A Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon / Ranma ½ crossover story
by Jeffrey Vasquez
Disclaimer: Based on the series Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon. All characters copyrighted by Naoko Takeuchi, Toei Animation, and Kodansha. The characters of Ranma ½ are the express property of the most benevolent queen of comedy, her Highness, the revered Rumiko Takahashi and Shogakukan. I am in no way claiming or even pretending to own these characters. The rest belong to me.
Foreword: The story has undergone significant changes since I first wrote it, so be sure to read it from the beginning!
What has gone before: In the Silver Millennium, Serenity's first husband is punished as a traitor to the Kingdom; he vows to return to plague his former wife and all that she holds dear. In the present, Akane died at Jusendo and Ranma continues to relive the haunting moment in his dreams half a year later. He decides that he needs a break, and leaves the dojo in search of some peace. He runs into some excitement at the train station, saving a certain blue-haired genius from a dangerous situation… then disappears without a trace.
Nabiki enjoyed many things in life. Some were saintly, while others were… less so, but the one thing that was beyond a doubt her favorite was ice cream. And not just any ice cream, either. It had to be a special blend that could only be had in one shop in the entire world. Luckily for her, it was about four blocks from her house.
She had planned to introduce Ranma to Tanoshii's confections, but circumstance and his sudden departure had robbed her of the opportunity. After six long months of carrying her family, of keeping Soun's hope alive and soothing Ranma's devastated conscience, Nabiki felt completely empty. Her emotional accounts were bone-dry and nothing short of a miracle was going to make her feel that the time had been well spent.
Ranma's goodbye had been short, surprisingly sweet, and to the point.
"Sorry. Can't marry you. Love you too much to risk losing you too. Thanks for everything. I'll square the account someday."
Had it been anyone else making that promise, she would have laughed and then nailed the jerk's butt to the floor. But this was Ranma. He kept his promises. She wasn't sure what that meant, but she understood well enough his reasons for leaving, psychologically at least. He needed space; time away from the grind and the ghosts. They all did.
Kasumi had found some measure of release in Tofu's company, and Daddy had found an amazing amount of solace in Genma's presence. Nabiki had never credited the fat fool as that loyal — the fact that he was offering to take Soun on an extended training trip was… Well, miracles, it seemed, were alive and well.
That only left her.
Ranma had been her escape; a measure of her own healing heart. So long as Ranma was improving, she could lie to herself and say that she was doing okay too. Now that the sweet jerk had up and abandoned her, she had come face to face with the ugly reality that Akane was gone. She couldn't hide from the pain, but she could drown it in hundreds of frozen calories.
Which was what brought her to Tanoshii's ice cream parlor. Nobody could make a Triple-Fudge Cosmic Wangoo like Tanoshii-san. And she considered herself a connoisseur when it came to such things. She only indulged herself once a month, or during moments of deep depression, but that was enough.
There was a history behind the Wangoo, one that began two days after her mother died. Tanoshii-san had just opened the ice cream parlor the week before, and while business had been brisk, he had taken his time to succor two little girls that had just lost their mother. Akane had gone hog wild when Tanoshii-san told her that she could make her own sundae, putting so much chocolate ice cream in a bowl that the poor man must have thought that the pair was going to eat him out of business.
He still made it, though, happy to see smiles replace the deadness in their puffy little eyes. Akane had built the foundation for the dish, but Nabiki had been the one to take the dish to its cosmic level. Brownies and chocolate sprinkles, maraschino cherries and real whipped cream… nothing was spared. It was a masterpiece of caffeinated proportions! She and Akane had been bouncing off the walls all the way home.
The whole experience had made the two forget for a time that they had lost someone special, drowning their sorrows in a mountain of ice cream. It had taken three months to come up with the perfect name for the dish, and surprisingly enough, it had been Kasumi who christened it.
In the years to come, the three daughters would come to the shop on the anniversary of Mommy's death and remember happy thoughts about growing up together. It was their private way of healing, and Tanoshii-san, bless his old heart, never charged them.
Nabiki ordered from the young man tending the counter and quickly settled at a secluded table far from the door. She was surprised that the boy had done such a good job in creating the dessert. The whole thing was laden with calories and promised to bring her a large amount of pain, sweat, and tears to work off. She vowed between bites to make Ranma pay if she got fat.
"Mind if I join you?"
Nabiki smiled and looked up into a kindly, elderly gentleman's face. "Not at all." He sat down across from her, a special Wangoo of his own in front of him.
"The new kid seems to know his stuff," she said to break the ice between them.
The older man shook his head, frowning worriedly.
"You must be worse off than I thought." Tanoshii-san knew that something big must have happened if Nabiki hadn't notice him preparing her sundae. He scooped a large amount of strawberry ice cream into his mouth. Somehow, as if by magic, the clean-shaven man before her had come by a pink moustache.
"How are you feeling today, Nabiki-chan?" He couldn't keep the concern from his voice, but did his best to take some of the bite away from the young woman's pain.
Nabiki couldn't help the tired smile that blossomed on her face, knowing full well that the older gentleman's antics were intentional. "I'm okay, Oji-san. Holding up better than I expected." She hadn't thought about Ranma or his sudden departure once in the last two minutes. It was a real improvement. "How about you?"
"I'm sitting in the presence of an elegant young woman, eating a Cosmic Wangoo. It's almost an epiphany."
"Almost?" she asked. "What could be better than this?"
He smiled mischievously at her and winked. "Grandkids."
Nabiki wadded up a napkin and threw at him. He never changed. First it was Kasumi, then Akane when he had discovered the engagement, and now it seemed he had shifted his sights to her.
"Is that all you can think about, Oji-san?" she said, mock-pouting.
He looked chastened, but only for a moment. "Come now, Nabiki-chan!" he protested. "I need heirs to take over this grand establishment!" He waved grandly at the quaint shop that surrounded them. The whole thing sounded so familiar that Nabiki had to laugh. It was a bitter, forced attempt at mirth, mixed with salty tears that Nabiki tried to pass off as jovial.
"You think that I'm joking?" The tone of his voice, calm and wise, drew Nabiki's attention. She tried to hide the fact that she had been truly crying, but when the elderly man handed her his handkerchief, she knew that he was sharper than she gave him credit for.
"Not at all, Oji-san. It's just…" she began, looking around the parlor. There was no way that he was serious. She would humor him though; she rarely saw him any more. "It's just that you sound like my father." She shook her head, while Tanoshii-san simply smiled.
"He sounds like a wise man, Nabiki. How are things with Saotome-san?"
She sighed and scooped another spoonful of chocolate ice cream into her mouth. "Ranma left this morning."
"Left?" Now it was his turn to be intrigued. "What's that mean? Is he gone for good?"
"I'm not sure. The jury's still out as far as Ranma's intentions are concerned." She toyed with one of the maraschino cherries in the rapidly melting Wangoo. "He didn't really say what his plans were." Her heart was feeling particularly empty at the thought of Ranma not returning.
Tanoshii-san patted her wrist and smiled. "Never fear, Nabiki-chan. Who could resist a woman of your charms?"
She had the grace to smirk impishly. "No one in their right mind."
Both laughed and fell into easy conversation about simpler times. The afternoon shadows grew long as they reminisced, allowing Nabiki a nice break from the somber attitude around her home. This simple shopowner, with a heart the size of Mount Fuji, had done more to heal her wounds in one night than she had done in six months. He had given her hope, helped her talk about her pain, and done it all without Nabiki realizing it.
The man seemed to be able to read her mind.
Every mother has a special way of embarrassing her children. Some can use baby pictures to draw blushes from the toughest of children. Others can weave tales that make ears burn with shame. But in the end, there was one technique that put them all to shame. Ami liked to call it the "Cool-Mom" syndrome. This dreaded affliction starts off innocently enough, with the mother wanting to understand her child; but it progressively turns into a nightmare as the parent tries her best to "be cool".
Ami endured the torment of her mother listening to popular idol singers and spouting embarrassing slang. She had stoically weathered the sudden change in her mother's wardrobe, and even the attempts to change Ami's. When her mother had become a model icon of all that it meant to be a teenager… Well, Ami started to worry. Yuriko Mizuno was a complete professional at work, but at play….
There were times that Ami wanted to simply crawl under a rock and die. As her mother examined her at the platform, in her tight, flourescent-yellow PVC mini, Ami wished that she could have disappeared with the boy that had saved her.
It wasn't right to show that much skin and be a mom.
She didn't have a choice as Sailor Mercury. Her mother, however, actively sought out the trendy Day-Glo outfits and could be caught humming some tune by L'Arc~en~Ciel or another popular band. Ami wasn't jealous… Well, not really. Who cared if her mother was cooler than she was? Who cared if she could out-shop Minako and be as mysterious and sensual as Setsuna? Not Ami, nope! She just wished that her mother would act her age, or at the very least, with more of a mature dignity than she did.
"So, tell me about this boy that saved you." Ami cringed as her mother began the interrogation. "Was he handsome?"
Ami groaned as Usagi launched into a full description, and was even more surprised when Hotaru corrected the enthusiastic blonde. As Ami's mother began asking about the young man's sizes, the young genius wished that she could think up a plausible excuse to leave.
And by the look on Mamoru's blushing face, he was wishing the same thing.
It had taken Ranma most of the afternoon to find his mother's home. The streets and alleys were a veritable maze that continued to confound him. He should have come by sooner.
What kind of son ignores his mother? Death or no death, Ranma should have at least spoken with her. After six months of silence from the woman, Ranma had decided that it was past time to make amends. He couldn't stand to lose someone else that he loved, and alienating his mom hurt almost as much as Akane's death.
Genma said that he had taken care of everything, but that alone worried Ranma more than anything he might have done. If there was one thing that the young man had learned in his life, it was that Genma had a tendency to screw up everything that he touched. Ranma wasn't worried about what Genma had told Nodoka. It was what he hadn't told her that made him sick inside. If only he hadn't been so lost in himself at the time… if only he had taken a moment out to talk to his mother.
If wishes were fishes, Ranma would be king of the ocean by now.
Ranma continued to berate himself as he approached the next street and almost missed his mother's home altogether. The only thing that stopped him was the sound of someone's kiai. He took a moment to get his bearings and found himself standing before his mother's front gate.
While not as large as the Tendo dojo, the Saotome training hall was respectable. The large stone wall that surrounded the compound was stoutly built, and the large wooden gate was doubly reinforced. Ranma had heard of the home being a castle, but he had never seen a house built like one before. What else was a woman living alone supposed to do?
Shame filled him.
How many people had he failed to protect? Akane, his mother, Ukyou… the list continued to grow as more people continued to surface in his memories. Sadly enough, most of the hurt had been caused by Genma. It made him sick to think of all of the young women to whom he had been promised, only to have their hopes dashed when Genma had run away with Ranma in tow.
But Genma wasn't the only one that had made bad choices. Ranma's own conduct had hurt many people over the years: Ryouga, Shampoo, Ai Watase, Nabiki and her family… He needed to find a way to cleanse his stained honor. He couldn't stand to look into Kasumi's eyes anymore. The loss that he saw there was so much deeper than his own.
"As good as I am, I'm not good enough," he whispered to the wind. He needed to be better than what he was, and that meant that he needed to train. Which was the main reason for leaving the Tendos. He wasn't going to find what he needed from his old man and Soun. Those two were empty wells as far as he was concerned. No, he needed to look else where for his lessons; thus he thought that a good place to start would be with his mother.
If she would have him….
Ranma sighed and tried to open the gate. Finding it barred from the inside started up a whole new round of self-abuse that continued well after he had leapt over the compound's stone wall.
Nodoka Saotome was a creature of habit. Every morning she would rise with the dawn, wash the sleep from her eyes, and then greet the day by performing a few simple (at least by Saotome standards) kata. Kendo, the way of the sword, was her preferred focus. But she also found pleasure in the way of the spear.
Her day was spent working at an orphanage not far from her home, teaching the younger children to read and write, and on the weekends she worked at the hospital with her friend Yuriko in the pediatrics ward. Early afternoon was reserved for walks in the park and general errands, no matter what the day. By five o'clock, she had returned home, spent some time in her garden, and eaten a light dinner. By six, she was back in the dojo reviewing what she had learned that morning and throughout the day. This practice session was by far more strenuous than the morning’s, and more often than not the Saotome matriarch would ultimately lose herself in the practice. It wasn't much of a life, but until Genma decided to come home, it was all that she had.
Nodoka picked up her towel and rested her bokken on the rack next to the other practice weapons. She had gotten so used to the house being empty that she could pick up on visitors right away; it was almost like a sixth sense. Ten some odd years of waiting by the door for your husband and son tended to do that to a woman. Nodoka left the dojo, toweling her face and praying that it wasn't that Ruijuri man. She was getting sick of telling the man no.
He had the annoying ability to slip through locked doors, and the penchant for disregarding everything that Nodoka said; polite or otherwise. The fact that he would sneak a peak on her in her bath was flattering, but enough was enough. She had avoided outright violence up until now, but she began to rethink her strategy. Maybe it was time to start giving him a harsher denial. Somehow, she doubted that it would work.
The young man sitting on her front steps wasn't Kanta Ruijuri, not by a long shot. Nodoka dropped the towel at the sight of her son. She had never seen him looking so tired and worn. To the common eye he looked fine, but a mother could pick out a hundred different things that someone else might gloss over. The fact that she had not seen him for the majority of his life only heightened her maternal senses.
There were dark circles under his eyes, and the pallid sheen of his skin was anything but healthy. Everything about the young man was off kilter. The way that he seemed to be slightly hunched over, and the listless way that he watched her approach told her that something was terribly wrong.
She wasted no time in welcoming him, immediately embracing him and bathing him in her love and concern. It didn't matter what was wrong, or that she hadn't spoken with him in six months. All that she saw was her son's pain, and like any mother she was bound and determined to heal whatever was troubling him. He tried to smile when she pushed him to arm's length, but the gesture was little more than a grimace.
It must have been worse than she thought.
Ranma wanted more than anything to speak to his mother. He had gotten so far as to open his mouth to apologize for being away for so long when she had all but tackled him. The air was forced from his lungs by her enthusiasm, and he found himself smiling despite his guilt. No one could match this warmth. She pushed him out to arm's length and began looking him over, and Ranma smiled for her benefit, to show that everything was fine. She didn't buy it, and he could tell she knew that something was wrong.
It didn't take a genius to put two and two together. No mention of Akane, and the missing condolences confirmed what he had known all along. Pops hadn't told his mother anything about what had happened.
He cursed the old fart up one end and down the other, before trying to figure out how he was going to tell his mother about what had happened.
The emptiness in Ranma's face and the mountain of guilt hiding behind his eyes hit her like a fist. What could cause him to look this way? Had he done something wrong? Yes, that seemed a good guess, but there was something more. She studied him for a time, saying nothing, coming up and discarding possibilities left and right. She had learned a great deal about Ranma from the people that she had spoken with in Nerima. He wasn't a thief like his father, though he was known to "appropriate" things from time to time — usually during a battle, if her sources were correct. No, it wasn't theft. But someone had been hurt by his actions.
The amount of loss in his demeanor wasn't the type that could be associated with serious injury. Ranma wouldn't have even been here if someone had gotten hurt that badly. She was sure that he would have been by their side, encouraging them to get better. No it was more serious than that. The color slowly drained from her face at the realization.
Someone had died.
Genma? No, there was too much personal attachment to this open wound. Ranma would be more outwardly concerned with breaking the news to her. Besides, she had spoken with her husband last week on the phone, and Genma had sounded fine. In fact, the man had gone on about how close Ranma and his fiancée were growing.
It couldn't have been Akane, if that were the case; so it must have been one of the boys that Ranma sparred with. That Ryouga boy that Ranma was so close to was the only one that made sense — unless, of course, it was one of the other young women that followed Ranma around. She sighed heavily as she watched her son turn his face away. She wasn't getting anywhere with speculation. Best that she address the issue head-on, and get the story from Ranma.
"What's wrong, son?"
She had been expecting a lot of things: to be brushed off with a smile, Ranma walling himself off from her, and even tears. But Ranma's face darkening with anger was not on her list.
"He didn't tell you, did he?"
Nodoka looked at her son, perplexed.
Her estranged son sighed wearily and gently pushed himself free of his mother's embrace. She watched as the helpless rage built within him, looking for an escape.
"The bastard told me that you knew. He promised on his honor that he'd told you." Ranma snorted and sunk back onto the steps weakly. "Like that's ever meant anything to him." The anger, coupled with the already existing rage in his heart, boiled over. His fist streaked down and spider-webbed a large stone that started the walk to the dojo. He didn't register the blood on his knuckles, or anything else for that matter. Nodoka watched her son slowly curl into himself, trying to keep the shame and the pain at bay.
"Damn you, old man! For once, just do the right thing!" Ranma had no clue where to begin his tale.
There was nothing worse than failing someone you loved, but mothers, in general, were in a class all of their own. To shame them — especially when they loved you so much — was sacrilege. For Ranma, failing his mother was not an option. It was a matter of life and death; or at least it had been.
That wasn't the reason that he hid his face in shame, though. Nodoka Saotome was a special woman, and Ranma had hurt her a thousand times over. The last thing that he wanted to do was reveal to her that he had been the cause of his fiancée’s death.
As Nodoka settled herself next to Ranma, her arms immediately wrapped around her son in what was meant to be a comforting embrace. The young warrior flinched, but did not pull away, not physically at least.
"Tell me what happened, Ranma." She tried to make her voice soothing and accepting. But when her son looked into her eyes, she readily saw the fear in them — the fear of rejection, and the fear of betrayal.
Nodoka cursed Genma for teaching her son to fear her so.
"I promise everything will be okay. You are my son, and I love you."
Ranma fidgeted a moment more, but her admission of love melted his defenses. The tale began and in less than two minutes she was cursing the name of Genma Saotome, and in less than five minutes Nodoka's cheeks were wet with heartfelt tears. She had had such dreams for Ranma and Akane, and now they were gone. She wanted to hold her baby, but something kept her rooted to her seat while her son continued his grim tale. He spoke simply, with a hopeless detachment.
How many times had he told it? He hid nothing, reliving every terrible moment, and hearing every sound as if it had been yesterday. Nodoka, like any good mother, mourned for him.
By the time Nabiki's conversation lost its steam, she found herself closing the shop with the elderly gentleman. Night had fallen and a pleasant stroll through the cool, spring night lay before her.
"Well, Nabiki-chan, I must say that it was nice to have help for a change." He arched his back, making a sour face as he worked his sore muscles.
She graced him with one of her trademarked smirks before poking him in the belly. "You could always hire some more help, you know."
"Are you looking for a job?" he asked teasingly.
"For fifty percent of the profits… I'd think about it."
"Ouch! You mean that you would deprive this old man of his hard-earned money? Nabiki!" His banter was light and in jest, but she knew that he was serious.
"Of course not, Oji-san! But I'm a modern girl with modern needs. Bills to pay, and a bottomless pit for a fiancé that I'll have to feed. Not to mention college!" She was about to expound more, when he held up his hands to ward her off.
"I get the picture! I get the picture."
Nabiki smiled and kissed his cheek. "You know, if you really need me, I might be able to swing something between classes."
He seemed on the point of protest, but looking into her bright brown eyes, he decided against it. She hid her pain well, but he could see it clearly enough. It might just be what the doctor ordered for a lonely heart.
"Well… " He tapped his index finger against his lips and scrutinized her from head to toe. "I could use someone on Saturday nights. If Saotome-san can part with you for a few hours, I humbly accept the offer."
Nabiki looked out the window for a moment before answering. "I don't think that will be a problem. We can negotiate terms of service later."
Tanoshii-san winced appreciatively. "Be gentle," he said meekly, earning himself a playful punch in the arm.
"You worry too much, Oji-san! I'm not that bad."
"So you say now."
Tanoshii-san laughed, a full-bellied act that reminded her of Santa. She smirked and punched his arm again. "I've got get home. Daddy's going to be worried sick about me."
Tanoshii-san waved for her to wait, as he stumbled over to one of his refrigerators. She watched as he dug about for a moment before pulling out a large brown paper sack.
"…for hee-hee… Kasumi-chan… snicker…!"
Nabiki could only shake her head. "You really need to get out more."
The comment only made him laugh harder.
The pair bowed to each other, one with a little more dignity than the other, and then Nabiki was walking home. She had made the trip, what, a thousand times? But there was something different in the air tonight.
Something that set her on edge… something dangerous.
The long shadows cast by street lamps held eyes that watched her every step, and whispered softly at her passing. Her pace quickened as she entered a particularly narrow alley that would shave a good ten minutes off of her walk home. The moment that she entered the narrow way, she knew that she had made a terrible mistake. The night was blacker here, and the voices seemed to gather in both volume and number while remaining as indistinct and garbled as before.
She knew that she heard her name whispered, followed by an insane giggle. Others followed until the whole alley was echoing with laughter.
ohpleaseohpleaseohplease! Her mind, normally so focused, was now experiencing true terror; and Nabiki did the only smart thing that she could think of: she ran.
As the exit to the alley opened before her, her heart soared with relief. If only she could make it into the light! Her legs ached, and her chest was cold from fear and the ice cream that Tanoshii-san had given her.
Ten feet from the exit the laughter stopped and the whispering began again, excited and filled with anticipation.
"She's the one. I'm sure of it!"
"The Huntress. Call the Huntress!"
Oh God! They're coming for me!
"Run with her. Play with her!"
Seven feet from the exit, she heard movement from above her… pacing her.
Her lungs burned with the exertion of sprinting, and she flung the ice cream away from her to free up her arms. I'm too young for this, damn it! She knew that she should have kept up her training, if for no other reason than this very situation. Reputation could only take you so far, and now that both Akane and Ranma were gone, she would have to rely on herself.
Five feet from the safety of the street, she heard the fluttering of cloth. It was a familiar enough sound. Ranma's clothes had made the sound enough times, when descending from the roof of the dojo.
Oh %^#&!!! They're above me!
Three feet. She saw a shadow move to block the alley's exit.
Tears of frustration filled her eyes as she pushed herself harder. There was no way in Hell that she was going to let these bastards trap her so easily! She ducked her head low and presented her shoulder like a battering ram before her mad dash.
Two feet… She felt something trip her, and then she went tumbling into the waiting arms of the shadow before her. She started to scream even as the groping arms sought to hold her. Reflex kicked in and she began to kick and thrash for her life, bringing more than a few grunts from the rock-solid man that held her. Her forgotten training kicked in, and the man was forced to start blocking her furious kicks.
She managed to get an arm free and put it to good use; hitting her captor with an opened palm strike across the jaw, that made his head rock backward.
Someone behind her laughed, causing her to struggle more.
"That's enough!" Nabiki heard a distinctively feminine voice come from behind her. "Yoshitsune, let Tendo-san go." The vice-like arms refused to loosen their hold.
"Awww, come on, Hato-chan! This is just gettin' good! Yoshi-kun hasn't seen a girl in eons, and here one just throws herself into his arms!" Mocking laughter filled the alley, causing the arms to loosen slightly. Nabiki broke free, and landed in a heap at the foot of the towering shadow before her. "Who better than Tendo-san? It's almost like they were fated for each other." The voice was filled with casual sarcasm.
"Do as I say. Now." The one called Hato could have frozen a lit grill with the frigidity of her voice.
Yoshitsune relinquished his hold on Nabiki only after he helped her to her feet. It was an opening that she exploited to its fullest. Her knee came up with a precision that every woman seems born with, unerringly hitting a very sensitive spot that dropped the man to his knees.
She bolted for the street, but felt a hand snag her wrist and fling her back into the alley with inhuman strength. The results were predictable. Two pair of hands immediately grabbed her, pulling her arms out wide, and holding her feet immobile.
"LET GO OF ME, YOU PERVERTED BASTARDS! SOMEONE! ANYONE! HEEEEEELP!"
A firm hand placed itself over Nabiki's mouth, causing her screams to become little more than muffled grunts. She struggled some more, trying to free herself… to no avail.
"Are you sure she's the one?" A quiet, measured voice asked. "Somehow, I expected more."
"Shut up and tend to your brother."
A beautiful face entered her vision then, a face that was timeless in a way that made Nabiki feel like a little girl again. The woman's nose was just a tad too large for her face, but it seemed to enhance her beauty rather than detract from it.
"Tendo-san." Her voice was soothing, not unlike Kasumi's, but it held a hidden steel that brooked no nonsense. "We are not here to harm you." The sincerity in her voice caused Nabiki to relax. "My brothers are brutes with a twisted sense of humor. I apologize if they frightened you."
She motioned to the two holding Nabiki, and shrugged. She motioned for the pair to release their captive, and Nabiki found herself free, but trapped between the chuckling men behind her and the shrewd woman before her.
"It was a good joke!" A man's voice sounded from somewhere over her left shoulder. "You should have seen your face!" The man at her right shoulder snorted and tried to keep from giggling. Too bad he wasn't trying hard enough.
Nabiki smirked and nodded her head. She even chuckled some. Best to humor her captives until she could find a weakness to exploit.
She started weighing the situation and the people around her. She counted five: the two immediately behind her, Hato, the recovering Yoshitsune, and a fat midget who was eating Kasumi's discarded ice cream. Their features were all shrouded by the dark alley, but she could tell that they all had fairly large noses; everyone except Yoshitsune.
As the man in question finally righted himself and stepped into the light, Nabiki's breath caught in her throat. He had to have been the single most handsome man that she had ever laid eyes on! Clean-shaven and tall, he had silky black hair that was cropped short and tied back into a small ponytail.
She immediately regretted kicking him in the groin.
The ice cream thief behind her snorted, sending ice cream spraying out of his nose. He began to hack and cough uncontrollably while the others looked at the blushing Yoshitsune, biting their lips to control their own laughter. Nabiki didn't really notice this; her eyes were captivated by the subtle way that the man moved. He wasn't as graceful as Ranma, but there was a maturity in his step that Nabiki couldn't help but appreciate.
She wondered what it would be like to wrestle with him again.
Laughter erupted from every voice, like a dam breaking under strain. Nabiki looked around at the people as if they were mad, wondering what she had missed. The only one not laughing was Yoshitsune. His face seemed to glow bright red.
It was really cute. He seemed even more vulnerable than Ranma.
The laughing quartet fell to the ground, clutching their sides against their mirth. It was enough to bring Yoshitsune stalking over to her.
**Listen, woman!** Nabiki was shocked to hear a man's voice echo forcefully in her mind; yet his lips did not budge a whit. **I would appreciate it if you would kindly keep your perverted thoughts to yourself!**
The laughter turned to howls.
"You can hear my thoughts?" Nabiki asked incredulously. He had the softest looking skin. She wondered what it felt like. And those eyes! They were so dark that they could swallow a woman whole, without her knowing it.
"Here!" he said angrily, grabbing Nabiki's hand and bringing it up to his face. "This is what my skin feels like! Are you satisfied?"
It was soft.
The midget whistled a cat-call, causing his two brethren to double over more. Hato tittered, wiping the tears from her cheeks and trying to stand at the same time. Reality hit Nabiki like a ton of bricks, lighting up her face as much as Yoshitsune's. She tried to make her mouth work, but nothing came out.
"We don't have time for this. Mother is expecting us," Yoshitsune grumbled, and tapped the back of Nabiki's neck. The last thing that she remembered was falling into his protective arms… and being grateful for it. She knew that she was betraying Ranma, but strangely, she felt no guilt in this.
It felt right.
"He has known about her death for six months, and has lied to me the entire time!" Nodoka was furious, that much was certain. And by the way that she held her teacup, one could almost imagine her crushing the life out of her husband. "He told me that they were going on an extended training trip to Nepal, to learn a obscure technique! He even had Soun confirm it!" She growled, and spider webs began to make their way up the sides of her cup. "I can't believe that I fell for his lies again! ’Not to worry, honey. Ranma's getting closer to his fiancée every day, and by the time we return everyone will be ready for the ceremony!' Jerk!"
She set the cup down and took a deep cleansing breath. Nodoka looked at her oldest, dearest friend in the world and shook her head. "You were right, Yuriko. It's past time that Genma learned a lesson."
Genma sneezed in his beer, then looked worriedly at his old friend Soun. This wasn't a good sign. "I think that I know where Ranma went, Soun."
The Tendo patriarch looked up from his own mug happily. "Great news, Saotome! Let's go fetch him!"
"When I get my hands on the man, I swear that I will skin him alive! Him and that no good friend of his!"
Genma and Soun both sneezed in unison, and felt a cold shiver run up and down their spines. Their beer mugs and three mirrors in the bar all cracked simultaneously, leading both men to the conclusion that that might not be the best course of action.
Yuriko Mizuno merely nodded at her friend as she sipped her tea. To her mind, removing Genma from the gene pool was a good thing. The frantic call that she had received from Nodoka drew her away from the relaxing bubble bath that she had earned after two weeks of solid conferences and traveling. After having heard of the long list of abuses that Ranma had endured, Dr. Mizuno was wondering how Genma was still alive.
"What am I to do, Yuri-chan?" Nodoka set her teacup down and wearily let her face drop into her hands. "I haven't seen Ranma for any real length of time in eleven years! And he returns to me now, with all of this weighing him down! You have a daughter his age. Where do I start? How do I help him?" She never would have admitted it to anyone but Yuriko, but she was suddenly feeling out of her element. She knew how to deal with small children. Grieving teenaged martial artists were just not her forté.
"There's no textbook for any of this, No-chan. You do what comes naturally," Yuriko said, matter-of-factly. "You love him. You comfort him. You take care of his physical needs. And most of all, you talk to him." She sipped her tea and smiled. Who would have thought of her giving advice on dealing with teenagers? If only Nodoka knew…. "Not just about Akane, but about the present and the future. Move him out of the past slowly, and remind him that there is a life that he needs to live. Get him to make some goals, send him back to school, get him involved with things that will help him move beyond his grief."
Nodoka nodded thoughtfully and picked up her teacup again.
Yuriko wished that it could have been as easy for her Ami. Divorce was never an easy thing for a child, and when Ami's father had abandoned them for his slut, her baby girl moved into her own little world of tests and study groups. Yuriko couldn't seem to move the girl back into the real world.
She'd been trying for ages, but the farthest she had gotten with the girl was the hospital New Year's party. One glass of wine, and the girl vowed never to socialize again. Who could have known that Ami had such a low tolerance for alcohol? Everyone had loved her singing voice and had gone out of their way to compliment her on it. And the Chief of Surgery had really enjoyed the dance.
The only thing going for Ami-chan was her friends. There were a few that seemed to remind Ami that there was a world outside of books, that Aino girl specifically. Now then, if they could only get Ami a good boyfriend, Yuriko could relax and be assured that her daughter wasn't going to live in the closet for the rest of her life. Maybe she could kill two birds with one stone….
Dr. Mizuno sighed, and drained her tea in one gulp. "Where is Ranma now?"
Nodoka frowned and sat her cup down. "In the dojo. He needed time to himself."
Yuriko nodded and stood, straightening her blouse. "Well, let's go see him."
"Is that wise, Yuri-chan?"
Dr. Mizuno gave her friend a thumbs up. "Doctor's orders." She put her arm around Nodoka's shoulder and hugged her gently. "Just introduce us; help him get his mind off of his guilt. Meeting new people will help make the transition easier."
"But… I don't want Ranma to get the wrong idea." Nodoka was uneasy about introducing Yuriko as "Dr. Mizuno". She glanced at her friend tiredly. "He's just come home, Yuriko. I don't want to drive him off."
To her credit, Yuriko understood and squeezed Nodoka's hand. Her relaxing smile eased Nodoka's tension. "You worry too much, No-chan. As far as I see it, Ranma will need someone to show him around Juuban. A good friend, with no romantic ties…." She trailed off and left the rest to her friend to piece together.
"Do you know someone like that?"
No-chan, Yuriko reflected, had never been that quick on the uptake; after all, she had married Genma despite all of the signs. Still, Yuriko had to admit that the woman had a lot on her mind, so she was entitled to a little leeway. She nodded her head and smiled mysteriously, motioning for her friend to lead the way.
The smile alone would have unnerved Ranma's mother — had she seen it — but Nodoka was already moving towards the dojo, oblivious to everything but her son's welfare.
Salt watched as a man descended from the Ho Min pass and into the valley of the Musk amidst the unnatural storm. The omen itself was lost on the towering giant, but he could see that any man who would brave a tempest of such magnitude, and do so without any clothes on, had to be dangerous. He looked down at his smaller companion, Cayenne, the anxiety plain on his face. Salt came from a distinguished line that had the mark of the panda in their lineage, and his black and white hair made him a handsome figure.
Unfortunately, he had very little in the way of common sense. Cayenne, on the other hand, was Salt's opposite. No one would ever mistake him for being attractive, but his intellect made him more than a match for any man. His reddish hair and dark eyes easily marked him as descended from a wily fox.
Cayenne and Salt had honed their skills to near perfection as a fighting team. Alone they could be bested within minutes, but together they had given even the almighty Herb a run for his money.
Cayenne relayed a complex battle strategy to his large companion with a few deft hand signals, and then returned his attention to the naked man advancing on their position. The way his gut knotted painfully told him that this would be his last battle. He simply prayed that he could sell his life dearly.
The innumerable shadowy figures that rose up behind the man dashed that pretense against the sharp rocks of reality. They couldn't outrun the oncoming horde, they couldn't warn their master in time to be of any help, and there was no way that they could make a dent in the army that was backing this lone figure.
Well, there was one option. But he would die before he took the coward's way out. Treason was for fools and Amazons. He looked up at Salt's white face and tapped his broad thigh to get his attention. The fear in the man's eyes twisted the knot in his own stomach more.
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. With one distinct slash of his hand, he changed their plans. It was a risky play, but if they could pull it off, hopefully Lord Herb would have some warning, and even some time to prepare.
Salt nodded and lifted his partner onto his shoulders, and together they began to absorb the essence of the earth beneath their feet. Their flesh took on the hardness of stone, and their blood ran molten, like the molten core of the Earth itself. This was a suicide maneuver, developed against the chance that they would one day face a foe that they could not defeat by any other means.
The naked man stopped his advance, and watched in admiration as the fighting pair gathered their energies. It seemed that this world hadn't forgotten all of the old ways. He wondered, though, how much was actually remembered; after all, ten thousand years had a way of dulling the collective memory. Ahbrim Ur le the pair before him continue to gather energy. After all, he felt that he owed them that much.
They had acted with valor when most men would have wet themselves and run away. Let them die with the dignity that they deserved.
The earth rolled beneath his feet. Ur smiled knowingly and then raised his hands to the Heavens. The shadowy army melted away as if it had never existed, leaving the man alone and surrounded by a bloody red aura.
Cayenne's eyes flashed bronze in the night, and then the ground erupted beneath their feet. Lava exploded around them, burning away their bodies even before they had completed their arc. In the team's place, a miniature volcano blasted the blood of the Earth high into the sky, igniting the surrounding forest and making the pass secure — for a time at least.
Many leagues away, in the mighty palace of the Musk Dynasty, Herb listened to one of his lieutenant's report on the death of Salt and Cayenne.
He had already dispatched the call to arms upon hearing of their demise, but somehow he knew that it was too late. Scattered pockets had already encountered the shadow beasts, and Herb knew that his plans to call upon the people of Mount Phoenix for aid would come too late. A second lieutenant reported the demise of another pair of sentries in the Xi Feng Wei Pass on the other side of the valley, which made it evident that the enemy was going to box them in. The third aide reported the fall of the Emperor's castle a moment later, and was quickly followed by a fourth aide, who reported the fall of the third outpost to the south.
Herb was already calling for a strategic evacuation. He just prayed that his people would make it to the castle before the enemy did.
On a day when the wind was cold and the snow goddess blew her way down from the north, a shrine was built atop a hill. And in that shrine a fire was built and a covenant was made to keep it lit for all of eternity. Priests came and went with the winds of time, and yet the flame remained. War came and stole many glories from the face of the earth, yet the flame endured — all because of a young man’s sacrifice.
The young man grew old, and from the wreckage of war he built a new temple to the flame atop the hill. In his twilight years, he lived in the temple with his beautiful granddaughter and an apprentice. The old man was wise, and filled with the fire of life; the apprentice was warm-hearted, like warm coals; but the granddaughter… the granddaughter was the heart of the fire. Passionate and consuming, she was her grandfather's greatest joy.
When she had been unnerved by a vision, the grandfather took up her duties tending the great flame. He had not done so in years, and had forgotten the simple joy that could be found in quiet moments such as these. Yet, such pleasure was the dried grass of autumn, fit to be consumed by the fires of Change.
Rei's Grandfather watched mesmerized as the Sacred Fire flared for the third time. The noise in the shrine was deafening as the cries of the dying fed the flames. Warriors battled shadowy demons, paying the ultimate price for the sake of the people fleeing into a mighty castle. He knew that the palace would fall, but for the short time that remained, it was the defenders’ last bastion of hope. The evil that committed the slaughter could not be identified, nor did he know who the man in the mismatched clothing was. Rei's grandfather did know that this was only the beginning of the death toll.
He heard a gasp behind him, and a tray clattered to the floor. He turned to watch as the heavy ceramic teacups bounced noisily across the floor, stubbornly refusing to break, and the heavy kettle spilled its bounty in a wide arc before the raven-haired girl. The pattern of the liquid cut a deep crescent where the kettle had rolled away from Rei. It was an odd shape — too controlled and deliberate for such a casual accident.
He knew an omen when he saw one. He just couldn’t figure out what it meant.
"Grandpa…" Rei's voice was choked, as she pointed to the flames. They had grown to the size of a tall man, and in fact had taken on the form of the man from the battle; a man that had come to this fire before. "Grandpa, it's him!"
"Tell her that I am coming for her." The voice was hollow and cruel as it echoed off of the shrine's walls. The flames made the man's visage demonic, an effect that was made all the more evil by the sudden, casual murder of a young boy that had run across the man's path. "Tell her, Mars! There is no hope of escape!"
Rei gasped and tried to back out of the room as the fires grew large; the sound of someone chanting in the background was barely noted. All that she could see was the giant before her as he tossed the body aside. Ahbrim Ur's flaming form towered over her, dominated her, and made her feel terribly small.
What could she do?
The chanting increased, and the fire began to recede. Ur's terrible smile faded with it, leaving Rei and her grandfather panting. The Sacred Fire died down, leaving nothing more than calm embers casting an angry glow throughout the room.
"Are… you… okay, Rei-chan?"
The young woman nodded her head, afraid of what she might do if forced to speak.
"Good." Her Grandfather scooted over to where she sat, and cupped her cheeks in his wizened old hands. "Now then, I think you have a message to deliver."
Rei looked up at her grandfather blankly, then with a deep dread, understood what he was saying. "I don't know what you're talking about!"
Grandpa Hino patted the girl's hand and smiled. "I think you do. Besides, who else in this shrine has the temper of a war god?" He chuckled softly as he stood, stretching his back. "You go make your call while I wake Yuichiro. We need to cleanse the basin and shrine tonight, not to mention prepare for guests."
The old man wobbled towards the door, leaving his granddaughter to blink at his retreating form. He paused before leaving the shrine and looked over his shoulder at his granddaughter. "Could you ask them to come in those nifty fuku that you all wear?"
Rei turned white.
"There's nothing more inspiring to a man than a woman's legs." Grandpa Hino sighed wistfully and slipped out into the night, leaving Rei blinking in his wake. She was too shocked to wonder at how he had known about her, but that wasn't the only thing bothering her.
"HEY! What do you mean, 'temper'?!"
Yuriko had expected many things from Ranma. Nodoka had talked about him enough that Dr. Mizuno felt that she already knew the boy. Her old friend had bragged about his skill in "The Art", and Yuriko had simply written No-chan's descriptions off as a proud mother, dressing up the truth. Now that she stood before Ranma, watching him work his magic, she realized that Nodoka had been holding back.
Ranma was moving across the dojo furiously, and the evidence of his violent passing was littered about the dojo floor. His wrath was awesome to behold, but it was nothing compared to what he did when he slowed to work the worn oaken Wing Chun dummy. She could see the terrible pain that ate at his soul, and every strike was delivered with a precision that under the right conditions could easily crush the dummy.
"KACHUU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN!"
Yuriko's mind boggled as Ranma's hands and legs blurred. His face remained poised above a cloud of after images that her mind could only begin to register. The only other way that she knew him to be moving at all, were the sharp staccato beats of his fists and feet striking the wood. How was he moving so fast? It seemed humanly impossible to the doctor, but the evidence was unfolding right before her eyes. A loud crack sounded, and the Wing Chun dummy was brutally splintered. Pieces shot out in every direction, one even coming as close as three feet away from Yuriko on the left.
"Ranma." Nodoka's gentle yet disapproving voice somehow cut through the noise of the dummy's demise.
The dark haired boy paused and looked up at his mother, then at her guest. A look passed between the two, and Yuriko knew from experience that she had missed out on an entire conversation. Her suspicions were confirmed when Ranma ducked his head. "Sorry, Mom."
Nodoka seemed satisfied and let the matter drop.
"Ranma, I have someone that I would like you to meet."
Ranma stretched his neck from left to right, and then took his first good look at his mother's friend. Nodoka was a beautiful woman. Ranma had always known that. She was naturally graced with attractive features and classical mannerisms that made her elegant.
Her friend however, had what most men would consider a dancer's sensuality. Ranma was reminded of Shampoo in the way that the woman was built, but she lacked Shampoo's grace and economy. Still, by her long legs and loose clothing, Ranma could see what most men drooled over. The not-so-traditional "A-cut", where her hair was cropped close at the back with long, tapered bangs at the front, made her wild and fresh.
Ranma revised his opinion. She wasn't like Shampoo, so much as she reminded Ranma of Nabiki. She had the same mischievous smile and sly glint to her eye, but there was a fully developed gentility to her that Nabiki was only now discovering. Ranma bowed to Yuriko, and tried not to think about the home he had just left behind.
Yuriko watched Ranma's reaction carefully, but didn't see any of the normal teenaged hormones that she had grown used to. In some ways, it was disappointing to her. When Ranma bowed, she took her cue and immediately stepped forward. She grabbed his hand in a western style handshake, and began shaking his hand vigorously.
"Yuriko Mizuno, Ranma-kun. I used to work with your mother at the orphanage." Nodoka seemed to relax as Ranma shook Yuriko's hand. She was surprised when Ranma looked at her in surprise.
Ranma felt yet another emotional blow, as he learned what she did with her life, and he felt terribly guilty about his ignorance. He didn't even know the woman that had birthed him… another notch on his belt. Yuriko smiled at Nodoka over Ranma's shoulder and gave her friend another thumbs up. Had the woman been more attentive, she might have seen that mountain of guilt weigh heavier on Ranma's shoulders. He couldn't bring himself to embarrass his mother in front of her friend, so the pain and the self-recrimination was locked away, then buried for good measure.
"Pleasure to meet ya, Mizuno-san." His voice was reserved when he returned his attention to Yuriko, but his smile was genuine.
Polite. Reserved. Handsome smile. Delicious body… Ahem! Broken speech patterns.
Yuriko began tallying all the data, and quickly came to a conclusion. Ranma + Ami = A perfect resolution to a repressed daughter who was too afraid of boys to get out and enjoy life. There were more tests to be run before she would know for sure whether Ranma was right for her baby girl, but the initial data was promising. Yes, those two birds were really in for it, all right!
Dr. Mizuno, contrary to popular belief, did want grandchildren one day. And if Ranma could break through Ami's shyness… Well, all the better! Ranma was amazingly healthy from what she could see, and having No-chan as her daughter's mother-in-law was a wonderful idea.
Now, how to do it without scaring the boy off? Subtlety was the key. She had to do it with style. Ranma was new to the area, how about Ami as a guide? And if that didn't work, she could always introduce the idea of a tutor to Nodoka. From what she had gathered, Ranma hadn't had much in the way of a formal education. Ami would, of course, have to work one-on-one with this handsome young man, which would inevitably cure the boy of his grief.
Yuriko seemed to daze off for some time, dreaming about little Ranmas and Amis running around her office, playing with stethoscopes and tongue depressors.
Nodoka and Ranma watched the woman chew on her lip and smile, and were both unnerved by the feverish gleam in her eye. The fact that she was still shaking Ranma's hand and giggling only worsened the effect.
To be continued.
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