Home for the Holidays
Title: You Can't Beat Home
Disclaimer: There is absolutely zero chance that I could ever own Ranma ½ or any of the characters seeing as Rumiko Takahashi already owns them. Don't sue.
Ranma awoke to a flash of brilliant white light. And screaming. Lots of screaming.
His muscles tensed as his eyes flew open, blinking away their bleariness to reveal an all too familiar and dreaded scene: Genma Saotome and Soun Tendo dancing around the kitchen table in joyous celebration.
And Nabiki, of course, camera dangling from the strap around her neck. And a slightly amused Kasumi, apron-clad and standing in the kitchen entryway.
It took only an instant longer for Ranma to register that the stirring form snuggled in his arms was Akane. Silently he cursed himself for falling asleep so carelessly. Meanwhile, not quite so silently, their fathers were rejoicing over the arrival of the best Christmas present ever.
He opened his mouth to begin the deflation of their excitement, but his attention slipped to the auburn eyes belonging to the figure in his lap, and the words that were about to leave his lips seemed to dissipate. How much longer was he going to fight this?
Akane was slightly startled to find the cozy blanket of warmth encompassing her was Ranma himself. But the question still remained: was she startled because it was Ranma's arms she was in… or because she didn't mind waking up in them? She decided the answer was better left to discover in a less pressing moment and turned to the scene around her— which proved to be nothing short of a disaster already. And it was only 8:13. She made the mistake of looking back up at Ranma, only to meet a searching grey gaze. The probing look in his eyes would have to wait for that same less pressing moment.
"Daddy…" The rejoicing continued. "Daddy." More rejoicing. She had really hoped screaming wouldn't be the only effective form of communication. "Daddy!" Still rejoicing. She threw aside the Christmas afghan, standing up as her temper prickled to the surface. They just never listen!
"DADDY! IT'S EXACTLY WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE!"
The room was washed in silence. Five pairs of eyes were on her including Ranma's. Well, now they were listening!
Wait. Her brain slammed on the breaks and did a rewind. Realization dawned and with it came a glowing blush. She knew what she was trying to say there, of course. It was a harmless start to an innocent explanation that now, in retrospect, sounded like an embarrassing admission of some romantic scene playing out.
"No, no- I didn't mean it that way- what I was trying to say was-" She cleared her throat, glancing hesitantly at all the shocked faces but trying to avoid the gawking boy behind her. "It is exactly what it looks like.." she began slowly, desperately trying to make it through her very logical explanation of the facts. "Ranma and I were just watching TV last night and—" It was to no avail. The rest of her clarification was smothered by the ruckus of cheers from their fathers. She looked helplessly at Kasumi and Nabiki and then finally turned her gaze to Ranma, who was.. smiling? She did a double take. He was practically beaming at her. She glanced around to see if anyone else was witnessing this, too. But Nabiki was fiddling with her camera lens, Kasumi was straightening her apron, and their fathers were busy naming their future grandchildren.
"Well, would anyone like some breakfast?" Kasumi chirped from the kitchen entryway. "It's Christmas after all!"
Akane decided to make a quick exit. This was just not how she had planned on starting her Christmas morning.
Ranma watched Akane make a swift getaway, almost slipping on the tatami mat on her way out of the room. Apparently she had some rather important business to attend to upstairs.
Okay, so maybe he shouldn't have smiled like such an idiot. But he really couldn't help himself. It was as if after all this time, for one glimmering moment, he could finally see the humor in their hopelessly ridiculous situation. Damned if we do, and damned if we don't.
That moment having passed, his stomach was pumped full of the anxiety that had suddenly flooded his chest. Where was he supposed to go from here? He felt queasy.
Since his arrival, not only had he managed to be wildly unsuccessful at convincing Akane and himself that he cared for her as nothing more than a friend, but he had inadvertently and quite effectively renewed every thought he had spent the last two years trying to beat out of his brain. In fact, he was even more sure now of the one thing he had always protested and denied with every fiber of his being: he absolutely, unquestionably, without a doubt wanted Akane Tendo in his life.
He was so sure about it that he wasn't sure what he was waiting for anymore. Suddenly, he was painfully aware that he was still standing in the middle of the room with a listless look on his face, and their fathers had ceased celebrating to stare at his peculiar behavior.
"Saotome... do you think he's finally cracked...?" Soun asked cautiously, sneaking furtive glances in Ranma's direction.
"Well Tendo, it appears he is in a deeply meditative state…" You know, sometimes he didn't give his pops enough credit. "… probably deciding where to take his sons on their first training trip!" Strike that.
He didn't wait for the continuing of this "fruit of his loins" conversation before bolting up the steps to Akane's room. Before he knew it, he was standing in front of Akane's bedroom door. again. "Shouldn't have rushed…" he mumbled to himself. What exactly had he planned on doing? Boldly marching in and sweeping her into his arms, passionately professing his undying love for her as she swooned and told him she couldn't live without him? She had certainly proven she could do just the contrary. He looked up at that same duck name plate. Just you and me again, buddy.
The day Akane and Ranma left, Nabiki Tendo realized her business model was not sustainable. Without them around, she didn't have quite the stock pile of new material for her regular clients. And she didn't just need a way to get Ranma or Akane back in the picture (literally). Life was changing and that meant Nabiki Tendo had to find a way to change it to her advantage. After all, she didn't climb the perilous social ladder of the information black market just to end up back at square one. She needed to expand. diversify. and if necessary, legitimize.
As it turns out, Nerima was rife with the same things found in most suburban towns: complaints about rising tax rates, general contempt for neighborhood hooligans, and an insatiable appetite for juicy gossip. For a long time, the fiancée clan and associates had a special way of supplying all three of these. (Raising taxes was required, of course, to cover city repairs after various escapades.) Needless to say after a few years, there was only so much more the citizens of Nerima could handle. (Did she mention the taxes?) And that was Nabiki's opening. She'd never considered herself much of a politician, but she did consider herself a person of means and ways. When the next election cycle came around during Akane's first fall semester away, she made her move. Before she knew it, she was the most expensive part of the newest Mayor's private payroll, and in his first 100 days in office, she was already proving her value by "quieting down" the neighborhood.
First Ukyo. It was easy enough to convince her after some economic down turns in the okinomiyaki business that she should consider a side business. A dojo perhaps. And who better to partner with her? Well Ryoga of course. He needed looking after so it was clearly to his advantage, but he was also an excellent martial artist with amazing strength. Soon enough they were holding training classes closer to Tokyo's city center. She even loaned them the money for the down payment on the place and put together a pretty impressive advertising campaign. In exchange, she received a nice little paycheck every month. Something told her from her last visit that they were making very good "business partners."
Next, Kodachi and Kuno. She swung Kodachi a gig as the star of a traveling acrobatics show. Nabiki still wasn't quite sure how she had convinced her that being in "cirque du ole" was practically the same as being a movie star- but either way with Ranma nowhere to be found, Kodachi couldn't say no to the hordes of loyal, star struck fans that arrived at her shows. And Kuno? He was a little more difficult to distract. At first he had wanted to chase after Akane and follow her to school, but Nabiki was not having any of that. After several desperate favors called in, she pulled a few strings to land a modeling job for him in Paris. The unfortunate part was that he was actually quite successful and now even more obnoxious and unbearable than ever. (She only knew this because sometimes he called her… or flew her to Paris every now and then… just business of course.)
The last and most difficult was Shampoo. She wasn't proud to admit there may have been a little black mailing and perhaps a little forgery under Chinese law. But a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do right? Not only was she securing her little sister's ultimate happiness but her own future security as the queen of the PR industry in Nerima and the surrounding areas. Seeing as she actually hadn't performed any of the forgery or blackmailing herself and had no intention of returning to Chinese soil… well. Let's just say case closed. Her only regret was that Shampoo proved so stubborn that it became absolutely necessary for her to add some insurance via the hapless attempts of Moose and that stupid potion. (Then again, maybe she didn't regret it because the Christmas card Kasumi received from them this year looked rather cozy...)
All in all, things had gone according to plan, and she'd managed to escape without too many questions from anyone. The general populace presumed that with Ranma and Akane gone Nerima had returned to her legacy as a quiet, peaceful piece of suburbia. But of course, she was still pending the conclusion of the last piece of the plan – the Ranma and Akane piece. After all, the town had to have something to gossip about, and she was just about done waiting for them to get it together.
"Ranma. I don't think you can call waiting 4 years 'rushing.' Now get your ass in there."
To say that the voice of Nabiki Tendo startled him wasn't really saying much since she pretty much had a habit of striking fear in him.
She was right though in a weird way. He still had never been gifted with words and entering into this kind of conversation with Akane without planning his words carefully was like going into trench warfare unarmed. When entering into trench warfare, it's best to keep in mind that attacks, even if successful, usually result in severe casualties. If choosing to enter into no man's land- to be vulnerable and exposed- well... there was likely no turning back after that.
In 1914, soldiers on the western front of the first world war called a truce on Christmas eve. It was a beautiful moonlit night, devoid of gunfire or explosions, the frost hanging in the air and the soft sound of singing rising from the trenches. Many regard that moment as some kind of miracle: a rare occasion of peace on the battlefield- a singular instance of true humanity. His life had been full of all kinds of unbelievable moments not unlike that one. He was just hoping for one more: a Christmas truce and maybe, if he laid down his weapons once and for all, there would be an end to this war they'd been fighting since they were sixteen.
He took one last glance over his shoulder at Nabiki and swung open the door. It was now or never.
When she heard the door open, she was leaning against the ledge of her bedroom window sill, arms crossed, watching the flurry of winter outside. She knew it was him. He was the only one who could make his way across a room that quietly. She wasn't crying, but she certainly wasn't very happy. How could she be? The entirety of her immediate family was waiting downstairs to have a shotgun Christmas wedding or at least receive some pretty convincing answers about the situation she and Ranma had found themselves in. Answers, which, unfortunately, she didn't even have herself.
"Hey." His voice reached her ears just as he fell into place beside her, arms folded and resting on the ledge. She pretended not to notice that their elbows were mere inches apart from touching. A painfully long silence passed between them, and she thought for a moment, he wasn't going to say anything at all.
"Well this trip certainly hasn't gone as planned." He didn't even bother to glance over at her as he said it. Suddenly there wasn't just the chill that had been radiating from the window pane; she could feel it in her bones: bitterness, icing her insides. His stormy eyes stared straight ahead into the falling snow.
So that was it then. Didn't take long for Ranma Saotome to realize it was time to cut his losses. He hadn't come to talk. He'd come to say goodbye. He'd probably already come up with a really great excuse for his next training trip- maybe even packed his stuff by now.
She turned back to the snowy scene outside. "How did you think this was going to go exactly, Ranma? Show up after two years and have everything be just like it was?" It was a different feeling now: the blistering heat of anger, searing, bubbling up inside her. "You LEFT, Ranma." There were tears stinging at the corner of her eyes now. It was all she could do to keep her voice steady.
"No, Akane. You left." There hadn't been anger in his voice before. He'd finally turned to face her, and she did the same now, amber eyes ablaze even with the threat of tears still burning in them.
"What did you expect me to do? Sit around and watch my whole life pass by and never have you choose me?" She didn't care what she was saying anymore- she was saying it anyway. It was true after all- and she was just about done pretending otherwise.
The hardened lines on his face yielded to a sigh.
"I've always chosen you, Akane." Her breath was locked inside her chest. She could barely move. "...for better or for worse." It was almost too soft to discern.
He'd done it. He'd laid it all out there. The only problem was she still hadn't said anything yet. He spun again to face the winter storm raging outside.
Like going into trench warfare unarmed..
Admittedly, it'd been a rough start. He'd tried to casually bring up the past few days back in Nerima and, unbeknownst to him, lit an Akane-sized fire that might still be smoldering even now.
It's not like he didn't understand. He'd tried to make a clean break when he first learned she'd be leaving. Call it a coping mechanism or whatever you like. The trouble was he couldn't quite bring himself to do it. Instead every few weeks, he'd end up laying under the Chinese sky thinking of her, wondering how she was doing and if there was even the smallest part of her that was missing him too. And then he'd drop a postcard for Kasumi, too chicken to ask for Akane's address and send one to her instead but too afraid to cut the last thread connecting them together. So maybe she had a pretty good reason to be angry. But it hadn't been all sunshine and roses for him either. Leaving was the hardest thing he'd ever done. And even then he only managed to leave behind Nerima. He never really managed to leave Akane behind him.
"It'll probably be for worse-" Her voice jolted him out of his thoughts. Snowflakes were still falling outside. "... but I knew that the day I met you."
He turned to her, relief in his eyes and in his heart, and was rewarded with the nearly boundless Akane smile that was waiting for him.
And then he kissed her.
And this time it wasn't a draw.
A Christmas truce indeed.
AN: Merry Christmas 9 years late? If you're reading this now, thank you for never giving up on me :) and if you're reading this now and you had given up on me... remember to keep the faith!