Sometimes, you get an idea in your head, and it suddenly clicks. It becomes important, somehow, even if it isn't. And then you have to write it. Good, bad, or weird… This is one of those ideas.
I don't know if I'm the first person to write something like this, but hopefully I've written it in an interesting way. Interpret the end how you will. It isn't set in stone.
Never the Hero
Saotome Ranma was no hero. He knew this to be true, beyond a shadow of a doubt. He was fast. He was strong. He was skilled. He was a good guy. Not necessarily a nice guy, but he wasn't a bad person. He was certainly capable of doing the sort of deeds that legends are made of. But… he wasn't a hero.
He had used to think his father was, once. He had believed it for a long time, actually. Not even the… well, that incident with the… the furry things, not even that had made him believe otherwise. Not fully. His father was a great man. He could do anything. Surely such a man could be a hero, like out of the stories?
Most people thought that he and his father had a bad relationship. That wasn't true at all. For a normal person, it would seem that his father was a poor parent at best, an abusive bastard at worst. But Ranma had never been normal like that. Ranma thrived on challenges, on pushing himself to the limit, pushing himself beyond the limit. The Art was the Art. Even if his father had failed him in a thousand ways, even if he didn't respect the panda anymore, he was thankful beyond measure that the man had taught him as he had. And besides, the old man had only truly, completely failed him two or three times. And unlike his mother, his father had at least been there.
Not that he would ever say that to anyone.
His father was actually the one to disabuse him of the notion of 'Genma the hero.' In a moment of sheer, brutal, liquor-induced honesty, the old man had told him that he was far from any such thing. In a later moment of rare, sober honesty, he had explained to his son as best he could just why this was.
"A hero is remembered as more than just a person. They're an… ideal." Genma had said. "They are… I suppose you could say that they are the sort of person who does something completely, purely good, and their actions make a difference. The world is a darker place when they are gone. They come from somewhere. They go somewhere. And along the way they leave behind a legacy, not only of their art or their deeds, but also of their goodness. People will write legends about them. Does that make sense?
"People like me aren't like that. I've done some good in my time, not enough, but some. But I'm not a hero. A martial artist's duty is to protect the weak, some monk told me that once. Nobody is a hero for doing their job. I don't even do mine that well."
Of course, that had prompted another round of drinking, and Genma seemed to have managed to erase that moment from his memory by the end of the week. Ranma never forgot. If Ranma had to point to one moment that defined his life, he would point to Jusenkyo. But he would think about those few minutes in a forest somewhere in Japan, when his father was suddenly no longer a hero, but was somehow someone that he could respect…
That respect was gone now, of course. But the thought remained. Even now that he had surpassed his father, he still knew that he was never going to be a hero. He had no legend. Sure, he had fought dragons and phoenixes and magic and more martial artists than most people saw in their entire lifetimes and he had won… but none of it mattered. People might remember him a hundred years from now, but if so it would be because of his skills, his strength, or his string of victories. It wouldn't be because he had actually done anything worthwhile. He did his duty though. He did his best to protect the weak. Nobody had gotten seriously hurt by any of his fights, not even his opponents. Akane's hair and a great many walls was just about the extent of the damage.
A small part of him still longed to do what his father had not. Wouldn't it be great to be able to be a hero? To be the stuff of legends? The whole 'everyday hero' thing was easy. It didn't really count, somehow. He had jumped in front of trucks to save old ladies and children. He had pulled people out of burning buildings. Nerima had the lowest crime rate of all of the wards of Tokyo, except in the realm of panty-theft. That was good. That was right. That was his duty. He was content with that. But a part of him…
He knew of heroes of course. Tokyo had them. The Sailor Senshi. Some devil hunters. There were people outside of Tokyo, also. One guy, Tenchi something or another, had the air of a hero about him, although nobody but Ranma had noticed. There weren't a lot of them, but they were there if you looked. But they were different from him. They had purpose. They were special. More than human. Larger than life. Ranma wasn't like that. He was good, great even. But he wasn't a hero.
Other people didn't really get it when he tried to explain. He probably didn't explain well. It made sense when he thought about it, but trying to say things… well he had never been good with words. The Senshi in particular didn't get it, the few times they had run into each other, except for that one chick with the green hair who felt like Cologne. The Senshi had a past. They had a future. They had evils to defeat and ideals to uphold. They might be silly-looking and clumsy, but they were silly-looking, clumsy heroes. Someone like him couldn't compare.
And yet when he walked away from them, a part of him screamed at them: don't let me go, don't let me leave, let me share your grand adventure just once… but in the end they never pushed the issue, though they looked tempted, and he always walked away, knowing that there was a gulf between them that defied explanation. He had his duty, his challenges, his unique brand of chaos… it was all he could hope for. It was all he aspired to. He was the best at what he did. And what he did wasn't in the same league as true heroism.
"I'm the best!" he always said. It was true, too. Nobody had ever accused him of not having an ego. He had so much pride in his accomplishments and his prowess that he could base a ki attack of it. Sure he wasn't quite up to the standards of the old ghoul and Happosai, but it was only a matter of time. Ranma took pride in his work. He might not be particularly good at anything but martial arts, but there was nobody who could top him at that. He handicapped himself by accepting strange challenges, fights that you had to win in certain ways, battles that had a more level playing field. Ryouga was pretty good, but he had started to stagnate recently. Tarou was still tough as ever, but Ranma slowly found himself racking up an increasing number of wins against him. What next?
A foolish, childish part of him said that if he were a hero, then he would have new enemies to fight, stronger or smarter than the last. But he was just a martial artist. He didn't have magical powers or the ability to seal demons or any of a hundred different skill sets that were beyond his reach because they required something that you had to be born with. He wouldn't be storming the gates of hell anytime soon, or at the very least he wouldn't survive such an attempt.
He was at least as strong or as fast or as skilled as any of the real heroes. But he was not one of them. If he were a lesser person, he would have felt stung by the realization. But Ranma knew that he wasn't a hero. He understood. He held himself up to the standards of legends, because it was in his nature to always reach higher, to become that little bit better with every moment of every day. But he didn't expect to be able to fight alongside them.
Not that it didn't happen, of course. Occasionally, by chance, he would find himself involved in a minor fight or two. He was always happy to step in, to use his ability to dodge and taunt could distract a youma for just long enough for them to get disintegrated by one of the magical girls, or to go toe to toe with a devil for a few moments so that someone could deal a finishing strike with a weapon that could actually kill it. Like always, the battles made him feel alive. It was his duty. It was his Art. It wasn't something he thought about, it was something he just did.
He never stuck around for the aftermath. There would be awkward questions. He would tell people his name and his credentials when asked, of course. But the attention… it was all well and good if you could live up to the expectations, but Ranma was only human. He could never take on the big guys. The power of friendship wasn't going to be on his side anytime soon, and neither love nor justice were interested in giving him any slack, let alone empowering him. Some of them, girls especially, but some of the guys too, tended to wax poetic about ideals like that. Heck, some of the normal girls did that too. It just made him cringe. One more way in which he didn't make the cut.
Not that it was a big deal or anything. He liked his life. It was complicated, and occasionally it was painful, but it was the way things had always been. He thrived in Nerima. He was easily two or three times stronger than he had been when he had first met the Tendos. He liked the attention, the fights, and the girls were awesome when they weren't getting clingy or tomboyish or overly obsessive. It would end eventually. He wasn't the best at dealing with these sorts of problems, but he was nothing if not adaptable. He'd manage sooner or later, he always did. If he was lucky, it might even end without widespread property damage.
Yeah, that was happening.
So, yeah, no complaints really. He wasn't a hero, but he did his duty, and unlike his father he was doing it pretty well. He even got some enjoyment out of it.
So when Ranma discovered a monster attacking a nursery a week and a half before his twentieth birthday, he did what he always did. His first attack, a flying kick to the body part most resembling the head, sent the creature flying across the street. His second attack slammed 436 punches into the base of an ominously glowing spike, severing it and aborting the retaliatory magical attack at the cost of some broken knuckles. His third attack was a ki blast that did little more than temporarily blind the creature, which Ranma realized was most likely some sort of golem since it apparently couldn't feel pain. The ki blast did light up the sky though, so someone would probably come check it out sooner or later. He wasn't too far from the local shrine. Hopefully they would have someone capable.
Ranma got a fourth attack in before the golem recovered, managing to drive a pipe, reinforced with more ki than he could really afford to spare, into the thing's eye. Pity it had three more. Ignoring the wound, the monster struck at him with its claws. Ranma dodged, of course. He wasn't so tired by his initial blitz that he couldn't avoid such painfully telegraphed strikes.
The tail got him. It hadn't had that a second ago. Apparently it was a shape shifter. And people wondered why didn't like magic.
Fortunately it wasn't sharp or poisoned or capable of ripping his soul out of his body. What it did do was knock him across the street into the wall surrounding the nursery. The sound of panicked voices from within told him that he needed to keep fighting. Just dodging wouldn't cut it; he needed to keep all of its attention firmly on himself. Well, time to go get some more bruises.
Five minutes later, the monster had managed to regenerate fully, and Ranma was starting to slow down a little. Not much, but a little. And the spike was back, and it did indeed shoot magic. It was a fairly basic beam attack, but apparently the creature could do it all day without any negative effects, because the golem hadn't stopped using it yet. At least the blasts weren't pink. Ranma slammed his right hand a couple hundred times into whatever the thing had in place of a stomach. His broken knuckles got that little bit more mangled, but he forced himself to ignore the pain. The creature hit him in the chest with a fist the size of a watermelon. Oh well, it wasn't like he needed all of those ribs, anyway.
Ten minutes later, Ranma found himself inside the nursery. His entry had been courtesy of a direct hit by all three of the opponent's magical spike thingies. They looked bigger than before, was it compensating for something? A squeak of terror informed him that the building had apparently not been fully evacuated. The three children, two girls and a boy, looked about ready to faint. If Ranma's jaw had been in any shape to move, he would have given them an encouraging one-liner or told them to run. He settled for kicking the door open, gesturing, and charging the enemy again. He somehow managed to impale the monster with a flagpole and use the metal rod as leverage so that he could throw the golem into another wall.
The next time he looked, the room was empty. Hopefully the kids were long gone at this point.
Ranma lost track of time after a while. Things hurt a lot. Both his body and the golem's. Not that the golem was in any pain, but Ranma got an additional burst of mind-numbing agony every time a hit connected, regardless of who was doing the hitting. The ground hurt, too. And the walls. He was bleeding. Probably internally, but he was definitely painting the area a lovely shade of red. No spurting, fortunately. That would suck.
The thing had several extra limbs now. They all looked rather pointy. Some of them looked redder than others. Why was that? Why did he care? He was having the time of his life. He hadn't had a fight like this in a long time. Sure, the opponent wasn't very skilled, but it could take a beating and had plenty of tricks up its shape shifting sleeves. It would fall soon though. He was the best, and this thing just didn't cut it!
The next ki attack worked better than his first, managing to do some decent damage. Just how much did he put into that? Wow, he was feeling kind of light-headed. That took a lot out of him.
His mind wandered a little. He had been thinking about something recently. Something about heroes. What was it?
When did the monster get so close?
Ow. That hurt a little. Forgot about the tail again. What was it? It was important. Something he hadn't thought of. Why was it so important?
His right knee crumpled under the golem's foot. Ranma managed to lift the monster off the ground and slam it onto a pile of rubble. He didn't feel as much pain now. Why was that?
Something red and sticky oozed out of his stomach. He must have gotten scratched there at some point. What was he thinking about, anyway? True heroism is…
Man, this monster is really rude. Always interrupting. Ranma felt that he should dodge or something, but he was moving slower for some reason. He managed to bring up his arms, but for some reason his right bracer was missing, and then there was a sharp pain in his right forearm. Then his left knee gave out and he fell.
It was weird. Normally, he'd be worried about beating his opponent at a time like this. About being the best. It didn't really seem to matter so much anymore. Why was that?
True heroism is… what? What was it? Why did it matter now? Things were getting blurry. He should be focusing on something. Ah, that's right. The monster.
It hurts to move, so he fires another ki blast. It looks different. It hurts the golem more than before, and the regeneration is slower. Ranma tries to get up, but his legs don't want to move. He wants to fire another ki blast, but he can't stop thinking about those words. True heroism… Why now? He was never a hero. What does that matter?
He needs to focus. Things are growing dark now, and it isn't because the sun is setting. That isn't good, but he can't bring himself to care. He tries to think about overcoming this challenge, surpassing yet another foe, but it doesn't seem important anymore. Something more important…
It's moving again, but he can't seem to lift his arm anymore. He could probably fire a ki blast anyway, but he can't focus, his thoughts keep spinning in circles. Something more important than being the best…
The reason he started this fight.
Ranma wonders how far the children have gotten. But as the shadow of the monster falls over him, he knows:
It won't be far enough.
He could probably play dead now. Go into a trance, and maybe he'll wake up in the hospital if he's lucky. He probably should do that. It isn't like he can stop the monster now. Just close his eyes, take deep breathes…
But he doesn't. It's stupid and pointless, but he suddenly feels an urge to attack instead. It won't work. But it'll buy the children a few more seconds. Maybe it'll be enough for someone more capable to arrive.
It might be worth it. Not the most dramatic of revelations.
Good enough for him.
This ki blast is pure white. Kind of shiny. His vision is blurry, so he just pushes it out of his body with all of his strength, not even trying to aim. It's really rather bright. He wonders what he used to power it…
…and then he sees the sky again. The shadow is gone, just like that. And he knows.
His vision is going. He's lost a lot of blood. He feels like he doesn't have a drop of ki left. Vaguely he can hear sirens in the distance. He thinks he might have been hearing them for a while. Hopefully they got to the children.
He feels like he's forgetting someone, but it probably isn't important.
He feels tired. More tired than he's ever felt before. He'll just rest his eyes for a while. He probably shouldn't, but when has that ever stopped him? He'll wake up eventually. Maybe.
And so as footsteps race towards him, he closes his eyes, feeling strangely satisfied.
He wonders if this is what it feels like to be a hero.
True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.
It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,
but the urge to serve others at whatever cost... Arthur Ashe.