"Of Loss, Life, & Love."
Chapter 1: "Saying Goodbye"
Summary: Growth often comes from and with pain. The death of a loved one brings many changes to the Tendo household and Saotome family. Ranma/Akane. There will be some Tragedy and Angst, but also Romance and Comedy to be found.
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters. They are humbly borrowed. This story is not for profit of any sort, but solely for the enjoyment of other fans.
Glossary/ Cultural Notes:
Gyoza - Japanese style dumplings
Dashimaki tamago – Japanese omelet roll
Each irregular and piercing beat of the monitor hammered in the harsh reality;
Their father was dying.
The eldest daughter, forever the one to try and keep the family calm and collected, sat in a chair nearest to the ailing man's bed. The soft clink-clink of her knitting clashed sharply with the other sounds in the stark hospital room. Her hands were steady, revealing none of the anxiety she felt inside; it was only noticeable to her sisters and the Saotome family, who knew what a pale and tight-lipped face meant coming from her.
The middle daughter sat in the farthest corner of the small room, leaning almost nonchalantly against the wall with her arms crossed in front of her chest. Her overall appearance was of removed indifference, but her eyes betrayed her. They scanned the room critically, missed nothing, and showed an emotion rarely felt before: fear.
The youngest daughter twitched restlessly in her seat, periodically rising to pace for a bit, before sitting down and resuming the unproductive cycle. Never one to hide her temper well, her entire being seemed to radiate her emotions: frustration, anxiety, and anger. She wanted to do something, anything, but there was nothing for her to do. So her hands fumbled in her lap while she tried in vain to calm her racing heart.
Ranma Saotome watched the women in the room from the doorway, feeling horribly out of place. He understood Akane's restless energy. He felt the same. He was itching to leave, but couldn't at the same time. This was his first experience with hospitals and he hated it. His pop had gone with his mother to bring dinner back for the Tendo family, purposely leaving him behind as "emotional support" for his fiancée. Emotional support? Ranma scoffed mentally at the idea. He didn't have the least notion of what he should be doing at a time like this. He was a man of action: a martial artist and a good one at that. When something hurt Akane, he instinctively hurt them back - with his fists. He didn't think about why he reacted that way, he just did. Yet his fiancée was being hurt by something out of his ability to fight.
What do you say when you find out your father's best friend, your future father-in-law, is dying from a heart attack?
He watched Akane rise again from her seat and renew her pacing. The knitting needles stopped clinking. "Akane, please stop pacing. It won't help father, and it's only making everyone tense." To the untrained ear, Kasumi's voice was still soft and sweet. To anyone who knew her well, it was clearly strained and forced.
Akane sighed and bowed her head, resuming her seat. "Sorry, oneechan."
The rhythmic clink-clink resumed, but was soon interrupted by a friendly, motherly voice from the doorway.
"I have dinner, everyone."
Ranma smiled slightly. His mother was back. If anyone could help the Tendo daughters right now, it was her.
Kasumi put down her knitting as she rose from her seat.
"We'll be right back, father," she said softly to the unresponsive man in the bed before stepping out of the room.
Nabiki moved from her corner and hesitated a moment by his bed. Her face turned away from the door and Ranma couldn't make out what she said before joining her elder sister.
Akane remained in her seat, hands still fumbling in her lap. Ranma entered the room and walked towards Akane, feeling awkward.
"You coming, Akane?" Ranma asked.
The short-haired girl looked away from her father to face Ranma and shook her head. "I think I'll stay here."
Ranma gave Akane a critical look, but didn't know what else to say. Akane had been having trouble eating since Soun was admitted to the hospital. It wasn't that she refused to eat, as much as her body refused to accept the food. Her stomach was as nervous and uptight as she was. She hadn't been able to hold down more than some tea and rice crackers in over a week and it showed. Her overall complexion was a bit paler than normal and her clothes hung loosely in places. Regardless of how often he had made fun of her weight and figure in the past, Ranma hated the way she was now. She looked sickly, and he missed her healthy, athletic glow.
Nodoka poked her head in the door, her husband behind her. "We have dinner set up in the waiting room," she announced, as if Akane had simply not heard before. She pulled up the chair Kasumi had used and sat down. "We'll stay here while you two eat."
Akane looked like she was about to protest for a moment, but Nodoka's stern yet comforting gaze made her swallow her words. "Uh, thanks Auntie Saotome."
In the waiting room Nabiki and Kasumi sat around a small table that had once been littered with magazines. In its place was an elegant spread of food. Ranma felt his mouth water as he sat to join them, Akane following silently behind and sitting to his right.
Kasumi passed a paper plate to Ranma and Akane. The food was homemade by his mom, and he was looking forward to digging in. Yet, it felt off at the same time. Eating in the hospital waiting room, using paper plates, all without dueling his father for a dumpling or extra rice, felt horribly wrong.
He helped himself to a regular serving size of rice and some gyoza, as opposed to the monstrous amount he normally would have at home, and began to eat. For some reason, he felt self-conscious and his eating slowed to an almost normal pace. Akane remained seated stiffly at his side, her plate empty.
"Wouldn't you like some, Akane?" Kasumi asked, noticing her sister's lack of appetite.
Akane shook her head. Kasumi frowned, but said nothing more. Nabiki muttered a "suit yourself," and served herself an extra portion. Ranma looked at the display of food, noticing for the first time that each of the dishes his mother prepared were a favorite of the Tendo girls. It was just like his mom to be really thoughtful and understanding at a time like this.
Ranma glanced from the dashimaki tamago to Akane's still empty plate. As casually as possible, he took a few pieces and placed them on Akane's plate. She looked up at him, her eyebrows and the corner of her mouth raised.
"Hey, it's your favorite. You gotta try some," he answered the question in her eyes with a carefree tone.
Akane felt surprised he cared enough to get her to eat. Normally, he would take the opportunity to grab second helpings for himself. For once, he was pointedly trying to be polite in their makeshift supper. It was also strangely pleasing to know that Ranma remembered that dashimaki tamago was her favorite food. Granted, it would have been more surprising if he hadn't known, after living in the same household for over two years, but it was nice just the same.
Akane still hadn't moved to eat her food. "Besides," Ranma continued with a small smirk on his face, "you're looking like a beanpole. Eat something already."
Akane glared at Ranma and instinctively smacked him in the arm. "I do not, baka" she retorted in a huff. Not wanting to admit he was right, but knowing he had a point, she picked up her chopsticks and tentatively ate. Minutes later she was halfway through her plate when she felt her stomach roll in protest. She forced the last mouthful she had down and did her best to ignore it. Her stomach gurgled audibly and for a moment Akane's face turned slightly green.
"Akane?" Ranma asked through a mouthful of rice.
Akane dropped her chopsticks and made a mad dash for the restroom.
'Dammit,' Ranma thought, dropping his own chopsticks and taking off after her.
He stood outside the ladies' room door, feeling more than half tempted to find some cold water, turn female, and go inside to check on her. At first he couldn't understand Akane's problems holding down food. Her other sisters seemed to be fine and little to nothing ever stopped his appetite (other than eating Akane's cooking). Then he tried to put himself in Akane's situation - if it was his father, or worse his mother, in the hospital… being kept alive by machines that regulated her very breathing… he shuddered and felt his own stomach clench at the thought.
Moments later, Akane came out of the bathroom looking a little pale, but no longer green.
"You waited for me?" she asked in a mixture of disbelief and another emotion he couldn't quite recognize.
"Yeah, well, not like there's much ta do around here."
Akane gave him a ghost of a smile. The concerned overtone in his voice did not escape her ears. She was getting better at reading Ranma's true meaning behind his clumsy words.
It was a month after the infamous failed wedding attempt, and still nothing had been resolved regarding their engagement. Ranma was still chased by the girls; Akane was still admired by the boys and actively pursued by Kuno. Nonetheless, some things had changed. There was the life altering moment at Jusendo when she thought she heard him say he loved her. Even though he later denied saying it aloud, he had never denied feeling it.
Although they still argued and bickered, in many small ways they had been getting along a lot better. Ranma's mother held a great influence on that. She was living under the Tendo roof - as funds and means to rebuild the Saotome home was made – becoming a mediating presence between them both. A stern glare often cut off Ranma's impolite comments he made to Akane, in turn keeping Akane from belting him. Private chats between Nodoka and Akane had helped Akane better control her temper and think before assuming the worse of Ranma.
Akane's smile failed and she quickly sobered. "You don't have to stick around, Ranma. You've been here as long as I have. Go outside, take a break."
Ranma merely shrugged. "Nah. Unless you want to come with me?"
Akane's eyes widened. Ranma was asking her to keep him company? As much as she wanted to believe that was the case, she doubted it. She shook her head firmly. "You don't have to invite me along because you feel sorry for me."
Ranma rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Don't be so uncute. That's not why I asked." Akane frowned and glared at the 'uncute' comment, but let him continue. "You're as restless as I am. Might as well both get out of here for a bit and give your sisters a break from pacing, ne?"
Akane paused, unsure. It was clear her presence wasn't making any difference, other than annoy her family. "I guess…"
Ranma smiled. Not waiting for a full acceptance, he impulsively grabbed her hand and dragged her out of the hospital.
In no time Akane found herself standing outside the hospital's main entrance, her emotions a jumbled mass of confusion. Part of her felt bad for leaving, the other part of her was enormously glad to be out of the confining hospital. She wanted to pretend that everything was alright, that her father was not in that hospital bed, but instead out on the porch playing shogi or a game of go with Genma. 'He'll be fine' she told herself firmly for the hundredth time that day. It was easier to believe, now that she wasn't looking at his still form attached to the unfeeling machines.
She took a deep breath, smelling the thick, muggy summer air that was infinitely better to her senses than the cold, sterile, air-conditioned hospital. She turned to look at Ranma and for the first time she noticed that his hand was still holding her own. Ranma noticed the same time she did and let go as if scalded. "Uh, sorry." He muttered, half embarrassed and half worried at her possible reaction to him holding her hand unasked.
"I didn't mind…" she heard herself respond without thinking. The minute the words left her mouth she felt like smacking herself. Did she just say that aloud? Maybe it was true, but she didn't mean for it to come out!
"So, now what?" Akane asked, wanting to change the topic before he had a chance to respond.
A small sweat drop formed on the corner of Ranma's forehead. Characteristically, he hadn't planned that far ahead. Ranma rubbed the back of his head, thinking. He just wanted to get moving. He had been kept confined indoors for the better part of a week and he was feeling antsy. He knew Akane felt the same.
"Wanna go for a run?" he suggested.
Akane's brow turned up in an elegant arch of surprise, a small smile forming at her mouth. "Sure. Think you can keep up with me?" she teased. She knew full well he could, but it was too much fun (and easy) to goad him.
Ranma accepted the bait. "Is that a challenge? 'Cause you're going to loose, tomboy."
Akane grinned. "Oh yeah? Then prove it." Before Ranma had a chance to respond, she was already taking off.
It was far from an ideal evening to be running. The sun was just starting to set, shining light directly into their eyes, and the cement radiated the solar heat it had collected throughout the day. The air was humid and stifling, making it difficult to breath. Akane was far from being dressed appropriately for a run, wearing a plain summer dress and sandals. Despite all this, she didn't care. For the first time in seven long days she felt alive.
Ranma soon caught up and in typical Ranma-fashion, decided to show off. As soon as he was a few feet ahead, he turned around and continued at the same pace only moving backward, sticking his tongue playfully out at the running girl.
As expected, it riled up Akane to run faster. Ranma was soon pushed hard enough that he eventually had to stop going backward and resume running forward. They both stopped when they reached the Nerima Park.
Akane walked over to a bench and made sure to stretch before sitting so as to avoid any cramping. Ranma followed suit, sitting next to her.
Akane was still breathing a little hard and a line of sweat glistened from her brow. "That felt good," she told him.
"Of course it did. I'm the one who suggested it." Ranma smirked good-naturedly, casually wiping off his own sweat with the back of his hand.
Akane shook her head at his enormous ego and stood up. The move made her suddenly lightheaded and she felt the ground spin beneath her. She clenched the back of the bench and half fell, half sat clumsily back into her seat.
"Hey, you okay?" Ranma asked, alarm clearly written over his face.
Akane nodded as the world slowly straightened and stopped moving on its own. His worried eyes demanded an answer. "Yeah… just a little dizzy all of a sudden."
Ranma looked upset for a moment. "You haven't been eatin' or sleeping well lately. Of course you're dizzy after running." From the sound of his voice, it sounded as if Ranma was both accusing himself and her. In truth, he was partly mad at Akane for not eating, even though he knew it was not really her fault, and the other half of him was mad at himself for not realizing the obvious result when he suggested running.
Akane frowned at him, but not wanting to expend the energy in an argument choose to remain silent. She turned away from him and looked at the scenery before her. The sun had set, leaving a sparkling clear night sky dusted with stars.
Ranma wordlessly joined her in star gazing, quietly sharing a moment and enjoying the evening together. For once there were no parents to interrupt them, no demons, ghosts, crazed Amazons, or rival fiancées.
Akane broke the silence, voicing a fear she hadn't dared to in front of her sisters.
"He'll be alright, won't he, Ranma?" Her voice suddenly sounded very small and so unlike Akane's normal strong voice that Ranma didn't recognize it.
Ranma felt caught off guard. He had no idea what to say. His normal dose of overconfidence wanted to answer "of course he will!", but another part of him - the rarely used realistic and cynical side of him - knew the answer was likely the opposite.
"I don't know, Akane. I hope so."
Akane gulped and found her hand squeezing Ranma's for reassurance. "I hope so, too."
They continued watching the stars together. Akane still felt the anxiety for her father's well-being, but for the first time in a week she felt that part of her settle to the back of her mind as her body relaxed. The run had done her good, letting out most of her nervous energies and stress. She couldn't exactly explain it, but she felt safe in Ranma's presence. Maybe it was because he was always there to catch her when she fell, to save her from the constant flow of trouble that invaded their lives (even when he was the cause of most of that trouble). Akane felt the lack of sleep she had accumulated over the past week hit her all at once. She sighed peacefully as her eyes drooped. I'll just rest my eyes for a moment… she thought before falling asleep.
Ranma felt Akane's head on his shoulder and he instantly tensed. Akane, whose hand was still holding onto his, was now resting on his shoulder?
!Doki Doki Doki Doki!
Ranma's heart thudded loudly in his chest and he risked a small glace in her direction. He breathed a huge sigh of relief; she had simply fallen asleep. For some reason, he felt a pleasant, warm sensation rise within him. It felt good to have Akane resting on him like this. Exactly why he felt that way he stubbornly refused to explore. Yet, as much as he tried not to think about Akane's close presence and the overwhelming female scent that came off her slightly sweaty body, the more he couldn't help but notice it.
Part of him knew why he felt the way he did right now, but he wasn't ready to fully face it. Once, on a ledge of stone in China, he had said to himself how he truly felt. It was while he had held the same girl in his arms - only that time she was limp and lifeless. He had not felt the warm, comfortable glow from being near her then, but a sickening, wrenching despair that he had lost something enormously precious and irreplaceable.
He shuddered involuntarily at the memory. Never again was he going to allow something like that to happen to her. He looked down at her sleeping face. Regardless of how he felt in regard to the "L-word", he knew he wanted to keep her safe and to be at her side.
Ranma lost track of time watching the stars, Akane sleeping at his side. Eventually he felt her stir restlessly. He turned to look at her. Her face was scrunched up in discomfort, as if experiencing a bad dream. Before he could react, Akane's eyes opened wide and she sat straight up, a wild look in her eyes.
"Hey, about time you woke up." He tried to sound nonchalant, as if it was perfectly normal for Akane to fall asleep resting on his shoulder.
Akane took a deep breath as she looked around and gathered her bearings. She was still in the park. "Ranma, let's go back. Now." Her voice shook slightly, catching him off guard. He had never seen Akane rattled before.
Ranma got up hastily. "Uh, sure."
Akane was already speeding off at a brisk walking pace. For anyone other than a martial artist or athlete, it would have been a hard jog.
"Hey, what's the hurry?"
Akane's face was tight with concern. "I have a really bad feeling, Ranma."
"Hey, I'm sure everything's okay."
Akane shook her head hard. "Last time I felt like this… it wasn't good, Ranma." It was right before you left for Jusenkyou, she continued in her thoughts.
Akane stood in front of the hospital room door, searching the room frantically with her eyes. This was her father's room, but it was completely empty. She felt more than heard Ranma's presence behind her. She whirled around, a panicked look in her eye. "Ranma, he's not here!"
Ranma felt a cold pit materialize in his stomach. "Calm down for a sec. I'll go ask a nurse. Maybe they just moved him or something."
Akane nodded, wanting to believe his words, but unable to fully. "I'll go find Nabiki and Kasumi."
They took off in opposite directions, Akane's heart thudding so loudly she was sure the whole world could hear it. She turned the corner, went down the hallway she was becoming far too familiar with and reached the waiting area.
Akane stood, stunned, unable to move.
'Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit'. The mantra went through Ranma's head as he ran down the hallway, looking for Akane. He had reached a nurse and gotten his answer. 'Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit'.
He found her standing in the middle of the hallway, slightly shaking.
In both Akane and Ranma's sight were Kasumi, Nabiki, Nodoka and Genma. Kasumi was crying freely into a handkerchief. Nabiki was standing bone rod straight, wiping the occasional tear that trickled down her face roughly away with the back of her hand, as if it disgusted her. Genma looked equally upset but he and Nodoka tried to feebly offer words of comfort.
'Kuso.' Ranma thought. He reached out and tentatively touched his fiancée's shoulder. "Akane?"
She made no response. He turned her around to look at him. "Akane?"
He expected tears, screaming, shouting, hitting, but he got none of the above. Akane's eyes were downcast, but they were clear. "I didn't get to say goodbye…" she croaked.
Author's note: Please review and give me incentive to keep going!