Dark1: Hey, cool, new reviewer and a new author. Ganbatane! (good luck!)

Gourry-Gabriev610: And this will be the last chapter for this story. T.T But I still have another story in the works as you already know. n,.,n As for Goku, that was explained many chapters ago--Rei's done a lot of traveling and has met/befriended the Z fighters during said travels. She's even read Goku's fortune, remember? He's another Chaos Card. Rei's successor has been chosen, but I'm not telling who. It leaves an opening if I ever decide to make a sequel. Logical, ne?

Jerry Unipeg: That wasn't the ending, silly. This, sadly, is. Hope you enjoy it.

Chapter 29: Loose Threads Tied and a New Beginning

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"...and that's it," Ranma finishes, looking around the living room table. It's now nearly midnight, and a majority of the Nerima Wrecking Crew is packed into the Tendo's living room. Akane is asleep against Ranma, in comfy pajamas instead of her funeral kimono, hair damp from a quick bath. Kuno is embedded in the ceiling--he'd popped out of nowhere shouting "Akane my love!" and was uppercut by pretty much every female there, including Kasumi. Kodachi is twitching on the floor--she'd shown up with one of her potion-laced bouquets of black roses, cackling about her dear Ranma. Cologne had simply used her staff to swat the roses into her face and boom! down she went.

After Ranma had arrived with a very-much alive Akane in his arms and a silent Ryoga in tow, the story had spread around town like wildfire thanks to Nabiki (who'd only charged a pittance for the information to Kuno), and he'd spent the last couple of hours explaining and re-explaining for those who'd arrived late.

Kasumi, noting the late hour, begins to politely shoo all the visitors out--except Ryoga, who is in no shape to go anywhere by himself--telling them that they can come back later to talk to Akane. If they can get her away from Ranma, that is. The pig-tailed boy had barely let Akane out of his sight since they'd gotten home--he'd even have followed her into her bedroom if she hadn't threatened to whack him. So he'd sat like a lost puppy outside her room and the bathroom while she'd been in them, trailing after her with a goofy grin when she wasn't.

Sure, he's sad that Rei had sacrificed herself to that mirror-thing, but she'd had several good points and he knows beyond a doubt that while Rei might be sad at hurting her loved ones, she's happy in her 'work-place'. And he has Akane. Everything's better with Akane.

Finally the last few people trickle out the door and Kasumi returns with her usual serene smile. "Ranma, would you please put Akane to bed? She's had a long day--and so have you, so don't stay up to late."

"Yes, Kasumi," Ranma replies obediently, happy that he has an excuse for holding his fiancee. He picks her up without waking her and carries her upstairs while Kasumi spreads out the guest futon and gets Ryoga settled--he's still moving on auto-pilot, eyes blank. After making sure that he's got a bell tied around his wrist so that she'd hear him if he moved around, Kasumi goes to bed, taking a quick peek inside Akane's room despite a resolve not to.

She's glad she did. Akane is snuggled into her blankets, with Ranma a silent sentinel sitting beside her in her desk chair. When Kasumi is gone, Ranma reaches into his shirt and pulls out a slightly crumpled envelope with his name on it. Little does he know that several people are doing the same.

The 'screen' splits to show four images where only the faces and settings differ. One is Ranma. One is Taro, sitting on the grass behind the Kenobishi home. One is Ryoga, finally aware and sitting on the futon in the Tendo living room. The last is Kurama, sitting in front of a campfire in the Makai.

Reading as one, Rei's voice echoes in their minds as if she's really talking to them. 'I know you're reading this, and why. I'm sorry. I have a confession to make--I knew the burden of the Forlorn Hope can be shared. (Kurama/Yusuke, I know you knew that, too, and I hope you can forgive me for that.) But I did what I did for a reason, and now that I'm gone you can know. I was Fate, have been Fate for a few years now. This is how it had to be; Akane wasn't meant to die that day, and she still has a lot of time to live. I'm not going to stay dead, though, either. Who wants to place bets on when I'm coming back and how mad I can get a certain someone before I do? With impish serenity, Rei. PS--' For each, this is different.

Taro finishes reading first and he heaves a deep sigh, staring upwards at the few stars visible in the city. His 'screen' vanishes, leaving that corner dark. '--Aishiteru, koishii. See you soon.'

Ranma finishes second. '--Thank you, Ranma, for doing what I asked you to. It wasn't fair, and it wasn't nice. But thank you.' His screen goes blank and the remaining two shift, leaving Ryoga and Kurama.

Ryoga finishes next. '--I love you, big brother. I promise, you'll be the first I visit when I come back. Try not to get lost while I'm gone.' A weak little chuckle and he shakes his head in brotherly exasperation, a last few tears sliding down his face as he curls up in his blankets--Kasumi got him to take off his shirt and shoes--and drops into slumber.

Kurama continues reading for a while after, the only sounds are those of the snapping logs in the fire. '--It's going to take you a long time to forgive me, I'm sure. You wanted to know why I knew so much, how I knew so many things that I shouldn't. Now you know. I've tended millions of Threads, even yours, and their histories and lives remain in my mind even now. Some of them are beautiful, some of them are ugly. None of them are perfect. I know I've lied about a lot of things, Kurama, but there's one thing that was always the truth. You are dear to me, my cousin, my friend. And if Hiei is up there, tell him I said to keep an eye on you. His letter says that, as well, but I'm reinforcing that. It's an order. I want you safe and sound when I'm done pestering Koenma. Jya ne, Kurama-kun. See you soon.'

With a shuddering sigh, Kurama feels most of that dangerous anger drop away, as he sets the letter down and buries his face in his hands. All around him are signs of that rage--rocks reduced to gravel, the ground torn up, trees scarred. He's here because that grief-fueled anger needed an outlet, and no place in Ningenkai could contain it. Here, at least, no one cares about wanton ruin.

From above him, watching as he was bid and as he would be doing anyway, Hiei gazes down with those bottomless garnet eyes. "What did she say, fox?" he questions gently, hoping that that would not provoke another outburst. Kurama in a rage is actually frightening.

"She told me to tell you to keep an eye on me."

"Hn. I'm already doing that."

"She also said, 'see you soon'."

"Good. I want to smack her when she gets back for blanking my memory so many times." An unwilling bark of laughter from the mourning fox below him. The fire apparition had told his friend about the newly rediscovered memories, and understands now what Rei had meant when she'd said the foggy spots would clear in three months--she'd meant when she died. He also understands why she did as she had done, because she knew he'd never keep this kind of thing secret from Kurama.

Kurama had actually shifted into Yoko twice during his rages, and Hiei has the feeling that Yoko is still dwelling just below the surface of Kurama's ragged control. But then, that's not necessarily bad. Yoko always did have a cool head.

"And yours, if I may ask?" Those half-clouded emerald eyes look up, a hint of a smile tugging at his lips. Hiei feels a rush of relief. She's not going to be gone forever. Thank the stars.

"Hn. Besides telling me to sit on you if you tried to hurt yourself--" another bark of laughter "--she told me not to be a 'copycat' and follow after her like I always seem to be doing. She told me that Death isn't always permanent, and that I'm welcome in her work-space--if I can find it."

"Sounds like a challenge," is the mild comment. Hiei snorts.

"It does, doesn't it? Baka vixen. She does this just to see how far she can push us, I tell you."

"She found my limit."

"Hn." A long silence. "So what now?"

Kurama sighs and starts kicking dirt over his fire, dousing it. "I suppose we go home and wait until we can shake her so hard her teeth rattle." Another snort of amusement as the two vanish into the moonlit forest.

----

"So we can't bring her back using the dragonballs?"

"No, I'm afraid not. Shen Long has already refused to do so, and I am not at liberty to reveal her motives for this. Her death was her choice, Goku, whether we like it or not. However, you know Rei as well as I do. Do you really think she's going to stay dead when there's so much trouble to be gotten into?"

An unwilling laugh from the Saiyan man. "No, I guess not, Dende. We'll just have to wait until she comes back."

----

Six months later...

"Meep!" squeaks the puffball sitting on the young woman's shoulder. It resembles a fox with itty-bitty wings, with a coat twice as long as it should be. On its forehead is a little stylized flame in white fur, around its neck is a copper-colored ribbon with a tag that reads 'Mei'. At the noise, a toddler rubber-stamping his way through a large stack of papers looks up and frowns.

"It's about time."

The young woman shrugs, making the furball squeak again and cling to her tank-top with tiny claws. "Spirit Beasts take time to hatch. I better get back soon--Hiei's waiting to smack me and Higher Ups only know what I'm going to get from Kurama." Despite her words, the girl sounds happy about it. Around her neck shines an opaque indigo-blue gem strung on a silver wire to form an elegant choker. From time to time the Spirit Beast bats at it with a curious paw.

"Yes, yes, your paperwork's been filed, get going," grumps the toddler, looking back down at his work to hide a smile. The girl chuckles, brilliant emerald eyes shining with merriment.

"Right. See you later, Koenma!" And she exits the office, bumping into a bouncy, blue-haired girl in a pink kimono and racing her off somewhere. When the door clicks shut behind her, the toddler flops back in his over-sized office chair and lets out an explosive sigh of relief. "Thank the Higher Ups. She's gone!"

----

Kurama is tending to his garden in the fall sunshine, hair tied back to keep it out of his face, dirt smeared up to his elbows as he works. Two shadows fall across him, and he glances upwards in mild curiosity. And drops his trowel. Grinning at him fit to crack is Rei, a fox-like Spirit Beast perched on one shoulder and purring, looking the same as she did before she'd died. A familiar cloudy blue gem is around her neck, and a very familiar rose is tucked over her ear. Behind her stands an ecstatic Ryoga who just shrugs at him as Rei chirps, "I promised Anii-san I'd visit him first and he won't stop following me around. Miss me?"

Laughing, Kurama forgets the world around him as he leaps up and wraps Rei in a joyous hug, spinning her around several times before setting her down, taking a good look at her, and doing it again, still laughing. Mei has by this point retreated to Ryoga's shoulder and is scolding the fox-human male in rapid meeps. "Don't ever do that again!" he finally manages, grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her gently. "You nearly made me lose my mind!"

"Gomenasai?" she cheeps, looking thoroughly ashamed of herself. She looks even more adorable with her rust-colored fox ears out and drooping. Relenting, Kurama just sighs and stands there hugging her for several long moments before...

"Hn. Is that that baka vixen I see in your arms, Kurama?" Rei squeaks and ducks behind her cousin, giggling, 'hide me!' as she vanishes her ears again.

"Yes, as a matter of fact it is."

"Good." Hiei flits down from his favorite tree and half-smiles, half-glares at the girl peering around Kurama's shoulder with an expression of mock-terror. "I've been waiting to smack you, baka. Now get over here and take your punishment like a youkai."

She sticks out her tongue. "Nyah, nyah! Make me, porcupine head!" And she darts off, giggling. Ryoga and Kurama just stand there laughing as Hiei chases after her, tackling her to the ground and starting a merciless tickle-attack on her ribs. "Ack! Help! Gerroff! Hahahahahah! No--hahaha--fair! Okay, okay-okay-okay! I give!"

"Good," Hiei smirks, and lightly bops her on the head. "Don't ever do something like that again."

"Deal! Just gerroff!" During her contortions the strap on her left shoulder slides to the side, revealing that her spider tattoo--something Kurama suspects is the mark of her Office--has turned from black to a deep crimson. Is she still Fate? He'd have to ask later.

"Aw, no fair!" All of them turn to find Yusuke walking up with the rest of the Reikai gang and the main members of the Nerima Wrecking Crew. "Ya started the party without us!" With a joyous squeal Rei squirms out from under Hiei and bolts for the fence, leaping it and landing in the outstretched arms of Taro, getting pulled in for one hell of a kiss.

Everyone cheers, Yusuke and Kuwabara starting a count to see how long it lasts. They make it to fifty before the two break apart for air. With another loud cheer, Yusuke pumps his fist into the air. "That's what I'm talkin' about! Let's get rocking!"

Anxiously, Kurama looks towards the house, worried that his mother--who thinks Rei's just been in a coma--might disapprove, only to find her standing in the doorway with his new step-father and an indulgent smile on her face. "Try not to leave too big a mess, children." With a rousing shout, the biggest party Kurama can remember--even as Yoko--gets underway.

Once more, the human-bodied fox turns to his mischievous cousin and asks, "How do you do it, Rei-chan?"

"Oh," she drawls, looking from the corner of her eye at the little Beast sitting happily on her shoulder and batting once again at Hiei's Tear, "let's just call this one an act of destiny and leave it at that, shall we?" Laughing, Kurama removes Mei and places her in Hiei's arms, then sweeps his cousin into the first steps of a kitsune-tribe dance, completely forgetting that he still has dirt on his arms.

Shimekiri.

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Thank you all for reading this story and--for those who have been reading that long--for putting up with my writer's block as well as my quirks and evil cliff-hanger moments. All of my characters and those which are already copy-righted (a majority of those who have made appearances) have gone through quite an adventure, and it still amazes me to think that all this started with a forum topic of 'write your entrance scene if you were a Ranma One-Half character.' I might revise the last couple of chapters when I get my computer back and once again have access to the original versions, and I'll let you know in a Spring's Fire author note if I do. Thank you again, and jya ne, minna-san.

Aishiteru: I love you

Koishii: beloved

Mei: (from several) destiny

Anii: older brother

Gomenasai: I'm sorry