Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters do not belong to me.
AN: Thank you to everyone who returned to this fic with me like gort420, VlightPhase, Angela Jewell, caia-chan, roonilwazlib93, tuatara, Richard Ryley, Lacrimosa Tomboy, James Birdsong, jdcocoagirl, and my fastest reviewer Compucles! I'm glad you are reading and enjoying!
No more pussyfooting around: a Ranma ½ fanfic
Chapter 17: The reverse side of the mirror
Ranma's awareness of Akane had flickered in the past, but he now realized that even at its weakest he'd maintained a faint sense of her presence. That faint pulse was gone. Besides which, ever since he'd woken up yesterday the connection to her had been completely open, consistent, and stronger than ever. He supposed that it could just be a return to the former unpredictable status quo.
But what if it wasn't? What if something had happened to Akane? She had been sick when he'd left her yesterday. What if she'd taken a turn for the worse? What if she'd died? Ignoring the crack of the teapot as he flung it carelessly aside, Ranma turned and raced up the mountain towards the women's temple.
When Ranma finally neared the temple, he saw a group of female monks clustered around the front gate. Slowing to a jog, he noticed three men in the center of the group. They were being pummeled to within an inch of their lives. The angry auras the women were projecting sent a shiver of fear down his spine as he flashed back to similar group beatings from his "loving fiancées."
From what he could hear from their yelling, the men had tried to enter the female temple despite the prohibition. "It was an accident! We got lost!" shouted one of the men. "Stop hitting me!" wailed another as he slapped ineffectively at the arms and legs surrounding his cowering form.
Whether they'd made a true mistake or were lying to escape the beating, Ranma didn't know. The women didn't seem to care. The shouted excuses didn't slow down their punishment at all.
Carefully bypassing the mob at the front gate, Ranma ran stealthily towards the window of the room Akane had been staying in. Leaping up to crouch on the sill, he sent a questing gaze around the room. His inspection revealed a tidy futon, barely any furniture, and no Akane. Only her worn pack leaning in the corner confirmed that she'd really been here.
He was probably overreacting. Most likely Akane was just fine. Once he found her, she'd probably yell at him for worrying and thinking that she was weak. He just had to find her so he could get yelled at. Then his heart could calm down and stop trying to leap out of his chest through his throat.
Asking a female monk for directions might be quickest way to find Akane, but it would probably backfire. Their restrictions against the opposite sex were very strict. Even the woman helping Akane, Mariko, had quickly ejected him from the temple when he'd become male again.
No, asking wouldn't do any good. They would just kick him out without listening to his fears, especially considering they were already riled up by the men at the front gate. He thought about trying to con or sweet talk one of the younger ones into helping him, but none of the women were alone. The disturbance up front had them all traveling in packs. It was better to just avoid them all, he decided.
Admittedly, he didn't want to explain to anyone why he was looking for Akane. The spiritual cord that linked him to Akane was private. It was no one else's business. It especially wasn't anyone's business whether a cord between them was appropriate or not. Ranma needed that cord back, because if he had it, he wouldn't have to run around trying to find her. He'd know where Akane was and that she was fine.
Several minutes of searching later, Ranma gave up on not asking for help. He was willing to humble himself. Within reason. Of course, this would work better if he was a girl.
Looking into rooms and open windows with impatience, Ranma tried to find some cold water to activate his curse. If he was female they couldn't kick him out for just asking a question. But cold water proved to be just as elusive as answers about Akane. Too many female monks lingered around the well in the courtyard and the kitchen pots for him to get close undetected.
Normally Ranma couldn't avoid cold water to save his life. When he really needed it though, it was nowhere to be found. Right now he couldn't even find a puddle or forgotten cup of tea.
After several more minutes spent frantically searching and dodging female monks, Ranma felt his grasp on rational thought slipping. Yet in all of his eavesdropping, no one had mentioned being worried about Akane. They'd notice if something was wrong, wouldn't they? Whatever the case, just running around searching wasn't working. He needed a new strategy, or he was going to grab the next pack of women and demand they take him to Akane and damned the consequences.
Ranma slipped through a half-open shoji into a softly lit room. It had a few scrolls decorated with calligraphy and ink-drawn mountains hanging on the walls. Something about the room felt strangely familiar, as if he could feel a weak echo of one of his ki attacks. But he'd never been in here before, much less fought anyone here. He'd swear to that… unless he'd been a cat at the time.
A teapot, whisk, and two clay cups sat forgotten on a tray against the far wall. Catching his breath hopefully, he dismissed his musings and snatched up the teapot. He tipped it over his head but only a single drop splashed out onto his forehead. The skin tingled, but his body remained male. He tried both teacups next, but neither of them contained more than a damp film. It took more restraint than he expected to keep from flinging the entire tray through the shoji and into the nearest pack of female monks.
Slumping down into a corner, Ranma fisted his hands in his hair, clutched his head, and growled. He needed to calm down for a second and try to sense Akane again. Blowing air out between pursed lips, he searched his ki. However the spiritual tie between them still remained elusive. Had it disappeared altogether or simply gone into hiding?
Suddenly, a thought padded into the forefront of his mind. Earlier he'd suspected that the ephemeral cord leading towards Akane was rooted behind the dark dimple in his aura shielding the Cat Fist. If the cord was still attached there, even if diminished, maybe he could find it and follow it back to Akane.
For a second he wavered in indecision and fear. There had to be another way. Maybe the female monks would answer his questions if he just spoke quickly enough. Confronting the source of the Cat Fist couldn't be the only way.
Disputing his hopes, he distantly heard a man scream, "I'm sorry!" amid a chorus of female hooting and cheering.
Firming his lips, Ranma settled himself into a lotus position on the floor and placed his hands on his thighs palm up. To settle his mind he looked at the lines of calligraphy painted on the scroll across the room, 裏には裏がある. 'The reverse side also has a reverse side.' Huh. Ranma forced his anxious breathing to slow. Quickly he dropped into a meditative state.
I can, no, I WILL do this.
Ranma needed to find Akane. He had to make sure that she was alright, because if she wasn't… well, she had to be alright. Nothing else was acceptable. Ranma wouldn't allow Akane to die, not again. He wanted to find her, so she would be found.
Failure was inconceivable.
Using the new geometric technique he'd learned just that morning, he slid sideways inside his spirit and formed a sphere with his aura. Answers to the complex calculations leapt to the forefront of his mind almost before he formulated the equations, as if his subconscious was subtly guiding him. He didn't care how he found the way though, just that it worked.
Releasing his energy, he sensed it bouncing off his aura into a series of angled reflections that almost immediately illuminated the dark dimple he sought with the precision of a spotlight. It was a part of him, a part that let him keep Akane leashed to his soul, and for that alone he would not only face this fear, but embrace this inner darkness. Not giving the terrified gibbering in the back of his mind time to gain momentum, Ranma rammed his will against that dark dimple in his aura until it split open like overripe fruit.
Falling into it, he found himself buffeted on all sides until vertigo consumed him. When he regained his senses, he could no longer separate spiritual perception from physical sensation. For all intents and purposes, he had trapped himself inside his own mind.
Fear and bravado battled in his mind, but there didn't seem to be a clear way back to the calm room with scrolls and shoji where he'd started this. Swallowing his fear, Ranma latched onto bravado. Then he strode forward into the dark.
At first, it felt like he had landed in a muddy cave. Moving forward blindly across the squishy ground, he found the fluid getting deeper and deeper, until it seemed he was pushing his way through a chest-high river of warm pus. Breathing shallowly through his nose, Ranma tried not to gag. He only lasted until a rough arm movement splashed the fluid up onto his cheek. That was the last straw.
Leaning to the side, he vomited. It only added to the foul stench and disgusting feeling. Barely keeping his footing through the painful heaves, he forced his way deeper into the darkness. Finally, the foul liquid receded and he found himself of dry ground. Collapsing onto all fours, he let himself rest for a minute before moving on.
After an indeterminable period of walking, his clothing dried. More walking, and then he began to feel phantom touches. No matter how quickly he turned to grasp at them, he never caught anything. Nevertheless, the touches became stronger. Soon they turned into brushes of wiry fur across his skin and the pinprick of claws and sharp teeth. Menacing feline sounds began echoing in the darkness.
Hyperventilating, Ranma tried to run away. He would have escaped back to the surface if he could. But the darkness was absolute, and there were no walls to follow. He didn't know which way to go. No matter which way he turned, he only encountered more empty darkness. The sense of hissing and yowling grew louder as the touches became more firm. He couldn't even escape into the oblivion of becoming a cat, because right now he was already in the part of his memory and spirit containing the Cat Fist.
For a brief second, he thought he imagined the sound of gentle purring and an excited trill beneath the fearsome racket. But it seemed too foreign, too strange amidst the terrifying bombardment. He listened, but it didn't repeat. Ranma dismissed it as a delusion.
Suddenly out of the corner of his eye, he saw a glimmer of light. As soon as Ranma leapt towards it, he ran into a smack into a wall and bounced back onto the floor. Reaching out, the wall felt cool and smooth, like glass. The light became brighter and brighter, until Ranma had to squint his eyes closed and cover them with his hands.
All sounds and sensations ceased.
In the silence, Ranma opened his eyes. He saw a pale, dark-haired man with sapphire eyes standing in front of him. Blinking at the spots pulsing in his eyes from the abrupt transition from dark to light, Ranma noticed that there the light came from a small, circular opening above the other man's head. Something about it seemed familiar, but he couldn't place it. Wary, Ranma stepped back to give himself some room. The man stepped back at the same time. As the spots dissipated from his eyes, Ranma looked more closely.
It wasn't just any figure, it was Ranma himself. He was standing in front of a mirror. Are you scared of your own reflection now? he scoffed at himself.
Letting out a shuddering breath, Ranma shook tension out of his arms and tried to don his usual cocky facade. As he looked away from the mirror though, he couldn't see anything else around himself but the pale floor he stood on, stretching off into the distance on all sides. Looking up, he couldn't see a ceiling either, just darkness.
Ranma looked back at the mirror, then at the ceiling, then back at the mirror. The light source he'd noticed in the mirror wasn't above or behind him. So was it just hidden from his eyes, or did it only exist inside the mirror itself?
Taking a few steps back, Ranma ran forward and leaped up towards where the circle of light should be according to the reflection. His reaching fingers felt nothing. He tried several more times, but as far as he could tell, there was nothing there. That, or he just couldn't jump high enough.
Circling the mirror, he tried to figure out what to do next. Ranma glanced over at his reflection, paused, and asked, "Any bright ideas?" Of course the image didn't answer. "I need to find Akane," Ranma told it. "That's why I'm here." Meeting his eyes in the mirror, he vowed, "I'll do whatever it takes to find her, to keep her safe, to make sure she's still alive. Whatever it takes."
Nothing happened, but something about his reflection began to make Ranma feel unsettled. Shrugging, he looked away and resumed pacing. As much as he'd hated the feline cacophony, the current silence still felt creepy. Nevertheless, he had to get out of here if he was going to find Akane.
Ranma felt like he had to be missing something else, something in addition to the strange light source that only existed inside the mirror. But what? As he once again vainly searched the area for some new object or exit, he found his attention flitting past his elongated shadow stretching across the floor. He didn't think anything of it, until he realized that no matter where he moved in his searching, the shadow stayed in the same place.
Trying to hide the sudden ratcheting up of his tension, Ranma turned to look down at his feet. It took him a moment to realize the problem. He wasn't casting a shadow.
Slowly he raised his gaze to the mirror. His reflected face looked wary. The image in front of him appeared exactly as it should… except for one thing. Although Ranma didn't have a shadow, his reflection did. And the shadow starting at the feet of his doppelganger had crept out of the image in the mirror and stretched across the floor until it almost reached Ranma.
Doing a double-take, Ranma saw the shadow seeping quickly across the floor like an overflowing puddle of midnight. Right before the shadow engulfed Ranma's foot, he realized that it wasn't in the shape of a man. The shadow was in the shape of a gigantic cat.
Ca-ca-cat! shrieked his mind.
Tensing to spring away, he flicked a terrified look up at his reflection. But now Ranma's reflection didn't look scared. Instead, his doppelganger's lips pulled back to reveal far too many sharp teeth and a wickedly satisfied smirk.
Ranma wanted to run away and hide, wanted to jump forward and pulverize the mirror into powder. But before he could act one way or the other, the first wave of shadow lapped against his foot. Immediately his body became leaden. Just that fleeting touch had paralyzed his body.
"Whatever it takes," his reflection purred at his silent struggle.
Then the cat shadow began climbing up Ranma's body, phantom claws slicing rents across his flesh. The gaping wounds hurt, made him vulnerable. Ranma could somehow tell that their purpose wasn't to draw blood out, it was to make space for something else to crawl in.
Despite his best efforts to escape, Ranma's body refused to even blink. He could only watch as his reflection came closer and closer in the glass, until he stepped out of the mirror, glided down the midnight trail cast by his shadow, and came to a stop in front of Ranma. Leaning forward until they were separated by a bare fingers width, he tilted his head inquisitively, and looked enigmatically into Ranma's eyes.
A heartbeat passed, two, and then the reflection sighed, puffing warm air across Ranma's face. Ranma waited for him to move back, but he didn't. Instead, the doppelganger dropped his chin and leaned sideways to strop it across Ranma's shoulder and up his neck.
Is this some kind of weird kitty scent marking or something? Ranma speculated wildly. If only I could move, I'd punch you so hard even your ancestors would feel it. No matter how hard he strained though, nothing so much as twitched.
Get offa me, you creep! He thought that as loud as he could.
I want to wake up now!
Hovering by Ranma's ear, his doppelganger whispered, "Whatever it takes to save Akane, ne." Wary, Ranma tried to catch his expression out of the corner of his eye. Moving to Ranma's other side, the reflection repeated the strange rubbing, once again pausing by his ear.
Moist breath funneled down Ranma's neck, causing his skin to crawl. "Or," the reflection hissed, "is it, whatever it takes to save Ranma?" Leaning back, the doppelganger raised an eyebrow and asked, "Is there even a difference?"
Draping his hands around Ranma's neck, he gave an enigmatic smile and said, "You think you know, but you don't act like you know." Sharp claws kneaded the back of Ranma's neck as he purred, "I know."
Then Ranma's reflection pressed flush against him. Ranma felt claustrophobic. Then it got worse. Wrapping his arms around Ranma, the doppelganger dropped his head to Ranma's neck and clutched tighter and tighter, and then tighter still, until somehow he forced himself through Ranma's open wounds and vanished inside his body.
Paralysis disappeared abruptly, which Ranma discovered when he fell to the floor writhing and convulsing in pain. Silently screaming, he rolled to the side and vomited bile onto the floor. Panting, he rode waves of pain until he calmed down enough for him to crawl away from his mess.
After several minutes, he felt slightly less like dying. Slowly looking around as he tested his control of his body by tensing muscle groups one by one, Ranma began to notice things. Staring at the empty mirror, he finally figured out why that circle of light seemed familiar. This place was like the pit his father had thrown him into to learn the Cat Fist when he was a child.
Ranma remembered being trapped in that dark pit, surrounded and attacked by feral cats, staring up at that circle of light beseechingly for the faintest hint that his father was coming back to rescue him from feline hell. Even hours after they'd stopped, he'd still been able to see the glowing outline of that circle on the back of his eyelids every time he closed his eyes.
This mental space had always felt too dangerous, dark and primitive. It was damaged. He was damaged. But it was still his space, in his memory and in his spirit.
It was his.
Strangely, as he looked around himself, he felt a faint feeling of satisfaction. Ranma didn't understand it. He was too exhausted to figure it out.
For the moment, he was done.
Flopping down onto the floor, he flung out his hands in a stretch. His left hand bumped into something. Curious, he leaned over to see what he'd touched. The room had been empty when he'd examined it before.
Ranma found a messy knot the size of a softball attached to a braided cord rising out of the floor. The knot had broken filaments sprouting up all over it like weeds, some clean cut and others jagged. A colorful kaleidoscope of rope, fabric strips, yarn, and even plastic zip ties were tangled throughout to knot. From the top stretched a single cord, thin as spider's silk and red as blood, which continued up into the darkness until it disappeared above his head.
Pain forgotten, Ranma cautiously brushed it with the barest tip of his finger. The thread vibrated as if plucked and gave off a light sweet tone. He'd found Akane. She was still alive.
Euphoria swept away his pain. Closing his eyes in relief, Ranma felt his body and thoughts become as light and insubstantial as mist. Time stretched like taffy.
Then everything snapped back into place.
Opening his eyes, Ranma felt whole. The shoji walls glowed in the sunlight and the shadows had only moved slightly since he'd first entered this room. Surprised, he realized that his mental journey couldn't have taken as long as it seemed.
Feeling unsettled, he whispered the words on the scroll he'd read earlier out loud, "ura niwa ura ga aru." The reverse side also has a reverse side. Good advice, but he felt that it was pretty obvious that there was more to this situation than he understood. However, he'd have to leave figuring out what had just changed for another time.
Right now, his priority was Akane. As soon as he thought of her, he felt the fragile spiritual cord still linking them together. It would lead him to her. Sighing in relief, Ranma slipped out of the room and jogged off to find his fiancée.
[To be continued]
AN: In the next chapter, Ranma and Akane will finally have a conversation together where there are no bystanders to interrupt or interject. It has been many long chapters since this last occurred. Potentially, there will also be bad touching, of a sort. You'll have to wait and see what that means.
I'm curious, what is your favorite scene in this fic so far? I've been thinking about some of my favorite images (which may or may not be fav scenes) and how I hope someone will make me some fanart. What would you like to see someone draw? Scenes that I think would make amazing pictures:
Akane eating the peach in the marketplace, while Ranma and the shopkeeper stared at her and drooled/blushed,
Akane fighting off the rapists and evil pearls with an unconscious Ranko in the background
Akane floating down the river with Ranko on her back, while cats pace her on the shore
Facing off against the iriomote cats in the cave, any part of that, like when Akane throws fruit or stands in front of Ranma or cat fist Ranma sits on her to check if she is possessed
Cat Fist Ranma licking the side of Akane's face
Akane getting patched up by Mariko while cat fist Ranma sat on her feet
Ranma practicing Martial Arts Geometry, with some cool angles and circles and equations squiggled on the picture like those sport commercials
Ranma facing off against his mirror cat fist self in this chapter
I'm sure there must be more. Let me know if you have any ideas, preferences, or better yet, if you have any pictures to show the rest of us!