Ranma 1/2 manga fanfiction
by Gary Kleppe

The characters of Ranma 1/2 are the creation of and rightful property of Rumiko Takahashi. They are used here without permission. This story may be freely redistributed, but it should not be altered substantially or used for profit in any way.

"I'm afraid there's been no change."

"No... change," I repeated dumbly. The words are a tornado, chilling, darkening, demolishing into rubble my walls of denial and false hope. No change. Of course there's been no change. Why would there be? Trouble rarely goes away when you sit and wait for it to fix itself. Yet sometimes that's the only thing to try.

The clinic is a maze of corridors and examination rooms with tables of cold stainless steel. Racks of medicine and equipment hang on the walls, like the torture implements of a medieval dungeon.

"Is there..." I ask hesitantly, not sure that I want to hear the answer, "anything you can do, Doctor?"

"Well, Mrs.--"


Doctor Tanaka nods. "Well, Akane, what we're dealing with here is a rather advanced case of kidney deterioration. You see, the kidneys have the job of filtering out wastes and...." The words trail off. His wide country-boy eyes gaze up at me with kindness and sympathy. "I'm sorry. I've already told you this."

"Yes," I say, and hear the anger and frustration in my voice. I shouldn't get mad at the doctor. It's not his fault. Whose it is, who really deserves to be the target of the emotions I'm feeling, I don't know. All I do know is that he's answered my question, by not answering it. There was nothing that he, or I, could do.

Kidney deterioration. I think of Mrs. Yamane from next door, how three years ago the ambulance came to her house to take her to the hospital. Her kidneys were bad, they said; but they put her on a dialysis machine and eventually transplanted another kidney into her body, and she was able to come home. How I wish that were possible in this case.

The doctor takes a sip of tea. and wipes the side of his cup on his white lab coat. "Akane, this isn't easy for me, any more than I'm sure it is for you. But... while we've given him what drugs we safely can, he's still in a terrible lot of pain. I need a decision from you."

I don't know what he means, and then I do. I remember holding him in my arms as we rode to the clinic, how he shivered and trembled and stared straight ahead and how in his eyes held no recognition for me, nothing but pain. There's no way to make him better, nothing to do but wait as the poisons build up all over his body, accumulating like water on a sinking ship, and I wonder if ending his misery wouldn't be the best thing for him.

Except.... "Doctor, I promised my husband I would wait until he's back."

"All right, Akane." The doctor nods in understanding. "There's some tea in the outer room in case you'd like. I'll let you know if there's any change."

"Thank you, Doctor." I manage to smile vaguely, and walk out.

The outer room is empty as I enter and sit on one of the padded benches. Colorful pamphlets lay on the table in front of me, explaining the importance of timely vaccinations and proper hygiene. I don't feel like reading.

With nothing else to do, I sit back and wait, as I said, for my husband, wondering a little angrily why he couldn't have stayed with me through this. I thought they were friends. He was the one who nearly throttled the doctor demanding a dialysis machine, until the doctor explained why it wouldn't work. Then he read the letter we'd gotten from Shampoo, and ran off to the location her map had shown, not explaining why it couldn't wait just a few days.

Nearby, a phone rings, and a receptionist's voice negotiates an appointment with someone over the telephone; I tune it out and stare at the small window. The early morning sky outside is blackened, as if the sun were too ill to show up for work today. Rain pours down in a never-ending rhythm, sloshing up against the window as a gust of wind howls. Water. At school they taught us what a miraculous substance it is. It supposedly makes up seventy percent of our body weight. Life began in water, and without it we would all shrivel up and die in days.

I hate it.

I hate it for what it used to do to Ranma, and what it won't do to him anymore. I hate it for ruining our chance at a normal life together. Strange that I still think of Ranma as a he, even though in strict biological terms that pronoun hasn't applied to him since high school. But anything else feels like giving up on him.

My mind wanders back to the last time I saw Ranma change back into a male. It started out as a sunny day, and we decided to take a walk in the park after school. Unfortunately, by the time we got home, it wasn't sunny anymore, and we'd gotten caught in one of Nerima's trademark sudden downpours.

"Look, don't you think I'm better looking than that guy?" Ranma said as we stepped into the kitchen.

"I don't believe you, Ranma!" I said. "Do you want Kodachi to go back to chasing you instead of him?"

"Well, no, of course not," he answered a bit too forcefully, as if trying to convince himself. "But why that guy? I'm at least twice as handsome!" He knew full well what the name of Kodachi's new love interest was, but refused to admit it to himself.

I laughed. "At the moment, 'handsome' isn't the right word." A kettle lay on the stove. I picked it up and poured it over Ranma's head.

He stayed female.

"Huh?" He turned around and stared. "Is that thing hot enough?"

"I think so," I answered, puzzled as I touched the kettle and the heat stung my finger. I set it back on the burner and turned the flame up to high. Moments later it whistled as steam blew out the top.

I poured the water over Ranma again. "Yeeeowtch! That's hot!" he screamed, and he was male.

"I guess it just wasn't hot enough the first time?" I shrugged.

"This is not good," Ranma said. "We better go ask the ghoul about this."

After dinner, we walked over to the Nekohanten, and learned just how not good it was.

Cologne stood on the counter top, listening intently to Ranma's explanation of what had happened. When he had finished, she said nothing, her wrinkled face inscrutable.

"So that's the story," Ranma said. "Any idea what the deal is?"

Her mouth abruptly flew open. "Shampoo!"

Shampoo paused from where she was wiping off tables. "Yes, Great-grandmother?"

"Pack your belongings. We're leaving tomorrow morning."

"We leaving?" Shampoo looked up, surprised. "Where we go?"

"Back to China. Ranma is no longer a suitable husband for you."

"Hey! I am so!" Ranma looked at Shampoo, then at me. "I mean, not that I will, but if I did, I would be! Got that, old ghoul?"

"Of course Ranma suitable!" Shampoo said.

"Hush, child. Ranma, I think it's you who doesn't understand," Cologne said. "Sit down and I'll explain."

He moved over to a table and complied. I took the seat next to him, and Cologne hopped into the opposite one.

"The Jusenkyo curses," she began, "are, in a sense, similar to a virus that infects those who come in contact with the spring water. Contact with water above a certain threshold makes it go dormant, while water below that temperature re-activates it."

I felt a lump in my throat, and swallowed. Somehow, I was sure I wouldn't like what Cologne was going to say. Ranma, on the other hand, was obviously unimpressed. "We know all that!"

"But," she continued, paying him no heed, "a virus can mutate. Adapt. New strains can evolve that are resistant to medicines that worked against them before."

"Ranma's curse has... evolved?" I said, wondering what more there was that she hadn't told us yet.

"Correct, child. It happens with some curse victims; with others, it never does. Ethnicity seems to be a factor. It seems to be a near certainty for Europeans, while I've never heard of it happening to a native Chinese. Most likely some unknown genetic factor is involved, though it might just be that the goddesses of Jusenkyo are prejudiced against foreigners. As a Japanese, I had expected you to be safe, but it appears that I was mistaken."

"Yeah, whatever." Ranma hovered over the table, glaring at her. "How do I fix it?"

Cologne remained impassive. "If I thought you could fix it, would I be taking Shampoo back to China?"

"Damn it!" He pounded his fist on the table. "This is a trick to make me marry Shampoo!"

"No trick. Very soon, even boiling water will change you into a woman, Ranma; and no sort of water will change you back."

"Great-grandmother no can help Ranma?" Shampoo pleaded. "No way to cure curse?"

"I didn't say that," Cologne said. Ranma sat down and went back to looking attentive. "The truth is, I'm not sure."

The three of us stared at her, waiting for her to continue talking.

"A very special underground spring is rumored to exist somewhere. The name I've heard for it is zuihouniquan. According to legends, it's capable of changing any creature into a human, and removing any other curses regardless of which stages they're in."

"Now we're talkin'!" Ranma perked up. "Where is this zui-whatchamacallit?" I could tell it wasn't going to be that easy.

Cologne sighed. "I've no idea. It could be anywhere in the world. Or nowhere. Rumors aren't always true. And if it does exist, there's no guarantee that there's enough water in it to effect a cure."

Ranma stood. "What kinda help is that supposed to be?"

"The best I can give," she answered without missing a beat.

"Ranma, I try to help," Shampoo said. "Amazon archives have much knowledge."

"Thanks, Shampoo," I said. She paid me no attention, continuing to gape at Ranma, whose eyes were locked with Cologne's. "Come on, Ranma. We'll look for information somewhere else." Pulling him by the arm, I led him towards the exit.

"Ranma, there's an old Amazon saying that you might wish to bear in mind." Cologne hopped down from the chair to the floor. "A true warrior only fights when fighting is to her advantage."

Turning, he looked her directly in the eyes. "His."

She saluted him with a grim smile, and we left the Nekohanten for what would be the last time.

An hour later, we had dragged several large cardboard boxes full of books and scrolls from Happosai's room into mine. We sat on the floor, searching for anything related to what Cologne had talked about.

"What's this one?" I picked something out of the box, looked at it, and immediately dropped it back. "Eep!"

"What was that?"

"An issue of 'Shaved Nuns in Bondage Quarterly.' He must've put it away in the wrong box."

"Keep looking. There's gotta be something somewh-- Hey!"

I inched closer. "Found something?"

"Yeah!" He laid a book on my lap, pointing to the open page. "It talks about the curses becoming permanent."

"Really?" I read it. For some victims, the curses of Jusenkyo may eventually require hotter and hotter water to undo, soon leaving the victim fixed in cursed form. In such cases,

The page ended there. Ranma turned to the next one. I began to feel hopeful.

I continued reading. ...there is no known way to remove the curse. For this reason, Jusenkyo should be avoided at all costs.

A silence fell over the room. This wasn't the first time Ranma had faced the possibility of being stuck permanently as a woman; but there had always been a cure, if not within reach, at least in sight. This time, we didn't have the slightest clue how to bring things back to normal. Maybe, I told myself, we would pointed in the right direction tomorrow, or next week. But maybe we wouldn't. Maybe this would be the last time I'd ever see Ranma as a male.

"Y'know, Akane, I remember a story my pop told me once. This guy was being chased by wild animals, and they cornered him. There wasn't any chance for him to escape. No matter what he did, he was gonna get eaten. Then he noticed a cherry nearby, on a vine or something. So instead of doing anything else, the guy ate it, and enjoyed how good it tasted before the animals ripped his guts out."

I stared, my attention caught even though I'd heard the story before. A reflection of the overhead florescent light shone within Ranma's deep brown eyes. I'd never really noticed how handsome he was before.

"Thinkin' about that story, and this thing with the curse... I've figured out something that I didn't really know before."

"What's that, Ranma?"

"My pop is a complete idiot."

From above a sharp bang sounded, like the bursting of an over-full balloon. The room went black.

"What the heck?"

"I-- I think the bulb in my ceiling lamp just blew."

For long moments, awkward silence filled the room. I stared into the darkness, waiting for the shadows to coalesce.

"Um... well, I guess I oughtta be goin'. We can keep goin' on this tomorrow."

"Uh, sure." I reached out blindly, finding something soft; it took me a second to figure out that it was my mattress. I steadied myself against the bed. "Tomorrow is another day, I guess."

I heard Ranma stand up. Part of me expected -- wanted-- him to drag me onto the bed and start ripping off my clothes. To this day, I'm not sure how I'd have reacted. If he'd tried it any other time, I'd have clobbered him within an inch of his life. But I still couldn't shake the feeling, the fear, that this was the last chance we'd ever have to be... together... as man and woman.

Light fell into the room as Ranma opened the door. "G'night, Akane," he said, and he closed the door behind him.

By four in the morning, I was still wide awake. I thought about going down to check on Ranma. Just to make sure that he's all right. Just in case the impending permanence of his curse was bothering him and he wanted to talk about it. If nature were to take its course and one thing were to lead to another, well, then that would just be an unplanned consequence.

I sat up in bed. I knew that if I did go to his room, Ranma would be a jerk about it. Can't help havin' the hots for a big stud like me, eh, Akane? How dare he assume just because I was worried about him that I was there for... that!

Heaving a frustrated sigh, I slumped back down and stared at the wall. Just like the last twenty-six times.

By eight-thirty in the morning, I rolled reluctantly out of bed. The sky outside the window was a cloudless, vibrant blue. Birds sang out what was probably a delightful tune, but to my sleep-deprived brain was an unwelcome racket.

Grabbing a shirt and skirt from the closet, I managed to get dressed. I figured on having to drag Ranma forcibly out of bed; but as I came downstairs I knew I was wrong. He was already there, talking to someone on the telephone.

"You're sure?" Pause to listen. "You're really, really sure?" Another pause. "Well, okay, but you're pretty sure?" And yet another. "Okay, thanks!"

Breakfast was waiting for me at the table. I sat down. "Who was that on the phone, Ranma?"

"The weather service." He smiled. "They said there's essentially no chance of rain today."

"That's good." But it obviously wouldn't stay that way forever.

"Check this out." He handed me a piece of paper. The picture on it showed a man in full scuba gear, complete with cyclopean mask and duck-like flippers.

I handed it back. "Where'd you get it?"

"From Nabiki. See what this guy's wearing? It's a wet suit. But in my case, it's gonna be a dry suit. I'm goin' over to Kinnikuatama's sporting goods right now to get one."

I couldn't help but laugh at the thought of it. "You're planning to buy one of those and wear it everywhere you go? Even to school?" I pictured him sitting in class with that get-up on and giggled.

"Yup," he answered, completely serious. "But I ain't buyin' -- I'm renting. Shampoo's sending me a whole bunch of that waterproof soap from Jusenkyo. Once that gets here, I'll use it every day."

My first impulse was to make fun of his plan. You and your crazy ideas, Ranma. But surprisingly, this one didn't seem so bad. I'd been ready to give up and accept the change as inevitable, but maybe we didn't need to. If Ranma could just avoid any contact with water, then he can stay male. Granted, that was a pretty big if, but Ranma had often succeeded at things that at first seemed impossible. If anyone could pull this off, he could.

"Seeya later, Akane." He waved as he stepped out the doorway.

I nibbled at my food. It was hard to resist the urge to just plop down on the floor and go back to sleep. At least it wasn't a school day.

Maybe I'd spent the whole night worrying over nothing. Ranma had been locked in female form a couple of times before, and things always managed to turn out okay. Maybe he'd have to use the waterproof soap every day from now on. That wasn't so bad, was it? There were people who had to take medication every day or they'd go into convulsions or risk a heart attack or even become suicidal. But as long as they kept taking their medicine, they could lead perfectly ordinary lives.

I remembered going to Kinnikuatama's sporting goods last month to buy weights. It wasn't very far away; just a couple of blocks past Furinkan. Ranma could take Ushiro street and be back in under a half hour.

Suddenly, I was wide awake. Ushiro street... it wouldn't... not when...

Before I knew it, I was out of the house, running at top speed.

"Ranma!" I passed two blocks before I realized I was still wearing my in-house slippers. "Ranma, wait!" Fire burned in my chest as I gasped for breath. I pushed myself faster. I could see him for a moment as he rounded the corner onto Ushiro, and I shouted with what was left of my breath. "Ranma, don't go down that street!"

I came around the corner. Ranma stood on the pavement, gaping in stunned disbelief. Water dripped from his face. His female face. Oh, gods, I thought, this isn't happening. I'm going to wake up any moment now and still be in bed, and my life won't have been forever and irreversibly changed by an old woman's careless splash of water.

"You like water?" Ranma shouted at the old woman. "I'll give you water! C'mere! I'll jam that ladle right up your...."

"No!" I tackled him like an American football player, pushing him to the ground. "You can't!"

Ladle in hand, the old woman walked back toward her house, totally oblivious to the madman turned madwoman screaming at her. She must have been deaf as a post.

"Damn it, Akane... I could've won." Ranma collapsed into my arms, crying like a woman. No, like a human being. "I could've won."

"I know," I said. "I know."

Just as Cologne had predicted, no water could change Ranma back, regardless of how hot it was. Ranma didn't accept the truth of this at first, of course. It wasn't hot enough, he told Kasumi. It was boiling, she told him. Well then, he said, it needed to be more boiling.

News traveled fast. That same night, we sat down to dinner with Dad and Kasumi. Someone was missing.

"Where's Mr. Saotome?" Kasumi asked.

"In his room, last I checked," Dad answered. "He said something about taking a nap." He raised his voice. "Saotome! Dinnertime!"

There was no answer, so Ranma and I went to check on him.

When we got to the bedroom, the window was hanging open. Mr. Saotome's backpack was missing, along with the pile of spare gis that usually occupied a spot on the floor.

"Pop's flown the coop. Run off. Look at this."

A napkin lay on the floor. A crude sketch on it was drawn in felt pen. The blade of a katana. The meaning was obvious.

"He thinks Mom will kill him if he stays," Ranma said, "now that I can't be a man among men anymore. Damn it, Pop...." He sighed. "He could be right."

Neither of us said anything more. But I'm sure the same question was on Ranma's mind as mine. The seppuku pledge applied to both him and his father. What would Mrs. Saotome do to him when she found out?"

I didn't sleep at all that night. In the morning, I'd come to a decision. I called Mrs. Saotome on the telephone.

"Hello, Akane, dear."

"Hello, Mrs. Saotome. Look... I won't beat around the bush here. By now, I'm sure you've heard about what's happened to Ranma."

"Yes, I'm afraid so."

"Mrs. Saotome... I formally ask that you unconditionally release Ranma from the pledge that his father made thirteen years ago. Should you refuse, as his fiancee and soon to be wife, I'm afraid I cannot allow you and he to see or speak with each other."

"You would take a son away from his mother?"

"If the alternative is you taking him away from me, then yes, I would."

"Akane, I'm not such an unreasonable person as you apparently think me. I do appreciate that what's happened to Ranma is out of her control."

"I--" I flustered, as the protective walls of formality that I'd built crumbled around me. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Saotome." Should've known better than to do battle with a master.

"That's all right, dear. Now we need to decide what to do about Ranma, don't we."

"What would you suggest, Mrs. Saotome?" Maybe she would be able to help. As the old saying went, with age comes wisdom, or at least if you didn't end up as an underwear-stealing pervert.

"It is the gods' will, evidently, that Ranma, at least for the present, is to be a woman. So, he should learn how to be a woman."

"How do you mean?" I asked, not liking where this was going.

"Buy him some women's clothes. Take him on 'girls' nights out.' Go to a cooking class together."

"Thank you, Mrs. Saotome," I said. "I'll give your idea all the consideration it deserves." I hung up.

I didn't talk much with her after that.

Okay, so I didn't have the wisdom that comes with age. But I did, at least some of the time, know a dangerously stupid idea when I hear one. All his life, Ranma had been told that being manly was good, that he was worthless unless he acted like a macho jerk all of the time. As much as I might like to cure him of that, I couldn't just pretend that it wasn't so anymore.

No, if anything, I had to make Ranma feel more like a man. And, as I went through an ordinary day's motions, it became undeniably clear what that would take. If I were planning to fight Pantyhose, Saffron, and Ashura single-handed, I wouldn't have been more afraid.

I wanted it to happen. Somehow, I could finally admit that to myself now. The truth was, I'd secretly hoped for it for a long time. But I'd wanted Ranma to be the one to make up his mind first. That way, he couldn't decide later that he didn't want anything to do with some dumb macho jock-chick when there were girls out there with real sex appeal and it wasn't his fault because the whole thing had been my idea anyway and I had pushed him into it before he'd known what he was doing.

Heart fluttering nervously, I rapped on Ranma's door. It was now or never.

He looked up as I stepped in. "Oh, hey, Akane." He was stretched out sideways on his futon, one of Happosai's dusty old books lying on the floor next to him.

"Ranma," I forced myself to say, "can we talk?"

"Sure." His breasts flopped a little as he swung around to a sitting position. He ought to wear a bra, I thought, but now wasn't a good time to bring that up. "About the engagement, right?" His voice was leaden, with no trace of enthusiasm or surprise.

I crouched down next to him. "Uh huh."

"Look, it's all right," he said, his eyes locked firmly onto my foot. "Don't worry about it."

"About what?"

"Pop's gone anyhow. I'll tell Mr. Tendo where he can stick that family pledge thing. You ain't gotta marry me."

"Ranma, you idiot!" I screamed. "What in the world is wrong with you?!"

He finally glanced up at me, with the wide-eyed look of the unjustly accused. "What?"

"What if I don't want to cancel the engagement? Did you ever think of that?"

He blinked. "Akane, we can't get married while I'm like this!"

"Like what, Ranma? I thought you were a man! Isn't that what you've always said? 'I'm a guy; but my body doesn't know it.'"

He sighed. "Dammit, that's a pretty big 'but.' You want everybody to run around sayin' that you like girls instead of guys?"

"I don't care," I lied. Actually, it was a half-truth. I did care; just not enough for it to matter.

"Oh yeah, suuuure you don't. Forget it, Akane. Normal girls just don't marry other girls. We can do it i-- when I get cured so I can turn back into a guy again. If you still want to. Until then, just forget it."

I had the urge to explain to him just how stupid he was being -- while pounding his head into the floor for emphasis. Normal girls? Normal girls didn't fight martial arts brawls out in public. Normal girls obeyed school administrators instead of beating them up. What did we care what normal people did? And there was no telling how long it would take to find a cure; maybe forever.

But saying all of this wouldn't do any good. Ranma was stubborn enough that none of it would convince him if he didn't want to be convinced. And while I hoped he'd eventually accept the possibility of never being cured, it wouldn't do any good to rub his face in it.

"Is that the only problem you have with this?" I asked. "What people will think?"

"Um...." He thought for a second. "Yeah."

I stood up. "I'll be right back."

Running downstairs, I passed Kasumi on my way to the front door. "Oh, Akane, where are you going?" she asked. "It's almost dinnertime!"

"Save me some leftovers, Kasumi. I need to go see someone right away."

"Welcome to Ucchan's." Her voice was so frigid, I expected to see icicles dripping from her tongue. "Your server will be with you in a moment."

It was still early, and the restaurant was mostly empty. A few customers sat around one corner of the bar, chatting idly with Konatsu as their orders sizzled on the grill.

"I didn't come here to eat, Ukyo," I said, wondering whether I should've come at all. "Just to talk."

"Oh? Is this the 'let's all be friends' speech? Ran-chan's made his choice, and the rest of us should just smile and say 'oh well, the better girl won?' Sorry, honey, but that's not me."

After I was sure she'd finished, I leaned over to her, lowering my voice. "Ran-chan-- I mean, Ranma's having a problem with his curse right now. He can't change back into a man. We... we're not sure if there's a way to fix it."

Her mouth popped open in surprise. Her face drew closer to mine. "Are you serious?"

I nodded. "Cologne said it was a second stage of the curse that happens naturally for some victims, mainly non-Chinese."

She paused, as if to digest the information. "What about the panda?"

"He's run off. He may be trapped in his cursed form too, for all we know." Actually, I hadn't thought about it before then. But Mr. Saotome had at least half the same genes as Ranma, so it stood to reason that he'd be susceptible as well. I hoped he'd be all right.

Ukyo grunted non-committally. Then her expression softened. "Oh, gods.... Look, Akane, I'll do what I can, which probably isn't much. I can pass the word discreetly to people who might know something or know someone who does. My friend Occhan's got a curse of his own that he doesn't like to talk about. He's got a lot of miscellaneous information, and you never know what might help."

"Th- thanks," I stammered, not knowing what to say.

"Don't mention it." The icy edge was back in her voice. "Anything else I can do for you, sugar?"

Pausing, I took a breath. I had no right to ask her for what I had come for. But I asked anyway.

"Well? How's it look?"

I stood back to take in the whole picture. It was a man who stood in front of me; slimmer and shorter than the old Ranma, but anyone looking would definitely know that he was a man. "My fiance." I beamed a
smile at him.

"It's too tight," Ranma groused.

"Well, you'll get used to it. Anyhow, you don't have to wear it all the time," I said. "Not around the house, certainly." Ranma slipped his shirt back off. I started to unwind the bindings.

He examined himself in the mirror. "I suppose I could pass for myself if the person really didn't know me that well. At least the curse doesn't change my hair color or something stupid like that." He smirked. "We can tell people that I've lost weight because of having to eat your cooking, Akane!"

Taking a deep breath, I decided to let that one pass without clobbering him.

"You really want it, don't you," he said. "The wedding, I mean." I nodded. "You sure about this?"

"Very sure." It was an utter lie. In truth, I had very little idea what I was getting into. Would I spend my whole life married to a man who, biologically, was as much a woman as I was? And the bindings wouldn't fool people indefinitely, any more than they had when Ukyo wore them. But Ranma needed me. That was the only thing I could be sure of. I was doing what was best for him, if not what was best for me.

"Okay, I give up," he said. "You win." Quite some admission, coming from him. "Akane, do you wanna marry me?"

I sighed. "Ranma, you idiot, why do you think I went through the trouble of...." I stopped, as it dawned on me why he'd said that. "Oh. Yes, Ranma. Yes!"

We hesitated for a few moments, and then our lips met. It was a sloppy kiss, but our first real one all the same, and I'll always remember it.

Only immediate family were invited to the wedding, and, surprisingly, no one else showed up. Ranma told me later that he'd sent an anonymous love letter to Kuno, with a La Paz, Bolivia return address. The postmark read Nerima, of course, but evidently Kuno either didn't notice, or figured it was a trick to keep him apart from the seeker of his affection.

The ceremony went off without a hitch; after everything we'd been through, it was quite anticlimactic. Ranma seemed almost disappointed that no one showed up to demand that he marry her (or him) instead. I could almost see his ego deflating. You're damaged goods, Saotome; no one wants you anymore.

After the wedding, Nabiki went off to begin university studies in Osaka. Mrs. Saotome went back to whatever it was she did, and Ranma and I went back home with Dad and Kasumi.

At first, we were both scared to try anything resembling sex. For the first few weeks, all we did was kiss, and cuddle in the dark until we fell asleep. Neither of us had any experience, and the fact that we were -- physically -- both women only made it more difficult. Especially for me. My every instinct told me that this was wrong, that I should be disgusted at the thought of touching another woman in that way.

Eventually, we finally worked up the courage to explore each other by touch. We bumbled around blindly, learning by trial and error, and one thing led to another. I learned to look past the deceptions of sight and feel and see Ranma as the man he really was -- as he'd always been -- and make love to my husband.

It was strange to think that the change in Ranma's curse had brought us together. But then, that was how life worked for us sometimes. I've often thought that Ranma and I were connected by a Chinese finger band -- the kind that grips tighter the harder you try to pull apart. Instead of taking us to the Cave of Lost Love in an attempt to break us up, Ukyo should've just arranged for everyone to leave us alone for a month.

Having inherited the family dojo, Ranma and I looked over the family finances and found that they were an absolute mess. There were debts that should have been paid and tax returns that should have been filed ten years ago, and bonds that should have been cashed in. There were shoeboxes full of savings account statements that hadn't been opened. We spent a lot of time organizing it all, figuring out what needed to be paid and where we could squeeze the money from.

Meanwhile, we opened the dojo up to students, and a few paying customers began to trickle in. At the same time, we kept searching for any clue that would lead us to the zuihouniquan that Cologne had mentioned, or any other cure for Ranma's curse. We pored through books, scrolls, cave drawings, anything we could get our hands on. We passed the word to anyone who might know something, or anyone who might know someone who might know someone who might know something. But no luck. And with every disappointment, every dried-up lead, Ranma seemed to lose a bit more of his spirit. More and more, he would go through the motions of a day's work with less and less real enthusiasm for anything he was doing. Sometimes he'd read the same book, even the same page, four or five times over, as if expecting it to tell him something different the next time, or as though switching to a new one were simply not worth the bother. He was like a car whose wheels were skidding in mud, engine racing but getting nowhere. I wanted to do something for him, but I had no idea what would help and nothing I tried seemed to do any good.

I had just finished with the last student of the day and was about to get started on dinner. A news reader's voice blared from the television speaker; some observer from the UN claimed that seismic reports indicated that the Japanese government was carrying out illegal nuclear tests. Just another day.

The phone rang. I answered it. "Hello?"

"Oh, Akane!" Kasumi's voice sounded a little distressed. "I'm glad you're home. Could you do me a really big favor?"

"Sure, Kasumi." If it'd been anyone else, I'd have asked what the favor was.

"Oh, thank you so much. I baked two big tins full of cookies for a meeting tonight, and I must have forgotten to bring them."

I wondered what kind of meeting she was talking about. Kasumi always went out on Thursday nights, and never told anyone where she was.

"Let me check." I called over to the kitchen. "Ranma, do you see any cookie tins?"

"You mean these?" He walked over with a couple of brightly-decorated canisters in hand. I popped off one of the lids, and sure enough, there were cookies inside.

"They're here, Kasumi," I said into the phone.

"Oh, good! Would you and Ranma please bring them down here? It's not far. We're in the big public meeting room at the Nerima civic center."

"No problem. We'll be there right away." I had a burning curiosity to find out just what Kasumi did at these meetings.

"Remember, don't eat any yet," Kasumi said. "You can have some when you get here."

"Of course not, Kasumi." I smacked Ranma's hand. He put the cookie back and the lid back on. "See you in a few minutes."

Boisterous conversations resounded from the meeting room as we approached. "This the place?" Ranma asked.

"She said the big meeting room, so this should be it." We walked in. A long table lay against one wall; atop it stood a variety of food dishes. A crowd of people filled the rest of the room, eating off paper plates and chattering noisily.

A muscular, bearded man in a wheelchair rolled up. "Hi there! I'm Koji." He offered a hand, which I and Ranma shook in turn.

"Nice to meet you. I'm Akane. This is my husband Ranma. Er... I heard my sister was here? Kasumi Tendo?"

"You're Kasumi's sister? Hey, everyone, Kasumi's sister and her husband are here!" Nearly the whole room turned and called out greetings.

Kasumi waved from the opposite end of the food table. "Oh, hello, Akane! Thank you for coming!" She began making her way through the crowd toward us. Ranma kept quiet, observing, taking everything in.

"Kasumi has a husband?" An older man in dark glasses said.

"Her sister has a husband, Ichiro." Koji slapped him lightly on the forearm. "Be sociable and say hello."

"Nice to meet you," I repeated, and shook Ichiro's hand. I smiled, though he was evidently blind and couldn't see me.

"Likewise. That sister of yours is an angel, she is. She even lets Koji here beat her at checkers."

"Hah. That's nothing," Koji said. "She listened to Ichiro's stories about his grandkids, and laughed. Now that takes a saint."

"So this is your secret, Kasumi?" I asked as she stepped over. "You do this on Thursday nights?"

"Some weeks, yes." She smiled, and said no more.

"We're a support group for persons with disabilities, Akane," Koji said. "We get together to campaign for greater access to public buildings, education, and such, and to help each other out... but mostly to enjoy ourselves." He motioned us to the table. "Help yourself. You'll like it."

"Kasumi's sister?" another man said. "The one who's an athlete?"

"I do martial arts," I corrected, noticing the man's empty right sleeve pinned to his shoulder.

"Oh yeah, that was it." He nodded. "That's great!"

"Martial arts? Really?" said a woman next to him. "I went to a combat demonstration last month. The things they did were just incredible."

I looked over at Ranma, who was still standing around like a spare part. Maybe, I thought, I should get him to talk to some of these people.

"My husband's the one who's really good at it." I stepped back so he would be to the front of me. "Isn't that right, Ranma?" Knowing him, he wouldn't be able to disagree with that.

He waved tentatively. "Uh, hi. How are ya."

The man reached out with his one arm to shake Ranma's hand. "Hey, how about showing us some of your moves? I've never seen a real martial artist before."

"Give the man a break, Kenichi," Koji said. "That stuff is his job, and this is his day off. You wouldn't like it if we asked you to write advertising copy for us, would you?"

"No, no, it's all right," I said. "I'm sure Ranma would be happy to show you a few moves, wouldn't you, dear?" I tried to imitate the voice of gentle but firm wifely persuasion that women like Mrs. Saotome used.

"Er, okay, I guess." Ranma walked to a corner of the room that was quickly cleared. The crowd murmured, then silently watched.

For a moment, Ranma hesitated. Then he sprang up. He somersaulted in midair, so fast that he could hardly be seen. Six... eight circles, and he landed effortlessly on the floor, arms outstretched. The audience gaped, then erupted in applause. I joined in.

Next, Ranma picked up a bowl of fruit from the table and tossed the contents high into the air, then leapt up to intercept them. Twin knives, one held in each of his hands, slashed out at the fruit, cutting faster than I could see. Slices of apple, pear, and orange tumbled down, landing with precision back in the bowl. Instant fruit salad. Ranma grinned as he lifted the bowl for everyone to see, like a magician showing off the results of a trick; the oranges had landed on top, arranged to form a smiley-face.

The audience went wild. Cheers erupted and whoop-whistles blared. Kenichi banged against the wall with his single arm, forever settling the question of what one-handed clapping sounded like. Koji excitedly described what Ranma had done to Ichiro, whose mouth fell open in amazement.

For the next hour or so, Ranma and I mingled with the group. He told them about his battles against Herb and Saffron, of his fight against the eight-headed serpent of Ryugenzawa, always managing to avoid mentioning his curse, also not mentioning that he'd had help in those battles. And the group, in turn, told their stories -- of entering a board meeting of the Takasugiru company uninvited to demand wheelchair ramps in their department stores; of marching back and forth in front of the company that had fired Ichiro, carrying picket signs, until they gave him his job back.

I stayed mostly by Ranma's side during all of this conversation, occasionally correcting his memory of the facts (what else is a good wife for?) I could just imagine what was going through his mind. These people had missing limbs, couldn't walk, couldn't hear, but they didn't sit around moping about it. They simply carried on with their lives, working, helping each other, and even enjoying themselves. And now here was Ranma Saotome. Ranma, who had a body most anyone would envy. A body with which there was absolutely nothing wrong except that it happened to be a different gender from the one to which he was accustomed. And what did you have to complain about, Ranma Saotome?

Eventually, the crowd began to thin out. Ranma and I made our goodbyes as we drifted toward the exit. Kasumi waved at us. "Byebye!"

"Kasumi..." A smile crept onto Ranma's face. "Thanks."

With eyes wide, she looked back at him. "Oh my. For what?"

It wasn't quite a week later that I came home from a trip to the grocery store to hear a familiar voice from the dojo. "No, of course not, Ranma."

I hadn't even given a thought to Ryoga in the past few months. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. I'd just assumed that he'd gone back to his parents, or to Akari, or to wherever he spent most of his time. It was a little unsettling to realize that I didn't know all that much about him -- that I hadn't really even tried to find out.

"Look, I'm not having her throwing away her whole life because of me. She deserves better than that. Just tell her that I had to go away. Tell her that nothing is her fault, that she's a wonderful person and all that but I just can't marry her or even see her anymore. It's just how things are, and there's nothing either of us can do about it, and she shouldn't wait for me because I'm not coming back."

What sort of trouble was Ryoga in? It wasn't nice to eavesdrop, but I couldn't tear myself away. Besides, he wasn't exactly making any attempt to lower his voice, unlike Ranma whose responses were too quiet to hear.

"Damn it! I don't want you feeling sorry for me. I've done that enough for myself. I'm empty. There isn't anything left anymore. It's up to you now, Ranma. You've got to look after Akane. Akari, too. Find some other guy for her. Someone who can beat that pig of hers so that her father will approve."

My arms sagged, and I noticed that I was still carrying a bag full of groceries in each of them. With an undignified grunt, I lugged them into the kitchen and began putting them in their proper places. Maybe I had no right to know what Ranma and Ryoga were talking about. Maybe it was something personal between them, something that I had no part in unless one of them decided to confide in me.

Then again, I thought, it was possible that I'd been excluded simply because I hadn't been home when Ryoga had arrived. It was true that when it came down to it, I didn't know him very well; but he was still a friend, and one of the nicer people that I knew. If he was leaving on a long trip, I wanted to at least say goodbye.

With the groceries stowed away, I headed back toward the dojo, mentally rehearsing what to say. Oh, hello, Ryoga! Would you like to join us for dinner tonight? Hm. Too Kasumi-ish. I was just passing by and heard you talking and wasn't eavesdropping when you were talking about leaving. Really. Okay, strike that last part.

The outside of the dojo was silent. I slid the door open and walked in. My sandals klacked on the wooden floor, the sound echoing through the empty room. I never heard Ryoga's voice again.

It wasn't until two months later that someone else came back, someone who I hadn't expected to see again.

"Hey, Akane, close your eyes."


"Just do it. It's a surprise." Ranma had just gone to the front door to investigate some odd noises. Now his face was bursting with a grin so infectious that I couldn't help smiling as well, even though I had no idea what was going on.

"All right." My eyelids flipped shut.

"Now hold out your hands."

"Honestly," I grumbled, doing as asked.

Something squirmed in my arms. I shifted them, trying to balance whatever it was. It squealed, and I knew what I was holding.

"P-chan!" My eyes flew open as I squeezed the pig excitedly. "Oh, I'm so happy to see you again!"

Ranma chuckled. "Geez, squeeze him to death, why don'tcha."

"Sorry!" I loosened my grip to took a look at P-chan. His limbs were much scrawnier than they'd been, and his once-plump belly had thinned. "Oh, Ranma, look at him!"

"He probably ain't been eatin' very well. Food's gotta be hard to find when you're a little pig. Especially when you're tryin' not to be dinner for someone else." Ranma's tone was sympathetic, not at all derisive. "Don't worry; we'll fatten him back up. I think Kasumi left some stuff in the fridge from dinner. I'll go check."

"Thanks!" I petted the back of P-chan's head, and he wheezed contentedly. "Oh, I didn't see you for so long! I thought you were lost forever!"

"Nope," Ranma said. "He was. But he's home now."

I was afraid that Ranma would get jealous of P-chan and they would start fighting. But in the weeks that followed, he proved that I had nothing to worry about. On the contrary, it seemed that P-chan was becoming the best friend that Ranma had never had.

It was a busy time for all of us. Ranma and I did more public martial arts demonstrations; word of mouth spread, and students flocked to the dojo. Many, of course, quit as soon as they appreciated how difficult it really was to learn the arts that it had taken us a lifetime to master; but others persevered.

Meanwhile, we continued to search for a way for Ranma to be male again. We traveled to ancient caves and remote temples; deciphered forbidden scrolls and learned secret techniques. And Ranma stayed female.

And every day, no matter what else might be going on or might need to be done, Ranma and P-chan would train. Three times a day, regardless of the weather, they went to the park. Sometimes they simply raced to see how many laps they could run together around the perimeter. Other times they played a game that Ranma called "P-ball." The object, so far as I could tell, was to tag your opponent with a thrown tennis ball; there were a whole host of other rules and complications to it that seemed to be made up day by day.

Months stretched into years. Our lives had once again settled into a sort of stable pattern, just as they had after Ranma's arrival in Nerima so long ago. It was a status quo that lasted until the day the letter came.

The bright blue and red envelope immediately caught my eye. So did the return address: Shan Pu, Nyujiezu, Qinghai, China. "Ranma!" I called. "There's a letter here from Shampoo!"

He didn't answer, so I opened it myself.

I finally find map that tell where to find
zuihouniquan!!! You not believe where it say go look: in Japan!
Not only is Japan, is place only twenty kilometers out of Tokyo!
I no know if map is correct, maybe out of date, maybe false. But
I hope it tell truth. You go follow map, Ranma, and I hope you
find cure. Zaijian,

"Rannnnnma!" I squeaked excitedly at the top of my lungs. Was it true? After all this time, a cure? I wanted to be the one to tell him. I wanted to watch him finally change back after all this time, to cheer and scream and leap into the air with his arms -- his male arms -- around me.

He didn't answer my call, so I ran through the house trying to find him. I didn't have to look far. The back door slid open and there he was, sitting on the grass, eyes downcast.

"Ranma, look at this letter! It's from Shampoo!"

He ignored me, continuing to look down.

"Didn't you hear me?" I said. "Ranma, she says there might be a *cure!*" Getting no response, I followed his gaze down.

P-chan lay on the stoop. His limbs stretched straight out, and his body arched stiffly, as if he had been stuffed by a taxidermist. His eyes stared forward as he shivered in the summer heat.

"Oh no!" I bent down for a closer look. "P-chan?"

"I think he's sick or something," Ranma said, his voice heavy with worry. "Isn't there something we can do?"

I nodded. "I'll call the vet." Ranma followed me as I stepped over to the kitchen counter and picked up the phone. "But you have to read Shampoo's letter!" I said, trying to force it on him. "She says she might know where the zuihouniquan is!"

"Is he gonna be all right, Akane?"

"P-chan?" I blinked. "I don't know. The vet will do the best he can. We'll just have to hope."

"But they'll be able to help him, right?" Ranma said, his eyes pleading like an eight-year-old's.

"Ranma...." I set the phone down and took his hand in mine. "You've never had a pet before, have you."

"Nuh uh," he answered. "Pop and I were on the road most of my life."

I sighed. He was no child, but there were gaps in Ranma's upbringing that I would have to help fill in. "Ranma, this isn't easy, I know. Pets... they don't live forever."

"No-- No way!" He jerked backwards. "He can't-- he can't be--"

"He could be." I squeezed Ranma's hand. "I don't know if he is or not. Maybe the vet can help him. But eventually, a pet has to get old and die. That's a fact of life."

"But... he's... he's not old!" Ranma's eyes bugged out in disbelief. "He's young! As young as I am!"

"Ranma, he's a pig!" It was so ridiculous that it took all my self-control to keep from laughing. "A pig, not a person! Pigs just don't live as long as people do."

Ranma blinked several times. "Pigs... pigs don't...." I could almost see the wheels spinning in his head. "Oh goddamn...."

"Look," I said evenly, "I'll put this letter about the cure in the drawer, all right? You can look at it when you're ready to...."

He grabbed me by the shoulders. "Cure?"

"Yes, Ranma." I held the letter up. "Shampoo says she might know where to find...."

Ranma snatched it from my grip. He unfolded it in front of him, and his eyes devoured it. "Why didn't you tell me?!?"

I took a spatula from the wall rack and brained him with it.

"Oh goddamn.... I gotta go!" He rushed to the door, then back to me, then back to the door. "I gotta go!" he said to P-chan. "You gotta hang on 'til I get back. Just 'til I get back!"

I scratched my head. "Ranma, what in the world...."

"Akane, get him to that vet! I'll meet you there. Keep him all right until I'm back. You gotta promise!"

The whole thing seemed ludicrous. What on Earth was Ranma thinking? But the look in his eyes said that this was the most important thing in the whole world. I didn't understand it, but I had to trust him.

With a nod, I silently promised. Within seconds, Ranma had zipped off, leaving me alone in the empty house. Barely audibly, P-chan whimpered. Poor, defenseless little P-chan, who'd been my companion and friend of sorts off and on through high school; P-chan, who was slipping away from me like sand through my fingers and there was nothing I could do about it. And Ranma was behaving in a way that I just couldn't understand. Even after all these years and everything we'd been through together, sometimes it seemed like I didn't really know him at all.

The drone of falling rain intensifies slightly as the outer door to the clinic slides open, bringing me back from my little trip down memory lane. A figure staggers into the foyer; water drips from its body into scattered puddles on the floor.


"Mister--" The clinic receptionist carries a towel over to Ranma, staring at his ripped clothing, at the opened breast bindings. "Mister... Saotome?"

"Akane, I found it!" he says, ignoring the man staring at his revealed cleavage. A sealed Freezerware container rests in his left hand. "I don't know if it's enough, though. Where is he?"

"Huh?" I take the towel and begin to dry him off. "Why haven't you--"

"Where's the pig?!" Not waiting for an answer, he darts down the corridor, popping his head into one room after another.

I follow behind him. There had better be a good explanation for this. "Ranma, what are you...."

He runs into a room. Inside, next to the examination table, Dr. Tanaka looks up. Ranma tears the lid from the container, and water -- not more than a few spoonfuls, from the look of it -- splashes onto the doctor's patient.

For a moment, flesh color coexists with the black of piglet skin, two images superimposed onto the same photograph. Then I rub my tired eyes, and the spell is broken and just as before it's P-chan lying on the table, stretched stiffly out like some porcine zombie.

"No!" Ranma cries. "Damn it, no!"

Dr. Tanaka reaches down to touch the pig, then looks up and shakes his head. "I'm sorry, Akane."

My husband collapses into my arms. I embrace him with all my strength; his shirt squishes, and I can feel the wetness seeping into my dress, and I don't care. Ranma begins to sob, like a girl, I want to think, but that's not right; like a human being, one who's just lost a friend. Perhaps I'll never understand what was really between them, a friendship so strong that Ranma was willing to give up his one chance at a cure to save his friend's life by making him a human.

Maybe none of us can really understand. Maybe all we can do is to plow ahead, taking whatever life gives us. I don't know. I'm too tired to think anymore.

I look at Ranma, and notice that he's fallen asleep in my arms. I want to join him, but one of us needs to get us back home. I glance down at the table for a final look, one final snapshot for the scrapbook that was my memory. Goodbye, P-chan.

AUTHOR'S MEANDERINGS: The idea for this story came out of the death of my own family dog. That was well over a year ago; how time flies when job hunts and other "real life" factors get in the way. At the same time, I was dissatisfied with the "Ranma gets stuck as a female" genre of fics, and wanted to try to do one the way I thought they should be written. The two ideas seemed to fit together, so I decided to do a story that combined them, and what you see here is the result.

I'm grateful to the lads and ladies of the FFIRC, some who looked over this story in various stages of incompleteness and offered helpful comments and encouragement, others who came up with good scene ideas when I asked for suggestions. Thanks, all.

As always, if you're reading this, I'd love to hear what you thought -- good, bad, or indifferent.