Sasuga wa Onii-sama
a story by Dot

I'm sure this has been done already, and in a much better way, but I couldn't help myself. Poor Ryouga deserves better, and if I have to concoct a convenient plot contrivance to do so, then I will! ^_^

The title translates roughly as "That's My Big Brother All Right". (The term 'sasuga' implies someone living up to a reputation or an expectation.)


Ryouga wanted to let go of Akane and go on with his life. But he couldn't. Nerima, a place that was once only filled with painful memories, was now a place he looked forward to passing through. To see her smile was the highlight of his miserable existence--well, that, and beating the crap out of Ranma. But he knew that he would never be able to have Akane. From the moment that Ryouga met Akane, he knew that he had already lost to his bitter rival. Still, he dared to hope, but that only led into his digging himself into a hole of deception and shame from which he could never extract himself. And he could never seem to find Akari's farm...

"DAMN YOU, RANMA! THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!" He screamed, the valley around him echoing his cry. Tears streamed down his face as he collapsed to his knees, his burden of loneliness too great even for him to bear.

***

Somewhere within the vast, complex computer known as Yggsadril, the self-running program known as the Ultimate Force discovered an incongruity in the World Computer's code. It wasn't a very big one, and only affected one individual directly and a mere handful of others indirectly. Hardly a problem that would jeopardize the existence of the universe, but a problem nonetheless. Following the dictates of its programming, the Ultimate Force began looking for ways to correct this problem.

It soon found one.

***

Deep down, Falora was, as Belldandy always said, "a really nice girl". She just had a tendency to rush into things and involve herself too deeply in matters that were none of her business.

Normally, this wouldn't be too much of a problem, but Falora was a fledgling Goddess.

Which means that, if she tried hard enough, she could alter the vert fabric of reality.

On this day, Falora was heading back home from a particularly tiring training session when she heard Ryouga feeling sorry for himself for the umpteenth time. If it had been anyone else, Falora would have just passed by without a second thought, but Ryouga always weighed heavily on her heart. After all, it was sort of her fault that he had gotten tangled up in the whole Nerima mess.

I should have known better than to suggest him to Urd as a way to put Ranma and Akane together... Falora sighed. The poor guy. If he keeps this up he'll be the most miserable man on earth. She sighed again. If only there was something I could do for him...

Falora eyes lit up as a memory came into her head. "Of course!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands together in delight. She giggled as the whole plan tumbled forth and assembled itself. "It would be perfect!" With some concentration, Falora changed a very small bit of data concerning Ryouga.

Is he ever in for a surprise! Falora giggled again before starting off again for Asgard.

***

The incongruity corrected, the Ulitmate Force saved a log file of the fix and continued running its constant diagnostic of the World Computer.

***

Kasumi hummed a little tune to herself as she cleaned around the house. Now that Ranma and Akane were getting along, the eldest Tendo daughter had fewer broken furniture, bits of plaster, or splinters to worry about. Kasumi never did find out where Akane kept getting those mallets from, but she didn't mind. It was so sweet watching Ranma and Akane being nice to one another for a change.

Ranma stuck out his tongue playfully. "Uncute tomboy."

Akane did as well. "Pervert."

All right, so they still hadn't gotten past the 'insult each other and initiate a tongue war' part. But at least they have finally admitted their feelings for one another, if not directly, then in the way they stare at each other and blush when they think that no one else is looking. Now, if only she could convince Daddy and Uncle Saotome not to rush them into marriage again...

A loud knock sounded at the door. Akane and Ranma exchanged worried glanced, and touched hands for a few moments to lend each other support.

"I'll get it," Kasumi announced, heading towards the door, wondering who could it be. Kodachi, Shampoo and Ryouga usually never bothered to use the door, Ukyou seldom left her store, and Happosai still hadn't decended from his last launch into Lower Earth Orbit via Akane's impressive punt.

The door opened to reveal a small girl whose dark brown hair was tied in twin ponytails, her enormous backpack nearly dwarfing her tiny frame.

"Excuse me," the girl smiled, revealing pointy fangs that resembled those of a certain Eternally Lost Boy. "But do you know where the Hibiki residence is?"

Kasumi smiled back. "No, but Ranma does." She turned around to ask Ranma to escort this nice young lady home, only to discover that he had fallen over in shock, the third and fourth fingers in his hands folded down. "Oh, dear. It looks like Ranma won't be able to help you right now." She faced the young lady again. "Why don't you come in and have some tea?"

"Really?" The girl's face lit up. "Thank you so much!" She bowed. "I'm Hibiki Yoiko. Pleased to meet you!"

"Tendou Kasumi," Kasumi stated, bowing back. "And this is my youngest sister Akane, and her fiancée Saotome Ranma."

***

Skuld's eyebrow twitched as a new nexus of improbability manifested itself in Nerima.

"Great," Urd sighed. "What did Falora do this time?"

***

In actuality, Ryouga was not as directionally challenged as everyone thought; he simply did not pay too much attention as to where he was going. By the time he realized that he was lost, he usually panicked, with the result that he ended up even more lost. When Ryouga really needed to go somewhere, though, he almost always ended up in the general area of his destination within a few moments.

Currently, Ryouga was unknowingly headed towards Nerima. Something in his subconscious mind told him that he should go there, and Ryouga was never one to argue with his gut feelings. Before long, he was standing in front of the Tendou Dojo.

As he was contemplating whether or not to go in, the front door almost flew off its hinges, and he was bowled over by a brownish blur.

"ONII-SAMA!" A small girl's voice cried with delight, hugging him tightly.

Ryouga began to get angry. How dare Ranma try that stupid trick on him again?!? With a roar, he threw the girl off of him and dropped into a battle stance.

"You'd better have hit your head and forgotten who you are, Ranma," Ryouga growled. "Or I swear I'll smear your body parts all over the yard."

The girl blinked in confusion. "What are you talking about, Onii-sama? I'm Yoiko, your little sister!"

"Very funny, Ranma." Ryouga cracked his knuckles. "Prepare to die!"

***

Akane was snapped out of her shock when she heard Ryouga's battle yell.

Oh, no! she thought. Ryouga must think that Ranma's trying to trick him again. She jumped up and ran outside as fast as she could.

Ryouga was already attacking Yoiko when Akane reached the door. Had Akane not been in such a hurry, she might have noticed how well Yoiko was dodging Ryouga's infuriated punches and kicks.

"STOP!" Akane cried, causing both of them to freeze.

"Akane-oneechan!" Yoiko hid behind Akane. "Onii-sama is being mean to me!"

"Akane-san!" Ryouga pointed to Yoiko. "Please tell Ranma to stop fooling around!"

"I didn't do nothin' this time," Ranma answered, walking out as well.

Ryouga stared alternatively between Ranma and Yoiko for several seconds before passing out.

***

Ryouga opened his eyes to find himself lying on the floor of the Tendo's living room.

"Onii-sama!" Yoiko grabbed him in a almost too-tight hug. "I was so worried."

"C-can't...breathe..." Ryouga gasped.

"Ah! I'm sorry!" Yoiko let up on the pressure a bit, but kept her arms wrapped around his waist. She looked up at him with glittering eyes. "I've missed you so much, Onii-sama!"

Ryouga opened his mouth and said the only thing he could under the circumstance he was in: "Since when did I have a little sister?!?"

***

Belldandy placed a hand on Falora's shoulder. "Falora, the next time that you come up with an idea, tell us first, please?"

"Oops," Falora mumbled sheepishly, looking only at her toes.

"'Oops'?" Skuld repeated incredulously, on the verge of exploding with anger. "You've somehow managed to even change the source code of the entire Nerima area and all you can say is 'oops'?!?"

"Now is not the time for anger, Skuld," Belldandy chided gently. She turned to her other sister. "What does the Lord have to say about this?"

"He says that it's up to us to make any decisions," Urd replied. She couldn't believe how calmly He had taken everything; in fact, she was pretty sure that He was even amused at the entire situation. "I say we just 'erase' this incident altogether."

Belldandy shook her head. "It's not as simple as that, or the Lord would have made more direct orders."

"So now what?" Skuld wondered.

"First, I think we'll need to explain what happened to everyone involved." Belldandy sighed again. "Then, all of us will need to go see for ourselves exactly how much of the source code has been affected, and to what extent."

"Me too?" Falora asked timidly.

Urd crossed her arms. "Especially you."

***

Ranma tensed and dropped into a defensive stance slightly in front of Akane when the koi pond, and then the TV in the living room, followed by the mirror next to the door, and finally the shadow cast by the tree in the yard began to glow. He was sure he felt his jaw dislocate when a young lady appeared from each one of them.

"Fear not," one of them, who had an air of gentleness about her much like Kasumi's, said. "We mean no harm."

"Who are you?" Ranma demanded. Please, don't let this be another fiancée thing that Pop set up, he frantically prayed to whomever that might have been listening. I'm getting enough grief from Akane as it is.

The same woman bowed deeply, letting her light brown hair fall forward. "Belldandy, Goddess First Class, Second Category, Unlimited."

The woman standing next to her--a considerably more shapely woman with long silver hair, wearing a revealing outfit that showed quite a bit of cleavage--bowed as well, causing Ryouga to spout a fountain of blood from his nose and nearly pass out. "Urd, Goddess Second Class, Unlimited."

The third woman--a short young lady, actually, with mauve-colored hair--curtsied. "Skuld, Goddess Second Class, Limited."

The last--definitely a girl, with cheek-length blonde hair--lowered her head and blushed. "Falora, Goddess Trainee Class."

"Welcome to our home!" Kasumi greeted without skipping a beat, holding up a tray of tea. "Would you like some tea?"

"No, thank you," Belldandy declined gracefully.

This isn't much weirder than the stuff that normally happens around here, Ranma thought. Aloud, he asked: "So what brings four Goddesses to Nerima?"

Skuld coughed. "Well, Falora here--" she glared at the guilty Goddess, "--messed with the Yggdrasil's source code, and Yoiko was the result."

Yoiko had a look of sheer terror on her face. "What do you mean?" she asked weakly.

Belldandy smiled and placed a comforting hand on Yoiko's shoulder. "Don't worry, we're not here to take you away." She turned to Ranma, Akane, Kasumi, and Ryouga. "We're here to ask you to take good care of Yoiko."

Ranma just stared. "Um...huh?"

"Due to Falora's oversight, Yoiko has no background or memory save that of what pertains to Ryouga," Belldandy explained. "Yoiko will need your help to integrate her into this world."

"Can't you guys do it?" Ranma asked. "I mean, you are Goddesses and all."

"Very busy Goddesses," corrected Urd. "Especially now, after this delightful little mess, we'll have our hands full for a while."

Kasumi nodded sympathetically. "In that case, we'll be glad to take care of Yoiko."

Belldandy bowed again. "Thank you so very much. We'll be going now."

Everyone--except Belldandy and Kasumi, of course--jumped when a lightning bolt struck the ground outside and carved some letters into the ground.

Urd walked over to the words and read them aloud. "Falora is to stay on Earth until the matter has been investigated. Bell will accompany her. Thus it is writ." To herself, she muttered: "Well, the Lord has always been the type to make impressive announcements."

"So mote it be," Bellandy said, completing the ritual. She clapped her hands together. "Holy Bell, come forth."

One of the charms around Belldandy's neck glowed, and a winged figure materialized from it.

"The Lord has mandated that Falora remain here, and that you are to protect her."

The figure nodded, and clasped its hands before its chest. The glowing faded, revealing a woman who looked about twenty, with bright eyes and lucious golden hair that tumbled down her small frame.

"Be good now, Falora," Belldandy reminded Falora before taking the other Goddess' hands and stepping into the pond again.

The Tendou dojo enjoyed a rare moment of silence.

"Um. Well." Falora smiled. "So, Ryouga, looks like we'll be staying at your place for a while."

"Let's go home!" Yoiko suggested, hugging Ryouga close again.

"S-sure," Ryouga, still a bit woozy from his recent blood loss, agreed.

Falora, Bell, Ryouga, and Yoiko walked out the door, saying their goodbyes to Ranma and the Tendous.

A few moments later, they returned.

"Eh..." Falora grinned sheepishly. "Could anybody guide us to the Hibiki residence?"

Ranma and Akane fell over.

***

--The next day--
Falora found a large rock and collapsed against it.

"I know that Ryouga has a tendancy to wander, but this is ridiculous," she panted. Earlier, Ryouga had left the house in an attempt to get to Furinkan High to avenge some real or imagined wrong on Ranma's part. Of course, Yoiko had followed, as well as Falora, but the siblings had proved to be much too difficult for the young Goddess to track.

Bell appeared over Falora, smiling enigmatically.

"Sure, rub it in, don't you?" Falora mumbled glumly.

Bell dropped two large cloth bags into Falora's lap and pointed in the direction of Furinkan.

Falora looked quizzically at the bags. "What for?"

Bell's eyes twinkled.

***

"RANMA! PREPARE TO DIE!" Ryouga yelled from outside the cafeteria.

Ranma stood and slammed his chopsticks down. "Man! Can't even get a decent lunch around here." He made a face at Ryouga and jumped up to a nearby window. "Come and get me, P-chan!" With that, he leapt at Ryouga and used the Lost Boy's head as a springboard, landing gracefully outside. Ryouga let out a roar of rage and charged towards Ranma. The two probably would have had quite a battle had Yoiko not barreled through one of the walls at the edge of the school.

"There goes the school budget..." Nabiki remarked, observing the large hole that Yoiko made.

"ONII-SAMA!" The girl squealed, flinging her arms wide. "THERE YOU ARE!"

--GLOMP--

"Y-yoiko," Ryouga gasped, "not so tight..."

The shadow cast by one of the trees glowed brightly, and Falora stepped out of it, bearing two large cloth bags. "Thanks a bunch, Bell," she whispered to the sky before turning her attention to the siblings. "Hey, guys! Bell made these for you two."

She didn't need to say anything more. Ryouga and Yoiko almost immeadiately dug into their respective lunches, eating away furiously until the food was gone. By then, Ryouga's anger was completely satiated by the food, and he left peacefully with Yoiko. In the general direction of Kyushu.

***

"What a mess," Skuld sighed, sorting through the huge reams of paper that comprised the Yggdrasil's diagnostics.

Urd shook her head. "This is nothing. You should have seen what happened when we first tested the preliminary systems." She set down the stack that she had been reading. "We must have murdered several planets' worth of forests during that." She turned to Belldandy. "Hey, sis, could you pass over the next set?" No reply. "Sis?"

Belldandy blinked and gave a little start. "Hm? Oh, sorry, of course."

"Thinking about that Keiichi guy again?" Urd teased, taking the pile of papers from Belldandy.

Belldandy blushed slightly. "I can't help it. He's such a sweet fellow..."

"I don't get what you see in that guy," Skuld muttered testily. She quickly hid the list of qualified candidates for a wish under a big pile of printouts. Maybe she could get it lost in the shuffle and her sister wouldn't find out who was soon to make a call to the Goddess Helper Office.

***

The pouring rain, combined with the cold weather, cast that Sunday in a dreary gray. Akane, bundled up in a sweater, nursed a mug of hot cocoa in her hands to keep warm. Through the walls, she could hear Ranma and Uncle Genma going at each other in the dojo. Kasumi was in the kitchen--cooking, as usual--and Nabiki was upstairs in her room, probably either studying or reading her manga. And Falora and Yoiko were currently manifesting out of the shadow created by the lamp overhead shining onto the chabudai in the living room.

Wait a minute. Falora and Yoiko coming out of a shadow?

Akane blinked.

"Sorry to startle you," Falora apologized. "But Yoiko and I haven't seen Ryouga for the last few days and were wondering if you have."

Akane shook her head.

A small sneeze was heard from a corner of the room, and all heads turned towards it.

"P-chan!" Akane exclaimed with delight, recognizing the tiny, black pig. She ran over to pick it up. "Oh, you're soaking wet!"

"Hey, that looks like Onii-sama's bandanna!" Yoiko noticed.

"Of course, because--" Falora suddenly broke out hiccuping uncontrollably.

Bell walked into the room carrying a towel that Akane recognized as the one she always hung in the bathroom. The angel frowned and shook a finger at Falora.

"I know," Falora replied sullenly after Bell was finished 'lecturing' her, her hiccups mysteriously cured. Bell then handed the towel to Akane, who immediately began drying P-chan.

"Can I see him?" Yoiko asked eagerly.

"Sure, just be careful."

Yoiko gingerly took the pig in her hands. "Oh, he's so cute!" She giggled, giving him a small peck on the snout. The pig seemed to blush, and she giggled again. "And shy, too!"

Kasumi walked in from the kitchen. "Oh, hello! I didn't hear you knock."

"Well, we didn't come in through the door," Falora explained.

Kasumi nodded sagely. "I see. Would you like to stay for dinner?"

"Could we?" Yoiko asked eagerly. "Please?"

Falora shot a questioning look to Bell, who nodded.

"Yay!" Yoiko cheered.

***

Yoiko ate at a breakneck pace, sometimes crossing chopsticks with Ranma and Genma as they competed for food, while Falora ate more daintily, and Bell didn't eat at all.

"Don't worry, there's plenty to go around," Kasumi reassured them, bringing another dish to the chabudai. She offered a pair of chopsticks to Bell. "Aren't you hungry?"

"Bell doesn't need to eat," Falora explained for Bell.

Yoiko yelped and shrunk back when a loud crack of thunder sounded nearby.

"It's just thunder, Yoiko-chan," Kasumi told the frightened girl soothingly. "It won't hurt you."

"But it sounds so scary!" Yoiko squeaked. She whimpered as another deafening peal was heard. "I wish Onii-sama was here..."

Upon hearing this, P-chan squirmed out of Akane's lap and made a beeline toward the kitchen.

"P-chan!" Akane exclaimed, and was about to chase after him when Kasumi stopped her.

"No leaving the table before you finish eating," Kasumi reminded Akane.

Worry crossed Akane's features. "But..."

Bell pointed to the kitchen and made a seeking gesture.

"You would like to help me?" Akane guessed. Bell nodded. "Thank you very much!"

Bell only smiled, then rose into the air after P-chan.

***

Ryouga looked up at the kitchen counter and fought a growing wave of despair. He had found his destination quickly, partly due to his familiarity with the Tendou home and partly due to his determination to make Yoiko's wish come true. However, he forgot how much smaller he was in his cursed form, and even with his formidable jumping skills, he could not reach the kettle that Kasumi always kept on the range unless he wanted to risk severely burning himself.

A slender hand reached above Ryouga, took the kettle, and tested its temperature before pouring some of its contents on him. In the blink of an eye, Ryouga regained his normal height. He was about to cover himself when he realized that his clothes had also mysteriously appeared on his body.

"What the--?" he turned to face his mysterious benefactor, and nearly jumped when he saw that it was Bell. "Oh, it's you." he gestured toward his clothes. "Did you just--?"

Bell nodded, then made the motion of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Ryouga blinked. "I see. Thanks." he turned again to join the others. Bell very gently guided him toward the correct direction.

***

Ryouga braced himself for the inevitable tackle-hug as he re-entered the common room.

"ONII-SAMA!"

--WHAM--

This time, since Ryouga was prepared, he didn't get all the air knocked out of him, but he did nearly get it squeezed out by Yoiko's powerful arms.

"I'm so glad you're here!" Yoiko cried, snuggling deeply into Ryouga's chest. "I was so scared!"

"Why don't you join us for dinner?" Akane invited.

At this, Ranma slapped his chopsticks onto the chabudai. "I'm done," he announced a bit too loudly, standing up. "I'll be in the dojo."

Akane watched Ranma's retreating back. "Ranma..."

"Why don't you go see what's wrong?" Kasumi suggested.

Akane crossed her arms. "Hmph! All that jerk would do is call me uncute and say he's fine."

"That's--" Falora broke into hiccups again.

Bell sighed soundlessly, summoned a glass of water, and handed it to Falora.

***

The rain had gone down to a light drizzle by the time Ryouga finished eating.

"Could we walk home, please?" Yoiko asked Falora. "I hardly ever get to spend any time with Onii-sama."

"Well," Falora began a bit sheepishly. "We would have to walk even if we didn't want to, since I forgot to keep a light on back at your house."

"But I thought you travel through shadow, not light?" Akane asked.

"Yes," Falora nodded, "but unless the shadow is cast by a good light source, I can't pinpoint where we're going."

Yoiko stuffed her feet into her shoes, jumped up, and grabbed Ryouga by the elbow. "Anyway, let's go!"

"Wait a minute!" Ryouga protested. "My umbrella is only big enough for two people, tops."

Akane got a bright red umbrella out of the closet next to the door. "Here, you can borrow this."

Ryouga felt himself grow hot. "R-really?"

"Sure!" Akane replied, smiling. "Just give it back to me tomorrow."

"Or anytime this century," Ranma muttered from behind her.

Akane must have jumped about three feet in the air. "Don't sneak up on me like that!" she shouted, although she didn't sound as angry as she did relieved. Ranma only stuck his tongue out at her playfully.

Ryouga felt a lump rise in his throat. Akane-san...

Yoiko began pulling on Ryouga more insistently. "Come on, Onii-sama!"

***

Yoiko latched onto Ryouga's arm tightly as they made their way home.

If only Akane would hold me like that... Ryouga thought wistfully.

"Onii-sama?"

Ryouga shook himself out of his fantasy. "Hm?"

"Why are you angry at Ranma-oniichan all the time?" Without waiting for a response, Yoiko continued. "Whenever you see him, you always fight! And you always yell--" at this Yoiko clenched her fist and imitated Ryouga, "DIE, RANMA!" she unexpectedly stopped and pulled Ryouga towards her. "You don't really mean that, do you?"

Ryouga was suddenly at a loss for words. "I..."

"Hey, guys?" Falora pointed in the opposite direction that Yoiko and Ryouga were currently heading. "Your house is that way."

Ryouga and Yoiko simultaneously put an arm behind their heads and laughed sheepishly. "Oh, right."

***

Mara hated paperwork. Not only was it tedious, it was also boring, deadly dull, and totally uninteresting, to boot.

"AUGH!" Mara screamed, throwing her pen to the desk. "I can't take it anymore! Forget this! I'm leaving!"

Reaching into her pocket for the "Hanson Brothers" CD that she always kept there secretly in case of emergencies like this, Mara set it onto her desk and began pondering where she should go.

"I know!" she exclaimed, snapping her fingers. Pressing her fingers onto the CD case, she concentrated and said to herself: "Take me where I can cause the maximum amount of chaos!"

Even though the room she appeared in had very little light, Mara almost immeadiately recognized it as belonging to the Hibikis. Their tendency to become horrendously lost, combined with their genetic disposition towards suicidal depression, made them a frequent target for Demonic torment. Mara had a special liking towards the one named Ryouga, because he was so easily aroused to bouts of raging anger.

But this time, something was different. Mara felt a slight tingling of the hairs on the back of her neck, something that felt like a Goddess' "footprint". Mara followed the "trail" upstairs to one of the bedrooms that had never been occupied before, and was about to open the door, when something else caught her attention.

Coming out of the bathroom was a little girl that looked suspiciously like Ranma when he had disguised himself as Ryouga's younger sister. Mara quickly recited a spell to make her unnoticeable, and the little girl passed by without incident.

Whew, that was a close one, Mara thought, wiping her forehead. Then something else occurred to her. Wait a minute, that can't be right. Unless Ranma suddenly got amnesia and thinks he's really Ryouga's little sister, there's no way he'd be staying at the Hibiki's dressed like that...

Reciting another spell, Mara "asked" the house about the girl. Her lips unconsciously curved upwards as the house "spoke" of the events that happened there.

"Ohoh, so the agents of Asgard have their hands full," she murmured to herself, now smirking quite openly. "It would be such a shame if I didn't take advantage of their absence..."

***

"Yoiko's missing!"

Ryouga's agonized cry shocked Falora out of her half-asleep haze. Bolting out of bed and into Yoiko's room, Falora found Ryouga clutching the blankets tightly.

"Yoiko's missing," Ryouga repeated, his voice fraught with confusion, panic, and worry.

"That's not possible! I had Bell--" Falora let out a gasp as she realized that the angel in question was also nowhere to be found. "Oh, no!"

"Yoiko's missing," Ryouga said a third time, in a daze, a greenish glow beginning to eminate from him. "I couldn't protect her..."

Falora's Frying Pan of Heaven made a low, brassy *CLANG* sound against Ryouga's head.

"Snap out of it," Falora ordered Ryouga, her hands gripping the handle of the Frying Pan so tightly that they were shaking. "We've got to find Yoiko before anything happens to her."

"But how?" Ryouga wanted to know, rubbing the spot where Falora hit him.

Falora thought hard for a while. "May I borrow your phone?"

***

Falora twirled the cord impatiently. "Come on, come on..."

Finally, someone picked up. "Hello, you have reached the desk of Kami-sama. Please state your message."

"Hi, this is Falora. Could you please put me through?"

"Kami-sama's a little busy right now. Just tell me what you want and I'll leave a note on His desk."

"No, I need to talk to Him personally," Falora insisted. "This is an emergency."

"Are you deaf? I said--" there was the sound of a hand covering the mouthpiece and muffled talking. "Oh, wait, He'll take your call. Hold on."

Falora bit her lip and drummed her fingers on the table as Mendelson's "Halleluja Chorus" began to play. Please, don't let this be too late...

The music stopped.

"It is I."

Falora unconsciously drew in a breath. "My Lord, Yoiko's disappeared, and I can't seem to find Bell, either."

"I will help Ryouga find Yoiko; as for Bell, she is needed elsewhere."

"But--" Falora began, but the Almighty had already hung up. She stared at the receiver.

That was when Ryouga's eyes went blank. "I know where Yoiko is," he said slowly, his voice taking on an eerily Kami-sama-esque tone. He began heading down the stairs. "Follow me."

Falora gaped at Ryouga for a few seconds before hurrying after him. "The Lord can be really weird sometimes," she muttered to herself.

***

Yoiko was aware that something was wrong the minute she was out in the street, but she wasn't sure what. Now, as she entered a completely unfamiliar part of town, she knew this for sure and stopped.

"Onii-Sama," she began uncertainly. "Where are we going? And why did you wake me up in the middle of the night to take me there?"

"Why, Yoiko-chan," 'Ryouga' said, changing into something that, to Yoiko, screamed 'Evil' with a capital E, "don't you trust me?"

Yoiko screeched at the top of her lungs and fled.

***

"Ryouga, wait!" Falora shouted between gasps. "I can't run that fast!"

"Yoiko's in danger," Ryouga replied, still moving at nearly superhuman speeds.

"Please!" Falora begged. Her lungs were already burning with each ragged breath hand her legs were starting to ache.

Ryouga slowed down just enough so that Falora got within reach, then grabbed her wrist and took off again.

***

Yoiko ran blindly, knocking over everything that got in her way. Her eyes darted frantically to and fro, hoping to find something--anything--that would give a clue as to where she was, but nothing looked familiar. Worse yet, that Thing was still hot on her heels.

And It could fly.

"Come back, Yoiko-chan!" It cooed, effortlessly clearing the obstacles that had slowed Yoiko down. "I won't hurt you...much."

Yoiko threw a mailbox at the Thing, but It easily dodged. It's gonna get me! she thought, panicking even more. Onii-sama...

And then she saw the familiar yellow checkered bandanna. "ONII-SAMA!"

"YOIKO!"

***

As Ryouga and Yoiko met each other halfway and hugged fiercely, Falora summoned her Heavenly Frying Pan again and interposed herself between them and Mara.

"Stay back, Demoness!" Falora warned, her voice wavering slightly. "These people are under my protection!"

Mara laughed. "Ooh, I'm so scared." A pitch-black shard of energy formed in her hand. "Trainee."

As Mara tossed the shard at Falora, the Goddess In Training only had one thought in her mind.

Protect Ryouga and Yoiko, no matter what it takes.

***

"Found it," Belldandy said as she began typing in a rapid string of commands. "The statistics for Ryouga's file will come up in a second."

"Figures it'd take so long to find a file on a Hibiki," Urd muttered.

"Last modified date...Woah!" Skuld snatched the paper from the printer and rushed back to her sisters. "Hey, look at this!"

Urd looked. "Yeah, so?"

"Ara!" Belldandy exclaimed. "This date is at least thirteen years before Falora supposedly 'created' Yoiko!"

"This means..." Skuld's eyes went wide.

Then Holy Bell rushed into the room, and Belldandy immediately stood up.

"...Falora needs our help," Belldandy finished, retrieving Holy Bell. "And fast."

***

Mara smirked as Falora strained to keep up the barrier that kept the Goddess from experience intense hurting. "Having some trouble, Trainee?"

"I won't let you hurt Ryouga," Falora answered through clenched teeth.

"Why not?" Mara wanted to know. "What do you see in this boy that's worth saving?"

"Onii-sama is brave and kind!" Yoiko answered for Falora, her hands balled into fists.

Mara laughed. "Oh, that's a good one, kid! I don't suppose you've seen him when he's on his little vendetta against Ranma, have you?"

Yoiko deflated a bit. "W-well, I--"

One edge of Mara's lip curled upwards. "And I don't suppose you've ever tried pouring hot water on 'P-chan', have you?"

Yoiko looked confused. "Hot water?"

"Spring of Drowned Baby Black Pig. Very Tragic Story." Mara recited, as if she had said this many times before. "Cold water activates the curse, hot water changes him back." Mara smirked again, this time much more wickedly. "And did I mention that 'P-chan' has been spending nights in Akane's bed?"

"N-no way!" Yoiko stammered weakly. "Onii-sama would never do such a thing!" she looked at Ryouga. "Would you?"

Ryouga looked away. "I..."

"I'd hate to burst your bubble, kid," Mara continued gleefully, "but the wonderful human being that you think your big brother is doesn't exist! You've been worshipping a figment of your imagination!"

Falora looked up, her eyes burning. "You're wrong."

The barrier glowed brightly and the dark shard Mara had created earlier shattered into pieces.

Mara gaped. How is this possible? No Trainee is supposed to have access to this kind of power!

"You're wrong," Falora repeated. "Yes, Ryouga may hold a ridiculously long grudge against Ranma, but he also helped protect Ranma when Ranma was weak and vulnerable. Yes, Ryouga may not have told Akane about his curse yet, but he never once really used it to his advantage." She stood tall and faced Mara, determination flashing in her eyes. "Everyone has the capacity for good, including Ryouga, and I believe in him."

And then the barrier fizzled and died completely.

"You shouldn't have done that," Mara said, wagging your finger. "You probably just burnt out all of your power, and for what?"

Falora was shaking visibly now, but she still didn't back down. "Leave us. This is your last chance."

Mara hmphed. "You still have a lot to learn about your job, Trainee."

Falora raised her hands in a furtive attempt to block as Mara formed another shard.

And then an all-too-familiar voice rang out.

"Divine Retribution!"

***

Falora's fear turned into joy as she saw the three approaching Goddesses. "Go get her!" she cheered.

Urd, Belldandy, and Skuld approached rapidly, each the very embodiment of Righteous Fury.

Mara dodged another bolt from Urd, but couldn't avoid the bomb Skuld tossed her way, and promptly got a "Baka!" stamped on her face. When she saw the expression on Belldandy's face, though, all of her anger was immediately replaced with a healthy sense of self-preservation.

"I'd love to play with you guys (yeah, right), but I gotta run! Bye!" With that, Mara made a very hasty retreat.

"Are you all right?" Belldandy asked, floating to the ground next to Falora.

"Yeah, I think so," Falora answered, putting a hand behind her head.

"Good," Belldandy smiled. "Let's take Ryouga-san and Yoiko-san back to their house, and then head home, okay?"

***

--Epilogue--
Falora touched the green triangular ring on her cheek again to make sure that she wasn't dreaming, and her reflection mimicked her action.

"I passed," she whispered to herself again. She still hadn't believed that Kami-sama had judged her worthy of becoming a licensed Goddess, especially after the disaster that she was responsible for. When she asked Kami-sama, though, all He said was something about the Ultimate Force that made absolutely no sense to her. But what He said next definitely did.

"I trust you, Falora. And I know that you would never intentionally do harm."

I won't let the Lord down, Falora promised herself. I'll make myself learn everything and become the best Goddess there is!

Looking in the mirror again, Falora took in a deep breath and bowed to her image.

"Falora, Goddess Second Class," she greeted herself. She giggled and let out a contented sigh. "I've always wanted to say that."

***

Ryouga and Yoiko looked out over the landscape that rolled and bank beneath their feet.

"Any idea where we are?" Ryouga asked.

Yoiko shook her head. "Uh-uh. We're lost, aren't we?"

"Very," Ryouga agreed.

But somehow, that didn't seem like such a bad thing any more.


Authoress's notes:
If you haven't figured out already, Falora is a rather pitiful attempt to disguise myself as a character based on the Ah! My Goddess universe. According to The BabyNet's baby name archive, her name means "the helpful one" (heh, heh, heh... >;P).

I've only seen the OAV version of Ah! My Goddess and bits and pieces of the manga, so please forgive (and point out) any characterization or continuity errors.


Copyright 1999 by Dot
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