Ye Olde Disclaimer: I own none of the universes this wanders though. This story is meant entirely as tribute and entertainment and no claim is made on any characters created by other authors. I am far too poor to be worth suing over this.
Nabiki Tendo lay on her bed, staring at the ceiling. She was struggling with many thoughts. Outside, Ranma and Genma were bouncing each-other around the back yard. Ranma hadn't lost a single sparring match since coming home from space. The fights were close, but only because Ranma wasn't pushing things, even less than he normally did. It had been a month and a half since his return.
The house shook for a moment as one of them, Genma by the sound of the accompanying yell, bounced off a wall. Absently, she noted that she'd need to charge one of them for repairs. It was hard to concentrate on things like that, though. It was hard to get excited about it being the last day of school, even.
Years ago, before their mother had died, Soun Tendo had taught the martial arts to all three of his daughters. Akane had the most potential – something that had annoyed Nabiki immensely when she was younger – but they were all learning well. Nabiki had put a lot of time and effort into learning, for she'd looked up to her father, and had thought that he could accomplish anything. She remembered a night when the five of them had been heading to a restaurant for a meal out, and a pack of crooks robbed a store just up the street. Her father had taken down the entire pack of robbers in moments, and had received a very respectful bow from the police officer leading the response.
At the time, she'd decided that she would follower her father's example anywhere. That resolve and respect held through the intervening years, and their mother's death. It even held through the first time he staggered home, so drunk he could barely walk. It didn't hold much longer, however. Without their mother, Soun crumbled into a pale parody of his old self. If his martial arts, which seemed to be the focus of his life, couldn't help him hold at least a little bit together, perhaps it wasn't worth studying. And so she'd stopped. Kasumi stopped training because she had so much more to do in the house. Only Akane continued, until Soun declared her training complete and stopped bothering to even work on that.
She'd turned her back on the dreams she'd had about the martial arts and what they could do. She'd rejected studying it and most of what she'd learned. She'd pushed towards self reliance, and that had pushed her to money. That had led her back towards martial arts a bit, but mostly by way of taking advantage of it as a bookie. She knew enough to pick out the good fighters from the bad better than most, which had made it easier and more reliable to make money off of fights.
She'd been happy enough concentrating on money and ignoring any other real pursuit of the martial arts. Let the fighters who were making her money waste their time training, deluding themselves into thinking they could do anything, she knew better. She would profit from their delusions. Ranma had shaken that up a bit, with his raw level of skill, but ultimately he was just another fighter, simply one she could make more money off of.
That had changed when he'd come home from an adventure in space, and shown the ability to fly. Watching that – and seeing that it was no trick, he was actually, honest-to-kamis, flying under his own power... It had surprised her and reminded her of her old dreams. Especially when she'd asked him later and learned it wasn't magic but an extension of his martial arts; and using ki.
Which meant that, conceivably, she could learn how to do it herself.
She could already manipulate ki a little, that was how Soun's Oni Head technique worked, and she'd learned to do that a few years back. She had the basics down, she could probably learn more, possibly enough to master whatever technique Ranma used to fly. She doubted it would be easy. But a little girl's dreams were crying out with great enthusiasm, and the little girl in her wanted desperately to follow them.
Ami Mizuno tried not to sigh as she looked around her room. She was packing, preparing to head off on a trip to another world to learn more of magic over the summer break. But she was having trouble getting really excited about it. This was going to play utter hell with her academic studies. She'd wanted to get a few courses in this summer, but that wasn't happening now.
She gave in to the urge to sigh as her communicator beeped at her. "Ami here."
Usagi sounded a bit down. Given that it was the last day of school that was not what she'd expected. "Hey Ami. Are you ready for this little trip?"
"Almost. I'm making sure I have everything I'll need. Hopefully I won't forget anything." A pause. "I'd expected you to be happier – end of the school year and all."
Usagi sighed. "We're heading off to study somewhere. It'll probably be all bookwork or something. I didn't want to go to summer school."
"It was described as magical combat training. I don't see a way to teach much of that in a classroom, Usagi."
"Luna doesn't think so, or that this will be any use."
Ami sighed. Luna and Artemis both had been, to put it politely, sceptical that any other group of mages could teach the reincarnated scions of the Moon Kingdom anything about magic. "Luna didn't see what Subaru and Teana could do. These people know a lot about magic. And learning some of it won't hurt us."
Usagi moaned. "You'd probably prefer all classwork. I knew I should've called Rei."
"Usagi... it'll be okay. Look, think of the travel and stuff." She smiled faintly. "And think about this: lots of new and different food."
There was a long pause as the blonde contemplated those words. "That... is a good point." A pause, and her tone was unsure as she continued. "Still... what if something happens while we're gone, and we're needed here?"
"Well, the Outers are staying behind, and the TSAB did say they were going to get an agent of theirs to keep an eye on things just in case. Besides, we've asked Setsuna a dozen times to check the Time Gates. Nothing major is going to happen this summer."
The last day of class had gone fairly well for Ranma. Other than a swift, perfunctory fight with Tatewaki Kuno on the way in and a briefer one on the way out, nothing violent had happened to him. And really, Kuno didn't count for trouble. He was a hell of a kendoist, but his skills were limited beyond that.
On the whole, Ranma was a bit depressed. He'd kinda-sorta-halfassed planned to do a bit of a training trip over the summer break, probably to China. Partly, he wanted to see if he had the endurance to make the flight – keeping a ship or two below in sight just in case. Partly, it would give him a chance to get out of the usual mayhem of Nerima. Mostly, he wanted to track down Herb for a rematch. He suspected the dragon-blooded prince would be impressed as all hell, and Ranma wanted to see if he could learn a trick or two from him.
Then he'd gotten a call from the TSAB. He was keeping the comm pendant on at all times, The translation spell in it alone meant it was worth its weight in platinum, and it looked valuable enough that he didn't want to leave it out where Nabs or his father might be tempted to swipe it. He figured it would be helpful the next time he went off training, using its translator rather than relying on his, or his father's, piss-poor command of any language that wasn't Japanese. That way, he would probably be able to avoid, say, cursed training grounds.
So when the TSAB wanted to bring him in to help deal with some kind of security thing, they'd gotten ahold of him very quickly. Some local powered group was sending half their number to Mid-Childa for training, but were concerned about the safety of Tokyo. So the TSAB were getting Ranma to help cover things. They hadn't said outright who the group was, but under the circumstances, Ranma figured it was probably the Senshi. He didn't know all that much about them, magical girls hardly being something appropriate for a manly man to take interest in, but he knew they were the self-proclaimed guardians of Tokyo. Working with them would be a pain, but probably not too bad. Supposedly they fought demons a lot. Demons were always a challenge.
They were also going to be paying him a decent sum, which made things a bit better. And while his summer wasn't exactly going to be going to plan, when did anything in his life go according to his plans?
Akane Tendo hurried home. She didn't really have any plans for the afternoon beyond meeting with her friends for some general girl-time. She didn't have any plans in general for the summer break beyond enjoying herself for a while.
She exchanged pleasantries with Kasumi as she walked into the Tendo house and bounded up the stairs to get out of her uniform and into some casual clothes. On the way back down the stairs, she heard something in the dojo – sounds of exertion. It didn't sound like Ranma – and as best she knew he was going to be sparring with Ryoga for a while before coming home – and it didn't sound like Father or Genma. Slightly hesitant, she opened the door.
Nabiki, clad in her gym clothes, was working her way through a kata. Surprised to see her older sister doing anything martial arts related that didn't involve bookmaking after all these years, she stood, dumbfounded, and watched.
Her sister's prowess wasn't as great as she remembered it, probably a combination of her own growth in skill, and Nabiki being long out of practice. She still hadn't found her voice again when Nabiki finished the kata, and noticed her.
"Hey, Nabiki. What're you up to?"
Her older sister actually looked... defensive for a moment. "What? A girl's not allowed to pick up an old hobby again?"
Akane shrugged. "Well, no, but, I never really expected to see it. You were pretty nasty to Daddy when you quit training."
Nabiki started into another kata. "I suppose I was. I guess I've changed my mind since then."
Akane was feeling genuinely curious now. "Any particular reason?"
Nabiki continued in silence for a moment. Then, "Seeing Ranma pull off some genuine superhero stuff."
"What, you mean like the flying?"
"Yeah." Nabiki completed the kata in silence. She glanced again at her sister, who was lost in thought. "A girl can dream."
"Do you think you can actually learn that stuff yourself, Nabiki?"
"No." The sheer honesty of the answer surprised Akane for a moment. "But I don't think I'll have to do it myself. I'm going to ask Ranma to teach me."
"Why would you want to learn from that baka?" Akane heard a bit of anger leak into her tone, and tried to force it down.
Nabiki's tone had a bite to it. "Can you name any other martial artists capable of powered flight? Specifically, ones who don't hate us?" An odd look crossed her older sister's features. "I'm not going to try and take over the engagement or steal him away or anything like that, Akane."
Akane felt her face flush as she blurted out, "Why would I care if you did? I don't care about him!" Not wanting to continue the argument, she fled the dojo, but not before seeing the expression of disappointment on Nabiki's features. Why should she care? It's not her problem. It's not a problem at all! He's just a stupid boy and I don't care about him that way.
Though he didn't know it at the time, Ranma was very fortunate that he hadn't come straight home. Running into Akane in her current mood would have been more than a little painful.
He and Ryoga had planned to spar for a while after school, but that had fallen through. Ryoga, still quite enjoying not worrying about getting lost while walking down the street, had been called in to his new job a couple hours early. Ranma found Ryoga's simple joy at basic stuff like holding a job kinda funny. He gave it another couple weeks before his friend was back to normal. Probably. Either way, Ranma was glad he was having fun.
As he walked back to Nerima, lazily ambling along a fencetop, it occurred to him that Ryoga might mess himself up enjoying life. He generated most of his ki from his depression. The happier he was, the less he would have to work with.
After a long moment of wondering, Ranma chuckled. Ryoga was his best rival, and it would not be in his best intrests to let that rival lose the ability to challenge him. He figured he'd help Ryoga to work on a better way to generate ki and otherwise fight effectively. But he'd let the fanged boy find out he had a problem the hard way.
He still owed Ryoga for some of his antics back on Midland.
Ami wasn't quite sure how they'd all managed to do it, but all of the Inner Senshi had convinced their parents and guardians to let them go for this little trip, but she imagined Setsuna's help had a fair bit to do with it. Her mother had been pleased to hear that Ami planned to go on an academic retreat, which was at least not a total lie.
The Inners and Outers were gathered in a small park. They were expecting a TSAB ship to meet them here shortly. While they waited, most of the others were chating. Ami sat on a bench next to her bags and pulled out the physics textbook she'd be going through next semester at school. Learning more about magic and how to use it was all to the good, but she wasn't going to let this interfere with her studies more than was absolutely necessary.
"Wish I'd thought to bring a book."
Ami glanced up. Minako had wandered from the main group to the bench she had chosen. The blonde sat beside her as Ami marked her place and closed the textbook. "I'd offer to loan you one, but all I brought was textbooks."
"None of your romance novels?" Minako's grin could best be described as impish.
Ami shot her a look. "Not this trip. I'm hoping this training is going to be as in-depth as Teana implied. I might not even have enough time to get through these texts."
Minako shrugged. "I suppose. I just hope it's not going to be insanely complicated. Lots of practical training would be more helpful for me and Makoto and Rei."
"To say nothing of Usagi."
The blonde smiled. "No kidding. She's probably going to complain the whole time, even though coming along was her idea." The two giggled for a moment as they looked at Usagi, easier than usual to pick out of the crowd: she was hand-in-hand with Mamoru and the two were conversing in hushed tones.
"Did he say why he couldn't come?" Ami asked, nodding towards the young man.
"Couldn't get time off work, he said." Minako shrugged. "I don't think he tried all that hard, and I know he didn't ask Setsuna for help."
"The Outers didn't think much of the offer, either. I suspect they didn't look at much of what I recorded on Subaru and Teana."
"Yeah. You'd think the giant magical spaceship might have had at least some effect on their thinking." She took a drink from her bag. "I guess we'll see how this turns out."
Ami's reply was cut off as another figure appeared at the edge of the park clearing. It was an unfamiliar male in red and black, who walked up and said, "You folks waiting for the TSAB?" He waved at Makoto. "Hey Makoto. Been a while."
The tall Senshi waved back, an uneasy smile on her face. "Hi Ranma. What brings you to this end of town?"
He walked boldly into the clearing, hopped onto the back of a bench and squatted there, seemingly ignoring Haruka, Setsuna, Hotaru, and Michiru moving behind him as the Inners fanned out before him. "Here to meet a spaceship. Same as you folks, I think." He smiled, a cocky grin, and said, "I got a call from the ship about twenty minutes ago. They ran into something called a 'minor snafu' that's slowed 'em down gettin' here. Lieutenant Forsythe said to say he'd be here in a few."
"I'm sure we don't know what you're talking about," said Setsuna.
"Of course ya don't. That secret identity crap." Ranma chuckled, head shaking as if at a private joke.
A look bounced around the gathered Senshi. By unspoken agreement, Makoto spoke up, stepping forward and in front of the martial artist. "Okay, Ranma. Lets say we are waiting for a spaceship. Why would we want you around?"
Ranma laughed aloud. "The way I heard it, you asked the TSAB to help. I'm the help."
There was a small stir at that. Setsuna said, "But you're native to this world. What kind of connection could you have them?"
"They drafted me to help deal with something a couple months back."
Further conversation was paused as a loud beep sounded from inside Setsuna's purse. An awkward silence stretched for several seconds, marred by the beep repeating and Ranma snickering. Another look bounced around the circle, several of the Senshi looking to Makoto, who shrugged. Setsuna sighed, and pulled a TSAB communicator out of her purse. "Hello?.. Good evening, Lieutenant... Yes, we're at the agreed site. There's a possible complication, someone claiming to be your agent... Yes, that is the name he gave... I see. No apologies needed, Lieutenant, I should have asked beforehand... We'll be happy to see you."
The Senshi of Time stowed the communicator, quickly schooling her features into impassivity. A wave of blue light shone briefly at the clearing's center, disgorging three figures in TSAB uniforms. Ranma hopped down from his perch on the bench's back and gave a vague salute. "Heya, Lieutenant."
"Agent Saotome." He turned towards the Senshi, who had moved into a group again. "Good evening ladies, gentleman," he said, that last with a nod at Mamoru. "I apologize for our tardiness. It looks like you have your bags here. If you're ready, we can get everything loaded up, and head for Mid-Childa. Agent Saotome, Miss Meioh, a brief word?"
The Lieutenant, Setsuna, and Ranma moved a bit away from the group. Ami picked up her bag again. She moved it to the small pile of luggage at the center of the clearing, then removed one device and walked over to Setsuna.
"..We aren't expecting any trouble, though your offer of assistance is certainly appreciated." The green-haired woman glanced at Ranma. "But honestly, we were expecting a mage, not a martial artist. I'm not sure what use he might be against the kind of enemies we fight."
"You fight demons right? I've fought demons before. They ain't so tough." There was a... surety to his tone beyond simple bravado.
Lieutenant Forsythe made a placating gesture, shot Ranma a look. "Agent Saotome is highly skilled, ma'am. He should be able to assist you in the defence of this city should it be needed."
Setsuna sighed. "Of course. He has a communicator?"
"Yep." Ranma pulled a pendant out of his shirt; Ami recognized it as being similar to some she'd seen aboard the Claudia.
Ami stepped behind Ranma, who glanced in her direction. "Agent Saotome? You might need this." She handed him the device she'd brought.
"Uh, thanks. What's this?"
"A youma detector. It should alert you to any youma that might attack your area."
"Cool! Thanks." He started fiddling with it. Ami exchanged nods with Setsuna and walked to the others.
"Lieutenant?" began Usagi, "We're ready whenever you are."