The Measure of Worth
By: Discord


A/N: My first Ranma 1/2 romance, yay!!! An Alternate Universe fic set in medieval France featuring everyone's fav couple Ranma and Akane ^_^.

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CHAPTER 1 - A Chance Meeting


"Lady Akane, you mustn't do this! If your father finds out...." An anxious maid wrung the hem of her apron in her hands and quickly looked to the closed door, as if already seeing a red-faced Soun Tendo storming towards them.

"Nonsense! Father is away at that bureaucrat Tofu's estate and I will only be gone for the afternoon. There's nothing to worry about Georgette." Akane smiled in reassurance and finished wrapping her chest. She turned to a worn pair of breeches on a nearby chair and her grin grew as she stepped into a leg.

"But Lady Akane! You cannot parade around the kingdom like a street vagrant! What would your fiancé think?!" The maid was aghast at her mistress's unladylike conduct and twisted her apron tighter in her hands.

"Let him think whatever he likes!" Akane shrugged and pulled the loose breeches up over her hips. "I will have one day that is all my own before I am bound, tied and married off!" She gave the handmaiden a vehement, determined look and then slipped a work shirt on over her head.

"But Mistress, hasn't Lord Ryoga always been kind and gentle to you? Why would you want to disobey his request that you stay inside the castle? He only has your best interests at heart-"

"I'd like to decide what's best on my own Georgette, without my fiancé's help." Akane lifted her chin defiantly and began to tuck the shirt into her breeches. She could see from the look in the other woman's eyes that she just didn't understand Akane. It was too much for the comely maid to comprehend why her mistress wanted to journey to the village against the word of a man like Ryoga.

"It's because my whole life is already planned out for me." Akane answered the handmaiden's unspoken question and Georgette put her hands on her hips.

"And what's wrong with that?" The woman asked indignantly. "You have a safe home, a respectful title and a noble lord who loves you. What more could any woman want?"

"I want to be myself!" Akane cried out in exasperation and threw her hands up in the air. "I want to run barefoot and learn to cuss. I want people to see me for who I am, without airs and pretenses."

The handmaiden looked at her like she was crazy and Akane sighed, realizing that it was no use.

She closed her eyes and shook her head, fighting back the idea that she would forever be confined to the status of a proper lady. Exhaling slowly, Akane tied a faded red bandana around her forehead. Ignoring the maid's look of disapproval she strode to the fireplace and patted her cheeks with ash.

"So, what do you think? Could I pass for a boy?" Akane stood up and turned around in a circle, burying down the bleak thoughts of her future with a forced smile.

"They'll be able to tell you're a woman in a moment my lady. The way you walk and talk and act will give you away. And your cheekbones and chin and profile are all much too feminine. Just bandaging down your breasts won't do much to hide the fact that you are not male."

"Well...we'll just see," Akane put her hands on her hips and frowned a little. "Go out into the hall and make sure no one is coming." She gave a little wave away from her, looking cross.

The maid bowed and made her way across the carpeted floor. She peeked open the door and saw that the dark corridor was empty.

"All's clear my lady," Georgette turned around and a breeze from the newly opened window was her only response in the now empty room.


***


Akane walked through the streets with her mouth agape, watching as people sold cattle and produce from shabby, makeshift stands on either side of her. Everything seemed to be covered in a layer of dirt and hay and Akane found the barn smell that permeated the marketplace new and delightful. Heckling voices sounded all around her and she watched as a pigtailed boy around her age argued with a street vendor selling fish.

"You old hustler! I could have caught better trout than these with my teeth! I wouldn't pay one farthing for the likes of this fish!" The boy made a face as he held up a sickly looking perch and the proprietor leaned over his cart with a dark scowl.

"Get outta here Ranma, go bother someone else," the man's gruff voice sounded menacing and his brows drew together in anger. "Your big mouth's bad for business." Ranma tipped his hand to his forehead in acknowledgment and smiled.

"So, are you gonna give me a fish? Or do you want me to use that mouth of mine?"

"Why you lousy no good-"

Interrupting the shop owner the boy cupped his hands around his weapon. "Looks like you're trying to sell CRUDDY FISH HERE..." he stopped as several people glanced over and the man's dark look intensified.

"All right, all right," he snarled and threw Ranma a thin mackerel. "Now get!"

Triumphantly the pigtailed boy turned with his lunch and Akane smiled in spite of herself. She couldn't help but admire his determination.
Akane was turning to go and didn't notice the shop owner as he came out from behind his cart. She caught his movement from the corner of her eye and watched as the swindled man aimed a punch for Ranma's back. Akane yelled out a warning just as he swung.

"Look out!" She called, knowing it was too late. Ranma whipped his head around at the sound and instinctually ducked.

The proprietor's intended blow missed and he struck nothing but air. The boy was a blur of movement as he dropped to the ground and swung his foot around in an arc, kicking the legs out from under the disgruntled fish vendor and toppling him to the ground.

Ranma smirked and rose from his crouch. He turned away from the downed man and met Akane's gaze. She smiled slightly as he walked over and she unconsciously tucked her short hair behind her ears.

"Thanks," he said, stopping in front of her. "He would have really clobbered me if I'd been taken off guard."

Akane shrugged. "I don't know about that, you still managed to take him down even with only that second to spare."

"Well thanks for the warning," the boy smiled. "My name's Ranma." He stuck his hand out and Akane clasped his palm in hers.

"I'm A-" she started to say, but remembered her disguise just in time. "I'm... uh... Ryoga."

"Nice to meet you Ryoga," Ranma smiled, then grimaced. "That's quite a grip you've got there," he nodded at their handshake and Akane blushed, letting her hand fall in embarrassment.

"S-sorry..."

"Don't worry about it, I'm just surprised that a skinny fellow like you can be so strong." Ranma nodded in approval and Akane smiled sheepishly.

"A lot of people underestimate me I guess,"

The boy nodded. "I get that a lot too. So, you live around these parts? I haven't seen you here in the market before...."

"Actually, I work up at the castle. I tend to its gardens and the surrounding grounds." Akane recited her practiced lie and thought that it might as well have been the truth. She spent most of her days in the forest outside her home's towering stone walls, helping the aging gardener whenever she got the chance.

Ranma whistled. "That must be a tough job, what with those priggish royals ordering you around all day. I wouldn't wish a meaner bunch to work for even on that spiteful vendor." The boy hiked his thumb back to the groaning man who still lay in the marketplace square and Akane couldn't keep the shock from her face.

"P-Priggish? Mean?!" Her face grew hot at the slur against her family. "What are you talking about?! Do other people feel this way too?"

"Of course! The royals live off our labor. All they do is sit around all day eating and congratulating themselves on being lords over us." Ranma made a face. "They leave a foul taste in my mouth and I hope the Duke and his three snotty daughters die a slow death."

Akane's palm connected with his cheek a moment after he finished and a red handprint blazed on his face before he knew what hit him.

"How dare you!!!" She cried, growling in the back of her throat. "The Tendo's have done nothing but protect this land! The taxes you pay go to the province tributaries and keep the countryside safe from marauders and bandits! Soun Tendo and his two eldest daughters work everyday signing treaties and visiting with diplomats to protect peace." Akane shook with anger and it was all she could do not to slap him again. "And this is what they get for gratitude?! A death wish on their whole family and scorn from a man who knows nothing about them!!" Akane turned on her heel, eyes blazing with fury.

"Hey, why are you getting so riled up for? It's not like I was insulting you for being their gardener or anything." Ranma put his hands up, looking confused.

"When you insult the Tendo's, you insult me," she spat. "They treat me like family and they are the greatest rulers this land has ever seen. You should be ashamed at your discontentment; they have kept this country free from war and strife. Do not blame them on your own shortcomings. If you do not have enough, you have only yourself to blame." Akane turned away and gave him a cold look from the corner of her eye. "That foul taste in your mouth is probably just the flavor of your own lack of character."

With that she stormed away, leaving the pigtailed boy standing speechless in the crowded square.


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A/N: So what do you think? Love at first site right? ::clears throat:: yeah....... suuuuure -_-;;