Disclaimer: I do not own Ranma ½. I am not profiting from this story in any way. So there!

Introduction: This is something of a pilot while I work on a number of longer-term projects. Whether or not I continue it will be in part determined by what kind of response it receives. If I do return to this story, I'll likely be revising this first chapter considerably. As it's the first piece I'm sharing on this site, I'm quite interested in any and all input. Not to worry, I'm prepared for harsh comments. After all, I haven't exactly been reserved in expressing negative opinions of others' work. (Though after some recent unhappy episodes, I think I'm about done with writing bad reviews.)

So if you think it's lame, have at it! On the other hand, if you're actually interested in what I've come up with here, please let me know that too! Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

(Special thanks to Richard Ryley, zeltronica and Noy Telin'u for their invaluable input.)


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A New Face, a New Life?
by tuatara

Chapter 1: Here's…Akane?

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It's a well-known story. A cute redheaded girl and a giant panda argue on a city street. A father calls for his three daughters after receiving a postcard. Guests are on the way. The pigtailed redhead and panda arrive, much to the disappointment of the father. They were expecting a boy, after all.

Yet his youngest is not deterred, offering the new girl her hand in friendship. An impromptu match is held, and the redhead trounces her new friend and host. "I'd hate to lose to a boy," the bluish-black-haired girl says, missing the deeply pained expression that crosses her companion's face.

Bath time follows, but once the youngest daughter enters the furo, events proceed in a new direction.

"Oh! Ranma! I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were in here," Akane apologized.

"I- it's fine, Akane. I was just f- finishing up," the other girl explained, all the while blushing furiously and making sure not to look in Akane's direction.

Noting Ranma's discomfort, the Tendo girl frowned slightly. "You don't need to be nervous. I'm not going to bite, you know! Is it that you haven't bathed with other girls much?" she asked in what she hoped was a warm and encouraging tone.

"H- hai. I guess you could say that," Ranma answered, still studiously avoiding looking at her new friend.

Akane sighed. "It'll be fine, I promise. Why don't you wash my back for me and then I'll do yours, okay? Then we can have a nice soak in the furo and let our muscles relax. Sound good?"

"S- sure," the pigtailed girl replied, sitting down on one of the washing stools.

Taking a seat next to her, Akane began soaping herself up. "Since we have some time to talk, why don't you tell me about yourself. You're a pretty amazing martial artist. How long have you been training?"

On more familiar ground, Ranma managed a smirk. "Well, I am the best. An' I should be…I've only been practicin' the Art for as long as I can remember. Me an' Pop've been on the road trainin' for about ten years now. We've been all over Japan…an' we just got back from China," she said, ending with a long, frustrated sigh.

Not wanting to distress her friend, Akane chose not to inquire for the time being into why the subject of China seemed to upset Ranma so. Instead, she latched onto another part of the redhead's comment.

"Wow, no wonder you were nervous to bathe with me if it's just been you and your dad for so long. Hey, that's right! Where is your father? Daddy said that the two of you would be arriving…though he sure didn't say anything about a panda!" Akane said with a laugh.

Forcing a smile, Ranma replied, "Yeah, those two questions kinda have the same answer. But, um…let's not worry 'bout that right now. Maybe we can talk about it later, alright?"

"Well, I guess that's fair enough. Now then, ready to wash my back?" Akane asked with a grin.

Ranma gulped, shutting her eyes tightly and resigning herself to her fate. "Okay," she sighed.


.

A short time later, the two girls rejoined Akane's sisters, Kasumi and Nabiki, her father, Tendo Soun, and Ranma's panda companion.

"Ranma! Your bear here is a fascinating creature. How did you train it to converse with people so well? And where does he get all those signs? It's almost as if he has a human mind! Perhaps not a very developed one, but certainly more than I'd expect from such a beast," Soun observed, earning a low growl from said beast.

The redhead snickered, greatly amused by the Tendo patriarch's unintended insult. "Yeah, he ain't exactly a genius, but he does know how to use those signs of his. I guess he picked that little skill up when we were headin' back to Japan. But all he's really good for is as a punchin' bag when I'm trainin'."

"You mean you beat the poor thing?" Akane gasped. "How awful!" Perhaps she'd misjudged the girl.

"Nah, it ain't like that!" Ranma protested, holding up her hands in a warding gesture. "He fights back too! He's actually pretty good, I gotta admit."

Somewhat mollified by the explanation, Akane sat down next to her sisters.

The panda held up a sign—a series of signs, in fact, without any obvious explanation of where they originated—that read, "I'm better than YOU, boy! Better than you'll EVER be! Don't you forget it!"

"A bear that practices martial arts? And so boastful too. Extraordinary! Did your father teach him? I ask because, well, he seems to be convinced that he's Saotome Genma. Imagine it! An animal claiming to be a man!" Soun chuckled. "Ah, yes…he's also rather insistent that you're actually a boy. But that's obviously not the case, as you're still in one piece. I'm sure we would have heard from Akane if you weren't a girl—quite loudly, I suspect."

The youngest Tendo eyed the red-haired girl warily, her eyebrow arched in suspicion.

"Aw, he's just a practical joker…always messin' around like that. Sayin' he's Pop, or that I'm a boy, or some other crazy thing! Heh. Yeah, he's a real kidder…" Ranma insisted, albeit not too successfully.

"Lies! What are you trying to pull, boy? Are you looking to make a fool out of me ! ? This is all your fault in the first place, so you should be the one to explain it!" the bear signed.

"My fault! ? You're the one who got us into this mess, old man! Ow!" the pigtailed girl yelped, one of the panda's signs having just impacted with the side of her skull. "Damn it, Pop! What's your problem?" Ranma snapped. She immediately winced, realizing she'd just blown a huge hole through her cover story.

"Ranma…you do know what you just said, don't you?" Soun asked.

Against her better judgment, she decided it was time to set things straight. "Yeah, 'bout that…" she began, sitting down to tell her tale.


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"You mean I'm stuck like this! ? Forever! ?" the newly female Saotome Ranma screeched, assaulting the eardrums of both man and beast alike. It just so happened that her present company included one short, squat middle-aged man and one rotund giant panda.

"Sorry, Mister Customer…you Miss Customer now. Is no cure, at least no safe one," the man replied as he tended to the fire in his small cabin. Ranma and her formerly human father Genma sat on the opposite side of the fire, the girl wrapped in a towel to dry off and warm up after her involuntary dunking in the pool of sorrow known as the Nyanniichuan, or Spring of Drowned Girl.

"Wait, whaddaya mean, 'no safe one'?" Ranma asked, eager to grasp onto any shred of hope that she wouldn't be forced to live the rest of her days as a weak, pathetic girl.

"It better if Miss Customer accept curse, yes? Other choice very risky. Very dangerous. This one never seen it succeed in all years here at Jusenkyo," he explained, retrieving a small stoppered vial of water from a nearby shelf.

"What is it! ? Just spit it out already!" the redhead demanded, both girl and bear crowding in around the hapless guide.

"There other spring! Nanniichuan!" he explained, holding up the vial. "Very tragic story of man who-"

"Get on with it!" the pigtailed neo-girl interrupted.

"Aiyah! This one sorry, Miss Customer. Nanniichuan make mens of what fall in it, yes? It might do same for you. But-"

"Well, why didn't ya say so in the first place! ? You were all eager to stop us from goin' anywhere when I got outta the spring, so why didn't ya just take us to this Nanniichuan right then and there! ?" Ranma shouted, apparently still not yet conscious of the piercing quality her new voice possessed when pushed to its limit. The ears of Genma and the Jusenkyo Guide were only all too aware, however.

"That the problem, Miss Customer. This one never seen it work that way. Many try use Nanniichuan or Nyanniichuan to return to original form. Most become mix. For Mister Customer, he might be bear-man. People think he demon and shoot. Miss Customer probably be man-woman. That no good, yes?"

"Man-woman…you mean, like, half an' half or somethin'? That's even worse! Why'd ya even mention it then?" she lamented, staring forlornly at the vial in the guide's hand.

"That because records say some people return to original bodies. But it not happen in many, many year."

"Dammit…hey, waitaminute. You said, most become a mix. What about the rest?" Ranma asked, worried about the answer.

"Oh, that easy. They die. Usually just fall over dead. Sometime it take a while though," the guide explained rather casually. "This one not see it, but last Jusenkyo Guide say one man who use Nanniichuan explode on spot. Aiyah, what mess that would be!"

Both Ranma and Genma were wide-eyed and pale, which was a particularly impressive feat for a panda. "Ex…ploded?" the girl whispered. It was actually worse than she feared. With a heavy sigh, she asked, "An' you ain't never heard of a cure somewhere?"

The guide shook his head. "Sorry, Miss Customer. But there village of mighty warrior womens not far from here. They live here long time and maybe know more about cure. This one can take Honored Customers there, yes?"

"Well, it beats stayin' here," Ranma agreed. "Why don't ya head on out, Pop? I wanna dry off a bit more before goin' back out on the road. Don't wanna catch a cold on top of everything else, y'know."

The panda known as Genma grunted his acknowledgment before grabbing his pack and lumbering out of the hut.

Once he departed, Ranma turned to the guide and addressed him in a whisper. "Hey, couldja lemme have that vial?"

"Why Miss Customer want? You listen to what this one told you, yes?"

"Shh! I know, I know…but I wanna have it as a fallback if worst comes to worst. 'Sides, maybe I can find somebody who knows 'bout magic an' potions an' stuff who could use it to help me an' Pop," she explained. "Just don't say nothin' 'bout it to Pop, 'kay? Knowin' him, he'll do somethin' stupid as soon as he hears about it."

"Aiyah…if Miss Customer want, this one not mind," he replied, handing the vial of cursed water to the cursed girl before collecting his things and putting out the fire.

The redhead stowed the vial away deep in her pack, hoping her father wouldn't find it. "Hey, Pop! Wait up, will ya?" she shouted as she and the guide headed out of the shack after the panda.


.

"…An' after swimmin' across the sea, we came here," she finished, making sure to leave out the fact that she brought the vial of Nanniichuan water with her.

Three clearly skeptical female faces stared back at her, the youngest of them with a wary look in her eye. The girls' father, on the other hand, had begun openly weeping.

"Oh, how terrible! The legendary Pools of Sorrow…their true horrors have remained a mystery until now. And now the schools will never be joined!" the Tendo patriarch wailed.

"Tendo!" the panda man signed, embracing his weeping friend.

"Saotome!" Soun shouted, returning the "manly" embrace.

Their children could only look on in confusion and embarrassment.

"Wait, what?" Ranma interjected. "'Joinin' the schools'? What's goin' on here, Pop?" she asked, glaring at her panda-fied father.

"It's what you were expected to do! Oh, to have such a weak son that he would let his manhood be taken from him so easily!" Genma's signs complained.

"Weak! ? Weak! ? What about you, huh? At least I'm still human!" she shouted.

As the Saotomes continued to bicker, the middle Tendo daughter addressed her father.

"You don't really believe them, do you, Daddy?" Nabiki asked, turning a disdainful eye to the heated interspecies argument.

"I realize it may seem hard to believe, but I've no doubt that they are indeed my old friend and his son transformed," Soun replied.

"But there's no such thing as magic!" Nabiki argued.

"I have to agree with Nabiki, Father. Ranma seems like a nice girl, but that story does seem a little hard to believe," the eldest daughter, Kasumi, chimed in.

"I know, sweetheart, but if you knew Saotome as I do, you would see that the panda could only be he," her father explained.

Silent until now, the youngest Tendo girl finally spoke up.

"Ranma…" she began coolly, gaining the attention of the pigtailed girl as well as the rest of the rest of the room's occupants.

"Uh…yeah, Akane? Wh- what's up?" the cursed girl asked nervously, her senses screaming that danger was imminent.

"So, you're saying that you're really a boy…and you took a bath with me anyway? Is that it?" Akane asked, her brown eyes boring into Ranma's blue.

"Wait, Akane! Please don't be mad! I promise I never peeked or nothin'! Honest! But what was I gonna say? 'Sorry, gotta go, I'm really a guy'? You woulda thought I was crazy!" Ranma exclaimed in a panic.

"Y- yes! That's exactly what you should've-" Akane sputtered, her face turning beet red. "…Although you're right, I wouldn't have believed you," she eventually admitted through clenched teeth.

"And why exactly do you believe her now?" Nabiki interjected. "Oh, relax, Akane. She's just making this up for attention or something. Besides, there's no proof!"

"Hey!" the Saotome girl protested, though her complaint fell on deaf ears.

Before she could muster a proper defense of the middle daughter's accusations, the panda offered a response of his own. "Ha! You want proof, girl? Then behold!" his signs declared. He swiftly pulled out a small stoppered vial. (From where, no one could say; perhaps the same place he drew the signs.)

Ranma was horrified at seeing the vial, certain that its presence would bring some measure of catastrophe.

"Dammit, Pop! I told ya to stay the hell outta my stuff! When'd ya grab it! ?" she shouted.

"While you were off in the bath, boy. I knew you were holding out on me!" the panda signed, affecting an air of smug superiority. "Now it's time to free myself of this wretched form once and for all!" Genma proclaimed, yanking the rubber stopper from the vial with his great furred paw and tossing it aside.

"Baka Oyaji! What the hell are ya doin'! ? Do you wanna end up lookin' like some kinda monster? Or worse yet…explode?" the bear's daughter snapped.

"I don't care about the risks anymore, boy! I refuse to live out the rest of my days as a foul-smelling animal!" he signed angrily, preparing to douse himself with the Nanniichuan water.

"Man, you stank before Jusenkyo, Pop! Anyways, I need that water so I can find us a cure!" the redhead snarled, springing into action to prevent her father's possible demise.

The Tendos watched the girl and bear struggle over the vial with a growing sense of alarm.

"Ranma, is that…" Akane asked, her eyes tracking the vial as the panda tossed it from hand to hand—or paw to paw, as the case may be—in an elaborate game of "keep away."

"Yeah, it's Drowned Man water. Y'all should prob'ly get outta here while you can," she warned. It was advice Kasumi and Nabiki were quick to follow, as they moved to the room's entrance where they could watch the bizarre display of close-quarters acrobatics between ursine father and human daughter without fear of becoming collateral damage.

The girls' father had apparently decided that he needn't be worried. He was already a man, Soun concluded, so what harm could the cursed water do him? Instead, he simply watched the Saotomes duel for the vial, critiquing each fighters' form. As expected, he found both father and "son" to be exemplary martial artists…especially since one of them wasn't even human.

While the Tendo patriarch may have been studying the contest with an expert's eye, his youngest daughter was absolutely captivated. Akane had never seen such speed and complexity. 'Wow…she was really holding back on me, wasn't she? What if I could learn to do that? Sugoi!' she exclaimed to herself in wonder.

"Akane? Hey, Akane!" Nabiki yelled, finally getting her sister's attention. "Get over here. You don't want that, that…whatever it is to get on you!"

Jarred from her reverie, Akane gave her older sister a smirk. "What's the problem, Onee-chan? I thought you didn't believe in magic," she noted slyly as the Saotomes crashed into the wall behind her, finally startling the youngest Tendo to her feet.

"Well, they seem pretty convinced it does something, and I'm not eager to volunteer as a test subject! C'mon already!" Nabiki urged.

"Hai, hai," Akane agreed, moving towards her sisters…only to find a glass vial suddenly whizzing past her face, a red-haired blur following right behind.

"Phew! That was close, huh, Akane?" Ranma noted in relief after catching the vial. "That woulda been awful if it had-" she began, only to whirl around and deflect an inbound sign from her panda father. (The sign, appropriately enough, instructing Ranma to "Think fast!")

However, as Ranma pivoted to fend off her father's latest salvo, the ball of her foot slid over a tiny unnoticed object on the floor—the discarded rubber stopper from the vial. That minutestumble, lasting just a fraction of a second, provided fate all the opportunity it needed. Though Ranma caught the vial before it could fully slip from her grasp, its contents had already splashed out…

…Directly into Akane's face.

"-Spilled," Ranma finished in a stunned whisper.


.

Akane clenched her eyes shut reflexively as the small splash of water hit her head on. Instantly, she knew something was wrong. Her body ached, as if her clothes were suddenly much too constrictive. She felt vaguely dizzy, which she already suspected was due to her center of balance shifting considerably.

Without even opening her eyes, Akane knew that her life had just changed on a deep and fundamental level. But she kept them shut for long moments after that realization, as if by keeping the outside world at bay she could hold off the certainty that she was no longer a "she" at all.

"Akane?" Ranma ventured. "You in there?"

Cracking an eye to peer at her, Akane was taken aback by the fact that the pigtailed girl watching with a mixture of worry and shame appeared to be dramatically shorter than just a few moments before. 'Baka…she didn't shrink. Look around. Everything seems smaller. You grew…by a lot, it seems,' Akane concluded ruefully.

"Ranma…" Akane began, only to gasp at how much deeper this newly-acquired voice was than that of her birth form. There was no longer any doubt. In a flash, the girl known as Tendo Akane had ceased to exist. In her place was…

Akane had no answer as of yet, as he was currently much too preoccupied with preventing a nervous breakdown.

"Akane," Ranma began again, scratching the back of her head anxiously and refusing to meet his gaze, "I'm really, really sorry about this."

"Ranma," he replied in a whisper, trying to de-emphasize his unmistakably masculine tone, "I…I know you didn't mean it. It was an accident."

If anything, the redhead only looked more stricken. "But, but I shoulda been able to catch it in time. I shouldn't've let the fat, stupid panda get it to begin with. I…damn, I dunno what to say," she concluded with a weary sigh.

"It's alright, Ranma. Hey…look at me," Akane insisted. The Tendo boy locked eyes with the Saotome girl, brown eyes searching blue in an intense gaze that seemed to last for ages before he finally rejoined his train of thought. "Um…right. Yeah. I'm not mad. I promise we're still friends, so don't worry about that, okay?" he said, offering a reassuring smile—or as much of one as he could offer under the circumstances.

"O- okay," Ranma acknowledged, clearing her head. She wondered why her cheeks felt ever so slightly warmer than they had a moment ago.

"Hey, Otou-san…eh? Kasumi? Nabiki?" the neo-boy inquired, only to find that his father and sisters had all fainted from shock. Not surprisingly, the one most responsible for what was sure to be the complete upturning of Akane's life had long since made himself scarce.

"Great…just great," Akane muttered.


.

"Okay, here we go, Akane," Ranma encouraged as they stood before the bathroom mirror. "I know it's scary, but it's better just to get it over and done with. Believe me," she noted, squeezing the taller boy's arm in support.

"R- right…just get it over with," he agreed, finally lifting his gaze to the mirror.

As much as he understood his situation rationally, Akane was still woefully unprepared for the face he found staring back at him.

It was a boy. An actual, flesh-and-blood boy…and a handsome one, at that. A long mane of dark brown hair just shy of true black hung behind him, strikingly reminiscent of his father. His features were a little sharper, but not full of hard angles as with some of the more athletic boys of his age he'd seen from time to time. In fact, if Akane had to pick a single adjective to describe the boy he saw in the mirror, it would be…

'Bishounen? Me? No, no way,' he insisted, the eerie calm of post-traumatic shock that had been driving him finally fleeing in the face (quite literally) of his change. 'This can't be…me. But, but he's the one looking back at me. And those…those are my eyes, aren't they?'

Indeed they were. The rest of him may have screamed "Tendo Akane's hunky big brother" ("big" being the operative term, as he now towered some 18 centimeters over his previous height). His chocolate-brown eyes, however, were unquestionably the same as hers. They spoke of a frightened girl thrust into a world well beyond her understanding, a girl whose ability to cope had been rapidly pushed to its limits.

Turning away from the reflection he wanted desperately to deny, Akane fell to his knees. Wrapping his arms around himself in an attempt to find some measure of comfort, he only managed to underscore how different he was now. He was quickly overwhelmed by the feel of strong, muscular arms holding tight against a firm, well-defined and decidedly male torso. Akane began to hyperventilate, unable to hold back the panic any longer.

"Akane! Hey, Akane! Listen, it's gonna be okay," the red-haired girl assured. "It may not feel like it right now, but it'll be okay. I'm still goin', right? I ain't gonna let some damn curse beat me! I know you can do it too, Akane," Ranma said warmly, putting her hands on the boy's shoulders.

"An' anyways, you won't hafta go through it alone," she added.

"Wha…huh?" Akane managed, focusing on the girl's words. "I won't?"

Ranma could see the spark of hope return to his eyes. "'Course not! I got you into this mess…ya think I'm just gonna leave ya high 'n' dry? Is that what a friend would do? 'Sides, I'm thinkin' maybe we can help each other, y'know?" she said with a grin.

Eagerly grasping onto her suggestion like a lifeline, Akane managed a small smile of his own. "How so, Ranma?"

"Well, it might take a while for us to find a cure, right? Now, I sure don't know the first thing 'bout bein' a girl…an' I figure you don't know much more 'bout how to be a guy. So maybe we can teach each other a thing or two in the meantime. Whaddaya think? Sound good?" she asked, surprising herself with how much compassion she was showing the cursed boy.

Akane smiled just a little bit wider. "Yeah, Ranma. It does. I know I'm going to need all the help I can get," he admitted, chuckling softly.

"We got a deal, then?"

"Deal."


.

A few repeated faintings, several weeping spells and one especially sound two-on-one thrashing of an endangered Asian mammal later, the Tendo and Saotome families were once again seated together. Ranma and Akane (the latter now dressed in one of his father's gi) had just finished explaining how they would teach one another about their new genders while also devoting as much time as possible to the search for a cure.

"Well then, this isn't so bad. At least the schools can still be joined!" Soun exclaimed cheerily, though his jovial mood was almost assuredly due less to his opinion of the day's events than to the copious amounts of sake he'd been downing since regaining consciousness.

"What! ?" came the dual shouts from the red-haired girl and brown-haired boy, Akane startling himself with the force behind his cry.

"Daddy, what are you saying! ? That's crazy!" Akane protested, staring at his father in disbelief.

"Yeah! What are you…hey, what are ya sayin'? What's all this 'joinin' the schools' stuff about, anyway?" Ranma inquired, frustrated that she seemed to be the only one out of the loop.

All eyes turned to the pigtailed girl, making her instantly ill at ease. "Eh? What'd I say?"

Nabiki regarded her with an amused smirk, as she was clearly enjoying Ranma's discomfort. Kasumi, on the other hand, offered a sympathetic smile. Their father continued to grin giddily, while her father was apparently trying to sneak out of the room unnoticed.

"Oh, no, ya don't, Pop! You sit your big furry butt right back down. I know you've been hidin' somethin' from me, an' you ain't gettin' away 'til I know what it is!" the Saotome girl snapped.

"Why, I'm just a cute, harmless panda!" Genma signed as he rolled around on his back.

"Ha! 'Harmless,' he says. You're a damn walkin' disaster, Pop!" Ranma snarled. "Anyways…so what's the story, Akane? I really hate not knowin' what's goin' on."

"Ranma…" Akane answered guiltily, not quite looking at her, "Dad said that he and your father made a pact before we were even born that their children would join the two schools of Anything Goes…through marriage." Akane's shoulders slumped, anticipating Ranma's reaction.

"M- ma- marriage?" Ranma squeaked.

"Yeah…you know, husband and wife and all that?" Nabiki replied, barely containing her mirth. "Of course, you'll be the wife, but that's a minor detail, right? I'm sure you'll take good care of my little brother, won't you?"

"Nabiki!" Akane shouted, shame, embarrassment and an odd sense of protectiveness fueling his rage. "Leave her alone!"

"Hush, Nabiki. Akane and Ranma could both use our support right now. Why don't we save the teasing for later?" Kasumi requested, turning her attention to her transfigured youngest sibling. "I can't even begin to understand how stressful this has been for you, Akane, but lashing out at each other won't help us right now. And I want you to know I'm proud of you for keeping your temper in check as well as you have through everything that's happened. Now, Ranma-"

"Wife? Wife?" Ranma cut in. "You want me to get married! ? No way, nuh uh! I can't get married! This is too much!" she denied, growing more frantic with each word.

Suddenly, a massive dark aura erupted, leaving Ranma feeling suffocated by its intensity. Searching the room for its source, she gasped upon seeing the enormous glowering visage of the Tendo patriarch glaring daggers down at her. 'Wha- what the heck is this! ?' she wondered, too stunned even to panic.

"RANMA!" the giant head of Tendo Soun thundered, "You made my daughter into my son! You WILL take responsibility! Is. That. CLEAR! ?"

"Eep! Yes, sir," the pigtailed girl agreed quietly.

"Otou-san! Stop this!" Akane roared, unfazed by his father's display. "It wasn't her fault! It was an accident. She shouldn't be stuck with, with a freak just because of that," Akane finished quietly, turning and dashing out of the house.

"Hey, Akane! Hold up!" Ranma called, jumping to her feet to rush after the long-haired boy.

Watching the pair flee the room, Kasumi felt her usual sense of calm begin to slip. "Oh, my," she sighed.

Having been brushed aside so easily, Tendo Soun's grand show of strength quickly collapsed—not unlike a deflated balloon. His signature attack an abject failure, only one option remained.

"WAAAHHH! My little girl hates me! And she's a boy! WAAAHHH!"


.

Ranma soon found Akane sitting by the family's koi pond, gazing down at the water's surface.

"Hey, why'd ya just run off like that?" Ranma called as she approached.

"The spring you fell in…what did it look like? Anything like this?" the dark-haired boy asked.

"Eh…yeah, sorta. A little bigger, I guess. An' not just the one…dozens in all directions. Each with their own 'very tragic story.'"

"'Tragic'…hm. Ranma, I'm sorry for what happened back there. But don't worry, I won't let you be tied down to…someone like me," Akane replied, never shifting his eyes away from the pond.

"Nah, I'm sorry for freakin' out a little back there. Just caught me by surprise is all. So…'someone like you,' huh?" Ranma asked with a sigh as she sat down next to the taller boy. "You know, it's funny. Before today, I was the one who figured nobody would ever want someone like me. I may not like bein' forced into somethin' like this…hell, I hate it! You prob'ly don't like it much better, right? But the way I see it, if either of us hafta be stuck with anybody…who better than somebody in the same boat, right?" she offered with a wan smile.

"Heh. That's a pretty thin basis for an engagement, don't you think?"

"Ain't it better than 'just because my pop said so'? 'Sides, your dad's right. You wouldn't be in this mess if not for me. I should take responsibility for totally messin' up your life. So if that means sayin' okay to the whole engagement thing, at least for now…then that's what I gotta do," the redheaded girl replied resolutely.

"But Ranma, you don't 'gotta.' And remember what Nabiki said? She was being a jerk, but she was right. The way things are now, you'd be-" Akane began.

"I know! I know. You don't need to say it. But that's…okay. Anyways, hopefully we'll find a cure an' it won't come to that. An' if it does…well, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it, yeah?"

"Why are you being so stubborn about this?" Akane asked, his frustration starting to show.

"Didja forget our deal already? I promised to stick with ya until we find a cure, remember? As long as it takes…even if it means the rest of our lives. That's kinda like bein' engaged anyway, ain't it?" Ranma finished softly, joining Akane in staring down at her reflection in the pond. To think that something as simple as a little water could change so much.

Their eyes meeting in the water's surface, the Saotome girl and the Tendo boy turned to face each other directly.

Taking Ranma's much smaller hands in his own, Akane gave her a grateful smile. "Thank you so much, Ranma. I don't think I could get through this if you weren't here. And I know we only just met today, but I feel like as long as we're facing this together, we'll be okay...somehow," he said warmly, giving her hands a light squeeze.

The pair of cursed teens soon found themselves getting lost in the closeness of the moment, their eyes searching one another's for something neither even realized they needed. The splash of a koi breaking the water's surface seemed the break the spell as both boy and girl quickly pulled away, their cheeks burning.

'N- nani? What just happened?' Ranma wondered, too embarrassed to look at her companion. 'That was really weird. But…nobody's ever smiled at me like that before,' she noted in confusion.

Akane wasn't faring much better. Quite the opposite, in fact. 'Gah! I'm not a pervert! I'm not, I'm not! But…it would've been so easy just to lean in and- No! Shut up! Not listening!' he insisted, though he wasn't especially convinced. Trying to banish that line of thought, Akane jumped to his feet. "W- we should probably head back inside and let them know what we've decided, right?" he suggested anxiously, offering his hand to his new "fiancée."

Ranma looked up at the boy's hand, noting to herself that she certainly didn't need the boy's help in standing. But a glance at the warm but clearly nervous expression on Akane's face convinced her to hold her tongue. 'Okay…maybe just this once,' she decided, placing her own hand in Akane's to steady herself as she rose to her feet. "Yeah, let's go," Ranma said with a small smile.

And so the cursed couple returned to the house, marking the beginning of a new life and a new adventure for them both. Their story may not have been an entirely new one, but they could never have imagined all that was in store for them.

Unnoticed by either boy or girl, they walked the whole way back hand in hand.

"Hey, wait a second. That means you did let me take a bath with you even though you're really a boy!"

"Erk. Hang on, Akane…let's talk about this!"

"RANMAAA!"

"WAAAH!"

…Well, almost the whole way.

.


Author's Note: So there you have it. Like I said, this is a pilot of sorts—in that I'm not yet firmly committed to continuing it. So I tried to end it in a way that might be reasonably satisfying even if there's never any more of it. What did y'all think? Like I said, don't hold back. If it sucks, say so. If you think I should just leave it as is, that's fine. If you'd be interested in seeing more of the trials and tribulations of girl-type Ranma and boy-type Akane, please let me know. I have a pretty clear idea of how the plot would go for the most part, as they try to have something resembling normal lives (under assumed names, playing to the "new life" part of the title). All the while, they're still searching for a cure to the curse…and, of course, dealing with the full complement of Nerima crazies. I have things fairly well sketched out up Nodoka, which I'm thinking would wrap things up.

If you think Akane and Ranma are too out of character here, well, that may be the case. But I figured that Akane never really had a reason to explode at Ranma here, so there was no need for things to be antagonistic between them. Also, Ranma might have been a bit more subdued than usual anyway after realizing she'd quite possibly be spending the rest of her life as a girl. Add onto that the guilt over getting Akane cursed and the desire to keep this newfound friendship from going down the tubes, and I decided that a warm and considerate Ranma was rather plausible. As for Akane, I saw the shock over what happened dulling his temper somewhat, at least in the short term. And I felt that he would be seeing Ranma as something of a lifeline to hold onto in the storm of what would easily be the second-worst day of his life.

I realize I might be pushing the romance angle too quickly, but it really would not progress beyond those sorts of shared blushes and hand-holding moments for some time. And there would definitely be some of the good old-fashioned tsun-tsun bickering to go with the dere-dere cuteness. There's always going to be some friction between those two, but it'll look a lot different here than in canon. For example, I think I'd have a lot of fun playing with Ranma's sense of jealousy over the (decidedly unwanted) feminine attention Akane receives. Lots of entertaining possibilities, right? Or at least I think so. Again, any and all feedback is appreciated. I have a few more pieces in the works, including a couple of other "pilots" like this one, so you should see a few of them in some form over the next couple of months. Thank you for reading!