Epilogue: Markings

My wrists sting as they descend beneath the water's surface; blood, as bright as a stop sign, smokes into the bath, turning the water to a sickly rose hue. It's supposed to be warm, here; strange that the bath seems cooler, now. Heavy-lidded eyes watch my life seep from my veins... a gentle smile crosses our lips as I begin to let go.

My trial is finished. No more to live for; it's time for me to move on. Akane... Akane should be happy, now that I'm out of the way. She can get on with her life, and love... love a real man. Nobody will have to worry about me anymore; even I've stopped doing that. I shrink into myself; the cold is coming... so cold...

"Mommy! Mommy, wake up!"

I open my eyes, and blink the nightmares away. My hand reaches out for something more precious; despite what I've seen, I can't help but match her smile. "Okay, okay... just give Mommy a couple of minutes, okay?"

"Okay!" She bounces away with energy I vaguely remember having once, leaving me alone in my bed once more. The ceiling immediately grabs my attention; I turn over and stare at the stucco for a minute.

Well. It had definitely been awhile since he visited like that. Not a visitor I prefer in my dreams - then again, perhaps it's a good thing he did come to visit.

He is dead. That was the last message of a man who couldn't live with himself, and bid adieu to the life he'd been dealt. His ashes have been cold for years - however, I still remember his life fondly.

I reach my arms to the sky, and stare at the marks I'd given myself that day. Two long white scars, one on each wrist, like a pair of bracelets I can't get off. Not that I want to, of course; they're a reminder, after all, a note to myself sometimes when things get tough. I trace the line of one with a finger; the cold touch of steel comes back, giving me the chills.

It had been a near thing. Life... or death? Easy question for most - unless you end up in a body that isn't yours, facing a future you'd rather not see. Heck, if I had seen who I'd become, I probably would have finished the job. Better to die in some cold furo than become some stupid *girl*...

Well, I became a girl - a woman, actually, much to my surprise. And... and it's not that bad. I can still kick everyone's tail in a fight; I can still be as rough as I want to be. I can still be me; it's just that... that *me* is more than what I was.

I roll over onto my side, toward the empty half of the bed. His side is cold, now; however, I san still smell his scent in the sheets, reminding me of a million little things, a million secrets we share. I remember that smile he has, so free of the bluster he'd known; his dark eyes swallow me, speaking of mysteries I cannot speak, but intimately feel. Other, more private thoughts leap to mind, and I blush slightly in remembrance.

He's a good man - better than I would have been. He knows love - we know love - and we're both stronger for it. Yes, I love him; my other self could not know it, but I can. In that moment, I give thanks for the crazy things that brought us together, those trials that taught us what love really is.

My daily affirmations done, I rise from the bed. I let my nightgown fall to the floor, tossing off one shell and putting on another. The slacks and shirt feel like a second skin; even after all these years, it's in these clothes that I am most comfortable. A few moments of primping, and I'm ready to face the day.

"Mommy!"

She leaps into my arms, a scarlet blur that I can barely hold on to at the best of times. I twist her upside-down in my grasp, and take delight in her giggles. A flick of the wrist and she's right-side up, her face inches from mine.

"Good morning, Akiko!" Does she hear all I put into those words - the song of love and fear and caring and mourning represented in a few slips of the tongue? Can she know, even if she does?

"Good morning, Mommy!" Her song echoes mine, but is so different; hers cries of simple love in its most perfect form. She hugs me around the neck and kisses my cheek - a treasure for years from now, when she has made her own life. "let's go, let's go!"

I give her a stern look; I see what plans she makes... "Don't tell me you want to beat up on my beginners again..."

Her dark eyes light up like a Christmas tree. "Yeah!"

Yep; she's definitely my daughter. I set her down and look her in the eyes - another conversation to remember.

"Now, Akiko, you can't expect to fight my beginning students every day. They're still just learning, after all. And, being beat... they don't like that." I think back for a moment, and smile. "Tell you what. If they challenge you, then you can fight them. Okay?"

"Okay..." She doesn't sound too happy about that; she's as stubborn as I was, and she wants a challenge. I pick her up into my arms once more; after stopping to grab my purse and sunglasses, we're quickly on our way.

My eyes turn to the sky as we begin our journey. It's a perfect day, with the sun brilliant in the morning sky; for a moment, I wonder if someone faces such light with despair. Once, I did; once, days were for existence, not enjoyment. And... one such day nearly became my last.

It's good that my daughter has such a diametrically opposite view from that. She can barely stay in my arms; she wants to go everywhere, see everything, do everything.

And... I can't fault her for it. I was the same way, once; she'll need that energy if she plans to get through growing up. I see so much of the potential I had at that age, when everything was innocent and no force on Earth could stop me - before I lost my best friend, before I lost my humanity in a pit of cats.

Before I fell into a spring, and lost what man I was.

We reach the dojo sooner than I expected; guess my mind was elsewhere during the travelling. I hear the sounds of men fighting, and smile; it's a strange feeling being a part of them, and yet not.

My job as chauffer is done; Akiko leaps from my arms at the door, into what has become her playground. I watch her as she begins her daily adventures; she is always a part of me, and that part of me goes to play with her.

"Hey, Ranma." An easy voice comes from the side; Akane casually stands there, her infant son in her arms.

"Hey, Akane," I whisper in reply. I don't really see her; I look off to what Kunou and I have created. "How's Hiroshi?"

"Fine," she replies. Her free hand touches my shoulder, a gentle touch I would know in my sleep. "Ranma, are you okay?"

In the yard, my daughter plays with Hayao, Akane's eldest; I am lost in the scene. There is me in her, true; however, there is more to it than that. Her face is not all mine; some bits remind me of him, and also of Akiko's 'crazy' Aunt Kodachi. She has more strength than I had at that age; moreover, she's got gifts of the mind I can't comprehend.

Which is, I guess, the point. She is the best of both of us - and that is the way it should be. I rub my wrists unconsciously; to think my darkness nearly destroyed this...

I know better now. Life has been better with me - THIS me - here. That's a scary thing to discover, but it is not without happiness. My smile widens; I turn from my progeny.

"Yeah, Akane. I'm okay."

She pulls out a wry grin. "So. You wanna watch our husbands get all sweaty while they work out?"

Mischief dances in Akane's eyes, a look I never understood in the old days. We've been so much - fiancees, girl friends, competing mothers - it's hard to say what we are now, except close. And, to be honest, her suggestion does have some appeal...

"Sure. Come on; maybe we can make them even more hot and bothered before the session's over." I lead her by the hand; like the pair in the yard, we giggle without reservation, and revel in the playtime.

Yeah... I'd say things are going well.

***

2009 final notes:

Ironically, this epilogue is the closest I ever got to the original plans for Iris - and is a good example of how an idea can morph over time.

See, the idea for Iris got its inspiration from the Nanban Mirror episode. Ranma went ten years into the future, and found Akane happily married to Ryouga - including having sons who'd inherited Ryouga's curse. I thought of an expansion to that, where Ranma stays around to find his future self - female and married to Kunou. Ranma naturally freaks at this, and much of the story is Ranma coming to understand how he could change into his future self and, to a large extent, who he is deep inside - what changes when he changes into a girl, and what doesn't. I wrote about half of the story before figuring out that the structure was just too unwieldy, then went to writing the backstory, which became Iris.

It's one reason why I tend to be guarded when people ask for my opinions on their fanfic ideas. Ideas are the very beginning of the process - and there's a lot that can happen between idea and execution.

If it seems like my feelings in regards to what happens with Iris have fluctuated over the years... yeah. I admit the characterization nazis had some positive effect on the writing in this series, because I probably wouldn't have progressed on to write anything beyond the initial Iris if they hadn't. Problem is, I'm not the only writer. If you knew you were going to catch grief from people just because they disagreed with your idea, would you want to submit anything there? And... as I watched a great place for solid critiquing disintegrate because of the prejudices of a few, it angered me.

The argument I got from one of the more prominent Akanephiles at the time as an excuse for his behavior was that professional writers would face far worse criticism. I don't know if that's true or not; of course, such an excuse is irrelevant. Destructive criticism is still bad criticism, no matter what level of writing you're at, and the only reason to do it is to keep the writer from ever writing again.

(sigh) Oh, well.

Markings initially released April 4, 2000

Version sent to fanfiction dot net March 29, 2009.