The Things We Wish For...

Epilogue

Any and all C+C is appreciated. You can contact me at

sommer@3rdm.net

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Standard Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Ranma 1/2 characters. They belong to Takahashi and whomever she sold the rights to.

Preface: A choice was made...

xxxxxxx

The woman drudged up the hill, following the stone walkway through the cemetery. It was a path that was painfully familiar after having been trod upon fourteen times in her life. Had she never been here before, her life would have been a million times happier. Some felt cemeteries were places that one reflected contentedly upon their past. For her, it was filled with nothing but remorse over missing people that should have been at her side forever. But still she forced herself to make the pilgrimage every year, and would continue to do so until it was time for her to be laid to rest herself. Retiring here was easier than visiting, at least to her way of thinking.

She passed by numerous markers identifying the other denizens of the burial ground. No one else was visiting the dead on this autumn day. Now that she thought of it, there was rarely anyone here when she visited. It must not have been a good day to die, save for the person in the gravesite she was going to attend. But then, the subject of the matter preferred marching to their own beat. It was only appropriate they chose a day to die when no one else had.

Already despair was threatening to overwhelm her, and she was only halfway to the grave. It seemed harder to visit every year, guilt growing like a cancer as time passed. It made no sense, but if life had taught her anything, it was that it never made sense. And it sure was hell wasn't fair either. You just did the best with what you were dealt, as Nabiki had been fond of saying. There was someone who knew how to turn a hand to her advantage like few could. It was irritating, in a fashion. But then much about Nabiki irritated many around her. Nabiki just didn't care. The woman wished she could be as nonchalant about the opinions of others, but it was a trick that eluded her. If it ran in the family, it must have passed the woman over.

A biting wind blew, kicking leaves up and across the path as the woman continued walking uphill. There was a park bench nearby, placed along the walkway for people just like her, for whom the trek up the hill proved arduous. She resisted the urge to sit down and catch her breath. It was best to get unpleasant things done with quickly, rather than dragging them out and making them seem worse than they were. She'd only feel well once she was gone from here and could put the visit behind her until next year.

Time slowed to a crawl as the grave markers passed by on each side. The familiar sight of an elaborately carved statue of a winged woman blowing a large horn above a grave site let the woman know she was close to her destination. As pretentious as the statue was, it did seem appropriate, the figure in marble silently heralding the woman's arrival.

Twenty more graves passed by, then she came upon the familiar one. She felt another wave of depression drain much of her remaining strength. She never grew used to seeing the words etched on the tombstone, and she never would no matter how many years passed. A part of her was weary of the reaction, while another part was glad. It meant she still could feel passion, a sign that she continued to be alive, rather than simply existing.

The tombstone was simple, in contrast to the person who laid buried beneath it. An enigma wrapped in a paradox, created to frustrate all who came into contact with them. The thought brought a smile to her face, something that had been foreign to her in the last two weeks as the dread for the upcoming visit continued to build.

She knelt before the grave and murmured her prayers for the dead. There was no lip-service involved; she meant the words and sentiment behind them.

After the prayers were finished, the smile disappeared and the recriminations began. The mantra of 'If only I had done any one of a thousand things differently, maybe none of this would have happened, and I would be laughing with my loved ones instead of being here today,' kept repeating itself in her mind like a record stuck in a groove. But it was all for nothing. She had done what she thought was the best thing to do at the time. It was small consolation, but at least she had some measure of it. Deal with the reality of the situation, rather than allow a thousand phantom situations to haunt your existence. Another truth life had forced her to learn. It served her well, at least most of the time.

Her fingers played along the surface of the stone and the kanji etched upon it. Three simple phrases that summarized a lifetime filled with experiences beyond imagining to most. Yet the words etched on the stone held the most important feats of the one who they referred to. Had they been alive, they would have agreed, even if profound thoughts only came to them once in a lifetime.

She knelt in silent contemplation, remembering the times they had shared, and finding them all too brief. It was a form of hypocrisy, perhaps, but she couldn't help herself. Her temper had always been quick, and control hard to come by no matter how hard she tried. It was an integral part of her, and there was nothing that could change that. She accepted that long ago, as did those that chose to remain at her side as the years passed by. There were surprisingly many, and good people, too. It was something to be proud of. Perhaps her temper wasn't so bad after all, or maybe her kindness more than counterbalanced it. Who could say?

She was still pondering the past when a voice behind her said, "Looking pretty old there, Akane."

The familiar voice made Akane turn. She found herself staring into the wizened features of an elderly woman. "You're a fine one to talk. You're a year older than me."

"Is that anyway to talk to your mother?" the newcomer protested.

"It's exactly the way to talk to you."

Kachiko and Akane embraced, mindful of their elderly bodies. Ninety-six and ninety-five years respectively had taken their toll, and neither had been willing to do what Happosai and Cologne had done to themselves to ensure their vitality. A broken bone wouldn't heal right, if it all. Modern science was only so good, after all, and old age still the most resilient foe of them all.

"It's good to see you again," Kachiko said more seriously.

"And you," Akane agreed.

"You beat me here again," Kachiko complained. "You always do. But one of these days, I'll get here first."

"Never. You're too much a procrastinator."

Their greetings finished, both turned once again to the grave. Kachiko turned mournful as she read the words on the tomb.

Ranma Saotome:

Beloved Son

Proud Father

Frustratingly Adored Husband

"That's so horribly appropriate," Akane commented.

"Got that right." Kachiko said, with a sad, if wry smile. "It wasn't right for him to die so young."

"No, it wasn't. But it was the way he would have wanted to go."

Kachiko nodded somberly. "Checking out bedridden from old age would have crushed him. He remained true to his nature no matter how old he got. Can't live life more truly than that."

Her words succinctly stated their feelings. Silence reigned between the two for a while.

Eventually, Kachiko broke the silence, as she usually did. Akane felt silence never suited her, even if nothing needed to be said.

As somberly as before, Kachiko said, "I heard Nabiki died while I was abroad."

"The cancer finally took her." The words were hard to say. The weight of her sister's death still weighing heavily upon Akane. She and Nabiki had never been truly close, despite their ages. They had nothing in common. But Akane had still loved her sister as much as anyone.

"Guess her hourglass finally ran out," Kachiko muttered.

"What was that?" Akane asked.

"Something an old boyfriend of hers mentioned to me. It doesn't matter now." Kachiko looked up to the skies and took a deep breath. "So we're the last ones left of our generation."

Akane nodded mutely. She hadn't wanted to outlive anyone, let alone everyone. It was a burden to bear, being the only one left who truly remembered everyone. It was made the worse by having no one to share the memories with, outside of her 'mother', one whom had never given birth to her.

"We really ought to get together other than during times when we're visiting dead people. How are the kids?" Kachiko asked, changing the subject.

"Complaining about how old they are and putting up with the fact they've become grandparents themselves." Akane giggled. She had never lost the ability to do that, no matter how old she got. It made her feel young, no matter how old she truly was.

"Ha! Mine are the same way. I keep telling them to quit bitching. You and me passed that stage a long time ago." Kachiko partially laughed, partially wheezed, in amusement. But the mirth in her eyes made her seem young, even as Akane's giggle did the same to her.

Kachiko continued smiling. "Hey, you remember when you made that wish way back when?"

"I was just thinking about it yesterday." When Akane thought about her past, as they seemed to do more often of late, that situation almost always floated to the surface. It wasn't really a surprise. It was one of the most important moments of her life. Perhaps the most important. It was hard to say.

"Did you think things would turn out the way they did after you made the wish?" Kachiko asked.

"Not for a second."

"I wouldn't have either." Kachiko admitted. "Still, you have to admit, you couldn't have made a better wish," she said without a hint of humility.

Akane considered the statement. "Well, I did have my doubts for a while, serious doubts, but it worked out just fine in the long run." She stopped, then grumbled a gruff, "I guess."

"What was that?!" Kachiko asked angrily.

Akane looked up and smiled mischievously. "Oh, nothing," she teased. It wasn't often she could throw her mother off like that. It was fun, and reassuring to know she still had a few surprises left in her.

The light of understanding shone in Kachiko's eyes. "Such a wiseguy. If I had raised you, I'd have taught you to treat your parents with more respect than that." She laughed herself. "Look, we've paid our respects. If Ranma could, he'd slap us around for grumbling over his grave. Why don't we go out and talk about how the good old days were so much better than now and complain about how kids these days don't know how well they got it?"

"You mean sound like our parents used to?" Akane asked.

"Once you have kids of your own, you turn into your parents. It's genetic," Kachiko said philosophically.

"You're probably right about that," Akane agreed. "Where to?"

"I know this great little out of the way bar that has the best Jell-O shooters this side of Japan."

Akane shook her head. "I'm amazed your liver is still alive after the way you abuse it."

Kachiko pounded on her stomach. "Martial Arts Drinking. Makes the liver as tough as iron."

"You made that up."

"Hey, would I lie to you? Pay for my drinks and I'll show you."

"Oh, like I'd fall for that one. How about we pay for our own drinks and see if you're as resilient as you claim."

"You're on."

As the pair turned to head toward the bar and catch up on lost time, Akane let Kachiko walk ahead. Looking at her mother's back, Akane reflected on a simple question that had been posed to her, one that ended up being perhaps the most important of her life.

She murmured to herself. "Well, it might not have been what we wanted, but it was definitely what me and my family needed."

Kachiko turned. "What was that? My hearing isn't what it used to be."

"I said yes."

"Yes to what?"

"Just yes."

Kachiko stared at her 'daughter' and shrugged. "Getting silly before drinking. There's a first."

Akane just smiled enigmatically. While her answer had been the right one, there was no reason not to get one up on Kachiko. Nabiki wasn't the only Tendou that could play a head game or two when the situation demanded it.

As Kachiko would say, life was odd, but definitely good, and then you drink.

Not a bad philosophy.

Akane caught up to her mother and continued walking by her side.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

[And here endth the fic]

[End notes] You know, if I had realized how long this story was going to be over a year and a half ago, I wouldn't have started it. I had originally envisioned chapters 40-70k in size at the max, and only ten or so. Roughly the size of Vacation Days, or maybe a little longer. But of course it grew on me, and I had to adjust things as C+C came in and good ideas came up on how to improve the story. Most of them meant expansion of the story, but it was necessary. I'm happier with how the input affected things than if I had not received it. By the time I realized how big it was going to be, I was more than halfway done, I don't like putting that much work into something only to stop. I prefer finishing what I start, as long as it makes it past the prologue stage. It's been a bit of a grind these last few months, but I was nearing the end, and once the finish line is in sight, I want to sprint to it.

Regarding Kachiko's wide-array of abilities, well, they weren't to make her a kick-ass member of the gang. Look at her and you'll see she's not so much a protagonist as antagonist to the others, so that each of the Tendous and Ranma would be affected by her in some way, usually by Kachiko having an adversarial position to them, one that changed over time. Yes, it did make her somewhat overpowered in a few places, maybe a bit shifty, but her 'abilities' were never going to grow beyond what they started at, so if she lost from the start, she wasn't going to win at all. As much of the story centered on Kachiko, the real focus was on the effect she had on the others, rather than what her actions meant to her. Oh, I tried to make her more than two dimensional, gave her a background and some measure of sympathy (as well as antipathy with her behavior) but it was the others that were evolving, rather than her character, that was the important part of the story. That way when the climax came, of her staying or going, in either case her presence had an overall positive effect on the others. Hopefully that was clear without having saying it out loud. I do enough 'telling'. I wanted to try to 'show' a little more. Hopefully I was successful.

Who did Ranma end up married to? It doesn't matter. It's not a match up fic. It was never going to be a match up fic. I just needed to create enough chemistry between Ranma and Kachiko so that Akane's decision at the end would have some tension. I leave it up to the reader's imagination, even if I know the truth. I'm not saying. I intentionally left it vague, so people can draw their own conclusions.

Well, I hope you enjoyed it. As much as it took more hard work than usual, I enjoyed writing it. Thanks to all the people that helped make it better, including the prereaders

Eternal Lost Lurker

Michael Chase

David Tai

Chris Horton

The Apprentice