I had this story in my mind for ages and would write pieces of it here and there, but never felt it was quite right. Lack of time and never ending homework assignments did not help matters. Anyway, here it is. It's still not quite right, but hey, what story ever is.
I'm sure I'll get some OOC complaints but this is a heavy, terribly sad subject and death brings about all sorts of changes in people. Hopefully, I dealt with the subject with just a little grace and no ham-handedness.But all reviews, complaints, and criticisms are welcome. In fact they are encouraged so please read, hopefully enjoy, and review.
"I'm sorry Mr. and Mrs. Saotome, but I don't think she'll make it through the night."
The doctor tried to look the young couple in the eyes but found the task to be much too hard. The young woman that he had come to know well in the last two months sunk into the nearest chair and stared sullenly at the ground. The man wore a similar expression and made no move to comfort his shivering wife.
"Can't something be done?" the man questioned softly, not bothering to look at the doctor.
"I'm afraid not. We've tried everything."
The man gritted his teeth, "There has to be something you haven't tried."
"No, Ranma." The woman had risen from the chair and moved to the incubator, looking at the tiny form inside. "Haven't we asked her to fight long enough? Maybe it's time to let her go."
"No." The woman's answer was firm and she ignored the desperate look of her husband. She wrapped her arms around herself, looked down at her child, and watched as the infant's shuddering breaths brought tears to her eyes. "She's suffering."
"I'm afraid there is nothing we can do now, Mr. Saotome. The pneumonia has settled into her lungs. Even if there were an antibiotic we neglected to try, I doubt she'd make it through the night." The doctor sighed and silently prayed for the two, whispering that they would not hate him for delivering the message. He turned to leave the couple to their peace before the woman interrupted his departure.
"Dr. Matsushita, can we hold her please?"
He looked at Akane Saotome for a moment. She seemed too young and small to experience such a hardship, but here she was, large watery eyes and that heartbroken look. He wanted to hold her, comfort her, and tell her that there could be life beyond this loss but all he could offer at the moment was to allow her a private goodbye.
"Of course." He moved to the incubator and plucked the weightless child out and placed her in her mother's arms. "Here you go. I'm so sorry, Mrs. Saotome."
She tried to smile with gratitude but a sob came instead. He nodded to her and then to her husband before leaving the room. The man nodded back and then moved to his wife's side while the doctor slowly closed the door behind him.
"This is it, isn't it?"
The room seemed so sterile and cold, the wrong place to grieve and the wrong place to summon up the strength to comfort another. "I think so."
The two looked at their child. Her breathing was labored and she was so pale, but those wide blue eyes, Ranma's eyes, stared up at her parents almost as though she were asking them not to be sad. Akane looked to Ranma and smiled a pitiful, sad half smile, and walked to the only chair in the room. Ranma sat on the floor, placing his head on Akane's lap, and rubbed his daughter's legs, looking at her sweet face.
"Bye, little one," he whispered.
The small family sat together for the night until the tiny spirit slipped away with the setting moon.
o o o o o o o o
Ranma faced the hospital wall, his hands clenched and his body shaking, while Kasumi rubbed his back gently. Despite her calming influence, Ranma continued to seethe.
"Everything will be fine, Ranma. You know how strong Akane is. She'll be fine, the baby will be fine."
"It's too damn early. She's not due for another two months." he stated through clenched teeth.
Kasumi continued her gentle soothing, speaking affirmations to Akane's health, the wonders of modern medicine, and reminded him of the strength of his and Akane's love for what seemed to be hours. She wished he would sit in the lobby with the rest of the family so she could look after him and a wailing Soun, but that was Nabiki's responsibility for now. Ranma was too wired, too worried, too angry to be around anyone at the moment.
"I need to be in there. They just shoved me out, Kasumi! If something happens and I'm not in there I swear there'll be hell to pay." He pounded his fist into the wall.
"I know, but you would be in their way. I promise, Akane will be fine." She removed Ranma's hand from the wall and squeezed it warmly. "The two of you have come through worse. This is just another bump in the road."
"I hope so."
Another round of screams came from the hospital room, but these were louder and more pained than the one's that preceded them. Ranma squeezed his eyes closed and leaned his head against the wall.
"I can't bear it. I can't listen her scream anymore!" Never, never could he forget Akane's screams and it tore at him to be unable to take her pain away. "I've been listening to her scream for two days now. She can't do this for much longer."
One last wretched wail echoed through the hallway, and Kasumi hugged Ranma fiercely, trying to guard both of them from the noise.
A few minutes later, a doctor appeared from the room, looking fatigued and terribly serious. He wiped his forehead and looked around the hall briefly before finding Ranma, "Mr. Saotome?"
"What?" Ranma blinked rapidly and looked prepared to start a battle.
"Your wife is fine. It was a close call, but she's a strong one."
Ranma almost sunk to the ground, his knees no longer able to bear his weight, "She's okay?"
"The delivery was difficult. There were a lot of problems, Mr. Saotome. Due to her petite size and the complications, the effort of the delivery nearly killed her. We would have ordered a cesarean if we could have foreseen the problems, but at the time we felt a natural birth would be less stressful on your wife. Regardless, she made it through."
Ranma looked at the ground, quickly trying to process the onslaught of information, "The baby?"
"You have a daughter Mr. Saotome, however there were complications. She is two months premature and her lungs are not yet fully developed. We're taking care of her now, but you should know that her prognosis is questionable at best."
"What are you telling me, Doctor?"
"We don't know if she's going to make it."
"Is she going to. . ." Ranma stoppe, incapable of finishing the question.
"We don't know, but for now she is alive and could not be in better hands," the doctor reported, trying to ease the young man's worst fears.
"Let me see my wife," Ranma demanded.
"Go ahead, Mr. Saotome, but remember she's weak and very tired."
Ranma brushed past the doctor and ran into the hospital room only to find Akane lying still against the bed. His breath hitched in the back of his throat. The doctor had said she was fine, in fact he had stated it more than once, but she lay very still on the bed, looking eerily similar to that dreadful day at Jusenkyo.
"Ranma," an unknown horse voice answered.
A nurse stood at the bedside, checking monitors and adjusting the air tube running up Akane's nose. She smiled softly and encouragingly to Ranma, "She's been asking for you for quite a while."
Ranma took Akane's hand in both of his and squeezed tightly, "Are you okay?"
"Akane shifted her head towards his voice but could not summon the effort to open her eyes, "Is the baby okay? No one will give me a straight answer."
"She's okay for now. The doctor said they're taking care of her, but you should rest now."
"Can't," she breathed. "Can't until I know the baby is okay."
Ranma shifted slightly, "You need to sleep. I'll make sure the baby is taken care of."
"No, not until I know."
Ranma stiffened, frustrated and worried, "Just go to sleep, Akane, before you go and get yourself even worse off."
"I'm fine." Akane attempted to lift her head, desperate for information, but could not. Despite near delirium from exhaustion, she would not sleep till her gnawing worry was answered.
"You stubborn. . ." Ranma trailed off, biting back a retort that spilled out from worry.
Akane opened her eyes a sliver, showing a small slice of gold-brown, "You were worried." She spoke the statement, the fact, in her usual habit of reinterpreting much of Ranma's blunt speech.
Ranma paused and tried to hold back the moistness gathering in his eyes, "Oh Akane, I was so scared!" He buried his head into her pillow and brushed her cheek with a kiss. She returned the gesture with a small brush of her hand.
"The baby's name is Kaori," Akane stated, seemingly out of nowhere.
Ranma smiled into the pillow and then whispered into her ear, "We talked about that name before. You know I hated it." Things could not be so bad if Akane's resistant attitude was surfacing.
"But my Mom once told me that if she ever had another daughter that's what she would have named it." Akane whispered softly before letting her voice, raspy from hours of labor, harden, "Besides I nearly killed myself having our child so I'll name her too."
"Kaori it is," Ranma agreed.
"Will you go check on her please, Ranma?"
"In a second, Akane." Akane grunted in protest, but Ranma kissed her lips gently, concern for his child growing in his eyes. "I'm worried sick too, but I don't think the doctors will let me see her now. But I know she'll be all right. She's a Saotome after all."
o o o o o o o o
Rori . . . .
Akane stared out the window at the thick grayness of the day and felt an intensifying sadness. It was all over now. Her baby was buried this morning, in a burial plot next to her mother, in white casket that seemed to swallow her whole. The whole ordeal, the early birth and fifty hours of labor, the two months of hope that ended in death, and watching her daughter die, was difficult but this was unbearable. Akane looked into the grayness and wondered if there would ever be a shift a second or a half breath that all her thoughts would not be centered on the little figure covered in dirt.
"Akane, come away from the window. It's cold." Kasumi commanded softly. "Please, come away and get some warm tea."
Kasumi frowned, "Will you talk to me just for a moment. You haven't said a word all day."
"What's there to say?"
"I don't know, but I remember when Mama passed on you, Nabiki, and I talked. We talked about her and the memories we had, and we felt better after."
Akane turned to look at her with old, dull eyes, "This is different."
"Because it hurts too much to talk about it and I can't take anymore. Not today."
Kasumi sighed and bit her lower lip. Never before had there been a wound of Akane's that she could not help mend, but this was beyond her abilities. There were no soothing words this time and no life experience to rely on to provide consolation. For once, Kasumi did not know if the pain could melt away with time or if there would be some possibility for assured happiness.
"I want to make things better for you, Akane, but this time I don't know how."
"This can't be made better." Tears glimmered in Akane's eyes, "Nothing can ever make this better!"
"It won't always hurt this much."
"No more, Kasumi."
"But. . ."
"I know you're trying to help, but this is making it worse." Akane did not want to speak, wanted to stop the sudden flow of words, but something had opened. "Kasumi, right now, all I can think about is how I'm only twenty years old and I can't feel anything but empty. And I'm supposed to go right back to school, back to work, and I don't know how I'm supposed to do that. I've spent the last two months praying and hoping and now I have to start living life again but I don't know how anymore. I want it to stop hurting and I don't know if I could live with myself if it did. It's just too much!" Akane shut her mouth tightly before she admitted to weeping on her bathroom floor.
Kasumi placed an understanding hand on Akane's shoulder, "It's okay. We don't have to talk now, but remember you can heal faster if you don't do it alone."
Akane nodded and digest the words.
"How is Ranma holding up?"
Akane looked down at her black dress and tried to smooth out a few of the wrinkles, "I don't know. We haven't talked about it."
Last she had seen of Ranma, they had been standing next to each other at the burial but did not have the strength to reach out a hand to one another. It was odd how this grief had separated them ever so slightly, but so much had been internalized and to reach out would mean putting herself out into the world again.
"Maybe you should go find him."
"Not now, Kasumi. He'll come if he needs me."
Kasumi walked up behind Akane and wrapped her arms around her small form. She leaned her head on Akane's shoulder, "Don't shut Ranma out. He loves Rori every bit as much as you. Remember how hekept using her nickname until we called her by it. He needs you, Akane. He always has."
Akane gave a chuckle bitterly, "I thought Ranma was strong enough to handle everything. At least that's what he's told me a thousand times."
"Oh, Akane," Kasumi breathed, "not this. Not this."
"I know, but not now."
"Don't shut him out. Promise me. You two understand all of this better than anybody. You need each other. Promise me."
Akane felt the tears come again, "I promise, but just not today."
"Okay." Kasumi tightened her squeeze as Akane leaned back into her.
The two stayed huddled together for a while, Akane silently crying while Kasumi tried to feed her strength. Kasumi finally loosened her hold to fix the tea, and Akane drank it gratefully, trying to let the focus the warmth of it around her heart.