"Of Life and Love": Start         Previous: Chapter 08       Next: Chapter 10

Pre-Note: 'Matei' is the Japanese word for 'wait'. It's used in Martial Arts to halt a spar.

Revelations, Part One: "Of Life and Love"

Chapter Nine:

Ranma put down her plate and hopped off Ryoga’s lap, "I’m done – you ready?"

"Excuse me?" Ryoga scooped up another bite of soba and ate it.

Impatiently, Ranma tapped her foot. "Finish eating already."

Ryoga just looked at her and took another bite.

Ranma sighed and went in the tent. When she came out, she was wearing her tanktop and loose pants bound at the ankles. Both of them had dressed for dinner, but only in pants and regular shirts. As Ryoga watched, Ranma slipped on her shoes and her arm braces. Then she braided her hair back.

She’s getting ready to fight… to spar. Ryoga put down his dish and stared. Yet, Ranma is still thinking as a girl. It was in the way she was moving… Ranma was still Ranma – always. But… she felt like a woman at the moment. Ryoga was watching a young woman do her kata-forms. Not a man in a woman’s body. But she’s not having sex with me… Which was where Ranma for the first time thought of himself as a girl. Herself as a girl. It was how Ranma had started thinking as a girl – when she was thinking about seducing Ryoga. Ryoga was too busy figuring it out to even think about blushing. And then Ranma accepted his girl’s body because of the sex. Accepted that she was also a girl. While having sex. But Martial Arts? Ranma had always fought as a guy. Girl or guy form – Ranma had been a male. It was what he grew up with. But there she was, doing the standard katas… It was… interesting. Ryoga wasn’t sure if it was good or bad yet. He was inclined to think it made no difference… but time would tell. Just as long as Ranma has no problem with it.

Ranma finished her warm-up. She stood for a moment, then turned to Ryoga expectantly. Brought to awareness of how much time had passed while he watched her, Ryoga glanced down to the congealing bowl of cold soba. Yuck. I’ll get something else later. He stood up and walked to where Ranma waited.

"Aren’t you going to warm up?" Ranma tilted her head as she watched him.

Ryoga was already in his half-focused state of centeredness. It came as naturally to him as breathing. Actually, it had been a bit of surprise to realize that for the last couple of days he hadn’t been in that state. Ranma definitely has some sort of effect on me! "Don’t need a warm-up." If he wasn’t ready to fight at a moment’s notice, he wasn’t a Martial Artist.

Doubt and curiosity combined made Ranma raise a beautiful dark eyebrow.

For a second, Ryoga paused to admire it. And then he struck. Ranma dodged. And tossed out a kick. Ryoga blocked. And threw a punch. They sparred carefully for a few minutes before Ranma called a halt. Breathing lightly, they looked at each other, frowning.

"It’s not working," Ryoga stated.

"No, it’s not." Ranma analyzed their movements… and figured it out, "Partially, I’m still stiff. Mostly, though – we’re trying not to hurt each other. We’re pulling back. Shifting too much and too far. Less force and less speed as we try to be gentle." Ranma nodded to himself decisively, "Okay. We need to go back to the beginning."

Ryoga grinned, "You going to steal my lunch? Or follow me around?"

Ranma frowned, "I’m serious here. Back to the very basics. The first katas, the first moves. The earliest teachings. We need to relearn our skills with each other." He grimaced, "And I need to take it a bit easier on the body."

"The beginning, eh?" Ryoga had to think about that. Ranma obviously knew what to do. But what were the basics? What had been the beginning? Ryoga ran a tongue over his fangs.

They started again. And Ranma was shocked. I never knew… how different we were. In their normal, advanced fights, the two youths were near equals. They tended to use a lot of the same moves, the same techniques. Ryoga fought as well as Ranma in mid-air techniques – normally a specialty of the Anything Goes School. The speed and strength they used were near equal. Ryoga had the edge in strength and Ranma in speed, but they were still closer than anybody else they fought. Yet now… Ranma was mostly using simple Aikido and Judo moves – grace and elegance, form and movement. Slide from spot to spot with agility and balance. The power in the blows would come from the move, not from the body. Ryoga on the other hand… Ryoga was sheer power and not much else. He was attacking with straight blows, ignoring Ranma’s counter-moves to advance and attack again. Ranma was landing blows that Ryoga didn’t even try to avoid or block, but simply ignored. And Ryoga’s blows without subtlety, Ranma was dodging easily. It was a lot like one of the fights between Ranma and Kuno – except that Ryoga wasn’t affected by Ranma’s attacks.

"Matei!" Ranma had had enough.

Ryoga stopped and stood down.

"Ryoga – what the hell was that?"

"Huh?" Ryoga blinked, "You said go back to the beginning…"

"I meant…" Ranma studied his friend. When they were in Junior High, he’d seen Ryoga train with his Sensei – he knew Ryoga was trained. But this wasn’t... "Ryoga – where the hell did you learn to fight?"

Ryoga’s eyes shaded darkly and his mouth dropped half-open, fangs going to the outside as his expression changed to a feral-grin – the grin not a grin of a wolf in challenge. A deadly wolf of the wild, ready to defend his territory and pack. A confident wolf.

Ranma involuntarily took a step backwards at the look on Ryoga’s face, his nerves suddenly warning him of danger near. I’ve never seen a predator… No, a… Ryoga wasn’t a predator – he wouldn’t be the one to prey… but… he was dangerous. Very, very dangerous. My friend? What…?

Ryoga answered the question, "The streets. The alleys. The dark corners of shopping centers and parking lots. The usual." 

"The usual…?" Ranma shook his head, "Ryoga… that’s not usual."

"Maybe not for you – it is for a lot of other people." The brown eyes were still shaded and remote; the face had gone still, not showing either danger or friendliness.

"Ryoga…" Okay, so I’m not one to talk of ‘usual.’ Ranma tapped his foot as he studied his friend carefully. Then he shook his head again. "It won’t work. We’re going to have to go back and retrain you."

"I am trained!" Ryoga snapped, his eyebrows lowering as he shifted defensively, glaring angrily at his skilled partner.

Ranma tilted his head briefly, I’d forgotten… how touchy Ryoga has gotten since Junior High. These last couple of days; he’s been so patient and even-tempered. Like he used to be. I’d forgotten. "Take it easy, man. I know you’re trained. I’ve seen you, remember?"

If anything, that seemed to make Ryoga madder as he flushed and turned around, stalking off in a huff.

"Ryoga! You moron, get back here." Figures. Any confrontation that doesn’t involve an actual fight and he just runs. Not this time!

And Ryoga paused, one foot up in the air. Then he lowered it and turned back to Ranma, his face open and worried, searching Ranma’s eyes in concern.

Concern? Ranma blinked. And then melted inside as she realized, I told him to come back… he came back for me. For me. Ranma walked to Ryoga and hugged him close, holding her friend tightly. He thought I needed him, and came back. I do need him. I’ll always need him. Ranma looked up and kissed Ryoga lightly before backing off. "I know you’re trained," unused to it, Ranma tried to make his voice gentle for his friend, "But… you obviously don’t know it or you wouldn’t have gone back to your… alley-street days when I said ‘basics’. Ryoga – training is something that has to be ingrained into every move you make, every thought, every reaction." Ranma watched Ryoga carefully for a reaction.

With a sigh, Ryoga capitulated. He’d forgotten for a moment there that he and Ranma were friends again. He’d forgotten… ‘Ingrained into every move you make.’ I’m not what I should be. His eyes clouded over with memories, and he spoke wearily, "What do you want me to do?"

"Ryoga…" Ranma didn’t like that reaction. His friend looked… defeated. Beaten. Ranma liked the anger better. He was about to get angry with me. To fight with me. But now, he thinks he can’t. Because we’re together. Ranma could fight anger. But defeat? Ah, geez… Now what do I do? There was only a void where life should have been in Ryoga’s eyes. And it reminded Ranma… She was… Helpless. Unable to do anything but watch. Empty eyes. Gone. Her friend’s body lying over her, growing colder and colder. Dead. Empty. As never before. Helpless. Defeated. No point…

Gradually, Ranma became aware of sensations. He was curled in Ryoga’s arms, her body on Ryoga’s lap, his arms wrapped tight around Ryoga, as tears streamed down her face. Ranma gulped them down, sniffling. "What…?"

Ryoga’s sigh of relief echoed through Ranma’s bones. Ryoga stroked a hand down Ranma’s hair, gently, carefully, protectively, worriedly. "I don’t know. You were looking at me… and then just collapsed. Curled in a tight ball, crying… Ranma, my sweet Ranma – did I do that to you?"

The trembling through her body started to relax as Ranma realized that she was safe in Ryoga’s arms. "No defeat… I promised," Ranma whimpered, trying to fight again. He twisted his head to look up at Ryoga, moving her hands to grip Ryoga’s shoulders tightly, "But you didn’t! Ryoga – why did you give up? What was that all about? The look in your eyes… Do you not want to learn from me? No, that’s too simple. Something drained the life out of your eyes… Ryoga – why did I see such pain in you?" Her voice was a desperate pleading cry, needing to know, needing to help. The pain had taken his friend from her and he needed Ryoga back. Needed him so very much.

Pain… That reminded him of his. Ryoga sighed. He looked over Ranma’s head to the valley beyond. The evening clouds were starting to gather in, though it wasn’t yet sunset time. How can I ever explain it? Ranma gave his life for mine. I trust him. But the hurt… I can’t hurt him any more than he is already. I can’t explain it. I don’t want to. But for Ranma, I must try. "Ranma," Ryoga searched for words he could say, "I… I’ve lived in the streets. I’ve lived on the road. I’ve fought people who needed fighting. And kept going. On the way, I’ve seen some things that nobody should see. Things that shouldn’t ever happen to people. But they do. And… I don’t always get there in time. You saw what used to happen when you’d follow me around. That’s been my life. And…" Ryoga couldn’t. He just couldn’t tell Ranma. He closed his eyes and turned his head away, even as he continued to hold his friend. His friend who needed him so. Who loved him so. Ranma loves me… Ranma loves me… Ryoga chanted the thought, knowing it was true, trying to keep the blackness away.

‘There are other things in this world that can hurt.’ Ranma remembered Ryoga’s words as he had asked for Ranma’s promise. And he remembered the concern he’d felt for Ryoga at that point. And later that night; ‘Akane was the only nice thing in my life – and you.’ And Ryoga’s desperate need. His need for friendship, his need for reassurance. Ryoga – what sort of things have you seen? What happened to you? What was it that made you bitter and angry? With Ryoga’s pain, Ranma forgot his own. It’s not going to get better bottled in him. In fact, it’s been getting worse over the years. "Ryoga – what happened? What hurt you so bad?"

Ryoga shook his head; there was no way he was going to hurt Ranma. Nothing could make him do that. I hurt him just now. I hurt him. He saw my pain and was hurt. Dark waves of depression swirled around him, looking for a grip.

"Ryoga…" Ranma scrambled out of Ryoga’s arms. Okay. Ryoga is lost again. Here with me, but lost in his emotions. These last couple of days… I’ve been the basket-case, and Ryoga’s been remarkably strong considering his normal imbalance. "You’ve always responded to need, my friend." My need. Ranma blinked at a sudden thought, the need of others? He remembered the puppy. The day they’d first met. The little girl that had loved the puppy and couldn’t do anything. ‘You saw what used to happen.’ I did see. I saw – and never noticed.

At Ranma’s statement, Ryoga’s dark brown eyes turned on him with a haunted look before his gaze dropped to the ground, losing focus. Ryoga placed a hand flat on the ground for support as his arm trembled with his emotions.

And the ground started shaking. Birds flew out of the trees, squawking in startlement and fear. Dust swirled. Branches fell from trees and rocks from hills.

"Aaaya!" Ranma looked around – then slapped Ryoga across the face, "Stop it! My friend, my love! Stop… I love you. I do! Ryoga! Come back to me!"

Ryoga blinked. And the ground stopped shaking. He looked around curiously, "I did that?"

Ranma wrapped her arms around Ryoga and held him close, trembling as much as the ground just had. "Oh, my love."

The dark energy was gone from around Ryoga and he put a reassuring hand on Ranma’s shoulder, "It’s okay, Ranma-sweet."

"It is not okay!" Ranma sat back and glared at Ryoga, "Okay, so you got rid of the depression that time with your Earth connection – but what about the next time? Ryoga – talk to me. Tell me what’s been bothering you. Before, I always told myself that it was none of my business… but I love you now. I love you and you love me and we’re bound together. Bound by life and death. It is my business now – because it affects you. Ryoga, love, we’re together. And I want to help. Tell me."

Ranma’s serious. Ryoga studied his friend. And then glanced down at the ground and sent his mind into it. Oops. Ranma had been right – Ryoga had sent all his dark energy down into the ground, and it had caused the quake. The quake had stopped, but the energy was still fracturing lines… Ryoga gathered the energy back to himself, mentally apologizing to the Earth. And then he held the dark energy and surrounded it with the light of Ranma’s love… And it faded away under the intense spark of joy.

The energy was gone… but the pain still remained. Ranma’s right. And if I put him off – he’ll be hurt. I’ll have essentially said that I don’t trust him. But I do. Now. So… Ryoga mentally flipped a coin.

"Back when you knew me before, I always tried to help people," Ryoga started.

"Ho, whoa, wait a sec." Ranma scrambled around, "Let’s rearrange first." She sat down with her back resting against a large boulder. "Come here."

Ryoga blinked, then smiled. He moved over and then lay down with his head in her lap, reaching a hand up to stroke her face gently before Ranma took his hand and held it tenderly in hers. Her other hand she placed on his cheek and Ryoga turned his head into it, closing his eyes as her fingers gently soothed him.

"My love, as you have always been for me, I’m here now. We’re together. Don’t forget that," Ranma put as much truth into her voice as she could.

That helps, Ranma. It really does. Ryoga could feel himself relaxing into her care. But… I still have to be careful. Very careful.

They stayed there for several long moments before Ryoga began differently, "After you left for China… There was a friend of mine. I… He…" Ryoga’s voice trembled before he steadied himself, "He betrayed me. Unintentionally, I’m sure. But I had trusted him so very much…" Ryoga paused again, pain lining every aspect of his body and voice.

Ranma clenched his fist, "Bastard! Tell me who it was and I’ll kill him!"

Unexpectedly, Ryoga chuckled, "Never mind, Ranma. He’s still my friend."

"Huh???"

Ryoga sighed, but there was still the grin in his voice, "He didn’t mean to hurt me. It… was mostly in my head. But that’s not what I was getting at."

Biting her lip, Ranma stroked his hair and settled back, trying to listen and not burst into commentary again.

"I… I got angry."

"Well, hell yeah!" And Ranma clapped a hand over her mouth. So much for her resolve.

Ryoga blinked at the outburst. And then chuckled again, "Ranma – that’s not my way. It’s yours and Akane’s. To fight when you’re down. With me…" Ryoga sighed, "it just ends up making things worse. I don’t let go of my anger as easily as you do." He closed his eyes in pain again, "I knew not to get angry. Especially not for that reason. The dark unthinking anger that clouds judgment and reason. It’s not your clean fire of anger that is only surface lit for the light. I deliberately let the anger into my deepest self." To burn out the pain, I thought. But it burned everything else, and left the pain. "And so I betrayed another. Two others, really." More. If you count all the people I hurt then. I wonder if I can include myself in that count?

This time Ranma managed to keep her comment to herself. Ryoga… She brushed his hair gently with her fingers, trying to convey her love. "Bastard," she murmured angrily, wanting to track down and harm the person who had hurt her friend.

Ryoga shook himself, "Ranma, you ass…"

And Ranma clamped her hand over her mouth again, realizing she’d let her comment slip out. Oops…

"Will you stop that? It wasn’t anybody’s fault but my own! I shouldn’t even have mentioned it…" Ryoga sighed, opening his eyes and looking up at her, "Ranma-sweet, you have to accept that I make mistakes. This was one of mine. A big one. One that I’ve been running away from ever since, not willing to admit it or accept it… which was the second mistake. Others tried to point them out to me, tried to help me, but I wouldn’t listen." Ryoga reached up to her face, pulling her hand off her mouth, and bringing it down to his cheek again. He looked out at the clouds. "Ranma, my love – you’ve always been my friend. Always. You’ve tried to help me in so many ways… and I never listened. But even with my anger, you fought me. You sparred with me and let me be with you. You kept your judgments to yourself and just were there when I needed you. When I needed to fight and spar with an equal… with somebody I couldn’t hurt… you were always there. And accepted me as I was without demanding more."

With an effort, Ranma shut her mouth. Is that what I was doing? He shook his head, no – I was just a big egotist who couldn’t see beyond my own self. I never noticed how desperately Ryoga always sought me out… I thought it was Akane. I thought… I didn’t think. I was always happy to see Ryoga, my friend and partner – my sparring buddy… but I never thought about his pain. I never wondered why he was angry… Well, I did at first. But then I thought Jusenkyo, but really, that wasn’t it, and I never bothered to try any harder. Or… Ranma thought about it. Ryoga… might be partially right. It was the Warrior’s Code not to bring shame to others. And to acknowledge a weakness in a friend was to bring them shame. Ranma hadn’t seen Ryoga’s pain, because Ryoga didn’t want Ranma to acknowledge it. Ryoga had tried so hard to ignore his weakness… "What changed?"

Ryoga glanced back to Ranma, raising an eyebrow that Ranma saw upside down.

"I mean," Ranma stuttered just a bit, "What… ah, well… Why did you let the anger go?"

How could I possibly be angry at you after knowing how much you care? Ryoga was silent for a long time. "It wasn’t there anymore. I think I’d been losing it bit by bit. Calling it up when I needed it, like when I couldn’t fight you on the Dragon’s Wave, but… It was going away slowly on its own. And then…" Ryoga sighed in partial longing, "It was so peaceful. So very peaceful there in the white land. There wasn’t any need for the anger. No need…"

The ‘white land’? Ranma blinked. Then realized, when he died. Peaceful. When he was dead… Ranma started to shake violently, "You hadn’t wanted to come back. I made you come back. You wanted to stay… Ryoga…"

Ryoga sat up and grabbed Ranma tightly. Damnit! I did it again!! "Ranma! My love! I wanted to come back! I did! I love you! I love you so very, very much. Oh, Ranma… I came back to you not just because you needed me but because I needed you. I couldn’t stop thinking of you. The anger wasn’t there but the friendship and love still were. I wanted to come back, but it was so hard to… so very hard…" trying to fight through the clinging mists, "I was trying to get back to you. If you hadn’t called me, if you hadn’t put your energy in me – Ranma, if you hadn’t loved me so very much, I would never have been able to get back. I would have been stuck there, and wanting to be here. I would have failed. Failed like I did before. Ranma, it was your love that enabled me to succeed at something for the first time in two years. Ranma-sweet, please…" Ryoga’s voice pleaded with his friend to believe.

Actually, Ranma’s tears and fears had vanished somewhere around the third sentence. The complete sincerity in Ryoga… We can’t lie to each other anymore. Our ki’s are so close that I feel him even as he feels me. Ranma coughed, "Uh, Ryoga – it’s okay now."

"It’s…" Ryoga loosened his tight grip on Ranma and moved back a bit, studying her. He sighed with a combination of relief and annoyance, "Ranma – why the hell didn’t you say something earlier????"

Ranma shrugged with a small amount of guilt, "I was listening." 

Ryoga laughed, acknowledging the love and care in that simple statement. That they both shared. He let go of Ranma and stood up, "Ready?"

"Huh?" Ranma blinked up at him in bewilderment.

"Spar, baka," grinning, Ryoga gently tossed her intentions back at her, offering in return his loyalty and his affection and his respect and his trust…

Hearing it, seeing it, knowing it… Ranma’s heart jumped into her throat and stayed there. My partner. Ryoga. My love. Ranma stood up, clearing her throat gruffly, "Alright. First, let’s start with some katas…" There’s something still missing… Ranma looked down at her wrist. And then untied the bandanna, handing it back to Ryoga. His defense and weapon, his symbol of himself, that he gives to me…

With a smile of love that was also a grin of mischief, Ryoga accepted the headband back, tying it around his head. Then he floated into a perfect Karate kata.

Ranma stared. Then muttered, "Show off." But she did have to admire Ryoga’s form...

When Ryoga had finished the kata, Ranma clapped politely, then scowled, "Ryoga – are you going to follow my lead or not?"

Ryoga’s smile lit his face, "Any where, any time, my sweet love."

"Taikyokuken," Ranma growled, not mollified. "If you know it, let’s begin."

"Uhhh…" Ryoga knew of that form of Kempo… His confidence was shaken slightly.

"Didn’t think so," Ranma nodded to herself. Taikyokuken was a lot like Tai Chi in its slow and fluid movements, while the body was kept relaxed and pliant. Something that he could teach Ryoga from the beginning, and that would also be good for her healing body. "Okay, we start like this:"

 


 Notes to Chapter 9:

(yes, that's the end of this chapter – I didn't feel like describing more Martial Arts, and the next chapter starts at a different point in time. It made more sense before I divided the story into chapters, but...)

"Of Life and Love": Start         Previous: Chapter 08       Next: Chapter 10