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.
Near Saotome Dojo,
There are those who believe that there is no such thing as coincidence. They believe that all things happen because they are meant to happen. In some ways they would be correct; and yet, on the flip side, there are things that happen "just because".
In the case of a beautiful young orphaned woman traveling with a group of her friends Well, her life, it seemed, was ruled by Fate. She had seen more than enough serendipitous events in her short life not to discount Destiny; she just wondered when Fate and Destiny were going to bring her a hunky boy to share her life with.
Tonight Fate was going to bless her with a beautiful gift. True, it wasn't the handsome boy that she wanted, but it was going to be someone almost as good….
Makoto felt an uneasy sense of déjà vu as she walked down the street beside Dr. Mizuno and her friends. Everything felt oddly familiar as she passed signs and shops, almost as if she had been down this street many times before.
Makoto had finally been pulled out of her reverie as she listened to Usagi's rather rousing — and more than likely exaggerated — recount of their rescue. Yuriko didn't even bat an eye when she got to the part about Ranma glowing, or at the end when he supposedly jumped up two stories from a dead standstill. If Ami hadn't confirmed it, Makoto would have chalked that part up to Usagi's flare for drama.
Makoto could tell that Ami was still reeling from the whole episode. But, she guessed, if some really hunky boy had just come to her rescue and swept her off of her feet, she probably wouldn't be all that coherent either. Makoto sighed, wondering when it would be her turn. She was so lost in thought that she nearly plowed into Yuriko as the woman stopped before a gate.
"Well, ladies, here we are." Yuriko fussed a bit with the collar of Ami's blouse, much to her daughter's silent annoyance. "Is everyone ready?"
Usagi seemed to glow with eagerness, but Ami looked like she was about to bolt. Makoto couldn't say that she blamed her. The tall young woman felt a chill run down her spine as she looked up at the sign above the gate.
Bittersweet memories flooded her mind as she studied the faded wood of the gate: memories of a beautiful woman that she had wanted more than anything to be her new mother….
Marut had found them easy enough. The purity of their magic stood out like a beacon in this gray, technological world. The only question now was how to proceed. Indra's orders had been explicit: watch — nothing more, and nothing less. But in light of who he had discovered, the shadowy Rhakshasa wondered if that would even be possible. The temptation to throw himself at the Ice Witch was so great that his whole frame trembled in anticipation.
The Rhakshasa were known to take many forms, and legend had it that they could not be harmed by conventional means. Magic, however, was very effective in damaging them; so much so, in fact, that once such wounds were inflicted, they could not be healed. Marut had come to understand this fact intimately when a young Senshi of Mercury had faced off against him. Her weapon had scarred him for eternity, leaving a jagged, never-healing wound on his beautiful face. His right eye was forever blind, forever experiencing the pain she had inflicted upon him when the wound was made.
He loathed her and everything that she stood for. The only restraint holding the demon at bay was the knowledge that should he openly move against the Senshi Well, his brethren had never been the forgiving type. The last thing that he wanted was to suffer at the hands of his kith. Their creativity when it came to torment was as legendary as the Rhakshasa's appetite for human blood.
There would come a time, preferably when she was alone, that he would arrange for an accident to befall the Ice Witch. He smiled hungrily at the thought.
"Mirror, mirror "
Nabiki stared into the hand mirror and examined her almond-shaped eyes. Their hazel color seemed more vibrant than it had been deeper and keener in more ways than they should have been. They reminded her of deep forests and secret places that time could not touch. It was terribly unnerving.
For eighteen years, she had woken up and been greeted by a pretty human face in the mirror. The face that looked back at her now wasn't the one that she had grown up with. There were familiarities; the shape was vaguely the same, though a tad leaner than she remembered. Her trademark grin remained, although her lips seemed a bit fuller. Yet for all the familiarity, the elf woman in the looking-glass was a stranger.
"Who are you?" she whispered. Her ears twitched subconsciously as she settled her chin atop her hands.
She felt like an alien inside her own body.
"A beautiful young woman named Nabiki Tendo," Kasumi said matter-of-factly, setting a bundle of folded laundry on the bed.
Nabiki exploded. "How can you be so damn calm about this?"
"Do you have to ask?" Kasumi smiled. She stared at her sister for a moment and then shrugged.
After having lived with an aquatransexual and being subject to all of the insanity that followed Ranma, Nabiki could see her point. Still….
"I talked with Mrs. Harada's dog tonight," Nabiki said casually. Kasumi nodded and started hanging some of Nabiki's clothes up.
"What did he have to say?"
Nabiki shook her head. Leave it to Kasumi to take everything in stride.
"He complained about all the noise. Then he started ragging on Ranma, and asking after Akane."
"Well, he is an older dog, Nabiki. The noise must hurt his ears." Nabiki couldn't help herself. She burst out laughing. Kasumi paused and looked at her sister with a raised eyebrow. "Did I say something funny?"
Nabiki did her best to calm the giggles, but for a full minute, found that she could only wave at her big sister. When she finally brought herself under control, the pointy-eared Tendo, smiled lovingly at her sister. "Has anyone told you how great you are?"
Kasumi blushed and resumed her task. "I don't feel so great," she whispered.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Kasumi paused again and sat herself down on the corner of the bed. She studied her little sister for a very long time before sighing and standing up again.
"Oh, no you don't. I'm not letting you get away with that. What is it?"
Kasumi began to wring her hands in her apron, and shook her head. Nabiki was afraid that Kasumi was going to close up again, but the oldest Tendo daughter slumped back to her seat on the bed.
Nabiki could read the posture well enough, not to mention the errant thoughts that were slowly seeping through the heavy mental wall that she had erected. "I can't believe it!"
Kasumi's eyes widened.
Kasumi blushed and her agitation grew. "Not at all. That's preposterous!"
"Don't even try denying it, Sis. It's written all over your face." Nabiki nudged Kasumi playfully.
"Well, okay. Maybe a little." She smoothed her apron absently, trying her best to avoid looking at Nabiki.
"Incredible," Nabiki said shaking her head.
"What?" Kasumi looked up at her sister curiously.
Nabiki stood and moved over to the full-length mirror on her door. The expression on her face was carefully neutral, but she couldn't hide the dissatisfaction in her eyes.
"I can't believe that you're jealous of this." She gestured at the stranger staring back at her in the mirror. Kasumi smiled and moved up behind her sister, resting her arms lightly on Nabiki's shoulders. "I can't even go out in public any more! My career is shot! What's there to envy?" Her ears seemed to wilt with her mood.
"Well, now. Let's look at this picture, shall we?" The elder Tendo daughter ran a delicate finger over Nabiki's right ear. "Number one: you can converse intelligently with animals. Number two: You've got a better figure than Shampoo ever thought of having."
Nabiki blushed a bit, but consented the point. She had shed fifteen pounds, all in the right places, and her body had sculpted itself to near perfection. She turned slightly, appraising herself in the mirror.
"Number three," Kasumi said quietly, returning to her seat on the bed. "Since becoming Ranma's fiancée, you've had more adventures than I will ever experience in my lifetime."
Nabiki could only stare at Kasumi for a long time. More of her sister's secret thoughts began seeping into her mind. Dreams, fantasies, and quiet regrets; but none impacted the Huntress more than the lack of freedom that Kasumi's heart yearned for. Being shackled to the sidelines while she played the responsible one. Couldn't they see that she wanted to be in on the fun too?
"Careful what you wish for, Kasumi-chan." She couldn't suppress the shudder that went through her body. "Careful what you wish for."
"Welcome to our home." Nodoka's smile was warm and welcoming as she opened the door to admit her guests. Yuriko's grin was a giddy mix of silliness and excitement that made Nodoka want to laugh. The group of women bowed politely as Nodoka ushered them into the house.
Yuriko entered first, leading the procession. As she passed Nodoka, she gave her friend a warm hug of greeting. Ami followed demurely, carrying a small present; and Nodoka made it a point to hug the young woman as well.
"Ami-chan, you're become such a lovely young woman!" she said, pushing the young woman out to arm's length.
"Thank you, Auntie." Ami blushed as Usagi giggled behind her, but took everything in stride. Nodoka looked a little ashamed, and quickly changed the subject before she embarrassed Ami further.
"Please, introduce me to your friends."
Ami was more than relieved to direct everyone's attention onto someone else. "This is Usagi Tsukino, Auntie." Usagi bowed politely, smiling brightly. Nodoka returned the gesture and smile, then turned her attention to the second young woman. " And this is Makoto Kino. Both attend classes with me at Juuban High School."
Nodoka's eyes grew wide as the name registered. She examined Makoto from head to toe, finally settling on the bright teary eyes that smiled back at her.
"Ayame-chan?" Her throat was constricted and so the words tumbled out in a whisper. Makoto nodded and bit her lip in order to keep from losing what little control she had left. Nodoka reached up to touch the young woman's face, to be sure that she wasn't dreaming.
Behind her, Usagi and Ami looked at Yuriko, who simply shrugged. The good doctor had no idea what was . Wait a minute. "Ayame-chan?" Recognition hit home immediately. How could she have been so blind? She laughed happily, causing everyone to jump. Nodoka and Makoto looked at each other, then looked at Yuriko. There was a moment of silence as all three seemed to share some private revelation before the laughter started anew.
"What's going on?" Usagi asked Ami plaintively. She hated feeling left out.
Ami shrugged her shoulders and smiled happily. "Something good." She sighed and settled herself on the step that led into the house, watching the scene unfold. She smiled at the three women and rested her elbows on her knees. Her chin plunked down to rest in her palms as she watched the reunion. Usagi plopped down beside her, mimicking Ami's posture.
"What did I miss?"
A sudden chill swept down Ami's neck and back at the sound of that voice, causing her to shiver uncontrollably with delight. Usagi shrieked and leapt off her seat, backpedaling until Yuriko was forced to catch and steady her. Ami looked up slowly, and met the pair of blue-gray eyes that had started to haunt her dreams.
Ranma looked down at the young woman seated on the steps and stiffened immediately. He had long ago learned not to believe in coincidences, and the fact that he had met up with this same girl three times in so many days Well, it was a sign of sorts. He wasn't sure if it was a good sign, but it was still a sign.
The young martial artist tugged at the low collar of his black silk shirt, and took a deep breath. Okay, two girls from yesterday, plus a third that he wasn't familiar with yet. Not exactly okay in his book, but manageable.
The fact that one of these girls was Mizuno-san's daughter Now that was cause for worry. Mothers tended to like window-shopping for husbands, and Mizuno-san had been giving him "the eye" the other night. Pieces started to fall into place a bad sign. Best to find out who the girl was and set this whole thing straight as soon as possible. The blonde girl bore no resemblance whatsoever, so she was out. The tall girl didn't have the build, and the facial structure was all wrong.
Which left one person.
A really eerie chill ran down his spine as he looked down at Ami. She smiled demurely and blushed, but for some reason she didn't look away almost as if she couldn't.
Ranma swallowed visibly and smiled back. A vague memory surged to the forefront of his mind, giving him the most disturbing feeling that he knew this girl. Something about a library….
He looked to his mother, Dr. Mizuno, and the other girls; everyone blinked once, twice, three times. It was such an eerie impasse that Ranma decided that it would be in his best interests to simply make himself scarce; the small room was so full of estrogen at the moment that he feared they would somehow trigger his curse without even resorting to cold water.
Yup. Definitely time for the Saotome Final Attack.
He smiled at them, they smiled back, and then he pointed to the kitchen. "I'll finish setting the table."
Everyone nodded, watching him depart.
Nodoka shook her head and sighed. "Ranma, Ranma the dining room is the other way ." Ami looked to Usagi, and both exploded into fit of giggles.
Rei sat before the Great Fire and chanted the prayer. The flames seemed to sense her agitation and danced wildly in the fire pit. She had been at this for over an hour now, and her voice was weak and raw with the effort.
Setsuna had set her the task of looking for the aftermath of Ur's actions rather than trying to find the man himself. It was draining to see all the destruction, especially of the village of women that the Rhakshasa had destroyed.
"How much longer shall we look?" Michiru asked calmly, looking into her mirror.
"Until I see some pattern that we can exploit," Setsuna said coolly.
Haruka snorted and took hold of Hotaru's hand. The little girl had grown much over the last two years, and looked more like a sixteen-year-old than the thirteen-year-old that she was.
"Call us when you find something worthwhile," Haruka called over her shoulder. "Hotaru-chan and I are going for something to eat."
"Traitors." Michiru mock pouted. Hotaru smiled at the aqua-haired woman and waved, knowing full well that there was no way that she could get out of going. Haruka, for her part, grinned at her lover and blew her a kiss.
The pair almost made it through the door when Rei screamed and threw her head back in agony. The fire before her collapsed in on itself, plunging the room into complete darkness. Setsuna scrambled over to Rei's side immediately, and placed her fingers on the young Miko's wrist to check for a pulse. The green-haired woman hissed and drew her hand away from the young priestess.
"Is she all right?" Hotaru asked quietly.
"Her skin feels like a burning coal," Setsuna whispered. As if on cue, Rei's clothing burst into flames, immolating them. A high-pitched bird's cry echoed throughout the hall, then sounded a second and third time. There was a rush of air, and finally a sudden stillness that made everyone nervous.
Michiru tackled Setsuna away from Rei's prone body just as a fountain of flames erupted from her naked form. The fire danced above her for a moment, forming itself into a highly detailed bird of flame before jumping back into the fire pit. Soon the flames had returned to normal, leaving Rei to shiver on the floor from a slight draft coming through the open door.
Setsuna looked up to Haruka and Hotaru. "Go to Rei's room and get as many blankets as you can." Hotaru disappeared immediately.
When Haruka had left, Setsuna began stripping.
"What are you doing?" Michiru said in confusion.
"The fire's stolen most of her heat. If we don't hurry, hypothermia will set in." Michiru blinked. "Well?" Setsuna said crossly as she slid out of her long skirt. "Hurry up! Do you want her to die?"
Michiru blinked once more, the calmly began to disrobe. When both were down to their underwear, they sandwiched Rei between them and draped their clothing over them.
"What was that all about?" Michiru asked when they had finally settled themselves. Setsuna was rubbing Rei's arms to get the blood moving a little faster.
"Phoenix Mountain." Michiru blinked, uncomprehending. Setsuna sighed, wishing that her teammates had full access to their memories. "There used to be many kingdoms under Serenity's rule, all of them scattered across the solar system, residing on the planets that we represent. Each world had its own nations, many of which you would deem mythical. Mercury's most notable was the Horus, a class of winged Demi-Human that relished the heat that the planet naturally provided."
Michiru was fascinated, and began to wonder what denizens had lived on Neptune.
"The Horus, like many of the other planetary races, worshipped their princess as a goddess, with Serenity being the Great Mother of All." Setsuna wrapped her arms tighter around Rei, motioning for Michiru to mimic her. The elegant woman complied.
"Ra was their last king, and in an effort to further his goddess' influence, he set up colonies throughout the solar system. On Earth, most of what is now Egypt was under the governorship of Ra's middle son, Saffron. When Meta'lla was freed, and Beryl's army advanced, Saffron himself wiped out a full legion of the Witch's forces, then was driven to retreat with what little remained of his people to a mountain in Northeastern China."
Michiru was fascinated beyond words.
"The most interesting aspect of the Horus was their immortality. They were literally a race of phoenix dying, only to be reborn from the ashes of the old. Saffron has been alive for 12,000 years, and along with a few other appointees, guarding Ur's prison for the majority of that time." She sighed. "It seems that Prince Saffron has died and been reborn again."
"Well," Michiru said hopefully, "this is good news, right? We have an ally against Ur and these demons of his."
Setsuna shook her head. "Not as simple as that. Saffron has become a little unbalanced." Michiru groaned. Setsuna fixed her with a cold glare. "You try living for twelve thousand years in the main timestream and see how stable you remain. The Horus live countless lifetimes. After a while, it starts to weigh on you."
Michiru blushed and shifted self-consciously.
"Eeep!" Hotaru squeaked from the doorway, dropping her load of blankets into a massive pile at her feet.
"Hotaru! Come on!" Haruka growled from behind. Another large pile of blankets started nudging Hotaru forward, even as she tried to pick up all the spilt blankets.
"Drape the blankets over us, then strip and join us." Setsuna ordered.
Haruka's tower of linen toppled. She and Hotaru simply stood in the doorway, frozen. Both women looked at each other and blinked. "I had a dream about this once," Haruka said with a blush.
Hotaru and Michiru snickered.
"Haruka," Setsuna's voice seemed to drop the room's temperature.
"Yeeesss?" the shorthaired blonde said as she pulled Hotaru over to blanket the trio on the floor.
"Shut up and do as you're told." Setsuna was all but growling.
"Kinky," Haruka purred.
By the glare that Michiru offered Haruka, the racer knew that her lover wasn't enjoying her jokes as much as she was.
Indra staggered out of the rubble of Phoenix Mountain. It was evening, which made him wonder just how much time had passed. It didn't matter in the end; Ur was going to be terribly displeased regardless. The Hunt leader began collecting the straggling remains of his people.
The Adityas, what was left of them, were all noticeably injured, save for one figure: Yama. Mitra was dead, Dhatri was blind, and Daksha, Varuna, and Ravi were nowhere to be found. A full three-quarters of their force, dead and gone.
"RAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!" Indra threw back his tiger's head and vented his outrage on the hapless stones that littered the ground around him. Great slabs of granite exploded, showering the monster and kicking up a huge cloud of dust and debris. The devastation lasted only moments, but the effects hung in the air like a funeral shroud.
"Temper, temper," A deep, guttural voice whispered from behind Indra.
Indra growled at the sound of the voice and slowly turned to face his brother.
" Yama ."
Savitri and Surya instantly appeared at Indra's side.
"Are you finished yet, or should I come back later?" The bull-headed beast looked down upon his brothers disparagingly; his body held no evidence of damage or dirt.
"Such drama, brother! Such passion! Perhaps you should have been a Kisseki Dancer instead of a General," Yama growled as he casually stepped through the debris and dust. "Our brothers might still be alive."
Indra threw himself bodily at the bull-headed Rhakshasa, intent on destroying Yama. The ground shook with the fury of his passing, but the tiger-headed demon was stopped within a foot of his tormentor by Savitri and Surya. His burnt fur caused the horse-headed twins to turn their heads away in disgust.
"Do not seek to push your failures off on me!" the beast rumbled. "Your plan failed and cost us dearly."
"BECAUSE OF YOU!" Indra roared.
"Enough!" Dhatri chastened. The beast's head was a mangled mess and no longer resembled anything remotely like the Eagle's head that he had worn before. "Ur calls us to report."
Yama reached forth one massive hand and clutched Indra by the throat. "Your Master calls. Go lick his boots." Savitri and Surya immediately released their hold on Indra, allowing the demon the opportunity to rake his deadly claws up Yama's midsection violently. Blood sprayed the ground and hissed evilly, blackening the dirt with its poison.
Yama howled in rage and raised his fist to crush Indra, only to be held at bay by Ansa, Aryman, and Bhaga. Indra's ears flattened against his skull and his eyes began to fade to black pits.
"You tempt a war, whelp," Yama snorted, "a war that you cannot hope to win." A flash of black fire heated the air, and the bull-headed demon was gone.
"I may not live through it, Yama, but I will see you dead before I fall."
"Ur calls, Indra," Savitri whispered. "We must go before Yama can undermine us in the Master's eyes."
"So be it," Indra hissed, and then the remaining Rhakshasa vanished in pillars of violent black fire.
None of the beasts noticed the group of winged forms pulling themselves from the rubble a few hundred meters upwind. Kiima carefully waited before dragging the fully-grown form of her king from beneath a large stone.
"How is he?" Jhuy, one of Saffron's elite, asked with concern.
"Asleep, nothing more," Kiima assured. "How are you and the others?"
"Bruised, a bit singed but nothing more."
"Good. Take Fehi and scout for survivors. We must be ready to move in an hour regardless."
The warrior nodded and immediately took off.
"They may have left someone to watch for survivors, Lady Kiima." Luong, a grizzled veteran of Saffron's guard moved forward and helped her lay their monarch out flat.
"That is my hope, Luong." She smoothed back Saffron's hair and sighed. "If a small contingent were to act as decoys, then the rest of the survivors can move Lord Saffron to safety." The grizzled soldier frowned, but made no comment. "Speak your mind, warrior." Kiima was open to suggestions, to keeping the bulk of her people alive.
"A foolish and wasteful plan, Lady," he grumbled. "Dividing ourselves into smaller numbers may not be such a bad way to go, but to send a group out as a decoy is murderous."
"What are you suggesting, then?" she asked quietly.
"Pick a place that we might rendezvous and then separate into groups no greater than five." He made a scurrying gesture with his hands. "The smaller groups increase the chance of survival. A hundred tiny groups are a lot harder to track than two or three large groups. It would ensure a larger number of people saved in the end."
"He is correct, Kiima." Saffron's voice was weak and tired, but was assured.
"My Lord!" Kiima and Luong bowed their heads reverently.
"Stop prostrating before me," he said quietly. "I do not deserve your reverence."
Kiima and Luong shared a worried glance, then turned their attentions back to Saffron.
"Look about you," the king gestured. "There are no fires of rebirth!" Luong's brow furrowed, not understanding. Kiima herself felt confused, which only heightened Saffron's depression. "I have killed my people! The Horus have forgotten their eternal natures!"
"My lord! I do not understand…." Kiima looked at Saffron directly, hoping to catch a glimpse of his meaning. All that she found there was a deep self-loathing.
"Of course you do not," he said bitingly. "But in the name of Isis, I will teach you!" Saffron pushed himself to a sitting position, and clutched his head against the sudden vertigo.
"Gather the survivors, Luong, and see to it that they are paired in groups of six. One healthy body for each of the injured." Saffron settled himself back on his hands and breathed deeply. "Send them off immediately."
Luong bowed. "Their destination, sir?"
"Tokyo. That is where Isis is, and that is where we shall find hope."
Dinner was a quiet yet tense affair that had Ranma on his toes the entire time. Dr. Mizuno kept staring back and forth between him and her daughter, confirming his earlier suspicions. It wouldn't have been so bad if had been just her, but the blonde chick from the night before was doing the same thing.
Then, of course, there was Ami herself, so cute and self-conscious, sneaking glances every now and then. Ranma had caught her three times now, and each time their eyes met, he felt his heart skip a beat. The feeling that he'd met her before the train station grew each time she laughed, or when she would push her hair behind her ear. It was really starting to creep him out.
Then of course there was that Makoto chick. She was the only one that offered him any familiar ground at all. She didn't hide her dark looks or disapproving glaring at all. It was a hostility that made him feel Well, at home.
Damn. He must be more screwed up than he thought.
It wasn't as if he didn't deserve the grief. This was the girl that got jilted out of a loving home because of him. He didn't know the rest of her story, but he could tell that she resented him for being here. He hated fighting a battle on so many fronts.
"So, tell me, Ranma," Makoto's voice was cold as a winter breeze, "why'd you come back?"
"Makoto!" Ami looked at her friend scandalized. Usagi gasped and Yuriko looked at Nodoka who simply sipped her tea in silence. Ranma almost smiled at the bluntness of the question, as he set his glass down.
"Does it matter?" he asked quietly. "I'm here now."
"It sure as hell matters, you insensitive jerk!" Makoto said coldly. "Do you have any idea how much your mother suffered without you here?!" Ranma had the decency to lower his head in shame.
"Makoto! That's enough!" Ami said. Usagi just bit her napkin uncomfortably.
"It is not enough, Ami! Do you know how many times Saotome-san cried herself to sleep over this guy and his dad?"
Ranma made no move to defend himself.
"Everyone suffers, Ayame-chan." Nodoka's voice was quiet, and filled with a deep understanding that made Ranma wince. He drained his glass of water and clutched it tightly to keep control of the pain. The loaded statement silenced Makoto's protest even before it found its voice. "Please do not judge Ranma too harshly."
Ranma's glass shattered in his hand at the pity in his mother's voice, and the overwhelming emptiness in his soul. He wanted scream and yell, but he kept everything silent silent as death.
He felt someone tugging lightly on his arm and looked over at Ami's concerned face. He blinked a few times before the pain registered in his palm. He looked down at the gash dumbly and sighed. Yuriko immediately stood and moved to her daughter's side to look at the wound as Ami gently took hold of his hand and began picking out the glass.
Ranma couldn't help but marvel at how soft and gentle her hands felt. Her skin was cool against his, and her brow was furrowed in deep concentration as she carefully cleaned the glass from the bloody gash. Usagi took one look at the red liquid and turned white before turning herself away.
"Sorry, Mom," he said sheepishly. "I better go clean this up."
Nodoka's concern melted away at Ranma's nonchalant attitude and smiled in understanding. Makoto blinked at Ranma, then looked at Nodoka, who merely patted her arm softly.
"Come on, Bruiser," Yuriko said softly. "Let's see how many stitches this is going to take." Ranma winced and sighed. The doctor smiled at how Ami refused to let go of the boy's hand as the led him to the kitchen.
When the trio was gone from the room, Usagi slapped Makoto upside the back of her head.
"Ow! What was that for?" she demanded.
"And people call me dense!" she hissed.
"Girls, please." Nodoka's voice was quiet, but firm, causing both young women to calm themselves. "It's best that this comes out now, rather than fester."
Makoto didn't quite know what to think of that, but held her peace. She didn't think much of Ranma, and if she opened her mouth again Well, there was no telling what might come out.
"Saotome-san?" Usagi's timid voice broke the moment of silence.
"Why does Ranma-kun look so sad?"
Makoto looked at her friend, genuinely puzzled. Had he looked sad? She couldn't remember.
Nodoka looked towards the kitchen and took a deep breath. "That is Ranma's story to share, Usagi-chan." She sipped her tea quietly for a moment, before looking directly at Makoto. "But suffice it to say that Ranma has suffered greater loss that I ever have."
Ami was so focused on Ranma's hand that she barely registered her mother's presence at all. It was so strong and callused, yet she knew from experience how gentle his touch could be. She felt Ranma tug gently, trying to get his hand back.
"Hold still, please," she said firmly. "There's just one more piece." Ranma winced as she pressed on the wound enough to push the piece to the surface.
"Gently, Ami," Yuriko chided. "You don't want to make the cut worse by stressing the wound."
Ami pursed her lips and furrowed her brow. Her mother was right, of course. She reached for the damp, bloody dishtowel and dabbed at the wound gently, soaking up the blood.
"Look, you're gonna get your blouse all messed up," Ranma protested. "This is nothin' ta worry about. Just let me get the first aid kit, and everything'll be fine."
"Good idea." Yuriko patted Ranma on the shoulder, affectionately and smiled. "Tell me where it's at, and I'll bring it down."
Ranma slumped dejectedly and pointed back towards the dining room. It had been worth a try, but he should have known better. No use fighting it; sooner or later he'd get stuck alone with Ami. Might as well be now, before she got any funny ideas. "Mom can tell ya."
Yuriko patted Ami on the shoulder and winked, causing Ami to blush and focus on Ranma's hand again. On her way out, the doctor gave her daughter a furious thumbs-up before disappearing through the door. Ami did her best to ignore the gesture.
Yuriko popped her head back into the kitchen just long enough to leave some parting advice. "Make sure you wash the cut out again, Ami." And while she had her daughter's attention, she added a silent and emphatic "Talk to him!" for good measure.
Ranma tried to retrieve his hand again, but Ami refused to let go. "Please, Saotome-san. Try not to move so much."
"It's just a scratch," Ranma said with a smirk.
Ami sniffed at Ranma's machismo. "A scratch that could easily scar."
"I've got lots of those." Ranma shrugged. "What's one more?"
Ami rolled her eyes and picked up the bowl of warm red water and glided over to the sink where she dumped it. Ranma couldn't help but notice how smoothly she walked, or the graceful way that her skirt swayed back and forth.
Ranma shook his head and looked at the refrigerator. It was jam-packed with colored scribbles and childish drawings. Yet another reminder of his sins.
"Your mother is a wonderful woman," Ami said from the sink. She held a hand under the tap, testing the water's temperature.
"Huh?" Ranma turned his attention back to the young woman. Ami smiled and shook her head.
"Auntie. She's wonderful."
Ranma nodded and smiled. "She's more than that."
Ami started filling the bowl, nodding. After a moment, she dumped the water and looked at Ranma. For a time she seemed to lose herself, simply staring at him almost as if she were remembering something from long ago. Her brow furrowed.
"What?" he said nervously. His statement seemed to jot her from her reverie.
"N-nothing," she stammered, returning her attention to filling the bowl with clean water.
"C'mon. A girl doesn't give a guy that kind of look for nothin'." Ranma scooted to the edge of his chair and grinned roguishly. "Spill."
"Really, it's nothing," Ami protested. She set the bowl aside and turned the tap off.
"Can't be nothin'. You're blushing."
Ami's blush deepened as she quickly picked up the bowl. A little water splashed on the floor in front of her, and she stepped onto the wet spot blindly. Her socks were immediately soaked and slid out from underneath her on the slick tile.
Ranma blurred, catching her before she could hit the floor. The water bowl was miraculously balanced on the index finger of his wounded hand. The casual strength with which he supported her sent shivers down Ami's spine — that, and the proximity of his face to hers.
"You okay?" His breath was warm against her chin, and Ami gripped his silk shirt unconsciously. His shoulder muscles were taut, yet steady. Good Heavens! He held her as if she weighed nothing at all!
Ami could do nothing but look into those stormy eyes. Something about this all felt so right, that she couldn't bring herself to move. So why, if it was so right, did he look so sad all of a sudden? Without thinking she reached up and caressed his cheek. Her logic centers threw up their hands in frustration, even as Ami's libido did a victory dace. Finally they were starting to see some results!
Balanced as he was, Ranma could do nothing but stare back at Ami in shocked wonder. Her hand seemed so familiar against his flesh as if she had touched him a thousand times. It was so natural so right so so .
"Here are the banda Oh!"
Ranma jumped at Yuriko's voice. The bowl slipped from its precarious perch. He cursed and scrambled to stabilize it again, but it was too late, the water hit anyway. The icy liquid soaked his hair, and his view of the world changed. His clothes became baggy and his body shifted and redistributed its mass. The waist and shoulders shrank, the bust and hips expanded, and his face rounded itself out and softened.
Ami coughed once as the water drenched her face and chest. When she could see again, the young, handsome man that had been holding her had been replaced by a busty, fiery-haired young woman.
The bowl clattered noisily to the floor, causing Ranma to wince.
Yuriko's eyes rolled up into her head, and she passed out on the hard floor. Ami wanted to join her mother, but all that she could see were the same stormy blue eyes from before. Only this time, the pain and sadness were more evident, and tempered by an expectation of rejection.
She had never seen anyone so lonely in her life and it hurt.
With a shaking hand, she reached up and touched the red head's cheek again. When those blue eyes grew wide with surprise, she smiled. The soul was the same; she could tell.
Idzumo, or rather, "The Land of the Reed Plains", was supposedly the first part of the earth to be inhabited after the gods finished their creation. In those days the whole earth was full of voices, singing and speaking the praises of the gods. After a time, the Lords of the Earth no longer spoke the languages of beasts or trees, and thus the language of the Earth was lost.
Lost but not forgotten. In the vastness of Idzumo, the trees and flowers still spoke, and the songs of beasts still glorified their gods. The old ways were revered, and ancient pacts were kept.
**He advances, Mother. Like an avalanche he moves forward.** The voice was ancient, almost as old as Mother's, yet it held a harder edge to it. This was a meeting of equals, a summit where greater powers played their Great Games.
**This is already known to the Clan, Othepsis. Envoys have been sent to find Serenity's Hope.** Mother's voice was calm and confident as she responded to the large creature before her or, that is, its spirit.
Its kind had not walked the face of the earth in their bodies in a very long time, and their descendants had long since locked themselves away in hibernation to await the return of their queen. Yet even in sleep, dragons dream a waking dream, walking amongst the sons of Adam and the Daughters of Eve.
Othepsis had seen the advent of Sahadriel, the Great Mother, in many of his dreams, but until Shemue's breath woke the Queen of Storms, none of his people could leave their prison home.
**I felt the Huntress' rebirth,** another voice conceded, looking up to the sky. **But will he wake to his role?**
Mother turned to address the third power pointedly; her voice was filled with warning. **The choice will remain his, Uthiad. To force him would be a worse calamity than the one we now face. Proceed carefully if you must, but do not push him farther than he is willing to go.**
**Saturn's daughters know their place, Mother.** Uthiad's voice took on a haunting echo as she addressed Mother's concern. **We are the beginning and the end; you and yours can dance as you will in between.** Othepsis sighed and shifted uneasily, as did many of the other representatives.
**We can be patient, Mother. We will avoid his dreams.** The dragon's form shimmered and started to fade. **There are others that we can focus on to give your Daughter aid.**
**As you wish, Othepsis ** Mother said. **Wake those that you can.** One by one, the entities began to fade, leaving Mother feeling empty.
"They don't seem to understand the dilemma very well, do they?" a young Kenku said from the side of the grove. The other trees looked down on the brash youth and rustled indignantly. The obscene gesture that he threw them didn't go over well.
**How could they, Kawasemi?** Mother said tiredly. **Their tribes are still trapped until their Avatars are awakened. Nothing is certain for them, any more than it is for us.**
"So why not just bring Saotome here?" The young Kenku settled his body down on one of Mother's great roots and looked up at her mammoth trunk.
**All metal must be tempered, Kawasemi. If Serenity's Hope is to succeed, he must learn. And he is not the only one, either.** Mother's branches shifted, making a magical sound that seemed to calm the grove. **Ranma must confront Ur alone, but the others will be the vanguard that carry him to that battle.**
"So, when can I expect them to come knocking on my door?"
**I can only pray that it will be soon.**
The Palace of Seven Clouded Heavens,
The storm that raged over the Bayankala mountain range matched its creator's mood perfectly: dark and violent. It had been countless millennia since the former Lord of Atlantis had abused the elements in such a manner, and the night's events gave him a reason for releasing some of his stress.
Rivers flooded, and a forest in the eastern valley burned to mimic Ahbrim Ur's blazing anger. Yet, to look at the despot, one would never make the connection between the storm and the seemingly calm man standing before the window.
A fatal mistake, indeed.
Dressed in a long open-fronted red robe, Ur stood unmoving as he looked out onto the scourged countryside. Somewhere high above him in the mountains, a lake reached its boiling point, sending up gouts of steam and creating a cloudbank that surrounded and obscured the peak. Forks of lightning dug hungrily into the earth and various other objects — living and dead — with furious abandon.
The wind drove sheets of rain and hail down upon the unsuspecting refugees that yet hid within the valley's confines. Their struggle for survival had become that much harder since the breaking of dawn. Ur didn't care about those that he had already crushed. He had the Hunt to monitor those he considered pests and vermin.
His mind was occupied with other concerns — namely, the Horus. The issue did little to change his plans for domination and conquest, but it did add a certain something to the mix. He just wasn't sure what it was, or what it meant.
He could still feel Saffron's flame burning brightly, and knew that the Phoenix King yet lived which meant that there would be resistance. But what could he do now? Indra was wounded, and his other trusted generals were detained elsewhere; in short, there was nothing to do. So, for the time being, he vented. Not openly, for he had learned long ago that to lose one's temper meant losing the battle. And one never knew which battle would win the war. He would wait, and allow his anger to build into something more constructive.
The Lord of the Hunt was torn from his thoughts as a presence silently entered the room. The power and scent of the newcomer was familiar, and strangely welcome, despite the irritation that Ur felt towards her.
Nothing suited Ur better than when a good dose of synchronicity appeared in his life. One window closed, only to have another door open. It was not the person that he needed to hear from, but she would suffice. Perhaps this was a sign? He just hoped that the information that Kali had procured about the current state of technology in this world was worth the wait.
"You are late." Ur's voice seemed too controlled, even to his ears.
For those who knew him, it was a warning sign. Luckily for him, none of his new allies had gotten close enough to know him, a practice that he meant to maintain. He did not turn to face the demon that knelt at his back, much to Kali's shame and frustration. Instead, Ur kept his eyes focused on a mountain far in the distance.
"Forgive me, my Lord." The black, panther-headed Rhakshasa bent herself lower to the floor, in the hopes of at least appearing humble. No matter what the Pashas said, she could not truly accept this man as her leader. Humanity was a food source, not an equal. The fact that this "human" was leading the Hunt was an affront to her sensibilities. Ur knew this, Kali had no doubt.
Somewhere off in the distance, over three hundred bolts of lightning blew the cap off a mountain. "What do you have to report?" Again, Ur's voice seemed too calm, much like the eye of the hurricane.
"Magic is all but dead in this world, and the sheep have created weapons based on the elements of fire and earth. Some are called 'guns', while others are more volatile." Kali's report was delivered in a contemptuous voice for the pitiful weapons that humanity had developed for their defense.
Or was the contempt directed at humanity itself? It mattered little to Ur, just so long as he received the information that he needed to reclaim all that he had lost. He would deal with Kali's veiled arrogance after he had gleaned all that he could from the pathetic creature.
A plan began to form as Kali droned on about some of the more impressive devices that she had seen.
" the only true weapon that has been created is called a 'thermonuclear device'. Its destructive power rivals that of the Rhuk himself, and could easily wipe out one or more of the larger cities." There was true respect in Kali's voice as she spoke of this weapon, which intrigued Ur.
"How is it employed?" Ur's voice was almost casual in its inquiry, a subtlety that the feline-headed Rhakshasa didn't miss; and though Kali wasn't intelligent enough to read the nuance for what it was, she knew enough about the man before her to be wary.
Not that she thought the great and mighty Ahbrim Ur posed a threat for one such as she — not in the least — but she was smart enough to expect the unexpected. It was a shame that her expectations fell so far from the true mark.
"The device comes in one of two forms. A projectile, or a stationary artifice known as an explosive." Ur nodded and turned to face the falsely humble Kali.
"This is good to know, Kali. You have done well." The feline purred irreverently, an act that Ur chose to ignore. "In light of your success, I have decided to grant you time to hunt and feast as you will until I call on you again." He turned away and ignored the female Rhakshasa until she grudgingly left his presence. A chime sounded delicately, announcing the next order of business.
Shadows coalesced slowly — almost humbly, if such a term could be appointed to the action — and from their depths materialized the battle-worn body of Indra. The General's blackened fur could not be cleaned, leaving him patchy and gray rather than the resplendent white it had been. The poor beast bowed his head in shame, waiting patiently for the deathblow to come — as if Ur was stupid enough to cripple himself in such a manner.
His favored general was not the root of this problem, and Ur knew this.
"Rise, Indra." Ur did not turn away from the window, but heard the demon stand. "You expect me to kill you now."
"You feel accountable for the failure at Phoenix Mountain." Ur turned from the window and looked down at Indra expectantly. The tiger-headed general nodded simply, if not humbly. "You are acting blind and foolish, then."
Indra made no move to agree or disagree with the Lord of the Hunt. He simply remained bowed and silent. His heart, however, leapt with joy.
"Did you honestly believe that I would not know of Yama's treachery?" Ur stepped away from the window, and drew closer to his servant. "You do your family honor by protecting him from my wrath, but that does not mean that he will escape."
If Indra could have smiled, he would have. Ur motioned for him to stand.
"Go. Return to the others and bring me news of their progress." Indra nodded and seamlessly melted into the shadows. It was only after Ur was certain that Indra had departed, that he seated himself on his throne and called for Yama.
There was no response to his summons.
"Yama. Attend me," he called again. The storm's fury grew when there was, yet again no answer. Ur's eyes narrowed dangerously, and the Palace shook with his rage.
He clapped his hands twice and the air split with a loud thunderclap. The stench of ozone hung heavily in the air, clinging to the cursing form of the bull-headed Rhakshasa. Yama cursed and struggled against invisible bonds that held him suspended, high above the shadows that promised freedom. Shackled and bathed in a pillar of light, the demon could do nothing but scream his curses at his captor. Not that it did him any good.
"You have challenged me for the last time, Yama." Ur's voice was even, devoid of malice or anger.
"I SPIT ON YOUR FETID SOUL, HUMAN!" The beast made as if to fulfill his threat, but Ur gestured and the bull-headed Rhakshasa found it impossible to breath, let alone move.
"I cannot understand your impertinence, Yama." Ur stepped down from his throne and walked around the demon. "With my freedom, you gained release from your own prison. Have you not feasted upon the terror and souls of mankind, as you were promised? Were not the shackles thrown off?"
"YOU BOUND US!" Yama roared defiantly. "You bound us away from our brethren, and your whore sent what remained of our empire to their doom against Serenity!"
Ur paused to study the demon thoughtfully before resuming his pacing. "I see." He shook his head and pursed his lips. "This is about revenge."
Ur circled Yama until he could look fully into the demon's black in black eyes. "Do you know from what emotion vengeance stems, Yama?" The man clasped his hands behind his back and pursed his lip. "No? Allow me to enlighten you. This is a subject that I am well acquainted with. I will do so in reverse so that there can be no denying the truth of my words."
The beast struggled against his bonds, thrashing against the compressed air that held him in place.
"You have an obsession, a hunger to right the wrong that was done to you. This obsession was birthed in the fires of your sorrow, and that sorrow was birthed at the loss of something that you held valuable something, dare I say, that you loved?"
Yama snarled, and his great bovine mouth frothed with the need to savage his tormentor.
"Yes, dear Yama. I accuse you of such profanity," Ur said smoothly.
Ur nodded his head and placed his arms behind his back, again bowing his head.
"What would you call this attachment that you have for your kind? Pride? In order for a being to entertain the notion of pride, must they not first esteem something to be of great worth? Esteem is a positive notion, Yama."
"I DO NOT KNOW OF LOVE!" Yama roared.
"Such protestations, demon against which I wholly contend. I offer that you do know the emotion, but choose to lie to yourself to hide the truth that indeed, you are not so very different from humanity as you thought."
Yama roared again in denial, his mighty muscles again flexed against the unbreakable bonds of Ur's magic.
"There are many forms of esteem, Yama. One is a condescending sense of superiority that comes from possessing a thing: a weapon, a favorite slave, etcetera. This is the foundation of obsession, and for the most part is celebrated by your people.
"A second is a perverse sense of patriotism. It is an extension of the first example, reveling in the superiority of the race or individual. This esteem is commonly known as pride: the love of self."
"You love yourself, Yama. You love your people. You feel the emptiness of their loss, so you seek to revenge yourself against the one that stole them from you. Did you not weep and wail and gnash your teeth when you learned that it was I who had set you free? I, the very man who prevented you from being consumed in Serenity's last blow? I, the man who had originally bound you away?"
Yama fell silent.
"I can see that you did. But it is not for your people alone that you wept — you wept for what humanity stole from the Rhakshasa. They drove your forefathers into the shadows. They bound you and hunted you. Humanity made you the monster that you are today. You mourn for that time before time, when the world was young, and you reigned supreme."
Ur needed no confirmation as he continued to plunge forward.
"I will tell you something more before you are punished, Yama. I will reveal to you another dark truth. Have you ever wondered how, after so long, that I was able to bind and seal your clan away, when no one else could have hoped to defeat you?"
Yama's eyes widened as Ur moved past.
"I see that you already know some of what I will reveal." Ur said smugly. His arrogant grin nearly drove Yama insane with the need to kill the man. "I spoke with Pluto before my defection, in the hopes of uncovering a fatal weakness in your kind."
His smile turned cold.
"It was here that I first saw the Moon Kingdom for what it truly was: an empty, fulsome husk of arrogance and self-righteousness. Did you know that the first Serenity was an even more pompous woman than my Serenity? She was a jealous ruler, paranoid of losing her power to any. It was one of the ironies of life that she was killed by her own husband as he defended the daughter that would one day inherit her throne. She created your people, Yama the author of all your violent pride.
"In the later years of her life, when madness had finally taken her mind, Serenity found a man whispering in her court. She thought he was mocking her and plotting against her rule. In her insanity, she had his family, every last one from elder to newborn, brought before her.
"With the power of the Ginzuisho, she banished them to a place where they could never threaten her. But that was not all that she did. She changed them, stealing their humanity and marooning them in a dark, evil dimension — a place that I believe you are familiar with."
Yama screamed his denial, mourning the horrible truth that had been revealed. Ur turned away and returned to his throne.
"Give my regards to the Silence."
And then, without warning, the pillar of light became a pillar of fire. Yama's screams echoed long after his flesh had been consumed. Ur contemplated the pile of ashes for quite some time before he finally turned his attention to other concerns.
"Savitri. Surya." The pair solidified immediately from the cool, dark shadows.
"Yes, Lord?" they said in unison. Their equine heads shivered, causing their manes to ripple nervously.
"Aditri has lost a son today, and the remnant of the Twelve shall suffer for Yama's pride." Both nodded solemnly. "I give you the chance to redeem your family of your brother's arrogance."
Both nodded again, consenting to their master's desire, and the chance to redeem their family's honor. It was enough to appease Ur, for the time being. Both brothers understood that they would have to sacrifice much in order to work their way back into Ur's good graces.
"I am glad that you understand." He motioned and the two stood before him. "Savitri, I charge you to acquire for me a number of weapons called 'thermonuclear devices', and the knowledge of their use."
Savitri bowed once, and after a moment, with no further instructions from Ur, left the room in the same way that he had entered.
"Surya." The chilled wine felt good tumbling down the inside of Ur's throat, like the taste of victory after a hard battle. "You will go throughout the nations of this world and plunge their governments into chaos. I care not how, but do not reveal yourself. Let the world governments fall upon themselves while we solidify our position. Do I make myself clear?" Surya nodded once, and when Ur waved him away, he mimicked Savitri's earlier departure.
Ur paced over to the windows again and began planning his next step.
Nodoka looked up in horror at the sound of the splash, pushing Makoto's story into the background. A thousand images passed through her mind at the thought of her son-turned-daughter facing off against her best friend and her best friend's daughter. She couldn't just up and leave Makoto and Usagi either. Not without making matters worse, at any rate.
She'd have to run damage control, somehow….
The strangest thing was the fact that the normal sounds of panicked shock were conspicuously absent. Either both women had fainted dead away, or Ranma had somehow managed to evade the water.
Please! Oh, please! Just let it be the latter, she prayed fervently. Usagi laughed reluctantly drawing Nodoka back into the conversation. There was nothing for it; Ranma was on his own.
How do you find meaning in the impossible? This was one of the questions that a rather unorthodox instructor had posed to Ami while their juku was studying the Holocaust. When the world itself could no longer fit the terms of reality, how could humanity define itself?
Since becoming a Senshi, she'd had ample opportunity to ponder the question and had come to the conclusion that you had a choice: to ignore the new reality and valiantly cling to the old, or to embrace the new reality and adapt.
Time and again, she had followed the second path, adapting herself to each new situation with controlled efficiency. Anything less often resulted in pain, and in some cases even death. Feelings and emotions could be ascribed later; the important part was fitting yourself into a new reality as smoothly as possible.
So How did you adapt to a situation like this?
Her extremely handsome savior had just become an extremely attractive buxom young woman. Her logic centers rallied to the new problem with gusto. After feeling so neglected, they were more than ready to put themselves to task.
Her mind worked doubletime as the young redheaded girl helped Ami to stand. Okay, so what if he turned into a girl? That meant that he had a unique perspective on women, right? He could understand the difficulties and social idiosyncrasies that the modern Japanese woman faced on a daily basis. That was a plus.
Ranma settled her into a chair and turned to the sink.
Ami was amazed at the change that had come over the young man girl person before her. The predatory grace that Ranma had displayed before became more fluid, if that was possible. The little redhead reminded Ami of a ballet dancer, or perhaps a deer. It was an unnatural grace, more beautiful than threatening.
Okay, point two: Ami could have a boyfriend and a girlfriend at the same time . It took her mind a whole minute to wrap around that concept or at least to sort out the true meaning of that statement. After careful inventory, she safely determined that she was not homosexual, and that the intent was to have a well-rounded relationship .
Well-rounded? Relationship? Ami blinked. Her logic centers blinked. Even Ranma blinked as she turned on the hot water.
"Everything okay?" the aquatransexual asked with genuine concern. She tried her best not to look at Ami's sheer wet blouse. And to some extent she succeeded. Ami's eyes were a nice distraction.
Ami blushed and nodded, then watched in fascination as the redheaded girl upended a glass of hot water over her head.
The change was no less amazing than before. Limbs elongated, and the chest sculpted itself accordingly. Feminine charm traded itself for handsome masculinity. It was a magic that Ami was familiar with, and yet was completely foreign to her. She must have been staring, because the now male Ranma began to pat himself down.
"What? Did my clothes rip?"
Ami smiled and shook her head. "No. I just find it fascinating." She turned her gaze from Ranma as he adjusted his pants again. "I'm sorry. It's rude of me to stare." Ranma shrugged as sat across from her.
The tabletop suddenly became very interesting to its occupants.
"I'm used to it." He looked uncomfortable for a moment before turning his attention back to her. He explored her face intently, probing for what she didn't know. His scrutiny seemed to last forever and was beginning to make her feel self-conscious. The room's temperature seemed to raise a few degrees as well. She needed something to divert his attention.
"May I ask you a question, Ranma?"
Ranma looked at her, and then shrugged. "Go ahead."
"Are you a boy that turns into a girl, or is it the other way around?"
Ranma looked at Ami's blushing face in surprise again. There were a hundred and one different reasons for that question, and only two of them seemed anything but innocent. The question was: which form did she prefer?
Ranma wanted to slap himself for even thinking that. Not everything revolved around women and men wanting him or her .
"Huh, that's a new one," he answered dryly. "Boy to girl." He assessed Ami's reaction carefully, but wasn't prepared for the relief that washed over the other girl's features. He tried his best to push aside the hidden meaning behind the look and proceeded to dress his cut. If he didn't make a big deal out of it, maybe just maybe the whole situation would just go away.
Distracting her couldn't hurt either. "Next question."
"Pardon?" Ami asked, confused.
"Don't worry, I don't mind. I know you're curious, so go ahead and ask." Whew! It worked!
"I wouldn't want to pry, Ranma."
He snorted and flashed her a grin that pretty much put him back at square one. Her blush seemed to heat up the room, forcing Ranma to cough and turn away.
"Ami-chan, it's bound to come out sometime or another. I'd just as soon you heard it from me rather than some rumor mill." Ranma returned his attention to the makeshift bandage, and so missed Ami's blush deepening further.
He just called me ‘Ami-chan'! A flock of butterflies started squirming in her stomach. She had to do some hard thinking before she was even able to respond coherently. She had to focus! Focus on something safe! She had to distract herself um science! Yes! She needed to collect data on the transformation. Data.
"What does it feel like?" She couldn't hide her eagerness. But she really wasn't sure what made her feel more excited seeing his winter eyes looking at her again, or getting insight on such an amazing transformation. After all, he wasn't a Senshi then again, Sieya and the other Starlights changed gender hmmm. New angle.
Ami's logic centers went into overdrive.
Ranma looked thoughtful for a moment. "You know the feeling you get when you foot falls asleep and you try to walk on it?" Ami nodded. "Well, that's what it feels like when the water hits. Then…" He gyrated his hands dramatically in a churning motion. "…it's like everything's swapping places."
"What happens to all the excess mass?" Her question drew a confused look from Ranma. "I mean, what happens to all the extra weight? You don't look like you weigh the same as when you're a boy." She'd always wanted to ask the Starlights about that, but they didn't seem to change all that drastically. Ranma's shift was amazing, to say the least.
Ranma laughed. "You know, I don't know. But it's a great diet program." Ami chuckled a bit before Ranma continued. "I lose about seventy pounds with the change, and I've noticed that I'm much faster. It's an even trade, I suppose: strength and weight for speed and quicker reflexes." He shrugged.
"Fascinating," she whispered. She took a deep breath, causing Ranma to blush as deeply as she had earlier. He coughed once into his hand and quickly turned away. "What is it?" she asked. It took only a moment for her mind to notice the wetness of her chest.
"Oh! Oh Oh my!" She cast about wildly for something to cover herself with. She felt terribly embarrassed. Ranma seemed even moreso, as he dug into a drawer and found a small hand towel. He tossed it to her without looking.
"Sorry. I didn't look on purpose or nothin' really." Gah! He hated it when stuff like this happened. Ami didn't know whether to feel flattered or insulted. "Um. You can use one of my shirts, or my Mom's. I'm sure that she wouldn't mind." Ranma finally noticed Yuriko and rallied to a way to save face.
"You go on upstairs and change in`ta somethin' dry while I take care of your Mom."
Ami blinked at the offer, then followed Ranma's gaze to her prone mother. "Mother!" She quickly scrambled over to Yuriko's side and began checking the woman over for injuries. After a moment's inspection, she found nothing serious, much to her relief.
"Go on." Ranma placed his hand on her wet shoulder and immediately felt a shiver at how warm her skin was beneath the cool silk. "I'll handle things from here. My room's up the stairs on the right. Just grab whatever."
Chills ran up and down Ami's spine at his touch, as she turned to look up at him. She nodded once and then quickly left the room. Her heart was pounding fiercely in her chest, leaving her feeling weak in the knees so much so that she had to take the stairs very slowly.
This was insane! How in the world could a man do this to her? She tried to push her emotions aside and think about the whole situation logically, but the fiery warmth of his hand still radiated on her shoulder.
As she entered Ranma's room, she absently noted that it was very spartan. No posters, a few half-full bookcases, some weights, and a couple of framed pictures on the desk but little else. Ami idly opened the closet, deeply curious as to what she would find there. To her surprise, it was almost as empty as the room.
He must be so used to traveling light… she mused. She browsed through the limited selection of shirts, noting how utilitarian his wardrobe was. The casual, comfortable silk shirts were all of the same style and loose fit.
A lot like Einstein, she thought with a smile.
She picked out one of the white shirts and promptly took off her wet blouse. She continued to examine the room as she slid into the shirt. It swamped her, making her feel like she was wearing more of a dress than a shirt.
Her eyes settled on the photographs as she started to fix the buttons.
"Oh my word!" She paused, halfway done with the buttons, to pick up a particular picture, and simply stared. The young woman in the picture stared back at her. The resemblance was uncanny.
No wonder Ranma tended to stare at her!
Ami wondered who the young woman was as she set the frame down and finished buttoning the shirt. From the looks of it, she was someone special. A deep sense of disappointment filled her heart at the thought of Ranma having a girlfriend.
I should be happy! She shook her head.
"It's not like I have time for anything else right now," she whispered, smoothing out the invisible wrinkles in the shirt. So why did she feel so empty all of the sudden? A light rapping on the door caused her to jump.
"Yo, Ami-chan?" Ranma's voice quietly drifted through the door.
"I'm decent." Ami marveled at how odd that sounded. It was almost as if she were at home A brief daydream flittered through her mind as Ranma entered the room. A home where she and Ranma The logic centers immediately shut off all access to the libido. This was way too soon for anything like that to be roaming around.
Too soon indeed.
"Looks good on you."
" huh?" Ami was still disoriented from the small coup on her warm and fuzzy fantasy to respond with any intelligence.
"The shirt," Ranma pointed out. "It makes you look real cute."
Ami's mind nearly shut down. There was only so much sexual tension and warm fuzzies that a girl could take in one night. Then Ranma shrugged out of his own wet shirt.
"Thanks," she said weakly.
Alarms went off in her brain as hormones began to flood the system. Wet blanket after wet blanket was thrown on the raging fires that were starting up everywhere. The logic centers enacted the emergency protocols and tapped into the backup. They needed to work fast before they lost the host system altogether to those barbaric hormones.
"Who is the young woman in this picture?" Ami blinked, wondering where that question had come from. When she saw the empty pain on Ranma's face, she immediately regretted opening her mouth. Still the question was out. Ami wondered if this was the "Akane" that he had mistaken her for at the train station.
"Is there something wrong?" she asked. Ranma simply shook his head.
"You look so much like her. I mean, you coulda been her twin sister. So close, and yet so different. Kinda like night and day."
Could have? What did he mean…?
"So who is she? A girlfriend?" Somewhere deep inside of her, a part of Ami was praying that this girl was just a friend. Ranma's laugh was bitter, but not grating.
"Fiancée?" Ami almost slumped in defeat. That something from before rallied behind her and forced her to not just roll over and give up. She hadn't against Beryl, or any of her other challenges for that matter, why start now?
"Pardon me for saying this, but don't you think that you're a bit young for that?"
Ranma laughed again.
"I told Pops the exact same thing when he arranged the whole deal. He didn't seem to think so." Ami looked at the boy across from her with sympathy.
"An arranged marriage. Doesn't sound very romantic."
Ranma shrugged his shoulders.
"I ain't much into romance. It was an honor thing. Marry a daughter from the Tendo clan to join the two schools." Ami's interest perked at the mention of school.
"Yeah the Musabetsu Kakuto Ryuu; the Tendo and Saotome schools of Indiscriminate Grappling. Though I don't much care for the name. I'm kinda partial to Anything-Goes Martial Arts."
Ami quirked her brow at the name, but didn't say anything about it. "So you're a martial artist?"
The question didn't phase him. "Yeah." There was no blustering pride in his statement. It was just a fact. It's what and who he was.
"Is your fiancée a martial artist as well?" This question seemed to darken Ranma's mood.
"She thought so." Ranma turned his back to Ami, finishing up the rest of the buttons. A sinking feeling settled in the pit of her stomach as she instinctively stepped closer to the young man.
"Something happened " She didn't want to go here. This was his business. She didn't need to know the details.
"Yeah." His voice was quiet and taut with emotion. "One of my opponents " He sighed. It would all come out eventually. He needed to start talking about it; otherwise it was going to kill him.
"My opponent used her as leverage against me in a fight. I couldn't save her in time."
Ami gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. Tears started to well up in her eyes, and she gingerly reached out a trembling hand that never quite reached Ranma's back.
"I I'm so sorry," she stammered. Ranma shrugged and turned back to her.
"Don't worry about it." Ami couldn't meet his eyes. "Really. It's okay. I'm working through it." He tried to sound positive, but somehow he knew that his words had come out hollow.
Ami hugged herself. Here she was, a living reminder of everything that he had lost how cruel. "I should go," she said quietly.
Ranma gently took her arm as she passed, and somehow ended up holding her hand. Looking at her then, he knew that he didn't want her to leave. She filled something inside of him that had been dead for a very long time. When he looked at her, the pain didn't hurt so much either.
He smiled warmly, causing the butterflies to return to Ami's stomach. His touch was so firm, and those eyes seemed to come alive again for an instant.
"It hurts." He reluctantly released her hand. "But not so much when you're around."
The libido threw up its collective hands and gave in. It had already lost this war that much was certain. Ami blushed and awkwardly turned away.
"Friends?" Ranma's hand slid into her line of sight, causing her to look up at him.
"Friends," she said quietly, accepting his proffered hand.
To be continued.
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