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WFY Chapter 8: Revelations

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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Cologne looked up as Shampoo came in her room. "You want to see Shampoo, great-grandmother?" she asked.

Cologne nodded. "I have something for you, child."

Shampoo watched as Cologne reached inside the folds of her robe and drew out a small crystal vial.

"Here," Cologne said, handing it to her.

Shampoo raised the vial towards the light and squinted curiously at the clear liquid inside the container. "What is it?"

Cologne drew a long puff from her tobacco. "Chueh Wang poison."

Her gaze snapped back to Cologne, as her fingers automatically tightened on the little glass bottle. "For what, great-grandmother?"

The old woman gave her a level stare. "To get rid of the obstacles for Son-in-law's hand. We have wasted enough time dallying around."

Shampoo faltered. "But-"

Cologne reached for her staff. "If you have any other plans, then by all means, set aside the poison for another day. But then, we have tried almost everything else, haven't we?"

Without waiting for a reply, she hopped away, leaving Shampoo standing in her room, staring down at her hands.


To kill or not to kill...

Shampoo pedaled slowly, her thoughts drifting back to the poison Cologne gave her.

It shouldn't be a difficult decision. After all, what's most important was getting Ranma to marry her and they could go back to the village together. And since certain obstacles stood in the way of those plans - the simplest choice was to eliminate them.

Shampoo wasn't afraid to kill. After all, she was the proudest and bravest of her generation of Amazon warriors. True, she had yet to kill a fellow human being, but she expected killing would be easy enough... rather, she was afraid of seeing Ranma's reaction if he ever found out that she tried to kill Akane.

Shampoo wasn't blind enough that she'd delude herself into thinking Ranma didn' for the Violent Tomboy. She remembered all those who had at one time tried to harm Akane - Tarou, Kirin, Toma, Herb, and most of all... Saffron. She shivered at the memory of Ranma's relentless fury as he battled the phoenix king for Akane's life...

The thought of having those same blue eyes glare at her with seething rage and hatred made her blood run cold with fear... because as much as she wanted to go back to the village with her honor fulfilled by gaining Ranma as a husband - she wanted him to love her as well.

And she was sure that as soon as she got him away from the Violent tomboy's influence, he'd finally fall in love with Shampoo, and they'd go back to the village in glory, and live happily ever after...

Shampoo's mood brightened as she thought of Ranma. He was...perfect. Strong and handsome and honorable Ranma... she wouldn't dream of breaking his spirit, like other women did to their husbands back in the tribe, to exercise their domination over the household.

But Ranma - his fiery spirit and intense determination was what drew her to him like a moth to a flame. He was glorious in battle, and together, as wife and husband, they would bring honor to the Amazon tribe like none other anyone has ever seen before...

Her heart swelled at the thought, and she pedaled faster, eager to see Ranma again. Surely the decision could wait another day - right now, she wanted to be with her future husband. Maybe she could even get him to take her out on a date!

As she neared the Tendo dojo, she spotted Kasumi Tendo sweeping outside the gate. "Nihao!" Shampoo called, skidding to a halt beside Kasumi. "Shampoo come to see Husband!"

Kasumi smiled. Ranma's friends were so polite. "Ranma went with Akane to the mall, Shampoo," she replied. "Can I get you anything?" One always had to be hospitable when visitors came calling.

Shampoo clapped her hands together. "Even better! Then Husband can take Shampoo for date at mall!" She took off on her bike, happily anticipating her date with Ranma.


Shampoo glanced around, confused. Where could Husband be?

A flash of red caught her eye, and she turned. Through the clear glass of the shop window, she glimpsed a man's back to her, but his broad shoulders and black pigtail were unmistakable. It was Ranma, standing beside Akane as she held up a blue dress in front of her.

Shampoo brightened. It would be easy enough to get rid of Akane, then she would have Ranma for herself.

She stepped aside, out of Ranma's direct line of vision, as the couple walked out of the store. She started to follow them at a discreet distance. Maybe she wouldn't even have to bother with Akane. Knowing them, they should begin fighting anytime now, and Akane would stomp off, angry again, leaving Ranma alone.

Shampoo smiled as Akane's fist targeted Ranma. She didn't even have to wait long. Akane should leave soon, and -

She blinked, surprised. Ranma and Violent-Girl were not fighting. Shampoo watched as Akane punched Ranma's arm lightly, could hear Akane's voice tinged with laughter as she smiled up at him. "I was only kidding, Ranma..."

Shampoo failed to hear the rest of Akane's words, as she saw Ranma return Akane's grin. Her vision reddened, as she watched Ranma allow Akane to take his arm.

Shampoo's eyes narrowed, focusing on Akane, until the crowd swallowed them up, obscuring them from her view. "Violent Girl stand in Shampoo's way too many times," she hissed under her breath. "Shampoo no let Violent Girl steal Husband. Husband is Shampoo's!"

She whipped around, rage burning within her. Akane would never get Ranma. Shampoo would kill her first.

Abruptly, she remembered Cologne's surprise. She smiled maliciously, beginning to contemplate how to put it into good use. She would eliminate Akane first - after all, she was the biggest obstacle. Any reservations she'd had about using it had just been wiped out permanently.

After all, she reminded herself, she'd given Akane the Kiss of Death months ago, when she first came to Japan. And by allowing her to remain alive, she was leaving her own honor unfulfilled. Well, it was time to remedy that.

A tiny voice pushed itself from the depths of Shampoo's mind to put a damper on her plans. Ranma. He would be furious. He would never forgive her. He'd never love her...

Shampoo only shook her head and smiled brighter. Ranma would never know. She'd just have to make sure of that.

She turned and stalked back to the store she'd seen Ranma and Akane emerge from. As she opened the door, a tinkling bell signaled her entrance.

The saleslady came and smiled at her. "Good afternoon," she said brightly. "May I help you?"

Shampoo nodded. "Shampoo want to see blue dress," she said, careful to make sure the woman understood her intent. "Same dress Violent girl have earlier."

The woman frowned. "Pardon?"

Shampoo cursed softly in Chinese, which only puzzled the woman more. Attempting a bright smile, she said, "From window I see girl hold up one blue dress," she explained. "Girl with short hair, come in with pig-tailed man."

The woman brightened. "Oh! I see," she exclaimed, leading Shampoo to a rack filled with colorful dresses. "You must mean this one," she said, pulling out a dress with a flourish.

Shampoo only smiled. She reached out and ran her fingers along the soft blue silk. "Yes, Shampoo want this," she said softly. "How much?"

"Tell you what, honey," the woman said, draping the dress over a nearby chair. "Blue isn't really your color, with your hair and all. Let me pick you out something more..."

Shampoo shook her head. "No, is fine. Want this one."

"There's this absolutely divine red dress that would show off your looks to perfection," she rattled on, rapidly flipping through dresses. "Just let me show it to you, and you'll..."

"No!" The saleslady started in surprise at the sharp voice, and looked up.

Shampoo forced a weak smile. "I sorry. But Shampoo want this one. I take it. How much?"

The woman studied the fierce glint in the girl's eyes and decided against arguing. She headed to the counter to ring up the purchase.


"You can take your bath now, Akane," a voice called from inside the house.

"Thanks, Kasumi," Akane's voice called back.

Hidden by the shadows, a figure lurked outside Akane's window, intently listening to the sounds of movement in the room. The sound of Akane rustling through her clothes could be heard, and finally, after a few seconds, the sound of the door sliding closed.

Cautiously, she peered in Akane's bedroom. The room was empty. Good.

Without making a sound, Shampoo straightened herself and quietly slipped the window open. She laid the box on the table, leaning against a stack of books, and slid the glass pane closed.

Hurriedly, she made good her escape. She felt giddy with joy, and she had an absurd impulse to laugh as she leapt across rooftops. Everything had gone according to plan. Violent-girl Akane, dense as she was, wouldn't suspect a thing until it was too late. And using a brooch as a medium for the poison was a stroke of genius - after all, the poison worked best when injected directly into the bloodstream. Only the tiniest drop was needed, and Akane would be dead in three days.

*Ranma,* she thought giddily. *In three days, you will be mine at last.*


"Tell me, Shampoo," Cologne said, looking at her intently. "Have you done it already?"

She nodded solemnly. "Last night." She smiled. "Violent-girl dead by day after tomorrow for sure."

Cologne's gaze never faltered. "Really? I only received knowledge that Son-in-Law is on his way to look for an antidote even as we speak."

Shampoo blinked. Ranma, going to look for an antidote? Then again, she expected that of him. It was always left up to him to run to the inept girl's rescue whenever she got herself into trouble.

"But Great-grandmother," she said, "you said no cure for poison, right?"

"Oh, there is," the old woman replied. "But it remains secure in our village."

"Then, there nothing to worry, great-grandmother," Shampoo said. "When Ranma come home, Akane dead. Is all."

"Then Ranma will be yours, is that it?"

Shampoo nodded happily. "Then we go home to village, great-grandmother."

Cologne nodded. "Fine." She paused. "It is good Son-in-Law does not suspect us, Shampoo."

The girl only smiled. "Shampoo make sure of that, great-grandmother."

"One word of advice, though." Shampoo waited expectantly for Cologne to continue. "Wait a few days before going to see Ranma. It is good that he does not suspect anything, but he will be furious when the Tendo girl is dead, and they will likely think of us as the culprits..."

"Great-grandmother," Shampoo interrupted, "when Violent girl dead, Ranma is Shampoo's. Is all." She tried to smile. "Shampoo no worry."

Cologne's eyes bored into hers. "Remember Saffron, child."

Shampoo fell silent, as Cologne voiced out her worst fears. Finally, Cologne sighed. "No matter. Ranma will be ours soon. But be prudent in your actions for the next few days, Shampoo. Soon, we will go home, and we can put this all behind us."

She nodded. "Shampoo understand, great-grandmother." So, she couldn't see Ranma for a few days. It was little enough a sacrifice - after all, Ranma would be hers for sure. By next week they'd be back in the village, and she could reclaim her position as the most promising Amazon warrior of her generation, especially since she was going home with her husband, *the* best warrior of their generation, bar none. Even great-grandmother said so.

Shampoo smiled happily as she headed to the kitchen to do the dishes.


Cologne sat alone in her room, composing a letter to be addressed to the village Council.

It was really such a consuming task, she thought, staying in Japan to help Shampoo gain her husband. And through all this time, she still kept herself up-to-date with the happenings in the village. As a member of the council, she was required to do so, and to give her vote in any important decisions the village made from time to time.

She'd been very patient with Ranma, giving him time to make up his mind and finally make the right decision to go back to the village with them, even though her instructions had been to bring him back through any means necessary.

Ranma truly was an exceptional fighter, Cologne mused, and the biggest reason for that was his indomitable spirit and determination. And breaking his spirit would mean the undoing of such a great fighter. And they could not afford that, for people like Ranma were so rare these days.

Shampoo had truly chosen well. Ranma was...special. Like a diamond in a bag of peanuts, he shone brighter than any of the other stars in the galaxy. Cologne knew with a certainty Ranma would be the best - the only reason Cologne herself was still better was because she had a century of experience on her side. Given time, Ranma would be better. So much better.

Cologne sighed quietly to herself, as she put aside her ink and paper. It really was too bad, she mused, that Shampoo came too late. By the time Shampoo arrived in Nerima, Ranma had already been too involved with the Tendo girl. He didn't even defeat Shampoo in formal combat - it had been to protect Akane that he'd kicked the bonbori out of Shampoo's hands. And the fact that Shampoo had been out to kill his female form before did nothing to endear her to him.

It had been a huge mistake to let Ranma have all this time to make up his mind, but Cologne had realized it too late. The more time he spent with Akane, the deeper his feelings for her went. Half the time he got into these adventures, it was to rescue the inept girl and bring her back safely.

Now, Cologne realized there simply wasn't any other way to bring Ranma back to the village. Akane had to be eliminated. Only then would Shampoo stand a chance to win Ranma.

Besides, love or no love, they had to bring Ranma back. They had absolutely no choice in the matter. Of course, it helped matters a lot that Shampoo was so taken with the young Saotome.

Cologne reached for an envelope on the desk, and slipped the folded letter inside. This time, she had good news for the council. With Akane out of the way, they'd be back in the village in a few days.

The sound of the front door slamming into its frame startled her, and she looked up, realizing Shampoo should be home. Odd, the girl had never been this violent before, except when she was furious. But Mousse had been conspicuously absent these few days, so why...

Another crash rang out in the silence, the sound of a glass pitcher breaking against the tile floors, and Cologne reached for a staff, anxious to find out what was going on.

Cologne opened her door, in time to see Shampoo come up the stairs. She was shaking uncontrollably, and the trail of tears on her face was unmistakable. She dashed into her room, slamming the door closed behind her. From where she stood, Cologne could hear the sound of anguished wailing coming from behind the closed doors.

A grim premonition building up inside her heart, she turned the knob and hopped into her great-granddaughter's room.

The girl was lying facedown on her bed, clutching her pillow tightly as she wept brokenly, tears leaking out from her closed eyes.

"What is it, child?" she asked from where she stood. "Didn't you go see Son-in-Law today?"

The wailing increased, and Cologne winced. Something was wrong. Tendo Akane didn't die? Ranma had been able to save her life? A disappointment, true, but they could always try again, and use more drastic means next time. That wasn't enough reason for Shampoo to be so distraught...

"Shampoo," she tried again. "What happened? Did you speak to your husband?"

The wailing stopped abruptly, and Shampoo raised her head to look at her, her lips quivering, her eyes wet with tears. Cologne returned her gaze levelly. Finally, she burst into laughter. Cologne blinked, surprised.

"Speak to husband?" Shampoo said, still laughing. "Yes, Shampoo go to see Husband, tell him we go home now, yes? Surely he say yes now, violent girl dead, he free to come to Shampoo now..."

Cologne watched anxiously, as the laughter dissolved once again into tears. Shampoo collapsed against the bed, her slim shoulders trembling as she sobbed into her pillow.

"Ranma is dead, great-grandmother." Cologne stiffened, the words driving a stake into her heart. "Shampoo go to house, Akane sister say so herself. Ranma die... he die because of Shampoo... Shampoo kill husband... Ranma! Shampoo sorry, Ranma..." The words trailed off into more tears.

Ranma - dead? But how...when...what...

Whatever were they supposed to do now?

Cologne closed her eyes, her hand tightening on her staff. This was bad. Very, very bad.

With her back turned towards the door, she didn't notice Mousse standing outside, his gaze intent on Shampoo's quietly trembling figure, before he turned and silently crept down the stairs.


*How could you?*

He wandered the streets aimlessly, with no destination in mind, no purpose guiding his heart.

*How could you leave him?*

He came to an intersection and paused, confusion written on his face. Left or right? It didn't matter either way. It didn't make a difference to him. As long as he got as far away as he could. For what else was left for him here?

He turned left and trudged on, ignoring the hungry growling in his stomach, and the protests of his tired, aching feet.

*How could you leave him to die, Ryouga?*

His eyes began to fill with angry tears, though to whom the feeling was directed, he didn't know. Ranma? Or himself? Or was he cursing the heavens again, for bestowing him such ill luck?

Ranma was dead. His rival, his arch enemy, the bane of his existence. Finally, he wouldn't have to live in the shadow of the man who'd caused him such misery.

So, why wasn't he leaping for joy? Why was there a heavy feeling in his heart, like he'd just lost a part of himself? Why was he torn apart with grief, when there was nothing to feel sorry about, when Ranma was dead, and could no longer cause anyone any more pain?

Because it was all a lie, he knew. And he could see it now, crystal clear. A lie which never existed except in his mind, as he sought peace in the arms of an innocent, trusting girl. And because Ranma had so often destroyed that blissful peace with a few careless words, or tried to separate Ryouga from the one thing that brought him true joy... he'd sworn revenge over and over again, for making his life hell, for hurting Akane so with his callous comments...

His burning desire to defeat Ranma and prove himself blinded him to everything. For how many times had Akane whispered Ranma's name as she slept? How often had Akane been so worried about Ranma, or angry at Ranma, or... no matter what she felt, the feeling was *always* directed at Ranma...

And who should know it better than him? P-chan, Akane's most trusted confidant, privy to her innermost secrets and hidden desires... and despite everything, he *chose* to blind himself to reality, continuing to blunder on his quest for revenge, not realizing that he was only delaying the inevitable, only setting himself up for even more pain, more heartbreak, more agony...

Ah, nothing like coming face to face with the truth. He should be relieved, like a burden had just been released from his shoulders. After all, doesn't the truth set one free?

Not like this. Not when it almost cost two lives to open his eyes to reality, to wake up from the dream he'd been living for too long. Ranma, slowly bleeding to death in the forest... and Akane, slitting her wrist with a sharp knife...

How could he live with himself now, he wondered. How could he ever live with the knowledge that he could have prevented all this tragedy, if he'd only listened to his gut feeling and gotten Ranma to help before it was too late?

Before, it would have been too easy to blame Ranma. Ranma asked him to go. He demanded Ryouga to go on ahead and leave him alone. He only did what he was asked to do. Why blame him?

Yes, that was the easy way out. He could absolve himself from all the blame, and still be able to call himself Akane's friend.

But that was before. Before Akane tried to kill herself, letting Ryouga realize the huge consequences of his actions that fateful day. And now he realized that it was Ranma who kept the delicate balance that held them all together, and without him, everything slowly began to fall apart...

And now, he had to move on as well. What else was left for him here in Nerima, when the only people who held him here were lost to him forever? Ranma was dead, and so was the desire for vengeance.... and Akane... she was lost to him as well. How could he ever face her again, after everything that has happened?

He shuddered as he remembered Akane's fists hammering relentlessly on his chest, her anguished cries ringing in his ears, as he stood helpless against her attack. She hated him - she made that clear enough. And though the knowledge broke his heart into a million tiny pieces, he had to let her go.

Why should he still hold on to something he knew he could never have?

*Goodbye, Akane,* he thought sadly. *I hope you can forgive me, someday...*

He rubbed his eyes on the sleeve of his shirt, sniffling softly as he walked. Suddenly, his foot caught on something, and he tripped, stumbling a few steps. He turned around, surveying his surroundings, searching for even the faintest clue for where he was...

He looked up, and his eyes focused on a sign above his head. Ucchan's.

Ukyou's restaurant.

He almost smiled at the irony. It almost made sense, in a twisted sort of way. Again, he thought to himself that Ranma really *was* the only thing that was holding them all together. For what else did they have in common, but a young man named Ranma Saotome, who had touched each of their lives so deeply? And his death would cause so much pain, too much...

Ukyou was just the next name on the list. Who would be next? What would happen of them now that Ranma was truly gone from their lives forever?

He didn't know. But oh, how he wished he didn't have to be the one to do this...

How to say it? Hi, Ukyou? Yeah, I'd like an okonomiyaki. No pork, please. Oh yeah, did I tell you? Ranma's dead... how? Oh, I left him to bleed to death in the forest...

Straightening his shoulders, he stepped inside the restaurant. He was an emissary of bad tidings, it seemed. And whether he liked it or not, he had to do his job.


"We're home!"

Kasumi touched Akane's hand, as they stepped inside the house. "Ready, Akane?" she asked, smiling gently.

Akane nodded, her head bowed, as she started to slip her feet into her slippers. She went through the motions mechanically, almost as if there was a voice inside her head guiding her actions.

Odd, she thought, that her world had just been turned upside down, she'd lost the most important person in her life, and yet the world continued to spin around on its axis, all the little, routine things of every day still kept right on going like nothing has happened...


She looked up to see her father staring at her, an expression of naked relief and joy on his face. Nabiki stood beside him, watching her intently.

She tried to muster a smile. "Hi, Daddy. Nabiki."

"Akane." Soun walked forward to embrace Akane. "I was so worried about you," he whispered, his voice hoarse, as he clearly struggled to hold back his tears.

"I'm fine, Dad," Akane replied, unmoving in her father's embrace. When Soun let go of her and stepped back, Akane managed another weary smile for her father's benefit. "I want to go up and rest a bit. Excuse me."

"I'll wake you up when dinner's ready, Akane," Kasumi called after her. Akane nodded slightly, and went on upstairs.

"I do hope she's going to be all right," she heard her eldest sister say softly.

Nabiki's voice drifted upstairs. "Akane's a fighter. She'll be fine, don't worry..."

Akane rested her head on her closed bedroom door. *It will be a long time before I'll ever be _fine_ again,* she thought, her hand turning the knob. She sighed wearily, and pushed her door open.

A man was standing inside the room, with his back to her. He was holding a picture frame in his hand. A silver picture frame, which had previously been propped up on her bedside table.

Akane lunged forward, and snatched the frame away. "Don't touch my-"

Shinnosuke turned and smiled at her sadly. "Hello, Akane."

The fire flickered out, and she sagged. "I'm sorry for my rudeness," Akane intoned formally. She sank down on her bed, holding the picture frame on her lap. "But I'd appreciate it if you'd leave my things alone in future."

"I'm very sorry, Akane," Shinnosuke replied quietly. "More than I can ever say. Ranma - he was a good man." He turned to leave.

"Shinnosuke." Akane's voice stopped him. "Did you know him well?"

He looked at her, shaking his head. "No. I never saw him again after you left Ryugenzawa. But Akane - " he faltered, unsure what to tell her. "I - I think he loved you...very much."

"You think so?" she asked softly.

He nodded slightly. "He was a good man," he repeated, not knowing what else to say.

Akane stared down at Ranma's face in the picture. "I miss him so much," she whispered, tracing his face with her fingertip.

Despite her resolve not to cry, her eyes began to fill with tears. She smiled weakly, as her fingers tightened on the picture frame.

"This - this was his present to me, last Christmas," she said softly, almost to herself. She smiled fondly at the memory. "We were up in the attic, and he just thrust it in my face, after I gave him that scarf I-"

She trailed off, her eyes wide. "The scarf!"

Shinnosuke blinked. "Wha- hey, Akane!" he called, as Akane jumped up and started to run out the room, the picture frame still clutched tightly in her hands. "Where are you going?"

He quickly followed after her, confused at this sudden change of behavior.

Akane paused outside a room, laying a hand on the closed door. After a moment's hesitation, she pushed the door open, and stepped inside the room.

Shinnosuke paused in the doorway, watching Akane as she knelt down, starting to shuffle the contents of a set of drawers.

The room was pretty bare, he thought to himself. A cabinet in the corner, and a couple of futons laid out on the floor. A red Chinese shirt that Akane pulled out of the bottom drawer of the dresser, and hugged it close against her chest...

His eyes widened at the realization, as his hands clenched at his sides. Ranma's room.

And Akane... was sitting on the floor with her legs tucked beneath her, as she rubbed her cheek gently against the soft red silk.

He stared at her, noting absently the tears that silently rolled down her face as she closed her eyes. A hand fell on his shoulder, and he jumped in surprise, turning around.

A tall woman in a kimono stood beside him, her hair pulled up in a bun. It was Ranma's mother, he knew.

He tipped his head in respect. "Mrs. Saotome."

She nodded absently, letting go of his shoulder. He watched as she stepped towards Akane, her footsteps light. She called her name, softly.

Akane jerked her head up, her fingers involuntarily tightening on the shirt. Her eyes widened as she saw Nodoka standing over her.

"Auntie," she breathed softly.

Nodoka knelt down beside her. "I thought you were resting in your room, Akane."

She shook her head, and set the shirt down on the floor beside her. "I just came to get this," she explained, reaching inside the opened drawer to pull out a scarf.

Nodoka fingered the pale yellow fabric, looking at Akane. "Ranma's?"

Akane nodded. "I made it for him, last Christmas." She laughed shortly. "It's awful, I know, but he took it, and he was so nice about it, he didn't even make fun of me..."

She looked up abruptly. "Auntie," she began timidly. "Can I keep this?"

Nodoka's eyes softened. "Akane..."

"Please, Auntie," she pleaded. "I just want something to remember him by. So that-" She trailed off, her fingers stroking the initials "R.S." on the scarf.

"So that whenever I miss him," she whispered softly, "I can just look at it, and remember him..."

Nodoka reached out to lay a hand over Akane's. "Then by all means, take it, Akane," she said gently.

Akane looked up, her eyes shining. "Thank you, Auntie."

Nodoka smiled, and put both arms around her, drawing her in an embrace. "Thank you, too, Akane," she whispered. "For loving him so much."

Akane closed her eyes. "It was loving him that made me feel most alive, Auntie," she said softly.

Nodoka pulled away, hands still resting at Akane's shoulders, as she smiled tenderly at the girl who would have been her daughter-in-law. If only...

Akane smiled back at the woman who'd been almost like a mother to her. *Would* have been a mother, if only...

Silent understanding shone in their eyes, and there was no need for words between them.

Shinnosuke stood in the doorway, staring at Akane in concern. He watched as she smiled at Ranma's mother, her eyes shining. It was the first real smile he'd seen on her face since Ranma's death.

Finally, sighing to himself, he turned and walked away, trying to ignore the heavy feeling settling in his heart.


If only you loved someone who would love you back, wouldn't there be less miserable people in the world?

The thought rang through his mind as he soared through the night sky, flapping his wings, the cool night air brushing against his feathered body. He dipped low, coming to perch on the windowsill of a second-floor bedroom, dark except for the sliver of moonlight cast through the open window.

It was enough light for him. He folded his wings underneath him, cocking his head sideways as he gazed upon his beloved. She was asleep, a light cover thrown over her, her head turned towards the window, where he could see her features clearly.

Her face was upturned, her dark lashes casting shadows over her pale face. A hand clutched the corner of her pillow as she slept, fingers curling around the pale blue fabric.

She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. And in sleep, she only seemed even more angelic in his eyes. He'd been in love with her ever since they were small children, and everything he'd ever done in his life, he'd done to win her love.

But it ends here, he thought sadly. So many things had happened, too many, and even in his blindness, reality had managed to seep in and let him come to terms with the truth. He'd tried so hard to deny it for the longest time, it seemed. But sometimes life has a way of forcing you to wake up and face the music.

He'd loved her his entire life, and he believed that he would love her always. No one could possibly love her as much as he did. But evidently, that wasn't enough.

Because as devoted as he was to her, still she continued to chase after the man whom their laws commanded that she marry. He wished so much that it was as simple as that, that only the laws demanded her to win this man's hand in marriage.

He'd tried so hard to deny it. The way she kept running to him, dropping everything to come to his aid... how she tried so hard to win his affections, a reflection of his own efforts to win her over.

She'd loved a man who'd never looked at her twice, except if it was to use her for his own means. A man whom he'd sworn revenge against over and over, for stealing his beloved's heart from him. A man who was so obviously in love with another girl, but was too much of a coward to come and say it out loud, like there was something to be ashamed of for loving someone with your entire heart and soul?

But she loved him, and what right did he have to question her love for him, when he himself loved her, when so often she treated him like the lowest scum on earth?

Yes, love him she did, so much that she'd stooped to such dishonorable means to get rid of that who held his heart, so that she could have him for herself. Instead, she'd managed to drive him off to a place beyond anyone's reach, that no one could ever have him. And in so doing, she'd only managed to destroy the happiness of other people, for he was a man so loved by many.

But how could he condemn her, when all she'd wanted was to win his love? When he himself would have done the same for her? And yet, how could he continue to love her with the same selfless passion, with the knowledge that she would never return it, no matter what he did?

It tore at his very being, the thought of letting her go, purging her from his heart. Yet he strengthened his resolve, refusing to be daunted by the thought of the empty days ahead of him, without the sight of her to pull him up over the edge of despair.

His entire life stretched out in front of him, an infinite mine of possibilities, even for someone like him. Perhaps it was time to set out to find his destiny. And if *she* was truly his destiny, perhaps one day, when he'd become a better man, he'd come back and see if it wasn't too late to win her love.

Sighing heavily, he folded his legs underneath him and settled down for the night. Everything else could wait until tomorrow - tonight he only wanted to sit where he was and fill his eyes with the sight of her, and revel in the love and tenderness swelling in his heart whenever he thought of her.

One last time...


Birds chirping from outside her window woke her up.

Akane rubbed her eyes groggily, sitting up on her bed. She glanced at her table to look at the time, and as she did, her gaze fell on the framed photograph that was Ranma's gift last Christmas.

She sighed, and closed her eyes. If seeing that picture caused her so much pain, why not put it away? Lock it in a drawer, until the day when seeing Ranma's face wouldn't hurt her so?

She shook her head, reaching out to grab the picture frame from her desk. She wouldn't put it away. Seeing it brought back so many memories, memories of her time with Ranma. And somehow, a part of her, probably gone insane from missing him, needed proof that the memories were real... that *Ranma* was real.

She needed the memories right now. To see Ranma's face first thing in the morning - she needed that, to remind herself of the reason why she'd decided to continue living. Perhaps, when the day came that she didn't need him as an anchor to keep her afloat, she'd find another place for it, someplace she could go to whenever she needed to remember him, but someplace for the past. But not right now.

It's been three days - she'd come home from the hospital the day before yesterday. She'd spent most of the time in her room, or in the dojo, trying vainly to work up the enthusiasm to go through a few exercises. Her family often checked up on her, trying to cheer her up. Of course she'd tried to assure them she was feeling fine, but they didn't seem to believe her, and she supposed she couldn't really blame them for being concerned.

Shinnosuke was still staying at the house, too. He still slept in the dojo, even after Genma Saotome had packed up their things and moved back to the Saotome house with Nodoka. Shinnosuke had turned down the offer to stay in Ranma's room, preferring to sleep outside, for which Akane was secretly grateful. She still thought of it as Ranma's room, and the thought of someone else occupying it was uncomfortable for her.

Ranma's funeral was over, and she'd missed it, as they hadn't waited for her to get out of the hospital so that she could join in the service. She didn't really mind - after all, she didn't feel like sitting in a room full of people, who would watch her with pity in their eyes, as they talked about her behind her back. No, she'd preferred to pay her last respects alone in Ranma's house, as she'd stood before his shrine, closing her eyes, imagining, for just a moment, that he was there standing right beside her. One last time.

She looked down again at the picture, and lovingly traced the outline of Ranma's face with her finger. He was so much a part of her that without him, she felt empty inside, like she didn't think she could ever feel anything again...

A knock on her door snapped her out of her trance. "Akane?" called Kasumi's voice. "Someone's here to see you."

Akane hurriedly wiped the wetness that had gathered at her eyes, just as the door opened. "I don't feel like having visitors right now, Kasumi," she said, her eyes closed as she continued to rub her eyes. "Could you-"

She looked up, and saw Ukyou standing behind Kasumi, watching her silently. Kasumi stepped aside to let Ukyou in, and closed the door to give the two girls some privacy.

Her hand lowered. "Ukyou," she said.

"Hi, Akane," Ukyou said softly.

Again, an awkward pause. They could find absolutely nothing to say to each other. But then, it was expected, for two girls who had nothing in common except for the man they both loved.

Finally, Ukyou broke the silence. "How are you?" she began hesitantly.

Akane shrugged. "Could be better." She looked up. "How about you?"

She bit her lip. "Okay, I guess." She took a deep breath. "Ryouga... he came by a couple of days ago, and he... told me everything," she said. "And I - I wanted to say..."

"You're sorry?" Akane shook her head. "For what?"

"So many things," Ukyou said softly, almost to herself. "Sorry he's dead, and none of us got him in the end. Sorry I tried so hard to get him to notice me, if only I'd known it was going to end this way..."

She laughed, and it was a short, hollow sound. "Although that makes me feel terrible, that I only loved him so that he would love me back." She shook her head. "No, I'm not sorry for trying to get him to love me. Because I loved him, and what more could I want but for him to love me back?"

Ukyou looked up, and Akane was surprised to see the sadness fade out of her eyes, to be replaced by seething anger.

"But you," she continued, biting the words out, "you always treated him so badly, you never listened to him, you always got angry at him for looking at other girls, when you insisted that you want nothing to do with him..."

Akane bristled at her tone - it was the first real emotion she'd felt since Ranma's death. "Now you just hold on a minute -"

"What?" Ukyou snapped. "Do you ever give him a chance to explain before you pound him to the ground? Don't you always protest about your engagement whenever someone brings it up? Don't you always hit him when Shampoo's around, or me, or Kodachi?"

Each word hit her almost like a physical blow, and Akane felt the fight drain out of her. "I did, didn't I?" she said softly, so softly Ukyou almost didn't hear her.

"A little late for regrets now, isn't it?" Ukyou said, her tone challenging. "Many things I'm sorry for, but I regret the most that Ranchan never loved me. He should have loved me instead of you, when you never deserved him anyway..."

The dying embers of temper sparked back to life, and Akane looked up, her eyes shimmering with angry tears. "Damn you!" she cried out. "You and everyone else in the world who thinks I never loved him. I loved Ranma! I loved him for everything he was, but I could never say it, because - because..."

"Because what?" Ukyou demanded.

Her next words were spoken in a soft, aching voice, filled with infinite regret. "Because I was afraid he would say he didn't love me back." Tears rolled down her face, and she angrily brushed them away.

"You have no right to judge me like that," she said, glaring at Ukyou. "I love him as much as you do. And I - I..." Her voice broke, and she looked away. "And I hate it like hell that I never got the courage to tell him."

Akane sniffled softly, wiping the wetness from her eyes with the back of her hand. Then, she felt the bed shift slightly as Ukyou sat down beside her, putting a hand lightly over hers. Akane looked up, prepared to brush off her unwanted sympathy.

But Ukyou was looking at her, eyes shining not with anger, but rather a calm acceptance that Akane was surprised to see.

"Well," Ukyou said. "Finally you admitted it, Akane." She smiled. "I'm glad."

Akane blinked, the last traces of her anger dissipating. "Did you slip and hit or head or something?"

Ukyou laughed, raising a hand to brush away tears that gathered at her eyes. "I just wanted to know if you really loved Ranchan."

Akane frowned. "Why?"

"Because," she said hoarsely, "Ryouga told me he died for you." She paused, swallowing past a lump in her throat. "And I couldn't bear it if he - if he loved someone who didn't love him back."

Akane blinked again. "I would have thought you'd react more violently than that," she said slowly.

Ukyou laughed shortly. "Let's just say you missed the worst of it." She sighed softly. "Sooner or later, we have to wake up to reality."

Akane looked away. "I know."

"I was so mad," Ukyou admitted. "Mad at him for this final proof that he didn't love me... but most of all, furious at him for not coming back, like he promised..."

For a moment, a spark of Akane's temper returned in her eyes. "He promised you *what*?"

Ukyou almost smiled. No, Akane hadn't changed. Not at all. "When I came to see Ranchan," she began, "I came in as he was packing his things for his trip. Before he left, he promised to come and see me, when he came back."

Her eyes dimmed. "And I - I could see it in his eyes, but I tried to deny it... I knew he meant to break our engagement... in fact, he wanted to so much that very day, but he was already in such a hurry, so he just put it off..."

She sighed. "He promised to come and see me, but he never came back, he never said goodbye..." Her eyes closed. "Even if it meant his rejecting me, I would have wanted him to say goodbye, at least. But now..."

"You've just never dealt with death before. I have. That doesn't make this any easier, though." Akane wrapped her arms tightly around herself. "Oh god, why does it have to be so hard..."

Ukyou smiled sadly. "No matter how hard it is - even if he was the only one you lived for, and now he's'd still have to try to go on."

Akane glanced at Ukyou, her eyes shimmering with unshed tears. "How come we never got along like this before?" she asked.

Ukyou laughed tearfully. "Because we spent so much time fighting over him, perhaps?"

Akane smiled back, feeling, for the first time, that there was someone who really understood her pain.

An awkward silence descended between them, as they couldn't think of any other words to say. Finally, Akane spoke. "What's going to happen to you now, Ukyou?"

The other girl shrugged. "I'm going home. Back to my family."

Akane frowned. "Home? You're not even going to stay until the school term's over, at least?"

"The only reason I stayed in Nerima is because of Ranma. You know that." Ukyou shook her head. "Now Ranma's gone, and we all have to resume our lives where we left them off, back before he came. Isn't that right?"

Akane rubbed her temples tiredly. "I suppose."

Ukyou glanced at Akane uncertainly. "Can I ask you just one question, Akane?"

Akane looked up. "What?"

"You - still love him?"

Akane closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. "I do," she answered. "Even if he's dead, I still love him. And perhaps I always will."

"I guess that's how I feel too," Ukyou admitted. "Is that okay?"

Akane shook her head. "I wouldn't believe you if you said you didn't love him, Ukyou. The reason I was always angry at you in the first place was because you could say it so easily, and I couldn't."

"Oh really?" Ukyou tried to joke, smiling. "Not because I kept hanging onto him like a third arm, and I always tried so hard to break you up?"

"That's part of it, yes." She reached out and tentatively laid a hand over Ukyou's, a tremulous smile on her lips. "Ukyou? I'm sorry for -"

Ukyou smiled back. "I know. And I'm sorry too."


The phone rang twice before Nabiki picked it up. "Hello?"

"Tendo-san," a brisk female voice answered. "I have good news."

"Good," Nabiki replied crisply, her business demeanor firmly in place. "Tell me."

"We were able to track down Kyoko Marimoto. She was fairly cooperative in answering our questions."

"That's good. Do you know-"

"Yes. Marimoto-san recognized Tendo Akane-san and Saotome Ranma when we showed her the pictures. She remembered them coming into the store that day."

"And?" Nabiki prompted.

"She said it was a girl who purchased the blue dress in the shop, only minutes after Akane-san departed with Saotome Ranma." She paused. "It was a Chinese girl."

Nabiki's blood turned cold. "A Chinese girl? With lavender hair?"

A brief pause. "Yes."

Nabiki's hand tightened on the phone handset. "Very good, Sachiko," she said quietly. "Thank you."

"Always a pleasure doing business with you, Tendo-san." With that, she hung up.

Nabiki slowly replaced the phone in its cradle. It was a Chinese girl, with lavender hair. There was only one person in Nerima who fit that description.


She closed her eyes for a moment to compose herself. She'd guessed as much. It had to be one of Ranma's other fiancees, and Shampoo was one of the most likely suspects.

But she didn't want to do anything until she made sure. Now - the facts were all laid out on the table. No more lies, not after so much proof.

She made her way to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Suddenly, she was thirsty.

Kasumi, as she expected, picked up on her restlessness. "What is it, Nabiki?"

She opened the refrigerator and took out a cold can of cola. "I have news," she said. She smiled thinly. "Good news, I guess, in a way."

Kasumi opened her mouth to ask, but just then, Soun came into the room, his face blank of expression.

"Kasumi," he said. "This young man says he has news for us."

Nabiki turned, just in time to see Mousse come in after Soun, his face wearing a solemn expression. He bowed formally. "Excuse my intrusion, but there is something I need to tell all of you."

Nabiki slowly nodded. "Good," she said. "I have something to tell everyone, too."


Akane came into the room and sat across from Mousse at the table. "Hello, Mousse."

The Chinese boy nodded. "It's good to see you, Akane."

"What is this all about?"

Mousse glanced up to see Ukyou standing behind Akane, looking at him curiously. "Hello, Ukyou."

Ukyou nodded and took a seat beside Akane. "So?" she prodded when Mousse didn't speak.

"I would prefer to tell it to everyone at once," Mousse replied quietly. "If you don't mind."

Akane shook her head. "That's fine." She looked around the room. Her father sat beside Shinnosuke, holding a cup of tea between his hands. Kasumi came into the room and put a plate of cookies in front of them.

Nabiki walked in, a smirk on her face. "I went to turn on the light outside, and look who I found?"

Akane looked up in time to see Ryouga standing behind Nabiki, scratching his head uncertainly.

"I - I, uh..." he stammered nervously.

"Got lost? Wandered into our backyard?" Nabiki supplied helpfully. "Yeah, we know that already."

Ryouga made a half-hearted attempt to shoot Nabiki an irritated glare. His gaze fell on Akane, who was looking up at him, and his eyes clouded.

"I'm sorry for intruding," he said, starting to back out of the room. "I have to go."

He turned and started to walk away when Kasumi stood and put a hand on his shoulder. "Ryouga-kun?"

Ryouga paused. "Yes, Kasumi-san?"

"Won't you at least stay for a while?" she asked. "You're always a welcome guest in our home, Ryouga."

Ryouga shook his head. "I do not deem myself worthy of your hospitality, Kasumi-san." He started to move forward. "I'm sorry."

"Ryouga?" Her voice. The voice that haunted his dreams every night since.

No emotion was conveyed in that one word, as she spoke his name. Nevertheless, he closed his eyes, bracing himself for the inevitable. "Yes, Akane-san?"

"I never had the chance to thank you for coming back with my antidote, Ryouga."

Ryouga's eyes snapped open, staring at Akane. "What?" he asked stupidly.

Akane bowed. "I thank you for saving my life, Ryouga-kun."

He gawked. "But - but I - Ak-kane-san," he stammered. "You don't think... what about..."

He gulped, drawing a deep, ragged breath. "Ranma," he whispered softly, seeming lost in his own thoughts. "If I hadn't left him, he'd be..."

He trailed off, and silence descended upon them like a blanket. Outside, the water in the pond rippled softly as the koi broke through the surface and flipped its tail in the air, almost as if trying to break the awkward silence, before falling back into the water with a light splash.

Finally, Akane spoke. "Please don't take it that way, Ryouga-kun," she said softly. "I've never blamed you for anything."

Ryouga looked at her uncertainly. "But-"

Akane tried to muster a smile. "What good would that do? I've accepted it as Ranma's will. I'm trying to get on with my life as best as I can. We all are," she added, smiling sideways at Ukyou. "Won't you try to do the same?"

"I - I don't know what to say," Ryouga stammered. He bowed his head, his broad shoulders trembling. "I don't deserve your forgiveness, Akane-san."

She shook her head. "There is nothing to forgive."

"Akane is right, Ryouga-kun," Kasumi said. "Please, won't you at least stay for a little while? There's plenty of room. And today does seem to be a day for guests," she added, looking at Mousse.

"That's right," Nabiki said. "We forgot all about you, Mousse. Hope you don't mind."

Mousse shook his head. "It's alright." He looked up at Ryouga. "It would be good if you stayed, Ryouga," he told him. "There are some things that might... interest you as well."

Ryouga frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"Mousse said he came by to tell us something important," Kasumi said, smiling at the Chinese boy. "Please, take a seat, Ryouga-kun, so that Mousse may begin."

Ryouga hesitated a moment, and at Akane's encouraging nod, he sat down beside Shinnosuke, unstrapping his backpack and setting it down on the floor.

Mousse nodded. "I... came here to tell you a story," he began. "A story about a woman I met in our village, who..."

"What does this have to do with us?" Nabiki asked.

"I hoped you would let me finish," Mousse said quietly. "You will understand, in time."

"Fine." Nabiki folded her arms over her chest. "It had better be good."

He took a deep breath. "I had a somewhat difficult childhood," he continued. "Some of the children in the village would make fun of me because of my poor eyesight. And once, when some particularly mischievous boys had knocked off my glasses and pinned me to the ground, a woman came and helped me, and took me to her home to tend to my minor wounds..."

He smiled. "She was always very kind to me - and it seemed she was fond of me, for she sometimes called me to her house for tea. And once, when I was a little older, maybe 11 or 12 years old, I asked her why she was being so kind to me, when the other grown-ups in the village looked at me with disdain because of my handicap." He paused. "And she told me it was because of my eyes."

"She pitied you because of your blindness?" Nabiki asked.

He shook his head. "I thought that at first, too. But then, she said, it was because of the color of my eyes," he added, as he took off his glasses, and looked up.

"Blue-green, the color of the sea," he continued. "She said I reminded her of a man she met so long ago, whose eyes were the exact shade as mine." He looked around at them. "A Japanese man, who shared her fascination with botany and plants."

Ryouga looked up, as understanding dawned in his eyes. "Takanari-sensei?" he asked.

Mousse nodded solemnly. "Hideto Takanari."

Nabiki blinked. "Then... the woman...she's..."

"Mei Lin," Mousse finished. "That's right. Hideto Takanari fell in love with a woman from the Amazon tribe, but laws forbade their marriage. They separated, and they never saw each other again."

Everyone in the room sat in stunned silence. Finally, everything became clear with this revelation. The final pieces of the puzzle finally fell into place.

"Then - Shampoo is the one who poisoned my Akane?" Soun asked, his eyes narrowed into slits.

Nabiki nodded. "I already figured that out, Daddy," she told him. She turned to Mousse. "And that note which told us where to go for help..."

Mousse nodded. "That's right. It was from me. I found out quite by accident about Shampoo's plans, and I had to interfere, but in a way such that she would never suspect."

"How did you know where Takanari lived?" Shinnosuke asked.

Mousse smiled slightly. "Suffice it to say an Amazon has his ways. I won't bore you with the details."

He looked at Akane, who had been silent all this time. "The poison is most effective if it enters the bloodstream directly. And when Shampoo followed Ranma and Akane to the mall and saw the dress Akane admired - it gave her the perfect opportunity to execute her plan without arousing much suspicion."

Akane nodded. "I understand. She knew I would think it was from Ranma or something."

"Unfortunately, things didn't go according to plan," Nabiki added. "What of Shampoo now?"

Mousse lowered his gaze. "Shattered with grief over having indirectly caused Ranma's death." He took a deep breath. "Cologne is taking her back to China tonight."

"What?" Soun, Ryouga, and Nabiki shouted in unison.

Mousse looked up. "They have no more reason to stay in Japan, now that Ranma is dead. Shampoo can go home without a blemish on her warrior's honor."

Nabiki glared at him. "And that's why you came here?" she asked. "To make sure we do not go after her, so that she may suffer the punishment she deserves?"

Mousse closed his eyes. "That's right."

"How can you still do that for her?" Ryouga demanded. "After what she's done? How can you still love her?"

Mousse smiled faintly. "If love listens to reason, then it wouldn't be quite so profound, would it?" He shook his head. "I love Shampoo, and will love her always. But this will be the last thing I do for her."

He replaced his glasses on the bridge of his nose and looked around the room at them. "Shampoo isn't aware that I know of her doings, or that I am here with you at this moment. Neither is Cologne. I came here to tell you the truth, which you deserve to know." He paused, seeming hesitant to draw out the next words. "Also, I'm here to ask you not to pursue the matter any longer."

"Dream on!" Nabiki snapped. "She doesn't get off the hook that easily. If she has any honor she should come and face her judgement!"

He looked at them pleadingly. "The Amazons no longer have any reason to bother any of you any longer. What's done is done. Whatever punishment you come up with for Shampoo, it won't bring Ranma back from the dead."

"Hell, yeah, but it gives us justice!" Nabiki snapped.

Mousse's eyes clouded. "Shampoo - she is no longer the proud warrior we used to know. Ranma's death has destroyed her spirit. That's one of the reasons for Cologne's haste to bring her back to the village. The other reason is... the Council demanded that she return immediately."

"So that the village can prepare to revel the return of its champion?" Nabiki asked sarcastically.

Mousse bowed his head. "So that Shampoo can accept her punishment for having killed her husband."

There was a few seconds of surprised silence, until Mousse cleared his throat and continued to speak. "Ranma was an exceptional fighter," he began. "He defeated Shampoo, the best of the Amazon warriors, so easily. The more the council heard of his adventures, as he defeated Cologne in battle, or fought legendary creatures like the Orochi, emerging triumphant after the battle with Herb and finally with the legendary phoenix god Saffron, it only strengthened the council's desire to gain him as an Amazon husband. Someone such as Ranma would be good for the tribe, to breed future young warriors like him, to bring further glory to the Amazon village.

"That was the only reason the council tolerated Shampoo's repeated failed attempts to win Ranma," he continued. "Ranma simply *is* the best, and they cannot afford to lose him."

"And now they have," Akane whispered, speaking for the first time. "Now Shampoo has inadvertently caused his death, and destroyed what could be the last hope for the Amazons to regain their former glory."

Mousse nodded, his eyes downcast. "Shampoo will receive apt punishment for that, I assure you. I cannot even begin to imagine what they'd do to her. Use the cat's tongue to lock her in her cursed form, maybe. Perhaps worse. I don't know."

Nabiki glared at him. "Don't expect sympathy from any of us, Mousse. She doesn't deserve pity, after all she's done. She-"

"Nabiki." It was Akane's voice, speaking quietly. Nabiki looked down at her questioningly.

Akane shook her head. "It's okay. Let it go."

Nabiki blinked. "Are you crazy, Akane?" she demanded. "She tried to kill you! For real this time, not just any stupid memory-erasing stunt. And Ranma too!"

She looked away. "Ranma was killed by the bandits."

"But he wouldn't have if you hadn't been poisoned in the first place," Nabiki shot back.

Akane drew a deep, ragged breath. "If she loves Ranma as she says she does, it's punishment enough, to know that she had caused his death, however indirectly. It's more devastating than what hell you could create for her, Nabiki." Her eyes slowly closed, as a weary sigh escaped her lips. "I know. Believe me, I know..."

The fire dimmed in Nabiki's eyes. "Akane..."

Akane looked up. "It's okay, really. Mousse is right. There's nothing we can do about it. Even if you kill her, it won't change anything."

"But Akane, don't you want her to pay for what she did?" Nabiki persisted. "She wanted to kill you!"

Akane forced a tight smile. "I'm fine, aren't I? Ranma saw to that." She wrapped both arms tightly around herself and closed her eyes. "There's but one thing I want, and nothing anyone can do can bring him back."

Nabiki faltered. "But..."

Akane shook her head. "Thanks for the concern, Nabiki. I appreciate it, really. I just-" Her voice broke, and she looked away. "It's over. Please, just let it go, so we can move on."

Kasumi laid a hand on Akane's shoulder, as Nabiki looked on helplessly. "Are you sure this is what you want, Akane?" Kasumi asked.

She nodded, looking down at her folded hands. "I'm sure."

Nabiki sighed. "Well, it looks like I'm outnumbered here."


She nodded. "Okay, okay. I'll let the matter drop. You have my word." She glanced sideways at Mousse. "After all, you did send that note. Without it, we wouldn't have known to look for Takanari-sensei," she admitted.

Mousse shook his head. "It was the least I could do."

"So, you're going back to China tonight, Mousse?" Ukyou asked, smiling. "Today seems to be a day for farewells."

"I'm leaving, yes," Mousse replied quietly. "But I'm not going home with them."


"I decided not to go home just yet, though I don't have any immediate plans for the future." He looked out to the koi pond, his gaze seeming far away. "It'll be good to go out and see what's in store for me."

"Will you be okay?" Akane asked.

Mousse nodded. "You needn't worry about me. I may be half-blind, but I've learned to survive well over the years." His gaze drifted outside, a wistful smile on his lips. "It'll be something like an adventure. I'll just go wherever the wind takes me, I guess."

"Works for me," Ryouga said, and that brought a smile to their lips, if only for a while.

Mousse got to his feet. "I must be going. There are many things to do."

"Will we see you again?" Akane asked, looking up at him from where she sat.

Mousse smiled. "Perhaps. If our roads should cross again, it would be a pleasure to see you again."

"You, too."

"I'm sorry for everything. Ranma... he wasn't my friend, but he was never really my enemy. He... he was good."

Akane smiled wistfully. "I know."

"I must be going."

Kasumi stood up beside him. "I'll see you to the door."

Mousse nodded. "Goodbye, everyone."

"Wait," Ukyou called, standing up. "I'm going, too. Wait for me."

Ryouga got to his feet as well. "I too must be going."

"You're all leaving?" Akane asked, looking up at them.

Ukyou smiled. "I'm sure we'll see each other again, Akane. Take care of yourself."

She nodded. "You, too. Try to keep in touch, will ya."

"Sure." Ukyou turned to Ryouga. "Come on, Ryouga, before you get lost on your way out."

Ryouga shot her a dirty look, before turning to Akane. "Akane-san, I'm-"

"Enough." Akane shook her head. She tried to smile reassuringly. "Be happy, Ryouga."

Ryouga bowed. "I wish you happy as well, Akane-san."

Ukyou grabbed his arm, and Ryouga turned, following the others out.

"And then there were four," Nabiki drawled, smiling sideways at Akane.

"I'm going for a walk," Akane announced, standing up. She looked down at Shinnosuke. "Come with me?"

He nodded. "Sure."

"I'll be back in a while, daddy," Akane called, already heading out. Shinnosuke quickly followed behind her.

After a moment's silence, Nabiki stood up. "I guess I'll go take a bath before dinner."


She paused. "Yes, daddy?"

"You think Akane's happy?"

She turned to glance at her father. "I think *happy* isn't the right word for now," she remarked. "But yeah, she'll be okay."

Soun nodded. "I suppose. She's spending a lot of time with that Shinnosuke boy, isn't she?"

Nabiki narrowed her eyes. "Don't get any ideas, daddy."

He shook his head. "Don't be ridiculous, Nabiki. Of course not." He sighed. "I'm just glad she's getting better every day. And Shinnosuke seems to be helping her out a lot."

Nabiki nodded. "Yeah." She grinned. "I think Shinnosuke's got a thing for her."

Soun frowned. "What?"

She rolled her eyes. "You can be so oblivious, daddy." She shrugged. "You don't have to worry about Akane, though. He's just a friend, and she won't notice."

He nodded, seeming reassured by her words. "Mind if I take that bath first?" he asked.

Nabiki scowled. "As a matter of fact, I do. Wait your turn." With that, she turned and stalked away, leaving Soun staring out at the koi pond thoughtfully.

He stood up and walked out to the veranda, rubbing a hand tiredly against the back of his neck. He thought sadly of the young man he'd wanted so much as his son-in-law, and his youngest daughter grieving the loss of her first love. And he thought of his oldest friend, and of the promises they'd made so long ago, when they were young and their hearts were full of bright hopes for the future.

*I'm so sorry, Genma,* he thought sadly. *We had so many dreams for them, didn't we? But who could have guessed fate would be so cruel?*


"It's a little cold, isn't it?" Akane remarked, rubbing her hands along her upper arms.

Shinnosuke began to take off his coat, and Akane shook her head, smiling. "No, it's okay. It's getting late. We should be heading back."

He nodded reluctantly, and let his hands fall back to his sides. They began retracing their steps back to the dojo.

He glanced sideways at her sober profile. "Everyone's left, huh?"

Akane nodded. "Everyone who's ever been close to Ranma. Now everything's back to the way it was, back before they all came."

"No, that's not right," she said after a moment, shaking her head. "How can things ever be the same?" She glanced at him. "How could you ever forget everything that's happened?"

He closed his eyes and thought of the way her eyes shone as she smiled, or the way her hand felt against his palm. Or the way the sound of her voice made him feel all giddy inside. He'd never forgotten, even before he came to see her.

"You never forget," he said softly, almost to himself.

"Yeah," she answered, and he realized he'd said it out loud.

"I do have to head for home soon," he said suddenly. "Grandfather will be worried."

She nodded. "I understand. Everyone has to leave sooner or later," she added, a wistful tone to her voice.


"You don't have to worry about me. Like they say, I'm tough," she joked, flexing an arm in front of him. "I'll be okay."

She smiled at him. "You will come and visit again soon, won't you?"

He smiled back. "I'll try."

"Well, we're here," Akane said a few moments later, as they neared the front gate.

Shinnosuke stepped forward and opened the gate for her, but Akane shook her head. "You go on inside, Shinnosuke," she told him. "I just... I just want to think for a while."

He looked at her uncertainly for a moment, before nodding. "See you later," he said, as he disappeared inside.

Akane didn't reply, as she turned her head up and closed her eyes, basking in the sensation of the cool air against her face.

She opened her eyes and stared up at the sun above her, already starting to sink in the western horizon. She smiled ruefully to herself as she recalled how a chapter of her own life had ended today - a few short months, the happiest of her life, when she'd met and loved a wonderful man.

The sun had set too quickly on his life here, though, and to her and all those who'd loved him, it was as if the sun would never rise again. The future had seemed as dark and hostile as the vast, empty night sky.

But as sure as the earth would continue to spin on its axis, Akane knew that morning would come soon. Soon dawn would be breaking, to signal the start of a new life for her.

And with each gust of wind, the sound of birds chirping in the morning, the water rippling in the pond... it all comes with a reminder of how precious life can be. Of the price given for her own life, and of the promise she'd given to honor the man who'd paid it.

"I'll never forget you, Ranma," she whispered, her eyes closed, the wind humming a soft rhythm in her ears. "Thank you... for everything."

Sighing wearily, she turned and walked inside, closing the gate behind her, and leaving the street as empty as it'd been before. As empty as the feeling of her own heart.

Above her, the sun shone its last rays, before the night took over.

*** End CHAPTER 8 ***