Disclaimer: I do not own Ranma in any way, shape, or form. I'm only borrowing him for the time being, and promise to return him unharmed. crash …uh, oops. Well, mostly unharmed (smiles sheepishly).

Author's Note: I am new to ff.net, and to this sort of thing in general, and as such, I am quite unskilled at the process of posting a fanfic (I'm a techno-ditz, okay?). Anyway, this being the first chapter of my first fic, actually posting it is sort of an experiment. Hopefully I'll get better at this. The writing part is fine; it's the computer geek stuff that gets me. I'm better with books. Oh well.

    So, please read and enjoy. This fic is written in rough-draft form in a notebook on my desk, and about half typed so far. I hope to finish typing and revising it by the end of Christmas break. I'll try to post chapters as quickly as I can. Following chapters will probably be longer, but as I said, this is sort of an experiment.

    Okay, enough babbling, on with the story!

Fortune's Fool

Chapter 1

    Ranma paced nervously outside the entrance to the dojo, contemplating what he was about to do. He'd been thinking a lot lately, ever since their return from China and the 'almost wedding' that followed. Akane's near death experience had prompted him to reflect on their relationship thus far -- the good and the bad. It was never boring, that was for sure. He remembered the insults they'd traded almost constantly since the day they'd met. He remembered those all-too-rare, quiet moments between them, when he'd managed not to offend her, and she smiled that smile of hers, making him forget to add the 'kune' to 'kawaii'. He remembered the numerous battles and kidnappings from which he had rescued her in the past year. And freshest in his mind was the vivid memory of her lifeless body, cradled in his arms, and the desperate hopelessness that had consumed him as he begged her to wake. In that moment he'd known without a doubt that he needed her as he'd never needed anyone before in his entire life. The fear that he'd lost her had been enough to finally make him realize that he loved her.

    But unfortunately, old habits die hard. Once he was satisfied that she was safe, his old fears of rejection and vulnerability had overpowered his heart, and he'd denied his feelings to her as always, trying to close Pandora's box, as it were. Since the day they first met, when she'd found out about his curse, she'd been calling him 'baka' and 'hentai'. What if she really meant it? There were times when he hoped that her words were as empty as his had always been. But then there were the other guys who wanted her, guys who didn't turn into girls. Especially Ryoga. She was always so nice to him, scolding Ranma for picking on him, in either form. That idiot. What if she really cared for him?

As weeks passed, Ranma had come to the realization that it was time to act. There were too many 'what if's. He needed to tell her the truth. Jusendo had made him realize that life was short, and if he waited too long, he might find one day that it was too late.

So here he was. Every time he thought he had himself pulled together enough to go through with it and turned to go inside, a fresh wave of fear came crashing over him and he went back to pacing. 'What will she say?' he thought for the millionth time. 'What if she...'

"No," he said aloud, stopping the familiar train of thought that had been spinning in his head for the past few days, "I've put this off for far too long." And with that he clenched his fists and strode into the dojo.

The sight of her there, as she practiced, was nearly enough to shatter his fragile resolve, but he was strengthened by the warm, contented feeling forming in his chest. For a moment he just watched her until, finally, she sensed his presence and turned to look at him.

"Oh, hi Ranma," she frowned slightly in confusion at his uncharacteristic expression. He looked...apprehensive.

"Is something wrong?" she asked, concerned, to which he shook his head 'no'. He seemed unable to speak.

Finally, he found his voice and managed to say "Uh...A-Akane, can I...um...talk to you for a minute?"

"Sure," she answered, growing more and more curious as she settled herself in a kneeling position on the floor. Ranma sat across from her, fidgeting and staring at his hands.

Taking a deep breath, he began, "A-Akane, y-you and I...w-we've known each other for a while now, and..." his heart began to beat faster, "w-what I mean is...I mean I know we fight and all but..." frustrated with himself, he took another deep breath and forced himself to look directly into her eyes, which stared back at him still puzzled and uncomprehending, "Look, the truth is, I love you, okay? I'm in love with you..."

Her eyes widened in shock and tears began to form. He looked back at her intently, trying to read her reaction, but all he could see was surprise. Was she upset? Was she going to hit him?

"Oh Ranma, I-" she began, but never got the chance to finish, for at that moment an earsplitting explosion rent the air directly above them. The dojo roof supports splintered and the entire ceiling came crashing down upon them.

"Akane!" he shouted, terrified as the image of her in his arms, unconscious and pale as death, flashed trough his mind. Desperately, he dove forward in an attempt to shield her from the debris.

When the dust had settled, he slowly sat up, shifting the remnants of wooden beams and sheet rock from on top of them carefully so they wouldn't collapse further and crush them. Akane lay unconscious on the floor, but the gentle rise and fall of her chest reassured him that she was breathing. He knelt beside her, worry etched on his face as he observed the nasty cut on her forehead. He quickly checked for other injuries but, aside from some minor cuts and bruises, none were apparent. Then he gently cradled her in his arms and picked her up to head for the nearest hospital.

* * *

For three days she lay unconscious in her room at the hospital, and in that time Ranma never left her side. He barely slept, and for that matter, he barely ate. All the while, he played their last conversation over in his mind, again and again. What had she been about to say? Did she love him too? Or had those tears in her eyes been tears of pity?

Late one night, as he drifted into a rare and fitful sleep, these thoughts filled his dreams.

Ranma waited for her reaction, scarcely breathing.

"Oh Ranma, I'm so sorry, but I...I'm in love with Ryoga. I always have been, you see, ever since the day we met. I-I thought you knew..."

Her words cut into him like a knife. She loved Ryoga. Ryoga. Pig-boy.

"But...you and I..." he trailed off.

"I'm sorry Ranma, but I think it's best if we call off the engagement. You see, Ryoga has asked me to marry him and I've accepted."

"That's right," came Ryoga's voice from behind him, uncharacteristically confident. Ranma whirled around to glare at him. Then he turned back to Akane.

"But he's P-chan! He's got a Jusenkyo curse too, and he's been-" but he stopped in surprise when she merely smiled and laughed lightly.

"I know all about that Ranma. I've known all along. Why do you think I let him sleep in my bed? Anyway, it's better for a man to turn into a pig than a woman. At least he doesn't lose his manhood."

He gaped at her, extremely hurt, but she didn't seem to care. Then he felt a tap on his shoulder...

He slammed the startled Lost Boy against the wall, shouting "Ryoga, you sonofabitch, what the hell do you think you're doing asking Akane to marry you!!"

"W-what! What the hell are you talking about?!" Ryoga shot back. Realizing what he was doing, Ranma released him and backed away, looking apologetic.

"Oh, sorry. I-I was dreaming."

Ryoga scowled at him, annoyed, but soon turned to Akane with a softened expression, asking in a concerned tone, "How is she?"

"No change," Ranma replied, his voice heavy, a bit more gruff than usual. Ryoga merely nodded.

A/N: Well, that's all for the moment. What do you think? Please review, and trust me, it gets much better. I think I finally figured out how to get this to work, so hopefully I'll get another (much better) chapter out within a day or two. See you soon!