A Ranma 1/2 Fanfic
All Ranma 1/2 characters copyright Rumiko Takahashi
and are used without permission
 

The Heart's Reasons
by Mark MacKinnon

Part One:  In Vino Veritas
 

"The heart has its reasons, which reason cannot know."
       - Pascal
 
 

     "All I'm saying", Mousse told Ukyou, "is that I took your
advice, and now maybe you should consider taking mine."  Ukyou
sighed, wiping down the counter with a bar towel.
     "I just don't know," she said.  Mousse leaned forward, the
overhead lights glinting merrily on his glasses.
     "You told me to give Shampoo some space while she fusses
over Cologne, and I have.  And I have to admit, at least we're not
fighting every day now.  I think it might have been good advice, and I
just want to return the favour.  That's all."  Ukyou smiled at the
nearsighted boy, still absently rubbing the same spot on the counter that
she'd been cleaning for the past five minutes.
     "It's a lot easier to give advice than take it, I guess," she said
ruefully.  "Still, maybe this just needs to be left alone."  Mousse
frowned then, resettling his glasses reflexively on the bridge of his nose
with one finger.
     "Ukyou, maybe it isn't my place to say this, but this is obviously
bothering you more than you want to let on."
     "What makes you say that?" she asked defensively.
     "Well, for one thing, if you don't stop rubbing that exact same
spot you're going to wear a hole in the countertop."  She realized what
she was doing, a flush spreading demurely across her cheeks.
     "I knew that," she said weakly.
     "Ukyou, listen.  Ranma's been avoiding you since Ranko left,
right?  Dodging you at school, not coming by here, even for free meals
... whatever's going on, he's obviously not in any hurry to talk to you
about it.  I think the only way for you to get any peace of mind is to go
talk to him, the sooner the better.  Although, if you ask me, you deserve
better than him."
     "Mousse!" Ukyou cried, shock mingling with a certain guilty
pleasure at the comment.  "You shouldn't say things like that about
Ran-chan!"  Mousse looked unperturbed.
     "He's been avoiding Shampoo as well, you know.  And while
I'd normally be more than pleased about that, I hate the effect it's
having on her.  It really hurts her, and I just don't think he even cares."
     "That's not fair!  I'm sure Ran-chan has a good reason for
what he's doing!" she lied.
     "Well, if you talk to him, you can ask him what it is."  Mousse
leaned back, crossing his arms, and added "If you're not afraid to know
the answer, that is."  Even though she and Mousse had talked pretty
regularly since that day at Furinkan, she found herself still being
shocked at how perceptive he could be.  She remembered that first
time, telling him how surprised she was that he noticed anything other
than Shampoo.  That fact still surprised her.
     A lot of things surprised her, these days.
     "It's that obvious, huh?" she asked glumly.  His mouth quirked
up into a tiny smile, and he tilted his head in a mock salute.
     "I think the only reason Shampoo hasn't gone after him already
is that she's as afraid as you are.  It certainly seemed like something
had changed between Akane and Ranma to me, when last I saw them."
Her expression must have reflected what she felt when he said that,
because the mocking little smile vanished.
     "I'm sorry," he said quickly.  "That was a thoughtless thing to
say.  I just meant ..."
     "It's okay, Mousse.  I know what you meant.  And you're
right.  I noticed it, probably before anyone else."  She remembered
following Ranma as he carried Akane home from the site of his fight
with Ryouga, remembered the expression on his face, remembered her
certainty that Akane was first and foremost in his heart, that he would
die to protect her.  She'd said the same thing to Ranko, but now Ranko
was gone and only Ranma was left.
     Only Ranma.  And he was avoiding her like the plague.  Could
finding out the truth once and for all hurt worse than this game of
cat-and-mouse he was playing with her?  After all, Ranko had rejected
her outright.  After the pain of that night, anything else would have to
pale in comparison.
     Wouldn't it?
     Ukyou regarded the towel in her hand as if she'd never seen it
before, then abruptly slung it over her shoulder, feeling a tingle run
through her belly and up into her shoulders.
     "Courage," she muttered.  Mousse blinked.
     "I'm sorry?"
     "Hey Moussie, we faced down the demonic legions of hell,
right?  After that, why should I be afraid of a little talk with Ran-chan?
It'll be a walk in the park!  Right?"
     "Right."  Neither of them sounded very convinced.  Ukyou
reached under the counter and snagged her keys.
     "Okay, closing time.  Let's go."  Mousse preceded her out of
the restaurant, waiting while she locked the door.
     "Well," she said with false cheer, turning back to him, "wish me
luck!"  He regarded her sombrely.
     "Good luck."  Her false smile crumbled as she looked at
Mousse.
     "Hey, drop by tomorrow if you get a chance, I'll tell you how it
went."  She winced inwardly at the need in her voice, but Mousse only
smiled and nodded.
     Waving good-bye, they went their separate ways.  Secretly,
Ukyou almost hoped that Ranma wouldn't be home, that she'd have to
put this off.  Her gut twisted again at the still fresh wound of Ranko's
rejection, and an unreasoning panic rose up in her.
     They're the same, after all, a little voice told her.  If you force
things, Ranma will reject you too, and then you'll have no hope,
nobody at all.  You'll be all alone.  Her pace quickened, the gentle
evening breeze blowing her hair back off her shoulders in a rippling
wave.
     Everything's changing, she thought desperately.  Everything's
changing, and I feel so lost.  Ran-chan will help me.  He won't leave me
alone, not now.  Not when I need him so much.
     He won't.
     But she couldn't shake the feeling of foreboding that rode her
as she walked through the gathering dark.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

     Akane felt her temper flaring and fought to bring it under
control.
     "Ranma, what are you doing?" she snapped.  Ranma landed on
the floor of the dojo just out of striking range and sighed.
     "Sorry," he said ruefully.  She frowned.
     "You promised to practice with me.  Really practice,
remember?  How am I supposed to work on attack and defence if I
can't even catch you?"  She saw Ranma roll his eyes, and she knew
what was coming.
     "I can't help it, Akane.  I don't like the idea of attacking you."
She walked over to him, looking up into his eyes, trying to mentally
force him to hear and understand her words.
     "Ranma, we talked about this, remember?  I need to improve
my skills, and to do that I need your help.  I need to spar, to practice,
to train.  And I want to do it with you.  You promised, Ranma."  She
could see the reluctance in his eyes, and decided to press a little.
     "Remember Furinkan?" she asked softly.  "You were worried
that I wouldn't be able to take care of myself.  Well, now's your
chance to do something about it."  She could see that point strike
home, and felt a little guilty at pricking one or Ranma's soft spots.  But
only a little.  Ranma sighed and turned away, walking over to the edge
of the dojo floor.
     "Hey, where're you going?  Ranma?"  She began to get
irritated again.  Was he really going to bail out on her?
     Ranma swept a pail off the floor in one smooth motion and, one
splash later, Ranma-chan walked back onto the floor, tugging her damp
clothing into place.
     "Oh, come on, Ranma.  You're even faster as a girl!  I'll never
be able to catch you now!" Akane complained.  Ranma-chan sighed.
     "You won't have to," she said simply.  "You convinced me.
I'm gonna attack you.  Happy?"  Akane felt a grin spreading over her
face.
     "Oh, Ranma!  Really?"  Now *this* was progress, having Ranma
treat her as a sparring partner, an equal.  Still, she'd have to overcome
Ranma's natural reluctance to fight girls if this was going to be at all
effective.
     "Geez, don't be so happy, Akane.  You ready?"  She nodded.
She knew she had a long way to go before she could hope to even
come close to Ranma's skill level, but ...
     She blinked.  Ranma-chan was gone.  She looked up to see the
little red-head sailing over her head, tucking into a ball and landing
behind her.  Akane whirled around, barely getting her guard up before
Ranma-chan launched a series of quick punches.  Not a Kachu Tenshin
Amiguriken attack, but very fast nonetheless.
     She fell back, managing to block most of them, then jumping to
avoid a foot sweep.  Ranma-chan drove her relentlessly back across
the floor, constantly attacking, and even though she was obviously
holding back Akane couldn't find an opening to launch a counter.  She
ended up against the far wall, panting with exertion, while Ranma-chan
hardly seemed winded at all.
     "Not great, Akane.  Let's go again.  This time, you try to get
through my defence."  Akane bit back the urge to say something
sarcastic.  After all, she *had* asked Ranma to help her.  She was
going to have to accept some criticism if she was going to improve.  It
was time to set her ego aside.
     She went on the offensive, but Ranma-chan was able to easily
block all of her punches and kicks, all the while offering suggestions in a
maddeningly calm voice.
     "Don't drop your shoulder like that ... okay, twist out from the
hips more ... faster, Akane, that's too slow!"  And she listened.  It had
been some time since she'd had somebody to push her, and she knew
it would help eventually.
     Of course, right now it was just bugging the hell out of her that she
couldn't get through Ranma-chan's defences.  Just once would have
made her happy.
     Finally, Ranma-chan called for a break and she sat down on the
floor, sweat dripping off the end of her nose.
     "Need some work, Akane," she said tentatively, as if she was afraid
of how Akane would react.  Akane just nodded, reaching up to knead
the junction of her neck and right shoulder.
     "I know, Ranma.  That's why I've been trying to get you to
practice with me," she said.  She felt Ranma-chan move over behind
her.
     "You okay?" she asked.  Akane nodded.
     "Just sore.  Think I pulled a muscle," she said.  Ranma-chan knelt
down behind her.
     "Here, let me," she said.  Akane removed her hand, and
Ranma-chan's replaced it.  She felt the calloused edges of the
red-head's hands digging into the muscle, gently but firmly, and she
gasped.
     "Ow!  Mmph.  Mmmmm.  Aaaaahhh ..."
     "There?" Ranma-chan asked softly, a trace of amusement in
her voice.  Akane nodded and let her head fall forward, her eyes
closing languidly.
     "Right.  There.  Ahhh.  That's great."  Ranma-chan's small
strong hands continued to knead at the stubborn muscle, and warmth
spread through Akane as she began to relax.  It was worth all the effort
of sparring with Ranma if this was her reward, she thought, a warm
haze descending on her whole body.  Just a week ago, he'd have been
too self-conscious with her to do this.
     She wondered if she should feel strange that it was Ranma's girl
form making her feel so good.  No, she decided.  It's still Ranma, no
matter what.  Curse or no curse, he told me he loves me.  That's what
matters.  Frankly, the curse seemed to bother Ranma a lot more than it
did her, most days.  She had no problem thinking of Ranma AS
Ranma, no matter what body he was in.  Not like her attitude when
they'd first met.
     Of course she knew Ranma a lot better now.  In fact, she knew
him well enough to know when something was bothering him, and
something told her he was somewhat distracted.
     "Ranma?" she muttered, her chin on her chest.  God, but that felt
good!
     "Uh-huh?"
     "Are you nervous about tomorrow?"  Akane felt a pang of
disappointment as Ranma-chan's hands stopped working her
shoulders, then sighed contentedly as they started again.
     "How'd you know?" she asked finally, sounding a little
relieved.
     "I know you, Ranma," she said, smiling.  "You still going to do
it right after school?"
     "Yeah," she heard the other girl murmur.  "I'll take Uc-chan
someplace private where I can lay it all out for her."  Akane half
suspected that Ranma had told her about his plans so that he'd be
unable to back out.  She knew how the prospect of having this talk with
Ukyou and Shampoo, scared him, but she also knew that he was
determined to do it.  For them.  She felt a warm tingle not entirely
caused by Ranma-chan's hands at that thought.
     For them.
     "You're doing the right thing, Ranma," she said finally.  "You
know you are."
     "Yeah.  I just wish it was over with," Ranma-chan sighed.
"The waiting is the worst part, you know?"
     The door to the dojo opened just then, and Akane looked up,
suddenly self-conscious about her proximity to Ranma-chan, wondering
who it could be.
     She froze.
     It was Ukyou.
     And she looked mighty unhappy.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

    A little while later, Akane sat on the veranda, swinging her feet idly, a
yellow kettle sitting beside her.  There had been no sound from the
dojo for long minutes now, and she wondered if she should go over.
     No.  She would give Ranma all the time he needed.  It was
going to be hard enough for Ukyou to hear what he had to say without
having to look at Akane while she was hearing it.  The expression on
her face when she'd caught them together had told Akane all she
needed to know on that count.
     So she waited, wishing there was something she could do to help,
knowing there wasn't.
     She looked up suddenly as she caught a glimpse of red out of
the corner of her eye.  Ranma-chan plodded over toward her, her head
hanging dispiritedly.  Akane shifted nervously as the girl came closer.
     "Ranma?"  She looked up, and Akane gasped at the sight of
tears staining her cheeks.  She grabbed Ranma-chan's arm and pulled
her down onto the veranda.
     "Here," she said quietly, handing her the kettle.  Wordlessly,
Ranma-chan doused herself, changing back.  Then he let the kettle
dangle by the handle, staring at it as if it held all the answers anyone
might want to know.
     "Ranma, are you okay?" she asked finally, unnerved by his
silence.  He shook his head.
     "It was bad, Akane," he said.  "Really bad.  I hurt her, I made
her cry.  I never wanted to do that."
     "I know, Ranma," she said gently.  "But you had to, remember?"
He stood abruptly, startling her, and in one savage motion he
drop-kicked the kettle.  With a grunt of exertion, he sent it sailing
high into the air, until she finally lost sight of it.
     "Ranma!"
     "Dammit, this is all my fault!  I should have done this better, I
should have ..."  Akane hopped down and stood beside him.
     "Ranma, you know this had to be done.  It's better to set her
free, remember?"  He was still gazing up at the point where the kettle
had disappeared, holding absolutely still, and her chest constricted
painfully.  "Remember, Ranma?  Better for everybody."  The corners of
his mouth twitched at that.
     "Not everybody, Akane," he whispered hoarsely.  "Listen.
You hear that?"  She frowned, straining to hear.
     "I don't hear anything," she said after a moment, puzzled.
     "You don't hear Kasumi calling to Nabiki?  You don't hear our
fathers cheating each other at shogi?  You don't hear music coming
from upstairs, Akane?"  She frowned.
     "Well, yes, but ..."
     "The sounds of home, Akane.  Uc-chan's hurt, and miserable,
and she's going home.  But home for her is a dark, empty restaurant.
No lights, no family, nobody to see that she's hurt and give her a
shoulder to cry on.  For a long time, she could at least hope that she'd
have me, but tonight I took that away from her.  All the good reasons
why don't mean much in the face of that, do they?"  Akane stared.  She
hadn't thought of it that way.  She'd been so happy that Ranma was
finally going to put an end to the multiple fianc‚ problem that she hadn't
really considered Ukyou's situation.
     "Ranma, I ... don't know what to say."
     "There's nothing to say," he told her.  "It's done."  He stood
there for a while longer, then finally turned to her, his face set.
     "Akane, I want to be alone for a while.  Okay?"
     "Ranma, I want to help!"  He smiled, a tiny little smile.
     "I know, but ... it doesn't feel right for me to be with you right
now when she doesn't have anybody.  Please, Akane.  Just for a
while."  She wanted to argue, but she could see how much it meant to
him.  She knew making himself miserable wouldn't help Ukyou, but she
doubted she could make him understand that.  Not now.  So she just
nodded.
     "Okay."  He sprang, catching the edge of the roof and flipping
himself up effortlessly.  She watched him go, the ache in her chest not
easing at all.
     "Oh, Ranma," she whispered.  Was this how it was going to
be?  Did others have to be miserable for her to be happy?  For *them*
to be happy?
     When was all this pain finally going to stop?

------------------------------------------------------------------------

     Ryouga was lost.
     This was much like saying grass is green or water is wet, of
course.  Ryouga was *always* lost.  This time, however, he was glad.
He wanted to be lost.  He wanted to *stay* lost, until his heart stopped
hurting, until he could forget.  Forget it all.
     Ranko.  Ranma and Akane.  The fight which had cost Kodachi
her life.  And most of all, his carelessness, which had very nearly cost
Akane *her* life.  Akane, whom he had loved from afar for so long,
and whom he had finally given up in his heart.
     And so, seeking solace in forgetfulness and unknown places, he
had set out, for once not actually trying to get anywhere.
     It was kind of a relief, actually.  At least he wouldn't be
disappointed when he didn't arrive where he'd planned to.
     He paused, shifting his pack with the ease borne of long
practice, and looked around.  Buildings.  Houses.  Streets and alleys
and trees and rocks, and of course, people.  Everyplace was like every
place else, to him.
     Maybe that was why he kept getting lost.
     He cast around idly for some sign of what city he'd ended up
in.  Everything looked vaguely familiar, but that too was not unusual.  At
least he was in a city.  It would be easy to blend in here, seek
anonymity while he tried to figure out just what he was going to do.
     He ambled down the street, noting that the hour was growing
late.  It was well after sunset, but there were still people about enjoying
the mild weather.  He decided to try to find out where he was, and if
there was someplace nearby where he could camp out for the night.
     Preferably within his line of sight.
     He stopped a young couple walking by, trying to ignore the
way his gut clenched at the sight of their hands intertwined.  Young
lovers, out for an evening stroll.  Wonderful.
     "Excuse me, could you tell me where I am?" Ryouga asked
politely.  The couple stopped and regarded him strangely.
     "You mean what street?" the young man asked.
     "I mean what city," Ryouga clarified.  He knew it was a strange
question to anybody normal.  But he also knew from experience that
eventually they would get over their confusion and answer him.  He'd
just have to be patient.
     "You mean you don't know where in the city you are?" the girl,
a pretty brunette with startling blue eyes, asked.  Ryouga smiled, still
polite.
     "I mean, I don't know what *city* I'm in."  The two looked at
each other, puzzled.
     "Well, this is Tokyo," the girl said at last.  Ryouga felt the smile
freeze on his face.
     "Tokyo?" he asked stupidly.
     "Yeah," her date cut in.  "Nerima Ward."  Ryouga's smile
started to slip badly.
     "Y-you must be mistaken," he stammered.  "It can't be ... are
you SURE?"  The two started backing away slowly.
     "Of course we're sure," the man said placatingly, placing his
date behind him.  "And we have to go now."  Ryouga hardly noticed as
they turned and dashed off down the street, watching him over their
shoulders.
     Tokyo?  NERIMA?  The one place in all of Japan, in the entire
*world*, that he didn't want to be, and Ryouga the lost boy managed
to find his way, unerringly for once, straight there.
     A joke.  That had to be it.  He, Ryouga Hibiki, was the butt of
some great cosmic joke.  Only he wasn't laughing.  He felt the old
despair, the anguish, and the anger building inside of him, and he
struggled to contain it.  If he released this, he'd level an entire city
block.  He bit down on his tongue, hard, then wheeled and punched
blindly into the side of the nearest building.  The siding buckled noisily
under the blow, but he hardly noticed.  He just stood there, his fist still
quivering in the huge dent he'd made, feeling his whole body fairly
vibrate with raw anguish.
     Oh, this is gonna be a bad one, he thought.  I gotta get away
from here.  I gotta ...
     "HEY, BOZO!  WHATINDAHELL'R YA DOIN' TO MY
RESTAURANT?"  He snapped out of his daze at the sound of a young
woman shouting at him.  He recognized that voice, if not the tone.  He
looked up to see a very angry girl, long glossy brown hair unbound and
flowing in the gentle breeze.
     "Ukyou?"  She blinked, seeming to recognize him for the first
time.
     "Ryouga?  It IS you.  Ha!  This is a surprise ...  Damn, look at my
wall!  Geez, what a mess!  Hey, what are you doing here, anyhow?"
He pulled his fist back from the wall tentatively.
     "I have absolutely no idea," he admitted.  She stared at him for
a moment, then smiled crookedly.
     "Well, it doesn't matter.  You're just the perfect person to
show up right now."  He looked at her, puzzled.
     "Huh?  Why's that?"
     "Because misery loves company, sugar.  Come on."  She
reached out and grabbed him by the arm, pulling him around to the
door and pushing him inside.  Ryouga was too confused to protest.
Something was strange about Ukyou's behaviour, but he couldn't quite
put is finger on it.  He watched silently as she locked the door behind
him and walked over to the island of light in Ucchan's dim interior,
which encompassed part of the serving counter.  He dumped his pack
and umbrella on the floor and watched as Ukyou went behind the
counter to her usual position.
     "Pull up a stool, sugar," she called as she fished out something
from behind the counter and plunked it down noisily.  He eased onto
the stool and looked at what she'd placed in front of him.  It was a
small ceramic cup.  He reached behind her and snagged another cup
and a bottle from where they'd been perched on her grill.
     "Ukyou," Ryouga said slowly, finally getting it, "is that sake?"
     "Yup."
     "Are you ... drunk?"
     "Not yet, sugar, but I'm working on it."  She threw the contents
of her cup back easily and slammed her cup down on the counter, then
refilled her cup and filled the one in front of Ryouga.  He looked at it
warily.
     "I don't think ..." he began hesitantly.  He scowled.
     "Ryougaaaa.  It's not polite to make a lady drink alone."  She
glared at him prettily until he picked up the cup and took a sip.
     "Urgh!" he gasped, grimacing.  "That's awful!"  She grinned
again and topped up his cup.
     "Don't worry, it goes down easier after the first four or five."
He sighed as she took a healthy hit off her own drink, feeling the
burning in his throat begin to subside into a gentle warmth.  He didn't
know what could drive Ukyou, one of the nicest and most cheerful
people he knew, to drink alone in a dark restaurant ...
     Oh.  Of course he did.  Only one thing could have that effect on
her.
     I can't handle this right now, he thought desperately.  Not
tonight.  I've got to get out of here.  But he couldn't just leave Ukyou
like this.  That wouldn't be right.
     He looked around, taking another careful sip of sake, and
spotted something strange.
     "Ukyou, is that a photo album sitting on the grill?"  She nodded
cheerfully.
     "Yup!"  He waited, but no explanation was forthcoming.
     "Um, why is it there?" he asked finally.  She waved her arms in
a vague gesture.
     "Oh, well, I was gonna burn it.  Then I changed my mind, then I
changed it back, and well, I figured it was better to just leave it there
until I decided, one way or the other."  She finished her drink, then
refilled both cups.  He was surprised to see that he'd finished his drink.
He had some more.  She was right, it did start to go down easier.
     "Why are you cooking a photo album?" he asked at last.  She
cradled her cup carefully, not looking at him.
     "Well, it's full of pictures of Ran-ch ... of Ranma."  Uh-oh.
Major danger sign there.  No more Ran-chan.  This was going to be
very, VERY bad.  He downed the rest of his sake, and Ukyou refilled
his cup.  He felt a warm flush spreading throughout his body, and the
back of his neck prickled with a strange heat.  She leaned forward on
the cold grill that comprised her half of the counter, a crimson blush
across the bridge of her pert nose.  She swirled her sake in its cup,
watching with apparent fascination as the liquid spun, reflecting the dim
light in ever-shifting patterns.
     "So you two had a fight, huh?" he asked finally, just to give her an
excuse to go on.  And go on she did.
     "A fight, Ryouga?" she asked, her words starting to slur the
tiniest bit.  "No, not really.  This is how it happened ..."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

     As she neared her destination, Ukyou tried to put the best spin on
her impending conversation with Ranma.
     He'd never be able to reject her the way Ranko had.  Never.  Not
with such finality.  Then at least she'd still have a chance.  Her dreams
would still be alive.  She'd still have a chance for happiness.  Nothing
had to change.  Maybe things wouldn't get any better, but at least they
wouldn't get any *worse*.
     So why was she so afraid?
     When she finally arrived at the Tendou residence, Kasumi told her
that Ranma and Akane were in the dojo.  She headed over there,
rehearsing what she would say, polishing her words carefully, words
chosen to make it impossible to reject her.
     Then she opened the door, and all those words scattered like leaves
before the biting autumn wind.
     Ranma-chan was kneeling behind Akane, kneading her shoulders
with slow, languid motions, her head cocked forward so far her bangs
almost brushed the back of Akane's neck.  Akane's head, which had
been slumped forward, came up sharply, her eyes opening to pin
Ukyou with the startled stare of a deer caught in oncoming headlights.
     It wasn't just that Ranma-chan had been rubbing Akane's
shoulders.  It was the palpable *intimacy* of the moment, the gentle
smile on the red-head's face, Akane's utterly trusting posture.  Ukyou
felt that she'd intruded on a private moment between lovers.
     No!  She clenched her fists angrily.  It isn't like that, and it
wouldn't matter anyway!  I'll talk to him, and he won't be able to say
no to me, and I'll have another chance to show him that I'm the one
that really loves him, not her!  That's the way it's always been!
     But something deep inside reminded her that the rules had
changed.  She had only to think of Kodachi, cold and dead in the
ground, if she doubted that.  The rules had changed, and anything was
possible.
     "U-Uc-chan!" Ranma-chan stammered guiltily.  Akane just sighed,
working her shoulders gently.  Ukyou felt her face colouring and hated
that she couldn't hide her feelings better.
     "Sorry to interrupt," she said hoarsely.  "I wanted to talk to
Ran-chan.  If that would be all right?"  She directed that last to Akane.
The girl glanced back at Ranma-chan, and Ukyou felt her teeth grinding
as it seemed that something unspoken passed between the two.  Akane
showed no sign of the anger that would usually accompany the
prospect of Ranma and one of his fiances being alone together.
     "Sure, that'd be fine," Akane said softly, climbing to her feet.  "I'm
going to go get cleaned up.  See you later, okay?"  Ukyou couldn't
meet Akane's eyes as she left, couldn't bear to see the sympathy there.
     What does she know to make her look at you that way? she
wondered against her will.  She clamped down brutally on her thoughts.
She didn't want to think of that.  She was alone with Ranma, that was
what mattered.  Everything would be okay.  It had to be.
     Ranma-chan walked over and sat down at the edge of the
floor, her back against the wall, elbows resting on her knees.  Ukyou
followed, sitting down beside her.
     "You've been avoiding me."  The words came out plaintive, needy.
All her well-rehearsed openings, and that was what she came up with?
She cursed herself silently for being an idiot.
     "Yeah.  I'm sorry about that, Uc-chan.  Things have been kinda
strange the last little while.  I was planning on talking to you tomorrow,
actually."  She looked at the red-head and wished it was Ranma's boy
form beside her.
     "It doesn't matter!" she blurted before she could stop herself.
She turned to Ranma-chan, her words earnest, tumbling out over each
other in her haste to fill the silence.  "I know it hasn't been easy with
everything that's happened, but things will get better now!  You'll see,
and ..."
     "Uc-chan."  Ranma-chan turned to her, her blue-gray eyes
wells of sorrow, and Ukyou felt her world twist sickeningly.  A dizzying
wave of deja vu threatened to swamp her.
     "Uc-chan, things have changed.  I know that it's been my fault
for not trying harder to put things straight before, but I'm going to fix
that.  Starting now."  No, she thought.  He can't.  Not him too.
     "Uc-chan, you're my oldest friend, and I care a lot about you.
But I ..."
     "I love you."  Ukyou blurted it out.  She'd had to stop him before he
could say it, had to, and so she'd said the first thing that came to her.
Her absolute last fall-back position.  She loved him.  She loved him so
much it *hurt*.  That had to count for something.  It absolutely had to.
     It was all she had.
     "Uc-chan ..." Ranma-chan started to say, sorrow drawn in the
gentle contours of her face.  Not his face, the one she always saw when
she imagined their first kiss.  She started throwing words out, anything
to keep from hearing the words she dreaded.
     "Maybe I just never told you enough, that's it, right?  Maybe
you need to hear it so you'll know that it's not just an infatuation or ..."
     "Uc-chan, please ..."
     "... some schoolgirl crush, but I really love you Ran-chan, if
you'll just listen ..."
     "UKYOU."  She stopped.  Dead.  Ranko had done the same
thing, calling her Ukyou.  For the same reason.  She blinked rapidly.  In
the sudden silence, she promised herself she wouldn't cry.  No matter
what.  She just wouldn't.
     "You are my friend, but I don't love you," Ranma-chan said,
swallowing hard.  "I am not in love with you.  I am in love with Akane."
     "It's because I told Ranko that I loved him, isn't it?" she asked,
her lower lip trembling.  Ranma-chan's eyes widened at that.
     "No!  Uc-chan ..."
     "I only said it because to me, you two were the same!" she
cried.  "You have the same soul, the same heart, and that's what I love
about you!  Both of you!  I love both of you the same!  And I only
want one of you, is that so much to ask?"  She reached out her shaking
hand, gently placing it over the red-head's heart.  "This is what matters
to me, Ran-chan.  Those other girls, they can't love you as much as I
do, as strongly as I do.  They can't because it isn't possible.  Just give it
a chance, please.  You could still come to love me back, in time.  You
could."  She remembered how close Akane had been to Ranma-chan
when she'd walked in, and impulsively she leaned forward, framing the
startled girl's face with her hands.  If this was what it took, then fine.
She'd *do* whatever it took.  Leaning in close, she pressed her lips
against Ranma-chan's.  She'd do this, she'd do anything, to show her
dedication.  She wouldn't lose both of them.
     But Ranma-chan was just sitting there, stiff and unresponsive, and
slowly Ukyou pulled back to see the gleam of unshed tears in the
red-head's eyes.
     "Don't do this.  Please.  I'm sorry, Uc-chan.  I love her.  You have
to understand."  Ukyou let her hands drop limply, hot tears finally
spilling over her lids and streaking down her face.  So that was it.  Now
she knew.  She finally knew.  She'd have taken either of them, but she
would have neither.
     The dream was dead.
     "That's it, huh?" she asked, her throat tight.  "Thanks for the
memories, Uc-chan, now get out.  Right?"
     "No!  I still want to be your friend ..."
     "Oh, come on!  "We can still be friends?"  Not that old cliche,
Ran-chan!  Don't I deserve better than that?"  Ranma-chan looked
away, her face showing her pain clearly, but Ukyou wasn't interested in
anyone's pain but her own for once.
     "I never wanted to hurt you," Ranma-chan protested.
     "Well, you did!  You did hurt me!  All I want is a chance to
make you change your mind and you won't even give me that, after all
we've been through!  Well, you just go to hell, Ran-ch ... Ranma!  Ran.
Ma."  She drew the name out, clambering quickly to her feet, the flood
of her tears mercifully clouding Ranma-chan's features.
     "I guess I never really mattered to you at all, did I?" she asked,
her voice raw.  "Well, fine.  Go to her, then.  I don't care.  Just ... just
go be with HER!"  That was it. She was on the verge of breaking
completely, and she had to get out before that happened.  She wheeled
blindly and ran, plunging through the door and out into the warm night.
     And she ran and ran, but she just couldn't leave the pain
behind.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

     By the time Ukyou finished her story, Ryouga was more
depressed than ever.  He had also put a considerable dent in the
contents of the sake bottle and was rapidly catching up to Ukyou in that
regard.
     Ukyou was still leaning on the cold grill, her eyes suspiciously
bright as she stared into her cup.
     "But you know, I should have expected it," she said breezily,
not quite pulling off her casual act.  "I mean, after Ranko gave me that
same speech, it just sort of loses some of its sting, you know?"  He
didn't believe her, but was too polite to say so.  He took a drink
instead.
     "And I suspected that Ranma was out of reach after that
incident where Akane nearly got killed," she said, some of the
animation going out of her face.  She didn't notice Ryouga flinch and
take another drink.  "I mean, seeing them together then ... but I told
Ranko and he didn't care.  He still left.  So I figured, it ain't over til
it's
over, right?  Take one more shot at Ranma before it's too late.  Only I
think I knew it was already too late.  God, I don't know what to do."
She look at Ryouga, and her deep green eyes were bright with unshed
tears.  He wondered if he should say something comforting.  He didn't,
just nodding instead.
     "You know," she said softly, "I had dreams of the future, and
he was in all of them.  We'd live here at first, I'd run my restaurant, and
he'd teach at a nearby dojo.  Then he'd walk in through that door,
every night he would, and every time I'd feel complete.  And we'd have
two children, and every morning when I woke up he'd be the first thing
I'd see.  And every night I'd go to sleep in his arms."  She swiped
surreptitiously at her eyes with her forearm, trying to smile.
     "I guess his dreams were a little different," she said hoarsely.  "But
what the hell, right?  Those were just dreams, and dreams can't hurt
you."  She grabbed the bottle and took a long pull directly from it, then
wiped the mouth with her hand.  Ryouga had no idea what to tell her.
     "I just don't know what to do," she repeated, gasping, a fresh flush
rising across the bridge of her nose.  "You know?  I just can't figure out
how to get a new dream."  She turned to snatch the photo album off the
grill while Ryouga gazed moodily into his cup.  She seemed indifferent
to his worsening mood.
     "Look at this.  What a dope I am, huh?  All these pictures of
Ran-chan ... Ranma!  Dammit!  Ranma bloody Saotome!  All these
memories, and I always hoped ..."  She broke off emptily.  "But that's
done now, isn't it?  Akane won, and I lost.  She won, and she's the
one that always acted like she didn't want him."  She stopped suddenly,
something poking through the comfortable haze surrounding her
thoughts.
     "Hey, Ryouga?"
     "What?" he asked tonelessly.
     "What *about* Akane?  You know this means that she and
Ranma will be a couple.  They'll prob'ly finally get married and
everything.  How come you're not saying anything about her, huh?
Don't you care?"  Ryouga drained his cup and refilled it, holding it up in
one hand carefully.  Akane.  In his mind's eye he saw her smile, the
way her eyes sparkled when she was happy.  He imagined he heard her
laughter, smelled the fresh scent of her silky hair.  Oh, yeah, *this* was
helping his mood.
     "I gave her up," he said finally.  "I decided it was for the best."
Ukyou gaped at him.
     "You're kidding!  You did?  When?  Geez, why didn't you say
something ..."  He tuned her out, turning the cup idly in his hand,
Akane's face suddenly rose in his mind again.  Her secret smile, warm
and intimate, never for him, only for Ranma now.
     He felt the old fears stirring, all the pieces of darkness that he'd been

carrying around forever growing restless in the dim recesses of his soul,
where they were usually content to slumber.  But tonight, they were
hungry.  Finding himself back in Nerima, then listening to how Ranma
had finally broken Ukyou's heart, had fed them, whetted their appetites,
and now they wanted to bare their fangs.  Normally, he could've forced
them back down until he was alone, so he could suffer in silence, but
not tonight.  The sake lent his demons an unfamiliar quicksilver nature,
allowing them to slip their bonds and make toward the light.
     Aware.  And hungry.
     "I really envy you, Ryouga," Ukyou said wistfully, propping her
chin on one hand, her hair spilling silkily over one shoulder.  "I wish I
could have given up on Ranma that easily."  A bolt of fury, cold as the
heart of a glacier, tore into Ryouga's gut, the frosty anger spreading
from the point just under his breastbone.
     Easily.  That did it.  He shuddered as the floodgates, locked for
so long, finally succumbed to the combined pressure of Ukyou's pain,
his own misery, and the sake.
     And his darkest demons burst forth into the light.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

     Ukyou was finally beginning to wonder what was going on with
Ryouga.  He'd been getting quieter and quieter all night, which she'd
hardly noticed since she was busy pouring all her problems out.  Finally,
however, she was beginning to sense that things weren't right with him.
She thought she might have hit on it when she finally remembered
Akane, but then he told her that he'd already given up on her.  She
leaned her head on her hand and sighed, the alcohol making her
thoughts buzz around chaotically in her head.
     "I really envy you, Ryouga.  I wish I could have given up on Ranma
that easily."  She meant it, too, but suddenly everything went wrong.
Ryouga's face twisted, as if in pain, and he slammed his free hand down
on the countertop, making her jump.
     "Easily?" he asked in a low, guttural tone.  "It wasn't easy.  Never
think that was easy for me, Ukyou.  Never."
     "R-Ryouga ..."  She was startled.  She'd never seen him look
the way he did at that moment.
     "It wasn't easy, but it was necessary.  You know why?"  She
shook her head dumbly and Ryouga laughed, a sharp, bitter sound.
     "Oh, come on, sure you do!" he said sourly.  "Ryouga the Lost
Boy!  Can't even make it around the block without getting lost.  What a
joke, right?  A great big joke!  Come on, everybody thinks it's funny!
Everybody!"  His eyes were blazing, and she felt the haze and warmth
of the sake draining away in the face of his anguish.  This was not the
Ryouga she knew.  This was not the Ryouga anybody knew.  Ryouga
was often depressed, but never like *this*.
     "Why should she love me, huh?  Why should anybody fall in
love with somebody they could never depend on?  Suppose she had
fallen in love with me, and one day she needed me.  She needed me,
and I couldn't get to her, I couldn't FIND her.  How could anyone love
a man like that?  WHY would anyone?"
     "Ryouga, I ... don't ..."  He ignored her weak protests.
     "You want to talk about dreams, Ukyou?  Maybe Ranma isn't
in your dreams anymore, but you can still have them.  You'll still have
your restaurant, you can still find *somebody*.  You want to know
about my dreams?  Well, I don't have any.  Not anymore.  How could
I have anybody, a freak like me who can't even find his way to the
corner store and back?  I haven't been to a school in over a year!
How could I ever have a job when I'd never be able to get to it?  I can
never have *anything*, don't you get it?  Life here was all I had, but
Ranma and Akane have each other now, and three's a crowd, right?  I
can never have anything.  I'll always be ... lost.  Just lost."  He stopped
abruptly, and his voice, which had been increasing in volume, dropped
to barely a whisper.
     "Lost," he said.  "And alone.  For the rest of my life."  In the
ensuing silence, there was a loud crack.  Ukyou jumped involuntarily,
looking around before she realized where the noise had come from.
Ryouga's cup had shattered in his fist, and sake tinged with blood was
seeping from between his clenched fingers.
     "I'm just a loser," he whispered.  "Life has no opportunities for
some freak pig-boy who can't even stay lost the one time he needs to.
That's just the way it is."  Ukyou finally felt her paralysis break, and
lunged forward over the counter.
     "Ryouga, your hand!"  He gave it a disinterested glance.
     "Sorry," he said tonelessly.  "I broke your cup."
     "Forget the cup!" she gritted, grabbing his wrist.  "Open your
hand, hon.  Come on, Ryouga."  She practically had to pry his fingers
open, gasping as she saw the jagged shards of ceramic embedded in his
palm.  She carefully pulled the pieces out, noticing that Ryouga didn't
react at all.  Then she poured a little sake over the cuts to disinfect
them, since it was all she had handy, and cast about for something to
bind the wound with.
     "Hey, sugar, can I have one of your bandannas?" she asked
softly.  He said nothing, but reached up and pulled one loose for her.
She carefully wrapped it around his bleeding palm, tying it off snugly.
Ryouga pulled his hand back then, and she let go.  Reluctantly.  She
remembered the feel of the muscles in his arm when she'd grabbed him,
fairly singing with tension.  She looked at him and for the moment, her
own troubles were forgotten.
     "Ryouga ..."
     "I'm sorry, Ukyou," he cut in, his voice low and hoarse.  "I
shouldn't have said all that.  Especially not now, when you have your
own problems to worry about.  Please, forgive my rudeness."  She
blinked.
     "What?  No, Ryouga, it wasn't ..."
     "I have to go."  He sounded panicked, and he turned and
dashed for the door.  Ukyou gaped at him.  Go?
     "No!  Please wait, Ryouga!"  He burst through the door without
bothering to turn the knob.  The door jamb splintered with a loud
crack, and she ran around the counter, meaning to go after him.  But
her head was still muddled with the sake, and the inside of the
restaurant was mostly dark.  She tripped over something while running
and fell heavily, colliding with several stools on the way down.  Tiny
pinpricks of light exploded behind her eyes, and by the time she could
sit up again, Ryouga was long gone.
     She leaned back against the counter, her head throbbing from
striking the stool, her ankle informing her that it too had come off poorly
in the collision.  She looked over to see what she'd tripped over.
Ryouga's pack was still sitting on the floor where he'd left it.  She
looked out the open door at the darkness beyond.
     "Oh, Ryouga," she whispered, cradling her aching head.  She
wondered where he would go, then realized it didn't matter.  Even if he
had someplace to go, there was no chance he would be able to get
there.  He was out there somewhere in the dark.
     Lost.  And alone.  She squeezed her eyes shut as she felt hot
tears welling up, unable to stop them from spilling out and down her
face.  Tears again, but not for her this time.  In all the time she'd known
him, she'd always just shook her head and laughed with the others at
Ryouga's poor sense of direction.  She'd never taken the time to look at
it from his point of view.  And tonight, she'd been so wrapped up in her
own problems that she hadn't realized Ryouga was hurting too.
     "Ryouga, I'm so sorry," she whispered.  "I never knew."
     She sat that way, staring out her open door, for a long time.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

     It was a clear night, and in spite of the light from the city,
Ranma could see a few stars.  He lay on his back on the roof and
stared at the night sky.  He wondered where Ranko was just then, and
if he was looking up at those same stars.
     He missed his counterpart.  He really had begun to seem like a
twin brother to Ranma, who'd never had any siblings.  He'd begun to
like the idea of having a brother.
     He sighed.  Things would have been so much simpler if Ranko
could have just stayed, and been with Ukyou.  But Ranko wanted to
find someplace of his own, somewhere that wasn't a copy of what he'd
lost.  And even if he'd stayed, Ranma knew that Ranko hadn't loved
Ukyou, any more than he did.
     And Ranko had decided to tell her so.  He'd owed it to her,
he'd told Ranma, and Ranma understood.  He really did.  If he hadn't
been so afraid for so long, he would have done the same long before
now.  But he had been afraid, and now Ukyou was hurting, and she
probably hated him.  It was bad enough to be rejected by the man you
loved once, but twice was more than anyone deserved.
     Especially someone like Ukyou.
     He started at the sound of soft footfalls on the roof.  He turned
his head to see Akane sitting down beside him.
     "I know you wanted to be alone, but don't you think you've
punished yourself long enough?" she asked gently, the night breeze
ruffling her hair playfully.  "You had to make her understand that there
was no chance.  Anything less wouldn't have been fair to her."
     "I know.  I know all the reasons for what I did, but I still hate this."
Akane sighed.
     "Are you gonna stay out here all night?" she asked.
     "Maybe."  He started as she leaned over him.  He was lying with his
hands clasped behind his head, and now her face was directly above
his, her warm brown eyes searching his face, looking for what, he
didn't know.
     "Okay," she said softly.  "If you need to.  Just remember, I'll
always be here for you.  You're a macho jerk, but you're *my* macho
jerk now, and don't you forget it."  He stared up into her eyes, suddenly
finding it hard to breathe.
     "Thanks, Akane," he murmured finally.  She leaned down and
kissed him on the cheek, then pulled back a little, still gazing into his
eyes.  Her warm breath fanned gently across his face, and he felt a
tingle under his collarbone.
     "I was thinking about what you said, Ranma.  About Ukyou
being alone.  What do you think about Kasumi going over to Ucchan's
tomorrow, to see how she's doing?"  He felt a sudden surge of
excitement.
     "Really?  Yeah, Kasumi!  That'd be perfect!  Think she'll do
it?"  Akane smiled at his excitement.
     "I already asked her, and she said yes."  Ranma pulled his
hands out from behind his head and snaked his arms up around Akane,
drawing her down into a passionate kiss.  She squeaked with surprise,
then slowly returned the kiss, her hand moving from his chest, where it
had landed, up to his face, tracing the contour of his jaw.  Finally, they
broke the kiss, breathless.
     "Akane, you're the greatest," Ranma whispered, his breath
mingling with hers intimately.  She smiled, her cheeks flushed and her
eyes sparkling.
     "Really?"
     "Oh, yeah.  Hey, wanna watch the sky with me for a while?"
He watched her think it over.
     "Well, I guess that would be okay," she said, looking at him
mischievously.  "As long as you behave yourself."
     "Absolutely!" he stated, trying to sound offended.  She just
giggled, and he laughed back, as she curled up against him.  He felt the
tightness in his chest finally beginning to ease a little.
     He had rejected Ukyou for a reason, he told himself.  Akane.
He needed her.  He loved her.  And she loved him.
     So everything would be okay, in the end.  He really believed
that.
     He had to.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

     Nabiki pulled her directional mike back in the window.
Amazing.  She'd actually had to hear it for herself to believe it.  Ranma
and Akane were getting along.  No, more than getting along.  That had
been two people definitely in love.
     Nabiki felt none of the jealousy she'd expected to feel at that
thought.  They were finally taking what was between them seriously,
from what she'd heard.  And Ranma had started breaking the news to
his other fiances.  That took guts, and maturity.  Further, Ranma and
Akane seemed to both be worried about what effect their relationship
was going to have on the others.
     Nabiki was impressed.  She put her microphone, boom and
headphones away and sat back down at her desk.  Still, she had other
things to worry about these days besides Ranma and Akane's often
stormy relationship.  Like what she had come to call the Kunou
problem.
     She was getting information in from her various sources, and
something was beginning to take shape.  Something strange.  It was
starting to look like Kunou's mother hadn't been exaggerating about
the estate.  She was starting to know where to look, and what to look
for.
     Soon, very soon, she would be ready.  And then she and
Kunou baby were going to have a little talk.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

     Mousse cast a quick glance around the Nekohanten in the dim
gray morning light.  His usual workload had been severely reduced by
the cafe's recent closure, and there was only so much cleaning that was
necessary in an unused restaurant.  He straightened his robe, flicked a
stray lock of hair back over his shoulder, and headed for the door.
     "Where you go, stupid Mousse?"  He sighed.  This he didn't
need first thing in the morning.
     "I'm not needed around here," he told her tightly.  The
unspoken criticism was clear; Shampoo had been making it clear *she*
didn't need his help.  She froze him out every day, and although he
loved her dearly, she was beginning to drive him insane.
     "You go to see spatula girl."  It wasn't a question.
     "Yes.  She was going to speak with Ranma last night, and I
want to find out how it went."  Shampoo flinched slightly at the mention
of Ranma's name.  It hurt her that he hadn't come by in the past week,
although she would never admit it.  At least, not to him.
     "Go then.  Shampoo not need you."  She turned in a whirl of
violet hair and stomped off towards Cologne's quarters, where the old
woman was still spending most of her days in her bed.  Mousse sighed
and set out for Ucchan's.
     He knew some of what was bothering Shampoo, and he didn't
blame her for being edgy and scared.  Their future was uncertain now,
and one wrong move could bring their house of cards tumbling down.
But the situation affected *both* of them, and he was tired of her acting
like she was the only one with anything to lose.  He just didn't know
what to do about it.
     Talking to Ukyou was an entirely different matter.  She was
easy to talk to, and she actually listened to him and treated him like a
friend.  He was coming to enjoy her company quite a bit, although
Shampoo didn't seem to think much of her.  He figured that was just
because they were rivals for Ranma's affection.
     Ranma.  His expression darkened as he thought of that idiot
Saotome.  The least he could have done was come by to see how
Cologne was doing, but since Ranko had left he hadn't been by once.
Mousse had always hated Ranma for being the focus of Shampoo's
affections, but he'd at least had a sort of grudging respect for him as a
warrior.  But this was just dishonourable behaviour.
     He saw Ucchan's ahead and quickened his pace.  He'd catch her
before she left for school, and just chat for a while.  He figured he could
hang around, finding out how her talk with Ranma had gone.  He hoped
that it had gone well.  He genuinely liked Ukyou.  She should be happy.
And of course, if she ended up with Ranma, like she wanted, maybe
Shampoo would finally be able to give up on him.  Of course, he'd
meant what he'd said to her the previous night.  He really *did* think
she was too good for Ranma.  But then, he thought most women were.
     He came up to the door, slowing as he saw that the door jamb
had been splintered, then hastily repaired with a scrap of wood.
Puzzled, he opened the door and went inside.
     The place was a mess.  An overturned and empty sake bottle
sat on the counter, next to what looked like a puddle of dried blood.
Several stools were upended, and the remains of a broken cup were
scattered on the counter next to a photo album.  He spotted the pack
and umbrella on the floor, recognizing them immediately as Ryouga's.
     What the hell?
     Then he heard Ukyou.  He looked up to see her shuffling out
from the back, limping slightly.  Her hair was mussed and untidy, her
eyes were puffy, as if she'd been crying, and there was an ugly
blue-black bruise on one cheek.  Mousse gasped.
     "Ukyou!  What happened?"  She looked up, surprised to see
him, and grimaced.
     "Oh, hi, Mousse.  Quite a mess, huh?  I wasn't in any shape to
clean it up last night, I'm afraid."
     "But what IS all this?  Is Ryouga here?"  She looked guilty, and
Mousse began to worry.
     "Uh, no.  He was here, last night ..."  Mousse eyed the empty
sake bottle, a nasty suspicion beginning to form.
     "We got to talking and, uh, I guess I said some things that I
shouldn't have and got him upset," she said ruefully.  Mousse's teeth
ground together painfully.  Surely Ryouga wouldn't have done such a
thing?  Surely not?
     But there was evidence of a struggle, blood even.  Ukyou was
limping and bruised.  Ryouga was nowhere to be seen.
     Alone together, late at night, drinking.  Ryouga, drunk, makes a
pass.  Ukyou turns him down.  He won't take no for an answer.  And
then ... and then he tries to ...
     "I'll kill him!"  Mousse shouted angrily.  Ukyou winced.
     "Don't shout, sugar.  My head hurts," she said weakly.
Mousse turned to her.
     "Don't worry about anything, Ukyou!  I'll take care of this!
He'll be sorry, believe me!"  With that, he tore out of the restaurant,
leaving a startled Ukyou gazing after him blankly.
     "What?  Take care of what?  Mousse?"
     But it was too late.
     He was gone.  Ukyou just stood there, confused.
     "Now what the hell was that all about?"

End part one.