"Of Life and Love": Start         Previous: Chapter 03       Next: Chapter 05

 Revelations, Part One: "Of Life and Love"

Chapter Four:

After several, several long moments, they moved slightly apart, looking into each other’s eyes – and finding there the warmth that they sought. Ranma sighed in complete and utter contentment, and snuggled down into Ryoga’s embrace, resting his head on Ryoga’s strong shoulder. He’s alive. Ranma closed his eyes. He’s alive and with me. Never again. Never, never… Ranma looked up abruptly, moving slightly back from Ryoga, who looked at her in puzzlement though his own happiness. Ranma switched thoughts, chewing on that for a moment – Ryoga’s happy… I don’t think… I don’t think I’ve ever seen him simply ‘happy’ before. Ryoga – how lonely have you been?

"Ranma?"

Ryoga’s puzzled voice came through to Ranma’s abstraction. Ranma remembered her first thought and moved back another few inches watching Ryoga with a mixture of fondness and pain. In concern, Ryoga reached out a hand to his friend, but Ranma dodged it. He’s with me now… but… "Ryoga…" Ranma gulped, "I want you to promise me that you’ll never go away again. That you’ll never leave me. Ever." I couldn’t stand it if I ever had to feel this again. Ranma watched his friend’s face… and knew a sudden terror as Ryoga didn’t answer immediately. "Ryoga…?" He’s not… Ranma’s heart tightened in his chest and his breathing became strained. The look on Ryoga’s face… He was dubious about… Ranma suddenly thought that her heart was going to break and she edged backwards. He’s not going to promise it! Ranma silently wailed in despair and then out loud, "Not again… No. No. I can’t ever, ever… No…" He backed off from Ryoga, seeing but not acknowledging the concern in his friend’s eyes. Ranma backed off, feeling and this time knowing the moment when he’d gone too far and he couldn’t feel his ki anymore and couldn’t live. Couldn’t live and didn’t want to if…

Ranma’s hands were suddenly grabbed in a strong grip, and her head was forced upward with the other hand. But Ranma let his eyes drift to the side of the tent walls, not wanting to look at Ryoga. Not wanting to see him. Not wanting to see the rejection and feel the pain…

"Ranma, you baka," Ryoga’s rumbling voice held concern and exasperation, "I would gladly say yes to that in a moment—" Ranma jerked her eyes forward in sudden hope, "—But I can’t promise something I can’t do."

That was it. It was over. There was nothing left. Ranma closed his eyes and let the tears fall freely. "Let me go, Ryoga. Just… let me go."

There was a sigh, and the hands let go of him, sending Ranma even deeper into despair. But she’d only been let go to be pulled near and held again. After several moments, the close embrace loosened. One of Ranma’s hands was picked up and held in a firm clasp, a clasp that conveyed reassurance and security. Ranma felt her bangs being stroked off her forehead, gently, calmly, with the utmost care… Ranma opened his eyes; and saw Ryoga staring intently at him, concern and care present in his gaze.

"Ranma, I can’t promise to stay with you—" Ryoga broke off again as Ranma twisted away, "Ranma! Listen to me!!!" Ranma reluctantly subsided even as he was given a shake that rattled his teeth. Ryoga smoothed the hair off her forehead again, "Ranma – you know what my sense of direction is – I mean really, how did we end up here in the first place?"

And Ranma had to smile even through his sadness – for they had been going to a training spot on Mt. Hito for this week… And Ranma had made the mistake of letting Ryoga take the lead for a few minutes. Neither one of them knew quite where they were now, but as Ranma had pointed out at the time – it didn’t really matter as long as they got their training done.

"That’s better," Ryoga said in response to the smile, "Ranma, listen to me…" There was a pause, "Will you at least look at me?"

Ranma glanced up – and was lost in Ryoga’s sparkling warm eyes. For the first time since Ranma had known him, there were no shadows in Ryoga’s eyes, no shutters that hid his feelings. All of his emotions were there, wide open. His living brown eyes contained the sparks of warmth, and care, and happiness – all directed at Ranma. Ranma drew in her breath in startlement.

"Ranma," and her name was spoken with such… care? Ranma blinked as he realized, it’s love… The way he looks at me, the way he… It’s more than just caring – he really actually loves me. But, but… Ranma was seriously confused now. There was no doubting the expression in Ryoga’s eyes, but he hadn’t promised…

"Ranma, I won’t promise to stay with you – I can’t. But I will promise, because I can, I’ll promise to always come back to you."

This time the gasp of inhaled air seemed to bring happiness and new life back into Ranma’s lifeless body. He’ll… Oh, yes! Yes… Please… "Ryoga! Please… Please, yes…" If he’ll always come back… I can deal with anything as long as I know that.

Ryoga was looking at her with serious eyes, searching her very soul. "Ranma, I’ll make that promise to you – but with two conditions."

Ranma blinked, still floating with happiness.

"First – that you know there’s no time limit on that… I will always be able to find my way to you, I know I can now; but I don’t know how long it might take me to get back."

Ranma nodded, that one was logical, considering Ryoga’s sense of direction… And if I know he’ll come back… Ranma smiled, I can wait until he does.

"The other…" Ryoga’s seriousness deepened, "I want you to promise me something."

"Anything." Ranma remembered all his earlier promises while they were under the tree. "I’ll tell Akane it’s over between us. You can have her." Akane… It would break his heart – but he’d already had his heart broken once today and this was for Ryoga.

"HUH????!!!!!!" Ryoga dropped Ranma’s hands and sat bolt upright, eyes wide with shock. Then he realized what Ranma was thinking. "That’s… that’s…" he sputtered, "Ranma, you idiot!!!!! That’s not it!!!!!!"

Ranma blinked in puzzlement.

Ryoga bit his lip in consternation and exasperation and sorrow, "Ranma – it would break Akane’s heart if you told her that. She loves you, you idiot. She really does."

Excuse me? Ranma blinked again, "You don’t want…?"

Ryoga turned his head, but not before Ranma could see the pain there. "She doesn’t want. Not me. Ranma – she wants you." His voice dropped to a whisper, "She’s always wanted you." A tear fell down the side of his face, "I’ve never wanted to admit it. I still don’t." His head jerked up and he stared at Ranma in anger, "But I won’t have you making her unhappy! Especially not for a jackass reason like this!"

Ranma had to laugh – if there was anything he could rely on to be consistent in this world it was that Ryoga would always defend Akane’s honor, even at a time like this. "It’s not a jackass reason," Ranma spoke contentedly. And he waited.

After a moment, Ryoga smiled back. "Yes it is," he spoke mildly, dropping the subject. He tilted his head to one side, studying Ranma. "Ranma – I want you to promise me that you’ll never give up."

"Excuse me?" Ranma blinked.

"Like you just did. Like you did under the tree. Like you did just now. You thought I wasn’t coming back to you… And you gave up." Ryoga stared at his friend seriously, "Ranma – you never even tried to get out from under the tree, did you?" He watched as Ranma glanced to the ground. "I thought so." He reached out again and took Ranma’s hands in both of his, "Ranma, part of what makes you you is your fighting spirit. It’s one of the things I admire most about you. When you’re knocked down, you get right back up again. When you’ve got your back to the wall, you find a way to keep going. Against all odds Nabiki would care to set. You can’t lose that. Not for any reason. You have so many people who need you and depend on you and who would be so deeply hurt if…" They both thought of Akane. "Ranma – I want you to promise me that no matter what might happen in the future – no matter how badly you’re hurt – whatever the circumstances – I want you to promise that you’ll keep going. That you won’t give up. That your river will continue to flow."

"Huh?"

Ryoga waved it off, "Stray thought." He looked into Ranma’s eyes, "Will you promise?"

Ranma shrugged – if Ryoga promised to always come back, then it was an easy promise to make. He opened his mouth – and Ryoga put his hand over it. Ranma blinked at him.

"I mean it, Ranma. Don’t take this one lightly." Ryoga stared at him, "I might always come back to you – but there are other things in this world that can also hurt." His eyes clouded over in old pain, and Ranma suddenly wondered about Ryoga’s past as he’d never done before.

Why is he always so depressed? Why does he wander so? Always on a hair-trigger… If he doesn’t strive to be the best… What pushed him into becoming such a Martial Artist? And Ranma looked at Ryoga, and this time thought about what he’d asked of Ranma. Really thought about it. Ranma shivered at the thought of ever again experiencing such pain. To keep going… after that? But Ryoga had the right to ask it of him. I could have gotten out from under the tree, Ranma realized. If I hadn’t given up from the start. I could have… And Ryoga would still be dead. It was Ranma’s need that had brought Ryoga back – Ranma was sure of that. And then suddenly wasn’t quite so sure, did he come because I was dying and needed his help? Or because my heart was torn in two and I needed my friend by my side? Which was it that he came back for? That could wait. Ranma shook his head to clear it, and thought about going on. And he looked up into Ryoga’s eyes, "I promise. I won’t give up. Ever again."

Ryoga smiled in sheer joy that took Ranma’s breath away. "I promise I will always come back to you." And he leaned forward, and Ranma leaned forward, and they sealed their mutual promise with another kiss that shared their happiness and commitment to each other and to life. And their love.

After a few moments, they leaned back again. Ranma looked at Ryoga in delight, still resounding with the promise bouncing around in her soul. And she didn’t doubt Ryoga, not at all, but, "How do you know you’ll always find me now?"

Ryoga smiled, and raised a hand to trace the edges of Ranma’s cheekbone. Ranma blinked at the unexpected shiver of pleasure it gave her. What the heck is that?

Ryoga grinned as he touched Ranma, feeling the ki inside him, feeling him. Ranma’s ki. Ranma’s self. Now that he knew what it was, Ryoga could feel it easily – and was drawn to it. No surprise, considering Ranma’s ki was also inside Ryoga now. He finally remembered to answer Ranma, giving him the reason, "It’s your ki. It’s in me now. I can feel you now that I know what I’m looking for." And he felt inside himself to touch again the part that was Ranma – and then also saw the canyon and the valley and the sky, all at the same time… And hurriedly pulled himself out of the point of view of a tree. "Along with the damn tree…" and Ryoga instantly felt guilty for thinking it. It was their fault the tree had fallen… Though he’d never thought much about trees…

Excuse me? Ranma cocked her head to one side, "Tree?" Ryoga looked up, drawn out of his thoughts, and Ranma shook her head, "Never mind." And then Ranma had a sudden thought, "Does that mean you’re going to spend the night with me?" And had to laugh at the look of consternation that appeared on Ryoga’s face. And gave Ranma another idea… But first, "Seriously, though, if I can’t move more than a few feet from you without collapsing… What are we going to do?"

Ranma had a worried expression on his face, but Ryoga couldn’t help but internally grin at the humorous thought of the two of them always having to be together… That’ll put a crimp in his style with Akane. And what would Shampoo think of it? And then his mood brightened further, Hey! I’d never get lost again. Or else Ranma would get lost with me… And that thought suddenly turned him serious as something within his heart gave a giant leap… never to be lonely again… But Ranma needed a real answer. Ryoga centered himself and took a good look at Ranma. Just as he’d thought – Ranma’s ki wasn’t actually gone. Truthfully, it couldn’t be – it was Ranma’s very self. But since Ranma had put so much of his life-energy into Ryoga, the only bit of his ki that had been left was the core. Now, however, around the core was a thin layering of energy, matching the pattern of Ranma’s ki. "It’ll be okay. Your ki is already growing back. It’s still not quite enough to be alone… but it’s there and growing steadily – just like when you donate blood. You’re weak for a bit, but the body renews itself."

"Donate blood?" Ranma blinked in sheer and absolute puzzlement, the simile having totally passed him by. "What for? How? You mean on a battlefield?"

Ryoga blinked himself out of looking at the ki. Ranma doesn’t know… I guess he wouldn’t. He and his dad move around too much. And he’s too young. Ryoga was too young too, but he was still a regular donor whenever he was in town. The hospitals liked his blood – nice and rare and healthy. They overlooked the legality points so they could get it. Ryoga had started when he was twelve. He’d gone with his dad to donate for his dad’s brother… And then he’d kept donating. Because he’d seen what it was like in the hospitals. And knew they needed it. And since Ranma didn’t know, Ryoga saw no reason not to tell him. We’re so lucky, being healthy and strong… Those people in the hospitals… As Ryoga started to explain, he saw Ranma’s automatic stiffening and the proud eyes started to resist the thought that he was stupid, even as he sorted for information that he could use. You’re not stupid, Ranma! There were just a lot of things your dad didn’t teach you – probably didn’t know himself. But Ryoga had lots of experience with getting around Ranma’s ego, and just ignored the warning signs, schooling his explanation to be run-of-the mill and not patronizing or too simple. And was rewarded by seeing Ranma relax. Ryoga grinned, happy to see Ranma’s trust. I’d never think poorly of you for anything you don’t know. Ranma, don’t you know? – You’re my hero. I’d follow you to the ends of the earth. I look up to you and admire you and want your approval… You are a genius in your own way. You’re the only one close to me who’s my equal in Martial Arts. But more than that – you’re a leader. I’m not. I’m not a follower – I work alone. But you, Ranma – you I will accept as my commander and give you my support when it’s needed. And tear down your ego when that’s needed too. Because we’re both still young, and still learning. But you can always trust me – I gave my loyalty to you long ago, even if I didn’t ever tell you.

As Ryoga carefully and patiently explained what hospitals in a city were like and the people who came in to use them and the need there was for safe whole blood. Ranma sat, listening to it all, absorbing it, taking it to memory in case he ever needed to know it again. He’d never been in a hospital, and had no idea what it was like. And Ryoga didn’t criticize his lack of knowledge or his ignorance. After the first surprise, Ryoga took it in stride and just used the opportunity to tell his friend about something he’d never known before. Ranma felt the acceptance… and relaxed the defenses he’d automatically put up at the start. And Ryoga smiled at him, seeing the defenses go down. And Ranma blinked, seeing again the love in Ryoga’s eyes, and the idea she’d had earlier came to mind… Everything done and promised just now – it’s all been for me. Ryoga saved my life – twice. He came back for me. He promised to always come back to me. And the promise he made me give; that was for me too. So what is there for Ryoga? And Ranma’s heart turned inside out in a good way in complete love for her friend. I want to do something that’s for Ryoga, and for Ryoga alone.

Ranma gulped, nervous in a way he’d only ever felt with Akane before. Do I dare? Can I? Would it… work? He looked down at his hand, still being held by Ryoga’s strong and powerful hand – the hands of a girl, so small within Ryoga’s male hands. And she remembered the shiver of pleasure as Ryoga had traced her cheekbone. And the times when she’d been tempted to experiment just a little – Ryoga was always a fun one to tease, but also very safe because he always thought of Ranma as Ranma. Those times… Ranma blushed at how vividly she recalled them. But if it helped her now… Maybe… I think… it might work. If I just keep in mind that it’s for Ryoga. She would do anything, anything at all for Ryoga. She might have just promised him never to give up, but right now, right now Ryoga was the absolute center of her being and her life. And if it was for him… Ranma could be a girl for awhile. In a way she’d never been before… Ranma blinked, I’ve been thinking of myself as a girl since… since he kissed me. "Ryoga," she whispered his name while still looking down, unable to keep her feelings completely within her. Her feelings – confusion and longing and caring and wanting…

In the midst of his contemplation of Ranma and trees and life and death and friendship and caring… Ryoga heard Ranma’s voice calling his name. The need in Ranma’s voice instantly pulled him out – Ranma sounded so lost and confused and almost desperate… Ryoga remembered that Ranma right now wasn’t as strong as he normally was – this time, it was his friend who needed him. So rare… Ryoga reached up and stroked Ranma’s hair as if he were a cat though Ranma wouldn’t approve of that image… "You’re not about to start crying again, are you?" Although Ryoga understood the ‘why’ of Ranma’s tears, the thought still unsettled him.

Unable to stop herself, Ranma giggled, "You silly." And it was perfectly natural for her to lean up to Ryoga and kiss him again. Ryoga returned the kiss, treating it as their other two had been, full of caring and warmth and happiness. And friendship. Nothing more than friendship. But Ranma was after something slightly different. Not quite sure how to go about it, though. They broke off the kiss leaving Ranma feeling frustrated. So how… And she suddenly worried, maybe he’s not interested in my girl’s body. Maybe… But that couldn’t be it, exactly, because Ryoga had been so nervous before. And Ranma was a guy himself – he knew how easily a guy’s body could get aroused. Given the right circumstances… But Ryoga was so… honorable. He wouldn’t do anything if he thought it was taking advantage of Ranma. Ranma could just tell him, but Ryoga would think it was just because of the circumstances. Which, admittedly, it was… Ranma sighed – seduction was harder than it seemed.

Hearing the sigh, Ryoga stroked Ranma’s hair and wondered – She’s… He’s worried again. "Ranma-sweet – it’s all right, I’m here." I’m here. And I won’t let you go while you need me. Ranma – I’m sorry for having caused you so much pain. Oh, Ranma. I’m here. You need me, and I’m here. I won’t let anything happen to you again. Always hyper-aware of promises, Ryoga instantly corrected that thought, as long as I can prevent it. What I can do for you, I will. Whatever you need from me, I will give. You are my friend.

Ryoga’s voice was warm and caring and protective. The sound of it made Ranma want to curl up in his arms and never move again. Even if he had misinterpreted her sigh. But that was made him so wonderful. His caring. This time, Ranma sighed for contentment, and did move in closer to his strong chest. Ryoga let go of her hands to put his arm around her back and hold her as close as she wanted to be. Which was right up against him. They were each sitting with their legs folded under, in automatic martial arts pose. Ranma inched up until they were sitting next to each other and then she leaned sideways and in and he did as well, and they were as close as they could be. They stayed like that for a very long time.

Ranma was mostly content just to be held, but she was still thinking about what to do for Ryoga, and absently she started to run her hands up and down Ryoga’s back as she thought. He’s got such a strong back, with his muscles on the surface making the skin taut and firm… I’ve always known he’s my closest rival and most powerful enemy – except he’s always been my friend really – but anyway I’ve never thought of what that’s meant in physical terms. Not that I should have. But… but his back is so strong and smooth and it feels so good to be holding him and to feel him and to be with him…

The wind, whistling through the valley… Can I hear my kin? Are any of them speaking tonight? Yes. There. The oak in the next valley over. It survived the harsh winter and is now waking as am I. Looking forward to the warmer weather. Right now, it’s the rain that soaks into the ground to our roots that wakes us. Drink deep. Drink deep and long. I need to grow. I need to stretch my limbs up and sink my roots low. I feel the wind on my branches and—

Ryoga became aware of a certain tightness in his groin. And hauled his thoughts out of the tree’s. Ranma was running his hands over Ryoga’s back in an abstracted way, and Ryoga was becoming very, very aware that the body he was holding was a girl’s body. And it was pressed up very, very close to him. And Ryoga didn’t have a shirt on. And neither did Ranma. And Ranma’s breasts were very soft, yet firm… Ryoga gulped. If he didn’t do something soon, Ranma would know where his thoughts were going because Ryoga’s body was definitely making some responses that he would have to class as ‘automatic’. It was obvious Ranma didn’t have a clue what he… she was doing to Ryoga – her hands were tracing patterns on Ryoga’s back, but Ranma’s thoughts were very far away. Although not as far as mine just were… But the way Ranma’s hands were moving… Oh, that does it. I’m going to have to say something.

"Uhh, Ranma?"

"Ummm?" Too absorbed in what she was thinking, Ranma heard the nervousness in Ryoga’s voice but didn’t react.

"Uh, would you mind not doing that?"

"Huh?" Ranma sat back a bit and looked up at him.

Ryoga’s face was fairly red. "It’s… I mean… I like holding you and all, but…"

Oh, ho. Ranma perked up realizing what Ryoga had been feeling. And was amused at herself because she hadn’t actually intended it. And discreetly checked… What a wonderful reaction! Oh yes, I’ve got him now… But she hid her triumph with a hurt look, "You don’t want me to be with you?"

He’s taken it all wrong! "No!" Ryoga sputtered – and Ranma’s eyes darkened with real pain showing. Oh my god, I’ve hurt him again… I answered his question… Ryoga’s heart twisted, and he tried to correct the mistake, "That’s not what I meant…" Nothing he did now would make up for it, Ryoga’s darkness swept around him, "Oh forget it." Ranma needs me. I can’t desert her… him at a time like this. Ryoga bit his lip, I’ll just have to deal with it. A Martial Artist is suppose to have his body firmly under his control, right? He answered himself, yeah, right… but still reached out to Ranma, "Come here," my sweet Ranma… I’ll hold you close and I’ll try to control myself. I’ll be only what you need me to be. If I can control this damn body of mine…

Ranma was tempted, but figured that now that it was on Ryoga’s mind, a different approach would be better. To get him involved… "Ryoga… Could you give me a backrub?"

"Huh????" Ryoga blinked. And looked at her. And didn’t see the pain anymore, but instead a slight grin was turning up the corners of her mouth and she was looking at him… She understands. Ranma understands… Oh good. Ryoga sighed with relief. And then remembered what she’d… he’d asked. "Oh, sure." Good. Get me away from looking at her… Ryoga squashed that thought yet again. And moved back and placed his hands on her shoulders… and realized that he was almost in more danger back here… But at least she can’t see me… Yeah, right, Ryoga… He knew damn well that a backrub or massage, designed as it was to heal a person’s body and ki, connected the two people involved in an almost perfect ki merge – no thoughts could be hidden in a true massage. I could just do the physical stuff and try not to merge my ki… Trained as he was, though, it would be hard. And then the plan became only an abstract notion as Ryoga felt the muscles in her back and realized just how incredibly tense they were. And a Martial Artist rarely got this tangled. "My God, Ranma – you’re all knotted up…" And Ryoga suddenly realized why Ranma was this tense. I died. He was under that tree, trapped under my dead body, going through all the emotions that we do when we lose someone close to them… I was close? Ryoga shook his head – obviously, he was… It was an odd thought. Ranma cared so much for me that he gave his very self… It was still too incredible a thought to take lightly when it crossed his mind. But all that… No wonder Ranma’s in such a mess. I’m surprised he didn’t say anything earlier. And Ryoga realized that the emotions in them had been in such a mess that the body had gone unnoticed. He shook his head again – this was going to take more than a backrub to smooth out.

Leaving Ranma after checking to make sure the ki was grown enough, Ryoga went to his backpack and rummaged through it, thinking hard. All he could come up with was vegetable oil from the cooking supplies. He looked at it in disgust, "Damn pack. Well, it’s better than nothing." Trying to do a massage without oil… was almost worse for the person than not doing the massage at all. Ryoga glanced to where Ranma was on the other side of the tent, staring at him curiously. Ryoga had to grin, "Come here, my sweet," Ranma is just so cute when he’s being befuddled. But I think he can figure this one out…

Ranma moved obediently over, reflecting that that was the second time that Ryoga had used the endearment for her, and he didn’t seem to realize it. But I like it. Hearing her name with the added ‘-sweet’ on it… Hearing the possessive yet caring quality of the endearment… It felt good, coming from him. Ranma watched Ryoga fiddle with the oil and towels and pulled herself out of her abstraction – he’s going to give me a full massage? She wasn’t sure how that fit into her plans, but she had to admit that the way her shoulders had felt… Ranma laid down face down on the bag, punching the pillow to make a type of headrest so she wouldn’t have to turn her neck. Ryoga poured the oil into his hands, warming it, then started with her shoulders and upper back. Ooooo… If her eyes weren’t already closed, Ranma would have closed them in sheer pleasure – it felt so good… She hadn’t known how much she hurt until Ryoga got rid of the pain. Thoroughly and completely. With the professional moves, but the real care that gets in though the hands and the muscles and into the body and makes the real difference in a massage. He cared. He really cared and wanted her to feel better and to get better and to not have those knotted and painful muscles. He wanted her to feel good. And his care came though to Ranma and she laid there in near bliss as the pain rose to the surface and then was taken away by his strong hands.

Ryoga did the proscribed full massage – roughly taking an hour to go over the whole body – back, arms, legs, and head. Any less didn’t get all of it. Any more would start sending other parts out of alignment. He did what he could in straightening out the muscles and ki pattern – and made himself a mental note to do this again the next morning, afternoon, and night. It would take several sessions before Ranma would be back to his normal limber self. Blinking tiredly, Ryoga pulled himself and his ki out of the rapport he’d had. And that vegetable oil was rather gooey compared to normal oil… Keeping physical contact with one hand so not to disturb Ranma, Ryoga grabbed a towel from his pack on top, for once… and wiped down the extra, careful to keep his movements aligned with the flow.

Ryoga was tired and drained from the effort he’d put into the massage. He rested his hands on Ranma’s back a moment longer, trying to think of what he could use as a sheet or such… And his physical hands remembered the feel of the soft body that he’d been working on and while he was too tired to control himself, his hands slipped over her back, tracing the muscles, feeling the silken skin, sliding down her sides. Ryoga snapped back his control as soon as he realized what he was doing. Damn you, Ryoga! The thing you’re never, ever, ever suppose to do in a massage… was think of the person in any way other than Healing. And Ryoga had just crossed that line major time. He could only hope that since he’d already pulled his ki out, that Ranma hadn’t noticed… He tried to speak in a normal cheerful voice, "That’s it – any more and you’ll turn to mush."

Ranma had noticed. And enjoyed it. And was hopeful… Already in pools of jelly, Ranma rolled her head to one side to respond to Ryoga’s comment in a low voice, "But such a happy mush." Very happy… Oh Ryoga, you’re alive and you care.

Her voice said that she was already happy. That she’d appreciated the massage and it had made her feel better. And Ryoga’s heart leapt up inside him to realize that Ranma was happy. Happy. He’d made her happy. Ranma, for all his outward cheerfulness and self-confidence, was rarely ‘happy’. Only with Akane – and even then not all that common. But he, Ryoga, had just made Ranma happy… He sat back on his heels and watched Ranma happily.

Ranma felt Ryoga’s joy at the comment, and pushed her brain to figure it out… He’s happy that I’m happy… that he’s made me happy. Ranma snorted to herself – it doesn’t take much, does it? But the fact that it took so little to make Ryoga happy… Ranma felt her eyes starting to smart with unshed tears, Ryoga – how lonely have you been? No more. I swear it, never again will you think I don’t care. With an effort, she sat up.

"Ranma!" Ryoga looked at her in frustration, An hour of getting all those currents very carefully back in line… "You’re ruining all my careful work!"

"No I’m not," Ranma sat back on her heels and rolled her shoulders experimentally, testing for stiff and sore points. And her breasts moved with the motion… 

And Ryoga’s eyes instantly fixated right exactly there… Damn it! He’s my best friend. He doesn’t want to be thought of in that way, and I don’t want to ruin our friendship. Not when we’re finally so close. But how do I tell him I care without letting my damn physical reaction to his girl’s body show?

Ranma didn’t miss Ryoga’s reaction to her movement. Another unintentional side-effect. Ranma smiled, and as good as purred, "Here, Ryoga," as she moved around to his back and put her hands on his shoulders, "Your turn."

"That’s okay – I’m all right." Ryoga sat very, very still. No, he wasn’t – Ryoga wasn’t ‘all right’ at all. His body and his mind were at complete and total odds with each other and one wanted to turn and kiss Ranma with all the passion he was feeling, and the other was screaming at him to get away, get away now before it was too late and he did something they’d both regret. As a result, all he could do was sit there silently while Ranma’s hands moved over his back.

"You were down there just as long as I." Even if you were dead… Ranma felt along his muscles and realized that Ryoga was right – he was fine. I guess being dead, he didn’t get stressed. The only traces of tenseness Ranma could find were current – Ryoga just wasn’t relaxing like he should for a real backrub. Ranma gave a Cheshire grin that Ryoga couldn’t see and kept moving her hands over his back and shoulders. As she did, Ryoga didn’t utter a word, but his breathing deepened and there was a slight trembling in his muscles that showed how much control he was exerting. Ranma smiled again. I have him. Now, to bring him to me… Come, Ryoga. Come and take your gift. And Ranma started moving her hands outside the normal massage areas, lightening the strokes, exploring where the muscles went over from the back over the shoulders, onto his chest… Ryoga shivered. And didn’t move. Well, he’s not running. He’s not screaming. Spreading her hands on Ryoga’s chest, Ranma marveled at the strength in the muscles – and the tenseness. He’s not running. I think it’s going to work. Ranma returned her hands to his back, and then slowly out to the sides, and then up to his neck… As Ryoga’s head tilted down in automatic response to the neck rub, Ranma involuntarily moved her head closer to his neck, leaning her body in towards his back… To her surprise, her breathing had also deepened, and she was feeling the strangest sensations… As her hands slipped down from his neck onto his chest, Ranma kissed the back of his neck, shivering as she touched his flesh with her lips. An electric thrill raced along her spine and she paused to wonder at this feeling. This feeling in my body… my girl’s body… Am I… reacting to Ryoga? It was the oddest thought. 

Uhhh… What does Ranma think he’s doing…? Those weren’t massage strokes. Those were caresses. Over his back. On his sides. On his shoulders. Her hands traced the muscles from his back up to his shoulders and then they slipped from his shoulders down across his chest, following the muscle pattern, her hands light and tender. Ryoga stopped breathing. Those same muscles tightened where she traced them. Another muscle also tightened. He wasn’t sure he was thinking any more. The feeling of having her hands deliberately tracing patterns on his back, on his sides, caressing him with strong, athletic fingers that moved into the skin but only lightly traced the nerves… And then Ranma’s breath was warm upon his neck, her hands tightening into his shoulders as her lips touched his bare skin… Oh… my… It was an understated thought. Ryoga’s mind and body were whirling around and around… The body was definitely winning. Ryoga lifted his hands up to hers, feeling the slim fingers touching his skin, her flesh between his. Ranma’s lips were still upon his neck, her breath warm and pleasant. Her breasts were touching his back, seducing him with their nearness. Seducing… Ryoga fought for a semblance of control and turned to face Ranma, still holding her hands in his.

There was another long pause as they stared at each other. Ranma noticed that Ryoga’s pupils were dilated and his face was flushed. Her own heart beat within her and she could feel it though every part of her being. A strange warmth of feeling absorbed her attention even as she was mesmerized by the thin layer of rich brown surrounding the black of Ryoga’s eyes.

The sapphire eyes were wide and moist, full of emotion that Ryoga was too befuddled to read. The most beautiful eyes… With those cheeks and that nose and that chin… and those lips… definitely those lips. Ranma’s soft, full, dark red lips… Her mouth was parted slightly as she breathed through her mouth. Her chest moved up and down with every breath. Ryoga was captivated by the sight and sound of her breathing. His own matched it rather well. His mind gave one more try… It’s the shock. She’s… He’s not thinking. He’s never wanted to be a girl. He’s never wanted anything to do with his girl’s body. The memory of this morning came back vividly, ‘I hate this girl’s body!’ "Ranma," my friend… "You don’t want this."

Ranma tried to find her own voice, but it was lost somewhere in her throat, and she could feel it, but there was this tightness around it and it was all she could do to keep breathing. Finally she got out, "Yes, I do." And realized to her surprise, that it was true – she wanted it. Not only for Ryoga anymore. But because there was this feeling within her body, within her being… She wanted him. She wanted Ryoga in her arms and him in hers. She wanted his hands stroking her gently in passion instead of a massage. She wanted… Is this what a girl feels? And I thought they didn’t have the same drive as a guy… They don’t – this is different. But just as powerful. Even more-so, in fact. I want him. She stared into Ryoga’s eyes and rocked towards him, drawn by this incredible feeling…

And Ryoga almost lost it right then and there. She said she does! But he couldn’t get rid of the doubts, the memories, the knowledge that if Ranma didn’t really want it, that if she changed her… his mind, the morning would be too late and their friendship would be forever ruined. He bit his lip, fighting the hardest battle he’d ever fought in his life. And saw her eyes hungrily track the blood that trickled down. And he grabbed onto that image, it’s just reaction. It’s just his girl’s body waking up… And he wished he hadn’t put it quite that way. But it gave him enough strength to reach up to her shoulders and keep her back as she swayed towards him. But now, of course, his hands were on her soft shoulders. Shoulders he now knew very well. Shoulders that were burning him like fire and ice combined… And our friendship will be over if this goes on. "You don’t want this."

Ranma found her hands where he had dropped them and she reached out to his sides and then ran her hands up to his shoulders until she was holding him just like he was holding her, except that she was pulling him gently towards her.

Her hands touched his hips and Ryoga nearly jumped in surprise, so focused had he been on her sapphire eyes… Her hands ran lightly up his sides and Ryoga thought his heart would stop. His groin was bursting. His mind was short-circuiting. She pulled him towards her and he came, lost in the sparkling eyes. The sapphire eyes. Ranma’s eyes are summer lake blue, not the deep sapphire. His friend’s eyes were a lighter color. As a guy. The way Ryoga saw them most often. The rich blue of the girl’s eyes had always disconcerted him a bit. But usually all he had to do was look through the eyes to the soul. To his friend. To Ranma. Then it didn’t matter what form Ranma was in. Ranma was always and only Ranma. And Ranma, really, really hated his girl’s body. When he thinks about it. And when Ranma would think about this night… Ryoga gulped and pushed Ranma back, "Ranma," my friend! "You’re a guy!" You’ve always said you were, you insist you are, you pull stunts but always remembering the whole time that you’re a guy. You don’t want to be anything but a guy! You’ve never wanted…

It was such a straight line, Ranma couldn’t resist. No longer trying to move towards him, she placed both her hands on Ryoga’s hand on her shoulder. He loosened his grip, both relief and disappointment in his eyes as he looked away. Ranma spoke almost cheerfully, "Right now," and Ryoga glanced up at the tone in her voice, "I’m a girl." And she pulled his hand down to cover her breast. And was completely unprepared for the fire that moved from her breast to her abdomen and then down into her… groin? What is the girl’s term? I guess it’s the same. Her thoughts were almost random as the feeling took control of her and she lost sight for a moment, gasping with the shock. She couldn’t breathe as her back arched sharply, her chest trust forward, and her shoulders and neck turned up. All completely out of her control. Completely. Oh… my.

‘I’m a girl’ ? She said it? She means… Ranma doesn’t… can’t… Does Ranma really– Ryoga’s thoughts derailed suddenly, completely, and with explosive force as Ranma placed Ryoga’s hand straight on her breast. A woman’s breast… Ranma’s breast… And she… Ranma… You don’t… You did… But then Ranma’s body jerked in a convulsion and Ryoga flinched, knowing he’d done wrong, that he’d hurt her. That his rough, clumsy hands had hurt her delicate smooth silken skin that was so beautiful and so wonderful, and he’d made such a mess of her feelings… She was arched away from him, her head thrown back so he couldn’t see her eyes, though he knew the pain she must be feeling… "Ranma!" I’m sorry… I’m sorry…

Ranma shook herself out of the feeling, though the burning fire within her groin intensified in longing as Ryoga moved away. Don’t go away… please. She fought for her voice, "It’s okay! Really…" Her eyes closed and then opened, seeking his eyes. "It’s that I always knew how sensitive my breasts were to pain…" enough people had grabbed them… Ryoga’s eyes went wide and he jerked his hand off her breast as if scalded. Ranma hadn’t actually realized that his hand was still there even though the rest of him had moved back, and she grinned in amusement at a guy’s reflexes even as she finished the sentence designed to capture him, "… I had no idea how sensitive they were to pleasure." Truth was always the best lure.

The sentence was said in a complete matter-of-fact way that had Ranma written all over it, and yet was that tone of voice used only when Ranma was determined to be truthful to the core… Ryoga stared at her, searching her eyes, looking for… Ranma was definitely there, and definitely in control of herself. It hadn’t been the moment. Everything she’d been doing had been intentional. She’d deliberately set him up… Why that son of a… But her eyes were also alight with a passion he’d never seen before. And she was shivering in a way that had nothing to do with any cold. But she was waiting for him… Waiting for him to… Is Ranma serious? Is he finally accepting his girl’s body? In this way? Does he really… "Pleasure?" Ryoga asked, determined to know if he was hurting Ranma at all. His voice was dubious and curious and hopeful…

"Pleasure…" Ranma confirmed, if Ryoga thinks it’s for me, then he’ll let me give him his gift, and leaned forward, seeking his lips with hers. And… and… I want it. I want him. She didn’t understand it, yet she knew it.

Ryoga watched Ranma as she answered, noting the bright blue eyes alight and sparkling with curiosity and hungry and pleasure… Damn me for a fool thrice over. He means it. She means it. She’s been enjoying it with more than just impulse… If Ranma really wants this… Ryoga could see the calculation in Ranma’s eyes, but it didn’t faze him – that would be something about Ranma that would never change. Ranma really wants this. And… Ryoga leaned forward to meet Ranma, their lips touching in a very different manner than before … so do I.

 


 Notes to Chapter 4:

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"Of Life and Love": Start         Previous: Chapter 03       Next: Chapter 05