An experimental Ranma / Sailor Moon crossover story
by Brian Randall
Disclaimer: The paints in this story are from Takahashi, Viz (Ranma ½), and Kitty Films, Naoko Takeuchi (Sailor Moon). They are used here on this easel without permission.
Experimental disclaimer: This story's a bit weird.
Foreword / Preface
This is a story, and it's one you've seen before. No, really. Scroll back a few lines. Yes, that's part of it.
Well, of course it's experimental. But even though you've seen this story before, it's not, necessarily, the one you're familiar with. Then, this isn't a story of the destination at all; you know that heading in. This is a story of the journey. Unless it isn't.
So we begin.
Her skirts swept the floor as she crossed the room, too much in a hurry to gather them up. Her husband's eyes flashed to her, and he bowed low, looking away immediately.
Smothering a frown of displeasure, she stopped before him. "I hear," she began tersely, "rumors that you have taken a mistress."
"Lies, I assure you," he said quietly, turning his back to her, and staring into the cold marble fireplace of their shared quarters. "I have feelings, Milady. I am but a Guardian, pure in deed and word only. My spirit is not so great as yours."
She bit back a cry of rage, of anger, and of hateful jealousy. Schooling herself, she assumed control of her emotions. "Who is she?"
"Best I not say, Milady," he said neutrally, still not meeting her eyes.
"Oh, have you reason to think that?" she snarled. "I can cross the span of space and time in the blink of an eye to know for certain what the truth is. Do not mistake, husband, my respect for you for an inability to use my powers—"
And then he did turn on her, his eyes blazing with furious power. "Is that how it is to be?" he growled. "I give you my body, Setsuna, as you asked. I give you my word. I am your servant, in all ways. The last I retain for myself, is my hope, my will. My dreams. Will you take those, too, knowing that I would die before I betray you? Will you defy the will of our Queen because you are unhappy that my mind wanders, even though I remain as I should? Is it so great a thing, from so small a man, that it cannot be forgiven?"
She ground her teeth. And looked away.
Her queen's final words to her echoed. That order to maintain what she could, and carry on to the future. As instructed, she had not been at the final battle. She watched from a place outside of space, numb and unfeeling as all she had known crumbled.
There, in the remains of the palace, where the last stand had been made… there lay her husband's body, though he fell reaching for another woman. And then she understood, well and truly, why her husband would never reveal who his heart belonged to.
"Ah," she gasped, slumping to lean on her staff, before the gates. "It hurts."
No one else was there to hear her weep her miseries to the timeless silence.
Time had hardened her where her husband's unfettered heart had not. She had spent ages beyond mortal perceptions merely studying the future, watching the effects of a single change like ripples across a pond.
Watching, she analyzed, and planned, and plotted. Some changes were subtle, and required little effort. Others were vast, sometimes requiring her to spend years studying masters of various arts until she could replicate their feats. Ultimately, she learned, and grew.
Until she had reasoned that she was able to follow her last orders, forever. "For you, my queen," she whispered, looking at the sleeping world outside of the Gates, "I will see it done."
Nerima is a city of tinder
A young martial artist gathered his small child into his lap, and looked deeply into his wife's eyes, pledging that he would shape the child to be a man among men. Behind him, just outside of time, if you knew where to look, a woman with a key-topped staff watched the signing of the contract.
Ultimately, it had been her shaping of his life that led him to the potential he held. As careful as Setsuna had been in guiding him, as close as she'd managed to keep him for that time he'd be needed… It wasn't for him, or even for her. It was all for her Queen.
And yet… She couldn't help but feel the barest glimmering of remorse, as she watched possible futures fall away, his destiny becoming more rigidly defined as it progressed. Soon, he would have no escape, save death.
Wasn't it all worth it, if it ended the way she had been told it must?
Akane rubbed at her temples irritably. "Look," she said in a quiet voice, "this isn't something that's open to discussion. I asked you here to see if we could work things out peacefully. Ranma's already made up his mind."
Shampoo sniffed haughtily. "You no take Airen from Shampoo," she demanded. "Violent-girl pretend to marry Shampoo's husband without permission — very bad thing. Do not be obstacle."
Akane growled wordlessly, and turned to her sister and her father, who were mediating the conversation.
Nabiki raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think I can possibly resolve… Say, do you hear that?"
"It's such a wonderful evening, Genma," Nodoka murmured, sitting on the rear porch of her home. "I'm glad you and Ranma are finally back! Where did he need to go in such a hurry, by the way?"
"He had to have a talk with one of his friends," the martial artist replied with a shrug. "Ah, look, Nodoka, a shooting star!"
"Dearest… I don't think that's a shooting star."
"So, what are you saying, then?" Ukyou asked, more of a growl, as she rubbed at the tears on her face. "You're trying to tell me that you're just going to throw me by the wayside? Again?"
"That ain't it!" he protested, shaking his head. "Look, Ucchan, you're my friend, and one of my better friend's at—" He cut off suddenly, eyes widening as he gasped, reeling as though physically struck. "No," he breathed shakily. "Saffron!"
In the end, unflinchingly, Setsuna did as she had been bidden. It hurt, but as she had practiced, the hurt had lessened. Now, after centuries, this small thing… these last bits of meddling… they felt so small, so insignificant that sometimes she wondered where the pain had gone.
Perhaps, she mused, there simply hadn't been room for it anymore. Perhaps, loyalty could triumph over her own wishes… as it once had for her husband.
And From the West, a Spear of Flame
His arrival was preceded only by the rolling curtain of flame that exploded from his impact point. Buildings were reduced to ruin in moments, the devastation expanding to consume all of Nerima before it stopped. Smoke and dust billowed upwards in clouds that cloaked the city in darkness.
And then, deep and furious, filling the ominous clouds with flashes of red, a voice bellowed in Mandarin Chinese, "Where is Saotome Ranma?"
Crafting a weapon, Setsuna knew, was a task that required the utmost attention to detail. And one of the most critical details was to burn away all of the impurities in your stock before you began.
Ranma's mind had cast aside everything but the immediate battle. There was more, of course, but he couldn't afford to consider it, not now. He couldn't think about the collapsing remains of buildings he crashed through. Konatsu's cry of agony before nothing, or Ukyou's pained gasp.
It was hard to tell, beneath the skies of rolling fire, where he was going. He felt, distantly, that the magic of the phoenix pill was still working to save him, though the body clutched in his arms— Think of that later, he thought, turning his attention ahead of him. A… a green field. Yet unburnt.
Perhaps a safe place. Saffron was behind him, he knew, but his attention was elsewhere, a stream of fire wide as a city block obliterating… something… while he yelled, continuing to demand that Ranma show his face. There, the school! That was the track!
The school was intact. He moved forward, drawing a breath of thankfully smoke-free air, and leapt to the roof. The air was clear, allowing him to see through the narrow span above the smoke, and beneath Saffron's curtain of flame.
In the distance, the phoenix god hovered, the molten sunlight pouring from his hand erasing the Nekohanten from Tokyo, and leaving a streaked green spike across Ranma's vision. He looked away, closing his eyes, and tried to take stock of the situation.
What had he seen? He had seen the clouds of smoke, he decided, nothing more. Surely, the smoke would prevent him from seeing any buildings. He set down the body— He unburdened himself, and opened his eyes again.
No magic staff, he thought bitterly. Not this time. No magic from Akane either. She was… safe at the dojo.
He opened his eyes, as he sensed people lighting on the roof behind him.
Slowly, numbly, he turned, and stared. Nine girls in cheerleader outfits. A man in a tuxedo. Distantly, he remembered hearing Akane talk about them being in the news, and then recognized them.
"Heh," he managed, through cracked, dry lips. "That's rich."
As she landed from the last leap, Ami stared at the boy already waiting there. His back was turned, but he wore a blue, tattered Chinese shirt. It was scorched, one sleeve actually still smoking. As he turned, his face and hands were dark with soot, his eyes a hard gray emerging from beneath a black curtain.
He coughed once, and then said, "Tha's rich."
"Isn't it?" Setsuna asked, striding forward to peer at him closely. "We'll be noticed in a minute, Ranma. And then Saffron will destroy any chance of saving anyone." She pointed at the body Ami had been trying not to see, the one lying behind the boy on the ground, the girl who would have looked a bit like Makoto, perhaps, if… "She's still alive. Look behind you, Ranma. There is no smoke. After you look at her… look for the dojo."
Something dangerous flashed in the boy's eyes, a flicker of bright, colorless energy, and he turned his back on Setsuna. The others were transfixed with the boy, so only Ami watched the Senshi of Pluto. Only she saw Setsuna flinch. A curtain of fire exploded towards them, but came short, a wave of heated air still blasting across the rooftop.
The boy tensed, and crouched in front of the body he was protecting, his clothes becoming more singed, but he himself showing no sign of wear. Ami felt her own energy being used to deflect the heat, and instinctively raised a hand to shield her face, and then it was over, and an echoing laugh sounded from the sky.
The terrible thing that had come from China then pointed at them, and its voice echoed. "I have found you!" she knew it said, though she distantly realized that she didn't know Chinese. "Saotome Ranma, for your crimes, I shall show you no mercy. Learn what the true wrath of a god is, mortal, and tremble that you may not use my own weapons against me!"
Ami heaved a shuddering sigh, and glanced at the boy. He rose from the body, and stared at Setsuna, his eyes hard. "Last time," he growled, "I had a magic staff. I can't do this. Not alone."
"What was once forbidden shall be no more," Setsuna said, smirking. "You need a magical staff, Ranma? Take one." Setsuna pointed behind herself, a finger extended unerringly towards Hotaru.
The boy didn't wait, didn't ask, and didn't, really, even seem to move. He was simply there, striding away from Hotaru with the Silence Glaive in one hand. At the fifth step, he stopped, staring at the point where his skin touched the glaive in fascination. Ami looked, too, and saw curling smoke rise, thick and white.
"What's going on here?" Usagi finally burst out. "I'm confused!"
"Don't be," Setsuna said mildly. "However! Time is short. There were, in times that none of you remember, Guardians who defended the Senshi. It is time for their spirit, weak though it was, to be revived in a single vessel. This one, who has been born with all of the components in him."
Ranma's gaze rose from his smoking hand, to stare at Setsuna, rage lighting in his eyes.
Usagi shook her head, trying, "But… how…?"
"Simply heal him," Setsuna said. "The shattered pieces of his soul will mend. If not… then the Glaive will destroy him."
"You bitch," he spat at Setsuna suddenly, his hand now aflame. "I'm outta here."
And with that, he vanished.
Setsuna raised her staff in warning, and said something… and everything went dark.
When a true masterwork sword is crafted, stock is drawn for two weapons. One weapon will house all of the positive qualities, and the other will house all of the negative qualities. The true sword will remain loyal to its wielder, so long as the anti-sword is safely sealed away.
But an incomplete weapon is not truly perfect.
He was distantly aware of arguing behind him, but he ignored it; the fire had risen to his elbow, and only the soul of ice drove away the distraction. His time was short, and he caught the ruined awning of a nearby building, tearing the thick canvas from its metal frame and swirling it about his shoulders like a cloak.
Within the Thief's Mantle, he rose to the rooftops, what shattered few remained, and caught the hot wind in his cloak, rising to face his enemy.
It seemed to Minako that once Setsuna had managed to move all of them to the yard, as the school building exploded, that someone should have taken care of the innocent victim who had been left there. "Where's… the girl?" she asked in confusion, looking back at the building.
Setsuna collapsed, lying prone on the field.
"Where's Mako-chan?" Usagi gasped.
The canvas Ranma had chosen was sturdy, but even with Iron Cloth and the Soul of Ice, he couldn't contain the phoenix god's flames long enough to throw them back in his face. He knew, of course, that fire did nothing to Saffron anyway, but he had nothing else to work with from the Umisenken.
The Yamasenken did nothing to Saffron, his attempts at throwing spears and javelins meeting failure. The glaive wouldn't let him form vacuum blades, and he couldn't get close enough to use the polearm as a weapon itself.
So instead, he worked on deflecting Saffron's fire into the ground, slowly carving out a great spiral.
Usagi ran for the ruins of the school with all the speed she could muster, the other Senshi ordered to action tending Setsuna or facing the thing that had attacked. She ran for Makoto.
What she found was Setsuna, although as she skidded to a halt and looked over her shoulder, she saw another Setsuna there, still lying prone. A sense of deep wrongness formed in her heart, and she gasped, "What… have you done?"
"I follow orders," Setsuna said quietly. "You must listen to me. Makoto will survive, as will that girl — that Ukyou. But not in the sense you think. In order for the best possible future to be achieved, everything must proceed in order. And that means you must heal that boy," she said, pointing across the ruins of Nerima, where a giant swirling gout of flame began to erupt.
"How? I can't even reach him from here!" Usagi protested, part of her mind urging her to ignore Setsuna, and simply run to Makoto.
"You can," Setsuna said, smiling. "Just point it at him," she said, indicating the phoenix creature.
Nodding, Usagi did as she was told, uncertainty causing her aim to waver… and miss.
He caught the whiff of another power approaching, as the flame from the glaive began to consume his shoulder, and he instinctively shifted his angle towards it. Perhaps, he thought, it was from the Senshi. Well, undoubtedly it was an attack meant to destroy Saffron… and Ranma's work was only half-done on the Hiryuu Shouten Ha he hoped would blow Saffron away until… Until….
He intercepted the energy, trying to catch it in the canvas and fling it at Saffron. But the Soul of Ice extended into that foreign power, which slammed through him, and sent him tumbling into the darkness.
After a weapon is forged, it must be quenched.
Hotaru watched, curious that someone had taken the glaive from her. At Setsuna's urging, so it was understandable… but curious. As she watched, the battle had raged, the boy seeming to slip from shadows behind the flames that the phoenix god hurled about.
But then, something from Usagi struck him, and then he'd exploded in white light… and when the light had faded, he was wearing a great, deep purple cloak, and he yelled, "I am the Guardian of Saturn, and I am your destruction!"
And then, he seemed to flit about near the flaming god, and carve dark spirals of nothingness into the air itself. These dark spirals all suddenly exploded inward, shadow and fire combating, but fire ultimately emerging triumphant.
The explosion compressed into a tiny sphere, which the Guardian snapped his cloak at, six times, before gliding away. Then the sphere blossomed into a column of light that seemed to stretch on to infinity, and at the height Saffron had been, an expanding disc of flame washed out, clearing the air of clouds entirely.
And then the skies were empty.
If a weapon is to be crafted, it can be used by any wielder. It was not enough for Setsuna to make a weapon; she needed to make it loyal.
Makoto had sacrificed herself for the other girl. Or, she would have, had the other girl not already been dying.
As a result, the two lay side-by-side in the ruins of Furinkan, Makoto's magical energies and spirit reduced to nearly nothing in her attempt to protect, as the boy had. The other girl's body was a burnt ruin… but she somehow clung to life anyway.
Usagi knew to heal the girl, but Makoto… "What can I do?" she sobbed. "I don't—"
"Quickly, now," Setsuna said, approaching from the shadows, a massive egg held in her hands. "There is a way to save them. I know how much awakening the Guardian drained you, but I knew that this was the best possible way things could be made to go. Use the power of this, and heal them both."
Usagi hesitated, but only a moment. She'd come this far, and Setsuna's heart seemed in the right place.
So she did as she was told, crying out in alarm as the other girl vanished, and the glow of life returned to Makoto.
The Guardian returned then, and looked about once.
The Senshi paused, studying their new ally. His clothes were immaculate, a rich purple cloak and matching Chinese shirt with black wooden ties adorning his shoulders. His arms were not covered by sleeves, but instead jet black wrist-bands, leaving his biceps bare. He had black Chinese slacks, and his hair was the same color, running nearly to his waist in a queue. Purple eyes sparked with energy as he looked around a second time.
Not seeing what he was looking for, he cast the Silence Glaive away, letting it fall to the ground carelessly. His eyes suddenly became gray, his clothing became tattered, and changed color. His hair became shorter, and was no longer so neatly tied back. The rich purple cloak became ragged brown canvas. "Well," he said. "Later."
And then he simply wasn't there anymore.
There were things that Setsuna had desired to know, when she was cast out, alone in time. Doors with possibilities and knowledge behind them. Some of them opened with words, even glances.
But there were also doors that she had not opened, as much as she wanted to.
She'd never watched to see what would happen if she told her princess all she had done, for in those futures, her princess heard… but her queen answered. And Setsuna couldn't bear to see her judgment, not after all of the planning and effort she had put into this.
What Will Be, Must Be
"Why… did this happen?" Rei asked. "This is… all so…"
"This happened because it was inevitable. Saffron would have come, in time. It didn't involve us, but our options were to ignore it, or awaken the Guardian. And in the future, there will be need for him."
"No 'buts'," Setsuna overrode. "What will be, must be. Now, in a few minutes I will need to fetch back our wayward Guardian."
"Pluto," Usagi said shakily. "You… told me that I'd heal both of them. Where… is the other girl?"
Setsuna shook her head. "She's still there," she said quietly. "If you know where to look. Makoto is going to require a lot of attention until she recovers." Then she turned around, and walked away.
In Private, an Objection
"Setsuna!" she hissed, once the others were distracted with looking at Makoto.
The woman halted, one foot across a line of rubble leading deeper into Nerima's ruined heart. "Yes?" she asked, turning around, and smiling pleasantly at Ami.
"What— You might be able to bluster and fool the others, but if you're capable of a fraction of the things I know you're able to do… How can you claim that that's the best possible outcome? That's terrible! Look around us! The city is in ruins! I can't even begin to count how many lives have been lost!"
"Oh," Setsuna said quietly. "Don't mistake me. This isn't the end, Ami. Merely a step across the path. This outcome is not what I'm looking for. We need to come here to get to a better place."
"How can you look at this and say such things! And how could you let that happen to Makoto-chan?"
Setsuna sighed, and closed her eyes. "Oh, it was necessary, Ami. The Guardians were needed, because we were soldiers, but not warriors. We had those who fought before us, and we supported. You won't remember this… not yet. But their spirits were not close to the Queen, and they were left behind."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"This is the way things could have ended best. If we failed here, there would be nothing to save. Understand, in another time the Guardians were often more than simply warriors, Ami. They were allies, and one alliance was forged much more closely than others. I do not intrude, because it is not my place to do so. But there was a strong love between one of the Senshi and her Guardian. Because of this, her spirit was shattered in two."
"You mean… that girl…."
"It was. Oh, but it didn't need to be. You must understand this, Ami-chan. It was Makoto. This time." She smiled then, though her eyes didn't show it. "It could have been you."
Ami recoiled from the coldness of Setsuna's tone, and shook her head. "How can you…."
"You'll see, Ami," she murmured, turning deeper into Nerima. "You'll see."
Among the Ashes
The koi pond, Ranma had decided, was the center of the Tendo home. It was now a molten pit, which he stood to one side of. He had just finished calculating where he thought the living room would have been in relation to the dojo when he caught sight of her.
"You," he said flatly.
"A dark day, Son-in-law," she said quietly.
Remnants of a Legacy
She looked at the boy. He was unhurt, though filthy. His clothing was in ruin. His eyes were empty and lifeless.
A breeze swirled around them, cloaking the area with soot and ash. "Yeah," he said quietly. "I don't think I'm lettin' it hit me. Shampoo was here, ol' ghoul."
"Yeah. Akane was gonna tell 'er off. So we could get married."
She snorted, closing her eyes. "A noble goal," she muttered. "Shampoo was loyal to the end. I sense no remnant of her ki here. I can find no body, only… ash."
"So. Now what?"
"I don't know, Son-in-law. I imagine that the authorities will be here soon. Your name was shouted across the sky. Countless lie dead. Perhaps you will find safety and healing. Perhaps you will find blame and anger. I can only tell you that if you stay, you will not find privacy. Not for a long time."
He nodded, reaching into the ashes, and pulling out the Tendo family naginata, miraculously unscathed from the flame. "I'm out of here," he said, shrugging. "Take care, you ol'…." Then he frowned, and some spark of life came back into his eyes for a moment. "Take care."
"You can find me at the spot where I trained Ryouga," she called, as he walked away. "For a few weeks. You may wish to train."
He hesitated and turned to look at her curiously.
"And we both may need to say goodbye to Shampoo," she added.
For a silent minute, as the sounds of sirens began to echo in the distance, he stared at her, then he nodded. "After I say goodbye to a few other people first."
Words: Promises and Lies
He ran into her just after he'd passed the remnants of the dojo, while he was in the shadow of a partially remaining wall. For a moment, he considered trying to speak to her. To ask her what she'd done. To ask what he'd done.
Then he remembered the weight of the weapon in his hands, and stepped into the cloak of the Umisenken, slipping to one side. Her hand shot out and grabbed his arm, not so tightly he couldn't escape, but firmly enough to slow him. "What do you want," he growled.
"To tell you what happened."
"I don't care." He pulled his arm free and strode forward, pausing when she was standing there, waiting for him. A turn and a leap carried him to the top of the wall's rubble, and from there he bounded a distance away, coming to rest in the remains of a playground.
She was sitting patiently atop the ruined heap of a slide, her hands folded in her lap as she looked up at him expectantly.
He narrowed his eyes, and turned again.
The Thief's Mantle hid him from the sight of others as he crossed out of ruined Nerima, running clear across the city, pausing to cling to trains on occasion until he'd reached Chiba. Then, a run into a washroom, a splash of cold water, and the Umisenken was released.
A casual stroll brought her to a teahouse, where she fumbled a singed bill from one pocket, and bought a cup of hot chocolate as she sat to watch the news on television.
"…few survivors. Currently, authorities are investigating the whereabouts of this 'Saotome Ranma'. If you see anyone matching this description…." And then it cut to a shot of his form, blurry, and from a great distance, purple cloak flaring behind him, weapon in his hands flexing like a yari as he whipped it about, forming spirals of shadow all about Saffron.
She shivered, and then someone sat down at the table next to her, pointing a remote control and changing the channel to sports news. Swallowing, Ranma turned to confront the woman who had offered her the magical staff again. "Why won't you leave me alone?" she sighed.
"Because your destiny is not over."
"Everything… everyone I knew," she said, shaking her head. "They're all…."
"Not all of them," the mysterious woman assured her. "Some survived, Ranma. I'm sure you saw your teacher."
"Huh," Ranma snorted. "Teacher. Yeah. She's around. And me. And what else? My life is over."
"Pretty much," she agreed. "But that doesn't mean a new one can't start."
"So what's the deal, then?"
"No deal. You've already accepted it, just by being born. Part and parcel, you're caught up in the destiny of others, and you will protect them. Perhaps, in time, you will even come to love them."
She rolled her eyes. "Whatever."
"Your friend. Ukyou. She still lives."
She could see the reflection of her own blue eyes flashing in the violet of the mysterious woman's gaze. "How?"
The Pact, and the End of the Saotome Clan
"I'll explain more in detail later," Setsuna assured the boy who was currently a girl. "For the moment, rest assured, she lives. What I'm telling you is:
"You will agree to work with us. You'll begin recovering memories, soon. Of the people you were, of the people you could have been. They will slowly drive you mad without guidance. I can give you that."
"You're just full of good news," he said. "What next?"
"I'm sure," she murmured. "Give up your name. Find a new one. I don't care what it is — you're a wanted criminal now. Cut your hair. Make yourself someone people won't recognize. Change your clothing. I'll find you then, and I'll give you further instructions. Do we have an understanding?"
"You got nothing but me curious. I'm doin' this for Ucchan. Maybe… Well. She's all that's left."
"I'm not going to seek you out until I know I have your word. And I know what your word is worth."
Ranma glowered at Setsuna, but nodded curtly. "Fine. On my honor as a martial artist, I'll listen to you while making sure that Ucchan's really okay."
"Good enough for me," she decided. A heartbeat later, Ranma was gone, and then, so was she.
Makoto's new Roommate
Makoto blinked, and then her eyes opened, light brown and plainly confused. Rei bit her lip, and asked, "Hey, are… you okay?"
"I'm fine," Makoto said dizzily. "Where's… where's Ranchan?"
Rei wasn't certain how to answer that question. Minako hazarded, "Who's that?"
"My fiancé," Makoto said. "I think."
"Er… did you hit your head?" Usagi asked. "Can you remember me, Mako-chan?"
Makoto looked very confused. "My name's Ukyou. Kuonji Ukyou. Who the heck are you?"
Rei stared, and then 'Ukyou's' eyes seemed to go distant, and… turned green. She wobbled unsteadily, but retained her feet. "I feel kind of dizzy," she said quietly. "What happened?"
"Really, Ukyou-san, until we can work out some sort of arrangement, or you can understand better what you're doing, it's probably best if you not leave this apartment," Ami reasoned, trying to calm the girl. "Remember, you're not… ah… just… yourself right now.
Ukyou was momentarily flustered, but shook her head, and said, "Yeah, but… like hell you're going to keep me locked up in here! I've got a restaurant to run!"
"Do you now?" Setsuna drawled. "Nerima is a pile of ash. Kuonji Ukyou is listed as dead by the police, and all of the identification on you says 'Kino Makoto'. How do you expect to run anything like that?"
"Pluto-san," Ami said, putting a quiet edge into her voice. "Is this really necessary?"
Setsuna's violet eyes targeted Ami for an amused moment, and then she ignored the question. "So, 'Ukyou'… You've got nothing left. Not even your own face."
Ukyou looked like she was about to punch Setsuna, and Ami wasn't in a mood to try and stop her. "What's your deal," she growled. "I… Ranchan saved me. Konatsu… he died… but… I know that Ranchan was carrying me away. He's still out there."
"Not as such," Setsuna said, her smile widening. "He's become our Guardian, Ukyou. And you are what will bind him to us."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Ukyou asked, sitting down and obviously stunned by what she was hearing.
"You can meet and be with your 'Ranma' again if you agree to cooperate with us. Use your skill in league with our own, and Ranma will protect you. In doing so, he will aid all of us. Is this such a terrible thing to ask?"
"My life is over!" Ukyou exclaimed, smacking the flat of her hand on the living room table. "How can you say it's not such a terrible thing?"
"What is your life, Ukyou, beyond Ranma? I'm offering him to you."
"But…." Ukyou shuddered, and stared at her feet, hands balling into fists. "Fine," she muttered.
"Well," Makoto mused, leaning back against the tree. "I do mind. I mean… half of my life is gone… and sometimes I wake up in the middle of something I don't remember starting out."
"Yeah," Usagi mused. "We went into the movie with Ukyou, and came out with you. Good thing they didn't catch us and charge for an extra ticket!"
Rei rolled her eyes. "Anyway. I'm glad you don't seem furious about it. I would have gone crazy."
"Tell me about it!" Minako exclaimed. "And what's with those pants she makes you wear all the time?"
"I think they're not that bad," Makoto said defensively. "I just… well… I wish I could talk to her, I guess."
"I do have an idea for that," Ami said hopefully, producing a book from her schoolbag. "Here, try using this.
The Exchange Diary
Training and Warfare
One eyelid cracked open, revealing his silhouette against the trees. "You came," the aged woman said. "I didn't think you would."
"Gotta get better at using this," he said, twirling the Tendo family naginata absently. "Is this one gonna be good?"
"This is good training," she promised. "When I'm done with you… Well. It'll be a sad day for Saffron if he can come back from what you did."
"So that's it?" he asked. "Done with training?"
"Unless you come back with me. You can, you know. You can come to China… in the future, even, if you'd like. You'll be welcome there."
"Sorry. I belong here."
"Indeed," she sighed. "Then let me leave you with this advice, Ranma. Never stop growing. Sometimes, you may need to set parts of the past aside, and just move on with your life."
The ghost of a smile crossed his face. "I'll remember that," he said softly.
Ranma's New Pet
"So. I had a dream last night," he said staring at his hands. "But it wasn't a dream, was it?"
"What did you do?" Setsuna asked, cocking her head to one side, and raising an eyebrow.
"I… flew. In some… machine. Like a glider, I think. It skidded across the surface of some… enormous cloud… and then I pulled up, and I was flying through space… And there was a window in a ship, I was going to fly near it, to…." He shook his head. "Then I woke up. But it wasn't a dream, was it?"
"No," she said quietly. "You remember another life, when you were another you. The Guardian of Jupiter."
"Is that who I was?"
"It's a portion of what you are."
He frowned at that. "You said this stuff will make me go nuts. So what's the deal with handling it?"
"Follow these instructions," Setsuna ordered, handing Ranma a small electronic device, stylized and seeming somehow very ancient.
"The hell is this?" Ranma asked, squinting at it.
"It's a kind of… gadget… that people would use in the Silver Millennium. It takes notes, and keeps appointments. It gives you directions when you get lost. It's a more advanced version of an educational toy for children."
"It's a toy?" he asked, flipping it over and examining the other side closely.
"Similar," she said. "This one has been programmed painstakingly by your wife since the day you died to see to it that you found happiness."
That shook him, and he stared at her in confusion. "I ain't married," he warned, raising an eyebrow. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh, no. You aren't. And you weren't. But a part of you was. And before she left this place… she made that for you."
Ranma examined the thing in his hands. "How… do I use it?" he asked hesitantly.
"It's like a pet, Ranma," Setsuna said. "It draws energy from contact with you. Always keep it on or near you. Touch the screen…."
Following the toy's instructions was proving to be interesting. As the thing had originally instructed him, it was programmed with messages from his supposed wife, and included such things as appointments for months in the future, and notes on what he should call and say to the girls he was now to be working with.
He couldn't see what many of the appointments were for, merely that they required him to be in specific places at certain times. And while the only noise it could make was a simple 'beep', it talked to him incessantly.
The screen was continually scrolling with messages, and when he spoke, it seemed to understand his questions, and answered them. "Who are you really?"
"I was your wife," the screen read. "Once, long ago."
"How are you here now?"
"I'm not. This was made long, long ago, Dearest Heart." He flinched at that name. "But don't flinch; I see the future from where I lay… I see what will become of you, and I do all that I can to ensure you that your true desire is granted. Your loyalty must be rewarded."
"I'm loyal?" he mumbled.
"Yes, among the most loyal. It's one of the things that made me fall in love with you… but we haven't time for such things, sadly. You must now attend an appointment. The Guardian will be required. Good luck."
An Old Friend and a New Friend
Ranma looked up from the display, and frowned. "That's all for today?" he murmured. "'Talk to Makoto'." Shrugging, he went to the door of her apartment. He'd visited, several times, to talk to Ukyou, and scavenge free food.
But it had felt awkward, and distant. He knew it was Ukyou, inside Makoto's body… But somehow, he couldn't bring himself to meet her eyes, the one part he couldn't deny was her, the reason he remained. She was all he could save… all he had left to protect, outside of his supposed late wife's insistence that he should love 'the Queen' above all others.
Sighing, he knocked on the door, turning when he heard footsteps behind him. He ran a hand through his rambling, shoulder-length hair, and shrugged. "Yo," he said. "What's up?"
"Ra…." She trailed off. "Wataru-san," she called out. "Nice to see you! Would you like to come inside?"
"Sure," he said, as she unlocked the door, and let him inside.
Once they were there, he peered at her face for a moment, ascertaining that her eyes were brown, not green. "How you doing, Ucchan?" he asked, looking away.
"Um… Ranchan… I'm sorry," she said slowly. Then she took a hesitant breath, and blurted out, "I betrayed your trust! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"
But suddenly, he remembered another time, another woman… the same, but not quite the same… and she said, "Love, I will betray you, and it pains me. I tell you first, to give you one last chance…."
"No," he said, his eyes on that distant time, his words from the same. "There is nothing there to betray. It could not happen." Then he shook his head, and checked his toy. "I gotta go," he said suddenly, pocketing it, and running away.
Once he had found privacy, he stared at the device, scowling. "I thought you were supposed to keep me from going crazy," he grumbled at it.
The text on the screen scrolled past: "I am. And you aren't, yet. You'll remember anyway, one life at a time. This way, you can retain the memory without breaking under the strain."
"So. What next?"
"Find a bridge to sleep under for tonight, dearest heart."
"Good times," he sighed, pocketing it again.
"S-so, Ranma-sempai," she stuttered, trying not to shy away from his gaze, "I'd… like to invite you to… stay with me, since you don't have a place of your own, and I have a spare room. Um. Ucchan… wanted to invite you, too."
He cocked his head to one side, and then shrugged, glancing over his shoulder at Ami, the only witness to the exchange aside from himself. He thought, oddly, that Setsuna should be there. "I dunno," he mumbled, pulling his toy from his pocket.
"Stay," it read.
He put it away again. "I guess," he said, nodding. "I don't know why you're being so nice to me, Kino-san. But thanks."
"Y-you seem like a nice person," she managed nervously, her blush increasing as she stared at the floor.
Ami's expression flickered, and for a moment she looked pained. "Guardian-san?" she asked.
"Yeah?" Ranma asked, annoyed by the title.
"I am told you are a very honorable person," she said slowly.
He shrugged, then crossing his arms over his chest.
"I'd like your word that you'll take good care of Makoto-chan."
He scratched his head in confusion. "Is that all?" he asked. "No problem. On my honor."
Ami smiled in sudden relief, and said, "Then I'm glad."
As she left, he asked, "What was that about, Kino-san?"
"Ah, you can call me Makoto," she said quietly. "If you'd like, Sempai. Ami is just worried that… you'd hurt me."
"I don't fight girls," he muttered, walking into the room she'd set aside for him.
"Um… I was hoping… you could help me practice my own martial arts," Makoto managed.
He hesitated, the door nearly closed. "Sure," he said after a moment. "You fight those things too. Just let me know when you want to train." Then the door shut.
Ukyou sat beside the stream, her knees folded before her, as she wrapped her arms around them and rocked back and forth slowly, just admiring the flow of water, and the play of light across the surface.
Makoto sat on the opposite side, and looked up, slowly smiling. "So that's what you look like," she said quietly.
Ukyou blinked, and squinted. "Well, that's the face I've been seeing in the mirror the last few weeks," she agreed. "So… what's this? We get to meet each other in dreams?"
"I'm not sure," Makoto admitted. "This might be part of what Setsuna was saying… how we'd become one person once we were united in spirit."
Ukyou shivered at that. "I'm kind of scared," she said in a small voice.
Makoto managed a smile. "Me, too."
Waking after the dream had been peculiar. Makoto woke up, and Ukyou remained asleep. She was uncomfortably aware of the fact that part of her mind… herself, she supposed, in some sense… wasn't getting up, but shrugged it off. It was time to get ready for school, and that meant the first order of the day.
She dragged herself out of the bed, grimacing at how sluggish her body was. "I wish Ukyou was awake," she sighed.
And suddenly she felt as though someone had grabbed her, and then pushed her into the back of her head to watch, while Ukyou woke up. "What?" Ukyou asked tiredly, blinking, and looking around. "Mako-chan?"
"I'm here," Makoto said, wrestling control away. "Um. This is going to take some getting used to."
"But it's better than it was!" Ukyou opined. "Now we can at least see what's going on all the time!"
"Right," Makoto agreed. "So, let’s make Ranma-sempai some breakfast and get ready for school."
Ranma awoke from a dream he couldn't remember. He usually didn't remember his dreams, unless they were from what he was told were his previous lives. And those dreams involved a lot of staring at odd vistas without doing or saying much of anything. Whatever his dream-self had thought while enjoying the views, he hadn't been privy to.
When he emerged from his room, he heard sniffling, and smelled smoke. On alert, he slipped into the Umisenken and approached the kitchen.
Makoto… or Ukyou, he wasn't certain; her eyes were covered. The girl he lived with, he decided. She was kneeling on the floor and sobbing into her hands. Whatever she had been cooking was a ruined, blackened mess, removed from the stove and now in the sink.
He dropped his guise, and asked, "What's going on?"
"It's not fair!" she wailed, looking at him with Makoto's eyes.
Then her eyes were brown, and Ukyou complained, "I can't do anything right!"
He frowned, and crouched near her on the floor. "You want me to see if I can find Setsuna?"
"What good would she do?" Makoto asked bitterly. "Hasn't she done enough?"
Ranma shrugged, slipping away, as Ukyou added, "But thanks for offering, Ranchan."
"Hmm," he mused. His life as a student had ended with his clan, as Setsuna had said. He was a fugitive, and thus, did not attend classes. "I'll keep an eye on you at school," he decided. "Just let me know if you need anything."
"Oh, I don't think they'll let you into the school," Makoto said apologetically.
Ranma flicked his canvas cloak about and vanished. "They don't need to see me," he replied.
"You shouldn't use your Guardian powers like that," Makoto said after a moment, climbing to her feet and looking around the room for him.
"It's a martial arts technique," he replied. "My father's legacy. I'll make sure people get distracted if something happens."
The history lesson was one Ukyou remembered from her classes at Furinkan, and so, she ignored it, and daydreamed. Makoto was not familiar with the lesson, and tried to pay attention, but ultimately found her mind wandering with Ukyou's.
Shared, both enjoyed a dream of running a restaurant… her first, Ukyou's second. Makoto sighed, and smiled absently, a blush rising to her cheeks as she thought of Ranma living with her there, possibly even raising a family….
"…omething you'd like to share with the class, Kino-san?"
She snapped to attention suddenly, and swallowed nervously.
Ukyou scrambled for control while Makoto panicked, and then said, "Um, yes, Sensei. I was wondering, you've mentioned exactly why the embargo was instated, but you never mentioned what it was against specifically."
"What… what does that have to do with—"
The teacher cut off suddenly, as an explosion rocked the school, and all students went to the windows, seeing nothing more than a shadow drifting from the remnants of the gates.
After Ranma's distraction had brought attention away from them, Ukyou and Makoto agreed that they'd need to be more careful, and work together more closely. It was difficult, but slowly they were learning which of them was better at what, and when to let the other handle the situation.
"Don't hold back, Sempai," Makoto said, adjusting the fit of her gi.
He nodded absently, eyeing her up and down. "We're not going to spar just yet," he said after a moment of thought. "I need to see your form. Here, try this kata." And then he moved, swiftly melting between stances. Turning back to her, he said, "Like that."
"I remember that one!" Ukyou protested. "Heck, I showed it to you when we were kids!"
"So, I want to see both of you try it," Ranma said, shrugging. "I need to see where you stand if we're going to be doing any kind of training."
Grumbling, Ukyou let Makoto try the maneuver, but it was clumsy and took several tries to complete. Then Ukyou tried, with very similar results. Both girls were dismayed.
"I don't get it!" Makoto protested. "I'm supposed to be better than this!"
"And I know I'm better," Ukyou grumbled.
"Different body," Ranma said knowingly. "I don't know why Makoto would have trouble." Then he thought for a moment. "Unless… Makoto, can you try your most basic form?"
She nodded, quickly stepping through a familiar kata with the grace she thought she should possess. "Ah," she said, nodding. "That did it."
"Hmm," Ranma mused, rubbing his chin. "Ucchan, you want to try that one?"
Ukyou's attempt was clumsier than Makoto's, but also much faster.
"Okay," he said, running his hands through his hair. "We'll start from the beginning. For both of you, I guess."
"So no sparring match?" Makoto asked, feeling somewhat disappointed.
"Not for now," he said, shaking his head. "I don't want to hurt you." After a moment, he looked away. "Either of you."
While Makoto had better control and accuracy, Ukyou had better balance and higher speed. This meant that when the attack came, Makoto had transformed, and then Ukyou had leapt to the rooftops to chase towards it.
She wasn't alone; Ranma was beside her, though as usual, he did not transform until he actually saw his target.
"Hey," she called, between huffs of breath while Ukyou focused on running, "why don't you change?"
"Don't need to yet," he replied. "Don't know what I'll need until we get there."
She nodded wordlessly, as they came upon the scene. Minako was already embattled with a horde of massive, writhing plants, and Ukyou leapt down to assist her. The Guardian flashed overhead, sporting the Chinese shirt that Ranma did not wear, and the long braid that Ranma had cut off. This time, he was dressed in red, and Ukyou watched him while Makoto began to attack.
He called, "I am the Guardian of Mars!"
Then his naginata swept out, flame licking from the edges even as the other Senshi arrived to hammer their foe with magical attacks. He waded into the thick of things, flickering as though only half-there whenever anything tried to strike him. Ukyou dodged a sudden thrust of a thorny branch, leaping out of the way and grabbing Ami to safety, though at the cost of the attack Makoto had been preparing.
Then it was over, Haruka landing the finishing blow.
While they regained their feet, Ranma emerged from the ruined crater, smoke rising from his clothes. "Did you know," he said, red eyes sparking at Haruka, "that your spells don't actually hurt me?"
"That's a good thing, with your death-wish," she said in reply.
He snorted, and a wave of electricity washed over him, turning his clothes to denim and canvas, as his eyes flashed gray. "Later," he said, and vanished again.
"Wow," Minako said. "That guy still creeps me out."
"He's not all bad," Makoto protested. "Just… a little… distant."
"But why?" Usagi asked.
"I don't really know," Ukyou admitted.
After practice, Makoto and Ukyou were able to synchronize any familiar task to the utmost of either of their ability, though it took both longer to learn new things.
"A job," he said flatly, his gray eyes meeting, nearly boring into hers. "Okay. Whatever. I'm using your stuff, I'm staying with you, so I should pull my weight."
"Well, no that's not it," Makoto protested. "I just thought… well… that you'd be happier if you did something with your time other than training."
"Oh," he said, looking away. "I guess. I don't have a legal identity, though. I should—" He cut off suddenly, and looked thoughtful, pulling the toy that he had gotten from Setsuna out, and studying it for a moment. "I can make money," he said, putting it away again.
"Ranchan, are you okay?" Ukyou finally asked.
"I thought you were asleep," Ranma said after a moment. "I can't tell if…." He sighed, and rubbed at his temples. "I'm fine, Ucchan. I just… I miss some things."
"Things, Ranchan?" Ukyou pressed.
He raised one hand, and clenched it into a fist, so tightly that the creaking of bone and tendon could be heard. When he relaxed his hand, blood stained his palm, though none of it dripped to the floor. "The dojo," he said quietly. "School."
Makoto bit her lip hesitantly, wishing she could comfort him, and then suddenly uncomfortable at feeling the same sensation from Ukyou. "Sempai," she said quietly, reaching out, and taking his hurt hand in her own. "Can you tell us?"
"Sure," he said quietly, though he bowed his head, hiding his face from her. "I miss my mom. My dad. I miss… I miss Mousse, and… and stupid Ryouga. And Kasumi…." He shuddered, then. "I miss Shampoo. Kami… if I could hear that stupid bell ring before she runs me over with her bike one more time…." He laughed then, but it was weak and empty.
"But?" Ukyou prompted, raising her other hand to clasp his.
"I miss Akane," he sighed, sagging, and collapsing to kneel on the floor. Makoto sank to sit next to him, but did not move any closer. Then he looked up, and met her eyes. "And I'm sorry, Mako-chan. You're… real nice to put up with me an' all… But I miss Ucchan, too."
"But I'm right here!" Ukyou protested. "I mean… I'm not in my own body, but I'm still here, Ranchan!"
"Are you?" he asked brokenly, tears glittering in his eyes. "Half the time you're not! Half the time you're Mako-chan."
"We're… not exactly that far apart," Makoto offered, smiling, and releasing his hand to touch the side of his face gently. "We used to trade places, remember? But we haven't for a while. That's why we can both see what's going on."
"And we can both talk to you at the same time," Ukyou added. "I… guess you don't… You don't want to marry me, and I can't blame you."
He snorted, looking away. "You don't get it," he sighed, closing his eyes. "You're the last friend I got left. Setsuna told me… that if I did what she said… if I played dress-up and did the stupid Guardian thing, that I'd get at least you back."
"What about me?" Makoto asked, blinking away tears. "I'm here too — aren't we friends?"
Ranma shifted his shoulders uncomfortably, and looked away.
Ukyou wiped Makoto's tears from her eyes, and growled, "Listen, you jackass. If you're gonna keep being a jerk to me, then fine, but at least be nice to Mako-chan for puttin' up with all your crap!"
Instantly her expression became apologetic, and Makoto said, "I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to—" She cut off, swallowing anxiously, and looking at Ranma with apprehension.
Slowly, his gaze locked with hers, and he managed a smile. "Thanks, Ucchan," he said quietly. "I deserved that. I'm gonna go earn my rent now."
And then he was gone again.
"I'm worried," Makoto said after a moment, biting her lower lip.
"He'll come back," Ukyou replied, wishing she could say it with more confidence.
Since he had started doing… whatever it was that he brought money back from, Ranma had spent a lot more time at home in the evenings. Makoto was glad about that, even if she weren't certain why, and she encouraged his hobby.
He read manga. Usagi liked manga, too. A tentative plan to get the two to be friends was slowly being assembled in her mind. She was still wondering how she could get Ranma to open up to other people while Ukyou stirred the pot on the stove, as she had forgotten. "I'm sorry," Makoto sighed.
"Don't worry about it," Ukyou advised. "I can finish here. You thinking?"
"Yeah," Makoto murmured, breaking from the preparation long enough to peek down the hall into Ranma's room. He appeared absorbed in the latest volume of Caravan Kidd. Returning to the kitchen, she let Ukyou take over.
"And about him, of course," Ukyou sighed quietly.
"What are we going to do?"
"He seems more comfortable," Ukyou admitted after a moment. "I'm not sure. You already live with him. The only example I can think of for that kind of relationship… I wouldn't suggest."
"What would it be, out of curiosity?"
"Eh… call him names, hit him, that kind of thing."
"That doesn't seem like a good idea," Makoto agreed.
Ukyou snorted. "Tell me about it," she muttered. "I'm… Mako-chan, how serious are you about Ranchan?"
"I don't know," Makoto admitted. "I think I feel for him a lot, Ucchan. Maybe it's you… maybe it's something else. It's like there's something about him I can't… quite remember. There was a certain…." She sighed in exasperation. "I don't know! But there's something about him."
"Well, I meant… how far would you be willing to go?"
Makoto could feel the blush forming on Ukyou's face from her own embarrassment. "Why do you ask?" she finally managed.
"Bear with me here," Ukyou said, pausing to turn one of the burners off, and check the oven. "Basically… we're both with him, right? Well, we're not. But assume that somehow we are."
"Okay, I guess."
"You mentioned this before, with Shiro… but that was before we could choose. I don't… know that this will happen, but what if I do marry Ranchan?"
"Well, I… Um…."
"I can stand sharing him with you since I kind of think I stole your body," Ukyou admitted. "Are you comfortable with that?"
"You're me, though," Makoto said, shrugging. "Or, will be. And I'm you, I guess. It… It doesn't bother me, no."
"Good! Then I think one of us should try asking him out on a date."
"Ah… Shouldn't he ask one of us?" Makoto asked hesitantly.
"You two getting along?" Ranma asked, appearing in the kitchen suddenly, peering over her shoulder at the stove. "Smells good."
"Gah!" Ukyou yelped, spinning around before Makoto clasped her hands over her heart.
"You scared me," she managed.
"Sorry," he said, frowning. "I'll try not to be so quiet around you. Is dinner almost ready?"
"A few more minutes, Ranchan," Ukyou answered.
A Songfic Cleverly Disguised as a Segment
As Ukyou had explained it to Makoto, the boy should ask the girl out in a normal relationship, but theirs was hardly a normal relationship.
o/` Open Invitation o/`
"R-Ranchan?" Ukyou managed tremulously.
"Yeah?" he asked, looking up from his manga. "You need something moved?"
"It's not like—" She cut herself off before Makoto could. "Ah, Ranchan. No, I mean… I'm glad that you seem more… yourself lately."
"And I'm glad, too," Makoto added.
"Thanks," Ranma muttered. "Um. I haven't seen you smile in too long, Ucchan. I'm glad you're… doing better."
"I've got you, Ranchan," she said, smiling.
"What more could a girl ask for?" Makoto added.
Ranma's eyes were distant for a moment, and glittered green. "Loyalty," he said quietly, with a sad smile. Then his smile faded to a look of confusion. He pulled his toy from his pocket, and glanced at the screen.
"Say yes when she asks," it read. He frowned, and pocketed the toy.
Both Makoto and Ukyou had learned that whatever passed between Ranma and the device, he didn't want to speak of it beyond his initial awkward explanations. Eventually, Ranma shrugged, and said, "I dunno, I guess. You two tell me — what more could a girl ask for?"
Ukyou smiled mischievously, and asked, "A date?"
Ranma frowned at this, but nodded. "Okay," he agreed, without preamble. "I guess I should get nice clothes or something."
"We didn't even choose where to go!" Makoto protested. "I mean… Sempai…."
He looked at her incredulously. "Mako-chan?" he asked. "I thought I was going on a date with Ucchan."
"We're together, you lummox," Ukyou said with a smile. "That means all the way. That's why I want you to be nicer to Mako-chan."
"Ah," Makoto said, ducking her head in embarrassment. "She didn't mean—"
"How?" Ranma protested. "How can you both—" He cut off, staring at them dumbly. "Oh," he said after a quiet moment of thought. "So. I guess… there's not really a lot of choice for you, then?"
"Finally got two girls after you who are willing to share," Ukyou said, winking. "How do you feel?"
He shrugged his shoulders, grimacing.
Makoto winced, and asked, "Are you… all right, Sempai?"
"Are you happy?" he asked, looking into Makoto's green eyes.
"I could be," she said earnestly, smiling at him. "At least… I think so. Ranma-sempai… I… know that you don't know me very well… But I'm friends with Ucchan, and from what I've heard, I like you very much." She blushed, and stared at her feet. "I won't make you go out with us if you don't want to."
"Hey… Ranchan?" Ukyou asked. "Um… I know… it's only been a few months… but… are you feeling a bit better about…." She trailed off, not able to name it.
"I dunno," Ranma said, shrugging. "Sometimes I feel fine. Sometimes I feel awful. Mostly I feel lost." He frowned, then admitted, "But lately… I guess… around you, I've felt…." He trailed off, and checked his toy again. Sighing, he concluded, "I'm happier around you."
"Me?" Ukyou asked hesitantly.
"Both of you," Ranma clarified.
"Ranchan," Ukyou said suddenly, in a very quiet voice.
"Yeah?" he asked cautiously.
Makoto swallowed, and said, "We want you to know, if you need anything… at any time… The door to our room is never locked."
Setsuna did not sleep. But she still dreamt, on rare occasion.
Whenever she began to doubt her choices, whenever she wondered if there was another path… Then the dream came again, and her doubts vanished.
She could see her reflection in the pane of glass before her, green tresses framing a pale face with violet eyes. Her mother's regalia did not fit her yet, but her father insisted it would, in time.
And that time was to be soon. His life was fading, or would end shortly, though he didn't say how he knew. Merely that he did, and that it would be time for her to take up the Time Key as he had.
Because of this, she was dragged along with her father across the system in search of a man who would be her husband. She sighed, quietly. This room had been empty, and she'd come in search of solitude, and perhaps, a pretty view.
Jupiter hung below, so close she could make out the movement of the great storms below. And then, as she watched, a glider… a flimsy construct of wood and rope, carefully attached crystals, and all of this piloted by a man in a harness, swept across her field of vision outside the ship and dived to the planet.
She gasped, surprised, and quickly ran to the window, curious to see more.
She watched as his tiny glider suddenly flared out great wings of energy, seeming to catch on the light of the sun itself, and then skimmed across the atmosphere, dipping low enough to trail red mist behind it. Swallowing, she tried to remember what she knew of the gliders. They were frail, she knew, and it was said to be quite dangerous to train to use them, and difficult besides.
"Devotion," she murmured. "That's what it would take to learn how to do that."
And then he pulled up from the mists, and trailed them about his glider, spinning in a tight roll. The gasses formed a cyclone above the atmosphere of Jupiter, and then collapsed back into the gas giant as the glider rocketed forward, great wings folding away as it lost speed. So close, it came, that she could see the pilot, a wildly laughing man with a great grin, and the green spark of the Guardian's blessing in his eyes.
Her heart caught at the sight, as he slowed, and then winked… and blew her a kiss. She felt faint, and thought she would swoon as he pulled up, and vanished from her sight. Not knowing where her father was, but knowing in her heart that it was the truth of things, she spun around, declaring, "That is the man I will marry!"
She turned, coming face-to-face with the Princess of Jupiter, who stared at her for a moment, as though horrified, and then quickly smiled. "That… will be quite wonderful for you, Setsuna," she offered. "My brother is a truly amazing man."
She nodded her agreement, turning to look at the window again, as though he might show himself once more.
For a Dying Friend
Ranma allowed the guise of the Guardian to leave him. It had been Ami this time. He still had never tried to claim Setsuna's power, and since he'd fought Saffron, didn't feel the need to claim Hotaru's, either.
Then he turned around and looked at those who he fought for. "So," he said, flicking his cloak behind him. "Now what?"
"Are you okay?" Usagi finally managed. "That thing's tooth… It broke on your leg!"
Ranma looked down, grimacing as he pulled his toy from his pocket, a dent marring it. He blinked in surprise, and then shook it a few times, his eyes widening when it didn't respond.
He'd left then. He thought he mumbled a word of apology, but couldn't remember, and didn't care at the moment. For the last few months, while he'd tried to sort out things with Ukyou and Makoto, the one constant he had was the toy Setsuna had given him.
While it had claimed, and he still doubted, that it was his centuries-dead wife from a former incarnation, it had always offered good advice, and more importantly, told him what to do when he wasn't certain how to proceed himself.
"Can you fix it?" he asked, looking up at Setsuna. He didn't know how he could find her… he supposed she simply knew he was looking and was waiting for him. But whenever he truly needed to find her, she was there. "Can…." He trailed off. "It still works," he tried again lamely. "Sometimes. But it's going out more than it's coming in."
"I'm sorry," Setsuna said with a sad smile. "The one who made that…." She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Guardian."
"I'll bet," he said numbly, looking at the toy in his hands, as the screen struggled to light.
It spelled out, "She is. Probably as sorry as I am, dearest heart."
Setsuna had suggested that Ranma have a service for the toy. To bury it somewhere, perhaps even mark the site with a memorial. He didn't think she was joking.
The screen had gone dark the final time, after giving its last message of, "I hope to be with you again some day. Find happiness, dearest heart." He'd invited no one else to attend his service, which was little more than burying the toy deep in the woods, where none would stumble across it.
"You know," he said, looking at the hole he'd put the toy in, "I think I see what she was really up to."
He crouched low, peering at the dead screen. "When I lost everything, I had you. I never really let it all go. I just made you it. I needed a new center for my life, and you fit the bill. You told me what to do and when to do it."
Sighing, he looked up at the sky. "I could ask you questions, and you'd have answers. But Setsuna said you were just a child's toy, even if you say you loved me." Then he looked at the toy again. "You're not just a toy. You're not just some woman who died thousands of years ago… and if you were, this wouldn't be your funeral, either."
He swallowed, and let tears flow down his face. "You're the ones I never truly let go of," he whispered. "You're Akane. And Nabiki. Kasumi. Tendo-san. Pop. Mom." He sniffled, and shoveled dirt in, working on filling in the hole. "You're my old life," he said. "But I'm still me. And Cologne said sometimes… Some parts of your past you have to let go of."
The hole was filled, and he patted it down before rolling a great boulder atop it. He drew the naginata he had learned to hide on his person from Cologne, and then from a few paces away, attacked the boulder with it. He didn't know why the Tendo family naginata had survived Saffron's flames. He didn't know why it was able to channel the power he could borrow from the Senshi.
But he knew now that the naginata that Soun had occasionally used was able to cut through steel easily, and it had no problems carving into the boulder. When he was done, Ranma stepped back and nodded at the engraving. "In memory of those I loved."
Then he signed it, "Saotome Ranma."
"Would you like some watermelon, Ranchan?"
He looked up from his current manga, and blinked. "Sure," he said after a moment. "Hey… Ucchan?"
"Mako-chan," she corrected, with a wink. "I thought it'd be my nickname for you, too. Is that alright?"
"That's fine," he said. "I don't mind the nickname. But just to let you know, I'm letting go of the old name. I'm really going to use Wataru now."
"O… kay," Ukyou said after a moment, frowning. "Is there anything you want to talk about?"
He sat up from where he had lain prone, and looked away. "I'm going to leave," he said quietly. "I need some time."
"But I—" Ukyou and Makoto both sputtered, neither able to form a coherent argument. He rose to his feet, and pressed the tip of his finger against her lips, silencing her and causing eyes that rapidly changed color between green and brown to widen.
"I'll still fight with everyone else. I'll be nearby. But I won't be around you except for… when I'm the Guardian. I need some time to adjust."
Makoto nodded her understanding as he removed his fingertip from her lips, but Ukyou asked, "What about… the last few months?"
"I was adjusting to other things," he said. "I was pretending… And ignoring things. It's hard to explain. But… If… If I'd be welcome… if that door was still unlocked when I got back, if I needed someone to talk to… I'd like that."
And he vanished again.
She wished she could see how he did… whatever it was he did when he vanished. He'd once needed a cloak or a cape to do it, but now he seemed to simply not be there if she wasn't looking directly at him, or talking to him.
And he really was gone, now.
From beyond the edges of space, just outside of time, Setsuna watched, and frowned faintly. "And now," she murmured, "we see if I made a single mistake." As much as she would have been willing to, no direct meddling on her part could alter things at this point, and everything indirect that could be done already had.
Nearly all of her life beyond her childhood had been spent waiting for some plan or another, and while this was, ultimately, a small thing, it was still a part of a grander scheme, and this one of the most tenuous points of any. She wished she had the courage to look, to see what her judgment would be if Usagi had known. If Serenity had known.
"'Please find your happiness'," she whispered, that final command, after all others ringing in her mind from across her memories.
Rei chewed her lip thoughtfully for a moment, and then shook her head. "Okay," she said. "I guess it all worked out. So now are you going to be the same old Makoto, or what?"
"I'm still me," she said, rolling her eyes. "I'm just… well… Ukyou too. I guess. I have all of our memories. My memories. I don't really feel any different at all."
"So, what about Wataru?" Minako asked, grinning.
"Oooh, there's some things I don't think you want to know, Sugar," Makoto said, winking at the blonde.
"Well," Ami murmured. "That's new."
"Say," Usagi interrupted, "if you're both… uh… you… are you happy?"
After a moment of consideration, Makoto nodded. "I think I will be," she said. "Pretty soon."
Yawning in the evening's chill, he bounded across the park's grassy turf, deep within the cloak of the Umisenken, coming to a stop near a fence, when he spotted Setsuna.
"Guardian," she said, by way of greeting, not looking up at him, but instead examining a small cellular phone.
"What's that?" he asked, dropping his guise of subtlety.
"I think I'll give you a present, since your last toy broke," she said, smiling, and handing it to him.
He accepted it dubiously. "I felt something pulling me here," he said, frowning. "That was you. To give me a phone."
"Not really," she said, shaking her head. "You perceive things in much too narrow a fashion. I just saw where you would be when I wanted you to have the phone, and made it a point to be here."
"I'd hate to see your day-planner," he said dryly.
She smirked. "I always liked your sense of humor," she murmured.
"Always? I've talked to you maybe a half-dozen times. I think that was the first joke I ever told you," he said, frowning.
"My memory goes back much further than yours," she said. "And yours is pulling you back. Soon you'll remember."
He sighed, and pocketed the phone. "I'm never gonna understand you," he finally decided. "Anything else, or are you gonna to stare at me all day?"
"My schedule is clear for a while," she said. "I have nothing better to do than stand here. You, on the other hand, have an appointment. One that you are about to miss."
Growling, he resumed his leaping gait, building up more speed as he went.
He reached Makoto's home just as she was leaving. He landed suddenly, and then dropped his guise of subtlety. Somehow, though, she smiled at him, unsurprised at his sudden appearance.
He wondered, briefly, which one it was — Ukyou or Makoto — and then finally decided he couldn't really tell. He couldn't make out the color of her eyes in the shadows. "I'm glad you're back, Ranchan," she said.
"Yeah," he said slowly. "But you're both calling me that now."
She giggled, and stepped forward, into the light, where he could see her eyes. Green… darker and deeper than he remembered, though.
"How have you been?" he asked.
"Pretty good," she said, taking his arm in hers. "Come on, we don't want to be late."
"Late to what?"
"Rei-chan is throwing a small party, just for us… well, you know." She winked at him. "You're my date!"
Return to balance
He lay on the roof, staring at the stars. The party had been uncomfortable for him: too many people, and too much noise. There should have been more danger and violence around that much commotion.
He'd started to leave, but somehow Makoto saw through his cloak, and asked him not to. So he'd stayed, in the corners. At the edges of the gathering, but not really feeling a part of it. After everyone had calmed down, and were speaking in hushed tones, he'd felt better about it, and managed a few minutes of small-talk with Minako and Ami. But Minako was curious as to the reason he didn't like Artemis and Luna, which he didn't really feel like talking about. And Ami's questions were all about Setsuna, which he also didn't really feel like talking about.
Eventually, Makoto had prodded him to tell stories about his childhood. The only one he could think of comfortably was about the daily fights he'd had with Ukyou when they were children, though for some reason he'd said 'Makoto' instead of 'Ucchan' a time or two. She hadn't corrected him, and he eventually realized that on some level, it was as Setsuna had said it would be.
Shivering, he turned over. Somehow, he could see his friend in her. Ukyou was certainly a part of Makoto. Or perhaps Makoto was a part of Ukyou. It probably didn't make a difference, he supposed, though it at least made dealing with her a bit simpler.
It was just one very confusing girl instead of two mildly confusing ones.
"Ugh," he groaned, covering his face with his cloak.
The wedding had always been her brightest memory. When she had ascended the throne, her husband at her side, and she'd been instated as the new ruler of Pluto. It had been difficult to arrange, Pluto being so remote, and the Jovian family being so large….
But Setsuna had insisted, and her father saw to it that it was done.
Their courtship had been brief, but Setsuna felt true. It began with simple affection, her glimpse of him skimming across the atmosphere of Jupiter, and his blown kiss….
And then, she'd been too young, too innocent to notice the glances her husband sent across the court. Too assuming to realize which room she'd been in when the kiss had been offered.
She'd been disloyal to her Queen, her first centuries. She did not work towards the revival of her Queen's people; she instead focused on her love, her husband. It was a small part of a much larger plan, but it was the part that meant the most to her.
She knew whom her husband loved — and she knew it hadn't been her — so she'd see to it, in the end, that he found the happiness in his next life that simply couldn't have been when he had died.
It was only a single day before the collapse, which had been entirely unexpected. There sat one of two doors Setsuna could not bring herself to look through.
She had gone, dressed as a servant, and claiming to be ill before she'd taken to bed. Her husband didn't protest, instead going to the ball without her; he had a role to play, and a face to show to the people. Once he had left, she followed, intent on ferreting out what woman he loved instead of her.
She'd gone to the ball, and had hidden herself at the edges of the party, keeping herself behind the servants. Then she'd spotted her husband, the Guardian of Jupiter, and saw him dancing. With his sister, the Princess of Jupiter.
It had struck her like a hammer, to see the love in his eyes… but not for her. And she whispered something to him, while Serenity and her consort took to the floor; all eyes went to the royal couple, though others still danced. All of the Princesses save herself, of course.
Setsuna watched, as the Princess of Jupiter offered the guardian a tiny crystal, and the music began, a lyrically soft voice singing, "~I secretly hand over a silver passkey; a letter of invitation for you alone!~"
And she'd fled, not able to watch, to know if her husband had remained as loyal as he had claimed, unable to even think that he'd betray her for his own sister.
She woke to a quiet knock at her door. "Wha?" she managed, before remembering her roommate. Her eyes widened in shock, and she nervously climbed out of her bed. "C-come in," she said tremulously, "please, Ranchan."
He slipped in silently, not even appearing to move the door, and stood near her, looking at the floor of her room. "Will you come with me?" he asked, holding a hand out to her.
She nodded, and placed her hand in his. He drew her into his arms, sweeping her off her feet, and before she could so much as yelp, she was sitting next to him on the roof, both wrapped in his cloak. She started momentarily, wondering if he was the Guardian… but no, it was simply a blanket, not the canvas sheet he usually carried.
"I came back because I started remembering you," he admitted. "Your eyes, I think. Someone who I knew was you."
"Really?" she asked. "S-sometimes, I remember… small things."
"Like what?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Phoo," she grumped, as politely and quietly as possible. Jupiter was a power in the system, but not nearly anything on the scale of Pluto's might. She, unlike some, still needed to attend public functions. And now she would see her Guardian, the one she loved, again….
She thought it should comfort her, but she could only remember disappointment. Her Guardian had married another for a political alliance. And, too, she thought bitterly, she was to marry someone else, only a week hence.
Not her choice.
When she'd gotten to the dance floor, her Guardian's wife was absent, so she'd asked him to dance.
Our Brightest Star
"Right there," he'd said, putting an arm around his buddy's shoulder, so they could lean their heads together and see the same stars when he pointed. He'd chosen the star that he'd someday later learn was not a star at all, but Jupiter. "That one will be our star, okay, Ucchan?"
"Okay!" his friend agreed. "That's our star, Ranchan!"
The Story Unwritten
Setsuna looked away from Makoto and the Guardian, banishing the view. "Ah," she breathed, closing her eyes. "Why does it still hurt?"
And she gestured, and the view around her changed, the last two doors before her. "Would it matter, now?" she asked quietly, staring at the memory of the dance… the chance to hear the conversation she'd always denied herself. "Or…." She stared at the possibility of confessing to Usagi… to Serenity.
After a pause, she heaved a shuddering sigh, and returned to the dance, that ancient, ghostly memory.
There she was, hiding in the corner, innocent eyes filling with tears as she whirled, and ran silently away. There was the Princess of Jupiter, and there….
"I make you an offer, my brother," she whispered. "I am to be wed soon, but there is no love there." She offered him the crystal that would unlock the doors to her rooms. "Love, I will betray you, and it pains me. I tell you first, to give you one last chance…."
Setsuna watched with trepidation, never being able to witness so much, and fearful of what she would feel if her husband had betrayed her. But no, she'd named his loyalty as his crowning virtue! Could he?
"No," he said softly, as the music began, and they danced again. "There is nothing there to betray. It could not happen."
She sobbed with relief, dropping the Time Key and collapsing to the floor. "Dearest Heart," she whimpered, looking at him. "Loyal, even at the cost of love…."
"But you do not love her!" the Princess protested.
"I do," he whispered earnestly, offering his sister a sad smile.
Setsuna's eyes widened with horror. "No," she breathed. "I set you free!"
"I did not… but I've grown to love her. Some day… I believe I will love her more than you. Some day… perhaps you will love another more than I." Then he kissed her on the cheek. And they broke apart from one another, the dance ended.
"No!" Setsuna cried. "Not like this!"
Into the Unknown
Usagi had woken to many things in her life, and experienced many odd and strange events. She was still sorting out how to wake up when she realized that something was wrong.
While Setsuna was odd, and sometimes standoffish, she was not given to sitting on the edge of Usagi's bed, wailing uncontrollably.
"Oh, no," she whispered, as she could feel herself falling into that place where she became Serenity. "Setsuna, what have you done?"
Author's notes: Inspired by Elsa Bibat. And, of course: Open Invitation.
Open Invitation is the seventh closing credit theme song from UruseiYatsura (episodes 128-149).
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