Disclaimer: Ranma and Co are owned by Rumiko Takahashi. I am just borrowing them for this story.
Notes: I am a big fan of the Ranma/Akane relationship and this work reflects that. I have taken some liberties with the charaters in order to make them grow up a bit, however I did try and stay true to their personalities. My thanks goes out to Angela Jewell for being a proofreader of this story. Her insights and suggestions were invauable.
This story takes place after the Manga ended, a few months after Ranma's epic battle with Saffron.
Now on with the story...
"Ranma!" her terror filled voice echoed his name. His head whipped around at the sound. It was hard to see in all the darkness that surrounded him. Again he heard her scream his name. His heart wrenched at the sound. He had to find her! She needed him! Needed his help! He felt his own terror wash over him. What if he couldn't find her in time? What if….?
No! He wouldn't even think about that. He wouldn't…couldn't lose her. He knew he wouldn't be able to harbor the pain.
He had almost lost her before, and the emptiness that had taken hold inside of him when he'd thought she had died had been enough to overwhelm him. As if someone had reached in and yanked out his very being, leaving only an empty shell. Everything had gone out of him then, his desire, his hope, his…love? He hadn't wanted to think about what that had meant. To suddenly realize how much he had needed her, only to find himself alone.
When he had come to realize that she was alive relief had flooded through him. Then with the realization came the old haunting fear. He had pushed her away soon after denying what he felt for her pushing, himself away from the frightening feelings she evoked in him.
He was the best martial artist in the world, could face down any foe, any challenge with skill and courage, except when it came to matters of his own heart and the feelings he had tried so hard to deny. He had been a stupid fool. And now, once again, the threat of losing her loomed before him, and if he did…if…
"RANMA!" her scream snapped him out of his thoughts. Sweat ran from his forehead, down his handsome face. He wiped it away quickly with the back of his arm. Now was no time for regrets. If he didn't find her…if he couldn't save her…it would be all he'd be left with.
He raced toward the sound of her voice. He could hear the gravel crunch beneath his feet as he ran. It sounded like thunder in his ears. Every second seemed like an eternity. He could feel his heart pounding in anticipation and fear. He pushed himself to run faster. As he ran he noticed the sky above him go from a thick black, to a smoky blue, illuminating the landscape.
Ranma was hit with a sudden feeling of déjà vu. He was sure he'd been here before. He gasped as recognition finally dawned. Mount Terror! He was on Mount Terror! He'd had one of his most difficult battles with Ryoga up here. One he'd nearly lost, all because of Cologne.
He frowned at the thought of the old ghoul. She would stop at nothing to see that he wed her great granddaughter Shampoo. Even as far as teaching someone as unstable as Ryoga the Breaking Point technique. Fortunately for him it had turned out not to work on people, only inanimate objects. Still, Ryoga's Bakusai Tenketsu attack was quite dangerous, maybe even lethal.
His frown deepened as he recalled what they had been fighting for, Akane. Cologne had made her the prize for whoever could best the other, and since Ryoga had made it clear to everyone, except Akane, what his feelings for her were he'd been more determined than ever to bring Ranma down. And with an acquired skill like the Bakusai Tenketsu it had been close, too close.
Ranma thought it had been his pride that had made him equally determined to win. After all he didn't like losing any battle, especially to the likes of Ryoga. But as he thought back to that fateful day, he knew in his heart his real fight had come from Akane herself. He had refused to lose her then, and he was dammed if he were going to lose her now.
"Ranma, help me….please!" her voice was fainter now, weaker, drowned out by the sound of rushing water.
"Akane!" he yelled over the noise. "I'm coming! Hang on!"
He reached the edge of the cliff and peered over. She was lying half in and half out of the rushing waters of a waterfall, her hands grasped tightly around a thick, gnarled tree root that had grown through the jagged rocks.
He marveled at her strength. He was amazed that she'd been able to hang on this long. The current rushing around her was absolutely furious. He could tell she didn't have much fight left in her. She was hanging on by sheer will, the exhaustion evident in her eyes.
He met her gaze, her brown pools locking with his gray-blue ones. His heart pained at the fear and desperation he saw there.
"Ranma…." her plea was barely a whisper. She was shaking from being submerged in the icy water for so long, her lips taking on a deep blue hue.
"Don't worry Akane," he tried to reassure her. "I'm gonna get you outta here."
He got down on the ground, lying on his stomach and reaching as far over the edge of the cliff as he dared with his right hand. It wasn't far enough. She was simply too exhausted to struggle to reach his outstretched hand.
He tried inching it closer, but knew it was inevitable. He was going to have to get wet. Gritting his teeth and bracing himself he plunged his arm into the icy water and grabbed hold of her wrist.
He began to frantically pull, hoping to get her to safety before the change occurred. He was much weaker in his female form and at this awkward angle he was afraid he wouldn't have enough strength to save her.
His attempt was futile however as he felt the tingling sensation begin in his arm, signaling the inevitable. It coursed and washed over him like a wave crashing to shore. He felt himself shrink and expand all at once, Akane's weight now threatening to tear his arm from its socket.
Ranma-chan strained to keep her hold, fear gripping her heart. She felt herself being pulled closer to the edge of the cliff, Akane's added weight dragging her forward.
It was no good. The position gave her no leverage. She also wasn't strong enough in this form, and Akane was too weak from her struggles to help pull herself up. It had taken everything she'd had just to hang on. The slickness the water created on their grip wasn't helping matters any either. Ranma-chan caught the look of resignation in Akane's eyes. It chilled her to the bone.
"Don't you give up Akane!" she shouted fiercely over the rush of water. "Hang on!"
She tried to tighten her grip only to find the slickness made it impossible. She felt her hold slipping. Closing her eyes and once again gritting her teeth, Ranma-chan pulled with all her might. She had never given up during a battle in her life either as male or female and she had no intention of starting now. Not with this much at stake. She couldn't lose this battle. She couldn't.
She opened her eyes as she heard Akane whisper faintly, "Ranma..." Her fingers finally sliding out of Ranma-chan's grasp.
"…..EEEE!" Ranma sat bolt upright, the scream still warm on his lips. Both he and the futon beneath him were soaked with sweat. He shivered violently, trying to shake off the remnants of the nightmare.
That was the third time this week he'd had the same awful dream, always the same. In the end he couldn't hang on to her.
He wondered suspiciously if his subconscious wasn't trying to tell him something. After all, hadn't he been wrestling with his feelings for Akane lately? Going over and over in his mind all the things he wanted to say to her, needed to say to her, but lacked the courage to do so?
It all came back to his battle with Saffron on Mount Phoenix. When he'd almost lost her. When he'd thought he'd lost the chance to tell her what she meant to him forever. He had held her limp body in his arms, the pain suddenly so great he had closed his eyes and shouted her name. He knew then what she had become to him, every fiber in his being crying out his love for her. He needed her, without her he was nothing.
Of course the fear had come back to him when she'd told him she'd heard his confession of love. He'd panicked. She had been, after all, standing there in a wedding dress. He had reverted to his old behavior, denying what he felt for her. Could it be his anxiety that was now triggering the nightmares? Or was it something more?
He cursed himself for being stupid. Of course it was his anxiety. What else could it be? Things had gotten pretty intense on Mount Phoenix. She had almost died. It was bound to have some after effects. If only he could find the courage to tell her what was in his heart, if only…
A sudden irrational terror seized him. What if he never found the courage to tell her? What then?
He felt his chest tighten at the thought. He knew she wouldn't stand for it. No matter what their father's had promised, she wouldn't be forced into a marriage to a man who couldn't tell her he loved her. And he wouldn't blame her. She deserved that. She deserved it all.
Ranma shook himself out of these thoughts, but the nightmare still weighed heavily on his mind.
He decided to reassure himself that Akane was okay by checking on her. He got up slowly, not concerned that he would wake his father, who had slept through the scream that had woken Ranma from his worst nightmare.
He glanced over at his Oyaji, a disgusted scowl crossing his handsome features.
As usual his father had reverted to panda form. Ranma shook his head. He just couldn't understand why his father would choose to spend even one more minute than he had to in his cursed form. He supposed once a person started running from responsibility it was hard for them to stop. He knew he was running from his feelings for Akane. Somehow he had to find a way to stop and face them. Or he would end up alone, just like his father.
Carefully he slid the door to his room open and stepped quietly out into the hall. He made his way down to her room and ever so gently cracked her door open.
The moonlight played brightly across her sweet face, illuminating it. He heard his own breath catch at the sight of her lying there. She looked beautiful, so peaceful. It was a far cry from when she was yelling at him, or trying to bash his head in with that mallet of hers. But even during those times he had to admire her spirit. She had spunk. It kept him on his toes and he liked that.
He was relieved to see that P-chan was nowhere in sight. He felt a familiar burn of jealousy at the thought. Damn Ryoga anyway. How dare he use his curse to climb into Akane's bed.
Ranma had sworn to keep Ryoga's little secret, but as he began to further ponder his feelings for Akane he had wanted more and more to tell her of Ryoga's perversions. He knew he couldn't however, would never betray his promise to the lost boy, especially when it had been all his fault that he'd gotten cursed in the first place. He knew Akane would be furious. And God help Ryoga if she ever found out. There would be hell to pay.
He watched her for a few minutes more, a slight smile spreading across his face, her light and even breathing soothing him, pushing back the remnants of his nightmare. He knew he could watch her all night. He would do anything for her. If only he could find a way around his fear to tell her.
After another moment he slowly closed the door and started back down the hall to his own room.
He lay awake for nearly an hour, staring listlessly up at the ceiling and pondering how and when he would be able to get past his fear long enough to tell her loved her, had in fact always loved her.
He sighed deeply. Something told him he had to do it soon. He had had an ever present nagging feeling of doom as of late, made even more persistent by the frequent and recurring nightmares.
He frowned into the darkness, determination welling up within him. He would tell her. He would find a way to conquer his own fear and he would tell her. He made a solemn promise to himself and with that he deftly rolled onto his side and promptly fell asleep. A quiet, peaceful sleep, where dreams of Akane's sweet smiling face comforted him.
Notes: Okay, first chapter up and done. This may be somewhat of an epic story so I hope I've at least drawn you in... let me know what you think so far!