((LEGAL STUFF: Ash Ketchum, Brock, Misty, Pikachu, etc., are all property of whoever owns the Pokemon franchise including Nintendo, Game Boy, and the anime/cartoon version (it's such a large collective I'm not sure who owns what). I don't intend to infringe on anybody's rights, and I'm not getting any money out of this. Ranma Saotome, Akane Tendo, Mousse, Shampoo, and the other Ranma 1/2 characters are property of Rumiko Takahashi (hope I spelled that right). Again, this story is for reader enjoyment only. No profit is being made. Thank you, have a nice day...))
Part 2: Shock and Challenge
Ash had been following Misty from store to store for over an hour now since lunch, and was getting rather tired of it. His feet hurt, he felt tired, and Pikachu was still keeping his distance. He wondered if the Pokemon was upset because he'd made him leave the electricity globe.
Ash also had to use the restroom, fairly urgently considering how fast he'd drunk his soda at the Cat Cafe. He was getting fed up waiting for Misty to declare the trip's end.
"Okay, that's it. I've had enough," he declared finally, unable to stand it any longer.
"Huh?" Misty glared at him. "You promised I could shop all day!"
"Not you," Ash growled. "I gotta go."
"Men's room. I'll be right back."
"Oh." Misty's face lost it's dark look. "Whatever."
Ash trotted off, Pikachu still following him from a distance, looking for a restroom. "Jeez, why's she always gotta be so sensitive?" he grumbled as he went. "It's not like I think girls are weak. I just think they aren't as strong as boys. Boys always make better Pokemon trainers. We don't get so emotional about everything..."
Ash found a restroom in a small department store two shops back. Without hesitating, he strode into the men's room, Pikachu darting in beside him. The place was empty. He had just unipped his pants and was ready to get down to business when he suddenly noticed something missing. Something very important.
"What the--?" A terrified cry echoed through the bathroom, fortunately not penetrating the walls to the rest of the store.
* * * * *
Misty tapped her foot and checked her watch. "What's taking Ash so long? He's been gone ten minutes already."
"Give him a break," Brock said softly. "He did drink a ton of pop at the cafe."
"Yeah, whatever." The redhead still looked irritated. "How much longer do we have to wait?"
* * * * *
Oh God, oh God, what happened to me? Oh God... Ash frantically locked the door to the men's bathroom and scurried over to the mirror. Ripping off his baseball cap, he tore off his jacket and stared at himself in horror--realizing at the same time that himself didn't really apply anymore.
There wasn't much difference between his old face and his new one, save that the angles were softer and his new skin slightly paler. His hair was only a shade lighter than it had been, and was a little less spiky. It was almost slightly curly. He had eyelashes that reminded him of Misty, and his small, fine hands no longer fit snugly into his fingerless gloves. Why hadn't he realized that his clothes had suddenly grown a tad?
He took a moment to feel at his new face, then peered into his shirt, frightened beyond measure. There wasn't as much difference between the body of a twelve-year-old boy and a twelve-year-old girl as there was in an older person, but it was enough to be noticeable even through the shirt.
"Oh, my God..." Ash Ketchum sank to her knees against the bathroom wall, mind blanked in utter shock. "I'm a...girl!"
* * * * *
Misty had had enough. "That's it, I'm going after him. He's been in there for twenty minutes! C'mon Brock." The young girl stomped into the department store, dragging the older boy after her. They wound their way to the back of the store until they found the restrooms. Then Misty banged loudly on the men's room door.
* * * * *
Ash jerked around from splashing her face with cold water. "Oh, no!" she whispered, hearing Misty's irritated voice.
"Ash! Ash Ketchum, you come out this minute! You've been in there nearly half an hour!"
Ash had figured out how to go to the bathroom, but was then washing her face with cold water to try to get rid of the redness around her eyes. It was amazing how having something like this happen to you made you want to cry.
Pikachu was still sitting in the corner, staring at her. "Pika... Pika...pi?"
Ash put her jacket and hat back on. "Come on, Pikachu, it's me!" she said softly.
"Pika?" Pikachu cocked an ear.
"I know it's weird," Ash said. "I know it's confusing that I'm a...I'm a...girl...but it's really me."
"Chuuuu!" Pikachu sounded amazed.
"I'm Ash," she responded. "It's still me. I'm still Ash Ketchum. I don't know what's happened to me, Pikachu, but it's still me underneath."
"Pika...pi?" Pikachu considered, then smiled and trotted over to her. "Pikapi!"
"Thanks, Pikachu," Ash said gratefully, hugging the electric mouse. "It's nice to know one of us is still sane. I'm glad you believe me."
"Ash Ketchum! Unlock this door right now!" came Misty's voice from outside. "I'll have Brock use Onyx!"
"Oh, what am I gonna do?" Ash pulled her cap down closer to her face. "Maybe they won't notice. They didn't before, and neither did I..." She zipped her jacket up so her friends would hopefully not notice the...two new additions to her life. "Okay, I've got to keep this a secret. Don't tell them, okay Pikachu?"
"Chu." The yellow Pokemon nodded solemnly, hopping to her shoulder.
Ash unlocked the door and opened it, only to be grabbed by the jacket-front by Misty and hauled out. "What have you been doing? Do you know how late it is?"
Ash hurriedly shoved the taller girl away. "I was just goin' to the bathroom, jeez," she grumbled, keeping her voice low. "Can't a guy have any privacy?"
"Fine. But now it's late and we've got to find a hotel." Misty grabbed her hand and dragged her along. "You've made us late! If there's no rooms open, I'm gonna..."
"C'mon, Misty, this is Nerima. Nobody ever comes here; it's such a boring place," Ash said. Well, boring up until now.
* * * * *
Mousse had somehow made it to the Tendo Dojo, despite his near-blindness, and banged anxiously on the door. After his third set frantic knocks the door was opened by Kasumi Tendo.
"Oh! Mousse, how can I help you?" the oldest Tendo daughter asked politely.
"Is Ranma here?" Mousse asked quickly. "It's an emergency."
"Yeah, I'm here, Mousse," said Ranma Saotome himself, from behind Kasumi. Mousse could tell by his voice that the martial artist's guard was up. "What'dya want? Shampoo again?"
Mousse drew himself up. "Despite our rivalry over the beautiful Shampoo and my attempts to prove my love for her, this has nothing to do with you and I, or Shampoo."
Ranma stepped out onto the porch. "You're not here to attack me?"
"Not this time," Mousse admitted. "This has to do with the well-being of an innocent young person. Will you hear me out?"
Ranma sighed, crossing his arms. "This ain't some dumb trick of Cologne's, is it?"
"I'm coming of my own accord, Saotome. Cologne and Shampoo know nothing of this."
"Huh. I thought Cologne always knows what's going on."
"Would you just shut up and listen, Saotome?" Mousse snapped. "Someone's in trouble and I need your...expertise to get them out."
"All right, all right..." Ranma rolled his eyes. Why did all the hard-luck cases always come looking for him? "It ain't some girl that's gonna latch on to me and wanna marry me, is it?"
"Well, probably not," Mousse said wryly, then turned serious. "It has to do with someone that was at the Cat Cafe earlier, and somehow got into Cologne's study."
"And that means...what?"
"I think it was a little boy who was there at lunchtime," Mousse continued. "I forget his name, but he had a yellow Pokemon with him. I think he spilled some of this, maybe even on himself." The Chinese boy pulled out the broken bottle, holding it up for Ranma to see the label.
"I can't read Chinese, duck-boy," Ranma growled.
Mousse swallowed his anger at the jibe. "It says Suspended Nyanniichuan, Saotome."
"Nyanniichuan?" Ranma's suspicion dropped in a second. "Some poor kid went an' spilled Nyanniichuan on himself? Man..."
"Now do you see why I need your help?" Mousse asked. "I can't see well enough to locate the boy out of a crowd. I need your eyes...and your experience."
"Sure, yeah," Ranma replied. "I gotta find this kid and help him understand the curse so he doesn't freak out too bad. I can do that; I understand what he's goin' through."
"I'm sure he's 'freaking out' already, Saotome," Mousse said.
"How'm I gonna find one kid in the middl'a Nerima? Ya don't even know what he really looks like."
"He has the yellow Pokemon. Just look for that."
"Oh." Ranma paused. "What the heck's a Pokemon?"
"It's about the size of a fat...er...duck..." Mousse had been about to say "cat" but thought better of it, seeing as how Ranma was deathly afraid of even having the species mentioned. "It looks a little like a rabbit, but it's golden yellow all over with a tail like a lightning bolt. Trust me, you can't miss it. Even I didn't."
"Okay. I'll get goin', then," Ranma said with a nod, but Mousse stopped him.
"There's more," Mousse continued. "I need you to explain to him the facts about Suspended Nyanniichuan. It's different."
"Suspended?" Ranma looked puzzled. "How different?"
Mousse looked grim. "Sit down with me, Saotome, and I'll explain the difference between your curse and his..."
* * * * *
If Ash thought that her predicament was bad now, what happened when the group rounded a corner was even worse.
"There you are, Ash Ketchum!" yelled a familiar, if disliked, voice.
Ash groaned, feeling as if she'd curled up and died inside. Oh, no, it's Gary!
Gary Oak, grandson of Professor Oak the Pokemon expert, waved and jogged up to them, his customary smirk in place. "Hi, Ash. How's the Pokemon training going? Oh, look, still hanging out with your cute little runt Pikachu."
"Pika-chu!" the electric mouse spat angrily.
"Gary, what are you doing here?" Ash snarled, almost forgetting to lower the timbre of her voice.
"I've been trying to catch up with you for some time now," said the proud sixteen-year-old. "When I heard you were heading for the forest outside Nerima to train, I thought I'd come along. After all, there's hardly any Pokemon around here and I thought we could have a match or two, since there won't be any interruptions. That and not many Pokemon folks to watch you lose, so you won't be embarassed."
Ash fumed inside. "I don't care what you want, Gary. I didn't come here to battle Pokemon. I came to...to...let Misty shop for a while." She turned and huffed off down the sidewalk.
"Oh, so that's it. The great Ash Ketchum is too chicken to battle me." Gary smiled cruelly, knowing just how to jab the youngster. "What'sa matter, too girly to battle Pokemon? You'd much rather go dress shopping with Misty!"
"Pika! Chu pika!"
Ash whirled, fists clenched, teeth gritted. "I am not a girl! I can handle any Pokemon battle any time! Just pick your time and place!"
"Fine. Noon tomorrow at Furinkan High School's outdoor basketball court. See ya." Gary walked off, smirking broadly at having egged the younger trainer into another battle.
Ash dropped her anger the moment she realized what she'd done. Oh, no! I can't battle Gary--not like this! And I can't back down now or he'll never let me forget it!
"Well, this should be exciting," Misty giggled as she followed an unresponsive Ash towards the hotel. "I know you can beat Gary any day!"
This jerked Ash out of her stupor. "You really think so?"
"Well, you can be irresponsible about your techniques, but your Pokemon are great." Misty seemed willing to give Ash the benefit of the doubt, even with this small of a compliment.
Brock checked them in at the hotel, him being the oldest. "All right, I got us a room on the second floor, with two beds."
Ash's eyes widened. "What, we can't get separate rooms?"
Misty shook her head. "Now, Ash, why would we need to do that? We've never needed separate rooms before, and besides, it costs too much."
"Never mind. It was nothing."
"Ash, are you okay? You look a little pale." Misty leaned over to feel Ash's forehead.
Ash ducked out of her reach. "No! I mean...no, I'm fine. Just a little tired, that's all."
"Oh." Misty dropped the matter for the remainder of the evening.
That night, the three trainers slept as usual, with Misty on one bed and Ash and Brock on another. Ash, however, slept fully clothed, on the outside of the blankets, and as far away from Brock as she could get.
To Be Continued...