Disclaimer: I don't own anybody or anything that you recognise, unfortunately. Ranma and his friends belong to Rumiko Takahashi.

Author's Notes: Well, here it is. The very first chapter to the very first fanfic I've ever planned to actually finish. I've written completely crap fics for other fandoms, but I have a really good feeling about this one. Among other things, I'm also writing a fluffy one-shot Christmas story, which will hopefully be up sometime before Easter, if my sense of timing continues the way it always has.

A humongous, enormous, mammoth-sized thank you to my beta-reader, FrameofMind. Without her wonderfully helpful suggestions, this chapter would have contained a lot more inconsistencies and grammar errors. That, and the story would have been title-less, so I proudly credit her for coming up with 'The Harder They Fall', while I was throwing out extremely lame ideas like 'Cops and Doctors'.

Constructive criticism is always welcomed, and I hope you enjoy!

The Harder They Fall

Chapter 1: A Bump or Three On the Noggin'


A little more on the left. Oops, too much.

There, perfect!

Strictly speaking, Ranma Saotome wasn't a gardener. In fact, living on the fifteenth floor of an apartment complex, the closest thing he had to a garden was a sad-looking, wilted fern sitting on top of the refrigerator. However, admiring the neat, even surface of the hedge he'd just trimmed, he figured he could have been a very good one if his life had moved in a different direction. The pine tree saplings he'd planted last week were looking quite healthy, and he'd received several compliments from the master of the household's personal assistant for the excellent job he'd done pruning the roses yesterday.

Ranma fought the urge to stab himself with the hedge shears. He couldn't take much more of this.

Just a few more days, he told himself, just a few more days and we'll nab the bastard and bring the whole operation down, then you can tell the boss to kiss your ass because you're going on vacation. He firmly believed that if anyone deserved a break, it was him. Ranma made a mental note to pick up some travel brochures for the Caribbean on the way home. The beach sounded really nice right about now.

Not that it wasn't hot enough already, but at least at the beach there was a whole ocean of cold water to swim in, not to mention an endless supply of icy cocktail drinks. Here, all he had was a half-empty bottle of tap water attached to his hip, warm and muggy-tasting from being in the sun all afternoon. And it didn't help that he wasn't allowed to work with a shirt on anymore, either.

Gingerly, Ranma prodded the angry red patch of skin on his upper back, wincing as it stung and burned Great, now I'm gonna get skin cancer too, on top of everything else. Damned bitch Rochelle.

The master's French 'mistress' (or whore, if you're among less-than-polite company), had slinked up to him one afternoon and informed Ranma in a sultry voice that, if he wished to keep his job, he had better surrender his top to her right away. Pasting what he'd hoped was an intense, sexy gaze on his face, he complied, and spent the rest of the day shooting Rochelle hostile glares when she wasn't looking, watching her climb out of the pool and use his favourite red muscle shirt as a towel.

Speaking of slinking...

Ranma spotted Shampoo sashaying her way over to him, clad in no more than a miniscule pink bikini and matching designer sunglasses, stopping only when she was certain she was invading as much of Ranma's personal space as possible. She smiled at him prettily, and Ranma fought the urge to roll his eyes as she started trailing her fingertips across his muscled chest and arms, thankfully avoiding the sunburnt patches, while he kept his head down submissively. To the casual observer, it looked like the master's Chinese mistress was alleviating her late-afternoon boredom by playfully coming on to the shy, handsome groundskeeper.

"Suzuhara say he be yelling in Ranma's earpiece for past ten minutes," Shampoo whispered, lowering her head to his ear in a sensual way. "What you doing?"

Ranma growled quietly, and casually touched the side of his head, feeling around for the nearly invisible earpiece planted in his hairline. Sliding it back into place, he frowned when he realised the adhesive wasn't bonding to his skin. He brought his face close to Shampoo's.

"Well, tell Hiroshi that if he wants to be able to keep contact with me, he'd better stop giving me shitty equipment. These pieces of garbage don't stick to sweaty skin."

"Shampoo have extra, just in case," she replied, nuzzling his bicep. "Is in left hair ribbon. Quickly, Suzuhara say he have job for you."

Sliding his hand up the left side of her face, Ranma angled his head so it looked like he was about to kiss the Chinese girl. His fingers quickly slid under the ribbon of her ornamental hair bells, snatching the speaker and adhering it behind his left ear in one smooth motion.

"Suzuhara, this is Saotome, do you read me?" he muttered, his face hidden by Shampoo's hair.

"Loud and clear, over" was the tinny reply.

"This is only gonna hold out for so long, Hiroshi, so you'd better be working on fixing these damn things."

"Yeah, yeah, I'll file the complaint later, quit your bitching. I've got a job for you."

"So I've heard. What's up?"

"Well, about an hour ago we lost the signal from the bug you planted in the dining room. I need you to replace it." There was a pause. "Oh, and brilliant idea, by the way, putting it in a potted plant. One of the maids probably poured water on it."

Shampoo giggled quietly at this. Annoyed, Ranma tugged the lock of violet hair tangled in his hand, and she pinched his forearm in response.

"Fuck off, Suzuhara," he snapped, and then lowered his voice again when Shampoo hissed at him. "I'd like to see you do better with these bastards watching you like a hawk."

"Whatever you say, Saotome." Ranma could practically hear Hiroshi rolling his eyes. "Mousse is standing by and will intercept you in the front foyer in six minutes exactly. Grab the bug, plant it somewhere else this time, and get the hell out. Shampoo will cover if anyone starts asking questions."

"Got it. I'm out."

Tucking his canvas gardening gloves into his pockets, Ranma's eyes suddenly went wide as Shampoo reached around his torso and deftly patted his backside. "Good luck," she whispered, smiling saucily before sweeping off to her poolside perch, leaving a stunned Ranma in her wake.

Ranma just shook his head, and ruefully grinned at her retreating form. That Shampoo was something else, that's for sure. Definitely not his type, though. Unfortunately, Shampoo's partner always insisted on taking it out on Ranma's ass when she pulled flirty little stunts like that. And even more unfortunately, she had the tendency to pull those stunts in front of Mousse on a regular basis. He wondered if she was trying to make Mousse jealous. If that was the case, it sure as hell worked.

Taking a moment to crush the broken earpiece in his hand and burying it under a hedge, Ranma made his way to the main house, walking slowly so he wouldn't arrive early and be forced to wait around. That would definitely look a little off.

Exactly six minutes later, Ranma spotted Mousse's approaching figure from across the giant, cathedral-ceiling foyer, but he didn't make eye contact. They were strangers, after all. He didn't even see Mousse reaching into the wide sleeves of his white cook's uniform, but he did notice the small device being dropped on the carpet a few feet ahead. Mousse walked right by, but Ranma paused, crouching to the floor under the pretence of tying his running shoe. The bug disappeared, tucked safely under the black terrycloth of his athletic wrist bracers.

"Transfer successful," he muttered to no one.

Ranma didn't even flinch when a pouchy-faced guard stopped him in the hallway and demanded to know where he was going.

"Just refilling my water bottle, sir," Ranma answered politely, a pleasant smile on his face. "It sure is a scorcher out there today!" He cringed inwardly, compelled purely out of principle to kick his own ass for saying something so dorky-sounding,

Apparently the dim-bulb pretty boy act worked, because the guard waved him away without a second glance. Ranma actually did go to the kitchens and refill his water bottle, but instead of returning to his half-trimmed hedges outside, he ducked into an adjacent hallway. There, he took a moment to conjure up an image of the house's blueprints, the one's he had spent many long, boring nights learning down to the last detail. With the image firmly planted in his consciousness, he glanced around the corner carefully before setting off, his senses alert for the slightest trace of movement.

It was an old, Western style mansion, built for some European or North American settler or something; Ranma couldn't remember the history lesson part of the debriefing. He did, however, remember that the original owner had been a paranoid old coot who insisted on having the whole house designed on a labyrinthian framework, with hidden passages and secret rooms all throughout. Apparently, this was to ensure the old geezer had a quick escape route if someone decided to attack in the middle of the night.

So, on the one hand, this made the house rather ideal for housing illegal activities. The numerous secret rooms were good for hiding a lot of unscrupulous things, like paper shredders destroying condemning documents, or drug labs producing dirty heroine, or high-tech computer labs housing teams of elite hackers. On the other hand, though, it wasn't very difficult to sneak through the maze of tunnels, staircases and hidden rooms unnoticed if you had them memorised. Should, say, an undercover cop posing as a groundskeeper manage to get a copy of the blueprints, well, it made his job rather easy. Or as easy as his job ever really got. In any case, Ranma could safely say he'd managed worse without getting a bullet between the eyes.

A few twists and turns later, Ranma found himself behind a musty-smelling curtain, fighting the almost overpowering urge to sneeze. The door to one of the smaller dining rooms loomed in front of him, across a six-foot wide carpeted hallway that might as well be a hundred-kilometre chasm for all the trouble it was going to cause him. There were no convenient sculptures or sofas to hide behind, and there were not one, but two surveillance cameras tucked in the corners of the ceiling.

His blue-grey eyes latched onto the swiveling devices, watching carefully. Moving cameras like these were designed to shift around the 'blind spot' normally left by still-mounted cameras, so a permanent, stationary hole wasn't left in the surveillance area. Taking a deep, calming breath, Ranma tensed all his muscles, watching the cameras until they faced just so, creating the split-second blind spot in front of the dining room door. This had to be timed just right.


With a burst of inhuman speed borne from his intense martial arts training, Ranma darted across the hall, whipped through the mahogany door and latched it behind himself without making a sound. Once inside, he let out a deep sigh, before grinning cockily to himself. The curtain hadn't even fluttered.

There were no surveillance cameras in here, since it isn't particularly polite to film your guests eating, and the master apparently had a bizarre preoccupation with etiquette. Ranma strolled around with abandon, taking in the ritzy environment. Though he'd been in here before, the sheer unabashed luxury of the room still took him by surprise.

The walls were a deep green, adorned with intricate crown moulding and impressive portraits of pompous-looking politicians, dignitaries, or other members of high-class society worthy of having their images painted instead of taking photographs like normal people. The massive dining table was the focal point of the room, lined with dozens of cushy chairs on either side. At each place setting was the finest bone china Ranma had ever seen (not that he'd seen much), accompanied by tall, fine-cut crystal wine glasses, and silverware that was actually made of silver. An ornate chandelier hung above the table, all eight trillion little candles lit for dinner, which would be served in less than two hours.

Ranma would have been terribly impressed if he didn't know where the money to pay for all of this came from.

The exotic-looking plant he had hid the last hearing device in was still sitting in the corner. Digging through the leaves, he extracted the damaged bug, which, damn that Hiroshi, was in fact slightly soggy. Making a wry face, he tucked it in his pocket, where it would wait to join the smashed earpiece in its grave under the garden hedge.

And people in this country wonder where their taxes are going.

On his hands and knees, he ducked under the table, and planted the bug on the leg next to the head of the table, pulling the tablecloth back into place. There. Now any important mealtime chatter would not be missed.

The sound of a door handle clicking made Ranma smash his head painfully on a sharp corner. He glanced at the door; it was open just a crack, and he could hear voices in the hallway.

Oh, shit!

Running on pure instinct, Ranma agilely flipped his body up, suspending himself under the table with his arms and legs. His hands held the two corner table legs in a death grip, while his feet pushed against the thick, supportive leg in the middle. His bare back and the end of his braid brushed the underside of tabletop. The position would become painful soon, but Ranma was nothing if not tough. He held his breath as the two strangers entered the room, every curse word he'd ever learned—Japanese, English, and even a few Chinese, courtesy of Mousse—racing through his head. Oh, man, if I get caught now...

"...to a back alley-he begged and pleaded, of course-then bam, right in the head!"

The sounds of guffawing reached his ears and Ranma made a disgusted face seen by no one.

His expression shifted into panic as one of the thugs pulled out a chair and sat down, his knees crossing inches away from Ranma's face. Ranma turned his head away as far as it would go, fearing the heat of his ragged breath on the crony's leg would give his position away. His arms were starting to hurt a little, the strain on his muscles increasing with ever passing moment.

"You sure he was dead, though, right? Like, did you check his pulse and stuff?"

"Whadya take me for? Besides, I didn't even have to! Trust me, with all that blood, he was as dead as a rat in a trap."

How the fuck do I always get myself into these situations! God, so much for an easy job!

Ranma had learned long ago that the most effective strength training was to train your body to support its own weight, which Ranma was very good at. He could often be found hanging from a horizontal bar in the PSIA gym, doing pull ups and counting "two-hundred and eighty-eight, two hundred and eighty-nine, two hundred and ninety..." But even he had his limits, and his face screwed up in a grimace of pain as the minutes ticked by.


"So why'd the boss wanna have an old guy like Henderson offed anyway?"

"Beats me, I just do what I'm told. I heard some rumours, though."

"Rumours? Like what?"

There was a pause, and Ranma imagined the crony was peering around for eavesdroppers. Then Ranma's clammy left hand slid down the table leg several inches before he regained his grip, and all thoughts of the conversation above him fled his attention.

"I heard he's been...you know. Snoopin' around."

"Snooping around doing what?"

"Whatdya think, moron? He probably went chicken-shit and thought he could bail."

"No shit!"

"Yeah. And I found a disk in his jacket, just like the boss said I would. Dunno what's on it, though. I'm gonna give it to the techs, see what the geeks make of it."

"Heavy." There was a pause in which Ranma could feel his own IQ dropping merely by being in the same room as the two blockheads. "So, which one of these forks does Rochelle want?"

Ranma screamed silently.

"A salad fork, she said." A moment passed. "Which one's a salad fork?"

"Hell if I know. Why'd she want one outta here, again?"

"'Cause they're real silver, duh."

"Huh. Picky, 'ain't she?"

"Who the fuck cares, didn't you see she was sunbathing topless? I woulda carved her an entire flatware set if she asked!"

Silently, Ranma vowed to make sure that Rochelle got a life sentence. No, two life sentences!

Did they still behead people in France?

"Just grab one of each and let's go. Maybe she'll let us stand guard over her and Shampoo while they go swimmin'!"

There was a sound of clinking metal as all the forks from one table setting were gathered. The knees shoved in Ranma's face straightened out as the man stood up and followed his companion out the door, making lewd jokes about Shampoo's breasts.

Ranma waited until he could no longer hear the footsteps marching down the hall, before letting out an agonising groan and dropping to the floor. He tried to massage the burning sensation out of his biceps, but he realised he needed those particular muscles to perform that action, and instead just let his arms drop heavily by his sides.

"You okay, Saotome?"


"OW! Fuck! Sonofa...Suzuhara, don't do that!" he whispered vehemently, rubbing the newest addition to the collection lumps on his head. He'd forgotten that Hiroshi could hear everything from both the bug and Ranma's speaker.

"Hey, at least I waited until they were gone."

"Thanks, I guess," Ranma commented dryly, crawling out from under the table. He stretched good and hard, making sure he was in good enough form to make it back down to the garden without running into trouble. "Did you catch everything?"

"Yep, Fushida's running a search on this Henderson guy as we speak."

"Good, and tell Daisuke I want everything on my desk by the time I get to the station."

"Would you like fries with that, sir?"

"Hiroshi, do me a favour and put a sock in it, will you," Ranma griped. "Anyway, it's 5 o'clock, that mean's quitting time for the gardener. I'm outta here. Give Shampoo and Mousse the updates for me."

"Aye, aye, Cap'n. See you in a bit."

Ranma didn't care how reputed the Japanese transportation system was around the world, he absolutely hated taking the train. It was crowded, noisy, and not to mention uncomfortably hot, but beyond that, it was a severe blow to both his pride and to his wallet. He owned a perfectly good car that he was more than capable of driving, but here he was, forking over his hard-earned yen to pay for a train ticket that he didn't need, while his expensive sports car sat idle in the parking garage of his apartment complex.

He understood why he wasn't allowed to drive his car to the job, of course. For all intents and purposes, he was a lowly, ill-paid gardener. It would definitely seem a bit suspicious if he drove his red convertible up the driveway of the mansion and proceeded to plant begonias, but that didn't mean he wasn't bitter about it.

She was probably getting all dusty, sitting in the dark, cavern-like parking garage, all alone in the exclusive reserved lot…

"Sorry," Ranma muttered to a fellow passenger, even though the old lady had elbowed him in the ribs. He was tired and sore, and definitely didn't feel like holding his arms above his head and clutching the straps for the entire forty minute ride home. He scanned around for an empty seat, spotting one toward the back of the cabin and making his way over.

"Excuse me, is anyone sitting here?" he asked, not really caring if the answer was 'yes' unless the seat belonged to a pregnant woman.

A young woman about his age glanced up from the book in her lap, a suspicious look in her eye. She peered around the cabin, confirming that this was indeed the only seat left, and shook her head 'no'. Ranma dropped down across from her, leaning back and letting out a heavy sigh.


"'Welcome," she answered shortly.

"It's been a long day," Ranma said idly, making conversation for no particular reason.

"Mmmhmm," she replied, still not looking up from the book.

Ranma raised an eyebrow in her direction, but she continued reading, steadfastly ignoring him. Then it occurred to Ranma that she probably thought he was coming on to her. A quick look around confirmed that there seemed to be a lot of men concentrated in this particular cabin, some of them shooting him nasty glares, which amused him greatly. He wondered why none of them had tried to grab this seat when it was empty.

She must be a regular commuter, he thought, mentally shrugging. Well, they could have this seat next time, because she certainly wasn't very good company. He settled his head against the window, closing his eyes, and letting the rocking motion of the train soothe the tension from his body. His mind went pleasantly blank.

After a few minutes, he opened one eye, peering curiously at the girl across from him.

She was pretty cute, actually. Slim and petite, she had a heart-shaped face framed by long, dark hair. Half of it was pulled back with a clip, while the rest spilled over her shoulders. He only caught a brief glimpse of her facial features, but her brown eyes were large and kind of innocent-looking, and her lips full and pink. And she smelled really nice, too. Like vanilla and oranges. He could smell it all the way over here, and it was very distracting.

For a lack of anything better to do for the next thirty-five minutes, Ranma covertly studied her appearance, trying to guess what she did for a living.

She wore a light grey skirt that reached her knees, and a pale pink top with a wide, but not low neckline. Neither showed much skin, which probably meant she worked in a professional environment. But not in an office, since she wasn't carrying a briefcase or a suit jacket.

Her shoes were flat and sensible-looking. Maybe she spent a lot of the day walking or standing?

There was a silver watch around her small wrist. Digital. She needed to keep track of the time easily and accurately.

Jewellery? She tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear, revealing small, dangling silver earrings that matched the watch. Pretty, but wouldn't get in the way of any hands-on work.

Ranma amused himself like this for a few minutes, and the best guess he came up with was a school teacher. He felt disappointed with his deductive reasoning skills-something he should probably worry about, considering his profession-when she readjusted the book in her lap, revealing the title: Clinical Use of the Pulmonary Artery Catheter.

Wow. Not exactly a drug store romance novel.

If Ranma remembered correctly, the Tokyo Medical University was located somewhere around this district, as was the city's major hospital. So she was probably a medical student; not a doctor though. She was too young to be a professional yet, and she didn't have that harried, 'I-have-to-perform-six-triple-bypass-surgeries-in-one-shift' look on her face that most doctors wore.

Plus there wasn't a beeper in sight.

The train hit a rough patch on the tracks. Ranma's head bounced painfully from its resting place against the window, aggravating one of the lumps he'd received earlier during his little dining room adventure. Well, if I didn't get a concussion the first two times, that last one probably sealed the deal, he thought bitterly. He held back the stream of curses threatening to spew from his mouth, for the sake of preserving the innocence of the little girl sitting a few seats away.

The little girl smiled at him. Ranma did a double-take, his heart leaping into his throat.

She had vibrant red hair.

The girl turned away, and Ranma snapped back to reality. His heart dropped from his throat, down past its usual spot in his chest, and landed heavily in his stomach. He screwed his eyes shut tightly, trying to clear his mind of the familiar barrage of images. Why do I keep doing this to myself...?

"Hey, are you okay?"

Ranma looked up, jolting out of his unpleasant reverie. "Huh?"

"Are you okay? That looked like it probably hurt." It was the medical student girl. Her pretty brown eyes looked at Ranma expectantly, and he realised she was asking him about his head, and not what he was thinking about.

"Oh, uh, yeah," he stumbled over his words, momentarily thrown. "But it's fine. I just hit a tender spot, that's all."

"You sure?"

"Yeah," he said, feeling a little nervous under her gaze for some reason. "I guess my friends are right when they say I have a hard head."

She giggled, and Ranma was rather surprised with himself. That was actually pretty witty.

Reaching into the shoulder bag at her feet, she dug out a small object and handed it to Ranma. He accepted it, puzzled.

"For the headache you're probably going to have in about thirty seconds," the dark-haired girl elaborated in a friendly, teasing voice.

It was a small packet of ibuprofen, the kind usually given out for free by doctors and dentists. Ranma found that painkillers from the drugstore weren't very effective on his body, but he didn't want to seem ungrateful by refusing them. Shrugging, he tore the packet open and swallowed both pills without water.

"Thanks. I feel better already." He gave her a friendly smile. She looked away suddenly. Was she...blushing?


"I'm Ranma Saotome, by the way," he continued, sticking out his hand. A girl gives you medical assistance, the least you can do is introduce yourself, he figured. She glanced at his hand before slowly taking it in her own. It was soft and small, and he absently registered that there was no ring on her fourth finger.

"Akane Tendo." She smiled shyly at him, and Ranma was suddenly aware why so many men were flocking to this particular cabin. "Nice to meet you."

Around them, several PDAs and laptop computers flipped open, frantically recording this coveted piece of information.

"So..." Akane groped around for something to talk about. "How'd you bump your head the first time?"

"Um, at work," he faltered. "I dropped something and hit my head picking it up." Wow, that was intelligent. Here's a girl who probably graduated with marks in the ninety-eighth percentile, while you're accidentally losing more brain cells.

"Oh. So what do you do?"

"I'm…" Oh, God, do I have to? "...I'm a gardener." He winced painfully; that sounded even lamer out loud. He really wished he could tell her his real job. It would probably impress the hell out of her.

Akane blinked. "Really? You don't seem like...the type," she said slowly, obviously trying not to be rude or belittle his lifestyle. He appreciated that, in a weird way.

"Yeah," he said, trying to play it off as no big deal, even though his insides were shriveling up with embarrassment. "I didn't think so either, but here I am."

Despite the humiliation factor, Ranma felt inexplicably proud of himself when she laughed again. It was a pleasant sort of sound, sincere and a bit contagious.

"Yeah, I know what you mean. I thought I'd be teaching martial arts for a living, but, well..." She held up her textbook so he could read the cover clearly. "I guess medical school was my true calling. I'm headed for my shift at the hospital right now, actually."

He'd already guessed the med school part, which he obviously wasn't going to tell her, lest he come off like some weirdo, but martial arts? Ranma gaped at her, shocked. "You're a martial artist?"

Akane nodded enthusiastically, a note of pride in her voice. "Yep. I grew up in a dojo."

"How advanced are you?" he asked, intensely curious. Maybe she just practiced once in a while for leisure?

"Well, I've been doing it since I could walk, and I'm twenty-four now, so I'd say pretty advanced." Akane smiled, looking a little smug at his dumbfounded expression. But she was so...little. Hardly taller than five feet, and she looked like a strong breeze could bowl her over.

Ranma realised he was staring like an idiot and decided to actually hold up his end of the conversation. "So, what style do you practice?" Maybe they could get together some time and spar. No, that was dumb. How do you even go about asking a girl something like that? 'Hey, babe, wanna get together and see who's better at kicking the other's ass?' Besides, he didn't hit girls unless they were bank robbers or drug dealers, even if they could defend themselves. But then again, other than a few women on the force like Shampoo, Ranma didn't know any female martial artists.

No, that was a lie. He'd known one other.

"Kempo, and a little bit of kendo, too," she answered, her eyes glittering as she leaned toward him, getting into the conversation. "I haven't practiced kendo much lately, though," she added, scowling briefly for some strange reason, then her expression cleared once more. "What about you?" He absently registered that she had pulled out a pen and was scribbling something down on the front page of her textbook, before tearing it out and sticking it in her pocket. Probably notes for a test, he thought, dismissing the gesture.

"Anything Goes," Ranma replied with a grin. His heartbeat picked up a notch as he caught another whiff of her pleasant scent.

Now it was her turn to look surprised. There weren't many members of that particular school anymore, and the style didn't exactly have an entirely wholesome reputation, since it involved a lot of...cunning. Which is a polite word for underhanded sneakiness. However, Ranma saw nothing wrong with using your opponents weaknesses against them, and besides, he used his superpowers to fight the forces of evil, so he figured that made up for all the practitioners of Anything Goes Martial Arts Bar Brawling, or Panty Stealing.

"Well, that's—"

The distorted sound of the conductor's voice announced the next station, cutting off any reply she was about to make.

"—my stop" Akane continued sheepishly, gathering her textbook and shoulder bag. If Ranma didn't know better, he might have detected a trace of disappointment in her voice. That thrilled him more than it probably should have, considering that she was practically a stranger, and he would probably never see her again, and not to mention that he was completely unable to work up the stones to ask for her phone number.

Besides, who was he kidding. One of the first things he'd said to her was a complete lie, so it was hardly an auspicious start to any sort of relationship. And he was a total cop cliché in some ways, completely married to the job. Dating just didn't fit into his schedule right now, no matter how attractive or interesting the girl sitting in front of him was. Once this case was over, he'd spend all his time doing paperwork or working on his side project until the next assignment, where he would probably end up doing more time-consuming undercover work. How was he supposed to fit a girlfriend in there? It wasn't a matter of cowardliness, it simply wasn't worth the effort, or so he tried to convince himself as Akane smiled at him warmly before getting up from her seat.

She swayed slightly against the movement of the slowing train, and by pure reflex, Ranma caught her by the waist to stop her from overbalancing and toppling over. With a small gasp, her textbook fell from her grip, but she didn't retrieve it immediately, instead blushing and stuttering out a 'thanks'. Relieved that she hadn't clocked him over the head with her handbag for touching her so personally, Ranma mumbled an equally incoherent 'no problem', looking down at his feet and feeling like he'd regressed about ten years, reverting back into an awkward sixteen-year-old boy.

Textbook back in her grip, Akane stuck out her hand out like he'd done at the beginning of their little encounter.

"Well, maybe I'll see you again some time? I take this train every day." Her voice sounded a little…breathy, something which didn't escape Ranma's notice, and gave him a momentary burst of confidence.

"I sure hope so," Ranma replied as he shook her hand again, this time consciously noting her bare ring finger, and boldly running his finger along it as he withdrew his hand. Akane's eyes widened slightly, but he just smiled innocently. He probably wouldn't see her again, but there's nothing wrong with making sure she remembered him, right?

"I-I hope your head feels better." She turned toward the exit.

"Thanks. Uh, have a good shift at the hospital?"

"I will" she said quietly, smiling over her shoulder. "Bye."

He caught one last glance of her shiny dark hair, and then she was out the door and out of his sight.

Ranma exhaled and sat back in his seat, his eyes still locked on the exit door as he tried to quell the weird rushing sensation in his ears. A pensive expression appeared across his face; then, ever so slowly, a grin that threatened to split his face crossed his features, a grin that few had seen in a very long time. He was blissfully unaware of the looks of utter hatred and contempt the other men on the train were shooting at the back of his head.

I guess there's something to be said about public transportation, after all.

Author's Notes: So. Ranma and Akane like each other right away. We'll see how long that lasts the next time they meet.

The other commuters on the train are the working world's answer to the Furinkan High Hentai Horde. Poor Akane, she never catches a break, does she? At least they don't try to attack her. After all, when she'd brained the first guy who'd tried to cop a feel during rush hour, they'd all given her wide berth, hence the empty seat. Ranma's just lucky she thought he was cute. ;)

By the way, the PSIA is the Japanese equivalent of the FBI. It stands for Public Security Investigation Agency. The Tokyo Medical University actually does exist, as does the textbook Akane was reading. No, I haven't read it. It's on my to-read list. Really.

So who is this Henderson guy, what's with the mysterious red haired girl, and where does Nabiki fall in to all of this? Find out next time, and don't forget to review!