Hotaru 1/2, an omake that grew out of control.

***this originally appeared pretty much as is on the Addventure (starting with episode 210471). Defined pretty much by myself, Kender_Sci, and the occasional episode by Greyman. Turned into omake for the larger audience. Incomplete and presented just as is for your amusement.

Hotaru 1/2: open mouth, make wish, insert foot

Unending BE - episode 210471

Aftermath. Nobody involved remembered the humiliations, the pain, the destruction. However, the Goddess Relief Office not only remembered but had just called Ranma Saotome to award him a wish for his solving the problem of demonic hackers.

Ranma sighed and put down the phone. Yeah right. HIM getting a wish? It'd just get screwed up anyway. Magic + Ranma = Problems. School + Ranma = Problems. Heck, anything lately seemed to be just more problems.

Ranma was distracted as he tried to think of the last thing that wasn't "all Ranma's fault" or went in a way that actually benefitted him.

Hmmm. There was something there. Some idea that seemed just out of grasp, like a martial arts special technique that he almost had down...

Nabiki watching this, was experienced enough in reading people to see a First Class Sulk going and didn't really see any way that she could profit off of it. She could however mention to Akane that maybe he was having trouble with Ukyo or Shampoo, or maybe even another fiancee nobody knew about?

Akane had already come to the conclusion that Ranma was thinking, therefore he was thinking about one of those tramps! She was waiting, just waiting, for one remark, one slip up, one gesture! Then POW! To da moon!

Ranma continued to be distracted after breakfast, though it may have just been some *very* disturbing dreams dealing with a demonically possessed Akane causing a thorough lack of sleep.

(ching ching! WHAM!) this being the sound effect of a bicycle bell being rung moments before said bicycle landed on a certain pigtailed martial artist.

"I really don't need this today," complained Ranma, not that anyone paid any attention to him.

"Get your paws off my Ranchan!"

Shampoo backed off slightly as a large combat spatula was brandished. Unlike Akane, who would always hit Ranma for being hugged by Shampoo, Ukyo seemed a little clearer in the targetting department. Most of the time.

"I really don't need this today," repeated the still ignored Ranma.

"Ohohohohohohoho!"

"I really don't need this today." Just a glance at the glowing 5'2" Akane Tendo tower of fury was indication that his headache was going to get worse.

"Ranma! How dare you flirt with these floozies!" Akane had been watching some gaijin programs and working on her vocabulary lately. Fortunately Ranma provided use for some of the frequent derogatory terms that cropped up in there.

"Floozies?!" Shampoo, Ukyo, and Kodachi repeated. Nabiki, safely to the side and watching with amusement, merely noted that particular phrase was apparently known to everyone else including Shampoo. How interesting. Though if this kept up they might be late for school.

Kasumi, hearing all the fuss right outside their front gate, stuck her head out but decided this wasn't even worth an "oh my" yet. Same stuff different day.

Seeing where he was about to get pummelled, Ranma remembered the offer on the phone earlier. Man, if only that had been real, then all he'd have to do was say: "Yeesh, I wish I had a really nice decent fiancee who listened to me and didn't scare me all the time."

The scene seemed to freeze for a moment before a woman's voice answered from midair. "Wish granted!"

Several eyes turned towards the now panicked pigtailed martial artist.

"RANMAAAAA!" "Ranchan!" "Airen!" "NO BAKA!"

-----

Urd clapped her hands and squealed with girlish glee. "Time for the 'goddess of love' to work her magic!"

"Excuse me?" Astrild, Norse goddess of love, looked up from her console.

"Oh let her have her fantasies," said Freja.

"Oh? Watch and be envious," said Urd. "I know someone fated to a relationship that really isn't that satisfactory, but a little work from the goddess of the past and we have a pre-existing engagement to either the Tendo or the Kuonji relationships!"

"So you're helping out two people and giving them a chance?" Freja shrugged, but was slightly more interested. "I'll bet that Saotome won't be able to keep his foot out of his mouth but maybe..."

------

Ranma grumbled. Fortunately when Akane had launched him into the stratosphere for "flirting" with the girls he had landed close to class. He was getting close to flunking out and really couldn't afford to be late or miss class.

The teacher (the fourth one this semester) finally entered and cleared his throat. "Well class, we have a new student transferring in, I'd like you to welcome Hotaru Tomoe."

The girl who stood in front of the class, bowing slightly, and looking quite nervous had several qualities not usually found in a Furinkan student.

She was polite, shy, friendly, and pale as if she didn't get out into the sun very often.

Slender but in no way boyish, the girl looked more like she should be in Middle School. Those who could read such things could look and see that she did not carry herself like a trained martial artist, more like a nervous young schoolgirl.

Except that Ranma Saotome had looked first at that, and had then looked at the girl's chi.

At which point Ranma Saotome had started staring and his jaw had nearly dropped to the floor.

This thin, anemic, shy, little girl had more chi than Ryouga and Herb put together. Though it felt off somehow. Not that she had more chi than Ranma himself did. No, of course not.

Noticing the way Ranma was staring at the new girl, Akane began to generate a battle-aura herself.

Hotaru took a seat, blushing slightly at the attention. She kept running into problems in the school system elsewhere, but then her guardians had heard of Furinkan. Weird stuff was always happening at Furinkan so little Hotaru's tendency to go healing someone or producing her Silence Glaive during class when she was really nervous or mosquitos trying to draw her blood suddenly going poof in a little burst of energy would probably be par for the course. "The nail that sticks out gets pounded down." From the stories of Furinkan Senior High School, Hotaru wouldn't stand out at all.

Besides, she could meet her fiance this way.

Due to several related factors, the school had a new nurse.
1) The old nurse had moved to Shiguya, apparently because of a nervous breakdown and developing near phobic reactions to prolonged martial arts battles.
2) The new nurse actually requested Furinkan, apparently being related to little Hotaru in some manner and wanting to keep an eye on her briefly.
3) The legal guardian of Miss Tomoe apparently felt perfectly capable of "giving the smack down to deranged principles and uppity martial artists" unless someone more calm was there to defuse potentially hazardous situations to the point where such measures would not be necessary.

Therefore the school had a new nurse: one Setsuna Meiou. (Whether any of the other Senshi would transfer was still to be determined. Usagi and Minako would be considered average students here as Furinkan was hardly considered a center for scholastic excellence.)

"So why are you transferred to Furinkan, anyway, Tomoe-san?" The teacher asked as he looked over the papers. Her grades were good, there wasn't any sheet to indicate legal troubles, the Martial Artist box wasn't checked, so what did that leave? Ah, Box 245 "Are You Ever Attacked By Supernatural Forces For No Apparent Reason" was checkmarked. That went a long way to explain it.

Hotaru chose the most mundane answer. "To meet my fiance per an arrangement from thirty years ago."

The tension in the room went thick. There was a dull crack as Akane's hands snapped off a portion of her desk. Ranma noted she was looking at his neck and felt quite uncomfortable.

The teacher calmly noted on a piece of paper that Akane had broken her third desk for this semester but at least this break looked repairable.

"And the name of this fiance," said a bishonen boy with an enormous... spatula, "wouldn't happen to be 'Ranma Saotome' would it?"

Hotaru nodded, brightening considerably but also blushing and acting twice as shy. "Yes! Do you know him? Is he cute?"

Ranma groaned and dropped his head. Though this would give him a chance to find out why this girl had enough chi to light up Tokyo, it was obvious what the next thing to happen would be.

"Oh, he's right here," Hiroshi said helpfully, while pointing to the pigtailed boy.

'He IS cute,' Hotaru thought with a blush.

"Hey, Hiroshi," Daisuke called.

Hiroshi turned to look at his friend "What?"

"Ranma's got another fiancee."

"Yeah, so?"

"Maybe now that he's got another one..."

"What... Oh right! Maybe Akane'll be free!"

"Yeah! Saotome's already had his chance with her. So, maybe we can get a shot at her!"

"I've always wondered what it'd be like to make out with her."

"I wonder what she's like in bed."

"Hmm... How is she, Ran... Where are you goin'?"

Ranma ignored his 'friend' as he made his way away from the pair.

"You...you..," Akane growled.

Hiroshi and Daisuke turned to the youngest Tendo... and chuckled nervously. "Oh, hi Akane."

"PERVERTS!!"

Not being complete idiots, the dimwitted duo took off.

"COME BACK HERE AND DIE!!" Akane bellowed as she gave chase.

Hotaru blinked as she tried to take in what was going on around her. "Is it always like this?"

"Nah, this is kinda quiet," Ukyo put in.

"'Kinda quiet'?"

"Yup. Now about you bein Ranchan's fiancee..."

The chef was interrupted as someone burst into the room. The yells of Akane and her 'victims' were enough to tell the person that something was up, and was most likely up with Ranma.

"BRAWWWGHGHHHHH!" Crash! Smash! BOOM!

Lest anyone not guess, Pantyhose Tarou had arrived.

Tarou had recently come back from Jusenkyo. It was not enough that he had the curse that turned him into a winged minotaur with a eel-tail. It wasn't enough that his cursed form had those octopus tentacles and he could shoot ink. No, Tarou wanted to become really impressive. And so he had gone back to Jusenkyo and found a most auspicious spring that he could use to strike terror into the hearts of all who were present. Basically he'd soaked his fingers and rinsed his mouth with Spring Of Drowned Tiger water.

Pantyhose Tarou prepared to show off his newest enhancement in order to get "fem-boy" out here and beat the stuffings out of him.

Except that little Hotaru Tomoe saw part of the school get smashed, saw what was obviously a yoma, and had rushed off to a stairwell. "Saturn Crystal Power Make UP!"

Outside, Ranma nearly fell off the tree limb as he saw his newest fiancee turn briefly naked, then wear a seifuku and go charging out the door with a polearm. Naturally, knowing the odd little girl was gonna get hurt, he rushed around the corner of the building to protect her from the rampaging Tarou.

Except something else seemed to be happening.

"Silence Glaive SURPRISE!" Since she was all alone and she was much too shy for posing and making speeches, Sailor Saturn decided to make this quick and just hit the youma with a low power strike before he could start draining energy.

Tarou was very surprised as he found himself launched across the street, through a pastry shop, across the canal, down Godzilla Street, and eventually ended up crashing into a hot dog vendor who happened to practice Martial Arts Baseball Vendor Style.

Tarou beat him up, but those little forks hurt!

Ranma saw this and immediately decided to act completely in character for him.

"Hey Hotaru!" Ranma said, dropping into the Senshi of Silence's field of view.

"Ran... I mean, Whoever you are, you'd better get out of the way. It's dangerous."

"I saw ya change Hotaru. And..."

Hotaru knew what was coming. She'd try to make friends, or be nice or something and someone would see her heal a cut or whatever, and then suddenly the names and the bullying would start. She had hoped that this school would be different. That she'd actually be able to get to know Ranma as a fiance, but now he was probably going to...

"That was so cool! How'd ya do it?!"

...admire her attack?! "Umm..."

"I've never seen ANYONE hit Tarou THAT hard before. I gotta learn how to do that!"

Hotaru glanced over at her fiance and felt herself begin to smile shyly at him. "I don't think that you can do that."

"Why not?! I can learn any technique! I ain't the best martial artist around for nothin'."

"WAAARRGGGHHH!!!"

"Oh, hi Tarou. Haven't seen ya in a while," Ranma said with a smirk, "Trying a bit of a new look?"

"GGRRRRRR!!!" went Tarou as he tried to bash the pigtailed boy.

Ranma leapt over the blow easily and replied with a "Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken!!"

"Wh-what? How?!" stammered Saturn. Even Makoto or Haruka-papa couldn't do *that*.

"Ki, how else?" replied the Saotome heir as he scooped her up and leapt out of the way of the follow up attack. "Yo, Tarou, watch where you're attackin'!"

Saturn blinked herself out of the pleasant haze that being in Ranma's arms had brought and exclaimed, "You know that youma?!"

"He ain't a youma. He's some jackass that got dunked in a bunch of cursed springs."

"He's human?"

"Yeah. He just looks like this when he gets dunked with cold water. Though the claws and sharp teeth are new."

"I guess I shouldn't have blasted him that hard then."

Ranma shook his head. "Nah, he can take a lot. He's... Hey what's that?"

Hotaru peered from her perch in Ranma's arms and saw a number of violent people who seemed to be orienting on her fiancee for no discernable reason?!

"Ranma! Prepare to die!" Some guy in white robes wrapped chains and threw knives. The chains wrapping themselves about a tree, and the throwing knives getting imbedded in the school wall.

"Ranma, prepare to dieeeeeee!" Some guy carrying a large umbrella creating a crater at the point of impact as he attempted to hit Ranma.

"Saotome! Your life is at an end!" A taller guy with a wooden sword was repeatedly trying to whack Ranma with it.

"Rannnmmaaaa! How dare you flirt with yet another girl?!" This from some girl who had uprooted one of the stone benches in front of the school and was trying to bean Ranma with it. Hotaru *thought* that this was the girl chasing those two guys earlier.

"GRONK!" The not-the-yoma from earlier had returned, though he had what looked like it would be one heck of a bruise from Saturn's earlier attack.

"I swear, every day," some woman was moving through the onlookers, taking bets on how long the fight would last and whether it would be Akane or Ranma standing at the end of it.

Sailor Saturn was a little bewildered at this, but it occurred to her that if this sort of thing happened on a daily basis, then something like manifesting the Silence Glaive when she was stressed out during an exam wasn't going to get more than a raised eyebrow.

Just then, though, Sailor Saturn was introduced to one of the unpleasant things that can happen at Furinkan as a tiny little yoma named Happosai grabbed the front of her fuku.

Hotaru had been called cute by some of the adults who met her. she had traded shy glances with boys who didn't know about her abilities. Usagi was always trying her to get her to 'make the most of her looks'.

But a perverted little gnome grabbing onto her chest? Nope. Never happened until now, and she REALLY wished it hadn't.

"What? I thought a pretty girl like you would have more there," said the troll as he leapt back to the ground.

Hotaru got a twitch in her eye. She had just begun developing, the result of yet more accelerated growth, and was a little sensitive about her still apparent youth. *Especially* in light of some of the things Haruka-papa and Michiru-mama had been suggesting about her relationship with Chibi-usa. "What?"

"But it looks like you're great in other areas!"

"Huh? EEEEKKKK!!!!"

"Oh yes! Such a firm bottom!"

"GET IT OFF!!!"

Ranma and his 'friends' ceased their fighting long enough to look at what was causing all the commotion.

"Oh man, the freak's at it again," Ranma observed.

"I could stay here all day..," Happosai commented.

No, Hotaru was normally a shy girl. If she didn't have her powers, she'd have probably wound up in the background. She was quiet and sweet, especially compared to the other Outers. She was a lot like Ami in that regard.

But she was still Sailor Saturn. Saturn was embarrased, terrified and PISSED OFF. And in the tradition of groped girls everywhere she answered with an attempt to smash the offender. Of course, her's was a wee bit different. Such as creating a flare of raw power that bounced the leech off long enough for a polearm to be pointed at him.

"SILENCE GLAIVE SURPRISE!!"

Happosai blinked. "What? Oh..."

*BOOM*

"AAAAAaaaaaaaaa," said Happosai, using up all his recently generated chi in survival of the sudden acceleration.

Sailor Saturn shuddered, feeling terribly stressed out still. She needed a hug. Not from that whatever-it-was either.

"aaaaAAAAAAAaaaa," continued Happosai. He had regularly been knocked into the upper cloud deck. Heck, even Akane could usually manage to get him to the 10,000 foot level. Ranma, always feeling he had to do better, usually managed 100,000 feet. The stars coming out in mid-day indicated he was getting some heavy air miles out of this. "Most ominous."

"That was cool! I've never seen the freak go so far!" Ranma exclaimed as he rushed up to the Senshi and hugged her. Nope, in physical contact with her he could tell she wasn't raising a battle aura at all. She was using that off-chi stuff.

The Senshi of Silence gave a most becoming blush.

Kuno posed melodramatically. "Verily, Saotome does speak the truth in this instance. Beauty and such power in one woman. Know this glorious valkyrie, I SHALL DATE THEE!"

"RANMA! How dare you grope that tramp!" Akane bellowed.

"Saotome, how dare you treat Akane like that!" Ryouga growled.

"You can't escape Ranma!" Mousse told a tree.

Hotaru had been holding back. Just a little. By using the quick version of "Silence Glaive Surprise" there wasn't quite the "oomph" she could put into it with a little build up. With a little build up, the attack could cut entirely through a castle. With a little more, well...

There had been this movie she had seen a few years back called "Armaggedon" dealing with some oil drillers launched into space to stop an asteroid from hitting Earth. Hotaru had asked Haruka-poppa and Michiru-momma why they hadn't just called her. Mind you - the effort might have killed her at that age, but still - she could have done it.

If she had built up a little more power, she could have splashed Pantyhose Tarou across a good section of Japan. Happosai would have reached the velocity necessary to escape not only Earth's gravity well, but he would have eventually passed the Voyager probes on his way out of the solar system.

Hotaru took all this in and decided to see how these nutjobs liked a 'Silent Wall'. On seeing her cute fiance about to be attacked by various maniacs, Hotaru lifted her glaive. "Silence Wall!"

On seeing chains, large blunt trauma instruments, and bandanas slap into a flickering force field of some kind with about as much effect as Kasumi's loufa, Ranma just absolutely knew he had to learn these special techniques!

Someone in the shadows saw Hotaru getting attacked, saw her defending her new fiance, and smiled. It was about time Hotaru found someone who could accept her besides one of the Senshi or the Small Lady. Besides, much as she liked Small Lady, beating down all the paradoxes she unleashed every time Usagi's daughter travelled back in time was a pain.

Still, this looked like her cue. Since they were attacking the girl that Setsuna Meiou (the new school nurse) had come to regard as a daughter, there was a simple elegant solution.

"...dead scream..."

The little purple ball of light cut a crevasse through the school yard, slammed into Ryouga (chosen because he was able to take the punishment and was in front) and continued merrily on its way. With Ryouga. The school's fence gained another hole, Ryouga continued travelling along until the force of the blast was finally expended. Of course, by that time Ryouga was in Akihabara. Sailor Pluto *had* built it up, just a little.

Ryouga slowly picked himself out of the wreckage and noticed that he was in a store that sold inflatable sexdolls. Having survived a "dead scream", he then fainted from a nosebleed.

Ranma glanced over, saw a similar uniform, and came to the obvious conclusion. "Friend of yours?"

"Yes," said Sailor Saturn, beginning to really enjoy this hug thing. That she'd shrunk the force field a little so that it would continue wasn't immediately obvious to anyone but Pluto and one other.

"You... you... pervert!" Akane twitched at the sight. She wanted to mallet Ranma but everything she had bounced off this flickering light. What could she do?

"Saotome! Release my purple eyed goddess!" Kuno beat his bokken against the forcefield.

"Saotome, how dare you flirt with my Shampoo!" Mousse yelled, then wrapped Ukyo up in chains.

"Mousse! You idiot! Put your damn glasses on!" Ukyo was not amused by this at all.

It was one of those rules in Ranma 1/2 that the longer something like this went on, the more people would show up.

"Aiyah!" Shampoo stared. "Hey! Is only for Shampoo to Amazon glomp airen! Strange girl no get hug from airen!" That Shampoo was quite envious and was trying to figure out how to do this herself was obvious to anyone who knew her.

Cologne flipped through her "Pocket Guide To Supernatural Beings, Entities, and Magical Girls" to see if this girl putting out a magical forcefield was in there.

Cologne was one of the more intelligent individuals in Nerima. (Not that this was saying a lot.)

The Amazon Elder had not gotten to the level she had by being stupid and jumping to conclusions. Such delusions were the property of youth and she was done with that, thank you very much. No, it was easier to stand back and manipulate things to her advantage. Besides, watching the antics of Son-In-Law and his friends were always so much FUN!

Well, actually, she'd done a bit of that conclusion-jumping on reaching Nerima. Particularly as regarded her handling of Ranma. Which she'd regretted since then.

The only thing was that the boy had ability to surprise even her. Pulling moves out of nowhere, getting into messes only he could, coming to conclusions only he would... It was just so bizarre, really. Another girl getting involved wasn't unusual at all. More like almost expected.

A girl who could send Happy flying like that? Unusual. One that could create a shield to stop all attacks? Rare. Someone who had allies that dressed the same and send the Lost Boy flying? This was definately something not to ignore. Especially as it was obvious they were not using ki. Though there was something familiar about both.

So, as her great-granddaughter entered the fracas, she checked a tome of such use and import that she never allowed it off her person, never mind allowing others to read it. It was above the one that the Spengler man had given her before meeting up with that Venkman fellow. Only that piece of the Claire Bible was more guarded.

After all, the "Pocket Guide To Supernatural Beings, Entities, and Magical Girls" was such a useful little thing.

"Let's see. Angels... Dragons... Devil Hunters... Mazoku.... Rival Relief Office... Elder gods of mischief... ahh, here we are. Sailor Senshi. Warriors from the Silver Millenium and dedicated to protecting humanity from danger. Hmmm.." The Matriarch turned and peered at what was happening.

Son-In-Law was raving about some new "martial arts moves."

The young girl with him was blushing.

Shampoo had joined with Akane in yelling at the boy for holding the girl.

The crossdressing chef was attempting to get free to bash a certain half-blind idiot.

Said idiot was yelling something about "vengence being at hand" or something like that.

The Kuno-boy was yelling something about "being like the great Musashi" and "punishing those who would imprison my loves!"

The woman with the key-shaped staff was muttering something about "show you exactly what Musashi was like."

Cologne watched the battle taking place, noted that the various fighters weren't doing anything that unusual, so she set down to look up the two Senshi she'd seen so far.

"Sailor... Pluto!" Cologne double checked. Yup that was her driving the blunt end of her staff into Principal Kuno's stomach. Hmmm. Nice technique.

***

Sailor Pluto, aka the red eyed Senshi, alias the Guardian of the Gate Of Time, sometimes known as the meddling Senshi, the Senshi of Time, the Soldier Of Eternity, the Loneliest Senshi, Keeper of The Timekey Staff, and Protector of The Timestream. Her area of control is time, and she is able to move through time by her connection to the Gates Of Time.

Major attack is a mana ball attack - "Dead Scream", though she has also combined attacks with Sailor Saturn (cf Sailor Saturn) to produce an attack known as "Chronos Typhoon."

The Sailor is known to be a real icequeen, manipulative, and apparently has some great tragedy in her past that she is dealing with. She needs to lighten up and stop being so anal, however she may be under the effect of a magical Geas placed on her by Neo-Queen Serenity in the future.

Major quote attributed to Sailor Pluto: "Anyone who has not gotten a headache contemplating the paradoxes of time travel has never really understood the concept."

***

Cologne flipped a little further, interested in what the book said about Sailor Saturn. Though if she had a chance, she'd have to ask Pluto-san by the Cafe for tea. She sounded to be quite interesting.

***

Sailor Saturn aka the Senshi of Death, alias the Soldier of Destruction, sometimes known as the Bringer Of Silence, or the End Of All That Is. Her area of control is death. Said to be the most powerful of the Senshi, it is within her power level to destroy all life on earth. Upon her first appearance she was possessed by a demonic entity known as Mistress 9, a soul fragment of a being known as Pharoah 90 (cf Pharoah 90). Her major weapon is the Silence Glaive, which serves as a class 2 Power Focus. Her major attacks are "Silence Glaive Surprise", a defensive move called "Silence Wall", another attack which will cause the instant demise of any single individual, group, or species, but will kill the wielder as well (name currently unavailable as it has not yet been used), and has the ability to cure wounds. At full power her Silence Glaive Surprise is capable of destroying a small moon, or even a small hidden village on another continent.

In power level rankings, she is above Saffron and below Belldandy Unleashed or Neo Queen Serenity when hitting her stride.

In other words, avoid getting on her bad side.

This is actually fairly easy as she is one of the nicest Angels Of Death that you could possibly run into.

***

Sighing, Cologne leapt off the treelimb after carefully putting away her book.

(thwack! bonk! bang! whap!)

Mousse, Kuno, Akane, and Shampoo hit the ground.

"Ranma, if you would bring your friend there by the Nekohanten after school, I would like to talk to you two." Cologne was polite. People who were potentially that dangerous were worth some respect and at least not antagonizing needlessly. Hmmm. Maybe she would make a good Amazon?

Ranma blinked. The Old Ghoul was being awfully polite.

"Great Grandmother?!" Neither Shampoo nor Akane were paralyzed. Akane always attacked Ranma, which meant her chances of attacking and seriously ticking off Saturn were small. Shampoo would get her ear chewed off at the very least.

"Come along Shampoo, the dynamics have changed and we have to come to decisions over it."

Cologne splashed Mousse, turning him into a duck who was therefore much easier to carry. She retreated slightly to discuss this with the two other Chinese.

Ranma blinked. "Well that was strange."

"RAN-MA!" came the voice of one Soun Tendo as the Tendo patriarch appeared out of nowhere.

"Mi...mi ...Mister Tendo..."

"Son, how can you do this?!"

"Do what Pop?"

"How can you leave your poor fiancee like that for this strange girl?! How you break your father's heart!"

"That ain't the only thing I'd like to break!"

"Show your father some respect!"

"Why should I?!"

"Stupid boy!"

Soun broke in. "Ranma, you will release that girl immediately. You should not be hugging anyone but my daughter!"

"I don't want to be hugged by that PERVERT!"

"Who says I want to hug you any way?!" Ranma yelled.

"Boy! You will stop this nonsense and marry Akane!" Genma demanded.

"I ain't gonna marry that uncute tomboy!"

"What did you call me?!" put in said tomboy.

"Ya heard me!"

"Why you..."

"Ranma! You will marry my daughter as she is your fiancee!"

"Hmph! That girl and the rest of those floozies can take him for all I care! I mean its not enough that he's got Ukyo and Shampoo hanging all over him, but now there's this Hotaru!"

Soun turned from his daughter to his 'old friend'. "SAO-TO-ME!!"

"Now, now Tendo. I'm sure there's some kind of misunderstanding..."

"What are ya saying Pop? Ya don't remember the arrangement from thirty years ago?"

"Ummm... well..," Genma procrastinated. Thereby drawing more attention to himself.

"WELL?!" This coming simultaneously from Cologne, Ranma, Soun, the fiancee brigade, and even Mousse and Kuno pausing their attacks to demand answers.

"How was I supposed to know that he'd take me seriously?" Genma complained. "It was thirty years ago! Stupid boy! If you'd just married Akane that first day none of this would have happened!"

"I am not marrying that pervert!" Akane had turned her back and was angry, though she hadn't quite gone into "stomping off in a rage mode."

"So what was I sold for this time?" Ranma asked, standing next to his new fiancee and wondering what the exchange rate was thirty years ago. He hoped at least it was better than a fish and two pickles.

"It was when I was at the graduation from high school, I remember it well..." Genma said, looking nostalgic as the flashback wavering screen effect began.

~~~~~

Genma (tall and muscular and with a full head of hair) slapped the back of his old buddy as he took his seat. "Ah, my friends, now we go our seperate ways but we'll always remember getting out of that reform school with fond memories."

"So, Genma, you going to pay back what you owe me?" A white haired youth asked as he passed Genma another beer.

Taking a long pull on it, Genma winced. "Uhm, how much is it up to?"

Soichiro Tomoe pulled out an abacus. "At current rate of interest, 300,000 yen." Not that he thought Genma would ever be able to pay it back, but he'd always have someone with a strong back to call in whenever he needed to move or something.

"Heh, that's nothing," said Natsume. "Old 'Darkhorse' here owes me 500,000 yen and a case of sake. The good stuff mind you."

"You think that's bad," the single woman in the group said with a smirk. "Saotome owes me on lunches consumed and rent on that room everytime his old man threw him out."

Some blinking all around, then they turned as one to the now-sweating Genma.

"How are you going to make good, Genma?" The chorus was eerie.

"I-I-I-I-..." Genma smirked as a thought occurred to him. "Soichiro, can I speak to you privately for a moment? I think I've got an idea."

~~end flashback scene~~

Ranma rubbed his forehead. "So, what you're saying is that you sold off any future children you had to this guy?"

"The Saotome line has always produced healthy strong children," said Genma proudly.

"Saotome! How could you?!" Soun was weeping in pain at this betrayal. Not that he wouldn't weep huge amounts over a lollipop that tasted good.

"Wait one moment," said the newly arrived Nabiki, sensing there was more to the story. "So Tomoe-san is one of the engaged, and another of the engagements is to the Senshi here..."

Genma suddenly stood straight and tall. (A warning to all that knew him.) "Ranma! You must marry Akane immediately!"

"What?! Are you nuts old man?! Why would I want to marry that tomboy?!" Ranma bellowed.

"I am NOT marrying him!"

"You must marry before any of the others come here!" 'Or you find out about any of the others.'

"Like Hell, Pop!"

"You leave us no choice son," Soun said gravely. Somehow he produced medieval torture equipment that had a preponderance of chains and cuffs.

"What? Hey! Stop that!" Ranma protested, especially on seeing the spikes.

"RAN-MA! You will come with us now!"

"DAD! I don't want to marry that jerk!"

Pluto noticed that Hotaru's hold on the Glaive got tighter.

~~~~~

"Hmmmm... A-ha! ... No that's not it. Haven't seen that in a while. Hmm... Hello Miss December. Such wonderful sparkle. Terrific shine. Too bad another microscope was out of the question." Lest no one know, one Doctor Natsume was doing his spring cleaning. Of course, as a typical genius scientist, 'spring cleaning' came up every five years or so. That meant that there was quite a bit of junk to clear out.

"If only Akiko would be reasonable. Like that'd ever happen. Hey, what's this?" The doctor opened the envelope and gazed at the picture and note inside. Ah, reform school, how care free. How nice. How he had gotten bilked by Saotome.

Saotome had a son and was supposed to be living in Furinkan now. The scientist shook his head. How naive he was at the time. To think that he had actually set up a betrothal between Genma's possible son and his future daughter. Wait a minute...

He did have a daughter... sort of. and Akiko's lapdogs were getting too close for comfort. "Ryunosuke! Nuku-Nuku!"

"Yeah, Dad?"

"Hai, Papa-san?"

"We're moving to Furinkan!"

~~~~~

A woman was looking through her old papers, when she found a note dating back to her reform school days. And she smiled.

"Daughter."

"Yes, Mom?"

"We're going to be going on a little trip..."

~~~~~

Genma Saotome was occassionally a bright man. Of course, these bursts of intelligence usually were the beginnings of plans to either get himself into trouble or out of it. Usually he was too thick to accept some things. This wasn't one of them.

A little girl wasn't much of a problem. An angry little girl was only slightly more trouble. An angry little girl with a weapon could be a problem. An angry little girl with a bladed weapon was a problem.

An angry little girl glowing and surrounded by purple lightning, holding a bladed weapon to his neck was the message to start trembling.

"Heh heh."

"You won't hurt my... Ranma. I won't let you," Saturn announced. The voice may have belonged to an uncertain little girl but the eyes held resolution.

"Come on. Relax. The old panda ain't got anything to make me do anythin.'"

"Yes, Ranma is engaged to a couple of other girls," Genma crossed fingers behind his back, ranking up the total to where if it were to be revealed, would inspire fantastic spit takes in spite of his audience not presently drinking anything. "But I'm sure that Natsume-san doesn't actually have a daughter."

"So none of these engagements had any contingencies against that?" Nabiki inguired dryly.

Genma suddenly looked as though he'd received an enema of cold ice.

"Sao-to-me." Soun growled, looking dangerous. "Is there anything you should be telling us?"

Seeing Genma looking more and more evasive, the entire crowd leaned in, trapping him. In fact, it began to resemble an old EF Hutton commercial.

"Well, I sort of signed away parental rights to him..." Genma began.

"YOU WHAT!!" screamed several girlish voices (including Soun's).

"That figures," Ranma said. "Hey ..."

"Don't worry about it," Genma assured everybody. "It's just an emergency clause; part of the Saotome Secret Technique. What are the chances of that Meiou woman ever finding us, anyway?"

"Ahem, I believe that that's my cue," Setsuna Meiou interupted, having turned back from Sailor Pluto to Nurse Meiou. "Hello again, Genma, it's been a while, hasn't it?"

Genma promptly curled up into a ball and held a sign saying, "I'm just a harmless panda." Maybe the technique would have worked a little better if he'd managed to wet himself first (I mean with cold water; he managed to wet himself the other way just fine). Then again, it probably wouldn't.

"Setsuna-mama?" Hotaru exclaimed, "you're Ranma's ...."

"Legal guardian," Setsuna finished and flourished a document. "With full and sole authority over such matters as arranged marriages."

The document was prompty snatched out of her hand and torn into shreads. Setsuna calmly started passing out a dozen copies.

"NO! Ranma will marry Akane!" Destroying the evidence hadn't worked, denial seemed the next logical step for Soun Tendo.

"Sorry daddy," Nabiki said, not looking up from where she was going over the document with a magnifying glass. "Everything seems in order here. This document nullifies 'all present, future and prior arrangements made on Ranma Saotome's behalf by Genma Saotome'."

"Fine," Akane fumed. "Who'd want to marry that jerk anyway?" That she hadn't actually left was noted by those present who kept track of such things.

"Yes!" Tatewaki Kuno proclaimed in victory. "At last that foul Saotome's hold over the fair Akane and the Pig-Tailed Girl is broken. Akane, I shall date with thurk!" The last word was a mangled 'thee', due to the placement of Akane's foot under Tatewaki's chin.

"Er, Miss Mieou?" Ukyo raised her hand to attract the school nurse's attention. "I'm Ranchan's best friend since childhood. I'd make him a really good wife, you know." She smiled cutely.

"Sestuna-mama!" Hotaru complained and hugged Ranma. "Mine! Please?"

"Aiya!" Shampoo shouted as Cologne whispered instructions to her. "Is Joketsuzoku Law saying Ranma being Shampoo's husband, yes? Not fat panda say so!"

"Hey! Don't I have any say in this?" Ranma demanded.

"NO!" thundered Soun. "You must marry Akane!"

"Yes," said Hotaru. "I really would hope you'd pick me but it just isn't right to force someone into that kind of thing."

"No, you marry Shampoo! Is okay, okay?"

"Ranchan!" "Ranma!" "Who cares if that pervert makes a decision!"

"Figures, nobody listens..." Ranma stopped. Hotaru had said what?! Previously the only fiancee who hadn't actively wanted to marry him had been Akane who broke off the engagement on a regular basis. Almost once a month, at least. Hmmm. There was some idea there. Figure it out later.

Setsuna smirked. The seed had been planted. "Really, you do have your choices, Saotome-san. Marry Akane and either die of rage disorder or from her cooking eventually. Kuonji-san will stifle you in her dreams that include nothing of your own wants. Return to Shampoo's village and you'll be her slave. Kodachi and you'll have to put up with some exotic aspects of lifestyle choice that don't fit your preferences either. Or choose Hotaru and become a hero. But then everyone has choices." She read fanfiction.net after all.

Ranma blinked. Man, she had them nailed.

"I'm sure Ranma and I will be perfectly happy running my restaurant, and then..." Ukyo lost herself in a fantasy that somehow did not involve wandering martial artists, kidnapping princes, or other things that regularly inflicted themselves on Ranma.

"I DO NOT HAVE RAGE DISORDER," raged Akane. "AND THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH MY COOKING!"

"Crazy woman with staff no know what she talk about, right Airen?" Shampoo got another custom wrong by crossing her fingers in front of her instead of behind her back.

"HOW DARE YOU... Actually that *does* pretty much describe male life in the village," remarked Mousse thoughtfully.

Cologne wondered if maybe she could make nice with these two. Powerful potential allies for the village, or obstacles to Shampoo's marriage. Which should she treat these two as? Hmmmm.

------

The Cat Cafe had been closed, something that happened infrequently. This was not to say that it was empty.

"QUACK!" A caged duck protested that he was currently locked in a small cage, which was locked in a large cage, which was locked in a steamer trunk, which was surrounded by chains, and which was downstairs in a linen supply closet. All it had taken was Shampoo being told by Cologne that if she OR Mousse tried attacking any of the guests, not only would Shampoo not marry Ranma - the Elder would personally gift wrap the attacker and mail them to the Musk Dynasty.

The representitive of the Tendo household was neither Genma nor Soun. Nobody else was quite sure what threat Cologne had whispered to the two, but from the way they'd reacted you'd think Cologne had just found a Fate Worse Than The Fate Worse Than Death. Kasumi and Nabiki were present, Kasumi serving tea and Nabiki taking notes. Their inclusion had been because Kasumi was clueless but honest, while Nabiki was as honest as you paid her to be.

Threatening to hit Nabiki's babble point, in which case she'd "speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" until the secret shiatsu counterpoint was triggered by an Amazon Elder had sent Nabiki to find Doctor Tofu's replacement- Doctor Miso. Who had confirmed that there were rumors of just such a thing, and no she didn't know the counter. Nabiki was therefore here but not anxious to do anything to cross the Elder.

Akane was not here. She had loudly proclaimed her disinterest, and Cologne had said fine and tapped the "Instant Unconsciousness" shiatsu point. Then another shiatsu point which stimulated erotic dreams because frankly that girl really needed to loosen up some.

Neither Kodachi nor Tatewaki Kuno were present either, for reasons that really should be obvious.

Ukyo was present. Cologne was there. Nurse Meiou was there. Hotaru/Saturn was there. Due to her nervous habit of materializing the Silence Glaive, everyone with an IQ of above room temperature had figured out she was Sailor Saturn. Which meant her secret would be safe from the vast majority of Furinkan High School.

Ranma was, of course, there. Looking about as nervous as the last dog at a Korean picnic.

Happosai was, also of course, not there. Last seen by an American spy satellite, he was coming down somewhere in Northwestern China.

Neither Tarou nor Ryouga were present either. Tarou had been changed back to human, said something *very* impolite about Hotaru, and had been the recipient of a powerful enough "dead scream" that he was in the hospital. Ryouga had been the recipient of an earlier dead scream, and was still passed out from nosebleed as he kept opening his eyes and seeing the inside of the sex shop he'd landed in. Followed by another collapse.

Shampoo was there and looking nearly as nervous as Ranma. Her greatgrandmother had indicated that this was a win/lose and she absolutely could *not* attack either the short dark girl or the tall woman who apparently was the final decision maker as regarded who would marry Ranma.

"So, uhm..." Ranma began, not entirely sure what to make of this. Nabiki had reminded him of the wish. Which meant that, evidence to the contrary, his engagement to Hotaru was *his* fault. Nabiki had also gone on quite a bit about how she'd make Ranma suffer for hurting Akane. Not that that was her primary consideration, merely the one she was admitting to.

Nabiki wasn't saying anything of the sort right now due to her being reminded of disquieting dreams of a demonically possessed Akane. Had she consulted with anyone else she would have been rather disturbed to find out that everyone except Akane had had dreams that neatly fit into the same pattern. (Akane's dreams kept going back to being in control of others, having power, and losing control of herself.) No, it was far better to focus on the situation here, take notes and see what profit she could wring out of the situation later.

Kasumi's usual happy/oblivious air was in place. Hotaru was such a nice girl. She found it easy to focus on serving tea and what a nice girl Hotaru was, and it kept her from dwelling on a very disturbing dream she'd had the previous night.

Hotaru looked over at her fiance and failed miserably at trying to suppress a smile. He was *cute*.

Kasumi refreshed Nabiki's teacup, then moved around the table and refilled their cups, then back to Ranma to use the last hot water to restore him. "My goodness, Ranma. When you made that wish for 'a nice decent fiancee who listened to me and didn't scare me all the time' it certainly does seem that Hotaru fits the description."

Ranma began to look VERY nervous.

Hotaru's heart began to flutter. HE had wished for her to be a fiancee?! Well, that was certainly different. She wanted a Western style wedding, in a cathedral by the ocean (not that one that Eudial had trashed) and she'd wear white (not really her color but there was tradition to consider) and... she had a year before she could legally marry so there was plenty of time to make those plans.

At the warm, shimmery-eyed, happy look on Hotaru's face - Ranma swallowed nervously and glanced at Ukyo and Shampoo. They, predictably, were *not* happy campers.

Nabiki considered what else she could do that would throw Hotaru off the concept. Ranma was Akane's property, Akane was her sister, and while Nabiki would borrow Akane's things from time to time - she always returned them after awhile.

"There are other fiancees to consider as well. Professor Natsume's daughter Atsuko is on her way." Setsuna sipped at her tea. Hmmm. A fairly common blend but not bad. "There are also some others..."

"Can you clarify that?" Nabiki asked in the middle of note-taking.

Setsuna paused, steepling her hands in front of her. "Where to start? Hmmm."

Ranma felt his nervousness increase for no reason he could immediately name. Shampoo and Ukyo had both turned their full attention to the nurse, so that couldn't be it.

"There was a time, years ago during your father's studies under the founder of Anything Goes. Both Soun and Genma found this temple dealing with a martial arts master and the guardian of a golden anklet. The short end of the story was that when confronted with a large number of tigers in the mountains near Wakayama, they promised the gods one of their children. Each."

Nabiki felt a shiver pass up her spine and looked up. Her hair actually started to toing out in wild spikes as she noticed green feline eyes appear in the shadows. "Eep!"

Cologne took in the power level of the girl appearing and immediately went to "helpful matron" mode. With all her will, she tried to spontaneously master telepathy and send a "don't be a moron" message to her great granddaughter.

The woman was wearing a pair of cutoff jeans, a tight t-shirt that left her midriff bare, and had a golden anklet jingling merrily above her tennis shoes. She was dusky skinned and black haired and had a sort of mixed oriental-Middle Eastern look to her. "Well nyow. Don't you look just tasty!"

Ranma wasn't sure how he knew, but he knew. "C-c-c-c-cat?!"

Shampoo stood and launched herself (causing Cologne to curse internally) at the newcomer. "Ranma is Shampoo airen, you no meow mew meow fttt... MEOW?!"

On seeing Shampoo turn into a cat without cold water, Ranma started to panic.

"Hmmm. Another bungled Catfist trainee, eh?" The woman made an offhand gesture. "Would anyone mind if I made a scratching post out of the idiot who trained him?"

Nobody present objected. Ukyo went off into another pleasant fantasy.

"Why ain't I scared no more?" Ranma wondered aloud. Just the sight of Shampoo hissing and looking like a pissed off kitten should have sent him fleeing. Instead it was just a cute little kitty cat.

"Because, my iinazuke, I am Bastet - goddess of cats and marriage and a few other things. I'll give you my business card later." The dusky skinned woman waved a long-nailed finger in Shampoo's direction. "I'd suggest losing the attitude, Amazon. Otherwise I might cut you out of the running entirely."

Ukyo was sitting back down and looking as innocent as possible.

"Huh?" Ranma said, not getting it.

Bastet showed a slight amount of disgust. "Okay. Reader's digest version for those whose ideas of goddesses comes from Marvel comics or AD&D. I am a goddess. In Shinto, a major kami. The major thrust of my powers deals with cats. I've got a few side areas as well. If it involves felines of any sort, it's well within my area of power. I don't think you being afraid of cats is amusing, so you are not afraid of cats when I'm near. Got it?"

"Oh!" Ranma said, nodding his head rapidly.

"You don't get it do you?" Bast looked unhappy.

Ranma switched to shaking his head rapidly.

"She's a megami," explained Setsuna. "An Egyptian goddess. She created the *real* Nekoken, not the lesser version you're familiar with."

"Oh!" Ranma said, the light coming on. "Wait. That means there are *more* powerful versions?!"

"Oh sure," Bastet made an idle gesture that returned Shampoo to human form. Well, at least 60% of the way. "There are special manuevers based on each of the cat breeds."

Ranma considered carefully. At least as much as ever. Hotaru had that Silence Glaive and protective shield stuff, which he was pretty sure that if he couldn't learn it himself he could come up with an emulated version. Now this Bastet gal who apparently could not only fix the Catfist but teach him several upgraded manuevers. He didn't want to get married or nothin' but if he had to have fiancees - ones that could teach him really nifty martial arts was a big consolation prize.

Shampoo just looked a little dismayed at having a tail, fur, muzzle etc while human.

Nabiki noticed that expression and started trying to come up with something to cause Ranma to back off and return to Akane. They loved each other, Ranma enabling Akane to vent her hostility. Abuser and enabler - a perfect match. Of course if it had been Ranma being possessive and violent towards Akane, with Akane being jealous and clueless, Nabiki would have gone out of her way to make sure Ranma never came back from one of those challenge matches.

Ranma found himself considering what it would be like to be engaged to a goddess and a Senshi. He ought to be able to get some decent fights at least. Fighting Kuno had gotten to the point where he felt almost like he was bullying some little half-trained kid. Ryouga could keep up, but practically everyone else had hit a plateau.

"There are other fiancees to consider," reminded Setsuna, trying not to show favoritism. At least not too much. "Atsuko 'Nuku Nuku' Natsume for one."

"That's that catgirl cyborg, isn't she?" Bastet slowly smiled. "I like her. Obviously I favor the whole catgirl concept, but there's something refreshing about a 10,000hp innocent."

Ranma perked up a little more. MORE fiancees who had special martial arts knowledge?

"There's also Malfea."

Bast hissed. "A DEMON?!"

Setsuna frowned and looked over at Nabiki, clearly communicating that she should return to her note-taking. "While I have legal authority to decide who is a suitable candidate or not, this applies to Heaven and Earth. Hell has its own operating instructions, as you might expect with the number of lawyers and 'spin meisters' that have gone their way since the Moon Kingdom days. Genma Saotome had just signed over rights to myself when he found himself in a bad spot. A cursed graveyard, zombies, giant bloodsucking leeches, evil faerie, and the whole nine yards. The bargain was two martial arts and his life, in return he sold his son's soul to the eternal darkness and slavery."

Kasumi put down her pot of tea. "Is this true?"

Setsuna nodded.

Kasumi considered. "In that case, Bastet-sama, Ranma's father was the one who trained him in the Nekoken, and if you want to kill him..."

Nabiki interrupted. Seeing Kasumi suggesting violence was just too much. "Wait a minute, so you're saying that there's a Hell?! Preposterous! The whole Heaven and Hell and goddesses thing is just propaganda for the masses. The whole urk!"

Bastet was not (among other things) inclined to be mocked. At least not unless she could mock back. Holding her hand up as if grasping an invisible cup, she considered the choking Nabiki. "I find your lack of faith... disturbing."

Nabiki choked and tried to draw a breath. On one level she appreciated the movie reference, though it was largely drowned out by the desire to *breathe* again.

Setsuna rubbed her forehead as if she felt a headache coming on. "Bastet, release her. Choose some less fatal way to demonstrate your abilities if need be."

Bastet grinned. "Oh yes. I am the goddess of cats and pleasures and sex. So how about..."

"MEOW!" Nabiki said, getting flushed and frantic looking. Though the cat ears, tail, and a few other details really distracted one from noticing such things.

"Back to the problem at hand. Malfea *is* in the area and will likely cause problems." Bastet looked directly at Ranma. "Do *not* fight her. She may insult you. She may attack other people, but her main attack will only work if you try and attack her."

"What is it?" Ranma figured it was some kind of defensive martial arts attack.

"Soul capture," said Bast. "Unless and until you marry one of us, you aren't anchored or come under any special rules. If you direct an attack towards Malfea she can rip the soul out of your body and put it in any container of her choosing. She can then possess you. The same goes for you, Miss Kuonji."

---------

The meeting had kind of broken up after that. Even Sailor Pluto could only keep track of so much at once and was going to check into which of the various arrangements she should keep active.

Cologne had also been extremely thoughtful, and was busy erecting anti-demon wards around her restaurant.

"Saotome, you fiend! Prepare to dieeeee!"

"RANMAAAA! I'll make you pay for being unloyal to Akane!"

"Foul Sorcerer! Release the purple eyed valkyrie!"

"Breaaaghhhhh!"

"Sweeto!"

Unfortunately, the usual crowd seemed to have found them again, rather precluding Hotaru's effort to muster up her courage and ask her new fiancee to a nice teashop where they could talk.

"Ranma," asked Hotaru as the bodies started converging on their position, "do you mind if I try something?"

Hoping for a new martial arts attack, and not anxious to face everyone all at once, Ranma nodded. "Yeah. Go ahead."

Holding her Glaive in one hand, Hotaru threw her other arm around him. "SATURN TELEPORT!"

Sailor Saturn/Hotaru Tomoe hid a gleeful grin. No more innuendo about her and Chibi-usa! She got a studly boyfriend/fiance/sempai! She had an excuse to get out of the house when Haruka-papa and Michiru-mama got "playful" and started pulling out the weird costumes!

(The Michiru-maid/Haruka-lord-of-the-manor one wasn't too bad. The evil youma/defenseless Senshi just seemed thoroughly wrong. Some of the others though were much much worse. At this point, and her tender young age, Hotaru wasn't sure what role Tiger Balm, clothes pins, girl scout uniforms, something called a "cat" but was apparently not cute and furry, and a nose flute played in the lives of Haruka Tenou and Michiru Kaioh. She wasn't sure she wanted to know. Some of the sounds could be quite disturbing.)

Clutching said studly boyfriend with one arm, the other arm made a gesture with the Silence Glaive. The Inner Senshi could only teleport when they were all together. This wasn't true for all the Outer Senshi. Pluto could use the Gate Of Time to get about. Saturn had recently discovered something similar. Neither Uranus or Neptune could teleport without the other.

(Though recently apparently, both would be "playing" and accidently teleport somewhere during the "wave cresting" part. Hotaru wasn't completely clear on the details but even Haruka-papa had turned beet red and wouldn't look at anyone when the subject had came up. Auntie Setsuna had merely smirked lots in that way she had.)

So the Senshi Of Death & Destruction teleported her fiance to one place she knew by heart, having come to regard it as a safe haven for those times when Michiru-mama loaded up her arms with ice cream toppings and went up to her room with Haruka-papa.

Ranma blinked, really really really wanting to learn this technique. Teleport out of immediate danger?! With his life the usefulness of such a technique bordered on the ridiculous. Of course, he'd likely get the chance as it looked likely that he'd be persona non grata at the Tendo household for a little while.

Hotaru smiled and relaxed. Teleporting took a lot out of her, but they were safe now. "I'm not sure where this is, but I've come here a couple of times without any problems resulting. It's sort of a 'safe house' I think."

Ranma nodded absently. White capped mountains descending to thick pine forest with a crystal clear lake rimmed by white sand beach at the bottom. Nice. Probably be able to do some decent training here.

"Teleporting like that's very tiring, I'll just sit down over here," Hotaru added, transforming back from Senshi as she did so. It had also been the first time she'd teleported with someone.

"Hmmm," hmmmed Ranma. He realized very quickly that this place was someplace not even on Earth. The sky was blue right above the mountains, testimony of an atmosphere, but higher up it became darker and darker until you could see the stars.

Along with a few small moons.

And not to forget one HUGE circular strip - or rather, several strips of variable width on the same plane, covering a good part of the horizon. And that can only be a part of Saturn's ring.

Not knowing enough about astronomy to wonder how an area so similar to a portion of Earth could be found on the surface of a mostly gaseous, giant planet Ranma was still speechless from the sight.

"Hey, uhm, Hotaru, you do know how to get us back, right?"

"Zzzzzzzzzz," answered Hotaru.

"Oh," said Ranma as he noticed that the girl (currently in the ugly Furinkan girl's school uniform) was curled up asleep and looking extremely cute and vulnerable as opposed to someone capable of knocking Pantyhose Tarou five miles. Though he realized it was dumb question after reflecting for a moment on it. She said she'd been here before, and she'd obviously gotten back since then.

As he was not likely to get any answers (and he knew from living with Akane that waking her when she was exhausted would likely involve her chasing him around with shinnai) from this quarter, he just decided to leave her alone for now while exploring this new land.

What he discovered was that there was a door standing in a small thick grove of trees a few meters away.

Opening it let him to a corridor.

What he didn't know was that each of the Senshi (except Moon) had these invisible castles orbitting their totem planet. Not that he was alone in this as the only one who still remembered this detail was Pluto. On her previous visits, Hotaru had never really explored - simply sat back and enjoyed the solitude and dim lighting.

After a few minutes, Ranma returned, scooped up Hotaru and went inside.

It was a fairly big castle - though Ranma was currently thinking of it as some kinda weird magical forest with an invisible cabin.

It did however have a canopied bed with silk sheets and he'd thought it likely that his newest fiancee would be better rested for the trip back if she slept on a bed. Not to mention in a better mood. Akane, on one of those camping trips she was forced to go on by the two parents, did not awaken in a happy mood when she'd slept outside. And if Akane was unhappy she made darn sure that Ranma was unhappy.

Ranma was a little concerned when Hotaru clutched onto him and mumbled his name, even more so at the little smile in place. It was a cute smile. At least as cute as Akane's could be on those infrequent occasions when she wasn't scowling or yelling.

He wasn't sure what to do about the situation, and settled for stroking her hair as if she were a dog or something. After a few moments of this she seemed to relax and he could get out of the Saturnian deathgrip.

Which eventually let him find something important. The kitchen.

Ranma usually scowled and made a fuss about cooking. His father had long taught him that cooking was a girl thing and that guys couldn't be good at it. However, Ranma had gotten good at it - because he liked to eat edible food in large quantities and therefore sneaking food when his stupid Oyaji wasn't around was a valid tactic.

*Splash*

Now a busty girl, nobody could object to Ranma cooking, right?

Finding a larder, Ranma filled up both arms, carried the stuff in, cooked a huge feast - then consumed it. She'd have to remind Hotaru to restock her pantry but...

Ranma's eyes were large as she walked back into the pantry. She knew darn well she'd put that container of rice down half-empty. It was full again. And that...?!

A pantry that refilled itself. To Ranma was this was almost finding the holy grail.

Having found something like this, Ranma decided to explore more of the castle. A nice hot soak would be good after such a meal.

Hotaru was rather confused as she knew that she had fallen asleep in her private little enclave, only to awaken in a bed in some stone built room. While she would have rather gone back to sleep (and dreams of snuggling (among other things) with Ranma), she decided to do some exploring.

There was too much of a possibility for being in the hands of some evil being.

So, she walked down the various halls, marveling at the stonework, and wishing for some more lighting. Actually, she would have prefered to be holding onto her fiance as they explored the castle. In turn, that could lead to snuggle time...

As she neared one of the rooms, she heard the sounds of dishes clanking, and moved to investigate. A busty redhead in clothing that looked exactly like Ranma's was moving around, in an apparent attempt to straighten up. Hotaru moved to push open the door, which made a creaking sound as she did so.

Ranma spun around to face her fiance, who looked quite a bit suspicious. "Heh heh, hi Hotaru."

"How do you know my name?" Hotaru scowled. "Who are you and where are we?"

"I'm Ranma. And I don't know where we are."

"Ranma's a guy. He's got black hair and no... ahem... those!" Hotaru said, blushing heavily towards the end.

"Well, you see... You remember what I told ya 'bout Taro?" Ranma asked. The redhead rubbed the back of her head. "Instead of what he turns into, I turn into this."

Fortunately for Ranma, Hotaru was not like her Michiru-mama or (especially) her Haruka-papa.

Either would have long since moved to attack. Instead, she took a page from Ami's (and to a small extent, Setsuna's) book and thought about it.

"Okay. Prove it," said Hotaru. Though she had seen the Starlights among other things, there were several things striking her as being wrong about this situation.

1. A youma would not be cleaning the kitchen after a very large meal.
2. The youma usually had a busty female appearance like this one, but they also had some nonhuman feature. Usually.
3. With not only the Starlights, but some of Usagi's experiments with the Disguise Pen, the idea of a guy turning into a girl (or vice versa) was not as strange or logic-defying as it could have been.

So it was easy for Hotaru to believe that this could in fact be her Ranma.

Ranma simply cupped a double handful of hot water from the dishes and splashed her face, reversing the Jusenkyo curse.

Hotaru nodded thoughtfully. This might actually make Ranma more acceptable to Haruka-papa, who thought her daughter ought to take up with Chibi-usa.

"Where did the forest go?" Hotaru asked, taking a glance around.

"It's still there," Ranma said, "I think. I was lookin' for a place to put ya when I found a door and this place." Inwardly he was stunned. He'd run into disbelief, disgust, hatred, fear, and a number of other reactions from people who saw his Jusenkyo curse for the first time. Just nodding and accepting it? What kind of weirdness was Hotaru used to that she just took it in stride?

The Senshi of Saturn frowned. It wasn't a 'Ranma's in trouble' one, but a 'I'm not sure what's going on here' one. But still, it didn't feel bad. In fact she felt almost... comfortable here. 'Why?' was really the question. And she really didn't understand the ease at which she found her way around the castle.

"Somethin' wrong?" Ranma asked.

"I don't think so..," Hotaru half-murmured to him. There was something that Setsuna-mama had said once about castles, but she couldn't remember what. It didn't seem to be life-threatening, but neither did the castle.

'Wait a second,' Hotaru thought. She was alone in a (very) secluded place with a really cute boy, who happened to be her fiance... Her face lit up in a blush that turned her entire face and neck a most becoming shade of rose.

"Are ya okay?" Ranma asked, "Ya ain't sick or nothin'?"

"Of... Of course not," Hotaru squeaked.

The pigtailed boy smiled. "That's good ta hear. I thought ya might be sick or somethin'."

Hotaru opened her mouth to reply and closed it again. The thought of having her studly boyfriend alone with her in a dimly lit castle, and that four-poster bed with the crisp clean silk sheets. She knew what Minako or Makoto would be doing right now in such a situation. Ami would probably hit the library. Hmmm.

"Well, we should look around I s'pose," said Ranma. "So far there's that room with the mountains, the kitchen, the larder, and there's the bathroom."

Hotaru excused herself as soon as that room was pointed out. When she returned she looked a little different.

Ranma wondered why Hotaru had added some light makeup, was wearing a faint whiff of some lavender perfume, and looking embarassed again.

"I don't think you should go in the bathroom in girl form," muttered Hotaru. "It's..."

Curious, Ranma headed there and opened it up. He hadn't seen many high tech toilets - though he and Pops had snuck into a Hong Kong hotel and found one that had been kinda similar.

Sort of a Western style toilet. Now very curious, Ranma splashed himself with cold water and considered the image in the three full length mirrors. Nothing had changed. Nothing had... whoa.

Hotaru entered behind Ranma and now looked at the three images. In the center mirror Ranma's female form dressed exactly as she was, though with makeup, manicure, hair brushed, and looking quite a bit more feminine and attractive. The left hand mirror showed Ranma wearing a white sort of gown, jewelry, and otherwise as made up as the center image. The right hand mirror was wearing... a green seifuku style uniform.

"What the crap?!" Ranma eloquently put.

"Don't touch any of the images or your clothes will morph and you'll get that sort of makeup," Hotaru suggested.

Ranma practically leapt to the sink and the hot water tap to restore his manhood. Then standing in front of the mirror again, he noted three different images.

This time the mirror showed a clean Ranma in the center, a tuxedo clad Ranma on the right, and a Ranma wearing a combination of armor and bodysuit on the left.

Hotaru found herself practically drooling and stopped herself with effort. She thought the center Ranma very very cute, the left hand Ranma to have a certainly studly-roguish swashbuckler flair, and the right hand Tuxedo Ranma to be quite the charmer.

"Hmmm," said Ranma. This seemed harmless enough. Oh well. "So where ya want to go, that's about all on this level, but there's at least two more - I seen the stairwell at the end."

Hotaru hoped that sometime she'd get to see Tuxedo Ranma again, and soon, but as soon as she could get her mouth working again decided they should go up.

Hotaru had followed Ranma up the stairs when she noticed the stairs went up into a sort of throne room.

Ranma approached the throne, only to see the lighting turn red. Hotaru was not only able to approach, but sit down.

:Castle Defenses passive. Bring online?

Hotaru blinked. "I heard a voice!"

"I didn't hear nothin'," responded Ranma. He didn't think Hotaru was hallucinating. As this was a magical castle, voices that only spoke to one person weren't that difficult to believe. Especially after cursed springs, cursed dolls, ghost cats, etc.

"Uhm, okay. I guess," Hotaru said uncertainly.

:Defenses active. Princess Saturn located. Welcome home. 10,258 years, 4 months, 13 days since last within Castle Saturn. One intruder found in close proximity to Princess. Relationship?

"Relationship?" Hotaru asked, then realized the castle might be asking if Ranma was a threat? "Oh, he's my boyfriend. Errr. Iinazuke."

:Iinazuke = fiance = Consort. Scanning.

Ranma puzzled over the half of the conversation he could hear. It was sure odd to hear himself being referred to as a boyfriend or iinazuke in such a casual fashion. With Akane it was usually hostile or with a tone of disgust. With Shampoo it was always "airen". With Kodachi came that weird laugh and Ukyo usually stuttered or said it in an odd way. "So, whose castle is it?"

"Mine, I think. It refers to itself as 'Castle Saturn' and I'm Sailor Saturn." Hotaru was curious about this herself.

:Please have Consort identify himself for record.

Hotaru relayed this. "The Castle wants you to tell it who you are."

Ranma shrugged. Despite Akane's comments about him being infamous and bringing her family's reputation to ruin - apparently he wasn't that famous. "Ranma Saotome of the Anything Goes School Of Martial Arts."

:Scan complete.
:Name Designate: Ranma Saotome
:Occupation: Consort - Sailor Saturn.
:Secondary Position: Student Of Warrior Arts, Bodyguard To Princess
:Transmitting Data To Network

Outside the Castle a mechanism moved. Information was exchanged with the other castles and with sleeping devices below the lunar surface. The reply came back quickly.

:Registration complete.
:Ranma Saotome confirmed as Consort to Sailor Saturn
:Warrior Arts style not in database.
:Unusual readings on Astral and Overdimension scans. Scan further?

"Hold on. You're my Castle? Does that mean all the Senshi have Castles?"

:Affirmative. Affirmative. This is Castle Saturn. You are Princess Saturn. Other Castles exist for all other Princesses.

Hotaru nodded to Ranma. "It says its my castle and all the Senshi have castles."

"Oh," said Ranma. Something occurred to him. Old places often had martial arts scrolls and the like. Certainly he and his father had gone to enough old temples and the like over the years. "Does this place have a dojo?"

Hotaru relayed that to the Castle.

Meanwhile, Castle Saturn was making all sorts of little corrections. Its orbit had decayed slightly and needed adjusting. The Princess had been through reincarnation and didn't know its capabilities. Still, she was definitely identifiable as Sailor Saturn. The male had been identified as her Consort and as a warrior. Not too unusual, all things considered. It went ahead and scanned the male, discovering all sorts of things that didn't make a lot of sense. When it replayed the scene in the bathroom, some of it did fall into place.

-------

*beep!*

Meanwhile the data continued making its rounds, eventually reaching the Mercury Computer. Ami flipped the screen on, read the display and was quite surprised at the contents:

:Updating Database...
:Adding: Consort of Princess Saturn: Ranma Saotome
:Effective Rank: General
:Occupation: Consort/Bodyguard
:Specialty: Unknown style of fighting
:Overdimension and Astral pattern mismatch. Further data follows...

Ami wondered what Makoto or Minako would say if they learned that little Hotaru had found a boyfriend before either of them. Probably set them off on another angst-fest.

The data was even more interesting. The complete anatomical scan caused Ami's breath to go slightly ragged. He was certainly in good shape. Just look at that...

Ami frowned. These readings indicated something unpleasant. Maybe she would have to contact the other Senshi.

---------

Hotaru had figured the Castle was kind of like a computer.

Ranma had just figured it was all magic and left it at that.

It was odd that the Consort had a better idea than the Princess, but then this entire situation was odd.

Hotaru was sitting back against a wall and watching her fiance move and sighing longfully a lot. She had decided Ranma was cute, handsome even, when not practicing the martial arts. When he was moving though, the often sinuous motions blending with strength and purpose and movement...

Hotaru sighed deeply again, grinning. Her Consort. How nice.

Ranma didn't care about the titles or anything of that nature. What he did care about was that the animated training dummy had fallen apart after his first attack, then reformed and lasted twice as long. This was when the pattern had been established. One decent hit and the dummy stopped. It was getting that hit in that was getting progressively difficult.

That the dojo itself projected the "training dummy" into place was not known by Ranma. That his patterns were observed, analyzed, and brought against him - was. That the animated pile of sticks was constantly improving to be a greater challenge was not only something that Ranma knew, it was something he appreciated.

Kuno rarely improved at all. Except for that watermelon trick he hadn't gotten much faster or stronger since the day he had met Ranma. A little tougher perhaps, but that was it. Akane? A lot of improvement but still clumsy and not that powerful. Shampoo or Ukyo? Good, especially Shampoo, but they were both pushing their limits and Ranma couldn't spar against either of them without dealing with an insanely jealous hair-trigger tempered uncute tomboy. Mousse? Relied too much on hidden weapons and a friendly sparring match with Mousse was impossible for someone who used live weapons routinely. His Pop? Familiar and he knew all the old panda's tricks.

Unfortunately the only sparring partner he could count on was his oyaji, but he'd become a lot less fond of the old fart since finding out some of the little problems arranged by him. That left Ryouga, Happosai, and Cologne.

Cologne had mellowed considerably since her arrival, but she hadn't objected to Shampoo's use of things like that "Red Thread Of Fate" and he couldn't count on her not pushing the agenda unless Shampoo were out of town. Still, on those occasions, he did like to make a little extra cash as the Cat Cafe replacement waitress because she not only got paid but Cologne would work on extra speed and hint about this or that bit of old martial arts lore.

Happosai had a tendency to get nasty and vindictive, and was a pervert, and a general creep. He was also the only one he had to worry about getting splashed and groped by during the middle of a fight. Before he'd met up with Happosai, he'd always thought that girls made too much of a fuss about getting groped. Since then, he'd known there was something really foul about the little monster because you always felt like you needed to scrub off his pawprints after he'd grabbed onto you.

Ryouga was the best sparring partner Ranma had. Tough, resilient, strong, and likely to show up with bizarre powerful martial arts moves. However Ryouga had found Akari Unryuu and the Lost Boy was losing that drive. He was getting content, and while Ranma certainly couldn't complain about Ryouga mellowing out some and getting a piece of happiness in his life, he did miss the fights. Unless Ryouga showed up with a new martial arts manuever again, there wasn't much challenge there either.

--------

Ryouga sneezed and nearly destroyed the secret scrolls he was taking out of the chest. The grin returned. This time he would be able to defeat Ranma! This special manuever would finish the rivalry once and for all!

The only objection was that this one was kinda hentai. Ryouga hoped Akari wasn't around when he humiliated and defeated Ranma. Or for that matter anyone else.

-------

Ranma stopped sparring with the dummy. It returned to a "ready" stance when Ranma ceased trying to attack it. "Ain't ya got something else?"

The dojo considered and responded by manifesting a intense localized gravity field (strength and speed training.)

Saturn Castle thoroughly approved. In adapting to the Consort's attacks it was also testing his skills and was gaining an appreciation of the Warrior Arts. Although the Consort's power level was comparatively low, he demonstrated two abilities that made him worthy of being Saturn's Bodyguard. Firstly: he made the most efficient use of his ability to channel his unusual energy into augmenting his physiology; not a single motion was wasted. Secondly: he learned at an astonishing rate; demonstrating the ability to analyze and adapt to the Castle's own evolving tactics almost as rapidly as the Castle could adapt to his! Tactics, the Castle recalled, weren't the Silver Millenium Forces' strong point.

Still, the Consort was underpowered in the Castle's opinion. But, unlike the arrogant nobility in the Castle's memory, he seemed to recognise the deficiency and requested assistance in improving his skills. The Castle obliged by intensifying the local gravity field to normal.

Normal gravity for Saturn, that is.

"What the ...?" Ranma demanded as he was pressed to the floor by ten gees.

"Ranma? Are you okay?" Hotaru demanded, unaware that she'd unconsciously transformed with the changing conditions.

"Heh! I'm fine," Ranma grunted as he pushed himself to his feet. He was not about to be shown up by a girl. "Just taken by surprise, that's all. I can take more than this. Heh. Oh, man!"

The last was added because the Castle took his words at face value and increased the field another increment - Jovian normal - then another and proceeded to continue to do so until the Consort was satisfied.

"I can handle it," Ranma grunted as he struggled to do a push up and Hotaru looked on in puzzlement.

Saturn looked up at the walls. "Castle, what are you doing?"

:Localized gravity field increased. Current bio-signs of Consort indicate he is currently working out within maximum conditions he can tolerate. Is this satisfactory?

Watching Ranma straining as he tried to do a single push-up, Hotaru considered. "I guess. Just try not to hurt him."

The Castle agreed. It was rare for any of the Senshi to take a lover for more than a brief period. Still, it's data on mental health indicated that having a confidante/lover outside the Senshi to be beneficial. Therefore this Consort was something that would benefit Saturn. In the limited programming of the Castle, that was all that mattered.

:Monitoring bio-signs to prevent injury to Consort.

"Unnngghhh," said Ranma as he strained. Man, this was some tough training!

Saturn briefly struggled with concern for her fiance, appreciation for how the strain caused his muscles to get taut and slick with sweat, and desire to spend some quality time here instead of just watching him work out.

"Uhm," Saturn took a seat at the bench and fidgeted. "You know, I, ah, that is, I don't know much about you yet, Ran-sama."

Ranma grunted as he managed another push-up, just a moment before he slammed onto the floor. "...okay..." He would rather chew his own leg off rather than admit defeat, but if his new iinazuke wanted to talk - well it'd be impolite to work out during it, wouldn't it? "What's to tell?"

Saturn decided to tell *her* story, maybe it would get Ranma to tell his own. Just that he turned into a girl indicated that he had an interesting life.

"The first time I was born," began Saturn, "I was just five when my father was experimenting with a microverse."

---------

"Where IS that baka?" She felt she had to chase him down, hit him, and tell him that she was *not* interested!

"He's off with Tomoe-san," said Nabiki, wondering whether to indulge her Supportive Sister side or the Mischievious Manipulator side. "Give it a rest, Akane. Until they find this Mephasta girl just let it work out. Tomoe will get tired of the constant crap from Ranma's mouth, and that'll be another rival out."

"That's Malfea."

Nabiki nodded once before the voice registered as being no one they knew. As she was still a catgirl she had the new-to-her sensation of all the fur on her tail going *poof!*

Akane turned to regard the girl in the tight leathers. "And who are you? Another floozie! FINE!"

"You want to fight me?" The woman studied her manicure. "A *real* martial artist would respond to the challenge."

"Akane, remember what I said, don't fight her! She..." Nabiki made the mistake of looking into the eyes of the challenger. Her voice vanished before she could point out that no challenge had actually been issued.

"Stay out of this. Else I shall kill your mortal shell and force your immaterial wraith to haunt your own training hall." Malfea turned her attention back to Akane. "As I understand it, you're the only obstacle to me getting Ranma. A flatchested brute like yourself is hardly worthy of such a prize."

Akane twitched. Her temper was already frayed.

Malfea saw the score and pressed her advantage, slipping into a mockery of a martial arts pose. "Of course, you ill-bred wench, with your skills in the martial arts, you're not much of a threat to any *real* warriors. Wouldn't be surprised if you couldn't fight your way out of a paper bag. If you think you're up to it, why don't you try me?"

Akane obliged, swinging a punch that should have slammed directly into the woman's nose.

The demoness moved to the side, her hand plunging into Akane's chest, and drawing a mist out. "I expected more."

Nabiki was practically crawling the walls to get away. If she had still had claws, she might have.

Akane clutched her chest and stared at the little struggling transparent naked Akane in the woman's hand. "That's..."

"Your soul," said Malfea, holding the figure up. "Rage seems to be your handle. If you attack me physically, I can use my Soultaker technique. If you, like most practitioners of the Anything Goes, have devoted yourself to one of the Seven Deadly Sins - I can not only take your soul but use that to manipulate you any way I want to."

Akane gasped as the demoness, now showing her red skin and horns, squeezed slightly on the figure. It was as if she were gripped by some huge hand and couldn't move. Her entire body was being crushed. "You... coward..."

"Now now, not nice at all," said Malfea. "Now what to do with this. Should I cage your soul into a magic dildo for all eternity, so that the only way you can feel anything is for someone to use it? Perhaps. Give you over entirely into rage - making you some hulking beast of destruction? Possibly. Just stick you into a voodoo doll, so that I can control and manipulate your body at my whim? Maybe."

Nabiki realized that she didn't practice Anything Goes. Hadn't trained in the art since she was seven, in fact - when Akane had proven to have more natural talent in that direction. So maybe she would be safe if she tried to distract the demon from Akane? On the other hand, she would also readily admit that her personal talents were not inclined towards physical violence and that demoness had moved *fast* when Akane had attacked.

Akane was in a position she didn't like at all - being helpless.

"Oh dear..." Kasumi came to a complete stop. The demoness was obvious. Akane floating in midair, crying, and with her arms and legs pinned together - definitely not the usual situation. "Uhm that's really not polite."

Malfea said what Kasumi could do with politeness as she stuffed the transparent Akane into one of those little liquor bottles they have on airplanes.

Kasumi was nonplussed for a moment. NOBODY had ever spoken to her in such a manner.

Malfea smiled and acted as if she were going to pluck Kasumi's soul.

To Nabiki, there was only one person sacred from her usual games. It was NOT Akane, nor her father. Kasumi had sacrificed everything for her family, embodying the ideal of giri, that the thought of her being put through this ordeal was too much to handle. Therefore she did something completely out of character.

"Hello? Police? Get me Y Division!" Nabiki calling the police, who'd have thought?

"Well, I can't capture your soul despite all that lovely greed and pride, so I'll just have to kill you," said Malfea, holding up a hand rimmed with black fire.

"Tsk. Using high power magical attacks, Malfea? Against mortals?" Bast sighed as she entered the room, flanked by two other women. "Even against a catgirl, don't you think Balefire is a bit much?"

Malfea took an involuntary step back. Bast, Amaterasu Omikami, Hestia. Two goddesses First Class and a goddess Third Class. "Look at the evil in her. Greed, pride, the desire to wound and manipulate others - they rule her life. She already belongs to the Darkness."

"I don't know, I got the impression she was considering a lifestyle change." Bast glanced at the catgirl. "Isn't that right, Nabiki Tendo?"

Nabiki nodded her head so rapidly she almost gave herself whiplash.

"Well, then I'll just take my spoils and go," Malfea responded, slipping the bottle into her cleavage. The demoness grinned and vanished.

As Akane's body hit the floor, Kasumi rushed to it. Eyes stared lifelessly up.

"No, Nabiki, we could not have engaged her in battle. There are reasons that the gods and demons do not go rushing about slaughtering each other, not ignoring that all three daughters Tendo would have been killed in the crossfire," said the Greek goddess of the hearth. "Besides, you have to start on that new lifestyle or she'll be back to follow up on her threat."

Nabiki paled and wondered how to reinvent herself thoroughly on the spot.

"Akane?" Kasumi felt for a pulse. "She's alive but not waking up."

"Her soul has been taken, if you'll pardon me, we'll need to put a Circle Of Warding up around the body to keep it from being possessed." Bast sighed. So much work when what she really wanted to do was check up on her fiance!

------

"Waitaminute," said Ranma, holding his hands out in a "time out" gesture. "Your real father gave you up to this Meiou chick, and you're being raised by two people who tried to kill ya repeatedly before ya got adopted. Then these same two DID kill ya and that Meiou chick in some lame plan that didn't work?"

"Uhm, yes, that *is* technically correct," allowed Hotaru.

"And this was all after that demon thingie was pulled outta ya?"

"Well, the killing me part was," hedged Hotaru.

Ranma nodded, getting this. While he didn't understand all of it, he understood *some* of it. Basically Hotaru was like him: someone who'd gotten a raw deal most of their life and suffered for her Art. "And both you and that Meiou chick are OK with this?"

"Well, I..." Hotaru didn't want to mention the occasional nightmare of being hunted down and killed by a gleeful Michiru-mama or Haruka-papa. "Setsuna-mama had some... issues. She sort of mentioned them after the last fight when I, uhm, kinda overheard her."

"Issues? You overheard?" Ranma wasn't too sure what she meant.

"She normally doesn't drink," explained Hotaru. "When I ran into her..."

"Ah, got ya. She was sloshed and got talkative. Mister Tendo does that sometimes." Ranma nodded again. "So what issues?"

Hotaru paused again, but then she had *wanted* to tell *someone* this ever since she'd found out.

A pair of feline eyes, unnoticed, formed in the shadows of the castle and listened to make sure the two were OK.

The Castle itself, of course, listened.

"Do you know what a 'geas' is, Ranma?" Hotaru took a deep breath. "It's a sort of magical compulsion, forcing you to act or think a certain way no matter what you want to do. It turns out that each time Auntie Setsuna died, she was looking relieved. Something that Michiru-mama remarked on once. It turns out that was why. I... worry about Auntie Setsuna. Supposedly she was freed of the geas when she was resurrected this last time, but I think some of it is in place still."

Ranma remembered the koi rod, red string, and a few other things and shuddered. "So what did this make her do?"

Hotaru let out a deep breath. "Auntie Setsuna is from the future. I have a friend named Usagi. In the future she becomes Queen and has this very powerful item called the Eternal Silver Millenial Crystal or ginzuishou. At some point, Sailor Pluto is put in charge of guarding the Gate Of Time and she fails to do something. Usagi uses the ginzuishou to apply the geas that Sailor Pluto will do three things: Guard the Gates Of Time and allow no one near; Protect the future of Crystal Tokyo; and do not flirt with Prince Endymion." Hotaru shuddered. She had begun to suspect something prior to Galaxia, every so often she'd seen a glimpse behind Setsuna's mask. The pieces had slowly come together after that, then the final revelation.

"That doesn't sound so bad," said Ranma, cautiously.

"Except that it was the Crystal Tokyo future that Neo-Queen Serenity remembered that was the point of the geas." Hotaru shuddered, wanting to cry as she had on learning what horror had unknowingly been pressed upon Setsuna. "She saw suffering that needn't have seen, and couldn't do anything about it. She saw people who might have lived, and watched them die because she couldn't do anything. She saw people who could have brought happiness to each of Usagi's friends lives - and had to manipulate events so that they wouldn't stick around or form relationships. She's had to give up her own dreams, and watch her friends lose their dreams, and she couldn't help."

"Shit," said Ranma. Suddenly, most of his own problems seemed small. Heck, he just wished Ryouga could have heard that. Ryouga might have seen Hell, but it sounded like some of these girls had actually taken the tour.

"So, what about you?" Hotaru pressed, wondering what wonders and excitement her cute iinazuke had been through.

"Well, uhm," said Ranma, wondering how the heck he was going to come off in this exchange. "Uhm. I don't remember a lot of it, but here goes... Some of it I kinda pieced together from stuff like Ukyo showing up later."

-------

Kasumi looked concerned. "But I'm Japanese..."

Nabiki reached out and held her sister's shoulder briefly, ignoring the nervous twitching of her tail. "Kasumi, when we've got demons running around, cursed houseguests, and Akane's just had her soul stuffed in a bottle of cheap vodka. Just take the nice goddess' help and be glad she doesn't turn you into a cowgirl or something."

"If she doesn't want to be a priestess of Hestia, you can't force her, though it seemed a natural enough match," said Bast.

"Too bad," said Hestia, though she seemed not at all put out about it. "You already have the basics down."

"Don't look at me," said Amaterasu. "You are many things, Kasumi Tendo, but a warrior is not among that list."

------

The Castle listened to the Consort and pulled the details into a coherent order. When the Consort came to a rambling halt, the Castle finished the report and flashed it to the next set of Castles and to the hidden Lunar archives.

------

"Uhm, so that's kinda what happened to me," said Ranma.

Hotaru stared. A comment of impolite terms but indicating disbelief tried to flow past her lips. She settled for just shaking her head. "Are you sure your father isn't a demon or a youma? We could try purifying him, just to be sure."

Ranma was about to deny it when he got this thoughtful expression, trying to picture the old man getting purified of things like greed and sloth and maybe stupidity. No matter how he tried though, he just couldn't picture it.

------

The Castle had determined that Ranma was *not* Hematite, but that their personalities were fairly similar. So a similar role might well work. Hematite, after all, had not reincarnated - having died well prior to the Queen's use of the Crystal. It relayed those correlations to the next castle and to Lunar Central.

Lunar Central, which it should be noted had not had a scheduled maintenence in 10,000 years, sent on the confirmation that Ranma Saotome was the reincarnated Hematite - a minor noble related to Sailor Jupiter who had briefly dated Venus (a passionate if brief affair that broke up when Venus reconciled with Jadeite) and who had later died defending Venus during the first war with Beryl.

Ami had just gotten most of the Inners together when this update occurred. At which point "potential menace" became something quite else.

"I HAD A BOYFRIEND?!" Minako bounced up and down. "Was he cute?"

"This is what he looks like now," said Ami, showing Minako the picture.

*SNATCH!* "MinemineminemineMINE!"

"Wow! He looks a lot like my sempai!"

"Uhm, actually, I already said that he's Hotaru's fiance," Ami pointed out.

Minako and Makoto looked as if someone had just dropkicked their stomachs.

Minako sat back down. "Let's see. The Senshi of Love and the Senshi of Lightning can't get a boyfriend if it would save the Earth from the latest menace, but the Senshi of Death who used to be two years younger and most likely to end up with Chibiusa gets a hot hunk like that and is his fiancee in less than a week?"

"I am *so* depressed," agreed Makoto.

"Maybe it's that whole Goth thing," speculated Minako. "The whole brooding dark atmosphere. Maybe cute and perky just doesn't work in the '90s?"

"I'm too damn tall," pouted Makoto. "That limits my choices. I'd either have to go with a taller Japanese guy or find a gaijin since some of *them* like tall girls."

"Hold the shoe!" Minako snapped her fingers. "I just had a brainfart!"

"That's 'hold the phone' and 'brainstorm'," corrected Ami, though she secretly might be betting on the accuracy of the faux paus.

"If this 'Hematite' guy survived, then how about other guys we'd gone out with?" Minako had a plan. Find out who their boyfriends had been back then, find out who they'd reincarnated as, renew the relationships!

"There's a problem with that," explained Ami. "Apparently you promised after Hematite saved you that you accepted your engagement to him posthumously. Now that you're both alive, uhm, you're kind of engaged to Hotaru's fiancee, Minako-chan."

Minako blinked several times as what Ami said sank in. "What?"

"If we were to go by the arrangements made in the Silver Millenium... you would be engaged to Hotaru-chan's fiance," the blue haired girl replied.

A broad smile spread across the blonde's face. This was so great! A cute boy and he was her fiance. Finally, after so much heartache and searching, she could finally get a hunk for her very own! She could show him what the power of love could do! She could... take away Hotaru-chan's fiance.

Damn. Damn! DAMN! And she actually liked the Senshi of Saturn. It would feel simply wrong to do this to her.

On the one hand, she would get a hunky boy to be fiance. They could date and do all those things that they did in those romance mangas that she had. Like kissing... (MAJOR blush attack.) But that would mean taking him away from Hotaru. If anyone deserved to have love in her life, it was Hotaru. The Senshi of Silence had been teased, lonely and had DIED twice, being ressurected by Sailor Moon both times. And still she was a sweet and loving child.

The least that she could do was to find out about their apparently shared fiance. It would give both the opportunity to find out about the cute boy. Besides, if there was one, there was always more....

When Minako revealed her idea to her friends, the reactions were mixed. Ami and Rei were wondering who had done a brain transplant on the blonde. Makoto figure that something weird was going on. And Usagi...

"Okay! That sounds like a great idea!"

...couldn't figure out what the others' silence was about.

"Ahem. Yes, well," said Ami, "we can always check with Michiru and Haruka. I'm sure they'll be reasonable about this."

"Haruka is going to be reasonable about this?" Usagi blinked. "We're talking about 'Haruka Ten'ou' right?"

Minako slumped. "I'm doomed."

-------

Haruka couldn't get a shotgun, this was Japan after all. She settled for brandishing the Space Sword.

Michiru blinked as she lowered the Neptune Mirror they'd just used to take a quick peek at what Hotaru was doing.

Which was just Hotaru leading her fiance to that bed so he could rest a little after his workout. Innocent actually. Her blush was an indication that not all her thoughts were quite so innocent but that was something else.

Haruka had taken one look at the scene and come to obvious, if entirely inaccurate, conclusions.

"But you knew she was going to be meeting her fiance at the new school," Michiru interjected. After all, Haruka tended to act like a tomcat herself at times, so Hotaru holding hands with her fiance was hardly something to be alarmed about.

This wasn't a logical decision for Haruka Ten'ou, not made with the head, but an emotional one made with the heart. Pretty standard for a Ranma character, wasn't it?

"Where are they? I'll show that boy not to go messing with my daughter like that!"

Michiru considered pointing out that Hotaru wasn't *really* their daughter, that she was just holding hands at the moment, that Hotaru was the one dragging a slightly protesting Ranma, or that the two were engaged and frankly it would be better if they figured out they were compatible *there* before the wedding. The phone rang and Michiru decided that getting away from the ranting Haruka for a moment was worth the interruption.

"First I'll beat the daylights out of him! Then I'll transform and show him what a 'Space Sword Blaster' is like! How *dare* he drag Hotaru off like that!" Haruka was going with a full head of steam and didn't care if sense wasn't being made. "I had no idea he was such a Casanova or I would *never* have agreed to let them meet! And what is with that school?!"

Michiru listened to Minako briefly and without much attention. "Hematite? Well, as soon as Haruka calms down I'll mention it. Oh, fine. Go right ahead. I think you'd make a fine daughter-in-law."

---------

Minako put the phone down slowly. Twitching a lot.

"Was she upset? How did she take it?" The other Inners were quite curious.

"Michiru-san said that 'we should go for it' and that I'd 'make a fine daughter-in-law'..." Minako wondered if fainting would be a good idea. "I don't think I'm ready for that kind of relationship."

Rei blinked. "You *and* Hotaru *and* Hematite?"

Makoto clapped her hands together, Buddhist prayer style. "Better you than me."

"You should sound a little less jealous," advised Rei.

-------

Ranma was a little stunned. So far Hotaru Tomoe had proven to be a fiancee completely unlike his other ones.

"Come on, Ranma, you should rest some before we go back," Hotaru blushed and tried not to think about tucking her iinazuke in. Or curling up next to him for a quick nap herself.

Ranma stared at nothing in particular.

The Castle noted that the Senshi and Her Consort still had not consummated their relationship. Bio-scans indicated that the Senshi was biologically ready for such activities, the Consort was not. Perhaps it should adjust the training regimen slightly to leave him more energy for such activities?

Hotaru was wondering why Ranma had gone into shock, not realizing that when she had used her healing talents after his workout, that he had been struck with the force of her emotions. He had *felt* how much she cared for him already.

Something completely different from what he had experienced before now, as different as Hotaru's nature was from them.

It had been... humbling.

==========

HOTARU 1/2: Second day
mainly by Kestral and Kender_Sci


-------

Michiru had taken some time to convince that Hotaru needed to be pulled out of Furinkan. Still, someone needed to rein in on Haruka at times like this.

"What do you mean 'you can't withdraw Hotaru' from this *MADHOUSE*?!" Haruka asked for what seemed the fourth time.

"Hey, da big kahuna, he got just da ting to explain this ta ya," explained the school principal. "Just ta take a da seat!"

Haruka finally sat back on a chair next to Michiru in the principal's office.

"Now ya two are kinda young to be lil' wahina's adoptees, ya know. Ya kinda look more like'a da students." The principal pointed out.

"We're her legal guardians," said Haruka beginning to get angry again.

"Oh, de big kahuna got just da ting ta make'a de explanations," said Principal Kuno, handing the two pineapples.

"What are we supposed to do with this," asked Haruka.

*BOOM!* *BOOM!*

Principal Kuno smiled. "I be gettin da paralysis powder from mine own little wahini. Is being time students to conform to da school dress code!"

-------

Silver Millenium equipment had been designed to change with the times. The most striking example of this, that the Senshi had encountered, had been the Mercury Computer - which had started out looking like a calculator and currently looked like an ultra-thin laptop computer. Sailor Moon's wands and sceptres evolved through similar means.

Tuxedos, for another example, were a relatively recent invention but it fit the same role as a similar garb in the Silver Millenium and was therefore shown when such a garb's use was indicated.

The castles weren't nearly so adaptable- being older and established long before some of these later developments. Still, they could manage *some* tweaking.

Furniture was altered as more data accumulated. Styles were brought up to date. Minor things.

The interface was a little more work, but still within the capabilities of Castle Saturn. After some searching of broadcast bands and files, it had decided to take a particular persona from a movie that seemed to fit its role.

"Mistress, Sir, I have prepared a light meal for you."

Hotaru blinked muzzily awake, realized she'd fallen asleep, and blushed heavily.

Ranma realized he was clinging to the ceiling, that nothing had happened as they were both clothed, but still... he was *so* dead if this got out.

"Uhm, you're..." Hotaru asked.

"A holographic representation, Mistress," said the British looking fellow in the tuxedo. "I have decided on the persona/identity of 'Alfred' until you request another identity, simply to ease communication and interface." Normally the Castle would appear as a chibi-Saturn, but with the Consort around that hadn't seemed appropriate.

"Oh," said Hotaru, trying to sort through that.

Ranma slowly dropped down, still lost in how doomed he was.

"It will await you in the main dining room," said 'Alfred'. "Does the Consort require information on techniques?"

Ranma nodded, thinking martial arts techniques.

Hotaru saw Ranma nod and nodded herself.

Alfred noted that the Consort required instruction on his role. Well, they were young yet. Not even a quarter century old.

-------

Usagi turned to say hello to Haruka and Michiru as they entered. The soda fell from her nerveless fingers.

"Hey you two, I..." Rei's voice trailed off into nothing.

"ACK!" Minako put quite well.

Haruka looked ticked. Michiru looked... like she was about to break down and cry or go on a homicidal rampage. Or both.

Haruka was nearly bald. She had less than a millimeter of hair coating her scalp. Michiru was nearly the same, but her hair was perhaps a full centimeter in length. Neither had eyebrows showing.

"The principal is a youma. We should go back and destroy that school for the good of humanity," suggested Haruka.

"I quite agree," said Michiru. "As soon as we can find him. I'd think you'd had enough of boobytraps and exploding coconuts to avoid just blindly charging in anymore."

"Oh yes," said Haruka, wryly. "Quite enough."

"Uhm," Usagi struggled for a subtle and polite way to ask, she gave up after a moment. "What happened to your hair?"

"We had a meeting with the principal," said Haruka, scratching at her nearly bare scalp. "It didn't quite go as we anticipated."

"Hotaru and her fiance seem to be doing fine, however I did agree with Haruka on the matter of Furinkan's scholastic record being less than exemplary." Michiru tried to recover some measure of poise and dignity.

"Uhm," Usagi began, about to repeat her question.

"Exploding coconuts, robot crabs, exploding tiki, electrically charged hula dolls, exploding pineapples, robot sharks, exploding palm trees, monkeys trained to give haircuts," listed Haruka.

"You forgot the contact poison on the Hawaiian shirts, exploding bottles of suntan lotion, and firebombing parrots," helpfully pointed out Michiru.

"Cheee!"

"I already mentioned the monkeys, didn't I?" Haruka asked.

"That wasn't me," said Michiru.

"Cheee cheee!" *Bzzzzzzzzzzzzz!*

Usagi Tsukino blinked and slowly reached up to her hair.

"He's coming back around! He's coming after you!"

"EEEEEK!" "AAAAAA!" "NO! BAD MONKEY!"

Usagi slowly reached down and picked up one of her odango, staring at the length of hair in her hands.

"MERCURY STAR!"

"No! You shouldn't transform unless..."

*BZZZZZZzzzzzzZZZZZZ!*

"Ohmygosh! It got Luna!"

"...?! SCREW THAT! KILL THE DAMN THING!"

-----

Hotaru thought it was time to get back. According to Alfred it was fairly early in the morning back home, which meant that the two of them had spent the night, which meant...

Haruka-poppa and Michiru-momma were going to be very unhappy.

Not to mention all those crazy people after Ranma would think that she and he had done *that*. So she had to get back NOW with Ranma and deal with things before they got worse, or else just stay here with Ranma.

She was very very tempted by the latter course of action. It had a lot going for it.

Hotaru blushed as she realized Ranma was staring at her again.

------

Ranma had felt Hotaru's heart when she'd healed him. Just a glimpse while he'd tried to open himself and see how she was doing it. At one point he had been completely open and she completely focussed.

She cared about him. She had this giant wellspring of compassion and kindness and... nobility.

Funny how different nobility was when comparing "the noble house of Kuno" with this.

Ranma had been confronted with true nobility of spirit and he'd compared that with what he knew of the fiancees he'd already had. Then he'd compared it with himself and felt, perhaps for the first time in his life, small and dirty by comparison. It had been humbling, like he'd thought himself the greatest thing since cooked rice and then found out that he was in a tiny little room and there was a great big world out there.

He couldn't help staring at Hotaru, who blushed in response.

Hotaru Tomoe/Sailor Saturn deserved LOTS better than him. That wasn't what she wanted though. She wanted HIM.

She wanted HIM but would let him go if he asked her to. If he told her no she'd pack up her bags and he'd never see her again. She wasn't going to try to force him into anything.

Ranma looked away, nervously swallowing. If he didn't tell her "no" - he'd be getting involved in BIG things. The little comfortable "Ranma Saotome is the center of the universe and martial arts is everything" world he'd been in would be gone and he'd be getting in way over his head at times.

If he did tell her "no" - she'd be hurt. There was a great loneliness in her, and her story had demonstrated that she didn't have a lot of friends or options. From what she had said, her legal guardians were going to set her up with some girlfriend of hers that she didn't really want in *that* way.

Whatever the case, whichever way he went, just stringing her along didn't seem like a good idea. Accept her as a fiancee or reject her outright. He had to do one.

-----------

The cafe wasn't tiny, but it was an out of the way place. Lights shone upon the tables, but left the room mostly in semi-shadows. Customers sat at those tables, their conversations kept low not only by atmosphere, but by unspoken consent. In fact it was only the sound of light jazz music that broke the near silence.

And at a table in one corner of the cafe, sat Setsuna Meiou drinking a cup of steaming tea. Not one of those mass produced store brought brands, but the actual blends that simply made her feel better. She just sat there and sighed in contentment for a very good reason. Here she was not the Princess of Pluto, Sailor Pluto or the Guardian of the Gates, but simply Setsuna Meiou.

That was what attracted her to the eatery since the place was quiet and had a non-intrusive staff. Not that anything illegal was going on in there, but they knew enough to leave people alone. So she was simply allowed to sit, drink her tea and think.

What she was thinking about happened to be one Ranma Saotome. Brash, arrogant and prideful, he was also honest, honorable and would never willingly hurt Hotaru. Yet, his own center of chaos had spread and things were happening that he had never thought about.

Which suited Setsuna just fine at the moment. She bit back a giggle at the thought of what would happen. She glanced at her watch and amended that. What *had* happened. Haruka and Michiru would have met the so called 'principal' by now. And Setsuna was already thing about a way to use this to her advantage. Those two not only had to loosen up, among lots of other things.

Still, Setsuna herself was in a quandry of sorts. She had a choice to make. 'No Ranma' meant a Crystal Tokyo and it would be a city of people about as exciting as potato salad. But if she got Hotaru and Ranma together, then something of this could make things more... interesting. Instead of the staid little city where going to a concert one day meant that she'd have a place that would have growth of music and and art and literature... among other things.

But now, they had to deal with a demon and one who wanted Ranma. That meant that they'd have to be extra careful these days. Plus she had to thank her deities for keeping her safe for now, along with assistance of those beings.

Besides, it would be fun to see the look on the pair's faces...

------

Principal Kuno stopped writing out his newest order for Acme Novelty Company, and slowly put the pen down. He had this awful feeling of impending doom.

*THUNK!*

"Ch-ch-cheeeee."

Looking at the smouldering monkey that had just landed in his office, Principal Kuno made an executive decision. "Need schedule quality time in Islands. Feeling plenty bad juju."

------

Nabiki looked in on Akane's bed.

There was Akane's body, surrounded by spirit wards and good luck charms, apparently resting comfortably.

"She almost looks asleep," said Kasumi, nearly sending Nabiki into orbit.

Clutching her chest, Nabiki looked back at her elder sister. "Don't DO that. Not with demons and goddesses and who knows what else wandering about."

Kasumi nodded, acknowledging the point.

There was the sound of someone running up the stairs. "Akaneeeee!"

Kasumi stood her ground. That goddess had been quite explicit. If the wards around Akane were disturbed before her soul had been reunited with her body, they might lose her forever.

Soun Tendo hardly noticed knocking aside his other two daughters as he rushed in to check his precious youngest baby girl.

He did, however, notice when his eldest daughter -

*BONG*

- brought a frypan down upon his head.

"I wonder what tortures Akane is going through right now," mused Nabiki as she also contemplated how best to reinvent herself as a "good guy" and thereby get some protection.

-------

Akane was finding that her spirit was in spirits. She had been transferred to a larger liquor bottle, and Malfea was currently working on something nearby that Akane couldn't make out through the thick glass.

On the other hand, having merged with the rum in her new home, she was feeling pretty good right at the moment.

-----

"BURNING MANDALA!" "JUPITER THUNDER DRAGON!" "CRESCENT SHOWER!"

"YAAAAAAAHHHH!" Hawaiian floral shirt afire, a certain principal was wondering what he had done to annoy the Sailor Senshi. "Ain't you wahini supposed to be in Juuban?!"

Three classrooms blew up.

"Evil such as yours is worth crossing a few districts to stop," replied Sailor Mars. "For corrupting innocent monkeys and tropical fruit, you shall be punished in high heels!"

"But I not wear high heels," argued the wildly dodging principal.

"How did you know he was setting up traps before class today?" Sailor Moon asked Sailor Neptune in between "Deep Submerge"s.

"Intuition," growled Sailor Neptune.

"Coconut Catapult!"

"World Shaking!" "Fire Soul!" "Crescent Beam!" "Deep Submerge!" "OAK EVOLUTION!"

-------

Tatewaki Kuno sat as was his routine, meditating upon his life. This was normally a time for introspection and deep thought that brought with it a greater understanding of one's self and the world around them. When faced with a problem, great masters would sit and ponder questions with no regard for any world save the realm of thought. And Kuno mainly did this, with his questions burning at his mind.

Unfortunately, the world he pondered was only his own, a very scary place indeed. For him, meditating was usually one one of three things; his 'greatness', defeating 'the foul sorcerer' Ranma Saotome, or his two 'loves'. What was normal, for Kuno, was that he was deep in thought about his loves. Yet it was not just two of them that he was thinking about...

"I must have images of my delicate violet-eyed valkyrie if I am to properly worship her beauty!" lamented the Kuno Heir. He had cleared an area (with Sasuke doing the work) whereupon he could place examples of the beauty that was the new love in his life. Yet, he had none to properly enshrine!

"Take heart Master Kuno," soothed the diminutive ninja, "I'm sure that you will figure something out."

"But of course, Sasuke. However that does not counter the fact that I have not one picture of the glory that is that violet-eyed beauty!"

"You could always ask Nabiki Tendo if she could sell you some pictures..."

"That's it Sasuke! I shall endeavor to seek out the mercenary Tendo and request a purchase of photographs of this new sprite of love! It was so simple that I do not understand why I did not think of it earlier!"

"It must be too far below the complexities of your mind, Master Kuno."

"Too true. Too true."

***

"Brrrr. I just got-"

"This little feeling like something running over your grave, or something nasty is gonna hit the fan? Happens to me all the time," Ranma said, taking Hotaru's hand in his own and marvelling at the differences in fiancees in just that little thing.

Hotaru's hand was tiny and felt warm and soft in his own. Shampoo had been fighting since she was a child as had Ukyo. Both of them had ridges of callous and strong hard lines - particularly from weapons use. Ukyo's hands also had little burns - a natural byproduct of working with hot oil and frying foods. Akane, for all that her wrists were of a similar size to Hotaru's, also had thick lines of callous and old scars on her hands - from breaking boards and bricks and whatever have you as part of her practice. Akane and Shampoo sometimes wore polish, but would never go for the slightly longer nails that Hotaru had as they weren't practical if you were going to make a fist and then drive that fist into a wall.

If he had held hands with Akane - Ranma would expect to get clobbered at any moment. If Akane didn't immediately protest, the two fathers would start going for marriage or something, and THEN Akane would get angry and take it out on him. If he had tried to hold Shampoo's hand, he'd have gotten glomped, attacked by Mousse and/or Akane, and that would have been it. Holding hands with Ukyo would have led to a slightly less desperate glomp, but then Ukyo would start babbling about how they'd be running a restaurant and stuff. He knew this because this sort of thing had happened before, and for him holding someone's hands had not been a romantic gesture - it had been just one of those odd things. Ukyo, for example, had accidently blinded herself with flour at one point and he'd led her back to a sink. Shampoo had done something similar with hot spice two days previously.

In Hotaru's case, holding hands so she could teleport them back to Nerima had been innocent as well, but the smile she turned on him...

Akane could smile like that. When she was in a good mood and feeling that she was in a superior position and therefore not threatened. She didn't do it that often, particularly lately, but Ranma would have gone to hell and back for that smile. And here it was on someone just because he was holding her hand. Wow. Some people are just easier to please than others.

As for Hotaru, she looked at Ranma and felt his hand engulfing hers. His was a strong hand and warm, and with lots of character. She could feel rough callous and old scars on the skin, but it was the feel of that hand and knowing that it was Ranma's and that he TRUSTED her made all sorts of interesting tingles up and down her spine.

Ranma tried to figure out the best way of breaking it to Hotaru that he didn't think they were compatible.

------

Shampoo tried to come to terms with the events recently.

Okay, maybe great-grandmother and Cat-goddess-person were right and she *had* screwed things up royally as far as wooing her airen.

How could she act less than true to herself though? Well, apparently she had to. In order to get Ranma in this mess, she had to change tactics completely.

When it had been practically rubbed in her face, Shampoo could acknowledge that just maybe her ideas of what would win Ranma over were based more on the boys of her village than a boy of Japan.

Shampoo stopped the bike she was doing early morning deliveries on and looked at her reflection in the mirrored glass of an office building. From what she understood of men, they should be all over her. She was cute, she had a good figure, she dressed to emphasize that figure, and she was naturally very affectionate and enthusiastic. Perky and cute worked on the majority of TV programs she'd seen, but weren't working here.

So what was it that her airen saw in Akane anyway? Maybe he was one of those guys who actually enjoyed getting hurt? Shampoo made a face after contemplating that thought. It made *way* too much sense. After all, who would he have learned affection from - his father?

Her eyes widened. That theory now made *way* too much sense. Insults and violence as a means of expressing affection. Her airen was seriously messed up!

Still, she'd apparently been going around with a theory that had proven incorrect before - so she ought to bounce this idea off someone else before embracing it. Shampoo made her delivery, accepted the payment, and turned her bike to a different path. There were others losing in this match, and if they were to ally at least temporarily - it would make their own hand the stronger.

-------

Ukyo listened to the Amazon as she explained her theory. So did a number of her early morning customers.

"You know, the scary thing is," said a sarariman with a breakfast okonomiyaki, "that fits."

Ukyo had been about to scoff this lame idea, but now she thought about it again. Could that be it? The reason that Akane and Ranma had continued to get closer was because to Ranma's delusional Genma-defined system - unreasoning anger + insults + violence = affection? That he and Akane had been getting closer was not despite the violence - but because of it?

Another sarariman spoke up. "You know, Akane's always had that temper. Could be that she enjoys pounding Ranma and so she's subtly encouraging him. Can you imagine what kind of spiral that would lead to eventually?"

Ukyo shuddered, picturing a laughing Akane having thrust a sword through Ranma's heart.

Shampoo shuddered, picturing a smiling Akane having chopped off Ranma's manhood as an ingredient in some stew.

"Of course, if you're right, that new girl is going to be rejected. She just doesn't seem that violent." The first sarariman put in. "He'll end up going back to Akane."

Ukyo and Shampoo shuddered, met each other's gazes and nodded. Better Ranma ended up with scary powerful Sailor Senshi than in a bloody pool in the dojo!

-------

*Ching-ching* *screeeeeeech!*

"Shampoo! You've been gone so long!"

Cologne looked up. "That wasn't Shampoo." Shampoo didn't brake that often.

"Shampoo! You're taller than you used to be? And flatter chested."

*BOOM!*

"aaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaa!"

Cologne glanced up at the dwindling Mousse. "If you land in Osaka, be sure to bring back some of that Kobe beef!"

"Uhm, excuse me..."

Cologne blinked at the pink haired girl who'd just punted Mousse out of the district. "You're looking for Ranma?"

"Unnn," agreed the girl with a cheerful nod.

"I can give you directions," said Cologne agreeably, "but first, child, can you tell me *what* you are?"

"Nuku Nuku is Nuku Nuku," said the pinkhaired girl pleasantly. "Nuku is Ranma's fi-an-cee."

"Of course you are," agreed Cologne, "I was just trying to find out if you were a goddess or a demon or something. I'll give you directions to Furinkan High School, that's the school Son-in-law is attending."

"Waiii! Thank you, oba-sama!"

Cologne smiled. At least this one was polite.

--------

Setsuna Meiou appeared in front of the school and checked her wristwatch. Hmmm. Students were gathering about, and on a normal day with a normal school, the school nurse would be checking into her clinic and preparing things for another day of sprains, strains, and the occasional tummy ache.

"Maybe we should call the fire department," said Sayuri.

"Niaow!"

"Yuka-chan, I know you've had a catgirl fetish for years, but did you have to request that from Bast-san?"

"Oh man, is that gaping hole up there my classroom?"

"Looks like school's closed today," opined Hiroshi.

*BOOOM!* *Crackle!* *FWOOM!*

"Aaaaaaaaahhhhhh, I be thinkin' that the Big Islands they be calling me!"

"That looked like Principal Kuno," said Daisuke. "Except that little palm tree on his head was on fire."

"Come back here and get dusted you yoma!"

There was mass blinking from the crowd as two girls with *very* bad haircuts ran past.

"That explains a lot," said Sayuri. "Can't blame them either."

"Hey, Sayuri-chan, that looks like fun!" Yuka leapt to the top of a wall with her new catgirl powers. "Hey everyone! We get to help the Sailor Senshi AND beat on that macademia nut of a principal at the same time! What do you say!"

"Ohhhh ho ho ho," said Hiroshi. "I *likes* this idea."

"KILL THE YOMA!" "SEND HIM BACK TO HAWAII - IN AN EGGCUP!" "SHAVE *HIS* HEAD AND SEE HOW HE LIKES IT!"

Setsuna held up her thermos of tea and thoughtfully shook it. She might have time to refill it.

"Sailor Pluto, isn't it?" Bastet slinked up, somehow managing to slink despite wearing a fairly conservative business dress.

"Ah, Bastet-san." Setsuna nodded. "Though I'm officially Setsuna Meiou, school nurse. Ranma should be arriving shortly."

The Egyptian goddess shrugged. "I'm not pursuing Ranma *that* devotedly. I'm officially married, we just seperate for brief periods."

"Like a mortal generation or two?" speculated Setsuna.

"Exactly," agreed Bastet. "Nuku Nuku is over there, and I'll go say hello in a bit. How's the geas?"

"Hasn't troubled me since you..." Setsuna made a little finger wiggling gesture.

"That's good," said Bastet. "I see you've gotten a few pictures of your teammates with their new haircuts."

"Perhaps it's a little petty," said Setsuna, "but they *did* kill me when we fought Galaxia."

"Well, it's a good start, I think. Though you really had little to do with it." Bastet commented. "Your decision to get involved was not predicated entirely on this, was it?"

"No, not at all," said Setsuna. "How much do you know about Crystal Tokyo?"

"One of several potential futures, a sort of vague utopian magic kingdom, isn't it?" Bast conjured a cup of catnip tea and sipped at it as the two watched more of the school get decimated.

"Haruka-poppa, Michiru-momma?!" Hotaru had just appeared and realized that her spending the night away was currently the least of their concerns.

"Whoa," said Ranma, looking over the wrecked school. "Man, this looks worse than the time Taro and Happosai got into it during one of the old perv's raids on the locker rooms."

-------

"What to do with you," said Malfea to the spirit in the bottle, "that is the question. You have your good points, as disgusting as that is, so I'm somewhat limited. I can't simply eat you - truly dark souls instead of mainly dark souls are much more nourishing and tastier."

Malfea held up an ecchi looking rod. "Beautiful, isn't it? My first thought was putting someone who was so into the whole sex-violence thing into a toy like this. Your soul forever in this prison, only able to feel anything when you were used. Still, Bastet is familiar with a few who know how to break soul prisons and free that vital spark from things like Rune Weapons. They might not do it if I were able to get close enough to poison or possess your mortal body - but you can never tell with goddesses like Bastet. Like a cat she can be quite cruel when the spirit moves her."

The demon moved about her workshop. "They'll come and rescue you, you know. I'm evil, that doesn't mean stupid any more than being good does. That luscious fiance you had will brave my lair and challenge me for your soul. By then he'll have a layer of protection on him so that I can't simply snatch his soul. But given, say - in exchange for *yours*? Yes, my dear, you will be the death of Ranma Saotome - and the agent of his damnation and subjugation to my spirit. Every day that goes by with you returned will remind you of how your own temper led to this, and you will have to live with it."

Malfea picked up the bottle and smiled at Akane. "I'm evil, you see. I enjoy things like that. First though, I've found *just* the receptacle for your soul until the exchange is made."

-------

"What's needed is a place to do classes today," suggested Sayuri.

"Well, you sure can't have 'em at school," needlessly pointed out Hiroshi.

A crash and tinkle of breaking glass from somewhere inside said school punctuated his remark.

Setsuna sighed. "I suppose moderation was too much to hope for."

Bastet smiled and clapped her hands. "Okay. Everyone who's in Ranma's class, line up here. Yes, you too Kuonji-san! Today is the perfect day for a field trip, don't you think?"

Cheers met this proposal, especially as some of the school was beginning to smoulder.

Nabiki shouldered her way forward. "What about the rest of the school? What about parental permission? What about... what are you doing?"

"Opening a teleport gate, Miss Tendo," said Bast. "Now if you don't mind, I have to finish anchoring it."

"B-b-b-but," Nabiki stammered before stopping and catching herself.

Bast nodded eventually at the result. "Field trips are supposed to be educational, right? Broadening experiences for young minds?"

"Where did you link to?" Setsuna raised an eyebrow at the sight. It was early morning around her, but the area beyond the space fold was obviously night.

"I've heard a lot about this moon orbitting a gas giant named Garibaldi and I've been meaning to check it out," answered Bast. "Okay, everyone. You've got a half hour to get home, pick up your swimsuits and fishing gear. We're going to a beach!"

The cheers meeting this revelation was several orders of magnitude more heartfelt than the previous one.

Hiroko, a girl in glasses, adjusted them. "This is quite improper! I protest. We should ACK!"

Setsuna tsked at the sight of some poor girl getting dogpiled by nearly the entire student population. "Okay people, go to it."

------

The first problem was that the first group through the Gate looked around and came to a complete and total stop.

More people pushed forward, saw what had stopped the first group, and also came to an utter halt.

Finally, though it was rude, the way was cleared by people just shoving their way through. Then when they saw IT, they immediately understood WHY everyone had come to a stop.

Garibaldi VII is proof that whether you ascribe to a belief in divinity or laws of nature, somewhere they've got to end up in positive balance. 90% of Earth's mass, tropical temperatures, shallow seas, vast forested plains and the occasional jutting mountain range. All taken in combination would have given pause to people far more worldly than a bunch of students from a Japanese High School.

Garibaldi itself was a striped gas giant that was fairly unimpressive by itself. A failed protostar with a core of more solid materials than Jupiter, including a fair amount of what was called "black dwarf" material - ejecta from nearby supernovae. Garibaldi orbitted a fairly unremarkable yellow dwarf sun, and the other planets were likewise unremarkable - with two asteroid belts that were fairly stable as such things go. That sun was a member of what was referred to as a globular cluster - where the density of stars were greater than out in the unfashionable mid-arm areas like Earth.

There were even tattered bits of nebula, themselves unremarkable in the universe.

Add them all together, however, and this is what greeted the skeptics and the scoffers, the "know it all" high schoolers and their teachers, the Sailor Senshi (who'd decided to stick around), and their guests.

"Dear god..." Nabiki managed, trying to get her fingers to work the camera.

Bastet patted her head in passing. "That's goddess, dear."

It was night, but there was light. The thickly packed starscape with colorful streamers of multicolored gas. Then, of course, there was a thin sliver of Garibaldi itself that was fairly well lit, with the rest of the massive and nearby planet dimly visible through the atmosphere. The light level was easily twice that of a full moon on Earth, and the snowcapped mountains running to thick green forests were clearly visible. The sound of the nearby surf was the only sound heard for long minutes.

"Okay, did everyone bring their fishing gear?" Bastet said, clapping her hands. "Class? Hello? Anyone? Yo!"

"Give them time," advised Setsuna. "They've just been confronted with the idea that Japan is not the center of the universe."

Bastet shrugged, never having had that belief.

"Truly, this is a vista worthy of the noble scion of the House of Kuno. I hereby claim this land in the name of the Kuno family!"

This statement proved to be sufficiently ludicrous to shake many of the students out of their daze.

"Uhm, Kuno baby," said Nabiki, tapping her classmate on the shoulder. "Exactly *how* do you plan on getting from Japan to here on a regular basis? Not to mention little things like authority to claim this land?"

"Bother me not with such trifling concerns," said Tatewaki Kuno. "As a member of Japan's nobility, it is well within my authority to cede such."

"Except you don't own it, child," said Bastet from where she was setting up a portable grill. "There is a prior claim as someone stepped forth before any of you."

"Who dares to challenge the authority of the Blue Thunder?" Kuno thundered, raising his bokken.

"Bastet, estranged wife of Sekhmet, goddess of cats and marriage and sensual pleasure. Among other things." Bastet wasn't terribly concerned about the blustering swordsman. She'd seen far too many of them over the centuries. They usually came to a bad end.

"Pfeh! A goddess! You think too much of yourself woman. My pigtailed goddess is far greater than you, and not nearly so... pedestrian." Kuno sneered at the woman. "You may count yourself a powerful sorceress to transport us here, but my blade is proof against any sorcery!"

Bastet sighed and dusted her knees off as she stood. "That sounded like a challenge."

"I do not lower myself to battle with a gaijin tramp such as yourself," began Kuno.

*FWOOOM!*

Bastet now taking the form of an 18' foot tall tigerwoman limned with green fire, Tatewaki Kuno noticed that the crowd around him had melted away and most were running to place still further distance between themselves and his noble personage.

"So proud of your sword, child? Well, hear now my curse. Your sword shall wither and shrink. No more will its voice be added to your madness. Never will you know pleasures of joining, nor will you ever be able to pleasure a maiden. No matter what you try, from now on your sword shall be shriveled and dry! I, Bastet of Heliopolis, do pronounce upon you this curse until such time as you make amends to all those you have wronged!"

*FWOOM!*

Kuno blinked several times and checked his bokken. It still felt the same. "Foul witch! Your thpell hath not worked. As I hath stated, I am proof against enchantments!"

Nabiki got up from where she'd been cowering, composed herself, and stepped up behind Kuno. "Kuno baby. She wasn't talking about that kind of sword."

"Speak plainly woman, what are you... what hath happened to my voice. Ith hath gotten all..."

"Falsetto," supplied Nabiki. "Would you prefer squeaky? Effeminate?"

Kuno looked annoyed until one could see the idea at last take hold. He rushed off into the forest. A high pitched scream occurred shortly thereafter.

"Wasn't that a bit much?" Nabiki asked of the goddess.

"Not at all," responded Bastet. "You didn't see into his mind. Yech. He should be glad I didn't switch the places of his two swords. Besides, you heard the condition of the curse. All he has to do is make amends to the people he wronged, even a token gesture in each case or something like an apology, and the curse will be lifted."

Broken sobbing could be heard from within the forest.

"It's a field trip, it's supposed to be educational," said Bastet. "Now, does anyone want to try catching some fish? I've heard they are *quite* tasty here."

The various Senshi began wondering if this Bastet was a villain. And if so, what could they do about it?

Michiru came up first, intent on questioning this woman and determining if she was a threat to them or Crystal Tokyo.

Bastet merely nodded as she approached. "I know why you're here."

Michiru stopped, frowning, wondering how to attack someone who was reading your mind.

"She can't read your mind unless you either make a contract with her or challenge her, it's one of those rules," said Setsuna softly in a helpful voice.

"Even so, it's obvious," replied Bastet.

Michiru had momentarily relaxed but now went to a guard position.

"There you go, child. No charge. You've been kind to cats in the past," said Bastet.

Michiru was ready to transform to Sailor Neptune the moment that villain's eyes flashed. All the itching along her scalp made it a little distracting as she pulled her transformation pen out, then brushed hair out of her eyes to...

There were gasps from the other Senshi, also ready to transform, as they saw what had occurred.

Michiru held up her mirror and stared, reaching back with one hand to confirm what it was telling her.

Her hair had returned. Lustrous and shining, it hung down to her waist. "..."

Bastet looked over the grill, then out to the students fishing. "Try nets. There are supposed to be something like tuna out there. You'll only catch tiny ones with fishing equipment like that."

Michiru smiled at the sight she'd thought she'd spend several months recovering. She'd have to get it cut and styled again, but this was *so* much better than it had been. Still. "Uhm. Bastet-san?"

"Yes, dear?" Bastet looked up at the young lady, as she tried to use mundane methods to getting the grill warmed up.

"Are you opposed to Crystal Tokyo? Do you pull odd pieces of jewelry out of people's bodies? Steal souls or anything similar?" Michiru asked, hoping for a particular answer.

"No, no, and no." Bastet frowned as she considered the odd question. "They don't have anything against cats in this Crystal Tokyo, do they?"

"No, in fact the Royal Family keeps a few as advisors," honestly answered Michiru.

"Well good then," said Bastet, as far as she was concerned that pretty much clinched it. "Sounds nice."

Michiru nodded and then swept elegantly back to her place, feeling a lot better than she had since meeting Principal Kuno.

Haruka glanced from Michiru to the "goddess" and back. "Uhm."

A few minutes later the first few fish had been caught and violin music could be heard along the beach.

---------

Ukyo made okonomiyaki, of course. Shampoo, who had planned on seeing her airen in the schoolyard, had tagged along.

THIS was hardly what either of them had expected out of a "field trip."

It also brought home to everyone, with the notable exception of one Tatewaki Kuno, what the Middle Eastern/Asian woman in the business suit was. Exactly what she claimed to be. A goddess. Someone who had been alive when the pyramids were being built. Someone with the raw power to open a tunnel in space/time measuring lightyears across. Someone of mercurial moods who could grant a boon to Yuka at one point, and come up with a curse that had most of the boys around them crossing their legs and hoping they didn't do ANYTHING to tick off the goddess.

Someone who could restore one girl's hair from a near buzz cut to waist length, apparently on a whim.

When Ukyo or Shampoo had competed against each other or against other girls for Ranma, they'd been on a nearly level playing field where the rules were pretty much known. You were facing martial artists and the skill levels were staggered out like so, and the only real wildcards thrown in were Shampoo's use of items like the red string or Kodachi's use of odd poisons and powders.

Shampoo had been briefly turned into a cat without cold water. She could end up *permanently* as a cat if she really annoyed this woman named Bastet.

Now they were faced with yet another strange variable.

"You're looking for Ranma Saotome, because your 'papa-san' made an agreement with Genma Saotome?" Ukyo said, a slight twitch developing.

"Unnn," agreed the perky looking school girl. "Nuku Nuku like this already. Look at the fishie I caught!"

"Shampoo notice fish, is very nice nice," agreed Shampoo.

Said fish looked a lot like a tuna. That it was four times the size of the girl holding it up, having a length of about 18 feet, was noteworthy. That the girl more or less skipped lightly from the shore to the grill with it had been duly noted by both Ukyo and Shampoo.

"Suppose she's another goddess or a superhero?" Ukyo asked Shampoo as the girl dumped the fish where it could be turned into okonomiyaki, also fish strips, fish steaks, fish... it was a big fish.

"There is difference?" Shampoo asked. "I ask Great Grandmama how Amazon Law about sames."

Ukyo waited a moment then decided she might as well bite. "Well, what does Amazon Law say about goddesses?"

"Amazon Law say walk very carefully and be very polite, and pray they go elsewheres very very soon."

Ukyo nodded, seeing a definite logic to that philosophy.

"Where ith that thwoman?! I demandth thee remove this affwiction!" Kuno ran past gesturing dramatically with his bokken and looking thoroughly upset. "How dareth thee bethmirk the royalth Kuno lineth!"

"Not touching that one," said Ukyo as she worked.

---------

"So, uhm," Ami said to the goddess, trying to get her nerve together. "You're Bastet. I mean, THE Bastet."

"Among other names," said the goddess, licking her lips at the smell of roasting fish from various points around the beach.

Ami considered. "Uhm, that is, I mean..."

"Don't worry child. I don't bite. Well, not that often. And then only if you ask REALLY nicely." Bastet sighed happily. The fish here weren't quite like their terrestrial cousins, but they were close. The same physics leading to similarities from one world to another. Some of the land based forms though. "Ah, that must be one of the beetles I'd heard about."

Ami looked down and saw something that looked like a furry crab. "Huh?"

"The most evolved form of life on this planet," said Bastet. "This particular world hasn't had the disasters to force species to adapt to them. The beetles are about at a bird's level of intelligence, adapted to a wide range of habitats, and are scavengers that eat decomposing plant materials."

Ami began scanning with her computer. "What? This has characteristics of mammal and insect!"

"Was there something you wanted?" Bastet asked after the girl was apparently lost in whatever she was reading on her computer.

Ami blinked repeatedly, followed by slumping. "I forgot."

"Oh," said Bastet, "in that case might I suggest we join that group over there with the fish fry?"

--------

The air shimmered and rolled back in a tube shape.

Which, of course, was followed by a large crowd of students, teachers, a nurse, and an Egyptian goddess.

"There they are Officer! Just like I told you," Hiroko said. "I told them not to go, but *they* wouldn't listen!"

The students and faculty found themselves facing one student and one police officer.

The police officer adjusted his white gloves, looked at the group and announced his decision. "You really should let the authorities know when you're going to be leaving the district you know."

Bastet considered. "Ah. In that case, tomorrow we're going to visit Egypt. It'll take at least three days to repair the school."

"Egypt?" This started muttering and chatter within the group, though the policeman frowned.

"It is, after all, a trip of an educational nature," put in Setsuna. "The school nurse will have to go along, just in case there are any injuries."

One of the teachers stepped forward. "And it is clearly in the students' best interest to continue their education despite the damage to the school caused by our dear principal's somewhat outre discipline methods."

Another teacher stepped forward. "In order to properly supervise the, ahem, unique learning opportunities Miss Bastet offers, well, there has to be enough teachers present to uhm..."

"Work crowd control," supplied a third teacher.

"Egypt?" Nabiki said with a gleam. Visions of finding another great tomb full of riches glittered briefly before her.

"Well, either that or Babylon 5, I hear that can be interesting," said Bastet speculatively.

"I see," said the policeman. "I'll have to check with my superiors on this."

-------

Kasumi fixed her father and Mister Saotome with her most disapproving look. "Now Father, remember that absolutely nothing must disturb those wards around Akane before we can get her soul back into her body."

Soun nodded.

"It's very important, Father."

Soun nodded again.

"Those nice goddesses were very insistent on this. Akane could be lost to us forever if they're disturbed."

Soun nodded solemnly.

Kasumi wasn't completely satisfied but couldn't see a way around it. "Then I'll go get my shopping done while you play shogi. And if a not-nice woman named Malfea shows up, you must absolutely not attack her."

"Now is that any way to refer to a major demon? I'm practically crushed."

Soun, Genma, and Kasumi stared at the woman in leather hot pants and not much else.

"Besides, are you two going to listen to the advice of goddesses? They just want to break the Saotome-Tendo union. Those wards are what are keeping Akane asleep." Malfea stated as if it were fact.

"You heard her Saotome!" "Growf!"

Kasumi watched in alarm as the two raced upstairs. "But..."

Malfea faded out to reappear upstairs as the two started ripping up spirit wards. "Fish in a barrel. If I had any shame, I'd be ashamed of myself."

"She's still unconscious?" Soun said after ripping up the last ward.

"You two idiots," said Malfea as she walked in. "Nobody denied I was a demon. I even introduced myself as such. You didn't think I would lie? Now shut up and watch."

Akane's body twisted into a demonic dog-like shape with glowing red eyes.

"Not bad, if I do say so myself," admitted Malfea. "A dog to deal with a cat. A nearly unstoppable engine of destruction that knows only rage. The only way to stop her is to kill her, and without her original body - Akane can't be restored to it."

"Where did you put my sister's soul?" Kasumi asked, entering behind the demoness.

"Hmmm? Oh. You. The braindead two dimensional housewife." Malfea shrugged, she'd have preferred telling someone who would then anguish over it a lot. "She's currently in a pair of panties I left in the stack in that little old geezer's room. Not that it does you any good since reuniting the soul with the body will still leave little Akane here in the form of this monster."

Kasumi nodded. "Oh dear."

Malfea shook her head in disgust. She wanted fear and despair, hate and anguish, loathing and raging. What did she get?

"Akane! Akaneeee!" Soun wept as his youngest daughter, now a slavering werebeast, thrust one arm almost to the elbow into Genma's chest.

Genma fainted as this hurt quite a bit.

Akane backhanded her father, who went through three walls on his way out of the house.

"Go my minion, destroy the city in your rage! Slay all you find!" Malfea commanded.

"I won't let you," said Kasumi, not entirely sure what she could do.

"Yeah, right," said Malfea, dismissing the girl as a serious threat. "Akane. Start with her."

--------

"I don't understand why you'd get nervous about talking with her, she seemed very nice, well except for when she did that to the guy with the wooden sword," said Usagi.

"Usagi!" Ami took a deep breath before continuing, aware of all the Senshi (except the missing Setsuna) listening in. "That was Bastet!"

"Yeah, so?" Usagi blinked, clearly not understanding.

"She's a *goddess*, Usagi. Bastet, or Bast. She was around when Egypt was unified almost *five* millenia ago. She's over five thousand years old. When the temples of Bubastis, her center of worship, had a cat die - the cats were then mummified. Some date as far back as 950 BC! Some sources indicate that cat-worship preceeded the unification, which would mean she was even older than that." Ami was despairing of convincing her friends exactly how over-awed she'd felt and why. "Can you imagine what she's seen - what she's lived through? Even if she's merely five thousand years old, she may have been old enough to see the Minoan trade civilization. To see the Greeks develop philosophy and the Sumerians coinage."

"Okay, so she's old," said Haruka who was not impressed. At a look from Michiru she added a little more. "Still in pretty good shape for that age."

Michiru *and* Ami shook their heads at that.

"Think of the songs, the music, the art - lost to human history but held in her memories," said Michiru softly. "The paeans and songs of ancient Egypt. The epic poems and tales."

"She would have seen the Great Library at Alexandria," said Ami with her eyes practically glowing. "The pyramids and sphinx and their construction."

Artemis thoughtfully added. "She likes cats. Certainly a plus in my book."

Luna frowned, not liking this. Still, she hadn't seen *anything* to indicate that the goddess was actively trying to do something against Crystal Tokyo - and Pluto hadn't been alarmed by the goddess. Still, now what?

Ami's computer beeped. When she read the display she frowned. "I think something went wrong back in Nerima."

--------

Nabiki was whistling happily as she turned the corner and beheld a war zone. She stopped whistling. "Whoa."

Her house looked as if it had been shelled, the front gate was smashed outward, three of the neighbors houses were flattened, and as she watched another house erupted in flames. This last was particularly concerning considering that most homes were made primarily of wood.

There was her father, imbedded in the second story of the Yamani family home.

There was Kasumi, sitting with some woman in a golden ball of light?

"What's happening here?" Nabiki asked, though she was far less polite in her actual wording.

"Kasumi called me," said Hestia. "Now that you understand better, do you accept?"

Kasumi straightened up, checking for nonexistent wounds. When she was done, she knelt. "Yes, Hestia-sama, I will be your avatar."

Nabiki winced as the world seemed filled with white light, and when it was over Kasumi stood there alone but seemed to be looking elsewhere. "Kasumi, are you okay?"

Kasumi smiled and nodded. "Yes, Nabiki, We are quite well."

-------

Malfea gave up watching the amusing amount of mayhem spread by her creation and looked towards the pillar of white light. "Say what?"

This was bad. Very bad. When a goddess, even a goddess second class like Hestia, invested an avatar - it was bad news. At least if you happened to be a demon. An avatar was a mortal channel for the goddess, a fragment of the goddess blending with the human. In essence a demigod had just been born.

Of course, Hestia was the goddess (Greek) of the hearth and housekeeping, so it wasn't terribly concerning. Now if it had been Athena or Amaterasu or one of those other goody-goodies, that might have been another concern.

With a divine connection like that, most of Malfea's usual tricks wouldn't work against Kasumi. Her sisters were vulnerable but that wasn't necessarily an exploitable weakness. A lot of goddesses had the policy of "kill a mortal I'm involved with and you'll only think you've been through Hell" thereafter.

"Red Shadow, continue your path of destruction," said Malfea to her minion. "I have another target to deal with." A demigoddess needed killing.

-------

Of course, if you had a major evil running around, there were those whose job/duty/pleasure it was to hunt it down and kill it. In some cases with extreme prejudice.

"WORLD SHAKING!" Sailor Uranus slammed her attack into the hulking four-armed dog-beast.

"CAT SCRATCH FEVER!"

Sailor Mercury sighed as a catgirl got bounced down the street. "While I can't fault her intentions or desire to help, her application seems to require work."

Sailor Saturn and Sailor Pluto began their joint attack. "Chronos Typhoon!"

The beast howled in anger, bracing itself against the force of the blast and straining forward against it.

"OAK EVOLUTION!" "VENUS LOVE & BEAUTY SHOCK!"

Ryouga Hibiki wandered into a scene straight out of a shojo manga! There, several girls in short skirts. Over there, a four armed dog demon standing nine feet tall. Houses and stores crushed beneath the beast's attacks. Clearly there was only one thing for him to do!

"BURNING Mandala!" Mercury Aqua Rhapsody!"

Ryouga stopped. Oh that's right. In this kind of fight you had to shout your attacks. Some kind of union rule so they knew what side you were on. Not that he read any shojo manga, Heavens no. It must have been in Shonen Jump or something. Hmmm. How about... "HIBIKI BANDANA BLITZKRIEG!" Hmmm. Not bad. Definitely had a ring to it.

Sailor Jupiter looked at the studly young man and immediately thanked heaven she had a plate of cookies nearby. She really needed to check out this part of town more often!

The demon dog pulled itself up, the wounds on its body slowly closing.

"MOON CRYSTAL HEART ATTACK!"

Seeing a giant crystal pink heart shatter itself on the monster, Ryouga decided that there were some special manuevers just too horrible to learn even if it would give him an advantage in a fight with Ranma. Oh sure, if he hit Ranma with something like that it would surprise his old rival. Afterwards though, he'd never live it down. And why was that girl presenting him a tray of cookies?!

-------

Ranma was still struggling with the decision he knew he had to make.

No, he'd have to do the noble thing. He had seen exactly what this new girl had to offer. He had seen how happy she was just to get a smile from him. He knew that taking a relationship with this new girl, even if he just accepted her as a fiancee, was to step into a new big arena. And that others could make the girl far happier than he could.

He had to turn her down for her own good.

Man, this being responsible stuff really could make you feel miserable at times.

"Ah, there you are, Ranma," said Cologne. "I've just been telling your mother about the newest developments here."

Ranma blinked at the sight of his mother. Funny, he felt even worse now.

-------

Nabiki opened her mouth, ready to make any number of potentially rude comments, stopped and pinched the bridge of her nose. She tried again, stopped herself again and shook her head.

Finally she decided to be amused by this. Otherwise she'd have trouble sleeping. "Okay. Let me see if I got this straight. Akane's soul was ripped out of her body, bound to a pair of panties..."

"Rayon. Not like I'd ever collect something like that," said Happosai with a sniff. He was a pervert but he had standards after all.

Everyone glared at Happosai, but as he was in a spirit-ward festooned cage, nobody bothered to attack him.

"If I may continue," said Nabiki. "Thank you. Akane's body was turned into a rampaging monster, was hit by a number of attacks, Kasumi reunited Akane's body and soul, however about 90% of it had been burned off by that time."

"Which might explain why I'm currently six years old," protested Chibi-Akane, "but doesn't explain why this sort of thing happens to me. Isn't this sort of thing only supposed to hit Ranma?"

"Uhm, no," indicated Sailor Pluto. "I just checked the timeline, and rather than go through the Japanese school system a second time, you and Mister Saotome go on a ten year training journey in the martial arts."

"Oh, that's okay then," said Akane, nodding. The concept visibly hit on the third nod. "WHAT?!"

Soun limped up to his old friend. "Saotome. Anything like a pit of cats and..."

"No, nothing like that," agreed Genma, glad to get away before any other problems he'd thought safely buried came washing up around here. Yes, and he could correct all the mistakes he'd made training Ranma. This would be perfect! He'd already heard the details of that Amazon "Breaking Point" technique - he'd start Akane off with that.

Akane thought about it. Maybe they could run into that Forest Of Lost Years and she could be restored there. "What are we waiting for? Let's get started!"

"Oh my, Akane *did* want more training in the martial arts." Kasumi handed her little (now VERY little) sister her backpack.

"What happened to the demon though?" Nabiki asked.

Kasumi smiled at her remaining sister. "Nabiki. Never underestimate the power of a Japanese housewife." *crackle- boom!*

"Nice effect," admitted Nabiki.

Kuno fell out of the tree he'd been hiding in.

"Nice aim," added Nabiki.

---------

Bast sat down and crossed her legs, inspecting her manicure casually.

"So you claim to be a goddess?" Captain Takame asked the foreigner. "Can I see your passport and legal documents?"

Bast handed over a small booklet and an identification card.

"I mean legal documentation for you to be in Japan?" Captain Takame said after glancing at the paperwork.

"I can get ahold of a few Japanese deities, I have verbal permission to operate here," said Bast, still being quite pleasant.

The other officers present merely frowned at the foreigner.

"I'd have to see some proof that you're..." The police captain looked over the documentation.

"Bast. Known also as Bastet. Sometimes Hathor and myself cross-cover, we're fairly close." Bast answered, bored with this already. "You need me to prove that I am indeed who I say I am?"

"Yes, that would be a good start." The police captain had already decided that this foreigner would get deported immediately. The way she was dressed indicated that she was some sort of prostitute.

Bast frowned. "Very well. Ahem. Three character witnesses?"

"I'm afraid more would be needed than some bums off the street to indicate..."

*WHOOOM!* A portal of blue fire formed and an ancient set of samurai armor appeared. "Who dares call Susano a 'bum off the street'!"

*BOOM!* Despite being on the fourth floor, one of the windows shattered as the sunlight thickened into a woman in a formal kimono holding a mirror. "Someone who yet proves that idiocy is not confined to foreigners. Hold on. I'm contacting my descendent."

Seeing the woman gesture and levitate the phone to her hand, Captain Takame considered protesting.

"Ah, Emperor. This is your ancestor, Amaterasu Omikami. Hold on when I teleport you here." The light thickened and produced a figure holding a phone.

Lightning crackled and a figure in white robes appeared. "Who summons Raideen?! Oh, it's you Bastet. What's up?"

"This guy is being a prick," said Bastet, who was a bit of an earthy goddess it should be noted. "All three of you gave permission for me to operate in this area, and deal with the Chinese in your case Raideen. Yet the captain here requires more identification."

Captain Takame rallied. "You're all under arrest!"

The other police officers stared at their captain, whom they had known was an idiot but this was going pretty far even for him!

"Just for your paperwork," said Bastet pleasantly to the young sergeant who'd been taking notes. "My name is Bastet, also known as Bast. My occupation is goddess of cats, sexual pleasure, marriage, and kicking the royal #$!$%@ of scorpions and various undead. Formerly of the city of Bubastis. Age: roughly 12,500 years but a lady never gives her exact age and it wasn't something I've kept track of anyway. Married but seperated, for a few decades at least. Now, I've already cursed some idiot swordsman today. Do one of you others have a suggestion or should I get... creative with the captain?"

"I've an idea," said Amaterasu, looking into her mirror. "Captain Takame here has been taking bribes and using the authority of his office to curry favors from married women in his district."

"You can't prove anything," said the Captain, subtly moving his hands towards the drawer he kept his gun in. It sounded like these foreigners were resisting arrest.

"Who said we needed to?" Amaterasu seemed genuinely puzzled for the moment.

Susano grinned, his god-marks glowing. "Well, since he's a little girly-man..."

--------

"According to my castle, he's registered as my Consort and my bodyguard and.... there he is! Ranma!" Hotaru perked right up on seeing her fiance approach.

"Hematite?" Minako asked, licking her lips.

"...but I keep telling you," protested Setsuna. "Ranma is *not* Hematite. He wasn't present in the Silver Millenium, he does not have Senshi powers, he doesn't even qualify as the typical victim-of-the-week. When you become Queen Serenity you can assign him to the post Hematite held, but they only vaguely resemble each other."

"Uhm, hi," said Ranma, dreading this. For her own good, he had to tell Hotaru not to pursue this engagement.

"This is Hotaru?" Nodoka smiled at the young girl. Ah, a young princess who had her heart set on Ranma! Her son had superheroes and goddesses and other girls pursuing him. So manly was he! It was too bad that Akane hadn't worked out but that was for the better all things considered. Now - just think of the grandchildren!

Cologne beamed at Ranma. This was actually a nice solution as far as she was concerned. Shampoo's honor and reputation wouldn't be lessened, because if she had to lose - it was to a superhero who went out to save the world or a goddess. Having allies in either arena and parting friends with both groups would be a great honor for Shampoo, as well as extraordinarily useful for the tribe. She just loved win-win scenarios, especially when it had been spiralling down into such a mess before this.

"...turning him into a girl? Isn't that awfully cliche?" Bastet said as she walked with a group of friends to the Dojo.

"Maybe, but it's kind of traditional for that kind of pest," said some guy in samurai armor.

"And it *did* establish that we are not common trespassers to be dealt with by his ilk," Amaterasu stressed. "Really. Even in these modern times - politeness should ever be a virtue among the Japanese."

"So that's him?" Minako smiled brightly at the fellow. Even if she *didn't* end up with Ranma, maybe Hotaru getting a boyfriend would break the streak of bad luck they'd all been having in that department!

"They're all foul sorcerers," muttered Tatewaki Kuno in his new squeaky voice.

"Most ominous," said Miyo, checking her Tarot cards again.

"Why are you behaving so well? I'd think you'd be all over those goddesses," asked Nabiki.

"Nabiki, my dear, however poor your opinion of me," said Happosai, "I want you to consider one simple concept. You saw what happened to that Kuno boy? Then consider what they'd do to me if I *really* annoyed them."

"You heard about that?" Nabiki was a little surprised, she'd planned on selling him the story.

"I get around," mysteriously commented Happosai as he sauntered off. He was especially hoping that the sun goddess over there had forgotten about something that occurred a couple of centuries ago.

Ranma cleared his throat and began to speak loudly. "Uhm, everyone. I've got an announcement to make. I've reached a decision on my new fiancee, and the truth is..."

*GLOMP!*

Shampoo held up a sign marked "6.5" while Cologne's read "8.0".

"Glaive Girl do pretty good for first try," said Shampoo to Ukyo.

Nodoka produced a hankerchief and started dabbing at tears. "My son is so manly! Enough to satisfy a princess and superheroine! I'm so proud of you!"

"Huh?!" Ranma said. "No no, wait a minute..."

*Sching!* Haruka somehow turned into Sailor Uranus and drew her Space Sword in a single move. "You did *what* with my little girl?!"

Minako blinked and whistled. "Got a fiance and bedded him in the first day? Wow."

Hotaru blushed heavily and ducked her head. "Actually, no, we just slept together."

Dead silence for a moment.

"Waiii!" cheered Nodoka. "And here I was fearing that you'd turned impotent like your father!"

"Kinda explains why she's so focussed on her son being manly," speculated Nabiki out loud.

"Let go of me, Michiru! He's going to get a Space Sword Blaster where the sun doesn't shine!"

Setsuna cleared her throat and tapped Ranma on the shoulder. "You might want to start running."

Shampoo and Ukyo were clearly having second thoughts.

Nuku Nuku was wondering out loud if Ranma was supposed to sleep with her since she was a fiancee too.

"Excuse me," said a very elegant looking girl as she walked up to the crowd. "I'm looking for a Ranma Saotome? I'm his fiancee from a marriage arranged by his father."

Ranma took that as his cue. He started running. Hotaru wouldn't let go so he was carrying her.

"Yes, my son! Take the initiative and elope with that girl!" Nodoka found some rice somewhere and was throwing it around to bless the couple.

Sailor Uranus gave chase, practically frothing at the mouth.

Sailor Neptune gave chase, hoping to calm Uranus down.

The Senshi gave chase, this was so romantic!

Shampoo and Ukyo gave chase, still trying to sort out their feelings on the matter.

Nuku Nuku gave chase, well, because everyone else was doing it and it seemed like fun!

The new fiancee gave chase, understanding only that her new fiance was already cheating on her. Or something. She wasn't clear on the details.

Half of Nerima seemed to join in. Well, mainly because it seemed to be mandated by the current events.

Except for Principal Kuno, who was already on his way to Hawaii. And Akane and Genma who were already off on a training journey.

Holding Hotaru in his arms, seeing the huge cloud of dust kicked up by the equally huge crowd chasing after him, Ranma could only say one thing about the current situation.

"Why me?"

And somewhere, elsewhere, a mischievous being replied. "Why not?"

===========

well, that's it for Hotaru 1/2. Just an omake that grew out of a haphazard collection of addventure options explored (as stated in chapter one) by myself, Kender_Sci, Greyman, Tag, and a few others. The latter half of chapter one and all of chapter two is my fault entirely.

As for what happened afterwards, and who ended up married to whom...
to paraphrase Bilbo, "and they lived happily ever after, to the end of their days..."

Not satisfied, eh? Okay.

EPILOGUE:

Hotaru Saotome leaned into her husband as their children went through the complex patterns of a martial arts kata on the dojo floor.

The door flew open. "RANMA! I've returned to..."

Ranma smiled at his former fiancee. "That's great, Akane. You're a teenager again!"

Hotaru smiled and nodded her head at the girl. "It's nice to see you again, Tendo-san."

Akane looked at the kids, comparing features on the six year old and the four year old to the couple watching them. "But it's only been ten years..."

Ranma and Hotaru blinked, not understanding the point.

Akane deflated somewhat, eyeing the ring prominently displayed on Hotaru's finger. "So, uhm, what have you been up to?"

"Well," said Ranma, thinking, "I've been the Consort to Sailor Saturn, learned a few more martial arts, fought menaces from beyond, that sort of thing. Princes have shown up to kidnap girls, you know - the usual mess."

"Oh, really..." Akane sighed. "By the way, the dojo isn't there any more."

"One of those menaces," admitted Ranma. "Don't worry, everyone got away. Kasumi is working as a nurse for Mizuno Pediatrics and has a job as a priestess of Hestia. Nabiki stopped by for Hiroko's birthday party, says she's been keeping busy in Shinjuku."

"What's she doing in Shinjuku? Did she become an accountant?" Akane was a little curious. Nabiki should be 27 now...

"Oh, sort of. She's a police officer now, works in a fraud investigation department," said Hotaru brightly. "She gets to work with money and figures and also pry into other people's business. She loves her work."

Akane twitched. Kasumi a nurse working with children? Nabiki a COP?! "What about father?"

"He married Hinako Ninnomiya after Usagi cured her of that chi problem," confided Hotaru. "Last time we got a postcard from them you've got a little sister!"

Akane twitched again, but shook it off. "What, no rivals, dragons, monsters, stupid martial arts challengers?"

"Uhm. Yes, and they're quite annoying. Yes, but some of the dragons are quite nice when you get to know them. Yes, and that *is* one of the benefits of knowing superheroes. And yes, but we send most of them down the road." Ranma shrugged. "They have to beat at least two of our sister schools before one of our school is allowed to fight them. When it's explained that we often have sleeping children here most of them understand."

"Do you remember that one, oh, what *was* his style?" Hotaru giggled at the memory.

"Disgusting Martial Arts. There are some styles I ain't gonna learn. No way." Ranma made a warding gesture.

"What was it that was so disgusting?" Akane asked, having seen some particularly nasty ones during her journey.

"Akane, that was the style. A heavy bean diet was part of the school's special manuevers. Disgusting or nauseating your opponent was the main thrust of the school," said Ranma, again shuddering. "And you thought Picolette Chardin and HIS style was gross. Ick."

"How did you beat him?" Akane remembered Ranma's habit of learning the other school's moves to do the counter.

Ranma smirked at the memory. "We keep matches around. Hotaru likes those vanilla scented candles. When he used that green cloud attack, I flicked a lit match at him."

"You nearly burned down the dojo," said Hotaru, playfully punching Ranma's bicep. "That was when the other schools got elected to handle the filter duties."

"Yeah, Ranma! Once again you have made my life a living hell!"

Akane startled at the familiar voice as Ryouga walked in the still open door.

"Hah. You've never had it so good, eh, P-chan?"

"Well that's true too." Ryouga admitted as he sat down. "Akari's in a mood again."

"You married Akari? That's wonderful, Ryouga! What's so funny?" Akane saw the grins and wondered if this sort of thing might have happened if she had married Ranma.

"She's having problems with Makoto, isn't she?" Hotaru asked Ryouga.

Ryouga nodded.

"Two wives. And you thought *I* was a pervert," chuckled Ranma.

"Oh shut up! It's not my fault." Ryouga's head hung down slightly.

"Two wives? How is that legal?!" Akane felt slightly alarmed by this new development. Ryouga a bigger pervert than Ranma?! What next, Happosai reformed?

"When the Queen says it is legal, it is legal," said Hotaru, sounding as if she were quoting something she had heard many many times.

"Next thing you know, you'll be telling me Happosai doesn't go on panty raids any more," complained Akane.

"He doesn't," acknowledged Ranma.

"Now I know you're kidding me." Akane looked the two of them in the eyes. "No?"

"No. He discovered the Internet, developed Martial Arts NetSurfing and Martial Arts Site Hacking, and I think he starved to death cruising porn sites." Ranma shrugged. "It was a few years back."

"'Terrible Tragic Story'," quoted Hotaru. "Not that he bothered us very much after the first instance."

"So how's Oyaji?" Ranma asked. "We tried to find him for the wedding but even Neptune's magic mirror couldn't find him."

"Well, there's a reason for that," said Akane, trying to find a politic way of saying that one of "Uncle Genma's" attempts to find a cure for the Jusenkyo Spring Of Drowned Panda curse had proven worse than the disease. "He's, uhm, kind of retired and changed his name."

Ranma considered that. "Is he happier that way?"

"Yeah, you could say that," said Akane. Not really wanting to say that the last she'd seen of Uncle Genma had been from the back of the Sierra Club truck taking "Ling Ling" to a new home. Spring of Drowned Girl + Spring Of Drowned Panda = a very unhappy Genma.

"Uhm, you're looking well, Akane," said Ryouga finally. At Akane's glare he just shook his head and resumed contemplating his shoes.

Akane considered her plans of so long ago. Returning in triumph, her age restored, the usual goings on and adventures resuming. Somehow ten years had passed. "What about Ukyo, Shampoo?"

"They're around," said Ranma. "Mousse went back to his village. Shampoo finally gave up and let Cologne arrange for her to meet a nice customer of their shop. They named their first kid Ranma - can you believe that?"

"How did he defeat her in combat?" Akane frowned. Nobody was ending up as she'd pictured them either.

"He didn't. She got to know him, decided he was nice and pretty strong, and as she'd been permanently exiled for not marrying me, threw those rules out." Ranma shook his head. "Well, mainly. She's started a tribe of Japanese Amazons from the sounds of it. Ukyo ended up with her business and eventually found herself someone."

"Kazuki Takahashi, a programmer and artist from Konami. As you well know," gently chided Hotaru.

"Yeah, yeah," responded Ranma, holding his wife a little closer briefly. "Let's see. Kodachi, well, she got hit with one of Sailor Moon's attacks. She's a lot better now. So's Tatewaki. Last I heard Kodachi was in Hawaii - she took charge of the pharmaceutical company they owned there. Tatewaki was wandering the world looking to purify himself and master the sword or something. He's still crazy - it's just a lot less annoyingly so. Oh, who else from the old crowd?"

"Yuka and Sayuri?" Akane didn't expect Ranma to know, they'd been her friends not Ranma's.

"Yuka's working her family business," said Hotaru. "I ran into her a couple of weeks ago. She has a stall at the Ginza."

"Sayuri?" Akane repeated.

"She's in, uhm, Akihabara. She..." Ryouga colored up. "She's a shopkeeper over there. One of THOSE stores."

"Oh," said Ranma, "it's always the ones you don't expect that turn out bad."

Akane puzzled over that, not understanding. Akihabara was mainly electronics, wasn't it?

"Angelica the Gypsy Queen was *after* your time, right?" Ranma asked. "Hmmm. That's all I can think of. Oh, Cologne's back in her village last I heard. Though there *were* some unusual couples among the Senshi."

"Uhm, excuse me," said Akane, standing quickly. "It's late and I need to get to my next destination."

"You sure you don't want to spend the night?" Ranma asked.

Akane looked at where the slender girl rested in Ranma's embrace with all the comfort of long familiarity. "No. No, I think I need to be going."

"Okay, Akane. Send your address when you get settled will ya? Don't make it another ten years before your next visit!" Ranma called out at the quickly retreating former fiance. "You know, Hotaru, I think something was botherin' her."

Hotaru patted her husband's arm while Ryouga snorted. "Dear. You can't make everyone happy. Not everyone is going to be pleased. All you can do is the best you can do."

"I'm missing something again, huh?" Ranma said before his wife kissed him. As the kiss continued he was aware of Ryouga excusing himself and the two kids making "Yuck!" noises and going off to watch TV.

Though at that point, with his arms full of a warm and affectionate wife, he was aware of only one thing: that he had well and truly lucked out.


end sequence- Hotaru 1/2