Just One Day
by Trisar Alvein
THIS STORY IS HEREBY DISCONTINUED
Completed, finally! It's the official rewrite of chapter one! This flows a lot smoother, I'm told, and I hope to eliminate a major portion of blocks that were present in the original chapter one. While there were several cases where I got trapped in how I wanted the fic to progress, my beta reader and pseudo co-writer OkamiKitakazeno has been a huge help on it. Given that he's writing the alternative sequel (yes, dear readers, there will be a sequel, and his is the darker one) I'm sure you can understand how much it means to get feedback from him.
I'd also like to thank all the reviewers (all thirty to forty-something of you) and readers (God alone knows how many of you there are) and everyone who has me on their author alerts, story alerts, or favorites listings. You, above all, are my biggest support. Tell me how my writing needs improvement, and I'll do everything I can to either correct as-is mistakes after the fact or to, as in this case, go back and completely rewrite the whole thing.
Some scenes edited, some scenes taken out, and a few added in, plus hilarity that had Okami wanting to beat his face into a wall to stop the laughter. With all that, I sincerely hope you enjoy...
Just One Day, chapter one, revised!
Chapter One: How Do I Feel About This? (revised)
Nodoka frowned as she listened to Kasumi recount the events. The only thing that prevented her from trying to obey her greatly frayed instincts was that she was helping the eldest Tendo girl prepare dinner. As it was, she didn't know if she should be proud of her son, disappointed with him, or getting ready to turn her husband into a new rug.
Kasumi, on the other hand, was trying to sort out her own feelings on the matter. She was, of course, happy that Ranma had accepted her challenge, she knew that for a fact. But why did I do that? she wondered. What right did she have to try holding him back? She wasn't his fiancée, nor family, nor anything! She knew she liked him, but it was only the love one would have for a younger sibling... wasn't it? I don't even know anymore, she lamented. Her usual "oh my" wouldn't cut it this time. A thought crossed her mind, causing her to blush when she realized it was a mental image of Ranma, working out in the dojo, his Chinese worker shirt clinging to his form. Her blush faded when another image, this of Ranma thanking her for his lunch, came to mind. A fond smile made its way onto her face at the thought. He always tries to be kind, and he is quite handsome...
Thoughts of bright red hair and a cute, pixie-like face caused her to pause. It's still Ranma inside. The body is the only thing that changes. Then, why did I push him away when he first came? I know I wasn't worried about him being boring, not in the way many teenage boys are. There isn't a single impure thought in his head unless someone else brings it up. Was his curse really so frightening? She sighed, drooping just a very, very small bit. I definitely like him, and now it hurts me to remember hurting him. She wondered if maybe he would have been better off leaving after all.
"Yes, Auntie?" replied Kasumi, cringing internally at the melancholy in her tone. It wasn't much, but it was enough for Nodoka, even if the older woman wasn't the most perceptive person in the world.
The older woman gave Kasumi a look of concern, but didn't comment. Instead, she asked, "Wasn't Nabiki there as well? You didn't say anything about her."
"She didn't come down to hear Ranma-kun's announcement. She said that she didn't want to hear about Ranma's training trip," replied Kasumi. "She seemed quite surprised when I went up to her room later, after things had calmed down."
"I suppose my son actually standing up for himself would surprise almost anyone around here," mused Nodoka, a wry smirk on her face. "Though I doubt if Akane-chan or my 'dear' husband were appreciative of his assertiveness."
"Oh, they weren't hurt too badly. Some bruising, to be sure, and they will likely be cranky when they wake up, but otherwise..."
"I'm sure that, by now, Genma is used to being beat up. Akane-chan, on the other hand, may well be a lost cause. Now," suddenly began Nodoka, turning to Kasumi. "I would like to hear how you feel for my son. I also want to make sure your intentions toward him are... honorable." She paused for a moment of thought. "If you have anything less than honorable planned, you may have to marry my son after all."
"A-Auntie!" stammered Kasumi, blushing fiercely. "I care for him, yes, but not like that!" Mentally, she added, Not yet, anyway...
"You're so easy to tease, Kasumi-chan. It should have been you engaged to my son. Hopefully, by now, you'd have been comfortable enough with each other that a little teasing wouldn't bother you so much." She stopped to think about something. "Then again, I couldn't have as much fun otherwise."
"Auntie, I want Ranma-kun to have a comfortable, stable home before I think about or try acting on any feelings I have for him. I'll do anything to see to that."
You're already acting on your feelings, dear, Nodoka mused silently. "Is this why you made the open-ended promise to my son?"
"I will do anything he asks of me to make him happy. Even... Even that, if I have to."
"I doubt that you'll have to worry," assured Nodoka. "My son is very honorable. I do want him to be manly—" Here, Kasumi rolled her eyes skyward. "—but it would be neither honorable nor manly to take a woman who isn't willing. After all, a manly man makes sure the woman enjoys it."
She really has a one-track mind, muttered Kasumi mentally. Her son seems to have to be a "man" even if he's only sixteen. It must be burned into her brain.
"In any case, what do you plan to do? During the given day, I mean."
"Ranma-kun has left the planning of the day to me," replied Kasumi. "I was hoping to show up a relatively peaceful day, so I think I'll borrow some money from Nabiki, if I can, and take him shopping in Harajuku."
"How much money would you need?" asked Nodoka.
"I don't know. Enough for shopping, buying a box lunch, and still have enough after returning home to treat him to a nice dinner."
"If you'll take my advice, you should try some Korean foods. Ranma mentioned to me how much he liked them once. I also manged to wrangle out of him that he loves strawberry and chocolate Pocky, if you decide to buy some snacks," winked Nodoka. "Now, back to fixing dinner! 'A happy man makes a happy woman,' after all."
But... Would being a stay-at-home housewife really make me happy? Wondered the girl. I know Auntie is set in her ways, but still...
Ranma let out a breath as he finished applying bruise salve to Akane's back. It wasn't really necessary, since (despite the impromptu flight into the perimeter wall) the injuries were really rather minor. Still, maybe he'd been a bit excessive in his defense, but he had to make it absolutely clear that he wasn't going to be anyone's punching bag for their insecurities anymore.
Now, Pops on the other hand, he thought, smirking, deserved the beating I gave him, Akane, both again, and three times that. Looking over at Soun, Ranma considered how he'd acted earlier. I should definitely apologize for that. I stepped way outta line there. He sighed, then noticed that Soun had finished checking Genma over. "Tendo-san?" he called.
Soun blinked, looking away from Genma and turning toward Ranma. "Yes, Ranma-kun?"
"I'm, ah, really sorry for snapping at you and threatening you earlier. I'm really just tired of it all."
"Don't worry about it too much, Ranma-kun," assured Soun, apparently making an attempt at remaining calm. "My dear, departed wife would have yelled much, much worse," he continued, tears starting to form in his eyes.
Ranma blinked, looking at Soun with a new level of respect. Looks like he's finally getting over it all, he mused quietly. "Glad to see we won't be enemies," he said.
"For the first time, Ranma-kun, I can see clearly. Or, rather, I'm starting to see clearly. It's been so long... Ever since my dear wife..." Soun sighed. "I'm sorry for all the trouble I caused, Ranma-kun."
"Don't worry about it," said Ranma, waving his hand dismissively.
Soun sighed, looking at Genma. Nothing was said as he looked back at Ranma. "Ranma-kun, I will help you however you need me to, whatever's within my power. You only have to ask. And... if you do choose to stay, you are always welcome here," he said. "And if you and one of my daughters take a liking to each other, I certainly wouldn't complain."
Ranma smiled. It was small, and it was strained, but it was a real smile. "Thanks, Tendo-san. I'll consider your offer. It's just... Akane..."
The older man sighed. "I understand, and I'm sorry. I... didn't do so well in raising Akane, and it's caused you so much trouble." He looked the young martial artist in the eye. "Can you forgive an old fool his mistakes?"
"No problem. I can even forgive her, too. That doesn't mean I plan to stay, though. That... Well, it's all up to Kasumi. You need to put your absolute faith in her. We are in Nerima, after all. She just might pull off a miracle," was the reply. His stomach growled softly as smells of cooking food wafted from the kitchen. That smells real good. If I didn't know better, I'd think they were pulling out all the stops, he mused.
Do I want Kasumi to succeed? If she doesn't, I'll be able to leave, but...
Do I want that? protested a small voice in the back of his head.
Of course I do! I want out of this crazy suburb! he growled in his mind.
But Kasumi looked hurt when I said I was going to leave... She's always been so nice. She's always had hot water ready when I needed it. She puts her heart into her cooking. She's the only one around here to listens to me!
Unable to create a proper argument, Ranma settled for grousing mentally. When the hell did I start talkin' to myself?
Everyone has a conscience, Saotome... Maybe you should listen to yours, whispered the nagging voice, fading away.
Oh, joy. I'm goin' nuts. Must be that "combat fatigue" thing I heard about, he thought with a grimace.
"Is something wrong, Ranma-kun?" asked Soun.
"Nah, just... thinking, is all."
"Well, try not to think too hard. Dinner smells almost done, after all, and you should at least be able to enjoy that."
"I guess," muttered Ranma. With his mind all in motion with his thinking, how could he enjoy a simple meal?
Dinner was a quiet, serious event. Akane and Genma, once more awake, were understandably wary of Ranma. This changed the standard seating arrangement so that Nabiki was across from him and Kasumi was seated next to him. Nabiki had her usual cool expression even as she looked alternatively between Ranma and Kasumi. Daring a glance out the corner of his eye, he noticed a faint blush on Kasumi's face as she ate.
What's with her blushing like that? he wondered.
Well, she is sitting next to you, whispered his so-called conscience. Doesn't that make you want to start blushing and stuttering wildly?
You again, huh? Ranma grumbled, less than pleased.
You didn't have to say it so rudely1. How so many woman want to marry you is beyond me.
Display, trophy husband, meal ticket, psycho, blinded to reality... Ranma felt he could just go on and on on this subject.
You know... Typically, when a girl blushes while sitting next to a guy, she either likes him... or she's thinking naughty thoughts about him, slyly whispered the voice.
Ranma took a rather hefty bite of rice, grumbling silently, Quit goofing around. Kasumi likes the doc, remember? Besides, if you're supposed to be my conscience, you know, a part of me, how would you know how a girl thinks? That's never been my strong point.
That's a secret. Anyway, Kasumi used to like Doctor Tofu. Who's to say, as long as he's been gone, she still does? She did make this challenge, you know...
I guess you got a point, but since I don't plan on staying, even guessing at how anyone feels about me is a waste of time, returned Ranma. Silently, he wondered if he might not be some outside force trying to keep him home. But, not seeing anything resembling a higher power suffering a sneeze attack, he turned back to his meal.
Ranma, started his conscience. I can tell. You're just tired. Tired of it all. Tired of no one really loving you, caring for you, understanding you. Am I right?
Ranma set down the now-empty rice bowl, sighing. Yeah. I am tired of it. I've never been able to relax. Kasumi's really the only one I can trust. The only one who listens to me at all.
So let her convince you to stay! yelled his conscience, sounding almost desperate. Try to find out her real feelings for you! What if she really does want you to be with her...?
I can't let her. If I just let her, that'd be like saying I never wanted to leave. Pops'd lay that on me and he'd be right! If, IF I stay, she has to convince me. She has to make me want to stay. She has to convince me that she really wants me to stay.
There is still a day. Maybe you can find out how she really feels then... After all, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, replied the little voice in his head.
Yeah right, he grumbled. More like everything to lose and nothing to gain. He stopped to think about something. Wait. When did I start talking to myself, anyway? Isn't that supposed to mean you're nutty as a fruitcake?
Oh no. The first sign of insanity isn't talking to yourself.
It ain't? Ranma asked, wary.
Of course not. The first sign of insanity is having a meaningful conversation with yourself! replied the conscience brightly.
Ranma's face adopted a slight grimace as he declined to reply. Instead, he gave his thanks for the meal (directed at Kasumi), then turned to head upstairs. He needed to think, he needed some place peaceful and quiet, and...
Wait... A sudden thought passed through Ranma's head. When he'd thanked Kasumi for the meal, she hadn't been sitting next to him like she had at the start of it. Where'd she go? he pondered. And right in the middle of the meal... He couldn't sense her, but that was nothing new. She seemed to have a natural Umisenken-type cloak of her aura. There were other ways to feel out where she was, of course, but almost all of them were dizzying, complex, and not a little uncomfortable for whoever was being sensed.
"Ranma-kun?" called out a soft voice from just behind him. A year of being attacked from behind fueling his reflexes for undetected rear assaults, he only let out a quiet yelp of surprise, spinning around and dropping into a defensive stance. Standing behind him was one of his challenge-holders, but not the usual: Kasumi Tendo. Suddenly feeling sheepish about dropping into a battle mode over a noncombatant, Ranma chuckled and relaxed somewhat.
I'm gonna find that hole in my defenses and stick a plug bigger than the tomboy's ego in it! he avowed mentally. "Yeah, Kasumi?"
"I was just thinking," she began. "You probably won't get much rest tonight if you try sleeping in the guest room, given that I am sure Mr. Saotome will harass you all night, so I began to wonder—"
"What I planned to do for tonight?" he asked, interrupting her. 'I don't really know. Nabiki would charge me through the nose if I asked her for help, Akane would probably try to kill me again, and I really don't think I can ask any of the other girls. I might be able to crash at Ryoga's if I could convince the Hibikis to let me stay, but that's pushing my luck. I'm thinking I'll just grab a spot under the bridge or in the park."
"Ah, n-no... that's not quite it," replied Kasumi, a faint blush on her face. She wrung her hands, licking her lips nervously. "I was wondering if you wanted to... s-sleep in... my room." The last part came out almost as a whisper, and her entire face was now red, leaving her looking like a human tomato.
Not that Ranma noticed, doing a rather passable imitation of the same. "You... Me... I... Huh?" was his stammered reply, while his mind worked overdrive to keep his jaw off the ground.
Saotome! You old charmer! "grinned" Ranma's conscience. When did you wrap Kasumi around your finger like this? Her room, Saotome! Her room! Girls don't invite a guy to their room unless they really like him!
You're absolutely batshit insane! replied Ranma. Some conscience you are! he growled mentally. "Kasumi, I don't think it'd be proper to sleep in your room. I probably shouldn't even stay in the house. I can—"
Kasumi gently took one of Ranma's hands in hers. His words died on his lips as he looked down at her. While she wondered at the callouses on his palm and knuckles, he marveled at the tender softness of her hand. All the embarrassment and awkwardness of the moment had vanished, replaced with a sort of calm.
It's weird, he mused. Never been like this with Akane. It was never this... relaxed. I was always so tense, but now...
"Ranma-kun," whispered Kasumi. "I..."
Ranma felt something inside him, something he couldn't quite grasp, coming to the fore. He became partially aware of an instinct, following it, leaning forward, silencing Kasumi with a kiss. He became even more surprised by Kasumi's response than he was by his own actions. Instead of pulling away, Kasumi actually leaned into him and was kissing him back! Almost reluctantly, he felt himself pulling away, breaking the kiss, his eyes wide and filled with wonder.
Wow! echoed his conscience, which was pretty much his own sentiment on the matter.
That... was new, he mused, feeling somewhat detached. He found himself comparing this kiss to the ones he'd experienced before. It lacked the passion of any Shampoo had done. It was a completely different matter from when Sanzenin had kissed him. It was... enjoyable. I kissed her, and she kissed me back. He was aware of his blushing, as well as a slightly goofy grin beginning to form on his face. He summoned up all his will, the grin fading, as he faced Kasumi, closing his eyes.
"Kasumi, I'm—mph!" Ranma's eyes shot open as he felt Kasumi's hands on her face as her lips met his. Hell with it, he thought, wrapping his arms around her to hold her close to him. Her hands dropped from his face, resting on his back, while her arms draped over his shoulders. Distantly, in the back of his mind, he wondered why no one had shown up to interrupt them yet.
Slowly, Kasumi pulled away from Ranma, her eyes closed but her lips still pursed slightly. She unpursed her lips and smiled softly, opening her eyes. Ranma could see a happiness, some kind of contentment, in her eyes. He felt a slight tug as she shifted herself in his arms. Easily slipping from his embrace, she took his arm and began gently leading him toward her bedroom. "We have to talk, privately, Ranma-kun," she said. He nodded silently, wondering if he might have done something wrong. As Kasumi walked into her bedroom with Ranma, she silently shut the door behind them.
Continuing to lead him by the arm, Kasumi walked over to her bed. As she sat down, she pulled him with her, causing him to sit next to her. She took his hand, holding it between her two. She looked into his eyes, finding him surprisingly unreadable. "Is something wrong?" she asked, concerned.
"It's just... I shouldn't have done that. I just..."
"Don't worry about it, Ranma-kun. It was something that, I think, we both needed," she said, squeezing his hand reassuringly. "I didn't mind, really. I mean..." Kasumi blushed, a faint shade of red lining her cheeks. "I did kiss you right after."
"Well..." Ranma began, touching his lips absently. "That was the first kiss I enjoyed... It's the only one I've had that I liked. I... I'll be back!" he suddenly exclaimed, sliding open her window and easily climbing out, landing on the ground with minimal effort. With that, he leapt over the property wall, vanishing from sight.
"R... Ranma-kun... Why?" murmured the now-alone Kasumi. "Why did you just leave? Why did you run away...?" She brought her arms up, crossing them over her chest, tears forming in her eyes. "And why am I crying? Why does this hurt so much? My chest hurts... why? It shouldn't hurt like this," she sobbed, before burying her face in her pillow and beginning to cry quietly.
What the hell's wrong with me?! Ranma yelled silently, sitting in the dojo. Why did I kiss her!? Why did I follow her into her room?! And why did I enjoy it all? What's wrong with me? What's going on? I don't even know why I ran away like that...
Sounds like you need a bit of advice, remarked his conscience, deep in his mind. I think you hurt her, Ranma. How does that make you feel?
Just... what are you, anyway?
Me? I'm you, to make it simple, explained the mental voice. It's really complicated, but let's just say I'm your gentler side. I'm also not afraid to admit I'm afraid.
Hey! I ain't afraid of nothin'! Watch your mouth, Red!
Yeah. You're my gentler side, you said? Don't you mean my feminine side? Well, my girl form has red hair, so your name is Red, asserted Ranma.
Catchy. But you're running away again. You are afraid of some things. How about cats?
C-c-cats don't count! twitched Ranma. If it wasn't for Pops, I wouldn't—
Wouldn't be afraid of cats? There was a pause of silence in response to the half-question. I thought so. Red paused, mentally sighing. Ranma, just do me a favor, will you? Go back. Go back to the house and look into Kasumi's room. Go. Now.
Ranma frowned as Red's voice faded back into silence. Might as well, he figured, stepping outside. Silently, he jumped up to the room, walking over to Kasumi's window, which was still open. He could see her curled up on her bed, her face buried in her pillow. At first, he thought she was just asleep, until he noticed her breathing was too erratic for that. Silently swinging through the window, he didn't make even a small noise when his feet touched the floor, but he froze as he heard a sudden sound. He crept over to Kasumi, the sound easier to hear. It was Kasumi's soft sobs, muffled by her pillow.
Red... What do I do? I didn't want to hurt her, I just didn't know what do do...
Help her, Ranma. She isn't just crying about you, replied Red. She needs someone she can trust, someone she can confide in. Help her!
Right... Ranma looked over at Kasumi. Her face was still buried in her pillow, making her unaware of his presence. It didn't comfort him, though. He had no idea how to comfort someone. If it had been Akane, he would have just insulted her until she got mad and tried to hit him, but he couldn't do that with Kasumi. He lifted his hand, gently settling it down on Kasumi's shoulder.
She tensed at the touch, pulling herself up and turning toward him. Remarkably, he kept from flinching at her puffy, teary red eyes. "Ra... Ranma-kun?" she stammered. "Why?"
"Why? Why what?" asked Ranma. It was his turn to tense as she leaned her head on his chest, gripping his shoulders to steady herself. "Ka-Ka-Kasumi?" he stuttered, sounding eerily similar to a certain doctor.
"Why can't I ever be happy? I try so hard to help everyone, but nobody ever thanks me for it. I always do my work with a cheery smile, and yet...
"Nobody ever appreciates it or tries to help you out," softly interrupted Ranma. "And nothing you do ever seems to be enough to please anybody, no matter what you do. But you keep doing it, because it's for everyone else, even if everything you want gets trampled..."
Kasumi blinked, her tears forgotten, as she looked into Ranma's eyes. He... he understands? she wondered. Well, of course he would understand... How often has he ever been thanked for his own efforts? Even so, he still continues to help out, always saving Akane and everyone else whenever he can. She leaned back, away from Ranma, still looking into his eyes.
"I'm sorry for not helpin' ya out, Kasumi. Cleanin' up after my messes shouldn't be your responsibility," he continued. "Hell, ya shouldn't have to clean up after everyone else, either. It ain't right. You should be free to live your own like, instead of having to play someone else's serving girl."
"So it is true!" exclaimed a voice from the window, causing Ranma to spin around and face a absolutely livid Kodachi Kuno. "This foul harridan of a hired home keeper has indeed snared my beloved Ranma-sama!" growled the noblewoman, lifting up a pair of gymnastics clubs. "If you don't release him from your spell immediately, I shall kill you!"
"B-but, I don't have him under a spell!" protested Kasumi, ducking behind Ranma in her terror.
"You lie!" yelled Kodachi, sneering. "There is no way Ranma-sama would take notice of a simple servant wench such as yourself! You are beneath his station and unworthy of his time!"
"Who Ranma-kun spends time with is his own choice. Nobody can decide for him, not his father, not his mother, not Akane, nobody except him. He will choose who he is with, not you!" yelled Kasumi, both surprising Ranma, and causing something deep inside him to stir. A hidden force, one rarely employed, pulsed gently inside him.
"I've had enough of you, wench," snarled Kodachi, pressing a button on her clubs, causing electricity to arc on the ends. She stepped forward, but Kasumi didn't move from her place behind Ranma. To the surprise of both women, Ranma himself moved, standing up and blocking Kodachi's path, too quick for either eye to see.
"Leave," he said, his ki causing him to glow as if he were on fire. The word hung in the air almost tangibly, and Kasumi could see Kodachi's will struggling against Ranma's. Her face hardened suddenly, and she turned toward the Tendo girl, tensing her legs to leap. Before either one could react, Ranma's arm blurred, catching Kodachi's throat and slamming her into the wall, cracking it and knocking loose several bits of plaster. "I told you to leave."
"Ranma-sama," gasped out the noblewoman. "This is for your own good," she coughed, jabbing Ranma in the chest with one of the clubs.
As soon as the electricity hit, a sudden change came over him. He bellowed out, loud enough that Kasumi flinched back, "THAT HURT, YOU BASTARD!" It was very fortunate that Kasumi turned away, since Ranma then slammed his free hand into Kodachi's face, driving her head into the wall. The noise from that caused Kasumi to cringe again, ducking down and covering her head, not looking at Ranma. But then, there was a sudden change in the room. A shift in the air. She looked back up, her eyes widening. Glowing slightly, Ranma's fist had been drawn back, almost like a bomb ready to be dropped. Jumping from her bed, Kasumi grabbed his arm, causing him to turn toward her. She ignored the rage in his eyes, a part of her realizing it was for her, not at her.
"Don't, Ranma-kun," she begged desperately. "If you hit her again, you'll kill her. Do you really want someone's death on your hands?" Truth be told, Kasumi didn't really like Kodachi, less now that she'd just been threatened by her, but she also didn't want to see someone dead. Death was never a pleasant thing to see. She saw in Ranma's eyes that he seemed to be undergoing an internal struggle against himself, before he broke out of her grasp, once again leaping through the window. She felt a sudden sense of being left behind again as her family finally entered the room.
What the hell just happened? growled Ranma mentally. He leaned against the out boundary of the Tendo property wall. His shallow breathing was a result of an unexplained agony in his chest, and the lack of oxygen and the pain was causing his vision to swim. That wasn't me. It couldn't have been... I wanted to kill her... Even Kodachi, even to HER, I wouldn't want to do that. Was was... His thoughts were cut off by a sudden wave of nausea, coupled with fresh pain, making him collapse into a sitting position against the wall. Wracked with sudden, violent coughs, Ranma covered his mouth, eventually coughing up a disturbing amount of blood into his palm.
"Well... damn. That can't be too healthy," he muttered. Red, you there he asked, trying to focus through his splitting headache. Red? he called again, not hearing a response.
I'm... here, Ranma, she finally replied. Sorry about that...
So... the trying to kill Kodachi... that was you? Nevermind... What's wrong with my body?
Kodachi's little trick messed with your ki. We sort of swapped places, and... Well, knowing Kasumi was in danger, I just sort of snapped. I'm no good at using ki, so I was literally forcing it around. There's damage, but nothing life threatening.
Ranma frowned, fighting back a sudden wave of dizziness. I feel sick... I could use a little nap, maybe... Yeah, that'd be good...
Ranma? Don't fall asleep! Ranma!
Can't feel a damn thing... So sleepy...
SAOTOME! yelled Red.
But Ranma, having slipped into the blackness of unconsciousness, couldn't hear.
He swam in the blackness, unknowing, unhearing. Suddenly, he heard.
"Is he really alright?" asked the voice, its gentleness and worry cutting through the haze.
"He'll be fine, Kasumi-chan. He was just unconscious, not dying."
"But there was blood on his hand, on his shirt and chin..."
As his body began to wake up, Ranma noticed he could feel someone touching—no, holding his hand. Their hand was soft, smooth. The simple tenderness caused him to relax, even though his head still hurt like hell. Red? he called, almost wincing at the "volume" of his mental voice.
Don't ever do that again, Saotome, she chastised quietly. That scared the hell out of me.
You... well, you passed out. I've been able to hear everything while you were out. It's been an hour, by the way.
He almost wanted to groan, but managed to keep from doing so. He could still hear Kasumi and the other woman talking. Who found me?
Pops, replied Red. And Kasumi. They were just about panicking when they saw the blood you coughed up, but they settled down when you didn't decide to send up any more. She paused. Kasumi's been here the whole time. You'd better open your eyes and set them at ease.
Deciding to do just that, Ranma blinked open his eyes, then was forced to squint them against the overhead light's glare. "He's awake!" called Kasumi, causing him to wince at the noise, even while a part of him smiled inside at how relieved her tone was. "Are you alright, Ranma-kun?" she asked, suddenly blocking the bright light from view.
Beautiful, thought Ranma, swallowing past a sudden lump in his throat. "I think so," he replied cautiously, looking over to the side. At the doorway to the room, which he finally managed to recognize as the guest room, was his mother.
"I'll leave you two alone for now," said the older woman, a knowing smile on her face as she stepped out, sliding the door shut. This left the teens in a sudden, awkward silence. Uncomfortable, Ranma fidgeted for a bit, then opened his mouth.
"Wait, Ranma-kun." For a wonder, Kasumi's gentle request stopped him. "I just want to say thank you. Kodachi's brother just came here. He and their father only just recovered from her suddenly attacking them. Apparently, she... somehow got word of what happened here." She paused, collecting herself, and Ranma watched her tremble slightly. "She was serious... If you hadn't been in the room, I... I might be dead." Shivering, she took a deep breath to calm herself. "So... thank you, Ranma-kun."
"It... it's nothin,' Kasumi," he replied. "Could you... come over here?" In just a bare second, her face entered his view again, causing him to remember she was already next to him and still holding his hand. Drawing on as much confidence as he could, he gave her hand a gentle squeeze, looking her in the eye.
"Kasumi, I dunno what's happenin' to me," he began. "Somehow, in just this day, I feel closer to you than I feel after this whole year with Akane. But... this thing that just happened with Kodachi makes me want to leave even more, to protect everyone close to me. Don't say anything," he asserted, seeing she looked ready to interrupt him. "I want to leave, but... I also want to stay. A part of me wants to stay here with you. Get to know you. Maybe even l.. love you... Protect you, cherish you, hold you, and never let you go..." Ranma's hand drifted out of Kasumi's grasp, up and up, gently stroking her cheek.
"Ranma... kun..." she murmured, her hand coming up to again grip his, even as she leaned her cheek into his palm.
"It... it still rests on you, Kasumi," he continued quietly. "You're the only one who can make me choose to stay, make me want to stay. But... even if I leave... maybe... if you want me to, I can come back to get you once I've managed to settle down somewhere."
He wasn't quite prepared for her reaction. Leaning down, she let herself fall into embracing him, her cheek brushing his. His face flushed as her breath tickled his ear. "I would like that very much, Ranma-kun," she whispered. "I feel something for you, something wonderful. It makes me so happy that you consider how I feel, what I want and need. I can't explain this feeling, and I don't want to. Knowing it's there, knowing someone cares, that's enough."
"Then... Kasumi, if I do end up leaving... once I've settled in, I'll come back to get you. I promise." He hoped that was the right thing to say. When her embrace tightened and she murmured a quiet "thank you," he was just about certain of it.
The two lay there for a moment, content with simply being held by the other. Soon, however, Kasumi slipped away, sitting up. "Can you stand?" she asked.
"I think so..." he ventured, sitting up, immediately having to fight a wave of dizziness. Waving away Kasumi trying to help him, he braced his hand underneath himself, bent his knee, and pushed, bringing himself to an unsteady standing position. This time, when Kasumi took his hand to steady him, he smiled at her and said, "Thanks."
"Your healing ability is... simply amazing," she murmured, still holding his hand.
"It's a ki technique, sorta. It takes a bit of focus, which I'm real good at in the air. That's why I last longer when I stay airborne and stuff. It's harder to focus on the ground for some reason, but I can still do it well enough to heal small stuff without really thinking."
Kasumi could only smile, shaking her head at Ranma's hubris. It seemed there would some things that couldn't be changed. Her smile widened almost imperceptibly, but brightened from happy to dazzling when he smiled back at her. "Kasumi, I need some quiet space so I can think, okay?"
"Alright. You should take a bath, you can relax and think there. I'll get things set up for tonight, and you can come and get me when you're done," she replied.
"That'll be a bit tough, sis," said a voice from the door. The almost-couple looked over, seeing Nabiki in the doorway, lowering her camera. "If you two don't let go of each other's hands, you might end up in the bath together," she continued. A smirk wormed its way into existence as the "couple" glanced over at each other. The smile grew as they then looked down at their hands. She struggled to keep from grinning when the two let out a loud "Eep!" and nearly leapt away from each other, blushing as red as a pair of tomatoes. "That was definitely a photo moment," she said, holding up her camera. "Very reduced rates this time, if you want a copy."
"That ain't funny, Nabiki," said Ranma, a bit of fear creeping into his mind.
"I'm not joking. You two get the extremely reduced rates when I get these developed tomorrow. A simple thousand yen for a wallet-sized snapshot."
It occurred to Ranma that if Nabiki grinned any wider, her face would probably split clean down the middle. "Yeah? And what's it gonna cost to keep the picture away from those crazy girls? How much are you gonna sell it to them for?"
"I'd say... hm... ninety billion yen sounds reasonable," replied the middle Tendo sister, a thoughtful expression on her face. "I mean, Ukyo might be safe, but not likely. Shampoo's definitely out, and after tonight, I don't think I'd want to make a deal about this picture with the Kunos."
"Wait, but... You.. You're not gonna sell it?"
"Give me my due credit, Saotome," replied Nabiki with a glare. She softened a little when Kasumi put her hand on Ranma's arm and looked at her. "I wouldn't do something that stupid. A picture like this would put my family in danger. I'd never sell something like that. Remember when we were engaged? You didn't show me any affection, and those girls wanted to rip me apart. How do you think they'd react to a picture of you two actually being all love-love? I don't want to even imagine it. That's why standard price is 90 billion yen, and you two get the very vastly reduced one."
Kasumi blinked when she felt Ranma leave her touch, marching steadily toward the door. Despair crept into her heart, fearing he was about to leave her, but he stopped in front of Nabiki, reaching into his pocket. A 1000 yen note was extracted and placed in Nabiki's waiting hand. "I want it when Kasumi and I get back tomorrow. And raise the price. 100 billion, not 90," he said, then turned around. His smile caused Kasumi's heart to flutter. "I'm gonna go take my bath now, Kasumi. I'll come and let you know when I'm done so you can take yours." With that, he spun on his heel, whistling cheerfully (if tunelessly) and walked through the door.
"Wow, sis. I don't know how you did it, but I think you've got him hook, line, and sinker. He's never actually bought anything from me before. Usually he wants me to not sell something," remarked the younger of the two women.
"I wonder," hummed Kasumi in a thoughtful tone, walking toward the door with a soft smile on her features. As she reached Nabiki, she pressed something into the younger girl's hands. "I wonder," she repeated, stepping through the door and sliding it shut behind her, leaving a confused sister in her wake.
"What was that all—?" Nabiki began, glancing into her hand...
...and at a second 1000 yen note.
"...about? Sis, wow... Did he catch you, too?" she wondered, gazing in almost wonder at the money in her hand.
Ranma sighed deeply as he settled down into the bath. He could feel his aching muscles loosening in the soothing heat of the water. "Man, I was more tired than I thought. Just how much ki did you burn, Red?" he wondered out loud. "Must've been a lot. I feel like I'm scraping bottom here."
A pitiful offering, but it will suffice for now, rumbled a voice in the back of his head, causing the hairs on the nape of his neck to stand up in fear.
Th-that ain't funny, Red! he yelled back.
Who is "Red?" That little girl? She is... resting, replied the voice. It was just a sound. It was a presence, a life of fear all its own rumbling in his mind, pressing at his consciousness. Don't worry about her. I have done nothing to her. Not yet.
What are you? What did you mean by "offering"? Answer me! shouted Ranma. Of all times for Red to take a nap!
Your will makes a rather scrumptious meal. To that end, it does not matter who I am, BOY!
Ranma winced, the sheer power of the presence booming loudly enough to hurt. If all you're gonna do is insult me and yell at me, then get outta my head! he thundered in reply, focusing his will toward this... thing.
Quiet, foolish boy. You are not my master yet, and may never be. You have yet to submit me, and until you do, I have no obligations toward you!
Down! Bad kitty! yelled Red's voice. No tuna for you!
Fools, the both of you! I WILL return! promised the voice, even as it faded.
Red? questioned Ranma, settling again. What was that?
That... was the Cat-Fist, Saotome. I'm sorry. Usually I can hold him back, but after tonight, I was so tired I... well, I fell asleep, so he was able to slip past. Sorry.
Ranma shook his head. Don't worry about it. We can... deal with him later. He won't be back any time soon, will he?
Shouldn't be... Red didn't sound too certain, but it was good enough.
It'll do. What'd he mean about offerings and my will?
Red was definitely reluctant to answer, obvious both by her pause and her tone of voice. He... ate some of your ki. See, I didn't burn it all up when I was about to... kill Kodachi. Some of it cycled back into your fist and... he ate it. I'm not sure what he really is, but he ate your ki. He told me that the ki you have in excess, the stuff you never use, which sometimes leaks over to us, he eats too.
Feh... that's great. So much for relaxin' in the bath. I might as well get out. Even if he hadn't been able to relax, he'd gotten quite a bit of thinking in, even if it had really just brought in another problem. Hey, Red, I only wanted to hurt Kodachi. Why'd you snap and want to kill her?
For Kasumi. As if that answered it all.
This time Red's voice sounded wry. I don't know, Saotome. Why'd you buy that picture from Nabiki?
Ranma blinked, caught in the act of drying his hair. "Uhh..."
I thought so. You... no, we're really one person, so it's... "I" like Kasumi, right?
Yeah... I guess I do l-like her a bit. It's just... hard to understand. I never felt so... awkward or nice or scared or warm or worried or cared for or—
I get it! interrupted Red, this time shaking Ranma from drying off his torso. I know, Saotome, I know. We might be separated, but... we feel the same. I just realized it sooner. Kasumi is... she's just something else, isn't she?
Yeah. She's nice, she cares, she's got a great heart, and she's... she's...
She's beautiful, right?
Exactly... Ranma let out a breath that was almost a sigh. I really need a vacation. Finishing drying himself off, he tugged on his boxers and undershirt, grabbed his bath supplies, then slid the door open. He looked around, thinking. "I think I have a pair of pajamas in my pack, and it is supposed to be cold tonight," he pondered out loud, heading downstairs. To his surprise, his backpack hadn't even been touched since he dropped it after Kasumi's challenge. "Well, well, how about that," he muttered, walking open to it and beginning to dig through it. For a minute, he was worried he might not have the pajamas after all, when he let out a triumphant, "AHA!" and pulled out a pair of brand new, unworn pajamas with a prancing stallion motif. Girl's pajamas.
"Very manly," came a sarcastic comment. Recognizing the voice, Ranma turned. "It suits you," continued Akane.
"What do you care?" growled Ranma.
The girl winced. "I guess I deserve that, but you don't have to shove it in my face, jerk. I just wanted to say sorry for earlier today. Your mom explained everything to me, and I saw what happened to Kodachi. I just... I never had a chance, did I? In a fight or for you."
"In a fight, not a chance. But... with me..." Ranma closed his eyes, memories flowing to the front of his mind. "You had a chance and you wasted it. Do you remember what I said at Jusendo right before the Hiryuu Gyoten Ha?" he asked, opening his eyes.
"Um... It was... 'one strike for life,' wasn't it?"
"Right. Strength on the 'one.' I gave you a last chance... at life and at me. You lost your chance at me... so don't waste that last chance at life." Leaving Akane to ponder that, he stepped into the kitchen. There was a splash and then some shuffling before a slightly damp redheaded girl walked in from the kitchen, wearing the horse-patterned pajamas. She walked over to the pack, closed it, and lifted it onto her back, then headed for the stairs.
"Wait!" yelled Akane. Ranma-chan stopped, turning to her. "One more thing."
"If you her Kasumi or break her heart, I will never, ever forgive you!" A wry chuckle escape Ranma-chan's lips in response. "What's so funny?" growled Akane.
"Akane... If I ever hurt Kasumi without ever trying to fix my mistake... I'd never forgive myself," asserted the redhead. "It'd be... absolutely unforgivable, you know?" she continued, turning away and walking down the hallway. Don't you think so, Red? she mused, approaching a door.
"Hey! Kasumi! Bath's open! Or should be, anyway."
The door popped open, catching Ranma off guard. Bath supplies in hand, Kasumi stood in the doorway, smiling at her. "Thank you, Ranma-kun," she said, then blinked. Taking a closer look at the redhead's pajamas, Kasumi could only utter one thing. "Horsies?"
The aforementioned redhead twitched slightly. "Yeah. Horsies. I knew it was supposed to be cold tonight and these were the only pajamas I had, so..." She shrugged. "I'm, uh, gonna get up my futon, okay?" she said, leaning against the wall to let Kasumi through.
"Alright," agreed the older girl, stepping past with a smile. She then stopped and turned, her smile turning mischievous. "See you soon, Ranko-chan," she said, then giggled as she slipped into the bathroom.
Ranma-chan cringed, then smiled. "Nice one, Kasumi," she muttered, recognizing the point. "But then, Mom didbuy these for my girl side when I was playing as Ranko," she grinned, an idea coming to mind. Hey, Red... wanna have a bit of fun? she called mentally, taking her futon from her pack and unrolling it near the window.
Sounds... delicious, mused Red. Ranma-chan could feel the mischievous grin Red seemed to be putting off, matched by the one that was growing on her own face. She's SO in for it when she gets back, calling me Ranko like that.
Alright then, let's do it.
Kasumi sighed in utter contentment as she settled into the bath. Her muscles felt more relaxed as her tension simply faded into the heated water. Long day, she mused. And tomorrow will be even longer. She tiled her head slightly, hearing a shuffling in the changing room. Soon, the door slid open, admitting Nodoka into the bathroom. Kasumi fought to withhold a shiver, despite the heat of the water. I have a sudden bad feeling...
"Oh my! Kasumi-chan!" exclaimed the Saotome matriarch. "Do you mind if I join you?" she asked.
"N-not at all, Auntie," replied Kasumi, smiling. Bad feeling intensifying... "Please, join me."
"Just a moment, then." Nodoka sat down in front of a wall faucet, filling her pail with cold water, then upending it over herself. A few quick scrubs and two more bucketfuls later and Nodoka was settling down into the bath. "Aaah... feels good." Instantly, her eyes snapped onto Kasumi, raising the fine hairs on the nape of the girl's neck.
Bad feeling getting even stronger... she thought. "It something wrong?"
"Not at all. I was just wondering if you wanted to play a joke on my son..."
"A... joke? What kind of joke?" asked Kasumi, now very wary of the older woman's intentions. Any joke involving the youngest Saotome that was suggested by Nodoka could not possibly end well.
The Saotome woman only smiled mysteriously. "Wait until after the bath, right here, and I'll show you." Of course, Kasumi didn't have a choice in the matter, since allowing Nodoka free reign to pull only she knew what kind of prank on Ranma could allow the matter to get very out of hand.
If I'm involved, maybe I can at least limit the effects, thought Kasumi wearily, resigned to her fate. So why is my bad feeling getting stronger still? Thinking about it for a moment, she decided there was really nothing she could do until Nodoka revealed her plan. Until then... Now if only the Saotome matriarch's grin were a bit more reassuring...
"You look anxious, Kasumi-chan. Well, if you're that eager to play a joke on my son..."
"Ah, that is..."
"The sooner the better!" exclaimed Nodoka, taking hold of Kasumi's arm and rising out of the bath, dragging Kasumi with her. The Tendo girl had no opportunity to voice a protest before she found herself dried off and being handed a bundle of clothing. "Wear that," was the stern over.
"W-wear th... oh, oh my," she replied, eyes widening as her face turned a shade of red to match Ranma-chan's hair. "I... I couldn't..."
"Of could you could, dear. Here, I'll help you with that bra..."
The redhead mentioned previously smirked, almost saucily, at her reflection in Kasumi's mirror. A lot of the prank was helped along by Red, but it was actually her mother who'd given her the idea in the first place when she'd bought the pajamas. The button-up top was tailored so that the buttons could be strategically undone to reveal less or more at the wearer's behest, and then it could even be adjusted to act as a sort of push-up bra. (Nodoka had explained the concept to 'Ranko,' shocked that the girl hadn't known about them.)
The pants, on the other hand, had drawstrings that could be used to tighten or loosen the waist. Ostensibly, this was meant to allow a "one size fits all" convenience and comfort. Her mother had not-so-subtly suggested that cinching the waist string tightly could produce a very appealing image, though the lesson given in that particular field had left the "girl" blushing fiercely.
Have to remember to thank Mom later, mentally grinned Red. If this works, anyway. Of course, if I do say so myself, I am a fox.
Hey, Red, can I willingly give control over to you?
There was a pause of consideration. You might be able to, but would you be able to hold off the Cat-Fist?
...Maybe... I don't know. When he started yelling in my head earlier...
He's a being of fear, explained Red. He causes you to be afraid because you're his host. I'm not afraid of him, because I draw on all your anger for my strength. Even he isn't strong enough to face you in all your rage.
I don't think I could stay mad enough long enough.
We'll work on it later. Maybe... hm! Kasumi's coming!
Ranma-chan turned around, hearing the door opening (and wondering how Red knew Kasumi was there), fully prepared to execute her plan... until Kasumi appeared in the doorway. At that point, 90 of Ranma's higher mental functions ceased. Holy wow, echoed Red.
The first noticeable thing was that the nightgown that draped on Kasumi's form was nearly see-through. The second was that the lacy, revealing lingerie she had on, while not quite see-through in themselves, were only barely capable of covering Kasumi. What aided in preventing Ranma's brain from fully restarting was, first, that the nightgown in question had a very plunging neckline, along with the fact that her bra only barely covered the essentials while raising Kasumi's assets up into plain view. The second thing aiding Ranma's brain crash was that the hemline of the nightgown only came to mid-thigh, leaving the legs that Kasumi demurely hid in her dresses open to see.
If this is what she's kept hidden all this time... Red was engaged in the mental equivalent of drooling. Hm? Saotome? Heeey, Saotome? Snap to!
"Aguh?" blurted out the redhead in question. "Ugwah?" she added, hoping to clarify, maybe. Had she been less distracted by Kasumi, she might have noticed her physical reaction to the sight before her.
Saotome! Snap to! Wake up, will you?!
Eh? Huh? Wha? Whu's wrong, Red?
Take a look at yourself.
With slightly more cognitive function, Ranma-chan dared a glance down. First, she noticed that the top of her breasts were the red of what was probably a full-body blush, plainly visible because of how she'd unbuttoned her pajamas. The next thing she noticed was a rather conspicuous bump on each breast, poking out visibly through her top...
"Eep!" she squeaked, her brain fully up and running now, as she quickly buttoned up and crossed her arms over her chest.
"Oh... my," mumbled Kasumi, drawing the embarrassed redhead's attention. Much to Ranma-chan's guilty pleasure, Kasumi also sported an upper-body blush and was also breathing a little heavier. "I... I did that?" she wondered out loud. "Oh my..."
"K-Kasumi? Um... I think... sleep! Sleep, yes, sleep is good!" Shut it, Red! Not a word from you!
"Sleep... Yes... Good idea, Ranma-kun. Good... good night. Oh... my..." Barely aware of what she was doing, Kasumi turned off the light, shambling over to her bed in a daze, and crawled in.
"G... good n-night, Kasumi." Ranma-chan wanted to burrow into her futon and never come out again, among other things. Go... good night, Red.
Good night, Saotome. I'll hold off those funny dreams about Kasumi.
Shut. Up. So saying, Ranma felt now was as good a time as any to drift off.
I know, I know. It's taken me forever to get this. And you're all probably ready to bite my head off about chapter two. I'm working on it!
Anyway, a bit of explanation.
1: What Red means by "not so rudely" here is a little joke that can only be understood with a little Japanese language lesson. Essentially, the Japanese have several versions of the pronoun "you," and each one shows a varying level of either respect or scorn. Ranma's typical pronoun, "omae," shows little respect, and is definitely inappropriate for meeting the Emperor, but for just on the street, it's fairly normal, if rough-spoken. Here, speaking to Red, Ranma uses the pronoun "teme," which denotes a total lack of respect for the person you're speaking to, and is even considered an insult. It's similar to spitting in someone's face every time you speak to them.