"A Little Different"
by Richard Ryley
"Kasumi... who is that strange man talking with Father?"
"Who knows... you can tell Akane that it's all right to take her bath now."
Akane walked into the bathroom. She could see the red satin outfit that Ranma had been wearing lying in the hamper. "Good," she said to herself, "We can both take our bath."
She turned around. Stripping out of her gi, she stepped over to the door to the bathing area, where a sign was hung that read "Please Knock."
Without really thinking about it, Akane did.
There was a splash of water, and the sound of someone moving suddenly. "Don't come in!" There was a crash, as of a chair being knocked over. "Just a moment..."
Akane's brow furrowed. That was a man's voice. "Ranma! Are you in there? Who is that, you're not Ranma!"
"Um..." There was a muttered "damn," then more thumping. She could hear the sound of water running.
Akane thought for a moment. She didn't recognize the voice, so it wasn't Dad. Could some guy have slipped in the window? That was a horrible thought... "I warn you... I know Kempo. What have you done with Ranma?"
There was a loud splash, and the sound of water hitting the floor. "I'm all right," came Ranma's voice back. "Nothing to worry about."
Akane blinked. That was NOT the voice she had heard before. She quickly reached behind herself to grab a towel. Wrapping it around her body, she pondered what explanation there might be for all this.
"Ranma, what's going on?"
"Just a minute..." There were some more shuffling sounds, from just on the other side of the divider, and Akane decided she'd had enough. She slid the divider open.
Ranma stood right there, looking decidedly uncomfortable, with her hand up as if to open the divider herself. She had a towel wrapped around her body, and the sight of Akane in HER towel, for some reason, made her blush deeply and look away.
"Um..." she said. "Sorry... I was just getting out..."
Akane stared at her. "Ranma... why is your towel wet?" It was, in fact, soaking wet, and dripping, just as Ranma herself was.
"Huh? Um... I don't know what you mean."
"Is there someone else in there with you? Your father, maybe?"
Ranma blinked and stepped backwards. She looked as if she was on the verge of panic. "My father?"
"That's right, we didn't get to meet him, but I assumed that he was coming with you. Did he get delayed or something?"
"Um..." Ranma looked down at the floor. "I'll have to tell you about that, I guess..."
"Is he in there?" she asked, trying to look over her shoulder. It seemed a bit wierd, to her, for a father to take a bath with his teenage daughter, but they HAD been on a training mission in China together. They probably hadn't been able to find that many nice hotels out in the wilderness.
Ranma glanced back at the bath. "Huh? No, there's no one in here but me."
Akane began to get a little angry. "Look, I heard a man's voice, Ranma. It was quite a bit deeper than yours, let me tell you. So, what the hell is going on?"
Ranma tried to lower her voice an octave. "You mean, like this?" It was completely unconvincing, and not low enough, to boot.
"No, not at all," Akane frowned at the red-haired girl, who now was looking REALLY uncomfortable. "You're hiding something!" She shoved past Ranma into the bathroom, but there was no one there. She looked the room over, quickly, but there didn't seem to anyone hiding in there. Frowning, she looked back at Ranma.
Ranma looked up at her, her blue eyes wide with fear, and maybe even a touch of guilt, then looked away again. There was something else, there, that Akane couldn't place. For some reason, Ranma didn't seem to want to look directly at her. Or maybe she did, but was forcing herself not to.
Akane took a deep breath. Ranma had closed up completely, and she wasn't going to get anywhere by threatening her. She forced herself to relax. "Look, I'm not mad at you or anything, Ranma, I just want to know what's going on."
Ranma exhaled shakily. For a moment, she looked like she was about to say something, but then she shook her head. "Come on..." Akane prodded. "It can't be that bad."
"Oh, yes it can..." Ranma put a hand to her head. She turned, walking away from Akane into the washroom. Akane followed, and found Ranma leaning heavily against the sink. "Akane... that voice you heard... was mine."
Akane crossed her arms. "I told you, I could tell that was a man's voice. It was a lot deeper than your voice."
"Well, this voice, yeah..." Ranma reached down and picked up the rinse bucket. There was a note of dejected finality in her words. "I guess I might as well show you. It'll get out soon enough... better now than later."
She turned on the tap, and began to run hot water into the bucket. "Do me a favor... get another towel. After this is over, I don't want you to... um... be embarassed..." She still wasn't looking at Akane, even as she spoke to her.
Akane was confused, now, but went ahead and grabbed another towel. This wasn't making any sense at all. Ranma continued to run the hot water into the bucket, until it was nearly full, and then she shut off the tap and picked the bucket up.
She glanced back at Akane. "I'm sorry about this, I really am." A flash of anger played across her face. "If Pop and I hadn't got caught in the rain, then none of this would have happened." She dumped the water over her head.
Akane's jaw dropped. She blinked, rubbed her eyes, then looked again. Right in front of her, Ranma had suddenly grown about three inches, gone from red hair to black -- and turned into a boy!
He looked down at himself, checking to make sure his towel hadn't dislodged. He turned his back to her as he adjusted it a bit, bringing it down from his chest to cover his hips a little better.
"While we were in China, Pop and I had a little accident. Pop's the panda that brought me in. We fell into the cursed springs of the training grounds of Jusenkyo, and now... well... whenever I'm hit with cold water I turn into a girl..."
Akane still couldn't speak for a long moment. Ranma just stood there, staring down at the floor. "I'm sorry about this. I wanted to tell you, all of you, but it's so hard to explain... and Pop dragged me in here without giving me time to change back and..."
His voice trailed off as the room felt silent again. Finally Akane spoke. "Could you do that... again..." Ranma turned to see her staring at him, incredulous. Her mouth was still hanging open.
He held out a hand. "Um... well... could you give me another towel?"
Akane suddenly pressed the one she was holding closer to her chest. The towel she had wrapped around her body was plenty long enough to cover her, but all of a sudden she felt VERY naked. She stood there, staring at him for a moment, until he had to repeat the question.
"Uh. Yeah." She ran back and grabbed a third towel and handed it to him. He wrapped it around his upper body, then put the bucket back under the sink. This time he filled it with cold water.
After a few moments, the bucket was full. He lifted the bucket, dumped it over his head, and then his... her towel was suddenly filled out in a way it hadn't been before.
"Oh... my... God..."
Ranma turned to look back at her as Akane approached. Her eyes were a little darker blue than they'd been when she was a man, and her face was a bit different, but she could tell that this was still the same person. "So that's why my dad thought you were a boy. You ARE a boy."
She nodded. "Ranma Saotome, son of Genma. When my dad contacted you and said he was coming with his son, that's what he meant. Only... we got caught in the rain on the way over here."
"Wow." Akane couldn't think of anything else to say. "This is... this is too wierd."
Ranma frowned. "Try living it sometime."
"No thanks..." Akane paused a moment. "So what are you gonna do now?"
"Go back to China! I've got to find a cure for this thing!"
"And what about your dad's plan to marry you to one of us?"
Ranma looked away. "I don't have time for that now. Besides, no woman's going to marry me like this."
Akane nodded. Her expression was sympathetic, but she still seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. "Are you really..." She looked the redhead up and down. "I mean, all the way..."
"Of course I am!" She snapped, suddenly angry. "What, do you want to see?!!!"
"No! No!" Akane blushed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean..."
"No... *I'm* sorry..." Ranma held up a hand, a look of pain on her face. "This is just so hard, you know?" She stared at the floor for a few moments, and then muttered, "No, I guess you can't know..."
Akane put a hand on her shoulder. "Maybe not, but I can guess. I remember how you looked when Nabiki..."
Ranma closed her eyes, covering her face with both hands. "Of all the ways to be reminded that I'm a girl..."
"Listen... You're welcome to stay with us, until you and your Dad can raise enough money to go back to China." She gave Ranma's shoulder a comforting squeeze. "And I'll do all that I can to help...
There was a short silence. "Well, maybe we'd better tell the others. You wanna turn back into a guy before we go out?"
Ranma suddenly looked uncomfortable again. "Um... I'd kinda rather you... um..."
Akane blushed as she realized what she meant. "Of COURSE I meant after I leave, stupid!" Then she blinked. "Actually, I don't think I wanna... um..."
Ranma's eyes widened. "Maybe I'd better go back into the bath. You can change out here, and I'll wait until you've gone."
"You better not peek..."
She grinned. "I won't. I promise." Yet, Akane picked out a bit of glimmer in her eye, as if maybe she WANTED to peek.
"You better not..." She watched as the little red-haired girl walked into the bathing area and shut the divider. Akane quickly dropped her two towels and put her clothes back on.
"Okay, I'm done. I'm leaving now, so you can come out." She stepped out the door, closing it behind her.
A few minutes passed, then a few minutes more. "What's taking you so long?"
"I have to dry off, remember?" came a masculine voice from inside the room. "I'd dried off a little standing there, but I had to dump hot water over myself to change back."
Despite the fact that she'd been expecting it, it still suprised her to hear that deep voice coming from the bathroom. It wasn't all that deep, really. Ranma seemed to be about seventeen, in both of his bodies, but his male voice was deep enough that she could tell the difference.
The door opened. The black haired boy was standing there, in the red outfit. Somehow, it looked really good on him. It showed the muscle tone of his body very nicely.
Akane blinked. Where had THAT come from?
He grinned at her. "You know, I sure am glad you knocked. At that very moment, I was stepping out of the tub. You would have seen more than you expected."
She blushed, but grinned back. "Well, so would you. I wasn't wearing a towel at that moment, either."
There was that glimmer in his eyes again, as if he were thinking about it. "Pervert," she teased him.
"Well, thank God it DIDN'T happen that way..."
Akane grinned at the expression on Ranma's face. "I'd have killed you!"
"At least! Now you see the kind of trouble this curse keeps getting me into! Turning into a girl all the time..."
"It's not so bad being a girl," Akane said. "In case you hadn't noticed, I'm one, and it doesn't bother me."
"I'd noticed," Ranma said. Akane found herself a bit suprised by the mischievous tone in his voice. But he was looking away.
"... It's just that, I'm a guy. Everything I know, everything I am is based on that. When I'm a girl... I... I just don't feel like myself."
"I dunno... I think it would be kind of interesting to be a boy, every now and then."
Ranma looked at her. "You're a bit of a tomboy, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I'm a tomboy!" Akane snapped. She stepped back, dropping into a karate stance. "You got a problem with that?"
"No, no! I like it!" He held up both hands, grinning widely. "You're kind of a cute tomboy."
Was he teasing her? Akane stared at him. "You think I'm cute?"
"Well, in an uncute kind of way." He laughed. "For an uncute tomboy, you are VERY cute."
"I'm don't quite know how to take that," Akane said.
"Take it as a compliment. 'Cause..."
He paused, as if considering his words. "Well... you know... back there in the Dojo and all... you did... okay, you know? So, you may be a tomboy, but you're a really GOOD tomboy."
Akane found herself blushing. "Really? After all that swinging at empty air? You think I'm good?"
Ranma grinned. "Not as good as me, of course, but okay. For a girl, I mean..."
"Ranma!" She crossed her arms as Ranma smirked at her. "You were a girl too, ya know!"
There was a short pause. Ranma continued to smile that cocky, half smile, but Akane's expression turned serious. She frowned as a thought occured to her. "Ranma... about what I said..."
"That... I was glad you weren't a boy..."
"Oh, that?" Ranma gave a short laugh. "You couldn't have known..."
"No... I mean... I didn't mean it like that."
Ranma stared at her, puzzled, as Akane continued. "You see, there's this guy, at school, who's crazy about me." She frowned. "He's crazy in other ways, too, but that's beside the point. Anyway, a few weeks ago, he made this stupid challenge. He was trying to drive the other boys away, so only he would have a chance at me..."
Now it was Ranma's turn to marvel. Akane had so many boys after herthat they were challenging each other for her? Sure, she was cute, but was she really THAT cute?
"Kuno's challenge was that only a boy who could beat me in a martial arts fight was worthy to have me. He's the best martial artist in the school, so I guess he thought everyone else would just give up. Instead, it had the opposite effect. Every boy in the school's been trying to 'prove himself' to me, by challenging me to a fight."
She looked up at Ranma. "Anyway, that's why I said what I said. I was glad you weren't a boy, because, according to Kuno's challenge... and... well... since you ARE a boy..."
He grinned. "I'm worthy of you, is that it?"
"Don't you start on me!" Akane hefted herself up on her toes as she stared Ranma in the eye. "*I* decide who I will marry, do you understand me! Not Kuno, not my father, not YOUR father, *ME*!!!"
Ranma grinned widely, putting up both hands. "Okay, okay, you made your point... so, you're serious about this, then."
"What, why wouldn't I be?"
Ranma shook his head. "I don't know. This is no wierder than any of the other things that happen in my life. It's just... it's kind of hard to believe that you have to fight half the school every morning just to be on time..."
"It's nothing I can't handle. Not that I wouldn't mind a little help. But only a little. I have a reputation as a tomboy to uphold..."
"An UNCUTE tomboy," Ranma reminded her.
Akane laughed a little, then looked back up, meeting Ranma's eyes. "Ranma... I won't let your father decide who I will marry."
Ranma nodded. "Neither will I. But it's gonna be hard to convince Pop. Once he gets an idea in his head..."
"Then we'll work together... to try and talk our dads out of this, and get you back to China, and get you cured. Okay?"
"Okay." Ranma smiled, wickedly. "I've got an idea. Why don't we act like we hate each other. I mean, Pop's still going to try and force this on us, but if we fight all the time, maybe we can drag it out."
"Yeah... I like that. You complain about me being a tomboy, and I'll yell at you for being a pervert. Better yet, why don't we act like I DID stumble across you in the bath. I could chase you around the Dojo with a table!"
Ranma laughed. "And I'll make some snide remark about what a lousy fighter you are. Then you can clobber me with the table."
"No... just say that you've got bigger breasts than I have. Even Kasumi wouldn't blame me for clobbering you then."
"No kidding." Ranma winced. "Just don't hit too hard..."
"Don't worry about it." Akane gave him that smile again. "We're still friends, right?"
"Right." For some reason, Ranma's burden didn't feel quite so heavy. "I'll wait in here, you run into the living room and tell everyone that there's a pervert in the bathroom."
He ducked back into the washroom, while Akane turned and put her back to the door. She waited a few seconds, while she got her giggling under control. Then she took a deep breath, and let out a ear-splitting scream.