Akane hugged her stuffed pig as she watched a bit of some supernatural shonen anime. As soft as it was, it just didn't replace the warmth having an actual piglet. "I miss P-chan... but, I guess he's probably happier with Akari."
As soon as she said it she realised two different sets of eyes were staring at her. One set was Nabiki's, who was giving her a stare that felt as cold as February in Sapporo. The other eyes however... she nervously realised they were Ranma's, the redhead having been passing by in the hallway as Akane had made her remark.
"W-what did you just say?" Ranma asked.
"Nothing," Akane replied, shrinking back a bit.
"You definitely said P-chan was living with Akari," Nabiki said, her tone cold and a vampiric grin spreading across her face. Akane loathed her sister's love of chaos sometimes.
"Well, uh... he was, er, obviously Ryoga's pet, with the... the matching bandana and all that. I was just... pet sitting. Yeah!" Akane stammered, hoping Ranma would believe her latest effort to play dumb and agree quickly.
That was not what happened.
Instead, Ranma grew pale, one eye twitching. A lone question escaped the redhead, the voice asking it drained of emotion. "You knew?"
"I... fine, yeah. I knew. I'm not that oblivious. Yeesh! You two weren't subtle at all. And it's not like daddy stayed quiet about the times Ryoga changed in front of him," Akane replied, crossing her arms defensively.
"You knew and you still let him into your room?" Ranma shouted.
Akane stared at the redhead. "Yes? I mean, he's basically been homeless since middle school, hasn't seen his parents in who knows how long, and, just... he deserved a little kindness."
"There's kindness, and then there's lettin' him sleep in yer bed!" Ranma countered, an eyebrow twitching.
"Mhm, I remember what happened to your stuffed animals when you were little, Akane. It's cruel to make anyone share a bed with you," Nabiki commented, utterly unperturbed by the chaos she'd helped to initiate.
"I still can't believe ya call me a pervert when you knowingly had a guy in yer bed all the time!" Ranma fumed, storming off towards the kitchen.
"Don't you go and leave when we're having a conversation!" Akane shouted, hopping to her feet and chasing after her fiancée. "I made sure he wasn't looking at any point! Plus, I doubt he was thinking about any girls but you."
"What!? I ain't a girl, and there's no way he was interested!" Ranma shouted, red in the face (from anger?). "The little pig was in there leering at you, and you let him!"
"He wasn't leering! I know what it feels like when a guy is looking at me that way, and he never did! Stop jumping to conclusions!" Akane countered.
In the living room, Nabiki casually turned the volume up on the television. This one was going to last a while.
Dr. Tofu removed his glasses to rub at the bridge of his nose. The monthly expense reports were never fun to write, but they were rather essential to keeping the clinic running. Blinking and looking back at his computer screen he realised he was approaching numerical burn out however. A break would be nice right about now.
In a bit of exceptionally fortuitous karma, his ears were greeted by the ringing of the front door opening. Tofu quickly saved his files and went to check who it was.
A short walk down the hall later and he was greeted by the sight of a rather embarrassed looking young Tendo.
"Hello there, Akane," the doctor said as he entered the waiting room. "And what brings you to visit me today? You look like you're in good health."
Akane started to answer, before blushing and taking a moment to recompose herself. "I was arguing with Ranma earlier today, and he ended up saying I needed anger management therapy. Normally I'd have just ignored it as an insult, but, for some reason, it stuck with me today. I guess we've just still been fighting so much... even though I want it to work. So I thought I'd try asking you if you knew anyone I could try talking to?"
"Well, I must say, that's very mature of you, taking his comments to heart like that," Tofu replied, feeling proud of the young woman in front of him.
Akane's blush grew worse. "Well, at the time I chucked a toaster and her annoying red head and said I wasn't crazy... but once I calmed down it sounded more reasonable."
The young doctor tried his best not to laugh. Those two were such a handful. Maybe a bit of counselling could help.
The mention of Ranma's (at the time) hair colour took a moment to remind Tofu of one of their central 'oddities' however. While he knew quite a few councillors, most of whom were good people, not all of them were experienced with 'non-traditional' relationships like Akane and Ranma's.
Ah, but there was one he could probably trust to handle them.
"I think I know just who to send you to, Akane. Give me one second to find you her business card."
Akane lit up. "I knew you were the right person to ask."
Tofu smiled at her, before heading to look for his business card holder. After a few moments he remembered which drawer it was in and produced one of the cards from his old friend from medical school.
"Here we are. Dr. Sakamoto, technically a psychiatrist, but reasonably priced. She knows how to be quite discrete. Operates in the south west end of Nerima," Tofu explained. "I think the map on the card should be clear enough?"
Akane looked it over a moment before nodding. "Mhm, yeah. That looks good. I... how much is it? I'd prefer not to have to tell anyone. I don't want them judging me, but I can only get so much money out of daddy before he'd start asking questions."
"Akane, after everything you've been through... I'd be happy to talk to your father about this directly if you would like? Privately, of course. But to assure him that there's nothing wrong with you seeking help," Tofu offered.
"Th-that would help. Thank you."
Two weeks later, Akane stepped into the office of Dr. Sakamoto for her first visit. It did not look like she expected. There were the usual bookshelves of medical texts, but there was also a not insignificant collection of CDs present. Various degrees were on display, but the expected serene landscape paintings had been replaced with bits of pop art and movie posters. Akane also noticed the presence of a few shinai and nerf guns beside the desk, while the only seat available was a rather minimalist looking couch. Tentatively, Akane took a seat and waited for her new psychiatrist (the receptionist had said she'd just be a moment).
A couple more minutes of Akane not knowing how to process her surroundings followed before the side door at last opened. Dr. Sakamoto looked very much like she fit in the office, a professional blazer and dress pants mixed with a manga print shirt and sunglasses on her forehead.
"Hey, sorry about the wait. Was just trying to double check your file. Tofu-kun gave very thorough notes," the blonde woman said as she sat down. "Some of it sounds half unbelievable."
Akane gave a nervous smile. "Life has gotten pretty hectic since high school started."
"Hectic is one way to describe what he told me..." The doctor replied. "Well, what do you want to start with?"
Akane took a deep breath. "My temper. I'm just so worried I'm a naturally toxic person? My anger seems to just be getting worse with time, and I don't know how to handle it. I want to be a softer person, to be open to Ranma, but... I just feel like I'm raising my defences higher each day."
"Hmm... Uh, you died one time, didn't you?
Akane blinked. "Um, yes? I'm not sure what that has to do—"
"You were kidnapped on multiple occasions too?"
Akane nodded. "Er... a few times? I guess? I'm not sure what that has to do with my anger though?"
"Those are some pretty major events," Dr. Sakamoto replied calmly. "Do you ever have nightmares about them?"
"Sometimes? How does that affect my temper though? Also, I've always been considered grumpy. It's not something new that happened in the last year" Akane asked.
"You've said that it's gotten worse though."
"Traumatic events can leave one dealing with something called 'hyperarousal', which, sadly, is not as fun as it might sound. It's basically akin to running on your 'fight or flight' responses at all times. I was told that your school grades have been suffering lately, which would fit. While it might not be the cause of your anger, it's no doubt exasperating the situation. So, as hard as it may be... it could be good for you to try to talk about the things that have happened to do? Starting with whatever you feel most comfortable with, of course."
Akane swallowed nervously. "I... I don't really like thinking about those things. If you think it would help though—" Akane paused to wait for the doctor to nod, "—Okay, well, I'll try. The first big annoyance was after Kuno gave his speech..."
Akane took a breath of fresh air as she stepped out from the councillor's office. She wasn't sure if she exactly felt lighter, but the weight on her shoulders at least felt healthier. Somehow.
"Is, uh, is everythin' okay, Akane?" a familiar voice asked, the tone softer than usual.
Akane turned, a confusing mess of emotions bubbling up inside her. She tried her best to stay calm, taking a deep breath like Dr. Sakamoto had suggested might help. "Did you follow me, Ranma?"
"Um... yeah. Sorry, it's just uncle Soun was actin' so funny since seein' Dr. Tofu with you the other week. And then suddenly ya snuck off. So I was worried ya might be really sick or somethin'?" the handsome boy replied. "I was guessin' ya didn't tell me so I wouldn't worry, but... well, I can't help but worry."
Akane's heart fluttered a bit. That was pretty close to peak romantic sentiment from Ranma, and it had come so easily. "I suppose the secret's out now, though. I'm seeing a psychiatrist."
Akane gave an awkward grimace, hoping Ranma wouldn't judge her too much for caving and asking for outside help.
Ranma nodded. "If it helps, it helps. Don't get why people are so hung up about it."
Akane couldn't help smiling. Sometimes she forgot what an outsider Ranma was to the general highly conformist society around them. While it hadn't done his manners any favours, it had left him a more genuine person, and that was something she loved about him.
"Come on, I'm getting hungry and there's a nice looking burger place I saw on the way from the bus stop," Akane said waving for Ranma to follow her.
To her surprise, her fiance did more than that, catching up and taking her hand. "I'm just so glad you're alright."
"Sometimes I wonder if you worry too much," Akane said, shifting her pace to match Ranma's.
"Well, with our lives it makes sense ta worry. This time though, since it's a good thing, I think we should celebrate. Whaddya say I take ya out ta eat tonight? Somethin' a bit nicer than burgers. I've been savin' up."
"Saotome Ranma, are you suggesting a date?" Akane asked, leaning into his personal space with an innocent smile.
"I-what? Uh... um, maybe? Is it okay if I was?" the pigtailed boy asked nervously.
"More than okay. I'd love it," Akane replied.
Akane checked her makeup in her compact one last time while waiting for Ranma. She had no idea what was taking him so long, but her best guess was nerves. Her own stomach was full of butterflies, and she knew Ranma handled these things even more poorly than she did.
"S-sorry I'm late," Ranma said, coming into view as he stepped off the stairs. He'd found a western style red dress shirt with a white tie (which he was still fiddling with), and was looking quite presentable. "Took me awhile ta get everything ready."
Akane tried her best not to giggle at the idea of his simple outfit being such a hassle. "Had to look up how to tie a tie did you?"
"Er, well, I had ta prepare some stuff," Ranma muttered, blushing as he took in Akane's appearance. "Y-you look c-cute."
A bright flash blinded the pair, and they turned to glare at Nabiki.
"What? You'll want to remember this, and for just 500¥ I'll give you a copy."
The other two rolled their eyes.
"Come on, Akane. Let's go try out this restaurant. I hear it's the best Thai food in Nerima," Ranma said, his nerves apparently calmed by annoyance at Nabiki.
The pair had made it to less than a block from the restaurant when it began to rain. Despite doing their best to rush in doors, Ranma had already changed by the time they made it inside, even if both of them were only slightly damp.
The maître d' raised an eyebrow at the pair of girls, and especially Ranma's outfit, but avoided commenting. "A table for how many?"
"Two please," a flustered Ranma replied. "The reservation under 'Tendo'."
The man nodded and led them towards a table next to the window. As they walked, Akane grabbed Ranma's hand to reassure the shorter girl.
"Here is your table, madams. Will there be anything else?"
"Er, which way is it to the facilities?" Ranma asked. "I need to clean up a little."
"Towards the back, 2nd door on your left," the man replied, before heading off.
Akane sat down smiling to Ranma as the redhead gave an awkward wave and ran towards the washrooms. Akane decided to quietly look over the menu as she waited, and grew fascinated by the idea of putting coconut milk in curry. Japanese cooking had never worked for her, but maybe something more foreign would be better?
Akane shook her head. That really didn't make any sense.
...Where was Ranma?
Akane glanced up, didn't see him, and shift back to staring at the menu. Her mind was not on the food now however. Instead, it was the question of whether it was appropriate to burst into the men's bathroom to look for him or not. Should she suspect Shampoo or Ukyo of sabotaging? Shampoo wouldn't surprise her, but Ukyo had seemed honestly regretful about how the wedding fiasco had gone.
She'd gotten deep into worrying about whether she'd be left with wall repair bills, had it been Shampoo, when Akane heard the chair across from her move. Akane looked up, and stalled a moment as she realised Ranma had changed, but not the way expected.
The redhead was now sitting across from Akane with loose hair hanging just past shoulder length, a cute forest green dress, and subtle, but skillful, makeup.
"Uh?" was the best Akane could manage.
"W-what's wrong?" Ranma asked, big blue eyes filling with nervous energy.
"That wasn't exactly what I expected you to come back looking like, seeing as how there was hot water available in the washroom and everything," Akane replied.
"Oh, heh, right. It's just that I found this dress at a second hand store, and I thought it was really nice. And when I was gettin' ready tonight, I couldn't decide if I wanted to go guy or girl, so I packed it away just in case... I-if you need me to go back ta bein' a guy I can?" Ranma offered, though there was a disappointment in those big innocent eyes.
"I just thought you would be more comfortable in this situation as a guy?" Akane offered. Though she knew it was also because she would be more comfortable with Ranma as a guy. She was attracted to both, but she wasn't sure how to handle that and didn't want to have to think about it.
"It's like I said at Jusenkyo, girl mode has always been a part of me, I was just in denial," Ranma replied, picking up the menu to start looking it over.
"Wait. You were serious then? I thought you were just trying to seem stoic."
"Nah. Like, the tears I cried were tears of relief at having admitted it. 'Course then the weddin' happened with the Nannichuan and I wasn't really thinkin', I just panicked and knew I was supposed ta want to be a full time guy, y'know? But, that night I was glad I didn't get the stuff and was beatin' myself up for riskin'... well, this," Ranma replied, gesturing to her current form. "I think I'm going to try embracin' this side of me more... if that's okay?"
Nervously, Akane nodded. If she was going to try something new with her counselling, how could she turn around and stop Ranma from trying to grow as a person too? Besides, Ranma was really a guy. This was just a bit of fun... surely? (And it wasn't like someone would voluntarily start taking on the annoyances of being a girl, right?)
"Cool. I can't wait ta try the food here. What do ya think your gettin'?" the redhead asked, distracting Akane for the moment.
The meal had been delicious, and remarkably peaceful. Akane had shied under the scrutinizing eyes of some other patrons, wanting to loudly protest they weren't really lesbians, but deciding against it as she was too nervous to risk drawing even more attention her way. Now they were free of prying eyes as they walked along quiet residential Nerima streets though, and Akane felt more comfortable.
As they strolled through the golden light of evening, Akane felt Ranma's head leaning towards her shoulder as the smaller girl took hold of her arm. Akane felt a flush of emotion with that touch. Something about it felt so right, yet there was something else that felt wrong.
Somewhere deep in Akane's subconscious a quiet thought emerged, gone almost as soon as it appeared, but enough to give Akane a confused blush: 'I could be her boyfriend'.
Akane didn't know what to make of it, but couldn't shake the feeling that right now Ranma might just want a boyfriend. The short redhead certainly seemed the more feminine of the two of them right now.
Over the next two weeks, Ranma had spent a few of the days as a girl. Catching the redhead painting her toenails at one point rather surprised Akane. Cooking with Kasumi was less of a surprise, and Ranma did that in either form fairly often these days, though accepting a cute piyo-piyo apron was a bit of a change.
Even when male Ranma was seeming softer, though part of that was likely also from Akane's efforts to control her temper.
This is not to saw they didn't argue. Ranma remained a brat and Akane still had her temper, but no furniture or appliances were thrown.
The strange thoughts about somehow becoming Ranma's boyfriend lingered however, even floating into Akane's dreams at times, and Akane knew she had to talk about those in her appointment... if she could work up the courage to.
Luckily Dr. Sakamoto was waiting for her when she entered the psychologist's office, freeing Akane of those nervous moments alone in the room.
"Tendo, it's good to see you again," the young doctor said, her smile warm. "How have things been?"
"Better, I think," Akane replied as she took her seat. "I'm still arguing with Ranma, but I think he'd get bored if we stopped altogether."
"Oh? Are you okay with that?"
Akane scrunched her face up a moment, trying to think it over. "If he got a little better at figuring out the line between good natured and malicious teasing I wouldn't mind. When he's done it right, the cheeky look in his eyes is... well, it's rather cute."
"Mmm... I might have a booklet or two you could give him to read that could help. Any other new developments? You seem like you have something on your mind."
"It's that obvious?" Akane asked, getting a smirk and a nod from the doctor. "I... well, Dr. Tofu told you about Ranma's curse, right?"
"He felt it was quite central to your relationship, so yes."
Akane nodded. "Ranma's exploring it a bit. I mean, he's spent time as a girl before, but he was pretty well never really taking it seriously. He just seemed to view it as a means to an end. But now he's actually embracing it, just doing casually feminine things for their own sake. At least when his parents aren't around."
"Are you worried Ranma's going to prefer living as a girl?" the young doctor asked softly.
Akane blinked. She'd honestly figured that wasn't even an option. "I mean, he's a guy? So, he'll get bored eventually, right?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. I believe Tofu-kun told you I'm an LGBT friendly councillor when sending you my way? I've got more than a couple clients who thought they were one gender growing up, but came to understand that they were something else with time. As I haven't talked to your fiance directly, I shouldn't begin to guess where Ranma will end up, but I do think it's a possibility you might want to think about. Would you be okay with a girlfriend, if that's where Ranma goes?"
"I'd love Ranma either way," Akane said after a moment's thought. "To be honest, he's usually less of a jerk as a girl. Not by a huge margin, but just enough... I don't know if I'd be ready to be a boyfriend or not though."
Suddenly Akane felt something flick her in the head, though whatever it was stayed there. Looking up, Akane realised in was a nerf dart.
"You do know lesbians are a thing, right?" Dr. Sakamoto asked, a nerf gun in her hand.
Her cheeks hot from blushing, Akane nodded. "I do... but, I don't know why, it's just that something about the term feels so wrong when applied to me."
"Well, it's possible that's fear of how society might perceive you... but you might also want to think about the idea of following your fiance in exploring your identity a little."
"I don't think I'd make a very convincing guy, so that might be kind of hard?"
"Maybe... though Tofu-kun told me there's instant Jusenkyo powder available. Maybe you can try some of that? If you want to, of course. I can't tell you who you are, I'm just here to help you figure out how to find your own answers."
"I... I'll think about it," Akane mumbled, her entire face red with blushing now.
"Would you like to keep discussing this issue, or should we focus on some anger management techniques?"
"I think the latter. I still have a lot to think about before I can say anything more on the other front," Akane replied.
"Very well. Oh, and you can pull the dart off your forehead at any time."
Ranma was waiting for Akane at a nearby park this time. Akane had liked being able to talk to Ranma right away last time, so he'd gone with her openly this time. Akane smiled a bit as she watched Ranma running through especially showy katas to the amusement of the children watching.
Eventually he noticed her, and quickly finished up his kata, bowing to the kids, before hurrying over to Akane's side.
"So, how was it this week?" Ranma asked.
"Educational," Akane replied. "She gave me some reading.. and a little bit of reading for you too."
Ranma's eyes filled with fear. "I gotta get homework from this too?"
"Well, you don't have to, but I would really appreciate it? I know you're there for me if I'm ever facing an external threat, but it would be nice to know you have my back in my internal struggle too," Akane replied, giving her best smile.
As hoped, Ranma melted under the gesture. "I... I'll do my best."
With that, the pair headed off to catch their bus back to Furinkan-cho. When one avoided rush hour, Akane kind of liked the bus. A person could just relax and let the world drift by without a thought. Today's bus had proven particularly empty and the young couple sat in the back well away from the few elderly passengers near the front.
Absently watching the city slide past, Akane decided to try to ask her big question delicately.
"Ranma," Akane began, turning to him, "I... I was wondering how you might feel if I tried exploring a bit about who I am, like you've been doing?"
The handsome boy looked rather confused at that. "What exactly do ya mean? Like, gonna try ta rework yer wardrobe or somethin'?"
Akane couldn't help but smile at the look of Ranma's honest confusion. "Something a little bit more drastic. If you're okay with it... um, well... tryingsomeinstantnannichuan."
Akane felt rather embarrassed for having blurted the last bit all together, but it felt a little terrifying to admit the curiosity.
Ranma other the other hand stared at Akane for a moment, a look of pure confusion on his face before he turned to look towards the front of the bus. He seemed lost in thought, and Akane began to worry that it had been a mistake. This was just a strange confused idea... one of those thoughts you were never supposed to share with anyone.
"If ya wanna, I'd be a jerk ta say 'no'," Ranma half mumbled. "At the very least, it could help me ta better understand how you feel when I go girl? I guess I ain't been thinkin' about what it's like from your side that much."
Akane stared at him in shock, though slowly a smile grew on the youngest Tendo's face. "I... thank you. I'm pretty sure I just need to try it to satiate my curiosity... it'll probably be a one time thing."
Ranma nodded. He stayed quiet for the rest of the ride home however. Once they got off the bus and were walking home he struck up an unrelated conversation, that left Akane confused about where things stood.
Akane was studying a few days later when there was a knock at the bedroom door, which was odd, seeing as how it was open. Turning to see who it was, Akane was greeted by Kasumi standing there with a small package in her hands.
"I must say that I'm curious what this might be," Kasumi said. "We don't get many deliveries from the Jusenkyo Catalogue Association."
Akane blushed a bit. "Ah, well... with Ranma trying out being a girl some days lately, I... um, just thought it might be educational to try the reverse?"
"Oh my. Does Ranma know?" Kasumi asked, staring down at the package a bit nervously.
"Yeah. He said he was okay with me trying it out, but didn't seem to want to talk about it past that."
Kasumi nodded. "Should we wait for him to get home then?"
Akane put her pencil down and stood up to take the package from Kasumi, trying to weigh the options either way. "You know what? No. Let's see if he can tell it's me when he gets home."
Akane proceeded to open the package, revealing the small powder packet inside, along with an instruction booklet. Flipping through it, Akane was glad to see that the steps were simple enough: every 20g of powder could convert roughly 2L of water, a minimum of 1L was needed to cause someone to change, and a slew of other details that Akane wasn't sure were important.
"Let me get changed into something a bit more androgynous first, then I can try it out," Akane said to Kasumi.
The eldest Tendo sister seemed a bit nervous about the whole thing, but gave a simple nod and left Akane to get changed.
Switching over to a loose t-shirt and a pair of track pants, Akane then hurried down to the bathroom, where Kasumi had a large bucket of water prepared. Akane ripped the packet open and poured it in. The short haired girl couldn't deny she was disappointed that nothing overly interesting happened when the mixture hit water (just a few bubbles).
Akane took a deep breath, lifted the bucket, and turned to Kasumi. "Well, here goes nothing."
The water was cold. Colder than it had any right to be. And the sensation shot through Akane like the winter wind in the mountains. Or one of Nabiki's glares. Shortly after a tingling sensation became overwhelming.
And then it stopped.
Akane blinked a moment, wondering if it had worked, before realising how much smaller Kasumi looked.
"Oh, that's quite the growth spurt," Akane muttered, looking down to take in the new form. That lasted a moment before the newly masculated teen remembered there was a mirror to look at. The face staring back was familiar, but a little longer and a touch more angular. The hair looked, maybe, a little darker, but it was hard to say. The clothes were sadly nowhere near long enough to fit right, and made further assessment tricky.
"I suppose we should get you some of daddy's clothes, so you have something that fits," Kasumi said, her tone as difficult to read as always.
"Uh... I'd prefer not to. His clothes are so dull," Akane sighed.
"Hm... well, maybe some of Ranma's clothing would work? He does tend to wear loose clothing, so they might work."
Akane felt a blush flare up, but nodded. "That sounds nicer."
Kasumi hurried off, leaving the changed teen standing awkwardly in the furo, in damp and ill fitting clothes. Deciding there was no point in keeping the sweater on, Akane pulled it off, and then turned towards the mirror once more, only to get a bit embarrassed about the bra clinging awkwardly to a now masculine chest.
"I forgot I was wearing that," Akane grumbled while unbuckling the undergarment.
With it removed, Akane could now properly examine the resulting build. Lean, but toned, the young Tendo was flooded with a sense of pride at the overall look. Comb the hair a little differently and one could mistake the boy in the mirror for a model or maybe an actor... or maybe Akane was just getting a bit of an inflated opinion these looks.
Akane began to blush, flustered to have gone on an ego trip, when the door opened. Smiling, Akane turned to thank Kasumi for being so fast... only to have it be a fully nude Nabiki in the doorway.
"Hello there. Now that's a nice sight.," the brunette said. "Oh, but wasn't my sister in here? Not that I'm complaining about a surprise sexy J-Pop idol."
"Nabiki! Don't just have a conversation with a strange guy while you're naked! I could be a thief or something that broke in!" Akane protested. "And don't call me sexy!"
Nabiki replied with a cold smirk. "I know it's you, Akane. Kasumi told me, and I'd recognize your goofy face anywhere. I just thought I'd have a bit of fun."
Akane stared as Nabiki casually strolled over to a washing stool.
"You have a weird definition of fun, you know that," Akane grumbled.
Nabiki just shrugged. "I was planning to get a bath now anyway. Had a meeting with Kuno-chan, and he's taken to wearing too much cologne lately. Or it might be aftershave? Either way it smells terrible and I need to get the scent off me."
Akane deflated a bit before leaning against a wall. "You better not have been selling him any more of my pictures."
"Nah, he wanted information on opponents in his upcoming tournament, don't worry," Nabiki replied as she scrubbed the lingering smell off herself.
To Akane's relief, Kasumi at last joined them with a shirt and pair of pants from Ranma's wardrobe. The freshly masculine Akane pulled the shirt on, before switching pants.
"Sticking to your cute polka dot panties are you?" Nabiki asked, her gaze unsettlingly smug.
Akane blushed again, while gathering the extra clothes from before. "They fit well enough, and no one's going to see... plus, borrowing underwear from Ranma is a step too far."
In a huff, the youngest Tendo stormed out of the furo, dropping the extra clothes off in the laundry hamper before heading towards the living room. Soun and Genma were in the hallway playing shogi as always while the young teen stomped past, muttering about Nabiki's insensitivity.
"Who was that?" Akane heard Genma ask, apparently not bothering to get up from the shogi board.
"Couldn't tell you, I just saw his back," Soun replied.
That got a 'huh' out of Genma before Akane left ear shot, the young Tendo continuing towards the dojo. Nabiki was being annoying, and breaking cinder blocks was better than starting an argument.
Akane had spent about ten minutes working through cinder blocks before switching to katas. Dr. Sakamoto had suggested trying to vent anger in constructive ways, and breaking cement wasn't exactly what one tended to call constructive. The katas on the other hand were probably a healthier vent. Akane was in the middle of a jumping high kick when the sound of the door opening led distraction and a slightly fumbled landing (landings had been hard anyway in this new form).
Akane was surprised by just how far forward the stumbling went, thanks to these new longer legs, and ended up plowing right into a slightly confused black haired Ranma who was standing at the door.
Ranma caught Akane, and the two found themselves staring awkwardly at one another.
"Er, I was-oh. Oh!," Ranma began, before his eyes lit up with recognition and his cheeks went red with a blush. "You... uh, you don't look half bad."
Akane smiled as Ranma helped the taller boy back up. "I hope this isn't too weird for you? I... it's not as weird as I expected it to be, but having my whole body be so much longer is a little disorienting."
"Oh, yeah. The height change is always the worst part for me too," Ranma replied, giving Akane a quick walk around. "Definitely got good reach on you now. Probably better to go for a more reactive fighting style to take advantage of that, rather than your usual chargin' in close."
"That's your initial response? Fighting tactics?" Akane asked, trying not to laugh and... maybe half succeeding.
"It's important stuff!" Ranma protested.
Akane give Ranma a genuine smile. "I just think it's cute how you always focus to that. I like that genuine focus of yours."
"C-cute? Listen here, if yer plannin' on actin' like I'm the girl and you're the guy in this situation, well... uh," Ranma began to protest, before suddenly losing steam. "I... I don't think I could do that full time."
Akane blinked in surprise. "Wait, so you actually don't mind me being like this?"
"Well... I know I should, but... it's confusin'. I mean, you're you still. But, it also kinda feels different? Is it... is it like that for you when I change?" Ranma asked, sliding the door shut to help keep evesdroppers at bay.
"A little? When you're a girl, you just look so small and I feel like I'm supposed to protect you," Akane admitted, before giving the other boy a quick once over. "I think that just has to do with height though, because I'm feeling it about you now and you're in guy mode. Other than that, I think the issue is just being more comfortable around other girls... um, I guess that's an odd thing for me to say right now."
Ranma shrugged. "It makes sense, with the guys in yer life. I... maybe that's part a why I'm kind of likin' you like this? All the other gals around me kinda force me ta have my defenses up. But right now, I feel like I can relax with ya?"
There was a bit of a silence, before Akane began to laugh.
"Who'd have known that me using a bit of instant Nannichuan would see us start identifying the core issues of our relationship," Akane said, seeing the confused and defensive look on Ranma's face.
Ranma smiled up at Akane, stepping forward with a blush to grab the taller teen's hand. "Considerin' me turning into a guy started our problems, maybe it's not that big a surprise."
Akane blushed back. Just standing there with Ranma, holding his hand, with no one around to interrupt... Akane felt a desire to embrace the moment and slid a hand up onto Ranma's cheek. The shorter boy looked up, his eyes showing a bit of confusion, before Akane slid forward. It was only once their lips touched that the rational part of Akane's mind realised what was going on, and began to panic that this was a step to far in this new masculine form... but Ranma seemed to be returning the kiss, to Akane's surprise.
As the two parted from the simple, but emotionally charged kiss, Ranma turned bright red.
"I... I can't believe... that was the first-and yer... and..." the pigtailed boy stuttered.
"S-sorry! We just actually had a moment alone, and... and I've hoped to kiss you for a while. I... I wasn't thinking," Akane apologized quickly.
"Woah! Hey! There's no need ta apologise!" Ranma said, grabbing Akane's other hand. "It just wasn't how I expected it ta go."
"That was honestly sweet enough I almost feel guilty having spied on you," Nabiki's voice said flatly from somewhere behind Akane.
The two boys turned to find both her and Kasumi peeking out from a sliding door. Realising they'd been watched, the boys both blushed furiously. (Nabiki, of course, had a camera in hand, but the young lovers had been so caught up in the moment so as not to hear it click before.)
"It was quite sweet," Kasumi added. "I'm sure you'll appreciate having a photo to remember it by in future. Since that photo will go in my album and will not be for sale. Asit was so sweet and personal."
Nabiki grimaced. "Fiiine. I'll be kind to little brother this once."
"I'm your SISTER!" Akane shouted.
"We'll see who wears the suit and who wears the dress at the wedding," Nabiki replied, which led to Kasumi giggling a bit.
Akane's mind was filled with the image of Ranma in a wedding dress, though it certainly wasn't the first time that image had floated through Akane's mind.
"I-I, uh, is dinner going to be ready soon?" Akane asked, trying to change the subject.
"Daddy decided we're ordering pizza. Apparently one of the other city councillors was raving about the restaurant," Kasumi explained. "It should be here any minute."
Akane nodded, not sure how else to get out of how awkward this whole situation was.
Akane could only smile awkwardly as Soun and Genma processed what the youngest Tendo had done, both fathers are a complete loss for words. Well, smile awkwardly and eat pizza. Apparently being a guy made one hungry.
"It certainly makes nice symmetry with Ranma's condition," Kasumi offered.
That point seemed to distract both men as they realised their original protests would come up empty. Akane continued to eat nervously.
"And the idiots finally kissed," Nabiki added, smirking as Akane and Ranma went red. "Clearly you were trying to put the two of them into the wrong roles."
"I-it's not like that!" Akane protested, after hastily swallowing a mouthful of pizza. "It's just because we were having a heart to heart."
Suddenly Soun began to nod. "You know, that's not actually too bad. I figured I was gaining a son through the marriage either way, as long as the schools are united I suppose it doesn't matter who the groom is."
Akane and Ranma both stared at him with their mouths agape. He was suddenly taking this a little too well.
"That's easy for you to say, Tendo," Genma grumbled. "It's not your son being asked to take on the role of wife and mother."
"Depending on how you look at it—" Soun began.
"WHO'S talkin' about KIDS at this stage?" Ranma shouted, the pigtailed boy looking ready to pop a vein in his forehead. "I'm sixteen! And Akane's only been seventeen for, like, two months. Give us a chance ta enjoy bein' young first!"
Both fathers were cowed by the surprising display of passion from the normally mellow boy.
"I... I suppose we can see where this goes," Genma replied meekly. "Since there's been some actual progress... we don't need to be as worried anymore, do we Tendo-kun?"
"N-not at all, Saotome-kun," Soun replied.
As the two teens walked to school Akane could tell Ranma wanted to say something. The topic seemed obvious to the short haired girl, and so Akane started it.
"I always wash up after my morning jog, so you should have expected me to change. But even without that... using the instant Jusenkyo is about exploring who I am. I'm not ready to bring that exploration to school."
Ranma shrugged from his position beside Akane. "Alright, that makes sense. Do ya think ya might try it down the road?"
"Oh. Um, I don't know? I don't have a boys uniform, so I'd need to get one of those first."
"Hey, I don't have a boy's uniform either, but that don't bother me," Ranma replied with a wide grin.
"Sure, but... wait! You do have a girl's uniform though. So how's this for a deal: if you want me to go as a guy, you have to go as a girl in your uniform first?" Akane offered, smirking right back at Ranma.
"Fine, fine... will you be using more of the instant nannichuan soon?" Ranma asked, his tone guilty.
"Well... tomorrow's a Sunday, an'... I was thinkin' that, maybe, we could go and do a date? See what it's like with you a guy and me a girl?"
"Already?" Akane asked, staring at the blushing boy in surprise.
Ranma nodded. "I mean, both boys seemed ta be goin' well. Me the boy... gets a little rocky sometimes, and I'm sorry 'bout that. And then both girls, that's usually—"
Ranma blinked while her hair dripped into her eyes. There was no way that old woman needed that much water for cleaning her sidewalk.
"Well, it usually goes a bit better," the redhead continued, deciding to just keep walking to school and ignore the change of forms as best she could.
Akane smiled. "I think I like it when I'm the taller one, whatever the reasoning."
"So, that's a yes?"
"Sure. Where did you want to go?" Akane asked.
"Ice skatin'?" Ranma offered.
"Ice skating? Really? I... you're not doing that as a girl because of that 'girls messing up isn't as embarrassing' angle, are you?" Akane asked, feeling a little annoyed. To think Ranma had seemed to be making progress.
"What? No? It's 'cause I'm shorter, so I don't got as far ta fall. And I've got more cushionin' too," Ranma replied, with a rather unladylike smack of her bottom for emphasis.
Akane couldn't help laughing. "You're shameless."
"You know it," Ranma replied with a smirk.
Sunday was here, and it felt a bit strange to be the guy while a very female Ranma (wearing a skirt, amazingly) hung to Akane's arm. Yet it also felt good in a way Akane wasn't used to. (Though was very similar to how it had felt to hold Ranma when they were both male.)
The envious looks from other guys as they walked into the skating rink made Akane smile. Being seen as an impressive rival by men passing, rather than a prize to be won, was a pleasant change.
"So, I'll handle the skates, I guess? Since we know your size, but not mine. While you can get food?," Akane offered, looking down at Ranma.
"Sure. Probably shouldn't flirt with the vendor boys since I've got a boyfriend now," Ranma replied, pouting slightly. "Your going guy is going to inflate my food budget so much too."
Akane felt flush. Being called 'boyfriend' was another novel sensation in this whole experiment in self discovery. Akane couldn't tell if these feelings were better than playing the role of the girl, but they certainly seemed equal at least.
Right now was a date though. Akane could worry about deeper meanings later. With that, Akane left for the skate rental desk while Ranma hurried off to the concession stand.
"Hey, uh, could I get two pairs of skates? A women's extra-small and... um, I'm not sure what size I would be?" Akane asked, feeling a bit awkward.
To Akane's surprise (and slight dread), the short haired clerk who'd been facing the other way proved to be Akane's classmate Shikako. "What shoe size do you take, sir?"
After recovering from what felt like a miniature heart attack, Akane gave an awkward smile. "Uh, 26.5cm, I think? Maybe a 27cm?"
"Oh, that should be a large then," Shikako replied, a slight blush on her cheeks as she handed over two sets of skates. "It'll be 730¥, and then 250¥ per hour after the first two."
Akane was briefly struck by how dainty Ranma's looked in comparison. "Right, sorry. Here you go."
The money paid, Akane headed off to find Ranma, still nervous about the possibility of being recognized by Shikako.
The redhead was at a table near the concession stand, visibly annoyed by a group of guys seated on the table beside her. As Akane got closer, it became clear the guys were trying to flirt with Ranma, who was doing her best to ignore them as she ate some french fries. Akane felt a flare of jealousy.
"Leave her alone you idiots," Akane said, once in casual conversation distance.
"You got a problem with us keeping this lovely lady company?" one of the guys asked.
"Seeing as how he's my boyfriend, he probably does," Ranma said, her tone cutesy and feminine, while her smile was shark-like in contrast.
Akane smiled smugly. "If you want to fight, we can take it outside, but I'd really rather not hurt any of you."
"Smug jerk, I'll—" the one guy began, swinging a fist at Akane, who caught it without any effort.
The tall boy then began to slowly squeeze until the other guy's face went pale. Flatly, Akane asked: "Are you done?"
The other three guys' eyes filled with fear as Akane released the more aggressive one. The four then beat a hasty retreat as Akane sat down across from Ranma... who was smiling away and batting her eyelashes.
"You were waiting for that, weren't you?" Akane asked.
"I wanted ta play the part of the girl who needs protectin' for once. Is that so bad?" the redhead asked innocently.
Akane couldn't help smirking. "Nah, I liked it. Kind of reminds me of that Kendo tournament... that outfit was pretty cute, now that I think about it. Do you still have it?"
"Nah. Had ta give it back ta the cheersquard after they found out I did a photo shoot fer Nabiki in it. 'Inappopriate use of school property' or whatever. Made good money on that one though," Ranma replied casually, before starting on her hamburger.
"You almost make it sound like you did the shoot voluntarily," Akane said, raising an eyebrow and starting on some french fries.
"Well, yeah? Eventually we agreed that I got ta keep the outfits I model in, and I get a cut of the profits after expenses... It's a pretty good gig. Boy side photos don't tend ta sell quite as well though, which I don't get... I'm just as hot either way, ain't I?" Ranma asked, between bites of her hamburger.
"I'm sure there's other variables at play," Akane offered.
"Maybe... so, we don't gotta wait an hour after eatin' before skatin', right?"
"No? Why would we?"
Ranma shrugged. "Just checkin'. Well, time ta lace up, and face the cold hard world."
Akane quickly finished the remaining burger before switching to skates as well. Both shoved their shoes into Akane's backpack. It was then a short and awkward walk to the ice, where Ranma managed an impressive 60cm before falling on her rear.
Akane skated up and helped the small girl up. "Come on, you need to stand up properly."
Ranma pouted, but relented, and Akane took both her small hands to help Ranma balance. The pair began to move slowly drift along the ice, Akane facing backwards, focused on helping Ranma balance. They were moving slowly enough that any other skaters could move around them, so Akane wasn't checking where they were going too often.
Unfortunately there was someone on the ice who wasn't a skater and the young couple slid right into him.
"Ah! I'm s-so—Ryoga?" Akane said, sliding to get off the fanged boy.
"Yes?" Ryoga offered, staring back at Akane, a hint of recognition in his otherwise deep and lonely eyes, but he didn't seem to have placed the boy who had knocked him over.
"Oy, P-chan. What are you doin' in the middle of a skatin' rink?" Ranma asked, punching the boy in the arm.
"What? You mean this isn't a glacier in Burundi?"
The other two just stared flatly at him. Akane might have worried every time Ryoga was away for more than a few weeks... but still had to admit the boy needed to learn the basics of ecology at some point.
"Huh. I guess that explains the roof," Ryoga said, staring up for a moment. He then turned back to Ranma. "You know, you remind me of someone I know... but that person wouldn't have a boyfriend. Well... unless Ukyo counts..."
Ryoga took a moment to look at Akane. Something about his careful gaze made Akane's cheeks feel warm. "You don't look like Ukyo though."
"I'm not Ukyo," Akane replied.
"It's weird though, but looking at you again, you really remind me of someone too," Ryoga continued, a soft look of confusion on his face.
"Well, I'll hope it's Tendo Akane, because that's who I am," Akane said.
"Y-you're really Akane?" Ryoga asked, which got him a nod from both of them. "Huh... You know, that might explain something."
"Explain what?" Ranma asked, leaning what Akane felt was a little too close to Ryoga's face to be merely 'friendly'.
It seemed Ryoga agreed it was too close, from the way he blushed and seemed to get lost in Ranma's eyes. For a moment Akane thought the two looked ready to kiss and... for some reason that didn't bother Akane. The normally jealous Tendo didn't quite understand that feeling of acceptance, but couldn't deny it. Ryoga looked so sad again, and it always broke Akane's heart to see him like that (originally it had just been as P-chan, with those big eyes anyone would be a sucker for... but at some point that feeling of wanting him to be happy had taken hold for Ryoga's human form just as strongly).
Ryoga, however, apparently had other ideas about where his happiness lay, and scrambled awkwardly back on the ice. "Nothing important!"
Akane stood up and turned to help Ranma to her feet. "Well, first thing's first, let's get you off the ice, Ryoga... Can you move on your own Ranma?"
The redhead grimaced. "I'm way too outta practice, sorry."
Akane sighed. "Okay... Ryoga, can you stand up?"
The other lad slipped up a little, but made it onto his feet soon enough. "It's easier to move on ice without skates, I'll say that much."
"That's good. Ranma, grab his hand and we'll lead him over to the benches," Akane said.
Ranma nodded, and grabbed Ryoga's hand, the three of them forming a slightly awkward caravan on their way to the edge of the rink. Ryoga slipped once or twice, but they managed to avoid another pile up.
The joy on the fanged boy's face as he reached the stable footing off the rink caused Akane to smile. A quick glance revealed Ranma was looking rather happy about Ryoga's innocent grin as well.
"So, did you need help getting somewhere?" Akane asked.
"Not really, no," Ryoga replied meekly, studying the floor a bit. "I wasn't going anywhere specific."
There was a pause, as Ryoga looked at the pair of them, and seemed on the edge of saying something. His eyes were just so lonely again, Akane wanted to grab him into a hug... but with both of them male right now, he knew that might not go great.
Instead, Akane just watched as Ryoga gave an awkward wave and started heading off.
Heart filling with guilt, Akane turned to Ranma. "We can't just let him wander off when he's like this."
Ranma shook her head. "Nope. You especially. That's just horribly irresponsible pet ownership."
Akane glared at her. "Can you not word it like that... especially when he's human?"
Ranma shrugged. "I mean, it's that or get jealous of the amount a' concern you've got for him. I saw the way you were lookin' at him the whole time."
"I wasn't the one leaning on top of him with my lips hovering a centimetre from his back there," Akane shot back defensively.
That got a blush out of the redhead. Ranma's face fell, before she gave a nervous glance up to Akane. "S-sorry... I-I gotta behave better now that I know why I liked flirtin' with guys so much."
"Apology accepted. Let's return our skates and see if we can catch him," Akane replied, getting off the ice and starting to untie his own skates.
Ranma wobbled after, and had her skates off in remarkably little time. The pair then hurried to the counter to return them, hoping to catch Ryoga before he vanished into the sea of humanity that was Tokyo.
It was only upon reaching the counter that Akane remembered Shikako was working there. With Ranma right there then Shikako was sure to put two and two together, right?
Shikako did look suspicious as the pair returned their shoes, though she said nothing. It was only as Ranma started to hurry off, and Akane turned to follow, that Akane felt a hand on his wrist.
"I don't know what Saotome's planning, sir... but I think you should know he's a guy and he's always got an angle when he's in girl mode," the girl whispered, her tone filled with genuine concern as she blushed furiously.
"I... I know Ranma's a guy. And there's no angle, it's just a date," Akane explained quickly.
Shikako let go as her eyes shifted to Ranma's retreating form. She opened her mouth to say something, but seemed to lose her train of thought before she managed to make the sentence.
Akane wasn't really sure how to respond and simply hurried after Ranma. The pair quickly made their way to the street outside, and began hunting for the red of Ryoga's umbrella. The crowd was proving nearly impenetrable however, and Ryoga was surely hidden by the many taller people in the street.
"I don't wanna undermine the set up we got right now, but... I think we'd get a better view from the roof. Is it okay if I pick ya up?" Ranma asked?
"C-can you manage? I'm way tall-" Akane began, only to be scooped up before he could finish.
Ranma gave a cocky smirk before bounding up along assorted architectural elements until they made it to a rooftop.
"You know... maybe you shouldn't have done that in a skirt," Akane said while standing up.
"Bleh, any underwear I wear will cover as much as a swimsuit, so I ain't really super bothered," Ranma replied casually. "Anyway, let's look for your lost pet."
Akane prepared to grumble once more about phrasing, only to catch sight of Ryoga's umbrella and blurted out a rather incriminating word: "P-chan!"
Ranma followed Akane's eyes as best she could (considering their differing perspectives) and soon caught sight of the bandana boy wandering a block or so to the north. Smiling, Ranma scooped Akane again, and began bounding towards him. (She honestly seemed to rather liked carrying Akane's male form around like this, judging by the smirk on her face.)
A few moments later the pair came flying down to a landing... on Ryoga's head.
"Ow," Ryoga muttered, though his voice lacked any emotion.
"Ranma! We're here to help him!" Akane protested while slipping out of Ranma's arms to land lithely on the ground nearby.
"I'm just tryin' ta lighten the mood," Ranma grumbled as she hopped down as well. "Anyhoo, P-chan, we're here ta... uh... what's the plan again Akane?"
At that point Akane blushed. He'd not actually thought that through either. "Uh... when's the last time you ate a proper meal?"
Ryoga's face went blank for a moment as he tried to search his memory. "I suppose it depends on what counts as proper? I probably don't get enough vegetables out on the road. But, otherwise... mostly been going on trail mix and beef jerky."
"We're going to find somewhere with smoothies to get you concentrated fruits and vegetables," Akane said flatly.
"Ooh! There's a great smoothie bar just down the road," Ranma added, lighting up. "Konatsu and I go there all the time."
The redhead grabbed the two boys by the wrists and hurried off down the street. The trio arrived at a brightly coloured little smoothie shop minutes later, with Akane and Ryoga both rather out of breath. Ranma, however, was beaming away.
"The prices are great. If we're ever being lesbians again, we should totally have a girl date here," she said to Akane. "All the pink and such... just perfect fer girl times."
Akane's brain froze up at the wording of that suggestion. Luckily Ranma didn't seem to mind (or, quite possibly, enjoyed it) and had moved on to ordering Ryoga the largest size of one of the more nutritional smoothies. The loud whirring of the blender pulled Akane back to reality and the three made their way to a corner booth a couple moments later.
"So... what happened?" Ranma asked, showing her usual delicacy in these matter.
Ryoga blushed a bit and took a sip from his smoothie. "I... Akari wanted to celebrate my 17th birthday with something memorable. So... she bought some, well, some lingerie. And... uh..."
Ryoga's blush worsened and he chose to grab more to drink, as if that could lessen his embarrassment.
"Wow... country girls move fast," Ranma giggled.
Akane meanwhile, was blushing furiously. The idea of moving that quickly was quite the concept. Curiosity was getting the better of the young Tendo though... well that, and maybe some new hormones. "And?"
"A-and... nothing," Ryoga muttered.
"Well, hey, you brought it up," Ranma replied flatly.
"No... that's what happened. Nothing. I thought she looked pretty, but I just didn't have any... spark? Whatever you'd call it. So I said I wasn't feeling great, and she bought it... that time. But, well... after three times saying I had a headache she saw through my acting skills. She... in the end she was crying, and I didn't know what to do. S-so I ran away," Ryoga explained, his tone barely above a whisper.
"Oh," was all Akane could manage at first. Then the boy remembered what Ryoga had said earlier. "You said that my being like this explained something... is that related?"
Ryoga's cheeks went red as he began to study his now empty smoothie cup. "Well... Ranma's a guy. And now you're going team guy. So... maybe it means I'm gay."
"Who said I was going team guy?" Akane asked, perhaps a little too loud as he realised a few patrons turned to look at him.
"Please. Akane, you splashed yourself again as soon as we got back from school yesterday and took a cold shower this morning," Ranma replied, though Akane noticed Ranma's cheeks were rather red for some reason.
"Just because I'm trying it out—" Akane began to protest, before he saw Ranma's smirk. "What?"
"You're nearly as giddy about the transformation as Konatsu was when she first got instant Nyannichuan," Ranma explained.
Akane blushed at that. "I... I guess being gay explains why your weren't ever leering at me then, right, P-chan?"
Ryoga nodded, which caused Ranma's eye to twitch.
"Wait, you knew Akane knew? But didn't let me in on it?" Ranma asked, glaring at the fanged boy.
"She only told me once I was with Akari... er, should I say 'he' instead?" Ryoga asked, turning to Akane.
"I don't know," the young Tendo mumbled. "But... well, if you want to sleep somewhere with a roof over your head for the next while, we've got plenty of space."
Ryoga gave a nervous, but hopeful, smile. He was just so adorably innocent sometimes. "Really? T-thank you! And, uh... sorry for interrupting your date."
Ranma shrugged. "We can always go on another one."
Once at the Tendos, Ryoga had insisted that he couldn't sleep in Akane's room if the young Tendo was really a guy and he was himself gay. While neither Akane nor Ranma had exactly understood that logic, they'd accepted it when Ryoga had insisted.
Ranma had then set off for a bath, while Akane had gotten to work on some kanji focused homework. Unfortunately the young Tendo's mind was not concentrating on the school assigned problems.
No, right now everything kept coming back to Ryoga. There was the way Ranma looked at him for instance. Akane had always dismissed it as Ranma messing with Ryoga for fun, but they both now knew that Ranma wasn't as straight as they'd previously believed... or as lesbian, depending on how Ranma was feeling that day (a complicated topic on it's own).
Yet Akane couldn't pretend that Ranma was the only one with confused feelings here. That, just maybe, that protective stance Akane had taken towards the little piglet had grown to cover the boy the piglet usually was. There'd been hints before, but as the old saying went, absence made Akane's heart grow more fond of Ryoga.
What was someone to do if both parties in a relationship liked the same person?
A knocking at the window distracted Akane, and a few moments later a guilty looking male Ranma was sitting beside Akane on the bed.
"So, what's wrong, Ranma?"
The shorter boy was quiet a moment, before letting out a sigh. "When Ryoga was saying why he thinks he's gay... and he pretty well fessed up that he did like me... it, uh, it made my heart kinda flutter. And I feel like a terrible girlfr-er, boy-uh... partner? Whatever I should go by... I shouldn't have my heart fluttering over somebody else when I'm there beside ya."
Akane put an arm around Ranma and pulled the shorter boy closer. "If you're terrible, then I'm terrible. I don't think there's anything wrong with us still thinking he's cute... or anyone else for that matter. Just as long as we don't act on it?"
"That makes sense," Ranma replied, leaning against Akane. "Y'know... it's nice havin' you tall like this. Helps me feel safe ta talk about emotions, even in guy mode."
Akane felt flush with emotions, thrilled to have Ranma opening up. Not sure what would make an acceptable thank you, Akane went for giving Ranma a kiss on the cheek.
Akane was surprised how awkward it felt being a girl again for school. Well, not just being female, but also constantly reaching for things that were just too high. Or not stepping quite high enough for stairs and almost tripping. It had only been a couple days, but being tall was, just, so nice.
Akane went to sit down and take a break from that, when Shikako and some of the other girls walked over to the short haired girl.
"A-Akane... I'm not sure how to say this," Shikako mumbled. "I... I think Ranma's cheating on you."
Akane blinked, having not expected that. "Pardon?"
"And it's not Shampoo or Ukyo," Sayuri added. "Shikako and I both have part time jobs at the skating rink now. She was on the skate rental desk while I was working at the concession stand and... we both saw Ranma with a... a guy. And Ranma was in girl mode... he seemed like he was enjoying himself too."
"Definitely. I mean, the boy he was with..." Shikako said as she began to blush, Sayuri joining in on the blush. "So dreamy."
Akane felt a rapid crest of confusing emotions. Not being recognized was a relief. Being seen as handsome was nice, but it being Akane's closest friends, and being seen as a mysterious dashing stranger by them... that was complicated.
"I... I know who Ranma was with," Akane replied. "I approve completely. It's just, uh, complicated?"
Akane hoped that would work. Admitting to close friends like Yuka, Sayuri, or Shikako, that switching to team boy was looking appealing was a step Akane wasn't ready for just yet. It had only been a few days... Akane needed more time to think about these things.
"Ryoga was there too though, I remember that," Shikako added. "I... you don't think Ranma's trying to have two boyfriends, do you? I mean, he's got four girls chasing him... never does anything normally."
Akane began to blush furiously. It was embarrassing to think that others could see the romantic confusion in the situation too. Even when they couldn't identify Akane as Akane.
"I always thought he seemed to be flirty with Ryoga," Yuka said, her tone soft as she seemed to be trying to keep from upsetting Akane.
Akane was back home, struggling with chemistry homework in the living room, when P-chan came up the young (and once more male) Tendo. Absently, Akane scooped the piglet up, and began scratching him behind the ear while still trying to work out a particularly difficult chemical reaction equation. Akane's heart just wasn't in it though.
"This stuff is annoying," Akane grumbled to the piglet. "Trying to balance all the parts when the smaller molecules join up into something bigger. I think they're just trying to give us all headaches."
P-chan offered what seemed like an empathetic 'bwee'.
A bit of movement caught both their eyes, and the pair turned to see Ranma in the hallway, his own homework in hand and a confused look on his face. "Hey, uh... could I get some help with this stuff?"
Akane shrugged. "I can try, but if it's the chemistry stuff, I don't quite get it either."
Ranma flopped down at the table beside Akane, opening up his texts. "I think I actually kinda get the equation balancing bit? Ya just got ta doodle it out, so ya can see all the parts?"
Akane raised an eyebrow and leaned over to look at Ranma's note. He'd given each element a different shape and colour, making the ratios pop easily. The colour scheme struck Akane. There was red of the oxygen, blue for carbon, and yellow for hydrogen, all coming together to form one molecule.
Akane blinked. "Ranma... what do you think of us trying a bit of a chemistry experiment?"
"What kinda chemistry?" Ranma asked, clearly not following the leap Akane had just made.
"Trying to build a bigger molecule. But with people instead of atoms," Akane explained, pointing at the three element molecule on the paper.
Ranma looked more confused for a moment, but then his eyes glanced down to P-Chan. "Ohh... You think that could work?"
"You never know until you try," Akane replied with a shrug as he stood up.
P-chan was apparently not following the conversation and seemed quite confused as to where he was being taken. Reaching the furo a few short moments later seemed to only increase his confusion as Akane placed him on the tiled floor.
"Ow, hot!" Ryoga yelped as Akane sprayed him with only hot water from the shower head.
The muscular boy hastily moved to protect his modesty with a bandana, blushing away.
"You're so shy, P-chan... we're all guys, there's no need ta be coy," Ranma said, crouching down beside him.
"We're in the bath right now... either of you could end up not being a guy in a split second," Ryoga replied, obviously flustered.
Akane took a seat on the stool nearby. "True, but it wouldn't change... either way, we're getting side tracked. Ryoga, you said you like both of us. And we got talking, and agreed we both like you, so: what if we all date?"
Ryoga stared at Akane a moment, before turning to Ranma. The look of confusion on his face was hard to read at first, but slowly it shifted to a look of pure joy.
"You're both serious?" the fanged boy asked, a bit of doubt digging at him. When the others nodded he let out a sigh of relief. "This might just be the happiest moment of my life... if only I was wearing pants."
"I'll go get yer clothes. Then we can watch a movie or somethin'. I don't think I can focus on homework when I've got two boyfriends ta cuddle," Ranma declared, hurrying out of the furo.
The other two watched him leave for a moment, before Ryoga asked the question on both their minds.
"Was he skipping?"
Akane nodded. "I think so... You're okay with Ranma sometimes being a girlfriend, right? That might be what we've got tonight."
"I mean, Ranma's Ranma. So... I think so?" Ryoga replied. "And, uh... you're you either way too... if you feel like having a feminine day again."
Akane smiled. "Thanks. I can make no promises either way on that front... might still just be caught up in the moment."
Ranma and Akane found themselves a bit flooded with homework the next couple days (spending half of Monday evening watching Jackie Chan movies while Ranma fluttered back and forth between cuddling with Akane or Ryoga might not have been the best way to spend their time).
That workload didn't prevent them from spending time with Ryoga, though. In fact, he proved himself something of a natural at understanding textbooks, and was soon helping both of them with problems. He also relented, and agreed that he could share a room with either of them, though still felt more comfortable sleeping as P-chan on a pet bed Akane had bought him before.
Overall, though, Akane worried Ryoga was trying too hard to be helpful. As if he saw himself as a guest still.
Now that it was Thursday however, Akane and Ranma were going to have a chance to relax, and hopefully let Ryoga feel more comfortable. They'd had their chemistry test today, and there wasn't anything else pressing.
It was only as they crossed over into the Tendo home that Akane remembered something.
"I can't change today," the currently female Tendo mumbled.
"Huh? Why not?" Ranma asked, slipping his shoes off.
"There's only one packet left, and I wanted to use it for my appointment tomorrow."
"Appointment? What kind of appointment?" Ryoga asked as he walked out from the kitchen.
Akane blushed, not certain if Ryoga would be as non-judgmental on the matter as Ranma had been. "I... I'm seeing a psychiatrist for my anger issues... and, well, I should probably add gender issues to my list of reasons."
"Oh... that's cool," Ryoga said. "I... I've thought about going to one once or twice myself, but don't think I could actually get to the appointments."
"Well, we can probably help with that now," Ranma replied confidently, poking Ryoga on the shoulder.
"I wouldn't want to be trouble," Ryoga mumbled.
"Ryoga, we're a thing," Ranma replied, looking offended. "Taking you to a counselor would be just as important as taking Akane."
Akane nodded. "If you want, we can try seeing if we can sign you up tomorrow, while we're there?"
"R-really? I... okay!" Ryoga replied, lighting up.
"I'm lucky to have two boyfriends who are so cute when they smile," Ranma said, resting his chin on Ryoga's shoulder.
Ryoga blushed furiously as Ranma stood up again. "I'm gonna run ta the store and grab some snacks though. Gotta be prepared for movie night tonight."
"Who said we were doing movie night again?" Akane asked.
Ranma looked confused a moment. "Well, I was just thinkin' that you wouldn't want ta go out like that? And the super famicom's only two player, so... movies seemed the best option fer a night in?"
"I... alright, yeah. That makes sense," Akane admitted. "Beating each other up in the dojo isn't really the most romantic option."
Ryoga and Ranma both seemed to grow nervous at that suggestion, giving Akane a guilty glance or two while trying not to look at the short haired teen.
"Oh, come on, Ryoga. You've always been happy to try and beat the pulp out of Ranma in girl mode before, and he's at least as much of a girl as I am, if not more... and that means you don't get out of this either Ranma. You can't ask to be seen as a girl, and then turn around and patronize me for when you see me as feminine," Akane fumed. "You know what? We're going to the dojo now. I refuse to be treated like a delicate flower whenever I'm in birth form."
The other two mumbled in acquiescence and followed Akane to the dojo. When they made it, and Akane casually began to change into the gi the blue haired teen kept stored there, Ryoga yelped and spun around.
"Ryoga... you've seen me in underwear plenty of times," Akane grumbled.
"And seen me completely undressed several times," Ranma added, using a tone and body language that were both exceptionally feminine. "And my figure is so much better... a girl could get insulted."
"What was that, Ranma?" Akane asked through gritted teeth.
"Hm? What's wrong Akane? You're not upset that your girlfriend is mentioning he has a better figure than you, are you? What a strange boyfriend I have," Ranma replied with an innocent grin. "Or maybe you're still getting used to your masculinity the same as Ryoga and I?"
Akane's cheeks went hot with embarrassment. "I... I guess I am. Sorry... but we're still sparring. No better way for us to get used to it than treating me as a guy in this mode too."
Ranma nodded. "That's fair... and P-chan, don't worry. He's dressed again."
Ryoga turned around tentatively, before letting out a sigh of relief to see Ranma had told the truth. "I'll be honest... I think I'd be reluctant to go all in against you when you're in guy mode either, Akane. I know Ranma can, generally, handle my attacks. But most people aren't that durable."
"Well, we'll just have to find out how durable I am then, won't we?" Akane asked, feeling deeply competitive.
Dr. Sakamoto sat and stared at Akane for a good several seconds after the young Tendo had arrived. The young doctor then slowly looked down at her notebook, before returning to looking at Akane.
"So... what do we talk about first? That goofy grin you're wearing? The black eye? Or the fact that you're a guy? Assuming you are Tendo Akane."
Akane burst out into laughter for a moment. "S-sorry. I just wanted to surprise you today. A whole bunch happened. I, obviously, tried the instant Nannichuan, and like it... really liked it, to be honest. I don't know if I'd want to go full time, but... I might? And then... I got a boyfriend!"
Dr. Sakamoto raised an eyebrow. "And what about Ranma?"
"Well... maybe it's better to say 'we' got a boyfriend? Ryoga showed up again, and I realised I liked him. And Ranma's liked him for a while... and he confessed to liking us both. So we've decided to try making, like... a romantic 'molecule'?"
"Polyamory is a valid option," the young doctor said while writing some quick notes.
"Poly-what?" Akane asked.
"Consensual non-monogamy," the doctor replied. "What you're trying. Well, what you're trying is one form of it. Sometimes people make more of a chain or node, with not all partners being with one another... remember though, relationships are about communication. Twice as many partners means close to twice as much communication."
Akane nodded. "W-we're trying with that. That's part of the black eye. I wanted them to be able to see me as a guy in my birth mode, and... well, I maybe got a little too competitive. Ranma and Ryoga are a bit better than me, and Ryoga thought I could dodge his punch a little better than I could."
"Sparring can go that way... I remember Tofu got a pretty good shiner the first time he and I sparred," the young doctor replied, a smirk on her face. "So, is being a guy the main focus of today? Or will we discuss the usual?"
"Hm... Well, it feels weird to tell a woman all about the things I don't like about femininity? Well... maybe not things I dislike, but things that aren't for me?" Akane said.
The doctor nodded. "Fair enough. I have some other trans male clients who are open to discussing the issue. And others who focus on other things... I might be able to help direct you to a youth support group though, if that interests you?"
"I'll think about that. For now... um, I was wondering if I could just talk about high school stress in general? I've got some stuff that I want to get off my chest."
Dr. Sakamoto gave a quick giggle, which confused Akane.
"S-sorry... but I was just thinking there's a couple things you've already gotten off your chest. So you're making good progress," the blonde explained, glancing down at Akane.
Akane looked down, wondering what she was talking about, only to have the realization hit. "Riiight. Those."
Akane and Ryoga were completely sucked into their game of Contra a little over a week later. They were about to reach the farthest they'd ever gotten, and wanted to see what the next level held. Ranma, sprawled out across both their laps and making sarcastic comments as he watched, was not helping, but the other too were too completely in the zone to care.
And then Nabiki walked in front of the TV, resulting in quick deaths for both of their characters.
"Oh come on, Nabiki! We were just about to beat that alien weirdo," Akane complained.
"Yeah, well I've got a real life problem for you: the girls at school are demanding the scoop on Ranma's mysterious boyfriend. Especially when you were spotted on another date. While I might not be known for being honourable, I am known for only giving facts. So... either you let me spill the beans so Kasumi doesn't get on my case, or you give me something else to give the girls, alright, bro?"
Akane glared at her. "I'm not ready to deal with that yet... I'd probably have to switch locker rooms... and I'm not comfortable changing with former Hentai Horde idiots."
"Yeah, I figured. That's why I'm offering you an alternative: pose for a few cute pictures with Ranma that I can sell. Otherwise the money I'm losing is going to start being enough to equal the price takeout for a month that I'd need to buy when Kasumi's ticked, and it becomes rather less of a deterrent," Nabiki replied flatly.
Akane sighed, but Ranma perked up and slipped his arms onto Akane's shoulders while turning his head to face Nabiki.
"So, boy mode pictures? Or should I go girl for a couple too?" Ranma asked.
"Both and see what sells," Nabiki explained. "Oh, and maybe include Piglet there in one or two of them."
Ryoga looked to Akane for help, but got only a shrug. None of them could really stop Nabiki on the warpath.
Surprisingly, the photo shoot started quite nicely. Nabiki had turned part of the dojo into a small studio, with some props and a fair range of outfits. To start, it was the three boys in (surprisingly) well tailored suits with casual poses, and then a couple shots of just Ranma and Akane being a bit more romantic in body language. Then Ranma rushed off, to return in a forest green dress treading a dangerously thin line on the edge between tasteful and scandalous. The poses were effectively a repeat of before, though Akane ended up lifting Ranma off the floor in a couple of them this time.
The next shots were beachwear. Akane felt a bit uncomfortable in only swim trunks, but was mostly distracted by the amusingness of Ranma and Ryoga in them, a sight he knew he'd pretty well never get to see otherwise.
"Need the burst mode camera for this one," Nabiki said, smirking away as she handed Ryoga a bucket. "I want you to splash Ranma on 3... 1... 2... 3!"
A moment later Ranma was looking a bit annoyed as she stood there in swim trunks. Ryoga meanwhile had spun the other way and was apologizing profusely.
"I just was scared to say no! S-sorry!" Ryoga yelped, refusing to turn around.
"It's okay... I just was kind of gettin' lost in the moment. Thinkin' it be nice ta go ta the beach in either mode, depending how I felt," Ranma explained, walking over to grab her bikini.
"Not so fast, Saotome. Want one or two shots of your boyfriend protecting your modesty first," Nabiki explained.
Both teens on camera rolled their eyes, but relented. However, Akane's cheeks began to grow flush as he found himself liking the idea of helping to defend Ranma's modesty. Maybe it was a bit old fashion and stereotypical, but it felt like a very masculine thing to do.
Even if he was technically doing the reverse in this photo shoot, which caused Akane to silently beat himself up for while Ranma quickly changed to a surprisingly modest two piece (and Ryoga continued to study the wall).
A couple minutes later the swimsuits were done and Nabiki gained a truly shark-like grin.
"Last round: lingerie," Nabiki said.
Akane stared at his sister a moment. "I... so just Ranma for this one?"
Nabiki rolled her eyes. "Men's lingerie is a thing, bro. We're starting with both of you guys for this shoot. And I'll help Ryoga look for hairline cracks in the wall while you two both get changed."
Akane went pale while picking up the bit of blue silk material Nabiki had pointed to. What some of the strings did, Akane could not begin to guess. There was nothing to it but to strip however. Akane moved as quickly as possible with the changing, still feeling a bit guilty to be looking at certain things, but as soon as the strange undergarment was on, he realised Ranma had been watching. Akane went bright red.
"Hey, you got a good view a' both my forms the night we met. Now we're even," Ranma replied.
"Well, if you're going to enjoy the show, then can you at least help me figure these strings out?" Akane blurted, feeling deeply defensive.
"Sure, sure," Ranma replied, walking over and begin to help tie some loose ends.
The feeling of Ranma's hands so close, as he tied up various strings, did not help Akane's nerves in the least, and somehow the young Tendo began to blush more.
"I... I think you're tying this too tight," Akane complained.
"I ain't the one makin' it tight," Ranma replied, biting his lip as he leaned closer. "Well, not directly at least."
"What does..." Akane began, before trailing off as what exactly that meant became clear. "I wonder if it's possible to sprain your blushing ability, because I think I'm about to do that."
"Hm, well, I do wonder if you might not be in any condition to tie strings for me," Ranma said, before turning away. "Oh Ryo-chan, darling. Want to help one of your boyfriends out?"
Ryoga turned around awkwardly and hurried over, blushing nearly as badly as Akane. "I, uh, I'll try."
"Ooh, so rough," Ranma gasped dramatically as Ryoga grabbed some strings.
(Akane blushed while trying to roll his eyes.)
"I, uh... so I think this...hm," Ryoga muttered, bending down to get a closer look at the knots. "Oh, got it. That goes there. And... hm, looking at Akane's, I'm not sure you did this quite right?"
"Seriously, Ryoga? That's where you're focusing right—you're not blushing anymore," Ranma said, his tone sounding rather annoyed at this turn of events.
"Well, I'm sorry, but this is a complicated knot," Ryoga grumbled.
"If this is how you are with a guy in lingerie, I can only imagine how dull you must have been when Akari tried," Ranma complained dramatically.
"I—" Ryoga began, seeming ready to argue. The sentence died in his throat however as Ryoga gave both Ranma and Akane quick once overs. "Oh no..."
"'Oh no' what, Ryoga?" Akane asked.
"It's... it's the same. There's nothing," Ryoga said, half whispering as he stood up.
"N-nothing?" Ranma asked, voice filling with panic. "I gotta spark somethin'... surely? I..."
"You both look nice, but I don't know what else I can say?" Ryoga offered.
Suddenly Ranma dashed for a bottle of water, upending it before spinning around and pouncing Ryoga.
With her legs wrapped about Ryoga's torso, Ranma looked up with her best seductive eyes, laying the cute on heavily. "What about now, Ryo-chan?"
"I... I mean, it's awkward, because you're topless and I know I shouldn't look as a gentleman, but... I d-don't think there's anything else," Ryoga muttered.
Ranma stared for a moment. "I... but between my boy side and my girl side... one of me's gotta do somethin' for ya? Surely? I'm... I'm a hunk and a babe rolled inta one."
Ryoga's face once more looked at complete loss for a response, his eyes filling with that heart wrenching sorrow that so often filled them. With Ranma looking just as confused, Akane hurried over and pulled them both into a hug, glad Jusenkyo had given him arms long enough to properly reach around the both.
"It doesn't change anything," Akane stated firmly. "I mean, heck, we're in high school. So it really doesn't matter any time soon. But even long term, we've got an emotional bond between the three of us, and that's plenty."
Ranma sighed, sounding a little annoyed. "Fine, but I like people thinking I'm gorgeous."
Ryoga smiled, looking down at the redhead. "I never said I didn't think you were good looking. Guy or girl you look amazing... and I know I could get lost in your eyes for hours."
Ranma giggled. "You could get lost in a closet for hours."
"Wait... in a closet... I need to go check something," Akane blurted, breaking the hug and making a break for his room.
Zipping through the house, he barely noticed as he passed Nodoka, and was completely oblivious to the confused noises both her and Genma emitted. He was focused on finding a pamphlet he'd picked up at Dr. Sakamoto's. Shoving some papers around on his desk, he quickly found the pamphlet and whisked it open to check it had the information he was after.
With that confirmed, Akane scrambled back down the stairs, headed to the dojo.
"What do you think you're wearing young wom-er, young man!?" Soun's voice shouted, though his tone sounded more panicked than aggressive.
Akane nearly fell over as he stumbled to a stop, turning to see his father being held by the gi by Genma.
"I, uh... it's Nabiki's fault. She'll explain later!" Akane offered, before hurrying off back to the dojo.
He could only guess he'd run out of embarrassment for the day, since he arrived back at the dojo without even a hint of a blush. Ryoga was in the process of listing off things he liked about Ranma's appearance as the redhead sat basking in the attention, when Akane returned. Nabiki, meanwhile was fussing with her cameras.
"I remembered something I read in this booklet," Akane explained, slightly out of breath as he walked over to his partners. "The doc gave it to me to explain about different identities that exist and things. It was both for trying to understand where Ranma might be going, and help me come to terms with there being nothing wrong with staying with Ranma. But... there's another one in here that I think might be you, Ryoga."
With that, Akane handed the fanged boy the booklet.
"Ace-spectrum? Doesn't... and... huh... so that's really an option?" Ryoga asked, looking up at the others.
Akane shrugged. "I mean, it's in the booklet. So... I'd guess, yeah?"
"Huh. We're a full alphabet soup of those acronyms, ain't we?" Ranma declared, grinning away.
"This is very touching and all," Nabiki said, "but we do have a photo shoot to finish. So let's hurry up people. And get a thermos, Ranma."
Akane couldn't help grinning as he listened to the reaming Nodoka was giving Nabiki. He hadn't even planned it, it was just honest to say the lingerie was her fault. Maybe Nodoka's reasoning, that love between men shouldn't be soft with silk and lace, was a bit questionable, but it seemed fair punishment for making him and Ryoga lose the better part of a day's effort on Contra.
That game was hard. Especially when Ryoga kept trying to go left.
It was too late in the day to try again now, so the three were just aimlessly watching whatever anime came on. They'd ended up a bit of a pile, Ryoga on Akane's lap, and Ranma slumped on top of him.
"You're sure you can see?" Ryoga asked, trying to turn to ask Akane without increasing the area he was blocking.
"I'm fine. I'd say something if I couldn't."
Ryoga nodded and turned forward again.
On the screen, a short haired boy in a green gakuran was blasting monsters with some sort of magic hand laser... it wasn't the most romantic anime to watch, but it was decent brainless fun. In fact, Akane realised it was the same show he'd been watching when he'd started the argument with Ranma a couple months earlier.
Remembering how he'd missed Pchan, Akane reached around and squeezed Ryoga into a hug.
"It's good to have you back," he said absently, until a realization hit. "Oh man, but since you're not gay... we really should take you to apologise to Akari."
Ryoga swallowed nervously. "I... let's worry about that another time?"
"Summer vacation's comin' up soon," Ranma mumbled. "We can go visit her and give an apology then."