Red Letter Day
Ranma was wearing his finest Chinese silks. He stood from the table, which bore the remnants of a light meal. Kuno Tatewaki rose with him, wearing formal kendo-gi and hakama, followed by Kodachi, who wore a kimono of red satin brocaded with black roses. Akane, in a yellow sun-dress, was already standing. She was holding two glasses of water.
"Now's th' time, people," Ranma said. "You've seen how m' father's curse works y' nearly knocked me over yesterday, chasin' him with yer super-soakers. Take my hands, so y'know I'm stayin' in one place. Akane?"
Akane handed a glass of cold water to Tatewaki, and a glass of hot water to Kodachi, then stepped back and took one of the deceptively-casual stances of Anything Goes just in case.
"Right now, I'm the person I wuz born as," Ranma said. "Pour cold water on me, Tatewaki."
"Pig-tailed goddess!" "Scarlet harridan!"
"Kodachi, some warm water, please." And Ranma returned to his male form. "I ain't a goddess, and I ain't a harridan. I'm Ranma. Since oyaji took me to China, I got two forms. An' water chases me around, so the form I wear keeps changin'.
"But whichever form, it's the same me. An' it's been rough bein' your eternal love in one form an' your eternal enemy in the other. Both of you. I mean, I really woulda appreciated it if you'd noticed I was the same person either way. It's not like I didn't try tellin' you. But I think playin' with th' panda helped you break on through. Y' didn't have any strong feelin's 'bout him, so it didn't cost you anythin' to see."
Tatewaki was rocking on his heels, hand over his face, muttering "Blind, blind, Kami-sama, was I blind!" Ranma motioned towards Kuno with his head, as he raised his eyebrow at Akane. She shook her head 'no'.
Ranma sighed, and splashed himself with cold water from Tatewaki's glass. Then she took his arm. "Tacchi-kun, we were all blind. You couldn't see we didn't want you the way you wanted us. We didn't see how much it was hurtin' you when we beat you up in front of the school. I mean, we didn't mind beatin' you up that's what martial artists do for exercise. But we shouldn't'a done it in front o' everybody.
"Just one more try, Tacchi-kun. We got past the 'foul sorcerer', we got past the 'fierce tigress', now let's see if we can get past the 'pigtailed goddess'. I can't be y'r goddess, but maybe we can be friends." Tatewaki looked from under his hand, and saw her smiling. " I thought you'd be more comfortable 'f a gal held yer arm this way. It ain't romance, it's comfort." Tatewaki smiled back at her, tremulously.
Ranma looked over at Kodachi, who was still standing in the same place, the same pose. Her mouth was slightly open in surprise, her eyes more open still, and there were thin trails of smoke coming out of each ear. Well, it wasn't actual smoke, but Ranma's ki senses could tell Kodachi's mind was whirling madly in pursuit of its own tail. Which wasn't an actual tail, but
Akane was watching Kodachi, still ready to move instantly if needed. Ranma patted Tatewaki's hand, then went over to the low table and splashed some tea, turning male again. He smiled wryly at Akane, then went over to take Kodachi's hands. "Kodachi? It's Ranma."
Kodachi twitched. Her eyes came back to life, widened even further as she saw Ranma holding her hands. Then she stepped back, and jerked her hands free. "I am sorry, Ranma-sama, but you can no longer pay court to me. It would not be appropriate for a samurai to have a spouse half male, half female. It breaks my heart, but such is the way of the world.
"To soothe my heart, I shall have vengeance, instead: vengeance on the foul sorcerer Saotome who caused this tragedy of magics. The panda must die!" She gathered herself, swept with unstoppable dignity from the room, slid the shoji door closed behind her. They could hear her voice murmuring regrets to the hostess. There was a short pause, then a distant and receding voice crying "The sorcerous panda will suffer! Ohohohoho, he shall suffer the death of a thousand haircuts!"
Ranma and Akane, dumbstruck, looked at Tatewaki. He shrugged. "We are a traditional family. Obviously my sister has decided to take a tradition I no longer need, and combine it with one of my father's."
Nobody wanted to argue with this, so they sat and had one last cup of tea. Then Tatewaki stood. "Be kind to me, for I have lost both my loves in the past few weeks. And while you were my loves only in my mind, wounds to the mind are the most painful of all. I must go to meditate; but perhaps I shall see you this Monday at school my friends? Now stay as long as you wish, for everything here has been taken care of." He left, with as much dignity as Kodachi but without the subsequent outburst.
Ranma looked at Akane. "Did that go well, or poorly?"
"I don't know. Part of me is overjoyed, and part wants to cry."
Ranma and Akane argued as they walked together towards the Tendo compound.
"Why wouldn't you try to comfort him?"
"I have a longer history with Kuno than you do. Smile at him, yes. Be friends, maybe. Touch him, NO!" Akane thought a moment. "But thanks for asking me to comfort him, first. I might have thought you were doing something perverted there, if you hadn't."
"What is this thing you got about perversion?"
"Well, after the fights started, people began to gossip. Just why was I beating up all those boys? Was it because, perhaps, I didn't like boys? Perhaps I liked girls?" Akane smiled wryly. "Of course I was shouting 'I hate boys' as I charged. That didn't help. Just another problem that goes back to Kuno "
"And there I was, a girl you liked, revealed as a boy. And nobody was sure which of me you were engaged to. Being called 'tomboy' prolly didn't help either." Ranma sighed. "We got things to work on." He sniffed the breeze. "There's one the Cat and I gotta work on: a sick panda hidin' behind the dojo. Wanna help me?"
"How am I going to help you with the Panda?"
" If the Cat starts actin' up, remind me that I really don't wanna kill him."
"Yeah, that sounds like the way I feel about Kuno."
They fell silent then, as they entered the compound. Akane went to one end of the dojo and Ranma to the other, and they worked their way around the back. Akane rousted the panda first; he bolted away from her, only to run into a blockade named Ranma. "Goin' somewhere, oyaji?"
The panda was in bad shape, with bald spots scattered about, and was shivering and coughing from the chill he'd taken in the canal the night before. But he still had some spirit left. He held up a sign asking "Oh, what have I done to have such an ungrateful son?"
"As I recall, oyaji, ya threw me in a pit full a' cats. Neither the cats nor I are happy with you over that."
Genma froze as he thought that over. He remembered Ranma-chan and the Cat tearing up the boulder. He remembered returning to his camp to find it shredded and stinking of carnivore piss. Oh dear. Oh well, time for the Crouch of the Fierce Tiger. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I was only thinking of teaching you a new technique! I didn't realize you wouldn't like it! I didn't even know to think of the cats!" It was amazing for a man as lazy and illiterate as Genma, he could turn those signs out in an instant.
Ranma sighed, and picked the panda up by the shoulder. "Oh, what have I done to deserve such an unthinking and worthless father? C'mon in, oyaji, let's see if we can do somethin' about that cold ya have. Where'd ya get it? Steal it from a priest?"
Soon enough, they had Genma back and soaking in the hot furo to take the chill from his bones. Soun was in with his friend, giving him thimble-cups of hot sake. And Ranma had his fathers shredded and torn gi. He took it to Kasumi. "Oneechan, could ya do me a big favor an' wash this, then patch it? But patch it, y'know, with some bright-color cloth? I got an idea I wanna check."
"Oh?" Kasumi said as she held the gi out at arms' length.
"Yeah. I think that gi turns into the Panda's fur when he changes. It's frayed in all the places Principal Kuno gave the Panda a haircut. I wanna see what a few patches of hot pink do to him."
Kasumi closed her eyes and giggled. "Oh my, I'll try to make your father very handsome and decorative!" She headed towards the laundry with a spring in her step.
Ranma went back to the furo. From inside, he could hear Genma's muttered complaints. Ranma knocked on the door. "Kasumi's washin' and mendin' father's gi. With a cold like that, Mr. Tendo, why don't you put him to bed under a warm comforter until it's done?"
And then Ranma went to talk with Akane and Nabiki. The three of them took to the dojo. With the elder Tendo and Saotome occupied in the furo, and Kasumi mending Genma's gi for maximum effect, it seemed the quietest place. And Ranma really wanted quiet, because he knew Akane wasn't going to like what he was about to say. The fathers would only make things worse.
Ranma put the moment off by giving Nabiki a short fill-in on the events of the past couple days, starting with the Kunos' panda-chase and continuing through the noon meal.
"But that's not all," he continued. "Yesterday evenin' before the panda came by, I confronted Cologne about the outsider laws. We were gonna have a trial by combat over them. Now we may not haveta. And that's where you come in, Nabiki. I need somebody who's real good with words.
"Y'see, last night after the panda chase, I wuz too wired to sleep. So I went roof-hoppin', and got caught by a shower just before midnight. And maybe half an hour after that, I heard a cat in trouble. It was Shampoo. When the shower caught her, her cursed form fell in a barrel and almost drowned. I fished her out, and took her over to the Cat Cafe.
"Cologne and Mousse and I got her warmed up and back to human, and into bed; but she was still unconscious. So I stayed with them until she woke up and we knew she was okay."
Akane's mallet-hand was making involuntary grasping motions, and her face looked like thunder. Ranma gulped, and continued rapidly, "Colognesaidsavin'anAmazon'slifemeantIcouldbecomehershieldsister. Andgetoutfromundertheoutsiderlaws."
"Try that again, a bit slower, Saotome," Nabiki drawled with a sidewise glance between Ranma and Akane.
"Maybe if I'm Shampoo's shield-sister they'll give up insistin' I gotta marry her. But I want you along, Nabiki, in case th' Old Ghoul has a joker in the deck. An' you too, Akane, 'cause I don't want you thinkin' I'm doin' something behind yer back."
Akane's hand was still clutching, and a ghostly mallet formed around her, but her practice not-hitting Kuno was beginning to pay off. Nabiki could see that, so she decided to help defuse the situation. "So, Saotome what are you going to pay for my help?"
Ranma looked at her incredulously, but noticed a twinkle in her eyes. He hoped it meant something good. "Well, ya get to help me out, an' maybe get another fiancee outa the way. Yer younger sister might appreciate that. An' you get to be a fly on the wall. You like bein' a fly on the wall."
"I'm not sure I like the comparison, but you have a point."
"Me an' Akane can't stay cool that easy 'round these discussions. They hit too close to home. We did okay with the Kunos. We don't wanna spoil the winnin' streak. If we lose it around th' Old Ghoul, we are definitely shafted. An' you're the specialist in cool."
"It's always good to be appreciated," Nabiki said.
"I'll haveta try that some time," Ranma replied with a crooked smile.
"That's not quite what I meant."
"It's what ya said."
"True," Nabiki replied, secretly giving up hope for financial gain from this transaction. It wasn't really important. With Ranma, it was just moving spare change around inside the household more work than it was worth, except for the practice and the leverage it gave her. She wasn't sure how wise or safe it would be, though, trying to use leverage on the body the Cat lived in. And knowing all about a shift in the dynamics between Ranma and Shampoo would be worth a lot for setting odds in the betting pools. Call it a loss leader, she thought, or maybe a business expense.
"Anyway," Ranma continued, "Cologne said ta come by the Cat Cafι tomorrow mornin'. It's Sunday. Their schedule has more slack on Sunday morning, so we'll have th' time ta talk. An' we'll all have time ta think, an' get ourselves ready. This might go smooth Cologne seems sincere this time."
"Let us sincerely hope so," Nabiki said. "Tell you what, she used the term 'shield-sister'. I want to research that on the Internet. And I've collected some information on Amazon Law, though they try like you wouldn't believe to keep it from getting out. So I'll be up in my room."
"While you're in there, could ya make sure the Panda knows not to throw me any surprises? That oughta help keep the house an' the Panda from growin' holes where they don't need 'em."
"I can do that."
"Thanks, Nabiki." "Thanks, oneechan." Ranma and Akane smiled at Nabiki, melting the Ice Queen just a little, then turned to smile at each other. Nabiki left, and the two were alone.
Ranma put his hand behind his head, and smiled sheepishly at Akane. "I know ya don't like me hangin' round with th' other fiancees," he said. "But we gotta get close to 'em, past the wall I've tried to put up, so we can talk. We don't do that, things'll keep goin' the way they have been. And that ain't been good."
Akane swallowed her pride and anger, and put her hand on his as they sat together. "You try keeping out of glomps, and I'll try to keep my mallet in my pocket." And she gave him a tremulous smile.
"Thats really all we can expect, right now," Ranma said.
They went to the house, and Ranma went in the kitchen looking for a bit of food. Lunch with the Kunos had been sparse. Ranma appreciated quality, but quantity meant a lot to him. Munching on a bit of leftover fish, he checked on Kasumi. He found her sewing on Genma's gi, using cloth of every color she could find. They grinned at each other.
"I'm using scraps that are too small and garish for anything else. This gi is doomed anyway it was in terrible shape." Kasumi went back to her work, while Ranma finished off the fish. Then he strolled through the kitchen, washed his hands, and wandered back into the living room.
There was space on the sofa beside Akane. Normally Ranma curled up on the floor when he was a guy, and used the sofa in her smaller girl form. But he was tired, needed a cat-nap, and wanted to be near Akane while he did it. So he sat, and lay down, and squirmed a bit to find a comfortable place. And he lay his head in Akane's lap, because after all, the Cat had always been comfortable in Akane's lap. He purred a bit, then dozed off.
Akane didn't quite know what to do, but Ranma had smiled at her. He'd been holding her hand ever since he'd returned. He'd actually dealt with the Kuno problem. He hadn't done anything perverted yet. And they'd gone for several days without a fight. She could tell he was trying as hard to be nice to her as she was to be nice to him.
She'd always wanted a cat.
So she gave half her attention to her soap opera how romantic! and occasionally smiled down at Ranma. He looked so innocent while he was sleeping. The rest of her mind was occupied with the changes she'd seen in Ranma in the last few days. It would be nice, she thought, if he were actually able to get close to her without the automatic defensive reactions he used to show.
Of course, she was half to blame for that she cringed a bit at her memories of blazing back at at him every time he put his foot in his mouth while trying to compliment her. And her mallet didn't help.
It all swirled together in her mind - guilt and affection warring, with the battle echoed on the television - and she allowed herself to wonder what life would be like with this new person, part Ranma, part cat, whose head lay in her lap. She smiled to herself, and wandered off into fantasies of married life, especially some of the more intimate portions. Having his head in her lap was definitely spurring fantasies of that sort!
She noticed he wasn't sleeping as calmly as before. He would occasionally twitch or squirm; his breath was increasingly ragged, and came more rapidly. Was he starting to have another of his nightmares? As she looked down with concern, his eyes suddenly started wide-open, and he gazed at her intensely. Then he jerked upright next to her, legs curled up beside him on the couch.
Ranma was still half asleep. He had a raging erection; and there was a scent that reached in through his nose, grabbed him by the hindbrain, and dragged him into a new world he'd seen in dreams, occasionally glimpsed in real life, but had never actually visited. He didn't dare move, for fear of what he might do, and what Akane might do to him in return. He looked at Akane, eyes wild, and met her eyes looking back at him with concern.
They stared. "We have to talk," they both said in the same breath.
"And we haveta do it where we won't have help," Ranma added. Akane nodded. Neither Nabiki nor the two fathers would be able to resist the temptation. Whatever they had to say, they didn't want it peddled around the schoolyard. As for the fathers, the less said the better.
Akane smiled. "I'll give you a ten-step lead, then take after you yelling. They'll all think it's business as usual, and ignore us."
So Ranma went out the door, bounced off the rock and over the koi pond, and vaulted the wall; while all the time Akane was after him screaming like a pack of devils chasing down a victim. In a surprisingly short time, they were in the nearby park.
They settled next to each other in swings, laughing, with a good view in all directions and no place close for eavesdroppers to hide. Akane fanned her face. "That's exercise!"
"Anything goes," Ranma replied, and they went into fresh peals of laughter.
But they gradually settled down, and sat swinging back and forth, trying to think of the best way to start their talk.
Ranma was first to break the silence. "The old grizzly taught me a lot about being a cat," he said. "But he told me something about my feelings, too. I was a girl when I called, that time in Minnesota, and talked with all of you. And he looked at me, and said 'You like Akane very, very much, don't you?' When I asked how he knew, he said 'You can't fool a bear's nose'.
"And now you've just told me you like me very, very much."
"Now wait a minute, here!"
"No, Akane. You can't fool a cat's nose, either. What does it tell you when there's a dozen tomcats, prowlin' 'round a house?"
"It means there's a female cat in heat hey!"
Ranma smiled a knowing smile. "And if you tell me you didn't have the hots back on that sofa, I will apologize most humbly."
Akane blushed and said, very quietly " I can't tell you that "
Ranma reached out and took her hand. "Akane, Bjorn didn't let me ignore how much I wanted you. Now I know you want me in the same way. I'm not gonna be afraid any more. I want you. I think I love you. And I know you feel somethin' like that, too." With the index finger of his free hand, he tapped the side of his nose.
Akane, still blushing, squeezed his hand. "I think I love you, too," she said in a small voice. She moved over to Ranma's swing, sat in his lap, and rested her head upon his shoulder. "So now what do we do?"
"It wouldn't be right ta have each other before we're married. It's time to stop fightin' it."
"But Ranma, if we got married they'd just start pestering us about an heir. I'm not ready for that."
"Who says we gotta tell 'em? Akane, we were both sixteen when I arrived. But I was an older sixteen. I'm only a month short a' eighteen now, and then we'll both be old enough ta get married. Oh, we gotta get parental consent but considerin' how ready those two are to haul in a priest every time we're polite to each other, don't you just bet they already have the paperwork for that done? All we gotta do is borrow their paperwork, and head down to city hall.
"An' then we'll be married, and they'll still be bustin' their butts tryin' to make us get married. Think o' the fun we can have watchin' 'em scheme!"
Akane giggled. "I like it." She raised her head, and kissed Ranma. "Kami-sama, why were we afraid of each other for so long?"
Ranma's nostrils twitched. "Akane, you're doin' it again."
She blushed. "I know."
They held each other. "It's going to be a long month, isn't it?"
This version August 21, 2006