AN: The theories Nabiki feeds Ranma with about the causes of what ails Akane have been proffered to me as well. Bitter? Who, me?
As always, to my dearest beloved, for being largely responsible for my Ranma obsession.
"Akane dear, what's wrong?" Kasumi paused in drying the dishes and came to the kitchen door as a tearful hurricane flung herself towards the stairs. Her youngest sister did not pause in her mad rush, so Kasumi shook her head sadly and returned to her work. The young ones had probably had another lover's quarrel, the darling things.
She sighed, shaking her pretty head. It would be nice if Akane and Ranma would calm down a little, and then she would really have a new little brother. But, after all, she reflected comfortably, they were still young, and everything would work out in the end. For the moment, at least Ranma's many fiancées provided an endless source of amusement in Kasumi's otherwise quiet, if happy, life.
She smiled to herself. She would make the poor babies a special dinner to cheer them up. Kasumi had endless faith in the ability of good food to heal any wrongs, and she was usually right.
"P-chan? P-chan!" Akane called with increasing desperation, searching frantically for her pet. In the end, however, she had to admit to herself that her little pig had gone on one of his periodic walkabouts. She sniffled to herself, shutting herself up in her bedroom. She really could have used a cuddle right now. She thought about going back down to Kasumi, but she couldn't face her sister's unremitting cheerfulness and good nature at the moment. Her father, she knew, was no good to her whatsoever. He had too much invested in her betrothal to be sympathetic about a quarrel with her betrothed, especially when Akane had no intention whatsover of reconciling, ever.
She sank down on her bed, and picked up one of her favourite toys, a large pink stuffed pig. She had always liked pigs; they weren't pretty at all, but they were intelligent and lovable all the same. And she was certainly not going to analyse that thought, for fear of making herself cry again.
Guilt and shame flooded over her. She had no right to yell at Ryoga. He had only kissed her out of pity, after all. Probably the only reason he had not rejected her outright was for fear that he would further disrupt her sense of femininity.Ryoga was always so very kind to her. And in response, she had accused him of taking advantage of her, when it had been…
…so very much the other way around.
She was not quite at the level of mental instability that would induce her to talk to a toy, but she lifted it up and looked into its glassy eyes as she thought. So, she had needed, on some level, to kiss a boy, to make up for kissingRanma. And she had been sad and confused, and Ryoga had been looking at her with such gentleness and sympathy on his handsome face, that it had just seemed the simplest thing to do.
Was kissing a dearly beloved friend such a very terrible thing to do? She was sure Ryoga would never rub her feelings in it… unlike some other people she could name.
She sighed, and flopped back on her bed. The truth was, kissing Ryoga had been very nice, but something had not been right about it, had held her back in frozen panic. Kissing Ranma has been liquid and sweet and burning all at once… everything Ryoga's gentle mouth had not been. While Ryoga... Akane remembered the solid muscular warmth of him, the shy gentleness of his mouth, as if he had been terrified of breaking her with a kiss.
Theimportant questionwas, then, whether the difference lay in who she had been kissing, ot the sex of the person she had kissed.
She pressed her fist to her forehead, letting her mind drift back to… certain comments. After all, she had been mocked as a dyke ever since she had been a small child, barely filling her first gi. Nabiki's unrestrained glee at the engagement, as she pointed out that a girl who hated boys would be better off with a fiancé who could turn into a girl;bBeing asked to play Romeo in the school play, because she was as good as a boy; Shampoo's lip curled in disdain as she asked if the pervert-girl only liked girl Ranma; Nabiki suggesting that Ranma should keep his curse, to make the honeymoon more interesting… Everyone had seemed to know, in one sense, while having no idea at all in another.
Come to think of it, Nabiki was surfacing quite often inAkane's reminiscences. That was disturbing in itself, because the middle Tendo daughter had excellent instincts for people'svulnerable spots. If Nabiki had pinpointed Akane as a self-closeted lesbian, then it was hard not to wonder if she was right. Especially considering… well… everything.
Akane thoughtfullythwacked the pig against her bedroom wall. So, she had kissed Ranma as a girl, and liked it. Not the end of the world, considering they were actually engaged… except that Ranma hated his girl side. So if Akane only liked girls, then the minute Ranma figured out how to curse his affliction, their marriage would be in serious trouble.
There were two ways to figure things out, she decided, without actually molesting poor Ryoga again. She could kiss Ranma as a boy. Her stomach clenched up with panic at the idea of giving him so much leverage over her. Or she could kiss another girl, and see if it drowned her senses like kissing Ranma. Sayuki wouldn't mind, maybe, or even Ukyo, if she could be misled into thinking it wasa way to break Akane's attachment to Ranma.
"What the hell am I thinking?"Akane muttered to herself, slamming the toy repeatedly against the wall. The last thing she needed was to further complicate matters. She could not believe she had just considered, even in passing, making out with one of Ranma's other fiancées. She wasn't quite that desperate.
"I'm never kissing anyone ever again," she decided.
And Ranma had better not, either, if he knew what was good for him. Neither of them were allowed to go around kissing Ukyo, and that was final.
"Pop? Hey, Pop?" Ranma called, wandering somewhat disconsolately through the Tendo dwelling. He really needed to work off some excess tension somehow, and beating the proverbial unspeakable out of something always seemed to work for Akane. As Happsai had been absent lately, no doubt on some mission of evil, Genma seemed the obvious opponent.
Neither man nor panda was to be found, however, and Ranma's odd depression increased. Somehow, it seemd worsened by hearing Akane's voice echo his calls in the house, aimed at P-chan rather than Genma. She wasridiculously devoted to thatridiculous pig, and it was all Ranma's fault for allowing the situation to occur while it was still possible to sort it out.
Sighing, Ranma retreated to his room. He growled at the slender figure sprawled on his bed, seemingly immersed in a magazine.
"Why, hello there, Ranma," Nabiki said imperturbably. "Do come in and make yourself at home."
"What are you doing here?"
She lifted an eyebrow. "Helping you, of course."
Ranma folded his arms. "Now, why do I have difficulty believing that?"
"I have no idea. After all, my first concern has always been the welfare of my loving home." Nabiki closed the magazine and propped herself up on the elbow. "You know, you really should make things up with Akane."
"No offence, but it's none of your business."
"It's more my business than you think. After all, do you suppose I want to be the one who ends up marrying you?" She smiled as Ranma shuddered at certain memories. "Exactly. Listen up, Ranma: you really need to make up with Akane quickly. I mean, listen to her now."
There was a long silence, in which the only sound other than Kasumi rattling dishes in the kitchen was Akane's plaintive calls for her pet. Ranma tried not to glower too much.
"Someone is back in town," Nabiki said. "Someone who may, say we say, be rather pleased to know that affairs between you and my little sister are in an unfriendlystate. I'd advise making up immediately." She waved her magazine. "It says here that flowers are usually a good first step. I'd take it under consideration. And besides, there's something you should know about my sister's somewhat unstable mood right now. I can tell you how to keep Akane in a much sweeter mood for much longer than flowers could ever guarantee."
Nabiki invitingly patted Ranma's bed. "Take a seat, Ranma. This might end up expensive."
Ryoga breathed a sigh of relief, clutching to his chest a bouquet of lilies. Lilies as lovely and pure as Akane himself, he decided, despite some qualms about the originality of the thought or whether Akane could really be compared to flowers at all. It had only taken him just under two hours to find the flower stall, he reflected with pride. Now, if he could just recall the way to the Tendo dojo…
He drifted into a dream sequence, with flowers and Akane in starring roles. Perhaps, if the fates smiled on him, another kiss or embrace – but he hardly dared to think further on that theme. It was too much happiness for one fragile heart to hold.
He was rudely interrupted by a foot landing in the nape of his neck. As his face smashed into the street, Ryoga was vaguely aware of flowers being snatched from his hands, and a cheery "Thanks, pal!" in a very familiar voice.
Ryoga smashed his fist into the ground, and the road shattered in a three metre wide circle.
Passers-by carefully stepped around the strange boy causing so much destruction while weeping bitterly. Otherwise, no one paid him any mind.
Akane felt like hell. For once, her physical discomfort was worse than her ruffled emotions. She should have realised it was coming on; she had been more sensitive and temperamental than usual even for her. Now, the inevitable cramps were beginning to make themselves felt as well. She longed for a long, hot bath more than anything. Maybe she could just slip under the water, and never come out, assuming that no one was currently using the bathroom for transformative purposes.
Now all she had to do was find the energy to get up and go prepare her bath – or call Kasumi and ask her to run it for her.
She tried to ignore the knocking at her window, but in the end it was too annoying, and she was forced to turn around. Ranma was dangling upside down from her window frame, a bouquet of lilies in his hands. He tossed them at her, and she automatically caught them.
"Flowers?" She attempted to regain her composure, despite the blush that was already forming. "If you think you can get around me just like that-"
"Listen, Akane," Ranma interrupted. "I don't wanna make a big deal out of this, okay? I'm… hrmm… sorry," he finished very quietly.
"You're sorry?" She paused in inhaling the delicate fragrance of the flowers, and narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "Do you actually know what you're apologising for this time?"
Ranma swing slowly back and forth in the window. "I'm sorry for whatever I did or said to upset you, okay? Look, it's none of my business if you like girls or not. Can't we just forget it ever happened and go back to being how we were? After all, we were both half-asleep, so it didn't count for nothing." Upside-down blue-grey eyes looked hopefully at her.
"Hmm," she replied. "Back to how we were?"
"Yeah. We can forget all that kissing nonsense and the engagement and just… whatever."
Akane lifted the flowers to her face, considering. "I guess we both have done things lately that would be better forgotten," she agreed softly. "Okay, then. As we were. Oh, and Ranma?"
"Get out of my room!" Her foot smashed into his midriff, and he went flying.
As she gathered her bath things, she smiled at the sound of splashing, and a female voice lifted in aggrieved rantings. She was rather glad to have her life back in its familiar order, or disorder, as the case might be.
She ignored the uneasy sensation that the past could not be undone quite so easily. Probably the sick feeling in her stomach was only… hormonal.
Nabiki chose to walk home from school alone the next day, dismissing her followers withthe usualairy excuse of 'business.' She busied herself with her books for a while, timing herself to leave just after her little sister and future brother-in-law left the school.
She had, she noticed smugly, been correct in her internal calendar. Akane had looked more than a little pale all day, and her steps had lagged. More than once during the day, Nabiki's sharp eyes had caught her resting a hand on the small of her own back, or hugging her stomach. She had noticed that Akane had even excused herself from volleyball, despite the protests of her team. Perfect timing.
What she had to count on now was, first, that Ranma would take her advice; secondly, that Akane would be feeling too ill and vulnerable – and secretly sick of the prolonged fighting – to refuse his help; and thirdly, that her estimation of Ranma's personality was correct.
Nabiki's calculations were rarely wrong.
It was not that she was incapable of feeling a little guilty over what she was planning. But Kuno had paid her well to keep Ranma out of the way for a month, and there was one logical way to achieve that. Besides, she was doing her dear little sister a favour. It was obvious to anyone with eyes that Akane preferred her fiancé to be her fiancée. What better gift to give their budding relationship, then a month or so for girlish bonding?
She liked Ryoga, but he wasn't her first choice for a brother-in-law. All that devotion around the house would be too sickening.
She heard a squeak from around the next corner. "Ranma, what do you think you are doing?"
Nabiki hastened her steps. Yes, things were going to work out just fine.
Akane carefully measured her pace, counting her steps as if the trip was more bearable taken in tiny, numbered stages. Soon… soon, she would be home, and then she would take a long, hot bath, and not get out of bed again for days, she promised herself. Thank goodness it was Friday. She just wanted to crawl under the covers and try to sleep away the pulsing pain in her abdomen. Her emotional confusion had receded under the all-consuming presence of menstrual pain
She had been hyper-aware of Ranma ever since their unfortunate kisses, but now she was only barely conscious of him walking silently beside her, as usual adjusting his pace to meet hers. She had agreed to drop open hostilities as much through her guilt over the encounter with Ryoga than through the unexpected apology and flowers, but she stillhadn't felt quite comfortable in her fiancé's presence. Until now, when quite frankly, she couldn't care less about anything other than the feasibility of digging her ovaries out with a spoon.
Stupid cramps… stupid stupid cramps… stupid Ranma, who never had to suffer cramps. What she wouldn't give right now for a splash of hot water to take this agony away. Stupid Ranma didn't realise how lucky he was. Stupid, stupid Ranma. Stupid, stupid cramps. She kept up a mental chant of stupid, stupid to match her steps.
"What!" She hadn't meant to raise her voice, but oh, her middle hurt, and it leaked into her tone.
"C'mere." He swooped on her.
"Ranma, what do you think you are doing?" she squeaked, as she was picked up like a doll. Her first instinct was to kick him in the face and escape, but Ryoga's face flashed into her mind, and guilt left her passively waiting for an explanation. If it wasn't good enough, she decided, then she would whack him with her satchel.
"Well, it's obvious you're sick, isn't it? I'm just helping." His own voice was overloud and defensive.
"You're obviously not feeling well, so I thought I'd carry you home. Don't worry, you don't weigh too much for me," he added boastfully, then couldn't resist adding, "even if you could stand to lose a few pounds, Akane."
She thought about hitting him for the crack about her weight. Then she thought about the fact that he had noticed she was ill, and was actually carrying her home. The level of sensitivity involved was so far beyond Ranma's usual capacity that she doubted that she was justified in taking offence at his manner of offering help. And, besides, she felt so unsure of herself right now. At the worst possible moments, her memories would slip back to Ranma's soft curves pressed against her, Ryoga's cradling arms…
Now she was being held supported under knees and armpits by Ranma, as she had so many times before, his less curvy but definitely more muscular chest pressed against her side, and suddenly she was not quite sure how to react. Her cheeks were deep pink already.
But she really did not want to walk home. Her legs were watery and shaky, and she felt definitely fragile.
"Um… wouldn't it be easier to give me a piggyback ride?" she offered diffidently.
"Sure." He dropped her to the ground and relieved her of her school bag, then bent his knees so that she could wrap her arms around his shoulders. He stood again without effort, their bags winging from his arms, and started the trip home again. She relaxed, and even dared to snuggle in a little, feeling the heat of his skin through his thin top. After all, she had carried him – her – home like this herself, so it was nothing to worry about. All in all, it was… nice.
"Thanks." She snuggled even closer.
"No problem." He swung the bags easily in his hands. "Wrong time of month, huh?"
"I shoulda known. You've been so cranky lately. Well, more than usual," he amended cheerfully. "I thought you were just fussing about, you know, me kissing you and all, but I should have realised that it was just hormones making you be such a witch. I mean, you understand that, you know, kissing you was just a stupid mistake, right? It didn't mean nothing, and I won't ever do it again."
"Right." Akane concentrated on steadying her breath, and on her whitening knuckles as her hands dug into her companion's shirt.
Ranma, apparently encouraged by her silence, rambled on happily. "I'm glad you're being so good-tempered about accepting help for once, You know, though, you'll never make a decent martial artist if you let a few little women's problems hold you up like this."
"Yeah. You need to develop some endurance. You wouldn't see a man collapsing with a few cramps. Besides, it's your own fault, you know."
"In what way?" Akane half-whispered into his neck, his braided ponytail swinging against her lips. She resisted the urge to scalp him with her teeth.
"Menstrual pain is part of… of… body discomfort. You're uncomfortable with your femininity, so your body responds by rejecting its natural functions." He sounded as if he was reciting something he had learned by rote. "You don't see Kasumi lying up every month, now, do you?"
"Why do you think that would that be, Ranma?"
"Well, she's a real girl. If you'd accept the fact that you're a girl, instead of trying to be a man all the time, this little problem would clear right up."
"I see." Akane released her grip and slid to the ground. Ranma turned to face her, just in time to receive a well-aimed foot to the chin. He sailed gracefully over the fence.
"What was that for?" Ranma demanded, aggrieved, as she came up spluttering canal water.
"Why don't you show me how to be a real girl, then, if it's so easy?" Akane demanded.
"What a wonderful idea." Akane half-turned at the smooth voice, to see her sister hugging her satchel behind her. It was an uncomfortable reminder that her own bag was currently floating in the canal next to Ranma. Stupid jerk, couldn't even save her books for her.
"What would be a wonderful idea would be for that ungrateful tomboy to try and realise when people are doing her a favour!" Ranma pulled herself back up the wall, her soaked clothes clinging to her once more voluptuous little body. For the thousandth time, Akane repressed a little stab of envy… and something else, something connected to memories of waking with that body pressed against hers.
Nabiki grinned, leaning on the wire fence. "Face it, Saotome. Every time you've had to be a girl for more than a few days, you've shattered to pieces. No way would you make it through even a single, er, cycle."
Ranma glared at her. "Why would I want to?" She straddled the fence, and favoured both sisters with a nasty look. Akane's temper had come off the boil, and she shifted her gaze uneasily between the other two girls, trying to figure out what was going on.
"Oh, you wouldn't. After all, it would be very embarrassing for everyone to find out that you couldn't deal with a little discomfort."
Ranma's blue-grey eyes were narrowed. "Come on, Nabiki. Why would I want to do that? It's… disgusting." She shuddered slightly.
"Oh really?" Nabiki shot a look at her sister. "Looks like Ranma has a fear of the female body, Akane. Do you think he's gay? – although I really shouldn't be asking you of all people about sexual orientation, after all. Or maybe he's just afraid of failure. I'd bet he'd wuss out at the first cramp."
"No way!" Ranma set her small shoulders back. "I wouldn't let that stop me for a minute. And I'm a far better girl than she is!"
"I'm a real girl, and by definition that makes me more feminine than you are!" snapped Akane.
Nabiki held up a hand. "A wager," she said softly.
"I already owe you more than Pop gives me in a month!" Ranma pointed out.
"But we can wager… favours." Nabiki froze him with a glance. "Don't you want me in your debt?"
Ranma hesistated, obviously aware of how useful that would be. "But what if I lose?" she asked, ignoring Akane's vehement protests.
"Then you owe me something. Some photos ought to do the trick."
The other girl relaxed. After all, Nabiki usually managed to get compromising photos of her… or him… without any deals. It wasn't so bad. "Terms?"
"A month. You have to take cold baths only, and avoid turning back, until you've finally… become a woman." Nabiki grinned. "No resetting your body with hot water. But don't bother… there's no way you could do it."
"Sure I can!" Ranma said, predictably. Her inability to admit to anything at all being beyond her was legendary.
"Then – it's a deal." Nabiki turned and strode away.
"Wait! I didn't mean I agreed or nothing!" Ranma cried, panicked. "This is a stupid idea! I'm not doing it!" she shrieked at the departing figure.
Akane sighed. "Come on, Ranma. We'd better get you home."
Ranma glowered back at her. "I'm not doing it," she muttered. "I'm not."
Nabiki's laughter floated back on the breeze.