Author's Notes: Tin Mandigma's Rurouni Kenshin fanfiction "Farewell to Innocence" inspired me to write this. If you've already read this beautiful piece of literature, then you'll realize that I've based the start of this story on the opening of "Farewell." But I assure you that this won't end that way! ^_~
If ever there would be twists in the Ranma history, they would be minimal. So don't worry.
Have fun and thank you for your time!
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Rumiko Takahashi, but the story belongs to me. Any unauthorized copying, lending, or distribution without the author's consent is punishable by law. Violators shall be subjected to investigation by police agencies and to criminal prosecution. =^_~=
Lunar Ember Presents
A Ranma ½ Fanfiction
PART 1: When The Bough Breaks
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
- Pablo Neruda
He was at her bedside, sitting on a metal chair, his head in his hands.
There was nothing left for him to say, nothing left for him to do but to be with her in that sickeningly white hospital room.
She lay there, hooked to machines that made her breathe, to machines that fed her, to machines that monitored her brain activity, to machines that measured the beating of her heart -
It was as if she wasn't even there anymore.
And it was all his fault.
Refusing to look at her, he closed his eyes.
It had again been one of those people who had wanted to take her away from him. But from all the men who had challenged him for the right to be called her betrothed, this one was different. There was nothing in his eyes but pure and uninhibited lust and desire. He was obsessed with her, and he did everything - everything - to own her.
He fought him. And as battles usually go for one who has dedicated his life to the Art, he won.
But the man never accepted defeat.
If I cannot have her, then nobody else can, he had said.
And it was then that all hell broke lose.
A blast that could contend with the power of the hiryu shoten ha knocked him down and spiraled past him, towards her.
He stood up, his own scream ringing loudly in his ears. He tried to run to her, but it was too late. The blast took her by the chest and threw her high up in the air. Seconds seemed to stretch into hours as her body formed a graceful arc against the explosion of afternoon colors, her arms reaching out to the sky as they slowly, silently brushed the heavens that moved above her.
Catch me. . .
The sight of her in flight was almost painfully beautiful to behold, if not only for the reality of the cold stone that slammed against her frame when she fell.
The scream echoed in his ears and it went on unabated, vibrating into the very core of his being. He could see nothing but red, red that oozed out from underneath her, accusing red that melted in his vision; the madness and the pain as he lashed out, his fists heavy with anger and hatred as it connected again and again to the man's face, red oozing down his arms. The scream went on and on until he realized that it wasn't just him anymore, but the man who lay pinned beneath him, flailing like a pig being slaughtered. But the scream never stopped even if the man had already stopped struggling, even if he had felt heavy hands pull him up to his feet, even if he had scampered to her and held her and cried and cried . . . gods Akane I am so sorry -
The door opened with a creak.
"Ranma. . .?"
He didn't give any indication that he heard her. He felt a cold blast of hallway air-conditioning as the door opened wider. There was the shuffling sound of footsteps and muted whispers.
He couldn't care less.
"Oh Akane, my baby what happened to you?" Soun threw himself at the silent figure that lay on the bed, tears streaming down his cheeks. "Speak to me, Akane. It's me, your daddy!"
The sounds of his sobs hurt him more than a thousand punches.
He had almost flinched at the feel of her fingers on his shoulder, but he stayed there, his head in his hands, silent and immobile.
"Ranma-kun," Kasumi's voice was as gentle as ever, if not only for the sound of a sob that escaped her lips. "Ranma-kun, Ryouga-kun told us everything."
"He did," Nabiki's sneakers came into view. "And we don't blame you for anything. I'm sure Akane wouldn't blame you either."
The scream still went on echoing in his ears, and it was kind of unusual to hear his own voice in subdued conversation.
"It's - it's my fault," he whispered.
"No it's not."
He felt two hands on his shoulder pushing him upright and he was face to face with the Tendo middle-child.
"It's not your fault, Ranma. It's that bastard Hiro's."
He felt so weak, so weak, that he didn't even have the power to avoid Nabiki's piercing gaze.
"And where is Hiro now?"
There was a cold finality in the way she said it; there was rage and satisfaction hidden underneath the dangerous silkiness of her voice.
She released him, and he slumped back to his seat.
"He's dead," she repeated. "You did well, Ranma-kun."
Painfully, Ranma raised his head and gazed at his fiancée.
He could barely make her out of the tubes connected to her body. Her skin was but a shade darker than her white bedcovers and the strands of blue- black hair that peeked from underneath all the bandages were dull and limp. Dark circles under her closed eyes seemed to make her look even paler, and the lips that formed around the respirator have lost their color.
For you, Akane. . .
Hiro was dead. The man who did all this to her was dead. Ranma stared at his hands. He had killed a man, and he could never ever undo what had been done and he had no plans of doing so. He killed a man for her sake and he would do it all over again if it came to that point. He felt no remorse or regret, for if there ever was any need for repentance, it has been long washed away by searing waves of anger and by the bittersweet satisfaction of a vengeance completed.
He had hurt Akane. He deserved it.
But as he gazed at his fiancée, he knew that it still was not enough.
Genma, who had been quiet the whole time, approached his son and placed a large hand on his shoulder.
"Ranma you did all that you can do." His grip tightened. "You've avenged her."
The young man lowered his eyes, his hands falling clumsily on his lap.
"Avenged her, yes. But there wouldn't be any need for that if I'd managed to protect her in the first place."
All fell silent, save for Soun who went on sobbing.
Without meeting anybody's gaze, Ranma stood up and left the room.
Shampoo jumped over the wall of the Tendo residence and silently landed on the garden.
"Nihao! Shampoo deliver dinner of too good chow mien for - eh?"
The house was dark and empty. The sound of koi splashing in the pond echoed loudly against the chirping of crickets.
"Aiyah. . . where everybody?"
She entered the house, carrying her soft-shod shoes in one hand and the chow mien in the other. She set the food on the dining table and explored the place.
"Ranma? Violent tomboy? Where all of you?"
Even the rooms on the second floor were empty. Ranma's room. Soun's room. Kasumi's. Nabiki's. Aka -
The silhouette of a man sitting on the bed stirred as she opened the door. Shampoo jumped back to the hallway with her free hand raised on ready.
The man made no move to acknowledge her presence. The evening breeze blew, making the white curtains framing the open window flutter. Shadow and moonlight moved on his tear-stained face.
Shampoo relaxed her stance. "Oh. Is violent tomboy's pet pig."
"Will you stop calling Akane-san a violent tomboy." He rubbed at his eyes. "And I got a name, you know."
His eyes flashed, and Shampoo realized that this was not a good time for dumb games.
"Sorry. Is Hibiki Ryouga, is not?"
Ryouga shrugged his shoulders and looked away.
Shampoo furrowed her eyebrows. First, an empty house. Now, the eternally lost boy alone in Akane's room. What was going on?
"Ryouga," she said, the name slurring with her Chinese accent. "You been crying. Shampoo no understand what is happening. Ryouga tell Shampoo?"
He looked at her thoughtfully then ruefully chuckled.
"As if you could do anything. You'd probably just mess things up again."
She threw her shoes at him, more out of irritation than out of the will to hurt.
"You dare insult Shampoo?"
The shoes hit him hard on the arm but he did not budge. Ryouga sighed and ran his fingers through his hair.
"No, no it's not that. It's just - Akane-san. . ." his voice broke and fresh tears fell from his eyes.
"What about vio - Akane?" She had been trying to call her by her first name for some time now, but she never really got used to it; enemies of the tribe and insolent outsiders did not deserve a first name.
Ryouga looked up at her. He was openly sobbing now, and the tears rolled freely down his cheeks.
"She. . . she got caught in the crossfire. . . I came too late. . . didn't even get the chance to save her. . ." He shook his head fiercely and pounded his knee with his fist. "I didn't even get to do a goddamn thing!"
Shampoo stared at him, swallowing everything that he was saying. Does that mean that - could it be?
"Akane be dead then."
She didn't know what hit her; she didn't even have the time to block it and before she knew it she was pinned to the wall by a seething Ryouga.
"I know how much you want her dead, but don't ever make the mistake of saying it to my face again."
She stood there, frozen by the heat of his stare. Shampoo sharply breathed in. She had almost forgotten that this was the only man who could contend with the strength and speed of Saotome Ranma. He was not to be toyed with.
"Shampoo apologize," she found herself saying. "No mean to be rude."
Ryouga blinked at her as if snapping back to his senses. He let her go, stepping away with a jerk.
"S-Sorry. I was just. . . didn't mean to. . . I'm sorry." He turned away from her, and in the shadows she could see his hair dancing in the breeze.
"Ill wind." She repeated, stepping up at his side. "Bad omen."
He chuckled sarcastically, sitting back on the bed. "I don't need omens anymore when the worst has already happened."
Shampoo felt genuine sympathy for the young man. Carefully, she sat down beside him.
"Tell Shampoo? Please?"
After a long moment of silence, Ryouga told her everything.
A maniac named Hiro had kidnapped Akane early that morning. Before anybody knew what exactly was going on, Ranma was already in hot pursuit as the man sped away in a car. Ryouga had trailed behind him, trying to keep up, but he lost him ten minutes into the chase. After an hour or so, he saw an explosion on one of the floors of a rundown building in the outskirts of Nerima. By the time he got there, Ranma was already on top of Hiro, punching a man who was already dead.
Shampoo felt the bedcovers scrunch up in her fist. She had no qualms about killing - in fact she had killed a few outsiders who had dared challenge the tribe. Bloodshed was a part of an amazon's culture. She had been so closely acquainted with death that she had learned not to fear it.
But to find out that Ranma had gone over the edge. . .
Shampoo felt her chest grow tighter. Hiro was human unlike Saffron who could reincarnate again the very next day after his defeat. This was what bothered Shampoo the most. In spite the fact that Ranma was by law her betrothed, he was still an innocent outsider, a young man coming from a far away land who had never known what it was like to live day after day strictly according to the brutal law of nature: survival of the fittest. He didn't deserve to truly feel how it was to take a life. And above all. . . Shampoo closed her eyes. Above all, he was the man that she loved. If only she could've spared him the pain of having no choice but to kill. . .
Ryouga's voice was soft as he continued.
"He was screaming," he said. "Screaming and screaming. . . I know that we always fight but to see him like that. . . I pulled him up and his fists were bloody and Hiro was dead and Akane. . ."
He choked back a sob. Shampoo opened her eyes and stared at the open window.
Ryouga wiped his tears with the back of his hand. "Ranma ran up to her and - she was all dirty and blood was everywhere and she wouldn't wake up and I didn't get to do a goddamn thing!"
He was crying hard again, repeatedly pounding his fist on his knee.
"If I wasn't so stupid to have gotten lost this wouldn't have happened!"
His sobs echoed throughout the room. Shampoo sighed and turned to look at him. Gingerly, she placed a hand on his back.
"How - How is Ranma?"
Ryouga hiccupped and tried calming down. "He's in the hospital with the family. Wouldn't talk much. Blames himself for everything."
". . . Shampoo see."
She stood and picked up her shoes.
"Where are you going?"
"Hospital. Shampoo check on Ranma."
In a blink, Ryouga stood in front of her, blocking the door.
"There's no way you are going there now."
"And why not?"
"They wouldn't even let me in. Akane-san -" His breath was caught in his throat. "Akane-san's in the ICU. The doctors said only family members could come in."
Shampoo's eyes narrowed to slits. Only family members, eh? "Since when can doctors stop Chinese Amazon?" She walked to the side but was blocked again by Ryouga.
"Shampoo-san, don't make this hard for the both of us. The gods know how much I want to see Akane-san but you don't see me marching in there breaking down their walls, do you?"
"Shampoo no break down walls," she said, trying to dodge him. "Shampoo only break bones of people who try to stop her."
"Shampoo-san, please don't - "
She didn't know what possessed her to do it. Probably impulse, or probably the desperate need to see Ranma.
Her poised fingers flashed out, aiming at a pressure point that would send him to sleep. But an inch before it touched his skin, his calloused hand had grabbed her wrist. Snarling, she tried pulling back her hand but his hold was too tight.
"Let go of Shampoo!"
"Only if you promise you won't go to them!"
"What you care?" She said, finally pulling her wrist from his grasp. "Besides, airen not of Tendo family, why he be there too?"
Ryouga's eyes softened. Shampoo stared defiantly at him for a moment, then looked away, understanding that they both knew what the answer was.
"Because she's his fiancée." He said, softly voicing out their thoughts. "Ranma is Akane-san's fiancée. He - He has every right to be there."
Shampoo bit her lip, feeling tears stinging her eyes.
"But by law of Amazons, Shampoo Ranma's fiancée too."
"Shampoo-san. . ."
She walked away from him and put on her shoes, not anymore caring if it was rude to do so in a Japanese home. "There be chow mien downstairs if Ryouga hungry," she said, blinking the tears back. "Nobody eat it anyway."
The young man watched her silently, his forehead creased with worry and uncertainty.
"No worry. Shampoo promise no go to hospital for now."
She smiled sadly as she heard him softly exhale in relief.
"Sh - Shampoo-san, wait!"
Before he could catch her, Shampoo had already jumped out of the window, into the night.
Ukyo madly dashed along the streets of Nerima.
Where the hell is he?!
Word had always traveled fast in their neighborhood. Especially when it was about a certain pigtailed martial artist.
She'd swatted a customer in the restaurant that afternoon when she overheard him talking about Ran-chan in a condescending way. Said that he was no good. Couldn't even protect the Tendo girl. Now she's good as dead. And that explosion downtown? 'Twas him. One big jackass, the man said. Always up to no good.
Ukyo didn't regret using her spatula on him even if she did lose a customer. Anybody who talked shit about her Ran-chan would definitely get some hard ass kicking. But what the heck had he been talking about? She knew about the explosion - they said a guy who'd been known as a total freak died because of it, but what did it have to do with Ran-chan?
She passed by the Tendo residence the second time that evening. The lights were still off. Nobody's home yet. The shopping center was closed for the night. She took a peek at the Nekohanten but only saw Mousse, Shampoo, and her Great-grandmother talking quietly. Not wanting to deal with them just yet, she ran to the park, then to Furinkan High, then finally, to the hospital.
"The hospital", she thought. "Of course! If any of those rumors were true then. . ."
Ukyo skidded to a halt when she saw him.
He was sitting on the steps of the building, his unfocused eyes staring far away.
She sprinted up to him and sat down beside him.
Blood had seeped through the bandage on his forehead. His lower lip was kind of swollen, and he had bruises and scratches all over his arms.
"Ucchan," he whispered, his lips slightly curving up to smile.
Ukyo furrowed her brows in worry. Ran-chan had always been so lively. He was never like this.
"I - I've been hearing a lot of gossip about the explosion downtown and they said - So I looked for you to see if you guys were okay and - "
She looked at him, eyes wide. "What do you mean?"
"She's in the ICU right now."
Ukyo stared at him in horror. "She..."
Whether or not she was her rival for Ranma's affection, Akane had always been her friend. She loved the girl, and she would never place anything in her drink like Shampoo would, or deliver her a bunch of poison-roses like Kodachi would. Akane was nice (in spite of her violent tendencies, that is), and she didn't deserve anything like that. She was strong, stronger than she was she had to admit. Nothing could stop her. So to learn that she was lying on a hospital bed in the intensive care unit came as a shock. Ukyo had never dreamt that something like this would happen to her.
"Is she - is she going to be okay?"
There was a long pause as she watched Ranma contemplate the streetlamps that glowed in the dark.
"I don't know. I really hope so, " he whispered. "If I'd been more careful. If I...killed Hiro before he could do what he did to Akane, she - "
"You did what?"
"He deserved it, Ucchan," he said, running both his hands through his hair. "He shouldn't have hurt Akane. Shouldn't have forced me to do it."
Ukyo lowered her eyes. Her heart was a whirlpool of emotions - anger, regret, sadness, longing. She wished that he wouldn't have to suffer like this. It hurt her to see him this depressed. But still...
Ran-chan, would you have done the same for me?
Lightly, she held his hand, erasing selfish thoughts in her head with the feel of his skin.
"Don't blame yourself, Ran-chan."
"I - I can't."
"No, it's not okay! Akane's in that fuckin' ICU 'cause of my fuckin' mistakes!"
Ukyo didn't flinch as he raised his voice. She knew him long enough to know that it wasn't her that he was mad at. Even during their childhood, Ran-chan would talk only to her when he was burdened with his little problems.
If only their problems now were as superficial as a child's.
"I - I'm sorry for screaming at you, Ucchan. I'm just so tired and Akane is... she's..."
"Shhh," she squeezed his hand as she brushed the hair away from his eyes. "Akane will be fine. We both know that she's not one to give up, right? Just believe in her."
Ranma looked blankly at their hands. She couldn't let go, and even if she could, she wouldn't. She knew that he needed her now, even if - she swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat - even if only as a friend.
"Ucchan - "
"Don't worry, Ran-chan," she whispered. "We both just have to trust Akane now, ne?"
He looked up at her and gave her a weary smile.
Ukyo smiled back, suppressing a quiet sob as Ranma gently pulled away from her touch.
To be continued...