Disclaimer: Ranma and friends? Nope, still not mine. That Rumiko Takahashi is one stubborn woman. And the title for this chapter is from a hypercute, somewhat annoying Card Captor Sakura song of the same name.

Authors Notes: I think I said in my AN for Chapter 1 of Love Thy Neighbour that that was my first Ranma fic, but actually, this one was. Truthfully, I'd forgotten all about this story until very recently. I started it over a year an a half ago, and I can't believe how utterly crap it was, both stylistically and grammatically. It also started off as a oneshot, but it kept getting longer and longer, so now I've divided it up into a three-chapter mini story. I'm still not very happy with it, but I've fixed it up into something relatively presentable, so let me know what you think!


On the Town

Chapter 1: Fruits and Candy

Ranma could tell it was going to be one of those days. Not that he ever had any other kind, but nonetheless, he was seriously considering just going back to bed and sleeping the day away. But first, he had some urgent business to attend to.

"Akane!" he bellowed at the door. "Hurry the hell up!"

"Shove off, Ranma! It's not my fault you slept in!" the door replied. Or rather, the uncute tomboy behind the door who was taking entirely too long to brush her teeth.

"You...uncute tomboy!" came Ranma's brilliant rebuttal. "What're you doing in there, anyway?" he added, shifting his weight from foot to foot urgently.

"None of your business, you pervert!"

Ranma heard Akane's cheerful humming through the thin wooden door, but more importantly, he could hear the steady stream of water running in the sink. He hopped a few times on the spot, then grimaced when he realised that was just making things worse.

Ranma tried a different tactic, because a martial artist must be able to think on his feet in a desperate situation.

"Aaakaaane!" he cried plaintively, knocking on the door a few more times for emphasis. "I gotta gooo!"

His only reply was a brief dimming of the overhead lights, followed by the whooshing sound of a hair dryer turned on full blast.

"Oh, come on!" he barked angrily. "Just gimme two minutes!"

The door slid open to reveal Akane looking fresh-faced and annoyed. She aimed the hair dryer nozzle in his face for a moment, and he spluttered at the onslaught of hot air.

"One minute, in and out."

"Fine. Just move already!"

"And wake up on time tomorrow, otherwise you can use the bushes in the backyard!" She received no reply, as he'd already slammed the door shut, trapping the hair dryer cord in the doorframe.

"Moron," she muttered to the empty hallway.

With that crisis averted, Ranma surrendered the bathroom back to Akane, who huffed as she stalked past him, nose in the air. Feh, what a brat. The "occupied" sign flashed in his face once again, mocking him as it hung there innocently. But Ranma could read between the lines. What it really said was "Occupied by Girl. Expect Delays. Detours Unavailable."

It was Mr. Tendo of all people who had come up with the idea of allotting each member of the household his or her own morning bathroom time. The normally jelly-spined Mr. Tendo lost his temper when Mr. Saotome and Ranma got into a particularly vicious fight one morning over who got to use the furo first. Mr. Saotome gained a rare opening and used it to knock his pigtailed son through the bathroom door, startling Mr. Tendo and causing him to accidentally shave off half of his mustache.

Of all the insanity and melodrama that plagued the Tendo household on a daily basis, Ranma didn't know why Mr. Tendo had decided to put his foot down over this. But a family meeting was called (Ranma got a not-unpleasant feeling in his stomach when he realised this included him) and Nabiki concluded that drawing straws for one of six half-hour timeslots was the best solution.

So naturally, when it came to anything involving luck, chance, fate or gambling, Ranma received the short end of the stick, both literally and figuratively. His time slot was the first one of the day, before the sun even rose, and way before he had to get to school. If he was going to do his usual morning workout, he'd have to get up at the ungodly hour of four-thirty AM.

Lady Luck wasn't on his side, but she did decide to throw him a bone when Nabiki drew the time slot right after his—six-thirty. Here, she hastily announced that the timeslots would rotate every month so that everyone had a chance at the worst spot.

Today was the third time Ranma had missed his turn. Godammit, he was a martial artist! His body ran on a fine-tuned maintenance schedule! If you threw that off, his whole sense of balance was shot straight to hell, and then how was he supposed to protect the household from its daily menaces?

I need a really, really hot bath, he growled internally. That always made him feel better.


Kasumi looked up from her breakfast and saw a damp-looking Ranma-chan enter the kitchen with her arms crossed over her chest and a sour expression on her face. She dropped down heavily into her usual spot next to Akane.

"Hot water's out again," she grumbled, pouting in a way that was incredibly cute on her girl face and simultaneously incredibly childish on her boy's. Snatching up Mr. Saotome's tea, she poured it over herself before the old man could utter a protest.

"Well, I hope you've learned your lesson, Ranma," Akane lectured irritatingly, her voice laced with morning chipperness.

"Oh yeah? And what lesson would that be? That you're a bathroom hog?"

"No, not quite," she answered, narrowing her eyes. "Ever hear the phrase 'the early bird catches the worm?'"

Kasumi sensed the beginning of a nasty argument, and headed it off with a pleasant smile, gracefully interrupted Ranma before he could spew forth some obnoxious insult or another.

"Ranma, Akane, I was wondering if either of you had plans for the day?"

The pair blinked at her once before glancing at each other.

Akane shook her head. "Actually, no. Yuka mentioned something about going to the new music store downtown, but that can wait until tomorrow if you need something."

"Yeah, I don't have any plans either. Daisuke and Hiroshi cancelled on me. Buncha jerks."

Kasumi beamed, hoping the mischievous thoughts running through her head weren't showing up on her face. Nabiki was asleep and wouldn't be up until at least noon, so there wouldn't be any trouble from her. The perfect opportunity had presented itself.

"Oh, excellent! So you two wouldn't mind fetching this week's groceries for me? I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to do it myself, but I've been terribly busy at the preschool lately."

After having spent so many years looking after her family and putting her own dreams on the backburner, Kasumi had decided to pursue a career as a preschool teacher. She was now was taking the afternoons usually spent doing extra laundry and sewing, and instead volunteering at the local preschool before applying to school the following term

As Nabiki and Akane grew older and more mature, Kasumi's role as the surrogate mother in the household seemed to feel less comfortable for the sisters—after all, time was a relative measurement, and the difference between 16 and 19 seemed a lot bigger than 18 and 21. Suddenly, Kasumi found she couldn't look Akane in the eye and speak with that high, gentle, 'listen-with-mother' voice anymore without feeling slightly ridiculous.

"Ranma dear, slow down please, your food isn't going anywhere. You'll choke if you keep eating so quickly."

Of course, some members of the household still needed to hear that voice once in a while.

Everyone agreed that Kasumi was perfect for the job, and were more than willing to help her out any way they could, as reluctant as she usually was to ask for it.

Which was why Kasumi felt a little bit guilty now. She didn't really have anything pressing to do today and could very well get the groceries herself, but a woman must have her priorities. Sometimes assuring your baby sister's happiness comes before knowing that you've picked the best head of lettuce in the market.

Ranma and Akane were eager to help and agreed right away (neither even thinking to ask why they both needed to go). So after clearing the table, Kasumi busied herself preparing a new list. The giggle that escaped her lips could almost be described as wicked as she erased the names of the markets she usually frequented, in favour of some that were farther away, sometimes by several blocks. She scribbled a little thank you note and a smiley face at the bottom of the list, and estimated it would take them most of the morning to find everything on it.

Once that was done, Kasumi clipped the list to the refrigerator and headed off to her room to read the novel Dr. Tofu had leant her last weekend, a pleased smile on her face.

As Ranma and Akane made their way up the stairs to get changed out of their casual house clothes, Akane was completely unaware of the fierce battle raging inside Ranma's head between the opposing forces of courage and spinelessness. He stopped her at the top of the steps.

"H-hey Akane?" he began as the battled swayed in favour of the braves.

"Yes, Ranma?" the girl in question replied pleasantly; Ranma wondered why she was in such a good mood this morning as the army of nancy-boys within him gained a momentary lead. They almost claimed a victory when Akane favoured him with an encouraging smile, sensing that he was floundering like a fish out of water. She clearly had no idea how disarming that smile could be.

"I-I was wonderin' if, um, since you're not going out with Sayuri and all, and we're gonna be out anyway, if maybe you wanna, I dunno, make a day of it? Maybe?" He winced. Real smooth there Saotome, stuttering like a ten year old. It's a wonder she's not falling at your feet.

"I don't know, maybe...What did you have in mind?" Akane asked, aiming for nonchalant but barely managing mild curiosity. She couldn't help it. He was so cute when he was nervous.

Ranma couldn't believe he was doing this. He wasn't just asking for trouble, he was on his knees begging. "Ah, how about lunch? Maybe a movie? There's a new action flick I wanted to see, and I know how you like those..."

Akane pretended to consider her options, as if she wasn't ready to throw her arms around his neck and yell, "Of course I'll marry you!" at the top her lungs. Then she remembered that wasn't what he was asking in the first place.

"Well, since it doesn't look like I'm going out with Sayuri...I guess I have no other choice, do I?" She smiled to let him know she was just teasing.

Ranma let out a breathe he didn't realise he was holding. "So, we're cool?"

"As a cucumber."

"I mean, it's not like it's a date or anything."

"Of course not," she replied, shaking her head solemnly. "Perish the thought."

Ranma looked slightly bewildered. He was sure Akane was going to yell at him for that last one. But his eardrums were still intact, so he took it as a good sign.

"So...I'll meet you downstairs in five minutes?"

"Fifteen, Ranma."

"R-right."

"Good. Now get lost before I change my mind and make you go shopping by yourself."

Ranma flashed a lop-sided grin that made Akane feel silly and light-headed, before heading towards his own room. Akane waited until she was certain he was gone, and carefully shut her bedroom door behind her. Once she was inside, she took a moment to lean against it, biting down on her grinning lips.

Aw, screw it.

Abandoning any semblance of maturity, she out a silent squeal that would have been dreadfully girly had it been audible, and hopped up and down on the spot a few times before collapsing on the bed with a sigh. Clutching a stuffed toy to her chest, she was perfectly aware that she looked every inch like a silly love struck schoolgirl, but she couldn't make herself care. She didn't even try to.

Akane made a mental note to buy Kasumi a really nice birthday present this year.


"Wow, Kasumi sure is...specific when it comes to groceries, isn't she?"

Ranma couldn't help but agree as they made their way to what seemed like the hundredth different fruit and/or vegetable market they'd visited since heading out this morning. That was two hours ago and there was still a third of the list left. He had no idea Nerima had so many food proprietors the first place, even though he normally prided himself in knowing the town like the back of his hand. It made sense, really, since he spent so much time running around it.

And come to think of it, did he and his dad really eat that much?

He decided not to complain. He wasn't really tired, even though he was carrying most of the bags. And as for the company...

He glanced at Akane. She was standing on her tiptoes, trying to see over a group of middle-aged mothers in kimonos shuffling through the crowded marketplace. Her eyes skimmed over various signs in search of 'Mrs. Morimiya's Top Quality Number One Best Priced Wholesale Cantaloupes.' She was obviously frustrated at her vertical impairment, and it showed in the cute little crinkle of her nose.

He couldn't complain about the company at all.

He spotted the place before Akane did and led her in the right direction. Then he remembered what she'd said about Kasumi's thorough shopping habits.

"Maybe Kasumi gets special discounts with these people," Ranma suggested. Then a thought occured to him. "Hey, maybe she's doing some under-the-table dealing and these are her suppliers! That's why she's sending us all over town. This is her network!"

"Don't be ridiculous, Ranma," Akane scoffed as she inspected a particularly odd-shaped melon. "You make it sound like she's running some kind of fruit market cartel. She probably knows these vendors have the best prices or something."

Ranma plucked the wonky melon out of her hands, and passed her a ripe, normal-shaped one. "I dunno, Akane. Nabiki must've gotten it from somewhere."

"Akane-chan! Is that you?" a new voice called out.

Akane stopped digging through her purse in search of Mrs. Morimiya's fee, and looked up at the sound of her name. She and Ranma peered around, trying to locate the speaker.

"Akane-chan, over here!"

About three stands over stood a little old man with a shock of white hair, a round belly, and a weather-worn face. He was minding a small flower stand, and despite the warm temperature, he wore a button-down shirt with a diamond-patterned sweater vest, and clutched a fedora in the hand he was waving at Akane with. All in all, the most grandfatherly figure Ranma had seen in a while, but this was also unsurprising since his own self-declared grandfather was that disgusting little pervert Happosai.

Like the rising sun, recognition dawned on Akane's face and she beamed.

"Mr. Suzuki!" She rushed over to the old man, leaving Ranma to deal with a grouchy Mrs. Morimiya, who demanded that he stop holding up the line. There was no line, but Ranma didn't make a fuss.

"My, Akane-chan, look how you've grown! Why, you're practically a lady now!"

Akane ignored the derisive snort coming from Ranma's direction, instead smiling at the man and asking, "And how've you been, Mr. Suzuki? I haven't heard from you in such a long time! How are Reiko and Yuri doing?"

"Oh, I'd say I'm doing just fine for an old-timer, wouldn't you agree? I still have my health, my mind and my family, so I can't ask for much more. And Reiko and Yuri are well too." Here, the man's wizened face took on a mock sternness. "You know, they phoned me the other day and asked about you, and I complained to them how little Akane-chan never comes to visit anymore. They were quite upset with you, you know."

Akane laughed. "They would be, wouldn't they? Well, I'll just have to fix that."

"Indeed you will. Mrs. Suzuki would love it if you came over soon."

Ranma listened with interest; he realised he knew very little about Akane's life before his arrival, and found himself eager to find out more. Maybe he should ask her one of these days, really ask her. Maybe during those quiet, crazies-free moments when they were in her room studying, or sitting on the porch together eating dessert.

Yeah. He would. Maybe she would ask about his past too, and he could tell her about the good things that fell between the utterly shit moments like his Nekoken training or his first trip to Jusenkyo.

There was a pause in the conversation and Mr. Suzuki's eyes slid over to Ranma, who started under the man's sharp, laughing gaze.

"And is this young man the reason why you've been so preoccupied lately, hmm?" he asked jovially. Akane blushed and apologised.

"How rude of me, Ranma, this is Mr. Suzuki, I was friends with his granddaughters before they moved away. Mr. Suzuki, this is—"

"Ranma Saotome." He bowed to the old man, grateful for a chance to break eye contact for a moment. He felt like he was being teased, even though Mr. Suzuki hadn't said a word to him directly.

The old man paused, obviously waiting for him to explain farther. Ranma left it up to Akane to decide how to describe their relationship.

"Ranma is..."

My science lab partner. My hired bodyguard. A stalker. Some guy who lives in my house and eats my food and watches my television. My boyfriend. My friend.

"...my fiancé."

Ranma stared at Akane, but she keenly avoided his gaze. They rarely ever acknowledged their engagement, and Ranma couldn't remember Akane ever calling him her fiancé without adding "but it was arranged by our parents so don't get any ideas!" at the end. Meanwhile, Mr. Suzuki's eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.

"Really now? Congratulations! Well, Mrs. Suzuki will be delighted to hear this, though I imagine it will be hard for her to believe. I think she still remembers you and the girls as toddlers, running around the lawn with no clothes on."

The tension between the two youngsters was cracked as Ranma burst out laughing, remembering why he loved old people. Akane stuttered and turned a shade of red usually found in a box of crayons under the name 'Candy Apple Rouge' or something similar.

Mr. Suzuki then inquired about Nabiki and Kasumi, and Akane eagerly embraced the subject change while Ranma stood behind her, chuckling in her ear. She elbowed him in the ribs a few times to get him to stop, but this only made him laugh harder.

Oh yes, he wasn't going to let this one go for a long, long time.

His laughter was suddenly cut short as his mind's eye conjured up a brief mental image of a more recent Akane engaging in the same activity. His eyes went wide and his face turned a fetching shade of 'Vermillion Sunset'. He turned his attention back to the relative safety of the conversation at hand.

"...and Nabiki's thinking of going to university overseas for a year, to Italy, I think..."

Aw, he already knew this stuff. Ranma's attention wandered over to a stand of oranges on his left. He glanced at the shopkeeper, and saw that he was busy with another customer. Idly, Ranma picked out a medium sized fruit and tossed it in the air a few times, testing it's weight before choosing a second one of about the same size. He tossed both oranges back and forth, one in each hand, quickly, then slowly, then quickly again. He tried it one-handed. Then he picked out another orange from the stand, and without pausing the motion of the other two, added the third one to the routine.

Out of the corner of his eye, Ranma noticed a sandy-haired boy of about four clutching his mother's hand and watching Ranma with fascinated eyes. He smirked at the little boy.

"Hey kid, wanna see something really cool?"

The boy's eyes sparkled.

"Yeah!" he whispered.

Again, never pausing his routine, Ranma's hand almost blurred as he snatched up one, two, three more fruits and proceeded to do a series of amazing tricks involving oranges under the leg, five oranges in one hand, and oranges flying in graceful arcs over his head. The little boy let go of his mother's hand to clap with delight.

By now, he had a rather impressive audience of children, all bored from a morning of tedious shopping with their parents. None of them had expected this cool big kid and his amazing circus act, and even a few adults paused their consumer activities to watch Nerima's most famous martial artist in action.

Akane was startled out of her conversation with Mr. Suzuki when she heard a crowd of children cheering delightedly. She turned around to see what was so interesting. It was a picture she was not likely to forget for some time.

Ranma stood in the middle of the market, surrounded by a horde of little boys and girls all reaching no higher than his waist, juggling—she paused to count—eight oranges simultaneously like some sort of professional entertainer. Not once did he fumble or drop a single fruit, and he looked like he wasn't even concentrating, instead grinning at the awestruck faces of the crowd.

For his grand finale, he tossed the oranges in the air one at a time, and kicked them with the sole of his foot so that they landed neatly back on the stand he'd pilfered them from. The shopkeeper picked one up hesitantly and was amazed to find it completely undamaged. He held it up for the audience to see.

The crowd went wild.

Bowing low to his cheering and clapping fans, Ranma turned to Akane, who immediately snapped her hanging jaw shut. He had that ridiculously infectious grin on his face and she felt the corners of her mouth turning up against her will. He wandered over to her, still smiling.

"Ready to go?"


"You are unbelievable sometimes, Ranma. Can't you do anything without showing off?"

"Oh, don't pretend like you weren't impressed. Besides, that shopkeeper gave us the oranges half off, so I just saved you a whole bunch of yen."

"Hmph. Maybe you should start a circus act. You've already got a performing panda, and you could dress 'Ranko' up in a spangly little outfit and she could swing the trapeze."

"Oh yeah? And what would you do?"

"I'd train the horses, of course," Akane replied slyly, wondering if he got the joke. The flat look he gave her indicated that he did, and found it unfunny.

The pair walked home, with Ranma on his usual perch on the fence and Akane on the sidewalk next to him. They were training.

"You missed another one, Ranma. Wow, you really suck at this."

"Hey! It's you and your lousy throwing arm, tomboy! I'd catch them just fine if you'd aim at my mouth and not the canal!"

"Jerk! My aim is just fine! It's the wind throwing it off."

"Whatever, Akane. If you were good at this, you'd know how to compensate for the wind."

Akane growled. She picked up a small stone from the sidewalk and tossed it at Ranma. This time, she deliberately aimed at a spot right in front of his face, so that when the breeze hit, the stone would fly back and...

"Ow!" Ranma cried, rubbing his forehead. "What the hell was that for!"

Bingo.

Inspired by his impromptu juggling performance, Ranma decided that Akane needed to work on her own hand-eye coordination. Since juggling was one of the ways that Ranma's father had trained him, he came up with a similar exercise, except this one didn't involve rocks the size of his own head.

He purchased a large bag of chocolate-covered peanut butter balls, Akane's favourite. They were small, roughly the size of marbles, and perfect for catching in one's mouth. The objective was for her to try to throw as many chocolates at Ranma's mouth that she could, aiming somewhere where he could snatch them up without having to duck or jump. The catch being, of course, that they were walking. Every time he caught one, she got to eat two.

It was surprisingly fun, especially when he wasn't looking and Akane would snag a handful of chocolates and stuff them in her mouth. He'd look at her disapprovingly, and she'd smile innocently around a mouthful of chocolate-peanut butter sweetness.

However, now the wind was starting to pick up. After Ranma missed seven in a row, all of which landed with a plop in the canal, he declared it an inexcusable waste of perfectly good chocolate and ended the little training session by hopping down off the fence.

So now the pair walked along side-by-side in companionable silence, enjoying the sweet combination of warm midday sun and chocolate treats. Summer was just around the corner, and you could almost hear the ice cream trucks and lawnmowers revving their engines in preparation for the balmy summer that weather anchors were calling for. Of course, that probably meant it would rain nonstop for the entire month of July, but folks were enjoying what they had, while they had it.

The atmosphere was so peaceful that Akane began to feel almost suspicious. Where were all the other fiancées and rivals? Why hadn't someone tried to kidnap her or kill Ranma yet? And what was that rustling in the bushes?

A squirrel darted out of the aforementioned bush. It paused momentarily to gaze at Akane, it's tiny body quivering energetically, before shooting off again like a furry grey bullet.

She stifled a relieved sigh.

Clearly, the lifestyle she had lead over the past few years had conditioned her into some sort of paranoid weirdo, jumping skittishly when things became too quiet. How unhealthy. Akane decided, fiancées be damned, she was just going to let go of it and enjoy the moment while it lasted.

Besides, Akane thought, I've got backup, just in case. She would have bashed herself over the head with a brick if that thought had crossed her mind a year ago, because Akane Tendo didn't need anyone looking out for her, especially not a man. But now, if it was certain gender-bending martial artist, then somehow…it wasn't so bad.

Akane let her thoughts wander aimlessly for a while before she peered at Ranma out of the corner of her eye. She seized the opportunity to just look at him. Really look. Her eyes idly took in his tall, lean frame, his broad, powerful chest and torso, his boyishly handsome face and endearingly unruly hair. She was only vaguely worried that he would catch her, because like she'd told Mr. Suzuki, Ranma Saotome was her fiancé. If she didn't have the right to eye him, nobody did.

What was the phrase one of her girlfriends had used about Ranma's way-above-average physical attributes?

"That boy is cut like a diamond!"

Then there was his girl half. Let it never be said that Ranma Saotome did anything in half-measures. Not only was he one of the most good-looking males she'd seen outside of the movie screen, he just had to show everyone up by being the most beautiful, most voluptuous, and all around sexiest girl in town as well.

She loved his eyes best of all though. She'd never seen eyes like his before. Blue-grey with just a little bit of violet in the middle. No matter what his face, hair and body looked like, the same eyes always looked out at her.

It also hadn't escape her attention that he was dressed up for their little "non-date" today (and by dressed up, course, she meant wearing something other than what he usually did, as opposed to something formal. Because heaven forbid). Ranma was still wearing his black drawstring trousers and black shoes, but instead of a Chinese shirt in one of a wide variety of colours, he wore the top half of his army outfit like a jacket, with a plain black tank top underneath.

Akane wondered if Ranma was trying to make some sort of deep, thought-provoking political statement by wearing a Red Guard army uniform from the days of Mao. Then she snorted out loud, realising that this was Ranma she was talking about. He probably just thought it looked cool.

"What's so funny?" he demanded, looking slightly cross, as though he could read her thoughts.

She arranged an innocent expression. "Nothing. Just had a funny thought, that's all."

"Really. Care to share it with the class?"

"Nope, not really."

This confirmed Ranma's suspicion that she was making fun of him in her head. Over what, he didn't know, but it was enough to make him turn his head grumpily. Uncute tomboy.

Only Akane wasn't looking very uncute today at all. In fact, if he had to pick a word, he might even tentatively suggest lovely. Others might loudly chorus "duh!"

He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but she just seemed so…vibrant today. Alive. Carefree. Maybe it was the weather, or that it was Sunday, or, dare he even hope it, the fact that she was out with him, but she seemed to be smiling more easily than usual. Whatever it was, she was radiating all sorts of nice, inviting vibes this morning, and Ranma found himself unconsciously shifting closer to her.

She was wearing a really nice new dress, too, in a shade of cool green that kind of reminded him of mint chocolate chip ice cream. It was also tempting him in all kinds of inappropriate ways. It was one of those dresses that tied up at the back of the neck, leaving her slim shoulders and upper back bare. The knot was left exposed by her cute bobbed hair, and he felt a rather dangerous urge to tug it loose every time he caught sight of it.

It would be really easy, too. All he had to do was grab one of the long, dangling ends and…

Ranma slapped himself mentally, and reminded himself that he was a (mostly) grown man with a fiancée, not an immature schoolboy who snapped girls' bra straps.

Besides, she would kill him six times over before he even hit the ground if he ever pulled a stunt like that.

For such a tomboy, though, she sure dressed really girly. Maybe I should start rethinking that nickname, he thought as he realised he couldn't remember the last time he'd seen her wearing trousers.

He also snorted out loud.

Nah, she'd always be a tomboy, no matter how many dresses and cutesy things she wore. And you know what, he loved her just the way she was. Toxic cooking and violent temper included. After all, where's the challenge otherwise?

Too bad she didn't know that.

"And what about you? What are you laughing at?"

He jumped, forgetting that it was quiet enough outside that she could probably hear him breathing. "Ah, nothing! Just...remembering a joke Hiroshi told me the other day."

Akane watched him expectantly.

He blinked at her. "What?"

She rolled her eyes and sighed in exasperation. "Well, are you going to tell it to me?"

"No!"

"And why not?"

"Uh, it's a dirty joke! You'll hit me if I do."

"I won't, I promise," she wheedled. "Just tell me."

"No way!"

"Oh, come on! You can't just expect me to drop it now, can you?"

"As a matter of fact I can. Now leave it alone!"

She put on her most threatening glare, the kind that usually had him running for the hills. "Ranma..."

Ranma panicked, wracking his memory. He'd heard hundreds of dirty jokes in the time he'd spent traveling with his pop, and thousands more since making friends with Hiroshi and Daisuke. Why couldn't he remember any when he actually needed one!

A light bulb exploded over his head and he recited a joke he'd heard once when he was eleven; his dad had snuck him into a rather seedy pub one night because he couldn't find anywhere else to put his pre-pubescent son for a few hours. Hiding under the table, Ranma had learned a lot more about the male and female anatomy that night than he needed to know at any age.

Akane spluttered, blushing vibrantly. However, she kept her promise and didn't knock him into the canal for being such a pervert. "Ranma! I can't believe you just said that!"

Sticking his hands in his pockets, Ranma just laughed and shrugged. "Hey, you asked."

The pair arrived at home a few minutes later to find the house empty, and they carefully put away their morning purchases. A note from Kasumi read that she and Nabiki would be out until early evening, while their fathers were off at a district-wide shogi tournament. The prize, evidently, was a year's supply of instant ramen (why would they want instant ramen when they had Kasumi's home cooking? Maybe it was just the concept of free food that drew Mr. Saotome, and thus dragging Mr. Tendo along as well).

With that done, they headed out the door again. The kind-of date portion of the day had begun.


Author's Notes: (cringes) And this was after I'd fixed it up. Bah. The only part I really like is the scene with Mr. Suzuki and Akane, which was actually the original inspiration for Akane's conversation with Mr. Henderson in Chapter 2 of The Harder They Fall. I originally planned to keep their interaction very stoic and doctor-patient, but I thought it came off too flat and impersonal, so I tried to match the charming grandfather/granddaughter vibe that I wrote here. I think it turned out better in THTF, but whatever.

By the way, that green army outfit Ranma wears sometimes…that is a Red Guard uniform, right? I Googled some images, and I'm pretty sure it is, but I'm not 100 percent certain. And if it is, does anyone know if Takahashi had a reason for giving him that outfit, besides the fact that it's Chinese? I'm a bit of a political history geek, so it just struck me as kind of interesting.

Thanks for reading and feel free to nitpick this chapter as much as you want. Lord knows it's probably asking for it. :P