I claim no ownership rights to any of the works of Rumiko Takahashi, or anything I've borrowed and modified from the Champions and Dark Champions settings published by Hero Games.


Nabiki sighed with relief as she leaned back in the chair in front of her desktop computer after finishing the latest news online from Hudson City — whatever had gone down overnight, apparently none of the dead included garishly dressed too-old adolescents. Ranma should be fine. Now if he'll just remember to call today, she grumbled to herself. If he hasn't called by the time I get home from school I'm calling him, hang the expense.

Then her reverie was broken by a jaw-breaking yawn, and she grimaced as she glanced at the clock. It was too damn early in the morning, but the worries she refused to show anyone wouldn't let her sleep. Well, by this time Kasumi should be up and the coffee percolating. Nabiki straightened and was just beginning to shut down her computer when a new email alert popped up. She stiffened when she saw the email's sender, and opened it up. She quickly realized that she wasn't going to be going to school that day, after all.

/\

Kasumi looked up from the breakfast preparations as her younger sister shuffled into the kitchen. "Good morning, Nabiki, you're up early. The coffee will be ready in a minute," she said brightly, before turning back to her work. She quickly surveyed the makings for miso soup a second time to make sure she hadn't prepared breakfast for six again. She hated to throw food away, and with Ranma and Genma gone there wasn't anyone to vacuum up whatever everyone else didn't want.

As she continued her work she allowed her hands to guide themselves through their long-familiar task as she kept an eye on her sister. Nabiki was slouched against the kitchen counter, waiting patiently for the coffee to finish brewing. That patience was not normal, not for Nabiki — the middle Tendo had always wanted what she wanted right now! And so when she had to wait for anything she would fidget, and mutter, and tap things with her fingernails, anything to let those around her know that she wasn't happy. But now not only was she perfectly still, but her eyes were roaming the kitchen as if she were trying to memorize every scratch and stain (most of those legacies of Akane's attempts to cook).

Kasumi struggled with herself for a moment. She preferred to be an observer and silent supporter rather than an active participant in the chaos that swirled through the district, and the latest events surrounding Ranma and Akane had pulled her far out of her comfort zone. But her little sister's breakdown and departure had also taught her the price of staying within that comfortable isolation, and that in Kasumi's own way she had been as bad as her father. So now she forced herself to ask, "Nabiki, what's wrong? Has ... has something happened to Ranma?"

"What? No, not as far as I can tell. There was some sort of fight in Hudson City and Manning-san — the woman Ranma saved when Genma died — was rescued. The news reports aren't saying yet who died during her rescue, but they are saying that they are 'a Japanese businessman and his employees'." Nabiki smiled viciously. "Translate that as 'oyabun and his thugs' and you'll be closer to the truth, I think, and that definitely doesn't describe Ranma — a brainless jock sometimes, but never a thug."

"Is it Akane then?" Kasumi couldn't imagine how that could be, not after Akane was diverted to Millennium City, on the Champions' own jet! But she couldn't think of anything else that could be a problem.

"No, I haven't heard anything more about Akane but I imagine she's fine." Nabiki hesitated, then straightened, taking a deep breath. "Kasumi, we're going to have to leave — all of us. I think we'll have to sell the house."

"What!?" Kasumi whirled to face her sister, unmindful of the clatter of the knife she'd been using on the fish hitting the floor. "Leave? Sell our home? But why?"

"Because of Kuno." Nabiki shifted her gaze to look out over Kasumi's shoulder through the window at the light of the early morning sunrise. "Just before coming down I got an email from Zodiac. He says that that nutcase will be free in a few days, and you know he'll come after us when he does, demanding that his 'loves' be returned to him." Her mouth twisted as if she wanted to spit but she swallowed instead, and Kasumi found herself having to fight back the urge to giggle. Not in my kitchen! But the moment of amusement vanished as Nabiki continued: "It's best if we're gone before he's free, or things will get uglier than they already are. We won't have Ranma and Genma here to protect us, after all, and Dad is badly out of practice. And Zodiac says that the Super Squad's minders are leery of the team guarding us personally after a judge rules that Kuno isn't really a threat to the public. Sure, we could set up a hotline to alert them if he comes after us, but it would take them time to get here — a quarter hour at best, probably, assuming they aren't on a mission somewhere. By that time we could all be dead. There's no way his lawyers could save Kuno from the repercussions, however good they are or how much influence his father has, but that wouldn't do us much good."

"I ... okay, that makes sense, but ... sell our home? We grew up here, Mother died here! Please, there has to be a way to avoid that!"

But Nabiki was shaking her head. "Kasumi, we're going to be starting over in a new location on short notice, we'll need all the money we can get. Besides, even if we didn't need the money ... I'm thinking we should join Ranma and Akane. If we do, we can't have any links here. Even paying the property taxes could leave a trail that Kuno's people could follow back to us. You remember what Ranma told us about his new curse, we have to keep him away from Kuno at all costs."

Kasumi stared at her sister, mind blank as she tried to make sense of what had happened to her world. She didn't realize that the dampness on her cheeks were her tears until Nabiki sighed, and stepped forward to pull her into a hesitant hug. "I'm sorry, big sis," she murmured as Kasumi finally broke down.

/\

Throughout the rest of that long day, as Kasumi broke the news to their father over breakfast and had to deal with his wailing breakdown, then began the heartbreaking task of packing what they absolutely needed right away and boxing up what could wait (Nabiki was sure the Tokyo Super Squad would be willing to store their effects until they had a place to discreetly send them), as she found herself imitating her sister in trying to memorize every nick and scratch, stain and hole that a lived-in residence picks up (especially the last, for anywhere that Akane and Ranma lived), there was one ray of light in the darkness threatening to roll over her — Nabiki had actually hugged her, had tried to comfort her — she hadn't been very good at it, but she'd tried. Kasumi might be losing the only home she'd ever known, but she also might finally be getting back her sister. On reflection, that wasn't a bad trade at all.

/oOo\

DarkAngel stared out over the nighttime Hudson City from her perch on the edge of the roof. Her cape was tucked around her, but her need was more psychological than physical — her costume's insulation could handle the chill of a New Jersey winter night without a problem, but it didn't help with the memory of the news reports of the corpses of two young women the police had found when they searched the Sawakiri-gumi headquarters. None of the vigilantes had been close to the part of the mansion where the corpses had been found so they'd had no chance to prevent the murders, but if there'd been no raid the women would probably have still been alive — a fairly short and horrible life as prostitutes in Japan, from what the Stanson sisters had reported before their murders, but alive.

The sound of footsteps in the loose rooftop debris from behind her alerted her to the approach of Sergeant Amado, and a few moments later he was swinging his legs over the edge of the roof to sit beside her. The two sat in silence for a few minutes, until DarkAngel finally asked, "How are the girls?"

"You haven't been watching the news?"

DarkAngel shrugged. "Sure, but that just tells me what they want me to know. How are they really?"

"Well, this time the newsies got it right," Sergeant Amado replied. "I imagine they're going to spend a lot of time talking to psychiatrists, but physically they'll be fine — just the in-and-out gunshot to the leg for Jacky and a scratched arm for Moira."

"I'm glad." After a few more minutes of silence, DarkAngel said, "As good as it is to see you again, I don't imagine you asked for a meeting out of the pleasure of my company. Not as busy as you must be right now. What's up?"

Sergeant Amado leaned back to brace himself up on his back-stretched arms. "How's Bluejay?"

"She's alive, if dopey with painkillers," DarkAngel replied. "Her broken arm is simple enough, but her shoulder's a nightmare — no way any doctor she can get to without going to jail can put that back together. No doctors here, anyway, so she's going to be taking a long foreign vacation."

"Japan, I take it?" When DarkAngel glanced over at him, Sergeant Amado continued, "Chrysanthemum paid me a visit before the raid. How did you think she was able to find you?"

"She told me," DarkAngel said, voice harsh.

Sergeant Amado's eyebrows rose at the unusually abrupt response — and the tone didn't seem to fit the subject matter. He asked, "So, Bluejay isn't likely to face any legal difficulties for the two men she killed — the fact that the men had been shooting at Jacky and Moira, the way she killed them and the damage Jacky and Moira have said she took in the process will see to that. Do you think Bluejay will end up on the Tokyo Super Squad once she's recovered?"

DarkAngel barked a surprised laugh at the thought. "Bluejay? Not likely! She likes the high life too much to get by on what they'd be willing to pay her, and she's not the type to put her life on the line. On the other hand," she added thoughtfully, "I wouldn't have thought she'd have done what she did so I suppose anything is possible. Still, I'm just happy she'll be all right." She smiled at the thought of her brief visit with her friendly enemy a few days before. Though spacey and only half-coherent from the painkillers and practically strapped down to the bed to keep her from moving her shoulder, Linda had been cheerful, talking of all the places in Japan she would visit after her shoulder healed enough to get around.

Then DarkAngel's thoughts fell back into the rut they'd been in before Sergeant Amado arrived, and her mood darkened again. She said, "Certainly better off than the other two girls you found."

Ah, so that was it. Sergeant Amado said, "You know, Jacky was in that mansion for months, she's been giving us quite a list of names and descriptions of girls that passed through the mansion before being shipped on to Japan. Now that the Japanese know which collection of yakuza thugs to blame for the Stanson sisters' assassination at the US embassy, they're going to come down on them like the wrath of God. But I don't expect many of those girls will be found alive, or at all. Still, any that we do get back will be because of the opportunity you gave Jacky. Yes, those two girls died because of your raid, but if it had been SWAT instead it would be five corpses instead of two, no way we would have been able to get in fast enough, sow enough confusion as you did, to give Deborah, Jacky and Moira the chances they needed to escape. And that's assuming we would have moved before they were shipped out, which I doubt — not as hot as the whole situation was making things. And if it hadn't been for you and Bluejay I wouldn't have been looking that way at all, not seriously — no reason to. It's possible things would have quieted down for lack of leads and the whole sex slavery pipeline would have stayed open. No, you did good."

For a moment he thought she was going to reject what he'd said, but she finally relaxed, shoulders slumping. "I know," she agreed, "it's just ..."

"It's just you'd rather there were no bodies in the morgue at all, I know," he finished. "Of course, in a perfect world you wouldn't be needed, and neither would I." He straightened. "But I didn't call you here to ask about Bluejay, or tell you about the girls. I've noticed that when one of your cases involves dead civilians you take a little vacation, after. Were you intending to this time, as well?"

"Yeeessss," DarkAngel replied slowly, "I am. And not just to recover, I have some personal issues to deal with. Is there a problem with that?"

"Not at all," he assured her. "In fact, you should extend your vacation."

DarkAngel stiffened. "Why?" she demanded, voice hard.

Sergeant Amado sighed, leaning forward and staring across the city. "Because there's a problem with Nakamura's murder scene," he said. "We can't find the gun that killed him, and the only people that we know of that left the crime scene are you and Deborah. That doesn't mean that someone else wasn't there, but we can't find any evidence that there was." He glanced over at the now stiff woman beside him. "Deborah killed him, didn't she?"

DarkAngel's mind raced over her options, but her decision was easy — she trusted the career cop, and not just because he was honest. Since her first encounter with the sergeant after her rape, she had known that even after years on the force he still cared. "Yes," she replied. "How did you know?"

"Her hands and arms were too clean," he said. "Better than gunpowder residue, but still a red flag. We aren't going to find the gun, are we?"

Now DarkAngel paused — this was pushing the limits a bit. Still ... Hesitantly, she answered, "No ... you won't."

"I didn't think so." Sergeant Amado rubbed at his face. "Stacy, you stepped over the line," he said quietly. "I understand why. It's a tremendous temptation that any career investigator is going to face sooner or later, when the evidence clearly implicates someone whose situation is so godawful that the thought of dumping them into the legal system is unbearable. It's so easy to make it all go away with some lost evidence — tainted, mislabeled, misfiled, stored in the wrong location, simply gone. But you can't do this again."

DarkAngel froze as the sergeant used her actual name, answering her speculations on whether he knew who she was, then sagged in relief as he finished — he wasn't shutting her down, not yet. But his unspoken message was clear: If I need to shut you down, I can. Not without risking his own career, perhaps even jail time, but he could do it. "How much trouble am I in?" she asked in a small voice.

Sergeant Amado let the moment stretch out, then answered, "Not much. Everyone investigating the case knows what the deal is, and while they might not have done what you did they will be willing to play along now that it's a done deal. We still have weeks of investigating to do, but the report is going to conclude that the evidence doesn't single out any particular shooter. But if we don't pin it on Deborah, we have to leave open the possibility that you shot him instead and that isn't going to go away. If you have any legal trouble down the line, you'll find this getting dragged into it even if only by implication."

He rose to his feet and stretched, then offered the vigilante a hand up. "Go home, Stacy," he said softly. "Take your break, put the deaths behind you, get Ranma settled in and trained some more on watching out for bystanders — while Kumon said that he was the one that brought down part of the mansion, not 'Cherub', your new partner didn't try to prevent it, maybe even encouraged it, and it's a special miracle that no one was injured but Kumon. Hell, help Bluejay get out of the country, if you need to. And let the fallout settle a bit. You aren't the only one protecting Hudson City, we can do without you for awhile. Not that there won't be plenty for you to do when you and 'Cherub' come back."

DarkAngel nodded and shook out her cape. "Good advice, George, I think I'll take it. See you around."

"See you around." He watched, smiling, as the blonde vigilante dove off the side of the building, her swingline shooting out to the building across the street, and with her arcing swing her dark costume quickly merged with the night's shadows in a cross-street alley and she was gone.

/oOo\

As the passenger jet came in for the landing, Akane stared out her window at the city that was going to be her new home. At least, what she could see of it — a storm front had just moved through and the clouds were still clearing. Unlike the bright, sunny (if chilly) day it had been when Defender and Witchcraft smuggled her into the Wayne County Metropolitan Airport — Millennium City's main air hub — the youngest Tendo found the current dim gray light and snow flurries a much better fit for her mood.

Come on, girl, perk up — it's Ranma. You've only been obsessing about him since you learned about the attack in the park!

She tried, really she did. It shouldn't have been all that hard — in spite of her hosts' attempts to distract her during the days she had been the guest of America's premier superhero team, Ranma and the situation he had found himself in (or she had found herself in, it seemed) had never been far from Akane's thoughts. How dare that idiot get himself into serious trouble without her there to help out!

Word that the excitement in Hudson City was over and she only had to wait for the media to let Ranma and his new guardian again sink into obscurity in order to resume her journey had actually allowed her to relax and enjoy herself and play the tourist. Millennium City was one of the world's modern marvels, after all, built on the rubble of Detroit after the fight with Dr. Destroyer destroyed most of the city in 1992. (Too bad it didn't actually kill him, too, like everyone had thought at the time.) The "Smart Roadway" system inside the Loop alone was talked about all over the world — though not all of the talk was positive, the Civil Libertarians found the vehicle tracking system deeply disturbing. Not in Japan, though, there all the talk was about how to emulate it without having to shut down entire cities while the roads were completely torn up and rebuilt — and especially how to pay for it.

The tourist act had lasted for less than a day, until the forwarded email from Kasumi of the latest development in Nerima, that not only was she not going to be going home anytime soon, but likely wasn't going to have a home to return to. With that, all eagerness to rejoin her fiancé had vanished in a world gone black.

"Miss? Miss? Excuse me, Miss, it's time to debark."

Akane jerked at the light touch on her shoulder and twisted around to look up into the concerned eyes of a cute flight attendant not too many years older than her with hair the same shade as Ranma's, then looked past her. Akane couldn't see much, what with the high backs of the passenger seats, but the plane was oddly silent after hours of the background noise of all those people in an enclosed space. She had gotten so lost in her thoughts that the plane had landed and everyone else had debarked, and she hadn't noticed.

"Are you all right, Miss? Is there anything I can do for you?" the flight attendant asked, and Akane forced a smile.

"No. I fine. I just thought filled." She winced, blushing at her English, and again reminded herself that she owed Shampoo an apology. Her stay with the Champions — none of whom spoke Japanese — along with the hours she had spent haunting the news channels had done wonders for her English comprehension but little for her ability to speak it.

The flight attendant looked doubtful, but she just said, "Well, whoever is waiting for you is probably wondering where you are. You'd better hurry."

"Right!" Akane scrambled out of her seat and pulled her carry-on out of the overhead bin and hurried for the exit.

It was the work of a few minutes to get off the plane and out of the boarding area, and she looked around the crowded concourse for that familiar face. Not that she was expecting it to be easy — everyone here was too tall!

{Hey, Tomboy! Over here!}

Akane turned to see a familiar redheaded girl next to taller woman with short blond hair and a little earth-haired girl. The next thing she knew she was slamming into her fiancé, knocking her back a step as Akane's arms circled her. {Ranma, I want to go home!} she wailed.

Hesitantly, Ranma returned her tight embrace, awkwardly patting her on the back. {I know, Akane, me, too. I guess we'll just hafta make a new one.} It took long minutes for Akane to calm down enough to realize she was making a scene and pull away, blushing furiously.

"Here." The older woman handed Akane a tissue, and when she looked at it in confusion added, "For the tear tracks."

"Oh." Her blush actually intensifying, Akane hastily wiped at her damp cheeks and eyes.

"Yeah, uh, Akane, this is Hunter Stacy, uh, Stacy Hunter, my new guardian and Kat's mother. We'll be staying with her," Ranma said hastily, switching to English. "Stacy, Akane, my fian — ah ... friend. And the kid is ..." Ranma looked around. "Kat? Kat! Where are you?"

"Here!"

Akane jumped at the sound of the little girl's voice right behind her, and turned to find Kat struggling to lift her carry-on. "Here, you dropped this," the girl said.

Akane reached down to relieve her of her burden. You strong," she said, trying for a lighthearted tone.

"Nu-uh," Kat disagreed, "but I will be! Neechan's training me!" she peered up at the newcomer. "Are you Neechan's girlfriend?"

"Uh ... I her friend and I girl, so yes."

Kat frowned. "No, I mean, are you her girlfriend, like my friend Olivia's two mommies?"

"Why you think so?" Akane asked, trying to ignore the fresh heat in her cheeks. She glanced sideways to find Ranma blushing as red as her hair while Stacy's face had the tight look of someone trying desperately not to laugh.

"Because she goes all gooey-eyed when she talks about you, just like Daddy and Mamma Jenny," Kat said. "It looks icky, but Mamma Jenny says I'll be like that too, when I grow up. Yuck!" She made a face, and then glared at her mother when Stacy finally lost control of her laughter, before looking up at Akane again. "So, are you?"

Akane opened her mouth to hotly deny she was any such thing, only to pause as her brain caught up with her mouth. Genma wasn't going to be around with his "manliness" crap. From what Kasumi's emails had said, Ranma was going to be spending most of his time in girl form. Akane was hoping to go to the same school as Ranma. She was going to be making new friends. And while her protestations that she and Ranma were barely even friends might have fooled most people most of the time, she had never been able to convince Yuka and Sayuri, not really — at most they had played along. True, they had known her all her life, but still ... Gooey-eyed?

She crouched down in front of Kat. "Yes, I be girlfriend of Ranma," she said, then glanced up as Ranma made a choking sound, and grinned at the stunned expression on the redhead's face before turning back to Kat. "But you no tell people, some not understand."

"Your English isn't very good, is it? Better than my Japanese, though. Neechan's teaching me that, too," Kat announced, then nodded. "But yeah, I know — Olivia used to get teased about her mothers by some of the boys, until I made them stop."

Stacy stopped laughing to look down sternly at her daughter. "Is that the fight Mamma Jenny was called to the school for?"

"Uh ..." Kat's eyes fell to examine the toes of her boots before perking up. "Hey, Neechan said that after we picked up Akane we can get ice cream, so let's go!" And with that she charged toward the exit.

"Kat, you get back here!" Stacy yelled, charging after her daughter.

Akane laughed as she jogged after the two, Ranma beside her. {Ice cream? She's your sister, all right,} she commented to Ranma. And Kat was — she may have been a brunette, but once one looked beyond that the resemblance was unmistakable. So was the attitude. Then Akane grinned. {Gooey-eyed?} she asked, and laughed again as a sidelong glance showed Ranma blushing furiously ... again. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad, after all.


So that's that, this story's put to bed. There's plenty of room for a sequel, of course: Kumon wants a rematch, to find out if Ranma knows about the Umisenken or can lead him to it; the rest of the Tendos will be arriving and everyone settling in; Ranma's mother has yet to arrive on the scene; some of the other usual suspects in Nerima will be wondering where Ranma and the Tendos went to; Kuno will hunting them; Ryoga hasn't shown up in Hudson City yet; and that's just the Ranma side of things, DarkAngel has her own cast of villains and murderous vigilantes to fight. Still, I doubt I'll ever write that sequel. This hasn't been exactly one of my most popular stories, and there are any number of other stories I'd like to write. I suppose this could be considered up for adoption by anyone that wants to write a sequel instead, not that I think anyone needs my permission to write one anymore than we need Takahashi's permission to write these fanfics in the first place.

The chapter title comes from the song from the play Fiddler on the Roof, after the Jews in a small town in Russia have been told that they all have to pack up and leave the country. Though Kasumi and Akane are a bit more upbeat in the end.

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.
A pot, a pan, a broom, a hat.

Someone should have set a match to this place years ago.
A bench, a tree.
So, what's a stove? Or a house?
People who pass through Anatevka don't even know they've been here.
A stick of wood. A piece of cloth.

What do we leave? Nothing much.
Only Anatevka.

Anatevka, Anatevka.
Underfed, overworked Anatevka.
Where else could Sabbath be so sweet?
Anatevka, Anatevka.
Intimate, obstinate Anatevka,
Where I know everyone I meet.

Soon I'll be a stranger in a strange new place,
Searching for an old familiar face
From Anatevka.

I belong in Anatevka,
Tumble-down, work-a-day Anatevka.
Dear little village, little town of mine.