Chapter 2

    Ryouga left the Tendo house at once, with hardly even a goodbye to a confused Akane.
    He shrugged on his pack, snatched up his heavy umbrella, and set off down the street at a fast walk. He didn't look back or even pay attention to where he was going; it wouldn't have mattered anyway, as he would have gotten lost if he'd had it in his head to go anywhere specific. And he was far too upset to even consider the possibility of finding a place to bunk for the night. He just needed to go.
    The few people he passed that evening gave him strange looks when he crossed them without so much as a sideways glance. He was white as a sheet, eyes wide and unseeing, lips pressed tightly together. He looked as if he'd seen a ghost. No one bothered him, which was good, because Ryouga was so wound up he probably would have lashed out at the first thing to get in his way.
    No no no no no.
    The litany of denial ran frantically around in his head, over and over again.
    It couldn't be true. The old bat... surely she'd been mistaken. That couldn't have been a love potion. And he couldn't have... couldn't have used it in front of...
    He shuddered at the thought, closing his eyes tightly. As a result, he ran straight into a lamp post, and fell flat on his back. He lay there dazedly, gazing up at the darkening sky and struggling to get ahold of himself. But still that one word went on and on, shrill and afraid.
    No no no no no no.
    How could that witch have made such a horrible mistake?! And why had he been so eager to use it? If only the stupid old woman had called earlier... had caught him before he'd...
    He sat up so fast his head spun with the rush of blood. He fumbled in his pocket, mixed feelings of dread and hope churning in his gut. What had she said..? Just a sip would wear off within a day. More-- maybe half a bottle --could last days and days. But if he'd been foolish enough to drink all of it... No. He stopped that thought hastily. It was too horrible to think about.
    He uncapped the bottle and turned it this way and that, squinting as he tried to glimpse the liquid through the narrow opening.
    He couldn't tell how much of it was left, but there was some in there, at least. So he hadn't drank all of it. He heaved a shaky sigh of relief and quickly screwed the cap back on, stuffing it deep in his pocket.
    Well, that settled it. He had to get out of here. The potion should wear off in a few days; he just had to make sure he was nowhere near Ranma until then. Or rather, female Ranma. Shuddering again and bemoaning his misfortune, he leapt to his feet and set off in a fast jog for the edge of town. Thoughts of finding the witch and shaking some sense into her cheered him up a bit.


    Ranma was not in the best of moods the next morning as he dashed along the neighborhood fences with Akane running on the street below on the way to school.
    "Oh, stop sulking, Ranma," Akane called up in exasperation. "You've been acting like a jerk since yesterday."
    "Whatever," Ranma snorted. "As long as Ryouga's left again, it's fine."
    "Why are you so mean to him?" Akane demanded. "I happen to like Ryouga."
    "Oh~?" Ranma, who could never help himself when an opportunity to tease Akane was presented, grinned down at her cheekily. "If you like him so much, maybe you should get engaged to him."
    "What is that supposed to mean, Ranma??" Akane shouted angrily, swinging her satchel at him. Ranma jumped over it easily, wagging his hands by his ears and sticking out his tongue childishly as he darted sideways along the fence with Akane still swinging at him. "Nahh nahh, you couldn't hit the floor if you were standing on--"
    Akane hesitated, glancing from the dumbfounded, soaking wet girl on the fence to the truck that had just driven by and hit a puddle in the gutter. Her mouth broke out in a satisfied smile. "Serves you right."
    Ranma wrung water out of her braid and scowled darkly. "Can it, Akane."
    Akane shook her head and looked around. "Dr. Tofu's just around that corner. I'm sure he can lend us some hot water. Come on, or we'll be late again."
    Ranma wandered down the fence, shaking a foot occasionally in an attempt to get water out of her shoes while Akane hurried ahead. The abrupt soaking and sex change had only darkened her mood once more.
    Muttering, she jumped to the ground and hovered outside Dr. Tofu's wall while Akane went inside to ask for water. She stepped out of the now over-sized shoes and tilted them upside down with a grimace, letting the water trickle out. "Of all the luck," she huffed. "Why does this always happen to me?" She caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and looked up.
    Kuno was barelling around the corner, kendo sword slung over one shoulder, his other arm pistoning back and forth as he raced down the street with a look of extreme determination on his face.
    "Oh-ho!" Ranma chortled, seeing a chance to brighten her mood at another's expense. "Never thought I'd see the day Tatewaki Kuno was late!" With that, she thrust a leg directly into Kuno's path as he dashed past, all his attention on his goal.
    She tripped him neatly, and he landed in a rather undignified heap in the road. Ranma burst into hysterical laughter at the sight of the arrogant student with his ass in the air, arms splayed to the sides.
    "Who dares laugh at Tatewaki Kuno??" he roared, leaping to his feet and whirling around, sword already held out for battle. "I, the Blue Thunder of Furingan High, will not take this insult!"
    Ranma merely smirked at him, placing her hands on her hips. "Real smooth, Kuno. Wish I had a camera."
    Kuno's mouth dropped, his eyes going all gushy. Ranma winced internally; she knew that look all too well.
    "My pigtailed goddess!" he gasped, springing for her with arms wide. "I embrace you!"
    "Keep your paws to yourself!" Ranma shouted, and kicked him right in the face.
    ...Or that was the way it was supposed to happen.
    She'd actually started to lift her foot when something came swinging down from over her shoulder and struck Kuno right on top of his head. His eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped to the ground. Ranma twisted her head in surprise and annoyance to see where the unasked-for help had come from.
    Ryouga was standing directly behind her, umbrella still hovering over her shoulder from the blow, face twisted in a sneer of annoyance.
    Ranma made a noise somewhere between a squeak and a yelp, and the next moment found herself halfway up the wall, clinging to the bricks like a cat as she stared wildly at the startled boy.
    "Ryouga! What the hell are you doing here?!"
    "..I can't get out of this blasted neighborhood," he admitted a little sheepishly, looking at his feet and blushing just a little. "Um, are you OK? I mean.."
    "Not this again," Ranma groaned, sliding down the wall but keeping a safe distance between them. "Damn it, Ryouga, what the hell's wrong with you? And don't you dare touch me, or I'll beat you senseless."
    Ryouga, who had looked on the verge of stepping towards her, hesitated. His face was working strangely; expressions of longing, fear, and desperation struggled for dominance on his face. "I can't help it," he burst out. "You think I wanted to l- to l- To have this happen with you?? It's all because of that stupid--"
    "Here's the water, Ranma," Akane said, coming from around the wall and holding up a kettle. "And hurry up, or we're gonna be late!" She blinked, looking in surprise from Kuno's unconscious form to Ryouga, looking dejected and lonely in the middle of the street. "Ryouga? Ranma, what happened to Kuno?"
    "Never mind," Ranma growled, snatching away the kettle and pouring its contents over her head. He tossed the empty kettle aside and spread his arms wide, glaring balefully at Ryouga, who had flinched at the transformation, eyes flicking away. "You see, idiot?" Ranma demanded harshly. "Still a guy. So whatever it is you're babbling about, or whatever you think you feel, just forget it." He stepped back into his shoes and stalked off. "Come on, Akane," he snapped over his shoulder. Akane hesitated, looking in confusion from one boy to the other, but after a moment she hurried after Ranma.
    Ryouga stayed where he was, fists clenched by his sides so tightly his nails were digging painfully into the skin. He stared blankly at the spot where Ranma had been standing, and swallowed hard.
    Just then... when Ranma had changed....
    With the disappearance of the woman and the change into man, it had quickly squashed any feelings the potion had brought on under a sudden wave of horror. He tried to leave it at that, but his mind was already running it back for him ruthlessly and pointing out one vital fact.
    He'd been horrified, yes-- remembering that Ranma was actually a man, and the woman he'd started to fall in love with was no longer there. But the disgust he had expected to feel had never happened.
    Ryouga turned abruptly and struck the wall. A section of it exploded at the stunning impact, stones and dust falling about his feet. He hardly noticed, his teeth grinding together.
    He needed to get out of here-- now. Being around female Ranma was bad enough. But seeing both female and male forms like that too often, it was as if... as if the blasted potion was still strong as ever. It was horrifying to think that just a moment ago the "woman" he'd been pining after was actually a boy. But the part of him that was under the effect of the potion, the part of him that thought it was in love with female Ranma, was trying to make an allowance for this. Trying to love her-- all of her. Meaning....
    Ryouga punched out several more walls and a few lamp posts in frantic denial before racing headlong down the street in a desperate attempt to get as far away from Nerima as possible.


    "I'm worried about Ryouga," Akane admitted as she set her satchel on her desk, casting Ranma a curious, concerned look. "He didn't look very good. And he was acting really strange last night, too. Did you two get into another fight?"
    "Just butt out, will ya?" Ranma grumbled, chin buried in his palm, the fingers of his free hand drumming irritably on the desktop as he glared towards the front of the room. Akane hesitated, studying him suspiciously. His ears were red-- and not from the hot water he'd dumped on himself. That had been almost half an hour ago. In fact, he'd been acting flustered ever since he'd carried Ryouga's limp form to the dojo the previous night, face contorted in fury and what had looked awfully close to humiliation.
    She tilted her head slightly, letting her eyes travel with surprise as the redness spread from Ranma's ears to his face, then his neck in a slow, bright flush. Whatever he was thinking about, it couldn't be very innocent.
    Maybe, she thought with a flash of anger, he was thinking about Shampoo or Ukyou. Shampoo had been acting more persistant than ever. Had something happened yesterday? Had Shampoo-- that hussy! --made a bold move? It would certainly explain why Ranma had been acting so harsh towards Ryouga and had seemed to be unwilling to talk about whatever was bothering him.
    She sat down in a huff and glared at her reluctant fiance mutely. Whatever had happened, he'd made it clear he wasn't going to share. Well, fine then, she told herself stiffly, transferring her glare to her notebook. Let him act like a child. She'd find out sooner or later anyway. And if he wanted Shampoo so bad it made him blush, fine. She wasn't going to stand in his way. Her pencil snapped in her clenched fist and a piece of it sailed across the room and struck another student in the head.
    Ranma, meanwhile, was oblivious to Akane's dark mood, too wrapped up in his own concerns. And if Akane could have had a glimpse at what was really going through his head, she would have been very surprised indeed. Shampoo was the farthest thing from his mind. He was too busy struggling with the brain cancer that seemed to have infected his directionally-challenged friend.
    Because while he and Ryouga fought every time they met, and neither of them could help but put the other down or try to make a fool of the other, Ranma did consider the other boy a friend. He gave him a lot of grief, but secretly he knew Ryouga was probably the closest thing to a real rival he'd ever had. And he wasn't a bad guy. Kuno, now... the guy was a lech and an idiot, and Ranma felt no sorrow for the beat-downs he handed out to the infatuated moron. Shampoo was manipulative and could be damn close to heartless when it came to having her way, and Ucchan... well, those were strange waters. She was cute, and definitely one of the nicer girls he'd had the fortune to meet, and one of his only real female friends. But a guy needed guy friends, and Ryouga-- though he could be a dense, over-emotional, bull-headed twerp --was a decent boy. Honorable, honest (aside from his ruse with Akane about his curse), and even soft-hearted at times. Ryouga may hate Ranma's guts, but Ranma was content to kick the guy's ass and consider him a strange friend. Otherwise he would have told Akane long ago about her precious "P-chan".
    In the end, Ranma considered Ryouga the closest thing to a real guy friend he had. Even if he'd never bothered to admit it much to himself, much less the boy in question. So this sudden 180 into la-la land had struck deep. Ranma had become accustomed by now to having guys fall for his female form, which was something he'd always appreciated about Ryouga. Ryouga treated and viewed him the same no matter what form he was in. He didn't hold back his punches for "Ranko" anymore than he did for Ranma.
    But now...
    Ranma ground his teeth as he continued to submit the poor blackboard to one of his best death glares. Now Ryouga had broken that trust. Those crushing embraces, those dreaded words... What the hell had gotten into the idiot? How dare he!
    What made all of it worse, what betrayed it on a much more personal level, was the mind-fuck it was giving him. It wasn't just the fact that a guy he trusted had done something so low, joke or not. It was toying with another demon, one he kept deep down inside and out of sight; one he dared to peek at only once in a blue moon, only to draw away from it again with a shudder.
    He would like to blame it on the curse. When he went female, he went all the way. Body, organs, hormones, and everything. Which made it inappropriate when as a female he found himself blushing at a pretty girl pressed close to him, but even more inappropriate when the female in him reacted to other things. Kuno.. now that guy made him sick, no matter what form he was in. All the guys that chased Ranko did. But it was random things that frightened him. The guy's locker room. Love scenes in those stupid movies the Tendo daughters were so fond of. Dunking P-chan in hot water and coming face to face with a furious and naked Ryouga-- ooook, best to leave that lunkhead out of it.
    He would like to place the blame solely on his unwanted curse, and it was part of his drive to find a cure.
    But sometimes, when he actually ventured to poke at this demon, it bit back. Tried to tell him things he didn't want to hear.
    Like, 'Remember when you were a kid and you thought Ucchan was a boy?' and 'Remember how cute you thought Ucchan was, even before you found out "he" was a "she"?' and 'Remember how you would go out of your way every day in middle school to bug Ryouga?' and 'Remember that time Mousse glomped you, thinking you were Shampoo, and you didn't hit him until he let go?'
    He had excuses ready for these dangerous questions. He must have known subconsciously Ukyou was a girl. Therefore, the vague attraction. He'd needed a friend, so he'd pestered Ryouga. He knew Mousse was blind as a bat, and felt sorry for him.
    Good answers. Solid answers. He couldn't understand why that demon in him would just laugh at them. So he would shove it back, deep into his subconscious, and turn his back on it for awhile.
    He and Akane had started to get closer. In a weird, "ok, I don't hate you TOO much" kind of way. It had helped. And now this! Ryouga had to go and ruin everything with those three dreaded words.
    That settled it. The next time he saw that lost brat, he was going to knock his head off.
    Ranma had always been prone to taking out his anger on the nearest, most suspectible target. And Ryouga was wearing a bullseye right in between his sarcastic brown eyes.

Author's Notes: ...Ok, before I get flamed.. -_-; Lemmie give you a head's up. Cuz I did something similar to this in a Naruto fic, and a couple people went off on me because of Naruto's reactions and thought process. Look underneath the underneath in this fic, ppl. Boys tend to say one thing and think another. They also have a hard time admitting painful things to themselves. So stick with me-- and these two poor schmucks. They'll figure things out eventually. Even if I have to knock their heads together a couple times ^.~

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