Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 and Sailor Moon characters are the properties of their respective owners. I'm not making any money off this fic!

It couldn't remember where it had come from, but it liked where it was now. It felt warm, and safe, enough so that it had no problem falling asleep. But while it slept its hunger grew. When it woke up, it would need to eat. And when it was hungry, it would eat everything it could. When it was hungry, it was nothing but appetite. Others of its kind had destroyed whole galaxies in their hunger, and this one, buried deep below the Earth's crust, would be no different.

But for now, it slept.

12 years ago. House Saotome, not far from Nerima

Nodoka's face was dark with anger as she read and reread her husband's scribbled handwriting on the paper she found. It was not that she objected to her son being engaged at so young an age – far from it. It was that her husband had done so without consulting her before, and without informing her after, and that, more importantly – judging by the near illegible scrawl – Genma and Soun had been ridiculously drunk when making the decision.

Not for the first time since Genma had left two years ago, Nodoka deeply regretted letting Genma take Ranma on the training trip that had promised to separate her from her son for at least a decade. She was not sure even the thought of seppuku would force Genma to truly bring Ranma up a man amongst men.

Perhaps a trip to see Kimiko-chan was in order. It had been hard to visit her and her three beautiful girls after Ranma had gone, but Kimiko had such a sensible outlook on life, she was sure to counsel Nodoka on the best course of action.

Nodoka was on her way out of the door when the phone rang. Clicking her tongue in annoyance, she picked it up.

The conversation that followed allowed her to decide on a course of action very quickly indeed.

10 years ago. Tendo Dojo, Nerima.

"Why're you crying?"

Akane wiped her eyes hurriedly and turned to glare at the visitor. He was her age, maybe, with his hair pulled back into a pigtail. "I'm not crying," she said defiantly. "I have something in my eye." That's what her older sister, Nabiki said yesterday. Nabiki had said there was no point in crying over spilled milk and then Kasumi had slapped her, and Akane had been so shocked that Kasumi had slapped anyone that she had stopped crying for a while.

"Is it your Mommy who died?" the boy wanted to know. Akane nodded and sniffled again, dropping her eyes to her feet. Nabiki was supposed to have helped her bath yesterday, but she hadn't done a very good job, and Akane could still see dry mud in between her pants and her sock. The boy sat down next to her.

"My Pop's dead too," the boy told her. He didn't sound very sad, though. "Mommy said that he was friends with your Pop. She said we should be friends too. I brought you this," he added abruptly, and pulled out a ragged panda bear soft toy.

Akane looked at it doubtfully, but Mama was very strict about manners, so she thanked him and took it. "What's his name?" she asked.

"Panda-chan," the boy answered. "He's good for at night when you can't sleep."

Akane wasn't sure she believed him, but as she lay in the dark that night, listening to the sound of someone else sobbing, she pulled the covers up over her head and held Panda-chan tight to her chest.

Two years ago. Tendo Dojo, Nerima

The door was flung open and, with an excited cry of "Ranchan!" an energetic 14-year-old girl threw herself at Ranma. "Where've you been? You didn't write to me the whole time! What did you get me? Why didn't you tell me you were coming, you jerk!" Ranma extracted himself from the arms of his best friend and grinned at her.

"I didn't tell you cos I didn't know! Mom just sprang it on me this morning. An' – I've forgotten the rest of your questions. I guess they weren't that important." Akane punched his arm in way of retort and he grinned at her again. "You've gotten weak since I left, Acchan. Ow! I didn't mean it" as Akane hit him again. "Will this make you stop hitting me?"

Akane took the offered rock and studied it, puzzled. Ranma didn't have a lot of money, but she loved the little things he brought her from his trips, small things he found that he thought she'd like – dried flowers with a nice scent, brightly colored shells, once a fossilized fish – but a rock? Then she noticed the dark patches on the light grey and smiled. "It's Panda-chan!" she said, delighted.

"There was an earthquake, and I found it in a landslide that happened after. We went to a temple miles an' miles from anywhere," Ranma explained. "That's why I didn't write you. Wasn't anywhere to send it from. They had some martial artists there as old as Mom, who'd been training their whole lives – they did moves I've never ever seen before, and I couldn't beat them." He looked depressed. "But I will next time," he added with confidence. "I'll go back there when I've learned some more."

Akane frowned. "How come you left so early, then? Usually Auntie stays somewhere for at least two months, unless you beat them earlier." Ranma shrugged.

"She wouldn't tell me. But – I think something happened that made her worried." Ranma looked worried now, too. Akane wasn't surprised. Auntie was not someone who worried often. When she did, it usually meant there was something worth worrying over. But, Akane reasoned, there was no reason them all worrying, so she grabbed Ranma's arm and started steering him towards the gym.

"Come on," she said, "you better show me what you've learned before it escapes that thick head of yours."

In his effort to prove to Akane that he was not thick, Ranma forgot his troubles – at least for now.

One year ago. Outside Hikawa Shrine, Juban

"Excuse me miss, but do you know the way to the Tendo Dojo?"

Makoto let out a barely audible sigh as she took in the boy who addressed her. He wasn't very tall, but those muscles – those muscles! He wouldn't be scared of a tomboy like her. He might even last more than one round in a fight against her.

"Miss? The Tendo Dojo?"

Makoto's cheeks burned as she realized she had just been standing there, staring. "Uh, sorry," she said quickly. "That is – it's not one of the dojo in Juuban, but if you like I can ask my friends in the shrine to look it up for you."

The boy shook his head. "Thank you, but I'll keep going. I'm sure I'll find it soon."

Makoto watched him go, regretfully. He wasn't only muscular, he was cute. He reminded her of her old sempai a little. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to go look up the Tendo Dojo anyway. Just in case she ever decided she needed more training.