Mending Glass Hearts    
by Orla

***

Authors burble: Hello, Orla here. Just a warning,
this is kinda serious and doesn't involve alot of
action or alot of the usual zany Ranma 1/2 actions.
It's more of an introspective look at reactions
and relationships. The idea came to me at work, of
all places, and I just had to get it down. I hope
people like it and if they don't, well, tough. I
enjoyed writing it! However, please let me know what
you think by contacting me at: ladyorla@yahoo.com
No flames!

Other Ranma 1/2 fics written or co-authored by me
can be found at:

http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~jaelle/Jaelle_Orla.htm

***

Disclaimer:

Rumiko Takahashi megamisama owns all these wonderful
characters! I beg her pardon for having the temerity
to use them

***

This occurs one year after the end of Vol. 38 of the
manga.

***

Ukyou Kuonji yawned as she entered into the main area
of her okonomiyaki restaurant. Some days she did _not_
want to get out of bed and work.

"Ohayoo, Ukyou-sama!" Konatsu, her faithful 'waitress',
bounced up to her, a big smile on his bishonen face.
"Its such a lovely day!"

Ukyou sighed. "Konatsu, after that big private party
last night I don't know how you can be so _chirpy_.
I had enough trouble just getting out of bed this
morning!" She stretched and moved over to the grill.
With the speed born from years of practice she ready'd
the grill for the morning crowd. "Thats it, no more
late-night private functions here! I like my sleep."

"But you made such a good profit, Ukyou-sama!"

Ukyou had to agree. "Okay, maybe just one a month then."
she qualified.

Turning away from the grill Ukyou noticed the letter
lying on the bench. "The mail is early this morning."
she said as she picked it up.

"It was hand-delivered, Ukyou-sama." said Konatsu, he
began to wipe down the tables. "Just slipped under the
door."

"Hmmm..." Ukyou opened the plain envelope. Her expression
changed swiftly upon seeing the letter inside. Konatsu
hurried over when he saw her worried frown.

"Ukyou-sama? Bad news?"

"It's from... Ran-chan." said Ukyou as she began to read.

 Dear Ucchan
  First of all, sorry. I am so sorry because I
  know that this news is going to hurt you and
  I never wanted to do that - not again.
  Two days ago I finally came to a decision and
  Akane agreed with me. We realised that there
  was no way we could ever get married in Nerima
  (Yes, Ucchan - I want to marry Akane, she's not
  forcing me in any way!). There are just too many
  people who would try and disrupt the ceremony
  again and this time someone I cared about could
  get seriously hurt.
  So we've eloped. We'll get married far away from
  Nerima and come back when the furore dies down.**

"Oh my God." Ukyou gasped and sat down on the floor with a
thud. "Oh my God."

     **Ucchan, I know how you feel about me. As much
  as I've tried to deny it I know that you regard
  me as more than just a good friend, but I can't
  feel that way. I do love you Ucchan, but not as
  a fiancee. I hope you'll continue to be a part
  of my life, although I'll understand if it's
  too hard for you. Please don't fall apart or
  anything, I know that you're going to be okay,
  you're strong Ucchan.

  Take care of yourself. I hope to see you when
  I get back.

  All the best,

  Your friend, Ran-chan***

Ukyou was very, very still and very, very quiet. Konatsu
moved over to her side. "Ukyou-sama, are you alright?"

Ukyou's response was to start screaming.

***

"Thank you for eating at, Ucchan's Okonomiyaki! Have a nice
day!" Konatsu farewelled the departing customers with a bow
and a big smile. He cleared the plates and then charged back
to the grill to prep it for the next order.

"So, where's your boss, Konatsu-san?" asked one of the
regulars. "On holiday?"

Konatsu sighed. "Iie, Akira-san. She's not been feeling very
well these past couple of days."

"That's too bad." the old man said as he departed. "Give
Kuonji-san my regards."

"Certainly, Akira-san!" Konatsu promised. Then he sighed
again and looked up at the ceiling. *That's if I ever see
her!*

Once she had stopped screaming after receiving Ranma
Saotome's letter two days ago, Ukyou had gone straight up
to her room and closed the door. She hadn't come out since.
At first Konatsu could hear her crying and crying, now
there was silence - unless he tried to open the door to
see if she was alright, then she snarled at him to get lost.
She ate sparingly, although Konatsu had spent almost all
his savings on a delicious meals. Nothing seemed to rouse
her out of this depressed state, not even when Konatsu
reported (through the door) that custom was dwindling at
Ucchan's.

"What am I going to do?" he moaned aloud.

"Get back to your work!"

The voice behind him caused Konatsu to whirl around so fast
that he nearly tripped over the hem of his kimono.

"U-Ukyou-sama!"

She stood in the doorway, her face was pale, but composed.
Her hair was drawn back in a simple ponytail and she was
no longer dressed in her traditional chef's outfit. Instead
she wore a dark green shirt and jeans.

"Ukyou-sama!" repeated Konatsu, tears pouring down his face
he leapt forward to embrace her. Ukyou didn't duck out of
the way or shove him aside as she usually did, she accepted
his hug. And returned it.

"I'm okay, Konatsu." she said softly. "I'm sorry for making
you worry. You've been very good to me and I don't deserve
a friend like you."

Konatsu pulled away and looked at her. "Why the change,
Ukyou-sama? What are you going to do... about... well..."
he was reluctant to name names in fear of sending her back
into a slump.

Ukyou smiled. "About Ranma? Nothing. There's nothing I can
do except the very thing he told me to do - get on with my
life and learn to love him as a friend."

Konatsu looked at her with doubtful eyes. He didn't think
it was going to be that easy, you couldn't just stop loving
someone suddenly. Ukyou challenged his doubt with a fierce,
proud stare.

"I'm not going to let this rule my life." she insisted and
walked over to the grill. "Now hand me that apron and start
pulling in customers!"

"Hai, Itsujo!"

Ukyou turned to the grill and began to mix the okonomiyaki
ingredients with a passion. *I will work through this. I
will _stop_ this pain in my heart and if I have to work
until I drop to forget, then so be it!"

***

Ryoga Hibiki stared at the flecks of tea-leaves floating
in his near empty cup. He idly recalled the snippets of
girls gossip he'd heard whilst around Akane. 'Tea leaves
can tell you the future'. He wondered what the leaves
would tell him if a)he believed in that sort of thing, and
b)if he knew how to read tea leaves. Would it be a good
future? A happy one?

"Ryoga-kun? Would you like more tea?" a gentle, feminine
voice broke through his abstract thoughts.

Ryoga looked over at the girl who had asked him the question.
She sat on the counch, some knitting in her hands, a look
of caring enquiry on her pretty face. He shook his head.

"Iie, Akari-san. I'm fine. Thank you."

Akari Unryuu smiled sweetly and turned her attention back
to her knitting. Ryoga put down his cup and clasping his
hands together, tried to relax.

He couldn't. He felt odd... restless.

He's been at the Unryuu's for at least five months, the
longest he'd been in one place for one time and it was
beginning to wear on him. At first he'd been happy. It was
nice to know where he was every morning and to help with
everyday chores, even if that did mean looking after sumo
pigs.

Pigs. Ryoga supressed a shudder. His dislike of them was
not going away. He looked over at Akari again and at the
huge pig sleeping beside her. Katsunishiki. Akari's prize
sumo pig. He went _everywhere_ with her.

*Stop it!* Ryoga mentally berated himself. *How can you
complain when you are with a girl who loves you? You
should be grateful!*

Akari was everything he had imagined a girl should be. She
was sweet, kind, pretty and patient. She didn't care about
his bad sense of direction. She _liked_ his curse. She was
agreeable to all his suggestions and adored him openly.

But Ryoga Hibiki was feeling smothered.

He couldn't stop thinking about Nerima. About the crazy
things that went on there. About Ranma Saotome. About Akane
Tendo...

And was that the problem? Was he still in love with Akane?
His heart had shattered when he realised that she loved
Ranma, despite Akari's presence, and he didn't think all the
pieces were back in place.

Ryoga looked over at Akari. She looked up and smiled sweetly.

"Look Ryoga-kun, it's nearly finished!" she held up the
sweater she was knitting. For him. It was yellow and had
motifs of little black pigs all over it.

Ryoga smiled weakly. "It's nice, Akari-san."

Pigs, pigs, pigs. Akari loved pigs. She loved Ryoga and she
loved his curse form. She wanted to spend her life with
Ryoga and her sumo pigs. Ryoga did _not_ like pigs. He hadn't
been that fond of them before he was cursed, and afterwards
he had hated turning into a pig. He hated himself for using
the curse to get close to Akane and for making his already
miserable life much worse. How could he spend the rest of his
life at this country house looking after pigs? Did he really
love Akari that much or was he just using her as a balm to
his wounded heart?

So many questions. Ryoga knew he had to resolve them before
he could make any kind of commitment to Akari. To continue on
this way was unfair to her and unfair to him.

"Akari-san?"

"Hai, Ryoga-kun?"

"I have to go back to Nerima for a while."

Akari's eyes went big and worried. "Why, Ryoga-kun?"

Ryoga looked away from her. "I... I need to talk to Ranma
about some things." *And to see Akane-san just once more,
to be completely sure of my feelings.*

Akari sighed. "When will you come back?" she asked in a
small voice.

"As soon as I can." Ryoga promised. Although that could
mean anything from two weeks to six months given his sense
of direction.

"I'll wait for you." Akari smiled bravely. "And by the time
you return I'll have finished your sweater."

Ryoga tried to picture himself wearing the sweater, and failed
utterly. "Sure." he said. "I'll leave first thing tomorrow
morning."

***

Two months later Ryoga stood at the gates of Furinkan High
School.

"_Finally_." he muttered. "How did I end up taking that detour
to Korea?"

Some questions could never be answered and this was one of
them. Ryoga adjusted his large backpack and started down
the street which he hoped would lead him to the Tendo Dojo.
As he passed the shopping district he caught the eye of one
weekend shopper.

"Ryoga Hibiki!"

Ryoga turned and saw a young woman running over to him. His
heart leapt with joy briefly, then sank when he realised that
this was not Akane.

"Konnichiwa Ukyou." he said politely.

Ryoga frowned slightly. There was something different about
Ukyou. She was no longer dressed in her usual chef's outfit.
She was thinner and there was a hint of strain around her
eyes and mouth. Her naturally pretty face was adorned with
make-up, something he had never noticed her use before.

Ukyou smiled at him and even her smile had changed.

"Konnichiwa Ryoga. Did you come to Nerima intentionally or
were you just passing through?"

"Intentionally." Ryoga said. "Can you... um... take me to
the Tendo Dojo?"

Ukyou's eyes narrowed. "Why do you want to go there?"

"Well, you might find this hard to believe." said Ryoga.
"But I want to talk to Ranma, talk, not fight."

"You won't be able to do that, sugar." Ukyou said. "Ranma
isn't there."

"Oh." *He must be on a training trip then.* "Okay, well, I
need to talk to... Akane-san as well."

"She isn't there either." said Ukyou. She gave him an odd
look. "Didn't they let you know?"

"Know what?" Ryoga asked. Worry began to surge through him.
Had something happened to Akane and Ranma? Was Akane hurt
or was she... no... couldn't be! "What happened Ukyou?!"

Ukyou noticed his tone of urgent worry, and felt it too as
his strong fingers gripped her arms. "Ow! Ryoga, stop
panicking! I'll tell you everything." She pulled away and
rubbed her arms. "I can see why no one mentioned anything
to you though. Do you always overreact?"

"Ukyou..." Ryoga growled. "_Tell_ me!"

"Okay, okay." Ukyou looked around and saw they were attracting
quite a bit of attention. "Look, come back to Ucchan's
with me. At least you can get excited in private there." she
grabbed his hand and pulled him down the street.

Ryoga allowed himself to be towed along, his mind whirling.

***

"Irrashimasu!" Konatsu carolled as the door to Ucchan's
opened. "Oh... hi, Itsujo! And Hibiki-san."

"Hi, Konatsu." said Ukyou. She glanced around. "No customers?"

"No. it's been quite for the past ten minutes." apologised
Konatsu.

"Good." said Ukyou totally flabbergasting Konatsu. "Can you
put up the private party sign and then... um... take a
lunch break?"

"Hai." Konatsu slid a glance at Ryoga who was seated at the
grill. *He doesn't look so good. Is Ukyou going to tell
him?*

As soon as Konatsu had gone, Ukyou began to cook some
okonomiyaki. She hoped that having food would stop Ryoga
from overreacting too much, although she realised with a
fatalistic sigh that this was probably unlikely.

Ryoga fidgeted on his stool. "Ukyou..." he began.

Ukyou took a deep breath and let the words go. "Ranma and
Akane eloped two months ago and they haven't returned yet."

#Silence#

#Looooonnnng Silence#

"Uh... Ryoga?"

#CRACK!#

There was an audible sound as Ryoga's heart shattered again.

"NNNNOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!" A green glow began to emit from his
body. "No, nononononono!"

Ukyou blinked. *Wow, this is the same way _I_ reacted. Except
for one thing...* She watched in alarm as the glow deepened.
*He's alot more dangerous than I am!*

"Shi..." Ryoga began to gather his unhappiness.

#CLANG!#

Ryoga tumbled off the stool, his eyes glazed. "Ooooh...
stars." he mumbled before passing out.

Ukyou replaced her mega-spatula and sighed. "That was scary."

Ryoga recovered a minute later and leapt to his feet, glaring
at her. "What was that for!"

"You nearly shi shi hokodaned my restaurant you idiot!"

Ryoga rubbed the back of his head. "Oh... gomen."

Ukyou sighed. "Forget it." she said. "I didn't react much
better when I got Ranma's letter."

Ranma. She had said 'Ranma', not 'Ranchan'. Ryoga saw the
sharp pain in her eyes and knew that Ukyou had not completely
conquered her own feelings of anguish. A mixture of anger
and sadness directed at Ranma welled up within him and he
forcibly supressed it. "S-so, how did everyone else react?"
he managed to ask.

Ukyou seemed only too willing to reveal the events of the
past two months. He listened in dull silence as she talked,
barely absorbing the news.

"Well, as you can expect, everyone was really shocked. Mr
and Mrs Saotome and Mr Tendo were happy, but kinda sad that
Ranma and Akane felt they had to elope. I think they're
planning an elaborate ceremony when they get back. Mrs Saotome
has managed to get Happosai under contol. No one knows how
she did this, not even Nabiki, but I'd bet it has something
to do with that big sword of hers! Nabiki is at university
now and planning to go to New York to study finance, she
thinks Ranma and Akane did the right thing. Kasumi was
shocked, well, as shocked as she can be. But one good thing
came out of it for her, Dr Tofu _finally_ managed to stay
coherant enough to ask her to marry him! They're engaged now.
Shampoo and Cologne were very angry and I'll bet they've got
something in mind for when Ranma and Akane return. Mousse has
returned to China, he finally got fed up. Kuno was upset about
the loss of Akane, but he was ecstatic that 'the pig-tailed
girl' was now free. Of course, he can't find her! Kodachi is
very depressed and is making life very difficult for the
other Kunos!" Ukyou gasped as she finished her speel.

Ryoga blinked. "So, life as normal, ne?"

Ukyou snorted. "Yeah, without the main players!" she then
looked curiously at Ryoga. "But I thought you had settled
everything Ryoga. Don't you have a girlfriend now, umm...
what was her name?"

"Akari." said Ryoga with a small sigh. "Her name's Akari and
she raises sumo pigs."

"That's... nice."

"Yes, isn't it." said Ryoga with a trace of bitterness. "She's
everything I've ever dreamed of in a girl - sweet, pretty and
patient."

*Sounds like a real drip* Ukyou thought, but she wisely kept
her opinions to herself. "So, what's the problem?"

Ryoga stared at her. "Problem? What do you mean?" he asked
evasively.

"Oh come _on_." Ukyou rolled her eyes. "You wouldn't be
here looking for Ranma and Akane if everything was fine! There
must be a problem!"

Ryoga fidgeted. "Well... I... ummm..."

Ukyou came around and sat beside him. She touched his arm
gently.

"C'mon, sugar. Tell me. I know I'm not Ranma or Akane, but
just use me as your sounding board if you like."

Ryoga looked down at his hands for a long time. Then he
lifted his head. "I... the problem is that... I hate pigs."

"Oh." said Ukyou. "And she likes them, I can see this
being a problem."

"Well, no... I guess I don't really _hate_ pigs, I just
really don't care about them, I espcially hate being a
pig."

"You hate..." Ukyou's confused query trailed off as she
realised what Ryoga had just told her. "You're... you're
Akane's _pet_???!!!"

Ryoga looked at her wildly. "I... I... I'm sorry!" he
stuttered as her expression darkened.

#WHAP!#

For the second time Ryoga tumbled off his stool as Ukyou
favoured him with a backhanded slap.

"You JACKASS!!!" she cried. "All this time and you never
_told_ me???"

Ryoga stood up. "I was ashamed!" he cried.

"I'll just bet you were!" growled Ukyou. She slapped her
forehead. "Oh kami! There I was, trying to get you and
Akane together and you were her _pet pig_ at the time!
No wonder Ranma used to pick on 'P-chan'!"

Ryoga picked up his pack. "I'll go." he said. "Gomenasai,
Ukyou. Thank you for the okonomiyaki." he turned to leave.

"Matte!" Ukyou called out halting his steps. "Where are
you going?"

Ryoga turned back to her. "I didn't think you wanted to
know me anymore." he said. "After all, I turn into a pig."

"Oh Ryoga! You baka!" Ukyou laughed. "That really doesn't
matter. I was just surprised and annoyed that you didn't
tell me. It's the kind of thing you like to know when you're
playing matchmaker." she patted the stool. "C'mon, sit
down and stop getting so uppity."

"I am _not_ uppity!" Ryoga grumbled, but he reseated himself
anyway.

"Okay." said Ukyou. "To continue, you are having problems with
Akari because she loves pigs and you hate being one." she
looked sharply at Ryoga. "Does Akari know?"

"Yes." said Ryoga. "She thinks it's great."

"Hmmm... I suppose a pig-lover would." Ukyou drummed her
fingers on the counter. "But the 'problem' must be more than
that, Ryoga."

He leaned on the counter. "I really don't know." he confessed.

Ukyou fished out a bottle of sake and some cups. "Here." she
said handing him a full cup. "Sometimes this stuff helps you
loosen the old tongue."

Ryoga looked at the cup and then slugged it back. The sake
stung his system and he shuddered. "ah...." he cleared his
throat. "I felt I had to come back to Nerima to be sure."
he said.

"Sure of your feelings for Akari?" Ukyou took a sip of sake.

"Hai. I was feeling... boxed in." Ryoga gulped down some more
sake. "Ukyou, she's knitting me a sweater for kami's sake! With
black pigs on it! I... hey, stop laughing!"

Ukyou wiped her eyes. "Gomen, but the image was a bit too
much!"

Ryoga couldn't help but smile. "Yeah well, I should be
grateful I suppose." he lapsed back into his melancholy
mood. "In Akari I've got all I wanted and I'm not satisfied.
Damnit!" he burst out. "What's wrong with me?!"

Ukyou fiddled with her sake cup. "Maybe it's only what you
_thought_ you wanted." she suggested. "Maybe that's why
you came back to Nerima. To clear your head."

Ryoga looked at her in the dimming light. "Maybe." he conceded.

For a long time they sat in silence. The evening darkened and
the restaurant was almost dark with the exception of the slight
light above the grill. Neither Ukyou nor Ryoga moved to
illuminate the place however, at this point both prefered the
darkness. Finally Ukyou broke the silence.

"Do you really want to get away, Ryoga?"

His head moved in a small nod. Ukyou took a deep breath.
"I'd been thinking about taking a holiday for quite a few
days and also combine this with getting Ranma the best
wedding present."

"Oh?"

"I was thinking of going to China." annouced Ukyou. "To
Jusenkyo and getting some of the water of the spring of
drowned man."

Ryoga tensed, then he slumped back. "Forget it. There is
no more Jusenkyo. The waters merged during the battle with
Saffron."

"I know." said Ukyou. "But I talked to the Guide and his
daughter, Plum. They told me that when the water drained
away there was enough of each original spring left - and
they are all exactly as they were."

Ryoga took several deep breaths. "To be cured..." he murmured.
"I'd lost all hope."

"So why not come with me to China?" Ukyou suggested almost
desperately. "You'd get to Jusenkyo without getting lost
and get cured, that would be one of your troubles out of
the way for a start. And I..." her voice faltered. "I'd
like the company."

Ryoga looked at her curiously, "Why me?" he asked. "Why
not Konatsu?"

Ukyou smiled slightly. "Someone has to keep this place
going! I'm not losing custom if I can help it. Besides,"
she shrugged. "You won't misinterpret my intentions like
poor Konatsu will."

"Hn." Ryoga continued to look at her, studying her face
in the dim light. He saw the hollows in her cheeks and
the shadows under her eyes, the thinness of her wrists
and the lurking tears in the depths of her once cheeful
eyes. Ukyou needed someone to help her and he was sure that
not many could, not even devoted Konatsu who loved her
so much. Was he the right person? She was offering the
most tempting of bribe and he'd be a fool to pass up such
an opportunity.

Ryoga reached out and took her small wrist in his large
hand. "I'll come." he said. "But you have to do something."

"What?" Ukyou frowned. Surely he wasn't making demands
when she was dangling Jusenkyo in front of him.

"You need to eat." he said gently.

***

Ukyou's eyes were wide and she kept very close to Ryoga
as they pushed through the sea of people at Beijing
airport.

"So big..." she murmured.

"What?" Ryoga looked down at her.

Ukyou shook her head. "Nothing." she said. "Where do we
pick up the packs?"

"The sixteenth baggage claim." he answered.

"_Sixteenth_?" Ukyou squeaked. She looked up at the
confusing mass of signs. "I think that's to the right."

"You think?"

"Hey, I can't read Chinese or English!"

"What were they teaching you at Furinkan?" Ryoga wondered
as they pushed towards the claim area.

"How to avoid Miss Hinako's draining and the principal's
exploding coconuts." Ukyou replied seriously.

Finally they reached the sixteenth claim and were lucky
enough to grab their bags quite quickly. After struggling
though the crowd (Ryoga resisting the urge to use the
shi shi hokodan or bakusai tenketsu) they found themselves
in the shopping area of the airport.

"Oh good!" said Ryoga. He pointed at a burger restaurant.
"I'm starving, let's get some lunch."

"Yuck." said Ukyou as they went over. Her feelings as a
chef were revolted. "Reconstituted food, how _wonderful_."

She sat down at a window booth and waited as Ryoga got the
food, He managed to get to her without any mishaps, the
table _was_ in his direct line of sight after all, and placed
a tray laden with a hamburger, chips and a drink in front
of her. Ukyou looked at the food and sighed.

"Ryoga, I'm really not that hungry." she said.

Ryoga gave her a sharp look and Ukyou sighed again and
picked up a chip. With effort she chewed  and swallowed
it, fighting the gag reflex that had almost become
automatic.

"It's nice to get off that tin box." Ryoga said as he
chowed down. "I hate aeroplanes."

"I thought you said this was the first time you'd ever
been on one." said Ukyou as she forced down another chip.

"Yes, I've always walked everywhere else - or taken a
boat."

"Oh." Ukyou took a gulp of her cola. "So, have you been
to Beijing before?"

"Yes, about..." Ryoga thought for a moment. "Four, no, five
times. It's not bad I guess."

"The airport is so big." Ukyou looked out of the window at the
frantic bustle. "So confusing." she toyed with her straw
and looked sullenly at the food. "I can't eat this." she
stated.

"Sure you can." Ryoga encouraged her. "It's not that bad."
he saw her uncooperative expression and threw his hamburger
down. "Fine." he said standing up. "Let's go home."

Ukyou stared up at him. "No... I... nani?"

Ryoga leaned on the table and placed his face close to hers.
"I'm not tramping around China watching you starve yourself
for Ranma!"

Ukyou gasped. "I'm _not_!" she protested. "I just... I haven't
been able to eat much, that's all. I've felt so miserable...
I..." *sob*

Ryoga crumbled as tears worked their way down her cheeks.
Ignoring the stares from the other customers he quickly sat
beside her and nervously, fearing for his life should she
object or if his nose started bleeding, he put an arm around
her and drew her to him. Ukyou felt the gentle pressure and
allowed herself to be drawn into his embrace. Through her
slight indignation and her tears it felt good and she buried
her head in the hollow of Ryoga's shoulder.

"Gomen, gomen." Ryoga murmured. "I didn't mean... it just
makes me so mad to see you wasting away like this."

Ukyou sniffled. "Ranma said I was stong, I'm _not_. I told
myself I wasn't going to cry anymore, not after those two
days when I sat in my room and bawled my eyes out." she
choked. "But I'm _so_ unhappy, Ryoga. I've lost him! I've
lost the most important thing in my life!"

"What about your cooking?" he said rocking her gently. "You
have that."

Ukyou made a sound much like a strangled scream and thumped
his chest. "Jackass! Okonomiyaki can't love you back! it
can't hold you and comfort you!"

"True."

Ukyou pulled away from him and wiped her eyes. Ryoga watched
her anxiously as she tidied her mussed hair. Then Ukyou
picked up the burger and unwrapped it. With a determined
look on her face she took a big bite and began to chew.
Ryoga smiled as she swallowed, wincing.

"That wasn't too bad, was it?" he said.

Ukyou grimaced. "Terrible." she said. "But if I am going
to heal, then you're right. I have to eat and take care
of myself, ne?"

Ryoga nodded affirmation. Ukyou reached out and grabbing
his hand gave it a squeeze. "Arigato, Ryoga."

***

"Isn't this that square where they shot all those students?"

"Uh huh... Tian'anmen Square. Terrible."

"Please don't tell me you were there, Ryoga."

"Okay, Ukyou. I won't tell you."

"Argh! You were there!"

"I said I wasn't going to tell you. Look, there's a good
restaurant down this street."

"Hey, I'm totally stuffed from those dumplings you force
fed me!"

***

"Now this is what I call a palace!" Ukyou stated.

Ryoga glanced around the gardens and pavilions of the
Summer Palace. "It's... very pretty."

Ukyou sighed. "It must've been so elegant in the old
days." she said dreamily.

Ryoga shot her a startled look. Sometimes he forgot
that both he and Ukyou had only just reached eighteen
and it was strange to hear her talk like most ordinary
teenage girls. After all his lonely wandering he knew
he was more serious than most guys his age and then there
was his ineptness with the opposite sex. Ukyou also had
to act more mature for her age, especially with the
responsibility of running a business and with what she
must have through during her search for Ranma. Ryoga
could only speculate how hard it had been for her to act
as a boy. *Hmmm... seems we're more alike than I thought.*

***

"No. _No_!"

"Ryoga, why are you so reluctant?" Ukyou asked petulantly.
"We can't come to Beijing and _not_ see the Forbidden City!"

Ryoga's face was flushed. "Look, can't we just get going
on to Jusenkyo? We've already had two days in Beijing."

Ukyou growled. "Ryoga Hibiki! This is _not_ just a zip
in and zip out trip! I told you that this is my holiday!
Jusenkyo's not going anywhere, we've got plenty of time."

Ryoga saw he was not going to win this one (not that he'd
won any, but we've already pointed out that he was inept
when dealing with members of the opposite sex). Besides,
he couldn't very well wander off and do something by himself,
he'd probably end up in Siberia.

"Alright, alright." he grumbled. "Let's go."

Ukyou squealed with delight and dragged him up to the
gates. After paying for the tickets they went inside.
Ukyou gazed wide-eyed as they wandered around. "Forget
what I said about the Summer Palace." she murmured. "This
place beats it hollow!"

"Well it is essentially a city within a city." Ryoga said.
"It's very big and very complex, damn it."

Ukyou glanced at him. "You got lost in here once didn't
you? That's why you didn't want to come."

Ryoga thought about denying her guess, but he knew his
glum expression ahd already given him away. "Yeah, I got
lost, twice. It took me _days_ to find the exit. Pity I
didn't know the Shi Shi Hokodan then."

She thumped his arm. "How could you even think of damaging
this place?"

"Believe me, when you've been wandering around the same
place for two weeks you feel like doing alot of property
damage."

***

Ryoga leaned back in his chair and enjoyed the feeling
of being very full.

"That's gotta be the best Yum Char I've had in a while."
he said happily.

Ukyou polished off the last spring roll and grinned.
"I have to hand it to you, this place was worth all
the searching."

Ryoga watched her lick her fingers and nodded. "See,
even I can be right once in a while."

Ukyou laughed and sipped her tea. She watched Ryoga
close his eyes and sigh in satisfaction. He looked very
cute with that pleased smile on his face. Ukyou congratulated
herself for convincing him to come, He'd been a good
travelling companion. Thanks to Ryoga's experiences,
Ukyou's first time out of Japan had been nothing but
pleasant and that had been just what she needed.

Ukyou held out her hands and looked at her wrists. After
a week of eating heaps of good food she was beginning
to regain the weight she's lost over the past two months.
*He was so right* she thought *I was pining for Ranma. How
stupid. Ranma's made his decision, I won't win him back
by making a fool out of myself, if anything, I'd earn his
contempt.* Ukyou nodded to herself. When she got back to
Nerima she'd be good and make nice to Akane and Ranma
when they got back. Besides, Ranma would be thrilled when
she gave him the nannichuan water. *If I was Shampoo I'd
take advantage of his desire for it. But I'm not Shampoo.*

Ukyou sighed. *I don't have Shampoo's courage or sheer
stubborness to keep fighting.*

***

Ryoga shivered slightly as the mist touched his skin. It
had been a long time since he had seen this place and after
this visit he hoped that he never would see it again.

"Jusenkyo." Ukyou murmured beside him. "After hearing
about it so many times I finally get to see it."

"Yeah, well, watch it." said Ryoga. "Jusenkyo may look
peaceful enough but it's a really dangerous place."

Ukyou shot him an annoyed glance. "I _know_ that." she
said sharply. "I've been around you, Ranma and all the
others long enough to know not to do anything silly like
wash my face or bathe here."

"Nihao. Ukyou Kuonji?" a twelve year old girl came out of
the mist and stood before them.

"That's right." said Ukyou.

"Hello, Plum." said Ryoga recognising the Jusenkyo Guide's
daughter. "How are you?"

"Plum very good, thank you." said Plum. "You one cursed
with pig form, Plum remember."

"Yes." Ryoga admitted reluctantly.

"Aiyaa... Father tell how he nearly eat you one time!"
Plum giggled.

There was a muffled snort of laughter from Ukyou, Ryoga
glared at her. "Hey!" he cried. "It wasn't funny! How
would you like to have be flung into a pot of boiling
water?"

"Hehehahahahe..." Ukyou couldn't hold it in and collapsed
into giggles. Plum looked rather pleased with herself.
Ryoga just looked offended.

"Nihao?" the portly figure of the Jusenkyo guide approached.
"Aiyaa, Plum bad girl! You tease customers?"

"No." Ukyou pulled herself together. "It's alright.
Hello, Guide-san, I'm Ukyou Kuonji - we spoke on the
phone a week ago remember?"

"Yes, yes." The Guide nodded. "You want to take some
of Nannichuan with you?"

"Yes, and my friend here," Ukyou indicated Ryoga. "Needs
to use it too."

The Guide looked at Ryoga. "Ah yes, one cursed with pig form."
he chuckled. "Remember almost cooked..."

"We know, we know!" Ryoga cried. "You almost made me into
sweet and sour pork (stop laughing Ukyou!), can we please
move past that?!"

The Guide nodded and motioned them forward. "You lucky
you come now." he said as they moved into the springs
area. "Chinese government closing Jusenkyo tomorrow."

"Whhhaaat???" Ryoga felt a chill pass through him as
he realised his near escape. Ukyou looked a bit stunned
too.

"Too dangerous government say." Guide explained as they
walked. "Oh, watch step there. Is spring of drowned
caterpillar."

"_Caterpillar_?" Ukyou's eyebrows shot up.

"Yes." piped up Plum. "Very tragic story of caterpillar
who drown there four days ago."

"You dropped it in right?" Ukyou said wryly.

Plum blushed. "Ummm... yes."

The guide led them through the springs naming a few as
they passed.

"Spring of drowned dragon... unicorn... otaku... maniac...
kiwi... emu... polar bear... skunk... Akane..."

Ukyou looked at the last pool. "How can there be a spring
of drowned Akane?" she asked Ryoga.

"Well, she was nearly drowned in there." he said. "She
lived, of course, but the curse still stuck."

"You mean, if I went in there I'd turn into Akane?"

"Yes." said Ryoga, he grabbed her arm and dragged her on.
"But don't even think about it." he said firmly.

"Of course not!" Ukyou protested. "I was just curious."

"Curiousity is no good thing in Jusenkyo." said Plum.

The Guide continued to name the springs "Spring of drowned
monk... oh, Nihao!" he greeted the young man standing by
the spring. "You back?"

The young man swiveled around to face the group and asked
the Guide something in Chinese. Ryoga's eyes narrowed.
"Hey it's Taro!"

Pantyhose Taro spied Ryoga and scowled. "What are you
doing here?" he snarled. "Is fem-boy with you?"

Ukyou blinked. "I take it this guy knows you and Ranma?"
she said.

"Yes. He's the one whom Happosai named Pa... something
embarassing." Ryoga decided to avoid Taro's anger, he didn't
really want to get in a fight right now. "He's visited
Nerima a couple of times to try and get Happosai to change
his name according to his town's law or something." he
nodded to Taro. "Ranma isn't with me." he said. "I'm here
looking for a cure."

Taro's eyes narrowed. However he appreciated Ryoga's silence
on his name. "I'll be coming for the old freak again."
he said. "Once I change him into a monk he will be only
too willing to answer to me!"

"You don't have to go to all that trouble, hon." said
Ukyou. "Just ask Mrs Nadoka Saotome to help you, you'll
have a new name in no time."

Taro considered her. "Who are you?"

"Ukyou Kuonji." she said with a bow. "Okonomiyaki chef
and I am Ranma Saotome's... no, I _was_ one of Ranma's
fiancees." she bit her lip. Ryoga gave her an encouraging
smile.

Taro noticed the flicker of pain on Ukyou's face. "Heh,
fem-boy doesn't deserve any nice girls like you." he said.
"I'll act on your advice, Xiexie!" he turned and walked
away.

Ukyou bristled. "How _dare_ he insult Ranma like that!"
she cried. "Why I oughta..."

"He's right though." said Ryoga as they began to move off
again. "Ranma never deserved someone like you." he said
absently.

Ukyou was temporarily robbed of speech. She stared at Ryoga
who was watching the Guide. *Did he really mean that or
was he just being nice?*

"Here we are Mr Customer!" annouced the Guide. "Nannichuan."

"At last!" Ryoga dropped his pack and prepared to dive in.

"Stop!!!!" Plum screamed.

Ryoga teetered on the brink. "Aaaahhh... aaahhh... oh, thanks
Ukyou." he said as the chef pulled him back.

Plum scolded her father in rapid Chinese and then turned to
Ryoga and Ukyou with an embarassed look on her face.

"So sorry!" she said. "Father not wear glasses. You nearly
jump into spring of drowned magical girl."

Ryoga went pale. A horrible image of himself wearing a skimpy
frilly outfit and holding an overdecorated wand popped into
his head. For the looks of it Ukyou was struggling with the
same image - although she looked amused rather than horrified.

Plum pointed to the next pool. "That correct one." she said.

"You're positive?" Ryoga asked. "I'm not going to jump in
and turn into a hippopotumus or something am I?"

"Bwahahahahahaha!!!!" Ukyou collapsed on the ground.

Ryoga rolled his eyes. "So _glad_ I'm such a source of
amusement!" he said sourly.

Ryoga jumped.

#Splash!#

Ryoga felt the cool water swirl around him. He drifted down
and tensed, eyes closed, waiting for the change. Nothing
happened. Opening his eyes Ryoga kicked and pushed his way
up to the surface.

The lost boy gasped as he hit the air and he swam until
he could stand waist deep in the water. He looked down
at himself, at his _human_ body standing in the cold
water, and he smiled. Fangs gleaming he threw back his
head and whooped with joy.

"I'M CURED!!!!!!!"

Tears of joy pouring down his cheeks, Ryoga looked over
to where the others were standing.

The Guide and Plum smiled at him. Ukyou was crying and
smiling, she looked as happy as Ryoga.

"Ryoga!" Ukyou cried. She began to move towards him.
"I'm so..."

"Stop!" Ryoga cried seeing she was near the edge of the
spring.

Ukyou looked down, eeked and jumped away. "Whoopsie, don't
want to go there." she said sheepishly.

Ryoga laughed and held out his hand. "Give me the flask and
I'll get the water for Ranma." he said. He felt no anger
towards his rival now, towards anyone for that matter. He
was so tanked up with euphoria that he felt like he could
love the whole world.

Ukyou tossed him the flask she had brought with her. Ryoga
filled it and then waded out of the Spring.

Ukyou turned to the Guide. "Thank you so much." she said
bowing deeply. "I really appreciate all your help."

Ryoga did the same. Then he asked the Guide a question
that had been bugging him for a long time. "If you know
all the springs here, why didn't you ever show a cursed
person, like Ranma or myself, to the spring that would
cure them?"

The Guide suddenly went very red and took off at high
speed muttering something about other customers to see.
Ryoga and Ukyou looked puzzled, then Plum spoke up.

"Father have problem for many years." she said. "It
mean he no can help peoples cursed."

"What is it?" Ukyou asked.

Plum sighed and looked sad. "Is very tragic, but..."
she wiped a tear from her eye. "Father very proud, he no
like to admit he no can read."

Ryoga and Ukyou facefaulted.

Ryoga picked himself off the ground. "If he can't read
what on earth is he doing here as a guide?" he yelled
in horror.

Plum blinked. "Family always guides here, is tradition.
Must go, nice to meet you. Bye-bye!" she charged off
after her father.

Ukyou shook her head. "Oh boy." she turned to Ryoga. "Shall
we go?"

"Hai." Ryoga looked around and sweatdropped. They were in
the middle of Jusenkyo with no guides. "Lets go, but very
carefully."

Ukyou nodded fervently.

***

It was raining in Shanghai.

Ukyou wrinkled her nose as the train pulled into the
station.

"Just my luck." she said crossly. "I go on holiday and
hit the rain!"

Ryoga was digging around in his pack. "Damnit!" he said
finally. "I think all the wet weather gear has shifted
to the bottom. I'll have to hope the umbrella keeps me
dry enough so I don't change."

Ukyou giggled. "Ryoga, you don't change anymore, remember?"

Ryoga stared at her for a moment, then a goofy grin
spread over his face. "Oh... yeah."

They got off the train. Ukyou dashed undercover immediately,
but Ryoga... Ryoga simply stood in the rain. He turned
up his face and spread his arms, welcoming the cool drops
that soaked him.

Ukyou watched him. She felt somewhat privileged. She was
probably the first person to see Ryoga truly happy and
carefree. *I'm glad he came with me* she thought *Because
he's happy, I feel happy. After all the things I put him
through in my scheming he really deserves this.* she
sighed. *Still, he is getting awfully wet.*

She stepped forward, abandoning her shelter and joined
Ryoga in the rain. He looked at her, his eyes glowed and
one fang showed in his smile. Ukyou reached for him and
took his wet face between her wet hands. She looked into
his face, a small, pleased smile on her face. Despite the
coolness of the rain Ryoga felt his skin burn at her touch.
He looked at her, soaked already, her shirt clinging to
her body, her hair flat against her head. The raindrops
clung to her long lashes making her large eyes seem to
shimmer - or were those tears. He put his hands over hers
and pressed her fingers down on his face.

"Ryoga?" her voice was soft.

Ryoga's heart thumped a little harder. "Yes?" he whispered.

"Let's go to the hotel now, ne? I appreciate your happiness,
but it's kinda cold here."

Ryoga blinked. "Uh... hai, sure."

Later in one of Shanghai's modest hotels Ryoga waited in
the dining room for Ukyou to join him. He stared out of
the window at the rain which continued to pour and tried
to resolve some troubling feelings which had sprung up
recently.

The first feeling was a sudden realization that he was
definitely no longer in love with Akane. This had hit him
when, going through his wallet yesterday, he had found a
photo of her which he had obtained from Nabiki some time ago.
Usually the photo made him sigh in longing and his heart
to beat painfully. When he looked at it this time he had
simply smiled and hoped that she was happy. This realization
was both disturbing and releaving.

The second feeling was one of more clarity towards Akari.
He couldn't stay with her. No matter how much she loved
him, how sweet and kind she was, he couldn't resign
himself to staying with her and raising generation after
generation of sumo pigs. Neither could he ask Akari to
leave her beloved pigs for him, she would do it, but
she would be desprately unhappy and he just couldn't do
that to her.

The third feeling was the most disturbing of all. Lately
he had found himself watching Ukyou and enjoying it. At
first he told himself that his gratitude towards her was
confusing his normal feelings of friendship, But looking
back on the time they'd spent in Beijing he wasn't so
sure. He knew he enjoyed being with her. Now that she had
pulled herself together and was coming back to her old
self he remembered what a fun person she was to be around.
Ukyou had a good sense of humour and made him laugh more
than anyone else he knew. She was a good listener and
could give quite good advice. Okay, so she suffered from
the violent tendencies that seemed to affect Nerima girls,
but it just didn't matter to Ryoga (besides which it took
a very hard hit to affect him anyway).

Ryoga frowned. He had a feeling that he was starting to
regard Ukyou Kuonji in a way beyond that of a friend. And
he didn't know what to do. Should he speak up and risk
rejection? She'd just suffered extreme heartbreak, she
probably wouldn't want to get tangled up in another
relationship. So, Ryoga mused, should he remain silent
and risk losing Ukyou to some other man? Should he just
stick with the easy path, swallow his dislike of pigs and
stay with Akari who he knew loved him?

"Aaaarrggghhh!" Ryoga smashed his fist onto the table.
"Damnit! just when I was starting to feel better about
myself too!"

#Crack!#

The table sagged in the middle. Ryoga sweatdropped and
looked around wildly. No one else had noticed his wanton
destruction. He quickly balanced the table and smoothed
the table cloth over it. Then he casually moved himself
and his glass to the next table. *Oops. Gotta watch that.*

"Ryoga, sorry to keep you waiting." Ukyou moved into his
line of sight.

Ryoga's jaw dropped and his eyes went wide.

Ukyou was wearing a dress. A very beautiful Chinese-
style red dress. It clung to her like a second skin and
was slit to mid-thigh. Her arms were bare and she wore
an elegant gold arm-band on one upper arm. Her mass of
chesnut hair was piled on top of her head in soft
bunches. She looked, quite simply, absolutely lovely.

Ukyou flushed as Ryoga continued to stare. "I-I know
it's a bit much." she said. "B-but y'know I always
envied Shampoo when she showed up in a dress like this
and I saw it in the window as when walked here and I
thought 'why not?'. So I slipped out and bought it.
I guess I shouldn't have, I mean it is a bit much, ne?
Yeah, I'll go and change..."

"N-no!" Ryoga snapped out of his paralysis and grabbed
her hand. Her small, warm hand. "No, you... you look...
it's... g-great, r-really. I mean it. I-I'd be honoured.
I-I think you look..." his face went red and his nose
twitched. "I think you look beautiful." he whispered.

Ukyou moved her hand to grasp his fingers. She smiled.
"Oh, Ryoga." she sighed. "When will you ever get more
adept around women?" she squeezed his fingers and let
go to sit opposite him.

Ryoga swallowed. "Uh... s-shall we order?" he asked.
He was trembling slightly. His confidence was shot to
pieces. Ukyou had completely turned the tables on him,
he couldn't think coherantly anymore. His brain was
shutting down, he... *Pull yourself together! You've
been just fine around her these past few days! Is a
pretty dress all it takes to turn you into a complete
moron?* Ryoga took a deep breath *If Dr Tofu can stay
coherant long enough to propose to Kasumi _I_ can stay
coherant long enough to eat dinner with Ukyou!* With
a supreme effort Ryoga pulled his shattered thoughts
together.

Ukyou was perusung the menu. "I think the lemon chicken
sounds nice." she said casually.

Ryoga picked up his own menu. "I agree." he managed in
a stiff voice. "But I think I'm going for the sweet
and sour pork."

Ukyou dropped her menu and stared at him openmouthed.
Ryoga grinned. "Just kidding." he said with a fangy
smile. *Hey, this is okay. I'm actually _articulating_
here!*

Ukyou made a face. "Oh haha."

They ordered (Ryoga chose the sweet and sour fish) and
settled down to enjoy the meal. Ryoga concentrated on
the food, chowing down for all he was worth, while
Ukyou kept up a stream of meaningless small talk.

Then, just as they finished dessert, Ukyou sighed and
rested her chin on her hands. "To think, tomorrow
we'll be flying back to Japan." she murmured.

Ryoga put his fork down slowly. Back to Japan. Back to
Nerima where Akane and Ranma could already be back. Back
to faithful Akari who believed he was returning to her
with all his love. Ryoga echoed Ukyou's sigh.

Ukyou smiled at him though the candlelight, her eyes
glimmering. "It was a good break." she said. "I think
I got things cleared up, did you?"

Ryoga smiled weakly. "I got cured." he said. "That would
be a good thing on its own."

"Hmmm." Ukyou looked out of the window her expression
slightly pensive.

"It would've been nice to have a longer time away." Ryoga
offered. "Ten days wasn't that long."

Ukyou nodded. "But I can't stay away from Ucchans for too
long, not if I want a business to come back to. Konatsu's
improved, but he's still doesn't have much business sense."

Ryoga fiddled with his napkin. There was alot he wanted
to say and he couldn't think of anywhere to start. Then
Ukyou unwittingly gave him the opportunity.

"The rain's stopped." she murmured.

Ryoga looked outside. At the hotel garden so prettily
laid out. Empty. "Ukyou?"

She looked back at him. "Yes?"

"Would you like to take a walk through the gardens?"

***

Ryoga was very aware of Ukyou's presence next to him as
they strolled through along the damp pathways in the
gardens. His palms were sweaty with nervousness and his
throat felt tight. He shot a sidelong glance at her. Her
head was bowed and her hands clasped at her front, her
noticed she was twisting her fingers together. Ryoga
drew in his breath. Ukyou was just as nervous as he was!
But why? Unless... unless _she_ had warm feelings towards
him too!

Gaining a smattering of courage Ryoga drew to a halt
underneath the glow of outside lamp. Ukyou turned to him.

"What is it?" she asked her eyes flickering to his and
then down again.

"I-I needed to talk to you." Ryoga said. He licked his
lips. "I need to tell you that I-I was... I am thinking
that I... well... I would like to... umm..." he began
to breath rapidly, his hands clenched and he turned away
trying to compose himself.

Ukyou clutched her hands tightly. She was both eager for
and dreading what she suspected he was trying to say. When
he turned back his eyes were wide and almost fearful.

"When we get back to Nerima," said Ryoga in a tight voice.
"I'd like t-to go t-to a... a m-movie or d-dinner or
something... with you."

Ukyou let out the breath she didn't know she'd been holding.
"Oh Ryoga..." she said, the words coming out on a stangled
note. "I don't..."

Ryoga's heart sank to the bottom of his feet and started
on its way to the centre of the Earth. She didn't want him
as anything but a friend.

"Ryoga." Ukyou struggled with her feelings. "I don't know
if I'm ready to face something like this. But... I do
know that these past ten days with you have been much better
than I ever expected."

Ryoga's heart halted its descent and he looked into her teary
eyes.

Ukyou clasped her hands in front of her heart. "I'm frightened."
she said. "I don't want to fall in love and find out that
it's one way on my part again. I just couldn't take that."
a tear tracked it's way down her cheek. "And you... you
have someone waiting for you. Can you really tell me that
you don't love Akari?"

Ryoga reached out hesitantly and took her hands in his.
"I-I think... I don't love her." he said. "I know that
wh-when I'm with... with you, I-I..." he went red and held
her hands tight. "I feel happy."

Ukyou felt tears sliding down her cheeks. "I wish you wouldn't
be so... so _sweet_ to me." she cried. "It makes it very
hard for me to understand how I feel."

Ryoga then did the bravest thing he'd ever done in his life.
He kissed her. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her
on the lips, tasting the salt of her tears, feeling the
warmth of her body in his arms. Ukyou reached up and put
her arms around his neck. Her fingers curled into his hair
as the kiss deepened.

Finally they broke the kiss and stared at each other. Ukyou
placed a trembling finger on his cheek.

"We really shouldn't have done that y'know." she said softly.

"No." agreed Ryoga.

"You have to talk to Akari and sort everything out." she
said.

"Yes."

"And we shouldn't let ourselves get involved until you're
sure about you're feelings and I've had time to think."

"You're absolutely correct."

"We really don't need to stuff our lives up anymore."

"Mmmm."

"Ryoga, I don't think you're listening." Ukyou acused him
as his fingers wandered through her hair and pulled the
heavy mass down around her shoulders. "We should stop right
here and now."

"And I agree with you completely, Ukyou." lied Ryoga.

And he kissed her again and the world vanished for both of
them.

***

Narita airport was just as crowded as those at Beijing
and Shanghai, but Ukyou no longer felt nervous.

"I almost feel like an experienced traveller now." she
said to Ryoga as he helped her with her pack.

Ryoga grinned as he pulled his own pack on. "Oh I think
you're doing pretty well." he took her hand. "C'mon, let's
go. I have a craving for your okonomiyaki!"

"As if I'm going to cook one after a long journey!" Ukyou
cried in mock indignation.

They hurried through the doors and into the terminal eager
to get home.

"Ukyou-sammmmaaaa!!!"

Ukyou was nearly half-strangled as she was embraced by an
ecstatic, blubbering Konatsu.

"You're back!" Konatsu wailed. "I missed you sooo much!"

*choke* "Hi... Konatsu, nice to see you too." Ukyou tried
to pry the excited boy off her. Eventually Ryoga managed
to haul Konatsu off and Ukyou could breathe again.

"Oh boy... to think that Ranma went through this nearly
all the time with Shampoo!" She gasped.

"Oh! Oh!" Konatsu squealed excitedly and wriggled out of
Ryoga's grasp. "I have some very good news for you, Ukyou-
sama! Ranma Saotome has come back!"

Ryoga tensed.

Ukyou's eyes went wide and her breath came in short gasps.
"R-really?" she managed to ask.

Konatsu nodded. "And he said that he wanted to see you as
soon as you got back."

Ukyou felt faint, her hands trembled. Ranma wanted to see
her! But... no, she had to see him. Now. She had to see
him and give him the nannichuan water.

Ryoga watched her face light up and a big smile spread across
her face and his heart began its journey to the centre of
the Earth again. *She still loves him.*

"Ryoga," Ukyou turned to the despondant lost boy. "I have to
go, I'll see you later, ne? Take care. See you soon!"
she began to make her way towards the train station.

"Ukyou!" Ryoga called after her, his voice cracked with
desperation. She paused and looked back. There was a strange
look on her face as she regarded him. "I'm sorry." she
cried. "But I have to see him, you realise that." and she
ran off, Konatsu on her heels.

Ryoga clenched his fists. Depression settled in and tears
filled his eyes. *Damn you Ranma, why do you have this hold
over the girls I care for?*

People bumped into him as he stood there in abject misery.
As he was jostled on every side Ryoga suddenly thought of
Akari. *I should go to her.*

***

Ukyou pressed her head against the coolness of the train
window.

"Baka." she whispered. "Ukyou no baka."

In the brief euphoric moments of Konatsu's annoucement she
had forgotten everything except the desire to see Ranma.
She had forgotten why she had gone to China in the first
place, that Ranma was married and only desired her friendship.
But worst of all, she had abandoned Ryoga.

"Oh, Ryoga... I'm so sorry." she sighed. "You must hate me
for what I've done. And I don't blame you one bit."

Now it was too late. The train was speeding towards Nerima
and she was sure that she would not see Ryoga for a long
time, if ever.

*I hope you're happy with Akari* she thought as she brushed
her fingers over her lips and remembered his kisses in
Shanghai.

Konatsu watched Ukyou, confusion all over his pretty face.
What was making her unhappy _now_?

***

One months after landing back in Japan, Ryoga reached the
gates of Akari's house.

"Ryoga-kun!" Akari burst out of the door and threw her
arms around him. "Oh I missed you! Where have you been?"

She pulled back and blushed. "Sumimasen. I didn't mean
to be so forward, but I was so happy to see you!" she
smiled up at him shyly.

Ryoga looked down at her. She looked adorable in her
pink sweater, skirt with a pig motif, her soft brown
hair with it's pink streaks and her sweet face. But the
main thought that surged through his mind was *She's
not like Ukyou.* He frowned mentally at his thoughts and
managed a smile for Akari's benefit.

"It's nice to see you too."

Akari pulled him inside. "Come in, rest! I'll make you some
tea and then you can tell me what you've been doing."

Inside the house, Ryoga sat down and looked around. The
house had not changed a bit in the past three months.
The pig motifs were still everywhere he noted sourly.
Katsunishiki was seated in his usual place beside Akari's
chair, he grunted at Ryoga. Ryoga smiled weakly.

Akari skipped out with a tea tray and set a cup in front
of him. Then she sat down and beamed at him. Ryoga shifted
uncomfortably.

"So, Ryoga-kun," she said. "Did you manage to talk to your
friends in Nerima?"

"No." said Ryoga.

Akari looked sympathetic. "Oh no! Did you lose your way?"

"No," Ryoga sighed. "I did get to Nerima, but Ranma and
Akane weren't there. They'd eloped."

Akari's eyes went wide. "Oh my!"

"I met up with another... friend." Ryoga admitted. *More
than a friend. Ukyou... you are so... so maddening!*
"Ukyou Kuonji."

"Do I know him?" Akari asked.

Ryoga blinked. *Him?* "Uh... no. Anyway, we ended up going
to China together. I went to Jusenkyo."

Akari looked alarmed. "You... did you... ?"

Ryoga nodded. "I don't turn into a pig anymore, Akari-san."

Tears filled Akari's eyes. "No little P-chan?" she cried.
"Oh, Ryoga-kun... you were soooo cute! I didn't care, I
liked your curse."

"But I _didn't_!" yelled Ryoga. "I hated it! I hated
being that pig!"

Akari shrank back at his words, her eyes wide. Ryoga felt
like slime for yelling at her. "Gomenasai, Akari-san. I
didn't mean to yell at you like that."

Akari smiled and got up. "That's alright, Ryoga-kun. I
know you're tired from your long journey. Wait here, I'll
get something to cheer you up." she went out of the room.

Ryoga sank back into his chair. *If I yelled at Ukyou like
that she'd have yelled back, she wouldn't think I was
tired, she knew how I felt. Argh! Why can't I stop thinking
about her?*

Akari re-entered carrying a prettily wrapped parcel.
"Here you go, welcome home." she handed it to him with a shy
but hopeful smile.

Ryoga took it and opened it. He pulled out a sweater, the
one she had been working on when he left. He held it up
and stared at it, at the small black pigs lovingly depicted
on the yellow background. He closed his eyes.

"What's the matter, Ryoga-kun?" Akari's voice was worried.
"Do you feel sick?"

Ryoga opened his eyes. He put the sweater back in the paper
and wrapped it back up before Akari's astonished eyes. Then
he stood and held it out to her.

"I can't take this, Akari-san." he said in a voice thick
with strain. "This should be given to someone who really
appreciates it. Someone who... who loves you."

Akari stared up at him. "Ryoga-kun... what are you saying?"
she asked in disbelief. "I love you." she blushed. "I-I
want to spend my life with you."

Ryoga gritted his teeth. *Kamisama give me the strength of
will to get through this!* he begged. He took a deep breath.

"Akari, I'm sorry. But I love someone else." *There I said
it. Oh kami! I'm just like Ranma, I'm breaking her heart!*

Akari blinked in confusion. Ryoga picked up his discarded
pack. "Please don't hate me." he said to Akari. "I really
didn't mean this to happen, but I can't live a lie pretending
to love you. It wouldn't be fair to you or me." He sighed.
"I hope you find happiness Akari, you deserve it."

Ryoga started to leave.

"Wait!" Akari called out.

Ryoga turned, bracing himself for the inevitable storm of
tears and recriminations. But Akari simply smiled her sweet
and shy smile.

"I'll wait Ryoga-kun." she said. "I know you'll come back
to me, I can wait. You and I were meant for each other."

Ryoga sighed. "No Akari, we're not." and with that he left.

Akari went over to Katsunishiki and laid her head against
her beloved pig's head. "He'll be back." she said softly.
"I love him."

***

Three months of aimless wandering later Ryoga once again
entered the outskirts of Nerima. He wasn't sure if he
should be happy about this, but decided that it would only
be polite to go and offer his congratulations to Ranma
and Akane - never mind that it would be six months late.

He walked down the street ignoring the soft drizzle
falling and the gathering chill of the evening. A light
caught his eye and he found himself standing outside
Ucchans Okonomiyaki. The sign said closed but there
was a light coming from the restaurant.

Ryoga walked hesistantly to the door, but couldn't bring
himself to knock. He wandered to one of the windows and
peered inside.

In the light of one lamp Ukyou was sitting at the counter.
She was in almost the exact same place as she had been
when she and Ryoga had made that fateful decision to
go to China. Ryoga's breath caught as he stared at her.
She was leaning on the counter, her chin in her hands
and a sorrowful look on her face. She looked very fragile
and he could see tears making slow tracks down her face.

Ryoga gazed at her for a long time. Then he watched as
Ukyou buried her head in her hands and her shoulders shook.
Without thinking Ryoga went back to the door and opened
it.

Ukyou heard the step behind her and straightened. "I-I'm
sorry, but Ucchans is closed for the evening." she said
stiffly.

"Oh... but I really wanted one of your specials."

Ukyou gripped the counter tightly. "No... no... it _can't_
be!"

Slowly Ukyou turned around and stared at what had to be an
apparition. "R-Ryoga?"

Ryoga advanced tentively. "ah... Hi, Ukyou."

"Ryoga!" Ukyou yelped, slid off her seat and ran to him.

Ryoga held out his arms and pulled her into his arms. A
warm, contented feeling spread through him as he laid his
cheek against her soft hair.

Ukyou hugged him tightly. "I thought I'd never _see_ you
again!" she sobbed. "I thought I'd driven you away, back
to Akari."

"You did." Ryoga said causing her to pull back and look
at him in alarm. "But I just couldn't stop thinking about
you, so I broke up with her and decided to come back,
well, sort of." he sighed. "I guess I really am an idiot."

Ukyou wiped her eyes. "I'm the idiot." she said. "Come on
let's go upstairs and sit down. We really need to talk."

"Sitting down sounds good." agreed Ryoga whose feet were
starting to feel the miles.

Ten minutes later Ryoga was seated comfotably at Ukyou's
table, a cup of tea in his hand and a plate of snacks in
front of him. Ukyou entered, she had tidied herself up,
and she sat beside him. Ryoga smiled enjoying the sensation
of being close to her.

"I went kinda crazy at the airport." Ukyou said. "I felt
really bad for leaving you like that, I figured that if
you never came back it would be exactly what I deserved."

"So did you go and see Ranma?"

She nodded. "He gave me a big hug and said he was really
happy to see me." she looked at Ryoga. "That's when I knew."
she said, a blush stained her cheeks. "That I did love him,
but only as a friend. After that, it was easy to congratulate
Akane and to be happy for them."

Ryoga took a sip of tea. "Did you give him the water?"

Ukyou laughed then. "Yes and then the mayhem started! I
handed him the flask and told him what it was. Ranma just
stared at it for a while, then his Dad tried to snatch
it, then all of a sudden Mousse appeared! Apparently he'd
returned while we were away. Of course there was a fight
with all the cursed people grabbing for the flask! Ranma
managed to grab it, but just as he opened it, that guy
Taro appeared - landing on top of Ranma's head of all places.
The flask went flying, Ranma grabbed for it which knocked
off Taro who got splashed with some off the water and
the rest fell into the koi pond. The next thing I know
there are four fish men wandering around and Taro is
chasing Ranma around the house screaming about how Ranma
has destroyed his life!" Ukyou shook her head. "Nabiki said
that it was ironic that the one person who didn't want to
be cured was. And at that point I decided I couldn't take
it anymore and beat a retreat."

Ryoga groaned. "Why am I not surprised that this happened?"
he said. "You should've just poured the water over Ranma
without telling him what it was."

Ukyou grimaced. "Yeah, well, I know that _now_."

Ryoga glanced at her. "Did you mention that Jusenkyo's
been closed?"

Ukyou sweatdropped. "Uh... no. I don't think they need
to know that."

Ryoga sighed. "Well, it looks like Ranma has another rival."

Ukyou raised an eyebrow. "I take it you're not going to
challenge him anymore?"

"Why should I?" said Ryoga. "I have no reason to. I'm
cured of the pig and I'm not in love with Akane."

Ukyou smiled. "So, do you still want to go to that movie
with me?" she asked shyly.

Ryoga grasped her hand. "I'd like that." he said softly.

***

Epilogue:

Akari Unryuu walked down the streets of Nerima with
Katsunishiki.

"It's been such a long time, Katsunishiki-chan." she
said. "How long has it been since we saw Ryoga-kun?"

The huge pig grunted and Akari nodded. "Yes, five years."
she sighed. "He must have really gotten lost this time."
her expression brightened. "Still, I'm sure Ranma-san
and Akane-san will know where he is."

Suddenly Katsunishiki grunted urgently. Akari looked at
him in surprise. "What is it, dear?"

The sumo pig made motions towards the entrance to one
of Nerima's parks. Akari put one hand to her heart. "Is
it him?" she asked in hope. Katsunishiki nodded. Akari
gasped and ran into the park.

"Doko? Doko?" she looked around and then her eyes saw the
family by the lake.

The family was made up of a father, mother and a little
boy of about two years of age. Akari's jaw dropped as
she recognised the father.

Ryoga Hibiki swung his small son into the air causing
Kaoru to burst into high-pitched squeals of laughter.
Beside them, Ukyou looked up from unpacking the picnic
basket and smiled at them. Ryoga looked down at her and
asked if lunch was ready, she nodded and he sat down,
holding Kaoru on his lap. Ukyou sat beside them and
tickled her son's stomach causing him to giggle more.
Ryoga put his arm around his wife and pulled her close,
enjoying this private time.

Akari watched the happy couple and their adorable child
with tears in her eyes. So Ryoga had been telling her
the truth, he had been in love with someone else and now
he'd married her. Akari backed away.

"Let's go, Katsunishiki." she said in a small voice. "There
is nothing for me here now."

She climbed on the pig's back and burst into tears.
Katsunishiki galloped down the street, bweeing in distress.
He went so fast that he knocked down several people,
including...

"Hold varmint! How dare you strike down the great Takewaki
Kuno! Take that!"

#THWACK!#

Akari screamed and tumbled off Katsunishiki's back as the
pid dropped unconscious. She sat up and looked around. A
tall handsome young man wearing kendo clothes and holding
a bokken stood over the unconscious sumo pig. Akari gulped.

"Oh my." she said.

Kuno looked down at the pretty girl on the ground. "What's
this? An angel before me?" he mused.

Akari stood up and bowed. "Excuse me, sir. I am Akari
Uryuu and you've just defeated my champion. According
to my Grandfather, only the man who defeats Katsunishiki
is worthy..."

The End
 

***

Afterword:

Oh boy, I'm _not_ doing an all nighter like this again!
I hope yuo all enjoyed it! Some people might ask why I
included Taro. I wanted to! I like Taro (not as much as
Ryoga, but still...), he's such a fun character (and he
has such great taste in clothes! (^_^)

Glossary:

Baka: idiot/fool/moron

Xiexie: Thank you (Chinese)

Ohayoo: (Good) Morning

Hai: Yes

Iie: No

Itsujo: Boss

Arigato: Thank you

Nani: what

Matte: wait

Nannichuan: Spring of drowned man

Bokken: wooden sword

Doko: where

Gomen(asai): sorry

Sumimasen: excuse me/sorry

Notes:

In the manga Pantyhose Taro has visited Jusenkyo a few
times in the effort to get Happosai to change his name.
He is also one of the few people who likes the power
his curse form gives him (he fell into the spring of
drowned yeti, bull, crane, AND eel and thus turns into a
very big flying monster).

Akari was told by her grandfather that only the man
who defeated Katsunishiki was worthy to marry her. Ryoga
did this accidentally.

Ryoga met Plum during the Saffron storyline (last
Ranma 1/2 manga volume). She knows about all the
cursed people.

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