Title: The Prize
Author: Larissa ^..^ alatri@att.net
Fandom: Ranma 1/2
Completed: March 19, 1999
Feedback: Comments, critiques, suggestions, etc, all welcome. ;-)
Disclaimer: Only mine in my dreams. ;-)  This is a work of fiction based upon the manga/anime characters invented by Takahashi Rumiko – she and the publishers hold the copyrights to the Ranma ½ World. This story was written for free entertainment purposes only and may not be reproduced for profit or altered without permission.

There are author notes at the end of this fic, which hopefully will clear up any questions raised. Two important ones before reading, however, are:

  • Timeline: Fairly early in anime, end of Season Two, before Season Three. (After Happi, before Ukyo.)
  • This story combines elements of both anime and manga. If you've only seen the anime and you read something where you're thinking ‘It didn't happen like that…', chances are it happened that way in the manga. Some things in the manga I like better than the anime. Other times I prefer the anime. It just depends. J

The Prize

It began as it always did. Akane did something, Ranma remarked on it, Akane yelled at Ranma, Ranma yelled at Akane. The shouting escalated. And the insults grew hurtful. Until finally it cumulated.

"You aren't even a man!"

The splash of cold water hit Ranma square in the face.

Akane stood with her hands on her hips, "I'm a woman, and I want a real man, not you. Somebody who is good and kind, strong and handsome." Turning away, she tossed one more remark over her shoulder, "I think I'll go find Ryoga and ask him out on a date." She smiled dreamily, seemingly ignoring Ranma, "Strong and handsome…" A sigh parted her lips, and she licked them with her tongue, slowly, "Oh, yes… I think… that is exactly what I will do." She went upstairs.

Ranma stared after her for a long moment, his beautiful girl's face darkening with anger and rage. "She dares…" Ranma turned on his feet and walked out of the room straight to the dojo. "She thinks she can use Ryoga against me??? I'll show her!"


"Ranma, you ass!" Ryoga burst into the dojo, quivering in anger, "What have you done to Akane?!" His fists were tightly balled, "She's in her room crying, you bastard! What did you do?"

Ranma calmly finished the kata before turning to Ryoga, "And just what were you doing in her room anyhow?"

"Uhh…" Ryoga paused before advancing again, "Damn you!"

"Funny how she thinks of you as a ‘real man,'" Ranma mused, hands on his noticeable girl's hips, yet not a challenging stance, "Her beloved P-chan. Just a pet."

"Ranma…" Ryoga growled, "I want an answer, damnit! What did you do?"

"I?" Ranma cocked his head to one side as he regarded Ryoga, "I did nothing at all." His tone was mocking, with layers of other emotions that tangled, unidentifiable. He gestured with one hand at his body, "I can't do anything, after all… I'm not a man."

"Uhh…" The situation had suddenly changed. Abruptly changed. Ryoga's fists uncurled. Damnit, Akane… why do you have to let him get to you that much? It had been one of their insult matches. Ryoga always tried to stay out of those. This time it looked like he really should have. They'd hurt each other this time. Badly. Ah, shit… Internally, he sighed – if Ranma was this hurt and angry, it looked like Ryoga was going to get pounded. Minutely, he shrugged, resigned. He could take it. Nobody else could. And it got rid of Ranma's anger…

Ranma continued to watch Ryoga, apparently relaxed and calm, standing lightly in the middle of the dojo. Only the darkness around the blue eyes betrayed the image of peace. He saw Ryoga's thoughts. And grinned. "Going to fight me, pig-boy?"

Ryoga glared back at Ranma, "Damn you, Ranma – can't you ever hold your tongue?" You hurt her, and you hurt yourself, and it's just going to go around and around… Ryoga's battle-aura started to flare out around him as he worked himself into the fight, "Yes, I'll fight you, damnit!"

"All right," Ranma sauntered out of his pose, "We'll fight. But Ryoga," he paused as he approached the Lost Boy.

Ryoga stared down at him, his eyes dark, his anger poised, "What?" his voice was a growl.

"We're not going to fight for Akane this time."

"What?" Ryoga's voice was a surprised squawk. He tried to recover, "Damnit, Ranma! I'm not going to stand by and watch you hurt her! If I win, you're going to have to learn to control yourself!"

"Humm…" Ranma cocked his head again as he regarded Ryoga. There were several seconds of silence. "Akane was going to ask you out."

"What?" Ryoga nearly dropped to the ground, his eyes wide and hopeful. Then he closed up again, "Ranma, damnit! That isn't funny!!"

"I didn't intend it to be," Ranma's voice was cold. "I had planned on suggesting that for your stakes of the fight, if you win, I'd lay off the date. I'd let you and her go out and not interfere once during it."

Ryoga's mouth nearly hit the floor. His brown eyes started to sparkle and glisten, "Ranma…" he whispered, "You mean it? You'd really…? That means she is going to… Oh, happy day!" Ryoga turned and punched a hole in the wall in his joy. He didn't notice the dangerous look on Ranma's face.

"Ryoga…" Ranma's voice was a low purr, "You haven't asked what my stakes are. If I win…"

Ah shit… The tone in Ranma's voice… Ryoga turned slowly back, "You…" he gulped, "I thought you weren't going to tell Akane about P-chan."

"Akane again…" Ranma stared at Ryoga, his face still. Then he shook his head, "I don't plan on telling her." Ranma lowered his eyelids and let the pause go on for another moment, "And I'm not going to ask you to."

Oh thank the buddha…

"You, Ryoga."

"Huh?" A cold pit formed in the bottom of Ryoga's stomach.

"You. You're the prize." Ranma gazed steadily at the other youth. "I'll fight you. And if you lose, you're mine." The silence stretched out. Ranma's mouth twitched up, "Again."

I thought…Ryoga swallowed, "Ranma, we were younger then. I thought… you'd given that up." You never showed for the last match…

"Never," Ranma hissed, the word coming through his clenched teeth. He unlocked his jaw, "You are mine, Ryoga. I'm never going to give you up. Especially not to Akane. And you are damn well going to know it. And so is she!" His voice rose steadily until he was yelling the last words.

Ryoga flinched. "Ranma, she didn't mean to hurt you. She didn't. You hurt her, she was just reacting. She's upstairs crying her eyes out right now, Ranma. If you just go up there… Please Ranma, please, just make up with her. She likes you. She really does. And I know you like her… Ranma, please, don't do this. Please. Akane…" He knew he was babbling, he couldn't help it. So that's where this came from… Shit. Akane, that wasn't a good thing to threaten him with. But Akane didn't know that. Only he and Ranma knew…

The blue battle-aura was flaming around Ranma, "You only care about her!"

Ryoga flinched again. "No…" Ryoga bit his lip so hard it bled, "Ranma, that's not true. Please, Ranma, calm down. Please." And the family thought that Ryoga's depressive states were scary. His were nothing compared to Ranma in a funk. A very determined Ranma. Ryoga could never stand up to Ranma when he was like this. Partly because he knew how much pain it took to drive Ranma to this point.

"Fight me, Ryoga." Ranma's aura settled back into him. "Fight me and we'll find out who is the better man." He grinned wildly, "I promise, if you lose, you'll enjoy it."

"Ranma…" Ryoga whispered his friend's name in anguish. And then he clenched his fists and drove a punch forward to start the fight.


The only restriction they both held to was staying inside the dojo. And since Ryoga couldn't use his Breaking Point, Ranma didn't use the Chestnut Fists. The fight lasted a long time. The sun fell below the horizon and the crickets started to chirp. One by one, the lights in the main house went out until the dojo was the only one that showed signs of life. The building shook many times and individual boards broke, but somehow the dojo stayed intact through the fight.



"Oooo…" Ranma rolled over, holding his head, then quickly moving his hands to his side where it hurt even worse. Slowly, he got to his knees, hissing at the pain. Every part of his body ached. His muscles were sore, his bones hurt. Bruises lined every inch of exposed flesh, but they were quickly disappearing as his healing took effect. "Now, that was a fight. Damn, that was a fight! Ryoga really wanted to win."

Reminded, Ranma looked over to where Ryoga was crumpled on the dojo floor, unconscious. "He looks worse than I feel," Ranma grinned as he crawled over and rolled Ryoga's body into a more comfortable position, getting a small mat to place under his head. And then he waited for Ryoga to wake up.


The first thing Ryoga became aware of was pain. He hurt. He really hurt. Damnit, I lost again. Only after that thought filtered through his mind did he become aware of the hands roving over his chest and the lips on his. Ryoga didn't open his eyes as he grabbed Ranma to him in a crushing embrace and he returned the kiss, his tongue forcing Ranma's mouth open as he swept through his mouth in a quick exploration before settling to passion. Ranma's exclamation of delight was lost in the kiss. A heat flared through Ryoga's body that he hadn't felt in a very long time and he rolled over, pinning Ranma beneath him as parts of his lower body stiffened in reaction to the heat.

And then he paused. Something is wrong… It took him a few seconds to realize what. And then he jumped back, scrambling until he came up against the wall, eyes wide and shocked.

Ranma sat up and blinked, "What the hell, Ryoga? You lost, remember?"

"You… you…" Ryoga sputtered. He gulped, "Ranma – you're still in your girl form!"

"Well, yeah," Ranma looked down at his chest, "I thought that was rather obvious."

"But… but…"

Ranma tilted his head… her head to one side, "You are not going to tell me you don't like girls, Ryoga! I know damn well you do."

"But… Ranma – you're a guy!"

"Ryoga…" Ranma sighed, stood, and walked to where Ryoga was huddled against the wall. She knelt down before him and took his head in her hands, "I want to know what it means for a girl to want ‘a real man.' I want to know you in this form. I want to feel your hands on my breasts and feel pleasure there instead of the pain… Ryoga, you moron – I promised that you'd enjoy it, didn't I?"

"Uh…" His eyes were still wide.

"Ryoga, you are mine. You lost the match. You have to give me what I want. Now." Ranma stroked his cheek with a finger, trailing it over his lips. "You know damn well what I want." She brought her finger from his lips to hers, pausing there until Ryoga swayed to her, following the movement until his lips met hers. "Ummm," Ranma wrapped her arms around him again. At the next break, she whispered, "That's better. That's much better." Approval wrapped her voice in a purr.

Ryoga could never refuse Ranma anything the determined youth wanted. He was Ranma's. He had lost and he was Ranma's… He'd been Ranma's for so very long… He kissed Ranma again, a little less tentatively. The demands his friend was making were the same. The body was different. But if Ranma wanted it, Ryoga could do not but respond. His hands roved Ranma's back. His mouth trailed down Ranma's neck as Ranma moaned in delight and need.

"More, Ryoga – I want more than that."

And Ryoga knew exactly what Ranma wanted. He stroked a hand down to Ranma's waist… and didn't find the bulge under the pants he was expecting. "Urk…" Once again, Ryoga was pulled out of his assumptions rather abruptly.

"Oh for pity's sake!" Ranma huffed, sitting back. "It's not that hard to figure out!" She tilted her head to one side and studied Ryoga. And then smiled gently, "Come, Ryoga… We'll take it a bit slower and figure this out together." She reached over and tugged Ryoga's shirt off and then undid the ties on hers and shrugged out of it, letting it fall around her waist, held there by the press of her belt.

Ryoga stared for a very long time without moving before he shook himself, "Damnit, Ranma – do you know how hard I worked to make it instinctive to think of you as a guy no matter which form you were in? To force my body not to react to the sight of you? You're a guy. You've always been a guy. You never wanted to be a girl…"

"You can't…?" Ranma stared at him for a moment, her eyes wide. Then she swallowed, "I do now. I want to be a girl now," Ranma whispered in anguish, her face muscles screwing up tightly, eyes clenching shut. "Ryoga… You were my only hope. I can't go to anybody else. I can't. I won't. I want to experience this girl's body… You won't betray me. You're mine. I know you'll never betray me. You're safe. I can't trust anybody else. But if you can't…" Her battle-aura flared out, as she stood up, forming a cloud of pulsating dark navy blue energy around her, "DAMN YOU RYOGA!!!!!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. And then she collapsed, folding down, curled in a tight ball.

"Shh, shh…" From the corner where he'd backed during her anger, Ryoga scooted forward and put his arms around her, stroking down her perfect back and sides, his breath warm on her ear and cheek as he whispered to her. "Ranma, don't cry. Please don't cry. Ranma, I can do it, really I can. I… I just have to get used to the idea. It's different, that's all. But if you want it, Ranma, you can trust me. I'm yours. I've always been yours. I'll give you anything you want. If you want my life, I'll give it to you. Oh, please don't cry." But Ranma wasn't crying. She was just curled in the ball, huddled, whimpering lowly. Oh, damnit, Ranma… You've really done it this time. The fight had knocked most of the anger out, and now the pain was left. So much pain… Ryoga realized just how deeply Ranma cared about Akane. It had been obvious to Ryoga that his friend liked Akane… but the incredible amount of pain it took for this reaction… "Ranma, why do you try so hard not to care? Oh, Ranma…" And Ryoga sighed. And then stepped back and away from Ranma, watching her.

After a minute or so, Ranma started to come out of the ball. "Ryoga? Ryoga? Why aren't you here? Ryoga, you promised. You promised… If you lost the match, you would be mine. I can't trust you unless you're mine. Get rid of the pain for me. I can't…" Her roving eyes finally found him, standing under the dojo altar, watching her. Silent. His eyes dark and his expression hooded. Ryoga? Ranma shakily got up and walked to him, "Ryoga, what's wrong?"

"What's wrong?" Ryoga repeated, his arms crossed over his chest, "What's wrong?" He shook his head, "Ranma – you are in absolutely no mood or shape for sex right now. Look at you," he gestured, "You're trembling from head to toe. Your body is shaking. You don't need sex right now, you need a good cry." What you really need to do is go make up to Akane. But Ryoga knew better than to suggest that to Ranma right now. And he also knew damn well that Akane wasn't ready either. When he'd left her, she'd been crying her eyes out, and telling her P-chan how much she hated the Hentai… It was now the middle of the night. If Ranma came in at this time to apologize, she'd bash him with the mallet and then they'd be right back to square one.

Ranma looked down at herself, noticing for the first time how her body shook. And her eyes met Ryoga's, pleading without hope, "But I can't cry, Ryoga. You know that. That's why I need you."

Ryoga sighed. He did know that. That was how they'd gotten themselves into this damn situation in the first place, years ago. What do you do to comfort a friend who can't cry? And how do you get somebody to trust you who had never trusted before? Ryoga sighed. And then stepped forward, uncrossing his arms. He placed his hands on Ranma's neck and cheeks, holding her head. And then he leaned down and kissed her.

The pleasure. The pleasure of having him with her. Feeling his tongue in her mouth, moving around and around in her… Yes, Ranma's body gradually stopped its trembling as she leaned into Ryoga, relaxing under his attention. When the kiss finally disengaged, Ranma slowly blinked her eyes open and gazed languidly and contentedly at Ryoga, "Ryoga, you are mine."

"Of course I am," Ryoga replied, his hands tracing her cheekbones and marveling at the difference. "I lost the match." He trailed his hands down her neck and over her shoulders. The difference was there, too. He caressed her shoulders. "To tell the truth, Ranma, I have no idea what I'd do if I ever won my freedom." He leaned down to kiss her neck, fascinated by the pulsating artery he felt there. He had been Ranma's for so long… He thought he'd been free at one point, but it wasn't so. In truth, he'd never been free.

Ranma leaned back, placing herself into Ryoga's hands, "You silly. That's why your stakes are always different."

Ryoga paused, lifting his head and staring at her in startlement. "They… Uhh…" He blinked as he thought back; Ranma was right, "Who the hell started that?"

"You did, you idiot!" Ranma started laughing. "About the… sixth fight? Seventh? Somewhere around then. Years ago. I don't even remember what it was exactly that you said you wanted… but you said that you could always get your freedom later."

"Oh yeah," Ryoga vaguely remembered that. He shrugged, "It didn't matter. You always win." He reached out to her again. And then you usually give me what I want anyhow.

And Ranma stepped back, frowning, obviously struck by something he'd said. Then she shook her head and grinned, responding to her thought, "No. No, you never ever throw a fight deliberately. I've got the bruises to prove it. ‘Sides, I only always win when you're the prize," She grinned, "No way am I going to lose with those stakes."

"‘Throw a fight???'" Ryoga repeated in horror, "‘Throw a fight?' Goddamit, Ranma, you're going to get me angry again if you start making accusations like that." He carefully didn't respond outloud to the second half of that, but he thought it, you also always win when Akane is the stake. I've never seen you lose when she's the prize.

"Oooo…" Ranma grinned, "Promise? I like it when you when you get tough."

And Ryoga turned away. He suddenly remembered the last time. The last time Ranma had asked something like this of him. The time that he'd blocked out of his memory because he didn't want to think of it. The only time since Junior High… At that point, he had really, truly hated Ranma's guts and wanted to see him… if not dead, then suffering. Suffering badly. But Ranma had won the fight. And had then demanded that Ryoga prove his loyalty… And so Ryoga did. But he had so wanted to hurt Ranma instead… "Ranma, you baka," Ryoga trembled at the memory, "Do you have even the faintest idea how much I hated you? How close you came to death right then?" He clenched his hands, "One squeeze, just one extra hard squeeze around your neck would have been all it took… I was thinking that the entire time." And I hated knowing that of myself. And I hated obeying Ranma. And I hated me… The shame. The shame of having bowed to Ranma again. The shame of thinking of hurting him after I'd admitted defeat. The conflict… And I blocked the memory… Ryoga shuddered. No wonder I've been so confused around Ranma these last few months. I'd totally wiped it from my memory. Until now. Now, when Ranma needed him like he hadn't then. Then, Ranma had done it… for the mastery. To make sure he still had his prize intact.

Hands slipped over his shoulders and a head rested against his back, "Of course I knew. That's why I liked it so."

"What?" Ryoga stood still, his thoughts churning as he remembered… His neck, one little snap and it would have been over. He didn't have his guard up. "You didn't know. Otherwise you would have never let me get near you. I hated you. I hated you so much. You weren't worried at all." Then he thought of a different interpretation… Ranma liked it because he was in danger??? "Ranma. That's sick."

The pause in thought could practically be felt as the person at Ryoga's back figured out the last sentence. "EWWWW! THAT'S NOT WHAT I MEANT!!!!!"

Ryoga flinched almost more from the sheer volume rather than the wave of disgust and irritation radiating from Ranma. His flinch was aborted as Ranma clenched her hands tightly into his shoulders.

"Ryoga, that is a disgusting thought!"

"You're the one who said it!"

And Ranma was still. After a couple of moments, her slim hands unclenched and then moved on Ryoga's shoulders in an apology, smoothing out his tense and sore muscles. Ryoga felt the sigh of breath on his back where Ranma leaned into him again. When she spoke again, Ranma's voice was very serious, "Ryoga. If your trust hadn't been worth having, I... You followed me. You followed me all the way to China and were back in my life again. I hadn't ever planned on seeing you again. I… But you were back. So… I had to know. I had to know just how much I could trust you. What I liked… was finding out that I could. Despite your pain and anger… I could still trust you. You really were mine. If ever there was going to be a time you betrayed me – that would have been it. But you didn't. I… You really were mine. Completely." Her arms wrapped around him, meeting at his chest and holding him tightly.

Ryoga was stunned. "That… You…" That was deliberate? You put yourself in that position… "Buddha in Heaven, Ranma! I could have killed you!" And you would have let me? A test? That was a test??? Ryoga turned to face Ranma, emotions whirling. Skin brushed on skin as Ranma kept her grip as Ryoga turned. And then Ranma was leaning against his front, her bare breasts pressed tightly into his bare chest… Ryoga gulped, the whirl of emotions suddenly finding a very solid fixation in the physical feelings.

Looking down at the pressure on her stomach, Ranma grinned, "Oh, Ryoga! I like that reaction!!" Her hands felt down his waist, where his pants had suddenly gotten rather too tight. She sighed happily, "Oh, I knew you liked girls! I didn't even have to work you up to it! Now let's see…" She untied his belt and let his pants drop to the floor, then slipped her hands inside his shorts.

Ryoga cried out, his body becoming as stiff as his member, his eyes unfocusing in his shock and pleasure as her hands fondled him. So long… It's been so long…

"Yes…" Ranma slipped her hands back out, grinning happily, "We can definitely do something with that."

A gurgling sound emerged from Ryoga's throat as his breathing started again, "Ranma… Oh, geez, Ranma… don't do that again if you want me to be any good for you at all. You know damn well how easily you set me off. And it's been hell of a long time since I last got any release."

Ranma giggled, not at all apologetic. "Then let's get started, shall we?" She pulled off her pants and shorts and sat down on the floor, looking up at him expectantly.

Ryoga took a step forward… and tripped over his pants. He fell, cursing soundly at them and also at Ranma, who had collapsed in laughter. Sitting up, he undid the ties on the bottom of his pants, "Sometimes I think I should switch to your stretch pants."

"Umm…" Ranma gazed at him, her eyes heavy-lidded.

And Ryoga's heart beat fast. Damn… I've never… wanted Ranma like this before. Before, it was… just the physical release. And the trust. But now… His body was ready. His body wanted it. He wanted it. This girl's body in front of him… Ryoga's eyes were wide as he reached out to her… And very tentatively touched one breast, "That doesn't hurt does it?"

"You've got to be kidding…" Disbelief rang through Ranma's voice. And she sighed, "Ryoga, Ryoga, Ryoga… Your first time with a girl, right?"

His face turning red, Ryoga glared at her.

Ranma grabbed the hand that was at her breast and squeezed his hand, making him squeeze her, "Ryoga, you moron – this is what you're supposed to do!"

"Uhh…" Ryoga didn't know, Ranma didn't look like she was enjoying it. He tentatively tried a squeeze on his own. And Ranma grimaced, "Ow!" Ryoga let go immediately. And looked at her helplessly.

Ranma pinched the bridge of her nose, "Only Ryoga… Only Ryoga… Great Goddess Kali… I should have stayed in my body. I should have. Okay, I admit I don't know that much either, but I can at least guess. I didn't think that even Ryoga…"

"Enough already!" Ryoga yelled. The redness covered nearly his entire body as he flushed in his embarrassment. "Damnit Ranma – I have to get used to the idea, that's all."

"‘Get used to the idea?' ‘Get used to…'?" Ranma repeated in disbelief. "Ryoga, you ass! You're a guy! This is a girl's body! How bloody much ‘getting used to the idea' do you need if sixteen years isn't enough???"

"Oh! And you're one to talk, Mr. ‘My first kiss was with a guy'!"

It was Ranma's turn to flush red in shame. And then she scowled, "Well, it was – and so was yours!"

"Like hell!" Then Ryoga realized what she meant, "This doesn't count! It's never counted!"

And Ranma had to grin. Because it was the absolute truth. When they were younger… they'd fought. And Ranma had won Ryoga. But for his loyalty, not for his love. It wasn't until later that they'd experimented with sex. And the sex… was never about passion. It was always only about care. Care and relief. They had experimented. And found pleasure. But it had never been ‘real', the way it was supposed to be between a guy and a girl. The mystery. The feelings… That both of them had heard about but never experienced when they were young… Ranma suddenly thought of why Ryoga wasn't able to… And she grew angry over the pain. Her blue aura flared out around her and she clenched her fists, "I bet… I bet if this was Akane's body, you'd be able to please her! You'd be able to please Akane!!!" But not me…

Surprised, Ryoga didn't move when the aura started flaming from Ranma. And then she spoke. Oh, geez… Ryoga groaned and put his head on his knees as he swung them in front of him. "Ranma," he whispered, "That's not it." Actually, if Ranma had been Akane, Ryoga wouldn't even have been able to get this far. And he suddenly had a mental vision of Akane, naked, her breasts bare, her eyes inviting him… Ryoga sat up straight as he squawked in dismay at his thoughts and he tried to shut his eyes, but they were already shut and he was seeing everything and he couldn't stop and he had to but… The pressure built inside his head until he couldn't see anything at all.

Ranma's battle-aura poofed out as she stared in surprise as Ryoga abruptly sat up, eyes vacant, blood gushing from his nose. A moment went by as he didn't move at all and then he fainted dead away. Ranma stared. "Okay. I was wrong. That's what you'd do if this was Akane's body. You've proved your point rather spectacularly." She shook her head and crawled over, straightening Ryoga's body for the second time that night and putting a mat under his head until he woke up. Obviously, they would have to work on Ryoga's problem before she could get what she wanted. "I should have stayed in the guy's body. We would've been done by now! I should've…" But somehow, Ranma didn't really feel that way. This… had been rather fun. Talking to Ryoga instead of the pleasure she'd planned… Ranma grinned as she looked at Ryoga's unconscious form, "So much for expectations." And her grin softened to a smile as she continued to watch her friend.


This time, it was the vision that was the first to come back. Ryoga stared at the wooden slats on the ceiling as they whirled around and around… Gentle fingers closed his eyes and then rubbed his temples. Ryoga sighed in relief as the whirling motion stopped. It was another few minutes before he felt ready to move. In the meantime, his thoughts had started to become more confused than his vision. Reaching a hand up, he tentatively touched and then held Ranma's hand that was still gently stroking his hair. "Ranma… I'm sorry. I was the one who lost. I'm the one who is supposed to help you…" But Ranma was taking care of him. With a gentleness and a care that he'd never felt before. I'm the one who is supposed to help. Not her. I need to help her. Ranma…

"Ryoga," her voice was as soft as her hands, "It's okay. Just relax. Relax…" Her voice was a calming balm of care. She held his hand gently. Her other hand stroked his cheek.

It would be so good just to relax… Ryoga groaned and sat up, pulling his hand out of Ranma's so he could reach up and feel his nose gingerly.

"I washed all the blood off," Ranma remarked tartly, hurt by his rejection of her care.

"Thanks…" Ryoga glanced over to her, uncertain. He apologized again, "I'm sorry. I know you want… I'll try to do better, I will."

Ranma sighed. He can't accept my care. I've never lost. He's mine. He's still thinking of me. "Ryoga… what the heck is it with you?" Ranma had seen guys get nosebleeds before – the thin air pressure in Japan combined with high blood pressure made teenagers in particular rather susceptible to them. Especially when sex was involved. Explicit locker room talks tended to get messy. But Ryoga's reactions… were rather extreme.

"I'm sorry, it's just…"

Ranma shook her head, "Stop apologizing already and just give me an answer – Ryoga, why are you having so much trouble? It's a girl's body. You're a guy. You like girls…" Ranma gulped, not really wanting to bring it up…, "Why aren't you ever able to tell Akane how you like her? You talk to her all the time about other stuff. You hang out with her all day long as P-chan. But whenever you want to actually say anything – you explode."

Ryoga blushed as he hung his head. And then looked up again, "Hey – you're the one always interfering!"

"Yeah…" Ranma didn't want to get into that. "But what about you?"

Ryoga started to snip a response, but then bit it back. And sighed. He glanced over at Ranma's bare form. The form of a girl. The round soft breasts with the darker nipples. The smooth stomach. The thin waist that emphasized the hipbones and made such a natural resting spot for hands… Ryoga gulped and hauled his eyes away before they went any lower. And then glanced back again. Her soft breasts… His. Ranma is a guy. A guy. Ranma is a guy in a girl's body. But with such soft breasts and delicate bones… Skin so creamy and smooth… So huggable… So desirable… He wanted to…

"Oh Geez!"

Ryoga felt himself being lowered backwards until he was laying on the floor again.

Ryoga… Ranma shook her head as she stared in exasperation at Ryoga. Then Ranma smiled slightly, at least that time he was thinking of me! The look in Ryoga's eyes… he'd been evaluating her as a female – and admiring what he saw.

"Sorry…" Eyes clenched tightly shut, Ryoga gasped out the word through the shallowness of his breath.

"Ryoga, Ryoga… What am I going to do with you?" Ranma sighed.

Ryoga levered himself up to a sitting position again and fixed his gaze on the wall. "It's just that… Well…"

"Come on, Ryoga. It's me. Ranma. Just talk, man. I…" Ranma hesitated for a long moment and then finished her words softly, "I want to help."

Ryoga blinked. And turned his startled eyes to her. "Ranma, you didn't lose. I did."

Ranma bit her lip until it bled. Don't make me say it, Ryoga. Don't…

Seeing the haunted look in Ranma's eyes, Ryoga abruptly remembered the young boy that he'd befriended all those years ago. The pride and the pain. The darkness in the bright eyes that let no one in. Friendly face, friendly manner – engaging and capricious. But so very unaffected by what went on around him. It had been harder than hell to get Ranma to trust him. In desperation, Ryoga had finally offered himself as the prize in their fight. If Ranma won the fight, Ryoga was his. Completely. To be bound by honor and life. If Ryoga had won… It would have gone the other way. Sometimes Ryoga wondered what would have happened if he'd won that first match. But he hadn't. And Ranma had finally trusted somebody. For the first time in his life. He'd let Ryoga help him. He'd let Ryoga care. Because Ryoga couldn't betray him. But Ranma could still betray Ryoga… Ryoga closed his eyes for the memory of the pain. Ryoga had sought after Ranma all through China, searching for his enemy. He'd been determined to take his life back and make it his own. And then to kill the one who had hurt him so. Ranma had taken his trust and ripped it to shreds. But when Ryoga had finally caught up with him… he'd lost again. And was still Ranma's prize. But it had been a test. A test. And now… That… that was ‘care' in Ranma's voice. He's let out a bit of his pride… to help me. It was unprecedented. By Ryoga's memory. Then again… ‘Ryoga…' ‘It's busei for a defeated warrior to leave. We won't see him around anytime soon.' Ryoga's hearing was better than Ranma thought. He just chose to ignore most of what he heard. Such as the wistful longing he'd heard in Ranma's voice back then. Ryoga hadn't intended to ever return. Never, ever again. But less than a day later he'd found himself back in front of the Tendo gates, and a beautiful lovely maiden scooping him up with such joy and delight…

Ryoga sighed. "Ranma… Girls are… They're soft. They're gentle. Delicate. We're supposed to protect them. Care for them. Treat them gently with respect. Never ever ever to hurt them or make them cry. Girls are to be worshipped. To be looked up to for the qualities we can never have. They smile with such joy and delight. Happy. To see a girl in pain… is to tear my heart in two. It's unacceptable. Girls shouldn't ever have to feel pain or hunger or depression or… or anything bad. Girls should get flowers every day of their lives. Gifts to make them smile. Nothing to hurt them. Never to hurt. Don't ever hurt a girl. Don't ever fight one. Don't make them cry. Handle them gently, carefully. They can be so fragile. Protect them. Protect them from all the horrible things in life. And most especially protect them from yourself. Girls can be hurt so badly… Protect them as much as you can, as much as they let you, because they can't protect themselves." He bowed his head as the images kept sweeping through his head. All the girls he'd ever known. All the girls he'd ever seen. Their beautiful faces and lovely bodies. Their hearts of gold. The kindness and gentleness within them. So different than himself. So very different.

They are??? Ranma's mouth was hanging open. Is that what girls are? True, he'd had the same lesson from his dad. Sortof. His dad hadn't managed to convince him totally, but he'd at least gotten it beaten in to never fight them. Guys didn't fight girls. It wasn't right. He looked at Ryoga, at the earnest expression and the sincere voice as he talked about the gentle girls… No wonder girls like Ryoga. He really believes all that. They're safe with him. Then a different thought struck Ranma, "If you really believe all that… How the hell did you end up falling for a tomboy like Akane???"

Ryoga's battle-aura flamed out around him, dark and menacing. Ranma scooted back as fast as she could, "Whoa! Whoa! I meant it! I wasn't insulting or anything!!!"

The battle-aura went down and Ryoga's expression changed to shamed chagrin. He put a hand up to his head, scratching his hair, "Heh, sorry ‘bout that…"

Ranma shook her head and inched back, settling next to him again, "So?"

Ryoga's face turned red as he mumbled something under his breath. With another prompting from Ranma, he said it louder, "She can protect herself."

?? Okay… Ranma just looked at her friend.

"She…" Ryoga sighed, "She's a warrior. She isn't afraid of you. She stands up to you and fights with you… She's strong. In body and spirit. But she's also gentle and caring and sweet and nice and she treats me so kindly and makes me her friend… She's not afraid. Akane doesn't fear you. Or me."

Ranma eventually put her mouth back in place. And took another look at the image of Akane. Ryoga's right. And… that's why I like her too. But… "By your earlier definition, she's not a girl."

"Of course she's a girl!" Ryoga yelled. Then blushed again. And held a hand up to his nose, pinching it tightly.

"Oh geez… Not again. All that fainting can't be good for you."

Ryoga put his hand down and glared at Ranma, "Oh shut up, already. I've got it under control this time."

Ranma shook her head. "Okay. Girls are gentle creatures that need to be protected. Got it. So what the heck does that have to do with your reaction?"

The redness went over Ryoga's nose, down his cheeks, and even tinged his body with a shade of pinkness. "It's… well… I don't want to see them hurt."

"I said I got that," Ranma said impatiently, "But what—" Ranma stopped mid-word, her mouth hanging open as she stared at Ryoga. Eventually she closed it, swallowing, "Ryoga…" She blinked and tried again, "Ryoga, you moron – you can't possibly be thinking that you'd hurt a girl!" From the expression on Ryoga's face, that was his thought. Ranma blinked again, "Ryoga… That's… that's…" she shook her head, "That's like a physical impossibility for you! You are the person least likely to ever hurt a girl!!!"

A single tear tracked its way down Ryoga's cheek. Ranma watched it in fascination. I don't believe this.

Ryoga reached a hand out to Ranma but stopped before he touched her breast. He drew his hand back and said lowly, "I hurt you." He turned away, "Damnit, Ranma. I'm stronger than anybody I know. I've always been like that. I have to be so very careful all the time around people, especially friends. Just… playing, I used to hurt my friends. I never meant to. But I would get excited and push harder than I meant to, or… I also used to lead them into danger. Things that never hurt me that did them. I learned a long time ago not to play with my friends if I didn't want to hurt them." He swallowed. "And girls…" His breath shuddered in his chest, "They're afraid of me. Rightfully so." Ryoga turned back to Ranma, who had been quiet while listening, "Ranma… Can you see me with a girl? Actually having sex with a girl?" The dark eyes were anguished, "I can. Girls… They're little porcelain dolls! I would break them in half without meaning to! Just a simple hug would break them. I couldn't…" Ryoga bowed his head down, "I can't. I just can't. I don't ever want to hurt…"

Oh… Ryoga… Ranma bit her lip, watching him. In a lot of ways… Ryoga was right. But what a depressing thing to always be thinking about. "Is that why you like being P-chan? ‘Cause then you can't hurt her."

Ryoga flushed. And tried not to cry. "I can't hurt her as a pig… But I want to love her as a man. But I can't because than I might hurt her… I love her… I can't. Akane…" The words opened the wound the rest of the way and he did start crying.

Sorry… Ranma looked away from her friend. And then down at herself and her girl's body. And I wanted him to… Ranma blinked. Wait a second…

One moment, Ryoga was bent over, the tears falling down his cheeks. The next, his head was jerked up by a hand grabbing his bandanna and he was being thoroughly kissed. Uhhh… Whatever thoughts he'd had were short-circuited by the extreme difference. Eventually he was let go.

"Have I got your attention?"

Ryoga blinked. And focused his eyes, "Yes…"

"Good." Ranma stood up. Then reached down and pulled Ryoga up until he was standing too. Ranma placed her hands on Ryoga's shoulders and looked in his eyes, "Ryoga. What am I?"

Instinctively knowing what Ranma meant, Ryoga answered, "A guy…"

"And what sort of a body is this?"

"A girl's…"

"And do you think you could hurt it?"

"Uhh…" Ryoga flinched back slightly.

Ranma shook her head and dropped her hands off his shoulders, "Ryoga. Moron. Less than a half-hour ago we finished battering each other senseless. Black and blue. Pounded each other into the ground. You can bet that I bloody well hurt then! Does it even remotely look like I'm hurt now? Like you're hurt? We're Martial Artists, Ryoga. We can't hurt each other. Specifically – Ryoga, you can't hurt me. You can't. This might be a girl's body… but it's mine. And you can't hurt it." Ranma stopped as she could see the idea starting to filter through Ryoga's mind.

Ranma was in the girl's body the whole time… Ryoga stepped back. And looked at Ranma's body. Really looked. Evaluating it not from a guy's point of view, but from a Warrior's. Checking for strengths and weaknesses. Evaluating responses. Seeing injuries that the opponent might be hiding. Searching.

Ranma stood still as Ryoga's eyes narrowed and he stared into her, checking out her claim. She knew he would find it true. Ryoga stepped closer and put a hand over her abdomen. Puzzled for a moment, Ranma suddenly remembered that blow. It would have been a lethal one to anybody not as trained as they were. But for Martial Artists of Ranma and Ryoga's skill, it was merely a weak spot. And Ryoga had nailed it good. Ranma had had to use every ounce of skill and self-control to roll away from his next blow and then had to summon up all her strategy to avoid him until she'd recovered enough to fight back. She grinned at Ryoga – it didn't hurt a bit now.

Ryoga moved his hand to her back, to a spot just over her kidneys. Ranma stood straight, not reacting. Ryoga walked around her and then came back to her front and rested his hand lightly on her neck, where a faint bruise showed against the pale skin.

Ranma shrugged, "So some of them take a bit more time than others." That one had nearly knocked her from the match. And it, also, would have been an instantly lethal blow to any normal person. But I can't have him thinking I'm not healing. Ranma lifted her hand to touch Ryoga's diaphragm. He winced involuntarily, sucking in his breath at the pain. And then grinned at her.

"Point taken," he said, lifting his eyes to hers. Then he looked down again at her neck. "It wouldn't have been that easy, would it?"

Huh? Oh. "No," Ranma agreed, a dark grim smile playing at her lips, "It wouldn't have been that easy." Her voice was flat and unemotional. Just stating a fact.

It was a test. And if I had failed, it would have been me who had died, not Ranma. I underestimated him. Badly. Ryoga shook his head from the memories and got back to the moment. There was another blow he'd given Ranma that for an untrained opponent would have instantly stopped a very important muscle. Ryoga slid his hand down from Ranma's neck to a spot just over the heart.

And Ranma's eyes went wide and she gasped as she swayed involuntarily. "Ohhhh…" her eyes fluttered as she stared at Ryoga.

"Huh???" Ryoga stepped back, prepared to catch her if she fell. That wasn't a normal reaction…

"Ryoga…" Ranma's breath gasped out and she raised a hand to her chest, "Oh, Ryoga – do that again!"

"HUH?" And then Ryoga's eyes retraced his hand's path over her skin… He blushed scarlet. He'd gone right over her breast and hadn't noticed. And his thoughts paused, fascinated, "You liked that?"

"Did I like that?? Did I like it?" Ranma blinked in astonishment at the question, her hand still on her chest. She moved her hand up to her breast and curiously traced it, still feeling the tingling from his hand brushing over it… "Yes, I liked it! Ryoga," she batted her eyes at him, falling into her ‘girl' routine easily, "My big, strong man… Please do that again."

Ryoga hesitated.

Ready to blurt out more reassurances, Ranma, for the first time in her life, held her tongue. And was glad she did so as Ryoga lifted his hands to her again and gently caressed her.

"Ooooo…" Ranma couldn't believe it. It was happening. It was really happening. For the first time since the fall into Jusenkyo. She breathed, "So this is what it feels like for a girl!"

"What? What?" Ryoga wanted to know. He continued stroking her breasts, fascinated by them. He moved his hands around on them, feeling the squishy softness, trying not to put too much pressure on them. "Ranma, what does it feel like?"

"It… ahh…" Ranma closed her eyes to focus her attention on his hands on her breasts. Moving around. Stroking, caressing… "Uh… it feels nice."

"Ranma!" Ryoga growled at the inadequate answer. And his hands involuntarily clenched in reaction to his anger. "Oops! Sorry!" He yanked his hands back to his sides, biting his lip in consternation.

"Oh!" Ranma tilted her head back slightly and tried to focus her breathing, "Oh, Ryoga! Do that again!"

"You're kidding," Ryoga stated, "You can't have liked that! I squeezed!"

Ranma opened her eyes and glared at him. She reached down and grabbed his hands, putting them back on her breasts, "Ryoga…"

"Okay, already…" Grumbling slightly, but wide-eyed with astonishment, Ryoga complied. He wasn't hurting Ranma. Ranma said she liked it. Him holding her breasts. Breasts… Ryoga stared in fascination at them. At his hands moving over them. Petting them. He was putting the same sort of pressure that he would use on a cat – and he wasn't going to tell Ranma that! He stared as Ranma's skin rolled through his hands. He stared at her breasts, allowing himself to, allowing himself to realize that he was really doing this. He stared… "Ranma – your nipples have… turned sortof rigid. More pointy." They hadn't been like that before. They'd been soft like the rest of the tissue. Poking up, but not… erect like that.

"Huh?" Ranma blinked herself out of her absorption in the wonder at her feelings and looked down. "Oh, how interesting! They do that in cold water sometimes, but I certainly don't feel cold now." Quite the reverse, actually. The dojo had become quite warm… Ryoga's hands over her breasts. She felt quite hot and flushed. And light-headed.

Ryoga was curious… He drew a thumb across one of her rigid nipples.

And Ranma's knees buckled out from under her as she gasped.

"Whoa!" Ryoga caught her and held her up. "Ranma, you okay?"

She couldn't catch her breath… Ranma leaned into Ryoga, letting him hold her. "I've got a comparison for you."

"??" Ryoga was a bit dubious at Ranma's tone.

"Oh my…" For the first time, Ranma found a use for the understated words Kasumi liked to use. And found they fit perfectly. "That was… good."

"That's not a comparison," Ryoga put her back on her feet, "You okay now?"

"Yeah… I was ‘okay' before," Ranma grinned. And then put Ryoga's hands back on her breasts. "Keep that up and I'll show you the comparison."

"Okay." Ryoga wasn't at all adverse to complying with her instructions.

As soon as Ryoga's attention was fixed on her breasts again, Ranma reached down to his penis. It hadn't been erected, but neither was it limp. As soon as Ranma touched it, though, Ryoga got an almost instant hard-on.

‘Eep' was the sound that Ryoga made as his eyes widened in surprise. His hands stopped moving.

"‘Eep???' I don't think I've ever heard that out of you before!" Ranma grinned. "I've heard a bunch of other odd sounds…" As she held him gently, she stroked his member with her other hand, caressing it all along the shaft.

"Ooooo…" Ryoga's breath inhaled and he grew stiffer and harder and larger under her attention.

"Ryoga," Ranma growled, "My breasts!"

"Uh, sorry." In a daze, Ryoga started caressing her again, his movements on her breasts suspiciously close to those she was making on him. It was obvious where his attention really was.

Okay… Ranma clenched her hand on his shaft. Ryoga yipped – the sudden shock on nerves that had been tuned to pleasure didn't so much hurt as rather sent a different thrill of delight straight to his spinal column. He clenched his hands in reaction to the shock. Ranma moaned in satisfaction as her breasts were squeezed with the same effects. "Here's your comparison, Ryoga," Ranma started stroking him again, carefully, lightly, with gentle firm pressure. And then she drew a fingernail over his very erect head.

"Eiyi!" Ryoga's body stiffened as tightly as his member. And then he folded slightly down, maintaining his balance but with some difficulty. His eyes were wide as he asked her, "That's what your breasts feel like?" He started petting and stroking them with renewed vigor, eyes alight with wonder, watching her carefully.

"Sortof…" Ranma was almost having difficulty breathing, enjoying the sensations so much. It was similar to what she was doing to Ryoga – and those feelings she knew well – but it was different. The fire in her breasts where Ryoga caressed them… was matched if not exceeded by a fire that flared in her groin where he'd never touched her at all. More or less centered in the spot where her penis used to be. But it was a different type of fire. In a way… "Ooo…" Ranma started to rub Ryoga's shaft harder and tighter, moving up and down in rapid motions, knowing that she wanted the same feelings…

Ryoga moaned. And rubbed her breasts…

And Ranma stopped and shook her head, "Ryoga – that's not enough."

"Huh?" Ryoga pulled himself out of the absorption with reluctance. He wanted more of Ranma's hands… But he was the one who had lost, after all. Ranma was the one to be pleased. Ryoga looked at her in frustration, "You said it was the same!"

"I said it was similar!"

"If you were in your guy form, I'd know exactly what to do." The same as Ranma was doing to him. The way they moved together to please each other and share… what they couldn't share any other time. Trust.

"That would have missed the point," Ranma fully understood Ryoga's frustration – it was the same as hers. If this was Ranma's normal body… but "I wanted to know what a woman wants from a man." What Akane wants from me… From Ryoga, she said. I want to know what she sees in Ryoga that made her turn to him. Akane… At the thought of why she'd started this, Ranma got angry again. I'm not good enough for you, am I? But you won't have Ryoga. Ryoga is mine, Akane. Mine. You can't have him. And I won't let him go to you. I won't. She roughly fondled the large piece of Ryoga's manhood that she held.

Ryoga cried out, his hips bucking. A white spray erupted over them both.

There were a couple of seconds of silence.

"See what you made me do," Ryoga sounded annoyed, "That could have lasted longer."

Ranma collapsed in giggles, falling onto the floor. "You did say," she gasped, "that it had been a long time for you."

Ryoga smiled as he looked down at her, "Okay…" he admitted, "I probably wouldn't have lasted much longer." Their eyes locking, the two youths shared an amused grin of understanding, both knowing well how easy it was to be driven over the edge.

"Well, hey – that just means you can concentrate better on me!" Ranma grinned in delight, "Now that you've had yours…"

"Not very much of mine!"

Ranma rolled on the floor, laughing uncontrollably.

And as Ryoga looked down at her, at her happiness and joy, her delight, her open smile… his heart twisted inside of him. It wasn't that he hadn't seen her happy before. Outwardly, Ranma was a very joyful creature, living for the moment and what the moment gave. But this joy… was different. Different because they shared it. Shared… something a bit more than the physical pleasure. A bit more even than the trust. Something similar to the care. Ryoga shook his head, unable to figure it out. He knelt down next to the still laughing girl. "Come here, and you'll see how well I can concentrate." He would make her happy. Ranma wanted this from him, and Ryoga was hers. He would obey to the best of his ability. Because he wanted her to be happy.

Leaning over, Ryoga captured Ranma's lips with his own, sweeping his tongue through hers and probing her deeply in the way she liked best.

"Ummm..." Ranma's hands wrapped around his head pulling him into her even though they were already together. The laughter was still in her soul even as she reached for the passion and her return kiss was gentler than she was known to give.

Not disengaging his mouth, Ryoga's hands went to her chest again and found her breasts. Without fear and without reservation, he stroked and squeezed and rolled her flesh in his hands. He could tell that Ranma enjoyed what he was doing as her body squirmed on the ground, pressing to his, her mouth still wrapped around his and her hands clenching in his hair. Ranma's body pressing to his... Ryoga was astounded at the feelings his body was feeling despite his release. I'm holding a girl who is pressing her body to me… I'm squeezing a woman's breasts… He rearranged his thoughts, Ranma… I'm kissing Ranma who wants pleasure in this body. He drew his tongue out of Ranma's mouth and swept it on the edges of her lips, causing her to softly moan. As she did, he moved his mouth down her neck to her breasts, kissing them lightly and marveling at the soft skin. There's quite a bit for me to pleasure.

Ranma let her head fall backwards under his attention, the fire sweeping through her body, and oh, so different. So close yet so different… "Ryoga – the breasts aren't enough. There's a emptiness at my groin that wants your touch and attention."

Ryoga raised his head with a little bit of disappointment. And here I thought she liked it… But he knew his duty. He sat up and scooted on the dojo floor until he was next to her waist and staring at the patch of curly hair… Uhh…

Ranma felt the drop of blood on her abdomen and sat rather quickly up. "Ryoga…" The glazed look was back in his eyes but it was also wondering. It rather reminded Ranma of the time she'd tossed P-chan into the girls' locker-room and he'd come out ‘being a pig isn't half-bad…' Ranma giggled – this time Ryoga's reaction was straight guy and not wuss. And she liked it. This body was something that girls envied. And that Ryoga obviously wanted. And she wanted Ryoga… The fire hadn't lost its burn. Ranma reached out to Ryoga's hand and drew it down to her waist, guiding him down to her groin. And Ranma's eyes widened at the feelings. Oh gods… The pressure on that spot... Ranma pulled her hand and his tightly in, grabbing at her crotch. And then she did loose it. Her hand fell limply down and so did her upper body as her hips arched upwards to Ryoga's hand. A thin cry escaped her lips.

Ranma??? Ryoga was torn between anxiety and wonder. Ranma had always been the quiet participant in their sharing – the reason Ryoga got so much teasing over the noises he made. And that reaction… Ranma's hips were still pushing at his hand and Ryoga turned his attention back down. The nosebleed had remarkably stopped when Ranma took his hand for the exploration and Ryoga focused his attention on this rather remarkable wonder of a girl's lower body. The hair… Ryoga parted that with his fingers, looking for what it was that was driving Ranma crazy. With a twist of her body, Ranma assisted his efforts, bringing her body up so that his fingers were resting on a small fold of flesh between the hair, and a parting of the skin below the folds…

Ryoga's careful exploration was driving Ranma crazy. When his fingers finally found the fire, Ranma's eyes closed tightly. There! Ranma bucked her hips up, driving his fingers partly into her and she whimpered loudly, "There, Ryoga! I need you, there."

Ryoga's eyes left the area he was staring at to look in wonder at Ranma's face as she moaned and twisted, sweat glistening on her skin. This is so intense… It's like she's never experienced the pleasure before. Their first couple of times had been like that, as the boys experimented with their bodies and the astonishment of release. But this… A girl's body… For a moment, Ryoga envied Ranma for it. And almost hated him. He didn't want this curse, did he? And then Ryoga was ashamed of his thoughts, remembering what had driven Ranma to this point. Ranma was so mad at Akane… Oh, Akane… do you know what Ranma feels? What I feel? How we both want you so… And when they couldn't have her, when Ranma's pain overwhelmed his sense… Ryoga bent his head quickly so Ranma wouldn't see the tears that sparkled there. Though there wasn't much chance of that. Ryoga hadn't stopped his attentions while he thought and Ranma was whimpering and gasping, twisting and pushing her hips up to Ryoga's hand as he pushed his fingers into her. Ryoga wasn't totally sure, but it was obvious Ranma was enjoying the sensations. And here we always thought size mattered to a girl. Obviously not that much if his fingers were enough for the pleasure.

It wasn't enough. It wasn't enough. The pleasure was consuming her. Consuming the girl's body. But there needed to be more… Ranma's moans were of frustration. The pleasure was so intense. But there was no release. Just a desperate need for more. Her body was dripping as the fires drove the sweat out of her body. A guy's body never needed that much. The pleasure also had release and such a feeling of ecstasy… The girl body was getting the pleasure all right. But she needed more. "Ryoga!" Ranma called to her friend in her need, pleading for something she didn't know.

Uh… Ryoga heard the need in her voice. I thought she was enjoying it – what am I doing wrong? Ryoga redoubled his efforts, sliding his fingers in and out of her warm moist hole, studying her carefully for each reaction. He noticed her body tended to shudder when his fingers passed over those two folds of skin… Ryoga put more attention onto them. And was rewarded with a cry of pleasure from Ranma. She is being a lot more vocal than normal! He pushed and he rubbed… And found a spot a little ways inside of her that felt rougher than the skin around it. When he pressed against that spot, Ranma's body writhed around his hand and then she sank back, shudders rippling her skin, her lungs heaving for air. He took his hand out, "Was that it?"

The pleasure had finally found release of a sort. And the shockwaves were rippling through her body. Ranma blinked open her eyes. What sort of a question is that? She thought about it. "I think so…" It had definitely been a release. And it was definitely pleasure. Pleasure though her whole body, not just her groin. This is different! I like this. But there was still a need in her body…

"What? Ranma, tell me about it!!" Ryoga moved up to her head and looked down. He grinned at the wondering look on her face – and was rather shocked at her words:

"Ryoga – I want to try that again." She had to grin at the astonishment on his face.

"You can?!" he blurted out, "You got the release and you can go again???" His penis was still limp from the earlier release and it would be awhile before he could do anything like that again, however much he wanted to. And here was Ranma, ready for more… He looked down at the girl's body in fascination. "I thought girls didn't need sex like guys."

Ranma sat up, running her hands over her body and down to her groin. She lingered her touch there where Ryoga had been. And found that the tingly feelings were still there. Not quite as intense… I need the build-up. "I don't think they do. I've been in and out of this body for several months, and there have been only a few times that I've ever felt that heat."

Ryoga eyebrow involuntarily went up in a surprised question.

Feeling the thought, Ranma's face turned scarlet and she didn't say anything.

"Kuno? Mikado? Those friends of yours at school?" Ryoga couldn't leave it alone, intensely curious.

"Shut up, already!!" Ranma yelled, solid beet red.

Ryoga obediently closed his mouth, but the eyebrow stayed up and a grin played at his lips. He lost the grin when Ranma spoke again.



"When I'm sparring with you in girl form… There have been a couple of times when at a break I'd step back and look at you… or be holding you in a lock… And the hot feeling washed over this body."

"Is that why I got the crap beaten out of me those times?" Hearing the reasoning, Ryoga was more amused than anything. He recognized the feelings – it had been so very hard for him to think of Ranma as a guy when she would do things like tackle him with her legs and press her body to his in a lock. A very female body… And it was in their spars that he and Ranma were the closest to total trust between them.

"Oh shut up…" Ranma leaned over and kissed him again, letting herself be aware of his male body like she normally tried hard not to. Thinking of the pleasure from her body and the tingling feelings and the way Ryoga would do anything she asked of him… The heat rose in her body and flared. Wow. This body definitely responds to thoughts! She pulled back slightly, "I want it again. Now. Yes, this body apparently is capable of more. And I want it." I want you… She stamped down the hesitant cautions that had involuntarily sprung up in reaction to her thought, the cautions that were trying to remind Ranma that this body was a curse. Ryoga is a man that girls want… A different heat of anger and challenge washed through her body as she filled in the generic term of the last thought. Akane wants him. She won't get him. She won't. Ranma let her hands roam over Ryoga's back in possession. I will have him. I want him. I do. He is mine, and I will have him. The heat of desire was back again. Very much so.

"Okay." Ryoga wasn't adverse. It had been fun seeing Ranma's pleasure. It reminded him so much of when they had been young, before the anger had gotten in the way. Before Ranma had taken his trust and… Ryoga quickly moved his mouth to hers to keep Ranma from seeing his eyes. Ranma is being nice in her pleasure. I better not remind her… One hand roamed down to her waist and below. The other went to her breasts. Ranma moaned and sank down to the floor, taking Ryoga with her. I'll be damned – she really is ready for more!

Ranma closed her eyes as she concentrated on the feelings. The feelings that were weaving through her body. This is so different! Different than a guy's. The girl's body had pleasure everywhere… Pleasure that was entwined with her from her lips to her breasts to her groin. Ryoga's lips on hers, his tongue in her mouth, his body pressed on her breasts, his hands playing with her hair… "Ryoga," she growled, taking her mouth off his for a moment. She heard his low chuckle, then his lips came back on hers even as his fingers stopped teasing and moved into the hole that held so much pleasure. "Oooo…" It was good. It was so good. I'm going to have to do this more often! I hadn't realized how good it could be.

Even as she thought it, Ryoga pulled back, his hands leaving her and his body too. Ranma stared up at him, at the face that was trying to stay expressionless but couldn't keep back his grin… Ryoga's never learned to hide his feelings. He can't always say them, but he always shows them. "What?" she asked, warily. Her body wanted him back, wanted him back so very much… She kept the thought from her face more successfully than Ryoga.

"It just occurred to me…" Ryoga fought to keep the laughter off his face and present a serious demeanor, "I've paid out my portion of the fight. You got yours… If you want more, you'll have to challenge me again." He sat back and folded his arms over his chest.

Ranma knew her mouth was hanging open. She couldn't help it. For once, Ryoga had actually managed to get one up on her. Technically, he was right. She'd gotten what she wanted… but she wanted more! "You bastard!" Ranma launched herself at Ryoga, arms and hands outstretched.

And Ryoga collapsed under the tickles, howling with the effects of her hands on his sides and of the result of his teasing. He squirmed and tried to get away, pleading with her with tears streaming down his face and laughter in his eyes. And even as his words changed from pleads to yields, her hands stopped tickling and started stroking. Roaming over his body. Feeling his body. His hard muscles and taunt skin. The way he flexed and shifted. The feelings in Ranma's body were unbelievable. I'm getting turned on by my reactions to Ryoga. Not just his hands over me, but my hands over him… This is weird. This is very weird. But she liked it. Her breathing was deep as she leaned over Ryoga and kissed him deeply, letting her hands wander where they would. Over his cheeks and hair, down his neck, across his broad shoulders and down his arms, back to his chest… his flat chest not so flat with the bulge of muscles and sinew, tendons and flesh… She pressed her breasts down upon that chest, needing to feel his skin against hers. And she trapped his hands between them as his hands had been fully on her breasts. Ryoga… His body. So very much a man's. Ranma moaned as she caressed him and let her desire for him wash over her body and consume it. What a wonderful feeling.

Ryoga felt the changes in Ranma and wondered, slightly nervous at the change… Not that he objected. His body was flaming with desire as Ranma stroked her hands everywhere on him. But her caresses… it felt more like it was a girl that he was with instead of Ranma… His desire for her… It's Ranma. It's Ranma. It's not a girl, it's Ranma. Ryoga rolled the two of them over so he was on top and could look down at her. At her open and happy face. At the pleasure. At the trust in her eyes. At the sparkle as she looked back at him. And Ryoga felt himself fall. He felt it. He'd been wide open, not expecting it. Not expecting… He knew exactly what was happening and couldn't control it. Couldn't help it. It was the same as when he'd looked into Akane's eyes. He knew what it meant. And he could do nothing about it. Ryoga heard the faintest of wails in the back of his mind, not Ranma! The rest of him was staring down into the depths he'd fallen into. And Ranma reached up a hand and caressed his cheek.

"Ryoga, I want to try it again normally."

Her hand on his cheek… so gentle. Sparkling eyes. Ryoga tried to free himself of the spell. He couldn't. But he managed to get enough breath to question her, "Normally?"

A dark eyebrow arched as her mouth twitched in a grin, "Normally. Between a guy and a girl. You know – your dick in my, ah… hole." Ranma wasn't actually sure what the terminology really was.

Her terms didn't confuse Ryoga and he glanced at her a bit sourly, the spell having shaken loose. But not gone. He could feel the nets around him, ready to tighten again in a second. "Well, I'd like to too," and his whole body responded with a fervent second to that statement – all but one part, "but a certain person made that rather problematic – and I think that certain person's statement had been ‘so I could concentrate better on her'…"

"Oh, Ryoga!" Ranma sat up, squirming out from under him, "You can't mean you're not back up yet!?" She reached her hands down to his waist and rubbed him, bending down to kiss his manhood lightly. "I think you're getting stiffer…"

"In your dreams!" Not matter how much he wanted it… "The only blood moving down there is the same as was there two minutes ago." Apparently being a girl made Ranma forget some of the basic facts behind male biology.

Ranma sighed and let it go, making one last remark, "And here I'd thought you always had better recovery time than me…"

Ryoga laughed softly and then sat up to nip at her neck and then down to her breasts, "Don't worry, my incomparable Ranma, I'll make you happy. I'll make sure you're happy." And he guided her back down to the floor again, not even noticing the unusualness of his endearment or the sentiment.

Ranma had noticed. And had wondered, a brief worry coming to the surface of her mind. But the sensations Ryoga soon had her body experiencing drove the thought straight out of her mind. He petted. He licked. He tasted. His hands and his mouth roamed over her body. And her body arched out to him, wanting him. Wanting the pleasure. And then his mouth was down at her waist… Ranma's eyes shut, fluttering down. And I thought it felt good to have his fingers there… It was nearly the same difference there was between fingers and tongue on the male body's penis – a comparison, but there was so much more… His tongue had better control than his fingers, and was more flexible. So flexible! Ranma clenched her hands in his hair and tried not to jerk her hips into him. The pleasure was mounting high. Ranma couldn't believe the heights. And still she climbed. There had to be a release soon. She couldn't stand much more. Ryoga was being as inventive with this body as he was with Ranma's other. Circling around the edges of her hole with his tongue, playing with the little folds of skin – so sensitive! His tongue would dart into her and then out. He'd lap at her edges. He'd breathe softly over the heat… Ranma moaned, a low sound of absolute feeling and no thought, simply the desire and the pleasure.

And then it was all gone. The pleasure had vanished. Leaving the need. Leaving the desire. Leaving… Ranma cried out in her anguish, "Ryoga—" A plead for him to continue, to come back to her. I didn't think he could be so cruel… I thought I trusted him… She could. She knew that. Ryoga was hers. So what the hell? Ranma wrenched open her eyes and glanced around, sitting up with an effort, her body still absorbed in the need and shuddering with the need. It was almost painful now that he wasn't there. Finally, Ranma found Ryoga – huddled by the far wall, his knees drawn up to his chest and his head upon them. What now??? It was an effort to move. Ranma almost felt like ignoring Ryoga and trying to finish the release on her own. But he was her friend…

"Ryoga… what's wrong?" Edging over to him, Ranma placed a gentle hand on Ryoga's shoulder. Ryoga flinched away. That did it. Ranma's battle aura flared, "You better have a DAMN good reason, Ryoga! My body is just about tearing itself in two because you left! So what the hell is it?!" The way she felt – how close she'd been… The pleasure to nothingness… It would have to be a very good reason in order for Ranma not to pound Ryoga into dust for stopping.

Ryoga glanced up at her miserably.

And the pain and sorrow in those brown eyes… Ranma's battle-aura folded in quickly. "Ryoga, I didn't mean that, really I didn't, you didn't hurt me, you can't hurt me, you're mine, really you are, it's okay, really, you'll please me again later, honestly it's okay," she babbled, trying to get rid of that anguish on top of anguish. Damnit!

Ryoga reached a tentative hand out to her, then drew it back. Before his hand could make it all the way back, Ranma had grabbed it. And brought it close to her. "Ryoga… what happened?"

"Ranma…" Ryoga's voice was a bare whisper, "I would have hurt you. I would have hurt you so badly. I wouldn't have meant to. But you would have been hurt…"

Huh? Ranma closed her eyes briefly. Nothing like this had ever been a problem in her guy body. It was this stupid girl's body. Ranma wished she'd never thought of it. The pleasure just wasn't worth this. Not this pain that she saw in Ryoga… And since when did that matter to you anyway? You've hurt him much worse. A stray thought wrapped around her mind. And Ranma flushed in embarrassment. She told the thought, that was different. The thought snuck in again, oh really? One moment of truth, I was trying to hurt him back then, and then Ranma pushed it all away, refusing to look at it any more. Concentrating on her friend, she spoke carefully, "How, Ryoga? How would you have hurt me?"

"If I'd been able… if I hadn't had the earlier release… Even the first time, I would have taken you like a guy takes a girl… and it would have hurt you so bad…"

"Excuse me?" Ranma sighed, "Ryoga – I wanted it. But it didn't matter, you were doing so well…" so very well… – damn his fears! "I know I said I wanted to try it, but…" No, that's not what he was saying. He was… – oh, I give up! "What do you mean, Ryoga?"

Ryoga trembled. "Just now… I was licking, and there was all this moisture, and it suddenly occurred to me that it wasn't all there before. You'd been moist before, but not wet like this. And I wondered… And then I realized it was for lubrication."

Lubrica… Oh, for when the dick goes in… Geez, Ryoga… Ranma started knocking her head against the wall. "You stopped… just because…" Ranma looked up at him, "If I was wet then, you might have gotten a clue that you couldn't have hurt me! And that I was so damn near ready…!" She was almost ready to pound him into dust. That wasn't what she considered a good reason!

"Then – but what about earlier?" Ryoga protested, pulling his hand out of Ranma's, "The way I felt… If I'd had the erection, I would have gone straight in. And without the wetness… It would have hurt like hell for you!"

"What makes you think it would have hurt that…" Ranma trailed off. "Oh." Oops. I didn't know that it'd hurt him that much back then. Well, I knew it had, that's why we stopped, but for him to be thinking of it now… well, I guess he would be; especially considering what he thinks about girls. Sighing again, Ranma scooted closer to Ryoga and pulled him to her, stroking his hair gently. The way Ranma had done years ago. She did remember it. Back when they'd been experimenting around with the different ways sex could feel good, Ranma had wanted to try it the way a guy does it with a girl. Only problem was, they were both guys. So Ranma had tried it with Ryoga's arse, figuring they were kindof similar. It had, to put things mildly, been a disaster. After they'd both calmed down, they'd agreed to stay with hands and mouths and no more experimenting on that level.

Okay, he got scared out of his wits thinking about what might have happened. I guess, for him, it was a good reason. But oh, so close… Ranma stroked Ryoga's hair and his back, feeling him relaxing into her as he came out of his fright. She tried to be matter-of-fact about the situation, "Well, now we do know. It's actually rather nice that the girl's body has it's own mode of lubrication. You'll just have to keep it in mind the next time I ask for this." And I will… That time would have been good. Yes, it would have. Ranma sighed for the pleasure lost.

"The next…" Ryoga pulled slightly away from her and then suddenly her earlier accusations went through his mind like they hadn't when she'd said them. He paled in realization. "Oh, Ranma! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to leave you like that!! Oh, shit. Ranma, I wasn't thinking…"

"I noticed," Ranma said dryly. And then shifted, avoiding his touch as Ryoga brought his hands up to caress her breasts.

Ryoga looked at her in surprise and dropped his hands.

Ranma wrinkled her nose, "It's okay, I'm kindof out of the mood, now." And instantly wished she hadn't said it as Ryoga's brown eyes went wide and darkness gathered around him.

"I… Ranma… I failed you…" The anguish and the depression bent Ryoga to the ground. "‘Sorry' isn't enough. Oh Gods! I… I failed… I had lost, I was supposed to obey you. I was going to make you happy… I… I didn't just fail you, I betrayed you. You'd trusted me. And then I ruined everything. Over a stupid, stupid stray thought. You were happy, but then I stopped – and hurt you worse than I ever could have thought of. I failed… I hurt you. I…" It wasn't tears coming out his eyes, it was icicles. Frozen glacier streams of despair.

"Ohshitohshitohshitohshit…" Ranma hopped up from where she sat, hovering but unable to do anything constructive. When Ryoga got depressed, Ryoga really got depressed! Anger was better than the depression any old day, but right now she knew there was simply no way she'd be able to get him mad… The only way she could think to pull him out of the funk would be to get him to do something for her – what she'd asked of him… but right now she was damn sure she wouldn't be able to. The first two times had shown her how much it took for a girl's body to come to orgasm and if he tried and wasn't able to it would just be worse… wait a sec… difficult for a girl's body… but not for my guy's! "Ryoga! You stay right there! I'll be right back." Ranma started to dash out of the dojo, then paused while she grabbed her pants and hopped into them. She glanced back at Ryoga who hadn't moved, but there was a darkness around him…

Ranma ran to the house and to the kitchen to make some hot water.

And hauled up short as Kasumi turned from the stove, a book in her hand, "Ranma-kun! What are you doing up this late?"

"I… uh… uh…" What the hell is Kasumi doing up this late???? "I uh… need some hot water…"

"Oh, certainly." With her usual serene smile, Kasumi turned a burner off on the stove and handed the kettle to Ranma. "I'll just make another pot of tea later."

"Uh… Thanks…" Ranma backed out of the kitchen, looking from Kasumi to the book to the kettle… Her return to the dojo was slower than when she'd left.

Ranma walked in and over to where Ryoga was sitting, cross-legged, expectantly looking at her. She gave him a searching glance, noticing he was out of the funk. Shaking her head, Ranma slowly walked over and sat down next to him, putting the kettle to one side and thinking.

"What happened?"

It took a minute for the question to register in Ranma's mind. She turned to Ryoga, "What time is it?"

Ryoga blinked. And looked through one of the windows at the dark night, "I don't know… 3am? 4?"

"Kasumi was up. In the kitchen. With a kettle of hot water."

"She didn't see…"

"I don't know…" It hadn't been the dads or Nabiki… It was Kasumi. Kasumi was normally safe. Would Kasumi say anything even if she had seen? Ranma glanced to Ryoga and shrugged, "She was reading a book, but I don't know."

Ryoga relaxed. "It's probably okay – when Kasumi's into a novel, the house could fall down and she wouldn't notice. Well, okay, she'd notice. Then she'd say, ‘oh dear' and go on to the next page. If she didn't get out the dustpan."

Ranma looked askance at him.

Ryoga grinned faintly, "Kasumi doesn't sleep much. And she says that she has so many chores to do during the day that the only time she gets to read is at night. The kitchen is actually a fairly normal place to find her at this time."

"How on earth do you know that?"

Ryoga grinned again, "She the one who always lets me in when I get here in the middle of the night. You don't think I just come in uninvited, do you?"

Ranma opened and closed her mouth a couple of times. "Do you mean that that first night when you showed up… When it was pouring rain outside… You mean Kasumi let you in???"

"Of course," Ryoga blinked, "I was just settling in to make a night of it on your doorstep when she opened the door and invited me in. She took me to the kitchen, made me drink some tea and have some snacks, then showed me where your room was and went back downstairs."

"Kasumi…" Ranma's voice was almost a growl. Almost. Nobody could actually be mad at Kasumi for very long – it was just impossible. Faintly, she started to laugh.

Ryoga uneasily stirred and put a hand on her shoulder – he didn't like that laugh. It reminded him of those times…

Ranma stilled, then turned to Ryoga and looked him over, up and down, evaluating him as both a warrior and a man in the same glance. "That was the first time," Ranma said flatly.

"The first…?" Ryoga was distinctly uneasy now.

"The first time I felt this girl's body respond," Ranma said softly, her tone lightening just a touch. "I was worried about you – who knew what Jusenkyo had done to you? It had certainly messed me up enough, and it obviously had done nothing to make you hate me any less. And then I tossed Akane's stupid little pig in the water… And there you were. All of you. All of your pain and anger and rage and… and your honor holding it altogether. Keeping you silent and still. And I knew that despite everything, you were still mine. And I wanted you. I had tried to toss you away, but you came back. I had made you go away, and you came back. And this time… this time I didn't want you to go. This time I wanted… something different. I didn't know what. But you were talking to me and I thought… I thought I had your friendship again. Something I never thought I'd see again. Something I'd taken a great deal of effort to drive away. I thought I saw it… But then you turned to Akane. And Akane kissed you. And I was left alone… from both of you." Ranma was silent for a moment. "Damn you, Ryoga. How do you always manage to turn things around?"

Ryoga didn't say a word. Deep, deep in his mind, one word reverberated: Oh.

Ranma sighed, "Okay, Ryoga – what gives?"


"When I ran out of here, you were a quivering rack of despair," Ranma glanced at him, "You certainly weren't when I came back in."


"That's not an answer."

And she actually wants one. Ranma cares enough to want an answer. How… different. Ryoga stood up and paced a bit, then turned back towards Ranma. She was still sitting there, by the wall of the dojo, the kettle of hot water next to her. She was all folds and bends. Her soft body was layered with steel for bones and sinew. Her muscles were wiry, tough and flexible. Her nerves were fire and ice. Ranma was a living contradiction. Nothing she did was exactly what one expected of her. Every time you expected the softness, you got the anger. When you expected the anger, you got her gentle voice. And sometimes when one expected hard coal for a heart… one found a firefly instead. Ethereal. Fleeting. Barely there. Seen only when it was darkest night out. Never to be found when one was hunting it. And it would go out if you tried to trap it.

"Ranma," Ryoga's voice was the barest breath upon the winds. "You cared."


Ryoga's mouth twitched at hearing her exasperated and puzzled tone and he walked back to his friend, "You never had before."

Ranma looked up at him, her expression unreadable. Slowly she said, "That's all it took? That's all it ever would have taken? Just for me to…" she didn't finish it.

And you can't even say it. ‘care' "No," Ryoga answered, being honest, "Mostly right now, I was surprised out of it." He walked to the middle of the dojo again, "Ranma, you've changed. And I hadn't noticed. I've been thinking of you as the same person you were back in Junior High… And that certainly didn't include caring about people. But this fight–" Ryoga clamped his mouth shut on the rest of the sentence, ‘was started because of your care for Akane…' I am not going to remind him. He tried again with a different approach, "What happened to you back in China? What made you…" Ryoga still had to be careful. He couldn't just say, come out of your shell, without provoking Ranma. Ranma might have changed, but his reflexes, particularly with Ryoga, were still intact.HHH


Ranma sighed, and looked away from Ryoga. "It wasn't China."

Ryoga waited.

"Damnit, Ryoga… You and your damn questions!" Ranma got up and moved to the center of the dojo next to Ryoga. Without looking at him, she started a kata.

Ryoga watched just until he was sure he knew which one she was doing and then stepped into sync with her. And became briefly aware of his unclad state… but he couldn't be embarrassed in front of Ranma. Ranma. So perfect. The movements so perfect. The strength restrained. The precision and the flow. Deadly in her elegance. I had to do it. I just had to go and look in her eyes. Wasn't Akane enough for me? Wasn't one hopeless love enough? Why did I have to go and fall for my best friend? ‘He' is not a ‘she' no matter what the body I see right now is. And he likes Akane, who likes him… Damnit. This time I will have to leave. This time, I'm going to have to leave and never come back. Ryoga snorted softly to himself – like his intentions ever had anything to do with it. He'd made that vow several times in the last year. And kept coming back. ‘… this time I didn't want you to go.' Ranma… you have changed. Ryoga watched her form hungrily, and so have I.

The kata finished. Ranma stood still for a moment, then turned to face her friend, "Ryoga, you changed me. That's why I tried to drive you away. I didn't want to be changed. But you made me trust you. I own you so I can trust you… but you just kept pushing and prying and questioning… Every wall I had, every fort, every defense. You just kept breaking them down." A tear fell down her cheek, "Damnit, Ryoga – you made me feel pain like I'd never felt it before. You made me care. I didn't want to feel that pain again. Ever. So I drove you away and thought that would be the end of it." Ranma took a deep breath to steady herself, "But… in China… I had to think. I couldn't speak the language. I didn't know the people. I could only think. And then you showed up. After I'd hurt you so badly that I never thought I'd see you again. And you wanted to kill me for the pain. But you didn't. And I sent you away again. Because I couldn't stand to have the care. And I tried to forget you. But you kept showing up in every little thing. Every stranger's greeting. Every plate of food without asking. Every smile… I started wondering what was behind it. Nothing was the same. And people… were fascinating. Watching them, seeing them. Trying to figure out why they cared…" Ranma's face showed the puzzlement and the pain. She bit her lip, "And then I met Akane… She wanted to be my friend. When she first met me. She liked my Martial Arts and wasn't put out that I was better than her. She asked if we could be friends… She actually asked. She asked me to be her friend…" Ranma slowly crumpled down until she was on her knees, her face in her hands.

Ryoga stared. Ranma is… crying. "Ranma," he said her name in wonder and awe. Kneeling down beside her, he moved one of her hands far enough so he could run a finger over her face. It was wet. Ranma was crying. Ranma. Who had never been able to. "Ranma…"

With a small whimper, Ranma buried her head in Ryoga's chest, wrapping her arms around him.

Ranma… Ryoga stroked her hair gently, staring down at his friend with a tender sort of amazement. All the hatred he'd ever had for Ranma drained out of him. He remembered the pain only too well, but it wasn't the same sort of pain, knowing now that it was because Ranma had started to care… I did it. I had finally succeeded. I didn't know. I'd given up. I had thought that there was nothing more I could do. That Ranma's darkness had won out finally. But all that pain… was only because I'd finally won. Ryoga smiled happily, joyfully, delighting in the tears that Ranma was shedding. I thought I'd lost. I thought that Ranma had rejected the real prize. And… he won. He finally found it. He found the heart within him. And Akane showed him how to use it. "Ranma," Ryoga leaned his head down and nuzzled her hair in contentment and joy, "Oh, my wonderful Ranma – you won. You finally won."

And the tears jerkily stopped as Ranma raised her head, "Finally? What the hell do you mean ‘finally'? I always win. And what are you smiling for, you jerk? Do you think my crying is funny or something?"

Ryoga stopped the rising anger with a kiss. A slow kiss. A tender kiss. That held his joy and happiness. To show Ranma what she had really won. It wasn't a kiss of their usual sort – full of challenge and passion and need. It was a kiss light upon the mouth, soft and gentle, with his care and love behind it.

Ranma was stunned into silence. What the hell? It wasn't the way he'd kissed her earlier. It wasn't. It was… She'd never felt anything like it before. Never. It was soft. It was gentle. It… The feelings in Ranma twisted and turned, churning around like clothes in the laundry machine; first one and then another coming up to the surface, a river of care washing them clean. Ryo…ga…ka??? What is he doing? What is happening? I… I can't think. The pressure upon her lips lifted up slightly. His whispers caused his breath to flow over her tender lips and mouth, making it hard for Ranma to hear the words, so astonished was she by the feelings.

"Oh, incomparable Ranma… You always do manage the impossible." Ryoga's hands stroked at her cheeks and her neck. His mouth moved over to her ear where he softly nibbled on the edges before whispering again, "Ranma, beautiful Ranma… Let me try again. This time I promise I'll show you such pleasure that you won't ever forget it. I'll give you the pleasure that you can keep with you always. I'll give you your prize. Let me show you…" His hands wandered from her neck down her sides.

She was floating. That was the only way to describe it. Ranma wasn't sitting on the dojo floor. She was floating high above it. His kiss… The whisper of breath in her ear. The gentle, gentle hands… Wait a second, what did he call me? Ranma struggled briefly to come out of the spell, a sudden stab of worry shooting through her, I'm not a girl, Ryoga – you can't feel that for me. You can't. They couldn't. It wasn't right. The other hadn't counted because it hadn't been real. This… felt real. And Ranma didn't have the strength to stop it. It felt… good. She wanted what he had to show her. She did… Ranma made one small effort, "Ryoga…?"

"Don't worry, Ranma," Ryoga trailed his mouth down her neck and spoke between the kisses, "I promise I won't hurt you. I promise I'll make you happy. Don't worry about a thing. Don't worry at all." His hands moved from her sides to her back.

He had found that patch of nerve-endings at the base of her jugular… Ranma moaned as she relaxed into his arms, her head falling backwards to open her neck even more for his attention. She couldn't help it. She… She was in Ryoga's care. In his arms. Pleasure was spreading throughout her body. But it wasn't the same as before. What is it? I'm not feeling that burning heat of passion's need. I'm feeling… A warmth. A delicious warmth that is stealing the thought from my mind and my body. Oh gods, Ryoga… how are you doing this? Why? Ranma's eyes fluttered shut and she released herself into Ryoga's hands, not able to fight against the incredible feelings. She felt herself lowered down to the floor and her pants gently tugged off. The only reaction she made was a small whimper of regret as his mouth and hands left her to do so. But in a moment, they were back. Ryoga's hands, tracing her cheeks… Ranma blinked her eyes open and stared up at him, wide-eyed and speechless. There was a radiant joy in those rich velvet-brown eyes, an intensity of… care that locked her gaze to him and drove a path into her soul. Ryoga? His eyes left hers as his head dipped down to gently kiss her eyelids and then roved downward to her breasts, where he caressed them with his hands and kissed them with his mouth and every move and every action was so tender and purposeful… It almost felt like he was worshipping her. After her eyelids blinked open again, Ranma's gaze focused onto the ceiling, seeing not the wooden beams but the memory of those incredible brown eyes… Her hands drifted of their own accord to his black hair and stroked it, tangling her fingers in his bandanna. There was nothing even remotely resembling thought left within her mind, just a wondering delight in the feelings. The feelings…

Ryoga studied Ranma's body carefully as he stroked her. He wasn't going to hurt her, he was going to do every darn thing possible he could to please her. He needed to know every part of her that felt the pleasure. And he needed to memorize her for his sake. This would be the only time. The only time he'd ever be able to do something like this. To love Ranma. After this Ranma would surely know. And Ryoga had to get Ranma and Akane together. Ranma had found his heart by loving Akane. The heart Ryoga had tried so hard to find. Akane had found it. And trained it. Guided Ranma into using his heart, showing him how to care for others. Ryoga could see that now. He'd been seeing the Ranma of old… but Ranma had changed. Akane… I loved you for yourself – but now I also love you for Ranma. You saved him. You did. Akane, my dearest love. I knew you were an amazing woman – I had no idea how amazing. To save Ranma… Suddenly, Ryoga was fiercely glad that Ranma had decided on this fight and these stakes. I will show Ranma what it is to love a woman, how to treat a woman right – so he will always be able to keep Akane's love. If Ranma hadn't decided to experiment… Ryoga very nearly shuddered to think what sort of wedding night Akane would have had. A guy's idea of pleasure… was not a girl's. More build-up, more time, more care. And the love… Ryoga moved upward a bit and kissed Ranma's open mouth, nibbling gently on her lower lip and licking the insides of her cheek before moving to her tongue. When he moved away, Ryoga studied Ranma's face carefully, lovingly, memorizing it, his heart pounding inside his chest, almost ready to burst from the intensity of his feelings. Ranma's eyes were wide and dark, a bare rim of vibrant blue showing around the black pupils. She stared at him as if through a fog, her eyes tracking his. Her deep red lips stayed parted, her breath coming in shallow gasps through them. Her bright red hair was scattered about her forehead. Ryoga reached a hand to brush some of it back. Her eyes never left his. Ryoga loved her so very very much… "Ranma," he whispered, his heart aching even as his love poured out of him in waves. There was so much. So very much.

Those velvet eyes… Ranma was under a spell. Under his spell. How did it happen? How could it have happened? She didn't care. She was so… happy. Her body felt so alive in his touch and in his care. So different. So very different. He wasn't just fondling her breasts or even her groin where she'd had the center of passion. No. Ryoga was stroking every part of her body. He was touching her arms with the same respect he gave her breasts. He was nuzzling her belly as if it were her groin. His hands and his mouth were everywhere on her. From her hands to her shoulders to her face to her neck to her breasts to her belly to her groin to her thighs to her calves and even to her feet. It was amazing. It was incredible. When Ryoga was near enough, and her hands were free from his grip, then Ranma would stroke every part of his body she could touch. It was almost as if she couldn't help it. He was exploring her body so thoroughly. Her hands needed to know him as well. She tried to have her mouth be a part of it as well, but she really couldn't move much, trapped under the spell of his care. But his mouth came back to hers often so she really couldn't say that part of her was lonely. Ryoga… How are you doing this? What have you done to me? It was a pleasure she'd never experienced before. Too amazing to be real. It was a dream, a fantasy. Except that even in her wildest imaginings, Ranma had never conceived of this.

As Ryoga continued his care, the warmth in Ranma's body gradually shifted. Shifted into the burning need she'd had before. Except that the comparison was a difference between a yellow candle-flame and the white-hot core of a supernova. And the difference of pleasure was of almost the same comparison. So much… It was burning her out. Ranma twisted under Ryoga's body and called his name. She reached for his body and held him close. She kissed him with passion and longing and wonder. She wrapped her legs around his waist and pulled him to her. She needed him like never before.

Ryoga's love for Ranma had been his overriding need at first. But then his body edged its way into his conscious mind and demanded its fair share. The wonderful, beautiful, incredible, astonishing person he loved… Ryoga needed her. Ryoga burned for her. Ryoga had to have her in a way he'd never needed before. His body demanded it. And Ryoga had never had such a fight in his life. Until he noticed that Ranma's body was demanding it too. That she wanted it as much as he. Ryoga had planned on giving her pleasure, but he hadn't known it was going to take both of them so deeply. First, he checked. The wetness was just about dripping out of her. I think she's ready, Ryoga thought wryly to himself. He pushed her away from him enough to make room – she was clinging to him so tightly; then he positioned the head of his member at the opening that she'd shown him; and he entered her. He tried to keep it slow but as he moved inside of her, his sensations took over and he trust his hips to her, meeting hers with a shock.

And Ranma was stunned into silence. She'd thought it had been pleasure before… She'd been wrong. What she'd felt before was totally eclipsed by this new sensation. He was inside of her! Completely. The nubs of pleasure that were radiating the ecstasy were accompanied by the feel of his deep length near to touching her backbone and his width pushing on all of her tissues and muscles there… I never knew I had muscles there. If Ranma hadn't been laying on the floor, she would have fallen back, completely overwhelmed. And then he started to move out of her… Ranma moaned, needing him back… She trust her hips up to him, tightening her legs around his waist and pulling him back to her. And he came back but he moved away again… Moved over those sensitive, sensitive spots. Creating so much pleasure. The pleasure. The feelings. The astonishment. A rhythm. They found one together. He moved out and thrusted in. She fell back and rose up. They moved as one. The pleasure shooting them up and up and up…

The pleasure of thrusting into her. Feeling her. Her warmth surrounding him. Ryoga had never dreamed of so much pleasure. The sex they had experimented with was nothing. Nothing at all. This. This was real. This was… Ryoga's whole body felt his release. From his toes to his fingers. It was nothing he'd ever experienced before. His seed shooting out of him into her. His body in the folds of the fire, his sight seeing only the stars. What an incredible ecstasy of feeling. Coming to fulfillment inside of one he loved… Coming to… Ryoga's abstracted thoughts faltered. Oops… Ryoga's eyes went wide open as he stared down at Ranma in dismay. She's still needing the pleasure – she hasn't climaxed yet… I've shot it all and am out of the picture and now I've blown it ‘cause she's not done and I can't do that to her and if I leave her unfulfilled twice in a row she'll kill me and I'll have deserved it – OH SHIT!

Ryoga frantically tried to mend what he could, continuing to thrust into her while he still could, before his penis lost its stiffness. He kissed her fiercely. He caressed her breasts. He moved… She continued to moan with the same intensity… That was it for his lower body. As he pulled out on the last of his thrusts, Ryoga quickly slipped down her body, gliding through the lock of her legs until her legs were around his shoulders and he could reach her vulva. He found her clitoris and wrapped his tongue around it, caressing her in the most intimate way he could.

He's leaving… Ranma had the barest thought as Ryoga moved himself out of her, but then the thought was wiped wholly from her mind as he slid down her, his hard muscular body passing over every inch of her own and filling her senses with the feel of him. And then his very strong and very precise tongue was at the most sensitive and most tender portion of her body. And… Ranma arched her back, her hands clenching into his hair as she screamed out her pleasure, her whole body convulsing with the impact of her climax, sending her self spiraling into a tornado of exultation and joy.

Wow. Ryoga froze as Ranma screamed. He recognized instinctively that it was the cumulation of her pleasures; but so much…! Wow – that's incredible. When Ranma's body had fallen back to the floor, her legs and her hands loosening their grip on him, Ryoga moved back up over her until he could stare down into her face, watching her with amazement.

The pleasure… Ranma felt the regard of the one who loved her… She blinked open her eyes to see the rich brown irises that had guided her throughout the experience. "Ryoga," she whispered his name languorously, rolling the syllables in her mouth in satisfaction and delight. She smiled at him though the waves of pleasure that were wafting through her body still.

That smile. A smile of care. A smile of… Ryoga memorized it and then leaned down to kiss it, claiming as much of it as he dared.

"RANMA! ARE YOU OKA… ay…?" The voice started out frightened and concerned. It trailed off in shock and confusion.

Akane… Ryoga groaned and buried his head in Ranma's chest. He knew he was being a coward. He knew it. But he couldn't help it. Akane… No…



Ranma, Baka! Akane sank into her bed after P-chan left her, wiping the tears from her face. Ranma… After several minutes, the sound of fighting rang out from the dojo. Akane's mouth curved in a smile, I knew I could count on him… Satisfaction layered the pain and anger she felt, and Akane finally went to sleep.

She woke to the sound of a scream reverberating through the walls and through her soul. Ranma! That was Ranma!! Her heart in her throat, Akane leapt out of bed and ran to where she'd heard the scream – the dojo. Ranma! As she ran, she tried to figure out what could have hurt Ranma… The only other time he'd ever screamed was when he encountered the cat – but this sounded different.

Akane burst into the dojo, "RANMA," she searched for him with her eyes, "ARE YOU" she found him laying on the floor, Ryoga on top of him, it was their fight, "OKA–" her eyes snapped back, they're naked, her mind faltered, "–ay…?" Why are they naked? Her eyes drifted over the dojo, noticing their clothes scattered in little heaps throughout the room. Her eyes went back to them. Ranma had screamed. Ranma was in girl-form. Ryoga was on top of Ranma… He didn't… He couldn't have. Ryoga is too gentle, too kind. He couldn't. Not… She heard Ryoga's groan of despair as he moved down and put his face between Ranma's breasts. Ranma's hand came up to stroke the back of Ryoga's head. Ranma's blue eyes glittered at Akane, unreadable. Akane's eyes flicked back and fourth as she stood still. Ryoga didn't rape Ranma. Ranma… Akane glanced one more time around the dojo. The clothes. The naked bodies. One of Ranma's legs was bent over Ryoga's. Ranma's hands were stroking Ryoga very possessively. Ryoga wasn't moving – unless you called quivering, moving. Both of them were covered in sweat. They… They… Ranma and… Ryoga and… They… She could barely comprehend it. "I think I'm going to be sick." She really felt like she might. She clamped her jaw down as her stomach started heaving.

That did it… Ryoga wasn't sure what Ranma might have done otherwise, but at Akane's remark he could feel Ranma's anger flare up. It took an effort for him to stay still and not go running to the opposite side of the world. This is going to be ugly…

"Akane," Ranma purred, her voice low and soft and dangerous, "You were right. Ryoga is a man. Very much so a man. I have to thank you for the idea. It was… enjoyable."

Akane's head snapped up as she locked her gaze on Ranma's eyes. Her heart had been plummeting to the floor but it rose back up again on a wave of hot anger as Ranma mocked and taunted. "Ranma. You truly are a Hentai. I might have called you it, but you have proved it. Beyond a doubt."

"How can I be a hentai? This is a girl's body, and this," Ranma's hands stroked down Ryoga's back, "is a man's. It's the way it's suppose to be. And you were right. He is so much of a man. Handsome and strong. And oh, so talented." The blue eyes glittered with malice, "Too bad you can't have him for that date you'd planned. Of course after seeing what it can be with a beautiful body like mine, he'd never go for an uncute tomboy like you."

Ranma! Ryoga winced internally. Keep your damn mouth shut!! But he stayed still. Very, very still.

Akane's mouth tightened, "If you've decided to be a girl, than you can go right ahead and be a girl. For the rest of your life. The engagement is off. Our friendship is off. If Father doesn't toss you out of the house, I will. I never want to see you again!" Prepared to turn and walk away, walk away from it all, walk away from the scene playing itself out before her eyes; prepared to do all this, Akane hesitated. She hesitated. Not sure why she was hesitating, but knowing that if she did leave now, than that was it. It would be forever if she left. But I don't ever want to see him again! I don't! Hentai!! She tossed in one more comment, "No wonder you say I'm ‘uncute' if this is what your tastes run to."

The growl was low and deep in Ranma's throat and her hands tightened around Ryoga's back. Ryoga stirred, frightened to his depths and knowing it had to be stopped before it went any further.

Ranma frowned, "What?"

Akane blinked at the question, and prepared to continue the fight, but she stopped. The question hadn't been directed at her. She could see it in the way Ranma looked down… Ryoga raised his head and looked at Ranma, Ranma looked back at Ryoga… Not a word was spoken between them. But they looked.

"Oh all right," Ranma sniffed, "You can talk to her."

Excuse me? Since when does Ryoga need permission to talk to me? Akane blinked. And then her eyes involuntarily drifted down Ryoga's body as he turned to her, mouth open to talk. As she stared, his skin color turned a crimson red and he practically dove back on top of Ranma.

"Wuss," Ranma grumbled, but couldn't hold back a grin, "Like it really matters." She grabbed the nearest item of clothing to them, her pants, and tossed them on top of Ryoga.

Ryoga untangled himself from Ranma and draped the cloth over his waist as he turned again, not meeting either Ranma or Akane's eyes as he did so. He glanced back to Ranma, "Uhh…"

Ranma rolled her eyes, "It's not like Akane hasn't seen a naked girl's body before." Her gaze drifted to Akane and narrowed, "For that matter, she's seen a naked guy's as well. I guess she just didn't like what she saw then, since she went shopping for more. Did you like what you saw just now? Too bad you can't have any of it. It really is quite good."

Akane turned a bright red, steam starting to come from her pores, "Why you arrogant bastard! You–"

"Akane-san," Ryoga interrupted, taking his life in his hands as he did so. "Akane – please don't hurt Ranma anymore… You don't know how much he cares about you."

Two sets of startled and surprised eyes flew to him in shock.

Ryoga took a deep breath, "Akane-san. You hurt him last night. You really hurt him. I know he hurt you too, but… You only have the power to hurt each other because you care. Ranma cares so very much for you. When you said what you did…" Ryoga gulped, "Akane, he would have never done it. He would have never done it if he hadn't been so hurt and masking his pain under anger. He… Akane, please understand. Please. Please don't throw him out. Please try and forgive him. Please… Ranma cares for you, Akane, really he does. Give him another chance. He's… It's so hard to get to get him to care in the first place, please don't destroy what you have."

"ME destroy???"

"Akane-san, please… Please understand. You know what Ranma is. You know he never controls his words or actions. You know what sort of impulse things he runs on. He could have waited until after school was over to get to Japan's nanitiuan, but he had to do it right then and there… He thought of this and did it. It was an impulse. It wasn't thought out. He didn't mean to… He was hurt. You had…" Ryoga sighed, "Akane, challenging him with me was not a good idea. You didn't know. But it… Akane, the only reason he did this was to find out how you felt. Why you challenged him like that. He wouldn't have ever done it on his own. He cares for you so very much. If you turn from him… Akane, please. Please just think about it." Ryoga drifted into silence. He couldn't find any more words to say. It just… He didn't know if it had been enough.

Akane stared at Ryoga. And early in the speech, switched her gaze to Ranma. And left it there. Ranma was looking at Ryoga, mouth open, staring with surprise at him… With surprise and… gratitude? Was that…? On Ranma? Akane waited.

When Ryoga had finished, Ranma continued to look at him… Finally, she gathered her thoughts, "That's not what I thought you were going to say," she whispered.

Ryoga turned back to her, looking into the sapphire eyes. "I had to try."

And Ranma saw the love. The love that hadn't been there the day before. Hadn't even been there when they started this. It had appeared there sometime when they'd… I shouldn't have done this. I didn't think… Now Ryoga will be hurt even more than he ever was. Another thought floated through, and now he's even more securely mine than ever before… Ranma raised a hand to Ryoga's cheek, stroking it lightly, gently. "Thank you."

Akane watched them. Watched the interaction. Watched the play of emotions of both boys' faces. Youths. One of them is not a boy but a girl. But Ranma was still a boy… ‘He wanted to know what you felt.' He wanted to know why I was going to go out with Ryoga. Why… She blinked. Maybe… maybe I did hurt him. Akane's fist clenched in. But he hurt me! She remembered the tears she was crying into her pillow for hours after the fight… But Ryoga was right – Ranma was all impulse and once he got his teeth into a thought he didn't let it go. The assault he'd made on the girl's locker room was a perfect example. Even if it had occurred to him to wait until later, he'd felt challenged and he wasn't going to let it go until he won. Akane let her gaze drift sadly to Ryoga. And I challenged him again. That wasn't what she'd thought would happen. She'd thought Ranma might match himself to Ryoga and try to win her with praise and sweetness and… She'd thought Ranma would try for her… Not Ryoga… Oh, Ryoga. Ranma never did anything that you expected of him. Never. He thought differently. And… Akane knew now why she'd hesitated. That malice, that mocking, those hard bright eyes – they concealed pain.

"All right," Akane muttered, reluctant to her bones. The words felt like they were being dragged out of her and her whole body quivered in the struggle to say them.

Two pairs of eyes snapped to her. One pair was filled with hope and wonder and gratitude and love… The other was wary, hooded, scorn showing on the surface. But Akane thought she might see just a touch of hope under the scorn in Ranma's eyes.

"All right. A second chance. Perhaps his last." Akane gulped, fighting down her anger. "I won't demand he be tossed out, and I'll see to it that nobody else does. I'll let everything stand as it was. But I won't forget this. You can damn well bet I won't forget this. Ranma–" she choked herself off before she got back into the insults again.

"Ooo… So generous." Ranma stood smoothly up, not disconcerted by her nakedness at all.

"RANMA-BAKA!" Ryoga yelled, totally exasperated. He met the shocked blue eyes firmly and didn't say another word.

Ranma glanced from Ryoga to Akane to Ryoga to Akane… Ranma bit her lip as she looked at Akane, obviously also biting back words...

The effort to hold herself back was making Akane tremble from head to foot. If Ryoga hadn't said something just then… Akane's gaze went again to Ryoga. Her voice tight, Akane spoke to Ranma, her gaze on Ryoga, "I'm only giving you this chance because he asked. If you had asked… if anybody but Ryoga had asked… I wouldn't have done it. But because it is Ryoga who asks…" her eyes went to Ranma, steadily, "He's giving you this opportunity. Don't waste it – because I don't have much patience right now." In fact, I have none. I'm only holding back because I still haven't really understood anything. I have to think. I have to have time to think. I…

Ranma glanced down to Ryoga again. Ryoga looked back up at her, his brown eyes showing concern and care and…

And something in Akane finally snapped. "Ryoga," she hissed, waiting until he looked at her, his patient soft eyes waiting for her words, "Ryoga, you traitor. Don't even think I'm including you in that second chance bullshit. I trusted you damnit. I believed in you. I thought you were my friend. I sent you down here to fight Ranma – not to fuck him! You… I never, ever, ever want to see you again for the rest of my life." She didn't shout, but the intensity of her words had her panting for breath. One more thing…, "In either form!" Akane glared at Ryoga, her pain and her righteous anger underscoring every word and making her meaning plain. "Never."

And Ryoga just looked back at her, accepting. Sad. Heart-breakingly sad. But resigned and seeming to know her every word before she said it. Agreeing with her assessment. Condemning himself more than she.

"Whoa!" Ranma stepped in-between Akane and Ryoga, breaking her gaze. "Don't you go blaming Ryoga for any of this!"

Akane raised her eyes to his in disbelief, "It takes two!" She emphasized it with a rude gesture.

Ranma growled, sweeping a hand down in a warding gesture to protect Ryoga, "I was the one who did this! It wasn't his idea and it wasn't his choice!"

"It wasn't his choice???" she repeated in astonishment. Distracted from her devastating pain, Akane was almost glad to fight Ranma as she shook her head, "Ranma, you baka – there is always a choice! And Ryoga made his!!"

"Ryoga did not chose this! I won the damn fight – he had to do what I said! Ryoga is mine! Ryoga has always been mine! That's why it was so stupid for you to use him as the challenge! I own him and he has to do what I say. I was the one who wanted this – not him!" Ranma's hands were on her hips and her chin thrust out in defiance.

Akane blinked. And blinked again. What the…? She shook her head and yelled back, "That's the stupidest excuse I've ever heard! Nobody owns another person!"

Ranma's mouth tightened. "I do," she stated quietly. "Ryoga is mine. He lost the fight. Therefore he is mine. I own him."

From the confusion and heartache and anger and pain, a headache was starting to throb at Akane's temples. She rubbed them. Knowing the two of them... That almost makes sense. She kept her gaze on Ranma as she quietly asked, "What sort of stupid stakes are those?"

There was a second of silence. When she spoke, Ranma's confusion was in her voice, "Those are the normal stakes. They've always been the stakes."

Akane put her head in her hands again. Oh for… I don't think I want to know, but… "How old were you when you started this?"

"Uhh…" Ranma counted on her fingers. "Twelve."

It makes sense. It actually makes sense. Idiot children… And Ryoga would hold to it even now… Akane rubbed her temples and then put her hands down. Wearily, she looked up. And frowned, "Stop right there! Where do you think you're going?"

Ranma whipped around to stare at Ryoga, who had gotten dressed and was looking around for the exit. "Ryoga…" Ranma whispered, her heart pounding in fright for her friend, "Don't leave." If you leave now… I don't think you'll come back this time, if you leave like this… Damnit, Ryoga – I didn't mean to hurt you this time. I didn't.

Ryoga wouldn't meet Ranma's eyes, "That wasn't part of it, Ranma. I have to go. I…" he swallowed, "Akane is right, Ranma. However much you two hurt each other – I hurt her a thousand times more, and worse. She trusted me. The reason doesn't matter so much as the betrayal."

"I won't let you go!" Ranma cried, running to Ryoga and grabbing his wrist.

Ryoga gently removed her hand, "You can't stop me. That's never been a part of it." He raised a trembling hand to Ranma's hair, and then pulled away, turning to the door. And finding Akane blocking it.

Brown eyes stared at brown eyes. One pair steadily. The other shocked.

Akane shook her head, "Damnit, I need to think." The headache made her wince in pain at her movement. "Ryoga…" Akane shook her head again. "I've got to think." She glanced at Ranma, "Bring him up to my room after you two have cleaned the dojo." Akane raised a pointed eyebrow at the rather sticky floor… She noticed the hot water kettle and her heart twisted. She looked back at Ranma, "Change before you come up." She turned and left, going to her room to try and think. She wasn't sure if it was possible. The thought of the two of them actually having sex… Akane detoured to the side of the house to throw up in the bushes.


Akane sat at her desk, elbows on the table, her head in her hands. Ranma, back in guy form, sat quietly on the bed, watching her. Ryoga paced by the door and wouldn't look at either of them.

This went on for several minutes. Finally, Akane's exasperation reached its limits. Grabbing the glass of water on her desk, she hurled it with great accuracy at Ryoga, whose mouth dropped open in astonishment the second before it hit. Akane got up from her desk and picked up the black pig, holding him by the scruff of his neck. With another swift move, she tossed the pig at Ranma, who caught him automatically. Akane went back to her desk, "Keep him still, for gods' sake!"

"Uhh…" Ranma glanced down at the pig, then to Akane… And very wisely didn't say another word. He balanced Ryoga on his lap and stroked the soft black fur as he went back to watching Akane.

Eventually, Akane raised her head, "Okay Ranma. I've got questions. You are going to give me answers. No hesitations, no keeping anything back. If there is a single question I have that you don't answer, that's it. Understand?"

Ranma's blue eyes shaded darkly at the demands and he stood up, quivering, "I don't need this! Not from an un—" His voice choked off, and his eyes dropped to the pig in his hands. Biting his lip, he sat back down. Another moment went by. "I understand," he said quietly. And raised his head to meet her eyes.

Akane was amazed to see tears in those ice-blue eyes. Maybe he does care after all. Maybe. Will it be enough to cover this gap now between us? We'll have to see. They would all have to see. Akane's mouth quirked as she thought of one more thing, "I wonder what Shampoo and Kodachi would think of this?" One thing's for sure – if Ranma and I make it through this, there's no way they'll be any sort of competition anymore. She refused to think of Ryoga just yet. It still hurt too much.

"Shit…" Ranma almost whimpered at the thought of the other two girls who pursued him. Both very likely to kill him if they did find out. Very, very likely. As Ranma eyed the half-smile on Akane's lips, he dared to ask the question he'd been holding back, "When I came up here… I didn't see anybody else in the house…"

Akane's amused grin turned sour as she knew exactly what Ranma meant. "When you screamed…" she broke off for a moment, her face turning a mix of white and green as she put it all together and realized just what the scream was. I can't be sick again, I can't… She reached for the water glass but it wasn't there anymore. Shit… She gulped down her nausea and focused on her words, "We all ran out. Your dad was just ahead of me, Nabiki and Father were just behind." Her mouth quirked up again, "I guess I was just the only one who stayed."

"Oh shit…" Ranma's face turned almost the same color Akane's had just been.

Akane watched Ranma's reaction with interest. He hadn't thought it out. He really, really hadn't. It was sheer impulse and not much more. She glanced to the pig, whose ears were drooping down, a picture of shame and despair. Akane shook her head, but in the action was a bit of hope. If Ranma and I can work this out… And Ryoga… I think… It might be okay. We'll have to see. They would all have to see. Only time would tell. Time – and trust.



Notes to "The Prize":

  • Timeline: fairly early in the series. Only first two seasons anime valid. After Happosai, before Ukyo.

  • In this story, Ryoga had found Ranma in China, before Jusenkyo. That's where they had the fight that was ‘for the mastery'. Ryoga had put it out of his mind completely because of the shame. When Ryoga found Ranma at Furinkan High… Ranma was just so stunned to see him back, he didn't say anything for awhile – it was misinterpretated as ‘not remembering' and then on to the fight… Ranma wanted to know why they were fighting because their fights always had stakes. (And the bit about the Bread-Feud was to throw everybody off track – he damn well wasn't going to tell them about him and Ryoga!) [Note: in the manga, there is none of the waffling while Ranma tries to remember Ryoga's name. I tend to use the manga for the first meeting more than the anime.]

  • Yes, Akane already knew about P-chan… And I'm not going to go into it again. Basically, my take on it is that she knows, but she doesn't ever mention it because they never tell her. It's very Japanese to ignore what isn't right/normal.

  • Yes, this is a complete story. I realize I left it at loose ends, but life never ends. The aftermath… well, it just isn't as much of a story. Lots of talking, lots of thinking. And different ways it could end up. I personally think they all become good friends… But let your imagination fill it in from the end. This story stands as it is.