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

Part Five - Hindsight

"Akane-chan? Is that you? Oh, let me get Otou-san!" Kasumi-oneechan put the phone down momentarily. There were sounds of rustling and clicking. I heard the faint thumps of feet across a floor, and then a crash. Thank Chance that the phones were still working.

The phone's receiver blasted with loud sobbing. "Akane? Akane, where are you?" That was definitely my dad. Through his sobs I could hear the chatter of my sisters in the background. "It's been days! We were searching everywhere for you--"

"Otou-san, I know--"

"--and then I heard about some fights and shootings by the river, and I thought that something could have--" He erupted into more sobs. "I heard that two teenagers disappeared after that..." My dad was almost incoherent as he blubbered over the phone. "Were you with somebody, Akane? Are they okay?"

I laughed softly. "Everything's fine. I'm with Ranma, actually, and he saved me--"

"Did you hear that, Saotome-kun?" The conversation ended after that. Almost as soon as my father began to laugh ridiculously I heard a familiar panda chiming in. There was a loud thump (the receiver dropping, I assumed) and soon after Nabiki picked up the phone.

"They're going to be like that for a while. Heh, so you and that Saotome boy kissed and made up somehow, eh Sis?"

"Onee-chan!" I blushed a little.

"You're so easy to set off, Sis. That's why I love ya." Nabiki paused awkwardly. "You two take care, though. Come back in one piece."

"Love you guys..." My eyes began to water a little.

"Hey now, are you going to start crying? Knock it off."

"Sorry... I'm just being silly... I won't. Tell everyone I love them, okay?" Even though I was going to come back, the tears tried to come. Suddenly I wanted to end the conversation before I started to sob.

"Akane? Why don't you and Ranma make me a niece or nephew while you're gone?" I didn't have to be there to know Nabiki was smirking.

"ONEE-CHAN! GEEZ!" No need to explain why I was blushing.

"Bye-bye, Akane." She hung up quickly. Good for her, I was about to chew her out. Part of me knew she only said that to stop me from crying, and I was thankful for that. I sat on a curb, waiting for Ranma. Not much sooner, I felt a hand on my head.

"Hey." Ranma grinned. "I got us a little bit of drinking water, and this new tent. Looks like we've got a better place to sleep tonight. Ready to go?" Ranma blinked at me for a second, and brushed a tear off of my face. I started slightly, surprised that one had fallen. Without speaking, he tipped his head to one side and furrowed his eyebrows as if asking me what happened.

I smiled brightly, gesturing towards the pay phone. Ranma's face relaxed in understanding. He tossed me the tent.

"Did you ask how close we are?" I wrapped a strip of cloth around the bundled tent and threw it over my shoulder.

"Only a couple of miles. Oh crap, I forgot to ask where we were..." Ranma began to turn back towards the house he came from, but I stopped him, pulling at his arm.

"Never mind," I smiled. "We're only a couple of miles from an ocean, that's good enough for me."

Ranma started walking. "Looks like you're really beginning to have some fun," He turned around, waiting for me to start walking. "Hmmm, two miles. I can do ONE in about 4 minutes, and if I do a little bit of leisurely jogging to let you catch up, we can probably get there in 15 minutes."

"What are you saying?" I glared and began to walk a little faster. "I'll admit, you're a little more ...fit than I am, but to say that it takes me more than SEVEN MINUTES to do a mile..." My steps quickened. "You're just bullying me, now."

"Fine, I'll shorten your time for you." Ranma took everything I was carrying, adding it to his backpack. "Can't bully the weak," Ranma smirked.

I laughed, pulling a stop sign out of the sidewalk. "You think you can call me that and get away with it?" Ranma was trying to escape my wrath; not good! I playfully swatted at him, chasing him down a hill.

"Never mind!" Ranma laughed, occasionally jumping to dodge. "Biiiiiiiii!" He stuck his tongue out, slowing down long enough for me to hit his pigtail.

=-=-=-=-=-=

It felt like months later. It didn't matter, we lost track of time anyway. It had been so long since I laid my eyes on the sign of our dojo. Entering the gates meant that my trip with Ranma was finally over. I felt as if I shed my older self the day I walked out of here.

"You ready, Akane?" Ranma put his hand on my back. "Feels like it's been years, huh?"

I sighed. "Hey, Ranma? I had a great time. It almost feels like you took me on a really long date! Heh heh..."

Ranma clutched at the material on the back of my shirt. "Uh..."

"You're as articulate as ever." I pulled myself away from him and pushed the gates open. As Ranma and I entered, the familiar smell of the pond and leaves from the trees was faint. We stopped, examining the elaborate rock garden that replaced what was once grass.

"Wow, that looks pretty cool." Ranma started walking towards the house again. "Looks like watering the lawn wasn't a priority anymore..."

"I can understand that. Man, this feels--"

=-=-=-=-=-=

"--weird," I panted, gripping desperately to my stop sign, "that... you... tricked me... into *gasp* ...running all this way... and... *gasp* the... sad... part... was... that... I..."

"Fell. For. It." Ranma mimicked my panting.

I cleared my throat. "Yeah, well." I brushed some sweat off of my forehead. "What annoys me is the fact that you're barely winded." Sighing, I casually tossed the sign a few yards behind me. A nearby group of people stared in fear and I suddenly remembered that I shouldn't do that outside of our neighborhood. Whoops!

Ranma winked, looking particularly attractive (to my dismay). "Heh, we've gotta watch it." I watched his face as he stared out at the ocean. He looked intrigued at what he saw, so I looked in the same direction he was staring.

Against a backdrop of glittering water, there were rows of aircraft carriers. I hadn't seen them before in person. They looked almost the same as the ones on television except for the fact that there were trees planted on a few. Whole families were entering some of the carriers, carrying boxes of what I assumed were their belongings.

"Makes sense," I murmured.

"Hm?" Ranma looked at me.

"It makes sense. If it were to get too warm, do you think the North and South Pole would stay frozen? This country'd be underwater in no time." It felt unsettling to think about it.

"We need to get us a couple of those, eh Akane?"

"Akane-kun! Ranma!"

We looked at each other and looked around, but I recognized that voice. I looked behind us and confirmed it with a familiar yellow bandana, tied tight and heading towards us... with Ryouga, of course. "Ryouga-kun!"

"'Akane-KUN?' Since when did..." Ranma came off a little confused. "Wow, you were right about things being different, Akane."

"What on earth are you doing here, Ryouga-kun?" I bounced up, tackling Ryouga with a hug.

"Hey, don't flirt with me in front of your fiancée!" Ryouga laughed. "Wait, what are you guys doing outside of Tokyo?" Ryouga paused briefly and thought about what he just said. "We ARE outside of Tokyo, right?"

"You moron, we're by the ocean." Ranma's tone was jovial, but cautious. He definitely sounded unsure as to what his relationship with Ryouga was now. "Nice to see you, man. It feels pretty good to meet up with a familiar face away from home." Ranma and Ryouga high-fived.

"I was thinking that to myself," Ryouga laughed, "...even if it's a cross dresser like you." Ryouga watched carefully for Ranma's response. "Are you taking care of Akane-kun, or do I have to beat some manners into you?" Ryouga didn't hesitate to launch himself at Ranma, throwing a punch.

"Heh, that buff chick can take care of herself, don't baby her." Ranma winked at me and returned Ryouga's attack.

"This is going to take a while." I made my self comfortable by sitting on our backpack, losing myself in the gorgeous view, the scent of salt, and the caress of the breeze.

=-=-=-=-=-=

"Hey, anyone home?" Ranma opened the front door and dropped our things on the ground. We waited for a few seconds before realizing that nobody heard us. Maybe nobody was around? The house sounded empty and everyone's shoes were by the door. "Geez, what's going on?"

I slid my feet into some slippers. "Hm, I'm a little disappointed that nobody's around to greet us, how anti-climactic."

I followed Ranma and we searched from room to room in the house. We passed the kitchen, headed to the living room, up the stairs, and past everybody's bedrooms. Ranma sighed, sitting at the top of the stairs. I joined him, leaning my head on his shoulder. Ranma patted me on the head.

"Man, I was hoping that my mom, or Kasumi'd be makin' something good in the kitchen. Guess we'll have to wait around until someone comes back."

"Mmm." I pouted, for lack of anything better to do.

=-=-=-=-=-=

"I'll be back in a little while, okay?" Ranma waved back to Ryouga and I before taking off towards town. His job was to trade off some fish. Ranma insisted that he do the trading, claiming to be better at it than Ryouga or myself.

"With my good looks and charm, I could definitely get some good stuff." Ranma said as he and Ryouga drew straws for the privilege. I began to realize that when two guys had the opportunity to be buddy-buddy, dumb things like this would happen.

I waved goodbye along with Ryouga, and gazed at the dimming sky. I lay sideways on my blanket, sighing. "This night is going to be gorgeous, ne?"

"Yep. Though, it's not really rare to have a night like this anymore... what month is it, anyway?"

"Not sure! We're stuck in summer." I grinned. "Hey, you left to go see your family and Akari, right? Did you catch up with any of them?"

"Ryouga shifted in his seat. "I was just with my parents, but lost them again. We ended up spending the night in the same forest but we wandered here together... well, it's been almost a day since I've seen them, so I think it'll be a while before I see them again."

I idly swirled some sand with my finger. "What about Akari?"

"Funny you mentioned that, the forest we stayed in was one behind her house! She cooked us dinner, actually!" Ryouga brought his knees up to his chest and rested his chin.

"You miss her, don't you?"

"Of course I do," Ryouga smirked at me and then stared out into the ocean. "I would say that it's easy for you... you can be with Ranma a lot more..."

"Mmm," I began to protest.

"--though I realize it's as annoying to be around someone you're not officially 'with,' ne? Did you tell him how you feel?"

"NO WAY!" My face was getting hotter. "I can't bring myself to do it, Ryouga-kun!"

"Akane-kun. Does Ranma even have the slightest clue that you...?" Ryouga stopped. "What the hell am I saying? I used to be in your shoes. Sorry."

"No, that's okay. I DO wonder what's stopping me sometimes, but I try not to think about it. I guess I don't want to end up realizing that he doesn't lov--like me back." I folded my hands over my lap, admiring the ocean. The moonlight danced sharply across the waves, and I felt myself wanting to lay there and sleep. I think I was still speaking, and while I was conscious of the fact that it was about Ranma and I, the exact words weren't very important anymore. "How long do you think this will go on, Ryouga? I wake up every day, hoping that Ranma will realize it. I wish he could read my mind..."

Ryouga was facing the ocean. "I get that."

"I guess I sound crazy, but I see him every day and try to act normal. When his back is turned, though... I can't stop STARING at him. When we talk, or when I go off to do something I've always got one eye on him. I stare at him, from the corner of my eye, hoping that he's staring back at me. It's at the point where he'll talk to me and I won't hear a word he's saying because I'm busy fantasizing about kissing him!" I stopped, blushing. "...for example, of course." Ryouga laughed. "I sound crazy... maybe this whole end-of-the-world thing is setting my hormones on fire. It's not like I've ever had anyone together with me in THAT way. Er..." My face flushed in embarrassment. "Do I even make any sense anymore?"

"Yeah, you do; don't worry. You want..." Ryouga looked thoughtful for a moment. "You want someone to know you inside and out. Almost like a best friend but more." I continued Ryouga's train of thought.

"Exactly. A lover..." It was awkward for me to say that word. "Well, a boyfriend, or fiancée, husband, whatever. Someone you're in love with is so much closer to you, because they know everything about you! You could talk to them like you would any good friend, but they'd see other sides of you. You're almost a different person when you kiss someone... or ah... when you m-make love... it's a side of yourself that not even your parents see, you know?"

"And you want that with Ranma."

I hesitated before nodding. "I would do so much for him, Ryouga-kun, but I don't know for sure if he wants that kind of thing from me. Argh, I sound so stupid."

"No way," Ryouga answered, "I know what you mean more than you realize, remember? I think I never thought about it in the same terms, though. You don't want to feel like you've been wasting your time if he doesn't feel that way about you. You don't want to experience any kind of rejection from him. I think that's what stopped me... from you for such a long time..."

I was starting to feel a little guilty for pushing all of this onto Ryouga.

"When I decided to finally tell you, Akane, I already decided a couple of things for myself. I thought about you and Akari, and the first thing I thought about was what it would be like to be with you..."

"..." I guess it couldn't be helped. He indirectly said that he thought about what... THAT would be like with Akari and I...

"...that sounds a little weird. Don't mallet me again, I realized I had no problem doing that kind of thing with either of you!" Ryouga braced himself for some violence, but I wasn't about to hit him. It's not like I didn't rub 'P-chan' into my chest a couple of times. "It finally hit me that if I wanted to be with you, I'd already ruined my chance. I lied to you about P-chan for too long, and every time Ranma rubbed it in my face, it was a reminder of that. You and I would never know each other like people in love should... I sometimes think about how Ranma would do things like insult your figure and your cooking, and I'd get pissed off at him for being an ass. When I think about it now... he always had the guts to tell you what he really thought."

"Oi, Ryouga.. you saying my figure is that bad?" My eyebrow twitched.

Ryouga jumped back. "What?!? No, NO! You're beautiful, Akane. I know Ranma thinks the same thing... it's hard to explain!"

I grinned a little. "J-just playing with you! Anyway, I agree with a lot of things you said but never put them into the same perspective as you." Ryouga has stunned me before. Back when he was learning the bakusai tenketsu technique his tenacity even through ridiculous and demeaning pain impressed me. Of course, it's a no-brainer that I was stunned when he told me about P-chan and confessed his love to me in the same night. All of his seemingly irrational bouts of anger towards Ranma made perfect sense in hindsight. Thoughts spun through my head so quickly that they blurred.

"Take this from a friend who's gone through the same thing. In the back of your mind, there's always going to be an instinct about how he feels about you, and most of the time it's right. Your instinct only gets messed up when your emotions get confused."

"If Ranma asked me seriously, I'd do anything for him," I decided aloud.

"Does that mean I'm going to get some help with these bags?"

"EEEHHHH?!" Ryouga and I spun around, staring wildly at Ranma.

=-=-=-=-=-=

"Hmm." Ranma set our tent down at the foot of his futon. He turned back to our backpack, pulling out more things- clothes, a pot and ladle, matches, knives, among other things. After taking visual inventory of our things, Ranma yawned and laid on the futon. "It's weird, isn't it Akane?" Ranma looked up at me thoughtfully. "We get to sleep in our own beds."

"It's going to be weird... I'm so used to hearing you snore," I giggled and stuck a tongue out at Ranma.

"..and I'm so used to getting knocked in the head when you toss and turn." Ranma stuck his tongue out in return. "I might miss it," he snickered.

"Yeah..."

"So, I wonder where everyone is," Ranma said.

"Judging from the cake in the kitchen, it seems like there was someone here..."

Ranma bolted up as soon as I mentioned cake. "There's CAKE? Akane, do you know how long it's been since we've had dessert? Let's GO!"

"Last time I got anything that resembled 'dessert,' it was in the form of YOU kicking my ass on a mountain! I don't think I like the word 'dessert' anymore." I pouted at the memory.

"Good, that means I can have your portion, let's go!" Ranma leaped up and practically rolled down the stairs.

"Wait," I called after Ranma. "What if it's not for us, you dolt?" Geez. I got up to run after him. "Ranma," I called when I caught up to him. "We shouldn't eat it without asking someone!"

"What, did you lose your courage up on that mountain?" Ranma searched madly for the cake. I smirked as he looked inside the refrigerator (how could I have noticed something INSIDE the refrigerator?) and in the surrounding area. Ranma sighed and spun around to confront me. "You're not lying about the cake, are you?"

"It's right--" I blinked. There was a cake sitting on the kitchen counter! Was I seeing things? I didn't see a cake anywhere now.

"Cute." Ranma muttered, turning back to the refrigerator for something else.

"I saw one, though..."

"That was Ranma and Akane, all right." Nabiki, accompanied by the rest of our family, stood at the kitchen door staring.

"Ranma! Akaneeee, I'm so glad you're back!" Dad. He broke past the crowded doorway, diving at me for a hug. "Akane, let me take a look at you..."

Kasumi headed in afterwards, rushing to adjust my clothing. "Akane, all of this is filthy, let's start up a bath..."

"Are you two at the point where you can SHARE a bath?" Nabiki said, half-teasing.

I blushed, just as she expected, and Ranma chimed in while munching down a sweet bean cake.

"Hey, sounds like fun, eh Akane?" He threw an arm around me, winking. It was time to get back at Nabiki!

I put my hand on my stomach and cuddled up to Ranma, watching the entire family gape. Ranma and I headed towards the bathroom and I added, "Be gentle with me this time, Ranma! You might hurt our little one!" Ranma nearly tripped, and our families started screaming. Marvelous. Once we reached the bathroom I pushed Ranma out into the hallway. "JUST KIDDING!" I screeched before closing the door in front of a stunned Ranma.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Author's Notes: (October/November 2002)
For those of you who are wondering what happens at the end of that flashback, it is covered in part 5a. When I originally created this story, I wrote a series of side stories just for fun. It was partly for a break from the main story, but also as a supplement to what happens between Ranma and Akane. This is stuff that I think shouldn't be abridged to fit into one chapter.

As always, thanks for reading! Thanks for the encouraging email! Thanks for sliced bread (what? ^^;)!

(May 2003:)
Mmm, I never anticipated that this story would be posted to fanfiction.net, but what's going to happen with the side stories is that I will post them as a seperate fic. You can get the link off of my profile page once I post them. @_@