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Heart of the Immortal

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By: Anand Rao


Chapter 6: The Thoughts of a Damaged Woman

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The first thing Akane noticed when she entered the house was all the crates and cardboard boxes. They seemed to cover every available bit of space in the living room and in some places, were piled up at least six or seven feet high. Faintly, she could hear her father crying from somewhere in the middle of the room.


"What is going on here?" she demanded.


Deftly and easily navigating among the columns of crates, Kasumi walked into view. "Welcome home, Akane. How was school?"


"Forget about school!" Akane gestured around the living room. "What is all this?"


"Apparently Ranma-oniichan has been collecting quite a few. . . items over the past several years. Father was keeping it all in storage for him and thought it might be a pleasant surprise if we browsed through a few mementos."


"All this is a 'few' mementos?"


Kasumi shrugged her shoulders. "I suppose oniichan is something of a pack rat."


"He's a rat alright," Akane muttered. "Where is he, anyway?"


"He's in the dojo."


"Of course," Akane sighed.


"He. . . He's doing something rather strange." Kasumi looked a bit perplexed.


"Strange how?"


"He drew a large chalk spiral on the floor and he's just sitting there staring at it."


Akane just shook her head. "Weird. Daddy, where are you?"


Soun paused in his crying. "Over here, Akane."


She squeezed between a couple of the crates and managed to find her way to him without making too many wrong turns. "Daddy, we can't possibly. . . What are you looking at?"


Soun was seated on a crate, flipping through a large leather bound photo album. He stifled a sniff and beckoned Akane to come closer. "This is a picture of your mother when she was a little younger than you."


Akane peered over Soun's shoulder and looked at the picture. A young girl was in it, about thirteen or fourteen years old, wearing a purple kimono with yellow and red flowers. She had short brown hair that was tied into twin pigtails hanging down on either side of her face. Ranma stood, hugging her from behind, his chin playfully perched on top of her head. Sachiko's bright vibrant smile and Ranma's joyful one brought a tear to Akane's eye.


She placed a hand on her father's shoulder. "She was really cute, wasn't she, Daddy?"


"Yes, she truly was." Soun dried his eyes and turned the page.


The next picture was of Ranma, sitting on the Tendo's back porch, with a baby cradled in his arms. A sense of wonderment, joy, and love was clearly painted on his face. Akane pointed at the baby. "Who was that?"


"Why, Akane. That's you!" Soun beamed as Akane blushed.


(Why was he looking at me like that?) she wondered. Trying to get her mind off Ranma, she wandered over to some of the other boxes. "Daddy, do you think Ranma will mind if we look through all this stuff?"


"I doubt it," Soun replied, still flipping through the album.


Nodding her head, Akane opened a box and looked inside. She found a

long, thin tanto in its sheath, resting on a stack of books. She lifted the weapon and smiled in appreciation of its beauty. The hilt and sheath were of a dark, deeply polished mahogany with small ivory inlays. She was about to draw the blade when she noticed the inscription on the book underneath


"Daddy, who was Aya Tendo?"


Soun looked up from the album and scratched his chin in contemplation. "She was an ancestor of ours. I believe she was born around the same time as Ranma."


Akane opened the book and read the first page. "Wow. I think I found her diary."


"Really? It might give you an interesting perspective on what life was like back then. Of course, I suppose you could go to Ranma for that too."


Akane just nodded her head as she read the first few pages. "Hey! This girl was engaged to Ranma!" she gasped.


"She. . . She was?" Soun was equally shocked.


"Yeah! Listen to this," Akane replied, reading from the diary. "'I must be dreaming, and I hope to never wake. Ranma-san and I are getting married. It was arranged, of course, to join our clans, and is not terribly romantic, but I do not care. It is all I ever wanted, and more. It hurts to look at him. My dear Ranma-san is so beautiful; his smile makes the sun seem cold. Soon, he will be all mine, and mine alone.'" Akane giggled and looked up at her father. "She had it bad, didn't she?"


"It would seem so. . ."


"I have -got- to read the rest of this!" Akane exclaimed. "It's so mushy that I can tease Ranma about it for months!" She ran upstairs to her bedroom, the diary clutched eagerly in her hands.



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Ranma did not look up as the dojo door opened and Kasumi quietly stepped inside. "Dinner is ready," she softly announced.


"Thanks, Hime-chan. I'll be there in a minute." He continued to stare at the chalk spiral he had drawn on the floor earlier in the day.


"Oniichan?"


"Hmmm?"


"What are you doing?"


Ranma looked up then and smiled ruefully. "Oh, just trying to figure out a new technique I saw the other day."


Kasumi smiled in return. "It looks complicated."


"It is." Ranma stood up and stretched his arms. "I suppose I can get back to it later. Is Soun still rifling through all that junk I own?"


"He's looking at some old photographs. Akane found something interesting and ran up to her room with it, and Nabiki. . . is trying to figure out what she should have appraised."


Ranma rolled his eyes. "Great. I wonder what he was thinking when he had all that stuff shipped here."


Kasumi stepped out of the dojo and Ranma followed after her. "I'm sure that everything you own has its own story, and I'd love to hear about them."


Ranma barked out a laugh. "I'd hate to disappoint you, but your memory starts to wane after a few hundred years."


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Nabiki waited until Ranma was well into his third serving of food before asking her question. "So. . . All this stuff Daddy's been storing for you; who has been paying the storage costs?"


"Me." Ranma smiled. "Nice try, though."


Nabiki shrugged her shoulders. "Most of it is a pile of junk. I can sell it for you if you'd like. I can probably get a yen or two for some of it."


"Thanks, but no. After Soun finishes his trip down memory lane, it all goes back."


"All right, so maybe I can get more than a yen or two," Nabiki conceded. "I'll only take a 30% commission on all sales!"


"A generous offer, Nabiki, but no deal."


Nabiki sighed. "Let me know if you change your mind."


"Certainly. Oh, Nabiki. . . I'll be rather disappointed if certain items go. . . missing."


Nabiki pouted in mock disappointment. "Why, oniisan, you don't trust me? I'm hurt!"


Ranma just smiled then turned towards Akane. "I'd like you to start sparring with Ukyo tomorrow after school."


Akane absently nodded her head, not meeting Ranma's eyes. In fact, she had been silent throughout dinner.


"Akane, is something wrong?"


"What?" Her head jerked up and she slowly shook her head. "N- No. . . nothing." Akane bit her lower lip and stood up. "If you'll excuse me, I. . . I have some homework to do." She quickly stood up and ran up to her room.


"Huh. I wonder what's bugging her. . ."


"Oniichan, did something happen at school today?" Kasumi asked.


Ranma shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing out of the ordinary." He started counting on his fingers. "Akane beat up Kuno, I beat up Kuno, we had class, we had lunch, I beat up Kuno again, we had more class, then Akane beat up Kuno, and I beat up Kuno."


"Seems pretty straight forward," Nabiki added dryly.


Kasumi frowned. "She came home from school, looked through a few of Ranma's belongings, then went straight to her room."


Ranma's eyebrows rose slightly. Soun snapped his fingers. "That's right! Ranma, why didn't you tell me that you were engaged to one of my ancestors?"


"Wh-what?"


"Akane was reading about it in some diary," Soun explained.


"Interesting." Nabiki smirked. "So does that make you our great-great-great-great-great-grandfather?"


"No. Aya and I never married." Ranma glanced up the stairway in the direction Akane had left.


"Why not? Did your unique healing abilities freak her out?"


"She died."


Kasumi gasped and Nabiki's face flushed guiltily. Ranma stood up from the table. "Excuse me for a moment." He walked up the stairs to Akane's room and knocked on the door.


"Who is it?" she tremulously asked.


"Akane, it's me."


"I. . . I'm busy studying, Ranma. I c-can't talk right now."


"Have you finished reading Aya's diary?"


Ranma's question was met with silence, and he let it hang between them as he stood patiently in front of Akane's door. Finally, the door opened and Akane thrust the diary towards Ranma. "I haven't finished it yet, but I've read enough!"


Ranma winced at the accusation in her eyes. "Finish it." He pushed the diary back towards her. "We'll talk about it tomorrow."


Akane stepped back, nodded her head once, and closed the door. Ranma sighed as he walked to his room. "I should have burned that thing a long time ago. . ."



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Akane entered the dojo to find Ranma sitting cross-legged against the opposite wall. She had Aya's diary clutched tightly in one hand. Ranma seemed to be lost in thought. Akane noticed a familiar looking tanto resting in his hands.


"Good morning, Sensei."


Ranma looked up and smiled briefly. "Good morning, Akane. You seem to be getting used to waking up this early." He nodded his head in approval.


"I guess anything can become a habit after a while. . ."


They stared at each other in uncomfortable silence until Ranma beckoned Akane to sit next to him. "Akane, we're not going to train this morning. I figured you would want to talk."


Akane wordlessly nodded her head and hesitatingly sat down next to Ranma. After a few more minutes of silence Ranma sighed. "I assume you have some questions."


"Why?" came Akane's immediate reply.


"Why what?"


"Why did you leave her?"


Ranma shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "I was young and scared. I loved the art more than anything and wasn't ready for marriage. My father gave me a chance for freedom, however brief, and I took it."


"But she loved you so much!" Akane protested. She held up the diary. "In some places, it actually hurt to read this."


Ranma winced. "You're preaching to the choir, Akane-chan."


"And you were terrible to her!" Akane continued, overriding Ranma's reply.


"I certainly was not! You've only got one side of the story there."


Akane began counting off on her fingers. "You never spent enough time with her, you never appreciated her cooking, you never told her how you felt, and you were always chasing after other women!"


Ranma rolled his eyes. "I see you read the story about Asahi."


"And Eiki, and Banshou, and Kageri, and-"


"Those girls were all martial artists! They were my father's students. I wasn't 'chasing' after any of them," Ranma replied indignantly.


"Aya-san wrote that you flirted with all of them, -and- that you spent more time with them than with her," Akane accused.


Ranma laughed in exasperation. "Akane! I was -training- with them! Of course I spent a lot of time with them!" His laughter died down and he leaned closer to Akane. "Why is all this bugging you, anyway?"


Akane blushed and cleared her throat. "D-do you think I want a womanizing scoundrel for a sensei?"


"Scoundrel?" Ranma threw back his head and laughed. "You read too many romance novels, Akane."


Akane's blush deepened but she became much more determined. "It's true! You spurned her and then her mother got sick, and-"


Ranma's laughter stopped, and he whirled towards Akane, his eyes blazing. Akane reflexively cringed back and Ranma took a deep breath, acutely aware of the fear in her eyes. He turned away, and spoke in slow, measured words. "Yes, I ran away. Yes, I should have told her how I felt." At this point, her turned back towards her. "But Akane, her mother's illness was not my fault. I. . . " Ranma paused as a sudden realization struck him. He gently put his hand on Akane's shoulder. "Akane, I loved your mother very much, but -her- death wasn't my fault either."


Akane shrugged off his hand and turned away, tears forming in her eyes. "You're immortal. You have those magic worms in you. You could have saved her. If you loved her so much, why did you let her die?"


Ranma raked his fingers through his hair. "If I could have saved her, I would have. I. . . I don't know where to find the bloodworms, Akane. Believe me, I've tried! I followed every lead I could find. I even tried finding the old woman who gave them to Aya in the first place, but I've never been successful."


Akane sniffed and wiped her eyes. "Couldn't you have given her a blood transfusion or something?"


"I wish. The worms don't work that way. It's more magical than scientific. A person has to ingest them, and then there's a curse or some type of self-made promise that goes along with it." Ranma waved his hand in a vague gesture. "The bloodworms alone don't make a person immortal. The curse part is rather important as well."


Akane blinked. "Aya mentioned something about a curse. About giving back the pain you inflicted on her, or something like that." Akane let out a sad chuckle. "She had a way with words, didn't she?"


"You have -no- idea," Ranma deadpanned.


"So. . . Um. . . What curse did she give you?"


Ranma looked down between his feet and rubbed his temples. "I'm cursed to live until I fall in love with a thousand women."


Akane gaped. "Wow! She really -did- think that you were a womanizer!"


Ranma shook his head. "You misunderstand. There's a difference between womanizing and falling in love." He looked back at Akane. "I have to devote my heart to a thousand different women, Akane."


Akane's mouth opened and closed several times. She could barely imagine the enormity of what Ranma was saying. "That's. . . insane!"


"That's the problem. I think the death of her mother shattered Aya's mind," Ranma explained sadly.


Akane wore a puzzled expression on her face. "But I don't get it. Even after everything that happened, that curse was a bit drastic, wasn't it? "


Ranma closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "There's. . . something else. Something that Aya didn't write down in her diary." He idly rubbed his chin. "Actually, I think she might not have been able to admit it, even to herself. . ."


"What happened?"


"You see, I didn't return home until months after her mother's death. During that time, Aya became ill. I don't even know all the details, but she stopped menstruating. Aya. . . was barren. It was the most bizarre thing. She was only sixteen years old! My sister told me about it later."


Akane felt a bit numb. "To not be able to have children. . ."


"It was a big deal back then, Akane. The whole purpose of our engagement was to join the Clans by blood. I wasn't there to marry her, to give her a child. In essence, our engagement was invalidated."


"That poor girl. . ." Akane sighed and glanced at Ranma. "I know it's stupid, but after reading her diary, I kind of feel for her."


Ranma smiled. "It's not stupid, Akane. You're just nice that way."


"Huh?" Akane was slightly taken aback. Ranma was not shy with compliments, but that one was unexpected.


"Don't look so surprised! It's true." Ranma paused. "Sure, you get angry. A lot. Heh. Usually at me, but still. . . I've seen you with other people. You actually listen to what people have to say, you help them, and you are never arrogant, even when you'd have a right to be."


(Arrogant?) Akane frowned. "What do you mean?"


"How do you think all the other girls in your school feel when those boys chase after you every morning?"


"They probably feel sorry for me. They're probably glad that they don't have to go through that. . . that. . . stupid fight every morning!"


Ranma nodded his head in agreement. "On a certain level, sure. But, Akane, they're also jealous of you, of the attention you get."


"Jealous? Ha! What do they have to be jealous about?" Akane demanded.


Ranma shook his head. "You don't understand, do you? The other girls are jealous because they want boys to like them. Yet, all the boys chase after you."


"But. . ."


"They want be loved and desired. They want others to think that they are beautiful." Ranma cocked his head to one side. "Don't you?"


Akane thought of Dr. Tofu, and of Ranma, then blushed.


"Exactly. You have that. Maybe not in the way you want, but. . . Anyway, that. . . hold you have over the boys is something you can gloat over, something that you can rub in the other girls' faces."


Akane looked aghast. "I couldn't do that! It would be-"


"Mean? Rotten? A terrible thing to do?" Ranma smiled. "Exactly. Which brings me back to my original point: you're a nice person. Soun did a really good job with you."


"Um. . . Thanks," Akane softly replied.


The two sat in silence once again, considerably more companionably this time. Akane finally smiled and held up the diary once more. "You know, Ranma, I'm really glad I found this."


"Oh?"


"Yeah. It's nice to know that you weren't always as perfect as you seem to be. . ."


It was Ranma's turn to be surprised. "What ever gave you the idea that I was perfect?"


"You're just so good at the Art! Better than anyone I've every seen! Even when you fought Shampoo's great grandmother, you were holding back. I could tell." Akane sighed. "I don't think I'll ever be that good."


Ranma laughed a bit ruefully. "Akane, don't mistake success in the Art for success in life."


"What is that supposed to mean?"


"I've had two hundred years to perfect my skills, and in all that time, I did little more than learn and teach the Art. It is quite literally all I know. I could have taken time to learn about people, cultures, medicine, science, music, whatever. . . But I never found the motivation for it." Ranma smiled. "The Art is everything to me. Does that sound 'perfect' to you?"


"That's what you don't understand!" Akane exclaimed. "I love the Art! I want to be the best I can be. I. . . I don't have two hundred years to spare."


Ranma closed his eyes and let his head rest against the wall. "Don't start wishing for immortality, Akane, it's not all that great." He felt a pair of fingers gently brush his cheek. He opened his eyes and quickly turned towards Akane.


"It doesn't look all that bad to me," she quietly offered. Blushing, she quickly stood up and walked to the dojo entrance. Pausing at the door, she turned back towards Ranma, a curious look in her eyes. "How. . . How long has it been? Since you've been in love, I mean."


"My last wife died over thirty years ago," he replied faintly. "There has been no one since then."


"I see." She looked down at her feet briefly then offered Ranma a weak smile. "Can I keep the diary?"


Ranma nodded his head slowly. "If you want. . ."


"Thanks! It. . . It's a good reminder." She quickly left the dojo.


Ranma scratched his head in confusion as the door closed behind her retreating form. "A reminder of what?"



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End Chapter Six


Notes:


First off, thanks to D.F. Roeder, Firehawke, and Michelle Thatcher for prereading.


Folks, this was more of an interlude than anything else, but it was needed. I'll be introducing Ryoga in the next chapter and, uh, have to decide what story to work on next. ^^;


All forms C&C welcome.


Thanks for reading.



Namaste,


Anand