A/N: Woah-man. Lots of cliché fluffiness in this one. Not bad, but kinda hard for me, as a respectably not fluffy person, to write. Also, sorry for the confusion in the last chapter. I was trying to give it a chaotic and bewildering feeling, and apparently did the job based on most of the responses I got. The jist of it is, Akane was attacked by a crazy man who will be further identified later. Her would-be murder was interrupted by Ben, who wanted her alive for other nasty perverted unmentionable activities… yeah. The gun Crazy-man-number-two was holding fired, and Akane managed a grab for it in the chaos… and on with the show.
P.S. Thanks a bucketful for waiting me out (my optimistic niave idea that there still are readers out there waiting for an update…) This is just a little notice, you know: Hi, how's life, I swear I'm still alive. That kind of thing. Actually, it has been a very (no kidding) very busy year… almost too much for little ol' me, and I was having some trouble getting this chapter to go in the right direction. But here it is… I guess. I'm estimating only a few more chapters left. Maybe four at the most.
DISCLAIMER: If I really owned these characters, I'd have been shot on account of my lack of commitment (very touchy people, I'm sure). And if I had any claim on the events of the WWII, I'd have been shot on account of it was a war. People get shot in wars.
Chapter Twelve: Endure
"Though they go mad they shall be sane.
Though they sink through the sea, they shall rise again.
Though lovers be lost, love shall not,
And death shall have no dominion."
- Dylan Thomas
The rain pelted the shaky tin roof of the shack, and the deep rumbling of thunder shook her insides. There was utter silence, and she became attuned to the steady rhythm of her own heart beating against her swollen ribcage.
The door opened and shrieked on it's rusted hinges before slamming snuggly into its frame. She lifted her head wearily and her eyes spoke of exhausted resignation. At the other end of the room stood Ranma. His thick inky locks were plastered to his forehead and his officer's uniform clung snuggly to every chiseled outline of his body. Despite his wet and chilled appearance, his eyes smoldered and his mouth contorted into a position that screamed passion.
"What have you done?" He asked quietly, making a noticeable effort to remain indifferent and calm. His voice cut through the lonely silence like a blade through flesh, causing about the same level of painful comfort. His eyes took on the clouded hue of the outside storm, giving her a frightening view of the one raging inside him. When she neglected to answer, he flushed an angry red – a stark contrast to his previously pallid complexion.
"What the hell were you thinking? Why were you carrying a loaded weapon?" He ground out. And lastly, in a tone of near desperation and obvious pain, "Do you know what they'll do to you?" She had to lower her eyes at the intensity of his gaze. Neither of them moved for several moments. It seemed like a lifetime. Ranma grunted.
"My father arrived early this morning with an attendant. General Saotome and a high-ranking official named Shampoo. I believe you've met the latter." He spat the last part, a spark of disgust reaching his eyes. Akane swallowed the painful knot that had risen in her throat, her eyes burned at the oncoming tears. It had been months since she had cried. Not since the death of her father.
"What happened to the others… Is Ryoga…?" She trailed off on account of her throat seizing shut again. Ranma took it upon himself to answer her unasked question. "Mr. Hibiki", he stressed, "Is recovering from a bullet wound in his upper thigh. He will be fine, but he'll likely be sent home to recuperate. As for the other two men…" He paused mid scolding. He was instantly sorry for treating her so harshly. Her eyes were shining with tears that she stubbornly refused to let go, and her fingers were clutched so tightly around her knees that the knuckles were white and small crescent-shaped nail indents appeared, filling with blood on her knee caps.
"One of the victims was sent to a nearby medical center and is currently in critical condition." He paused at the sound of her sharp intake of breath. "The other man… Ben, I suppose… has temporarily gone missing." For a moment, she didn't say anything. Her eyes were trained on the dusty corner of her ruined shoes. Suddenly she lifted her gaze to meet his, and he found himself wavering under the intensity of her fiery eyes.
"You call them victims? Whose side are you are Ranma?" her jaw was clenched and the muscles in her shoulders were tense despite her weariness. What struck him the most was the strength and surety of her gaze. This the gaze of a woman suffered. Her heart was passionate, yet callused over as a result of the extensive tragedies in her life. He feared her indifference more than he feared the idea of her nearly killing a man.
"What are you talking about? I'm on your side, of course." He spat, partly from annoyance, partly from a fear that had started somewhere deep in the recesses of his heart and grown passingly more apparent. Cold indifference. He knew that look well… and it was the look of someone who couldn't find room in their wrung and weary heart to care any longer. It was the look he had had plastered over his features for many years. Until he had met Akane.
She turned away from his official tone belligerently. His heart gave a painful jerk and twist in his chest. The fear… of losing her. Not just physically. If she could no longer trust him, no longer smile for him… it was a painful idea. One that was becoming more likely as he sat there and let her draw away from him.
In three short strides he was at her side. His hands grasped the cold metallic bars of her cell that was the only physical barrier between them. She shuffled away in a startled manner, a small utterance escaping her lips. He struck out a hand to grasp her arm above the elbow and pull her closer to him. He could tell he pained her as she winced slightly. Her shoulder was jammed up against the ice-like bars, and they were so close she felt the unpredictable puff of his breath upon her neck. The intensity of his eyes burned holes through her cold defense.
"I won't let this happen. You can't leave. Hate me - forget me… but I'll still be there. You can't walk away from this." His hand trembled, as his voice grew husky and rough and almost pleading. "Don't leave me like I was Akane. I can't go back to the way I was." Alone. Ranma's head leaned heavily against the bars. He waited in silence for her response. His hand dropped from the harsh grasp he held around her arm.
After a stretched silence, a soft, unsure hand was brought to the nape of his neck. He felt her press her own warm forehead against his own, and she whispered nearly inaudibly, "What makes you think I'm that easy to get rid of?" And just like that, a weight had been removed from his gut. He wanted to laugh. Or cry. But neither of those would be very acceptable for a man like him. Besides, that would involve breaking their tender embrace… something he had no intention of doing. Ever.
So. Time to report to big Daddy Soatome. He wasn't going to be happy about this one. She was perched, hanging from the edge of the soggy roof, the droplets stinging the surface of her eyes as she watched intently and unnoticed through the cloudy window.
She was overwrought with emotion. So many bombarded her at once, she was completely incapable of describing them. Jealousy, disgust, guilt, loss… and an odd sense of shame for intruding on something so profoundly intimate. She gave a small snort of derision. Unlocking her knees from the hook-like hold she had on the ceiling, She did a mid-air tumble and landed gracefully on her toes. Her eyes closed briefly and visions of a former life overcame her, savagely attacking her weak disposition. A callused palm mingling with her own. A tender word. Eyes that watched her with utter compassion and trust. God, she thought she had forgotten. But love… that's something you can never forget.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know anyone was in here." Ukyo stammered apologetically as she became uncomfortably aware of the half-naked man lying in a clean cot. She had come to visit Kasumi at Akane's request at the camp's makeshift infirmary. The poor overworked eldest sister had fainted clean away at the news of her sister's predicament.
The man on the bed waved away her awkward intrusion. "It's no big deal. I'm just here to rot – er, recuperate. At least… I think that's the word they used. All I know is that I can't feel a damn thing in this Godforsaken leg, and - " Ryoga stopped, pausing sheepishly.
He bowed his head slightly in shame. "Pardon my French, Miss." And the next moment he grinned charmingly, sticking out a rough hand in her direction. "Name's Ryoga Hibiki."
It took all of her will power to cover the shock and pain she felt gnawing at her abdomen. He didn't remember. Thank all that was holy… The man couldn't remember. She recovered from her awkward silence at his introduction and took his hand gently in hers. There was little force in the squeeze of her fingers. "Ukyo." She stated quietly, her voice quivering despite her efforts. "I'm just here to check up on someone… I won't be a minute." And she was out. Away from the man that so reminded her of someone else… somewhere else. Her hands trembled as she gripped the extra clothing she had brought with her. Spotting the object of her search a little too quickly, Ukyo panicked in an attempt to regain her composure. But it was no use at all. Kasumi knows things… the way a mother knows. It was both a blessing and a curse to her friends and family.
"Ukyo dear… what's wrong? You look so pale." Kasumi asked in a matronly form of concern as she neared her cot. She reached up and clasped the young girl's hand, mentally noting it's trembling. Ukyo just smiled waveringly and shook her head. "It's nothing, just a little chilly, that's all. I just can't handle the cold anymore. I fall to pieces." She squeezed Kasumi's hand encouragingly and placed the warm jacket and stockings she had brought her on the covers. "Compliments of Nabiki and the little jailbird." She joked, only sorry when she spotted the tiny frown marring the elder girl's face.
"How is she doing? Is she in very much trouble?" Kasumi fretted. Ukyo shook her head, a thoughtful finger to her chin. She couldn't explain to the poor girl what would really happen. She wouldn't be able to handle it. And then there was that other issue…
"She's here, Sir. Shampoo tell her come in?" She gave a curt nod toward the General at his affirmative, only allowing a slight frown to mar her pretty features after she had turned her back on the gluttonous, but coldly efficient man. It was all she could do to contain the innate disgust she felt toward the depraved general. This job was her life. Literally. If she showed any reluctance to carry out orders with a smile and a flourish, she would be snatched up and tossed into a cell to rot faster than she could curse the name of this devil reincarnate. Damn the war… she just wanted to go home.
"He see you now. Come quick, very busy man." She snapped at the ghostly looking woman soaked to the very bone from the relentless rain. The huddled form allowed herself to be ushered inside, where she took a moment to collect her frayed nerves. This was the last time. She couldn't do it anymore… she wouldn't have to. She was about to ruin the lives of two very undeserving young people. Straightening and brushing back the sticky ends of her saturated bangs, she pushed through the doors into the presence of the man she despised most. Well, maybe he was only second in line… spot number one was reserved for the jackass that ruined her life, and her happiness.
"I've…" her voice cracked and she had to clear her throat in an attempt to continue. "I've been watching Sir. You… your son seems to have a very strong – attachment – to one girl, one captive, in particular." She stopped unable to betray the last minute piece of information. It wasn't fair. Nothing about this war was fair.
"Ukyoe. You know what rides on this assignment, do you not? Shall I remind you what will become of that traitorous husband of yours? Do you doubt my sincerity when I say he will suffer for your incompetence?" Each snide leer, each calculated question, was like a twist to the knife permanently imbedded in her heart. She gasped from the pain her inner conflicts were causing her, the turmoil this wicked man knotted her soul into.
"No… no you do not." Her decision was made; she had to remember the man… the man she loved. Even if he would never remember her. Inhaling sharply, she forced the words from her constricting throat. "The accused captive Akane Tendo, Sir. The woman carrying the gun responsible for… Mr. Hibiki's… injuries and the death of one Jacob Nishimoto." She paused, her eyes burning with the unbearable heat of guilt and a tortured soul. "Your son had reportedly been seen in her presence from the incident at the train station until this very evening in the… holding room. With what I have observed, they seem to be very reliant on one another. Sir."
The tension in the air was so manifest that it was nearly tangible. She let go a deep, unhappy sigh, the only noise to cut the harsh silence. And then he spoke… so quietly it was almost inaudible.
"Did you say Tendo?"