NB: Set after "Oh Cursed Tunnel of Lost Love! Let My Love Be Forever".
Ranma awoke to the yowl of a cat somewhere in the vicinity. He could feel his skin prickle uncomfortably as hairs rose and cold sweat broke out, as he ran down the mental check list: not in the house, not Shampoo, not the Ghost Cat, not on the dojo roof. Each confirmation let him relax a little more. When the cat cried out again, he even relaxed a little more, realizing it was further away and the creature was leaving.
He shifted onto his side. Stupid cat. Now he was awake, and it was no good trying to sleep unless he could drop off before Genma, given the amount of noise his old man could make while sleeping. Especially when he had, for reasons of his own, decided to spend the day and night in his cursed form. Ranma glared at his father, the revolting snuffling and groaning noises of panda filling the air, then sighed and clambered to his feet.
He could still feel the sweat drying uncomfortably on his skin. Wanted he really wanted was a cold shower, but he didn't really feel like spending a sultry night as a girl – sweat pooled under his breasts in the most uncomfortable fashion, why did no one warn of things like that? - and dousing himself with hot water would ruin any cooling effect.
He took the window out and made for the tree that waited at the side of the house. He checked carefully for feline wildlife, and then leapt lightly up into the branches. Cool night air would do much to alleviate his discomfort.
Besides, he wanted to think, and Genma's presence was a distinct impediment.
The air was cool in his hair, but thoughts stubbornly refused to come. All he had was images: Ryoga crushing Akane protectively in his arms, sulking in the hot bath, struggling up the hill at Ukyo's side. Man, those ghosts had given him a hard time. The corner of Ranma's mouth twitched, but he felt somewhat hollow inside.
He guessed Ryoga wouldn't be around much anymore. That was good. He and Akane would give them their privacy; they were good enough, themselves, at messing up romance, without ruining Ryoga and Ukyo's chances. They'd stay well out of it…
Uncharacteristic depression surged in Ranma's heart.
He didn't know how long he'd been there when he heard a soft voice call up. Ranma gripped the branch with his knees and swung upside down, catching Akane's hands and swinging her easily up to the branch facing him. She was wearing ridiculous yellow pyjamas with even more ridiculous pigs on them, but she was alone. Ranma was glad. P-chan was the last thing he wanted to see right now. But then, perhaps P-chan's presence in the house was a past annoyance.
The little pig was pretty damn annoying, after all.
"What're you doing here, Akane?"
She shrugged, expression not quite defiant but ready in case defiance was required. "I was watching you through my window. What are you doing up here, for that matter?"
"Couldn't sleep neither, huh?" He ignored her question.
"No." She turned away; he could see her profile in the moonlight, eyes dark and silent. "I was thinking about Ryoga and Ukyo."
"Me, too. Ain't it great?"
The corner of her mouth turned up. "Yeah." They were silent for a while, while Ranma reflected. It made everything so much easier. No more uneasy guilt that his best bud Ucchan had this weird obsession. No more P-chan; no more nagging worry that one day the idiot really would get up the guts to make a real move on Akane, and that she'd like it; no more constant irritation at Ryoga's presence.
The last thought made him feel all hollow inside, but he pushed it away. Ryoga was still his rival, surely. It would just be about the combat, not about Akane. Cleaner, simpler.
"You really were happy, weren't you?"
"What?" He looked at her, trying to judge her expression through her profile. "S-sure."
"You weren't jealous?"
"Of course not! I keep telling you, Ucchan's just my buddy." And it was true enough. He was happy for Ukyo. But the memory still assailed him of a certain tight hotness, akin to what he felt when Ryoga and Akane were together. He turned to attack to defend himself. "You're the jealous one!"
"I am not!" Her fist clenched on the branch beside her, a sure warning sign. For once, he decided to heed it and proceed a little more carefully.
"It didn't bother you at all, seeing Ukyo and Ryoga together?"
"Why should it?"
"You were drapin' yourself all over Ryoga…"
"Don't be an idiot!" Akane flipped from the branch, a graceful enough movement to remind him that she was still a martial artist, and clumsy only in everyday life. "I thought I could talk seriously with you for once. Guess I'm the stupid one."
"Akane, wait!" But she was already inside, and he didn't follow her.
Jealous. Stupid. He was jealous when Akane and Ryoga were together. It was something surprisingly easy to admit to himself, out here in the dark, with no one to react or challenge or be humiliatingly pleased. There was the nagging consciousness always that Akane would be better off with Ryoga, even if he was a loser. Ryoga was so earnest, so intense, so pathetically devoted to her. He'd dedicate his life to Akane if she only looked at him, and Ranma had to admit that Akane probably deserved that rather than… what she had. She'd probably be far gentler if she knew she was the focus of such overwhelming love.
She was lucky, if she only saw it.
Ranma turned the thought over in his head. Lucky. To be loved like that, intensely and without restraint…
He shivered, although the night wasn't cold. Ryoga, with his deep eyes, the way his voice reverberated with passion, all that fierce strength… Hadn't he, in his girl form, been crushed by that intensity itself? He could see how a girl who was its real target, not playing games, could be overwhelmed by all that raw, hot emotion.
He'd been jealous when he saw Ryoga and Akane together. It had hurt less, far less, to see Ukyo and Ryoga together, but there had still been that prickle at the back of his spine. Well, all that meant was that he was a little possessive of Ukyo, even if Akane was who really counted. No surprises there. But there was still something, something he couldn't quite reach.
He was startled out of his thoughts by a movement below.
"Huh." Ranma felt in his pyjama pockets for the small flash of hot water he'd learned to keep there, and poured it down into the bushes. "Shouldn't you be with Ukyo, not tryin' to sneak back into Akane's bed?"
Ryoga stared resentfully up at him, curled around his nakedness out of habit more than any real modesty, muscles shaded into sharp relief in the half-light of the moon. "I care nothing for Ukyo."
"No, you don't, do you." It wasn't really a question, and there was no surprise in it. It hadn't taken much dwelling on Ryoga's single-minded passion to make Ranma sure that he and Akane had been mistaken about Ukyo. He'd been caught in enough misleadingly compromising positions himself to be aware of how easily those mistakes were made. "You can still keep away from Akane tonight, though." He offered a hand down. "Wanna come up here and talk?" The invitation came suddenly to his lips. For some reason, he didn't want Ryoga to leave, until he'd figured things out.
Ryoga gave him a look of petrified horror, flicking to the window and back. "That's – that's Akane's room…"
"Sorry, I forgot." Ranma grinned, less at the thought of a naked Ryoga perched outside Akane's window than at the knowledge that Ryoga would be blushing furiously, impossible as it was to tell in this light. Kinda cute, really.
Ryoga gave him one look of mingled reproach and fury, managing to convey both that Ranma was an insensitive torturer who was piercing Ryoga's poor fragile heart to the bone, and that he was scum who would have his own nether regions handed to him on a plate if Ryoga was only dressed for violence, and sprang for the fish pond. Ranma watched him, the grin still on his lips but his eyes thoughtful.
P-chan scurried inside, presumably headed for the bedroom where the still-awake Akane would dry and snuggle him, and Ranma's grin faded. He hated Ryoga sleeping with Akane. Hated the way they had their own private little world…
...shutting him out.
Ranma thought about this for a second. Then he thought about Ryoga, ridiculous and pathetic and strong all at once, the dark fire burning in him. His own desire to keep Ryoga close by him and talking, and how precisely it matched the desire of only a few minutes ago to keep Akane beside him, even if they were both furious with him. Better to be insulted and hit by them than kissed by anyone else –
Damn. And damn again.
As if his life wasn't already complicated enough without that.
Notes: Not my characters, but those of Rumiko Takahashi. Borrowed without permission but handed back in good condition. One of a trio of improvs written for the livejournal community tempsmort, on the theme "Rude Awakenings".
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