Between
By Ninnik Nishukan


EPILOGUE: Latest Impressions
Hibiki Ryoga was bored. He'd ended up camping for the night somewhere where there just wasn't anything to look at, and the few books he had he'd read a million times. It was time to buy some new ones.

All he could do was think, and he wasn't too fond of letting his thoughts wander off because they always almost arrived somewhere dark.

Whenever he thought of Akane, he could wrap himself in sugary fantasies for a while…but only for a while.

So he tried to think of something else, someone else, but then he thought of Ranma, and he was filled with those too familiar sensations of frustration, annoyance, anger and humiliation. He was so tired of losing.

Picking at the embers of his dying campfire, he sighed heavily, just letting his thoughts drift for a while until the image of Ranma dissolved gradually…and then surprisingly, was replaced by the image of a just as cheekily grinning girl, though for some reason the expression didn't anger him like it did when Ranma was wearing it. It made him want to grin back.

So…Kuonji Ukyo, huh?

He had a friend now. That was a very strange feeling indeed.

He'd tried to make friends on occasion during junior high, but since he was so shy, was lost so often and since everybody thought he was so weird, it was hard to do.

Now he'd managed to make a friend outside of school, someone who seemed to be glad to see him and who talked to him about personal stuff, not just homework or martial arts. When he talked to her, he'd realized, it wasn't just idle chatter. Sure, they bantered occasionally, calling each other names and throwing other derogatory remarks at each other, but a lot of the time, the good thing about talking to her was that he was able to talk about his thoughts and feelings.

And she always seemed so casual, never scared away by him no matter how emotional he got. She always seemed to take it all with a grain of salt, always telling him he was exaggerating…and whaddaya know, a lot of the time he ended up realizing that he really was, that it was possible to look at things from a different perspective, that it was possible not to throw himself headfirst into depression like it was second nature, nothing but a habit.

The only thing that had seemed to frighten her just a little was the Shi Shi Hokodan. He supposed that was the only reason why she'd…

She'd hugged him. He hadn't expected that.

It hadn't made him blow his top like it did when Akane had hugged him during the whole waterproof soap episode, and it hadn't made him feel loved and safe and warm like when his parents hugged him, but it had made him feel…something.

It had felt real. Real and grounding. Bracing and uplifting, like crisp, fresh air on a clear winter morning, except it hadn't been cold. It had been like a conversation with her, only in physical form. Relax, Hibiki, her arms had said, don't take things so seriously, her arms had went on as they squeezed him lightly against her body, you're not alone, her cheek had told him, resting against his shoulder.

That was what he'd felt. He felt as if he wasn't alone anymore. He felt as if someone was beginning to understand him. Of course, what he'd also felt was her breasts pressed against his chest and the smell of her shampoo, but those were minor points— what had happened to his mind had changed his way of looking at her more than the brief, up-close rediscovery of her femininity that his body had experienced.

And then he'd met her again, later, and she'd told him that he was her friend. And then he'd begun to feel the warmth that was slightly like the one he got from his parents, only not. It was as if a part of him wasn't iced over anymore. It was as if a part of his life had become more bearable.

Gazing out over the scenery, he decided to write a postcard. Getting out his folder of postcards, he chose one with autumn leaves on it and began to write.

Dear Ukyo,

He wrote, and immediately erased it, cursing a little as he rubbed away the silly phrase. She'd probably laugh if he wrote that.

Ukyo,

He began afresh, but then halted, chewing thoughtfully at his pencil. What in the world was he supposed to say to her anyway? Tapping the pencil against his chin, he appeared lost in thought for a while before he touched the pencil tip onto the card again.

I'm currently at

Well, he mused, the sign he was sitting next to said 'this way to Mount Rokko', so that's what he wrote.

I'm currently near Mount Rokko, camping. The weather's okay, but a little cloudy.

How are you? I hope you're doing fine with the restaurant and with school.

With any luck, I'll manage to get back to Nerima soon. Maybe I'll stop by when I get there.

It was nice

not being alone—

having dinner with you the last time I met you. Thank you for

hugging me that time, Ryoga thought absently, thank you for always making me feel better even when you're just insulting me—

the yakisoba.

Please give Akane and Ranma my regards.

Ryoga

Okay, that didn't sound too stupid, did it? Now, if he could only manage to find a post office or something tomorrow…


Kuonji Ukyo was bored. School was excruciatingly slow today. She could've sworn that at one point the teacher had talked at such a tired pace that he was actually talking backwards.

Ukyo was usually pretty attentive in class, but this was just one of those days where nothing really caught your fancy. Classes were boring, lunch was boring, the second half of classes were boring, and there were no fights at all. Ranma and Akane weren't even arguing, for pete's sake!

It didn't exactly help that half the class was missing because of a flu bug, either.

What this day needed was Ryoga doing one of his unexpected appearing acts and challenging Ranma. A nice, big fight out in the school yard or on the sports field would liven things up. Only pity was that she didn't have her portable grill with her and wouldn't be able to sell okonomiyaki to the resulting crowd.

And then she could drag Ranma and Ryoga back to her place when Ryoga had lost, to patch them up and feed them okonomiyaki, and when Ranma went home, she could entertain herself by listening to whatever it was that would be Ryoga's next big problem.

It was very peculiar how someone as gloomy as Ryoga was always able to cheer her up like that, but then she'd also discovered that it only took her a few minutes of cheerful comments, sarcastic jokes and carefully interjected coaxing to bring him around again. If all else failed, she could always provoke him into a hissy fit instead so he'd be so annoyed he'd forget all about his depression. He was harder to cheer up than most, but not impossibly so; it was a fun challenge, anyway, and sometimes he even managed to tell her a thing or two to make her feel better when she was feeling down. She'd really kind of started to look forward to the next time he managed to stumble into Nerima again.

After the last class, where the subject had been Geometry and she'd almost fallen asleep, she packed up her book bag and went over to Ranma and Akane, who were just getting ready to leave.

"Ranma, Akane," Ukyo began, "I was wondering…do you guys want to come over to my place? I could fix you something to eat," She suggested, knowing Ranma wouldn't refuse, and indeed Ranma's eyes lit up with expectation, but Akane shook her head.

"We can't," She smiled apologetically."Kasumi's got something special planned for dinner and we promised to help fix this hole in the wall."

Ukyo grinned, trying to hide her disappointment. "Shampoo?"

Akane nodded, sighing. "Shampoo."

"We'll hafta take a rain check. Okay, Ucchan?" Ranma told her with a friendly grin.

Ukyo nodded, waving to them as they left. A moment or two went by, the other students gradually clearing out of the classroom as she only stood there, dreamily contemplated how cute Ranma looked when he smiled like that when she suddenly realized that they were always headed the same way as her and she could at least have walked with them part of the way home. Feeling acutely lonely all of a sudden— when you were sixteen, there was nothing more empty-feeling than a deserted classroom and the long way home alone— she dragged her feet as she walked home, again wishing futilely that Ryoga would suddenly pop up out of nowhere to keep her company, almost expecting that he would each time she turned a corner.

She caught a glimpse of a yellow shirt and shaggy, black hair down the street, and her heart fluttered with hope, but when she looked twice, of course it turned out to be someone she didn't even know.

When she reached her restaurant, she remembered that she'd forgotten to take in the mail that morning. Not expecting to get any kind of interesting mail, she simply stuffed her hand into the mail box, pulled out the mail and shuffled into her house. When she was removing her shoes, however, her eye caught a colourful object among all the bills and commercial leaflets in the small pile of mail dropped she'd on the floor in front of her.

It was a postcard, adorned with red autumn leaves. Her curiosity piqued, she plucked the card up from the floor, turning it over in her hand. Who in the world would be sending her a postcard?

Ukyo,

I'm currently near Mount Rokko, camping. The weather's okay, but a little cloudy.

How are you? I hope you're doing fine with the restaurant and with school.

With any luck, I'll manage to get back to Nerima soon. Maybe I'll stop by when I get there.

It was nice having dinner with you the last time I met you. Thank you for the yakisoba.

Please give Akane and Ranma my regards.

Ryoga

Once the initial surprise had worn off, Ukyo smiled. Having a friend was a comforting thing, even if he was almost never around. Just knowing that someone had thought of her was enough to turn her mood around.

Ukyo hummed to herself as she sauntered up the stairs to change out of her school uniform and make dinner. It was only a pity that Ryoga didn't have a return address.

END.
Author's note: I actually finished a multi-chapter story for the first time in my life. Sniffle...I can't believe it.