Story Arc 3: "Growing Pains"
Part 3: Culinary Challenge

Ranma felt horribly tempted to use the Saotome secret technique.

Akane stared openly at the figure in the doorway. The person had her hands on her hip in a clear gesture of determination and antagonism.

"Tendo Akane, I challenge you for the right to remain Ranma's fiancée." A wide grin spread on her face.

Akane was momentary stunned. She couldn't believe Ukyo's nerve. She was issuing a challenge at her house tonight, after stealing that kiss in school and Ranma breaking off the engagement, no less.

"Do you accept? I wouldn't blame you for giving up, after all. It's clear I'm going to win, hun."

Akane felt her temper boil to the surface. "Of course I accept!"

"Don't I get a say in this?" interrupted Ranma. "I'm a person, not a frickin' trophy you can win just like that!"

Akane's response was dead serious. "Neither am I, but that never stopped you from accepting challenges like that, did it?"

Ranma grunted. Why did she have to be right so often? "It's still ridiculous. Ucchan, why are you doing this?"

"You didn't think I'd give up on you without a fight, did you? I'm just going to show you who's the best fiancée: ME."

"Oh yeah?!" Akane huffed. "Fine. We'll settle this in the dojo now."

Ukyo gave Akane a smirk. "I never said it was a martial arts match." Ukyo knew better than to face Akane in the battle arena, especially now with her being trained by Ranma. They were fairly equal in that realm and she wasn't taking any chances.

Akane looked at Ukyo in surprise. "Then what?"

"A culinary arts match."

Akane's confidence vanished. She didn't think her cooking was nearly as bad as everyone made it out to be, but she knew she wasn't an equal to the Okonomiyaki chef.

Ranma was clearly upset. He thought he explained everything to Ukyo. He couldn't blame her for trying to fight it though, but this was completely unfair and he knew that she knew it. "Ukyo, you know that's unfair. Akane's cooking is worse than poison!"

"RANMA!"

!! BOP !!

"OW!" A large bump started to form on Ranma's head from Akane's fist.

"Your wisecracks aren't helping!" she yelled at him.

Ukyo smiled cunningly at Akane. "Of course it's fair. Ranma's fiancée needs to be able to cook." She turned her gaze on Ranma. "Don't you agree, Ranchan?"

Ranma gulped, knowing any response he gave would be a bad one. He loved food. There was no denying it. And sure, it'd be great if his fiancée could cook well, but that wasn't as important as other things. He could always live on takeout, if necessary. He had lived on far worse while training in China with his pop.

Akane looked grim, but determined. "Fine. Name your terms."

Ranma gave Ukyo a stern look. "They better be fair, Ukyo," he muttered, purposely not using his pet nickname for her. He was not at all happy with his best friend or the situation at hand. Akane was being set up to fail. Few foods ever turned out edible when the youngest Tendo was involved.

Ukyo heard the warning in Ranma's voice. She would have to handle this delicately and at least appear to give Akane a fair opportunity. "We meet tomorrow evening. Akane can choose the kitchen location she wants. We bring our own supplies and ingredients. Time limit of 45 minutes to prepare a meal of contestant's choice. Ranma's the judge."

"What?!" Ranma protested. "No way. I'm not getting in the middle of this!" He couldn't believe Ukyo was putting him in this situation. He was either bound to tick off his best friend, or alienate the girl he loved.

"Ranchan, you're the one we need to prove our cooking skills to. Anyone else's opinion doesn't matter." Ukyo explained logically.

Ranma sighed. She made sense, in a twisted sort of way.

Ukyo continued, understanding his sigh to mean reluctant agreement. "Whichever dish Ranma finishes and likes best wins. Vomiting, choking or other signs of distress over a dish will automatically disqualify the cook."

Akane frowned deeply at that condition. For some reason, Ranma was always pulling ridiculous theatrics when he ate her cooking.

"And one other thing," Ukyo resumed as she made eye contact with Ranma. "You have to be completely honest."

"I don't even wanna be a part of this!" he complained.

"Ranchan, please promise me you'll be honest." Ukyo's eyes bore into him. "Please?"

"Ugh. Alright. I promise."

Ukyo's smile seemed to light up the entire room. It made Akane feel sick. She was doomed. Ranma never liked her cooking. She desperately wished she had some Water of Life. It was the only time she could remember when everyone loved her cooking. 'Wait,' she thought. 'There's one dish of mine Ranma ate and liked'. She had a chance after all!

Akane gave a curt nod to Ukyo. "Tomorrow it is then. We'll use the kitchen here."

Ukyo's eyes gleamed with satisfaction. "Tomorrow." The chef turned and walked confidently away from the Tendo household.

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!! CLANG !!

The sound of pots and pans being roughly moved about resonated from the kitchen.

Ranma paced around his fiancée in worry. "Akane, this isn't gonna work. When you touch food, it turns to toxic waste!"

A pot flew towards his head. "If you're not going to help, SHUT UP!" she huffed. 'Can't he have a little more faith in me?' she thought.

Annoyingly, he followed her around the kitchen. She was practicing to make gods-only-knew-what for tomorrow. He watched in horror at her attempt to chop vegetables. Slicing them wasn't the problem. It was that her efforts also cut up the wooden board underneath until there were as many pieces of wood as food.

"Well, I know what your problem is."

"I don't have a problem, Ranma."

He pointed. "The chopping board does."

Akane starred at the disfigured board and mess of vegetables in dismay. She exhaled in annoyance and brushed the massacred food in the trash.

"You have the same problem with the Art as you have with cooking, you know."

Akane turned to him, intrigued.

"You let your emotions get the better of ya. In the Art, it's your temper. Cooking, it's your over-enthusiasm. You get careless and don't pay attention."

Akane crossed her arms in irritation. 'He might be on to something though,' she thought.

A shriek sounded behind them.

"Kasumi! Are you alright?!"

The eldest Tendo daughter had a look of pure shock on her face. "Oh, oh yes. I just didn't expect to see, to see this."

Kasumi's perfect kitchen was a chaotic mess. Pots and pans were strewn everywhere, the trash can was overflowing with discarded attempts at a meal, and her cutting board was in shambles. Small pieces of vegetables had flown about from Akane's efforts and were splattered on the walls.

Akane looked at Kasumi humbly. "Oneechan, could you help teach me? I have the recipe, I just need some help."

Kasumi smiled weakly. "Of course, sister."

Ranma gladly left the kitchen, knowing he would only get in the way at this point. He couldn't rely on Akane making an edible meal, let alone one that could equal Ukyo's. He promised to be honest, so there was no way he could lie and say Akane's was the better dish. Ranma played the rules over in his mind again and again, looking for a loophole. Suddenly, he realized what it was; he had to choose the best meal, but nothing said he had to try both of them. He could stop himself from eating Ukyo's food. It would require a lot of willpower, but he could do it. It wasn't a perfect plan, but it was something. Still, it would take more than willpower to stomach one of Akane's meals and not even show an iota of discomfort as he swallowed it down.

Kasumi stepped out of the kitchen, looking like she has just survived WWIII.

"So, uh, how's it going?" Ranma nervously asked her.

!! CRASH !! !!BANG !!

Kasumi cringed at each sound coming from her once immaculate kitchen.

Nabiki answered for her. "Sounds like you'll be marrying Ukyo, Ranma-kun!"

'Not if I can help it', Ranma thought to himself.

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Ukyo approached the reconstructed Saotome home with a happy bounce in her step. She understood how much her Ranchan loved food. Soon as he realized marrying Akane meant a lifetime of eating her poison, he'd come to his senses.

There was only one other matter to settle first.

Ukyo knew she would win the cooking challenge, hands down. What she needed now was a little parental support. Ranma may think he loved Akane, but with some nudging from his dear mother, that would soon change.

She knocked on the Saotome household door. Moments later Nodoka opened it. "Oh! Ukyo. What a pleasant surprise. You're not here to wreck the house again, are you?"

Her words were kindly joking, but there was a small tinge of worry behind them. Ukyo blushed at the shameful memory. "No! Uh, could I speak with you, Saotome-san?"

Nodoka smiled warmly at her. "Of course," she replied as she happily led her son's best friend to the living room table.

Genma sat next to his wife, looking slightly nervous, but said nothing. Ukyo sat across from them.

"Now, what is on your mind, dear?"

Ukyo took a deep breath and bowed deeply to Nodoka. "I want your blessing to marry Ranma. I'll make a good wife. We already get along, I'm a fine cook, I have my own restaurant, I even know martial arts --"

Nodoka cut off Ukyo's sales pitch with a gentle hand on her shoulder. "I know how much you love my son, dear, but his marriage was arranged to the Tendo family since before he was born. Not only does Ranma love Akane, but it is a matter of family honor"

Ukyo was unfazed. "But this is a matter of honor, Saotome-san. Your husband took my dowry and promised me to Ranma."

"Oh dear!" Nodoka put her hand on her cheek in evident dismay. Her eyes narrowed dangerously toward her husband.

!! SPLASH !!

A wet panda sat in her husband's place after "accidentally" spilling the content of his water glass. Genma held a sign in his paws: "Don't look at me. I'm just a panda."

Nodoka frowned and turned her attention back to Ukyo. What a dilemma!

"I sincerely apologize for my husband's wrongful transactions, but I believe I can make amends."

"Then you'll give your blessing?" Ukyo's voice was filled with hope.

Nodoka shook her head. "No, dear. The only engagement I recognize is with Tendo Akane. I will replace your dowry and, as your parents are not here, I will act as official matchmaker for you. Honor will be well satisfied."

Ukyo felt appalled. "I don't want some dowry or a different husband. I want and love Ranma."

Nodoka reflected for a moment before answering. "Then there is only one other option."

Ukyo's face lifted. "Yes?"

"You can become Ranma's concubine. I'm certain my Ranma is manly enough to please two women. And oh, how nice it would be to have all those extra grandchildren!" Nodoka's face took on a dreamy look while Ukyo's face faulted. Was Nodoka serious? Still, it was better than not having Ranma at all…

Ukyo shook her head hard. What kind of life would that be, always knowing you were second-best? Besides, knowing Akane's jealous temper, Ranma wouldn't survive an agreement like that.

For a brief moment Ukyo caught herself wishing Shampoo's scheme had worked. Imagine: Akane gone forever. Ranma would have driven off the Amazons, and she could be there to comfort him in his lost. It would only be natural for him to eventually love her as she loved him, right?

Ukyo wanted to slap herself. Was she really that heartless as to want Akane dead? No, as much as she wanted Ranchan to herself, she didn't want to hurt her rival. She wasn't her friend, but Ukyo had to admit that underneath Akane's tomboy exterior and temper, she was a sweet, caring girl. She always came to Ranma's support, and when Ukyo needed it, even her own.

She pushed her worries out of the way. Even if Nodoka didn't support her, she was sure to win the cooking contest. Ranma's love of food would win him over, right?

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Story Arc 3: "Growing Pains"

Part 4: Of Pepper and Problems

Akane took deep steadying breaths. She could do this! She had to.

Thanks to the purchase of a stainless steel cutting board and much practice, Akane had learned to properly wash and chop vegetables.

She glanced down at her altered recipe list. No one was allowed to help her during the cooking process, but she was allowed to follow a recipe with Kasumi's detailed notes.

Peel onion.

Akane ignored the graceful and deft movements Ukyo was making in her preparation and concentrated on the task at hand.

Discard outside skin of onion.

Slice 1 eggplant, 1 yellow pepper, and remaining onion into bite sized pieces.

Chop 1 clove of garlic.

'Now for the trickier parts', she thought.

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a pan.

Sauté garlic, onion, eggplant and yellow pepper. Once the onions become brown, STOP! (should take no longer than 5 minutes)

Unconsciously, the tip of Akane's tongue stuck out as she focused. At least she didn't have to worry about preparing any meat. Kasumi had wisely advised using a vegetarian curry recipe, instead of meat. It was too easy to cause food poisoning when seafood or meat was involved.

Place vegetables in pot

Akane breathed a sigh of relief. The complicated part was over. 'Now, for the seasoning'.

Add 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper on vegetables in pot

Akane tipped the properly measured salt into the pot and reached for the pepper. The lid was ajar; fine-grained pepper particles assailed her nose. Akane felt her nose twitch and itch and was helpless to stop what happened next: she sneezed, and half of the canister's contents went into the pot.

'Oh no oh no ohnonononono!' She had been trying so hard, she couldn't mess it up now. She looked at the wall clock. She didn't have enough time to restart everything. She would just have to continue as is.

Add 3 cups of cold, clean water to pot

Simmer (a light boil) for 15 minutes

"Here you go, Ranchan!" Akane heard Ukyo gloat as she placed her culinary creation in front of Ranma. Akane forced herself to ignore her and watch the clock. 'Please let this work!'

Add ¼ pound curry roux and stir lightly

"Finished!" Akane poured the curry into a bowl, anxious and terrified at the possible results.

The entire Tendo and Saotome family, who were there as witnesses, crowded around Ranma in anticipation. Nabiki was even recording it on film.

Ranma sniffed the tea in front of him cautiously. Akane had successfully been making tea for a few months now, but it never hurt to check. He took a cautious sip. It was fine.

Two plates were before Ranma, with each of their creators starring at him intently. He gulped. Ukyo's Okonomiyaki looked and smelled better than ever. He turned to look at Akane's bowl of curry. It smelled okay. Heck, it even looked okay. Just a slight bit darker than he was used to, but he didn't spot any burned bits of vegetables.

Ranma said his prayers and warily tasted Akane's curry. Whoa, was that spicy! But, it was actually okay. It wasn't toxic!

With large helpings of tea to quench his burning tongue, he managed to finish all of Akane's curry.

He looked at Akane, clearly impressed. "You actually made something decent, tomboy!" Everyone, including Akane, starred at Ranma in a state of shock.

"No way!" Ukyo cried out. She dipped a spoon into the leftovers in the pot and tried it for herself. She felt her throat close up in protest at the amount of pepper, but it wasn't half bad, really.

Still, it was no match for her masterpiece. "Try mine now, Ranma."

Ranma shook his head slowly. "I'm, uh, full Ucchan."

"You're NEVER full! What are you talking about?"

"The contest is over. I finished Akane's and I liked it."

"But-but you didn't even try mine!"

He looked at Ucchan guiltily. "I told ya I didn't want you to do this Ucchan, but you forced me into it. The only way to stay honest is to not try yours."

Ukyo stared at Ranma in shocked betrayal. Even though he insisted the rules be made somewhat fair for Akane, he never intended to give herself a fair shot. He had planned on not trying a single bite from the start. What kind of friend was that?

Ranma saw Ukyo shaking and reached out to comfort his friend. But she didn't want his pity.

"Don't touch me, you lying jerk!" Ukyo whipped the large battle spatula off her back and spun. Ranma dodged the razor edge as it cut viciously at him.

She attacked Ranma again and again, but each time he evaded it. "You were supposed to choose me! You said I was the cute one! You said she was.... Stop squirming and let me smash you like the insect you are!"

"Ucchan, I tried to tell ya—"

"Don't' you 'Ucchan' me!" Her face scrunched with rage. "You never even gave me a chance! Even if you don't love me, as a friend you should have given me a chance."

!! SLAP !!

Ranma felt his face burn from the impact and knew he deserved it. He shut up and started taking hits, carefully avoiding the spatula's edge.

Akane had stood aside long enough. Ranma was no longer trying to defend himself; he felt so remorseful that he was purposely letting her beat him.

Not expecting it, Akane effortlessly snuck from behind and knocked the battle spatula out of Ukyo's hand before firmly pinning the enraged girl's arms behind her back.

Ukyo struggled helplessly, kicking and squirming.

"Akane, let her go." Ranma's voice was lifeless.

Akane looked questionably at Ranma before complying. Ukyo whirled around to see her conquering rival gaze at her with anger and … pity?

Ukyo laughed bitterly. "You chose her. Why? After all the lies, after all the protests, after all the bruises, after all the free okonomiyaki, you chose her?"

Ranma couldn't bring his eyes to meet hers. He could only nod dumbly in response.

Ukyo straitened her posture, standing proud. She was through making a disgrace of herself for one day. She gathered her supplies silently and made her way to the door.

"I never want to speak to you again, Ranma."

"Ukyo!" Ranma grabbed her arm, desperate to keep her from running off. Ukyo violently pulled it away.

"I hate you," she whispered. The words stabbed Ranma's heart and froze him in place. He stood there dumbly as Ukyo walked out of his life.

Before, when she ran off after hitting him, he assumed she just needed some time to herself to cool off. It was how things worked with Akane. But Ukyo wasn't Akane. It was clear that she wouldn't just forgive and forget after venting her temper.

Ranma starred unrecognizably at the finished battleground. Akane's joy at having won, at a cooking contest of all things, evaporated as she saw his face. She touched Ranma's arm, trying to lend him some comfort. He gently pulled away from her contact. He didn't want to be comforted. He didn't feel he deserved it.

A tense and depressing silence filled the room, driving everyone other than Akane away from the room.

"She took it pretty hard, didn't she…" It wasn't a question.

"Dammit Akane! She was my best friend and now she hates me."

"Ranma, it's not your fault."

Ranma shook his head. "My damn Pop got me into this mess, but I'm the one who made it worse."

Akane didn't know how to respond to that. Secure in the knowledge that Ranma loved her, Akane finally was able to look objectively at the situation. She felt a brief moment of enlightenment. Ranma couldn't help leading his fiancées on for as long as he did. It wasn't that he was a playboy, or used them to fuel his ego like she originally thought. When it came down to it, he didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

"Ranma…"

"I just wanna be alone right now, 'Kane." Dejectedly, he walked back to his room, burdened by the knowledge that he had lost something irreplaceable.

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Ukyo stood outside her restaurant door in disbelief. She had lost. She had lost to Akane!?

It wasn't Akane's fault. As much as Ukyo wanted to blame her, she couldn't. She could, however, blame Ranma.

The small bell on the door chimed as Ukyo stepped in from outside.

Konatsu looked up from mopping the floor. He saw her face and knew the outcome. It couldn't be a defeat based on Akane's cooking skill, so it had to be because Ranma fought on Akane's side.

Ukyo's voice sounded distant. "He picked her. He didn't even try a single bite, or give me a chance. He betrayed me and picked her." Ukyo spat out the last word as if it were venom.

Konatsu stopped his mopping and turned to meet Ukyo in the eye. As easy as it would be to slander Ranma's name in a temporary effort to cheer her up, he knew that would not truly help his Ukyo-sama. She needed to see the truth or she would never heal and move past this moment.

"Ukyo-sama, Ranma didn't betray you."

"Of course he did, he—"

Konatsu interrupted, as if Ukyo had never spoken. "You hunted a childhood friend for 10 years for revenge instead of forgiving him, is that right?"

Ukyo starred at Konatsu, surprised by his steady and matter-of-fact tone. She found herself unable to block out his words, even though she wanted to. He was speaking the truth and she knew it. She gave a small nod in response.

"How many times did you go and manipulate his guilt so that you could be his wife?"

Ukyo's throat went dry. Why couldn't she shut out his light, tenor voice? She wanted to bolt out of the room and escape his words, but her body refused to obey her.

"He -- he promised he'd take care of me for the rest of his life!" she protested.

"You told me he made that promise when you were small children. He still thought you were a boy, is that right?"

Unspoken, but still asked, was another question: Could she really hold him to that?

Konatsu watched her reaction and continued. "You say he betrayed you. But haven't you betrayed him? You tricked Ranma into a haunted cave to break him up with Akane. You destroyed his mother's home. You even attacked and destroyed his wedding with explosives."

She wanted to plug her ears and scream. It wasn't really like that, was it? She loved Ranma. He was supposed to be her fiancée. Maybe she had made some unfair attempts to win him over, but she wasn't the cruel, manipulating, selfish person Konatsu was describing… was she?

"I never did anything to hurt him!" She yelled in denial. "I'm not a horrible person," she whispered in an attempt to convince herself as much as Konatsu.

"Of course not, Ukyo-sama!" Konatsu felt like kicking himself. He tried to undo the damage he started. "You just made a few mistakes."

"He still betrayed me." Ukyo responded stubbornly.

"And you have betrayed his friendship and trust many times, Ukyo-sama, but he has still remained your friend. Maybe…" Konatsu took a deep breath. "Maybe you shouldn't be so hard on him?"

Konatsu casually resumed his mopping while Ukyo stood silent in openmouthed shock. Unable to form a coherent response, she left for bed.

Konatsu watched her retreating figure, sadly knowing he could do nothing more to ease her pain.

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Ranma felt horrible. Ukyo was no longer going to school, and worse, she was refusing to talk to him. He felt like such a cad. He silently cursed his honorless, lying Pop. If it wasn't for him he wouldn't be stuck in this situation. On the other hand, he never would have met Akane either. Still, one good outcome didn't make up for all the other troubles he caused.

Akane walked beside Ranma, worried. He trudged along with his hands in his pockets, head drooped. She felt so helpless, watching Ranma suffer. He had irreparably hurt his oldest and dearest friend and he refused to accept any comfort or reprieve as he beat himself up for it.

Akane had to do something. It was tearing her up inside to see Ranma this way.

"Ranma?"

He looked up at her slowly. "Yeah?"

She grabbed his arm and led him to the side of a building. "I have something I need to do. It won't take long. Will you wait for me?"

"Why can't I come with? What ya up to?"

Akane gave him a small smile. "Just trust me, okay?"

Ranma looked at her, puzzled.

"Please?" she begged him, holding his hand tenderly.

Ranma's heart sped up from her touch. Usually he was upset when anyone tried to manipulate his feelings like that, but with Akane it was different. He knew he could trust her, and she rarely tried to push him into something he didn't want to do.

"Alright. Just don't take all day, will ya?"

Akane favored him with a smile and a peck on the cheek, (which turned Ranma's face red), before running off.

Akane stopped in front of the familiar sign. She took a deep breath, gathered her courage, pushed down her jealousy, and stepped inside Ucchan's restaurant.

It was early, before the dinner rush and after the school rush, and the restaurant was nearly empty. The bell on the door chimed, alerting Ukyo to Akane's presence.

Her first reaction, shock, was quickly replaced by rage to see Akane, her rival fiancée, walk in.

"Get out!" she shouted, throwing a barrage of her miniature spatulas at Akane. She may have accepted the fact that she lost Ranma, but that didn't mean she had to be pleasant to the girl who stole him away!

Ukyo watched in surprise as Akane deftly dodged and blocked the bombardment. Ranma had trained her well.

Out of ammunition, Ukyo gripped her giant spatula, ready to fight.

For a moment Akane didn't move; she simply looked at Ukyo with a strange, sad expression. "I need to talk with you."

"Well I don't want to talk with you."

Akane stubbornly stepped further inside and sat at the counter. "Well, too bad."

Ukyo glared at her. It didn't appear that Akane came here to gloat, at least. If anything, she looked nervous. "Ranma feels really bad about all this, Ukyo," she began.

"Well, he should!" she replied.

Akane gave Ukyo a reproachful look. "I came here to try to help him. He's your best friend, right? He never wanted to hurt your feelings Ukyo. Shouldn't you forgive him already? It's eating him up that you won't even talk to him!"

Ukyo felt a twang of guilt, but pushed it aside. "As if you're anyone to lecture me about forgiveness and understanding. You, who jump on Ranma's case any opportunity you get!"

Akane felt her temper rise. She stubbornly tried to beat it back down. "I know I've messed up, Ukyo, but I always do forgive him in the end and there are times when I apologize."

"Sure," Ukyo replied, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

It was the last straw for Akane. She stood up, ready to leave. "I don't know why I even bother! I'm here because I love Ranma, Ukyo, and I can't bear to see him suffering because you refuse to try and make up."

Ukyo stared at Akane in shock. Ranma had confessed that he loved Akane, but she never dared to think the feeling went both ways.

"B-But you always denied it before!"

"I didn't always feel that way and--and for a long time I was scared and confused," Akane admitted softly. "How would you feel if your father decided to engage you to a complete stranger without even asking you?" Akane paused and turned away, a faraway look upon her face. "But I know what I feel now," she continued, her voice firm. "I would die for him, Ukyo."

Ukyo's eyes widened as the statement was delivered with the supreme confidence of someone who HAD died for Ranma, or had at least come very close.

Ukyo lowered her eyes, not wanting to see the sudden wave of determination and love that shown in her rival's. "Then maybe you can understand how I feel," she muttered.

Akane sat back down and tentatively touched Ukyo's hand. "I think I do. I'm so sorry, Ukyo."

It was too much raw emotion to bear. Ukyo, who had held in her rage, her heartache and despair for a full week, broke down into tears.

She didn't know how long she sat there crying as Akane, of all people, handed her a handkerchief and whispered words of comfort.

Eventually the tears ran out. Ukyo felt as if a heavy burden had been lifted off her shoulders. She blew her nose one last time and returned the kerchief to Akane. Her heart still ached, but she could tell it was healing.

Akane gave Ukyo a nervous smile. "Would you be willing to talk to him?"

Ukyo nodded. "Yeah… I really should."

Akane brightened and jumped out of her seat. She ran out the door and when she returned she was dragging a pig-tailed young man with her.

Ukyo crossed her arms in front of her chest. "I'm still mad at you," she warned, not willing to let him off the hook just yet.

Ranma nodded. "I'm sorry, Ukyo."

Ukyo sighed. He really did look miserable. "I know. Me too."

"Friends?" Ranma asked. His voice was a muddle of hope and doubt.

Ukyo smiled and stuck out her hand. "Friends," she replied. The chase was over, and even though she lost, she still had her Ranchan.

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End of Story Arc 3!

A/N: I got a genuine vegetarian Japanese curry recipe online. Hehe. So feel free to try it out. I hope this chapter came out the way I wanted it to, (with a bit of comedy and an in-character portrayal of Ukyo). I'm really bad at writing comedy, but I'm trying! I never imagined this chapter to have this much angst, it just happened.

I can't believe how much this story has grown. I started out with only "Byouki" in mind as a one-shot. Plot fragments of "Demon Unleashed" had been in my head for a long time, but I never imagined they would work together. Before long I kept having all these other ideas that wouldn't stop, and reviewers kept supplying me with even more! So, I can tell you that two more story arcs are on their way. Arc 4 will be short and highly comedic whereas Arc 5 will be an intense action/adventure.

Thanks again to all who have reviewed and helped throughout!

So, what was your favorite story arc? Least favorite? Which needs the most work/editing? PLEASE REVIEW!