Site hosted by Build your free website today!
WFY Chapter 9: Changes

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.

Click on the picture for a larger version

Ranma was a part of my life I never wanted to forget. And yet, somehow, I had. Bit by bit every passing day, the memory of him slowly faded away.

I remember, it used to drive me crazy. It was bad enough that the days went by so quickly when he was here, alive and beautiful, so quickly that I hardly had enough time to enjoy being with him, loving him, before he was taken away from me forever.

The memory of him was the only thing I had left - was that going to be taken away from me as well?

Now, two years after, I can only look back and laugh at my foolishness. I tried so hard to hold on to the memory of Ranma. I was so afraid that I would forget him completely that I lost sight of everything else around me.

But that's not true. Now, two years later, after the time has washed away the pain and the regrets... only the happiness remains. The memory of what it felt like, to have him with me... when we would get along, and the way his smile would make my knees go weak. The memory of what it was like to love him.

I would never forget Ranma - I know that now. I may not remember the exact features of his face, or the way he smiled, he spoke, he moved... but I will never forget that I loved him, and that he loved me. And I suppose, that is what's most important.

So much has changed, these last two years. And to think that it all started with a stupid blue brooch, and my own carelessness. If only I'd been more careful, if only I hadn't been so eager to try on that damned dress. If only, if only. Ranma wouldn't have died, we'd probably be married by now, going to college together...

Dreams. Foolish, hopeless dreams. Two years ago, when I would lurch awake drenched in sweat and gasping for breath, those dreams were the anchor that kept me from teetering over the brink of despair. Now, it is with a mixture of regret and relief that I admit I have no need for them anymore.

We never heard anything about Shampoo. But I often find myself hoping she didn't get punished too harshly. She tried to kill me, true, but I like to think her true crime was in loving Ranma too much. She'd loved him so much that she thought she had to kill me to win his love, just like I'd loved Ranma so much I tried to kill myself, thinking that I could never live without him.

Getting through the first few months was the worst ordeal. Everywhere I looked, there was a reminder of him, and good or bad the memory was, it would make me think of him, and I'd miss him so much, it hurt.

I'd count the days as they went by, trying not to think about how empty tomorrow would be like, and all the tomorrows after that. I tried to settle in life's normal routines, trying to feel happiness again in the things that had brought me such joy, before Ranma came and redefined happiness for me.

And a few months later, I realized that I'd stopped counting the days, and I hadn't done so for a while. As bad as that made me feel at first, that I was finally getting used to being without Ranma, a part of me was happy, that I was settling back into my life again.

School had settled back to normal, after a while. Talk about Ranma began to die down a few weeks after his funeral. And soon, life returned to normal, the way it was before Ranma came and brought all that insanity into our lives.

Shinnosuke came down from Ryugenzawa permanently. It turned out that a distant aunt of his lived in Tokyo, and he and his grandfather both came down to live with her. Certainly living in the middle of the woods wasn't helping his grandfather's health any. The village had managed to put together a group for dealing with the giant animals in the forest, with volunteers from dojos coming to represent their families. He'd still go and help out, every once in a while.

He comes to visit very often, something which my sisters find very entertaining, although I've told them repeatedly that Shinnosuke and I are just friends. We've become very good friends, though, over the years.

Sometimes, it amazes me that Shinnosuke's memory has become so good. When he came to Nerima two years ago, I was too absorbed in my own grief to pay much attention to the other people around me. I suppose the Orochi moss cured his memory, as well as his physical wounds. That's what his grandfather says, anyway.

Shinnosuke... he and I became very close friends. I'm not sure either what brought us together. But I thought, perhaps it was because of our shared history with Ranma. Everyone who has been part of our lives (Ranma's and mine) has left for good. Shampoo, Ryouga, Ukyou, Mousse... Shinnosuke's the only person left. The only one who's known and witnessed the real truth of my feelings for Ranma.

He doesn't look at me with pity in his eyes, while trying to hide it with a facade of false cheer. He's seen just how much I've struggled to put my life back on track again. He witnessed my agony when Uncle Genma brought Ranma's body back, and he was here when I tried to kill myself that same night. Somehow, it makes me feel better knowing that I am with someone who knows how very much I loved Ranma, and just how much I went through, without him in my life anymore.

Sometimes it's almost hard to imagine Ranma ever existed in Nerima. After he died, and all the others left town, I threw myself into training with renewed vigor - because it was the only thing I had left. Lost in the exercises, I would forget everything - the pain of loss, the aching loneliness that filled every day of my life, the despair burning deep in my heart.

And soon I regained the title of the best martial artist in Nerima. But somehow, it feels different. An empty victory, almost. It's funny, really. It was the one thing I wanted, to be the best, and I resented Ranma and the others for their superior skill in the Art. Now *I* am the best. But the price I had to pay for it... Be careful what you wish for. I suppose that's true, after all.

Whatever... I do enjoy being a martial artist again - a *real* martial artist. I had neglected my training way too much, and it was time I remedied that anyway. I practiced by myself, going through the katas Dad taught me so many years ago. And Shinnosuke... he helped as well. Our sparring sessions helped me improve a lot. Heh. Wouldn't Ranma be surprised. I'm not as good as he was, but I'm sure I could give him a good fight.

Things are going along smoothly, though. I'll be graduating in a few weeks, and then, I'm off to college. I suppose I should study something which would help my future career as a dojo instructor - after all, I'm still inheriting the dojo. I had dreams then, two years ago, about Ranma and I getting married and raising our children in this house, while we taught classes and passed on the Art to our students.

But now... Ranma's dead, but I can't let my dreams die with him. He won't want me to do that. And every time I practice the Art, when I'm lost in a complex kata... he's still there. I'd stop and close my eyes, and for a little while, I can almost feel him. I'll make our dreams come true. And in my heart, he will live forever.



She turned, schoolbag slapping against her hips, as Yuka ran up to her, clapping her on the shoulder.

Yuka smiled at her. "Good morning!"

Akane smiled back. "Had a nice weekend?"

"Yeah. The best. Me and Hajime went to this great place downtown, and they serve the best dimsum in town! You oughta try it sometime."

"Don't forget finals are next week, Yuka."

"Ugh. Finals. You just *had* to remind me." She shivered dramatically. "Last chance you ever get if you want to make it out of Furinkan this year."

She glanced sideways at Akane. "I bet you don't got anything to worry about, though," she said admiringly. "You're at the top of our class, your grades are great, you're captain of the volleyball team..."

Akane smiled, shaking her head. "You can do it too, if you'd spend more time on homework."

Yuka sighed dramatically. "You don't know how busy a girl's life can get, Akane," she said teasingly. "A boyfriend takes up so much of your time, there's hardly any left for such insignificant things like homework."

"So how are things with Hajime?"

"Fine." Yuka smirked. "He brought me a box of chocolates and the nicest flowers he could find, to make up for breaking our date last week."


"Akane..." Yuka matched Akane's exasperated tone. "A guy needs to be shown his place, every once in a while." She winked. "Why, if I let him off so easily, he might start making a habit out of breaking dates. What good is a boyfriend without dates?"

Akane laughed, running her free hand through her hair - she still wore it short, even after two years. "I wouldn't know," she joked. "I've never had one."

Yuka shrugged. "You could have a boyfriend if you like, Akane. There are plenty of great guys in school. They'd be lining up right outside your front door, if only you'd let them know you're interested."

"I'm not," Akane said firmly. "Not yet."

"Ranma?" There was a note of uncertainty in Yuka's voice.

Akane shook her head. "You know me better than that, Yuka." Her friend nodded. "I'm just not interested. That's all."

Yuka's expression turned sly. "Not even that Shinnosuke guy?"

"I told you, we're just friends," Akane replied, laughing.

"Well, then, can I have him?"


"He's cute!"

Akane laughed and swatted her friend playfully. "Stop it. We're almost in school," she said, nodding towards the school gates looming ahead of them.

Yuka sighed. "School. What gets me out of bed each morning is the thought that we'd be out of this dump soon."

"Come on, Yuka," Akane teased. "Where's your school spirit?"

"Didn't bring it with me," she muttered.

Akane smiled. "Furinkan holds too many memories for me, that thinking of it invokes a feeling of... well, almost fondness, actually," she admitted. "And thinking of leaving it for good makes me feel sad, almost. Like I'm leaving a part of me behind."

"Well, I'm sure I'll be missing all the cute girls around," a voice piped up from behind them.

Akane smiled. "Yeah, I'm sure you will, Hiroshi," she remarked.

Hiroshi grinned as he fell into step beside them. "Had fun last weekend, girls?" he asked, smiling at Akane.

Akane didn't reply, instead just favored him with a small smile. Yuka glanced at him, her eyes glinting. "Ready for finals, Hiroshi?"

As she expected, he groaned, slapping a hand to his forehead. "Don't say that word, please! It gives me the shudders." Yuka laughed.

"Well, you guys had better be ready, 'cause it's next week," Akane told them as they stepped into the familiar hallways of Furinkan. It hasn't changed a bit, not in the last two years, Akane mused inwardly. It's almost funny, really, that so much in her life had changed, but good old Furinkan remained the same...

"She's such a spoilsport," Yuka complained to Hiroshi, bringing Akane out of her thoughts.

He nodded sagely. "Yeah. A slavedriver, even. Just 'cause she has good grades, she expects *everyone* to have good grades. Just 'cause she doesn't have fun, anyone else isn't... hey!" He leapt away from Akane's reach in time to avoid the schoolbag aimed for his head.

"No fair, Akane," he complained. "You're better, stronger, faster... what are ya trying to do, maim me before I get out of high school?"

Akane snorted. "Get off it, Hiro. I trained you better than that, and you know it."

Hiroshi grinned. "Yeah, you did."

After school had ended the year Ranma died, Soun had taken up teaching the Art again, with a lot of support from his daughters. Nabiki drew up plans and schedules for the lessons, and Kasumi was a constant source of gentle encouragement for her father. And Akane... she had agreed to teach the beginner's classes along with her father. At the time, it had seemed like a good way to pass the time, and keep herself in shape. But she'd genuinely enjoyed it, and now she handled some classes by herself, during summer vacation after school let out.

They took the stairs up to their classroom. Yuka elbowed Hiroshi. "Aww, admit it. You and Daisuke only took the classes so that you'd have a chance with Akane-chan."

He winked at Akane. "She's right. So, have my efforts paid off?" He flexed an arm in front of her. "Am I strong enough for you? Or do I have to beat ya before you'd go out with me?"

Akane snorted indelicately. "If I'm going to date anyone, it's because I want to, not because of any other stupid reason, and you damn well know it."

Yuka frowned. "But *why* is it that you never meet anyone you like?" she persisted.

Akane shrugged. "I don't know. I'm just not interested."


"I told you, it isn't because of him. Jeez, it's been two years, you think I'd still be..."

Yuka shook her head. "That's not what I mean, Akane." She grabbed her friend's hand and pulled her inside the classroom.

Akane put her schoolbag on her desk and sat down. "What?"

Yuka took a seat beside her. "I have to ask, Akane. Is it because -"

"- you can't find another person who measures up to Ranma?" Hiroshi finished, as sat down in front of Akane, twisting around in his seat to look at her.

"That's why you aren't dating anyone, right?" Yuka asked. "Because you've been comparing every guy to Ranma, and they don't measure up. Right?"

Akane blinked. "What's this, the third degree?"

Hiroshi shrugged. "It's not too hard to imagine, you know," he said, continuing on as if she'd never said anything. "Ranma's... special. If you're looking for someone like him, that's a pretty tall order."

Akane shook her head. "No, that's not it at all. I'm not comparing anyone to anybody. I'm not going to do that - it wouldn't be fair to anyone."

She propped her chin on her elbow and smiled. "Like they say, love isn't planned - it just happens. The day I first met Ranma, I hated him on sight. The last thing I expected was to fall in love with him. And yet I did."

She shook her head. "I'm not going to plan falling for anyone else. I guess right now I'm... *waiting*... for love to happen. It'll have to come, someday. But if it doesn't, I'll be content enough to have loved - and been loved - at least once."

"Akane! Don't say that. You..."

"No, listen to me. I met Ranma when I was sixteen. I loved him, and he loved me. How many people spend their entire lives wishing for the exact same thing, and never get it?" She smiled. "Well, I had it, even for just a while. And I don't regret a moment of it."

Her friends gawked. "Akane..."

"You - you've really thought about this, haven't you?" Hiroshi asked.

"Better that than spend the rest of my life blaming myself for all the lost time and opportunities, right?"

"But you still think about it," Hiroshi said. "I can tell when you do. You get this distant look in your eyes, like you're remembering something." He shrugged. "You'd do that sometimes while we're in training."

"Well, yeah, I still think about it. I'd be lying if I said I've put it all behind me, or I didn't have any regrets... I do, and sometimes I'd think about it, about what might have been, if he hadn't died, if he'd just told me he loved me before it was too late..."

She smiled. "Then I'd just remind myself that he did love me, even if he'd never said it. That everything he did and said told me exactly that, and if I hadn't seen it before, I see it now. I'd remind myself that he loved *me*, above all the other girls who would have him. And I'd feel better."

She leaned back and titled her head to stare at the ceiling. "That's why I said I'd miss Furinkan," she remarked softly. "Ranma and I... we spent so much time here together. It's so much a part of our lives, how could I ever forget it?"

"Well, like you said, we're graduating soon," Yuka told her. "And it's on to college. Bigger and better things."

Akane smiled. "Right. As much as I'd miss Furinkan, it isn't like I can spend the rest of my life in high school," she joked. "I'm moving on. Like you said, Yuka, bigger and better things. But Ranma..."

She laid a hand on her chest, right over her heart. "He'll always be here with me," she said, smiling. "When I do meet someone else and fall in love again, the memory of Ranma will take a backseat to him, but as long as I don't forget, he'll always be here."

Yuka sighed dreamily. "That's so romantic."

Akane smiled. "Curiosity satisfied, I hope? 'Cause even if it isn't..." Just then, the morning bell buzzed, signaling the start of classes. Students began drifting back to their seats. Akane glanced at her friends meaningfully.

Hiroshi grinned and pushed himself to his feet. "Nope. But there's always recess. And lunch break."

Akane laughed as she took out her books and prepared for class.


"I'm home!"

Akane glanced at the empty hall, not really surprised that there wasn't anyone to greet her. With Nabiki gone off to college, only the three of them lived at home - Kasumi, Soun, and Akane. And during this time of the day, Kasumi was usually in the kitchen getting ready to prepare dinner, and Soun was resting in his room after his afternoon classes.

As usual, she headed straight to the kitchen for an afternoon snack, idly slapping her bag against her thigh as she walked.

"Akane?" called her sister's voice, even before she reached the kitchen. "Is that you?"

Akane smiled. "Yup, it's me," she called back. "Got anything to eat?"

She paused at the doorway to see Kasumi's smiling face. "Just tea and cookies," she replied. "But if you're looking for a treat, Shinnosuke's got a surprise for you."

Akane's eyes brightened at the mention of Shinnosuke's name. "He's here already?"

"He's in the dojo working out," Kasumi replied.

As Akane darted out of the room, Kasumi called after her, "Bring him in for some tea and snacks when you're done sparring!"


Shinnosuke paused after completing a kata, sliding out of a form he'd assumed. He took a deep breath and straightened, raising an arm to wipe the perspiration from his brow.

He'd learned a lot since he came to live in Nerima, he mused. He'd always been good in the art, what with living in the forest and keeping the huge animals from attacking the villages. But he'd never had any formal training until then. He hadn't known anything about katas and forms, before he'd met Akane.

It was a burden released from his shoulders, to be able to come down to the city and live a peaceful life, without having to worry about giant animals rampaging around and destroying people's houses. The volunteer group took care of that.

He'd taken the beginner's course at the Tendo dojo the summer two years ago. Akane had taught the class, with her father watching over and guiding them when necessary. It was a good experience for Akane, he knew. She was the heir to the Tendo dojo - she still planned to take over the school after she graduated from college.

It was a good experience for Shinnosuke, too. He easily adapted most of the forms and teachings of the Tendo school, incorporating them into his own style of fighting. He still fought best with a weapon, but he'd also learned to fight well in unarmed combat.

The doors slid open with a soft swish, flooding the room with sunlight. He looked up, startled out of his thoughts, and his eyes squinted in the light.

She stood silhouetted in the doorway, the late afternoon sun catching the highlights in her short blue-black hair. She smiled at him, a smile that lifted his spirits and made his heart pound against his chest, as she stepped forward, further inside the room. And he could see that her eyes were sparkling as well.

He stepped towards her, a smile spreading across his face. It wasn't hard - the mere sight of her filled him with so much joy that he could keep smiling for an entire day.

"Shinnosuke," she called, still smiling, and the sound of her voice was like music to his ears.

He smiled. "Hello, Akane."

She grinned and stepped in front of him, dropping into a ready stance. It was sort of a tradition between them - sparring first, conversation later. "Whenever you're ready."

He frowned as he glanced at her blue school uniform. "Aren't you even going to change?"

She shrugged. "I can fight as well in this. I do it all the time," she boasted.

He laughed. "Not in two years, you haven't."

"Well, still good enough to beat you," she replied, her eyes sparkling. "Your move."

Shinnosuke decided it was pointless to argue. He took a few seconds to scrutinize her stance, and quickly decided on an offensive attack. He launched himself at her, aiming for a kick to her side.

Instead of dodging it as he'd expected, she jumped and countered his kick in midair, throwing him back a few inches as they landed back on the floor. She wasted no time, her hands a flurry of punches as she advanced on him.

Shinnosuke held up his arms to parry, his feet sliding across the smooth, polished floor. She was forcing him into the corner, he knew. He'd better come up with something fast.

The punches stopped, and she leapt, aiming her right foot for a kick to his shoulder. Shinnosuke swiveled out of the way, just a split second before the kick connected, and brought his arm up to land a blow on her leg, just above her ankle.

It was actually a little more than a light tap. Shinnosuke wasn't as adamant about not fighting girls as Ranma had been. That was what made him a great sparring partner, in Akane's view. But he still refused to hit her, thus the feather-light blows he preferred when sparring with Akane.

Akane landed lightly on her feet, raising a hand to brush her bangs from her eyes. "Good move," she remarked. "Compensating nicely after a surprise maneuver."

He grinned. "High praise from you, sensei."

Akane snorted. "I don't got what it takes to be a sensei yet." She smiled. "When I get my degree and take over the dojo, it'll be an honor to have my students call me sensei."

She did a short leap and her foot flashed out in a flurry of kicks. "You're early today," she remarked.

Shinnosuke turned and smiled. "Not really," he said. "There was nothing to do at home, so I came over a few minutes early. I hope it's okay."

"Of course it's okay. I'm always eager for a good training partner." She grinned and flexed an arm. "Keeps me in shape."

"I bet."

"Hey." Akane turned and glanced at him. "Kasumi said you had a surprise. What is it?" She grinned and extended an arm. "Come on, gimme."

Shinnosuke nodded. "I brought some sakura mochi for tea. I passed by them on my way home from shopping, and they looked good." He smiled. "I bought more than enough, so I thought I'd bring some over."

Akane's eyes brightened. "Why didn't you say that earlier? Come on, I'm hungry. I haven't eaten anything all afternoon." She turned and sprinted out of the dojo.

Shinnosuke laughed as he ran after her. "What was that about keeping your figure?"


"Tea, Shinnosuke?"

He smiled and held up his cup. "Yes, thank you."

"My, so polite," Akane teased.

Shinnosuke grinned. "Like Kasumi says, a guest is a guest." He patted his stomach. "I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, but Kasumi's cooking is one of the things I look forward to the most, whenever I come to visit."

Akane whapped him lightly on the arm. "Rub it in, why don'tcha."

He laughed. "You'll get better with practice, Akane. Hey, your cooking is a lot better now than it was two years ago." He laughed harder and ducked when Akane threw her chopsticks at him.

Kasumi smiled benevolently at them. "I'm happy to know that you enjoy my cooking, Shinnosuke. And you're always welcome in our home."

"Still, I hope I'm not overstaying my welcome," Shinnosuke remarked.

"Oh no," Kasumi assured him. "It's always a pleasure to have Akane's friends over." She smiled. "I'll go bring dinner out."

As soon as Kasumi was out of earshot, Akane leaned over and whispered, "If you ask me, I think she just likes showing off her excellent culinary skills to other people."

Shinnosuke stifled a bark of laughter, as Soun came into the room.

"Now, Akane, that isn't very funny," Soun admonished her.

Akane bit her lip, but her eyes were sparkling with laughter. "Gomen, Daddy."

Soun nodded. "So, how's school coming along, Akane?"

She shrugged. "Okay. Everyone's busy studying for finals."

Shinnosuke elbowed her. "I bet you don't have any problems, ace student."

Akane snorted. "You flatter me too much." She smiled. "Finals are a killer, and the entrance exams are even worse. It isn't going to be a breeze, Shinnosuke."

"Whatever." He smiled. "You can do it."

"Sure I will," she boasted. "Do you think Nabiki hogged all the brains from the gene pool?"

"Whoa," Shinnosuke laughed. "Is it my imagination, or is your head getting bigger everyday?"

"What can I say? Ranma rubbed off on me," she joked. "I don't have his martial arts skills, so I had to find something to compensate." She rolled her eyes. "And boy, was he an *awful* student."

"Akane," came Kasumi's admonishing voice. She leaned down to put a couple of plates on the table. "It's not good to speak ill of the dead."

"But he *was*," Akane protested. "I mean, he was brilliant - only in martial arts. But he didn't do very well in school. He *could* have, but he didn't."

"He could have?" Shinnosuke echoed.

"You'd have to had seen it for yourself. Ranma could learn *anything*, if he just put his mind to it." She grinned. "He's a sore loser. But he's got an iron will and determination like you wouldn't believe."

Shinnosuke smiled. "Actually, I do," he remarked, remembering how Ranma had fought the Orochi in Ryugenzawa.

"Ranma was a remarkable boy," Kasumi said firmly, as she took her place at the table and started filling their bowls with rice. "And in this family, he'll always be remembered with infinite fondness and gratitude," she added, smiling at Akane.

Akane smiled back, reaching out to take the bowl of rice Kasumi held out.


*I love you...*

She glanced up, tears of happiness brimming in her eyes. He stood in front of her, his beautiful eyes lighting up in a warm smile.

*I love you...*

She jerked her head in a quick nod. "I know," she said softly, choking back a sob.

His smile grew broader. *How?*

"I just know." She closed the distance between them in a couple of steps, and glanced up at him, her face a few inches away from his chest.

"Because," she said achingly, as the tears threatened to choke her voice, "I love you, too."

He reached out and drew her in a tight embrace, burying his face in the silk of her hair. She wrapped both arms tightly around him, laying her head on his chest, feeling the soft silk of his shirt rustle against her face.

The tears came again, and this time, she didn't try to stop them.

*Oh gods.* His voice came out soft and muffled. *I've waited so long for you... so long...*

She said nothing, as she closed her eyes, reveling in the feel of him, his scent, his presence, his voice, and the love overflowing in her heart...

*Will you come?*

She jerked her head back. "What?"

He stared at her, his eyes beseeching. *Come with me?*

"I...I..." She blinked, not understanding the confusion in her heart. Why was she hesitating?

*I've waited for you...*

She felt a soft tingle run through her body, and suddenly, the arms around her waist began to loosen their grip...

*So long...*

She stared the body in front of her as it began to fade. She glanced up, and he was looking at her, his eyes sad.

*So very long...*

"W-wait!" she cried, reaching out, but her arm passed uselessly through the illusion of him. "No, please... I'm sor.... no, don't..."

His eyes sad, staring at her, until he faded away into etherealness, leaving nothing but a cool night air against her skin.

"...don't leave me..."


*Don't leave...*


*No, please...*

Bam. Bam. Bam. "Akane? Are you awake?"


More banging. "Akane? Wake up, it's a school day."


Her head rolled to the side, and she groaned, cracking an eye open. Morning already? Her head felt so heavy...

"Akane?" The knocking ceased. "I'm coming in..."

She yawned and stretched her arms, as the door swung open, and Kasumi stepped inside.

"Morning, sis," Akane mumbled, rubbing her eyes. "Sorry I overslept."

Kasumi sat down on her bed. "Didn't you set your alarm last night?"

Akane propped herself up on her elbows and glanced at the clock beside her bed. Sure enough, the button was pressed down. "I guess not." She yawned.

Kasumi frowned. "What's wrong, Akane?" she asked. "You don't look so good."

She waved an arm in front of her. "I'm okay. Just sleepy, that's all."

"Didn't you get a good sleep?" Kasumi laid a hand on Akane's forehead and felt for a fever.

"Just okay. I just had a dream." She frowned. "Good dream, bad dream, I don't even remember. Just that..."

She laid a hand over her heart. "Just that my heart was racing real fast, and I was..." She shook her head. "I don't remember."

"That's alright." Kasumi stood up. "Can you go to school?"

She looked up. "Of course." She flashed a reassuring smile at her sister. "I'm fine, Kasumi. I'll go wash up and be down for breakfast in a jiff."

"All right." Kasumi started to back out of the room. "I'll have your bento ready in the kitchen."

"Thanks, sis." Akane waited until Kasumi was out of her room. She listened to her sister's receding footsteps as she walked down the hall.

*What _was_ that?* she thought, grimacing. It was the third time this month she'd had this dream, and she never remembered anything after waking up. Just that she woke up with her heart beating so fast she felt like she'd run a ten-mile dash, and that she was filled with an immense guilt, and apprehension... uncertainty... doubt...

Sighing, she stood up and grabbed her pail of toiletries. She'd be late if she didn't hurry.

As she grabbed the towel draped over her desk chair, her eyes fell on the open book lying on her desk, and her forehead creased in a small frown.

*Ugh. That's right. It's finals week.*

She was a good student, but that didn't mean she didn't have to study hard for good grades. And with finals coming up, and college looming ahead of her, she'd have to study extra hard.

Akane quickly put the dream out of her mind, for the time being. There would be more time to think about it later.


"How about a movie, Akane?"

"I'd rather go get that milkshake like we said we would." Akane smiled. "Besides, we still have finals tomorrow, Yuka."

The other girl sighed. "But we just finished one today," she said. "We're entitled to spoil ourselves every now and then, Akane."

"That's why I'm splurging on this milkshake." She shrugged. "Tell you what. Let's go out for dinner and a movie *after* finals. Okay?"

Yuka's eyes brightened. "A double-date?"

Akane shook her head. "I was thinking more like, girls' night out?"

"Aww, Akane," her friend complained. "You're no fun. You haven't gone out in *ages*."

Akane laughed. "I'm not an old maid yet, Yuka," she replied. "And I've been busy, okay?"

"So it's time to relax and have some fun. Come on, Akane, we'll have a great time."

She sighed. "Where on earth will I find a date?"

Yuka smirked. "We can pass the word around school, if you like. You'll get a date in no time."

Akane snorted. "No thanks." She sighed again. "Yuka, I really don't feel like-"

"Akane, please." Yuka softened her voice, and she reached out for Akane's hand. "I was kidding about finding you a date. But it'll be fun, just like the old times. Please?"

Akane sighed. "I'll... get back to you on that, okay?"

She shrugged. "I'll take that for now. But I expect a decision soon, okay?" She waggled her brows at her. "And I won't take no for an answer."

Akane rolled her eyes. "Oh jeez, cut that out. You're going to give me nightmares."

Yuka laughed and linked her arm through Akane's. "So let's get a soda like we planned, so we can head home and you can bury your head in your books all you want, spoilsport."

Akane smiled back and started to reply, when she suddenly paused and her brows knitted together in a frown. Yuka lurched to a stop beside her.

"Jeez, Akane, don't do that," she complained. "You're going to drag me to the..." She trailed off, staring at Akane. "What's wrong?"

She followed Akane's eyes, and her face assumed a similar frown, as she struggled with old memories. "Hey, isn't that... what's his name again?" she asked. "Ranma's rival?"

Ahead of them, winding his way through the crowd, was a tall boy wearing a bandanna, carrying a huge backpack on his back. He paused, looking around him, a lost look in his eyes. He turned around and started to walk back the way he came.

"Hey," Yuka exclaimed. "I remember. Isn't he the guy who had trouble with directions?" She rolled her eyes. "Isn't that the stupidest thing you ever -"

"Excuse me, Yuka," Akane said absently, pulling away from her friend. Yuka watched as Akane quickly caught up to the guy and put a hand on his arm.

Ryouga turned, surprised. His eyes widened with a look of recognition as he stared at her. "Akane...san?"

Akane smiled, and her hand fell to her side. "It *is* you," she exclaimed. "It's been a long time, Ryouga."

He blinked. "But... what are you doing in...?" He scratched his head. "Oh wait. This is Tokyo, I guess."

"That's right. Where else would I be?" She smiled. "Boy, you haven't changed a bit. Still having trouble with directions?"

Ryouga smiled back, timidly. "Until the day I die, I'm afraid."

"I'm sorry to hear that." Just then, Yuka caught up to them, laying a hand on Akane's shoulder.

"It is him, isn't it?" she asked in a loud whisper.

Akane rolled her eyes. "Ryouga, you probably don't remember Yuka, but she remembers you."

Yuka blew out a breath. "Rude introduction, Akane."

"Err... hi?" Ryouga scratched his head self-consciously. "I'm afraid I didn't know anyone in Nerima, except Ranma and the Tendos."

"Well, I only know you by reputation." Yuka smiled. "Nice to meet you."

"Ahh... same here, I guess." He glanced at Akane. "I should... ah... get going. Nice to see you, Ak-kane."

He started to turn around, until Akane called his name. He turned back to look at her, slowly.


"You got someplace to go?"

He blinked. "Err... nowhere?"

Yuka snickered, and Akane shot her a dirty look. She turned back to look at Ryouga, smiling. "Are you in a hurry to get to *nowhere*?"

"I... guess not..."

"Then could I invite you for dinner, at least? Kasumi would be happy to see you. Daddy, too."

"Oh no... I'd already... I wouldn't want to..."

"It'll be our pleasure, Ryouga." She smiled. "Two years is a long time. We haven't heard from you or Ukyou since you left."

His eyes held a hopeful look that he tried unsuccessfully to hide. "Are you sure, Akane-san?"

"Of course." She turned to her friend. "How about you, Yuka?"

"I'd love to, but my mom expects me home for dinner." She glanced at Akane. "So I guess we're on for sundaes tomorrow, instead?"

"You bet."

"Your treat?"

"In your dreams, pal."

Yuka shrugged. "Okay, no prob. At least I tried." She grinned. "Gotta go now. See ya, Ryouga." She waved and walked away, leaving Akane alone with Ryouga.

"So." Akane smiled at him. "Shall we go?"



They all retired in the living room after dinner.

"I hope dinner has suited your appetite, Ryouga-kun," Kasumi said brightly, coming to sit down beside her father.

"Oh yes, Kasumi-san," Ryouga replied. "Your cooking is as good as I remember it."

"It must be hard on you, to be on the road all the time," Kasumi said sympathetically.

"Yeah, well, I'm used to it, I guess."

"Still, we're surprised that you didn't run into us sooner, Ryouga," Akane remarked. "You used to drop by every few weeks, at least."

It came as no surprise to Ryouga, though, as he'd tried his best to stay away from Tokyo in general. Still, with his sense of direction, all he could do was hope his feet would drag him in the direction of China.

"It is good to see you again, Akane-san," he said out loud. "And everyone, too."

"How have you been, Ryouga?"

"As well as I could be, thank you."

"How's Akari?" Akane asked brightly.

Ryouga lowered his eyes. " I haven't seen her in more than a year."

Akane looked surprised. "How come?"

*Because I was too ashamed of myself that I couldn't face her, even though she said she didn't mind.* Out loud, he said, "It didn't work out between us. We... didn't have enough things in common."

"Oh, Ryouga, you shouldn't let that stop you," Akane told him. "I mean, Ranma and I didn't have much in common, did we?"

Ryouga shook his head. "No. You - you were..." He drew a deep breath. "You were a couple meant to be, if he... he..." He broke off. "Akari and I - we just weren't..."

Akane bit her lip. "Oh, I'm sorry, Ryouga. I didn't mean to dredge up your..."

She trailed off as Ryouga shook his head at her. "It's alright, Akane-san," he told her. He tried to smile. "How have you been?"

"I'm okay." She smiled. "I'm graduating in a couple of weeks."

"That's good to hear."

A moment of awkward silence passed. Ryouga looked down at the floor, suddenly wishing it would open and swallow him up whole, so he wouldn't have to feel this terrible aching in his heart...

Akane fumbled for a topic of conversation. "Ukyou's doing great. Did you know that?"

Ryouga looked up. "No, I didn't. How is she?"

Akane shrugged. "She doesn't write very often. But I know she's also graduating this year, and she's probably not going to college. She's still planning to be a great okonomiyaki chef." She smiled. "She will be, one day."

"She already is," Ryouga said.

"You're right." She paused. "And Mousse sent a postcard a few months ago."

"Really? How is he?" Ryouga asked with genuine concern. The poor guy, probably still heartbroken over -

"He says he's fine." Akane shrugged. "He only wrote that one time. He said he's travelling all over Japan, visiting training grounds, honing his martial arts skills."

"It'll be good to see everyone again," Ryouga said out loud. "It's been a long time."

Akane smiled. "That it is."

"How about... everyone else?"

Akane blew out a breath. "Well, if you're asking about the Kunos... They dragged Kodachi out of the country for some special treatment in Switzerland... she went ballistic after Ranma died. As for Kuno - he gave us some trouble at first, but it wasn't something we couldn't handle. He's off in college now, flunking all his courses. At least that's what Nabiki says." She smiled. "Everybody else is pretty much the same, though."

Ryouga was silent for a moment, and Akane asked, "How about you, Ryouga? How are you?"

He looked up. "I'm okay," he said, managing a weak smile. "I guess I'm... back to wandering. It isn't so bad. I get to see nice places, meet nice people, learn new things..."

"Ryouga." He fell silent at the solemn tone in her voice. "You don't have to pretend for me."

He shook his head. "No, really. I've learned to live with my sense of direction, so it isn't so bad anymore. And it really takes a load off my mind, now that I'm not bearing any grudges against anyone. I'm just a wanderer, until I find a place to settle down. I'm not so different from Mousse."

"Do you suppose he'll ever go back to his village?"

"I don't know." He paused. "Have you heard anything about Shampoo?"

Akane shook her head. "No, nothing. Nabiki offered to find out, but I refused."


"What good would that do?" Akane managed a smile. "I'm not crazy about her, sure, and what she did was wrong, but..." She sighed. "I'm not interested in revenge, or anything like that. I refuse to get any cruel satisfaction in knowing whatever plight has befallen her." She shrugged. "Sometimes, there are some things that are better not knowing."

"You're right, of course."

"How about you, Ryouga? You're not still... angry at Ranma... are you?" There was a note of uncertainty in Akane's voice.

"Of course not." Ryouga's eyes stared ahead, not meeting Akane's gaze. "More often, I marvel at the twists of fate. When he was alive, I hated the sight of him, I'd curse him to the Hells for ... for everything he's done, and I've lost count of how many times I wished him dead..."

There was a faraway look in his eyes as he continued, "But now, he's dead. I finally got what I wanted... and I often find myself wishing I didn't." He laughed shortly. "Does that make any sense?"

Akane closed her eyes. "Yes."

Ryouga seemed lost in his thoughts. "I tried so hard to beat him, to be better than him... I never got my chance, he died before I could beat him... before... before I admitted to myself, he was my friend all along... before I could tell him I was sorry... for everything..."

Akane watched as he broke off, rubbing his palm against his closed eyes. Her heart felt heavy - regrets always came too late, she thought sadly. For everyone.

Ryouga grunted and stood up, still not looking at her. "I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't have come. I... I'll be going now."

"Ryouga." She stood up and put a hand on his arm. "It's okay. I'm sure Ranma knows. He... he wasn't the type to hold a grudge."

He turned and looked at her, and there was a ghost of a smile in his shadowed eyes. "I know," he said simply.

She smiled. "I'm glad." She touched his arm. "Ryouga? Remember what I told you before you left, two years ago?"

He frowned. "What?"

"I asked you to be happy, remember?"

He nodded. "Oh, yeah. I remember."

"Are you?"

"Happy?" He shrugged. "I don't know."

"Ryouga." She shook her head at him. "There's no point in dwelling on the past. What's done is done. What good is there in tearing yourself up with grief over something you cannot change?"

"I know." He brushed the hair from his eyes, and his gaze seemed faraway. "It's just that, sometimes, the memories just keep coming back."

"I understand. But I meant what I said, Ryouga. Be happy, please." She gestured around her, smiling. "It's hard for everyone, but we do the best we can. And if we live our lives in regret, what good a life is that?"

Ryouga looked at her, smiling. "You've changed a lot, Akane-san."

She laughed. "Well, some things in life do that to you."

"I do the best I can," Ryouga said. "I only hope that, someday, it will be good enough."

"It will be. I'm sure."

He looked at her. "It was good to see you again, Akane-san."

She frowned. "What, you're going already?"

He nodded. "Thank you for dinner."

"You could at least spend the -" She trailed off when he shook his head at her.

"Have you ever noticed, Akane-san, how many people you've sheltered under your roof, at one time or another?"

She frowned. "What?"

He held up his hand and started counting. "Ranma, Ranma's father, me, Ukyou, Happosai..."

"I don't understand."

"It's because your house provides such a sense of... of *home*. To all of us who haven't had a real home in a long time." He smiled. "We've found a home here with you. But it isn't ours. Soon, we'd have to head out, to find where we really belong. But staying here only weakens that resolve, because the temptation is too great, so much that we'd want to stay here forever."

He gestured to himself. "I've fallen into that trap too many times in the past. I have to find a place for myself, someplace I can call mine forever. I guess that's what I'm doing now." He cast a wistful look around the place. "And that's why I can't stay."

She smiled back. "I understand. I won't keep you then."

Ryouga lifted his huge pack and slung the straps around his shoulders. He followed Akane to the gate, where she paused, turning to smile at him.

"You're always welcome to visit again, Ryouga," she told him warmly.

He nodded. "I, too, look forward to seeing you again, Akane."

"Take care."

"You too."

He lifted his hand in a small wave as he walked out, going down the street. Akane watched him until he turned the corner, and was gone from her sight again.

*Well, Ranma,* she thought. *Two years was a long time, but everyone's been doing well. You'd be glad to hear that, wouldn't you?*

She cast a look at the dojo, bathed in the warm glow of the setting sun. This was *home*. Her home. The place she'd lived in for the past eighteen years. The place where she'd met Ranma, her first love... where they'd spent so many happy months together, before his life was cut short...

In a few more weeks, she, too, would be leaving. Leaving behind the warm comfort of her own house, to venture out into a new world outside Nerima. Two years ago, she'd thought she'd be making this transition with Ranma. But now, there was no one.

Akane smiled sadly to herself as she turned to walk back inside the house.

She'd never felt so alone.

*** End CHAPTER 9 ***