(DISCLAIMER: This is based on the Ranma ½ series by Rumiko Takahashi – the characters aren't owned or the invention me, the author of this fanfic, in any way, shape, or form. The Epilogue involves a crossover from Inuyasha, another series I don't own. There are also numerous pop culture references to other work that I have no right to throughout this story.)
(BRIEF EXPLANATION: The story begins towards the end of a particular story arc in the manga, where Ryoga accidentally "catches" Ranma with a magical fishing rod – though Ryoga had intended to catch Akane instead – causing Ranma to fall in love with him. The way the manga story arc ended, however, is different than how it ends here – and thus changes the whole course of the series.)
(PAIRINGS: If you really want to spoil the surprise, I'll tell you right now the main pairs you'll see together: Ranma/Ryoga, Shampoo/Nabiki, Ranma/Kasumi, Akane/Ukyo. There. Now you know who ends up with whom – as though it mattered so much.)
Episode 1 – Death of a Martial Artist
Dark blue dusk curtained the skies of Nerima. The stars were becoming visible. Akane, a Japanese girl in her late teens, with short hair and an adorable face (with a figure developing nicely, to boot) jogged down the street, carrying a fishing pole with a miniature plunger-thingie attached instead of a hook – this being the legendary Fishing Rod of Love – and a sheet of paper where the instructions to the Rod were written. Akane wondered where her fiancée Ranma and his/her rival Ryoga had wandered. Or perhaps Ryoga was better termed "former rival" – possibly a boyfriend now. Things were already complicated by this point, and Akane herself had only come to understand the details of the situation ten minutes ago.
Akane heard a noise coming from the other side of a fence. She scaled the fence and peeked over to see a dark haired man with a yellow bandanna chasing around a pony-tailed redhead in a blue Chinese-style outfit.
Akane gasped. "What are those two doing?" She jumped over the fence into the backyard of Furinkan High School. Ryoga (the guy) seemed to have Ranma (the red-head) pinned against a tree – with his arm buried halfway into the tree trunk.
"This is just sick and wrong!" she said, hefting a spade and knocking Ryoga over the head with it. She had no idea where the spade came from or what it was doing there, but a martial artist doesn't bother to think about such things when it comes time to be smacking people around.
Ryoga fell to the ground but recovered quickly. "Akane? How'd you get here when we're hundreds of miles from Nerima?" Ryoga never had a good sense of direction.
Akane stamped her foot. "Ryoga, we're just behind Furinkan High!"
"What're you doing here, Akane?" Ranma demanded, crossing his, or rather currently, her arms.
Akane pulled out the sheet of paper and the Fishing Rod of Love. "Look at this, Ranma!"
Ranma took the sheet and read: "'Catch your one true love'…. Hmm, I see…. So that's what was going on when he attacked me with this little kid's fishing-rod a few days ago – he enchanted me into loving him!"
"No!" Ryoga wailed. "You've got it all wrong! I wasn't aiming for –"
"Ryoga," Ranma growled, cracking her knuckles.
Ryoga waved his hands in desperate, inarticulate gestures. "This was a mistake. I don't love you, I –"
Ranma took hold of the fishing rod and swung the line onto Ryoga's chest. "Ha! I got 'im!"
"Err… Ran…. Ack! Get it off me! Get it off me!" Ryoga ripped the plunger-thingie away and started scratching at his chest. "No! I don't want to be gay!"
"Now you're all mine, sweetie!" Ranma drawled, and then unleashed a psychotic laugh: "Mwahahahahahahahahaha!"
"Get this red mark off of me, Akane! Quick, before the curse sets in and I fall in love with him!"
Akane blinked. "What do you expect me to do?"
Ryoga was on his knees, hands clasped, and eyes wide, brimming with tears. "Aren't there any instructions for how to get rid of the curse?"
"Um…." Akane double-checked the manual. "I don't see any…."
"Waaah!" Ryoga ran off into the woods.
"No, my love!" Ranma called, running after. "Don't get lost!"
Akane sighed. She had no clue how to revoke the enchantment, and as far as she could tell, she had only made things worse. Akane thought, I'm so stupid for thinking I could've undone all this. What did I think I could do, anyhow? Then Akane remembered Ryoga's words. If he wasn't aiming for Ranma in the first place, then whom was he aiming for? I suppose it was rather silly of me to think that Ryoga would seriously be so lonely to intentionally pursue Ranma…. Of course, Ranma's girl form is quite attractive…. But then who was Ryoga fishing for when he accidentally hooked Ranma?
Akane decided to return home and see how things looked in the morning. Things were always supposed to look better in the morning, right?
Fifteen minutes later, Akane found Ranma and Ryoga cuddling a block from her house on a park bench. They were gazing into each other's eyes – as you might expect a couple to do.
"I can't believe I've never seen before how beautiful you are, Ranma!" Ryoga cried.
Ranma had the most ridiculously huge grin on her face. Sighing deeply, she said, "Oh, Ryoga…."
Akane couldn't stand to see this carry on. Magical enchantment or no, Ranma's life was complicated enough that falling for a man could probably get him killed and/or start a neighborhood war, and as for Ryoga…. Akane just didn't like to see it.
"Hold on a sec!" Akane shouted. "Just how do you expect to explain this to your mother? Hmmm? I may not know her all that well, but I can only wonder that she'd be willing to call a homosexual relationship with Ryoga 'manly.'" (Sorry – Akane didn't have a very enlightened perspective on sexuality and gender roles.)
Ryoga scrunched his face. "Our relationship isn't really homosexual…." (Ryoga didn't, either.)
"You're right, Akane!" (Or Ranma. In fact, Ranma's mother probably didn't have an enlightened perspective on sexuality and gender roles, either. After all, what does it really mean to be "manly," anyway? And why should it be so vital for a man to be "manly" that if he fails to be "manly" he ought to kill himself? Very unenlightened. Anyway, Ranma was saying,) "This is almost as bad as living half my adult life as a girl. If my mother finds out, I'll be facing seppuku for sure." She tapped her finger to her chin. "But if I can just keep hiding from her –"
"Oh please, Ranma," Akane ranted. "You think that's all you have to worry about? If my dad finds out you've abandoned your marriage contract to... t-to me, you'll be begging for ritual suicide."
Ranma stroked her chin. "Hmmm…."
Ryoga's eyebrows were scrunched in thought. "How can we –"
"There is only one solution," Ranma said as she stood up, clenching her fist, gazing up into the night sky dramatically. "I must die."
The Saotomes and Tendos decided to incorporate a number of Western elements into the first memorial service (after the initial major Buddhist rites were complete), including the giving of eulogies – and many were willing to say a few words on Ranma's behalf. While the mourners sitting in rows of metal chairs dressed in a Western black – as wasn't too unusual for a service of this sort – they kept the furnishings a traditional white, including the cloth on the table with the large picture of Ranma (in male-form, of course) smiling, at the center of the stage.
They had never found Ranma's body in the explosion that only Akane saw, but at least, according to Akane, he had managed to save a kitten owned by a little girl no one knew. Ranma had died a heroic, selfless death – in a very manly fashion. So went Akane's story. Ranma's mother, Nodoka, was there, crying in the front row, quite convinced her son was always a boy who had always acted so manly, which was what Genma was hoping she'd believe (for the sake of his own, fat gut). Akane couldn't bring herself to look at Nodoka; she felt too ashamed to make eye contact. Genma Saotome walked to the stage and began his eulogy.
"Ah, my son Ranma," Genma said, "He was a man – a real man."
Nabiki started snickering. Akane shook her head; she would have thought her sister had better self-control than that.
Genma was just getting started. "He died like a man, and so too did he live like a man. He was a manly man, a man among men. Ranma was a man's man!"
Akane couldn't hold back giggling at that. No way. She covered her mouth and pretended she was sobbing.
"He was desired by every woman he met. He was a skilled martial artist, very talented, and it would have done me proud to see him carry on my name and the Saotome Anything-Goes style. Sadly, that won't be happening. And now, the Saotomes and the Tendos can no longer be joined. But even worse, I am without a son. And a manly son at that. Very manly." At that, Genma seemed satisfied with what he'd said, and sat down.
Ryoga stood up before the assembled audience. "Friends, relatives, my fellow martial artists – lend me your ears, for we are gathered here today to remember a great man, a man with a dream – a dream that one day… that one day he would find love. And he did find it…. He found it in all our hearts. Alas, poor Ranma – I knew him well. We were rivals, and fought each other many times, but more than that, we were… friends. Very good friends."
Ryoga started to tear up. "He was a great man, who would do anything for me… for any of those he cared for, because he was just that way, a guy you could count on, who was always there for you, he was always there…."
Ryoga wiped his face, spasms of sobs rocking in his chest. Then he straightened up, meeting the eyes of everyone in the audience. "I know he'll always be with me. He's with me now. He's with all of us –" Ryoga licked his lips. "In spirit. Until he's absorbed into the collective mass of our ancestors in about forty days, of course – and then he'll still be looking out for us, with all the others we've known who've gone. And someday, we'll join them."
That was all Ryoga had to say, and it was just as well, because his eulogy would have turned worse the longer he continued to talk.
Then Mr. Soun Tendo stood up, "Ah, Ranma, I hardly knew ye… even though I lived with ye…." And that's when he realized that, truth to tell, he had no idea of what to say. "Perhaps his fiancée can speak a few words?"
Akane blushed. "Daddy…."
Ukyo, Ranma's other fiancée, leapt onto the right-hand side of the stage (to the audience), wielding her giant spatula. "Oh, Ran-chan! You've been mine since childhood! You can't be dead!"
The next instant, Kodachi, the not-so-much-his-other-fiancee, was at the left-hand side of the stage, littering it with black rose petals. "My darling Ranma! Our love shall last for an eternity!"
Shampoo, his other-other-fiancée, smashed through the wall behind the table with Ranma's picture. "Shampoo no let Airen go! Shampoo love Ranma most!"
Ukyo shouted, "No, I love Ran-chan most!"
"No, I love him most!" Kodachi interjected.
Things got violent from there.
Amidst the distraction, Akane and Ryoga snuck out of the battlefield into the alleyway behind the Tendo residence.
"Hey," Ranma said, jumping down from the tree where she had been hiding and watching her own funeral. Ranma was in girl form, carrying a backpack – but not her usual backpack with her usual accessories, since she couldn't leave her effects missing lest she arouse suspicion – she had bought new clothes (mostly unisex, except for a few fascinating feminine garments for her Ryoga) and a new, pink backpack (that Ryoga bought for her, because Ranma would never have chose that color) to carry them in for her journey.
Ranma and Ryoga grasped each other's hand, looking deeply into each other's eyes. Akane blushed to see the depth of emotion that ran between them – and frankly it made her really nervous to think all that came from a magical fishing pole. Did that mean their love wasn't real? Or was love nothing more than a magical force that compelled people to do outrageous things and feel intense emotions they otherwise might not normally feel?
After a few moments of ogling, Ranma asked, "What was up with your eulogy?"
Ryoga replied, "I'm not that great an actor, so I just tried thinking like you really were dead… and I just couldn't take it." Ryoga wrapped his arms around her.
"Aw, you silly, sentimental boy," the red-haired girl rested her head on Ryoga's chest and stroked his back.
A few seconds later, Ranma turned to face Akane and said, "Akane, I want to tell you something. We probably won't see each other in person again – or at least not for a long while – and I have to admit, I'm going to miss you. All those times I said you were un-cute – well, I didn't mean it." Akane caught her breath. Ranma smiled and continued, "Not to say that I feel anything for you like what I feel for Ryoga. What I mean is that I think we've developed a real friendship – even though we've fought a lot, sometimes we've fought with each other and not just against each other. Ain't I right?"
Akane stammered, "I – I suppose so."
"We'll keep in touch, all right?" Ranma said. "Let me know how your family's doing. And my family, too. You can keep in touch with my mother, right?"
"Of course!" Akane said. "I was almost her daughter-in-law, after all – and we got along better than most in-laws are reputed to. We'll probably exchange newsletters during the holidays." Not to mention fruitcakes, although Akane was horrible at making fruitcake. Whenever Akane made fruitcake, it always turned out edible.
"Yeah," Ranma said, smirking – but a tear was running down her cheek. "You don't think – you don't think I could visit my mom as Ranko, do you?"
Her look stabbed Akane through the heart. "If Nodoka says anything to my family, they'll know something suspicious is going on."
"Yeah," Ranma sniffed. "You're right. But they… right, your father. Maybe someday this can be straightened out. Maybe we were a little hasty."
Akane shook her head. "It's too late to back out of this, Ranma. Not unless you're willing to face a real death. I don't mean seppuku; I mean our families will kill you for putting them through all the funerary expenses."
Ranma nodded. Ryoga squeezed Ranma's hand. The sometimes-girl heaved a teary sigh. "Well," she said, turning to her love, "Show me the world, Ryoga."
"With you to guide me," Ryoga replied.
A tear started down Akane's cheek. Ryoga and Ranma hugged her, said "goodbye," and then turned around and began a long journey into a sunset of misty crimson and gold.
Akane sighed and whispered to herself, "Saotome Ranma no baka – this is such a weird and corny way for you to leave my life."
Shampoo, the Chinese Amazon with long bluish hair, returned from the funeral to the Cat Café in tears. Cologne, the wise old crone who was matriarch of Shampoo's village and owner of the temporary Café (until they could finally ensnare Ranma to return with them to China) was at the young warrior's side, patting her back.
"There, there, Shampoo," Cologne said. "He was a womanizer, anyhow."
"No say bad thing about Airen!" Shampoo said. "Great grandmother not very respectful of dead!"
Cologne sighed. "You're right. He would've been a proud addition to our family. An excellent warrior. But with him gone, our business is just about done here."
Shampoo sniffled. "We leave Japan?"
"We will," Cologne said, "But first you must kill Akane."
Shampoo gasped. "What?"
Cologne turned to her great granddaughter. "'What'! What do you mean, 'what'? Have you forgotten? You gave her the Kiss of Death!"
Cologne shook her head, clucking in shame. "Yes, you did. Shortly after you were first betrothed to Ranma. You can't return to the village until it is done."
"B-but… with Airen gone, Akane no threat to Shampoo. Shampoo have no need to kill Akane."
"Yes, but 'rules are rules'; we cannot break the laws of our tribe for convenience sake."
Shampoo squirmed. "Shampoo no like this…."