(-ducks as furious insults, rotten produce, and possibly a rabid poodle are thrown in her direction-)
Um, yeah. Hi. I'm not dead.
Okay, so it's been like two and a half years. Or three. Or something. Depending on the story this is, since I'm crossposting this set of Author's Notes in both 'After You' and 'The Dying of the Light.' I know it's been a long time. I'm hoping people are still inclined to read my stories, even though looking at them after three years all I can say is "Holy fuck, these are absolute crap." I apologize profusely to anyone who has sent me emails; I haven't been replying to them because I haven't checked the account I have listed because I think it's, like, dead.
I've improved significantly in terms of skill level as a writer since I last touched any of my fanfic, but you won't see evidence of that for the next couple of chapters because they were written way back when I was actually posting. In the meantime I've finally come into my own as a writer, to an extent, as I've explored stories with my own original characters in my own original world and even started playing with a novel. (EDIT: I just actually reread the fic and I'm less inclined to post this chapter and more inclined to delete my entire account. Go Abby, queen of the suck. This stuff is downright embarrassing.)
I will continue to work on 'After You' and 'The Dying of the Light,' although my focus has shifted to my original work so progress will be slow. (Also I kind of forget how I meant to end them. But I'm pretty sure I wrote it down somewhere.) I will probably not, however, be starting any new stories. There will probably be some oneshots here and there if inspiration hits, and I'll do my best to finish my works in progress, but to be honest that's probably it.
I apologize profusely for my extensive absence to anyone who actually read and liked these stories. I'm a bad person, and should be eaten by an armadillo. While I can't read the emails I've gotten I've read every review, and I appreciate them very much. They put a smile on my face during a period of time when I really, really needed it.
All that said? Ranma ½ belongs to Rumiko Takahashi and the Stephanie Plum series that inspired this story belongs to Janet Evanovich. I bow before there skills, and I hope you enjoy the long-awaited seventh chapter of...
Chapter 7: Seven Up
In that instant, my senses went on overdrive.
Throughout Ranma's stay with us in my teenage years, I'd gotten used to pretty much everything, but I still managed to overreact to everything. The slightest insult – even from someone whose opinion didn't matter to me, such as Moose – turned me into a rampaging rhino. I became furious, and I became violent.
But in the years after he left, I poured a lot of energy into learning to calm down. The weeks and even months after he left saw me more emotional than ever, but my instability also provided the perfect training ground to get over it. I was very well aware of which element of my personality had driven Ranma away, and good God, what if I drove away someone else I loved?
After years of calming down, I was master of not getting violent. Sounds weird – sounds very un-me – but it was true. Haven't you noticed that, since this whole fiasco began, I've been more hyper and scared and angry than I've ever been and I still have yet to hit anybody? Okay, so that last little fact is about to lose its validity, but so what? That just makes the point.
Now where was I? Oh, yeah. With my senses on overdrive.
I could feel the drop of Ranma's blood on my boot – the weight of it burning through the leather and the sock to scald the skin underneath, despite the fact that it was not going to sink through. My fingers felt cold and stiff at the joints, my nose was stuffed up. My ears picked up the nonexistent sound that was snow falling.
For an instant of adaptation, all I could do was stare at Ranma's body in the snow. Nabiki had run over next to us and thrown the side of the duster Ranma was wearing over to see the wound.
We only got a glance at it because Ranma stood back up.
It certainly wasn't fatal, but it wasn't something to laugh at either. The bullet had grazed his left side – almost enough to the right to be embedded, but not quite enough, thank God. He was bleeding all over the place, and he would certainly need stitches, but he was not going to die, and that was what mattered.
If you thought this would cool my temper, however, you thought wrong.
The thing is, the bullet HADN'T been embedded in Ranma. Meaning it had traveled the course intended – even after Ranma was hurt - and it had not hit Anthony or me. Meaning it wasn't going to. Meaning Ranma had been terribly wounded protecting me from something that wouldn't have hurt me.
Meaning that all the sonuvabitch with the gun had done was shoot Ranma. Huh. Imagine that.
Of course, trying to kill Ranma was the only thing besides Ranma himself that could morph me back into my old, violent self. I was baaa-ack...
Look out, ladies and gents; here comes Godzilla.
The poor wimpy little guy was armed only with one wimpy little gun. Do you think he even stood a chance? Hope you didn't bet on it.
My first punch sent him back into the wall on the opposite side of the alley. I was on him in an instant. A backhand cracked his head against the wall again; a roundhouse kick broke his nose. And I wasn't close to finished. I could hear Anthony and Nabiki in the background; I could feel them – how weak they were! – trying to pull me off him. With a shake of my arms, I sent them rolling back through the snow. But they were still begging me to stop; still trying to intervene. They were afraid I would kill him.
Their fears were justified, for that was precisely what I planned to do.
I had thought, for a horrible, instantaneous forever, that Ranma was dead. The emotional agony that put me through – the fact that Ranma was mere inches to the left of death – could only be punished by the ending of my tormentor's life. I had never felt so savage, so strong, so helpless.
And then I felt Ranma's hand on my shoulders, feather-light, telling me without words to back off. And I abandoned my newfound rage – or it abandoned me; a fire raging away from that which it has already destroyed - and melted into defenseless tears in his arms.
I must have fainted.
The next thing I remember is blinking open groggy eyes to see Ranma, Nabiki, and Anthony standing over me with worried expressions on their faces. We were back at the hotel, and I was lying on the bed.
Anthony and Ranma were standing next to each other, and neither seemed to have a problem with it. They must have been really concerned about me.
But I knew that after this they would probably never get along. I wouldn't be able to have both of them – both would get jealous and furious and god knows probably violent. I wouldn't even want both of them; that wasn't what love was about. Love was about having a one and only.
So it all came down to who I was willing to hurt.
Before my rational mind could get a word in edgewise, my heart screamed out to me. Protect Ranma! It said. At ALL costs!
And I realized, with a sad wisdom that had hidden itself away since this whole fiasco began, that choosing Anthony would hurt all of us. Didn't he deserve a woman he loved, who would wake up to his face and have it be the face she had seen in her dreams, rather than one who would wake up to his face and wish she was still lost in a dreamworld where she could be together with someone else?
Argh! This was too much to sort out on my own.
I had to talk to Nabiki. So, how to get rid of the testosterone twins?
If you're female, you may already know how I went about this.
See, one of women's worst enemies since the dawn of time is that three-letter combo of M-E-N. HOWEVER, there is a greater three-letter enemy of women, and men are so horrified by the terror women combat when faced with it that it will, without a doubt, send the male gender tripping over its own feet in an effort to get out of the vicinity.
What are those magical three letters?
P-M-S, of course.
"Ugh..." I said to Nabiki. "I think I need some Midol." Very glamorous post-faint declaration, don't you think?
Both Ranma and Anthony went pale. You could actually see the gears in their heads turning, searching for an excuse to get out of the room before they were sent out to buy said medicine. Or, worse yet, tampons.
"Huh," Nabiki said. "I don't have any. We'll have to hit the pharmacy." I knew this meant she'd caught on because Nabiki was always prepared.
Ranma and Anthony started to sweat.
Nabiki turned to Ranma. "You know, it's your own fault you don't have your curse anymore, which would allow you to get whatever you want from that aisle with minimum embarrassment - " (this prompted a blank look from Anthony) " - so we'll have to send you. You've brought this on yourself, silly...boy."
"Haven't I had enough embarrassment for one lifetime?" Ranma griped. But, nonetheless, he went out the door. Even after eight years, Ranma was apparently a glutton for embarrassment.
"Go to the hospital on your way back here and get that cut looked at!" Nabiki yelled after him. "You're big with the 'I can withstand any pain' thing, but you got shot, so listen to me on this one, okay?"
Ranma was already down the hallway, and gave no response.
So I still had to get rid of Anthony. Hmm.
Nabiki had whipped out her cell phone and was paging someone a message. Anthony was still looking at me. Then he smiled. "Those were some moves you had back there. When did you become Xena the Warrior Princess?"
Okay, so maybe I could keep him in the room a LITTLE longer.
"I've trained in martial arts since I was young." I shook my head. "Usually I can keep my cool, but I was just so scared..."
"Understandable. You were incredible. You're better than Mr. Bigshot, right?"
I realized that Anthony knew nothing about martial arts, and couldn't have soundly judged our fighting skills – especially since Ranma's objective was 'knock the guy out' and mine was 'send him to hell.'
I could judge, and Ranma had improved since I'd last seen him – by a lot. Ranma was leagues and leagues beyond what I could ever hope to achieve. Then again, knowing him, he'd spent the last eight years taking on challenges from people who specialized in things like Martial Arts Chihuahua Grooming.
"No," I said, shaking my head again and laughing. "I'm nowhere NEAR him."
Anthony opened his mouth to reply.
And then, without warning, there was a loud siren-like sound. Anthony slapped his forehead. "Shit! That's my car alarm!"
Nabiki gave me a tiny secret smile as Anthony rushed out of the room.
I gave her The Look. "Okay, what did you do?"
She smiled innocently. "From evidence perceived in your now-dead apartment's bathroom I happen to know that your period ended a few days ago. Not only that, but PMS is the oldest trick in the book when it comes to getting rid of men. I figured you wanted both of them gone, so I sent Ranma for the Midol then paged him to create a distraction that would get Anthony out of the building."
"Go Jean Grey, Telepathic Wonder."
"Yeah, tell me about it. So what's up?"
"I'm an idiot."
"We went to all this trouble just so you could tell me that? Old news, little sister, and one of the subjects covered in Obvious 101."
I sighed. "No, that's not what I meant."
Nabiki was instantly at attention. She could tell I was serious. This meant, for her, either a moment when her little sister needed her, a moneymaking opportunity, or both. I could tell she was itching to cross her fingers and chant 'money, money, money.'
"With Ranma," I managed, fighting unexplained tears. "I messed up things with Ranma."
If Nabiki had been anyone else or if it had actually involved money, she would have squealed. What she said, however, was, "Please tell me this isn't post-traumatic stress disorder for what happened in the alley."
I laughed. It sounded like the helpless laugh of a crier being tickled – one with little humor and much desperation. Someone who couldn't help laughing even though they didn't want to. This was ironic, because for once I was somewhat amused. "No, this is about the relationship thing. I...made the wrong choice, didn't I?"
"YES!" Nabiki said enthusiastically.
The next question took a lot of guts. "Is it...too late to be realizing this?"
Nabiki was silent for a long while. I could tell she wanted to say no, of course it wasn't – but she knew that a dishonest answer would eventually hurt me more.
"I don't actually know," she told me. "We'll have to find out."
And so operation WHFS went into effect. Aptly named because 1) it stood for Wild Horse Feelings Strategy, and 2) it was a pretty good radio station. Actually we sort of worked around the name so that its acronym would fit the radio station. This was for no particular reason; if you have a sister, you'll understand that sisters often have the weirdest inside jokes that may or may not be actually funny. The name was unbearably stupid, but didn't really matter.
Now we just had to think it up.
"There's an easy way to do this," Nabiki told me. "It constitutes of me talking to him and you spying on us."
"Won't work," I told her. "He'll sense my ki."
Nabiki rolled her eyes. "Have you learned nothing from me?" She sighed. "Listen up. There's this fun little device they came up with a few years ago. It's called a cotton candy machine. No, wait, it's called a tape recorder."
"Oh no. Not that. You aren't gonna - "
"Tape our conversation? Now that you mention it, that just might work..."
"Well, I suppose I could just tell you later what happened, but you run the risk of me forgetting the juicy bits."
"There MUST be a better way to do this."
"You could walk up to him and kiss him. Or you could fling caution to the winds and try to get him into bed."
Nabiki was all innocence, emphasis on the wide, blinking eyes. "You mean that, given the chance, you wouldn't sleep with him?"
"See? Of course you would. Hell, I would. That boy has one fine body on him, and I'm willing to bet he - "
"Is that the extent of your vocabulary, little sister? I'm flattered. Although it probably isn't. You could probably manage other names as well, along with different emotions behind them. The example I'm thinking of right now would be: 'ooooooh, Ranma! Ranma!' Of course, if you say MY name in that context we'd be looking at incest, and EW." At which point we caught each other's eyes and practically fell off the bed laughing. I regained my composure long enough to hit her with a pillow, then collapsed again, knocking my purse off the bed and onto the floor, where the contents spilled out.
I'd forgotten about the disks Ranma and I had stolen from Hiroshi's office!
Nabiki grabbed it before I could stop her and groaned. "Some lipstick of yours got all over EVERYTHING," she reported. Sitting down again, she methodically began to go through my purse. "Here we are...makeup, sunglasses, gloves, wallet, checkbook – you have a bank account? - keys, script, Midol, Advil...computer disk?"
I breathed a brief sigh of relief, then had a moment of terror at the fact that Nabiki discovered it, then another rush of relief because, after all, Nabiki did this kind of thing all the time, then another rush of terror when I realized –
"Just one?" I asked cautiously.
Nabiki dug around some more. "Yup. Just one. Why? Should there be more?"
She handed over the disk.
I remembered this disk. It was the ONLY one I remembered, actually. I took it not to help the case, but merely because I was curious. The label was as follows:
...the initials of all the plays our theater was to perform in the ten-minute play exhibition. Out of morbid curiosity, I'd stolen the disk when I saw the label and realized it was the articles on the plays that had sent Hiroshi to the theater in the first place. But from what Hiroshi had said, I very much doubted the plays or the theater had been involved.
The disks - that might have solved the mystery – were gone!
Oh man, I thought – Ranma's gonna kill me.
At which point Ranma returned.
"Where's the Midol?" Nabiki asked.
"Uh-oh. I thought that was just a ploy to get rid of me."
"It was. But I wouldn't turn down free Midol."
"Nabs, you are PMSing twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. It would take more than all the Midol in the world to get rid of your PMS."
"I'm worse when I have cramps."
"I suppose you're right on that front."
"Did you go to the hospital like I told you to?"
"I picked up various stuff to use to put myself back together again at the CVS. Does that count?"
"No, but I suppose it's a start."
"Can I use your bathroom to figure all this junk out? Unless, of course, you want me taking my shirt off in here."
"That would be fine."
"The loss of the shirt."
"I'm sure that that description is not remotely accurate."
"See," Nabiki said to me, "now HE'S doing it."
Ranma disappeared into the bathroom, which left Nabiki and me staring at each other in silence before once again collapsing into hysterics. Okay, so it was fun to see him get all flustered. It was more of the old Ranma, showing through the new one.
"Maybe you should follow him in there."
Nabiki's eyes practically rolled out of her head. "Don't start that again. I'm SERIOUS. Just go talk to him. He got that wound trying to protect you, after all."
I guessed she was right. So, as much as it was very intimidating, I strolled over to the bathroom, opened the door, and walked in.
The first thing I noticed was that Nabiki was right. Shirtless Ranma was no unwelcome sight, and it took even more out of me to look away from his chest than it had taken to walk into the bathroom. Luckily, he didn't notice – he was too busy giving Nabiki – who was standing just outside the doorway, snickering and laughing - The Ultimate Glare of Death.
He stormed over and slammed the door in her triumphant face – before noticing that I was still in the room.
"Uhh..." he managed. "Did you want to leave too?" I had expected his tone to carry command – to hear the underlying message of 'get OUT' in his voice – but it held nothing but innocent curiosity.
"I, um, came to see if you needed any help."
At which point there was one of those long, semi-awkward moments when we just stared at each other. I'm sure that if rolling tumbleweed had been available, it would have entered stage right.
Then Ranma relaxed. "Maybe. Part of the cut is on my back and I can't see how far it goes. If you don't mind the mess, maybe you could show me where it ends." He gestured vaguely with a washcloth.
I walked up to him, and – God knows why – took the washcloth firmly from his hand, and pressed down at an angle with a pressure point, making him sit on a conveniently placed stool.
"Hey! Whadda ya think you're doin'?" But there was no real protest in his voice.
I moved behind him and sat down on the toilet seat so I could see the cut.
My first reaction was, well...eeyuuw, gross.
And then came guilt. It was my fault, after all.
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
He turned his head and looked at me. The question was in his eyes, but he didn't ask it.
I tried a different approach.
"Thank you." Said just as meekly, just as quietly.
He cocked an eyebrow. "What for?"
"What do you think, baka? What is this wound I'm cleaning? You got it saving my life – or don't you remember that, either!"
"I never saved your life," Ranma grumbled. "That bullet wouldn't have touched you or him anyway."
"Speaking of him..."
Ranma turned away from me. "I got the message. You don't need to spell it out for me."
"That's the thing. I don't think you did."
"He's you're boyfriend, right?"
"Technically, yes, but I don't think he's the one for me."
Silence followed, but it was not a tense silence. To go into depth on the relationship Ranma and I had would have caused a volcanic eruption, but he seemed content, for now, to leave it at the conclusion that at least it wasn't Anthony.
In the silence, I attempted to focus on my task, but when I looked down at his side and back, I noticed something that made me even more nauseous than the wound: the fact that it was not alone.
Ranma's body was a mosaic of scars, old and new. The wounds that had left them there ranged, as far as I could tell, from semiserious to should-have-been-fatal.
These scars told me that Ranma should have died years ago; I never should have had the opportunity to see him again. My body felt bathed in ice; the single hot tear that cut down my cheek, unseen by him, burned my skin.
"Hey," he said, interrupting my thoughts.
"What did I forget?"
"That night, when your apartment blew up. I asked Nabiki earlier today if she knew, but she just got all close-lipped and giggly. So what happened?"
"Man, don't you start."
"Can I plead the fifth?"
"No. No fifth-pleading allowed."
"So what happened?"
"What happened when?" I asked, all innocence.
"Akane! Come ON!"
"So?" He said.
"Oh man, not this again!"
"Am I annoying you?" I asked, in my best cutesy-innocent voice, batting my eyelashes as he turned around to give me a mock-glare.
"Maybe a little."
"Will you get on with it?"
"Oh, I have a choice? I choose no."
"No choice. Talk."
"That's a violation of my rights."
His mouth twitched, unsuccessfully hiding a snicker. "Ask me if I care."
I sighed, big and melodramatic. "Okay, okay."
Suddenly I was all blushy and shy. I mean, how was I supposed to tell him this?
"You...you kissed me."
He was up like a shot. No pun intended. "I WHAT?"
"You kissed me."
"I did NOT!"
Through a haze of blushes I managed to make my patented Now-You're-Pissing-Akane-Off expression, complete with massive eye twitch, and bonked him on the head with my fist. "Excuse me?"
"I CAN'T have kissed you."
"Are you calling me a liar?"
He ran his hands through his hair several times, muttering to himself. His eyes were closed and his cheeks were pink. He was flustered, young-Ranma again. It was so cute! "No, I just..."
"Can't have kissed an uncute tomboy like me?"
"I said you were a tomboy. The last time I called you uncute was eight years ago." He seemed to realize what he had said too late, and his cheeks went a shade darker.
We both faced each other, blushing, at a loss when it came to new conversation material.
The doorbell rang.
Shit! Was that Anthony coming back!
"Can you get that?" Nabiki yelled. "I'm in the middle of changing clothes."
Ranma sighed, tugged on a tank top, and left the bathroom. I realized that I had blood all over my hands, and turned on the sink as Nabiki came in to join me for some privacy.
We heard the door open, and we heard Ranma's voice – surprised – refer to the unseen man outside as the officer in charge of the murder case.
"Hey, Saotome. Get hurt?"
"The bullet did it."
"You should see the other guy."
"Hey, have you seen Akane Tendo around?"
"Because I have a warrant for her arrest for the murder of Hiroshi Takayama."
END OF PART SEVEN.
(-looks at faces of readers-) Hahahahahaha. C'mon, you knew that was coming. Please review or email me at my new email address, listed in el userinfo, anyway. Despite the fact that it sucked. Wince, wince, wince. But if you wrote me and I did not write back, I apologize, and it does not mean I do not love you. It means hotmail is psycho and my old yahoo account is dead. Hence, new yahoo. If you mail me at the above address, I WILL respond. Again, I apologize. Except not for my cliffhangers. Frankly I just find those funny.
IN CHAPTER 8: HARD EIGHT:
Nabiki's sexual preferences. Anthony bashing. Homer Simpson quoting. Mousse the playboy and Shampoo the...uh...you'll have to wait and find out. The secret of Ranma's cure. The return of a character no one is fond of. And more of what you all seem to love most...yeah, like I'd tell you what.
Aaaand now I have nothing else to say, really. Cheers, folks.