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

Part Six - A Blank Slate

It felt like ages since I bathed alone; I almost forgot how relaxing it was. I made a point this morning to wake up earlier than everyone else, just so I couldn't be disturbed. Water was scarce, so we were only allowed to bathe once every two days and reuse some of the bath water. Today it was the girls' turn to bathe first.

I sighed happily, sinking into the bath tub. While waiting for my body to adjust to the water temperature I took a good look at it. Muscles were in places where I didn't remember there were any. My skin had a beautiful tan from the time we spent outside, giving my skin color a regal flavor. Giggling slightly, I tipped my head back. "I'm a babe!" I murmured, hoping that nobody would walk in. I gazed at the ceiling, studying the cracks and dormant ceiling fan overhead. Ranma's voice echoed in the hallway.

I ducked low into the bath, worried that he was going to walk in. He stayed out, and I caught part of what he was saying. "Hey, Hiroshi! It's been way too long, what are you up to these days?"

Hiroshi-kun? I smiled, leaping out of the tub. I shoved the bathroom door aside, throwing a towel around myself ad heading out to see him. "Hiroshi-kun!" I called as I reached him and Ranma sitting at the dinner table. "Wow, is that really you?"

"Yeah, Aka--- ak-aka-akane..." Hiroshi stared at me incredulously, jaw agape.

"HEY!" Ranma sighed, exasperated. "Could you FIND a smaller towel?" Ranma turned his head away to punctuate what he said, and turned back to glare at Hiroshi. "And you, there. Would you mind not gawking?"

"Hey, sorry man." Hiroshi winked at me. "Akane's always looked good, but I don't remember her looking STUNNING, heh heh."

I blushed, retreating into the bathroom for some actual clothes. After putting on the t-shirt and shorts I wore to bed, I ran back out to talk with Hiroshi and Ranma.

"...and Sayuri's back with her family in Kyoto."

"Hm," Ranma blinked. "Looks like we may not see her again... oh hey, Akane."

"Yo." I bowed slightly in Hiroshi's direction. "Sorry about a few minutes ago." I laughed a little as Hiroshi blushed.

"Believe me Akane, you have absolutely nothing to apologize for!" Hiroshi noticed Ranma's glares and rephrased himself. "Er... ITakeThatBackAkaneStopBeingSexyLikeThat..."

"Sexy?" A vein pulsed on Ranma's forehead.

"Sexy!" I squealed. I hugged Hiroshi without thinking about it. "SOMEone thinks I'm sexy! You wonderful man..."

"Ack! Don't kill me Ranma, she did it of her own free will!" Hiroshi gulped pointedly.

We collapsed into laughter. I calmed down a little, collecting myself. "So what brings you here, Hiroshi? Taking a walk?"

"Well, the two of you, really. I heard you guys were back in town and, ah, a little cozy with each other. Wanted to see it for myself."

"Cozy?" Ranma and I repeated.

"People noticed we were gone?" I mused, looking at Ranma in bewilderment.

"Well, when things start getting quiet after a couple of weeks... especially in THIS neighborhood, people started getting curious." Hiroshi scratched his head. "That daily, 'Ranma no baka!" or 'Ranma, DIE!' or even, 'Ranma! I love you!' kinda grows on you."

Ranma put his face in his hands. "...it grows on YOU, but I don't think I missed it."

"Ranma! I love you!"

It was pretty entertaining to watch Ranma jump and look wildly around the room. I continued screeching. "Oh, Ranma, you're so COOL! Let's get married and have LOTS of kids..."

"That's not funny." Interestingly enough, Ranma didn't think that was funny! Hiroshi covered his mouth while trying not to laugh, and Ranma's face lit up.

"Hey, where's Daisuke?"

I gasped. "Yeah, I didn't even think about that. You guys are practically joined at the hip!"

Hiroshi was strangely silent. His eyes shifted between Ranma and I uncomfortably. "Feel like going to see him?"

=-=-=-=-=-=

"I thought Daisuke's house was the other way," I said after we started walking.

"Did they move?" Ranma asked, walking behind Hiroshi and I.

"...yeah."

Just walking through the neighborhood really showed me how long Ranma and I were gone. I spent years walking down these streets, but despite this fact I was barely able to recognize where we were going. Walls and certain buildings that I used as landmarks were defaced or just gone. We reached a street that I wasn't familiar with anymore. Just as I opened my mouth to ask where we were, we were facing a familiar clock tower. "Furinkan High School?!"

"What on earth..." Ranma started to say while Hiroshi pushed the school gates open. They creaked painfully and clanged messily when they swung back against the wall. I was stunned as we entered. The school looked as if had decayed. Windows were either broken or boarded up. Pieces of old school furniture were scattered across the entrance to the school building, and graffiti covered about half of the school grounds. Hiroshi led Ranma and I around the back of the building to the baseball field.

The sight will always be etched in my mind. Crude gravestones were lined across disheveled school grounds as far as one could see. Occasionally, some had flowers or burned incense with them. My chest felt heavy when I realized why we were here. I clutched a balled fist to my chest and grabbed Ranma's shirt with my free hand. "Oh no," I whispered.

Hiroshi stopped well into the middle of the field at one of the smaller stones. It was almost square-shaped; placed neatly into the ground. A lei made of white flowers (that had long since died) had been left above the stone. I let go of Ranma and kneeled at the stone, saying a quick prayer.

"What happened?" Ranma breathed.

"I take it you guys didn't come across any 'sending' companies while you were gone."

"What's that?" Ranma put a hand on my shoulder, squeezing me. My breathing was ragged.

"While you guys were gone, someone came up with the GREAT idea of capitalizing on the end of the world. I guess I can't say I'm surprised about that part, but I think this is pretty disgusting." Hiroshi held a hand to his face, shaking his head. "Families who don't want to see the end of the world... who can't handle the idea of it get together for one last party right before they're 'sent.' You agree to give the company your leftover supplies like water, bathing soap, lotion, et cetera..."

The corners of my mouth curled down; in fact my entire face contorted to an expression of disgust. Hiroshi wiped tears off of his face with balled fists.

"Families can, uh, throw a party if they want... I was there." Eventually Hiroshi stopped trying to wipe his eyes. "Daisuke didn't want to go through with it, but he did to make his family happy. He wanted me to tell you guys... not to miss him..."

"What?!" My chest felt heavy, and I was shuddering and sobbing. Looking back at Ranma and Hiroshi, I could tell that neither had much to say. I walked up to Hiroshi and kissed him on the forehead, trying to wipe his tears off.

"Shit. What the hell kind of idiot wants to throw their life away, just like that?" Ranma mussed his hair around in frustration.

"Obviously, all of these people." Hiroshi gazed onward at the other headstones. "One of the school administrators auctioned off the school grounds to NerimaSend-- that's the local company here-- because the cemeteries in this surrounding area were full. Daisuke's family shrine is in Nagano, but NerimaSend doesn't handle transportation of the remains." He bent over Daisuke's grave to touch the lei. Fingering it gingerly, he chuckled. "You guys wouldn't happen to know where this is from, would you?"

Ranma and I exchanged glances and I shook my head.

"Honeymoon island. Back when we took that school trip with Kochou Kunou to that place in Hawaii. Remember now?"

"Oh GOD." I groaned. "The island where all of you guys went nuts and tried to act like you were ALL newly-married to us girls?" If memory served me correctly, I planted a foot in Daisuke's face back then.

"Heh, that's the place. Well, after the trip, we made a promise to go back to Hawaii..."

"The same place?" Ranma interrupted.

"No!" Hiroshi laughed a little. "One of the bigger islands there. We wanted to go after graduation and take a REAL vacation. I guess this puts a damper on things, huh?"

I sighed, leaning on Ranma's shoulder. Moving my hand over his, I looked at Ranma, and then over to Hiroshi. "I think we've seen enough for today. Let's get out of here."

=-=-=-=-=-=

Ranma and I walked Hiroshi to his house, and continued our trek home in near-silence. For me, dealing with an unexpected death was nothing but a revisited experience, but the in this case it was closer to suicide. The idea felt eerie. As Ranma and I walked, I wondered to myself about the kind of nerve one would need to profit off of something like this.

I let a short sob escape my lips and took Ranma's hand, squeezing it. Without looking back Ranma realized that I needed a little bit of comfort and squeezed my hand back in response. Together we reached the front gates of our home and pushed them open.

"So the rumors ARE true. Welcome home; aren't YOU the picture of the happy couple?"

"Ranma. I've let you play with her long enough, but it's time to get serious."

Of course, the two people whom I wanted to see the least were waiting in my yard. Ukyou and Shampoo leaned casually against the wall and dojo respectively, waiting for their prey. Before I realized what they were going to try, they leaped and Ranma and I in an attack. Ukyou lunged at me, trying to strike my face with the largest of her spatulas. My time wandering with Ranma paid off; while we were gone Ranma trained me so that he could have 'a decent sparring partner.' Concentrating my focus into my right hand I rocketed a fist through the wide part of her spatula, trying to hit her in the process. Ukyou leaped back startled, squealing as her severed spatula fell to the ground.

Ukyou moved further back, flinging smaller spatulas in my direction. In the process of jumping out of the way I flipped and landed on my left hand, grabbing some stones. Tucking my elbows tightly against my body I arched my back and landed quickly on my feet. Before my feet touched the ground I threw the stones to knock Ukyou's spatulas out of the air. Ukyou lunged for a punch, now out of things to throw. Her movements were so obvious that I easily ducked my head to the side to evade, while bringing my leg straight up to strike under her chin. The ball of my foot connected perfectly with her jaw, causing her to spiral into the ground.

Before she could react to the fall, I dove at Ukyou, pinning her arms down under the weight of my handstand. My feet wavered a little about me, helping me keep my balance. I held that pose, burrowing into Ukyou's stare with my eyes. It didn't take much thought to figure out that my change in fighting ability threw her off. Glancing over at Ranma, I noticed that he had easily put Shampoo out of commission. I turned back to Ukyou. Glaring sternly at Ukyou I muttered, "Give me one reason why I shouldn't crush your face in right now."

She sized me up for a second and smiled back at my glare. "No," she said before spitting in my face. I tightened my grip on Ukyou's arms before pushing off and swinging my feet down in a swift kick. Adjusting my hips slightly, my foot crashed sharply into the ground adjacent to her head. The dirt below clouded around her face. I stepped away from Ukyou, joining Ranma who let go of Shampoo.

"Next time I won't miss," I smirked as I walked away. When I moved to wipe the spit off of my face, I realized how my arm was shaking. My heart raced and pounded vibrantly. Fighting Ranma for practice felt different than fighting someone whose style I wasn't as familiar with, and to beat them was exciting. Before Ranma showed up I was used to beating people in combat, but I discovered how elated I felt to win over someone who was difficult to fight. Beating someone who used to be able to beat me gave an unexpected rush.

"You okay, Akane?" Ranma seemed to be eyeing me for injuries.

"Just fine." I smiled back and stood a bit closer to him. Once I looked back at Ukyou and Shampoo, my smile dropped.

"All right you two, what the hell was that all about?" Ranma asked before I could, but was kinder about it.

"What the hell are you guys trying to pull?" I added.

Ukyou rolled her eyes, and Shampoo brought a hand to her face. "Idiot! There's only one thing we're after." Shampoo's look was as piercing as her tone. "In case you two haven't noticed, we don't have much time left, so I would like to stop playing around and get what I came to this country for."

"Naturally I don't plan on losing to Shampoo, we both agree that you're the biggest threat, Akane. Your fighting skills may have improved, but you're just as stupid as ever," Ukyou chimed in.

"You called her stupid, but you two are missing the obvious, here." Ranma spoke with quiet force. I knew that this "calm" anger was nothing to take lightly; it meant that he was holding back more than usual. "Where do you two even GET the idea that I'll love either one of you for beating up Akane? In case you don't remember, I have a habit of keeping Akane safe. Anyone with half a brain can realize that I do it because I DON'T WANT HER HURT." Ranma's louder tone of voice made even me a little afraid. "STAY OUT OF MY--"

Ukyou gasped.

I blinked. As I looked up, I realized that Shampoo was blow-drying Ranma's hair. Realization slowly built and hit potently. "Aaaaa!" I gasped. Ukyou raised an eyebrow, looking confused. "You didn't just--"

"Of course I did. Ranma was able to get around it, but I don't believe you're smart enough to break it. He's not going to remember either of you." Shampoo smiled coyly and waved goodbye to Ukyou and I before making her exit.

I ran up to Ranma who lay unconscious. Ukyou cautiously approached us. "What was she babbling about?"

"That's right," I said. "You weren't even here the last time she tried this."

"What, washing his hair?"

"No, she did this to me last time. It made me forget who Ranma was."

"WHAT?" Ukyou turned back towards the direction Shampoo left in and turned back to look at Ranma. "Well, there's a cure, right? You obviously got better."

"Yeah, I did." I explained what I could remember of the entire incident.

"Hm, that sounds easy enough. We'll just find something to trigger his memory." Ukyou started to head for the gates. "Geez Akane, to think you'd be worried about this."

"I guess you had to be there," I muttered, propping Ranma up on my shoulders.

"Though... if he didn't remember, it'd be like starting over, you know. If he forgets all about us, perhaps he's going to have to meet his CUTE fiancée, all over again." Ukyou opened one side of the gate. "...as a GIRL, this time." Ukyou left, and the gates slammed unceremoniously behind her.

I leaned my head towards Ranma's as I dragged him inside. "Bitch."
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Author's Notes: (December 2002)
In case you didn't remember, Hiroshi (the guy with the wavy hair) and Daisuke (with the straight hair) are Ranma's friends at school who are always in the background and who are around to deliver a smart-ass punch line half the time. ^_~

In the original author's notes for this chapter I mentioned the fate of a happy ending for this story. Guess what? I still haven't figured out which way to end this! *cough* As always, thanks for reading!