Until the End Prologue

The jingle of a set of keys echoed down the hallways, reverberating through all the cells. The sound continued as it grew closer and closer, moving further down the hallway towards the cells. Finally it stopped, just outside one of the cells. A few orders were barked out in Chinese and the medal door was opened. Inside the cell was a man. He had the tattered uniform of that of an American navy service man. The man was crouched in the corner of the room, his body hunched over. He was thin, already showing the signs of being cadaverous, and his eyes seemed to almost be sinking into his head. Two of the Chinese guards walked in and holstered him to his feet, as the man had little to no energy to stand and walk, and he was taken from his cell, dragged down the hallway.

In the cell opposite to the man that had just been taken, the occupant briefly looked out of the small sliding hatch built into the door that contained him in the room. He shook his head sorrowfully as he watched the man being dragged off, and turned around, using the wall as support. He barely made it to his bed before he collapsed from exhaustion.

The man was in the same physical condition as all the men being held in the cells. His body was thin, and he looked to be cadaverous. His arms, which used to be well-muscled, were thin and brittle, and the skin had become slack over years without use. He was wearing a tanker's uniform, complete to the large tanker's boots, and the insignia of a tank battalion was on the lapels of his tunic. Setting him apart from the other men being held in the prison was the dirty yellow and black bandanna tied over his forehead.

The man had been in the same cell for four years. As most prisoners- of-war, he had to endure regular thrashings from the men that held him and the others. Four years was a long time, especially when you are contained in one room for ninety-percent of the time.

"Four years," the man said softly. He looked over at the wall that his bed was positioned against. He slowly made a small notch at the bottom of a long row of notches.

A loud scream came down the hallway, one filled with pain and torture. The man in the cell shivered uncontrollably and reached up to cover his ears with his hands.

A small part of his mind told him that eventually someone would come to rescue him, but another part of his mind told him that he was just dreaming. It had been four years and still nothing had happened. Hope was eternal, and he would always hope that someone would come to rescue him, and it just might happen. But the cruel reality of things was that none of the men here were actually supposed to be alive. After the startling discovery by the Chinese infantry platoon that some of the men they had brutally murdered were alive, they quickly had the survivors shipped off to a medical hospital. It was there that they had been informed that the Americans thought that everyone had perished, and that China would not acknowledge they had them.

As exhaustion slowly overtook the man, his mouth slowly worked out the name of someone. Whatever the name was, a smile lit up the man's face after he said it.

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The courtyard was filled with them. Row upon row of the stone slabs, ranging in size. There were far too many to count, as the number would surely depress whoever decided to count them.

Akari Unryuu walked along the singular path that led down the center of the grave stones. Alongside her, she clutched the hand of a small boy. She was wearing a skirt despite the cool air that nipped at her legs. The boy wore a thick jacket, making him appear to be twice his size.

She turned left once they had reached the second last row of graves, and led the child to an exquisite gravestone. The gravestone was in better condition than most, as it appeared to be cleaned regularly. She stopped and released the child's hand. Bowing her head once, she reached over to the flask of water beside the gravestone, and poured water onto the grave using a ladle.

The child mimicked Akari's actions, and splashed water on the gravestone. Once he put the ladle back he turned to Akari.

"Why are we here momma?" he asked.

Akari smiled at the child.

"This is your father's grave, Ryoga," Akari said gently.

Ryoga turned in surprise and looked more intently at the gravestone.

"Hey! It has my name!"

Akari crouched down and rubbed Ryoga's head.

"I named you after your father," Akari told him. "He was a very good man."

"What was he like?" Ryoga asked, his interest sparked.

Akari picked the child up and cradled him in her arms. "Well, I'll tell you but first we have to get out of the cold. I don't want you to catch a cold."

"Okay, but don't you forget," the child warned her.

Akari laughed and carried the child out of the cemetery and into the waiting car.

"Back to the Dojo, Ms. Unryuu?" the driver asked.

"Yes," Akari answered and set her child down on the seat next to hers. "And call me Akari; I don't want people thinking I'm stuck up.

The driver chuckled. "Yes ma'am."

The drive was short, as it was still early morning and there were not many cars out on the streets. Once they arrived at the gates to the Saotome Dojo, Akari dismissed the driver, giving him the day off.

Akari unlocked the front door and quickly shut the door, less the cold air get inside. She walked into the house, checking the living room to see if anyone was up. Seeing no one, Akari set Ryoga on the floor and stepped back out into the hall, just in time to see a small girl come thumping down the stairs wearing a pajama top and bottom.

"Well hello there Kagome, did we wake you up?" Akari asked as she picked the small girl up and kissed her on the cheek.

"No," the girl shook her head. "But mommy and daddy wouldn't wake up, even though I jumped in their bed."

Akari laughed and set her down on the ground.

"Well, while we wait for those two lazy parents to wake up why don't we go into the living room, I'll get breakfast started."

"Okay," both children echoed and ran to the living room.

Akari entered the kitchen and looked around. She filled the tea kettle with water and set it on the stove. Next, she moved to the fridge and found that it was empty. Akari shook her head.

"Looks like somebody forgot to go shopping," Akari said to herself. She made the mental note to order some breakfast once Ranma and Akane woke up. She didn't want to have the two wake up and find out that she had forgotten to go shopping again.

Akari walked out into the hall and back into the living room. Ryoga and Kagome were entertaining themselves with some popcorn that had been left out.

"Don't play with food you guys," Akari chided softly as Ryoga threw another piece of popcorn into Kagome's mouth.

Akari sat down on the floor and pulled the two children nearer.

"Okay, what would you guys rather hear about," Akari began. "Would you rather hear a story about Uncle Ranma, or would you rather I tell you about Ryoga's father?"

"Tell us about Ryoga's father," Kagome said.

"Okay, but the story about your father is very funny," Akari said to Kagome.

"Everyone always talks about my dad; I want to hear about Ryoga's dad."

Akari nodded and took a deep breath.

"Well, Ryoga's father was a very kind man. He always took care of his friends, and never did anything to hurt them. He was also a very strong man; in fact, he is probably the only man to actually almost beat Ranma in an all-out fight."

Both children seemed surprised at this. They were both training as students under the Anything-Goes style of Martial Arts and had seen Ranma in action.

"How did he die?" Kagome asked.

There was a sharp pain in Akari's chest. She fought hard to keep any kind of hurt from her voice.

"This happened before either of you were alive, okay, so don't worry if none of this rings any bells," Akari said. "Before you two were born, there was a very short war between America and China. Do you two know what a war is?" Akari asked. Both children shook their heads. "Okay, well, a war is when two countries decide they don't like each other very much, and instead of trying to work out their differences with words, they do it with fighting."

"Before that war started, a man that was close to both Ryoga's father and Ranma had died while they were in China, and the Chinese government would not give the body back."

"Why?" Ryoga asked.

"Well, the Chinese government thought that the man was a kind of terrorist-"

"Like the one's that attacked America?" Kagome asked, interrupting Akari.

"Well, that's what the Chinese government thought, but the man wasn't, and they were being very stubborn, so Ryoga's father and Ranma decided to go get the man's body themselves. But, all access to China had been cut off because of the war, so they decided to cross the distance with Uncle Phillip."

Both children giggled at the mention of Phillip.

"Well, Uncle Phillip was being sent to China because the Americans wanted to put some soldiers onto Chinese soil, and Ryoga's father and Ranma joined them and crossed over to China. It seemed that everything was going well until Uncle Phillip's troops ran into the Chinese. There was a big battle and finally the American troops had to retreat. Ryoga's father's tank stayed behind to destroy the Chinese tanks and he ended up getting hit. Before his tank could explode, Ranma pulled Ryoga's father from the tank and saved his life. But the Chinese troops found them and took them prisoner."

"Ryoga's father was very hurt at this time and he could not escape on his own and Ranma didn't want to leave him alone. After a week of being held captive, the Chinese troops got word that Uncle Phillip's troops were headed straight for them. They decided to get rid of all the prisoners so they took half of them behind the prison they had set up and killed them. Ranma tried to save your father but he was too late."

Akari tried desperately to hold back the tears that threatened to escape her eyes but she couldn't stop.

"Today is the anniversary of your father's death."

Ryoga and Kagome looked at each other for a moment before climbing on Akari and hugging her.

"It's okay momma," Ryoga said. "I don't need to know about my dad anymore."

Akari smiled at him and hugged Ryoga and Kagome to her.

The tea kettle began to squeal.

"I'll go get us some tea," Akari said as she set the children down on the floor. She wiped the tears from her eyes as she moved into the kitchen. Akari removed the kettle from the stove and grabbed some cups from a nearby cupboard. As she searched for a tray, Akane came into the kitchen.

"Good morning," Akari greeted.

"Morning," Akane replied. "What are you doing up so early?"

Akari's smile faltered a little.

"Ryoga woke up early today and I decided to take him over to the cemetery to visit his father's grave."

Akane nodded silently and rubbed Akari's shoulder sympathetically.

"It's been four years Akari," Akane said. "You have to let go."

"I know," Akari replied. She seemed to shake herself from her revere. "I forgot to go shopping."

"That's okay, I'll just order some breakfast," Akane said simply.

Akari smiled at her and moved back into the living room. She set the tray down and handed the two children a drink.

"Once you two finish that why don't you go see if you can wake up Ranma," Akari said.

Kagome and Ryoga gulped down their tea and raced out of the room and upstairs.

Akari sipped at her tea as Akane came in.

"Breakfast should be here in about twenty minutes," Akane said.

Akari nodded absentmindedly and continued to stare at the table. Akane leaned across the table and took Akari's hand in hers.

"I'm sorry for what I said in the kitchen Akari," Akane said truthfully. "I know what Ryoga meant to you."

"No," Akari shook her head. "Your right Akane, it has been four years and I still can't forget him."

"No one can forget him, he meant a lot to all of us," Akane said. "I know that I still think about him every day, and I'm sure Ranma's even worse."

Akari nodded her head sadly. "Maybe it is time for me to look for someone else."

Akane smiled. "That's the spirit. I'm sure Ranma's been holding a bunch of guys back that want to date you."

Akari smiled sheepishly as Ranma came walking into the room. He had Ryoga and Kagome tucked underneath each of his arms.

"Well hello there ladies," Ranma said smiling. "I suppose neither of you have happened to see two little children have you?"

"I told you daddy, were right here," Kagome said as she giggled.

Ranma looked down at the little bundles in his arms with a shocked expression on his face.

"Why there you two are," Ranma said as if he had just noticed them. "Now how did you get there?"

"You grabbed us after we woke you up," Ryoga said, laughing.

"Did I?" Ranma asked. "Well, why didn't you speak up?"

"We did!" both children chorused.

"Alright then," Ranma said, setting them onto the ground. "How about we go make ourselves some breakfast then?"

"I ordered breakfast just a few minutes ago," Akane said, smiling grandly at the way Ranma interacted with the children.

"Well then, I guess we can just go and have a little match in the Dojo then," Ranma said to the children.

"Alright," the two children said and raced out of the room with Ranma close behind.

"Don't you let them fight in those clothes!" Akane called after them.

"Training compels me to!" Ranma shouted back, laughing as he left the house.

Akane huffed and sat back down at the table; she shook her head and laughed.

"God, he's just like them," Akane laughed.

Akari allowed herself to laugh as well. "He really is good with them." Akane nodded her head and Akari continued. "He's become like a father to Ryoga."

"He really has tried to Akari, he loves Ryoga, just as much as he loves you," Akane explained.

"Thank you Akane," Akari said shyly.

"It's nothing Akari, and I want you to know that if anything ever happened to me and Ranma, I would want you to take care of Kagome."

Akari smiled again. Before she could reply the front doorbell rang.

"There's breakfast," Akane announced as she got to her feet and walked out of the room and down the hall.

Akari remained seated for a moment. She bowed her head and made a small prayer.

I'm sorry Ryoga, I hope you can forgive me, but I'm going to try and find someone else.

===============

Parker's arrival at his house was slightly dampened by the fact that Toni had made it home before him. That meant it would be salad for dinner tonight.

But Parker had something much larger on his mind. He had spent the entire day waiting impatiently for any reports on the prisoners in China, and had spent long hours reading over the thick file he had already been sent. Finally, at four o'clock, Parker had had enough and left the office and driven home. Now he had to think about what he would tell Ranma and Akane, much more, Akari.

"Well hello," Toni said as Phillip walked into the kitchen. "I made us an extra special supper tonight."

When she noticed that Phillip's face was twisted in deep thought, Toni asked him what was wrong.

"I received a report today from my father," Parker said. He sat down at the kitchen table and sighed. "The document outlined some of the facts that, during the Pacific War, the prisoners that China obtained were not all recaptured when we swept in."

"What does that mean?" Toni asked.

"It means that there is a very small chance that, among the seventeen prisoners that are reported to have survived, Ryoga may still be alive," Parker said.

"How reliable is the source?" Toni asked.

Parker looked at his wife for a moment. It is often said that the hardest part about working in the intelligence business was keeping the vast information you see each day a secret. Parker had already found that he could not keep any information from his wife, as he often sought out her opinion on things.

"It was rated the highest it can be, and there should be more information soon."

Toni sat by his side for a moment. Finally she got to her feet and grabbed the phone from a nearby table. She set it down in front of Phillip. He looked at her in confusion.

"They need to know this Phil," Toni said gently.

"I know," Parker said a near whisper. He reached out and grabbed the phone. He dialed a number from memory.

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Ranma set Ryoga down beside Kagome at the table and looked at the take-out food in front of him. He turned to Akari. A smile lit up his face.

"I take it someone forgot to go shopping again," he lightly teased.

"I had something on my mind," Akari said quietly. "Today's the anniversary of his death."

Ranma shifted uncomfortably. "It's okay, I was only joking Akari."

The phone began ringing and Ranma quickly got up to answer it.

"Hello?" There followed a pause as the caller identified himself. "Phil! God, it's been at least a month since you last called."

Ranma laughed a little and then waited for a long moment. When he spoke again, his voice was very grave.

"What does this mean?" Ranma asked. Another pause followed.

The receiver fell from Ranma's hands and clattered to the table. His hands shook as he reached out to the wall for support. Ranma's mind was spinning and he suddenly felt very tired.

Numbly, he reached down and picked up the receiver.

"Thanks Phil," Ranma said. "Don't worry, I-I'll tell her about it."

He set the receiver into its cradle and walked back into the dining room. Akane asked him who had called but Ranma didn't respond, he merely stared at Akari.

Finally, Ranma found his voice.

"We need to talk."

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Author's Notes: Here it is, the first chapter of Until the End. I really hope you all like it, as it may take me a little longer to churn out the next chapter, as I'm receiving change of station orders tomorrow and I'm not too sure where I'm going, but I do have a good idea. If what I'm thinking is true, than you can definitely expect my wife to be writing the next chapter, and probably most of the others after that.

I'd really like to hear what everyone thinks of this story so far, so I encourage everyone to write a review or e-mail me with their opinions.

Also, for those that have just read this and gone HUH?, well, this is the sequel to a story I had previously written. You can look for it on this site. It's called, "Balance of Power".