Hey all!

Hmm. I guess last chapter was confusing. I mean, first off, nobody thought they could read it! Which is always a drawback. And just to assure everyone, you actually could. (I know most people figured it out, but to those who didn't, here's the explanation.) The second posting of 'Taking a Step Back' was the real one, thus the 'real' in front of it, and the first one was just a mess up I was scared to remove. But now it's gone! I got up the nerve and deleted it, so all is good!

Not to mention, the whole chapter was pretty WAFFY and sad and crud like that, unlike my usual plain old silliness. But hey, what are you going to do? I think the fic needed it, and I'm personally very pleased with the way that chapter turned out, Shampoo's little scene in particular.

I think this chapter is a bit more amusing than the previous one, but, on the other hand, maybe not. As long as we're delving into people's emotions it might stay a little dramatic, so who knows. It all depends on how you look at it. In any case, I don't own Ranma ½ or Sailor Moon, and enjoy the chapter!

Reviewwwww. PLEAAASEE.

*

Warning: What you are about to read is not only completely random and confusing, but a bit scary. Well, not really scary. I'm not so good at writing scary. But it's creepy in any case, and you're going to be quite lost. Just thought you should all be forewarned. it's only polite.

*

Partial Eclipse

By Rio Grande

Chapter Eight: A Slap In The Face.

*

Akane awoke with the feeling that something was not right.

Which was really quite disappointing because when she had gone to sleep the last night she had assumed she would wake up feeling happy and all warm and mushy inside. You know, how most people feel when they've just recently discovered that the person they've been secretly in love with for around two years in fact loves them back.

But no, the first thing the seventeen year old felt as the bright morning rays hit her skin, and her deep chocolate brown eyes slowly slid open. was that she was sleeping in the wrong bed.

This was completely false since she found, upon further inspection, that she was lying in the same bed she had been since she was ten years old and had purchased this bed with Nabiki because she simply couldn't fit into her old one anymore. This realization was baffling, since she definitely had felt as though she were lying on a foreign mattress just a few seconds before.

Well, putting that aside, the girl really did feel as though there was something amiss with the world around her, and so she was a bit more cautious as she padded down the stairs that Sunday morning. Everything seemed to be the same as usual. her house looked just as it always had, right down to the various sloppy repair jobs on the ceiling. Nothing smelled off, and there were no strangers lurking around her halls. It was just this gut feeling she had that was particularly unnerving, and left her hair standing on end. She shuddered lightly as she reached the kitchen, after drifting through the vacant dining room.

Where was Kasumi?

The woman was always there on Sunday mornings, merrily whipping up breakfast, no matter what the conditions outside her tiled sanctuary were, and it made everything that much more odd that she was absent. Akane licked her dry lips, for the first time noticing that the usual morning ruckus was also missing, and that, in fact, it felt as though the house were empty. Rarely a good sign.

"Hello?" Akane called to no one in particular. When she got no response, the pretty girl frowned and shuffled into the dining room, willing to give it another go.

"Hello?" Nothing. She migrated over to the basement entrance.

"Hello?" No response. She traveled around to the staircase.

"Hello?" Nope. The upstairs hallway.

"Hello?" Nada. The bathroom.

"Hello?" When no one replied to the teen's call this time, she gave off an angry huff and decided that the house must really be empty. But. it was only eight A.M! Where could they have gone off to? And if the family really had left, why didn't they tell her about it, or at least leave a note?

'Darn, and for the first time in my life I had been looking forward to seeing Ranma, too,' the love struck girl reminisced, sighing and exiting the bathroom after quickly brushing her teeth. What was she going to do all today if everyone had all gone off and left her? See Yuka and Sayuri? Sure she had some homework, but truthfully she was still a little tense and hyper from saving the world yesterday, so.

"Akane."

"Eeek!" the girl squeaked, spinning on her heal, and coming face to face with her fiancée. "Ranma!" she gasped, putting a hand to her mouth, and letting out a long sigh. "Oh, it's just you. You scared me! Where have you been? I was calling all over the house but no one replied so I thought you'd all left-" Akane stopped in mid sentence as Ranma put a finger to her lips to silence her. She stared questioningly up at him, thinking vaguely that there was something wrong with his eyes, usually so twinkling and mischievous. They seemed . different somehow. She couldn't put her finger on it, but suddenly found she didn't need to seeing as he was leaning in to kiss her, and she really wanted to kiss him back on account of she had just brushed her teeth. Not to mention she simply loved kissing this boy. Her fiancée. Her Ranma. Did he think of her as his Akane?

She closed her eyes quickly and gently kissed him back, still a bit hesitant about doing much more. She was new to all this, and wouldn't deny the fact that she was rather afraid she would do something wrong and mess the whole interaction up, loosing everything she had just received. Ranma, however, seemed much more secure with the situation.

He swiftly wrapped his arms around her waist and leaned into the kiss, his tongue running rampant around her mouth, as she realized with a start that if he hadn't been holding on she probably would have lost the power to stand long ago. How had it come to this? Since when did Ranma confront her outside the bathroom in the mornings, and then initiate a hot make out session with hardly any of his usual stuttering and hesitation? She had no idea why things had evolved so fast since she became a temporary Sailor Scout, but Akane had to admit, she was enjoying it.

"Akane," Ranma whispered, pulling away from her, to stare down at her flushed face.

"Y-yeah?" she replied, trying desperately to organize her thoughts so that she didn't start doing something stupid, like drooling. God, she loved this!

"You're an ugly tomboy."

There was an awkward and extended pause, where the couple stood silently and stared at one another, the distance sound of crickets chirping in the background all that could be heard.

Wait. No. wasn't how it was supposed to go. Akane blinked in confusion. Had she misheard him?

That was just about when Ranma's fist connected swiftly with her stomach, and the shocked girl doubled over, falling onto her butt while clutching her throbbing middle tightly.

And the only thought coursing through her mind as she stared up at the handsome man who stood threateningly above her prone form while she tried to get her breath back, tears leaking out of her eyes without her permission. was that.

He had never hit her before.

*

Ukyo awoke to the sound of something rattling the very foundations of her restaurant.

She had no idea why she was lying on the floor of her (still rather trashed.) restaurant when consciousness welcomed her back to the world of the living, nor why it sounded as though there was a monster truck fight going on outside. but she wasn't very happy about any of it.

'I didn't get drunk last night with Ryoga. did I?' she wondered vaguely, getting to her feet, fully dressed, and rubbing the sleep from her eyes. 'I don't think so. I don't feel as though I have a hangover. but something is definitely off,' she decided, casting a weary eye around the Uchan. However, she found nothing out of the usual. Unless you consider a partially demolished restaurant, with the plaster dangling from the ceiling, tables sticking out of the walls from where they were violently hurled, and a lot of food products smothered around the vicinity, unusual. To Ukyo, it was currently her life, and it was going to take probably all day to fix. Most likely all of tomorrow as well, knowing her luck.

"God, won't they just shut up?!" Ukyo growled, completely fed up with whomever it was creating all of that noise just outside her restaurant, and giving up on trying to figure out what she was doing on sleeping on the floor of the Uchan. She probably didn't really want to know anyway. God. You know it's bad when you stop caring about things like where you wake up each morning.

Stomping over to the door, and throwing it open in what she hoped was an intimidating way, Ukyo glared daggers at the ruckus makers outside her shop.

"HEY! YOU! Guys! Would you stop.stop. Oh my God." The brunette trailed off with her emerald eyes widening considerably, hands clenched at her sides observed the scene before her with what could only be described as morbid fascination.

Ryoga and Ranma were going at it head to head, right in front of the Uchan. They were throwing themselves ferociously at each other with not so much a show of skill as a show of brute strength, giving out heart stopping war cries, the expressions on their faces carnal in nature. Around them, the entire street looked like a war zone, and there was blood covering the boy's bodies like a lace blanket. It dripped down their arms, got in their eyes, and spurted out of open wounds scattering their forms. This didn't seem to slow them down, however, as they continued to battle noisily over an unknown dispute.

"R-Ran-chan?" Ukyo tried, hesitantly calling out to her two male friends. This scene was too gruesome to look at for much longer. She felt as though she had stumbled upon the set of a horror film. Sure, Ranma and Ryoga fought. but this wasn't fighting! This was killing! It was like nothing she had ever seen between the two, and was having a hard time swallowing it. "Ryoga?" she tried, lifting one hand out as if trying to touch the two figures as they blasted their way around the street.

Now Ukyo was positive something was very wrong. And it wasn't just because she couldn't for the life of her remember where she fell asleep. It was because this whole scenario was very peculiar, and even more disturbing. Something about it just felt off. But now wasn't the time to think about such things...

Abruptly, the two fighters fell to the ground in lazy crouches, panting and shaking, eyes narrowed into slits. Ukyo collapsed to her knees in front of the Uchan and continued to stare at the duo with her mouth hanging open. What did they think they were doing? Why were they fighting like this!? Didn't they know they could die with those wounds they had inflicted?

"Ukyo," Ryoga said, his head snapping over in her direction, and causing the breath to get caught in the surprised chef's throat. "What are you doing here?"

"S-stop." Ukyo tried, feeling the tears spill out of her eyes as she watched Ryoga stare at her with a long gash down his cheekbone, and a fatal looking wound on his abdomen, still freely pouring blood. She had to save him!. dear Ryoga who had, just the other night, comforted her when she had been struggling to come to terms with Ranma, and his relationship with her. Ryoga who had been such a good friend!

"You can't have us both U-chan," Ranma said, in a voice that should have been damaged from the slash across his neck, but was surprisingly strong and piercing. Ukyo shook her head, clearly confused.

"C-choose?" she croaked, crawling towards the boys, wincing as she sloshed across puddles of blood and scraps of cars that had been torn apart. This was unreal. It was a nightmare.

"You know you have to let me go," Ranma continued, standing up, and shifting into a fighting stance, as Ryoga nodded his head gravely in agreement, and did the same. Seeing that they were about to start back up again, Ukyo recovered from her shock long enough to jump to her feet and let out a string of curses, followed by a much more understandable sentence.

"What do you think you're doing, fighting like this, you'll get yourselves killed!" Ranma and Ryoga didn't seem to acknowledge this fact though, and they didn't rip their gaze away from their opponent as they prepared to commence the fight once more. "Why are you fighting!? What's going on!?" Ukyo screamed, now thoroughly distraught, and confused beyond belief.

"Can you let go of Ranma long enough to consider someone else?" Ryoga questioned quietly, just before he launched towards Ranma, arms moving in a tornado of punches and jabs, lips curled back into a snarl. Ranma met his attack with a counter of his own, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his body wouldn't be able to take much more of this abuse.

Ukyo looked on in shock, the wind whipping her hair around her head, trying to figure out what Ryoga was attempting to get across. What did choosing someone over Ran-chan have to do with any of this? It didn't matter anyway, if these to didn't stop this quarreling soon, she wouldn't HAVE anyone to choose, anyway.

*

Nabiki awoke to the smell of flowers, feeling a bit startled when she realized she was clutching a bouquet of them.

Things only went downhill from there as she found herself to not only be holding a bouquet, but to be sitting in a pew, surrounded by finely dressed people, listening to an organ playing, in a chapel, with an assembly of nervous looking men wearing black tuxedos standing at the front of the room.

She was, apparently, attending a wedding.

'Right. Wait. When did I get here? And whom do I know who is getting married? Definitely not someone in my family,' the eighteen year old recalled, abruptly discovering that it, indeed, couldn't be someone in her family, seeing as both of her sister's were sitting on either side of her, expectant smiles plastered onto their faces, and the day her father remarried was the day Akane learned how to cook. So who.

'Kuno.' Nabiki mentally deadpanned, looking at the flustered groom, waiting impatiently by the priest. He looked almost. dashing in that tuxedo, and endearing with that nervous expression etched on his features.

But, why was she getting this weird feeling in the pit of her stomach when she thought of Kuno getting married to someone.

Else.

Desperate to get her mind of that disturbing thought, Nabiki turned to Akane, and tapped the oblivious girl on the shoulder. Akane, wearing a puffy pink dress, and looking simply too too happy to be at this wedding, turned to Nabiki.

"What is it?" she whispered. "Can't you not wait for the ceremony to begin?" she continued, giggling quietly.

"Um. I guess not. But, would you mind telling me how I got here?" Nabiki said flatly, eye twitching lightly as she discovered she was wearing an equally as poofy blue dress, and it was rather itchy.

"Well, we walked! You remember, don't you?" Akane said, cocking her head curiously.

"Nope. Don't recall that in the slightest. But while we're on this subject, would you mind informing me of whom Kuno is-"

"Shhh! It's starting! Look, here they come!" Akane said, apparently unconcerned with her elder sister's sudden bout of amnesia, and far more focused on the bride. Everyone around the (shaking, but she'd rather die then let it show.) Nabiki swiftly got to their feet and turned their heads to the grand oak door at the back of the chapel. The organ struck up the traditional wedding tune, and Nabiki found herself looking at the door with all of the other wedding goers, many of whom she recognized from around town, slightly eager to know who exactly Kuno was going to wed.

The first person to come down the isle was Cologne. She wore a pretty little dress, and held a basket of flowers. She bore a silly little smile, and her hair was placed in a high ponytail. She skipped along her merry way to the priest, leaving a trail of rose petals in her wake. Since when did 200-year-old women get to be flower girls? Nabiki stopped thinking about this just long enough to catch the next couple make their way into the room. Immediately she noticed it was Kodachi. She was holding onto Ryoga's arm, (Who was, for once, not having any nosebleed problems whatsoever.) and wearing a frilly yellow dress with many sparkles adorning it. Ryoga wore a tuxedo and a broad smile, stepping forward bravely, and making way for the next person to come down the isle. the bride.

It was Ranko.

Nabiki would have started slamming her head against the pew, but she decided that it would probably draw too much attention to her, and right now she really just wanted to crawl away and be some place where she could be alone for a while. What in the seven hells was going on here, and why was Ranma female, while wearing a long silk wedding gown?

"Ohh, doesn't she look pretty?" Kasumi gushed, putting a hand to her cheek, eyes sparkling.

"Don't you mean he?" Nabiki hissed, rubbing her temples. She had a horrible feeling this was all somehow related to the Sailor Scout crud she had been enduring lately, but just couldn't understand how. She had no idea how this scenario related to demons and talking cats, but was willing to place the blame on them all anyway.

"Why, no I don't. She doesn't look male to you, does she?" Kasumi asked, generally curious, as Genma led Ranko to her future husband. Kuno. Right. Kuno.

Nabiki was still a bit distressed, for reasons unknown to her, over the fact that Kuno was about to be married. Not that she LIKED the guy or anything it was just. well, it would be weird, to have Kuno-baby be married. It would disrupt the entire careful balance that was Nerima, and Nabiki didn't like that idea. It had to be stopped. Quickly.

Inspiration struck her.

"Akane!" Nabiki gasped, rounding on her sister, and pointing at her in an accusatory manner. "Aren't you bothered by the fact that Ranma's about to be married to Kuno?!" Surly the stubborn tomboy would never stand for something like THIS happening right in front of her! Why, in fact, hadn't she tried to stop this lunatic marriage before?!

"But, Nabiki you know I'm already seeing someone else. Ranma and I are long over." The girl explained casually, as Ranko reached Kuno, and lovingly took his hands in hers. It made Nabiki sick. "Shampoo and I have been going steady for over three months already!" Akane continued jovially, as the Amazon herself waved to Nabiki from behind the youngest Tendou. This fact alone made Nabiki's heart stop for a second, but she quickly turned away from the whole disturbing scene, trying to clear her thoughts.

Dammit, why was she so freaked out? Why was she so worried? She could be making millions off this wedding right now! Fuck, it was probably the marriage of the century, and here she was simply fretting over the fact that she didn't really approve of the couple! That she didn't really want to have. Kuno leave her, permanently.

Sure, she had never intended to really ask Kuno out in all the years she had spent with him, the guy was insane, but just the fact that he was, and probably always would be, free, had seemed comforting to the girl. She had never realized just how comforting until now, when it seemed as though he was slipping away from her most unexpectedly.

'Something is wrong here. and I have to stop this wedding before it gets any worse,' Nabiki decided firmly. She wouldn't let things end this way. Even if she didn't belong with Kuno, there were more relationships being destroyed just then, expensive ones that had to be salvaged. Honestly, Shampoo and Akane!? What the fuck?

Since it was obvious that Akane wasn't going to lend a helping hand here, Nabiki searched around the room for more people who would be morally offended by this ceremony and would willingly fight tooth and nail to make it stop. Nabiki's eyes narrowed into happy little slits as she spotted just who was standing in front of her, wearing a soft green gown.

"Oh Ukyo." she purred into the girl's ear.

"Why, hello Nabiki," Ukyo, apparently in the same, rather high state of mind that everyone else at this wedding seemed to be in, chirped. "You want something? I think the priest is about to start, so."

"Ukyo! What are you saying? How can you let your. your. one and only be taken away from you like this! Doesn't it disturb you that Ranma is about to become permanently female?" Nabiki hissed desperately.

"I think the girl's allowed to make her own decision about the matter. It's her life, after all." Ukyo stated frankly, giving Nabiki an infuriating condescending look. "Really, why are you so freaked about this? You were all right with it last night."

"I. changed my mind," Nabiki grated, unable to understand that Ukyo was simply giving up like this. That she supported her fiancée becoming female and marrying a man. A mentally deranged man, no less. A mentally deranged man that she, Nabiki, maybe, perhaps, it was a possibility. liked. Had a small crush on.

'And I think UKYO'S off her rocker.' the short haired girl grumped, watching the ceremony begin with something akin to a shell shocked expression on her features.

She watched the priest's lips move soundlessly, taking everything in, and unable to access the little alarm that was going off in the back of her head, insisting that something was seriously wrong with the place she was in then, and that she should just try to leave, and pretend none of this happened. she was just too. freaked out to listen to her mental alarm. It didn't seem half as important as what was going on in reality, anyway.

However, the girl's interest was peaked when the priest got to the always infamous bit about 'Speaking now or forever holding your peace', and the romantic part of her brain (a very, very small part that sometimes you had to search around a bit before finding.) suddenly found it couldn't resist. Sucking in a deep breath, Nabiki belatedly remembered she had a reputation as an Ice Queen she had to uphold as she uttered two words that came out far louder than she had intended them to.

"I OBJECT!"

"What?" The priest asked, looking honestly confused as not only he, but indeed the entire room turned simultaneously to stare at the girl who dare interrupt this holly ritual. Nabiki felt the heat rise to her neck as she met Ranko's piercing stare that seemed to say 'What are you doing?' Hell, what WAS she doing? She hadn't even admitted to herself yet that her feelings for Kuno ran deeper than 'like', an impossibly childish term, and here she was breaking up his wedding!

"What is the meaning of this?!" Kuno himself boomed, placing Ranko behind him, and suddenly whipping out a boken he had been keeping somewhere on his person. Where exactly, Nabiki wasn't sure, however she was positive of the fact that she didn't like the way Kuno was pointing the sword at her. "Nabiki Tendo, state your intentions!" the boy continued, marching down the isle to stand importantly in front of Nabiki's pew. Kasumi made a scared little sound, and edged out of the way, so that Kuno had total access to her doomed little sister.

"I-I just don't understand." Nabiki admitted in a confused tone, hoping to find something other than rage in the groom's own eyes, but finding nothing helpful.

"Don't understand what? The fact that you just interfered with the holy joining of Ranko and myself? Or the fact that I love her, as I could never love a cold, emotionless person as yourself?" His words were harsh and uncaring, Nabiki wincing as she listened to his speech, which hit a little too close to home. "Well, which is it Tendo? Speak up!"

"I don't know! I don't know why I did what I did, or why I feel what I feel. I just do! Why is this happening?!" Nabiki cried, so uncharacteristically that a few people gasped at her proclamation. Nabiki let out a growl of frustration and clutched her head, quickly letting go of it and looking up at Kuno as he chopped into the wooden pew, splintering the seat just next to her. Nabiki sucked in a gasp as she watched the rich boy snap his weapon out of the destroyed pew, and continue to glare at her. What was he.

"Nabiki Tendo, you have been found guilty of hiding your emotions and being an overall bitch. Prepare to face the consequences." Kuno said in a voice that was very unlike his own, raising the boken above his head dramatically, preparing to swing down and crush Nabiki's head, while none of the onlookers around her, not even her own family, protested.

Nabiki stared up at the falling sword miserably, distantly wondering if she should even bother to dodge. Was what Kuno said true? Was she really the conniving bitch people thought she was, was she truly hiding her emotions just to keep up appearances? She had never really thought much about how other people felt when she blackmailed them or put them in humiliating situations so she could make some money. Suddenly, she was thinking about it a whole lot more.

Dodging the boken didn't really seem that important anymore.

*

Shampoo awoke to the feeling of something being thrust firmly into her hands, and to the sensation that she was standing.

This, as it turned out, wasn't actually a sensation, since she was really doing it, and in addition, someone really was thrusting an object into her hands. Upon opening her eyes, she found it to be a set of bonbouris. Her favorite ones that she always used when about to launch herself into an important battle, that was potentially fatal. She took this as a bad omen as she continued to inspect her surroundings groggily.

How had she gotten here? She was standing in a vacant lot she knew to be only a few blocks away from the Nekohattan, and she stood in the middle of it now, the distant sound of the wind blowing through the empty space, and the haunting whistle that accompanied it the only sound she could perceive. Except for.

"Shampoo, you have failed the village." Cologne. She was talking to her, standing a few feet away, balancing on that staff of hers, and wearing one of her more serious expressions. The one that had always encouraged the warrior girl to listen. She found this task notably hard to do as she tried valiantly to wake up, shivering slightly as she found herself only to be wearing a short sleeved, red silk shirt and matching peddle pushers. Her feet were covered in the traditional black slippers she always wore, and her long purple hair whipped around her face as bright eyes focused on her great grandmother intently, trying to mentally sort everything out.

"You did not fulfill your mission to wed, and bring back to the tribe, the male Ranma Saotome." These words, piercing through Shampoo's hazy fog of consciousness, made the girl suck in a pained breath. Suddenly the world began to revolve around Cologne, and only Cologne as Shampoo's fate it appeared seemed to hang on the old woman's every word. "As punishment, I have." Shampoo bit her lip, wondering what could possibly be the punishment for failing to effectively enamor her aireen. Another curse? Banishment from the Amazons? Being degraded to the level of an unworthy MALE?! ". Decided to honor Mousse's request, in the pursuit of your hand in marriage,"

Shampoo paused, blinked, and cocked her head. That was it? As punishment for not marrying Ranma she had to marry. Mousse? While a large part of her was encouraging her to recoil in disgust and put up a big fight about the deal, another part of her was taking a different approach to the situation. One part of her rather. liked the idea. Hey. It could have been worse. Mousse loved her with all his heart, and now that she had no obligation to be with Ranma.

Shaking these crazy thoughts from her head quickly, Shampoo bowed her head ashamedly for Cologne, showing the proper degree of embarrassment at having lost Ranma. Not that it was a particularly large shock. She had already accepted the fact that something binding was being formed between Ranma and Akane, and had already prophesized that their inevitable marriage would come to pass no matter what she did. The fact that Cologne had already accepted it without much hassle was probably a blessing more than a curse.

I am sorry Great-Grandmother. Shampoo said softly in mandarin, genuflecting, and really putting her heart into it. Giving up on Ranma, no matter that she was more and more feeling less love for him, and more distant adoration, was a big loss. She had been working very hard to get him for a very long time, and admitting that the fight was over felt surprisingly like having a large burden being taken off her weary shoulders. But. shouldn't she feel remorse, and not relief? How odd.

"Mousse has conceded to following the proper Amazon ritual for marriage, and will presently battle you for your hand. If he succeeds, you will marry him, and come back to the village his wife. If you beat him, you will go back to the village simply being the current disgrace you are." When Shampoo's head was not raised, Cologne continued in a more causal manner. "You should be thankful great-granddaughter. The elders are being particularly lenient with you."

I am thankful. Shampoo replied simply, finally standing straight once more. And she was. Cologne looked satisfied, and quickly let her gaze travel beyond Shampoo, to a person waiting patiently in the back of the lot, their hands wrapped in their long white robes.

"Mousse." Cologne called, slowly hobbling away. "She is ready," Shampoo turned to stare at Mousse, looking particularly grim, all alone in his robes, long raven hair flying about him, eyebrows knitted together. He was wearing his glasses so Shampoo couldn't see his eyes, but suddenly. she didn't want to. She felt as though everything that was happening was unreal, and that there was something especially odd about the whole deal. If she saw Mousse's eyes, it would only be more proof, and she wasn't sure if she was ready to accept that yet.

As Mousse approached the pretty teen, Shampoo began to frown as well, clutching her large bonbouris tight, so that her knuckles turned pearly white. Who did he think he was, challenging her like this? He would never be her husband; Ranma had been the only male worthy of her love! And now that he was gone, she would never be with any other man. Mousse must know this, and Shampoo wouldn't him forget it. She couldn't let the compassionate part of her have full reign just now, she couldn't risk it, and couldn't afford to give Mousse any adoration either.

"You will not defeat Shampoo, Mousse!" Shampoo declared bravely, shifting into a fighting stance with her weapons, as Mousse stopped casually a few feet away from her, hands still hidden in his robes. Shampoo narrowed her eyes at those robes. she knew they hid from her view much more than his hands.

'There's no way stupid Mousse can beat me. I know all of his techniques, and there's no way he can hope to defeat me with them!' Shampoo mentally decided, a grim smile slipping onto her face. And as, from the sidelines, Cologne announced that the fight was to start, the girl charged forward confidently, self-assurance radiating off her. Pathetic Mousse.

"Yaaaa!" Shampoo cried as she zipped towards the tall man, swiping low for his legs, and hoping to bring him to his knees quickly and not draw this battle out. Idiot or no, she didn't want to watch Mousse suffer. He didn't deserve that, especially since she was about to totally humiliate him. Ah well, it was his own fault, after all...

However, Shampoo's self assurance was quickly shattered as Mousse seemed to disappear right before her eyes, bonbouri's connecting with empty air. The girl quickly regained her bearings after a moment's confusion, sensing something above her. Head snapping upwards, she saw to her surprise Mousse descending upon her with the skill of a cat, leg extended. Before the girl was able to effectively roll out of the way, Mousse delivered a kick to her chest on his way down, causing Shampoo to skid along the ground before coming to a stop with a shocked look on her face. He had. landed a hit? Seriously? She sat up swiftly, wincing as she felt a trickle of blood make its way down her back. Everything stung lightly, but it did little to stop her as she struck up a fighting stance once more, eyes far more sharp and mistrustful. What had that just been? Since when could Mousse actually land a hit on her?

"You been training," Shampoo accused as she recommenced the fight, letting out a flurry of swift and powerful jabs with her bonbouri's, a little less merciful than previously, but still refusing to go all out on this man. On this man who had once been her dear friend. and was now something else all together. A species of friend she could not properly classify without delving into a lot of touchy subjects.

"Is that bad?" Mousse asked in all honestly, moving very slightly to avoid Shampoo's attacks as she continued to swipe at him, facial expression rarely changing as not one hit got in. It was rather creepy.

"You been training A LOT," Shampoo realized with a start, halting her barrage of attacks while panting lightly. And in that one moment of innocent hesitation, where the Amazon found herself to be truly baffled by Mousse's sudden skill level, the man made his move. Darting forward, his hands finally emerged from his robes, both holding a length of chain, movement graceful and controlled as the chains whipped forward and wrapped around Shampoo's bonbouri's. The girl made a little squeaking sound as the two weapons were ripped from her hands, and slammed backwards onto the ground behind Mousse, still connected to his chains. They cracked into the pavement with a sickening slam, Shampoo crying out in alarm as they were both split open before her eyes.

Biting her lip, Shampoo peered at Mousse with a whole new level of respect. This was . not good. She didn't think. Looking at it from one perspective, there was a large chance she was about to be creamed if Mousse kept popping up with these hidden strengths of his, but looking at it another way.

He was proving to be able to exchange blows with her just as well as Ranma had.

*

Kasumi had been awake long before any of the other girls, as was the norm, and had already realized that something was very wrong with her current situation before anyone else.

Of course, she had the advantage of being rather transparent and unable to touch anything, which was usually a dead giveaway to the fact that something had gone terribly wrong at one point or another. The nineteen-year-old woman sighed, folding her arms. What a life she lived these days.

Kasumi was presently standing in front of her own home, eyeing the plant life decorating the vicinity with a distinct look of disdain. If she were the type to do so, she might have been clucking her tongue, but since she wasn't, Kasumi simply let out a sigh accompanied by her favorite phrase. "Oh, my."

All the flowers were wilted; the grass untamed and dried up in some patches, her favorite little tree looking sickly and its fruit rotten since no one had remembered to pick it. What had happened here? Why had she ended up on her own street, outside when she woke up, and why had no one tended her garden in what looked like weeks? Everything made little sense to Kasumi, but her mind wasn't really on the subject of her garden as she traveled up the stairs to her house, it was more on the fact that she could see right through her own body, and that when she tried to reach for the doorknob, her hand phased through it. Kasumi stood silently for a second, looking at her hand stick through the solid door with no small degree of fascination and horror, before shrugging, and fully stepping through the door, letting her body slip through it, and shuddering slightly as this action created an odd, though not a totally bad sensation.

The inside of her house was quite a surprise to see as well. Her usually bright, clean and relatively cheerful home was now dark and depressing. Many people of whom she all knew drifted around the rooms with solemn expressions and tears dripping down their faces, wearing black clothing and carrying white flowers. talking in hushed tones. Kasumi shook her head, startled. What were these people doing? Had someone died? But who. Kasumi's heart seemed to stop as she wondered if it had been Soun. Had her father passed on? Or worse. what if it was one of her sisters?! Heart speeding, Kasumi rushed forward, keeping an eye out for any members of her family, almost rudely pushing past people, hardly noticing when none of them commented on her presence, or when her body phased through them as well.

"Father!? Nabiki!? Akane!?' Kasumi cried, dashing into the living room, caramel colored hair whipping around her head as she tried to locate her family. It was hard to tell people apart when they were all wearing a similar shade of black, and had there heads lowered with grief. However, she eventually spotted her kin anyway.

"Akane!" she breathed with relief, trotting up to Akane who was sitting with Ranma, head rested on his shoulder, her own hand clasped in his larger one. Ranma was whispering softly in Akane's ear as the girl sobbed quietly, eyes closed. She looked to be almost in pain as she wept, apparently completely overridden with misery. "Akane." Kasumi started, going to touch the girl's shoulder. However Kasumi's hand simply disappeared into the teen's arm when she tried to touch her, and Kasumi frowned deeply at this. Akane need to be comforted, and she couldn't even touch her! "Akane what's wrong? Everyone else is okay, aren't they?" However, her little sister didn't reply, and Ranma didn't stop whispering comforting comments to her. Kasumi sighed; maybe they needed to be alone. Turning around, she immediately spotted her father and Mr. Saotome sitting next to one another, her father staring at the floor with silently tears pouring down his face, while Genma shook his head grimly, apparently quite distressed. Kasumi quickly approached them; father always needed her help!

"Father," she started, kneeling by him, and looking up into his face. He looked to be beyond grieving, his facial expression slack, and his eyes vacant. It was almost as though the lights were on, but no one was home. Kasumi felt tears welling in her own eyes. This was what she was here for, to help her family! She was the mother figure! She had taken up that job with pride after her own mother had passed away, and wouldn't back down when it was so obvious her family needed her. "Father what's happened, are you all right? What can I do?" But Soun, apparently, didn't hear her. He didn't acknowledge her presence, and didn't stop continuing to stare off into the distance, eyes focused on something that wasn't there, and would never be there, ever again.

"Mr. Saotome," Kasumi tried, going over to Genma, and trying to catch his attention, truly desperate now. "What's going on?" However, Genma didn't seem to notice the distressed girl either, simply continuing to shake his head regretfully, muttering 'Such a shame. such a shame.' These words did little to comfort Kasumi and she searched around quickly for the last member of her family who could possibly help her out. Ah. And there she was, by the mantel, staring at a picture.

"Nabiki," Kasumi cried, jumping to her feet and rushing over to the girl. "Nabiki what has happened here!? Why can't I touch anything, and why is everyone so sad? Did something terrible happen?" Kasumi felt as though she might begin to tear her hair out as Nabiki didn't reply either. Could no one hear her, or see her!? That seemed to be the only logical explanation Kasumi could come up with, and it frustrated her to no end. What good was a mother who couldn't help the people who needed her most?

"Kasumi. why did it end this way?" Nabiki whispered regretfully.

"It didn't end! I'm right here!" Kasumi quickly all but screeched, assuming her sister was addressing her. However, much to Kasumi's disappointment, Nabiki was actually talking to the picture she was staring intently at, with that depressing, forlorn expression on her face. Kasumi glanced at the picture, finding it to be a rather flattering one of herself wearing her best dress and smiling pleasantly. Kasumi nearly fainted as she read the little caption on the frame, beneath the picture.

'Kasumi Tendou. (1984-2003)'

'Oh. My.' Was all that Kasumi could come up with to say to THAT. So. all of these people, all of these tears. they were all here for her. This was her funeral. She had died. She was . gone.

"Oh, Nabiki," Kasumi said softly, looking back at her little sister, still quietly weeping. This wasn't fair. Not to her family. They shouldn't have to deal with this; it was defeating Kasumi's entire purpose in life! She wasn't supposed to make everybody depressed! Kasumi, heart heavy with guilt and grief, lifted a hand to tuck a lock of Nabiki's short, dark brown hair behind her ear, flinching when she tardily remembered she couldn't touch anything. Letting out a ragged breath, Kasumi quickly turned away, walking briskly away from the mantel, unable to take any more of this. She couldn't stand to watch her loved ones suffer when she was unable to do anything to help them. It was just torture.

So the woman quickly exited the room, walking into the dinning room where she planned to re-gain her composure. and immediately stumbled upon Onno Tofu. The only other person in the world she really couldn't bear to see just then. Right.

*

"Dr. Tofu, are you sure you they haven't been drugged?" Genma asked seriously of the younger man, standing next to him as they both stared gravely down at the three unconscious girls laid out on the living room floor.

"Well, I can't be positive, but I haven't been able to detect any sort of poison thus-far. I could take some samples back to the lab, but-"

"Well what HAVE you been able to detect?" Ranma snapped irritably, halting his anxious pacing in favor of glaring at the good doctor. Making sure not to look too intimidated by Ranma's piercing stare, Tofu continued to speak in the most professional, level headed manner he could manage when his one only was unconscious on the floor for an indefinite amount of time. Well, on the bright side, when Kasumi wasn't conscious, she didn't have that frightening affect on him that made most patients run for the hills.

"There's something wrong with their auras. They're rather weak, and it's almost as something has a hold on them, and is muffling their souls, and energy. I have a feeling they're all being kept in this state by someone out there, and unless we find out who is doing this to them, I don't know how long it will take before I can figure out a proper way to release this powerful hold on them." Dr. Tofu said honestly. Ranma frowned; he didn't want this to take long. He wanted Akane back, and he wanted her back now. "Do you have any idea who would want to do this to the girls?"

"God, what kind of a question is that? These are Tendou's, and I'm a Saotome."

"Right. Of course. Silly question."

The entire male population of the Tendou household had started out the morning same as usual. Ranma and Genma had started a particularly violent, friendly morning bout, and Soun had sat down to watch the morning news. It had all started when Soun had realized with a start that something was missing. His tea. He always had tea when he watched the news. And the person who always made his tea was. Kasumi.

The fact that Kasumi hadn't been the first person up that morning was disquieting to say the least. what if she had cold? Who would take care of everyone then? The other two girls were usually up later, but Kasumi was almost always up at the crack of dawn, getting things ready for the new day. So, being the dutiful father he was, Soun had gone to go check on his eldest daughter, making sure she wasn't sick, and if she wasn't, ready to ask her why she hadn't made him tea already!

However, upon inspection, Soun found Kasumi to be totally unconscious, and could not wake her up no matter how hard he tried. This had been very disturbing to the man, and to Ranma and Genma as soon as they found out. Ranma and quickly gone upstairs to inform Akane of this new development. and it was then that HE realized that Akane too, was dead to the world. It had taken a substantially longer amount of time, due to the fact that everyone in the house, even her own father, was deathly afraid of her, but eventually they males had gotten into Nabiki's room and found her in the same condition as well.

This obviously meant a call to the dedicated local physician was in order, so a rather hysterical Soun had quickly called up Dr. Tofu, who had come over to the house to see what was wrong right away.

And there they were, Tofu with no truly helpful advice at the moment, Soun crying deliriously on the couch, and Genma observing everything gravely while his son tried to figure out which of his enemies would be as conniving enough as to try this on his fiancée and possibly future sister- in-laws. The list was quite long.

"Perhaps we should go around town and ask all of the usual suspects if they've tried anything as of late," Tofu suggested, frowning as he tried to remember everything he learned about people suddenly thrown into random bouts of comatose.

"Good idea doc, I'll go-" Ranma was interrupted by the sound of someone furiously banging on the front door, demanding to be let in. "I'll get that," Ranma grumped, shuffling over to the door.

Surprisingly, the person at the door was none other than Ryoga, carrying a cataleptic Ukyo, and looking distinctly worried.

"Ryoga!" Ranma said, surprised. "How'd you find me?"

"Konatsu helped," the boy quickly explained, moving to the side slightly so that the lithe ninja came into view. He nodded darkly.

"It wasn't easy, but I did it. And now, you must help Ukyo-sama! We can't wake her up!" the transvestite ninja quickly said, nearly shaking with fear for his dear friend. When he had found Ukyo in this state earlier that morning, the boy and Ryoga had been distressed, and could think of no where else to go but the Tendou's place, who had most likely dealt with every single type of illness in the world over the years, and would surely know what to do.

"Somehow, I'm not surprised," Ranma sighed, rubbing his head as he let the trio in. This was bad. But. it also made something click. Okay, so Akane, Kasumi, Nabiki and Ukyo were all suffering from the same aliment. and they were all temporary scouts. and this suddenly smelled like the work of something more like Ritsuko than Cologne. Why hadn't he seen it before!? He only had one major, active enemy right now, why hadn't a scout demon been the first thing that came to mind?

"Hang on, I'm going to call the Nekohattan!" Ranma quickly said, rushing for the phone, as Tofu filled Konatsu and Ryoga in on all of the girl's predicaments, Ryoga staring at Akane with horror written across his face.

"Why, son? Do you think that the Amazons are responsible for all this?" Genma asked, frowning.

"Oh, my poor babies!!" Soun added, covering his face as letting out a particularly throaty wail.

"No, actually." Ranma admitted, waiting for someone to pick up now, as Tofu gave him an odd look, and Ryoga carefully lay Ukyo down with the rest of the girls.

"Hello??" a rather nervous sounding Mousse replied.

"Mousse, it's Ranma- and don't hang up!" Ranma quickly added. "I just wanted to know something."

"Well, make it quick Saotome!" A definitely frightened sounding Mousse growled.

"Is Shampoo unconscious right now?"

".How did you know that..?"

"Shit! All right, thanks Mousse. You've been a great help, bye!" Ranma said quickly, hanging up as he heard Mousse let out a string of curses, demanding to know how he knew that his precious Shampoo was currently out cold. "Okay, so Shampoo's suffering from this. sleeping thing, too," Ranma confirmed, marching over to the rest of the group.

"My, Ranma, how did you know that she would be?" Tofu asked, generally curious.

"Gut feeling,"

"Quite,"

Everyone stared silently at the four girls now, to the tune of Soun sobbing himself hoarse in the background, as though trying to find the answers written somewhere on the girls. Of course, since there was no writing on them, and since Tofu had already inspected them all thoroughly, they found themselves to be quite disappointed by the lack of information they all provided as the minutes ticked by.

"Say Ryoga, why were you at Ukyo's?" Ranma asked, to break the silence.

"Hm? Oh, actually I came to her after our battle at the school, and she let me stay over one night so I wouldn't get lost, and then after her restaurant got trash from that one weird day I couldn't just leave her, so."

"Ahh, right," the pigtailed boy acknowledged, nodding his head and letting the silence reassume.

Ranma was thinking of starting out and keeping both eyes peeled for Ritsuko looking things, (She HAD escaped after the last battle.) when suddenly the bell rang again.

"I'll get it," Ranma said dully, expecting it to be Mousse and Cologne with Shampoo. Great, they'd have the whole unconscious gang with them! It would be a party. However, the people at the door were more certainly not the Amazon crew.

It was Luna and Artemis. In their human forms of course.

"Ranma!" the both exclaimed at the same time, grabbing the surprised martial artist by the hand, and flinging him outside before he had a chance to protest, slamming the door behind him.

"Luna, Artemis!" the boy cried, part of him sighing in relief over the fact that these two were here. Like Akane had said, they were smart, and he wasn't. He should have thought to go to them sooner actually. If anyone knew about demons, these two most certainly did. "Do you know what's going on around here? Akane and the others are all-"

"Yes, we know," Artemis quickly interjected, looking very solemn. "And you must listen to everything we have to say, because we can't stay in these forms much longer, especially since all of the girls are currently in deep trouble,"

"What sort of trouble exactly?" Ranma asked, fearing the worst.

"A demon has trapped them in their own nightmares! We were scanning the area for Ritsuko this morning on our radars, when we sensed a spell taking place in the area, and discovered it only affected each of the girls! We inspected it and found it to be a very dark dream spell. If we don't get those girls awake soon, whoever is controlling this spell might soon suck them dry of all their soul energy, and leave them to be empty spells! I've seen it done before," Luna sighed, looking very upset, large brown eyes shimmering. "Oh, I feel terribly about all this! We should have stopped the spell before it took affect, but we just didn't spot it!"

"You must save them personally, since we are currently too weak to perform such a task," Artemis said regretfully, silver/blue eyes flashing with regret. If only the other scouts were here, then he would be strong enough to be of some real help!

"Of course I will! Just tell me how to do it!" Ranma said fiercely, clenching his fists. When he found what demon did this to the girls.

"Good. Now, here's what you have to do," Luna said, reaching into the pocket of her bright yellow dress, and pulling out an old sheet of paper: a scroll with an incantation written on it! "This was made by the original Sailor Mars, and it should serve our purpose well. It's for interfering with powerful spells, which is exactly what you must do. First off, you have to choose a girl whose consuming nightmare you will jump into, as a way to get to the person controlling this spell," Ranma hesitated only a second.

"Akane's," he said firmly.

"All right then," Luna said, nodding. "Take this scroll, and place it on Akane's forehead. Once you have, keeping your hand attached to it, and concentrate on only Akane. Focusing on her should draw you into the spell she's been entrapped in. We'd go in there to help you along, but I think it would draw suspicion if the family saw us," Luna admitted.

"Probably, but it's okay. I'm pretty sure I can handle it, it sounds easy," Ranma said confidently, snatching the piece of paper from Luna.

"Wait- listen! Once you're in Akane's nightmare you have to save her from it!"

"Done." Ranma said confidently. Saving Akane was what he did! Seriously, it was like a hobby.

"This action should draw you to the controller of the spell with Akane. We're almost positive. Once that's done. all you have to do is defeat the evil person behind this! We are almost totally sure it's one of Ritsuko's friends, covering up for her while she's injured, so that we can't get a hold of any of the talismans in her absence." Artemis admitted.

"Talismans?" Ranma asked as he headed for the door.

"Never mind," Luna said, urging the boy along. "We'll explain that part later when everyone else is back. quickly, go before it's too late!"

"Right, thanks guys! I'll save everyone," Ranma said, his usual cocky tone back in full as he entered the house once more. Luna and Artemis stared after him, biting their lips. Could he really pull this off? Sure he might be physically strong, but was he strong enough to save Akane from her own demons? That was going to take more than muscle.

"Oh boy."

Back in the house, little progression had been made. The girls were still down, Dr. Tofu still confused, and no one had even been able to stilt the flow of tears from Soun's eyes.

"Ranma, where have you been?" Ryoga demanded as the boy pushed past everyone crowding around the girls, kneeling right next to Akane. "And- HEY! Hey, what are you doing to Akane?" the boy demanded as Ranma slapped the scroll onto her forehead, not removing his hand as he did so.

"I've found a way to save them," Ranma said briskly, closing his eyes and quickly letting himself focus on Akane, and nothing but the girl. Her cute smile, her beautiful big eyes, her creamy complexion, her silky blue hair, that tomboyish style of hers.. In a second Ranma had keeled over, eyes rolling back into his head, face collapsing downwards to rest on the girl's stomach.

Everyone stared down at the strong boy hesitantly for a moment, a bit confused about what had just transpired. Hadn't he said he had found a way to SAVE the girls? Not join them.

"Oh bloody hell," someone snorted.

*

Akane cried out in fear as Ranma let a out a strong punch, moving to the side just in time to have the strike hit the wall. and then break through it, shattering plaster and paint chips everywhere. Akane scrambled to her feet, staring as Ranma ripped his arm out of the wall with a terrified expression on her face. He was for real! That punch could have killed her!

"R-Ranma!" she gasped, putting a hand to her mouth, and shaking her head. "What are you doing?" she squeaked, one hand still clutching her throbbing stomach.

He had. hit her.

He had never hit her before, no matter how much she begged he would when they sparred. He could never even play-fight with her, much less seriously try to do her bodily harm. It had always just been that way, and there was something seriously wrong with the way Ranma was acting towards her now.

"I'm going to get rid of you," Ranma explained simply, shrugging cruelly, and slowly advancing on the terrified girl. "I don't need any extra fiancées . you're worthless. Ugly. Mean. Who would want to marry a stupid girl like you? I think it's best if you just. disappeared."

"N-no. that's not true. you. you like me!" Akane protested, tears gathering in her eyes. Part of her wanted to be purely angry with the boy, and lash out, trying to knock his teeth in. but another part of her just wanted to break down and let the boy do as he pleased. How could he be doing this to her? How when they had gotten so close? She had never seen Ranma act this way- never. And she wasn't overly sure just how she was supposed to deal with it.

It was just so hard to swallow.

But Ranma was making it a lot easier to come to grips with as he grabbed her by the throat and flung her into another wall, bruising her neck and creating numerous cuts down her back. She cried out in pain and lay there in a moment of shock, desperately trying to think of a course of action from here.

Obviously, Ranma wasn't going to be merciful. An idea she had never had to deal with before because, well, Ranma was always kind hearted to his enemies. She had never actually been an enemy before but. in all the time she had watched Ranma fight, he had never attacked someone who hadn't provoked him or hurt someone dear to him with such untamed hate and violence. He never aimed to kill. Did he despise her that much? Why?

"Get up Akane. I know you can fight. It would be boring if I just got rid of you like this. with you all. pathetic,"

"P-pathetic?" Akane croaked angrily, her temper desperately trying to make its way to the surface, and Akane's survival instincts urging it along. If she didn't do something, she really would be killed! She staggered to her feet, and gave Ranma the most evil look she could give someone she truly loved, no matter how he was acting now. God. love really was blind. "What do you mean pathetic? I'll show you pathetic!" she cried, a mallet forming in her hands at the infuriatingly superior expression painted across Ranma's face. And even though her body was smarting to the point of tears from the previous injuries, Akane raised the weapon above her head with the intent of smashing Ranma out of the room with it.

But then she got a good look at him.

Sure, his eyes were eerily dark and un-Ranma like. but he still looked like Ranma. And she had hit him plenty of times before, when she was pissed, or sometimes when she was just bored. but it had always been in a rather lighthearted way. She was an expert when it came to the art of the mallet, and knew every time she hit him. it wasn't going to seriously injure the boy. She was aiming to startle or shock him, making him come to his damn senses so he'd stop making fun of her. But now. now this was an act of self-defense, and she didn't know what to do.

Could she seriously hurt Ranma? Even if it was the only way to possibly save herself? He was looking at her in a way that practically challenged the girl to take a swing, however this only that the opposite effect on Akane, who let out a whimpering noise, remembering every time Ranma had saved her from one demon or another, or came to her rescue when it really counted, or made her feel special.. and the few times he had. kissed her. Akane cried out in frustration and dropped the mallet, hearing it crash to the ground, and then staring down at the wooden object as it disappeared back into her dimensional pocket. Shit. What was she going to do?

This decision was apparently not up to her as Ranma took this action as a sign of surrender, and marched forward, punching her hard in the face, so that she immediately crumpled to the ground, holding her cheek and biting her lip to hold back the tears. She shot a glance up at Ranma who was reaching down for her, a devilish glint in his eyes. He grabbed her by her pajama shirt and brought her up to be eye level with him. Akane couldn't even look at him as he drew back his arm for another punch. He was going to really kill her. She was going to be murdered by her fiancée in her own house. in her own hall. near the bathroom. and there was nothing she could do about it. The thought was depressing, but not so nearly depressing as the fact that he had betrayed her. Her fiancée, who she had thought she had finally understood, truly loved, and wanted to be with . had turned around and betrayed her.

She couldn't focus on anything but this thought. It was all consuming and utterly disheartening, and she felt as though she was suddenly getting weaker just dwelling on it. It was terrible. She couldn't' take it. She wanted to die. maybe Ranma was doing her a favor. maybe.

Ranma's head was suddenly snapped violently to the side, and he cried out in pain, letting go of Akane so that she fell to the ground like a lifeless doll. Mild confusion was the only thing that urged the girl to raise her head, and find out what had happened to her killer. What she saw made her nearly go back down once more.

It was Ranma.

Well. Another Ranma, at least. Whether it was a good thing that there were now two Ranmas or not, she couldn't be positive, but she supposed she find out in due time.

The new Ranma was wearing the traditional red Chinese silk shirt and black pants, while the Ranma who had been about to break her neck was wearing a blue one. It was the only thing Akane could use to tell them apart, because otherwise they were identical. It was weird.

The new Ranma was also breathing hard, his eyes wide and disbelieving, his lips parted ever so slightly. He seemed a bit enraged. Akane wondered if he was mad at her also. it all. seemed. so hard to think about. Everything was very groggy and unclear, as though she was more mentally weak now than anything. How peculiar.

"How DARE you!" the new Ranma roared, grabbing the old Ranma and giving him a good solid punch that made a sickening, wet snapping sound, that signaled that probably Ranma had broken the other Ranma's nose. Then, the new Ranma proceeded to cup his hands and shout some words that Akane assumed were a chi attack, but she couldn't really tell because everything was just a terribly loud, vibrating shout. Soon after, a ball of white light appeared in Ranma's hands, and he seemed to concentrate on it for a minute, eyebrows furrowed together. Then, his arms shot forward, and before the old Ranma had a chance to defend himself, he had been hit directly in the chest, and was thrown back, screaming and howling in the most dreadful way.

Everything was so loud and violent, that the weakened girl found herself holding her ears. But she looked up long enough to see the first Ranma make one last gurgling sound before lighting up, and then drifting away as though he were made of nothing but sand, his entire body collapsing in on itself. Akane was now very confused because she had been positive that Ranma was not made out of sand, since when he had attacked her that had all felt pretty solid. But hell, what did she know?.

The new Ranma collapsed to his knees and stared at his hands for a bit, Akane content with the new silence she had obtained, and willing to just let this Ranma think about what he wanted. He looked pretty depressed, come to think of it. She faintly wondered why.

"Is that your worst nightmare?" Ranma asked finally, his voice a strangled almost sob. But Akane couldn't see any tears. Not that this counted for much. "That I'm going to. to beat you up? And kill you?" Akane stared at him, wondering what he was getting at, and if he was going to kill her already. It was getting awkward, and sort of hard to focus on anything. All of the power had left her legs, and her head was lolling around now. But she still thought about the question.

"No," she finally decided upon, her voice much more weak and gravelly than she had thought it would be. Ranma looked up at her, storm blue eyes shimmering. There was something about those eyes. they were so much more. lively, than the other Ranma's. It made her feel sort of warm inside, a little happy. They were familiar.

"Really?" he asked. She shook her head weakly. It really wasn't. She could never once in her life remember being afraid that Ranma was going to beat her up. It just wasn't a possibility! On the other hand, he HAD, so who knows. Watching Akane sit there for another moment, her entire frame shuddering with exhaustion, it occurred to Ranma (And this was indeed the real Ranma, in Akane's nightmare with some help from Sailor Mars.) that Akane looked very tired. and upon inspection found that her life force was diminishing quickly. Shit! That's right, Luna had said her dream would destroy her if it went on for too long!

"Crap!" he spat, darting forward. He had to get her out of this nightmare, had to make it end for her, or else he didn't know how much longer she would hold up. Already she looked near the breaking point. "Hold on Akane, don't you dare leave me now,"

"'Kay," she agreed quietly, watching, fascinated, as he took her hand in his, squeezing it tightly. He was so warm...

Concentrating on his power, and life force, Ranma performed an action that proved to be very useful in battles when your comrades were injured, or in cases like these, when your fiancée was about to be killed because her own nightmare was swallowing her soul. He transferred some of his own life energy to Akane, watching, satisfied, as some of the color returned to her cheeks, and her bright brown eyes regained some sparkle, instead of that dull, lost look they had acquired before. Eventually she started breathing normally again, the feeling returned to her legs, the clouds disappeared in her head, and things started clicking together.

'I feel so warm inside. is this Ranma inside me? Is he bringing me back?' she wondered, staring up at the boy who was gazing at her with such a degree of concern that it made her smile. This was the real Ranma. This was her Ranma. How had she ever thought that the Ranma from before could have been the real one? 'Something was clouding my vision.' She realized. 'Something was purposely trying to depress me, and trick me, so that it could steal my soul.'

"Thank you," she sighed, her head dropping onto his chest, eyes squeezed shut as she held more tears back. She didn't want to cry anymore. It seemed so silly. SHE had been so silly. "I was going to die,"

"I know," Ranma growled, never separating their hands as he lifted Akane's face back up. He nearly recoiled with self-disgust as he saw what the other him and done to Akane. She had a black eye on the left side of her face, and a deep scrape along the left cheekbone. He knew from holding her up that her back was littered with numerous little scrapes, and from the erratic way she was still breathing realized she must have at least taken one good blow to the stomach. There were blue bruises quickly forming around her neck as well. It made the bile rise to his throat. Why hadn't he stopped this earlier!? Why had she let him do this to her!? He wanted to ask her a million and one questions, but knew most of them would have to wait if they were going to break this spell. There were other girls out there probably having the same amount of damage inflicted on them, and he needed to save all them too.

Akane noticed the way he was staring at her, and suddenly remembered how bad she must look. She bit her lip and turned away, not wanting him to see her in such a state of pain, when there was nothing he could have done about it.

"We're going to have to talk about this later, you know," he sighed, standing up, and supporting Akane who was still having some trouble.

"Yeah," she said, a little regretfully, but acknowledging that Ranma probably deserved to know about everything that had happened, no matter how much she didn't want him to know. He'd just blame himself and feel really guilty about the whole deal, when it was really SHE who had been the idiot.

"Akane." he said, his voice thick with sorrow. "How could you just let me DO this to you?"

"Don't call it you," she quickly hissed, shaking her head. "You would never act like that. And I KNEW you wouldn't. the whole time. I just couldn't wrap my mind around it. It was there the whole time. and I. couldn't comprehend any of it." she sighed. It was hard to explain. "But just so you know, my worst nightmare isn't that you'd try to kill me." She finished softly.

".Then what is it?" Ranma asked, his voice heavy with the need to know. What sort of a fear had created a scenario like this for his fiancée? How could he help her? Akane looked very hesitant to answer, but that expression on Ranma's face made her realize she didn't have a choice. If she wanted to continue any sort of lasting relationship with this boy, she'd have to start being honest with him. maybe starting by admitting her worst fear about this bond between them was a good start.

"It's that you'd try to . get rid of me. And take another fiancée, as though I were just a hassle. Like you didn't need me like I need you." She admitted, the explanation sounding stupid even to her own ears. She suddenly found herself physically unable to look at Ranma as he took in this response, eyes wide. She wondered if it was healthy to blush this much.

"What?" he asked unbelievingly, crushing her against him suddenly, so that she gasped quietly. "How can you think that? I would never get rid of you! Especially like this! I need you too. Akane!" he said suddenly, holding her by the shoulders so she was forced to look him directly in the eye. She did so willingly now, liking the passionate glint in his stormy eyes that made her shiver slightly. It was nice. And suddenly everything around her was feeling a lot warmer, and the rain clouds of depression in her head were rapidly retreating. Only Ranma could make her feel like this.

"Akane. I love you." He said firmly.

The girl stared at him a bit disbelieving for a second, as if trying to register what he had just said, before deciding she didn't really need to think about it too much. She had been waiting for him to say those words since the first day she met him. All right, maybe not the first day, but pretty close to it. Akane cried out happily and threw her arms around him, those damned tears starting back up again. But this time, as she leaned in to kiss him, feeling as though all of her energy had just miraculously come back at those words, they were tears of joy, and she let them come.

And as Ranma felt Akane's tongue quickly dart into his mouth, freely exploring now that all of her fears had been dashed and she had never felt so comfortable with this boy as she was now, it occurred to him that, no matter how shocked he was personally that he had just uttered those three words. he probably should have tried it earlier.

That was just about when there was an unexpected blinding flash of a sickly blue color, and Ranma and Akane barely had time to break apart from their kiss before it swallowed them whole, like a vortex of blinding, angry power. They were sucked in head first, being transported directly to Miji, screaming into their tight embrace.

*

Shampoo gave a sharp kick upwards at Mousse's chin, growling in frustration as he just bat it away, and she fell to the ground once more, wincing as the gravel dug into her skin through her silk pants. Already the most bruised part of her was her butt from the amount of times Mousse had expertly thrown her back onto that injured part of her body, and it was starting to get aggravating.

Mousse was winning the battle.

There was no question about it, he was proving to be more skilled and powerful than the girl had ever suspected. And while she was still slightly regarding him with awe, and more respect than she had since they had been in the village and he had shown her how to make a penny disappear without using magic. she didn't know if she could keep fighting like this any longer, and was contemplating what would happen if she were to loose, seeing as it was a very likely possibility currently.

Well. First off, he would marry her. Okay. how did she feel about that? She wondered as she flipped over his head in order to avoid a swipe he made at her with those chains of his. She whirled around in a crouch to glance at him as he spotted her once more. She couldn't honestly tell how she would feel about that. It was confusing; she hadn't been able to think about marrying anyone other than Ranma in so long that she wasn't even able to comprehend what it would be like.

But maybe. it wouldn't be so terrible.

Sure, Mousse was no Ranma, but obviously Ranma wasn't the guy for her if he didn't like her back, and he gave her nothing but trouble when she tried to make him fall in love with her. Maybe she had to go for a different type of guy. Maybe someone less cocky and superior, as Ranma tended to be. That wouldn't make a good Amazon male. Maybe she needed someone a bit more humble, willing to deal with her crazy tendencies and Amazon traditions. Willing to appreciate her more. Maybe someone more like. Mousse.

She glanced at Mousse once more, really looking at him just before he slammed his knee into her side and she swore of her ribs cracked. She braced herself with her hands so that her face did get crushed into the ground, sighing as she felt one of Mousse's swords dig into the back of her neck before she had the time to flip to her feet. Yeah. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Her eyes glazed over. God, how had she discounted Mousse as being a good suitor all these years? It was all becoming so clear.

"Do you surrender?" Mousse asked. Ah. Here it was. The big question. It was almost as though he was asking 'will you marry me?' and now it was up to her to decide. She wasn't exactly sure what he would do if she refused to give up, as she had a feeling he was expecting she, the always stubborn Amazon, would, but she abruptly felt no urge to say 'no'. Wow. She had been a real bitch to him, hadn't she? Sure, there were flashes of compassion, moment of tenderness. But they were so brief, and most of the time she was perusing Ranma. Not that this was really her fault. She had been ordered to marry Ranma, and treating males like scum was the Amazon way. Still. She suddenly regretted it, and wished for the first time in her life she could take some of it back.

"Yes,"

And at that simple word, her heart filled with a totally new emotion for Mousse, who quickly removed the swords point from the back of her neck, and helped her to her feet. And she couldn't exactly say what it was, since she had never felt such an adoring sentiment towards the warrior, but, if she had to name it, she could have sworn it was. love.

"Mousse," she said, looking up at him once he had helped the shaking and injured girl to her feet. She wasn't wondering about how he had gotten so freakishly strong anymore, or why she hadn't woken up in her own bed, all she was thinking about was this man. And this new feeling that had only just been born inside her. She only wanted to feel this sensation now, because it made her feel good. She liked that.

But as Mousse slowly craned his neck down to kiss her, and Shampoo began to compliantly close her eyes, vaguely wondering what Cologne thought of all this. An annoyingly bright flash of blew light ripped open a space next to Shampoo, whipping her violently away from her new aireen, making her scream in terror as she lifted out a hand towards the raven haired man, screaming for him to help her. Mousse watched her get swallowed into the blue cloud of power with a horrified expression, terrified, but unable to follow.

The next thing Shampoo was aware of was the fact that she was floating through dark, empty space, and that she was breathing so hard that it really made her middle ache. Though that might have been because she had a cracked rib or two.

"Shampoo!" A foreign, deep yet scratchy voice boomed in aggravation, the sound coming from all around her, so that she found herself desperately searching for the source, panic rising inside her. "What do you think you're doing?!"

"I-I no know!" she offered in her broken English, feeling a little freaked out. Where was she NOW!?

Suddenly a dark form appeared in the vast nothingness that Shampoo currently inhabited, looking scary and pissed as all hell. It had a dark color of skin that was a cloudy gray, and wide yellow eyes, that were currently narrowed into little accusing slits. It wore deep black robes, and its form, while definitely solid, appeared to be a little see-through if you really tried to look for it. Though this made it no less powerful seeming. Shampoo didn't have to be trained by Cologne, although she was, to see that he had a chillingly ample amount of power radiating off him.

"You've RUINED my NIGHTMARE!" he spat, stopping just in front of her, and clenching his fists threateningly, as though he was thinking of possibly, maybe hitting her. Shampoo was beyond caring.

"Sorry?" she offered, out of lack of a better thing to say. Was it. bad that she had ruined his nightmare? Because when someone woke her up from a nightmare she was usually pretty gratified.

"I had set up the perfect nightmare for you!" Ah. So it was HER nightmare. "But then you go and start LIKING it! Why!? Why would you feel good about loosing Ranma? And why would you ever accept Mousse? I thought he was lower than dirt to you!!"

"He. he WAS," she admitted. "But not anymore. Why you care?"

"Because that dream was supposed to eat your SOUL!" the figure cried, throwing his head back. Quickly he snapped his slimy arm out for Shampoo to see. She shrank back, but listened to what he had to say anyway. "LOOK at my arm! Do you see that? It's partly TRANSPARENT! If you had just hated your dream like any normal, proper Amazon would, I could have eaten your soul, and been one step closer to being solid again. You understand?" The man, Miji if one must know, groaned. He had been so close! What was wrong with this purple haired bimbo?

"It's." Shampoo sighed, rubbing her temples, and trying to clear her vision. Everything was getting so hazy! Why did she suddenly feel so weak? Sinking down to her knees, she looked up at Miji curiously. "It's weird. Shampoo feel so tired. What you doing to Shampoo?" she asked, her gut telling her Miji most definitely had something to do with her sudden bout of weariness. Miji smiled cruelly, his good humor suddenly back.

"Well. If you really want to know. I'm sucking in your soul right now! It's really quite funny, but, at this close a proximity, I don't even need you to be suffering from a bad experience to get your tainted soul to be taken right out of your body," he giggled. Shampoo wanted to be angry about all this, really wanted to do something to shut this demon up. but just couldn't muster the strength to put some action behind that sentiment.

Luckily, it was at that moment that another portal was ripped open in the vast space of nothingness, where Miji and Shampoo sat floating in the dark. and out of it popped Ranma and Akane, clutching one another fearfully.

"AHHHHHH!" they screamed together, as Shampoo smiled grimly, and Miji made a startled choking sound. Things were about to get interesting.

*

Ritsuko brushed a lock of blond hair from her eyes, as she held her magic mirror above her, gazing into its depths, watching Miji and Shampoo be interrupted by the newest arrivals to Miji's little domain. All right, so things weren't going exactly to plan, but they weren't turning out incredibly terrible either. Miji hadn't done a bad job, and hell, there were still three very stricken provisional Sailor Scouts out there, which wasn't half bad. Miji knew what he was doing, and there was still some hell to come.

Besides, she was healing far faster than she had first predicted, and should be back on her feet within a few days. Yes, it was a wonderful thing, being a demon. Resting the mirror on her stomach, Ritsuko leisurely laid her head back on her silk pillow, still resting in her little apartment, preparing for the day she would continue her quest for the talismans. the talismans that would eventually, inevitably, kill the scouts.

Taking in a deep breath, Ritsuko closed her eyes, carefully drawing off the negative emotions wafting from the arguing couple upstairs, as they helped to mend the gaping wound in her abdomen, and the depressed teen next door worked on her broken arm.

* (A/N- I have no concept of time or age in this fic, unlike most others I've done, so I really don't know how old anyone is, in fact I tend to change that from chapter to chapter, nor am I aware of what day it is. It's the weekend when I think it's convenient for a chapter, it's the weekday when I think that would be amusing, or if something really important is going on, hell, let's make it Spring Break. Just so you know, that's how this fic is going to be run, take it or leave it. (Please don't leave it! Please!)

*

Author's Notes:

I finished this surprisingly fast, although it may not feel like that to you, it was a pretty darned good job for me! I told you that this chapter was going to be weird, and I'm pretty sure you all got that feeling. Next chapter, since it's just the continuation, will be equally weird, and disturbing. Even though I'm pretty sure you all figured out what's going on by now, if you have any questions, I'm here all week, so drop me an e-mail. I love getting e-mails from reviewers, they make me feel special! Just plain old reviews are spiffy too though, don't get me wrong! Hell, any sort of communication between you, the reader, and me is tres bon. Except don't call me, I hate talking on the phone. Bores me to death, ick. And if you actually have my phone number that's even weirder. Anywho, look out for the next chapter and have a wonderful day,

Rio Grande~

P.S- I realize Akane has yet to say 'I love you' back to Ranma, but don't worry. We'll get there!