Revelations, Part One: "Of Life and Love" Chapter Three:
The white mists turned into darkness. And pain. "Ouch," Ryoga said. Or tried to. There was something wrong with his throat. He coughed, and swallowed. Dry. So dry. He took inventory of his body. Actually, his body didn’t feel so bad. What really hurt was his eyes. Ryoga closed them. And felt his tear glands suddenly starting to work, washing the dryness out. "Owww…" It felt like he’d been in the desert for three days without his eye shields on. Oh, that hurt! He blinked and blinked, trying to get his vision to work. What he wanted to do was just keep his eyes closed. Damn, they hurt. He swallowed several times. What have I been eating, sawdust? Well, at least he was awake now. That was the hardest time he’d ever had. He must have been really tired. And then Ryoga remembered why he’d been trying so hard to wake up.
There was no verbal response, and Ryoga reluctantly opened his eyes. It was dark out. But if he squinted, he could make out shapes. He saw Ranma’s face in front of him, head tilted to one side, eyes closed, lips parted slightly as he breathed shallowly. Unconscious. Ryoga glanced around and tried to move. The branches shook and twisted. Ryoga held still and they settled again. Well and truly trapped. This is a nice pickle. We need to get out. Closing his eyes again, Ryoga thought about the problem. There was some ancient growth on top of them. Lots of it. He could bust through the branches around them one by one, but he was a bit worried about the rest of the tree falling on them if he broke the wrong branch. And it looked like they were pretty much smack in the middle of it. Besides, Ranma was still out, and Ryoga would have to carry him in addition to breaking the branches. It would work better if Ranma was awake and then they could both move the branches – Ryoga bracing while Ranma moved… He opened his eyes again, "Hey, Ranma – you going to wake up anytime soon?" He moved his hand – and groaned outloud at the stiffness. How long have I been out? Making a fist and relaxing it again, Ryoga moved his hand until he could feel it again. It took awhile. He shifted around, getting to his hands and knees slowly, pushing the branches on his back up. The pressure was incredible. But nothing compared to trying to wake up. Brute strength was something that he could manage almost without trying.
Ryoga knelt on the ground… In a hole actually. Ranma’s body was lying on a loose pile of sand. They both were in a depression in the ground that was about a foot deep. Far enough down for Ranma to have been spared the worst of the branches, but not enough that Ryoga had. Admittedly, Ryoga hadn’t been trying for anything for himself. He was pleased that he’d actually managed to get the Breaking Point finished. It looked like most of the sand had been tossed out when they flew in, cushioning the blow. Oops… Ryoga suddenly thought of the weak point of his plan as he realized that if all the sand had come back in the hole, Ranma could have been smothered. Or more likely Ryoga himself since it had been his head facing down. He shrugged, Oh well – couldn’t think of everything. But it was odd that Ranma was unconscious if he’d been buffered from the worst of the impact. Ryoga carefully balanced himself on three points and moved his hand to Ranma’s neck to feel his pulse. He blinked in surprise at the coldness of his friend. Chilly, and clammy to the touch. The pulse was there, but it was weak and thin, beating so slowly Ryoga kept thinking he’d missed the beat before it came. Ryoga frowned, shock and hypothermia combined. Not good. He glanced around, how long was I out?
Doesn’t matter. Ryoga shook his head. What mattered was finding a way out now. He thought about it. Then realized he was kneeling on the solution. With one arm, he gathered Ranma up, pulling him into his chest and holding him as close as he could. He was thankful Ranma was still in girl form since that form was just a bit lighter and more compact. Ryoga centered himself and felt out to the earth below him. He felt for the connectiveness that he’d had earlier. He felt for the natural breaking points. Not the ones directly under their feet; but the ones below that. Layered down. Down deep. And then he triggered them carefully. Carefully and slowly. Ryoga didn’t want the incredible outpouring of energy, he wanted a gradual release and safe descent. The ground underneath them jerked and then slumped downward a couple of feet. A few broken branches fell down with them, but the tree stayed above – resting on the ground, unmindful of the small hole under one part of its huge trunk. Ryoga felt again for the breaking points. Lower down. Lower and deeper. In the same rectangular pattern. Rock had a lot of empty space in it. Break it up and there was less of it. The idea was the same as when the rock smashed on his hand the other day – break apart the rock below, and the rock above would fall in. But as carefully as he could – only a couple of feet at a time. They were on top of the rock above, and he didn’t want to hurt Ranma.
As soon as they were deep enough, Ryoga stood up, holding Ranma close to him. The clammy chill of his friend’s body worried him. But they weren’t out yet. Ryoga felt around him, looking for the easiest way to the surface – but not one that led back under the tree. In any normal situation, he’d just start breaking the rock all around him until he was out. But that wouldn’t work for Ranma. Ryoga’s body could withstand almost any impact – his natural toughness plus all the training Cologne-sama had given him had made him near impervious to anything except for Ranma. But Ranma himself didn’t have that endurance. And so… Ryoga searched for an easier route; and he grinned as he found their way out – following the path of one of the giant roots of the fallen tree. The oak tree had root systems that went out far. And there was one large root just a few more feet under them. The ground all around the root was already loose and fractured from the root pushing its way through the ground. It would take only a little effort on Ryoga’s part to use a domino breaking point and thereby create a crevice along the path of the root. The root, of course, would lead back to the base of the tree – and since the tree had fallen, out into the open. Ryoga felt for all the connecting points that he would need. Then kept them carefully locked into his mind as he turned, shielding Ranma from the wall where he activated the "BREAKING POINT!!!!!"
Some minutes later, they emerged from the darkness of the ground to the moonlit air above. Ryoga held Ranma in his arms and breathed in the fresh air. And glanced over at the fallen tree that had trapped them then provided a route out. The tree that had lived for hundreds of years in this same spot. The tree had seen the rains fall into a pattern of a stream that eroded the ground into a canyon, then the weather had changed and the stream moved elsewhere, leaving the canyon and the tree, the tree that had grown from a small little sapling into a master of its kind.
What the hell? Ryoga blinked, clearing his vision from the scenes that had filled it. His mind still felt dizzy from trying to see the perspective of a tree. Ryoga had always known he’d had a vivid imagination – but this was a bit much! Imagining he was the tree… Still… Ryoga glanced again at the broken tree and sorrowed that their careless actions had caused its fall.
But he had more important things to worry about and do. He knelt and laid Ranma down, keeping Ranma’s upper body over Ryoga’s knees so that he wasn’t directly on the chilly ground. Ryoga again checked his friend’s pulse and breathing. Not good. Not good at all. The hypothermia was well established and Ranma’s pulse had slowed dramatically just in the time it had taken them to get out. His breaths were so shallow that Ryoga had to focus intently to see the movement. Ryoga glanced out across the valley. Burdened with Ranma, it would take him ten minutes to get to their camp. The hot springs would be the best thing… Ryoga was worried that Ranma didn’t have that much time left – he really didn’t like the feel of Ranma’s pulse. But his options were limited at the moment. He could build a fire – there was enough wood around. But it would take time for the fire too, and Ryoga wasn’t sure that the dissipated heat would be enough.
Ryoga sat back and reviewed quickly what he knew of hypothermia and shock. He thought back to his classes and the books he’d studied many a night: In hypothermia, the body was unable to maintain its proper internal temperature. Mild hypothermia was characterized by shivering, drowsiness, and rapid breathing and rapid pulse. Severe hypothermia had slow breathing and pulse rates. In mild hypothermia, one was suppose to use heat to raise the patient’s body temperature. In severe hypothermia, you weren’t suppose to rewarm the patient, but to handle them gently, wrap them in blankets, and alert dispatch. Oh, good. Alert dispatch. That’s good advice. Ryoga looked around the empty valley, miles and miles from any human habitation. They’d chosen the spot for its remoteness. The standard first aid isn’t much use for true emergencies. True emergencies were suppose to be handled by experts, and those who weren’t trained often made things worse. But there were no experts nearby. Only Ryoga. Only Ryoga and a severe hypothermic Ranma.
Ryoga touched Ranma gently on the forehead. It was cold and clammy. His pulse and breathing were steadily growing slower and weaker. Ryoga knew that in addition to the hypothermia, Ranma was also deep in shock. The hypothermia had probably come on slowly while they were trapped under the tree. The shock was probably more recent – due either to the advanced hypothermia, or due to the constriction of the blood flow with Ryoga’s weight on top of him for the several hours they’d been down there. The one thing that was certain about shock was that if not checked, it led to death. Ranma’s death. Ryoga shook his head, no, I won’t let that happen. The treatment for shock was to keep the patient at rest, lying down and covered to stay warm. But the question was how? How could Ryoga, by himself in the middle of nowhere, with no supplies, in the chilly night air, how could he keep his friend alive?
Well,… warmth is the only general recommendation for both. To hell with not rewarming the severe hypothermic patient – Ranma’s going to die if I don’t do something now. It had only taken him a few seconds to review his knowledge and options – considering how few he had. If only we were nearer to camp… ‘If only’s never help. But Ryoga had no good options. He was facing the unquestionable conclusion that there was nothing he could do immediately that would help in the long run. Ryoga bowed his head briefly, then picked Ranma up again, holding him closely to his body. Body warmth could help – but not in the cold night air with no way to keep the heat in. The camp was his only real option. The camp, the hot springs, and the sleeping bags. A tent and sleeping bags to keep their heat in and keep the circulation going once the body temperature had warmed up, gradually, in the hot springs. Ranma… Stay alive until I get you there. Stay…
Ryoga started to move quickly but carefully to the camp – and stopped short as his eye fell on his backpack where he'd left it earlier in the day. His pack... with a tent and a sleeping bag in it. Ryoga gulped, not believing the sudden chance of hope that was there. He set Ranma down on his lap again and with trembling fingers opened his pack and took out the tent. With brisk, efficient moves, he set it up quickly while still managing to keep Ranma as close to his warmth as possible.
Cursing the minutes that the tent had taken from his friend, as soon as it was up, Ryoga was instantly inside, pulling the other necessary things out of his pack, the sleeping bag and a small solar-heater. In the cold weather, his heat alone would not be enough for Ranma. But with the insulation of the sleeping bag and the tent and the extra heat... Warmth... Ryoga quickly stripped down to his shorts and then started taking off Ranma’s clothes also. He froze as he put his hand on Ranma’s shirt and suddenly remembered that Ranma was still in girl form. "Ahhh…" Ryoga closed his eyes, oh, this is ridiculous! Of all the stupid situations… Heat flooded through his cheeks in sheer embarrassment. But there was no help for it. Body warmth was the only real solution at the moment. And gradual rewarming. If he poured hot water over Ranma’s body to change him back to a guy, the shock to the weakened system would kill him. Ryoga would just have to deal with it. He quickly stripped Ranma’s clothes off to the shorts and got both of them into the sleeping bag. He held Ranma’s body close to him and tried to think about anything but the feel of the bare breasts against his chest. But Ranma’s body was so cold… So very cold. Ryoga glanced down at the unresponsive body of his friend. And moved one of his hands up to the neck to feel for the pulse. He finally found it. He lay there, holding his friend close, feeling the pulses as blood moved slowly through Ranma’s artery. The irreverent thought came to him, better than counting sheep, and he had to grin at what Ranma would say to the comparison. He tucked his head in to rest against Ranma’s red hair and stared at the tent wall, willing his friend to live.
The tree watched the events of the valley and the canyon. It couldn’t follow. It couldn’t ask. It could only watch the portions of stories that took place within its boundary. It could remember the old trees that lived when it was a young sapling. It could tell of the lives of the quick cherry trees that grew in the valley – their little lives springing up and dying while the oak still lived on, but filling the lives of those around them with such joy and beauty while their span lasted. It could tell of the field mice that had their burrows in the hollow of its roots. They gnawed on the oak’s roots to nest more securely, and the oak accepted it and put new roots out – it was old enough to adjust. But what it couldn’t tell of was the ones that moved in and out. The deer that came back every year, but with some new and some missing – what had happened while they were gone? Where did they go? What was it like where they were? Were there any other trees it could talk to there? What had happened to the proud buck that used to be such a happy fawn? And the humans that sometimes came through. With their plans and their events and their happenings that changed the world – and oftentimes the area in which the oak lived. The humans that talked of other lands and other trees. The humans with their curiosity and their interests. They talked to each other and formed alliances and mated under the oak’s branches. And then they left. And rarely did they ever come back. And the tree wondered what happened to them. Where did they go? What did they do? Did their plans ever come to fruit? Was the mating successful with progeny? Did the humans ever think of the oak tree they had praised while they were in its shade? Did they remember? The oak tree watched everything that happened in its boundary. Watched – for that was all it could do.
Ranma stirred within Ryoga’s arms and Ryoga blinked and looked down. Ranma’s skin temperature had become normal some time back, but his pulse had been low until fairly recently. Normal temperature and normal pulse… but Ranma’s breathing had stayed slow, though it had become stronger and deeper… Ryoga blinked, Ranma’s not unconscious anymore – he’s asleep! Well, that’s all I need… How do I tell if he’s really okay or not if he’s not awake? Is it okay to leave him? Has he really stabilized? I can’t tell when he’s asleep… Is being asleep good for him? Should I try and wake him? Offhand, Ryoga thought not. It was probably better to wait until Ranma woke on his own. Ranma yawned and rolled over, leaving Ryoga staring at his back. On the other hand… Ryoga hadn’t dared sleep while Ranma was still in danger. He’d stayed awake, continuously monitoring Ranma’s pulse and temperature. But even awake, he’d had the strangest thoughts… That was weird – well, I guess thoughts of a tree are better than thinking Ranma and Akane made a babysitter of their pet pig.
But Ryoga really didn’t dare go to sleep now. What would happen if Ranma woke before him? Woke and found him in the same sleeping bag… both of them only in shorts… and Ranma in girl form? Ranma would kill him for certain! He wasn’t known for waiting for an explanation… No, that’s Akane – and only to Ranma. Ranma will wait – Ranma usually insists on explanations. But would he in this case? Ryoga didn’t even want to risk it.
Ranma shivered in his sleep, and Ryoga shifted himself a bit closer. No – as much as he wanted to, he couldn’t risk Ranma’s recovery by either trying to wake him up or by leaving him on his own. He’d have to stay and just keep awake a while longer.
Yawning again, Ranma rolled over to his other side, running up against Ryoga and then absently throwing one arm and a leg over him.
"Oh, that does it!!!" Ryoga scrambled frantically out of the sleeping bag. Enough is enough! Unconscious, Ranma had been quiet and still, but Ryoga knew damn well how Ranma slept at nights – and there was no way he was going to stay in the same place as a Ranma in girl-form for the whole night!!! Not even if Ranma had been in boy-form would he put up with that!
Out of the bag, Ryoga glanced back; and paused as Ranma’s eyes blinked sleepily.
"Ryoga…" Ranma whispered in tones of sorrow. And then he rolled over again.
Ryoga blinked. Uhh… "Ranma? Are you awake?"
With a suddenness that had Ryoga flinching back, Ranma sat bolt upright, eyes wide with shock, then the rich sapphire eyes locked on to Ryoga and his expression turned to a radiant joy. "Ryoga!!" Ranma lurched forward and locked his arms around the stunned Ryoga, "You’re alive!"
"Uh," Ryoga tried briefly to unwind Ranma’s arms from him, "Urk," but Ranma wasn’t about to budge.
"You’re alive!!" His voice was full of wonder and delight and a happiness that Ryoga had never heard before – not from Ranma, not from anybody. "You’re alive!"
"Uh…," Ryoga reflected that Ranma was starting to sound like that old Frankenstein movie, ‘it’s alive’, and wasn’t too flattered by the comparison. What the heck? "Shouldn’t I be the one saying that? You’re the one who’s been in hypothermia shock for the last several hours…"
Ranma buried his head on Ryoga’s chest and started to cry, "You’re alive," he whispered through the sobs.
This is so weird… Ryoga was stunned by the fact that Ranma was crying. Ranma never cried. Ryoga cried. Akane cried. But the only time he’d ever seen Ranma cry was at the ice rink, where he shed tears of bitterness and rage. But now Ranma was crying full out, Ryoga was getting wet… He sighed and pulled off a headband, "Here."
Ranma didn’t even notice at first, then unlocked one arm from around Ryoga to take it, sobbing full out. The cloth was soaked within seconds. Ryoga sighed and pulled off three more. After he’d handed them to his friend, he awkwardly patted Ranma on the back, "It’s okay, Ranma, it’s okay. You’re all right now."
Raising his head, Ranma’s expression was dumbfounded incredulity, "I’m okay??? – Ryoga, you were dead!"
"Excuse me?" Ryoga lifted a hand and felt Ranma’s forehead. Had the shock turned into a fever? But it felt normal to him – just a bit flushed from the crying.
Ranma ignored the fever-check and he stared steadily into Ryoga’s eyes, "Your eyes have that spark in them again." He raised a hand and put it on Ryoga’s cheek, "You’re warm." He laid his head back on Ryoga’s chest and held his friend close, "I can hear your heart beating. Oh, Ryoga," and his voice caught in another sob, "You came back."
Ryoga wasn’t sure just where this was all coming from – what sort of dreams had Ranma been having? "Uh, Ranma…"
Obviously hearing the patronizing doubt in Ryoga’s tone, Ranma sat back with a sniffle, "Ryoga," and his voice was more normal – exasperated ‘now look here’ tone, "You called my name, I turned, you tackled me, the tree came down – on you. I hit sand. When the tree stopped falling, I…" his voice faltered, "I turned to you…" he choked, "and…" Ranma squeezed his blue eyes shut, his whole body radiating remembered pain, fresh pain, sorrow that tore him apart. Ryoga started to reach a hand out but then put it down again, waiting. When Ranma opened his eyes again, his gaze locked onto Ryoga’s in a mix of remembered sorrow and fresh joy, "You’re alive… now – but then… Ryoga, your gaze was fixed open, you weren’t breathing, your skin turned cold…"
Ryoga cleared his throat, "Uh, sometimes hypothermia will produce a glassy stare with unconsciousness and coldness and slow breathing."
Ranma glared at him, "Moments after the tree crashed on us? Ryoga, you moron – I do know the difference!" His lip started to tremble, "Even if I didn’t want to admit it for the longest time…" The tears started falling again, though he kept his gaze on Ryoga.
"I was unconscious…" Ryoga trailed off, remembering the white region he’d been walking through for the longest time… And his eyes did hurt. Still hurt, actually.
"You were dead!" Ranma’s voice went shrill, "Ryoga, you were dead!"
Dead? Ryoga remembered the first time he’d dreamed of that white land. He’d been playing out in the yard when he’d felt this sharp pain… and then was in the mists and rolling clouds. He’d been fascinated by the area and had played there – it was so quiet and peaceful… And then his mom and dad had called him back and he’d reluctantly woken up. "I was dead?" This time… Ryoga trembled as he remembered the river, "That was the River of the Dead? And the tree…" It hadn’t just looked like the old oak – the oak had fallen, and the tree on the other side of the river was the same one… Ryoga shuddered as he suddenly realized that Ranma spoke the absolute truth, and he knew it in his bones. He had been dead. Dead. "I was dead."
Ranma nodded, calming down a bit. He reached out a hand again to touch Ryoga’s cheek. It was almost an instinctive move, and Ryoga got the impression that he’d done it a lot lately. When Ryoga had been… Ryoga shook his head, "So what am I doing here now?" He remembered the river moving back, trying to get to Ranma… and not succeeding. The mists had held him in, kept him there, not let him go… Suddenly remembering the feeling of not being able to help his friend, Ryoga shivered, frightened now as he hadn’t been then. Hadn’t been because he hadn’t known it was truth. He thought he’d been dreaming…
Ranma was answering the question, his hand still on Ryoga’s cheek, "You came back."
Ryoga blinked, "No, I didn’t. The mists wouldn’t let me go. I tried…"
Lips twitching up, Ranma smiled with remembered joy, "You came back." And then he went serious again, his hand dropping from Ryoga’s cheek as his blue eyes shaded over with sadness again, "But your body was still dead. You were there… But your ki was only a spark." Ranma cupped his hands to indicate how small. Ki wasn’t a physical thing and it wasn’t a real comparison – but Ryoga got the idea. He frowned, trying to understand, still trying to adjust to the fact that he’d been dead.
"I figured that if you had more energy, you might… So I gathered up all I could find and poured it in. I guess I lost consciousness after that."
Ryoga blinked, he gathered in… Images from a tree’s point of view swam before his eyes, "Uh… just where did you get this energy from?"
Ranma shrugged, "Wherever I could. Mostly, it came from the tree that had fallen,"
I thought so.
"And when that was gone, I put in mine."
I have the ki of a tree inside me. Oh good. What’s that going to do to me? But he was alive. Alive. Ryoga still couldn’t get used to having been dead. Suddenly he realized something else, "You put yours in me too? After the fight we’d just had? Well, no wonder you went into shock! Ranma, you baka – that was a stupid thing to do!"
Ranma shrugged, grinning in the way he did when he was eminently self-satisfied at having done something clever, "It worked, didn’t it?"
Ryoga looked at his friend. And had to smile, "Yeah, it worked. Another one for your ego – I guess I won’t be pulling it down any time soon."
And Ranma lost his grin. His blue eyes shaded over and he bit his lip as he looked at Ryoga. In a very small voice he said, "You’ve been my friend all along…" And the tears started to fall again as he reached out to hug Ryoga.
Ranma… Ryoga suddenly realized what it might have been like for Ranma, trapped under a tree with a dead… No wonder he’s been crying his eyes out. Ryoga shuddered to think of how he would have reacted if Ranma had… No. He wasn’t going to think about that. He put his arms around Ranma and returned the hug, letting his friend know he was there and was alive.
And something that Ryoga had totally forgotten about abruptly became known again as his arms went around Ranma’s slim back… and his hands touched the sides of Ranma’s breasts. And then his skin became aware of those same breasts pressing tightly against him… Ryoga hadn’t even really noticed Ranma’s form while they were talking. But Ryoga’s body suddenly and definitely woke up and became aware of it. His ears and face flaming bright red, Ryoga let go of Ranma and scrambled backwards until he hit the edge of the tent, knees up in front of his body. "I… uh… ah…" he sputtered in embarrassment, "I didn’t mean…"
Ranma stared at him in somewhat hurt puzzlement.
"It’s… uh…" Ryoga tried to look anywhere but Ranma’s bare chest. "Sorry." He shoved his hands behind his back.
Looking down at himself, Ranma finally figured out what had happened and he started laughing. He laughed until he collapsed on the sleeping bag. "Oh, poor Ryoga!" He sat up again, still giggling, "I had hypothermia… And you had to spend how long in the sleeping bag with my girl’s body?"
Ryoga’s whole body turned red, "Nothing happen… I mean… it… It was just…"
Ranma kept laughing as he looked around the tent for his clothes. He found them and crawled over, "It’s okay, Ryoga. Really." He glanced over at the red-faced boy, and couldn’t resist a tease, "You sleep with Akane all the time – why not with me too?"
"It isn’t like that!!!!" Ryoga wailed. In either case!
Ranma just grinned as he shook out his shirt. And then he collapsed over it, folding up silently in a heap.
Just before Ranma started to fall, Ryoga’s head came around as something jangled at his very soul… He dashed across the tent as Ranma collapsed, getting to his friend’s side in an instant. "Ranma?" He picked the limp body up, laying him over his lap. Ranma was cold again. As cold as if he’d never been warm. "Ranma?!" Ryoga felt for his pulse as he watched the blue lips part for a breath of air. Ranma’s body shuddered all over, and Ryoga clasped him close.
"Cold…" Ranma breathed out, "Ryoga… Please… come back. It’s so cold…"
Ryoga was frantic with worry – this didn’t fit anything he knew. Ranma… Don’t you dare die after all this. I don’t want to know the pain you felt. And I can’t give you any energy – I didn’t learn that technique. But even as he held him, Ranma’s body was warming up. Within minutes, he was at a normal temperature and pulse. "Ranma, can you hear me?"
"Of course," Ranma muttered sleepily, head buried on Ryoga’s chest.
Ryoga blinked in surprise and a bit of annoyance – Ranma could have said something earlier… "Ranma – what happened?"
"You’re here now," Ranma’s sleepy voice was content.
Huh? Ryoga tried again, "When you collapsed… What did you feel? What happened?"
Ranma stirred, putting his hands on Ryoga’s chest and moving slightly back so he could look up at Ryoga, "I don’t know…" The blue eyes were more awake than he’d sounded, "I guess I’d felt it for a bit, but hadn’t paid any attention… And then it had been too long."
"What?!" Ryoga wanted to shake his friend, but he tried to make his voice gentle, "What did you feel? What had been too long?"
"I…" Ranma hesitated, his eyes floating to one side as he thought for words, "I couldn’t feel myself anymore. There was nothing… But it took awhile to catch up with me." He shrugged, "I can’t explain it any better than that."
Ryoga frowned, ‘I couldn’t feel myself…’ ‘You’re here now.’ A sudden cold terror gripped his chest as a cascade of small memories clicked into place. ‘When that was gone, I put in mine.’ "Ranma… you didn’t…"
"Ranma, you baka…" Ryoga gripped his friend close, tight with fright and worry, "You didn’t put all your ki into me, did you?"
Within his arms, Ranma squirmed and Ryoga reluctantly loosened his grip. Ranma looked up, completely serious, "Of course I did."
"Ranma, you idiot – why?????" Ryoga wasn’t surprised that Ranma had gone into shock – he was surprised that Ranma was still alive! "You could have died! How could you have done something so reckless, so irresponsible, so…" he couldn’t think of a word strong enough. "Ranma, what were you thinking?"
Ranma laid his head down on Ryoga’s shoulder, seemingly content just to stay there. "It didn’t matter."
"What?" This time Ryoga did shake his friend, "Of course it did, you idiot!"
Shaking his head, Ranma met Ryoga’s gaze, smiling sadly, "Ryoga, you were dead. Nothing mattered. I thought… At least I’d be with you again." Tears fell down his face as he kept smiling at Ryoga, "Ryoga…" he reached his hand up to touch Ryoga’s cheek, "If it was for you, it didn’t matter what happened to me. When you were dead… I couldn’t live anyway."
Ryoga stared down at his friend in disbelief, "Ranma…" You don’t mean that.
Still smiling, Ranma laid his head back on Ryoga’s chest, secure in Ryoga’s hold, close to the warmth. The warmth of his friend, "You’re alive. Everything’s okay now."
Ranma did… that… for… Ryoga couldn’t quite grasp it. For me? His ki? All of himself? He… Ryoga looked down at the red-haired girl in his arms. ‘It didn’t matter.’ "Ranma…" He meant that. He really meant it. He was willing to… just so I could… "Ranma?" His tone was full of wonder, questioning, not really believing.
Ranma looked up again, meeting Ryoga’s eyes. And the expression in her gaze… Ryoga felt his heart turn inside out. He did mean it… He really cares. That much. Enough that he was willing to risk his life – no, give his life for me. Because he did. All of his life – it’s in me now. All of it. Ryoga gazed into the bright blue eyes that looked at him with such warmth and such caring… Nobody had ever looked at him like that before. Ever. "Ranma…" he murmured his friend’s name with an equal response of care as he stared into the warmth of Ranma’s eyes. Ryoga instinctively leaned down even as Ranma raised her head. And their lips touched in a conformation of that warmth and care. Of the ki that was between them. Of the friendship and respect they’d always shared, but now multiplied a thousand times. Knowing, knowing how much they cared for each other – enough so that they’d each given their lives to see the other live.
Notes to Chapter 3: