Chapter 6

Aside from her mother asking her to go to bed while said mother was about to do just that, who was understanding enough to allow her to stay up a bit longer upon request, no one else had interrupted Ranma for some time. A few had stopped to watch her from the engawa, once she had enough confidence to fly out in the open, but they had left it at that and had eventually gone about their own business.

She didn't have a good measure of time while she was trying to perform one aerial maneuver after another, with each one usually being more ambitious than the last, but she was pretty sure that it was approaching midnight if it wasn't that late already. That's why the feeling of being watched had caught more than just her attention, and had led her to seek out its source.

Which was why it came as a bit of a surprise when she spotted Kasumi watching her from inside of the living room instead of the engawa, standing partially behind a wall, as if trying to be surreptitious. She wore a nightgown and a pair of slippers, and her hair was free of accessory, which meant that she was either going to bed or had been there already.

When she appeared before her and hovered at a height where their eyes were about level with each other, Kasumi let out a quiet gasp of surprise and raised a hand to her mouth. "Oh...! I didn't mean to bother you..."

"You weren't bothering me," Ranma replied, as she moved into the house and carefully landed on the wooden floor of the engawa, which she didn't want to damage with her hooves. "I just didn't expect you to be here... Watching me."

Went unsaid was the obvious question of why Kasumi had been watching her, particularly at such a time while seemingly trying to do it in secret, and because of that her statement was followed by an awkward silence.

For a time, Kasumi appeared to be anxious and indecisive, either wanting to say something or fidgeting in a way that suggested a desire to go somewhere else. That made Ranma uncomfortable, who began to consider making some kind of excuse so she could get back to what she had been doing, for both their sakes.

In the end, though, it was Kasumi who ruefully admitted, "I... feel partly responsible for what's happened, and couldn't sleep."

Ranma looked at her questioningly, confused. "But it wasn't your fault."

Kasumi shook her head, looking both guilty and ashamed. "No, I was being selfish, even though I shouldn't be so picky."

Ranma didn't know what to make of that. "I don't understand..."

After hesitating for a moment, with evident uncertainty, Kasumi found the resolve to say, "Could you... join me in my bedroom? I don't feel comfortable talking about it out in the open like this..."

Ranma wasn't sure what "it" was, but it seemed to be enough of a touchy subject to discourage her from accepting the invitation, and under normal circumstances she may very well have. After all, while Kasumi had always been accommodating and approachable in the past, there had also been a sort of barrier between them, that had prevented them from becoming more than friendly acquaintances. However, with the establishment of their engagement and the official removal of conflicts of interest, she may very well have to accept Kasumi as her wife in order to become human and male again.

To that potential end, their relationship had to change. "Um... Sure."

She didn't want to make much noise, or bother trying to walk up the stairs on four legs, so she took flight once again and followed Kasumi to her bedroom. Once there, she opted to land on the flokati rug while Kasumi turned on the light and closed the door behind them softly, who stood by said door awkwardly afterward.

After settling down on her haunches, Ranma eventually broke the silence after a bit of hesitation. "So, um... What did you want to talk about?"

With a sigh of resignation, Kasumi made her way over to Ranma and joined her on the rug, but it wasn't until another stretch of silence had passed that she finally spoke. "How do I put this..."

Ranma waited patiently for Kasumi to work up the courage for what she had to say. Soon, however, she began to wonder whether or not she should be concerned about what might be revealed to her, considering the amount of trouble that she was having in getting it out. That, and because of how it might be related to her feelings of guilt, in regard to her transformation.

When Kasumi was ready to tell her what needed to be said, she took a deep breath, looked her straight in the eye, and said, "I don't like men."

Ranma blinked her eyes a few times. "Oh..." Then the significance of her statement made itself apparent to her. "Oh! You mean...?"

Since there was no going back now, Kasumi was able to nod her head in confirmation. "I'm only interested in... other girls."

As Ranma digested that information, it seemed to make enough sense to her. Kasumi could probably have her pick of any man in the area who was not already spoken for, yet she'd never actively pursued a relationship with anyone. Strangely enough, though, no one seemed to be pursuing her either, even though she knew for a fact that she was highly admired by those in the neighborhood and the nearby shopping district. The only person who seemed to show any blatant interest in her was Tofu — if one could call his previous behavior "interest," at any rate.

However, that was another matter. If Kasumi liked girls, that meant that she could have been interested in her, since she had been able to turn into one not too long ago. The problem was that their relationship would have been made to appear traditional on the surface, because that's what people would have expected. While her social knowledge had always been a bit lacking, her curse had made her acutely aware of the fact that sexual deviation wasn't tolerated all that much. Assuming that her reservation toward sex — in general — wasn't an issue, not only would they have to work to keep the truth of their relationship a secret, but they would have been expected to have children, which would require heterosexual intercourse. On top of that, she had a mother who always seemed to be ready to lop off her head at the first sign of unmanliness.

It's possible that something like that could have been managed, but it certainly wouldn't have been an ideal affair, especially considering how long the arrangement could end up being. So, not only was Kasumi's secrecy understandable, so was the prospect of avoiding a marriage to a man who could actually become a girl. Of course, she suspected that there was a bit more to it than that.

"I guess I wasn't your type, then?" She surmised.

With an apologetic and somewhat regretful expression on her face, Kasumi gave a slight nod of her head in reply. "I'm really sorry..." She lowered her eyes and sighed. "I haven't been able to find a single girl who shares my interest, yet I still passed up an opportunity to marry one even though that's normally impossible."

"Like I said," Ranma tried to reassure her, "this wasn't your fault. It was probably bound to happen at some point, anyway."

"Maybe," Kasumi half-heartedly agreed.

During the break in conversation that followed, she eventually raised her eyes and bit her lip as she examined the creature before her more intently than intended, which prompted Ranma to ask, "What?"

Kasumi blushed a bit at being caught. However, considering what she had already managed to share about herself, she found the nerve to say what was on her mind. "Oh, well, I was just thinking that you turned out rather cute."

Ranma chuckled in response to the admission. "Great, so it's not only me." In response to the confused look on Kasumi's face, she smiled wryly and added, "Knowing my luck, I'm probably going to be mobbed by little girls as soon as I make an appearance out in public."

"Oh," Kasumi voiced, as she imagined what that would look like.

Having been reminded of a problem that was more current and applicable, Ranma sighed and said, "To be honest, though, at the moment I'm more worried about how I'm supposed to get any sleep."

Kasumi's confusion returned. "Is that a problem?"

Ranma cocked one side of her brow and extended one of her wings. "Well, I can't exactly sleep on one of these, can I?"

"But horses can sleep standing up," Kasumi informed her.

"They can?" Ranma asked, who got a nod in response. "How?"

Kasumi looked thoughtful for a time, as she tried to remember the specifics, but eventually had to convey an expression of apology and embarrassment when she came up empty. "I can't seem to remember the details..."

"That's okay," Ranma assured her, though not really sounding as if it were. "I don't like the idea of sleeping like that, anyway."

A silence descended upon the room after that, as neither was sure how to continue on the same topic, or what else it could be followed up by. Before things could become awkward, however, Kasumi came to a decision. It was partly inspired by the fact that she still felt a bit at fault for Ranma's transformation, although she would have tried to help her with her sleeping problem under slightly different circumstances regardless.

"I know," she said, before she stood up and moved over to her bed, "why not try lying down and see if it's possible first?"

Ranma watched as Kasumi pat the surface of her bed in an inviting fashion, with a dubious expression on her face, but ultimately decided that it wouldn't hurt to try. So thinking, she got up and hopped onto the foot of the bed, where she proceeded to take as much care as she could when she went to rest on her side.

To her surprise, her wings didn't give her any problems. "Huh?" She tried to roll over onto her other side, and her wings didn't have any qualm with that either. "Huh. I guess this will work out, after all..."

With the possibility of sleep now on the horizon, and being in the position and place that she was, her fatigue finally caught up with her and made her yawn long and hard. "Man, I'm bushed..."

When she tried to get up, however, she was surprised when Kasumi gently rested her hand against her side to discourage her from doing so. "Kasumi?"

"You can rest here, if you want," Kasumi offered softly.

The gesture made Ranma confused, and a little worried. "But..."

Kasumi retrieved her hand while gazing meaningfully at her prospective spouse, having gained the wherewithal to say the following after sharing her greatest secret with her. "I was thinking that we should give a relationship between us a chance. For both of our sakes, should we marry, I'd rather that we both want to."

Ranma was made speechless, but she had to agree that she wouldn't want to marry out of convenience, or starting a relationship by being forced together. While Kasumi was a little older than her, she could overlook her age easily enough. Even though she wasn't exactly her type either, the truth was that she wasn't really sure what — exactly — her type even was. Still, she would have to be blind to not see her beauty on the outside, and an idiot to not recognize the beauty within.

Her features softened, and she offered a final, token amount of resistance. "But what if someone sees me leaving your room?"

"Only your mother is up as early as I am," Kasumi replied, who smiled slightly with amusement. "And I doubt she'd offer any objection."

In response to that, Ranma plopped her head onto the bed in defeat. "Yeah, you're probably right about that..."

Kasumi's expression suddenly turned to one of concern. "Will you be alright there? Would you like a blanket, or a pillow?"

When Ranma thought about it, she was mildly surprised that she felt comfortable enough as she was. "No, I think this will be fine."

"Well, if you're sure..." Kasumi replied, giving Ranma a chance to change her mind.

When she didn't receive a response, other than a slight nod of the head, she decided that it was time to turn off her bedroom light and get into bed. In the time that it had taken her to do the first part of that and return, Ranma had drifted off to sleep. She regarded her for a moment, with the moonlight bestowing upon her an ethereal appearance, before she turned away and got into bed.

Once she was settled and comfortable beneath her covers, she looked across the bed and thought, "I really hope everything works out..."

As it turned out, no one saw Ranma leave from Kasumi's room later that morning, since she had decided to stay up and leave with the owner of said room instead of falling back asleep. At such an early hour, the only other person likely to be awake would have been her mother, who — on that particular morning — had risen early enough to be the first to get things in the furo and kitchen ready for the morning's activities.

However, even though she had not been seen, the expression on her mother's face — upon first greeting — had made her worry. It may have just been her fears interpreting the expression as a knowing one, but she could have sworn that her mother had an idea of where she had spent the night. After all, what would have stopped her mother from peeking into Kasumi's room while they had still been asleep?

Either way, her mother had not said a word about it, and for that she was thankful. Which was just as well, because it hadn't taken her very long to be presented with her first, real problem of the day: her morning ablutions. Well, it probably wouldn't have been too much of a problem if her mother hadn't suggested that she and Kasumi take their bath together, since she couldn't very well be expected to do an adequate job of washing herself between the configuration of her limbs and the hooves that were at the ends of them.

It had been far too embarrassing to consider, much less to accept, so she had excused herself to the garden with much haste, unmindful of what her mother or Kasumi might have said in the process. Had her mother offered to do the job herself, she would have only been embarrassed by the fact that she needed someone's help to do something so basic. However, Kasumi was someone that she was expected to have an intimate relationship with, which was far too embarrassing on its own, regardless of her present form.

So, in light of having to pass up some of her usual morning routines, she decided to get herself more acquainted with her new limbs. While flight was both convenient and fun for getting around, it wasn't for all occasions, and the martial artist part of her wanted her to excel at using her new legs, if for no other reason than to avoid a liability if flight wasn't an option.

That's how her father found her some time later, when she was practicing her range of mobility while standing on her hind legs. While she didn't know a whole lot about horses, she was pretty sure that they didn't have the range of movement that she did, which had come as a pleasant surprise. It certainly couldn't compare with what she could do as a human, but it was more than enough to dispel thoughts of being greatly handicapped if she had to fight someone in her usual style. Speaking of which...

"Boy," her father spoke up from just outside of the house, his arms crossed over his chest, "you look ridiculous."

Ranma lowered herself to her forelegs and turned to face her father with a smirk. "Oh, so we're a match, for once?"

"Ha!" Her father exclaimed, as he jabbed his index finger at her. "Is that all you've got? Pretty words to go with your pretty appearance?"

Feigning innocence, so she could better project her next verbal assault, Ranma blinked her eyes at that last part and asked, "You think I'm pretty?"

"No! That's not—" Her father began to sputter, as he tried to come up with a good way to cover his slip-up, before he gave up and suddenly proclaimed, "I mean: prepare yourself!"

Ranma had expected her father to continue their morning sparring session despite her new form, but she hadn't expected being able to handle him well enough. She was still at her father's mercy, of course, but it wasn't long before she adapted well enough to mitigate the effectiveness of her father's attacks.

That was until her father taunted her with, "Is this all you have to offer? Is this what you gave up being a man for? What a joke!"

She knew what he was trying to do, because she didn't want to remain in her current form either. She knew, but she still had her pride, and now she wanted to win so she could throw the so-called "joke" right back into her father's face. And if she could come out on top despite being made weak by the ultimate weakness moxibustion, what was stopping her from being the victorious one under better circumstances?

Any semblance of defense was pretty much forgotten, as she tried to push the limits of what she could do. However, even though she managed to get in a couple of good hits on her father, which were a couple more than she had accomplished before, she still found herself the one who was sprawled out on the ground, finding it hard to stand back up.

Then, when her father dove in for the finishing move, where his attack would stop short of its mark to make a point instead of forcing her into submission via another physical altercation, what with it only being a sparring match and all, time seemed to slow down for her. As her father descended upon her in slow motion, she was well aware that she was going to lose, but she was too stubborn to accept that outcome until the very end. In her defiance, she tried to ward her father away with her willpower alone, since there was little else that she could do in her position other than exercise some wishful thinking.

In that instant, two things happened in tandem: some kind of aura of red light entered her field of vision from above, then the same kind of aura surrounded her father and arrested his movement in midair. As unexpected as they were, they broke her train of thought and focus, which led to the pair of auras vanishing soon after their appearance. Between the unexpected stop and sudden release, her father landed on his rear instead of on his feet.

"What the hell was that?" Her father demanded, as he picked himself up from the ground and began to rub a hand over his offended backside.

"I wonder," Ranma replied in a thoughtful tone, as she glanced up at her horn, before she returned her gaze to her father and grinned at him mischievously. "Let's find out, shall we?"

Before her father could form a protest, he released an involuntary yelp when he found himself surrounded by a red aura once again and began to hover a few centimeters above the ground. However, it wasn't long before those scant few centimeters began to increase, as he was steadily lifted higher into the air. He struggled to get free, but he quickly realized that his efforts were ineffective. With that being the case...

"Ranma!" He exclaimed, affecting an affronted tone of voice. "Is this any way to treat your father? You should be ashamed of yourself!"

Between her bubbling excitement and the need to suppress it for the sake of her concentration, Ranma distractedly said, "Hey, it's anything goes, ain't it?"

Figuring that she wouldn't be able to concentrate well enough for much longer, considering all of the possibilities that were beginning to come to mind, regarding her newly-discovered ability, she decided to deal with her father quickly, so she could do more important — and potentially more enjoyable — things. With that in mind, she moved her father over the koi pond and released her hold over him.

As her father made a big splash in the koi pond, she was already trotting into the house with a bit of a skip in her step, paying no mind to those who happened to be watching her just then. Discovering that she had some kind of telekinesis, on top of being able to fly, was really going to make it hard for her to dislike her current predicament. It also didn't hurt that one of her more immediate problems had just been solved: because she could now take a bath... without assistance! Which was exactly what she was going to do.

It was highly unlikely that anyone would ever consider her to be a person who possessed any amount of horse sense worth noting, but her prioritization of many mundane necessities — such as practicing good hygiene — would say otherwise.