You can guess the crossover. Ranma won't wear a fuku, and also no tuxedo. He won't be some re-incarnation. He is just... Ranma. I want to avoid numerous stuff that became the norm in these crossovers but that actually is pretty stupid. I also will make it clear that while Ranma and the Senshi learn new techniques, I won't sink to the insane levels of the canon, where it became an absurd arms race in the later parts of both series. It's a common weakness in anime series that the power level increases to ridiculous levels. (In my opinion, DBZ is the worst offender in that regard in the anime world) I will try to stay on Earth and try to give everything a bit more realistic feeling (as much as it as it is possible) but don't worry... hilarity will still ensure!

Needless to say that I will slaughter the canon of both series, but I guess you expected this. Also I don't have any rights to both series, but I guess you know that, too.

Now, this one was done WAY faster than I expected. Writing this one came so easy to me. Less than two weeks has to be some kind of record, since I haven't written a chapter of this length sice in such a short time in ages. This also means the story passed the 80% mark. Though there still are nine long chapters left, things are starting to come to a head.

I do have a page for the story at TV Tropes, the link is found in my bio. Please help to contribute to it if you feel like it.

As always, I try to answer all reviews and I'm always happy for reviews.

Note that specific notes are at the end of the chapter, to avoid spoilers.


Chapter 38: At the Brink of Change

Minako was really happy how much her friends cared for her and she also was amazed at the effort they made for her 17th birthday, now that it was October 22nd. However, the fact that they were not celebrating it at her house, due to the rift between her and her parents after they had discovered her secret, was curbing her happiness somewhat.

She knew it was a little unfair to her friends, who had worked really hard to give her a special day, but she couldn't help her feelings. In a way it was the same as earlier in her life, where she had projected an outside image while she'd felt different inside.

She still remembered the circus after she's returned to Japan and how other students had been treating her at school. She was still wondering why they had lifted her onto a pedestal when she was just a mediorce student. But she had endured it and shown a happy girl to the outside world. It had taken her weeks to get rid of the whole thing and it had possibly delayed connecting with the other Senshi.

Now everyone was mingling and Minako found it hard to pretend nothing was wrong.

"You know, you don't have to pretend that nothing is wrong."

Pulled out of her thoughts, Minako saw that Setsuna was standing beside her. She hadn't even noticed the woman. "Eh, sorry?"

Setsuna knew she was really silent when she moved, but this was ridiculous. "I know when someone pretends to be happier than they are, as I did it often enough. Please don't do that to yourself, it won't help you."

Minako sighed. "I know, but I still feel kind of bad about it and don't want the others to get pulled down by it."

Setsuna gave her an understanding look. "I know you want to be noble, but there comes a time you have to be more open about your pain. Trust me, I understand pain related to parents quite well."

For a moment Minako didn't understand, but then she got it. "They were not like you?"

Setsuna closed her eyes for a moment. "It was really hard on me when all that was left to me was to grieve for them. For years afterward I hid my pain behind a mask, until the queen at the time finally confronted me. There first was lots of shouting, but in the end I cried into her shoulder and let it all out. I know yours are not dead, but please don't try to lock away your pain. Nothing good can come out of it"

Setsuna wasn't often talking about her private history, though considering her immortality, they all had guessed something like that. "It's just really difficult. After I fell into pieces, I felt horrible and didn't want to feel the pain so strongly again. Why can't I get a break? First the curse, and now this."

"That's really understandable, but perhaps you can start small? Confide in Artemis first, and once you feel comfortable, one friend after the other," Setsuna suggested.

Minako knew Setsuna was right. After all, the woman had endured more emotional pain in her long life than any of them could guess. "Well, I can try... Eh, Setsuna, is that why you never...?"

Setsuna knew that the part of Minako that was Venus had felt something related to Love. "I never entered a relationship because I knew he would leave me to grieve for him one day. While I extensively know the touch of a man, I never committed myself to one."

Now it was Minako who felt sorry for Setsuna, as the poor woman had only satisfied her physical needs, while her heart had not been filled. However, she did remember something then. "But things now have changed, haven't they? Helios won't leave anytime soon, after all, considering how long he's around already."

Setunsa stopped, then a slight blush crept up, as she was highly unused to actually get invested into such a personal relationship. "We're still testing out the waters, and... eh..." Damnit, she was now remembering some interesting dreams she'd had and it caused her to blush harder.

I'm not used to this! she wailed inwardly and Minako could now feel traces of Love radiating from Setsuna.

Truth to be told, Helios was the perfect gentleman and the part of her that she had buried a long time ago, the one that was craving a very intimate relationship, had re-surfaced and was now wrecking havoc on her. She could swear her body was pumping more estrogen through her veins than it did in all these millenia before.

"How come I was helping you not to lock away your pain, and now we are talking about Helios and me?" Setsuna wondered.

"I couldn't help it; I felt it coming from you and friends should help each other, shouldn't they?" Minako, while not feeling substantially better, now at least wanted to try and deal with the pain, and she would start at the evening, once she was alone with Artemis.

Minako then excused herself and again mingled with the others, now looking a bit more relaxed.

Setsuna looked after her, then noticed Ayame Osaka approach her. "That must have cost you quite some courage to do," she told Setsuna, making no secret of the fact she had heard them.

"I just don't want her to do the wrong thing." She then shook her head. "And then she talked about me. I honestly have little idea what I'm doing. I've never before actually dated a man for real."

Ayame would not comment on the fact that the oldest woman on Earth was so horribly unprepared when it came to the other sex, and instead took pity. "I think the problem is, you never got advice from a woman who experienced all that."

Setsuna knew Ayame Osaka had lost her husband in a painful way, but the woman seemed to have come to terms with the pain, though it was clear some of it would never leave her. "To be honest, I was a bit embarrassed to ask ever since this started. Asking for relationship advice at my age is more than a bit awkward."

Ayame waved it off. "Age doesn't matter, some things are universal. Now come..." Setsuna offered no resistance while the Osaka woman led her to a secluded corner, where they could talk in private.


...the next morning, at school...

In her classroom, Ami Mizuno was going through some final calculations before she closed her maths book. Sure, she knew all this stuff by heart and didn't even need a calculator to solve it, but Ranma had rubbed off on her a bit, and she felt a bit of training could never hurt.

Looking up, she saw some of the girls whisper and look in her direction. Ami had no trouble to see the envy, as she had seen it too often in her female class mates. The girls still hadn't gotten over the fact that bookworm Ami Mizuno, a thoroughly unremarkable girl, managed to snatch one of the hottest, though also strangest, guys in school for herself. Clearly, the disbelief was holding stubbornly with some of them.

This is one of these days I'm glad Ranma and me are not in the same class, Ami mused. The rumors were no longer hurting her, only seemed irritating after all the stuff she'd experienced as Sailor Mercury.

At times it was a bit odd to be in a class without any of her friends, but it was nothing to be concerned about. It actually did give her some peace and quiet she certainly wouldn't get with Usagi or Minako nearby. Actually thinking of it, it was a bit schizophrenic how their peaceful school life contrasted with the times they went to action.

Others might find it boring, but to them, everyday life helped to ground them in light of the knowledge that sooner or later there would be a big showdown - a showdown they could very well don't leave alive.

In a different classroom, Akane and Ryo were talking.

"So all you did see was a burning bird?" Akane asked after Ryo had told her about a strange dream.

"Well, I think it's a bird. There was lots of fire and I could only see the wings clearly, though they looked awfully big. I have no idea what it means or if it just was my imagination. The one drawback nowadays is, that it has become so awfully vague," Ryo told her.

While he was glad he got rid of most of his precognitive powers, it at times was irritating how vague the remaining powers could be, especially since there had been a number of false alarms as well. Ryo was still trying to get a grip on what was just his imagination and what was real precognition, which was easier said than done, even with help from Rei and Michiru.

"Let's not bother the others until you know more. After all, just hearing you saw a bird on fire is not very helpful," Akane suggested.

"No, not really." He had to admit, on its own it was worthless. "Eh, Akane? Can I watch you when you have training after school? Maybe give some moral support?"

Akane first was a bit surprised by the offer, but then she rationalized that Ryo wanted to see her being all sweaty and she felt kind of naughty at the idea. Hopefully, her sensei would allow it. "Oh, you really would...?" She stopped when their geography teacher entered and everyone scrambled to their seats.

She certainly would give him her approval later on.

At the same time in yet another classroom, Minako Aino was thinking.

The previous evening she had talked extensively with Artemis about how she felt and he had been very understanding about it and told her that she should only confide in the others once she felt comfortable about it. He was more like an older brother in that and certainly...

"MINAKO AINO!"

The shouting from the teacher made her jump up. The woman stood before her desk, looking incredibly ticked off. "Ms. Aino, daydreaming during roll call is a very bad habit! I called you three times and you didn't react. You've lost a lot of bad habits over the months and I have to make sure any new ones are stomped out right away!"

She then pointed to the door and the water bucket. "Maybe half an hour outside can get you to consider being more attentive in the future."

When was the last time I had to do this? Minako wondered, honestly being unable to remember while walking outside under the laughter of the other students.

o

Physical education had been the last class of the day and right at the moment Ranma was being busy under the shower to wash off the sweat with warm water. Sure, due to being used to a lot harder workouts, he hadn't sweated much, but the smell still was bad enough.

Just out of habit, he quickly scanned the shower room if anyone would try something they thought of as funny. The locker room after all was the one place where cold water could do the most damage. However, all the boys were busy with their own showers, paying him no more attention than to anyone else. It seemed after having made an example of one or two idiots who thought he was bluffing, the others were not stupid enough to take the risk for some seconds of eye-candy.

Interesting how a forced dive into the toilet can douse the ideas of even the worst perverts, he mused.

Speaking of the PE class, it had been painfully easy for him. No, the real annoyance were the various sports clubs and teams still trying to recruit him, despite him making it clear that having him on a team should be considered an unfair advantage. Clearly, these guys could only see the big win and didn't care that he wasn't interested.

He had also drawn the line when the girls' volleyball and rhythmic gymnastics teams had approached him, making it clear to them that never ever would he enter a girls' team because that would be even more unfair and kind of cheating. Also, the idea of being physically active in front of a huge audience as a girl while wearing tight spandex was not appealing. That certainly was very different from the times wearing a bikini as a girl, as that had been a leisure activity without everyone staring at her.

Turning off the water, he toweled off and went to his locker.

Let's see... The girls have training right after school and Mom wants Mamoru and me be punctual for a swordfighting lesson. After how well that sword worked with these Black World creeps, I see the value in it, he thought while getting dressed.

On the other side of the wall meanwhile, there was some discussion in the girls' showers.

"This is unfair. PE and then right away we have our martial arts training," Usagi grumbled while standing under the shower.

"Oh, don't complain. After all, you are no longer hurting after she is done with you," Akane scolded Usagi, finding the girl was laying it a bit too thick.

"So that's what all of you have been doing?" one other girl asked, giving them a look together with the other female classmates. "We really wondered what you are all doing, as you never said."

Akane and the present Senshi felt a little uncomfortable under the looks from the other girls, but had to admit there was something to it. All of them had gained muscle mass, looked more athletic and fit. Of course none of them could hold a candle to Makoto with her strong arms and legs and well-defined abs, but they now looked a bit stronger than your average girl.

"Well, it does take dedication to get this far," Makoto said.

Makoto then made a pose and flexed her muscles while at the same time thrusting out her big rack. The other girls looked in envy at how Makoto managed to get this muscular, yet managed to retain all the softness and curves that made her look so feminine, not to speak of her big breasts. It was times like these where they wondered why the boys did discard this beauty so casually, unable to understand the cultural bias the male side showed.

The only one who didn't look different was Akane. If she had gained additional muscles, it was not obvious right away. Akane herself knew she had gotten stronger without getting muscular due to being able to store life energy internally, but that was something she didn't discuss in public.


...after school, Neko-Hanten...

It was a normal training session in the basement under the Neko-Hanten. The air stank heavily of sweat while Khu-Lon and Xian-Pu were busy with putting the girls through the wringer. Though their bodies would no longer scream in pain like they did at the beginning, the teenage girls would still be quite sore once they were done and would need a soak in a specially treated bath to ease their muscles.

They had learned really fast not to complain. They would not complain about being next to nude while training, the hard drills or that they felt it unfair to set them against a much more experienced opponent. They knew this training was constantly saving their lives, so they'd all agreed to never again complain about it to the elder.

Of course, as with every training, accidents still did happen.

"Ooouuugh..." Naru gasped when Makoto's bare foot buried itself in her stomach.

"Oh dear, sorry, Naru! I wasn't careful enough!" Makoto said in worry while seeing the other girl double over in pain.

"Well, that's obvious. You don't strike someone with full power during training," Khu-Lon scolded Makoto, giving the girl a hard look. "Keep you head out of the clouds during training, I know exactly what you were thinking about. You can dream about going all personal with Mu-Tsu later."

"I understand." Makoto knew she should keep her hormones under control, as this was not the first time she got distracted recently.

"Damnit, Makoto..." Naru gasped, fighting the urge to lose her lunch the wrong way. "That... really hurt..."

Khu-Lon led Naru to the side, where she could recover from the unexpected hit, and Makoto blushed hotly when finally noticing how the other girls were all watching her. Sure, training accidents were rather common with them, but a hit causing the other girl to double over in pain and almost vomit was a bit more serious than their usual accidents.

"Makoto, we all know you are really happy with your dating life, but could you please concentrate more on what you are doing?" Ami told her, touching her side, where Makoto's absent-mindedness had caused her a bruise a bit earlier.

If anything, Makoto blushed harder at the reminder of her earlier blunder. "I can't help it... You should know best how that is, considering you and Ranma..."

"Not really. I didn't really think about these things until I met him," Ami said, remembering her indifference to such things until then. "I'm not like you. You had suffered a disappointing experience and then frustration with boys, while I simply was indifferent."

Makoto had to admit there was something to that.

Thankfully, training continued without incident and once they were finally done, the relaxing soaking in the big wooden tub followed, the girls not being shy around each other while relaxing in the warm water. Whatever the old woman added to make their bruises fade was the only reason why they didn't walk on the streets as bundles of bruises, which would have caused uncomfortable questions.

"Ow... I know it's starting to fade, but it still stings," Naru complained, looking at the huge bruise on her stomach, before sitting down into the warm water. "Ohhhh, so good..."

"Look, I'm really sorry. I try not to daydream during training in the future, OK?" Makoto apologized again, still feeling guilty.

"I'm not angry... not anymore. In a way I even understand." Naru then saw Xian-Pu rolling her eyes. "You find that stupid?"

Xian-Pu knew they had misunderstood. "No, I actually find it cute. However, I was raised to not get distracted while fighting, so getting distracted is not exactly something I can relate to. Also, it wasn't like I was that popular with boys."

"Which is downright bizarre considering your good looks," Rei remarked which a bit of envy, holding her breasts, which were quite a bit smaller than Xian-Pu's.

If anything, Xian-Pu had expected that. "Yeah, but even huge tits are of no use if half of the boys couldn't stand me for what I represented to them, and the other half was too intimidated to approach me. The remaining ones got scared away by Mu-Tsu's jealous antics. And now, while I get plenty of attention, as soon as they hear I hail from China, most lose their interest or dismiss me."

They didn't decide to comment on that. It was no secret Japan as a whole had a problem with foreigners and Xian-Pu was experiencing that kind of bigotry first-hand.

"Well, from what you have said, you don't sound like you like the place," Rei observed before dunking her head to soak her long hair.

"Do you even want to return there? It doesn't sound like you've been happy there," Minako added, remembering all the times Xian-Pu had spoken about her place in the village.

"I don't really know." While it was the place she'd grown up at, she held little emotional attachment to it by now, with the only people she regularly interacted with have traveled with her to Japan. "The prospect of returning certainly isn't that appealing to me any longer, now that my perspective has changed."

"I can't really imagine growing up in a place that doesn't feel like home," Rei said. After all, her mother and then her grandfather had both been very good to her.

"Oh, I can..." Makoto said darkly.

No one wanted to add to that, knowing Makoto's history of living with uncaring relatives, and an awkward silence settled over the bathing girls.

o

"Hi, I thought I should surprise you a little, Bunny," Mamoru greeted Usagi as soon as she walked through the door leading from the basement into the dining area.

Seeing him, Usagi's mood improved significantly. "Oh, Mamoru! ... Eh, I thought you were still busy at the university?"

"Oh, they let us out early, saying we've been working so well, we can't risk to get too far ahead of the semester plans," Mamoru told her while she sat down on the chair opposite to him. "So I thought I would surprise you and keep you company."

"You are really thoughtful," Usagi told him with a smile. "While this is not exactly one of these romantic dinners you see in movies, I certainly don't care."

And it's a good thing I don't have to pay for her dinner, considering her appetite, Mamoru added silently. He would of course never say so aloud, as that would hurt Usagi's feelings.

"You know, it's things like these... You had no obligation at all to come here, yet you were very thoughtful. I really like that." While some time ago Usagi'd had a rather superficial view on a man's qualities, she now did appreciate these small things, which she felt were much more important.

"Thanks for the flowers," Mamoru said, feeling a bit flattered. If not for his former life, he would be totally unremarkable, so Usagi's words felt good, as they concerned his personal decisions. "Oh, but there's something a bit serious I wanted to ask you."

Now Usagi did look a bit concerned. "It's nothing bad, right?"

"No, nothing bad." Mamoru tried to find the right words. "You know, after my accident, I felt strangely disconnected from the fact my parents died, due to me not remembering them. Now that I do so again, I feel kind of bad I never visited their grave in all these years."

Hearing this, Usagi felt bad for Mamoru. "It's not really your fault. I mean, you knew they were your parents, but without your memories it must have been kind of hard to feel the pain."

"I know... Still, I want to ask you if you want to accompany me? It would be easier on me if I have someone I know with me, and you would be best," Mamoru asked her.

"Oh, Mamoru..."

"Just look at these two, would be almost sickeningly sweet if not for the fact they really earned it," Naru commented from a table some distance away, where she sat together with Ami, Minako and Rei.

"I'm curious, what were Usagi's attempts at getting a date before we met her? We've only heard vague allusions, but nothing of real substance and you should know best," Rei asked.

Naru held up her hands defensively. "Oh no, I won't say a word. I promised Usagi my silence and I stay true to my word!"

"Speak of lovebirds..." Minako looked to another table. "Looks like Makoto decided now is the time to have the head in the clouds."

The girls looked to the table where Makoto and Mu-Tsu sat - or at least three of them did, until Ami tapped them onto their heads. "Can't you just leave them alone? Doing that when you are only a few meters away? Really..."

"Oh yes," Xian-Pu added while approaching with their early dinner. "I actually like that he finally found a girl, especially since they both fit together, so don't disturb them."

At the other table meanwhile, Makoto and Mu-Tsu were talking, but not lovely-dovely stuff as the other girls thought.

"And they really wrote a letter just to insult you?" Makoto asked.

Mu-Tsu pulled a letter out of his robes and showed it to Makoto, who of course couldn't read it, as it was written in Chinese. "It's nothing unusual. Back in the village, they always insulted me when they felt the need to vent. When I left for Japan, they resorted to letters for the same purpose."

Makoto took another look at the letter. "Well, I take your word for what's written in it. The more I learn about these two, the more unsympathetic they appear to me."

"That's only natural, they are not even that well-liked amongst the warriors." Mu-Tsu then pushed up his glasses. "However, what more concerns me is what I can read between the lines; stuff they allude to by accident."

Makoto gave the letter back. "Since I can't read the letter, could you tell me?"

He took a closer look at the letter. "Well, from what I can filter out, there's something brewing that caused nerves to be laid bare. No idea what exactly, but it's seriously stressing them out. Remember, the mail needed two weeks to reach me, so no idea what's exactly going on. No matter, there's nothing I can do about it anyway, so too bad for them."

Suddenly, a thought crossed Makoto's mind. "I just had a horrible thought. What if they demand from you to return?"

Mu-Tsu waved it off. "Then I would tell them 'no chance'. I'm much more happy here and there's no legal way they can force me. I'm not their whipping boy anymore."

That was the sign he no longer wanted to talk about his former home and Makoto respected his wishes. "So, what do think of dating Japan-style now? Certainly different what what you imagined, isn't it?"

"It... certainly is different from what I imagined it to be. You have to know, courtship in the village is quite regulated and much to a man's disadvantage. That we simply do what we like and enjoy each other's presence certainly is something new to me," Mu-Tsu admitted, realizing his home village was even more repressive than he'd known.

Both of them certainly had had lots of fun on their dates. Mu-Tsu was happy that Makoto had repaired his faith in the female sex after it got so thoroughly damaged over the years, but there were many reasons he did like her so much. However, both of them took it slow. While the displays of affection were nice, they didn't want to go further yet. They certainly wouldn't kiss in such a public place - not after the comments they got from the others after their first one.

Despite Makoto's romantic side, she'd discovered that both of them, Mu-Tsu and her, were rather private people with a number of things. In a way that was karmic payback for her being too curious about Ami's, Naru's and Usagi's relationships.

"To be honest, you are the first guy I got this far with. It's actually even a bit funny that you like me because I'm tall and strong, things other boys found unattractive," Makoto said.

"Well, their loss. I can only respect and date a girl who can pull her weight. Not some ninny who thinks her gender entitles her to be waited on, or some weak wallflower who obeys every command from a man," Mu-Tsu explained it again.

"That's one of the reasons I like you." Makoto flexed her muscles - which thankfully were still not impacting negatively on her female frame and hopefully never would - and felt her big breasts strain her bra to its limit. "You have no idea how it feels to a girl to not be seen as desirable."

"These boys were stupid." To him, Makoto was the perfect mix of strong and highly feminine, something he found to be very attractive. That she was really nice and humble made it even better.

Makoto blushed, feeling very girly right now - a feeling she actually found very nice - and inched closer before hesitating. "I would really like to... But in front of everyone?"

Seeing the dilemma, Mu-Tsu suddenly pulled a massive paper fan out of his sleeves, opened it and placed it on the floor so it blocked everyone from seeing them. "I don't see the problem now."

"I guess I'll never get used to that," Makoto laughed, then let nothing stop her.

"That's cheating..." Rei grumbled when the only thing visible through the paper were vague shadows.

This time she got bopped on the head with a cane. "Honestly, give these two some privacy. I'm just glad the boy finally moved on and away from his obsession, so don't spoil it for him," Khu-Lon scolded her.

"Ow, no need to get violent," Rei complained, rubbing her head.

"Well, you obviously needed it to help the lesson to stick," Khu-Lon added, though part of her was highly amused by such youthful behavior.


...next day, early evening, Saotome house...

"You know, I feel kind of bored..." Hotaru said while flipping listlessly through her book.

"Why would you say that, dear?" Nodoka asked while looking out from the kitchen where she was busy with preparing dinner.

"Other children might enjoy not having school, but right now I would even wish back being called a freak by other students. I had no idea it means having so little to do." Hotaru gave her book a bored look. "I also can't exactly walk around outside on my own, since that wouldn't be a smart move."

"Hotaru, it's not like you don't have friends," Nodoka reminded the girl while walking out of the kitchen.

"Yes, I know. I also know they love me dearly, but being the youngest of the group is not much fun," Hotaru complained. "I'm pretty much left outside whenever the other girls start talking about boys. Oh, I don't think they are icky or something like that, but I can't yet connect to that."

"Oh dear, I hadn't thought of that." Nodoka had to admit, a twelve-year old girl would have difficulties to integrate into a group that was five years older.

"It's not like they do so knowingly, it just happens. I'm not yet strong enough for training, not advanced enough academically to sit in homework sessions and not mature enough to be able to talk about boys. Add that I can't join many activities since that would mean tempting fate, and I'm bound to get bored. I'm not even called to most emergencies, since I can't fight well yet."

This had emerged slowly. Sure, everyone adored her and she did feel well-loved, but not having anyone her age around was bound to cause issues. She was part of the group, yet she stood out due to her age. Puberty changed people a lot; she hadn't entered it yet and the others were almost done with it. Not exactly the best ground for mutual activities.

Nodoka for her part had not thought about the social exclusion Hotaru would have to endure due to none of her friends being her age and being forced to stay out of sight. "I'm sure something can be arranged for you if you only made them aware of the problem. I'm sure elder Khu-Lon also has something that's fitting for you and won't exhaust you overly if you ask. After all, everyone has to start small."

"I would really like that. Even doing something small would make me feel better." Hotaru had felt the itch to be more active ever since her physical condition had improved.

"Hmmm..." Nodoka then got an idea. "You know, maybe you want to help me in the kitchen? I know you probably don't want to become one of these stay-home wives, but it can't hurt to have some useful skills."

"Oh, really, can I?" Hotaru now looked excited. "I never had any female role models. Mom died way too early and Kaolinite was always mean to me instead of teaching me anything. I never learned any of that stuff."

Nodoka barely managed to conceal her glee that Hotaru was willing to learn. "Well, then come. This is all more complicated than many might think, but let's start with small things."

Hotaru eagerly followed her into the kitchen.

Some minutes later Ranma walked down the stairs and saw his mother in the kitchen being busy with explaining to Hotaru what she would do next. While it was very simple stuff, Hotaru still followed the instructions eagerly.

Ranma thanked all goodness it wasn't him getting the lessons. While he wasn't hopeless in a kitchen - that was Akane's job - he didn't like showing it off. Despite how much he had improved concerning gender issues, he still was reluctant to cook in the presence of others after being ridiculed for it being girly stuff in middle school. The only one who knew was his old man, and that only because taking over cooking duties was an act of self-defense against Genma's total disability to prepare anything.

Thinking of his father, Genma had not taken the news about Happosai now being a Youma very well, though instead of falling into a panic it somehow had resulted in him simply wanting to get better so that once the time comes, he would be able to prevail against him. The next day Akane had told him about a call she'd received from Kasumi, noting how Soun was training even harder whenever he was not giving classes. It seemed the two men were not willing to cower in fear this time.

He right then heard a knock on the front door. Did Pop lose his keys? he wondered, noticing that his father was quite late today.

Opening the door, he was greeted by a panda with a sports bag slung over its shoulder. Ranma got a good guess what had happened. "Ah, Pop, cold water got you?" He only got some annoyed bear-grunts as an answer. "Wait a moment, I have no desire to translate that by hand."

"Mom, Pop got into a little accident on the way back," Ranma said while entering the kitchen.

"I expected something like that, thus I'm prepared. The kettle is on the stove," she told her son, before returning her attention to Hotaru.

Guess she really knows him too well by now, Ranma thought while getting the kettle.

A change later Genma still grumbled while putting his suit jacket onto a hanger. "Some joker threw water out of their window on an upper floor while I was waiting for the bus. Hard to pay for the bus when my wallet transforms with me, nor do I think it would have stopped for a panda anyway. So I had to walk on foot."

"Man, I'm just glad this doesn't happen to me anymore." Ever since he'd come to terms with the curse, random changes had become seldom.

Genma grumbled in annoyance while sitting down. "Easy for you to say. You at least stay human while I don't. It's a bit hard to embrace turning into an animal."

Ranma pondered that for a moment. "Maybe it doesn't have to be that literal? I know our school is about aerial combat, but it surely can't hurt to have some overpowering stuff at hand as well.."

"Better explain that." Genma was unable to see what that had to do with his curse.

"You know, pandas might look cute, but they still are a bear; a really strong and vicious animal. If you can find a way to warm up water on the fly to change back, you could use that form in battle. Man, a literal bear hug would be pretty devastating on many," Ranma tried to explain.

"Hmmm..." Genma scratched his chin. The idea had potential.

Ranma could see the clogs turning in his father's head. He knew that look; it was whenever his old man was hatching a new idea. While in the past he had dreaded that, as it meant incoming pain, nowadays it was harmless. He also knew to leave him alone while he was thinking.

-riiiing-

The doorbell again interrupted them. Walking to the door again, Ranma was greeted by someone who looked like public servant. "Eh, yes, can I help you?"

"Good evening. I'm from animal control and we are following reports of a panda having been spotted in this neighborhood. Perhaps you can tell us if you have seen anything?" the man inquired.

Ranma could literally feel his father's eyes staring at his back, which was a warning not to do anything funny. "Eh, no. Are you sure this isn't a hoax? Maybe someone is having fun at your expense?"

"That's what everyone in the department thinks," the man sighed. "For months now we again and again get calls from someone having sighted a panda, but of course there is none. It would make us wonder anyway, since the zoo's panda died last year and there are no others in the Tokyo area. No one is really taking it seriously any longer, but after getting a big number of calls at once today, we at least had to make the effort."

"Maybe you should post a note that calling about a panda is useless?" Ranma suggested, clearly amused by the situation.

"Perhaps we should, as it seriously disrupts our work. Well, sorry to have disturbed you. Good evening." That said, the official left.

Ranma closed the door and barely managed to suppress his laughter due to Genma looking ready to beat the snot out of him should he start laughing.


...at the same time, Tsukino house...

"Kind of boring. Ever since you do all this superheroing stuff, Mom no longer has a reason to be on your case about school. It always was so much fun to watch her dress you down," Shingo complained.

Usagi was not happy to hear that. "Very funny, Shingo."

Sitting at the table for dinner, conversation was plenty in the Tsukino family. In the past, Usagi's lack of success at school had been the main topic, but those days were clearly over. Shingo himself had noticed that the hard way when Ikuko had started to inquire him about his own marks at school. Shingo did miss the old days in that regard.

Akane seemed to be a little awkward. She still felt a bit like an intruder into a family moment, even though the Tsukinos had told her to not think that way. She also envied them a bit, as it had not been that way in her home in the past. Her father had been an emotional wreck, Kasumi had acted more like a mother than an older sister and Nabiki had isolated herself from her sisters. Things were now changing for the better, though, and she couldn't wait for her next trip to Nerima.

On the floor beside the table, Artemis sighed over his own dinner. "I actually missed discussions like these at the Ainos. Minako's parents never really understood their daughter and communication was awkward."

Luna knew Artemis was feeling the effect of the rift between Minako and her parents. "No progress yet?" she asked.

"Minako is waiting for them to make the first step, says that a change of heart has to to come from oneself. Until they realize their error and apologize, she won't listen to them. And even then, these are scars that need time to heal."

Luna could hear between the lines that Artemis felt partially guilty for the situation, considering he had never lost any thought about the fact that the Ainos would have to be told one day, better before finding out by accident like they did in the end.

Up at the table meanwhile, the discussion continued.

"Don't deny it. It's no longer fun. When Mom and Dad talk about you, it's now about that boyfriend of yours, which is really boring. As boring as the guy himself." Shingo almost gagged at the memory.

"Don't you dare to pull Mamoru into this! I rather have a boyfriend who is reliable than one who constantly thinks he has to polish is male ego," Usagi told Shingo, feeling that Shingo had just crossed a line.

"Shingo, don't rile up your sister," Kenji warned his son, then looked to his daughter. "Speaking of him, how is it going between you two?"

Usagi knew that her father had accepted Mamoru and now just wanted to not get blindsided. "Quite good. I'm surprised I actually like that he's not like my fantasies about men I got in the past. Perhaps having already enough excitement due to our other job makes up for it."

"You like him because he is reliable?" Ikuko asked.

Seeing that this would be a longer discussion, Usagi put down her chopsticks. "We like each other because of many things. One thing Mamoru likes about me is, that I never loose my optimism and won't back down, even if I'm scared."

"Oh, gag..." Shingo groaned, not liking where this was going.

"I think Shingo won't be able to stomach much more of this topic," Kenji observed, knowing his son had no tolerance for that topic due to his age and not wanting to know what his sister was up to.

"Too bad for Shingo, but he has to learn one day to endure discussions he doesn't like." Ikuko then looked over to Usagi. "I do find he's very ambitious, considering what he's studying. Medicine is very difficult, after all. Speaking of which... have you thought about what you want to do after school? I can't imagine you would like tending to a house the whole day like I do."

Usagi blushed a little. "Weeeell, some time ago that had been my plan after I met Mr. Right. Though that's no longer the case. Mamoru told me it's always better to have something of your own, and since I don't want to become royalty..."

"Yes, after hearing how this other you turned out, we can certainly remove being a queen from your list of jobs you are qualified for." Though Keji was packaging in humor, the idea of what could have happened to Usagi still scared him a bit.

Usagi could have lived without being reminded of that nugget.

"Really, you didn't say a word about having a plan," Akane said, breaking her silence. "The other girls already wonder what you are planning."

"I really didn't feel like telling. Also, acting is not exactly the most stable career, either," Usagi reminded Akane.

"That's why I want to become better at the art as well. If acting doesn't work out for me, I still have something I'm good at and can fall back on," Akane reminded Usagi. After all, she had thought hard about that.

Ikuko looked at both girls. "Akane certainly had planned ahead. What about you, Usagi?"

"Well, I work really hard on it and Ami's even drilling into me how to use a computer properly..." Seeing that everyone was now giving her a look, Usagi deflated a bit. "Well, I plan to become an office worker. I kind of know I won't be able to qualify for more than that and Mamoru explained to me that steady work is important, even if it is boring to no end."

Her parents let out a sigh of defeat, especially since they knew it was true. Usagi simply didn't have the skill or ambition for the more complicated jobs, and the long time her school records had been horrible wouldn't help, either. At least Usagi was honest with herself and now aiming at something attainable, instead of unrealistic daydreams.

To tell the truth, Usagi envied her friends and those around them a bit, who were almost all aiming higher or for something specific.

Naru would work in her mother's jewelry shop, Ami aimed to become a scientist, Rei would take over as a priestess at the shrine, Makoto planned to go into athletics, Ranma wanted to become a martial arts sensei, Akane planned to become an actress and Mamoru was studying medicine. Hotaru was still too young to worry about these things and Michiru and Haruka already got their jobs. Only Minako she was unsure about and she didn't know enough about Ryo, Mu-Tsu and Umino to make a guess about their job preferences.

"This comes a bit as a surprise, but it is a valid career choice. Solid, but nothing extraordinary," Kenji admitted, actually having expected something flashy from his daughter.

"Well, at least you are honest about it," Ikuko sighed.

Usagi was a bit offended, but knew her mother had probably wanted her to strive for something better. "Mom, speaking of that... what did you work as before you met Dad?"

Ikuko looked a little embarrassed. "You have to remember it was a different time back then; women were not encouraged to work for a living." She saw Usagi giving her a look. "I worked in a retail store, all right? It was a job I gladly gave up where you were on the way. Now you understand why I wanted you to get something better?"

Usagi understood, as she'd always felt sorry for these poor guys in retail. "Well, perhaps that I won't be just a regular office drone puts your mind a bit at ease..."

Good thing she won't become a queen. That was hardly diplomatic, Akane winced inwardly. Usagi at times could be incredibly blunt.

"Usagi really has a way with words..." Luna sighed, knowing for sure Usagi would never become sophisticated. "Good thing she won't become queen of Earth any longer."

"Oh, I can imagine her trying politics and the train wreck that follows." Artemis knew Usagi simply didn't have the correct qualities for politics. "She is a lot like Minako in that regard. Way too direct..."


...two days later, Haruka's and Michiru's apartment...

"I have to say your apartment is really nice. Very classy, but not tacky, although the mix between the tastes of an educated woman and that of a woman who couldn't care less about traditionally female tastes takes some time to get used to."

"Oh, thank you, mother." Michiru knew this was her mother's polite way to tell her that while she did approve, she saw some room for improvement.

Today was the first time Michiru's parents were visiting them in their new apartment. The Kaiohs in general tried to stay in close contact with them and Haruka at times envied Michiru for such supportive parents, considering her own parents had never been great parents and had disowned her as soon as she'd told them she was gay. The Kaiohs had been very good to her and she felt she could never repay them for the support they'd given her after her own parents had thrown her out.

Her own mother would have called their apartment 'simply horrible', which would be rich, as her own tastes were kitschy to the extreme. Mrs. Kaioh on the other hand gave more useful advice to the two young women on what they could improve.

"Hadn't I known her for years, I would think she's unhappy with how Michiru's life turned out to be," Haruka whispered to Mr. Kaioh while they watched mother and daughter. "I thought every mother wants her daughter to give them grandchildren."

"Oh, she still hopes so. After all, she knows there now are scientific ways to get around the problem so that both of you can stay true to yourselves." Seeing Haruka look nervous at the idea, Noboru Kaioh added "Oh, and she said the same goes for you." He barely held back his laughter at seeing how uncomfortable Haruka looked at the idea. "Oh, of course that didn't mean now. Midori feels that both of you need a bit more time to become more adult, before that kind of responsibility."

"Thank all goodness. Don't scare me like that again." Haruka grumbled.

Truth to be told, Haruka was a bit scared at the idea of getting pregnant; it was something she'd thought would never happen with her life choices. The gentle reminder that nowadays that was not an obstacle to having a bun in the oven thus came out of nowhere. While she didn't deny her gender, her way of life looked completely incompatible to the view the people of Japan had on mothers.

"I expected you to look uncomfortable, but there seems to be more," Noboru observed further while watching his daughter blush when his wife started to heap praise on a beautiful painting Michiru had painted.

Haruka wouldn't have said anything with anyone else, but after all the help the Kaiohs had given her, she trusted them completely. "It's that my own parents are not the greatest role-models, though you already know that."

"Yes, but this still looks like more." Due to his line of work, he had developed an eye for these things. He then understood. "I thought they had cut off all ties to you. What have they done to make you look like you did when they threw you out onto the streets and we had to give you shelter?"

They clearly hadn't been quiet enough.

"These horrible people. What right do they have to try and worm their way back into Haruka's life after how badly they have treated her?" Michiru grumbled, then saw that her parents wanted an explanation. "Well, you remember how we imagined them kicking themselves over their stupid actions after Haruka and me both became well off? It seems they got it into their heads to try and act as if it had all been a huge misunderstanding."

Haruka snorted at the idea. "They honestly expect me to suddenly forget how they treated me. Fat chance of that. They must have become delusional since the last time I've seen them."

Midori Kaioh shook her head. "These people are impossible. The way you tell us, it's already quite obvious they only do that to try and weasel money out of you. Quite a bit too late after they've burned their bridges so thoroughly."

"Well, they already tried letters and calls. Wonder what I do should they have the nerve to show up in person." Haruka didn't want to imagine it.

"Let's not talk about them anymore. No need to spoil the mood." Michiru knew this was a sensitive topic for Haruka.

The visit of the Kaiohs went on without problem after that and soon enough the group was walking downstairs.

"You really need to visit us more often. It felt like an eternity since we last saw you, although it actually wasn't that long ago," Noboru said while searching for his car keys. "It would be... oh, shoot! What a really considerate way of parking your car."

The older Kaioh cursed while looking at the car that was parking in front of his, making it impossible for him to leave the parking space. It was an older model, obviously not well tended to, considering some quite obvious rust was visible. Haruka took one look at the car, then suddenly recognized it and all of a sudden didn't feel well.

"Crap, it's them..." she groaned and felt like retreating back upstairs.

However, it was too late when two people walked around the corner, clearly having looked at the balconies on the back of the building. Only Haruka knew who they were, as Michiru had not even seen pictures of them and her parents didn't know as well. The man and woman did see them however, and suddenly hurried to them.

"Haruka, what's wrong?" Michiru asked, suddenly concerned about her mate's reaction.

Haruka had to try hard not to growl. "You are about to meet the people who call themselves my parents - well, again call themselves, now that they want a piece of the cake."

When the Tenohs approached, the others for the first time got a look at them.

Mr. Tenoh looked to be rather stocky and just by looking at his features, it was pretty obvious one of his parents hadn't been Japanese, though it was clear he was trying to mask this fact. He was quite stocky and lesser people would clearly be scared to get into an argument with him.

Mrs. Tenoh on the other looked almost like the stereotypical Japanese house wife. She looked so incredibly bland it was difficult to find any features that could be used in a description. She also was the shortest person present, being actually a head shorter than her own daughter.

"There you are, Haruka. You're not answering our calls, so we thought we come in person." Even her voice sounded bland, creating the question if she had been a deliberate choice by her husband to further cover his ancestry.

Michiru did not miss the glace these two were giving her. It was pretty clear that they probably thought of her as nothing more than the 'homosexual bitch who made their daughter gay'. This of course was incredibly stupid and bigoted, but that was how certain people thought, if she liked it or not.

"Yeah, sure you did. And I know exactly what you want." Haruka didn't even try to hide her disdain.

"Why must you be so confrontational?" Mr. Tenoh asked, while looking nervously to the others, clearly not happy at having so many witnesses.

"You don't own me. Just to give you a reality check: I'm an adult and you can't make me do anything. You simply are like these moochers who find out a relative won in the lottery. Newsflash: after treating me like crap, I couldn't care less about you."

Haruka was a bit surprised herself that she showed no fear, but maybe after being confronted with the nightmare Nahellenia caused her, the real thing had lost its scariness. If anything, she just wanted them to get lost for good.

Mrs. Tenoh looked scandalized. "This is so incredibly self-centered of you..."

Haruka only laughed sarcastically. "Oh, that's rich coming from you."

"I think it's time for you two to leave. You are clearly not welcome here, so don't humiliate yourselves more than you already did," Midori said, finally having heard enough, seeing as both young women were quite upset.

"And who are you?" It was clear Mr. Tenoh didn't like being told what to do.

"They are my parents. Unlike you, their priority was our happiness first, and not some kind of cultivated bigotry. Just looking at your face already tells me what a hypocrite you are about giving Haruka a hard time about her hair color," Michiru said, finally unable to keep silent.

"You little..." Mr. Tenoh looked ready to do something that would coss the line, but was blocked by Noboru stepping in front of his daughter.

"Just do it and be ready to spend some time in a cozy little police cell. Who is it the police would believe? You, some people who can't accept they screwed up, or me, an employee of the government?" he asked rhetorically, of course being ready in case things did turn violent.

The Tenohs clearly hadn't expected this. While the man wasn't police, attacking someone who works for the government would mean the authorities would take a closer look. Not wanting to have that being on record, Mr. Tenoh quickly backed off and his wife looked concerned as well.

"Look, you've had your chance and you blew it Just leave and stop humiliating yourselves further by trying to get some of what I earned fair and square." Haruka no longer sounded aggressive. She just wanted them to be gone.

The Tenohs looked like they wanted to argue, but then decided it would be better to retreat for the moment. No one said a word until they had driven away in their car.

Haruka was surprised, when as soon as the car was out of sight, Michiru hugged her. "Shhh, calm down. I know you are upset over this."

"It's just... I'm still in disbelief they could even think... I know they'll try again, acting as if they are entitled to get what's rightfully mine," Haruka said while holding Michiru close.

"Let me help you feel a bit better."

The Kaiohs actually were a bit amused when Michiru started to gently kiss Haruka, clearly no longer caring her parents were watching. To them it only was proof how close these two were and how happy their daughter was.

"Too bad there's no way she could actually marry her," Noboru whispered to his wife, a bit disappointed at the conservative laws.

"I think they don't need that to be happy," his wife whispered back, finding it incredibly beautiful to see these two understanding each other so well.


...a few days later...

Pu-Leong couldn't have looked happier when finally stepping onto dry land again. Sure, a generous 'donation' had convinced the crew of the ship to leave the twelve-year old girl alone, but that had cut into most of her funds and she no longer had enough money to actually return home once this mess was over.

#If I still have a home then...# she thought darkly. Her father's job had caused her to develop a certain cynicism early on.

She still was thankful her father had seen the signs early on and sent her away to get the map to people who could keep it safe. She just hoped nothing had happened to him. He was a brave man - he had to be, living so close to countless cursed pools - but he was only human and she worried he would get hurt.

Looking at the signs, Pu-Leong again thanked her mother for insisting she would have to learn a second language right from the start, feeling it to be wise considering all the foreign visitors to that cursed place. Though many of the other children at her school were calling her an egghead for it, she knew it had been the right choice.

#I better hurry. I have the feeling someone is following me. These seagulls acting strange was really scary,# she thought while leaving the docks.

She hoped she could decipher the train plan. While being in the correct city, Tokyo was a huge place and she would probably have to ask questions in order to find her destination. Perhaps being a cute girl would help to get helpful answers. That, and she hoped to not run into police, since she didn't exactly have the needed papers to enter Japan.

Further out at sea, a small fishing trawler was moving towards Tokyo as well.

#"All this water is making me nervous,"# the underling said while leaning against the railing of the ship.

The other underling looked equally nervous. #"Be glad we're not flying over it. One small accident, and we would be drowning."#

Someone else walked up to them. #"Pull yourselves together."#

#"Oh, sorry, Captain Kiima! It's just, the open sea is not made for people like us,"# the first underling apologized.

#"We'll be on dry land soon enough. Our winged informers told me the brat has made landfall. Get ready, we make landfall shortly as well and have to track her down."#

o

Ranma was enjoying some leisure time on his own. Contrary what others might think, he and Ami both did have their own private activities as well. However, right now he did have nothing in mind and just walked aimlessly through the neighborhood.

His mother was in one of her strange pregnancy moods at the moment and with Genma being at work, he didn't want to face it on his own. Better let her vent it by teaching Hotaru feminine stuff. He'd seen her start to explain to Hotaru the finer points of tea when he'd left. For a few days now, Nodoka was teaching her that kind of stuff, with Hotaru being very attentive.

Not being at home, his options at the moment were rather limited how to spend his time. Going to Ami was out as well, since she was in the library, working on some kind of private project she found exciting and he found simply boring. The others also were busy in one way or another.

Walking by the canal, he was tempted to train his balance by walking on the top of the chain-link fence, but then again he knew his luck. He'd probably fall into the canal and while he wouldn't mind the change, with the now cooler weather he would also freeze his ass off in the soaked clothes.

No, he was better off just walking aimlessly through the neighborhood.

Well, at least until he looked at the sky, which became increasingly overcast, the dark clouds starting to dampen the daylight. He knew that meant it would rain very soon and again, while he no longer minded the change, getting soaked was not high on his list of things right now.

I guess that means I have to join in on Hotaru's lessons on proper tea etiquette, Ranma sighed. There were some things he would never like, and that was one of them.

-craw craw craw craw craw craw-

"What in all names...?" Ranma wondered when suddenly hearing the crawing of countless crows. He knew the sound well, Phobos and Deimos after all made it often enough, but this sounded like an army of birds.

Looking around, Ranma was stunned when seeing a huge flock of crows attacking something one housing bloc away. Having seen too much weird stuff by now, he knew this meant trouble and wasted no time running towards whatever was going on there.

#"No! Stop! Ah! Ow!"#

Ranma didn't understand most of it, but he'd heard enough to know that was a girl screaming in Chinese. Running faster, Ranma ran around the corner and saw dozens of crows attacking a girl around Hotaru's age. Judging by some bloody nicks they'd already caused her, they were there to harm her. Ranma had no idea what could make normal birds go this crazy, but he knew he had to do something.

"Leave her alone!" he shouted, running into the fray.

Now, while the crows were perfectly good to attack a young girl, they had little chance against a trained martial artist. Ranma hated what he had to do, but he needed to act fast before they would cause the girl more injury. Using his quick reflexes, he managed to hit several crows, turning them into bloody mush. This clearly discouraged the others when seeing the fate of their fellow brethren and they flew away in a terrified hurry.

With them gone, Ranma could finally take a closer look at the girl.

She really looked to be Hotaru's age. Her black hair was tied into two braids and she was wearing traveling clothes and a backpack. To be honest, she didn't look like anything out of the ordinary, making him wonder why these birds had gone crazy.

#"Ow... ow..."# The girl grimaced due to the damage done, then looked at Ranma. "Oh, what luck! A honored customer!"

Ranma knew he had heard that particular phrase before - it did bring up bad memories, after all. However, he had little time to ponder over this, when suddenly...

"You! Give me the girl! Now!"

Looking up from where the voice came from, Ranma gasped at the sight.

It looked like a man. However, huge black wings sprouted from his back, allowing him flight, while his hands and feet were scaly and instead of nails he got claws on them. While not being particularly gruesome compared to some of the more grotesque things he'd seen, the fact that this was not an actual monster - he didn't feel anything he would feel with one - was disturbing. As disturbing as the angry and greedy look that guy was giving him.

Regardless who that was, no way he would hand over a young girl to the likes of him. "No chance!" Ranma growled, standing protectively in front of her.

The winged man looked at him is disdain. "Don't say I didn't warn you. I'll enjoy gutting you!" Then, with a greedy smile, he went on to attack Ranma.

to be continued...

Next Episode:

"The Shadows of Mt. Phoenix, Part I - Attack of the Birds"


Notes:

Here the notes.

As said above, this was created at sort of record time for me. Writing slice of life certainly comes easy to me. I wanted to give one more look at their lives, before things start to heat up more and more. I also wanted to use the chance to show how bigoted and hypocritical Haruka's parents are, especially her old man.

Now, looking at the final scenes and the title of the next chapter, you can already guess that things are about to get very much serious. The Phoenix story in canon happened mostly because of a comedy of misunderstanding, but it turned out Saffron is incredbly cruel and heartless.

Here I want to make things more direct, since the comedy of errors won't happen. The phrase "The latest re-incarnation did not go according to plan" will be quite important. But it's not only that, but other stuff as well, hinted in early chapters, that will blow up, resulting in a huge mess.

Beside the final scene itself, I did hide two more hints in the chapter, hope you did find them.

Btw., I have to note that while a number of authors start their stories after the Phoenix Arc, pretty much no one managed to reach it if they start their stories before it. Right on the spot I can't recall anyone whose story takes place in the arc itself, so I'm pretty much entering uncharted territory here.