Ranma 1/2 was created by Rumiko Takahashi.


	A wave crashed onto the shore, throwing a spray of cool water
into the air.  Somewhere nearby, children played at the water's edge;
the sound of their laughter carried on the breeze.  A breeze that was,
for him, the only respite from the hot sun.  He perched on a rock,
looking out over the stretch of white sand, at the endless expanse of
blue.  Normally, he found its tranquility calming, but today, he only
felt envious of the children splashing in the water, the adults
floating on the waves.

	The beach was not Ranma Saotome's idea of a perfect vacation
spot.  There was a great deal of water, almost all of it cold; it was
difficult to change back to normal until the end of the day.  Briefly,
he wondered why he'd agreed to come, but he dismissed the thought.  If
he'd stayed home, one of two things would have happened.  Either he'd
be stuck there alone (unless you counted Shampoo, Mousse, Kunou, and
Kodachi, whose company he didn't particularly want), or his father and
Soun Tendo would have concocted some scheme to get Akane to stay
behind with him (which would be even worse...).

	It was a no-win proposition, he reflected.  Come to think of
it, it had been Nabiki who'd proposed this "family trip."  He had to
wonder whether she'd chosen this destination on purpose, just to spite

	Even if she hadn't, it was clear she'd exploited the
opportunity, as usual.  Three days ago, Shampoo had shown up.  Mousse
had followed her several hours later.  Earlier today, he'd spotted
Kunou, still dressed in his kendo garb, walking along the beach,
searching for his "loves."  So far, he'd managed to avoid all three of
them, but there was no way that could last.  Not if anyone else
"coincidentally" appeared.

	He hoped Kodachi wouldn't follow her brother.  Ryouga had
learned about the trip, but if he was trying to get here, he was
probably in Okinawa by now...  Abrubtly, he broke that chain of
thought, and listened.

	There was somebody behind him.  Whoever it was was slowly
approaching, hardly making a sound.  (That ruled out Ryouga, anyway.)
Ranma sighed.  At least he hadn't changed into a girl yet today...
"I'm not in the mood, okay?"

	Just like that, she was sitting beside him, smiling.  "Hi,
Ranchan.  Something wrong?"

	"Ucchan."  He relaxed, relieved, then tentatively smiled back.
"Not really."

	"What're you doing up here?"  She paused.  "Shampoo?"

	He turned his attention back to the sea.  When he answered, his
voice was distant.  It almost sounded weary.  "Her, Mousse, Kunou..."


	Another, more lengthy, pause.  Ranma let his mind drift as he
watched the rhythmic pounding of the waves against the sand below.  A
small child ran unsteadily into the ocean, shriekig gleefully.  He
blinked, vaguely aware that Ukyou had just spoken to him.  "Uh, what
was that?"

	She chuckled knowingly.  "I said, 'That isn't like you.'
Usually, you'd already have kicked Kunou halfway back to Nerima, for
one thing..."

	He shifted uncomfortably on the stone.  "I thought about it,
but just once I'd like to have a vacation that doesn't turn into one
big fight, y'know?  Besides, Kunou's not really worth the effort, any
more.  He just starts one of his stupid speeches, then uses the same
attack pattern he's used for the last year.  Even my old man could
beat him."

	"So that's why you're up here?"  She glanced away from him,
following his gaze out over the sea.  Its surface shimmered like a
field of diamond in the sunlight--there wasn't a cloud in the sky.  A
light breeze blew in toward the land, refreshing in the heat of the
day, with a slight tang of salt.  "It's pretty," she said at last.

	"I guess so."  His voice revealed nothing, and his face, when
she stole a glance at it, was near-expressionless.  Or, perhaps,
vacant.  It wasn't an expression Ukyou associated with her Ranma, who
was vibrant, energetic to the point of hyperactivity... alive.

	Maybe her presence would help him cheer up.  "It's probably a
really nice place to watch the sun set," Ukyou suggested.

	"Probably."  No change to either voice or expression.  She
shivered and resisted a momentary urge to turn away.

	"You haven't told me whether you like this swimsuit," she
ventured finally.

	As a matter of fact, he hadn't even glanced at it, but there
was no need to bring that up.  He turned to look at Ukyou for the
first time--to really look, picking up the details his initial,
cursory inspection had missed.  His eyes flickered over the garment, a
simple two-piece in royal blue that nevertheless suited her very well.
Almost identical, he reflected, to the one Akane had been wearing that
morning.  He nodded briefly.  "It looks nice."

	Ukyou blushed ever so slightly and smiled prettily at him.
Ranma didn't notice; he had turned back to the ocean.  She blinked;
the smile melted from her face.  "Ranchan," she asked slowly, "What's

	That got his attention.  "What do you mean?  Nothing."  She
remained silent, waiting; after a few seconds of uncomfortable
silence, he continued, "I was just thinking.  I used to like

	"It's not the curse, is it?" Ukyou asked, surprised.  "You
never let it stop you before."

	"That's part of it, but no, not really."  He sighed.  "I was
just trying to remember the last time I went swimming for fun.  I
think it was that time we went together.  Remember?"

	She smiled softly.  "How could I forget?  You tried doing a
quadruple flip from that cliff and landed flat on your back.  I don't
think I've ever heard anyone yell that loudly since."  She giggled.

	"Hey, at least I made it past four before the landing.  Man,
that hurt.  Pop even beat me at sparring the next morning because my
back was still sore."

	Ukyou repressed a laugh.  "I can imagine..."  Her smile of
amusement slowly changed into one of fond nostalgia as she remembered
that day.  It had been very bright, very warm--just like today, come
to think of it.  Ranma, too, sat in silence, remembering.  Then Ukyou
blinked.  "That was the last time?  That long ago?"

	"I think so.  Any time Pop took me after that, he turned it
into some kind of training.  Endurance swimming, underwater combat,
whatever.  He was already into that 'True martial artist readiness'
stuff that he's always going on about.  Anyway, I didn't exactly have
the time then, and now, I can't do it without changing."

	"Which is also your father's fault," she pointed out.  "Does
the man ruin everything he touches?"

	"Pretty much... calm down, Ucchan."

	"I am calm!"

	"Yeah?"  He placed his hand on hers, and, for a moment, she
stopped breathing.  Then he lifted it into her vision, and she
realized that it was clenched into a white-knuckled fist.  She sighed
as he let go; the anger drained away, leaving only the lingering
resentment she always felt toward Genma Saotome, the man who had been
responsible for ruining the better part of her life.  Ranma chuckled,
humorlessly.  "Yeah, he deserves it, but... well, he is my father."
He muttered something under his breath.


	Ranma's eyes met hers.  Sheepishly, he repeated what he had
said.  "Besides, Akane's the one who's always angry.  'Course," he
added reflectively, "I would be, too, if I was an uncute tomboy like
her."  There was an odd, almost tremulous tone in his voice as he said
the last part.

	"You and Akane have been fighting again?"  Ukyou thought she
did a fairly good job of keeping the joyous note out of her voice.

	"Well... yeah, sort of.  Stupid..."

	"What happened this time?" she asked nonchalantly, carefully
stressing the word "this" the slightest amount.

	Ranma opened his mouth, blinked, closed it again, and
shrugged.  "Y'know, I'm not sure.  Must've had something to do with
her being stubborn and unfeminine, though... oh, yeah.  I asked
whether she was really planning on going into the water, and she got
all mad.  Like usual."

	"She got mad about that?"

	"She thought I was commenting on her swimming ability."

	"Isn't she any good?"

	"About as good as she is cute, and not quite as good as she is
at cooking."

	"That bad, huh?"  Ukyou was startled--everyone she'd ever
known knew how to swim.  It was a skill she'd taken for granted.

	"Sinks like a stone."

	"Ranchan... are you worried about her?"

	"Worried?  About her?  No!  I just don't want her getting in
the way when other people are trying to swim.  And besides, uh..."
Ranma became absorbed in studying the back of his hands, which he had
folded together in his lap.  "Well, yeah, a little," he finally
admitted.  "I mean, I don't want her to get herself killed, even if
she is a stubborn, unreasonable..."

	"Tomboy."  Ukyou spoke the last word in unison with Ranma.
Some things, she reflected, never changed.  "Of course you don't.  So,
why aren't you with her, then, instead of up here?"  She wasn't about
to complain, but it was curious.  Even if they'd been fighting, if
Ranma was really worried about her, wouldn't he be...?

	"Ahh, who'd want to be with her, anyway?  Besides, she was
pretty insistent, and Kasumi and Nabiki will be with her..."

	So that was it.  It must have been some fight.  "Well..."
Ukyou weighed concern for her friend against the opportunity to score
against her rival; concern won out.  "Maybe you should just apologize,
or something," she said reluctantly.

	"Apologize?" he asked, incredulous.  "Why?  I mean, if
anything, she's the one who should be apologizing to me.  Right?"

	Well, she'd tried.  "I guess.  Hey, are you sure you don't
want to go swimming?  It'd be just like old times."  She beamed at

	"Well..."  He appeared to be considering it, but reluctantly,
he shook his head.  "Nah, better not.  I wouldn't be able to change
back into a man until late tonight."

	"Is it really that bad, being a girl?"

	No, not always, and that was what scared him most; but he
wasn't about to tell her, or anyone, that.  "Yeah, it's... I can't
really explain it.  You wouldn't understand unless it happened to
you."  He added, almost as an afterthought, "In reverse, I mean."

	"Yeah?"  Ukyou almost brought up the time she'd spent living
as a boy, but, on thinking about it, winced internally.  Maybe he had
a point.  She shifted positions on the stone, bringing herself
marginally closer to him.  He didn't seem to mind.  Truth be told, he
didn't notice.

	"You can go ahead if you want to, Ucchan."

	"That's okay.  I'll stay here with you."

	"Mmm."  He brushed a strand of hair out of his face.  "I
wonder how long I have to wait before I go back tonight in order to
avoid getting hit by Akane."


	"Well, when I get back, someone--probably Mr. Tendo, bawling
his eyes out all the time--will tell me how she 'almost drowned,' and
then she'll get mad at me again for having mentioned that before.
That's the way I figure it, anyway."

	There was that odd note in his voice again; she couldn't quite
place it.  "She's sure to forget about that by then, right?"

	"If--no, when--it does happen, she'll remember.  She never
forgets anything like that."

	"You were just like that when we were younger, remember?"

	"I'm not anything like her!"

	"Okay, calm down..."  She laid one hand on his shoulder,
leaning a fraction of an inch closer; again, he didn't react.
"Sometimes I wish we were young again.  I had so much fun back then.
Sparring with you every day, and everything."

	"I mean, she's stubborn, she's uncute..."

	"You always beat me, though."  She frowned slightly, to
herself, then turned to smile at him.  "I guess the okonomiyaki was a
good incentive."

	"She's unfeminine, she's clumsy, she can't cook..."

	Ukyou's voice became a little more strained.  "My father
taught me that, of course.  Do you remember afterward, how we'd..."

	"She's built like a brick, and she swims about as well, she's

	She closed her eyes.  "Ranchan."  In spite of her rising
irritation, her voice was as level as she could keep it.

	"She... huh?  What, Ucchan?"

	"You've been talking about Akane all day," she noted.

	"I have?  No way."

	"Trust me."  She felt her already-frayed patience thinning
further.  "Ranchan, I thought you--"  She coughed and hurriedly
rephrased her thought.  "I mean, do you, um, like Akane?"

	"Huh?  Well..."  He lapsed into silence, thinking about his
friend's question.  "I guess... she's sort of a friend," he answered
slowly.  "I mean, I wouldn't want her to get herself killed, or

	Ukyou quickly interrupted the predictable "even if" clause.
"That wasn't... I mean... you know, she's your fiancee, and..."

	"There's no way I'm marrying that uncute, macho chick!  You've
got to be kidding..."

	Ukyou smiled slightly.  Nothing but imagination... of course.
"Sorry.  It's just, with you being in the same house, and

	Ranma waved it off.  "Hey, I just live there, that's all.  I
mean, I don't have anywhere else to go.  And," he grudgingly admitted,
"It's not too bad, most of the time..."

	"You could stay with me," she suggested hopefully.

	Startled, he turned toward her, and was shocked to see her
face inches from his.  He flinched backwards slightly, then relaxed as
a hurt expression began to cross her face.  "U-Ucchan..." he began,
and coughed.  "I, uh...  I... don't know what to say."  She had a
brief moment of hope before he finished, "I... no, I can't."

	"Wh-why not?" she asked, dazed.

	"It, um..."  His mind raced.  Why did he say that?  "I mean,
my old man would have to come too, and I wouldn't wish him on anybody.
And you especially shouldn't have to deal with him, Ucchan..."  He
turned his face away, looking over the ocean again.  It was getting
late in the day; the sun would be setting soon.  "Look, Ucchan..."


	"Uh... I've got to go, it's late.  See you tomorrow?"

	She felt a brief, crushing disappointment, and masked it
almost instantly, for him.  "O-of course, Ranchan," she said with a
tremulous smile.  "I'll... see you."  She swiftly stood, turned, and
started walking; she was twenty feet away by the time Ranma, surprised
by her sudden departure, got to his feet.

	"Bye, Ucchan!" he called after her, waving to her back.

	She paused and whispered, "Tomorrow..."  Ranma did not see a
single tear trace its way along the curve of her cheek.  Her
hesitation continued until, unable to bear the waiting any longer, she
turned back to him...

	And found herself facing the vacant stone.  Ranma had already

	With a sigh, Ukyou began her long, slow walk back.


	Ranma tapped at the door, then peered tentatively around it.

	She was lying on the floor, her chin resting on her hands.
Her eyes had been closed, but, at the sound of his voice, they snapped
open.  "What do you want, Ranma?"

	He knelt next to her, noting that her entire body was tense.
"Bad day?"

	"Don't start," she growled at him.  "Why can't you just leave
me alone?"

	Bad day, indeed.  Ranma decided that now was not the best time
to say "I told you so."  Instead, he tapped her on the shoulder,
briefly, as though afraid he would be burned by the brief physical
contact.  "You're not having fun either, huh?"

	"I was just fine until you showed up.  Why do you..."  She
trailed off and blinked at him, confused.  "What do you mean,

	He smiled at the look on her face.  "That's not important.
C'mon, I want to show you something."

	"Later."  At least she didn't seem angry any more.  Just
irritable, as usual.  "I'm a little tired right now."

	"There won't be time later.  C'mon."

	"What is it?"  There was a faint note of curiosity beneath the
irritation now.

	"You'll see.  We've got to hurry, though," urged Ranma.  He
stood smoothly and turned toward the door, casting one last expectant
glance over his shoulder at Akane.

	"What's so important?" she grumbled.  But she pushed herself
to her feet and followed him back outside.  "Why are we going back to
the beach?"

	"You'll see!" he called back to her.  He smiled; she was
getting impatient again.  Akane just didn't handle curiosity well.

	Neither of them said anything else as Ranma led Akane to a
certain high stone, overlooking a stretch of sand... and the azure

	"That was quite a climb," Akane remarked, behind him.  She
seemed slightly winded; he, himself, was in better condition, hardly
tired at all from the climb.  She must have tried to keep up with him.
He wondered why she did that... she was probably just jealous.  Ranma
magnanimously decided not to draw attention to it.  Just as well,
since Akane had started talking again.  "What could be up here?"

	Wordlessly, Ranma half-turned toward her.  One outstretched
arm indicated the horizon.  Akane's eyes followed the direction of his
gesture as Ranma quietly sank onto the same stone he'd used earlier.
He faced the sea.

	Behind him, Akane gasped.

	The sun was slowly sinking beneath the horizon, now, staining
the sky red.  A full spectrum of colors were painted overhead, slowly
fading into the deep blue of early twilight, which prevailed opposite
the sun.  The light reflected from the waves, transforming them into a
sea of burnished gold.  The wind had stilled; even the voices seemed
to have stopped.

	Akane was the first to break the silence.  "It's...
beautiful."  Ranma nodded, still looking outward as she approached.
Akane sat beside him, allowing her feet to dangle over the edge.
"Thank you, Ranma."  She leaned forward, enjoying the view.  Noticing
her precarious position, Ranma put one arm around her.

	"I, uh... thought you might like it," he murmured, practically
swallowing the last words entirely.  She had tensed at the contact,
and he had nearly pulled away, but, uncharacteristically, she hadn't
said anything about it.  And she seemed to be relaxing again.  But
now, for some reason, he couldn't quite bring himself to face her
directly as he spoke.

	"Oh, I do."  She smiled at the setting sun.

	"Y'know..."  You're really cute when you smile, he finished
mentally.  What was he thinking...?


	"Uh, nothing."  A pause.  "I think this vacation was a good

	Akane turned toward him.  Her expression of surprise
transformed into a contented smile as she replied, "Me too."  She
shivered suddenly and edged closer to Ranma, almost leaning against
him.  "It's getting cold..."

	She was still, he noticed, wearing her swimsuit, a simple
two-piece in royal blue.  It looked surprisingly good on her... must
be a trick of the light, he thought, doubtfully.  He decided not to
say anything; she could be touchy about that.  Instead, he asked, "You
want to go back?"

	"No," she decided.  "Let's watch a little longer."

	Ranma and Akane sat until the golden sea had dimmed to silver
in the moonlight, and the deep blue, star-filled sky overhead had
darkened to night-black.