A/N: Ha! Here's another one! Go me. I don't work on it for, like, three years, and then BAM! Twice in less than two weeks.
Ranma sat straight up in bed. His senses went wild while his brain tried to shake off the remnants of a dream. He was just wondering what had woken him up when a second scream rang through the house. He threw the covers to the side and was down the hall and bursting through Akane's door in seconds.
Kimiko and Yunshin stood in the middle of the room, rubbing tired eyes in their new pajamas. Akane knelt beside the bed trying desperately to comfort a wildly flailing Hikaru.
"Mommy!" He cried out over and over again. "Mommy!"
"I'm right here," Akane was telling him. "I'm right here, Hikaru."
Ranma watched, having absolutely no idea what to do. Soun ran up behind Ranma and stopped, peeking over his shoulder. Kasumi and Nabiki followed with worried, sleepy eyes. They watched the small figure thrash back and forth for a few more minutes before, slowly, his wide eyes seemed to focus. His screams turned to sobs and his body went limp. Akane gathered him in her arms and sighed heavily.
"I'm sorry," She said to the crowd in the doorway. "He's alright, really."
"What happened?" Nabiki asked.
"Ah, night terrors. He has them sometimes. I'm really sorry, but it's ok, now, so please go back to bed."
"Are you sure? Can we get you anything?" Kasumi asked.
"No, thank you." She smoothed Hikaru's hair back as he cried on her shoulder. "He's overheating right now, so I'm going to try to cool him down outside. Really, we're alright. I'm sorry."
"Well, all right, dear," Soun said. "Just tell us if you need anything."
"I will, thank you, daddy."
Akane turned to throw the blankets over Yunshin and Kimiko as they crawled back into bed. Nabiki was the first to return to her room, stretching. Kasumi followed after making sure no one wanted tea or something to eat and Soun left after wishing his grandchildren goodnight, multiple times. Ranma stood to the side as Akane left her room, shutting the door behind her. She looked up at him. He jerked his head for her to lead the way.
She made her way down the stairs and toward the backyard. Sliding the door aside she took a deep breath of fresh night air before sitting on the porch. A minute later Ranma sat beside her with a glass of water in his hand. He leaned toward Hikaru who looked at him with watery eyes.
"Here." He held out the glass.
Hikaru sniffed a few times before sitting up and reaching for it. He sat in Akane's lap, leaning back against her chest and sipping the water in between shuddering breaths.
"Thank you," Akane said to Ranma.
They were silent while Hikaru calmed down, Akane tenderly running her fingers through his hair.
"Does he have nightmares like that a lot?" Ranma asked.
"They're not always so loud, but every night. I usually just let him work it out, since it's harder than heck to wake him up in the middle of one. Sorry."
He shook his head. "Can't help bad dreams. Right?" He directed the last question at Hikaru. The little boy blinked up at him sleepily, tears drying on his cheeks.
Akane nodded. "Mm. I asked a doctor about it in Nishao and he said it was likely a result of trauma from when he was abandoned in the forest for a week as a one year old. There's nothing, really, to do about it, other than pills and he's so young so I wasn't a fan of the idea. We just have to wait for him to grow out of it. Some time in a stable home will help, and not just him but all the kids. Or that's what the doctor thought."
"All the kids?"
"Yeah. Kimiko doesn't ever trust people, Yunshin trusts too much, and Hikaru...Hikaru was one of the youngest in the orphanage, but old enough he didn't need constant supervision, so he was often forgotten. He developed certain...ways to get the attention he needed."
Ranma didn't ask more on the subject, aware Akane was being careful while Hikaru was still listening. He did, however, mull over the term "stable home" in his head and thought that of all the homes in Japan this wasn't necessarily the most "stable" for children. Again he wasn't surprised at her; he knew Akane had a burning desire to fix everyone. He watched Hikaru yawn before sinking back, eyes struggling to stay open.
Ranma asked, "There were a lot of kids at that orphanage; I'm surprised ya didn't come home with all of them. How did you pick these ones?"
She chuckled. "I didn't pick them—they picked me!"
"They picked you?"
"Yes! I set up dozens of interviews with potential families for all the kids up there but Yunshin, Kimiko, and Hikaru sabotaged their interviews every single time! They threw things at the parents, pulled their hair, threw huge screaming fits...I eventually gave up and pretty soon it was just us, living up in the mountains all by ourselves, and, well, we liked that just fine."
"Little snots." Ranma smirked down at Hikaru, who hadn't opened his eyes in a few minutes.
Akane smiled. "I admit, I didn't try to stop them. At first I was trying twice as hard to adopt them out as I was the other kids, because I cared twice as much about them. That sounds horrible but it's true; I wanted them to have wonderful families that I knew could take care of them. When I found out they were messing up their interviews so they could stay with me I was conflicted—I wanted them, but I was afraid I wouldn't be what they needed. But they...they picked me." She half laughed, half scoffed. "I know, you think they're crazy, right?"
The answer was quick and blunt: "No."
She stared at him for a minute, watching the moonlight reflect off his face. She swallowed and looked down at the top of Hikaru's head.
"Well," Ranma stretched his arms over his head. "They seem to love you, that's for sure. And, geez, does Yunshin remind me of you."
"Eh? Me? I first noticed him because he reminded me of you!"
"What, me? No way."
"He's got all your attitude, though."
She snorted. "Maybe. But everything else is you."
"Huh, I'm surprised you still like the kid if he reminds you of me."
"Oh, shut up," She punched his arm. "You know I don't hate you."
"Oh, yeah, that's right—because ya missed me."
She flushed at the reference to earlier in the day. "Uh!"
He gave a sly grin. "Don't deny it, you said it..."
"Yeah, well, whatever! You missed me, too, admit it, Ranma."
"Hmm? Ok what?"
"I admit it."
Akane stopped. He looked back at her surprised face with the smallest of amused smiles. She suddenly wondered if they had always been sitting that close.
"Oh...you, uh..." She felt like she ought to keep talking, but he began to lean towards her and she couldn't think anymore. Before she could even register what was happening her head was tilted to the side, eyes half closed. Almost...
She inhaled sharply and pulled back, squeezing her eyes shut painfully.
He blinked. She had turned away. What was that about? He was just about to pull on her arm to turn her around and to tell her to hold still 'cause he was trying to kiss her, gosh dang it, when a sound startled them both.
Kimiko watched with irked eyes as her mother and the man who had just tried to lay one on her desperately tried to look cool.
"Mom," Kimiko said flatly. "Are you coming to bed?"
"Uh, y-yes, ha ha, of course. Bed." Akane's voice was shakey and her face beet red. Ranma was in no better condition but he was trying very hard to not look up at the small girl in a nightgown. Akane situated Hikaru before getting to her feet and leading her daughter back into the house. Ranma followed, thanking Kami that the house was dark. They reached the top of the stairs and hesitated, neither moving to their respective room first. Kimiko stood in between them with her arms crossed.
In the corner of her eye Akane could see Ranma's dark silhouette. She swallowed when she thought about what had almost happened moments ago.
Ranma was also watching her but he could only make out her outline in the dark. He realized she was holding something out to him. "Thanks," She said.
He reached for it and recognized it as the glass Hikaru had used. Her fingers lingered next to his on the cup a few seconds longer than really necessary before she walked down the hall. Ranma watched, completely still, until he felt a sharp pain in his shin. He bit his tongue to keep from calling out, which hurt even more, and he looked on with watery, ticked-off eyes as Kimiko closed the door to Akane's bedroom with a silent but obvious glare.
The next few days were relatively uneventful...for Nerima, anyway. There were late nights when Hikaru would wake up screaming and the kitchen light would go on for midnight tea and cookies; sometimes just Akane and Hikaru, sometimes the whole family. In the afternoon Akane had guests, friends from school who wanted to see her and hear all about her trip. When they were told about her three children they gaped in awe before cooing at how adorable they were and pinching all of their cheeks. Kimiko had taken to hiding in the tree outside or in Akane's room whenever she heard the doorbell. Kuno's visit had gone slightly awry when his sister tagged along but they had quickly, albeit not quietly, thrown them both out. Akane had dressed up in one of her most grown up new outfits and gone to the elementary school Yunshin had picked out to enroll him and his sister; the family members took turns walking them to and from school, with the exception of Ranma, who had been told to go back to his own school. Ranma had reluctantly done so—since Akane's reappearance there had been a never ending flow of questions and teasing from schoolmates and he was constantly dodging answering any of them. After school he worked on the dojo with Akane and Soun (who had been told the plan and was totally for it), only being set back once when Ranma commented on how it was a good thing she was mocho enough to carry cinder blocks around all day. They had to re patch the roof after that. He hadn't had a moment alone with Akane since "that night", which he was beginning to suspect was partly because Kimiko always happened to pop out of nowhere when they were alone and partly because Akane was avoiding being alone with him. It was starting to tick him off. But, again, he couldn't confront her about it because she was avoiding him...and Kimiko liked to "accidentally" drop things on his feet, hands, and head when he was just about to corner her mother.
This particular morning, Ranma was, as usual, dashing from one end of the house to the other in an effort to get ready for school. Yunshin was pretty much in the same boat.
"Mom, did you see where my tie went?" Yunshin said hurriedly from the doorway to the dining room, tucking his white shirt into his gray shorts.
"You left it on my desk upstairs," Akane answered. Yunshin dashed back down the hall. Akane sat between Nabiki and Kimiko. Nabiki had pushed aside her textbooks and cell phone in favor of a comic book and Kimiko ate her breakfast calmly, already dressed in the gray skirt, white shirt, and red tie that was the uniform of her primary school. Hikaru sat across the table, a chopstick in either hand, retelling a story of the playground to Kasumi while Soun read the newspaper.
A second after Yunshin's disappearance Ranma blocked the doorway. "Anyone seen my school bag?"
"You left it on the table in the kitchen," Akane said, taking a bite of egg.
Ranma ran down the hall.
"So then I went down the splide," Hikaru was saying, "and I went down the splide again and then on the meery-go-round..."
"Mom, you seen my other shoe?"
"Hikaru was wearing it in the dojo."
"Anyone seen my other shoe?"
"Ranma, I think Kimiko hid it in the living room."
"No I didn't." Kimiko jumped in.
"Then where did you put it?"
"It's on the roof."
"...And after the meery-go-round I went on the swing and then Yunshin pushed me and I went sooo high..."
"Mom, did you see where my math book went?"
"You lost it already? You just got it yesterday."
"Yeah, I know, but...oh! I know where it is!"
He collided in the hallway with Ranma who was rushing back from the roof.
"Watch it, kid!"
"You watch it, ya big oaf!"
Kimiko set her tea cup down and stood up. "I'm going, now." She kissed Akane's cheek.
Soun stood as well. "I'll take you, then, shall I?"
"Ooh," Hikaru jumped up. "Can I go to shool, too?"
"I'm afraid not," Kasumi said. "It's only for big kids."
"I'm sorry, Hikaru, but..."
Hikaru threw himself on the ground. "I wanna go to shool, too!" He shrieked. It was a sound the Tendo household was becoming very familiar with. Kasumi who was closest put a finger to her ringing ear.
"Now, son!" Sound was saying to the boy on the floor. "That's no way for a man to behave! What will your wife think?"
"Daddy," Akane said, "He's four." Hikaru continued to wail in the background.
"But Akane," Kasumi said. "That one always worked on you."
"Waaaaaaaah!" Hikaru cried louder.
Akane spun on him. "Hikaru, enough!"
His mouth snapped shut and he blinked at her innocently.
"Boys who act like that don't get to go anywhere." She helped him stand. "Now, listen, you're too young, do you understand? You can't go to school until you're older, all right?" He pouted. Akane's voice softened slightly. "But you know what?"
"Grandpa doesn't like to go by himself, you know why? He's afraid he might get lost!"
Hikaru looked at Soun, not sure if he believed this. Soun jumped. "Oh, um, yes, it's true! I hate getting lost..."
Akane gasped. "Oh! I just had an idea! Hikaru, could you go with him? I bet Grandpa would feel so much better if a big boy like you went with him." She clicked her tongue. "Oh, but you don't want to, do you? I don't know if you can handle it. What do you think, Kasumi?"
"Hmm, I'm not sure..."
"Ah! Yes I can, yes I can!" Hikaru insisted.
"Do you think so?" Akane smiled. "Well, then, that's your job! We're counting on you to take care of Grandpa!"
Hikaru nodded determinedly. He took Soun's hand and led him after Kimiko, who had been watching from the doorway. She took her brother's other hand before heading through the chaos that was Ranma and Yunshin.
Kasumi said thoughtfully, "Hikaru seems so different than when he first arrived. He's acting so much older, now."
Akane nodded. "He did the same when I first met him. He acts more like a baby to get attention." She sighed. "Can't wait 'til he grows out of the screaming, though."
The boys rushed back and forth a couple more times before Yunshin called from the front door, "Ranma, hurry it up, will ya? Ukyo's waiting for you outside!"
Akane stiffened and Kasumi looked at her.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm comin'!" Ranma slammed the front door shut and the house was completely quiet.
Nabiki pulled an ear plug out of one ear and looked around the empty house. "Did I miss something?"
Kasumi just watched Akane take a sip of tea. "Akane," she began, "If it bothers you, you could always do something about it."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Maybe if you would just tell him."
"Tell him what?" She said stubbornly.
"You know," Nabiki pulled her other ear plug out, interested in the conversation now, "Tell him you love him."
Akane spewed her tea all over the table. Kasumi wiped her cheek with a napkin. "W-why would I tell him that?"
"Oh, Akane, really," Kasumi rolled her eyes.
"Honestly, sis," Nabiki put her chin in her hand. "I mean, you were gone for a year. We thought for sure that when you came back you'd finally spit it out."
Akane looked at the table with a hard look.
"He missed you, Akane." Kasumi said softly.
"Yes. But how much more than if you had disappeared? Or Ukyo? Or his own mother?"
Nabiki snorted. "Oh, please. I'm pretty sure that it's not even remotely the same. If you confessed then maybe you'd find out."
Akane dropped her elbows on the table and ran her hands through her hair. "Yeah, maybe. I don't know if I can do that, though...i-if I did actually have something to confess."
"Why not, Akane?" Kasumi asked.
"I...I have no right."
"Oh, Akane, don't be silly," Kasumi placed a reassuring hand on Akane's arm. "You're just as important as anyone else in Ranma's life."
"More so." Nabiki added.
"Much more so," Kasumi nodded enthusiastically.
Akane sighed. "It's not that, it's...well, we all know how obnoxiously wishy-washy the idiot is, right? And we've had our moments, but, honestly, who knows what goes through his thick head. I mean, he may, I dunno, try to kiss me or something," She blushed, "Hypothetically. But, then, half the time I turn around to find him kissing someone else! And if I'm so uncertain about his feelings for me then there's no way I can still claim any part of him. It wouldn't be fair."
Nabiki and Kasumi shared a confused look.
"You didn't have a problem with it before." Nabiki pointed out.
"Before I didn't have three children who depended on me. It was a long shot that he would ever accept me in the first place, but now me, my three children, and all our baggage? That's not fair to force on him."
Nabiki and Kasumi were quiet, contemplating this.
Nabiki shrugged. "He seems to get along with them."
"Yes, but would he want to be a father? This is Ranma we're talking about—he has the worst commitment-a-pobia. And it's not like I've got the easiest kids in the world; they're a little high maintenance, I realize that. It's one thing to be friends with them, another entirely to be their parent. I mean, I'm not even sure if I can be a good mother...and these children, they've been abandoned and neglected...they need some stability in their life and if I'm busy running around after some guy, whom I'm not even sure I have an actual chance with, and fighting his crazy suitors then they could get left behind. That's not fair to them, either."
"But, Akane," Kasumi said, concerned. "What about what's fair for you?"
Akane was quiet for a minute. "I made my choice months ago." She gave a forced laugh. "I mean, what was I supposed to tell the children? 'Sorry, but there's a man who might like me, but I'm not sure because he's such a jerk and I often walk in on him with other women, so I can't take care of you because he might not like me even more, so have a good life with strangers.' No, I couldn't do that. They needed me."
"But you love him," Nabiki said.
Akane bit her lip.
Kasumi put a hand to her cheek. "And he's still living with us..."
Nabiki nodded. "Yeah, and now you're working together. Even if you've given up, won't it be hard to watch him, ya know, move on?"
"Mm. I still had to try to do my duty to dad." Akane didn't say anything other than that. She exhaled and suddenly felt very, very heavy, like there was a weight pressing down on her.
Nabiki was caught between feeling sympathy for her little sister and feeling oddly proud of her—she was putting aside her own feelings because she wanted what was best not only for the children, but for Ranma as well. She's too nice, she thought.
Kasumi, who had, for all intensive purposes, raised Akane, saw that the girl who had left a year ago was not the same as the woman who sat in front of her now. Akane didn't need her anymore; in fact, she was raising her own children. Emotion choked Kasumi's throat and a sadness enveloped her.
Akane suddenly slapped both hands down on the table and gazed ahead with a fierce look, startling both her sisters. "Enough of this talk! Who needs the love of just one man? Ha! Not me! I've got three, beautiful, wonderful children who adore me! Who needs that perverted idiot? I'm a Tendo, dang it!" She clambered up onto the table, a microphone in her hands and fire (literally) burning in her eyes. "I'm a Japanese woman of the 21st century! And like my beautiful older sisters—" Nabiki turned to Kasumi, "She talkin' about us now?"; Kasumi told her to be quiet— "I will uphold my honor for family and country as a brave and independent single woman! I have seen the far corners of the earth, and I can handle one little man! I will stand to face him as the strong female adult that I am!" She finished by looking off at the horizon of the sun setting over the wide open sea that was Akane's future.
Kasumi applauded, a tear in her eye.
"Nice, sis," Nabiki said with raised eyebrows. "But how long you going to stick to that?"
Akane raised an eyebrow at her. "What do you mean how long? I'm going to—"
She was cut off by the sound of the front door bursting open and heavy feet running down the hallway.
"Dang it all!" Ranma shouted as he went. "Forgot my stupid lunch!" He screeched to a halt and back peddled, looking in at the Tendo sisters. The elder two followed his gaze to Akane. She had literally frozen, microphone held tightly, face blushing red. "'Kane, what are you doin' on the table?" He shook his head. "Never mind that, where's my lunch?"
"It's on the kitchen counter," Kasumi answered.
"Man!" He ran to the kitchen. "I am gonna be so late today! The principal's gonna kill me!" A minute later he walked back into view, more calmly, looking at the contents of the bento. The rice seemed more burnt than usual and there were cucumber rolls instead of meat sitting next to oddly shaped hunks of cooked dough. "Did you make this, Kasumi?"
"Hmm? Oh, no," She smiled, Nabiki noted, quite mischievously. "I asked Akane if she would make yours while she was making the children's."
A look of horror crossed his face. "Akane, don't tell me you made the kids' food? This is horrible, if they eat it, they're gonna—" He was cut off when Akane's microphone hit him square in the face, knocking him to the ground.
It was Nabiki's turn to applaud, slowly and sarcastically. "Way to be an adult, sis."
Later that day, Kasumi was dusting when the doorbell rang. "My, I wonder who that could be." She made her way to the front door and beamed. "Auntie Saotome!"
Nodoka Saotome smiled anxiously at Kasumi. Genma stood a few feet back, beyond the Tendo gate, his arms full of luggage.
"Kasumi, dear, is Akane in?"
"Yes, of course! Come in! Ranma should be home from school any minute, as well." Kasumi moved aside before going out to the gate. "I'll take those in for Auntie."
"Kasumi, can't I come in?" Genma asked with a pout.
"Sorry, Mr. Saotome, you'll have to ask Nabiki." She pried the suitcases from his hands with some difficulty before smiling and going back into the house. Genma sat outside and cried.
Nodoka stepped onto the back porch just as Soun was walking past, wooden boards in his arms and nails in his teeth. He spat them out when he saw her. "Mrs. Saotome. How was your stay with your friend in the country?"
"Fine, dear, thank you. I came home a bit early. Is Akane around?"
"Yes, she's out working on the dojo. Akane!" He called. "We have company!"
The Tendo girl came around the house, sweaty from cleaning out the dojo, led by Hikaru. Her face lit up. "Auntie Saotome! How are you? I haven't seen you in ages."
"Who's that lady, mommy?"
"It's Ranma's mom."
"Ranma's mommy?" Hikaru ran to Nodoka and stood under her, studying her.
Nodoka watched with a blank expression as Akane neared her, smiling all the while. Akane stepped onto the porch in front of her.
Nodoka raised her hand.
Akane cocked her head. "Auntie?"
Nodoka slapped her.
Soun's eyes popped. Kasumi dropped all the suitcases which fell open and spilled clothes everywhere. Hikaru stared up at the strange woman with wide eyes. Akane slowly turned her head back to look at Nodoka, a hand print on her cheek.
"You..." Nodoka said calmly, almost dangerously calmly. "You've just come home now?"
Akane didn't say anything.
"You think it's just that simple—run away, come home, and everything will be fine? You never wrote us, never called...we had no idea where you were or if you were even still alive." Her voice never rose above normal speaking level but it just made her words seem more passionate. "You think it's perfectly fine to leave your family like that? That everyone would just be ok with it? How dare you be so selfish."
None of the Tendos had moved. Hikaru was starting to panic slightly, looking back and forth between his mother and the middle aged woman who was telling her off. Akane's mouth hung open completely wordlessly.
"Your mother isn't around, I know, but that gives you no right to just do as you please without thinking about anyone else. What about your sisters? What about your father? What about my son? Worried sick! Every one of them!"
"Yes! You should be! Very sorry! And I know no one else will tell you all this because they're just too happy to see you, but I know they all feel the same! So just don't...do it again." Her voice faded and all that was left was worry in her eyes.
Akane, astonished, looked at the woman in front of her. She had never seen her lose her temper like that, at least not at her. She stood, unsure for a moment, before she bowed deeply. "I'm terribly, truly sorry for any trouble I have caused anyone. Please, forgive me."
Nodoka laid a hand on Akane's shoulder and pulled her out of her bow. She put her arms around her. "You're the closest thing I'll ever have to a daughter," she said quietly. "I'm glad you're home."
Akane blinked back sudden tears. She returned the hug, feeling strangely guilty.
They pulled away after a minute.
"Ah." Nodoka flushed, embarrassed. She bowed to Soun. "Please, forgive me for losing my temper! It was not my place."
"Quite all right, quite all right," Soun waved his hand at her, eyes still wide. "Best intentions, I know."
It was then Nodoka noticed Hikaru. "My!" She knelt in front of him, completely back to her calm self. Hikaru hid behind Akane's leg, afraid of her. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. Will you come out and meet me?"
Akane knelt as well and nodded at Hikaru. He stood in front of her, eyeing Nodoka warily.
"This is Hikaru," Akane said.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," Nodoke smiled. "My name is Nodoka Saotome. My husband told me about you. Please, call me Auntie." She held a hand out to him.
After a couple nudges from Akane, Hikaru took it, giving it a little shake. Inside, Kasumi gathered the scattered clothes before handing the suitcases to Soun to carry into the Saotome room. She then went to make tea, still shocked. Nodoka continued to speak with Hikaru until he had quite warmed up to her and reveled in her attention. Kasumi was just returning with tea when Yunshin's loud voice echoed from beyond the property walls.
"Better hurry up, Ranma, or I'll win!"
"You wish, sucker!" Ranma taunted back.
"As if you—hey! That's cheating!"
Ranma, who had just jumped over the wall, laughed. "Who said there were rules?" He stood in the yard before he noticed Akane. He sprinted toward her and she jumped. Yunshin came around the side of the house, running just as fast. Akane squirmed in her seat as the pair came at her.
Ranma reached her first and tapped her on the head. Yunshin tapped her shoulder a second later. Ranma crouched down next to her, gloating, "Mwahaha! I won!"
Yunshin growled and shouted over the head of his mother, "Are you kidding? You totally cheated!"
"Nya nya, did not!" Ranma sucked his tongue back in abruptly. "Oh, hey mom."
Yunshin gaped. "Whoa, you're Ranma's mom?"
Nodoka giggled. "Yes, I am."
Yunshin extended a hand. "I'm Yunshin Hikawa—er, wait—Yunshin Tendo, now."
"Yes, nice to meet you. I've heard lots about you."
As Akane watched the interchange with a smile Ranma looked at her. She jumped slightly when he touched her cheek. "Akane, you got somethin' red on your face."
Nodoka blushed guiltily. Akane looked back and forth between mother and son.
"It's, ah, nothing really," She laughed nervously. "Ah, ha, nothing."
He blinked before shrugging. "Ok..."
"Hey, Kimi," Yunshin said when his sister stepped onto the porch after going through the house like a normal human. "What took you and Aunt Nabiki so long?" She ignored him and glanced at Ranma.
"Hello, Kimiko, how was school?" Akane asked, not noticing as Ranma quickly scooted away from her.
"Good. Who is this?"
Nodoka bowed her head and smiled sweetly.
"This is Auntie Saotome," Akane said, "Ranma's mother."
"Oh. Hi." Kimiko turned back into the house as Nabiki came into view.
"Hello, all," She called. "Oh, Kasumi, expect one more for dinner would you? I found this one sitting outside and he gave me 5000 yen to let him in. Who knows why he didn't just come in in the first place." She jerked her thumb over her shoulder at Genma, who looked at her with teary eyes.
"So cruel, Nabiki," He said.
Soun patted his shoulder. "Wonderful girl, isn't she?"
Once everyone was settled at home Ranma found himself on the dojo roof, ripping off old shingles and replacing the boards underneath. Yunshin was playing with his brother in the yard and Kimiko was inside the dojo, going through katas. Kasumi was in the kitchen, the men played Go on the porch, and Nodoka sat with Nabiki and Akane while they filled her in on everything she'd missed while she was gone.
Or, at least, that's where Nodoka had been. Now, however, she was climbing up the ladder to visit her son.
"Hey, mom," Ranma helped her up, careful not to let her slip. She sat beside him. "How was your trip?"
"Nice," She replied. "Relaxing."
"You're home early, aren't you?"
"Yes. I called home to talk to your father and he told me that Akane was back. I told Risa that I must go home immediately, I had family matters to attend to."
They were quiet while Nodoka looked into the yard at the Tendo boys. "Quite shocking, isn't it. Three children? And she's so young, too."
"You're tellin' me."
She paused. "Ranma, can I ask your opinion on something?"
"Yeah, sure, anything."
She put a hand to her cheek and blushed dreamily. "Do you think it's too soon for them to call me Grandmother?"
Ranma almost fell off the roof. "W-what?"
"Yes, you're right, it is. We've only just met today. But, oh my, when do you think I should tell them to call me that? Before or after the wedding? Tell me, Ranma, what do you think? Will they call you Father?"
"Wha, wha, wha!" He looked at his mother's earnest face, his own beginning to redden. "I don't, I mean, I'm not, uh, you should probably ask Akane—"
She smiled. "It's all right, Ranma, there's no hurry. You just take your time with them. I have no doubt you'll be the honorable man I know you are and raise them to be men (and a woman) among men! If you don't you'll be a complete failure. It's up to you, my son!" She patted his shoulder with one last smile before standing to climb down. "Dinner will be soon, dear." She disappeared to help Kasumi set the table.
Ranma sat frozen where he was, eyes popping. She's right, he thought, Akane's my fiancée, so, that would mean...
He clutched his hands to his head and gasped.
I'm gonna be a DAD! Gyaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!
In his subconscious he had already realized this and had accepted it. Hearing it out loud, however, he felt a panic attack coming on.
I can't be a dad! I don't know the first thing about raising kids! I suck!
Akane sucks! Why is she doing this to me?
I have no idea what to do! What if they don't even want me as a dad? What if they hate me? Oh wait...
An overly dramatic tear entered his eye.
Kimiko already hates me!
Is it because she knows? She knew I would be a terrible father the second she saw me. I AM a failure!
He furiously rubbed his hands through his hair.
Akane, you idiot! How do you expect me to keep up with you? Gyaah!
Wait, ok, it's not the end of the world, I'm just an almost-dad... I can do this, I can...I'm Ranma Saotome, dang it!
Abruptly he stood strong, a glint in his eye, and his hands in determined fists. No one kicks butt like I can! I'll kick fatherhood's trash!
He sat again, knees to his chest, poking holes in the rooftop.
What if I'm bad at it?
While Ranma was distracted by the horror of facing his fate, Akane was jumping to the rooftop to call him for dinner. He screamed when he noticed her.
"Wha-wha-what?" He said anxiously.
She raised an eyebrow at him. "What's the matter with you?"
"Nothing! What's the matter with you, huh? Sneakin' around..."
"I wasn't sneaking at all."
He blinked. He hadn't heard her coming, or even felt her presence when she was there. That was odd. Actually, now that he thought about it, she had been abnormally hard to detect since she had been home, and even harder to find when she didn't want to be. Sometimes it just seemed like she'd...disappeared.
"Hey, Akane. Have you lost weight?"
She punched him. "What, exactly, is that supposed to mean, you schmuck?" She held him by the front of the shirt, fist in his face.
"It's not what it sounded like!"
"Then what was it, you jerk!"
"You're just better at sneakin' around, is all!"
"Oh, so I sucked at it before because I was fat, huh?"
"I didn't say that, stupid! It's just that a shift in weight will change how you carry yourself, 'k?"
She blushed angrily. She had actually gained five pounds in muscle weight while she was gone, but there was no way in heck she was telling him that. She punched him again before letting him go.
"Well, that's got nothing to do with it." She stomped toward the edge. "I'll show you some time what it actually is."
Ranma, rubbing his bruised cheek, said, "What what is?"
She stuck her tongue out at him over her shoulder. "That's for me to know, jerk." She jumped down.
"Akane, wait," He jumped down in front of her to keep her from leaving the secluded shade of the dojo.
"What now?" She snapped.
Her anger turned to confusion when he stared down at her seriously.
"What is it?" She asked again, sincere.
"Well, it's..." He didn't really know how to say it. "I'm...We're engaged, right?"
Her heart skipped a beat. "...Yes."
"Well, yeah, which is...ya know..." Awesome. "But, see, the kids..." He frowned, concentrating hard on what he wanted to say.
Her heart dropped into her stomach at his expression. "Oh. I see." He doesn't want us...
He rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, it's just...I'm not sure I'm ready for something like that." Wait for me.
"I understand." He doesn't want me...
Ranma brightened. "You do?"
"Yes...it's fine. I expected it." She didn't meet his eyes, clenching her fists at her side.
He sighed, relieved. "Great!" He looked at the top of her head, noticing she wasn't looking at him. Her face is probably totally red, he thought, blushing a little himself. He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and she accidentally looked at him. "Thanks, Akane." He said with a soft smile.
Oh no, she thought, feeling herself lose it. I have to get out of here. "Dinner." Was all she said before turning and trying very hard not to let him see her run back into the house.
Ranma stuck his hands in his pockets and grinned as she left. She's so cute.
He turned and jumped back. "Wah! H-how long have you been there?"
Kimiko, leaning against the dojo door frame in her Gi with her arms crossed, glared at him.
Ranma folded his arms, too. "Go ahead and hate me for now," he said haughtily, eyes closed. "But I'll make you like me, just you wait, because I—where'd she go?" He looked to and fro but Kimiko had disappeared. "Tsk. Man, I bet Akane taught her that..."
Inside, the rest of the family was settling down for dinner. Akane snuck by without anyone noticing and dashed up the stairs. Seconds later, also without being noticed, Kimiko did the same. She came to her mother's bedroom door, with the little duck plaque that said "Akane" on it. She slowly opened it.
Akane knelt on the ground, starring blankly at her lap. She turned slowly. "Oh, Kimiko...sorry, I'll be down in just a minute, ok? So go ahead—ah!" She hurriedly wiped at an escaped tear. She laughed. "I don't know why...I shouldn't be surprised...ha! I prepared for this. Dang it..." She was wiping more and more tears as they leaked out, looking a little hysterical.
Kimiko shut the door behind her and moved to her mother's side. She had absolutely no idea what to do; she'd never seen Akane like this. After a minute of hesitation she gently patted Akane's head. "There, there..." She said.
At the simple gesture from her daughter all resolve was broken. A sob escaped, and then another. Akane opened her arms and reached for Kimiko, who was panicking even more now. She sat the girl in her lap and squeezed her tightly, crying into her hair. Kimiko sat completely still, her arms around Akane, thinking evil thoughts about the man who had made her mother cry.
A/N: Eeek. Depression. Hopefully, this runs pretty smoothly... Anyway, I'm freaking out. Are you freaking out? Review if you are.