"Of Life and Love": Start         Previous: Chapter 06       Next: Chapter 08

Revelations, Part One: "Of Life and Love"

Chapter Seven:

At the tent, they both went in, and without spoken words being exchanged, they both got dressed. Otherwise, it was just too distracting for both of them. Although after they were dressed, Ranma eyed Ryoga and thought about how fun it would be to take all the clothes off him. Slowly. Very slowly. Revealing parts of his body bit by bit. Her memory reminded her of the muscles under the clothes. And her hands twitched out…

"Stop that."

"Humm?"

Ryoga pulled items out of his backpack. "I can feel you thinking. Stop that. I’m hungry."

"So am I," Ranma’s voice was low and deep. She licked her lips while staring at him.

Ryoga glanced over… And almost lost it. He bit his lip and turned again to the pack, "You know what I meant."

Ranma grinned. And decided enough was, for the moment, sufficient. She walked out the tent and poked up the fire.

Coming out of the tent with cooking supplies gathered in his arms, Ryoga stared for a long moment at Ranma as she knelt next to the fire. Ryoga’s stomach growled. But his stomach wasn’t the most important organ. How can we possibly be so completely absorbed in each other? It hasn’t even been that long since the last one! And I’m ready to do it again. Very, very ready. His pants were entirely too tight. Though normally they were loose enough. This wasn’t normal. Not normal at all. Putting the food and spices down next to the pots, Ryoga freed his hands to reach down and pull Ranma to her feet. They stared at each other for a very long moment, Ranma’s mouth twitching in a cat’s grin… A happy cat’s grin, a pleased cat’s grin… A hungry cat’s grin. And then food got delayed even longer. But Ranma’s hunger was satisfied for the time being.

 

"Oh Gods!" Ryoga rolled over, his stomach growling loudly. "How do I let you get me into these situations?" His voice was mock-tragic, and also somewhat self-satisfied.

Ranma propped herself up on one elbow and reached out with the other hand to stroke Ryoga’s abdomen, "Very easily."

Ryoga glanced over at her and grinned. He hauled himself upright and put his clothing back together. "Food." He glanced up at the sun, "Ranma – it’s now evening. I haven’t eaten a real meal for 36 hours."

"You were dead for 8 of them."

Ryoga froze. Slowly, he glanced over to Ranma. But Ranma was getting herself dressed and didn’t seem to notice. Ryoga shook his head, it was a statement of fact. She wasn’t going to start crying… She was just… He closed his eyes, suddenly weary, I was dead. Dead. He remembered the River. And shuddered to think of how close he’d been to crossing it. Without a doubt, he knew that if he had crossed the River, he would never have been able to come back to Ranma, no matter how much Ranma had needed him. Death itself… It would have been easy to stay. And then he would never have been able to help Ranma again.

He felt Ranma’s slim arms wrap around him, holding him tightly.

"I’m sorry, Ryoga. I didn’t mean to hurt you."

Ryoga opened his eyes and slipped his arm around her, "You didn’t." After a moment, they let each other go, physically, and he started getting dinner ready. Ranma sat on the other side of the fire and watched him.

"Ryoga?"

"Humm?" Ryoga was tasting the pot. He glanced over to her, "Come over here for a second…"

Ranma obliged, and found herself pulled into Ryoga’s arms with her back to his chest, his hand around her waist. It was a very comfortable position. Ryoga lifted the spoon in front of her mouth, "Taste." Ranma obediently did so. And raised her eyebrows, "Good."

Ryoga snorted, "‘Good,’ she says. Cooked with loving care, and all she can say is ‘good’."

Ranma glanced upwards, "Alright – delicious, when can we eat?"

Deftly using a single hand to spoon out the soup into two bowls, Ryoga put them to one side and then poured the tea also. And checked the tempura. And the rice. When he had it all next to them, he settled back and pulled Ranma more firmly into his lap, keeping one hand on the front of her waist the whole time. "Now."

Ranma leaned back against his firm chest and sighed contentedly. She wasn’t so much hungry as satisfied. Though Ryoga was hungry – he just about inhaled his soup, and the tempura didn’t last much longer.

"I’m going to start feeding you if you don’t eat."

"Sounds like fun." But Ranma picked up her bowl and started eating. It was delicious. And reminded her of her question while she’d been watching him. "Ryoga – where did you learn to cook?"

Ryoga put down his empty rice bowl and stared into the fire, "My mom taught me and my dad." He grinned, "You should have seen the two of us… And Mom was not in the least sympathetic – we had to eat everything we cooked. And wouldn’t cook us more if we didn’t get it right. We both learned quick."

Ranma blinked. And munched on his tempura thoughtfully, "Your mom taught you and your dad at the same time? And your dad didn’t object?" It wasn’t… traditional.

Ryoga shrugged, "We had to learn. We had just started getting lost on a regular basis, and Mom was determined that all of us learn to fend for ourselves. She didn’t think we’d be able to stick together all the time – and she was right. Dad knew it too. He taught her self-defense and showed her how to use a gun… He was going to teach me when I got older." Ryoga sighed, "It’s been so long since we were all together… It’s always been more important to be together when we are."

Putting down his dish, Ranma blinked at the fire. And ran his thoughts over what Ryoga had just told him… "Wait a sec… You all started getting lost at the same time? You haven’t always been like this? I thought… What happened?"

Ryoga rested his chin on Ranma’s head, "I’ve just started wondering that myself."

"Huh?"

"Ranma, when you called me back… Did you promise anything?"

Ranma blinked again, "Well, yeah… A lot of things. I promised no more pig jokes. I promised to let you have Akane. I promised—"

Ryoga put his hand over Ranma’s mouth, "I didn’t mean those. And I don’t hold you to any of them. Especially not Akane-san." He lowered his hand, "I meant to… anything other than me."

Twisting his head around, Ranma stared at Ryoga, who was looking at the fire. "No." He made the statement flat enough to also be a question for more information.

"I think…" Ryoga pondered, "We started getting lost right after I was in the white land the first time."

Ranma sat bolt upright, twisting all the way around on Ryoga’s lap to face him, "You died before?????"

Ryoga shook his head, not looking at her, staring at the fire. "I didn’t make it to the River. I wasn’t dead. But I think I was dying. I think I would have died. Should have died. But I didn’t die. I thought it was a dream. But my parents called me back. They called me. And I woke up in my bed and they were there and there was also this old priest… I didn’t ask. I was only six years old. I thought it was a dream." He frowned, "But… we started getting lost after that. And my parents seemed to expect it." Ryoga looked down at Ranma, "What did you promise to get me back?"

Ranma shook her head, staring with pity and longing at Ryoga, no wonder he’s been lonely. No wonder. What happened back then? "I didn’t bring you back – you brought yourself back. All I did was give you the energy to live. But you’re the one who came back." Came back to me. Came back because I needed you. "I love you. I needed you, and you came back."

The brown eyes sparkled at him. Her. Ryoga leaned down and kissed the tip of her nose. "I love you too. That’s why I came back." He dropped the subject of his earlier experience.

Things might have progressed from there, but the fire sparked and popped and the last of the wood sputtered to embers. Ranma and Ryoga looked from the red coals to each other. The sun was starting to set over on the horizon. The clouds were turning fluffy pink shades.

Ranma turned again and leaned her back against Ryoga’s chest. Ryoga held her around the waist, both his hands clasped loosely on her. He rested his head again on hers. And they watched the sunset. Not speaking. Just watching. And feeling.

Eventually, the colors were out of the sky. Ranma stirred, "I’m not sleepy yet."

Ryoga chuckled, "We slept ‘til noon. I don’t think we’re going to get to sleep until midnight."

"I like it right here. Like this."

"So do I."

Both of them paused as they just enjoyed the sensation of being together. Then Ranma continued, "But it’s getting cold out and our fire died."

Ryoga sighed, "I suppose you want me to move?" 

"It’s not that I want it…" Ranma tilted her head up, "We can settle down again after we get the wood."

Ryoga leaned down and kissed her, "Promise?"

Ranma started to, then paused, "I better not – I might have other ideas."

Chuckling, Ryoga let her go. He let her go, but it was several more moments before Ranma moved off his lap. Ryoga stood up and stretched, enjoying the way Ranma’s eyes wandered over him as he did so. Reaching to her, Ryoga gathered her in his arms and kissed her lovingly. How can I be so happy? The world is no longer a dark and gloomy place. Not with this spark of joy that wants me in her life.

Ranma relaxed with her mouth pressed against his and didn’t want to move. Stay here, like this, forever. With this happiness and joy. With Ryoga.

The sky was a bit darker before they finally moved again.

Ryoga glanced around the camp, "There’s still some firewood. We don’t need to go."

Ranma looked. And glared at Ryoga, "Oh, one little piece… Yeah, that’s going to last us all night."

Laughing, Ryoga reluctantly loosened his arms around her and then knelt down to toss the last piece on the embers. And froze as his hand touched the wood.

"Ryoga?" Ranma moved to him, her heart in her throat. He wasn’t moving… "Ryoga!" Ranma wrapped her arms around him tightly, "Ryoga – don’t go away!"

Giving himself a shake, Ryoga dropped the piece of wood. "Ranma, it’s okay. Ranma. I’m here."

Ranma clung tightly to him, "What was it this time?"

Ryoga shrugged, putting an arm around her and staring thoughtfully at the wood, "A pine tree. Not the oak. And not really… thoughts. Feelings. Impressions. A pine is different than an oak. And the wood—"

"Ryoga! Will you get your mind out of the damn tree’s!"

…wasn’t alive. Ryoga glanced at the one he loved, "Ranma – I’m okay, really."

Ranma bit her lip and let him go. "I think… I think I’d better get the firewood by myself." She picked up the piece of wood and flung it violently on the fire pit.

"Whoa!" Ryoga stamped out the scattered embers. He glanced from the wood that was starting to spark to Ranma. "That…" he sat down next to the fire, "might be a good idea."

Ranma watched him worriedly for a moment longer before walking off to the small strand of trees where they’d been collecting deadwood and the occasional large branch.

Watching her go, Ryoga sorrowed that he’d caused her pain. He glanced back to the piece of wood now burning steadily. "I wonder how much longer this is going to last." Ryoga himself didn’t mind it. Now that he knew where the thoughts were coming from, he found them fascinating and interesting. A tree’s point of view… He thought of all the times he’d wandered through forests and groves, watching the trees, ignoring the trees, sheltering under the trees, admiring the trees, breaking the trees… He and Ranma did a lot of property damage when they fought. He’d never thought of what the trees might think about it. It was nice to know they didn’t hold any grudges, but Ryoga thought that he might just be a bit more careful from now on when he was fighting near trees.

No, Ryoga didn’t mind the trees at all. But it scared Ranma. And that wouldn’t do. Ryoga was going to have to— A jangle through his nerves sent him from the ground into a dead run heading for the strand. Ranma!

When he found the crumpled figure next to a pile of tumbled wood, Ryoga dropped to his knees, reaching out to her. Ranma opened her eyes and looked at him in anguish, mouthing his name helplessly. He picked her up and placed her on his lap. She wasn’t cold – no more than normal, but her limbs had no strength and he had to hold her because she wasn’t holding him. He looked at her ki and blinked in surprise. But how…? "Ranma…" Ryoga got to his feet while carrying her and walked quickly back to the camp. 

When they got there, he went inside the tent and laid her down. And she sat up, "Ryoga… What happened?"

Ryoga ran his hands over her arms and legs, "My question to you."

Ranma shook her head, "I was just gathering the wood… It sortof felt like when I’d gotten too far from you that other time, but not really. I was fine, but I just… lost energy and fell. I felt okay, but couldn’t move. Then you were there, and I started feeling better, and now I feel fine again, but… Ryoga – what’s happening to me?"

He shook his head, "Physically, you’re fine. Hold on a second." He stilled himself, reaching for his center, watching her ki again. Ranma watched him anxiously. Then he smiled at her, "It’s okay."

"That’s what you said the last time!"

Ryoga smoothed her hair from her forehead, "Same type of problem – your ki has grown back just fine – but you’ve been using me to balance your energy. When you got too far away from me, your energy pattern went to hell."

Ranma glared at him, "That’s not ‘okay’."

Grinning, Ryoga turned away from her and started rummaging through his backpack. "I am not using vegetable oil again… This thing had better come up with something better."

Ranma blinked, "Ryoga?"

"Well, I told you last night… No, I guess I didn’t. I had planned on giving you several sessions of massage, because your energy pattern and muscles were really knotted up last night. I kindof forgot about it until now."

Ranma gave a half-shrug, half-grin, "Understandable…"

"Anyhow," Ryoga blushed, "I had smoothed out your lines then – but then we…" he actually blushed harder.

"We had sex," Ranma stated bluntly, fascinated by Ryoga’s blush. How he can possibly be embarrassed after the last day… Ranma started counting on her fingers and gave it up – she didn’t even remember how many times they’d—

"Exactly."

"Huh?"

Ryoga finally pulled out a bottle that looked like massage oil, "You like sandalwood?"

"Ryoga…"

"Well, basically, your muscles and lines never had a chance to settle into the right patterns. Sex, while incredible and amazing and…" he cleared his throat, blushing even more. "It’s not very good for soothing twisted muscles. And one adjustment wasn’t going to do it anyhow. You’ve been hurting and twisted since last night."

Ranma blinked. And ran her hands over her body…

"You haven’t felt it because you’ve been using me to keep in balance – pulling your energy back in line and ignoring the rest."

"Believe me, I haven’t been ignoring the feelings from my body."

Ryoga blushed again. "I should have guessed something was up when you didn’t bolt down your food like you normally do."

"Ryoga – why are you blushing?" Ranma was really curious about that.

Ryoga put down the oil. "Because I’m going to have to give you a massage, and I’m going to have to have my hands all over you, and—"

Ranma grinned, "Sounds good," she purred.

"That’s what’s wrong!" Ryoga yelled.

Blinking with surprise and a bit of hurt, Ranma sat back on her heels.

Ryoga sighed, "Ranma… I have to… I can’t be thinking of you as an incredibly wonderfully sensuous person with a body that I dream of every time I close my eyes because I know it so well and want to know it better and want to—" He broke off again. "God Damn It." He turned his back to her and started to shake.

Ranma stared at him, open-mouthed. "Ryoga???" And then she remembered how she’d felt the night before and Ryoga’s hands smoothing out the pain. And the times when she was a kid… ‘he’ was a kid, and had overdone the training, and his dad massaged out the pain. A true Martial Artist should learn Healing as well as Aggression. Ranma’s dad had tried to teach him proper massage techniques… but Ranma had always been too small to really learn well. His dad was too large for Ranma’s youthful muscles to work on. At a couple of the dojos they stayed at, Ranma got some training with other students more his size and age. But apparently his training hadn’t been as complete as Ryoga’s had. For a true expert, a massage can not just smooth the physical, but can also heal the inside, the ki and the energy, the pain beneath the pain. For that person, the act of massage can’t be associated with any selfish emotions. He must be able to focus on healing thoughts to get the ki and energy aligned properly for the recipient. Otherwise, the massage could become a leeching action and the ki is weakened, not strengthened. Or worse. Ranma realized, Ryoga is that sort of a person. A Martial Artist Healer. And… Ranma looked down at her hands, "I’m sorry, Ryoga."

"Huh? Ranma, sweet – I’m the one who—"

"Last night. I’d tricked you into that deliberately."

Ryoga turned back to her, "No you didn’t."

"Yes I did."

"No you didn’t."

"Yes I…" Ranma closed her mouth and looked at him.

Ryoga grinned, "Not the massage, at least." He raised an eyebrow, "And I really didn’t mind the rest, so there’s nothing to apologize for." After a moment, his grin settled to a smile, "Come on over here, Ranma-kun, and let me get those currents back in line."

Still though, he turned his back while she took her clothes off. 

Ranma studied him for a moment, "Ryoga, love – I can change back to a guy if that’ll make it easier."

He laughed, "Like that would make any difference?" Turning, Ryoga grinned at her, "Ranma – half the time, I don’t even notice which form you’re in."

"Yeah, right!"

"I’ll have to give you more of a demonstration later," Ryoga grinned wolfishly, his fangs showing. "Okay – I guess I notice when I’m fondling your beautiful breasts."

"Or when putting your di—"

Ryoga interrupted him, "Hey, no need to strip it of all its mystery and beauty."

Ranma blinked. Then grinned, "Romantic. You’re just a hopeless romantic."

Ryoga grinned back, and leaned over to kiss her nose gently, "Of course."

Ranma sighed, wishing she could distract him for just a half-hour longer…

"Don’t even think it," Ryoga was thinking it too.

"It might be easier if I was in guy form."

Ryoga shook his head again, "You got all knotted up in your girl form, I need to work on the girl’s body to get it smoothed out again."

"What difference should that make?" Ranma frowned – he was the same, whichever form he was in; or at least that was what Ryoga had just been telling him. Outloud, he added that thought to his question.

"The change isn’t a direct conversion and there are differences."

Ranma looked down at her body, "Well, yeah…"

Ryoga sighed, "I meant that if you changed back to a guy, a lot of the physical tension and pain would probably be gone and the energy might be aligned better."

"Well then I really should."

"But it wouldn’t really be solving the problem and I really don’t know how the ki would resonate between the forms. Changing like this… Even if your guy-form is better, when you went back to girl form you’d still be messed up. So we have to heal you in girl-form."

Ranma sat back on her heels and pulled her sleeping bag around her, "Explain this one to me, Ryoga. I’m the same – aren’t I?"

Ryoga put down the oil he’d been fiddling with and thought about how to explain it, "You are the same. The… your girl’s body isn’t… uhh, well, it’s not yours. Not exactly. When you change, you don’t just change sexes – your body is different than it would be if male-Ranma was actually born a female-Ranma."

Ranma blinked. And looked down at herself again. "Nobody else has ever thought that."

"You look and act the same – that’s enough for most people."

"But…"

"But you’re four inches shorter! Ranma – that’s not a direct conversion."

"Girls are shorter than guys."

"As an overall species comparison, yes. But if you had been born with an XX instead of an XY, you’d be the same height."

Ranma blinked, "An X…" He remembered that Ryoga’s mother was a biologist, "Never mind." He was sure it was logical. "What else?"

"Well, if it was direct, your breasts wouldn’t be as developed."

Ranma blinked again, "I’m not as beautiful as a guy?" That was a blow against his ego.

Ryoga rolled his eyes, "Of course you are… What I meant…" He glanced around the tent for somewhere to rest his gaze as he blushed, "Girls’ breasts… are, ummm…"

Patiently, Ranma waited.

"Well, they’re mostly made of fat tissues," Ryoga was seriously blushing, "And your guy body just doesn’t have any fat! Beyond that of a normal seventeen year-old."

Ranma glanced down at himself again and poked at his breasts. They were… squishy. If all that was fat… he thought about his Martial Arts training. "I should look more like Akane."

Ryoga blushed even redder, "Yes. For all the training and workouts you do… Yes."

"If that’s so," It all sounded logical, but, "If this girl’s body isn’t mine… than whose is it?" Ranma pulled the sleeping bag away from her and stared at her body. The body that Ryoga had loved. The body that Ranma had had so much pleasure in. That gave so much pleasure to Ryoga. Not… hers? She hadn’t wanted it in the first place. But now…

"It’s yours."

Ranma looked up at Ryoga, seriously confused now.

"Ummm…" Ryoga crossed his legs in front of him and stared at her, "It’s yours. It’s just… That your conversion was based on a prior template."

"Try that one again, Ryoga-love."

Ryoga sighed. "Look – I change into a pig, right?"

"Yeah…"

"You don’t think that’s a direct conversion, do you? That I could have been born as a pig?"

"Of course not." Ranma thought about it, "In Jusenkyo… ‘Tragic legend of girl who drowned there 1500 years ago.’ My body is that of the girl who drowned there?"

"Probably based on it. You’re so obviously you in either form that if it weren’t for the size difference, I wouldn’t have given it a thought." Ryoga paused before muttering, "And I’ve thought about it for the pig."

Ranma looked at his body again. And wondered… "So if we ever did find the spring of Nanichiuan – we wouldn’t get our real bodies back."

Ryoga fell down, startled. "Buddha in a hole…"

Ranma laughed, "You hadn’t thought of it."

"No!" Ryoga glowered, then turned wistful, "But at least it’d be a guy’s…"

He really hates that pig body, doesn’t he? Ranma sighed. Like I used to hate my girl’s body. Never again for me, though. She ran her hands down her body. A girl’s body. And it is mine. It may not be exactly the same as my guy’s… but it is mine. My girl’s body. Mine… and Ryoga’s. This body belongs to Ryoga. I accepted it finally for Ryoga, and I will remember that always. Ranma glanced up, "Okay."

Ryoga blinked.

Ranma grinned, "Massage?"

"Oh." Ryoga also grinned – he’d gotten so completely distracted he’d forgotten. He looked at Ranma with the sleeping bag wrapped around her, "Sorry – you’re cold, aren’t you?"

Ranma shrugged, "A bit."

"That won’t do…" Ryoga went over to his backpack, "I wonder if it’ll give me the solar heater back."

Ranma watched him with a certain amount of tolerance. Ryoga never had told him where his backpack had come from – but it was often handy. And more times frustrating.

Ryoga crowed with delight, "It’s being nice today!!!"

"Did it give you the solar heater?"

"No – but look at this!" Ryoga pulled out some sheets.

Ranma looked at them and then at Ryoga.

Ryoga bit back a grin, "For the massage – so I don’t get oil all over the tent floor and sleeping bags and so you have something covering you so you don’t get chill. And…" he pulled out a u-shaped cushiony thing.

For my head and neck to rest on without smothering me.

"Hah!" Ryoga examined another bottle, "This is good for bruises."

Ranma gave up his pose of indifference and crawled over, poking through the backpack himself. He found several types of oils and looked them over. I’m a girl… Sandalwood was more of a guy-type smell. Ranma uncorked one and sniffed. It smelled… sortof like they did after they’d had sex. She looked at the name – musk. That one probably wouldn’t be good to use. Not if they wanted to finish the massage. She checked the next one. And the next.

Ryoga hummed cheerfully as he rearranged the tent. He and Ranma had been sleeping on opposite sides… That probably was going to change. The sleeping bags got tossed in the same corner. Ryoga glanced at them, two sleeping bags… I have to get the large one again. But there wasn’t one in the backpack. Try again later. They could always put the two together if they needed. Ryoga squashed that thought firmly, later. He put their supplies in another corner, closer to the door. There wasn’t really that much else. Both boys tended to camp compactly when traveling. That left a fair amount of room in the tent for him to set up the massage area. Might as well set it up for long-term use – I’m going to have to do it several times in the next few days to get all the kinks out. There was a foam-pad for cushioning underneath, and the first two sheets on top of it. The head-rest went between the sheets. Then a third top sheet to be used to cover Ranma while he worked on her. There were also several small towels for the oil and his hands. As Ryoga prepared the area, he could feel himself relaxing and thinking more of healing than of passion. He still pictured Ranma’s slim body, but now he was looking ahead to what he needed to do to smooth out the tortured and stiffened muscles and the twisted energy patterns. Remembering the glimpse he’d had before Ranma had balanced herself on him again, Ryoga shook his head. Ranma had been trapped under that tree for hours, not moving, blood circulation cut off in several spots, getting colder and colder until hypothermia and shock had set in. That wasn’t something a person just bounced back from. Not to mention the emotional wreck Ranma had been. He lost the will to live… because I was dead. Ranma – how can you care for me so? I didn’t know… I doubt if you knew. But now that we know – I’ll never forget it. Never. Ryoga looked down at the sheets and didn’t see them, lost in his emotions.

One slim hand wrapped itself around his waist, another rested on his shoulder and Ranma leaned her head against his back. Ryoga reached for her hand on his shoulder and brought it to his cheek, holding it there for a very long moment.

Then Ranma pulled away and handed him a bottle of oil as she came around and laid face down on the sheet, turning her head to watch him. Ryoga absently covered her with the top sheet as he studied the bottle, "Plum?" he asked bemusedly.

Ranma grinned, "I liked the scent."

"Okay," Ryoga smiled down at her. He started to fold the sheet to expose her shoulders and back, but Ranma stopped him.

"I have a question."

"Okay," Ryoga was sure it was about his pack.

"Earlier," Ranma started, "you were talking about my guy form…"

Okay, I’ve been wrong before. This time Ryoga waited for the question before making assumptions.

"I got side-tracked, but you were saying that my guy form wouldn’t be as hurt as my girl form. Why not?"

Ryoga opened his mouth to answer that one and Ranma interrupted.

"Don’t tell me it’s ‘cause they’re different – I want a real answer."

He closed his mouth, and smiled ruefully, "I can’t give you one – I don’t know. It’s just something I’ve noticed."

Ranma rolled to her side, propping herself up on an elbow, "I haven’t."

Ryoga shrugged, grimacing as a few unpleasant memories reminded him of how he’d found out, "I don’t think you’ve been horribly hurt in either form since the change." And then he thought of the one exception, "Remember the ice skating competition?"

"Yeah… You mean when I slammed into the wall."

"Yes – you couldn’t even stand up as a guy, but as soon as you changed to a girl you were more or less fine."

Ranma remembered that. He’d been fighting too much at the time to take much notice, but the little notice he did take assumed it was his usual quick healing time. But then… he had felt the pain when he finally did change back. He’d assumed it was because he’d shoved the pain to one side when he was fighting and just noticed it when he relaxed in the tub. Of course, those two assumptions didn’t work well together… He hadn’t thought of it. "Huh." I get hurt in one form… it happened, didn’t it? Ranma tried to think of any other time that might have happened. He couldn’t think of any – Ryoga was right that Ranma hadn’t been hurt much… I haven’t been hurt. But… Glancing to his friend, Ranma asked, "How’d you find out?"

Ryoga just looked at him.

Okay… So that might have been an obvious question in the abstract. I was looking for something more specific. And then Ranma remembered a time when Ryoga had been hurt, "The Breaking Point."

Ryoga winced in memory and put his hand on his abdomen where Ranma had pounded it. "That was one, yeah. You might have noticed that I stayed in pig form longer than I normally do when I got back to your house."

"I thought you were avoiding talking to me since you’d lost the fight." Ranma frowned, "But you hadn’t lost, really, since you weren’t fighting me for real… Geez, Ryoga – can’t you ever do anything straight?"

Ryoga ignored the last part and commented on the first, "I wasn’t avoiding you – I actually had planned on staying away, but I got lost in the woods and then was back at the dojo…" Back to my best friend’s side. And Akane. Sweet, caring Akane-san. But Ranma also cared… Ryoga shook his head, "I stayed in the pig-form ‘cause I wanted to rest from the fight until I was better."

"You mean that right now if I stayed in my uninjured guy form for awhile, my girl’s form will heal while I’m not in it?" Ranma put aside his questions about Ryoga’s motivations to concentrate again on the problem. It made a kindof sense – the two forms were both him and so they would equilibrate to a balance point eventually. But since they weren’t exactly the same, it would take some time to reach that balance point.

Ryoga nodded, "Sortof. But it’s just a theory and I don’t want to risk you with the ki lines the way they are. Better to heal it up now in this body."

"Not to mention the fun we’d miss if I was in my guy form the next couple of days."

"You just don’t get it, do you?"

Ranma looked at the love in Ryoga’s eyes, and thought that maybe, just maybe, Ryoga was telling the truth when he said it wasn’t just the girl form he loved so well. And then Ranma blinked. And frowned. "Ryoga."

His friend sat warily back on his heels and waited for the accusing tone to say what Ranma was thinking.

"The Breaking Point wasn’t your first incident, was it?"

Ryoga shook his head negatively, not wanting to comment on the first and waiting to see where Ranma’s thoughts were going.

"You knew. At the Ice Skating Competition – which was months before the Breaking Point. You already knew about the separate forms… and you’re the one who dumped the bucket of water and changed me after the crash." Ranma looked up to see redness start spreading over Ryoga’s nose. "You didn’t do that just to join up with Akane… You did that for me. Because I was hurt. So I wouldn’t forfeit the match. So I would heal. And you kept me from changing back by partnering me and then fighting with me. Ryoga…" The redness was all the way over Ryoga’s cheeks now. Ranma studied him. "You are one sneaky little bastard. I’d’ve sworn all you’d wanted was to butt in on my partnering with Akane."

Ryoga didn’t say anything.

Ranma shook her head, "The Ice Skating, the Breaking Point,… What else, Ryoga? What other incidents have there been where I thought you were being my enemy… and you were really helping me?"

He wouldn’t meet her eyes.

"Why, my love? Why did you do it like that? Why not just tell me you were helping me from the start?"

Ryoga turned his head to one side, "I hated you and resented you. I didn’t want to admit how much I still cared for you. I lied to myself as much as to you."

"Ryoga…"

"Let’s talk about this some other time – please?"

Ranma watched Ryoga’s still face. And rolled over so she was stomach down on the sheet. But we will talk about it, my love. We will.

Ryoga put the oil on his hands and then his hands on her back… And as Ryoga worked on her, Ranma felt herself relaxing more and more. And then, "Ouch."

Pausing, Ryoga asked, "Are you okay?"

Ranma twitched, "I… It hurts. My whole body. It’s hurting – stiff, sore, achy. The only spot it even remotely feels good is where your hands are, and even there I can feel where you’re just bringing the pain to the surface. Aiyi…" And my thighs are sore… And my groin… But I know where that came from and don’t mind that pain at all.

Ryoga’s grin showed in his voice as he resumed the massage, commenting, "You’ve relaxed enough to take your balance off of mine. And now you’re feeling all the pain that you should have been feeling all day. Now I can really work on it."

"Owww – Ryoga, love, are you sure I can’t use you again?" Ranma didn’t really know how he’d done it in the first place, but he didn’t like this pain.

Ryoga chuckled, "Now, now, Ranma – you’re a brave strong person, you can take it." He rested his hands across her back, "It might help if you don’t think of it as pain but just watch it and see what happens as I work. And let me know what you’re feeling also. I can’t tell automatically." He started again.

And Ranma tried to relax, but it was hard. She did what Ryoga had suggested and focused her attention into where his hands were sliding over her painful muscles and skin – and noticed that the pain… actually got a bit worse for a bit as he kneaded the muscles, and then when he moved on the muscles felt better, relaxed, rid of something nasty that had been in them.

"Acids," Ryoga remarked when Ranma told him what she felt.

"Huh?"

"When a person is stressed, the muscles build up proteins and amino acids in anticipation of using them. Then when the person relaxes, some of those are still left in the muscles. And the acids start breaking down – which is where a lot of the pain comes from. They shouldn’t be there, but they can’t get out. Physically kneading the muscles forces the acids out into the bloodstream where the natural waste system of the body gets rid of them. One of the reasons it’s not good to do too intensive a massage or to do one when a person is feeling really bad – the immune system can only handle so much at a time."

Oh. While listening to Ryoga’s matter-of-fact explanations, Ranma relaxed more and more. It felt so good and so right to lie there while his care and attention healed her. It wasn’t sexual – not at all. Just very right. She could feel his care as he worked. Ryoga had focused his ki very intently, and she could feel him directing it all out to her and soothing her and healing her. She hadn’t known how much she hurt. She hadn’t known how much she needed care. And that had always been Ranma’s problem. He’d gone through life drifting from one situation to another, making friends and leaving friends. Supremely confident in himself and his abilities so much so that nothing else really mattered. And then he’d gotten that curse. And his whole confidence was suddenly shaken. In himself and in his dad. And he’d taken a good look at himself – something he’d never done before. And didn’t completely like what he saw. But he promptly hid it in the darkest corners of his self and went back to cocky self-assuredness. But inside, deep inside, he needed somebody to care for him. To care for him. And needing the care from others, he’d started to care about others. But hadn’t realized it. Hadn’t realized it until Ryoga was gone from his life. One of the people he’d cared about. And Ryoga cared for him. Cared so much. Ranma lay where she was and let the waves of Ryoga’s care wash over her, soothing not just the physical hurts, but also the pain in her soul. Ryoga is here. Ryoga cares. Ryoga cares for me. He came back to me. Ryoga loves me.

"I hate to make you move…" Ryoga’s hands on her head were gentle.

Ranma forced her attention to some sort of awareness. She hadn’t been asleep, but neither had she quite been awake.

"Could you please roll over?"

His hands steadied her as Ranma resettled herself. And then his hands were gently stroking her cheeks and her forehead and tracing the muscles and nerves there, rubbing points on her scalp, his fingers strong while keeping a light touch. Gentle, and kind, and caring, and soothing. The headache that Ranma hadn’t known she had disappeared under his touch and she relaxed into the bliss of Ryoga’s care.

 

Ranma stirred, not opening her eyes, "Ryoga, don’t leave me." She felt him pause by the tent flap. He’d finished the actual massage some time back and covered her with the sheet and then just sat there next to her. While Ranma wasn’t thinking and wasn’t moving, just feeling herself and her body and not really thinking, but not asleep.

"I’ll be right back," he said softly.

"Ryoga…"

He walked back to her and knelt down, leaning over to kiss her nose, "I promise."

Ranma didn’t make any more protests, but continued to track his movements with her hearing and her feeling as he walked out of the tent. Ryoga… Don’t leave me. I still need you.

Several minutes went by and then he was back. Ranma felt him come back in, and the need in her soul lessened slightly from his nearness. She sighed with relief.

"Oh, Ranma, sweet. I’m here. I really am." Ryoga watched Ranma as she lay still, her lovely eyes closed, the image of peace; yet her need jangled his nerves. He’d barely managed to get the firewood and clean the dishes, her need pulled at him so much. Ranma, you used to be so secure. And now you hurt so badly. There was only one thing Ryoga could really do. Stay with her. Stay until she healed. With a sigh of his own, Ryoga undressed to his shorts and then snagged the sleeping bags. He placed one over Ranma, covering her carefully. The other he spread out next to her and he laid down on top of it, reaching his hand out to first smooth the hair on her face and then to take her hand. Ranma hadn’t said anything more, hadn’t moved, hadn’t opened her eyes… but her hand gripped his tightly.

Ryoga lay there for several minutes, just watching her and holding her hand. Then the tiredness he felt from the energy he’d used crept up on him and he slept.

 

When Ryoga was finally asleep, Ranma pushed off the covers and sat up. Still holding Ryoga’s hand, she bowed her head and let some of her tears escape. She used her other hand to dash them away and then moved closer to Ryoga, staring down at his peaceful face. He’d been so good to her, she hadn’t wanted to hurt him with her fears and her need, so she’d waited until he was asleep. Waited. He’d smoothed out her energy, but it had also made her think. And her thoughts kept leading back to him. Ryoga. Ryoga, I don’t know how I can need you so much. I’ve never needed anybody the way I need you with me. And you can’t promise to stay with me. I know, you’ll always come back… But right now I don’t ever want you to leave. I need you. Ryoga, I need you and I love you and there was this hole in my heart when you were gone and you’re here now but you weren’t before and I need you and I don’t ever want to be without you again. Ranma laid her body next to Ryoga’s, pressing as close to him as she could. Not letting go of his hand. With her other hand, she pulled the other sleeping bag on top of them. Then she tried to relax. Pressed against Ryoga’s warm body. Biting her lip, Ranma placed her hand against his cheek, feeling the warmth there – and feeling his breath moving through his lips. His eyelids are closed. The memory of the empty stare haunted her still. Ranma curled into his body and cried.

Ryoga snapped awake, his nerves jangling… Ranma was crying. She was curled up next to him and crying her eyes out. Oh, my love… Ryoga took her in his arms and held her close. It was close to an hour later that she finally stopped. She sniffled and dashed her hand across her face. Ryoga reached up for his headband… and didn’t find it. Oh yeah. Ryoga turned Ranma’s hand gently in his until he could reach the bandanna around her wrist. Concentrating for a moment since it wasn’t directly attached to him anymore, Ryoga tugged on the cloth… and pulled free another one. He handed it to her.

Ranma blinked in complete and utter surprise. He hadn’t known the bandanna trick would work when it wasn’t on Ryoga. She accepted the cloth from Ryoga and stared at the one in her hand and the one around her wrist. And then used the one in her hand to blow her nose. "Oh," Ranma sighed, "Akane was right – a good cry does make one feel better."

"Ranma…" The time wasn’t right for discussion. Ryoga bit his lip. He knew damn well why Ranma had been crying. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for causing you such pain. Ryoga kissed her forehead and held her. Ranma didn’t make any other comment and was asleep within minutes.

Ryoga held his friend close. Some protector I am. I’m the one who caused this pain. I always thought it was Akane who needed me. The reason I kept coming back. Was it Ranma instead? Or a bit of both. They are so much alike. And they both needed friends. I never saw that before. Never realized how alone Ranma always was – he was so sure of himself. But for him to be in such pain now… He cared. He always did care. How could I not know? Ryoga remembered the look in Ranma’s eyes whenever Ryoga would show up unexpectedly. He’d always been happy to see him. But Ryoga hadn’t trusted it – he’d seen the look before – he’d thought they’d been friends before… And Ranma hadn’t even remembered him. Yet… When Ranma had finally recognized Ryoga – he’d been happy. And surprised at Ryoga’s anger. ‘Tell me why we’re fighting!’ In the past, Ranma had never cared about the ‘why’ – their fights were their spars. But Ranma had recognized something different about that one. Ryoga blinked, Ranma… didn’t recognize the bitterness in me. It wasn’t him – it was me. I was the one who ruined our friendship. I let my anger blind me. All that… for nothing. Ryoga bowed his head over his sleeping friend and sorrowed for the waste.

 


 Notes to Chapter 7:

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"Of Life and Love": Start         Previous: Chapter 06       Next: Chapter 08