THESE CHARACTERS AND ALL OF THE LOCATIONS BELONG TO RUMIKO TAKAHASHI AND THOSE THAT SHE HAS DECIDED DESERVE TO HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THEM. I'M JUST BORROWING THEM FOR A BIT SO THAT I CAN DO HORRIBLE THINGS TO THEM AND NOT GET PAID. IT'S ILLEGAL FOR ME TO DO THIS AND GET PAID FOR IT, SO CONSIDER WHAT I'M DOING A SORT OF VOLUNTEER SERVICE AND ENJOY IT (OR DON'T. IT'S UP TO YOU). DON'T LET ME BECOME WEASEL BAIT.

Ukyo and Akane

Chapter 5: Aftermath

The table went silent, except for a small gasp from Ukyo.

Ryoga went white as a sheet as he realized that he'd been caught. He tried to speak, but his mouth suddenly went dry. Finally he managed to mutter, "The- the training was tough. Ranma and I worked on it together for a week-"

"I don't care about that," Akane snapped, voice cold as ice. "Where. Is. Ranma?"

Ryoga glanced once more at Sayuki, whose eyes had become large and round. He felt that she could look right through him, straight into his soul. It was more of a shock when he realized that she didn't look like she hated him for what she saw there. He glanced back at Akane and took a step back as he saw the maelstrom of emotions pouring out of her. None of them were good. Images shot through his mind then, visions of Ranma and Akane together. Fighting, mostly, but over time getting more and more comfortable with each other. He saw the look on Akane's face the morning Ranma'd disappeared – he'd been there, seen her world come crumbling down. He saw the last glimpse he'd had of Ranma as they parted ways last week.

Ryoga had asked him what he was going to do about Akane. Ranma had clammed up, then turned away from him and in a voice thick with emotion said that he couldn't ruin her life by being a part of it anymore. Not until he found a cure and a solution to the fiancee problem. Ryoga could have sworn that Ranma was crying, but didn't want to believe it. That would mean that Ranma was really in love with – No. He couldn't be, they always fought! One look at Ranma, though, revealed that he was about ready to unleash a perfect Shishi Hokou-dan. Ranma... and Akane... were in lo- Ryoga's heart shattered into a million tiny jagged pieces. His feet turned away from Ranma on their own, and left him at the training ground as Ryoga ran as though his life depended on it.

It was a few minutes before Ryoga realized that he was running in real life, as well. Deeply upset by the fact that Akane just couldn't let go of Ranma, even after everything he'd done to hurt her, Ryoga was running. Running so that he didn't have to answer her question, running so he didn't have to look at her eyes so full of hurt and anger – and running so he didn't have to face the fact that the two of them had felt so strongly for each other.

His only regret this time was that he hadn't apologized to Sayuki for running away.

Back at the restaraunt, things were rather hectic. Akane had burst into tears as soon as Ryoga had fled. Hiroshi and Daisuke had no clue what to do about the situation, so they just settled for sipping their drinks and trying to pretend they didn't exist. Finally, Ukyo and Sayuki managed to walk Akane to the bathroom in an effort to calm her down. Upon their return, the rest of the meal was eaten in silence. The plan to have a walk in the park was unanimously laid to rest without even raising the question, and the boys dropped off first Sayuki at her house and then Akane and Ukyo at Ucchan's Okonomiyaki. All three girls mechanically thanked the boys for the night out and reminded them that the horrid ending had not been their fault.

Inside Ucchan's, Ukyo sat Akane down on a stool and got them both a hot chocolate. She sat facing Akane when she returned.

"Akane, listen. I've got some things to tell you. Since about a week after Ranma disappeared, I've been paying Nabiki to look for him."

Akane gasped and glared at Ukyo, surprised and angry that she hadn't told her sooner. She opened her mouth to protest, but Ukyo continued.

"I wanted to have better news before I told you, but the truth is that Ranma's somehow really good at this. All we've found is old trails and dead ends. The last lead we had was a guy matching Ranma's description calling himself 'Yamaguchi Kappei' enrolling in a communications class at a local college in Hokkaido. That was three months ago, and he left as soon as he finished." Ukyo grinned a mirthless smile. "He didn't even pass the class.

"Before that, it was a 'Sato Ranmaru' in Osaka, looking for information on magical sites and artifacts. He disappeared pretty quickly, too. The one before that was a Hibiki Hikaru, a redheaded girl seeking relationship counseling. There's been a couple others, but in short, Akane, we've got no idea where he is or what he's up to. I guess Ryoga's seen him more recently, but I don't think he'll tell us anything." Ukyo sighed and looked at the floor as though it had all the answers. "I don't think we'll find him until he wants to be found..."

As Akane began to tear up again, Ukyo moved around the counter to sit next to her, sipping her hot chocolate. As she sat down she looked deeply into the cup and spoke up again. "And I – I think I'm glad for that." She admitted with a voice half choked with emotion.

Akane looked up at Ukyo, unable to meet her gaze because Ukyo was staring at her cup.

Ukyo sighed for a moment and her shoulders slumped in defeat. "If he'd stayed around, you and I would still be fighting over him." her gaze rose for just a second, a brief moment of eye contact shared between them before Ukyo dropped her sight to the mug in her hands again. "I lost though. You could see it every time he looked at you, just before he took off... he'd look at you and his eyes would get this look in them that he never got for any of the rest of us." Ukyo sighed again. "And then he'd look down at himself and it was like his world ended. I used to think that meant that he didn't want to be married to you, but after he left I pieced a bunch of it together. I think he wanted to fix himself, Akane – fix himself for you.

"I think even Shampoo and the other amazons had figured it out. She started coming over here to try to get me involved in some of her plans shortly before he took off. You should have heard her, Akane. She was out for blood – getting really desperate. She kept bugging me to try to catch you off guard so you'd be out of the equation. She quit coming over to try to get my help after I kissed her."

"What?" Akane half shouted, shocked at such an admission. She drew slightly away from Ukyo just as the chef started to explain.

Ukyo blushed heavily. "It's not what you think! It was the day before Ranma left. I never even saw her again, thankfully. She'd come over and tried to get me angry enough to go in with one of her plans by reminding me again that she'd actually KISSED Ranma and that I hadn't yet. She was going on and on about how it felt to have her lips pressed up against his, and how it felt... I got so sick of it that I kissed her so I could feel like I'd kissed Ranma indirectly. It was a really stupid idea, but suddenly I had a realization. I don't like kissing other girls. I may not have minded his curse at first, but I sure wanted it gone. I didn't want Ranma as he was. It wasn't just the curse either – I wanted a husband who would work in my restaurant, take care of the kids, and be around all the time. You were the only one who ever really accepted him – LOVED him – as he was, Akane. I never cared about what he wanted, I never thought about his feelings. He always called me his best friend, but I think I was the worst friend ever."

Akane listened with rapt attention, too much in shock to even be upset anymore as her friend poured out her soul to her. "I don't think I was very nice to you back when I first came to Nerima, and I – I wanted to say I'm really sorry for everything I did. You're the best friend I've ever had, Akane. It wasn't until he'd been gone for a while that I realized that I wasn't looking for Ranma for me anymore..." Ukyo trailed off for a moment, then her voice cracked into a broken sob. "I want to bring him back for you."