This was originally published by me under the name Anduril at Anime Addventures, with the only changes being a few corrections in spelling, punctuation and the occasional word choice to make things clearer. If you like the beginning of my story but think I've gone off the rails, or have your own ideas for a great branch-off, or think I'm taking too long to update and want to continue the story yourself, come to Anime Addventures and join in the fun!
I claim no ownership rights to any of the works of Rumiko Takahashi, Naoko Takeuchi, or anything in the GURPS Ogre and GURPS Tales of the Solar Patrol settings published by Steve Jackson Games. Everything else is mine.
Dressed in the same blue and silver silk cheongsam she had worn at the welcoming banquet when she took the oaths of the Amazon elders, Ranma stood in the afternoon sunlight on the podium behind Ku Lon gazing out over the ranks of Amazon warriors before them, all of them that weren't dead or too badly wounded to stand. The calm at her core shivered whenever she allowed herself to consider how few of them there were, less than half of those that had charged into battle that morning. That calm would have been impossible under the weight of the emotions beating on her from the crowd, if pride hadn't been well mixed with the outpouring grief. A pride that had strengthened as Ku Lon had spoken.
I'm gonna hafta concentrate on learnin' their version a' Chinese, Ranma thought. As Princess Yasuko, she should have been the one giving the speech, however much the thought petrified her. But too few of them understood Japanese and this wasn't the kind of oration that could be handled by an interpreter. (Not that the blushing, stammering version she was likely to have given would have been much of an improvement.)
Mind, it would have been nice to understand just what Ku Lon was saying. Ranma's eyes shifted to her left, to where Xian Pu stood ramrod straight. She had offered to interpret, but Ku Lon has advised against it — the sight of her great-granddaughter constantly whispering in their princess's ear would have distracted from the solemnity of the occasion for the warriors watching them. Ranma had almost agreed to it anyway, just to give her friend something to distract her from her grief, but in the end she'd reluctantly agreed with Ku Lon — Xian Pu wasn't the only one hurting, and she had to consider the needs of all her people. (Ranma fought to keep from shuddering at the thought.)
Now, she was glad she'd decided as she had. Xian Pu's grief hadn't lessened, but she, too, had been impacted by the elder's oration, and the growing pride was making the pain easier to bear, both for Ranma and she suspected for Xian Pu — for now, at least.
On Ranma's right, Akane lightly brushed against her leg, and Ranma glanced over. Even with all the heavy emotions beating on the princess, she felt a thrill rush through her at the sight of her lover in her own red and gold cheongsam, and the clear, emotion-clean ki radiating from the firmly centered girl was as refreshing as clear, cold water.
Just then, Ku Lon's voice raised, and Ranma recognized the phrase the Elder had told her and Akane would finish her speech, and the ranks of warriors lifted the unlit torches each held and shouted out. We're on.
Turning, Ranma lifted her own unlit torch and thrust the end into the brazier behind her. Stepping down from the podium, she paced to the back of the warriors, then along the ranks, looking each warrior in the eye as she lit her torch.
As she lit the last torch, Akane and Xian Pu stepped down to join her. The three walked around the podium to face the concentric rings of biers made of oil-soaked wood, each bearing a single body. In the center was a single bier, twice as high as any of the rest.
They walked slowly into the center, Xian Pu stopping at a bier in the innermost ring where the body of Mu Tse rested while Ranma and Akane took positions at opposite ends on the bier in the center, on which lay the body of Kuno Tatewaki. Other than moving them onto the biers, the bodies had not been touched — the Amazons sent their battle dead to their reward with the proof of their honor visible to all.
Then Ku Lon walked through the center ring to join Ranma and Akane. "My Princess, everyone's in place, it's time," she said quietly.
Ranma nodded, throat too tight to speak, and stepped forward to thrust her torch into the bier, Akane a second behind her. The two stepped back as fire raced through the pile. Remembering the movie about the American battle where she'd broken an armrest during the pre-movie news reel, on impulse Ranma raised a knife-hand to her forehead in salute. Goodbye, Kuno. Ya were a massive pain in the ass the entire time I knew ya, until the end, but that made up fer all the rest.
Then, as Akane joined her and Ku Lon, they stepped out of the center to join Xian Pu. The purple-haired girl thrust her own torch into Mu Tse's bier as soon as they reached her, the warriors on either side following suit, and fair raced around from bier to bier as they continued out circle by circle, until in the end they were again standing in silence outside the final ring, the heat of the fires roaring in the center of the park beating on their faces.
Eventually, Ranma noticed that the number of warriors was diminishing, individuals and groups breaking away to walk around the conflagration toward the buildings where they'd spent the previous night. "What now?" she asked the tiny woman beside her.
Ku Lon sighed. "Now, we pack up to return to the village. Normally, after a victorious battle we'd camp close to the battlefield and spend the night talking about the battle, honoring our dead with our remembrances, then in the morning collect bones and ashes for final burial. But this time there's just too many dead — so many where nobody knows how they died, because all that saw are among the dead themselves. So we will pack up to return to the village. General Hara has a map of how the biers were laid out, with the names of the fallen. He's promised to have bones and ashes respectfully collected and sent to us. What about Kuno? I must admit I was a little surprised that he was included in our ceremony, much less given pride of place."
Ranma's face hardened. "When everything was over, I called Principal Kuno ta tell him what happened an' ask what he wanted done with his son's body. Take out all the weird words, an' it came down ta 'do what ya want with the idiot's body, I couldn't care less'. So instead a' sendin' his ashes back ta that nuthouse, I'm makin' 'em the first addition ta a new shrine back at the palace."
"A fine decision," Ku Lon agreed, glancing at the young redhead and fighting the temptation to smile — her Princess was coming along nicely. Then, as she focused again on the burning biers, all temptation to smile vanished. She remembered the conversation months earlier with Lady Pluto in a backroom at the new Cat Café, how blasé she had been about changing her people's ways to meet the needs of their new circumstances. But this ...
"We aren't going to be able to survive this," she murmured, eyes fixed on the conflagration.
"What?" Ranma exclaimed. "But the battle's done, we've taken care a' the wounded —"
Ku Lon shook her head. "No, with the number of dead and crippled we will be hard pressed to raise the children we have now, and the next generation will be much smaller. Combined with needing to adjust to our new home, men leaving because they'd rather adapt Japanese ways, within fifty years we will be a shadow of what we were. And unlike the last time we were hurt this badly millennia ago, we cannot simply pack up and find somewhere that we can be alone in our ways while we recover."
As Xian Pu stared at her great-grandmother in horror, Ranma frowned at the thought, then grinned. "So if ya can't hold on ta three thousand years a' tribal tradition, why don't ya go back ta the really old ways? Didn't ya say you were military before you were a people ... a regiment?"
Ku Lon looked up, startled. "Now, that is an interesting thought, youngling, a very interesting thought. I will have to give it some consideration. But for now, we have to be moving on."
"Yeah, Akane an' me hafta get ta the hospital," Ranma agreed. "Hinako-sen — Hinako's hurt real bad, an' I need ta heal her. An' Puu said Saturn's in the same room, recovering from overusing her power. Should I be up at the village fer anything right away?"
Ku Lon shook her head. "No, not right away. Eventually, a speech about how well we did and how grateful you are for your people's sacrifice would not be amiss — basically the oration you would have given today, if you could speak our language. But your people will understand if it waits a few days."
Ranma grimaced but reluctantly nodded.
Beside her, Xian Pu spoke up. "Great-grandmother, you will need to find bodyguards for Ranma — for the Princess. I have a Hunt."
Even as Ku Lon wearily nodded her agreement, Ranma asked, "How many are ya takin' with ya?"
"Then if ya find him, ya aren't tryin' for him 'til ya call us up an' more warriors join ya," Ranma stated. Running over Xian Pu's instant objections, she continued, "Ya aren't good enough to beat him alone, and ya know it — I was able ta beat you when he was winning our fights regularly. I'm not lettin' ya throw yer life away." Her voice growing softer, she added, "We'd miss you."
Fighting back tears, Xian Pu finally nodded, then forced a watery grin. "Very well, I will honor my Princess's wishes."
Ranma snorted and smacked her lightly on the arm. She and Akane said goodbye to their elder, and headed off as Xian Pu turned back to the burning biers, eyes searching for an inner bier hidden by the leaping flames.
Ku Lon watched the lovers stride away, a grin she hadn't let them see on her face as she saw Akane tug at the high hem of her dress. Yes, my Princess is coming along very nicely, indeed. Turning back to her great-granddaughter, she leaped up to the top of her staff and reached out to rub her hand along the small of Xian Pu's back. "Xian Pu, I can't stay, I'm needed elsewhere," she apologized.
Xian Pu nodded without looking down. "I understand. Go ahead, great-grandmother, I'll just stay here awhile longer before packing."
Genma sighed with relief as he slung the pack off his back and dropped it to the ground. It had been a long day since he had exercised the Saotome Final Technique — first back to his house to grab the pack he kept always ready for sudden 'training trips' along with a few essentials, the entire run wrapped in the Umisenken and praying to all the kami that the Pluto bitch that he hadn't realized could teleport wouldn't be waiting with friends for him there; then hours riding the tops of trains away from Tokyo; then, more hours hiking high up to a tiny mountain glade he and Ranma had found on the training trip and used several times.
Here, he should be able to stay a few restful days waiting for everyone to calm down. After all, it was an accident, right? At least, that was what he'd be able to tell everyone, and who would be able to say otherwise? He'd probably even be able to convince the worthless girl that had replaced his son to pay out the lifetime support even though he hadn't stuck around for the full battle. Why would they expect him to stay when his own allies are attacking him?
Glancing around the glade, Genma nodded in satisfaction. I don't think anybody's been here since the last time me and ... since I was here. At least, the firewood's still where ... still stacked after a couple of years. Looks like I should have the place to myself as long as I need. So, just get the tent up and a fire started for supper, but first ... He opened his pack and rummaged about for a moment before pulling out the bottle of sake he'd grabbed from the house on his way through. After the day he'd had, he needed to relax a bit.
Genma had been right about not being disturbed, it would be over three months before hikers stumbled across his body. Bones by that time, rather, cause of death never to be determined, much less to whom they belonged.
Setsuna sat down on the chair she'd brought with her this visit to the Time Gates. Unscrewing the cap off the bottle of sake that she'd switched out for one at the Saotome home within minutes of Mu Tse's murder, she raised it as an informal toast to Hild and the new toy she'd given her to play with. Sorry, Belldandy, but I'm just not as strong as you are, she thought in apology to her absent friend, and tilted the bottle back for a long gulp before activating the Gates to begin her traditional end to a successful major intervention, the after action check to look over what everyone else had been up to while she was cleaning up and to see if any minor unforeseen quirks might possibly blow up into major future shifts. But she suspected that this time she might have to do it twice, because getting absolutely, totally plastered wasn't usually part of the proceedings. At least she could get smashed, sleep it off, do the recheck if necessary and be back in the real world at the instant she left it, thanks to the fact that the Time Gates weren't in the same time frame.
Through the millennia, and especially since the failure with Camelot that had almost destroyed her and her friend with her, she had forced herself to always remember that the tools she was manipulating had feelings and dreams of their own, something her friendship with Belldandy had helped with immeasurably. But for all that, she'd also taken to heart the second lesson from that disaster, to never get too involved — to not get emotionally attached to people she was manipulating. And so, for almost fifteen hundred years she had limited her friendships to people that were so insightful or powerful that manipulating them was either impossible or extremely stupid.
Since the awakening of the Senshi that had not been possible, and she had been dreading the fight with the Confederacy and Hotaru's death for years, terrified of what it — and the accompanying break with Uranus and Neptune — was going to do to her. But that was what the future had required; Hotaru would have gone to her death willingly and with eyes open, a soldier rather than a victim, and the Senshi of Time had been grimly determined to do her duty.
Then Ranma had awoken to her life as Yasuko, that duty had changed, and Hotaru had survived. So why did she feel even more guilty instead of less? It wouldn't be because it's Hotaru, Yasuko, Akane, Xian Pu and Ku Lon that are going to pay the price in heartbreak and nightmares instead of you, Haruka and Michiru, would it?
Setsuna raised the bottle for another healthy slug of saki and reflected that maybe Usagi would have a point. Maybe it was time to stop being responsible for everyone's future happiness, or at least would be soon. But whether it was or not, she'd think about it later after she sobered up. It was time to get the slide show started, and she leaned back as events scrolled across the view — tears and celebrations, marriages and more battles, babies and —
She jerked upright and froze the scene. Stared. Reversed it, and watched it again. Did a quick search through possible near-term futures. Sat back and stared thoughtfully at empty space for a time as she thought things over, then checked the futures again. Then carefully screwed the cap back on the bottle of sake. It looked like she wouldn't be getting drunk, after all.
In the room Xian Pu had been given in the hotel where the uninjured and lightly wounded Amazons were staying, she did her best to keep herself focused on the pack she was loading for the basic essentials for a weeks-long hunt for a murdering coward, estimating how long the dried food and yen she had would last. She didn't have much, most of her travelling supplies were in the palace suite back at Nikko she'd shared with Mu Tse. But if she went there to pick it up first, she'd have to face the weapons rack on the wall where her lover had kept weapons he was repairing and maintaining, the small table where he'd left the scroll of the tribe's history he'd been studying, the bed where they'd spent their nights. She knew in time she would have to take down and box up his things, give most to the poorer members of the tribe, keep what few memories that were all she had left of the young man she had known and adored most of her life, but not yet ... dear gods, not yet —
The knock on her door was a relief. "Come in!" she called out, only to feel her relief vanish as the last person she wanted to see walked through the door, Lady Pluto in her black and white mini-skirted fuku. Instantly Xian Pu felt her body preparing for battle, fought to keep from attacking the emerald-haired tribal legend, so intent on the focus of her fury that she barely noticed MacKenzie behind her. "You knew!" she shouted, fists clenched, using her anger to fight back tears.
MacKenzie tried to step in front of Pluto, only to run into Pluto's outstretched arm. "No need," she whispered. Focusing back on the distraught girl, she shook her head. "No, I didn't know. I knew it was a possibility, of course, but not a very likely one. Actually, your death was more likely than his. I don't know why Doug was paying more attention to Genma than to a horde of approaching soldiers all eager to kill him."
Xian Pu stared, her anger evaporating, then fell back to sit on the bed, remembering why she had passed the job of getting Genma ready for the battle to Jen Ni. "Why? If there was a chance the Panda would try to kill me, why was he asked to join us?"
Pluto sighed with relief, shoulders slumping. "Because of Hinako-kun. Without Genma, Yasuko wouldn't have allowed her to join us, the chances of her death would have been too high. And without the two of them, the destruction of the columns would have taken considerably longer. How many more of your sisters, how many more JSDF soldiers would have died?"
Xian Pu stared at the wall for awhile, but eventually nodded as tears began to roll down her cheeks. "You are right, the risk of one life to save many, even his. It's why we fought, after ... after all ..."
This time, when MacKenzie stepped forward Pluto let him go. He sat on the bed beside the Amazon, pulled her into a hug and let her cry on his shoulder, while the Senshi of Time pulled the chair away from the room's desk and sat while the teenager cried herself out.
As Xian Pu finally brought herself under control and sat up, scrubbing at her cheeks, Pluto quietly cleared her throat to catch the other two's attention. "I am sorry to have to bring this up so soon, but events are moving a little fast, at the moment." She hesitated, shrugged, and continued, "Xian Pu, I am sorry to be blunt, but there's no point in hunting Genma, it's already handled. If he isn't dead yet, he will be within hours."
"What!" Xian Pu shot to her feet, rage again mottling her features. "No, he was my kill, you had no right!"
"No more than I did to help bring all of us together to make the defeat of the Confederacy possible," Pluto replied with a shrug. "Power carries its own responsibility. This isn't like the last time you came to Japan hunting someone, Xian Pu, you aren't under the radar anymore. If you did hunt Genma down and kill him, the government wouldn't be able to ignore it. Would the elders allow an outsider to come into your village and kill people with impunity, however well deserved? Is your vengeance worth the loss of your status as Champion and bodyguard to Princess Yasuko? And then there's your son to think of."
"My son? But I don't have ... I'm pregnant?" At Pluto's nod, Xian Pu collapsed back onto the bed. "I'm pregnant. I'm pregnant!" She smiled as fresh tears started, thinking of the new future ahead of her, looking after a little Mu Tse, telling him of his father, teaching him her art and praising him as Ranma and Mu Tse's family taught him theirs (of course he would be brilliant at all of them), pretending to disapprove when he began to notice the differences between boys and girls...
"And that brings us to the final point tonight," Pluto said, regretfully breaking into the young woman's daydreams. "It's also why I asked Doug-kun to come here with me — though I didn't tell him why in advance." She paused for a moment, trying to think of a way to break the news gently as the pair sitting on the bed exchanged puzzled glances. Finally she shrugged again. Might as well just tear off the band aid. "It would be a great favor to me if the two of you married." Waiting for a few moments for the stunned pair to collect themselves, she continued, "A child needs a father, and I'm just too busy to be a proper mother. I would like the two of you to raise little Shizukeza for me."
MacKenzie blanched. "We ... I ... you ..." he stammered as Xian Pu looked back and forth between them, realization dawning. For a moment, the pain lurking in her eyes lightened and her lips twitched with what could perhaps charitably be called a hint of a smile.
Pluto began to giggle, before sternly bringing herself back under control. "Yes, the Machiavellian schemer Meioh Setsuna, Lady Pluto, Guide of Humanity and Manipulator of Nations, forgot to use proper protection last night. It isn't often than something catches me completely by surprise, and even less often it's a pleasant one." Sobering, she turned to Xian Pu. "I know, you aren't ready to start another relationship, won't be for quite awhile. But it isn't like our babies are going to be born tomorrow.
"And Doug, I know you have the remainder of your current enlistment to finish, and were thinking of reenlisting. I was going to ask you not to anyway, to immigrate to Japan instead, in, say, about a year. There's an entire tribe of warriors here which know nothing of modern warfare, not to mention the Senshi and a certain Princess and her lover. They're going to need your help, and the men are going to need a role model for their new country. Besides, things in the United States are going to get ... ugly. In not all that many years, it will no longer be the country you take pride in serving. I'm going to strongly suggest to the rest of your clan that they move here, as well."
The two on the bed were exchanging glances again, shy, troubled, thoughtful. "A year?" Xian Pu finally said. "I don't ... I'm not ..."
"You don't think you'll be ready that early?" Setsuna asked quietly. "You don't think you'll ever be ready? The pain at the mere thought of Mu Tse is too intense?" When Xian Pu jerkily nodded she continued, "I know it's a cliché, but it really does get better with time. The memories will be happy ones again, pain softened to melancholy and then changed to fondness. I know. And you will have your son — his son — to help. A year, to begin."
Xian Pu stared into dark red eyes soft with understanding sympathy, then dropped her eyes. "I ... maybe I'll be ready by then, yes. And you are right, little Mu Tse will need a father. Doug-sensei ... Doug-kun?"
Well, Doug? he thought through his shock. The girl sitting on the bed beside him was a far cry from the energetic, cheerful girl that had helped him train Yasuko and Akane, that he had found almost irresistible. (Her having a lover that could effortlessly dice him into tiny cubes in a stand-up fight had helped his restraint a great deal.) And she didn't love him, and perhaps never would. But then he glanced over at his family's patron and old friend, his eyes falling to her abdomen as he remembered what she'd said ... a daughter needed a father. And a mother, even more in the early years. And his family was likely to take their patron's advice very seriously, if they moved to Nikko as well... MacKenzie had grown up on a steady diet of country music, but his mother had met his father while he was in the Marines, assigned to a post in Washington, D.C., and she had brought a taste for Broadway musicals out west with her. As he thought of the possible future for him and Xian Pu if they married, he remembered a scene from Fiddler on the Roof, of a couple twenty-five years married, finally admitting that they loved each other. Finally he nodded, turning again to Xian Pu. "I know I can never replace Mu Tse, but if you think that I'd be a fit father for his son, if you're willing to be a mother for my daughter, how can I refuse?"
"Thank you," Xian Pu replied, forcing a tremulous smile. Rising to kneel on the bed, she lifted her hands to cup MacKenzie's cheeks and leaned forward to kiss him lightly on the mouth. "You, I love," she murmured softly, before dropping back to sit on the bed, hugging her legs to her chest with her face pressed against her knees, rocking slightly.
Pluto sighed, eyes watery. "Congratulations, Doug — proposal, acceptance, confirmation, all in front of an elder-equivalent of the tribe. You're married — by Amazon law, at least. Xian Pu, I'll have some papers for you and Doug-kun to sign tomorrow, to make it official by Japanese law."
Xian Pu nodded without looking up.
After a moment of silence, Pluto stood and motioned for MacKenzie to accompany her. He gently squeezed his new wife's shoulder, trying to offer a moment's comfort, then rose to join Pluto as she led the way out of the room and closed the door behind her. "Should we be leaving her alone?" he asked in English. "She needs help."
"Yes, but the prophetess that couldn't prevent her lover's death and the man that's replaced him aren't the two to give it," Pluto replied as she started walking down the hall toward the stairwell. "Akane has actually become a fairly close friend, and her big sister could mother an axe murderer; I'll ask them to come over and stay with her. Yasuko won't be waking up before morning at the earliest and Saturn will have the rest of her family and friends around when she wakes up, so they won't be missed much at the hospital.
"No, it's best if you spend as little time around Xian Pu as possible right now. In fact, you should probably get packed and ready to head back to base as soon as I can get you the paperwork for your marriage and you can say your goodbyes to Yasuko."
MacKenzie nodded, stopping at the stairwell door leading to his room's floor. "So what do I tell my folks?"
"Don't, not until you can talk to them in person — we really don't want this in writing or talked about over the phone. And by then, I can join you to explain things."
"Sounds good." He paused, searching for what to say to the abruptly revealed mother of his daughter.
Pluto waited for a few moments, then smiled and lifted up on tiptoes and pulled his head down to kiss him on the cheek. "Thank you for a wonderful time last night, and a very pleasant surprise tonight," she said. "Now get some rest, I'll see you in the morning."
She kept her smile up until MacKenzie had made his farewell and the stairwell door closed behind him, then slumped against the wall and rubbed tiredly at her eyes. Okay, head to the hospital, then one more stop for the night, and I can catch a few hours sleep before the city offices open.
Sailor Moon was jerked from her doze by the door to the hospital room knocking into her shoulder where she sat in a strategically placed chair. Sitting up and rubbing her eyes, she stood and stepped around to move the chair out of the way, careful not to hit anyone else in the badly overcrowded room.
Opening the door, she put a finger to her lips. "Shhhhh," she warned, then smiled at the sight of Sailor Pluto. Stepping aside, she motioned her in. "Welcome to the slumber party," she quipped.
Pluto stepped in past the two Amazon warriors that had parked themselves on either side of the doorway and closed the door, then looked around with a smile at all the slumbering bodies filling the room — Ranma lying on the bed with Hinako, their hands clasped and wrists strapped together, already in a shared healing trance (the former teacher still in her adult form, Pluto made a note to look into that), with Soun stretched out on the other side of the bed; Chibi-Moon on the other bed with Saturn, Neptune and Uranus sitting on the floor with their head pillowed on the bed beside them; Akane, Kasumi and Tofu, Ukyo and Konatsu, Nodoka and Nabiki all slumped in chairs.
Once it was clear that the battle was over and the tech-suppression field gone, Moon had healed as many as she still had strength for while Ranma had scanned the seriously wounded that Moon wasn't getting to and reported the exact damage (Akane joining her lover, as training in what the various ways to try and kill people with sharp objects looked like on the inside) before ambulances carried them away to all the hospitals close around and helicopters took care of wounded requiring more specialized care and hospitals further away. Meanwhile, Kasumi and Tofu had continued their work while the other Senshi pitched in to do what they could to help, even if that was simply binding up the lightly wounded and carrying stretchers. Nodoka and Nabiki had refused to evacuate before the battle, settling for putting a few buildings between them and the battle, and they had returned and pitched in as well.
But soon enough the wounded were all cared for, and while Ranma and Akane had stayed to do their part for the Amazon dead, the rest had naturally gravitated to the room that Hinako and Saturn shared. Since neither had anything wrong with them that the medical staff could help with, the grumbling nurses had allowed them to fill the room to bursting. But the lack of real concern about the invalids and the trials of the day had proven too much, and now the variety of snores that filled the room forced a quiet chuckle from Senshi of Time, joined by equally quiet giggles from her Princess.
The still giggling fuku-clad woman motioned for Pluto to take her chair and closed the door behind her, then sat on the floor and leaned back against the door. "So General Hara finally decided they didn't need you to interpret anymore?" she asked quietly.
"Yes, they finally brought in a replacement," Pluto replied, "a Catholic priest — for some reason, there just aren't many scholars that can speak Latin in Japan. Read it, yes, some; speak it, no." Chuckling again, she added, "Remind me to check the reaction to his report back at the Vatican, it should be entertaining."
Moon giggled again, then sobered as she noticed Pluto looking toward the youngest of the Senshi and her foster mothers. She glanced around at what she could see of the sleeping crowd.
I suppose this is as good a time for this as any, Pluto thought, glancing at the suddenly serious blonde when the giggles cut off. "Everyone's asleep," Pluto assured her Princess.
Moon gave her a sharp look, then nodded. Closing her eyes and leaning her head back against the door, she was silent for a long moment collecting her thoughts before asking, "Pluto, can we get by without the Time Gates? I don't like the decisions they force on you. I hate thinking of what would have happened if little sis hadn't woken up and Saturn had died, and what it would have done to you, and Neptune and Uranus."
"It would have been ugly," Pluto agreed. "You have no idea how deeply Neptune and Uranus love our little firefly, they would have never really recovered. All the way up to their deaths in 2072, they wouldn't forgive me." Moon bolted upright, eyes wide with horror. Pluto shook her head, smiling softly. "Relax. As you said, Yasuko woke up, that future is gone."
As Moon slumped in relief, Pluto's smile vanished, her face thoughtful. As for giving up the Time Gates, I just don't know. Tell me, have you noticed how, while all of you have grown stronger, more skilled with your powers, moved beyond the programmed attacks you had when you first awoke, I still have the same simple Dead Scream, and Chronos Typhoon and Garnet Ball if I have the Time Staff ready?"
Moon frowned in thought. "No, I hadn't noticed, really, but you're right. Why haven't you gotten better, like the rest of us?"
"Because I can't. Remember, when Beryl brought down the Moon Queendom, it was Saturn and me together that remade the Earth into a place where people could have something approaching a civilization without magitech. That effort killed Saturn, but me it only crippled. Since then, that's all I've had, and all I'm going to have — except the Time Gates."
"I see. I'm sorry," Moon said softly.
Pluto shrugged. "I've had four thousand years to get used to it, I hardly miss being able to send my mind dancing through the worlds."
The look Moon gave her mentor of years said she wasn't buying it, but after a moment she chose to let it pass for now. "What about if you simply shut down the part of the Gates that lets you see the possible futures?" she asked instead. "That would still make you the best spy a princess could ask for, without having to decide who risks dying because you meddled with their lives."
"That could work, eventually, but not for a few years, yet. There's still a few more ... interventions I need to make to cement our new future. Beyond that ... you may have the right idea. I don't know if I can selectively shut down the Time Gates' capabilities, but there's nothing that says I have to use them all." Okay, enough seriousness, and I need to get moving. And I know the perfect distraction.
Straightening, Pluto stretched and sighed. "But that's for later. For now, I just need to ask a favor of Akane and Kasumi. Then I'll have one more stop, and I'll be done for the day. By the way," she added as Moon stood up, "not everything I learn through the Time Gates makes for a horrible, gut-wrenching moral dilemma. For instance, I'm pregnant."
Moon's squee of delight woke up everyone in the room except Saturn, Ranma and Hinako.
Pluto leaned on the Time Staff, watching in the Time Gates as the same general that she'd seen the day she'd learned just how much the Imperial Household knew of the Senshi reported to Emperor Akihito and Crown Prince Akishino in the same working office as before on the cleanup after the battle, the hospitals overloaded with wounded, the special train for transporting most of the Amazons able to travel back to Nikko, the current disposition of the hundreds of surviving legionnaires, the footage the camera crews had captured and how much they wanted to reveal to the public. Eventually, he finished the report, the Emperor thanked him for his information, and he left.
Eleven minutes ago, the Senshi of Time thought, then fast-forwarded through the rest of the period up to the present moment and grinned. And it looks like afterward the Emperor and Crown Prince simply talked until now, it's almost as perfect as the last time.
Banishing the grin, she stepped into the office she had just been observing and calmly bowed to its startled occupants. "Your Majesty, your Royal Highness, I believe it is my turn to give an after action debriefing?"
"Yes, I believe your suggestion has merit," the Emperor agreed. "If we are unable to send them home, moving the legionnaires into a neighboring village will work about as well as we can expect. It will put them out of sight of most of the world and close to the Amazons, giving us a readily available force if they prove difficult. And with both groups so close together, it will be easier to further their acclimation."
"Thank you, your Majesty," Pluto said, bowing from where she knelt beside the same low table in the same informal meeting room as the last time. This time she wasn't as graceful, only just catching herself before plowing headfirst into the tea service, the same excellent green tea slopping from her cup across the tabletop.
The Emperor waved off her apologies even as the Crown Prince hastily wiped at the spreading liquid with a napkin, keeping it from escaping off the table. "It has been a hard day, you are exhausted and need your rest. Is there anything that truly cannot wait until later?"
Carefully putting the priceless tea cup down on its saucer, Pluto replied, "There is one thing. It isn't something that needs to be acted on right away, but at this point we need to make certain that we are on the same page — the real reason you originally wanted to speak with me." Turning to the Crown Prince, she continued, "Your offer of marriage to Princess Yasuko. You are still serious about it?"
Taking a moment to catch up with the abrupt shift in topic, the Crown Prince nodded. "Yes."
"You are aware that she and Akane are lovers? She isn't going to be willing to break that off, and even if she was she has no interest in men. Quite the opposite, actually, the last man to feel her up on a train needed a surgeon to reconstruct his hand. Any time she spends in your bed would be solely for appearances."
"Yes, I am aware of the relationship between her and Akane-san, and how strong it is. I would never demand that they separate, I'm sure we can come up with an explanation for her continual presence around the Princess. As for the rest, the truth is that since the deaths of my wife and children I have had no interest of that sort in any woman. I have no desire to try to change that with Princess Yasuko, however devastatingly cute she is. Children conceived through artificial insemination will be enough."
Pluto shook her head. "She won't be willing to agree to that, either, not for years if ever. But there shouldn't be any problem finding women eager to volunteer to be host mothers and keep it quiet. Still, even if she agreed to the marriage she'd need years of training before she'd be ready, and at least some of those years would be required to give the public time to adjust to the idea."
"I understand, that would not be a problem," Akishino agreed.
Pluto sat quiet for a long moment, before finally asking, "Why do you wish to make this offer?"
Crown Prince Akishino sighed, his eyes falling. "Because of the accident that killed my family, and my older brother and his family," he said. "I am not so sure that it was an accident. If I have no more children, I ... am not certain that the branch of the family that would fall heir to the emperorship would be what this country needs. I need a mother for my heirs that can survive further assassination attempts, if that is what it was."
"I see." Pluto looked over at Emperor Akihito. "Do you share your son's concerns?"
He nodded. "I do, on both counts."
She took a deep breath and straightened. "Your concerns are well founded, both of them, though the person who ordered the assassinations would not have gotten what he expected as a result. I have been playing a cat-and-mouse game with him for some time, and eventually I'll catch him — it's only a matter of time, and the final price. But I should be the one who makes the offer to Yasuko, at the proper time. Otherwise, she will simply refuse."
The Emperor and the Crown Prince exchanged glances, then Akishino bowed. Smiling slightly, he said, "You will make a more than acceptable omiai. I thank you for the offer."
Pluto fought her laugh down to a snort. Rising to her feet and staggering slightly as her hosts rose, she gave a slight bow, as much to avoid falling on her face from exhaustion as to maintain a level of equality. "I think that covers everything we need to discuss, so now I think I will seek that rest you mentioned."
The two men returned her bow and murmured their farewells, and Pluto stepped back to the Time Gates. I wonder if everyone has gone back to sleep? she thought, remembering the hospital room. If so, she could take one of the chairs that Kasumi and Akane had left behind...
The final episode for this story arc, and easily the longest I've ever done. I would have normally broken it up a bit, but with the grand finale done with I thought it best to get the epilogue handled in what turned out to be two episodes. Since the next story arc will be a new story, I'll be responding to reviews by PM and posting to my moribund forum.
However, one general comment on the fate of Genma: for all those that were looking forward to an unholy smackdown, sorry, but I personally think that for him, this is worse. Not only does he not go out in a blaze of glory and ends up at Hild's nonexistent mercies, but he completely vanishes from history. His Art is gone, his Name is gone, not only does no one know where he lies, but in time no one will know who he was. His life turned out to be that of a complete nonentity.
Also, the way he died says a lot about Setsuna, doesn't it?
And yes, I know this doesn't exactly feel like the end of a story, because it isn't. As Gandalf said to Bilbo in the cartoon version of The Hobbit, "This is only the beginning!"
The episode title comes from the song by the same name by Tracy Lawrence. Excerpted:
Have a beer for me, don't waste no tears on me
On Friday night sit on the visitor's side
And cheer for the home team
Drive my Camaro, 90 miles an hour down Red Rock Road
With 'Born to Run' blastin' on the radio
And find someone good enough for Amy
Who will love her like I would have
If I don't make it back
If the good Lord calls me home
I'd like to think my friends
Will think about me when I'm gone
Well, Miller Lite ain't my brand
But I drink one every now and then, in his honor
And we ain't missed a home game yet
Had that Camero at 110 on Red Rock Road
When the speakers blowed
And I introduced Amy to a friend of mine from Monroe
He's a good ol' boy
But you know, she just ain't ready
All the reviews I've gotten have been great, thanks much to everyone that took the time to drop a word (and occasionally a haiku).
Poetheather1: Glad you liked the bit with Kasumi. She's actually the reason I ended up with two wrap up chapters instead of one as originally planned. I realized I'd had herself push herself onto the battlefield, then hadn't shown her, bad form. But if I was going to include her in the aftermath, I had to include the surrender of the legionnaires around her, and suddenly I had another 2,000+ words. Oops.
Vld, tuatara: Yeah, this wasn't as bad as the destruction of the Moon Queendom/Lunar Empire (that involved the massacre of practically the entire population of I don't know how many worlds), but it was definitely bad enough.
Sparky555: Agreed, there are far too many outstanding abandoned stories—ones where I'm glad the author wrote as much as he or she did, but wish they'd keep it up. Which is why I've vowed that I will never abandon a story posted here. I may have it in my second tier or set it aside momentarily to concentrate on the end of another story, but I will come back to it.