Love's Rebirth
By Bob Lobster
ranikkoku@hotmail.com

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters henceforth. I'm just
borrowing them for a while. I promise to return them in more or less
the same condition.

Song: Pain Is So Close To Pleasure
Artist: Queen
Release Date: 1986

Oooh oooh pain is so close to pleasure oh yeah
Sunshine and rainy weather go hand in hand together all your life
Oooh oooh pain is so close to pleasure everybody knows
One day we love each other then we're fighting one another all the
time
When I was young and just getting started
And people talked to me they sounded broken hearted
Then I grew up and got my imagination
And all I wanted was to start a new relation
So in love but love had a bad reaction
I was looking for some good old satisfaction
But pain is all I got when all I needed was some love and affection
Oooh oooh pain is so close to pleasure yeah yeah
Sunshine and rainy weather go hand in hand together all your life
Pain and pleasure
Oooh oooh pain and pleasure
When your plans go wrong and you turn out the light
But inside of your mind you have to put up a fight
Where are the answers that we're all searching for
There's nothing in this world to be sure of anymore
Some days you're feeling good some days you're feeling bad
But if you're feeling happy someone else is always sad
Let the sweetness of love wipe the tears from your face
For better for worse so let's make the best of the rest of our years
Oooh oooh pain is so close to pleasure I told you so
Sunshine and rainy weather go hand in hand together all your life
Pain and pleasure
Oooh oooh pain is so close to pleasure yeah yeah
Sunshine and rainy weather go hand in hand together all your life
All your life
Pain - pleasure ....

AN: I like this song, so I'm gonna leave it as the theme, even though
it still has little to do with the story.^_^


Chapter 2: Not Quite Hell.....

Journal Entry #967

Sometimes I really don't know what to do. They all look to me when
things get bad, thinking that I will always find the reason, or the
solution for whatever has gone wrong. Even Usagi, who's supposed to be
our leader, tends to turn to me whenever something troubling comes up.
I usually give them good reason to turn to me, too. I am answer girl,
afterall. Right now, however, I find even myself at a loss.

It's not hard to believe that no one is coming to me for answers
this time. We all know the cause of our current troubles, afterall,
and it's not something that even I can come up with a solution to.
Heh, I'm starting to sound rather egotistical now, aren't I? I suppose
that's to be expected. I have people telling me everyday how smart I
am, how I can fix any problem, solve any issue, find a way to end any
trouble. It's hard not to become a little full of myself. These last
two weeks have been humbling, however, shattering just about any
notions I had built up about my limitless abilities. It's hard to
believe yourself limitless, when you find your limit. As good as I am
though, and humbled as I am, I still know I'm one of the best, even I
can't find the solution to death. How do you remedy the final
farewell, afterall?

Our first real, lasting death in our entire career as Senshi and
it has to be someone so pivotal to the future. Without Tuxedo Mask
there is no Prince Endymion. Without Prince Endymion, there is no
future King of Crystal Tokyo; no Chibi-Usa; is there even a Crystal
Tokyo at all? The only person I know of who could possibly answer that
question is Setsuna and she's in no fit state to deal with questions
about the future right now. Her grief seems almost as thick as Usagi's
and I'm forced to wonder something. Is her pain for the loss of her
dreams, the work of the Kami's only know how many lifetimes, or was
she closer to Mamoru than we believed. Not that I think Mamoru would
ever be unfaithful to Usagi, he loved her far too much, but Setsuna's
reaction was far closer to that of someone who had lost a lover than a
friend. I wonder just how deep her feelings for Mamoru went.

I would ask her roommates, as the Outers know her better than any
of us, but Haruka and Michiru have hardly been their normal selves.
Surprisingly, this seems to have very little to do with Mamoru's
passing, though it obviously affected them as it did us, so much as
some personal problem that the two of them are having. I've only seen
Haruka twice since the funeral and both times she has been distant and
moody. More so than usual, anyway. She seems a lot more ready to snap
at someone over the slightest of things, something that in part
explains how strained Michiru has looked recently. I don't wonder that
the two of them have probably clashed more than once in the past week
or so due to this attitude. Though, the worry in Michiru is easily
visible when she looks towards her lover, so any fighting they are
doing can't be overly bad. Still it makes me sympathize with poor
Hotaru somewhat, knowing that out of the three adults taking care of
her, Setsuna is stuck in her depression, Haruka is upset over
something which is causing friction and Michiru seems to be stressing
out trying to deal with it all. The whole situation has to be hard on
Hotaru, but she's a strong kid, she's been through a great deal in her
life and I think she'll be fine now as well. I'm going to have to try
and talk to her soon though and make sure she is alright, let her know
that she can talk to me if she needs to.

Usagi, at least, seems to be dealing with Mamoru's death fairly
well, all things considered. She's about as heart broken as one can
get, of course, losing your soulmate does that to a person, but I
don't believe that she's in any danger of succumbing to it as I
initially thought she may. Despite our initial misgivings, it seems
that telling her father the truth was a major blessing for her. His
support has done more for her than any of us possibly could and I have
to admit that I, as well as the other Senshi, am extremely grateful to
him for everything he has done since her loss.

Of the other Senshi, Rei is taking Mamoru's loss the worst. Aside
from Usagi, Rei was probably the closest to him, having dated him for
a time. Though I get the feeling as I watch her, especially around
Usagi, that while she is broken up over Mamoru's death, the main
reason she has been upset is from worrying over Usagi. As odd as it
is, with the two of them always fighting, I know that none of us come
near Rei's protectiveness of our Princess. Though I don't believe she
would admit it under threat of torture, Rei cares about Usagi more
than just about anyone else in her life. She's been very supportive of
Usagi during this time as well, spending as much time with the
distraught girl as she can, almost at times seeming to have moved in
to the Tsukino home. I dearly hope that her efforts pay off in helping
Usagi deal with what could be the hardest moments in her life.

The only good news of the past week is that it seems as if the
mystery man Minako is taking care of is mending quite rapidly. She
expects him to be fully recovered shortly and has promised to
introduce him to us once he is. She seems very taken with him, though
this isn't exactly surprising with Minako, and talks about him all the
time. She's gotten very little information about his past, he doesn't
seem to like talking about it, which isn't surprising if his father
recently died, but she has been able to get bits from him. It seems he
has been training to be a martial artist all his life. The only family
he has ever known is his father, as the two of them have spent much of
his life on the road together. It makes me wonder how he's taking his
father's death. Losing such a pivotal part of your life can do
terrible things to a person's psyche and I hope that the young man is
able to come out of it all right. With Minako there, I don't doubt
he's getting treated with just the type of care he needs right now,
something that Makoto has made a good deal of effort to point out to
her, in the crudest method possible. Personally, I think she's merely
jealous that Minako has what she labels as a "God-like Hunk" living in
her room, but Makoto will never admit to that and simply continues to
make fun of her about it. At least it's good to know that something
good has happened recently if this boy makes Minako happy. I just hope
it can stay that way.

Ami Mizuno

*********************************************************************

Haruka was sitting in the living room of the house she lived in
with the other Outers, staring blankly out the window at the small
garden in the backyard. The garden was Setsuna's domain, her main
hobby when she wasn't guarding the gates and she took great pride in
it. As she should, it was a magnificent garden. Due to the extensive
amount of time she spent in the gates, however, she was forced to
teach her housemates, though mostly Michiru, how to take care of it
for her. That was where Michiru was now, actually, out in the garden,
taking care of Setsuna's plants. Not that Setsuna was at the gates,
though, but she was hardly in a state to deal with things like that,
no matter how much peace it normally brought to her. Not for the first
time, Haruka was forced to wonder about Setsuna's feelings for the
deceased prince. She knew, as did Michiru, that Setsuna cared about
Mamoru, but she hadn't realized that her feelings went this far and
she hoped her friend would be able to pull through. Not that she
thought Setsuna wasn't strong enough to deal with the death of a loved
one, she had lived through the fall of the Silver Millennium afterall,
Haruka just hoped that it wouldn't cause her to fall deeper into her
self-imposed emotional exile. They had been getting through to her. It
was slow going to be sure, trying to get through millennia of
loneliness, but they had been making progress and living in a family
environment was helping Setsuna bring her emotions to the forefront
more often. This would definitely set things back, Haruka just hoped
it wouldn't set them back too far. She was having enough trouble
dealing with a distraught Usagi, she didn't think she could deal with
helping Setsuna as well.

Oh yes, Usagi was coming by quite often. Not that Haruka really
minded, she would do anything to help the depressed princess, but
talking to Usagi usually brought her memories of Ranma back to the
forefront of her mind, something that caused her no end to depression.
On some level Haruka knew that all this talking was probably doing
more to help her get over Ranma's loss than anything she had done in
the past three years, but she didn't think about that much. Right now
she wanted nothing more than to forget about her feelings for a while,
at least until she managed to talk to Minako again. That was something
that truly bothered her: in all the time she had known Minako, the
girl had always been fairly easy to find, now that she really needed
to talk to her, however, she hadn't seen hide nor hair of her since
the funeral. She knew, of course, that she could always just walk up
to Minako's door and knock, solving her problem quite quickly, but for
the life of her, she couldn't manage to think of a single good reason
(that she could tell Minako, anyway). It's hard to walk up to your
friend's house, knock and ask in a polite voice if she is taking care
of your old boyfriend who you thought was dead. Somehow that just
didn't seem to work in her mind, so she kept her distance and kept
trying to run into Minako in other places. It wasn't working.

Hence her current level of distraction and frustration. She knew
that she was distracted, knew that she was ignoring Michiru a lot of
the time and snapping at her when she did talk to her. It was
something she hated doing, but she couldn't help it right now, her
nerves were frayed and it made her extra-sensitive to anything said to
her. In fact, the only person she wasn't snapping at was Usagi, for
obvious reasons, and Setsuna who she had barely spoken to in the past
two weeks. She knew she was doing the former right now, ignoring her
lover as she put on a show, trying to get Haruka's attention. Haruka
wasn't totally blind right now, she knew that Michiru was only wearing
such a tiny pair of shorts and such a tight, low cut shirt in an
effort to get a reaction out of her. Part of her even took the time to
admire her lover's form, for it was quite beautiful, but she just
couldn't bring herself to the usual level of lust that she would feel
at the sight of Michiru, dressed as she was, bent over in front of
her. It was a sight that normally caused her no end to dirty thoughts,
quickly getting her into the mood for just about anything Michiru had
in mind, but today such thoughts wouldn't seem to come. Today, she
actually found herself slightly irritated at Michiru for trying
something like that when it was obvious she wanted to be left alone.
Her rational mind knew, of course, that Michiru was just worried about
her and hoped this would open her up more, but the part of her that
usually only came out on the anniversary of Ranma's death was in a
good deal more control and it had her convinced that the last thing
she needed was to be comforted by someone who couldn't possibly
understand.

Thinking of people who understood reminded her that Usagi would be
over soon. The girl was getting almost as regular as clockwork, coming
there directly after dinner every night. Thinking of the girl
brightened Haruka's mood a bit for a change. It would be nice to talk
to someone who understood. Getting up, she wandered away from the
window, not noticing nor really caring about the look of pain that
crossed Michiru's face as she stood up from the garden and watched her
leave.

*********************************************************************

Ranma glanced up as Minako walked into the room. He was sitting on
the edge of the bed, having just woken up moments before, and was
feeling lucky that he had fallen asleep in his clothes as he hadn't
had a chance to change since waking. She smiled at him as she walked
closer to the bed, stopping only two feet from its edge and he
couldn't help but notice that she had a really beautiful smile. All in
all, she was quite a beautiful young woman with her flawless skin and
long blonde hair, one of the only Japanese people he had ever met with
that hair colour. He smiled back at her before pushing himself to his
feet.

"Good afternoon, Ranma. Are you feeling any better today?" She
asked, concern evident in her voice. It amazed Ranma at times that
anyone could be that concerned about someone they barely knew, but she
always seemed to show her concern when they spoke of his health. It
was a trait she had apparently picked up from her father who Ranma
found out to be one of the kindest men he had ever met. Whenever
Minako wasn't taking care of him, her father seemed intent on keeping
him as comfortable as possible. Ranma knew, of course, that part of
the man's concern drew from the fact that he had saved his daughter's
life, but it still touched him to know that he was in such a caring
environment. It wasn't something he was used to with he and his
father's way of life.

He put on his best smile, ignoring the small tightness in his
chest where it was still slightly injured, before answering her.
"Feeling much better, actually. I seem to be just about fully healed."
She smiled at him again, obviously relieved that he wasn't relapsing
or anything, before she wandered over to her desk to put her bookbag
away. "Did you just get back from school?"

"Yup," She began, her shoulders slumping slightly. She turned back
towards him, giving him a slightly strained smile before moving over
to her closet to search out something to wear. "Thank God. I swear
someone invented school just to torture people. I mean, could they
make it any more boring?"

Ranma laughed a little at her melodrama, knowing after staying
with her for the past few days that she tended to slip into what he
liked to call 'Actress Mode'. When she was like that, she tended to be
overdramatic over every little thing but Ranma found it more amusing
and endearing than annoying as he was sure some would see it as. It
was hard to be annoyed at someone who had helped him so much. Besides,
she was pretty cute in 'Actress Mode'. "Don't let the teachers hear
you say that, or they might try."

Minako groaned at his words, thinking about how her teachers would
love to find new ways to bore her into a catatonic state. She turned
back towards him briefly, giving him a slightly evil smirk before
answering him. "You better hope they don't succeed, since you'll no
doubt be joining me there soon." Now it was Ranma's turn to groan,
knowing it was true. If there was one thing he disliked about his
quick recovery it was how quickly he would be ready to attend school,
something he loathed as much as Minako did. "For now, though, out.
I've gotta get dressed. Daddy should have dinner ready shortly, so why
don't you head down and after dinner we can talk about finding your
mother, since you seem well enough now."

Ranma quickly excused himself to allow Minako her privacy, a happy
smile on his face at the prospect of finally finding his mother. He
headed downstairs and into the kitchen. Seeing Minako's father there,
he asked if there was anything he could do to help and was rewarded
with the duty of setting the table, as dinner was already cooked. In
the last two days since he had been well enough to move around more or
less freely without tiring quickly he had tried to help out as much as
he could. They had been very kind to him, afterall, and he wanted to
repay them as much as he could. He helped with the cooking a fair
amount since he was fairly good at it, cooking on the road for so long
had taught him well, but since he had been sleeping Mr. Aino had
decided to leave him be.

By the time the table was set, Minako had arrived and her father
was done with the meal. As they ate, Minako talked about her day at
school and how all her friends were doing. Her father seemed concerned
about one of them in particular, the one she had told Ranma about the
other day, but he understood why. Though he had never met her, Ranma,
too, found himself concerned about the young girl who had lost someone
so important to her at such a young age. He knew how that felt all too
well and truly hoped that she was dealing with it better than he had
in those first few weeks. Minako quickly assured her father that she
was doing a lot better than she had been, with both her family and
friends being extremely supportive and even went so far as to praise
one of her friends, Rei, for being there for her more than anyone
could have expected. Apparently the girl, Usagi, and Rei fought a good
deal and Minako had always thought that, while they liked each other
they weren't nearly as close as the rest in their group. This had
proven false as Rei proved to be the most supportive of her, showing
that she cared for the girl more than Minako had thought.

As dinner ended, Mr. Aino served up tea for the three of them and
thoughts turned to the task of finding his mother. As it turned out,
the address he'd been carrying had been the only copy he had. He still
knew her name, Nodoka Saotome, and that she lived relatively close to
where he had met Minako, but that was all the information he had.
Minako's father was convinced it wouldn't be difficult to find her,
though, so Ranma wasn't overly worried. Mr. Aino brought up the fact
that Saotome wasn't the most common name, something that Ranma agreed
with, having never met another, and said that he would merely go speak
with one of the local police officers in the morning, hopefully
gaining an address. It was probably something they should have done
earlier, but they had decided to wait until Ranma was better healed
before introducing him to his mother. This was something Ranma agreed
with, wanting to be in top shape when he met her for the first time in
ten years.

With that matter decided to everyone's satisfaction, Minako
brought up the next thing on her mind. Her friends, or more
specifically, their desire to meet him. Though he didn't really know
why they would be so insistent on it, Ranma was quick to agree to meet
with the people he had heard a good deal about over the last few days.
Since the next day was Sunday, Minako suggested that she have her
friends over in the morning, while her father was at work. That way,
Ranma could meet with her friends in the morning and then, when her
father got home, he could meet his mother. This was agreed upon,
though when she went to call her friends Minako decided that she had
best set the time as late in the afternoon. It was quickly discovered
that she and Ranma both shared their affinity for oversleeping and
with tomorrow being the only day she could enjoy sleeping in, she had
no intention of missing it.

Once she was done speaking with her friends, Minako retired to her
bedroom to work on her homework, while Ranma followed, intent on
reading some more of the novel he was in the midst of. If you had
asked him two weeks ago, Ranma would have told you that reading was
for book worms and useless to him but with him out of commission as
far as training went, he quickly found himself bored enough to delve
into one of the many novels that Minako and her father had. He had
ended up picking up an english one - thanking his father for that rare
show of foresight that had made him insist Ranma learn to speak and
read english, something that had come in very handy in their travels -
and found himself thoroughly enjoying it. It had surprised him and
Minako both that he had gone through the first book so quickly, in
only four days, but he had so much free time that he could hardly find
much else to do. Right now he was a short ways into the second book in
the series and wondered how they would manage to save the poor little
guys and whether or not the wizard was really dead for good.

*********************************************************************

Usagi had to admit, she did feel better when she talked with
Haruka. When the older woman had originally suggested coming to her if
Usagi needed someone to talk to, she had doubted that it would help.
Besides which, she had her Daddy to talk to, and Rei-chan had been
really great. Haruka had one thing that both of them lacked, however,
and that was understanding. That's not to say neither of them had seen
someone die before or lost someone relatively close to them, but
Haruka, like herself, had lost someone who was so significant to her
that she still, after three years, mourned his death. Someone who she
considered the other half of her soul, which was exactly how she
pictured Mamoru. She hoped that Haruka wasn't bothered by her
constantly coming back to talk with her, something that had become a
daily ritual, especially since she could see how sad Haruka got when
she spoke of her lost love, whom Usagi had recently learned was named
Ranma. She didn't seem to mind Usagi coming by though, always
welcoming her warmly, so she didn't dwell on the matter for too long.
That fact was that this was something that Usagi truly needed and
Haruka had made the offer and had yet to take it back, so Usagi would
continue coming until she didn't need to any longer.

As she walked towards the front entrance of Haruka's house, intent
on heading home, as it was getting rather late, she spotted another of
the house's residents out of the corner of her eye. Setsuna sat in the
living room, a cup of steaming tea in her hand, seemingly staring off
into space. She had a sad look in her eyes, Usagi noted as she turned
fully towards her, and seemed lost in deep thought. This was the first
Usagi had seen of the woman since Mamoru's funeral and she decided
that it was a good time to talk to her. There were several matters she
needed to clear up with the time guardian and now was as good a time
as any to do so. She excused herself briefly from Haruka, who had been
walking her to the door, and walked purposely towards the green-haired
girl who sat obliviously before her.

Stopping beside the older woman's chair, Usagi waited a few
moments for her to be acknowledged. It didn't take long before her
presence was noticed and Setsuna turned her sad eyes towards her,
turning a small, tired smile towards the younger girl. For some
reason, rather than making her feel better, the smile on the woman's
face only irritated Usagi, like she could sense that Setsuna was only
putting it there for her benefit, not out of any real joy at seeing
her. It was probably her mild irritation that caused her tone to be
sharper than she intended when she addressed the woman. "You should
have known. You always know. Why didn't you this time?"

Setsuna's eyes took on a look of such pain when she said it, that
Usagi almost regretted ever speaking but it was something she needed
to ask. Setsuna had always been the wise one, the one who had all the
answers. They could always be content in knowing that she would stop
anything too bad from happening to the team. This time, however, she
had missed something, and the results had been disastrous.
Unfortunately, the faith she had held in Setsuna's ability now led to
her need to ask these questions. She knew on most levels that Setsuna
would never let something like this happen if she could stop it, but
there was enough doubt that she needed this confrontation, if only to
confirm in her heart what her mind already knew.

Setsuna held her gaze for a long moment, sad, red eyes meeting
questioning blue ones, before turning her head away and answering in a
tired voice. "I made a mistake."

Usagi knew that the woman was being truthful, but she couldn't
help challenging her anyway, if only to see a more passionate reaction
than what she was getting. "No. You don't make mistakes. How can you
make mistakes, when you know what's going to happen ahead of time?"
She saw Setsuna tense a bit and knew she was on the right path. If she
wanted to get to the route of this, she had to get the woman to let go
her tight control, if only for a short while. She knew what she was
doing was cruel, but she had to know. "I don't buy it Setsuna, why
couldn't you stop this? Or did you not want to?"

It was the last question that hit paydirt. Setsuna's head snapped
around to look at her and her red eyes flashed with anger. When she
spoke up, her voice was cold with fury at what Usagi had accused her
of. "How can you say that? How Dare you say that? I would have given
anything to save him. ANYTHING!" She was standing now, eyes glaring
with cold fury at Usagi and she couldn't help but notice how tall and
imposing Setsuna was when she was angry. Her red eyes made her almost
fearsome to look upon and under other circumstances she probably would
have been backing up, looking for ways to flee the scene but instead
she merely stood a little taller herself and glared right back.

"Then why is he dead? Why couldn't you save him? Why DIDN'T you
save him?!?" She saw Setsuna's fist balling up and, for a moment,
wondered if the woman would lash out at her, as angry as she was. If
she considered it, though, the older woman kept the urge internal and
instead merely increased her volume to match her rising anger.

"What do you think I am? What do you think I do? Do you think I
can see the future? The Gates aren't some TV that I can turn on and
see what's coming! There is no FUCKING FUTURE! There's just a bunch of
things that could happen! Sure, some are more likely, but nothing is
set in stone. All I see are the chances, the maybes and probably's and
probably not's. I can't always be right, I can't always pick the right
ones! I'm only Fucking Human, the same as you are!!" She seemed to
deflate at this and Usagi wondered, in a detached sort of way, how
long she had been holding all this in. Her shoulders slumped and Usagi
could see the tears coming to her eyes as the older woman continued in
a quieter, thicker but no less emotional voice. "I...I didn't even see
this coming. It's like....it just came out of nowhere."

Usagi stepped forward to the woman before her and enveloped her in
what Usagi thought, quite correctly, was a badly needed embrace.
Setsuna dissolved quickly into tears as she practically fell into her
princess' arms. She continued to speak, though her voice was badly
broken by her grief-stricken sobs. "I.....I tried so hard....to keep
you all safe. I wo......would've died to...to protect him. I loved him
so much." Usagi held in her surprise at this quite well, somehow
having known it on some level already. Hearing it outloud, that her
friend was in love with her fiancee, came as a shock, but she hide it
and merely rubbed the older woman's back, holding her tight and
waiting for her to continue. "I'm....I'm sorry, princess. I'd
never....never have ta-told him. You...you know I wou....wouldn't do
that to you. Bu-but I loved him so much an...and now he's gone."

She dissolved then into senseless sobs, her whole body wracking
from the intensity of her pain and Usagi found herself crying once
more as well. Crying for a future that would never be; crying for a
child she would never see again; crying for a lover that was lost to
her forever and crying for a friend who was more like her than she
would have ever thought possible. A friend who she only now realized
had lost every bit as much as she had but didn't have the people to
turn to that she did. A friend that needed her right now and one she
was determined to be there for, if only so they could share their
grief and so that perhaps neither of them would be consumed by it.

*********************************************************************

As Haruka listened to her heartbroken friend from through the
door, she couldn't help but feel a small, sad smile come to her face.
She knew it wasn't a time to be smiling, not while two very dear
friends were hurting so much and it really did hurt her to hear them
crying, but she knew that this was something that Setsuna truly
needed. This release was the first step in her recovery and with the
help of the princess, Haruka hoped that she would come out of this as
a stronger woman, more alive than she had been since she had shut away
her emotions so many millennia ago.

Looking up, Haruka saw Michiru and Hotaru standing there,
concerned looks on their faces, as they were no doubt attracted by the
screaming coming from the room moments ago. Haruka shook her head
slightly, smiling a little at the two, the first smile she had given
them since the funeral and, taking ahold of the both of them, drew
them towards the kitchen, away from the scene happening in the living
room. Michiru was, of course, the first to speak up as she sat down at
the table.

"What's going on in there, Haruka? I thought I heard Setsuna
yelling." Haruka moved over to the counter and put a kettle on to boil
before pulling out the materials for tea. She took a moment of thought
before answering Michiru's question, knowing that both she and Hotaru
were worried about their friend. None of them had ever really heard
Setsuna yell before and the venom in her words, the anger and the
spite, it was somewhat frightening coming from their calm, collected
friend.

"Setsuna is having a discussion with the princess." She began,
knowing that she wasn't really telling them much, but feeling the need
to explain this properly so that she could make them understand.
Michiru began to say something which Haruka knew would be along the
lines of the need to stop their fighting, but she interrupted her
before she could really begin. "They're not fighting, not really, if
that's what you're worried about. Neither of them is in danger from
the other. There were just certain things that they needed to sort out
between the two of them. Now, perhaps, they can both get on with their
healing."

Michiru and Hotaru both sat in silence for a long moment as Haruka
took the boiling kettle off of the stove and filled the tea pot with
water, laying it out on the table to allow it time to steep. She gave
them each a cup before sitting as well and waiting for the tea to be
ready. When it was, she poured each of them some of it and they all
sat, quietly sipping their drinks as they each contemplated their
thoughts. Surprisingly, when the silence was finally broken, it was
Hotaru who broke it.

"What about you, Papa? Is there still something you need to sort
out?" She looked at Haruka with sad eyes and Haruka couldn't help the
pang of guilt that flashed through her system. She had always known
that what she was doing was hurting her family, but she had been too
preoccupied to really think about it. Now she was seeing the sadness
her actions were causing first hand, and it hurt to know she was the
reason for that sadness. She averted her eyes from Hotaru's and stared
down into her tea for a long moment before answering in a quiet voice.

"Yeah, I guess I do still have things to sort out." She looked up
at the faces of the two sitting before her, seeing the sadness in one
and the longing in the other, knowing that they were both directed at
her and cursed herself for being as selfish as she was. As much as she
cursed herself, though, she knew that she couldn't change her
feelings, knew that she had to resolve this before things could ever
go back to normal, if they could go back to normal. "I guess I've had
something to sort out for years now, something I thought I already
had."

"It's about that boy, isn't it?" She looked up at Michiru sharply,
wondering if the girl knew what was going on more than Haruka thought
she had. Before she could question any further however, Michiru
continued. "The one Minako is taking care of. That's when this all
started, wasn't it? When she mentioned him?"

Haruka almost smiled at that. That would seem to be when this all
started, though it had really started just over three years ago. She
knew now, of course, why this whole incident had upset her as much as
it had: there was no closure when it came to Ranma's death. She hadn't
seen a body, hadn't been able to attend a funeral, hadn't even seen
his father since the day he had brought the news. A part of her had
never really accepted Ranma's death and now, with this mysterious boy
who's history matched that of her Ranma enough to be noticeable, all
the past insecurities, all the reluctance to accept his passing came
back to the fore. She knew, if she couldn't see this boy, at least
hear his name and know for sure that he wasn't the boy she had loved
so long ago, she would never truly move past his death. "I guess it
does have to do with him, but at the same time it doesn't. I know that
doesn't make much sense, but I can't explain it any better. This
started a long time before Minako and this boy came up, before even
you and I met, Minako's situation just brought it back into my mind."

Michiru seemed to reflect on her words for a long time, slowly
sipping her tea as she stared blankly at the tabletop before her.
Hotaru, also deep in thought, stared at her 'papa' for a long time, as
if trying to read deeper into what she had said, before merely sipping
her tea and waiting someone else to speak up. That someone was
Michiru, once more breaking the silence that had fallen over the
three.

"You know, if something important is happening, you can always
talk to us about it. We are your family, that's what we're here for."
Haruka smiled slightly at her, knowing that she meant what she said
and wishing that she could talk to them about it. How could she
though, when she felt like she was betraying them with her every
thought, her every feeling? How could she tell the woman she was
supposed to love that her heart was pulling her towards a man she
thought dead, a man she loved more than her? She sighed quietly,
looking down towards her now empty cup before looking up again to meet
Michiru's eyes.

"I wish I could, I really do. This is something I have to figure
out on my own. Like I said, this started years ago and it's about time
I ended it, one way or another." Her eyes were sad as she took in
Michiru's form. It was obvious she had hoped Haruka would open up to
her and was disappointed that she hadn't, but Haruka could only hope
that she would understand when this was all done. Perhaps, once she
had resolved her feelings once and for all, she could explain it all
to the two of them. It would be nice to finally be able to open up to
her family completely.

Her tea finished, Haruka stood up and brought her cup to the sink.
She turned towards the two still seated and addressed them once more.
"Well, it's late and I have a race tomorrow. I'm going to bed.
Goodnight." Then she left the room, not even really waiting for an
answer, though she knew that Michiru would have liked for her to wait.
Now wasn't a time that she wanted to sleep with Michiru though, it
felt too much like a betrayal of her feelings, so she went to the
guestroom they had set up and slept there, as she had been the past
half-week.

*********************************************************************

As she walked to Minako's home the next morning, Usagi found
herself feeling a great deal better than she had since Mamoru had
died. Somehow, sharing her feelings with Setsuna, knowing that she
hurt just as badly as Usagi did and that the two of them could deal
with it together made her heart feel that much lighter. It came as no
surprise to her that Ami noticed when they met up on the way,
commenting that she was glad to see Usagi was looking better. It did
come as a bit of a shock that Rei noticed as quickly as she did.
Despite everything Rei had done for her the past week, she still had
trouble not thinking about her in the terms she used to. That's not to
say she ever disliked Rei, she had always been on of, if not Usagi's
best friend, but she was used to Rei sending pokes at her about her
attitude, looks, work ethic and just about anything else she could
think of. She never really thought that Rei cared about her or noticed
her as much as she had shown to the past two weeks, but she was glad
for the change. It still surprised her, though, that as soon as Rei
saw her the first thing she did was smile and ask what had put her in
such a good mood. That type of intuition just wasn't what she expected
from the fire priestess, but she was slowly changing her opinion of
her friend.

Rather than answer properly and tell them something that Setsuna
obviously considered private, Usagi merely told them that she had
resolved a great deal the day before and was feeling a good bit better
for it. She was, of course, forced to repeat this when Makoto met them
about a block from Minako's house, but she didn't really mind as it
merely reminded her of just how much her friends cared about her,
giving her a happy feeling. That's not to say she wasn't still sad. It
would be a long time before she really got over her loss and she still
felt the devastation of having lost someone who meant more to her than
anything else in her life but she was beginning to see that she wasn't
as alone as she had first felt and it was lifting her spirits in spite
of her best efforts to keep depressed out of respect.

They reached Minako's home and walked up the step to the front
door, stopping to knock loudly and wait for an answer. It didn't take
long for the sound of footsteps to reach them and before they knew it
Minako was ushering them in the door. As they were taking off their
shoes, Makoto asked the first question, the one on all of their minds.

"So, Mina-chan, where's that hunk you've got holed up in here?"
Minako looked halfway between amused and mortified that she had said
that, which was odd since it wasn't anything out of character for
either of them to say. Makoto was just grinning mischievously and
Usagi had to wonder if she was actually teasing or not, considering
this was what she was normally like. "We have to see if he's as cute
as you say he is."

"Mako-chan!!" If Minako hadn't been mortified, she certainly was
now. Her face had gone a bright red and she was looking into the
living room, the entrance of which she was standing right next to.
Usagi suddenly had a very good idea why Minako was getting
embarrassed. "He's right here and heard everything you just said!"

Makoto did have to blush rather badly at that, letting out a small
"Eep!" and glancing around the corner at the young man sitting on the
couch, his face also a bright red as he tried to hide it behind a
book. Makoto just laughed nervously as she ducked back into the
hallway before looking at Minako and managing a weak, "Ha ha, oops?"

Minako just sighed in exasperation and pushed Makoto into the
living room. The other three followed from behind with Usagi bringing
up the rear. Minako brought them all into the room as Ranma put down
the book he had been reading, having managed to regain control of the
capillaries in his face, and stood up to meet them. Makoto blushed
again lightly as they were introduced, her thoughts running towards
the fact that she had been right, he was a hunk. That thought quickly
led to the fact that she had said as much quite loudly a moment ago
and she was once again blushing as she stammered out a quick "Nice to
meet you."

Rei merely smiled and bowed to him slightly, saying that it was a
pleasure and Ami commented on his taste in books. It turned out that
it was one of her favourites. Ranma shyly stated that he was just
borrowing the book from Minako to pass the time while he wasn't able
to train, but that he was indeed enjoying it quite a bit. Then
Minako's introductions reached Usagi and they all noticed her state.
She was staring. Not just your usual 'glancing at him cause he's kinda
cute' type of staring but a full-blown 'eyes wide, jaw on the floor'
type of staring. The only thought running through her head over and
over again was *It's him.*

She had only just seen the picture two days ago, not having
thought to ask before that. It had been small, wallet sized, and
slightly worn but still in fairly good shape. The boy in the picture
was obviously a year or two younger, which made sense since it had
been taken three years ago, but it was easy enough to identify him
regardless. This was Haruka's Ranma. They were all looking at her
strangely now and Rei softly touched her shoulder causing her to snap
out of her stupor.

"Are you alright, Usagi-chan?" She asked gently, her voiced laced
with such concern it made Usagi feel warmer, more content, simply
hearing it. Blinking slightly, Usagi fixed a smile on her face as she
turned to face Rei, causing the girl to smile in return, before
responding.

"Yes, I'm fine, Rei-chan." She then turned her attention back to
Ranma, who she could tell was a bit uncomfortable by the stare he had
been receiving from her. How could she not have stared, though, when
confronted by her friend's dead boyfriend? She had to be sure though.
It wouldn't do to bring this to Haruka's attention without knowing for
sure that this was the same Ranma. Not that there was really much
doubt. They had the same name - something Usagi had put off as
coincidence before she had seen his face - and the resemblance was far
too much for him not to be at least a very close relative. He was
supposed to be dead though, how could he be standing here before her.
"I'm sorry, I was just lost in thought for a bit there." She knew it
was a weak excuse considering how intently she had been staring at
him, but they all seemed to buy it. It probably helped that she had
been getting lost in thought an awful lot lately. "My names Usagi,
it's really nice to meet you."

She bowed politely and Ranma returned it before they all sat down
and Minako headed off for a moment to get some refreshments. They were
all quiet for a few moments, not really knowing what to say since none
of them really knew Ranma. After a short, tense silence, it was Makoto
who spoke first.

"So, Ranma, Minako says you're a martial artist." She asked, a
gleam in her eyes. If there was one thing Makoto loved more than boys
it was martial arts. Well, martial arts and cooking, but it was a
tossup which of the two she preferred the most. Ranma seemed to puff
up slightly at the question and Usagi got the feeling that Ranma was
at least as passionate about martial arts as Makoto was. "Are you any
good?"

Ranma's eyes seemed to sparkle a bit at the question, as if it
were a question he loved to be asked. He smirked before answering and
Usagi had to suppress a giggle at the flush that appeared on her
friend's face. Not that she blamed the girl, he was mighty handsome
when he smirked like that, so full of confidence. "I'm the best there
is." He stated, and though the statement was an extremely arrogant
one, Usagi somehow got the feeling that it wasn't an idol boast, that
he truly was one of the best. There was an air of supreme confidence
around him that made it hard not to believe that he was as skilled as
he claimed.

"Minako said that you traveled around a lot." Usagi stated,
deciding that now was as good a time as any to confirm whether this
was Haruka's Ranma or not. If only she had told Usagi her Ranma's last
name. She already knew that this Ranma was a Saotome, if she'd known
Haruka's than she would have known they were the same ages ago. When
Ranma nodded to her question she continued. "Where all have you been?"

Ranma seemed to mull the question over for a few moments before
answering her. "Well, I've been over pretty much all of Japan as well
as a few of the mainland countries: Taiwan, parts of Korea, a little
bit of the Philippines and, of course, China." His mood seemed to drop
a little at the mention of China, but Usagi thought she remembered
Minako telling them that his father had died there, so she wasn't too
surprised. Still she pressed on, figuring that she would be drawing
his mind away from China anyway.

"You've been all over Japan? So you've been around here before?"
Of course, she knew that he had been here before. His mother lived
here, after all, so it was very likely that he had been born here but
that wasn't what she was hoping to learn. She wanted to know if he'd
been here recently.

"Hmmm, well, since my mother lives here, I guess I was probably
born here. Can't say for sure though, cause I don't remember that far
back." His eyes seemed to unfocus for a moment, as if he was looking
at something none of them could see and Usagi patiently waited for him
to remember whatever he was trying to. "We traveled this way a few
years ago, too. That would've been, hmm, about three years ago, I
guess. Yeah, I'm pretty sure that was in this area. We stayed for a
few months, too. Left in a real hurry, too, now that I think about it.
I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye to any of my friends. Not
that that's so unusual, I guess."

"Huh? What do you mean?" Rei piped in, asking Usagi's question for
her. She was certain of it now, this was definitely Haruka's Ranma,
they were far too similar to be different people. Now she was more
concerned about why he apparently faked his own death. If he didn't
have a good reason for what he did, she wouldn't be very pleased with
him. He had broken her friend's heart very badly, so badly she had yet
to fully recover from it, and if he didn't have a damn good reason for
it, there would be hell to pay.

"Well, Pop had a tendency to be....umm.....less than trust-
worthy." They all looked at him a bit strangely at that, including
Minako who had just re-entered the room, baring drinks for everyone.
Seeing their looks, Ranma elaborated a little. "Because we traveled
all the time, he couldn't really get a steady job, so he had a habit
of.....stealing.....from time to time. Among other things. This led to
a few late night moves as he pulled us out of areas before anyone
caught on. I was actually waiting for a buddy of mine, we had a dual
scheduled, when Pop showed up and started spouting about it being time
to go. I wanted to stay, or at least have time to say goodbye to my
friends, so we fought about it but I wasn't good enough yet to take
him. After he beat me, he dragged me off and we started to head to
China."

"He.......he BEAT you?!?" Rei sputtered out. Ranma had said it so
casually, like it was the most normal thing in the world, leaving all
of them staring at him incredulously. What kind of monster was this
man?

"Huh? Oh, no, not like that!" Ranma disclaimed loudly when he
realized exactly what they thought. "No, no, Pop was never like that.
He'd never Beat me, beat me. I just meant, we're martial artists. We
usually settled disagreements by sparring. First to get knocked out or
give up lost. At that point he still beat me in fights a lot." Looks
of comprehension blossomed on everyone's faces, as well as looks of
relief. Usagi's, however, was tinged with sadness, as she was pretty
sure she knew what had happened.

"So you never even got to say goodbye to your friends?" She asked,
sadly. Ranma shook his head, a sad look also forming on his face,
though he covered it up quickly enough.

"Nah, was never given time. I didn't even know their addresses, so
I couldn't even write or nothing." Another sad look passed over his
face before he managed to pull his mask up again. He smiled
reassuringly at Usagi before continuing. "Since I'm here, though, I'll
probably look them up again. See how they're doing. It's been so long
though, most of them have probably forgotten me by now."

Usagi smiled back at him, also in a reassuring way, giving him the
impression that she believed his nonchalance to not be the mask it
was. She couldn't help a thought from forming in her head though. *I
wouldn't count on it, Ranma-kun. I wouldn't count on it.*

To Be Continued......


Author's note: For all those of you convinced I can't write a chapter
2 to save my life. HA! ........well, actually you were pretty close to
right, but since I was threatened with death and worse if I didn't
start putting out chapter 2's, apparently I can to save my life^_^;;

I had planned on putting out chapter 3 of Hell Hath No Fury before
this, but once I started writing it, it just came so easily that I
couldn't stop until I was done, so here it is. Hell should hopefully
be out soon as well, assuming nothing else catches my fancy in the
meantime.^_^

As usual, any and all C&C will be well-received and appreciated.
Send mail to ranikkoku@hotmail.com or drop a message at my guestbook
at www.geocities.com/ranikkoku and I'll answer you as soon as I
can.(which is usually within minutes, though if I'm sleeping at the
time it can take longer^_^)
Thanks for reading
Bob Lobster