Author's Note: This story was spawned from the impulse to attempt to write something in the flavor of the series. More often than not, my Ranma fics (and a majority of the other Ranma fics I've read, come to think of it) tend to be a good deal heavier than the actual series, and when I thought of this premise, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to see if I could capture the lighthearted slapstick tone of the canon. I'll leave it to you to judge whether or not I was successful…
Eight to Tango
"I wasn't doing anything," Ranma gritted out for the thousandth time as he followed the irked Akane around the corner into the classroom.
She turned sharply to face him, arms crossed over her chest. "Oh weren't you? Then what, pray tell, were you doing in that broom closet?"
"Ukyo dragged me in there!"
"And you were lying on top of her with your hand up her shirt because…?"
"I told you, I tripped over a bucket!" he insisted impatiently.
"Right. Because, seeing as you've been practicing martial arts all your life, and you walk to school balanced on top of a chain link fence every day, it makes perfect sense that you would be just that clumsy," she shot back sarcastically.
"It's true!" he growled back. Then, hoping to turn the tables on her, he countered with, "And anyway, what were you doing poking into broom closets on your way to class – studying to be a janitor or something?"
"No – I heard a noise and I thought—I—I mean—w—I—" she continued to splutter uncomfortably for a moment longer, before bursting out, "Nevermind! This isn't about me – it's about you."
"Of course, right – how could I forget?" he snapped, "Everything is always my fault!"
"I—" she began to retort, but she was immediately interrupted when the door flung open and Hinako-sensei bounded cheerfully into the room.
"Take your seats class!" she sing-songed as she stretched to write their lesson on the blackboard. The students all complied, Ranma and Akane shooting each other a parting glare before choosing desks in neutral corners, each surrounded by his or her respective friends.
Hinako struggled to reach the top of the blackboard for a few more moments before heaving a sigh of frustration, pulling out her five yen piece, and sucking the ki out of some poor sucker in the front row. After that, she finished writing out the lesson with ease.
As the class proceeded, Ranma slipped into his usual habit of not paying the slightest bit of attention. He dozed awhile, drew doodles on the corner of his notebook—and every so often (just out of mere innocent curiosity, of course) cast a glance over at Akane. Invariably, she was looking straight ahead, her features fixed in concentration, her pencil moving studiously.
Only when Hinako-sensei's voice stopped short, replaced by an unmistakable male voice coming from over the loudspeaker, did Ranma tune back in to the world around him.
"Hey keikis! Dis is da principal speakin', so all da keikis bedda listen up! Dis Saturday dey gonna be a luau! Das right – a luau!"
This garnered a somewhat mixed reaction from the student body. The principal's "luaus" were really no more than ordinary high school dances, and Ranma, of course, had never attended one himself. Dances were for loners who couldn't get dates, or couples who couldn't get enough of each other—and Ranma clearly belonged in neither category. Hiroshi and Daisuke, on the other hand, were already fretting over who they'd ask.
"I wonder if Yuka would go with me," Hiroshi murmured nervously. "D'you think she might, Ranma?"
"How should I know?" Ranma asked, uninterested.
"Well, she's one of Akane's best friends, and you're engaged to her," Hiroshi pointed out.
"So? I'm engaged to a lot of people," he said with a shrug.
"Better not let Akane catch you saying that," warned Daisuke, "She'd go ballistic."
"Yeah, well, since when do I care what she thinks?" Ranma replied.
Hiroshi and Daisuke exchanged an exasperated look. "If you say so," said Daisuke. "Come on, Hiroshi – I was thinking of asking Sayuri myself. We can catch them together."
Unfortunately, the principal was not done speaking. His voice broke once more over the commotion that had ensued. "Now now, keikis – you gotta be hearin' da whole announcement before you go makin' da plans. See, dis luau is gonna be a little different den da other luaus – dis time, it gonna be a contest!"
The class buzzed with curious murmurs. "Contest…?" "It's a contest? What sort of contest?" "Oh god, a contest…I'm gonna lose…"
Ranma snorted, recognizing Gosunkugi's unmistakable warble.
"All da couples gotta dance an' dance, and one by one dey get kicked out if dey stop dancin' or if da dancin' sucks. Den, da couple left at da very, very end wins da big big prize!"
Ranma chuckled to himself – only one prize in the world could possibly get him to go to that dance, and he highly doubted that was it.
"Da prize is a secret 'til da very, very end – but dey is one more rule: Every keiki who does not come to da luau has all da hair shave-shavin' off! Ha ha! Have fun!"
Ranma's eyes went round at that. Okay, so maybe there were two things that could get him to go to that dance.
Well, now he was in trouble. He cast a careful sideways glance over at Akane, who – much to his surprise – was doing the same to him. They both looked away the moment their eyes met, and Akane crossed her arms huffily once more. Nope – noooo way was he going down that road. If that stupid, stubborn, uncute, macho, tomboy was gonna go around accusing him of feeling up Ukyo, he sure as hell wasn't gonna turn around and ask her to a dance. What did he care if she got her hair "shave-shavin'" off? It could only be an improvement.
So he'd just have to find somebody else.
The bell signaled the end of the day, and the air was filled with excited conversation and the usual shuffling as everyone packed up to leave. Right on cue, a bright but hesitant voice drew his attention to Ukyo herself, who was standing somewhat awkwardly beside Ranma's desk. "Um – Ranchan? What do you say – wanna go with me?"
Ranma got to his feet and scratched the back of his neck in his usual vaguely uncomfortable fashion. He cast one last, involuntary look over at Akane, before answering, "Uh – yeah, sure. Sounds great. See you then."
"Oh Ranchan, I'm so happy!" Ukyo exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck and giving him a brief hug before disappearing out the classroom door.
After Ukyo had left, Ranma turned back once more to where Akane had been sitting – but her desk was now empty. She had slipped out with the crowd.
Ranma kept a surreptitious eye out for her as he made his way home, but he didn't see her anywhere. When he arrived back at the Tendo Dojo, he casually surveyed the shoes in the front hall for hers – but they were nowhere to be found. That was odd – hadn't she left school before him?
"Kasumi?" he called as he strolled into the kitchen to grab a snack, "You seen Akane anywhere?"
"Hm?" the woman glanced up from the vegetables she was slicing for dinner. "No, no I haven't – didn't she come home with you?"
"Ah…no. She didn't," he replied, purposefully failing to elaborate on the situation.
"Oh. Well, I haven't seen her yet. She must have stopped to run errands along the way – I hope she remembers to pick up the ginger I asked for," Kasumi replied, trailing off into her own thoughts of household chores to be done.
Akane didn't arrive home until after sunset, by which time Ranma was sitting in the living room by himself, vigilantly resisting the urge to go out looking for her. When he heard the front door slam, he was there in a flash. "Where the hell have you been?" he demanded, before she'd even had a chance to set down her book bag.
Akane was taken aback at the sudden ambush, but she quickly regained her composure. "What do you care, you big dumb jackass?"
"I said, where have you been?" he repeated.
"What's with the third degree, Ranma?" she lashed back. "I was out, alright? I'm home now – that's all you need to know. It's none of your business where I was!"
"Oh isn't it?" he snapped.
"No, it isn't," she repeated firmly and brushed past him up the stairs. He, of course, followed her.
"Look, it's not like I care where you were—"
"Coulda fooled me," she said wryly.
"But you could tell people when you're gonna be out all night, you know," he scolded. "I was—I mean, your dad was worried…"
She stopped before her bedroom door and raised an eyebrow at him. "Oh really?"
"Daddy?" she called out.
"Yes, Akane?" came a voice from the direction of her father's bedroom.
"Were you worried about me while I was gone?"
"Oh, were you still out? I'm sorry dear, I thought you'd come home already," her father called back.
Akane simpered smugly at the now blushing Ranma.
"Well it's not like—" he began defensively, but she interrupted him.
"Oh give it a rest, Ranma, I'm going to bed." She turned and opened her bedroom door, only turning back when he spoke again.
"Wait – aren't you hungry? You missed dinner."
"No, I ate out," she replied simply.
She started to close the door between them, but he stopped it with a hand, asking suspiciously, "Ate out? With who?"
She gave him an innocent smile. "With Ryoga. He's taking me to the dance on Saturday." And then she slammed the door in his face.
Ranma stared blankly for several moments at the little yellow wooden duck that was now barely an inch from his nose. Then, once the shock had worn off somewhat, he felt his brow lower into a scowl. "Fine," he muttered to himself, growing more agitated by the minute, "Fine. Fine – if that's the way she wants it, then that's the way it'll be…"
For the remainder of the week, the atmosphere within the Tendo residence was tense at best – outright hostile at worst. When Ranma and Akane weren't trading barbs, and the occasional right hook (from Akane, of course – Ranma might be angry, but he still didn't hit girls. "'Specially weak, uncute tomboys…"), they were trading glares over their miso soup, or outright ignoring each other – which was, in its own way, almost louder than the fighting.
In fact, each of them was so busy being angry at the other that neither of them seemed to notice how oddly unconcerned their fathers were that they were not getting along. Had they realized this, they might have suspected that something was brewing – but unfortunately, both remained completely oblivious.
Come Saturday evening, Akane decked herself out in a beautiful new dress bought specially for the occasion. It was made entirely of pale yellow satin – her favorite color – and sported a fitted, sleeveless bodice that fanned out into a swishy, knee-length skirt. It was perfect for dancing – she couldn't wait to try it out. Although she had a reputation for being something of a tomboy, as Ranma took pleasure in reminding her at every opportunity, Akane also very much enjoyed some of the more girlish things in life. She'd never bothered to go to any of the school dances before now, partly because she had no desire to spend an evening being petted by Kuno or any of the other suitors who had constantly vied for her hand before Ranma's arrival; and partly because, after Ranma had come into her life, she knew he would never in a million years want to go with her. Not that she necessarily wanted to go with him either – it was just that, well, she liked to dance, and Ranma was the only guy she thought she could stand to be around for an entire evening. That was all.
Except Ryoga, of course – now he was a sweetheart. A bit absentminded and borderline manic-depressive, but he was as sweet as they come.
Giving her hair one final pat and taking a breath, she hooked her fingers through the sling-backs of her strappy, yellow satin heels and trotted down the steps to the entryway, where she came face to face with Ranma.
For a moment, each was taken aback by the other's appearance. It wasn't often that Akane saw Ranma in a tuxedo, after all. He looked quite handsome, all decked out in black with—she couldn't help but notice—a pale yellow boutonniere pinned to his lapel. For his part, she also couldn't help but notice that Ranma seemed to be staring just a little south of her face before he jerked his gaze away. She blushed, and did the same, forcibly recalling her disgust for him. It wasn't hard – all she had to do was think the name "Ukyo" and everything came screaming back.
Lousy two-timing pervert, she muttered mentally to herself. There – much better.
Akane settled herself down on the bottom step, pointedly ignoring Ranma as she made a show of putting on her shoes.
Ranma, who was glaring into space as though he was looking at her, though without actually looking at her, cleared his throat and said, "Well, I guess I should go pick up Ukyo now."
"Mm hm," Akane murmured, as though she couldn't care less.
Despite his proclamation, Ranma didn't move. "I guess Ukyo and I will see you at the dance – if pig-boy ever gets here, that is."
"Who?" Akane questioned, confused.
"Ryoga," Ranma corrected, and she thought she saw a flash of alarm cross his face, as though he had said something he shouldn't have.
"Why do you always call him 'pig-boy'?" she asked, her curiosity taking precedence over her hatred for the moment.
"Ah…nickname. Long story. Anyway, I'll be at the dance with Ukyo, and if pi—ah, Ryoga ever gets—" But he was cut off by a knock at the door.
Ranma turned to answer the knock, and lo and behold, standing on the front stoop, resplendent in a stylish black tux, was Ryoga. Where on earth he had gotten his hands on the money to rent a tux, no one knew – but even more amazing was the fact that he was right on time.
Akane got to her feet and greeted Ryoga with a beaming smile and a kiss on the cheek. Ranma scowled at "pig-boy's" back, but Ryoga was too overjoyed at the fact that he had just received a kiss from Akane to even notice that the other man was there.
"Hi Akane," Ryoga said, a dopey smile on his face, "I can't believe I actually made it…"
Akane giggled, perhaps a little more enthusiastically than was truly genuine. "Oh Ryoga, you're such a silly," she said playfully putting a hand on his arm. Turnabout is fair play.
Ranma cleared his throat again. "So anyway, I'm off to pick up Ukyo…"
"Mm hm," Akane murmured, never taking her eyes off Ryoga, who looked like he was about to melt into the floor with contentment, "See you two at the dance."
He hesitated only a moment longer to shoot her one last glare, which she ignored, and then he disappeared out the door. Only after he'd left did she glare after him.
"Come on Ryoga, let's go," she commanded in a suddenly businesslike tone, taking his hand and pulling him along with her.
"Okay," Ryoga followed in a gleeful daze.
Meanwhile Ranma was nearly halfway across town already, leaping from rooftop to rooftop until finally he alighted on the sidewalk in front of Ucchan's Okonomiyaki. Knocking briskly on the door, he called out, "Hey Ucchan, you ready?"
"Just a sec," she called back. Even through the door she sounded anxious – her voice seemed somewhat higher pitched than usual, and there was a slight quaver of excitement underneath it.
Then at last the door slid back to reveal Ukyo, who wore an ankle-length, powder blue dress of layered sheer fabrics, with a heart-shaped bodice that framed her ample bosom – strategically of course, though this fact escaped Ranma. Her long brown hair was up in an elegant cinnamon-roll-like arrangement at the back of her head – all except for the small, curly tendrils that framed her face. "Whoa," Ranma breathed, "you look…you look great Ucchan."
Ukyo blushed demurely, her smile broadening. "Shall we go?" she asked, offering him her hand.
He took her hand in his and nodded. "Sure."
By the time they reached the Furinkan High Gymnasium, the dance was already in full swing. The contest didn't officially start until nine o'clock, but the DJ was already up and running, and numerous couples were apparently getting in a bit of last minute practice before it began. Of course, they might just have been dancing for the fun of it, but that prospect didn't occur to Ranma.
He spotted Akane and Ryoga the moment he and Ukyo entered the room – they were one of the couples out on the floor, dancing energetically to an old swing tune. He could hear Akane's laughter floating to him over the bustle of the crowd, tweaking at his stretched nerves yet again. Stupid macho uncute tomboy, he rattled off mentally, finding comfort in the familiar words.
"Ranma?" Ukyo's voice drew his attention back to her.
"Do you—would you like to dance?"
He glanced briefly over at Akane, who was presently being lifted into the air by Ryoga. "Yeah – let's dance," he answered shortly, moving out onto the floor with determination.
Unbeknownst to them, both couples were being carefully observed from deep in the shadows at the edge of the room. There, sipping elegantly on cherry punch as though it were a fine pinot noir stood Kodachi Kuno, and her brother/date for the evening, Tatewaki. The siblings had decided to declare a truce for the time being and work together to achieve their respective aims for a change. Because only couples were allowed to compete, and because one had to be either a member of the student body or a date of one to be admitted, Kuno had agreed to take his sister with him. Of course, he had been tied up and dangling dangerously close to the jaws of Mr. Scaly-Green at the time, but nonetheless…
A viciously seductive smile curved Kodachi's lips as she watched her poor unsuspecting prey through the red liquid of the punch in her hand. "This, Brother dear, will be a night to remember," she simpered, "Don't you agree?"
"Indeed, thou hast a way with words, Sister dear. Tonight, at long last, I shall rescue the beauteous Akane Tendo from those unworthy knaves who do seek her hand…"
"And Ranma-sama shall at last be free to admit his full love and devotion to me," Kodachi breathed, in a voice that might have been wistful had it not sounded so venomous. "Get me more punch, will you Brother dear?" she said haughtily, holding out her empty glass without bothering to look at him.
"I will not," he replied, affronted, "I am not your servant!"
"You're my date, aren't you? Same thing," she said with a shrug. "Go on – more punch. And no ice this time."
"Why you—" he began angrily, but she cut him off in a warning tone.
"Tatewaki…I believe Mr. Scaly-Green missed lunch today…he must be terribly hungry…"
Kuno narrowed his eyes sharply at Kodachi, who still did not bother to acknowledge him. "If thou wert not my sister, I'd—"
"You'd what?" she challenged smugly.
He snatched the punch glass from her hand and stomped off to the snack table without another word. Kodachi returned her gaze to her target with a self-satisfied simper.
Of course, Kodachi and Tatewaki were not the only ones watching Ranma's and Akane's every move; another couple on the other side of the room was watching the dancers with equal intensity. Well, one member of the other couple was, that is – her date was busy whispering sweet nothings to a nearby pillar. Shampoo didn't bother to push Mousse's glasses down off the top of his head and point out his mistake, because she would just as soon have him out of her hair anyway – she'd only brought him because of the "couples-only" rule anyway.
Although neither of them attended Furinkan as students, they'd been able to blend into the crowd and slip in easily enough. It probably helped that Shampoo's skin-tight lavender dress pushed her breasts halfway up to her chin, and only came down to mid-thigh; a fact that had sufficiently distracted the men guarding the door so that they had not thought to ask their names until after they were inside. She had completed the ensemble with a pair of lavender shoes made to look like ballet slippers, with ribbons that criss-crossed up to mid-calf. It really was a wonder that, even without his glasses, Mouse couldn't tell her apart from a post. Perhaps love really is blind…
But even as Shampoo continued to watch Ranma, hatching her schemes all the while, two more sets of eyes entered the room and sought out the two young couples upon whom so much attention was trained. Soun and Genma, without the knowledge of their children, had signed up to chaperone and judge the event. Unfortunately, due to the couples-only rule and the fact that he happened to have long hair, Soun was the one wearing the pink, frilly dress. Oddly enough, the guards at the door hadn't noticed his thick, black mustache, or the fact that he was, indeed, a man. Clearly they were not particularly good at their jobs…
"Now remember Saotome," Soun murmured conspiratorially to his friend, "They mustn't know we're here. We'll blend into the shadows, working our magic from a distance – but at any cost, we must see that they are dancing together by the end of the evening."
"Sure thing Tendo," Genma muttered back. And with that the couple set off into the crowd, seeking out a good spot for surveillance.
When the most recent song drew to a close, the principal's voice rang out over the sound system, and all heads turned to face the stage, where Principal Kuno stood decked out in a tux like all the rest – except, of course, that he wore a Hawaiian shirt underneath his jacket instead of a tuxedo shirt. "Hey all da happy keikis, it time to get dis show on da road!" he exclaimed with his usual exuberance. The crowd answered him with a round of cheers and applause, which Ranma participated in only half-heartedly. "Now, you all know da rules: all da keikis gotta dance an' dance, an' if da judges tink you not dancin' good enough, you disqualified! At de end, last couple dancin' win big, big prize!"
Ukyo squeezed Ranma's hand, glancing over at him, and Ranma met her gaze. "What do you think – we gonna win this thing?" she asked him.
He cast a look over at Akane and Ryoga, then met Ukyo's eyes once again with fierce determination. "Oh yeah – definitely. After all, you're with me – and I don't lose." His eyes drifted over Ukyo's shoulder, back to Akane and Ryoga once more. "I don't lose to anyone…"
"Alright keikis," the principal revved up, "start…dancin'!"
An energetic rock song with a playful rhythm blared out over the speakers, and the crowd let out a collective 'whoop' as they all threw themselves into the music. Ranma grabbed Ukyo by the wrist and twirled her around as they launched into a bouncy improvisation of a dance. Across the floor, Akane laughed delightedly as Ryoga picked her up and whirled her around once before setting her on her feet and continuing to dance.
The status quo remained for the first few songs, Ranma and Akane each paying more attention to each other than to their dates, and each dancing more fervently with every passing glance. It was during the fifth song, a waltz, that things began to go awry.
Ranma and Ukyo were twirling gracefully across the floor in perfect one-two-three synchronization, Ranma craning his neck to keep an eye on Akane, when all of a sudden a red gloved hand stroked his cheek, and a silky drawl requested his attention. "Oh Ranma-sama…"
He just about tripped over his own feet in surprise, for somehow, without his noticing it, Kodachi had replaced Ukyo in his arms.
"Wh-what the—how the hell did you…" he stammered as they continued to twirl.
Kodachi pouted demurely. "Why Ranma-sama, aren't you even going to thank me for rescuing you from that wretched chef?"
"No! Now tell me what you did with Ucchan," he demanded.
The red-clad woman sighed dramatically and glanced over toward another couple by way of an answer. Ranma followed her gaze to see Kuno dancing with a bewildered Ukyo – and then, right before his very eyes, Kuno slyly traded Ukyo for Akane, so that he was now dancing with Akane, and the very befuddled Ryoga and Ukyo were now dancing with each other, trying to figure out what had happened.
"Oh hell no," Ranma began, starting to break away to go rescue Akane from Mr. Complete-Works-of-Shakespeare; but Kodachi's grip on him only tightened.
"Ah, ah, ah – you have to keep dancing, remember? Walking doesn't count," she cooed saccharinely.
He glared furiously at her. "This ain't gonna do anything, you know – Akane still won't be in love with your brother, and I sure as hell won't be in love with you."
"Oh Ranma-sama, so shy," she tutted, "I shall have to beat that out of you one of these days…"
Across the room, Soun and Genma observed the situation. "Now's our chance Saotome – activate plan 23 alpha!" Soun whispered.
"Right!" Genma exclaimed. And then, "Uh…which one was that again?"
"Just get under the floor and wait for my signal," Soun commanded.
"Right, right – gotcha," Genma said, dashing for the utility stairs.
Soun observed the couples until they were in just the right position, and then, when everything was aligned, he stomped on the floor in a long-short-short-long pattern.
Meanwhile, Ranma squirmed and winced under Kodachi's unwanted affections. "Get off me," he grumbled.
"Sorry to bother you," said a wry voice that was definitely not Kodachi's. Ranma's eyes flew open to meet Akane's withering gaze.
"Akane! How did you…" he trailed off, stunned.
"I dunno," she replied, "One minute I was dancing with Kuno, and the next it was like the floor just sort of rotated underneath me, and all of a sudden I was dancing with you. Believe me, it's not by choice," she finished dryly.
"Yeah, right, like I'd wanna dance with a tomboy anyway," he muttered back.
"Well no one's forcing you, you know," Akane spat back, her ire rising. "If you don't want to dance just stop moving your feet, idiot."
"If I do that, I lose – and I don't lose," Ranma snapped. "'Specially at something as stupid as dancing."
"Is that so?" said Akane. "Well, you'd better get used to the idea, because I've got news for you – Ryoga and I are going to win this contest."
"Yeah, right – pork butt, beat me? You've got to be kidding," he scoffed.
"You just wait and see – I swear to god I'll beat you at this if it's the last thing I do!" she retorted angrily. "Now switch me back with Ryoga."
"Fine!" he snapped one final time before they made the partner swap.
Unfortunately something seemed to have gone wrong, because when Ranma turned back to his partner, he found himself face to face with none other than Ryoga.
"Whoa!" they both exclaimed in startled unison, noticing the error.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, you cretin?" Ryoga demanded.
"Me? You screwed it up you clumsy idiot! I was trying to pass Akane back to you!"
"Ah, excuse me," said a wry voice from over Ranma's shoulder. He glanced back to see Akane regarding them incredulously. The boys quickly put a bit more distance between them. "May I have my partner back please?"
He presented Ryoga with an exaggerated motion, saying, "Be my guest," and then moving back to Ukyo.
The music picked up into a brassy, Latin rhythm, and they adjusted their steps to match, falling into a cha-cha. Occasionally he would twirl Ukyo around and she would laugh – but truth be told, he was only half paying attention.
Akane was smiling at Ryoga. Not one of those polite, everyday smiles she gave out to just about anybody, but a real, genuine, ear-to-ear smile. Ranma watched the pair of them twirl and laugh out of the corner of his eye, barely noticing the increasing tightness of his jaw as the two of them became breathless. A twirl out to arms length, then back in for a dip, and back up to a saucy cha-cha, laughing all the while.
"Ouch!" Ukyo exclaimed as Ranma stepped on her toe in his distraction.
"Oh – sorry," he said, smiling sheepishly.
The brass section trumpeted the finale if the song, and the music ended, the dancers all stopping to cheer as the Principal took the microphone. "Break time keikis! Go have da punch an' da cookies while you got da chance!"
As their fellow students filed from the dance floor to fill up on snacks, Ranma turned to Ukyo and said hurriedly, "Look, I've gotta go…take care of something. You go on and get yourself some snacks or something, okay?"
He heard her "okay" from a distance, already having taken off in the other direction. Locating his target, he snagged Akane by the arm and dragged her across the room toward the wall, away from the crowd.
"Ranma, what are you—"
But he interrupted her protest. "Alright Akane, this has gone far enough. What do you think you're doing out there?" Ranma demanded.
"I was dancing, and enjoying myself very much, thank you," she retorted snidely.
"Yeah, maybe a little too much," he spat.
Akane crossed her arms over her chest. "Now just what is that supposed to mean?"
"I means you can't go around dancin' like that with Ryoga of all people!"
"And why not?"
"Because…because the idiot'll get a nosebleed and keel over, that's why!" he finished somewhat lamely.
"I see, so your only concern is for Ryoga," she said wryly, not buying it in the least.
"Well I'm not jealous, if that's what you're implying," he retorted, crossing his arms defiantly, unconsciously mirroring her stance.
Just then, the door beside them opened and a man in the habit of a Catholic priest stumbled out as though he had been shoved from behind. "Um…uh…" the man stuttered for a moment, slightly shaken as he looked at the bewildered pair. Then he opened the little leather-bound book he clutched in his hand and began to read aloud. "D-dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join the hands of these two—"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Ranma and Akane said in unison, realizing at once what was going on and stopping the priest from finishing the ceremony.
"Sorry, but we're not planning on getting married anytime soon," Ranma said dryly. There was little doubt in his mind who was behind this idea. Somebody was gonna get an ass-kicking when Ranma got home…
"Or ever," Akane added quickly, shooting Ranma a glare, which he readily returned.
"Alrighty keikis," the principal's exuberant voice echoed throughout the gymnasium, "break time over! Get dancy-dancin'!"
Ranma and Akane exchanged one last angry look before setting off in opposite directions to find their respective partners. Ranma poked around for awhile, but he couldn't seem to locate Ukyo.
"Aiyaa!" A body collided with his and a pair of arms wrapped themselves around his neck like serpents, locking into place. "Airen dance with Shampoo now, is okay?" the woman said gleefully, already dragging him out onto the dance floor.
"Uh, okay," Ranma agreed. He didn't have much choice in the matter. Shampoo's freakishly strong grip aside, he needed a dance partner in order to stay in the contest, and Ukyo was nowhere to be found. And of course, forfeiting was not an option.
The dance floor had been gradually thinning out over the course of the evening, as various couples were being disqualified or dropping out one by one. Not only did this mean they had more space to move, but it made it much easier for Ranma to keep Akane in sight.
Not that he was worried. He just preferred to know where she was. In case she, like, decided to march over and mallet him over the head or something. That was all.
"Airen," Shampoo cooed seductively, drawing Ranma's attention back to her as they swayed to the music. "Shampoo have little present for you."
Drawing a hand from behind her back, she presented him with a perfect, plump, round pork bun. Where on earth she'd been keeping it remained a mystery, but considering that Ranma had spent all his snack-break time arguing with Akane, he was starved, so he didn't really care.
"Mm!" he exclaimed ravenously, "Thanks a million, Shampoo." And without another word he devoured the bun in one gulp, failing to notice the spark of gleeful triumph in his companion's lavender eyes.
He was just licking the last crumb from his lip when he caught sight of those eyes once more, and all at once found himself utterly captivated. The most miraculous feeling washed over him as he met her gaze – a sort of unimaginable clarity, like finding himself in a strange world and yet knowing his course with absolute certainty.
He was in love! How come he had never noticed it before? How could he have been so blind, so ignorant of something so powerfully true?
"Shampoo," he whispered, awed by the very depth of feeling he had for her. "Shampoo, my darling – you're so beautiful."
"Oh Airen," the young woman purred, nestling her cheek against his chest. He pulled her against him promising himself he would never let go.
"I love you, my darling. I can't believe I've been such a fool for so long, pushing you away when it's so clear now: We belong together. We're soul-mates…" he murmured into her ear, meaning every word.
"Oh Airen," she whispered, her gentle voice warming his heart with each breath, "Shampoo love you too, so so much."
Across the room, disapproving eyes scrutinized the scene carefully. "It's not looking good Saotome," Soun muttered grimly as they watched Ranma dancing just a little too closely with Shampoo, and Akane shooting them furious glares over Ryoga's shoulder.
"Nope, it isn't," Genma agreed, equally grim. Glancing seriously over at his partner in crime, he continued, "I think it may be time."
Soun looked back at him with trepidation. "Are you certain we ought to resort to that?"
"We're running out of time," he insisted. "We've got to try everything. Yes, it may be painful now, but it's a father's duty to do what is right for his child, as difficult as it may be. They'll thank us one day."
Soun was still somewhat apprehensive, but Genma was right – if they didn't act quickly, the chance would slip away. "Alright, if you're sure. Get into position – we move on my signal."
With a determined nod, Genma slipped off into the crowd, and Soun moved to a spot where he could clearly see both Ranma and Akane, waiting for the opportune moment.
Meanwhile, out on the dance floor, Ranma was oblivious to the rest of the world, his full attention focused on the woman in his embrace.
"Does this mean that Airen will…marry Shampoo?" she asked hesitantly.
He smiled affectionately at her shyness. "I would be honored to be your—"
Somewhere in the distance Ranma heard an odd "cawing" sound that reminded him inexplicably of Akane's father. Then, in a flash, a familiar chill washed over him, and he found himself soaked to the bone and female. And as for Shampoo…
"C-c-c-cat!" he shrieked in alarm, all rational thought fleeing his mind to be replaced by a single impulse: Run away from the cat! Run away from the cat!
Obeying his mind's command, he batted frantically at Shampoo's feline grip until she was dislodged, and then tore off in the other direction, heedless of anything or anyone in his path. "Cat! Get it off! Make the cat go away!"
He didn't hear Akane's indignant yell, nor did he feel it as he ploughed headlong into her, knocking her to the ground and landing on top of her. They spent a few moments tangled up on the floor, Ranma still trying frantically and fruitlessly to put distance between himself and Shampoo, and Akane trying to get him off of her.
"Ranma you moron, get the hell off of me!" she demanded. "Calm down already and just move!"
"But—th-there's a—C-C-CAT!" he spluttered.
Growling in frustration, Akane slapped the hysterical Ranma sharply across the face, which seemed to bring him somewhat back to his senses. "Get ahold of yourself," she insisted.
Ranma blinked. "Akane? What are we doing on the floor?"
Expression livid, Akane opened her mouth to answer – but Kuno beat her to the punch.
"My love!" gushed the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High as he grabbed Ranma around the waist and twirled him around in the air. "I should have known you wouldn't be able to stay away! But you have no cause to be jealous, my dearest Pigtailed Girl, for I am forever and always your knight in shining armor. But my darling, what unconventional attire you have chosen for this evening," Kuno commented, noticing Ranma's now rather baggy tuxedo – the sleeves hung down over his female body's hands and flopped about as Kuno continued to sway back and forth.
"Oh geeze," Ranma grumbled to himself, "I don't have the energy for this today…"
"Come, my love," Kuno continued, plopping Ranma back on the ground, but keeping an arm around his waist in a more traditional dancing position, "Let us dance the night away!"
"I don't think so," Ranma answered, wriggling his way out of the kendo captain's persistent grip. Unfortunately, the moment he turned away from Kuno, Shampoo took the opportunity to leap into his arms once more, still in cat form. "C-c-cat!" he yelled again, and tore off in the other direction.
But before he had traveled three feet, Akane's hand snagged his arm, sending him swinging around her in a circle from the force of his momentum – and as he did so, the Tendo girl doused his pursuer with a splash from a kettle that she had managed to scrounge up somewhere, changing Shampoo back into human form. Then, without a word, she turned around and poured the rest of the contents of the kettle on Ranma's head.
"Thanks," he murmured somewhat sheepishly.
She eyed him wryly, shoving the kettle hard into his chest and turning to go back to dancing. "Don't mention it," she muttered casually as she walked away.
"What have you done with the Pigtailed Girl, you cretinous knave?" Kuno demanded, snatching Ranma up by the lapels.
Ranma shoved the kettle into Kuno's chest in turn, knocking the wind out of him. "She went home," he gritted out, marching off to find Ukyo, whom he hadn't seen for awhile.
He eventually located her near the edge of the room dancing with Mousse, who was currently showering her with compliments and professing his undying love for her. Considering that his glasses were perched on top of his head, it didn't take a genius to figure out what was going on.
"Ah – can I cut in?" Ranma asked politely, and Ukyo looked over at him gratefully.
"Yes!" she answered quickly, and they were off before Mousse had a chance to protest. Ukyo breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank God – where on earth have you been?"
"I couldn't find you after the last break, so I've been dancing with Shampoo," he explained. She gave him a sharp look at that, but he didn't notice. "Why did you let Mousse think you were Shampoo?"
"Well, he made the mistake to begin with, and I figured it was easier and kinder not to correct him," she said, laughing slightly. "Besides, he might have run off to find her if he'd known I wasn't her, and I needed a dancing partner."
"Fair enough," Ranma conceded.
They continued to move to the music, settling into a familiar pattern and relaxing into one another's company. And then he heard it: Akane's giggle.
He ignored it, pushing it forcibly aside and paying attention to the music.
Then he heard it again.
Ignore it. Ranma doesn't forfeit. Ranma doesn't lose. At anything.
But there it was again.
"Alright, that's it – I can't take it anymore. Just a sec," he said at last, turning away from a spluttering Ukyo and storming over to Akane and Ryoga. Grabbing his fiancé by the arm, he pulled her away from her partner and forced her to face him. "Cut it out already, will you?" he demanded angrily.
"Cut what out?" she inquired, crossing her arms over her chest.
"You know what. Now just cut it out. You're making a fool of yourself," he said firmly, matching her determination point for point.
She gave an indignant scoff, retorting angrily, "Me? You're the one running around acting like a lunatic!"
"There was a cat!" Ranma defended.
"Oh for god's sake, of all the ridiculous things to be afraid of, why did you have to choose the one thing that one of your girlfriends happens to turn into?"
"I didn't choose it – it was my Pop who did it, and you know it!"
"Disqualified!" shouted a voice from behind Akane, and they both turned to see Soun pointing an accusing finger at Ryoga, who had been waiting for Akane to finish arguing with Ranma.
"Dad!" Akane exclaimed, aghast.
"What? But they—" Ryoga began to protest.
"Daddy, how did you get in here? And why are you wearing a dress…?"
"Disqualified!" came another voice, this time from behind Ranma – and there was Genma, pointing at Ukyo.
"Pop, what the hell are you doing here?" Ranma demanded.
"It's for your own good son," Genma said dramatically, and in a flash Soun and Genma had dragged away Ranma and Akane's respective partners, leaving them alone together on the dance floor.
A chilly silence ensued, the pair glaring stonily at each other. Finally Akane said sharply, "Well, are you going to ask me to dance, or do we forfeit?"
"I don't forfeit," Ranma declared.
"Fine – then I guess we're stuck with each other, aren't we?"
"Guess so." Ranma put a stiff hand on Akane's waist, and they began to move to the music, looking about as comfortable and natural together as vinegar on ice cream. They kept moving, but they kept their distance and avoided one another's gaze, the tension between them palpable.
When the song at last came to an end, there were only three couples left on the dance floor. Principal Kuno's voice filled the room as he took the microphone once more.
"It's da last number of da night, an' only three couples left in da runnin'!" he recapped as the dance floor cleared for the final round of the competition. "We got da Ayumi and da Genji as couple number one, da Daisuke and da Sayuri as couple number two, and da Ranma and da Akane as couple number three! And da last number is…da Tango!"
Ranma and Akane met each other's startled gazes, both equally apprehensive, yet equally stubborn as well. Neither one was willing to be the one to back out of either the dance competition itself, or their own personal battle of wills – and so they made their way out onto the floor with the other couples and listened to the dark, seductive violin introduction to the tango number.
When the music proper began, Ranma pulled Akane tightly to his side, their cheeks pressed together, and they stepped firmly yet gracefully in time to the music. Their movements were filled with passion, fueled at first by their anger toward each other, the determination of each to prove that he or she was more capable of getting along perfectly well without the other, to prove that he or she had no need of a "fiancé." Akane twirled gracefully, before falling backward into Ranma's arms, arching back against him, her head on his shoulder, and then whirling away to arm's length.
The other couples danced well and kept the beat, but neither could match the power of the tension between these two. If it was true that there was a thin line between love and hate, then the Tango was that line – and Ranma and Akane walked it with expert skill.
They circled each other one way, their eyes locked in a glare, then, as though it had been choreographed, changed directions sharply and circled back. As the intensity of the number grew, their movements became more pronounced, as though they were still competing, still trying to one up each other. At last, Ranma spun Akane out to arm's length once more, and then just as quickly reeled her back in so that, as the song landed it's final powerful chord, she was wrapped up in both her own arms and his, their bodies pressed close together, their faces scant inches apart.
As the music died away to be replaced by the cheers of the surrounding crowd, Ranma and Akane remained frozen exactly where they had landed, eyes wide and locked together. Suddenly neither one of them seemed to be able to remember what they had been fighting about – or even that they had been fighting in the first place. In fact, at that moment, neither was aware of much of anything except the fact that they were so very close together – that with only the slightest movement from either party, their lips would meet.
But of course, inevitably, the reality that they were currently standing in front of the entire student body of Furinkan High managed to make its way into their conscious minds eventually, and when it did they both immediately moved apart, flustered.
"I—th-that—" Ranma stammered.
"Yeah—right—that's…" Akane replied equally articulately.
"Yeah…I'll just…" Ranma tried again, but quickly gave up. "Forget it…"
And with that, he turned and disappeared through the crowd, leaving Akane to stare after him.
For a moment, she merely stood there, torn between the urge to follow him, and the urge to forget that what had just happened had ever happened at all. She was just about to turn toward the crowd of people swarming in to congratulate them on their obvious victory – but she couldn't help glancing after him one more time. Seeing his unmistakable pigtailed head bobbing away through the sea of faces made her angry all over again. How could he just walk away and leave her here after that? How could he just disappear?
Well she wasn't going to let him get away with it this time. Instead, she set off after him, wading through the crowd as quickly as she could and trying to keep that pigtail in sight. Just as she emerged from the crowd, she saw him slip around the edge of the door that led into the storage room just off the stage, and she followed him in.
"Just what the hell was that all about?" she demanded as the door slammed behind her.
Ranma whirled around in the gloom to face her. The only light in the storage room was that of the moon which shone through a small window at the back – but it was enough. "What are you doing here?"
"I asked you first," she countered.
"Well what do you mean 'what was that all about'? You were there – you know as much as I do," he replied irritably. "Why don't you tell me?"
"I'm not talking about the dance, jackass – I'm talking about you running off and leaving me standing there alone like some idiot."
Ranma scoffed at that. "Oh yeah, right, so now you want me to stay. Look, would you just make up your mind already?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means you—you—oh hell, I don't know what it means, alright? Fine. Ya got me." Ranma turned away and began pacing agitatedly.
Akane merely continued to watch him expectantly, hoping her silence would drive him to elaborate. It worked.
"Well, I mean what the hell do you expect me to do?" he snapped at last. "Here you are in your frilly little yellow dress, and you're prancing around the damn gym with Ryoga and laughing like a hyena at his stupid jokes—"
"Prancing?" Akane repeated, affronted. "I was not 'prancing' – I do not 'prance.' And anyway, who are you to talk? You and Ukyo have been practically glued at the hip all evening long – in more ways than one," she insinuated dryly.
"That's completely different!"
"Is it now? How so?" she challenged.
"Because I only brought Ukyo to get back at you!"
"So? I only brought Ryoga to get back at you!"
"I know that – but it still pisses the hell out of me."
"Because I'm in love with you, okay!"
"I know, I'm in love with you!"
"Well if I know you're in love with me, and you know I'm in love with you, then what the hell are we doing!"
He opened his mouth to shout back at her, but paused, stumped. Finally he released the breath he'd been holding on a bemused sigh. "I dunno…"
The room was silent for a moment. Both were afraid to move, lest they somehow break the spell and screw things up again, like they had on so many other occasions. Finally, Akane took a tentative step toward Ranma.
"So you…you really…?"
"Yeah…" he replied stepping toward her as well. "And you…?"
She smiled and gave a small nod. "Yeah…"
By now they were mere inches apart. Ranma swallowed thickly, taking Akane's hands in his, his voice coming out as hardly more than a whisper. "Are you as scared as I am?"
She nodded. "Terrified…"
With that confirmation Ranma bent down and pressed a tentative kiss to Akane's lips. The pressure was slight at first, but when her hands slipped from his to wrap around his neck it became a bit stronger; and soon, without his ever really putting them there, he found that his arms were around her waist, pulling her closer.
When they pulled back at last, they remained in each other's arms, gazes locked, and breathed a simultaneous, "Wow…"
Roughly twenty minutes later, they were out in the cool night air, walking down the sidewalk in companionable silence. It had taken a bit of scheming to get out of that storage room without being spotted and subsequently mobbed by the usual horde, but they had managed it eventually by sneaking out a side exit. For all they knew, everyone was still back there wondering where they'd disappeared to – but neither particularly cared about that at the moment.
Akane slipped her hand into Ranma's as they walked, smiling briefly at him when he glanced over at her in mild surprise—it was going to take some getting used to, having things out in the open between them. But clearly the time had come to stop being pig-headed about this and just accept what they felt. Life went on.
"Akane?" Ranma said finally, breaking the silence.
"Look, I know this is a long way off, but…but I was just wondering…"
She glanced over at him when he trailed off, and thought she saw the hint of a blush coloring his cheeks. "What?"
He cleared his throat and tried again. "I know we're not ready for it any time soon, but…do you think maybe…someday…somewhere down the road…we might, you know—get married?"
She smiled, feeling her cheeks color slightly as well as she murmured, "I'd like that…"
"Good," he replied, sounding as though a great weight had just been removed from his chest. "So would I…"
It wasn't until two weeks after the dance contest that a package finally arrived at the doorstep of the Tendo Dojo, with the words "Big, Big Prize!" printed on it in ridiculously large letters. Curious, the residents of the household crowded around it at the dining room table as they opened it, eager to discover what was inside.
A note was taped to the top of the box, and Akane read that first: "Congratulations! Dis is your big, big prize! Dis prize is worth lotsa money, and was donated by a very very generous student…
"Signed, Da Principal"
"Wonder what that could be," Ranma said with a frown.
"Open it up and see," Nabiki prompted, her eyes having lit up at the indication that the prize was valuable.
Ranma did as Nabiki bade, his eyes widening in horror as he took in the contents. "Holy shit…" he breathed.
"What? What is it?" Akane dragged the box back over to her side of the table and peered inside. When she saw what it contained, she couldn't suppress a snort of laughter.
The entire box was filled to the brim with hundreds of pseudo-pornographic photos of female Ranma.
As the other members of the family discovered what was inside, their initial snorts turned into rolls of laughter, and then outright guffaws. Only one member of the household remained unamused.
"Hey! It's not funny! Quit laughing, you guys!"
Akane clutched the stitch in her side and fought for breath. "Hey, look at the bright side," she teased, "At least no one else has them now."
At that very moment in a mansion somewhere across town, Tatewaki Kuno wept at the entrance to his recently-pillaged shrine to the Pigtailed-Girl. "My love! Oh, how I have failed thee! Thy honor shall be avenged…"
A/N: Let me just say right off the bat that this was a lot harder than I anticipated. I discovered while writing this fic that there is a reason I do not generally write highly physical comedy and scenes involving many people interacting at once – because it's hard. I'm more of a "one-on-one conversation" sort of writer than a "big slapstick battle" sort of writer – but at the very least, this was a chance to stretch new muscles, and I'm relatively happy with how it turned out.
The idea began with the desire to write one of those situations that appear so often in the series, where something could happen, but doesn't – but then to end it with something actually happening. Combined with a slight twist on the classic "school dance" scenario, making it an actual competition (because isn't everything a competition in Ranma ½?) rather than just a dance, and the idea of keeping within the tone of the series, this was the end result. It's been languishing "almost finished" on my computer for months now, only missing those two tiny little scenes at the end, so I finally decided to pull it out and dust it off. Hope you enjoyed it!