Contralto and Arsenic Sauce
By Ninnik Nishukan
Ukyo was just about to go to the temple with her father and her grandparents when she remembered she'd forgotten her scarf in the kitchen and had to run back into the house. Just as she'd snatched the scarf from a chair, though, she caught sight of something outside the window in the corner of her eye.
She growled; somebody was sneaking around in their backyard!
Testing the back door, she was horrified to find that it was unlocked! If she'd left, whoever it was could've just strolled right in and taken what they wanted! Honestly, her father could be so distracted sometimes!
Bringing her giant spatula with her, she opened the door and walked into the yard, brandishing her weapon threateningly and hoping there wasn't more than one person; not that she couldn't take care of herself, but it was still kinda creepy having people lurking about her childhood home. "This is private property, you know!" She yelled, squinting as she tried to see who it was. "What are you doing here?"
As the intruder took another step into the light, her jaw almost dropped. What in the world were the odds?
"Ryoga!" She snapped, annoyed over the fact that she was still a little rattled. "What the hell are you doing in my father's backyard in Osaka?"
"U-Ukyo?" The lost boy blinked owlishly at her. "I thought I was in Yokohama!"
Actually, the odds of him ending up right here were pretty decent when she thought about it. This was Hibiki Ryoga, after all; sooner or later, he ended up everywhere.
Despite herself, Ukyo had to laugh. "You are just out of this world, Hibiki!" She declared, lowering her weapon.
"Great, fine, terrific, very funny," Ryoga sulked. "How about you quit laughing and point me towards Tokyo now?"
Her mouth suddenly snapped shut as she had a sad realization. It was New Year's Eve, and just like she'd predicted at Christmas, Ryoga was alone. She'd been to the temple market earlier today, she'd just had a big, tasty New Year's dinner about an hour or two ago and was now going to the temple with her grandparents and her dad to be there for midnight. In short, she'd had a nice day.
But now it was a quarter past ten in the evening and Ryoga was stumbling around alone in the dark several hundred miles from where he wanted to be— and she was sure he hadn't seen his family that day, either.
"I don't think you'll make it there in time," Ukyo joked half-heartedly.
"Why? What time is it?" He asked anxiously.
She gave him an incredulous look; what, he had no sense of time, either? Or maybe he just didn't have a watch? "The new year starts in less than two hours, Ryoga."
"Oh." His face fell. "I…I hoped I had time to catch a train or something…" But then I thought I was in Yokohama, too…
Ukyo bit her lip, considering his face. "If you want," she said eventually, "I guess you could come with me and my family to the temple?"
Ryoga looked up, slightly bewildered. "R-really? I mean, I wouldn't want to impose…"
She shrugged easily. "The temple's a public place, isn't it? I can't stop you from going there."
He seemed so grateful then that her heart twisted just a little. "Okay."
Their train ride to the Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine only took a short ten minutes, but Ukyo told him that waiting in line to get to pray at the shrine could take more than an hour if they were unlucky.
To his relief, her family hadn't objected to his presence, even though New Year's was usually meant to be family only, and he had to wonder what Ukyo had told them to convince them and how she'd explained his sudden appearance. It really was very nice of her, he thought as they all walked at a leisurely stroll towards the shrine, but he just hoped they didn't view him as some sort of poor little pity project. He could take care of himself, and it wasn't even as if it would've been the first New Year's Eve he'd spent alone, so he could've just— he didn't need any charity—
Ryoga realized he was clenching his fists, teeth gritting and a small growl about to rise in him, and immediately forced himself to relax. Releasing a Shi Shi Hokodan in the middle of the serene, quiet site of a temple at New Year's Eve didn't exactly sound like a very bright idea.
Exhaling slowly, he trailed after Ukyo and her family through the crowds towards the long line to the offering hall.
She'd turned out to be an only child, like himself, and as he looked at her and her family, he couldn't help but notice that there was only one parent present. Her father; a big, bearded man. Not even a gazillion Jusenkyo curse cures would have made him dare to ask her about it, though, just in case her parents were divorced and it would make things awkward; or worse, that it turned out that her mother had in fact passed away.
Ryoga stood and waited his turn while Ukyo and her family chatted amongst themselves. Usually, he might've have felt left out, but this was the first New Year's Eve in about three years where he wasn't alone, and he didn't mind them talking. This night was about family, after all, and he was used to entertaining himself with his own thoughts, anyway. He wasn't used to and didn't really need constant attention.
And besides, it wasn't as if Ukyo was ignoring him completely. They had to wait for nearly an hour in line, and every once in a while, Ukyo would glance at him, rolling her eyes or shrugging, silently broadcasting her thoughts on how some traditions might have been improved if they'd just gone to a smaller shrine with a shorter line, but hey, what can you do, it's a tradition— and after the first fifteen minutes, she'd passed him a rice cake from the bag her grandma had brought.
As they neared the end of the line, and Ukyo stamped her feet a bit to try and get some warmth going, rubbing her arms, her gaze fell to her grandma's arm, looped through her grandpa's. Grandma yawned slightly, leaning against Grandpa, and Ukyo felt a lump in her throat as she caught the wan smile on her father's face as he, too, looked at her grandparents.
She wasn't quite sure if she felt it the most for her father or for herself, but an acute sense of loneliness pressed down on something deep inside her chest then. When it was her turn, she knew exactly what to ask for.
She stepped up to the shrine entrance, grabbing the rope and rattling the bell, before bowing her head above her hands, palms resting flat against each other. As she closed her eyes, she could hear Ryoga step up beside her, repeating the same ritual.
Please let my father remarry one day, Ukyo wished. It was a wish she hadn't started making until the previous year, but she was planning on keeping it up until worked. Her father deserved it. Please let Ranchan notice my New Year's card and say something nice to me about it when I get back, Ukyo added, sighing. That's really not a lot to ask for, is it?
Please let my parents be together right now, Ryoga wished,rubbing his hands together with the cold. Don't let them be alone tonight. Please let them find me this year. And please let me be cured of my Jusenkyo curse this year, Ryoga thought fiercely beside her, squeezing his eyes tightly shut. It had been the same wish he'd made the year before, but he wasn't about to give up hope. Not yet, not yet...
"What did you wish for?" Ukyo asked as they stepped away from the shrine entrance.
"It's private," Ryoga replied quietly, red in the face.
"Okay, but then I won't tell you mine, either." She grinned playfully.
"Oh, and as if it doesn't have anything to do with Ranma," he muttered, rolling his eyes.
She scowled at him hard, her battle aura flaring for a second—
Behind them, Ukyo's father pointedly cleared his throat.
Ryoga and Ukyo both fell abruptly silent and bowed their heads in respect for the other shrine visitors, doubling back and carefully tossing a few donations into the shrine.
When they got back to her father's house and Ukyo removed her thick scarf and jacket in the hallway, Ryoga noticed to his great surprise that she was still wearing the thin gold chain he'd given her at the Christmas party the week before. Suddenly he got the urge to tell her that he'd kept the napkin she'd wrapped the cake in, but he figured she'd think it was weird. It would certainly prove just how seldom he actually got any gifts at all if he was so pathetic he wouldn't even throw away a damn Christmas napkin. He'd even kept the wrapper once when Akane had bought him a crêpe!
After he'd taken off his shoes and had borrowed some slippers, she led him out on the back porch, shoving a blanket into his arms, before flouncing off to the kitchen, her long hair dancing behind her.
Puzzled, Ryoga wrapped the blanket around himself and settled down on the porch, wondering what Ukyo was doing and why he was even there. Following Ukyo and her family home had just come as a natural thing to do as he'd been chatting with Ukyo as they'd left the temple, and he'd kind of just been swept along on the current. Now he couldn't even remember what they'd been talking about.
When Ukyo came back, she was carrying a blanket for herself and—
"Look, grandma gave us some beer." She said in a bright voice.
Ryoga blinked up at the large bottle of Sapporo brand beer that Ukyo had brought. "Ukyo, we're still minors." He objected flatly.
"Oh, come on!" Ukyo rolled her eyes. "If you actually manage to get drunk by splitting one bottle of beer with me, I'm gonna lose all respect for you."
"Oh, and as if you've ever had any respect for me in the first place?" Ryoga said sourly.
Ukyo grinned, handing him a glass. "Here," she said, moving forward to pour for him, but he stopped her by holding his open palm over the glass.
He frowned. "Look, not that this hasn't been nice, but I should leave soon, so I really shouldn't be drinking—"
"Grandpa said you can sleep in the guestroom." Ukyo said calmly, removing his hand and pouring the beer.
Ryoga looked up at her, stunned. "But— but I didn't ask— you don't have to—"
"So you're saying you want me to go back to grandpa and tell him that the guy from Tokyo is rejecting our good old-fashioned Osaka hospitality?" Ukyo asked, cocking an eyebrow in challenge.
"But—" Ryoga tried again, before he sighed, deflating. Sure, he didn't really want to impose on her and her family any further, but his feelings on the matter weren't fierce enough to actually argue with her about it on New Year's Eve. Bothering Ukyo's family with a loud quarrel would be much worse than accepting their offer. Besides, it was cold and dark outside, and pitching a tent wasn't exactly tempting right then.
He gave a reluctant nod. "Okay."
She grinned with self-satisfaction and sat down, filling her own glass. "Kanpai," Ukyo said cheerfully, touching her glass to his.
"Kanpai," he echoed, and they drank.
"Mmm," Ukyo hummed with enjoyment, slowly sipping the beer.
Ryoga made a face at the slightly unfamiliar, sour taste, but nevertheless took another swig.
"You know," Ukyo began offhandedly, "dad asked me yesterday when I was getting married to Ranma."
There was a somewhat strained note somewhere in her voice, and here, alone with her on a porch in Osaka, Ryoga actually picked up on it. Back in Nerima, he wouldn't have. It was kind of weird how different the world could look outside of that place. He'd often wondered if it came from being away from the actual location or just from being away from Ranma, though. Disaster seemed to follow the guy around, sometimes.
"It'll work out," he told her, but it didn't sound convincing even to his own ears. He saw the corners of her mouth go down briefly with something like disappointment before she was suddenly smiling again— a bit too brightly— as she started telling him all about how she'd spent New Year's Day.
For a second or two, Ryoga found himself wondering what his own parents would have to say about his relationship with Akane if he ever told them about her, but it wasn't something that he liked to consider very closely, because it reminded him of the fact that he didn't actually have a relationship with Akane yet.
Even though she had rivals, at least Ukyo was engaged to Ranma, and at least Ranma knew how she felt— Akane had no clue whatsoever about Ryoga's true feelings.
Of course, when he thought about it, the fact that Ranma did know about Ukyo's feelings and still hadn't— well, it wasn't something he was about to make a remark about to Ukyo. She'd either cry, or yell at him, or beat him up, or kill him, or all of the above.
When it came to that aspect of things, he supposed he could consider himself temporarily lucky. Ignorance really was bliss, and until the day he managed to drag those big, important words out of himself in front of Akane, he could live in blessed uncertainty and believe that there was a chance that she might— because he didn't know.
It wasn't as bold as Ukyo's approach, and he was aware that he was a bit cowardly there, but Ukyo didn't have his Jusenkyo curse or a heart that might shatter if Akane as much as looked at him funny.
One day, though, one day he'd— one day.
As he watched Ukyo talk and move, it dawned on Ryoga that here, away from...everything, she really was different. Calmer, and less demanding. Though he wasn't quite aware of it, his brain took that piece of information and stored it away for future consideration.
She was forced to be cute and friendly, serving people and taking orders all day because she ran her own restaurant by herself, Ryoga realized, and then wondered if maybe that was why she was so bossy and rough around the edges in so many other situations. Maybe being under all that pressure needed an outlet.
When both their glasses were empty and Ukyo reached for the bottle to pour them some more, Ryoga snatched it up before she could, and poured her drink for her, as well as for himself.
Ukyo sent him a curious look, but otherwise refrained from commenting on his behaviour.
"Here's to a new year," Ukyo said, raising her glass.
"New opportunities," Ryoga piped up, touching his glass to hers with a faint clink, and there was definitely a particular meaning to his words.
There was a pregnant silence as they drank; looking sideways at him, Ukyo could tell he was thinking the same thing as her. He was already trying to think of new ways to split up Akane and Ranma— or maybe he was counting on her to plan it. Either way, it was a reassuring thought.
At least she wasn't alone in this, at least she wasn't some lone stalker who wanted to steal some boy from some girl, there was somebody who agreed with her, so she had to be right about it—
Of course, Shampoo and the Kunos wanted to split them up, too, but yeah...Shampoo and the Kunos? Not exactly the...well, sanest people.
"I think I like New Year's Day much better than Christmas." Ryoga said, sighing as he put down the empty glass, a faint flush on his cheeks from the alcohol and the cold weather. "Everything is so nice and quiet, especially in the evening."
She nodded, staring wistfully up into the sky. "I'm used to having to deal with a lot of people every day at work, so yeah...it's nice to have some peace and quiet, just for once."
"I guess I'll be leaving for Tokyo tomorrow," He said after a beat or two.
"Bet your life never gets boring, hmm?" She remarked with a soft chuckle. "Always moving around like that." Maybe it keeps you from thinking about your problems too much because you face other problems on the road. It has to beat lying awake in the same lonely bedroom every night, anyway, knowing you have to run the same restaurant alone every day...
She loved her work and she loved okonomiyaki, she really did, it was just that—
—batter, cabbage, onion, meat, sea food, sauce, seaweed flakes, fish flakes— batter, cabbage, onion, meat, sea food, sauce, seaweed flakes, fish flakes— batter, cabbage, onion, meat, sea food, sauce, seaweed flakes, fish flakes— batter, cabbage, onion, meat, sea food, sauce, seaweed flakes, fish flakes—
—sometimes she needed a little...more.
And she was still counting on Ranma to be that 'more' one day; hopefully soon.
Ryoga sent her an odd, undecipherable look. "Yeah, it's...never boring." He agreed evasively. Lonely? Yes. Depressing? Yes. Cold? Yes. Dangerous? Yes. Exhausting? Yes. But boring? No, never.
"I suppose you'll be gone by the time I get back to Nerima," Ukyo said in an almost casual tone, shrugging. It was just part of the inevitability that was Ryoga.
"I suppose I will." He said in a slightly deader tone than hers, playing absently with the edge of his blanket.
When he noticed her silently studying his profile, he turned his head, meeting her gaze.
There was some sort of vague connection between them, then, but they didn't really know what to do with it. It was just some sort of feeling or mood that it wasn't really possible to wrap words around just then. None of them had any idea when they'd meet the next time, and by then, they might've forgotten all about this fleeting moment already.
"You want the rest of this?" She asked, offering up the beer bottle. He shook his head, taking the bottle from her and pouring the rest of its contents into her glass, and she briefly considered how many moments of her young life had consisted of serving things to people.
Another strange glance passed between them, and they spent the next half an hour out on the porch in silence, simply watching the stars and their own breaths freezing in the air until her father called them inside to have some New Year's Eve buckwheat noodles.
When she came downstairs the next morning, he was already putting on his backpack and bowing politely to her family. It seemed that even though it was only nine am, he felt as if he'd already overstayed his welcome, and it struck her that the boy had a lot more pride than she'd thought.
Which was why she didn't even make the mandatory objections and insistences that were the etiquette in this situation, and simply let him leave, smiling at him as he went.
She caught a small answering grin zipping across his lips, and then he was gone.
The card arrived on White Day, but it was obvious to her that it wasn't meant to be a White Day card. There were no hearts or flowers or a small gift of chocolate attached to it; it was just by coincidence that this was the day it arrived on, but it cheered her up that her otherwise empty mailbox had something other than bills in it on this important day.
Long time, no see. I hope you're doing well.
I had a nice time with you and your family on New Year's Eve.
Right now I'm training in Hokkaido, but the weather is much warmer than I expected it to be.
I'll probably swing by Nerima in a few weeks time…or a month. Who knows, right?
Hopefully I'll be back in time to see the cherry blossoms bloom.
Tell Ranma he should keep an eye out for my return.
PS: Please give my regards to Akane.
When she received mail from him on White Day the year after that, it didn't have any hearts on it, either, and there wasn't any chocolate.
The difference from the year before, however, was that it wasn't a card. It was a letter. A five-page letter, filled up back to back with writing. There were no hearts, no chocolate, but there were a lot more words, and the meaning behind the words was very different. When Ranma and Akane were mentioned at all, it was for different, more complicated reasons.
And this time it wasn't just a coincidence that it arrived for her on White Day.
By the time the cherry blossoms bloomed that year, he'd made it to her doorstep.
Author's note: Yep, this update is two years late. Wow.
Eh, better late than never, I guess. Happy New Year.
I hadn't published anything Ranma ½ in about a year and a half, so I figured I might as well finally finish this since it's nearly New Year's Eve and the story was so short.
Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine: A Shinto shrine in Sumiyoshi ward in the city of Osaka, Japan. It is the main shrine of all the Sumiyoshi shrines in Japan. However, the oldest shrine that enshrines the Sumiyoshi Sanjin, the three Sumiyoshi kami is the Sumiyoshi shrine in Hakata.
It is called "Sumiyoshi-san" or "Sumiyossan" by the locals, and is famous for the large crowds that come to the shrine on New Year's Day.
Kanpai: Don't leave me reviews telling me it's spelled 'kampai' or something. I've tried avoiding Japanese words this time, but I just couldn't have Ryoga and Ukyo go 'Cheers!', for some reason.
I spent New Year's Eve of 2005 in Tokyo. It was pretty quiet, and if I remember correctly, we visited a small temple. In Norway, I'm used to New Year's Eve being one of the most crowded, noisiest and most drunken nights of the year, which was quite a contrast to the calm family atmosphere of New Year's Eve in Japan, which feels more like the Norwegian Jul (Yule).
Later that week, we went to the famous temple in Asakusa in Tokyo, the Sensoji.