Akane watched Shampoo leave, and then she glared furiously at Ranma.
“Oh, come on, now,” Ranma raised his hands in disgust, “You know perfectly well—”
Akane whirled the opposite way and stalked off, throwing her words behind her, “Save it for someone who cares!”
“Hey, Akane!” Ranma watched her for a moment, then sped after her, grabbing her arm roughly, “Akane! Will you—”
Akane slapped his face, “Let go of me this instant! How dare you!” Akane knew damn well what sort of tricks that the Chinese Amazon liked to play – and she also knew that however much Ranma was in the right, he liked to play the game with Shampoo. And Akane was very angry at the moment. She glared at Ranma, daring him to try his excuses one more time.
He obliged, reaching out and grabbing her by the shoulders, “Akane! You really are as dumb as a brick! Shampoo—”
A familiar voice interrupted them, mildly but firmly saying, “I don’t think the lady wants your attentions.”
Ranma didn’t glance around, growling, “Stay out of it asshole!”
He was unprepared for the blow from the side that knocked him twenty yards down the street.
Akane blinked at Ranma’s sudden disappearance, “Thank you, Ryo—” she paused mid-word as she saw her rescuer, “—ga?” she made the name into a question. It was Ryoga’s face, Ryoga’s build, Ryoga’s eyes, Ryoga’s fangs… But this man was dressed in a suit, and his hair was neatly trimmed and tamed, he wore no bandanna… And he wasn’t Ryoga – Akane knew it in her soul, the way she always knew Ranma. The stranger was dusting his hands in satisfaction as he gazed after Ranma… Until he heard the name. Then he blinked and looked back to her, “Ryoga? Oh dear—”
Whatever he was going to say was interrupted by Ranma’s blow, “I told you to stay out of it!” The man was rocked back by the force of the punch. Ranma, ready to start a fight, put down his hands in surprise, “Ryoga? What the hell?”
The man turned as he wiped blood from the corner of his mouth, “I guess that’s a fair one on me. Ryoga’s always running into my friends – about time I ran into some of his. Though your manner of greeting leaves me wondering.” Then he looked at the blood on his hand, “You were expecting Ryoga to take that punch… How good has the little runt gotten over the years?”
Akane and Ranma automatically moved next to each other, ready to defend if necessary, but not, quite, in fighting stances. “Are you Ryoga’s cousin?”
The familiar mouth twitched up but the grin didn’t reach the familiar brown eyes, “Cousin? No. Ryoga’s my twin brother, though I’m the elder by two days.”
Akane blinked, “Two days?”
Ranma asked, “Twin?”
“Forgive me, I haven’t introduced myself. I am Hibiki Toshiga.”
Akane and Ranma were forced by good manners to reciprocate. Then Akane also invited him home for tea, not understanding her reluctance.
The stranger, Ryoga’s brother, grinned as if seeing her unease, “Is Ryoga there now?”
Akane wasn’t quite sure how to answer that one. Ranma was a little more blunt, “He might be – he comes and goes.”
“Still hasn’t learned, eh?” This time the grin reached his eyes, but it was not a very nice grin. “I’d be honored to accompany my little brother’s friends.”
Uneasily, Ranma and Akane walked back to their house with Toshiga. Several conversations were started and dropped before Toshiga finally took over the brunt of it, giving a monologue of the current politics in the government.
Akane walked out into the yard, glad to get away from Toshiga for a moment, though he and Ranma would be right behind her. She closed her eyes for a moment, wondering why she should feel so uneasy about Ryoga’s brother. It was probably the eerie similarity… Even knowing they were twins didn’t quite help.
Akane turned with her face expressing her gladness, “P-chan!” She started for the small black pig, arms outstretched, then drew them back. She glanced behind her, Ranma was in sight but not Toshiga yet, “P-chan! Hide! Quickly.” There was no way he could get into the house without Toshiga seeing the little pig.
The black pig twitched his ears in puzzlement even as Ranma came up to her.
“Now, P-chan! Go.” Akane glanced around, “Those bushes – get under those bushes now, P-chan!”
P-chan obediently slunk off, his ears flat against his head in shame.
“Oh, for…” Akane rolled her eyes – he would take it as something against him.
“Why?” Ranma asked, watching the pig as he crawled under the bushes.
Akane glanced back again. Toshiga was just coming out. “You idiot,” she hissed quietly, “he’s his twin. He’s going to recognize Ryoga no matter—” She was interrupted by a growl from the bushes, as P-chan ran out and stood in front of Toshiga, small body quivering in anger and rage.
Ranma stared. Ryoga was really angry, and now Ranma knew that Ryoga had never really been angry at him before. Not like this.
Toshiga stopped and looked at the pig, eyebrows raising and jaw dropping in a genuine smile, fangs showing, “Well, you finally found a form that suits you – congratulations, Oto-to [Younger Brother].”
The pig launched himself in a blur at his brother. Just before the pig crashed into him, Toshiga’s form flickered and he was suddenly standing just to one side of where he’d been before. The pig smashed into the wall, breaking the wood on the house. He got up and launched himself again. Again, Toshiga flickered, but this time brought his hand across in a slap as he appeared again, sending the pig flying across the yard. Ryoga got up and charged again. This time as Toshiga flickered, the pig changed course mid-air and smashed into Toshiga as he reappeared. Toshiga grunted, taking a step back even as he kicked out and connected with the pig. Ryoga smashed into the far stone wall, causing parts of it to crumble down. Then he got up again.
Toshiga frowned, “Ryoga, you’re as incompetent as ever. And have no clue as to what you’re doing. However, I’ll not shame you in front of your friends.” And his form flickered, disappearing without reappearing.
The pig took two steps forward, then stumbled to a halt, tears streaming down his face as he stared at the empty spot on the patio.
Akane broke the stunned stillness in the air, running to the small pig and dropping to her knees beside him, “Ryoga… Oh, Ryoga…” She gathered him up in her arms, cuddling him closely, “Ryoga, I’m sorry I brought him here. Oh, Ryoga, please don’t cry. Ryoga…”
Ranma came to stand next to her, looking down at his friend with worry, then he turned his back so not to see his friend’s shame while still being near to offer support.
Nabiki and Kasumi stood at the patio door, both silent and tense. Kasumi’s hand was at her mouth, and Nabiki’s eyes were wide.
In Akane’s arms, the pig didn’t move, held only by her grip, the tears still falling steadily, the eyes no longer staring at anything in particular.
“Ryoga!” Akane tried again, “Ryoga—Toshiga left because you were winning that fight. You got through his defenses and that blow hurt him. He was running away. He’s the one who should be ashamed. Ryoga, you won. Ryoga, please.”
Ranma cleared his throat, “She’s right. You were better.”
The pig didn’t move.
Akane started crying. She stood up, still holding him close, turning to look at Ranma though watery eyes, “Ranma…” she held the pig out to him as if giving over her most prized possession.
Ranma bit his lip than took the pig, “Come on, Ryoga. We’ve gotta talk,” emphasizing the last word slightly. Holding the pig by the nape of his neck, Ranma paused for a moment as he tried to figure out Akane’s glare. Then he blushed and rearranged his hold on Ryoga so that he was balancing the pig carefully in his hands before he walked into the house and went straight to the bath.
The tub was empty, so Ranma put the pig down on the floor and turned the hot shower on his friend. But even when Ryoga was in human form, he simply knelt on the floor, hands spread out, head bowed down. Ranma didn’t think he was crying anymore, but… “Ryoga?” His friend didn’t answer, but straightened up to a normal kneeling position. He wouldn’t look at Ranma as he muttered, “Leave me alone.”
Ranma bit his lip and remembered the look in Akane’s eyes as she handed the pig to him, “I can’t do that.”
As if the answer was no answer, Ryoga’s eyes fixed on the wall and became vacant, not seeing anything anymore.
“Ryoga…” I won’t leave him, so he leaves me, Ranma sighed. And watched his friend for several long minutes. When there had been no change in all that time, Ranma sighed again, then got the bucket and soap, moving behind Ryoga. Hesitantly at first, then with surer strokes, he washed his friend’s back in a subservience that showed how much he cared. Yet Ryoga didn’t seem to notice, his body still and unmoving. Finally, Ranma got to his hair, shampooing around the bandanna, then turned the water on for a rinse, “Close your eyes.”
Ranma almost flinched at the sudden movement from Ryoga, then he grinned, “I warned you.” He finished rinsing Ryoga’s hair even as Ryoga twisted around.
“What do you think you’re doing???” Ryoga’s voice squeaked.
Ranma avoided answering, “If you think you’re clean now… Shall we go out?”
Ryoga blinked. And blinked again. His eyes turned sad, evidently remembering what had happened, but he didn’t disappear on Ranma again. “I guess… I have to.” Ryoga sighed and stood up, taking a towel and looking for his clothes. They found them folded in a nice pile in the outer room. Ryoga put them on, then stood for a moment, his hand on the door, staring at it. Ranma stirred uneasily.
“Ranma,” Ryoga’s voice was low but steady, “You’re more of a brother to me than he’s ever been. Thank you.” He opened the door and walked out while Ranma was still standing there, stunned.
All the family was gathered in the dining room. The three sisters were hovering anxiously. The dads were studiously playing shoji and to all appearances ignoring the younger set. Yet they hadn’t been there before.
Kasumi approached Ryoga first, “Ryoga-kun, please, sit. I made these for you.”
Obediently sitting at the table, Ryoga barely glanced at his favorite gyozas. “Thank you.”
Nabiki cleared her throat, “I made some tea…”
Ranma raised his eyebrows. Nabiki glared at him, blushing, “It’s the only thing I can make, okay?”
“Thank you, Nabiki-san,” Ryoga’s voice was as quiet and still as the rest of him.
Akane moved forward, and brought out a small dish with some ugly brown shapes piled on it. Ranma’s eyes widened in horror. “Ryoga, I made some cookies…” Akane placed them hesitantly down on the table next to Kasumi’s dish.
“Thank you, Akane-san,” Ryoga made no move for anything, the small signs of life he’d shown before fading under the dark depression.
The three sisters and Ranma shifted uncomfortably, not quite sure what else to do.
Then Shampoo came in, carrying a covered dish, “Nii hao!”
Ranma bit his lip, “Not now, Shampoo.”
Shampoo shook her head, “Foolish husband – this not for Ranma, this be for Ryoga.” She put the plate down and took off the cover, beaming proudly, “Shampoo make special boiled pork for Ryoga!”
Ranma and Akane fell down, while Kasumi raised her hand to her lips. Nabiki grinned.
Ryoga stared at the platter for a moment, then his lips twitched up and he laughed, “Thanks, Shampoo! I needed that.”
Getting to his feet, Ranma muttered, “Geez – I guess all women are alike. What is it with the food?”
Picking up the chopsticks, Ryoga took up one of the gyozas, “Delicious as always, Kasumi-san.” He took a sip of the tea, “Jasmine. Nice. Thank you, Nabiki-san.” He reached out for the cookies with no sign of hesitation and popped one in his mouth. He chewed it for a moment and then his eyes went wide.
“Oh no, I’ve done it again, haven’t I?” wailed a despondent Akane.
“Uh, no…” Ryoga swallowed the last of the cookie. “Akane-san, I always think eating your cooking is the most wonderful, special treat I could ever have, because it’s made by you,” he picked up another cookie and nibbled on it, “These also taste good!”
Akane blinked. Kasumi beamed proudly.
“You’re kidding,” Ranma reached for a cookie. This, he had to see.
Akane absently bonked him with her mallet, “I made those for Ryoga – hands off!”
Ryoga smiled gently, “I don’t mind if he has one.”
As Akane stared at Ryoga, Ranma reached out again. This time he was hit with both a mallet and a chopstick.
“Hey! But you said…” Ranma glared accusingly at Ryoga.
Ryoga shrugged, “I said I didn’t mind – Akane never answered.”
Akane smiled at both of them, happy in her heart to see the teasing interplay again, “It’s okay with me too.”
Cautiously, Ranma picked up a cookie, waiting for somebody to hit him. They didn’t, and he looked at the burnt lump of carbohydrates dubiously. “Ryoga, are you sure…”
“Well, you don’t have to eat it!” Akane huffed. “If you’re going to be like that—” she reached out to snatch the cookie from him.
Ranma drew it back out of her reach and then popped it in his mouth. His eyes widened, “He’s right. By all the gods, he’s right.” He blinked a couple of times, then reached for another one. Another chopstick hit him. Ranma looked over at Ryoga, “Now what?”
“I said you could have one.” Ryoga’s voice was the arrogant righteousness that he always used when defying Ranma. But there was a sadness in his eyes… Ranma stared at him for a long moment, trying to figure it out.
Oh. It went against Ranma’s grain. But… “May I please have another?” He never asked for anything. Rarely said please. But…
Ryoga’s whole face lit up in a sudden smile that none of them had ever seen before. He held out the plate, “Have all you want,” his voice overflowing with joy.
Ranma stared for a moment, then dropped his gaze to the plate. He took a cookie. All he was waiting for was for me to ask… He just wanted somebody to ask instead of take. And then he shares it all. The corners of Ranma’s eyes tingled, and he tried not to rub them. ‘You’re more of a brother…’ Ryoga…
Picking up the new pair of chopsticks that Kasumi had put at his side, Ryoga dug into the boiled pork as if he was getting rid of P-chan by doing so. “This is great, Shampoo,” he grinned at the Amazon, eyes glittering with the joke, “I appreciate the thought!”
Ranma looked at the pork. Then turned to Akane, “Okay – how long have you known?”
“Huh?” Akane also glanced at the pork, “Oh, that.” She blushed, “Since the first day.”
Ranma glanced to Ryoga, who studiously watched his food. Ranma turned back to Akane, “Okay, I’ll bite – how?”
Akane shrugged, “Oh come on. You’re fighting Ryoga in the rain. Later you come back with the neighbor’s dog, pour hot water over it and are surprised when it doesn’t change. In the meantime, the pig is throwing a fit trying to attack you. I think it was rather obvious.”
“Not to mention,” Nabiki added, “the walls in the bath are a little thin. We could hear you two talking.”
“You all knew?” Ranma watched them nod, “But you never said anything.”
Kasumi apologized, “I’m sorry, it just seemed as if you didn’t want us to know.”
Ranma glanced again to Ryoga, “Are you going to say anything here?”
Ryoga finished the last of the gyozas. He looked up at Akane, “Why did you let me sleep in your room?”
“Why did you run to me from Ranma?” countered Akane.
They stared at each other for a long moment before simultaneously answering, “I felt safe—” They broke off and grinned.
“I felt safe with you,” Ryoga said softly, “It wasn’t that I was afraid of Ranma, but you… I was…” he blushed and fell silent.
Akane smiled sweetly, “Me too. I knew instantly that I could trust you. And you’d keep me safe. You…” she also trailed off.
The Moment was getting intense. Ryoga glanced away, adding, “Besides, it made Ranma so mad…”
Akane laughed, “Yeah.”
Ranma glowered at both of them, unsettled, but determined not to let it show. Changing the subject, he turned to Shampoo, “What are you doing here anyway, Shampoo? Were you following me?”
Shampoo shook her head, “Shampoo feel that her shiong-dee was hurt. So Shampoo came.”
Ryoga put down the chopsticks and stared at her.
The others all looked at each other in confusion, “Your ‘what’, Shampoo?”
Ryoga answered slowly, “It’s Chinese. It means ‘brother.’ Shampoo, what…?”
The purple-haired Amazon tilted her head to him, “You be Great-grandmother’s student. So be Shampoo. That make us jia-ren…” she paused and then tried the Japanese word out, “brother?”
Stifling a grin, Ryoga corrected her, “Siblings. Jia-ren – family.” He stared at her intently, searching for something within her. Searching. Wondering. Questioning. Then he switched his gaze to Ranma, his brown eyes wide as he gave his friend the same look.
The Amazon touched his shoulder lightly, “So. Tell Shampoo who hurt you and Shampoo will kill.”
Ryoga choked, “I don’t think… Please don’t, Shampoo – my dad wouldn’t be very happy, and I’m not quite sure what that would do to me.”
“Huh?” Ranma blinked at the phrasing.
Done eating, Ryoga moved away from the table, taking the last cookie that Ranma had left for him. He walked out on the patio and stared into the yard. Then he faced the group and pulled up his shirt, “I wasn’t winning that fight – Toshiga was.”
They gasped at the dark purple bruise covering the right side of Ryoga’s chest. Ranma and Akane looked between each other and Ryoga, “But… He never got a solid blow in! None that could hurt you, at least.”
Ryoga grimaced, “He didn’t. This was the blow I struck him.”
The group sat down on the patio, very suddenly.
“Oh my,” said Kasumi.
Shampoo was the only one still standing and she looked puzzled. Ryoga explained to her, “Toshiga is my twin brother. Every hurt he takes also affects me. Unfortunately,” Ryoga wrinkled his nose, “it doesn’t go the other way,” adding wryly, “otherwise he’d be mincemeat after Ranma pounded on me.” He looked to the koi pond and sighed. “I guess… I better explain this.” His reluctance to was obvious.
“Ryoga-kun…” Akane whispered his name with empathy.
Ranma glanced over to her, then back at Ryoga. He bit his lip; now was not the time to be jealous, however much he might be. “I never knew you even had a brother, let alone a twin.”
“No…” The brown eyes were shaded with memories. “Toshiga was born first, a strong, healthy baby. But… our mother was in labor for two more days before I was born. I was weak and small, barely alive, sick from the moment I first breathed air. I was only alive because my mother did not want to lose me. The mid-wife could have gotten me out if… but my mother didn’t let them. And instead she died from the blood loss and trauma.” Ryoga bit his lip.
“Couldn’t they have done a c-section?” Nabiki was as practical as ever.
Ryoga shook his head, “We weren’t in… anywhere near a city. The family had been traveling in China. My mother wasn’t suppose to go into labor for another month, but… Normally Dad could have just teleported us back, but everything went just fine with Toshiga… And by the time it was apparent that she was having difficulty with me, it wasn’t possible to teleport us because of the mingling and separation of my mother’s and my auras. Apparently, my inability to use the Family Talent also interfered with teleporting her out…” Ryoga bowed his head, “She died because of me, three times over.”
Shampoo frowned. Then she pulled off one of the bells on her hair and tapped it. It made a tingling sound that wasn’t audible, yet they all heard it. They all looked at her, while Shampoo calmly replaced her bell and ignored their looks.
Ranma took the opportunity to ask, “But, Ryoga, I’ve met your mom…”
“Step-mom,” Ryoga shook his head, “I still wasn’t any too well off after I was born. And Toshiga was a handful. Father married again. He tried to find somebody who could love both his sons equally.” Softly, he said, “He didn’t succeed.”
“Ryoga…” Akane reached out to him, but Ryoga didn’t notice.
“She only loved me,” Ryoga stared at the pond, “The one who needed her, the sick, weakly one. The one who cried through the night. The one who would come home black and blue from bruises and broken bones from being beaten up. The one who reached out for her attention.” Another tear fell down his face, “She never loved Toshiga. Strong and competent. Learned to use the family Talent at the youngest age ever heard of. Bright – always got top grades. She never saw that he needed her too.”
“But, but… but you two are twins – didn’t you…” Ranma trailed off.
Ryoga shook his head, “I’d killed his mother. She would have been alive if they’d just let me die. If I hadn’t interfered with the teleport. If she hadn’t been carrying twins… She would still be alive. I killed her, and then I stole our second mother’s affection. He had our Father’s pride in him – but Father rarely came home.” Ryoga sighed, “Toshiga ran away when he was ten. Being strong, smart, and talented, his age was no barrier. He did well for himself.”
“You’re not weak and sickly now!” Ranma didn’t believe half of this.
Ryoga shrugged, “My ‘talent’ has always been captious and erratic. I think the month in the desert baked all the diseases and viruses out of my body. And then the weeks after with the monks in the Himalayas… And spending a year in New Zealand will put weight on anybody! Shot up six inches in that one year.” Ryoga shook his head, “I’ve had a strange life, okay?” He half-grinned at Ranma, “Ask me about my umbrella sometime. Now that was a tale…”
Ranma started to ask it immediately but was interrupted by Cologne jumping down among them, “You called, Great-grand-daughter?”
Shampoo nodded, and pointed at Ryoga, “He think his talent caused mother die.”
Ryoga flinched, even though it was exactly what he’d said. He just wasn’t used to hearing anybody but him or Toshiga say it.
The ancient Amazon blinked, “Try that again, Shampoo. With a bit more detail, if you please.”
The younger Amazon sighed, “He son of man who teleport. Second twin.”
“Oh,” Cologne looked at Ryoga as if seeing him for the first time, “How interesting. Now what was that first part again?”
“He think his dad no able to teleport mom because of him.”
Cologne shook her head, “No, no. Not at all. In fact, the other way around.”
Ryoga put his mouth back where it belonged, only to ask intelligently, “HUH???”
“Well, I never thought of your getting lost before as a manifestation of the Phase Talent, but I suppose now it should have been obvious. Just as it should have been obvious all those years ago that a child linked with his mother as she died would not be able to use his Talent in a normal way. I’ve been a little dense, apparently.” Cologne looked directly at Ryoga, “The man… your father wasn’t able to teleport because your mother, who also had the Talent, was blocking him. She was determined to have her child in that spot, and nothing anybody would say would keep her from it.” Cologne shook her head, “Maligase was always such a stubborn woman.”
“Mali…” Ryoga’s voice was reverent, “Was that my mother’s name?”
“Oh yes. Maligase Trillian Hiraku Chao-Yin-Ai.”
The group on the patio all blinked in unison. Nabiki got out, “What an… amazing assortment of names.”
Cologne smiled fondly, “She had the Talent. Her parents had the Talent. Three of her grandparents… Her mother was born in America, of Swiss and Japanese descent. Her father was born in Japan of English and African and Korean and Russian. Maligase herself was born in China.” The old Amazon’s face settled into lines of sadness, “And when she was born, there was a prediction made about her children… That is why she returned and why she insisted on staying in the valley, though it cost her her life.”
Ranma leaned forward, “What was the prediction?”
“I don’t know.”
The group fell down.
Cologne shrugged, “She never told me. She might have told my grand-daughter, since they were soul-sisters, but even if she had, Mandolin would never have betrayed a confidence.” Cologne thought about it a moment, then offered, “If it’s important, your aunt probably knows it – she and Maligase traveled together a lot.”
“My…” Ryoga blinked, “I have an aunt?”
Cologne frowned at him, “What has your father been teaching you? Obviously nothing important.”
The comment immediately sent Ryoga spinning into the dark depression again. The group barely made out his words, “I can’t be trusted. I killed my mother. My talent is useless. I break things. I talk in my sleep. Who could trust me not to screw up or reveal secrets?” He snorted, “I wouldn’t even trust myself.”
(Unfinished. End for now.)