Akane closed her eyes, once again dizzy, and Ranma held her protectively closer, despite being soaked.
'Akane! What's wrong?'
Her eyes snapped open and looked into his worried ones, and teared up. 'Ranma!' she half shouted
and twisted to embrace him(read: her- he's still in female form). An unusual act for her, to be sure.
Shocked, he paused a moment before returning the gesture. 'A-Akane? Are you feelin okay?'
Akane's eyes leaked a few stray tears. 'No.' she said simply, hugging him closer, as if he would disappear if she didn't. Ranma patted her on the back as she started to calm, holding her slightly larger frame close to him. If someone had told him that he would be holding her like that at the beginning of the month, he would have told them they were crazy, but now it seemed very natural and... he thought for a word. Right.
He closed his eyes, and lost himself. All he could hear was her heart beating and her breath rushing. He could smell the shampoo in her hair and the grass around them. She was warm against him, and her breath brushed hotly against the bare skin of his neck. His right hand traced along her back, soothing and steady, and his left fingers buried themselves in her hair. Of all the times he had daydreamed about a moment like this, he had never thought it would be so tender. Perhaps it was only this way because of his current form, but it didn't matter for the moment, the reason. Thank you, God, he thought, this is enough.
Akane cried softly into his shoulder. She tried to shake the image from her head, but the vision she had was far too real to ignore. Though she was holding tightly to him, she knew if that what she saw was a vision of the future, and that she would lose him soon enough.
That night as Akane drifted into sleep, blurred images clouded her mind's eye. They didn't make any sense to her, but it didn't matter because she couldn't clearly see half of them, anyhow. The clearest ones were the shortest ones: her reflection in a pool, the inside of a terra cotta house. Some were peaceful, others violent- skin shredding as claws slid across her cheek. The most violent was the second to last, the vision from that morning. What disturbed her most was not the image of his death, but the resigned pain that was suppressed as she watched it. Somehow she knew that she was seeing through her own eyes, feeling the same things. It scared her that she did not run to the presently dying female version of Ranma.
The last scene that splayed itself along her subconscious was almost clear, but it was hard to tell through the darkness. The emotions running through her were alien to Akane, something she couldn't place. She heard hard breathing from her and another; she could hear her heart racing. Then it hit her. She couldn't feel anything. Unlike feeling numb, she couldn't even feel the air spilling in and out of the lungs that were working so hard. The dreams shattered as twin gasps echoed into the emptiness that she felt around her.
Mist swirled up around Akane's feet in the now familiar dream-scape. Her heart flew as fast as the one she could hear in her last dream, as she adjusted to her new surroundings. She felt so disoriented from the visions that it took her a moment to realize that she was still asleep. The soft voice cuckled as she remembered where she was. 'My favorite was the last one. What do you think?'
She shook her head once. 'I have no idea what that was. I couldn't feel anything in it, either. I don't understand at all.'
The voice chuckled again. 'Child, you know very well what that was.'
She was silent for a moment, then: 'visions of the future?'
'I knew you knew.'
She frowned. 'I don't understand. I couldn't see half of them, and the others made no sense. And your favorite? I couldn't feel anything, I could only hear and see! And I could see so little in the darkness that I might as well have been blind, too! I refuse to believe that... to think that... to think he'd...'
Akane trailed off, not able to voice her disbelief, as if hearing it from her mouth would somehow make it real. The dream world guide, however, seemed to know, once again, exactly her thoughts. 'He would make the ultimate sacrifice for you?'
She sunk to her knees, trembling as her hand covered her mouth. 'I know he cares for me, but there is now way that I could just stand by and watch with such... indifference... He would never make such a sacrifice for me, and in the vision, it was for me, I could feel it!'
'He will protect you with his last breath, child, just as you were willing to not long ago. You are ever the only one child. You are the chosen, in more ways than one. This is your future. This is your fate.'
Akane felt a sudden anger. 'My fate? My FATE? To watch my fiancée die before my eyes?'
'You are chosen to save the world.'
She grit her teeth and clenched her fists, rising in rage. 'At what cost? My life? His life? Maybe I don't believe in fate! Maybe I believe that this is just cryptic crap my psyche has cooked up to rationalize all the crazy stuff that's been going on here for the last year! Maybe it doesn't matter what my "fate" is if I don't do it. Maybe if I don't train my ass off anymore, it won't matter, and someone else can be the chosen one. Forget this! No more worrying, no more waking up sore or with weird bruises, weird lacerations. No more! So you can take all the chosen-y stuff outta me, and I'll be leaving you to your work. After all, there must be some kid out there getting all chosen as we speak, so goodbye and good riddance!'
Akane shut her eyes and willed her self to wake up. Annoyed, she opened her eyes as the voice started to laugh. 'Stop laughing and send someone else when you send me home, cause I quit! Hop to it!'
The laughing continued so she plopped down on the misty ground, stubbornly refusing to admit that her rage was anything but righteous. 'What's so funny?'
'Child, there is no other. No other single person in the world who could be the chosen one. That is why you are THE chosen one. Just because you decide to quit does not make you any less the chosen, nor will it cause some other to become "all chosen." It is something you alone can do and something you will do whether you make a conscious choice to.'
'Oh, well great for me! If it's something only I can do, then why is the only person I've ever really given a damn about doing it for me?!'
The voice sighed sadly. 'Child, there are many things you don't yet understand.'
Curling her toes in annoyance, she practically yelled at the voice. 'Of course I don't understand! All you ever do is tell me these enigmatic messages that don't mean a thing to me, and when I finally have something solid to go by, I see things I don't want to see, feel emotions I don't understand. You'd think that by my age, I'd have felt just about everything there is to feel. I mean, how can you expect me to go along with this? You promised that if I did this, I could save him! That I could save all I love!'
'And you can. You will. Think, child. Is the future ever set in stone? Visions are not always meant to be. You, you are meant to be the chosen one, that will never change, despite your best efforts. The future is what you make of it, but it is your fate.'
She propped herself up on her elbows. 'I decide my fate, not some voice in the mist.'
'Of course, but you will be taken. That is out of your sphere of control, so why not prepare for what is to come?'
Sighing resignedly, she spoke. 'And what is to come?'
'There is a monster more terrifying than any you have fought or seen others fight. It's lying in another plane of existence, and it is now awakening in this place, searching for the only one with the life force to release it from its prison and open a portal for its passage to this world and the next.'
Silently, Akane sat and let the words wash over her. 'Me...'
'Yes, child. You have the power to imprison it forever, or to release it into the world. This creature is searching for you, and when it finds you, you will have no choice but to go and face it. You will either find the strength to imprison it forever, or you will fall to it, and it will take away everything you hold dear. This is what is to come. The visions you had may or may not make themselves real depending on what you and others do. I would look forward to some, if I were you; they may be some of the happiest times of your life. Be with the ones you love. The one you love.'
Akane sighed, laying back down, staring up into the nothingness above. 'And you mean who exactly?'
'You know very well of whom I speak. There is no other with such a place in your heart. You know, and I know.'
She snorted. 'Lady, I don't even know my own heart, who are you to say who I love?'
'Child… are you so blinded? Your love is obvious to anyone who has eyes to see.'
Chills ran up Akane's spine. After a long moment, she spoke. 'I really do love that idiot, don't I?'
'As sure as he is once again, sleeping by your side. It would be foolish to deny such feelings before such a time of change. Wake with him once more.'
Akane woke from the misty world, into the blackness of night. It did not take her long to realize that Ranma was asleep to her left. She smiled to herself. Perhaps she did know her feelings, now. She lightly traced his tranquil face with her palm.
'Ranma…' she whispered. 'Ranma wake up. There's something I need to tell you.'
He stirred and sleepily looked up into her eyes. Suddenly realizing where he was, his eyes widened. 'A-Akane! It's not what it looks like! I didn't mean to-.'
Akane cut him off with a finger to his lips. 'Shh. Ranma, I realize that you're just being overprotective of me. I'm glad you care. Because…' She paused, hardly being able to form the words. 'Because I care about you. Very much.'
Ranma searched her eyes for a moment, not quite sure what to say. 'I, uh, I'm not too good at sayin' it, but you're right. I do care. I guess it took something crazy for me to show it, but, I really hate to see you hurt when I can't do anything about it.'
Sniffing, she squeezed his shoulder before holding him in an affectionate embrace. 'See what I mean?' Ranma asked as he returned the hug. 'Every time you cry, I don't know what to do. I just want to cry with you.' His words only succeeded in making the tears run faster. 'I don't know how to save you this time. There's no one to fight this time. There's nothing I can do…'he said, stroking her hair.
'Yes, there is,' she whispered faintly by his ear. 'There is.'
'What is it, Akane? I'll do it. Anything…'
Running her hand softly over his back, she nuzzled into his shoulder. 'Hold me. Just… hold me.'
So he did.
Acrid land to no horizon, closer to mountain, village, girl. Ryoga bolt up straight in a cold sweat. The same dream kept haunting his sleep. This time, his vision was in fast forward and ended abruptly on a girl he had never met before. But once, again, she was familiar to him, for no apparent reason. It was really starting to creep him out. Why did his problems have to follow him to his slumber? Really, was it necessary?
Unfortunately, it was.
Ryoga got up and started to pace. Weird things had always happened to him, but recurring dreams was something new. If there was one thing he had learned from all the madness in his life, it was that for better or worse, strange things weren't just accidents. -Yet another reason why he was okay with blaming Ranma for his curse- But strange dreams couldn't be blamed on anyone short of cosmic forces or his own subconscious. For all intensive purposes, delving into his psyche would be unpleasant.
The strangely familiar landscape was now burned into his mind's eye so clearly that he could have drawn an exact map with all the landmarks. The names danced on the tip of his tongue, but were not yet ready to be spoken. For some reason this bothered him, as if he should know everything about the strange land and had forgotten it. Impossible as it seemed, he felt like he had found a home he had lost long ago.
Ukyo was still steaming from the confrontation the previous morning as she wiped the counter. How dare Akane mock her like that? More importantly why did Ranma have to worry so much about her? Why didn't he show that kind of worry for her?
She stopped wiping noticing that her anger was starting to discolor the counter, and her breakfast costumers were staring. Embarrassed, she retreated to her apartment to get ready for school. There was nothing worse than scaring off morning costumers… they were her most loyal. Unable to let her thoughts leave her, though, she began to wonder what on Earth happened to Akane that made Ranma fret. Perhaps if she could duplicate it…
No, she thought, shaking her head. No more lies. She just wished she knew why her world was shifting around her.
It was a long time before Ranma let go of Akane. After lying back down with Akane in his arms, there was simply no reason to part until morning came, and the approach of school and curious family members became impossible to ignore. He breathed her in, taking in the smell of her hair, and thought about how lucky he was that she was safe in his arms. His normally low heart rate was beating in time with hers, reminding him of just how in tune they were and how she made his heart beat faster anyway. He really didn't want to leave, but any moment now, his father was going to wake up and realize that he wasn't there for his morning fight and come looking for him, and despite recent events, he still did not want to be married in a rush. Parental involvement would just complicate things again. So he softly kissed her hair and whispered 'wake up, Akane,' in her ear.
Stirring slightly, she mumbled, 'don't wanna…'
Ranma chuckled. 'Unless you want to be married by the end of the day, I suggest I leave for now.'
Akane rolled away from him and sat on the side of the bed. 'You're right. I hate it, but you're right.'
Sitting up next to her, he took her hand in his and laced their fingers together. Silently, he wondered how things had changed so quickly between them. 'I'm glad you're still okay this morning.' Then, as if remembering himself, 'but don't think you're off the hook! It doesn't mean I'm gonna leave you alone.'
Akane stood up, and gave his hand a little squeeze as she laughed quietly. 'By all means! Just so long as you don't get caught.'
Ranma smiled. 'I have no intention of getting caught.'
She looked at her watch. 'Then you better make a hasty exit.'
Jumping up, he gave her a quick peck on the cheek before disappearing out the window. Surprised, she briefly touched her cheek, before grinning madly as she got ready for the day.
Cologne brought a slightly miserable and thoroughly disgruntled Shampoo into the back of the Nekohaten. Reaching deep into the folds of her clothing, she removed a ring of oddly assorted keys, and shuffled through them until she settled on a smallish brass key. Careful not to show Shampoo exactly which key belonged to the door, she opened the hidden vault in the pantry in the very farthest corner of the kitchen. Ushering her amazed great-granddaughter into the vault, Cologne shut the door behind her.
'Now listen carefully, Shampoo. One of the things that the chosen one will do right before the "milith," is begin to speak in a different language,' Cologne spoke in Chinese, and continued when Shampoo nodded. 'Legend has it that some one will be able to translate the divine language, but no chances must be taken. This book,' she said, taking it off the shelf, 'will give you a chance to roughly translate her speech, and talk back. Akane will probably not realize that she's speaking another language until she finds that she cannot understand us. Do you understand what I am asking of you?'
Shampoo swallowed, to try to wet her dry throat. 'I'm not sure, Great-Grandmother. Do I need to follow Akane until that day comes?'
She shook her head. 'No entirely. I can feel that day drawing closer, but it is not yet upon us. What I need you to do is to learn as much as you can. I know you are not fluent in Japanese yet, but I feel that you might benefit from learning through this divine book. Now, go, serve your customers, but after a week, we close to prepare.'
'But Great-Grandmother-' she protested, her hands twitching into worried fists.
'Don't worry about it, Shampoo. The café will survive for awhile without costumers, the world may not without our help. Go!'
Akane hopped into her bed and with some shuffling, ended up on her back facing the ceiling and her hands under her head to contemplate the day. Ranma had held her hand on the way to school, and despite massive blushing, they had made it to the door unscathed. School had been brilliant… aside from the fact that she had to be there at all. This was based on the fact that the drama project she had been working on was presented, and got full marks. Not only that, her other classes seemed somehow less boring than usual.
By the time she and Ranma had arrived home, again holding hands… well, at least until within sight of the door. Later on, she went to the movies with a big group of friends, and enjoyed the dinner ice cream they went out for afterwards as if it was her last. She had spent the evening listening to music and reading manga with Ranma. Except the occasional fight over the funniest characters or the most melodramatic, it was a pretty uneventful evening, which was something quite difficult to come by any more. So with the promise of Ranma's return to her room after his father had nodded off, Akane stared at the ceiling and waited, thinking how much she wished that things had always been that way.
In a sudden, supernatural manner, Akane fell out of the conscious realm, and into her misty night-world. 'Aw, crap. And I was enjoying my day, dammit!'
But the disembodied voice she expected did not appear, and around her, the velvety blackness faded into vision. Scenes slid in front of her eyes which at first she did not understand. Instead of just one image of one person, she would see the person as they are, and then their dreams would echo in her mind. A boy playing air guitar, hoping to be a rock-star; a young man oil painting a still life, the articles proclaiming his show to be the most influential since Leonardo da Vinci; a teenaged girl sitting at the computer, writing, published hardcover novel; a young woman hunched over a thick, dusty book, an operating room success story; a mother ushering her children out the door, dreams of holding the hands grandchildren…
The images went on and on. Some were wonderful dreams of hard work paying off in goals achieved, others were wistful dreams for others of those whom had no more dreams for themselves, still others were wistful dreams of meeting superstars, but the ones that made the very breath catch in Akane's throat, were ones she would not soon forget. These dreams held horrible images of war and then peace; hunger and then hearty meals; deformed child and then a happy, healthy adult; cold and warmth; depression and hope; grief and joy. Soon, all the images became desperate and sad. The voice she had become so accustomed to, whispered across her mind like satin: 'Without compassion, we are nothing.'
Akane was surprised to taste salt on her lips, and realized that she had been crying. She wanted the first images to stop, and all of the dreams to be made reality. At the last image she fell to her knees and sobbed.
A grave, with the inscription: Tendo Sae A mother, a wife, and a friend. Rest in Peace. Similar to some of the other dreams, there she was. Akane's mother walked toward her, older than she remembered, but smiling, nonetheless. The space around her was once again, the sultry ebony of night, but Akane remained in tears.
'Do not cry for me, my child,' the voice said. 'I am not lost, and I am proud of you, and who you have become.'
Finally recognizing the voice as her mother's, Akane chocked on a sob, and stared wide-eyed into the abyss. So many emotions came crashing down on her at once that she didn't know what to think. She awoke suddenly in Ranma's arms as he wiped her saline covered cheeks and whispered assurances in her ears, and on her tongue, a million questions left unanswered.
A/n: erm, what can I say? I'm sorry you had to wait so long… see? Extra-long chapter in penance! No? Well, I haven't forgotten you faithful readers, and I certainly have not abandoned my many writing endeavors, so you can all now heave a sigh of relief. Anyway, until next time, I appreciate feedback, and have a good one… whatever that 'one' may be.