AN: If you were expecting a certain Ranma fic from me, this is… not actually it. Next time, I promise.
This one is set immediately after the manga sequence in which Ryoga learns the Shishi Hokodan, which allows him to channel his depression into an attack.
For my beloved, for introducing me to this obsession. This is a little gift in gratitude.
~Only If It Counts~
The blow was not intended to incapacitate, just to prove that his assailant could catch him unawares. Ranma rolled to his feet, and looked into Akane's mirthful face.
He knew he should be angry with her for the dishonourable attack, but after all, it was a relief to see her laughing at him instead of draped all over and condoling with Ryoga. He repressed the purely preposterous urge to hug her. Of course, it was easier to avoid offering the embrace when he considered that she was already holding a certain small black pig in her arms. "I just like to let you to get in a blow sometimes so you can feel better about yourself," he informed the girl.
"Of course you do." The amusement in her eyes dimmed a little, replaced by a little line between them, illumined by a stray shaft of light "Your guard was completely down. That's not like you." Akane bit her lip. "Not that I care, but what's wrong with you?"
The two teenagers faced each other, the breeze fanning over the roof where they stood only slightly befouled by pollution that night, the stars crisp in the sky. It was a romantic setting, if you were inclined that way. If you really were lovers, instead of just people your parents had forced together for the sake of the dojo.
Of course, in an optimal romantic setting, Akane would probably not be holding P-chan. It was just too much, that after everything that had happened, Akane would have his rival in her arms, even unconsciously. Ranma scowled at the pig, who smirked back and snuggled closer into Akane's arms.
What's wrong? he asked himself silently. Ryoga came a hairsbreadth away from defeating me and winning you… and when I finally wore him down, you pounded me into bits and spent all afternoon binding his wounds and telling him what an awful person I am. Some victory. My life sucks. Not as much as Ryoga's life sucks, obviously, but it still sucks.
"Nothing's wrong," he said sulkily.
The line between her eyes deepened, and the lines of her mouth soured. "You're not working on your depression to master the Shishi Hokodan again, are you? I thought you'd decided instead to conquer the universe through your unshakable belief that you're the greatest martial artist ever born."
He nodded, his pigtail bobbing against his shoulder. "I'm pretty good-looking, too." He flexed some of the beautifully sculpted muscles in one arm to prove his point.
"You – idiot." Akane expelled the word in a rush of warm air. Ranma could feel her breath, the touch of her exasperation, like a caress on his skin. She sank almost gracefully to her haunches, settling comfortably on the roof of the dojo and snuggling P-chan into her lap. After a moment, Ranma followed, crouched in his usual kittenish stance, ready to pounce even at rest.
They sat in silence for long moments, as tension slowly melted into relaxation, into a comfortable pleasure at being next to each other and not actually fighting. Ranma knew better than to enjoy the moment too much. At any moment now, a crazed gymnast was going to throw a poisoned rose at him, or a voluptuous Amazon was going to crash her bike into the base of his spine. But for now, after his exhausting horrible day, being quiet with Akane like this was…
It was a pity that Akane was usually such a violent, bad-tempered tomboy. Otherwise, there might be more moments like this.
He studied her in the patchy light from the city and the stars. The one eye he could see was very huge and black in the shadows, her bobbed hair curling gently against a rounded cheek. Her lips were softly pressed together, the line of her mouth wistful. Of course, her hips and waist were too wide, her breasts too small and her bearing entirely too unfeminine. He made a far more attractive girl himself. But right now, in this kind light, she was almost – cute.
"Ranma?" She had turned towards him without warning, so that the expression was caught on his face. He gaped instead, excuses for staring at the girl already beginning to rise to his lips. But Akane's eyes dropped first. "Ranma, why did you tell Ryoga you kissed me?"
P-chan shrieked a petulant addition to the demand. Ranma shot him a poisonous look.
"Don't worry. It wasn't wishful thinking or nothing. I just wanted to distract him."
"Oh." She was staring at the pet pig on her lap, and it was dark. That was why he could not tell what she was feeling. There was no other reason. Ranma sought uselessly for something to say to break the thoughtful silence, but the words would not come.
Finally, his fiancée lifted ingenuous eyes to his face again. "Why on earth would you think Ryoga would care if I had kissed you or not?"
Damn. Ranma stared hard at P-chan himself. He was almost sure the little pig was blushing, although really there was no way he could tell in this light.
Part of him, the spiteful childish part, wanted badly to tell Akane everything at that moment, to humiliate his "friend" and rival into the ground as some kind of revenge for threatening his engagement to Akane. But… he just couldn't do it. Under all the rivalry, he was conscious of a reluctant affection and protectiveness towards Ryoga. The boy was such a loser, he told himself, that you just had to look out for him. And, besides…
What if Akane was overjoyed at learning Ryoga adored her? What if she really wanted a boyfriend who would never criticise or fight with her, who had chosen her of his own free will, who wanted nothing more than to make her happy? What if that was what she really deserved?
He was damned if he was going to let the bastard have Akane.
"No reason," he said, which was hardly an adequate response. Akane, uncharacteristically, seemed to accept it. She apparently had her own worries.
"Because I don't want you to kiss me. And we never did kiss. Except when you… were… well, it didn't count! You would have kissed anyone! And you don't even remember it," she added bitterly.
Ranma sought an answer, and failed. It was highly unfair, he considered, to blame him for anything he did while under the impression that he was a cat. And it was also unfair, the thought occurred to him, that he could not remember kissing Akane at all. Not that he would want to remember something like that.
He allowed himself to recline fully on the roof, only his legs bent, his head pillowed on his interlaced hands. "Kissing an unsexy tomboy like you," he said, slowly and deliberately, "would be the stuff of nightmares."
"So would kissing an insensitive pervert like you!"
"Right." Their breathing marked the seconds, loud in the night. Akane's bosom was heaving in the most approved romance novel fashion, but he was not going to look. It was not as though she had all that much to heave, in any case. Ranma knew he would be far more impressive under the same circumstances. "I'm not insensitive!" he growled at last.
"Yes you are. Idiot."
"You're the idiot, idiot!"
"No, you're the –" Akane paused, suddenly, in the middle of their increasingly erudite discussion. "You really have nightmares about kissing me?" Her voice was very small and hurt.
"Nope." He grinned at her, exultant. He could use the Moko Takabisha right now and defeat the world. "I have nightmares about kissing Kodachi Kuno, though."
"Eurgh. Me too."
"You have nightmares about me kissing Kodachi? You're that jealous?"
She folded her arms tightly across her chest. "No, you moron. I know you're convinced you're the centre of the universe, but I have nightmares about my kisses, not yours."
His grin was stretching even wider. "You dream about kissing Kodachi? Are you sure they're nightmares, Akane?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" she snapped.
"I would have thought kissing Kodachi would be right up the alley of a girl like you. After all, she's a very attractive – ow!"
"I have nightmares about kissing her brother, idiot!"
"Oh." He sobered. "I have nightmares about that too."
"About me kissing…"
"Don't be such a pain in the butt. You know I meant I have nightmares about him kissing me." They shared a sympathetic moment, memories of Kuno at his most horrifyingly amorous playing across both their minds. "And – Mikado." He shuddered. "Akane?"
"Nabiki said Mikado didn't count as my first kiss, because he was a boy." It had been an unexpectedly kind thing for Akane's sister to say, even if she had ruined it a few seconds later. "Do you think a kiss doesn't count if you are two boys?"
Akane snorted with laughter. "Oh, no, it's not real at all if you're the same sex," she said. "You can do whatever you like." Even Ranma could not quite fool himself she was in earnest.
"Oh," was all he could think to respond. Depression washed over him, and his eyes closed. If Ryoga turned back into a human and challenged him right now, he thought, Ranma could probably manage the Shishi Hokodan with no trouble at all.
He sensed movement above him and looked up into Akane's face. She was leaning over him, her features almost entirely in shadow. Only her eyes shone like a cat's above him.
No. Not like a cat's, he amended hastily. Like something not scary and disgusting at all. Something nice.
"Do you remember," she said softly, "that you told me your first kiss should be only something you shared with someone you really liked?"
"Yeah." He stared at the darker smudge of shadow that was her mouth.
"Well, I think that maybe, unless you both wanted the kiss, it doesn't count. It doesn't count if you were forced," she gently reinforced.
"So Mikado doesn't count as my first kiss," he said slowly, feeling better. "And Shampoo doesn't, either." He realised that Akane was smiling down at him, her lips parted and her eyes glittering brighter than the starlight. "What's made you so happy? I'm the one who thought his first kisses were from an ice-skating pervert and an insane Amazon."
"Oh… nothing." She was still smiling like she knew something lovely that he didn't, and he wanted to ask what. Instead, she sat back up, and petted P-chan, who was growing fractious at the amount of attention his beloved… mistress was lavishing on Ranma.
He did not quite know what made him say what he did next. Maybe it was the way she was stroking that damn Ryoga on her lap. "I have nightmares about you kissing Ryoga," he heard himself saying. Sharp and fast and far too close to the truth for comfort.
Akane turned to him, laughter bubbling in her eyes again, her teeth glinting white in the darkness. She really was almost pretty like that. "Why would I kiss Ryoga?"
Ranma beamed back up at her. He had nothing to worry about. Akane would never be interested in a loser like Ryoga. "It's pretty stupid, right?" P-chan shrilled distress.
"Of course it is." She giggled, almost charmingly. "Ryoga would never want to kiss me. Whatever gave you such a ridiculous idea?"
Ranma and P-chan gazed into each other's eyes for a long moment. Then the little black pig slunk off in dejection.
"No reason at all," Ranma said at last. He sighed so hard his pigtail was lifted by the breeze.
"I have nightmares about you kissing Ukyo." Her voice was pitched so low he barely made out the words.
He sat up and stared at her. "Why would you dream about something like that?"
"Oh, I don't know." Maybe his eyes were adjusting to the half-light, but he was sure there were tears in her eyes. "It's not like it's any of my business who you kiss. But… she's your best friend, and she really loves you. And you said she's your cute fiancée."
"Yeah. That's right. She is." He sought for something tactful to say. "She's much cuter than you are." That, he realised, was probably a bad choice of words. "I mean, um, that doesn't matter," he went on, feeling an overwhelming need to fill up Akane's silence with words. "I mean, just because she's better looking than you and she can cook, it don't necessarily mean nothing." Akane was definitely sniffling. Maybe, just maybe, if he went on, he would provoke her into violence, and then, apart from a few bruises and dislocated joints, everything would be fine. Better to have her mad with him than… like this.
Inspiration blossomed. "There's no need to be so jealous," he said knowingly.
Her first crashed into the side of his head. "I'M NOT JEALOUS!"
Ranma groaned softly to himself, watching all the pretty stars dancing. They were almost as captivating as the ones that had been in Akane's eyes… and that was definitely the concussion thinking for him.
At least Akane seemed to have stopped crying. That was an improvement. At least, he thought so.
He could just tell, without looking, that she was staring sulkily off into the distance.
"You really have nothing to be jealous of," he muttered.
"What?" He felt rather than saw her attention rivet on him.
"I don't wannna… kiss. Ukyo. Only wanna…" He couldn't say it. Even through the concussion. "Nothing."
"Oh." Akane was still upset. This was no good, no good at all. Ranma managed to sit up.
"Yes?" It might have been suspicion on her voice, or maybe hope. Well, he could hope himself, right? He pushed himself to a sitting position, and then to his feet.
"Nabiki said my first kiss didn't count if it was from a boy."
He knew Akane rolled her eyes up, because the whites were glinting. "That's just ridiculous. Nabiki was stirring you up."
"So," he persisted stubbornly, "you could kiss a girl, and… it would be okay, right? It wouldn't mean nothing at all."
Akane looked as though he had just slapped her in the face. "Ranma, are you insane or just stupid?"
He laughed, and scooped her into his arms in the same swift movement that sent him plummeting off the roof. The night-cold water of the dojo pond was a familiar sensation, of a piece with the feel of his body shrinking, narrowing in all places but his swelling hips and his breasts… her breasts… stretching the fabric of her soaking shirt.
The two girls struggled to their feet, hair plastered with water to their heads, Ranma's arms still around Akane. She could feel the breasts of this form, this body that never felt quite right no matter how many times she wore it, her breasts, pressing against Akane's chest, and suddenly this existence did not feel foreign to her at all. It was mirrored in her fiancée's body, it was natural and sweet and… right. She looked into Akane's waiting, shocked face, and closed her eyes before she could lose her courage.
The kiss was awkward at first, lips pressed too hard against unresponsive lips, neither of them quite sure what to do. After all, it was the first kiss that had ever really counted.
And then, in a few heartbeats that pounded so loud in Ranma's ears that she was afraid something was wrong inside her chest, the kiss changed. Their lips stopped merely pressing, and began to cling, to taste, to caress, plying each other softly. Akane's arms slipped around her neck, and afterwards she could not tell which of them parted their lips first, but their tongues were touching in small shy caresses. She gasped, and heard Akane moan. She clung tighter in response, her tongue rolling against that of the other girl, feeling Akane suck gently in response.
Then they were gazing dazedly into each other's eyes, embracing in the middle of the dojo pond.
Akane's arms slowly slid from around Ranma's neck, and fell limply to her sides.
"It's okay," Ranma said. "I'm a girl, so – it don't really count. See?" She kissed Akane again, hard and sweetly, and somersaulted from the pond. She fled into the night.
Akane more slowly followed her fiancé out of the water. She stood still for a moment, shivering in the light breeze. She wondered absently how Ranma managed, being soaked with cold water so often without dying of pneumonia.
But these thoughts were surface. Mostly… mostly her mind was filled with a soft loving mouth on hers, of wet curves pressed against her own, of a small wiry body pressed into her arms. She pressed one fingertip against the dent of her lower lip.
"Of course," she told the night. "It doesn't mean anything at all."
She was smiling as she returned to the house.