By Joseph Palmer
“What is it with you and cold water anyway?” Nabiki wasn’t really looking for an answer, it was just a question that had crossed her mind from time to time.
“Oh, you should have seen it!” Akane chimed in. “He was reaching for some carrots at the back of the display when those mist things came on, and of course, the nozzle picked that exact moment to come off. I turned around and he, well she, was soaked.”
“Hey... I would have loved to have seen that. Anyone notice the change?” Nabiki was getting into it, leaning across the table in anticipation.
“I did.” Ranma said sourly, She was still pulling at her wet shirt.
“It’s been so very quiet around here without you, Ranma.” Nabiki observed sweetly.
Lately Ranma had noticed a change in Nabiki’s attitude towards him. Since he had moved out they had been getting along much more like brother and sister. Her sarcastic barbs had been blunted a little, or at least had begun to be distributed more equitably.
“The water’s ready Ranma.” Kasumi entered carrying a kettle and small bundle. “Leave your wet stuff in the basket and I’ll hang it out to dry.”
“Ummm, thanks Kasumi, but I’ll take care of that.” Akane said hesitantly. She blushed a little.
“Okay.” Kasumi smiled at Akane. “Ranma, this ought to fit you.” She let the bundle unfold, revealing it to be a dark blue yukata. “It’s a little thin for this time of year, but it should be okay for around the house.”
“Thanks, be right back.” Ranma left carrying the thin robe at arms length away from her wet clothes.
Nabiki grinned mischievously at her younger sister.
“What?!?!” Akane demanded.
“So, what’s your plan? Hmmm, I’ll bet you’re going to try to time it so you walk in on him before he has the robe on, right?”
“Oh no way!”
“Oh come on, It’d be fun.”
“Pervert,” Akane sniffed.
“Nabiki, please stop teasing your sister.” Kasumi intervened.
“I’m serious. That was your plan, wasn’t it, Akane?”
“No! Jeez.” Akane shook her head.
“Stop it you two.” Kasumi stepped in. “Akane, please tell father that dinner is ready, Nabiki, please help me bring things in.”
Kasumi led Nabiki to the kitchen, Akane slid open the outer doors just wide enough to poke her head out. The outside air was cold on her face, and she could feel it pouring past her legs into the hallway.
“Father, dinner’s ready!” She called across the yard, her breath visible as a white mist.
“Be right in!” He was skimming leaves from the koi pond with long pole that ended in a small flat net. Akane quickly slid the doors closed again to conserve the heat in the house.
“Man it’s cold out” Ranma said, returning from the bath. He pulled the robe tightly around himself. “I’m really glad to be out of these wet clothes.” He held a damp bundle in his free hand.
Akane looked him over, seeing him in a yukata reminded her of times they’d stayed at onsens, and the cabin on the beach.
“What?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing, just thinking.”
“Well, I think I smell dinner.”
“I think you always smell dinner. Let me take those.” She reached for the clothes.
“No, I can take care of this.” he paused. “Umm, where should I...”
“Men!” Akane scoffed. “Use the pole on the porch.”
“Hai!” He answered obediently then headed upstairs.
“Akane, looks like you missed your chance again...” Nabiki was carrying a large platter to the table. “Well, the night is still young...”
“Nabiki!” Akane shouted in mock anger.
“Everyone, dinner!” Kasumi carried the rice and tea.
“Mmm, yakisoba! my favorite! Thank you Kasumi.” Soun took his usual place at the head of the table.
“But, daddy, everything’s always your favorite” Nabiki observed.
“Mmm well, that’s true.” He selected a pair of chopsticks from the jar on the table.
Ranma returned and plopped down next to Akane.
“Ranma-kun,” Soun eyed him. “ You’re not at a resort you know...”
“Well, my stuff got soaked...”
“As usual..” Nabiki offered.
“And Kasumi found this for me.”
“Mmm.” Soun nodded wisely. “Lets eat!”
The yakisoba was excellent, as usual, and Ranma noticed that the carrots that had caused him so much trouble were tender and sweet. They talked about the Saotome’s new living arrangements, and Ranma related stories from his new home life. Kasumi had another encounter with Toufu, she laughed at how funny he could be. Soun had been catching up in the yard, and had been spending more time working out in the doujo. Nabiki was particularly animated throughout dinner, slipping in sly comments and even once doing a passable impression of Kuno.
After dinner Soun announced that he had a surprise, and produced a new electric heater to mount to the bottom of the table for the upcoming cold winter evenings. He and Ranma spent nearly an hour pouring over the installation manual and after a couple of vexing false starts managed to get it secured safely to the table. Kasumi appeared with the quilt to cover the table, and soon the room was equipped for the coldest nights.
They watched a couple of comedies on TV, sharing the electric warmth of the table. When the news came on, Kasumi drifted away to start the bath, Nabiki went to the kitchen to search for a snack and Akane went to get Ranma’s clothes. She found them on the deck of the porch still sopping wet.
“Baka” She said. He must have just flipped them over the pole, and they slid right off. Her hands were numb from the cold by the time she had finished re-hanging them, this time sliding the pole through the arms of the shirt, and the leg of the pants. Returning downstairs she found her father on the phone.
“Okay, Saotome-kun, tomorrow at eleven thirty, see you then.”
“Wait!” Akane reached for the phone.
“Saotome-kun, hold on.” Soun passed the phone to Akane.
“Mr. Saotome, Akane here. Ranma’s clothes are all wet, he’d freeze if we sent him home in them. I think he should stay tonight.” She looked to her father who nodded approval.
Ranma’s father agreed that given the circumstances Ranma should stay the night, and he promised to tell his wife so that she would not be worried about him.
“OK, Bye-bye.” She handed the phone back to her father. As she walked away she could hear her father whispering into the phone and laughing. Those two are impossible, she thought.
Ranma was lying half under the side of table watching the news. Akane slid in behind him, flipped up the quilt and slid her bare feet between his calves.
“AIEEEE!” Ranma squealed. “COLD!”
Before he could wiggle free she grabbed his legs with her icy hands.
“Ahhh! j- jeez that’s c- c- cold!”
Akane giggled and wriggled her toes. “Aaaah. That’s better,” she said. “It’s all your fault anyway.”
“Huh? Aaaaah!” She had moved her feet and hands to find more warmth.
“Your stuff fell off the pole and is still too wet to wear, so you’re staying here tonight. And since I froze myself re-hanging your clothes, you have to warm my feet.”
“Ah so... Akane?”
“Where did you find liquid nitrogen on such short notice?”
“Now now, it’s not that bad, dear.”
Ranma shut up. That was the first time she’d called him that, and even in jest it was nice to hear. They watched the news together, Akane occasionally shifting to seek out more warmth. The weather lady came on to cheerfully announce the approach of a big storm, due to hit sometime tomorrow afternoon. Ranma commented that the cold front had already found Akane’s feet.
Nabiki returned from the bath, her hair wrapped in a fluffy white towel .She picked up the TV listings and flipped the pages. “Junk, junk, junk, Oh no, wait a second, that one’s garbage... junk.” She flipped the page. “Woah, hey, Akane, your favorite! Channel 12 is running all night horror shows!”
“All night horror?” Soun entered in his pajamas, bushing his teeth.
“Daddy, do you want to watch with me?” Akane asked brightly.
“No, I think I’ll pass on that.”
“Kasumi, you want to watch all night Horror films with me?” Her sister had entered carrying towels.
“Thank you, but no, Akane. They give me scary dreams.”
“Well, since I’m stuck here tonight anyway...”
“Hmmm?” Nabiki’s face lit up with a fiendish grin. “Akane you rascal! That’s way better than anything I came up with!”
“Stop joking around! Anyway it’s his fault.” Akane fumed at her sister.
“Now, now.” Soun scolded. “Enough of that. With the TV and all this bickering, I think I’d get more sleep in the upstairs guest room tonight.”
“It’s already made up, father!” Kasumi said brightly. “But do you think it’s a good idea to leave them alone together?” she suddenly looked worried.
“Oh Kasumi, don’t worry.” Nabiki reassured her sister. “After all, we’ll be right upstairs, and anyway, if anything untoward happens one shout will bring us running. Your virtue will be perfectly safe tonight, Ranma.”
“NA—BI—KI— Akane growled menacingly.
“Joking, joking. Nite-nite.” Nabiki slipped around the corner.
“ARGH!” Akane threw a pillow after her.
“Ha ha ha ha,” Soun laughed, “No, I don’t think we need to worry. Just make sure to leave plenty of pillows for ammunition.”
Akane swatted him with one as he returned to the bath.
“Ummm... I think I’d better take my bath now.” Ranma took a towel from Kasumi and retreated to the bath.
“Don’t take too long, I want to finish my bath before the movie starts.” Akane called after him.
Nabiki poked her head back around the corner, “Well you could always share...” She ducked the next pillow, but was hit firmly by the third before she could escape.
Kasumi knelt formally at the table across from Akane. “Akane-chan...” It was that serious tone that Kasumi reserved for when she was filling in for mother. “Akane, I...” Kasumi was torn, cooking and cleaning was one thing, but there were some things she had trouble dealing with. She wondered if she should share some motherly words of caution, but after all, Akane was only three years younger than herself. Giving that sort of worldly advice seemed out of place somehow, perhaps because she had decided to put the needs of her family before her own, and had yet to begin to deal with her own desires.
Akane looked at her sister, smiled, and took her hands. “Kasumi, you needn’t to be worried. Ranma and I won’t be...” She paused, searching not only for the words, but for her feelings. “There’s no hurry.” It was the closest she came to expressing what she felt. There were a lot of other mixed emotions, fears, and desires, but there was no urgency. Not yet.
Kasumi seemed to accept this because the cloud had lifted from her face. After some discussion they decided to bring a futon, comforter and pillow into the living room in case Ranma dozed off. Ranma returned, buffing his hair dry with a towel.
“Your turn.” He sat at the table, picked up the remote, and switched channels until he found a channel running replays of today’s sumo basho.
“How much time do I have?”
“About 20 minutes” Ranma checked the time on the VCR.
“Okay, I’ll be right back!” Akane raced for the bath.
Kasumi again sat at the table, this time across from Ranma.
“What is it, Kasumi?”
“Ranma, I’m depending on you to be a gentleman tonight.”
“Eh?” Ranma was confused. What does she... Oh. That.
“Do you promise?” Kasumi gave him her stern look.
“No It’s not like that at all. It’s not like I planed to be here or anything. Really, I put the pole through my clothes just like you always do, the pole must have fallen or something. ”
“Ranma...” Kasumi held her gaze. “Promise me.”
“I promise, Kasumi,” He said resignedly.
“Thank you, Ranma. Good night.”
He watched her leave, he heard the light switch in the kitchen, then the light from the hallway went out. He heard her walking up the steps, the fourth step squeaking as usual.
On the TV Takanahana slipped past Akebono and forced him out of he ring. They replayed those 12 seconds again and again in slow motion. The house seemed to be going to sleep, the TV suddenly too loud. He reached for the remote and turned down the sound. The door to the bath slid open, and he heard Akane’s footsteps as she neared the door. There was a pause, then a flash of yellow towel and pink legs.
“Forgot my pajamas, be right back.” Akane said as she rushed for the stairs.
She chose a loose pair of pajama pants and pulled them on, the soft fabric catching slightly against her damp skin. She pulled the ties tight around her tummy and tied them in a simple bow. She found the matching top, turned it so the tag was in the back, and pulled it over her head. The top was loose and a little short, she smiled as she noticed that a little skin flashed as she combed her hair. She checked once more in the mirror, then left to join Ranma.
“Pssst, a second please Akane...” Nabiki whispered from her darkened room. Akane entered, Nabiki closed the door and turned on the light.
“Look sis, are you really ready for this?” Nabiki asked in a conspiratorial tone. She sat on her bed and patted a spot for Akane to sit down.
“What do you mean?”
“Have you prepared?”
“What do you mean, ‘prepared’”? There was a long pause.
“Akane, do you have any... protection?”
“You don’t mean... Nabiki!” Akane blushed dark red and stared in wide eyed surprise at her sister.
“Look, I’m not saying that anything is going to happen tonight, I just think it would be prudent for you to have some protection ready, just in case....” Nabiki reached under her pillow. “Here, take this.”
Akane let her eyes fall to Nabiki’s hands. One was cupped over the other, hiding the object inside. Akane held out her hand guiltily, Nabiki pressed a small green plastic squirt gun into it. Akane blinked at it
“One squirt and you’re safe!” Nabiki said with a straight face. Then she began to giggle hysterically, rocking back and forth on her bed helpless to defend herself against Akane, who was frantically squirting her. Akane half emptied the gun then stormed out of her sisters room, slamming the door on her way out.
“You PERVERT!” she spat under her breath as she headed downstairs. Akane could still hear her sister giggling from the bottom of the stairs.
“What... was all that about?” Ranma asked.
Akane walked in, the squirt gun hidden behind her back. She knelt and placed the squirt gun on the table in front of her.
“Urk.” Ranma managed.
“Nabiki doesn’t trust you, she thought I might need some protection.”
“I see.” Ranma said. He didn’t.
The movie started, and Akane got up to turn the light off, leaving the room bathed in flickering bluish light from the TV. She pulled the pillows from the bedding and plopped them on the floor beside the table. Sitting next to Ranma, she briefly obscured his view of the TV, then wormed her way under the table, propped her head in her right palm, and settled in to watch the show.
Ranma followed the curve of her hips down to the exposed ribbon of skin. No more than a finger’s width was visible, but he found himself mesmerized by it. His gaze traced from the front where the curve of her tummy was lit by the TV, over the top where the pajama pants dug into her hips, then down the back where his view disappeared into the shadows. He thought it strange, he’d seen so much more of her a dozen times in swimsuits, but it had never affected him like this. He retraced it over and over, imagining the feel of her soft skin against his finger tips.
Akane reached behind her back and slid her hand under the hem of her top, then began to scratch idly. She struggled a bit to reach higher.
“Ranma, could you scratch...”
Ranma reached out and touched her back cautiously, the warmth of her skin electric on his fingertips. He rubbed slowly, her skin was so soft, so smooth.
“Mmm that’s nice... nails please.”
Ranma was surprised at the request. He gently raked her skin, she melted to the floor.
“Ooooh yes. Mmm, Higher please.”
He scratched upwards, quickly noting the lack of a strap. He worked his way up the middle, then back and forth down to the small of her back. He repeated the process twice, Akane responding sensually to the attention. She rolled back onto her side, straightened the fabric of her top, then rolled to her back. She took Ranma’s hand and locked her fingers in his.
“Okay, you can stay my fiancee.” She said softly, pulling him downward. Ranma resisted playfully, then surrendering, he lay beside her. He brushed the hair from her eyes and leaned over her, his lips inches from hers. She reached up and wrapped a hand around the back of his head, and grabbed his ponytail with the other. She tried to pull him downward, but he resisted again with a coy smile. She pulled herself upwards to his lips. They kissed then, Ranma gently lowering her to the pillow, her hands freed to course through his hair.
It started gently, with their moistened lips sliding sensuously and slowly, with giggles and moans of assent under their breath. Then Akane opened a tiny cautious bit, and accepted the tip of Ranma’s tongue, the sensation of touching her teeth was strange and new to him. She drew him in just a little, and her tongue found his. Suddenly there was only the contact between them, his other senses shut down, the TV, the room, the whole world seemed to recede. His whole life was kissing Akane, feeling the intimate touch between them. For a time there was nothing but the sensuous touching, teasing, and caressing of tongue against tongue. He felt his heart pounding, intruding on his concentration, then a wave of heat enveloped him, starting at his lips and washing down his body. The sensations that had been concentrated in their kiss painted over him, in an intensity that thrilled and frightened him.
It was as if some primal switch was pulled, and buried instincts took over. His tongue flooded into her, she felt a heartbeat of panic and surprise, then she let go of something inside, and felt herself falling, the room spinning around her. For a moment she let Ranma kiss her, content to feel him caressing and probing. She sucked hard on his tongue, the room spun faster and began to tilt below her. She felt the warmth and the pulsing of his heart in his tongue against her own. Twinges in their bodies signaled preparations for what nature intended to follow. An flush of adrenaline cursed through their veins, their hearts beat faster and faster.
They parted, searching in each other’s eyes, trembling and questioning, their breath shuttering . After what seemed like an eternity, Akane bit her lip and closed her eyes and reluctantly shook her head. Ranma smiled in relief and disappointment.
He sighed, then lay on his side and propped his head on his hand. Akane turned to her side, then wriggled back to him, so they could lay together like spoons. He tentatively let his free hand rest on her hip, she took it, pulling his arm around her. She kissed his hand and held it to her and blinked away some tears.
In time their hearts quieted, and Akane broke the uneasy silence.
“Ranma... I’m sorry.”
He squeezed her gently. “It’s okay.” He said, his voice betraying his real feelings. “Anyway Kasumi made me promise to be a ‘gentleman’ tonight.”
Akane looked up at that. “Oh, she got to you too?”
“I think she wanted to give me one of ‘those’ talks, I kind of told her I wasn’t in a hurry.” Akane was not at all sure of that statement.
“I guess we couldn’t break our promises to her.” Ranma was relieved to be able to blame his frustrations elsewhere.
“No, I suppose not. But I don’t think she would object to this.” Akane began to rock gently against him.
“No, I don’t think so, how about this?” He said and kissed her ear.
“Ooooh that tickles.” Akane squirmed trying to pull her ear out of reach. “No, that’s definitely ungentlemanly.” She giggled as he kissed her ear again.
“You know...” Ranma pulled his arm free and tucked his thumb under the front of her pajama top. “Kasumi only made me promise to be good tonight.” he lay his hand on her tummy. “Since it’s now after midnight,” He inched it tentatively upward. “...that makes it officially tomorrow!”
“Baka.” She trapped his wrist with her arm and slapped his hand.
“Well it is...”
Akane sighed and elbowed him playfully in the ribs. “Watch the movie.”
Ranma withdrew his hand and she hugged it again. They lay together, Akane tucked into Ranma’s lap, sharing the warmth of each other and the table and quilt. In time Ranma fell asleep and Akane listened to his gentle breathing. She turned the volume even lower so as not to disturb him and watched until she too fell asleep.
He dreamed of flying, he picked up Akane in his arms, and for no particular reason he leapt in the air. Somehow he found if he just kept stretching the effort of the jump, he could stay in the air. It was exhilarating, the warm wind in his hair and the town passing below them. They landed in the park, but for some reason the park was now in the country with nothing around but mountains and forests. They searched for a place where they could kiss and touch and... more. But no place was suitable, and finally Akane said there’s no place, and that she was sorry, and crying softly she kissed him, her body pressed tight against him, her breath sweet and warm.
He woke then, the dream still vivid in his mind. Akane was sleeping in his arms, he wanted to wake her, to continue the dream, but somehow holding her was enough for now. Spying the remote at the edge of the table, he unwrapped his arm and found the off switch. He held her again and she stirred, hugging his arm as if it were a stuffed animal.
When he awoke again the room was bathed in a pale orange light, a portent of the battle between the rising sun and an approaching storm. Akane stirred.
“Good morning, dear.” She said with a sleepy smile. “I guess I fell asleep.”
They looked at each other for a time, each thinking that here in the chilly light of the morning, perhaps they’d made the right decision.
“I think I’d better go up to my room before anyone else wakes up.”
“Do you have to go?” He hugged her gently.
“Mmm...oh...I should.” She got up and leaned over him. “Good night again.” She kissed him on the nose and headed for the stairs.
Ranma heard her take the first three stairs, then back down and through the hallway to the bathroom. He climbed out from under the table, found the switch and turned off the table heater. He unfolded the futon, laid out the bed quilt, and fluffed and placed the pillow.
The futon and quilt were cold against his legs and arms. He lay looking at the ceiling panels, the room now glowing in an eerie orange light.
He heard Akane’s footsteps as she returned from the back, quietly she reentered the room. Holding her finger to her lips, she knelt beside him. Smiling softly she brushed the hair out of his eyes. Her face was half lit by the strange light, the gentleness of her smile took away his breath, her request for silence somehow exotic. He gazed at her in a trance, willing time to stop for just a while.
She looked at him and brushed through his hair gently. The strangeness of the light affected her too, They’d been together in this room a thousand times, but the light made it seem like some mystical castle, and she had at last found him after a long perilous quest. There remained but one deed to be done to free him from his spell. Her hand slid to his cheek and she bent and kissed him.
He reached up and pulled her on top of himself, his lips again finding hers. They kissed passionately, Akane lying fully on top of him, his arms gently rocking her. The sensations were now familiar, the thrill and danger of exploration gone, replaced by a comforting intimacy. She broke the kiss and slid down to lay her head on his chest. He ran is fingers through her hair, relaxing in the quiet of the moment. The magical light turned from orange to the ordinary gray of morning, and the room transformed imperceptibly slowly back to the familiar.
In time Akane stirred, kissed him gently, and without a word left him. She padded out of the room, he heard the first three steps, then a break in the rhythm as she skipped the fourth step.
Ranma lay looking at the ceiling, his mind a whirlwind of thoughts. His emotions were torn between the elation and comfort of the intimacy they shared, and the distant pangs of regret that kissing might never have the same thrill as last night, but mostly... mostly there was anticipation. He turned on his side and snuggled the pillow, it still smelled of her.
Saturday, December 27, 1996
“Orange” 1996 Joseph Palmer
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