A Ranma ½ story
by Brian Randall
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ is property of Rumiko Takahashi and Viz video, and Project A-ko was borrowed from Soeishinsha Co., Ltd. and U.S. Manga Corps.
Notes: Something of an alt for both, with changes becoming evident as appropriate. Assume that Ranma is as canon, with the exception of his memories, and keep in mind that the events in Project: A-ko part one have not yet happened (with the exception of Shiiko arriving, which happened about 16 years ago). And a little tweaking to move the Eiko timeline back about thirty years to be even with Ranma's. The intro was just the setup — the actual divergence for Ranma takes place in volume 11. So here it is!
The rushing water all around him, the panic setting in — which way was up? The frantic scrabbling of his seemingly too-small hands as they clawed against the water, desperately seeking purchase, and not finding it. Then a sudden soft, muddy impact against his side, as he met the bottom of the pool.
He righted himself instantly, pushing away from the muddy surface with all of his might, to where he could faintly see the bubbles rising to a faint point of brightness above him. The light slowly grew, becoming wider and wider… yet so far away. His lungs were burning with pain; the desire for oxygen seeming to drain at his strength at he frantically kicked and clawed towards the surface.
His vision began to dim, and his movements became weaker as the glimmering, waving top of the pool shimmered above him, out of his reach… out of his reach… He wasn't going to make it, he could feel his body spasm, unable to resist the need to breathe, and took a gasping breath, feeling the rush of swirling water crossing over his teeth, invading his lungs and—
He sat up, coughing, spitting out water and fighting off a strange sense of displacement. It was a dream… nothing more than a dream. It took his brain a few minutes to catch up, reminding him that he had been engaged to Akane about a week ago. And Jusenkyou… and earlier than that —
He sighed, guessing who had woken him. Shaking his head once, he tried to forget about the past, and focused on the present. He coughed a few more times, then croaked out, "Stupid, uncute tomboy…"
Looking up revealed Akane standing nearby with a partially amused and partially annoyed expression. And a bucket in one hand. Ranma glanced down to check, realizing that she was, in fact, changed into her cursed form. Akane snorted, slinging the bucket over her shoulder as she left the room. "Get ready for school, Ranma."
She groaned, climbing to her feet, and grumbling about the indignity of uncute tomboys. She knew in the back of her mind that it wasn't fair to blame Akane for the nightmare… but it always put her off to wake up from a dream like that. The only ones that were worse, were the dreams where Ranma made it to the top of the pool, and… she was there.
Shaking her head, she gathered a fresh set of Chinese clothing, and padded into the bathroom, knocking before she entered. She caught a flash of her reflection out of the corner of her eye, and froze, captivated by her mirror image.
Her reflection. Ranma swallowed, feeling fresh tears well up, and suppressing them with effort. It wasn't fair… it was bad enough to turn into a girl; Ranma could have come to grips with that. But to turn into… into her… she slumped visibly, moving away from the mirror and its unkind reminder of a forgotten past. "Why…" she whispered to the quiet of the furo. "Why did you have to die? Why…"
She took a deep breath, releasing a single wracking sob. She couldn't let anyone see her like this; her reputation… she couldn't afford to let anyone see that the great Saotome Ranma was in emotional distress. But it was so hard to be strong, and Genma wasn't helping matters. She was only just getting over her, and Genma went and engaged her to another girl. "Why…"
But the furo held no answers.
Some weeks after that point found Ranma suffering the amused glances of the three Tendo sisters.
Nabiki smirked, blithely droning on, "Of course, if it had been your first kiss, it would have been a tragedy."
Kasumi released a small giggle, seeing something in Ranma's demeanor that the others hadn't. "But certainly that wasn't the case, was it, Ranma?"
He said nothing, simply scowling and remembering…
She looked at Ranma, a smile playing at the corner of her lips. "So…" she began slowly, a faint flush creeping up her cheeks. "Have you ever kissed a girl?"
The fifteen-year-old Ranma's face began to color, and he adopted a haughty expression. "'Course I have! I've kissed bunches of girls in my time. Why?"
She dithered a moment, pointing her index fingers together and flexing them nervously, too flushed to look directly at Ranma. In a quiet voice, she asked, "Would you kiss me?"
Akane hid a smile of her own, seeing Ranma color, then storm off to the dojo. Turning back to her sisters, she asked, "I wonder what that was about?"
Nabiki shrugged, seemingly uninterested.
Akane shook her head, wondering, while Kasumi wore a worried expression, thinking that she had perhaps said too much.
In the dojo, Ranma muttered to himself, hunched in the center of the wooden floor. He sulked, "Feh! Laughingstock of the whole town… Nobody cares how I feel, just…" He trailed off, not wanting to think about his first kiss. And then there was Akane…
The young Ranma swallowed nervously, then nodded, and slowly drew his face to hers. Their lips touched tentatively, a simple, sweet kiss, one that lingered on his mind even after he pulled away. He felt a vague sensation in the back of his head, as though he had blown a mental fuse. All he could manage to say was, "Whoa…"
She giggled deliriously, throwing herself across his lap and snuggling into his embrace. He flushed, suddenly overwhelmed by how cute it all was. Blushing profusely, she poked his nose, accusing, "That was your first kiss too, wasn't it?"
A swat on the back of his head diverted his attention elsewhere, and he looked up to see Akane, first aid kit in hand. "Your back's wide open," she criticized. "You're completely off guard."
Ranma said nothing, simply peering at her out of the corner of his eyes, and curling in on himself.
Akane scowled at the lack of a reaction. "How long do you plan to pout?" She rolled her eyes, complaining, "And you call yourself a man!"
Growling, Ranma looked away. "If you think it's so funny… go ahead and laugh!"
Akane knelt in front of him, looking him straight in the eyes… and laughed. "Hah!"
Ranma sprang to his feet, furious, demanding, "What's so funny!?"
Akane turned serious, losing her demeanor of false cheer. "Was that really your first kiss?" she asked. It had better have been, or…
She drew herself away slightly, eyes still sparking with joy. "Ranma," she began. "I don't think I ever want to kiss another boy aside from you… I think…"
Ranma swallowed, stunned by the adoration in her eyes, wishing he could find his tongue and say something for the situation, and cursing himself a fool for remaining silent.
Drawing an unsteady breath, the girl began again, "Ranma, I think I lo—"
"BOY!" the shout brought both teenagers to their feet, several meters apart while they frantically tried to look innocent. Genma stamped into the clearing, wearing a cross expression. "Boy," he grumbled, glowering between Ranma and the girl. "Come on, time for your sparring session."
Ranma sank to the floor again, deflating, and saying nothing for a long moment. Akane began to dig through the first aid kit. Turning away to hide a slowly building blush, Ranma mumbled, "What difference does that make?"
Akane frowned, not finding as much gauze as she had hoped for. "Oh, foo…" Turning her attention back to Ranma, she muttered, "It doesn't make any difference at all. But really…" She crawled over to a position where she could bandage Ranma, studying his face while carefully tending his wounds. She knew that she couldn't cook, but taking care of Ranma's cuts and scrapes was something she could handle easily enough. She admonished, "… to let yourself be kissed so easily!" She frowned for a moment, concentrating on applying another bandage. "… You haven't trained enough."
He frowned, saying nothing and mulling it over while Akane prepared another bandage, her speech continuing unabated, "You talk a good match, but you leave yourself open a lot."
Ranma blinked at that, and shifted his position swiftly. Before she was completely aware of what was going on, Akane found herself laying across Ranma's lap, his face close to hers while he peered down at her. He stared into her eyes, unblinking as he asked, "Who are you to talk?"
She stared up at him with wide eyes, wondering if he would actually kiss her. Akane began to close her eyes the slightest bit, to encourage Ranma… but found herself abruptly sitting on the floor while Ranma made warding gestures from halfway across the dojo.
Sputtering, he explained, "D-don't get the wrong idea!" Even had he wanted to, he doubted he could easily forget what he had once, and move on. Not that soon. But… maybe…
From the sidelines, the assembled Tendo family plus panda watched the exchange intently.
Genma frowned, studying Ranma out of the corner of his eyes. There was no way he was going to allow his idiot son to ruin the engagement he had planned even before the boy was born. He would just need to find a way to make sure that Ranma would forget about her…
And she would forget about him, too. Somehow. He was confident that he would come up with a plan. They would be going to China soon, and he didn't want the boy spending his time thinking about a girl that Genma wasn't going to let him marry. He would marry one of the Tendo daughters, one way or another.
"It's not like I was gonna kiss you, or anything!" he rambled. Even if he could… would he still be thinking of her?
Blushing furiously, Akane attempted to adopt a haughty expression. "I-I-I know that. You don't have the guts…"
In a quiet bedroom, an alarm went off. A slender arm emerged from beneath a tangled heap of blankets, the questing hand fumbling for something to throw at the alarm clock for a moment, before the bedding fell away to reveal a rather disheveled and tired looking redhead.
She climbed out of the bed and swatted the clock until it stopped, then staggered towards the shower.
Once the first cold drops of water streamed across her, she bit her tongue to restrain a yelp, and raised the temperature.
Yep. It had been about a year and some odd months… since that day, the last day she had seen… She shoved the thought away. Today was going to be a good day. She was going to smile, and she was going to laugh, and damn it, she was going to put the past behind her.
Yet there was that nagging doubt, telling her that she'd never be able to forget him, no matter how hard she tried.
Swallowing, she stared directly up at the showerhead, pouring steaming water across her face and hiding her tears. Unbidden, the memory returned to her. The memory of…
Ranma's father shook his head sadly, intoning in a quiet voice, "I'm sorry, Megami-san. I'm afraid that… my son is… no longer with us." Genma sniffled loudly, weeping into a handkerchief.
The girl peered around the corner of the stairwell, into the living room, aghast at what she was hearing. Her father nodded stoically, saying, "Ah… well then, Saotome-san. That does change things. I'm very sorry to hear about Ranma… I'll have to tell…"
She shook her head, scrubbing at her eyes, and washing away the tears forcefully. She was not going to cry today. She was going to go to outside, and she was going to have a good day, and… and… and…
Composing herself, she finished washing with quick and methodical precision. She would be going to a new school in a few months, and until then, had some free time. Maybe she could look up an old friend, or keep herself busy some other way… no sense letting the past drag her down again.
She dressed quickly, wearing the pair of bracers her parents gave her, trying not to think about the identical pair she had given Ranma before…
Yes, Megami Eiko was going to try and have a good day today.
To be continued.
Author's notes: The title translates to 'Return a second time'.
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