better. And then she started complaining about feeling cold. When I touched her skin, she felt so hot. The next thing I knew, she was unconscious again." He glanced up at Dr. Tofu. "Sorry to bother you when it's so late, but we were worried."

Dr. Tofu shook his head. "All in a day's job, Ranma." He frowned as he looked down at Akane.

Ranma noticed the telltale reaction. "What's wrong, doctor?"

"I'm not sure yet," he said softly, almost to himself. "Her temperature is abnormally high, and her pulse rate is ..."

The doctor turned abruptly and left the room. Ranma could hear him rummaging in drawers in the adjoining room. He came back with a syringe and a couple of vials.

He quickly filled the syringe with the contents from the first vial. "I could give her something to stabilize her condition," he told Ranma. "Aside from that, I still don't know what's wrong. I'd have to run some tests."

Ranma watched as the doctor carefully pressed the plunger, wincing as the needle drove into Akane's skin. Dr. Tofu noted his reaction and almost smiled. "Afraid of needles, Ranma?"

He shook his head absently. "No." He took a seat beside the bed. Looking up at Tofu, he smiled weakly. "I've had much worse than that."

"So I've heard." Tofu set the syringe down on the tray beside him and looked at Ranma. "You'll have to leave Akane here tonight," he said. "I'll run some tests, and by tomorrow we should be able to find out what's wrong with her."

He smiled kindly at the younger man. "You could go home now and come back in the morning." He raised his brows. "Or would you like to stay here tonight to look after her?"

Ranma glanced down at Akane's sleeping figure, his eyes troubled, recalling their conversation in her room. He looked back up at the doctor, who was waiting for his answer.

"I - uh," he stammered, scratching his head. "I'd like to stay, if it's okay."

Dr. Tofu nodded. "Of course it's okay, Ranma. Let's take her up to her room first, then I'll get you a spare cot or something."

Ranma lifted Akane into his arms, his mouth opening to protest. Dr. Tofu silenced him with a look. "It's no bother, Ranma," he said. "Really. Besides," he added with a grin, "you're one of my regulars. Business has picked up ever since you came to town."

Ranma managed a small smile as he followed the older man up the stairs. Dr. Tofu stopped outside the second room on the left, and opened the door, motioning for Ranma to go on inside. Ranma gently laid Akane on the bed, as the overhead light flicked into life above them, bathing the room in a warm glow.

"I'll call Akane's family to notify them, Ranma," Dr. Tofu called from the door. "Should I ask them to bring over anything you'd need for the night?"

Ranma sat down on the chair beside the bed. "No thanks, doc," he replied. "I'll be fine."

"Good night."

The door closed quietly, leaving Ranma alone in the room with his fiancee. He reached out to clasp her hand, as he edged his chair closer. He leaned his head on the bed beside her arm, closing his eyes briefly. *Please be okay,* he whispered softly. *Please, please, be okay.*


The door burst open, hitting against the wall with a bang, jolting Ranma awake. He looked up, his eyes focusing sleepily on Soun Tendo. Akane's father was standing in the doorway, staring at his youngest daughter as his eyes started to fill with tears. "Akane!" he wailed.

Kasumi patted him gently on the back. "Akane will be fine, Father," she said soothingly. "Dr. Tofu would take care of everything."

Nabiki glanced at Akane, and was reassured to find her sleeping peacefully. "So," she drawled, her gaze drifting to the disoriented boy sitting beside the bed, smiling as she watched him blink the sleep from his eyes. "You stayed here all night?"

Ranma nodded blearily, too tired to answer. He'd stayed up most of the night watching over Akane, in the hopes that she'd awake and put his worries to rest. Unfortunately, Akane never stirred in her sleep.

"That's good, boy," Genma said, slapping his son on the shoulder. "That's the kind of concern you should show your fiancee. Your mother would be proud!"

"Shut up, Pop," he mumbled, his eyes drooping.

"Good morning, everyone," Dr. Tofu called, coming into the room. Fortunately, he never saw Kasumi, who was standing behind Soun and Nabiki. He glanced at Ranma, smiling. "I brought you a spare futon last night, Ranma," he said. "But you had dozed off and I didn't want to wake you."

Ranma looked down on the floor and saw the thin futon lying beside his feet. He hadn't noticed it when he'd woken up from his short nap.

"Why don't you bring her down, Ranma?" Dr. Tofu suggested. "I'd like to start with the tests so that we'd find out what's wrong by noon."

Ranma nodded, stifling a yawn as he stood up. Gathering Akane in his arms, he followed the doctor out the room, down the stairs, and into the examination room.

He laid her on the bed as Dr. Tofu said, "That'll be fine, Ranma. Go on out and wait with Akane's family. Better yet, why don't you nap a while? By the time you wake up, I'll have the results ready."

"That's okay, doc," he replied. "I'll just go sit outside."

He found Nabiki sitting on the couch in the waiting room, leafing through a magazine. She looked up at him as he came in. Putting the magazine aside, she smiled at him and patted the seat beside her. "Come sit beside me, Ranma. You could keep me company."

Not wanting to argue, he plopped down beside her, clasping his hands behind his head. He closed his eyes for a moment, wanting to rest.

"Don't worry, Ranma," Nabiki said. "She'll be fine."

"Yeah," he replied, not turning to look at her.

She paused. "What do you think happened to her?" The question had been nagging at her all evening, ever since Ranma came barging down carrying Akane in his arms, and a sense of dread was slowly building up inside her.

"I wish I knew," Ranma muttered absently. "Then I wouldn't be so-" He trailed off, shooting a glance at Nabiki to see if she caught his verbal slip.

Which, of course, she did. Nabiki smiled. "Worried?"

He looked away, but not before Nabiki noticed his cheeks flushed with color. "Never mind."

She patted his knee. "I appreciate your concern for my little sister. I know Akane will be, too, when she wakes up."

Ranma snorted. "Yeah, if she isn't too busy pounding me to the pavement."

Nabiki sighed. "You just have to learn not to provoke her, Ranma. You know she loses her temper too easily."

She glanced at him. "And the way you shoot off your mouth doesn't help matters any, you know."

"Yeah, it's my fault," he said bitterly. "It's always my fault, isn't it, Nabiki?"

Nabiki opened her mouth to reply, but Ranma plunged ahead, ignoring her. "It's my fault I have Shampoo and Ukyou chasing after me. It's my fault I change into a girl. Fact is, It's my fault I got engaged to her in the first place. It's my fault I don't wanna eat her cooking. What else, Nabiki? I'm sure you could think of something."

She chose her words carefully. "I never said that, Ranma. Akane has a hand in it, too. She jumps to conclusions too quickly without thinking things through." She shrugged. "Nobody's perfect."

"Lemme tell you something," she began.

Ranma laughed shortly. "No thanks. I don't have much money on me right now."

She glared at him. "I wasn't going to charge you anything," she snapped.

"Oh yeah?" he shot back. "Well, if there's anything I learned from living with you, it's that nothing is free, Nabiki."

The air cracked with tension as their eyes shot daggers at each other. Finally, Nabiki sighed. "I guess I deserved that," she said softly.

Ranma shook his head. "No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

She almost smiled. "But you still think it."

"I'm just tired, okay?" he said wearily. "I don't feel much like verbal sparring today, Nabiki."

"I understand," she said softly. "She's my sister. I care about her, too, you know."

They sat in silence for a few minutes until Nabiki spoke again. "Akane needs a lesson or two in patience, and so do you, Ranma." She glanced over at him. "That was what I was going to tell you."

She smiled. "You're just too much alike, Ranma. Both too stubborn to back down." She patted his shoulder as she stood up. "Everything will be fine, don't worry," she repeated, before walking out of the room.

Ranma leaned his head back, closing his eyes. *I hope so,* he thought. *I sure hope so.*


They were assembled in Dr. Tofu's waiting room; Ranma, Nabiki, Genma, and Soun. The family had taken extra care to make sure the eldest Tendo daughter sat this meeting out. Kasumi had been sent home to see to lunch.

Ranma sat alone on a chair, as Akane's family and his dad took up all the space on the long couch leaning against the wall. He hardly cared, though, as he sat staring off into space, trying to ignore the fear mounting in his heart. Something was wrong, he felt it in his gut.

Something was very, very wrong.

Genma and Soun were reminiscing yet another adventure on their training trip, and their boisterous laughter filled the air. Beside them, Nabiki appeared engrossed in her business magazine.

Didn't they realize the gravity of the situation?

Dr. Tofu came into the room, interrupting Genma in the middle of his story. Everyone looked up at the doctor's grim expression, and all good cheer fled from their faces. They waited apprehensively for him to begin.

Ranma had taken one look at the doctor, at the frown lines marring his forehead and the grim set of his mouth, and he'd given up all hope that nothing was wrong with Akane. He'd been hoping that Tofu would tell them it was just nerves or something that caused Akane to faint.

Ranma knew it had to be much, much worse than nerves.

"I have good news," Dr. Tofu began. "Akane's awake. She came to a few minutes ago, and I told her to rest. She's waiting upstairs. You could see her after I give you the results of my examination."

Ranma resisted the urge to bolt out of the room to check on Akane. He could wait a few more minutes. Dr. Tofu hadn't said anything about her condition, and Ranma took that to mean Akane's fine - for now.

"To simplify things," he continued, "it looks like Akane was poisoned."

"What?!" screeched half the room. Ranma just stared at Dr. Tofu, his mouth dropping open.

Soun's eyes started to fill with tears, as Genma patted him on the back. "Listen to what the doctor has to say before you fly off the handle," he suggested.

Dr. Tofu nodded. "She's very weak, and I barely restored her vital signs. She should be fine for a few days."

"A few days?" Nabiki echoed.

"Let me finish. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to identify the poison. I would have to get a sample of it, or the very least know what kind of poison it was, to be able to prescribe a cure. As I said, Akane should be fine for a few days. There's one thing I know for sure. The poison is fast-acting. She would die in less than a week if we aren't able to come up with an antidote."

Everyone was silent now, waiting for the ax to fall. Even Soun Tendo halted his tears and stared at the doctor wide-eyed.

Ranma was finding it harder and harder to breathe. His chest tightened painfully, and he tried gulping in bigger breaths. Akane was dying. She's dying...

"I have a question to ask you," Dr. Tofu continued. "Would you know where she got the poison? How she was inflicted with it?"

Everyone denied any knowledge. Dr. Tofu turned to Ranma, who hadn't moved a muscle since his announcement. "Ranma? Do you have a clue?"

He shook his head. "I don't know," he replied stonily.

"I mentioned the poison was fast-acting. I'm fairly certain it's been less than a day since she got it. That should be a clue. It means she was poisoned maybe yesterday afternoon, or last night. Any ideas?"

"Akane went to the mall with Ranma yesterday," Nabiki answered. "We had dinner at home. It was her birthday."

"Ah, yes. I remember." He turned to Ranma again. "Nothing eventful happened while you were shopping?"

"No," he replied automatically. "I was with her the whole time. Nothing happened. It would have to be last night."

"But she fainted right before we had dinner, remember?" Genma reminded them.

"How _could_ she have gotten the poison, Doctor?" Nabiki asked.

He frowned. "Oh, the usual means, I imagine. Either she digested it if it was put into her food, or entered her bloodstream directly, like a snake bite. We could try to look for puncture wounds, I guess..."

Puncture wounds, Ranma thought. He'd been with Akane the whole afternoon, and he was sure he'd notice it if she was hurt or anything. And what could have caused puncture wounds? It was highly unlikely that someone injected her with the poison using a syringe. He'd notice if she got a cut or something if a blade had been used.

They'd come straight home from the mall, he recalled. Akane had gone to get a snack from Kasumi, as Ranma had slipped out to get her present. When he came back, she'd been in her room, wearing the blue dress. He'd even helped her put on the necklace, and had commented on how it matched the pin on the dress...

Ranma's head snapped up. "The pin!"

Everyone turned to look at him.

His heartbeat thundered in his ears as he stood up. "It had to have been the pin," he said. "There wasn't anything else!"

"What are you talking about, Ranma?"

"She was wearing a blue brooch," he explained breathlessly. "She told me she found the dress on her table, and she thought it was from me. The pin came with the dress. It must have been that brooch!"

Nabiki picked up an overnight bag beside her feet, and pulled out a blue silk dress. "We dressed her in pajamas before Dr. Tofu began his tests."

She carefully unclasped the brooch, taking care she won't prick herself. Handing it over to the doctor, she said, "Careful, Dr. Tofu."

The doctor nodded as he took the brooch and peered at it closely. "Yes, this could have been the medium used," he mused. "We'll know for sure after I examine it." He looked up. "This could take some time. Why don't you go in and see Akane now?"

Not needing a second invitation, Ranma quickly left the room. Genma managed a small smile despite the shock from the news they'd received. "At least he's showing concern for his fiancee," he remarked to Soun.

Ranma took the steps two at a time, breathless by the time he paused outside Akane's door. Rapping his knuckles on the wooden door, he hesitated only a second before pushing it open, concern for her overriding any other emotion.

Akane looked up as he entered. Ranma slowly made his way to her, his eyes quickly noting the paleness of her complexion.

He stopped just beside her bed, standing over her. "Hi," he mumbled.

She was plucking her sheets with restless fingers. "Ranma," she whispered, closing her eyes. He winced at the defeated expression on her face - so different from the strong-willed, free-spirited girl he'd known.

He pulled a chair over and sat beside her bed. "Everything's going to be fine, Akane," he assured her. "Don't worry."

"Don't lie to me, Ranma," she answered, turning her head away.

He reached out to grasp her hand warmly. Akane turned her head to look at him.

"Everything will be fine," he repeated. "We'll find your cure. Trust me."

She nodded weakly, tears sliding down her cheeks. "I trust you."

"Good," he whispered, raising a hand to wipe the tears away. "Dr. Tofu will identify the poison soon. Then we'll get your antidote. How do you feel?"

"Tired," she answered. "And cold."

He stood up, moving to tuck the blankets in around her. "You want to ask Kasumi to bring you some warmer clothes?" he suggested.

"I'll ask Kasumi to pack you some sweaters, Akane," Nabiki's voice called. Ranma turned, seeing her standing in the doorway.

"Are you going to need anything else?" she asked.

Akane shook her head. "No thanks, oneechan."

"Akane!" Soun rushed to his youngest daughter's side, grasping her hand. "My poor baby!" he cried.

"I'm fine, Dad," she said. "Don't worry."

"It's good you're feeling optimistic," Nabiki said. She flashed her sister a brief smile. "Just stay here and rest, and we'll take care of everything."

"It's almost time for lunch," Genma reminded them. "Why don't we all come back after lunch?"

"That'll be fine, everyone," Dr. Tofu said, coming in. He smiled at Akane. "I'd have the test results ready a little after lunch. And don't worry about Akane. I'll keep her company."

"Let's go then," Genma said cheerfully. "I'm hungry."

"I'm staying."

They all turned to Ranma, who hadn't moved from his seat beside Akane. "I'm staying here," he repeated.

Tofu smiled. "Then I'll bring some food up for you two later, Ranma."

He smiled his thanks. "Arigato."

"I'm proud of you, son!" Genma said. "Your mother will be too, as soon as she hears of this. I-"

"Oh, my daughter is so lucky to have such a caring fiancee," Soun sobbed.

Nabiki rolled her eyes as Genma nudged Soun out the door. "Let's go have lunch, Tendo," he suggested eagerly.

"Don't worry about anything, Akane," Nabiki reminded her. Lifting her hand in a small wave, she started to close the door behind her. "We'll be back after lunch."

Dr. Tofu smiled as the door shut closed. "You're lucky to have such a caring family, Akane."

She returned his smile, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. "I know."

"I have a question for you, Akane," Dr. Tofu said. He held up a blue brooch in his hand. "Do you recognize this?"

Akane's eyes were drooping, and she blinked several times. "I'm sorry, I didn't hear you."

Dr. Tofu repeated his question, coming near her to give her a closer look at the brooch.

"Isn't that my blue pin?" she asked.

"Where did you get the pin, Akane?" Ranma asked.

She stifled a yawn. "I told you, Ranma. I found it on the dress."

"It was pinned on the dress?"

"Yes. Why?" She looked at Ranma, then at Dr. Tofu. "What's wrong?"

"Tell us what happened since you found the brooch, Akane," Dr. Tofu told her.

"But I don't understand - "

"Just do what the doctor says, Akane," Ranma prodded.

She sighed. "We'd seen the dress at the mall, and I'd mentioned how much I liked it. When I went in my room after my bath, there it was in a box wrapped in bright paper. Naturally, I assumed it was from Ranma."

"I forgot to ask you, why did you think that?" Ranma asked.

She glared at him. "Well, you were the only one who hadn't given me a present yet, and especially after I opened the box and saw the dress, I was so sure it was from you."

"There was no tag on the package?"

Akane frowned. "Oh, yes. But only my name was written on the tag." She raised her brows. "Maybe it was supposed to be a surprise?" she speculated.

"It sure was," Ranma muttered.

"What did you say?"

"Go on with your story, Akane," Dr. Tofu requested. "Then what happened?"

"I tried on the dress," she replied. "Just after I put it on, Ranma came in, and he gave me his gift. I really thought the dress was from him. I guess I should have thought -"

"When did you put the brooch on, Akane?" Dr. Tofu interrupted.

She blinked. "The brooch? It was left unclasped, and when I put the dress on, I -"

"You pricked yourself?" Ranma shouted, leaping up from his chair.

She shot him a dirty look. "Don't yell at me," she snapped.

Ranma glared down at her. "How can you be so stupid?" he demanded.

"What did you say?" Akane tried to sit up on bed, doubling up her fist. The sudden movement, however, launched another series of pounding in her head, and she cried out in agony.

Ranma was beside her in an instant, sitting on the edge of her bed. His fingers brushed away the perspiration on her brow, and the twin drops of tears leaking out the corner of her closed eyes. "Now look what you've done to yourself," he said quietly.

She opened her eyes, found herself staring straight into Ranma's penetrating gaze. "I don't understand," she whispered.

"That clears things up, then," Dr. Tofu remarked. Seeing Akane's puzzled frown, he repeated his explanation. "We'll find out soon enough if it was really the brooch which contained the poison. We'll need the tests to confirm, but I'm sure it's the pin."

He smiled at her reassuringly. "Just rest a while and don't worry about anything. I'll be back later with your lunch."

"I'm not hungry," Akane said softly.

"Whether you like it or not, you're gonna eat something," Ranma told her. "I'll stay here and make sure you do."

Dr. Tofu smiled. "You do that, Ranma." Turning, he walked towards the door. "I'll leave you two alone now."

Ranma sat back down on the chair, watching Akane. She'd closed her eyes and sighed heavily. A few minutes of total silence passed, and Ranma thought she'd fallen asleep.

He was getting drowsy himself, weariness starting to catch up with him. He leaned his head back, intending to take a short nap.

Just as he was drifting off, however, he heard a soft sniffle, accompanied by a rustling of the sheets as Akane tossed restlessly in her bed. He opened one eye to look at her.

Her back was to him, her body curled like a tightly coiled spring. For a moment Ranma thought she was still asleep, until he noticed her thin shoulders shaking. A soft sob filled the air, and he stiffened.

*Aw, man,* he thought. *She's ... crying?*

Walking over to the other side of the bed, he crouched down on all fours to peer closely at her face. Her cheeks were wet with tears leaking out of her tightly closed eyes. Her lips trembled, and her whole body shook as she tried to contain her sobs.

She felt his fingers on her face, his touch as light as a feather. His hands wiped away the wetness on her cheeks as his voice soothed her like a cool breeze. "Um...Akane?" he said.

She opened her eyes, found him staring down at her, his eyes vivid blue pools filled with concern. "Uh...are you okay?" he asked stupidly.

"I'm scared, Ranma," she whispered.

He winced. "Aw, jeez, Akane. Nothing's gonna happen to you. We'll find your cure, and everything would be back to normal. Don't worry."

"My head hurts," she said, tears coming to her eyes. "I feel so weak."

Ranma felt his chest tighten with pain at her words. He *hated* seeing her hurt... but somehow, the defeated expression in her eyes made him feel even worse.

"Don't give up yet, Akane," he told her, taking her hand. "I haven't. Please, don't give up."

She bit her lip, averting her gaze. Undaunted, Ranma went on. "Remember what we talked about last night?"

Akane looked back at him, puzzled. "What?"

"When I asked you if you wanted to break our engagement, you told me, you knew that I'd always be here for you, that I'd always protect you." He smiled down at her. "Remember, Akane?"

She nodded weakly. "I remember."

"Well, I'm here now, Akane." He clasped her hand warmly. "And I'll always be here. I won't let anything happen to you."

"Ranma..." Her fingers curled around his hand as she raised eyes glistening with unshed tears to his. She swallowed audibly. "Thank you."

"No more tears, Akane," he told her. "Just rest. I'll wake you when they come back." He began to withdraw his hand, intending to grab a chair and sit down. He was surprised when her fingers tightened on his hand.

"Don't go," she whispered, clutching his hand. "I'm afraid."

"I'm not leaving," he assured her. "I'll stay right here."

"Thank you." Breathing easy for the first time in the day, she closed her eyes and sighed softly.

Ranma watched her anxiously, breathing a sigh of relief when her chest started to rise and fall in an easy rhythm as she drifted off to sleep.

*Was that so hard,* he asked himself, *letting her know how I really feel?* It wasn't hard at all. It was almost painfully easy, to lower his defenses and let her know the truth of his feelings for once. The profound happiness in her eyes, though clouded with pain, made his decision feel even more right.

But letting down his guard made him feel vulnerable, as if he'd been left out to the harsh elements of nature without clothing or shelter. He'd lived so long keeping his feelings tightly guarded. No one could touch him, but then again, no one could hurt him, either.

But then, he'd never had someone like Akane, who could make his spirit soar with happiness with her smile. No one could evoke such strong feelings in him like Akane did. Until Akane, he'd never before felt this strong urge with anyone, to stay beside her, and make her happy for the rest of his life.

*I love her,* he thought, looking at Akane tenderly. *And I'll do this for her. Take a shot at love, and if she lets me, maybe someday I'll be happy.*

*** End CHAPTER 2 ***