Title: Fade-Out

Author: Rowan Seven

Teaser: Ryouga can save Akane's life, but to do so he'll have to pay a price. Minor crossover with Tsubasa Chronicle.

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ belongs to Viz Communications and Rumiko Takahashi. Tsubasa Chronicle is a product of Clamp. I am not making any profit off this story.

Author's Notes: See the end of the story.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tendo Akane awoke to a world of dull pain and aching weariness. This was not a new experience for her and had become more and more common with each day she spent in the hospital undergoing chemo and radiation therapy to delay what she now felt, deep in her tired soul, to be inevitable. Despite the desperate optimism of her friends and family, she knew enough about cancer to know that her diagnosis had come too late and that the virulent disease was spreading despite the treatments that wasted her body, removed her hair, and left her so exhausted afterwards that she could barely stay awake and enjoy what little time she had left.

With a despondent sigh, the terminally ill girl slowly opened her eyes. The first thing she noticed was the darkness of her hospital room, broken only by the faint illumination provided by the lights of the medical and observation equipment surrounding her bedside and the trickle of moonlight that filtered in through the window. The second thing she noticed was the dim outline of a young man sitting beside her with his head lowered and hands on his lap.

"Ranma?" Akane inquired weakly in a hoarse voice, mind still hazy from sleep wondering what her fiancé was doing here this late at night. Visiting hours were clearly over by now, and Ranma rarely visited her by himself. Although he would never admit it, seeing her lying in bed like this engaged in a hopeless struggle for life with a foe he could do nothing against made him feel frustrated and helpless, and not being able to do anything was not a situation he knew how to deal with. At least when he was with her sisters or their fathers he could receive some silent support from them and had a role he could play, but to face the truth alone with her...that was a challenge they were both putting off, though for how much longer time would allow them to do so was an open question.

The youth immediately looked up, startled to hear her voice, and, seeing that she was awake, gazed at her intently for a long, pregnant moment. Finally, he spoke softly in a voice unmistakably tinged with sadness. "No, Ryouga." He reached over to the nearby light dial on the wall and raised the illumination in the room just enough so she could make out his somber, burdened features. The Eternally Lost Boy was wearing his normal tan and black traveling garb and checkered bandana, and his backpack and umbrella were behind him leaning against the chair he was sitting in.

Akane felt a wave of disappointment sweep over her and hated herself for it. She should be glad that Ryouga was here. She hadn't seen her friend in weeks, not since her prognosis had taken a turn for the worse, and she had begun to wonder if he would manage to find his way back to Nerima before...well, before it was too late. Besides, she saw Ranma and her family nearly every day, so why should it matter if Ranma wasn't beside her side tonight? Despite knowing the answer to her own question, she set aside such thoughts and focused on her visitor, giving him what she hoped was a warm smile. "Hello Ryouga, long time no see. You're a little late to be visiting, but I won't tell if you don't."

Ryouga met her smile with a weak one of his own and opened his mouth to speak again, pausing for several seconds as he carefully chose his words. "Even if I did, the hospital staff would never find me. Sorry about not coming earlier, Akane, but I've been...lost." There was something odd about how he said that last word, but he didn't leave her any time to consider it. "How...how are you feeling? Are you doing any better since I last saw you?"

She briefly considered putting up a brave front, but there was something in the way Ryouga was looking at her with that serious, pensive expression on his face that told her he somehow already knew how she felt and was merely seeking confirmation. She shook her head once solemnly. "I'm doing about as well as can be expected...which isn't very well at all. My doctors keep telling me not to lose hope, but the treatments aren't working and I feel more tired each day. I think...I think I'm going to die soon."

There. She'd said it, and with those words uttered Akane felt as if a great burden had been lifted from her soul. She had long believed and felt it, but she had never shared that conviction with another person till now. Strange that it would be Ryouga of all people, but he was here wearing his heart on his sleeve and for some reason pretenses seemed inappropriate. Why bother with pretenses anyway? They accomplished nothing more than pretending the truth wasn't real, and perhaps if she and Ranma weren't so caught up in their own facades they would have already-

"Akane?"

Hearing Ryouga's concerned voice, Akane realized that she had let her mind drift and refocused her attention on her visitor. "Sorry. I've had poor concentration lately. What was it you were saying, Ryouga?"

The Eternally Lost Boy gazed at her so intently that Akane felt a blush form on her face. What was he thinking, and what did that strange look in his brooding brown eyes mean? Before she could ask if anything was wrong, Ryouga spoke, slowly and waveringly. "Akane, I...before I go, I need...I owe you a confession. You have...shown me nothing but friendship and kindness, but I've been lying to you since the day we met. I've done something...something horrible, Akane, and although I know you'll never be able to forgive me you have a...a right to know."

Viewing her guest from her bed, Akane felt a sense of apprehension swell up inside her. Ryouga...he looked so serious, but what could he possibly be talking about? He had never done anything to hurt her and had always tried to defend her. Surely...surely he was exaggerating. She attempted to sound reassuring as she spoke to him. "Ryouga, you're one of my best friends and have always been there for me, even when others weren't. I don't know what you've done, but it can't possibly be as bad as you're making it sound."

He laughed once self-deprecatingly and lowered his gaze, no longer able to meet her eyes. "It's worse, actually. You see...I, I followed Ranma to Jusenkyo and got knocked into a spring. The Heituenniichuan, or the Spring of Drowned Black Piglet to be more precise. Akane, I...-" He took a deep breath and braced himself. "-I'm P-chan."

Normally, Akane would have been furious. She had every right to be angry, and, indeed, she was angry. However, weary as she was she didn't have the energy to support her anger and felt more hurt than anything else. She had befriended him, trusted him, and supported him, and all this time he'd been deceiving and making a fool of her? She'd thought...she'd considered him a friend, and yet he'd betrayed her!

"Why?" she asked, and the Lost Boy visibly winced at the pain in her voice but, having come this far, forced himself to continue.

"Because I'm a coward who's never had the courage to tell you that I love you," Ryouga confessed breathlessly, resting his head on his hands and slumping over under the weight of his guilt. "You mean the world to me, Akane, and I was so afraid that if I told you I'd lose you even though by not telling you I ensured that you would hate me if you ever found out. I...gods, I can't even begin to tell you how sorry I am for hurting you like this. Causing you pain...that's the last thing I ever wanted to do. I'm so sorry, Akane."

Akane lay stunned as Ryouga continued to apologize, the self-loathing in his words plain as day. He loved her? He had loved her all this time and never said a word? The hurt she felt over his deception did not fade, but a sense of pity crept in alongside it. Watching him agonize as he related what he had done it was clear that Ryouga already blamed and hated himself more for his actions than she ever could, and the whole situation was simultaneously tragic and pathetic. Besides, as her wasted body testified, now was a poor time to hold grudges.

Forcing herself to rise despite the energy it took, Akane slowly sat up and gently placed her hands on Ryouga's larger ones. The Eternally Lost Boy raised his head, a look of surprise and bewilderment on his face as he gazed at her. She smiled softly and a little sadly. "Ryouga, I'm furious that you've kept this from me until now, but I forgive you. I...I don't want to have any regrets when I die, and it would sadden me if you lived the rest of your life thinking I hated you. I don't love you and can't return your feelings, but your friendship has meant a lot to me too. Don't forget that after I'm gone."

Tears welled up in Ryouga's eyes, and he threw his head back and chuckled, voice wracked with conflicting emotions. "That's...that's so much more than I deserve, and yet...I should have never expected anything less from you, Akane. Ranma...Ranma's lucky to have you," he choked out. "I hope the two of you will have a happy life together."

The youngest Tendo's eyes widened in confusion. What did Ryouga mean by that last remark? He knew as well as she did that her days were numbered, but it didn't seem that he was mocking her. Before she could say anything, the Eternally Lost Boy met her gaze again and smiled, and the hollowness of the grin nearly broke her heart. It seemed impossible that one facial expression could convey so much grief, and yet Ryouga wore it as naturally as one would wear a shirt.

"I...I met a witch during my recent travels," Ryouga told her, reluctantly removing his hands from hers and reaching into his pants' pocket. "She said her name was Yūko Ichihara, and she...she made me an offer I could not refuse. In return for giving up what is most precious to me she provided me with the means to cure your disease." He pulled out a small white pearl that glistened brilliantly with his right hand and held it up, looking at it solemnly before turning to face her again and answer her unspoken question. "Akane, your memories of me and our friendship are my most beloved treasures. You're the light in my life and knowing you has made me happier than you'll ever know...but I'll sacrifice it all in a heartbeat and live without what little place I've earned in your heart if it'll save your life."

Akane sat still and silent, torn between disbelief, hope, and sorrow as she took in the Lost Boy's words. Was he serious? Would the witch's magic actually work? Could she really forget Ryouga and all that he had done for her? It seemed impossible that any of this could be true, but the forlorn expression on Ryouga's face never changed as he continued to speak.

"You see, I truly am a coward," he said despondently. "I should have told you all of this long ago, but only now when you won't remember a thing I've said or that we ever knew each other when you wake up next am I able to tell you the truth." He sighed heavily once and crushed the pearl in his fist. "Good-bye Akane. I'll always love you and wish you all the happiness in the world."

Ryouga opened his right hand, but where shattered pearl should have fallen to the floor sparkles of pure white light circled each other and spun to the end of her bed where her feet were. Akane felt a warm light gently engulf her and slowly move up the rest of her body, simultaneously enervating and cleansing her. Her eyes began to close of their own volition as she started falling back to her bed, but even though the magic was healing her she resisted. Seeing Ryouga watch her, his entire being weighted with despair, it was too much. She wanted to live, but not like this, not with so much still unsaid and undone between her and her friend.

She stubbornly clung to consciousness even as feeling in the lower half of her body disappeared into a gentle, comforting warmth. Dredging up strength she didn't know she had, she reversed her downward motion and began to fall towards Ryouga. The Lost Boy, acting on reflex, moved to catch and steady her, and as he did she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.

This was not a kiss of love. It was not even an act of passion. This was an embrace of desperation, and as Akane pressed her mouth and body against Ryouga's she tried to express all of her feelings and the words she didn't have the time to say in this one simple but meaningful action. He was her friend and she didn't want to forget him! He had saved and helped her countless times in the past and she wanted to repay him! Please, don't let this be good-bye!

Ryouga, slowly at first but with growing emotion, returned her kiss and held her as if there was no tomorrow...which for them there would not, reciprocating her feelings with his own as they melted together in this embrace. He loved her and would do anything for her. Bittersweet as it was, he would treasure this memory for the rest of his life. Thank you, Akane, and farewell.

Try as she might to make this moment last forever, Akane knew it had to end and with each passing second she felt more and more of herself become enveloped by the light. It was already past her neck, and she could barely feel her lips now. Still, she could not and would not forget this moment even if she remembered nothing else. Ryouga was too important to her and she did not want him to disappear from her life. Please, please let her remember, she prayed to anyone who would listen.

The last things Akane saw as she gazed into Ryouga's matching brown eyes was a reflection of herself as the Eternally Lost Boy saw her, unspeakably beautiful even in her sickness, and his tears, indescribably elegant in their pristine fragility and the sorrow they embodied. A deep, profound emotion swelled up inside her heart, and then she knew nothing more.

------

Tendo Akane awoke to a world where, for the first time in a very long time, there was no pain and no tiredness beyond the last vestiges of sleep. She actually felt...healthy and strong, like she had before her diagnosis, and...was that really hair she felt brushing against her pillow?!

With a start, Akane opened her eyes and sat up effortlessly, reaching for the top of her head with her hands and releasing a breath of surprise and wonder as she touched locks of beautiful blue hair. She was taken aback a second time as her father, happy tears in his eyes, reached over quickly and hugged her so tightly it almost hurt. Her confusion grew as she returned Soun's embrace and gazed around the hospital room, spying the rest of her family as well as Genma and Ranma. They all looked simultaneously stunned and overjoyed, and the relief clearly present in her fiancé's eyes warmed her heart.

"What happened?" the young woman asked in between her father's sobs, perplexity evident in her voice as her eyes narrowed in bewilderment. "Why...why do I feel healthy again?" The hope and desire in her next question were nearly palpable. "Am...am I cured?"

"We were hoping you could tell us that, sis," Nabiki spoke affectionately, happiness over her sister's recovery eclipsing her normally sardonic demeanor. "The doctors still need to run more tests to be sure, but they say you appear to be fine. Ranma and I cornered Ryouga outside and demanded to know what he'd done, but he was mum on the subject and got lost once he heard the doctors' report. Do you remember anything about last night?"

Akane opened her mouth to respond but then paused, face creasing with puzzlement as she mulled over what her sister had said. There was something about Nabiki's question that baffled her, and Akane's next words signified far more than she'd ever know or understand.

"Who's Ryouga?"

End.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Author's Notes: I've long had the desire to try writing a Ryouga and Akane story, and this short tale is a result of that aspiration. As much as I think Akane and Ryouga could make a great couple, I recognize that Akane and Ranma love each other and, really, what makes Ryouga's feelings for Akane so compelling is that they're unrequited. Akane doesn't love him, Ryouga knows Akane doesn't love him, but he'll still do anything for her and there's something sadly beautiful about that. I wanted to explore that aspect of their relationship, and Tsubasa Chronicle's premise seemed ideally suited for that purpose. Anyway, I hope you've all enjoyed reading this.