Descent - Epilogue
In Search of a Happy Ending
A Ranma 1/2 fanfiction by Brian Randall
Disclaimers: The paints, as always, are the property of Takahashi Rumiko; I'm merely a peasant with an easel.
The happiest days of my life could not be counted on two hands. When I think about it, I'm not even sure I could count them at all. So that makes me wonder, sometimes, why I can't be happy more often.
At the time, I was too relieved that everything was working out to think ahead. I usually don't, I guess, but then, I usually don't have to. Everything works out, because life is good.
But on the last day I thought was the happiest day of my life... That day actually worked out pretty well. It had everything I thought it should in it, and none of the things I didn't.
Oh, sure, I could look back and say, "Well, you know, he could have taken my hand a bit more quickly," or, "Kasumi could have smiled at least once," but really, it was a pretty good day. The food was good enough, my family was happy enough, and he was enough for me.
And there was no Kuno family - they didn't need to be told about anything. Saotome-san was there, and she was so gracious and polite. Her husband was well behaved. So was he, of course. And Father looked happier than he had in years.
I suppose I lied a little. I would have changed one thing, if I could have. I would have had Nabiki not look so uncomfortable. Especially since she didn't know... I still can't figure that one out, but we don't talk much anymore.
A bright day framed in a hint of mystery. A perfect past.
Things were good, for a while. It wasn't until we left, after he and I had both agreed to the things we had to. Not a wedding, thank the kami. I mean, I know that now, but then I was wishing for nothing so much as for it to really be a wedding, and I think he did too.
Or maybe he didn't. I can't really understand him.
But we held hands, we made our promises... I've made a lot of promises to him, when I think about it. It's sad ... I don't think I've ever kept a single one of them. Maybe... Oh, it couldn't possibly matter now.
It was on the walk home, on our way to the train. After we got there ... the night was cool, but not cold. I still have the dress I wore, a white one trimmed with lace. Nabiki helped me pay for it; Kasumi helped me pick it out.
While we were waiting for the train to stop, when no one could hear anything over the sound of its brakes, he managed to wipe that glum look off his face. And that's why I think it was a good day, even though he looked nervous and uncomfortable the entire time. Because when it mattered, he came through - like he always did.
For me, anyway.
He was still holding my hand, and he turned towards me and said, "Akane-chan... Um. I ain't too good with words, and I know I mess up a lot, but I really, uh... I really lo... I really like you."
I couldn't see for the tears, but he kissed me anyway; I let him. That was the sweetest part...
And the problem with anything that sweet is that inevitably, that's as good as it gets. Right there was the peak, the very best moment. And it was the best moment because it was before everything went wrong.
When the brakes stopped screaming, he ended our kiss. That was when Kasumi yelled and pulled me away from him; I thought it was funny. Almost cute. She was afraid that we'd go too far before we were married.
Our fathers laughed, and even Saotome-san giggled a bit. He just looked embarrassed. "None of that, now," Kasumi chided, herding me onto the train like a child.
"Sorry, sorry," I said back. In the back of my mind, I was already planning where to knock on his window without waking his parents, so we could sneak out and kiss some more. But Kasumi wouldn't let go of me, and I like Kasumi too much to yank my hand away...
So that was the trip, and the entire time I was just thinking how things could get better. I wish I'd thought about how they could have gotten worse, instead. On the walk back to the house, Kasumi said nothing, just keeping me ahead and out of his reach. I wanted to hold his hand again, of course.
And I think he wanted to hold mine... But he wasn't about to go against Kasumi either. So he hung back and listened as our fathers told him all about his duties to me and the school, and how grand our wedding would be.
Kasumi just looked more and more intense and upset the closer to home we got. I started wondering what was wrong, because she was taking this far too seriously. Nabiki was keeping pace with us, but her eyes were elsewhere. Whatever was distracting her earlier was still on her mind, so she'd be no help.
So that was the rest of the walk. The finale for the good part of that day.
It was after dark when we got home, and Kasumi didn't let go of me, hauling me straight through the rear door and into the dojo. I followed, because it was Kasumi, and father followed because she said something. Saotome-san and Nabiki stopped in the living room with him and his father.
Kasumi told us when we got to the dojo. Father looked fit to burst with rage once we heard. I didn't know what else to do, so just sat there, surrounded in the pretty dress that even he had liked. Kasumi and Father discussed it quietly; she'd had plenty of time to think and plan.
So that was that.
If it had gone any further before Kasumi stopped things... If that had happened, then things would be worse. And that's why that's part of what made it the happiest day of my life. I got everything out of it - and him - that I could ever hope to. I wish he could have made me a husband, though I'd never say that around Father, or Kasumi.
But I also know that would have made things worse for me. It probably wouldn't have really helped him, anyway.
And every day since then... Since the argument, and him leaving... Every day has been a good day.
For some reason, though ... they haven't been happy. And I don't know why anymore. Kasumi is the same as she ever was, and just told me that time would make it better. Father can't discuss it without breaking down in tears.
There's no one else I can talk to about it, though. My friends at school are out of the question; why would I ever want to let them know?
So it ends up that I have to ask Nabiki for help again, except that we don't even talk anymore. We live in the same house, but she doesn't meet my eyes, even at the dinner table. She doesn't speak with Father or Kasumi very much, either. Almost every minute she's home, she's in her room.
But if Nabiki can't figure it out, maybe no one can.
Nabiki's room is exactly as it was the last time I saw it. I'm sure if I opened her wardrobe, I'd see all of my missing clothes, too ... but that's not what today is about. "Nabiki," I ask slowly, "can you help me?"
She looks disgusted. "The last time I helped you, I ended up ruining someone's life for that worthless scum," she grumbled. "So I don't think I really want to get my hands dirty like that again."
I can't imagine Nabiki ruining anyone's life, except maybe some boy she's leading on for money. "What are you talking about?"
"Do you remember," she returns in a flat tone, "when you and... When you asked me to take care of things so you could be married?"
I don't meet her eyes, this time, but I nod.
"Well, there were two problems to that, weren't there? Shampoo and Ukyou, right?"
"I ... guess," I admit, though this is the first time I've actually thought about either of them. Didn't he send Shampoo back to China? I don't remember hearing what happened to Ukyou ... though, now that I think about it, she hasn't been at school since then.
"You guess?" She sounds even more disgusted. "I can't believe- Look, I take my life seriously, and apparently more than you do. He sent Shampoo packing, but Ukyou was all me. Do you know what I did?"
I shake my head, no. Nabiki was responsible for Ukyou disappearing?
"I know a guy who makes movies," she answers. "I arranged it so that Ukyou got the brush off in the worst possible way. She'd see that you were with him, and how little he cared. This guy ... he would keep an eye out for her; I gave him a picture. Then he'd take her out and make sure she was ruined in this town."
"I don't understand," I say cautiously.
"I didn't think you would," Nabiki says sadly. Instead of saying anything else, she hands me a picture.
I almost tear it up with disgust when I see it. It's a picture of Ukyou, alright, and it's the kind of thing Kuno would want to buy. Just touching it makes me feel dirty.
Nabiki picks it up from where I dropped it. "Ukyou's hard for me to read. I just wanted a plan that was final, would resolve everything, and give you," and I know that this is a plural 'you', which makes me flinch, "the room you said you wanted."
"You shouldn't associate with the kind of people who would take such a picture," I say. Nabiki did this to Ukyou? That poor girl!
"Better him than some burakumin, don't you think?" she asks archly.
She may have a point. "Oh," I say quietly.
"Except that he's exactly why I did it," she continues. "So I did this, like you asked. And for absolutely nothing. You may call me heartless, Akane, but I feel nothing but regret for what I've done. There's a thousand other ways I could have dealt with this situation, and I just chose the one that would keep things solved.
"And then he goes and lets me see that I did it all for nothing," she spits, glaring. "And I have to look at you every day and say to myself, 'I did that for her,' and wonder why I ever even agreed to help. I should have just let him deal with everything himself. But I couldn't, because you asked."
"I'm sorry," I manage in a quiet voice. "I didn't... I guess we'd better apologize to Ukyou, then."
"Of course," Nabiki says doubtfully. "We'll just send her a 'sorry for getting you raped' card. That'll fix everything."
I can't help but flinch at that. "She wasn't... She didn't..." Then I swallow. "Why do you even know people like that?"
"Okay," she says with a sigh. "It probably wasn't that bad. Look, there's no bruises on her in the picture."
"I... I guess... How can we make it up to her?"
"I don't know if we can," Nabiki says glumly. "And the worst part is, if I played my cards right, she doesn't even have a reason to suspect me, because there's no link between me and... You don't need to know about him. But how can I apologize without admitting what I did, and getting my head caved in with an oversize spatula?"
"Oh." I couldn't really hold that one against Ukyou. She wouldn't kill me, of course - I wasn't the one responsible. Still... Nabiki was right. We'd need to find a way to make it up to her. "I...is she alright?"
"She's fine," Nabiki says dismissively. "Still has her little shop. She mostly just sits there all day brooding. For a while, she didn't open up at all - now she opens up for an hour on either side of noon and sells lunch to businessmen, but it's a different crowd. She smokes now, for one, and keeps the place really quiet."
"Oh, I wonder, Akane. Are you stupid? Get with it!"
"S...sorry," I manage, flinching. "D...do you think we could ... give her money?"
Nabiki looks even more disgusted. "The worst part about that idea is that I honestly can't come up with something better," she mutters. "It'd need to be a lot of money. But that's okay ... I have what should have paid for your wedding. We can give her that, and you can let her know how much better off she is, since he was... Well."
She nods to herself like that settles it, and pulls an envelope from her drawer. It's thick, filled with bills. "Take these to Ukyou," she instructs. "First thing tomorrow morning. Tell her you're sorry she hasn't been feeling well. Let her know what happened. See if you can get her to accept this as, oh, I don't know. An apology for the rivalry between the two of you."
"But nothing," Nabiki counters. "I think it's time you start dealing with some of the things you're responsible for."
Another day that's not as happy as it should be. After the disastrous discussion with Ukyou, I tuck the envelope into my purse and walk away. I look back at the roof of Ucchan's place for some reason. A breeze rises and swirls around me, shifting my skirt and making me shiver.
Something feels wrong ... and I know, just like I know a lot of things about martial arts...
I could see the Umisen-ken and the Yamasen-ken. I may not have grasped them as quickly as my father, but he's more than twice my age, so I think I'm actually better than him at recognizing that sort of thing. Or I will be, anyway.
So I don't need to check my purse to know that the money I just put in there is gone.
I felt so bad seeing how far Ukyou had fallen, and how sad she'd become. And somehow, even though I know that it shouldn't, it makes me smile. Two wrongs shouldn't make a right. Ukyou in that state ... the money missing ... but I think they do.
And I smile, because maybe today is the first happy day I've had in a while. Nabiki doesn't really need to know this time, does she? I can take responsibility for it, just like she wanted.
Good luck, Ukyou and...
Good luck, all the same. If they can be happy, then I think maybe I can, too.
Author's notes: What a trip.
So... I got inspiration from this fic from multiple sources, most of them other fanfictions. Especially (I imagine this is obvious) from 'Insignificant' and 'Poison'.
I spent the better part of six months combing every fic I could for all of the Ukyou-angst-scenes, or just generally depressing Ukyou-related-stuff, thinking that it was my moral duty as an Ukyou-fan to collate and condense that into a single, easily angst-ccessible source. I had one fic left to go - 'Saishu no Wakare' - when I got the phone call that my roommate and best friend had passed away.
At that, I left the project on hold for almost two years.
When I came back to it, I thought, the idea ... my 'penultimate-Ukyou-angst fic' ... it needed something different.
It needed a happy ending.
So, here's my attempt at that.