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WFY Chapter 5: Sacrifice

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 looked out the window, watching as the landscape swept past them, a colorful blur in his eyes. The light rocking of the train made him drowsy, and he blinked a few times, trying to keep awake.

He turned his head slightly, looking at Ryouga, who was sitting in front of him. Ryouga grunted as he felt Ranma's gaze settle on him. "What?" he growled.

Ranma shrugged. "Nothin'. I thought you were asleep."

"How long is this ride going to be?"

Ranma frowned as he leaned back on his seat. "More than 5 hours, I dunno." He looked up again. "Weren't you at Ryugenzawa that time, too? When we fought that monster?"

Ryouga snorted and looked away. "You know I just stumbled upon that place by accident when I got lost. Don't rub it in."

"Sheesh. Just trying to make conversation, you know." Ranma sighed. "This is gonna be a long trip."

Ryouga was still looking out the window. "Where will this train drop us off?"

"We'll have to walk a few miles. This place is just a few more miles up the mountain, deeper into the forests." Ranma stared out the window. "I think we'll be spending the night in the woods."

"Whatever. I'm used to it."

Ranma smirked. "So am I." He shifted to find a more comfortable position on his seat. "Better get some sleep while we can."

Ranma leaned back and closed his eyes, totally missing the look of hostility Ryouga shot him.

The gentle rocking of the train slowly lulled Ranma to sleep, and after a while, Ryouga looked to see Ranma lying slumped on his seat, a soft snore escaping his lips.

Ryouga turned his head to glance out at the passing scenery. It was fairly quiet in the train, the only sound being the soft whir of the machines. It was one of those moments when one feels that everything around him was at peace.

But Ryouga Hibiki had never found peace. His horrible sense of direction had denied him even that. More so with Ranma around, stealing his bread, and after he'd knocked Ryouga into the Spring of Drowned Pig, so began the never-ending nightmare that had become his life.

Ryouga propped his head up on his elbow and sighed. Ranma hadn't been in the mood for idle conversation, which was just fine with Ryouga. They'd talked a little about their plans for the next two days. By Ranma's estimation, they should get to the place by tomorrow morning, if they set a steady pace. Ryouga had left all the planning to his rival, knowing that he could get them to their destination.

He hoped they'd get the cure quickly, and get back to Nerima soon. That was his purpose for coming along with Ranma, to make sure he'd get back on time. He didn't want to risk Akane's safety.

Ranma shifted in his sleep, mumbling incoherently. Ryouga frowned as he looked at the sleeping boy sitting across from him. This was the person who'd made his life a living hell. How could one person wreak so much havoc on another man's life? How could he have caused such suffering, such pain? Why did he have to destroy everything that he touched? Ryouga, Ukyou, Akane ...

How could he treat Akane so callously, casually destroying her every happiness with some insensitive remark? How could he ridicule everything that she did, not knowing how much effort she put into it? Her cooking, her martial arts, her could he call her uncute, when Ryouga himself saw Ranma blush furiously as Akane smiled happily at him...

Wait a minute... did that mean...?

He shook his head furiously. Impossible! Ranma didn't care for Akane. If he did, why would he insult her and make her so unhappy so often? Yes, that's right, Ranma didn't...

But if he didn't, why does he fall to pieces whenever Akane's unhappy?

...why does he keep on coming between Ryouga and Akane? Ruin everything Ryouga did to win Akane? Ruin anything *anybody* did to win Akane?...

Ryouga glared at Ranma. Even in sleep, he managed to cause Ryouga such grief. He didn't need to *do* anything, he just had to *exist,* and the lives of everyone around him would be constantly thrown into turmoil...

Take Ryouga, for example. From the very first moment he'd met Ranma, the pig-tailed martial artist had constantly snatched his bread from him, starting the infamous bread fights... teased him mercilessly about his sense of direction...dared to run out on their duel, after Ryouga had tried *so* hard to get to that damned vacant lot behind his off to China, giving Ryouga no choice but to follow him all the way to China to finish that damned duel...*pushed* Ryouga into that cursed Spring of Drowned Pig, making his life a living hell...

...and now, in Nerima, Ranma was *still* trying to make life miserable for Ryouga, as he continued to thwart Ryouga's attempts to win Akane, or get in his way as he tried to seek comfort in Akane's arms... as he continued to hurt Akane mercilessly with his callous insults and womanizing ways, making the fire in Ryouga's heart burn hot and wild, as he watched the woman he loved scorned and cast aside by that who was supposed to love and cherish her, as her fiancee...

Ryouga's aura began to flicker brightly around him...

*No use thinking about that now,* he tried to convince himself, forcing himself to calm down. *How can I get Ranma to help me get Akane's cure if I break all his bones in his body? Everything else would just have to wait."

Ryouga glared again at Ranma, as if doing so would make all his troubles go away. Ranma only continued in his slumber, a light snore the only sound escaping his lips. Ryouga sighed again and tried to settle more comfortably in his seat, knowing that Ranma slept like the dead, and sleep was at least one thing Ranma would not deprive him of.


Nabiki tapped her pencil against her notebook, gnawing lightly on her lower lip. She glanced down at the ledger spread out before her, detailing the revenues she'd earned - from selling pictures, distributing some rumors at school, selling some news about Ranma or Akane, even from renting Ranma out by the hour some time ago...

Normally looking at her ledger would fill her with an immense feeling of satisfaction. Here she was, seventeen years old, still in high school... but already she was a shrewd businesswoman, knowing how and where to get the money she needed, knowing how to manipulate people, what buttons to push to get what you want...

She wasn't proud of *everything* she did. Like the time she claimed Ranma as her fiance, she'd only been after some fun. And of course, she'd managed to make the most out of her "engagement." But as she watched Akane burn with jealous rage at the sight of Nabiki and Ranma she saw her sister frantically deny all her feelings for Ranma, believing that Nabiki was in love with she watched Akane and Ranma try to make up for their fight, but just to end up in *another* fight instead, Nabiki felt a tiny twinge of ... unease. Guilt, maybe? She felt...ashamed...that she was having fun at her sister's expense...that she would destroy her sister's happiness, just for another chance to make a quick buck.

But everything that she did, she rationalized it by telling herself that she was doing it for her family. How else would her family be able to enjoy a continuous flow of income, if not for her? Who would pay for the food and supplies and the repairs every time Ranma or Akane would wreck the dojo?

Yes, that's right. She was doing it for her family, seeing to it that they would be able to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. And once in a while, she'd help push Ranma and Akane a little to the right direction. A little shove here, a little nudge there...

Nabiki had no delusions about her sister's love life. Akane may shout and snarl all she wanted at Ranma, curse him to the Hells for getting engaged to her, but Nabiki could see that all that was just bluster. One had only to look at the way Akane was always so worried about Ranma, or excited when she was trying a new recipe out for Ranma...

Yup, her sister was head over heels over a gorgeous babe with a great bod, beautiful blue-gray eyes, and the cutest pigtail. Gee, how surprising. Just like the rest of the female population in Nerima.

Nabiki sighed inwardly as she leaned back on her chair. That was one of Ranma's biggest problems - he just attracted too many damned admirers. Aside from, exquisite physical attributes...he had a natural, boyish charm that drew females to him like bears to honey.

It wouldn't actually be so bad if they were decent, *normal* women. But no, Don Juan's fiancee couldn't be just any woman - she had to be *special.* Let's see...Shampoo was an Amazon warrior whose sense of decency was as crooked as her Japanese. Ukyou was actually nice enough, without her adamant claims that she's Ranma's only fiancee, or when she wasn't fighting with Shampoo for Ranma's attention. And Kodachi was just insane, with a penchant for having wild beasts as pets and attacking people with paralysis-gas-laden roses.

Speaking of which...could the mysterious package had been from Kodachi? Nabiki wondered. After all, she was the local expert in paralysis and sleeping gas. Poison would just be the next notch up for her. Besides, Kodachi made no secret about resenting Akane's "intrusion" in her quest to win Ranma's love. It wasn't too hard to imagine that it was her doing.

Then again, it wasn't like Kodachi to lay low and keep quiet until Akane was finally killed by the poison. After all, she had a few screws loose... it would be just like Kodachi to be prancing around town crowing about her victory over that "wicked, wicked wench."

Of course, that didn't eliminate any of the other suspects. Maybe Shampoo was trying to eliminate Akane as an obstacle again - she'd done some pretty terrible things before, erasing Ranma from Akane's memory... Ukyou was a long shot, but Nabiki wasn't about to discard the possibility. Tarou, perhaps, back with a bone to pick with Ranma or Happosai? Or maybe it was - god forbid, someone new?

*Curse you, Ranma,* she thought sourly. *Curse you and your boundless ability to attract trouble and put those around you in danger time and again...*

Nabiki sighed again as she closed her ledger. She wouldn't be getting any work done tonight - besides, tomorrow was Monday, and she had to go to school. Just as well... she could contact her sources and try to find out who was behind the poison. Whoever it was, there would be hell to pay.

As for Ranma, she'd give him an earful the moment he got home - he deserved it, after all the trouble he's brought. No, scratch that... the moment Tofu announces that Akane's cured and well on recovery's way, she could relax, *then* she'd let him have it.

Nabiki stood up and got ready for bed. It didn't even occur to her that Ranma might not make it back with the cure. He may be a trouble magnet, but he had a way of making things right again - or at least as right as things could become around Ranma. No doubt about it, Ranma would come back with the cure.


Ranma trudged briskly through the woods, eyes focused ahead. Ryouga followed close behind.

"Aren't we there yet?" Ryouga asked impatiently.

"What do you think, stupid?" Ranma replied without looking back.

Ryouga bristled. "Look, you-"

Ranma sighed. "Sorry, man. Just - just follow me, and don't get lost, okay? We're almost there."

"Easy for you to say," Ryouga muttered under his breath, too softly for Ranma to hear.

*Hang on a little while longer, Akane,* Ranma thought as he strode determinedly, eyes focused ahead. *We're almost there, and I'll get your cure, and I'll hurry back to you, and after you're okay again, I promise I won't make you angry I don't wanna fight with you anymore I'll tell you I love you like I promised before I left...*

Ranma blinked as they came to a small clearing. And in front of him, was a cottage, small and quaint, like a storybook picture...

"Are we here yet?" Ryouga asked.

Ranma nodded. "I think so." He quickened his pace, and Ryouga ran to catch up with him.

Ranma came to a stop at the door to the cottage, and rapped his knuckles against the wooden door. "Hello?" he called. "Is anyone here?"

A few moments of silence passed. "Seems like no one's here," Ranma muttered. He started banging on the door harder. "Hello?"

Ryouga looked around worriedly. "What do we do now, Ranma?"

Ranma scowled. "Damned if I give up now, not after coming all this way." He pounded harder. "Is anyone there?"

Abruptly the door opened, and Ranma paused, his fist still raised in the air. An old man stood before him, dressed in a faded brown gi. His hair, gray streaked with lines of white, was combed back from his face, and his eyes - a startling shade of deep sea blue, Ranma noticed - were narrowed as he glared up at them from his stooped posture.

"So impatient, you youngsters," the old man snapped. "Who are you, and what are you doing in my home?"

Ranma flushed. "Sensei," he said softly, bowing from his waist. "My name is Saotome Ranma, and this is my friend, Hibiki Ryouga."

The old man glared up at them. "So?"

"We've come all the way from Nerima, Tokyo, sir. We have received word that you could help us. Please - "

"Please help us!" Ryouga interrupted. "Please help us save Akane!"

"You still haven't told me what this is all about."

"It's about the Chueh Wang poison, sensei."

That took the old man's attention. "How do you know about the poison?"

Ranma lowered his eyes. "My fiancee is as of now lying on a hospital bed dying from it."

He paused. "Come in," he told them, stepping aside to let them in.

Ranma hesitated for a second before striding in. Ryouga followed behind him.

The old man led them to a scarred wooden table in the next room. "Please, pull up a chair," he told them, as he sat down on a stool. "Tell me more about it." Then, he smiled slightly. "Where are my manners? I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Takanari."

Ranma nodded. "Takanari-sensei. My fiancee has the poison flowing in her veins," he began. "I was told that she would die in three days if uncured."

"How was she poisoned, boy?" Takanari inquired.

Ranma shook his head. "We don't know. My main concern is to get the antidote for her. All other things can wait till she's recovered."

"Why did you come to me?"

Ranma pulled a sheet of paper from his backpack. He reached across the table to hand it to Takanari. "We received this note telling us what to do."

Takanari narrowed his eyes as he scanned the short note. "Strange," he muttered. "Who could this be?"

"How could he have known you have the antidote, sensei?" Ranma asked.

Ryouga glared at his rival. "That's not important right now," he snapped. "What's important is to get the cure for Akane!"

"Brings back so many memories," Takanari murmured, almost to himself.

Ranma frowned. "Sensei?"

Takanari shook his head. "I had traveled across Japan when I was a young man." He chuckled. "I was wild and impulsive back then. I set out with my books and samples to look for antidotes to some unknown diseases and poison. I had ventured as far as China in my quest. China has many herbs and plants we have never even heard of before. I was eager to make some new discoveries that I stowed away on a ship to get to China."

Ryouga opened his mouth to interrupt, impatience eating at his nerves. Ranma threw him a sharp look, silencing him.

"What happened, sensei?" Ranma prompted.

"I spent a year travelling across the lands, getting to know people, finding some new herbs. But I haven't discovered anything of much importance as of then. And then, I met her."

His lined face was wreathed in a smile. "Mei Lin. She was the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. Her beauty, both outward and within, drew me to her. We shared the same passion for plants and herbs. She had an extensive knowledge of plants, so much that I was in awe of her. She was strong and beautiful and intelligent and confident. Everyday we would spend hours scouring the land for special herbs, experimenting with plant samples. And I fell in love with her."

His smile vanished. "It was not to be. She had laws which forbade her to love me, laws which forbade me to propose marriage to her."

He put his face in his hands. "Her grandmother followed her one day, when she sneaked out to meet me. She threatened Mei Lin with exile. Mei Lin stood before me and confessed our love, and told her grandmother she would stay with me no matter what. Before I could blink, her grandmother tapped the back of her neck, and she fell to the ground, unconscious. Then she did the same thing to me. I stood no chance against her.

"The next thing I remember is seeing Mei Lin's grandmother before me. She told me she would spare my life and let me go if I leave Mei Lin and swear to never see her again. In all the weeks I've known her, she always talks of her family, her friends, and her loyalty to her people. I couldn't bear for her to lose all that. The next morning, I started out for Japan. I never saw her again."

"What does this have to do with the poison, sensei?"

Takanari took a deep breath. "The antidote to the Chueh Wang poison is one of the things we discovered together."

Ranma felt the small room close around him. His heartbeat thundered in his ears. "So you do have the antidote, sensei?"

He nodded. "Her people had possession of the poison for years. No antidote has ever been found, before Mei Lin. She told me it was sometimes used as punishment for offenders of tribal laws. After I came back to Japan, I lived with my family for a short time, before I settled here. It was our discovery, Mei Lin and me. I would not take credit for it alone. I have told no one about it. No one ever asked of it, until you."

Ranma pulled on his pigtail thoughtfully. "It's getting more suspicious by the minute. Who could have sent this note, and how did he know of Takanari-sensei?"

"Do you think it's the same person who poisoned Akane?" Ryouga asked.

Ranma shook his head. "Nah. If they wanted Akane to die, they won't give us this clue."

Ryouga looked up. "Could you help us, sensei?"

Takanari raised his eyes. "Why should I help you?"

Ranma gaped. "Sensei!" he burst out. "You have to help us! If you don't, Akane... she... she'll die!"

"Akane?" Takanari shifted his gaze from Ryouga to Ranma. "Your fiancee?" He looked back at Ryouga. "Or yours?"

Ryouga glared at Ranma a moment, then looked down at his hands.

"Mine," Ranma said softly.

Takanari gazed intently at Ranma. "You love her?"

Ryouga paled as he jerked his head up, looking at Ranma.

Ranma closed his eyes, drawing a deep breath. "She's the most important person in the world to me. And I ... I love her," he whispered. "Very much."

A long, awkward silence filled the air, so palpable that Ryouga could almost reach out and touch it. Still, he remained rock-still on his seat, despair and disbelief frozen on his face.

The old man broke the silence at last. "Seeing you boys remind me of my younger days, when I was so eager to take on the world. I wanted to stay, you know. I didn't want to leave her behind. But when I was told of the consequences, I made my choice. She didn't deserve to be cast out, or to die. I loved her too much to let that happen to her."

"Akane ... she almost died once," Ranma whispered. He gripped the edge of the table with both hands. "She did the stupidest thing, jumping in to help me, and only got herself almost killed. I held her in my arms, she wasn't breathing, and I was so scared, I thought she was dead. I thought I was too late to save her, and she'd died without knowing I ..."

He looked up at Takanari pleadingly. "Sensei, you have to help us! If you don't, Akane ..." He swallowed painfully. "She'll die, and I don't know what I'd do if she dies."

Takanari sighed. "That is a question we hope we'd never have to answer, son." He stood up and left the room, leaving Ranma alone with his thoughts.

Ranma hung his head, his fingers tightening on the sheet of paper he held in one hand. Ryouga slowly swung his head around, looking at Ranma.

"What - do you think?" he asked hesitantly. "Will he help us?"

Ranma didn't answer. His shoulders slumped forward, as he rested his head on the table.

Ryouga looked away, focusing his gaze instead on the empty wall to his right.

Takanari came back into the room, carrying a teapot and cups on a tray with one hand. He laid the tray on the table and sat down, before he picked up the teapot and filled each cup silently.

"Here," he said, putting a steaming cup in front of Ranma. "Have something to warm yourself up."

Ranma looked up. "Sensei - " he began.

Takanari held up a hand, silencing Ranma. He reached inside his gi and pulled out a loose sheet of paper. He put it down on the table in front of Ranma. "Here."

Ranma picked it up and scanned the list of scribblings hurriedly. "Is this -"

Takanari nodded. "The formula for the antidote. I have made copies of my studies over the years."

"Sensei..." Ranma breathed, clutching the paper tightly. He stood up and bowed deeply. "Arigato, sensei," he whispered. "Arigato."

Takanari waved dismissively at him. "Enough. It is perhaps time I put that discovery to good use. I don't know who sent you to me, but it is my obligation to help."

"No, it isn't," Ranma said. "You could have turned us away, sensei, without even hearing us out."

"True." Takanari smiled. "Won't you need to head back now? Tomorrow is the third day. You don't have much time."

Ranma looked out the window at the afternoon sun. "You're right. We have to get going." He slapped Ryouga's shoulder. "Hey, Ryouga! Let's go."

Ryouga stood up. "I'm sorry for my inattention, sensei. Thank you for helping us."

Takanari looked between the two. "I was just curious. Is he your friend or your enemy?" he asked Ranma.

Ranma grinned. "Both." He leaned down to grab his backpack.

Takanari led them to the door. "Be cautious when walking through the woods," he advised. "Bandits here hide in the forests waiting for prey."

"Yes, sensei. And thank you, for everything," Ranma said.

"It is reward enough for an old man to be of help." He smiled. "She must be a very special young woman."

Ranma nodded, blushing slightly. "She is." He carefully tucked the paper in a side pocket on his backpack. "We have to go, sensei."

Takanari waved them off. "Go, then. And be sure to follow carefully the instructions on the note."

"We will," Ranma promised. "Thank you."

"Thanks," Ryouga echoed, as he hurried to follow Ranma.

Takanari watched the two disappear into the forest, and smiling to himself, walked back inside his house.


"That sure was easy," Ranma commented as he trudged down the mountain. "I didn't expect it to be this easy."

"What did you expect?"

Ranma shrugged. "I dunno. Some reluctance, maybe. A little prodding. Maybe a bribe or a favor or something." He turned to grin at Ryouga. "We can hike all night and be back at home early tomorrow. Are you up to it?"

Before Ryouga could answer, Ranma chuckled as he quickened his pace. "Don't matter to me either way. I'll drag you back if I have to, but we have to get back in time."

Ryouga followed a few steps behind, watching as Ranma started to hum a jaunty song as he walked. Not that he can blame Ranma for being happy. He was too, now that they had the formula for Akane's antidote. They'd be able to save Akane. That was all that mattered.

*Yes, that's right,* Ryouga told himself. *Forget about what Ranma said to Takanari-sensei. Forget it ever happened. That doesn't matter right now. What matters is Akane.*

"Hey," Ranma spoke up. "Ryouga? Thanks for coming with me."

Ryouga snorted. "I didn't do it for you."

"I know," Ranma answered quietly. He paused and looked at Ryouga. "Still, thanks. I mean it."

"Yeah. Whatever." Ryouga swept past him without glancing in his way.

Ranma grinned as he caught up to him. "What? I was just making conversation."

"Are you always this eager for company?"

Ranma shrugged. "I've spent most of my life on the road. The old man wasn't much of a talker. After training, he basically left me to my own." He smiled. "It's more fun to have company, you know. To have someone to talk to while walking through the woods, like right now -"

Ryouga scowled. "I wouldn't know. I spent more time getting lost than at home sleeping in my own bed. Then you came, and I followed you to China."

Ranma sobered. "Sorry, man. That directional whatchamacallit of yours must be hard on you."

"You have no idea." Ryouga stared straight ahead. "You don't know what it's like to be ridiculed because you don't have the common sense to get to the bathroom without getting lost. You don't have any idea what it's like to be constantly wandering around aimlessly for your entire life, with only fierce determination forcing you onwards, to your destination."

"I know. We all have our own problems."

Ryouga spun around. "Problems? How can you have problems, asshole, when you've had everything you've ever wanted handed to you on a silver platter? Your skill, your speed, your family, your friends, and those girls..."

Familiar anger sparked in Ranma. "I am so sick and tired of people thinking my life is a goddamned day on the beach," he snapped. "Everything I have now, I worked my ass off for it. Do you have any ideas of the stupid stunts my old man calls training? Getting stung by bees and clawed and bit by cats, just to learn a stupid technique? Do you know what it's like to have to fight to keep your dinner on your plate every night, and have it called training? Every time Cologne teaches me a new technique, you don't think she makes me go through hell before I get it?"

Ranma sighed, and visibly tried to calm himself. "I'm no different from you, Ryouga. I spent my whole life on the road, I didn't have any friends, until I settled with the Tendos. I didn't have a family, either. Only my old man. I spent months hiding from my mother terrified she'd kill me when she finds out about my curse."

"Well, you still have those girls," Ryouga muttered. "And I'm sure there's a couple hundred more around drooling after you when you walk by."

Ranma looked away. "I'm sure everyone thinks that, too." He let out a breath. "At first, it was - flattering," he began hesitantly. "Finally, we'd settled in a place long enough for me to make friends. They liked me, in spite of the curse. I finally had at least a semblance of the life I wanted."

He dragged a hand through his unruly hair. "Those girls are my friends. People who accepted me regardless of every stupid thing I do. I like them for that. But I never wanted any of those girls to want me, Ryouga. If I could get Shampoo give up on me, I'd have done that long ago. It's not that easy. She has that sly old mummy for her great-grandmother, you know. I'd do anything for Kodachi to leave me alone. And Ukyou - she's my friend. That's all. I should have told her that long ago." He paused. "I wish there was a way to turn them down and still be friends. They are such good friends. I don't want to lose that."

Silence hung over them for a while, the only sound being the crunch of leaves underneath their steps as they walked. Ryouga glanced over at Ranma, saw him staring straight ahead as he walked stealthily forward. He snorted at the serious expression on Ranma's face.

"You take all the good things in your life for granted," he muttered sourly. "Living with the Tendos, having so many friends and family. Even when it came to Jyusenkyo, you just had to turn into a girl. You have no idea what kind of life I've led for the past two years because of this curse. You don't accidentally wander to a hungry soul's cooking pot every other day and almost get cooked into pork stew." He glared at him. "And that's still your fault, Ranma!"

Ranma was silent for a while, Ryouga thought he hadn't heard him. But then Ranma spoke up. "I'm sure you have problems about your curse, Ryouga. But don't think that just because I stay human it's all fun and dandy. A lot of things wouldn't have happened to me if it weren't for this curse. I wouldn't have had Shampoo out to kill me the first time. I wouldn't have been so damned scared of my own mother. I wouldn't have Nabiki selling photographs of my female form." His voice lowered, and Ryouga had to strain to hear him. "I would have met Akane in my male form that first day if it wasn't for the curse."

He looked up at Ryouga. "Man, I am so sorry for knocking you into that spring. But you gotta stop blaming me for that." His eyes clouded. "It was, like, ten minutes after I fell into the Nyannichuan. I was so scared, and so angry at my old man. I chased him for hours. I think that's when I - I pushed you into the spring. I don't remember it clearly anymore.

"You don't make it any easier on me, you know," Ranma went on. "Sneaking into Akane's bed like that. Do you think I like having another guy sleeping in my fiancee's bed?"

"What is this, a 'pity on Ranma' session?" Ryouga said snidely. "How'd you get so serious all of a sudden?"

"You have no idea how much I've changed lately," Ranma replied quietly. "I've been thinking about this for a long time. I don't want to take advantage of the good things in life anymore, Ryouga. I want to take responsibility. And I wish-" He trailed off, cocking his head to the side.

"What?" Ryouga snapped impatiently when Ranma didn't speak.

Ranma shook his head and held up a hand, gesturing for silence. He looked around him cautiously, eyes narrowed in concentration.

"What is it?"

Ranma glared at him. "Be quiet, stupid." He turned to his right, walking briskly.

Ryouga bristled. "Who are you calling stupid?" Seeing Ranma walking off without him, he hurried to catch up, scowling.

As he caught up to him, he realized the reason for Ranma's abrupt departure. He came to a stop beside Ranma, frowning.

A few feet away, Ryouga spotted three men, all tall and heavily-muscled, towering over two young girls. One of the girls opened her mouth to scream, only to be muffled, as the man standing on the right leaned down and clamped his hand on her mouth. He shook his head empathetically, grinning maliciously as she paled, and her eyes filled with tears.

"Be quiet, and we won't hurt you," he suggested, as he crouched down in front of the sobbing girl.

"Please, let us go," the other girl begged. "We have to get back to the village to give our father his medicine. Please!"

The man to the left laughed. "No can do, girlie." He grabbed the girl's arms. "Don't worry, I'll show you a good time."

Ryouga saw Ranma's body tense, as he prepared to leap out. His hand shot out to grab Ranma's shoulder. "What are you doing?" he hissed.

"I can't just sit here and do nothing!" he snapped.

"But - what about Akane?"

Ranma shrugged him off. "There's plenty of time left. This'll take just a while."

"Dammit, Ranma ..."

Ranma glared at him. "If you think I'll just turn around and leave those two girls alone, you don't know me at all. And if you think Akane'll want me to desert other people's needs just for hers, you don't know her, either!"

Without another word, he turned and leapt from the bushes, launching himself towards the three men. Ryouga swore under his breath as he jumped out after Ranma.

The three men looked up in surprise as Ranma and Ryouga descended on them. Ranma lunged for the man on the left, delivering a swift kick to the side of his face, just as he brought his elbow down on the man standing in the middle. The first man staggered back, losing his grip on the girl's arm. Ranma pulled his arm in and punched him, sending him sprawling a few feet away on the ground.

He looked around in time to see Ryouga punch out the other man. "Thanks, P-Chan," he called.

"Don't call me that," Ryouga shouted back.

Ranma didn't respond, as he saw the three men come to their feet, starting towards them menacingly. He turned to look at the two girls, who were standing with their arms around each other.

"Run away, now. We'll take care of this." He flashed them a reassuring smile.

The first girl nodded timidly. "Thank you," she whispered. She grabbed the other girl's arm and dashed away quickly.

Ryouga walked over to Ranma, who was glaring at the three men ominously. "Give it up, guys," Ranma said. "I'm in a lot of hurry."

One of the men snorted. "Then you shouldn't have gotten in our way." He pulled out a switchblade and lunged for Ranma.

Ranma neatly sidestepped him, and delivered a blow to the back of his neck. The man fell to the ground, groaning in pain.

"What now, Hiruma?" the man on the left asked, drawing Ranma's attention to him.

"Well," said Hiruma. "This shall be fun, I think." With that, he lunged for Ranma. The other man jumped for Ryouga.

"Damn," Ranma muttered, as he held his arms up to parry a blow. "Why can't I pick just ordinary bandits to pound on? Does every one else study martial arts now?"

Ryouga pulled a couple of bandannas off his head and threw them at his opponent, who nimbly leapt out of the way. "Dammit, Ranma! This is all your fault!"

"Shut up, Pig-boy." Ranma leapt to deliver a mid-air kick to Hiruma's face. "I'm in a hurry here, so don't mind me if I finish this off quickly."

Hiruma straightened and wiped the blood from his broken lip on the sleeve of his shirt. "I'm just getting warmed up." He smirked, then took a step forward. Ranma stepped back.

For the next few minutes, Ranma parried off Hiruma's blows, occasionally getting in a good hit or two. Ranma's frown deepened with each minute.

*He's good,* he thought to himself. *He's not as fast as I am, but his defense needs work.* He grunted as a punch caught him in the stomach. He recovered quickly and advanced. *Not enough strength behind his punches, though. I've had worse from Ryouga.*

Hiruma's fist lashed out, and Ranma swung his arm, grabbing his fist in mid-air. He tightened his hold on Hiruma's arm and twisted it a little to the right. Hiruma grunted in pain, and he lifted his free arm, ready to swing it at Ranma's face.

Anticipating the movement, Ranma let go of Hiruma's arm at the last minute, and delivered a quick blow while the other man's defenses were down. Hiruma stumbled back, breathing heavily.

Ranma stood in his ready stance. "Give up, man?" he asked.

Hiruma smirked. "Not bloody likely." He stood and dropped into a battle stance.

His eyes narrowed, and Ranma tensed, sensing a presence behind him. Suddenly, his arm snapped back, twisting his right shoulder in an uncomfortable angle.

Ranma looked up at his arm, seemingly frozen in air. He grunted in frustration as he tried to move it, but to no avail.

The third man, whom Ranma had punched out earlier, came up behind him, and grabbed his other arm, twisting it behind him.

Hiruma laughed. "Can't move your arm, eh?" He pulled a switchblade from his belt as he advanced.

"You resort to dirty tricks to win fights, Hiruma," Ranma growled.

"What matters is that you win the fight." Hiruma grinned as he stopped in front of Ranma, twirling the switchblade between his fingers. Then, his hand stilled, and he tapped the blade lightly against Ranma's cheek. "What? You don't agree?"

Ranma glared at him. "This is not an honorable way to win a fight. An opponent sneaking up behind me, immobilizing my arms..."

"No matter. We have learned to bend the rules as we went."

Ranma smirked. "Oh, but there's something you need to work on a little more."

Hiruma opened his mouth to speak. Before he could utter a word, he saw a blast of white energy explode behind Ranma, and his cohort gave a shout of pain as he lurched back.

Ranma drew his free arm forward, still smirking at Hiruma. "You gravely underestimated your opponent. That could cost you your victory."

He twisted his other wrist, until his palm faced the open space behind him. Hiruma gaped as Ranma's palm began to glow, and a small ball of blue energy formed. With a flick of his wrist, Ranma sent the chi ball flying, as it connected harmlessly with the trees behind him. A thick branch snapped off, falling to the ground with a loud thud.

The energy blast did its job. Ranma flexed his other arm, exercising the sore muscles. "That was a dirty trick, using thin, transparent nylon rope to tie my arm to that tree, preventing my movements. That might work with an amateur, but not against someone like me."

Recovering from his shock, Hiruma lifted his arm, throwing the switchblade at Ranma's face. Ranma merely tipped his head to the side, and the blade whizzed by his head, missing his ear by a few scant centimeters.

"You'd have to do better than that," he said. Hiruma's eyes narrowed as he glanced at something behind Ranma...

...just as Ranma heard a soft clicking sound come from behind him, and time seemed to slow down as he turned around, his muscles tensed to spring...

There was a loud explosion, like a thunderclap resounding in the dead silence of the night. A searing pain shot through his body, and Ranma jerked back, stumbling over his own feet, his hand automatically coming to rest on a spot on his abdomen...

Blood spurted from a gaping wound on his stomach, soaking his red shirt. Slowly, he lifted his hand and stared, mesmerized by the spots of red dripping from his fingers.

"Ranma!" Ryouga yelled from a few feet away. Vaguely, Ranma heard Ryouga's cry of "Bakusai Tenketsu," followed by the sound of splintering wood.

It was enough to jerk him out of his stupor. A surge of adrenaline pumped into his veins, and he whipped around, launching himself at Hiruma's cohort. The man looked stricken as he saw Ranma leaping for him, and his hands fumbled on the gun, fingers moving to pull the trigger.

The man let out a surprised yelp as Ranma kicked the gun out of his hands. The weapon cluttered to the ground, and the man backed a few steps, trembling. Ranma pinned the man with a furious glare, as he raised his arm to strike.

"Kacchu Tenshin Amaguriken!"

He didn't even know what hit him. The first blow rendered him unconscious, and for a while, his body hung suspended in the air, as Ranma rained multiple blows on him. Then, Ranma withdrew his arm, and his body fell to the ground with a thud.

Ranma sagged, breathing heavily. His right side burned like hell, as the wound tore when he leapt up to kick Hiruma's partner. He pressed the heel of his palm against the wound, wincing in pain. Those bastards...

Ranma whipped around, abruptly remembering Hiruma still stood behind him. At the same time, he heard Hiruma's cry of pain, which was cut off, as his body banged against the thick trunk of a tree. He slid down, unconscious.

Ryouga glanced at Ranma anxiously. "Ranma?"

Ranma took a wobbly step forward. Without warning, his knees buckled, and he stumbled face-first to the ground. He groaned as he landed on his right side, needles of pain shooting up from the wound throughout his entire body.


Tears of pain and frustration burned his eyes, as he braced both hands on either side of him, rolling his body to lie on his back. He closed his eyes, sending tears spilling down his face.

*Man, oh man I'm in such deep shit I'm so stupid, how could I let him do that Akane I have to get back she needs me dammit what ...*


Ranma's eyes snapped open. The world swam in front of his eyes, and he blinked, trying to clear his vision.

Ryouga knelt in front of him, his frantic eyes focusing on Ranma. He caught his breath when he saw his rival, lying on the ground, his own blood pooling beneath him.

"Dammit, Ranma. How could you let him get you?" he whispered.

Ranma shook his head. "Too slow. I was too damned slow."

"Enough of that. Let's bind that wound first." Ryouga pulled a bandage from his backpack.

Ryouga held out his arm, and Ranma grasped it tightly, allowing Ryouga to pull him to a sitting position. Ryouga winced as he saw the pool of blood gathered on the ground beside Ranma. More blood gushed from the open wound, causing Ranma's shirt to cling to his body wetly.

Ryouga hurriedly wrapped the bandage tightly around Ranma's abdomen, ignoring Ranma's grunts of pain. As soon as he tied the knot, the bandage was also soaked in blood. Ryouga frowned as he grabbed a thick towel, pressing it tightly against Ranma's stomach.

"You're losing too much blood," he muttered. "We have to stop the bleeding."

A hand clutched Ryouga's arm. Ryouga looked down at Ranma, who was looking at him with heavy-lidded eyes. Ryouga stared at him, surprised.

"Go back," Ranma whispered. "Please. Go back to Akane."

Ryouga shook his head. "No. I can't leave you, Ranma."

Ranma's eyes snapped open, glaring at Ryouga. "Do it!" he shouted, biting his lip as the pain stabbed him again and again.

Ryouga stubbornly returned his glare. "I'm not going to leave you behind, Ranma. You promised the Tendos, and you're not going back on your word. We're going back together even if I have to carry you all the way back." He reached out to take Ranma's arm, intending to do just that.

Ranma slapped his hand away. "I'm not breaking my damned word." His voice was as soft as a whisper, and Ryouga had to strain to hear his words. "Ryouga, listen to me. I can take care of myself. Please, go ahead without me. We both know I'll just slow you down."

"But Ranma - "

"This is nothing. I'll be fine as soon as the wound stops bleeding. Believe me, I've been injured before."

Ryouga glared at him. "By bullets?"

Ranma smiled weakly. "No. But it's almost the same thing." He sobered. "Ryouga, please. You'll travel faster alone. I - I'm afraid we might be too late."

"This wouldn't happen if you hadn't insisted on fighting those thugs, Ranma," Ryouga snapped.

"I couldn't leave those girls alone, and you damn well know it, man. You would've done the same." He glared at Ryouga. "C'mon, stupid, go on ahead! I'll be fine."

"But how will you get back?"

"Let me just rest a while," Ranma murmured. "I promise, I'll leave as soon as I can." He stared up at the sky. "Quickly, Ryouga, while you have enough light. Get the list of instructions from my pack. Go straight to Dr. Tofu's clinic. He'll know what to do."

Ryouga continued to stare at Ranma, his eyes clouded with apprehension. Ranma tried for a weak smile. "I'd almost think you're worried about me, P-chan," he murmured.

Ryouga glared at him. "I am not worried about a bastard like you," he snapped indignantly.

"Good." Ranma shoved Ryouga's arm aside, and pressed his hand against his wound, gritting his teeth against the pain. Ryouga watched him with pity. Ranma stared at him pleadingly, his blue-gray eyes filled with pain. "Please, Ryouga. Akane'll die in a few days if you don't get there soon."

Ryouga finally nodded. "I'm doing this for Akane," he told Ranma. "And you'd better keep your end of the bargain."

"And tell Akane not to worry," Ranma said softly. "Tell her...tell her..."

"Tell her you love her?" Ryouga finished quietly.

Ranma stared at him. He did not reply, but Ryouga knew, and he could see in Ranma's eyes, what his answer would be. What it had always been.

Ryouga bowed his head, standing up. He retrieved the list of instructions for the antidote from Ranma's backpack, glancing at it briefly, before stuffing it into his bag. He was strapping the backpack behind him when Ranma called his name.

Ryouga did not turn to face him as Ranma spoke. "For once in your goddamned life, Hibiki, don't get lost," he bit out angrily. "Give me your word."

Familiar anger surged through Ryouga. "Yeah, you're a lot better, Ranma," he snapped. "At least I'll try my best to get back to Akane on time. At least I'm not giving up." He strode away angrily.

Ranma watched Ryouga until he disappeared downhill. *Yeah, I'm giving up,* he thought bitterly. *I'm giving up the best thing I ever had in my entire life.* He fought against the onslaught of pain, closing his eyes briefly.

He gingerly lay down on his back, careful not to bump his arm against his wound. His hand slipped inside his shirt, clutching the photograph of Akane he kept. He didn't need to look at it, though.

Despite the agonizing pain tearing through his entire body, a smile crept across his lips as he thought of her. He remembered the last time he'd seen her, in Dr.Tofu's clinic, her face pale and sickly, the stubborn spirit he'd loved most about her gone from her eyes, but still, it was the most beautiful face he'd ever seen.

His hand tightened on the photograph. He didn't want to see her like that. Instead, his mind conjured up an image of Akane in the photograph. That was the memory of Akane, looking so happy and vibrant and full of life, he wanted to carry with him, from then to eternity.

*I'm sorry, Akane,* he thought. *I should have told you I love you when I had the chance. Now it's too late. I'm sorry.*

Despite his resolve, her tear-streaked face burned itself into his mind, the pain in his heart almost eclipsing the physical pain tearing through his body. "You promised, Ranma," her voice called out, filled with overwhelming despair. "You promised me you'd come back."

Tears gathered in his eyes, and Ranma drew in a labored breath, his chest rising and falling heavily. *Akane...*

He was breaking his promise to her. It was unthinkable to him, to soil his honor by being unfaithful to any promise he made. *But I don't want you to die,* he cried silently. *I know I won't make it, so I'm giving up... Oh, gods, Akane, you don't know how much it hurts to give you up, but - anything for you, Akane. Just so that you'll live. Anything...*

Ranma could still hear Akane's voice in his head as he was starting to lose the battle with oblivion. "Stay awake, Ranma! Dammit, don't leave me."

Ranma closed his eyes, causing tears to spill down his cheeks. The sound of Akane's voice continued to echo in his head. He could hear her tears, the anguish in her voice. He tried to concentrate on her image to keep him awake, but it was too hard. His body felt numb. He was so tired.

"Akane," he breathed. "I'm so sorry..."

*I did it for you, Akane. Please don't hate me for this. I love you...*

Ranma slowly slipped into darkness, his mind filled with images of a grief-stricken Akane, her eyes brimming with tears. *I'm sorry, Akane. Please forgive me.*


Nabiki sat beside Akane's bed, her head bent as she scribbled something in her notebook.


She glanced up, surprised. Akane was tossing restlessly in her sleep, as she mumbled words incoherently. Beads of perspiration started to form on her forehead.

*She must be having quite a nightmare,* Nabiki thought, frowning.

She edged her chair closer, reaching out to draw the sheets over Akane's body. Soon, she started to quiet down, as her breathing began to even out to a normal pace.

Outside, a sudden gust of wind blew hard, making the leaves in the tree rustle softly, and the curtains in Akane's room started to sway along with the rhythm. Nabiki stood up to close the window, and after another glance at Akane, she retrieved her school bag and left the room to go home.

Akane continued in her slumber, and this time, no nightmares came to haunt her. She lay quiet and serene, her dark hair splayed over the stark white of her pillow.

Later, Tofu would announce that Akane had slipped into a coma.

*** End CHAPTER 5 ***