Disclaimer: Ranma ½ does not belong to me. It belongs to Takahashi Rumiko, whose worlds spawn so many fanfics because she loves to leave loose threads and make readers bang their heads. (Years later and I still feel frustrated at the lack of resolution in volume 38.)
AN: SPOILERS Volume 38. This story takes place on the night following the defeat of Saffron at Jusenkyou, which included Akane's restoration from dehydrated doll back to human flesh.
Some inspiration came from rereading Tin's "Interlude," which gave me ideas, fufufu. Thank you so much for reading!
Edited on September 9, 2005.
Broken, is that what this feeling is? Akane wondered as she contemplated the concentric rings rippling through the water in her glass. Her hands didn't seem to want to stop trembling. She hoped it was due to the fact that she felt so icy cold.
After the scorching heat she'd experienced during her stint as a doll, the normal temperature of her human body seemed more bitter than ice. Strange that escape from that fiery pain should create a new discomfort - a feeling of abnormality. She hoped she got used to it soon. The blanket she'd wrapped around her shoulders didn't seem to be of much help. It's the cold's fault I'm trembling.
Better to tremble from cold than from shattered nerves, from fear. In her crazy life, she didn't have the time or luxury to be the fraidy cat in their group. Besides, all cat roles are already filled by Ranma and that tramp Shampoo. No need for any more felines, she snorted to herself.
Speaking of Shampoo, I can't believe the things that girl does sometimes! On the walk to look over the ruined springs earlier that day, Akane had tried to discretely, holding her water bottle in front of her mouth, ask Shampoo if she could borrow a pair of clean underwear.
Due to the fact that she'd been kidnapped, dehydrated into a little doll that could only wear doll-sized clothes, and then rehydrated nude, Akane didn't have a stitch she could call her own. In fact, the only article of clothing she wore right at that moment was Ranma's long sleeved red Chinese-style shirt. Thank goodness it reached mid-thigh, though she could wish it had a straight hemline instead of one with slits. Bending over could be… hazardous.
Ignoring Akane's sotto voice, Shampoo had loudly replied in a mischievous tone, "Shampoo no wear underwear. Husband like it better that way, ne?" Ryouga and Mousse had promptly collapsed with swirly eyes and profuse nose bleeds. Through the blood and frothing at the mouth, Akane thought she could translate Mousse's growls and yells into his usual threats against Ranma for defiling his lovely Shampoo.
Akane herself had felt an angry flush suffuse her cheeks. Before she could summon the energy for an appropriate response, however, Ranma had cut in. "Can it Shampoo. I ain't your husband and I certainly never remarked on anything like, like that," he had bit out before stalking out in front of their group. Akane had been surprised by his biting tone; usually he was a stuttering mess when Shampoo threw out her sexual innuendoes like that.
Shampoo had pursed her lips, but as usual was undeterred by any disavowal on his part. It didn't seem to faze her that his words were so much stronger than usual. Turning back to Akane, she gave her a quick up-and-down sweep with critical eyes and then sniffed, "Akane no need wear husband shirt no more. Can wear Shampoo shirt instead. No extra pants though."
Before Akane could even decide if she would say yes or no, Ranma's voice had broke in vehemently. "She's wearing my shirt! Leave it."
Akane had thought him too far ahead to hear, much less respond to Shampoo's voice. Yet suddenly he had been by her side. "It's not like your shirt will cover her up more anyways."
Grabbing her tightly by the wrist, Ranma had dragged her back to his position up front at a brisk pace. Confused and a bit angered by his manhandling, she had noticed a fine trembling in his hand. But before she could comment it had disappeared and his hold had gentled. Though his eyes stayed forward, his thumb swept a soft caress back and forth as if in apology.
Sitting in the kitchen by herself, she found an answer for her own shaking. Yes, I'm just cold. It's freezing and that's why I'm trembling, perfectly natural. She was Akane Tendo, the strong tomboy who had faced, fought, and vanquished a horde of boys every morning for months at school. Not to mention all of the crazy martial artists and kidnappers she'd overcome.
Kidnappers… that reminded her of the past few days in China, not something she wanted to think about right now as she trembled from COLD. The idea of a girl like her being so broken as to shake with fear hours after the event was laughable. It made her angry. Akane Tendo refused to break, to be broken.
Glaring down at her traitorous hand, Akane managed to still the water in her glass, though it took tightening her fingers to taut white stripes. Broken, ha, she huffed at the water. Her breath stirred the still night air, heavy with the perfume of some Chinese flower blooming outside the kitchen window, causing the edge of her blanket to momentarily flutter.
'Chink,' replied the glass mockingly as it broke in a crystalline line from base to rim. It wasn't shattered, or even really leaking, just cracked, but still…. Akane felt a tear draw down her cheek and tremble at the edge of her chin before dripping off into the glass, creating a new ripple.
"So what if I'm cracked a bit. I can still hold myself together!" she whispered waveringly in defiance. Raising the glass to her lips, she quickly drained it dry. She didn't want the glass to finish breaking and spill out the rest of the water, ruining her metaphor and pep talk.
Placing the glass down next to her bare feet, she scowled as the change in grip sliced her palm, willing herself to ignore the pain. A few beads of blood slipped out to plop slowly onto the moonlight-drenched floor, almost as if a sprite in the floorboard was pulling a string of scarlet pearls from her hand. Pearls were so much safer than blood.
Mere hours ago she'd been about the furthest she'd ever been from safe. It was too easy to see in her mind the blood dripping down Ranma's neck after a hard blast from Saffron. Trapped as a dehydrated doll, she had felt so helpless – consumed by a smoldering heat, dying of thirst, unable to speak, and no P-chan to understand her pleas like the last time she was trapped as a doll.
At least then, it had only been a vengeful doll spirit attacking Ranma. Akane had been scared then too, but only scared. Being in the vengeful doll's body was nothing compared to being dehydrated. This time her thoughts and body were so heavy, consumed with a terrible thirst, heat, and terror as she saw her time running out and her- and Ranma running into danger.
Ranma had never bled then, had never seemed so hurt or weary or, dare she think it, breakable? Seeing the blood seeping, the weary grimace on his face, and the blast from Saffron heading straight for him - her strong, beautiful, bleeding Ranma- she had forgotten the thirst and fear and somehow mustered the energy to throw her doll body in front of him, trying to give him the time and advantage to work his miracle.
And it had worked, Ranma had been shielded!
But then the thirst and pain peaked worse than before, stabbing through her body, and she knew what she had done. She had killed herself. She was going to be DEAD, and there was so much she still hadn't tried and done and said.
Ranma though, Ranma had gotten off his shot and it had worked. Saffron was down and defeated, meaning Ranma had won. She had smiled then; how could she not, with the all-consuming relief at his safety and pride in his victory?
As she had smiled though, all she could see was the bright scarlet blood on Ranma's fingers, or was it his shirt? The edges of her vision had darkened around a center filled with vertigo-inducing spots. As the black bled over the red, so too did the heat and agonizing thirst gradually bleed together into a single throbbing sensation. When only the blackness and throbbing remained, she knew.
Ranma was now lost to her.
Slowly a pair of shoji had materialized before her. At the sight of polished wood and translucent rice paper gaining substance, she had noticed that the throbbing feelings of heat and thirst had vanished. Only the fear had lingered.
It lingered until she noticed the faint silhouettes moving behind the screens as the translucent light became steadily stronger. The light emanating through the shoji began to feel almost like the gentle warmth of an embrace. Straining, she had heard something from the other side of those doors, something almost like a once-loved laugh.
Soothed and intrigued, Akane had reached out her fingers towards the worn wood of the shoji when she unexpectedly felt a tug. She had tried to ignore it, but the tugging quickly became too much. It was annoying and insistent, like a cat had taken the hem of her soul in its mouth and refused to let go. Exasperated, she had tugged back and reached again for the shoji, but before she could touch it she had been yanked out of reach.
Farther away from the glowing shoji, she began to hear something. Until that moment, she hadn't noticed the complete silence. While she had instinctively turned back toward the softly glowing shoji, she couldn't help herself from tilting her head to try and hear the sounds better.
Garbled at first, the noise soon resolved itself into a male voice. Ranma's voice begging her to come back, and now that she recognized his voice she also recognized the tugging. It was Ranma's cat-spirit refusing to unlock the possessive grip its teeth and claws had upon her soul.
Gazing longingly towards the shoji emanating love and peace she had grumpily wondered, I'd killed myself for him, what more does he want from me?
But his voice had become louder, answering demandingly that she LIVE for him.
He always was a greedy bastard. Only have to watch him eat once to know that, she had sighed to herself in resignation, bowing to the beckoning shoji to convey a mixture of respect, love, longing, and apology, before turning resolutely away.
As she started moving with the feline tugs on her soul instead of against them, his voice had become clearer, sounding harsh, stretched, and full of pain. Ranma should never sound like that, she had thought in shock, never.
Even with the feline tugging guiding her, Akane had found it difficult to force herself back into the blackness leading towards her body. Mounting dread at returning to that small dehydrated body and feeling that burning thirst and helplessness again had her dragging her steps. Only the hope that returning would stop Ranma from sounding so awful, so wounded, kept her from turning to run back toward the glowing shoji.
After all, she'd thought, maybe I'll find P-chan and he'll be able to understand me like the last time and help me with unfinished business. Or maybe Ranma had managed to get the water working. I could be back in my normal body already. Taking a deep spiritual breath, Akane had told herself that whatever the case may be, she was strong. As long as she had Ranma there, she would be fine.
After what felt like hours of listening to his voice sound alternately harsh and pleading, the phantom feline tugging disappeared and she felt herself back inside her body. A body free of heat or thirst! There was only one problem - the body wouldn't move.
Then she felt liquid drip onto her cheek to slip through her slightly parted lips, moisture, salty and wet, and thought she heard, or did she? Ranma say he loved her, right before he screamed her name.
The pure desolation had jolted her that last measure, and she could feel her hand moving up to cup his damp cheek where it rested in the nook where her shoulder met her neck. As he whispered her name brokenly, perhaps believing the touch a grief-spawned delusion, she had opened heavy eyes to the sight of his throat, pulse frantically beating. Millions of thoughts rushed through her mind, but all she could fixate on was one word. Summoning her strength, she had breathed it out in syllables, each sound requiring intense concentration to produce – "Ran…ma..." a mere puff of air against the column of his throat, but enough.
Pulling back and looking at her through wide, red-rimmed eyes, he repeated her name, "Akane," in the hopeful voice of a young boy begging for reassurance that he truly had awoken from his nightmare.
Smiling up at a face she knew every line and curve of, she confirmed his hope in the simplest way she knew how, by once again rolling the syllables of his name off her tongue, "Ranma."
That night, after hiking back to the destroyed springs and then on to the guide's penthouse, Akane's body felt thirsty, sore, cold, slightly alien, and very thirsty. Being surrounded by all of that spring water and unable to take a drink had made the previously niggling feeling of thirst acutely painful. Being still dressed in only Ranma's shirt didn't help either.
Well, that wasn't entirely true. While part of her yearned to put on something that would make her feel normal in her body, like her yellow gi or blue school uniform, another part of her found the feel of the smooth red silk comforting, especially the masculine spicy scent imbuing every stitch of its fabric. The combined scent, sight, and feel viscerally shouted 'Ranma' to her soul. It made her feel a little bit safer. She could almost pretend she was in his arms being carried across the rooftops back home in Nerima.
Because she felt so out of sorts, Akane did her best to act like everything was normal. At first she hoped that if she pretended hard enough, everything really would go back to normal. For a few seconds she even deluded herself that around the next bend in the trail they'd see the lights of her family's dojo and the experiences of the last few days would dissipate like smoke. But she wasn't normal anymore.
Shampoo's behavior didn't seem any different from before, but maybe like Akane she was acting. How could she not feel the difference China had made? Even Ryoga and Mousse seemed a little different, with faces more weary and shuttered than she remembered.
Ranma was acting so confusing too. His words to her were abrupt, almost harsh and cold, yet he wouldn't stop watching her, staring. When someone else started a conversation he would join in with a wisecrack, just like he always did. But then she'd look up from checking the path for rocks only to find him staring again. It unnerved her. Plus her mind kept replaying the moment before her death: the scorching heat, fear surging as she fell into blackness, trying to keep smiling for Ranma, and the terrible thirst.
She was still thirsty. No matter how much she drank though, the thirst never seemed to stay sated. Deep down she feared that maybe the magic water had reached her too late, and if she didn't keep drinking her body would wither into the husk of a doll again. But this time she really would die, and no sunlit shoji would be waiting for her.
Or what if it was all in her mind? That might almost be worse, because then she'd be the crazy fiancée instead of Kodachi. Such thoughts almost had her wailing; only the fear that she wouldn't be able to stop kept her mouth clamped shut.
Akane came back to herself staring at the traces of blood splattered onto the kitchen floor. She could feel dampness on her cheeks and taste salty tears on her lips. Shaking her head, she examined the cut on her hand. It seemed to have stopped bleeding. Maybe that was what had snapped her out of the memory. The scab looked fragile though, like it would break open again if she wasn't careful. Rummaging one-handed through the pack next to her leg, Akane found a bandage and wrapped her hand.
She was thirsty again.
The bottle of water was almost empty, but it had enough. Akane decided to just drink from it instead of using her cracked cup or trying to find a new one in the dark. Draining the last few drops, she discarded the bottle and mopped off the tears from her cheeks with the back of the bandage on her hand.
She wished she understood Ranma, understood just what he wanted from her, but that wasn't exactly a new wish. She also wished he understood her. A man understanding a woman's mind? Let's be realistic about how often that happens. Sighing, she looked up at the whisp-shrouded moon shining through the window. Then again, Ranma is a one-in-a-million kind of guy. Smiling to herself, she silently repeated the vow she had made a few minutes before. She might be cracked, but Akane Tendo refused to break. She would get through this.
The sound of frantic breathing barreling down the hall snatched her gaze from the moon-drenched blossoms outside the window. Turning, she saw Ranma run through the doorway and scour the room with frenzied eyes. When he saw her still form on the floor, he lunged toward her jerkily.
However, on seeing her startled, wide-eyed stare, he froze. Eyes captured, Akane felt for an endless moment like she was drowning in his intense blue eyes. Taking a few halting steps, he unexpectedly collapsed onto his knees in front of her and dropped his eyes.
"Ranma," she asked in a careful voice, retracting her arms slowly from where she'd instinctively put them out to stop his fall, "what's wrong?"
"I woke- you were-," he stuttered out in a grating voice. Meeting her eyes again, he took a moment to steady his breathing, "Never mind." His gaze flickered over her body before zeroing in on her bandaged hand. Picking it up to cradle in his own, he met her dark eyes with his own in silent inquiry.
"I cut it on a cup," she answered his unspoken question, glancing at the glass by her side momentarily. Ranma didn't even look; he was too busy examining the hand he was cupping.
"Did it break?" he asked, untying the clumsy knot she'd tied in the bandage.
"No," she replied in a soft but firm voice as he finished the now much neater bow after a quick inspection, "it's just cracked a little. Don't worry."
Hesitating, he cocooned her injured hand between his two larger ones and met her eyes, perhaps sensing that she had answered more than just his surface question.
Akane felt his thumb again, stroking back and forth softly across the pulse at her wrist. "Why aren't you sleeping?" his voice seemed eerily loud in the quiet of the kitchen.
"I was thirsty and cold. Aren't you cold?" she replied, trying to deflect the question away from her deeper reasons. Looking at him in his shorts and tank top, she realized that it was a stupid question.
"Only an uncute tomboy like you would be cold in this weather," he replied in a return to his usual rudeness, releasing her hands, although something in the tight tone of his voice didn't quite match the meaning of his words.
"Hey," she angrily replied in reflex, though her tone contained a weary note. And what is he doing rummaging in that backpack suddenly? Are we fighting or not? She wasn't up to fighting right now, so she hoped not.
"Aha," he exclaimed, coming up with another shirt in his hands, this time his blue silk.
Then without so much as a by-your-leave, he scooped Akane up, tore her blanket off, "Hey!" slipped on the blue shirt over the red, wrapped the blanket around her again, and settled himself back against the wall, pulling her firmly back against his chest as he did so.
"What- you- what-" Akane sputtered.
"Go to sleep, tomboy," he ordered, not relaxing the firm grip he had on her arms.
Struck speechless, Akane didn't know what to do. On the one hand, she wanted to smash him over the head with her mallet for being a pervert. (If she could get her arms free that is.) But on the other hand, cradled against his firm chest like this felt so warm and safe and… nice.
Relaxing slowly, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, noticing the mingling of his spicy scent with the fragrance of the flowers outside the window. Teetering on the cusp of sleep, she felt one of his strong hands, trembling slightly, come up and gently smooth the hair out of her face, stopping to curl softly at the nape of her neck.
"Ranma," she breathed contentedly, snuggling closer. Cradled in his arms, she succumbed to the warm comfort of sleep.
AN: This is intended to be a oneshot. Evanescence's song "Bring me to life," is really rather appropriate for this fic. Another lovely song that I listened to towards the beginning was "Whisky Lullaby," by Brad Paisley featuring Alison Krauss. It is rather depressing, and doesn't entirely fit, but so lovely!
Please review! Oh, and feel free to tell me if there was any part you really liked or didn't, or if any certain line or metaphor really worked or flew far off the mark. Thank you so much for reading and to my beta Katyclismic!