"And if you're thirsty, we're in luck." She paused, glancing up.
It was the worse reaction to have from the news, but it was all he could do.
A lump of the hot mountain meat slowly lugged down his throat.
Then he acted.
Ryoga climbed to his feet and staggered from the fire. He lunged towards his backpack with a desperate stumble. There he dug through his things, tossing empty noodle cups, toothpaste, blankets, and bandanas all around. Then he saw what he longed for.
Ryoga struggled to unbolt the thick, red umbrella, until finally, it opened. He drew it over his head, panting from his work.
When he looked up again, he noticed Violet, gaping at him. Her eyes bulged.
"So you're not thirsty." She said.
Ryoga opened his mouth, slammed it shut, and then sputtered the first words that came to mind.
"I don't want to get wet. These are my only change of clothes."
Ryoga nodded to himself, pleased with his answer.
"No change of clothes," she said. Her voice was loud, close to his ear. "Really?"
She was right beside him. He hadn't even seen her move.
Her face leaned into his, like a doctor examining a spot.
His eyes narrowed.
"Yeah, really." he answered.
A smile lifted to her lips.
"Then what's this?"
She brought a bundle into view. A pale yellow shirt with the sleeves ripped off. Dark blue pants that looked worn and comfortable. They were his.
Ryoga glared at her. He snatched the clothes from her hands.
"Do you mind?" Ryoga said, his face red. "Why are you so nosy, anyways?"
"I couldn't help it."
"And why not?"
She straightened her posture and put a hand on her hip.
"While you were tearing through your stuff, you threw your clothes right in my face."
Violet leaned into Ryoga's face and poked his nose.
He was speechless. A warm blush spread across Ryoga's cheeks.
She had no right to make him blush.
'I'm a sensitive creature!' he thought. 'I-I can't handle this! I'm shy enough around Akane!'
The name. It flooded in a stream of memories. Of his loss, his sadness.
He would never see her again.
The fact that he couldn't act, couldn't even try to admit his feelings for her, haunted him. Plus, the written deal would prove impossible to keep if he saw her again. He'd want so bad to have Akane, to stand near her, to somehow get her to look at him with more than friendship and pity. But he couldn't now.
It almost shattered his heart of glass.
And the hardest part was that he didn't want to move on.
He looked past the girl in front of him, his eyes a dreary glaze.
After a long minute of this, Violet waved a hand in his face.
"Hello?" she said. "You awake?"
Ryoga didn't blink.
Violet took up to circling him. She examined the dazed boy as he stared off into space.
Just as Ryoga's thoughts brought him onto a scene of embracing Akane under a bright bed of stars, there was a hard snap.
The umbrella flew from his grasp. Ryoga darted forward with his hands on his backside.
He rubbed his rear, and stared at Violet.
"What the heck was that!" he shouted.
Violet's eyes grew wide.
"Making sure you're alive. You looked dead."
"And what in the heck did you do?"
"Gave you whiplash." said Violet.
Ryoga looked irritated.
"I'll show you!" she said.
Violet snapped her fingers and flung them forward. Ryoga watched as a thin line of air expanded from her fingertips. The wind struck against a rock. It whined and swiftly cracked right in half.
Ryoga's mouth dropped.
"Not that hard, of course!"
"How about not hitting me at all, okay?"
Violet poked Ryoga's sore spot.
"Does that hurt?"
"YES!" he screamed.
"Oops. Sorry, sorry!" Violet said.
She heaved a twig of meat at him.
Ryoga didn't speak. His thick bangs shadowed his eyes. Then his shoulders began to tremble. The stick dropped from his hands.
"This is madness." Ryoga said. His voice was low.
"It was just a joke." Violet said. "Did it hurt that bad?"
Ryoga looked up. His eyes were dark.
"That pain? It's long past. But the other pain I deal with, it won't fade so easily."
Violet scratched her head.
"What pain? Did you hit your head on something?"
Ryoga gritted his teeth.
"Don't mock me! It's a pain deep in my soul. You wouldn't understand."
"I could try." she said.
Ryoga stopped himself when he met her eyes. They were soft on him. The fluorescent color of her pupils made his head whirl. He couldn't get over the strangeness of them, even if they were sort of nice.
He shook his head.
'I can't trust her.' He thought. 'Those eyes. They aren't normal. She can't be human.'
Violet cleared her throat. She gave an edgy smile.
"You were saying?" she asked.
"I was saying that for all I know, you could be some murderer. Or alien! I don't think I should tell you my past."
Violet blinked. She waved her hands out defensively.
"I'm human!" She exclaimed. "And I haven't killed…much."
Ryoga's face looked petrified.
"Joking, i'm joking! You're so gullible, Ryoga."
He jumped at the mention of his name.
"See. You have my name. You already know too much."
"What? You told me yourself!"
"For all I know, you could have used your alien skills to get it out of me."
Violet rolled her eyes.
"Or my murderer talents. Killers are pretty clever, you know."
"So you admit to being a psychopath!"
Violet couldn't believe it. She couldn't think it a joke; his face looked too serious.
"Where are you spewing this garbage from?" she asked. "A girl gives you a wedgie and suddenly she's a psycho?"
Ryoga looked undignified.
"I can think of a lot of other reasons for me to think you're a psycho."
Violet's eyes, so vividly colored, suddenly brightened. They were livid, like bright, angry paint.
Ryoga's own gaze widened.
Violet stamped her foot against the cliff. Luckily, the ground didn't break into pieces.
"I saved you!" Violet cried.
She aimed a finger towards the fire. By now, the lion meat left in the flames was burnt to a crisp.
"And so did I!" Ryoga said.
Violet narrowed her eyes. She crossed her arms and turned away from him.
"And did I need your help? No! If you didn't notice, I'm faster than you!"
"You rub that in a lot, don't you? I know you're fast, yeah, yeah. But obviously you don't think fast enough because those rocks would have been your death if I hadn't grabbed you!"
"Your clumsy feet set off all those falls!"
Ryoga puffed. She was right. He did land on each cliff surface a little too hard. But he couldn't admit defeat. His eyes scanned for something to insult. She looked small, furious, and yet… cute.
Ryoga wasn't willing to dwell on that. No woman could compare to Akane's composure and beauty.
But he almost gave up on finding her faults until his gaze found her feet. They weren't dainty. Her feet strained against her shoe's worn material. They were just too small for her. It was the perfect insult.
"My clumsy feet? Just look at your feet! They're huge!"
Violet's mouth dropped. Her face flushed, and she glared.
"I've had these feet for all my life! I know they're huge! What does that have to do with the fact that everything bad that happened was your fault?"
"My fault!" Ryoga shouted.
"Yes, your fault!"
Ryoga chuckled darkly.
"I should have let you fall off that cliff when I had the chance. You're so fast and all."
Violet gasped, then her lip rose to the side.
"Now who's the psycho?" she said. "You idiot!"
"What? You're the idiot! Idiot idiot idiot! With big feet!"
"Well, it was your big feet that set off all those cliffs, bandana boy!"
"So now you've put my bandanas into this? You don't know me or my bandanas!"
"And you don't know me or my big feet!"
"I never wanted to! But you insisted on following me!"
Violet's cheeks flamed.
"Because I thought you needed help!" She shouted. Her vivid eyes shone with tears.
Ryoga felt a twinge in his heart.
"Well," he said, quietly. "I didn't ask for your help."
Violet wiped her tears with an arm.
"Yeah?" she said. "Well, if I could go back in time, I would have kept going. I'd have ignored you completely!"
"I wish you would have!" he screamed. "And you know what else?"
"What!" Violet shouted.
Violet's fists were balled so tight that her fingertips indented into her palms.
"It's not raining!" Ryoga cried.
Violet was shocked. She'd forgotten all about that. It was the reason they started arguing in the first place.
She lifted her face to the sky. It was dark. It was gray. And it was dry.
A long moment passed, and then she met his eyes.
"Oh," she said. "So it isn't."
It was Ryoga's turn to ball his fists.
"Then why did you say it was?" he demanded.
Violet turned to him. The vivid color in her eyes transcended back to normal.
"I never said it wouldn't." She said, and shrugged. "Maybe it will."
"Maybe it will," he repeated.
"My elemental senses aren't exactly perfect, you know." Violet snapped.
There was an awkward silence. Ryoga rocked on his heels.
"So you do some martial arts." Ryoga said.
"True." Violet answered.
She stepped forward a little, closing the space between herself and Ryoga.
"I'm from the school of Elemental Martial Arts. We employ the elements in our training. Earth, fire, water, wind…It's kind of basic, and it's totally human." Then she added, "In other words, I'm no alien."
"And yet…" he started.
"Yes?" Violet asked.
"You can't really tell when it's raining."
She crossed her arms over her chest.
"I'm working on it. Give me a break."
"Your senses are that off?"
Violet looked him straight in the eye.
"Yes." She said. "They are."
Then she twisted away and stared into the fire.
Ryoga eyed her for a moment, and then glanced into his lap.
He crossed the line.
You can talk about a person's face, their clothes, even their feet, but a martial artist should never slight another's skill. Especially a girl. He got so caught in his fear of the rain. So lost in it that he grew angry. Plus, the fact that Akane was out of reach stressed him.
'I really was an idiot.' He thought. "I'm turning in Ranma. The jerk's cruelty must have rubbed off on me."
Violet's voice broke his guilt trip.
"What's up with you and rain, anyway?" She asked quietly.
"I just don't like getting wet." He answered. "That's all."
"Honest?" Violet prodded. "You sure you don't turn into some sort of creature in the rain?"
Ryoga's jaw dropped.
"Cre-creature?" he stuttered. "I don't turn into any creature!"
Violet smiled. It was mischievous.
"I bet you do," she said. "I bet you change."
Ryoga's breath caught.
"Change?" Ryoga stammered. "I don't know what you're talkin… how'd you uh, I,uh…I'm…"
Ryoga continued blabbering until Violet's gaze shut him up.
She opened her mouth, but didn't speak. Instead, she burst out laughing.
She couldn't control it. The girl doubled over in hiccupped chortles. She waved her hand out to steady herself.
"Honestly," Violet said between gasps of laughter. "There's so many strange things in the world. But that- that's impossible."
Ryoga's face reddened.
'At least she didn't catch on.' He thought.
After the flame from his cheeks died, he forced out a laugh.
But as the sounds of her laughter echoed through his ears, it got to him. Her goofy gulping made something spring inside his chest. His weak laugh became a natural flow of chortles.
And they laughed and laughed, Violet bent at her waist and Ryoga heartily chuckling beside her. Then something interrupted Violet's laughter.
She looked up.
"Now," She started, her face brightening. "It is raining."
Ryoga's limbs blasted with ice.
In that moment, one cold, cold, drop of rain fell onto his nose.
Then the ground suddenly filled with splatters of raindrops.
A surge of panic rose in his heart. Ryoga scrambled to his feet and tore his eyes across the rocky plains.
He needed his umbrella. Fast.
"Where are you, where are you?" he murmured.
Then he spotted it .The umbrella laid shielded under the dark.
It was a short ways off, and he started towards it. But he was slow.
His body was too sluggish, drained from all the worry and arguing. He thought maybe he should have taken that last offer of mountain meat.
And as Ryoga's hands reached for his umbrella, it was too late.
He cried out as the rain pelted his shoulders. Horror broke through his mind as he felt his arms shrink through his clothes. The pounding of the hard drizzle raged down on his head, mocking him.
Ryoga tried to use his voice. He squeaked.
Then the body evaporated into the round, black shape of a piglet.
Ryoga, now P-Chan, hid in one of his shirt sleeves as he thought of what to do.
He hated fate.
Ryoga was weak now. Weak, and a pig.
And in front of Violet. The girl who just got done laughing at the impossibility of something like this. What will she think now? He guessed she'd be more open.
But this was bad. And too late.
He couldn't hide the curse now. Ryoga's best option was to get human, and fast.
Who knew if the girl might want some roasted pork to push down that lion meat?
He always wondered if his life might be easier if he turned into something uglier, less cute and appetizing.
"I need hot water." He squeaked in pig.
The layers of clothes over his body made him feel safe. He feared emerging from his cover.
But he sucked in his nerve. Then he ventured from the sleeve and into the darkness.
The fire was barely breathing. It smoldered low, smothered from the rain.
P-Chan glanced back and forth, in a series of frantic squeaks.
Then finally, he let out a breath. His mind floated with relief.
Violet was gone.