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Fireworks

By Mastress Alita

~~~~~

Title: Fireworks
Author: Mastress Alita
Type: Oneshot
Rating: PG
Pairing: Ruby/Lhodo
Dedication: The "Apocripha/0 Fans" Mailing List for the Summer Fanworks Festival.
Spoilers: N/A
Summary: When Lhodo is subject to Ruby's teasing, a string of challenges at the Summer Festival ensues, but they realize the fun and games is only a mask to something deeper.

Author's Notes: *gasp shock!* Yes, I wrote about a straight pairing. Yes, I'm aware this is a shounen-ai game. And yes, I will probably clobber anyone who complains that I chose to support a straight couple in a shounen-ai series, cause female characters need love too!

Anyway, this is my submission to the SummerFes, and my first attempt at something light-hearted/humorous, so go easy on me. It is /horribly/ late; I started this story in June, and as the months kept rolling by, I told myself, "I absolutely will finish by the end of August!" ...I finished at 11:55 p.m., August 30th. And it isn't even a long piece! Shameful, I know.

As for the title, I chose it because I felt it best described the kind of relationship Ruby and Lhodo have; there are simply "sparks" between them, in both a teasing/rival way and also in a romantic way. And the final scene reflects my own personal thoughts on Lhodo's male/female complications. I can't help but believe she really is more of a woman than simply a man stuck in a female's body, and that opinion is reflected in the writing.

~~~~~

"Here you are." Ruby walked up to the brunette woman who was leaning against the side of a stand with her arms crossed, the light from a paper lantern illuminating her deep purple yukata, glinting off the bright yellow butterflies and white and pink flowers patterning it.

"What do you want?" Lhodo snapped back at the redhead, the look on her face giving off the message that she obviously did not want to be bothered.

"I was the unfortunate one who was sent to check on ya after you ran off earlier," he answered in an indifferent tone.

"Hmph, it isn't like I need supervision, you know. I should've just stayed back at the camp with Zil," she mumbled under her breath.

"Ah, are ya really that upset about losin' the 'Miss Yukata' contest to Platina?" Ruby jibed, unable to keep from mentioning it. He tried to keep from laughing but failed miserably, a small chuckle quickly turning into a roaring laughter, causing his eyes to water.

His laughter was quickly put to an end when a wooden sandle sharply met his shin. "/Shut up/," Lhodo said, glaring, "or next time I'll kick a bit higher."

"All right, point taken," he said, backing away from the angry girl, wincing in pain. He knew better than to test her; when she was angry, she meant serious business.

"Honestly! How could he win 'Miss Yukata' when he isn't even a 'miss'!?"

Ruby doubted he'd survive if he answered, but decided to risk it. "Umm... think about that for a minute, Nee-chan. He's much more feminine than you, and besides... you aren't really a 'miss' either."

He caught sight of the flying leg in the corner of his vision and quickly dodged, just barely escaping a very unpleasant experience in his most sensitive area. He let out a deep sigh of relief, straightening his slightly disheveled dark blue happi. "Geez, do you ever hold a grudge! You were the one that asked!"

"Did you come here just to tease me about it? If so, you've had your fun, so shove off," she said, turning around in a blur of long brown hair to head into the bustle of booths and stands of the Summer Festival.

Catching her by the long sleeve of her yukata, he pulled her back. "No, that's not why... Well, maybe a little." He ducked instinctively when he saw the angry amber eyes glare up at him, but was pleasantly surprised to find that her fist remained at her side instead of coming toward his head. "You really think I'd want to tag along with Jade and Platina by myself, having to put up with all their flirtin'? I'd rather give them their time alone than be subjected to watchin' them feed shaved ice to each other. Bleck." He made a disgusted face at the thought.

Lhodo's expression finally softened a little, and she even cracked a small smile from the mental image Ruby's words had caused. "Oh, oh, sounds terrible. But do you really think hanging around the festival with me would be any better?"

"Hmm, well, you do make a good point; after your poor glass heart was broken by your defeat in the yukata contest, I fear what would happen if I won you in the carnival games."

Lhodo coughed. "Is that a challenge I hear? Sounds to me like someone is speaking from their testosterone-driven pride. Ah, how great it would be for your tough-guy image to be beaten by a /girl/," Lhodo retorted back cooly.

Ruby smiled, crossing his arms. "Name your game and stakes, Nee-chan."

She smiled back slyly. "Goldfish catching, loser buys the winner... okonomiyaki!" she declared, knowing that particular festival food would drive up her personal challenge to Ruby, as she assumed from his dialect that he must be a fan of the pancake-like pizza.

His purple eyes gleamed as he caught the hint, and he nodded. He bowed slightly, making a gesture toward the goldfish booth. "Ladies first."

With a quick glare and a slug to his arm as she passed by, Lhodo led the way through the glow of paper lanterns, pushing her way through anyone unfortunate enough to get in her way. Inwardly she was happy to have Ruby's company, but she wasn't about to let that show; she had to crush Ruby's ego a bit for his earlier amusement at her expense.

A large grin spread across her face; it was certain to be an interesting evening.

~~~~~

A long string of expletives was heard from Ruby as once again his rice paper scoop broke on the surface of the water. "How can anyone catch a freakin' goldfish with /rice paper/?" he yelled, shaking the broken scoop around angrily.

Lhodo laughed as she dangled her bowl -- which already contained five swimming goldfish -- tauntingly under Ruby's nose.

Glaring over at her, he handed a coin to the vendor for yet another scoop.

"Oi, leave enough money to buy my okonomiyaki... I'm going to want the most expensive they have, you know."

"Shut your big mouth, you are scarin' away the fish!" he said through gritted teeth as he knelt over the tank, a bead of sweat falling down the side of his face as he watched the fish in deep concentration.

She smiled in amusement watching him; he looked cute when he was so serious and determined, much different than his normal flamboyant behavior. "Do you want some help?" she asked, coming up behind him to lean over his shoulder, a long lock of brown hair sliding forward to brush against Ruby's half-exposed chest.

"No, I /do not/ need help!" he spat back, but she had already knelt down behind him, capturing his arms in her hands.

"Here, like this." She leaned forward, pressing herself up against his back, turning his captured hand to point the scoop at an angle. "If you angle it downward and keep your bowl close, and then concentrate on the fish very carefully... as soon as one comes under you, you dip the scoop in quickly so you can come under the fish and flip it up out of the water to catch it. The trick is waiting for the fish to come to you and acting quickly."

He could feel his face starting to match the color of his hair from the feel of her well-sized bosom pressed up against his back, from the softness and warmth of her skin... Foolishly he replied, "I don't think anyone could concentrate enough to catch a fish under these circumstances, Nee-chan."

"Hmm..." She smiled at him impishly, then murmered into his ear, "Still think Platina is more of a 'miss' than me?" Then she quickly pulled away and pushed his head down into the tank.

She then started walking away, calling over her shoulder, "As soon as you've cooled off, I'll be waiting with a nice big tab at the okonomiyaki stand for you."

~~~~~

Lhodo took a big bite of her okonomiyaki, making a show of chewing it and "mmmm"-ing in front of Ruby, to further rub in his defeat. She picked up a large piece in her chopsticks, sticking it right under his nose. "Sure you don't want some, Ruby~?" she asked in her sickeningly sweet girly voice.

"/Shut up/," he mumbled as he shot her an evil purple glance. He then once again turned away, continuing his task of wringing water out of his headband.

"Well, you /did/ deserve it for making fun of me earlier, but I'll consider us even now." She popped the piece of cooked dough into her mouth, giving him a pat on the back. "So stop sulking already."

With slanted eyes, he looked down at her plate. The smell finally got the better of him, and he grabbed a pair of chopsticks and stole a large piece, popping it in his mouth before she could stop him.

"/Hey/!" she protested, pushing her plate away. "If you want some, buy your own! I won this fair and square!"

"It's a bit bland," he said between chews. After swallowing, he continued, "You should add this." He reached over and pulled over the saucer of ground wasabi that was sitting nearby on the counter.

"Ewwwww! Ruby, that's gross! I'm not putting wasabi on my okonomiyaki!"

Ruby dug his finger into the saucer, scooping up a large dollop of the spicy paste. Popping his entire finger into his mouth he licked off the wasabi, enjoying the look of shock on her face.

"That's disgusting, eating wasabi raw like that!" she said as she turned away, though the sight had already made her lose a good deal of her appetite.

"What, don't think you could handle it?" he teased as he scooped up some more onto his finger, and then wrapping his arm around her, he tauntingly shook it under her nose.

"That isn't the point, who would want to?" she protested, pushing his arm off.

"I challenge you." His purple eyes sparkled at her as he grinned.

"What? Oh come on, are you that much of a poor sport over losing to a woman?" she asked with narrowed eyes, resting her chin in her palm, her elbow propped on the counter. "Just what do you think you would gain from a challenge like that, other than a sick stomach?" She giggled a little, looking at his determined expression; there was something cute about the normally very care-free man looking so serious. "If you just want to win some ice cream off me or something, you /could/ just try asking me nicely. I'd laugh at you first, of course, but I'd buy you some, I know your pockets are pretty empty now," she added, giving him a pat on the back.

"Arrgh! It isn't about winnin' somethin', this is about a man's pride!" he said, pounding a clenched fist on the counter as he said it to make a point.

Lhodo let out a laugh, patting him on the back some more. "If you feel a need to regain your pride, can't you at least pick something more feasible? Like... dart throwing or something?"

"Whaaa? Oh come on, now that isn't fair! You fight with throwin' knives, you'd have an obvious advantage! Do you really feel such a need to humiliate me?" He turned away in a fake sulk.

"Don't think you could handle that, huh? Heh." Amber eyes flashing, she tossed her brown hair back over her shoulder. "All right, then what do you have in mind?"

"I never said I couldn't handle it!" he said in defense. "I'd just expect an even match. That's fair, right?"

"Just what kind of handicap do you suggest?" she asked, looking at him out of the corner of her eye. "You don't expect me to wear a blindfold or have my dominate hand tied behind my back or something outrageous like that, do you?"

"Naah, I have a better idea!" He put his arm around her shoulders and turned her to look over to a different food stand, this one sporting drunken festival-goers laughing over frothing steins of beer. "You'd probably be inebriated after a couple beers; let's see how ya can throw with hazy vision!"

"Oi... What makes you think I'd be drunk after only a couple beers?!" she protested, turning her head and glaring up at him.

"C'mon Nee-chan, you know I could put down three times as much as you and not be affected," Ruby muttered, sweatdropping.

"Oho, so that's how it is, is it?" She pulled away, crossing her arms as she looked up at him. "I don't see how you insinuating a drinking contest is any different than me suggesting dart-throwing, /but/... At least I am willing to beat you at your own game."

Ruby bit his lip, trying to keep his composure. Sometimes he really didn't understand how anyone could put up with her attitude, but there was just something about her stubbornness that actually seemed to have the opposite effect on him. He couldn't imagine anyone but her getting away with it, either.

As he was lost in this thought, he was brought back by a sharp pull on his arm, and with her silk-clad elbow hooked with his, she drug him over to the booth.

~~~~~

"Gi-- *hic* Gimme another one!" Lhodo demanded, sprawled across the counter, motioning over to the vendor with her hand. Without questioning, another frothy stein was pushed over to her.

"Nee-chan, I really think you've had enou--"

"Shut up!" Lhodo said loudly, straightening herself and quickly chugging down the liquid. She pushed the stein over with the other empty ones. "Now lessee... That makes... Makes..." She took a good look at the glasses, squinting her eyes. "Fourteen! /Hah/! I'm a-- *hic* ahead."

Ruby sweatdropped. "Nee-chan, I think you've got double-vision. That makes seven." He pointed over to his own collection of steins. "I have ten."

"Nooooo! You're cheating!" she whined, banging her fists on his arm. "/Oi/! Bring me another one!" she yelled back to the vendor.

"Hey, hey, the idea was for you to get slightly enebriated, not completely and utterly hammered!" Ruby protested, intercepting the new stein.

"You jus'-- You jus' don't wanna lose again!" She reached across him, trying to grab the stein from his hand. "C'mon Ruby, gimme it!"

He quickly drank down the contents of the mug, and then handed it to her. "There ya go."

"Cheater!" She slugged him in the arm again with a glare, but the movement caused her to lose her balance on the stool and she slipped back; luckily Ruby's fast reflexes were not hindered in the least from his alcohol consumption, and his arms were there to catch her. Helping her back up, she slumped over onto his shoulder with a groan.

"Okay, that's enough for you, Nee-chan..." He sighed. "Why'd you keep pushin' yourself? I only wanted to have a little fun with you, not get you sick!"

"Nnnn... Maybe it's that 'man's pride' you referred to before slipping through..." she mumbled. "I'll admit defeat this time... but... you'll never beat me in dart throwing..."

"You can't be serious." Ruby sweatdropped. "Nee-chan, even if you are able to stand, your vision and balance are goin' to be so off you'd probably misaim so badly you'd behead the vendor!

"Well, it'd be his fault for charging so much to play jus' to win some dumb stuffed teddy bear."

Ruby sighed again, and then stood, gathering Lhodo in his arms, carrying her.

"/Oi/! Put me down!" she protested immediately, beating her fists against his chest. "I'm not gunna let you humiliate me like this!"

"Don't complain. You're in no shape to walk. I'm not gunna be responsible if ya fall down and hurt yourself." He tightened his grip around her, making his way past the crowded stands. "So, ya have no choice."

She let out a grumble, but just didn't have enough energy to fight him about it. Resigned, she slumped down against him, cradled in his strong arms.

~~~~~

Finding a secluded area away from where most of the festival-goers had gathered to view the fireworks, Ruby set Lhodo down on the grass and then sat down beside her, propping her up, using his body as support.

She groaned. "This isn't fair... if I had my old body, I'd've been able to drink that much without a problem for sure."

Ruby was quiet for a moment, before asking, "Would you really rather be a man again?"

She looked up at him, noticing his eyes were staring off straight ahead, rather than meeting hers. She lowered them, taking a deep breath. "It just feels so insulting... The women of the Abyss are so weak. I don't want to be like them."

"You've never been like them, Nee-chan," Ruby said, looking down at her. He let out a little laugh, then continued, "You can make most of the men in the Abyss shiver in terror! Well... except for me of course," he added with a wink. "Weakness definitely should be the least of your worries."

"Thanks," she said softly. "But still, I always feel this need to prove myself to be on an equal level with men. I can't stand to feel inferior because of this body."

He averted his eyes again, then said softly, "Because you are still a man inside, right? A body can't really change a person's inner-self, I suppose."

"That isn't true!" she said with some force, looking at him with her golden eyes. Her tone then softened, "That... isn't completely true. Yes, I am still the same person I was then, but... I think that curse really did change more than my body, because I see things now from a woman's perspective, I think like a woman, I experience things as a woman, and emotionally... I feel things as a woman. And I know this, because I remember how such things felt differently when I was a man."

"Ah." Ruby let out a deep breath. "I think that is why you are so strong, Nee-chan. Because you understand how to see things from both of those perspectives, somethin' no one else can do... Unless someone else went and made that Aprasas mad, that is."

She slugged him at his last comment, but let out a smile as she looked up at him. Then her expression changed to serious, her amber eyes piercing up at him. "Ruby, tell me honestly... do you think I am more suited as a woman, or as a man?"

He looked at her, arching an eyebrow. "Eh? Is this one of those questions that never has an answer that won't incite wrath, that women like to ask so much?" He let out a nervous laugh. "I think that just proves you make a much better lady, Nee-chan. Even if you don't... act very lady-like."

Another slug. "And you are very terrible at knowing how to give a lady compliments!"

He rubbed at his arm. "Jeez, you know how bruised I'm goin' be after all your abuse?" He smiled. "But, you are cute when you are angry, so you are fun to tease. If it really does bother you though, I'll stop."

She shook her head. "No... Asking you not to tease me would be just as unfair as you asking me not to slug you in response." She smiled. "That's just how we are, isn't it?"

He nodded, slowly. "Ya, I guess so," he replied, though as soon as he said it, he suspected that was another loaded question.

She looked away, her cheeks coloring slightly. "But sometimes I wonder exactly which parts of what you say are just jokes, and which parts are serious."

"Like...?" he pressed, cocking his eyebrows.

"Like... Like when you said Platina was more feminine than me!"

Ruby laughed. "Well, you have to admit, in some ways he really is." He moved his arm to wrap around her, pressing her in closer. "Ha, now you can't slug me in the arm again!"

"Not fair..." she said, groaning, as she laid her head down to rest on his shoulder, shutting her eyes. "This body really is such a pain... I'm too masculine to attract guys and too feminine to attract girls. I end up stuck in the middle," she mumbled into the silk sleeve of his happi.

"Nah... I like Nee-chan for being Nee-chan. I don't think I'd care what body ya have," he said softly, brushing away her bangs from her face. Then smiling, he added, "But... you are very fortunate you were given such a beautiful body, Nee-chan! Platina does not have nice curves like you."

She opened her eyes and looked up, surprised. "Is... Is that you being serious? Or... is that you joking again?"

Looking slightly putout, he answered in a somewhat annoyed tone, "Of course I'm bein' serious!" Putting his fingers under her chin he pushed her face up, and then bent down to place a gentle kiss on her lips.

Her amber eyes went wide for a moment, but she didn't resist; instead she wrapped her arms around him, pressing into it until it had ended, and Ruby had pulled his head away. "Do ya believe I am serious now?"

She touched her lips with her fingers, as if she was still trying to register what had happened. Her face red, she looked up at him, her voice shaking a little from embarrassment, though she tried to make it sound stern, "Now... You can't call me Nee-chan anymore!"

"Awww..." he mock complained. "Alright. I understand... Lhodo."

She gave a small smile, but it was replaced with a groan from her alcohol-induced state, and she settled back against Ruby's shoulder, shutting her eyes once again. There was a long pause of silence, and then he felt her breathing turn deep and steady as she was pressed against him.

"Ah, c'mon Lhodo, you can't fall asleep now or you'll miss the fireworks!" he protested, but she was already out.

He looked down at her, not used to seeing her look so peaceful, and he just couldn't bear to wake her after seeing her like that. He figured she'd probably clobber him if he did anyway. With a sigh, he bent down and kissed the top of her head, letting her sleep against him as he turned his eyes upward to watch the bursts of firey color against the black night sky.