"Dammit, Ranma!" Akane scowled at the pigtailed martial artist. "Fight me for real!"
Ranma dodged deftly, only a hair's distance between his face and Akane's fist. "Why should I? Honestly, you're gettin' faster."
Akane paused. "Was that--" She shook her head, her scowl returning in force. "You're just trying to distract me!"
"I doubt that," Ranma said, his head tilting side to side. "Once yer focused, it's hard to shift it."
"Are you calling me single-minded?"
"And unbalanced!" Ranma grinned.
"You arrogant jerk!" She lunged, badly over-extending, and Ranma grabbed her wrist. A quick pivot, and she found herself flipping head over heels to land on her backside.
Ranma bent his head over hers, smiling. "See, if your left foot was firmly rooted, that wouldn'ta happened."
Akane seethed. Bloody, arrogant, pig-headed-- She smirked, then leaped forward, her lips brushing his.
Ranma leaped back, an expression of shock on his face. "Wh--Akane!"
She pivoted on one hand, her foot sweeping out and knocking his legs out from under him.
"Hey, no fair!" Ranma shouted.
"Come on, Ranma. You remember the bet," Akane stated. "I'll get dinner started."
"Just remember, ya already beat me once," said Ranma. "Ya don't need ta poison me, too."
"I just may surprise you again."
"Hmph." Ranma crossed his arms, and followed her from the dojo. "I'll admit, you're gettin' better at cookin', too. Now it just tastes like toxic pig swill. Quite an improvement."
"Let's see...what goes well with pork?" Akane was digging through the cupboard looking for some ingredients to add to her curry. She picked up an older looking sake bottle that has a rich, dark liquid inside. A quick pull of the plug and a cautious sniff revealed a rich, savory smell coming from the bottle. "Did Kasumi make some sort of homemade sauce?" She examined the label. "No..this isn't Kasumi's handwriting...not to mention, I think that this bottle is older than Kasumi."
She thought back to the recipe in her mother's cookbook. "Onions, peppers, red beans--I wonder if white kidney beans will work as well?" She fretted. She knew she was getting better, but it was because she was willing to actually follow the recipes.
Akane turned her attention back to the bottle. Steeling herself, she dabbed her fingertip and tasted the liquid. "Hmm, sweet." She weighed the options and decided to add the sauce to her recipe. It called for a sweet soya sauce, and she was pretty certain this was soya...
Well, as long as she measured it right, it should work.
Akane poured the bottle's contents into a measuring cup, seeing it filled the exact amount needed for the recipe. She paused, then added a bit more. "It's good. A bit more won't hurt."
"'Bout time," said Ranma. "Smells great."
"Well, it doesn't smell like mustard gas."
"It's fine," she said. "Look, I'll prove it to you." She set the serving bowl down on the table, and dropped a ladle-full on her own plate. Then scooped a generous portion into her mouth.
His eyes widened, and he swallowed hastily. "Strong sauce."
"Oh, no...I messed up again?"
"Naw. It's good. I don't mind a strong sauce...what sort is this?"
"Oh, a chef has to keep her secrets," Akane said with a grin, eating another spoonful herself.
"Damn...I didn't think I'd ever say anythin' like this, but...More?"
"Of course," Akane beamed as she plated a second serving.
"I think you're gettin' better at martial arts, too..." He paused to shovel another spoonful into his gob. "Ya gave me quite a workout today."
"But you still won't hit me," griped Akane.
"We'll talk 'bout that later."
"Why can't we talk about it now?" Akane pressed as she finished her second plate.
"Because..." Ranma started, his own plate empty again. "Uggh..." Ranma grabbed his forehead.
"Maybe it was just a..." He shook his head. "A slow poison?"
"Hey now!" she bristled before grabbing her own forehead. "Uh... suddenly I'm feeling very dizzy...."
"Mebbe ya...overdid it on...workout?" He shook his head. "Naw...I guess...the sauce...was it a sake?"
"No... at least I don't think so..."
Suddenly, Ranma doubled over, wincing. "God...hurts..."
"Ranma..." She stood up, staggered towards them. Then the pain hit her as well. She keeled forwards, dimly aware of him trying to catch her, before everything went black.
Ranma stirred slowly, his head mostly clear. The first thing he noticed was he's changed into his cursed form. Not unexpected around here, he noted to himself. He slowly sat up when he realized there was someone's head resting on his lap.
Ranma looked down and saw a strange young man's head resting on his lap. The rest of this person seemed to be dressed in a yellow gi and seemed to be totally out of it.
"Who the hell is this?" Ranma pushed the guy back, and looked him up and down. The man's head falls off his lap, hitting the tatami mat lightly. The face was oddly familiar, a real pretty-boy type. The hair cut certainly looked a little girly. Wait a minute, Ranma thought, bending his head down, studying the face closer. Definitely familiar, he mused. Looks like...One of Soun's family?
Ranma grabbed the man's shoulder and shook lightly. "Hey, uh, guy, wake up."
"Unnh." The man rolled over, away from him, and pulled his legs up towards his chest. "Five more minutes, Kasumi-neechan..."
Oh no... he thought. "Akane?"
It all fit. The yellow gi - Well, that didn't fit him too well. The hair - a pageboy cut was *not* what most guys would favour. And Akane had keeled over at the same time he had.
Did ya cook that curry with Jushenkyou water? No, that made no sense...he'd woken up in girl form, after all.
Akane got up slowly. "I'm aching all over. What happened?" She stopped as soon as she started. "Wait, my voice... my body!" she screamed, looking down at herself.
"I was just tryin' ta figure that out myself," said Ranma. "Since this happened just after we ate your curry, I guess that had somethin' to do with that. What did ya put into it?"
"Just normal ingredients!" Akane shouted, then silently added, and whatever was in that sake bottle...
"Sake bottle?" Ranma asked. Akane's eyes went wide.
"I didn't say that!"
"I know that," said Ranma. "Ya said it wasn't sake, but ya weren't sure." I suppose I should be grateful it wasn't linseed oil, he mused.
"And why would I be using linseed oil?!" Akane shouted back.
"Who said anythin' about linseed oil?" Ranma paused. "Wait...I was thinkin' about it...Where did you get that sake bottle?" Ranma asked. Hopefully not from any Amazons, he thought.
"Oh, like Cologne would just let me waltz in, grab whatever I wanted, and leave," Akane shot back verbally.
Thought so, mused Ranma. Aloud, he said, "Okay, Akane, I believe it. But I want you to try somethin', okay? Just try thinkin' somethin' at me."
Akane closed her eyes. "Alright..." Why won't you hit me? she questioned Ranma mentally.
Ranma closed his eyes and thought back. Not tough enough to take a real hit. Maybe four or five months.
"What the hell is going on?" shrieked Akane. Her male voice sounded distinctly odd at these registers.
Ranma stood up. "Let's calm down and change." He walked into the kitchen and heated a kettle. In a few minutes, Ranma poured the hot water on himself, feeling his body shift instantly. His eyes on Akane, he saw her form ripple and change as well.
A fact that wasn't lost to Akane. Somehow I got connected to his curse! she thought loudly.
"No kiddin'," said Ranma. "An' I guess we can hear each other think, as well."
"I wonder how deeply," Akane mused, closing her eyes. "Ranma, let's see if we can go past just thinking at each other."
"What d'ya have in mind?"
"Close your eyes for starters," Akane said. "We've both studied meditation before."
"Uh..." Ranma scratched his head. "I didn't do so well, but I never seen you doin' it."
"I do know how," snapped Akane. Besides, you don't know what I do in my bedroom at night.
Ranma couldn't help picturing what Akane might be doing in her room at night, and Akane reddened at the thought-picture.
"Keep your perverted thoughts to yourself," she snapped.
Ranma sat on the floor in a full lotus. "All right, all right." He closed his eyes and started breathing slowly.
Akane watched her fiancee. Well, if he's going to take this seriously... She sat across from him, assuming the same position and breathing.
"Of course I'm takin' it seriously," snapped Ranma.
"Focus on the breathing, Ranma," Akane quipped. And he says I'm easy to distract...
Ranma decided to not answer the bait and focused on emptying his mind. To anyone else that would walk into the kitchen, the sight of Ranma and Akane sitting, facing each other, meditating, would be a strange sight.
To any outside viewer, only a few minutes passed before the two opened their eyes again. The smile on both their faces was unmistakeable however.
"It felt like weeks..." Akane said.
"I feel much better now..." Ranma said as he slowly stood up.
"So what the hell do we do now?" Akane scowled. "I've got your curse now, and it looks like we can't change independantly."
"We'll keep the 'line' open. If we can warn one another, we will," Ranma answered.
"Oh, right." She glared up at him. "Like you ever get warning. Hell, half the time, it happens and you don't even realize it!"
Ranma shrugged. "It's not that bad, but like I said, talk to Kasumi about the haircut."
"I will, don't worry." Akane bit her lip. Though I don't know how she's gonna react to this...
"She's understanding," Ranma said, picking up the dishes left on the table.
"Stay out of my head!" Akane grabbed her head between her hands. "How the hell am I going to have any privacy?"
"Hey, we had an agreement, Akane! As long as we're like this, things have to be accounted for."
"I know, but...sometimes, I don't want to hear what you're thinking, and I sure as hell don't want you to hear me!"
Ranma turned around, dishes in hand. "Then stop looking at my butt as I'm picking stuff up."
Akane turned beet red, and looked down at the floor. Ranma turned back, and headed towards the kitchen. Even with a wall between them, she could still hear a mental murmer from him.
Didn't ask to be readin' her thoughts, didn't really want it. Especially when she's thinkin' about--well, let's just say she ain't got any room to be callin' me a pervert.
"Ranma, alright. I think we both know..." Akane started, only to be cut off.
"Don't say it out loud..." Ranma interrupted. It embarasses me, he added mentally.
It shouldn't, she admonished.
"We can talk about it again tonight," he said. "after our sparring session."
"Do you think it's safe to spar like this?"
"You're the one that set it as a condition."
"I mean..." She shook her head. "This is all still so new...maybe we should get used to it first?"
Ranma paused - at least, she heard him stop moving around the kitchen. "Get used to it...good idea."
She heard the water running in the sink.
"Oh no! Not yet!" Akane screamed as she felt herself change.
Ranma came out of the kitchen, the cold water still dripping from her hair. "Sorry, what was that?"
Akane glared at Ranma. "I hate you..."
"No you don't," Ranma answered cockily.
She grinned evilly, and thought, No, I don't...and how would you react to me telling everyone at school?
Ranma's face turned as red as his hair. "You made your point."
For that matter, she continued remorselessly, we know we can send images along this wavelength. How about this one... She conjured an image of herself, in her male form, bending his female form over the table and--
"OK OK!" Ranma cried out. Maybe later... no wait! Don't think that!
Pervert. She giggled, then switched back to speaking out loud. "So are you going to behave?"
"Yeah, I'll ask your permission next time."
"Good boy." She paused in thought. I wonder if this...effect, or whatever it is...works over a long distance.
"Good thing to try out," said Ranma.
"Ack! I keep forgetting!"
"So will I. We haveta give a few 'freebies.'"
"Well, since we've thought of it now...do you want to see how far apart we can get and still hear each other?" Akane chuckled. "I know already that walls don't matter."
"I run one direction, you run the other?" Ranma suggested.
"Sure, but after I get a haircut..." Akane said, then added, since I look so 'girly', right?
"A bit of hot water will fix that," he said. After all, that haircut makes her look so damn cute in girl form--Ack!
"You really want to try that one fix we were thinking of, don't you?" she teased, pushing the still warm kettle over to Ranma.
Ranma picked up the kettle, then paused. We might as well see if this works both ways... He poured the kettle over her head.
And suddenly, the two of them shifted. "Ack! How can you stand that on your head so suddenly?!" Akane screamed.
"Long practice," he said.
"Okay. Now that I'm a girl again..." She stood up. "I'm going to go out by the koi pond. You stay here."
Ranma stood still and waited a full minute. Hey, you still on the line? he thought.
Yeah, and clear as ever, Akane answered mentally.
Okay, that's about what? Fifteen shaku?
Five meters, yeah. Let me go out to the gates.
If you want, we can do balance and stretching exercises today, and sparring later in the week, Ranma mentally suggested.
Umm, sure, yeah, Akane responded, walking out the gate. Are you trying to make conversation?
A mental shrug could be felt, as well as, Well, yeah, seems better than just saying 'Can you hear me now?' over an' over again.
Okay, which way should I go now?
I'm going around to the back gate now, he said. Then I'll head towards Ucchan's.
I will know if you eat anything, so don't you dare. Not after what she did, Akane warned.
Noted, he answered, a tinge of fear being transmitted as well.
Oh, my God. Is he really so afraid of me?
It's not about that...I'm afraid of you being upset.
Oh, this is going to take a lot of getting used to.
No kiddin'. By the way, you should head towards the school. Right now, you're headin' towards the Nekohanten, an' I don't think that's such a hot idea right about now.
Akane stopped cold. You can see what I see?!
Only if you're thinkin' real hard about it, and right now, you're thinkin' enough about it for me to see which way you're goin'.
Have to remember to not do that when I'm bathing, Akane thought, then changed her direction. And do not answer that if you want to sleep comfortably tonight.
Nothin' like it crossed my mind, he thought. Won't be able to avoid it...just have to be ready to deal with the consequences.
Think that works for all our senses?
If it does, that would make some things very interestin'...
Let's try it. She spotted the old woman working on cleaning her flagstones, and stepped up closer to her. "Good afternoon, Ma'am."
Wow... I can hear and smell and taste.... wow, so you can taste what you cook. Always wondered....
Wait--You're digging into my memories as well?
"Good afternoon, Akane," said the old woman. "Out for a stroll?"
She discovered that it was difficult to rant at Ranma whilst carrying on a reasonably polite conversation. "Yes...it looks like it'll be a pleasant evening."
No no, the aftertaste in your mouth, Akane. It's pretty strong...
Akane fumed, but accepted it.
The old woman smiled a knowing smile. "Oh, finally work out things with your fiancee?"
Wait, you talk to her about us?
"Well, I think we understand each other a bit better today," she said. Quiet, Ranma. I can't have two conversations at once! Akane hissed in her mind.
"Oh, I see! Youth..."
"And boys don't mature as fast as we do."
Shut up, I said...
"Well, he seems a nice young man, even despite his odd little problem."
"Oh, I understand that a bit better too," Akane answered.
"Well, be sure you keep you two 'understanding each other' with proper protection," the older woman warned.
Wait, is she thinking that we've...?
I said quiet! Akane screamed in her mind. I don't want to say one thing and think another.
"We haven't been doing anything like that, ma'am." Akane forced herself to smile.
"Oh, well, that's good to hear." She dipped her ladle into the bucket and tossed another splash of water onto the flagstones.
Akane took a cautious step back. "Well, I need to continue my jog. Thank you, ma'am."
"Have a nice night, dearie."
Akane started jogging towards the school. Where are you now?
Sure I can answer? Or am I just gonna get screamed at again?
She giggled. Yes, you can answer.
I'm on the roof of Ucchan's. Thought it was the best way to get the distance without seein' her
We need to talk to her, Akane thought as she got to the gates of the school.
I agree. I know me an' Pops owe her a lot, but I just can't see marryin' her. Another drop in his mental voice, as though he wasn't trying to broadcast to her. She's cute an' all, but she just wants to tie me down to her restaurant.
The fact that she destroyed our wedding isn't something you feel we need to discuss with her?
I'm not eatin' her food anymore, and she's not invited to the next one. Isn't that enough? Ranma then realized his slip. Umm, that is if there is a next...
A next one...thanks to our idiot fathers, there's going to be one, she mused. Even if I rejected him - which I never would - our fathers would force him to marry Nabiki or Kasumi.
What, you think we can't have one without 'em? They don't haveta be invited either!
Huh? She stopped, befuddled. Wait--I was broadcasting again, wasn't I? What do you mean?
A wedding, Ranma thought pointedly. You, me, an' a priest. Since we're on the subject, might as well get it over with.
Get it over with? Do you think it's a chore? She shook her head. And who said we're getting married?
You did, when you said you would never reject me.
I can't keep any secrets from you, can I?
Isn't that part of the vows? Or did I misunderstand? Anyways, might as well get the guest list done...
She was starting to feel a little light-headed. Perhaps...maybe we can discuss that some other time. Right now, I think we should figure out more about our current problem. She looked up, realizing that she was at the school.
Akane... you hate ceremonies as much as I do! Ranma nearly cried with glee mentally.
Now is not the time to be discussing this! She shook her head. I'm at the school. There's almost a kilometer between us right now, and I can still hear you fine.
I'm almost relieved, Ranma thought.
This means, no matter what, I'm not alone.
The sudden wave of emotion from him threatened to overwhelm her. Ten years of constant wandering, never having a place to call home, never having a friend for more than a few days...
Oh, Ranma...I never realized...
Let's head back, get you that haircut, then we can get your balance perfected, he stated.
Kasumi won't be back for another hour, she thought. Then glanced up at the clock on the school tower. Make that twenty minutes...I lost track of time.
Are you suggestin' something?
Yes, but only that I lost track of time! She scowled, though he wasn't there to see it. We'd better make sure we're in our normal forms before she gets there.
We already are.
Are you forgetting the water magnet factor?
Oh...I'll put a kettle on.