"Not fair…" A lone figure trudges down a deserted street, while a thin haze of snow flits downwards from the heavens.
Of course it's not.
"Why me?" The road ends, and the figure turns, following another empty street aimlessly.
Why not? It's your fault, you know.
"It's not like I meant it to end up like that." An old wooden bridge interrupts the smooth layer of snow in front of the figure, as it plods on aimlessly.
The road to hell is paved… but you already knew that, didn't you?
"Bah. It's not like anyone cares anyway. They'd all be better of without me." The figure pauses for a moment, looking across the railing.
That's your fault too, of course.
"They'd all be happier without me, I bet." The figure leans over, and peers into the icy, swirling waters that flow beneath the bridge.
Coward. That's the easy way out. You're better than that. Or are you?
A Ranma ½ short story
by Brian Randall
Disclaimer: All the characters depicted in this story are from Ranma ½, which was created by Rumiko Takahashi.
Ranma snorted, clearing his sinuses slightly, and turned away from the railing. "What am I thinking… this is stupid. I'd better get back ho… to the Tendos."
He stepped forward, peering about for a familiar sign to lead him back to the dojo, when he heard a voice behind him. "Or maybe you're a coward for living. Ever think of that?"
Ranma spun around, landing in a defensive stance. Sitting on the railing calmly, one leg draped over the other, was an odd woman. Her dark eyes and the odd clothing she wore set off her light hair, giving her an aura of control.
The pigtailed martial artist slipped out of his defensive stance slightly alarmed that she was able to sneak up on him so easily. He eyed her clothing, noting how scantily clad she was in the cold weather.
She leaned forward provocatively, "Cat got your tongue, boy?"
Ranma snapped his attention away from the woman's charms and scowled, "What's it to ya?"
The woman hopped off the railing, and sauntered towards Ranma lazily. She reached out one hand, and lazily traced a line across his jaw with one finger, "Too bad… you're kind of cute."
Irritably, Ranma batted her hand away, "I don't gotta deal with you right now. I got enough problems."
Lips quirking in a smile, the woman nodded, "I'm sure you do. But did you ever wonder…. what the world would be like if you hadn't been born?"
Ranma scowled, and tried to take a step away, only to find his body refusing him. "What… what's goin' on here?!"
The woman turned away, her odd clothing swirling around her, "My name is Marller, Ranma. I'm a demoness. I've been sent to show you what a good job you've been doing."
After a moment of shock, Ranma found his voice, "How didja know my name? And what the hell are ya talkin' about, anyway?"
Marller grinned broadly, "I know all about you, Ranma. All about your curse, your fiancées, I know everything. And I know you were considering jumping off of that bridge. I need to show you how much you've helped us, and what the world would be like if you hadn't been born."
Ranma blinked in surprise, "What's that supposed ta' mean?"
The demoness rolled her eyes, "A bit thick, aren't you? Come on… well, it's not like you have much of a choice in the matter, now is it? Remember, they can't see you."
His question was answered by an amused snort, "Never mind. You'll see what I'm talking about in a moment."
Ranma came to his senses on his knees, his stomach heaving. He drew the back of one hand across his mouth, resisting the urge to retch, and looked around. "Huh… what… what's this?"
Marller appeared next to him, floating a few inches above the ground. "Don't forget," she cautioned, "they can't see you."
Blinking, the pigtailed martial artist rose to his feet and glanced around. "This… this is Mom's house, isn't it?"
The demoness nodded, "Yep. And your mom and dad… well, they never had you. The Saotomes are about to arrive. Let's watch."
Genma walked into the room, a weary yet content expression on his face. After setting down a briefcase, he removed a wide-brimmed hat and a black coat. Whistling to himself, he stretched a bit, then walked over to a soft chair and picked a newspaper up from the table.
A moment later, Nodoka entered from the other room, and picked up the briefcase. "Hello, dear! How was work?"
The man grunted, setting down the paper, "Same as always, darling. The office is always really hectic this time of year. It's a big holiday in America, and they always give us more work…"
Nodoka set the briefcase down on a small table, then paused to straighten out Genma's coat. Once done, she sat in a chair opposite Genma and smiled at him, "I'm proud of you, Husband. You always work hard, no matter how tough the work gets."
The man frowned slightly, then nodded, "Nodoka, dear… I've been thinking…"
The woman smiled, "Yes, Husband?"
Genma smiled, "Have you… given much thought to children?"
Ranma stared at the scene slack-jawed, "Pop… in a suit… working… what… what… I don't get it… how?"
Marller shook her head, grimacing in distaste, "Ugh! What a scene. See how much better you made things by being born?"
The pigtailed boy whipped his head towards her. For a moment, their eyes met, as he searched hers for some sign of humor. Finding none, he scowled and shook his head, "No, I don't. They look happy. What's better about the way things were?"
The demoness shrugged, "Think about it! With you as an excuse, Genma was able to escape Nodoka's clutches before she turned him…" She trailed off, shuddering slightly, "Turned him into an honorable man. Nodoka's happy here! Where's the lovely stress and agitation that you caused her, simply by not being there for ten years! Ugh. Domestic tranquility, my ass. Oh, gross. Let's get out of here while they're busy."
The boy blanched and stiffened, not turning to look at them.
Ranma lurched slightly as the next transition swept across his perception, but remained standing. He glanced around apprehensively, not recognizing his whereabouts.
From her position in the air near him, Marller sighed, "Your dear friend, 'Ucchan.' Let's see how she is without you in her past."
The boy nodded, watching the room expectantly.
Ukyou marched into the room, bristling with anger, "The nerve of that boy! On the third date, no less! Ugh."
Shaking her head, the girl smoothed her dress out, and then donned an apron. She muttered to herself as she bound her flowing hair with a ribbon, "Save it for the easel, girl… save it."
After a moment of preparation, she turned towards an artist's easel, and gathered a small palette of paints. She stared at the blank canvas in front of her for a long moment, as though she was seeking out a pattern in its bleached surface. Nodding decisively, she slashed the brush across the white expanse, and within minutes, a portrait was forming before her; no longer a collection of splotches of paint, but a vibrant image, full of life and meaning.
Ranma stared over Ukyou's shoulder, gaping at the image that was being constructed. "D… damn. She's good… I never figured… I didn't think she'd wear a dress, either…"
Marller sighed, clicking her tongue, "Without you to help, she never became obsessed with martial arts. She never decided to further our cause by lying, and… worst of all, without you her true potential as a painter emerged."
The boy furrowed his brow in through, "You… she's not happy though, is she? She was complainin' about a boy."
The demoness shrugged, "Eh. She's got boy problems. That's normal. A girl like her… well, instead of throwing her life away in pursuit of someone who doesn't care about her, she's looking for someone who actually does care. What did you expect?"
Ranma tore his attention away from the painting, "I don't… what… I guess everythin's better without me, ain't it?"
Marller shook her head, "Are you blind? Look at how much worse everything is without you! It was way better when you were around. Now come on, let's see how the amazons are faring."
Catching himself instantly, Ranma was briefly pleased to note none of the nausea from the first trips across reality. The pleasure faded, as Ranma remembered everything that he had seen, and expected to see more.
Still near him, Marller shook her head, "So much wasted potential here. I mean, look at them!"
Shampoo sighed, placing one of her hands atop Mousse's. Smiling slyly, she glanced at his face, noting his goofy expression. "Husband. Are you happy?"
The hidden-weapons expert nodded vigorously, "Of course! I love you more than anything else!"
The purple-haired Amazon grinned, then jerked on Mousses arm, flipping him over and pinning him against the floor with one foot.
Ranma smiled slightly, "See? They ain't happy here. Things are worse without me."
Marller shook her head, "Um… no… That’s just a little game they play before they… well. They're busy, so lets take a step though this wall for a moment, hmm?"
Eyes widening, the pigtailed martial artist allowed himself to be hauled to a point several meters above the house they had just levitated out of. "Oh. I guess they're happier here…"
The demoness nodded solemnly, "Sadly enough, yes. Neither of them got cursed, Shampoo never resorted to dark magic to try and capture you… so much wasted potential. It's almost as bad as the Hibiki boy. He's not cursed, and he wanders the earth helping people! Without you, he doesn't give in to his rage. It's sad, really."
Ranma slumped forward listlessly, "This sucks. What else is there?"
"Hmm… the Tendos, I guess. Let's go see them now, hmm?"
Ranma stared around at the undamaged building before him. "It ain't all torn up."
The demoness shrugged, "Property damage isn't a big deal. Emotional damage, now, that is what we like… and there isn't much left here without your interference."
Sighing, Ranma floated towards the house, "Joy. Any other good news?"
"Maybe. We're hiring, you know. But let's watch the Tendos a bit, first."
Akane stared at her father sullenly, then sighed and shifted her gaze to her feet. "Fine… I… I give up. You win. I won't make any of my own choices. Happy? I'll do whatever you say."
Soun smiled brightly, "I'm glad to hear it! You know, if Saotome had a child, you'd already be engaged to him, but even if he has a son now, it's a bit late for that… at any rate, your marriage to the Kuno boy will insure that the dojo has an heir!"
The youngest Tendo sister grumbled, and trudged up the stairs. In her own room, she sighed, "I guess it could have been worse."
Ranma winced, "That… I'm not sure that this is better than when I was here…"
"Well, Akane's a big one, so I'll talk about her sisters first." The demoness scowled, "Of course, Kasumi's pretty much the same… though you did cause her stress… anyway. Nabiki never got a chance to explore her mercenary side as thoroughly as she could when you were around. Not exactly a goody-two-shoes here, but not nearly as bad as she was there. I have to compliment her on sending the invitations to your attempted wedding to all your enemies… but you're much more efficient than she is."
Shaking his head, Ranma tried to ignore the knot of tension in his gut, "So. What about Akane, then?"
Marller shrugged, "Without you, things went quite differently. She never had anyone to shame her constantly. No fiancé to take her position as the best martial artist away. No fiancé to tell her she wasn't even good at being a girl…" The demoness smiled at Ranma, "You did a damn good job of hurting her emotionally, you know. Constantly insulting her with your words, and then acting like you might care through it behind all that, and insulting her even worse while pretending not to mean it!"
Face coloring in anger, Ranma shook his head, "What the heck are you talking about? I don't… care… about A… Akane…" Flustered, he turned his back to the demoness.
She sighed, "Now… come on. You know you hurt her feelings. When you weren't mocking her, you were better at doing everything Akane considered important. You were prettier, sexier, you could cook… hell, you were a better girl than she was, and complained that you were a guy all the while! That was smart. Made those 'tomboy' remarks hit a couple hundred times harder! I have to admit, evil as subtle as that has to be respected. You never even had to resort to killing anyone."
Ranma turned a dull gaze to the demoness, the color having fled his face. He blinked twice, then shook his head, saying nothing.
Marller droned on, seemingly oblivious, "And she never even managed to get in decent trouble without you! Ryugenzawa was unimportant to her, since she wasn't trying to defend her reputation as a martial artist. Of course, Shinnosuke and his grandfather died, but you can't even count the blood of innocents, since technically you weren't born. I guess that cross-dressing ninja might be unhappy, but it's not nearly as bad as you were at torturing him in your world."
Turning a haunted gaze to her, Ranma managed, "What… what about Konatsu in my world?"
"Oh, you know. Doomed to pine after Ukyou, even though she's hopelessly in love with you. Nice symmetry, there. I love your style. Heck, a lot of my superiors are impressed… whoops. Forget about that when we get to contract negotiations. Too bad about Happosai. Without someone like you to amuse him, he got bored and left the Tendos alone."
Marller waved a hand absently, "Not important. Back to Akane. Here she's actually going to end up marrying someone who loves her. Sad, really. Though there is the added benefit of the fact that here she's not denying part of herself, it's just not as big compared to the damage you did there."
Ranma sank to the floor in an unceremonious heap, "Huh?" He blinked a few times, feeling the despair that had built up crashing down all at once.
The demoness shrugged, "Oh, you know. Akane was curious about bisexuality. A small thing really, but you managed to bring it to the fore. Since you already destroyed her confidence, it began wearing away at her. Beautiful how you managed to make her torture herself with that, with your changing gender and all. Very clever."
Ranma felt as though the floor had been taken out from underneath him, and squeezed his eyes together. "I… don't want to see anymore. Take me back."
Marller drifted down to the railing, still smiling, "So. You have three choices here. You can come work for us, and leave all this behind."
Ranma coughed, and lurched over to the opposite railing. Once there, his stomach emptied its contents into the river below. The retching was caused not by teleportation, or whatever the demoness had done, but by the things that he had seen. "Uh… am… I really that evil?"
The demoness sighed, "Not really. But you have a hell of a lot of potential, and even though you didn't always mean too, you did a hell of a lot of damage. We can use someone like you."
Ranma shuddered, then shook his head violently, "I ain't gonna work for you. I don't wanna be like that."
Pouting, Marller shrugged, "Then you really only have two choices. Either go back and continue what you're doing, or…" She trailed off, pointing down towards the flowing water. "So. What's it going to be?"
The boy licked his lips nervously, "What… was that about being a coward… before this all began?"
Marller's face acquired a feral grin, "Are you a coward, and going to run from death? It's easy, but you're afraid of it, aren't you? You don't have the courage to jump in."
Ranma growled, and climbed up on the railing. Swallowing nervously, he stared down into the river. Muttering under his breath, he said, "I'm not a coward."
The demoness drifted towards him, still floating, "Then why aren't you jumping?"
Ranma stared into the river for a long moment, then turned his gaze to the demoness, "'Cause I ain't a coward." He jumped away from the railing, and landed on the middle of the bridge, "I don't care what you said. I don't care. You know what?"
The demoness looked mildly amused, while Ranma slowly whipped himself up into a frenzy, "What's that, Ranma?"
The boy's voice began to rise in volume, "I know what everyone can be, now! I know what's goin' on, and I know that everyone can be happy! I know! I'm gonna…" Trailing off, he shot Marller a piercing gaze, "You know what I'm gonna do?"
Marller shook her head, feigning interest, "Do tell. I'm just dying to know."
Ranma shouted, "I'm gonna fix things! I ain't givin' up, and I ain't a coward!" Drawing in a deep breath, he roared, "I ain't gonna be evil, and I ain't gonna hurt people anymore, and there ain't anything you can do about it!"
With that, Ranma spun on one foot, and marched away, resolute in his conviction to set things right.
Marller watched him go, then sighed.
Another figure faded into view, just as Ranma disappeared from sight. "You want to explain that to me?"
Startled at the other's arrival, Marller jumped to her feet, "Urd! What, I, uh… I…"
Urd sighed, "It's not like I would miss someone making up history and taking someone along with them." Then she embraced the demoness, "Now turn off the illusion, Skuld. I want to know why you did that."
Wincing, 'Marller' dissolved, reforming as a small girl with a hammer. "How did you know?"
The Norn of the Past smirked, "Marller would never have done that." Frowning, she added, "I'm still having trouble believing you would do something like that."
Skuld stared at her feet, and hugged herself tightly, "I… saw a future where he realized everything he had done too late, and then he did kill himself. At first, I thought I would just try and show him to future, but… then I realized that I couldn't force him to accept something like that. So I had to find a w-way to t-t…" The young goddess finally broke down into tears, sobbing into her older sister's chest. "I didn't want to hurt him!"
Urd frowned, "I should hope not. Let's sneak in and see what they're doing now. Maybe he's not hurt too badly… if we're lucky, maybe he's even trying to fix things."
The Tendo family, plus the elder Saotomes turned as one, to face Ranma as he entered. Her chest was heaving, and she managed to gasp out between breaths, "Bad… didn't mean… sorry… gotta fix…"
Kasumi was the first to respond. "Oh, my, you'll catch cold like that. Would you like some hot water, Ranma?"
Blinking, Ranma shook her head, and focused for a moment, to catch her breath, "No time. Akane! I gotta talk to ya!"
Akane frowned uneasily, still hurt by the verbal blows that had preceded Ranma's departure, "What do we have to talk about, Ranma."
The redhead marched forward, grabbed Akane's wrist, and hauled her towards the dojo, "I gotta explain! Come on!"
Shrugging, Kasumi set the kettle of hot water back down. "Would anyone like some more rice?"
Akane watched warily, as Ranma paced back and forth nervously, like a caged cat. "Ranma… what's this all about?"
Ranma nodded to herself, "Akane, I gotta say I'm sorry. I never meant ta hurt ya, but… you know how bad I am with all that… talkin'… stuff… And… I gotta say some things ta ya."
Nodding suspiciously, Akane said, "So talk."
Sinking to a sitting position near Akane, Ranma explained, "I been real careless with my words, an' I said a bunch of things that really hurt ya, but I never… well… I never meant em, but I said em anyway. I feel real bad now that I know what kind of things I was sayin', and I wanna make it up to ya. Before I can do that, I gotta explain somethin to ya."
Drawing a deep breath, Ranma said, "The first thing I gotta say is… you ain't uncute. Er… well… I mean, you are cute. You ain't a tomboy. I know I say things like that all the time, but I don't mean 'em. I… don't want to hurt you, cause… cause…" She flushed, staring at her knees, but continued, "Anyway. I'm always sayin' you're not good at martial arts, but you're really not that bad. I bet if you were to train with me an' Pop, you could be almost as good as me."
The youngest Tendo sister reeled, "Uh… uh…" Narrowing her eyes, she collected herself, and demanded, "Who are you, and what have you done with the real Ranma?"
Ranma looked shocked for a moment, then scowled, "Stupid tomboy, I was-" Ranma clapped her hands over her mouth, a horrified expression on her face. Swallowing, she lowered her hands, and blurted out, "I didn't mean it! I only call ya that 'cause I ain't good at saying that I like ya!"
Akane froze, mid-slap, "What."
The redhead frowned, "Was that a question? I mean… I said… I like ya. Heck, I almost married ya. I wouldn't have done that… if I didn't… oh hell. You were right. I lied. I did say that…" She swallowed, "I did say that I loved you at Jusendo." She raised her eyes from her knees, meeting Akane's, "An… if you can forgive me for all the crap I put ya' through… I still do. I'm just… real sorry about… always hurtin' you."
The hand, reaching for Ranma's face, twitched once. Akane made a muffled choking noise, and dropped the hand, "What… what do you mean about how much you hurt me? You…" Her sad tone suddenly became shocked and curious, "You… you love me?"
Ranma nodded, "I… do." Fidgeting nervously, Ranma muttered, "Shoulda' got the hot water when I had the chance."
Akane looked up, wondering at the change of subject, "Why is that?"
Flushing, the redhead explained, "'Cause… I'd like ta hug ya…"
Urd moved one hand to cover Skuld's eyes, "Well. I must say, that worked pretty smoothly. Good work, little sister. Now let's give these two lovebirds some privacy."
Skuld sniffled, "I'm… glad, but I'm still sorry about hurting Ranma."
As the two walked away, Urd said, "Pain brings growth, little sister. It hurt him, but I think that in the end it made him a much better person. Belldandy wouldn't do it that way, but… you did good."
Author's note: A very close friend of mine talked me out of committing suicide quite recently. I guess… in this story, I'm putting myself in as Ranma. It's easy to see in hindsight when you make a mistake… or in my case, lots and lots of mistakes, but owning up to them is really hard. I've calmed down a little, and realized that the pain I was running from really did make me a better person. But I found a fic like this is much more cathartic than writing a fic and committing suicide by proxy… that would just be projecting my pain on others, and… well… I don't like to hurt people.
Oh well. I hope that this fic brings a little cheer to your hearts.
Happy Holidays, and Goddess bless.
December 19, 2000
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