Disclaimer: They're not mine and I'm not paid to do this, so the appropriate parties may have all of my imaginary proceeds.
Chapter 1: It Starts…
Everyone sat around the small table, huddled shoulder-to-shoulder to get a closer look at what lay at its center.
"This little bute," Happosai said, poking at the object with the end of a chopstick, "is the real deal! They say it will switch the minds of any two bodies that hold it, so long as it's held at the same time. Now all I have to do is find a body I like." He paused to rub his chin thoughtfully, "So, Ranma-Chan, how's about it?"
A loud thud was heard as Ranma smashed the old man's skull into the table with his elbow. "Don't make me sick, ya old letch!"
Soun leaned across the table, ignoring the battle that ensued between the two generations of his school, and carefully rewrapped the smooth, blue oval in its cloth covering.
"This should be guarded from-"
He paused to consider his words even as his eyes revealed his intentions with a quick look at his master. Clearing his throat he began again, "This should be guarded against those who would, uh, abuse its particular abilities. Therefore-"
"I'll do it!"
All heads turned slowly toward the voice; only Nabiki and Happosai looked amused.
"What? What's wrong with ME?" Akane asked, defending her position. "You always pick someone else! Well, I'm a practicing member of the School of Anything Goes just the same as you all are, you know!"
"Practice bein' the key word," Ranma muttered under his breath, earning a searing glance from the member in question.
Soun shifted uncomfortably, "It's not a matter of your abilities, Akane."
"What abilities?" Ranma chided, making Akane stiffen beside him. Without another word she reached forward and snatched the bundle from the center of the table.
"It's settled then, I'll guard it! And if anyone has anything to say about me NOT being able to do it," Ranma found himself locked in her glare a second time, "then that person can… just… suck an egg!"
She spun on her heel and stormed off with the small bundle.
"Well, that's settled," Soun smiled uncomfortably. "I suppose it is about time that Akane's tested, like the rest of us," he added quickly.
Ranma let out a long sigh; he'd just have to start guarding Akane's room at night. At least it would give him a legitimate excuse for why he was already over it in the first place.
It was a miserable Fall day. The wind was blowing a mix of leaves and rain at an angle that made an umbrella nearly useless. The rain itself was more of a heavy mist than a proper raindrop, giving it the ability to ride the wind in multiple directions, not just its usual 'down'. It was during a particularly strong gust that Ryoga Hibiki found himself at the threshold of his curse's trigger, and a moment later he was dragging his belongings down the pavement between his little piggy teeth. Stuffing his clothes into his pack, then closing and packing his umbrella as well, he shivered right down to and through his small, black hooves. He needed to find a place out of the elements. Taking a harder look at his surroundings, he saw the sign for Dr Tofu's clinic at the end of the block. With a tiny grin he began to trudge forward.
Flashing a smile as he entered the Dojo, Ranma quietly walked past Akane and began to stretch. She paused only a moment before smashing through a stack of cinderblocks.
"So…how ya doing?" he said nonchalantly, lifting a leg straight up into the air and hugging his knee. Akane watched this through her bangs, swearing that he was somehow trying to show-off to annoy her, and quite certain that it was working. Taking in a long, slow breath, she decided to give him the benefit of a doubt.
"Fine. Thanks. So why are you here?"
He threw a hand to his chest and feigned being shot, "Ouch, Akane! Man, if words could kill, huh?"
"I didn't say anything wrong, Ranma," she replied with a touch of irritation, stacking up another set of blocks to hit.
"It was the way ya said it." He let go of his leg and dropped into a full split. Akane rolled her eyes.
"So why are you here?" she repeated.
"Gotta practice somewhere, it's rainin' outside."
Akane glanced over her shoulder, listening to the wind-spattered drops hitting the glass and wood behind her. Giving a small shrug, she murmured, "Guess that is a problem, for you."
"Just a little."
Beginning his routine, Ranma flipped and kicked through the air at breakneck speeds. Several times he landed dangerously close to Akane, rebounding away only to come slightly closer a moment later. After the third near-miss, she turned from her pile of rubble and threw a punch at his head. Leaning out of her reach, he backwards somersaulted away.
"Ooh, thought ya had me, didn't ya!"
"No. I was just practicing," she lied. "Shadowboxing, guess I got too close. Sorry if it made you uncomfortable."
He started to chuckle deep in his throat, "That didn't make me uncomfortable, Akane, but your face sure did!"
His grin was broad and toothy now, his own joke amusing him to no end. Akane took another deep breath, then stepped close, purposely removing any personal space between them. Looking up to meet his eyes she stared him down, the grin growing uncomfortable on his lips.
"I think you're afraid," she challenged.
"W-what?" he stammered, fighting the urge to step back, or lean forward, he wasn't sure of which. "I ain't scared of, uh, well…anything you got, that's for sure!"
"Then let me do this," she warned, raising an eyebrow.
"What about Happosai?"
"What about Happosai, you don't think I can handle him?"
He stood his ground, his mouth moving as if it were full of rocks as he bit back everything he wanted to say. Her other eyebrow rose as her patience dwindled.
"Fine!" he gritted out, "You can do this."
"Without your help?"
He turned away, "Fine…FINE. WithOUT my help!"
"There you go, that wasn't so hard," she grinned, giving him a pat on the back. "Since that's all cleared up, you want to practice with me?"
He rested a hand against the wall, "Nah. I think all the fight's outta me." Groaning, he dramatically staggered out of the dojo. Once he was gone, Akane began to laugh.
Making his way to the kitchen to help regain his strength, he stopped when he saw Ryoga sitting at the table. Letting out a long sigh he sagged against the wall once more.
"Guess what they say is true, hey Pork Butt? Rats really do come outta the sewer when it rains."
Ryoga did little more than look up through the steam of his tea, his eyes narrowing. Kasumi, smilingly peace-keeping as always, knelt down beside her guest.
"Isn't it wonderful? Dr Tofu brought him by."
"Yes, very…for him."
Kasumi smiled, then placed another cup on the table, "Would you like some tea, Ranma?"
"Sure," he smiled back, sitting in his usual place. Lifting his tea, he leveled his gaze at Ryoga, "To what do we owe this honor, pal?"
"I was lost, Ranma, if you must know," Ryoga answered calmly.
"You're always lost," Ranma scoffed, "funny how ya manage ta find this place over and over again though."
"Isn't it?" Akane agreed as she walked into the room, retying the belt of her gi. "I'm so glad to see you, Ryoga. You'll be staying for dinner, I hope?"
Blushing, Ryoga began to squeeze his mug as he fumbled his words. Shaking his head, Ranma planted his chin in his palm, "Ya better let go of the cup before it breaks, idiot."
"Oh, right, yeah!" the lost boy rushed out, setting the cup down gently.
"You should spend the night," Akane said with a warm smile, "it looks miserable out there."
"I, I wouldn't want to impose…"
"Why? Ranma's been doing it for years," Akane smirked evilly at her fiancé, taking her own cup of tea from her sister with a nod of thanks. He shot her a look, then leaned on his elbows toward her, "So you're saying I owe ya, huh? Whaddya suppose the going rate is on saving a life two, three…how many times has it been now, Tomboy? I lost count!"
Akane rose to her knees, leaning on her palms to get closer to Ranma, "That's low, Ranma, even for you."
"Even for…what the hell's that supposed ta mean?"
"Do the math! Oh wait, you probably can't. You lose count at three!"
"Uh, I don't have to stay," Ryoga offered helpfully, feeling a bit awkward in his seat between the pair.
"No, you do!" Akane snapped, her left hand snagging his forearm as she rose from the table, pulling him along with her. "I'll make you up a futon in Ranma's room."
Dragging him off behind her, she stormed away.
Kasumi looked at Ranma with an apologetic smile, "Try not to hold it against her, she really is a very sweet girl."
"I know," he sighed, settling back to the floor, "she's just a violent maniac."
It was deep night, the time when nocturnal is in the full throws of switching to diurnal and even the insects have stopped their songs for sleep. Unfortunately for Ranma, his body seemed to be taking a different course of action. Whether it was the day's events, the snoring panda or the unwelcome rival next to him, he couldn't be sure, but sleep seemed to be the last thing his mind was capable of doing. Staring at the ceiling, he counted shadows until his brain was numb, but he was still awake.
"I can count higher than three," he whispered quietly to himself, hours too late for a comeback. "Just did it right now, dorky macho chick!"
Rolling to his left he stared at Ryoga, then spun to face his father on the right. Grumbling, he got up and slipped from the room. As the door closed, Ryoga opened his eyes.
Ranma padded down the hall to Akane's room, checked over his shoulder to be sure he was alone, then slipped inside. Staring at her sleeping form, he started to pace back and forth like a caged wildcat with a vendetta.
'Damn,' he thought, 'why's she gotta do this to me? And why can't she lose a little sleep, too?'
Watching her closely, he confirmed that she was in a deep sleep. Then he began to whisper, soft as a first kiss, all of the secrets he wouldn't dare say during the day.
"I'm sorry I goaded ya on like that, you know I don't mean it when I say that stuff. And this little mission you think is some test or something, it ain't necessary. Ya don't need ta prove yourself to me or anybody, I already think the world of you, Akane."
He sighed as her name slipped from his lips, letting it roll over his tongue a second time before he ended his midnight confession. Feeling slightly less tense, he turned to go back to bed only to nearly bump into Ryoga in her doorway. Eyes widening in shock, he took a step back.
"Ranma," the other boy hissed, "what do you think you're doing sneaking into Akane San's room at this hour?"
"Shuddup, idiot," he shot back, "I wasn't doin' anything!"
Ryoga stepped closer. "Ranma, don't act innocent."
"ACT innocent?" Ranma scoffed, "At least when I'm in here it ain't in her bed pretending to be her pet!"
Ryoga balled his fists, "And who's fault is it that I have this damned curse anyway?"
"Quit complaining," Ranma whispered tiredly, ducking a punch Ryoga threw at his head. Taking a moment, he added, "how long were you there?"
"I heard you say her name, if that's what you're referring to." Ryoga paused to lash-out with a kick, which his rival caught in his left hand, "Afraid I'd heard too much, Ranma?"
"Not really," Ranma lied with a shrug, sweeping out Ryoga's other leg while maintaining his grip on the first.
Down in a wheelbarrow position, Ryoga pushed off the ground with his arms, sending the pair backwards. Taking a step to regain his balance, Ranma's foot landed on a dumbbell and rolled out from under him. Wanting to land with as little noise as possible, one hand grabbed for Akane's desk while the other still held tight to Ryoga, attempting to use him as a counterweight to stop his fall. But it was too little too late.
His hand slid across her desk, sending books and papers flying in its wake. Amidst the carnage, Ranma felt material softly give way under his palm, his mind screaming in horrified comprehension as he realized what lay beneath. He tried to pull back or twist to the side, but there simply wasn't enough time. The fabric that was wrapped around the jewel slipped away, exposing it fully as his hand fell over it. And he was still holding Ryoga.
Hearing a loud crash, Akane bolted upright in her bed. She immediately reached for her lamp and mallet, tools she felt would be necessary for assessing the situation at hand. Looking around wildly, her eyes came to rest on the tangled mass of martial artists that lay on her floor.
"Ranma?" She blinked several times to clear the sleep from her eyes, "What are you doing?"
"I can explain!" Ryoga belted out, springing free from Ranma's grip. Looking down at his rival, his eyes went wide. His hand rose and clamped firmly over his mouth, staring in horror as he yelled out what Akane could have sworn to be a string of profanities into his palm, and not the PG rated ones.
"Are…are you okay?" she whispered, lowering her mallet from view to seem more or less harmless. Looking around to Ranma, she noted that he was staring in utter confusion at Ryoga's back.
Ryoga spun, grabbing at the clutter of books on the floor, "Here, lemme help clean this stuff up for you, Akane, um, San."
"Okay…" Akane replied slowly, creasing her brows together. "You don't have to though, Ryoga, you are a guest." Seeing as he wasn't showing any signs of stopping, Akane again looked at Ranma, who still sat staring into nothingness.
"Ranma?" she tried again softly, ignoring the lost boy for a moment to kneel beside her fiancé. Waving a hand before his eyes, she grimaced as he failed to respond. Bringing her face closer, she gave him a gentle poke on his forehead, "Hello? Earth to Ranma."
Slowly he blinked as his eyes found a focal point on Akane's face. Seeing recognition flash over his features, Akane leaned back with a smile.
"Dummy," she giggled, smacking him lightly on the arm, "I thought something was wrong with you for a minute. What happened?"
Reaching toward her as if he were finding a long lost treasure, Ranma gingerly took her hand and whispered, "Is this a dream?"
Akane watched him curiously, but before another word was said Ryoga landed between the two. Yanking Ranma away by his collar, he tugged him toward the door.
"We shouldn't be here in the middle of the night like this, Akane. I'll tell you what, leave that mess and I'll come an' clean it up for you in the morning. G'night, Akane…San."
Akane remained on the floor, looking after the two with a frown as her door closed. In the hall, muffled fighting began as the two boys moved away from her room.
"Honestly," she whispered, "what is wrong with them?"
Outside, Ranma grimaced as he stared into his own eyes, clutching tight the collar of his favorite pair of pajamas.
"You can't say nothing about this to Akane!" he whispered at himself, who was currently very much not himself.
Ryoga tentatively reached up, then punched him hard across the face. "Is this a dream? Why am I in your body, Ranma?"
"Agh, jerk!" Ranma moaned, rubbing his jaw and stepping away from the other boy. "What the hell'd you do that for?"
"I wanted to see if I was dreaming, they say it'll only hurt if you're awake."
Ranma shook his head to straighten his vision, "Yeah, well, you'll regret that tomorrow when we switch back and you get ta feel this."
Ryoga looked down at himself in Ranma's form, his eyes wide. "What happened? Why are we waiting until morning to switch? What's going on?"
"Shhh!" Ranma hissed, ready to smack him but having second thoughts about hitting his own face. "Happosai got some rock that switches ya if you touch it with someone else. Akane's on this kick that she needs ta protect it so she can prove she's a martial artist, or something. She thinks it'll show she's tough, and if she finds out she failed she's gonna get mad. I tried ta find it, but it got buried under all that stuff from her desk. So now what we gotta do is wait till tomorrow, act like we're helping clean up, and switch back. It'll be easy!"
Ryoga leveled his gaze at the other boy, "With you, when has anything ever been easy?"
The next morning came all too early for Akane with a gentle rapping of knuckles on her door. Looking around slowly before she recognized the source of the sound, she buried her head under the covers with a groan.
"Akane! Hey, you awake?"
"Don't you sleep?" she grumbled, sliding her feet out from under her covers and onto the floor. "Can't you do anything normal, Ran-"
Opening her door, she was surprised to come face-to-face with an overeager Ryoga, still in his pajamas.
"Oh…" she said quietly.
"Good, you're up," he rushed out, pushing past her to get into the room. "I was thinking about this desk all night, how we left it a mess an all."
"Isn't Ranma with you?" she asked, looking into the hall.
"Nah, I let him sleep since it was really all my fault that this happened."
Moving to the side of her desk, he noted that there was no longer a mess. Looking to the other side, then below, he stopped his search to stare at her, "What's this? I said I'd clean that up for you, Akane San."
"Ryoga," she smiled, "I told you already, you're a guest. I wasn't going to let you do that. It was just an accident, and probably all Ranma's fault, too. Although it's very kind of you to say otherwise."
She smiled sweetly down at Ranma while he quietly seethed at her words. "Why would you think it was all his fault, Akane? It wasn't like he was alone."
"I know, but it isn't like you to sneak into girls' rooms at night."
Ranma cleared his throat, "Oh, but it's like him?
She paused, squinting her eyes at him, "Sorry? Am I offending you in some way, Ryoga?"
"Uh, no. Of course not!" he chuckled, pushing down his anger and tapping into his best Ryogabilities. "I could never be offended by someone as lovely as you, Akane San." Feeling a bit too comfortable while wearing someone else's face, he added a wink, which made Akane blush.
Feeling her cheeks burn unexpectedly, she turned away. "Well, okay then. I cleaned up the desk already, so, if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to get dressed for school."
His thoughts wandering for a moment as he scanned her desk for the jewel, he quickly picked back up on the conversation. "Right! And that would be weird if I were still here, so I'll go get ready before we end up late."
He backed out of her room, closing the door lightly behind himself.
"Why would he be late?" she wondered aloud, her thoughts being cut short as her alarm began to ring.
In Ranma's room, he was busily going through the motions of getting ready himself, when a tired Ryoga lifted his head.
"What are you doing?" he mumbled groggily, squinting at his visage across the room.
Letting out a quick chuckle while tying the belt to his pants, Ranma shook his head. "Some of us got school, y'know."
"Mmm," Ryoga breathed, lowering his head back to the pillow, "glad it's you rather than me."
The not-so-pigtailed martial artist paused, leaning down to catch his reflection in a small mirror atop his dresser. "You're right, Pork Butt! I gotta go, not you…it's perfect!"
"What are you going on about, Ranma?" He was growing uncomfortable as the other boy moved closer with a crazed grin on his face. Sitting up, he began to inch in the opposite direction.
"You an Akane go to school, and I can search her room for the jewel! Here, put these on."
"I thought we were taking care of that in the morning?"
"Yeah, I thought I'd get the jewel before ya woke up, but that idiot had ta go an' clean her room without me."
"I didn't agree to fill in at school for you," Ryoga complained, lifting the clothes from Ranma's hands. Suddenly he brightened as the realization struck; he was going to school…with Akane.
"Watch out for the principal and Miss Hinako. Oh, and I got a test in- Hey! Are ya listening to me?" Ranma yelled, shaking the starry-eyed boy's shoulder.
"I…get to walk to, and from, school…with Akane San…"
"Snap outta it, moron!" Ranma hissed. "You're ME, don't forget, so it might not be as nice as you're thinking."
"That's okay, as long as it's with her, " Ryoga sighed, slipping into Ranma's clothes.
"Just go so you don't get left behind, an don't do nothin stupid, Stupid!"
Akane watched Ranma eat with a touch of interest. He was doing it normally, for one thing, and without an all-out battle with his father, for another. In fact, when Genma snagged his pickled radish, Ranma did little more than halfheartedly force out a crack about how fat the older man was getting.
Slipping her feet into her shoes, she kept him in her peripherals, noting his rather uncharacteristic pause as he considered which jacket to wear. Really there wasn't much of a choice, he only owned one. Most of the year he chose not to wear one at all.
"That's my Father's coat, Ranma," she said with some hesitation, closing the last button of her ensemble.
Their eyes locked for a long moment before he started to laugh, pushing the garment back into the closet.
"I knew that, uh, Tomboy." The word seemed to physically cause him discomfort as it slid from his lips, his hand immediately lifting to cover his mouth. "I'm so sorry, Akane!"
Stepping forward, Akane slipped her hand beneath his bangs to press against his forehead, "Are you feeling okay?"
Barely moving so as not to break contact, Ryoga bit his lip as tears began to well-up in his eyes. "I…am wonderful, thank you for asking!"
She backed away with a small frown, unsure of the level of concern she should show for the boy she'd one day marry. Maybe.
"Right," she said slowly. "We should get out the door, though, so we aren't late for school."
"Yes, out the door, with you," he began to push his fingers off of one another, turning away with a blush. "Going to school together, which is normal, for us!"
When he looked up, she was already gone.
Ranma looked out the window, wondering what could possibly be taking so long for Ryoga and Akane to leave the house. Checking the clock he frowned, "No wonder we're always standin' in the hall with buckets."
Then he watched in horror as Akane left alone.
Running a hand up his forehead, he pulled the ever-present bandanna down over his eyes.
Ryoga stood in the entryway, too stunned that Akane had left him to do much more than stare outside.
"Idiot!" Ranma hissed as he trudged up to the lost boy, "All ya had to do was follow her, now I gotta walk you ta school so I don't get in trouble!"
"But…Akane?" he managed, his dream partly shattered.
"Yeah, what about her?"
"Why, why'd she leave without me?"
Ranma let out a snort, "She left without me, which ain't all that weird. Remember who you are?"
"I'm never washing my forehead again," he sighed, lifting his fingers to trace where Akane's hand had been.
"Riiiiight, whatever. C'mon, we gotta get to school."
"This is your class, so try an stay put, got it? At lunch…just follow Akane!" Ranma whispered harshly into his own ear. "This afternoon she's got cleanin' duty, so I'll come an get ya when school's out. We can switch back before she gets home. Oh, my seat's the empty one right next to her…are ya even listening?"
Ryoga stared into the classroom, dreamily blinking his new, blue eyes at the empty seat beside Akane. "You sit next to her, too?" he sighed, "What fates gave you all the luck, Ranma?"
"Just get in there," the other boy gritted out, making sure he was more than fully through the doorway before he released his hold on Ryoga.
From across the room, Akane looked up to see Ryoga walking out the door as Ranma took his seat. Turning to her fiancé, she threw up her palms, "You're just letting him go?"
Ryoga stared at her for a moment, trying to catch the conversation he was missing.
"He'll get lost, Baka! Honestly, some friend you are!"
Rising to her feet, she crossed the room to their sensei, then left while shaking her head at Ryoga. Swallowing hard, he sank into his seat with an embarrassed flush.
"So what did you do this time, Ranma?" came a voice from behind him. Spinning, he saw two boys; one with dark hair, the other light brown. Crinkling his brow, he scoffed out, "Y-yeah, right? Why, what did I ever do to her? She should be used to the way I mistreat her…even though she deserves so much better than me."
Daisuke paused for a moment, then shook off Ranma's odd behavior. "Sure, whatever. So, take a look at what Gosunkugi got the other day!" In a covert maneuver he slid several photo's across the desk under his elbow. Ryoga slipped them below the desk, glancing around the room to be sure their actions were unnoticed. Slowly peeling back a corner, he realized he was holding a candid shot of Akane in a swimsuit.
"Wh-wh-where did you get this?" he breathed, his face turning a bright crimson as he inspected them closer. "Can I have them?"
"You want pictures of Akane?" Hiroshi asked. A moment later he added incredulously, "Is your nose bleeding?"
"I'm a man, aren't I?" Ryoga shot back defensively, shoving the pictures into his schoolbag. "As Akane's (gulp) fiancé, I'm confiscating these."
The pair rolled their eyes, then moved to their seats as classes began for the day. Grinning smugly, Ryoga couldn't help but be giddy at the thought of the photos of Akane. Then it struck him: In this body, he really was Akane's fiancé. An evil grin began to tug at his lips.
A/N: So I'm either a fool or a glutton for punishment 'cause here I go starting a new story! I make no promises on timely updates, but feel free to poke me now and then if it's been a while.
As always, reviews are a writer's bread-and-butter, so they are more than appreciated! So, tell me what you think!