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

Part Four - Ready, Set... Run Away!

I think my body was retaliating because of the horrible things I did to it. My clothes hung loosely around my body as if I were caught in a hurricane. My limbs lay limp and I didn't have any initiative to move them. Sitting in the back corner of Ranma's tent, I watched Ranma hold a steaming cup of tea up to my lips. It didn't feel like it was me who was sipping; when Ranma wiped my mouth off with his thumbs I felt like I was watching him do this to a shell of myself.

Ranma was an expert at saving me. Somehow, he knew I was here, and by some miracle of chance he got to me in time. Why did it happen so often? I stopped that train of thought after realizing that Ranma seemed to be staying in a tent for the moment. Where was this tent, and why did he have it? I opened my mouth to speak, trying not to sound hostile. "Ranma... shouldn't you be staying with Shampoo or Ukyou? Kodachi, even?"

Ranma was squatting in front of me, his expression faded to neutral. His hands lightly held the paper cup I sipped from. I sighed a little admiring the contours of his slender fingers; how they draped around the cup. His fingernails were a little jagged; worn down naturally or bitten off, but still clean. My eyes wandered away from his hands and traveled up his arms, over the curves of his shoulders, along the contour of his neck, and stopping at his penetrating gaze. I blushed slightly and abruptly looked to one side. Ranma took in an alluring short breath as he parted his lips to speak. "I don't really HAVE to be anywhere, don't you think?" His reply was cautious; there was a little force behind his words. "Now... I'm not going to ask You why you aren't at home, Akane," I could feel the awkwardness as he mentioned my name. "...but what are you doing HERE? More importantly, how on earth did you get yourself into a situation like that when you could have easily taken those guys down?"

My usual anger came to a slow boil in my chest. It was made unusual from the fact that I was mostly mad at myself. What on earth possessed me to ignore how bad I was really feeling? What would I have done, had it happened again? "I was just taking a walk."

"I see." Ranma's tone was becoming familiar. He was about to scold me for doing something that he saw as stupid... again. "Then would you mind telling me exactly how long you were walking? Don't tell me you've been out since I left?!" Ranma was sitting cross-legged now, pouring more tea into my cup. Rubbing his forehead with one hand, he handed me the cup using the other.

"Don't flatter yourself--"

"I don't mean to be RUDE, Akane, but you look like crap. Your clothes, I can understand, but your hair is completely limp. You've got circles under your eyes, you look pale, and you--" Ranma raised a hand to my face, rubbing at my cheeks with his thumb. "Akane, in all the time I've known you, you've never let your face get dirty. Even if you were standing in the middle of a nuclear explosion, you'd worry about wiping it off... what's happened?" I trembled, maybe at the touch of his skin, or at how horribly I still felt, or a combination of both.

"I'm surprised you noticed that." I sipped tea steadily and smiled a little. "Really though, there's nothing wrong. I felt a little lonely after Ryouga left so I wanted to go out for a little bit."

My words were followed by awkward silence. Was it taboo to mention Ryouga? I could have sworn the air in the room dropped about 10 degrees.

"Oh," Ranma stammered. "So, uh, how long did he stay, anyway?"

"Ah..." I didn't know if I wanted to answer that. It didn't seem like I had a choice, though. "Oh, maybe a little over a week. Why?" WHY did I tack on the 'why?'

"Er. Just curious. So, ah," Ranma sounded like he was trying not to sound angry. "Did you guys have a nice time?"

"...sure." I scanned the tent for something to fixate on. My eyes ran back and forth over an irregular seam. "Lots of time to talk. He actually told me some really big things."

Ranma raised an eyebrow, looking a little more interested. "Oh?"

"Heh, he confessed his love to me."

Ranma's eyebrow sank back down without fanfare. "Ah."

I suddenly realized what he wanted to hear. Even though I felt physically sore and drained, the urge to cause a little trouble arose. "P-chan finally came back, too!" I tried my best to look giddy. Ranma's body language told me that he did, in fact, know about P-chan's true identity.

"Heh, what a BIIIIIG surprise," Ranma spat.

"Ryouga's so nice to P-chan, unlike someone I know. P-chan really seems to like Ryouga a lot, too!" I was holding back laughter, anxious to see how Ranma was going to react, but to Ranma it looked as if I was smiling at a memory. Ranma's eyes grew wild and I noticed that he was trying to stop himself from shaking. I decided to add a little more to Ranma's confusion. "P-chan liked Ryouga-kun so much that he wanted to sleep with HIM instead of me!" I tacked on a giggle. It looked like something in Ranma's head snapped.

"Akane... I don't know if you noticed or not, but that P-chan was probably a fake." Ranma's eyes were practically glowing and it looked as if he was about to crush the hot water kettle.

"What?! How could you know that, you weren't even there, right?"

Ranma twitched. He was having more and more trouble keeping calm. "J-just TRUST me on this, Akane, I really think that the P-chan you saw was a fake."

"..and why's that?" I blinked innocently.

"Agh. It's because.. Well. He. Erm." Ranma cracked the handle on the kettle.

"Just kidding." I smiled cautiously. "I know about everything, Ryouga-kun told me."

"AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!" Ranma fell over, but sat up immediately and glared at me. "Thanks for the heart attack."

"Eh heh heh, sorry, I wanted to see what you would do. I'm sorry, I just wanted to lighten the mood a little..."

Ranma sat back up, smiling slightly. "All right, it's okay. Just threw me off. Want some more tea?"

"No thanks, I'm fine. What do you want me to do with this cup?" I handed it to Ranma, and then lay down on my side, adjusting my hips a little bit.

Ranma retrieved some antiseptic and bandages, and started to clean off some scratches on my hand. "Um, so..." Ranma rubbed my hand softly. I could feel my cheeks getting hotter and tried to keep calm. My skin stung, but Ranma's fingers were so gentle as they spread the medicine across my cuts. "When Ryouga told you he loved you, what did you say?"

"Well," I was a little surprised that Ranma was curious. "I let him know that I wasn't really reciprocating those kind of feelings, actually..." Ranma's hands stopped but he didn't let go of me. "I, ah, pretty much said that I couldn't really feel that way about him... He's not like.."

Ranma put his other hand on top of mine. "Ah." Ranma's hands tightened suddenly around mine, but he was still careful not to squeeze my scratches. "Akane, this is kindova silly question, but I'm going to ask anyway."

"All right," I answered.

"Would you consider me as a friend, Akane? Er, I guess you would have to consider what happened recently as a part of your answer, ne?" Ranma absentmindedly traced circles on my hand.

"Well... I guess you could say that I wouldn't get so easily angry at everything you do if I didn't care about you." I sat up slowly. "I can't deny the fact that I care about you as a friend-- I wouldn't mind if you don't?"

"Yeah... well everything with us is usually in a gray area. Ah, and yeah, it's kinda obvious that I care about you, huh? Er, in that mutual respect sorta way, of course." Ranma smiled shyly. "I guess I just wanted to be sure. I think I've been burned a bit too much lately."

"I'm really sorry about what happened, Ranma. Can you forgive me for being stubborn?" Ranma's shy smile stretched a little bit as I bowed in apology.

"I wasn't digging for any kind of apologies, Akane, it's okay. I'm sorry I was so cold." I gripped Ranma's hand quietly and we both remained silent for a bit. Everything he said previously didn't seem to hurt anymore. A smile of my own spread across my face.

"Um," I whispered. "Don't take this the wrong way, okay?"

"Hm?"

Before I started to think about it, I hugged Ranma, sliding my arms around his waist and squeezing gently. I felt his body go rigid, so I let go quickly.

"So," Ranma laughed, "I take it we're definitely friends." I smiled in reply. "Then, I guess I can talk to you about how my last week or so has been, eh? Get comfortable." Ranma handed his pillow over to me and adjusted his position.

"All right. As you know, it started back when we got into that fight last week." I nodded. "Yeah, well I took a little walk. Didn't get into the same kind of trouble as you did, but I thought about my options. Figured that I didn't have to commit to a marriage and get whisked away to some strange place if I went with Ukyou."

"...but that kind of thing wouldn't matter if you were in love--" I interrupted.

"..." Ranma looked at me with a little bit of sadness. "...like I said. Ukyou seemed to be the best option."

*Better keep my mouth shut for now,* I noted.

"Ucchan still cooks okonomiyaki but instead of getting money, she trades it for things like drinking water and supplies. That kinda stuff.

"So i come in, and she says the same old, 'hi Ranchan.' I helped her out with the restaurant a little. Maybe two nights later, she asks what's going on and I tell her about our fight and Ucchan starts getting all googly-eyed at me. Started going on about how she knew that we were gonna be together, blah blah blah." I couldn't help but await the end of this story with a little malicious glee.

"And yeah... I let her hug me." Ranma's shoulders raised slightly as if he were bracing himself for a punch, and I tried my best to look unfazed and unconcerned. "So that night after we did a little bit of sparring we had to clean up the restaurant." I felt a little more jealous after hearing that. Few people sparred with Ranma and I was one of them. To have Ukyou butt into something like that made my heart sink a little bit, but I pushed those feelings down. Ranma wasn't with her now and I was about to hear why.

"That night, she wants to sleep in the same bed as me. I figure it's okay, gotta see if I can handle a relationship like a man."

*Do I really want to hear the rest of this?* I breathed sharply.

"So... uh..." Ranma began to blush. "I got into her bed.. and she gets all giggly, but then she turned into a totally different person! She crawled in and started putting her hands all over me..."

I wanted to start screaming. "Uh, Ranma," I replied a bit frustrated, "If this is going where I think it's going, are you going to get graphic?"

"Er, sorry. All we really did as kiss. Er... even then, it was more like I sat there while she kissed me." Dear LORD, I bet that I was glowing with either a battle aura or just plain jealousy. "I pushed her off of me eventually because it just felt... wrong. I told her how I felt, and she got a little mad and kicked me out and started calling me a womanizer."

"Only a little mad, but she kicked you out?" I looked at Ranma expectantly.

Ranma sighed. "She dented a spatula on my head and tried to force me to sleep in the restaurant area. I got a little pissed off and just left."

"Let me guess... she took pity and gave you this tent? No, you traded something for this tent?" I asked.

"Eh heh heh, funny that you mentioned that... I kinda 'borrowed' it on the way out, actually." Ranma smiled awkwardly and put his hand behind his head. I laughed more than I should have.

"So Ranma, if you left her place so early in the week, why didn't you come back?"

"What, after the way I talked to you? I really felt like this time I'd screwed everything up; that I was really harsh on you." Ranma's shoulders sagged. "Look, I'm sorry for hurting you. Lots of times I'm mean to you and I don't even think to apologize since things had a habit of fixing themselves. Sorry."

"Hey, no, I'm guilty of doing that too." I changed the subject before the conversation could get awkward. "Hey, Ranma?"

"Hmm?" Ranma blinked.

"Thanks for saving me." I curled up with his pillow and smiled.

"Well, I think I owe you some gratitude, too. All this time you didn't even move to hit me like I though you would. I'm really surprised. You seem so different just because of that and it's only been like a week." Ranma twirled my empty tea cup on his finger.

"What you said before you left really stuck, I guess."

"Looks like we both had a pretty memorable time, eh?" Ranma flicked the empty cup to a corner of the tent.

"Time to go home, ne?"

"Hm. Nah, not yet."

"Huh?" Why not?

"Well, don't get me wrong, I feel like I can come home now, knowing that we're on good terms. I guess that now I've been out on the road it feels like old times. I wanna stay out a bit. Wander around..." Ranma started to put away the hot water kettle and tea leaves. "This time, without Pop though. I don't think I feel like being chased out of every town I visited... like old times." Ranma snickered.

"Ahh." I frowned a bit. After what I went through I didn't want to just let him run off again. Who knows when I would see him again? An idea hit me. "Um, Ranma? You don't suppose.."

"Eh?"

"...that I could come with you?" Ranma didn't appear to react at all to my question. "Uh," I added, uncertainty apparent in my voice. "I promise I won't do something like force my cooking on you." Ranma blinked. "...and I'll do my best not to slow you down..."

Ranma grinned, almost laughing. "Heh heh, Akane, I was just surprised that you wanted to go! Sure I don't mind. We'll have a little vacation or something!" Ranma's face looked thoughtful for a moment. "Your family's not gonna worry or anything, will they?"

"If I'm with you, I sincerely doubt it."

"Yeah, I guess you're right." Ranma turned around to get more blankets. "Hey, I'm tired and you need a little rest, you wanna turn in?"

"Yeah," I answered. "Good idea."

Shortly after, Ranma put out the lantern in the tent and went to sleep. I stayed up a little after Ranma did. I was excited about what was to come. The swish of the river sounded peaceful, once I was able to ignore the drunken screaming and crying babies. It almost sounded like rain... the soft, swishing lullaby reminded me of how well I slept on rainy nights.

=-=-=-=-=-=

"Akane..." I opened my eyes slowly, to a bright flash of light. I instinctively turned away. "Akane, get over here..." Ehh? I sat up abruptly, crashing into Ranma, who was leaning over me.

"Aaah, I'm sorry! Didn't know you were right there!" I sat up as Ranma put a hand to his face.

"That kinda hurt..." Ranma slouched, rubbing his chin.

"I'm sorry, sorry, sorry," I frantically mumbled as I rubbed Ranma's chin gently. I watched Ranma's face flush. He flinched as if he were about to pull away on instinct. A moment later, he calmed down and a sly smile spread across his lips. Ranma slid his hand over mine and clutched it while moving it off of his face. Ranma's other hand started to slide up my arm. He moved closer. I watched dumbly as Ranma tipped his head gently and closed his eyes. Realization struck as I felt Ranma's exhale brush across my lips. Ranma was going to kiss me! I clutched his hand with both of mine and closed my eyes.

"Akane," Ranma whispered. "Mmm, Akane..."

I laughed softly. "Yes, Ranma?" I murmured sweetly, turning over on my pillow.

...on my pillow?!

"We've gotta get out of here, Akane." Ranma whispered a little more forcibly to me.

"Aaa!" I sprung up, and Ranma barely dodged out of the way of a head butt. I cursed mentally. Damn dream!

Ranma raised a finger to his lips. "Try not to make a lot of noise. Let's get out of here."

"Why? What's going on?" I stretched my back and started folding my blanket.

"In a few minutes, it's not gonna be safe for us to stay here." Ranma sighed, stuffing a toothbrush and a roll of toilet paper into his pack. "After what happened last night, people got a little scared and those guys we beat up threatened some of the folks around here if they didn't tell them where we were."

"Wha?!" I held myself back from yelling. "Those guys never learn!"

"I know," Ranma pulled the blanket off of me and pushed it into his pack, then zipped it shut. "I'm not saying the two of us can't take those guys again, but,"

"Yeah, we shouldn't be thinking like that. It's just going to cause more trouble."

"Exactly. Even if we did try to take them on, you can't block a bullet like you can a punch." Ranma's stare was urgent. "Well, are you ready?"

Just as I opened my mouth we heard voices echoing outside. Ranma's eyes bulged and he handed me my shoes.

"Hang on to these for now, and you can put them on later." Ranma threw on his pack, wrapped his arms around my waist, and vaulted out of the tent.

A couple of voices could be heard in the distance. It would only take another second for us to totally lose them, thanks to Ranma's quick response. "Look, there he is what that little slut! Akira, hand me that clip..."

"Crap! Let's get out of-- eh?" Ranma stopped dead, depositing me and the pack behind a wall. "Ranma! What in the hell are you doing?" Ranma didn't answer and headed back towards the river.

"Promise me you'll stay here," Ranma growled.

"Ranma! Let's just go! They could start shooting at innocent people!" I clutched at the backpack and watched Ranma charge at someone, possibly the one we heard.

"You take that BACK, damn you!" My whole body shook from a rush of adrenaline. Ranma leaped high into the air to the sounds of gunshots. At that moment, my heart could have twisted into a knot and I wouldn't have noticed. More guns fired, and I watched terrified as Ranma dodged and pushed forward.

"You bastards attacked her last night, and now you have the GUTS to call her a slut?!" With blinding speed Ranma slung his arm around the neck of a man with bleached hair and used him as a human shield. "Do you feel THIS?" Ranma tightened his arm and the man began to scream. "Listen up. I could do a little worse and snap your neck without a problem, but I'll let you go if you apologize. Right. Now." As long as Ranma held onto the man with bleached hair, nobody fired.

"Ranma, what are you trying to prove, you moron?" I whispered, still shaking.

"SAY IT." Ranma squeezed a little harder, and I watched his hostage squirm and scream.

"I'm sorry!"

Ranma's eyes grew wild. "You don't seem to understand the SEVERITY of your situation, SON! Say it loud enough for her to hear! And you're apologizing to an Akane, by the way!" The man tried to wriggle out of Ranma's grasp but ended up receiving a punch to the face for his efforts.

"Akane," Choked the man. "I'm SORRY!"

"Call her Akane-SAN! No, that's not enough. Make that Akane-SAMA!"

"AKANE-SAMAAAA! Forgive me please!"

"Ranma, BEHIND YOU!" I screamed before I realized what was going on. I didn't doubt that the rustling bush 4 meters away from me meant trouble, and when I saw a shotgun poke out, my suspicions became founded.

Time slowed as the gun fired. A cloud of smoke burst and dissolved around the barrel of the shotgun. Ranma swung his feet back and up, pushing off of his hostage's head and using it to launch himself out of harm's way. I dove at the bush and started punching. I felt my fists connect with a body and didn't stop hitting, peppering my attack with kicks. Even when the body stopped moving I kept hitting, scared to death that Ranma would get shot. Ranma appeared next to me, ducking low to avoid being seen. He grabbed my arm while I grabbed his backpack and we ran a couple of blocks before stopping to rest in an alley.

"Ranma, what the hell did you do that for? We were about to get away!" The intensity of the moment caught up with me again, and my knees wobbled as I sank to the ground. "Nobody could have caught us."

"Look, I'm sorry... I just kinda flew off the handle when I heard him call you that." Ranma kneeled next to me and fanned me with a newspaper from the ground. "Sorry, I didn't even think to ask if you were still feeling okay, Akane."

I didn't realize how much that little outburst did to me. My head felt a little light, now that I had time to think about it. "No, it's okay... that didn't even cross my mind." I tipped my head back and smiled up at the sky. A few clouds passed serenely overhead and I sighed a little, waiting for my body to calm down. "But that was really stupid..."

Ranma exhaled and rest his forehead against the wall next to me. "I know, I'm sorry--"

"...but you know, that was also really sweet of you." I didn't realize how confident I looked when I smiled. Absentmindedly, I brought my hand up to brush Ranma's face. "Thanks for saving me... twice, even."

Ranma's face flushed and his smile was sweet. "Ah, do you need to rest a little more?"

"No," I answered. "Let's go... er, were are we going?" I stood slowly, dusting off my shorts.

"Hm... how about the ocean?" Ranma shouldered his backpack and started walking with a hand on my shoulder.

"Great idea; the weather's perfect for it."
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Author's Notes: (October 2002)
All right, another one down! Even now that it's rewritten, I can't say much about it, but I'm glad I weeded out more crap from the original version. XD Ah hah hah hah, stay tuned for the next part.