By: Jade Gillott
Akane sat alone at the table, holding her warm tea cup with both hands. She stared sadly into the cup, watching the tea leaves float around by the bottom. Tea had always comforted her. But now the warm drink had no effect. After all, Ranma; the man she loved, was dead. Tea did lots of helpful things. But it couldn't bring back the dead.
"Here's your ramen,"
Akane looked up, seeing the large bowl of steamy noodles before her, then looked up and flashed her waiter a small smile. Her waiter smiled back.
"Thanks, Mousse." Akane said quietly.
Mousse pulled out the chair opposite her, and sat down. Akane looked up from her bowl,
and looked at Mousse questioningly. Looking around the restaurant, the Nekohanten was not as busy as usual; Cologne wouldn't scold Mousse for sitting down for a bit. He was spinning his pen around between his fingers, and Akane was bizarrely reminded of a drummer in a rock band.
"Ranma was always a fan of ramen, wasn't he?" Mousse asked.
Akane looked up again, blinking two brown, confused eyes at Mousse. He was scratching
something down on his notepad, and Akane figured it was an order of some sort.
"Yes," Akane replied, "He was."
"Gee, he really did have an appetite." Mousse went on, still writing.
Akane nodded, smiling slightly at the memory of Ranma happily slurping up his favorite food, none-to-gracefully.
"Ranma had a lot of qualities, in fact." Mousse said, "For one thing, he never gave up. It didn't matter what it was, he never turned in the towel. That was especially the case when it came to his martial arts," Mousse looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully a moment, then went on, "He was pretty arrogant, and ignorant, but…well, sweet when he wanted to be. He'd be sweet without knowing it sometimes."
Akane just nodded. What was Mousse doing? It was still so hard to even think about Ranma. Reminiscing about Ranma would be like finalizing that he was undeniably dead. And she just couldn't bring herself to do such a thing.
"He was very adventurous, too." Mousse muttered, scribbling more onto his notepad, "He lived for the thrill life had to give. He was extremely lively; he was actually quite inspiring. He was so vigorous; but all in all, a very easy-going guy."
"Mousse," Akane said finally, "Please."
She felt sick. Her stomach gurgled dangerously, and she felt like the ramen she'd eaten was on it's way back up. This just hurt too much. Akane wiped away a tear that was forming in her eye. Why was Ranma always the source of her tears? But, of course, he'd been the source of everything. He'd been her everything. As this realization came to her head, her heart twisted painfully.
"I can't do this," she whispered, "I can't."
Mousse was silent for a moment, and then slowly he got up. He went over and pat Akane's hand soothingly. Akane raised her head, looking at their hands. If Ranma were here, he'd be the one comforting her like this.
"Meet me under the canal bridge tonight. Don't be seen."
Akane's eyes widened. She looked up to question what Mousse meant, but he was gone.
Puzzled, Akane looked down at her exposed hand. Beside it, lay a small, folded piece of paper. Wary but curious, Akane took the paper, and read.
Ramen/ Appetite/ Never gave up/ Martial Arts/ Arrogant/ Ignorant/
Sweet/ Adventurous/ Lively/ Inspiring/ Vigorous/ Easy-going
Akane read over the words, and her face scrunched up. How was she supposed to 'decode' this? It made no sense! She searched the paper for a clue. It was then she noticed something. The D in Decode was underlined. Akane frowned at the paper for a moment, and then her eyes went wide. She put a big tip on the table, grabbed her jacket, and left the restaurant. Watching her go as he delivered food to a customer, Mousse smiled to himself. Why on earth Ranma always called his fiancée 'dense' he would never know, because it certainly wasn't the case. Who knew Akane Tendo was so good at word puzzles?
When she got home, Akane went straight to her bedroom. Sitting at her desk, she laid out a blank piece of paper and Mousse's code. She stared at the papers with a gaze so white-hot she thought they might burst into flame. She clutched her pencil so hard she thought it would break. Then, after a deep breath, she began to write, talking aloud as she did.
"Ramen," she said, and wrote a large capital R on the blank page, "Appetite. Never gave up. Martial Arts. Arrogant." One by one she uttered the words, writing the first letter of each as she did. She sat back, and her heart skipped. So far, the page read RANMA. She hurriedly wrote out the rest of Mousse's message, her hand quivering.
"Adventurous, lively…" she whispered to herself, her voice shaking just as hard as her hand. Her body was getting noticeably cold, and her heart beat was pounding away in her stinging ears. When she wrote the final letter, the pencil fell from her suddenly-numb hand. She stared broadly at the completed message. She uttered the words out loud, her voice so quiet it couldn't even be called a whisper.
RANMA IS ALIVE
Two weeks earlier
The Tendo Dojo—usually a place that is bustling and chaotic—was eerily quiet. The Tendo family sat around the dining room table, with the exception of one. The family was tossing around ideas and possible scenarios that would explain why there was only five people at the table that evening.
Nobody had seen Ranma in hours. The last time the family had seen him, he claimed he was going to go out for an afternoon jog. He'd missed lunch and dinner—a big shock—and now the the sky was turning orange and yellow as the sun went down, and everyone was starting to worry.
As the family sat around in anticipated silence, Nabiki walked into the room. Everyone turned their heads, their faces hopeful. She sat down beside Genma, and shook her head.
"Ukyo hasn't seen him at all," she said. "Here I thought for sure that he would only miss out on Kasumi's cooking to have some of 'Uuchan's'." she added with a mutter.
"What about the Nekohanten?" Kasumi inquired. "Maybe Ranma went there?"
Nabiki shook her head again. "No way. Ranma has been cold-shouldering Shampoo for weeks. He's really gotten sick of that crazy Amazon." Nabiki said, with a 'who wouldn't be?' look on her face. "He wouldn't go near the Nekohanten."
Before anyone else could make another guess to Ranma's whereabouts, they heard a familiar tapping noise. Everyone looked across the yard, to see Cologne hopping across the backyard on her wooden stick.
"Do pardon the intrusion." she said, jumping up onto the deck.
At the sight of the aged Amazon, Akane's concerns and suspicions spiked even further. She jumped from her seat, causing everyone to look at her in wonder.
"Cologne!" she snapped, curling her hands into fists. "If you're here, something is definitely up!"
"Now, Akane..." Kasumi warned.
"Sit down, child." Cologne muttered, not phased a bit by Akane's anger. "I am not here to cause trouble."
Akane's glare diminished to a frown, and she haughtily resumed her seat, huffing angrily and crossing her arms tightly.
"I apologize for Akane," Kasumi said. "She's just worried for Ranma, like the rest of us. You see, he hasn't come home since he left for a run earlier before lunch. He missed lunch and dinner, which I know you know is very uncharacteristic of him. Tell me, have you seen him at all, and do you know where he could be now?"
Cologne nodded. "Yes, I did in fact come here to talk to you about Ranma," she said. "However, I am afraid it's not pleasant news, Kasumi."
Kasumi's hand covered her mouth and she mutter a small, trademark "oh my".
"So, what did you come to tell us about Ranma?" Soun asked.
Cologne closed her large eyes, sighed, then after a moment opened them again.
"There really is no other way to do this than to be crudely blunt," she said. "Ranma...is dead."
The elder's words were met by perfect silence. Even the sounds of the world beyond the Tendo walls seemed to abruptly cut off.
"Are you playing us?" Nabiki's whip-sharp voice sliced through the silence.
Cologne shook her head. "Absolutely not. I would never 'play' when it came to the topic of someone's life."
"But...but how?" Soun cried. "What happened?"
After all the things Ranma had encountered in his young life, for him to die seemed incredulous by this point. He had killed a god, even, and more so, lived to tell of it. What could have possibly happened to him, that had finally ended his life? It had to have been something more terrible than the Phoenix King Saffron, but what could be worse than that?
Cologne looked away, watching the vibrant orange sky.
"Shampoo was courting him, like usual. She chased him all the way to the park. I followed for a change, to make sure Shampoo or son-in-law didn't cause any property damage. There was a small girl in the water, crying for help. Ranma rescued her, but underestimated the water's strength. Maybe had he not had his curse, he would have been okay, but his girl-form is noticeably smaller and weaker. The current whisked him away, and during his struggles to get to safety, he hit his head off a rock. Shampoo and I lost sight of him as the water pulled him under. We tried to find him...but, it was too late. The current had pulled him away."
"No...oh, no..." Kasumi mumbled, her eyes watering.
"It may seem very unlikely that this would happen to Ranma, but it is said that one cursed by the magical waters of Jusenkyo are very likely to die by means of water—i.e, drowning or choking." Cologne went on. She then looked back at the Tendo's, and bowed her head. "I am terribly sorry for your loss. Ranma was truly an incredible martial artist, and he left us a noble one indeed, giving his own life for that of a child's who he didn't even know. I shall leave you all to mourn. Shampoo and I will be leaving for China shortly, since we no longer have any reason to stay here. Farewell."
With that, Cologne hopped back over the fence.
Three days later
Akane looked up from her pillow to see Kasumi's kind face, standing beside her bed. Akane truly envied her sister in many ways, and now she had another thing to add to her list of reasons why. She was so put together, when she was so obviously not—and the evidence was all over her bedroom and written all over her face; her tear-stained pillow, her red eyes, itchy from constant crying, to her cracked head board on her bed, a twin crack on her bedroom door from kicking it, and to top it all off, the hole in her bedroom window, from when she'd hurled one of her exercise weights out of it.
All of this she had done three days earlier, after she and her family had received the news. Kasumi sat down on the edge of the bed, and ran her hand through Akane's lank hair.
"It's been three days, Akane." Kasumi said softly. "You've hardly eaten anything. You haven't been taking care of yourself. I'm worried about you."
Akane sniffled quietly, and looked away from her sister, resting her cheek back onto her damp pillow.
"Please, Akane," Kasumi said. "Try and get out of the house. Go for a walk or something, and clear your head. If you won't do it for yourself, then do it for me. Everyone is concerned, and you're upsetting Daddy."
Akane hated worrying her family; especially Kasumi. She always tried to prove to them that she was strong, that Ranma had been right all along, she was a tomboy, she was as tough as a mule. It was apparent now to her that her family had always seen right through her.
Akane realized Kasumi had a point. She hadn't bathed, barely slept, scarcely eaten, or hardly spoke to anyone since Cologne had told them about Ranma. She had simply lost all will-power to do anything whatsoever. When Cologne hopped over the wall after dropping her bomb on the Tendo's, Akane had sat in an odd silence while everyone else wept; even the Ice Queen, Nabiki, shed tears. Finally, Akane brought herself slightly out of her shock, and brought herself to her feet, and walked slowly from the room, nobody noticing her leave.
Like a machine, she walked up the stairs, and down the hallway to her bedroom. She opened the door and stepped in. She stood there motionless for a time, as the realization dawned over her at full force. She bowed her head as her face twisted in agony, her heart as heavy as a rock. She whirled around, and slammed her door with a loud slam that made the walls shudder. Akane heard asnap, and looked up to see a crack at the top of her door. She could care less.
Spinning around, she stormed into her room, glaring around, trying to find something she could break. With a shout she swung her clenched fist at her head board, which also cracked under the pressure of her strike. Nowhere close to finished, she stomped over to some large dumbbells lying on her carpet. She picked up one, and pitched it toward her window like a javelin. It connected, breaking through the glass with a satisfying smash. Pieces of glass flew around, some even pelting her face lightly. She brushed off the pieces, huffing from exertion and anger. She bent over and picked up the other weight, planning to get the part of the window she'd missed.
She turned around and eyed the broken window, pulling her arm back. She held the pose for a while, then let her arm fall, dropping the weight to the ground with a thud.
The anger had vanished as quick as it had came, and now she was being overcome by something even worse. Akane slumped onto her knees, staring out the gaping hole in her window at the beautiful sunset outside. Then, at last, she wept.
Recalling the memory sent a shiver down Akane's spine, and she closed her eyes to call off the oncoming tears. After a moment, she opened them, and turned her head to look at her sister. She nodded her head quietly, and Kasumi smiled.
"Thank you, Akane," Kasumi said. "I'll go run you a hot bath."
In clean clothes and smelling fresh, Akane went out for a walk. It wasn't the nicest day out—the sky was gray and the air smelled of rain. Kasumi had instructed Akane to wear a raincoat and take an umbrella. So, along the street she walked, clad in her red raincoat, her yellow umbrella clutched in her hand. Her heart ached for the hundredth time as she walked alongside the familiar fence, the very one Ranma would always walk on top of. The one time she had gotten fed up with him for never walking beside her, she snapped at him, "Why do you always walk along that stupid fence, anyway?", to which he replied, "Everything is training. Wanna join me? You could use some practice in balance."
This obviously resulted in pissing her off, but after a moment of arguing, she realized he had a bit of a point. She joined him on the top of the fence, and he continued to walk along without a word. She slipped after a minute or two, but didn't even have time to cry out in surprise before he'd whirled around and caught her with that insanely fast speed she would always envy. Embarrassed she'd messed up so quickly, Akane averted her gaze, blushing. To her annoyance, she heard Ranma's throaty chuckle.
"Honestly, tomboy." he'd said. "You're such a klutz."
Akane blushed at the memory of his face so close to hers as they stood positioned on the fence like Ranma had just dipped her mid-dance, his breath fanning her face as he spoke and exhaled, his gray-blue eyes sparkling in amusement.
Akane sighed, and quickly pushed the image of his face from her mind before depression consumed her yet again. She felt like she'd walked for an eternity before she finally stopped outside the ever-so-familiar restaurant. Her stomach growled at her, as if on cue, and she almost laughed at the rather comedic timing. She figured she may as well stop in for a bite to eat. A hot bowl of ramen sounded fantastic to her now. With the image of the steamy bowl of noodles coming to her mind, Akane's mouth watered, and she walked into the restaurant, oblivious everything was going to change.