I claim no ownership rights to any of the works of Rumiko Takahashi or Kosuke Fujishima, and certainly not anything owned by Warner Bros.


Slade Wilson knelt on one knee on the rough rock floor of a natural cavern lit only by the rivers of lava that ran through the room, his gaze lowered from the glowing white outlines of inhuman eyes. He was dressed in his usual dark blue and black armored costume, with its mask vertically divided between black and orange, but was untroubled by the intense heat as he listened to the deep, gravelly voice of his current employer.

"The time has come. The prophecy shall be fulfilled. Tonight at dusk when the planets align, the portal will be opened. Finally, the Earth shall be mine!"

"I will make sure that Raven realizes her destiny," Slade responded stolidly. "And for bringing you your precious portal, I expect you to keep your part of the bargain and return what is precious to me."

"You bring me the portal, and you shall get what you deserve."

"Deal." Slade rose to his feet and turned to leave the chamber, ignoring his graceless almost-shambling gait. "It's a beautiful day for the end of the world."

Not so much as a hint of the complete disconnect between the end result of his assignment and the payment he required for his help crossed his mind.

/oOo\

Finally changed out of the partial costume she'd slept in and dressed in a fresh set of her full costume, Raven stood on the roof of Titan Tower, gazing across the bay at the sun rising over the hills beyond Jump City's urban landscape. She suspected that Skuld had cheated a little when the goddess had manned the console of the gate, sending her adopted niece back in time a few minutes to the moment she'd left when she'd returned her to her bedroom in Titan Tower. Raven rather thought that Skuld had violated all sorts of regulations with the tiny time loop, but didn't see much chance of a paradox. She certainly wasn't going to say anything about it to anyone. She was grateful to her aunt for the opportunity to see the full sunrise of her last day.

My last day. Raven turned over the thought in her mind, amazed that it lacked the jagged edges of anger and guilt that had always torn at her before her reunion with her mothers. Their unhesitating, unqualified acceptance of their wayward daughter even after the way she'd abandoned them four years before — of the unconditional love she's always sensed shorn of its own jagged edges of guilt and anger from when she'd left — had healed something within her, allowed her to finally accept that some things were simply beyond her control. That she really was guiltless. For the first time in five years, she truly felt at peace.

"What are you doing up so early?"

Raven glanced sideways before looking forward again, unsurprised by the approach of Robin — her empathic power had detected him as soon as he came out of the stairwell, of course. She said, "I could ask you the same thing." The raven-haired semi-official vigilante was dressed in the same red, green and yellow costume he'd worn when she'd first met him, but he'd done a lot of growing up in the intervening four years. He'd been a boy then, determined to do the right thing but slightly bitter (she never had learned just what had led to his break with his mentor). Now, he was an experienced and undisputed team leader and her good friend. She still felt a bubble of happiness whenever she thought of how he'd proven that yet again, with his ready acceptance of her even after learning of her true nature and destiny, though her disbelieving shock had faded over the weeks since that day. Even now there wasn't a hint of discomfort at her presence.

"I love sunrise," Robin replied. "The promise of a new day, anything's possible."

"Are you always so cheery this early?"

"Pretty much. Looks like it's going to be a beautiful day."

She hadn't seen many sunrises, since arriving in Jump City — her early mornings were usually taken up with meditation, controlling her father's fury snarling at her core — and now she luxuriated in the uncomplicated delight she sensed as he watched this sunrise. She owed him the best day she could give him, she owed them all. So let's give it to them. She glanced over again at her friend and gave him a genuinely happy smile. "Yeah. Hungry?"

/\

Raven kept her face impassive as she stared at the ... whatever they were ... frying on the stove. They were supposed to be pancakes, but while they at least had the proper shape, sort of, she had a sneaking suspicion that pancakes were supposed to be a rich golden brown, not brown-black. She remembered them being smooth and soft, too, instead of bubbly and hard, and stuck to the stove-top to the point that she was beginning to consider the possibilities of a hammer to help jam the spatula underneath one and pry it off.

Okay, she thought as she scraped the pancakes off the stove and piled them on a plate, to carry over to her waiting team. I know I'm no Auntie Bell or even Kasumi, but this is ridiculous! You'd think I was Akane reborn, not Ranma ... though at least none of the pancakes have come to life and tried to kill us. Now that wasn't precisely fair, the tomboy had never been that bad. Toward the end, some of her attempts had even been barely edible — the day Ranma was murdered simply hadn't been one of them.

Raven did have to admit — to herself at least — that the boys were being a lot more polite than Ranma had been — they were actually trying to eat her 'masterpiece'. Princess 'I can eat anything' Starfire was plowing through her serving with every indication of enjoyment, right down to the happy greed she was radiating, but considering some of the orange-skinned, flame-haired alien warrior's own culinary efforts that wasn't exactly a comfort. Raven didn't know if Starfire was her own family's equivalent of Akane with the added twist that she actually enjoyed her own cooking, or if Tamaranean cuisine was really that bad (the fact that Starfire compared the pancakes to something called 'incinerated glorkaroaches' and asked for more was a big hint) but either way the result was the same.

It was a profound relief when the alert sounded to let them know they were needed in the city.

/oOo\

Urd stood by the special portal set up in the middle of Nifflheim's residential district set aside for mothers with her black and white angel manifested, both her and World of Elegance looking around carefully while one of her Furies identified each mother and child that passed and check them off her list. They had only gotten started and it was going to take awhile. There were other things Urd would rather have been doing, but it wasn't every day that a portal in Nifflheim opened directly into Asgard, even if only to one of the suburbs — the suburb where Urd lived with her co-mothers, actually, this district's divine counterpart. Which was why both Urd and one of Lind's Valkyries were bracketing the Fury with the checklist, guarding the Nifflheim side just in case any demons were feeling especially stupid that day.

Then the oscillating angry-red oval flashed brightly for a moment, indicating someone was coming through from the other side. The Valkyrie stopped the demoness about to step through and gently pulled her and her two children (almost unheard of and so probably twins) out of the way, and Urd's eyebrows rose as Lind stepped through. Her co-mother strode toward her as the line began moving again.

As Lind joined her, Urd asked, "Anything wrong on your end? Who's watching?"

Lind shook her head. "No, everything's running smoothly, so I thought I'd join you here. Mara's filling in for me."

"Mara?" Urd frowned — Mara wasn't the fighter her co-mothers were, and considered a traitor by demons. "Are you sure she'll be all right? I could send through another Fury."

"If it makes you feel better," Lind agreed with a shrug, "but I don't believe it is necessary — the Valkyrie may be there to guard all the mothers and children, divine and demonic, from anything the Devourer might send through, but they are just as capable of protecting Asgard from the demons as well. And I don't expect any gods to try anything, Kami-sama's orders were explicit — they are to be treated as guests, whatever they've done in the past. Which doesn't apply to the children, of course, since they haven't had the chance yet. And while we're capable of being stupid, we're more disciplined than you lot — even moreso on average, now that you've switch sides," she added, the thin smile that she used in lieu of a broad grin on her face.

Urd didn't verbally respond to the not-so-subtle (and atypical, for Lind) teasing, instead reaching over to poke the Valkyrie beneath the ribs, precisely targeting a spot that previous experience had shown to be more than a little ticklish and laughing has Lind hopped away from her. It was good to know that she wasn't the only one dealing with especially intense pre-battle nerves.

Ignoring the glares from those mothers in line willing to show their displeasure at the camaraderie shared by the ostensible enemies, Urd nodded at one of the now-grinning nearby Furies guarding the line. "Jessica, go through and join Mara, with Lind here we'll be fine."

"You got it, boss." Jessica tossed off a sloppy salute and strode over to step through the portal.

Urd turned her attention back to the line as Lind rejoined her. The hybrid was amused to see that even as Lind summoned her own two angels and the three began watching the line and looking around for possible threats, the Valkyrie was holding her halberd upright with one hand and was careful to keep her other arm where she could intercept further tickling attempts. Of course, Urd was doing the same to shortstop any attempted retaliation.

After a few minutes of silence watching worried mothers and frightened children move by, Lind murmured low enough that no one in the line could hear them, "Normally I pity demons for their inability to form lasting relationships — to trust each other. And the way their children are forced to grow up so quickly is a travesty. But this time it's really working for us, isn't it? There's nowhere near as many children as there'd be the other way around, we'll be done here in no time."

"Growing up quickly's worked for us in more ways than one," Urd said. "Raven's really grown up, the past four years." To her horror her voice was shaking by the end and louder than she'd intended.

Lind lifted the hand she'd tasked for possible intercept to squeeze Urd's shoulder. "Raven may be the strongest person I know," she said softly. "She'll be all right, you'll see — Kami-sama knows what he's doing, and so does Hild."

Again, Urd didn't respond verbally, not noticing how the glares from the demonic mothers morphed into sympathy as she reached up to cover Lind's hand with her own. Also unnoticed, the nearby Furies exchanged glances and silently shifted to cover the pair's zone of responsibility, letting the two stand silent, waiting.