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WFY Chapter 6: Someone From The Past

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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Ryouga pushed a low branch out of his way, glancing around. "Damn," he muttered to himself. He mumbled a couple of profanities, cursing his sense of direction.

*How am I going to get back to Akane on time?*

An image of Ranma sprang in his mind. Ranma, staring up at him, his face twisted in pain. Ranma, lying in his own blood, his eyes glinting with determination.

He had promised Ranma, and if nothing else, Ryouga Hibiki honored his promises. He had to get back to Akane. After he made sure she gets the cure, he would hunt for that fiend who had inflicted Akane with the poison. He would turn the world upside down, do Akane justice, for what she had suffered through.

She would then realize his love for her. He, Ryouga Hibiki, had brought her back her cure, not her fiance, Ranma, who was supposed to protect and defend her. She would realize that no one would ever love her like Ryouga did, then, she'd see Ranma as the despicable, lying cheat that he is, and then, she'd....

A voice in Ryouga's head chastised him, dashing away all his daydreams. Ranma loved Akane.

No! Ryouga shook his head violently, refusing to accept the fact. How could Ranma love Akane? Ranma was an arrogant jerk, who cared for nothing except winning any stupid battle he joined, and picking on poor lost souls like himself. Could anyone like him have a place in his heart for love? Ranma only cared about martial arts. He always hurt Akane, and insulted her. No, he could never love -

Ranma's last words echoed in Ryouga's mind. "Please, Ryouga...Go on without me....Dammit, Hibiki, don't get lost..."

Against his will, he remembered the shock he'd felt when Akane disappeared, after she'd touched the Kinjakan. His terror had been nothing compared to Ranma's. Ranma had merely stood still, clutching Akane's clothing in his hands, and he would have died from Saffron's attack if Ryouga hadn't pulled him away.

In spite of himself he'd grown to respect Ranma, if not for the man he is, then for his skills. He was easily the best fighter Ryouga had ever known. However, it wasn't so easy to admit that the woman you loved was gone to the one man you've spent half your life hating.

How could he take away the one woman who'd cared about Ryouga, who'd shown him kindness and been his friend? The one woman whom Ryouga had ever loved, and wished with all his heart that she would love him back?

A rumbling noise filled the silence, and Ryouga glanced up in surprise. *What was that?* he thought, looking around him.

It was fairly quiet, however, the only sounds being the rippling of water coming from the nearby stream. He continued walking, surveying his surroundings carefully, praying that his feet would choose the right direction and lead him back to Akane soon. Akane...

His mind conjured up an image of her smiling face. Of course, she was smiling and hugging P-Chan to her bosom in the image, but his mind edited that part out. He grinned blissfully as he imagined her welcoming him back with her beautiful smile.

A sharp cry pierced the silence, shaking him out of his reverie. A giant platypus appeared, only the head visible atop the massive trees, and it was glaring at Ryouga. He gulped, frozen in his tracks.

The animal let out another sharp squeal as it lunged for him. Screaming, he ran as fast as his legs would take him, cursing his bad luck. He could feel the animal's warm breath on his back, and its huge footsteps echoed throughout the woods.

A voice nagged at Ryouga, reminding him of some pertinent fact he'd forgotten and left at the back of his head. But he ignored the nagging voice, his mind intent on getting away from the animal.

Suddenly he felt the ground give away beneath his foot, and he stumbled, falling face-first on the ground. From the trees above him, a net was released, unloading a pile of rocks on him.

The rocks only managed to stun him for a while, and when he looked up, he saw the animal looming over him, its eyes glittering ominously. Its beak aimed for his head, and he screamed, closing his eyes as he threw his arms forward to block its attack.

It never came. He heard the animal's grunt of pain, followed by the cracking sound of wood hitting against bone. Cautiously, he opened his eyes.

Through the surrounding mist, he saw the form of a young man, standing beside the fallen animal, holding a broom over his right shoulder. A sense of dj vu swept over him. He remained lying on the ground, shocked still, trying to catch his breath.

The young man stepped forward, coming into clear view. Ryouga caught his breath as he stared, slack-jawed. The other man glared at him. "What are you doing here? This place is dangerous..."

Ryouga slowly raised his hand and pointed a finger at him. "You're..." he whispered, his voice filled with wonder.

The young man narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Who are you?"

****

"Poisoned, you say?"

Shinnosuke's grandfather was sitting up on his bed, listening to Ryouga's story.

Ryouga was sitting on the floor opposite Shinnosuke. The old man shook his head in regret. "Poor girl," he murmured. "Such a sweet girl, that Akane."

Ryouga nodded. "Don't worry, grandpa. I've got Akane's cure right here," he said, patting his pack beside him. "Ranma gave it to me to bring back to Akane. All I gotta do is get back to the Tendos on time." He winced. "Such a big feat, for someone like me."

The old man scratched his bald head. "Ranma? Akane's fiance? Why isn't he on this journey with you?" He noticed his grandson wincing at the mention of the other man, but he ignored the telltale reaction.

Ryouga quickly related the tale of his journey with Ranma to find the cure, and of Ranma's last words to him telling him to leave.

"You left a wounded man alone?" Shinnosuke's grandfather asked, raising his brows.

"Oh no," he assured. "I tended to his wounds. He insisted that he was fine, and since I was pretty worried about Akane, I agreed to go on ahead." He almost grinned. "Ranma is almost as stubborn as me. It was easier to agree than to argue all day."

Ryouga looked out the window, noticing the moon shining brightly. "He should be on his way back home by now," he said, almost to himself. Hastily, he started to stand up. "I should get going myself -"

"Why don't you stay here for the night?" the old man offered. "It would be better than spending the night in the woods."

"But, I-"

"It's the least we could do, after how you helped us with the Orochi last year. We insist. Don't we, Shin-boy?"

Shinnosuke looked up, seeming distracted. "Wha-"

His grandfather shook his head. "Never mind. *I* insist. Stay the night."

"Well, if you're sure...thanks."

****

Endless blue sky loomed above him, the stars winked merrily, and the moon shone brightly, casting a dim glow over his features. But the young man was oblivious to all this.

Crouched down on the ground, all he could see was a beautiful young girl with blue-black hair, her brown eyes shining as she smiled at him. He remembered the concern in her eyes, when she thought he was dying. He remembered holding her hand, the feel of her smooth skin beneath his palm.

He shook himself out of his thoughts as he heard footsteps coming his way. Soon, his grandfather gingerly lowered himself to the ground beside him.

"It's cold out here, Grandpa," he said, without looking up. "What are you doing out here?"

"What are *you* doing out here?" his grandfather shot back.

"I can't sleep."

The old man huffed. "Of course not. You're thinking about her again."

He flinched. "What are you talking about?"

His grandfather bopped him on the head. "Akane, you idiot. Do I have to say her name out loud for you to acknowledge it?"

Shinnosuke hesitated before answering. "I was just thinking how awful it must be for her, being poisoned and all." He paused. "I hope the guy would make it back on time."

"Why don't you go along to make sure, then?"

"Huh?" He whipped his face around to face his grandfather.

"You heard me," he answered calmly. "Why don't you go along?"

A dozen conflicting emotions reflected on his face, as he stared at his grandfather. He was worried about Akane. He was afraid the fool would be too late. He could see her again. He still lov- No! She didn't love him.

He looked away. "I'd better not."

"Why not, Shin-boy? I know you want to see her."

He shook his head vehemently. "No."

"Shinnosuke-"

"No!" he shouted. "I can't see her. I have to forget about her!"

He looked into his grandfather's eyes, begging him to understand. "I want to see her. I want to make sure she's fine. But seeing her would make me want to love her again. And I can't do that. She doesn't love me. She doesn't!"

"Shinnosuke." His grandfather laid a hand on his shoulder. "You still love her."

He buried his face in his hands. "I-"

The old man sighed. "Akane's a wonderful girl."

"She is," he answered, his voice muffled. He straightened, leaning his head on the wall behind him. "There are times when I think about her, and I regret that I never told her how I felt. Maybe I could have had a chance. If I just told her, maybe..." He broke off, shaking his head. "But she loves him. I just know she does."

"Yes, I believe she does." His grandfather paused, looking at him. "He loves her too, you know. Should that comfort you?"

Shinnosuke was quiet for a while before answering. "Yeah, I guess, a little. Because if he didn't love her, I'd fight heaven and hell for her. But he does. And they're happy."

"It's good that you can accept that, Shinnosuke. You can move on."

"Yeah, whatever."

Both were quiet for a while, lost in their own thoughts.

"Grandpa-"

"Shinnosuke-"

They stared at each other awkwardly. Shinnosuke smiled weakly. "You go first," he offered.

His grandfather nodded. "I think you should go see her." Shinnosuke opened his mouth to say something, and he held his hand up, signaling for silence.

"Let me finish," he said. "You're worried about Akane, I know. So am I. You should go see her. Don't think about anything else. Because the fact is, Shin-boy, she needs you right now, though she might not know it." He smiled at his grandson. "You're the only one who can get her back her cure on time, Shinnosuke. No one else but you."

He patted his grandson's shoulder. "Akane's a very sweet girl, as I said. She thinks of you as a friend. She'd be glad to see you again."

Shinnosuke smiled wistfully. "Yeah, she will be." He glanced at his grandfather. "I was going to say that I decided to leave tomorrow with Ryouga."

"Huh?"

He smiled slightly at his grandfather's dumbfounded expression. "Let's just say that I'm putting Akane's well-being above everything else right now."

His eyes dimmed. "Never mind that she doesn't love me. What matters most is that she's fine. I want to make sure she'll be okay."

He turned to his grandfather. "What about you?"

The old man waved his hand in the air. "I'll be fine, don't worry. And I'll take care of everything while you're gone." He smiled at his grandson. "I'm glad you could make the right decision, Shinnosuke."

"Are you sure you'll be okay, grandpa?"

"Of course I'll be fine. Don't worry."

****

Ryouga bowed. "Thank you for your hospitality," he intoned formally. "But I must be leaving now."

He turned to leave, but Shinnosuke's voice stopped him. "Wait. I'm coming with you."

Ryouga stared at him incredulously. "Why?"

Shinnosuke met his gaze levelly. "No offense, man, but I want to make sure you get back to Akane on time."

Ryouga fought down a wave of irrational anger. *He's right,* he told himself. *You need his help. You'll never make it back on time on your own.*

He remembered the short time he'd spent in Ryugenzawa some time ago. They weren't very fond memories, as he'd spent almost every waking moment worrying that Akane was falling in love with the other guy. Looking at Shinnosuke now, Ryouga wondered if he was still in love with Akane.

He shook himself out of his thoughts and nodded. "Arigato. I could use your help."

Shinnosuke turned to his grandfather. "I'll be back as soon as I can," he promised.

The old man nodded. "Don't worry about me, Shin-boy," he told him. "Just hurry back to Tokyo, and make sure Akane gets her antidote. I'll be fine here."

Shinnosuke shifted under his backpack. "Shall we go?" he asked Ryouga.

"Sure." Ryouga turned to walk down the path.

"Uh...Ryouga? The village is *this* way," Shinnosuke called out.

Ryouga reddened, and turned in the right direction. "Maybe you should lead the way?" he suggested sheepishly.

Shinnosuke's grandfather watched the two young men disappear down the path. "Be careful, my boy," he whispered to himself.

****

The Tendos, plus Genma, were gathered in Akane's room, looking anxiously at each other.

"Oh my," Kasumi said. "Why aren't they here yet? Why, it's beginning to get dark out, and..."

"...and if they don't get back on time, I'll make them regret it for the rest of their lives," Nabiki finished, frowning.

Genma sat down on a chair, crossing his arms over his chest. "That ungrateful son of mine," he said sourly. "When he gets home, I'll..."

Nabiki sighed. "I'll go down and check if Dr. Tofu has any news," she announced, darting out of the room.

She met Tofu coming up the stairs. "Dr. Tofu! What'll we do? It's getting late, and..."

Abruptly she trailed off, staring at an unfamiliar young man coming up behind Tofu. "I'm sorry, but-"

Just then, Ryouga appeared behind the stranger. Nabiki's eyes narrowed. "You! What took you this long, you-"

Tofu held up his hand as he walked past her briskly. "No time for that, Nabiki. They brought back the formula for the antidote, and I'll just bring Akane down to the examination room."

Nabiki watched Tofu walk off and turn the corner to Akane's room. She turned to look at Ryouga and his companion, focusing her gaze instead on the stranger. "And you're..."

"My name is Shinnosuke," he replied. "I-"

"Shinnosuke!" Nabiki exclaimed. "From Ryugenzawa?"

He frowned. "Er...do I know you?"

Nabiki shook her head. "Akane wasn't kidding, was she?" She smiled. "I'm Nabiki, Akane's sister."

Shinnosuke nodded. "Glad to meet you."

"Forgive me for asking, but what are you doing here?"

Ryouga cleared his throat. "Long story, Nabiki-san. Perhaps-"

"K-K-Kasumi!"

Nabiki flinched at the sound. "Great, I forgot!" she groaned. Turning around, she sprinted for Akane's room. Ryouga and Shinnosuke followed close behind.

She took one look at Tofu's fogged glasses, and grabbed his arm and started to drag him from the room. "Come on, Doctor," she said.

Nabiki looked at Shinnosuke. "You! Get Akane and follow us down."

Shinnosuke nodded and stepped closer to Akane's bed. He looked down at her pale, lifeless figure and flinched inwardly. "Akane..."

"Shinnosuke!" Nabiki snapped impatiently.

He glanced up. "Sorry!" He carefully gathered Akane in his arms, and followed Nabiki out of the room.

Tofu's eyes began to clear halfway down the stairs. "Nabiki! What-"

Nabiki nodded behind them. "We're bringing Akane down, Dr. Tofu. Perhaps you could continue your examination there?"

Tofu nodded. As they reached the first floor, he led the way to the examination room, and gestured to the bed in the middle of the room. "Just leave Akane here and wait for me outside," he said, back to no-nonsense-good-doctor mode.

Shinnosuke laid Akane gently on the bed, and for a while stood looking down at her, his heart aching at how pale and drawn she'd become, totally unlike the sweet, courageous girl he loved...

He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up. "She'll be fine, now that you've brought the antidote," Tofu assured him.

Shinnosuke nodded. He turned to leave the room. "I guess I'll just wait outside..."

Tofu smiled. "That's fine, Shinnosuke." With that, he ushered Shinnosuke out, and pulled the curtains closed, shielding them from view.

Shinnosuke came into the waiting room and saw Nabiki sitting on a couch. He went over and took a seat opposite her.

"So," Nabiki said the moment he sat down. "What brings you here?"

Shinnosuke closed his eyes. "Your friend Ryouga got lost and wandered near our home. I found him and brought him home with me. He told us about what happened, and I...decided to come and help him get back here on time."

Nabiki sighed. "I'd guessed as much." She frowned. "But...whatever happened to Ranma?"

He shook his head. "You'd have to ask Ryouga. All I know is that he was injured, and-"

Nabiki's frown deepened. Just then, Ryouga came into the room, looking around him confusedly. Nabiki sighed. "We're here, Ryouga," she called.

Ryouga looked up, relieved. "Found you at last!" He slumped down on a seat beside Nabiki on the long couch. "You've no idea how long I've been-"

Nabiki snorted. "Knowing you, I think I do."

Ryouga scowled. "You sound too much like Ranma for my liking."

Nabiki smiled. "Speaking of Ranma," she drawled, "mind telling us what happened in that mountain? Why didn't he come back with you?"

"Yes, boy," Genma spoke up, coming into the room behind Soun. "Where's my son?"

Ryouga nodded, and waited until Soun and Genma took their seats before he began. Then, he told them everything, not leaving a single detail out.

Everyone was quiet for a while after Ryouga finished his story. Finally, Genma spoke up. "So - you just left him up there? Alone?" His voice rose on the final word.

Ryouga flinched. "He told me to," he said defensively. "And you have to admit, we had no choice. We almost didn't make it on time as it is," he added, gesturing towards himself and Shinnosuke.

"You should have at least helped him get proper treatment before you left him, Ryouga," Nabiki said. She leaned back and sighed. "Who knows where he is right now?"

"Don't worry, Nabiki-san," Ryouga said. "He was sitting up and talking when I left him. He should have been able to get himself to people to get help."

"Still," Shinnosuke said, participating in the discussion for the first time, "it's a pretty long way down to the village. And if he's wounded..."

Nabiki smiled. "He's probably fine, Shinnosuke. I saw Ranma take a nasty hit from Kunou once, and he's still able to stand up and walk around like nothing happened."

She frowned. "Then again, it'll probably better if someone goes to look for him. Just to make sure..."

All eyes turned to Genma, who flinched under the multiple stares he was getting. "What?"

"He's your son," Ryouga said. "You should go."

"Hey! You're the one who left him behind!"

Ryouga glared at him, but before he could retort, Nabiki beat him to it. "Uncle Genma, if Ryouga went looking for him, he'll just get lost and cause us more trouble. We'd have *two* lost little boys to look for then."

Ryouga shot her a nasty glare, to which Nabiki just smiled. Soun slapped his friend's back. "It's best if you go, Genma," he said. "Think what Nodoka would say if you refused," he suggested.

Genma paled at the mention of his wife, who was away visiting a friend for a few days. "All right," he said resignedly. "I'll leave tomorrow morning."

"Oh, and another thing," Nabiki said, "no one tells Akane about this, okay?" She glanced around the room. "No sense making her worry about him right now."

Everyone nodded agreement. Just then, Tofu poked his head into the room. "I'm sorry, everyone, I should have said this earlier," he remarked. "It's going to take some time still, and maybe you could go home and grab some dinner, and come back afterwards. I'll have the results ready for you then."

Nabiki nodded and stood up. "Thanks, Dr. Tofu." She looked around at the rest of the room's occupants. "Well, come on," she told them. "I, for one, am starving."

Soun nodded at Ryouga and Shinnosuke and smiled. "You two boys are welcome to have dinner with us. It would be our pleasure to have you." He frowned. "Then again, you don't have anyplace to stay for the night, do you?"

Both guys shook their heads. Soun nodded. "It's done, then. You can stay at my house."

"Daddy," Nabiki interjected, "we don't have any more room inside the house." She smiled at the two guys. "You can stay in the dojo perhaps, if you don't mind."

Shinnosuke started to shake his head. "No, it wouldn't be polite to impose..."

Soun silenced him with a look. "No, young man, it wouldn't be polite to turn down our offer. It is the least we could do, after all you've done to help my daughter Akane." He shook his head. "It's done. You're staying at our dojo."

Without another word, Soun swept past them, his good spirits restored after being assured of Akane's recovery. He started to banter good-naturedly with Genma, inviting him to another game of shogi before he left the next morning to look for Ranma. Ryouga and Shinnosuke were left behind looking at each other in indecision.

"What do you think?" Shinnosuke asked.

Ryouga shrugged. "I'm sure it's okay. After all, Ranma and his dad have been free-loading guests in their house for more than a year, and I'm sure they're used to having visitors." He smiled. "Besides, it's better than camping out in the park again." He grimaced. "That is, if I can find my way to the park on my own."

Shinnosuke nodded. "I guess." He looked up as Nabiki slapped him on the shoulder as she walked past him.

"Hurry up if you don't want to miss out on dinner," she called back. Smiling, she asked, "That's right. You haven't tried Kasumi's cooking yet, have you?"

He shook his head as he and Ryouga hurried to catch up with her. "Is it as good as Akane's cooking?" he asked, smiling at the memory.

Nabiki stopped in her tracks and stared at him. "Akane's cooking? *Good*?"

Shinnosuke nodded. "Well, yes. Her miso soup was delicious." Then, he frowned. "Well, there were those snacks she brought on our trip, and they tasted awful. But she got so upset after that, and I thought maybe it was something wrong with *me*..."

Nabiki laughed. "Akane's cooking is always terrible, Shinnosuke. So much that only Ranma's able to stomach it on a regular basis."

"But what about the miso soup?"

She shrugged. "It was probably one of those rare times that she managed *not* to ruin the recipe. It's happened once or twice. In fact," she added, "she did manage to cook a pretty decent meal of curry right before she left for Ryugenzawa, and then everyone refused to eat it, and we all thought she'd run away because of it." She smiled. "But of course we were wrong. She went to Ryugenzawa to find you."

He frowned. "I don't understand."

Nabiki held up two fingers in front of him. "Two thousand yen, and I'll tell you."

Shinnosuke looked at her, confused, as Ryouga's laughter boomed beside him.

****

Shinnosuke was sitting on the couch, half-heartedly trying to play poker with Ryouga and Nabiki, when Tofu came into the room, smiling.

"Good news," he announced. "Akane's awake, and with a couple of days of bed rest, I expect her to be back to normal."

Shinnosuke exhaled the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, and looked around at the other occupants of the room. An expression of naked relief passed through Ryouga's features, and Nabiki only smiled faintly. Akane's father, Shinnosuke noticed, was starting to cry uncontrollably, while Genma unsuccessfully tried to quiet him down.

"Can we see her?" Nabiki asked.

Tofu nodded. "But only for a little while," he cautioned. "I want her to get plenty of rest."

Nabiki turned to her father. "Daddy, either you stop crying right now or you're not allowed to come up to Akane's room," she threatened.

Soun sniffled and wiped his eyes with his hands. "Okay."

"We're going up first, and you and Uncle Genma can come in after us," Nabiki told him. She turned and motioned at Shinnosuke. "Come on," she invited. "Let's go see Akane."

****

The first thing Shinnosuke noticed was the paleness of her complexion. She lay silent and still in her bed, but her breathing sounded soft and steady, and he relaxed a little.

"Akane?" Nabiki said softly. "We're here. Can you hear me?"

Shinnosuke watched as her eyes slowly opened, and a faint smile touched her pale lips as she looked up at her sister. "Nabiki," she said softly.

Nabiki smiled. "Nice to know you still remember me," she remarked dryly, a trace of her normal humor returning. "We can definitely rule out amnesia as a side effect."

Her half-lidded gaze flicked across the room with agonizing slowness, until at last she was staring right at Shinnosuke. He tried to force his numb features to smile as he left her gaze settle on him.

"Shin-" she whispered. "Shinno..."

"That's right," he answered. "It's me, Akane."

"Shinnosuke came back with Ryouga with your cure, Akane," Nabiki told her.

Akane didn't seem to hear her, as her gaze continued to scan the room anxiously. Finally, she turned to look at Nabiki. "Ran...ma?"

"Don't worry about him, sis," she replied. "You just concentrate on getting well, and before you know it, we'll have you out and back home in..."

"Ranma?" she insisted, her voice quavering.

"Ranma...was a little delayed," Shinnosuke improvised, trying to smile reassuringly at Akane. "He..."

"He had a few things to take care of, so he asked me to go on ahead," Ryouga put in. "Then..."

"Then Ryouga ran into me, and I accompanied him back here to Tokyo," Shinnosuke finished.

Nabiki sighed and looked at Akane. "He should be back in a couple of days, Akane," she told her. "Uncle Genma's leaving tonight to bring Ranma home."

Akane was quiet, and Nabiki tried for a smart remark. "After all, Akane, you wouldn't want him to see you a little under the weather, do you?" she joked. "In a few days you'd be back to your old self, and then you can show him who's boss."

"I am *not* worried about that baka."

"Good," Nabiki replied. "He can take care of himself. Soon he'll be here looking smug and confident and make you regret you even asked for him to come back."

She closed her eyes and sighed, her voice becoming softer and softer. "But I want him...to come...back..."

Shinnosuke looked away, trying to mask the distress her voice evoked in him. It was a mistake to come in here, he knew. He knew it from the start, but he had to stay and make sure she really was okay, although he should have left the moment he got Ryouga back safely into the doctor's clinic...

"She's asleep," Nabiki said softly. "Just as well. No use having her worry about him right now..."

*That's right,* Shinnosuke thought. *No use worrying about her right now. I did my job, she's cured, and I can go home and resume my life where I left it off, fighting giant animals to protect the village people...*

He tried to ignore the empty feeling building up in his chest and silently followed Nabiki and Ryouga out of the room.

****

"What are you doing?"

Shinnosuke turned to see Ryouga standing behind him, looking down at him in confusion.

"I'm going home," he replied, quickly stuffing his things into his backpack. "I did what I had to do, and I have to go home. Grandfather's waiting for me..."

"Surely you can stay a while longer," Ryouga said. "There's no hurry for you to get back..."

"Shinnosuke."

Both guys turned around at the soft, feminine voice. Kasumi was standing in the dojo's doorway, staring intently at them. Shinnosuke stood up from his knelt position, and watched as Kasumi walked towards him.

"Why are you leaving so soon?" she asked.

"I left my grandfather alone in the forest, Kasumi-san, and I promised I'd come back after..."

"Is that the only reason?"

"I have imposed on your hospitality long enough," he mumbled and looked away. He couldn't very well tell her he was still in love with her sister and the way she was pining for another man was tearing him to pieces, could he?

"Well." Shinnosuke looked up as Kasumi spoke. "If that's the only reason, I must insist you stay a bit longer."

"But-"

She smiled gently at him. "We have yet to repay you for coming to our aid, Shinnosuke. You may very well have saved Akane's life."

He reddened. "I didn't do anything. I just helped Ryouga..."

"Nonetheless, we owe you a debt, and you must stay until we have repaid it." She smiled again, and Shinnosuke found it hard to refuse. "No buts. Stay, please."

Without waiting for his answer, she turned and left the dojo, leaving Shinnosuke staring after her helplessly.

"Kasumi's words are treated as if edicts from the gods themselves," Ryouga remarked, smiling at Shinnosuke. "You might as well stay for a few more days. What harm can it do?"

Except that it'll put him in the continued presence of the woman he loved but he knew he could never have? No harm, indeed.

*But you want to stay,* a voice in his head insisted. *Admit it, that's what you wanted, so you could be with her, and maybe you still have a chance...*

*Shut up,* he replied mentally. *Who wants to listen to you anyway?*

The voices in his head continued to cackle gleefully, and Shinnosuke sighed in submission. *Maybe just a little...*

****

"I don't see why I have to do this," Genma grumbled. "My son can take care of himself."

"Maybe so, Genma," Soun replied. "But it is a father's duty to look after his son. It would be best if you went to see why he hasn't come back yet."

"He's depriving his old man of his well-deserved rest," Genma continued to complain. "When I see him, I'm gonna tell him a thing or two..."

"You do that, Genma, old friend," Soun interrupted. "Here comes your ride."

Soun practically pushed him inside the train, and waved goodbye cheerfully as the train began to pull away from the station.

****

Akane came down to dinner. Kasumi smiled brightly at her sister. "Akane! You're feeling better now?"

She nodded. "But shouldn't you be resting upstairs?" Kasumi fussed. "You've only been home this morning, and..."

Akane laughed. "I'm fine, oneechan. Don't worry. Any news about Ranma?"

Kasumi shook her head. "I'm afraid not, Akane. Don't worry, though," she assured her. "I'm sure Uncle Saotome would bring Ranma back anytime now."

Nabiki swirled her can of orange soda. "You're looking pretty worried, sis," she commented. "I mean, for someone whom you've insisted you hated for the past several months."

Akane glanced at her sister. "I never said I hated Ranma, oneechan." She paused, thinking. "Although, he does make me so angry most of the time."

Nabiki shrugged. "It's the same thing."

Kasumi smiled gently. "You should have seen him during the first few days you were unconscious, Akane," she told her. "He was really worried."

"I know." Akane knitted her brow in concern. "But shouldn't he be back by now?"

She was snapped out of her thoughts by Kasumi's voice. "Akane."

"What?"

She looked at Akane with a gentle reprimand in her eyes. "Be nice to Ranma when he comes back, Akane. He's your fiance."

"I have been nice to that baka ever since -"

"Akane." She shut up at her sister's soft spoken command. Kasumi shook her head at her. "Don't call him names, either. And don't intentionally pick fights with him."

Kasumi put both hands on Akane's shoulders. "He saved your life, Akane. He risked his own by going to look for your cure. Does that sound like an uncaring fiance?"

Akane shook her head. "No, oneechan. I guess, maybe I've always known he...cares...for me."

Kasumi nodded approvingly. "Every time I see him fight for you, protect you, or risk his life to save yours, it makes me so happy, to know that your love is returned."

Akane opened her mouth to protest. Kasumi put her finger on Akane's lips, motioning her to be quiet. "I know you love Ranma, Akane. I've known for months now. Don't lie to me." She smiled again. "You don't have to be afraid of expressing how you feel, Akane."

Akane bowed her head, unable to think of anything to say. Kasumi gently shooed her out of the kitchen. "Go and rest a bit while I take care of dinner."

Akane walked out to the dojo. She laid a hand on the wall, her eyes scanning the room. Ryouga and Shinnosuke's things were piled up at a corner of the dojo, but the two guys went out on some errands for Kasumi. She was alone.

She slowly sank to the floor, leaning her head against the wall. She drew her knees up to her chest, and wrapped her arms around them. "Ranma," she whispered, staring up at the ceiling.

She couldn't even come into the dojo now without thinking of Ranma. Here they often sparred - or at least Akane tried to hit him while Ranma effortlessly danced around all her blows, frustrating her to no end - and sometimes she would come in and stand at the doorway, watching with an unconscious smile on her face as Ranma went through his daily katas, his body moving with a fluid grace...

*Please come back soon, Ranma. I'm waiting for you.*

Kasumi was right. She did...love...Ranma. It was one of the secrets she kept locked inside her heart. She loved his strength, his confidence. She loved the way he would turn to her, and smile, his blue-gray eyes sparkling. She loved the way his hand would close over hers, his weather-beaten skin rough against her palm.

So many times, she thought he cared for her. Back in Jyusenkyo, he'd thought she was dead. He'd held her body close, whispering tender words, his tears dampening her cheeks. Sure, he always insulted her, and made fun of her. He would hurt her so much with his careless words that she could never bear to share her secrets with anyone. How could she love such an insensitive baka? He was thoughtless and rude, and he was stringing along three other girls.

But when Akane thought of Ranma, she didn't think of his thoughtless actions, or his ugly words. She would remember his gentle voice, his expressive eyes, his confident smile. Most of all, she would remember his stricken face, when she regained consciousness and stared up at him, his tear-filled eyes.

And lately, when she thought of him, she would remember the naked concern in his eyes, as he watched over her in Dr. Tofu's clinic...or the delicious warmth of his body next to her, as he held her in his arms, and the his musky male scent filled her senses with euphoria...

*I do love you, Ranma,* she thought. *I want us to have another chance. We deserve that much, after everything we've been through.*

She remembered Kasumi's words. "Be nice to Ranma..."

"I will," she promised herself. "Please, give us another chance."

The front door creaked open, startling Akane. She got up, and poked her head out to see who it was.

Genma Saotome walked in, carrying a large pack behind him. Akane was so happy to see him, she did not notice the glazed expression in his eyes.

"Uncle Saotome!" she shouted. Hurriedly, she rushed out, almost bumping into him.

Panting, Akane looked around. No one had come in after Genma, and the gate was still open. "Where's Ranma?"

Genma slumped to the floor, a choked sob escaping his lips. Akane knelt down beside him, sick with worry. "Where's Ranma?" she repeated. Oh no. He might be hurt. Oh god, let him be okay.

Kasumi, Nabiki, and Soun rushed out to greet Genma. Ryouga and Shinnosuke were right behind them. They all halted in their tracks as they saw Akane kneeling beside Genma.

Ranma's father was sobbing uncontrollably, his broad shoulders shaking. Akane shook him violently, her heart beating wildly.

"Saotome." Soun stood beside his friend. "Where's your son?"

The bundle fell from Genma's shoulders, landing with a loud thud. The flap fell open, and Soun gasped in shock.

Akane sat in front of Genma, and could not see what had agitated her father. "What is it, Dad?"

Soun sank to the ground, his body shaking. He willed his hands to stop trembling, and reached for the pack. He slowly unwrapped the bundle, lifting out its contents.

Akane saw the rumpled black hair, the torn red shirt. She released the breath she wasn't aware she'd been holding. Ranma. He's okay.

She started to look up to smile with relief at her sisters, when she saw the panic-stricken expression on Kasumi's normally cheerful face.

Something was wrong. Ranma's father was still crying. And Soun Tendo started to echo his friend's grief, his sobs ringing in her ears.

*Why did Ranma's father bring him back in the sack?*

Understanding dawned. Akane stared at Ranma, her heart thumping madly. No. It can't be.

Slowly, she crawled over to Ranma's side, her hand trembling, as she reached out to lay a hand on his face. His skin felt cold to her touch.

Her eyes flew to the dried blood on his shirt, and on the bandage wrapped around his abdomen. His silk shirt was ripped in places, and his arms and face were grimy with dirt. But despite his tousled hair, and the smudges of dirt on his face, there was a peaceful, even blissful expression on his face.

She was staring at the dead body of her fiance.

Akane opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. Her heart throbbed painfully, her lungs aching with the tears she was holding up inside.

Kasumi came over to envelop Akane in her arms. Akane could hear her sister's soft sniffles, and her own eyes filled with tears. She sobbed softly, wrapping her arms around her sister.

Nabiki stood beside Kasumi, watching Akane with pain-filled eyes. Akane's sobs escalated into racking, anguished cries of grief. She pulled away from Kasumi, and sank down to the ground beside Ranma, pulling his limp body to her chest, rocking him slowly.

Her sisters watched with sorrow, as their father was of no help at the moment, lost in his own anguish. Kasumi was the first to react.

She put her arms around Akane, gently disentangling Ranma from her iron grasp. She slowly pulled Akane to her feet, trying to lead her inside the house.

Akane's eyes snapped into focus, and she shoved Kasumi away, screaming as she ran back to Ranma's side.

Soun blocked her way, putting both his arms around his daughter. Akane shoved at his chest, sobbing. "Let me go!" She frantically elbowed his ribs, pushing him away.

"Akane!" Soun held her close, trying to comfort her. "Akane, stop it!"

Ryouga stood beside Shinnosuke, staring down at Ranma's body. He saw the bandage he'd wrapped himself around Ranma's wounds. He remembered Ranma gritting his teeth against the pain, urging Ryouga to leave. *Liar,* he thought. *You promised you'd come back. You tricked me.*

Shinnosuke grabbed him by the shoulder. "You didn't tell me you left him for dead."

"I didn't! He told me to leave without him. He said he was going to be all right!"

"And you believed him?"

"He lied to me!" Ryouga shouted. "He told me he'd come back. I didn't know he was going to die!"

Tearing free of her father's grasp, Akane whipped around, screaming. "You killed him!"

Ryouga paled, staring at her. "Akane! I didn't know he was going to die. I had to come back to save you!"

"You killed Ranma! How could you let him die? You killed him..." Whimpering with maddened pain, she launched herself at Ryouga. She hit him with a mindless rage, screaming as tears coursed down her cheeks. "Why did you come back? You didn't have to save me!"

Shinnosuke grabbed Akane's arms, pulling her away. Her bloodshot eyes shot icy daggers of hate at Ryouga. "Ranma's dead. You didn't have to come back. You didn't have to save me! Why did you have to save me..." She turned into Shinnosuke's embrace, sobbing as she pressed her face against his chest.

The Tendou family watched in sorrow, as Akane stood in Shinnosuke's embrace, her thin shoulders shaking with grief. Akane was oblivious to everything around her, didn't even realize the arms holding her were that of a man she barely knew. All she knew was that the man she loved was dead, the same man whom she'd admitted loving only moments before.

The wind blew a light breeze around them, sending scattered leaves flying about the yard. And as Akane wept, she heard the wind blowing in her ears, carrying with it a soft whisper of tender longing that tore at her heart.

*Akane...*

The word was a gentle caress, the voice painfully familiar and full of yearning, drugging her senses. Closing her eyes, she saw him standing aside, his eyes watching her, a half-smile on his handsome face.

"Ranma..." she whispered, reaching out her hand. She groped at thin air frantically, longing to touch him. Ranma only smiled sadly, his eyes fixed on her, as he slowly faded away into etherealness.

She cried his name one last time, as she slid down in Shinnosuke's arms in a dead faint.


*** End CHAPTER 6 ***


CHAPTER 5 BACK to Index CHAPTER 7