Author's Note –
Sigh…. That last chapter was tough to write on so many levels. While I've really enjoyed the writing this fic, there was a point a few months back that I realized I was going to complete the fic. Given the pace that I was writing, I figured that I needed to end it with the current story arc in the manga.
Thanks to my betas, some who have fought tooth and nail to keep this fic going, others to stay truer to the source and current story arc, and others who reminded me that some of my ideas were just too out there. Teturo – you've been a great beta. KitsuneOverlord – thanks for the useful information that you've provided that helped work out some of the ideas borrowed from other manga/Mahwah series. Lance and Kamen Rider Den – O, thanks for your valuable feedback – your perspective as fans of the fic and the source materials helped me balance the pace and tone of this fic.
And of course thanks to all those who have read and reviewed this fic.
There were few times in his life that Ryoga ever actually felt like he didn't want to be where ever he actually was. Honestly, the lost boy wasn't sure that he'd ever gone to a cemetery, much less a funeral. But today was a first.
Standing before Ranma's closed casket with the rest of the Nerima Wrecking Crew (thankfully sans the Kuno family) the bandana wearing boy fought hard to maintain his composure. The formal suit clearly wasn't Ryoga's style, but it was necessary. Though he had spent so much time fighting and seeking to best his rival, it wasn't until recently that he could honestly consider their relationship to be that of friends and comrades rather than rivals forced to work together occasionally.
With a heavy heart he stood beside the Tendo and Saotome families as they mourned the loss of the heir to the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts. The gentle sniffs from the caring and compassionate Kasumi as she was comforted by an unusually stoic and steadfast Dr. Tofu; the heartfelt sobs of Nodoka Saotome as she mourned the son that she never really had the chance to get to know; all of it weighed on Ryoga as he stood alone.
Even Genma Saotome and Soun Tendo had been moved to tears, probably because they had lost any chance of joining the schools more than they were mourning the loss of a son.
Though a long-time friend Ukyo had only recently given up on her romantic pursuit of the pigtailed martial artist, making his sudden passing all the harder for her to endure. For Konatsu it was very difficult, not only did he know the least about Ranma, but the cross-dressing ninja had only recently begun to express his feelings towards the cross-dressing chef. Seeing her so emotional over the death of a man that she had once tried to marry was upsetting on many levels.
Mousse was very much the opposite of Konatsu. With Ranma now firmly out of the picture the nearly-blind hidden weapons expert had an unobstructed path to winning over the woman of his dreams and fantasies.
But Shampoo and Cologne were both furious at the Ranma. Having pinned their hopes on 'convincing' Ranma to return to China with them they both knew that they would lose face once they returned to the Amazon village empty handed. To them Ranma's death was the worst possible thing that could have happened to them.
But it was the way that his crush was handling things that unsettled Ryoga the most. Unable to bare the sight of Akane's cold fury as she stared defiantly at the black and white picture of a smiling and carefree Ranma, the bandana wearing boy tapped the podium, drawing everyone's attention.
"I used to envy Ranma," Ryoga stated. "He had everything that I wanted – he was the best martial artist, the best fighter; that I knew. Ranma was talented and skilled, and he had an uncanny knack for discovering his opponent's weaknesses and using it against them. But he wasn't just a martial artist, he wasn't just my rival – Ranma was my friend. It wasn't until recently that I realized just how much of a friend he really was to me, to all of us. Sure, Akane and Kasumi may have casually said how friendly we were, but I never really thought of him as a friend until recently. I…I can't help but think that I was too pigheaded and stubborn to realize just how good a friend he could have been if I hadn't been such and ass.
"But Ranma was an ass too. He had his flaws, just as we all do. But despite his arrogance and lack of academic accomplishments, he was a true man amongst men. I was honored to know him and I am honored to have been considered his friend."
The humid late summer air made the young mage feel as though he weighed a ton. With a sigh the young teacher rolled over, letting the breeze from the fan caress his sweaty, bare back. Even with all the well laid out plans the summer had not gone as he had expected. Sure, he had gone to England and the Magical World; he had even found his father – but the cost… Kotaro and Yue nearly died, and Ranma…
The buzzing of the alarm clock should have meant something, but what exactly the young mage wasn't sure if he wanted to care. A wave of the arm sent a single arrow of light at the offending clock, smashing it to bits upon impact. Content but not happy, Negi closed his eyes to the light hum of the fan.
Negi wasn't sure how much time had passed since he'd vented on the poor alarm clock. All he knew was that Asuna, Konoka, Setsuna, Chamo, Chachamaru and Eva had entered the room. Not bothering to look up at their faces he simply looked at their feet.
"You're not even trying to get ready, are you?" a clearly irate Asuna shouted. "Didn't we all agree that we'd go together today?"
"Huh?" Negi muttered, not sure why today was so important. "Oh… today's the last day of the summer holidays…"
"We all agreed when we got back that we'd go to see Ranma…." Konoka whispered.
"Ryoga-san said that the funeral was two days ago," the gynoid stated. "Only Akira, Takane, Mana, Haruna, Yue, Nodoka, Kokone, Misora, Mei, and Takahata-sensei made it to the funeral. Shouldn't we at least pay some respects to him?"
"He died because I wasn't strong enough," Negi shouted.
"Yes," Eva replied. "And if I had allowed you all to go there without him would any of you have made it back? Would you feel better if Asuna had died? Or how about Anya? What if more of the girls had died? Would that make you happy?"
Negi tried to roll over only to have Chachamaru pick him up and lift him out of the bed.
"People die everyday," Eva shouted. "You'll lose some battles, and sometimes lose companions. I thought you had realized and accepted that when you chose the path of darkness, but I guess that you chose that path because you were a coward!"
"How dare you!" Negi shouted as he tried to fight out of the gynoid's grip.
"I dare because I know, I've been where you are and I got over it!" the vampire shot back. "Choices were made, lives were lost. How do you think Ryoga felt when he had to bring Ranma's broken corpse back to his family? You've only known Ranma for a few months - Ryoga's known him for years."
Averting his eyes, Negi stared at the floor in shame. Of course he knew that Ryoga had been closer to Ranma, and that the cursed martial artist had a family and friends that would miss him; it just didn't seem to matter until Eva had said it.
"Stay and be the bratty little boy or go and pay your respects like a man; it's up to you," Eva said in disgust. The vampire turned away, unable to look at her apprentice.
Chachamaru gently set Negi down before following her master and partner out. Behind her the other girls slowly filed out after her, leaving only Asuna and Negi.
"He died because we all weren't strong enough," Asuna stated. "But he died saving me. I didn't even get a chance to see him before he died. I didn't even get a chance to go out on a date with him like the other girls did. It wasn't me; it was a fake, an imposter. It was because I wasn't strong enough to avoid being caught that he went out of his way to save me. I was the reason why he was poisoned. He fought his way to me and got injured because of me. He died because of me.
"But he made the choice to be there. He… Ranma could have just let us die, he could have let us go alone, but he didn't," the tearful girl managed to say. "He did the right thing even though it cost him his life. Ranma was a man amongst men. If you can't even go and pay respects to him, what does that make you?"
Despite the humid weather the air in the Headmaster's office was light and crisp (thanks to the powerful air conditioner that cooled the room). Wirily the old mage leaned back in his chair. "So, she knows."
The scruffy blond man seated on the other side of the desk nodded. "Fate undid the memory seal that Nagi had put on her. I'm not sure how much she remembers or knows though," Takahata stated. "With all that's happened…"
"That's understandable," the headmaster replied. "It was a good thing that Eva found such powerful allies for Negi. And with the renewed contact and stabilization of the Magical World, not to mention Nagi's return, things should improve."
The scruffy blond nodded. "True, things are looking good, but…"
"You're concerned with how well the girls and Negi will deal with Ranma's death," the wise old man finished.
"I shall see about having a grief councilor work with them individually, perhaps have them see the school academy's psychiatrist or Minamoto-san," the mage suggested.
The creaking of the door cut off their conversation as the headmaster's busty assistant entered the room.
"We were just talking about you," Takahata grinned.
"There's someone here to see you," the busty Minamoto smiled. "Both of you."
The trip to Nerima had been exhausting for the assembled Mahora girls, Negi, and Kotaro. Few dared to speak as the wounds of their recent loss stung too much for any save Eva and Chachamaru to give voice. Many of the girls simply leaned against their friends and classmates as they sat on the train together. While Ranma had dated several girls, he had clearly had a different relationship and meaning to each of the girls.
It didn't take them long to find Ranma's grave. The fresh flowers and the new black and white picture of a confident and cheerful Ranma (in his male form though he had been cremated as a girl) in his usual Chinese silk shirt and black pants marked his place in the cemetery.
The somber ride back to Mahora was lighter, but still quiet. Finally able to pay their last respects to the pigtailed martial artist, many of the girls were now able to move ahead regardless of the wounds in their heart. For others it would take time before they could move on.
Fingering her newly acquired scar the rogue Shinmeiryuu swordswoman licked her blade clean. Despite all the blood from the now headless bounty hunters that had pursued her there was something unsatisfying about the kill – she hadn't killed her sempai yet.
With her blade now clean of the blood of the worthless fighters the psychotic warrior grinned. "One day Sempai," she promised herself. "One day."
"You're sure about this?" Takahata asked the tall young man before him.
A quiet but confident smile answered the blond teacher's question.
"It'll be difficult for us all," the young man replied. "We must all move on with our lives."
"I know that the girls and Negi haven't come to terms with your death yet. It might help them to know that you're still around in some form," Takahata suggested.
"I know," Ranma replied. "I'm still coming to terms with it too. But I think that it is something they need to do themselves. If I just show up out of nowhere I might do more harm than good."
"In the long term it's for the best," the headmaster agreed. "They're young, but they'll need to learn how to deal with their grief."
The scruffy teacher reluctantly nodded, reaching out he offered his hand to redheaded youth. "I hope that we cross paths again."
"I'm sure we will," the young fighter replied. "But for now I think I need to find out more about… well everything. Things aren't the same as they were before, and I need to center myself before I can help center anyone else. I'm no longer the Ranma that they knew; hell, I don't know me anymore. I think I'll need to spend the next few months trying to rediscover who I am as well as get a better grip on my new abilities and form."
"So you're going back to the Spirit World?" the headmaster asked.
"For now," The slightly glowing fighter nodded. "I'll be back though."
And so Ranma's White Wings ends. I might follow this up some day, maybe after Negima ends their current story arc. I also want to focus on my other writing for now too.
Thanks to everyone who has taken their time to read and enjoy this fic.