Ranma ½ is the property of Rumiko Takahashi, who no doubt has better things to do than look through the net for this one little high school student and sue her for using Takahashi-sama's characters without her permission. 'After You' is a play first produced at Actors Theatre of Louisville in 1990 and directed by Bob Krakower. I have no legal permission to use the title or lines as the play Akane performs.

Author's Notes:

While this will be a many-chapter fic, it is not the chapter fic I have been wrestling with since.well, since forever, I guess. But it is the first completed chapter of my first chapter fic (yay!) so I'm having happy thoughts at the moment.

Originally, this was going to be a one-shot, romance/angst. But my muse didn't like it and kicked all these other ideas into my brain, making it a chapter fic, and changing the mood. So now it's romance/mystery/humor/suspense. Yeah, I did the first person thing again, but this time with a different character. For those who liked my Nabiki portrayal in TSAA, yeah, she gets a big part in this fic.

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After You

Chapter 1: One for the Money

By: nakigoe-chan

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There are some men that a woman never really gets over. They seem to get into your blood, circulating around your arteries and coming through your brain and back to your heart again and again.

Annoying as hell, isn't it? They tear your mind and soul apart, make you question everything about yourself, redefine what you thought was love...and you hate them for it, love them for it, look down on them for it, look up to them for it...they make you a tornado of contradictions; except, of course, for the fact that you can't live without them. Well, it seems that way, once they're gone. Because in the end, men like that never stay, do they? Not in my case, anyway.

His name was Ranma. Ranma Saotome. He was my fiancé when I was sixteen. And he was unbelieveable.

Everyone knew it. The girls all loved him, the men were all jealous of him. And I.I wanted so much to be different, to be the untouchable mystery that I had been before he came, pretended to be neither - when I was in fact both. I was furious that he was so skilled, so motivated, such a center of attention. I couldn't convince myself that I wanted him out of my life, though, because he became my life. He was always looking out for me, no matter how often he hid behind a façade of insults that I was clumsy, macho, or ugly. They hid the fact that he cared about me enough to give up anything for my sake.

He'd even give up me.

But I, ever the ignorant, stubborn one, didn't realize this until he proved it.

When it was too late.

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I remember he had seemed distracted that day. He didn't tease or insult me in the morning. On the way to school I even left the perfect opening; just to see if he'd take it. He didn't.

I thought maybe it was because of the fight we'd had the night before. It was no different from the ones we'd had day after day after day, but somehow we were both feeling more awkward than usual about this fight. Both of us got the impression: 'is this how it's always going to be?' Sometimes the fights were like sparring matches - a simple test, where we just jabbed lightly at the opponent to see how they would react. But sometimes it was like it had been the night before; furious stances, barbs as sharp as we could make them right into our enemy's weak spots, hurtful and degrading words that we both regretted later. But that was just the way it was. We didn't know how to stop ourselves from this pattern. Often we were so afraid of what we would find out about ourselves if we did stop that it made us want to hide away in that whirlwind of denial. We were both nearly eighteen by then, so we should have been able to act our age. If we had, maybe things would have turned out differently.

But the only thing he gave me that day was a curious little smile, which somehow infuriated me more. I still don't know why this was, but there you are. And of course, insults from me led to insults from him, which finally snapped both of us.

"What are you looking at?" I'd yelled.

"Nothing..."

"Hah! Trying to get a peek at me, you pervert?!"

"Why would I want to look at an uncute tomboy like you?!"

"Because you'll do anything as long as it lies under the category of 'hentai!'"

"Not if that involved YOU in any way, I wouldn't!"

"YOU BASTARD! I HATE you! I wouldn't marry someone like you if my life depended on it! In fact, I wish I'd never MET you!"

His eyes became soft, his voice unreadable. "Do you?"

I didn't notice the change.

"Of COURSE!" As if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

"Hmm..."

"WHAT?!"

"Nothing..."

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He went home that day at lunch, and I followed him, furious that he might have left to sneak back to the house to do some sort of Happosai-esque thing. And the quiet, nagging voice in my head was insisting that something might be wrong with him.

But when I arrived home the tone of the conversation he was having with my father was a very serious one - and the concept of a serious Ranma as opposed to the normal baka persuaded me to eavesdrop.

"Mr. Tendo...you loved your wife, didn't you?"

As if there was ever a more obvious answer. Her death had destroyed his mind - made him so susceptible to over-emotional outbursts that, had we lived in a town where there were enough normal people, he would have been permanently locked up in a padded room with a psychiatrist. Not to mention that he'd have been labeled as a flooding risk. But why was this all of a sudden important to Ranma?

"OH! You LOVE my AKANE! BREAK OUT THE WEDDING DECARATIONS!"

Only in my family are the wedding decorations used more often than the Christmas ones. It had become like a holiday event ever since Jusendo; every few months, try to get Ranma and Akane married, fail miserably, wait a few months, do it again.

"THAT'S NOT IT!"

Fury replaced ecstasy. "You DON'T love my Akane?! Raaaannnnmaaaaaa...!!"

"NO! Look, how I feel isn't the point! The point is what if you had been made to marry someone you didn't love?"

A sad look came on to Dad's face, as if he were imagining what that would be like. As if realizing what Ranma's point was, and the anguish of the realization of what he'd tried to condemn his daughter to. Condemn me to.

A marriage without love.

Little did they know that I DID love Ranma.

Not that I had the courage to admit it, even to myself, so in the end, did it matter?

Ranma was still talking. "If you truly loved your wife," he said, "You wouldn't make your daughter marry someone she doesn't really love, would you? Not unless you don't love Akane..."

My father's voice was soft. "No... no, I wouldn't. And you - she - "

"We never stop fighting. How happy would a marriage like that be? How long do you think it would last? Two years? One year? A few months?"

Dad was silent.

"Face it, Mr. Tendo. Your daughter doesn't love me. Don't mess up her future because of your friendship with Pop. Look at what a screw up he is. Is he more important to you than Akane?"

Again, Dad was silent for a while. I was almost surprised that he wasn't bursting into tears, but then again, maybe this had more to do with mom than I thought. Maybe there was still some of the strong man that she fell in love with in there. Finally, he spoke.

"Do you love my Akane?"

"Like I said, it doesn't matter."

"Do you love my Akane? Would you marry her?"

"Do you remember what Toma said on that floating island? You can't have a relationship...if only one person wants it. Which is why I have to break my other engagements as well. I can't keep letting those girls believe that they have a chance, because they don't - they never really did. And they all have futures, dreams to pursue...and somewhere they'll find someone who they love like they love me - probably more - and hopefully that person will be able to love them as much in return. Because I can't. I can't love them - all because of someone who doesn't even love me. Ironic, ne?"

"Are you going to go find Akane...say goodbye to her?"

"No. I...I can't."

Dad seemed to understand what he meant by that, but I had no clue, and I didn't care. No excuse for disappearing on me without even saying goodbye would have been good enough. I wanted to march right out there and stop him.

But I was frozen to the spot; completely immobile. And while there was the possibility that he was just saying this as a way out of an arranged marriage with the uncute tomboy, everyone knew that Ranma couldn't lie to save his life.

I couldn't believe it. He cared about me so much...and he let me go. I wanted to run out, hug him, say 'no, don't go, I didn't mean it, I never meant it, please stay...' but I didn't. Because I was, even then, afraid he'd turn me down; afraid he was faking it. Irrational of me, but the human heart is far from rational. And his dislike would be something utterly impossible to bear.

So I stayed hidden.

And he left forever.

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Eight years later...

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Since I had long ago lost the tendency toward anger that allowed me to pull large wooden mallets out of hammerspace and use them to smash my surroundings to pieces, my only option for destroying the horrible thing causing my pain was to throw it through the window. This was not, however, what I did, for several reasons.

Firstly, it would have wrecked my window, and I really didn't have the money for a new window. Every time I thought back on all the windows I destroyed in the two years Ranma lived with us I wanted to tear my hair out - I had never thought that it was costing so much to replace them.

My family never said anything to me about it - Kasumi was too sweet and Nabiki - who had some sort of deal worked out with the insurance company - was practically selling us the new windows herself, and no fool comment was going to come out of her mouth to stand between her and extortion. As for my father, he was doubtlessly afraid that touching upon the subject would lead him to be thrown through the window.

Secondly, (if you will remember the original topic) it would have meant that I would have replace the thing causing my pain. Yes, I did need it. This was not the old days - the thing torturing me was no razor-clawed monster or crazed martial artist. This was a horror we *all* can relate to, especially those of us who are not morning people.

"Goddamn alarm clock," I muttered as I crawled out of bed and turned it off. My black Labrador, Joey, opened one irresistible brown eye, gave me the 'what-the-hell-are-you-doing-up-at-this-hour?' look, and went back to sleep. That pretty much echoed my own sentiments, but I was a 25-year-old human and he was a 2-year-old dog, and we couldn't both spend our lives indulging in our fantasies of how much sleep one can actually get.

I slouched into the kitchen extension in my apartment and looked for something vaguely edible. There wasn't much, owing to the fact that I was in between jobs. Which was nice way of saying that I was an actress who the directors had decided couldn't act against the competition lately, in an apartment that wasn't all that understanding of those who couldn't deal with the bills.

So all that resembled food was Joey's dog chow and some peanut butter Cap'n Crunch cereal that, as it has been the only item on my diet for the last two days, I was getting rather sick of.

Things could not possibly get any worse, was my only conscious thought as I stumbled to the bathroom. "I am going to starve to death," I grumbled miserably through my toothpaste to my sink (which listened to my rants dutifully every morning but never offered any consolation, as sinks rarely do), "and no one will find me until the landlord comes to evict me from the apartment. Which should be soon anyway, so I suppose I won't look too gross." I lifted my head and stare at my reflection. Ugh, maybe I would look too gross. Red-rimmed eyes, tangled hair, skin pale from malnutrition. I was glad that I didn't have a boyfriend; the poor man would wake up to me looking like this and kneel right over. I looked like shit.

The doorbell rang, and I stumbled over to get it, hoping it would be God or the Publisher's Clearinghouse or some other form of deity who could save me from this miserable hellhole.

When I looked through the peephole, however, the face staring out at me belonged to none other than my money-hungry older sister Nabiki.

See, Akane? I told myself. Your pessimistic attitude was way out of line. You thought things couldn't get any worse. They just did.

I hadn't seen Nabiki in nearly four years. She'd spread her ring of extortion and was making a killing off it, and I didn't even know what her claimed profession was. She was also probably still in deep doodoo with Dad. They'd had a serious falling out last time I saw them - Dad, who must have been allergic to work and profit, had finally not had enough money to keep the dojo. He'd asked Nabiki to loan him the money, promising he'd do anything to pay it back. Nabiki had refused, and in her defense, we all knew that he never would have paid her back; it was a pretty hefty sum. Ever since she'd learned how to earn money, Nabiki has been the breadwinner of the family, and she never got any credit for it. We would be out on the streets if it weren't for her, but Dad was so grief-stricken at the loss of the dojo that he has refused to talk to her since. Nabiki and I have kept touch with emails once or twice a month, but we weren't all that close. She did, after all, manage to get money from anyone and everyone, including family. And I really didn't have money to spare.

"I know you're in there," Nabiki called through my door, banging on it again. "I can feel you wincing."

I figured she just knew me too well. Although maybe it was a conditioned response in everyone she met, and she had become very attuned to it. Then again, maybe she really was telepathic, and that was the reason she knew everything. Whatever the reason was, it creeped me out.

I sighed audibly and opened the door.

"Jeez," she said. "You look like shit."

Well, I always knew she was perceptive.

"Gee, thanks. It's nice to see you, too."

"Just being honest."

"Man, that's a switch."

She gave me a half-grin. "Touché."

Nabiki, of course, looked like a mannequin without the Barbie element. Every brown hair in her classic no-nonsense bob was in place, although the hint of red in it was new. And she was in designer clothes from the clip in her hair down to her shoes. I grimaced in jealousy. How did she do it?

"I brought breakfast," She said, holding up a bag from a local bakery. "You want a croissant or two?"

Who cared how she did it? She was my savior! "Chocolate?" I asked hopefully, all green-eyed monsters fleeing before a rush of hunger.

"Unless I got ripped off, and I never get ripped off."

"Bless you," I said, bowing to her rather excessively. "Bless your children and their children."

"I'm not going to have children. Do you know how much they cost?"

Figures.

She walked in and looked around. "Cute apartment for someone with no money."

"How did you know I have no money?"

"I can see it in your eyes."

"That's downright freaky."

"It's a God-given talent," Nabiki informed me as she went over to the table, still looking around. Actually, my apartment is pretty nice - especially compared to Japan, where houses and apartments are teeny-tiny. It is well-designed and tasteful, not to mention on the roomy side. Of course, it seemed even roomier now that I had pawned off most of my possessions to stay in it.

I groaned and went over to sit at the table. Joey trotted out, doing his cute-starving-puppy impersonation. Nabiki grinned wide when she saw him. "You got a dog?"

"I was lonely," I defended myself. "And when I went to the pound with my friend so she could pick up her cat, I couldn't leave him behind."

He sure hadn't wanted to be left behind. My friend from a play I was working on at the time had been busy arguing about her cat with the pound people, who had decided to feed her cat to the point where it could be a hairy body-double for Jabba the Hut, so I'd wandered down to where the dogs were kept. Three workers were trying to feed a black Labrador puppy in a cage, but the puppy came streaking down the hall, leaving the workers falling helplessly over their own feet. Joey leapt up, planted both muddy feet on my new pants, and tried to give me a big lick.

"Sorry," The first guy to reach my side said breathlessly. He yanked at Joey's collar, and the pup promptly locked his little legs and refused to budge.

In the end, I'd given in to his tail wagging and hopeful eyes, and a few days later, when my apartment was okayed, got a partner in crime. He had been a stray before he came to the pound so the people there had named him; Joey was the term for 'baby kangaroo' and the name couldn't have fit him better.

Hence, the dog. It had been a year and nine months, and he had yet to point out any of my faults. He was definitely the best roommate I ever had.

"He's adorable," Nabiki gushed. "Can I give him a croissant?"

"He's allergic to chocolate. All dogs are."

"How does he live? You can't not eat chocolate."

"Tell me about it," I said, grabbing a croissant.

Joey perked his Dumbo-the-flying-elephant-sized ears forward and hit us with a cute attack, hoping to be rewarded with a pastry. That dog has no sense of nutrition at all.

"Maybe I could just give him some dog food," Nabiki suggested. "At least that's something to eat."

"Nuh-uh," I told her. "Joey will eat pretty much anything that fits in his mouth. You can give him some, but if you wanna give him a treat," I paused, mouth full, and gestured in the direction of the cupboard. "Give Joey some of that Cap'n Crunch."

We finished breakfast in silence.

"So," I began as I made quick work of the last crumbs of my second croissant. "Why are you here?"

"What, I can't just drop by for a friendly visit?"

"Who, you? Give me a break."

"Well, I've decided to move to the U.S....and I need a place to stay. I figure I can pay a share of the rent if we stay here...and you do owe me a favor. I couldn't get you before because your phone got disconnected."

Well, that was what happened when you didn't pay the bills.

I figured I'd let her call in her favor, but she didn't have to. I'd do anything for the rent money, and that included letting my crazy sister stay with me.

"Alright," I conceded. "But I get the bedroom. You sleep on the couch."

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"By the way," Nabiki said as I helped her drag the last of her luggage into the apartment, "there's a presentation of ten-minute plays coming up soon around here and there will be talent scouts there..."

"I know. I couldn't get a part in any of them. It was really competitive."

"Well, I looked at them on my way over and there's one that they added last minute that I think you'd be...well equipped for. Emotionally."

"Oh boy. What, is the character ready to kill herself?"

"Oh, don't even joke about that. No, I just mean...well, see for yourself. I got you a copy."

I sat down and looked at the title. "'After You?'" I asked her.

"Ah, just read the play."

I skimmed the first few lines. "So this is like...a couple is talking a year after they got divorced?"

"Yeah, sort of. But I thought it worked for you..."

"Why?"

"Just read the goddamn play, willya?"

So I did. And while the play was vague and related to me in no distinct way, I knew exactly what she was getting at. Lines jumped out at me, saying 'look, remember this feeling? Do you remember wanting to say this? Can you possibly have not forgotten these emotions..?'

I hadn't forgotten.

"This is about me," I said to her. "Me and Ranma."

"First of all," Nabiki said with a smirk. "It's 'this is about Ranma and I,' not 'Me and Ranma.' And second, did I mention Ranma? Nooo. I did not bring up any of your past tales of love and woe, much less that chaos- inducing boy who left when you weren't yet eighteen. Did I?"

"No..." Maybe I just never stopped thinking about him. He stuck in my mind that way.

But the lines jumped out at me...

[Don't begrudge me my jealousy. I like my jealousy. It keeps me close to you.]

[I'll tell you about jealousy: I resent people who encounter you. Checkout clerks you hand money to. Waiters who bring your wine and french fries. Strangers who share your elevator and ride to your floor though it's five floors out of their way.]

[You're the only one who ever did that.]

[I resent Jehovah's Witnesses who come to your door. They get you without caution. They get you straight ahead.]

[And you get?]

[I get judgment and longing.]

[Well, that's what's left...]

"Is it?" I mused out loud.

"I must have been beamed up," Nabiki said. "I just got a sentence from the other side."

"If I saw Ranma again...would judgment and longing be the only things we had left?"

Nabiki had no answer.

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We got lunch at a local, inexpensive pizza place called Vace's - it was a tiny store that had no room for tables, just cabinets and counters overflowing with Italian food and garlic and spices hanging from the ceiling. It smelled like heaven, which was appropriate, because Vace's served pizza fit for the gods. We took our pizza to a nearby park area and relaxed on a wooden bench and watched Joey act like a dog.

"So," Nabiki said to me with her mouth full. "You gonna try out?"

I'd 'fessed up to her about my current money situation, and she'd agreed to pay this month's rent if I paid her back - with lots of interest. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, I suppose, but are tricks and bad habits the same thing?

"Yeah." As I said, I would do anything for money. Even face my past.

"Cool. Tryouts are this evening."

I spit my pizza out in shock, and it was immediately gobbled up by Joey, who had been otherwise entertaining himself by sniffing trees, shrubs, rocks, sticks, every individual blade of grass, etc.

"THIS EVENING? I won't have time to prepare! I can't be ready by this evening!"

Nabiki shrugged, doing her ice queen thing. "You may as well try for it."

Arrrrrrgh.

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Actually, the tryout went well. I did a good job for someone with no practice. I got onstage, and this role was just so close to home that for a moment, I was somewhere between myself and my character; neither one completely, but with the essence of both. I felt, once again, like I was acting. I felt the way I had a few years ago when I had managed to get a lot of parts; like this was my thing, like I knew what I was doing.

I could tell the director liked it, too. There's a reason directors are directors and not actors, I guess.

But there it was. The chance, once again, to do what I loved and not whatever the wanted ads called for that week...

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The call came that night at dinner. Nabiki and I were sitting at home, celebrating the wonder of groceries and a reconnected phone line - again, curtsey of my sister, who decided that she wanted food and couldn't live without a phone. Both of which were fine with me, especially since I didn't have to pay for it. Yet.

We were leaning back, enjoying the fact that we were eating food that would have given us cause to sell the scale (if I had still had mine) when the phone rang. Nabiki dove to get it, which was completely unnecessary, because I had yet to touch the phone. She had gotten several business calls already, but I was expecting none, believing that the play company wouldn't call for a while.

So when Nabiki, looking peeved, handed the phone to me, I was surprised.

"Hello?"

"Umm...Akane? Akane Tendo?"

"Yeah, who's this?"

"Uh, this is, um, Hikaru Gosunkugi. We, uh, went to high school together..."

"Oh, yeah. Hey, Gosunkugi." What was I supposed to say? I hadn't seen the short, creepy-eyed little guy in seven years. "How have you been?"

"Uh, I'm, um, good. I'm working for this play company and you tried out? And we want to use you for the part of, uh, Amy. You know, in 'After You,' if you're still interested."

I made a fist and drove it toward the ceiling in the United Nations Universal Symbol of 'YES!' I attempted to keep my emotions under wraps in my tone of voice, though. I mean, I'm an actress, right?

"Yeah, that's great."

"All right. Can you come tomorrow? And we can get your size for the costume and get the practice schedule..."

I pretended to consider, while in truth my life stretched long and empty until my death, pretty much. Because with this, I could probably cancel the appointment to get my knees broken by the bill collectors. Or at least put it off.

"See you tomorrow."

"Ja ne." I hung up.

"What's up?" Nabiki asked, mouth full. "It took the little dude seven more years to work up the guts to ask you out?"

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"AKANE! Hey, Akane Tendo!"

I paused from talking to the costume designer to see who was yelling my name - it wasn't the director, for once, who made up for his remarkably short stature with a remarkably loud voice. He seemed to run and shout constantly and wind up accomplishing nothing. But hey, what do I know about directing?

When I turned, I saw a sandy-haired man with a mustache racing up to me. He certainly wasn't in the play or on any of the crews that I knew of. I had no idea how this man knew my name, because I certainly had no living clue who the hell he was.

"Do I know you...?"

"We went to high school together. C'mon, you gotta remember me; I practically hero-worshipped that fiancé of yours. Man, it was a bummer that you two split. You woulda made a really great couple."

He was telling me! But at least now I remembered him. Hiroshi certainly had been one of the few boys at school who had taken to hanging with Ranma rather than plotting his death.

What was it with this play and all these Ranma-remembrances anyway?

"Yo, Hiroshi. I didn't recognize you."

"No shit. I didn't recognize you either until I saw the program. You a big shot actress now?"

"Actually, this is the first job I've had in awhile. I'm not having much luck with the whole follow-your-dream scheme."

"Tell me about it. I thought that by now I'd be a major hotshot reporter, but all I get is little shit like this play thing. No offense."

"None taken."

"But..." he paused, looked around. I thought at first that he was trying to make sure no one else was there to pick up on the scoop I assumed he was about to tell me about, but on closer inspection it looked more like the careful glance of someone who was afraid that someone would be willing to use a bullet to keep him quiet about whatever he had found out. Now that I was looking closely, his skin was pale and he was sweating despite the cold weather. "I got a big scoop. I just need proof, and then I'm gonna nail it. The big newspapers will be fighting over who gets me as an investigative journalist."

"Yeah, and this play is gonna win me an Oscar."

"I'm serious!"

"H-hey, Akane..."

Hiroshi and I both nearly jumped out of our skin. Gosunkugi was right next to me all of a sudden; neither of us had noticed him come up beside us.

"Gos!" Hiroshi said with faux enthusiasm. "Man, this is like a mini reunion. We got the little Furikan shindig right here!"

"Um, yeah..."

"Welp," Hiroshi said, "I gotta go. You wanna give me your number or something, Akane? This isn't high school, I'm not gonna incessantly push myself on you, but it might be fun to catch up, you know? Talk about the old days. No one in this freakin' gaijin country believes any of them crazy old school stories."

I grinned. Hiroshi had been one of the few people at Furinkan who had tried to push Ranma and I together rather than break us apart. It really would be nice to have someone who I could really talk to about the old days. "Yeah, sure."

I wrote my phone number down on a post-it note and handed it to him with a grin. He smiled back at me; then, looking somewhat uncomfortable, opened his mouth and asked the question I had been expecting the whole time, and dreading.

"Hey, have you talked to him?"

"Who?" I asked, feigning ignorance.

"You could be the best actress in the world and still not fool me into thinking you don't know who I'm talking about."

"Oh...you mean Ranma...?" I asked, pretending that the idea was just dawning on me.

"Does the word 'duh' mean anything to you?"

"No."

He gave me a look that told me I must have been inhabiting another solar system for the past ten years. "No? Well, it's like this thing that means something is really obvious - "

"No, I mean that no, I haven't heard from him. I know what 'duh' means, baka."

"Not at all...?"

"No."

"Man," he said, sounding disappointed, "That's just freakin' crazy. You two were - "

"Ahem," Gos coughed, attempting to get us to focus on the fact that he was still there.

"Well," Hiroshi said, "I better beat it. I'll talk to you later, guys."

"Ja," Gos and I chorused after him.

"TENDO!" The director bellowed in my ear. "GET ON THE SET!"

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It was two in the morning when I got the call. I was closest to the phone, as Nabiki had somehow managed to wrangle getting the bed for herself and I was stuck on the couch.

I didn't bother with a hello; people who call you at 2 a.m. either have no manners and thus one should respond in kind, or there is some form of emergency and they don't have time for your classic small talk. "This had better be good."

"Akane," Hiroshi's voice was strained and barely above a whisper. "I have to talk to you."

"Can't this wait till morning?"

"No! I'm freaked, Akane. Someone's after me."

"And you know this because...?"

"Someone just shot in my window. I figured that someone had been following me today, but then I told myself it was just paranoia. The bullets kinda convinced me otherwise."

"Call the police!"

"I can't. I think my phone line is tapped. Please, Akane. I gotta tell you about this in case the next time they don't miss. Meet me inside the theater in twenty minutes. I should get there before you. I'll pick the lock and let you in." And he hung up.

As I raced toward the theater, I wondered if this wasn't in fact an elaborate prank or joke on Hiroshi's part. But he'd sounded so freaked that I couldn't bring myself to ignore the possibility that this was dead serious. The key word being dead.

When I got to the back entrance, I discovered someone had indeed picked the lock. The door was left open, however. I raised an eyebrow at this; someone in fear of their life wouldn't be that careless, would they?

Hiroshi was leaning against the far wall in a darkened corner.

"Hiroshi!" I hissed. "What the hell - "

I stepped toward him, and when I was about two feet away, my flip-flop landed in something warm and wet.

This led to your classic scene: I already knew what I had stepped in, but I froze and slowly looked down anyway, hoping that I had simply seen too many horror movies. Hey, maybe this was a joke. Maybe the stuff at my feet was just the fake version we used in 'After You'...

I looked at Hiroshi and all hope of that was lost. He stared at me glassy- eyed, slack-jawed, and utterly dead.

So there I was, at 2:30 in the morning, hanging with a guy who'd just been offed (the giveaway would have to be the large bullet hole in his chest) getting my socks all soaked in blood - which would be a pain to get out. And it was December! Why the hell was I wearing flip-flops, anyway?

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It was seven or so before I got away from the police questioners. Their only two leads, though, were me and Gosunkugi, who had shown up five minutes after me because Hiroshi had set off the alarm when he broke into the theater, and Gos had been dispatched by his superiors to see what was going on. It was Gosunkugi who had called the police, after, of course, he finished throwing up all over the crime scene. I had just stood there like...well, like I was dead, for lack of a better example.

The murder weapon had been found in the set, but there were no prints on it at all. No witnesses. Hiroshi hadn't even told me anything about this big story, so I had no clue who or what he was investigating. I wanted to let it drop, but I couldn't bring myself to leave this open. Whatever it was Hiroshi had found out, it had been worth killing to keep it a secret.

What was going on?

Nabiki was pacing when I got back to the apartment. "Where have you been? Did you get breakfast? Why is there blood on your shoes?"

I sat her down and told her everything. I had been thankful before that she was here because of rent money, but now what I needed was a sister. I burst into tears for the first time since I had found the body.

"I don't know what to do," I sobbed as I finished the story. "I have to find out what is going on, but I have no idea about these things. You do. Where should I start?"

"You shouldn't. Don't get involved in this, Akane. You'll wind up like Hiroshi."

Nausea rolled through my stomach at the thought, but she and I both knew that I wasn't going to quit.

"I can't. My friend is dead, Nabiki. Did you somehow miss that little detail? And he said his phone might be tapped. They might be after me already."

"After You?" Nabiki joked.

"This isn't funny!"

"Alright, alright," Nabiki said. "But I can't really help you. Homicide isn't really my genre, you know?"

"But - !"

"Relax, Akane. Just because I'm not an expert at this doesn't mean I don't know anyone who is." She turned, picked up the phone, and dialed a number. After waiting a minute, she swore and put down the phone. Picking it up again, she dialed another number with the same result. "He's not at home. He's not answering his cell. Where the hell is he?"

Apparently, the third number - which Nabiki told me was the car phone - got through. "Yo," Nabiki said. "My little sister and I need your help. She's kinda gotten herself involved in a homicide."

Something was said at the other end of the line.

"No," Nabiki yelled in the phone, "She didn't kill him! But I need your help, alright? We have to figure this out. Can you come to our apartment?" She gave the person on the other end the apartment address and hung up.

"Who was that?" I asked.

Nabiki grinned.

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Half an hour later we were finishing breakfast when I heard footsteps in my apartment. I couldn't see the door from the kitchen, but I suspected that someone had broken in. That in and of itself was amazing - I had locked, chained and bolted the door.

"Someone's in the apartment," I whispered to Nabiki.

"Yeah, I know," she replied, not bothering to lower her voice. "It's really annoying. There is no door lock in the world that stops that guy. I'm starting to think that he just slides under the doorjamb, 'cause the locks are always still in place."

At which point the intruder strode into the kitchen.

The intruder whom I recognized in an instant.

The intruder who had haunted my dreams and plagued my thoughts ever since I met him more than nine years before.

Looking back, you can't really say that it was entirely my fault. I mean, Nabiki really should have warned me. Given the situation, I actually handled myself with some semblance of control.

Although you may hold the dish I threw at him against me and my claims of self-restraint, I suppose.

"You BASTARD!"

"Does this mean," Ranma asked innocently, "that I don't get breakfast?"

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End of Chapter 1! PLEASE Review or email me at: nakigoe_chan@hotmail.com

IN CHAPTER 2: TWO FOR THE DOUGH:

Ranma and Akane have a long conversation and resolve some issues of their past relationship - and, of course, eventually wind up arguing. Gosunkugi comes up with a suspect that seems to be the most likely candidate.

Originally, as already said, this was planned as a one-shot that was just romance/angst, Ranma/Akane, yadda yadda yadda. But then I started reading Janet Evanovich books (yes, the chapter titles are the titles of her Stephanie Plum books), and hence it turned into this huge murder mystery. I'll warn you beforehand I've never written one of those complicated mysteries, but I've certainly read a lot, so I figured I'd give this a try.

Thanks to:

My prereaders: Lauren, Alissa, Diana, and now Natalia (known to those of fanfiction.net as nm3, author of various stories, including 'Beyond.') You guys are great!

And a final thanks out to all my anime buds that are willing to share in my obsession and even sometimes read my stuff! (Hah! Fools!): Lauren (again), Yueling, Julie, Whitney, Gaby, the sophomore crew (you know who you are), the college crew (if you don't know who you are, you shouldn't have made it to college) and the various pets and family members who I can no longer tell apart, but who put up with me and who I put up with in general (no small task, for all of us).

Chapter Two is already done and being edited! Look for it soon!

Ja ne!

~ nakigoe-chan