Nomad:

A multi crossover

Author's notes:

Due to the ambiguity of the Ranma ½ timeline, I am taking some liberties with the calendar.

Chapter Two

From the Journal of Kasumi Tendo:

Sunday, December 3, 1989

We have spent four months with the Pearson family, and have recently traveled back to England with Sir Timothy and his beautiful wife Dipani from their estates in India. Our attempts to reconnect with the BPRD have been fruitless. Sir Timothy's contacts in the States have categorically denied the existence of the Bureau both, within the United American Republic of Magic and without. It simply doesn't exist. That in and of itself was a major blow to our hopes, as it confirmed the theory that we are no longer in our true timeline. We have rolled with the news, as befits practitioners of Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu.

Time travel, alternate timelines, and dimensional displacement are not unfamiliar to us. However it was the bread and butter of another department in the BPRD that we had very little contact with. But, true to the tenets of Anything Goes, Ranma and I have adapted and overcome the challenge.

The UARM was very interested in the initial interviews that they conducted with us during our stay in India, and the magical arm of the United States government recently extended both Ranma and I an open-ended invitation to contract out as consultants to Aesir and Themis, the wizarding version of the Military and the FBI. Representatives from the American government seemed intrigued about the concept behind the BPRD, which essentially would marry both the magical and non-magical resources into one entity. I am not excited about building the BPRD from the ground up. Without Hellboy, Abe, and our other friends from the Bureau things just wouldn't be the same. Ranma insists that we not burn any bridges and I have agreed. To that end, we have opted to act in an advisory capacity only for the time being.

In spite of this offer, Sir Timothy and his family have also put us in contact with the International Confederation of Wizards, in the hopes that they might have, or can come up with, an answer to our predicament. We met officially with the ICW in August, where Etienne Delacour, Sir Timothy's good friend, introduced us. We will return at the next convening to update our status with them. In the interim, we have already had offers from the French to join their magical police force.

In spite of this offer and the offer from the American contingent, Ranma has insisted that we not jump into anything, yet refuses to give me a straight answer as to why he is so hesitant. I have a pretty good idea what he has in the works, but I am afraid to get my hopes up. There are signs indicating preparation for a proposal, but I refuse to place myself in a position for disappointment. If it happens, it happens. I can also understand his reasoning for not wanting to get involved in government work again. It served us well when we had it, but it wasn't something that really appealed to either of us. I am content with what we have currently built for ourselves here.

Shortly after arriving at the Pearson's home, Ranma offered his services as a body guard and jack-of-all-trades for the family in payment for their hospitality. Sir Timothy flat out refused the offer, saying there was no need. His daughter Lakshmi however, immediately accepted on behalf of her husband, Matthew Arcand. Matthew was reluctant at first, but after having seen Ranma practicing one morning, revised his opinion on the matter and has hired Ranma as his personal bodyguard. They are currently on their first real trip outside of France, Britain, and India – visiting Bangkok, Thailand of all places. Ranma seemed unnaturally nervous prior to leaving, and gathering from his haunted dreams, I'm certain that something unpleasant happened in Bangkok with Genma on the first training trip. My beloved won't talk about the past, preferring to live in the present, but I can't help but be curious. I'm not about to push him on the subject, but perhaps letting him know that I'm willing to listen will open some of those doors. The only reluctance I have at the moment, is a fear that he will tell me. Ranma has suffered horrors in his life, and I fear the shadows of those terrible experiences coming between us.

Regardless of what happened, I will make myself available to him. He takes precedence over all my fears.

Until then, Ranma has given me a mission to complete during our time apart. He has decided that it is time for us to buy a house. We've talked about it, and have even gone so far as to set aside a serious amount of cash for the purchase. The small Tomb Raiding that Ranma did in Teku Benga has pretty much set us up for life and with Matthew helping us to manage our investments – well, I know that I won't be complaining about the budget anymore.

In spite of all that, I know that he feels we have over stayed our welcome with the Pearsons, even if Sir Timothy insists otherwise. It would be nice to have my own home again, and the fact that Ranma is suggesting this means he expects that we will be here for a while. Part of me is sad that we are setting down roots, but another (much larger) part of me is jumping for joy. This world is fascinating, and I am excited to explore more of it. Maybe I can convince Ranma to take a trip to Japan? It would be nice to sneak a peek at our old stomping grounds, and maybe we'll catch a glimpse of this world's Ranma and Kasumi. That would be fun – even if the Matthew and Lakshmi think it would be a bad idea. Well, not so much them, as it is the French government speaking through them.

Stupid Statute of Secrecy.

Speaking of Magic, Sujata and Mehadri assessed us both for magical talent in late August and we have tested positive for the magical…gene? Trait? I don't know what exactly they call it, but what ever it is that makes you able to do magic…we have it. This of course, explains why the UARM and the ICW are so interested in us. The British Ministry has not contacted us officially, but a strange man from something called "The Department of Mysteries" spoke with us after our meeting with the ICW, so I'm almost certain that sooner or later, we will be approached for recruitment.

Poor Ranma refuses to train himself in it beyond what he needs for his job. He sees the discipline, or "stupid stick waving", as a weapon or a crutch that inspires laziness – and from the way that magical folk rely on it so heavily I can understand his position. However, I cannot discount its usefulness. How many chores could I have finished with a simple flick and swish of my wrist? I am already taking up Mehandri's offer for private schooling, and perhaps I can convince Ranma to sit in with me when he returns.

Only time will tell.

--KT

**************

Thursday, December 7, 1989

Bangkok, Thailand

CRACK!

Ranma had endured torture before. He and pain were old friends thanks to Genma's training. Still, these Thai wizards had been creative in their approach. They had captured Matthew and Ranma the moment they'd set foot outside the portkey terminal late Saturday evening; meaning of course that there was a serious leak in Matt's organization. Ranma intended to plug it personally the moment they returned to France.

But first, there was these bastards to deal with.

The wizards had drug their captives into a warded warehouse, and rather than make demands, had immediately applied the screws. Matt was beaten bloody for an hour and then stuck in a chair while they started in on Ranma. The young martial artist was stripped naked and suspended spread-eagle from a rafter. From then on it was cut this, stab that, whip here, burn there. After each attempt Ranma would simply smile that damn cocky smile of his, which seemed to enrage the leader of these pricks.

Ranma still wasn't certain what was worse torture, listening to Kuno or this moron Niran Sakda. The idiot was so full of himself, and like all mediocre villains, he could monologue like nobody's business. It bored Ranma so bad that he actually fell asleep, which was apparently a no-no. The minute the young man had begun to snore, Sakda introduced Ranma to a bit of magic imported from Great Britain – the Cruciatus curse. In spite of not screaming, Ranma had to give these wizards their due when it came to that bit of magic. It sucked. It sucked in ways that couldn't even be described. Thankfully, the Soul of Ice does wonders for pain manipulation. He was going to feel every bit of this crap in about a week or so, but by that time Sakda and his "Sons of Dawn" were going to be buried twelve feet under with their wands shoved far up their backsides.

When it seemed that the Cruciatus had no effect, Sakda had been enraged at the affront. The orders to his followers were simple: leave Arcand alone until the pig-tailed one was a broken lump of blood and offal; which suited Ranma just fine. So long as his boss was safe, he was happy.

That was on the second day, and since then their captors had gone to great lengths in trying to get him to scream. They'd pulled out his finger and toe nails, abused his genitals with various tortures, just finished with the flame whips, and were now getting ready to apply electricity. Ranma could see the fools filling a conjured bucket with water and from the feel of the chi in the room, they were dropping the temperature to just above freezing. They would use the water to shock his system, and then apply the electricity.

Unfortunately, they were in for one hell of a surprise.

The water came, the curse activated, and the ropes loosened. It would surprise many, not just the Sons of Dawn, when Ranma exploded into an orgy of death. It was bloody, it was efficient, and it killed another part of Ranma's soul. But, in the end, he could accept that burden, in-so-much as no one else would have to suffer at the hands of men like Niran Sakda. The slaughter, for there was no other word that could be used for the event, lasted less than three minutes – start to finish. In that time, two hundred and thirty of the Sons of Dawn died by Ranma's hands.

It was amidst this blood and gore that the young warrior stood over an armless and legless Sakda. The copious amounts of warm blood on Ranma's skin had not triggered the curse to shift, so it was a vengeful goddess that had conquered the Dawn's Favored Son. Huddled in the corner of the warehouse, opposite Matt, was a young man – no older than fifteen. Ranma focused on the boy, rather than his defeated foe. It sickened her that the kid was so obviously terrified of her, but a message needed to be sent. It would no doubt start here in Bangkok and hopefully spread. She wasn't naïve enough to think that some other low life would try this crap at a later date, but hopefully the charnel house she left here would be a deterrent to anyone else. If not…well, Ranma was committed to Matt's safety, and Heaven help the poor souls that didn't take the hint.

"You there!" The kid flinched. "You understand English?"

The boy nodded hesitantly.

"Good. What's your name?"

"S…Samyan"

"Well, Samyan, you made a really stupid mistake getting involved with these bastards. Since you look like a bright kid, I believe you'll learn from this experience and not make the same mistake again. Right?"

The boy hurriedly nodded.

"Smart kid. Now listen carefully to what I have to say. I don't care how you do it, but over the next week you are going to go to every bar in Bangkok and tell them what happened here. After you finish your story, you tell them that Matthew Arcand is off limits. Tell them that the Sons of Dawn got off easy. If you do a good job, then we'll never see each other again. If you do a crappy job…" With a flick of Ranma's wrist and the hiss of a vacuum blade, Sakda's head landed in the kid's lap. Ranma waited for the boy to push the thing away and look back at her before continuing. "Well, you're not going to do a crappy job are you Samyan?"

The boy shook his head vigorously.

"Good. Now get out of here."

The boy wasted no time in making good his escape, leaving Ranma and Matthew alone amongst the dead. It was surreal. Sorting through the wands of the wizards was even weirder, but it had to be done. There was no way that Ranma would be able to release her boss otherwise. Stupid wizards and their crutches. It took a good ten minutes to find a wand suitable to her needs before she could proceed.

"You look like crap, Matt." Ranma released the magic holding his employer to the chair.

"Hello Ms. Pot, I'm Mr. Kettle." The man's voice was raw and strained, but even. Ranma wasn't sure if shock had settled in yet, but if it hadn't it sure would soon. They had to get to safety before someone else targeted them. The young bodyguard cast a quick cooking spell that shot a jet of hot water from the tip of her wand. The curse triggered and the majority of the blood sluiced from Ranma's body onto the floor.

"Funny guy." Lifting Matt from the chair told Ranma a great deal about his employer's health. He had multiple broken ribs that would need to be bound and from the way the man cried out, at least one of his legs was broken. "Damn it. Lakshmi's gonna kill me."

"Get me home in one piece and I'll distract her long enough for you to escape." Matt hissed as Ranma set him down on a relatively clean stretch of floor near a wall.

"Hell no!" Ranma ripped a robe from a corpse and began tearing it into strips. Matt's chest would need to be wrapped and a splint for his leg made, until he could get to a doctor or a healer. "I learned my lesson long ago, man. There ain't no escaping. Women are dedicated hunters and will find you no matter where you run. Learn that lesson well Grasshopper. The only way to survive their wrath is to suck up and pay the piper."

"Does chocolate soften the blow?" Matt groaned as Ranma began tending his wounds.

"Some. Flowers and a candle lit dinner help too, but oddly enough taking the brunt of their punishment usually softens their heart faster than anything else. Well, that and telling them that their cute or beautiful right before they land the final blow."

"I'll have to remember that." Matt blinked sagely, because he obviously couldn't nod very easily. "How did you get so wise in the ways of women?"

"My old man engaged me to a hell-of-a-lot of women. All at the same time."

"Damn. What was your father smoking?"

"Damned if I know. He sure as hell wasn't sharing." Ranma groused.

"How many is a 'hell-of-a-lot' in your book?"

"Six main players, if you include Kasumi-chan and her sisters. But I think, there towards the end, there were somewhere between eighteen or nineteen contracts on the table."

"How did you survive?"

"Heaven only knows, man." Ranma snorted as he applied the splint. "Probably Kasumi."

"She does have a way of diffusing hairy situations, doesn't she?"

"Damn straight. I think her smile is registered as a lethal weapon in some circles."

Matt coughed back a laugh as Ranma finished and closed his eyes.

"Take a rest Matt. I'm gonna see about looting the place for some clothes and other useful crap. I know they trashed our stuff when we came in, so we'll have to make due with what's on hand." Ranma summoned all the wands in the room into a neat pile next to the man. "While I'm doing that, see if any of these sticks fit you."

The man nodded and eagerly began the task, if only to distract himself from the pain. It took about an hour and a half to finish the grisly work but, by the end of it all, Ranma had netted quite a haul for them. He'd had to levitate Matt into a set of underground rooms at one point, but that proved easy enough with a makeshift deckchair fashioned from the robes of the dead wizards and other odds and ends. It was in these underground rooms that Ranma uncovered Sakda's sanctum, and more importantly their original wands and Matt's business papers. There was also a treasure trove of information that Ranma couldn't make heads or tails on, but Matt insisted they take anyway. Apparently he'd found the name of the leak, one Barnabé Roux, whose head was going to roll if the look on Matt's face was any indication. Ranma made a note to ask if he could help in any way, before turning back to the looting.

In the process of their search, Ranma freed a number of prisoners. They were all women and children for the most part, but amongst the group they found three men that were in the same boat as they were. Two were mundane bankers from Switzerland and Germany, while the third was a wealthy Australian business man. They all made fast friends with their saviors and Ranma found at least seven children from prominent families within the government and business world that had been kidnapped to extort money and favors that allowed the Sons of Dawn to empower themselves.

It was a happy ending after it was all said and done. When the forty one souls left the warehouse, Ranma made certain that no-one would ever use the place again. It took over an hour of focused meditation to find the right breaking point, but no one complained about the results. If anything, the entire district cheered when Ranma brought the warehouse down.

Thus, contacts were made and new friendships embraced. Ranma and Matt developed a whole slew of eyes and ears amongst the Thai of Bangkok, and more than a few life debts. Happy children were returned to relieved and grateful parents. Matt was healed to tip top condition, and Ranma grudgingly accepted help healing what his own body was having trouble with. The business meeting that they had originally come to Bangkok to deal with might have turned out to be false, but in the end both men felt they'd come out of their ordeal a little richer than they expected. Before they left Thailand, the tired pair made certain to buy special gifts for the women in their lives, just in case.

It was while shopping for these gifts that Ranma came to a life altering decision; one that involved the love of his life, rings, and a long and happy future together. He would need some help from Matt's wife, but Ranma was intent on making this Christmas one that Kasumi would never forget.

**************

Tuesday, December 19, 1989

Rue de la Saintete, Marseilles, France

Re-adjusting to England wasn't something that was easy for Ranma in light of everything that he and Matt had endured in Thailand. It wasn't the food. Genma had taught him to consume what you could, when you could – and Akane's forays into the kitchen had made such things as Haggis and Blood Pudding seem sweet and filling by comparison. One could readily say that Ranma's pallet was used to the strange and unusual.

It wasn't tea time either, although the tea was still weird as hell. Nor was it the odd way people drove, even if that took a long time to get used to as well. Having been taught by agents of the BPRD, driving on the left side of the road was quaint at best. No, the real problem he was still having with Great Britain was the language. Having spent a grueling amount of time earning his education in the United States, his English was nothing like what he was hearing now. Even after six months of practice, he was still getting things turned around. Stuff like pants and trousers, and trucks and lorries.

Stupid language.

Still, there was something unique about England; a sense of down to earth elegance about the country that Ranma couldn't ignore. Sure, if he had a preference he would probably go back to the States in a second. London wasn't New York, but it still had its own charm – a charm that had completely captivated Kasumi. Ranma wasn't one to begrudge his girlfriend being sucked into the local culture; it had happened to him in the States and she hadn't said a thing. The least that he could do was reciprocate, especially considering the revelations he'd had in Sakda's house of horrors. Besides, aside from the dreary weather, England wasn't so bad. He'd had to stomach worse places when he'd been on the road with his old man.

A sense of welcome nostalgia swept over Ranma as he thought about old times on the road with his father. Looking back on them, he could readily admit that they were great times, even considering all the stupid things that his father put him through. He missed the freedom of traveling from one dojo to the next and not having to worry about anything but the Art.

Those days were long gone though, and Ranma no longer had the luxury of losing himself in the single minded delusions of his youth. He'd left all that behind the day that he and Kasumi walked out of the Dojo, and each step of the journey since then had forced him to grow up a little more. He'd graduated High School with good marks, blasted through his Undergrad work in record time, and thanks to the BPRD seen and been involved with more weird crap in the last year than he'd seen most of his life.

For Ranma, that was truly saying something.

It was hard to escape and in many ways it was harder to accept some of the things he'd seen and done since walking out of the Tendo Dojo. He'd achieved goals that he'd never dreamed of with his education proving, to himself at least, that he wasn't an idiot. Thanks to Kasumi, he'd smoothed out some of the rough edges that had plagued him all of his life on the road. He'd fought and defeated supernatural monstrosities and eldritch horrors alongside Hellboy and the BPRD. And, miracles of miracles, he'd finally allowed himself to fall in love with an incredibly selfless and beautiful woman.

Amidst all of these achievements, the last was the only one that mattered to him. That was readily driven home in Bangkok thanks to Niran Sakda and his "Sons of the Dawn" – stupid bastards. Ranma had been doing his best not to think about the experiences he and Matthew had been involved in during their trip to Thailand but, to be honest, he couldn't think of much else. Killing that many people did that to a person. The nightmares were filled with various scenes and sporadic moments of torture, death, and mayhem, and it was hard to accept the fact that he wasn't the same person he had been at the beginning of the trip. The shock had come and gone, and in its place had settled something decidedly dark and unwelcome.

The Thai wizards had only had him and Matthew for a short time, but they had made the most of the short captivity. Ranma had faced his mortality in that dark torture chamber, and it was only Kasumi's face that allowed him the strength to do what had to be done to get Matthew out of Niran's compound in one piece. The fact that he had embraced the primal killer within would haunt him to the rest of his days.

Saffron had been reborn, but nothing in this world would ever breathe life back into dead. Ranma had left Niran Sakda and the rest of the "Sons of the Dawn" scattered in pieces amidst the wreckage of the mad man's lair, yet he couldn't bring himself to feel too sorry about that fact. The lack of remorse still didn't help him sleep at night though. Even now, two weeks later, he still felt the warm, phantom blood that had splattered his face and hands during his battle from Niran's warehouse.

Ranma shook his head to drive the memories away. He needed to focus on the here and now. He was alive. Matt was alive. Both were back with their loved ones, and that meant that it was time to celebrate life. Ranma was now committed to doing what he'd long feared doing. He had to bite the bullet. Kasumi needed to know how much he loved her and he needed to remind himself that the nightmares of Bangkok could no longer rule him. That was why he and Matt's family were currently in Marseilles, France's oldest city, browsing the Rue de la Saintete, looking for engagement rings. Kasumi was distracted with extra lessons from Mehandri under the pretence of "preparing" for the holiday break. He was grateful to Lakshmi's sister, and had made it a point to buy her a thank you gift to show his appreciation.

The ring was to be the next to last step in his plan to surprise Kasumi. Matt had already helped him find a good muggle-born realtor, who they were supposed to meet after picking out the ring. Karen Healey was supposed to be one of the best in placing magical folk in predominantly non-magical places. Considering the amount of chaos that followed Ranma around, he felt it best to have all his bases covered.

He wasn't so concerned about finding a house, as much as a plot of land to build on. Kasumi deserved to have the house that she wanted, and that meant building it from the ground up. He guessed that she would want to be in a neighborhood, like back home, but he held out hope that she wouldn't mind having a place in the country where he could really cut loose. Maybe he could swing a deal for both? They could have a place in the city to spend the week, and a place in the country to relax at. The idea had merit. He would have to make sure Karen had a solid understanding of what they were looking for. In the end, as far as he was concerned, so long as Kasumi was there, he could pretty much live anywhere and be happy.

It might be presumptuous to pick out the ring and potentially where they were going to build, but Ranma couldn't afford to waste anymore time. He needed it to be done and done quickly. Life was too short to waste, which was precisely why he brought Lakshmi along for the trip. After all, who better to advise him on making these purchases than Kasumi's best friend?

"This is the one Ranma."

He snapped out of his reverie and looked over Lakshmi's shoulder. Little Magali bounced on her toes and nodded her head. The ring was simple, elegant, and yet gorgeous at the same time. The diamond was unlike anything he'd ever seen. It seemed to glow with a soft white light that warmed the heart. It didn't hurt that the cut and style matched Kasumi's tastes perfectly. The clerk rattled off a bunch of meaningless information about charms and upkeep, but Ranma let it wash over him without taking much in. The only thing that he'd really picked up was that the diamond was one of a handful pulled from the smoldering remains of the Tungusta blast crater in 1908. As a parapsychologist, and having had extensive experience with the fall out from the paranormal, this caused a red flag to rise in his mind.

"What do you know of the history behind the other diamonds?"

The clerk didn't seem all that put off by the question in the least.

"Out of the one hundred and forty seven diamonds recovered from the site, none have ever been known to bear a curse or hold dark magic at all. Quite the opposite in fact." She brought out the box that held the ring and matching wedding band, offering both to Ranma for his perusal. "According to my grandfather, Perenelle Flamel, one of the initial investigators of the phenomenon, discovered the diamonds. She had a small bracelet made from the first seventy seven and sold the rest. Out of the remaining diamonds, some were purchased by various magical governments world-wide for further study, and the rest were purchased by jewelers, collectors, and a few of the Flamel family's close friends and associates."

Ranma looked to Matt for clarification.

"That is probably the best endorsement you'll ever get, Ranma." Matt hugged his wife close. "The Flamels are experts in a number of fields, but Perenelle has focused extensively in uncovering the secrets of such artifacts. If she felt safe to sell the gems, then you can rest assured that they are safe as well."

"You willin' to stake Kasumi's life on that?"

"If I may, Monsieur." The saleswoman ventured. "This ring has had many people wear it over the fifty years that it has been in our possession. My own mother wore it for over a year, with no ill effect. I can guarantee that it is safe."

Ranma nodded absently and looked to Lakshmi. She nodded her head and motioned for him to go ahead. He sighed and closed his eyes. If there was a true balance to the universe like some of his old teachers claimed, then he was due a pretty huge break right about now. That said there wasn't anything to do but take the plunge.

"Wrap 'em up."

Magali squealed and clapped her hands as the clerk went about wrapping up his purchases. They didn't leave the shop without new jewelry for both Lakshmi and Magali either. Matt's wallet might have taken a deep hit, but the smiles on their faces were priceless. Ranma could only hope that his future was as blessed.

The easy part was over, now he had to figure out how he was going to go about asking her without making a dinner out of his shoes.

**************

From the Journal of Kasumi Tendo:

Sunday, December 24, 1989

HE PROPOSED! HE FINALLY PROPOSED! I'M GETTING MARRIED!

Beneath those words was a wizarding picture of Ranma kneeling before Kasumi, beneath the beauty of the lights of the Eiffel Tower, proposing. The snow surrounding them, and the lights in the trees made the whole scene magical. It was nothing short of the perfect moment, and Kasumi's passionate kiss was all the answer a worried Ranma would ever need – in this life, or the next.

**************

April 19, 1990

St. Barthélemy, French West Indies

The wedding had been fantastic. Lakshmi and Kasumi had been given a blank check while Matt had promised to keep Ranma occupied and out from under foot while they made their preparations. The wedding itself, an eclectic combination of Christian and Shinto ceremonies, was held in the Buttes-Chaumont, a romantic park on the north end of Paris. The waterfalls and majestic view of Paris from the pavilion at the top of the man-made bluff made the whole affair completely magical. Kasumi was positively angelic in her wedding kimono, while Ranma looked every inch the Japanese lord in his own wedding attire. The weather was perfectly warm for mid-April, and regally clear. Kasumi had asked Sir Timothy to stand in for her father, and the man had openly cried when the bride and groom kissed.

No one could have asked for a more perfect April 15th.

The reception was memorable, with the Pearson clan all holding some position of honor in the wedding party. Mehadri, Sujata, and Lakshmi were bride's maids, while their daughters honored Kasumi as their new "Aunty" with flowers and kisses. In turn, Kasumi officially publicly adopted them all as her nieces, and named them maids of honor one and all. Magali and the Patil twins insisted on stealing a number of dances from "Uncle Ranma" while Kasumi was spun around the dance floor by all of the men of the Pearson clan.

It was obvious that Matt would be Ranma's best man, but no one would have expected him to give a glimpse into what had happened to them in Bangkok during his toast. By the end of the tale, everyone was looking at the pair in awe and sympathy. But Matt simply smiled and raised his glass to Ranma and named him brother. It was humbling and even though he felt extremely embarrassed, the young martial artist accepted the heartfelt toast with grace. His new bride couldn't have been prouder.

The gifts had been overwhelming, but none more so than the town house in London, the country home in west Aylesbury, and the apartment in Nice. The first Kasumi had known about and had helped select herself. The second they had visited together and she had fallen in love with, but thought that Ranma wouldn't have wanted. While the third had been a gift from Matt and Lakshmi, to ensure that Ranma got out and had fun once in a while. Many other gifts had been given, from the traditional toaster to the quiet unexpected event of having their dual citizenships for the United Kingdom and France rushed through the red tape. It was the wedding of Kasumi's dreams, and from the way she smiled Ranma had certainly gotten his dream too.

Now, the newly weds were four days into their honeymoon and Kasumi had refused to leave their villa in favor of "making up for lost time" – Ranma didn't complain in the least and did his best to ensure that he met his wife's every expectation. The languid smile she sported in her sleep amidst the lazy sunshine of that late morning told him he must be doing something right.

"Morning, Lover." Kasumi purred and snuggled closer to her new husband. Ranma slid a finger through the curtain of her hair, pulling aside to reveal her beautiful eyes.

"Morning yourself." His grin seemed to be competing with the sun today. "You intend to be a lay about today, or do you actually want to go outside and take some pictures to prove that we played tourist?"

Kasumi growled and slid from beneath the covers, and up her husband's torso so that she could nibble on his throat.

"I didn't come here to be a tourist, Ranma."

"Oh?" He shivered.

"I came here to be a newly wed." She sucked hard on his ear lobe earning another shiver. "That means we get to spend the next two days playing, before we have to spend our last day pretending to be good tourists."

"Oh."

Ranma learned a valuable lesson early on in his relationship with Kasumi. She was always right. And by chance, if she was wrong about something, she was still right. In this instance, he was glad that she was right.

They followed Kasumi's plan, with but one minor change – they only spent half of their last day pretending to be tourists. The rest was spent giggling beneath the sheets and enjoying the wonder of their new life together.

**************

Monday, May 29, 1990

Geneva, Switzerland

There is a balance to the universe. With all good things, there must come bad. Bangkok had been balanced by his marriage to Kasumi. The relative peace and smoothness of their lives over the last month was being offset by an official inquiry by the ICW, led by none other than the Supreme Mugwump himself, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.

News from Thailand had spread like wild fire, but like all bureaucracies nothing had been done about it for months. There had apparently been a small number of the Sons of Dawn that had survived Ranma's culling, and like most idiots who had been severely outclassed, they were now raising a stink in an attempt to get both Matt and Ranma extradited back to Thailand to be tried for their "heinous slaughter of noble men" in a seedy warehouse in Bangkok. Kasumi was worried, but both Matt andMonsieur Alais Delacour, the French delegate for the ICW assured her that there would be no extradition.

Ranma didn't care one way or another. If the farce went through, he would finish what he started in December and do a more thorough job cleaning house before he came home to his wife.

The young bodyguard sat beside Matthew in one of the lower boxes of the Confederation's underground arena. Sir Timothy sat beside them, stoic and unconcerned in the least. Not only did they have a majority of the Confederation backing them, due to the rescue of their own, they also had another ace up their sleeve. The amount of information that Matt and Ranma brought back with them from Thailand had been terribly overwhelming, and it was going to be fun to see the looks on the Confederation's collective faces when the fact that more than a few members of this very council had been in bed with Niran Sakda. When that came to light, heads would roll.

Ranma ignored the call to order by Dumbledore, as well as the majority of the meaningless drivel that went on at these things. It wasn't until the Thai representative stood that he stopped doodling on a pad of lined paper.

"We, the Wizarding Nation of Thailand, demand justice! Here before you sit two murderers. Cold blooded killers that have stolen the lives of some two hundred and fifty of our most noble sons. Honored brethren in magic, there can be no other vote, beyond the acceptance for extradition in this case if we are to honor tradition and decency."

Ranma shook his head at the sudden murmuring amongst the other boxes.

"Thank you, Khun Aoon Songkhla." Dumbledore seemed munificent and magnanimous in his acceptance of the blowhard's speech. "Are there any who stand in defense of these men?"

Alais Delacour immediately stood, as did the representatives of the United States, Australia, and Germany. Publicly, the other nations deferred to Delacour as he had stood first, privately, Ranma knew that this had all been arranged well before hand.

"It is with great honor and humility that I stand before this delegation today, to refute the blatant and hideous lies that these good men before you stand accused of. We, the noble Wizarding Republic of France, refute all claims that the representative of Thailand has presented before you this day. He has said that these men are murderers. We have evidence to the contrary, stating that it was not murder, but self-defense and the liberation of innocents that resulted in the deaths of these so called 'most noble sons' – men that had kidnapped, tortured, and attempted to kill, not only Monsieurs Arcand and Saotome, but men, women, and children from many of this Confederation's own member nations."

Alais paused long enough to sip from a glass of water, ignoring the unprofessional ranting coming from the Thai quarter.

"With this evidence at hand, the Wizarding Republic of France formally charges the Wizarding Nations of Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Romania, and the Ukraine…"

The roar from the named nations was drowned out by Delacour's voice as he continued.

"…with kidnapping, extortion, attempted murder of her citizenry, misappropriation of sensitive information governed by this body, and abuse of this Confederation's trust. In light of these charges, we are demanding sanctions and a formal investigation into the singularly corrupt government of Thailand."

The United States representative immediately stood.

"The United American Republic of Magic, seconds our French brother's proclamation."

The German rep and the Australian rep stood together and immediately added their support. Now, if this played to script, then one of the reps would demand to know what evidence they had. Yup. There went the dude from the Ukraine, his fat face was an interesting shade of purple and everything.

"This is outrageous! We demand to know what so-called evidence the French delegation has to prove their baseless accusations!"

"Monsieur Delacour?" Dumbledore looked almost chiding. Ranma thought the old man looked down right condescending. "What evidence do you bring before this body?"

"Multiple sources, Supreme Mugwump. Pensieve testimonies, not only from the accused, but also the testimonies of those rescued from captivity within Niran Sakda's fell lair."

"SLANDER!" Aoon screamed from across the arena.

"Order!" Dumbledore's wand boomed, and Ranma had to give the man kudos for the power behind it. He could get the same from a good ki blast, but this guy was dirt old. Not that Ranma would ever judge someone based on their age; Cologne and the Old Letch had broken him of that long ago. "There will be no further outbursts from the gallery. Am I clear?"

Aoon nodded petulantly in defeat.

"Please continue Monsieur Delacour."

"Thank you, Supreme Mugwump. Aside from these first hand testimonies, we have acquired documentation from Sakda's own hand implicating the Confederation representatives of the nations named, as well as a number of government employees from the same. More names are listed as well, from many other nations among this august body, but our investigations have yielded that these members were unduly influenced through blackmail or ensorcelled against their will."

"Will this evidence stand against professional investigative standards?" The rep from Italy asked.

"It will." Alais spoke with utter confidence. "And in the interest of transparency, we will yield the original documentation to an investigative arm assigned by this body, with the understanding that multiple copies have been made in the event of damage or loss."

"Of course." The Italian rep smiled as the Romanian and Cambodian representatives paled. "Thank you for your thoughtful thoroughness."

Alais nodded his head. Dumbledore tapped his wand against his lectern like a gavel, drawing the attention of the body.

"If you will then present the pensieve testimonies for examination by our Board of Examination, we will stand in recess while he authenticates the memories for our review. Please return to your seats when the chimes toll."

Alais did as instructed, and the gathered men dispersed.

"Pompous windbag." Sir Timothy growled.

Matt snorted and shook his head.

"No Dad, tell us what you really think."

"I hate this political crap." The older man grouched as they waited for their turn to pass through the door to the atrium. "The whole lot should be binned."

"I should hope that does not include me, Sir Timothy." Alais Delacour's smile was jovial and light.

"You are the exception to the rule, Alais, and you know it."

"Thank you for the ringing endorsement, Sir Timothy. I shall have something to share with Apolline tonight after all. Perhaps this will ease her concerns about me playing politics."

"I doubt it." Ranma grinned.

"True. True. But a man can hope."

"Personally, I think you should stick to wine and cheese." Matt nodded sagely. "It is where your true talent is after all."

"Bah! What did my wife bribe you with, Matthew?"

"It wasn't Apolline, Alais. It was Fleur and Gabrielle that promised an annual tithe if I could convince you to stay closer to home."

The men chuckled as they walked to the French diplomatic offices, swapping stories of the children and the usual mishmash of niceties, until they were safely ensconced in Alais' office.

"So. How are we looking?" Ranma asked.

Alais poured glasses of wine for everyone as his assistant brought in a large platter of various cheeses. It was light fare, but Ranma didn't think he was up to eating anything else at the moment. Alais smiled at the young man's nervousness and took pity on him.

"Iron clad. The Board of Examination in this case consists of three members – the Swedish, Indian, and Canadian representatives. Each is an expert in the mind arts and will readily authenticate the memories through the use of a time turner. From there it will presented to the body, in response to our accusations."

"So we're going to have to watch our own memories?" Ranma asked worriedly.

"The next few days are going to be very trying, but I am certain that we can garner a pass for you not to be present for the worst of it. You will have to sit through the other memories, and the Thai rep will most likely demand you be present for the memories of the final battle, but beyond that I doubt that the body will force you to relive your tortures."

Ranma nodded and sighed. The rest of the conversation was inane and light hearted, but Ranma didn't participate. The chimes sounded and the men filed back into the arena. The Examination Board gave their stamp of approval and the memories were dumped into a large stone pool at the center of the large chamber. From then on the afternoon was filled memories from various people depicting their kidnapping and imprisonment at the hands of the Sons of Dawn.

Ranma felt sick at the sight of the treatment most of the women received, and by the time the session closed for the evening the young man had but one desire – find his wife and forget. It would be a sentiment that would recur with great frequency over the next three days of the deliberation.

Contrary to Alais' assessment, the body politic did demand Ranma's and Michael's attendance for the entirety of the review. Both men had attempted to shield their wives from attending, but both Kasumi and Magali had seen the aftermath of the first day of review and demanded to support their husbands. Sir Timothy was of two minds about the whole thing, but recognizing the fact that there were some things that couldn't be unseen, he managed to convince the women to wait in the French offices during the memory review under the pretence that neither woman had clearance to be in the Gallery itself during that part of the hearing. Their men would be wrung out at the end of the day, but they were appeased that they could be on hand to comfort them.

The three day review was backed by four days of interviews and testimony. The first day was reserved for a number of the international victims that had been held by the Sons of Dawn. The questions were straightforward and surprisingly brief. It raised all of the hackles on the back of Ranma's neck. Matt was grilled on the second day of questioning, while Ranma suffered the last two days. Sir Timothy made it a point to have Kasumi and Magali in the box during these interrogations, if only to keep both men grounded and prevent another blood bath from occurring. The inquiry was harsh and in some cases very underhanded, but Ranma could feel the whole thing coming to an end – with them on top. The picture painted of Thailand was not flattering in the least, and Ranma knew that they were going to be on the receiving end of a serious political enema if they weren't careful.

Here, in his sixth hour of questioning on the fourth day, Ranma could feel the opposition's desperation. He'd beaten them at every turn with simple, truthful, answers. Even now, they were doing their best to ensnare him in a web of words and double-speak.

"Mr. Saotome. I have but one question for you." The Korean representative asked smoothly. Ranma, as one of the only truly human members of the BPRD, had dealt with enough bureaucrats in his short professional career to notice a set up when he heard it. He nodded with a polite smile and waited calmly for the next shoe to drop.

"After your escape from captivity, what was your motivation?"

The young man frowned. He could easily see where the man was wanting to take this, but wasn't quite sure how to escape the trap. So, he did what he'd never really learned to do when dealing with Nabiki – he stalled for time.

"I'm not sure I understand your question, sir. Could you clarify what you're asking please?"

"Certainly Mr. Soatome. What would you say your mindset was upon freeing yourself from your bonds? Were you angry? Excited?"

Ranma frowned, but decided that it couldn't hurt to answer honestly.

"Truthfully, I was frantic. Monsieur Arcand and I had a small window of opportunity to exploit if we were going to escape Sakda's warehouse alive. In order to capitalize on that window, I had to hit my opponents hard and fast. As a kid, I was trained to be a martial artist. That meant protecting those who could not protect themselves, with the luxury of bruising and breaking bones. As an agent of the BPRD, I was taught differently. Bruising and broken bones of an opponent generally led to the death of a team member or in some cases worse."

"Worse?" The Argentinean representative interrupted. "What could be worse than death?"

"When you are fighting things like vampires, werewolves, and inter-dimensional eldritch horrors, if you don't take them down in the first pass they usually get up and make your day a hell-of-a-lot worse. I know of a case where one child vampire took out an entire squad of twenty agents because a man hesitated to destroy the thing when he had the chance."

"'Thing', Mr. Saotome?" The Canadian rep asked. "Isn't that a bit harsh? Vampires are sentient, not beasts."

"Vampires, in my experience, are hollow, soul-less, undead engines of destruction, Mr. Representative. They may be sentient, but to my knowledge and due to my first hand encounters these beings are driven by only two things: death and propagation of their species. Fifteen of those agents sent to handle the vampire epidemic were turned, becoming undead shells of their former selves. Myself and two others were responsible for putting them down. It's not an easy thing to kill a friend, its even worse to see good friends become twisted, evil reflections of who they had been not two weeks before."

Many of the representatives paled.

"I see." The Argentinean representative spoke softly.

"No. I don't really think you do." Ranma countered. "I believe that I understand what the Korean representative wants me to say. He wants me to say that I was angry at the treatment that I received at the hands of Sakda and his men. He wants me to implicate myself in a revenge killing, based on what you all witnessed there at the end. Unfortunately, I won't be humoring him. Monsieur Arcand and I were outnumbered a hundred to one from the outset. Matthew was in no position to lend aid, and in order to return my best friend and boss back to his family alive and well, I needed to even the odds by any means possible."

"Must you have resorted to lethal force, Mr. Soatome?" Dumbledore interjected. "From the impression your memories gave, surely you had other options."

Ranma couldn't believe the words that had just left the man's lips. Neither could Matthew for that matter.

"What other options do you think I had available to me, Mr. Mugwump?"

"Well, considering that these men were not vampires, werewolves, or inter-dimensional horrors, I cannot see the justification in killing them outright. Surely you could have aimed to disable, cripple or render them unconscious."

Ranma snorted and shook his head.

"Mr. Dumbdoor."

"Dumbledore." The old man corrected.

"Right." Ranma mentally rolled his eyes. "I don't think you appreciate the level of skill it takes to disable, cripple, or render unconscious some two hundred opponents while they are actively trying to kill you and your friend. I'm good; hell, I'm one of the best, and had it been just me I may have even attempted it and pulled it off. The main issue here is the fact that it wasn't just me. I used the level of force I deemed necessary to ensure that Monsieur Arcand lived to see his daughter again. Will it haunt me? Every night for the rest of my damn life. Do I regret it? Not one bit."

"And how do you explain the summary execution of Niran Sakda?" The Korean representative demanded.

"I explain it in small, easy to understand, words." Ranma growled. "Sakda was a rabid dog; a danger not just to Monsieur Arcand and myself, but to our families, our friends, and our communities. If I didn't put a stop to him, then others would suffer just as Matthew and I had; if not worse. I've seen and dealt men like him before. Their pride refuses to allow for defeat or surrender, Niran Sakda would have continued to hunt and persecute us had we escaped, if only to save face before the men he led. But, instead of targeting us directly, he would have gone after our wives, children, or friends in order to strike back at us."

"You are that certain?" Dumbledore again interjected. "Certain enough to become Judge, Jury, and Executioner to a man that could no longer hold a wand or even walk for that matter?"

"If it had been your loved ones, would you have chosen differently?" Ranma leveled a steady gaze on Dumbledore, and anyone else that happened to meet his eyes. No one save the Supreme Mugwump was willing to match his stare. "I chose to err on the side of caution. I don't expect you to agree with my position; and since you were not there to experience first hand the fear and danger, I can't see how you can possibly judge me either. Matt and I made it home. In the process we freed a number of innocent people who had been enslaved, amorally abused, and held against their will. Sakda's dead, and the world is better for it. I ended a threat to not just the people of Thailand, but by the evidence shown, the entire international community at large. I wouldn't change a thing, if faced with the choice all over again."

Ranma inwardly seethed at the look of disappointment that Dumbledore was shooting his way, but outwardly he was calm and collected. Thank heaven for the Soul of Ice!

The hearings came to an end two days later, with a majority vote coming from the international representatives to exonerate Ranma and Matt of the deaths Ranma had caused. It was a surprise to many that Albus Dumbledore had voted against the two men, which forever made him an enemy of the Pearson family.

**************

June 23, 1990

The aftermath of the ICW hearings was nothing short of a headache for Ranma and Kasumi. Negative press, death threats from anonymous sources, two separate assassination attempts, and of course governments trying to recruit Ranma for any number of legal or not-so-legal positions. It was frustrating. It was maddening. It was really starting to piss him off.

In the end, it took Matthew gently "suggesting" that he take one of the offers, if only for the Saotome's to find any peace of mind. Ranma hated the idea, but he knew that the pestering wouldn't stop any other way. Matt's family didn't need another target painted on them any more than Ranma and Kasumi did. It was just getting to be too much, and everyone knew it.

Thus, Ranma hot-footed a replacement through three grueling months of a crash-course training program, with the liberal aid and abuse of time turners provided by the French government. Bernard wasn't the best in Ranma's book but, by the end of his training, the magical Legionnaire was up to the slave driver's minimum standards and under serious threat to improve quickly. If anything happened to the Arcand family on Bernard's watch, the man had best hope to God for the mercy of death – because Ranma sure as hell wouldn't oblige him.

The rest of May passed on into June, and a most intriguing offer came from the ICW of all places. The events in Thailand had rattled enough magical governments from their sleepy monotony, encouraging them to ratify a new arm of international cooperation – a branch of international law enforcement.

This criminal taskforce would be loosely based off the more mundane tactical police agencies used to fight terrorists, combat international crime, and other abnormal world threats. It wasn't the BPRD, but it was pretty darn close. Ten nations out of all the members of the ICW, volunteered to host the fledgling team and, after much arguing, it that number was reduced down to the top five "super powers" for the sake of convenience. It was decided that the team would rotate every other year between the five until a "field office" was established in each area of interest. Those offices would be staffed by a committee, but only after the vanguard team proved the model worthwhile.

There were five of them on the team, two women and three men. Adelaide "Addie" McKinney was an Australian Hitwitch, with an impressive record and a penchant for hitting on Ranma's wife (and Ranma when he was a she). Bedros Zakaryan was an Armenian agent specializing in investigations, along with a number of other interesting skills and connections. The last member of their team was Marc Two-clouds, a real life Native American Texas Ranger. Adelaide made the mistake of calling him "Tanto" during the meet and greet and learned first hand that Marc had no problem cursing a woman. The Comanche dropped her with a wicked spell-chain that left her vomiting and evacuating her bowels, while a nasty tribal curse dried out her skin to the point of painfully cracking. It was safe to say that Marc got his point across long before he reversed the spells.

They were a good team, strong-willed and capable. The problem was they were all loose cannons and loners. Ranma knew they could be a crack team; it would take some serious training, but they were all diamonds waiting to be cut and polished. Sadly, there was no time for training. Within the first two weeks alone, they were baptized by fire.

It seemed that someone among the high mucky-mucks not only wanted them to fail, but wanted them to fail in a seriously embarrassing and permanent way. There was no time for acclimatizing to one another, or learning each other's preferred styles; hell, there was no time for much of anything beyond fast paced, highly demanding, adrenaline pumping work. Ranma and his team couldn't have been happier. They put down a goblin insurrection in Brussels, a rabid manticore in magical Athens, and a contingent of dwarven freedom fighters that had taken the Finnish Minister of Magic hostage.

Ranma felt for the poor bastards too. It seemed that this world had very little tolerance for anything resembling racial equality. Despite the crappy politics and the general stupidity of the men and women who insisted on remaining stuck in the Victorian era, Ranma and Kasumi were enjoying their new job. Closing down a magical Mafioso and people like Sakda was its own paycheck.

In spite of the pace, their team of five gelled cohesively. Take the current case for example; a rogue coven of vampires dusting it up with a pack of lycans. The call had come dawn from on high, the Czechoslovakian magical government couldn't contain the problem any longer and the fights had begun spilling over into the non-magical side of things. The mundane government was already unstable and the volatile political unrest really didn't need a bloody massacre of ore citizens caught in the crossfire to spark a civil war that would tear the country apart. The assignment: neutralize the leadership of both groups and arrest or put down any other resistance.

Adelaide and Marc wanted to go in guns blazing, while Kasumi and Bedros felt it best to find out the history of the players. Ranma nodded and listened to both arguments before laying out his plan. The audacity of it had everyone laughing with excitement. That laughter tripled when it succeeded. Kasumi and Bedros investigated the pack and coven that was warring, coming up with names. After they had the info, Ranma took Addie and Marc to hunt down the leaders of both forces. Capturing them was unnervingly easy, as was leading both warring groups to a large warehouse in the middle of Prague. Convincing both groups that he had the building, and every other warehouse within a quarter mile rigged with explosives took some doing.

Kasumi was so proud that Ranma had finally developed a poker face that she insisted on giving him smoochies right there in front of everyone. That had been rather embarrassing, but totally worth it.

So, there they were. Ranma with a garage door opener, smoothly lying out of the side of his mouth about a dead man switch; and the leaders of both groups were tied to high backed wooden chairs back to back, with a heap load of grey modeling clay strapped to their laps. It was a beautiful bluff that had everyone well behaved. Ranma then went on to lay out his planned peace talks. In the end the Coven and the pack agreed to a time share of Prague. One group got it from January to July, while the other got it from July to January with a three day dead period where no one was in the city at all. The ultimatum for the agreement was all or nothing – either they accepted it, or Prague was going to be coven and pack free. The leaders accepted and arrangements were made for both groups to leave the area until the coven returned on July fifteenth.

Ranma released the leaders and made portkeys for both groups that would put them on opposite ends of the city. The leaders remained behind in good faith, to ensure that both groups abided by the rules, and then set free. Ranma made certain that they understood how "disappointed" he would be if he had to come back and re-negotiate another dispute. Both leaders assured him that there would be no need. Ever.

Addie, using a squirt gun filled with holy water, zapped Ranma and molested the red head until Kasumi was able to beat her back. When later asked why she had done it, the crazy Aussie simply said that the whole experience was the hottest thing she'd ever seen done in her life. Ranma was not amused. Kasumi was torn. Marc and Bedros couldn't stop laughing for the entire trip back to the United Kingdom.

The international portkey dropped them in a special ICW receiving room at Heathrow, wherein the group broke up to write their reports and prepare for tomorrow's debrief. Ranma and Kasumi were grateful to finally be alone, and rather than apparate home, they decided to spend the afternoon in London. It was here, amidst all the hustle and bustle of those coming and going, they crossed paths with a person who would forever change their lives.

The boy across from them was lugging a huge suitcase and a large dog carrier, desperately trying to keep pace with the pair of overweight people in front of him. The man and the woman with the bulldog seemed intent to take turns turning back to the boy in order to chastise him for being too slow. Ranma had seen and been the subject of enough abuse to recognize it when he saw it. He stepped forward to intervene, but Kasumi's hand on his arm pulled him up short.

"Why'd you stop me?" He demanded crossly.

"Didn't you feel it?" Ranma shook his head. "The boy is magical.

"So? All the more reason to step in. That fat bastard doesn't seem the open minded type, does he?"

"No. He doesn't." Kasumi confessed, biting her lip and frowning.

It was an expression Ranma had come to know and trust implicitly. Lakshmi said that Kasumi was a bit of a Seer, and her gift always manifested as hunches or nagging intuition. One thing going for her was a perfect track record.

"Talk to me."

"The boy's important, Ranma. Very, very important." She motioned Ranma to follow the boy, but ensured that they maintained a safe distance as they continued to talk. "I can't explain it, but I know that we can't go in 'guns blazing'; not if we want to really help the boy."

"So we play it cool and watch from the sidelines for a while?"

"Yes. We need to gather more information." Kasumi winced and frowned darkly as the boy was cuffed in the head by the man, and cursed at by the woman holding the bulldog. "It needs to be hard evidence too. Something that can't be swept under the rug by the British Ministry."

"You think they've got their hands in this somehow?"

"A feeling, yes." She nodded. "Every time I think about reporting it to the Ministry here, I feel a sense of pointlessness…I don't know how to explain it better."

"Okay, I think I understand." Ranma nodded. "How does this sound? We gather the evidence; pictures, video, memories, the whole nine yards. We pass on copies to the British Ministry, giving them one chance to do right by the boy. If they don't do anything, then we'll go through other channels."

Kasumi nodded, refusing to take her eyes off the boy for an instant.

"Okay then. I'll check in with Anton and Miguel for the initial debrief, just so they can pretend to be our liaisons and earn their paychecks. You stick to the kid, and get Marc and Bedros to start digging up info on the mundane side of things. I got a hunch that we're probably draw a blank on the magical side of things."

"I think you're right." She kissed him quickly while the boy was wrestling the large suitcase into the boot of the car. "Be safe."

"You too."

He watched her discretely cast a tracking charm on the car before disappearing into the crowd, presumably to buy a map for the spell to follow and get a rental. Something in his gut told him that this was another one of those pivotally magic moments, where the universe shifts paths for good or ill.

His gut, in spite of everything Akane's cooking had done, and tried to do, to it had never led him astray. Okay, the Amazon incident was the exception to the rule, and mostly the old man's fault any way; but in his tummy's defense, Ranma could honestly say that eating that feast was the catalyst to eventually becoming the Old Crone's student. That, in turn, led to him learning all the techniques that had saved both his and Akane's lives. So, given a choice, he would always follow his gut.

Years down the road from now, Ranma would acknowledge his own gift of foresight. And he would staunchly maintain that the prophetic powers of his belly were just as powerful as Kasumi's own gifts. Friends and family would scoff and call it indigestion.

Ranma knew the difference though.

**************

March 7, 1991

"Damn it, Anton!" Ranma growled and tossed the packet of photos onto the desk in front of the Frenchman. "They force the kid to live and sleep in a cupboard under the stairs!"

"You think I enjoy sitting on this?" Anton de Ville countered. "For the love of all that is holy! I want to see the boy freed from this situation as much as you do! But you must step back and look at what has happened to date."

"I know what's happened, Anton. I watched it play out." Ranma growled and threw himself into the chair in front of the desk. "But it's been nine months! Nine effin' fruitless months of watching the boy get pissed on by people that should be protecting him! How can you expect me to sit back and not do anything?"

Miguel Castillo leaned over from his spot by the wall and picked up the folder that Ranma had dropped, thumbing through it.

"I wouldn't call these the harvest of nine fruitless months, Ranma. You have managed to put together a solid case for all you hard work."

"Harry's still stuck under the stairs, Miguel. Until he's free from that place, I can't in good conscience pat myself on the back."

"I'm not asking you to. I am, however, asking you to cut yourself some slack." Miguel put the folder back down on the desk, allowing Anton to pick up where he left off.

"You've built the mother of all corruption cases against Albus Dumbledore and the British Ministry of Magic. All that is left to do is tie everything off and connect all the dots in such a blatantly obvious way that whatever ICW council this is put before can't help but act. Until we have that catalyst, there's a chance that it won't stick.

"Maglio Vespucci." Kasumi murmured from her seat beside Ranma.

"The smuggler?" Miguel asked. "How does he tie into it?"

"He ties to Snape and Malfoy." Ranma grinned. "With Fletcher as the middleman."

"Okay, but I'm still not seeing the connection back to Potter." The Spaniard poured himself a cup of tea as Anton lifted one of the photographs.

Kasumi just grinned and began digging through the older files until she triumphantly slammed her prize down between the two men. Wizarding surveillance photos showed Mundungus Fletcher selling something to someone in a dingy alley. The fact that Harry just happened into the image, being driven by slaps to his head and shoulders by his aunt had been sheer luck. That luck seemed pure providence as Fletcher, and a now revealed Vespucci, seemed to be discretely watching with dark smirks as the boy passed them by. Fletcher winking at Petunia Dursley was just icing on the cake.

"Oh, it can't be that easy." Anton whispered.

"Vespucci to Fletcher. Fletcher to Snape and Malfoy – two former Death Eaters…one who bribed his way free of the charges if Fudge's accounts are anything to go by, and the other who was bailed out by Dumbledore himself. Fletcher even ties back to Dumbledore in a round about way, due to dealings with Albus' brother Aberforth. Tie in Fletcher flirting with Harry's aunt, and even if the photo is only circumstantial evidence, it presents a clear and present danger to a national hero – who also happens to be a minor in an abusive home. This at the very least should allow us a warrant and clear us to question the Dursley woman."

Ranma stared at his wife with pure adulation. Anton and Miguel were both grinning from ear to ear.

"Alright, you've sold me. Nail down Vespucci and Fletcher. Have Marc and Addie question them. Kasumi, you and Bedros are clear to discretely interrogate the Drusley woman. Get me something hard from her about how Mr. Potter came to be in her home. Tie it all up and I will sell it to the oversight committee."

"By the numbers you two." Miguel warned. "The fact that we're bringing Albus Dumbledore into this is going to demand that we dot our 'I's and cross all of our 'T's – anything less and we will be hanging from the gallows, and Dumbledore sweeps it all under the rug like he's done with the Mundanes."

"And what about me?" Ranma asked.

"You get to sit on the Dursely home to watch out for Mr. Potter." Anton stared at Ranma meaningfully. "Consider him under protective custody, but only interfere if it seems his life is in jeopardy or it looks like someone's going to try and spirit him away. Under no other circumstances are you to set foot on the property. Understood?"

"Crystal."

"Good. Get to work. You've got a lot to cover, and no time to do it in."

**************

March 12, 1991

Ranma waited in the park, masked under the Umisen-ken to avoid detection; magical or otherwise. He knew that Harry would be along any moment. It was Wednesday, which was generally Harry's park day. His obese cousin had started taking lessons at some Shotokan hack's dojo, which left Harry locked out of the house until the bloat finished. On sunny days, it wasn't such a hardship, but it took all of Ranma's considerable will not to intervene on rainy days. Luckily today was the former, rather than the latter.

It was surprising to Ranma that the Dursley kid had lasted as long as he had in the program. He had been all but certain that the little whale would have washed out of the class the second week in. But, lo and behold, here they were in the fifth week and Dursley was still going strong. Ranma knew for a fact that the draw for the kid wasn't the Art. It was the blood and bruises he got to inflict on Harry during their "practice" sessions; the evidence was advertised plain as day on the poor kid's face. Perhaps that was the reason Ranma was here in the park, breaking protocol. He hated bullies, but the bleak hopelessness in Harry's eyes was even worse in his book.

There was no real way to stop the bullying. Any overt interference on his part would blow the case completely out of the water. No. What was needed her was a deft touch; something much more subtle. He'd thought long and hard on what he could possibly do to ease Harry's burdens: little gifts, ensured time alone, a secret pet… Ranma had run the gambit. But, the most obvious need was a friend. Potter needed an honest to goodness friend. And, in spite of the risks involved to both the case and Ranma himself, that was what the martial artist intended to give the boy.

Even if Ranma had to be an imaginary friend to do it.

**************

April 15, 1990

Easter Sunday

Time passed as it was wont to do. Sometimes it went quickly, and sometimes it crawled at a snail's pace. Ranma and Kasumi took turns being Harry's hidden friends, talking to him in the park when no one was around, helping him with homework on his way home from school, subtly telling him when Dudley and his gang were about so that he could avoid them. Kasumi would even bake Harry cookies and leave them in a small bag in a secret cubby beneath the slide. Ranma made it a game to see how many different ways he could make Dudley and his gang embarrass themselves without touching them. His pranks were taking their toll too. Dudley was now serving detentions for the rest of the school year for swearing at the teacher while her back was turned. Martial Arts Ventriloquism had its uses.

The Saotomes became real "magical imaginary friends" to a very lonely boy.

But, the best of times were always when Harry found himself alone in a small cluster of bushes in the park, away from prying eyes and nosey kneasles. Neither Kasumi or Ranma would ever visually reveal themselves, but they conversed with Harry about every topic he could think of. They would discuss his grades and talk about his day at school. They would listen as he poured his heart out to them, and offer advice on how he could better himself and his life without incurring the wrath of his relatives.

Harry once commented on the oddity of having imaginary friends at his age, but when asked if he would rather they leave him alone, the answer was a resounding, passionate, "Please stay!" – as if either Saomtome would ever abandon such a needy soul.

The hardest moment, and by far the most tempting incident for both Ranma and Kasumi, came on Easter Sunday. The weather was fine, and families were out in force for the weekend, puttering to and fro with busy abandon. The Dursleys saw fit to take the weekend to travel, and foisted Harry off on Dumbledore's squib watchdog, Arabella Figg. The woman was nice enough, but soon her company pressed and agitated, and Harry found himself in the park – surrounded by reminders of what he had never known. The boy's longing turned to depression fairly quick, and the amount of pure emotion exuded would have done P-Chan proud.

Kasumi wished she could have reached out and hugged the pain away; more so when he called out to her.

"Are you there?"

She only hesitated a moment.

"Yes, Harry."

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Of course."

"Are you my mother?"

Kasumi was dumbfounded by the boy's inquiry, and the silence drug out long between them. Harry nervously picked at the hem of his shirt.

"Why do you ask?" Kasumi trod carefully, her heart aching at the dejected look on his face when she side stepped the question. It was all Ranma could do to keep her from blowing their cover.

"Well, a bunch of kids were talking about Easter hols yesterday, and Archie Newford said that he had to go to church for, like, two whole hours today. Well, since I've never been to church before, I asked him what it was all about, you know?"

"And what did he say?"

"Well, he talked about a lot of weird stuff, but he said something that really got me thinking."

"Oh?" Ranma prompted. "What was that?"

"He said that when people die they come back as angels, and that there were all kinds of angels. You know, the singing kind, and the kind that people put on Valentine's Day cards, and the kind that go on Christmas trees. But the coolest kind were the guardian angels, `cause they had these awesome flaming swords!"

"Flaming swords are cool." Ranma's disembodied voice agreed.

"Yeah, but Angie McPherson said that her mum was a guardian angel, `cause she's dead and everything, and that she didn't carry any flaming sword. So, I got to wondering if you were guardian angels with cool fire swords, and if so did that make you my mum and dad?"

Neither Kasumi nor her husband knew how to really address the questions, and it broke their hearts. Not wanting to lie to him, Kasumi wracked her brain for something to say; but Ranma beat her to the punch.

"Sorry Harry, but we ain't your parents."

"…oh…"

"Now, don't go getting' all frumpy on me, Kid. Just because I said we ain't your mom and dad, don't mean we ain't guardians. You get me?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Now tell me – what does a guardian do?"

"Guard stuff, I guess."

"Yeah? And what does that mean?"

"I don't know. Take care of stuff?"

"Yeah. Go on."

"Protect stuff, maybe?"

"Exactly right. Guardians protect and care for the people or things that they are guarding. They make sure nothing bad happens to their charges and the do everything in their power to see their special people happy. Me and Kasumi ain't guardian angels, but we're guarding you."

"Why can't I come live with you then? Can't you make me invisible too? Then I wouldn't have to live with the Dursleys no more."

Kasumi broke a cardinal rule by gently touching Harry's face through the fabric of her invisibility cloak. Harry jumped at first, but immediately leaned into her touch.

"In a perfect world, Harry," She whispered thickly, with tears in her eyes. "…you would never have to live with those awful people. In a perfect world, Ranma and I could just take you away from all of this and live a happy life. Sadly, the world is far from perfect."

"Kasumi-chan's right, Kid. If we had our way, you'd be our son." Ranma followed his wife's lead and stroked the boy's hair. They held Harry until it was time for him to return to Arabella Figg's. They followed him back to the house and ensured that he was safe; but once she was certain, the dam on Kasumi's emotions broke and she found herself buried in her husband's arms weeping.

**************

May 5, 1991

Anton De Ville motioned for Ranma and his team to seat themselves before his desk as he settled himself in his own chair. His face was a stony mask that tied Ranma's stomach in knots. He handed a sheet of paper to Miguel, who in turn passed it to Ranma to read.

"Holy crap. We nailed `em!"

**************

End Chapter 02