­Solar Demise - or - Oblivion Has Gained on Us

by Pink(u)

Part Ten - Clarity

Hey guys, it's been a while. ;; For those of you not in the know, I've currently got two ongoing stories: this one, and my Inuyasha fanfic, Fade and Flare (accessible through my profile). If you're sitting around bored some time, feel free to read it!

Well, this story (at least the main chapters) has been narrated by Akane, but it's come to a point where we need to break away from Akane's firsthand experience to move things along. Hopefully this isn't too horrible of a writing faux pas.

Enjoy, nonetheless! The first part of this chapter is a more evolved version of the teaser I posted last time.

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Shit, he thought to himself. It was well past twilight and he was lost in a maze of streets, hopefully far from Nerima by now. He had walked long enough; he figured he was in the next town already. Away from Her. A chilly breeze bit at Ryouga's shoulders as he trudged down another street. He shivered, cursing at the fact that it was hard to see without streetlights. Walking through a dark forest was better, he decided. He could start a fire without worrying about whether or not he'd get arrested for arson. It wasn't like he couldn't take on the cops, of course, though it wasn't like he -wanted- to start trouble. Hibiki Ryouga was brought up to be polite and well-mannered... unlike a certain rude jerk of a-- no, he wasn't that bad actually. Ryouga sighed in resignation.

Saotome Ranma had too many things that Ryouga wanted, and did nothing to get them, either. Girls fawned over him even though he neglected their feelings. He fought so many strong people, always managing to win somehow. He easily picked up new fighting techniques and even learned to create his own. Ryouga felt as if he had to push himself beyond his limits just to barely keep up. Every time he saw himself in Ranma's shoes a familiar anger burned in his belly. He would have handled things so much better than Ranma did.

There was an opportunity to have her, something inside of him asserted. Would he have been able to chip away at Akane's defenses back when Ranma initially left her? Ryouga wasn't too sure. His mind replayed a seemingly distant memory, along a gorgeous beach where he walked with Akane arm in arm. Back then he was convinced all too much that he didn't enjoy the moment as much as he should have. Back then Ryouga was more concerned about his suffering friend, and had thought he could finally completely embrace the love that Akari unwaveringly offered to him with no regrets now that Akane admitted what she really wanted.

Hiroshi had been a friend from school; Ryouga knew that much. Even though Hiroshi witnessed a lot of their antics and a handful of fights it was painfully obvious to Ryouga that he didn't even grasp how important it was for Ranma and Akane to be together. Hiroshi had probably never heard of Mount Phoenix and Saffron, and wasn't there to witness the sheer desolation and hopelessness in Ranma when everyone thought Akane was dead. Hiroshi would have run home crying in the face of something as massive as the Yamato no Orochi if he could even make it that far into Ryugenzawa without becoming dinner for a giant lizard. Hiroshi couldn't possibly fathom and certainly not endure the sacrifice and pain Ranma experienced without a second thought; from fights, training, compromises of his manhood, and culinary assault, all for Akane!

Not at all, Ryouga decided. No matter how much of a friend Akane may have seen him as, Ryouga knew that Hiroshi did not belong in their group of martial artists friends and rivals. The caliber of experiences such a group had under their collective belts could only be wild fantasy to someone as painfully normal as Hiroshi. Their lives were touched by the world's strongest, the world's strangest, and other phenomena from the far edges of human existence. Ranma was the center of this group, unequivocally bound to Akane, their darling. There was nothing to explain it save for the belief in this, one that had slowly manifested in Ryouga's heart.

This was why Ryouga had let things go. This was why Hiroshi was not good enough for one of their own. As 'friendly' as Hiroshi may have been he selfishly tried to take Akane for himself, smearing her with the stench of normalcy.

Look at how dramatic I've made things out to be. "I'm such a kid," Ryouga sighed. He thought he'd gotten over this, but the memory of seeing Akane and Hiroshi replayed in his head. The look on her face was so cute and flushed as he kissed her. Would she look like that with Ryouga? How soft did her lips feel? Ryouga shook those thoughts out of his mind. "No!" he stopped walking for a second to compose himself, using one hand to lean on a wall. The image of Akane's lips appeared in his mind again. In a small fit of frustration, Ryouga began poking holes in the wall his hand was previously resting on. He groaned, agitated, increasing his pace.

"Hey! Quit vandalizing my building!"

"Huh?" Ryouga spun around quickly to face the voice. "Oh, I'm sorry--"

The figure folded its arms, walking out the front door towards Ryouga. "Y'lost again?"

Aw, dammit. Ryouga's stomach sunk. His feelings became an open book when he slumped, reshouldering his backpack. "Yeah, I guess so, Ukyou."

She snorted, rolling her eyes. "Well, considering how late it is I suggest you get your sorry butt in here and stay for the night."

-----

We hadn't said anything to each other on the walk home last night. I was itching to ask Ranma about what had happened with Ukyou but felt like I didn't need to; the end result was clear enough. The first couple of days after were tense; we were used to Ukyou's frequent visits and waited for her each day. I felt a mix of relief and hesitation at the end of the first day, when we had not seen her. I thought to myself that I was one step closer to being with Ranma. Shampoo was not much of an obstacle.

I pictured her tear-stained face as she ran away. Was that what I looked like when I experienced the same kind of pain? I sympathized with her because we were the same in what we wanted. Part of me felt guilty, wanting to reach out to her as a friend. I wanted to be there for her, telling her that things would be fine if she just moved on and forgot about Ranma. However because we were the same in our desires I didn't buy those sentiments. There's no way that Ukyou would, either.

When it came down to it, though, I finally realized that in being happy I had to hurt people. With knowledge of how much my feelings cost others I still realized that deep down, I could live with all that. I simply wanted to be with Ranma. Whether or not he remembered our past, we shared a natural closeness. Even on the day we met I experienced a kind of comfort with him, one that nobody else had ever given me. The first night that Ukyou did not come became the night that all of my apprehensions about the matter cleared. Even if Ranma never remembered his past with me, I would simply make more memories with him, no matter how many times Shampoo tried to erase them.

What Ukyou and Shampoo knew and what I never realized was that I needed no trickery and no elaborate schemes to make Ranma love me. I just had to be me.

Even though I had been guilty of the same tendencies as theirs at times I knew it deep down. What they failed to acknowledge was that love could not be forced.

It was now three days after we had last seen Ukyou. Alone I lay on my side next to the open shoji, staring out at the dojo. My face was pressed against a cool wooden floor, my arms spilled out in front of me as the hint of a breeze combed over my body. Dinner wasn't for another couple of hours but the sun had already sunk below the skyline. While most of the sky was still a clear blue, hints of orange were starting to appear. Though I had long since become used to it there was always something unsettling in the fact that the evening colors contradicted the humid heat. I could feel my eyelids sinking with thoughts about the weather and Ukyou and I, circling in my mind as I drifted off.

-----

"Hey, Akane."

They were the first words that I was able to make out as I woke. A hand gently shook me and my eyelids gradually lifted. Two figures peered down at me as I slowly sat up.

"Uh, hey, Hiroshi. Hi Ranma."

"Hiroshi just wanted to hang out for a bit..." Ranma said. "But I'll be with you guys later, I gotta do something."

"What? Hiroshi hardly comes over, why don't you stay?"

He paused, with an expression I couldn't read. "Wish I could, but I'll have to make it up to you guys later. Have fun." My eyebrow raised as he disappeared into another room. Something in his voice seemed strangely detached, but I ignored any further thoughts about it.

I straightened my hair out a bit, using my fingers as a crude comb, and stretched my legs out. Hiroshi smiled at me, taking a seat next to the shoji. The smells of dinner wafted through the air; I could hear a light clattering of pots and plates in the kitchen. "So, you gonna stay for dinner?"

"Hmm, it smells great, but I'll have to pass. I was just stopping by on my way to see my aunt. Just wanted to see what you were up to since we parted on such a weird note." My heart jumped.

"About that," I said in a lowered voice. My eyes combed the area for anyone who would be listening. Upon neither seeing nor hearing anybody I continued. "I... I'm sorry about that. I don't know what I was thinking at the time, it was just a spur of the moment thing and I don't want you to get the wrong idea--"

"--no, no, I know." Hiroshi leaned up against a wall and cast his gaze out towards the sky. "Unfortunately, My Dear Akane, I have no delusions about you and I. I'm far from a Kunou Tatewaki in that regard."

"Yeah." I stared down at my toes, tapping them together.

We sat together for a little bit in much-needed yet comfortable silence.

"Y'know." Hiroshi spoke out of the blue.

"Hm?"

"The sunset... looks gorgeous."

"Yeah."

"But its colors are only so vivid and bright when there's rampant air pollution."

I blinked. "...yeah, that sucks."

Hiroshi sighed. "People suck. Because our very existance is damaging to everything around us."

"We pay dearly for our beautiful things." My gaze lowered down and to one side, meandering across the shadows cast in the rock garden from the setting sun.

I was taken by surprise as Hiroshi turned towards me, suddenly pulling my face closer as he pressed against my lips with his. Unlike the previous time Hiroshi's kisses was demanding, bordering on ravenous. Unlike the previous time I did not accept what he was offering, instead fearing that Ranma would see and think the worst of me. I scooted back with my heels until I was against a wall, and yet Hiroshi did not relent.

"Stop," I mumbled against him. He brushed my lips with his tongue as he pulled back for air.

"Like I said before, Akane-chan, I have no delusions about you and me. Not only did you like it back then, you came back for more."

My palm met Hiroshi's cheek with a crisp snap. "Your memory is selective, Hiroshi-kun. I also said that we draw the line there."

With a smile Hiroshi rubbed the reddening spot on his face. "All right, I got what I came for. A man has to try, Akane-chan." He put his free hand over mine, squeezing it slightly. "We're friends, and we'll leave it at that."

After glaring pointedly at him I sighed, ruffling his hair a bit. "I can't stay mad at you. Yes, friends."

"Right. And I, now having been freed of misconceptions, promise that you and I won't lock lips again."

"Thank you." A smile stretched across my face.

"...unless you start it. I could only have so much control. And on that note..." He slid down and off of the porch, being careful not to step into the rock garden as he headed for the exit. "I'll see you again at Daisuke's, won't I?"

"Yes!" I beamed, watching as he left. Soon after, Kasumi's voice sounded through the house. It was time to eat.

-----

"What's the matter, Akane? Too lethargic to practice, or what?" Tonight, Ranma was pretty rough on me. His advances were more aggressive; moves more cutthroat than a regular training session. Was he mad at me? I backflipped away from one of Ranma's drop kicks, barely dodging. The split second that Ranma was thrown off by my dodge was enough for me to retaliate, rushing up close to throw a few punches.

Ranma blocked all of them with a smirk while returning a few to me. I took a hit in the shoulder, and another closer to my chest. Something was definitely wrong. When Ranma's hits connected he usually just tapped me lightly, but these punches were gradually starting to hurt.

They didn't subside, either. He slipped into an Amaguriken, speeding up the onslaught so that I was completely unable to block or hit back. The dull ache building in my shoulders and ribs became more prominent and when I could no longer stand it I blocked messily before retreating back.

"Ranma, what are you doing?!" I swept my legs under his, causing him to jump. A moment of my hesitation and bad timing caused me to rise and catch the painful end of Ranma's roundhouse kick. It connected with my ribs; I flew backwards across the floor of the dojo, holding my stomach.

As all of the action suddenly blurred to a halt my body began to ache. Something was very wrong. Even before we started our nightly sparring I could feel a hint of animosity coming from Ranma. The pain was a verification of this as it ached throughout my body now. "Wh-what was that for? I could swear you weren't really pulling your punches."

"I was." Ranma kneeled next to me as I lay on the ground, averting his eyes away from mine.

Ignoring the pain for a bit, I sat up and tried to face him. I searched his eyes, looking for any indication of his sudden strange behavior. Ranma's chauvinism ran deep; he wasn't the type to fight most girls, let alone allow them to be hurt. What was he hiding, I wondered.

"Hey," I ventured. Ranma sat on his knees with his fists balled on his lap. Holding my ribs I scooted in front of him and lowered my head to peer into his sullen face. "I... well, you know I really care about you so if you need to talk about it I'll always be here for you. Don't bottle things up."

"Yeah," Ranma's downcast stare was off to one side. "I'm sure you care deeply for a lot of people, don't you?"

My heart skipped a beat. The guilt from my encounter with Hiroshi remained fresh in my mind, as it had been only a couple of days since then. Paranoia kicked in. If he had seen the kiss I shared with, no, received from Hiroshi today then surely he saw the slap that followed? My voice became shaky as I allowed the next words to come out. "Ranma, are you okay?"

Ranma stood and so did I. We locked eyes briefly. He paced across the floor with tight and deliberate movements, fists still balled at his sides. I followed him, trying to get him to look at me once more. He turned away completely then, cursing as he spun sharply, trying to avoid my face.

"Ranma," I called, still tailing him. The pain I felt in my body was nearly forgotten by now. I followed him into a corner of the dojo, standing high on my toes to meet his eyes. "Ranma, what happened?"

It was instantaneous; his hands clamped my arms and Ranma whirled us around, suddenly pushing me into the wall.

"I KNOW you don't like him as much as you like me. Say it!"

Everything froze for me. Damn it all and damn me more, I knew I shouldn't have let anything happen to begin with!

"What the hell are you doing to me, Akane?" He yelled, nearly frantic. His eyes turned desperate, tugging at my surprised stare. The hands on my arms tightened, shaking me lightly. "I... I could have killed him for what he did! How dare you let him touch you! How dare you let him... put his tongue in your mouth?"

"What?! Ranma, he may have tried but I didn't let him--"

"And that slap? He puts the moves on you after you slap him and all you can do is smile like a fucking schoolgirl? Why didn't you beat the HELL out of him?"

"Ranma, he's a nice guy and a really good friend. It wasn't like that."

"God DAMN it!" Ranma released one of my arms in order to punch a portion of the wall that was next to my head. "I don't understand why I'm reacting like this! God, it hurts... my head's hurting, Akane."

My body trembled as Ranma held me there. For a moment I had no idea what he was going to do.

"Don't... don't you dare..." my voice was shaky but I willed myself to continue. "I-if you try to attack me do you think I'm going to like you more than him?" Tears spilled down my cheeks. I closed my eyes, embarassed and unable to meet Ranma's stare. I shuddered in an exhale, sniffling a couple of times until I felt a hand against my cheek. My eyes met Ranma's as he rubbed my tears away with his thumb.

"Tell me you don't like him as much as you like me, Akane," Ranma pleaded in a deep, whispery voice. "Damn it, why did you do this to me?"

When Ranma's gaze softened I creased my eyebrows, cautiously bringing a hand to his face. I felt as if I had to enjoy this bittersweet moment. The first time that Hiroshi and I kissed it felt so much better as I pictured Ranma in his place. Being so intimate with the real thing had become a commodity.

"I'm not trying to do anything to you that you don't want, Ranma... But... I know that it doesn't matter if I like you more than Hiroshi, if you don't like me more than Hiroshi does."

Suddenly I felt his hands sliding to my back. In one smooth movement Ranma pulled me against him, burrowing into my eyes with his heated gaze.

"You're..." Ranma blinked, his face then awash with clarity. His hands held me against him even tighter.

My eyes went wide when he looked at me. His lips spread in a smile with a comfortable realization now dawning on his face as I stared back at him. "Ranma," I breathed.

"You're engaged to me," he said simply.

Without breaking eye contact his hands came up to cup both of my cheeks in smooth and exact movements. With a slight nudge of his chest I was against the wall again, watching in near disbelief as he closed his eyes. He bent low, sweetly capturing my lips with his. There was no more ferociousness in him as he kissed me; I gasped and suddenly felt his tongue gently moving against mine. I felt a hand slide behind my head and fingers tangling into my hair as he deepened the kiss, his chest heaving when I finally kissed back.

Wrapping my arms around Ranma's waist, I pulled away for a breath. My lips were parted in a smile as I exhaled raggedly. "While I might like Hiroshi-kun..." I started, holding Ranma tighter in gentle reassurance, "I..." I pressed a kiss against his neck. "love..." I nibbled on his chin. "You." I placed a chaste kiss onto his lips. "You only."

Ranma's grey eyes sparkled, his gaze now smouldering. In the corner of the dojo on that quiet night our kisses continued in lieu of any further sparring, physical or verbal, yet just as heated.

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Author's Notes: (November 2004)

It gets harder and harder to write this, partially because I'm always so busy, but also because it's a messy fiasco that I thought up while in middle school, and started writing in high school. I'll give you a little perspective on this: I'm in my early twenties and married now. ;; Not exactly writing with the same mindset I started with here.

Hopefully you guys don't mind, though... Thank you for reading, as always! Even though all of this time passes I still enjoying perpetuating this literary mess I call a Ranma fanfic! :D (Psst, hopefully my Inuyasha fic is better... :blatantplug:)

Until next time!