By Joseph Palmer
Ranma opened his eyes slowly and stared at the beams in the ceiling. He had never noticed them much before, but tonight they looked somehow different. The sharp shadows that were normally cast across the panels were somehow softer, the light a little bluer. Ranma gave a little shiver, this was easily the coldest night so far and he could feel it. He turned over onto his stomach, and began to pull the blanket up over his shoulder. His chest began to feel colder, and ... wet.
A moment later she sat up and inspected the futon with her hands. A large wet spot covered the left half, and next to that, lay a much battered galvanized bucket. Ranma-chan looked at her father, who was at the time a very large and slightly damp panda. She thought on that a moment, then taking into account the clues at hand, formulated a hypothesis that fit all of the clues.
She got up and hefted the bucket with a mind to bean her father with it. The handle made a small creaking noise that seemed to shoot through her. She froze, listening to the echo of the sound fade. The house was quiet. The constant murmur of Tokyo was somehow muted except for the sound of a distant train whistle. Ranma-chan set the bucket down. She would wait for tomorrow to settle the score. Perhaps there might even be a skin of ice on the pond.
She slid open the door and stepped out. The hallway was awash in a soft light. Her attention was drawn to the window. Outside snow flakes were skating aimlessly downward, dodging and pausing as if each were following a complex choreographed dance. She picked out a single flake and followed it down towards the white blanket that covered the yard. Mesmerized, she gazed out at the streetlight as the snow picked up.
Some time later she shivered, stifled a sneeze and thought that she should get out of her wet clothes. How long have I been standing here? she wondered. Must be this girl body that makes me act like this.
Silently she slid down the stairs and into the kitchen. She filled a kettle and put it on the burner and snapped the control to start the flame, but there was no hiss of gas, just the gentle whir of the refrigerator and the ticking of the clock. She tried the thermos, but all that came was a trickle of cold water. Maybe the bath is still hot enough, she thought.
The laundry room seemed a bit warmer, and the the glow from the night light was all she needed. Ranma pulled off the wet pajamas and tossed them into the laundry basket, picked up a large towel, and slid the door to the bath. A rush of warm slightly scented air passed over her, then a cold draft from behind hastened her to close the door. She was reaching for the lights when a voice from the tub stayed her hand.
“Ranma... please leave the lights off.” Akane said. Ranma turned and saw Akane in the tub, still looking out the window.
“Akane, Oh, ah, sorry, I’ll come back later.” Ranma said while she fumbled for the door.
“Wait...”, Akane said. “Its okay, don’t go.”
“But you’re...” Ranma-chan swallowed. “ ...in the tub.”
“Come in and warm up before you catch cold. Besides, you wouldn’t even want to peek at a tomboy anyway, right? Ah... don’t answer that.”
Ranma sighed and stepped gingerly into the other end of the tub, carefully avoiding glancing at Akane, and grateful that she had left her a way out without putting her foot in her mouth, at least not yet.
“So what are you doing down here anyway?”
“Near as I can tell, Dad felt a bit cold in the middle of the night and decided he would be warmer as a damp panda. He managed to spill half a bucket of water on my futon in the process. I came down to look for some hot water so I could turn back.”
“Why did you want to turn back? Couldn’t you just have dried off and changed upstairs?”
“Yeah, but I get so cold in my girl body.” Ranma paused, “I never told anyone that.”
“It’ll be our secret.”
“What are you doing up so late, and in the bath?”
“And with my inazuke?” [Fiancé] Akane finished. She gazed out the window. “I love to watch the snow. Once when I was little mom brought me in the tub during a snow storm and we sat here and watched together. Ever since then I like to sneak down at night when it snows, especially the first snow of the year like tonight. I think about things, I think about mom sometimes. No one knows...” She paused and looked at Ranma. “... but you.”
Ranma looked at Akane shyly. She smiled at him.
“Shouldn’t you be changing soon?”
“It takes longer when the water isn’t real hot.”
“I like it warm like this, I can stay in longer when it’s not to hot.”
“Sorry its taking so long, I tried the kitchen earlier, I couldn’t get the burner to light, It sounded like the gas was off, and the thermos was empty.”
“That’s funny though,” Akane said. “Kasumi heated lots of water for tea tonight, Nabiki was out with her friends, and our fathers were drinking sake all evening. There should have been some in the thermos, and anyway, the burner should be working.”
Ranma felt the change coming, a not unpleasant tingle in the most affected areas, followed by a something that felt like he was flexing his muscles, but it happened involuntarily. He had tried from time to time to slow the process, with no effect. It was like trying to slow down a hiccup or a sneeze. His increased size caused a little wave to cross the tub, which splashed Akane’s chin and overflowed a couple of splashes into the drain.
Akane giggled. “Finally! I was beginning to think you might have been stuck that way again!”
Ranma was suddenly and acutely aware of Akane’s presence. The lilt of her voice made his heart pause a beat, and he suddenly recognized the scent in the air was from her shampoo or something or other she used. He nearly panicked, she was just across the tub from him, and the glow from outside made her look so... so... cute.
“I’d better go before we get caught together.” He said.
“Don’t worry, with all the sake our folks had, there’s little chance that either one will be up and around till late morning, and Nabiki was home late, and Kasumi...” Akane paused and looked perplexed.
Ranma had regained most of his wits, and for once without getting into an argument. “What about Kasumi?” he asked.
“She was acting strange, when I came in, she switched the TV off made up a strange excuse and rushed into the kitchen. When I turned it back on, the weather was just ending. When I went to bed, I saw her slip into her room with a bucket.”
“You don’t really think she soaked my futon and planted the evidence on pop, do you? And I was looking forward to dumping him in the pond tomorrow.”
“Why must you always fight with your dad?”
“I don’t...” Ranma protested, then stopped, thinking that he didn’t want to start an argument now. “I don’t know, mostly it’s just training, sometimes he makes me mad on purpose, sometimes I get mad about some of the dumb things he’s put me through.”
“Like...” Akane probed.
“Like the trip to China, the agreement with my mother, and anything having to do with Happosai.”
“What about his deal with my father?”
Ranma froze. “That’s...” he turned dark red. “That’s okay.” They sat in silence for a long time. The wind picked up a bit, and the snow relented a little, but the result was a near white out. Somewhere in he house a board creaked with a snapping noise that startled them both.
“I was just thinking...” Akane broke the silence. “about someday sharing this with my own daughter.”
“Or son.” Ranma added, as if in a trance. They looked at each other for a long time.
Finally, Akane said, “We should go to b — ah... we should go up”
“OK, I should probably go first ” Ranma got up pulling a towel around his waist. He stepped out of the tub and started to the door.
“Ranma...” Akane had turned in the tub and was watching him with her chin on her crossed arms on the edge of the tub. “Good night.”
“Good night Akane.” Ranma closed the door, dried off, and got dressed in some sweats He had neglected to bring up earlier.
He climbed the stairs and paused at the top to look out onto the yard. The snow had stopped, leaving a gleaming blanket over the yard and rooftops as far as he could see. It was like a gift package, and in just a few hours the town would awake and like an impatient child tear off the wrapping without stopping to notice.
“Pretty, isn’t it!” Akane whispered.
Ranma nearly jumped out of his sweats. “How—how long have you been there?” he gasped.
“Just a minute or two.” She gave Ranma’s hand a squeeze, and stood on her toes to whisper in his ear, “Good night again.”
As she brushed past him, he was again aware of her closeness, her bouquet, the warmth of her breath on his cheek. Ranma watched as Akane walked down to the end of the hall and with long practiced moves opened her door silently. She turned and gave him a smile and a little wave, then was gone, the door closing noiselessly behind her. How long had she been there, he wondered. Perhaps there’s more to it than just my girl body, after all.
Ranma entered his room and carefully laid down on the futon. The ceiling looked the same as it always did, the same distinct patterns of shadow and light. At least something was back to normal, he thought. He laid his head in his hands, his thoughts reeling through the events of the evening. He rolled over onto his stomach, his chest began to feel cold, and a not unpleasant tingling sensation began....
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"Winter" 1995 Joseph Palmer
This story came out of nowhere. I hope you liked it, as you can tell, I prefer the romantic side of the Ranma and Akane story. I've watched the entire TV series (in Japanese), the movies, the OAVs and have collected all of the manga (Including #31, just out!) and my favorite part of the story is the slow building romance between them.
While not authentic to the original, I too subscribe to the theory that Kasumi knows far, far more than she lets on.
I honestly love to get Email from folks who have read my stories, if you liked it, please drop me a little note: firstname.lastname@example.org
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