Close to Death
Chapter 1: Light a Curse to Burn a Love
Shampoo looked at the scroll in her hand, grinning evilly. "Great grandmother, this I buy."
Cologne and the Chinese merchant looked at the plotting purple-haired girl. It was mid-afternoon in the Cat Cafe, and the restaurant was closed until dinner. A traveling merchant had stopped by for an appointment with Cologne and had his wares spread out on the table before then. He and Cologne had been casually chatting about some of his medicinal herbs when Shampoo had spoken unexpectedly.
The man took one look at the scroll and inhaled sharply in approval. "Ohhh yes, pretty girl is clever – find most ancient and valuable scroll I have for sale!" He tapped the top of the paper with his finger, looking at Cologne. "This scroll ensure perfect revenge against love scorned. Very reasonable price, too."
Cologne hopped on her walking stick over to Shampoo, and carefully read the Chinese characters on the page before her. She gasped. "This... This can't be! I recognize this curse..." Her eyes wandered to the cloth pouch tied onto the scroll. A symbol of fire was on the outside of the bag, a faded warning of death carved into the dark leather. She regarded her great granddaughter carefully. "This is truly dark and terrible magic...Shampoo! You would put son-in-law through this terrible curse?"
Shampoo's grinned widened. "Not quite what have in mind. Curse not for Ranma..."
Realization struck her, and Cologne found herself astonished at the lengths her young descendant would go to in order to capture the adoration of her love. "I pity the girl."
Eyes alight, Shampoo turned to the traveling merchant. "How much?"
She waited until dark before sneaking over the fenced walls. Jumping from the wall to the roof, she crept quietly to the dark window, listening carefully for any movement inside. The light was off and she peered silently in through the glass before quietly shimming the window open.
The only occupant of the room was fast asleep. Shampoo was relieved to see the pig wasn't here - if two people were exposed to the curse, she wasn't sure if it would be as effective. And for her plan to work she would need this curse to work as well as possible.
In the back of her mind she wondered if she should feel some guilt for what she was about to do. After all, if this really did lead to Akane's death it would be a painful way to go. Shampoo had been serious in her attempts on Akane's life in the past, and if it was a curse that led to her death it would be sort of a cheap way for Shampoo to finally defeat her. All fair in love and war, she consoled herself as she swung effortlessly through the window frame and landed silently on the carpet.
In mere seconds she had the pouch laid open on the desk next to Akane's head, a tight coil of incense laying on the open cloth. It seemed to pulse and move like a snake in the dark. Shampoo tied a bandana over her nose and mouth, and glanced once at Akane's sleeping face. Good bye brute girl. She lit a match, hovering hesitantly over the incense. I do this for love of Ranma. I sorry it must end this way.
Cloth in hand, Shampoo left moments later, closing the window behind her. She stole away in the night, gone as quickly as she had appeared. Inside the room, a dark smoke rose into the air, the incense burning hot and quick like a sparkler. It left no ash behind as it burned into smoke: a silent and untraceable bringer of death.
Akane Tendo breathed deeply and silently, unaware of the tendrils of smoke that wrapped around her neck as she slept.
"Right before Christmas?!"
"Have a heart!"
The collective of students groaned as Ms. Hinako passed out a study guide.
Hinako Ninomiya frowned at the unanimous reaction. "Now now! A good teacher is expected to test her students regularly to teach them good study habits! And I am a good teacher! Here, you, finish passing these out..." Dismissively she dropped a stack of study guides onto one boy's desk and resumed her spot at the front of the class. The boy grumbled, but got up to pass out the papers.
"The test will be this Friday! It will cover everything we've learned since Autumn to now, and your grade will be a defining mark of your understanding. Those of you who don't pass can expect to be spending your winter break here with me, cramming to catch up with your peers!" Hinako grinned, attempting to look evil, but pulling off a cute dazed look instead on her childish face.
The students exchanged glances and groans. A couple students whispered, "Wait can she even do that?" "Is that legal?" "If anyone would allow it though it would be the principal…"
Akane Tendo looked gloomily down at the study guide in her hands. Christmas time was quickly approaching, and she had been looking forward to spending the next few days looking for presents and decorating the house. Winter Break started right after class got out on Friday, and Christmas was on the following Monday. That left her only two days to find gifts for everyone, assuming she had to study every night. She sighed, and let the paper fall to her desk. Oh well... At least I'm pretty confident I'll be able to pass. Unlike some people... Akane glanced over at Ranma to see how he was taking the announcement.
The normally confident Ranma Saotome was looking abashed. He stared at the page in front of him, visibly depressed, his braid weepy. Akane frowned, looking away. That's kind of...pathetic. She sighed to herself. Looks like he'll need help. Even if I'm not the best student, I can probably help him at least pass. If Ranma has to give up his Winter Break, we'll never hear the end of his complaining. She glanced back at him. I'll offer, anyway...
The school bell rang, and the sound of chatter and scraping chairs filled the room. Ranma angrily stuffed his study guide into his bag, gloomy. He figured the last week of school before break would breeze by, but now his vacation hung in the balance. If studying was his only way to ensure he wouldn't have to spend his break with Ms. Ninomiya, then studying would have to happen. Would Akane be any help I wonder? Ranma looked at her back as she packed up her things, curious. She's not the best student but she can probably help me pass... I'll have to play to her ego when I ask...
Before he had a chance to approach her, however, another girl stood in front of him. "Ranma honey!" Ukyo chirped. At the sound of the nickname, Akane looked over her shoulder glowering. What does she want now?
"Oh... hi, Ukyo!" Ranma scratched behind his head, considering her.
Ukyo smiled at him, then suddenly grew gravely serious. "Ranma honey, this test is going to be hard and I'm not willing to stand by and let you fail." Ranma frowned at her lack of confidence in him, and then mentally shrugged it off because it wasn't exactly misplaced. "So why don't you let me help you? We can study together, and as a study snack we can even have okonomiyaki, my treat!" She winked.
In the background, Akane fumed.
Ranma, however, lit up and grabbed her hands. "Really, Ukyo?! Incredible! Yes!" He grinned, hopeful for the first time since hearing about the test. "I was going to ask Akane for help, but you're way better at school-" A flying book cut off his sentence prematurely as it collided with his head, knocking him to the floor.
Sputtering, Ranma caught the book as it fell from his face and looked up at a furious Akane. "What's your problem?!"
Akane snatched the book from his hand, seething. "My hand slipped. Sorry to ruin such a nice moment with your cute fiancé." She huffed, turning away. "See if I ever think of helping you again, you ingrate!"
Ranma watched her stomp off, confused. When was she going to help me? He rubbed his temple, and stood up as Ukyo chattered about him coming over to her restaurant so they could get started on studying. He watched Akane as she talked to Sayuri and Yuka about the test. "Seriously uncute," he mumbled to himself.
"We'll come over to your place after dinner then, okay Akane?" Akane nodded, only half listening to her friends. Stupid Ranma, I hope he fails after all...
They were only halfway through the study guide when the romance questions started.
"It must be hard to see Ranma and Ukyo making plans to study alone together, huh Akane?" Yuka and Sayuri looked sneakily at Akane. "I mean...he was your fiancé first."
"Hmph." The tip of her pencil snapped. "I don't care. He can study with whoever he wants. I don't even care if he does fail." Akane grit her teeth and sharpened her pencil like a dagger. "And I don't care who he marries. Ranma can do whatever he wants."
The silence grew uncomfortable. Akane looked at her friends, and felt her anger ebb. "Sorry... I don't mean to sound angry. Sometimes I just..." She put her pencil down, putting her chin in her hand instead. She didn't like talking about her relationship with Ranma, but her friends absolutely loved talking about boys and romance. She gave in on the subject for them, however hesitantly. "I just don't even think he cares about..." Me. "…this arrangement at all..."
The girls looked at each other. "Well... You guys are engaged for the sake of the dojo right? At least there's that!"
"Yeah..." Akane sat thoughtfully and sadly, looking away from her friends and out the window. "But what kind of marriage would it be if it were for the sake of continuing a dojo? Don't get me wrong, I love the Anything Goes School but," she turned from the window, trying to grin bravely, "martial arts does not a marriage make! You need..." Here she got sheepish and mumbled, "Like, love and that stupid stuff..."
"She's blushing! She's blushing!" The girls laughed, teasing the dark haired girl. Sayuri smiled, "But surely Ranma has said he loves you, right?"
Akane stiffened and the atmosphere in her room grew dark. Her friends balked but quickly tried to cover it up to avoid hurting her feelings. "We-ell he's a boy! Boy's don't say 'I love you' very easily!" "No, especially not at this age!" "Right, right, high school is a difficult time for boys!" They nodded, trying to convince themselves as much as her.
"No," Akane answered finally. "I guess they don't..." She sighed, getting grumpy again, and mumbled, "But it would sure help if I had any sort of clue..." She sighed again, sadly. "At this point, I really don't think Ranma even really thinks about...whether or not... I mean... Love..." She trailed off.
Her friends looked at the back of her head as she looked out the window again. Quietly, tentatively, Yuka asked, "And what about you Akane? Do you love Ranma?"
"Well..." Her brow furrowed, and she frowned before carefully answering, "I don't think... I could love someone... who doesn't love me..." They exchanged a look. Akane noticed the silence that followed, and felt bad about getting so serious. She turned back to them and smiled quickly and apologetically, trying to brighten the mood. "Y-You know what I mean? What kind of a love life would that be! I'd be no better than Kuno!"
The girls laughed together ("Poor misguided Kuno!"), but outside the window a face sat set in stony silence. Ranma, suspended above Akane's window, laid crouched on the roof tiles with a sick, guilty feeling in his stomach. And it had nothing to do with the okonomiyaki he had spent all night eating.
Could she... hate me so much...? He had been on his way to check in on her after studying with Ukyo, to see if she was still mad about earlier, when he had heard the girls talking about him. There had been times before when he'd felt like a jerk about how he treated her, but hearing her sound so sad and defeated was more than he could handle. Akane... And what did she mean by that answer?! Saying she can't love someone who doesn't love her... Where did that leave her feelings for him?
"Are you sure you don't want to spend the night?" Akane stood just inside the front gate of the house, her friends on the street outside. It was already dark out - it had taken them longer than they thought to get through the study guide.
"No, it's fine! We live nearby."
"Yeah, besides my mom would kill me if I didn't come home, she'd think I was using this as an excuse to meet a boy!"
After a last few exchanged giggles, the girls waved goodbye, and Akane disappeared back inside the house. She headed up the stairs to bed, glancing at the door to the guest bedroom with a heavy heart as she passed. They mean well, asking about Ranma and me, but... She entered her room, feeling glum. Their questions left her feeling dejected and unsettled. Even after all their time together, she still didn't have a concrete answer about her relationship with Ranma.
Only a few months ago Akane was confident about how Ranma felt about her. She had been laying in his arms when she heard him say that he loved her, and only a few weeks later he called her beautiful when she stood in front of him in a wedding dress. But since then life had just fallen back into the same pattern as before. They were back at school, Ranma was back to being followed by the local fiancés, and he and Akane were back to a semblance of something normal, with feelings going unspoken. Sometimes it felt to Akane that her time as a doll in Jusendo had never happened, and the wedding was just a dream.
Akane curled up in bed under the covers, still feeling uncomfortable. She stared up at the ceiling. Ranma... You idiot... Her nerves were making her fidget, and she glanced at the clock. Sleep was going to come hard tonight. If only that idiot could just come out and say it, be honest... Tell me that he loves...
A strange feeling washed over her. Her eyes glazed over, and she felt compelled to get out of bed. What she needed was to work out some of her extra energy before bed. Yes. Then I'll be able to sleep. That's what she needed.
In the darkness, moving as if in a dream, Akane got dressed.
"A-A-A-Akane... you... are... not... too much... of a... tomboy..." Ranma clenched his teeth. Is that... the best I can do?!
Ranma was perched on a tree branch above the Tendo household, sulking in the moonlight. He stared at the trunk of the tree in front of him, and took a deep breath. Think of it like a challenge, do whatever it takes to win. "A-Akane... When I say you're uncute, I... I don't mean it... Only sometimes?" He frowned. "Damn it!" His fist connected to the bark, frustrated. "Why is this so hard!" After all, if he wanted Akane to know enough about how he felt about her to not hate him, he'd have to do better than that.
Anyway, I thought we were past this point! He thought he had made it pretty clear after their trip to Jusendo how he felt about her. Sure, they hadn't talked much about their feelings for one another since the failed wedding, but after nearly getting her killed – twice – he had been grateful for the last few weeks of calm normalcy. What's wrong with letting things get back to normal, anyway? He scowled, remembering the hesitancy in her voice. "I don't think I could love someone who doesn't love me." Her words stung deeply, and made him uneasy.
He took a deep breath. "You... are built... like a... small... brick... Damnit." With a huff, he decided the words he was looking for weren't going to be found tonight. It's getting late anyway, maybe I'll have more luck if I sleep on it...
Ranma swiveled on the balls of his feet, ready to jump to a lower branch, when he saw movement down below. He crouched, peeking through the leaves.
Akane was walking lightly towards the front gate dressed in her winter jogging clothes. She moved quickly and quietly, slipping through the gate silently. Hm? Ranma moved closer for a better view, peering down at her. She did a few short stretches then took off at a slow pace down the street. Running at night? She's never done that before. He frowned. And what an idiot - she didn't even bring a flashlight or nothin'! And it's freezing out! What is she thinking?
He made up his mind quickly. Stealthily, he hopped down from the tree onto the wall surrounding the property, and padded silently after her, hands in his pockets. Akane... I swear, you better not do anything stupid...
Akane passed street lamp after street lamp, lost in thought.
What was she doing out here, running around, when she could have been working out safely in the dojo? She frowned as she ran, shivering slightly in the winter air. She had just felt so compelled to go outside, even though in the back of her mind she knew it wasn't safe to go running around after dark. And without a flashlight or reflective vest either… Or some sort of weapon.
She tried to stop her feet, to turn around, but for some reason she just kept moving forward. It was unnerving to be out so late, but also calming. Everything was silent except for the sound of her feet plodding along on the concrete. She passed dark house after dark house. Everyone was asleep. She felt strangely at peace, and smiled to herself, feeling a warm rush sweep over her body despite the biting cold of the winter air.
If only Ranma were here... She sighed dizzily, an image of Ranma swimming in front of her. Suddenly she wasn't running alone on a dark street, but instead was laughing and running with Ranma in the park.
He was in his Mao suit, his ponytail bobbing out underneath his hat as he ran ahead. She struggled to keep up with him, but was laughing despite herself. "Slow down!" she called, tripping over her own feet. He just looked over his shoulder and grinned at her.
"Ran...ma..." She whispered, her eyes flat and unfocused.
"Where the hell is she going?!" Ranma had to jog to keep her in his sights, his eyebrows furrowed. He had been following far behind Akane for a few minutes now, when her running had suddenly become erratic. She sped up and was starting to stumble. Abruptly, she turned off of her normal jogging path and instead headed down a street that wasn't residential. "What is she thinking, that idiot?" He hissed between his teeth. "There are so many blind turns on that road..." He took his hands out of his pockets, quickening his pace as he ran along the top of a fence.
"Do you love me?" Ranma shouted over his shoulder. Akane laughed, running faster. The wind was harsh and biting, but the vision of Ranma in front of her kept her moving.
"Of course I do!" Akane called after him, shyly. Her heart rate quickened, and she felt drunk from the overwhelming feelings that poured out of her.
Ranma seemed to glow with her confession. "Then hurry up and catch me, and prove it!" The sunlight was bright on his face, but she personally felt no warmth from the rays.
"I would," she gasped, "if you would slow down a little!" He grinned, and stopped, turning to face her. He spread his arms out to hug her, and called out to her.
"If you love me... die for me."
The bright lights shattered her vision before her ears could adjust. With his words still echoing in her head, Akane found herself transported out of the lovely sunny scene in the park, and instead back, alone on a street in the chill of winter. Her wits returned to her, and she remembered her decision for a nighttime jog. But the street was no longer dark – it was blaringly bright.
The headlights bleached her vision so that all she could see was the massive truck in front of her. She had no time to move, no time to think; she was stuck with no way to escape.
It hit her across the chest, and the world turned upside down as she spun through the air, shutting her eyes tightly in pain. The landing was surprisingly gentle. The wind was knocked out of her and her mind was swimming, but she faintly realized she was on her feet.
There was a ringing in her ears, and it took her a moment before she could open her eyes. When she did, she found herself staring at a wall. She tried to move, but realized she couldn't – someone had their arms wrapped around her.
Ranma saw the whole thing.
Akane! Running off the sidewalk and into the street.
Akane! Stumbling, as a truck whipped around a blind corner.
Akane! As she staggered to a stop, just staring at the truck.
Akane! The headlights drowning her in blinding light, standing small and still.
And then, in his mind's eye, Akane, dying at Jusendo as she tried to save him.
Akane...! His mind was racing, and it was only by some miracle that his arms found her before the truck did. The truck was moving fast, but Ranma was quicker. With arms tight around her he leapt them both to safety into a small side alley, the sound of a horn blaring and then fading into the distance, echoing alone in the otherwise silent night.
Ranma held her close to him as his eyes adjusted to the darkness again. He had one arm wrapped around her waist, the other on the back of her head, holding her against him. His heart felt like it was it about to beat out of his chest, and he was breathing hard.
He felt her stir against him, and he pulled back to look at her.
Brown, clueless, terrified eyes met his blue ones. "Ranma...?" I could have died. With a gasp, she started breathing again and abruptly her legs gave out.
Ranma grunted, and let his own legs slide out from under him, lowering them both slowly to the ground. He leaned back against the brick wall behind him, Akane curled up between his knees.
"You..." He looked at her shivering frame, relief sweeping over him. She's alive. "Are you okay?"
I almost died. Akane seemed unable to hear him, just seeing the truck in front of her again. She winced, then looked at him, tears appearing in her eyes.
"Shit, are you hurt anywhere? Talk to me," he lowered his voice, "Akane..."
This time she was able to shake her head. "I... I'm fine..." The tears still came, but she was able to rub them away. "I'm not hurt."
"Good." Ranma looked her over, to ensure she really was fine, then felt his anger rise up. "You idiot!" A tidal wave of anger hit him. "You idiot, Akane!" He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her.
"Hey!" Akane looked at him, bewildered, tugging at his hands to get them off. "What are you-"
"NO!" Ranma shouted, scaring her. "You don't get to talk right now. What were you thinking?! You absolute moron! Going out at night, not telling anyone." She had never seen Ranma so livid at her before. He was shaking – from anger, she thought; from fear, he felt.
"What would have happened if I hadn't seen you leave? What would have happened if I hadn't followed you?" He shook her again, and this time she was silent, letting him move her. "You almost died just now, do you even... do you even realize? Realize what that would do to me?!" He clenched his teeth together, eyes angrily searching her face. "If you had gone out here during the middle of the night and died, and I would have had no idea – no one would have – and we could do nothing to save you? Nothing?! No! You idiot! I just got you back from Jusendo, you're supposed to be safe here! You – you – you idiot!"
Akane just sat there in shock. Ranma's eyes had welled up with angry tears. "Are you listening to me?!" She nodded, silent, hoping he wouldn't shake her again. He searched her face again then grabbed her, pulling her close up against him. "You idiot. Don't you dare scare me like that again. Don't be so stupid!" His fingers gripped her arms tightly, and he buried his face into her shoulder. "Damnit, Akane... Scaring me like that..."
She was left with nothing to say. She felt like a child who was being reprimanded – and to think of all the stupid things he had done in the past to almost get himself killed! She tried to fill her stomach with anger, to yell back at him... But the fire was out in her belly, and she caved.
She brought her arms up to hug him around the shoulders. "Ranma... I'm so sorry." She tightened her grip, seeing a vision of the truck flash in front of her eyes again, and relaxed her hold as it disappeared. She could feel a dull throb across her abdomen where his arm had slammed into her then lifted her away to safety. "I don't know what came over me. Why I decided to come out here at night..." She leaned back to look at him.
His angry blue eyes looked up at hers, and she felt a heavy pang of guilt. Now he looked like the child: terrified, angry, sulking. "I promise... I won't do it again."
Ranma looked at her with a piercing gaze she shuffled under. She looked down at the ground, and spoke quietly. "And Ranma... What happened at Jusendo..." Her eyes met his again. He looked wary. "You saved me, and you're still right: I am safe here. Tonight was a fluke. Don't worry, I won't... I won't scare you like that again."
Ranma looked into the pale face of the girl in front of him. The infuriating, moronic, frustrating, beautiful, alive girl in front of him. He suddenly felt guilty for going off on her. She was the one who just had the scare of her life, and here he was shouting at her. "I don't think I could love someone who doesn't love me." Her words from before rang out suddenly in his head. He frowned, hesitating, then opened his mouth.
A cold wind suddenly picked up, making Akane shiver.
"I – We need to get you home," he said suddenly. His heart was beating quickly, but decided that now was not the time to revisit what she said to her friends.
"M-mm..." Akane mumbled, hugging herself. She stood, shakily, with Ranma's help, then blinked in surprise as he knelt in front of her.
"Get on my back. No way I'm letting you walk back, with your luck and sense of direction, who knows what you might run into next." Ranma smiled slyly, trying to lighten the mood.
It worked. Akane smiled and hit him playfully on the shoulder, before reluctantly crawling onto his back. "I really don't know what came over me tonight." She held on as he stood up effortlessly, and led them safely back across the road and toward the residential streets. "But really, believe me... I'm sorry for scaring you."
It wasn't until she was back in her bed, curled up under her blankets, that she remembered the vision of Ranma and her playing in the field. She blushed, confused at first, and then angry that being distracted by the scene in her head had almost gotten her killed. What was that anyway? Where did that come from? Why was it so absorbing?
The details of the vision were blurry now – all she could remember was him turning to face her, spreading his arms, and mouthing something...
This is the first thing I've written in years so I'm so satisfied getting these words down! After burning through all of Ranma 1/2, I've missed the relationship between Ranma and Akane dearly and part of me couldn't bear to see it end. So until I get it out of my system, I'll keep their love alive in my head and in non-profitable fan fiction (this can act as my disclaimer!).
My hope is that the finished story will end up as 10 chapters. I'm still getting back into the swing of writing, so hopefully we'll all see my language and sentence structure improving over the rest of the story.
Cheers! And lemme know what you think, if possible! :)