Hello, all! This is something that I've been working on for the last week or two; an AU retelling of the Ranma ½ story if things had been a little different, and people had acted their ages. So far I've got rough drafts of the first six chapters completed, and I think I can safely say that this story is going to be one that deviates and then comes back to the manga's plot before it deviates again. Some events, such as the introduction of characters, are shuffled around depending on the requirements of the story, but more or less everyone will be in here. I'm already planning to cut entire arcs and add completely new ones, so it's not all going to be the same stuff.

Also, there will be cursing in this story. I haven't decided if there will be any M-rated material in coming chapters, or if I'll just toe the line. We'll see.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer: I do not own Ranma ½ or anything associated with it. All rights to Ranma ½ belong to Rumiko Takahashi and the other proper entities.

Summary: Sometimes a small shift makes all the difference. This is the world of Ranma ½ if the engagement hadn't been forced on them straight away, and Ranma, Akane, and their assorted suitors and rivals had actually been reasonable. "Against Genma's wishes, Soun had decided to wait and see which one the boy seemed the most suited to before he engaged one of his daughters to him."

Rating: T, for language

Genre: Friendship/Romance

Pairings: Ranma/Akane

A Shift In the Wind

Chapter One

The Tokyo district of Nerima, Japan, had seen some pretty strange things over the years. However, a small, red-haired girl fighting with a panda, of all things, was completely out of the realm of what passed for normal even in that area.

The redhead tossed her heavy pack aside. "Come on." She took up a kenpo stance, glaring at the large black and white animal as it took a stance of its own. She jumped over the first lunge, planting her feet firmly in the panda's chest. She bore down on her feet, knocking the panda over and using her momentum to jump away. Thinking the fight was over, she turned and picked up her heavy pack.

She'd only gone a few steps when the panda hit her from behind. Her bare feet had trouble getting traction on the smooth, wet concrete, and she slid out onto the next street. People stopped and stared as she turned back to face the panda.

"I'm not going, old man!" She screeched. "We have to find a damn cure!" As she shouted, the panda lunged at her; she grabbed its paw and heaved it over her head, sending it sailing through the air and crashing head-first to the ground. She grabbed her fallen pack, before regarding the animal with disdain. "I'm going back to China." She spat. "You can stay like that forever, for all I care."

So saying, she turned her back one final time. This time, she did not have a chance to recover as the panda whacked her over the head with a fallen street sign, sending her sprawling forward into unconsciousness. The panda picked up both girl and pack, swinging them both onto his shoulders, and growling at the stunned bystanders. The pedestrians shrank back and walked away.

One of the storeowners had called Animal Control, reporting a panda attacking a young girl—but by the time the van had arrived, the panda and his victim were both gone.

In another part of Nerima, a middle-aged man was reading a postcard for the umpteenth time, constantly checking the clock. His friend was due to arrive, with the boy who would one day be his son-in-law, any minute. He called out to his three daughters to join him in the family room.

Soun Tendo watched his daughters as he told them that his old friend and his son would be coming to visit. He and Genma had debated telling their children about the engagement when the other man had called ahead, before deciding not to. Against Genma's wishes, they would wait, and see which one the boy seemed the most suited to before Soun engaged one of his daughters to him. A small voice in the back of his mind murmured that he also wanted to make sure that Ranma Saotome wasn't too much like his father. While Genma Saotome was his very good friend, he wasn't sure he wanted his daughters married to the boy if he was too much like him.

"They'll be here very soon." He re-read the postcard his friend had sent a week before. "Saotome and I trained under the same Master. He has been traveling Asia to train his son in the martial arts for over fourteen years."

"How long will they be staying, Father?" Kasumi folded her hands in her lap. She enjoyed houseguests, though she was frequently the one cleaning up after and cooking for them.

Soun debated internally for a moment. "I'm not sure. Saotome has said that he wants to make an extended visit. They may be here for some months."

Akane looked irritated. "You're kidding, right Daddy?" She huffed. "You're not really gonna let a boy live here, are you?"

Nabiki snickered. "Why? You afraid you wont be able to control your raging hormones?"

"Shut up!" Akane snarled. "You know I hate boys!"

"Now, now, Akane." Kasumi gently chided. "You shouldn't judge the poor boy before you've even met him."

"What do I care?" Akane crossed her arms with a huff and looked away pouting. "All boys are the same."

It was at that moment that they heard the bell by the front gate ring as someone pushed it open, accompanied by a high pitched voice screaming "Let me go, you idiot! They can't see us like this! Let me go!"

All four Tendos made their way to the front door, only to be stopped by the sight of a large panda with a squirming teen on it's back. It was the teen who was the source of the shouts. "Stop! Stop!" He cried, thumping the panda on the head. "You're scaring the shit out of them!"

"Are these your friends, Father?" Kasumi asked in a small voice as she and Nabiki cowered behind him. Akane stood a little behind, watching the panda and boy in front of them. Something felt off—barring the giant panda, of course, which was strange all on its own.

Soun shook his head violently. "Oh, yeah, and pandas just drop by all the time!" Nabiki snapped, stepping back as the panda advanced, hefting the boy down and setting him in front of the family.

And that was when Akane noticed what was off about the situation.

The boy was a girl.

"Y-you wouldn't be…?" Soun asked the girl.

"I'm Ranma Saotome." The girl avoided looking at them, fixating on her toes as she fiddled with her collar. "Sorry about this."

Akane didn't see what was so shocking about finding out that his friend's son was really his daughter; nevertheless, her father had fainted dead away on the engawa. Between Akane and Ranma, they had managed to heft him into the downstairs guest room while Kasumi arranged the futon and Nabiki fetched a damp cloth. Ranma's pet panda was incredibly well behaved. He simply wandered in after the girl and sat behind her while they made the Tendo patriarch comfortable.

"I'm sorry about this, Ranma." Kasumi was apologizing as she placed the cloth on her father's head.

"I-it's fine."

"Daddy was convinced you were a boy." Nabiki drawled from her seat at Ranma's left. "I dunno why it's such a big shock to the system, though."

"No, it's okay…"

Akane glanced back at the girl. "Where's your father? Wasn't he supposed to be coming with you?"

Ranma looked vaguely panicked, glancing back at the panda. "He's, um, around."

"Will he be here in time for dinner?" Kasumi asked, sitting across from them.

Ranma snorted. "Yeah. The old man wouldn't miss a meal if his life depended on it."

"Well then," Akane stood up and offered Ranma her hand. "I'm Akane. Daddy said that you and your father were staying with us for a while, so do you wanna be friends?"

The effect this had on Ranma was instantaneous; her smile brightened her whole face. "Sure!" She accepted the hand, letting Akane pull her to her feet. She was surprisingly heavy—Akane guessed she had a fair bit of muscle mass, because there didn't seem to be a lot of fat on her.

She led the girl down the hall and out toward the back of the house. "Do you wanna see our dojo?" She asked, guessing that her offer was pleasing as she saw Ranma's eyes light up with interest. "You practice kenpo, right?"

"Yeah, some." Ranma looked around as she stepped into the dojo.

"Do you wanna have a match?" Akane asked, leading the girl into the middle of the room. "For fun?"

Ranma hesitated. "Er…"

Akane smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry, I wont attack you for real." She laughed, before settling into a fighting stance.

"If you say so." Ranma simply stood with her hands behind her back, smiling a little. Akane wondered if she was actually serious about kenpo—her father had said that the girl's father had been training her for most of her life, right? Perhaps he'd been mistaken about that, too, because the way Ranma was standing and watching her was in no way any kind of combat stance.

"Hah!" Akane threw a punch, barely hard enough to sting. Ranma leaned away faster than Akane had expected, causing her to miss completely. She threw a second punch to the side, which was dodged with equal ease. A kick aimed at the girl's jaw was evaded by simply bending backwards.

"What's wrong?" Akane demanded. "Why wont you attack me?"

Ranma shrugged. Her little half-smile was really starting to irritate Akane. She began to think that Ranma's problem wasn't that she wasn't serious about the fight—more that she was more skilled than Akane and she knew it. Akane hardened her resolve and decided to throw a real attack. She lunged forward with a battle cry.

But she never connected. Ranma, impossibly, somersaulted right over her head. Unable to stop her forward momentum, Akane's fist flew through the air and struck the wall, cracking the wood. She blinked as she felt fingers prodding her in the back of the head, right over a vulnerable point in the skull. She turned around to stare at the smaller girl, dazed.

Ranma began to laugh. Feeling the tension snap inside her, Akane joined her, adrenaline still pumping. It had been ages since anyone other than her father had managed to get a kill shot in on her. "You're pretty good!" She exclaimed. "Ah," she sighed, "I'm so glad you're a girl." She headed outside, motioning for the other girl to follow her. "I could never stand to lose to a boy." She shuddered.

"Um, about that…" Ranma began, but was cut off by a voice calling them from the house.

"Akane, Ranma!" Kasumi was calling out the kitchen window. "Could you come inside, please? Father is awake and I want to show Ranma to her room."

"You go on with Kasumi." Akane stretched her arms over her head. "I'll go see how Daddy's feeling."

Akane headed into the changing room when Nabiki had told her that Kasumi wanted her to take a bath before dinner. She stripped off her gi and piled it in the laundry hamper, spotting Ranma's clothes inside. She hadn't seen Ranma since Kasumi had taken her upstairs fifteen minutes ago, and assumed that the redhead was still in the bathroom.

Grabbing a towel, Akane ignored the sign that read 'KNOCK FIRST' and opened the door.

Her first reaction was shock. She stared at the stranger who was getting out of the bath. She had been expecting the little redheaded girl; the dark-haired person in front of her was decidedly—she glanced down to confirm that, yes, he was most definitely male. Slowly, she backed up, sliding the door shut. On autopilot, she slipped the top of her gi back on, tying the belt securely as she stepped into the corridor and pulled the door to the changing room closed. That was when the fear took over.

She took a deep breath and screamed at the top of her lungs.

She ran from the bathroom to the yard, her adrenaline helping her to lift the heavy toro from the koi pond over her head. She was just bout to start heading back to the bathroom to beat the ever-loving shit out of the pervert and drown him in the tub when her sisters appeared in the door behind her.

"Akane?" Kasumi blinked at her. "What are you doing with that?"

"There's a pervert in the bathroom!" Akane shrieked.

Nabiki frowned. "Why didn't you clobber him?" She demanded.

"I couldn't!" Akane screeched. "I was scared!"

"That's odd…" Kasumi raised a hand halfway to her mouth. "I thought Ranma was in the bath…"

"Um, s'cuse me." A voice broke into the conversation. Akane and her sisters turned their attention to the intruder. It was the boy from the bath; he was now wearing Ranma's clothes and blushing so hard his face was practically glowing.

"Who are you?" Nabiki demanded.

The boy closed his eyes. "I'm Ranma Saotome. Sorry about this."

Akane couldn't believe what she was hearing. But the evidence of her eyes as Genma Saotome demonstrated his son's transformations did not lie to her; it turned out the only liar in the room was the boy who had let her believe that he was a girl. She glared at the pervert who sat across the table from her, feeling satisfaction that he seemed to cringe when he snuck a glance up at her.

Mostly the boy stared at his knees, cheeks flaming, as his father did the talking. He'd burst out in anger a few times, which had again brought about another impromptu demonstration. That the older man was a panda wasn't as galling, though. At least he hadn't used his curse to spy on her in the bathroom. She was dimly aware of Kasumi and Nabiki telling Genma off, but her attention was focused on glaring at the boy.

As the conversation wound to a close, Nabiki snorted. "There's a shrinkage joke in there, somewhere." She winked at Ranma, who looked torn between insulted and embarrassed. "Why is it you always manage to attract the weird friends, Akane?" Nabiki teased her sister at the end of the conversation, just as Ranma and his father were standing to go upstairs.

"He's not my friend." Akane snarled, folding her arms and glaring up at him.

"What?" He—currently she, as he had not yet changed back from the last time his father had thrown him into the pond—whipped around to face her. "But… you said—"

"I thought you were a girl." Akane pushed herself to her feet.

"What does that have to do with anything?" Ranma asked, anger bringing colour to his neck and cheeks.

Akane sneered at him. "I don't like boys."

"You don't even know me!" He protested.

"And I don't want to, you pervert!"

"Hey, whoever said I was a pervert?!"

"You saw me naked!" She shrieked, fists balled at her sides, getting right into his face.

"You walked in on me!" He retaliated, not backing down in the slightest. "And you got a pretty good look at me, too!"

"Now, now," Kasumi tried to butt in, but Akane was having none of it.

"It's different when a girl sees a boy!"

"Oh, is it now?" His expression morphed from frustrated to thunderous anger. "Fuck me, you've got double standards, you crazy bitch."

"What did you call me?" Akane shrieked, her expression morphing into one of deepest loathing.

"Ranma!" Genma shouted over the two of them, grabbing his son by the collar and bringing the argument to a screeching halt. "That is no way to speak to our hosts!"

"She started it!" He jabbed a finger at Akane.

"I don't care. I'm finishing it." Genma struck Ranma with a fist to the jaw, sending the boy-turned-girl sprawling back onto the engawa.

Red-faced, Ranma panted and pushed himself to his feet. "Fine." He huffed darkly, turning sharply on his heel and stomping up the stairs.

"I apologise for my son." Genma said to Soun. "I'll be sure to explain to him the need to be civil to our hosts." His tone indicated that there would be some pain involved in the 'explanation'. Soun frowned at the implication, but it wasn't his place to interfere in the way that Genma disciplined his son.

"No need, Pop." Ranma's voice floated from the stairs as he came back down, pack thrown over one shoulder. "I'm not staying here." He threw a look of deep dislike at Akane, which she returned with equal venom. "Thanks for nothing." He spat at her. "Some friend you turned out to be."

Akane glared at the back of his head as he leapt over the wall surrounding the property, disappearing into the night. She was dimly aware of Genma following him, shouting for him to get his ass back or he'd beat him black and blue. Sticking her nose in the air, she opted to skip dinner and headed straight up the stairs to her room. She had homework to do.