Notes: 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:
Akane turned in a restless circle, looking around the room.
Nabiki, exasperated, put down her book, “Enough already. Ranma and his dad are sparring in the dojo. Dad’s at a neighborhood meeting. Kasumi’s in the kitchen. You’ve been looking around for the last half hour like you expect somebody, and your concentration is hell because of it.” Nabiki shook her head, “Once more – do you want help with your geometry or not?”
“I do…” Akane spoke hesitantly, looking… She shook her head and went back to her homework, her sister pointing out the subtleties of triangles.
Ranma flew back and landed with a crunch on the wall, sliding down to the floor. When he picked himself up, he faced his dad’s silence. Ranma bit his lip, “Sorry,” he muttered.
Genma shook his head, “What is it with you, boy? You don’t seem to be able to concentrate tonight. A Martial Artist must also be able to focus beyond the distractions.”
“I…” Ranma glanced around the walls, looking up at the altar, his forehead scrunched up, “There’s…” He glanced around again, focusing his thoughts out beyond the dojo. “There’s something wrong. Something is very wrong.”
“Humm…” Genma regarded his son thoughtfully. “Is it a danger?”
“No.” “Yes.” The two answers came hard upon each other, both out of Ranma’s mouth before he realized he was speaking.
Genma nodded slowly. “Not a threat to you. But it’s your ki circling out and finding another.”
“Akane,” Ranma breathed out her name in worry, turning to look towards the house.
“No,” Genma spoke assuredly, “If it was Akane, you’d already be there. This is either far away, or much more subtle.” He rubbed his chin, “I didn’t expect your ki awareness to be this sensitive this soon, but you have had other teachers and other training. You have been stretched a great deal these last several months.”
Ranma listened carefully to his dad. His dad rarely dipped into lectures, preferring to present situations and let Ranma work out the lessons. But obviously this was different. Different… Ranma walked out of the dojo and looked up at the evening sky. The stars were coming out. His gaze focused on a trio of bright stars over the horizon – they were very far apart, but their brightness linked them together. “Pop, which stars are those?”
Genma grunted as he looked up. “Those two are Kengyu and Shokujo – lovers separated by the Milky Way. They meet once a year to pledge their eternal love. You could do more for Akane than that.”
Rolling his eyes, Ranma looked out again, “But what about the third one?”
“Which one?” Genma looked, “Oh, that one. Yes, it is bright – but I don’t know its name.”
The stars twinkled as the atmosphere filtered their pure light.
Still troubled, Ranma went back into the dojo to spar with his father, trying to think and not to think at the same time. The sparing would let him circle wide in search of the answer.
Akane put down her book. Nabiki looked at her, but didn’t say anything this time. As she gave Nabiki a helpless look, Akane got up from the table and walked into the hall. She went by the kitchen to ask Kasumi if she needed anything. She found Kasumi kneeling on the floor, her head bowed down, her hands over her face.
“Onii-chan!” Akane rushed to her side, “What’s wrong?”
Kasumi sniffled, brushing her hands over her face, dashing away tears, “Oh, Akane-chan, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb…” she broke off with another sob.
“Onii-chan?” Nabiki walked in behind Akane, shaken to her core. She also knelt down, “Come-on, Sis – let’s get you up to your room.”
Kasumi shook her head, tossing her hair over her shoulder, “I’m sorry to be such a bother…”
“You’re never a bother!” Akane helped her sister up. Then the two younger sisters helped their oldest sister up to her room.
They came out, looking at each other with worry and speculation.
“The last time I saw her like this…” Nabiki said hesitantly before trailing off.
Akane glanced over the railing, “Was when Grandfather died two years ago.” She bit her lip, “I hope Dad’s okay…”
Nabiki started down the stairs as she thought, “If I come up with a good enough reason, I can interrupt the meeting.” Her eyes narrowed in speculation, “Their last budget was not what any sane person could call ‘balanced’… If I go in and…” She shook her head, “Yeah, I’ll go check on him.” Nabiki glanced to Akane beside her on the landing, “You might want to go get Dr. Tofu – that medicine he sent over last time really helped.”
Akane nodded. The two sisters opened the front door.
And Akane screamed as she ran out and fell onto her knees on the street next to a small limp form. “P-chan! No…” She reached her hands hesitantly out to him, then drew back, raising her head and shouting, “Ranma!! Ranma!!” Tears streamed down her face.
Ranma was beside her almost before his name had left her lips. He also reached out to the black pig, pooled in dark liquid. As he touched the sticky body, Ranma’s face was shades of green and white – taunt with worry and sick fear. There was no doubt that it was Ryoga, the bandanna was still around his neck, though the yellow had been soaked to shades of red. The normally wide eyes were closed, an ear was dangling, nearly torn in two, a front leg was obviously broken, there were gashes all over the body… But Ranma found a heartbeat.
“He’s alive,” Ranma bit his lip as he carefully moved his hands under the small body, supporting the neck and head as he picked him up and took him inside. Akane followed him closely.
As the three went inside, Genma nodded to himself, “Far away indeed. And subtly removed. But a danger all the same.” His eyes traced the trail of blood down the road. Then he turned and left, heading towards the meeting house.
Nabiki narrowed her eyes at him, then shook her head. She went inside the house and called Dr. Tofu.
“He’ll be alright, won’t he, Doctor?” Akane hovered anxiously.
Dr. Tofu carefully finished wrapping a soft splint around the leg. “Uhh,” he took off his glasses and wiped them before putting them back on, “you really need to get a veterinarian in here. I can bandage and suture the wounds, but I’m afraid I haven’t the foggiest idea of what a pig’s internal organs are like or how badly he might be hurt. Or how he might react to my medicines.” A country doctor would probably know, and so might he in a couple of decades… but this was Tokyo, and Tofu Ono was young and he had studied chiropractic care and medicine for humans. I’m a doctor, Akane, not a vet! Although, with those ki lines… Dr. Tofu ran his hand gently over the small body one more time, soothing out the energy patterns. They were as powerful as a human’s, and there was something familiar…
“A pig?” Ranma blinked, “But you know how to help a human – right?”
“Well, yes; but that’s not going to help us much here.”
Ranma bit his lip, “Hold on a sec.”
He came back from the kitchen holding a kettle, “Akane, look away for a minute.”
Akane obediently turned her head.
Ranma poured the water over the small body. And dropped the kettle in surprise, his hands reaching out to his friend, “It… what? The water… It… Ryoga!” He touched the small black pig gently, stunned and surprised. He traced the bandanna with a finger. “The water wasn’t hot enough. That was it. It wasn’t…”
He ran out of the room and was back in another second with another kettle. He poured the steaming water over the body.
And the pig whimpered, opening its eyes and squirming away from the boiling water.
Ranma dropped the kettle, “Ryoga! Ryoga, what…?”
The wide white eyes focused briefly on him and a small hoofed paw reached out to him… The paw dropped and the eyes closed.
“Ryoga!!” Ranma scooped him up in his arms and then felt the faint heartbeat. “But… what… He should’ve changed!”
In the doorway, Genma cleared his throat. “If his injuries were bad enough… he may not be able to change.” Behind him, Mr. Tendo nodded.
Ranma glanced from the pig to his dad, “You mean if he’s dying. No,” Ranma shook his head, “No. I won’t accept that. I won’t.”
There was another round of throat clearing, and attention in the room focused on Dr. Tofu. He held out his hands to Ranma and Ranma reluctantly handed the pig over. Dr. Tofu ran his hands over the body and then calmly took up a needle and threat and started sewing up the torn ear, “You say this pig form is a Jusenkyo curse.”
“And his natural form is really Ryoga.”
This time, Ranma glanced to Akane before answering. Akane was standing rather still, looking at the small pig on the table worriedly. She didn’t look towards Ranma, but she grimaced slightly and then shrugged, saying softly, “It doesn’t really matter now, does it?”
“No…” Ranma looked to his friend. His friend. “Ryoga… Yes, that’s Ryoga.”
Dr. Tofu slapped his knee and laughed, “Then everything’s okay.”
Everybody else in the room facefalled.
As they picked themselves up, Dr. Tofu calmly tied off the stitches and started on another long gash on the body. “I’m not saying it won’t take some more time, mind you. But Ryoga’s healing is as good as Ranma’s. The fact that he made it all the way here shows that even as the pig he retains that ability. He’s about the closest to dying that I’ve ever seen – but as long as one of the two of you keep him close for the next couple of days, he should pull through fine.”
Ranma and Akane looked at each other blankly, relieved and happy at the prognosis, but unclear on the last part. “What do you mean, Doctor?”
Dr. Tofu shrugged as he rewrapped the bandage around the leg, stripping the wet cloth and putting a new splint around it. “You three are connected by your ki’s, and both Akane and Ranma are pretty powerful in force generation. So, keep the healing thoughts directed towards your friend and he will get well. At this point, that’s about it. But don’t let him go off on his own, and don’t either of you leave him alone. The boy also generates some pretty powerful depression blasts, and that much negative energy could reverse it all.”
“Alright…” Ranma reached out a hand to the furry black head. “Ah… Uhh… What about…”
Dr. Tofu shrugged again. “I don’t know that much about Jusenkyo curses. I’m inclined to agree with your father. I’d say… Try changing him again when he wakes up. That’s my best guess for an estimate of his recovery.”
After the good doctor left, Akane and Ranma sat next to the unconscious body of their friend and watched him. And carefully avoided looking too much at each other.
“So that’s what I was feeling,” Ranma murmured. “I was picking up on his danger.” And I should have recognized it sooner. My friend… I should have helped. I should have…
Akane blinked, “You felt it too? Nabiki and I were studying… and I kept wanting to go somewhere and do something to help…” Akane jumped up, “Oh my gosh! I forgot about Kasumi! You watch P-chan for a bit!” She ran out of the room.
“P-chan?” Ranma glanced at the black pig he held carefully. “Ryoga, you idiot – what did you get yourself into this time?” What caused such injuries on you? No ordinary animal. Not knowing you. Ryoga, I swear, when I find out what happened, I will pay them back ten-fold for what they’ve done to you. He stroked the fine black fur gently, avoiding the stitches and bandages.
When Akane came back in a great deal later, she held out her hands, “I’ll take him to bed with me now.”
“Uhh…” Ranma bit his lip as he stared down at the pig.
Akane’s eyes were sad, but resigned, “I’ve done it for the last several months and he’s used to being with me. Don’t worry, I’ll keep him safe.” As Ranma gently handed the pig to her, Akane looked down at him and softly said, “I’ll keep him as safe as he’s always kept me.” And then she left for her room, the small pig clasped tightly to her bosom.
Akane woke up to a ‘thump’ and a soft ‘bwee’ of pain. In an instant she was up and looking… P-chan was crumpled on the floor, his broken leg stretched at an odd angle as tears silently fell down his face. The first exclamation of pain must have been involuntary. Akane scooped him up gently, “Oh, P-chan! You mustn’t try to move around just yet. Your injuries were pretty nasty and you need to heal up.”
Large white eyes looked up at her expressionlessly. Akane shrugged slightly, “Come on, P-chan – let’s go back to bed.” She crawled back under the covers, keeping her hold on the pig. After a bit, she fell asleep again.
This time she was woken by a ‘bang’ and a ‘bwee’. Akane sat up and looked over to the door. Just in time to see P-chan launch himself up to the knob again. But his broken leg couldn’t turn it and he fell down again. With a sigh, Akane got out of bed again and walked over, “P-chan – that isn’t going to help you heal!” She picked him up, keeping a firm grip. Then she opened the door and padded down the hall to Ranma’s room.
“Ranma, wake up.”
The sleeping figure slumbered on.
Akane wrinkled her nose, “Ranma, come on, wake up!”
The sleeping figure rolled over.
Akane rolled her eyes. Then she grabbed the pillow out from under his head and hit him with it, “Wake up!”
“Whazza…?” Ranma blinked sleepily.
“Ranma, P-chan is being restless. I thought you could talk…” Akane trailed off as she suddenly noticed the little pig wasn’t there anymore. “Honestly! I only took my eyes off him for a second!!”
Ranma sat up, instantly awake, “Ryoga?”
Akane walked out into the hall, “P-chan?”
“Ryoga?” Ranma followed her.
They split up as they moved softly through the house, calling for their friend.
Ranma finally spotted the small pig as he limped out of a room. “There you are! What…” Ranma trailed off as he noticed which room the pig was coming out of. “Oh.” Ranma fought to hide a smile, “Well, I guess you’re feeling better if you can get to the toilet on your own.”
Ryoga bared his teeth at him and growled. Ranma couldn’t hold the grin back any more, and laughed, but mostly in relief. “Come on, Ryoga – Doctor Tofu said we could change you back once you woke up, and you seem pretty awake to me, so let’s go get a kettle of hot water and then you can tell me what happened.”
The growls abruptly changed to whimpers and the pig lay down on the floor, head down, eyes closed, ears folded over his eyes. Ranma stared.
“Ranma! Did you find—” Akane broke off as Ranma gestured down. “Oh, P-chan! You worried me, what…” she trailed off as she got a closer look at the pig. “Ranma, what did you do to him!?”
“I didn’t do nothing!” Ranma exclaimed. “I just suggested we change him back and he…”
“You reminded him of his fight!” Akane shook her head, “Well, that was brilliant!” She scooped up the pig in her arms, “It’s okay, P-chan, I’ll keep you safe. Nothing will hurt you while you’re with me.” The pig sighed mournfully as he looked up at her. He whimpered once more, then turned his head into her chest, his eyes closing.
Ranma stared. And opened his mouth to say something and then closed it without a word. Ryoga… what… what happened to you?
Akane also looked down at the pig in her arms in startlement. Wide-eyed, she glanced to Ranma, “Ranma… he… he’s asleep now, but…”
“I don’t know,” Ranma whispered. He reached out to gently stroke the torn ear. “I don’t…” Shaking his head, Ranma gestured to the stairs, “I think you can take him back to bed now. I…” I wish I knew what happened. Ryoga, I need to talk to you.
After a glance at the door they were standing next to, Akane blushed scarlet. “Uh, maybe you should keep him for the rest of the night.”
Ranma shook his head, “I’d never notice if he wandered off. You can keep him here better than me, and he’s safe with you.”
Akane’s blush changed tinges of color as she stared at Ranma, her dark eyes widening at the implication of trust Ranma’s statement showed. “Ranma… I…”
Ranma didn’t notice, his attention on his friend, “Ryoga, what happened?”
Akane bit her lip and went back to her room without another word.
“Nii Hao, Ranma!!!” Glomp.
“Oh Geez…” Ranma groaned, “Not for breakfast, Shampoo. I can’t deal with it this early in the morning.” He tried half-heartedly to disentangle the Amazon’s arms from around him.
“Silly husband – is always time to take Shampoo on date! Where we go today?”
Ranma sighed. His will to struggle was rather less than normal and it did feel good wrapped in a caring hug. But he knew he shouldn’t…
“Enough!” Akane’s battle-aura flared. “Ranma, you pervert! If you’re going to do that, take your floozy out of my house!”
Shampoo clapped her hands in delight, “See, Ranma! We have blessing from Akane. That mean it okay to go! You take me to park, yes?”
“No!” Akane blew up. “We have enough to deal with today, Shampoo – and that doesn’t include you! Get out!”
Shampoo uncoiled from around Ranma and stood up, “Akane want to fight Shampoo for date with Ranma?”
“I want you out of here!” Akane threw a punch at Shampoo.
Laughing, Shampoo dodged it and did a handspring backwards, coming upright on the patio in a defensive stance. Akane started forward.
And P-chan ran between them, facing Shampoo, growling with his teeth bared, balanced on three legs, but radiating power.
All the humans in the room stared. Shampoo straightened up from her stance, “???”
“Uh, Ryoga…” Ranma stood and started forward.
“P-chan, it’s okay,” Akane knelt down and reached a hand out to him. The pig avoided her touch, looking up at her with wide eyes for a moment before returning his attention to Shampoo.
Shampoo frowned, “You know it not real. Calm down. It be okay. Shampoo just having fun.” She approached carefully and P-chan stopped growling at her words. Crouching down, Shampoo reached slowly out and lightly touched the stitches on the torn ear then ran a finger along one of the other gashes. “What happen?”
Akane scooped the pig up in her arms, hugging him to her. Ranma answered, “We don’t know. ‘Cause of his injuries, Ryoga can’t change back and so he can’t talk to us yet.”
At Ranma’s reply, Shampoo blinked her lavender eyes and returned her frown to the pig. With a swift move, she plucked him out from Akane’s hold and turned around, “You follow.” She jumped over the wall, taking P-chan with her.
“Hey!!!!!” Ranma and Akane were directly behind her.
Nabiki put down her teacup and raised an eyebrow in the direction where the fathers were playing shogi.
Genma shrugged, non-committal, “I never said that was definitely the reason,” and then moved a piece on the board.
“Great-grandmother!” Shampoo took down the curtains as she walked into the restaurant, effectively closing it for business.
“What is it, Shampoo?” The ancient Amazon hopped out from behind the counter, glancing curiously at the panting Ranma and Akane who were staggering in behind Shampoo.
“Oh, man!” Ranma groaned, “I hadn’t even finished my breakfast!”
Akane, Shampoo, and Shampoo’s great-grandmother all ignored him. Shampoo gently put the black pig she held down on a table. Cologne’s eyes widened as she took in all his stitches and bandaids. He looked better than when they’d found him yesterday, but that wasn’t saying much.
“Great Goddess of the Amazon! Boy, what tangled with you? I’d hate to see what sort of shape it’s in!”
The pig tilted his head to one side and managed to look somewhere between pleased and amused. Ranma and Akane glanced at each other, startled at both the remark and P-chan’s reaction.
“Now, let me take a look at you…” Cologne fussed over the bandages and stitches, making noises in her throat that varied between surprised approval and annoyed grunts. She brought out a bundle of herbs and stuff and smeared some creams over the worst of the wounds, taking special care with the ear. “Don’t disturb that, and you should heal up without a scar.” She chuckled, “You would look rather odd in your other form without half an ear.”
The small pig had been submitting to the attention with only a partial show of resentment, accepting the care almost happily. At her words, however, the pig’s head swiveled around and his eyes went wide before he curled up on the table with a mournful whimper.
Cologne’s mouth dropped open. Then she glanced to Akane, “Are you still here?”
Akane made a dismissive gesture, “I know. I… know he’s Ryoga. But that’s not it. Ranma said something to him last night and he reacted the same way.”
Shampoo walked up to the table with a kettle of hot water. “Ranma say ‘injury no allow change’.” She held the kettle up. Ryoga looked up at it and shrugged very slightly before putting his head back down again.
“That’s not possible,” Cologne stated flatly, narrowing her eyes at Ryoga. She nodded to Shampoo and her great-granddaughter poured the hot water over the pig. Ryoga closed his eyes as it washed over him. He opened them again after it had stopped. The wide white eyes surrounded by the black fur stared up at them mournfully. He raised a hoofed paw to his mouth and licked the wet fur that was still steaming slightly.
Cologne said something short and sharp in Chinese. It sounded like a curse. Shampoo reached out a hand to the pig, “Ryoga…” Her voice was soft and gentle.
Ranma and Akane looked at each other and then at the pig and then at the Amazons… Ranma’s voice was very hoarse when he spoke, “It isn’t because of his wounds? He… Ryoga… You mean… He can’t change?” His eyes desperately sought his friend’s, “Ryoga, say it isn’t so. Ryoga… Ryoga, it’s temporary, right?”
The small black pig shook his head slowly. He wouldn’t meet Ranma’s eyes.
Cologne shook her head, “I thought sure we had that stupid dipper locked up! Damn you, Mousse…”
Ranma blinked, “The dipper? That we had from Herb? But we lost that! It fell in the crack in the ground…” Along with the pot that reversed it.
The old Amazon snorted, “I wouldn’t leave a powerful magic item like that laying around where just anybody would pick it up.” She stood up, “Let’s go.” Shampoo picked up Ryoga and stood next to her great-grandmother.
“Whoa, whoa, wait a sec!” Ranma bounced up, “What? Where? Huh?”
“Oh, very eloquent, Ranma,” Akane remarked as she also stood, “Oba-sama – can we come too?”
Cologne blinked, “Of course I was going to take you.” She knocked her cane against the floor and the room faded out around them to fade back into a different cavern. A cavern that to Ranma was very familiar…
“Shit, shit, shit… No way, No.” Ranma glanced around with wide eyes and would have backed off if there was anywhere to back off to.
The other four looked at him in surprise. Cologne frowned, “Well, no wonder you’ve never progressed to the next stage of the Cat-Fu if you can be this nervous with only a memory of the full-body Cat Tongue. This time, we’re not here for you, boy.”
“Grow up, Ranma,” Akane commented vaguely, as she studied the wide cavern.
Ranma glared at both of them.
Shampoo walked on, still carrying the small pig. The others hurriedly followed her. At an opening covered with rustling beads hanging down, she stopped and said something in Chinese. A familiar voice answered her and she brushed the beads back with a slim hand and entered. When Ranma and Akane followed, they saw a vibrantly furbished room filled with chests and dressers and shelves and bright clothes draped everywhere… Things sat on every clear space and piled on top of others. In the middle of the richness was a figure dressed simply in a white robe, sitting on cushion, a book open upon his lap. Mousse curiously watched them all come in, “Well, hello mina… What’s up?”
Cologne hopped over to face him, “I put you in charge of the dipper and the pot – how could you have let them go?”
“Huh???” Mousse put down his book and stood gracefully up. He looked the group over carefully, noting the absence of cursed forms on Ranma and Shampoo. And the very definite black pig in Shampoo’s arms. “Ryoga?” he asked, puzzled.
Cologne and Shampoo’s eyes widened. Shampoo raised a hand to her mouth, holding the pig with the other, “You no can tell?”
Mousse hunted around the crowded room until he found his glasses. He put them on and stared closely at the pig. “Humm…” He shook his head, “It wasn’t the dipper. I studied the hell out of that thing after being caught by it. And I still have it.” He walked back to one of the cabinets and worked several locks on several drawers until he got to an inner chamber. Inside, the pot and the dipper were framed by the gold-worked interior. He pulled out the dipper and sniffed it carefully, “Nope. This hasn’t been used since the last time I experimented.” Putting the dipper back, he withdrew the pot and handed it to Cologne, “But there’s no point in not trying. This is a powerful magic on its own, and I haven’t yet figured out all its properties.”
For the first time since they’d poured the hot water over him, Ryoga, in Shampoo’s arms, perked up. His head raised as he stared hopefully at the small pot.
Seeing the expression on his friend’s face, Ranma’s insides tightened up in concern and worry. No. It can’t be permanent. It can’t be. Ryoga… a pig for life?
Cologne hopped out to the main room where the large pool of water steamed. The others followed closely. The pot made a graceful arc in the air as she tossed it into the middle of the lake. Everything was still for a moment, and then the ground rumbled and the pool started to bubble and spurt out geysers of hot water.
Mousse nodded, “It’s activated.” He muttered under his breath, “And it’s going to be a bitch of a job to clean.”
Akane glared at him.
The tall Amazon raised his hands, “I wasn’t saying anything!”
Shampoo shook her head and walked into the water, carrying the pig.
“Uhh,” Ranma thought of the possible consequences of Ryoga turning human, “Akane, turn your head.”
“Huh?” Akane realized what he meant, “Oh!” She blushed as she turned away. And then turned back, “Hey, wait a second – Shampoo! You give him to Ranma!!”
Shampoo didn’t answer, already within the steaming lake. When she turned to face them, tears were streaming down both her and the pig’s faces. Silently, she walked back to them.
“Oh dear,” Mousse said. He sighed, “Well, this is going to take a bit of research to figure out. Ranma – do you know what happened to him?”
“No,” Ranma whispered, his gaze on his friend, “And he can’t talk to us like that.”
Akane frowned, “Research? You mean you can do something, Mousse?” Her voice held hope. Restrained hope, but hope all the same.
Mousse shrugged, “I can try. If I can figure out the magic that holds him like this…”
The pig whimpered.
They looked at him.
Cologne frowned, “I wish magic was my specialty instead of technique. But I think the boy knows something…”
The others all nodded. Ranma sighed, “Okay, Ryoga… Twenty questions time…”
Ranma glared at his friend, “Ryoga, you moron – couldn’t you have figured out a better way???”
The small pig glared at him. Then launched himself in an attack. Ranma sparred with his friend for a few minutes while the others talked.
“This is a problem,” Cologne admitted. “If it was magic, we could find something to try and counteract it, but this…”
Mousse scratched his head, “I still don’t understand how it was done.”
Shampoo shrugged, “If Mousse understand, Mousse would not be second-rate magician!”
“Shampoo!” Mousse was torn between crying and indignant.
Akane tried hard to smoother a laugh.
Cologne glared at all of them, “Settle down, children. And try and be productive.”
“I’m hungry,” Ranma announced, coming back with Ryoga and sitting himself next to Akane.
Cologne rolled her eyes, “Of course you are.” She sighed, “Well, thoughts go better with filled stomachs than empty ones.” Standing up, she tapped her cane and the cavern changed again to the restaurant. “Shampoo?”
The younger Amazon went to the back of the room to get food and bring it back. Several courses later and many empty dishes, they resumed the conversation.
Cologne laid it out, “The problem is, that in order to gather enough energy to send the spirit back, Ryoga didn’t just use the curse – he severed it. The sacrifice and the power of Jusenkyo, the power of the pool and the power of the curse, was enough to open the barrier and let the girl pass on, but it destroyed the magic of the change. And because the power was in the curse, the result is that it was his human form that was sacrificed. In order for us to get his human form back, we will need to find a magic that is as powerful, if not more so. Even with the power he had, Ryoga very nearly did not make it back himself.”
“What if we went back to Jusenkyo and dropped him in Spring of Drowned Man?” Ranma asked.
The Amazon trio suddenly all coughed in unison.
Ranma and Akane looked at each other. “What?”
“Well…” Mousse scratched his head, “actually…”
Shampoo shrugged, “Other than packet of instant Nanichiun…”
“There is no Spring of Drowned Man,” Mousse finished. “Generic, that is.”
Ranma, Akane, and Ryoga all looked at him and Shampoo. Ranma and Ryoga glanced to Akane, ceding speaking privileges. Akane glared at the Amazons, “So what the hell have the last several months been about, and what the hell do you mean ‘generic’?”
Cologne sighed, “The pools of Jusenkyo trap the exact form of the drowned victims. That is why the swordsman transforms to a priest. He doesn’t transform to a ‘man’ – he transforms to the priest. And that’s why Kima took Akane’s literal shape, instead of ‘female human’.”
“But, but…” Ranma protested.
The old Amazon shrugged, “The Spring of Drowned Girl is one of the most powerful pools in Jusenyko. Because it is generic. That is due to the manipulation of Herb’s people. They wanted females. Not a female, but different females. So they worked with that pool until it is the way it is today. However, they never had a reason to manipulate any of the springs that men had drowned in.”
“So…” Ranma gulped, “There is no cure for my curse?” Next to him, the pig stirred. Ranma was instantly mortified for his one-way thoughts, “And what about Ryoga?”
Mousse shrugged, “In two thousand years of Chinese Amazon history, we’ve never found a cure for a Jusenkyo curse. But we learn to work with it. The curses… can also be a very powerful weapon. Most Amazons at one point in their training or another will go to Jusenkyo in order to grow.”
Ranma and Akane and Ryoga looked at him.
Mousse grimaced, “I was hoping for an eagle or a swan…”
And they looked at Shampoo.
Shampoo grinned, “Shampoo like being cat! Especially with Ranma.”
“Oh great…” Ranma muttered.
Akane looked at Cologne.
Cologne sighed. And then picked up a glass of water and poured it on herself. Everybody at the table blinked as they stared at the small mongoose sitting on the table.
The mongoose poured some hot tea out and Cologne was sitting there again. She shrugged very slightly. “It is useful.”
“Okay, fine,” Ranma sighed. “But what about Ryoga?”
“Jusenkyo will not help. The curse is out of his body. A new curse will do no good. We need to find another solution.”
The small black pig sighed and put his head down on his paws.
The small group of youngsters and the one adult sighed and thought.
‘Thump.’ ‘Thump.’ ‘Thump.’
Ranma straightened up from his attacks at the practice pole, “Ryoga! You’re back.”
The small pig launched himself at Ranma. Ranma swung his arm around in a block. The pig bounced back and then ran forward. Ranma, expecting another mid-air attack, was bowled over as the pig struck his legs. He rolled over and trapped the pig in a leg lock and threw a punch at him. The pig squirmed out and started a new attack.
“Ranma, stop picking on P-chan…” Akane, watching from the dining room, whispered under her breath. Then she went up to her room and cried for her friend.
“So, Ryoga, where’ve you been?” After they finished their spar, Ranma walked into the bathroom and rinsed off. The pig moved under the faucet as he grunted. As the black dirt spiraled down the drain, Ranma stared at it, “Whoa… in the underground caverns again, huh?”
Ryoga half-nodded and then followed his friend to Ranma’s room where they sat down and tried to talk. Over the months, they’d figured out a way of communicating that mostly had to do with Ranma reading Ryoga’s body language and speculating on the answer until he got it right. He’d gotten rather good at it. And Ryoga had learned to ‘say’ what he actually thought and meant instead of hiding it.
“You know, Akiri stopped by here again last week. She’s worried about you,” Ranma studied his friend as he spoke. He knew enough to not ask if Ryoga had found anything. He hadn’t. If he had, he would have said so right off. Not taken the time to spar. The sparing was Ryoga’s reassurance that Ranma still considered his friend to be a friend. Ranma took Ryoga seriously. He never treated him like a pig and rarely made pig jokes anymore. He didn’t ignore Ryoga’s condition, but he didn’t let it affect their friendship. In a lot of ways, it had brought the two of them closer, as there was no more point to Ryoga’s belligerence and attitude. A lot of it had just been excuses to spar with Ranma. And now… Now, Ranma had a lot less arrogance in his Art and paid more attention to others.
Ryoga shrugged in response to Ranma’s statement. He grimaced slightly and circled a foot. Ranma watched him… and interpreted: No way am I going to show up at her place like this permanently. I’m a runt compared to all her pet sumo pigs and while I can fight them, I don’t want to. I don’t like pigs. Akiri likes me changing into a pig… as long as I was a human. As a pig permanently? She’d cuddle and comfort and cry and freak and… I can’t deal with her right now. Better not to even mention it!
Ranma stirred slightly, thinking of saying something. Ryoga looked at him steadily and then raised a hoofed paw and laid it gently upon Ranma’s knee. Then he grinned. : Ranma, you’ve given me hope. You give me hope. You don’t give up on me. You think I’ll find a way back and you believe it. Because you do, so do I.
Ranma looked at his friend a bit sadly. I believe it… because the alternative is unthinkable. Ryoga will regain his body. He will.
And then Ryoga told him about some of the places he’d been and the things he’d encountered and the things he’d learned… Out of the infinite hiding places all of them seemed to have, Ryoga pulled out scrolls and showed them to his friend. Ranma studied them and learned. Ranma was learning budo from study and his teachers and friends. Ryoga had learned it the hard way – in the event. Ryoga had given his body for a person he didn’t know and would never know, but had done it because it was the right thing to do at the time. Because if he’d walked away and had left the spirit trapped there, he would not have been a Warrior and a Defender. He did it, because it was the only thing he could do. Ranma learned. Ranma learned, and the Arts was no longer a game or simply pride. It was very real.
“You know, I haven’t seen Ryoga around in months and months,” Ukyo flipped an okonomiyaki as she chatted with Ranma. “I would have expected to see him at that incident we had last week with the giant lizard. Ryoga is good with rampaging animals.”
Akane pulled P-chan tightly to her chest. Ranma choked on his water. “Uhh…”
Ukyo laughed as she served them. “You know, I would have never admitted it, but I miss the big lug. The way he’d always come in, say ‘where the hell am I?’ and then sit down for a seven round meal. I wonder where he is…”
Akane and Ranma very carefully avoided looking at the pig with them. The pig stared at Ukyo and a tear rolled down his face. But when Ranma finally did look at him, Ryoga shook his head, refusing to let them tell her. He glanced at the door… it was time for him to leave again, to be alone again, to not be a pig among humans. Ranma, reading his thoughts, reached out and laid a hand on his head. Ryoga glared at him: Would you do that if I wasn’t a pig? Ranma moved his hand to his friend’s shoulder and grinned cockily: Heck, yes!
“Nii hao, Ranma!” Shampoo greeted Ranma as he came in, not pausing in her work as she sorted herbs.
“Hi Shampoo – Anything yet?” It was always Ranma’s first question when he came over.
Shampoo paused in laying down a sprig of mint, “No… Mousse be in China again. Searching for old relic. Tatawaki go with him.”
Ranma nodded. Kuno had proven to be an unexpected resource, with his obsession with antiques. He knew a heck of a lot of people and could get the group into almost any place. Kodachi, to their great surprise, had turned out to be expert at ferreting out the unusual. Or maybe it wasn’t that much of a surprise. He sighed as he sat down for a quiet meal with Shampoo. A lot of friends had come out to help Ryoga. And yet… so far, nothing had changed.
Akane pulled out her pajamas and set them on the bed. She reached her hands up to pull off her shirt and then paused. “P-chan,” she said severely but with surprise, “turn around!” The small black pig sitting on the bed blinked his wide eyes as an ear swiveled to listen to her. But he didn’t turn. Akane blinked. He always turns on his own… “Ryoga – if you don’t turn around this minute, you are sleeping with Ranma tonight!”
The pig blinked again and though he didn’t move his gaze, he suddenly seemed to look at her. And a solid beet red color flowed across his body and he whipped around, ears lowering to cover his eyes.
Akane changed thoughtfully, wondering. She’d never before had to worry about Ryoga sneaking a look. His sense of honor was so much that he was more scrupulously cautious than she herself was. He just got lost in his thoughts, Akane decided. And crawled into bed.
“Oh, hey – hi Ryoga!” Ranma swung his school bag, “You’re back awfully early – you’ve only been gone for a couple of days now.”
The small pig sat down and pawed at the bandanna around his neck, snorting.
“Huh?” Ranma tilted his head, puzzled. He couldn’t figure out… He put his bag down and reached out to straighten the bandanna. As he did, the pig looked curiously up at him. Ranma stared down at him, “What’s up, Ryoga?”
The pig blinked a few times then turned and wandered off.
“Hey!” Ranma ran to catch up with him. He glanced over his shoulder at the school and then back at the pig, “Hey, Ryoga – no games here. I promised Akane I’d meet her later. Could you at least tell me what’s going on?”
At the sound of Akane’s name, the pig hesitated, then turned around, glancing about.
Ranma grinned, “Akane had to stay after in study hall to make up a test. I thought I’d snag some food and then come back for her. You know – we could go to the Cat Café if you want to talk to the old lady.”
Ryoga shook his head. He tugged at his bandanna again and looked around. This time, Ranma could interpret it as ‘What the heck am I doing here?’ Ranma laughed softly and his friend glared at him. “Ryoga,” Ranma still grinned, “Why don’t you stick around for a bit longer? You’re in and out so much that Akane rarely gets a chance to see you anymore. She misses you.”
“Bwee…” the pig wandered close to Ranma and stayed at his feet. Ranma looked down at the pig and wondered.
“Oh, I don’t get it!” Akane chewed on her pen. “P-chan, what’s eight times seven?” There was no answer from the pig sitting at her elbow and she grimaced, “I know, I know, but sometimes it’s easier to ask you. Come-on, Ryoga, pretty please?” Akane tended to switch between her old name for her pet and Ryoga’s real name. It was hard to change habits and Ryoga didn’t seem to mind it from her. There was still no answer and Akane sighed, “Fine. Seventy… two. I knew it, I did. But what about this stupid formula? Just a hint?”
Ryoga still didn’t answer and Akane finally looked up. The pig was laying where he always did, curled up by her elbow, absently staring at her. Akane remarked, “You could say ‘something’ to let me know you’re still alive!” The pig’s eyes blinked but he made no other move. Akane stared, “Ryoga? Ryoga!”
Ryoga shook his head and then his eyes seemed to light up as he looked at her. He grinned at her worried face and then studied the book she had open. After a moment, he pawed the desk twice to indicate that the problem’s answer was ‘b’ of the multiple choices.
Akane watched him, her lips compressed in a tight fold. Silently, she nodded to herself and then stood up, “Ryoga, you’ve done that too often in the last week. This time I’m going to get an answer. Come here,” she picked him up and walked with firm strides to Ranma’s room. She knocked until she had an answer, then she slide the door open. “Ranma – I’m going to talk with Cologne-sama. Ryoga just blanked out again.”
Scrambling up from his futon where he was reading a manga instead of his homework, Ranma looked at his friend worriedly. Ryoga wrinkled his nose and shrugged as well as he could in Akane’s arms. Ranma shook his head, “She’s right. And I really should have done something about it before now. You know she’s right. Admit it.”
The small pig bweed and stuck his tongue out at Ranma.
“Damnit, Ryoga – no joking around,” Akane said fiercely, her concern showing so plainly that she didn’t even react to the compliment Ranma had given her. She turned and walked out the door, leaving Ranma to follow.
“Humm,” Cologne regarded the black pig thoughtfully.
Shampoo glanced up at her great-grandmother but didn’t say anything.
But Akane and Ranma had lots to say. “What’s wrong?” “Do you know something?”
“I know,” Cologne glanced around the room, “lots of things.”
The group face-falled.
“But this…” the ancient Amazon frowned, “I think... I want to know more first. Ryoga, boy, why didn’t you say something earlier?”
The pig shrugged and glanced at Ranma.
Ranma sighed and frowned.
The pig grimaced.
Ranma made a circling gesture with his hand.
“IN WORDS!!!!” The gnarled stick in Cologne’s hand thumped both Ranma and Ryoga.
“Oww…” Ranma rubbed his head, “He said he doesn’t notice.”
“That was a long conversation for that simple a statement,” Akane remarked sarcastically.
“He was waffling.”
The pig growled.
Shampoo couldn’t help it, she giggled at them. And then she suggested, “Ryoga stay here for night. Mousse, Kodachi be back soon from Mt. Mihara. Meantime – observe.”
“That’s a good idea, Shampoo,” Cologne approved.
Though reluctant to leave their friend, Ranma and Akane saw the wisdom of the idea and finally left.
“So, Mousse – what’s up? Did you find a cure for Ryoga?” Ranma, Akane, and Kuno crowded into the restaurant to hear the answer.
“Not exactly,” Mousse answered, glancing over to Cologne. Next to him, Kodachi studied the small black pig on the table intently. Ryoga kept edging away but running out of room to go to.
“Enough of that,” Akane huffed, and reached out to pull P-chan into her arms.
Cologne watched the interaction and frowned slightly before sighing. That one sound instantly got everybody’s attention. She cleared her throat, “I’ve been looking into the new problem Ryoga’s been having, and we’re running out of time.”
The silence in the room could be felt by all. In Akane’s arms, the pig was still.
“Ryoga…” Cologne faltered briefly, “Ryoga is… losing his identity to the pig. The longer he stays in the pig’s body, the less he’ll be able to think as a human. We don’t have the time for finding a cure that we thought we had. Instead… I estimate we maybe have a month left. If that.”
The silence wasn’t just felt, it was deafening.
“Are we out of Tokyo yet?” Ranma hefted his backpack.
“We in Kobe. For some time.” Shampoo spared a glance over and then returned her attention to the pig in the front.
“Oh…” Ranma stopped briefly to look around.
“I didn’t even notice!” Akane’s eyes were wide.
Mousse grinned, “That’s how Ryoga works. It’s so gradual that we don’t even notice. I only figured out that we were somewhere else when I heard the people talking.”
Shampoo rolled her eyes and pointed to a sign in a shop window that sold ‘Kobe soveniers’. Putting on his glasses, Mousse walked up to a bakery and studied its menu. Shampoo shook her head, “Mousse! Stop that!”
“Huh?” Mousse blinked and then refocused on the sign that Shampoo was originally looking at, “Oh. I wondered how you figured it out from the menu.”
Ryoga bweed, impatiently sitting on the street corner.
“Sorry, Ryoga – it was interesting!” Ranma hurried to catch up with his friend, Akane close by his side.
Mousse and Shampoo followed slightly behind, looking at each other significantly – they had been fooling around mostly to give Ryoga a break from thinking about where they were, trying to distract him. In the day that they’d been following him, the small group had found that Ryoga needed to be both focused and distracted at the same time to pull his ‘lost’ routine. The stress on the group was high, and for Ryoga, even more-so. They’d been hard put not to have a series of Lion’s Roar Bullets destroy the Cat Café that morning. Cologne had finally sent them off, to search and to not come back until Ryoga was himself again. Out of all the quests they’d gone on in the last few months, it had always been Ryoga’s scrolls and items he brought back that had been the closest to a cure. So they decided to let Ryoga lead… It had turned out to be harder than they’d expected. They’d lost Kuno and Kodachi somewhere around the 5th Street Shopping District, and still weren’t quite sure how. The four remaining humans took great care to stay close to Ryoga… But it was hard on all of them.
“Damnit, Ryoga – there are no deserts in Japan!” Ranma grumped as he sloughed though the sand, goggles over his eyes and a cape around his head.
The black pig growled and then knocked Ranma over before Ranma knew he’d moved. The two started a fight.
“Oh, honestly – isn’t it hot enough already?” Akane wiped her forehead and watched the fight wearily.
Shampoo and Mousse traded grins – it looked like fun, actually. And a very good stress break. And a very definite way to know that it was Ryoga in the pig’s body. They’d noticed that while the pig was aggressive to Ranma… it didn’t spar like Ryoga did. And the pig didn’t get lost like Ryoga. And it stayed closer to Akane than to the others. They tried hard to keep Ryoga present, but it was hard. The pig was there more often now. And they still hadn’t found a cure. They’d been to Pools of Life, Springs of Healing, magicians and sorcerers and priests, ancient ruins and technology… and none of it helped and nobody knew what might. If they could find a Wishing Well, maybe. But those were few and far between. Though some of the places they’d been were even rarer. Half the time, the small group was actually in China and even Nepal. None of them had yet figured out how Ryoga managed it. Most of the time they didn’t even notice the landscape changing until it reared up and smacked them in the face.
The boys finished their fight and the group traveled on.
“Oh no…” Ranma groaned, “Not another damn cave!!!” Most of his grumbles to Ryoga were just theatrics, but this one had a note of real annoyance.
Akane glared at him, though she also sighed with reluctance. It seemed that in the last week, they’d only seen the sun and growing things (not moss or algae) for a few hours.
A low, rumbling growl emerged from the entrance to the cave. It shook the ground around them and birds stopped their chirps and went still.
The four human warriors drew together in instinctive formation, Ranma and Shampoo in the front with Mousse and Akane flanking them. The small black pig was in front.
And Ryoga’s head went up at the sound of the growl. And his mouth dropped open in a grin even as his eyes narrowed and a reply growl sounded in his throat. He pawed the ground with one hoof and then he charged into the cave before the others could react.
“Ryoga!” Ranma and the others started forward.
They heard a roar and a squeal and dust and rocks fell and then there was only a low whimpering.
For a seemingly small cave, they ran for a long time before they reached Ryoga. The group stopped and stared.
“What the hell is it?” Ranma walked up beside the pig, staring the whole time at the creature cowering in a corner. When it saw the friendliness with which the pig greeted his friends, the monster let out a high-pitched whimper of despair and tried to retreat even further.
“It looks like…” Akane also walked nearer, studying the poor thing. It was covered with scars and old wounds, and one of its wings was bent at an odd angle… The iridescent eyes were wide with fright and old fear as it watched the pig nervously. “A dragon?”
keeping back giggles, “Great-grandmother say she hate to see what Ryoga tangle
with if he bad hurt… Great-grandmother right as always.” Ryoga grinned in
satisfaction and preened himself.
“Wait a sec!” Ranma knelt down beside Ryoga, “This is where you got stuck?! This is where that girl was?”
Ryoga glanced at the wyvern and nodded.
“Hell yes, let’s go in!” Ranma responded to no question and strode rapidly into the wider cavern beyond the tunnel cave. The others looked at each other in despair for their leader ever learning what the word ‘caution’ meant.
The cavern was enormous. The cavern was huge. The cavern was magnificent. Rich and old and carved and natural and awesome… The group stayed in the entryway and stared. It was obviously an old shrine of some sort, but had been left in much of its natural glory. The rock glimmered and shone where it should, and was rougher where it accented the real. The stalactites and stalagmites pointed their ways up and down where they were noticed but didn’t actually get in anyone’s way. The pool in the middle was a odd mix of colors and clearness and it smelled slightly of sulfites. The cavern as a whole smelled of good clean earth and rock and damp and brightness and old lingering incense. The brightness came from many many small holes carved through the top of the cavern to let in pinpricks of light that came in at every angle and reflected off shiny stones and bounced around and lit up the cavern… It was incredible.
“This is neat,” Ranma said.
“Oh, what an understatement!” both Akane and Shampoo bonked him. Mousse bit his lip to keep from laughing. The pig nodded in agreement with Ranma’s statement and seemed to be puzzled by the other three reactions.
Ranma glanced around, “Hey, Ryoga – if that was the entrance we came through…” it was that, obviously, “how come you fought the dragon–”
“Wyvern,” Mousse interjected.
“Whatever. How come you fought the thingie on your way out???”
The black pig tilted his head and raised an embarrassed hoof to scratch behind his ear.
Ranma started laughing, “Figures.” He noticed the looks on his companions’ faces and hastily explained, “He came in over there,” and pointed to a section of the wall that was collapsed inward, rocks scattered out… something had broken through where no opening had been previously. Something – or someone… Mousse and Shampoo snickered while Akane sighed.
The group split up to start exploring.
Mousse, predictably, ended up over by the old pedestal.
Ranma investigated the small lake. It was warm. And cold. And hot. And the colors shifted… “Hey, Ryoga, what–” Ranma broke off as he noticed the small pig wasn’t next to him anymore. He glanced around… and found the pig walking by Akane’s side, tagging along at her heels, looking loyally up at her… “Oh, Ryoga…” Ranma whispered, knowing that his friend was gone again, “Ryoga, we will find a cure. We will. I can’t let you die like that.” For it would be a death. The pig might live on, but it would only be a pig. It wouldn’t be Ryoga. His friend.
“You know,” Mousse said absently on the third day, “I don’t think it was intentional.”
“What wasn’t?” Akane asked as she sorted some old pottery shards.
Ranma broke off his spar with Shampoo. “Whoa there, you saying Ryoga’s sacrifice for the girl wasn’t his choice?”
“No!” Mousse sighed and took off his glasses and polished them, “Sorry, I was thinking outloud. I don’t think the girl’s sacrifice was intentional. Certainly not that her spirit got trapped like that.”
Shampoo stretched out and then wandered over, “So?”
Mousse sighed again, “Okay – this place holds an enormous amount of energy, which is being used… for something. Haven’t figured that out yet. But since the energy is being contained and controlled, it can also be siphoned and used for other things. Yet, the original purpose still needs to be fulfilled, so when any manipulative energy gets used, it must be replaced with an equal amount of raw power, which then will convert to the manipulative energy. I think the girl had tried to use the manipulative energy for something but then couldn’t replace it with enough raw and so it sucked her in instead.”
“And when Ryoga freed her, he used the manipulative energy, and then replaced with the raw energy from his curse.” Akane nodded. From all they’d been studying the last few days, it made sense. Absently, she reached down to pet P-chan’s head. The small pig grunted and rolled his head for an ear scratch.
Ranma stared at his friend… Ryoga hadn’t come back yet. This was the longest he’d been gone… Was it already too late? He glanced over at the pool, “How does it work?”
“Well,” Mousse started pulling out stuff from his backpack. “Fairly simply, actually – you walk in the pool with your need at the forefront of your thoughts and the energy will direct itself accordingly.” He stared at the pile, “The question is, from all the junk we’ve been gathering – do we have enough to replace the power?” He picked up a small curved lamp and rubbed it absently. Smoke swirled around before whisking back into the lamp.
“We’ve got to try,” Ranma said, looking at the pool, already knowing…
Shampoo gathered several of the items up and then walked down to the water while Mousse watched silently.
“Hey!!!!” Ranma bounded to her side, “No friggin’ way! I’m going to be the one!!”
Shampoo dodged him, “No, Shampoo know what she do.”
“Damnit, Shampoo – if the stuff ain’t enough, it’s going to take your curse!”
“Shampoo know that!”
“Shampoo, let me! He’s my friend! It’s my right!”
“He Shampoo’s friend too! And Ranma no want to be girl!”
“Hell of a lot better than a cat! And since I’m human already, I won’t…”
“Ranma – No!!!!!!!!!!!!” Akane finally figured out what they were doing and was at her fiancee’s side in a moment, holding him tightly and pulling him back from the water.
The shouting trailed off as Ranma and Akane stared at each other and Shampoo watched them sadly.
“Akane, I…” Ranma stared into the brown eyes and his words faltered in his throat.
“Ranma – no. I won’t let you. You can’t. You can’t…” Tears fell from Akane’s eyes as she determinedly clutched at him.
“Akane, it’s not like I’m going to die or anything…”
“You’ll be a girl!!!”
Shampoo sighed and turned again to the water, only to find Mousse blocking her path. They looked at each other for a moment, then Mousse nodded his head to the other two humans in the room, “Wait until they’re done.” Shampoo looked steadily at him and then finally nodded.
“It’s better than being a pig!” Ranma responded to Akane’s shout with Ryoga’s usual retort, knowing, knowing only now its full truth. “Damnit, Akane – we can’t let him die!”
“He’s not dead!” Akane faltered, “He’s… We’ll find a cure for him eventually – one that doesn’t require this. And… in the meantime…” she bit her lip, “while we’re looking for the cure, he’ll… P-chan will be happy.” The small pig at her side bweed cheerfully and all the humans involuntarily looked down at him.
Ranma knelt down and picked up the pig, “Akane, Ryoga will die. If he stays like this. We’ll never find a cure. He’ll be gone. All that will be left will be your pet P-chan. He’ll be a constant reminder in my life that I failed at the only truly meaningful fight I’ve ever had. The fight to save my friend. I can’t do that. I can’t let him go without this chance. My girl form is human and I’m me. I’ll always be me. That’s not a problem. It won’t be a problem. I can adjust. I will adjust. But I’m not gonna to let him die.”
“You can adjust…” the tears fell steadily down Akane’s face, “Ranma! I want to marry you! I can’t if you’re a girl!”
Ranma stared at Akane, stunned, “You…”
Shampoo glanced briefly to Mousse, questioning in Chinese, *She can’t marry her?*
*Different customs,* Mousse muttered back with a half-grimace, half-grin.
“Oh, Ranma…, I love you!” Akane threw her arms around him and held him close. She hugged him tightly, not wanting to let him go. And not noticing the pig that was between them.
“Akane,” Ranma whispered her name longingly, putting an arm around her without letting go of the pig. They stood like that for several minutes before Ranma sighed, “Akane, I have to. You’ll find somebody else.”
“I don’t want anybody else!!!” Akane yelled. She spun out of Ranma’s arms, “Damnit! I’ll take the stuff in!” She snatched the bag of magical items from Shampoo. “I don’t have a curse, the power has to be replaced with the magic! Not a curse!” she ran to the pool.
“Akane!” Three voices raised in protest. A small pig squealed as he ran between her and the water, growling. As Akane faltered, Mousse’s long chains wrapped around her and hauled her back.
“Damnit, Akane!” Ranma stamped over to her and gabbed the bag, “Do you want to be a ghost?!”
“Do you want to be a girl?!” Akane retorted, then faltered, “Ghost?” It was her worst nightmare. Involuntarily, she shivered.
Mousse let go of the chains, “If the magic isn’t enough, the power will take you completely. Like it did that girl that Ryoga freed. Her spirit had been trapped here for seven hundred years. If the power traps you, then Ranma will sacrifice himself for you, and Ryoga will still be a pig, so Shampoo will sacrifice herself… In the end, you’ll be dead, Ranma will be a girl, Shampoo will be a cat, – hell, I’d probably be a duck. Everything will be worse. If one of us go in… If the magic isn’t enough, then the curse will be. Ryoga proved that.”
“Great-grandmother say even that almost not enough.” Shampoo shrugged, “But with magic item too… Should not be problem. Shampoo will sacrifice for Ryoga.”
Ranma’s mouth tightened, “No.” He strode over and grabbed the Amazon by her shoulders and shook her. “No. I won’t let you. Shampoo, damnit – it’s not any better to have you die as a cat than to have Ryoga die as a pig.” He glanced down at the small black pig. He wasn’t sure… That defense of Akane… It might have been a brief flash of Ryoga – or it might have been P-chan. But right now… the pig was definitely there. And not Ryoga.
Mousse and Shampoo both sighed simultaneously. They looked… weary. The purple-haired Amazon said softly, “Shampoo no become cat inside. Just outside. Shampoo no die.”
“Huh?” Ranma let go of Shampoo in bafflement, “But Ryoga…”
Mousse coughed, “It shouldn’t have happened.”
“It… Well, Ryoga was…” Mousse fell silent.
Ranma waited. Akane was silent.
The male Amazon sighed. And avoided looking at Akane, “Ryoga was predisposed to losing his identity because of P-chan.”
“Huh???” Ranma, with a strength of will, kept himself from turning to Akane. Akane gasped in denial at the statement. “Predi– what?” Ranma asked, not knowing the word.
Rolling his eyes slightly, Mousse tried again, “Ryoga… has always thought of his cursed form as separate from himself. He never learned to work with him in it, but instead… found a role as a pet. The reason…” he faltered again.
Shampoo wrinkled her nose, “Ryoga lose to pig because Ryoga think he pet. Not because of curse. Because of thought.”
Akane swallowed. Then she rallied herself and said, “So Shampoo will still be herself.”
Ranma looked at her in disbelief, “She’ll be a cat.” He glanced to Mousse, “You can’t tell me that you want her to be a cat!”
Biting his lip, Mousse looked at Shampoo, “No…” His voice was the barest whisper. “I love Shampoo with all that is in me, but,” his voice gained strength, “it is her choice and hers alone.”
“You could do it instead of her,” Akane said. Shampoo raised a sardonic eyebrow at her long-time rival.
Mousse shook his head, “Ryoga’s not that good a friend of mine! No thank you. I don’t want to be a duck for life. And yes, frankly I’d rather see Ranma as a girl than Shampoo as a cat – but since I’m not planning to get myself involved with this, I really don’t have any say in the matter.” He gave her a pointed look, but then dropped his gaze as her tears started again.
She turned to her rival, looking for an ally, “If he turns to a girl, you can’t ever marry him!”
Mousse blinked, “That logic…”
The bells on Shampoo’s hair tinkled as she shook her head, “If Shampoo turn cat, Shampoo not even able to see husband anymore,” she pointed out. Shampoo shrugged, “It Warrior duty to sacrifice for friend. Ryoga friend. Shampoo give up Ranma for duty.”
“Oh…” Akane hadn’t thought of that. She didn’t think of anything, couldn’t think of anything, but that she would lose Ranma… “Ranma, I love you, you can’t…”
Ranma sighed as he put the bag on the ground. Then he swept Akane into his arms and kissed her thoroughly, holding her close. “Akane,” he whispered through the kiss, “I love you too.”
Akane’s heart leaped in joy and jubilation and she melted in his arms. He won’t leave me now. He won’t. He loves me…
And then Ranma broke off the kiss and walked into the pool of water.
“RANMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Akane screamed as she ran after him.
Shampoo cursed and also went forward. Mousse cursed as he grabbed the bag still on the ground and threw it into the lake just in front of Ranma, “BAKA!” And then he ran to be with Shampoo.
Milliseconds went by as the four humans walked in the water. The energy in the room hummed and sparked and swirled as old routines were activated and followed. It sparked through the humans, evaluating Akane’s yearning to protect Ranma, Mousse’s need to be with Shampoo, Shampoo’s desire to help her friend, and Ranma’s need to save his friend. The power sought out the strongest, that which would give the most… The energy latched onto Ranma and poured into him, burning its way through his nerves and flesh, deep into his innermost self. There was a sizzle as the bag of magical items burnt up in a flash and the energy released. The pig squealed in pain. Mousse, Shampoo, and Akane were forced backwards out of the pool as the energy crackled over the water and through Ranma. Ranma’s fists were clenched tightly, his head thrown back, his eyes streaming tears of pain, his mouth open – but no sound emerged from his throat. He was grimly and determinedly thinking only of his friend. What you need at the forefront of your thoughts… The energy flowed through him and in him and burnt out his very being… His figure and being were obscured by the energy.
Akane screamed, trying again and again to hurtle herself into the path.
Shampoo watched silently.
Mousse muttered, “I didn’t think it’d be enough.” He scratched his head, “But I wonder why it didn’t just snag all of us? Humm…” He wandered back to the area by the pedestal and started flipping through his notes.
The cavern sparkled with the power in motes of silver, blue, yellow, green, red, orange, black… The power shot through the cavern and made it come alive. The sound of ancient music filled the room. Incense burned. Voices chanted. The form of a dragon appeared in the air, its roar filling the soundwaves and their thoughts. A roar of triumph and power. A roar from the eldest days of the earth and sky. The form sparkled. In the distance, they could hear the wyvern’s answering call. Then the dragon disappeared in a flash of light that blinded them all. The power lingered for a moment and then rushed out around them, streaming out of the cavern, carrying all the light and life with it.
Akane opened her eyes slowly. And then crawled to where Ranma lay collapsed by the edge of the water. “Ranma…” Tears leaked down her eyes.
Ranma opened her eyes, wincing, “Oooo… that hurt… Gods that hurt… I didn’t know it would hurt that bad…” She blinked, “Ryoga!” In a moment, she’d left Akane’s arms and was at the side of a young man kneeling on the ground…
Brown eyes looked up at her, “Bwee?” Ryoga’s head turned from side to side, seeking… He saw Akane and a grin lit his face as he scampered to her side, “Bwee!”
“Ryoga!…” Ranma sat where she was, stunned. “Too late… We were too late… No…” She stared, her vision unobscured despite the tears falling down her face.
“P-chan?” Akane whispered disbelievingly as she reached a trembling hand out to him.
Shampoo snorted. And then walked over and drew Ryoga up until he was standing. As the brown eyes looked bewilderedly around, she put her hands on the sides of his face and kissed him deeply.
The silence stretched out as the stunned tableau held still.
And then Ryoga’s arms went around Shampoo…
“Well,” Ranma snorted in amusement, “that’s not a pig reaction!”
And then Ryoga was shoving Shampoo away, his hand raised to his bloody nose, his eyes wide and shocked and… He screamed as he realized something else and he dove for Ranma’s backpack, pulling out his clothes and covering his nakedness.
“And that,” Ranma grinned with joy, “was a very Ryoga reaction!”
Ryoga looked around with wide eyes, taking in the cavern, the people, Ranma… “No,” he whispered. “Ranma,” he stood up, “Ranma, you didn’t…”
Ranma also stood up and cocked her head to one side, saying nothing.
“You idiot,” Ryoga trembled, “How could you? You stupid,” his voice rose, “stupid,” he advanced towards Ranma, “stupid,” his fists clenched tightly, “ASSHOLE!” He launched himself in fury at his friend. And hauled himself up short as Akane flung herself between them.
“BAKA!” she screamed at Ryoga, tears falling down her face, “HE DID IT FOR YOU!” As Ryoga stood there, stunned, Akane turned to Ranma. “Ranma…” she threw herself in Ranma’s arms and sobbed in anguish and loss.
Mousse blinked, “I suppose we really should find out first if it is permanent.” He picked up a steaming kettle, walked over to the two young people, and poured it over them. Ranma sputtered as she held Akane. Akane didn’t even notice. Mousse shrugged, “Oh well.”
Ryoga’s legs gave out and he collapsed down, kneeling on the ground, staring at his friends, Akane’s words going through his mind, Ranma’s form in his view, the sense of loss all around him. “I knew that,” he whispered, “I knew that. That’s why…” He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Shampoo’s lavender eyes radiating sympathy.
“Spar good for Ranma,” Shampoo agreed, speaking softly, “but not for Akane.”
Ryoga’s eyes were still wide, and sad, “I didn’t mean… I didn’t mean for this… I shouldn’t have come home. I shouldn’t have brought you here. I shouldn’t–” A slim hand clamped over his mouth, preventing the rest of his words.
Shampoo sighed, “Ryoga. What you remember?”
As he looked up into her clear lavender eyes, Ryoga gradually started to relax. “Of this?” he waved a hand around the cavern, “Not much. Bits and pieces since we came in. I remember everything from when I was Ryoga, but of the time I was P-chan…” he shrugged, “snippets. Fragments.” He glanced up, his eyes still haunted with Ranma’s image, “Was that really the only way?”
Shampoo grimaced, shrugged, then nodded.
“Oh wow!” Mousse’s voice exclaimed, “That’s nifty! Ryoga – did this happen the first time?”
“Huh?” Everybody looked above the lake to see a swirling cloud of colors and shapes and forms and mist and air and water and sparkles…
Ryoga sighed, “Yes…” He glanced towards a wall, “But it’s stronger. I think the dragon is closer to waking.”
“DRAGON????” Three voices exclaimed. Akane unwound herself from Ranma. Shampoo blinked in surprise and looked around. Mousse simply nodded in satisfaction and continued to take notes.
Cocking his head to one side, Ryoga studied Ranma, “Didn’t it speak to you…” At Ranma’s look of incomprehension, Ryoga shrugged, “Guess not. Well…” The cavern rumbled and a stalactite broke off and fell. The five humans all jumped and even Mousse looked startled. Ryoga glanced at the lake, “I think… we better get out of here. This place will be unstable for awhile while it converts the energy. And… it doesn’t really like visitors if it’s not going to get anything in trade.”
“It’s aware???” Mousse squeaked, putting his glasses on and staring around. A column near him fell and he jumped.
“It’s the dragon,” Ryoga patiently explained.
“Ryoga, that didn’t help,” Ranma remarked, even as she grabbed Akane’s hand and hauled her to the entrance after gathering up their packs.
And stopped dead in her tracks at the sight of the wyvern, fully healed, scales gleaming brightly, wings spread out straight, head extended on its very long neck, hissing and growling in defiance and defense. It had very sharp teeth.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Ranma backed up slightly, “Didn’t we go through this on the way in??”
As Ryoga passed her, he laid a hand briefly on her shoulder, then he stood before the wyvern – and growled.
The wyvern reared back slightly, its head weaving up to the ceiling to twist and look down at him, eyes whirling. A long forked tongue snaked out to hover near Ryoga’s face. Ryoga stood still, grinning tightly. The tongue whipped back as the wyvern snapped its mouth shut and backpedaled rapidly until it was standing on the far side of the wall, whimpering.
Ryoga snickered, and then waved to his friends. As they passed him, he watched the wyvern. As Ranma passed him, she, used to reading the subtle expressions of the pig, recognized and wondered at sadness she saw in Ryoga. And Ryoga glanced at her, and shrugged… : I don’t like having people be afraid of me.
“People?” Ranma blinked.
Ryoga grinned as he glanced between the two of them, Ranma and the wyvern : It’s a person too. Just with scales… Loyal to its long-lost friends. I can admire that.
And Ranma understood the sadness… and more. She caught a whisper of thought through her shattered nerves... Ranma glanced up at the wyvern in puzzlement and confusion. All the others had gone on. Ryoga placed a hand on her shoulder, and guided Ranma out.
They set up camp a short distance away, none of them wanting to travel too far or too quick this soon after… They all knew what it was after. Ranma glanced at Ryoga…, “You know, you still kindof look like a pig.”
“Why you little…” Ryoga advanced on Ranma, his hands clenching.
Ranma danced back, laughing.
And Akane stood up, “Ryoga, how dare you fight Ranma! Don’t you know what he–” she broke off and took a breath, “SHE has done? How can you fight… her after… after…” she crumpled down crying.
“Ah, shit…” Ranma muttered, looking helplessly between Akane and Ryoga. Ryoga stood, dumbfounded, his hands hanging loosely at his sides and his eyes wide with hurt and shame. Ranma sighed… And then took in a deep breath and attacked Ryoga with all that was in her. Ryoga fell back, taken by surprise. And then he tentatively tried a punch…
“You’ve been a pig too damn long if that’s the best you can do!” Ranma taunted, dancing around him and doing one of her patented airhop strikes.
Ryoga staggered, blood dripping from the side of his mouth. He roared and threw out a punch that knocked Ranma back into a tree, breaking the tree in half with a loud crack. Ranma stood up, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “CHESTNUTS ROASTING OVER AN OPEN FIRE!!!!!!!!” She lunged towards him. “BREAKING POINT!” The earth cracked open. “DRAGON’S FIST!” “LION’S ROAR BULLET!”
“It wasn’t the full one,” Mousse commented as the explosion tore the clearing wide. Shampoo nodded, grinning.
“DRAGON ASCENTION WAVE!”
“You little sneak!!!!!!!” Ryoga hauled in his battle aura barely in time.
“Something tells me this is going to last awhile,” Mousse laughed as he turned away.
Shampoo grinned ago, “It good to see friends play again.”
Crumpled on the ground, Akane continued to cry, sobbing her heart out, not even watching the fight anymore. “Ranma,” she whimpered, “Oh Ranma. I love you. I love you so much…” The sound of her heart falling to pieces was very apparent.
Mousse and Shampoo traded significant looks before turning away to get water and cook dinner.
The fight only ended when the two combatants were too tired to move. Ryoga groaned, rolling over on his back and staring at the tree branches above him. Beside him, Ranma moaned as she struggled up to her knees, “Is that food I smell?”
Ryoga sniffed, then also got up. They balanced on each other as they staggered into the camp. They barely noticed Mousse and Shampoo handing them their plates as they wolfed down the food, not noticing at all what they were eating beyond the warmness and ease of hunger.
When they couldn’t eat any more, Shampoo watched them for a long moment until Ranma happened to glance up. Then she attacked.
“Ranma!” Ryoga lunged to protect his friend, sensing something deadly serious about this attack. Long chains wrapped themselves around him and hauled him back. “Damn you, Mousse!” He freed himself in a moment, but it was too late. Flinging himself to his knees beside his friend, he gently touched the loose red hair laying limply on the ground. “Ranma?” He shook his friend’s body gently. “Ranma?” The beautiful eyes stayed shut, though her mouth parted slightly, breathing softly. Ryoga looked up, “What???” For the first time, he noticed Akane’s body laying on top of a sleeping bag, looking much like Ranma. “Wha…???”
Ryoga glanced to the people he’d thought were his friends. Shampoo was sitting wearily on a log, her head bent over so that the long purple hair fell around her. Mousse stood behind her, a hand on her shoulder, his egnimatic gaze on Ryoga. Ryoga had the bewildered thought that at the moment, Mousse didn’t seem to be very near-sighted. His hand stroked Ranma’s hair once more, absently noting its clean silky feel. Clean? He blinked and looked down at Ranma again… then over at Akane… then to Shampoo. “Shampoo? What did you do????”
With a sigh, Shampoo straightened up. Ryoga was shocked at the look of exhaustion on her face. She made no verbal answer, but instead tossed him a bottle she still held.
‘Formula ---’ Ryoga read on the bottle. I thought so. But… “What did you make them forget? Each other?” It would be a kindness. For Akane especially. But how would they explain…?
Mousse gave a bark of laughter, “I doubt that’s possible. No…” he looked down at Shampoo, “They’ve forgotten… That Ranma was ever a boy.”
Ryoga blinked. And looked at Ranma’s body. And blinked again. For a moment, a very long moment, he wished that they’d done the same to him, only moreso. To forget…
“No is possible for you,” Shampoo hauled herself up and walked slowly to him, putting a hand on his shoulder in a gesture of reassurance that ended up being more of support of her as she swayed. Ryoga stood up and caught her, easing her down so she sat next to Ranma. His wide brown eyes begged for an explanation and Shampoo smiled at him, “Shampoo acupressure technique require will to do… Akane no want to forget male-Ranma. Shampoo have to use much chi to achieve. Ranma male all life – no easy to make forget. Before… Akane no really want to know Ranma – was easy to make forget. Shampoo…” she shook her head and gazed at him, “Shampoo have no strength left for you – and you really no can forget. You as strong as Mousse, and as stubborn.”
Ryoga blinked as he looked to Mousse. The tall Amazon grinned easily, “Shampoo’s Name is for her Talent. Mine is because shampoo can’t get through mousse.”
It was Ryoga’s turn to laugh shortly. Then he looked back down at Ranma.
Shampoo’s hand was still on his arm, “Wait and see,” she said simply, “Wait and see.” He nodded, his gaze on his friend. “But what about the family?” he thought of something else.
Mousse shrugged, “Wait and see.” He pulled out another bottle from his sleeves and held it up so Ryoga could see it.
Ryoga squinted, “Strawberry Bath Foam?”
“Oops.” Mousse rummaged a bit, then pulled out a different one, “Aha.”
This time, the shampoo bottle had a different number on it. One Ryoga recognized. “Oh,” he said, “So you’re not going to…” and broke off as Ranma started to groan. Mousse quickly hid the shampoo. Shampoo started to stand up and move away, but she swayed and Ryoga gently forced her to sit down again, “It’s okay – I don’t think he…” Ryoga broke off in consternation at the slip and bit his lip. “I don’t think Ranma will be mad.”
“Mad?” Ranma said, sitting up, “Oh…” she felt her head carefully, “Shampoo – what did you do? Damn it,” she glared at the Amazon, “You took me by surprise! Otherwise you would have never beaten me!!!”
Mousse and Ryoga traded startled glances and then started laughing. Shampoo’s lips twitched up, “So you too did.”
Ranma tried to get through the syntax and failed, “Huh?”
“When you defeat me. Shampoo taken by surprise. Now all scores settled. You female Ranma – and Shampoo has killed you.”
“HUH???!!” Ranma bounced up and started feeling herself over.
“I’d forgotten about that,” Ryoga muttered as he watched Ranma carefully.
“Amazons don’t ever forget a point of honor,” Mousse said quietly.
Akane started to moan and Ranma broke off her examination and hurried over to her, “Akane? Akane? You okay?”
“Yeah…” Akane raised a hand to her head. And felt it carefully, “My hair’s clean…” she glanced around, “I remember you… I remember Shampoo… I remember Ryoga…” Her mouth turned down in a frown, “So what the hell have I forgotten???”
“Oh!” Ranma exclaimed, “That’s what she did!” The blue eyes sparkled as she glared at Shampoo, “Damnit, Shampoo – you had me worried there! I thought you used delayed pressure points or something and I was going to keel over with a heart-attack in a minute!”
“She did you too?” Akane blinked, “Well, that was a convenient way of getting around killing you… Wonder why she didn’t just do that in the first place after you defeated her in China?”
Ryoga blinked. And turned to Shampoo, “Why didn’t you?”
Shampoo grinned faintly, “Shampoo no able to catch up to Ranma until Japan. Outsiders no be allowed to remember where tribe lives.”
Ranma glared at her, “So you never were going to kill me?”
“Shampoo just did.”
“Oh yeah.” Ranma paused, “Hey – I don’t feel any different.”
“Of course not,” Akane whapped her gently, “Baka. Shampoo made us forget something.”
“I don’t remember.” Ranma looked puzzled.
“If you did, you wouldn’t have forgotten.” Akane stuck her tongue out at Ranma, “Idiot.”
Ranma glared, “Uncute. Definitely uncute. So what did I forget?”
“I don’t know! If I knew, I wouldn’t have forgotten!!” Akane swiped at her with the mallet but Ranma ducked.
Ryoga watched in amazement, his mouth open. The fight went around and around as the two chased each other all over the camp. “Are you sure it worked?” he asked uncertainly, “They… they’re still… I mean, they’re not acting any differently.”
“Other then not making a good imitation of a water fountain?” Mousse quipped. “Yeah…” he glanced over and shook his head. “Shampoo, how are you doing?”
Shampoo looked up and blinked slowly, “Shampoo think she rest for awhile. Ryoga help Shampoo to tent?”
“Ahh, sure.” Ryoga helped the shaken Amazon to her feet and let her lean on him while they walked to the tent she and Akane shared. Shampoo… I didn’t know… how vulnerable you could be. And she looked so soft on the outside, but Ryoga could feel the hard muscles with practically no fat layering the arm he held. “Oh shit…”
Shampoo glanced at him curiously as she sank down onto her sleeping bag.
“Ranma can’t be sharing our tent.” Ryoga’s face went paisley white as he suddenly and abruptly remembered… He’s not a guy anymore. He… Ranma…
Shampoo chuckled, “Silly boy. Ryoga share girls’ tent on trip. We missing one spot on trip back anyhow. Ranma share with Akane and Shampoo and Ryoga take Ranma’s place. They will no remember.”
“I didn’t!!” Ryoga protested. And then he blinked, “Did I? Wait a second…” He remembered following Akane into the tent, snuggled with her at night… “I DIDN’T LOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” He stumbled out of the tent, his hand to his nose as blood started running down his face.
From beside the campfire, Mousse, Ranma, and Akane stared at him. Ranma blinked, “What the heck was that about?”
Akane started giggling, “Oh he must have! For that reaction…” She snapped her fingers, “Oh! I remember – Shampoo forgot one night and took off her clothes when it was hot. I’d forgotten about P-chan, and… well, didn’t you wonder why we were washing the bloody clothes the next day?”
Ranma blushed, “I thought it was… you know, woman’s stuff.”
“Woman’s stuff???” Akane repeated in disbelief, “Ranma, don’t tell me you haven’t started your periods yet? You’re sixteen for pity’s sake!”
Ranma blushed harder.
Mousse rolled his eyes, “I am outta here if they’re going to start women’s talk!” He stalked off to the other tent.
His blush mounting to a furious red to match the blood on his face, Ryoga yelped and belatedly pressed his hands over his ears. And then took them away and stared at Ranma curiously. “Ranma… you…”
Her face turning pink with anger and shame, Ranma balled her fists, “Don’t you even start! ALRIGHT!” she yelled to the sky, “I HAVEN’T STARTED MY PERIODS YET! Okay? Does that make everybody happy?” The furious red-head glared at the world in general.
“Ranma,” Akane poked her gently, “You can stop now. I think he fainted.”
The next morning they sat around the campfire as they ate.
“Well, it wasn’t your cooking I forgot,” Ranma muttered.
Akane hit him with the stirring spoon.
Ryoga watched in amazement.
“Say,” Ranma turned to Ryoga, “Isn’t it about your turn to turn to me and say something like ‘I won’t have you insulting Akane?’ and then we spar?”
“You could at least eat my food first!” Akane yelled. Then she paused and looked over at Ryoga, “She’s right – you usually do at this point. Is anything wrong, Ryoga?”
“You don’t remember…” Ryoga whispered, looking between them sadly.
“Huh??” Akane and Ranma looked at each other, startled. “Hey, Ryoga,” Ranma said softly, “I know you had a hard time of it these last few months, but it’s over now.” She awkwardly patted him on the shoulder, stopped as he winced and drew back, “It’s okay, Ryoga. You’ve got your body back now. Your curse is gone. You won’t ever have to turn into a pig again. It’s over.”
Ryoga couldn’t help it. Tears started falling from his eyes as he stared at Ranma. “You don’t remember…” what you did for me.
“Hey, hey, hey, Ryoga…” Ranma tried to comfort him and so did Akane. Sort of.
“Baka!” Akane shoved Ranma away, “This is your fault, to remind him like this!” She put her hand on his shoulder where Ranma’s had been, “It’s okay, Ryoga – it’s over now. You’re back with us again.”
Ryoga got up and ran into the forest, his arm covering his eyes as he ran.
“Ryoga!” Akane and Ranma ran after him.
Mousse and Shampoo sighed.
Twenty minutes later, Akane and Ranma came back – alone.
“Oh good,” Mousse remarked, “Why do I get the idea our way home just got lost?”
“HUH?” Akane and Ranma’s mouths dropped as they glanced around them.
“You no find Ryoga?” Shampoo asked calmly, stirring the fire with a stick.
“No…” Ranma suddenly turned pale, “Damn! He led us here, didn’t he?”
Akane rolled her eyes, “And we don’t know where ‘here’ is…” She grumbled under her breath, “Ranma, it’s all your fault.”
“For driving him away like that! You should be ashamed!”
“Why you uncute Tomboy! It was as much your fault as mine!” The retort was a typical Ranma response. But the worried glance that Ranma gave into the forest betrayed her worry and concern. “Damn the stupid pig. I hope he’ll be okay…”
Akane walked to her and put her arms around the redhead, “It’ll be okay, Ranma. He’ll show up again in a week or so with some new technique or another that he wants to practice, and you’ll spar with him again, and everything will be back to normal.”
“Yeah…” Ranma absently put her arm around Akane’s shoulder, “Thanks.”
“What are friends for?” Akane said gently.
Mousse and Shampoo traded glances, amused.
A month later, Ryoga dragged himself into a restaurant, hungry and weary and aching and sore and lost… “Where the hell am I now???”
“Sugar!” A familiar voice said, “You’re back!”
Ryoga was enveloped in a pair of strong arms and hugged tightly. “Huh???”
Ukyo sniffled and let him go, “I was beginning to think I’d never see you again! You were gone for all those months, and then Akane and Ranma and Shampoo and Mousse left and were gone, and then they came back but you were still gone…” She leaned forward and hugged him again, “I got worried about you, Sugar.” Ukyo suddenly backed off and then swung her spatula around, knocking Ryoga flat.
Rubbing his nose, Ryoga picked himself up, “WHAT THE HELL was that for?” Ryoga started to yell and ended up muttering as he got a look at her face. For some unknown reason, he felt very ashamed of himself.
“That,” Ukyo said firmly, “was for not telling me that you were P-chan!”
“All those months I was worried about you! Damnit, Ryoga,” Ukyo glared, “I could have helped too! I mean, really! You let Mousse and Shampoo help, natural enough – but then you also had Kuno and Kodachi helping you!!! Why the hell not me???” A defiant tear glistened at the corner of her eye.
“Oh shit…” Ryoga observed it nervously, “Uh, Ukyo… Can I get something to eat?”
Steam started to come out of Ukyo’s ears and then she laughed, “Why not?” She turned to the grill and started to fry some okonomiyaki. Grinning, she flipped her hair out of her way as she watched Ryoga, “At least that’s one normal thing around here. It’s been crazy since Ranma and Akane got back.”
Ryoga slowly put down the piece of okonomiyaki he was devouring, “How… how’s… how is that going?”
Ukyo smiled bitterly, “Well, I can’t say I’m happy about it,” she regarded the Lost Boy carefully, “but if it was the only way to save your life, it had to be done.”
Ryoga looked down at his food and bowed his head.
“Oh, come on, Sugar,” Ukyo put another okonomiyaki in front of him, “It’s not that bad.” She laughed, “Ranma’s actually dealing with it best of all of us – She started dating Kuno within two weeks after she got back!” Ukyo shook her head and chuckled, “Talk about a fast mover!”
“Dating…” Ryoga’s eyes bugged out.
“Kuno,” Ukyo stated, wrinkling her nose. “Yeah, I know…” She looked away and said softly, “I told him it didn’t make any difference to me… I told him I loved him in whatever body he was in… He said he was a girl now. And girls didn’t date girls…” Ukyo sighed. And looked back. “Huh?” She glanced around, “Ryoga? Ryoga?” She sighed as she cleaned off the table, “Where the hell did he go now?”
Ryoga burst in through the back door of the Cat Café, “SHAMPOO!!!!!!!!!”
All the patrons in the restaurant turned to look at him. Shampoo blinked, “Nii hoa, Ryoga. What you want?”
Ryoga ignored the onlookers and grabbed her by the shoulders, “Shampoo! You have to use the reverse shampoo on Ranma! He still thinks he’s a girl and is going out with Kuno!!!!” The people in the restaurant started buzzing with excited conversation.
Shampoo stared calmly into his eyes until Ryoga gulped and took his hands off her. Then she said, “Silly boy, Shampoo take memory block off before we get back to town.”
“You…” Ryoga dropped to the floor, stunned.
Cologne hopped up and prodded him with her stick, “And Ranma is a girl now. Get used to thinking of her like that, boy. Everybody else has.”
“But…” Ryoga protested weakly, looking up at them, “Kuno???”
Mousse leaned over, holding his glasses to his nose as he looked at Ryoga, “Yeah, surprised us too.” He grinned, “Fast mover.”
“That…” Blindly, Ryoga got up, “That’s what Ukyo said…” He wandered out the door, still looking dazed.
The Amazon trio looked after him.
“Should we go after him?” Mousse frowned.
Shampoo shook her head and so did Cologne. “No – he’s got to figure it out on his own,” Cologne sighed, “There is so much my students have yet to learn.”
Another week went by… and another. Ryoga walked along the streets his heart still heavy. If it hadn’t been for me… Damn… Akane and Ranma might be married by now. I didn’t want them to… but how much she loved him… He remembered her wail of anguish well. And her furious eyes on him, ‘BAKA!’ I thought she’d react that way to finding out I was a pig. Instead… She loved Ranma so much. Oh, Ranma, what have I done to you?
A happy contralto voice shouted his name and Ryoga looked up. His mouth dropped open, “Ranma???”
Jumping off the wall, Ranma wrapped her arms around Ryoga and hugged him, “You’re back at last!”
Ryoga stood still in shock, his mind whirling in confusion.
And Ranma backed off with a rueful grin, “Sorry, I forgot about that.” She hit him lightly on the shoulder, “Hey! Come on, Ryoga! I want to hear all about what you’ve been doing. Apparently you popped in last month at Uc-chan’s, and then at the Cat Café a few days later… And we, Akane and I, have had to wait this long for even a glimpse of you! Gee! You could show a little more compassion for your old sparring buddy.”
Ryoga’s eyes glistened, “Ranma, I’m so sorry…”
“Huh?” Ranma tilted her head, “Oh. That.” She waved a hand, “Forget it, Ryoga – like I said at the time – I adjust. It’s not so bad.” She grinned happily, “Actually, there’s quite a few nice things about it…”
“Kuno,” Ryoga said miserably.
“Well,” Ranma licked her lips and then laughed, “Aw, it’s fun to be with Tatawaki – he does know how to show a girl a good time—”
Ryoga gasped in horror.
Ranma punched him, scowling, “NOT LIKE THAT!” She extended a hand to help Ryoga up, “Geez, Ryoga – get your mind out of the gutter. I just meant he treats me like a girl. And he took me to movies and dinner and the park and gave me some pretty things to wear…” at the moment Ranma was dressed in her regular chinese clothes, “With him, I could be a girl. For the first time. Completely a girl. None of this macho bullshit I always had to have getting in the way. He admired me as a female and wasn’t afraid to say so. And I could let him.” They walked silently along for awhile before Ranma grinned again, “I really have to thank Shampoo for that memory wipe at first – it helped. When she took it off… I could look back at my memories as a guy… but still feel like a girl.”
“Ryoga…” Ranma sighed. And then she shook her head, “CHESTNUTS ROASTING!”
Taken completely and utterly by surprise, Ryoga was knocked flat in seconds. It took him a few moments to recover and then he stood up, eyeing her warily… Ranma launched herself at him, feet extended for a kick… Ryoga raised his arms for a block and then tried a tentative punch…
“Is that the best you can do?!” Ranma bounced back lightly. And then stopped and stared at him. “Ryoga,” she whispered his name in horror, “Ryoga… Can’t you fight with me? Because I’m a girl now? Can’t you…?” She bit her lip as she turned away, “I was waiting for you to come back… I…” Ranma stood, her back to Ryoga, her shoulders trembling as her head bowed down, the anguish of rejection flowing in waves of feeling from her.
Ryoga closed his eyes for the pain. And he remembered how Ranma had always sparred with him even though he was a pig… He cleared his throat, “Ah, I guess you’re the one with the nickname of Tomboy now…” The insult was feeble-sounding, even to him.
But Ranma turned back to him, hope in her eyes, “So, when you eat pork nowadays, do you pour hot water over it first?”
Ryoga blinked – he’d never thought of that… His face paled as he thought of it.
“Pig.” Ranma tried a more direct approach as she rolled her eyes.
Ryoga looked up, “Moron…”
Ranma grinned, “Imbecile!”
Ranma hauled back and punched Ryoga in the chest. Ryoga staggered back, then grinned, “Your punches are still lightning bolts…” and he roared, launching himself forward at Ranma, “DIE, RANMA!”
Ranma dodged, flipping in the air, her eyes glistening with happy tears… He meant that… He’ll still fight me. My friend…
Several hours later, Ranma stood, panting… Then she slowly collapsed down until she was sitting next to Ryoga’s unconscious body. “Ohhhh…” Ranma winced as she slowly touched her jaw, wiggling it around in pain. Then she flexed her arm and examined the knuckles… “Oww… Oh, I hurt…” she grinned, wincing as she did so, “damn, that was a good fight!” Turning her attention to Ryoga, she rolled his body into a more comfortable position. She started to put his head under a cushion but didn’t find one around. That’s funny – there’s always one when I need it… With a shrug, she put his head on her lap instead, stroking the black hair off his forehead and tracing a hand along his bandanna. As Ranma stared down at Ryoga, she grinned again, “He fought me. He fought me for real.” She closed her eyes happily.
“Now there’s an interesting picture – Nabiki could blackmail you easy with it!” A voice floated through the clearing.
Ranma’s eyes popped open, “Akane!” she exclaimed happily, “Ryoga came back!”
“Finally,” Akane sat down next to Ranma, folding her skirts under her knees, “I’d tell you to stop picking on him, but I guess it’s a little late for that.”
“He fought me!” Ranma announced happily, “For reals! And I won! I beat Ryoga!!” The pride and joy shone in her voice.
“This time, damnit…” a low voice broke in, “I’ll get you next time, Ranma! Oww…” Ryoga winced as his enthusiasm on the last shout hurt his already aching head. He raised a hand and prodded his jaw carefully.
“Ryoga!” Ranma exclaimed happily, “You’re awake!”
Opening his eyes, Ryoga glared up at her. And then sat up very carefully, holding his head as he did so. Then his hand went to his side… “Damn, Ranma. I’d nearly forgotten the strength of your punches. Thousands of lightening bolts, all slamming into the same spot, taking me down… A whirlwind of air dancing around me so I can hardly land a blow. And then when I finally do land a punch or a kick, the incredible resilience of the dragon, popping right back up again…” He grinned at the shorter redhead, “It’s good to fight with you again, my friend.” For the first time in his life, Ryoga didn’t try to disguise the fight with anger or irritation or anything than what it was – a spar between equals and friends, each pushing each other to their limits and enjoying being able to fight full out like they couldn’t against anyone else.
Ranma’s mouth dropped open as she stared at Ryoga… “Lightening bolts…” she whispered, tears falling from her eyes.
“Huh?” Ryoga blinked at the tears, “Ranma, I–”
Jumping up, Ranma put an arm over her face and ran away.
“Ranma!” Ryoga jumped up, ready to follow. A hand on his arm stopped him. When Ryoga glanced to Akane, she took her hand off as she shook her head.
“Don’t follow. Ranma just needs some time alone.”
“Akane-san,” Ryoga hadn’t even realized she was there. He looked back to the point where Ranma had run, “Ranma…”
“You fought with her,” Akane said, a smile lighting her face, “Do you know you’re the only person besides her dad and me who’ve done that since we came back?”
Ryoga blinked. And looked again at the friend who wasn’t there. The same friend… but in a girl’s body now, and… “Nobody?” He winced – for a martial artist of Ranma’s drive and power, fighting was her joy and delight in life. To have nobody willing to spar… Ryoga remembered his own thoughts at the beginning of the fight and winced again. “Sorry,” he muttered to the absent figure.
Akane had been waiting for the return of his attention. She smiled at him, “Ryoga-kun, you’ve done her a great favor. Ranma’s happy, really she is – but she’s still Ranma and she hates to let anybody see her weakness.” She put a hand on his arm and tugged him gently in one direction, “Come on, let’s go home. Ranma’s still going to want to talk with you and I darn well better not lose you before she does!” Her grin lit her face, “And I want to hear it all too! Where on earth have you been!?!” Then she hastily corrected herself, “No, better wait until we’re all together…” Akane’s brown eyes and elfin face beamed up at him, “Ryoga-kun, I’m happy you’re back.”
Akane-san… Ryoga stared at her… and didn’t feel anything. He bit his lip and tried to find all the bouncy little thoughts in his head that used to make his heart beat and his chest tight and his throat close… the feelings that made him feel like he was floating in air and not really there… All that was going through his mind was that one shout, ‘baka’ and he couldn’t feel anything as he looked at Akane.
Ryoga cleared his throat and looked away from her, “What about Mousse and Shampoo?”
“Huh?” Akane blinked before realizing what he was asking, “No… Shampoo won’t fight her, but won’t say why. Mousse won’t fight her… ah,” Akane blushed, “’cause with those silly Amazon rules – he’s the one in the hotseat now.”
If Ranma defeats Mousse, he has to marry her… Ryoga stopped in his tracks and howled in amusement, sending startled birds flying from trees as he laughed and laughed and laughed… Finally he stopped, wiping his eyes, “Oh… oh… That would be too much! Ranma would start collecting fiancees again… Oh! Mousse must have been terrified…”
Akane grinned, “He was. Ranma had been prodding him into a fight and then finally just attacked… Mousse ran. He ran so fast that he was gone before we had a chance to see him go. And Shampoo and Cologne were laughing their heads off… Ranma was mortified when she found out!” Switching thoughts, Akane frowned, “Cologne said that wouldn’t have been a bad idea – that she still wants Ranma in the tribe…”
“Mousse is devoted to Shampoo,” Ryoga said, “he’ll never go for it.” Thank goodness for Ranma! He went back to the original subject, “I can figure why Kuno won’t fight Ranma,” in spite of himself, he winced at the thought, and tried not to picture… He bit his lip, “But what about Kodachi?”
Akane wrinkled her nose, “Well, when we lost them at 5th Street, apparently…” and for the rest of the walk to the dojo, Akane told Ryoga about the adventures that Kuno and Kodachi had gone through in the months while the others had been searching for Ryoga’s cure.
When they got to the Tendo home, Ranma shyly greeted them at the door, “Sorry about that,” she mumbled, not looking at Ryoga. “I didn’t mean to make a fuss.”
“That’s… okay, Ranma,” Ryoga said in the quiet voice he normally reserved for Akane. He mentally shook his head at the weirdness of Ranma’s apology. It wasn’t that Ranma wasn’t known to be occasionally polite, though it certainly wasn’t normal… it was that he and Ranma had never needed to be like this before. The apologies were understood by them in their spars. Like Ranma’s not telling about P-chan…
“Well, I was actually at fault on that one,” Ranma said with a wince, “I don’t know how I could have not seen you on the edge of the cliffs.”
Ryoga blinked at the answer to his unspoken thought.
“Huh?” Akane looked between the two of them, “What was that?”
And Ranma blushed a solid red, “Uhh…”
“Oh!” Ryoga suddenly understood, “From when you could talk with me as P-chan!” He looked at Ranma curiously, “You can still read my moves that well? Even as a human?”
The short redhead snorted derisively, “Ryoga – I always could read your moves! That’s how come you always lose!”
“Hey! I do not always lose!”
“Okay… I always win!”
The two youths squared off.
Nabiki wandered by, “Please, not in the house. We’ve had a relatively uneventful month so far, and I’d rather keep it that way. The dojo is self-repairing – go out there!”
They stood down rather reluctantly and somewhat shame-faced.
“Onii-chan, that’s mean,” Akane protested, “First time for ages they’ve had a chance to spar…”
“First time…” Nabiki looked the two over, “I take it the bruises that are just starting to fade are from a different fight earlier today with other opponents and totally unrelated to each other?”
Ranma grinned suddenly, the expression lighting up her face and making the blue eyes sparkle, “Never mind, Ryoga – I want to hear about what you’ve been doing and where you’ve been in the last month and a half! You scared us, running off that way. And your appearance when you poked in Uc-chan’s apparently didn’t do much to reassure her.”
Ryoga blushed, “I’ll have to tell her I’m sorry. I didn’t think.” He felt in his pockets, “Actually, I forgot to pay her too.” Pulling out some loose bills, he gave a few to Ranma, “If I don’t see her anytime soon, could you give her this, please?”
“You mean you actually pay her for the food???” Ranma stared.
Nabiki snorted, “Not everybody is a free-loader like you, Ranma-kun.”
Kasumi floated by, “It’s time for dinner, everyone.”
The tension broken, the group split up to wash up and then reassembled in the dining room. Ryoga rummaged around in his pack and then brought out several small wooden carvings. “Sorry, Kasumi-san, Akane-san,” he mumbled as he passed them out, “I didn’t have an opportunity to pick up a real guest gift this time.”
“Oh, this is delightful, Ryoga-kun,” Kasumi turned the small figure of a bird over in her hands, “That’s not a problem. And we consider you to be family, not a guest.”
Ryoga blushed scarlet in embarrassment and mumbled something nobody could hear.
Nabiki nodded absently to her sister as she looked in amazement at the marlin fish she was holding. Akane smiled happily at Ryoga as she put away her flower.
Ranma pulled herself out of surprise at Ryoga’s statement, those were only guest-gifts he always brought to Akane? But I thought… and she looked at her figure. And blinked in surprise, “Did you make these, Ryoga???” she asked as she stared at the small pig. It was small, round, wide-eyed, made out of dark rose-wood – there was even a bandanna carved around the neck. Ranma’s fingers tightened around the figure, a lump arising in her throat.
“Uh, well, I had some time on my hands but wasn’t travelling anywhere…” Ryoga glanced at the figure Ranma held and his redness changed color to a near white as he tried to snatch it out of Ranma’s hands, “That was the wrong one!!!!” As Ranma dodged his attempts to take it, Ryoga frantically dug in his pack until he found a different one, “Here – this one is yours – now give that back!”
Ranma glanced down at the exquisite spiraling dragon and her eyes widened. She wanted it. She did. But… Ranma looked at the pig she held, and spoke softly, “Can I have this one too? Please?”
Ryoga blinked in absolute shock as he sat abruptly back. Ranma said please? It reminded him… It reminded him of Ranma using one of her disguises to trick him. Ryoga buried his face in his hands so Ranma couldn’t read his expression. It isn’t a disguise this time. Ranma is a girl. A girl. And she said ‘please’… Ryoga always had a problem with denying cute girls anything. But this was Ranma… who was a girl… He whispered, “I had meant to burn that one. I couldn’t find it when I lit the fire.” He trembled as he remembered… A small firm hand rested for a moment on his shoulder, squeezing gently. Then the hand was gone. Gaining a bit of courage, Ryoga peeked out from between his fingers… and saw the small pig on the table in front of him. He dropped his hands and stared at it in utter revulsion for a long moment before shoving it over to Ranma, “You can have it. I never want to see it again.”
There was silence around the table for a long time as nobody looked at anybody as they all tried hard not to look at Ryoga… Finally, Kasumi reached to her side and started scooping the rice into bowls and passing them around.
“Had time on your hands… Wasn’t traveling… So where were you and why didn’t you call?” Ranma spoke between gobbles as she shoveled the rice into her mouth.
Ryoga watched in amazement at the bad table manners. Well, he thought wryly, there are some things that haven’t changed! “Where are Mr. Tendo and Mr. Saotome?” he asked, not answering Ranma’s question.
Ranma suddenly concentrated even more deeply on her food and didn’t look up.
Akane answered instead, “They and Happosai are out on a training mission. They left for Korea a few weeks ago and were planning to be gone for quite a while. Daddy said we were all big girls now and could take care of ourselves, though he did cry for almost a day before leaving.”
Ryoga put down his rice bowl in sudden dismay. Ranma’s dad didn’t accept it? But I thought…
“Oh, no, that’s not it,” Ranma abruptly spoke, “Pop was actually fine about it.” She grinned in amusement at a memory, “Though I was expecting him to beat me black and blue before hauling me off to China to try and find another cure…” The red braid whipped in the air as Ranma shook her head, “No, when I told him, he looked at me a moment rather calmly, asked me if there was any other alternative at the time, then nodded and said that the path of a true Martial Artist is fraught with perils and I’d done the only thing I could have. Then he sparred with me. Like normal. He even started calling me ‘daughter’ after a few days.”
“But…” Ryoga was rather confused.
Ranma looked down, suddenly silent now.
The three sisters looked at each other and sighs echoed around the table. Kasumi spoke gently, “Ranma’s father accepted it…”
Nabiki wrinkled her nose in annoyance, “But Nodaka didn’t.”
Akane’s brown eyes glistened angrily, “I’d like to know exactly what right she has to barge in here and tell Ranma and Mr. Saotome that they have to commit seppuku over one stupid little promise made years ago, after she abandoned Ranma and his dad! If she was any sort of mother at all, she would have never let Ranma go! Or would have gone with them!!!"
Seppuku????????? Ryoga gasped in horror, his eyes darting in worry and fright to his friend and staying there. “But, but, but…” he stuttered, unable to speak for the dismay he felt. It was all my fault! Ranma did it for me… Seppuku?
“Oh, that’s right,” Ranma said wearily, “You never met my mom, did you? Well, apparently years ago when I was a baby, Pop took me on this training trip and promised Mom that I’d come back, ‘a man among men’. And she held him to it. She got used to my curse, sortof, but always emphasized my boy side. And when I got back as a girl permanently…” Ranma sighed, a long sound that was almost a sob but not quite, “And I was so happy to have a mother…” Ranma shook her head, “Pop and Mr. Tendo left to draw away the fire. She’s washed her hands of me. And Nabiki filed court charges and got a restraining order to prevent Mom from coming anywhere near the Tendo home.”
Hearing this, all of Ryoga’s worries and problems suddenly seemed to be minor and trivial. He hadn’t thought that Ranma would be so very alone…
“Akane and Shampoo have been good friends. They’ve helped me a lot,” Ranma said, suddenly sounding reassuring.
“Damnit, Ranma! Will you stop that?!!!” It was rather disconcerting to have all your inner thoughts read so accurately like that. Ryoga’s face flushed.
Ranma blinked, “Uhh… sorry…”
But you don’t think you can stop it. Ryoga grinned tightly as he read the thought off Ranma’s face. Well, I guess I’ll just have to start learning to read you.
Tilting her head to one side, Ranma studied him for a moment and then grinned lightly.
Ryoga laughed, “I was at Akiri’s.”
The abrupt switch in topics had confused faces and stunned silences prevalent around the table. Akane carefully put her chopsticks down as she looked worriedly at Ryoga.
She can tell… Ryoga sighed, “She’s married now. To somebody who actually likes pigs.” He grimaced at the thought.
“Oh, Ryoga…” Akane nearly cried for him.
“Huh?” Ryoga blinked, “Oh, no… I’m fine with it – really. After I got back… I really, really, really didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on a pig farm!” He grimaced again, “Pigs here, pigs there. Pigs everywhere. And all of them wanting to fight and to be fed and to be praised and petted or taught. And that big one was the worst of them. He’s always been jealous of me and Akiri… He didn’t like me from the start. So I found another solution.”
“Ah!” Nabiki’s eyes lit up, “So that was what that ad in the Tokyo newspaper was all about! I wondered…” She quoted, “’Single Martial Artist who would like to manage Sumo Pig Wresting Dojo, please contact this number.’”
Ryoga grinned, “Yeah. I figured since the only reason she liked me in the first place was ‘cause I defeated her pig, that she’d take any guy who could also beat him. So I arranged for a series of duels, picked the best of them after interviewing them to make sure they’d be right for Akiri, and let them fight it out with her sumo pig. When one of the guys finally won, and proposed to her on the spot – she accepted.”
Akane and Ranma had drawn together and were staring at him.
Kasumi was calmly pouring everybody more tea, “That was nice of you, Ryoga-kun.”
Ryoga grinned again. And raised an eyebrow at Ranma and Akane, “Oh, go ahead and ask it, already.”
“But…” Akane said hesitantly, “I thought you loved her…” Ranma blushed but nodded.
Ryoga looked out at the koi pond, “I loved being loved. After… what happened in the cave, I realized that it was really a very shallow reason to be attached to somebody and to lead them on.” And when I showed up at her place again, I also realized what a shallow-brained ditz Akiri really is!
Ranma burst out laughing and almost fell over. Akane glared at him, “Ranma, it’s not nice to make fun of Ryoga like that! I think he did a truly noble thing!!!”
With an effort, Ranma pressed her lips together, her blue eyes sparkling merrily at Ryoga as her internal laughter continued unabated.
Ryoga blinked in surprise. Ranma… approves? Ranma never liked her? But… you were always trying to throw us together!!!
Ranma blushed slightly, “You were happy with her.” Her gaze flickered to Akane.
And it kept me away from Akane, Ryoga interpreted it. He grinned tightly, suppressing the habitual surge of jealous rage. And it turns out Ranma was right on that one too.
“Huh?” Ranma asked in surprise, not quite understanding that last look on Ryoga’s face.
“I think Ryoga is right,” Nabiki waved a chopstick in the air, “You two have got to stop that silent communication thing before you drive the rest of us crazy!”
The small group of youngsters all laughed and the dinner conversation turned to more harmless topics for the rest of the meal.
(Unfinished. End for now.)