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A Ranma ½ story
by Brian Randall

Disclaimer: Ranma belongs to Rumiko Takahashi and Viz Communications.

Notes: No pre-readers, because it's supposed to be a surprise. This is a sequel to Plain Okonomiyaki.

Time was a funny thing. She could see, in a sense, her past laid out before her, as though looking down the slope of a mountain. The side of the mountain occasionally obscured events from her memory, but the gist of it was clear. And from her perch, she could see the base where her journey began.

That long-ago past, with the path of bitterness winding up the slopes of memory, and then rudely turning aside. Did that mean, she wondered, that her future was towards the peak, and that endless hatred was a dead end?

But then, the entire time she had been on the path to vengeance… it felt like it was the way she should go. That it was the way things were meant to go. And looking back…. Was this path any truer than the last?

Blinking away her distraction, she forced herself to sit up straight before the teacher threw chalk at her. The daydream landscape of her gardens of memories faded away, and she turned her attention to the notes she had taken. "Society's progress," the teacher lectured, his eyes rising from his notes to sweep the class briefly before returning, "has been marked historically by violence, until the latter half of this century."

Progress came from turmoil? She supposed that made a certain bit of sense, but still… Did that mean that she was wrong to abandon the path she had? Or had she just wandered from one misleading path to another without seeing that it was a mistake?

If only—

"Kuonji-san!" the teacher snapped, shaking her out of her reverie. "Since you were paying such close attention, do you have anything to add?"

Her heart skipped a few nervous beats. Being singled out was always so embarrassing. "Um, sensei, actually, I had a question," she said.

"Really?" the teacher asked, some of the terseness seeping out of his voice. "What is your question?" he asked somewhat skeptically.

"What kind of progress is made without conflict?" she asked.

"Ah, so you question the history that brings us where we are today," the teacher remarked drolly. "Well, you weren't there for it, but then again, neither was I, so who can say definitively? You make a strong point, however." The teacher leaned forward slightly, peering over the top of his glasses, and said, "Much like many other facets of our lives, there is both good and bad, and it all boils down to a matter of opinion."

Nearby, Akane raised a hand questioningly, while Ranma stared fixedly at the board, resting his head on his folded arms.

"Yes, Tendo-san?" the teacher asked, his attention diverted from Ukyou.

"Sensei, are you saying that conflict is good, because it brings progress?"

The instructor raised an eyebrow at that, and nodded thoughtfully. "An interesting question. Some will argue that we lose much of what we once were in the face of the cultural and societal changes that we experience, and some will argue that because we have a more peaceful advancement that we've actually found true progress. I am not going to give you an opinion on that, because it is not my role as an instructor to tell you what you should think."

"But… it is a change, even if it came from something negative, isn't it?"

"In way, you are correct. However, the inherent benefit or disadvantage is a largely internalized judgment." The teacher glanced at the clock, then made a face. "But I digress. The subject at hand is specific changes, and specific events. Let us compare the end of the Meiji era to the events following World War Two. Your assignment is an essay on what those differences are, and how each has shaped Japan into the country that it is today. The conclusions you draw are your own, as is your lunch." The bell rang just then, and the teacher offered the class a tight smile. "Good day." With that, he turned sharply on one heel, and marched out of the classroom.

"Man," Ranma groaned, sitting up, and stretching his arms over his head. "I thought he'd never be quiet. What a windbag."

Akane rolled her eyes, nudging him in the ribs with her elbows. "You should pay more attention in class," she chastised him.

"I was paying plenty of attention," he countered. "I just think he's talking about stupid— Oh no, you don't; tricking me into talking about school stuff when it's lunch time. I'm heading out to the lawn to eat." Rising from his seat, he turned his head to one side, cracking his neck sharply, then straightened himself out and grabbed his bento.

"Mind if I come with you?" Ukyou asked, rising from her own seat a moment later.

"No problem, Ucchan," he said, not looking backwards when he left the room.

"Hmm," Akane mused, rising from her seat and frowning.

"Aren't you going with him?" Ukyou asked, surprised to see Akane remaining in her desk.

"I'm thinking about things," Akane deferred. "About the whole conflict and progress thing."

"I'm just thinking about lunch," Ukyou said, making a face. "Too much thinking."

"Without thinking, we won't get anywhere," Akane replied absently. Setting her lunch atop her desk, she retrieved a notebook, and began writing down notes.

Shaking her head, Ukyou strolled into the hallway.

To her surprise, Ranma was standing there, waiting, though he did not look directly at her, staring fixedly at some point in the distance. "Something up?" Ukyou smiled faintly. "Or were you just waiting for me?"

"Kind of," he replied, turning towards the stairwell. "I need to get outside."

Ukyou followed him, the pair walking in silence until they reached the lawn outside the school. Ranma sat down at the base of a tree, and set his lunch on the ground before him.

"So, what's on your mind, Sugar?" Ukyou wondered briefly about his distraction, then dismissed it, and set up her portable grill.

"Just thinking." A moment passed, with him staring listlessly at his unopened lunch. "I dunno."

"Well, why don't you tell me?" she pressed, looking at him intently. "This isn't like you."

He grunted wordlessly in reply, and picked at the knotted cloth his lunch was wrapped in. After a few seconds it came undone, and stared at the contents. "Kasumi's," he said after a moment. "You know, I could probably get used to that."

"What are you getting at?"

He looked up, and eyed Ukyou as though considering something, something that had puzzled and confused him for a long time, with no easily discovered answer. "So… what the teach was saying got me to thinking," he began hesitantly, as though unsure how to reveal this.

Ukyou sat back on her heels, still waiting for the portable grill to warm up.

When she said nothing, the boy seemed to relax slightly, some of the tension draining from him. He stared at one raised hand, slowly clenching it into a fist, then unclenching it. "So. The teach was kinda saying… that progress comes after a fight, or something. Right?"

Ukyou nodded. "Yeah, I think that was part of it."

"But the thing is… I've been in a lot of fights. And they never solve anything. Everything stays the same." His eyes rose to meet hers, and she flinched from the depth of emotion in them. "Why does it have to be that way? I can fight all day. I can be… well, no. I am the best. But it doesn't change nothing." He looked at the bento on the ground. "I could fight Kuno for whatever reason. I'd beat him, just like always, and tomorrow when I came back to class, no one would say a thing out of the ordinary. Or maybe he'd come up with some trick that throws me, and gets him the upper hand."

Snorting, Ukyou dryly remarked, "I doubt that."

Ranma shrugged. "Who knows? And if he did, maybe he'd beat me… for a while. Then I'd come back, figure out whatever, and beat him. Or Ryouga. Or Mousse. Or… someone. Anyone, I guess. I always win, because I'm the best. And it gets me nothing. If this is progress… life is a sad thing, Ucchan."

The girl said nothing for a long moment, studying him. This was unlike him. So out of the ordinary for him, and she had to admit, deeper than she really thought he was. This was a side of him she'd never been aware of. A side that wondered if maybe, he too was taking the wrong path to his future.

"Oh," she said quietly. "I… think I understand, Ranchan. I think that it's really up to you. And maybe you don't need to fight in order to really change your life." She contemplated that for a moment, seeing the path before her, and realizing that it would be so easy to choose one simple thing, and devote herself entirely to that. Would that, maybe, lead her to her goal? "Sometimes, maybe it's better not to fight, and just to go… after what you're doing it all for."

The epiphany made her dizzy, and she shook her head. Why pick a path at all? She could forge her own; it was that simple. Pick the direction she wanted, and go into that undeveloped future without worrying about things like road. Maybe, when she stopped to think about it, that was what it was all about, and that was… life. Maybe, that meant really learning to live her life.

"Is that all?" Ranma eyed her as though considering it, then sighed, and shook his head. "I don't know. It's really hard… because I don't know how to get what I want."

"Well, think of what you want, Ranchan," she assured him, musing over her discovery internally. "Let what happens, happen. The whole point is the journey there, right?"

"I guess," he hedged. "It's worth thinking about."

"Well, don't think too hard." Eyeing the untouched bento on the ground before him, she asked, "You want something to eat, Ranchan?"

"Maybe I do know how to get what I want," he said distractedly.

"What's that, Ranchan?" Ukyou asked, cocking her head to one side.

"Ucchan… do you think that…." He trailed off, and looked away. "Nah," he sighed. "Tell me… what do you want?"

"I know what I want," she said quietly. "And I think that it's not how to get it, as much as realizing that I want to be the person who has it. I guess that's kind of confusing." She looked at the grill in dismay. "I think I'm trying to say, that, maybe, I'm looking at things wrong, and it's not about doing something, it's about being somebody. And I just… need to be the person I want to be."

"Who's that?" Ranma asked, squinting at her, as though he might see through her, and into her other, imaginary self.

She blushed, and looked away, cheeks warming. "Ranchan," she whispered. "You should know what I want."

"Just tell me," he pressed, sitting up straight and leaning slightly forward. "Who do you really want to be?"

Her index fingers poked at one another, and she stared at them fixedly, unable to meet his eyes. It was so tempting to just smack him when he asked this kind of question… but that proved his point. Maybe fighting wasn't good for progress, on a personal scale. Maybe he was right, too. "I want… to be someone… with family values," she finally said. "I'd… like a chance to be a part of a family that was better than the one I came from." Slowly, hesitantly, she raised her eyes to meet his. "And… I think I need to learn that I might not be able to get that the way I want," she said carefully.

"Oh," he said quietly, leaning back against the tree and staring upwards into the sky.

"What… are you thinking?" she asked.

"The sky is pretty big," he answered after a moment. "Its like it never ends… and you know, looking at it… I guess anything could happen. I used to think maybe, that training was what it was about. Because I wanted to be at the top. That's why I jump around so much when I fight — I'm the best. I'm the one at the top." He snorted, shaking his head. "And that's where I am, but I don't… I don't think I can reach that point in the sky I'm looking at." He stretched out an arm, as though to seize a piece of the sky and grab it. His grasping fingers halted before his arm was fully extended, and then dropped to his side. "And I'm thinking, maybe, that a lot of what this is about is learning that I can't really have what I'm reaching for. And what I'm reaching for isn't really something I want. The best. It's all so…." He looked down at the hand, lying on the ground listlessly next to the ignored bento.

"Ranchan?" Ukyou asked quietly.

"Bells and whistles," he said after a moment. "That's the word I heard 'em use. Stuff that they add on that you don't need. But you think you do, so you go out of your way for something you end up not even wanting."

"Ranchan, what are you talking about?" Ukyou asked, reaching to the grill to turn it back off.

Sitting up suddenly, he reached out, encircling her wrist with his hand easily, and staring fixedly at the point of contact, not meeting her eyes. She froze, her heart hammering in her chest wildly. What was he doing?

"I… I think I know what I want, Ucchan," he finally said, his voice thickening with emotion. "And I think I'm kind of stupid for not seeing it before."

She said nothing, raising her free hand to brush her fingertips across the top of her hand gently.

"I don't want this stuff," he said quietly. He pointed at the containers of ingredients sitting next to the grill. "Extra fiancées. Rivalries. Owing everyone as much as I do. Being… the best." His hand started to drop towards the grill, but Ukyou caught it gently, and clasped it firmly.

"I understand," she said quietly. "I think… maybe some of this is stuff I don't want, either."

"Do you?" he asked, raising his head.

"I think so."

And then he leaned forward, and kissed her.

Ukyou's mind refused to work for a long minute, processing the sensation, the gentle brush of his lips against hers, the raw closeness of him to her. Just how close she was to having what she had struggled for so long… and wasn't even struggling for anymore. Her eyes closed, and she released herself to the feeling, ignoring everything except that contact. Maybe it wasn't that bad, all things considered. A sweet goodbye.

He broke the kiss off, clasping her hands, and ignoring the scattered students who had broken off their own lunches to stare at the pair. "I think… I'd just like a simple and happy life," he concluded.

And maybe that was how she would get to where she wanted; abandoning that path that had lead her nowhere, and forging her own route to… where? To the rest of her life, perhaps.

"Do you mean it?" she asked, her voice breaking, and tears springing to her eyes. "You… do you really?"

"If you meant what you said, absolutely," he said with conviction. "I think that's exactly what I want." He smiled slightly, his cheeks flushing very faintly, and stared at their clasped hands. "Variety may be the spice of life, but I think I've had too much seasoning. It'd be nice to have… a plain okonomiyaki."


Author's notes: I would like to thank (and apologize) to Eric Hallstrom, as this was inspired by his story, 'Family Values' (hence the cameo/reference). That story can be found here. This story is, I think, quite different from his, but it's only appropriate to acknowledge the source of inspiration. (And Mr. Hallstrom, if you don't approve, I'll remove this story immediately. But you haven't replied to my last few e-mails, so….)

Brian Randall

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