Disclaimer: Ranma and Akane don't belong to me.
"It's not that I didn't care for Kasumi, you know. I loved her very much." Tofu smiled at me across the narrow examining table as he finished stitching up Kasumi's arm. My sister lay on an examining table, staring woodenly up at the ceiling, her blue dress and frilly apron draped demurely across her knees.
"Then why did you leave her?" I demanded. My brother-in-law stared at me wordlessly.
They say dreams are a way of the subconscious trying to make sense of things.
I waited and waited for a reply, but my id gave up looking for an explanation, and I woke up.
I opened my eyes, and was mildly chagrined to find them wet with tears. I could feel tear tracks drying on my cheeks and used a corner of my pillow to surreptitiously scrub them away. Even in private, I couldn't admit to the tears.
My phone buzzed on the surface of the cheap side table I'd left it on, and I picked it up, hoping that the call was a response to one of the many feelers I'd put out over the last month.
My heart slammed into my throat. Ranma. How did he find me? I thought I'd given him the slip, but he'd found me anyway. And part of me thought, what took him so long? I mentally squashed that part. Irrationally, I wanted to hang up, like that would help.
"Don't even think about it." His cold tone made my palms sweaty and I had to shift my grip on the phone.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, trying to run away from me, Akane?" he demanded.
"I don't belong to you," I whispered recklessly.
Harsh laughter washed into my ear. I hit the end button and stood on trembling knees. I ran to the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face, the phone buzzing ominously in the background.
I looked up at my reflection in the mirror to see rivulets of water running down my face. How could I have left him? I'd just found him. Or he'd found me. Before I was ready.
We'd had a few weeks of bliss, escaping to his cabin in the mountains after the diamond affair. But I'd started having dreams about Kasumi and Dr. Tofu that just kept getting more frequent. Now I was having them almost every night. I'd hesitated to tell Ranma, not because I thought he wouldn't believe me. After everything we'd been through, he'd be the first to understand. But that would mean...he'd accompany me to Japan. And see my family again. I just couldn't handle the idea of that meeting.
I needed to sort out the truth before I could be with him, the truth about Tofu. I felt like it had something to do with me. I wasn't around, I didn't find out. But now, it was a compulsion.
I still had to work out my own issues with Ranma, but everything would have to wait until I found Tofu.
I wiped my face with my baby yellow face towel and felt a little better. So ok, Ranma had gotten my phone number from one of his nefarious sources somewhere and had called me up to check it out. Big deal, I'd be out of here as soon as…
My apartment door crashed open, banging off the wall a couple of times from the force with which it had been kicked in.
I didn't wait for it to stop swinging.
I locked the bathroom door and stepped onto the rim of my bathtub. Quickly I unlocked my bathroom window and squeezed through it with a little more difficulty than I'd anticipated. Damn that pot roast last night!
Outside, the wall was uniformly brownstone, and my window was three stories high. It faced the back of a Safeway and parked against the loading dock was a gigantic Safeway truck. I pushed off my wall as hard as I could, and landed on the top of the truck with a thunk.
I didn't pause to look up at my window, afraid I'd see a furious Ranma there. Instead I scrambled down onto the cab and onto the street. I ran out of the alley into the main street, where the morning rush hour had cars, trucks and people crowded all the way down to 14 Street. I lived in a section of downtown, so people on their way to work were staring at me dressed in pajamas.
I scowled at them. They were my favourite pajamas, too. They had little Hello Kitty faces on them. I chanced a quick look up and down the street. Of course, no taxi when you need one.
A sense of danger made me look behind me. No Ranma in sight, but the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I took off at a brisk jog down the street. It was downhill, which made my knees hurt, but I kept at it. It was preferable to being caught by Ranma.
Where was he, anyway? He was way faster than me. The locked bathroom door shouldn't have held him up more than a second, considering how mad he'd sounded over the phone.
I saw a police cruiser lying in wait for speeders at the next intersection and detoured into another alley. Didn't want the police to see a disheveled barefoot Japanese girl in Hello Kitty pajamas running down 19th Avenue.
My heart was still pounding, more from fear than from exertion, and I skipped nimbly over the low wooden fence that separated more buildings from the busy road. The more distance between us, the better.
An arm curled out of nowhere and wrapped around my throat. I choked, clawed at the arm, my air completely shut off, and my bare, dirty feet hanging a couple of inches off the ground.
Instinctively, I tried to throw my attacker, using his weight against him, but that didn't work when I couldn't even get purchase on the ground.
"Where the fuck do you think you're running off to, Akane?" Ranma's breath was warm against my cheek, but his words were like ice.
I coughed and went limp in his arms, letting my head fall forward. Ranma's hold on me lessened, and he lowered my feet to the ground.
I braced, twisted, and threw him over my head.
Ranma crashed back-first into a collection of black plastic bags filled with garbage.
I ran down the alley and was almost back at the fence when he tackled me. All the breath whooshed out of me. I was flattened in an instant.
"You're sneaky, I'll give you that much," he said, not even out of breath, his weight crushing me like a mountain. Ranma had grown some since our school days.
"Let me go, Ranma!"
"Never," he said quietly. He grabbed the hair at the back of my head with one hand and pulled me up none too gently with enough force to keep my head tilted back for fear some of my hair might come off by the roots.
It was painful but it kept me quiescent.
He quickly used something to tie my wrists and ankles, gathered me in his arms and took off over the rooftops.
Back in my apartment, he carelessly tossed me onto my pinstriped rose sofa and went into the kitchen to get himself a beer. I was worried the sofa would get dirt on it from all our rolling on the ground. Shows you how distracted I was, to worry about laundering my sofa, for heaven's sake.
I heard him pop the cap in the kitchen and when he came back, he kicked off his shoes, sat down across from me and took a long sip without taking his eyes off me. It was unnerving.
"Knock Knock," he said.
"Who's there?" I asked, insatiably curious.
"Ranma gonna kick your butt if you try such a stunt again."
Ranma smiled. He seemed to be in a better mood now.
I cautiously said, "I left a note."
He frowned, fished in his right shirt pocket and brought out a crumpled piece of paper. He smoothed it out.
"Dear Ranma," he read. "This isn't working out. I need some space to think about some things. I'll call you when I can. Akane."
I cringed. As notes went, it wasn't a particularly satisfactory one, I knew. Still, I'd been in a bit of a hurry.
He glanced up, a bitter twist to his smile.
"Not really informative," he said. "And you hid very well. It's taken me a month just to get a phone number to track you with."
"How long are you going to keep me shackled up like this?" I asked.
"Until you tell me what's going on," he said.
"I…I had a dream," I said.
He looked disbelieving.
He suddenly looked worried.
"Have those ghosts been haunting you?" See, he went to the supernatural right away.
"From the Great Moghul? No, it's nothing to do with them," I replied. I was reluctant to tell Ranma that I wanted to return to Japan, because I didn't want to go with him. It would stir up too many memories to go back together, and if my father saw me with Ranma…
I didn't even want to go there. Not even in my head.
But he'd ferreted me out. I was out of ideas at the moment. Maybe later something would crop up.
"I need to find Dr. Tofu," I explained.
"Dr. Tofu? Why?"
"He...he married Kasumi, a little after you left, and…well, they were happy for a while. I left for America, and then…when I went back to visit a year later, he'd just disappeared." I tried to shift my arms again but just ended up doing a weird wiggle on the couch. "No one wrote me when it happened. Nabiki wouldn't talk much about it, and Kasumi kind of went…a bit weird."
"Weird? How weird?"
Ranma was watching me, listening to the story, dangling the beer bottle between his knees.
"Do you know where he might be?"
"No." I shook my head. "I've spent the month since I left you trying to find someone who might know."
Ranma waited. "And?"
I looked away. "And nothing. The only thing left to do is to go back to where it happened."
"Home," Ranma breathed. He smirked. "And I suppose you didn't want me to come with you,"
"Ranma, we're not kids anymore," I pointed out. "We're adults. We're not bound to each other. We made no promises."
Ranma leaned forward, menace darkening his blue eyes, his dark hair falling almost boyishly over his forehead.
"Let me promise you this. You're not running from me until I'm done with you."
"It's not up to you when I get to leave," I said.
"Why did you leave?"
"You know why," I said.
"Well, you SHOULD know why," I said.
Ranma threw his arms in the air.
"Women! I'll never understand you."
"Nobody asked you to!" I turned my head aside, so angry I could feel tears gathering behind my eyelids. "You can't just hop into my life after eight years and expect to take it over, you know."
"We wouldn't have been apart for eight years if you hadn't…" Abruptly, Ranma stopped talking.
"Fooled you?" I said bitterly. "Yes, I know." My shoulders were starting to hurt, but Ranma showed no signs of letting me loose. I rolled my shoulders, trying to ease the strain. Of course, no bodyguard worth his salt would tie a prisoner's hands in the front.
"So, you're going home without me?" he asked patiently.
Strange. I'd never really known Ranma to be patient before.
I averted my head. What could I tell him? That I wanted the two troublesome issues in my life to be separate so I could deal with them separately?
I took a deep breath. "I asked my boss for some leave," I said. "He was about to say yes, but when he found out I was going to Japan, he asked me to deliver another package." I could've said no, but somehow, going home for work bolstered me, helped me pretend that maybe I wouldn't have to see my family.
Ranma stood, walked towards me and began to untie the knots on my wrists.
"Where?" he asked.
"I don't know," I replied, rubbing one wrist with my hand. "I'll find out tomorrow."