Ranma watched in desolate horror as Happosai drained the casket of Nannichuan. Numbness washed over him, shutting out the noise of the anger and distress that had exploded among the other denizens of the dojo. Faces flashed before his eyes and he felt something jostle him, but all he could feel was the palpable sense of betrayal. He dimly felt water being poured on him multiple times, but gave no sign of caring one way or another.
He wasn't sure how long he sat amidst the destruction, but the sun had set and everyone left him to sit alone in the dark. The shattered floorboards and broken walls seemed to mimic the ruin of his heart. When he finally stood, it felt as if he were living a dream. The world felt so distant and hollow as he navigated his way out of the dojo and back into the house. He saw Kasumi standing in the kitchen dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, and wearing comfortable looking tennis shoes. It was such an odd outfit that he thought he must be dreaming. He saw the backpack at her feet and absently nodded to himself.
That was what he needed. His backpack.
It was time to leave. There was no sense in holding back any more, right? After all, this was a dream, so why not indulge a few fantasies while he had the chance? It wouldn't hurt anyone; not that anyone really cared enough to be hurt. With that thought in mind he serenely walked up to Kasumi and kissed her. It wasn't just any kiss either. He kissed her like he had always dreamed of being kissed: with passion and love. She returned the kiss with as much fervor and enthusiasm as he put in, and when they broke the kiss she was smiling and crying.
He didn't understand the meaning of her tears, but then this was a dream…right? Even with the tears she was unbelievably beautiful. He'd always felt she was the most stunning of the sisters, and had secretly dreamed of winning her love and respect. It was nice to feel that love and respect returned…even if he was imagining the whole thing.
"I'm leaving." His voice seemed to echo surreally, as if he were hearing the words from under water.
"I know." Her voice was just as beautiful as always, even if it were muffled. "May I come with you?"
She nodded and watched as Ranma calmly left the kitchen and climbed the stairs. He heard Akane's subdued crying as he topped the rise, and felt a twinge of sadness. She had meant so much to him, but it was apparent that they weren't meant to be. Today's events had been testament enough of that truth. It would be better if he left now and gave her the peace and quiet she deserved. He was tired of being pushed and forced into things, and he knew that she felt the same. It wasn't as if she loved him.
He appreciated the fact that she would be willing to marry him for the cure to his curse, but he could tell that she didn't really want to be there. It was charity for Jusendo, nothing more. If she really had loved him, their relationship wouldn't have been so rough. He padded toward the guestroom and noted the middle sister standing against the wall beside the door.
She was staring at him somewhat tentatively. It wasn't that she was nervous… "unsettled" or "uncertain" were better words for the guarded emotion on Nabiki's face. He smiled softly, gliding up to her just as calmly as he had with Kasumi.
"Saotome." She smirked to cover her lapse.
Ranma's smile became an impish grin. He had long wished that he could best her at this game, and this seemed the perfect forum to practice.
He waited, just standing there calmly, looking into her eyes. They were soft and warm, reminding him of melted chocolate. He had to admit that she was very attractive. She hadn't become the woman that Kasumi was but, at the same time, she had a sensual allure all her own.
"Did you have something to say, or are you going to oogle my body all night long."
Ranma's grin widened. Why not go for broke?
"I'd like to oogle if you don't mind."
That, from the look of shock on her face, had obviously not been what she had expected. It took her a moment to compose herself, and when she had her smirk had been replaced by a frown.
"You okay, Saotome?" Ranma nodded. "You seem a little off tonight."
Ranma nodded again.
"Leaving. Getting out from underneath all the crap my old man put me through."
Nabiki nodded sagely.
"Sounds fun. So where are you going?"
"Everywhere." He leaned up against the wall beside her. "Got to find a cure for my curse, so I'll probably have to roam a bit. That's how it always works in the stories."
"So you're bailing on the panda," Ranma nodded. "Good for you. But what about Akane?"
"She'll be free. It ain't like she wanted the engagement or a perverted freak like me anyway." He couldn't hide from or conceal the bitterness in his voice.
"What if she doesn't want to be free? What if she wants the engagement?" Nabiki countered.
Ranma could only shrug. He didn't have an answer for her.
"So that's just it. You're up and abandoning her?" Nabiki's voice was more than a little angry. Ranma countered the young woman's ire by invading her personal space and cupping her cheek with his palm.
"Ain't like that, Nabs. She hasn't wanted this from the get go, and I ain't gonna sit around and make her life hell any more. She's free to find someone to love on her own terms, and I hope she learns from our mistakes. Maybe the next time around she won't be so scared to show her feelings."
He smiled serenely, caught up in the wisdom and logic of the dream. It all made so much sense looking back on it all. He could see that they had always run from their emotions, more to save what little control they had over their lives than to denounce their feelings for one another. With a sigh he leaned in and touched his forehead to Nabiki's in a warm display of trust and affection.
"She'll be fine, Nabs. She's a tough cookie." He caressed her cheek with his knuckles. Nabiki was speechless. "Just like you."
Ranma kissed her tenderly and stepped back.
"You know, I sometimes wish things coulda gone different. I wonder if we could have made a better go of it, you know? You would have been fun to love."
Nabiki's mask cracked and a variety of emotions played out on her face before the tears started to gather in her eyes. Ranma slid forward and kissed her again, just as passionately and heatedly as he had her older sister. Nabiki moaned and wrapped her arms around his neck, unwilling to let go. Ranma pulled her close, deepening the kiss until she grew too weak to continue. He eased her to the floor where she broke down and let the tears flow for the first time in years. Ranma kissed the top of her head and left her sitting outside the door of his room. Packing was surprisingly quick, with no interference from the Old Man. Ranma didn't think anything of the fact that the fat bastard was absent from his dream. In fact, the less he saw of his father the better. He shouldered his pack and turned to leave, but pulled up short at the sight of Akane standing in a pool of moonlight.
"You're leaving." Her voice was all but devoid of emotion.
Ranma nodded and removed the pack. He opened his arms to her and she ran to him, weeping. He held her for a very long time, stroking her back and running his fingers through her hair. She clung to him desperately, but he made no move to break the embrace.
"I don't want you to go. Not now. Not like this."
"It's for the best." Ranma whispered into her hair.
"Please. Stay. I need you."
"You don't need me, Akane-chan." He smiled softly. "You're strong enough to stand on your own."
"I love you! Doesn't that mean something to you?"
Ranma kissed her. It wasn't as passionate or as needy as the other kisses, but it held just as much love.
"It means the world to me, Akane-chan."
"Then why leave?" She demanded. "We can make this work! I know we can."
Ranma shook his head and his smile deepened.
"It's time for you to find true love, Akane-chan. Go out there and find a man who will love you like I couldn't."
"You love me! I know it!" Her fists tightened on the front of his shirt and then began to pound against his chest. "You killed for me damn it! That means you love me!"
"Of course I love you, Tomboy." He trapped her hands against his chest as he pulled her close. "A part of me always will. But you know as well as I do that you'd never be happy with me."
"So, you're going to elope with one of the other hussies, is that it?" Her tear-streaked face became angry and she thrashed to escape his embrace. "Let go of me! Damn you! LET GO!"
He held her close, blocking and evading her knees and feet, as her angry cries slowly turned to heart wrenching sobs. She collapsed in his arms, becoming dead weight. Ranma pulled her effortlessly into his arms and carried her back to her room. He whispered to her the entire way, telling her all the things he'd never found the strength to in his waking life. He told her of his love and his dreams for her. He opened the future for her, illuminating the life she could lead.
She clung to him urgently as he gently placed her in bed, and in a frantic display of panic began kissing him. She kissed his lips, and his face and neck. She found his hands and fingers, and when Ranma didn't respond she sat up and wrapped her legs around his waist. She grabbed his face in her hands and gave him all her passion in one breathtaking, fiery kiss. She released his head and fumbled with the buttons of her pajamas, getting as far as exposing a generous amount of cleavage before Ranma could clasp her wrists.
"Take me…please." She begged in a beseeching whisper. "I'll…you can…."
Ranma placed his fingers over her lips to silence her.
"This isn't what you want Akane-chan and, as much as I love you, I could never steal this moment from you. Not even in a dream." He smiled brightly. "Don't waste something so precious on me."
"It's not a waste. I need this! Please!" she tugged free of his grasp and threaded her fingers into his hair. Ranma closed his eyes and sighed. "Please, just give me this one night to remember you by."
"I…I can't Akane-chan." He looked at her pleadingly. "I love you too much to soil your honor like that. Please don't ask me again."
She searched his eyes for a long time before hanging her head and nodding. He slowly buttoned up her shirt and leaned in to kiss her neck right below her jaw. She shivered and giggled.
"I love you, Ranma."
"I know." Like he had with Nabiki, he brushed her cheek with his knuckles. She leaned into his touch.
"Thanks." She smiled up at him.
"For proving that all boys aren't walking hormones." She ran her thumb across his bottom lip. "For making life interesting."
Ranma laughed and shook his head.
They laughed together until their sides ached. It was a moment happy and free from the weight of their pasts. It was simply two friends basking in a moment of delightful mirth. Both had longed for such a moment and Ranma wished with all of his heart that this could be real instead of a dream. But all moments come to an end, for good or ill, and this golden time was no different.
"You won't forget me will you?"
He shot her a wry grin.
"Like I'd be able to."
He kissed her one last time and made to leave, but Akane grabbed up his hand and pulled him into a bone-crushing hug.
"Come back to us."
He held her tight and nodded.
He nodded and separated wiping Akane's tears away with his thumbs. There was a strange sense of pain that clutched his heart as he released her. A part of him wanted to turn back so badly that he could almost taste it, but somehow he managed to make it to the door. The rest of his journey through the Tendo home was little more than a blur. He wrote a note to his father declaring his intentions and then he left the only home he'd ever known for the last time. Kasumi was waiting for him at the gate with a soft smile.
They looked back to the house together and saw Akane and Nabiki watching them from the front step. The sisters held each other and waved. And then, with only three more steps, one of Ranma's dreams ended and another began.