Monday rolled around and four pairs of eyes in the classroom eagerly watched the clock count down the hours until lunch. When the bell finally rang Sayuri linked her arm through Akanes and they walked out of the classroom, Yuka following closely behind in the narrow halls full of students. They stopped at their respective lockers to gather their lunches.
"Come on Akane, Yuka! I know the perfect spot for lunch on this pretty day." Sayuri called, leading the way towards the baseball field and the half wall nearby. The three girls settled on the far side of the wall, leaning against the sun warmed bricks as they began unpacking their lunches, Akane sat in the middle, completely unaware of her friend's machinations.
The familiar voices of Hiroshi, Ranma and Daisuke could be heard as they approached the little half wall the girls were hidden behind. Akane perked up, catching the voices, and looked to Yuka who shrugged and then to Sayuri who put a finger to her lips to silence them, so she could hear what was being said. Akane rolled her eyes, doubting it was going to be anything juicy that Sayuri would be interested in overhearing, but she obliged in being quiet and kept eating her lunch.
On the other side of the wall, Daisuke flopped onto the grass and leaned against the wall, eagerly digging in his bag for his lunch. Hiroshi sat cross legged and dug into his lunch as well and Ranma fell gracefully to the ground, also pulling out the lunch packed by Kasumi.
Daisuke ate a few bites then flashed a smirk at Hiroshi that Ranma didn't see while he was in the process of literally shoveling as much rice into his face as his chopsticks could manage.
"Akane looks rather cute today, don'cha think Ranma?" Daisuke said, casually popping some chips into his mouth.
Ranma choked on his food and spent a whole minute coughing while Akane frowned behind the wall. Once he managed to catch his breath, he glared at his friend. "What're you on about?" He asked suspiciously.
"Nothin', I just thought she looked really cute today, don'cha agree?"
"If you're into tomboys that are built like a brick, and no sex appeal, then sure." Ranma muttered, picking at his food more carefully now.
"Ah, come on! Didn't ya two get closer in China? Ya know, when you saved her?" Daisuke prompted, growing frustrated.
Ranma looked away, as images flashed through his mind, painful and scary images, things he didn't want to think about. So when faced with anything that scared him, he reacted like he always did, with sarcasm and flippant comments. "Ya, saved her…" he snorted derivatively. "I wouldn't of had to save her if she didn't keep getting herself kidnapped. Then she just kept getting in the way, that idiot. More trouble than she's worth if you ask me."
Akane snapped her chopsticks in rage and Yuka put a comforting hand on her shoulder while Sayuri held a finger to her lips again, narrowing her eyes at her friend.
Daisuke face palmed, knowing that this whole endeavor was going to be futile. Stubborn man.
"But you two almost got married; you were going to go through with it." Hiroshi suggested next, leaning over to take a handful of chips from Daisuke's bag and funneling them into his mouth.
"If I didn' go through with the wedding, I wasn' gonna get any of the water from the Spring of the Drowned Man." Ranma said offhandedly, stabbing at his lunch with his chopsticks in growing frustration. He was not enjoying this investigation or dredging up of unpleasant memories. What was with these guys?!
Daisuke pointed an accusing finger at his friend. "You love her, don't you?!" Yelling in frustration now.
A red flush covered Ranma's cheeks as he sputtered out a denial. "N-no, no I don't! I never said that!" Ranma was shouting back now, jumping to his feet, and clenching his fists. "If you like her so much, maybe you should marry her! I don't need all these fiancés and trouble!"
Akane had heard enough. She was literally vibrating with rage, tears stinging her eyes, as she sprung to her feet, suddenly becoming visible to a rapidly paling Ranma. She jumped the wall and her friends stood to watch the ensuing chaos. Daisuke and Hiroshi also quickly found their feet, heads darting from Ranma who was silently waving his hands, no words escaping his mouth, back to Akane who was shaking in rage, her aura flaring brilliantly and her eyes shining with unshed tears.
"That's it!" She shrieked, slashing her hand through the air.
"A-A-Akane… I… I… Uh…"
"If I'm such a burden- "at this, Akane's infamous mallet appeared in her hand and she swung with all her considerable might, launching Ranma arcing through the skies. "then I'm calling off the engagement!" She shrieked after his rapidly shrinking form. Everyone who had gathered around to watch the drama reeled back with a loud collective gasp.
"Akane- "Yuka said softly, reaching for her friend, but Akane flinched away from the contact and turned to flee the school yard, tears blurring her vision as she fled to wherever her legs would take her.
Akane ran and ran until her legs were shaking so badly that they gave out from under her and she fell to her knees, clinging to a chain link fence as she gasped for breath through the burning in her chest. Belatedly she realized that she had collapsed near the canal that she would so often sit by. She gathered her remaining strength to stand on shaking legs and made her way to the riverbank. By the water's edge, she pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapped her arms around her legs, hugging them tight as she lowered her head and released her misery. She sobbed until she couldn't breathe, eyes leaking tears non-stop and she lost track of time. When she had finally cried all that she physically could, she took some time to calm her breathing and gather herself. She scrubbed her face on the hem of her dress, sure she still looked a mess, and gathered her wits as she slowly made her way home.
It took a long time for her shuffling steps to reach her house and she took a deep breath, steeling herself for what she was about to do.
"I'm home!" Akane called as she closed the front door behind her, and she removed her shoes.
"Akane?" Kasumi called from the kitchen. "You're home early." Akane made her way towards the kitchen and found her father and Mr. Saotome sitting at the table playing shogi and Mrs. Saotome was polishing the family sword at the other end of the table. Kasumi emerged from the kitchen, towel drying her hands. "Oh Akane! What's wrong?" She asked urgently as she noticed her little sisters red and swollen eyes.
Akane took a deep breath and fisted her hands at her sides. "I ended the engagement to Ranma."
Mrs. Saotome dropped the sword she was polishing, and it clattered loudly on the table, and Kasumi dropped the hand towel and covered her mouth with a gasp. Mr. Saotome spit out his tea and her father used his Ki to enlarge and enhance his looming figure until he looked nearly demonic.
"SAAAAOOOOTOOOOME!" Soun growled as he glared down at his friend as if he were to blame.
"Oh, Akane!" Nodoka said, rushing around to comfort her. "What happened?"
Akane felt the pain twist in her again. "I just realized that it was hopeless. Ranma doesn't love me and he doesn't want to be engaged to me, so I'm setting him free. He can be with one of his cute fiancés."
"Oh, Akane dear…" Nodoka trailed off, looking down at the miserable young woman. Nodoka looked around the room of dismayed adults and straightened her shoulders, coming to a decision. "Genma, start packing." She said in a commanding voice.
Everyone turned to look at her in surprise. Nodoka lifted her chin. "We'll be moving back to our house. If the engagement is off, it is not honorable to impose upon your hospitality any longer."
"But darling- "Genma started before he was quickly cut off by his wife picking up the family sword from the table and turned towards her husband. "I'll just start packing then." With that Genma promptly turned on his heel and left the room.
Tears started welling in Akane's eyes as she turned to the woman who had been a surrogate mother to her. "Oh auntie, I'm so sorry."
Nodoka embraced the young woman fiercely and Akane clung to her. "Oh my dear… don't worry. We'll still keep in touch. Someone has to continue your cooking lessons, neh?"
Akane wiped her eyes and nodded vigorously. Nodoka released the young woman and looked over her haggard appearance.
"Why don't you get some rest?" She suggested gently.
Akane nodded and looked to her older sister who also gave her a sad smile. With that, Akane slowly climbed the stairs, entered her room, locking the door behind her and then moving to the window to lock it and pull the curtains shut. Then she put on her headphones and turned the music up so she wouldn't be able to hear anyone or anything. She didn't want to be disturbed.
Sarahplainntall here! Thank you all so much for your kind words of encouragement. James Birdsong, thank you very much. Nikichan, I'm glad you liked it! SonkaD, hope you liked this latest installment. Lulu7u7 I hope you continue to enjoy this story.