Solar Demise - or - Oblivion has Gained on Us
by Pink

Part Three - The Death of P-chan

"If you don't tell me RIGHT NOW why Akane is hurt..." Ryouga leaped high into the air, throwing a punch at Ranma. Ranma back flipped to avoid it, visibly annoyed.

"Shut up Ryouga!" Ranma leaped onto a wall, folding his arms. "This entire incident has NOTHING to do with you! Quit now before I really hurt you!" Ranma took a defensive stance and awaited Ryouga's attack intently.

"I have a right to know about it, Ranma!" Ryouga growled. "Akane is one of the most important people in my life-ah-- she's one of my dearest friends and I have a right to worry about her! Because YOU live with her, I worry even MORE sometimes!" He glanced at me quickly and his voice softened. "Akane, will you please tell me what happened? I was passing by, I heard what Ranma said about you getting hurt." Ranma held his stance and watched carefully as Ryouga remained on the ground, looking at me.

I shook my head. I wasn't exactly in a mood to speak. "It's nothing, Ryouga-kun. Really, I had a little... sparring session... and I got--"

"--You got ROCKED, Akane. Shampoo hit you so hard you lost your breakfast!" Ranma shifted slightly as he yelled down to me.

"WHAT???" Ryouga switched glances between Ranma and I, blinking in disbelief. Out of nowhere, Ryouga leaped high and dove at Ranma, who was still on the wall but caught off-guard. Ryouga's punch connected squarely with Ranma's head, sending him into the ground.

"Ranma..." I stopped myself from rushing to his side. *That's right,* I thought to myself, *I'm still mad at the jerk! I don't want to talk to him at all!*

The two continued their scuffle, destroying rocks, making craters in the ground, and demolishing portions of the outside wall around our home. Ryouga accented his punches with his usual insults: "You careless womanizer! You bastard!" At first it seemed like a typical fight between Ranma and Ryouga. As I watched further I noticed that there Ranma had a different look in his eyes. I watched quietly for a bit longer, until Ranma had managed to pin Ryouga's arms behind his back. It was almost as if Ranma looked... hurt? He pulled forcibly and curled his lips in a sneer, speaking sharply.

"You had better LISTEN WELL, Ryouga."

"And WHY should I listen to you? Akane's hurt, and you didn't protect her! You screwed up, Ranma!" Ranma appeared to flinch, and then stared straight into Ryouga's eyes.

"Don't you give me that crap about protecting her the right way, Ryouga! I've done it over and over, and every time I've done the best I could!"

"You can say that now since she'll be okay! If this were a different situation and Akane had... if Akane had been put in the hospital or died, would you still be spouting that same crap?! Would you shrug your shoulders and say, 'Oh well. I did the best I could, let's go home?'" Ryouga struggled until his arms were free.

"What I've ALREADY DONE should be proof of what I say, dammit!" Ranma threw punches, Ryouga dodged. "YOU were there for half of those fights! Even someone as dense as you could see that I'd die fighting for her without even hesitating! Why don't you--"

"You two, stop it!" I held my stomach as I yelled, because it was starting to burn. Ryouga's face paled a little but he seemed to be controlling his reaction. "Quit talking as if I'm out of hearing range! In fact, quit fighting over this stupid little thing all together because I'm very OBVIOUSLY alive!"

"See what I mean?" Ranma shoved Ryouga to one side and folded his arms.

Why did Ranma always have to be so rude? "Ryouga-kun, I'm so happy to have such a caring friend." I grabbed his arm and headed for the house.

"Argh! this is so typical, you two, do you know that? Why do you always have to act as if I'm the jerk?"

"Because you ARE the jerk!" I retorted. "You could have stopped Shampoo, just like you could have stopped a LOT of incidents from happening, but you never do! You just let those girls grab at you like you're a slab of meat!"

Ranma's eyes flashed brightly with anger. "I don't believe you just said that, Akane." He breathed loudly and crossed his arms. "You're sitting here putting the blame on ME when you could have watched who you were attacking. You also seem to think you can tell Ryouga and I to quit with the violence, but I'll bet you don't have a problem using those mallets of yours! Maybe you're right, beating someone into the ground DOESN'T help. Look what's happened to you!"

I didn't know what to say. Ranma's empty insults were one thing, but he really meant what he was saying. Inside, I wanted to agree with him. There was nothing I could even think to say in defense.

"But... you always let those girls... RYOUGA understands what I mean! They do nothing but grab at you and.."

"Shut UP, Akane."

"..."

A moment crawled by and Ryouga broke the silence. "Don't you talk to her like that, Ranma! How DARE you!" Ryouga balled his fists, but I pulled at his arm to hold him back."

"It's best that you stay there with her, Ryouga, because if you attack me for telling the truth... I'll HURT you. And I'm not talking about those little scuffles that we usually have. I. Will. MURDER. You." I didn't notice how tightly I was clutching Ryouga's arm. It was safe to say that neither of us had ever heard such ice in Ranma's voice. "Both of you are perfect for each other. You won't even listen to the other side of the situation before jumping into things and acting high and mighty! You only believe whatever justifies your urge to beat up someone."

I looked away from Ranma, down at my toes. "I don't need to be badmouthed right now, Ranma." Tugging on Ryouga's arm I led him away from Ranma. "Let's go, Ryouga, I don't think I want to be around Ranma right now." Ryouga staggered a bit and nodded in agreement.

"I see. All right, Akane, that's fine. You don't seem to like hearing the truth, I get it." Ranma turned away. "Since you two are so alike, why not get engaged? Maybe since the Musabetsu Kakutou Ryu doesn't seem to have much of a future, your dad'll let you to get away with a wedding."

"Ranma, that's below the belt--" I started to say.

"Oh, like you never hit below the belt," Ranma hissed. "I think I've had enough."

"What?!"

"I think I'm sick of trading kisses for kicks, and I think I want what a NORMAL person would call, 'affection.'" Ranma started to walk towards the gates. "I'm TIRED, and I think it's better that we break off this engagement for REAL."

"... ...what?"

"You're awfully talkative, aren't you?" Was Ranma beginning to tremble? Shake with anger? "It's not like you love- it's not like we love each other. It's not like we act like a couple that's going to get married! Akane, get real." Ryouga was totally still as Ranma bowed to us before exiting. "Do me a favor, Akane. Make sure you live the rest of your life without any more regrets."

"No regrets," I repeated softly, oblivious to the hand that Ryouga placed on my arm. "Ranma," I whispered before running to the gates. I tried to see which way Ranma went, but he was already out of sight. "Live the rest of my life..?"

Ryouga pulled me into the house. "I... I can't say whether or not Ranma's coming back this time. But I bet he'll come back eventually, right? I mean... he lives here, doesn't he?"

"Yeah," I answered. "He's just a bit mad. I bet he'll be back in time for dinner." I felt like crying. "Hey Ryouga, would you like to stay a while? At least for dinner, but maybe even... for a night or so? We can hang out and catch up." Hopefully Ryouga didn't notice how hard I was forcing a smile.

=-=-=-=-=-=

Ranma didn't come home for dinner. Ryouga's presence helped calm me down as he joked with everybody and talked about the lack of souvenirs to buy now that there weren't really places to shop. I don't know if my stomach was still reeling from the punch, or if it was just because the whole day was a big downer, but I didn't feel like eating much.

After dinner, we all watched a little TV, hoping against another news report or science documentary. I was sick of hearing the details of our particular flavor of impending doom. The shortage of food in China, the power outage in Okinawa, or the riots in America were things I heard enough of. I headed towards my room. "Ryouga-kun, would you like to stay down here and watch TV?"

Ryouga rose and walked towards me. "Actually, I'm not interested in the TV. Would you mind if I just hang out with you?"

I smiled in gesture for Ryouga to follow me. "That's just what I was going to ask, otherwise." On the way upstairs, I tipped my head towards everyone else and said, "Be sure to let me know if anything INTERESTING comes on TV, okay guys?" I headed into my room with Ryouga in tow, and let him in. I gestured to the side of my bed and offered it to Ryouga as a seat.

Ryouga grinned softly and sat. "Hey Akane, thanks for inviting me to stay." He began to bow deeply, but I stopped him.

"Hey, that's not necessary, you're great company!" I opened my blinds a little to let some light in, while the sun was still up. I was oblivious to the fact that my arms were trembling.

"How are you feeling, Akane?" Ryouga's voice broke the silence. "I don't necessarily mean your injury, by the way. Honestly, you don't look okay." He pat a spot on my bed for me to sit on, so I obliged him.

"No, I'm fine." I wasn't a very good liar, and Ryouga was equally not good at being convinced.

"Are... you worried about Ranma?"

"No!" When I said this, I realized that I was shaking. "W-why should I be?"

"You don't have to lie, Akane. It's ridiculously obvious to even me that there's a spark between you and Ranma even when you're fighting."

I remained quiet and still for a while, trying to recall my last few encounters with Ranma. "...really?"

"Yes." Ryouga paused briefly and stared down into his lap. His eyebrow curled and he stared until taking a breath and looking at me. "I think I need to tell you something, Akane. You will most likely want to kill me, and that's totally acceptable."

"Hey, Ryouga, I don't think I could ever hate you. You're such a great friend and I can't think of a single thing that you've done to wrong me."

"Yeah." The Prince of Depression didn't look convinced.

"So, what did you want to tell me?"

"If you think I've been paying attention to your relationship with Ranma for kicks, you've got the wrong idea."

"...?"

"The truth is... I've been in love with you almost ever since I met you. I notice how you and Ranma feel about each other because of that."

What on earth did he say? In love with me? It was plausible, but the thought had never crossed my mind. After letting what he said sink in a little bit I tried to make sense of it. I always knew that Ryouga was a little protective of me, but never realized the reasoning behind it. Things began to make sense, and a million strange incidents suddenly seemed a bit clearer.

I wondered if Ranma knew about this.

"I almost knew you'd react like this."

"Wha--?"

Ryouga put his head in his hands, mussing up his hair. "You've been quiet for a VERY long time now."

"Really?"

Ryouga sighed and slowly got up until I stopped him. "Ryouga-kun, I DON'T hate you, not at all! I'm sorry, I was just really surprised.. especially surprised that I couldn't tell."

"Why, did I make it that obvious?" Ryouga blushed a little.

"Honestly, yes. What's sad is that I didn't even notice until you said it." I leaned back and stared at the ceiling. "Aren't things funny... so much proof, but we ignore the facts anyway. It's almost human nature to lie to ourselves sometimes, ne?" I looked at Ryouga who looked thoughtful.

"Make it a little more obvious, why don't you?" Ryouga laughed. "You two are so very definitely in love."

"Ah! No ah, I was talking about..." Great. I'd look more dignified if I started stuttering.

"You don't have to say anything Akane, it's all right." Ryouga poked me on the nose. "Heh, you know... I always thought that I could never deal with hearing something like that."

"But I didn't say anything--"

"Oh, I think your actions spoke enough for you." I think I was blushing by now. "But now that I think about it some more, I'm so surprised that I can handle this. I almost want to laugh."

I returned Ryouga's poke in the nose. "...and what changed your perspective?"

"I guess it was the fact that your friendship still means the most to me."

"You're KIDDING," I giggled. "No offense, but isn't that something that you'd hear out of a bad drama? You honestly treasure our friendship that mu-"

"--I'm P-chan, Akane."

"That muc-- WHAT?" I leaned forward so violently that I shot myself out of my seat. He was so abrupt! What? No, did he just say... WHAT?! Before I could muster a coherent thought, I found myself pounding him with a mallet.

Ryouga peeled his face off of under my mallet. "I-I deservbbph tthppvat," he choked. He slipped off of the bed and onto the floor into a kneeling position. "I don't deserve to beg you to forgive me, so please allow me to apologize as sincerely as I can."

Oh, did I ever want to flatten the holy hell out of him! I almost did a second time until I thought back to what Ranma said. Maybe I DID act a little too much before asking questions. If it's a problem that I recognized, then maybe it was time I did something. I reached for Ryouga's arm and prodded him to sit back down on the bed. "Eh, Ryouga-kun, don't worry about it for now. Why don't you just tell me about the whole thing? I'm a little curious about how it feels." Ryouga blinked at me, confused. "Well, I can't hide the fact that maybe I'm a little bit..."

"...in a rage?"

I slumped. "...I was going to say, 'miffed,' but I guess that also completes the sentence enough."

"Ah..." Ryouga seemed a little confused.

"Well, anyway I wanted to make the point that we're still friends."

Ryouga grabbed both of my hands and bowed repeatedly. "Akane-san... I'm truly indebted to you!"

"Ryouga-kun, it's fine..." Suddenly I felt calmer. It felt good to be able to control myself. "So, wanna tell me the story of P-chan?" I took a pillow off of my bed and shifted to a more comfortable position.

Ryouga explained the first night we "met" and the situation that led him into my bedroom that night. As he spoke, I felt more of the anger I had directed to him fading away.

"...and so, even with all of the secrets you've told me: about your dreams, your unfiltered thoughts, I came to love you even more, Akane-san." Ryouga sighed and crossed his feet. "You weren't behind any masks. You had insecurities like everyone, and you said them to me without any restraint in your feelings. It always made me feel as if life was never as depressing as I made it out to be."

I stretched, exhaling deeply. For a few minutes after Ryouga stopped talking, we sat quietly. I wasn't sure what he was thinking or trying to do, but the silence gave me more time to absorb what I had just heard. I was able to realize something I'd never thought of. "I am SO sorry, Ryouga-san." Ryouga flinched when he heard this.

"What do YOU have to apologize for, Akane-san? And... what's with the change in honorifics? 'Ryouga-kun' is fine!"

"You know so much about me... not just my hopes and feelings, but also about my selfish side. The things I've said in front of you, ah, haven't always been pure of heart or kind and yet you still respect me, right? No, even more than that, right? I feel like I owe it to you to give you more respect." I directed my gaze out the window. "I also need to apologize to you. I'm sorry, I just can't love you in the same way. Not like..."

"Heh. It's all right, Akane-san." Ryouga lay his hand on my shoulder. "'Not like' who?" He winked. "Make sure you answer to 'Ryouga-kun,' by the way."

"Come on, I can't finish that sentence, it just kinda came out." I rest my head on his hand. "You know, Ryouga-kun, I'm still a bit peeved at you... What you did wasn't really honest."

"...so just let me know if you never want to see me again--"

"But I realize that if I were to get TOO angry I'd be destroying one of my most important friendships." I interrupted. "With only a few years left before the end, who's going to waste time with a grudge?" I smiled at Ryouga. "You're one of the few friends I have who I really care about."

Ryouga's eyes shined in the light of the setting sun. "I'm honestly happy to hear that. Now I can leave without any worries."

"You're leaving?"

"Yeah," Ryouga sighed. "I always enjoy your company but there is someone I need to see."

"Can you do a couple of things for me?" I stood to turn on the light overhead. "There's a couple of favors I'd like to ask of you."

"Have at it," Ryouga answered.

"First off," I said before taking a deep breath. "Do you think you could keep me company for a couple more days? I'd like to have someone around to hang out with. I've been feeling a little lonely lately."

"I can do that."

"The more important one is coming up." I waited for Ryouga to nod in response.

"Please... don't be a stranger after you leave?"

"!!! Of course not, Akane!"

"I mean... oh God, I feel so corny for saying this!" I placed my hands on my cheeks and laughed at myself. Ryouga squeezed my shoulder.

"Don't say that, Akane. Come on, what were you going to say?"

I clenched my fists and forced then down to my lap. "This sounds really silly... but... when the world actually ends, Ryouga-kun. Could you..." My cheeks felt wet. I tried to turn my head away, and bury my face underneath my hair so that he wouldn't notice that I was crying. "Ryouga-kun, could you come see me? I, ah, when I die... I want to be around everyone who is dear to me--" I folded myself over my lap. "You can bring whoever you want, of course... if you want, you can bring your family. Even bring Akari-san?" I was sniffling by now. "I know it's a really selfish thing to ask..."

At first, I was almost oblivious to the arms that draped across my back in a comforting hug. Part of me was surprised that Ryouga did something so bold, and part of me realized that it was because of this talk. Most of me simply knew that the hug itself was helping. "We're not going to make it this time," I hiccupped. "We're going to die..."

In a non-hysterical mood, had I looked up I would have caught the flash of uncertainty that shined in Ryouga's eyes. He brushed the hair off of my sticky forehead and whispered, "It'll be okay, Akane-kun."

A week later, Ryouga said goodbye, leaving me with a strong hug and a peck on the forehead before exiting the front gates.

=-=-=--=-=

We weren't dead yet. The morning returned. "Damn, it's hot," I grumbled routinely, forcing myself to roll out of bed and head for the closet. Today seemed especially hot. Sliding the closet door to one side, I ran a hand over some jackets nostalgically and pushed them away in search of a t-shirt. I spent a good five minutes debating as to whether or not I wanted to look fashionable today. I ended up not caring. "It's not like I have anyone to dress up for," I mumbled as I headed down the stairs. Before I made it halfway down the stairs, my mind wandered about Ranma. Suddenly I didn't feel so good. Before anyone noticed I was awake I returned back to my room, sank at my desk and lay my head across its cool surface. Did Ranma go to Ukyou? Shampoo? Maybe even Kodachi? I wanted to see him. I didn't want to see the look on any of those girls' face as I came crawling back to Ranma, though.

If anything, I was certain that I wanted to at least get out of the house for once. It had been a while since I'd taken the time to visit any of my friends or even walked around just to see how the neighborhood beyond my window's view was turning out. I was feeling weaker than usual; I hadn't done much of anything on the physical side in a while and I was starting to waste away for it. I headed back downstairs and tried to rush towards the front door in hopes that nobody noticed me. Just as I was putting on my shoes to go out I felt a hand on my shoulder. I shrieked and jumped, noticing that the hand belonged to my dad. Damn.

"Good morning Akane, how are you doing?" He held a cigarette in his hand, twirling it absent-mindedly.

Shrinking before his smile, I tried to mirror his pleasant expression. "Fine 'Tou-san, I'm just going out for a little walk--"

"Ah, do you mind if I join you--"

"--alone. I'm sorry Otou-san, I just have a couple of things I want to think about."

Almost too predictably, his eyes began to water. "I- I see, Akane... well, have a good time."

Poor Daddy. I thought that by now I'd have built an immunity to his over-sensitivity and lack of emotional restraint, but when you love someone I guess you always care about them. Dad actually seemed to be pushing some feelings back (seeing as he didn't burst into tears yet). I hugged him reassuringly and gave him a genuine smile.

"Don't worry, I just want to do some thinking first. We can take a walk together after this, all right?" He beamed and I felt better. "See you later!" I skipped out the door, feeling a little happy.

"Have a good time!"

=-=-=-=-=-=

I knew it was getting late, but I didn't know what time it was. The sun began to sink, and I didn't even notice where I was walking. For once I was feeling hungry. My stomach had been growling for hours and I thought that I could ignore it. I felt a little winded and dizzy, so I sat. This wasn't good. I didn't compensate for the fact that I'd spent full days doing and eating absolutely nothing. When I studied my surroundings I noticed that I was sitting along the river that Ranma and I passed on the way to school every day. I almost didn't recognize it seeing as how tents were scattered along its shores. "I guess nobody will mind if I go sit by the river." I headed towards an empty area. My legs trembled under me as I sat, finally relaxing. I frowned at the river's condition. "This place used to be so beautiful." My mind wandered back to days when I would push Ranma into it. I closed my eyes in reverie but opened them violently when I felt someone's hand on my back. I only rest for a second but I'm surrounded by scummy-looking guys?!

"Mind if we keep you company, Jou-chan?" One moved to put his arm around me. I scanned around, taking in my surroundings. People were watching from their tents but they looked intimidated. One of these guys had a bat and another had a knife. I could take these guys normally... but now? I prayed for enough adrenaline to beat the hell out of these losers. The man who put his arm around me received a punch in the face.

"Oww!! What the hell?!"

"Hey you bitch! Who do you think you are?!" The one with a baseball bat dove for me, big mistake on his part. I forced the bat out of his hand by breaking his wrist.

*I need to get the guy with the knife.* I swatted the knife-wielder in the face and pulled his knife away with ease. Throwing the knife and bat into the river, I twirled around and stood in a defensive stance. Piece of cake...? My stomach started to burn again, and my legs were trembling even more. They did NOT want to stay up and I had just abused them. I looked to my right and noticed one of the men reaching into his pocket. Another knife? No, his hand was moving differently. It came back into view. He was holding a gun?! My fatigue was starting to catch up with me. *No! Not yet!* I screamed internally. If I were to attack the one with the gun, would someone else pull out one? I had to take that chance if I wanted to get out of this.

I screamed as loud as I could, and charged for the gun. I twisted to one side as I grabbed for the man's arm and missed a shot that was probably intended for me. I grabbed his wrist and tried to break his arm, but I heard something clicking behind me.

The guy who put his arm around me spoke. "You sit right there unless you want a hole in your head, you little bitch!"

"Hey Bro... she broke my wrist! The bitch broke my wrist!!"

"Oh, we'll make her pay us back for that." I was surrounded quickly and had my arms pulled behind me. A guy with a goatee retrieved a knife from his pocket and ran it down the front of my shirt, cutting it open.

"Since we had to work so hard for you, we're going to take a little more time to enjoy ourselves." I was getting dizzy again. What the hell were these people going to do with me, and what were they going to do when they finished? Why weren't any of the people watching from afar trying to help? My eyes closed. I felt my shirt being ripped away and hands on my chest.

"I'll... kill you..." I whispered. Suddenly the hands that were holding me down let go and I heard bodies dropping around me. I didn't have enough strength to stand; again I felt my legs collapsing underneath me but was I caught before I hit the ground. The arms felt familiar. I opened my eyes one last time and spotted a pigtail, and a shift in my glance caught sight of a torn, red Chinese shirt. "Ran... ma..?" I sighed and leaned contently into his body before I blacked out.
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Author's Notes: (September/October 2002)
This chapter bugged me for so long. Blech, I think this is a bit more believable than the previous version. ^^ If you're reading THIS part, chances are you've read the previous parts. Thank you for joining me this far! ^o^/