Disclaimer: Nope, still don't own Ranma and his friends. I do, however, own the weird-ass situations I place them in.

Author's Notes: Yeah, I know. I really ought to be working on Chapter 3 of The Harder They Fall, but this idea just won't leave me the hell alone. This was actually the first Ranma fic idea I ever came up with, so it's very satisfying to finally get some of it down on paper.

Anyway, this one is going to be a little more character-driven than THTF, since there's not much of a plot to this story, per se. It's going to be more episodic in nature, with my take on how our favourite characters would deal with the hurdles of everyday life. Not to say that there won't be any craziness or drama, but it'll be a different kind of craziness and drama.

And for those of you who are wondering, Chapter 2 of THTF is coming soon. It's with my beta reader right now, and I have a feeling she's become very busy with Real Life recently. hugs FrameofMind I probably should've waited to send this to her as well, but I felt so accomplished at having finally finished one of my half-formed drabbles that I couldn't contain my excitement. So do leave a review and tell me what you think, mmkay? ;)

Conventional pairings abound. That means Ranma/Akane, Ryouga/Ukyou, Shampoo/Mousse, Nabiki/Kuno, and Kasumi/Tofu. In fact, that will be the case in all of my Ranma stories, so you have been sufficiently forewarned. :P But enough of my babbling, on with the story!

Love Thy Neighbour

Chapter 1: Moving Day

"Jeez, sugar. What's in this one, your rock collection?"

"Not quite," Akane grinned, setting down a box labeled 'Kitchen Utensils'. She picked her way across the junk-covered hardwood floor. "I think my weights are in that one. Be careful, don't go dropping it on your feet."

"Thanks for the warning," the brunette griped, the box almost slipping from her grip. "Remind me again why you didn't hire movers to do this for you?"

"Because," Akane grunted indelicately, hefting a box filled with bulky photo albums, "we're strong, independent, capable women. Besides, I'm not forking over thousands of yen to a bunch of sweaty men in overalls to move a few boxes around for me." She kicked a garbage bag full of clothing through the doorway, adding it to the pile that was accumulating where her coat rack would soon stand. She turned back to a sweating Ukyou and slapped her heartily between the shoulder blades. "Come on, girl, put some backbone into it!" she commanded gleefully.

Ukyou stumbled, letting out a groan and dropping the box on top of the misplaced sofa that would linger in the hallway until they figured out how to squeeze it through the narrow doorframe. The springs squeaked ominously as the box bounced several times before settling still.

She threw Akane a glare over her shoulder. "If I strain a back muscle, I'm sending you my medical bill." She flopped down on the overstuffed sofa, simultaneously displacing the cardboard box perched next to her, and sending the weights tumbling across the carpeted hallway. Akane eyed the blue and purple seven-pounders as they rolled down the hallway, before casting her raised eyebrow back at Ukyou, who smiled sheepishly.

"Sorry, honey," she shrugged. "But hey, at least you can work on toning your triceps!" She reluctantly hoisted herself up from the comfort of the sofa. "Or maybe you can just leave them here and tell the other tenants it's the new gym facility."

"Yeah," Akane snorted, gathering the barbells closest to her and dropping them back into the box. "Until some poor old lady trips over one. Then I'm sending you my legal bill when I get sued."

Ukyou suddenly leapt to her feet as though she'd been poked in the back with a cattle prod. Dropping the weights all over the floor again, she slapped a hand against her forehead. "Shit!" she cursed, stomping her foot. "Bloody fucking hell!"

Akane peered up at her, unfazed by the number of four letter words her friend had just spewed. Ukyou had always had a bit of a potty mouth, with a lengthy elementary school detention record to prove it. "What's the matter?" Akane asked, frowning.

Ukyou let out a frustrated sigh and glanced at her watch. "Speaking of getting sued, I have to get down to the restaurant. The health inspector's coming by this afternoon and I have to make sure those buttheads in charge of cleaning the kitchens do a good job. I've got to leave now in case they slack off and I need to pull some cleaning duty of my own." She looked at Akane apologetically, but the short-haired girl waved her off before she could continue.

"Don't worry about it, Ucchan, I'll finish the rest on my own."

Ukyou looked torn. "But I promised, and we still haven't gotten the sofa inside—"

"Don't be silly. I'm not going to let you go out of business because of a stupid couch," said Akane reproachfully. "Like you said, I'll just leave it out here if I need to."

Her friend still looked dubious, and Akane knew they would argue about this all afternoon if she didn't do something about Ukyou's stubborn streak. It was a personality trait that she was well aware that she shared with her best friend, but that was neither here nor there. Instead, Akane put on a stern face and grabbed Ukyou by the shoulders, spinning her around so she faced the direction leading to the elevators, and began frogmarching her down the hallway. "Ukyou, go clean your restaurant so you can stay open another few months until the next inspection."

The chef turned her head and stuck out her tongue. "Don't kid yourself, sugar. Ucchan's is the cleanest eatery in town. Any more sanitary and doctors could perform open-heart surgery on the grill."

Akane brought them to a halt in front of the dull metallic elevator doors and thumbed the little orange triangle facing downward. "Sure, once they kill all the germs that you've sneezed on it." This little exchange between them had been repeated millions of times over the years with little variation, but somehow, both participants still found it entertaining.

"Hey, that wasn't me, it was that jackass Tsubasa!"

"Oh, that's right," Akane amended. "You just coughed in the soup of the day."

"Yeah, but I gave it to you, so no harm done."

A series of clanks followed by a deep, mechanical grinding signaled the elevator's ascent from somewhere below them. Both women exchanged worried glances at the sound.

"Are you sure these things are safe?" Ukyou asked, cautiously pressing her ear to the cool metal. The fierce grinding noise stopped, replaced by an ear-splitting squeal that had Ukyou reeling away from the door. The squealing was then followed by a faint, rather anti-climactic 'ding'. She glanced up at the display of numbers above the doors; it was stopped on the eighth floor, five floors down. "Maybe I should just take the stairs."

"Well," Akane said slowly, eyeing the doors warily, understanding Ukyou's reluctance entirely, "Mr. Honda said they were perfectly safe, so I guess it's okay. Maybe the gears need to be greased?"

"Then maybe the maintenance team should get on that before they rust away," Ukyou commented derisively, missing the expression of panic that flitted across Akane's features. "And besides, how do you know Honda wasn't lying just to get your business? He seemed a little loopy if you ask me."

Akane was inclined to agree with her best friend, but said nothing. She refused to inflict any negative karma on her very first home.

Mr. Honda was the building's landlord, and though she'd only had a few encounters with the short, bald, weasely little man, she'd walked away shaking her head with dismay every time. The first time Akane had met him was when she had come to take a tour of the available apartments. Walking into his office on the first floor, her field of vision had been overwhelmed with posters, toy models and other paraphernalia of cars, motorcycles, trucks, bicycles and electronics, all bearing the famous 'H' logo belonging to the Honda Motors Company.

"So," she asked, making awkward small talk while Mr. Honda searched for the master keys, "Your family must be proud of your ancestors' accomplishments."

He shot her a blank look over his shoulder.

"You know…" she said uncertainly, waving her hand around the office vaguely.

Mr. Honda continued to look at her like she was crazy, so Akane clarified herself, though she couldn't see why he didn't understand what she was talking about. "Isn't your family the Honda family? The one that founded the multi-national company?"

"No," he deadpanned. "My father was a milkman."

With that, he had turned around and gone back to rifling through the drawers without another word, leaving Akane feeling distinctly baffled.

She was brought back to the present when the elevator doors screeched open, revealing a frazzled-looking woman in her early thirties, clutching the hands of two squirming, whining children. She hurried past Akane and Ukyou without a word, yelling at each child in turn.

"...can't believe you brought a soccer ball to the dentist's office! That poor man has an extra hole in his tooth because of you! And you! Young lady, you are not allowed to touch the television until you learn that telling strangers how much Mummy weighs is not acceptable..."

Her shrill voice faded down the hallway. Ukyou looked at Akane sympathetically, placing a hand on her friend's arm. "Look, sugar, if you ever change your mind, don't forget that I've got an extra room at my place if you need it..."

Akane shot Ukyou a withering glare, and playfully shoved her into the elevator. "Thanks, but I'll be fine. Unlike you, I don't give up so easily. I'm sure there are at least some normal people living in this place."

"Well, let me know when you find them. After being friends with you my entire life, I'm looking forward to meeting these normal people."

"Shut up!" Akane said indignantly. "You just make sure those dead rat carcasses are cleared out from under the refrigerator before the inspector comes around. I'm sure he'll appreciate that," she sneered, a tiny grin touching the corners of her mouth.

Ukyou just rolled her eyes and flipped her long chestnut hair over her shoulder in a dismissive gesture. Just as the doors were sliding shut, Akane grinned cheekily and lifted her hand at Ukyou in a rather rude gesture. Ukyou's mock outraged expression was the last thing she saw before the doors closed with a firm thud, but she could hear Ukyou's hearty laughter even over the grinding noise of the gears.

Akane headed back to her new apartment, smiling fondly. Her family was right. They really did behave like a pair of adolescent boys sometimes.

By the end of the day, Akane was certain she'd burned several thousand calories and worked all of major the muscle groups in her legs, arms and back thoroughly enough to earn her at least a month of coach potato time. Lugging the last item from the moving van parked outside the building, she dragged the box labeled 'Books Etc.' across the front foyer and into the elevator, making what seemed like her eight hundredth trip since the that morning.

Pressing the button labeled '14' and slumping against the far wall of the little cubicle, Akane silently cursed herself for not taking Ukyou's advice about hiring some beefy moving men to do the work for her. Sometimes being a strong, independent woman wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

It wouldn't have been so bad if most of her moving mates hadn't run out on her so early in the day. Her father had a bad back, so he could only manage driving the moving van and calling out the occasional 'motivational' comments. Kasumi was four months pregnant, so any assistance from her was out of the question, although her homemade chocolate chip cookies had been a real morale booster for the moving team. Her brothers-in-law were busy men and were available long enough to help with the extremely heavy lifting, like the sofa and bed, but had to run off almost immediately afterwards. And Nabiki was of little help with her debilitatingly severe allergy to manual labour.

Akane fixed her gaze on the orange numbers flashing by one by one above the door. The lengthy ride would take some getting used to, she mused, although it was probably a good thing. Maybe one day she would be able to ride elevators without gripping the handrails until her knuckles turned white, or without listening anxiously for any unusual noises or vibrations that would indicate that she was about to drop like a stone for fourteen floors when the cables snapped.

Maybe one day, but this was not that day.

She heaved yet another relieved sigh as the elevator shuddered to a halt and the doors slid open, revealing the aged and rather tacky flower-printed wallpaper that circuited the hall. Grabbing the flap of the box, she dragged it out into the hallway, shuffling backwards in a rather undignified manner toward her apartment at the very far end of the corridor. The box joined it's fellows in what would soon be the living room, once the box spring, pots, pans and miscellaneous shelving equipment were cleared.

Akane dusted off her hands and placed them on her hips, her eyes gliding over the entire room with satisfaction. Beams of late-afternoon sunlight flecked with glowing golden dust motes filtered through the uncovered windows of the living room. Against the pale orange light, all of the objects in the room seemed like misshapen dark blurs in comparison.

This is my living room, she mused happily. That was her kitchen beyond the hallway. That was her sofa loitering in the hallway. That was her toilet paper hanger thing mounted in the bathroom. Those thoughts thrilled Akane endlessly, because unlike her bedroom at the Tendo dojo back home in Nerima, or her dormitory at university, this apartment belonged strictly to her. It was her own little corner of world, where she could—and would—do exactly what she pleased with it.

It was a modest apartment, perfect for a young woman living on her own for the first time; there was not so much space that she would have difficulty keeping it clean, but definitely enough to ensure that she didn't have to be choosey about which belongings to bring from home. Bright and airy, it had two bedrooms, a bathroom with a tub, a combination living/dining room area, and best of all, a cozy little kitchenette that no one could bar her from using, because it was hers. All hers!

The place even had a balcony with a rather unspectacular view of adjacent apartment buildings. At least, it was unspectacular if you looked straight ahead. Turn your head to the left and you could see a significant portion of Tokyo city sprawling outward in all its majesty. And if she wasn't mistaken, that direction was east, so she might even be able to watch the sunrise on a clear day.

Suddenly, Akane gasped as a thought struck her. She could even plant flowers! She could have a rooftop terrace garden! She could buy some terra cotta pots and maybe a hanging basket to grow herbs like rosemary and thyme and mint in, and use them in the meals she would cook in her cozy kitchen...

Unable to contain her excitement at all the possibilities spread out before her, Akane let out a happy sigh and twirled around the living room giddily. That is, until she tripped over a box of shoes and landed in a tangled heap on top of a suitcase.

She blinked. Maybe she should leave the delirious celebrating until there were fewer objects lying around underfoot.

She remained perched on the suitcase, taking the opportunity to rest for the first time since that morning. Akane felt the day's activities slowly settling into her muscles, suffusing her entire body with a dull sort of ache that was concentrated particularly in her thighs—she had followed the cardinal rule of lifting with her legs and not her back, with predictable results. Instead of a sore back, she just had sore thighs now.

I could really use a nap, she mused, stretching her legs and rotating her neck and shoulders to ease the tension. This posed somewhat of a problem, since her bed's box spring was leaning upright against a wall near the kitchen, while the new mattress she'd ordered along with it had yet to be delivered. She was counting on having the sofa to crash on tonight, but now it looked like she would have to spend the night at Ucchan's after all.

Climbing off the suitcase wearily, she continued stretching as she wandered aimlessly into the hallway, regarding the sofa once more.

It looked ridiculous just sitting there in the deserted hallway, like it was expecting someone to have a seat and wait for a bus to pull up. She really ought to move it somehow.

It looked awfully comfortable, though.

Oh, what the hell. Just a few minutes. Seeing that the hallway was empty, Akane collapsed on the well-worn sofa with a sigh, stretching out luxuriously. It had taken a lot of wheedling and bargaining, but eventually her father had allowed her to keep the sofa that had resided in the Tendo family living room over the past fifteen years years. Firm in all the right spots and squashy everywhere else, this sofa had been a dining table, a desk, a bed, a trampoline and a million other things over the years. She simply couldn't bear to part with it.

The grey and brown fabric covering it was an entirely different story, however. She would definitely have to get it reupholstered, and soon.

The muffled sounds of voices floating from behind the rows of identical white doors washed over her, melting together into a gentle, pleasant hum that she found surprisingly relaxing. Staring up at the cracks and stains on the ceiling, Akane let her mind drift between half-formed thoughts like 'I should get around to meeting the new neighbours soon' and 'Is it really a good idea to give Daddy a spare key?', before settling pleasantly on 'I've got three more days off work!'

Akane worked for Tokyo's newest up-and-coming magazine called Glow. It featured the usual fares found in a magazine aiming for the 18 to 30 age demographic: career advice; tips on finding the perfect lipstick, haircut, dress, shoes, or purse; losing weight without giving up your favourite snacks; hot tips to spruce up your sex life; and of course, how to find the perfect man. Ironically, most of Akane's coworkers were single women in their thirties and forties, so she wasn't entirely sure about Glow's authority on the last one.

The job wasn't nearly as glamorous as most people assumed when they pictured a young, attractive female working for a fashion magazine. Between typing tedious public relations reports, making phone calls, and fetching coffee for Hinako—the editor—Akane was essentially a secretary with the fancy title of "Organizational Contributor to the Editor-In-Chief". She didn't even get to make the cool phone calls, like booking supermodels for photo shoots—that job usually went to the Creative Director's assistant. Instead, Akane chased down snobby, overpriced vegan chefs to cater for those photo shoots.

The bobby pin holding Akane's bangs away from her face was starting to dig into her scalp. She tugged it out and stuck the little black pin in the pocket of her denim shorts.

On the other hand, the job wasn't all bad. For instance, it paid well enough that Akane could afford to live comfortably in this apartment on her own. Plus, the people were friendly and exciting, and the environment was very high-energy, something the athletically-inclined Akane reveled in (though sometimes the line between 'high-energy' and 'stressful' was blurred, especially during the last few days before the new issue was distributed. This was when Hinako's monthly transformation from mild-mannered, slightly immature businesswoman to heinous, fire-breathing dragon lady usually took place).

Akane eyed her feet resting on the opposite arm. Her running shoes, which were once white but had aged into a delicate shade of dirty, were probably getting the cushions all grimy. Reupholstering job or not, an image of Kasumi's disapproving frown popped up in her mind. She pulled her shoes off one by one, setting them down neatly on the floor, and then wriggled her bare feet, cracking the stiffness out of her toes. Settling herself deeper in the cushions, she went back to her therapeutic ceiling-watching.

But for Akane, being assigned post-shoot clean up duty was the best job perk of all. Most of the clothing featured in magazine spreads were on loan from high-profile designers, who were eager to see their newest designs draped over the most famous bodies in the business. This meant that the clothes had to be given back eventually, and preferably sooner rather than later, or else risk loosing the outfits' 'vogueness'. Having grown up with the reputation of being a sporty, unfeminine tomboy all her life, Akane secretly loved to sift through the racks and racks of beautiful fabrics under the excuse of checking the inventory for missing pieces.

Occasionally, she even managed to swipe the odd piece of jewelry without anyone noticing. It wasn't like the supermodels didn't do it too, and they could easily afford to buy them. Really, it was just Akane's way of balancing out the universe—a piece of logic she'd acquired from her older sister Nabiki.

Feeling a bit stuffy, Akane unzipped her hooded sweatshirt and rolled it into a ball, placing it under her head like a pillow.

But still, Akane felt like she was at a point in her life where there were endless windows of opportunity open to her, and now was the time to really start thinking about her career. She couldn't stay on as an office lady forever, not with her drive and ambition. There were places she wanted to go, people she wanted to meet, and things she wanted to do. Somewhere in the back of her mind, in a voice that sounded suspiciously similar to her father's, she heard the words 'husband' and 'children', but she dismissed them sleepily. Right now, her first priority was to get herself comfortably settled in her brand new home. Everything after that, she would tackle one day at a time.

Curling up on her side, Akane didn't even remember closing her eyes.

"Excuse me! Hey, miss!"

A gruff voice, accompanied by a hand shaking her shoulder started Akane's slow return to consciousness.

"Hey, miss, wake up!"

Some partially-active portion of her brain registered that it was a male voice, which was an intriguing surprise—she hadn't woken up to one of those in a long time. Still, she wasn't quite ready to get up yet. After all, her head had just hit the pillow, hadn't it?

Making a grouchy noise in the back of her throat, she swung her arm blindly in the direction of the voice, connecting with something solid with a gratifying 'smack'.

"Ow! What the hell was that for, you psycho?"

"Five more minutes…" she mumbled, flipping onto her back and straightening out her legs, eager to get back to her dream. It was the one where she won the title of Best Cook in the Known Universe, and was being awarded a rice cooker-shaped trophy by her high school Home Economics teacher.

It was the insult that finally got her synapses firing properly. After all, Akane was notorious for always being ready for an argument. But a split-second later, the circumstances surrounding her current sleeping arrangements hit her with the force of a speeding train. Her eyes snapped open and she bolted upright. Unfortunately, something was in the way.


"Godammit!" she yelled in sync with the male voice, falling back down and clutching her forehead, where she could already feel a lump forming. Glittering stars danced in front of her eyes for a moment. Furious, she glared up at the intruder, but any insults she was about to release died in her throat.

Leaning over her and rubbing his chin—where, presumably, she had decked him for the second time in a row—was a young man with the most unusual and beautiful blue-grey-violet eyes she had ever seen. Disheveled jet black hair tied in a short braid fell over a handsome, slightly boyish face that was currently arranged in displeased frown. Turning her head discreetly, she saw that he was tall with long legs clad in black drawstring trousers, and broad-chested with muscular arms that were displayed quite pleasingly by a plain blue tank top. Overall, one of the more attractive men Akane had ever run across, and she worked with male models.

"Are you feeling rested yet?" the man asked wryly, still massaging his chin. "Because if you are, I'd like to get into my house now."

Akane continued to lie on the sofa, feeling dazed for a number of reasons, and as a result, she completely missed him giving her splayed figure the quick once-over. She suddenly felt like a humongous knob. What the hell was she thinking, falling asleep in the hallway like that? It was practically a public place. What if some pervert had found her, and not the good-looking stranger who was currently speaking to her?

"What did you say?" She shook her head, trying to clear away the fuzziness brought on by sleep, head injury and the strangeness of the situation.

"Your sofa's blocking the door to my apartment," he repeated, looking at her strangely. He pointed somewhere to her right, and sure enough, there was another white door partially hidden by the back of the sofa.

Akane sat up rapidly and clambered to her feet, standing next to the pig-tailed man. "I didn't think anyone lived here," she explained hastily. "I've been moving in since last night and I didn't see anyone coming in or out."

He started to reply when suddenly she whirled around to face him, cutting him off. "And did you call me a psycho?" she demanded angrily, her mind finally catching up with the situation.

The young man narrowed his storm-coloured eyes at her. "Well, what do you expect me to call someone who falls asleep at my front door, and tries to brain me when I'm waking her up?" he asked derisively.

Akane spluttered, outraged. Way to spare her some embarrassment! He didn't have to make it sound so weird, like she was some drunken bum who'd passed out on the first convenient piece of furniture she'd found. "Well, excuse me for not having a bed yet! I'm sorry for wasting your time, but if you must know, I haven't been able to fit the sofa through my front door!"

"And so you decided to spend the night out here?"

"No!" she said loudly. She wasn't entirely sure why she felt the need to continue explaining herself, but the word vomit just kept coming up like it usually did when her temper got the best of her. "Like I said, I've been moving all day, and I was tired. I thought I'd take put my feet up for a few minutes, and I must've fallen asleep." She paused, before continuing her defense by lamely adding, "It could've happened to anyone."

"I'll bet," he said in an unconvinced toned that annoyed her greatly. Either he didn't notice her smouldering expression, or he simply chose to ignore it. Instead, he regarded the piece of furniture thoughtfully for a moment, and then set his grocery bags and keys down on the cushions. Walking around to one side, he gave the sofa a mighty shove. It slid along haltingly as he pushed it along the few feet of carpet that separated his front door from Akane's.

"There. You're welcome" he said, his expression clearly indicating that he expected her to thank him for saving her poor damsel-in-distress self. Incredibly attractive or not, his arrogance brushed Akane the wrong way, and she was having none of that.

"I said I couldn't fit it through the door, I didn't say I couldn't move it!"

This time she didn't miss the head-to-toe glance. Defensively, she crossed her arms over her chest, suddenly aware of her rather short stature. She grudgingly admitted to herself that had she been in his place, she probably wouldn't think that she was capable of moving a two hundred pound sofa either.

For a moment, her new neighbour looked like he was about to retort scathingly, but he apparently changed his mind at the last second. "Well, now you don't have to," he said shortly. "Welcome to the neighbourhood."

And with that, he picked up his groceries, stuck the key into the lock, swung the door open and disappeared.

Akane glared heatedly at the closed door for a moment, before throwing her hands up in disgust and marching back into her own apartment. Well, so much for making a good first impression with the neighbour, she thought irritably as she gathered some overnight supplies for her stay at Ucchan's. What an arrogant jerk. Who does he think he is?

Well, there for nothing to be done, so she would simply have to avoid him as much as possible, and settle for endearing herself with the rest of the neighbours. She had met plenty of surly jerks like him in her lifetime, and had learned that diplomacy simply wasn't worth the aggravation.

Still, it was a little embarrassing that she had gotten into an argument with the first resident she had met so far. And her hunky next-door-neighbour, no less. Ukyou would be upset when she found out, that's for sure.

Looks like I won't be going to him to borrow a cup of sugar. Welcome to the neighbourhood, indeed.

Setting his groceries down on the kitchen counter, Ranma sighed and shook his head at his rather bad behaviour, knowing that his mother would have smacked him one by now if she'd been present. He also felt a twinge of guilt at taking out his predictably unpleasant day on his new neighbour. It's not like it was her fault that the parts he'd ordered three weeks ago hadn't shown up yet, and she definitely wasn't to blame for the fact that he'd fallen asleep in his office again last night. He should probably go apologise. Who knew how long she would be living there? No sense in having bad blood between neighbours, even if she did seem like a bit of an upstart.

She was cute, though, with pretty nice legs from what he'd observed. A little weird, maybe—really, what would compel someone to even think of napping in the middle of the hallway like that?—but definitely a welcomed change from the last guy who had been living there. The old man's strange habit of hanging women's underwear from a clothes line on the balcony was more than a little perverted, considering that he was unmarried and lived alone.

Ranma sat down at the kitchen table and closed his eyes, wearily pinching the bridge of his nose. He opened them again and eyed the pile of mail in front of him with contempt. Snatching the first envelope, he tore it open rather violently, and unfolded the contents. His steely eyes scanned the figures until he reached the bottom of the page, unsurprised with the results. Snorting derisively, he tossed the page across the table and moved onto the next one.

Just as he was tearing into a third envelope, the telephone rang shrilly from it's place on the counter. Ranma stilled, and contemplated letting the machine pick it up, before discarding the idea as he usually did. It never did any good. He moved toward the counter slowly and picked up the headset in the middle of the sixth ring.

"Hello?" he asked, as though he didn't already know who it was.

"Hey, it's me."

"I know. How's it going?"

"Is that a rhetorical question?"

"Isn't it always?" he smirked. "So what happened now?"

Best just to cut to the chase.

"The same bullshit as always, of course."

He wandered over to a cupboard and fished around until he found a bag of potato chips. Ketchup flavoured, his favourite. "Then why does it still bother you?"

"Now that, I know, is a rhetorical question."

"You caught me." He leaned against the countertop and crunched on a chip noisily, knowing it wouldn't deter the conversation. "Is she still giving you a hard time about joining the kendo team?"

"I don't understand it, Ranma!" the voice said exasperatedly. "I mean, she must've learned to use that katana somewhere, how the hell is this any different?"

"I dunno. Have you tried asking her that?"

He pulled the phone away from his ear slightly as she exhaled noisily. "Of course I have! Apparently just because I'm not learning to use an honour blade, it's a waste of time."

"Ah. What about Pop? Did you talk to him?"

"Wow, Ranma, you're on a roll," she said drolly. "That's three in a row now."

"I do my best." Pouring the last of the chips into his mouth, he crumpled the empty bag and tossed it in the garbage bin three pointer-style, and moved to the sink to wash the flavoured red salt from his hands. Sitting down at the table once again, he propped the phone to his ear with his shoulder, leaving his hands free to sort through the remaining mail.

"I'm at my wit's end here, Ranma," she declared. "She's driving me crazy. I don't know what to do anymore."

"Just hang in there, kiddo. You've only got a few more years to go, and then you can move out on your own." Not the best advice ever given, but he suspected she didn't really call to receive his words of wisdom anyway.

His hands stopped just in time from tearing open an envelope that wasn't addressed to him. He instantly recognised the name of the law firm printed on the top left-hand corner, and put the envelope aside.

"But that's not the point, is it? And besides, I bet she calls you just as much as I do. What makes you think that not living in the same house as her will make even a dent in her nagging?"

"I dunno, wishful thinking?"

She let out a short, humourless laugh. "Not on your part. She never gives you a hard time about anything."

Ranma didn't reply, letting the silence express his displeasure at that remark.

"I'm sorry," she said finally. "It's not the same thing, I know."

"It's okay, Ranko."

She broke the lengthy pause, asking in a much more cheerful voice, "So what's new with you, big brother?"

Ranma smiled at his sister's stellar ability to diffuse an awkward situation, even if she was the cause. "Not much," he replied, eyeing the bills and notices spread out across the table. "Someone finally moved into the empty place next door."

"That old lech isn't back, is he?" she asked, the dread clear in her voice. "Because, as much as I love you, Ranma, I'm not visiting anymore if I'm going to get hit on by a three hundred year old troll again."

Yet another reason why he was infinitely glad his old neighbour had finally moved into a retirement home.

"Nope. Actually, it's a woman this time," he replied. Apparently Ranko could hear the humour in his tone, and asked what was so funny. He reiterated the story of exactly how he had made his new neighbour's acquaintance, and he could practically hear the cogs in her head twirling.

"So," Ranko chirped, "We've established that she's a real independent women, but the real question is, is she hot?"

Ranma stifled a groan of annoyance. "Do yourself a favour, Ranko; don't start."

"What? I'm just asking."

"You never 'just ask' when it comes to me and women. Why should I believe you now?"

She blew out another noisy sigh that crackled in the earpiece. "I'm just saying you need to get back in the game again, is all. There's no use in dwelling on the past."

"I ain't dwelling on nothing." His voice sounded chilly, even to his own ears.

His younger sister wisely chose to drop the subject, sensing that he was in no mood to humour her good-natured meddling today. Another lengthy pause followed, and then, "Your grammar is atrocious, big brother. Come on, 'ain't'? You're not fooling anyone with that too-cool-for-school attitude, you know."

"Yeah, well, I don't wanna go around sounding like a total yuppie, now do I?"

"Then ditch that Tokyo U shirt you always wear to bed."

"Over my dead body, kid."

Her infectious laughter echoed over the phone, and Ranma found himself grudgingly joining her. The paperwork littering his kitchen table momentarily disappeared as his eyes fell on a photograph of himself and his red-headed little sister clipped to the refrigerator. It had been clumsily taken on a leisurely Sunday afternoon visit last month, with Ranko holding the disposable camera at arms length. As such, it was slightly out of focus, and the third figure had been lost outside the frame almost entirely, his neck and left shoulder barely visible on Ranko's other side. Ranma kept the picture because he knew it annoyed the unfortunate victim of bad photography whenever he saw it.

"Listening, Ranma, I've gotta go now. Mom's inviting some neighbours over for tea, and she wants me to bake or clean or something before they arrive. I've got practice after that, but I'll talk to you later."

"Have fun, kid. Just...don't stir up any trouble with her, okay?"

"I'll do my best. I love you, big brother."

"Love you too, kid," he replied with a small smile. Then hesitantly, he added, "And Ranko?"


He drummed his fingers uncertainly on the tabletop. "...Say 'hi' to Pop for me, will ya?"

"Sure thing," she said softly. "Bye."

Ranma disconnected the call and slowly set the cordless phone down. Eyeing the mail one last time, he shoved his chair away from the table almost violently, and strode out of the kitchen, leaving the unemptied grocery bags sitting on the counter in favour of snatching up his keys. He suddenly needed a walk.

His movements jerky with defiance, Ranma quickly tugged on his shoes and slid the closet door open to find a jacket. Just as his fingers landed on the material, he felt himself slowing his hasty retreat. Indecision gnawed at his consciousness for a brief moment, before his fingers tightened into a tense fist and he slid the cupboard door shut again. What was the point?

Tugging off his shoes, he went back into the kitchen and with a slight slump of defeat in his shoulders, he settled himself at the table once again.

Author's Notes: Interesting phone conversation, eh? I hope you guys will catch some of the allusions I set up in it. If not, don't worry, they'll be explained eventually. I think that's become my writing gimmick—leave things irritatingly unexplained, and hopefully people will stay interested. :P

I credit the term 'word vomit' to the movie Mean Girls. Because it's so fetch.

Not much to say right now, except thanks for reading, and don't forget to review!