|Divided I Stand|
|Based on the characters, settings and situations created by Rumiko Takahashi for her Ranma1/2 series of manga. They are here used without permission.|
"He went over that wall, Pop!" Onna-Ranma shouted at the top of his lungs. Typhoon Akane was now officially entering greater Tokyo. The wind-driven rain stung Onna- Ranma's skin as though an angry crowd were pelting him with small stones. He turned his back to the screaming wind, trying to shelter his cursed form's breasts from the onslaught. He chalked it up to the gods punishing him for having asked Akane if she had plied a meteorologist with her cooking. Genma tried to hold up a sign, but the wind snatched it away before Onna-Ranma could read it.
"Let's just get back to the house, Pops!" Onna-Ranma shouted. "Who cares what happens to the old freak?"
Panda-Genma shook his head no and growled out something that Onna-Ranma could not understand directly, but knew that it signaled his father's determination to continue their pursuit.
"I don't get it, Pops! Since when did you care about what happens to Happosai?" Onna-Ranma shrieked, partly out of frustration and partly in an effort to be heard over the wind. He hated the pitch of his voice when in his cursed form, but there was no help for it. He had to shriek in order to be heard.
Panda-Genma shook his head and growled again, then clawed at the stones of the wall to show his frustration. For once in his life, Onna-Ranma found himself sympathizing with his father. Communication was difficult for his father while he was in his cursed form and the wind made it absolutely impossible.
"Whatever it is, Pop, it can wait till this storm blows over! We're gonna get killed out here in this! I don't wanna die chasin' that shitty old man!"
Genma rolled his eyes in disgust. Then gestured for Ranma to scale the wall.
"You're nuts, old man! I am goin' back to the house. What if somethin' happens there, huh? You want me to just leave Mom and Akane there with no help?" Ranma asked as he turned to leave. "Come on, let's go!"
Genma tried holding up another sign that might have read something like, "Sorry about this!" But no one would have been able to tell because it was quickly carried away by the wind. Onna-Ranma never got a glimpse of it, having turned his back on his father. He had to lean into the wind while keeping his eyes on the pavement. Looking forward was out of the question. The wind-driven rain, made of drops the size of number three tins, would have done terrible damage to his eyes. His cursed form's bosom was no help either. He had to keep his arms folded across his chest.
Without warning, Panda-Genma grabbed his son from behind and threw him straight up into the air. Onna-Ranma sailed upward three or four meters. The wind seized him and he disappeared over the wall. Genma had just enough time to feel a sharp twinge of guilt before the wind tumbled him over backwards and slammed him head first into the wall. He slid down into an inert pile of black and white fur at the base of the wall. The wall was trapping the speeding rain, causing sheets of water to run down the wall and over Panda-Genma's inert body. He may as well have been lying beneath a waterfall.
Onna-Ranma quickly realized that hitting the ground was going to be a painful experience, but a far less painful experience than if he allowed the wind to carry him along for any distance. The longer he stayed in the air, the faster he would be going when he finally ran into something, like the rapidly approaching mansion just ahead. His brief, blurry glimpse of the place gave him the impression that he was about to be beaten severely about the head shoulders with an oversized postcard from England. He tucked into as tight a ball as he could make of himself, hoping this would cause the ferocious wind to loosen its grip and allow him to make a rolling landing. The maneuver was mostly successful. He dropped quickly, but not before he was well away from the wall that might have sheltered him from the wind.
He hit the ground on one shoulder, rolled along for several meters, the lawn was after all, very English, until he crossed the driveway and then struck the curb on its far side. He bounced upward like a soccer ball, slamming into the plywood covering a gargantuan bay window. He thought he saw an old fashioned chandelier, the kind that held candles instead of light bulbs, then his vision became too blurry to make anything out. He felt a terrible tearing sensation, as though he were being split lengthwise down the middle. Everything went black for him after that.
Onna-Ranma found himself at the bottom of a black abyss. He hurt horribly, and was conscious of some terrible, irrecoverable loss, but of what he could not determine. He also felt a strange sense of elation, as though things would now change for the better, but he knew he was not going to like the price. A sudden spell of vertigo nauseated him without warning. The room was not just spinning; it was dipping one corner as it turned, making him want to vomit in time with its spin. He retched violently, hating the taste that came bubbling up into his mouth and the searing burn that invaded the back of his throat as he did so. The awful stuff got into his nose and he inhaled some of it. A fit of coughing immediately made matters worse.
"Quickly! Roll her onto her side!" a male voice cried out in the darkness. "She'll drown if we leave her on her back."
Onna-Ranma felt a pair of large hands fumbling at his right side. The pain they caused him was excruciating. The wind, Onna-Ranma vaguely noted, was still howling, but seemed distant, and the stone-hard drops of fast moving rain were no longer pelting him.
"Quickly, man, quickly! She's choking!"
Another pair of hands joined the first and the sour fluids filling Onna-Ranma's throat drained away. He took in a badly needed breath of air. The pain in his shoulder made him scream in agony. Screaming did not help matters at all. He sucked in another deep breath and something large caught in his throat. He gagged then coughed again, spewing a solid chunk of who knows what out of his mouth. Onna-Ranma hoped it was not some important part of his body. For all he could tell, he was coughing up an organ or two, possibly even his shoes. No, wait. He had lost his shoes during the chase. He felt oddly relieved by that. For some reason, he would have found throwing up his shoes in front of strangers embarrassing.
Once again the deep silence of the abyss began to slither in around him. It frightened him terribly and he struggled against its feathery tendrils with all his might. He was suddenly very fond of his pain and wanted to feel it. He was afraid of what not feeling the pain might mean.
"No!" Onna-Ranma squeaked out aloud.
"She needs a doctor!" a voice said.
"Fat chance of that in this storm!" another unidentifiable voice said. "We'll just have to treat them for shock and hope for the best."
"If we are to treat them for shock, sir, we will need to get them off this floor. Marble is lovely to look at, but it makes for a rather cold bed."
"Hmph! It makes for a cold floor as well," the first voice said.
Onna-Ranma decided that this voice must belong to the boss or owner. The vertigo returned, but this time he could not vomit. He had nothing left on his stomach. His stomach heaved anyway. Onna-Ranma hurt from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. As this new round of pain began to fade, he felt the soft tendrils of the abyss again begin to touch his arms and face with their feathery touch.
"No!" Onna-Ranma tried to say, but knew that as short as the word was, no one could have possibly understood it. His ears had told him that all he had gotten out was a whimper. He fought the tendrils, willing them away. After several timeless and uncounted moments, he felt something soft and warm beneath him. Gentle hands were dabbing at his face and torso with a rag soaked in what felt like warm water.
"Careful, Lilly!" the authoritative voice said. "Move her as little as possible."
"I think it best to get this smell off of her if we can, sir," a female voice said. It sounded to Onna-Ranma as though it probably belonged to an older woman. "It might make her retch again. How is the young man doing?"
"Not much better, I'm afraid," the authoritative voice replied. "He has almost the exact same injuries."
The wind outside roared like a living thing, shaking the solidly built old mansion as though it were merely a dollhouse. Onna-Ranma tried to thank the woman for her help, but the darkness swarmed in around him like a cloud of angry bees this time. Resistance was futile. He fell into a deep sleep.
Ranma Saotome drifted upwards, ever so slowly, emerging from the abyss by one tiny degree at a time until his hearing began to work again. He was in large room. He could tell that without opening his eyes. There was the faint sound of gently falling rain. He opened his eyes. The ceiling was incredibly far away, just barely discernable in the lamplight. The smell of burning kerosene tickled his nose, making him want to sneeze. The pounding in his head warned him to resist the urge. His right shoulder hurt, especially just at the base of his neck where it joined his spine. He tried to look at it and see if he had been bleeding. That was when he noticed her.
She was just a blur at first, but the color of her hair got his attention. He forced himself to keep looking at her until he could bring her into some semblance of focus. Let's see, red hair, blue eyes, big boobs and bulging muscles, yep, it's my cursed form all right.
"Copy?" Otoko-Ranma managed to croak out.
"Nope," the redheaded girl answered with a very slow shake of her head. "Not this time, Saotome."
"Then who are you?"
"I ain't too sure of that," the red headed girl replied, looking as though she might cry. "I woke up thinkin' I was you, or maybe that you are me."
Otoko-Ranma blinked in confusion, then looked back up at the ceiling. It was then that he realized that the ceiling was curved and had a mural painted on it, but he could not make out the details. There was an unlit chandelier hanging down from the center of it.
"You gotta bad headache, dontcha?" the redhead asked.
"Yeah," Otoko-Ranma answered. "A real bad one."
"Try sittin' up, but do it slow," the redhead told him, "You'll get sick if you sit up all of a sudden. I found that out the hard way already."
Otoko-Ranma worked his way up onto his elbows a couple of inches at a time. The girl had not been kidding. His head swam sickeningly even as the pain made his eyes water. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to sit completely upright.
The girl watched him intently for a moment before asking, "Got it under control, right?"
"Yeah," Otoko-Ranma replied. "Pain's real bad, though."
"Don't I know it!" the girl said as she held out a large tumbler of water in one hand and four aspirin in the other. "These'll help."
Otoko-Ranma accepted them gratefully. He gulped down all four tablets at the same time, washing them down with a long drink from the glass. The water was cold and sweet, as from a clear mountain stream. He tried to take in some more of surroundings, but everything further than three meters or so away was hard to make out. The room was dark because the windows had been boarded up from the outside.
"I ran into that damned mirror again, didn't I? What's it doin' here in these people's house?"
"Wrong mirror, Saotome," the girl said as she reached out and tipped Ranma's glass. The cold water spilled down his front and into his lap. Ranma patted his bare chest with the palms of his hands in surprise. Not really believing what his senses were telling him, he looked under the sheet covering his lower body. He looked back up at the redheaded girl. She was smirking at him.
"I didn't change!"
"That's the good news," the girl said. "The bad news is, hot water doesn't change me, either. I already tried."
Ranma felt his jaw sag as he stared at his female form.
"You mean there's two of me now?"
"Sort of," the girl said. "I mean, I remember a time when I was a guy and didn't change into a girl. You know, wanderin' around the country with Pop and all, but it seems different to me now."
"It's hard to explain," the girl said. "I mean, it's not like I remember it like it happened to someone else, or nothin'. I remember it all happenin' to me, but it...it don't feel the same."
Ranma found himself once again blinking in confusion as he stared at his female counterpart. The girl, who at first seemed so strong and self-possessed when Ranma first woke up, began to wilt before his very eyes. She started crying.
"Hey! What's wrong?"
"Oh, Ranma!" the girl wailed, "I'm so scared!"
Even though it made him sick with dizziness, Ranma leaned forward and reached out towards the girl.
"Hey, take it easy!" Ranma said. "We've been through worse."
The girl sat down on the bed and buried her face in Ranma's shoulder. He cuddled her for a moment without even thinking about it. Then his eyes widened with fright and he glanced around the room to see if anyone was watching.
"Shh, everything's gonna be fine," Ranma said.
The girl said nothing comprehensible in reply. She just kept sobbing into his shoulder. He held her a little tighter and made comforting noises as he tried to force his brain to ignore the pounding pain in his skull and think. This, he decided, had been yet another mistake. The only way to "fix" things was for him to go back to being cursed. The pain in his head became markedly worse. The urge to cry nearly became overpowering, but he dammed the tears. Guys don't cry, right?
"If we can find a way," Ranma whispered, "I want you back."
"You don't mean that!" the girl cried.
"Yes I do!" Ranma said, not believing that he had said it and meant it. "Ya think I wanna give up ice cream and layin' in the sun?"
"And bein' ogled?"
"You ate it up!"
She was right, of course. Ranma loved the way his cursed form turned other guys into mindless putty. Not only was it flattering, he got a lot of free meals out of it.
"Yeah, okay! That too."
"At least you won't hafta give up Akane."
"Whaddaya mean...oh," Ranma stammered. "I ... Oh, shit!"
The girl began sobbing again. Ranma suddenly became aware of her tears as they trickled down the bare skin of his chest. They were hot and the girl in his arms was soft and cuddly, like a real girl. Holding her was nothing like holding that copy of his cursed form. That girl had so blatantly flaunted her sexuality that he hated the very memory of her.
"Man!" Ranma exclaimed. "Akane'd kill us both if she saw us like this."
"I know," the girl in Ranma's arms said with a giggle. "You're naked and all I'm wearin' is this sheet."
Ranma blinked. What the girl had just said was true. She was wearing a sheet arranged into a makeshift toga. He was completely naked beneath the bedcovers. She turned her head and looked up into his face. He looked down into her eyes. It was unnerving. Ranma he had, of course, seen his female form in the mirror countless times, but this was dramatically different. The body he held in his arms was warm and alive. The blue eyes he was staring into had depths his mirror image lacked. He found himself drowning in them. Where else could he find such understanding? What other pair of eyes saw the same world as he? Ranma forced himself to swim back up to the surface.
"What happened to our clothes?" he asked.
"Oh, I found 'em, but they're ripped apart at the seams."
With an impish grin, the girl reached behind Ranma's neck with her left hand then pulled his head down. She kissed him on the lips. Ranma's eyes widened with shock, but he made no effort to stop her.
"What'd ya do that for?" Ranma asked after she finally let him come up for air.
"Just checkin' somethin' out, Saotome."
"Checkin' out what?"
"I just wanted to see if kissin' you would be like kissin' my brother."
"I ... you ... ain't nothin' like my ... sis ...ter."
"Yeah, I know," the girl said. "It's okay, but it leaves an aftertaste I don't like. Guess I ain't ready for guys, yet."
Ranma breathed a sigh of relief. The truth was, he had enjoyed the experience, but did not like the thought of where that might lead. Besides, this situation might not last and he did not want the memories of any truly girl-type behavior to suddenly haunt him.
"As far as our bodies and all go, we're probably brother and sister, ya know," Ranma said, suddenly discovering that he had an odd catch in his throat. I don't like that idea for some reason, he thought. Why does it bother me so much? It makes perfectly good sense. But why would I want to have...no, no, no! That's sick. Well, true, I have thought about it once or twice before, but ... it's just too sick to think about. Ranma felt the urge to shake his head, but caught himself just in the nick of time.
"Tofu," the girl said as she extricated herself from Ranma's arms and sat up.
"Oh, yeah, sure! Makes sense. He's the only doctor we could explain this to and not get locked up in a loony bin. 'Sides, as banged up as we are, we oughtta go see 'im anyway."
"Yeah, he can probably run a test of some kind and tell us."
"How the hell did we get like this anyway?"
"Remember we was chasin' Happosai?"
"Yeah, and then Pops...I'm gonna kill him if he ain't already dead!"
"Gonna hafta beat me to him. Anyway, we blew through one of the windows of this place and slammed into a mirror--and whala! Two Saotomes. One girl. One boy."
"Well, maybe if we go look in the mirror while holdin' hands or somethin', it'll put us back together again."
"You remember seein' a mirror, Ranma?"
"Me neither, so lookin' into it wasn't what split us apart. Besides, all that's left of it is a big pile of sharp pieces. They swept it up into a corner until the storm stops. We're lucky we didn't get cut to ribbons."
Ranma suddenly felt very sad.
"This might be permanent, then."
"That's the way I figure it."
"What are we gonna do about you?"
"Whaddaya mean 'we', Ranma?"
"Ya don't think I'm just gonna abandon ya, do ya? After all we been through together?"
"How many choices have ya got? Ya think Akane's gonna wanna have anything to do with me? I'm as much in love with her as you are. Whadda ya think our mom is gonna do? I can't hang around like this!"
"Hey! If they don't accept you, they can't have me either. We'll leave together."
"Oh, come on, Ranma! Think about what your sayin'! Do ya think Akane is gonna be in love with two of us, especially if one of us is a girl? I don't know if can or even want to be just friends with her."
"Well, uh, but Mom might love havin' a daughter."
"Saotome, look at who yer talkin' too."
"Hey! Ya just kissed me."
"Yeah, I know. That's another problem."
"Whaddaya mean its another problem? Means you don't hate guys, right?"
"Hmmph! How many guys like me are there?"
"Well, I guess ya gotta point there. I am kinda hard to replace, ain't I?"
Ranma felt a sudden attack of vertigo and said nothing. The girl kept talking.
"But he'd never take up with a foreign commoner, especially not one who looked like me."
"I think he liked us," Ranma managed to choke out. "That's what was makin' him so mad."
"Yeah, we did kinda give him a hard-on, didn't we?"
"I don't want you runnin' off just to be somebody's concubine! That's all you'd ever be with him."
"Ooh, do I detect a note of jealousy?"
"No! I just ... well ..."
"So I guess it'll hafta be just you, me, and Akane then, right?"
"I ... er ... well, maybe. I mean if Akane agrees, then I got no gripe, have I?"
"What makes you think I'd be willin' ta share you with Akane?"
Ranma felt his cheeks burn. "How can you say somethin' like that?"
"'Cause it's true. I don't know if I can. I don't know if I could share Akane with you, either."
Ranma lay back down and covered his eyes with one hand. He knew she was telling the truth. He did not know if he could tolerate such circumstances either. He shuddered at the visions his imagination conjured up. Worse, he remembered all to well how hard he had to fight with the curse to maintain his identity.
"Why does life always hafta be so damned complicated?" Ranma asked with a deep sigh.
"Beats me, Saotome," the girl said as she lay down on the bed beside him. She cuddled up to his left side and he put his arm around without even thinking about it. He stiffened suddenly.
"What are we doin'?" Ranma asked sounding alarmed.
"Resting. We're hurt, remember?"
"Yeah, but ..."
"No buts, just sleep."
"Where's the people that own this place anyway?"
"Asleep. They were exhausted. So am I and I _know_ you are."
"What are you gonna call yourself? I mean, I won't complain if you keep callin' yourself Ranma, but people are gonna get confused."
"I kinda like Ranko," she murmured into Ranma's shoulder. "It fits."
Ranma gave her a lopsided grin. "Yeah, I guess it does."
"Sleep, Saotome. Sleep."
Ranma yawned. The effort hurt his head.
"Okay," he whispered. "I could use some, but maybe we should go on home. The storm has stopped."
"This is just the eye," the girl said. "The wind is supposed to come back with a vengeance in an hour or so. We'd never make it."
"Oh, okay. I guess we'll get in a nap then," Ranma said. "You're over-reactin', ya know."
"Hmph! Easy for you to say!"
"Well, no matter what happens, we're gonna see this through together."
Ranko patted her masculine form on the chest with palm of her hand.
Ranma reached across his chest and covered Ranko's hand with his own. He gave it a gentle squeeze. Ranko snuggled a little closer to his side. Together, they drifted off into a gentle sleep.