It was raining in Juuban this morning. Saotome Nodoka steeled herself for the shock she would experience. After more than ten years, her son was returning to her, without the husband who had taken him from her a decade before. She had already destroyed the document Ranma and his father had marked, promising Ranma would be a man among men or they would commit Seppuku. Genma had paid HIS price and Ranma was all she had left now. It had been only yesterday that she had spoken to her son.

***

Nodoka went to the phone, probably some new investment that would change her life forever. It was.

"Hello."

"Will you accept a collect call from a Saotome Ranma?"

Her son was calling? "Yes, of course!"

Click, Beep.

She heard a boy's voice "Hello?"

"Hello, Ranma, is that you?"

"Mom? Pop never talked about you much, I'm glad you're not dead!" He hoped he could keep his cool on the phone for his mother.

"I'm not dead; at least not yet. Where are you, Ranma?"

"Well, I'm in Osaka right now. I just got back from China."

"China? Where's your father, dear?"

Ranma took a deep breath in preparation. It was going to be hard, but he had to tell his mother. "We were training in China and... It's REAL hard to talk about this... There's this place, Jusenkyo; a training ground of cursed springs. I wish he'd never heard about it."

"Can I speak to your father?" Nodoka asked with an angry edge to her voice. What had Genma done to their child?

"Please let me finish, Mom..." Another deep breath offered some calm before he forced himself to continue. "It seems that if you fall in a spring there, you are forced to become what ever last drowned there when splashed with cold water."

"How could you father take you to such a place!? Let me speak to him!" Nodoka asked with agitation increasing as she spoke.

" I fell into a spring where a girl drowned 1500 years ago. Thank goodness hot water changes me back to a guy..." He stopped for a few moments as he considered what to say next. Closing his eyes, he continued, "Pop lost balance and fell into a spring where a panda had drowned. Now it's the spring of 'Drowned Martial Artist Father', Pop didn't make it." Ranma's voice wobbled at the last revelation, he sucked in the tears that threatened to come... again.

Nodoka listened in shocked silence, regret replacing rage. Only tears could communicate her feelings now, but not over the phone.

"Mom, Mom, MOM?" Ranma shouted. He wasn't going lose his mother too, was he?

Nodoka finally found her voice again, to comfort her son in his time of need. "Y... Yes, Dear. What happened?"

"Well, I guess Pop got knocked out when he hit his head on the bank of the spring, so he drowned." Ranma covered the mouthpiece as he struggled for composure. He was a MAN and he wasn't going to act like a... girl on the phone. What would his mother think?

He heard a concerned voice on the other end of the line. "Ranma... Ranma? Are you there?"

Ranma used all his self-control to calm himself again... "yeah Mom, I'm still here! Anyways, when Pop... died... I wasn't really payin much attention at the time, cause I just turned into a girl!"

"I see." Nodoka fought for her own composure, then remembered Ranma. She WOULD see her son again, but her husband... Her struggle failed as tears flowed freely.

"Could you give me directions to your house from the main station in Tokyo?"

Nodoka composed herself. She was a mother again, and her son needed directions so he could come home. "Well, you take..."

***

Ranma 1/2 Honor and Love

(Yet Another) Ranma/Sailor Moon Crossover

Episode 01: Two weeks in Juuban: Kikuko's Tale

By Kevin D. Hammel

Ranma 1/2 is property of Rumiko Takahashi. Publication Rights are held by Viz in The US and Shogakukan in Japan. Sailor Moon is property of Naoko Takeuchi. Publication rights held by Kodansha Ltd. in Japan and Mixx Entertainment in the US. My purpose is to honor these creators and their works. No infringement intended.

***

Nodoka looked out onto the street, unable to hide the expectation she felt. Her child would be here soon, after a decade. From the front window, she saw a petite redheaded girl enter the front gate. The child looked much like Nodoka in her younger days. The girl reverently carried a small metal box in her two delicate hands, and a very heavy backpack, the size of two large ones. Her gait was masculine and relaxed... as if she were carrying nothing.

Ringing the bell required shifting the box to one hand. Her mother opened the door, and looked at the girl in front of her. Though her face was wet from the rain, her red-stained eyes indicated the burden of the task she was about to conclude was more than her composure could handle.

"Welcome home, dear. You're not alone anymore." Nodoka replied with a warm smile, offering her child comfort.

Ranma's expression seemed to brighten a little, as the meaning of the words took hold. "Thanks, mom," The girl replied before bowing and entering the house. After putting the box on a table and dropping her pack, she embraced her mother. Both shed tears for all they had lost, and now gained.

***

After a few minutes, Nodoka let go of her child, then went to fetch a kettle of water she had kept hot on the stove in anticipation. The girl held up a hand.

"I'm a boy, mom. Please don't make me cry when I'm a boy." A couple of deep breaths and a bit of control banished the tears. "I'm ready."

Nodoka poured the water on the girl and could not suppress a gasp as the girl blurred, and grew into her son. The two embraced again, then let go. Ranma's face was ashen. "I'm happy to see you, but..." Ranma stopped. He was a GUY, he wasn't going to cry! He looked down. "I'm sorry Mom, you were expectin' a son to come home, not a weak ol' girl..."

"What are you talking about?" Perhaps Genma had failed in his promise; it would be up to her to repair the damage.

"Well Pop always said girls distracted men from the Art, but because of this curse, I'm a stupid girl a lot of the time."

"Ranma, have you been around girls much?"

"Heck, I haven't been around PEOPLE much, not t' mention girls. Though when I was in China, after Pop got killed..." He stopped for a few moments. "I did stay in a village where there were lots'a girls for a couple'a weeks."

Perhaps her child's curse could provide a way to repair the damage. Nodoka thought for a few moments, then took the kettle back to the kitchen, returning with a glass of water. She gave the glass of water to her son. "Ranma will you accept my training, while you live in this house?"

"Whatcha wanna do? Pop did some pretty crazy things t' train me..." Ranma looked at his mother with concern.

Nodoka gave her son a serious look. "Ranma, would you be willing to LEARN from your curse, to allow it to teach you girls AREN'T dumb?"

Ranma's smile vanished, to be replaced by a bit of fear, an emotion he hadn't shown since returning home. "Uh, Mom... I don't really see what I can learn from it. Besides, I've already learned I hate it..."

"Well, Ranma, suppose your SISTER were to go to school, starting in a week or two. Do you think she might be able to learn that girls aren't dumb? And maybe even accept being part girl?"

Ranma looked puzzled, for a moment. "You should know, Mom, I don't have a..." Panic replaced puzzlement. "I'm a guy, Mom, not some stupid, weak girl! I like bein' a guy!"



Nodoka took the glass of water and poured it over her child's head. "What about now, Ranma? What about when it rains, or you go for a swim, or the hot water heater breaks? What then?"

Ranma looked sheepishly at her mother. "Well, uhh, I guess I'd have t' be a girl for a while. When I was in China, I was a girl for a couple o'weeks..."

Nodoka smiled at her child. "You'll have to tell me about that some time." Her expression became serious as she continued. "Being like this is part of your life now. You need to accept it, and you can learn a great deal from it. I'm curious, are you stupid or weak right now, dear?"

Ranma hesitated for a few moments...

She looked thoughtful, though still concerned. "Not really. I sparred a bit in China, and I'm pretty strong as a girl, I'm a little weaker than when I'm a guy, but not by much. And I'm still smart as ever..."

"So, girls AREN'T stupid OR weak..."

Ranma flashed a bit of conceit. "But that's just ME, 'cause I'm really a guy. What about all the other girls?"

Nodoka was clearly getting upset with her uncooperative daughter, but kept her anger in check. Genma had certainly instilled arrogance in his child. "Ranma, do you think I'm weak or stupid?"

"Well, I ain't too sure, this crazy scheme of yours is nuts if you ask me."

"Well, you let your father train you for more than 10 years, please just give me a chance." The mother asked her child, her eyes pleading more eloquently than her words.

Ranma thought about all her mother had said... Maybe she should give her a chance at least. She looked down, "Okay, Mom."

Nodoka hesitantly embraced her neo-daughter, her feelings a strange combination of happiness and guilt, then let go. "So, Ranma, will you accept my training?"

"Yeah... but... I still wanna to be a boy... 'Cuz that's what I was born, Mom..."

"I know that. But there are a few things you obviously need to learn." She looked her child in the eyes. "You'll always be my son, but if you are to become a true man, then you'll need to learn that women aren't stupid or weak. I'd rather you try to get to know people before you label them. And... When you're a girl, I want you to be proud of what you are, inside and out, not embarrassed or extremely self-conscious. You are quite a beautiful young woman, you know."

"I'm not gonna date guys or nothin', Mom! That's goin' too far..."

Nodoka laughed. "Yes, that is going too far, Ranma. But if you find a girl you like..."

Ranma jumped in, raising her voice a little, and sarcasm level a lot. "I'm sure she's gonna be as excited t' go out with me as I'd be with a GUY!"



"Let me finish, dear! If you find a girl you like, maybe you can be a boy for her, away from school, so you can learn about that part of life too." Nodoka wondered what kind of girl would go along with this... A girl who truly loved Ranma would. He WAS part girl after all, she would have to accept the whole of him/her. Her confidence in her decision increased with this realization.

Ranma brightened a little. The tiny part of her that thought girls weren't dumb was actually happy.

The mother and daughter left to prepare for school.

***

Ranma had no idea what favors his mother called in or strings she had to pull in order to make her scheme work. He just knew he WASN'T a girl... except... never mind. His mother started him (her?) off with slacks and a blouse, purchased from a department store downtown. She wore her new outfit when her mother took her to Juuban High for registration and testing. Ranma... what was her 'girl' name? Kikuko, chrysanthemum child; wondered if her mother could have picked a dumber name... yes she could have. It actually sounded kind of nice when she didn't think too hard about what it meant.

It seemed her mother wanted her to be a girl in public, but... Mom DID have to work a few days a week, providing Ranma an opportunity to be a boy and do 'boy' things... They weren't any different that the things SHE did, but he was a boy when he did them. Katas became manly; Video games were more... manly. Everything he did was better when he was a guy... Except ice cream. He'd always passed it up, but it became one thing SHE liked... a lot. All those cute deserts just weren't a guy thing, but that wasn't really a good reason to be a girl, was it?

As each day passed, it became a little easier to be a girl. Then when it was almost okay, her mother had to wreck it all by taking her daughter to buy a Juuban High School uniform... it was hate at first sight.

Finally, two weeks after he'd come back home, 'Kikuko' got dressed in that uniform... The school had placed her and she had to start classes... today. When Pop had made (or was it allowed?) Ranma go to school, Mondays had always been the worst days of the week. This Monday was the worst day of Ranma's life... well; MAYBE one day in China was worse.

***

Saotome Kikuko looked down at her feet as she slowly walked to school, delaying the inevitable. She'd never worn shoes like these. Because they were new, they squeaked as she walked, telling the world 'there's a GIRL here!' The rest of view wasn't one she was used to either, yet, but she was trying to get used to it. A dark blue bow and collar, a white blouse and stockings, and a... skirt matching the collar, completed the announcement, if the people hadn't heard the shoes. She walked deliberately, fighting with each step the urge to run home and tell her mother what she thought of her dumb plan.

She looked up and noticed she was approaching the school building, when an automatic sprinkler system doused her with water. That was the third time on the way to school today, and it was going to be rainy again tomorrow. At least she didn't have to worry about her curse like this. Smiling for the first time today, Kikuko approached the gate, then stopped. This was it, the last chance to escape... As she turned to run home the bell rang, begging her to accept her mother's training and love. The girl hurried to class. She wouldn't disappoint her mother; she was all Kikuko had left...

***

In her first class the teacher introduced her, then she had to write her name on the board. Sensei directed her to an empty seat. There was a boy to right side, a tall girl with brown hair to the left, and another girl, a blonde with a goofy hairdo, in front of her. Kikuko tried to immerse herself in studies, and did a fairly good job through several classes. As lunch approached, she found it harder and harder to suppress the feeling of sadness. Why did her pop have to go to Jusenkyo? Why did her mother have to do this to her? Why...

"Miss Saotome!"

Kikuko came back to the schoolroom, and looked up at the teacher, "Yes?" She replied in a small voice, kicking herself for letting her internal struggles become so obvious.

Sensei was stern, but showed a little compassion for the wayward student. "I know this is your first day, but PLEASE pay attention!"

Kikuko dismissed her other thoughts and concentrated on her studies, which actually helped take her mind off of her problems.

The tall girl looked over at her cute new classmate. Kikuko was so distracted, even the teacher noticed. The girl was obviously concerned about the strange new school, but that wasn't all. She probably would love to have someone to talk to at lunch. Kikuko's classmate resolved to do just that, and make her feel a little better.

***

It seemed every boy in the school wanted to talk to Kikuko at lunch. Each of them thought he was something special, but they were all jerks as far as she was concerned. All they saw was... a beautiful girl. At least Ranma had the sense to stay away from... girls. She wished that someone might see her as a person, not as a...

"Excuse me, Kikuko-chan? I was wondering... what are your three sizes?" The small knot of boys around Kikuko strained to hear what she would say.

That request was the straw that broke the camel's back. Her battle aura began to build. She knew those numbers, after all the clothing purchases she and her mother had made, but it was NONE of his business! She turned angrily toward the boy, both hands balled into fists. "What... Gives... You... The... Right... To... Ask... That!" This LOWLIFE was going to regret the day he was...

In an instant, a larger girl jumped between Kikuko and her target, causing her to hold up on her blow. Saotome Kikuko did NOT hit girls...

The girl glared at the boys, probably saving them a broken bone or two. "Lay off her, you jerks! She just got here, give her a chance to eat... please?"

The boy who had asked her quickly backed off, as did the small crowd that had formed around Kikuko. She smiled at the other girl, who she recognized as her brown-haired classmate. "Thanks, you saved that guy a world'a pain..."

The tall girl smiled. "Let's eat lunch over there," she said, pointing to small, isolated, table.

"Sure!" Kikuko replied with a returned smile. "They seem t' have a healthy respect for ya, Miss..."

"Kino Makoto. A few broken noses will do wonders for your ability to clear jerks off a friend... Or someone I hope is..." Her face spoke of that very hope.

"You sure seem t' be a good friend t' have! I could'a handled myself back there, though!"

Having seen her strong battle aura, Makoto knew she was a martial artist. "Looking at you, I can see why! Are you a martial artist, too?"

"You practice the Art?" Kikuko asked her new friend. She couldn't believe her luck...

Makoto couldn't believe hers either. "Yeah, but I'd like to train with someone... interested?"

"Sure!" Kikuko replied with a smile.

"How long have you been training?"

"Well, from when I was five t' 'bout a month and a half ago, I trained every day, almost all day. The Art was my life, you might say."

"What happened a month and a half ago?"

"My pop got killed during a training exercise. Very tragic story."

"So that's why you're sad, Kikuko-chan, I thought I sensed you had lost someone close to you. Both my folks are dead, so I'm fairly sensitive about stuff like that."

"Pop ain't all I lost..." Kikuko's voice trailed off, sadness returning to her face.

"What else did you lose?"

How to tell her without telling her? "My pop raised me as a boy, but my mom thinks it's time for me t' be a girl."

Makoto smiled. "So that's why you talk a little funny. You REALLY should watch what you say, though. Try to be a little more formal and polite when you speak, you'll make a lot more friends that way!"

"Thanks for the tips." Kikuko replied, struggling to smile for her new friend. After a bit of thought, she didn't have to struggle.

Makoto looked thoughtful, "Kikuko-chan?"

"Yeah?"

"Why did your father raise you as a boy anyway?"

Kikuko WISHED the bell would ring, but it didn't. "Well, uh, my pop always told me girls were weak and stupid, so he thought it would be better if I grew up as a boy."

"Do you still think girls are weak and stupid?" Makoto asked, pain evident in her voice.

"I ain't too sure, but I'm startin' t' change my mind... a little."

Makoto smiled. "That's great! With a little more work, maybe you can become the daughter your mom dreamed of!"

"Uh, yeah, Makoto... uh chan That would be... great." Kikuko said, pain and fear evident in her voice. She HOPED that wasn't the goal of her mother's training...

The bell (finally) rang.

"Let's talk again after school." Makoto said as they hurried to class.

"Okay!" A month ago, he would never have imagined having a girl for a friend. After 'her' father's death, a girl had befriended her in Joketsuzoku. Today, she just might have a second such friend. Kikuko followed Makoto back to class with a smile. Could Makoto really be a friend? She hoped so...

***

The last class of the day used to be his favorite, P.E. Kikuko felt funny just walking into the locker room. She went to her assigned locker, opened it, put her new gym clothes in, then stared into the locker, hoping its depths would tell her SOMETHING, or that the class would be over and she could go home.

The busy sounds of the locker room died down to the sound of two feet walking up to her. Kikuko looked up from the fascinating locker to see her new friend Makoto, suited up for P.E.

"What's wrong?" But then she thought about what her friend had told her. "Don't worry Kikuko-chan. It's only me here now. You can change... I won't look." Makoto averted her eyes, and Kikuko used all her reflexes and abilities to change in seconds.

"Thanks Mako-chan. Er, you don't mind if I call you 'Mako-chan,' right?" Kikuko looked at her with a smile.

Makoto reflected her smile "No problem, all my friends do! Let's get to class."

Kikuko wondered whether Makoto would still be a friend if she really knew her secret, not her cover story...

***

Out on the athletic field, the other girls were doing exercises. The teacher walked over to Makoto and Kikuko. "Kino, you're doing 4 laps after class." She turned to Kikuko "You must be the new student, Saotome. Maybe a few laps with your friend Miss Kino will help you be more punctual in the future."

"Yes!" The two girls quickly responded, accepting their punishment. Makoto helped Kikuko perform the standard calisthenics. With a faster pace, the two girls finished at the same time as the rest of the class.

"Well done, Kino and Saotome." She walked to the head of the class. "Today we'll work on some basic soccer skills. Let's break up into two groups..."

Her new classmate's athletic prowess amazed Makoto. It seemed that all that was necessary for Kikuko to learn a skill was to watch it demonstrated, and she would perfect it almost immediately. It was actually kind of creepy...

By the end of the class, even the instructor was impressed. She walked over to Kikuko. "Miss Saotome, have you ever considered playing on our school's soccer team?"

Kikuko flushed bright red. "No thanks. I really don't wanna do any sports."

"Well if you ever change your mind, we'd love to have you." She turned to the rest of the class. "That's it for today." She turned to where the Kino and Saotome girls were standing and noticed they had already started their laps. I WAS going to tell them they didn't have to run, because they both did so well in class. The exercise will be good for them, however. She watched the two runners for a while then went in.

By the time Makoto and Kikuko returned to the locker room, it was empty.

***

Kikuko was hot and sweaty. She really needed a relaxing shower. Running on autopilot, she tossed her P.E. outfit in the locker and went to the showers. Nothing beat a nice hot shower after a workout like that. As she turned the handle and felt the water hit her, she froze, shouted "No!" and... changed.

Concerned by her friend's shout, Makoto turned and saw what happened when the water hit her friend. Surprise became shock then horror, as Kikuko became something else. The girl's entire body seemed to flow as it stretched and grew for a few seconds, leaving what LOOKED like a black-haired BOY where Kikuko had been.

"What was I thinkin'?" Ranma asked himself as he turned off hot water. He waited an eternity for the temperature to drop to cold, which left Kikuko shivering. The redhead turned to Makoto, the girl who had been her friend... The taller girl just... stared... in openmouthed shock. Kikuko flushed for a moment, then hurriedly wrapped a towel around herself. A spark of life returned to Makoto's face... She began to stare at Kikuko's forehead.

"Whatcha lookin' at, Mako-chan?" She choked out, fighting back tears.

A strange variation of the symbol of Jupiter had appeared on the girl's forehead. An ellipse surrounded the planetary symbol, and had a small circle on it. The entire image was yellow... As she continued to stare, the image faded.

Makoto's mind began to work again. She wondered just what was going on. Maybe Ami or one of the cats might know what to make of the symbol, but what about 'Kikuko'?

"I... I... can explain everything, Makoto-chan. How 'bout if you stop by my house t'nite... please?" Kikuko tried to plead with her eyes, presenting an almost comical expression to her friend.

Makoto forced a smile onto her face. Kikuko really did need to know more about being a girl, if that really was her name. She WAS a girl, Makoto didn't have any doubt. What horrible tragedy had befallen her? Words would only come out in spurts for Makoto. "Kikuko... I'd like to hear all you know... about what I just saw..."

Despite her embarrassment, Kikuko dried herself off and dressed to go home. She noted with sadness that Makoto wouldn't even speak to her again. Kikuko left the locker room, the sound of footsteps the only indication Makoto followed.

***

The two girls had nothing to say to each other on the way to Kikuko's, so they walked in silence, Makoto following the smaller girl.

Nodoka saw two girls walking up to her door. Her daughter looked like she was almost ready to cry and the girl behind her had a blank expression. Nodoka opened the door. "So, how was your day at school Kikuko-chan?" She smiled at Makoto. "You can come in too, Miss..."

A dead expression greeted the smile. "Kino Makoto." The girl bowed and followed Mrs. Saotome into the house.

***

"Why don't you two sit on the couch, while I work on supper?" Nodoka said and returned to the kitchen.

Makoto was so nervous she could only stare at the ground. Suddenly, she thought of a way to escape Kikuko... "Mrs. Saotome?"

"Yes?"

Makoto looked hopefully for deliverance from the kitchen. "Do you need any help with cooking?"

Nodoka realized Kikuko needed Makoto much more than she herself did right now. "Thank you, but I'll only be a few more minutes. I'm sure the two of you would rather stay here and talk."



Kikuko turned to her estranged friend, no longer able to keep the tears in check. "Makoto-chan, will you listen t' my story, PLEASE?" This had been one of her worst fears since her time in Joketsuzoku, the revelation of her curse driving away a friend.

Makoto looked over at the girl. When she noticed a horrible combination of fear, anxiety, and sadness in Kikuko's face, her heart went out to her new friend. Makoto was sure Kikuko would satisfy all her questions, now was a good time to start. "Kikuko-chan..."

"Yeah?"

"Tell me your story."

"Sure, Makoto-chan."

Makoto didn't have to struggle for a smile, now... "Please don't forget, my friends call me Mako-chan."

"Sorry, I wasn't sure after what happened in the locker room." Her anxiety had been replaced by a tentative little smile. "Well, Mako-chan, you mighta guessed I wasn't always a girl..."

By the time Kikuko's - or was it Ranma's? - narrative got to the Amazon Village... Nodoka had returned. "Let's eat."

Kikuko looked her mother in the eye, "Could I change for supper? Makoto KNOWS."

Nodoka looked from Makoto to Kikuko and back again. Since Makoto already knew her child's secret... "Yes, child. You may."

"Thanks, mom." Kikuko replied with a bow.

Nodoka turned to Makoto. "This will probably take a few minutes, let me turn down the stove."

***

Makoto couldn't believe the handsome, black-haired boy was Kikuko. She looked at him for a while, trying to see her friend in him, finally noticing how similar their faces were, especially his eyes, they were the same as Kikuko's. They looked much larger on her smaller face, though.

"Trying to see if there's a bit of Kikuko in me, Mako-chan?" Ranma asked with a grin.

"Yeah," Makoto replied, flushing slightly.

"Well, I think Ranma has the same eyes in either form." Nodoka added.

"You're right, Mrs. Saotome." She turned to Ranma. "Your eyes are identical, and your faces are quite similar, except hers is quite a bit smaller," she replied, suppressing a new flush.

"Don't forget, it ain't 'hers', that face is mine, when I'm a girl. Anyway, back t' China..."

"So, Mom decided that I should go to school as a girl, so I could learn that they aren't dumb, and I can't believe how much I already learned on my first day. She even pointed out to me that when it rains, I need t' swim, or anytime I get cold water dumped on me, I'll jus' become a girl anyway. This way, I don't gotta to worry 'bout my curse." He couldn't hide a bit of dejection as he finished speaking.

"Except in the locker room..." Makoto added, her new smile gone for a moment.

Ranma flushed bright red. "Yeah, Makoto, I hope that won't ever happen again."

"Don't worry, I'll help make sure it never does." She offered Ranma her hand.

Ranma shook his... friend's hand and smiled. Makoto had a strong grip... she certainly wasn't weak or stupid. Ranma smiled, flushing slightly, finally letting go.

Makoto pasted a smile on her face... She still wasn't sure about Kikuko or Ranma. Well, at least she was handsome, when she was a boy.

"So, Ranma, how was school?" Nodoka asked.

Ranma told his mother about all that happened: thoughts of flight at the gate, the jerks at lunch, a new friend, and finally what happened in the locker room.

Makoto looked puzzled. "Is that ALL you know about that happened in the locker room?" she asked Ranma. "You don't know anything about..." Makoto looked at Ranma for a moment, then swallowed the words she wanted to tell him.

"What Mako-chan?"

"I'll tell you later. I need to meet with some friends, to discuss exactly what I saw in the locker room."

"Can you tell me a little more?"

"No, sorry. But I will later, I promise!"

"*Please* don't tell 'em 'bout my... curse."

"Don't worry about your secret, it's safe with me!"

Somehow, Ranma knew Makoto's word was good. "Thanks!"

Nodoka wanted to find out more about this girl, so she steered the conversation that direction. "How did you meet my daughter, Makoto-chan?"

"We sit next to each other in class. When Kikuko-chan came to school, I noticed she was sad about something, and I had a good idea what it was." Makoto looked down.

Nodoka thought for a moment. Makoto hadn't called home to let her parents know she was here, and she seemed to sense Kikuko's loss... "You haven't lost a parent, have you?"



"Both my parents are dead, Mrs. Saotome. I live by myself."

Nodoka's expression changed to one of motherly concern "If you need a mother for anything, let me know."

"Thanks, I'll keep that in mind, but right now I'm fine by myself."

"You do all the housework and cooking by yourself?"

"Yeah. In fact, maybe you and Kikuko would like to try some of MY cooking. Yours is really good, Mrs. Saotome."

"Thank you, you're very kind."

Makoto suddenly remembered what else she had to do tonight. "I'm sorry, but I really need to go home."

Nodoka looked at Ranma. "I'm sure Kikuko would walk home with you if you'd like..."

"Sure, Mrs. Saotome!" She turned to look at Ranma. "Er... Kikuko-chan?"

"It'd be my pleasure, Mako-chan!" Ranma went to the sink and filled a water glass, emptying it over his head.

Makoto couldn't suppress a gasp as she saw the change for the third time today.

"OK, Mako-chan, you lead!" Her friend enthused after tightening her belt, then looked at her chest and seemed to notice something. "'Scuse me!" She hurried up to her room, returning a minute later.

"What was that for?" Makoto asked, though a glance at her friend told her what she had done.

"Well, I need a bit more clothing when I'm a girl..." She said, with a bit of embarrassment.

"I'm pleased you remembered, Kikuko-chan!" Her mother replied with a proud smile.

The two girls left, Nodoka glad her son's training was going so well.

***

Finally, the two friends made it to Makoto's apartment.

Makoto looked a bit apologetic. "I'd ask you in, but I'm really busy tonight."

Kikuko returned her smile. "No problem, Mako-chan. I really liked spendin' some time with ya. Thanks for bein' a friend!"

Makoto smiled at her new friend. "You're welcome! If I find anything out tonight, I'm sure I'll tell you tomorrow. Bye Kikuko-chan."

"Bye, Mako-chan." Kikuko turned and hurried down the stairs. It had been a frightening, exciting, AND wonderful day. Tomorrow would be more mundane, but she would always remember her first day, and first friend, at Juuban High School.

Makoto shut her door. She felt so many conflicting emotions about Kikuko/Ranma, and then there was the symbol that had appeared on her forehead... What was her connection with Jupiter anyway? She had to make a few calls to arrange a meeting get to the bottom of that question...

***

Makoto had insisted on an emergency meeting of the inner Senshi to discuss what she had seen. The group of five teens and their 'pets' had gathered at the fire shrine.

"So what's this all about? Why'd you call a meeting?" Usagi asked.

"Well, you know that new girl at school?"

"Yeah, I also saw you stopping her from getting herself into trouble. She looks a little small to be much of a threat to a guy!" Minako answered, grinning.

Makoto almost glared at her friend. "I know I wouldn't want to have to fight HER. Do any of you have a sheet of paper and a pencil?"

"Of course, I never know when I'll need to record something!" Ami replied, offering a pad of paper and pencil to her classmate.

Makoto drew the symbol she had seen displayed on Ranma's forehead, then held it up. "Do any of you know what this might be? The whole thing was yellow."

Ami looked at it carefully. "Well, the ellipse might describe the orbit of one of Jupiter's moons. The circle would be the moon and the color a clue to what it is. Where did you see this symbol, Makoto?"

"On Kikuko's forehead."

"Kikuko? Oh, the new girl at school..." Usagi added. She looked at Luna. "Do you remember anything about Senshi representing moons?"

Luna big-sweated at Usagi's question.

"Except Earth's!" Usagi added quickly.

"No, I don't, though certainly there are several large moons which could provide incredible power."

Ami had been thinking about the Jovian moons whose color might be yellow. She had seen the pictures of the moons from space, and the four largest were the size of a small planet, like Mercury. What were they? Ganymede and Callisto were gray balls of ice and rock, each larger than Mercury. Europa had rust-colored streaks to distinguish it. Io was yellowish-colored, though it did have red volcanoes and lava flows, but was that really relevant? "I'm not sure. I know our colors don't usually match our planets..."

"Except Mars!" Rei chimed in.

"Exceptions do not prove the rule! If color IS important, it might be Io. It sometimes seems to have a yellowish color, when you look at it from a distance..."

"So, what do you think we should do?" Makoto asked.

Luna answered the tall girl. "Well, since I don't recall Senshi of these moons in the past, perhaps a new group is being called..." Her voice became serious. "This has never happened before... Times ahead must be dark indeed." Her voice became more upbeat. "A good night's sleep might provide some answers. We should meet again tomorrow, after school. Bring your friend, Mako-chan! I'd like to speak with her."

With that, the group broke up. Makoto wondered if Kikuko/Ranma was a Senshi after all, and if she was, would she even consider assuming the mantle of one?

***

Ranma had a long day today, but if finally was over. He took off his pants and shirt, wearing just his boxers and a tank top to bed. Soon he was asleep.

Nodoka looked in on her child a little later. Her son looked restless as he slept. She quietly closed his door and went to bed.

***

Makoto finished some homework and got ready for bed. As she lay in bed, she thought about Kikuko again, then drifted to sleep.

With a start, Makoto realized she wasn't alone. A gigantic bearded man dressed as an ancient king sat on a throne before her. Around his neck was a golden chain holding a medallion decorated with the symbol of Jupiter. Makoto, clad as Sailor Jupiter, found her voice. "Jupiter?"

"Yes, my Princess, that is one of my names."

"Why do you speak to me? You never have before!"

"A dark time is approaching. The spirits of my companion worlds wish to summon Senshi to aid in the struggle."

"The moons?"

"Yes, my four large moons, as well as Saturn's and Neptune's largest. You must help the new Senshi of my moons, Makoto. When each manifests my mark, and her moon's, present her with a henshin pen appropriate to her patron world."

Four henshin pens appeared before Sailor Jupiter, one yellow with a sphere imbedded in a band around the symbol for Jupiter.

That must be Kikuko's Makoto thought.

There were three similar henshin pens, colored green, orange, and magenta.

Remembering what Ami had said, Makoto spoke. "Is Ra-- er, Kikuko the Senshi of one of your moons?"

"Yes, Io. Her road is an especially difficult one."

"Why did you chose her?"

"I did not, Io did. Io controls such great power that a strong martial artist is required to harness her chaotic energies. As you know, Kikuko was born a boy named Ranma. You must help HER accept her new role, but not forget what HE was, and will be."

"What of the other three?"

"You will find them soon enough. Good luck, Princess Jupiter. Ranma will visit you soon."

The image of Jupiter faded as Makoto woke up.

***

Ranma's dreams were interrupted by the appearance of a beautiful young woman, dressed in some sort of ancient garment, perhaps it was a toga. He had never seen her, so he had to ask, "Who are you?"

"My name is Io, I have chosen you as my avatar."

Ranma was shocked as his dream-self shifted to his female form. Her clothing was even more surprising, and unsettling. She was wearing a GIRL'S uniform with a really short, green, skirt, a really big Yellow bow with an emerald circlet in the center, long white gloves trimmed in green, and her slippers had become a pair of green boots. She was lucky she couldn't see the tiara, choker, and earrings that completed her outfit, though she knew she wore them. Ranma had a one-word question; "Why?"

"This is how the chosen Senshi of the heavenly bodies dress, Ranma. You are an athlete; often, human females wear such attire in athletic competitions. Consider gymnastics and figure skating, for example."

"But I'm a martial artist, and a guy! This is embarrassing! Even my school uniform has a longer skirt that this! And the rest of this stuff..."

"Like all Sailor Senshi, in this form, a disguise field will prevent any from recognizing you."

"Well, that makes it a LITTLE better, I guess..."

"Besides, you AREN'T a guy right now, are you? And you weren't one earlier today, were you?"

"What about hot water? I've already had one really bad experience with that!"

"Don't worry about hot water when you're in this form, Ranma. The henshin pen's magic is stronger than your curse. In fact, you can change from boy to Sailor Io by raising your henshin pen and saying..."

"Io Lumina Power, Make up!" Ranma finished. Where did that come from... Make

Up??? "But even if I look like this, I'm still a guy! This body ain't mine, it's just part of this rotten curse I have!"

"Do you still think it's rotten, even after all that happened today?"

"Actually, BECAUSE of what happened today. When those boys..." She spat, then looked up. "Because of what my mom made me do today, I might never have a friend who's a guy. I haven't had many friends, but they've all been boys."

"Maybe that's part of the problem, part of what your mom wants you to understand. You really need to talk to her after our chat... Please consider serving as my Senshi, Ranma, The world needs you. Or are you going to finally admit there's a fight which only GIRLS can win?"

Ranma scowled at Io. "You really fight dirty, doncha? I ain't gonna let innocent people get hurt, but did you ever stop t' think that I'm innocent too? I didn't ask to be a girl, it just kinda happened." She looked down at the big yellow bow on her chest, then up at her tormentor. "What if I start t' LIKE this? What if I already have? When I think of the guys at school, I think of jerks. It'd be a LOT easier for me to live as a girl all the time, you know. There ain't much hot water out in the world, but there's LOTS a cold. That's why my mom is training me as a girl, but my pop raised me t' be a man, an' if I become a girl, what'll be left a him but some ashes in a box? I know he was a little rough sometimes, but he was proud of his son. Did you ever think about that?" Ranma didn't notice the tears coursing down her dream-face.

"I never really looked at it like that."

"Well, maybe you should! Besides, today I found out there's at least one girl who actually cares about me as a boy and a girl. She even understands how crummy I feel right now. What would she think if she saw me like this?"

"In general, I see your point, but if you're talking about Makoto, she'd probably be happy, because she's Sailor Jupiter. I'm sure she'll help you accept your new role as my Senshi, if YOU'RE up to it."

Ranma's head started to spin. She tried to sit down, ending up seated on the ground with a loud thud. Looking up at Io, her gaze narrowed, then her anger exploded, flames playing across her body. "So, you put her up to that, didn't ya? I actually fell for her act. I guess Pop was right about girls after all!"

She raised her two arms, then clasped her hands, aiming at Io's face. She would make her pay for her deception. Words came into her mind, and she spoke them. "Tempest Flare!" a river of flame shot out from her outstretched arms, passing harmlessly through the body of its mistress.

Io smiled at her new Senshi. "Ranma, Jupiter only found out about your selection tonight. She didn't know before, honestly. And she really does want to help you! She's had so much sorrow in her life... You could help her too, you know! And one final thing, Ranma; if you become my Senshi, some good will come out of your father's death. As it stands now, it's a terrible waste of his life, not to mention the horrible impact on yours." Io looked at her again, her shimmering eyes pleading for help. "Please allow me to help your curse become something else."

Ranma looked at Io's face and KNEW she was telling the truth. Perhaps with Makoto's help she could do this. She looked down at her very feminine attire, then up at Io. "OK, I'll do it."

The woman smiled at him. "Thank you, Ranma. "Sailor Jupiter has your henshin pen, and will give it to you."

Io faded from his vision, and Ranma woke up. His pillow was wet, it seemed some of the tears had been real. After thinking about all he'd seen, he dismissed the crazy nightmare and tried to sleep, but couldn't. 'Io' was right about one thing, he did need to talk to his mother. He got out of bed and went to his door, then got an idea. He opened his closet and took out the robe and pale green pajamas his mother had bought for him, her actually. The pajamas wouldn't fit him now, of course, but...

***

Nodoka heard a knock on her door. It was 4:00 in the morning, who could be? It must be her child; she was a mother again after all. Nodoka smiled. "Come in, Ranma."

Ranma had used some cold water to take his alternate form before she went to visit her mother. She opened the door.

"Good morning... What's wrong, dear?" she noticed her child's hair was disheveled, and she had obviously been crying.

"We need to talk, Mom."

"Yes?"

"You heard about what happened at school today, Mom, and it got me thinking, well more like it gave me nightmares..."

"Go on."

"When I was growin up, all my friends were boys, but now I think boys are jerks. So, I'll have some friends that are girls... What if the girls find out that I've been foolin' 'em? Already one girl knows, what if they all do, huh? Can you IMAGINE what they'd do to me if they found out I was a guy?"

Nodoka looked concerned, but only for a moment. "KIKUKO when you go to school, you are a girl, aren't you?"

"Well, at least I look like one..."

"That's not really true, is it? You are a girl right now, aren't you? There are some differences which I'm sure you've noticed."

The girl turned bright red. "You're right."

"And to get you enrolled in school, we had to do some 'creative' bookwork, didn't we? Legally, you're a girl that was born the same day as your 'brother', aren't you?"

"Yeah, but..."

"But what? You have a curse which you have to live with, Kikuko, BUT because cold water is more common than hot, you won't have to deal with it NEARLY as often as Ranma does. If you change, just tell the girls the truth, that you are cursed to become a boy when hit with hot water... It's completely true, you know."

"But they'll think I'm a freak..."

"Maybe some will, but the rest won't. Makoto doesn't, and she knows the whole story."

"What if I LIKE being a girl, what if I BECOME a girl? It is easier to stay one, you know." She felt tears coming on, and realized she didn't need to hold them back. She was a girl, after all.

"I watched you and Makoto last night, and I don't think you have to worry about becoming completely a girl."

Ranma thought about Makoto and flushed again.

"But if you like yourself when you're a girl and a boy, you'll be a lot happier. I was wondering, Ranma do you still think girls are weak or stupid?"

"Well, I ain't too sure right now..."

"But a couple of days ago, you were SURE they were."

The girl flashed a little smile. "You're right Mom, thanks." She reached out for her mother "I love you, Mom."

"I love you too, Ranma."

After a few moments, Ranma let go. "Thanks for remembering my name, Mom! And thanks for being there for me." Her expression darkened. "Pop prob'ly woulda told me t' go back t' sleep!" She got up and left the room.

Nodoka watched her... child leave, more convinced than ever she was doing the right thing.

***

Ranma was finally able to get some sleep, for an hour, then the alarm went off. It was time to train.

***

Makoto walked to Ranma's wearing one of her spare P.E. outfits, her uniform carried in a backpack. Reaching the gate, she noticed a familiar redhead waiting expectantly. "Good morning!" Makoto called out to her friend.

"Mornin', Makoto! Wanna work out?" Kikuko hurried down the path and opened the gate.

Makoto laughed, "Silly, that's why I'm here."

"So, you know any kata you wanna show off?"

Makoto immediately began a kata, her experience evident to her new mentor. "You're actually good!" Kikuko commented, then began her own, much more complicated kata, gracefully combining a rapid series of punches, kicks and spins. It felt good to practice the Art this morning, and to share it with someone else.

Makoto finished before Kikuko, and watched her friend in amazement. Her style was much different from what Makoto knew, or had ever seen. She had to ask Kikuko about what school she practiced.

When the redhead had finished up, Makoto clapped in appreciation.

Kikuko smiled with confidence bordering on arrogance. "Care to spar?"

"Sure... What school do you practice, Kikuko?"

"The 'Anything Goes' School. Only the Saotome and Tendou families practice it. Let's see whatcha got..."



Makoto attacked with power, and tried to tag Kikuko, but her friend avoided every punch. Finally, Makoto tried a series of feints and landed a solid kick. Kikuko's expression of surprise at the successful attack quickly changed to a grin.

"Good, that was quite a string of moves you put together, Mako-chan, my turn! Kikuko went after Makoto, but was clearly pulling her punches, and any that made contact were more like taps rather than blows. Kikuko stopped her attack after a bit and bowed with a smile. "Good, I haven't had this much..." Her expression quickly darkened, but only for a moment. "Now, let's see what we can do with your form, Makoto, didja ever think about..."

It was just after seven when the girls finally broke. "Why don't you get cleaned up, Makoto, I'll be along in a bit."

"Thanks." Makoto hurried in and was quickly cleaned and dressed in her uniform. Just a bit later, and Kikuko was dressed in hers. Both girls grabbed a quick breakfast, thanked Kikuko's mother, and ran out the door. Nodoka smiled in their wake. She was happy her son had found such a nice girl, and so quickly. She hoped today would be less eventful.

***

On the way to school, Makoto pulled out Io's yellow Henshin pen, offering it to Kikuko.

The other girl stopped for a moment, the dream had been real. "Makoto? Is that for me?"

"Of course, Kikuko. Did you have any strange dreams last night?"

"Yeah, I'll say! We can talk about 'em later. Thanks!" She subconsciously sought out a hyper spatial pocket and stored her gift.

***

When she finally got to school, Kikuko noticed the boys stayed away from her, which she realized was very healthy for them. Quite a few did give her the once-over however, and talk amongst themselves. She used her self-control to keep from putting on a show like yesterday's. I'm glad Mako-chan stepped in and prevented me from fighting, somebody might have gotten hurt at lunch yesterday... And it wouldn't have been me...

At lunch it seemed that the boys had been cowed by Makoto's protection of her cute friend, so Kikuko wasn't asked any personal questions today. The two girls looked forward to sharing a peaceful meal.

As she finished up her lunch, Kikuko noticed a shadow cast over her. She turned to see a girl with blue hair behind her. The girl smiled and introduced her self. "Hello, I'm Mizuno Ami. You must be Saotome Kikuko. Mako-chan has told us a lot about you."

Kikuko GLARED at Makoto, letting her eyes speak for her. She turned to Ami. "You're right, pleased t' meet you, Ami-chan." Her face showed no pleasure in the meeting, however. Her gaze returned to her betrayer.

Makoto discretely shook her head no and whispered, "I didn't tell her that!"

"What?" Ami asked.

"Nothing!" Kikuko quickly responded, her stern look telling Ami there would be NO discussion.

Ami smiled at Kikuko, providing a sharp contrast to the latter's expression. "I just wanted to tell you two that some mutual friends of Makoto and myself will be getting together after school. We'd really like to meet you, Kikuko-chan."

Kikuko looked at Makoto, who gave her a tiny smile and a wink. The redhead flushed slightly, her expression softening to a smile. She turned to face the blue-haired girl. "I'm sorry 'bout how I acted earlier. It'll be great t' visit with your friends, Ami. Any friend a Mako-chan's a friend a mine!"

"Good, we'll be expecting you." Her gaze shifted to Makoto; "we'll be at Rei's"

"Of course! Thanks, Ami-chan." Makoto replied to her friend.

"Nice to finally meet you, Kikuko-chan!" With a smile and a parting wave, she left.

Kikuko watched Ami leave, her eyes following the girl to a table with two blondes, one she recognized as the girl who sat in front of her. Ami spoke to the other two for a few moments, then concentrated on a textbook.

Kikuko gave Makoto as apologetic a look as she could. "Sorry, Mako-chan I shoulda trusted you."

Makoto looked sternly at her friend. "Yes, you should have," she stiffly intoned. "But its okay, Kiku-chan, this time! You have a lot to deal with right now." Her expression melted into a smile.

Kikuko smiled a little and Makoto giggled. The two girls engaged in small talk until the bell rang.

***

In the locker room, Kikuko felt a lot better with Makoto changing next to her. After class, her friend made sure the water was cold for Kikuko. The cold water was less of a shock then it was the day before; it was actually a bit refreshing before it became JUST cold.

***

Before they left for Makoto's friend Rei's, Kikuko insisted on stopping by her home. While Makoto waited downstairs, she ran upstairs and returned wearing a pair of black pants and a red silk shirt, both of which were clearly too big for her. Nodoka blocked the door as the two girls tried to leave.

"Where are you going dressed like THAT young lady?" Nodoka asked sternly.

"Makoto and I are gonna visit some friends a hers. Please, trust me Mom." Kikuko tried hard to look earnest.

Nodoka looked thoughtful for a few moments. "I trust you, Kiku-chan. Have a good time with your friends."

Kikuko hugged her mother. "Thanks, Mom!"

"Bye, Mrs. Saotome!" Makoto said as they left.

Nodoka smiled as she watched the two girls run down the street to catch a bus. She did trust Ranma and Makoto, and if 'Kikuko' was accepted by Makoto's friends, that was a BIG plus. It also looked like Ranma might be seeking acceptance. It seemed that her son didn't want to hide his curse from friends...

***

They DID catch the bus. Kikuko kept to herself on the bus, figuring if the meeting they were going to had anything to do with her dream, Makoto wouldn't want to talk about it. After a few minutes, Makoto told her their stop was coming up, and the two girls got off the bus. Them they walked a short distance back to a long flight of steps, which led to the shrine.



***

When the two friends reached the shrine, Kikuko saw several girls from her school, one she'd never seen before, and two "CATS!" Kikuko took off running, Makoto in pursuit. After a few minutes running, Kikuko slowed down and stopped, shaken and shaking.

Makoto caught up to her, out of breath. "What... happened... Kiku-chan?"

"I don't wanna say, just keep 'em AWAY, please!"

"It must be terrible to have a phobia like that, Kiku-chan." Makoto said, trying to comfort her friend. What about Artemis and Luna?

A horrible wheezing noise announced Usagi's arrival, Luna following close behind.

Fortunately, Makoto saw the cat before Kikuko. "Kiku-chan, don't turn around."

Kikuko had a very bad feeling about this...

"Usagi, Kiku-chan's afraid of cats, could you and Minako send your pets home?"

"Sure, I'll go back and tell her." Usagi scooped up Luna and walked back toward the shrine. How can a SAILOR SENSHI be afraid of cats? I never expected this to happen! Maybe she isn't one...

After Kikuko had calmed down, the two girls headed back to the shrine.

***

With the return of the wayward martial artists, and the cats gone for now, the humans introduced themselves. Kikuko recognized two of them: Minako, with long blonde hair and Usagi, blonde with two long ponytails. She had never seen Rei, with long reddish-black hair, who lived at the shrine and went to another school.

Kikuko spoke first, after the introductions. "Makoto and I thought we'd go on a quick training run, sorry..." She was pleased to get a few snickers from her audience. "Actually, I'm a little scared a cats." She looked at Usagi. "I'm sure sorry 'bout that."

"Don't worry, Kikuko-chan, the cats are gone now. How did you become so frightened of them?" Usagi asked, concerned the advisors they relied on wouldn't be able to help Kikuko.

Kikuko looked down. "I really don't wanna talk about it, sorry."

"Mako-chan said she saw something unusual on your forehead yesterday, could you tell us about it?"

Kikuko shot Makoto a concerned look, which was answered with an affirmative nod. "Kiku-chan, it's alright to tell them about your dream."

Kikuko told the other girls everything that had happened... except as it related to Ranma.

"So, did you get a henshin pen like the one in your dream?" Usagi asked with a hopeful expression.

"Yeah, Mako-chan gave it to me." Kikuko recalled her henshin pen, and proudly showed it to Usagi and the other girls.

Though Makoto had already seen it, the other four girls each got a good look at the yellow henshin pen with its tiny sphere, Io.

Ami spoke first, "So are you the Senshi of Io?"

Kikuko looked a little sheepish. "I guess." Her expression became much more serious. "Rei?"

"Yes, Kikuko-chan?" The young priestess asked, happy to play the gracious hostess.

"Could you please bring a cup of hot water, and cold? There's somethin' I've got t' show all of you..." Kikuko asked, looking a little concerned.

"Of course, uh... I'll fetch some." Rei wondered why Kikuko would make such a strange request, but was glad to comply.



"I'm proud of you, Kiku-chan," Makoto whispered to her friend.

"Thanks, Mako-chan," Kikuko whispered back. She easily found reassurance in her friend's eyes.

A few minutes later, Rei returned with the two cups of water. Kikuko took the cup of hot water. "If I'm gonna be workin' with you, there's somethin' 'bout me you guys should know."

Kikuko gave them a quick rundown of her life as Ranma, his curse, and his mother's decision. After a minute of total silence, Kikuko poured about half of the cup over her head, revealing the form she had been born with. "Will you let me join your team, knowing what I am?"

Makoto spoke first, "I think she... he'd be a great addition."

Minako gave her a knowing grin, "Probably because he reminds you of your old boyfriend, Mako-chan?" She turned to Ranma. "I don't have a problem with it, but you're going to look funny in a sailor fuku." She couldn't help but smile at the bizarre image that popped into her head.

Ranma smiled. "Not a problem! Anyone else?"

Usagi spoke for the rest. "If you are willing to do this, welcome, we can always use more help!"

Ranma raised Io's henshin pen, saying "Io Lumina Power! Make Up!" There was a bright flash of light then a pillar of flame shot skyward, consuming him. When the flame receded, Sailor Io stood, dressed just as she was in her dream. She smiled somewhat sheepishly at the other five girls. To test for herself what Io had said, she poured the remainder of the hot water over her head, and was pleased there was no change.

Makoto, understanding the significance of the hot water was in shock, what had Ranma done to himself? "So, you can't change back?"

"Not while I'm Sailor Io!" the Neo Senshi said with a smirk.

Makoto smiled and recalled her henshin pen, raising it while saying: "Jupiter Star Power, Make Up!"

Jupiter smiled at the first of her Senshi. "Perhaps I can train you, Io! Do you know any of your Senshi Abilities?"

"Huh?" Io thought back to the dream, turning away from friends old and new... "Tempest Flare!" Io shouted clasping her two hands together, a river of flames whipped by cyclonic winds, flowed from her outstretched arms.

The flames died down, "How's that for a brief intro?" she asked with a smile.

"Fine, for a beginner! Mars Star Power, Make Up." Rei said, transforming to Sailor Mars. "Now, look at some REAL fire power! Firrrre Soul!" Her fire attack was much better controlled, and would work in close quarters.

As her smile left, Io realized she had a lot to learn. She hoped her companions would help her. She looked at Makoto. "Maybe we should train together, it's only fair..."

Io transformed back to Ranma, then used the cold water to become Kikuko again. The other two Senshi also adopted their mundane forms.

"Mako-chan and I have started martial arts training in the morning at 6, any of you guys wanna join us?"

"Ami, would you wanna work out with us?" Makoto asked her new friend.

Ami looked thoughtful for a moment, then a bit sheepish "I'm not really much for fighting, except as a Sailor Senshi."

Kikuko leapt to the defense of her passion, "The Art ain't just about fightin', you know."

"Kikuko!" Makoto hissed. "Don't forget to talk a little more ladylike! Try to talk like a girl not like a guy!"

Kikuko offered her a sheepish grin. "Sorry... Wouldn't you like to be able to dodge a blow if you need to, or learn how to take a hit? Plus, if you work out, you'll be in great shape before you know it, and it feels great to really get in touch with your body. Then we can make cakes and arrange flowers!" she finished, smirking at Makoto. "So how was that, Mako-chan?"

Makoto suppressed a giggle. "Fine, 'til the last part. It just isn't you, Kiku-chan."

Everyone laughed.

Ami paused to consider what Kikuko offered. There were clearly advantages to taking her up on it. After a few more moments of thought, she looked up. "Thank you, Kikuko. I would like to train with you. What time would you like to do it? My evenings are usually pretty full."

Kikuko smiled, "Yeah, I figured you probly go t' juku after school. We meet at my home at 6:00 AM. I'd love to have you."

"I'll drop by Makoto's about 5:45, how does that sound?"

"That'll allow us plenty of time to get over to Kikuko's. I've been wearing one of my old P.E. uniforms, don't forget to bring your school uniform, too. We can change at Kiku-chan's."

"What about the rest of you?"

"That's way too early for me," Usagi replied.

"Same for me!" Minako said, suppressing a yawn brought on by even thinking about getting up early enough to be at Kikuko's by 6.

"I live a bit too far away, Kikuko, but maybe you can teach me some exercises on Sunday I can practice during the week," Rei replied at last.

"I'd like to. Besides, on Sunday, maybe you and Makoto can help train me in the other, techniques I need to learn."

"Great!" Rei said with a smile.

With that, the meeting broke up.

***

Nodoka watched her daughter come home with a big smile on her face. Things must have gone well. "Hello, mother! I'll go upstairs and change for dinner."

"Fine, Kikuko."

Nodoka was surprised to see Kikuko come back down, wearing a pair of shorts and a blouse, looking like any other girl who had just come home from school.

"So, how was your meeting with Makoto's friends?"

"Fine! My new friend Ami is going to start training in the morning, and I might start going to another new friend's house on Sunday morning to train over there. I never had so many friends!"

"That's wonderful, I'm glad you're making so many new friends." Nodoka smiled for a moment, then looked concerned. "Ranma?"

The girl looked up, concern evident in her face. "Yes, mother, what's bothering you?"

What was happening? She'd expected 'Yeah Mom what's buggin' ya' or something similar. "Why are you talking so strangely, Ranma?"

"Huh? Strangely? This is the way I'm supposed to talk! Makoto said I should try to be careful how I talk when I'm a girl. And I thought my name is Kikuko, mother!" She looked down. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have raised my voice at you."

"Oh, Ranma! What am I doing to you?" She hugged her daughter then let her go. Things seemed to be going better than she'd planned, too well, perhaps? Had she pushed too hard, too fast? "Please try to talk nicely when you're a boy and a girl, okay?"

"Sure, Mom, but why do you insist on calling me Ranma? That's a boy's name." Kikuko smiled at her.

"Kikuko, are you still a boy?"

"Well, not right now, and not at school. Maybe not for a long time..." She smiled. "I've never really been happy before, Mom! Its wonderful." Her smile dissolved as she noticed tears in her mothers eyes. "Mother, what's wrong... aren't you happy? Isn't this what you wanted?"

"The problem is it's more than what I wanted. I wanted a son who was happy as a girl, not a girl who hates being a boy..."

"But those boys at school are jerks, Mom, I don't want to be like them! They asked me things nice people shouldn't, and they seem to stare at me all the time..."

"Kikuko, You're not like them, don't worry." Nodoka composed her thoughts for a few moments. "Ranma, do you like Makoto?"

"Sure, she's the best friend I've had in years!"

"But I noticed that you sometimes get a little nervous when you're around her as a boy."

Kikuko turned red, then looked upset. "I don't want to become like those boys at school, Mom. When I'm around her as a boy, I think I'm beginning to understand how they feel, to feel like them."

"So, is that why you want to stay like this?"

"Well, isn't that a good reason?"

Nodoka looked thoughtful for a moment. "Kikuko would you be a dear and clean up tonight? I need to go out for a little while."

"Sure, Mom. I'd be happy to!"

Nodoka left the cleanup tasks in her daughter's capable hands. She would have to look up an address before she did anything else, however.

***

There was a knock at Makoto's door. Though it wasn't terribly late, she usually didn't get visitors at night. She peeked through the peephole, and saw Kikuko's mother.

"Hello, Mrs. Saotome! What brings you here?"

"Makoto-chan, we have to talk, about Kikuko-chan AND Ranma..."

***

Makoto had gone to the kitchen to put on some tea; leaving Nodoka some time to look around her apartment. It seemed there were plants everywhere... Nodoka smiled; the girl certainly had a green thumb. Makoto also was obviously an excellent housekeeper. So much responsibility, at so young an age... She obviously bore it well.

"Mrs. Saotome, the tea is ready." Makoto said, offering her a cup of tea. She had also brought a small plate of cookies. "I'm sorry they aren't freshly baked, but I wasn't expecting company." She took a seat. "What's wrong with Ranma?"

"Well, when Kikuko came home, she told me some things which troubled me greatly. It seems Ranma is concerned about feelings he may be developing for you, and has chosen to hide from them as Kikuko." As she sipped some tea, Nodoka looked at the girl trying to gauge her feelings.

Makoto brightened, but only for a moment. "Did he give any reason for being frightened of those feelings?"

"Well, it seems that the boys at school have disturbed her greatly, asking embarrassing questions, staring, and the like. Kikuko-chan's concerned that she is beginning to understand how they feel when she's a boy around you."

"Doesn't he understand that he's not like that? That being a boy doesn't mean he has to act a certain way?"

"To think I actually thought this was a good idea, that Ranma could learn from his curse attending school as a girl..."

"Mrs. Saotome, it is a good idea, Ranma now has a great appreciation for how girls feel and why we act the way we do. Pardon me for saying so, but your husband did a terrible job of raising your son. Ranma and Kikuko have grown a lot in just two days."

"Will you help me help Ranma, Makoto-chan?"

"I would LOVE to, Mrs. Saotome!"

"Thanks, Makoto-chan! Could you come to dinner at our house for the rest of the week? Perhaps, together, we can help Ranma realize why he isn't like the boys at school."

"Yes, I would like that, Mrs. Saotome."

"You have been a gracious hostess, Makoto-chan. Thank you for the excellent refreshments."

Makoto smiled with a bit of pride. "It was no problem, Mrs. Saotome!"

Nodoka rose and bowed to her hostess. "I must be going, good night!"

Makoto escorted Nodoka to the door and locked it. She had to admit, Kikuko was already a good friend, but it was going to take work to help Ranma become something more.

***

Nodoka let herself in, finding that her 'daughter' had cleaned and neatly stacked all the dishes soiled at supper.

As Nodoka approached the living room, she noticed Kikuko was busy at the table, probably doing her homework. She looked up, giving her mother a big smile. "Welcome home, Mom! I'm almost finished with my homework."

Nodoka hadn't come straight home, she had stopped at a couple of stores, picking up some catalogues. She took them to the table and began leafing through them.

"That's the last problem!" Kikuko said, closing her notebook.

Nodoka gave her 'daughter' a concerned look. "I'm curious, dear, did you ever care much about school when you were with your father?"

Kikuko looked down. "Not really, he always felt training was much more important than schoolwork."

"That's what I thought. Why the sudden change?"

"Well, I'm trying to do a better job than Ranma." She said with a proud smile.

"So, the Art doesn't mean as much to you, now?"

"I guess I've discovered that there's a lot more in life than the Art. It's still the center of my life, but it really doesn't need to be all I live for..."

Nodoka showed her one of the catalogs. "I'm so pleased with you, I thought maybe I would order you a pretty new dress." She pointed to a picture of a beautiful creation of silk, lace, and satin. "How about this, the green color would look wonderful with your hair..."

Kikuko turned bright red. "I don't think that's my style Mom." She brightened. "How about a nice pair of slacks and a pretty green blouse?"

Nodoka looked at her 'daughter' with mock shock. "Any girl I know would love to have a dress like that. Why not you?"

Kikuko looked down. "I don't know."

"Well maybe I do, Ranma. Please don't use your curse to hide from your true feelings. I know those boys at school are nasty to you, and there are a lot of who behave that way. I was just talking to Makoto, though, and she thinks there's at least one nice boy at school."

Kikuko looked somewhat concerned. "Who, Mom? I bet he's really a jerk, she just doesn't know it."

"His name is Saotome Ranma."

"Mom! What have you been discussing with her!? Anyway, I know he's a jerk!"

"You just told Makoto yesterday you were the same person, what happened?"

"Mom, we ARE the same person. I just don't know about having a girl as a friend when I'm a guy. I feel kinda funny around girls."

"That's the way a boy is supposed to feel. You need to get used to it, and Makoto wants to help you... Won't you let her?"

Kikuko looked thoughtful for a little while, then smiled. "You're right. I am the same person... pretty much. I'll try, Mom. That's all I can do."

"And that's all I can ask Kikuko, thanks."

Like the night before, RANMA went to bed; Kikuko banished to the bathroom sink for the night. There were no strange dreams tonight, either.

***

At 6, Kikuko was glad to see Makoto and her new student. While Makoto was wearing her old P.E. uniform like yesterday, Ami had obviously gone out and purchased a fine quality gi. "Good morning Makoto. Welcome to our little training group, Ami. I hope you took the price-tag off your gi," A smiling Kikuko teased, "and don't expect to keep it clean, either."

"Of course, Kikuko. I thought it would be good to at least LOOK like a martial artist."

"It is good. Do you know any of the basic forms?"

"No, I've never studied."

"Well, let's start at the beginning. When you train by yourself, you usually will perform a buncha martial arts techniques in a row. We call this the kata. Makoto, could you show us a kata you know?"

"Yes, sensei!" Makoto bowed to Kikuko then began a simple kata.

When Makoto was finished, she looked at Kikuko, who smiled. "Very good, Mako-chan. Perhaps BOTH of you would like to learn one of MY school's katas."

"Cool!" Makoto enthused.

"Yes, sensei. I would like that," Ami answered.

"Watch me closely..."

By the end of their session, Kikuko looked with pride at her two students, as they performed the simplest kata she knew. They would need MUCH more practice, but she could see both girls were blessed with a talent for the Art. The two students finished, and bowed to their sensei. "You two get cleaned up, I'll be up in a few..." Kikuko used her time alone to go through a high-intensity workout.

***

The three girls talked on the way to school...

"So, do you have other friends who might wanna work out? It was great working out with you two," Kikuko asked her students.

"Yeah, it was a lot of fun, and worthwhile, too. We'll have to ask them when we get to school," Makoto responded.

Conversation continued as they approached the school. "There are some others who might like to train with you, like... HARUKA!" Makoto shouted, waving.

An almost handsome blonde-haired girl accompanying a beautiful woman with turquoise hair turned to look at Makoto. "Looks like she's got a new friend, Michiru."

"Her friend's a GIRL, silly," the most beautiful member of the junior class replied as Makoto and Ranma approached.

"What's silly about that?" Haruka asked.

As they approached the two older girls, Ami spoke. "Saotome Kikuko," who bowed, bowed, "I'd like you to meet Ten'oh Haruka and Kaioh Michiru." The blonde girl and the woman bowed. "Kikuko's a martial artist. She's training Makoto and myself."

"So, Kikuko, how long have you been studying the Art?" Haruka asked.

"I've been studyin' martial arts for as long as I could walk, and it's kinda been my LIFE for the past ten years. I'd like to help Makoto, Ami, and their... friends learn more about the Art."

"Watch your language, Kikuko-chan!" Ami whispered.

"You two haven't, you haven't discussed our... extra-curricular activities with Kikuko, have you?"

"I didn't need to, she has the same one, or should I say WILL have the same one."

Kikuko nudged Makoto, "You don't mean..."

Her companion nodded yes.

They would need to continue their conversation at lunch as the bell silenced further talk, yet left many questions on everyone's mind but the two inner Senshi.

***

(END)

********

First, my sincere thanks for reading!

There is a wilderness trail through three of California's National Parks called the John Muir Trail. The areas it traverses are spectacular, but REAL backpackers shy away from it, in fact its' nickname is 'the freeway'. Does that make the scenery any less spectacular? Does that prevent each person who hikes it from seeing it from his or her own unique perspective? Just because (many) others have gone before should not prevent new people from traveling that pathway...

Gregg (MetroAnime) Sharp made an animated GIF file I downloaded to my desktop a while ago. It shows a procession of 'better' fiancees than Akane for Ranma, one was 'Sailor Jupiter'. That got me thinking... (Does that make this story a bastard child of The Bet?)

This story has been through two rounds of FFML C&C. Nearly a year to the day after the first e-mail to Mike Koos of a teaser, I've decided it's 'finished'.

Jason Liao and John Walter Biles took the time to offer full-blown C&C. I hope I have fixed the mistakes they noted. Bastet's Chosen made some good observations, but I could only respond affirmatively to one. Jed Hagen and Philip Hacker made some good suggestions about Ranma's acceptance, which I tried to explain a little better. The Eternal Lost Lurker pointed out some problems with Nabiki, Kunou, and ampersand usage. I hope my re-write address at least some of them (and the ampersands are gone for sure).

Special thanks go to Chad Walker, who not only contributed to some of the discussion on the FFML, but also has helped with plotting for the story. His great technical C&C turned this from a grammatical abomination to... less of one. Any errors that remain are mine.

Let me offer thanks to each of you who took the time to respond but somehow escaped mention. I evaluated each and every piece of e-mail I received on this project and hope that MORE people are happy with my revision.

Finally I would like to acknowledge my pre-readers. Mike Koos was there from the beginning, and provided excellent C as well as a few ideas which became part of the story... and all that artwork! Louis-Philippe Giroux provided some excellent tips on characterization and pointed out a few problems that I corrected. James Lee's view on this project went from skeptical to positive when he actually read the story. Bryan Neef, Fire, William Dix, and Andrew Norris read most everything I write, and this is no exception.

Please let me know what YOU think!

Kevin D. Hammel

August 5, 1999

========================================

khammel@mail.anime.sobhrach.com

kevinsff@pacbell.net

http://www.anime.sobhrach.com/~khammel/

========================================