Author's Note: Hello. I know. You must all think that this story is dead. But here's another chapter to tell you that it's not. I had placed this in hiatus for a while since life had bombarded me with a lot of things. So I won't take up so much of your time reading my note.
By the way, thanks for the continued patronage. Thanks to kooshster for helping me with this one again. So without further ado, here is chapter 13.
Before the darkness covered Nerima, children were already tucked safely inside their homes. In the comfort of their homes, these children were cared for, fed, and put to sleep. But one boy still wandered the streets of Nerima that night. He didn't bother to hasten his trek home, nor was he worried for himself as he walked the streets that night.
Some people he met along the way took pity on him. Some even offered to take him home. But every time help was offered, the boy just shook his head and went on his way.
It was a sad day for Nerima to see such a boy walked around its neighbourhood unguarded and unattended. It was a sad day indeed not just for the town in Nerima, but also to the little boy, who wanted nothing else than for this day to end.
Ranma was in no hurry to come home. His mind was as confused as it was the moment Reiko told him her story. His heart felt her pain. As she struggled over every sentence, he struggled with her as well. He never lost someone before, but a small part of him knew the feeling. He remembered feeling that emptiness when he thought Akane chose Shinnusuke instead of him. Yet, here he was feeling such great attachment towards someone - so great that seeing her crushed and broken made his heart ache all over again. He wanted to console her and make her forget the awful feeling of losing someone and yet he really didn't know what to do.
At times like this, he regretted training all those years. All through her story, Ranma wondered if he should hug her or pat her back just like in the movies that he saw. But he didn't.
It was a relief to him that Reiko did not ask for him to respond or to say anything. Perhaps all this time, she just wanted someone to listen to her, even if that someone was a little boy.
When he entered the Tendo Dojo that night, Ranma didn't feel the excitement that he usually felt when he came home after meeting Reiko. Instead, he felt sad and weak for not being able to do something for her. The teenager-turned-boy went directly to his room and pretended to sleep just to keep everyone from bothering him. He didn't know what face to show them. Reiko's story was her secret and now his. Although Kasumi had met her already, Ranma still couldn't share it with the eldest Tendo.
Meanwhile, in another corner of the house, a teenager paced to and fro inside her room. Her worries covered her youthful face. At last, she sat in her bed and cuddled her knees like what she commonly did when she didn't know what to do. She was like that for several minutes before letting herself collapse in the bed.
"What are you doing, Ranma?" she whispered. She never understood Ranma ever since he came to their lives. Their first meeting was a disaster - full of misunderstandings. She was grateful at first in seeing that her supposed fiancé was actually a girl, but the truth was worse than the misunderstanding. Also, the incident in the bathroom made things worse because of him saying something stupid to add salt to her already injured ego after being defeated in their sparring. For all the time they spent together, with all the challenges and fights that they overcame, she was feeling a bit closer to him. This closeness that made her thought that she had finally understood her pigtailed fiancé. But for the past few days, things made her think otherwise. She didn't understand why he had to meet this girl. She couldn't help feeling jealous of how the two looked so close to each other. With the scene that she saw earlier along with the last time she saw them, it made her felt like she didn't know him at all. Every time she tried remembering it, she couldn't understand why both of them couldn't be like that. And what was with that girl that Ranma seemed to cling unto her.
Thinking about all those things made her head ache and her heart break. Until now she had tried to suppress all those things. However, now that she felt threatened by this stranger, who Ranma seemed to want to protect. Akane felt desperate.
Of course, she wouldn't admit it openly especially when she wasn't certain about his feelings towards her. It was a decision she made just to protect herself from any more humiliation and pain.
She closed her eyes for a moment as she tried to clear her head. Nothing came. All she saw was the image of Ranma and that girl, which made her more jealous and frustrated. As she hastily stood up and walked up to the door, she noticed something in her desk.
And like an answered prayer, she now knew exactly what to do. All these times, it was right under her nose or more precisely on her table that was the answer for all her worries. She forgot all about it because of what she saw. Ranma would be grateful to see it, the same as Ryoga's reaction when she gave it to him. And although, Ranma might get a little angry for receiving it later than Ryoga did, he would still be happy to get back to his original form. At least then, she knew that there would be no more sneaking in the park for him or lying to his fiancées. Everything would be back to normal and just the way they were before.
Picking up the 16-inch mushroom and placing it inside her pocket, Akane went out of her door with a smile. She was ready to give it to him.
"Are you asleep?" someone asked from below.
Ranma didn't answer although he had already known that she would probably come up anyway.
Akane resurfaced from the ladder with a rather cherry note. "Kasumi called for dinner earlier. Didn't you hear it?" she asked.
"I'm not really hungry," he replied, hoping to end the conversation as quickly as possible.
"That's very rare," Akane exclaimed as she glanced sideway to the boy now sitting beside her. Ranma gave her a glare which indicated how irritated he was at her.
Then silence enveloped the two. Ranma continued to stare at the darkness of the sky, while Akane remained transfixed with the lining of the roof.
"Why did you come up? I'm pretty sure it's not just about sitting here with me." Ranma casually tried to make a conversation just to end the building up of the uncomfortable silence.
She smiled at him. "Why? Can't I just sit here beside my fiancé? Would it be unusual if I would want that?"
The disbelief was written all over his face. With his mouth opened, he started to say something but he stopped when he saw the mirth in her eyes.
"Gotcha!" she said, laughing wholeheartedly.
"You really are uncute," laughing with her.
"Sure, Ranma." She let it out in a laugh but inwardly she was wondering if that day would ever come to them. It would be nice to just sit beside him and just talk without ending up bickering or her malleting him and him calling her a tomboy, but for now it was a faraway dream of Akane - a dream which she often wish to happen.
When the second silence came, the atmosphere was different. There was less tension and the two were in their own world thinking with contentment.
A gust of cold of wind came that sent shivers through them both. Akane was the first to succumb to the chill. Dusting off herself, she carefully stood up and walked unsteadily along the roof. Before going down the ladder, she threw something to Ranma, who easily caught it. "Here. Take this."
"What's this?" he asked.
"It's an early Christmas Present." She started to move towards the ladder hiding her smile from him.
"Eh?" he exclaimed in surprise. Looking at the paper wrapper, he concluded that it would probably something that Akane made since she likes to make things even though it doesn't really end up anything good.
"It's not dangerous. It's actually something that you were looking for the last few days," she reassured him. "What?" he stated with disbelief.
Akane exclaimed, "Why don't you just unwrap it, jerk?"
He responded with his usual insult, "Yeah, uncute tomboy." The words sound different this time. It was meant to be an insult but came out as endearing. "Oh, you found it."
"I grew them after you destroyed the last batch. It was clever of me to place some of it on another pot." she shyly stated.
"Thanks," he said without taking his eyes off of the little mushroom. But as the excitement of getting back to his real body started to build up, it was easily extinguished as he remembered Reiko.
"Aren't you going to eat it now? I gave Ryoga his share earlier and he was so excited to eat it," Akane's excitement too was apparent in her voice.
"That's nice," he whispered with a sad smile plastered on his lips.
"So?" Looking at the mushroom in his hands, she couldn't helped but feel enthusiastic in seeing him back to his old self.
Ranma wrapped the mushroom up. "I'll eat it later."
"Later?" her anger suddenly irrupted the moment she heard him say those words. "What's wrong with you? Aren't you the one who's so impatient to get this cure?"
"I was. It's just that I…," Ranma couldn't finish it. Instead he transfixed his gaze on the mushroom. How could such a small mushroom had a life-changing effect on a person. If he hadn't eaten one, he wouldn't have met Reiko and he wouldn't have any emotional attachment to her. Certainly, he wouldn't have to be in a situation where he had to choose.
"It would be a solution to most of our problems. We can go back to the way before." Akane curled her knuckles so tight in anger. She wanted to punch the jerk, but she didn't. As much as she wanted to hammer him out in the sky, she had also wanted to change their relationship and beating the hell out of him was not a good way to do it.
"What if…I… I don't want to be back to the things they were before?" stuttering at his own words, it somehow reflected his uncertainty and hesitation.
"What!?" she exclaimed. "Don't play games with me, Ranma. You need to eat it. You need to get back to your old self." Her excitement turned into desperation.
"Why, Akane? Why is it important that I should get back?" he asked in a barely hearing voice.
"Because…," she started. "… I want the old Ranma back."
"You want me back?" he gasped, surprised at her answer.
"Of course I want you back." With her cheeks turned too rosy, she turned her back at him and tried to explain. "I can't keep on lying for you to our teachers, classmates and even to your fiancées. I can't keep on pretending that you are on your training trip somewhere in the mountains when you're in fact in here." She tried to hide her true feelings. Even though she finally realized what he meant to her, she couldn't tell him yet.
"I see." It was all that he said. His shoulders slumped lower than he usually had and his voice had a tinge of sadness. However, Akane didn't notice it. She didn't see how the spark in his eyes suddenly disappeared and was replaced with a cloud as cold as ice.
"No, you don't see!" she shouted. She regretted doing it the moment she heard his reply.
"If you can't do it anymore then stop lying for me. I'll handle it myself."
"Yeah, right. Like how you handle your life," she said sarcastically. "Do you have any idea if your fiancées would do if they found out about this?"
"I do. It may sound unbelievable but I do think about it, Akane. I may not be smart like Nabiki, but I do try to think about things in life." Softly and earnestly, the words just kept on. It was one of the times when he didn't buckle up and he just wanted to tell her everything.
"Really, Ranma? Then why are you being so stubborn?" Akane's frustration increased for every word she heard. It sounded the same to her – they were all excuses. "Why can't you just eat it already and solve this problem altogether?"
"It's not that easy, Akane. Besides…," he trailed off, unable to continue.
Akane glanced at him. Seeing how miserable he looked, she restrained her own disappointment. This time she wouldn't be the violent fiancée who would hammer him down. "I know. You need to meet whoever she is that you meet in the park."
"Huh? Did Nabiki tell you?" he blinked, surprised at the new information.
She looked up and watched the stars. It was so easy for her to beat him up with a hammer this time for being so stupid and stubborn. But she was tired of it. She just wanted him to choose her side. "Nobody did."
Akane took a second before answering and when she did, a smile was plastered on her lips. "Don't worry, I won't tell. Even though, I don't like your decision, I will not be a burden to you. And also, you are still free to choose whoever you want to be with."
"Akane…," he stared at her.
"Good night, Ranma." Akane went down the ladder without waiting for an answer.